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Mac came to an abrupt and wary halt halfway down the metal steps leading from the second floor of her warehouse-conversion home. She'd suddenly become aware of a large figure standing in the dark and shadowed alleyway beneath her.
A very large figure indeed, she noted with a frown as a man stepped out from those shadows to stand in the soft glow of light given out by the lamp shining behind her at the top of the staircase.
The man looked enormous from where Mac stood, his wide shoulders beneath the dark woollen overcoat that reached almost to his ankles adding to that impression. He had overlong dark hair brushed back from a hard and powerful face that at any other time Mac would have ached to put on canvas, light and piercing eyeswere they grey or blue?and high cheekbones beside a long slash of a nose. He also possessed a perfectly sculptured mouth, the fuller bottom lip hinting at a depth of sensuality, and a firm and determined chin.
None of which was of the least importanceexcept maybe to the police, Mac wryly acknowledged to herself, if the man's reasons for being here turned out to be less than honest!
She repressed a shiver as the chill of the cold wind of an early December evening began to seep into her bones. 'Can I help you?' she prompted sharply as she finished pulling on her cardigan, using both her hands to free the long length of her midnight-black hair from the collar. All the time wondering if she was going to have to use the ju-jitsu skills she had learnt during her years at university!
The man shrugged broad shoulders. 'Perhaps. If you can tell me whether or not Mary McGuire is at home?'
He knew her name!
Not that any of her friends ever called her Mary. But then, as Mac had never set eyes on this man before, he was hardly a friend, was he?
She glanced at the brightly lit studio behind and above her before turning to eye the man again guardedly. 'Who wants to know?'
'Look, I understand your wariness'
'Do you?' she challenged.
'Of course,' he confirmed. 'I've obviously startled you, and I'm sorry for that, but I assure you my reasons for being here are perfectly legitimate. I simply wish to speak to Miss McGuire.'
'But does Miss McGuire wish to speak to you?'
The man gave a hard, humourless smile. 'I would hope so. Look, we could go back and forth like this all night.'
'I don't think so.' Mac shook her head, deciding that perhaps she wouldn't need to use those self-defence lessons on this man, after all. 'The Patels shut up shop in precisely ten minutes and I intend to be there before that.'
Dark brows rose over those light-coloured eyes. 'The Patels?'
Mac elaborated. 'They own the corner shop two streets away.'
'The significance of that being ?'
'I need to get some groceries before they close. That being the case, would you mind stepping aside so that I can get by?' She stepped down two more of the stairs so that they now stood at eye level.
Blue. His eyes were blue. A piercing electric blue.
Mac's breath caught in her throat as she stared into those mesmerising blue eyes, at the same time screamingly aware of the subtle and spicy smell of his aftershave or cologne. Of the leashed power he exuded. Even so, Mac was pretty sure she could take him; it was skill that mattered when it came to ju-jitsu, not size, and she was very skilled indeed.
The man looked at her beneath hooded lids. 'The fact that you're obviously leaving her home would seem to imply that you're a friend of Miss McGuire's.'
Jonas deeply regretted the impulse of his decision to call and talk to Mary McGuire this evening. It would have been far more suitable, he now realisedand far less disturbing for one of the woman's friendsif he had simply telephoned first and made an appointment that was convenient to both of them. During the daylight hours, and hopefully at a time when one of her arty friends wasn't also visiting!
The fact that the thin little waif standing on the stairs had long, straight black hair that reached almost to her waist, and almond-shaped eyes of smoky-grey in a delicately beautiful face, took nothing away from the fact that she had obviously taken to heart the persona of the 'artist starving in a garret'!
As also evidenced by the overlarge dungarees she wore over a white T-shirt, both articles of clothing covered by a baggy pink cardigan that looked as if it would wrap about the slenderness of her body twice. Her hands were tiny and thin, the skin almost translucent. The ratty blue canvas trainers on her feet were hardly suitable for the wet and icy early December weather, either.
Jonas had spent the last week in Australia on business. Successfully so, he acknowledged with inner satisfaction. Except he now felt the effects of this cold and damp English December right down to his bones, after the heat in Australia, despite wearing a thick cashmere overcoat over his suit.
