Irresistible Temptation(9)

By: Sara Craven

'It's wonderful,' Olivia admitted. She bit her lip. 'But I must warn you I don't expect to be staying long.'

'People don't.' Sasha shrugged. 'They come and go, and that's fine with me. I'm just a stepping post on their journey.' She paused. 'What about the rent, darling?' The dark blue eyes flicked shrewdly over her again, and she nodded. 'It's seventy-five pounds a week. Can you manage it? You're not working, are you?'

'Not yet,' Olivia said quietly. 'But first thing on Monday morning I'm going to start job-hunting.'

'What sort of thing are you looking for—acting—modelling?'

'Heavens, no.' Olivia felt emotionally battered by the events of the morning, but she managed a weak giggle. 'In Bristol I taught computer systems in offices, but I thought I'd look for a secretarial agency—start by temping.'

'Oh.' Sasha gave her an astonished look. 'You mean real work. Such a novelty. My tenants are usually waiting tables and stacking shelves while they wait to be discovered.'

She swept to the door, the tropical flowers billowing, the dog firmly tucked under her arm. 'When you've unpacked, come on up and we'll have some coffee, introduce ourselves properly. I can brief you on local shops, house rules and things at the same time. Humph and I will be in the kitchen. Just push the door open and yell.'

'Thank you.' Olivia gave her a resolute smile. 'You're very kind.'

Ah, well, darling,' said Sasha. 'Declan sent you. And I'd do anything for Declan.'

So would I, Olivia thought bitterly, as she unfastened her case. As long as it involved red-hot irons and a few gallons of boiling oil.

But she seemed to have fallen on her feet, she admitted, looking round her. The room was large, the furniture was simple and comfortable, and it was spotlessly clean. And amazingly cheap, for London, too. She'd expected to be charged twice or three times as much.

Sasha's kitchen was big, cosy and chaotic. As she went in Olivia was greeted by the small brown dog, warbling menacingly at full throttle.

'Quiet, Humph, you fool.' Sasha, percolator in hand, swept a pile of newspapers, empty envelopes and special offer coupons from the large pine table to the floor with one magnificent gesture. 'You've got to tell friend from foe. He's a Norfolk terrier with the soul of a Rottweiler,' she added. 'Grab a chair, darling, but not the one with the embroidered cushion—that's Humph's.'

She poured the coffee into attractive pottery mugs, set cream and sugar beside them, and offered home-made carrot cake which Olivia fell on thankfully.

'So, tell me all about yourself,' Sasha said, lighting another cheroot. 'How long have you known my lovely Declan?'

Olivia put down her mug, her stomach churning in swift apprehension. 'Er—not long.'

Oh, come on, she chided herself. Tell the truth, even if she dumps you back on the pavement She cleared her throat. 'Actually, I met him for the first time about an hour ago. I—I was looking for someone else entirely.'

'Serendipity,' Sasha nodded, apparently unfazed. 'A happy accident.'

'Not,' Olivia said tautly, 'how I'd have described it.'

'Ah, you clashed.' Sasha gave a throaty chuckle. 'Excellent.'

'I don't think he sees it that way,' Olivia said thinly.

'Well, of course not. He's had to beat women off with sticks since he could walk. And now he's a media personality I expect he gets targeted by all sorts.'

'Media personality?' Olivia stared at her, while connections in her brain jangled into place. 'My God,' she said in a hollow voice. 'I've just realised—he's Declan Malone. He interviews politicians on television. I knew I'd seen him somewhere.'

But not, she thought, next to naked on a doorstep.

Sasha gurgled. 'You could say that, darling. I think I'm going to like you.' She paused, frowning slightly. 'Declan can be abrasive sometimes, because his work demands it, but his heart's in the right place or you wouldn't be here now. Why, he's even got one of his in-laws lodging with him, which I think is carrying charity too far.'

Olivia swallowed her last morsel of carrot cake. 'One of his in-laws?' she repeated.

'Well, almost.' Sasha gestured broadly, doing no good to yet another pile of miscellaneous paperwork. 'The chap who's married to his cousin Maria. But she and Declan were practically brought up as brother and sister, so I suppose it counts.'

'Yes,' Olivia said, dry-mouthed. 'I—suppose it does.'

She felt deathly cold—shrivelling inside. She wanted to throw her head back and howl like a banshee.

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