Spanish Groom(13)

By: Lynne Graham

Her tummy tying itself into petrified knots, Dixie whispered shakily. 'Maybe we should talk this over.'

'I think we ought to,' Cesar agreed smoothly. 'A female who said she was your landlady cut up rough when I knocked on the door of your bedsit earlier and a dog started barking. She came upstairs to investigate.'

Dixie sat bolt upright, horror now etched on her face. 'Oh, no, she heard Spike and now she knows he's there!'

Cesar released an extravagant sigh. 'And pets aren't allowed. I gather it's going to be a question of moving out or getting rid of the dog.'

Dixie shook her head in anguished disbelief. This was truly the very worst day of her entire life. 'Why did you have to knock on the door? You must've frightened Spike! He's usually as quiet as a mouse.'

'I think Spain's beckoning,' Cesar remarked lazily. 'You have one very angry landlady waiting to pounce.'

'Oh, no...' Dixie groaned.

'Life could be so different,' Cesar drawled smoothly. 'All those debts nasty hanging judge to face in court...relaxing trip to Spain...Jasper happy as a sand boy and the comforting knowledge that you are responsible for giving him the best news he's ever heard. Wrong? I don't think so. I don't think anything that could give Jasper pleasure at this trying stage of his life could possibly be wrong.'

Hanging on every specious word, Dixie watched him with a kind of eerie fascination. He was so damnably clever, so shockingly good at timing his verbal assaults. Here she was, her whole life in ruins and on the very brink of being thrown out on the street because she couldn't possibly give up Spike, and a living, breathing version of the devil was holding out temptation without shame.

'I couldn't...'

'You could,' Cesar contradicted softly. 'You could do it for Jasper.'

Dixie's soft full mouth wobbled as she thought of Jasper dying and never, ever seeing him again. Her eyes began to prickle and she sniffed.

'You can pack right now. It's that simple,' Cesar stressed in the same low-pitched deep, dark tone.

He sounded mesmeric. Dixie couldn't peel her wet eyes from him either. In the dusk light, his bronzed features were half in shadow, dark eyes glimmering silver beneath the sort of long, incredibly luxuriant black lashes that would drive any sane woman blessed with less to despair.

'My dog, Spike...' she muttered uncertainly, so very, very tired it was becoming an effort even to string words together, her mind a confused sea of incomplete thoughts and fears.

'Spike can come too. One of my staff will pick up the rest of your possessions tomorrow. You won't have anything to do,' Cesar asserted gently.

At that moment, the concept of not having anything to do impressed Dixie like the offer of manna from heaven. 'I...I—'

Cesar slid out of the driver's seat, strolled round the bonnet and opened the door beside her. 'Come on,' he urged.

And Dixie found herself doing as she was told, all the fight drained out of her. 'A harmless fiction', Cesar had called it A pretend engagement to make Jasper's last days happy. And it would make Jasper happy. She knew how much Jasper longed to see Cesar on the road to creating the family circle that Jasper had never managed to create for himself. Maybe lying wasn't always wrong...

Her landlady emerged from her small flat on the ground floor. As she broke into angry, accusing speech, Cesar settled a wad of banknotes into her hand. 'Miss Robinson will be moving out. I hope this takes care of her notice.' A phone was ringing somewhere horribly close to Dixie's ears. Struggling to cling to sleep, she sighed with relief when the shrill buzz stopped, but her eyes slowly opened on the dawning realisation that she didn't have a phone in her bedsit.

Her brain in a fog, Dixie surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings. For a moment she couldn't even remember where she was. Then her attention fell on the suitcase lying open with miscellaneous garments tumbling untidily out of it. And whoosh, everything came back in a rush; she was in Cesar Valverde's London home.

The phone by the bed started ringing again. This time Dixie reached for the receiver. 'Hello?' she said nervously.

'Rise and shine, Dixie.' Cesar Valverde's rich, dark drawl jerked her bolt upright in the bed. 'It's half-six and I want you in the gym by eight, dressed appropriately and fully awake.'

"The gym?' Dixie was aghast at the news that she was expected to be up before seven in the morning, particularly on a Saturday. Even Spike was still asleep in his basket. He was as fond of having a lie-in as his owner.

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