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Seduction Never Lies(9)

By:Sara Craven



She paused, shivering a little as a sudden cool breeze caught her. She  glanced up at the sky and saw ragged clouds hurrying, suggesting the  weather was about to change. Like everything else.

She turned reluctantly to the silent man at her side, fixing her gaze  on one of the pearl buttons that fastened his shirt. Drew a breath.

'That was an amazing meal,' she said politely. 'Thank you.'

'I suspect the pleasure was all mine,' he said. 'But it won't always be that way, Octavia.'

She could have sworn he hadn't moved, yet suddenly he seemed altogether  too close, not even a hand's breadth dividing them. She was burningly  aware of the scent of his skin, enhanced by the warm musky fragrance he  was wearing. She wanted to step back, but she was rooted to the spot,  looking up into the narrow dark face, marking the intensity of his gaze  and the firm line of his thin lips.

Wondering-dreading-what he might do next.

He said softly, 'No, my sweet, I'm not going to kiss you. That's a  delight I shall defer until you're in a more receptive mood.'

She said in a voice she hardly recognised, 'Then you'll wait for ever.'

'If that's what it takes,' he said. 'I will.' He lifted a hand, touched  one of the jade drops hanging from her ear. Nothing more, but she felt a  quiver of sharp sensation as if his fingers had brushed-cupped-her  breast. As if she would know exactly how that might feel. And want it...                       
       
           



       

He said, 'Goodnight, Octavia.' And left her.

* * *

She sat, huddled into the corner of the rear seat, as the car powered  its way smoothly back to the village. Beyond the darkened windows, it  was still almost light. It was less than a month to midsummer and, as  everyone kept saying, the days were drawing out. Becoming longer. Soon  to seem endless.

You'll wait for ever...

She shouldn't have said that, she thought shivering. She knew that now. It was too much like a challenge.

Yet all she'd wanted to do was make it clear that whatever game he was  playing must end. That from now on she planned to keep her distance,  whatever spurious relationship he tried to hatch with her father.

Who was, of course, the next hurdle she had to negotiate. Just as soon as she got home.

Somehow she had to convince the Vicar that the evening had been a dismal failure.

'Great food,' she could say. 'Shame about the company. Because if he's  lonely, Dad, I can quite understand why.' Keeping it light, even faintly  rueful, but adamant all the same.

And there, hopefully, it would end.

Mrs Wilding, however, might be a totally different matter, she thought,  groaning inwardly. The ghastly mischance that had prompted them to  choose Barkland Grange tonight matched up with the way her luck was  generally going. While Fiona's presence was the cherry on the cake.

So that was something else not to tell Dad-that she might soon be out of work. Which she couldn't afford to be.

Plus the likelihood that the Manor's new owner's query about 'the  gorgeous redhead' would soon be all round the village, lighting its own  blue touchpaper.

All in all, the tally of her misfortunes seemed to be on an upward spiral since Jago Marsh's arrival.

I hit the nail on the head when I called him the Dark Lord, she thought, biting her lip savagely.

When they got to the Vicarage, Charlie insisted on easing the limo carefully up the narrow drive.

'You don't know who might be lurking in those shrubs, miss,' he informed her darkly. 'I'm dropping you at the door.'

'We don't actually have many lurkers in Hazelton Magna,' she told him,  adding silently, 'Apart from your boss.' But she thanked him all the  same, and even managed a wave as he drove off.

But when she tried the door, it was locked, and it was then she noticed  that the whole house seemed to be in darkness. Perhaps there'd been an  emergency-someone seriously ill-and her father had been sent for, as  often happened with the older parishioners, and sometimes with the  younger ones too.

Or more prosaically, perhaps Mr Denison, not expecting her home so soon, had simply decided to have an early night.

She let herself in quietly, slipped off her sandals and trod upstairs  barefoot to investigate, and offer a cup of hot chocolate if her father  was still awake.

But his door was open and the bed unoccupied.

Ah, well, a sick visit it is, she decided as she returned downstairs.  And quite some time ago, because when she took the milk from the fridge,  she noticed the cold chicken was still there under its cling-film  cover.

