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Мортимер Кэрол

Heaven Here On Earth

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CHAPTER THREE

Ryan thrust her feet into her slippers and ran down the stairs in an effort to get down quickly and stop Ragtag making that terrible noise.

What on earth had upset him now? He had seemed all right when she had taken out his second bowl of food earlier, had been settling down for a sleep when she had left him. There was more to being a dog-owner than she had realised!

There was a bright moon tonight, and once her eyes became accustomed to the light she could see clearly. Ragtag sat in the open stable doorway, stopping his howling to give her a sorrowful look as she reached his side.

‘It’s no good looking at me like that,’ she scolded. ‘You’re disturbing everyone!’ Including the horses, by the sound of it, she could hear them snorting and shuffling about in their stalls. ‘Now what’s the matter?’ she pretended anger, although really her heart had softened as soon as he licked her hand. ‘Why don’t you go to sleep?’ she added pleadingly. ‘I’m feeling tired, even if you aren’t.’

He seemed calm enough now that she was down here with him. But as soon as she turned to leave he set up the howling again.

She hurried back to his side. ‘Stop it, Ragtag!’ she instructed crossly. ‘I can’t stay down here with you all night,’ she murmured into his fur as she bent down to cuddle him after her show of anger. He had looked so hurt! ‘Unless you would like me to sleep in the stable too?’ she sighed.

‘It might keep the dog quiet,’ drawled the familiar voice of Grant Montgomery, ‘but I don’t think it’s a good idea.’

Ryan spun round, almost falling over in her haste. And it was embarrassing enough already without that!

She hadn’t thought she would see anyone, had thought everyone else was in bed, and her cotton nightgown was hardly adequate clothing to be wearing in front of a man she had only met this afternoon. Not that he could see through the white material, and the style was very demure, it just put her at a complete disadvantage—besides making her feel utterly ridiculous!

She stood up slowly, quietening Ragtag as he began to growl. Whenever Grant put in an appearance he began to growl, and although she might feel like doing the same herself on occasion, it was still embarrassing that he only did it to this man.

She gave Grant a nervy smile. ‘I was only joking.’

His mouth twisted. ‘I should hope so!’

He might have gone to his room several minutes ago, but he was still wearing the black trousers to his dinner suit, the jacket had been discarded, his tie had gone too, and several buttons on his shirt were undone. He had probably been undressing for his shower when he heard Ragtag.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ He looked down at the now quiet dog.

‘I—He doesn’t seem to like sleeping on his own.’

‘Do any of us?’ he drawled huskily.

Ryan blushed deeply red. It was as if Grant had picked up the intimacy of the situation from her; his whole manner was different from the way he had behaved earlier today, reminding her of those probing glances he had been giving her all through dinner. She had later dismissed those looks as just her imagination, now she wasn’t so sure.

But surely Valerie Chatham could more than satisfy him physically. He had taken the other woman out over two hours ago, but that didn’t mean they had been at the party all that time. His remark about not sleeping alone seemed to confirm her belief that he and Valerie were lovers. Then why was he looking at her like this?

‘Ryan?’ he prompted softly at her lengthy silence.

‘I—I don’t know what to do with him,’ she stumbled over her words, feelings decidedly uncomfortable now. The nightgown might be a modest one, but she, at least, was aware that she was naked beneath it. She had a feeling Grant knew she was too.

‘He won’t sleep down here?’

She grimaced. ‘It doesn’t look like it.’

‘Then take him to your room,’ he shrugged.

Her eyes widened. ‘Rex and Riba,’ she reminded him. Having met the two dogs earlier, a beautiful pair of Golden Labradors, she could quite understand their disgust with the disreputable Ragtag.

‘They won’t even know he’s in the house if you keep him in your room,’ Grant answered.

‘But he’s dirty—–’

‘Do you want to take him into the house or don’t you?’ he snapped his impatience.

