At that he brought his thoughts up short. He would not head in that direction. He could not afford to head in that direction. He could not afford to let his mind wander from the task that was immediately at hand.
"Listen to me." He grabbed his wallet from the chest and shoved it into his pocket. "You're good enough for anyone. She got scared shitless. She took a wrong turn. That's the end of it. Remember that. And remember that everyone knows how good the two of you always were together."
He had faith in this fact. Nicola Maiden and Julian Britton had been part of each other's life for years. Everyone who knew them had long ago concluded that they belonged together. It was only Nicola who, it appeared, had never come to terms with this fact.
"I know that we were never engaged," he'd told her two nights previously in response to her declaration that she was moving away from the Peaks permanently and would only be back for brief visits henceforth. "But we've always had an understanding, haven't we? I wouldn't be sleeping with you if I wasn't serious about... Come on, Nick. Damn it, you know me."
It wasn't the proposal of marriage he'd planned on making to her, and she hadn't taken it as such. She'd said bluntly, "Jules, I like you enormously. You're terrific, and you've been a real friend. And we get on far better than I've ever got on with any other bloke."
"Then you see--"
"But I don't love you," she went on. "Sex doesn't equate to love. It's only in films and books that it does."
He'd been too stunned at first to speak. It was as if his mind had become a blackboard and someone had taken a rubber to it before he had a chance to make any notes. So she'd continued.
She would, she told him, go on being his girlfriend in the Peak District if that's what he wanted. She'd be coming to see her parents now and again, and she'd always have time--and be happy, she said--to see Julian as well. They could even continue as lovers whenever she was in the area if he wished. That was fine by her. But as to marriage? They were too different as people, she explained.
"I know how much you want to save Broughton Manor," she'd said. "That's your dream, and you'll make it come true. But I don't share that dream, and I'm not going to hurt either you or myself by pretending I do. That's not fair on anyone."
Which was when he finally repossessed his wits long enough to say bitterly, "It's the God damn money. And the fact I've got none, or at least not enough to suit your tastes."
"Julian, it isn't. Not exactly." She'd turned from him briefly, giving a long sigh. "Let me explain."
He'd listened for what had seemed like an hour, although she'd likely spoken ten minutes or less. At the end, after everything had been said between them and she'd climbed out of the Rover and disappeared into the dark gabled porch of Maiden Hall, he'd driven home numbly, shell-shocked with grief, confusion, and surprise, thinking No, she couldn't . . . she can't mean No. After Sleepless Night Number One, he'd come to realise--past his own pain--how great was the need for him to take action. He'd phoned, and she'd agreed to see him. She would always, she said, be willing to see him.
He gave a final glance in the mirror before he left the room, and he treated himself to a last affirmation: "You were always good together. Keep that in mind."
Excerpted from In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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