In Separate Bedrooms

By: Carole Mortimer

CHAPTER ONE


‘THE man is nothing but a womaniser!’ Mattie told her mother, every inch of her slender five-feet-two-inch-frame bristling with emotion, blue eyes sparkling brightly in the delicate beauty of her heart-shaped face. Even her wild mane of tawny-coloured, below shoulder-length hair seemed to spark with the intensity of her indignation.

‘Mattie, it sounds to me as if you’ve made another one of your snap judgements,’ her mother admonished lightly as she sat behind her desk. ‘And we both know how often they’ve been wrong in the past,’ she added. ‘Besides, Mattie,’ she continued gently, ‘are you sure you aren’t just overreacting because after dating Richard for three months last year you found out he was actually engaged to marry someone else?’

In truth, Mattie preferred not to think of the humiliation she had felt when Richard had informed her they couldn’t see each other any more because he was getting married the following week!

‘Although, from what you’ve told me about him, this man does sound a little—free with his company,’ her mother conceded as Mattie went on looking fretful.

‘A little?’ Mattie repeated disgustedly. ‘I told you, the man has four women on the go, Mum. Four!’ she echoed incredulously. ‘And three of them appear to be married.’

‘Then they ought to know better,’ her mother dismissed, an older, slightly plumper version of her pretty daughter. ‘I’m afraid it’s a fact of life that some men seem to think there’s safety in numbers!’

Mattie frowned. ‘Safety from what?’

‘Marriage-minded women, usually.’ Her mother smiled wryly.

‘What woman in her right mind could possibly want to marry a man like that?’ Mattie scorned. ‘He’s nothing but a greedy pig!’

‘Personally, I think he ought to be taken out into the streets and publicly whipped,’ drawled a huskily amused—distinctly male!—voice.

Mattie froze where she stood in front of the desk behind which her mother sat working, very reluctant to turn round, her face bright red with embarrassment. She had been totally unaware that their conversation was being listened to—and by a man, of all people!

Her mother felt no such awkwardness, smiling across the room at the man as she stood up to move around her desk. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Jack Beauchamp,’ the man introduced. ‘I telephoned you yesterday about the possibility of booking my dog in here next weekend. You suggested I come and have a look round first,’ he reminded her.

Mattie’s face went pale. This man was a potential customer—at least, his dog was!—at her mother’s boarding-kennels …?

‘I hope I’m not interrupting anything …?’ he added with light query. ‘You did say I could call in some time on Sunday afternoon.’

Mattie swallowed hard, desperately willing the colour back into her cheeks, knowing she had never felt so mortified—and uncomfortable—in her life.

‘Of course, Mr Beauchamp,’ her mother replied smoothly. ‘I’ll be quite happy to show you round. You have a Bearded Collie, I believe?’

Good old Mum. Mattie smiled affectionately; she never forgot a dog or its breed—although very often the owners were another matter entirely.

‘Harry,’ Jack Beauchamp confirmed. ‘But if you’re busy, I’m quite happy for your assistant to show me round …?’

Assistant? Yes, that was probably exactly what she seemed to this man, Mattie conceded. After all, she was dressed in jeans and skimpy blue tee shirt, ideal wear for working in the kennels. In fact, she usually gave her mother a hand on Sundays. It just wasn’t what she did the rest of the week …

She drew in a deep breath before turning, her breath catching in her throat as she found herself looking at the most attractive man she had ever set her deep blue eyes on!

Probably aged in his early thirties, tall, and leanly built, his dark hair kept fashionably short, he had the deepest brown eyes Mattie had ever seen. Like liquid chocolate, she decided. Warm.

Caressing. Fathomless. And the rest of his face wasn’t bad, either, she conceded grudgingly; lean and tanned, his nose looking as if it might have been broken some years back, his mouth full and smiling, only the stubborn set of the chin belying his relaxed pose in a black tee shirt and dark blue denims.

‘I would be happy to show you around, Mr Beauchamp.’ She nodded coolly. ‘As you say, my mother is rather busy at the moment,’ she finished pointedly.

‘Ah.’ He nodded, those deep brown eyes openly laughing at her now, at her subtle correction of who she was.

