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Seduction Never Lies(5)

By:Sara Craven

Mr Denison looked at his guest with a faint grimace. 'Ah,' he said. 'The village grapevine, I'm afraid.'

Jago Marsh's smile widened. 'I wouldn't have it any other way. As long as they keep their facts straight, of course.'

'Don't worry,' Tavy said shortly. 'They generally get the measure of newcomers pretty quickly.'

'Well,' he said. 'That can work both ways. And, for the record, I'm now a retired musician.'

'Really?' Her brows lifted. 'After the world arenas and the screaming fans, won't you find Hazelton Magna terribly boring?'

'On the contrary,' he returned. 'I'm sure it has many hidden charms,  and I'm looking forward to exploring all of them.' He allowed an instant  for that to register, then continued, 'Besides, I've been looking for  somewhere quiet-to settle down and pursue other interests, as the saying  goes. And the Manor seems the perfect place.'

He turned to the Vicar. 'Particularly when I found a beautiful water  nymph waiting for me at the lake. A most unexpected delight and what  irresistibly clinched the deal for me.'

Tavy reached for a cloth and wiped out the sink as if her life depended on it.

'Ah, the statue,' Mr Denison mused. 'Yes, it's a lovely piece of  sculpture. A true classic. One of the Manning ancestors brought her home  from the Grand Tour back in the eighteenth century. Apparently he was  so pleased with his find that he even renamed the house Ladysmere for  her. Until then it had just been Hazelton Manor.'

'That's a great story,' Jago Marsh said, thoughtfully. 'And I feel  exactly the same about my alluring nymph, so Ladysmere it shall stay. I  wouldn't dream of changing it back again.'                       


'But the house itself,' Tavy said very clearly. 'It's been empty for so  long, won't it cost a fortune to put right? Are you sure it's worth  it?'

'Octavia.' Her father sounded a note of reproof. 'That's none of our business.'

'Actually, it's a valid question,' said Jago Marsh. 'But I'm in this  for the long haul, and I like the quirkiness of the place, so I'll pay  what it takes to put it right. Although I suspect what it most needs is  TLC. Tender loving care,' he added, surveying her flushed and mutinous  face, before allowing his gaze to travel down over the white blouse and  dark grey skirt worn well below the knee, according to Mrs Wilding's  dictates.

'Thank you,' she said. 'I am familiar with the expression.'

How dared he do this? she raged inwardly. How dared he come here and wind her up? Because that's all it was.

Maybe he was just piqued that she hadn't recognised him yesterday.  Maybe he'd thought one glance, a gasp and a giggle as realisation  dawned, would bring her out of the water and...

Well, she didn't want to contemplate the rest of that scenario.

And with a lot of girls, he might have got lucky, but she had no  interest in rock music, or the people who played it, so she was no one's  idea of a groupie.

As well as being spoken for, she added swiftly.

Although, it would have made no difference if she'd been free as air.  However famous, however rich he might be, she had known him instantly as  someone to be avoided. Someone dangerous with a streak of inner  darkness.

His talk of settling down was nonsense. She'd give him three months of  village life before he was looking for the shortest route back to the  fast lane.

Well, she could survive that long. It was enduring the rest of this visit which would prove tricky.

Oh, let it be over soon, she whispered inwardly, and with unwonted vehemence.

But her father was speaking, driving another nail into her coffin.  'I've asked Jago to stay for lunch, darling. I hope that's all right.'

'It's cold chicken and salad,' she said tautly, groaning silently. 'I'm not sure there's enough to go round.'

'But I thought we were having macaroni cheese,' he said. 'I saw it in the fridge when I got the beer.'

And so there was. One of Dad's all-time Saturday favourites. She'd got up specially to prepare it in advance.

'I'd planned that for supper,' she lied.

'Oh.' He looked faintly puzzled. 'I thought you'd be seeing Patrick tonight.'

'Well, no,' she said. 'His mother's had some bad news, so he's spending the evening with her.'

'Ah,' he said, and paused. 'All the same, let's have the macaroni now. It won't take long to cook.'

