Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire (10 page)

BOOK: Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire
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Once outside he nodded at the Harley parked across the other side of the lane. ‘Hope you don’t mind the mode of transport, but it won’t be long and this beauty will be consigned to the garage if we get the sort of floods we got last year during the winter.’

She didn’t answer this directly, saying instead as they walked over to the motorbike, ‘What sort of car have you got?’

‘Cars, plural. An Aston Martin and a Range-Rover.’ But you won’t have to hold onto me in those and I wouldn’t feel your body pressed against mine. His eyes glittering, he gave her the spare helmet he’d brought with him and then helped her up behind him. She smelled gorgeous, some flowery thing with undertones he couldn’t put a name to but which made his body harden. ‘OK? Hold on tight.’ Real tight, don’t be shy.

He turned briefly to smile at her before he switched on the engine and her voice sounded breathless when she said, ‘I’m not used to riding on a motorbike. How far away is the pub?’

‘Not too far.’ Unfortunately.

In fact it was ten minutes, being in the next village, the winding lanes that twisted and curved making it far longer than the crow flew and imposing their own speed limit. The pub was a pretty little thatched affair, complete with brasses and narrow mullioned windows and solid oak furniture.
Having secured comfy seats by the big open fireplace in which a blazing fire roared, Morgan fetched two halves of beer and the menus.

‘Warmer?’ He took a long swallow of his beer, looking at her over the rim of his glass. She looked good enough to eat.

She nodded, her gaze not holding his but dropping to the menu in her hand as she said, ‘Much. And starving too.’

They were seated at a table for two, so close he could reach out and touch her if he wanted to. And he wanted to, he acknowledged silently. But he didn’t. ‘The pan-fried crispy pork with red-onion gravy is seriously good here,’ he said conversationally. ‘But the steaks are great too. Local butcher. But perhaps you’d prefer fish or a risotto?’

‘The pork sounds lovely.’ She tucked her hair behind her ears as she spoke, the movement not so much wary as guarded. He wondered if she ever let that guard down. Whatever, Willow Landon was one hard female to get to know, but, remembering that burning kiss and the way it had shook him up, it would be worth the trouble. Nothing worth having came easy.

The word resonated as it bounced round his head. This was madness and he knew it, so why had he asked her out tonight when this had every chance of ending badly?

He knew why. He wanted to make love to her more than he’d wanted to make love to a woman for a long, long time. There was a gnawing hunger inside him for her body, which had been with him since he’d first met her, and it was damn uncomfortable. If he took her to bed then maybe it would assuage the primal need and she’d stop featuring in his dreams every night.

That being the case, why wasn’t he going all out to
weaken her defences? another part of his mind asked caustically. He’d had enough experience with women to know the right buttons to press, for crying out loud. It was all part of the mating game.

Because Willow was different.

An alarm went off in his mind, causing him to raise his head with a jerk as a waitress appeared at their table for their order. He raised one eyebrow to Willow. ‘The pork?’ And at her nod, said to the waitress, ‘Make that two.’

‘This is nice.’ She glanced round the pub as she spoke, her voice warm. ‘Do you come here often?’

‘Usually just the odd weekend when Kitty and Jim go to visit relatives in the north-east. Kitty always leaves meals she’s prepared, but it’s the putting it in the oven and getting it out at the right time I fall down on. I tend to work and invariably the meal’s cremated by the time I remember.’

‘She’s very fond of you, isn’t she?’ She smiled warmly.

‘As am I of her and Jim. We rub along together fairly well.’

She nodded. ‘They’re nice people, what my father would have called salt of the earth.’

The fact that it really mattered that she liked Kitty and Jim was another warning shot across his bows, but again he chose to ignore it. Lifting one ankle to rest it across the opposite knee, he settled back in his seat. ‘Tell me about your father,’ he said quietly. ‘Were you close to him and your mother?’

She was silent for a moment. ‘Very close. Beth was too.’

He found he wanted to know more. ‘What were they like? As parents, I mean.’ He wanted to picture her as a little girl.

She glanced at him, a small, uncertain look. ‘They were great,’ she said awkwardly.

