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Standing in the middle of a talking, laughing, teasing crowd, Kathie's head was spinning. Admittedly, she had never actually clarified in her mind exactly what she'd been expecting in regard to Nancy's family, but her rather stunned expression suggested that, whatever her expectations might have been, they hadn't included this.

The house itself had been the first surprise. Theoretically, Kathie had been aware that Nancy was part of a large family, but despite this, she had, unconsciously, been picturing a house not unlike the one she herself had shared with the Graysons. Consequently, her first sight of the Wilmot family home had left her feeling rather overwhelmed; it could, Kathie judged, quite accurately be described as a mansion. It had suddenly dawned on her that a family that could afford boarding school fees for seven children was undoubtedly in a different economic bracket from that in which she had grown up. The Graysons hadn't been poor, by any means, but Kathie had attended a day school, and their home would have fitted into the Wilmot house several times over.

She had, however, been given no time either to indulge these reflections or to appeal to Nancy for reassurance. Even before the car had come to a halt, people had begun streaming out of the front door, and Kathie had soon found herself ushered into a large, warm room, divested of coat, scarf and gloves, and introduced to a quite bewildering number of people.

This, Kathie had decided, had been worse than her first day of teaching - at least there all the girls had stayed sitting at their desks rather than darting in and out of the room like a lot of live eels, as Nancy's younger nieces and nephews were currently doing. And they kept appearing with stunning suddenness from the most unexpected locations: Kathie had even spotted a child of two or three peering out at them from underneath one of the chairs. The adults were more inclined to stay in one place, but the family resemblance between Nancy's brothers left Kathie rather unsure of just who was who. And the Nancy who fitted so well into this hubbub didn't seem to be quite the same Nancy she had thought she knew.

Although she wasn't neglected for a moment, with various people, whose names she struggled to recall, offering food and drinks, and drawing her into the conversation, Kathie was conscious of a craven desire to find somewhere quiet to hide until she could sort out her impressions - and possibly ask Nancy for some sort of Wilmot family crib sheet. It was at this point that Kathie found her hand being clasped by the man who was the nearest thing she would ever have to a father-in-law, and she returned the greeting somewhat nervously.

Once again, the reality of Nancy's background came as something of a surprise. Most of the time, Kathie barely noticed the age gap between herself and her partner, and although, intellectually, she had known that Nancy had been the Wilmot family baby, it hadn't occurred to her that Nancy's father would turn out to be nearly eighty. Her thoughts must have shown on her face, as the eyes looking down at her, so like Nancy's eyes, twinkled in amusement.

"Not quite what you were expecting, Miss Ferrars?"

Floundering in a morass of half sentences as she attempted to find an appropriate reply, Kathie was suddenly aware of Nancy's hand on her arm, and all at once confusion receded and the world seemed to come back into focus once more.

Reassured, she smiled up at her partner, before turning back to Mr Wilmot and saying shyly, "Please, call me Kathie."




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