If ever there had ever been a moment to follow grandma’s example and check
her reflection in the mirror before she opened the front door, Elle
decided, this was it.
On her knees and up to her Marigolds in soapy water when the door bell
rang she hadn’t bothered to stop and fix hair sliding out of its elastic
band. And there wasn’t much she could have done about a face pink and
shiny from a day spent catching up with the housework while everyone was
out, culminating in scrubbing the kitchen floor.
It was the complete Cinderella workout.
She couldn’t afford a fancy gym membership and, as she was always telling
her sisters, cleaning was a lot more productive than pounding a
treadmill. Not that they’d ever been sufficiently impressed by the
argument to join in.
Even sweaty lycra had to be a better look than an ancient shirt tied
around the waist with an equally geriatric psychedelic tie. Sexier than
the jeans bagging damply around her knees.
It wouldn’t normally have bothered her and, to be fair, the man standing
on the doorstep hadn’t made much of an effort, either. His thick dark
hair was sticking up in a just-got-out-of-bed look and his chin was
darkened with what might be designer stubble but was more likely to be a
disinclination to shave on Saturday, when he didn’t have to go into the
Always assuming that he had an office to go to. Or a job.
Like her, he was wearing ancient jeans, in his case topped with a t-shirt
that should have been banished to the duster box. The difference was,
that on him it looked mouth-wateringly good. So good that she barely
noticed that he’d made free with a name she’d been trying to keep to
herself since she’d started kindergarten.
Swiftly peeling off the yellow rubber gloves she’d kept on as a “sorry,
can’t stop” defence against one of the neighbours dropping by with some
excuse to have a nose around, entertain the post office queue with insider
gossip on just how bad things were at Gable End, she tossed them
carelessly over her shoulder.
‘Who wants to know?’ she asked.
Her hormones might be ready to throw caution to the wind – they were Amery
hormones, after all – but while they might have escaped into the yard for
a little exercise, she wasn’t about to let them go “walkies”.
His voice matched the looks. Low, sexy, soft as Irish mist. And her
hormones flung themselves at the gate like a half-grown puppy in a
let-me-at-him response as he offered his hand.
Cool, a little rough, reassuringly large, it swallowed hers up as she took
it without thinking, said, ‘How d’you do?’ in a voice perilously close to
the one her grandmother used when she met a good looking man. With that
hint of breathiness that spelled trouble.
‘I’m doing just fine,’ he replied, his slow smile obliterating all memory
of the way she looked. Her hair, the lack of makeup and damp knees. It
crinkled around those mesmerisingly blue eyes and fanned out comfortably
in a way that suggested they felt right at home there.
Elle had begun to believe that she’d bypassed the genetic tick that
reduced all Amery women to putty in the presence of a good looking man.
Caught off guard, she discovered that she’d been fooling herself.
The only reason she’d escaped so far, it seemed, was because until this
moment she hadn’t met a man with eyes of that particularly intense shade
A man with shoulders wide enough to carry the troubles of the world and
tall enough not to make her feel awkward about her height, which had been
giving her a hard time since she’d hit a growth spurt somewhere around her
twelfth birthday. With a voice that seemed to whisper right through her
bones until it reached her toes.
Even now they were curling inside her old trainers in pure ecstasy.
He epitomised the casual, devil-may-care, bad-boy look of the travelling
men who, for centuries, had arrived on the village common in the first
week of June with the annual fair and departed a few days later, leaving a
trail of broken hearts and the occasional fatherless baby in their wake.
But riveted to the spot, her hand in his, all it needed was for fairground
waltzer music to start up in the background and she’d have been twirling
away on a fluffy pink cloud without a thought in her head.
The realisation was enough to bring her crashing back to her senses and
letting go of his hand, took half a step back.
‘What do you want, Mr McElroy?’
His eyebrows lifted a fraction at the swift change from drooling welcome
to defensive aggression.
‘Not a what, a who. I have a delivery for Lovage Amery.’
Back to earth with a bump.
She hadn’t ordered anything – she couldn’t afford anything that would
require delivery - but she had a grandmother who lived in a fantasy
world. And her name was Lovage, too.
But all the questions tumbling out of her brain — the what, the who, the
“how much” stuff — hit a traffic jam as his smile widened, reaching the
parts that ordinary smiles couldn’t touch.
Her pulse, her knees, some point just below her midriff that was slowly
dissolving to jelly.