Suddenly he understood. ‘It doesn’t hurt to hear about other people’s parents,’ he lied softly. ‘Tell me, if it’s not too painful to talk about them,’ he added quickly.

‘No, Beth and I talk about them often.’ She bit her lower lip, her small white teeth worrying the flesh for a moment. ‘Where do you want me to start?’

His eyes had flared at the action, but he didn’t betray the desire it had induced in his voice when he said, ‘The beginning. You as a little girl in pigtails and white lace.’

She smiled, as he’d wanted her to, and relaxed a little. ‘I so wasn’t a white lace sort of child.’

‘But you had pigtails? Cute little red pigtails and freckles?’

She nodded. ‘Plenty of freckles.’

‘Pigtails and dungarees, then, and scabby knees and ink-stained fingers. And those sandal things, jelly beans, aren’t they?’

‘Now you’re nearer the truth.’ She took a sip of her beer and began, ‘Well, Mum was a stay-at-home mother and Dad had a nine-to-five job, very traditional…’ She talked about her home, their family holidays, how she and her sister had smuggled home a ‘pet’ crab because they’d been desperate for a pet, after which their parents had bought them a hamster each…

He listened, fascinated, but consciously untensing his jaw several times as the scenes her words invoked brought the old familiar longing tightening muscles.

The subject came to a natural conclusion when the waitress brought their meals, but for a few moments the feeling he’d grown up with—that of being on the outside looking in—was strong before he slammed the lid on what
he considered weakness. Being shunted around various relatives who grudgingly took him in for a few months at a time, ignored, neglected, shouted at, was a better deal than some poor kids had, and the independence that had been forced on him at an early age had got him to where he was now. Without that early training he wouldn’t have made it.

He repeated the words that had become his mantra to focus his mind on the positive as he ate, and within a minute or two he was back on an even keel. He didn’t
anyone, he’d managed on his own for over three decades and that was the way he liked it. No, he didn’t
anyone, but wanting physically was a different matter and entirely natural. And he wanted Willow. More and more every moment he was with her. He didn’t know what it was about this defensive, wary, honey-skinned woman that made him ache with want, but whatever it was, it had knocked him for six. He admitted it. In fact it was a relief to admit it.

But it brought its own set of problems. The main one of which being he was dealing with a vulnerable young woman here, not the sort of woman he usually favoured who was capable of being as ruthless as him, in bed and out of it. Whatever had gone on with this idiot of a husband of hers, it hadn’t been pleasant and the scars hadn’t healed. Not by a long chalk. He had to walk away from this one. At least for a while.

Morgan’s eyes narrowed but otherwise his face was impassive, displaying no emotion. This ability he had of hiding his feelings was what had made him so successful in business.

The trouble was, he didn’t know if he could walk
away. A pang of desire struck, low and deep. And that left him…where? Between a rock and a hard place, as Kitty would say.

‘…mine, it’s pretty wonderful.’

Too late he realised Willow had spoken and he hadn’t caught most of it. Pulling himself together, he said, ‘Sorry?’

‘I said, if your pork is as good as mine, it’s pretty wonderful, ’ she repeated quietly, clearly slightly put out he hadn’t heard her the first time. Which was understandable.

Cursing himself, he said smoothly, ‘It’s so good I always lose concentration for the first few mouthfuls—it’s the glutton in me. Shameful, I admit it.’

She smiled, but a faint shadow remained in the green eyes. He didn’t like that he’d put it there, nor the uncertainty that went with it. Which was crazy, he told himself grimly. When had he ever cared to that extent? It was further proof, if any were needed, that he had been right. He had to walk away now and stop flirting with disaster. There were plenty of Charmaines out there, nice and uncomplicated without any baggage. Why go looking for trouble?


slept at his place after he’d charged in on his white horse—’

‘Harley, actually. Great brute of a thing.’

‘His white horse and rescued you,’ Beth went on, undeterred by Willow’s dry tone. ‘And then the guy helps you clean the cottage, invites you back to his place for another great meal—’

‘It was Kitty who invited me back, to be strictly truthful.’

‘And then turns up the next evening and takes you out to dinner! And you say he’s only being neighbourly? Come on, Willow, get real. From what you’ve told me he isn’t some geek or other who’s starved for female company and fastens onto the first woman he gets friendly with. The guy’s a player, and hot, obviously. And don’t wrinkle your nose like that.’

