суббота, 15 апреля 2017 г.
PART ONE: Sun, sand and SEDUCTION
Romance was dead, Emma thought gloomily as she opened up a new box of Jane Austen novels. Pride And Prejudice might still be flying off the shelves at the bookshop where she worked, but that's only because women were starved of sexy, romantic heroes in real life. This was the third time she'd been dumped on Facebook, and she was getting really tired of it.
"Look on the bright side," said Hailey, her workmate, best friend and eternal optimist. "At least you won't have to spend Saturday watching the footie any more."
"I'm 31!" Emma wailed. "I put three years into Alex! I'd just got him trained to put the loo seat down without being asked. I thought he was The One!"
Privately, Hailey thought she'd rather marry a corpse than Alex Rodgers, though from what she'd heard, there wasn't much to choose between them in the bedroom department.
"At least you've got our month-long sunshine trip to look forward to, island-hopping around Greece, looking at men that'll get him right out of your mind," Hailey said brightly.
"I'm not sure a one-night stand will cure the humiliation of seeing my ex's Facebook profile go from engaged to me, to single, to in a new relationship - all in two bloody weeks! I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life.
"Forget about Alex! In 10 days we'll be on holiday. Sun, sea, sangria, remember?"
Emma took a deep breath. "Sorry - I can't afford to come. Alex was an a**e, but he did at least pay half the rent. There's no way I can afford a holiday now I'm paying for everything on my own."
She could barely manage to pay her electricity bill, Emma thought miserably as she trudged back through the grey, wet streets towards her Crawley bedsit. She was desperate for a break from work and thinking about Alex, but with Hailey and the girls going off without her, she didn't have anyone to go anywhere with. It looked like she'd be having a singleton's staycation this summer. Her heart sank. Even a wet weekend in Bognor would be better than that.
Then that night she got a call from her Aunt Jemma. Would Emma want to earn some extra dosh babysitting four-year-old twins for a super-wealthy dentist friend whose nanny had unexpectedly quit? Normally she'd refuse. But she found herself agreeing.
After all, how bad could it be?
"Do you eat a lot?" Laura Fulton enquired, her eyes scanning Emma's generous size-16 curves with contempt.
It was going to be bad, Emma decided.
"Well, I like celery," she ventured, not bothering to add that she used it to stir her Bloody Marys rather than to eat.
Laura pursed her glossy-red, surgically-enhanced lips. Emma guessed she was in her late-30s, but she was wearing so much make-up, it was hard to tell. The classic pink tweed Chanel suit made her look older, too, though it set off her scrawny, flat-chested figure to perfection.
"Only the last girl practically bankrupted us," Laura added suspiciously. "Ate us out of house and home. And the twins are very active. They need a lot of entertaining."
On cue, a howl came from the bedroom upstairs in the Fultons' Brighton bolt-hole. Emma thought of the number of zeros on the cheque waved in front of her at the start of the interview and forced herself to keep smiling. She'd earn more for four weeks' work than she made in six months at the bookshop she worked in back home. She'd take care of Gollum's evil twin for that amount.
"Oh, I've got loads of energy - I do a lot of marathons," she said. After all, she and the girls were famous for drinking the rugby club boys under the table during their mammoth weekend binges. "And I love swimming."
This, at least, was true. Her dad used to call her a mermaid, she spent so much time in the water. It was the only place her weight didn't count against her.
"Well, I suppose I don't really have much choice," Laura said ungraciously. "My husband is a very busy man, and we do a great deal of entertaining. The agency said it'll take at least a month to find a permanent nanny, so I guess you'll have to do till then. You can start tomorrow?"
Emma nodded. She'd booked leave from the bookshop anyway, so she might as well use it to earn some money rather than sit around in her flat, staring out at the rain.
"In that case, come and meet the twins," Laura said.
Emma followed her upstairs and braced herself as Laura opened the bedroom door. A red-faced little boy with a mass of brown curls launched himself at his mother, who side-stepped and let him crash into Emma instead. Instantly, he started howling.
Behind him, a sweet-looking little girl with blonde bunches trotted demurely across the room and held out her hand. "I'm Bryanna," she lisped sweetly. "That's Gabriel. He doesn't like strangers."
Emma struggled to contain the sobbing boy in her arms. She knew at once that Bryanna was trouble; it was written all over her pretty little face. Behind her, a second bedroom door opened. "Everything all right?" a warm, masculine voice asked.
Emma felt a rush of lust. The twins' dad was seriously lush. He could have stepped right out of Grey's Anatomy, her favourite show - tall, cute, with incredible green eyes, just like Patrick Dempsey. He even had the same name. OK, he was a dentist, which wasn't quite as hot as a brain surgeon, but still. Why were all the good ones married?
Emma didn't do married. Her mum always said, a man who cheats with you will cheat on you. Mind you, if she were ever to slip off the straight and narrow, she thought wistfully, as Patrick Fulton picked up his son and tossed him in the air to shrieks of laughter, this would be the man to do it with.
She sighed. It was going to be a very long month.
"Watch me, Emma! Watch me!"
Emma smiled as Gabriel jumped into the shallow end of the Fulton's indoor pool where she stood ready to catch him. In the four days she'd been here, she'd already grown fond of him; he was a sweet boy, shy and easily outshone by his show-off sister.
