For the rest of the evening Alec Morris monopolized her, but all the time she was aware of how disagreeable she found everyone else around her. From the frequent snatches of conversation she overheard they epitomized the group of light-hearted, rich socialites she had always despised. If these were the people Aaron called his friends, no wonder he had not wanted them to see him in. a wheelchair. Apart from Alec Morris and possibly a few others in the room there was not one person with whom she would have chosen to share a headache, let alone a deeper tragedy.
But now of course the tragedy was over and she wondered whether the evening presaged the future. But luckily Kate's fears proved unfounded, for Aaron himself had become quickly aware that his accident had changed him too much for him ever to go back to his former social life and, apart from Alec, he saw no one else. But with the return of health he was too vital a person to be content with a quiet life, and soon the house was filled with a new set of people: politicians, artists, writers and intellectuals from most of the creative spheres. He always made a point of inviting Kate to the frequent dinner parties he gave, but she was careful only to accept the occasional invitation, for she was still determined not to let him think she was running after him. Indeed it was one such refusal which led to their first real argument.
"Why are you always busy every time I ask people to dine with me? This is the third time in a row you've refused to come."
"I do have another life apart from the Hamilton Press," she replied.
"You never used to. When I was ill you practically lived here. Damn it, Kate, by rights you should be living here now. You're, like one of the family."
Expecting this last remark to mollify her, he was taken aback when she rounded on him in fury. "I'm not one of the families, and I don't want to be looked on as your little sister!"
"That's the last way in which I see you! Little spitfire would be nearer the truth. Now you're to come to dinner tomorrow night and I don't want any argument about it."
"Very well, but you don't need to ask me every time you have your friends here."
"But I want to. When you're around I always feel at ease." He rubbed his hand across his face in a gesture of puzzlement, and she sensed the turmoil within him, knowing that he still had doubts and fears about his feelings towards her. And yet it was not to be wondered at. His accident had shaken him out of his old life and he had not yet established himself in a new one. Equally important was the fact that every girl he had wanted had always been his for the asking and had equally easily accepted the parting. But with Kate he knew it would be different, and it was this knowledge that was obviously holding him back.
On many occasions since the time he had kissed her he had made a move to do so again, but she had always managed to extricate herself from having to deliberately refuse him. Yet now she wondered whether she was right in not accepting what he could offer instead of stubbornly insisting it must be all or nothing. Was her attitude to love too oldfashioned for this day and age? Might she not achieve what she wanted if she had an affair with him? Indeed, if he came to know her in the full sense of the word there was every possibility that he would fall in love with her. Yet always -when she was on the brink of surrender - something held her back, some pride or fear or perhaps plain old-fashioned self-respect.
"What are you thinking about?” his voice interrupted her reverie, and she looked at him so blankly that he repeated the question.
"I was just wondering what to wear," she lied.
"Make it something bright. Go out and buy yourself a red dress."
"It's against my budget, I'm afraid. I'm saving up to buy myself a car."
"Let me buy you a car. After the way you've helped me it's the least I——-" He stopped and then said quickly, ''No ulterior motive, Kate, I was only offering out of the kindness of my heart!"
She smiled. "You learn quickly," and then added mischievously, "Just as a point of interest, what car did you have in mind?"
"A snappy red sports one." She giggled.
"I can just see my mother's face if I drove up in something like that!"
"Is she like you?" he asked. "I mean, serious and bossy."
It was the first time he had questioned her about her family and she was pleased by it. "I don't think my mother would like being called bossy, but if you want to know whether she's got a mind of her own, then the answer is yes."
"And your father?"
"He's a poppet. He was an engineer until he retired."
"You're not old enough to have a father of retiring age."
"My parents were married seventeen years before I was born," she explained.
"That's exactly what they said! I suppose that's why you find me different from other girls of my age. Having parents so much older than myself was probably the reason."
"I'd like to meet your parents," he said unexpectedly. "Let me know when you're going to see them?"
"I'm sure you'd be bored."
"There's nothing to do there. They live in the country and it's very quiet and…"
"Really, Kate," he intervened, "you don't know me at all. I love the country. You must promise to let me know when you're going down next."
Instantly she made up her mind. "This weekend."
"Then it's a date."
With more than a little nervousness Kate drove down to her parents' home on Saturday morning, arriving in time for lunch. From the first moment of meeting them, Aaron was completely at home with her parents, endearing him immediately to her mother by saying she didn't look old enough to have a daughter of Kate's age, and delighting her father with his immediate approval of the garden and offer to help with the weeding.
All too quickly the two days fled and as they drove back to London late on Sunday she regretted she had not had the courage to ask Aaron to her home before. Perhaps if he saw her more frequently in her home surroundings, he would see her as a person in her own right and not associate her -as he did now - with the months of his illness.
"You've got wonderful parents, Kate," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "I hope you'll invite me again."
"You're welcome to come down whenever you want to. Mother and Daddy said it as I was leaving."
"I'm glad they liked me."
"Why shouldn't they? You were your most charming self!"
"Did I manage to charm you?"
"Stop fishing - you're conceited enough!"
He chuckled, but did not pursue the conversation, and when next he spoke she was disappointed that he turned the subject to a Directors' Meeting his father had had on the previous Friday. With an effort she forced her mind away from romantic thoughts of the future to concentrate on giving him the information he wanted.
"In another few weeks you won't need me to tell you anything," she concluded. "Once you start work you'll -"
"I'll always need your advice," he interrupted. "You're invaluable, Kate. For someone so young you've got a remarkable understanding of people."
It was not the sort of compliment she would have wished, but it was better than nothing and involuntarily she leaned over and squeezed his arm.
"Dear Kate," he said unexpectedly. "And lovely Kate."