His Pregnant Housekeeper
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'What on earth?'
Daniel paused, thumb poised on his car's remote locking button, and watched the woman in amazement.
She was going to do herself a mischief, struggling about in the dark trying to get that huge mattress into the skipnever mind the fact that it was his skip and she had no business putting anything in it, but since she was clearly bent on the taskliterallyhe had no choice but to intervene.
And shouldering her gently out of the way, he slid his keys into his pocket, seized the mattress and lifted it towards the skip
For someone so tiny, she was surprisingly strong. 'That's the wrong way!' she cried, running round to the other side and hauling on the mattress. 'I'm not putting it in the skip, I'm taking it out!'
He stopped struggling with it and studied her thoughtfully over the top. It was about shoulder height on her, and he could clearly see her stubborn, defiant chin, tilted slightly up as if daring him to argue. He scanned her face, bare of any make-up, taking in the lank brown hair scraped back into a ponytail, the wide, determined eyes and the firm set of that really very soft, lush mouth. He dragged his eyes from it and met her eyes again. 'Excuse me?'
'I said, I'm taking it out'
'I heard you. I just don't understand. It's an old mattress. Why would you want to take it out of the skip?'
'Because it's better than the one I've got? For goodness' sake, it's unmarkedor it would have been if someone hadn't put it in the skip. Ridiculous waste. So I'mrecycling it.'
'Re?' He folded his arms, propping them on the top of the mattress, and met those fiery eyes over the great divide. Not the physical object that separated them, but the light years that divided their understanding. She really wanted this old mattress?
'That's right, and we've only got a minute before the security guard comes back round. Either give me a hand, or get out of my way and let me move it, but don't just stand there leaning on it until he's back!'
Daniel glanced over his shoulder towards the door of the security guard's Portakabin, then back to the girl. 'You want me to help you steal the mattress?' he said incredulously, suppressing the urge to laugh.
'Well, it's hardly stealing, it's been thrown out,'she said logically, and he couldn't argue with that. He'd sanctioned it himself. 'Sowhat's it to be? Are you getting out of the way so I can do it, or are you going to help me?'
He hesitated a moment too long, because she reached out to grab it and move it herself before he could react.
And he couldn't let her do that. What if she hurt herself? She was only a little bit of a thing.
'Get out of the way,' he said, sighing in resignation and glancing at the security guard's door again. If he got caught
He grabbed the handles and lifted. 'Where to?'
'Round the cornerit's really not far.'
It wasn't, but it felt far enough. One end bumped the ground, and he lifted it a bit higher and thought it might be time to take Nick up on his offer of the use of his home gym. His biceps were clearly suffering from lack of exerciseeither that or it had been a rather good mattress in its day, which would have surprised him since nothing else coming out of the old hotel was much cop.
But then she stopped, sooner than he was expecting, and fumbled for a key. 'In here,' she said, pushing open a door that led into the derelict rear annexe of the hotel, and leaving him to follow, open-mouthed in surprise, she headed up the stairs. 'Be careful, there aren't any lightsthey've cut off the power to this part,'she warned him, then, reaching the top, she opened a door and went into a room.
He paused on the landing to get his breath back, and a smell in the air caught his nose. He sniffed. Damp. Definite, overwhelming damp. No wonder she'd needed a new mattress, he thought, wrestling it through the doorway and wondering if he'd lost his mind.
Yup. Definitely. He shouldn't be doing this, making it easier for her to stay. Nick and Harry would kill him, but
In the harsh glare of the street light outside, she bent and moved a few things out of the way, then pointed to the space she'd cleared, on a floor scarcely big enough to take the mattress. 'There will do fine,' she said, straightening up, and he got his first proper look at her without the mattress in between them, and it stopped him in his tracks.
Squatting in their hotel, holding up progress on the renovations, screwing up their budget and deadlines, piling on the legal fees, and she was pregnant?
Oh, dear God. It went from bad to worse.
He put the mattress down, just because it was easier than standing there holding it, and she promptly lay down on it, sighed hugely and grinned up at him, her bump sticking up into the air like a little football. Her T-shirt had rucked up to reveal the safety pins holding the bottom of her jeans zip togetheror trying to. The baby seemed to have made that impossible, and through the gaps he could see a glimpse of smooth, pale skin, curiously vulnerable in the harsh light.
He had an almost overwhelming urge to reach out his hand and touch it, to trail his fingers over her taut abdomen, to rest his palm against that firm swell and make ludicrous promises
He dragged his eyes away, to find that she'd tucked her hands behind her head and closed her eyes. She patted the mattress beside her and cracked an eye open, still grinning.
'It's fabulous! So much better than the floorcome on, try it!'
