Satan’s Master Carole Mortimer
Table of Contents
AT last she was on her way, her legs seeming too short for the bicycle she had hired in Inverness for this holiday of hers. Cycling in Scotland, mainly along the side of the Caledonian Canal, a series of lochs that went from one side of Scotland to the other, had seemed a good idea when she was in London. Now she wasn’t so sure.
It was years since she had ridden a bicycle, as she had proved to the man she had hired it from as she wobbled precariously down the road after paying for her two weeks’ hire. A couple of her friends had spent their holidays this way last year, at first for a laugh, and then because they were enjoying themselves.
Sabina’s father had been horrified when she had told him of her plans to go away for a few days, claiming she couldn’t possibly leave London now, not when the wedding was only eight weeks away. Her wedding. To Nicholas Freed, her father’s partner in the running of one of the major daily newspapers.
But she had known she had to get away, had to go somewhere where she could collect her thoughts together, decide whether marrying Nicholas was the right thing for her.
She had only hired the bicycle an hour ago and already she was thinking clearer, something she had found impossible to do when in close proximity with her father. He had dominated her all of her nineteen years, made all her decisions for her, including the one that she marry Nicholas.
But Nicholas was of her father’s generation, forty-five years of age, with two marriages already behind him. That she had let things get this far, to a four-month engagement and the actual wedding a matter of weeks away, was a source of wonder to Sabina. Not that she didn’t like Nicholas, she did, but she wasn’t sure she wanted him for a husband. He was attractive enough, tall, slim, dark, with deep blue eyes, and yet she couldn’t help wondering what he had done to his second wife to give her grounds for divorcing him. Her father had dismissed her nervousness, saying she wasn’t to worry about such things. But then he wasn’t the one marrying Nicholas!
Sabina took time out from these depressing thoughts to admire the beautiful scenery all around her. She had left Inverness behind her now, was riding along beside the River Ness, and soon she would see the wonder of the legendary Loch Ness. Her friends had taken this same route last year, and their enthusiasm about the beauty here had made her want to experience it for herself. Crazy, her father had called her yesterday morning when she had left their home with her packed rucksack, and crazy she might be, but she was enjoying herself, was enjoying her first freedom in years.
The sight of a public telephone box, and these thoughts of her father, reminded her that she ought to call him and put his mind at rest about her safety. They only had each other since her mother had died five years ago, and consequently he tended to be more possessive about her than was usual in a father/daughter relationship.
The telephone only rang once before it was snatched up, almost as if he had been sitting next to it waiting for her call. It appeared that he had. ‘Where the hell in Scotland are you?’ he demanded angrily.
‘I’m not silly enough to tell you that,’ Sabina said with a smile. ‘If you knew you’d come up here and take me back.’
‘Too damned right I would,’ he snapped. ‘Nicholas is none too happy about your behaviour either.’
‘You’ve told him?’
‘I could hardly keep it a secret, you are engaged to the man.’
His sarcasm wasn’t lost on her. She sighed. ‘You know my reasons for being here, Daddy.’
‘Because you need to think! A fine time to start having second thoughts, eight weeks before the wedding. I—– What the hell was that?’ he demanded. ‘Sabina, are you still there?’
She had put some more money in the box, waiting for the noise of the pips to stop before speaking again. ‘Don’t panic, Daddy,’ she smiled. ‘It was just the telephone wanting more money.’
He sighed his impatience. ‘Why didn’t you reverse the charges? I don’t want to be interrupted by that row every couple of minutes.’
‘You won’t be, because I don’t intend putting any more money in. I only called to let you know I haven’t been carried away by a rapist or mass murderer.’
‘There is no need to mock, Sabina,’ he cautioned sternly. ‘They do have those sort of things in Scotland too, you know.’
‘I’m sure they do,’ she agreed dryly. ‘But I—– There go the pips again, Daddy. I won’t be calling again.’
‘See you in two weeks’ time,’ she had time to say before the line was cut off.
She got back on her bicycle, the long length of her legs still golden from the weeks she had spent in Monte Carlo earlier in the summer. Her denim shorts fitted her like a glove, the deep pink tee-shirt moulded to her bare breasts. She made an attractive picture as she cycled down the road that edged Loch Ness, the light breeze lifting her long straight blonde hair off her nape, her green eyes glowing in anticipation of this holiday.
She wasn’t surprised at her father’s horror at her location, never having been to Scotland himself he couldn’t even begin to appreciate the beauty here. It was everything her friends had said it was, peaceful, exhilarating, but most of all breathtakingly beautiful.
For one thing Loch Ness was so large, like a miniature ocean, and she could see one or two motor-cruisers on its length, probably holidaymakers like herself. The banks of the Loch rose steeply either side, a smattering of sheep just visible to her on the luxurious green grass on the other side, the road cut into her side of the Loch before it too rose steeply, one or two cottages just visible in the denseness of the trees.
Because she had picked her bicycle up late in the day it was already well into evening by the time she reached her set destination of the day, Urquhart Castle, the ruins of which overlooked Urquhart Bay. She had a tent and all the necessary equipment for camping, but as there were a couple of hotels in the area she decided to stay at one of them for the night and look the castle over in the morning.
‘Morning’ was almost lunchtime by the time Sabina emerged from the exhausted sleep she had fallen into as soon as her head touched the downy pillow. When she tried to move, the whole of her body seemed to ache—in places she hadn’t even known she could ache! She must be sadly out of condition if a simple bike ride could make her feel this way. But it had been quite a few miles ride, more miles than she had cycled for more years than she could remember.
She hobbled out of bed, a quick bath easing away some of her aches and pains, deciding to have an early lunch instead of bothering with any breakfast. After all, it was almost twelve o’clock. The day didn’t look as warm as yesterday, a light drizzle was falling, a slight mist stopping a clear view of what Sabina knew to be magnificent scenery. Well, she had to look at the ruins of the castle now she was here, might even take a picture of two—if only to prove to her father what a good time she had had.
She donned denims and a sweater. a light waterproof the only clothing she had to keep out the rain. While paying for her bill she asked the proprietor if she could leave her bicycle here while she went down to look at Urquhart Castle.
‘You’ll not be going far today, I’m thinking,’ the middle-aged man took her key.
Sabina smiled. ‘I thought I might try and get as far as Fort Augustus.’
He shook his head, frowning darkly. ‘I wouldn’t recommend you going anywhere, not in this weather.’
Sabina looked down at the light drizzle. ‘It doesn’t look too bad to me.’
‘It never does. But the heavy mist can come down mighty fast. It’s a fair trek to Fort Augustus, I wouldn’t want you to get lost.’
‘But it’s a straight road, isn’t it?’
‘Aye, it’s straight,’ he nodded. ‘But there’s tracks leading off the road to the cottages, ye ken, and it’s mighty easy to take one of them by mistake.’
‘I’ll take care,’ she promised lightly, pulling her hood over her hair and braving the light rain.
The castle stood in the curve of Urquhart Bay, overlooking Loch Ness in all its glory, although the mist clung to the water like a thin white sheet. The guidebook she had bought in Inverness told her that the castle dated back to the thirteenth century, although improvement had been made during the sixteenth century.
