Reclusive Millionaire's Mistletoe Miracle

CHAPTER ONE

Chloe swore as she slipped and skidded across the cobblestoned courtyard from the converted coach house to the back door of the big house, the heavy dew making the trip perilous. Her feet started to slide out from beneath her and she windmilled her arms wildly, catching hold of the door handle at the last moment. She held on for grim life until she was sure she’d regained her balance, and then pounded on the door with more vigour than grace, muttering a slew of equally inelegant curses under her breath.

   Welcome to Devon, Chlo.

   Pulling her coat around her, she tried jogging on the spot, her breath frosting the air, as she tried to prevent the cold from creeping into her very bones. It was freezing! And it wasn’t even December yet. How was it possible to be this cold?

   She knocked again—though it was more of a beating of her fists as her extremities started to lose all feeling—and then fumbled in her pocket for her phone and hit redial. She’d had to ring the number of the big house earlier after she’d got so lost from the directions the locals had given her that she’d become convinced that the people who lived in this part of the world had no sense of direction at all.

   Deep inside the house she heard the phone ringing, just as the back door opened.

   She tried to turn her phone off, but her hands were shaking too hard.

   ‘Chloe, what happened to you? You’re soaked!’ Stephanie Gladstone, the housekeeper she’d met briefly earlier this evening, pulled her inside and closed the door, before taking her phone and turning it off. ‘Come with me, quickly! We need to get you warm.’

   Yes, please.

   In next to no time, she found herself sitting in front of a heater in the kitchen, her hair up in a towel, and her wet things removed in favour of a thick fluffy robe that Stephanie had seemed to magic out of the air. She accepted the mug of steaming cocoa Stephanie held out to her, with a grateful, ‘Thank you.’

   She blew on it, the steam lifting to warm her face, and momentarily closed her eyes to savour that very first sip. She touched the mug to her lips, eager for that first hit of hot sweetness, but before she could take a sip a large wolf of a man stormed into the kitchen with the kind of ferocious scowl that in ordinary circumstances might make her quail. But not today.

   ‘What in the name of God is all this infernal racket?’

   He bristled all over, the rangy frame crackling with energy and outrage and temper.

   His gaze zeroed in on her and his brows lowered even further over his eyes. ‘And who the hell are you?’

   She recognised him immediately. Setting her mug down, she shot to her feet. ‘I’m Chloe Ivy Belle Jennings, and if this is the way you usually speak to your employees, Mr Beau Diamond, you can shove your contract where the sun doesn’t shine and find somebody else to be your damn lackey.’

   She wasn’t sure why she used her full name, only it did sound more impressive. And it made him blink. At least, she thought that was what made him blink.

   To her right, Stephanie huffed out a laugh. ‘That’ll tell you, Beau. Stop bellyaching. A water pipe in the flat has burst. I’ve got George onto it, but you’re going to need to get the plumbers back.’

   ‘And probably someone to fix the soggy wall. And the carpet will be ruined as well,’ Chloe added for good measure. Water had gone everywhere at a ridiculous rate of knots.

   He swung back. ‘Why on earth didn’t you turn the water off at the mains?’

   He stared at her as if she were stupid and she didn’t bother trying to put a lid on her temper. Today had been trying on so many levels and this was one straw too many. ‘If I could’ve found the mains, I would’ve! If we’re asking searching questions, why the hell did you give me such substandard accommodation?’

   Accommodation had been part of the contract. She didn’t require much, but warm and dry were non-negotiable.

   She’d been told before that she had ferocious eyebrows and she did what she could to use them to best effect now, frowning as fiercely as she could. But then she realised what a sight she must look, in this enormous fluffy robe and her hair wrapped in a towel, and had to fight an insane urge to laugh.

   Not funny share-a-joke laughter, but the kind that held a hint of hysteria. Turning her back on the grump of a man, she lifted the cocoa to her lips and took a big sustaining gulp, closing her eyes and feeling it warm her all the way through.

   ‘Well, you can’t stay here.’

