Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
‘When do we get our lunch?’
‘Haven’t you eaten it yet? Chef usually puts us something in the oven and we eat it when we get the chance.’ Peter investigated one of the ovens and came out with a dried up steak stuck to the plate by a sauce that had turned to varnish. It was accompanied by some dehydrated-looking vegetables.
Darcie suddenly lost her appetite and slid the lot into the bin.
‘Peter?’ Leon strolled into the kitchen, all smiles. ‘I need you in the office to go over the indenture papers. How’s it going, Darcie?’
‘Wonderful,’ she said sourly. ‘Peter was just going to give me a hand.’
‘Unfortunately, he can’t.’ His smile seemed genuinely apologetic. ‘The terms of his apprenticeship has strict regulations attached to it.’
‘It would have.’ She gave him a dirty look. ‘You’re good at regulations, Leon. I think you make them up as you go.’
‘I don’t mind helping out in my spare time,’ Peter offered, looking uneasily from one to the other as if he sensed a storm brewing. ‘After all, it’s nice of Miss Channing to help us out until you hire someone else.’
So that was how Leon had explained her presence in the kitchen. She awarded him full marks for ingenuity.
‘I’ll give Miss Channing a hand myself, Peter - as soon as we’ve gone through the papers.‘
She waited in vain for Leo to come back. By two-thirty she was finished. Giving one last swipe to the counter with a dishcloth she headed for the chalet and lowered herself into a chair. A couple of hours to rest then it would all be on again.
‘I thought you were going to give me a hand,’ she muttered when he strolled in.
‘I did. I took Georgie for a run.’ He took the chair opposite and gazed critically at her. ‘You look a mess.’
Georgie licked her hand in sympathy, then flopped on the floor in front of her chair.
Tiredly, she closed her eyes. ‘I do feel as limp as a dead lettuce.’
He chuckled. ‘Ready to give in?’
‘Not on your life.’ She gazed through one eye at him. ‘I’ll get used to it.’
‘You still have the rest of the day to get through, Darcie.’
‘Don’t remind me. ‘Drawing her knees up, she turned to one side and snuggled against the arm of the chair. ‘Wake me at five.’
‘Sorry, no can do. I’ve got some people to interview.’ He kissed the top of her head, and then murmured against her ear. ‘Your hair smells like boiled cabbage.’
‘Whatever it is, it stinks.’
‘If you withdraw your snout, you won’t be offended,’ she pointed out.
Delicious little shivers attacked her when his teeth closed gently on the lobe of her ear. ‘You’ve already had lunch, Leon.’
‘Constable Watson rang. I told him to come at three-thirty, so you’d better stay awake.’
She struggled upright and stared at him. ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’
‘I didn’t want to distract you from your work. I thought you might worry.’
‘How very solicitous of you.’
Darcie’s breath suddenly caught in her throat as for one unguarded moment, his eyes reflected the wound her sarcasm had inflicted on him. Then they became cool and impenetrable, shuttered almost.
Had he gone through childhood like this, shielding himself behind his gray eyes - hiding his thoughts from those outside? Had he ever let anyone inside his head?
She stood, her hand reaching to touch his face, her voice soft. ‘What are you thinking, Leon.’
A pulse beat in his jaw, then he slowly smiled. ‘Are you really interested?’
‘Of course I’m interested.’
‘I thought you might be.’ His smile should have warned her. Taking her face in his hands he kissed her long and hard.
She resisted the urge to move closer and slide her arms around him. Her fingers curled into her palms with the effort to stay away, her toes dug into the floor and the space between them was filled with a quivering gravity, as if he was the moon to her tide. Her tide was obviously going to lose, so she gave in.
How unfair that their bodies fitted perfectly, as though they belonged together in love. His lips and hers pleasured each other equally, offering the promise of mutual passion. Trying to dislike him was impossible under the circumstances, when she was filled to the brim with wanting him.
Her stomach suddenly gave a long ferocious growl, reminding her of its missed lunch. The kiss stopped abruptly as Leon’s eyes caught hers in amused surprise.
Laughter bubbled up in her. ‘I didn’t have time for lunch.’
‘No kidding! Tell me something I don’t know?’
I love you
So why don’t you forget the kitchen and just marry him?
