Sara Craven.

When The Devil Drives






When the Devil Drives
Sara Craven


www.millsandboon.co.uk

Former journalist SARA CRAVEN published her first novel Garden of Dreams for Mills & Boon in 1975. Apart from her writing (naturally!) her passions include reading, bridge, Italian cities, Greek islands, the French language and countryside, and her rescue Jack Russell/cross Button. She has appeared on several TV quiz shows and in 1997 became UK TV Mastermind champion. She lives near her family in Warwickshire Shakespeare country.

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

About the Author

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

Endpage

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

SIMON, YOU DONTyou cant mean this! Its a joke, isnt itone of your appalling, tasteless bloody jokes?

Simon Chalfonts face reddened, and his glance shifted away from the anguished appeal in his sisters eyes.

Im totally serious, old girl. He sighed. God, Jo, if I could change things, I would. But you werent here, and the bank wouldnt lift a finger to help me. I was desperate.

So youve mortgaged usthis housethe workshopthe little we have leftto Cal Blackstone. Joanna Benthams hands gripped the back of the chair as if it were the only reality in a suddenly tottering world. I cant believe it. I cant credit that youd do such a thing.

And what was I supposed to do? Simon demanded defensively. Lay the men off? Close the workshop? Try and sell this house?

If you were so strapped for cash, surely there are other sources you could have borrowed from in the short term?

A loan shark, perhaps, Simon suggested derisively. For Gods sake, Jo, do you know the kind of interest those people charge?

I know the kind of interest Cal Blackstone could charge. Joanna drew a shaky breath.

Simon, dont you realise what youve done? Youve sold us lock, stock and barrel to our greatest enemy!

Oh, I knew that was coming. Simon flung himself on to the sofa, giving his sister a trenchant look. Dont you think its time we grew up and forgot all about this ridiculous family feud? Isnt carrying the thing into a third generation going over the top?

Ask Cal Blackstone, Joanna bit back at him. He hasnt forgotten a thing. Fifteen years ago, his father took the mill away from us. Now his sons coming for the rest. And, thanks to you, he hasnt even had to fight for it.

There was a sullen silence.

Joanna released her grip on the chairback, rubbing almost absently the indentations the heavily carved wood had left in her flesh.

Cal Blackstone, she thought, and her skin crawled. The grandson of the man who was once glad to work for my grandfather as an overlooker at the mill. The trouble-maker, the rabble-rouser who tried to close our doors with strikes over and over again. The self-made millionaire who drove Chalfonts to the edge of bankruptcy, and died swearing hed put us out on the street.

Even after the fierce old man had gone, there was no respite for the beleaguered mill. His son Arnold had proved just as inimical, just as determined. In the end Chalfonts had had to be sold, and there was only one bidder.

Arnold Blackstone got it for a song, Joanna thought, anger welling up inside her. Chalfonts, whod been making quality worsteds on that site for over a hundred years. And he made it a byword for cheap rubbish, aimed at the bottom end of the market.

The only thing remaining from the old days was the nameChalfonts Millkept deliberately by the Blackstones, Joannas father had said bitterly, as a permanent thorn in the familys flesha constant and public reminder of what theyd lost.

Now, under the direction of Cal Blackstone, his grandfathers namesake, the mill, as such, no longer existed. The looms had been sold, and the workforce dispersed, and the vast building had become a thriving complex of small industrial workshops and businesses.

Because Cal Blackstone wasnt interested in quality or tradition. He was an entrepreneur, a developer of property and ideas. Local gossip said there was hardly a pie in a radius of two hundred miles that he didnt have a finger in. And what he touched invariably turned to gold, Joanna reflected, wincing inwardly. Hed already more than doubled the fortune his father and grandfather had left, and at thirty-three years of age it was reckoned his career had barely even started.

To the outrage of the local landowners, hed acquired Craigmoor House and its park, which had been derelict for years, renovated it completely, and, in the face of strenuous opposition, turned it into a country club, with an integral restaurant and casino, and a challenging nine-hole golf course in the reclaimed grounds.

Within a year, all those whod been most vociferously outspoken against the plan were among the clubs most stalwart members.

But the Chalfonts were not among them. Since the original breach between the first Callum Blackstone and Jonas Chalfont, all those years ago, the families had never knowingly met under the same roof. The Chalfonts had let it be known that they would accept no invitations which had also been extended to any member of the Blackstone clan, and the rule had been rigorously applied by Cecilia Chalfont, Joannas mother, who came from an old county family and carried considerable social clout.

