Vacation with a Commanding Stranger, page 1
Read this classic romance by New York Times bestselling author Penny Jordan, now available for the first time in e-book! Previously published as French Leave in 1994.
An irresistible temptation…
When Livvy arrives at her cousin’s holiday home in France, she’s looking forward to a well-earned break away from it all. What she doesn’t expect is to have to share the farmhouse with a total stranger!
Brooding, arrogant—and devastatingly handsome!—Richard Field is certainly not an ideal companion. Preoccupied with his own agenda, he makes it clear that he has no time for Livvy at all.
But when the sparks between them start to fly, Livvy finds it increasingly difficult to resist her delectable houseguest…
Vacation with a Commanding Stranger
LIVVY exhaled gratefully as she stopped her small car in the car park of the auberge. There were several other cars there with GB plates in addition to her own, she noticed as she got out and locked her door, but then the town was a popular stopping-off place for people en route, like herself, for the Dordogne.
She was glad now that she had had the foresight to book ahead for her one-night stay. She made a small moue as she picked up her overnight case, a tall slender woman in her mid-twenties with long, thick sunlight-streaked honey-blonde hair and intelligent wide-apart sherry-gold eyes.
No doubt there were those who would laugh at her farsightedness, claiming that it was typical behaviour of her type: a teacher, a woman who liked uniformity and discipline in her life.
Those who thought like that didn’t realise what modern teaching was like, she reflected ruefully as she headed for the auberge. These days it could be more like a mental obstacle course designed to test even the strongest of temperaments.
She was lucky she had established a rapport with her current batch of pupils. If she took the promotion she had been offered, to assistant head, she might lose that.
She was supposed to be on holiday, she reminded herself sternly, even if one of the reasons she had given way to her cousin Gale’s insistence that she come to France and housesit for her while she sorted out her marital problems was the fact that the solitude of a small remote farm in the heart of the Dordogne would allow her the space to think through what it was she actually wanted from her career. Advancement to assistant head and the potential consequent loss of hands-on teaching experience, or…
Or what? Staying where she was, continuing to teach French?
She paused appreciatively, sniffing the evening air; it had that indefinable tang which she felt she would have recognised anywhere, even blindfolded and gagged, as being quintessentially French.
Her smile changed to a frown as a huge BMW swept into the car park, coming perilously close to her. The driver’s window was open, and through it she could see the harsh, almost hawklike profile of the man driving it. His hair was dark and thick, and something, an unfamiliar and disturbing frisson of sensation, tensed her spine as he turned and looked arrogantly at her. Perhaps because she was tired from her journey, or perhaps because something about him unsettled her, Livvy found herself immediately reacting to his lordly assumption that she would move out of his way.
Without pausing to think, instead of stepping back from the car she stepped up to it, gritting her teeth as she told him acidly, ‘This happens to be a car park, not the Le Mans circuit, just in case you weren’t aware of it.’
At close hand his appearance was even more harshly male than she had first realised, his eyes cold chips of hard ice in an angrily dangerous face, and a mouth with a bottom lip full enough to be shockingly sensual even when it was pulled in a hard line of keen dislike.
His eyes assessed her…assessed and dismissed her, Livvy recognised.
‘How kind of you to put yourself out so much on my behalf.’ The laid-back drawl wasn’t quite soft enough to mask the hard edge to his voice, and Livvy only just managed to stop herself from flinching visibly as it hardened and crackled with acid contempt when he added, ‘Perhaps it would have been safer and wiser to have used the footpath marked instead of the roadway. That way both of us would have been spared an unnecessary and unwanted altercation.’
He was driving on, closing his window, his face turned firmly away from her before she could make any response, leaving her gaping after him like an idiot, Livvy acknowledged, as she turned her head in the direction he had indicated and a wash of hot, embarrassed colour and the awareness that she had been the one in the wrong swept over her as she saw the footpath sign leading towards the auberge entrance.
What on earth had possessed her to challenge him like that in the first place? she asked herself irritably as she quickly hurried towards the footpath. It was so unlike her. Confrontation was normally not something she enjoyed and certainly never normally provoked, but there had been something about him…something about his attitude, his arrogance which had sparked off that fierce feeling of resentment inside her.
The disdain she had seen in his eyes as he drove past her had somehow become translated into something more personal, a disdain for her rather than for the world in general.
Now you are being ridiculous, she told herself firmly as she went into the auberge and up to the reception desk, giving her name in her fluent French, which came not just from studying the language but from having spoken it as a second language all her life. Her grandmother had been French and consequently not just Livvy but all the grandchildren, including Gale, had learned to speak the language as a matter of course…
Gale too had used it as a career before she had married George, not as a teacher like Livvy but as an interpreter working in Brussels. Her cousin had been a very high-powered career woman before she made the unexpected announcement, at thirty, that she was to marry George.
