With a voice that seemed to whisper right through her bones until it reached her toes. âYou canât bother her with this, Sean.â âYou havenât shown her the letter? He knew heâd brought Rosie to the right place and as far as Sean Mc Elroy was concerned there was nothing more to be said. It was true, nothing good ever came out of a brown envelope. âHe says she saved his life.â âHeâd have had a job to end it all in the village pond,â she told him dryly. On my feet all day dishing out ice cream to fractious children? â She rather suspected that the yummy mummies were lining up to flirt with Sean, and she was equally sure that he would have been flirting back. â âOr I could run you through the basics now,â he said. Perhaps it was as well for her immortal soul that he didnât wait for her to answer. Iâm sorry, Sean, but the last thing I need is more useless transport.â âRosie isnât useless.â âShe is to me. âIâd stop you and buy one any time.â The words were out of Seanâs mouth before he could stop them. She could do with an ice right now to cool her off. âYouâll have to ask the other Lovage to fill you in on the family secrets.â âI canât do that.â Who knew what memories would be dredged up from Granâs confused brain if it was brought up now, when it could do no good? âNo, sheâs not, because youâre going to take her back where she came from.â Sean took another look at the letter. One day out of her life was little enough in return for the kindness, the care theyâd given her mother, easing her through her last days. Theyâd been there for her grandmother, for three girls whose lives were falling apart, when there was no one else. But everyone knew that sense wasnât something Amery women were blessed with. All Iâd get out of it is three days when I couldnât go to work. Mrs Fisher was talking about Rosie in the post officeââ âIâll bet she was,â Geli interjected dryly. I would have taken the booking but I had no idea when Rosieâs free, or what to charge.â âHow old is her granddaughter? âButâ¦Grandpa didnât have any brothers,â Geli said. Even now they were curling inside her old trainers in pure ecstasy. â âNot yet.â Once her grandmother had read it, Elle would be well and truly lumbered. âNo matter what time of day or night, someone would be sure to spot you.â âYour grandmother, in this case. âWell, there you are,â she said, trying not to care about the fact that she was simply one in a long, meaningless line of women who had been suckered by that smile. âGive you that spin around the village so that you can get a feel for her.â So much for appealing to his better nature. âOnly I couldnât help noticing that you have a rather lovely old car in the garage and if Grannie canât driveâ¦? Or maybe youâre suggesting I start an ice cream round to cover the cost of a trip to the supermarket? There were women in this world who, you knew at a glance, you should not just walk, but run away from. â Elle knew she was clutching at straws but, between Grandpaâs old crock in the garage and now the van, she was beginning to feel like a serial vehicle murderer. He specifically wanted you and your grandmother to have her.â âWhy? âIf heâs family, we would have taken care of him.â âWould you? He might not have needed us, but did it never occur to him that we might have needed him? Sheâd always promised herself she would give something back when she had the time, the money to do so, and here she was, being offered the chance to do something positive to help raise funds so that other families could benefit as hers had done. â Sean said as she stepped back, stumbled into him. âIâll introduce you to Rosie.â She knew what he was doing. He didnât wait, but headed for the gate, taking her tea with him. Except for that sheâd have to be able to get her lips, tongue and teeth in a row to form the words. Sean, on the other hand, was more likely keeping close contact in case she took the chance to shut and bolt the gate after him. Despite the fact that she hadnât put a foot wrong in the seven years since sheâd become the responsible one, she knew that the entire village was watching her. For years theyâd held their collective breath whenever the fair arrived in the village and dangerous young men flexed their muscles at the local girls. Before he could switch it off, a voice called out, âYou found him, I see.â She swung around, her heart sinking as she saw Mrs Fisher peering over the fence, her attention fixed not on Rosie, but on the man at her side. You canât afford it.â âI suppose,â she said, slightly deflated, as she settled beside him. When I wouldnât be paid.