The two families had still been at daggers drawn when Cecilia had died from an unexpected heart condition while Joanna was in her early teens.

Im almost glad, Joanna thought fiercely, walking to the window and staring down at the formal rose garden, glowing with summer bloom, which it overlooked. At least Mother was spared the knowledge of thisbetrayal by Simon. But keeping it from Dad will be another matter.

Anthony Chalfont had his own suite of rooms on the first floor. Severely crippled by arthritis, he rarely ventured forth from them, but was looked after devotedly by his manservant Gresham, and Joannas own elderly nanny.

Just recently, her fathers mind had begun to wander, and he seemed to prefer to dwell very much in the past. A couple of times since her return, Joanna had found herself being addressed by him as Cecilia, although she could see little resemblance in herself to her mothers haughty beauty. But there were other days too when his brain was as sharp and lucid as it had ever been. If Cal Blackstone turned them out of their home, the effect on her father might be disastrous.

She took a deep breath. Tell me againslowlywhat happened. How you came to do this thing. After all, when I went away the workshop seemed to be doing well. The order-book was full.

It was. Simons shoulders were hunched, his whole attitude despondent. Then everything started to go wrong. Two of our biggest customers gave us backword. They said the recession was biting, and the property market was going into decline. They reckoned people werent prepared to spend that kind of money on handcrafted furniture and kitchens any more. We were left with thousands of pounds worth of specially designed gear on our hands.

And what about our partner, Philip the super-salesman? Joanna asked. What was he doing about all this?

Simon shrugged. Philip tried to find other markets, but the answer was always the same. Property development was being cut back, and prices kept down. They wanted mass-market stuff people could afford in their show houses.

Joanna bit her lip hard. It was Philip whod urged expansion, she thought angrily. Philip whod persuaded Simon to take on more men, and buy more machinery to fulfil a demand he was confident he could create. In vain, shed argued that small was beautiful, that they should concentrate on quality rather than quantity, and feel their way cautiously for a while until their markets were firmly established.

But Simon hadnt wanted to listen. Hed wanted to make money fast, and restore the shaky Chalfont fortunes. Hed also wanted to marry Philips pretty sister Fiona, so anything Philip suggested was all right with him.

And at first their growth had been meteoric, just as Philip had predicted. Simon and Fiona had been married with all the appropriate razzmatazz, and the couple had moved into Chalfont House. The Craft Company had continued to flourish, and, although Joannas instincts had still warned her that they should be cautious, she was having deep problems of her own, and her involvement in the business was becoming less and less.

I should have stayed here after Martin died, she thought with a small silent sigh. I shouldnt have run away like that. But I felt I needed timeto lick my woundsto try and heal myself. There were too many memories here. Too much I needed to forget.

Her headlong flight, after her husbands funeral, had taken her to her godmothers home in the United States. Aunt Vinnie had extended the invitation in a warmly affectionate letter of condolence as soon as shed heard about Martins fatal car accident. Joanna hadnt planned on staying more than a few weeks in New Hampshire, but had become interested in spite of herself in the running of the art gallery Aunt Vinnie owned. Shed started helping out for a few hours each week, but had soon grown more deeply involved, and gradually her stay had extended into months.

If her godmother hadnt reluctantly decided to sell up and retire to California, she had to admit she might still have been there.

Clearly, eighteen months had been a long time to absent herself. Too long, she castigated herself.

We had suppliers to pay, and the wages bill to meet, Simon went on. Things were looking really black. The bank refused outright to allow us to exceed our stated overdraft. In fact, they started pressing us to repay some of it. JoI didnt know where to turn.

She didnt look at him. She continued to stare rigidly down into the garden. So you turned to Cal Blackstone. Why?

It wasnt quite like that. The defensiveness was back in his voice. He approached me. He was the guest speaker at the Round Table dinner, and the people I was with asked him to join us afterwards for a drink. I couldnt very well avoid him. We were left on our own, and at first he justmade conversation.

But later? Joanna asked matter-of-factly.

Laterhe began to talk about the Craft Company. He seemed to know we were in trouble. He said that things were generally difficult for small businesses, and mentioned a few of the problems some of them were having at Chalfont Mill. He said hed been able to help in a lot of cases. That it would be a pity to go under, if a simple injection of cash could save the day.

Cal Blackstone, philanthropist. Joanna gave a mirthless laugh. And you fell for it!

