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By Judith Arnold
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneMRS SMITH-DARCY had woken in a bad temper. She reclined, her abundant proportions supported by a number of pillows, in her bed, not bothering to reply to the quiet 'good morning' uttered by the girl who had entered the room; she was not a lady to waste courtesy on those she considered beneath her. Her late husband had left her rich, having made a fortune in pickled onions, and since she had an excellent opinion of herself she found no need to bother with the feelings of anyone whom she considered inferior. And, of course, a paid companion came into that category.
The paid companion crossed the wide expanse of carpet and stood beside the bed, notebook in hand. She looked out of place in the over-furnished, frilly room; a girl of medium height, with pale brown hair smoothed into a French pleat, she had unremarkable features, but her eyes were large, thickly lashed and of a pleasing hazel. She was dressed in a pleated skirt and a white blouse, with a grey cardigan to match the skirt - sober clothes which failed to conceal her pretty figure and elegant legs.
Mrs Smith-Darcy didn't bother to look at her. "You can go to the bank and cash a cheque - the servants want their wages. Do call in at the butcher's and tell him that I'm not satisfied with the meat he's sending up to the house. When you get back - and don't be all day over a couple of errands - you can make an appointment with my hairdresser and get the invitations written for my luncheon party. The list's on my desk."
She added pettishly, "Well, get on with it, then; there's plenty of work waiting for you when you get back."
The girl went out of the room without a word, closed the door quietly behind her and went downstairs to the kitchen where Cook had a cup of coffee waiting for her.
"Got your orders, Miss Trent? In a mood, is she?"
"I dare say it's this weather, Cook. I have to go to the shops. Is there anything I can bring back for you?"
"Well, now, love, if you could pop into Mr Coffin's and ask him to send up a couple of pounds of sausages with the meat? They'll do us a treat for our dinner."
Emma Trent, battling on her bike against an icy February wind straight from Dartmoor and driving rain, reflected that there could be worse jobs, only just at that moment she couldn't think of any. It wasn't just the weather - she had lived in Buckfastleigh all her life and found nothing unusual in that; after all, it was only a mile or so from the heart of the moor with its severe winters.
Bad weather she could dismiss easily enough, but Mrs Smith-Darcy was another matter; a selfish lazy woman, uncaring of anyone's feelings but her own, she was Emma's daily trial, but her wages put the butter on the bread of Emma's mother's small pension so she had to be borne. Jobs weren't all that easy to find in a small rural town, and if she went to Plymouth or even Ashburton it would mean living away from home, whereas now they managed very well, although there was never much money over.
Her errands done, and with the sausages crammed into a pocket, since Mr Coffin had said that he wasn't sure if he could deliver the meat before the afternoon, she cycled back to the large house on the other side of the town where her employer lived, parked her bike by the side-door and went into the kitchen. There she handed over the sausages, hung her sopping raincoat to dry and went along to the little cubby-hole where she spent most of her days - making out cheques for the tradesmen, making appointments, writing notes and keeping the household books. When she wasn't doing that, she arranged the flowers, and answered the door if Alice, the housemaid, was busy or having her day off.
"Never a dull moment," said Emma to her reflection as she tidied her hair and dried the rain from her face. The buzzer Mrs Smith-Darcy used whenever she demanded Emma's presence was clamouring to be answered, and she picked up her notebook and pencil and went unhurriedly upstairs.
Mrs Smith-Darcy had heaved herself out of bed and was sitting before the dressing-table mirror, doing her face. She didn't look up from the task of applying mascara. "I have been buzzing you for several minutes," she observed crossly. "Where have you been? Really, a great, strong girl like you should have done those few errands in twenty minutes ..."
Emma said mildly, "I'm not a great, strong girl, Mrs Smith-Darcy, and cycling into the wind isn't the quickest way of travelling. Besides, I got wet -"
"Don't make childish excuses. Really, Miss Trent, I sometimes wonder if you are up to this job. Heaven knows, it's easy enough."
Emma knew better than to answer that. Instead she asked, "You wanted me to do something for you, Mrs Smith-Darcy?"
"Tell Cook I want my coffee in half an hour. I shall be out to lunch, and while I'm gone you can fetch Frou-Frou from the vet. I shall need Vickery with the car so I suppose you had better get a taxi - it wouldn't do for Frou-Frou to get wet. You can pay and I'll settle with you later."
"I haven't brought any money with me." Emma crossed her fingers behind her back as she spoke, for it was a fib, but on several occasions she had been told to pay for something and that she would be reimbursed later - something which had never happened.
Mrs Smith-Darcy frowned. "Really, what an incompetent girl you are." She opened her handbag and found a five-pound note. "Take this - and I'll expect the correct change."
"I'll get the driver to write the fare down and sign it," said Emma quietly, and something in her voice made Mrs Smith-Darcy look at her.
Excerpted from A Loverboy by Judith Arnold Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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