The castle was placed perfectly for watch over Loch Ness, and had obviously been a stronghold for the Scottish Crown in the past. Now all that remained was the square keep, the crumbled ruins of its turret and outer walls. Sabina wandered amongst what must surely have once been a magnificent castle, its splendour still evident in the grey stones that made up its structure.
In the end she decided not to take any photographs now but try and get some on the way back if she could. The last thing she wanted was to show her father pictures of it pouring with rain! And it was pouring now, absolutely bucketing down. She decided to have a coffee in the hotel lounge while she waited for the rain to abate somewhat.
‘You’re going, then?’ the proprietor asked as she made a move about an hour later.
‘I thought I would,’ she nodded.
He shook his head dourly. ‘I think you’re making a mistake.’
‘If it looks like getting any worse I promise I’ll turn around and come back.’
In actual fact that was something she couldn’t do, not unless she walked. The front tyre of her bicycle suddenly went flat, and no amount of pumping it up made any difference to its condition, and the mist chose that moment to close in on her like a blanket, making it impossible for her to see farther than a few feet in front of her. There was nothing else for it, she would have to walk, and as she was sure she was nearer to Fort Augustus than Urquhart Castle she decided to go on rather than turn back.
Just where she went wrong she didn’t know; all she did know was that the surface of the road didn’t feel smooth any more, and groping down on her hands and knees she found that it wasn’t the road at all but a roughly cut dirt pathway. Where it led to she couldn’t even begin to guess, and she couldn’t even see her map in this mist, let alone read it.
If only she had listened to the man at the hotel! He had sounded like a local, had probably lived here all his life, and he obviously knew a lot more about the sudden dropping of the mist than she did.
Well, it was no good standing here berating herself; should she go on or should she attempt to find her way back to the road? One thing groping about on the pathway had told her, there was the mark of hoofprints there, hoofprints going forward, not back. But where would the path take her? She didn’t remember seeing a village in this direction when she checked the map this morning.
She sighed. She really had no choice but to go on; she wasn’t sure of her way back, and at least she knew there must be some form of habitation in this direction. She only hoped the owner of that habitation wouldn’t mind an uninvited guest for the night—she could hardly pitch her tent in this.
Keeping to the roughly hewn pathway didn’t prove too difficult; either side of her were tall trees, making it impossible for her to deviate. Nevertheless, she almost felt faint with relief when she saw a glimmer of yellow light in front of her. After almost an hour of this stumbling progress she had been beginning to doubt ever seeing another human being again.
But there had to be humans where there was electric lighting, and as she reached the front of the low, white-painted cottage she saw a spiral of smoke drifting through the lighter coloured mist. Light and warmth, it sounded like heaven to Sabina, and reminded her of how damp her clothing had become.
A sharp tap on the door heralded no reaction whatsoever, so she knocked again. Still no answer. There had to be someone here. She walked along the front of the cottage to the window with the chink of light showing through, trying to see in through the tiny gap in the curtains. She felt herself tense as the curtains moved slightly, two venomous green eyes suddenly appearing in front of her and making her let out a bloodcurdling scream.
‘Satan’s no more enthusiastic about nosey-parkers than I am,’ remarked a cold voice from behind her.
Sabina swung round to see the owner of that unwelcoming voice. Standing in front of her, the mist swirling eerily about him, stood a tall dark man dressed completely in black—black cords and black jumper, his hair also jet black, long and unkempt. His face was gaunt, all strong angles, the focal point being a pair of cold grey eyes that remained unblinkingly on her white face. He was a handsome man in a pagan sort of way, the handsomest man Sabina had ever seen.
‘Wh—who are you?’ her voice quivered.
His mouth twisted tauntingly. ‘I’m Satan’s master, who else?’
Sabina woke to find herself lying on a sofa, the hardest article of furniture she had ever sat on in her life. She had never fainted before either, for that was surely what had happened. God, that man—Satan’s master! She swung her legs to the floor, sitting up to come face to face with him.
He turned from his morose study of the fire, a man possibly in his late thirties, his expression not lightening as he saw her looking at him with wide frightened eyes. ‘So you’ve decided to wake up, have you?’ he rasped, pushing the black cat off his lap and standing up. ‘Who are you?’ he demanded. ‘And what are you doing here?’
Sabina’s mouth felt dry. ‘I—er—I asked you first,’ she said with a return of her usual spirit.
‘And I told you,’ he replied sharply, his voice deep and husky.
‘Of course you didn’t,’ she said with a nervous laugh. She had behaved stupidly a few minutes ago; this man might be dark and frightening, but he certainly had no connection with the devil. ‘That cat is Satan, isn’t he?’
‘And you’re his owner.’
White teeth showed in the glimmer of a smile. ‘No one owns Satan. He just goes with the cottage. The locals believe the previous owner, a certain Mrs McFee, was a witch.’
His steady gaze remained levelled on her. ‘Is it?’
Sabina swallowed hard. ‘You know it is.’
‘Of course it is! No rational human being—–’
His dark eyebrows rose, straight black brows that disappeared into the untidy swathe of dark hair that fell over his forehead. There was something about this man, something familiar … ‘Who says I’m a rational human being?’ his soft attractive voice taunted. ‘Who says I’m even human?’
‘Stop teasing me!’ She pushed back the hood that had been hiding her hair, unzipping her anorak. ‘Would you mind if I took this off?’ she indicated the damp garment.
‘Take off anything you want,’ he invited, already insolently appraising the curves she had revealed. ‘Female company has been in short supply around here.’
Sabina blushed under his intent stare, and left her coat on, wanting to wrap her arms protectively about her as he continued to look at her. ‘Then why do you live here?’ she snapped angrily. Her first impression of this man being a ghostly figure was completely wrong, he was all too human, despite his casting doubts upon the fact minutes earlier.
His face hardened, the angles sharper than ever, his eyes glacial. ‘I live here because it suits me to. Now I repeat, who are you?’
‘Sabina—Sabina Smith.’ She couldn’t stop looking at him, there was something so familiar about him, something at the back of her mind telling her she should know him, or someone like him. Without the dark growth of two or three days’ beard he would be—–
‘What are you staring at?’ He kicked viciously at one of the logs burning in the fire, sending sparks all over the hearth. ‘Well?’ he demanded. ‘Answer me!’
‘Yes?’ His eyes bored into hers, holding her immobile.
‘You remind me of someone,’ she said nervously, the anger about that firm sensuous mouth making her cower in her seat.
He stepped forward, his hands biting painfully into her upper arms as he wrenched her to her feet. ‘Who?’ His face was only inches from hers as he shook her. ‘Who do I remind you of?’ he repeated.
‘I—I don’t know.’ She was beginning to feel faint—for the second time today. ‘I don’t know,’ she cried, tears gathering in her distressed green eyes. ‘What sort of man are you, to treat me like this? Let me go. Let me go, I tell you!’
His teeth bared viciously. ‘Not until you answer me. So tell me, who do I remind you of?’
Right at this moment he reminded her of the devil she had first thought him, the skin stretched tautly across his hollow cheeks, shadows beneath his cold grey eyes. But that growth of beard was completely human, although it made him more satanic than ever.
Sabina took a step backwards, unwittingly stepping on the cat’s paw. The same paw snaked out and caught her a savage blow on the ankle, as the cat growled its displeasure before running up the wooden staircase that led to the top floor of the cottage.