No ‘I’m sorry for the mistake.’ No polite ‘I should have realized, the two of you are very alike.’ Just that slightly mocking ‘ah’!

‘Oh, but—’

‘Do please carry on with what you were doing, Mum,’ Mattie interrupted firmly, her hackles very definitely up. ‘I’m sure Mr Beauchamp and I can manage very well together.’

Her mother shot her a worriedly questioning look. A look Mattie met with an innocent raise of her tawny brows. Her mother probably didn’t realize it, but Mattie was in just the mood to deal with the over-confident Mr Beauchamp! Or perhaps, after their recent conversation, about greedy pigs, her mother did realize it, and that was why she was looking so worried …

The boarding-kennels had been going through a hard time in the last year, too many people seeing the opportunity to run their own business from their own home, and jumping on the bandwagon, having no real idea of the hard work involved, the long hours of business, being on call twenty-four hours a day to their furry charges.

But The Woofdorf was, as its name implied, a superior boarding-kennels in Mattie’s—biased?—opinion and had been her mother’s pride and joy for the last twenty years. A fact Jack Beauchamp—although he didn’t realize it—was about to find out.

She gave him a withering look. ‘If you would like to follow me, Mr Beauchamp, I will show you our indoor accommodation for our guests.’

‘Blow in my ear, and I’ll follow you anywhere.’

Mattie turned sharply at these startling words, frowning darkly as she found Jack Beauchamp had taken her literally concerning the instruction ‘follow me’, and he was now standing so close to her she found herself with her nose almost pressed against the muscled hardness of his chest.

She took an involuntary step backwards before answering him. ‘I beg your pardon?’ Surely he couldn’t really have said what she had thought he had—murmured, really; her mother, smiling after them politely, certainly didn’t seem to have heard those provocative words.

Jack Beauchamp’s gaze met hers with unblinking innocence. ‘I said the weather is very pleasant for this time of year,’ he said pleasantly, dark gaze laughingly challenging. In fact, the man seemed to have been inwardly laughing at her since the moment he’d interrupted her conversation with her mother.

And Mattie didn’t believe for a moment that he had said what he claimed he had!

‘After you, Mr Beauchamp,’ she invited stiffly as she pointedly held the door open for him to precede her outside.

‘No, after you, Miss Crawford.’ He gave a mocking inclination of his dark head.

Mattie was sure it wasn’t an accident that, just as she was about to go through the doorway, he decided to go through it too, crushing her back up against the doorframe, the softness of her shapely curves pressed against his body from chest to thigh.

‘Sorry,’ she muttered as the two of them popped through the doorway together like a cork from a champagne bottle.

‘My pleasure,’ he drawled, his dark gaze definitely mocking now as the two of them stood outside in the spring sunshine.

She would just bet it was, her whole body tingling from the unexpected contact with his, even more convinced as he gave a disarming grin that he had done it on purpose.

‘Perhaps if you didn’t follow quite so closely, Mr Beauchamp …’ she said tersely.

His mouth was still curved into that increasingly infuriating smile. ‘I’ll try not to, Miss Crawford,’ he obeyed as he followed her down the flowered pathway to the indoor kennels. ‘You seem slightly familiar,’ he murmured quizzically after several seconds. ‘Could we possibly have met before?’

Mattie drew in a deep breath. Could he possibly have realized what she really did for a living, how the two of them had in fact met? If he had, then it wasn’t going to take too much guesswork on his part to add two and two together and come up with the required four. Nothing for it; for the sake of her mother’s business, she would just have to deny all knowledge!

She glanced back to answer him—only to find his gaze very firmly fixed on the graceful sway of her hips as she walked.

Well, really! Didn’t the man ever switch from flirtation mode down to coasting? Today, at least, she was the equivalent of a kennel-maid, for goodness’ sake!

‘Somehow I very much doubt that we move in the same social circles, Mr Beauchamp,’ she responded.

‘I don’t have a social circle, Miss Crawford,’ he drawled. ‘No, I’m sure I’ve never met you at a party or anything like that,’ he continued slowly, dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he now studied the delicate beauty of her face. ‘I just have a feeling of—familiarity.’ He gave a rueful shrug.

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