Irresistible Temptation(10)

By: Sara Craven

My God, she thought, despairingly. He's Maria's cousin, and I just marched up to his door and laid my claim to her husband. What have I said? What have I done?

Oh, Jeremy—Jeremy. Why didn't you warn me?

Because he didn't know you were about to descend on him, a small, flat voice in her head reminded her. You did it all off your own bat, and now you have to live with the consequences. Whatever they are.

'Are you all right?' Sasha was staring at her. 'You look as if you've seen a ghost, darting.'

'No.' Olivia mustered a smile. 'I think I've just realised how much I've bitten off—and I'm wondering if I can chew it.'

'While on the subject of chewing.' Sasha grabbed an envelope and drew a swift sketch map on the back of it 'The Portobello Road, darling, and our closest food source. Today's market day, so you'll find everything you need, but keep a close grip on your wallet. Pickpockets are practically endemic down there, so try not to look like a tourist'

She didn't feel like a tourist, Olivia thought an hour later, as she picked her way warily along the crowded Portobello pavements. More like an alien from the Planet Zog.

She'd spent a fraught hour with Sasha, being interrogated with the utmost charm on her background from birth to the present day. Nothing to hide there, but she'd had to dance round the subject of why she'd come to London, and how she'd happened to fetch up in W11.

She'd said far too much about her association with Jeremy already, and she suspected Sasha would approve no more than Declan Malone.

She'd been quite glad to make her urgent need to shop for provisions an excuse to escape.

And now here she was, walking down the Portobello Road. At first she thought she'd come to the wrong place, because all she could see on both sides of the road were antiques shops. The displays of silver and crystal were certainly mouth-watering, but there was no sign of any food outlets.

She crossed a road, and suddenly found herself absorbed into an alternative reality. A rowdy, brash reality, where dozens of ethnic accents brayed and clashed. Where clumps of street musicians vied for attention with a non-stop assault on the eardrums. Where stall-holders bellowed incomprehensible special offers. Olivia was wearing her bag slung diagonally across her body under her jacket, and she kept a protective hand on it as she found herself almost borne along on a tidal wave of humanity.

She was used to crowds, for heaven's sake. She'd lived and worked in Bristol. But here the noise and numbers suddenly threatened to overwhelm her.

She'd never seen a market like it. As well as all the fruit and vegetables on offer, there were innumerable stalls offering bric-à-brac, second-hand clothing—including a display of old fur coats and military uniforms from another century—books, jewellery and musical instruments.

The temptation to linger and explore was fierce, but buying food had to be her main priority.

She turned and fought her way back, diving into a supermarket with something like relief. She filled a basket with staples, then pushed her way up the road to a specialist bakery she'd noticed earlier, where tempting displays of every kind of bread and pastry were presented outside for customers to pick and mix.

Olivia chose some focaccia bread, with a mini-baguette filled with smoked ham and salad, which, with fruit, would serve as lunch. She selected apples, plums, tomatoes and peppers from a street stall, and then stopped at the old-fashioned butcher's further up the road and bought a chicken and enough minced pork and beef to make a pasta sauce.

On her way back, she passed the end of a cobbled mews and paused for a moment, looking wistfully at the narrow smart houses, painted in pastel colours. One of them she saw, even had a 'For Sale' board hanging from its first-floor balcony.

As she hesitated a couple came out of the house opposite, walking fast, hand in hand, the girl looking up into her companion's face and laughing. Olivia stepped back to let them pass, an intense pang of envy twisting inside her as she wondered what it would be like to live there with someone you loved.

She allowed herself to indulge a brief fantasy of being there with Jeremy. Wandering out to buy fresh croissants and oranges to squeeze for breakfast, while he stayed in bed with the newspapers. Then, later, going for a stroll together round the second-hand bookshops and junk stalls, choosing something for the house—a piece of pottery, maybe, or some glassware. Something to provide memories in the years ahead.

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