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Freya bit down hard on the expletive hovering on the tip of her tongue and called again, her eyes raking the rows of old sofas and chests of drawers. 'Hello?'
There was still no answer. No sound of anything in the cavernous building except the clip of her heels on the concrete floor. 'Mr Ramsay? Anyone? Anyone at all?'She came to a stop and looked back across the auction house.
She sucked in her breath and spun round to look again at the long line of caged cupboards piled high with knick-knacks. Where was everyone? The entire place was deserted.
Freya tucked her hands further into the depths of her sheepskin jacket and stamped her feet to get warmth back into her frozen toes. This was such a crazy way of doing business. There had to be someone whose job it was to speak to people like her. A porter? Wasn't that the way it worked?
She hadn't expected anything like Sotheby's or Christie's in a place like Fellingham, but this was plain ridiculous. Left to herself, she'd walk straight back out of hereand a casual trawl through the telephone directory would, no doubt, produce any number of more promising alternatives.
Her almost habitual frown snapped into place. Except Daniel Ramsay had somehow managed to convince her grandmother he was all things wonderful. Damn him!
Twelve years' hard experience had taught her that anyone who gave the appearance of being 'too good to be true' was usually exactly that. The trouble was it would take something approaching the impact of World War Three to shift the elderly woman from her opinion of him now.
Freya pulled her hand out of her pocket and glanced down at her wristwatch. Where was he? She really wanted tosee Daniel Ramsay for herself, gauge what kind of man he was, and preferably without her grandmother being there to witness it.
She stepped back, and her leg jagged against a box of china on the floor behind her. She swore softly and bent down to brush the dust off the fine black wool of her trousers.
What kind of place was he running here? Whatever the reality of Daniel Ramsay turned out to be, he was no businessman. His auction house was full of junk. Row upon row of it.
Freya looked round, her nose wrinkled against the musty smell. He couldn't be doing more than scratching a living here
She frowned. No doubt that was why he'd gone out of his way to befriend her grandmother. Stopping to chat and eat lemon drizzle cake whenever he had an hour free.
He'd certainly managed to inveigle himself very successfully. According to her grandmother, his prowess extended from the removal of mice to changing a lightbulb. And, of course, antiques. Apparently Daniel Ramsay knew everything there was to know about antiques
Freya stamped her foot again as the cold bit at her toes. Looking at the sad specimens around her, she seriously doubted that. In her opinion his 'gift', such as it was, was in correctly reading an elderly woman who wanted shot of things she didn't much value but which he knew would earn him a hefty commission.
Her eyes fixed on the green painted door with the small 'Office'sign on it. She gave her wristwatch another swift glance and then sidestepped the box, pushing her way passed a battered rocking horse.
This was a stupid waste of her time. If the office door was unlocked she'd leave a note, asking him to call this afternoon.
Not perfect. Not what she'd hoped for. But better than nothing. And it was always possible she was worrying needlessly anyway. Perhaps Daniel Ramsay genuinely liked spending time with her grandmother and had no ulterior motive at all?
Freya's eyes narrowed as her normal scepticism rose to the surface. Only that wasn't very likely. Not in the least likely. She rapped with her knuckles on the closed office door, scarcely pausing before pushing it open. 'Mr Rams ?'
His name died on her lips as she took in the threadbare rug and the muddle of stuff. There was no other word to describe the eclectic mix of furniture and paintings. All of which would have been better consigned to a skip rather than an auction house.
What was going on here? Was this some kind of 'lost and found'? Or a modern-day 'rag and bone' business?
She picked her way across the floor and stopped by the heavy oak desk, one part of her mind speculating how anyone could work in such disorder while the other questioned whether the elusive Daniel Ramsay would even be able to find a note left for him in the mess.
Freya let out her breath on a slow, steady stream and pulled her handbag from her shoulder. She set it on the desk, starting slightly as the telephone on the other side of it started to ring. Conditioned as she was to take all her calls within a few seconds, it set her teeth on edge to hear it echo off into the distance via a crude tannoy system.
She reached across to pull a pen from a colourful mug, starting as the office door banged violently against the wall.
'Get that, will you?'
'The phone. Take a message,' a disembodied male voice shouted, followed by a grunt. 'I'll be through in a minute.'
