"So you don't?" he said, more as a statement than a question.
"No, I don't." She hesitated. "I supposed that strikes you as very old-fashioned?"
"It does. But that doesn't mean I don't approve. It's just unusual for me to meet a girl like you."
"Unfortunate too," she could not help saying with an imp of mischief. "Right now I suppose you could do with the exact opposite!"
Expecting a quick and witty response she was unprepared for his silence, and even more unprepared for his answer. "Funnily enough I couldn't. Sexual desire on its own doesn't seem worth the effort." He shook his head in perplexity. "Perhaps I'm getting too old." He patted the seat beside him. "Come and sit down, Kate, I want to talk to you. Don't be afraid," he said as he saw her hesitate. "I promise not to kiss you - unless you ask me!"
Once more she sat on the settee and gently he lifted her hand and rubbed his fingers along the soft skin of her palm. "You've no idea how much I've appreciated all you've done for me since my accident."
"I've done nothing at all."
He shook his head. "If it hadn't been for you I doubt if I'd even be walking. There's so much I'd like to say to you, yet I can't seem to find the words."
"Don't try. It isn't necessary."
"But it is." He frowned. "I'm confused, Kate. Confused and worried."
"About what? If you're scared you'll have a relapse -"
"It's nothing to do with my health. It's you. You've become an important part of my life, but I don't know how I feel about you. It's never happened to me before, and I can't figure it out."
"Why bother?" she said, keeping her voice low to hide its shakiness. "Just because you kissed me doesn't mean you've got to start analyzing the reason for it." She forced a laugh. "Anyway, the reason was obvious."
"For the first kiss," he acknowledged. "But not the other ones." His grip on her hand tightened. "The only good thing that's come out of my accident is that it gave me the chance of meeting you. You once said I'd got no real friends, and you were right. My life only began when you came into it."
Kate's heart was beating so loudly she was afraid he might notice the quickness of her breathing. But he was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he was unaware of anything outside them, and seeing the perplexity on his face she was suddenly and unaccountably depressed. Poor Aaron. He was trying to analyses how he felt about her yet at the same time he was afraid to admit the truth to himself; afraid that his illness and dependence on her might have prejudiced his feelings.
Intuition told her that she had only to force the situation to have him admit he loved her, but even as the idea came into her mind, she resisted it. His admission of love - when and if it came - must be completely voluntary and not prompted by gratitude or loneliness.
"Can't we just forget what happened?" she said with a coolness she did not feel. "You kissed me and - and we both enjoyed it. Let's leave it at that."
"Such a practical remark," he said with a half-smiles, and placed her hand back in her lap. "But then you always are practical."
"I try to be," she said evenly.
"Very well. We'll leave it for the moment." His seriousness disappeared and amusement took its place. "But don't throw away every opportunity I give you!"
"This is only the first one," she replied, and joined in his laughter, glad he did not know how false her own laughter was.
Later that night as she lay sleepless in bed she wondered if she had been foolish to throw away what might have been her only chance of getting Aaron to ask her to marry him. Yet had he really loved her he would not have been afraid that his attraction towards her was born out of gratitude or propinquity. It was a truth she found bitter to accept, but there was no going back on what had been done; all she could do now was to hope and pray she would be given a second chance.
As spring gave way to early summer it seemed as though Kate's hopes would be fulfilled, for though Aaron returned to a normal life he now spent most of his time learning the day-to-day running of the Company and remained as mentally close to Kate as before, Most of her weekends were still spent at the house in Orem Square, and she dined there at least twice during the week, afterwards listening to music with Aaron, or occasionally going with him to the cinema or theatre.
He made no effort to renew the friendships he had had before his accident, although on one occasion she had come to the house to find the drawing-room thronged with his friends and Aaron himself the center of a crowd of girls whose dresses ranged from the most courageous Courage to the demurest Bellman.
In the act of beating a hasty retreat she had been caught at the door by a thin young man with red hair and freckles.
"I haven't seen you around before," he said, handing her one of the drinks he was carrying.
"No. I'm just going."
"But we've only met! I'm Alec Morris."
She recognized the name. He had been at school with Aaron and immediately after the accident had made several attempts to see him, all of which Aaron had turned down. Yet despite this he had written long, chatty letters to Aaron each week, and had finally resulted in persuading Aaron to see him. He had visited the house on the one weekend that Kate had gone home to see her parents, but remembering how good-humored Aaron had been after seeing Alec Morris she now gave him her most beaming smile, startling the young man into spilling part of his drink
"That's better," he said. "Now you don't look so fierce."
"Don't be misled by the smile," she said solemnly, and held out her hand. "I'm Kate Roberts."
His bushy eyebrows rose. "I'd never have recognized you from Aaron's description. He called you the -" He stopped, his skin turning the same colour as his hair.
"The little nun," Kate finished for him.
Alec Morris grinned. "I don't think it's a very apt description."
"Neither do I," she grinned back.