Apart from her, virtually everyone else in the family was a little in awe of Gale, including her husband and children. She had that effect on people, Livvy admitted, and she thrived on it.
Livvy was made of sterner stuff, though; her job as a teacher had seen to that. On the surface she might seem to give way to her cousin’s forceful demands simply to keep the peace, but Livvy’s outwardly placid nature masked a very strong will, and she never allowed Gale to get away with manipulating her the way she did other people. Take this ‘holiday’, for instance…
Livvy smiled as the receptionist handed her her key and explained that if she wanted to have dinner she would have to order within the next hour.
Thanking her, Livvy went up to her room. She would unpack later, she told herself, mindful of the receptionist’s warning. It had been a long time since she had eaten lunch and she was very hungry. Quickly brushing her hair, she grinned to herself as she saw her reflection in the mirror. Leggings and a soft, casual, baggy sweater might be the accepted uniform of nearly every female under forty, but Livvy suspected that if the pupils of Form IV could see her right now her appearance would surprise them.
Fully aware of how very youthful she actually looked for her age, Livvy was always meticulous about wearing formal, authoritarian clothes for school. Soft sloppy sweaters knitted in a fabric that looked as though it wanted to be touched, cut-off leggings in a mass of brilliant colours which complemented the sweater, her hair loose instead
It was amazing how different casual clothes made her feel, how much more relaxed. She enjoyed her job, but the tension of it, the need to exert discipline and to command her pupils’ respect, could be very wearing at times, and it was a luxury to switch off that side of herself and to allow herself instead just simply to be.
A luxury indeed, and one that was having slightly disconcerting consequences, she reflected ten minutes later as she went back downstairs and found herself the subject of some unabashed and frankly appreciative male scrutiny from the two middle-aged men who had just walked into the hotel.
Their interest, flattering rather than threatening, increased her sense of well-being.
The auberge’s dining-room smelled appetisingly of French cooking. The early diners had finished and were just beginning to leave.
Livvy was shown to a small, comfortable table by one of the waiters. He spoke to her in such painstakingly careful English and with such pride that she hadn’t the heart to reply to him in her own perfect French, instead waiting patiently while he stumbled over some of the words, resisting the impulse to help him. She was not here as a teacher, she told herself firmly as she gave him her order.
While she waited for her meal to be served, there was a small commotion in the doorway as four rowdy French youths pushed past the waiter, who was trying to stop them from entering.
To judge from the state of them, if they weren’t actually drunk, then they certainly had been drinking, Livvy reflected. Their voices were loud, the language they were using vulgar and their opinion of the English tourists whose cars filled the car park and who sat nervously at their tables with their round-eyed children were stated in language which was not that which Livvy taught to her pupils.
To judge from the expressions of the other obviously British families dining, although they were aware of the youths’ aggression, their command of the language wasn’t sufficient for them to understand what was being said, which was probably just as well for Anglo-French relations, Livvy reflected as she firmly directed her attention to her own meal and away from the trouble that was obviously brewing.
The waiter had summoned the auberge owner, who now appeared to wrathfully chastise the young men, one of whom, Livvy recognised from their conversation, was apparently his son.
He was younger than the other three, eighteen or nineteen to their twenty-three or -four. In fact they were not as young as she had first supposed, Livvy realised, and because of that potentially rather more threatening.
The auberge owner was still trying to persuade them to leave, but now his son was insisting that they wanted to eat, demanding to know if his money and that of his friends was not just as good as that of the fat British tourists he seemed to favour so much.
The father gave way, casting anxious looks in the direction of the other guests, no doubt hoping that they could not, as she could, understand what was being said about them.
As they walked past her table, one of them, the oldest and most obnoxious, bumped into her table and then steadied himself against it.
Calmly Livvy went on with her meal. Common sense told her that the wisest and most sensible thing to do was not to make a fuss but simply to pretend he wasn’t there.
She had forgotten, though, that he was not the same age as her pupils, and that she was not dressed in her normal authoritative way, and, as he straightened up and made a drunken apology, to her fury she also heard him make a comment about her breasts that was both over-familiar and exceedingly coarse.
It was only the discipline of three years of teaching that prevented her from reacting, not just by furiously objecting to what he had said, but from allowing the hot stinging surge of mortified feminine colour to burn up under her skin.
Like all women, she had experienced unwanted male comments about her body before, but this was different; for one thing what he had said was a good deal more crude than the normal joking and sometimes funny remarks called out by van drivers and building site workers, and for another…
For another, she was unpleasantly aware of the man’s leering enjoyment of her defencelessness, his awareness not just of her inability to physically punish him for his rudeness, but of the fact that the manager appeared too afraid to challenge him either.
