Whenever the opportunity arose he watched her, and she wondered if this was his way of getting back at her for following him around at the ball. If so, it was working. She found it totally unnerving to have someone continually observing her as if she was a curiosity to be studied. ‘It’s clay,’ she explained self-consciously while carefully lifting the heavy pot containing the meat and vegetables from the oven. ‘I don’t normally keep it in stock.’
Placing the pot on top of the stove, she gathered up a place setting and went into the dining room. Brad joined her with a second.
‘Are you expecting company?’ she Questioned innocently.
‘When we’re the only two people in this house, it’s ridiculous for us to eat at two different tables,’ he replied arranging the setting at the place to his right.
‘Did you eat with your other housekeepers?’ she demanded, facing him squarely, determined to keep as much distance as possible between herself and this man.
‘To be perfectly honest, you’re the first housekeeper I’ve had.’
Her eyes widened. ‘But you said ...’
‘I said the position was open,’ Brad interjected before she could finish.
‘But you implied that you’d had housekeepers before,’ she glared.
‘You obviously misinterpreted my words.’ His manner was dry. ‘I’ve always considered filling the position but have never taken the time to find a suitable person.’ Sara’s back stiffened. ‘Was it also a misunderstanding on my part when I thought you’d agreed that I was to be your housekeeper and only your housekeeper?’
‘Sharing a meal is not the same thing as sharing a bed,’ he pointed out, a note of exasperation in his voice implying that he found her behaviour exceedingly childish.
‘You’d better understand right now that I have no intention of sharing anything with you, Mr Garwood,’ she said, pronouncing each word distinctly as she fought to control her anger. ‘We have a formal business arrangement, and that’s the extent of our relationship.’
His expression darkened momentarily, then with an angry intake of breath he picked up the place setting and returned it to the kitchen.
‘I’ll carry this clay up to your studio,’ he growled depositing the dishes on the counter and turning to leave. As he lifted the box a look of surprise came over his face. ‘This is heavy. It’s a wonder you didn’t fall and break your neck carrying this kind of stuff up and down those rickety stairs at your apartment—or did you have help?’
‘Since I left home, I’ve made it a point to carry my own load,' she replied tightly, ‘and I can take that clay upstairs myself.’
‘I need the exercise,’ he threw over his shoulder, and went out before she could insist on doing the job herself.
After dishing up the meat and vegetables on to a platter, she filled a plate for herself and then placed the platter on the dining room table along with a salad and a glass of iced tea. Brad had still not returned by the time the food was served and she was forced to go searching for him. She found him in the studio glancing through the sketches she had done during the afternoon.
‘The profile looks familiar,’ he noted with a touch of irony.
‘I told you I found you ... your face interesting,’ she replied, adding tersely, ‘in an artistic sense.’
For a moment he looked as if he was going to challenge her qualification, then a shuttered expression masked his features and his demeanour took on an air of indifference. ‘I suppose you’ve come to tell me that dinner is ready.’
‘Yes,’ she confirmed, leaving the room and moving rapidly down the stairs.
Later, alone in the kitchen toying with the food on her plate, she admitted to herself that she should leave. But how could she without looking like some kind of a fool who couldn’t decide from one minute to the next what she was going to do?
‘You don’t seem to be enjoying your cooking,’ Brad’s caustic tones broke into her contemplations. ‘I thought it was rather good.’
‘Thank you,’ she murmured, accepting the offhanded compliment absently, still too engrossed in her own contemplation to care.
‘I was wondering if there was any coffee,’ he continued in the same hard voice.
‘Yes, of course there is.’ She pushed her chair back in preparation to rise, an embarrassed flush darkening her face. ‘I was going to come in after a few minutes and ask if you wanted any. There’s also dessert.’
‘Fine, I’ll take both,’ he said, turning to leave the room, his manner that of the master of the house perturbed by his servant’s less than attentive behaviour.
Sara knew he had a right to feel that way, especially after she had so determinedly demanded that their relationship be strictly formal. Still, the man made her angry. A small voice inside questioned if, perhaps, the anger was hiding another emotion, but she refused to listen. After setting the coffee and bakery-bought cake on the table in front of him, she walked over to the hutch and extracted a silver bell she had noticed earlier in the day. ‘If you want anything just ring,’ she instructed tightly, placing the bell near him.