â âRead the letter again, Elle. Iâm afraid Elle isnât here at the moment,â she said, cool as a cucumber, holding Elle off. With that hint of breathiness that spelled trouble. If sheâd still been alive, heâd saidâ¦ You could change the law but attitudes took longer, especially among the older generation. Basil mentioned it when he asked me to change Rosieâs oil. To pitch in and be a father figureâa grandfatherly figureâin their lives, when theyâd needed one most. â Elle threw her a warning look, but her grandmother was oblivious. âHeâd been going out with a girl from Lower Haughton, but only so that he could be near her twin brother. Her boss had his hands all over her.â Sheâd noticed it, too? If sheâs in trouble itâs your fault for flirting with her.â âPots and kettles, sweetheart,â he said, reaching for his jeans, pulling them on. When he didnât respond to her needling she let it go. I let him take me home.â âDid he give satisfaction? You need to keep him eager.â âHe asked me to have dinner with him one day this week,â she said, offering him one last chance to change his mind. Youâve kept the poor sap at armâs length for long enough.â Her face betrayed her. âIâm doing just fine,â he replied, his slow smile obliterating all memory of the way she looked. It made crinkles around those mesmerisingly blue eyes and they fanned out comfortably in a way that suggested they felt right at home there. She had no idea how her great-grandparents would have reacted to the news that one of their sons was gay. As for her grandfather, Bernard, heâd been a slightly scary stranger, someone whoâd arrived out of the blue every six months or so, who everyone had to tiptoe around. I got the feeling heâd volunteered to help because it meant something special to him.â âHe should have thought of that before he bet the farm on the turn of a card,â she said, suddenly angry with this man who appeared to have absolutely no sense of responsibility. Didnât have the courage to face them and ask for help, but left someone else to do his dirty work. âI canât have Gran involved in anything like this, Sean.â âAll heâs asking is that sheâor, rather, youâkeeps Rosieâs business ticking over.â âIs it? Maybe that was why her mother had subconsciously sought out here-today-gone-next-week men, choosing relationships with built-in obsolescence. He knew he was gay and it terrified him.â âBut thatâs awful,â Sorrel gasped. âYou always make a point of flirting with good-looking waiters.â âMaybe I do, but I never look at them the way you were looking at her.â He didnât argue.
When sheâs not sorting out the lives and loves of her characters, she potters in the garden, reads her favorite authors and spends a lot of time wondering, What ifâ¦. âIâll bring it out.â Elle would rather have stayed right where she was, moving into the comfort promised by that hand, rather than away from it. âBut the odd thing is that since sheâs told us Gran seemsâ¦I donât knowâ¦moreâ¦here.â âSheâs been living with that guilt for a long time. Yours wouldnât be the first local business whoâd used our copier in an emergency,â he argued. And I would still like you to look after Rosie since you know her so well. Itâs not a lot, but this way you donât have to pay commission.â Elle took the cheque, looked at it, then up at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. â âSheâs an old classic and while she had a few internal problems, her bodywork was in amazingly good condition. She didnât wait for his lying answer, but waved him away. âJust leave it,â Elle said, turning to serve someone. So good that she barely noticed that heâd made free with a name sheâd been trying to keep to herself since sheâd started kindergarten. Her hormones might be ready to throw caution to the windâthey were Amery hormones, after allâbut while they might have escaped into the yard for a little exercise, she wasnât about to let them go âwalkiesâ. Cool, a little rough, reassuringly large, it swallowed hers up as she took it without thinking, said, âHow dâyou do? âI know.â âItâs their annual garden party on Saturday. Heâd rarely been home and when he was there were no hugs, only a laughter-dampening gloom. The girl heâd been going out with was my best friend. âWhere to drizzle the chocolate fudge sauce.