Because falling in love happened too quickly, and I don’t want to make a mistake. All he feels for me is a healthy lust. As soon as he runs into Helen again he’ll realize.
What if he doesn’t?
I’m not going to think about it, that’s the sensible course to take. So shut up and butt out.’
Having decided to be sensible, she moved away from him. ‘Hadn’t you better be going?’
‘Is that a dismissal?’
‘You said you had an appointment.’
‘I have several. I’m interviewing people for the kitchen-hand position.’
‘I wish you’d give it up now, Darcie. You look tired.’
She felt tired. ‘No, I’m not going to let you win.’
‘Okay,’ he said wearily. ‘Have things your own way. I’ll tell Shirley to send Constable Watson along to the office off the function room when he arrives. You’ll be able to talk in private there.’
She tidied herself up and hurried across. It was a small room, furnished in pinks and grays, with a desk and telephone, three padded chairs and a filing cabinet. There was a vanity containing a washbasin tucked under a window that looked out over the lake. Her name was printed on a cardboard notice and stuck to the door with tape.
Darcie Channing - Functions coordinator.
It looked very grand - and was tempting after peeling onions and wallowing in smelly dishwater. Leon certainly knew where to put on the pressure, subtle though it was.
Shirley followed her in with a tray of tea and some sandwiches. ‘Mister Price told me to bring you these. He made them himself. And Constable Watson has arrived. He’s a bit early. Shall I tell him to wait until you’ve had your tea?’
‘No, show him straight in, he’s probably busy - but fetch another cup first, please Shirley. He might like some tea, as well.’ Casually, she added as Shirley walked away. ‘How are the job interview’s going?’
‘Good. I think Dave McCauley will get the job. He’s done it before and has two kids to support. He’s been out of work for some time, so they really need the money.’
The niggle of guilt she felt didn’t stop her wolfing down a couple of sandwiches whilst she waited. She blessed Leon for the trouble he’d taken on her behalf, even if they were a bit bulky with cheese - and gave her an instant case of the hiccups!
... take a ...
Excuse me ...
I’ve got the
... ups ...
... oh hell!’
Jeff grinned. ‘I’ll get you some water.’ He filled a cup with water and held it out. ‘Take a few sips then hold your breath to the count of thirty.’
Her face turned red with effort as she held her breath, and a couple of spasms later she was back to normal. ‘Thanks, would you like a cup of tea? And call me Darcie, would you? Miss Channing’s a bit formal for someone I went to school with.’
‘Sergeant Holmes doesn’t encourage informality with the general public, just in case we have to arrest them.’
‘Well, next time you arrest me you can be as formal as you like - but at the moment you’re out of uniform.’
He reddened at the reminder. ‘Actually, it’s my day off.’ He sipped the tea she’d poured out and gazed at her over the cup. ‘I‘ve found out what happened to your father.’
She took a deep breath. ‘What?’
‘Would you like someone with you, Darcie.’ Jeff half stood up. ‘Perhaps I should fetch Mister Price.’
‘No. I’m all right. Just tell me.’
‘He was almost on the outskirts of Sydney when he stopped to change a tire. He was hit by another car.’
‘Why didn’t the other driver see him?’
‘It was dusk and your father didn’t have his lights on. It was no-one’s fault. You know how it is on those long trips. People get tired, and become careless.’
She nodded. ‘Did he ... did he... ?’
‘It was instant. He didn’t suffer.’ Jeff’s hand closed over hers for a second. ‘He was cremated in Sydney straight after the coroner’s report.’ Taking an envelope from his pocket he slid it across the desk. ‘All the details are in there.’ Awkwardly, he stood. ‘I’m so sorry, Darcie. Your father was a good man and a fine teacher.’
‘Yes.’ She managed a shaky smile. ‘Thanks for taking the trouble. I appreciate it.’
‘If there’s anything else I can do ...?’
There was more depth and sensitivity to Jeff than she’d thought. ‘This sort of thing can’t be easy for you.’
‘It comes with the job, I’m afraid.’
‘Jeff ... ?’ she murmured as he opened the door, then changed her mind about what she’d been about to say. She’d wait until Colin got back from his holiday and approach him directly before she involved the police. Like Leon had said, there was probably a simple explanation.
