Bouquet of Thorns
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On a travelling scholarship in India, Sarah’s brother has left her in charge of his run-down wine bar, telling her to sell it if she can. Waitressing in the evening as well as trying to establish her own flower shop during the day is more than she can cope with, however, and when she starts to fall out with the customers she knows it’s time to stop. Then the owner of the biggest hotel in town offers to buy it and, fingers crossed, she hopes her troubles will soon be over. Unfortunately for Sarah, they are only just beginning. Working long hours, using the profits from her own business to prop up the wine bar, and trying to pacify her disgruntled boyfriend, she is too tired to think straight as she lurches from one catastrophe to the next. And even worse is the fact that Sean Marlow, with his Viking warrior beard and piercing blue eyes, always seems to be at the bottom of them.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 juin 1986
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773620893
Langue English

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Bouquet of Thorns
By Sheila Claydon
EPUB 978-1-77362-089-3
Kindle 978-1-77362-090-9
WEB 978-1-77362-091-6
Amazon PrintISBN 978-1-77362-092-3

3 rd edition
Copyright 1986 by Sheila Claydon
Cover art by Michelle Lee
Adapted by Catherine Brown
All rights reserved. Withoutlimiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of thispublication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into aretrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the publisher of this book.
* * *
Dedicated to the 1980s
Chapter One
S pring 1986
Stephencrossed the room in two strides and crushed Sarah into a bear hug.“I knew I could rely on you,” he exclaimed, lifting her off theground . “You’re a sister in amillion.”
“ I’m alsocompletely mad.” Sarah wriggled out of his arms and gave him arueful smile. “It’s killing me working in the shop all day and inyour grotty wine bar every evening?”
“ It’s notgrotty. ” Stephen dropped onto the sofaand piled the cushions comfortably behind him. “Anyway, I mighthave a buyer soon. Marlow Incorporated is interested, and I’ll sellif I can.”
“ Is that thecompany that owns the Unicorn Hotel?” Sarah’s grey eyes were alertand interested as she curled into an armchair oppositehim.
Stephennodded. “It’s decided to diversify,” he explained. “I met SeanMarlow at a party and he was very interested in the wine bar. Hesaid he’d get back to me.”
“ Well I hopehe gets back to you soon so I can stop working myself to deathwhile you travel across India trying to find yourself.”
Sarah ’s frown became a smile asStephen slid to the floor and knelt beside her chair beseechingly.“Idiot!” She prodded him with one bare foot. “Just go and make somecoffee before I change my mind.”
As herbrother retreated into the kitchen, she leaned back in her chairand closed her eyes. She was very tired, and the thought of havingto be at work again in less than eight hours filled her withdismay. Establishing her own florist’s shop was a constantstruggle, and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Sheknew she should have refused to work in Stephen’s wine bar everyevening but she couldn’t do it, not when he had been given anopportunity to spend a year travelling and painting in India on ascholarship. She just hoped that Marlow Incorporated would come toa quick decision about his business.
The ringingof the doorbell interrupted her musing and, barefoot, Sarah paddedthrough to the tiny hall to answer the door. Her boyfriend Nick wasleaning against the wall outside, his slight build bulked out by athick Aran sweater.
“Hello,” he said with a broadgrin. “I thought I’d surprise you.”
“You succeeded.” She offered himher cheek with a barely suppressed sigh.
Attwenty-four, she was two years younger than Stephen and Nick butalready felt impatient with their careless happy-go-lucky attitudeto business matters. True, they made a living from the rundown winebar that Stephen had inherited from his godfather, but they treatedit as no more than a pleasant diversion while they decided whatthey actually wanted to do. Friends since schooldays, they had leftart college without any fixed ambition and drifted into the routineof the wine bar without much real thought. Sarah, involved instarting a business of her own, had given up trying to motivatethem further.
Nevertheless,they sometimes prevailed upon her generosity when they wereshort-staffed, and because of that she had gradually slipped into arelationship with Nick, who gave every sign of wanting to take itfurther when he remembered she existed. What would he do if Stephensold the business?
“You don’t seem very pleased tosee me,” Nick said, ruffling her hair affectionately. “Is it pastyour bedtime?”
“ Yes, it is.”She was not in the mood for his teasing and twisted away from him.“I can’t stay up talking until the early hours like you and Stephenand if you had to be at work by seven-thirty tomorrow morning you’dknow what it’s like. I’m going to bed.”