She winced. ‘Your cat shares your dislike of my being here.’ Her ankle felt sore already, and she was sure she could feel blood trickling down on to her foot. ‘I—– Could I just see to my ankle?’ she asked her captor.
‘Why not?’ He thrust her away from him. ‘And you’re right, Satan speaks for both of us. I don’t want you here, Miss Smith, for any reason,’ he added grimly.
Sabina was once again sitting on the lumpy sofa, the rest of the furniture and threadbare carpet in just as deplorable a condition. And yet the man’s clothes looked of good quality. He was a complete mystery, an enigma who wanted her out of his life as quickly as she had come into it.
‘Has the mist cleared?’ The scratch on her ankle was red and sore-looking, the blood flowing freely. She took out a tissue to staunch the flow, her long blonde hair escaping the collar of her anorak and falling down over her face.
‘No.’ He was looking at her with narrowed watchful eyes.
‘Then you can’t expect me to go out in that again,’ she said in disbelief, pushing her straight hair back behind her ears.
‘I didn’t exactly say that, only that I don’t want you here.’
‘I’d never find my way back to the road,’ she insisted.
He shrugged. ‘You found your way here, you could go back the same way.’ He turned to stare morosely into the fire.
Sabina racked her brains to think where she had seen that face before—although not exactly that face. This stranger was too thin, his features too harsh, the hair too long and out of style. She jumped nervously as hard grey eyes turned to look at her.
‘Well?’ he rasped.
‘I didn’t find my way here, I got lost,’ she snapped. ‘Now do you have some antiseptic I might put on this?’ she indicated her ankle. ‘Your pet has hurt me.’
‘And so will I if you stay here.’ His voice was harsh. ‘So you stay and take the consequences.’
‘C-consequences?’ she quavered.
‘There’s only one bedroom,’ he drawled tauntingly.
‘So? I—I can sleep down here on the sofa.’ Although how she would sleep on all those lumps was beyond her. ‘I won’t be any trouble, Mr—er—really I won’t. If I could just stay here until the mist clears …’
The intentness of his gaze unnerved her even more than she was already. ‘Sometimes that takes days,’ he informed her.
‘That’s right,’ he nodded. ‘How will you like being stuck here with me for days, with no one to help you?’
‘Would I need help?’ Sabina threw her head back in challenge.
‘You might,’ he said tightly, his eyes on the golden blondeness of her hair.
‘From you?’ She was curiously breathless at the prospect.
‘From me,’ he nodded, his gaze still fixed on her hair. ‘I told you, women haven’t been too plentiful around here. I’ve been here almost a year now, and no woman has crossed that threshhold until today. If you doubt my masculinity …’ he lunged forward and pulled her ruthlessly to her feet, bending his head to grind his mouth down savagely on hers.
After her initial resistance Sabina felt herself begin to weaken, felt his hands move beneath her anorak, pulling up her jumper to mould her breasts in the palms of his hands, his thumbs teasing her nipples into throbbing life. She recoiled in shock, straightening her clothing as she backed away from him.
His face had darkened with cruel humour. ‘What’s the matter, Miss Smith?’ he taunted. ‘I thought someone like you would do anything for a story.’
‘Someone like me?’ she repeated dazedly, her senses still reeling from his onslaught. ‘And for what story?’
‘Oh, come on, Miss Smith, you know exactly what I mean.’
Sabina frowned. ‘Why do you keep saying my name like that, almost accusingly?’
‘Because I am accusing you, damn you,’ he was furiously angry now, the eyes she had thought cold burning with fierce anger. ‘I’m accusing you of coming here to spy on me, of using every trick you can think of to get me to talk, of—–’
‘Please,’ she put up a resisting hand, very pale. ‘Don’t say any more. You’re wrong about me,’ she said shakily. ‘I don’t even know who you are, let alone what you’re trying to hide.’
‘I’m not trying to hide anything! I’m just sick to death of reporters—nosy, prying reporters who keep trying to twist everything that happened,’ his expression was bleak.
Sabina shook her head. ‘I’m not a reporter! Whatever gave you the idea I was?’
‘You aren’t a very good actress, and you could have tried a more original name than Smith,’ he scorned.
‘But that is my name,’ she insisted. ‘I can prove it to you.’ She moved to the door.
His hand snaked out and caught her around the wrist. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘To the saddlebags on my bicycle. I—I have identification there.’
‘I’ll bet you do. And I’ll also lay odds on you running like hell once you set foot outside that door. What’s the matter, Miss Smith, have you decided you can’t go through with it, that simply publicising confirmation of my whereabouts will be enough?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she shook her head. ‘Go through with what?’
‘Oh, I’m sure it all seemed so logical back in London,’ he sneered. ‘Someone tipped you off on my possible whereabouts and you decided to come up here and get the inside story, literally.’
‘Literally?’ She trembled as his hold tightened.
‘Literally,’ he nodded. ‘As inside my bed.’
‘Inside your—–! My God,’ she gasped, ‘you have a nerve!’
‘I have several hundred, and at the moment all of them are attuned to you. Your newspaper chose well, Sabina—I take it that at least that part of your name is true?’
‘All of it’s true,’ she said desperately.
He gave her a scathing look. ‘Your cover is blown, Sabina. It was blown the moment I saw your hair and those wide innocent eyes, so you might as well drop the act. You never know, if you play your cards right I could just give you that story after all.’ His hand moved up to touch the silkiness of her hair. ‘Yes, your editor chose well. I’ve always had a weakness for blondes.’ Once again his head lowered and he claimed her lips, gently this time, parting them persuasively as he deepened the kiss.
In that moment everything in Sabina’s life suddenly changed, became more ordered. This man’s lips searching and probing hers made any more thoughts of marrying Nicholas unnecessary. She couldn’t marry him now. A stranger, a cold hard man embittered by she didn’t know what, was making her his with the touch of his lips and hands, was arousing her as no other man ever had, and she couldn’t possibly marry anyone else but him.
Her body arched against his, her curves fitting perfectly against the hardness of his body, her hands going up about his shoulders and tangling in the thick blackness of his hair as she strained him closer to her. Whoever he was, whatever he had done to merit being hounded by reporters, she had fallen in love with him.
But although she wasn’t a reporter herself, and she might eventually get him to believe that, her father did own and publish a daily newspaper, a newspaper that thrived on scandal. She had nothing in her favour to endear her to this man, and the realisation made her stiffen in his arms.
At once she was set free, grey eyes gleaming down at her in triumph. ‘Changed your mind again?’ he taunted.
Sabina was still dazed by her recent discovery, sure that things like this didn’t happen in real life. It wasn’t possible to fall in love with a complete stranger. Why, she didn’t even know his name! Her father would dismiss it as a flight of fancy, and perhaps that was what it was, perhaps she had a fever from getting so wet.
‘Well, have you?’ His stance was challenging.
His gaze swept over her with cool mockery, lingering on her bruised and throbbing lips. ‘Your body wasn’t saying no just now. And neither was mine, as I’m sure you know. I’m also sure you very rarely say no,’ he added insultingly.
Colour flooded her cheeks, resentment flared in her eyes. ‘Why, you—–’
‘Which scandal sheet do you work for, Sabina?’
She shook her head. ‘I—–’
‘Which one? The Chronicle, News and Views, or could it be the worst one of all, the Daily News?’
