Until He Met Meg(7)

By: Sami Lee

Hesitantly, Meg went to follow, pulling up short when she was nearly knocked down by a stout, fifty-ish lady rushing in the opposite direction. Her head was dipped as though she had eyes only for the way out the front door.

‘She’s upstairs, doing homework. She says.’ The woman threw the words at Bryce over her shoulder, not slowing down to elaborate. ‘Dinner is on the stove.’

With that the woman disappeared out the front door, barely sparing Meg a second glance. Soon after a car engine fired up, the sound quickly growing fainter as the woman made a hasty retreat.

Turning around, Meg caught Bryce’s wry expression. ‘I see you met Mrs Dunkirk.’

‘Is she always like that?’

‘For as long as I can remember. My father hired her when I was a child. She’s not one for loquacious conversation, but she’s an excellent housekeeper. Why don’t you come through? I’ll call a car service for you.’

Apparently he wasn’t giving up his quest to pay her way home. With a frown, Meg followed Bryce down the passageway from which the curt Mrs Dunkirk had emerged. ‘That’s okay. If I can just use your phone I’ll call my flatmate. My battery died today.’ She didn’t add that she had not enough credit left on her prepaid phone to make the call anyway. ‘Her boyfriend has a car. I’m sure they’ll come pick me up.’

If they’re home. Jessica and Lachlan were always rushing in and out of the apartment to their respective jobs or a concert or party. Either that or they were holed up in Jessica’s room, engaged in activities Meg usually didn’t spend time contemplating.

‘If you’re sure.’ He showed her a frown of his own. ‘There’s a phone in the den you can use.’

As they entered the living room, Meg noted the leather furnishings, Persian rugs and the big-screen TV, the expensive-looking artwork and the grand piano in the corner, gleaming ebony in the fading light. Sydney Harbour was framed by large picture windows that rimmed the room. The murky water chopped turbulently toward the distinctive sails of the opera house and the famous arch of the harbour bridge, just visible through the evening gloom. Despite the grey weather, the view was magnificent.

‘Crikey!’ Meg exclaimed before she could censure the very country-girl expression. ‘This place is unbelievable!’

‘You like it?’

‘Who wouldn’t?’

‘My ex-wife for one. She always complained it was too stuffy.’

Meg turned in time to see Bryce’s scowl deepening. She felt sure he hadn’t intended to say what he had about his ex-wife. Meg was a little perturbed, as well. In the taxi she had assumed he was married. Now she discovered that he was divorced, and the knowledge was doing strange things to her vital signs.

Ridiculous. Why should the fact that he was single have any effect on her pulse rate?

Avoiding his eyes, Meg glanced around once again at the dark leather sofas, the rather drab floor coverings and the sombre oil colours gracing the walls, and made an effort to be politic. ‘The furniture’s a little…heavy, I suppose. But very tasteful.’

He cocked a brow. ‘Diplomatically put, Meg. I wasn’t sure you had it in you.’

‘I’m full of surprises.’ Her lips tilted upwards.

‘I don’t doubt it for a second.’ He smiled back and a completely unexpected dimple appeared in his left cheek. It softened his austere countenance, making him appear almost boyish. It was such an incongruous impression to have of such an imposing man that Meg caught her breath.

The disturbance in her blood began to feel as turbulent as Sydney Harbour looked. Meg knew she needed to say something, but felt utterly incapable of forming a coherent sentence. Relief mingled with surprise when an imperious voice demanded, ‘Just who are you?’

‘Phillipa!’ Bryce exclaimed, his attention, blessedly, pulled away from Meg. ‘That was impolite.’

A little girl’s big brown eyes remained fixed on Meg. She gave Bryce’s remonstrance little notice. ‘I asked you a question Missy.’

Meg couldn’t help it. She laughed. ‘Missy!’ she exclaimed, wondering if the girl had picked that term up from the surly Mrs Dunkirk. ‘Aren’t you precious?’

‘Precious! I know what that means. It’s what Mrs Dunkirk says when I’m being cute. And I was not trying to be cute.’

‘Don’t worry yourself,’ Meg said dryly, turning away and wandering idly toward the grand piano in the corner. ‘I didn’t think you were.’

From the corner of her eye, Meg saw the little girl staring after her, hands perched on tiny hips as she narrowed her gaze. She was wearing a matching skirt and top made of lavender crushed velvet. Her lush dark hair didn’t look as if it had been brushed anytime recently. Thick curls sat half in, half out of a purple band at the back of her head.

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