Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
Darcie turned her face towards the rapidly darkening sky as the taxi drove away. As the salty wind whipped her long dark air into strands, an echo of her father’s words came into her mind.
‘Where else but in Australia could you get a view like this? I’ve got plans for this place, Darcie. We’ll extend it. We’ll add some holiday accommodation with a tea room and souvenir shop.’
Now the man who’d raised her from childhood had been dead this past six months, and his dreams would never come about. At one stage she’d considered remaining in England with her mother, but she’d seen so little of her mother since childhood that they were virtually strangers, and her love for Australia had driven her back once she’d got over the worst of her grief.
Dashing the tears from her eyes she inhaled a deep ozone-charged breath of air, then picked up her case and turned towards the rusty wrought iron gate set in an archway of a tall green privet hedge - behind which the garden sloped down towards the beach and dunes, allowing an uninterrupted view of the infinite reaches of the Indian Ocean.
She kicked the gate open and walked into the garden as she stared with complete and utter bewilderment. Before her, where her house and garden had once been was a stretch of bare, bulldozed earth.
‘Good God! Somebody’s stolen the house!’
There must be something wrong with her eyes, she muttered, blinking experimentally a couple of times. The house didn’t materialize, which wasn’t surprising, because not even a weed marred the awesome perfection of what seemed to have become a prime building site overlooking the ocean.
‘This must be Colin’s doing,’ she whispered. How could he? He knew how much the place means to her.’ It was typical of her cousin to ride roughshod over her feelings. Colin was twelve years older than her, married with two children. He’d come into her life when he was about twelve, an orphan placed in the care of his uncle. They’d never seen eye to eye over anything.
I’m going to kill him by slow torture
, she promised herself as she turned back towards the gate.
I’ll hang him up by his tongue and pluck every hair from his body with a pair of tweezers. After that I’ll drive hot darning needles under his toe-nails and -
Dropping her case she clasped her injured foot, hopping around on the other until the pain lessened to a dull throb and her lopsided stance put her in grave danger of falling over. Once recovered, she scraped away the sand from the metal notice with the point of her shoe.
Leon Price. Property developer.
The phone number was that of the Argyle Inn, the most exclusive hotel just on the outskirts of town - the one that had been up for sale just before she left. Leon Price must have bought it. Her eyes narrowed into flinty, dark blue slits.
They’d met before. She’d been sixteen when he’d come to the house, all arrogance and good looks, flashing his checkbook under her father’s nose. He’d wanted to buy the land but her father refused to sell. Her father had been out the second time he’d called. Leon Price had been charming, talking to her like an adult instead of a gawky teenager with braces on her teeth. It was then she’d experienced the first stirrings of hero worship. He’d had a splendid moustache, she remembered - and had looked like a film star.
Well she was no longer sixteen, she was twenty-four, and he no longer held a special place in her heart. She scowled. ‘I hope you’re in residence, Leon Price, because I’m coming to see you right now. If you think you’re developing my property, you can think again.’
* * * *
Relaxing after a bumpy flight from Sydney, Leon crossed one long leg over the other and stared at the fire flickering through his whisky glass. He liked this green southwest corner of Western Australia, liked the tall Jarrah forest surrounding it, being able to have a fire in April and listening to rain pelting against the window. It reminded him of England, a country he’d left behind fourteen years previously, but which he remembered with a fond sort of nostalgia at times like this.
He hoped Helen would like it here as much as he did. A tiny frown forked between his eyes. The site he’d bought was one he’d been after for years. It was perfect for the house he had in mind, and the Argyle Inn would provide his income.
It had cost him a fortune, and was a long way from the bright lights of the city - and whether Helen approved of him dissolving his partnership with her brother or not, he intended to do just that and completely change his life style.
He wondered if she’d be able to find the hotel, and wished she’d flown down as he’d asked. But not Helen, she’d bought herself a brand new sports car and insisted the drive was just what she needed to try it out.
His glance strayed to the bed and his smile came then, one of wicked anticipation. Helen’s sensuous beauty and unpredictability kept him totally enthralled. This last month had seemed a long time without her, but in a short time she’d be here with him.
A small velvet covered box sat on the table. It contained an engagement ring, exquisitely designed and outrageously priced - because Helen had a discerning eye and cost meant quality to her. After they’d made love he intended to propose to her.
At the age of thirty-four Leon knew he was better off than most. He was through with property development, though - a decision he’d reached suddenly after he’d bought the Argyle Inn and had been offered the shack at Petrel Point. It was a perfect spot to settle in.
It was time for him to slow down, to get married and raise a family. Running the Argyle would be a breeze after the ups and downs of property development. The inn was run by locals, people who welcomed the opportunity of employment. The chef was beyond compare.
Glancing at his watch, he uncoiled to his feet and stretched. Dinner was served in the dining room at seven, seafood straight from the ocean, still tasting of the sea. His mouth began to water as he kicked his suitcase behind a chair. He’d unpack it later.
‘When my guest arrives show her to my room, Shirley,’ he told the receptionist on the way through.
With approval, Leon noticed the restaurant was crowded. The place was renown for its seafood, and he made a mental note to give the chef a rise, as well as offer the young kitchen-hand the apprenticeship he was after, if the chef approved.
He nodded and smiled at a young couple who’d checked in that morning apparently, and were honeymooning for the week. After giving his order to the waitress he settled back in his seat and gazed around him with well-deserved satisfaction. Yes, he thought, being ‘mine host’ of the Argyle Inn would suit him just fine. The place ran like clockwork. Nothing, and nobody would persuade him to enter the rat race again - not even Helen.