Simon came to stand beside her. What else was I supposed to do? he almost hissed. Things were bad and getting worse every day. Our creditors were pressing, and the bank was threatening to bounce the wages cheque. If someone offers you a lifeline, you dont throw it back in his face, for Gods sake. He paused. Besides, Fiona had just told me she was pregnant.

With her usual immaculate sense of timing, Joanna thought resignedly. So how much did you borrow from him?

Twenty thousand to begin with. The rest, later.

Using your power of attorney from Dad to put this house up as collateral, I suppose.

We had to do something, Simon said stiffly. And Phils flat is only rented.

Lucky Philip! I hope hes got a spare room. You and Fiona are probably going to need it. And the baby when it arrives, of course, she added, her mouth twisting. Have you warned your wife she may shortly be homeless? Not to mention Dad, of course.

Simon looked at her uneasily. Why should it come to that?

Becauseto quote the words from his letter of todays dateMr Blackstone wishes to meet you to discuss the extent of your liabilities to him. She was silent for a moment, then said abruptly, Hes closing in for the kill, Si. He means to finish what his father and grandfather began. The old man swore hed see our family on its knees when Grandpa fired him, and turned him out of his cottage all those years ago. Cal Blackstone means to fulfil that pledge. She shook her head. Its as well I came back when I did. I would have hated to return and find all my clothes and other possessions dumped outside on the lawn by the present Mrs Blackstone. She paused again. I presume there is one by now?

No one official, Simon said moodily. Hes apparently still quite happy to play the field, lucky bastard.

Joanna bit her lip. She had only been at home for a week, but it was already clear to her that Fiona was not enjoying her pregnancy, and resentment of her condition was making her querulous and demanding. Joanna, torn between the amusement and irritation which her blonde, brainless sister-in-law usually aroused in her, had decided immediately that the prudent course would be to leave the couple to paddle their own rather shaky canoe in privacy.

She had just made arrangements to view a cottage which had come on to the market in the neighbouring valley when Simon had dropped his bombshell about Cal Blackstones loan.

Blind instinct told her to proceed with her own plans. To walk away from Simon and the mess hed created, and let him sort it out for himself, while she began to rebuild her life at a safe distance from Chalfont House, the mill, and everything and everyone concerned with it.

But it wasnt as simple as that. Simon had been hard hit by Cecilias death, and although Joanna was four years his junior shed learned, in its aftermath, to mother him with almost fierce protectiveness. She couldnt simply abandon him to his fate now.

The dizzy Fiona would be no help, she thought ruefully, totally preoccupied as she was by nausea and vague aches and pains all over her body. And Joanna was still a partner in the Craft Company, although admittedly shed taken little active part in the running of the business since her marriage.

She had forgotten Simons propensity for taking the easy way out of any difficulty, she thought, with an inward sigh.

So when are you planning to see him? she asked quietly.

Hes coming here tomorrow afternoon.

Here? Joanna stared at him, appalled. Why not at the Craft Company?

Simon shrugged, his expression pettish. It wasnt my choice. When I telephoned him, his secretary simply gave me the appointment. There was no consultation about it. She just told me what time hed be arriving.

I can believe it, Joanna said grimly.

It was the first time a Blackstone had ever set foot in Chalfont House, she realised with a sense of shock. And, if there was anything she could do, it would also be the last.

She said, Well have to try and fend him off, Simon.

How?

Joanna considered for a minute. WellMartin left me some money, not all that much, admittedly, but its a start, and theres the commission Aunt Vinnie paid me at the gallery. I saved most of it. If we can keep him at bay for a few weeks with that, we might be able to raise the rest of the capital elsewhere.

Do you think I havent tried? He shook his head. Ive done everything I can think of. I tell you, Jo, its hopeless.

No! Joanna said fiercely. There is hopetheres got to be. Hes not going to take everything away from us.

Perhaps he doesnt want to, Simon suggested hopefully. You are rather taking his intentions for granted, you know. Condemning him without a hearing.

Joanna gave him a level look. I have no illusions about Cal Blackstone, or his intentions. She glanced at her watch. Isnt it time you were getting off to the workshop?

Hell, yes. But Id better pop up and see Fiona first. She didnt have a particularly good night.

Poor old Si, Joanna thought as her brother left the room, his brow furrowed with anxiety. Fionas vagaries were just one more problem for him to worry over. Troubles never seemed to come singly these days.

