Making your mind up, p.24

Making Your Mind Up, page 24

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  Almost there now. They were traveling along the narrow lakeside track that led to Fox Cottage. Damn, it was bumpy too. Scrunching up her bladder for all she was worth, Lottie said, “We could sleep together and they wouldn’t know. That’s ironic, isn’t it? But I don’t think we should. It wouldn’t be right. Not fair on us, not fair on them.”

  Heavens, where had that come from? She hadn’t even realized those words had been about to come tumbling out. Was it tarty to even think about sleeping with Tyler? Oh, but there was still that tantalizing unfinished…thing between them and it wasn’t as if she and Seb were an item; she had only properly met him tonight.

  “Well, quite.” Tyler nodded. “Plus I do try to make it a rule not to sleep with women who have had a lot to drink.”

  Defensively Lottie said, “No? Because they might wake up the next morning and be horrified by what they’ve done? Are you worried they might sue you?”

  “Not at all.” As he pulled up outside Fox Cottage, Tyler said equably, “I’m usually worried they might snore.”

  The cheek of it. As if she’d dream of doing anything so unladylike. Bursting for the bathroom, Lottie launched herself out of the car and hopped from one foot to the other as he struggled to open the front door of the cottage.

  “Are you doing that on purpose?”

  Tyler paused, surprised. “Doing what on purpose?”

  “Being extra slow!”

  “Oh, that.” He grinned. “Yes.”

  “I hate you.” Snatching the key from him, Lottie jabbed it manically at the lock, finally getting it in on the tenth go. Flinging the door open she raced upstairs to the bathroom.

  Oh, the relief—the blessed, blessed relief…Now she could concentrate again on something other than keeping every muscle in her pelvic floor clenched tighter than a clam.

  It was two o’clock in the morning and here she was in Tyler’s cottage. OK, maybe a teeny bit drunk, but that wasn’t her fault. Slightly miffed, Lottie finished washing her hands and studied her face in the mirror above the bathroom sink. Why didn’t Tyler want to sleep with her? She was looking fantastic! Surely any red-blooded male would jump at the chance? Even if she had said it wouldn’t be a good idea under the circumstances. Now that they were actually here it seemed a shame not to make the most of the opportunity.

  Ooh, what was that heavenly smell?

  Bacon!

  Chapter 37

  “I don’t snore,” Lottie announced from the kitchen doorway.

  Tyler had his back to her. When he turned around she tossed back her hair and dazzled him with her most seductive Lauren Bacall smile.

  “Excuse me?”

  “I don’t snore. Promise. Yooowww.” The seductive moment was spoiled somewhat by the kitchen door swinging shut behind her, trapping her fingers in the doorjamb.

  “Well, I’m glad to hear that.” Tyler expertly flipped the sizzling rashers of bacon in the frying pan; God, he had forearms to die for.

  “And I’ve changed my mind about tonight.” Unobtrusively sucking her pinched fingers—God, that had hurt a lot—Lottie said, “This could be our only chance. I think we should go for it.”

  “You do?”

  “Well, it seems a shame not to. We both know we want to, don’t we?”

  “Er, hang on…”

  “Oh, please! Don’t pretend you don’t.” Lottie spread her arms and shrugged. “So why shouldn’t we?”

  Tyler considered this. Finally he said, “Because you’re drunk and I’d prefer it if you were sober?”

  Lottie was indignant. “Excuse me, that is so hurtful! Are you suggesting I’m no good at it when I’m drunk? Because I’ll have you know I’m every bit as fantastic in bed when I’ve had a few drinks as when I’m stone-cold sober!”

  “But—”

  “It’s true,” she exclaimed, sensing that she hadn’t yet won him over. “You can ask Mario! Well not now, obviously. Tomorrow you can. I like mine really crispy, by the way.”

  That caught his attention. Pausing with the spatula in midair, Tyler said, “What?”

  “My bacon.” Lottie nodded at the pan, crammed with five rashers. “I like it crispy. Is that two rashers for you and three for me?”

  “It’s five rashers for me,” Tyler said slowly. “You went to review a restaurant tonight, remember?”

