Constance cast a critical glance round her sitting-room, resisting the temptation to plump up one more cushion. She’d done her best to brighten up her new quarters in preparation for the party, and already she could hear the chatter of her fellow students floating up from the front of the house. As the front doorbell rang, she fairly flew down the stairs to greet her friends.“Is this where the party’s being held?” Josh was jocular, pressing a parcel into her hands. “Buns, warm. Fresh from the oven.”“Shh,” Constance warned as they passed the front parlour and went upstairs. “Miss Downie, my landlady, doesn’t like noise.”Her party guests tiptoed up to her sitting-room, smothering giggles.The furniture in Constance’s new home was heavy with much overstuffed, bottle-green velvet and densely flowered wallpaper, but she had brightened it with pretty lamps, a vivid Paisley shawl and cheerful cushions. In the grate a fire burned brightly.Josh, Adam, Ben and Marcus settled themselves on the carpet by the fire. Clarissa and her companion her latest best friend opted for chairs. Constance couldn’t remember inviting the second girl, but forgot about it as she was engulfed in the tide of chat and laughter that soon warmed the room. Wine and sweetmeats were passed round, and arguments about art ebbed and flowed as the fire burned down.“How was Abbeylands?” Clarissa’s friend leaned forward eagerly. “I mean, you were all there for the summer. What’s the gossip?”Constance glanced at Clarissa. Having obviously primed her friend, she was looking innocent.“Cows and horses and country living,” Ben said.“Not for us at all. No lamplight I fell down a hole one night!” Marcus joined in.Constance was already by the door.“I’ll fetch the tea-tray up from the kitchen,” she announced.“I’ll help, if you like.” Adam’s voice was casual.As he followed her down the stairs, he touched her shoulder.“I need to talk to you.”In the kitchen, she didn’t look at him as she busied herself setting out the tea-tray and waiting for the kettle to boil.In the end, he caught her by the arm and swung her round.“Constance, I haven’t been alone with you since you came to Glasgow. Talk to me!”She pulled away.“We can’t be away from the others too long, Adam. Clarissa is such a gossip!” She handed him the tray. “You go on ahead. I’ll bring the tea.”His face darkening, he did as she asked.Upstairs, despite Clarissa’s slanted questions, there was no mention of Constance’s new attic studio. Only Josh and Adam shared that secret, having worked with her to clear out the cluttered attic she’d discovered at the top of the house.Near the end of the evening, when Josh had become more outrageous and the laughter louder, Constance hushed her guests.“Miss Downie’s parlour is below us. She’s such a dear that I don’t want to upset her.”Josh nodded.“It’s getting late. Lovely evening, Constance, but we’ll have to be going.”As the other guests left, Adam lingered.“I’ll see to the fire for you. Bank it up keep it from going out.” His voice was offhand as he busied himself at the fireplace, but as soon as the room was emptied he turned and, wordless, gathered Constance into his arms.For an instant, she clung to him. The ticking of the mantel clock sounded loud in the silence. As he bent to kiss her, however, she pulled back, her grey eyes luminous with tears.“Don’t, Adam, please.”His grip on her arms tightened.“Constance, look at me.” His voice shook a little.A tear fell. Gently, he wiped it away.“You mustn’t cry. I only want to remind you how much I love you, and that I’ll always love you. I want us to be together, always.”There was silence, then she spoke.“Let me go, Adam. I have something I must say to you.”She stepped back and fixed him with a steady gaze . . .****Hurried footsteps on the stair brought Miss Downie to the front window, just as the front door slammed shut with a bang that seemed to make the house shake. As she watched, a young man, head bent, rushed out into the street. He paused under a streetlamp and looked up, his face pale in the gaslight, his blond hair shining like an aureole. Then he was gone, half-running, his collar turned up and shoulders hunched against the cold.