Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
Anyone would think you hadn’t been kissed before, her inner voice mocked.
Don’t be so such a pain! This is a kiss and a half. I can hear violins playing, little pink Cupids with loaded quivers are flying in front of my eyes, and the bones in my knees have gone all wobbly.
It was Leon who managed to pull away first. Darcie gulped in a reviving breath of air and managed a half-hearted protest as she staggered to a chair. ‘Wow! That was an ambush and a half.’
He looked as shaken as she was, but he recovered faster. His chuckle had a slight edge of uncertainty to it. ‘It was meant to be.’
She had the feeling his ambush had bounced back on him. Well it would wouldn’t it? He was obviously over sexed. Look how he’d thrown Helen over. Men like him couldn’t be trusted. He’d probably be supporting half a dozen former wives when he was old, and they’d all be fighting over his fortune
‘Right, I’ll leave you to it.’ He edged towards the door, looking slightly stunned, as if she’d been putting the hard word on him, instead of the other way around.
‘Send a brandy in with the boxes,’ she said gloomily, ‘I think I need one.’
‘It’s too early in the day. You can have some coffee instead.’ His voice softened. ‘Don’t worry, Darcie, it might never happen.’
‘I’m counting on it.’
A grin curled her way. ‘In view of what’s just happened, so am I.’
Oh yeah! What about the pink Cupids flying all over the place?
So, I’ll buy a fly swat.
She tore her gaze away from Leon’s and lobbed her shoe at him. Deftly he caught it, and slipping it in his pocket, closed the door behind him.
* * * *
When Leon came back Darcie was ensconced in the chalet.
She’d given him the room with the double bed, and had hung his suits neatly in the wardrobe. Throwing the packages on the bed in the adjoining bedroom, he strode back to the car and got another lot.
Darcie was busy replacing missing buttons on his shirts, and she watched his progress from the corner of her eye.
When he’d finished, he pushed Georgie off the couch and sprawled along its full length, grinning at her. ‘I see you’re practicing your domestic duties.’
She flicked him a warning glance, but said nothing. ‘You’re not still mad at me, are you?’
‘If I was I wouldn’t be doing this.’ Biting through the cotton she threw the shirt on top of the others and rose to her feet. ‘I cannibalized a ripped shirt to repair the others. I hope you don’t mind.’ Then without pausing for breath, ‘What’s in the packages?’
‘This and that ... you’ve got no idea how exhausting it is to shop for a woman.’
‘Not to the extent you’ve shopped, I must admit.’ Her mouth pursed in annoyance. ‘Are all those packages for me? I thought you were just going to buy a dress for me to wear to dinner.’
‘There were so many of them I didn’t know which one to choose. One of the salesgirls was about your size and coloring. She tried them on to show me what they looked like. It all got a bit confusing in the end so I bought everything. I knew they’d look better on you, anyway. You can always take them back if you don’t like them.’
She tried not to laugh, but didn’t succeed. Leon was a most unusual man - and his ironic sense of humor matched hers.
His mouth suddenly twitched into an irrepressible grin that knocked her heart into a slide. ‘Go and try the black one on. That’s the one chose myself.’
Ten seconds later her bed was covered in clothes - and what clothes! There was nothing cheap about them. Piles of filmy underwear, a soft blue robe ... several dresses, designer jeans, shirts, jumpers, and half a dozen boxes of shoes. There was even a box containing dress jewelry, and a bottle of expensive perfume she’d coveted in the duty free shop, but hadn’t been able to afford. What was he, a mind reader? she thought stroking the stopper against her wrist.
The little black dress took on a new meaning when she tried it on. Made of clinging silk jersey its gently flared skirt ceased mid-thigh. The high neckline was almost decorous, the dress being designed to show off the legs. She donned a pair of skyscraper shoes, swept her hair up into a gold flecked scarf made of some filmy material and sashayed through to the lounge.
Leon’s glance swept slowly up and down her. ‘That looks dynamite on you.’
‘How did it look on the salesgirl?’
He grinned. ‘Like a tablecloth, her legs were Queen Anne style.’
Against her better judgment, she giggled. ‘So ... you’re a leg man, Leon Price.’
His gaze slid higher. ‘I’m an everything man, Darcie, especially when it comes in neat packaging like yours.’ His eyes flicked disturbingly to hers. ‘Would you like me to demonstrate?’