“ Let her go,”Stephen warned as Nick started to follow her. “She’s overtired andlikely to say things she’ll regret in the morning.”
He peered into his lukewarmcoffee and grimaced. “Would you like a beer? There are some cans inthe fridge.”
Nick shruggedand allowed himself to be diverted. He was eager to hear thedetails of Stephen’s forthcoming trip and, after a busy evening atthe wine bar, felt unequal to coping with Sarah’s sharptongue.
Gratefully,he accepted a can of beer. A long time passed before Sarah heardthe front door slam behind him. She gritted her teeth and tried towill herself to sleep. Despite her tiredness, she hadn’t succeededso far because the drone of voices from the sitting room had drivenher almost to fever pitch. Living with Stephen had definitedisadvantages when he chose to entertain after midnight.
* * *
For the nextfew days the flat was littered with every conceivable necessity forStephen’s trip to India and Sarah found herself eating at a tablestacked high with pots of watercolours and thick pads of parchment,brushes and charcoal, water purifying tablets and insectrepellent.
“ I shall beglad when you’ve gone,” she grumbled good-naturedly. “This flat isbecoming more and more like a jumble sale. Why can’t you confineyour belongings to one room?”
“ Sorry,”Stephen answered absentmindedly as he rifled through an untidy pileof papers. “Ah! This is what I was looking for.” He handed her atyped letter. “It’s from Sean Marlow, confirming his interest inthe wine bar. You’d better have it in case he contactsyou.”
“ Surelyyou don’t expect me to deal with that aswell,” Sarah’s straight brows drew together in a frown ofannoyance.
“ Not really.”Stephen shook his head hastily. “My solicitor will do most of thework. You’ll just be needed for signatures and that sort of thing.I’ve given you authority to act for me. It’s called power ofattorney or something.”
“ Well, thanksfor letting me know.” Sarah scowled at him for a moment then gave aslight laugh. “I’m sorry, Stephen. I always seem to be grumblingthese days. It’s because I’m tired. Of course I’ll doit.”
“Thanks.” He paused in hisrummaging and gave her a worried frown. “You work too hard, youknow. Nick’s always saying so.”
“ Well, maybehe should try working a bit harder himself.”
* * *
Stephenleft in a welter of bon voyage cards on asummery Sunday morning in May. Sarah breathed a heartfelt sigh ofrelief. At last she could have the apartment to herself. She spentthe rest of the day tidying the debris of his departure, aware thatshe would have little spare time in the immediatefuture.
Liz, herpartner in the florist’s shop, had told her the previous day, andin no uncertain terms, that she was mad. “We’ve just managed toget Bouquet on its feet,” she grumbled, “and now you’ve agreed to takeon another job for that idiot brother of yours!”
Liz, atthirty-one, had little time for Stephen’s whims. She was ahard-headed businesswoman who had seen great potential in Sarah’sflair with flowers and had persuaded her to leave the safety ofpaid employment to go into partnership with her. She ran the shop,coped with the orders, and did most of the bookwork while Sarahspent her time in the workroom, making wreaths, bouquets and floralarrangements to order. It worked well, and Sarah was mostlygrateful for Liz’s down-to-earth attitude.
“ It will onlybe for a few weeks,” she reassured her indignant partner. “Andit’ll give me a chance to sort out something for Nick as well. Allhe needs is the right backing.”
“ You mean,you’re going to ask Marlow Incorporated to give him a job,” Lizsaid acidly. “Really, Sarah, isn’t it time Nick stood on his owntwo feet?”
“ He will.”Sarah coloured hotly as she jumped to his defence. “He just needsmotivation.”
“ Rubbish!”Liz put her arm around the younger girl’s shoulders when she sawSarah’s downcast expression. “I’m sorry. I’ve no right to say suchthings. But don’t get too tired, Sarah, or you’ll make yourselfill.”
* * *
Entering thehot, cramped kitchen at the back of the wine bar for the umpteenthtime, Sarah silently acknowledged that Liz was right. She felt moretired than she would have thought possible. Her legs ached, herhead throbbed, and untidy tendrils of lank hair clung to her facein damp curls.
