When Faye Wakefield runs a competition offering nine lucky winners a two-week holiday at her beautiful farmhouse retreat in Cornwall, she promises an experience they will never forget. However, even Faye could not have imagined how bringing these people together would change their lives forever.
Just as she hoped, the competition yields a diverse mixture of characters: a shy young woman with troubled eyes, a womanizing business tycoon, an interior designer ruled by her need for independence, a retired nurse, and an Irishman with an affiliation for the whisky bottle. Yet, as sparks begin to fly and the guests share their long-suppressed secrets, only Faye knows of her ulterior motive for inviting them all under her roof.
Huddled on her bed, Leah stared out at the rain splattering against the window and oozing down it like the trails of some invisible slug. A single question chased itself endlessly around her head. What was the matter with her? What was it that drew men like Alan Philips and Marcus Armitage? Was it simply that she gave the impression of being a soft target? Worse still, as Marcus had intimated, could she be sending out signals without even realizing? Did she possess some subconscious malice that drove her to lead men on and then reject them?
A tap interrupted her thoughts. “Leah, it’s Will. Would you mind opening the door? I’ve got my hands full.”
“Just a minute,” Leah called. Relieved that it wasn’t Faye, who would be liable to fuss, she stretched her stiff limbs and went to let him in.
“Your room service has arrived, Madam.” Grinning, Will held up a loaded tray. “Faye sent me up with some lunch. Actually, I think she wanted me to check if you were all right.” He peered at her more closely. “You look awful.”
“Thanks a lot.” Leah eyed the large pile of sandwiches and the two mugs. “Exactly how hungry did Faye think I was?”
Will looked sheepish. “I thought you could use some company. Don’t mind, do you?”
“I’m sure I can bear it.” Leah managed a watery smile, moving aside so he could set the tray on the bedside table. She flopped back against the headboard and accepted a sandwich, though she wasn’t remotely hungry.
Will sat on the bed beside her. “So, going to tell me why you’ve been hiding away up here?”
“I haven’t been hiding.”
“Could’ve fooled me. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Leah studied Will’s kind, open face. “All right, but you’ll probably think I’m being silly,” she said, and described how Marcus had found her alone in the kitchen that morning.
“Did he try anything?” Will cut in. “’Cause if he did, I swear I’ll…”
“It’s okay, nothing happened. That is, Marcus did try to kiss me, but he didn’t get anywhere.”
“The bastard! I’ll kill him.”
“Will, please,” Leah implored. “I don’t want any trouble. Besides, I doubt he’ll be bothering me again.”
“What makes you say that?” Will was still frowning.
Leah couldn’t resist a smile. “I slapped him. Around the face.”
“I did. I never meant to, but, well, I had to stop him somehow.”
“Hey, you don’t have to excuse yourself to me. I bet Marcus was livid, was he?”
“I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I should think so, though, especially as I spilled coffee all over his posh trousers.”
“Nice one.” Will laughed. “That will have taught our resident millionaire a lesson.”
For a moment, Leah basked in Will’s admiration. Then the doubts came flooding back and her smile faded.
“What is it?” Will asked. “Not wasting time feeling sorry for that smarmy git, I hope.”
“It isn’t that.” She sipped her tea, searching for the right words. “It’s just, I think it was all my fault.”
“Well, Marcus seemed so convinced I liked him. He said it was obvious how I felt because of the way I’d behaved towards him the whole time we’ve been here, but I can’t remember doing anything. I suppose I must have encouraged him without meaning to.”
Leah bit her lip, staring into her mug. A moment later, it was removed from her fingers and she glanced up. Will set her mug on the tray, before taking her hands.
“Leah, listen to me. Marcus is convinced every member of the opposite sex is in love with him. It wouldn’t matter if you went round carrying a sign saying ‘Marcus Armitage, keep out’. He’d still have deluded himself you were just playing hard to get.”
“Are you sure?” Desperate to believe him, Leah scoured his face.
Will put his arm around her. “Do you really think I’d go to all this trouble to lie to you?”
“I suppose not.” Finally, the knots of tension loosened their grip on her muscles and Leah rested her head on his chest. With his arm around her and his heart thumping against her cheek, she felt safe—safer, in fact, than she could recall feeling in years.
They stayed like that for a long time. Then, as though emerging from a dream, Leah’s senses reassembled themselves. Suddenly, she became aware of Will’s proximity and the emotions stirring within her. What on earth was she playing at? Had she lost her mind? Wrenching herself free of him, she rolled to the far side of the bed and stood.
“You can go now,” Leah said, barely recognizing the cold voice as her own.
Confusion creased Will’s forehead. “But, Leah, I don’t…”
“Thanks for the lunch,” she went on as though addressing a stranger, “and for listening to me, but I’m fine now.”
“At least tell me what I’ve done to upset you.”
“You haven’t done anything. I just want to be alone.”
“Okay.” Will got to his feet. “If you’re sure there’s nothing I can do…”
“For God’s sake, Will,” Leah snarled, “can’t you tell when you’re not wanted? Just stop pestering me and go away.”
There was a horrible silence. Sickened with herself, Leah turned her back on him so that she wouldn’t have to see the hurt in his eyes. At last, she heard the clatter of crockery and his slow tread moving towards the door.
“I’ll get out of your hair then,” he said, his tone flat. “Sorry if you think I’ve been hassling you. I never meant to.”
Once he had gone, Leah collapsed sobbing on the bed. How could she have behaved like such a cow? Will had been so kind and understanding, and what had she done? She’d chucked it back in his face. She had shown Will how hateful she really was, and now he would want nothing more to do with her. Worst of all, she knew it served her right.