‘What is it, Darcie?’
‘You’ve been very kind.’
He gave her a brief smile and left, leaving her staring at the envelope on the desk. She didn’t see the point of opening it. She picked it up and was about to return to the chalet when the phone rang.
‘I’ve just seen Constable Watson leave. Are you okay, Darcie?’
‘Fine, Leon.’ Her mouth curved in a smile. ‘It’s made it a bit easier knowing what happened to him.’
‘Do you feel like talking about it?’
‘Not really.’ She gazed at the envelope in her hand. ‘I’ll leave the report in the chalet when I go back to the kitchen. You can read it for yourself.’
‘How do you like your office?’
‘It has an ego- stroking ambiance, especially the notice on the door. But your sandwiches gave me hiccups, which rather spoiled the effect I was about to make when Jeff walked in.’
His chuckle came, dark and warm.
She imagined him at the other end, his eyes simmering with laughter, and blew him an inaudible kiss. ‘I must go and get ready for work. I’ll see you later.’
No arguments this time. ‘Don’t worry about Georgie. I’ll see he’s taken care of.’
It was eleven o’clock when she finished work, by which time her arms, legs and back ached. There had been a second mountain of onions - a thousand more plates and the pans had got heavier as the evening progressed.
Leon said nothing as she staggered past him into the shower, but when she came back wrapped in her robe, there was a brandy waiting for her.
Warmth flooded through her limbs as she sipped it, and she shook her head when he quipped, ‘I guess it’s no good asking you to go out dancing or anything.’
Bed felt like heaven - but before she knew it the alarm was ringing and it was time to get up again.
Day two was a repeat of the first, except her aches intensified and her hands seemed to take on a permanent onion smell.
Leon shook his ruefully from side to side as he handed her the brandy on the second day.
On day three she dropped a dish, and the newly-chopped onions slid all over the floor. The chef sighed as she stopped to pick them up, but said nothing. They ran out of clean plates at dinner and she was there until midnight cleaning up, the chef stopping to give her a hand.
‘This job is too hard for you, Miss Channing. I don’t know what the boss is thinking of letting you do it - and I’m going to tell him so.’
She was too tired to drink the brandy that night.
The next morning the alarm clock failed. It was eleven when she woke. Panicking, she struggled out of bed and groaned as she tried to straighten up. Every muscle seemed to be on fire.
Leon appeared in the doorway. ‘You needn’t hurry, Darcie.’
She stared at him through bleary eyes. ‘The alarm didn’t go off.’
‘You slept through it.’
She shoved the hair back from her face. ‘Why didn’t you wake me?’
‘Because I started someone else in the job this morning.’ He held up his hand when she glared at him. ‘Before you say anything you regret, Darcie, it was on the Chef’s advice. He said you’re doing your best, but can’t cope - he bawled me out allowing you to do the job in the first place. He was right. I should have put my foot down.’
She sighed, and nodded, feeling too relieved to be angry. ‘If I ask nicely, will you make me a mug of tea whilst I dress? I’m parched.’
His expression became one of incredulity. ‘You don’t mind about the job?’
She managed a shrug of remarkable casualness under the circumstances. She didn’t like poor losers. ‘I hated the job. I only did it because you were being so male superior - and let me tell you something else. That job should have been given to someone who really needed it ... someone who’s been out of work and has children to support.’
‘Like Dave McCauley?’ he said silkily.
She made her eyes all round and innocent. ‘Dave who?’ she cooed, then retreated into the bathroom and gazed soberly at her reflection in the mirror.
Piling her tousled hair high on her head she stared critically at it and muttered as her stomach disintegrated into a multi-million pieces, ‘Off with the old and on with the new. I think I might get this cut off before the wedding.’
The subject of their marriage didn’t arise for a couple of days.
She’d moved into her office the next day to find a computer desk had been set up to one side. The computer was an updated version of one she’d used on her secretarial course, so wouldn’t be much trouble to master - besides, Shirley had offered to help her if she ran into trouble.
There was also a stack of stationary - and a red rose in a bud vase.
She spent the first two days on the telephone - and by the second evening had come up with a list of requirements needed for wedding packages, and their costs. Pleased with the results, she handed the sheets to Leon after dinner.