Never Say No to a Caffarelli(2)

By: Melanie Milburne


She tilted her head right back to meet a pair of brown eyes that were so intensely dark they looked almost black. The staggeringly handsome face with its late-in-the-day stubble seemed vaguely familiar. A movie star, perhaps? A celebrity of some sort? She flicked through her mental hard-drive but couldn’t place him. ‘Um, a table for...?’

‘One.’

A table for one? Poppy mentally rolled her eyes. He didn’t look the ‘table for one’ type. He looked the type who would have a veritable harem of adoring women trailing after him wherever he went.

Maybe he was a model, one of those men’s aftershave ones—the ones that looked all designer stubbly, masculine and bad-boy broody in those glossy magazine advertisements.

But who went to old-world tearooms on their own? That was what the coffee chain stores were for—somewhere to linger for hours over a macchiato and a muffin and mooch through a raft of the day’s papers.

Poppy’s stomach suddenly dropped in alarm. Was he a food critic? Oh, dear God! Was she about to be savaged in some nasty little culinary blog that would suddenly go viral and ruin everything for her? She was struggling to keep afloat as it was. Things had been deadly quiet since that swanky new restaurant—which she couldn’t even name or think of without wanting to throw up—opened in the next village. The down-turn in the economy meant people weren’t treating themselves to the luxury of high tea any more.

They saved their pennies and went out to dinner instead—at her ex-boyfriend’s restaurant.

Poppy studied the handsome stranger covertly as she led him to table four. ‘How about over here?’ She pulled out a chair as she tried to place the faint trace of an accent. French? Italian? A bit of both, perhaps? ‘You get a lovely view of Dalrymple Manor and the maze in the distance.’

He gave the view a cursory glance before turning back to her. Poppy felt a little shock like volts of electricity shooting through her body when that dark-as-night gaze meshed with hers. God, how gorgeous was his mouth! So masculine and firm with that sinfully sensual, fuller lower lip. Why on earth didn’t he sit down? She would have a crick in her neck for the rest of the day.

‘Is that some sort of tourist attraction?’ he asked. ‘It looks like something out of a Jane Austen novel.’

She gave him a wry look. ‘It’s the only tourist attraction, not that it’s open to the public or anything.’

‘It looks like a rather grand place.’

‘It’s a fabulous place.’ Poppy released a wistful little sigh. ‘I spent most of my childhood there.’

A dark brow arched up in a vaguely interested manner. ‘Oh really?’

‘My grandmother used to be the housekeeper for Lord Dalrymple. She started at the manor when she was fifteen and stayed until the day he died. She never once thought of getting another job. You don’t get loyalty like that any more, do you?’

‘Indeed you don’t.’

‘She passed away within six months of him.’ Poppy sighed again. ‘The doctors said it was an aneurysm, but personally I think she didn’t know what to do with herself once he’d gone.’

‘So who lives there now?’

‘No one at the moment,’ she said. ‘It’s been vacant for over a year while the probate was sorted out on Lord Dalrymple’s will. There’s a new owner but no one knows who it is or what they plan to do with the place. We’re all dreading the thought that it’s been sold to some crazy, money-hungry developer with no taste. Another part of our local history will be lost for ever under some ghastly construction called—’ she put her fingers up to signify quotation marks ‘—modern architecture.’

‘Aren’t there laws to prevent that from happening?’

‘Yes, well, some people with loads of money think they’re above the law.’ Poppy gave a disdainful, rolling flicker of her eyes. ‘The more money they have, the more power they seem to expect to wield. It makes my blood boil. Dalrymple Manor needs to be a family home again, not some sort of playboy party-palace.’

‘It looks rather a large property for the average family of today,’ he observed. ‘There must be three storeys at least.’

‘Four,’ she said. ‘Five, if you count the cellar. But it needs a family. It’s been crying out for one ever since Lord Dalrymple’s wife died in childbirth all those years ago.’

‘I take it he didn’t marry again?’

‘Clara was the love of his life and once she died that was that,’ she said. ‘He didn’t even look at another woman. You don’t get that sort of commitment these days, do you?’