Excerpt: One-Night Mistress … Convenient Wife
Book 8: Beware of Greeks Series
Natalie pulled her car into the garage below her mother’s apartment, shut off the engine – and felt a panic unlike anything she’d felt in the last three years.
“Wholly unnecessary,” she told herself firmly out loud because the truth of the assertion stood a better chance of making it past her nerves if she heard the spoken words. If she heard them, she thought, she might even believe them.
Actually, in her mind she did believe them.
But what she believed logically and what her guts were telling her was not even close to the same thing.
“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “It is absolutely no big deal.”
And it wasn’t. She was cat-sitting, for goodness’ sake! She was watering a few plants, and living in her mother’s apartment for two or three weeks because her mother had to go to Iowa to take care of her own mother after a hip replacement operation. And while the cat was portable, the seven foot rubber tree plant was not.
“Harry was supposed to do it,” Laura Ross had explained apologetically on the phone very early this morning. “You know, the boy across the way? But he broke his leg skateboarding last night. Spiral fracture, his mother said. Not even a walking cast yet. I’m sorry to have to ask you – “
”No. It’s all right,” Natalie had made herself say. “Of course I’ll do it. I’ll be glad to,” she’d lied.
So here she was.
All she had to do was open the door, get out of the car, go around the building, up the steps to her mother’s apartment, open the door and go in.
She’d already done it once already today, for goodness’ sake. She’d come to pick her mother up to take her to the airport late this morning and it had been perfectly straightforward. No worries at all.
Because there had been no danger of running into Christo Savas then.
Chances were, Natalie assured herself, she wouldn’t run into him now, either.
What was the possibility, after all, that she would be rounding the building to go up the stairs at the very moment her mother’s landlord – and boss – was coming up the walk to his house or stepping out on his back porch?
Slim, she decided. None was preferable, of course. Please God she would not see him at all these next two or three weeks.
But even if she did, she reminded herself, she was an adult. She could smile at him politely and go her own way. And it didn’t matter what he would be thinking. It didn’t matter at all!
“Right,” she said now in the no-nonsense tone her mother had used all the time Natalie was growing up. “Grass never gets cut by looking at the mower,” she would say when Natalie or her brother Dan balked at doing the chore. It had since become a family slogan applied to any reluctance to get the job done. Laura would be saying it now.
Of course her mother had no idea why Natalie had spent the last three years avoiding Christo Savas – and she never would.
Taking one last deep breath, Natalie got out of the car, being careful not to let the door bump against Christo’s Jaguar next to it. It was the same one he’d had three years ago.
Once she’d ridden in that car with the top down, had tipped her head back and felt the wind in her hair, had laughed and slanted a glance at the man driving and dared to dream ridiculous dreams.
Now she turned away and shut her own car door with a bit more firmness than absolutely necessary. Then she opened the back, grabbed out her laptop case and the suitcase with the clothes she’d brought, shut it, and, heart still pounding more rapidly than she wished, she opened the door to the small walled garden.
It was empty.
She breathed again. Then, with barely a glance toward Christo’s big house on the far side of what her mother had turned into the closest thing Southern California probably had to an ‘olde English garden,’ she made a sharp right and quickly climbed the wooden stairs that led to Laura’s apartment over the garage.
Once on the porch, she had a view down the broad sidewalk street that led to The Strand and the beach beyond. It was empty. She set down her suitcase and laptop and fumbled in her purse for her mother’s key.
It was nearly six. Her mother said Christo usually went surfing right after work – “to decompress,” Laura had told her – and then came back for dinner which they ate at six thirty.
“You eat with him?” Natalie had said this afternoon when her mother imparted this surprising information. Her brows had lifted in dismay – and consternation.
Laura had gone right on packing her bags. “I don’t like cooking for one.”
“You cook for him?”
“I cook for myself,” her mother told her primly in the face of Natalie’s undisguised disapproval. “And I make enough for two.”
“Well, I’m not cooking for him,” Natalie said firmly.
“Of course not.” Her mother dismissed the notion. “He wouldn’t expect it.”
No, Natalie thought, and he wouldn’t want it, either.
“He doesn’t even know you’re going to be here,” her mother had gone on, brightening Natalie’s day considerably. “He knew I had arranged for Harry to come. But when Carol, Harry’s mother called this morning, I didn’t even tell Christo that because I knew he’d feel responsible. He’d think he needed to take care of Herbie and do the plants, and he couldn’t possibly. He’s much too busy for that.”
Well, perhaps the day wasn’t all that bright. But Natalie knew her mother was telling the truth. She didn’t have to be reminded how hard Christo Savas worked. She’d seen it first hand. And if he didn’t know she was here, even better. Perhaps she could keep it that way.
Her fingers found the ring of keys. She picked out her mother’s, stuck it in the keyhole, gave it a twist, and pushed open the door. Then with one last quick glance down toward the ocean where, yes indeed, she could see silhouetted against the bright sun, a muscular man with a surfboard just coming up the beach, she picked up her laptop and her suitcase, hurried inside and banged the door.
In the blessed shadowed coolness of the small entry way she dropped her bags, shut her eyes and took a deep relieved breath.
“Natalie?” The voice was gruff, masculine and sounded as shocked and disbelieving as her own ears were.
Her eyes snapped open. She blinked rapidly, trying to accustom them to the dim indoor light, to see the cool empty living room she expected, to see Herbie the cat whom she expected.
Not to see the man who had been crouched by the fireplace and was now straightening, drawing himself up to his full six feet two inches and staring at her with narrowed suspicious eyes.
Her mouth felt as if someone had suddenly dumped a pail full of sand in it. “Christo?” She barely choked his name out. Then she frowned, too.
Their gazes met, locked. And then, in unison, “What the hell are you doing here?”