Authors: Sara Craven
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Erotica
Declan decided he would use himself as bait to seduce Olivia away from Jeremy.
He found it well-nigh incredible that someone as basically worthless as Jeremy should have two women desperate to spend their lives with him. But it was clear that all was not perfect in the Garden of Eden, so he'd see what a little concentrated temptation could do. Find out if he could lead Olivia astray. Beguile her into falling in love a little.
He'd be doing her a favor, after all, because he couldn't see any future for Olivia with Jeremy—even if Jeremy's wife gave up the struggle and divorced him. And he wouldn't do any lasting damage, he told himself defensively, as he stripped off his clothes.
All the same, a persistent image of her—the vulnerable slant of her neck and shoulders as she'd sat in front of that damned computer—kept coming into his mind. Haunting him…
The streets of London aren't just paved with gold—they're home to three of the world's most eligible bachelors!
London, England: a city of style, sophistication— and romance! Its exclusive Notting Hill district is the perfect place to fall in love. Sparks fly as three sexy, single men meet—and marry—three lively, independent women…
This fabulous new miniseries features the talents of Sara Craven, Mary Lyons and Sophie Weston: three hugely popular authors who between them have sold more than 35 million books worldwide.
Other books in this series are:
On sale Jan. 2000: Reform of the Playboy#2083 by Mary Lyons
On sale Feb. 2000: The Millionaire Affair #2089 by Sophie Weston
First North American Publication 2000
Copyright © 1999 by Sara Craven
'This train is now approaching Paddington. Will passengers make sure they take their luggage and all personal possessions with them?'
Olivia swallowed as the announcement came over the system, her fingers tightening round the strap of her bag. She rose, made her way along the swaying carriage to the luggage rack at the far end, and retrieved her suitcase. She'd been on edge throughout the journey, and now that it was almost over her stomach was churning with nervous excitement.
It's all right, she told herself. Very soon now you'll be with Jeremy, and everything will be fine. This is what you want. What you've dreamed of. And all you have to do is—go for it.
She took the slip of paper from her pocket, and glanced at it again. 16 Lancey Gardens, W11, she repeated soundlessly to herself for the umpteenth time.
'That's the Ladbroke Grove area in Notting Hill,' Beth, her more knowledgeable flatmate had told her, brows lifted. 'Very swish.'
'He's got a marvellous job,' Olivia said proudly. 'He can afford it.'
'There's nothing the matter with your job.' Beth gave her a measuring look. 'So why pack it all in and go chasing rainbows—in the Smoke?'
'You know why.' Olivia began transferring neat piles of undies and nightwear from the chest of drawers to the open case on the bed.
'Livvy—he's a married man, for God's sake.'
'Some marriage—with her in Bristol and him in London,' Olivia retorted. 'Beth—it's over; believe me. It's been dead for more than a year now. They want different things. She's totally wrapped up in her career. Didn't I show you that piece in the paper announcing she'd just been made a partner in her law firm?'
'Which only proves she's doing well. Wives are allowed to, you know. It's not a male prerogative any more.' Beth's tone was dry. 'Anyway, it doesn't give you
to pursue her husband to London.'
'Jeremy and I want to be together,' Olivia insisted. 'And it's time we took positive steps to achieve this.'
'Is that how Jeremy sees it?' Beth's look of mild enquiry metamorphosed into a frown. 'My God, Livvy. You have told him you're joining him? Haven't you?'
'Not exactly,' Olivia said defensively. 'But it was always understood that we'd be together in London. It was just a question of timing. And, with Maria getting her partnership, this is clearly the time.'
'He's been in London for three months. Shouldn't you have got together at some point? Discussed things?'
Olivia shrugged. 'He's been busy—settling into a new job—new flat. We talk on the phone—and write.'
'You write,' said Beth. 'He phones—sometimes.'
Olivia's mouth tightened. 'You don't really like Jeremy, do you?'
'I haven't any feelings about him either way.' Beth was dismissive. 'But I don't like what he's doing to you. The games he's playing.'
'I don't know what you mean.' Olivia tucked tissue into the folds of a black skirt.
'Yes, you do, but clearly you don't want to talk about it. So I'll just say this—if I was going with a guy, I'd want a bit more out of the relationship than a few vague promises of eternal bliss—some time.' Beth's tone was edged.