The promisedletter from Marlow Incorporated had not materialized, and the weekshad lengthened into months while Sarah struggled to cope with bothjobs. She couldn’t stop because the wine bar didn’t make enoughmoney to hire extra help, not even now when it was at its busiestas a warm and sultry July followed a perfect June. And, because ofthe season, Bouquet was also busy. Sarah was frequently so inundatedwith orders for summer weddings that she had to work through herlunch hour in order to make the wine bar in time to serve theevening meals.
Mario and hiswife, who produced the spaghetti bolognaise and the ploughman’ssuppers, helped as much as they could, but their hearts weren’t init because they knew they might soon be out of work. Even Nick washalf-hearted, grumbling about the heat and the customers untilSarah could bear it no longer.
“ Don’t sayanother word,” she flared as she reached for a bottle of red wine.“I’ve enough on my plate without listening to your constantmoaning.”
Now, as she carried two moresteaming bowls of spaghetti from the kitchen, pushing the swingdoors open with her foot, she knew she had reached the end of hertether. Tears of weariness misted her eyes and she blinked rapidlyas she picked her way between the tables.
Reaching thefar side of the room, she tried to identify who had ordered thespaghetti but without success. The customers’ faces had merged intoan unidentifiable blur as she whisked dirty crockery into thekitchen and took order after order, and she stood looking aroundher in puzzled despair.
Two youths, their arms bareunder cut-down denim jackets, grinned at her. “If you want a homefor those, darling, try our table,” one of them said with awink.
Sarah lookedat him doubtfully. He wore a gold hoop in his ear which glinted inthe late-evening sunlight. She couldn’t remember taking his orderbut, too tired to care, rested her tray on the edge of his tablewhile she unloaded the spaghetti, a basket of bread, cutlery, andred paper napkins.
“Excuse me,” a deep voiceinterrupted her passage back to the kitchen.
“I’ll be with you in a minute,sir,” she said, half-turning towards him. “We’re very busy thisevening.”
“ So, Isee. ” The voice contained a note of grimhumour that didn’t escape her. In other circumstances, she wouldhave smiled in sympathy, but she was anxious to collect her nextorder. She glanced quickly at the speaker, hoping to mollify him,and found herself fixed by a pair of piercing blue eyes fringedwith thick brown lashes.
Her heartsank in dismay as the customer shifted in his chair. Like everyoneelse in the wine bar, he was casually dressed, but the expensivecut of his clothes and a heavy gold wristwatch told her he was usedto prompt service. She had dealt with difficult customers before,but tonight she just couldn’t face it. She turned away with ashrug, hoping to avoid a confrontation.
“ Just amoment. ” The voice was cool, clipped andarrogant. Sarah’s self-control snapped.
“ Can’t yousee we’re short-staffed?” she answered, exasperated. “I’ll serveyou when I’ve finished with my next order, and notbefore.”
“ In thatcase, I’d like to see the manager.” The customer stood updecisively while Sarah registered his neat beard and thick mane ofwell-cut hair with a growing feeling of unease.
“Did I just give your order tothe table by the window?” she blurted out, disturbed by theimplacable blue gaze of his eyes.
“You did.” The ghost of a smilequirked beneath his moustache. “But I imagine you have a perfectlygood explanation?”
“ Yes…no. That is… I’m terriblysorry.”
Sarah felt uncharacteristicallyflustered as she stared up at him. The width of his shouldersbeneath his thin cotton shirt blotted out the evening light,leaving his face in shadow. Unable to read his expression, shesupposed it was scornful and tried to justify herself.
“It’s the sort of mistake thatcan easily be made—” she began, only to find herselfinterrupted.
“Surely not?” A cool femalevoice cut across her attempted excuse. “After all, there’s nothingvery complicated about serving two plates of spaghetti.”
Sarah dropped her gaze and foundherself staring into a pair of disdainful hazel eyes. The woman waswearing a beige silk dress, and her beautifully cut chestnut hairhung in a burnished curtain to her shoulders. Her nails, as shetoyed with a gold bangle on her wrist, were long and red, each onepolished to perfection.
Sarah hid her own work-roughenedhands behind her back and took a deep steadying breath. Theircomplaint was perfectly justified. She was entirely in the wrongand would normally have been prepared to admit it, but the woman’sair of superiority irritated her.
“I imagine you’re used tobetter,” she retorted. “Did you decide to slum it thisevening?”
“Is something the matter?”Nick’s voice cut across the woman’s gasp of indignation as hejoined them at the table.
