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Authors: Elizabeth Moss

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BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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She flushed, sipping the wine to
cover her confusion. She had not forgotten her instant physical reaction to his
kiss earlier. But she had the impression he might be a dangerous man to get
involved with. His daughter’s response to her presence in the house suggested
that Marshall often brought his girlfriends back here. And if her venomous
remarks on the subject of his love life held even a spark of truth, those
relationships tended to be short-lived and were rarely based on anything other
than physical attraction.

  
He must be pretty experienced with
women, Julia thought, watching him warily from under her lashes. Even with that
scar he had the sort of sexual magnetism that would make most women weak at the
knees. In fact, the scar merely seemed to add to his mystique. It gave the man
a dangerous and uncompromising air which even she had to admit was sexually
provocative.

  
But she was not stupid enough to
tumble into bed with a man whose book she was illustrating, especially such a
famous writer. It would destroy all hope of being able to work with him in the
future.
   

  
‘So what do you think?’ Marshall
asked softly.

  
‘Sorry?’

  
He grinned at her startled
expression, almost as if he was aware what she had been thinking. ‘It’s only a
Chardonnay, of course, nothing expensive. But it was a favourite back in my
teaching days and I suppose old habits die hard.’

  
‘It’s delicious,’ she agreed,
glancing down and twirling the wine around the glass.

  
But she was uneasily aware of the
intimacy of their situation, sitting here together in the early hours like two
people who were already lovers. Under her own tightly belted dressing-gown she
was wearing a boyish pair of red striped pyjamas. Yet the way those tawny eyes
moved over her made Julia feel as though he could see right through them to her
naked skin.

  
‘I really ought to go to bed,’ she
said at last, pretending to yawn in an exaggerated fashion. As if by way of
response, he lifted the bottle of wine and Julia had to place a hand
apologetically over her glass. ‘No more for me, thanks. Too much wine gives me
a migraine and you wouldn’t like me with a migraine. Trust me. I become
nauseous and stumble about groaning.’

  
Marshall grimaced and stood up,
slipping his hands into the pockets of his dressing gown. ‘Okay, that does
sound fairly unappealing. You win.’

  
‘Goodnight,’ she laughed.

  
He followed her to the stairs and
she could feel his strange eyes on the back of her head at every step.

  
‘Goodnight, Miss Summers.’

  
Julia paused at the top, looking
sleepily down at him. She knew her chestnut hair was still tousled and messy from
her bedtime shower, and without make-up, she probably looked pale and
unattractive. She wished for the first time in her life that she was not quite
so gawky and dishevelled. There was something about his natural elegance that made
her overly self-aware. But she reminded herself that she did not want this man
to be interested in her sexually. That would be far too dangerous.

  
‘There’s really no need to be so
formal,’ she said. ‘I’d rather you called me Julia.’

  
 
‘I would say call me Owen, but no one
calls me that except my mother. Feel free to use my surname instead. Everyone
else does.’

  
‘Goodnight then, Marshall.’

  
He stepped back into the shadows
like a ghost as she headed towards her bedroom, his voice floating up the
stairs on a sudden note of mockery. ‘Goodnight, Miss Julia Summers. We got off
on the wrong foot earlier this evening, but I have a feeling this could turn
out to be a very interesting partnership indeed.’

 

Once the
light was out, it did not take long for Julia to drift back into sleep. Yet she
was haunted by odd dreams and kept waking with a jerk, startled to find herself
in such unfamiliar surroundings. It had gone ten in the morning when she
finally came back to full consciousness, neck stiff and limbs curved against
her body in a foetal position, and slid reluctantly out of bed.

  
Throwing back the curtains, Julia
stood in front of the window and shivered in the cold sunlight, naked skin
tingling as she stared out over the moor and recalled her dreams. There had
been something disturbingly erotic about them. Even now, she felt her body
respond as she remembered that dark face leaning over hers.

  
She showered, carefully choosing to
dress in jeans and a casual white sweater, and hurried downstairs to find the
kitchen deserted. A loaf of bread had been left on the breakfast table,
however, alongside the butter dish and an assortment of jams. Ignoring the
silence which lay over the downstairs rooms of Moor’s Peak, Julia made up a
fresh pot of tea and cheerfully helped herself to some toast and jam.

  
She assumed that Marshall must be
closeted with his daughter elsewhere in the house. It was nearly eleven
o’clock, after all. They had probably risen and breakfasted much earlier in the
morning. Julia was not usually such a heavy sleeper but the events of last
night must have exhausted her. Not to mention those wild dreams, which still
had the power to bring a hot flush into her cheeks.

  
‘You look as if you slept rather
better than me,’ a drawling voice came from behind her. Julia turned to see
Marshall leaning in the doorway, watching her profile with sardonic eyes. She
looked away in confusion, suspicious that this man could read her thoughts. His
soft laughter seemed to confirm that. ‘I trust the bed was comfortable?’

  
‘Extremely, thank you.’

  
Marshall straightened up and
sauntered into the kitchen, his gaze sweeping rapidly over the crumbs on her
plate.

  
‘I see you managed to grab
something to eat. I thought Victoria might have devoured it all before you got
down.’ He hesitated. ‘Do you mind if I join you for a quick cup of tea? I had
my breakfast hours ago and I’m dying of thirst.’

  
She almost laughed at the plaintive
tone. ‘Of course,’ she murmured, fetching him a clean cup and pouring some tea
from the pot she had made. ‘Milk? Sugar?’

  
‘Just milk,’ he said promptly. ‘I
stopped taking sugar in my tea when I was eleven.’

  
‘You drank tea when you were only
eleven years old?’ Julia exclaimed, her voice incredulous.

  
‘I was a precocious eleven.’