She took a step back, the laughter fading from her eyes. ‘I know exactly what kind of man you are.’
He gave a wry smile. ‘And I know exactly what type of woman you are.’
‘Explain?’ she said, dry-mouthed.
‘Sensual through and through. I bet we’d be compatible in bed, uninhibited. Think about it, Darcie. It’s been a four-year drought for you. Imagine how it would be between us. We’re well matched.’
Her female bits gave her a nudge, telling her they’d welcome the connection. She kicked them out the way. Shut up, who asked you! ‘Is that your usual line?’ she shot back, determined to stay on top of the situation.
‘It’s the truth.’ He suddenly laughed. ‘I suppose it does make me sound like a womanizer considering we’ve just met.’
The trouble was she felt as though she’d known him all her life. ‘Are you one?’
‘No more than the next man. I didn’t have much time for love when I was building up the business. Making money was my main concern, then.’
‘I’m not talking about love. I’m talking about casual affairs.’
A grin played around his mouth as his eyes held hers to his. Time for evasive action, he thought
Are you interested enough to care?’
‘Liar. You flirt with me all the time.’
Suddenly, unaccountably, she was annoyed. ‘You’re mistaken, Leon. You only think I flirt because that’s what you want. You have a giant sized libido and an ego to match. I don’t give a lizard’s fart about your love life.’
Laughter huffed from him. ‘You called me Leon, at last.’ He gave her a mocking little bow. ‘Our relationship is progressing, I think. Get changed and we’ll go and have lunch. The chef makes a wonderful Greek Salad.’ Loathe to abandon her newly acquired finery, which made her feel as sensual as he seemed to think she was she challenged, ‘What’s wrong with what I’ve got on?’
‘Absolutely nothing, but there’s a two piece outfit the color of forget-me-nots that I’d be interested to see you in.’
For a man who hadn’t known what he was buying he’d done wonderfully well. The hem of the ribbed skirt brushed her knee and the matching top suited her to perfection.
The admiration in his eyes wasn’t too hard to accept, but the barely disguised desire that came with it was slightly uncomfortable, albeit exciting. Leon made her feel as if she was the only woman in the world.
Well, he would wouldn’t he? He’d probably practiced his techniques from the moment he climbed out of his playpen. She would not allow herself to be fooled by them.
She tried to brazen it out, but failed because her own desire seemed to bubble up as soon as their eyes met. This was one sexy guy. One wrong move and they’d be making lunch of each other. She wondered if there was such a thing as an anti-aphrodisiac as she dragged her hormones back up from gutter level. Ungraciously, she muttered. ‘Shall we go?’
Alarmed when he snatched up a pair of scissors from the table and advanced on her she backed away.
Leon gave a creamy smooth smile as he purred. ‘Perhaps I should remove your price tag.’
She managed to bite her tongue as he snipped the dangling label off, but only just. The breath she’d inhaled was expelled in jagged hisses.
They eyeballed each other for a second or two, and then a tiny seed of shame appeared in the gray depths of his eyes. He shrugged. ‘That was unfair. I apologize.’
It took a man of integrity to apologize with such sincerity.
Or a con-man!
Only she had nothing to be conned out of now. Nothing! Her very survival depended on Leon Price - a man she wanted to hate, but couldn’t.
So many things had happened over the past few hours. She was totally bewildered, and had no one to turn to but him. Deep inside her was an ache, like an injury that hadn’t quite healed. She also felt lonely. Yet she wasn’t alone - and she was glad she wasn’t.
‘Thank you for being kind to me, Leon,’ she said, and her words rekindled the ashes of his smile, melting away a tiny portion of her loneliness.
Nevertheless, she was thinking as they made their way towards the main building of the inn that she’d refund every cent as soon as she had sufficient funds
Constable Watson arrived just as they’d reached the coffee stage. ‘He said he’d appreciate a private word with you both, and he brought this,’ Shirley whispered, handing over her bag.
They met him the foyer and he gazed awkwardly from one to the other for a moment. ‘I’m sorry if I was rough, Miss Channing. It was unintentional. To be quite honest I didn’t recognize you. I’ve been working up north since I graduated from the police academy, and have only just been posted back here.’