'Phone! Just answer the phone!'
For a brief second she wondered whether she'd inadvertently stepped into a farce, and then Freya shrugged, stepping over a pile of vinyl records and an old gramophone to reach the other side of the desk. What did it matter? And at least it would stop that infernal noise ricocheting about.
'Ramsay Auctioneers,' she said into the receiver, her eyes on the closed door.
'Daniel? Is that you?'
Hardly. She rubbed a hand across her eyes, the humour of the situation finally reaching her. 'I'm sorry, Mr Ramsay isn't available at the moment. May I take a message?'
'Can you tell him Tom Hamber called, love?'
Her right eyebrow flicked up and she reached over the scattered papers for a pad of fluorescent sticky notes. In her real life she'd have paused to tell Tom Hamber she wasn't his 'love'. She might even have told him that while she could pass on a message, she was by no means certain she would
'Have you got that? You won't forget?'
'Tom Hamber called,' she said dryly, drawing a box around the words she'd written. 'I think I'll manage to remember.'
'Tell him I need to speak to him before midday.'
Freya added the words 'before midday' to the note, then turned at the sound of a loud crash. 'I'll leave him a note,' she said into the receiver. Whether he actually found it really wasn't her problem.
'That's it, love.'
She set the receiver back on its cradle, ripping the top note off the pile. One thing she was certain of: there was no way on earth she was going to let her grandmother sell anything valuable through this crazy set-up. She looked at the confusion on the desk and stuck the note firmly on the telephone.
'Thanks for that.'
Freya turned and found she was looking up into a pair of brown eyes. Very definitely up. At five feet tenmore in heelsit wasn't often she had to do that.
Why did that feel so good? Some deep Freudian something was probably at the root of it. He had to be at least six foot two. Quite possibly more. And those eyes Dark, dark brown, and sexy beyond belief.
'I was holding up one end of a table and couldn't let go.'
Freya pulled her eyes away from his and wrapped her sheepskin jacket closely around her. 'Right.'
'Did you get a message?'
'Yes. Y-yes, I did. Yes.'The corner of his mouth quirked and she stumbled on, feeling as foolish as if she'd been caught drooling. 'It was a Tom Hamber.'
'He wants to speak to Daniel Ramsay before midday.'
'I can do that.'
The most horrible suspicion darted into her head. 'I'm Daniel Ramsay.' He smiled, and Freya felt as though the floor had disappeared beneath her.
This couldn't be Daniel Ramsay. From her grandmother's conversation she'd conjured up a very different picture. Someone altogether more parochial. More
Well less, if she were honest. Much less. Truthfully, this Daniel Ramsay looked like the kind of man you'd quite like to wake up with on a lazy Sunday morning. A little bit rumpled and a whole lot sexy.
'You're a little late.'Then he smiled again, wiping his hands on the back of dark blue denim jeans, and the effect was intensified. 'Not to worry. I get here about eight thirty, but I told the agency nine-thirty was fine.'
He held out a hand, and she automatically held out her own. His wedding ring flashed. Of course a man who looked like this one would be taken. They always wereeven if they pretended not to be.
A familiar sense of dissatisfaction speared her. It was amazing how many men said they were separated when the only thing keeping them apart from their significant other was temporary geographical distance.
She was so tired of that. Tired of the game-playing.
Daniel bent down and pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk. 'I've got the key to the inner office here. I'll show you where everything is, and then I've got to drive out to the Penry-James farm.'
He stood straight. 'Which part didn't you get?'
'I understood you perfectly, but I'm not from any agency.'
'Merely a potential customer.' His hand raked through his dark hair. 'Hell, I'm so sorry! I thought'
'I was someone else.'It didn't take the mental agility of Einstein to figure that one out. It was vaguely reassuring to know he didn't actively intend to run his business in such a haphazard way.
Sudden laughter lit his eyes, and she fought against the curl of attraction deep in her abdomen.
'So you're not the cavalry after all? Perhaps we'd better start over?'
'Perhaps,'she murmured, feeling unaccountably strange as his hand wrapped round hers for the second time. He had nice hands, she registered. Strong, with neatly cut nails. And a voice that made her feel as though she'd stepped into a vat of chocolate.
