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It wasn't just cold. It was bones-aching, tits-freezing cold. The white furry coat Olivia had purchased before she'd left home looked fabulous, but it was doing nothing to keep out the December winds that whistled along the rough country road she was now trudging down.
'Five-hundred-dollar boots,' she muttered as her cheetah print luggage got stuck in yet another muddy hole in the road. 'F ' she began, but the honk of a car horn behind her stopped the expletive coming out from between her hot-pink lips.
The road had been deserted for the last hour. Not one car or person had come along as she'd waded through the slush and ice. But this car now stopped behind her and waited. She didn't look back but moved to the side of the narrow road so it could pass. But the car didn't move and a prickle of fear spread over her shoulders and into her stomach.
'Wonderful. Now I'm to be murdered on the side of the road. What a fabulous start to my holiday,' she muttered into the wind.
Hopefully the killer would change his mind. Still, searching for an escape route seemed a sensible idea, so she anxiously swivelled her eyes to the sides of the road. The car crept up behind her again. Blood rushed to her head and burned her temples. She didn't know what she was going to do. One thing she did know, though, was that when she found Edward Winchester she would kick him in his forgetful shins; then slap his inconsiderate face.
If he'd picked her up from the airport four hours ago she'd not be here, on a deserted road, in a foreign country, freezing and wondering how long it would take the authorities to find her dead, frozen corpse in the English countryside.
The car bleated another loud honk, which made her feet slip on the icy road. What did this bloke want? For her to turn around, plonk herself in his car and ask which way she should turn her head for the knife to slit best?
The tyres of the car crunched as it crawled up behind her and the heat of the lights warmed the backs of her thighs. Blood pumped furiously through her veins and her chest heaved violently. She stopped and turned slowly, desperately trying to channel her fear into anger. She screwed up her face as fiercely as possible and balled her fists, determined she wasn't going down without a fight.
The car stopped and a figure stepped out from the driver's seat. The tall man was draped in a grey coat and on his head sat a newsboy cap. Wrapped around his neck was a red plaid scarf, tied jauntily in a knot. He looked elegant and wealthy, and his car was an expensive sports-modeltype. But not all murderers drive pick-up trucks, she reminded herself as her nails dug into her palms.
'Get in.' His voice was loud over the sound of the wind and it was gruffangry, even.
He sounded like a man who was used to being obeyed. Well, not this time. Olivia turned swiftly and started to walk again, as fast as she was able with her tower of bags and her stupid high-heeled boots making her ankles groan.
She heard the car door slam and the engine rev before it sidled up next to her. She kept her eyes defiantly on the road ahead. The car was keeping up with her, with the driver's side window now next to her. It came down a crack. Her heart felt as if it was about to explode in her chest.
'Olivia Matthews. Get in the car.'
She turned at the use of her name and peered at the window. It was covered with ice. It came down another two inches.
'It's cold and we're late. Get in.' The voice was deep and very English and she didn't recognise it at all. Not that she knew anyone here besides Will and Fiona.
'Who are you?'
'The Easter Bunny. Who do you think I am? I'm Edward. Get in.'
Edward. Edward Winchester. Who was supposed to have picked her up from the airport. Who had made her take the tube, then a bus, and then walk for an hour along a muddy country road looking for a house she'd never seen before.
'About time.' She let go of her bag and lifted both her arms, letting them slap down on her thighs in exasperation and relief. The boot opened with a pop and she hurried round to the back of the car. Her tired arms heaved the suitcase and two overnight bags into the boot.
She moved round to the passenger side and put her hand on the slick silver handle, but right at that momentto her horrorher five-hundred-dollar boots came out from underneath her and she landed with a thud right on her aching butt.
A smart bang followed by squelching footsteps meant Olivia was no longer alone. Trying to get a grip on the icy road, she put her hands down and pushed, but the pointed heels kept slipping.
'Those are the most ridiculous shoes I've ever seen.'
