Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
You blithering idiot!
Ellie accused herself, staring with disbelief at the man standing in the porch. If you
to experiment with aunt Vera’s book of spells, why didn’t you make sure the letter with the love potion fell into the right hands?
If she’d sent the letter to Andrew Morgan’s home address instead of the business, his disagreeable elder brother, Patrick, wouldn’t be glowering at her now.
What Ellie wanted she usually got. This dark-haired, sardonic looking creature, whose temper was as legendary in the district as the exploits of Australia’s infamous Ned Kelly had once been -
Dubiety on her face, Ellie peered into the dimly lit porch. Either she was suffering from double vision or the man had two heads. He didn’t look the type to thank her for drawing attention to the anomaly.
‘I expected you earlier.’
‘It took me two hours to drive up here, lady,’ one of the heads informed her. ‘My truck and caravan are stuck in the mud at the creek. It’s pouring with rain and I’m bloody uncomfortable. You’ve seen my identification. Are you going to let me in or not?’
The second head sneezed. With relief, Ellie saw it was a child sheltered under Patrick Morgan’s coat. As much as she would love to let Patrick drown in the rain, she couldn’t let a child do the same.
After all, she was responsible for their condition. The same book of spells that had brought them to her door had produced the drought-breaking downpour.
Standing aside she allowed them into the hallway of the house. ‘I thought Andrew was handling the renovations?’
Ellie was sprayed with water as he shook the rain from his hair. A pair of deep blue eyes appraised her make-up, becoming derisive as they slowly traversed her body. His glance said it all. Ellie blushed slightly when he grinned.
‘Have you made plans to go out?’
‘Why do you ask?’
Someone had told her first impressions counted. If the expression on Patrick Morgan’s face was anything to go by, he’d thought he’d come up with her number.
‘You’re dressed to kill,’ he observed.
A porcupine would have been proud of the spikes she suddenly sprouted. ‘And you’re well on your way to becoming my first victim. I find your tone objectionable. If you’re here to start on the renovations– ’
‘I’ll have to retrieve my van and equipment from the creek first. I’ll borrow Vera’s land rover to tow it out.’ His tone became mildly sarcastic when her eyebrows rose. ‘
that’s all right with you, Miss Bryce.’
‘I suppose.’ Her glance strayed to the dark head of the child as she indicated the keys on the hall table.
A second pair of dark blue eyes gazed back at her. No contempt in these eyes, just curiosity. The smile mirroring hers was totally captivating.
‘This is my son, Todd.’ The child disappeared under his raincoat and reappeared at his feet. ‘You won’t object if I leave him whilst I rescue my van?’
* * * *
Object? She’d very much like to object! Not at the child being left with her, but at the assumption. In fact, she
have objected if he hadn’t revolved on his heels and disappeared through the door without giving her the
‘You miserable high-handed, arrogant, son of a ...?’ Remembering the boy, she clamped her lips tightly together and glanced down at him. She smiled when he giggled. ‘I’d like to turn your father into a frog and leave him in the creek.’
Todd’s expression became rapt. His eyes widened until they were as round as saucers and slow, cheeky grin joined his mouth to his dimples. ‘Patch would be as mad as a cut snake if you did.’
She frowned. What sort of father encouraged his son to use that sort of language? Come to that, what sort of man allowed his son to call him by a nick- name? Good grief! Todd couldn’t be more than four years old, she thought indignantly. What’s more, he was soaking wet! What sort of father ...?
Shut up, Ellie! she said to herself. You sound like a parrot. It was
fault it rained,
fault Morgan and Son turned up on the doorstep looking like drowned rats. This boy needs attention. You’re suitably qualified with children, so give him some.
Her hand encountered a sticky mess when she took his hand in hers. She grimaced as they were instantly glued together. ‘Don’t tell me ... it’s bubble gum, right?’
He nodded. ‘I was saving it for later.’
