Making Your Mind Up, page 28
“I’ll miss you.” She tried to murmur it into Seb’s ear, but he was having none of that.
“Show me how much you’ll miss me,” he teased.
“No. I have work to do and you have a plane to catch.”
“You mean you want to show me but you’re embarrassed because we’re not alone. Your boss is listening. I tell you what, forget the quickie. I’ll just kiss you really quietly and you try to be quiet too. No sloppy noises, no heavy breathing, and positively no groaning in ecstasy. Think you can manage that?”
Two minutes later the muddy green Golf roared off and Lottie returned to the office.
“He was only joking, you know. It was just a bit of fun.” This was absolutely true, but she knew she sounded defensive.
“No business of mine.” Tyler, working away on the computer, didn’t even look up. “So long as you do your job.”
“He only said it to embarrass me in front of you. We weren’t even kissing, I—”
“Lottie, you don’t have to explain. You’re an adult, old enough to choose who you see.” From Tyler’s tone of voice it was abundantly clear what he thought of her choice. “Now, could we get back to work?”
He was definitely pissed off. Seb had too obviously enjoyed winding him up. It was fair to say that they would never be bosom pals.
“Still, he made Maura’s day.” Lottie couldn’t help herself; any veiled criticism of Seb felt like a criticism of her own ability to choose a boyfriend.
“Sure.” Tyler nodded curtly as the phone began to ring. “Are you going to get that, or shall I?”
* * *
Four days later, back from settling a family of new arrivals into Beekeeper’s Cottage, Lottie found Tyler in the office being interviewed by a journalist for a travel magazine. The female journalist, who was middle-aged and certainly old enough to know better, was flirting outrageously with Tyler. The lanky photographer, waiting his turn, was perched on Lottie’s desk eating an apple and reading his horoscope in yesterday’s paper.
“Well, I think that’s probably everything.” Dimpling coquettishly at Tyler, the journalist uncrossed her legs and leaned over to switch off her tape recorder. “That’s great, thanks so much. Davey, over to you.”
Davey yawned, put down his apple, and picked up his camera. He couldn’t dimple coquettishly if he tried.
“At this point we usually ask people if they’d like to take a quick peek in the mirror, check they’re looking their best,” the journalist twittered on, “but I can assure you, that’s not necessary in your case.”
“This is Lottie, by the way. My assistant,” said Tyler.
“Lovely. Now, where shall we have you? So to speak! Shall we start off in here then move on down to the cottages?”
Tyler said, “How about Lottie? Would you like her to be in the photos too?”
Lottie preened inwardly. Maybe it wasn’t modest to admit it, but she did love having her picture taken. When Freddie had owned the business he had always included her in any photographic spreads.
“I don’t think so.” The journalist didn’t even give the photographer time to open his mouth. “I’d rather just concentrate on you.”
Witch. Ugly witch with unshaven hairs poking through her American Tan panty hose. Lottie fantasized about asking the woman if she wanted to borrow a lawn mower.
“OK.” Tyler shrugged, unconcerned either way and blithely unaware that this was the wrong reply.
Lottie couldn’t believe it. Didn’t he realize she’d just been snubbed? How could he be so blind? She glared at him across the office.
“What?” Tyler asked, mystified.
Nettled, Lottie mimicked his blithe shrug. “Nothing.”
“Good.” He turned to the photographer. “Now, how do you want me?”
“Ooh,” simpered the journalist, “don’t ask questions like that!”
Utterly pathetic, plug-ugly, hairy-legged witch. This time really unable to help herself, Lottie said in a brittle voice, “Sounds like you’ve made a conquest. Well, I’ll leave you to it…”
“Oh, by the way,” Tyler called after her, “your boyfriend rang earlier. He says he’ll give you another call later and he hopes you’re behaving yourself.”
This was another of Seb’s jokes. If he’d wanted to, he could perfectly easily have called her on her cell phone. But being Seb, he preferred to leave the message with Tyler.
“Doesn’t he trust her then?” As she left the office, Lottie heard Hairy Legs confide cozily, “I must say, I’m not surprised. She looks a bit of a handful to me.”
Lottie, lying in the bath listening to the storm raging outside, heard Nat galloping up the stairs. The bathroom door burst open and he charged in, clutching her cell phone.
“Eww, Mum, I can see your big bosoms.”
“Shhh. Give me that.” Nat hadn’t yet grasped that even when he wasn’t speaking into the receiver, he could still be overheard. Reaching for the phone, Lottie could just imagine Seb’s ribald response. “Hi, sorry…Oh, hang on a sec, I’ve got shampoo in my ear… Right, all sorted now.”
“It’s me.” Tyler’s voice caused her to juggle and almost drop the phone in the bath. “Sorry to bother you when you’re busy. But I’ve got a bit of a problem and I wondered if you could help me out.”
Hmm, having trouble getting rid of Ms. Hairy Legs perhaps? Was she at this very moment wrapping them determinedly around his waist and begging to have his babies?
Cautiously Lottie said, “Doing what?”
“I’m down at Harper’s Barn. I need your help.”