A strong male hand reached under her upper arm and hauled her ungracefully and immediately to her feet. She felt unbalanced, but his arm held her steady and she leaned onto his tall, thick frame, grasping at the lapels of his grey overcoat to stay upright. His grip on her arm tightened and she felt his long fingers biting into her skin through her coat.
She tried to look up, but her precarious position meant all she could do was stare into his chest. 'I didn't dress for a hike in the country. I was expecting to be picked up from the airport.'
'This is Britain in December, those boots are inappropriate and ridiculous no matter what you're doing.'
His hand was holding her steady but his other arm suddenly snaked around her waist and she found herself pushed hard up against his coat, her nose level with his neck. His breath warmed the skin on her forehead.
Looking up, she found herself staring into choco-laty dark eyes set perfectly each side of a long, straight nose and a set of high, angular cheekbones. He looked like Will, only better. Heat flew to her cheeks and neck and to other more intimate places she refused to acknowledge. She would not be turned on by another inconsiderate bastard, no matter how big or how strong or how handsome
His eyes gazed coolly at her from a height. She couldn't move. His arm pulled her in tighter and she tried to hide the surprise on her face when she felt something long and hard press against her belly. So she wasn't the only one turned on? A small smile tugged at her mouth and an uncontrollable urge to flirt bubbled inside her.
'Perhaps I need a lesson in English dressing?' She flashed a smile and looked up at him through lowered lashes.
But his angry gaze didn't move. A muscle in his clean-shaven jaw twitched.
'Perhaps what you need.' his deep voice had lowered an octave and was now grumbling against her chest ' is a lesson in etiquette. If you're going to change your flight you should let someone know.'
He let go of her waist and she slipped and slid, grabbing for the sturdiness of his lapels again. Looking up, she realised any seductiveness on her face had evaporated in the embarrassing awkwardness of the moment. A clump of long damp blonde hair was strewn across her eyes and her gloved fingers were slipping from his coat. She felt desperately needy, and her cheeks burned indignantly, so she let go of him and steeled her leg muscles to get a grip on the icy road and move towards the car door.
'I can manage from here thank you.' Her tone was as icy as the road, and she managed to make her way to the door even though her legs splayed inelegantly with each measured step. Her stomach clenched as his gloved hands gently pushed her rear, guiding her into the seat.
He gave her one last push before his irritating head popped in next to her. 'Would you like me to do up your seatbelt for you as well?'
She threw him her most haughty starethe one reserved for her sister's best friend and every slimeball who approached her in a bar.
He huffed out a chuckle, flashing white teeth and a set of deep dimples, before clicking the door shut and walking to the other side to regain his position in the driver's seat.
Edward realised he was being unforgivably rude, but he was in no mood to be picking up Will's friends from the airport. Well, technically it was Fiona's friend. Fionawho was nothing to him. Yet they thought it perfectly acceptable to interrupt his day to make the two-hour round trip to the airport and on to his parents' house. And then the girl wasn't there. His normally calm demeanour was in danger of cracking.
'If you had checked with Fiona you would have known about the new flight time.'
Her voice was cool and steady and somehow it irritated him even more. She could at least have the decency to sound shaken. Or guilty. How about guilty?
'I do apologise. You're right. I should have checked with Fiona. Would that have been before or after my two o'clock meeting with the Prime Minister?'
It had been the Minister for Trade, actually, but she was annoying him. He flicked her a glance. She seemed the sort not to give a toss about anyone else. Selfcentred, vain, and with an over-inflated idea of her own attractiveness if her unsuccessful attempts at flirting were anything to go by.
Although, he grudgingly admitted she had a sort of innate sexiness he couldn't put his finger on. She was wearing too much make-up, and her long, dead straight blonde hair, obscene fur jacket and tight leather pants were a little too Chelsea for his taste, but something about the curvy figure he'd held against his chest made his trousers feel a little tighter. And when she'd fallen she'd looked up at him, hair strewn across her face, her sexy light-coloured eyes looking at him so trustingly. Was it any wonder his groin had reacted so violently?
