A Question of Honor

By: Kate Walker

CHAPTER ONE

‘YOU KNOW WHY I’m here.’

The man’s voice was as deep and dark as his eyes, his hair...his heart, for all Clemmie knew. He filled the doorway he stood in, big and broad and dangerously strong. Worryingly so.

She didn’t know what put that sense of danger into his appearance. There was nothing in the way he stood, the long body relaxed, his hands pushed deep into the pockets of the well-worn jeans that clung to narrow hips and powerful legs, that spoke of threat or any sort of menace. And his face, although rough-hewn and rugged, did not have the type of features that made her think of black shadowy novels about serial killers or vampires rising from the dead.

Not that serial killers conformed to the myth that evil had to be ugly as well. And this man was definitely not ugly. He was all hunk, if the truth was told. Those deep brown eyes were combined with unbelievably luxuriant black lashes, slashing high cheekbones, surprisingly bronze-toned skin. He was a man for whom the word ‘sexy’ had been created. A man whose powerfully male impact went straight to everything that was female inside her and resonated there, making her shiver. But once the image of a vampire—dark, devastating and dangerous—had settled into her brain there was no way she could shake it loose.

It was something about the eyes. Something about that cold, direct, unflinching stare. Dead-eyed and unyielding. She couldn’t understand it. And because she couldn’t find a reason for it, it made her shiver all the more though she forced herself not to show it and instead pasted a smile that she hoped was polite but not overly encouraging on to her face.

‘I beg your pardon?’

If he caught the note of rejection and dismissal she tried to inject into the words then not a sign of it registered in that enigmatic face. He certainly didn’t look discouraged or even concerned but flashed her another of those cold-eyed glances and repeated, with obvious emphasis, ‘You know why I’m here.’

‘I think not.’

She was expecting someone. Had been dreading his arrival for days—weeks. Ever since the time had approached when she would celebrate her twenty-third birthday. If ‘celebrated’ was the right word for marking the day that would mean the end of her old life, and the start of the new. The start of the life she had known was coming but had tried to put out of her mind. Without success. The thought of what her future was to be hung over her like a dark storm cloud, blighting each day that crept nearer to the moment her destiny changed.

But she had prayed he wouldn’t come so soon. That she would have at least a few more days—just a month would be perfect—before the fate that her father had planned for her when she had been too young to understand, let alone object, closed in around her and locked her into a very different existence.

The person she had been expecting—dreading—was very different from this darkly devastating male. He was much older for a start. And would never have appeared so casually dressed, so carelessly indifferent to the demands of protocol and security.

Which was just as well because the sudden and unexpected ring at the doorbell had caught her unawares. She hadn’t even brushed her hair properly after washing it and letting it dry naturally, so that it hung in wild disorder around her face. Her mascara was smudged, and although she’d decided that the lipstick she’d been trying on was really too bright and garish, she hadn’t had time to take any of it off, or in any way lessen the impact of the vivid colour.

‘I have no idea who you are or what you’re doing here. If you’re selling something, I’m not interested. If you’re canvassing, I’ll not be voting for your party.’

‘I’m not selling anything.’

No, she’d expected that. His clothes, while too obviously casual for a salesman, had a quality and style that contradicted that thought.

‘Then in that case...’

She’d had enough of this. If he wasn’t going to explain just why he was here then she had no intention of wasting her time standing here in the hallway. She had been busy enough before the autocratic and impatient knock had summoned her to the door and if she hung around any longer she was going to be late for Harry’s party and he would never forgive her.

‘I’d appreciate it if you would just leave...’

She made a move to close the door as she spoke, wanting this over and done with. Hunk or not, he had invaded her world just at the worst possible moment.

She had so little time to spare. Correction—she had no time to spare. No time at all for herself, no time between her and the future, the fate that had once seemed so far away. She had to finish packing, organise the legal transfer of the cottage and everything else she was leaving behind. And that was always supposing that she could persuade the man she really was waiting for to give her just two days more grace.