He'll be starving when he comes in, she thought, mentally reviewing the  cartons of homemade soup waiting in the freezer, and deciding on  minestrone.

But as she went to retrieve it, a key rattled in the back door lock,  and Mr Denison came in, not with the withdrawn, strained look he wore  after visiting people in trouble, but appearing positively cheerful.

'Hello, darling. Foraging for food? Was the Barkland Grange catering that bad?'

'No, I saw you'd had no supper, so I was getting something for you.'

'Oh, I've been dining out too,' he said. 'Geoff Layton phoned to say  his son had sent him a birthday hamper from Fortnum's. So we had chess  and the most wonderful pork pie.' He patted his midriff. 'Quite  amazing.'

'Oh.' She closed the freezer door. 'How lovely.'

'Anyway,' he said. 'How did your evening go?'

'It went,' Tavy said crisply, pouring milk into a pan and setting it to  heat. 'For which I was truly thankful. Jago Marsh and I have absolutely  nothing in common, and the less I see of him the better.'

'Ah,' he said thoughtfully. 'So no attraction of opposites in this case.'

'No attraction at all,' Tavy returned, firmly quashing the memory of  the way he'd looked at her-that light touch on her earring and their  admittedly tumultuous effect. It was stress, she told herself, induced  by a truly horrible evening. Nothing more.

She poured the hot milk into their cups, and stirred in the chocolate. The usual bedtime ritual.                       
       
           



       

Which is how I want things, she thought. The everyday, normal way they were forty-eight hours ago.

And that's what I'm going to get back. Whatever it takes. And no intrusive newcomer is going to stop me.

* * *

'I still can't believe it,' said Patrick. 'I thought-I hoped I was seeing things. What the hell did you think you were doing?'

'Having dinner,' Tavy retorted, rolling out pastry as if she was  attacking it, which did not bode well for the steak and kidney pie they  were having for Sunday lunch. 'But maybe it's a trick question.'

She added, 'If it comes to that, I wasn't expecting to see you.' She paused. 'Or Fiona.'

'Her mother called mine,' he said defensively. 'Said she was feeling a  bit down over the divorce. So Mother thought it would be nice for her.'

'Very,' said Tavy, reflecting that during their earlier encounter, Fiona seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

'Besides,' he went on. 'In the old days, she was one of the gang.'

Not any gang that I ever belonged to, thought Tavy.

'Anyway,' he added. 'That's not important. Do you realise that Mother  was absolutely furious about last night. And that I've had to do some  fast talking to stop her from sacking you.'

Or it might also have occurred to her that she'd get no one else to do  everything I do for the money, thought Tavy with sudden cynicism.  Thought it, but didn't say it.

'Thank you,' she said. 'But it shouldn't have been necessary. For one  thing, she doesn't exercise any jurisdiction over how I spend my time  outside school hours. Maybe you should have mentioned that.

'For another, I should have been with you last night, and not him. So  why wasn't I, Patrick? When are you going to tell her about us?'

'I was about to,' he said defensively. 'But you've knocked that right  on the head. Now, I'll just have to wait until she cools down over this  entire Jago Marsh business, and it won't be any time soon, I can tell  you.'

He shook his head. 'What on earth does your father have to say about all this?'

'Not a great deal,' she said. 'He doesn't seem to share your low  opinion of Mr Marsh.' She added stonily, 'And he was also invited last  night, but had-other things to do.'

He sighed. 'Tavy, your father's a great chap-one of the best-but not  very streetwise. He could get taken in quite badly over all this.'

The fact that this echoed her own thinking did not improve her temper.

'Thank you for your concern,' she said shortly. 'But I don't think he's  going to change very much at this stage. Now, if you'll excuse me, I  must get this pie in the oven. Dad will be in at any moment, and he has a  christening this afternoon.'

'Tavy,' he said. 'Darling-I don't want us to fall out over this. Jago Marsh simply isn't worth it.'

'I agree.' She banged the oven door. 'Perhaps you could also persuade  your mother to that way of thinking, so we can all move on.'

She took carrots from the vegetable rack and began to scrape them to within an inch of their lives.

'But you must realise,' he persisted, 'that it's-well-inappropriate behaviour for you to consort with someone like that.'

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