Olivia flushed. 'If you're talking about sex…'
'Which I am.'
'Then we want that too, of course, but it didn't seem right. Not while he was still living here in Bristol with Maria. Now the separation is official, we can—make our own commitment to each other.'
'Such passion,' Beth commented wryly.
'It's not just an affair,' Olivia insisted. 'We want to build a life together—a home—ultimately a family. My joining him in London is the first step on the way.'
'Then I hope it all works out for you, I really do.' Beth gave her a swift hug. 'But I won't advertise your room immediately—just in case…'
Remembering, Olivia frowned as she hefted her case along the platform, and out on to the main concourse. The train had been crowded, mostly, she suspected, with Saturday shoppers, and she had to thread her way through a mass of people to find the taxi rank.
Beth means well, she thought, taking her place in the queue, and setting her case down thankfully. But she doesn't really know Jeremy. Not like I do.
There hardly seemed a time when he hadn't been part of her life. They'd grown up in the same Somerset village, and Olivia had always been slightly in awe of his blond good looks, and the assurance bestowed by his six years' seniority over her. She'd been shyly happy when he'd come home for the school holidays, however little attention he'd paid her, and she'd grieved silently when he'd left for university.
During his second year away, his parents had sold their house and moved to a smaller property on the coast, and she'd decided sadly that she'd never see him again.
Their meeting last year in a Bristol wine bar had been the purest coincidence. She'd been there with a colleague from work, unwinding after a long, hard day teaching computerised office systems to a particularly unreceptive bunch of secretaries.
Jeremy had been with a crowd of people at a leaving do on the other side of the room. The wine bar had been full, and not particularly well-lit, but she'd recognised him at once. Heard him laugh. Had seen his brilliant smile flash as he'd turned to trade cheerful insults with another member of his party.
When he'd gone up to the bar, she'd followed. Touched his sleeve…
'Hello, Jeremy. I don't expect you remember me…'
He turned, brows lifting in sudden hauteur, which disappeared like the sun breaking through clouds as he registered her presence.
'Livvy Butler—by all that's wonderful. I don't believe it. How long has it been?'
Too long, she thought, bathed in the warmth of that smile. Basking, for once, in his undivided attention.
'You look terrific' His blue eyes took in everything, from the streaked brown hair enhanced by a fortnight in the Greek sun, to the pink enamel on the toenails peeping from her chic, high-heeled sandals. He glanced round. 'Are you with someone, or can we talk?'
'I was just leaving…'
'No, don't do that. Look, those people in the corner are going. Grab their table while I get us a drink. Is Chardon all right?'
She'd have drunk wolfsbane if he'd offered it to her.
Moments later, they were sitting at the corner table, and he was pouring wine into her glass.
'Are you sure your friends won't mind?' she asked doubtfully.
Jeremy shrugged 'I've done my duty. The way things are going, my absence won't even be noticed.' He handed over her glass. Raised his own in a toast 'Happy meetings, Livvy. Tell me, what are you doing in Bristol?'
Waiting for you, she thought, as she raised her glass in turn. But I never knew it until this moment…
The taxi queue shuffled up, and Olivia shuffled with it, impatience building inside her. Why couldn't all these people wanting Harrods or Selfridges share each other's cabs, and save their money and her precious time?
Now that she was here, she wanted to be with Jeremy. Needed to see his face light up with incredulity and delight, and his arms opening wide to enfold her.
When it had started, it had been purely platonic. Just two old friends meeting for the odd drink—the occasional meal. Jeremy had made no secret of the fact that he was married, and she'd respected him for that.
She couldn't remember the moment when she first registered that all might not be well in his marriage. Jeremy always spoke with pride of his wife's career achievements, but was reticent—even tight-lipped—about their personal relationship, and gradually she'd found herself wondering.
Then, one day, he'd rung her at work and asked almost abruptly if she'd have dinner with him that evening. When she'd arrived at the restaurant, she'd found a candlelit table for two, and champagne waiting on ice.
It's my birthday,' he'd told her quietly. 'Unfortunately, my wife is too busy preparing a major case for the Crown Court to come out with me. Thanks for making time for me, Livvy.'
Over the evening, Jeremy had spoken openly about his marriage for the first time.
'With Maria, the job comes first, second and third,' he'd said bitterly. 'I'm not even sure I end up a poor fourth.'