There was an edge to his voice that Lottie hadn’t heard before. She sensed immediately that whatever came next would entail climbing out of her delicious cocoon of hot water. Bathus interruptus. There was something almost painful about having to get out of a bath before you’d been planning to.
“Did you murder someone and need a hand shifting the body?” If it was Hairy Legs she’d do it.
“Dora cleaned the barn this afternoon after the Averys left,” said Tyler. “Remember Trish Avery’s perfume?”
“God, don’t remind me.” Remember it? Lottie could still practically taste it on her tongue. It was the most overpowering perfume known to man, with top notes that made your eyes water and undertones of wild skunk.
“Well, she must have spilled the bottle in the master bedroom. Dora told me it was horrific when she went in there. What she forgot to tell me was that she’d left all the windows wide open to try to get rid of the smell.”
“All the windows? Including the dormer ones upstairs?” Lottie’s heart sank like a stone.
“You got it. And the Thompsetts are due to arrive at ten.”
“I’m in the bath, you know.”
Tyler said, “I’d gathered that. Well?”
“OK, OK. I’ll be there. Oh God.” Lottie winced as Nat danced back into the bathroom, having stripped off his school shirt.
“What’s wrong now?” said Tyler.
“Tah-dah!” Strutting around like Mick Jagger, Nat cried ecstatically, “Look at me, Mum. I’m wearing your bra!”
* * *
Every light was blazing in Harper’s Barn. As Lottie climbed out of the car, she was almost knocked sideways by the howling gale sweeping across the lake and the torrential rain slamming into her body. It was like getting out of the bath all over again. Taking a deep breath and seizing the bags of clean laundry in both arms, she raced up the muddy path and through the front door Tyler was holding open for her.
“Thanks for doing this.” Closing the door, he took the heavy polyethylene bags from her grasp.
“Don’t mention it. All part of the service. Although I shall be expecting a pay raise.” Gasping for breath and wiping rain out of her eyes, Lottie bent and tugged off
“We need to change the beds, mop up the wooden floors, and do our best to get the carpets dry. I’ve cleaned up the en suite bathroom,” said Tyler as she followed him up the stairs. “And I did try to get hold of Dora, but she wasn’t at home.” Baffled, he went on, “According to her husband it’s…dingo night?”
“Bingo.” Unless Dora had invented some marvelous new game involving Australian wild dogs.
“Excuse me, but I don’t think you’re in any position to smirk. Who’s the one around here whose son wears a bra?”
“Fine. Let’s just get on with it.” Lottie took one of the laundry packs and began ripping off the cellophane wrapping. The windows were closed, but they were going to have their work cut out mopping the sodden areas of carpet.
“I feel like a chambermaid,” Tyler drawled as they remade their third bed.
“Bet you’re glad you bought this business now.” Though she wouldn’t admit it for the world, there was actually something incredibly sexy about a man making a bed. Distracting herself from the sight of his hands expertly folding and smoothing the dark blue king-size Egyptian cotton sheets, Lottie said playfully, “So when are you going out to dinner with that journalist?”
“Don’t.” Tyler looked amused. “She dropped enough hints. Not my type.”
“No? Her legs would keep you warm on a cold night.”
“She started it.” Lottie began stuffing a pillow into one of the pillowcases. “She wouldn’t let me be in any of the photos.”
“Did you want to be? You should have said.”
“That’s not the point. And she called me a handful.”
Tyler picked up another pillow. “You are a handful.”
Indignantly Lottie said, “I am not!”
“Sometimes you are. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
“Cheek!” She took a swipe at him across the bed with the pillow. As she did so, making contact with his shoulder, everything went black.
Tyler’s disembodied voice said, “Did you do that?”
“Only if you’re a fuse box.” Putting down the pillow, Lottie inched her way gingerly over to the window. This bedroom overlooked the lake and the other properties dotted around it. More unrelenting blackness greeted her gaze. “Bugger, that’s all we need.”
“So that means power’s out all over the village.” Tyler’s voice, now unexpectedly close behind her, made her jump. “Any idea how long it’s likely to last?”
“You can never tell. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes. Or it can stay out for hours.” Turning back, unsure exactly where he was standing, Lottie waited for her eyes to adjust enough to be able to make out shapes. “Oops, sorry.” Her outstretched hand brushed against warm flesh.
“Don’t apologize.” Tyler’s voice was oddly comforting. She felt his breath on her neck and experienced a twinge of…well, something she shouldn’t really be experiencing. “Will the kids be OK?”
“Fine. They’re over at Mario’s. I didn’t leave them home alone, if that’s what you were wondering.”
“Right. Good.” He paused. “And they like this new guy, I take it? This…Sebastian?”
“They think he’s great.” As she said this, she heard him exhale.
“Takes all sorts.”
“Do you just not like him full stop, or are you jealous?” If the lights had been on, Lottie knew she wouldn’t have had the nerve to ask the question. For several seconds there was silence apart from the raging storm outside, the wind whistling through the trees, and the rain being flung like handfuls of gravel against the creaking windows.
“I don’t think he’s good enough for you,” Tyler said finally.
“And I don’t know why you think he’s so fantastic.”
“And…I probably am a bit jealous, yes. Since you ask.”