“ I gavesomebody else their meal by mistake,” Sarah snapped at him, “andnow they’re being nasty about it. I told them this isn’t theRitz.”
Nick stared at her in disbeliefand then turned back to the couple at their table. “I’m sorry aboutthis. We are very short-staffed and Sarah has been trying to copewith too much.”
He managed tocalm the whole situation by giving the customers a complementaryglass of wine while Sarah reordered their meal. When she returned,some minutes later, with two more bowls of spaghetti, they weredeep in conversation. They raised their glasses in a toast as shereached the table and then turned, smiling, towardsher , as she began to unload hertray.
“Feeling better now?” The man’seyes twinkled as he met her gaze and a dimple hollowed one of hischeeks.
A warm flushcoloured Sarah’s face. He was treating her like a naughty childwhile his elegant companion looked on in amusement.
“ Yes, thankyou.” She ground the words out, unaccountably angry at his goodhumour. In her annoyance she pushed at the bread basket, trying tomake room for the bowls of spaghetti on the overcrowded table. Itknocked against a glass of wine, tipping it over so that the liquidspilled in a steady stream into the woman’s lap, staining her dresspurple.
For anendless moment Sarah stood aghast whilethe woman leapt to her feet, knocking over her chair in herhaste.
“ I’m sodreadfully sorry,” Sarah gasped, after a horror-stricken pause. “Ishould have been more careful. I really am so sorry.”
“ You are astupid, clumsy, ignorant girl!” The woman snatched up a napkin, herface distorted with fury. “Do you realize how much this dress cost?And now you’ve ruined it.”
Her companion righted the chairand then put his arm around her shoulders. “Don’t upset yourself,Geraldine,” he said. “It was a complete accident, and your dresscan be cleaned.”
“ It willnever be the same,” t he woman shook herhead vehemently. “Red wine stains dreadfully.”
“Then I’ll buy you a new one,”he soothed as he helped her to mop up the worst of the wine.
Nick hurriedacross the room while the rest of the customers fell silent. Sarahwas in imminent danger of bursting into tears. If the tall, beardedman noticed her distress, he ignored it. Instead, he spoke to Nickin brusque and businesslike tones.
“ I assumethat you won’t expect me to pay for the meal?”
“Certainly not, sir.” Nick shookhis head miserably. “And please send the cleaning bill to us. We’llbe glad to recompense you for any damage.”
“ Too rightyou will. ” The woman shook back herchestnut hair and glared at him, her face hard and angry. “I’veevery intention of claiming for a new dress if I haveto.”
Ignoring Sarah, she retrieved aleather bag from beneath her chair and swept towards thedoorway.
The man turned to follow her andSarah read the grimness of his expression as a rebuke. Unable tostop herself, she blurted out, “You shouldn’t have brought herhere. She’s out of place in a scruffy wine bar.”
“ Indeed. ” His blue eyes were likeice as he stared at her. Then he turned to Nick. “May I give you apiece of advice? Get yourself a new waitress before you lose allyour customers.”
Then , his face set and angry, hestrode from the hushed room. As a subdued hum of conversationstarted around them, Sarah and Nick looked at oneanother.
“Don’t say anything,” shewarned. “I know it was my fault, and I’m sorry. I’ll get my bag andgo home.”
“ Don’t besilly.” Nick caught her arm. “You behaved badly but you were quiteright. This isn’t the sort of place that people with their sort ofmoney normally patronize. I doubt if we’ve lost any regularcustomers.”
Sarahshrugged his hand away. She didn’t want Nick to make excuses forher. She was utterly ashamed of her behaviour, and squirmedinwardly at the memory of those cold blue eyes. If Nick wasn’tprepared to act in the wine bar’s interests, then shewas.
“ I’m goinghome,” she repeated. “Find yourself another waitress, Nick, someonewho needs the job. And if there’s not enough money to pay her wagesat the end of the week, then I’ll make up the difference myself.I’ll just postpone employing a junior at the shop for a littlelonger. Anything for a free evening to myself once in awhile.”
“And how am I supposed to copein the meantime?” Nick frowned. “I can’t run the placesingle-handed, you know.”
“ Well you’lljust have to manage the best you can.” Sarah untied her apron. “Iexpect Mrs. Mario will help out for a few days, but you had betterget organized quickly because some of your customers are lookingdistinctly fed up.”