   She swung around. ‘If you think I’m leaving in the dead of night to find accommodation in the village then you’re going to be rudely disappointed, Mr Diamond.’

   His eyes widened as she advanced on him. At the back of her mind she noted his rumpled appearance and the too-long hair that was sticking up all over the place as if he’d just jumped out of bed. Which, of course, was exactly what he had done. But at least he hadn’t had to slosh through icy water!

   She stopped in front of him. ‘Do you know how long it took me to get from my door to yours?’

   He shook his head, eyeing her as if she were some rogue wildebeest from the plains of Africa.

   ‘It was thirty-four hours from the time I left my house in Sydney to when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow. It took an hour on the Tube to get to Paddington train station and then it was a four-hour train journey to Barnstaple. At that point there was a problem with my hire car booking, which delayed me for the best part of an hour, but then according to my satnav it was supposed to be a simple seventeen-minute Sunday drive to the apparently idyllic but tiny village of Ballingsmallard and a further two minutes to Dawncarden Court.’

   He cleared his throat and nodded. ‘That’s correct.’

   ‘Hallelujah, I said to myself.’ The words left her on a growl. ‘But the satnav was wrong!’ She shook her head so hard the towel on her head unravelled and her wild mane of hair fell down below her shoulders, which probably made her look more and more like that rogue wildebeest by the minute. It wasn’t an image that improved her temper.

   She stabbed a finger at him. ‘The people in this part of the world clearly don’t know their left from their right or…or which way is even up! So I wasn’t sent on just one, but three wild goose chases. Nobody warned me that I’d lose satellite signal, so I didn’t bother printing a map out. Why didn’t you warn me?’

   He adjusted his stance. ‘How long did it take for you to find Dawncarden Court?’

   ‘Three hours eighteen minutes and thirty-three seconds!’

   He winced and glanced at Stephanie. ‘I thought you’d—’

   ‘And I thought you had.’

   She ignored them. ‘And now I don’t know whether I’m coming or going! I’m jet-lagged, tired, cold, wet and hungry. And if you think I’m going back out there—’ she pointed in the vague direction of the road outside ‘—to try and find a room at the inn, then you’re more wrong than you have ever been.’

   They eyed each other across what seemed like some invisible divide, and to her amazement he eventually shrugged. ‘Well, I’m sure we can at least do something about you being hungry, can’t we, Steph?’

   ‘Already on it,’ Stephanie said, cracking eggs into a frying pan.

   Chloe stared and her entire frame drooped. ‘Oh, but I didn’t mean to put you to any trouble.’ She moistened her lips, fighting a wave of exhaustion. ‘I just wanted to get warm and dry and…’

   ‘And to have a rest,’ the older woman finished for her, ‘and that’s entirely understandable. Sit down and finish your cocoa. I’ll have this whipped up in no time and you’ll feel all the better for it, I promise. Would you like some as well, Beau?’

   ‘Why not?’ With a shrug he hooked out a chair at right angles to Chloe. She buried her nose in her mug, and squinted slightly to blur his outline, tried not to wince. Had she really just ranted at her employer like a fishwife?

   Holding the mug in both hands, she stared into its contents. ‘I think I probably owe you an apology for, um…going off like a firecracker just now.’

   ‘Not at all.’

   She didn’t believe him. In her mind, she replayed what she’d just said and heat flooded her face. She stared all the more doggedly into her mug. ‘Tomorrow, when my brain is hopefully in decent working order again, I’ll try and apologise properly and…’ Try and find a way to prove to him that normally she had the most level of tempers.

   ‘You are allowed to look at me when you speak,’ he snapped.

   She did what she could to smother the yawn that threatened to split her face in two as she turned towards him. ‘What?’

   ‘I won’t bite.’

   But his voice had lost its venom and a furrow appeared between his eyes. She huffed out a laugh, too tired to try and work out what any of it meant…too tired to even care if she’d still have a job in the morning.

   Don’t be daft. You need this job.

   ‘So you’re saying your bark is worse than your bite, then?’