'That can't be true.' She'd put her hand over his. 'You've been married such a short time. You have to talk it out—reach some kind of compromise…'
'How can you talk to someone who won't admit there's a problem?' He'd shaken his head. 'I'm not certain we've ever had a marriage at all.' His fingers had closed round hers. 'I should have waited, Livvy,' he'd said huskily. Waited for you. I know that now. Tell me it's not too late.'
'Wake up, love.' The taxi driver's strident voice broke impatiently into her reverie. 'Do you want a cab or not?'
'Oh, yes.' Red-faced, Olivia gave him her destination and heaved her case on board, collapsing back on to the seat as the cab moved off.
She hardly knew London at all, she reflected. Her only previous visits had been brief sightseeing trips when she was much younger. Living here would be a totally different matter.
She was used to heavy traffic in Bristol, but it didn't compare with the sheer volume confronting her now. The cab was crawling along, hemmed in by other vehicles, only occasionally diving through some tiny gap, as if making a bid for freedom.
Selling her car had been the right decision, she acknowledged ruefully. She couldn't envisage a time when she would dare drive through this mayhem.
The noise seemed to batter at her eardrums, and the air which reached her through the half-open window was stale and fume-laden.
She turned her gaze resolutely to the shops on either side of the street. She supposed there would come a time when they'd be as familiar to her as those in her own village, but just at the moment it didn't seem likely.
She wanted to ask the cabbie where they were, but her sole remark about the weather had been greeted with a monosyllable, so she stayed silent.
The shops gave way to houses, big and solid, with impressive porticoes and an unmistakable air of affluence.
Olivia felt her throat tighten. It couldn't be far now, she thought, casting an anxious eye at the cab's meter.
Eventually, the taxi turned left into a long curved terrace of tall white houses, each approached by a short flight of stone steps and fronted by railings.
'Did you say number sixteen?' the cabbie called back to her.
'Yes,' she said, dry-mouthed, as they drew to a halt. Leaning forward, she saw smart dark blue paintwork, and a window box still bright with flowers in the September sunlight.
She stood on the pavement, and watched the departing cab as if it was her last link with reality. Then she turned, and looked back at the house. The curtains were half closed, but a ground-floor window was open at the top, and she could hear the faint sound of music.
So Jeremy was at home, she thought, relief flooding over her.
Slowly, she carried her case up the steps. There were two brass bells beside the front door, with one marked 'B'. She pressed the unmarked one, and waited.
For an eternity, nothing happened, and she was just about to ring again when she heard the sound of locks being unfastened inside the house.
She took a deep breath, feeling her mouth shape itself into a nervous rictus of a smile.
The door opened, and Olivia found herself confronted by a complete stranger. Or was he? Although she knew they'd never met, his face seemed oddly familiar just the same.
He was tall, with untidy dark hair falling across his forehead, a beak of a nose, and a shadow of stubble on a determined chin. His eyes were a strange shade between blue and grey that seemed almost silvery, and fringed with long lashes. The deep lines beside his firm-lipped mouth had clearly been scored there by cynical amusement.
Although he wasn't showing much evidence of a sense of humour at the moment. On the contrary, he looked profoundly and wearily irritated.
He was wearing a navy silk dressing gown, which hung open to the waist, revealing a strong, hair-shadowed chest. This garment, which only reached to mid-thigh on his lean, muscular legs, was obviously his only covering, and secured haphazardly by a sash at his waist, Olivia realised with sudden discomfort.
His bored gaze assessed her dismissively, taking in the brief denim skirt, the white shirt and black blazer. Olivia returned his disparaging glance with energy and interest, and saw his mouth tighten.
Did all Londoners deal in discouraging monosyllables? Olivia wondered.
She lifted her chin. 'I'd like to see Jeremy Attwood, please. He—he's expecting me,' she added, into the ensuing silence.
Leaning against the doorjamb, he gave her another, longer look, which this time took in the suitcase at her feet The straight dark brows snapped together in a frown.
Then, 'I don't think so,' he said, and made to shut the door.
'Oh, wait.' Dismayed, Olivia lunged forward, grabbing the edge of the door. 'If you'll just tell Jeremy I'm here…'
He shook his head. 'Can't be done. And please let go of my door,' he added coldly. 'You can lose a handful of fingers pulling a stunt like that.'