The temptation to stand up and demand the auberge owner call the gendarmerie was almost too strong for Livvy to resist, but then she reminded herself that she was on holiday and inevitably any kind of formal charge made now would result in delay to her resuming her journey in the morning.
Much as it irked her, she decided that on this occasion she would simply have to do nothing, other than finish her meal as quickly as she could and leave the dining-room.
Ten minutes later she realised that was not going to be so easy, and wished a little bitterly that she had demanded that something was done earlier, when the hotel owner had still been there for her to make demands on.
The little waiter who had been serving her was plainly terrified of the quartet; the other diners, like her, had obviously decided to finish their meals just as quickly as they could, and as the dining-room rapidly emptied Livvy felt disconcertingly conscious of the fact that she was soon going to be the only other occupant of the room.
The leader of the quartet was still making comments about her to his companions. She tried to comfort herself by reminding herself that he would only feel free to say things that were so vulgar and crass because he did not know she spoke French herself.
As a teacher, she was used to adolescent male aggression and thought she had learned to cope with it, but this was something different, she recognised. He was not an adolescent—here she had no authority…here, as his lewd, disgusting comments were making so plainly obvious, she was just another vulnerable, available woman.
She pushed her plate away, her appetite gone. Much as it went against the grain to be seen to be running away from them, she knew she had to go. The restaurant no longer felt safe; in fact it had become an alien, hostile place. All her feminine instincts warned her to leave. She got up as quietly and calmly as she could, ignoring the comments being shouted at her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her tormentor stand up, but she refused either to turn her head or to be betrayed into showing any fear.
Her room key was in her handbag, but as she heard the restaurant door open behind her she still walked over to the reception desk and asked the clerk behind it,
‘Are there any messages for me? It’s room number twenty-four.’
She knew of course that there would not be any messages, but standing at the desk gave her a legitimate reason for turning round and checking that she wasn’t being followed.
And if she was and he overheard her asking for messages, hopefully it might make him think that she was not, after all, alone.
‘No, there is none,’ the clerk told her, having checked the slot.
The leader of the quartet had left the restaurant after her and now he was standing several feet away, grinning insolently at her, but to her relief, although he paused with deliberate mockery as he drew level with her, he didn’t make any further attempt to speak to her or touch her, simply moving on.
Thanking the clerk, Livvy hurried towards the stairs. Her bedroom had a good, firm lock on it and she intended to make sure she used it.
As luck would have it, her room was the last one along the corridor, right opposite the fire escape. Later she told herself that if she had been more alert she would have remembered that fact and acted accordingly, but as it was, when she finally reached her door, she simply gave a small pent-up sigh of relief, turned her back to the fire escape and opened her bag for her key, while keeping a strategic eye on the corridor to make sure that she hadn’t been followed.
Because of this, it came as even more of a shock when she was grabbed from behind, her attacker laughing triumphantly as he swung her round to face him, pressing her body up against th
He looked even less appealing close up than he had done in the restaurant, Livvy acknowledged as she fought down her panic and tried not to wince as he breathed garlic- and onion-laced fumes into her face.
His hands were round her forearms, exerting a pressure which would leave her with bruises, the weight of his body imprisoning her against the wall.
She didn’t make the mistake of trying to fight him, sensing that that was just what he wanted, that he would relish the opportunity physically to subdue her. He was talking to her, laughing at her as he told her in explicit detail what he intended to do to her. Fear flickered inside her, spreading a numbing, dangerous paralysis through her body, and yet at the same time she felt oddly distanced from what was happening, apart from it, the enormity of it such that a part of her brain simply refused to accept it was happening.
As he ground his hips against her body she tensed in rejection. The door opposite her own opened and the hand that had been groping for her breast stilled.
Livvy was just about to call out thankfully for help to the man emerging from the room to place his breakfast menu on the door-handle when she recognised him.
It was the man from the car park, the one who had arrogantly let her see how insignificant he had thought her.
He was wearing a towelling robe open to the waist, revealing hard, tanned skin roughened by silky, dark hair.
A tiny frisson of unfamiliar sensation ran through her. The man holding her bent his head and tried to kiss her, muttering loudly, ‘You know you want it. Downstairs you were showing it. Well, it won’t be long now, chérie, and I promise you I’ll show you what it’s like to have a real man, a Frenchman.’
Across the few feet separating them, Livvy could see the disgust in the other man’s eyes, the contempt. The man holding her was still talking, pouring out a stream of sexual obscenities which he appeared to deem suitable seduction talk.
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