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Authors: India Grey

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Sagas

In Bed With a Stranger (9 page)

BOOK: In Bed With a Stranger
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‘OK, Kit. I get the picture.’ Randall gave a rueful sigh. ‘But I’m here if you need me. If there’s anything else you want to ask.’

‘Thanks, but you’ve answered everything already,’ Kit said neutrally. ‘Lewis needs you, not me. Give him my regards.’

Ending the call, he turned away from the city spread out beneath him and tossed his phone down on the low table. A band of pain across his shoulders told him he’d spent the duration of that entire conversation with every muscle in his body tensed, ready to fight.

Even though there was no point. The enemy he faced couldn’t be beaten.

With a thud of alarm he realised that Sophie must be out of the shower by now, and wondered if she’d heard any of that. Quickly he crossed the sun-baked terrace and went inside.

It was cool and dim. And quiet. In the bedroom a note lay on the chest of drawers.

Gone to medina to buy postcard for Jasper. See you
later. Love S x

Relief that she hadn’t heard poured through him. He could carry on as normal, pretend that everything was all right. If he didn’t go and see Randall, or get any kind of formal diagnosis, that meant he wasn’t lying to her.

But there was a whole lot of difference between not lying
to her and knowingly trapping her into a marriage that would make her a prisoner.

The ring Juliet had given him was still in the pocket of his trousers and he took it out now, flipping open the lid of the velvet box. The stone was called a black opal, although against the midnight satin lining of the box it glowed with a kaleidoscope of shifting colours, lit up by the diamonds that encircled it.

He stared at it for a long time. Then, shutting the box with a snap, he put it back in his pocket and went out to find her.

The car from the hotel dropped him by the square. Heading towards the medina in the blast-furnace heat, he took the mobile phone from his pocket and brought up Sophie’s number. He kept his head down, pressing the phone against his ear and concentrating on its steady ring instead of the cacophony of street vendors and musicians and a thousand conversations around him.

Come on, Sophie, pick up …

The narrow streets of the medina were dark and cool. It was a relief to be out of the sun, but the shadows crawled with menace. He could feel the sheen of sweat covering every inch of his skin, making his shirt stick to him. He quickened his pace so that he was almost running, pushing through the ambling crowds of people as his gaze darted around, looking for a red head amongst the dark or covered ones.

Why wasn’t she answering her phone?

His heartbeat reverberated through his body as he scanned the street, his training kicking in automatically as he checked for suspicious signs. There were scores of them—bags of rubbish left in doorways, people wearing layers of clothing that could conceal explosives, carrying bags and packages of every shape and size and muttering to themselves as they walked.
Just like in any busy city street the world over
, mocked a voice of scornful rationality inside Kit’s head.

Ahead of him he could see the arched gateway of the souk, leading out onto the wide street beyond. And in front of it, her hair gleaming in a narrow shaft of sunlight filtering through the blinds above, he saw Sophie.

She was sitting on a low stool facing a heavily veiled woman who held one of her hands. The air left Kit’s lungs in a rush of relief. Resisting the urge to break into a run and haul her into his arms, he slowed right down, taking a deep breath in and expelling it again in an effort to steady his racing pulse. She was having a henna tattoo—that was why she couldn’t answer her phone. Not because she’d been kidnapped, or dragged into a back alley by a gang of thugs, for pity’s sake. His scalp prickled with sweat as he raked a hand through his hair and started towards her again.

And stopped.

In a doorway opposite a man was holding a mobile phone. As if in slow motion Kit watched him begin to press buttons on the keypad.

Adrenaline, like neat, iced alcohol, sluiced through his veins, sending his heart-rate into overdrive. Instantly his whole body was rigid, primed, as he reached for his gun. Instead he found himself clutching his phone again, but his fingers were shaking so badly that he dropped it.

As if in slow motion he watched it fall to the ground. He knew he had to reach Sophie before the blast but was suddenly paralysed, his feet rooted to the spot where he stood as horror solidified like concrete in his chest and dark spots danced before his eyes. His mouth was open to shout her name but his throat was tight and dry and could produce no sound.

But it was as if she heard him anyway because at that moment she lifted her head and looked round, straight towards where he stood. The smile died on her face and she got to her feet, coming towards him with her arms outstretched.

‘Kit! Kit—what is it?’

The compassion in her voice hit him like acid in the face, bringing him back to reality and turning his panic into self-disgust in a lurching heartbeat. Reaching him, she raised her hand to his cheek, stroking her thumb gently over the half-healed scars there.