‘I see.’ She sighed as she led him into the kitchen. Her job in a child-minding center had made her an expert on bubble gum. ‘We might be able to rescue it if we use ice.’
‘You’re nice.’ His face brightened. ‘Not like Patch said.’
Patch say about me?’ Ellie asked. She ignored the scintilla of guilt she felt at grilling the child, and rubbed ice on the gooey mess binding them together. In her book, it came under the heading; Know thy enemy.
Todd’s forehead wrinkled in concentration, then he burst out in triumph. ‘He said you’re stuck up and hairless.’
‘Really?’ She grinned as she tossed the mane of honey-colored hair back from her face and inspected the bubble gum. ‘I’ll admit to being stuck up at the moment, but Patch must need glasses if he thinks I’m hairless.’
‘You look like a lion.’ Todd’s eyes were blissful as he gazed at her. ‘I love lions.’
‘You’ve got more than a touch of the blarney, young man.’ Peeling the hardened gum from their hands she deposited it on a saucer, bared her teeth and growled. She sounded more like a trodden-on cat than a lion, but he dissolved into giggles anyway.
‘Here you are. There’s a change of clothes in the bag for Todd’
Ellie jumped as a bag landed at her feet. The man had returned faster than expected. ‘I want to talk to you, Patch Morgan,’ she said. Confused when he grinned, she gritted her teeth and corrected herself.
Their eyes clashed. Her own were green, and furious, yet as soon as they touched against the dark ice in his her brain seemed to scramble.
‘Yes, Eloise?’ he breathed, his voice dangerously seductive.
The use of her name totally threw her. Nobody but her father had ever called her Eloise, and he’d been dead for the past year. ‘What ... what’s stuck up and hairless supposed to mean?’
* * * *
He gave a deep, spine-tingling chuckle. ‘Substitute
I think you’ll get the drift.’
Anger flamed in her as she tore her eyes away from his face. Heiress she might be, but most of her father’s wealth had evaporated when the debtors had moved in. The only money they hadn’t been able to touch was her trust, which had been set up by her mother.
The house had been sold, the antiques auctioned off. Her mother’s jewelry had gone under the hammer too, except ... ? Ellie caressed the half-carat diamond ring her father had given her for her twenty-first birthday. It was surrounded with tiny emeralds.
‘Your mother’s engagement ring,’ he’d told her. ‘She made me promise to give it to you on this day.’ His expression had been sad. ‘She’d have been proud of you had she lived, Eloise. As proud as I am.’
She blinked the mist from her eyes. ‘I’m not as well off as you seem to think.’ She wondered why she was bothering to redeem herself to this obnoxious man. ‘I happen to work for a living.’
‘Some living.’ His voice was almost a sneer as his glance lit on the ring. ‘What is it you do? Mine diamonds?’
‘I work in a child minding center.’ Make something of that, she thought.
His harsh laugh told her exactly what he’d made of it. ‘I suppose you cater for the children of the rich and famous.’
‘Wrong.’ She offered him her sweetest smile. ‘It’s a center for disadvantaged kids. Most are from single parent homes. Their parents need low cost child care so they can work to support themselves.’
‘I should have known you were a poor little rich girl patronizing the peasants. Have you ever considered that not all one parent families are disadvantaged?’
Ellie couldn’t remember afterwards how she kept her temper at that moment. Perhaps it was because Todd was there, seemingly oblivious, or perhaps
to his father’s bad manners. Perhaps it was because she’d encountered his attitude before. Because of her background, people labeled her a rich bitch, and didn’t bother to look past it.
It wasn’t her fault her father had been wealthy before outside influences had ruined him. Ellie had never taken a cent from him once she’d started work, preferring to make her own way in life. She’d wanted to be a teacher, but the hours of study required had not suited her temperament. Instead, she’d opted for a child-management course and a hands-on approach. She thoroughly enjoyed her job, and she disliked people who labeled her as little more than a socialite out to enjoy herself, and who couldn’t be bothered to see below the surface.
