Irresistible Temptation(5)

By: Sara Craven


And she'd intended to pay her way with Jeremy. That went without saying. It was going to be a partnership, not charity.

But common sense told her that her resources would soon dwindle if she had to fork out for a London hotel, even for a couple of nights. Nor had she the least idea where to start looking. Anything in this vicinity would be right out of her range.

She looked at the case beside her, and groaned inwardly. How far could she carry it before her arm came out of its socket?

In her home village, she thought, swallowing, they wouldn't treat a stray dog like this.

She looked stonily at her persecutor. 'I don't suppose you'd let me leave my luggage here while I go and look for a room?'

'Quite correct,' he said. 'I wouldn't. And for two pins I'd let you tramp the streets to teach you a much-needed lesson. But I can't do that, because London is not a place where you turn up on the off-chance. You could end up in all kinds of trouble—things you've never envisaged in your worst nightmares. And I don't want that on my conscience.

'Thanks for the pious platitudes,' Olivia said. She was shaking inwardly with rage. 'What have you in mind? The coal shed?'

'Alas, no.' He reached forward and picked up her case, handling it easily. 'You'd better come in while I talk to someone.'

'You mean I'm being allowed to pollute your sacred portals?' She followed him into a wide hall. On the left, a flight of stairs carpeted in pale green led to the upper floors. On the right, an open door showed her a room fitted out as an office, with a fax machine, a photocopier and a state-of-the-art computer sitting on a workman-like desk. This was where the music was coming from, too.

'Not for long,' he tossed back over his shoulder, leading the way to the rear of the house. 'And don't consider going for squatters? rights, either.'

She'd been about to ask what computer system he used, attempt to establish that she had a life and a career, and wasn't just some helpless hopeful. Now all she hoped was that the whole thing would crash spectacularly at some crucial moment.

He stood back, allowing her to precede him. 'You can wait in here. Please don't make yourself too comfortable. I'm just going to make a phone call.'

'And put some clothes on as well?' Olivia gave the dressing gown an acid glance.

'This,' he said softly, 'is my Saturday morning. I will dress—and do—as I like.' He tightened the sash with ostentatious care. 'Just remember, lady, you came knocking on my door, not the other way round.'

Biting her lip, Olivia walked past him. She found herself in a long rectangular room with one wall that seemed to be made entirely of glass. The main item of furniture was a long refectory table supplied with high-backed oak chairs. On the table, beside a newspaper folded open at an inside page, was a used plate and knife, an empty mug, and a dish of dark red jam. A lingering fragrance of coffee and warm croissant still hung in the air from the adjoining kitchen.

Despite her best efforts, Olivia felt her nose twitch longingly. It had been a long time since the blueberry muffin and carton of hot chocolate which she'd consumed at Bristol Temple Meads Station.

But something warned her that it would be an even longer time before the Owner offered her a sip of his espresso.

Swine, she thought. Greedy, selfish pig.

To take her mind off her empty stomach, she wandered over to the French windows. Beyond them, she saw a mass of greenery. No walls or fences, she noted, puzzled. Just a riot of tall shrubs and huge trees, already heavy with approaching autumn. There were late-flowering roses, too, and great banks of fuchsias and hydrangeas. Behind the leafy barrier she caught a glimpse of the more strident green of a lawn. And a sunlit dazzle of water.

She drew a swift breath of sheer appreciation. This garden seemed to stretch for ever, its only confine the wide gravelled path which circled it.

It was the last thing she'd expected to find, here in the middle of the city—this wonderful secret wilderness.

It was like the garden behind her parents' home, she thought, although on a vastly larger scale, and for a moment she was assailed by a pang of homesickness so strong that she could have cried out.

'Is something wrong?' The Owner had joined her, tapping out numbers on a cordless phone. Clearly he didn't miss much.

'I—I was just looking at the garden.' Olivia bit her lip. 'It's beautiful. Who—who does it belong to?'

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