‘Sweetheart, what’s wrong?’

Behind her the man was speaking into his mobile phone now, his face impassive. Kit jerked his head away from Sophie’s touch as if it burned him.

‘Nothing. Nothing’s wrong,’ he said in a voice that was as cold and hard as steel. ‘I came to find you because I’ve arranged the flight for one o’clock. We need to pack and get to the airport—if you still want to come back with me.’

Sophie dropped her hand, its intricate henna markings still glistening wetly, and took a step backwards. Dropping her gaze, she nodded.

‘Yes. Of course I do.’

Knives of self-loathing pierced him, but still pride prevented him from taking her hand. From apologising, or explaining. Instead he turned on his heel and began to walk back along the street, keeping his gaze fixed unwaveringly ahead.

CHAPTER NINE

T
HE
flight back to England was every bit as luxurious as the one they had taken two days previously, but considerably less enjoyable.

Neither of them spoke much. Kit seemed to have placed himself behind a wall of glass, so that even though he was only a few feet away from her, Sophie felt as if he were somewhere far beyond her reach. Sitting in the deep embrace of the huge seat, she stared out of the window, longing to cross the small distance between them and tear the paperwork out of his hand and force him to notice her, to
talk
to her …

To tell her exactly what had been going through his mind when she’d seen him in the souk earlier, and what had made him look like a man who was being crucified by his own conscience?

But she had a sickening fear that if she did there would be no going back, because the things he told her would change everything. How could she wilfully bring about her own expulsion from the paradise she had allowed herself to believe was hers for ever?

It was early evening when they reached Alnburgh. Even in the height of an English summer, the contrast with the heat and the rich colours of Morocco couldn’t have been starker. Carved from iron-grey stone, it appeared to rise straight up out of the cliffs above a stretch of windswept beach, and for
miles it had loomed on the horizon, managing to look far more menacing than the Disneyesque castle in the Romanian pine forest where the vampire movie had been filmed.

Sophie’s spirits sank even further.

She remembered the first time she’d seen it. It had been a winter night, in the middle of a blizzard, and with its floodlights switched on Alnburgh Castle had looked just like a child’s snowglobe. She’d been enchanted, but that was before she’d realised it was just as cold inside as it was outside.

‘I can see why Tatiana couldn’t wait to move to London the moment Ralph’s funeral was over,’ she said with a shiver. ‘It’s not exactly cosy, is it? Are any of the staff still there?’

‘Not as far as I know,’ said Kit. His voice was gravelly with misuse, and more sexy than ever. ‘Obviously Tatiana didn’t want to pay them to stay on if she wasn’t living there—not when she’s haemorrhaging cash to live in a suite at Claridges while she has the London house vandalised by her interior decorator.’

Sophie pressed the button to activate the car heater, and directed the jet of warm air onto her icy feet. She was still wearing the little gold flip-flops, which were covered in pink Marrakech dust. They were already driving under the clock tower, but she knew from previous experience that this might be the last opportunity she had to be warm for a long time.

‘It’s a big responsibility, isn’t it?’ she said faintly, wondering if now was the time to ask how quickly he could sort things out so they could get back to London.

‘Yes.’

Kit brought the car to a standstill and cut the engine. In the sudden quiet she could hear the muffled sound of the sea and the plaintive crying of gulls.

‘Sophie, I know this isn’t what you wanted, or expected …’

Ever since she’d followed him through the souk in Marrakech Sophie had been desperate for him to make some move to bridge the terrible chasm that seemed to have opened
up between them, but the note of weary resignation in his voice now made her insides freeze. They’d come all this way, he’d delivered her back to England, so was this the start of the ‘it’s never going to work’ speech? In the soft, pastel-coloured evening light he looked beautiful and exhausted and so remote it was as if he had already left her. She could feel the blood draining from her head, leaving a vacuum of airless panic.

‘I know, but to be fair you hardly expected it either,’ she said, reaching for the door handle, prising it open with shaky fingers. ‘Gosh, look how long the grass is. Don’t you feel a bit like Robin Hood returning from the crusades?’

She stumbled out of the car, grabbing the carrier bag of duty-free stuff she’d bought while he’d been sorting out the hire car—two bottles of champagne, some uber-fashionable vodka in a neon-pink bottle and a giant Toblerone for Jasper. Taking in a deep lungful of salty air, she wrapped her arms around her as the sea breeze sliced straight through the flimsy white dress. The denim jacket she’d put on over it was completely inadequate for keeping out the chill of the Northumberland evening. Or that of Kit’s distance.

