Olivia froze. Fear, unreasoning and instinctive, tightened her muscles and siphoned the breath from her lungs. She was alone in the woods with a man who had appeared out of nowhere. Slowly, very slowly she backed out of the bushes and turned around.
Boots. Brown quality leather boots planted next to a small brown dog that looked like a cross between a terrier and a used paintbrush. Olivia allowed her gaze to travel upwards over well-used, snugly fitting breeches and a white, open-necked shirt until she came to a rugged, deeply tanned face topped by longish, bronze-colored hair.
Ouch, Classic country beefcake. A tough, self-assured face with piercing, surprisingly icy blue eyes and teeth that were currently parted in a tauntingly provocative smile which would have been heart-stopping if her heart had still been up to being stopped.
"Who are you? What do you think you're doing here?" Olivia demanded, nervousness making her belligerent.
The smile broadened, became positively wolf-like. "Simon Sebastian. These are my woods. And if you want the truth I was admiring your—er—rear. It's a very nice one."
Olivia discovered she wasn't nervous anymore. She was angry, embarrassed and resentful, but definitely not frightened.
"My body parts are none of your business," she snapped.
"No?" Simon Sebastian shrugged and went to drape himself against the nearest birch tree. "I was afraid it was too good to be true."
Olivia glared. "What was?"
"The perfect end—and I use the word advisedly—to a pleasant walk with the Ripper."
His voice held no hint of mockery now, but she didn't miss the ironic blue glitter in his eyes. Olivia felt her temper flare again at once. "These may be your woods, Mr. Sebastian, and I suppose, technically I'm trespassing—"
"Technically I suppose you are. But according to centuries of custom you do have a right to walk here. And I have no objection to your adding a touch of glamor to my bushes."
"Glamor?" Olivia stumbled to her feet. In faded jeans and my old blue sweatshirt? I'm not that easily flattered, Mr.—"
"Simon. Forget the Mr. No need to stand on ceremony, Ms..." He raised an eyebrow in enquiry.
Nice eyebrows, Olivia thought vaguely. Thick, and deeply bronzed like his hair.
"Olivia Naismith," she admitted grudgingly. "Look, I'm sorry if..." She stopped. She had been going to say, "If I disturbed you." But Simon Sebastian didn't look remotely disturbed. Lounging against the tree with his arms crossed and the paintbrush sitting docilely at his feet, he was the picture of confidence and ease—lord and master of his domain. Which, of course, was exactly what he was. Not a lord, but certainly landed gentry. If there was such a thing any more.
"What are you sorry for Olivia Naismith? I haven't seen you in the village before, have I?"
"No. My son and I only moved down from London a month ago. But Mrs. Critchley, our landlady, said you wouldn't mind us having a picnic in your grounds."
"I don't mind." Simon's gaze scanned the tranquil little glad and came to rest meaningfully on the undisturbed moss at her feet. "At least I wouldn't if I saw the slightest indication that you were, in fact, having a picnic."
"Not now. Two days ago."
"I see. So to what do we owe the honor of your return? Missing the odd crumb or soggy sandwich, are we?"
What Olivia was actually missing was a suitable object to throw. "I lost something that belonged to me," she said coldly. "Jamie's in school so I came back to see if I could find it."
She wasn't sure what alerted her to the sudden change in Simon's attitude. It wasn't his face, which remained as bland and unrevealing as ever. Nor did his position change in any way. But she knew she had his whole attention.
"Jamie?" he repeated. "Your son?"
"And what have you lost, Olivia?"
Why did she sense that he already knew the answer? He couldn't, could He? Unless...
"A red exercise book," she said quickly. "Have you seen it?"
"An exercise book? What's so important about an exercise book?"
"It's my diary. Have you seen it?" She tried to keep calm, to keep any note of panic from her voice. But there wasn't much point in beating about the bush. If this exasperating man had found her diary, there was every chance he already knew what it was. The thought made Olivia lower her gaze quickly to the moss.
She waited for him to respond. A wood pigeon cooed somewhere among the trees, a soft sound that usually made her smile.
Today it didn't.
"I may have seen it," Simon admitted, after what seemed like an aeon. "Was it full of toothmarks?"