'Dad.' She tried to laugh. 'I'm sure Mr Marsh can do better for himself than very ordinary pasta in our kitchen.'

'Better than a home-cooked meal in good company?' her antagonist  queried softly. 'It sounds wonderful. As long as it isn't too much  trouble,' he added, courteously.

Tavy remembered an old Agatha Christie she'd read years ago-The Murder  at the Vicarage. She felt like creating a real-life sequel.

Hastily, she counted to ten. 'Why don't you both have another beer in  the garden,' she forced herself to suggest. 'I-I'll call when it's  ready.'

While the oven was heating, she mixed breadcrumbs with Parmesan and  scattered them across the top of the pasta, found and opened a jar of  plums she'd bottled the previous autumn to have with ice cream as  dessert, and made a simple dressing for the salad.

We'll have to eat the chicken tonight, she told herself grimly as she  put the earthenware dish into the oven, then turned away to lay the  table.

All the domestic stuff she could do on autopilot, which was just as well when her mind seemed to have gone into free fall.

Under normal circumstances, she'd have run upstairs to take off what  she regarded without pleasure as her 'school uniform', change into  shorts and maybe a sun-top, and release her hair from its clasp at the  nape of her neck. Preparation for a lazy afternoon under the chestnut  tree in the garden-with a book and the odd bout of weeding thrown in.

But there was nothing usual about today, and it seemed infinitely safer  to stay as she was. To show this interloper that the girl he'd  surprised yesterday was a fantasy.

And to demonstrate that this was the real Octavia Denison-efficient,  hard-working, responsible and mature. The Vicar's daughter and therefore  the last person in the world to go swimming naked in someone else's  lake.                       


Except that she had done so, and altering her outer image wasn't going  to change a thing as far as he was concerned. Any more than his  lightening of his appearance today had affected her initial impression  of him.

She sighed. Her father was a darling but she often wished he was warier  with strangers. That he wouldn't go more than halfway to meet them,  with no better foundation for his trust than instinct. Something that  had let him down more than once in the past.

Well, she would be cautious for him where Jago Marsh was concerned. In fact, constantly on her guard.

She didn't know much about his former band Descent but could recall  enough to glean the social niceties had not been a priority with them.

Top of her own agenda, however, would be to find out more, because forewarned would indeed be forearmed.

He's playing some unpleasant game with us, she told herself restively. He has to be, only Dad can't see it.

Although she suspected it was that faith in the basic goodness of human  nature that made her father so popular in the parish, even if his  adherence to the traditional forms of worship did not always find favour  with the hierarchy in the diocese.

But that was quite another problem.

Whereas-sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, she thought. Which, in this case, was Jago Marsh.

And she sighed again but this time rather more deeply.


IT WAS ONE of the most difficult lunches she had ever sat through.

And, to her annoyance, the macaroni cheese was one of her best ever, and Jago Marsh praised it lavishly and had two helpings.

To her utter astonishment, her father had gone down to the dark,  cobwebby space which was the Vicarage cellar and produced a bottle of  light, dry Italian wine which complemented the food perfectly.

She had turned to him, her eyebrows lifting questioningly. 'Should Mr Marsh be drinking if he's driving?'

'Mr Marsh walked from the Manor,' Jago had responded, affably. 'And will return there in the same way.'

Did he mean he'd moved in already? Surely not. The formalities couldn't  have been completed. And how could he possibly be living there anyway  with no gas, electricity or water and not a stick of furniture in the  place?

Somehow she couldn't see him camping there with a sleeping bag and portable stove.

If he'd indeed been the traveller she'd first assumed, she knew now  that he'd have had the biggest and best trailer on the site with every  mod con and then some.

Just as that cheap metal watch, on covert examination, had proved to be a Rolex, and probably platinum.

What she found most disturbing was how genuinely the Vicar seemed to  enjoy his company, listening with interest to his stories of the band's  early touring days, carefully cleaned up, she suspected, for the  purpose.

While she served the food and sat, taking the occasional sip of wine, and listening, watching, and waiting.