Shifting his weight away from the doorframe, he walked slowly across the room, stopping at the end of the bed.
‘I think you’ll find that’s my line,’ he said coldly.
* * *
Watching the woman’s pale face stiffen with shock and panic, Arlo Milburn felt his jaw tighten. The last few days had been some of the most stressful and frustrating in his life.
He’d been on his way from the research station on the Brunt Ice Shelf to speak at a climate conference in Nairobi. It was an important conference. They all were. But when they’d landed at Durban one of the engineers had spotted an electrical fault on the plane, so instead he’d spent eight hours pacing the hangar, missing his connecting flight and his chance to speak.
And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Emma—his extremely efficient assistant—had called to tell him that she had broken her arm and was going to be off work for at least six weeks.
Thwarted at every turn, he’d randomly decided to come home.
Thanks to the frenetic arrival of Storm Delia on British shores, his journey had been plagued with even more delays. He was cold, wet, and tired, and he wanted to go to bed.
Only his bed was already taken.
By some unknown female who looked as if she had stepped out of that painting by Titian in the entrance hall. Except she was wielding a cricket bat.
Arlo scowled. ‘Well? Why are you here? In my house? In my bed? And make it quick—otherwise I will call the police, and unlike you I won’t be bluffing.’
He felt a rush of gratification as a faint flush of colour spread over her cheeks.
‘Stop interrogating me like some sergeant-major,’ she snapped. ‘You’re not in the army now.’
His gaze narrowed. ‘I never was. I was a marine. That’s the navy. And I was a captain, not a sergeant-major.’
She gave him a withering look. ‘Fine...whatever. I thought Johnny had spoken to you.’ She bit her lip, doing a good impression of confusion and dismay. ‘He said he’d called you.’
Johnny. But of course—
Arlo’s jaw clenched and he swore under his breath, wondering what else his brother had told this woman. He’d been taking care of Johnny ever since their grief-stricken father had retreated to his artist’s studio after their mother died, and he loved him unconditionally. But his brother was not without his flaws.
Poor timekeeping. A failure to do what he said he would do. And, last but not least, his refusal to judge a book by its cover—something this scheming little redhead had clearly spotted and mined to her advantage.
‘Where is he?’ he demanded.
She blinked; her mouth was trembling. ‘I don’t know exactly.’
Her eyes locked on his, and for a split second he forgot his anger, forgot that he was cold and tired. Instead, he stared at her mutely, held captive by the blue of those eyes.
It was the same blue as an Antarctic summer sky. The kind of blue that almost verged on purple, like the flowers on the fragrant, woody rosemary that grew so abundantly in the Hall’s kitchen garden.
Maybe that was why he was having to dig his heels into the faded Afghan carpet to stop himself from leaning over and inhaling her scent.
His breath hitched. Johnny was never without a woman in his life. As soon as he’d become a teenager a constant stream of interchangeable leggy girls had started trailing after him, and that hadn’t changed as an adult. But for some reason the idea of his little brother and this particular woman put his back up.
Probably because she was an impudent little madam who had no doubt been bowling men over with that look her entire life.
Not him, though.
His back straightened. ‘Look, I’ve spent the last two days in trains, planes, and taxis. I’m cold and tired and I nearly broke my neck tripping over your damn case, so I’m really not in the mood for a game of hide and seek.’
Her chin jerked up and he knew he was doing a poor job of hiding his frustration—which, of course, only made him more frustrated.
‘I’m not playing games. Johnny’s not here, he’s—’ she began, her red curls bouncing in indignation, but he cut her off.