‘Then let's not discuss my dear sister any further,’ he dismissed easily. ‘Why don't you go and water her plants while I pour us both some coffee? We mustn't let the plants fade away and die or she'll blame me for that too; I've already upset her enough by being left at the altar. She just may “never recover from the embarrassment of it all”.’ He grimaced ruefully as he mimicked the haughty tones of his older sister.
But from the little Sarah had come to know of the other woman, before she'd left for England, she wasn't at all surprised that this was her attitude over Griff's being jilted in the way he had. He was making very light of his own humiliation, probably because to dwell on it would be far too painful. No one could come away from an experience like that unscathed, and from the depth and emotion of Griff's newspaper articles it was easy to tell he was a sensitive person.
‘Black, with one sugar,’ she told him lightly. ‘The coffee,’ she prompted as he instantly looked puzzled.
He gave a self-derisive laugh. ‘I thought it must be some type of food for the plants!'
‘Perhaps it is,’ Sarah derided, deciding to follow his lead and treat this second meeting as lightly as he seemed to want to. But no matter how he dismissed it she knew Sandra Preston's treatment of him had affected him deeply—as it would any man! She could see that by the strain about his eyes when he wasn't smiling that mischievous grin. ‘But I'm not about to try it!’ She gave a rueful laugh, following him through to the kitchen, filling up the brightly coloured watering-can before leaving him to pour the coffee.
The casual untidiness she had noticed in his bedroom yesterday seemed to have affected the rest of the villa today, things lying about haphazardly in every room, only Virginia Major's bedroom remaining exempt from the clutter. Now that she was aware of his real relationship to the other woman this perhaps wasn't so surprising! If she had actually bothered to think yesterday she would have realised that if he were Virginia Major's lover, as she had assumed he was, he would have been sharing the other woman's bedroom. Being sensible after the event wasn't really a lot of help to either of them!
Despite being siblings, Virginia Major and Griff Morgan were complete opposites, to look at and by nature. Virginia Major had a deep reserve about her, was extremely fastidious in all that she did, seeming to feel that everything had a place, and that it should be kept there. Griff was more open—probably considered that life was too short to be anything else—and his untidiness was all too obvious. Virginia was as tall as her brother, but instead of being dark like Griff she was a golden blonde, with slightly calculating blue eyes. Maybe, after all, Sarah could be forgiven for making such a wrong assumption about them!
She hummed softly to herself as she moved about the main bedroom, feeling a little more relaxed now that the initial awkwardness of seeing and talking to Griff again had passed. She accepted that he preferred to make light of the whole incident, because to dwell on it would only result in his having to go into further detail about Saturday, and he—–
She let out a terrified scream as she heard something hiss down near her feet, too terrified even to look down, just in case it was something horrific.
Oh, God…! Griff Morgan had been to some exotic locations during his career—lord knew what it was that had made that hissing noise. Although her imagination was running wild.
‘I heard you cry out.’ A worried-looking Griff came hurrying into the room, still holding the sugar bowl in his hand where he had rushed straight from the kitchen after hearing her scream. ‘What happened?’ His sharp-eyed gaze moved quickly but methodically about the room, returning to her with a puzzled frown when he could find nothing there that could have caused her obvious distress. ‘Sarah?’ he prompted in a puzzled voice.
She was still frozen to the spot, too frightened to move. ‘I—it's down there,’ she told him through stiff lips, so tense that she couldn't even nod her head in the direction of the floor.
Griff gave her a look that clearly doubted her sanity, although his barely perceptible shrug seemed to imply he was perfectly willing to humour her, for the moment at least. ‘What is?’ he prompted cajolingly.
His condescending tone made her eyes flash deeply green. ‘How should I know?’ she snapped fiercely. ‘I was just watering the plants near the bed here when I heard something hissing!'
Griff looked at her silently for several seconds before pursing his lips thoughtfully. ‘But you… didn't see what… hissed at you?’ His expression was bland.
‘No,’ she confirmed shakily. ‘Don't just stand there.’ Her body was so tense now that she felt as if she might snap. ‘Do something!'
‘Hold this, will you?’ He placed the sugar bowl into one of her shaking hands. ‘Perhaps it went under Virginia's bed.’ He went down on his hands and knees, lifting up the frilled ruffle to look underneath. ‘Yes, there he is.’ He nodded his satisfaction, sitting back on his heels to look at the long bare length of Sarah's legs, making her very conscious of the brief cut of her green shorts, her bare feet thrust into white sandals. ‘You weren't bitten?’ He frowned up at her.
‘No,’ she shook her head tautly. ‘I—is it… poisonous?'
‘No,’ Griff assured her. ‘But you're sure your skin wasn't broken?'
Oh, God, what was wrong? ‘No, it didn't actually touch me,’ she explained tightly.
‘Good.’ He nodded his satisfaction. ‘Not that I think Jasper has rabies,’ he dismissed. ‘But I wouldn't want to take the risk with you.’ He lifted the pink ruffle about the base of the bed again. ‘Come on out, Jasper,’ he persuaded. ‘Come on, no one is going to hurt you.'
Jasper? She had been frightened of a cat?
Griff picked up the metal-grey-coloured cat as he strode haughtily out from under the bed, looking for all the world as if he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
‘I telephoned the boarding kennels yesterday after you had left, to see how he was,’ Griff explained. ‘They said the old devil was pining, so I brought him home last night.'
So he might not have been at home if she had walked across last night anyway.
The tense atmosphere at the neighbouring villa must be making a nervous wreck of her. What had she thought was under the bed—a snake? God, if only the ground would open up and swallow her!
But there was never a miracle around when you needed one, and somehow she was going to have to get through this second embarrassment of making a fool of herself in front of this man. It was becoming too much of a habit!
She put a hand up to her burning cheeks. ‘I don't know what to say…'
Griff put the cat down—the ungrateful creature instantly going back under the bed—taking the sugar bowl from Sarah's unresisting fingers; she had forgotten she even held it! ‘Your coffee will be getting cold again,’ he realised with a sigh.
‘Did you really throw two pots away before I arrived?’ she asked breathlessly, following him back to the kitchen, grateful to him for not making too much of the fact that she had just made a complete idiot of herself again. A snake. God, how was she ever going to live down making such a mistake?
‘I don't lie, Sarah.’ Griff was suddenly serious. ‘I never have the time for it. I'm rarely in one place long enough to bother with subterfuge,’ he added in a harsh voice.
Maybe it was that very precariousness of his profession that had made Sandra Preston change her mind about committing herself to him after all. It could never be easy being married to a man you weren't sure was in danger or not.
But that didn't excuse the fact that the other woman had humiliated him in front of the whole world, making a much respected man a thing of ridicule and speculation.
‘A glass of water would do me just as well,’ she assured him as he poured away the cooling coffee and filled the mugs up again from the percolator.
‘I'm determined you're going to taste the “Morgan coffee” before you leave today,’ he said stubbornly. ‘Let's