This delicate-looking little waif must be even colder with only that thin cardigan as an outer garment. 'I apologise once again if I alarmed you just now.' He grimaced as he moved aside and allowed her to step down onto the pavement beside him.
The top of her head reached just under Jonas's chin as she looked up at him with obvious mockery. 'You didn't,' she came back glibly before wrapping her cardigan more tightly about her and hurrying off into the night.
Jonas was still watching her through narrowed lids as she stopped beneath the lamp at the corner of the street to glance back at him, her face a pale oval, that almost-waist-length hair gleaming briefly blue-black before she turned and disappeared around the corner.
He gave a rueful shake of his head before turning to ascend the metal steps that led up to Mary McGuire's studio; hopefully she wasn't going to be as unhelpful as her waiflike friend. Although he wouldn't count on it!
Mac lingered to chat with the Patels for a few minutes after she had bought her groceries. She liked the young couple who had opened this convenient mini-market two years ago, and Inda was expecting their first baby in a couple of months' time.
Mac's steps slowed as she saw the man who had spoken to her earlier sitting on the bottom step of the metal staircase waiting for her when she returned carrying her bag of groceries, those electric-blue eyes narrowing on her coldly as she walked towards him. 'I take it Miss McGuire wasn't in?' she asked lightly as she stopped in front of him.
It had been fifteen minutes since Jonas had reached the top of the metal staircase to ring the doorbell and receive no response. To knock on the door and get the same result. The blaze of lights in the studio told him that someone had to be home.
Or had very recently been so?
Leaving Jonas to pose the question as to whether or not the young woman in the dungarees and baggy pink cardigan, who had hurried off to the Patels' store to get groceries before they closed, was in fact Mary McGuire, rather than the visiting friend he had assumed her to be.
Something he found almost too incredible to believe!
This young woman looked half starved, and her clothes were more suited to someone living on the streets rather than the successful artist she now was; Mary McGuire had become an artist of some repute the last three years, her paintings becoming extremely valuable as serious collectors and experts alike waxed lyrical about the uniqueness of her style and use of colour.
Her reputation as an artist aside, the woman had also become the proverbial thorn in Jonas's side the last six months.
He stood up slowly to look down at her critically as he took an educated guess on that being the case. 'Wouldn't it have just been easier to tell me that you're Mary McGuire?'
She gave a dismissive shrug of those thin and narrow shoulders. 'But not half as much fun.'
The hardening of Jonas's mouth revealed that he didn't appreciate being anyone's reason for having 'fun'. 'Now that we've established who you are, perhaps we could go upstairs and have a serious conversation?' he rasped coldly.
Smoky-grey eyes returned his gaze unblinkingly.
He raised dark brows. 'What do you mean, no?'
'I mean no,' she repeated patiently. 'You may now know who I am but I still have no idea who you are.'
Jonas scowled darkly. 'I'm the man you've been jerking around for the past six months!'
Mac frowned up at him searchingly, only to become more positive than ever that she had never met this man before. At well over six feet tall, with those dark and dangerous good looks, he simply wasn't the sort of man that any woman, of any age, was ever likely to forget.
'Sorry.' She gave a firm shake of her head. 'I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.'
That sculptured, sensual mouth twisted in derision. 'Does Buchanan Construction ring any bells with you?'
Alarm bells, maybe, Mac conceded as her gaze sharpened warily on the hard and powerful face above hers. A ruthless face, she now recognised warily. 'I take it Mr Buchanan has decided to send in one of his henchmen now that all attempts at polite persuasion have failed?'
Those blue eyes widened incredulously. 'You think I'm some sort of heavy sent to intimidate you?'
'Well, aren't you?' Mac bit out scathingly. 'So far I've had visits from Mr Buchanan's lawyer, his personal assistant, and his builder, so why not one of his henchmen?'
'Possibly because I don't employ any henchmen!' Jonas bit out icily, a nerve pulsing in his tightly clenched jaw as he glared down at her.
