Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
‘I see.’ The frown forked between his eyes. ‘What about resisting arrest?’
‘I just turned to rush back into the house to get my bag and the constable with him grabbed my ... my chest.’ Her scowl was notable for its ferocity. Actually, I remember Jeff Watson from high school. He was a couple of years older than me, and a slimy toad. He had acne and used to pinch the girl’s behinds.’
‘Yes, yes, Darcie ...’ he said, trying not to laugh, ‘but what did you do to him?’
Her eyes became pools of injured innocence. ‘Nothing, honestly. He hurt me, so I elbowed him in the midriff. It was an instinctive reaction.’ She turned her back on him, pulled up the front of ragged jumper she was wearing and examined herself. ‘See, there’s the bruise where he grabbed me.’ The jumper was dropped back into place just before he got to examine the injury. Leon’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are you saying that the constable touched you in a personal way?’
‘Not intentionally, I suppose ... but yes.’ She sent a baleful stare out through the door. ‘Someone needs to train him in the techniques of how and where to grab. His wife must be covered in bruises - that’s if he was lucky enough to find someone to put up with him.’
The way her mind worked was quite disconcerting at times. A conversation with her was like trying to catch hold of quicksilver.
‘They’re just men trying to do their job.’ He slanted his head to one side and considered the mutinous woman standing in front of him. ‘Would it be possible for you to look contrite and apologize, after I’ve explained what happened?’
Her eyes widened as his hand clamped over her mouth. ‘Listen Darcie, you’re in a lot of trouble. Tough as it seems you can’t take on the police force single-handed. The sergeant seems a reasonable enough bloke to me. Let me handle it. An apology is better than going to jail, isn’t it?’
She was close to tears, and his heart did a slow roll when she gave a miserable nod. He gave her a quick hug and went to talk to the sergeant.
Her apology was given in a quavering voice. She looked absolutely crushed, but when he gently squeezed her hand in sympathy she dug her nails into his flesh.
‘I’m releasing you into the custody of Mister Price,’ the sergeant said firmly. ‘I’ve ask the bank to contact Mister Channing to verify your story. I believe he’s overseas at the moment on long service leave, and can’t be contacted. They’ve told me he’s been transferred to Sydney, and will be back in four weeks’ time to clear his belongings from the house. If your story checks out then, no charges will be laid.’
‘What about my shoulder bag? It’s still at my cousin’s house.’
‘I’ll ask Constable Watson to pick it up and deliver it to the Inn. Sign here for your belongings, Miss Channing. You can pick your dog up from the yard.’
‘Thank you, Sergeant Holmes,’ she said contritely, shoving the engagement ring with some force at Leon, who promptly slid it back on her finger. ‘I’m sorry I caused so much fuss.’
‘Mister Price told me you’ve suffered a recent bereavement, otherwise I wouldn’t have been so lenient.’
‘Come along, Angel. Let’s go home.’ Leon put his arm around her waist and drew her towards the door. ‘Thanks Sergeant. Perhaps you’d like to bring your wife up for a meal sometime, compliments of the management.’ Then they were outside, and collecting Wee Georgie. Just as they drove out of the police station Darcie began to snort with laughter, but there was an edge of hysteria to it. ‘Watson and Holmes; can you believe it?’
‘Calm down, Darcie.’
‘And I had to call on you of all people - the man who stole my home.’
He pulled over to the side of the road.
‘Now I’m in your custody. Good God! This is unbelievable.’ Tears slid down her cheek and she angrily dashed them away. ‘Now I’m crying - and I
cry. I didn’t cry when I sat on that broken bottle and had to go to hospital to have it stitched. I didn’t even cry when my budgie died. You caused all this trouble. You and Colin.’ She sniffed. ‘I hate you, Leon Price.’
Her brimming eyes gazed helplessly at him and her voice began to wobble in a way that made his chest ache.
‘I didn’t even cry when my father died, and now I can’t stop. Isn’t that awful.’
Reaching out for her he slid her across to his lap and against his chest, where she began to sob helplessly.