   ‘I’m glad to see you’ve got his number.’ Stephanie set plates of scrambled eggs and toast in front of them. ‘Stop pestering the poor girl, Beau, and let her eat. She’s too tired for your nonsense.’

   She decided then and there that she loved Stephanie.

   ‘Where were you thinking of putting Ms Jennings, Steph?’

   ‘Chloe,’ Chloe said around a mouthful of egg. ‘Please call me Chloe. Ms Jennings is my mum.’ She gestured to her plate with her fork. ‘These are the best scrambled eggs ever.’

   ‘In the daffodil room.’

   ‘But—’

   ‘Oh, that sounds lovely,’ Chloe murmured, finding it a sudden effort to chew and swallow…to even lift her fork. Now that she felt deliciously warm again, she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to move. ‘Daffodils are the happiest flowers, don’t you think? So warm and yellow and everything. Daffodils and wattle and sunflowers and Billy buttons…’

   ‘Oops, we’re losing her,’ she heard Steph say at the same time as a warm strong hand wrapped around her upper arm.

   She jerked back into immediate wakefulness. Even through the thickness of the towelling robe, she could feel the unmistakable strength of Beau Diamond’s fingers and it made something weird stir to life inside her.

   She jerked upright. ‘Sorry!’

   ‘No problem.’ He removed his hand.

   ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel drunk. But I’ve not had any alcohol since…’ She shook her head. She wasn’t a drinker. ‘It’d be weeks.’ Maybe months. ‘And my balance is off.’

   ‘That’ll be due to the air travel. The balance thing,’ he clarified. ‘As for the rest, Chloe, basically you’ve been travelling for two days with very little sleep and probably not a whole lot of food either. You need to finish your eggs.’

   He gestured at her plate, so she forked more egg into her mouth and then ate half a slice of toast for good measure.

   ‘And you need to keep hydrated.’

   He poured her a glass of water and she drank it—greedily. She hadn’t even realised she was thirsty.

   ‘And now you need to sleep and sleep until you don’t feel like sleeping any more.’

   How divine that sounded. ‘Don’t we have a meeting tomorrow?’

   He reached out a hand to prop her up when she started to list again. ‘The day after. Tomorrow you rest.’

   She made a half-hearted effort to straighten up again. But it was kind of nice to feel that firm strength—all warm and reassuring through the towelling robe. So it was only half an effort. She found a smile. ‘Do you know how good that sounds?’

   One side of his mouth hooked up. ‘I’ve got some idea.’

   For a fraction of a moment something in his eyes danced and a sigh fluttered out of her. ‘You have the loveliest eyes.’ They were the colour of a deep blue sea. ‘I never noticed that from the telly.’

   His smile vanished and she forced herself to straighten. ‘While I apparently, or so I am told, have fierce eyebrows.’

   He blinked.

   ‘And I do believe they stopped you barking at me earlier, so I’m rather grateful to them.’

   She found herself frowning. ‘And why are the two of you letting me rattle on with nonsense like this?’

   Stephanie laughed. ‘Because it’s refreshingly direct and I like it. But you’re right. It’s time you were in bed. Come along and I’ll show you your room.’

   Grateful, she pushed to her feet. ‘Goodnight, Beau. I can call you Beau, can’t I? Or do we have to do the awful formal Mr Diamond and Ms Jennings thing?’

   ‘Beau will be fine.’

   With a salute, she turned and followed Stephanie from the room. ‘I think I’m going to die a thousand deaths when I remember all of this tomorrow,’ she whispered.

   ‘Nonsense.’ Stephanie laughed. ‘You’re exactly what the doctor ordered and I can’t tell you how glad I am to welcome you to Dawncarden Court, Chloe.’

*

Chloe crossed her fingers as hard as she could and hoped that Beau Diamond was nowhere to be seen before stepping into the kitchen the next morning. She gave an audible sigh before leaping across to fill the kettle.

   Coffee. Please. Now.

   ‘Good morning, Chloe.’

   She whirled around with a yelp when a deep voice sounded behind her. ‘Oh, Lord! Lordy lord. You just took ten years off my life.’ She patted her chest and tried to find a smile. ‘Good morning…Beau.’