Ooh, there was that delicious feeling again. Quivering with pleasure, Lottie took a step toward him and held her breath. It was naughty and she shouldn’t even be thinking it, but if Tyler were to kiss her now, she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop herself kissing him back. That is, if they could manage to find each other’s mouths in this pitch-blackness.
“But then I’m pretty sure you already knew that,” Tyler drawled.
Zingy shivers darted down Lottie’s spine. Oh heavens, this wasn’t supposed to be happening to her—she and Seb were a proper couple now. How many times had she lectured Mario on the evils of cheating? And now here she was, turning into him. She was nothing but a tarty trollop who should be thoroughly ashamed of herself. The trouble was, her conscience appeared to have taken a leaf out of Mario’s book and gone AWOL. Seb was great, but there was no escaping the fact that her feelings for Tyler were stronger, and at this moment all she could think about was how it would feel to be—
Ding-de-diddle-de-dooo, chirruped Lottie’s phone, shattering the moment. Dazed, she fumbled in the pocket of her fleece and took it out.
“Mum? We’ve got a power cut!” It was Nat, sounding excited.
“I know, sweetheart. We have too.”
“All the lights have gone out! And the television! Even the PlayStation doesn’t work!”
Lottie smiled. “That’s why it’s called a power cut.”
“And the toaster doesn’t work either! But Dad says we can cook plain bread on a fork on the fire and that’ll make it into toast, so we’re going to do that in a minute. Isn’t that so cool?”
“Cool.” Lottie nodded in agreement as Tyler moved away from her. From the tiny amount of light emitted by her phone screen, she was just able to make out the remote expression on his face. She was speaking to her son, and Tyler was distancing himself both mentally and physically.
Nat chose this moment to say beadily, “What are you doing, if it’s dark at Harper’s Barn?”
Good question. Preparing to hurl myself sluttishly into the arms of your least favorite person on the planet, thought Lottie. “Well, we’ve got an awful lot of water to mop up. I suppose we’ll have to find some candles and carry on working—oh.”
The lights flickered and came back on. Power was restored. The bedroom seemed blindingly bright.
“Oh no!” Nat was distraught. “The electricity’s come back. Now we won’t be able to make toast on the fire—I was really looking forward to doing that!”
“Right,” Lottie said when she’d hung up the phone. “Well, at least the power’s on.” For a split second she experienced a wild, Nat-like urge to turn it off again, plunging them back into darkness. But it was no good, the moment had passed. Reality had intruded and brought them to their senses, the lights in the master bedroom acting like a bucket of icy water. Slightly ashamed of herself, Lottie realized that she hadn’t quite been panting like a dog, but not too far off.
Tyler, who had been watching her intently, reached down and picked up one end of the duvet. “Just as well. We’d better get on with the job.”
Lottie bumped into Cressida outside the village shop. Glancing into Cressida’s shopping basket, she raised an eyebrow.
“Always had you down as more of a Good Housekeeping girl myself. Care to explain the offside rule to me?”
Cressida blushed. “Tom and Donny are coming down this weekend.”
“And you’re going to challenge them to a game of soccer?”
“Don’t make fun of me. They’re staying in the spare bedroom,” Cressida explained. “I’ve just put fresh sheets on the bed and made the room as welcoming as I can, but there wasn’t much for Donny. If he
“He’s thirteen,” said Lottie. “He’d probably prefer Playboy.”
“Oh yes, I’d really do that, march into Ted’s shop and buy a copy of Playboy.” Cressida pulled a face. “Anyway, Donny’s only a young thirteen. He isn’t like that.”
Lottie didn’t have the heart to shatter her illusions. “Only teasing. You’ll have a great time. Are they coming down on Friday evening?”
“They are.” Barely able to contain her excitement, Cressida said, “I can’t wait. Nothing’s allowed to go wrong this time. I know it’s silly, but I can hardly believe I’m going to see Tom again. I haven’t felt so excited for years! It’s like being back at school and getting into a tizzy over the Christmas dance.”
“Except this time try not to get drunk on cider and end up covered in love bites.”
Cressida was shocked. “Is that what you did? Surely they didn’t serve alcohol at your school dances!”
Lottie loved it that Cressida was so law-abiding. “Of course they didn’t serve it. We brought our own and drank it secretly in the cloakrooms. Otherwise how else could we bring ourselves to hold make-out competitions with the boys?”
“Speaking of make-out competitions,” Cressida said playfully, her gaze following the progress of an approaching car. “How are things at work?”
Lottie turned her head as Tyler drove past, raising a hand briefly in greeting. He was on his way into Cheltenham for a business awards lunch and had even dug out his dark blue suit in honor of the occasion. Damn, he looked good in it too. Distracted, Lottie said, “Sorry, what?”
“That answers my question.” Cressida nodded with satisfaction. “Mind you, I expect I’d find it hard to concentrate with someone like that around all day. It must be like having to work in a truffle shop when you’re on a diet.”
Lottie nodded sadly. “It is a bit.”
“You must be so tempted to have a nibble.” Her imagination working overtime, Cressida said daringly, “Or just grab him sometimes and tear his wrapper off!”