Her face paled as he mentioned her father’s newspaper. She knew it was a terrible newspaper, preying on other people’s mistakes and misery.
‘The Daily News,’ her tormentor repeated with distaste. ‘God, that’s really sinking low! And doesn’t he mind you using your body as well as your mind to get a story?’
Sabina frowned. ‘He?’
His hand came out and pulled on the slender gold chain about her throat, tugging it out of the neckline of her jumper to reveal the ring threaded on its length, the huge diamond flanked by two smaller emeralds. It was her engagement ring, the ring that had been on her finger for the past four months, until yesterday morning when she had decided such a ring was rather conspicuous for the quiet holiday she had intended taking. Had being the operative word; meeting this man had changed all that.
‘I discovered this during our—encounter, just now,’ his mouth twisted. ‘And I repeat, doesn’t he mind who you sleep with?’
Sabina blushed, remembering where his hand had strayed to discover the ring as it lay nestled between the firm swell of her breasts. ‘There’s nothing to mind,’ she dismissed impatiently. ‘I’m on holiday—–’
‘Oh yes?’ he scorned.
‘Yes,’ she flashed.
‘Are you also on holiday from him?’
‘I’m alone, if that’s what you mean.’ She instantly wished she hadn’t told him that, it made her too vulnerable.
‘It wasn’t, but thanks for the information.’
‘Then what did you mean?’
‘I mean is it your usual practice to forget your engagement when it suits you to, when you have another man in your sights?’
Sabins flushed. ‘You aren’t “in my sights"!’ How could she have imagined herself in love with such an insulting, arrogant man! Thank God that madness had passed, leaving only disgust with herself for having responded to him. It must have been the sensual aura he emitted without even being aware of it, that air of sexual excitement about him, that had made her forget all sensibility.
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Not even professionally?’
Sabina sighed. ‘Well, as I don’t even know who you are I can’t really say.’
His face darkened, his mouth tight. ‘I’ve already told you to drop the act!’
‘I’m sorry it it hurts your ego,’ she scorned, ‘but I really have no idea of your identity. Are you a bank robber or something?’
‘Or something,’ he agreed moodily.
‘Well, Mr Whoever-you-are, do you have some antiseptic for my ankle?’ It was starting to throb now, the cat having curled its claws into her skin before ripping them out again. ‘That animal may not have been clean,’ she snapped.
‘Satan is very clean, all cats are.’
‘Nevertheless …’ she eyed him expectantly.
He turned impatiently on his heel, going through a door into what looked like a kitchen, a small cramped room that looked barely big enough for the width and height of him. He seemed to be searching through a cabinet over the sink, finally coming back and thrusting a tube of antiseptic at her.
‘Thank you,’ she accepted quietly, applying the cream to her slender ankle, aware that he watched her every move. She handed the tube back to him. ‘Can I leave now?’ she asked nervously, suddenly aware that his ‘or something’ could be the rapist or murderer she had kidded her father about yesterday.
‘If you leave where would you go?’ His grey eyes were narrowed and watchful.
‘I—I have a tent. I suppose I could pitch that somewhere.’
He shook his head. ‘I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt—for the moment. You can stay here tonight.’
‘But you said—you said you had no room for me.’
‘I said there was only one bed,’ he corrected mockingly.
‘Oh,’ she blushed.
‘Do you also have a sleeping bag in that seemingly bottomless saddlebag?’
‘Yes,’ she frowned her puzzlement.
‘Then you can share my bed—in the safe cocoon of your sleeping bag, of course.’
‘Oh no, I—I’d rather sleep down here on the sofa. If you don’t mind.’
‘Oh, but I do mind. I can’t have a guest of mine sleeping on the sofa,’ his words taunted her.
‘Then couldn’t you—–’
‘No, I could not! For one thing the sofa isn’t long enough for either of us to sleep on, for another thing it’s my bed. And I’m not willing to put myself out that much for someone I didn’t even invite here.’
‘I’ve said I’ll go—–’
‘I wouldn’t even send a dog out in that mist. And although reporters are the lowest form of life to me I can’t be sure that you are one. But I can’t be sure you aren’t either,’ his voice hardened. ‘So tonight you’ll stay with me, where I can keep an eye on you.’
Sabina gulped, her eyes wide. ‘K-keep an eye on me?’
‘I’m still not sure about you, Miss Smith,’ he managed to put a wealth of sarcasm into his voice. ‘So I’m not leaving you down here where you could snoop about.’
‘I don’t want to “snoop about” anywhere,’ she denied angrily. ‘I wouldn’t have bothered you at all if I hadn’t been lost and it’s pouring down with rain.’
‘Can you cook?’ he asked suddenly.
She frowned. ‘Cook?’
‘Mm,’ her reluctant host nodded. ‘Before I came here I had never felt the necessity to learn to cook. Since my arrival here I’ve had to learn the hard way. Even Satan wouldn’t touch some of my earlier efforts.’
‘You want me to cook you a meal?’
‘That was the general idea.’
‘What’s the matter, can’t you cook either?’
‘Of course I can cook, but—–’
‘Good.’ He sat down in the fireside chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. ‘You’ll find the makings of a meal out in the kitchen.’
‘You really expect me to cook for you?’
He turned from his contemplation of the fire. ‘Is that too much to ask for your board?’
‘Well—no, I suppose not,’ but her look was resentful.
‘Well then?’ he raised his eyebrows.
‘Okay, okay!’ She slammed angrily into the kitchen, only to have the door open again seconds later, her dark tormentor standing there. ‘What’s the matter now?’ she challenged. ‘Have you come to make sure I don’t poison you? There isn’t much I could do wrong with bacon and eggs,’ she dismissed tautly. ‘Even you couldn’t ruin them.’
‘Maybe not,’ he conceded. ‘But if there’s a woman around I don’t see why I should do the work.’
‘Oh, I see.’ Sabina slammed the ancient frying pan down on the even more ancient electric cooker. ‘You believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen,’ she derided.
‘Or the bedroom,’ he mocked. ‘But that can come later. I just came to tell you that I’ve brought in your saddlebags, so don’t try escaping out of the back door.’
‘I wasn’t going to. I’m hungry too.’ It seemed like years ago, not hours, since she had eaten that early lunch at the hotel.
‘For food or love?’ he asked huskily, watching the rise and fall of her breasts.
‘Food!’ she angrily turned her back on him.
‘Shame.’ He sounded amused. ‘I would willingly have forgone my food to have satisfied my other appetite. At the moment I think that one is more in need. A year is a long time to go without a woman.’
‘For a man like you I’m sure it is,’ Sabina snapped waspishly.
His fingers clamped about her wrist, pulling her round to face him, very close in the confines of the dimly lit kitchen. ‘A man like me?’ he ground out.
‘Well, I—– You—you’re obviously a very virile man.’
‘Oh yes,’ he breathed huskily, ‘I’m virile. At the moment, very much so.’
She knew that, his body hard against hers, his thighs leaping with desire. ‘Could I get on with the cooking now?’ She was too aware of his sensual mouth on a level with her eyes, of the way her body was reacting to his.
He instantly released her. ‘Go ahead. You’ll have to excuse my keeping touching you—I’ve been away from a beautiful woman too long.’
‘Why—I’m sorry,’ she said hastily as his expression darkened. ‘I—I won’t ask again.’
‘Make sure you don’t,’ he snapped, leaving her.