She handedhim her apron and turned away. The sight of Nick’s incredulousdisbelief made her want to both laugh and cry as reaction from theugly scene set in. Abruptly, she pushed open the swing doors to thekitchen and collected her bag. Then, ignoring Mario and his wife,she let herself out into the service road behind the wine bar wherea cool evening breeze soothed her flushed face and dried the tearsas they trickled down her cheeks.
* * *
It wasseveral days before Nick telephoned Sarah, but when he did he wasfull of enthusiasm. He had managed to employ two students on ashift basis and he had reorganized the tables. Mario and his wifehad also agreed to come in slightly earlier for the time being. Andwas she okay?
Sarah smiledat his afterthought. She had been miserable about leaving him inthe lurch, so she was glad he had managed to pick up the pieceswithout too much damage to the wine bar’s reputation.
“ I’m sorryyou were so tired,” Nick continued. “I should have done somethingabout the wine bar earlier than this, I suppose, but I keepexpecting to hear from Marlow Incorporated.”
“ So did I.”Sarah felt more rested after several early nights, so was preparedto cement the peace between them. “Can your students be trusted fora couple of hours on Friday, so we can have lunchtogether?”
“ I expectso.” Nick paused for a moment, and then said hurriedly, “I want totalk to you anyway, Sarah. We need to sort things out between us. Imean, I hardly ever see you alone these days.”
“Do you mean that you want tomove in with me now that Stephen’s away?” Sarah said coolly.
“ Notexactly.” He sounded embarrassed. “But, well… after all, we aregoing out with one another.”
“ We’ll talkabout it on Friday,” Sarah said and cut the call. Whatever was thematter with her? Nick’s comment was perfectly reasonable. Despitebeing in a relationship they spent remarkably little time alone,and the fact that she now lived in an apartment by herself made thesituation doubly ridiculous.
* * *
The letterfrom Sean Marlow of Marlow Incorporatedarrived the following morning. It was short and to thepoint.
Dear Miss Jones, I understand you are to act for your brother in connectionwith the sale of The Carousel Wine Bar, 11 Hartley Road.
Iam anxious to discuss this matter with you and suggest 12 noon onFriday I5th July, at my office in the Unicorn Hotel, as a possibledate.
I look forward to hearing fromyou.
Sarah staredat the bold black signature with fascination, trying toimagine what Sean Marlow looked like. Hewas probably old and fat and bald. She just hoped he would bereasonable and agree to employ Nick as part of the deal.
* * *
Friday dawned bright and clear.Sarah pulled on her jeans and a navy-blue T-shirt, and gave herhair a hasty brush. She would have to take a dress to the shop andchange there for her twelve o’clock appointment with SeanMarlow.
Nick had beenrelaxed about her telephoning to cancel their lunch date, merelyarranging to visit her after the wine bar closed that night so shecould tell him about the meeting. Walking across the park on herway to the shop, she hoped that was all he was coming for, becauseshe knew, after several restless nights while she struggled withher feelings, that she wasn’t ready to commit herself to a moreintimate relationship.
Liz was waiting for her when shearrived at the shop, the van already full of the flowers that Sarahneeded for the day’s work.
“You must have been up at thecrack of dawn,” Sarah exclaimed as she helped her unload the bloomsand plunge them into buckets of water.
Liz nodded. “It occurred to methat your midday appointment might overflow into a business lunch,so the sooner you start on the wedding orders the better.”
“A business lunch for one dismallittle wine bar.” Sarah grinned at her. “You’ve got ideas above mystation.”
“ Maybe.” Lizaccepted her teasing with a smile. “But you never know. And whenyou get that wine bar off your hands, I’ll take you out for acelebratory lunch.”
Sarah gave awry smile. “You’re a love to have put up with my bad temper thesepast weeks. Little does Mr. Sean Marlow suspect, but if he agreesto buy the wine bar, I’ll kiss him—even if he’s ninety-five, baldas an egg and twenty stone.”
* * *
Sarahsmoothed her hair nervously as she approached the Unicorn Hotel. Itwas the largest hotel in the town and its central position kept itfull of business executives and wealthy tourists. She was a bitoverawed by its splendor.
