Old Desires Online - Liz Fielding

CHAPTER ONE

‘MISS Carpenter?’

The enquiry was simply a formality. Holly had no doubt that the man on her doorstep, filling the entrance with his powerful presence, knew exactly who she was. In that, he had her at a disadvantage and she didn’t much care for it, or for the quite unmistakeable chill in his manner.

She had the feeling that, whatever the reason for his call, he would prefer not to be making it and she already wished she had kept to her usual habit of ignoring the doorbell when she was working. Except that this afternoon nothing was going right and she had almost welcomed the interruption.

Besides, one look had been enough to warn her that this man would not have simply given up and gone away. Determination was written in every austere, finely chiselled line of his face; an intensity of purpose that hardened the sensual curve of his full lower lip.

‘I’m Holly Carpenter,’ she affirmed with an unconscious lift of her chin, wondering what this arrogant and very expensively-groomed man could possibly want with her. The well-cut navy pin-striped suit gracing his square shoulders and lean, hard figure, and the telling pale blue stripe of his tie, betrayed that he was a long way from his City office. His method of transport, if the gleaming silver Rolls at the kerb could be described in so plebeian a manner, was already attracting curtain-twitching attention from a window opposite.

Under the disapproving gaze of a pair of wintry grey eyes her paint spattered smock, a rather grand word for a gaudy shirt bought at a jumble sale to cover her clothes while she worked, seemed faintly ridiculous.

She firmly resisted the urge to snatch it off and bundle it into the nearest corner. She resisted, too, the almost overwhelming desire to rub her hands down the back of her jeans to wipe away any lingering trace of paint. Maybe that was why he did not offer his hand when he introduced himself.

‘Joshua Kent,’ he said, extending a card between two fingers.

Holly took the slip of white paste-board.

It bore his name and a London address that added to the aura of wealth that surrounded the man, but told her nothing useful. A public school tie and haughty manner were insufficient reason for her to let a total stranger into her home when she was on her own.

‘What do you want, Mr Kent?’

‘A few moments of your time. I would have telephoned to make an appointment, but it seems that you aren’t listed.’ He did not bother to disguise what he thought of someone inconsiderate enough to have an unlisted number. Someone who lived in a very ordinary semi-detached house, in a very ordinary street.

‘I’m not listed, Mr Kent, because I don’t have a telephone. Sorry if that inconvenienced you, but I do have a letterbox. It’s an old-fashioned concept, I know, but there was nothing to stop you from writing a letter.’

‘My business is too urgent for a letter. I am here on behalf of Mary Graham.’ His mouth tightened, dangerously and the restrained anger in his voice was far more effective than any crude foot-in-door at halting her attempt to shut him out. ‘The late Mary Graham.’

‘Mary Graham?’ She frowned. She had only met her mother’s cousin once, but the occasion had left a dark imprint on her young mind. It had been her seventh birthday. She’d been having a party and everything had been wonderful until Mary Graham had arrived with the gift of a doll — a very expensive doll that she had wanted so much, begged for, but which her mother had said they could not afford. In her excitement, she had thrown her arms around the woman’s neck and hugged her. ‘She’s dead?’

‘She died the night before last.’ He was watchful, clearly expecting some response to this news. While she felt a natural sadness at hearing of the death of anyone, her mother was dead too and Mary Graham hadn’t come to her funeral.

She regarded him thoughtfully. She could usually read a face but his expression was guarded, as if her reaction was too important to be influenced by his own expectations and that bothered her.

For a long moment he returned her look, holding it with eyes grey and hard as cold steel, as if searching for her soul. When at last he nodded, as if he had seen enough, she took an instinctive step back, unconsciously seeking the reassurance of her own roof-tree above her.

‘What do you want?’ she