Sarah took an instinctive step backwards, unconcerned with how cowardly the movement must look to him. She was only five feet two inches in height—barely reached the man's shoulders—very slender in close-fitting shorts and a loose green shirt, her face bare of make-up in the hot May sun, her long blonde hair having been bleached even blonder by the hours she had spent out in that sun, secured at her crown with a green ribbon at the moment for coolness.
The totally male assessment of her appearance in this man's golden-coloured eyes as he looked at her made her wish she weren't dressed with the casualness of a teenager; at twenty-three, she was far from being that!
And yet what else should she have worn on a hot day in this picturesque village in the south of France?
‘It tells you…’ Her impatience was directed as much at herself as it was at him, impatience because she could possibly care what this dangerous-looking stranger thought of her appearance.
Yes, he was, she acknowledged slowly. But not in a violent way. There was an air of power about him, a coldness in his eyes occasionally that spoke of cruelty if necessary. And something about the very look of him told her that sometimes he deemed it very necessary.
‘It should tell you,’ she amended pointedly, ‘that I'm here to water the plants.'
And she wasn't exactly pleased about having to do it! She had come on holiday with Clarissa and her family as a favour to the other woman, and ended up being lent out to water Virginia Major's plants as if she were a servant.
‘Hm.’ The man in front of her nodded thoughtfully, as if the idea had crossed his mind before now. ‘Why?’ He shot the question at her.
It was the question she had been asking herself the last five days! Virginia Major was Clarissa's acquaintance, not hers, and yet Clarissa had felt no compunction about offering her services as plant-waterer. Admittedly she was here with the family on a working holiday, but she had done that more as a favour to her mother's friend than out of any real desire to come away with the Forbes family. She certainly hadn't expected to be loaned out to a neighbour Clarissa had got to know only briefly. But Clarissa certainly had no intention of doing this menial job herself, despite being the one to make the offer in the first place!
‘So that the plants don't die, of course.’ She answered the man snappily again, not exactly angry with him, but if he wanted to ask silly questions he was the one who was going to get the sharp edge of her tongue.
‘Ah,’ he nodded again, without conviction, ‘I see.'
Sarah gave a derisive sigh. ‘Do you?'
‘No,’ he admitted ruefully, looking for all the world like a puzzled little boy.
She pursed her mouth impatiently, not at all fooled by his expression; this man was sharply intelligent, she had no doubt of that. ‘It's quite simple really,’ she said with an implied sarcasm. ‘While Mrs Major is away I come in to check that the villa hasn't been broken in to, and to water whatever plants I feel are in need of it.'
‘It's very good of you to do that for Virginia,’ he said admiringly.
‘Not really,’ Sarah told him drily.
He arched dark brows. ‘No?'
‘No,’ she smiled wryly. Clarissa had got to know their English neighbour only briefly before the other woman flew to England. It was ironic really; they had all travelled over here to spend a month in the south of France, and Virginia Major had left the permanent home she had here a few days later to join a cruise ship that was travelling around the Caribbean Islands.
At least, Clarissa and Roger and their three children—Ben, eighteen, Sally, sixteen, and Stephen, nine—were here on holiday; Sarah had been asked along to help out Clarissa, who had recently been in hospital for a minor operation and felt she couldn't cope with the care of Stephen on her own, mainly. This was Sarah's own holiday from her nursing job, but as she hadn't actually been intending to go away anywhere, and, as a favour to her mother, she had agreed to accompany the Forbes family to France.
Not having lived at home with her mother for some years, she had known the Forbes family only vaguely. She had certainly got to know all of them better over the last ten days, wished she had stayed at home to do the decorating in her flat she had originally intended to fill her holiday time!
She had done nothing but run around after one member of the family or another since their arrival here. She had certainly ended up doing much more than helping out with young Stephen. It had been adding insult to injury when Clarissa had calmly offered Sarah's services as housekeeper for Virginia Major because the other woman had given her own maid the same three weeks’ holiday as herself, having forgotten all about her plants’ needing watering!
And at only her second visit here she had walked into goodness knew what sort of a situation. But this man's use, minutes ago, of Mrs Major's first name at least confirmed he knew her well enough for that. Unless she had in-advertently used it herself? No, she was sure she hadn't, not friendly with the other woman enough herself to be so familiar. And there was the fact that he was English too—that had to be more than coincidence.
‘I'm staying in the neighbouring villa you can see slightly down the hillside,’ she supplied irritably, wishing she knew exactly what was going on.
He moved to the window, the towel slipping precariously as he leant forward to look out at the roof of the pink and cream villa that could just be seen through the trees.
He turned back to her, grinning rakishly as he retrieved the towel before it could fall off him completely. ‘Another of the idle rich, hm?’ he taunted.
Her mouth twisted. ‘The family I'm here working for may be,’ she bit out, ‘but I'm certainly not. I'm here to look after their nine-year-old son Stephen.’ But she had also become chief cook and bottle-washer since arriving here! The Forbeses hadn't needed a temporary nanny for Stephen—they had needed a cook and a maid as well. And she seemed to fit the description! She had already decided she would never be swayed by family affection and help out so-called friends of her mother again.
‘So you're a sort of nanny, Miss…?’ He looked at her enquiringly.
‘Williams,’ she supplied abruptly. ‘Sarah Williams. And I'm not a sort of anything, I'm actually a trained nurse on holiday. Or, at least, supposedly so,’ she added drily. ‘I've answered your questions; now perhaps you could answer a few of mine.’ She made no move to go through to the rest of the villa, even though there were no more plants to be watered in this room.
She was very much aware of the precariousness of her position alone in the villa with an almost naked man, but she felt she would be better standing her ground rather than making a move of any sort, particularly one that could look in the least nervous.
‘Who are you?’ She looked at him challengingly. ‘And what are you doing here?'
‘My name is Griff Morgan.’ He held out his hand to her politely, incongruously so in the circumstances. ‘It's Griffin really, but even people who aren't my friends call me Griff,’ he added with a mischievous grin. ‘Virginia calls me Griff,’ he added cajolingly.
Sarah took the proffered hand automatically, so disconcerted now that she didn't even notice when he forgot to let go of her hand again.
She frowned her puzzlement. ‘Mrs Major didn't mention that anyone was coming to stay at the villa while she was away. In fact,’ she shrugged, ‘that's the reason I was asked to come here, because there was no one else.'
Griff smiled, the tawny-coloured eyes warm as his gaze swept across the golden loveliness of her face. ‘That's because Virginia didn't know I was going to be here. I didn't know it myself until yesterday.’ He grimaced.
Sarah looked at him curiously. ‘What happened yesterday?'