Just then Shirley came hurrying to his side. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you Mister Price but Harry is on the phone. His wife’s gone into premature labor, and there’s a couple to be picked up from the airport at nine. Shall I ask Pete to fetch them?’
‘No, he’s needed in the kitchen.’ He smiled at her as he rose from the chair. ‘Tell Harry not to worry; I’ll pick them up. Order some flowers to be delivered to the hospital for his wife in the morning.’
He spared a quick glance at the honeymooners, who were gazing with barely disguised hunger into each other’s eyes across the table. A grin flitted across his face. ‘And deliver a complimentary bottle of champagne to the room of the honeymooners, would you?’
* * * *
If Darcie hadn’t been jet-lagged, she wouldn’t have minded the rain, or the long walk back to the inn, despite the fact that her suitcase felt as though it was full of wet cement.
Her fury at her cousin’s duplicity and Leon Price’s greed was unrelenting. If he imagined she’d meekly sign papers handing over the land to him, he could think twice - and she wanted reparation for the house.
And where was the furniture, her personal belongings - and her dog? If Colin had done anything to harm Wee Georgie she’d personally take her cousin along to the vet and have him ... fixed? Her mouth stretched into a mirthless grin. Okay, perhaps she wouldn’t go quite that far. He did have his good points, she just couldn’t think of any at the moment.
She could see how this had come about. Colin shared the same name as her father. Her cousin must have used that fact to his own advantage - and Leon Price must have been in on it.
Damn Leon Price. I’ll rip his mouldy moustache off his upper lip when I catch up with him.
Soaked through, frozen almost solid, and with only her seething fury for inner warmth, Darcie was relieved when the lights of the inn came into view. She didn’t know how reception would regard her appearance, and didn’t really care as she marched up to the desk and demanded to see Leon Price.
‘Oh yes. Mister Price is expecting you.’ The woman’s gazed sympathetically at her. ‘You poor thing, you’re soaked through. Never mind, you’ll have time to get a warm bath and change into dry clothes before he gets back.'
‘Gets back from where? How long is he going to be?’
‘About two hours. He’s gone to the airport ... and him just back from Sydney himself. He didn’t even have time for dinner.’
Darcie hoped he starved to death on the way back.
The woman took a key from a hook. ‘Your room is just along the corridor. Make yourself at home. Shall I have some dinner sent in? You must be starving after your long trip. Oh ... and please leave your luggage there. I’ll ask one of the staff to bring it along.’
‘I can manage it myself, thanks.’ Darcie hesitated for a moment, slightly disarmed by the friendly welcome. Leon Price was obviously expecting her, and intended to give her the star treatment. She was too tired and cold to argue.
Okay, so she’d accept his hospitality, but it wouldn’t make one scrap of difference. Leon Price could use all the charm at his disposal - and from what she’d remembered of him he had plenty of that.
Her anger returned, but there was something despairing about it and she wanted to cry. People like Leon Price, who had connections and wealth always managed to get what they set their greedy little eyes on - but not this time. Oh no ... he wasn’t going to get
land, whatever he offered her. Both he and his damned development company could get lost!
‘No dinner thanks. I’ll just get showered and go to bed.’
The suite was one of the better ones in the original wing, with an old-fashioned log stove for heat rather than radiators.
Half an hour later she wrapped herself in a thick luxurious robe she found hanging behind the bathroom door and sat in front of the fire whilst her hair dried.
The warmth of the room was insidious, and soon her eyelids began to droop. The bed was king-sized, totally inviting, and suddenly irresistible.
Why should she stay awake and wait for Leon Price to turn up? She thought. She wanted nothing from him. As far as she was concerned he could wait until she was ready to see him.
Hanging a, do not disturb, sign on the door she tossed the robe aside and crawled under the sheets. Within seconds she was fast asleep.
* * * *
Leon wondered where Helen had left her car as he hurried along to his room. The receptionist had told him she’d been drenched when she’d arrived, so she must have broken down somewhere along the road.
She’d be furious, of course. Helen was not a woman to rough it under any circumstances. He hesitated when he saw the sign hanging on the door, then plucked it from the handle and threw it aside. Surely this wasn’t meant for him, and if it were ... he grinned as he inserted his key in the lock. No doubt Helen would expect him to ignore it.
The room was lit by the flames and shadows leaped and danced upon the wall. From the alcove that divided the little sitting room from the sleeping area, he could just see Helen outlined under the covers. She was on her side, her long dark hair covering her face.
‘Helen,’ he whispered as he moved towards her, but she didn’t stir. Her breath was an even rise and fall as he bent to kiss the top of her head, and he admitted surprise that a woman who constantly burned the candle at both ends should be tired enough to fall asleep at such an early hour. The country air must have had a beneficial effect on her.
Leon knew better than to try and wake her. She would have taken a sleeping pill. Experience had taught him, that when woken from a drug-induced sleep Helen’s disposition resembled that of a feral cat.
He went back to the hotel kitchen and ate the meal that had been kept warm for him, and then chatted to the chef about an apprenticeship for Peter, who studiously scrubbed at pots and pans, all the while with one ear cocked towards them and an anxious look in his eyes.
Leon tossed Peter a grin, and called out to the chef as he left. ‘You’ll be needing a new kitchen hand shortly, then. I’ll put an advert in the local paper.’
Striding back to his suite he took a quick shower then slid into the bed beside Helen. She’d lost a bit of weight, he thought, as he snuggled against her warm naked body. She mumbled something ferociously uncomplimentary when he kissed her ear and he backed off.