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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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A sudden loud knocking at the front
door made them both jump and stare at each other in apprehensive silence.
Seconds later, they heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps and a man’s voice
echoing down the unlit hallway.

  
Marshall frowned and stepped
quietly out of the kitchen door, sending his torch beam bouncing down the hall
to see who it was, then let out an exaggerated sigh of relief.

  
‘The engineer!’ He came back into
the kitchen and took a heavy bunch of keys from the Welsh dresser. ‘Now at
least we’ll get the generator working again. Don’t move from that spot. The lights
are out all over the house and I wouldn’t want you to have an accident.’

 

Once
Marshall had disappeared with the engineer, the comforting glow from the
hurricane lamp seemed to shrink until Julia found herself sitting in a tiny
pool of light amidst a sea of darkness. The kitchen range, still giving off a
delicious warmth, creaked every now and then like an old floorboard. She could
not remember ever having been in such an old house. It felt a little unnerving.

  
To shake off a ridiculous suspicion
that she was being watched through the open door, Julia stood up and began
searching through the drawers of the Welsh dresser for a towel. Eventually she
located an entire drawerful of clean fluffy towels. With quick efficiency, she
dried her hair with one of the largest, wrapping it around her shoulders
afterwards.

  
Belatedly realising how ravenous
she was, she sat down and helped herself to some of the cheese and bread which
had been left on the table, presumably leftovers from Marshall’s own supper.
The cheese was a ripe pungent Brie, oozing with flavour and begging to be eaten
alongside a glass of wine, though she wisely decided not to indulge herself.
She was afraid that even a small glass of wine might send her off to sleep and
there was no way she was going to risk Marshall finding her snoring in his
kitchen on her first night here.

  
After she had finished her plate of
cheese, Julia wandered to the kitchen doorway to listen for any sounds of her
host returning. But the hall was sunk in complete darkness and the house seemed
empty. The two men must still be down in the cellar, mending the generator.
There was nobody about if she wanted to do a little exploring.

  
Owen Marshall did not surround
himself with the trappings of a world-famous author, she thought wryly, taking
a few tentative steps out of the kitchen and lifting the lamp to see her
surroundings. The house might be vast but it was decorated in a classic style,
nothing so ostentatious that it might draw attention to the wealth of its
owner.

  
She tiptoed further along the
hallway, away from the safety of the kitchen, noting the handful of original
oil paintings on the walls and a vase of freshly cut flowers placed
thoughtfully on an alcove table. The passageway gradually became narrower, dark
oak panelling on the walls, heavy and sombre. Doorways on either side yawned
open on thick black silence, leading no doubt to further rooms and corridors.

  
After the reassuring modernity of
his kitchen, Julia soon felt rather uneasy in this part of the house and began
to retrace her steps. It was not long, however, before she missed the sharp
turn back towards the kitchen and realised that she was lost.

  
Peering back over her shoulder at
the dark passageway, trying to regain her bearings, she tilted the lamp by mistake.
The thin flame immediately started to flutter and she stared in dismay as it
went out.

  
‘Oh no!’ she groaned.

  
She must have drowned the wick when
she had inadvertently tilted the lamp. Now she was stranded in a maze of
suffocating darkness, without any idea of how to get back to the kitchen.

  
What on earth would Marshall think
when he came up from the cellar and found her gone? Not known for his patience,
the famous writer would probably be furious with her for nosing about his house
without permission. It would be so embarrassing! She simply had to find her way
back to the kitchen without being discovered, or she might as well pick up her
suitcase again and leave straight away.

  
Feeling her way along the oak
panelling, Julia closed her eyes and tried not to listen to the loudness of her
heartbeat. If she kept her hand on the wall, at some point she would be sure to
find that elusive turn back to the kitchen. It could only be a few yards ahead.
Suddenly Julia came up against something in her path that stopped her going any
further. Something large and solid.

  
She put a hand out, recoiling in
shock as her fingertips met a wall of warmth and hard muscle. It was a man. He
must have been holding his breath as she felt along the wall in the darkness,
just waiting for her to come level with him. Fear shot through her and she gave
a sharp cry, stumbling backwards.

  
The man laughed softly. Within
seconds, she found herself caught in a pair of strong arms which tightened and
pulled her forward against a firm masculine chest.

  
Face pressed deep into his shirt,
Julia could smell aftershave on his skin and a faint hint of wood smoke. Then,
as his hands smoothed down her body, dragging her hips against his, she felt
the unmistakable hardness of this man’s arousal. She gasped against the warm
strength of his chest, spine stiffening with fear as she realised his
intention. His hand slipped back up her body, exploratively tracing the outline
of her breasts under the damp white shirt and bringing her nipples to an instant,
humiliating erection.

  
Then his head came down in the
darkness and his lips silenced her cry. Frozen against him like a trapped
animal, her fingers curled into impotent fists against his chest. His hand
moved up to cradle the nape of her neck, bringing them even closer together.
The pressure increased until her heart began to hammer under her ribs, her skin
flushed as though this was a familiar lover she had invited to kiss her, not
some mocking stranger in the dark.

  
At that point the lights came on
overhead. The sudden brightness made the man raise his head and they both drew
back, blinking.

  
‘Damn that engineer,’ he said
huskily.

  
It was Marshall himself who had
kissed her in the darkness, a dark colour along his cheekbones as he stepped
backwards under the light. The long lashes descended over his tawny eyes and he
watched her through them in an inscrutable silence, waiting for a reaction.

