A Stranger's Kiss
‘I DON’T believe it! Where on earth did he spring from?’ Tara Lambert moved quickly to the door but the tail lights of her partner’s car were already disappearing into the blackness of the evening, taking with them any possibility of help from that direction.
She glanced back to where the man was waiting across the street. He too was staring after Beth’s car, obviously wondering if Tara had gone home with her partner. Well it was too late to regret refusing the proffered lift, but if she moved quickly it might not be too late to escape.
Shrugging her raincoat collar up high around her ears she snapped open her umbrella, stepped out into the wet evening and took off swiftly down the street.
She had gone only a couple of hundred yards when she heard her name being called from the other side of the street. Her escape bid had not, after all, gone unnoticed. With a sinking heart she glanced around her; the shops were already closed and there was nowhere to seek refuge in the shuttered street. Even the taxi rank was deserted, although no cabbie would have thanked her for wasting his time on the short ride to her flat.
She hurried on, urging the traffic lights to stay green and keep the traffic moving, but even as the thought entered her head they flicked to amber.
She stopped, cursing herself for every kind of an idiot. She could have stayed in the office and phoned for a taxi. Maybe it was not too late to beat a strategic retreat.
‘Tara!’ Her name, much closer, startled her and she glanced back before she could stop herself. He was weaving through the slowing cars and cutting off all possibility of escape in that direction.
A burst of light shone briefly on the pavement just ahead of her and a couple emerged and ran, laughing, their arms about each other, along the road. They had come from the wine bar on the ground floor of a glossy new office development and shopping arcade. She had watched it come to life during the past few weeks but a quick glance at the menu outside had convinced her that it was far too pricey to be included on her list of lunch venues. It hadn’t surprised her. Everything about Victoria House was expensive. But right now that was the last thing on her mind.
The urgent sound of closing footsteps propelled her through the door before she had time to consider what she would do once inside.
It wasn’t quite seven o’clock and it was still busy with people from the surrounding offices and shops, but there was no one she recognised. She dumped her umbrella in a stand and hung up her coat. At least there were plenty of people about, and now she was inside she would have something to eat. It had been a long, hard day and as the aroma of good food assaulted her senses she realised just how hungry she was. She would just have to choose whatever was cheapest on the menu.
As she looked around for a vacant table the door opened behind her. ‘Tara!’
Galvanised into movement by the sound of his voice she threw herself into a bench seat hidden from the door by a small grove of potted palms where a man whose deep concentration on a business document and navy pin-striped suit suggested a certain safety.
‘Please pretend that I’m with you!’ she whispered, urgently. He looked up, a frown momentarily creasing his wide tanned forehead and in that instant she knew, without any doubt, that the impression of safety was all illusion.
Despite the touch of silver that streaked across an unruly lock of hair he was younger than she had thought, in his mid-thirties, no more. Not handsome. The word implied a smooth perfection that this man did not possess. His faced was rugged. Dark brows jutted fiercely over sea-green eyes that seemed to bore into her, seeking out her inmost secrets. His nose had the unmistakable kink produced by a collision with a rugby boot, or perhaps a fist, his mouth wide and uncompromising above a hard chin. It was the face of a plunderer, a pirate, albeit a twentieth century one. And his reactions were as swift.
A brief assessing glance over her shoulder was enough. Without hesitation he slipped his arm around her waist and her lips parted on a short, startled breath as he swept her hard against his chest. She caught the faint scent of something clean and masculine. Good soap, leather, something more.
His fingers grazed her cheek and slowly he began to wind a long jet strand of hair that had escaped from restraining pins around his fingers. For
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