‘Well, don’t use such terminology, then. You’ve never even met him.’ Willow stared at her sister indignantly. ‘A player!’

‘Does he or does he not have an active social life?’

‘I guess.’ She nodded. ‘Yes, course he does.’

‘And does he give you the impression of being celibate?’

Willow stared helplessly at her sister. Several days had passed since the last meal with Morgan and she had filled them with work, work and more work, staying late at the office and getting in to work early. Arriving home exhausted helped her sleep and prevented endless postmortems on the hours with Morgan. ‘You’ve got the wrong idea about this,’ she said at last. ‘Honestly, Beth, you’ve got totally the wrong idea.’

Beth surveyed her sister over the rim of her mug of hot chocolate. It was Friday lunchtime and Willow had popped in for a quick snack and a chat, although the chat had turned into the third degree for which Beth made no apology. ‘So what’s the right idea?’ she asked, setting her mug down.

She wished she knew, Willow thought ruefully. She didn’t know which end of her was up, but she couldn’t very well tell Beth that. She didn’t want to get involved with a man—any man—but since she’d got to know Morgan better due to the events of last weekend she couldn’t get him out of her mind and it was driving her mad. Furthermore, she had been both elated and terrified when he’d turned up last Sunday, worrying all night at the pub that he was going to make a move on her when he saw her home, and then being devastated when he said goodbye with a chaste kiss on her cheek. How was that for inconsistency?

Taking a breath, she said calmly, ‘I told you, Beth. Morgan’s a neighbour, that’s all. A friend. Someone to have a drink with.’

‘Has he kissed you?’ Then Beth gave a little squeal. ‘He has, hasn’t he? He’s kissed you.’

It was useless to deny it with the flood of hot colour
staining her cheeks. ‘Once, with the sort of kiss you mean, and we both agreed it was a mistake and that was the end of that.’

‘Was that before or after he turned up on your doorstep and took you to the pub?’ Beth asked very intensely.

‘Before.’ Willow’s tone was wary.

‘There, you see.’ Beth was positively triumphant. ‘He came back for more, don’t you
Oh, come on, Willow, you must see?’

‘Beth, we went for a meal and he saw me home and kissed my cheek as if I was his maiden aunt. If that’s passion, I’m a monkey,’ said Willow irritably.

‘Have a banana, Cheetah.’ Beth grinned at her wickedly.

Willow shook her head. ‘He didn’t ask to see me again and if anything he seemed glad to get away. And I wasn’t imagining it,’ she added fiercely, as though Beth had contradicted her. ‘Anyway, he knows I’m not interested in a relationship and he’s not the sort of man to bang his head against a brick wall.’

‘So what sort of man is he?’ Beth asked gently.

Enigmatically male. Virile. Strong and gentle at the same time, which was dangerously attractive. She could go on for some time because if ever a man was complicated, Morgan was. The way he had listened to her when she’d spoken about her childhood, the hungry look in the beautiful blue eyes…‘Busy,’ she said flatly. ‘Very busy, with no time to waste.’

Beth cocked an eyebrow sardonically.

‘Well, he is.’ Willow swallowed the last of her chocolate and stood up. ‘I have to be going, thanks for lunch.’

‘Pleasure.’ Beth reached out and took her hands. ‘I’m just going to say one more thing and then I’ll shut up.’

Willow eyed her sister apprehensively. She recognised the tone. Whatever Beth was going to say, she wouldn’t like it.

‘Piers was the biggest mistake you’d ever made in your life and you’re incredibly well rid of him,’ Beth said steadily. ‘But what would be an even bigger mistake is to let him influence the rest of your life in a negative way by shutting yourself away from the prospect of love.’ She shook Willow’s hands, squeezing them tightly. ‘Love might come ten years from now, but it might not. It might be tomorrow. Life isn’t guaranteed to come in neat packages when we’re ready for it. Just…don’t close your mind to anything. That’s what I’m saying. Don’t miss the opportunity of something great.’