An unconscious smile lifted the corner of his mouth. Those perfect pouty pink lips had formed a little 'o' as he'd pushed her pert ass into the car and he'd felt an urge to pull her head around and kiss her. Her lips were all glossy and full and.
Great work, Winchester. All it takes is a hot body and a set of shiny lips and your mind is out of control and veering into the gutter. Nothing but a caveman.
Thankfully she appeared to have enough brains to remain silent. For exactly three minutes.
'I would suggest before you saw the Prime Minister, in case he prattled on a bit. Then you would have known you had to get out earlier and could have hurried him up.'
'Hurried him up?'
'Yes. Hurried him up.'
'The Prime Minister?'
'Of Great Britain?'
'Yes.' She turned those big eyes his way finally. 'He's only a man.'
Only a man. That simple phrase summed up her stupidity. And he didn't have the patience for stupid. He decided right then that, no matter how delectable her lips, she didn't deserve another moment of his conversation and shut his mouth tight.
It took another three whole minutes for her to speak again.
'Where are we going?'
'I should have thought that was obvious.'
'The bloke at the pub told me I was almost there.'
'My parents' house is twenty minutes away. You had a long way to go in those boots.'
'But I was going to Fiona'sI need to get changed.'
'We're going to be late as it is. There's no time for you to get changed. What you're wearing is fine.'
Edward sneaked another look at her outfit. She would certainly stand out. His sister's tedious friends would have their avaricious tongues hanging out, making complete nuisances of themselves over her. But she was stubbornly persisting.
'I have been on a plane for twenty-four hours, a bus for an hour and I have trudged up a hill in the snow. I want to get changed.'
'I'm afraid it's too late.'
'Fine. Stop the car.'
'I said, stop the car. I'll get changed in the back seat.'
'You don't need to change; you can freshen up when we get there.'
'I don't want to freshen upI want to change. Stop the car.'
Seeing he was getting absolutely nowhere, he stopped protesting. But he let his knuckles whiten on the steering wheel as she got out and shuffled to the rear of the car.
From the boot she pulled out all her bags and hauled them into his car, dragging them across his leather seats. He winced, but remained silent and started to drive again. He was determined not to be late. Or any later than he already was, so he suppressed a frustrated sigh.
'Where is my dress? I can't find it ' She seemed to be muttering to herself, so Edward didn't bother answering.
She zipped open one brightly coloured bag and began searching through seemingly endless articles of clothing. Edward concentrated on the road.
'This weekend is nothing but a damn nuisance,' he muttered.
Picking this girl up was a damn nuisance. But it had to be done. As attending this tedious event had to be done. His mother would need him and Will would need him and it would all fall apart if he wasn't there. Fixing everything. Making sure everything ran smoothly. He squared his shoulders and sat up straighter. If he wasn't there things would not go well, and he wasn't prepared to let that happen.
'Sounds like someone is not in the party mood.'
Party mood? No, he was not in the 'party mood'. And now that babysitting an over-tanned party girl had been added to his ever-increasing list of things to take care of his mood was becoming increasingly blacker.
'We are not here to "party" this weekend. It's a wedding.'
Her head snapped up and he glanced at her again. Those light-coloured eyes had gone wide. Were they blue or grey? He couldn't quite make them out.
'I'm not sure what kind of weddings you've been to, Little Mr Sunshine, but the weddings I attend are always a great place to party.'
A tendon in his neck throbbed. You 're here to make sure everyone is all right, he reminded himself, gripping the steering wheel with even more force. You just have to get through the weekend. Although he was sure this woman and her 'party mood' were going to make it feel like months.
He glanced in the rear-vision mirror just as she held up something sparkling and purple and sure to be vulgar.
'What is that?' He couldn't keep the distaste from his mouth. Why did women feel the need to cover themselves in sparkles? They looked much better in nothing more complicated than a simple dress. Granted, that body of hers wouldn't look too bad in a tight dress, but sparkles were his pet peeve.
'Don't look,' she said.
This, of course, meant that now all he wanted to do was look. But he kept his eyes on the road. He could control himself even if she was. Good Lord, was that a breast?