Try it? Lie on it next to her? Was she mad? He listed the reasons in his head why this was such a horrendously bad idea, starting with a) it was stolenalbeit from his own skip!b) it was out of said skip, and c) she was lying on it, their sitting tenant, their bête noire, the thorn in the side of their development, looking sexier than any pregnant woman had a right to look, and she was asking him to lie down with her?
He backed hastily towards the door.
'Umcan't. I haven't got time. I need to get home and make a phone call.' To Nick and Harry, to tell them that he'd met their squatter. Their pregnant squatter!
Her eyes were unreadable in the confusing light, but her actions weren't. She scrambled to her feet and headed towards him, ducking past on to the landing and going into the next room, a woman on a mission. 'In which case, on your way, do you think you could just get rid of this for me, because it stinks.'
'This what?'he asked, his heart sinking as he followed her.
'This old mattress, of course. What else?'
What else, indeed? He closed his eyes, then opened them and studied her expectant face. Not that he could see much of it in the dark, but he knew what he'd find there if he could see. He could hear it in her voice, and he was glad he couldn't see her eyes, or he'd go belly-up like a lovesick poodle, and he really, really wasn't going to do this for her.
He really wasn't
'You want me to dump a stinking mattress on someone's skip?' he asked, feeling suddenly very tired and confused and wondering what the hell he was doing in here with a pregnant woman who had no business living in their hotel and screwing up their schedule with her nonsense.
She grinned, her teeth flashing white in the gloom, and he felt his heart kick against his ribs. 'Well, it's only swapping it, technically. I'm sure, compared to all the other grief I'm giving them, the developers won't care in the slightest about one miserable smelly mattress. I mean, it wasn't great before, but it got soaked in the rain the other night when the ceiling came down.'
On the mattress? The ceiling had come down on the mattress of a pregnant woman? He swallowed the panic, tried not to think about the public liability implications and followed her further into the room.
She was right. It did stink. More than thatit was ancient, filthy and covered in lumps of ceiling. And she wanted him to carry it down the street in his home towna town where he was trying to carve out a reputation that would hold him in good stead for the next thirty-odd yearsand throw it in his own skip?
Oh, bloody hell, he thought, and grabbed hold of the handles and hefted it. Even sopping wet it weighed considerably less than the other one, such was its quality or the lack of it. He gave it another heave until it was upright, and wet plaster fell to the floor with a crash. 'Open the door,'he said in resignation, and wrestled it down the stairs and out on to the pavement.
'Gosh, it really does stink,' she said, walking along on the other side of it and wrinkling that pretty little nose. 'All that mouldI was worried it was bad for the baby.'
Not nearly as bad as the ceiling would have been, he thought, but he bit his lip and carried the wretched mattress round the corner. Knowing his luck, the security guard would catch them, he thought, and then the game would be up. Fantastic. He could just imagine that conversation!
She halted him at the gateway and peered round it into the car park. 'OK,'she said in a piercing stage whisper, and he stifled a chuckle and dragged the offending article across the car park and heaved it into the skip just as light spilling from the doorway heralded the security guard.
'Hey! What d'you think you're doing?' he yelled, and the girl grabbed his hand and ran for it.
What could he do? She was dragging him, laughter bubbling up in her eyes and bursting out into the night, and her hand was firm and bossy and surprisingly strong.
So he ran with her, catching her as she stumbled at the corner, and pulling her into a darkened doorway a few paces along the road, his hand over her mouth, the firm jut of her pregnancy pressing into him and jiggling as she tried hard not to laugh.
And all he could think about was the softness of her mouth under his hand, the feel of her belly against him, the strength of her hand in his as she'd tugged him away.
Then the baby kicked, a solid little thump against his gut, and the laughter faded, driven out by an urge to protect her so powerful, so immense, that it nearly took his knees out from under him.
He knew nothing about her, other than that she was claiming some title to the hotel and her right to it was being heavily disputed by the son of the late owner, who'd sold it to them just before he'd died. The son himself had assured them that her claim was totally spurious and he'd have her out in no time.
That had sounded fine six weeks ago, but then she'd refused to move, and now Dan had met her, now he'd discovered she was pregnant, that changed everything. Suddenly he needed to find out more about her, to know everything there was to know. His head was telling him it was everything to do with the hotel and nothing to do with her laughing eyes and the feel of that baby's kick against his gut, but his heart knew better.
For the first time in nearly a year, Daniel Hamilton was interested in a woman, and everything else, including his common sense, paled into insignificance.
Her co-conspirator and press-ganged mattress-wrestler stuck his head out of the doorway and scanned the street. 'There's no sign of the security guard. I think he's given up.'