  
She could not help smiling at the
thought of Marshall as a mischievous eleven year old. ‘That I can believe.’

  
He sat there for a while in
silence, watching her over the rim of his tea, those strange tawny eyes
lingering on her face and then sliding down over the deep ‘V’ of her sweater
neckline with unashamed insolence. When she shifted uncomfortably, his smile
made it clear that he had sensed her unease and was enjoying it. Raising her
chin in a gesture of defiance, Julia forced herself to stare back at him. Two
can play at that game, she thought fiercely. His scar was half hidden this
morning behind the collar of a crisp blue shirt. Whenever he moved though, she
caught a glimpse of its curving line along the sinewy brown throat and felt a
stab of curiosity to know how such a bad car accident could had happened.

  
Marshall was an unpredictable
mixture, Julia thought, feeling her nerve endings jump at his scrutiny and
wishing she could drop her gaze without appearing gauche. He had seemed like a
little boy just then, asking her so wistfully for a cup of tea that she had
lowered her guard. Yet already he was back to his usual predatory self, that
intensely sexual gaze reminding her of just how dangerous he could be.

  
Now his eyes had moved on again,
abruptly releasing her as if he had grown tired of the game. His mouth hardened
into a thin line and he stared down at his watch.

  
‘Have you seen Victoria at all this
morning?’ he asked, putting down his cup and gazing restlessly about the room.
‘I wanted her to ring the school with me but she doesn’t seem to be up yet.
I’ve alerted the police, of course, but it’s important that we try to mend
bridges with the Headmaster as soon as possible. That way, I might be able to
persuade them to keep her on at the school.’

  
‘Sorry, I haven’t seen her. Have
you tried her room?’

  
‘Several times,’ he said shortly.
‘It’s locked and there’s no answer. Though that’s not unusual. Like most
teenagers, Victoria’s almost impossible to wake in the mornings.’

  
She looked at him, frowning.
‘Perhaps I should try.’

  
‘If you like,’ Marshall shrugged.
‘But don’t expect any miracles. If there’s one thing my daughter really excels
at, it’s being difficult.’

  
Wandering upstairs after breakfast,
she found the door to Victoria’s bedroom locked, just as Marshall had said it would
be, and there was no sound even when she knocked loudly. Julia hesitated, not
sure whether or not to go back downstairs and admit defeat. But she knew that
teenagers sometimes responded to rather subtler methods than Marshall had used
so far.

  
‘Victoria?’ she called through the
heavy wooden door. ‘It’s such a lovely morning and Marshall said something
about a spectacular lake. Could you show me how to find it?’

  
The silence inside the bedroom
continued for a few moments, then Julia heard the door being unlocked. It
opened slowly and Victoria peered out at her with a sulky expression, wearing
hipster jeans and a skimpy top, her feet bare on the uncarpeted floor. Julia
bit her lip, feeling almost sorry for the girl. She might have caused her
father and the police a great deal of trouble in recent days, but she was
clearly not having a wonderful time herself. In fact, from the look of those
red-rimmed eyes, she had probably been crying most of the night.

  
‘Has he gone out then?’ Victoria
demanded suspiciously. ‘Are you sure? I didn’t hear his car leave.’

  
‘I think your father’s probably in
his study,’ Julia said rather too quickly, never having been very good at
lying. ‘But I don’t want to disturb him if he’s working. Why don’t you put some
shoes on? We could go out for a walk together. You look as though you could do
with some fresh air.’

  
‘Did my dad put you up to this?’

  
Julia sighed, seeing no reason to
avoid the truth. ‘Okay, he did ask me to check how you were. But he’s just
worried about you, Victoria. You can’t blame him for that, he’s your father.’

  
‘I don’t need a nanny!’

  
‘Good God. Is that what you think I
am?’

  
‘I’m not stupid. That’s why you’re
here, isn’t it?’ The teenager had raised her voice, her eyes oddly reminiscent
of her father’s as they narrowed in fury. ‘If you’re not his girlfriend, then
he brought you here to look after me. He’s done the same thing before. But you
can tell my dad he can forget it. I’m not a kid anymore!’

  
‘No,’ Julia agreed coolly. ‘You’re
fourteen now and old enough to carry your own messages.’

  
Victoria glared at her in a
trembling silence. Then gradually her pout disappeared and she seemed to relax
a little more, stepping back to let Julia enter the bedroom. The walls were
covered with posters of rock stars and heavy metal bands, their garish costumes
and outlandish make-up clearly designed to shock and appal parents. Her
sister’s teenage daughter had exactly the same sort of posters on her own wall,
Julia realised, staring around herself. But she was careful to hide her
amusement as the girl waved her reluctantly towards an alcove seat under the
window. Young teenagers were prickly creatures, she reminded herself, and easy
to offend. Instead, she settled with her hands on her knees and waited for the
girl to speak first.

  
‘So you’re not going to be my
nanny?’ Victoria said dully, throwing herself down on the bed and staring up at
the ceiling. ‘You really are an illustrator?’

  
‘That’s right. In fact, I’m only
here for a few weeks, to get some ideas for illustrating
The Wounded Tiger
.’

  
‘Sorry. I’m just so used to ... ’

  
‘It’s okay.’

  
Victoria turned her head and gave
her a grin. Suddenly she seemed much younger, that sullen air disappearing as
she sat up cross-legged on the bed. ‘What’s your name again?’

  
‘Julia.’

  
‘I’m Vicky. No one but dad calls me
Victoria.’ Without warning, the girl jumped off the bed and rummaged for a
sweater in her large chest of drawers, pulling it awkwardly over her head as
she spoke. Her voice was muffled but more cheerful now. ‘Didn’t you say
something about walking down to the lake? It’s quite muddy there at this time
of year. Did you bring any wellies?’

BOOK: Don't Hurt Me
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