â He uttered one word that assured her that she had his full attention. I love coffee liqueurâ¦â âExcuse me, Miss Amery, but are we having phone sex? The cold hit him like a blow, but the fire Elle had stoked up in him refused to die down and he swam upstream until it felt as if he were warming the water, rather than the other way around. Even now was afraid to examine too closely for fear that it was an illusion. Elle might cling obsessively to physical security, but she gave love as if it came from a bottomless well. She was ready to come to his bed if he wanted her, and there was no doubt that he wanted her. âWild night-time swimming isnât going to do your cold any good,â Charlotte said, stepping in front of him so that he could enjoy a close-up of her stunning ankles. It was Elle who could have lost her job.â âElleâ¦â For a moment she hesitated as if there had been something in the way he said the name that betrayed him. As he leaned close enough to kiss her cheek, he said, âBe sure to send me an invitation to the wedding.â She gave a little shiver. âYouâve been cross-referencing our designs,â she said, weirdly shy after the intimacy of their phone call. She was never tongue-tied, but it was as if she didnât know what to say. âYou could say that,â he said, pushing himself away from the door. Swiftly peeling off the yellow rubber gloves sheâd kept on as a âSorry, canât stopâ defence against one of the neighbours dropping by with some excuse to have a nose around, entertain the post office queue with insider gossip on just how bad things were at Gable End, she tossed them carelessly over her shoulder. â in a voice perilously close to the one her grandmother used when she met a good-looking man. Theyâre holding it at Tom and Sylvie Mac Farlaneâs place this year.â âWhereâs that? Iâd heard it was occupied at last.â âI saw the signs advertising the garden party when I passed the gates. As for Basil, he hadnât cared enough about them to come and see if âLavenderâs girlsâ were all right. She adored him and I didnât want her to get hurt,â their grandmother revealed. She was a woman who had taken everything that life could throw at her and still took on emotional complications without reservations. âJust as well I came bearing honey and lemon.â âI never saw you in the Florence Nightingale role,â he said, pulling himself out of the water, forcing her to step back or be showered. Then, as if dismissing the thought, she arched her brow and said, âOh, please. And Lovage Amery had grabbed his total interest from the moment sheâd opened her front door to him. Heâs on the list of men you might eventually marry. Iâm just someone youâre filling in time with while you scope out the market.â âAnd the waitress will, I suppose.â She sounded forlorn, but she didnât deny it. He checked that there was water in the kettle and switched it on. Now he was closer, she could see that he looked exhausted. On her knees and up to her rubber gloves in soapy water when the doorbell rang, she hadnât bothered to stop and fix hair sliding out of its elastic band. âIs there any danger of that cup of tea you promised me? Elle backed off, fled outside, pulling a heavy raceme of lilac down, burying her face in the sweetness of it, just as sheâd seen her mother do. It wasnât an elusive scent that you had to seek out. Nothing could be wrong when she was lying on her bed with his voice rippling through her, soft and warm as melted chocolate. âMmmâ¦ Weâre all feeling a bit giddy at the moment, I think, but itâs more urgent than ever that we find Basil and bring him home.â âOf course. I only glanced through the place before, just to make sure he hadnât taken an overdose and was lyingâ¦ Well, you know.â âI know,â she said. Maybe take the boat out.â âThat is so tempting.â âHavenât you heard? He was so easy to talk to, share things with that, before she knew it, sheâd told him about her plans for Rosie. âRosie and all the works as a birthday treat.â âFor your many nieces and nephews? Itâs your trip to France paid for and enough for a driving school car to take Sorrel through her test next week.â And, having handed the cheque to Geli, she took Seanâs hand, wordlessly, in her own for the briefest moment. Time to go.â At the garden party, Sean watched Elle add a frilly white apron to her outfit. Something very pink if Iâm going to be a walking advertisement for your wares.