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Authors: Emma Carr

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BOOK: London Falling
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His blue eyes crinkled at the corners, and his face relaxed into all its angles. She could picture him hanging out with the boys at some bar, everyone listening on to his every word and laughing at his jokes. He caught her gaze with his own, and she realized she’d been staring.

She took another step back. “Would you care for anything else, sir?”

“You can use my name.”

“Would you care for anything else, Mr. Ruleford?”

“Simon.”

She couldn’t. Not here. Not in his bedroom, with him looking like that and smiling at her. Absolutely not. “As you wish, My Lord,” she said with a curtsy and an over-the-top flourish.

He shook his head. “Simon. I prefer not to use my title.”

She snapped back to standing. “Wait, you’re actually a Lord?”

“No. My father is a Marquess. My Lord is just a courtesy title. And I prefer not to use it.”

Dear Lord, he was a lord! He was so far out of her league that she couldn’t even believe she was in the same room with him.

“You don’t like it.” His voice rose in wonder. And then he laughed.

“Um .” Now really, how was she supposed to respond to that? Was he pissed that she didn’t like it? Or glad? Or was he just making fun of her? She was so off-kilter, she didn’t know what to think.

He turned his attention to the broth. “Why are there two spoons?”

“So I can taste it first.”

He chuckled. “What am I? The King?”

His laughter finally got to her, and she responded by picking up the soup and one of the spoons. “I shall taste the soup for my Lord Sovereign now.” If she made him laugh, he might be more willing to keep her there.

“Just give me the soup.” He held out one hand.

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want the King to eat or drink anything without first checking for poison. There are many, many, many people who would want the King to die a most horrible death, and I must be diligent in my care of the King.” She made the biggest slurping sound she could, and then handed him the bowl.

He shook his head. “You are most annoying.”

She handed him his spoon. “Yes, My Lord.”

“Stop calling me My Lord,” he said, but the corners of his mouth lifted in a smile.

“As you wish,” she said and sank into a deep curtsy. The puppy took that as an opportunity to put his front paws on her and attempt to lick her face.

“Eew. Down, Dog. Down.”

“Your dog isn’t trained yet, is he?”

“It’s not my dog,” she said as she tried to move away from it.

“You might want to tell him that.”

She looked down at the creature, who promptly sat down and swept his tail across the carpet, a look of pure eagerness on his puppy face. Silly dog. It was only going to get hurt when she left. She sighed. “It’s really not your dog?”

He returned the bowl of soup to the nightstand. “It’s really not my dog.”

“I wonder whose dog it is? I had better find out before I leave, I guess.”

“Speaking of leaving, when do you suppose that will be?”

Here went nothing. “As soon as I earn the money for a plane ticket home But I have lots of ideas on how I can really help you out around here.”

His laugh sounded almost like a sigh. “I’m not hiring you. And I’m certainly not giving you any money.”

“I’ve already cleaned almost your entire house.”

“The entire house?”

She nodded.

He muttered something that she couldn’t understand, although she could tell he wasn’t pleased.

“I know that the salary is 300 pounds a week, but–”

“There is no salary. I will not and cannot hire you.” The friendly smile was gone, replaced with the fierce jut of his jaw.

A lump formed in her throat. She’d avoided using her ace in the hole, because she thought she might convince him otherwise, but it was the only thing that seemed to work with him. She crossed her arms. “Then I’ll just go to the private detective with my story. Or the papers.” Was it her imagination, or did his eyes narrow when she mentioned newspapers?

“And run the risk of getting arrested for working in this country illegally?

I don’t think so.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “At least I’d have a place to sleep at night.

Actually, maybe they’d deport me. That would be ideal.”

He crossed his arms and stared right back at her. She could swear his teeth were grinding in frustration.

He thought he could intimidate her? He didn’t know who he was dealing with. She had more grit than anyone he’d ever come up against, and there was no way she was going to crack first.

She moved toward the bed. “The only solution is for you to hire me.”

“Haven’t we already gone over this option? How many times do you need to hear the word no?”