Swallowing her ire she turned and gave him a thoughtful glance. There
to be more to this man than he was showing. ‘May I inquire if this display of rudeness is a permanent feature of your personality?’
He looked set to explode as he gazed at her. His eyes were hard and dark, his generous mouth clamped tight. A pulse beat furiously in his tautly etched jaw.
If he didn’t look so angry he’d be handsome, she thought in surprise. Not as handsome as his brother, Andrew. Patrick had a brooding sort of look. It caught her unawares and sent a tiny flutter of alarm through her body.
Had he said what she’d thought he’d said? ‘Pardon?’
* * * *
A frown gathered between his brows, his voice rose a notch or two. ‘I hadn’t realized you were deaf.’
hard of hearing.’ She simmered gently for a few seconds before deciding not to rise to the bait. ‘You didn’t answer my question.’
‘About my disposition?’ Amusement flared briefly in his eyes. ‘I’m usually direct with people. If I’m wrong, I admit it. It’s going to be a problem if my approach raises your hackles, because you effect me in exactly the same way.’
She bit back an angry retort when Todd pulled at her skirt. ‘I’m hungry,’ he announced.
‘You’re permanently hungry.’ Patrick managed a wry grin. ‘I hope you don’t mind. I’ll have to impose on your hospitality for a while. I got the truck out, but the caravan is under water. If you wouldn’t mind looking after Todd a bit longer I’ll walk back to the creek and bring the truck up to the house. The water is likely to come up further if this keeps up.’
The rain was coming down in torrents. Appeased by his change of attitude, Ellie suddenly felt sorry for him. ‘I’ll drive you to the creek if you like. It will be quicker.’
‘There’s no need. I couldn’t get any wetter if I tried.’ He dropped a kiss on his son’s head. ‘Don’t brush the lion lady’s fur up the wrong way, Todd. She looks as though she’s dying to get her claws into someone.’
Instinctively, the claws in question hooked into red-tipped daggers. How right he was, she seethed, wishing she had the ability to change into a lion at will. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him stride away. It would give her great pleasure to sink her teeth into his tautly muscled backside. A million volt bite that would make him jump out of his arrogant skin. The man was a woman’s worst nightmare!
A tiny flutter of hope beat in her breast when the front door shut with a decisive click. That’s what it was - a bad dream! In a moment she’d wake, find him replaced by the charming, golden-haired Andrew.
Fat chance! The hand clutching her skirt was not Andrew’s, and the question being put to her not a proposal of great significance to anyone but Todd.
‘Can I have a hamburger for supper please, Miss?’
* * * *
‘Yeah Gods, that kid can eat!’ Ellie aimed her statement at the huge tabby cat decorating the rug in front of the wood burning stove. ‘If he keeps it up he’ll soon be as gigantic as you.’
One yellow eye opened slightly. Encouraged, she tickled the cat with her foot, and was rewarded with a baleful glare and a warning meow.
‘You’re anti-social, Scruff. Just like
She gazed at the clock in disgust. Todd had been bedded down in the spare single bed an hour ago. Patrick should have been back by now. Where was he? Unease flooded her as a gust of wind shook the house. The rain was developing into a storm. What if ...?
The phone intruded into her thoughts and she snatched up the receiver. ‘Ellie Bryce speaking.’ A beeping sound signaled a long distance call. ‘Aunt Vera?’ Ellie strained to hear her aunt’s voice as the line crackled.
‘There’s something wrong ... creek ... go now ... Patch ...’
The hairs rose on the back of Ellie’s neck as the line went dead. ‘Aunt Vera?’ she shouted, hoping some miracle would carry her voice to the satellite floating above and remind it of its function. It didn’t. Grumbling to herself she banged the receiver back on its rest and gazed uneasily at Scruff. ‘What do you think she meant?’