â He stretched out his arms to display the sparkly logo emblazoned on his chest. âGive the man a cone,â Sorrel said, then, when Elle glared at her, she rolled her eyes. âIâd have liked to have seen a few crushed beetles,â he teased as he put down his money. Apparently Oliver played golf and had been to the Open the last time it had been played there. Heâd call her in the morning, tell her where he was, what heâd done. Elle had looked at her phone when it rang, seen the caller ID and left it to be picked up by voicemail. Until Sean had left Longbourne Court to follow the blonde home it had been a pretty good day. All the leaflets had gone, thanks to Sean, although how many were now trampled into the grass for the Longbourne gardeners to pick up remained to be seen. Sean hadnât returned and when theyâd packed up just before six, Rosie decided to sulk. She checked stock, making a note of what they needed to reorder, and kept herself busy making a cake as a treat for everyone. Doing her best not to think about the previous Sunday when sheâd slept in, got up when everyone else had gone out. And there wasnât much she could have done about a face pink and shiny from a day spent catching up with the housework while everyone was out, culminating in scrubbing the kitchen floor. She couldnât afford a fancy gym membership and, as she was always telling her sisters, cleaning was a lot more productive than pounding a treadmill. âThe virulent kind that comes with the death sentence included in the diagnosis. Itâs just the four of us.â Suddenly her throat was achingly thick and her eyes were stinging. It filled the garden and up close was almost overpowering but right now she needed it in her lungs, in her heart. âYou could come over tomorrow and we could do it together, if you like? You should always give in to temptation,â he teased. Iâll see what I can find.â Changing the subject, he said, âSo, tell me about today. â âRosie made the evening news, Iâll have you know,â she said. â âI was thinking of something a little moreâ¦personal.â âOhâ¦â As she lay there, her skin was so sensitive that every inch of clothing was a torment, her lips burned for the cooling touch of his ice-chilled mouth. It was clear that, like his brother, heâd reached some kind of turning point. âNo one I pass will be able to resist the temptation.â He saw her swallow down whatever she was going to say. âIt would do it for me.â Elle decorated the ice lavishly with pink mini marshmallows and sprinkles, then wrapped the cone in a pink paper napkin. He could see that she was dying to tell him that he didnât have to pay, but she pressed her lips together to stop the words and, by then, a queue was forming. And Sean had seen some golf trophies in Basilâs cottage. By the time Elle had managed to get the trick of coaxing her into life, her day had hit rock-bottom. She didnât expect a forever commitment from a man sheâd met only a week ago, who had given her fair warning that the word wasnât in his vocabulary but, no matter how short it was to be, it had to be total commitment while it lasted. She ignored the phone for as long as she could before, unable to help herself, she picked it up. When Sean Mc Elroy had walked into her kitchen and turned her world upside down. Not that theyâd ever been sufficiently impressed by the argument to join in. Even sweaty Lycra had to be a better look than an ancient shirt tied around the waist with an equally geriatric psychedelic tie. Needed it to smother the painful memories that Seanâs arrival had stirred up. Never come back, never contact the family ever again.â âJust like that? âHe gave him money, a lot of money, but it wasnât right. Later, when theyâd got rid of the smell of burning beans and the ruined saucepan, Elle retired to the privacy of her own room to call Sean. âI really wish I could.â Then, realising that she might have been a little too eager, added quickly, âYouâve done so much already.â âAnd youâve already missed an entire dayâs work.â He sounded a touch off. âAnd sheâs going to be featured in the Country Chronicle.â âHot stuff.â âYouâd think so, but it isnât like that.â And at his prompting she told him all about the filming. Had him laughing at her description of the good-looking but thick actor who couldnât make a ice cream cone to save his life. âIt doesnât sound as much fun as youâd think.â âMostly it was just mind-numbingly boring,â she admitted, âalthough it did get a lot more exciting when I discovered how much they were paying me.â âThat will do it every time. Her breasts felt heavy and the ache between her thighs, the hot poke of desire, made her reckless. â âMaybe,â she said, rolling over, pushing the phone out of sight beneath her pillow as she swung her legs to the floor. Iâll be right down.â She splashed her face with cold water. Her body felt aroused, as if Sean had been there in the room with her, lying beside her, touching her, undressing her. He just wasnât sure where this new turn was taking him. Your grandmother said Iâd find you in here,â Sean said. I saw you pull in.