‘All Bogart ever had to do was whistle,’ he noted drily.
‘He was interested in satisfying a different kind of hunger,’ she threw over her shoulder, making a hasty retreat before the exchange could turn into a confrontation.
Once back in the kitchen, her nerves were too taut to allow her to sit down. Running water into the sink, she began to scrub the pan in which she had cooked the roast while visions of her enigmatic employer flooded her mind. From one minute to the next, she could not decide whether to stay or grab her suitcases and run. Distracted, she dropped the pan as she started to dry it and the thing fell to the floor with a loud clatter.
Brad was in the kitchen immediately. ‘Are you all right? What happened?’ he demanded.
‘I just dropped a pan,’ she responded sharply, then facing him icily she said, ‘And I want to know what you’re up to.’
‘What I’m up to?’ he questioned, his expression mock-innocence.
‘You’ve been baiting me and I want to know why. If you want me out of this house all you have to do is say so. I thought I made it perfectly clear that I’m not the type of woman you thought I was.’
His expression hardened as he met the fury in her eyes. ‘You’re right, I have been baiting you,’ he admitted, moving towards her as he spoke. ‘You are presently presenting yourself as a very thoughtful, conservative young woman. Yet-when I first encountered you, it was at a party which you’d gone to great lengths to crash, placing yourself in serious jeopardy of being arrested.’
‘I told you Marc Fallon had brought me in,’ she retorted, forced to lean her head backward to face him squarely as he came to a halt directly in front of her.
‘And you think that alcoholic would have stood by you if his sister had discovered you and called the police?’ he questioned contemptuously.
‘He rescued me from her on the balcony and gave me a chance to escape,’ she pointed out self-righteously.
‘Granted,’ he scowled, ‘but it was a chance. He could have left you to her just as easily.’
Sara’s expression wavered. ‘All right, I admit it was a really dumb thing to do, but you saw how protective Steve is of me. When he came and asked me to do him that favour, I couldn’t refuse. I was sure he had some strong rational reason for his concern.’
‘And what exactly did he expect you to do in case there was any trouble?’
‘I was only to leave and signal Sam if I saw anything suspicious.’ She faced him defiantly.
Hooking his thumbs into the pockets of his pants, Brad stood staring down at her in cold indecision. ‘Either you’re a consummate actress or a total innocent.’
Ignoring her protest, he continued in a threatening tone, ‘First you let your brother talk you into a very dangerous game on a perfectly ludicrous hunch, and now you’re sequestered alone in the home of a man who’s propositioned you.’
‘You agreed that I was only to be your housekeeper.’ Outwardly she maintained an air of cool reserve while inwardly panic was beginning to build.
‘I could have lied,’ Brad pointed out, a satanic gleam sparking in his eyes. ‘Surely you’ve heard the story of the big bad wolf who would go to any lengths to lure the lamb into his trap.’
‘I thought even Yankees had an honourable streak in them somewhere,’ she threw back as the colour drained from her face.
‘Not all of them,’ he muttered, breeching the distance between them.
Before she could take defensive action, Brad pinned her arms to her sides in his large hands. Wedged between his muscular form and the sink, Sara was trapped. Animal fear filled her eyes as she realised that to struggle would be useless against his superior strength. Her throat contracted in terror. Never had she seen a man so angry.
His face descended towards hers, stopping only inches from contact. While his green-black eyes held her captive, his breath stirred her hair when he spoke. ‘Luckily for you, I do! Your brother is right to be protective towards you, woman. You do need a guardian!’
Panic gave way to rage. ‘You ... you ...’ she stammered, too infuriated to find the words to tell him what she thought of his behaviour.
His fingers deepened their impression in her flesh as his face moved even closer. Then just as his mouth brushed hers, he suddenly jerked back and drawing a sharp, hostile breath, released her and stalked out of the kitchen.
Standing rigidly, staring at the door as it swung closed, Sara was too furious to cry. He had no right to treat her like a child who needed constant supervision. Nor did she appreciate the manner in which he had chosen to teach her a lesson. Admittedly her behaviour the last couple of days had been less than prudent, maybe even a little irrational, but she didn’t need him to point that out to her. She had Steve to perform that function.