Willow stared at her sister’s concerned face through misty eyes and then leant against her for a moment as Beth’s arms tightened around her. Beth had spoken as their mother might have done. Then she jerked away, her gaze flashing to Beth’s stomach. ‘Wow, that was a kick if ever I felt one,’ she said in awe. ‘Does it often do that?’

‘All the time,’ Beth said ruefully. ‘Especially when I settle down to sleep. Peter’s convinced there’s a worldclass footballer in there. He’ll be so surprised if it’s a girl.’

They smiled at each other, and after a brief hug Willow left to drive back to work. Much as she loved her sister, she wasn’t sorry to leave. The inquisition had been a little rigorous.

Once seated at her desk, however, Willow found melancholy had her in its grip. Feeling the vigorous power of the new life in Beth’s stomach had brought home to her yet again all she was going to miss in never having a family of her own. The baby couldn’t have known, of course, but it was as though it had been determined to emphasise every word its mother had spoken.

Was she letting Piers influence her even now, subtly control her decisions and her plans for the future? She had never looked at it this way before, but perhaps Beth was right.

The thought panicked her, brought the blood pounding in her ears, and she gasped as though she were drowning.

No, she couldn’t risk getting it wrong again. She had thought Piers loved her, that they were going to grow old together with children and grandchildren, that he would protect and cherish her. Instead…She gulped, drawing in much-needed breaths as she willed herself to calm down. Instead she’d placed herself in a living nightmare, the culmination of which had threatened to break her. She couldn’t go through that again.

She shut her eyes tightly but she could still see Piers’ enraged face on the screen of her mind, hear his curses as he had sent his plate spinning to the floor with a flick of his hand. Such a small thing to signify the end of a marriage—potatoes that were slightly too hard in the centre—but if it hadn’t been that it would have been something else. His control over her by that time had been obsessional and she had lived in fear of displeasing him in some way. Her confidence had gone; she’d been a shell of her former self. Piers had told her she was useless in bed and nothing to look at, stupid, dull and boring, and she had believed him. But that night something had snapped and she’d yelled back at him, telling him some home truths that had caught him on the raw.

It had been the first time he had resorted to physical abuse, and when he had hit her she had hit him back, fighting with all her might when he’d laid into her. Their neighbours had called the police and by the time they’d
arrived she had been barely conscious, but lucid enough to realise that but for the police’s pounding at their door his intention had been to rape her. That knowledge had been the most horrific thing of all.

The divorce had been quick and final and he hadn’t even contested it, realising he had gone too far and his hold over her was finished. Her love had turned to hate and he’d known it.

She opened her eyes, staring down at the papers on her desk without seeing them, lost in her dark thoughts. How could something she had thought so good, so fine, have turned out to be so bad, a lie from start to finish? Some months after the divorce one of her friends had told her she’d heard Piers had married again. Someone from his office apparently and, her friend had murmured, the word was Piers had been seeing this girl when he was still married to Willow. She had looked her friend full in the face and told her the girl had her sympathy. And it was true. She had. No one deserved Piers.

Willow sat for a moment more and then her shoulders came back and she straightened. She had work to do. No more thinking. And anyway, Morgan hadn’t asked to see her again, she reminded herself, as though that sorted everything out. Which it did, certainly for the immediate future.

She was the last one to leave her particular office at six o’clock although there were still a couple of lights on in other parts of the building when she walked out to the car park after saying goodnight to the security man. The night was windy but dry and she drove home carefully, conscious she was tired, both emotionally and physically. Tomorrow morning she had the chimney sweep coming
and she couldn’t wait to be able to light a fire in the sitting room again, and in the afternoon the plumber Morgan had recommended was coming to look round the cottage and give her a quote for central heating. Tonight, though, the cottage was cold and faintly damp, and it didn’t do anything for her mood as she fixed herself a sandwich and a hot drink in the kitchen. The last few nights she’d gone to bed with a jumper and bedsocks over her pyjamas, and three hotwater bottles positioned at strategic parts of her body.

She went to bed early, once again cocooned like an Eskimo and fell asleep immediately, curled under the duvet like a small animal, waking just before her alarm clock went off at eight. Her nose was cold but the rest of her was as warm as toast and she stretched, willing herself to get out of bed and face the chill.