   One rather commanding eyebrow rose. ‘Were you just tiptoeing through my house?’

   ‘You bet your sweet patootie I was. I figured I’d disturbed you enough last night. I wanted to prove I could be as quiet as the proverbial mouse when occasion demanded it.’

   He didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile.

   She swallowed. ‘Is it okay to grab a cuppa before I head into the village to find alternative lodgings?’

   He might have an enormous house, but it was clear he didn’t want to share it. And as someone who valued her privacy too—though coming from as big a family as she did, privacy was a relative term—she didn’t blame him.

   ‘Help yourself to a decent breakfast. It’ll help your body clock adjust.’

   ‘Thank you. Coffee?’

   He shook his head, but he didn’t leave. He just stood there and watched her.

   In the cold light of morning—late morning and, yes, it did look cold—last night’s impression of height and breadth hadn’t been misleading, and the energy he’d once projected onto the television screen from his natural history documentary series was still present, but any humour she might’ve once imagined in that face had well and truly disappeared. Unfortunately she hadn’t dreamed that bristling, brooding undercurrent thing that he had going either.

   Swallowing a sigh, she made a coffee and eased into a seat at the table. ‘Do I still have a job?’

   He moved across to the kitchen bench. ‘Yes.’

   She closed her eyes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

   Winning the contract to make over Dawncarden Court’s walled garden had been a lifesaver, and about the only thing standing between her and losing the house she and Mark had saved so hard for. She’d put so much work into her submission. Had brushed up on all things associated with English country gardens until her brain had been in danger of exploding. She’d wanted to wow him with her knowledge of the local climate, of local plants and soil types, of English native trees. And it had paid off.

   Don’t mess it up.

   Forcing her eyes open, she sipped her coffee and glanced back up at him. Even though it was a good twelve months since he’d been on TV, she’d have still recognised him. Even given the accident and his scars, and she wasn’t sure why, but that felt like a relief. ‘Would you like me to attempt a proper apology now or—?’

   ‘I’d really rather you didn’t.’

   He didn’t turn back, and she craned her neck to see what he was doing. Oh, he was making tea! Why hadn’t she asked him if he wanted tea? ‘Well, for what it’s worth, I am sorry. I’m not usually so bad-tempered.’

   ‘Jet lag.’ He set a large teapot to the middle of the table along with two mugs before lowering that tall rangy frame to the seat opposite. Despite the mellowness of his tone, when he glanced at her the blue of his eyes was oddly piercing. ‘How are you feeling today?’

   She gulped more coffee. ‘Like I’m hung over, but without the headache. You’ve been a globetrotter, what are your tips and tricks for overcoming jet lag?’

*

Before he could answer, Stephanie came tripping into the kitchen. She’d been dealing with the plumbers she’d called first thing to look at the burst pipes in the flat.

   ‘You need to start eating your meals in this time zone, rather than when you feel hungry, as well as drinking lots of water, and getting out in the sun for a walk,’ she said with her usual crispness.

   Chloe choked on her coffee. ‘Sun?’ She pointed towards the window. ‘You’re calling that weak excuse for a bit of light the sun?’

   He found himself wanting to laugh. Just as he’d wanted to laugh several times last night. But just as he had last night, he suppressed the urge. He didn’t trust it. ‘Getting out into the daylight will help your body clock reset itself.’

   She stared at him, dragged in a breath and then nodded. ‘Okay, but…I had no idea how cold it’d be here.’

   He and Stephanie exchanged glances but didn’t inform her that there was nothing particularly cold about the current weather. She’d flown in from an Australian summer to an English winter. It’d take her a few days to acclimatise.

   ‘Once you’re properly rested, the cold won’t seem so bad,’ he found himself assuring her.

   Stephanie glanced at him with a raised eyebrow, but he studiously ignored it, pouring them mugs of tea instead. Thankfully, she fetched the cake tin and cut them all a generous slice of Madeira cake.

   ‘Oh, but…’ Chloe started.