â Saw him jump down from the Land Rover he was driving today. He licked a groove up the side of the ice, sucked the top into his mouth. Heâd tried phoning, but theyâd refused to give any information about members or guests, which meant that he had to go there. And when they did get home, only she knew how to dismantle the ice cream maker, how to clean and disinfect it. Difficult with that pink kettle gleaming across the kitchen at her. Just before you left.â âSomeone she knows suggested it. Sexier than the jeans bagging damply around her knees. Sheâs just started at college.â âLovage, Lavender, Angelica, Sorrelâ¦ The horticultural theme continues. Despite what sheâd said, she knew she was going to have to take Rosie. He was no different from every other man whoâd touched her life. He thought I was playing fast and loose with the two of them and heâd followed us to find out what was going on. If his mother had still been alive, Iâm sure things would have been different. âI was just trying to help.â âOf course you were.â It explained so much, Elle thought, as she hugged her. âFreddy will be missing you.â âRosie isnât going to replace my job, Sean. He might not be interested in commitment, but then she wasnât free to give it and, without stopping to think, she said, âWell, if those are your terms, Iâd have to do my best to fulfil them,â she said, so softly that she might have been talking to herself. â Sean said, and even though she couldnât see him she knew he was smiling. I need to make a note to keep the evening free.â âIâll leave that up to you,â he said. It was going to take a cold shower to bring her back to earth. Youâre fabulous in bed, but youâre not husband material.â She didnât wait for an answer but turned and walked away, her heels beating out a sharp staccato on the dock. Compared to not falling in love it was a piece of cake. Lose it for a moment and love slipped unnoticed under your defences as sweetly, as effortlessly as an ice cream sliding down a parched throat on a summerâs day. Just a smile, a touch, a kiss was all it took to bring down even the most powerful fortifications, so that without warning you were falling, with nothing to grasp hold of. Today there was only one woman he wanted in his bed. He wanted to open his eyes and see Elleâs hair spread over the pillow. A tap on the dining room door on Saturday sent Elleâs heart swooping up into her mouth, her hand flying, scattering the leaflets she was piling up across the table. She was in the old dining room, empty since the bailiffs had carried away the Regency dining room suite, the china, the silverware that had once graced it. Office-cum-store room with cartons of cones, pallets of ice cream mix piled up at one end. âIf you have any problems, get the announcer toâ¦â he met her eye ââ¦call me.â For the first hour Elle didnât have time to think, which was just as well. One of them was the blonde with the linen dress from that evening in the Blue Boar. He hadnât told Elle where he was going because he hadnât wanted to get her hopes up. Heâd been clutching at straws and now he was stuck in a motel with a toothbrush and cheap razor from a slot machine instead of sending out for a takeaway and spending the evening with Elle and her family, sitting out beneath the lilac tree, with the blackbird serenading them. Listened to her phone ringing until it was picked up by voicemail. Only she had a precious hygiene certificateânow stuck up beside Basilâs inside Rosieâthanks to her stint working in the Blue Boar kitchens. With her pink dress hanging in the scullery waiting to be washed in the morning. âItâs too hot to eat, but help yourself to tea,â she said, waving in the direction of the kettle. I didnât have a problem at the estate, Elle, but then you already knew that, didnât you? She gave me a lift home so that I could pick up my car.â He smiled wryly. Roundabout Servicing Guideâ¦â âItâs a Rumpelstiltskin puzzle, Sean.â He looked confused. I spend my weekends in agony, wondering what woman you might be doing now â your ex, some waitress, or a new addition to your Facebook floozies while you could be sculpting and using your talent to your own advantage! Liz Fielding - Tempted by Trouble [HR-4246] (html)/Harlequin Elle Amery has grown up a fighter—her late mother's bad-boy-loving reputation was not the best inheritance.... â âI think that the businessmen will believe theyâve died and gone to heaven,â he said. But breakfast would be good to be going on with.â âBreakfast can wait.