An hour later she’d washed, dressed and had breakfast and was waiting for the chimney sweep. After a gloomy, rain-filled week the weather had done one of its mercurial transformations. Bright sunshine was spilling through the cottage windows and all was golden light. Her mood, too, had changed. She was in love with her little home again and the future wasn’t the black hole she had stared into the night before, but something laced with expectation and hope. Life was good and she was fortunate.

She wasn’t sure if she could ever fully trust a man again or take the step Beth had spoken about yesterday, but somehow it didn’t seem such an urgent obstacle today but something that would take care of itself. Shrugging at her inconsistency, she made another pot of coffee and was just taking her first sip when a knock came at the front door.

Absolutely sure it was the chimney sweep, she flung
open the door saying, ‘Am I pleased to see
and then felt an instant tightening in her stomach as her heart did a somersault.

‘Thank you. I didn’t expect such a warm welcome.’ Morgan was leaning against the door post, his black hair shining in the sunlight and his blue eyes crinkled with a smile.

‘I thought you were the chimney sweep,’ she said weakly, knowing she’d turned beetroot red. ‘I’m waiting for him.’

‘Don’t spoil it.’

‘I—He’ll be here in a—a minute.’ Oh, for goodness’ sake, pull yourself together, she told herself scathingly, hearing her stammer with disgust, but the knowledge had suddenly hit that part of the uplift in her mood had been because there’d been a chance of running into Morgan during the weekend. ‘Come in,’ she said belatedly, standing aside for him to enter and trying to ignore what the smell of his aftershave did to her senses as he walked past her. ‘I’ve just made some coffee, if you’d like one? And there’s toast and preserves in the kitchen.’

‘Sounds good.’

Like before he seemed to fill the cottage; the very air seemed to crackle when he was around. Leading the way into the kitchen, she said carefully, ‘The guy you recommended for the central heating is coming round this afternoon.’ Keep it friendly and informal, nothing heavy, Willow. Don’t ask him why he’s here, much as you’d like to. ‘He seemed very nice on the phone. Very helpful and friendly.’

‘Jeff? Yeh, he’s a good local contact,’ Morgan said a trifle absently. ‘He’ll do a good job for you.’

‘He’s just had a cancellation, apparently, and thinks he’d be able to start work this coming week if we agree on a price.’

‘That’s fortunate. Snap him up and get the job done.’

She turned to face him, an unexpected quiver running through her as she glanced at him standing in the doorway, big and dark and tough-looking. Only somehow she didn’t think he was quite as tough as he’d like people to believe, not deep inside. ‘White or black?’ she asked flatly, not liking the way her thoughts had gone.

‘Black,’ he said almost impatiently, before adding, ‘Thanks.’

After pouring Morgan a coffee she picked up her own and walked over to him, intending they go and sit in the sitting room. Only he didn’t move from the doorway, taking his mug but his eyes moving over her face as he murmured, ‘I’ve thought of you all week, do you know that? I’ve thought of nothing but you.’

Willow stared at him. His tone had been one of selfdeprecation, even annoyance, and she didn’t know how to respond. Raising her chin slightly, she said, ‘Do you expect me to apologise?’

There was a brief silence and then he smiled, humour briefly sparkling in his eyes. ‘No, just to listen to me while I explain where I’m coming from. Will you do that?’

She was spared an answer by the real chimney sweep banging on the front door. ‘I’ll have to let him in.’

He stood for a moment more and then let her through. ‘I’ll hang around till he goes, if that’s OK?’

She turned just before she opened the front door. ‘Yes, that’s OK,’ she said quietly, blessing the fact the turmoil within wasn’t evident in her voice.

The next hour was the longest of her life, but eventually Mr George—a burly, red-cheeked man with a wide smile—had removed his covers and other paraphernalia, finished his coffee and cake, and left, and all without making one spot of soot fall on her newly cleaned sitting room. He and Morgan had chatted about local goings-on while he’d worked, and between them they’d eaten most of the cherry cake she’d bought the day before. Willow found she was immensely irritated by the ease with which Morgan had conducted himself, especially because her insides had caught into a giant knot and her heart seemed determined to jump out of her chest every time she looked at him.

BOOK: Sweet Surrender with the Millionaire
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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