  “But we didn’t eat. We…kind of left in a hurry. That’s where I met Seb again.” Lottie beamed. “You see, he had these massive hiccups and I tried to stop them, and then we invented this brilliant diet that’s going to make us millions—oh well, it’s a long story.” Despite her enthusiasm Tyler was looking less than riveted; she hoped he wasn’t going to be selfish and try to fob her off with a measly two slices of bacon. “So you see, that’s why I’m so hungry. Ravenous, in fact.” Slinking across the kitchen and sliding her arms sexily around Tyler’s waist she murmured, “And we need to keep our energy levels up, don’t we? Hmm? Don’t want to be too weak and racked with hunger pangs to—”

  “Lottie.” Tyler turned around as she pressed kisses against his shoulder blades. Disentangling himself from her grasp, he gazed deep into her eyes. “I can’t cook if you’re going to keep distracting me like this. You’re absolutely right. We both need to eat a proper meal. So why don’t you go through to the living room and make yourself at home, and as soon as the food’s ready I’ll bring it through. Does that sound like a good idea?”

  “It sounds like a great idea.” Lottie grinned, because he was right; it was the perfect solution. “Can we have fried bread and mushrooms and tomatoes too?”

  “All that,” Tyler promised, and the way his mouth curved up at the corners proved too much for Lottie to resist. Teetering up on tiptoe, she kissed him. Entirely his fault for having such a delectable mouth.

  “You’re gorgeous.” Lottie stroked his lightly stubbled jaw. “We’re going to have such a great time. We’ll never forget tonight.”

  “We certainly won’t,” Tyler agreed, still smiling as he shooed her away. “Now off you go. The sooner you stop molesting me, the sooner I’ll have this meal cooked.”

  And the sooner I can ravish your glorious body, Lottie thought happily as she managed to locate the kitchen door and simultaneously wiggle her pinched fingers in a flirtatious fashion at Tyler. He grinned and wiggled his own unpinched fingers back at her.

  OK, living room. Sofa. Seductive music, oh, yes indeed. Must have seductive music. Investigating the CD collection, Lottie found an Alicia Keys album and put it on. Then she turned the CD over and put it on again so it would play.

  Oh yes. Perfect. Now, back to the sofa. Slipping out of her shoes, she arranged herself alluringly against the velvet cushions and made sure her skirt wasn’t rucked up. Well, not too rucked up; a discreet amount of rucking was allowed. There, when Tyler opened the living room door, he would see her looking elegant, relaxed, and completely irresistible…

  * * *

  “Lottie.”

  “Band-Aid.”

  “Lottie, wake up.”

  Someone was shaking her. Possibly the same person who’d glued her eyes shut. As the shaking intensified, Lottie rolled over onto her side, wincing as something heavy rolled in tandem and went clunk inside her head. Yuck, her brain.

  Slowly she peeled open her eyelids. Oof, sunlight.

  And Tyler. Looking highly amused.

  “So you wouldn’t call yourself a morning person then.”

  Oh God. The events of last night came crashing back, unwanted. Lottie would have given anything to hide her head under the blanket, if only she had one. But she hadn’t. He’d left her there all night on the sofa without so much as a tea towel to keep her warm.

  “What time is it?”

  “Eight o’clock. Time to get up.”

  He clearly wasn’t planning on being remotely sympathetic. Well, she could hardl
y blame him for that. Lottie pictured him slaving over a hot stove before finally, triumphantly, bursting into the living room with two plates piled high with bacon, sausages, fried bread, and mushrooms, only to find her asleep on the sofa. Out for the count, basically, after all his hard work.

  Not to mention the other promise she’d made him.

  Hmm, definitely best not to mention that one. No wonder he was a bit short on sympathy this bright morning.

  And hell, it was bright.

  “I’ve got a bit of a…a headache.” Shielding her eyes, Lottie peered hopefully up at him. “Would you have any aspirin going spare?”

  “Sorry, I don’t.” He didn’t sound sorry. “You can pick some up from the pharmacy later. What’s with the Band-Aid anyway?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “You were asleep. I called your name and you said Band-Aid.”