After finishing the dishes, she carried the last of the clay up to her studio. Then, refusing to allow Brad to think she was sulking or afraid of him, she forced herself to face the man. Knocking first, she opened his workroom door.
‘What do you want?’ he growled, looking up from his drawing board. ‘If it's an apology for my boorish behaviour, you have it. Although I find it totally unbelievable that someone as naive as yourself could have survived this long alone.’
‘I did not come in here for an apology or a further discussion of my naiveté,’ she informed him coldly, maintaining a rigidly formal demeanour while fighting a strong urge to throw something at the arrogant male. ‘I came in to ask if you’ll be wanting some coffee this evening.’
For a long moment, Brad regarded her silently. Then slowly laying his pencil aside, he said, ‘No, thank you. I have to run over to the complex. There’s some paper work I have to catch up on before tomorrow. I apologise for leaving you alone on your first night in a strange house, but I won’t be too late.’
‘I’m not a child, Mr Garwood. I will not be frightened!’ she glared, refraining from mentioning that the house did not feel strange to her at all. This fact was more distressing than comforting to her and she preferred to keep this knowledge to herself.
Brad left soon after. Too tired to even begin to work her clay, Sara unpacked her suitcases and after a quick phone call to Helen, went to bed.
Brad had not been home when Sara retired for the evening, she had not had an opportunity to speak to him about what time he wanted breakfast. However, being an early riser, she was certain she would be up before her employer. So, she was startled to be awakened by the sounds of someone opening and closing cabinets in the kitchen. Pulling on a robe, she went into the room to find Brad fully clothed in slacks and a pullover frowning down on her.
Running a hand through her unbrushed hair, she licked her lips nervously. ‘I forgot to ask you what time you wanted breakfast,’ she offered by way of an apology for being lax in her job. ‘I’m usually up by five-thirty. It never occurred to me you would be up by five.’
‘I’ve always preferred to work in the quiet morning hours,’ he said, his frown being replaced by a shuttered expression. ‘And I don’t want breakfast right now. Six-thirty or seven will be fine. However, I do want some coffee. Where have you hidden it?’
‘It’s in the refrigerator,’ she replied, covering a yawn with her hand. ‘It stays fresher when stored at cooler temperatures.’
Throwing her an indulgent glance, he found the much sought-after can. ‘Decaffeinated!’ he muttered. ‘A lot of good that’s going to do when I have to stay awake at night.’
‘Caffeine is bad for you. It makes you jittery and ruins your disposition,’ she defended her choice. ‘Don’t you watch television?’
‘Sometimes, but I don’t let it determine my tastes,’ he returned drily.
‘Then I apologise for the coffee. I’ll get you your caffeinated variety and you can continue to growl,’ she threw back.
‘I do not growl,’ he snarled, turning to face her as she raised a sceptical eyebrow. ‘However, since you bought this brand I suppose I can stand to drink it.’
As his eyes travelled over her, she suddenly became acutely aware of her less than proper appearance with her unbrushed hair, bare feet and hastily pulled on robe over nothing more substantial than a light nightgown. ‘If you want to get back to your work, I’ll finish making the coffee and bring you up a cup when it’s ready,’ she suggested.
‘You’re absolutely intriguing,’ he muttered. ‘Under the circumstances, any other woman would have made some remark regarding her appearance.’
‘I’m perfectly aware of my appearance,’ she informed him tightly, running a hand through her hair as she recalled the elegant Monica Fallon and guessed that the black-haired beauty would never allow a man to see her in anything less than complimentary conditions.
‘I doubt that very much,’ he frowned, then moving purposefully towards the door, he added, ‘I would appreciate it if you would dress first before bringing my coffee up to me.’
‘Yes, sir!’ she hissed, infuriated that he should even consider the idea that she would go upstairs without dressing.
Back in her bedroom, Sara grimaced at the image in the mirror as she brushed her slightly longer than shoulder-length chestnut hair and tied it loosely back at the nape of her neck. Admittedly, her mouth was a little large, but she had always thought it balanced her slightly larger than normal brown eyes. Her cheekbones had a nice definition and her nose was straight. She was willing to concede that she was no raving beauty. Still, Brad didn’t have to make her feel like such an ugly duckling.