   ‘Eat,’ Stephanie ordered. ‘I have a proposition for you both and the cake will help sweeten it.’

   His gut instantly clenched. He knew immediately what this proposition of Stephanie’s was. She was going to suggest that Chloe Ivy Belle Jennings stay here in the manor for the duration of her contract, and while he knew it made sense everything inside him protested. He’d rather the expense of having to put her up in the village.

   Damn it! It was his house. He made the rules.

   Stephanie fixed him with an eagle eye as if she’d read that thought in his face. She didn’t challenge him, though, didn’t say it wasn’t his house yet and that it was his grandmother who made the rules. Not for the first time he could see why his grandmother had engaged her as housekeeper twenty years ago. He expected the two women would see eye to eye on most things.

   From the corner of his eye, he saw Chloe take a bite of cake and a momentary expression of bliss crossed her face—as if she hadn’t eaten cake in a long time and had forgotten how good it could be. She captured a crumb at the corner of her mouth with her tongue and things low down in his belly suddenly clenched, taking him off guard.

   What the hell…?

   Scowling, he took a huge bite of cake. All he could say was that he was glad her ridiculous hair was pulled back in a thick plait this morning. When the towel had worked its way loose from her hair last night and all of that gingerbread-coloured hair had tumbled halfway down her back, he’d not been able to do anything for a moment but stare.

   His scowl deepened. It was ridiculous hair for a gardener to have!

   ‘You can get that expression off your face right now, Beau Diamond,’ Stephanie told him in no uncertain terms. ‘And you will hear me out.’

   ‘As I’ve yet to find a way to stop you from speaking your mind,’ he returned just as swiftly, ‘then I expect you’re right.’

   That made her laugh. Very little disturbed Stephanie’s equanimity.

   ‘What did the tradesmen say?’

   ‘The plumbing is old—that renovation was done back in the sixties. To be on the safe side, they want to replace all the pipes. According to George, it’s just as well someone was staying at the time as that pipe could’ve gone at any moment.’

   Stephanie turned to Chloe. ‘George is our general handyman. When he’s not busy mending fences and replacing tiles in the rooves of the various outbuildings, he cuts the grass, keeps the vegetable patch in order, and prunes what he can, but the gardens here are too much for one person. He lives in the village, but I’ll introduce the two of you later.’

   Chloe nodded and went back to her cake.

   Stephanie swung back to Beau. ‘Because it was found early the water damage isn’t too extensive. But I expect some painting and new carpet will be necessary.’

   He sighed. It wasn’t the expense that bothered him—there was plenty of money for repairs—but the thought of tradesmen in and out of Dawncarden had his hands clenching.

   Well, Stephanie could deal with them. It was one of the things he paid her for after all.

   ‘I spoke to Julia last night.’

   Hearing the concern in her voice, he set his mug down.

   ‘Julia is my daughter,’ she explained to Chloe. ‘And she’s pregnant.’

   ‘That’s lovely news. Congratulations.’

   He didn’t want to like Chloe Jennings. He didn’t want to have any feelings for her whatsoever. But he couldn’t deny that she had a nice smile. And when she wasn’t in a temper, her eyebrows didn’t look the least bit fierce.

   He shook himself. ‘Is everything okay?’

   ‘The morning sickness hasn’t passed and she’s sounding tired…a little glum.’

   ‘But she and the baby…?’

   ‘They’re both fine. But I’m worried about her, Beau. She wants me to spend Christmas with them.’

   But Julia lived in Newcastle! That was a six-and-a-half-hour drive away. It wasn’t exactly a hop, skip and jump to go and have Christmas dinner with her daughter and then get back to Dawncarden Court to cook his supper.

   Not that he needed her to cook his supper. He knew his way around a kitchen. But—

   ‘I want to take some leave, some proper leave. I’ve not had a holiday in years. I’ve not spent more than a weekend away from the estate in two years.’ She folded her arms. ‘I’ve earned some time off.’