“Hear me out,” she said, pacing to release some of her stress. “You pay me cash for cleaning your house.”

“And this is different because?”

“You haven’t let me finish. You pay me cash for cleaning your house. And I could even do some additional cooking for you, since I’ve noticed that you don’t have food in your pantry or freezer. I could prepare a bunch of meals in advance and freeze them for you. And I could help you organize your study.

I’m very detail oriented and an extremely hard worker.

“Am I to assume that you would require additional funds to do this work?”

“Twelve hundred pounds for two weeks.”

He laughed. “That’s ridiculous. Even if I were to actually consider paying you for cleaning my house, which I’m not, the going rate for top-notch housekeepers is only £350 per week, and that includes meal preparation.”

“But you’re not taking into account how dirty your house was to begin with, and how much additional work I’d be doing for you. Once you taste my cooking, you’ll be more than willing to pay that price.”

“Number one, I am so sick that I don’t believe my appetite will ever return.” He held up two fingers. “Second, I am never home, so I don’t need anyone to cook for me. Third, when I am home, which is extremely rare, I just order take-away. I’m not going to hire you.”

“But–”

“For anything.”

“But you haven’t heard what I’ll give you in return.”

His entire body snapped to attention, and his eyes raked her from head to toe. “This is getting interesting.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

“How would I know it? I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you. But I can tell you that I’m even less interested in hiring you for sex than I am in hiring you to clean my house.”

His comment, which should have reassured her, only made her feel like the ugliest woman on earth. With her pasty skin, googly fish eyes, and pointy chin, she knew she wasn’t beautiful, but she’d always hoped she was at least moderately attractive. Admittedly, she wasn’t looking her best, still wearing her baggy cloud pajamas, but at least he could have pretended some interest.

“Believe me, if I were offering myself, I’d find someone a little more to my liking. Someone with a personality perhaps? Who didn’t puke–oh wait, I mean honk–all over my shoes. Someone I was at least a tiny fraction of a percent attracted to.”

She waited for the inevitable response, but instead of looking offended by her tirade, the corners of his mouth quirked up in amusement. Aimee wanted to shout in frustration. She put her hands on her hips.

“What I was going to say, was that in return, I’ll give you my passport to hold until the moment I leave the country. You could even buy a nonrefundable plane ticket for me, and not turn it over until we’re at the airport. Then you’ll know that I’m out of your hair for good.”

“You could still go to the tabloids once you got back to the States.” What was it about the tabloids that had him so antsy? There had to be something there, but what? “Just because you’re in a different country doesn’t mean you can’t ruin my career.” He shook his head. “It seems to me, the only option is for me to call the police and have you arrested for breaking and entering.”

The words hovered in the room and then slammed into her, dragging her down into the depths of anger and a frightening terror that threatened to sink her.

“You bastard!”

 

Aimee’s face turned almost the same shade of red as her hair. Simon half-expected steam to blow out her ears. Instead, she flipped on her heels and marched out the doorway, slamming the door behind her. The door zinged back with a whack, startling the Scottie, who had hopped up and prepared to follow her. The dog appeared to have no concept of her anger. As soon as the door reopened, he tapity-tap-tapped out the door and followed her downstairs, tail up in the air, as proud as could be, leaving Simon alone in the bedroom.

He rubbed his chin. Slight miscalculation on his part. He’d only meant to scare her into leaving on her own, not provoke her into gathering her rage into a hurricane force storm. If he didn’t want her to destroy his house in anger, he was going to have to go after her to apologize. Unless, of course, she decided to make good on her threat and expose him to the tabloids instead.

“Bugger and blast.” The tabs would have a field day with this. He stood up, but her footsteps tearing up the staircase stopped him in his tracks.

What if she were so angry, she decided to harm him? With his larger build, he could take her, but what if she had a knife in her hands? He didn’t fancy getting carved up while he disarmed the woman. He looked around for a weapon, but of course he had nothing, so he grabbed the duvet. It would work to hold off any slashes while he subdued her. He braced his feet and crouched, ready to defend himself.

As she tore around the corner, her feet slid on the floor until she banged her shoulder into the door jam. “Ow!”