Dinner was a quiet affair, Sabina wrapped up in her own thoughts, her host seeming to be the same. Satan had appeared halfway through the meal, sitting patiently on a third chair about the old-fashioned table, those slitted green eyes watching every morsel of food that entered their mouths.
‘Doesn’t he have his own food?’ Sabina was beginning to feel uncomfortable under that watchful stare, especially as the cat seemed to resent her eating the food.
Her host patted the black cat, tickling it behind the ears. A loud purr sounded in the silence. ‘Of course he has his own food, he just prefers ours. You’re almost human, aren’t you, boy?’
Quite frankly the black cat frightened Sabina, not because of its size, in fact it was only a small cat compared to some she had seen, but because of the venom in its green eyes every time it looked at her, a look almost of jealousy.
Once again she felt tired; the walk in the mist and rain after her bicycle tyre went flat had made her feel more exhausted than she had the previous evening. But she didn’t want this man to know how tired she was, didn’t want him to suggest that they go upstairs and share that bed.
‘I’ve put your gear upstairs,’ he remarked as if reading her thoughts.
‘My bicycle has a puncture.’ She hastily spoke of something else.
He nodded. ‘I’ll take a look at that tomorrow, if the mist clears.’
‘Are we far from the road here?’
‘Thinking of walking?’
She shrugged. ‘If my bicycle can’t be mended I just may have to.’
‘We’re about two miles from the road you left.’
‘Only two miles?’ she gasped. ‘But it took me hours!’
‘And it exhausted you.’ He stood up. ‘Time for bed.’
‘No!’ Panic filled her. ‘I mean—I—I’m really not tired.’
‘Liar!’ he said softly. ‘Your eyelids have been drooping for the past hour. Come on,’ he put out a hand to pull her to her feet, ‘a good night’s sleep will do you good.’
That was the last thing she would get, spending the night with this man. He had already shown her, more than once, that her type of beauty appealed to him—‘a weakness for blondes’, he had called it. And she had no guarantee he wouldn’t try to make love to her, not when he had apparently denied himself female company for so long. She had no guarantee she would be able to deny him either.
She ignored his outstretched hand. ‘I’m not sleepy yet. You go up. I—I’ll join you later.’
‘No fear, little lady.’ He bent down and swung her up into his arms. ‘You just may be an innocent holiday-maker, but then again you might be a reporter, and until I’ve made my mind up either way, where I go you go, and vice versa.’
‘Everywhere?’ Her arms clung around his neck of their own volition, even more aware of the magnetic attraction he held for her this close to him. He didn’t smell of body lotion or aftershave as Nicholas did, he smelt of good honest sweat, and an even more basic smell, a male smell that excited and aroused her. His eyes darkened as he looked at her, as if he were aware of the disturbed state of her emotions. Consequently her next words came out sharply, almost defensively. ‘I take it this cottage does have somewhere I can wash and—and change into my nightclothes?’
‘Oh yes,’ he smiled at her bad humour. ‘That’s why there’s only one bedroom. I had the other converted into a bathroom.’
‘How nice!’ She hoped her sarcasm wasn’t lost on him. She could tell by the tightening of his beautifully shaped mouth that it wasn’t.
‘Be glad that I did,’ he rasped. ‘Otherwise you might find yourself sitting in an iron tub before the fire right now.’
Sabina gasped, and held her tongue, knowing that she was pushing him to the borderline of his temper.
He carried her up the narrow stairway, kicking open the wooden door directly opposite the top of the stairs, dropping her down on to the bed before turning to switch on the lamp next to the bed. Not that this small light made a lot of difference to the visibility in the room; her host appeared more menacing than ever.
She gave a startled gasp as something touched her hand, turning to see Satan curled up on her sleeping bag. She moved hurriedly away in case the cat struck out at her for the second time today. ‘I hope you’ll get him off there before I get back,’
‘Get back from where?’ he raised his eyebrows.
Sabina got her pyjamas out of her saddlebag. ‘I’m going to the bathroom,’ she informed him crossly. ‘And I don’t want to have to fight your cat for my part of the bed.’ Goodness knows it was going to be bad enough sleeping there without that!
‘Don’t worry,’ he taunted. ‘I’d rather have you share my bed any day—or night.’
She fled, her face bright red with embarrassment. This was terrible, stuck here in the middle of nowhere with a man she didn’t even know the name of, a man who feared reporters. No, feared was the wrong word, he despised them, hated them. But why? Why did he—–
‘Miss Smith?’ A loud knock sounded on the door behind her. ‘I want to use the bathroom, so unless you want to share that with me too, I should hurry up and get out of there.’
She had already noted that there was no lock on the door, so she quickly put on her pyjamas, glad that she had brought something serviceable rather than one of the glamorous nightgowns she usually wore at home. Her host was standing outside the door when she emerged, his amusement at her masculine attire obvious. Sabina put her head proudly in the air and walked past him.
Her sleeping bag lay on top of the bedclothes, the vicious Satan fortunately removed, so she crawled into its warm covering. A fire had been lit in the grate during her absence, and already the room was beginning to feel warmer. It would have been quite cosy if it wasn’t for the fact that she had to share the accommodation with that dangerous man—dangerous to her senses, that was.
She tensed as he came back into the room, silently pulling off the sweater to reveal his naked chest. His hands moved to the buckle of the belt to his cords, looking up to meet her mesmerised eyes as she watched him over the top of her sleeping bag.
‘I don’t mind providing you with a strip show,’ he drawled. ‘I’m certainly not ashamed to show my body, but if you’re as innocent as you pretend to be then you just might be embarrassed when I take my clothes off.’
Sabina gulped. ‘All of them?’
‘Isn’t that the usual practice when you go to bed?’
‘I—– Yes, but—– Yes.’ She hurriedly turned away. ‘But you’ll be putting pyjamas on, won’t you?’ She heard the cords drop on to the chair beside his sweater.
The bed gave beside her. ‘I never wear them.’ His voice was close to her ear.
‘Oh!’ She kept her head turned away, unsure of just how near he was. ‘Good—goodnight, Mr—er—goodnight.’
The light went out, only the fire glow to lighten the darkness now. ‘Goodnight, Sabina.’ He seemed to be settling down under the bedclothes. ‘Warm enough?’
‘Yes, thank you,’ and surprisingly she was.
‘That’s a shame.’ Once again he sounded amused at her expense. ‘I could have offered to keep you warm,’ he explained his humour.
‘That won’t be necessary.’ Her voice was stilted, her body taut.
‘I didn’t think so. And no nocturnal wanderings,’ he warned harshly. ‘Satan might not like it.’
‘He wouldn’t?’ she said nervously.
‘No. He’s lying in the doorway, as he does every night. And he won’t let anyone in or out of this room, unless it’s me.’
‘He sounds more like a guard dog than a cat,’ Sabina snapped moodily, her back firmly turned towards the man lying next to her.
‘I think that’s exactly what he was for Mrs McFee. She trained him to do that. Now he guards me as well as he did her.’
‘In that case, I won’t move.’
‘Oh, you can move,’ she could hear him smile, ‘as long as it’s in my direction.’
‘Goodnight!’ she said firmly.
His mocking laughter had her fists clenched at her sides, but she willed herself not to speak again. She just wanted to fall asleep, get this night over with as quickly as possible, and tomorrow get as far away from this man as she could.