Behind her she heard Kit’s door slam.

‘Do you have keys?’ she asked, turning to follow him up the steps to the giant-sized front door.

‘Don’t need them.’ He tapped some numbers into a discreet keypad. ‘Tatiana made my f—Ralph—have an electronic system installed.’ The door creaked heavily open. ‘After you.’

Sophie remembered the armoury hall very well from her first visit. By Alnburgh standards it was a small room, but every inch of the high stone walls was covered with hundreds of swords, pistols, shields and sinister-looking daggers hung in intricate patterns. She’d been deeply intimidated by it the first time, and, standing in the middle of the stone floor and looking around, she didn’t feel much better now.

‘Home sweet home,’ she said with an attempt at humour.

‘The first thing I think we should do is take all these awful guns and things down and put up some coat hooks and a nice mirror. Much more welcoming, and practical.’

Gathering up the thick drift of envelopes from the floor, Kit didn’t smile. Sophie decided she’d better shut up. Jokes like that, coming from the girl who grew up on a converted bus, were clearly too close to the bone to be funny.

‘Just going to the loo,’ she muttered, walking into the long gallery where the heads of various kinds of deer and antelope slaughtered by past Fitzroys glared down through the half-light. Until she’d come here, if someone had said ‘stuffed animal’ to her it would have conjured up an image of cuddly teddy bears, she thought miserably. The scent of woodsmoke hung in the air, a whispered memory of past warmth that couldn’t quite mask the unmistakable smell of damp.

In the portrait hall, from which the wide staircase curved upwards, Sophie came face to face with Jasper’s mother. Or the seven-foot-high painted version of her anyway, which was every bit as intimidating and glamorous as the real thing. She paused in front of it, looking up. The painter, whoever he was, had captured Tatiana’s fine-boned, Slavic beauty, and the quietly triumphant expression in the blue eyes that seemed, quite literally, to look down on Sophie. The diamonds that glittered at her throat, ears and wrist sent out sharp points of painted white, which really did seem to light up the fading evening light.

Sophie sighed. She was completely unable to imagine herself in a similar portrait, decked out in satin and dripping with diamonds. Moving away quickly, she went up the stairs. When she’d first arrived at Alnburgh the labyrinthine passageways upstairs had completely confused her, but at least now she knew where to find a bathroom. Unlike the staterooms downstairs, upstairs had escaped the attentions of Tatiana’s interior designer and the chilly corridors were suffused with the breath of age and neglect. The bathroom Sophie went into
had last been updated in the nineteen thirties and featured an enormous cast-iron bath standing on lion’s feet and pea-green rectangular tiles laid like brickwork. It was refrigerator-cold.

There was no loo paper, but luckily Sophie found the tattered remains of her paper napkin from the aeroplane in her pocket and sent silent thanks to Nick McAllister. She had just pulled the clanking chain and was about to go out again when something on the floor by the door caught her eye and stopped her in her tracks.

Her scream bounced off the tiled walls and echoed along the winding passageways.

Downstairs, Kit froze.

Instinct took over. In a split second he was sprinting up the stairs, taking them two at a time, adrenaline sluicing through his veins like acid. In that instant he was back on duty, his mind racing ahead, anticipating broken bodies, blood, fear and calculating what resources he had to deal with them. Tearing along the corridor, he saw the bathroom door was ajar and kicked it open.

‘Sophie …’

There was no blood. Heart pounding, that was what he registered first. And when he’d processed that fact he noticed that she was standing squeezed into the narrow space between the bath and the toilet, her clenched fists clasped beneath her chin, her whole body hunched up in an attitude of utter terror.

‘Don’t move!’ she croaked.

He stopped dead. Reality swung dizzily away from him for a second and he was back in the desert. Images of mines half covered with earth flashed through his head.

Slowly, her eyes round with terror, Sophie unfurled one arm and pointed to the floor just to one side of him.

‘There.’

He turned his head, looked down. Blinked.

‘A spider,’ he rasped. ‘It’s just a
spider
.’


Just
a spider? It’s not
just
anything! It’s massive. Please, Kit,’ she sobbed, ‘I
hate
them. Please …
get rid
of it.’

In one swift movement he swooped down to capture it, but his stiff fingers refused to co-operate and it darted away. Sophie screamed again, shrinking back against the wall as it shot towards her.