   He wanted to argue, but she was right. He couldn’t begrudge her the time off. Especially if she was worried about Julia. And it was coming up to Christmas. Not that he gave two hoots about the season for himself, but it seemed to mean a lot to other people.

   None of that stopped a scowl from settling over his features, though.

   ‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she ordered, clearly not the least put out. ‘I’ve come up with the perfect solution.’

   It was his turn to cross his arms. Across the table he was aware of Chloe’s gaze on his arms. His lips twisted. Checking them for scars no doubt. The entire world was hungry for news—and photographs—of his scars.

   He forced his focus back to Stephanie. ‘The perfect solution?’ He suspected that as far as he was going to be concerned it would be far from perfect.

   ‘If Chloe here is amenable, she could fill in as temporary housekeeper for a few weeks.’

   Chloe straightened. ‘Oh, I…’

   She swallowed and he sympathised. Stephanie could be hard to withstand.

   ‘What would it entail?’

   ‘Not a lot. Cooking the evening meal and a little light cleaning. We have a house-cleaning service that comes in once a week to do a comprehensive spit and polish, but they’re banned from Beau’s rooms, so whipping through those areas with a duster and giving them a quick vacuum is about all you’ll be asked to do. The supermarket in the village will deliver whatever you need…and—’

   ‘And nothing,’ Beau cut in. ‘I can deal with all of that myself. I know how to cook and clean as well as the next person.’

   Steph raised an eyebrow. ‘And are you also prepared to deal with the tradesmen and the house-cleaning service?’

   Hell, no.

   ‘I thought not,’ she said, evidently reading the answer in his face. ‘And before you suggest it, you’re not cancelling either. This is your grandmother’s estate, and, while you’ll inherit it one day, she’s my employer and this is the kind of property that can get away from a body if they let it. I’m following her instructions, not yours.’

   Damn it!

   ‘How long are you planning to be away?’ he demanded.

   ‘Until after the new year.’

   ‘But that’s six weeks!’

   ‘I’ve earned it, Beau. And I need a break.’

   He dragged a hand down his face. Across the table, Chloe watched them with eyes the colour of treacle.

   Steph gestured towards her. ‘You saw Chloe in action last night. She’s not the kind of girl tradesmen or the press will be able to walk over.’

   He glared at Stephanie, wanting to bellow at her that she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. But he didn’t have the right. And he couldn’t begrudge her time away with her family.

   ‘If neither of you like that idea, then I can organise a temporary housekeeper from a reputable agency.’

   ‘That is not going to happen.’

   He wasn’t having yet another person in his space. Strangers couldn’t be trusted. That had already been established.

   This Chloe Jennings probably couldn’t be trusted either, but her garden design had been the best, and her knowledge of the local flora and ecosystems had impressed him. And he had made her sign a watertight privacy clause. If she tried to leak photographs of him to the tabloids, he’d sue her for every penny she had and utterly destroy her professional reputation while he was at it.

   ‘Are you seeing sense yet, Beau?’

   ‘Chloe hasn’t agreed to the arrangement, Steph, and I don’t see why she’d want to.’

   ‘Of course she will, won’t you, Chloe? For one thing, you’ll receive a generous stipend on top of what you’re already being paid for the garden makeover.’

   Chloe’s eyes brightened, and things inside him hardened. Was he going to need to lock the family silver up while she was here?

   ‘I don’t have any objections to the plan.’ Chloe glanced at him uncertainly. ‘I’m a passable cook and can certainly cope with a bit of light cleaning, but you don’t seem the least bit keen. And as my gardening contract comes first…’

   Stephanie spread her hands. ‘So can I go and pack my bags yet, or do I need to call the agency?’

   He bit back an oath and swung to Chloe, knowing his face had turned ferocious, probably scary, and certainly ugly. It was what he saw whenever he looked in the mirror these days—ugly, jagged scars. To her credit, she barely blinked. But that was probably because she was still jet-lagged.

   ‘I want us very clear on one thing.’ He stabbed a finger to the table so hard it jolted his entire arm. It took a force of will not to wince.

   Serves you right for trying to be a tough dude.