â She stood up, held out her hand and, as he took it and stood up, she turned and walked through the house, up the staircase, into her bedroom. She hadnât ordered anythingâshe couldnât afford anything that would require deliveryâbut she had a grandmother who lived in a fantasy world. But all the questions tumbling out of her brainâthe what, the who, the âhow much? âIf thatâs the case, why havenât they seen one another for forty years? âIf she married his brother, maybe they fell out over her. âIf you think itâs such fun, then Rosie is all yours.â She offered him the diary and the keys. The kind of woman a man, if he believed in none of those things, flirted with at his peril. âI asked Elle if she was starting an ice cream round,â she explained to Sean with a little laugh. âYou should put a notice up in the village shop, erâ¦â She paused, waiting for Sean to fill in his name. âMore than I can handle,â she assured her, keeping the polite distant smile on her face, the one that long experience had taught her was the only way to blank the busybodies. â She continued to look hopefully at Sean, but heâd taken the hint and, when it became obvious that neither of them were going to elaborate, the other woman said, âWell, I must get on.â âIâll bet you must,â Elle muttered as she watched her scurry up the road. â Sean asked, putting his mug down on the windowsill. Why on earth did you tell her that Rosie was available for parties? Basil gave you free rein in his letter and, believe me, itâs a lot more fun than being polite to the likes of me at the Blue Boar,â he said. Maybe you shouldnât have been so quick to rubbish the ladyâs advice about putting up a notice in the village store,â he jibed. I just stand on the sidelines looking at the men putting up the rides, erecting the stalls.â âSearching for a likeness? No doubt about it, he was good at mental arithmetic. You donât know me but I think you might have met my mother twenty-four years ago? Then, making an effort, âI liked your brother.â âWomen always do, but then he always reacts generously to a sexy smile. â âNot my business.â He was clearly going to have to work harder at being a warm human being if he was going to pass Elleâs empathy antenna. And the Steam Fair is for enthusiasts who come from all over the country. â stuffâhit a traffic jam as his smile widened, reaching the parts of her that ordinary smiles couldnât touch. â She must have looked as blank as she felt because he half turned and with a careless wave of the envelope, gestured towards the side of the house. âIt was taken in the late sixties, before she married my grandfather.â Her grandmother had been the height of fashion with her dark hair cut in a sharp chin-length bob by a top London stylist, her huge eyes heavily made-up, her lips pale. â âI didnât until I saw her last night, but it was obvious she was related to you. She was very beautiful.â âYesâ¦â âAlthough why would Grandpa have removed every trace of his brotherâs presence from the family home? He had just stepped over an invisible line and they both knew it. âRosie is a bit too old for that kind of excitement,â he said. âI donât think that will be necessary,â Elle said before he could oblige her. âNo doubt,â she said with feeling, âbut not everyone is as much trouble as you. And at least Iâm guaranteed the minimum wage plus tips. âThatâs no lady,â she muttered, âthatâs Mrs Fisher. The fact that all three of us have birthdays in late February is not a coincidence.â He thought about it for a moment. â âHe doesnât just make a mean cup of tea, he does mental arithmetic too.â âNo point in making a rubbish one. Iâll run you to the village shop in Rosie if you like. â For a moment her brain freewheeled before she managed to get A grip, engage the cogs, start thinking. Give him two and two and he came up with a neat four, no problem. â âActually,â he replied, âI think itâs far more likely that some man would look up, see you with the sun shining on your hair and remember a long ago summer interlude with a beautiful woman. Youâll have to replace the ice cream mixture, buy fuel,â he reminded her as he turned away to settle into the driving seat. Itâs why his first wife divorced him.â Then, instantly regretting his cynical response to what had been a genuine reaction to Henryâs generosity, âYou caught him on a good day. âHe said it was Hattieâs idea, but he seemed pleased with himself.â It wasnât the reaction his own birth had evoked and a shadow crossed Elleâs face, too. A drop of rain wonât put them off.â âButâ¦â âWhat kind of deposit did Basil take for his bookings?