He stroked gentle fingers through her hair whilst his shirt became damp from her tears, but he didn’t care. No woman had ever affected him like this before, and no woman had made him feel so needed. He couldn’t bring her father back, but he’d buy her another budgie, and get plastic surgery for her scar if it bothered her that much ... though perhaps not. He grinned. The crescent shaped scar looked quite fetching, situated where it was.
* * * *
Darcie would have been quite touched if she could have read Leon’s thoughts, but she was too miserable to think past herself at that moment.
She wished she’d never gone to England. Her mother had been pleased to see her, and she’d passed her secretarial course with flying colors, but she’d never fitted in with her two half-brothers. Deep down, Darcie knew she resented the fact, that when given an ultimatum by her lover, her mother had chosen to abandon her daughter.
She somehow had the feeling that if she’d stayed in Australia, nothing would have changed. Her father wouldn’t have died, and she’d still be looking after him in the ramshackle house they’d both loved. She’d always been the strong one, her father the helpless one. Now she was as helpless as a baby. No money, no home, no-one to turn to - except for the man who was responsible for her present predicament ... a man she wanted to hate but couldn’t.
‘I don’t even know how my father died or where he’s buried,’ she sniffled against his shirt. ‘All Colin said in his letter was that he’d died in an accident.’ She took the wad of tissues he offered her and vigorously blew her nose before throwing him an accusing look. ‘All I’ve got left is Wee Georgie, and you said he can’t stay at the hotel.’
‘I’ve been thinking about that.’
Darcie held her breath in hope.
‘There’s some self-catering family accommodation over on the other side of the lake. Chalets that are only used in the summer.’
‘You mean I can move into one of those.’ She flung her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek. ‘Thank you, you’re a darling.’
can move into one of those.’
She withdrew her arms. ‘We?’
His grin warmed her cheeks. ‘As far as the hotel staff and the police are concerned we’re a couple. It will look odd if you move in there alone.’
‘So your intention is to take advantage of a helpless woman. What sort of custodianship do you think you’ve been awarded?’
‘I wouldn’t class you as entirely helpless, Darcie. I’d also like to point out that the chalet I have in mind has three bedrooms.’
Interest came into her eyes, and then her heart sank. ‘I have to tell you that I haven’t got any money to pay for it at present. I gave up my job just before I went to England, and the teller machine swallowed my bank card this morning.’
‘That’s no problem.’
‘It might not be to you, but it is to me,’ she retorted. ‘I’m not used to being a kept woman. I did a secretarial course in England. How about giving me a job at the inn?’
‘We’re fully staffed in that department. What did you do before you went away?’
‘I worked in the florist shop in town.’
‘I don’t think we have an opening for a florist.’
‘That’s good, because the sap in the flower stems gave me dermatitis. Splaying out her hands she held them out. ‘It used to itch like crazy. But now, as you can see it’s completely gone.’
He took both of her hands in his and examined them. The ring looked as if it had been designed with her in mind. ‘They’re very pretty hands. The only position we have open is for a kitchen-hand, and you can’t do that. The work’s too hard for a woman and your hands would be ruined.’
‘I can wear rubber gloves,’ she pointed out.
‘No. The staff will think it strange if I let my fiancée do such a menial job. Besides, heavy lifting is involved.’
She snatched her hands away. ‘I can lift heavy things and we can break off the engagement.’
‘And we could always get married. That way you wouldn’t need a job.’
He sounded perfectly serious. She stared long and hard at him, eventually spluttering out, ‘You’re... you’re serious aren’t you? Why me?’
‘Because you fit comfortably in my lap, you’re available, and it’s the only way you’ll get a stake in the land you’ve accused me of stealing.’
He smiled then, a slow charming smile that churned uncomfortably through her insides as she scrambled back to the passenger seat.
Calmly, he restarted the car. ‘No? I have a proposition to put to you, Miss Channing.’
Darcie turned his proposal down, despite the temptation.
‘But why not?’
She could have sworn the astonishment in his eyes was genuine. Had he really expected her to tie herself up to a man she’d only just met? ‘Because when I get married it’s going to be for keeps.’
‘Who said a marriage between us wouldn’t be for keeps?’
‘You did. One year, you said.’
He sighed. ‘I suggested the prenuptial contract stipulate that we must be married for one year.’
‘And then what?’