Aware of theneed to impress, she had selected a soft blue button-through dress,its wide skirt emphasizing her slender waist, and she had swept herblonde hair into a loose chignon, securing it with matching bluecombs. Only her hands let her down. She looked ruefully at hershort nails and roughened fingers. It was one of the occupationalhazards of floristry.
With a deepbreath, she knocked at a door labelled S. Marlow, Managing Director, and gave her name to Mr. Marlow’s secretary beforefollowing her through to an inner office. The heavy mahoganyfurniture and the deep red window drapes swam out of focus as SeanMarlow came forward to meet her.
“ Goodmorning, Miss Jones.” Cool blue eyes scrutinized her mercilessly.“It seems that we must meet again”
For a moment,Sarah was speechless. He looked even more formidable than he had inthe wine bar, and his fierce expression boded ill for theirnegotiations. They stared at one anotherin a yawning silence until Sarah, remembering what was at stake,took her courage in both hands and blurted out anapology.
“ You mean,you wouldn’t have behaved so badly if you had realized I wasinterested in buying the wine bar?”
“ No, I don’tmean that at all.” She felt her temper begin to flare at the unfairaccusation. “I was overtired. I had been trying to cope with twojobs for weeks and I’m afraid the mix-up over your order was thefinal straw.” She tilted her chin defiantly. “I can’t do more thanapologize.”
“ True.” Toher surprise she found herself shaking his hand again. “And I’d bechurlish not to accept your apology.”
She felt hisfingers tighten slightly as if he wanted to say more. Her pulsequickened as an unfamiliar surge of emotion swept through her. SeanMarlow’s eyes seemed to darken slightly as he continued to hold herhand, but when he spoke his voice was brisk andbusinesslike.
“ I’ll takeyou through the terms of sale that I discussed with your brother.After visiting the wine bar, I’ve decided to meet his asking price.The decor leaves much to be desired but the premises are in anexcellent position and, despite its waitress, the business comeswith a fair amount of goodwill.”
An angryrejoinder sprang to Sarah’s lips, but when she looked at him shesaw he was teasing her.
“ That’sbetter.” His teeth gleamed white as he led her across to his desk.“I was afraid I’d never get to see you smile. Now, while you readthese documents I’ll rustle up some coffee. Then we can discuss anyqueries you might have.”
Twentyminutes later, holding a half-drunk cup of coffee, Sarah wasfeeling more relaxed. So far their discussions had been amicable,with Sean Marlow being generous in his assessment of the wine bar’spotential.
“ There’s justone other stipulation.” Sarah’s voice was husky with nervousness.She cleared her throat, trying to evade his penetrating bluegaze.
“Fire away.” He leaned back andclasped his hands behind his head so that his jacket fell open toreveal the breadth of his chest as it rose and fell beneath theflimsy blue fabric of his shirt.
“ It’s aboutNick.” Sarah forced the words out. “He’s the manager of the winebar, and I’d like you to keep him on.”
Sean Marlow’s arm landed heavilyon the desk as he abandoned his relaxed position and stared acrossat her.
“ Is that whatyour brother wants?” His eyebrows contracted above eyes that weresuddenly hostile, the blue fading to a gun-metal grey.
“No—I mean yes,” Sarahstuttered, feeling vulnerable beneath his accusing gaze. “Thatis…he’s my brother’s best friend and I know he wouldn’t want him tolose his job.”
“I see.” His expression wasunreadable as he picked up a pencil and started to doodle on hisblotting pad.
Sarah watchedmiserably as he drew a complicated design of interlocking squaresin the corner of the white paper. He must agree. She knew that Nickhad potential if only he could be given a chance. She was unawarethat she was twisting her fingers together in her lap and she wasso het up that she jumped when he finally spoke.
“ All right.”He threw down the pencil and pushed back his chair. “I’ll employhim if he passes my company interview. Is that good enough?” Heshot her a cool glance and then stood up and moved across to thewindow.
Sarah triedto keep the triumph from her voice as she thanked him, realizingthat he preferred to call the shots so that any business concessionwas probably a blow to his pride. She had seen how much he wantedthe wine bar though, so she felt fully justified in including Nickin the deal. Sean Marlow was still getting a bargain, and he knewit.
She stood and picked up her bag.“I’m glad we’ve reached a satisfactory agreement, Mr. Marlow.”
Abruptly, heturned and faced her. “You’ll be hearing from my companysolicitor.” He walked across to the desk and stood looking down ather. “He’ll draw up a contract within the next few days so ifyou’ll give me the name of your brother’s solicitor, I’ll get thematter moving.” He handed her his pen.