  “Oh.” She remembered now. “I was having a dream. I’d unzipped a banana that wasn’t supposed to be unzipped, so I was trying to close it back up again. But then I ran out of tape, so…”

  “Hmm.” Tyler raised an expressive eyebrow.

  Blushing furiously, Lottie said, “OK, I’m getting up. And I’m really sorry I fell asleep while you were cooking my food. If you didn’t throw it away, I’ll eat it now.”

  “Are you serious?” His dark gray eyes glittered, registering disbelief.

  “Of course I am! I’m starving!” It was perverse but true; no matter how hideous the hangover, Lottie’s appetite invariably remained as boisterous as a Labrador puppy on a beach.

  “I meant do you seriously believe I cooked you a meal last night?”

  “Oh. Didn’t you?”

  “When I knew for a fact you’d be snoring like a buffalo within thirty seconds of hitting that sofa?” Evidently enjoying the look on her face, Tyler drawled, “I made myself a bacon sandwich. It was great. Five rashers of bacon all to myself. And guess what? They were really crispy.”

  “So you weren’t upset that I fell asleep before…” Lottie couldn’t quite bring herself to utter the rest.

  “Upset? Are you kidding, the state you were in? Let me tell you, I was counting on it.”

  “Oh.”

  “One-night stands aren’t my style,” said Tyler.

  “Right.” Lottie felt very small and very cheap. Last night she’d pretty much announced that she was going to shag him senseless, having taken it completely for granted that it was what he wanted too.

  “Especially when we have to work together.”

  “Of course. Sorry.” Now she knew how it felt to be regarded as—what was the American expression?—trailer trash. In fact, she was worse than trailer trash. She didn’t even have a trailer.

  “No need to apologize,” said Tyler. “We’ll forget it happened, shall we?”

  Oh yes, that was so likely.

  “OK, I’ll make you a quick cup of tea.” He made a move toward the door. “Feel free to use the bathroom. And there’s a spare toothbrush on the shelf next to the basin.”

  The spare toothbrush that was kept expressly for overnight guests who were too drunk to go home. Hauling herself off the sofa, Lottie said, “Did I really snore like a buffalo?”

  Tyler regarded her gravely for several seconds. Finally he said, “That’s something only me and my bacon sandwich will ever know.”

  * * *

  If Tyler had been a short, skinny, weedy type, she could conceivably have borrowed a shirt and a pair of jeans from him. But he wasn’t, and he probably wouldn’t have loaned her anything anyway.

  “Tell me again where you were when you dropped it,” he ordered.

  Lottie sighed. “I didn’t drop it. The key ring got hooked on the zip of my makeup bag and when I pulled out my makeup bag the key ring just flew off the end. Kind of like a slingshot.”

  “OK.” Tyler managed to make it sound like: typical-stupid-bloody-woman. “I guess we just keep looking until we find it.”

  Feeling utterly ridiculous in her glitzy black and gold dress and black satin stilettos, Lottie did her best to ignore her raging hangover and get on with the task at hand. She couldn’t change her clothes until she could get into the cottage. What’s more, when they did finally find her key ring, they then had to drive into Cheltenham and retrieve her car, which was currently parked in the pay parking lot in Montpellier without a pay ticket. That is, if it hadn’t already been clamped and towed away.

  Last night she and Seb had been scrabbling around on this very pavement searching in the darkness for her keys when Tyler had come along and complicated matters.

  This time it was even worse.

  A car slowed and a voice called out, “Don’t let the ants get away from you. Offer them enough money and maybe they’ll stay and be your friends.”

  Oh, perfect. Lottie bit back a retort, swept her hair out of her face, and sat back on her heels.

  “Mummy! What are you doing?” Nat popped his head out of the passenger window, agog. “Are you really chasing ants?”

  “You’re so stupid.” Ruby, in the backseat, was scornful. “Of course she isn’t. Mummy, why are you still wearing the dress you had on last night?”

  Mario grinned. “Good question. I was wondering that myself.”

  It was eight thirty and the children, smart in their blue and gray uniforms, were on their way to school.