'Good. I didn't think he'd bother much. He's too lazy.' She tipped her head on one side, knowing that she ought to move away but enjoying the feel of his hard, lean body against hers rather too much. 'Well, I suppose I ought to go and find something to eat,' she told him reluctantly, trying to summon some enthusiasm for another tin of cold baked beans, but he just eased away from her, dropping the hands that had settled warmly on her shoulders and leaving her feeling oddly bereft.
'Haven't you eaten?' he said, tipping his head on one side and studying her with a little frown. She couldn't see his eyesit was too dark in the doorwaybut the look on his face was kind, and he'd heaved mattresses for her. He couldn't be all bad.
'Wellno, I haven't, or I wouldn't be thinking about food,' she explained patiently, and his mouth twitched, as if he was suppressing a laugh.
He stepped out of the doorway into the light of the street lamp, and for the first time she was able to see him clearly. Not the colour of his eyes, but the expressionthoughtful, curious, a little hesitant, maybe? Then he seemed to make up his mind about something, and he straightened up.
'Fancy a take-away?'
'I thought you had to make a phone call?' she said, and could have sworn he went a shade darker.
'It'll keep,' he said gruffly. 'Anyway, I have to eat, too. We can take it down to the beachmy treat.'
The beach sounded OK. She wasn't keen on the idea of going to his house or flat or whatever, but the beach seemed safe enough. Nice, even, and 'my treat' was music to her ears. And she didn't have to be gone long.
'OK,' she said, unwilling to turn down the offer of food, whatever the source. She'd been hungry for weeksthat was pregnancy, of course, because the baby was stealing everything it needed and her diet at the moment was a little hit and miss, to say the least. She wasn't able to earn anything, and every penny she had was destined for legal fees
'Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian ?'
'Not Thai,' she said quickly, not yet ready to revisit the emotional minefield that was Thailand. 'Chinese, perhaps?'
'Sure. There's a good one on the front. Come on, we can walk from hereunless you're not feeling up to it?'
She shook her head. 'I'm fine to walk. I'm fitI'm just hungry and pregnant.'
'Then let's get you some food. Any preferences?'
'King prawns, stir-fried vegetables and egg fried rice,' she said promptly, not holding back if he was offering to buy. He took out his phone, speed-dialled a number and rattled off the order, adding Singapore rice noodles and chicken in ginger and spring onions. Oh, joy, more of her favourites! It was looking even better, she thought, and tried not to drool.
The restaurant was on the sea front, at the bottom of the steep, winding little hill that led down to the beach. She'd eaten there once, with Jamie, when they'd first come back to Yoxburgh. It seemed a lifetime ago.
She got her first proper look at him in the lights of the restaurant as they waited by the take-away counter, and her eyes widened. Her mattress-heaving benefactor was seriously hot! She'd already known he was tall, but now she could see the perfect geometry of his facethe high cheekbones, the chiselled jaw, the firm, full lipsand a body that even in her 'condition' made her pulse crank up a notch.
He was wearing a white shirt with the neck open and the cuffs turned back, showing strong, lightly tanned forearms and the powerful column of his throat. His shoulders were broad and solid under the shirt, his chest deep, his abdomen flat, his legs long and lean and clad in soft old jeans just snug enough around the hips to hint at things she shouldn't even be considering. Fit, in every sense of the word, and he looked good enough to eat. Or touch, at least. His dark hair was soft and glossy, making her fingers itch to rumple it, and she wondered what her own hair looked like after weeks of washing it in cold water and washing up liquid and letting it air dry.
It wasn't speculation, it was fact, and she swallowed hard and dragged her eyes off him. He was so far out of reach it was ridiculous, and she had no idea why he was bothering with her.
Pity, probably, but she wasn't going to walk away from a square meal on the grounds of a moral victory. Not even she was that stupid.
He picked up the bag and led her out of the restaurant and across the road to the prom beside the beach. 'Here?' he asked, pausing by a bench, and she nodded. There was enough light from the street lamps behind to see by, the moon was sparkling on the water, and the food smelt so good she really was starting to drool.
'Perfect,' she said, making herself forget about him and how far out of reach he was and concentrate on the core business. She sat down with one leg hitched up and tucked under the other thigh so she was facing him, and more importantly the food, while he pulled all the containers out of the bag, laid them out on the bench between them and ripped the tops off, then handed her a pair of chopsticks.
'Sorry it's not a fork.'
'Chopsticks are fine,' she said, stripping the paper off them and piling right in, and the first king prawn to hit her teeth made her sigh with joy. 'Oh, boy,' she said round it, and grinned at him. 'Fabulous.'
It was the last thing she said for ages.
Harlequin; May 2008
182 pages; ISBN 9781426816802
, or download in
Title: His Pregnant Housekeeper
Author: Caroline Anderson
182 pages; ISBN 9781426816802
, or download in
Title: His Pregnant Housekeeper
Author: Caroline Anderson
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