Sarah fumbled with her bag.“I’ve made a note of it in my diary.”
The claspresisted her fingers and, anxious to leave Sean Marlow’s office assoon as possible, she pulled too hard so that the flap flew openand the contents spilled onto his desk. Embarrassed, she made agrab for her lipstick as it rolled across the polished wood, andswept everything else back into the leather bag. Then she wrinkledher forehead into a puzzled frown. “I was sure I had my diary withme but it doesn’t seem to be here.”
“ Is this whatyou’re looking for?” he bent and picked up a slim red notebook thathad fallen to the floor.
Their fingerstouched as he handed it to her, and her stomach gave an unexpectedlurch. Whatever was the matter with her? Perhaps she was hungry. Itwas a long time since breakfast.
As if he readher thoughts, Sean Marlow’s next words were to invite her tolunch.
She stared athim in surprise and was on the point of refusal when he forestalledher. “I haven’t eaten myself yet, and I imagine the wine bar canmanage without you for another hour.”
“ I don’t workat the wine bar. I was only helping out as a temporary measure.”Sarah scribbled down the solicitor’s address on the notepad hepushed towards her as she answered him, and then screwed the topback on his pen.
“ Well, thankgoodness for that.” He took the pen with a sudden grin. “I thoughtperhaps you were included in the deal as well—and bad-temperedwaitresses I can do without.”
For a momentSarah flushed angrily, but then she saw his eyes had regained theirteasing good humour and she relaxed as she considered hisinvitation. After forcing him to offer Nick a job, it would bechurlish to refuse lunch. She made a quick mental run through ofthe work waiting for her when she returned to the shop and knew,thanks to her early start, that she could just about spare thetime.
“ I’ll accepton one condition, Mr. Marlow—that you don’t refer to our originalmeeting ever again.”
“ I’ll try notto—” his grin widened, “—but I have a stipulation of my own. Youmust promise to stop calling me Mr. Marlow. My name’sSean.”
“ Sean,” Sarahagreed and for the third time that morning, found her fingersenveloped in his warm clasp.
Suddenly,everything went still. She felt her breath grow ragged in herthroat. Sean’s eyes lost their glint of humour and darkened to abrooding midnight blue as he looked down at her. Sarah recognizedthe sudden blaze of passion before he could conceal it. On the rareoccasions that she and Nick were alone, his eyes carried the samemessage. But while Nick was easily distracted by pleas oftiredness, she knew it would not be so easy to dismiss Sean Marlow.Nervously, she pulled her fingers free and the spell wasbroken.
He turnedaway and switched on his intercom. Then, after a brief discussionwith his secretary, he told Sarah that a table had been reservedfor them.
Chapter Two
The dining room seemed tostretch away into the distance across acres of crimson carpet, andthe snowy linen and gleaming cutlery were like an advertisementfrom a glossy magazine. Sarah gave a wry smile as she rememberedthe sandwiches she had packed for her lunch.
“Will you share the joke?” Seanfell into step beside her, his hand beneath her elbow as hedirected her across the room.
“ I wascomparing this with the cheese sandwiches I intended to eat when Ireturned to the shop.”
“Then I hope it comes up to yourexpectations.”
A waiter pulled out a chair andshe sank into it thankfully. Something odd was happening to her,and a sudden shakiness in the region of her knees made her gratefulfor the security of a seat.
Sean spokebriefly to the waiter and then seated himself opposite her. Hiseyes, in their fringe of thick brown lashes, were very blue as hesmiled. She gave a shy smile of her own, suddenly overawed by thegrandeur of her surroundings. Her life so far had consisted ofbedsits and furnished apartments, with an occasional meal in alocal bistro.
“ What wouldyou like to eat?” He handed her a leather-bound menu.
“I’d like…a mixed salad.” Sarahglanced anxiously at the typed pages and picked out the leastintimidating meal.
“A good choice.” He smiled hisapproval and ordered two mixed salads from the hovering waiter.
Ten minuteslater they were each eating a tomato water ice, served on lettuceleaves and garnished with sprigs of parsley. It was delicious, andSarah spooned it up gratefully. She knew that Sean had sensed herapprehension and she had merely nodded gratefully when he hadsuggested it for a first course.

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