Falling asleep wasn’t as easy as it should have been considering her exhaustion, although the deep even breathing of the man at her side soon told her that he had no trouble doing so. She slowly turned to face him, not used to sleeping lying on her right side. He was lying on his back, his arm flung across his eyes, his chest golden in the glow from the fire. He had said he wasn’t ashamed of his body, and that wasn’t surprising; his flesh was lean and muscular, although she felt sure he was at least in his mid-thirties, a time when most men were worrying about running to fat. This man had no worries in that direction.
‘Seen enough?’ he murmured suddenly, moving his arm from over his eyes to look at her.
Colour flooded into her cheeks, her eyes were wide with shame. ‘I—–’
‘Because I can always take off all the bedclothes if you haven’t,’ he taunted.
Oh, she was so embarrassed at being caught looking at him like this. ‘I—I—–’ The colour drained from her face as quickly as it had come into it, her eyes widening with sudden recognition. He had taken advantage of his time in the bathroom to shave the growth of beard from his face, revealing a deep cleft in the centre of his chin, the firmness of his jaw.
He sat up, bending over her. ‘What is it?’ he demanded sharply, those now familiar grey eyes narrowed. ‘Tell me what’s wrong,’ he ordered savagely.
‘I—’ she gulped, unable to believe she was really seeing this man. ‘You—you’re—–’
His shoulders stiffened, a harsh light in his eyes. ‘You know, don’t you? You know who I am!’
Yes, she knew. His name was Joel Brent. He was a superstar, a singer who ranked up at the top with the Sinatras and the Mathises of this world, legends in their own lifetime. He was a man who had crashed the car he was driving when his girlfriend, Nicole Dupont, had told him she was leaving him for another man. Rumour had it that both of them had been intended to die, Joel Brent’s intention being to kill Nicole if he couldn’t have her. Only they hadn’t both died, only Nicole Dupont had been killed, and Joel Brent had faced a barrage of publicity about whether the crash had been deliberate or merely the accident it appeared to be. Nicole Dupont had always said that Joel was a possessive man, that he would never let go what he thought was his. But as there had been no evidence to confirm that he had intentionally crashed, his name was finally cleared of all blame.
A few weeks later Joel Brent had disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth. And now Sabina had run into him in a remote Scottish cottage, a man who might have been responsible for deliberately taking Nicole Dupont’s life!
SHE had been staring at him for the last few minutes, unable to believe the evidence of her own eyes. Joel Brent, a man who oozed sex-appeal, whose husky voice seduced every woman who listened to him sing, a man always in demand by the eager public, his sales in records reaching the millions, was lying here on this bed beside her.
She knew a little about him, knew that he was thirty-four, came from somewhere in Hampshire, that Nicole Dupont had been his girlfriend for six months before the accident that had killed her, and that he had no close family, although she doubted he was ever alone.
But he was alone here! Why had he come to such a place? Could it be guilt about Nicole Dupont that had prompted this need for solitude, or could it be that he found life so difficult without the woman he loved that he had chosen to cut himself off from all other humanity?
Sabina looked at the strength in his face, the bitterness, and knew that he felt guilty about nothing, and that strength would never allow him to give in to any weakness. ‘You didn’t do it,’ she said with certainty.
He seemed to tense. ‘What did you say?’ His voice was low, dangerously so.
Why hadn’t she recognised that attractive quality in his voice, that deep timbre that spoke of voice control? She moved uncomfortably as she realised he was waiting for an answer. Her words had been more of a thought, and not meant for him to hear. She bit her lip. ‘I said—–’
‘I know what you said!’ He sprang into action, looming over her, his hands trapping her in the confines of the sleeping bag. ‘What did you mean by it?’
Sabina eyed him apprehensively. He might not be capable of murder, but he was capable of violence. ‘I just meant—– That crash—– You didn’t—–’
‘No, I didn’t!’ he cut in savagely, his eyes like chips of ice. ‘But I didn’t need you to tell me that. The subject was covered pretty comprehensively in the newspapers. Of course, no one bothered to ask for my version of what happened, but then the truth might not have made such interesting reading. Has your editor decided it might be a good angle after all?’ he asked angrily. ‘After a year someone actually wants to know the truth?’
She wished he wasn’t quite so close, wished she could at least move her arms, but she lay there trapped beneath him, his bare chest only inches above her, his warm breath caressing her cheek. ‘Why didn’t you ever tell anyone the truth?’ she queried breathlessly, no doubt in her mind that whatever had happened in that crash it had not been Joel Brent’s fault.
‘Because no one asked me for it,’ he snapped. ‘And you’ve just made the biggest mistake of your life, little lady.’
‘Wh-what do you mean?’
He smiled, a smile that was mainly cruelty. ‘I mean I’d more or less decided to let you leave here in the morning.’ His mouth quirked. ‘I fell for that innocent look in your huge green eyes,’ his hand moved to touch her gently, causing her long lashes to flutter nervously. ‘You’re ideal for a reporter, Sabina Smith, you have the hair and face of an angel. An impression that’s totally deceptive.’
‘I’m not a reporter, Mr Brent. Please believe me,’ she pleaded.
His harshness remained. ‘Who knows,’ he spoke softly to himself, ‘I might get to like having you around,’ his hand smoothed the hair back from her temple, moving to cup her cheek. ‘Yes, I think I could get to like it very much.’
‘But I—I’ll be leaving tomorrow.’
‘Would have been leaving tomorrow,’ he corrected. ‘But not now, not when you know who I am, and would very much like to know what I’m doing here.’ He flicked the ring as it lay against her partly revealed breasts. ‘He’ll have to learn to do without you for a while. At the moment my need is greater than his.’
Sabina swallowed hard. ‘What do you mean?’
Joel Brent swung away from her, laughing softly. ‘Not what you think I mean—not yet anyway. But you see I happen to like living here, and I’m not ready to move on. So for the moment you stay with me.’
‘Stay here?’ Sabina sat up to look at him, looking away again as she saw the bedclothes had almost fallen back to his hips, revealing his flat, taut stomach. ‘I can’t stay here,’ she protested. ‘I’m getting married in eight weeks’ time.’
‘Are you now?’ Joel got out of bed, moving to pull on his cords. ‘Now that is interesting.’
Sabina turned around just in time to see him zipping up his trousers. ‘Why is it interesting?’ Thank God it was dark in here! This man seemed to care nothing for the fact that he was walking around half naked. Oh she had seen men wearing less at the beach, but the confines of this bedroom could hardly be classed in the same light. Although Nicholas had often pressurised for a closer relationship between them she had always refused.
‘Who’s the lucky man?’ He ignored her question.
‘Um—his name is—er—Nicholas.’
His eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘Nicholas what?’
‘Er—’ she shrugged. ‘Does it matter?’ She would only be damning herself more by revealing who Nicholas really was.
‘It didn’t,’ Joel Brent said slowly. ‘Not until you tried to avoid telling me. Hmm,’ he gave her a studied look, his head tilted to one side. ‘Let’s look at this logically. You have an engagement ring with a diamond the size of an ice-cube, you work for the Daily News, and you’re engaged to a man called Nicholas. Putting all that together I come up with—Nicholas Freed!’ He seemed to pounce on her, crossing quickly to the bed and wrenching her chin round to look at him. Her high colour told him what he wanted to know. ‘Well, well, well,’ he drawled tauntingly. ‘What some girls will do to get to the top!’
