The Jilted Bridegroom
Table of Contents
A MAN’S shirt lay in the hallway.
A pair of trousers along the passageway to the bedrooms.
A pair of black socks, one in the doorway of the spare bedroom, the second actually inside the bedroom.
And outside the door to the adjoining bathroom lay a pair of—–
Sarah, who had followed this trail of clothing, looked up with a start of surprise as the door opened in front of her, her eyes widening still further as she took in the fact that the man standing in the doorway only had a towel draped about his hips to hide his nakedness, his dark hair still damp from the shower he had obviously just taken, although he looked as if he had been drying his tousled hair with another towel that now lay draped about his neck.
It was difficult not to stare at him, his body deeply tanned, dark hair growing across his broad chest and down beneath the towel, his shoulders wide, his body tapering to his tautly muscled stomach, the dark hair on his legs clinging damply to his skin where he hadn't taken the time to dry himself properly.
Sarah's gaze returned quickly to the grimness of his face, an incredibly handsome face, despite his obvious displeasure and puzzlement at finding her here.
She wasn't too happy about being here herself—but that was another story!
It was a ruggedly hewn face, his tawny-coloured eyes having a knowledge in them that spoke plainly of cynicism towards a life that had been seen and experienced rather than just read about. His nose was long and straight, laughter lines beside those incredible eyes and the sensuality of his mouth. Although the mouth wasn't smiling now, and his chin, with that intriguing cleft in its centre, was set at an arrogant angle.
‘Who are you?’ she demanded in English—because her French was non-existent!—infusing much more bravado into her voice than she actually felt. Who was he?
‘Never mind who I am.’ He was as English as she was! ‘What do you think you're doing in here?'
What was she doing here? This was Virginia Major's villa in the tiny village of Aribeau in the south of France, a sprawling one-storey building, the comfortable lounge, kitchen, and three bedrooms all surrounding the small courtyard, baskets of sweet-smelling flowers adorning the wooden beams out there, the lounge itself overlooking the private swimming-pool and landscaped garden.
And, as far as Sarah was aware, there should be no one else here just now, Virginia Major having left several days earlier, stopping over briefly in London during the weekend, for her brother's wedding, before going on to Southampton to join a cruise ship.
The man standing in front of her looked about them with narrowed eyes at her continued lack of response. ‘I can't see that anything is missing,’ he sighed. ‘But perhaps you had better empty out your pockets anyway, just in case.’ He looked irritated by the situation—as he saw it!
And as Sarah now realised he saw it! ‘I'm not a burglar!’ she defended indignantly; if anyone could be called an intruder here it was him!
‘No?’ he derided tauntingly, his expression one of scepticism. ‘I can't think of any other reason for your being in the villa.'
‘Can't you indeed?’ she bit out angrily.
She was resentful enough of being here without having to deal with intruders who acted as if they owned the place. And she knew he didn't do that; it was because the widowed Virginia Major had no one else to ask that Clarissa had volunteered Sarah in the first place!
‘And just what do you think this is?’ she challenged, holding up the brightly coloured watering-can she had been clutching in her hand during the whole conversation.
Dark brows rose. ‘A weapon?’ he suggested derisively.
‘A plastic watering-can!’ Sarah scorned disbelievingly.
‘Hm, perhaps not a weapon. At least,’ he added mockingly, ‘not one that's likely to be very effective.'
Not against a man who looked as powerful as he did, anyway, she conceded impatiently. ‘I told you, I'm not a burglar,’ she snapped irritably, her eyes flashing deeply green.
Really, she had just wanted to get the job over and done with and get out; this man was just delaying her.
‘Then what are you doing walking around the house with it?’ He still looked suspicious of her motives.
Sarah sighed her impatience, sure she shouldn't be the one on the receiving end of the questioning. As far as she was aware, she had the only key to the villa in her shorts pocket, entrusted to her by Virginia Major while she was away.
But this man had to have got in somehow, and she hadn't seen any signs of a forced entry when she'd let herself in earlier.
Because of that she had to accept the fact that he might have obtained a key from someone, and if he did happen to be a friend of Mrs Major's she could hardly order him out of the place. Although if he refused there was no way she could make him leave anyway, he was so much bigger than her.
‘Well?’ he prompted at her lengthy silence, somehow, even dressed in only a towel as he was, managing to look very tall and powerful.
She gave him a disparaging look. ‘Aren't you getting cold, dressed like that?’ She felt uncomfortable carrying on a conversation with a complete stranger who was almost naked, even if he didn't seem in the least bothered by the fact himself.
His mouth quirked at her obvious unease. ‘Not in the least.’ His stance was deliberately provocative, almost challenging, the towel slipping even further down his hips. ‘Is it bothering you?’ He raised mocking brows.
‘Not in the least,’ she echoed coldly. She had seen enough half-dressed men during the last week; it was just that she was alone with this one, and he, as far as she could tell, was wearing only that loosely draped towel!
He shrugged. ‘You still haven't answered my question as to just what you're doing here,’ he reminded softly.
‘I would have thought this spoke for itself.’ Once again she indicated the watering-can she still held, annoyed to see that her hand was shaking slightly at the unexpected encounter with this arrogant man.
‘Oh, it does.’ He strolled