  “I just dropped my keys, that’s all,” said Lottie. “I’ll see you two later, OK? You don’t want to be late for school.”

  “I do,” Nat said eagerly.

  But Ruby’s eyes had already narrowed in Tyler’s direction. “What’s he doing here? And where’s your car?” Like a mini Mother Superior she demanded icily, “Where did you sleep last night?”

  Oh heavens. Flustered, Lottie blurted out, “Here, of course!”

  “So why are you still wearing that dress?”

  “Because…well, because I like it! And so many people last night said how nice it was, I thought I’d wear it again today.”

  Ruby’s mouth was pursed like a cat’s bottom. “And your car?”

  She’d make a terrifying barrister one day.

  “Um…um…” Lottie was floundering badly, too hungover to keep track of what she was saying. “Well…”

  “Lottie, we don’t have all day,” Tyler broke in. Turning to address Nat and Ruby he said, “Your mother had a few drinks last night and left her car in Cheltenham. She rang me this morning and asked me for a lift to go pick it up. So I turned up here ten minutes ago and as she was coming through the front gate she managed to drop her keys. Which means we’re all going to be late for work.”

  Nat and Ruby didn’t look at Tyler while he was telling them this; they acted as though he didn’t exist. In fact, they were so intent on refusing to acknowledge his existence that their eyes were roaming everywhere but in his direction.

  “So there you go.” Lottie exhaled with relief when he’d finished. “Happy now?”

  “I don’t know.” From the back of the car Ruby muttered darkly, “Is it the truth or just another big fat lie?”

  “Ruby—”

  “Is that them over there?” Nat was leaning precariously out of the passenger window, pointing at a rose bush adjacent to the front wall.

  Lottie followed the direction of his finger and saw that he was right. There, glinting in the sunlight and jauntily swinging from one of the lower branches, were her keys.

  And to think she’d never won anything at ringtoss in her life.

  “Thank God for that.” Hastening over to the rose bush, Lottie retrieved the dangling key ring.

  Nat said hopefully, “Do I get a reward?”

  “Maybe later. Off you go to school now. I need to pick up my car.” Hurriedly she gave each of them a kiss, then tapped her watch and said to Mario, “Miss Batson’ll have your guts for g
arters if they’re late for registration.”

  “Miss Batson loves me.” Mario was cheerful bordering on smug. “She thinks I’m great. Anyway, I’ll just tell her we would have been on time but you were so hungover you couldn’t find your car keys.”

  “You’re all heart. In fact, if you do that, you’ll end up with sole custody,” said Lottie. “And it’ll jolly well serve you right.”

  Chapter 38

  Still laughing, Mario drove Nat and Ruby off to school. Lottie let herself into Piper’s Cottage, changed out of her stupid glittery dress and into white trousers and a plain gray top, and helped herself to a bottle of iced water from the fridge.

  “Can you remember where you left your car?” said Tyler as they drove into Cheltenham.

  “Of course I can remember!” Lottie was offended. She might not be able to recall exactly where she’d left her car, but she knew which parking lot it was in.

  “Fine. Just checking. There’s a garage up ahead”—Tyler nodded—“if you want to pick up some painkillers.”

  Lottie, who had already swilled down three aspirin and a pint of water at home, said heroically, “No thanks. I’m OK.”

  Which was, frankly, ridiculous. She’d announced her intention to give her boss the night of his life, been politely turned down without even realizing it, and to cap it all had fallen asleep in a drunk heap on his sofa.

  Let’s face it, what could be less OK than that?

  “Your phone,” Tyler prompted as a muffled sound emanated from the handbag at Lottie’s feet.

  “Morning, gorgeous!” It was Seb, sounding disgustingly chirpy.

  “Morning.” Lottie smiled, not feeling overly gorgeous but delighted to hear from him anyway.

  “Did you spend the night with that scary boss of yours?”

  “I didn’t have a lot of choice.”

  “I hope he behaved himself. Didn’t attempt to take advantage of the situation, force his attentions upon you…”

  “No, no, nothing like that.” Lottie hastily pressed the phone hard against her ear to stop his words spilling out.

 

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