Her colour deepened. ‘It isn’t like that! I—–’
‘How did you get him to propose marriage to you?’ he mocked. ‘That isn’t his style at all. Did you hold back this lovely little body of yours until he waved a wedding ring in front of your nose?’ His hands were roughly caressing the hollows of her throat.
‘No, of course not! He—–’
Joel flung her away from him in disgust. ‘You mean you’ve let him make love to you?’ he said with distaste, rubbing his hands down his cords as if the touch of her revolted him. ‘Good God, the man must be at least thirty years older than you.’
‘Twenty-six,’ she corrected huskily. ‘I’m nineteen.’
‘And he’s forty-five? It’s disgusting!’
Sabina swallowed hard. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way. Actually, I—I’m not going to marry him now, I’ve changed my mind.’
‘Why?’ he sneered. ‘Couldn’t you take the weekly beatings you would be expected to endure?’
Her face was white, her eyes huge. ‘B-beatings?’
Joel Brent gave a harsh laugh. ‘Don’t tell me he hasn’t hit you yet? His second wife couldn’t take those beatings, but perhaps you’re one of those women who enjoy that sort of thing.’
‘Of course I’m not! Do you know Nancy Freed?’
‘Yes, I know her.’
‘And Nicholas used to—he used to hit her?’ She couldn’t believe it. Surely her father must have known of this too. How could he let her marry a man like that?
‘He beat her,’ Joel corrected grimly. ‘Although she said she’d fallen over.’
‘Maybe she had,’ Sabina said hopefully.
‘She didn’t,’ he said with certainty.
Sabina felt sick. ‘I didn’t know.’ Her voice was faint.
‘Maybe not,’ he shrugged. ‘You could only have been nine or ten at the time they separated.’
Then her father had known, he had been Nicholas’ partner for the last fifteen years. And he had been going to let her marry such a monster. But why? It was a question only he could answer. ‘Do you have a telephone?’ she asked Joel Brent.
‘Why?’ His eyes were narrowed.
‘I—I need to call someone.’
He shook his head. ‘Not from here you won’t. I don’t have a telephone, radio, television, or read newspapers.’
So that was why he didn’t know she was Charles Smith’s daughter, why he took her to just be a young reporter taking the easy way to the top of her career. How wrong could he be! She had never worked in her life, a little charity work was as near as she had ever come to it. Her father always said he needed her at home whenever she suggested going out to work, and Nicholas seemed to feel the same way when she had told him she would like to get a job after they were married. Maybe if she had had a job, had gained a little independence from her father, she might not have been so easily persuaded to marry Nicholas.
‘Then you don’t know that the public are anxious to know what’s happened to you?’ she now asked Joel Brent.
He seemed to stiffen. ‘They were quick enough to condemn me a year ago.’
‘I don’t conduct interviews at two o’clock in the morning, Miss Smith,’ he cut in harshly. ‘In fact I don’t conduct interviews at all, not any more.’
‘I was only—–’
‘I don’t care what you were only!’ His face was livid with anger. ‘You can sleep in this bed tonight, tomorrow we’ll have to try and fix up some other arrangement.’
‘T-tomorrow?’ she queried.
‘I’ve already told you, you aren’t leaving, not until I do. And that may not be for months yet.’
‘But I just told you I can’t stay here! Mr Brent, I—–’
‘Joel!’ he snapped. ‘If you have to call me anything call me Joel. I don’t get many visitors, just the occasional neighbour, and they have no idea that my name is Brent. Do you understand?’
‘Yes. But—– Where are you going?’ Her question stopped him going out of the door.
‘What’s the matter, aren’t you used to sleeping alone?’
‘I always sleep alone!’ she told him through gritted teeth.
‘Always?’ he taunted.
‘I wonder if Freed has ever taken a virgin?’ he mused cruelly. ‘I doubt it, I shouldn’t think he has the finesse for it. Still, perhaps we can change all that before you leave here.’
His softly spoken words conjured up erotic pictures in her mind, pictures of her and this man locked together in love. She blushed as she saw by the contempt in his eyes that he had clearly read her thoughts. ‘You’re disgusting!’ she snapped to cover her embarrassment.
‘Maybe,’ he agreed huskily. ‘But you seem to like me well enough.’
She didn’t like him at all, her feelings went much deeper than that. How was it possible to fall in love with a man she hardly knew, a man still in love with the memory of a dead woman? No matter how it had happened she did love him, and it was because she loved him that she was going to stop fighting him about leaving here. If she stayed long enough she would be able to get out of marrying Nicholas simply by not turning up for the wedding—a coward’s way out, but in this case the safest. Her father could be very persuasive when it came to getting something he wanted.
She couldn’t have married Nicholas now, not even if Joel hadn’t told her about his marriage to Nancy. How Joel Brent would laugh if he knew the mess she was in. How much more he would laugh if he knew she had fallen in love with him almost on sight.
‘It’s been tried before,’ he told her coldly.
Sabina gave him a puzzled look. ‘What has?’
‘A colleague of yours, Sharon Kendal, got me into bed with her and then tried to get me to talk about Nicole. Needless to say I got the hell out of there.’
Sabina knew all about Sharon Kendal’s methods of getting a story. She had come to work for the Daily News about six months ago, a hard-headed career woman of about Joel’s age. In that six months she had come to be the chief reporter, pushing out anyone who got in her way. Sabina could quite well believe she would use any tactics to get a story, although how Joel could have fallen for that—–
‘I didn’t know she was a reporter until it was too late.’ Once again he seemed to be able to read her thoughts, a disconcerting habit of his.
She frowned. ‘I thought you said you didn’t tell her anything.’
His mouth quirked. ‘I didn’t mean too late for that.’
‘Oh,’ she blushed at her stupidity. ‘Where are you going, Joel?’ she changed the subject to something less painful to her. Joel Brent’s past would be littered with women who had shared his bed—and Sabina found she hated every one of them.
‘Downstairs—to sleep on the sofa. I’m not in the mood for you tonight, attractive as you are. Tell me, does Freed know exactly where in Scotland you are?’
He didn’t even know she was in Scotland as far as she knew! ‘Why should I tell you that?’ she said defensively.
‘He doesn’t,’ Joel said with satisfaction. ‘This gets better and better.’
‘How do you know he doesn’t?’ she flashed. ‘I didn’t say he—–’
‘He doesn’t, Sabina. If he did you would have said so straight away.’
She sighed. ‘You’re right, he doesn’t.’
‘Now why should you admit that?’ His eyes narrowed suspiciously. ‘Is this another approach? Now that you know I won’t be fooled by the holiday story are you going to try and charm it out of me?’
‘I’m not interested in—in Nicole Dupont, or the relationship you had with her.’
‘That’s good,’ Joel rasped. ‘Because I don’t intend discussing it with you. Get some sleep, Sabina, you look as if you need it.’
He laughed at her sarcasm. ‘I’ll leave Satan up here with you—just to keep you company,’ he taunted.
‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ she said hastily, the cat already watching her with an evil look in its eyes.
‘I’m sure you would. Sweet dreams,’ he mocked as he left.