This time he got it. Somehow he closed his tingling fingers around it, and then, throwing open the badly fitting window, let it go.

‘Is it gone?’

He showed her his empty hand. Residual adrenaline still coursed through him, making it impossible to speak, even if he’d trusted himself. His breathing was fast and ragged. He turned away, pressing his fingers to his temples, trying to hold back his anger.

‘Thank you,’ Sophie said shakily from behind him. ‘I can’t bear them. We used to get really huge ones—like that—on the bus and Rainbow always insisted they had as much right as we did to be there and wouldn’t touch them. I used to lie in bed …
t-terrified
and imagining them crawling under my bedclothes—’

Her voice broke into a hiccupping sob and she put a hand, with its incongruous henna tattoo, to her mouth to stifle it.

She was always so strong and funny and positive, but seeing her pressed against the grim tiles, her bravado in tatters and the tears beginning to slide down her cheeks, Kit felt his resolve crack. In one step he was beside her, pulling her forwards and into his arms, covering her trembling mouth with his.

‘It’s OK. You’re safe now. It’s gone.’

It was so good to hold her, so
good
to kiss her again. The relentless nightmare of the last twenty-four hours faded as he breathed in her warm, musky scent and felt her heart thudding frantically against his chest. His hands cupped her face, and in some distant part of his brain he was aware that the
numbness and the pins-and-needles sensation was completely gone. He could feel the heat of her cheeks, her velvet skin, each tear that ran across the back of his hand.

The realisation severed the last thread of his reserve. The desire that had been smouldering dangerously during the long journey when she’d slept beside him, her head falling onto his shoulder, mushroomed into a fireball. And as always, her need matched his. Her hands moved downwards, over his chest, pulling at his shirt.

‘Not here,’ he growled, pulling away.

She gave a gasp of laughter. Her cheeks were damp and flushed, her eyes glittering with arousal. ‘I’m glad you said that. After seeing that monster spider I don’t want to get down on the floor.’

‘Come on.’

Taking her hand, he pulled her forwards, through the gloomy corridors of the castle, up a flight of stone spiral stairs. Her feet caught in the long hem of her white dress and she stumbled. His grip on her hand tightened reflexively, stopping her from falling, and with the other hand he hauled her against him. Sophie could feel the hardness of his erection and gave a moan of need. Their eyes met.

‘Where are we going?’

They were both breathing in rapid rasps.

‘My room.
Our
room.’

‘Is it far? Because I …’

She trailed off, breathless, and he stooped down and scooped her up into his arms, striding up the remaining steps. Freed from the need to look where she was going, Sophie was able to focus her full attention on kissing him, starting at the angle of his jaw, moving upwards to take his ear lobe between her teeth, breathing out gently and murmuring, ‘I want you now. I need you inside me …’

She felt him reach down to open a door. His shoulders were rigid beneath her fingers, the muscles as hard as marble, and
he strode quickly across a room, his footsteps echoing on bare boards. Sophie lifted her head and looked.

The room they had entered was huge, circular and empty except for a hulking great chest of drawers, a magnificent carved wooden bed. Kit set her down beside it. Evening light slanted through a mullioned window, washing the white walls pink. His eyes were black chasms of arousal as he slid his arms around her, reaching for the zip of her dress.

‘This time,’ he whispered throatily, ‘we take it slowly. You’re too beautiful to be rushed.’

Without taking his eyes off her, he pulled it down, millimetre by millimetre. Sophie let out a shuddering breath, every atom of her resisting the urge to tear it off and then rip the shirt from his back, yank his trousers open. He trailed his fingers down her bare back, beneath the open zip. His eyes burned and a muscle jumped above his clenched jaw. She could tell what it cost him, this holding back. Frowning, almost as if he were in pain, he took hold of her shoulders and turned her round.

Sophie shivered as he swept aside her hair with his fingers. Her fingers curled into fists as his lips brushed the nape of her neck. In the silence she could hear the cry of the gulls wheeling through the apricot sky outside, the kiss of Kit’s lips against her skin.

His fingers slid the strap of her dress off one shoulder, then the other. It fell to the floor.

She turned round, trembling with the need to feel his skin on hers. He took a small, indrawn breath as he looked down at her body—naked except for a pair of lilac lace knickers—and with shaking fingers she began to undo the buttons of his shirt.

BOOK: In Bed With a Stranger
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