She moved over to the sofa and plumped up the cushions which Simon had crushed. As she straightened, she looked up at the big portrait of Jonas Chalfont which hung over the ornate mantelpiece. A harsh face looked down at her, its expression arrogant and dominating, thick grey brows drawn together over his beak of a nose.

She took a breath. The portrait had been painted in her grandfathers heyday, when the Chalfont family were a force to be reckoned with in the Yorkshire woollen industry. Master of all he surveyed, she thought wryly, studying the sitters proud stance.

It had been soon after the portrait had been finished, however, that Jonas had sacked Callum Blackstone following a violent argument, and evicted him and his small son from their tied cottage. Holding the frightened child in his arms, as bailiffs dumped their possessions into the street, Callum had publicly sworn revenge.

As youve taken from me, Jonas Chalfont, Ill take from you, hed declared, standing bareheaded in the rain. Aye, by God, down to every last stick and stone!

And nothings gone right for us since, Joanna thought wearily. Oh, Grandfather, you didnt know what you were starting.

Know your enemy, had been one of Jonass favourite maxims, but he had totally underestimated his former overlookers sheer force of will and determination to succeed. Just as Simon had failed to assess Cal Blackstones deviousness of purpose in offering to help the Craft Company financially.

But then Si had never taken the family feud too seriously anyway, Joanna recalled.

Isnt it time we started to live and let live? hed demanded angrily when Joanna had flatly refused to attend a dinner party to which Cal Blackstone had also been invited.

Not as far as Im concerned, Joanna had returned with a toss of her tawny hair. If people invite that man, they neednt bother to ask me as well.

But, as shed grown up, shed found it was well-nigh impossible to avoid Cal completely. The Chalfonts were no longer the powerful social mentors theyd once been, and Cal, single, wealthy and darkly attractive, was a welcome visitor to every household in the area except theirs.

Joanna had found to her exasperation that to keep out of Cal Blackstones way entirely was to risk social isolation. More and more shed found herself running into him at point-to-points, parties and charity functions. To her annoyance, shed actually been introduced to him a number of times by a series of well-meaning people who clearly shared Simons view that it was time a truce was called in this family war.

But none of these people had been hounded and cheated by the Blackstones, Joanna thought violently. To them, Cal Blackstone was simply a charming young man, if a trifle sardonic, who drove a series of fast cars, dated all the most attractive girls in the West Riding, and could always be relied on for a hefty donation to any good cause. No one cared any more about past rights or wrongs, it seemed.

And once she and Cal Blackstone had been formally introduced, he took pains to remind her of the fact by seeking her out to greet her at every encounter. In fact, Joanna decided, he took an unpleasant delight in forcing himself on her notice, engaging her in conversation, and even inviting her to dance.

And the fact that she had ignored all his overtures and was never anything but icily civil in return seemed only to amuse him.

If she continued to keep him rigidly at a distance, eventually he would get tired of his cat-and-mouse games with her, shed assured herself.

But shed been wrong about thattotally wrong. Which was why she knew, none better, just what Cal Blackstones real motives were, and exactly what he had planned for the remaining members of the Chalfont family.

She shivered, wrapping her arms defensively across her body, as she made herself relive once more in nerve-aching detail that rain-washed autumn afternoon on the high moor road above Northwaite when shed discovered for herself how ruthless, how relentless an enemy he was

Damnation! Joanna stared down at the offside wheel of her Mini, her heart sinking. Of all times to get a flat tyre! she muttered to herself, as she went to find the jack.

The rain was sweeping in sheets across the Northwaite valley below, and the hills were dankly shrouded in low cloud and mist.

By the time shed fetched the jack, and squatted uncomfortably in the road beside the car, the rain had plastered her tawny blonde hair to her skull, and droplets of water were running down her forehead into her eyes, so that she had to pause every few seconds and brush them away.

Shed never had to change a tyre before, and she realised, to her shame, that she only had the haziest idea of how to go about it. Watching other people was not the same as personal experience, she decided wretchedly, as the jack stubbornly refused to co-operate with her efforts to fix it in place.

Send me someone to help this time, she bargained silently with her guardian angel, and I promise Ill sign on for a course in car maintenance this winter.

The thought had barely formed in her mind when the sleek grey Jaguar materialised silently out of the mist and slid to a halt behind her. She looked round eagerly, planning some self-deprecating, humorous remark about her predicament. Then the relieved smile died on her lips as she realised her rescuers identity.





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