‘If you’ll just take this…’
She looked down and discovered that this delectable, sinewy package that
had those drooling hormones sitting up and begging for whatever trouble he
had in mind, was offering her a large brown envelope.
The last time one of those had come calling for “Lovage Amery” she’d taken
it without a concern in the world, smiling right back at the man offering
it to her.
She’d been younger then. About to start college, embark on her future,
unaware that life had yet one more sucker punch to throw at her.
‘What is it?’ she asked, regretting the abandonment of the rubber gloves.
Regretting answering the door.
‘Rosie,’ he said. As if that explained everything. ‘You are expecting
She must have looked as blank as she felt because he half turned and with
a careless wave of the envelope, gestured towards the side of the house.
She leaned forward just far enough to see the front of a large pink and
white van that had been backed up towards the garage.
She stared at it, expecting to see some disreputable dog sticking its head
out of the window. She’d banned her sister from bringing home any more
strays from the rescue shelter. The last one had broken not only their
hearts, but what remained of their bank balance. But Geli was not above
getting someone else to do her dirty work.
‘Where is she?’ she asked. Then, realising this practically constituted
an acceptance, ‘No. Whatever Geli said, I can’t possibly take another
dog. The vet’s bills for the last one -’
‘Rosie isn’t a dog,’ he said, and now he was the one looking confused.
She frowned, stared at the picture of an ice cream sundae on the van door,
little cones on the roof and suddenly realised what she was looking at.
‘Rosie is an ice cream van?’
Elle frowned. Congratulations? Had she won it in one of the many
competitions she’d entered in a fit of post-Christmas despair when the
washing machine had sprung a leak on the same day as the electricity bill
She hadn’t had any warning of its arrival. No phone call. No letter
informing her of her good fortune. Which was understandable.
This would have to be the booby prize because desperate as she was, she
wouldn’t have entered a competition offering a second hand ice cream van
as first prize.
She wouldn’t have entered one offering a new ice cream van, but at
least she could have sold it and bought a new washing machine, one with a
low energy program — thus dealing with two problems at once — with the
While unfamiliar with the latest trends in transport, even she could see
that Rosie’s lines were distinctly last century.
Already the sorry owner of an ancient car that had failed its annual
roadworthy test with a list of faults a mile long. The last thing she
needed was to be lumbered with more scrap.
‘Congratulations?’ she repeated.
‘You appear to have twenty-twenty vision.’
‘A very old ice cream van,’ she pointed out, doing her best to
ignore the gotcha grin, the faded black t-shirt clinging to those enticing
shoulders and figure out what the heck was going on.
‘Well spotted. She’s a 1962 Commer ice cream van in her original livery,’
he said, without a hint of apology. On the contrary, he seemed to be
under the impression that it was a good thing.
It beat the wreck in the garage, which had rolled off the assembly line
when she was still in primary school, by thirty years. That was a
stripling youth compared to Rosie, which had taken to the road when her
grandmother was still in school.
‘The old girl’s vintage,’ Sean confirmed. ‘She’s your Great Uncle Basil’s
pride and joy, but right now she’s in need of a good home.’
As he said this, he looked over her shoulder into the house, no doubt
intending to emphasize the point.
He didn’t visibly flinch but the hall, like the rest of the house, was
desperately in need of a coat of paint. It was also piled up with
discarded shoes, coats and all the other stuff that teenagers seemed to
think belonged on the floor. And of course, her rubber gloves.
That was the bad news.
The good news was that he couldn’t see where the carpet had been chewed by
the dog that had caused them all so much grief.
‘Vintage,’ she repeated sharply, forcing him to look at her instead of the
mess behind her. ‘Well, it would certainly fit right in around here.
There’s just one small problem.’
More than one if she was being honest and honestly, despite the fact that
the aged family car had failed its annual test and she was desperate for
some transport, she wasn’t prepared to take possession of a vehicle that
was short on seats and heavy on fuel.
Walking, as she was always telling her sisters, is good for you. Shapes
up the legs. Pumps blood around the body and makes the brain work
harder. And they all had a duty to planet to walk more. Or use public
She walked. They used public transport.
There was absolutely no chance that either of them would consider using
the bike when it meant wearing an unflattering helmet and looking, in
their words, “like a dork” when they arrived at school and college,
‘Which is?’ he prompted.
She didn’t bother him with the financial downside of her situation, but
kept it simple.
‘I don’t have a Great Uncle Basil.’
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From the book
TEMPTED BY TROUBLE by Liz Fielding
Text Copyright © 2010
by Liz Fielding
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2010 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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