But taken, the logical part of her brain reminded her. And apparently the kind of man who, if he wasn't actually preying on her grandmother, was certainly making the most of an opportunity.
'You must have thought I was mad. Did Tom say what he wanted?'
'No, he didn't.'
'I expect it's about the quiz night next month.' His smile widened and her stomach flipped over. Helplessly. 'So, if you're not from the agency, what can I do for you?'
'Not me. My grandmother,' she said, her voice unnecessarily clipped as she struggled to regain her usual control.
She took a deep breath and exhaled in one slow, steady stream, watching the droplets hang in the frosty air. 'Is it always this cold in here?'
'Not in summer.' He moved away and bent to switch on a fan heater. 'Then it can get quite unpleasant'
'It's unpleasant now!'
He looked up, his brown eyes glinting with sexy laughter. 'Because the window in here doesn't open,' he continued, as though she hadn't spoken, completely unfazed. 'It's been painted over too many times.'
She bit back the observation that getting a window to open was something which could be easily fixed. Something that most certainly would be in any sensibly run business.
'I suppose I ought to sort that.'
He gave a bark of laughter. Startled, Freya looked at him. It had been a long, long time since anyone had dared laugh at her. She took in the faint amber flecks in his laughing eyes and swallowed, desperately willing her throat to work normally.
He was so entirely unexpected. She'd got one image of him entrenched so firmly in her imagination that this incarnation was difficult to adjust to. She tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear and felt the back of her hand brush against her crystal earring. It started swinging and jagged against the collar of her jacket.
'How can I help your grandmother?'
Freya blinked. 'She has a few items she's interested in selling, and I'd like to have a professional evaluation of them.'
'Can you bring them in?'
'Not easily. There's a chiffonier, a dining table'
'Then I'll come out to her.' He moved effortlessly past the piled boxes and sat behind his heavy desk, taking a pen from the same chipped mug she had.
'Today, if possible.'
He nodded, his pen poised. 'And you are?' Freya hesitated. She wasn't quite ready to tell him that. Not exactly, anyway. Three days in Fellingham and she'd already had more than enough of people's reaction to her name. From the way their eyebrows shot up into their scalp she could only assume she'd gone down in local folklore as all things depraved.
It shouldn't matter. Didn't. But somewhere not so deeply buried her anger about that was still there. Nibbling away at her, despite all the success which had followed.
'My grandmother's Margaret Anthony. Mrs Margaret Anthony.'
His sexy eyes narrowed slightly. If she hadn't been so attuned to people's reaction to her she'd probably have missed it. Possibly even the beat of silence which followed. 'Then that would make you Freya Anthony.'
His strong fingers opened a large black diary and he wrote her grandmother's name at the end of a long list. 'It looks like it'll have to be near five. I'm a little choked up today.'
He looked up and his eyes were no longer laughing. Something inside her withered a little more. He was a stranger to her, an 'incomer' to the area, and yet he'd already formed a poor opinion of her.
But then of course he had. What was she thinking? She knew Fellingham's vicious network had gone into overdrive, and it didn't take much imagination to guess what he must have heard about her.
'Has she thought any more about selling her vases?'
'She's thought about it.'
Freya held his gaze, meaning to intimidate. She could do that. She'd always been able to do that. 'I'm going to make sure she gets the best possible price for them. I understand an undamaged pair can be quite valuable.'
'Can be. You just need two collectors who badly want to own them.' Daniel stood up. 'I think she could confidently expect to get a thousand for them.'
'And in London?'
He shrugged, completely unfazed by the question she'd shot at him. 'Possibly more. But the internet is narrowing the gap. Dedicated collectors search online.'
'I wasn't aware you had much of a website here.'
'It's in development.'
'But very early stages,' she said dismissively. 'So not much use yet.' Freya lifted her jacket collar and snuggled down into the warmth.
It didn't matter what he thought of her. The only thing that mattered was her grandmother, and she was going to do anything and everything to see she wasn't hurt or cheated. Not by him or anyone. 'I'll tell my grandmother to expect you.'
Daniel nodded. 'As near to five as I can make it.'
'We'll both be there.' She gave him a swift smile, one that didn't quite reach her eyes, before picking up her bag and walking out of the office.