‘You sure he’s going to want you checking up on him?’ Phil called after her.
Maddy glanced back. ‘No, I’m sure he’s going to hate it,’ she said as she tugged the poncho over her head. ‘But that’s his tough luck.’ She shoved open the door on a surge of righteous determination. ‘He shouldn’t have tried to drown himself on my watch.’
As Maddy pedalled through the gates of Trewan Manor close to an hour later, righteous determination had turned to abject misery—and her rescue mission had turned into an epic farce. What had she been thinking? The taciturn man she had come to see was probably perfectly fine and would no doubt slam the door in her face, if he even bothered to open it—and the trip home in what was threatening to be a thunderstorm of biblical proportions would probably kill her.
The journey to the house along the coast road had been a nightmare. Negotiating tarmac slicked with mud and bracken from the recent storm had been bad enough, but then her old banger of a bike had lost its chain twice and the hill climb had made thigh muscles already abused by the afternoon’s sea-rescue weep in protest.
The spitting rain dripped under the collar of her waterproof as she dismounted and wheeled the bike past the high hedges edging the property. Maddy glared over her shoulder at the darkening sky behind her as she bounced the heavy bike along the rutted track and prayed the storm clouds would hold off for another half an hour. She didn’t have her bike lights with her, which was going to make cycling home to her cottage on the other side of the Bay suicidal if the weather let rip.
She cursed her conscience—and her compassionate nature. Callum was right. Sometimes being a Good Samaritan sucked.
Then she walked into the house’s forecourt. And her jaw went slack.
The towering Gothic edifice of Trewan Manor loomed over her, looking more like Castle Dracula than Wuthering Heights. The fanciful turrets and gables were even more dramatic and over-the-top up close, while the tall, unlit mullioned windows seemed to stare at her with unblinking disapproval. She propped the bike against one of the stone pillars flanking the entrance and shivered as she mounted the three steps to an enormous oak door, feeling like Dorothy about to enter the Wizard’s lair.
After a fruitless search for the doorbell, she lifted the heavy brass knocker. The loud thump echoed away on the wind.
When the door didn’t budge for what felt like the longest five minutes of Maddy’s life she slammed the knocker again. Twice.
Still no answer.
Maddy stepped back, more than ready to abandon her mercy mission, when a sudden vision assailed her. Of her stranger, still clad in his wetsuit, lying unconscious and alone in the entrance hall of Phantom Manor. Tiptoeing back to the door, she bent over to peer into the letterbox. She’d come all this way; it would be stupid not to take a peek.
The brass letter flap eased open with an ominous creak. She squinted, focusing on a dark shape moving down the hall, and then light blinded her. She registered a glimpse of white towelling and then pitched forward as the door flew open.
‘Who the …?’ shouted a gruff voice as she did a face plant into warm flesh. Warm, hard, naked flesh that smelled enticingly of pine soap and seawater.
She scrambled back so fast the blood rushed to her head. That darkly handsome face was as dangerous to her peace of mind as she remembered it. Unfortunately, so was the scowl on it.
‘You’re not dead,’ she blurted out.
‘The lifeguard,’ he murmured, his eyebrows winging up. ‘No, I’m not dead. Not yet, anyway.’ The scowl reappeared. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded. ‘Apart from moonlighting as a peeping Tom.’
‘I wasn’t …’ She trailed off, a guilty flush working its way up her neck as she took in his attire. All he had on was a thick towelling robe, his wavy hair slicked back from a high forehead. The angry red line on it was partially covered by a plaster. She must have disturbed him in the shower. One side of the robe gaped open to reveal mouth-watering pectoral muscles and the edge of one flat brown nipple nestled in a light sprinkling of hair. Had she just had her face nestled against that?
She gulped, trying to bring her blood pressure out of the danger zone. ‘I came to see if you were okay.’
The scowl deepened. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ He tightened the belt on his robe and shoved the lapel back into place, spoiling the view.
‘You didn’t …’ She paused, swallowing again to ease her bone-dry mouth. ‘You didn’t stay to get checked out. You should really go to the hospital after an incident like that.’
‘Is that so?’
Was he deliberately trying to make her nervous with that unsettling stare?
‘Yes, actually it is.’
His eyes drifted down her figure, making her uncomfortably aware of the mud on her jeans, the shapeless poncho and her ‘drowned rat’ hairdo.
The penetrating blue eyes lifted back to her face. ‘Did someone make you my guardian angel while I wasn’t looking?’ he asked dryly.
‘I …’ She stuttered to a halt and the blush got worse.
Well, for goodness’ sake. That was just plain rude.
‘Gosh, I certainly hope not …’ she said, his sarcasm giving her hormones a wake-up call. The man might have the body of a Greek god—but he had the arrogance to match. ‘That’s a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,’ she said, warming to her theme. Why had she ever spent a moment worrying about this guy? The man was clearly far too annoying to let a little thing like a concussion get in the way of his foul mood. ‘As you’re obviously not dead—’ more’s the pity’—I’ll leave you to your own delightful company. Goodbye.’
She marched down the steps, ignoring the rumble of thunder as she grappled with her bike.
She was out of here. She should never have come. He didn’t need her help—and she certainly didn’t need to put up with his crabby attitude. She trudged down the track, the bike bumping against her hip, and promised herself this was the very last time Miss Fixit would get the better of her.
In fact, Miss Fixit was now officially dead. And good riddance.
A bellowing clap of thunder crashed above her head. She flinched as several fat spots of rain splashed onto her chin and cheeks.
‘Come back here, you little fool; you’re about to get drenched.’ The gruff command had her indignation returning full force.
Swiping the wet hair off her brow, she twisted round to see the stranger standing in the doorway. With his bare legs akimbo and the robe flapping around his knees, he looked as dramatic and forbidding as his house.
She glimpsed a criss-cross of angry red scars above his left kneecap and quashed a dart of sympathy.
Don’t you dare feel sorry for him. That’s what got you into this mess in the first place.
‘Cheers, Grumpy,’ she yelled through the building tempest, ‘but I’d rather drown.’
He shrugged and lurched back into the shadows of the house. ‘Fine. Suit yourself.’ The door slammed shut with a thud which was promptly drowned out by another crash of thunder.
And good riddance to you too.
Maddy had got exactly three metres before the heavens opened in earnest, the deluge soaking through the pitiful poncho and her jeans and trainers in seconds.
And only two metres more before she realised the back tyre of her bike was deader than Miss Fixit.
RYE refused to feel guilty as he snapped the hall light back off