Read an Excerpt
The Deserving Mistress
By Carole Mortimer
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"ARE you having a heart attack or just resting?"
May had heard the approach of the car into the farmyard, had even managed to slightly raise one eyelid in order to register the fact that it wasn't a vehicle she recognised. Which meant her visitor was either lost, or a seed or fertilizer salesman, neither of which raised enough enthusiasm to rouse her from her sitting position on the convenient bale of hay outside the milking shed.
She managed a grunt of acknowledgement. "Which do you think?"
"In all honesty - I'm not sure!" The man sounded slightly surprised by his own uncertainty, as if it weren't an emotion that came naturally to him.
May managed to pry that single eyelid slightly open a second time, just enough to be able to have a look at her unexpected visitor.
Probably aged in his mid to late thirties, the man was tall, very much so, with thick dark hair that looked inclined to curl, dark brows frowning over piercing grey eyes, an arrogant slash of a nose, his mouth grimly set over a squarely determined chin.
Uncertainty about anything certainly wouldn't sit easily on those broad shoulders, either!
"Well, let me know when you've made up your mind." May sighed wearily, closing her eyelid again.
"Hmm," he murmured thoughtfully. "I've never actually seen anyone have a heart attack, but I'm sure they should be in more pain than you appear to be in. On the other hand, falling asleep sitting outside on a bale of hay, in a temperature that can't be much above freezing, doesn't seem too comfortable, either!" he concluded dryly.
May gave a dismissive movement of her shoulders. "Anywhere is comfortable to fall asleep when you've been up all night."
"Ah," the man murmured knowingly.
She opened her eyes just wide enough to glare at him.
"With the vet," she defended impatiently before closing her eyes again.
"I see," the man drawled wryly.
May gave a groan as she roused herself to sit up on the bale of hay, every muscle in her body seeming to ache as she rubbed sleep-drowsed eyes before frowning up at her visitor.
When she viewed him more closely, it was possible to see the arrogant lift of his square-cut chin, the complete self-confidence in the way that he stood and the hardness of his handsome features. Just the type of man she felt like dealing with after a sleepless night!
"Can I help you?" she prompted irritably.
"That depends," the man murmured ruefully.
"On what?" She sighed at this procrastination, really in no mood to deal with a lost out-of-season tourist or indeed a pushy salesman.
He shrugged those broad shoulders. "On whether or not your name happens to be Calendar."
Not a lost out-of-season tourist. A seed or fertilizer salesman, then.
"It could be." She pushed herself up onto her feet with effort, looking up to find the man was still seven or eight inches taller than her own five feet eight in height.
The man gave her a considering look, laughter glinting in those piercing grey eyes now.
Which wasn't so surprising, May acknowledged, easily able to visualise the scarecrow figure she must represent. Her wellington boots were muddy, her jeans likewise; worse, she was still wearing the same clothes she had put on yesterday morning, not having been to bed yet or indeed managed to get inside for a refreshing shower. Her face was probably smeared with dirt from lying on the barn floor most of the night, a woollen hat pulled down low over her ears, mainly to keep out the bitingly cold wind but also to keep her long dark hair from the same muddy fate as the rest of her.
Yes, she had no doubts she did look rather funny. But at the moment, exhausted as she was, she wasn't in the mood to laugh, at herself or anyone else.
"You don't sound too sure," the man drawled derisively.
"I'm not." She shrugged, sighing heavily. "Look, I have no idea what you're selling, and I probably don't want any anyway, but if you could come back tomorrow I might at least be willing to talk about it -"
"Selling?" he repeated frowningly. "But I'm not the one - I have a better idea," he stated briskly as May gave a weary yawn, at the same time swaying slightly on her feet. "Let's go into the farmhouse." He took a firm hold of her arm. "I'll make you some coffee. Strong and black," he decided after another glance at her face, her eyes appearing a deeper green against her paleness. "And maybe then we can introduce ourselves properly."
May wasn't sure she wanted to be introduced to this man, properly or otherwise, but the promise of making her coffee was certainly a strong inducement to at least letting him in as far as the kitchen. He probably made good coffee - he looked the sort of man who excelled at most things he did! And he didn't exactly look the type of man who felt the need to pounce on some unsuspecting female - in fact, with those looks, she suspected it was probably usually the other way round!
"Done!" she accepted huskily, allowing herself to be guided across the yard and into the kitchen, sitting down on one of the kitchen chairs as the man moved dexterously about the kitchen preparing a pot of strong coffee.
Lord, that smelt good, she acknowledged a few minutes later as the strong aroma of brewing coffee filled the warmth of the room. A cup or two might even help her to stay awake long enough to complete her chores for the morning.
It had been a long night, if ultimately a successful one, and the thought of all the jobs she still had to do had been the reason she'd sat down wearily on the bale of hay earlier. Only to fall asleep. Which, as this man had already pointed out, was not the most comfortable thing in the world to have done in late January.
"Here you are." He placed a mug of strong black coffee in front of her before sitting down opposite her with another mug of his own, looking perfectly at ease in the confines of her untidy kitchen. "I've added two sugars," he told her frowningly. "You look as if you need the energy."
May didn't normally take sugar in her coffee, but she accepted that her visitor was right as she sipped the strong, sweet brew, instantly feeling the surge as the caffeine and sugar hit her bloodstream.
"I've made up my mind," he murmured softly.
"Sorry?" May glanced across at him, frowning slightly. Obviously the caffeine and sugar hadn't done quite such a good job as she had thought - because she had no idea what he was talking about.
"You were sleeping earlier," he stated firmly.
She grimaced. "I already told you that I was."
He nodded. "Because you and the vet were up all night."
When he put it like that ...! "With a ewe that was having a difficult time lambing," she explained dryly. Not that it was any of this man's business, but still ...
Their vet, John Potter, was a man of fifty or so, had been married for twenty years, and had three teenage children; it wouldn't do to have that sort of speculations spread around the neighbourhood. It wouldn't do her own reputation too much good, either!
Excerpted from The Deserving Mistress by Carole Mortimer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.