Page 7 of The Crown Affair

Laura couldn’t help bristling at his sceptical tone. ‘Undoubtedly,’ she said tightly. ‘However I have more than a passing interest. I specialise in the restoration and conservation of ancient buildings, and I’ve been coveting yours for weeks.’

‘Is that so?’

Matt folded his arms across his chest and stared at her. For so long and so intently that she began to drown in the heat of his gaze. She might be churning with indignation, but that didn’t stop her head swimming, her knees turning watery and her stomach fluttering. Laura silently cursed her treacherous body and hoped to God he couldn’t see the effect he was having on her. ‘Absolutely,’ she said with a coolness that came from who knew where.

Matt tilted his head. Raised an eyebrow. Gave her a lazily lethal smile that zoomed down the entire length of her body and curled her toes, and quite suddenly her skin began to prickle.

‘If you’re an architect as you say you are,’ he said, leaning forwards a fraction and lowering his voice, ‘prove it.’

Prove it? Prove it?

For a moment, all Laura could hear was what sounded like the faint hum of a tractor somewhere in the distance. But that could well have been the blood rushing in her ears.

‘What?’ she said, giving her head a quick shake. Presumably she’d been so distracted by the muscles of Matt’s arms flexing as he crossed them she must have misheard. Been hypnotised by his eyes or something. Or maybe he just had a truly warped sense of humour and was joking. Because what kind of man went round accusing random strangers of being something they weren’t and then demanding they prove it?

‘If you expect me to believe you’re an architect and want nothing more than access to my house, prove it.’

Laura blinked and stared at him. Nope. Gorgeous forearms and mesmerising eyes aside, she hadn’t misheard. And he wasn’t joking. That he meant what he said was etched into the stony expression on his face.

Her pulse raced. What exactly was his problem? Was he on some sort of lord-of-the-manor power trip? Was he completely paranoid? And frankly, did she even want to venture inside his house when he was obviously one pane short of a window?

The rational side of her, the one that was seething with indignation, pointed out that she had no need to continue this idiotic conversation. It was a balmy Saturday morning. She had plenty of things to be getting on with. Like finding a job and sorting out her catastrophe of a life. She really didn’t need this kind of headache, and no mansion was worth this amount of hassle.

However, the professional part of her, the one that had recently been so ruthlessly dismissed, so flatly rejected by the company she’d worked for, clamoured for the opportunity to justify her abilities.

The two sides battled for a nanosecond but the sting of rejection was still so fresh, the wound still so raw, there was no contest.

Laura pulled her shoulders back and stuck her chin up. He wanted proof? Then he’d get it. More of it than anyone not fascinated with old buildings could possibly want.

‘Fine,’ she said, hauling out her notebook and studying the notes she’d made over the past six weeks. ‘From my preliminary investigations I’d say your house was probably built some time between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The main structure has two storeys and, I believe, an attic.’

Possibly with a mad relative in occupancy to accompany the one who inhabited the rest.

‘It’s built out of squared and dressed limestone,’ she continued, ‘and has a stone slate roof. I believe it used to be a quadrangle, but it’s now “h” shaped with wings projecting forwards right and left of the central gabled porch. The right hand wing has been substantially rebuilt at the back. I’d say in the mid-nineteenth century.’

She paused to take a breath and glanced up from the pages to find Matt staring at her, a slightly stunned expression on his handsome face.

Good. That would teach him to leap to absurd conclusions and engage in all that sceptical eyebrow raising. And she had plenty more where that came from. She hadn’t even begun on the windows.

She arched a challenging eyebrow of her own. ‘Would you like me to go on?’

Matt frowned. ‘No. That’s fine.’

Stuffing the notebook back in her pocket, Laura pulled her camera off her shoulder and switched it on. ‘Then perhaps you’d like to see some pictures?’ she said. ‘I have one hundred and thirty photos of Regency Bath. I could take you through each one of them if you like. In great detail. I’m very thorough. And extremely enthusiastic. Honestly I could talk about them for hours.’

The frown deepened. ‘Some other time perhaps. I’m convinced.’

Bully for him. ‘I’m so glad,’ she said witheringly, hauling her camera back on her shoulder and shooting him a cool glance. ‘So why woul

d you think I was a journalist?’

‘Experience of binoculars.’

‘Are you really that newsworthy?’

His mouth twisted into a wry smile. ‘I have been.’

She racked her brains to place his face, but drew a blank. He probably dated supermodels or something. Poor old supermodels. ‘Who are you?’

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