‘If it doesn’t work there will be a generous settlement. I’ve offered you back the Petrel Point land with the addition of any building that’s been erected on it.’
‘How can you offer me something that’s already mine?’
Leon could have shaken her. ‘It’s
land, Darcie. Can’t you get that through your head?’
She ignored that. ‘And what about the baby, what sort of mother would choose to walk out on her baby?’
Exasperated, he closed his eyes. We haven’t got a baby.’
‘Then why did you say you wanted to bring him up.’
‘He’d be my son. But anyway, I only mentioned that in passing. We wouldn’t have a baby. I said we’d put off having one for that first year.’
‘Accidents happen,’ she said darkly, ‘and if there happened to be an accident I’d want to raise the result myself.’
He moved to stare out over the lake. ‘This is a totally ridiculous conversation.’
‘The whole idea is ridiculous. Let me have the job in the kitchen instead.’
Determination on his face, he turned to face her. ‘Definitely not.’
‘Then there’s nothing more to be said. What sort of marriage has a prenuptial agreement, anyway? It indicates a lack of commitment and trust.’
They glared at each other for several long minutes, then a smile inched across Leon’s face.
Darcie steeled herself against its devastating impact. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘You are. No women in her right mind would want that job in the kitchen when she could live a life of ease.
‘A life of ease?’ She gave a derisive snort of laughter. ‘That’s typical male thinking. Being a wife and mother is hard work, and underpaid. In fact it’s slave labor. I’d be better off working in the kitchen.’
She would, would she? Did
have something to learn! He felt like tearing his hair out. This woman couldn’t even be logical when she argued. He gave in, partly because he wanted to teach her a lesson, but mostly to preserve his sanity.
‘Okay, Darcie. One week in the kitchen. If it doesn’t work out we get married. That’s my best offer.’ He
it wouldn’t work out. He’d give her two days at the most. In the meantime he’d interview applicants for the job.
Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. ‘And I get to keep the baby when we split up?’
Leon had no qualms about humoring her. ‘As long as I can see him on a regular basis.’ There wasn’t going to be any baby, he’d make sure of that.
‘Right, it’s settled, then.’ She stuck out her hand and grinned. ‘May the best man win.’
‘As there’s only one man present, he’s bound to.’ Leon was about to press a kiss on her fingers when she snatched her hand away.
‘No unfair tactics, okay?’
‘Just having you around is unfair to me.’ His gaze roved over her shabby attire. ‘Have you got anything decent to wear. The inn has a dress code for dinner.’
‘I don’t know where my clothes are. But anyway, I won’t need anything nice. I’ll be working in the kitchen.’
Leon fiddled with his pen and avoided her eyes. He knew exactly where her clothes were, but he wasn’t about to start another war by telling her he’d dumped them in the charity shop bin. ‘Not this week. You’ll start on Monday.’
He picked up her case and tipped the contents on the bed. Jeans and sweaters, tee shirts, a tracksuit, a few flimsy pieces of underwear and a pair of scuffed shoes fell in a crumpled heap.
He stared guiltily at her. ‘You need some clothes.’
‘I can’t afford anything right now. I told you, the teller machine swallowed my bank card.‘ She made a face as she looked at the pathetic heap on the bed. ‘I’ll eat in the chalet then I won’t need to dress up.’
‘No you won’t. You’ll eat in the dining room with me. Not only will it be expected. It will give you some idea of what you’re in for with regards to the amount of dirty dishes you’ll be expected to handle.’ His glance roved around the room. ‘I’ll send Harry over with a couple of boxes and give you the key to the chalet. I suggest you start packing our things whilst I’m out.’
‘Where is the chalet?’
He drew her over to the window. ‘Across the lake, just behind that stand of trees.’
She glanced up at him, mostly to avoid the breath that shivered erotically against her ear. ‘It’s extremely temporary, believe me.’
The wicked smile he gave unnerved her, and before she knew it his hand had slid under her chin. ‘Don’t you dare,’ she threatened as he tilted her chin up.
But he did dare, and his kiss was tender and excitingly sensual all at the same time. Her response was nothing short of shocking. As if a flame had been lit under her, everything started to sizzle.
Touch the blue fuse paper, then stand back and wait for the big bang!