She held something silver in her hands, but it didn’t appear to be a knife.

What the hell was it? He identified his mobile, just as she drew her arm back and launched it at him. It hit the duvet and then bounced several times on the bed.

“There’s your damn cell phone.” She put her hands on her hips. “Feel free to call the cops.”

He kept an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, because he couldn’t let her leave the house in this state. “Look, I’m–”

“Just do it.” She marched over to the bed, picked up his mobile, and offered it to him with an angry shove in the air. “Do it, you lazy, heartless bastard. Do it now and get it over with. At least I’ll know where I’m sleeping tonight and all this up-in-the-air waiting-for-the-house-to-fall will be over.”

He took his mobile from her hands. The fight seeped out of her and her shoulders slumped, shrinking her at least two inches. Dear God, this woman was desperate.

“I’m not going to ring the police,” he said, as he tossed the phone on the bed. He took her arm, led her over to a chair–empty because no dirty shirts were tossed over the sides–and pressed her to sit. “For now.”

“Right,” she said. Her gaze fell on the floor, on the wall, over his head, anywhere but on him.

“I’m right serious.” Placing his hands on the chair for balance, he knelt on the floor The Scottie moved away from him and curled up under the chair, his back up against her leg. Aimee still wouldn’t look at Simon.

As long as he maintained the threat of ringing the police, he held some leverage in this ridiculous situation. While he wanted to trust her, he couldn’t.

He didn’t know anything about her except that she needed a job and desperately wanted to get back home. As far as he could tell, however, she hadn’t stolen anything from him when she had the opportunity, and she’d cleaned his whole house in three days, although he needed to see that to believe it. She’d taken care of him when he was sick. He had to think she was an honorable person.

But that desperation worried him. How far would she go to earn enough money to avoid sleeping on the streets? She could easily earn several thousand quid by selling a lie about him to the tabloids. How far would anyone go to avoid homelessness?

All he had to do was call the cops, the papers be damned. But if the tabloids published her story, his chances of winning the royal family’s business were null and void. He had to keep her from going to the tabloids, no matter what. And he couldn’t pay her.

“Look, I don’t want to ring the police. I don’t believe that it’s the best option, nor do I believe it’s the only option.” He’d negotiated–and won–against some of the top business leaders in Great Britain, yet a tiny red-headed woman in pajama bottoms was bringing him to his knees. “If we put our heads together, we have got to come up with a better solution that is a win-win for both of us.”

He tilted her chin so he could look at her eyes. After a moment, she raised her gaze, and he discovered her eyes weren’t just brown, but the most intriguing shade of hazel. An innate intelligence shone through, but it was shadowed by sadness, reminding him of the way his eyes had looked in the mirror after his mother had died. Her dejection made him want to reassure her that everything would be all right, which was a right odd reaction to a blackmailer.

Instead, he repeated, “As long as you don’t go to the tabs or the detective, I will not ring the police.”

Her eyes widened and, for a moment, it almost seemed as if he could see all her secret hopes and dreams, but then she blinked. When she reopened her eyes, the look was gone, and if eyes were windows to the soul, she’d just drawn room darkening shades. He dropped his hand from her chin, but he immediately missed the connection it provided.

“If only I could trust you,” she said.

“You can,” he said. For now, he added silently.

“I can’t,” she said.

“Look. We’re stuck. If you go to the tabloids, I’ll go to the police. If I go to the police, you’ll go the tabloids. We have to trust each other, or else we’ll both lose.” He readjusted his hands on the chair. The adrenaline that had surged through his system was almost gone.

“Your hands are shaking,” she said.

“A direct result of the lurgy I’m afraid.” He hadn’t eaten since yesterday, and had barely kept down a few sips of water and that horrid lemon and honey tea she’d made for him earlier in the day. He held his squat position only through sheer force of will, despite the physical pain. “Look, we each have reasons to distrust the other. Let’s put aside our issues for now and try to come up with a different solution.” He needed a better option, because all of a sudden, he didn’t want to be the one to put this woman behind bars.

BOOK: London Falling
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