Oh, she felt awful. But why? Aside from one hug, nothing had happened with Johnny. And nothing had really happened with Arlo.
Just because there was no explanation for their kiss, that didn’t make it significant. And perhaps there was an explanation. Both of them had just nearly died. Their emotions had been running high and all tangled up, so in some ways it had been almost inevitable that they would kiss.
She breathed out shakily. Hopefully at some point in the future she would be able to laugh about all of this, but in the meantime she was going to have to find a way to get through the next twenty-four hours.
Trying to still the jittery feeling in her legs that thought produced, she walked over to the window. Outside, the rain was still sheeting down, and both the sky and the violently cresting waves were the same dull gunmetal grey.
The weather forecasters had been right. It looked as if this storm wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, and that meant she was not going anywhere either. Only there was no way she was going to stay cooped up in this room until the wind blew itself out.
Arlo might be a man of many talents, but even he could only be in one place at once—and as there was both an east and a
west wing, the chances of her bumping into him would be minuscule.
Maybe it was time to do a little exploring...
* * *
Obviously she had known the Hall was huge, but she was still stunned by the scale of it. There were just so many rooms, and each one seemed to be bigger and grander than the last. Everything was so perfect, she thought, as she gazed around an amazing book-lined library. And so perfectly English. From the plethora of patterns—chintz, checks, muted stripes—to the large, imposing portraits on the walls.
As she left the library and walked down the corridor her footsteps faltered in front of a half-open door. Behind it, a phone was ringing. It wasn’t a mobile...it had an old-fashioned jangling sound.
Pinching her lip with her fingers, she hesitated, her shoulders tensing. Surely somebody would answer it...?
But the phone kept ringing, and before she had made a conscious decision to do so she was pushing open the door and walking into the room. It was some kind of office, judging by the two identical imposing wooden desks facing one another like duelling partners. Both were so cluttered with books and papers that it took her a moment to locate the phone.
She found it eventually, juddering beside a snow globe containing a polar bear. Heart pounding, she snatched it up.
But whoever it was had already rung off.
Typical. Rolling her eyes, she dropped the receiver back in its cradle. Why did that always happen?
Gazing around the room, she felt her breath rise with a rush into her throat. It was definitely an office, and it was equally obvious whose office it was. Her quick glance down at an in-tray overflowing with envelopes addressed to ‘Dr Arlo Milburn’ merely confirmed her suspicions.
She’d forgotten he was a Doctor of Geography. Or was it Geology?
Feeling as if she had wandered into the lair of some sleeping grizzly bear, she looked nervously round the room. Like the rest of the house, it felt both effortlessly grand but enviably comfortable.
What was surprising, though, was how untidy it was.
There were books everywhere. But not neatly stacked vertically on shelves, like in the library. Some were on shelves, but they were wedged in haphazardly. Elsewhere they rose in towering piles like stalagmites or huddled against pieces of furniture like snowdrifts.
Frowning, she glanced down at the paper-strewn desk. She’d expected someone like Arlo to be one of those ‘tidy mind, tidy home’ types, who thought a pile of letters demonstrated an inability to take command of a situation.
Remembering how he’d barked orders at her earlier, she curled her lip. He certainly liked telling people what to do, and it was hard to imagine him losing control.
Well, not that hard, she thought, her face growing hot and her lips tingling at the memory of how he’d pulled her against his body...
Quickly blanking her mind, she looked down at the chaos of paper, her gaze snagging on a notebook lying open. From this angle it was difficult to tell, but it looked like a sketch of a bird...a gull, maybe. Curious, she walked around the desk and sat down on the battered leather swivel chair.
It was just an outline—a few pencil marks, really—dated and annotated: Pagodroma Nivea. Juvenile. Then what looked like a map reference. Turning the page, she discovered more sketches and, her heart suddenly beating very hard, flicked through them.
They were good. Obviously drawn from life and by Arlo. Only she couldn’t imagine him taking that moment of care and concentration to sketch anything. He was so vehement, so fierce. Surely his mere presence would make any self-respecting bird take flight...
This is lovely!
She touched a sketch of a seal pup. It was so lifelike she half expected to feel the fur beneath her fingertips.