‘I do—of course I do,’ she blushed.

‘Then do so.’ He turned on his heel and walked off.

Ryan watched him go in dismay. He had been attempting to be friendly, and she had bungled it.

‘Come on, Ragtag,’ she said dejectedly, ‘let’s get to bed.’

He seemed quite happy now he was to come into the house, making her wonder at the ease with which he had got his own way. He might be scruffy to look at, but it didn’t prevent him achieving his objective. Although she had to admit to being slightly surprised at the way Grant Montgomery had given in. After his earlier attitude she had thought he wished both Ragtag and herself far away from here.

She was even more surprised when she went into the kitchen to find him in there.

‘Coffee,’ he explained as he turned from the percolator, and his eyes narrowed as he looked at her in the full light. ‘I think you could do with some too,’ he derided her chattering teeth. ‘It might be April, Ryan, but it’s hardly warm enough at night to walk about like that.’

She had realised that as soon as she entered the warm kitchen; the cold seemed to have entered her bones. ‘I was in a hurry to stop Ragtag,’ she blushed.

‘Well, now you can relax. Sit down.’

‘Oh no! I—I’m not dressed.’

Mockery deepened the deep green of his eyes. ‘I don’t mind if you don’t,’ he drawled, putting the two cups of coffee on the kitchen table.

It smelt delicious, and she did need warming up. But she couldn’t sit down with him like this. What if someone should come in? Mandy, for example. What construction would she put on the situation? ‘I’ll go and put my housecoat on,’ she decided firmly.

‘Please yourself,’ Grant shrugged, sitting down to drink his own coffee. ‘Or take it with you if you want to.’

She didn’t particularly want to. Her tiredness of earlier had passed, and besides, it seemed churlish of her after he had allowed Ragtag in the house. ‘I’ll only be a moment,’ she said softly.

He seemed not to hear her, his hands cupping the mug as he slowly sipped the hot drink, his thoughts inwards. Ryan had an impression of loneliness in that moment, which was ridiculous in the circumstances. Grant had numerous servants, a brother and sister who loved him, and Valerie, who certainly wanted to marry him. He didn’t need her sympathy!

Ragtag lost no time in jumping on to the bottom of her bed once they reached her room, resisting all her efforts to push him off. ‘That bedspread is pink, you silly dog!’ she groaned, knowing that it wouldn’t be pink much longer. ‘Get off,’ she ordered firmly, having to witness the indignity of the dog falling asleep even as she spoke to him. ‘Having Grant Montgomery see me like this was all your fault, and you have the nerve to go to sleep!’ She might as well have saved her breath, for the dog didn’t even twitch an ear. ‘I’ll remember this next feeding time!’ she warned him as she left, adequately covered by her housecoat now.

Grant had moved to pour himself another cup of coffee, the mockery still in his eyes as he took in the navy blue robe. ‘Feel better?’ he taunted.

‘Yes, thank you.’ She avoided his gaze, stirring sugar into her cooling coffee.

‘Where’s the dog?’ He sat down opposite her.

‘Asleep upstairs,’ she grimaced.

‘He likes his creature comforts.’ His mouth quirked.

‘Yes.’

‘So, how long have you known Mark?’ The question was casually put, and yet the green eyes had norrowed intently.

‘About eighteen months,’ she replied as casually.

‘Strange, he’s never mentioned you before.’

Ryan withstood his steely look with a calm that was only a veneer. Grant’s politeness was only as skin-deep as Mandy’s had been, he liked her no better than his sister did. ‘Maybe I wasn’t important enough,’ she shrugged.

‘Perhaps,’ he nodded. ‘Although that doesn’t appear to be the case now.

She put her cup down, sighing. ‘Look, maybe I should tell you, Mark is—–’

‘You don’t owe me any explanations, Ryan,’ he interrupted. ‘If there are any to be made Mark will make them.’ His tone was inflexible, there was a hard anger in his face.

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