He had decided to come here personally this evening in the hope that he would be able to talk some sense into the reputed and respectedand mulishly stubborn artist Mary McGuire, and instead he found himself being insulted by a five-foot-nothing scrap of a woman who had the dress sense of a bag-lady!
Those deep grey eyes had opened wide. 'You're Jonas Buchanan?'
At last he had succeeded in shaking that mocking self-confidence a little. 'Surprised?' he taunted softly.
Surprised was definitely understating how Mac felt at that moment; stunned better described it.
She had known of Buchanan Construction impossible not to, when for years there had been boards up on building sites all over London with that name emblazoned across themwhen she was approached by the company's legal representative with an offer to buy her warehouse-conversion home.
Yes, Mac had certainly known the name Jonas Buchanan, and, if she had thought about it at all, she had always assumed that the owner of the worldwide construction company would be a man in his fifties or sixties, who probably enjoyed the occasional cigar with his brandy after no doubt indulging in a seven-course dinner.
The man now claiming to be Jonas Buchanan could only be in his mid-thirties at most, the healthy glow of his tanned face indicating that he didn't smoke even the occasional cigar, and the muscled and hard fitness of his body told her that he didn't indulge in seven-course dinners, either.
Mac looked up at him shrewdly. 'Do you have a driver's licence or something to prove that claim?'
Jonas scowled as his irritation deepened. He had travelled all over the world on business for years now, and never once during that time had anyone ever questioned that he was who he said he was. Until Mary McGuire, that was! 'Will a credit card do?' he snapped as he reached into the breast pocket of his overcoat for his wallet.
'I'm afraid not.'
Jonas's hand stilled. 'Why not?'
She shrugged in that ridiculously baggy pink cardigan. 'I need something with a photograph. Anyone could have a credit card with the name Jonas Buchanan printed on it.'
'You think I forged a credit card with Jonas Buchanan's name on it?' Jonas was incredulous.
'Or stole it.' She nodded. 'I would much rather see a passport or a driver's licence with a photograph on,' she stubbornly stuck to her guns.
Jonas's mouth compressed. 'On the basis, one supposes, that I haven't had either one of those forged in the name of Jonas Buchanan, too?'
She frowned. 'Hmm, I hadn't thought of that '
No, he definitely shouldn't have given into impulse and come here this evening, Jonas acknowledged with ever-growing frustration as he pulled out the passport that he hadn't yet had the chance to remove from his pocket following his flight back from Sydney yesterday. He had stupidly allowed his success in Australia to convince him, after months of getting nowhere with the woman, that talking personally to Miss McGuire was the right way to handle this delicate situation!
'Here.' He thrust the passport at her.
Mac carefully avoided her fingers coming into contact with his as she took the passport and turned to the laminated photo page. Unlike her own passport photo, where she looked about sixteen and as if she ought to have a prisoner number printed beneath, this man's photograph showed him as exactly the lethally attractive and powerful man that he appeared in the flesh.
She quickly checked the details beside that photograph. Jonas Edward Buchanan. British citizen. His date of birth telling Mac that he had recently turned thirty-five.
She thought quickly as she slowly closed the passport before handing it back to him, knowing she could continue this game, and so annoy the hell out of this man, or 'What can I do for you, Mr Buchanan?' she asked politely.
'Better,' he rasped impatiently as he stashed the passport back in his breast pocket. 'Obviously you and I need to talk, Miss McGuire'
'I don't see why.' Mac brushed past him and began to ascend the stairs back up to her home, seeing no reason for her to linger out here in the cold now that she knewor, at least, assumedthat this man wasn't about to mug her, after all. 'I'll be turning the light out at the top of the stairs in a minute or so; before I do, you might want to get back to the main streets where it's more brightly lit,' she advised without turning as she took the key from the pocket of her dungarees to unlock the door.
Jonas continued to look up at her in seething annoyance for a mere fraction of a second before following her, taking the stairs two at a time until he stood directly behind her. 'You and I need to talk,' he bit out between gritted teeth.
'Write me a letter,' she advised as she unlocked the door before stepping inside and turning to face him, her expression one of open challenge.