Sweet dreams be damned! She couldn’t even fall asleep, let alone dream. What was she going to do about Joel’s bad opinion of her? Finding out that Nicholas was the man she was engaged to had only seemed to confirm that she was a reporter, and Joel made no secret of his hatred of reporters. With good reason, if she remembered correctly. Until he had been cleared of all suspicion of crashing deliberately, the newspapers had given him a rough time—mainly, she realised now, because he refused to confirm or deny their allegations.
If she could manage to convince Joel she wasn’t a reporter perhaps he would stop resenting her and start seeing her as a woman. Telling him who her father was was definitely out, that would just damn her twice over in his eyes. Besides, if her father had known of Joel Brent’s presence here he wouldn’t be past using his daughter to get an exclusive interview. And if she knew that about her father then so did Joel.
She hated to think what was going to happen when her father found out she had changed her mind about marrying Nicholas. He would be furious.
A dark shadow loomed up and covered her, causing her to cry out. ‘Be quiet, you little fool!’ snapped the now familiar voice of Joel Brent.
‘I—– You startled me!’ she accused, sitting up to see that it was the flames from the fire that had made such a large shadow. Oh God, had he changed his mind about sleeping with her? She wasn’t sure whether her heart leapt in fear or anticipation.
He placed a mug on the table beside her. ‘That’s no reason to scream the place down,’ he told her impatiently. ‘I’ve brought you some cocoa. You seem to be having trouble sleeping. The bed hasn’t stopped creaking for the last fifteen minutes,’ he explained how he had known of her sleeplessness.
‘Sorry,’ she mumbled, aware that she must have been keeping him awake too. She eyed the cocoa suspiciously.
Joel interpreted that look and smiled mockingly. ‘It doesn’t have anything in but a little sugar. I was never into drugs. Not my scene at all,’ he taunted, his arms folded across his sweater-clad chest.
Sabina flushed. ‘I don’t talk like that, so there’s no need to be sarcastic.’
‘I’m so sorry, Miss Smith,’ he said with exaggerated politeness. ‘Put my rude behaviour down to lack of human company. All Satan requires of me is that I feed him, keep him warm, and occasionally give him a bit of love. Not so different from a woman, now I come to think of it.’
She sighed. ‘I’m tired, Mr Brent. I’m not up to this verbal fencing right now.’
‘Then drink your cocoa. Go on, it will help you sleep.’
‘I haven’t drunk cocoa since I was a child.’ She sipped it tentatively, finding she still had a liking for it.
‘And that was such a long time ago,’ he teased softly, taking the empty mug out of her hand and pushing her down on to the pillow before zipping up her sleeping bag.
Sabina gave him a sleepy smile. ‘Thank you—Daddy,’ she did some teasing of her own, thankful that he had stopped sniping at her.
She had thought that too soon. ‘Not me, Sabina,’ he said harshly. ‘Freed may be old enough to be that, but not me. And just to prove it…’ His dark head swooped and his lips claimed hers.
Sabina’s sleepiness instantly left her, her arms going up about his throat, her fingers entwining in the dark hair at his nape. She made no objection as he undid the buttons to her pyjama top, cupping her breast to gently arouse the nipple with his thumb. She instantly felt on fire, her whole body seeming to burn with a sensuality she had never before experienced.
Her neck arched, her head falling back as his mouth moved down to claim her, the first touch of a man’s lips against her breast sending her into a world of wonder, a world where only Joel’s caresses mattered, only his lips and hands on her body seemed important.
And then he was moving away from her, pulling her hands from about his neck. She looked at him with glazed passion-filled eyes. ‘Joel …?’ Her voice ached with her unfulfilment.
‘I told you, I’m not in the mood for you tonight,’ he said cruelly. ‘You’ve been fed, there’s the fire to keep you warm, and now you’ve had your loving.’ He got up from the bed, looking down at her with flinty grey eyes. ‘Now you should fall into as contented a sleep as Satan has.’
Her eyes darkened with pain, his rejection of her cutting into her like a knife. ‘You’re cruel!’ she choked.
‘And you’re a very good actress. I could almost believe you enjoyed my caresses just now.’
‘But I did!’ she defended.
‘Really? And what would you call that, job satisfaction?’
Sabina paled. ‘If you think I responded to you just to try and get a story …’
‘That’s exactly what I think,’ he told her coldly. ‘I wonder if Freed knows how much you enjoy your work?’
‘Get out of here!’ She shook with anger, clutching the gaping front of her pyjama jacket to her. ‘Get out and leave me alone!’ To her shame tears welled up in her eyes.
Joel’s eyes narrowed, his gaze moving slowly over each feature of her face. ‘I think you may have chosen the wrong profession, Sabina. Your acting really is superb. Do you act when Freed makes love to you too? I should think you would have to, I can’t see any woman willingly letting him touch her.’ His mouth turned back in dislike.
The truth of the matter was that although Nicholas was attractive he had never aroused her, in fact the opposite, making her shut her mind off to him as he kissed and fondled her. Perhaps she had always subconsciously known he wasn’t the man for her, a fact that had been proved when she responded mindlessly to Joel’s caresses.
‘I can see you do,’ Joel scorned, his expression contemptuous. ‘Is it worth it?’
She could see it wasn’t now. But at the time she had wanted to please her father, had for once in her life wanted his full approval, and agreeing to marry Nicholas had certainly given her that.
‘Don’t bother to answer.’ Joel moved to the door. ‘And if you still can’t sleep at least lie still. I have work to do tomorrow—today, and I need my sleep even if you don’t.’
Her eyes widened. ‘What work do you do?’
‘Mind your own damned business!’
Once again she was alone, but infinitely sleepier than she had been a few minutes ago. But thoughts of Joel kept flooding into her mind. If he had to shut himself away from the world why on earth had he come to an out-of-the-way place like this, a cottage barely big enough for two people, a place where he had to do everything for himself? A man at the pinnacle of his profession, he had homes in every capital in Europe, a large apartment in New York, a yacht anchored off one of the Greek islands, and each of these homes was more than adequately staffed. And yet here he was, in a one-bedroomed cottage in Scotland.
He could also have had any amount of female company this last year, and yet he had chosen to remain here alone. But he wasn’t alone now, she was here, and she would remain as long as he would let her. Which looked like being some time—she hoped.
Sabina woke once in the night, to feel something warm and soft pressing against her back, body warmth. Had Joel changed his mind and slept in the bed after all? She was almost afraid to turn and look, tensing as she slowly rolled over. Satan stirred beside her, sleepy green eyes suddenly becoming alert as he raised his head to look at her. Sabina moved her hand tentatively out of the sleeping bag, putting it down near the cat, as near as she dared. The black nose moved towards her, the mouth opening to show the viciously sharp teeth, before the rough tongue came out and licked her hand.
‘Why, Satan,’ she laughed softly, ‘you old fraud!’ She tickled him under the chin and he nuzzled his face into her hand, purring as loudly as he had for Joel. Finally the cat settled down again, even closer to her than he had been before. ‘I hope I can make your master like me as easily,’ she murmured before falling asleep again.
It was quite late in the morning when she woke, after nine, and she could hear a strange noise outside. Just as she was about to get up and investigate the noise stopped and she could hear someone, she supposed Joel, moving about downstairs. Satan had gone from the bedroom now, with nothing to show that they had become friends during the night.
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