  
Now that the lights were on, Julia
was able to see his face properly for the first time. The shock made her breath
catch in her throat. There was a terrible scar below his mouth that stretched
down his throat and vanished beneath the unbuttoned neck of his shirt.

  
‘What’s the matter?’ Marshall’s
fingers traced the edge of the scar to where it ran below his shirt, watching
her face. ‘A bad car accident some years ago. Did no one tell you about it?’

  
Julia stared back at him, still
flushed and speechless. Her brain was working overtime. Why on earth had Owen
Marshall kissed her like that? They had barely met, and yet after the initial
shock of being kissed by a stranger, his body had felt so exciting against hers
that she had almost lost herself in it. She was confused. She did not know what
to think anymore. Her body was still tingling from his touch, as though the
imprint of his lips on her skin would never fade.

  
‘Lucky for you the lights came on
again so quickly,’ he said with a sudden harsh laugh. ‘Let that be a lesson to
you. Another few minutes and you might have ended up in bed with a monster.’

  
Feverishly, Julia shook her head in
mute denial.

  
But Marshall had already turned
away dismissively, leaving her behind as he strode back along the passageway.

  
She followed at a slower pace, not
bothering to keep up with those long muscular legs, her heart sinking as she
realised what a fool she had made of herself.

  
What on earth must he think of her?
 

  
‘If you get your suitcase, I’ll
show you up to your room. You must be eager to get out of those wet clothes.’
His tone became silky. ‘Though maybe not as eager as you were before.’

  
‘There’s no need to be so
insulting,’ she managed to say, stung by the implication behind his mockery.

  
He laughed. ‘You do it very well,
you know.’

  
‘What?’

  
‘The offended school teacher act,’
he flung over his shoulder. ‘But it doesn’t quite go with your body’s
responses, does it?’

  
Julia bit her lip, wishing she
could think of some sharp retort to silence him. But he happened to be right,
damn him. Her sense of embarrassment grew. She had not exactly fought him off
when he kissed her and her protest did sound a little thin.
 

  
Perhaps it had been rather too long
since a man had touched her like that, she thought warily, remembering her last
relationship without affection. Simon had only lasted a few months and, after
that painful experience, she had tried not to get involved with anyone again.
Maybe her body was so hungry to be touched that it was blocking her usual
defences.

  
‘What’s the matter? Too close to
the truth?’

  
They reached the kitchen and
Marshall bent inside, scooping up her suitcase as if it weighed little more
than a feather. He gestured her impatiently towards the main staircase. Julia
preceded him up the stairs to the first floor landing and along the corridor,
her face becoming more flushed as he continued speaking, his voice curt.

  
‘I’ve met women like you before.
You want something and then you change your mind. You changed yours when you
saw my scar.’ Marshall shrugged, kicking open a bedroom door and handing her
the suitcase. ‘End of story.’

  
Her face tight, Julia clenched her
fists and stared blindly around the bedroom he had chosen for her. It was a
stunning room with a deep burgundy carpet, the wallpaper decorated with vibrant
red poppies and an antique four poster bed surrounded by heavy draped curtains.
But his words had left her so furious she could barely acknowledge the beauty
of the room. All she could think about was getting out of his house and going
straight home, even if it meant walking all the way back to Bodmin in the dark.

  
‘I really think I ought to leave.’

  
‘Don’t be such a little coward.’ He
gave a harsh laugh, sliding his hands into his pockets and leaning against the
door frame to watch her. ‘You came here to do a job and I still believe you can
do it. Or perhaps you feel you aren’t up to my standards?’

  
Stung, her chin rose angrily.
‘You’ve seen enough of my work, Mr Marshall. What do you think?’

  
‘I think you’re a damn good
artist,’ he said bluntly.

  
‘But ... ?’

  
He hesitated, his eyes searching
her face. ‘But you always seem to be holding something back. Your style is a
little too cramped to do yourself justice. You lack ... passion.’

  
‘That’s not what you implied
before!’

  
His smile was ironic. ‘Perhaps
you’re not as puritanical as you would like me to think.’

  
‘I’m not puritanical at all,’ she
retorted, incensed at his attitude. ‘I just take exception to men creeping up
on me in the dark.’

  
Julia dragged her suitcase towards
the four poster bed, longing to storm back there and slam the door in his face.
She had only known the man less than an hour, yet already he had made her so
cross she felt as though the top of her head would explode. As she turned back
towards him, she caught sight of her reflection in a full-length mirror near
the ensuite bathroom. There was a feverish look to her face, an odd light in
her eyes that she did not recognise. That was the effect this man was having on
her usually calm and placid temperament.

  
‘And if you don’t mind,’ she
continued pointedly. ‘I’m dying to take these wet clothes off and get into
bed.’

  
The tawny eyes shone with sudden
hard amusement. ‘Now there’s an offer I can’t resist.’

  
She shot him a glowering look, not
trusting herself to reply.

  
‘My god, you’re like a smoking
volcano. Those eyes speak volumes. Are you always this hard to seduce?’ His laughter
infuriated her even more, making Julia yearn to throw something at his head.
‘Now if you can only manage to tap into that emotion, you’ll be perfect to
illustrate
The Wounded Tiger
. I can’t
wait to discuss your preliminary sketches in detail. First thing in the
morning, okay?’

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
4.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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