Full of Greek salad and fortified with a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, Darcie was inclined to be magnanimous. ‘Apology accepted.’
‘It wouldn’t look good on my record if a complaint was made. I’m a married man.’
Interest piqued, Darcie stared at him. ‘Who did you marry, Jeff, anyone I know?’
‘Her name is Jenny. She’s not from round here though, I met her in Perth.’
‘Have you got any children?’
‘One.’ A smile transformed Jeff’s homely face into one approaching beauty. ‘His name’s Sam.’
‘Why don’t you join us for coffee and chat? Have you got a photograph of him on you?’
Jeff darted a look at Leon, who remained stonily impassive. ‘I’d better not stay. I’m expected back at the station. I just wanted you to know –’
‘Miss Channing won’t be making any official complaints, despite her injuries, constable,’ Leon intervened smoothly. ‘But there’s something you could do for her if you would?’
‘If it’s within my power,’ Jeff said cautiously.
‘Miss Channing’s father accidentally died a few months ago when she was abroad. Because her cousin is away she’s been unable to discover the nature of the accident or where he’s buried. Naturally, she’s distressed ...’
‘I’ll do what I can to find out.’
‘Thanks, Jeff. Now you remember who I am you can inform Sherlock Homes that I’m not a burglar.’
‘I have, but he still insists on checking. He’s not from around here, so you’ll just have to ride it out.’
They exchanged a smile before he left, then Darcie placed her hand on Leon’s arm. ‘Thanks, I wouldn’t have thought about asking him to check.’
‘Elementary, my dear Darcie.’ He covered her hand with his. ‘Now, what say you and I finish our coffee, then get changed and take that lout of a dog for a walk along one of the bush trails whilst the sun is still shining? I don’t want him demolishing the chalet.’
Within the hour they were winding their way through the forest. Its peculiar smell of damp leaf litter reminded Darcie of her childhood, and the cathedral air of quietness, despite the bird-song and rustling foliage, was a healing balm to her soul.
Neither of them spoke for a while, but after half-an-hour when the path began to wind uphill, Leon drew them to a halt. ‘I don’t know where this trail leads, do you?’
Capturing a stray strand of hair Darcie tried not to smile as she tucked it into her scarf. ‘It joins the main trail that winds upwards to the bluff and lover’s leap. There’s a great view from there but it’s a steep climb.’
‘How long does it take?’
‘About two hours.’ He still seemed fresh but it was obvious he wasn’t used to bush walking. His shoes were unsuitable for scaling rocks and a faint sheen of perspiration glistened on his forehead. She gave him an out. ‘I don’t feel up to going that far today myself. I’m still a bit tired from the plane trip.’
Relief came into his eyes. ‘Perhaps you’ll take me there another day, when we’re both fresher.’
‘Yes ... I’d like to.’ She whistled for Georgie, who came bounding out of the undergrowth with a stick between his teeth. He dropped it at Leon’s feet and wagged his tail.
Leon picked up the stick and threw it in the direction they’d come from. ‘He’s a good-natured dog.’
‘My father gave him to me for my twenty-first birthday.’
Leon enjoyed the way her eyes softened.
‘He was only a pup. Dad thought he was one of those small terriers but he just kept growing. I don’t think he’s a pure bred because his ears stand up. I haven’t told him though, because he thinks he is, and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.’
Leon had captured her hand whilst this was being said. Either she hadn’t noticed, or was pretending not to. He didn’t care which because her hand felt soft and warm, like a mouse curled into his palm.
She asked him, ‘Did you have a dog when you were a boy?’
He gave a little start of surprise. His childhood was something he rarely talked about. The youngest of a family of five boys, he’d been born late in life to parents who neither wanted nor cared for him. He’d been taken into care when he was three, and shunted from one foster home to the other.
He couldn’t remember his family, and none of them had bothered to find out what had happened to him.
His final foster parent had been a widowed teacher, a feisty woman who’d taken his measure, recognized his potential and taken it upon herself to make sure the resentful twelve-year-old boy she’d taken under her wing grew up to be a responsible, well-educated citizen.
He’d become Sarah Williams’ mission in life, and she’d succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Despite his resolve not to, he’d allowed someone to become important to him. He’d tested her in the same way he had his other foster parents, trying to push her over the edge. But she’d been clever, and too tough ... and she’d won. For that he was grateful.