Gabriel wrapped his arms tightly around her neck. "Why do you wear your skirt in the water sometimes?" the little boy asked her.
Before Emma could answer, Bryanna had. "It's not a skirt, stupid," Bryanna sneered. "It's called a sarong. Mummy says she wears it because she's fat."
"She's not fat!" Gabriel cried, snuggling against Emma's chest. "She's comfy and cosy and she makes me feel safe!"
A rush of cold air signalled that the pool doors had opened and closed. "I couldn't have put it better myself," Patrick said warmly.
For a man running a busy dental practice, it was amazing how often Patrick seemed to be at home, stopping by to see the twins. Emma had a sneaking suspicion he was actually checking up on his wife. Everything seemed wonderful between them, but Emma couldn't help noticing Laura acted like a cat on hot bricks around her husband. She jumped every time the phone rang, disappearing for hours. Maybe Mr Handsome was a nightmare to live with but he seemed so genuinely caring.
And genuinely blimmin' gorgeous. Down girl, she thought crossly. It didn't matter how much she fancied him, Patrick was still a married man nearly 10 years older than her. What's more, he was unaccountably devoted to his skinny size-zero b***h of a wife.
Now, she wanted to sink under the water as the twins' dad walked over to the edge of the pool. Instinctively, she pulled Gabriel tighter to cover her breasts, which were spilling out of last year's too-tight bikini, and wished she'd at least thought to put on some waterproof mascara.
"I don't mean to interrupt, but have you seen Laura?" Patrick asked, his eyes locked on hers. "She was supposed to meet me for lunch."
Emma felt herself flush under Patrick's gaze. "I think she was getting her hair done..."
"Uncle Dash!" Bryanna cried. She ran round the side of the pool as a man about Emma's age stuck his blonde head round the door.
Seriously? Emma thought. Not one, but two sex gods in close proximity and I have to be practically naked in fluorescent lighting with my hair plastered to my head, no supportive underwear and not a scrap of make-up? Is this some kind of cosmic joke?
The blond Adonis ruffled Bryanna's hair and strolled towards them, his gaze lingering appreciatively on Emma's breasts as Gabriel jumped out of her arms and paddled excitedly towards the edge of the pool.
"Dashiell Oliver," he said, leaning over the water to shake Emma's hand. She couldn't help noticing the absence of a wedding ring. "Patrick's junior partner."
A jolt of electricity ran up her spine as she took his hand in a daze. He looked nearer her own age than Patrick's - in his early 30s, his blue eyes sleepy and slightly hooded, his lips full and curved in a sensual smile. Dangerous, she realised. Sexy and knowing and very, very dangerous.
"Pleased to meet you, Emma," Dash said, throwing her an ironic smile that burned its way straight to her groin.
All this celibacy wasn't good for her, Emma thought crossly, as she put the twins down for their naps and took a long, hot shower in the bathroom. All she wanted was to find her Mr Darcy. Was that really too much to ask?
As the water poured over her body, she imagined Patrick kissing her, his mouth at the very heart of her, his hands roaming roughly across her skin, probing and exploring and caressing her to a thrilling pitch of pleasure. She knew it could never happen, but she couldn't get him out of her head.
She climbed out of the shower and knotted a bathrobe at her waist. Then, just as she was about to open the bathroom door, she heard muffled voices coming from the hallway. Must be the Fultons' cleaner. She came in for a couple of hours most afternoons, though Emma had thought she'd heard her leave earlier.
Quietly she locked the door and waited for her to go. She didn't want to be seen dripping-wet and bedraggled. But then she heard a giggle and the sound of a man's voice. Couldn't be Mrs Spicer, then. She peered through the keyhole as a woman came into her field of vision. Laura!
Her heart jolted with panic. She'd told Laura she was taking the twins out to a birthday party this afternoon. It was only because Gabriel had been so tired after his swim that Emma had kept them home.
She couldn't see the man with Laura, but it wasn't Patrick. Even after just a week in their home, she'd have known his soft laugh anywhere.
She waited until they'd disappeared into the guest room, then quietly opened the door and tiptoed down the corridor to her own room. They hadn't bothered to shut the door and, as she shot past, Emma couldn't help seeing a pair of masculine hands pull Laura down on the bed, helping her wriggle out of her clingy LBD. She heard his throaty laughter as Laura mounted him. Oh God, this was beyond embarrassing.
She ran down the hallway and covered her ears with her hands as the sounds of their love-making intensified, praying they didn't wake the twins. A short while later, Laura's shrieky little cries signalled it was all over, followed by a long, satisfied masculine groan.
Emma sat on her bed, waiting for the slam of the front door to signal they'd gone and it was safe to come out. But then, over the twins' intercom, she heard a wail from Gabriel.
"Please go back to sleep," she whispered fervently.
He cried again, louder this time. Biting her lip, Emma went out into the corridor and headed towards the twins' room. Maybe Laura and her lover would be too preoccupied to notice.
Instead, Dashiell Oliver almost sprinted out of the bedroom straight into Emma. "Helloooo, sexy," he breathed. Emma felt her face flush with a mixture of anger and sexual tension. "Our secret, eh?" he winked.
To be continued next week...