   ‘That privacy clause you signed in relation to the garden will also extend to this temporary housekeeping gig too. Do I make myself clear?’

   ‘Perfectly.’

   ‘And I’ll be making you sign a document to that effect.’

   ‘Okay.’ She glanced at Stephanie. ‘Privacy is a big deal around here, then?’

   ‘Absolutely.’ Stephanie started clearing the table. ‘His lordship here has a real bee in his bonnet about it. If it were up to him, he’d never leave this place and would refuse to see anyone. Hence the reason you’ll need to be the one to deal with the tradesmen and anyone else who might come knocking on the door.’

   ‘Does anyone come knocking?’

   ‘Not so much any more, but we do still get the occasional journalist looking for a story and hoping to catch a glimpse of Beau.’

   Those not so ferocious eyebrows shot up.

   ‘Apparently the price of an up-to-date picture of Beau is now rumoured to be upward of the twenty-thousand-pound mark.’

   Chloe shot forward on her seat. ‘You have to be joking! That’s…it’s—’

   ‘Hence the privacy clause I insisted you sign.’

   She slumped back and his every instinct went on high alert. Given a chance, would this girl try and sell him out?

   ‘And if you break that clause, I will sue you for every dollar you have and more, do I make myself clear?’

   Her eyes widened, and then those brows did become ferocious. ‘I’ve no intention of breaking my contract with you, Mr Diamond, but if you’re worried that I might, then you’re free to make other arrangements for your housekeeper and I’ll find accommodation in the village. I’m more than happy to speak to the housekeeper about the garden rather than you.’

   That certainly wasn’t going to happen. The garden was too precious to him. Too necessary.

   He shook his head. ‘The more I think about it, the more Stephanie’s plan makes sense. It also makes sense to have you right here where I can keep an eye on you, rather than staying in the village where you might be tempted to gossip. The fewer people working at Dawncarden, the better, and the less the likelihood of the press getting a picture of me.’

   Stephanie clapped briskly. ‘Excellent! The lord and master has spoken.’

   Chloe drooped in her chair like a flower in dire need of water and he winced. He’d become a bad-tempered beast since the accident, but he hadn’t wanted her misunderstanding the gravity of that privacy clause.

   You all but accused her of wanting to sell pictures of you to the press.

   No, he hadn’t! He’d just made it plain where they stood.

   She shook her head. ‘And yet you don’t look happy about the arrangement.’

   ‘Since the accident that’s been his permanent expression,’ Stephanie said. ‘If he’s not careful, the wind will change and he’ll be stuck with a face like thunder forever.’

   Given his scars, what did it matter? ‘When did you say you were leaving?’ he growled.

   Chloe gurgled out a laugh. ‘I’m going to miss this sniping. Is that part of the job description?’

   ‘Absolutely,’ Stephanie said.

   At the same time as he said, ‘Don’t even think about it.’

   But some of the blackness of his mood lifted.

   ‘Are you really a lord?’ Chloe asked.

   ‘No, that’s simply what passes as a joke to Stephanie.’

   ‘I like her sense of humour.’

   So did he but he wouldn’t admit it, not even under threat of torture.

   ‘If it’s any consolation, the remuneration package will be very generous,’ he found himself saying.

   ‘Consolation for what—your bad temper?’ She stood. ‘I guess time will tell. If today is my last day of leisure, then I’m going for that walk and praying you’re right about it helping me beat the jet lag blues.’

   When she’d gone, Stephanie swung to him. ‘If you ever spoke to me the way you just spoke to that young woman, I’d resign on the spot. She doesn’t deserve your nasty suspicions or your rudeness. You’re turning into a bitter, bad-tempered man, Beau, and you need to do something about that.’

   ‘Why?’

   ‘Because this is no way to live! You shut yourself away here and what good is it doing you? You’re letting your talent go to waste—’

   ‘The world no longer wants my talent!’

Soon, though, he’d have his garden and perhaps his world wouldn’t look quite so bleak. Maybe then he’d find the resources to manage a semblance of politeness and civility.