Irresistible Temptation(3)By: Sara Craven
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.'
Olivia disregarded that. 'But he does live here?' And, receiving a brief, affirmative nod, 'Then why won't you fetch him for me?'
'Because he's not here now,' she was told. 'He's away for the weekend, so it's unlikely he was expecting any visitors, least of all you. Now, take your hand away from the door and clear off quietly, like a good girl.'