Roxy’s heart flip-flopped and she reminded herself that it wouldn’t be a real date. ‘Your date? How would that work?’
‘I take you to dinner with my family. To show you that I was never ashamed of you.’
The sincerity in his tone and eyes touched her with lightness. ‘It’s OK. I believe you. There’s no need to take me tonight. I’m sure there are plenty of women you’d rather take.’
He looked at her and his smile held rue. ‘Actually, there aren’t.’ He rose to his feet, the movement abrupt, almost as if he were avoiding her gaze. ‘Would you like to look round the grounds? The caterers aren’t due for another half hour.’
As they walked, Roxy’s eyes widened. ‘This place is amazing.’ Towering trees, rhododendron bushes, monkey puzzle trees and circular flower beds that burst with colour and sent floral scents drifting through the air. Then she came to a halt. ‘Oh my goodness.’ Ahead of them was a maze, a proper maze with seven-foot box hedges. ‘Can we go in?’
It was like stepping into a storybook, as if she and Leo were the only two people in a magical place. The idea whirled in her head as he came to a halt and looked down at her. ‘So will you come with me tonight?’
Leo realised he was holding his breath as he waited for her answer. ‘Unless…’
‘Unless you’re dating someone?’ Irrationally the idea of Roxy with another man made him clench his hands into fists.
‘I’m not seeing anyone at the moment.’ A stupid sense of relief ran through him. ‘But I’m not sure tonight is a good idea.’
Roxy hesitated. ‘Maybe you should give Jemima a chance.’
‘You think I should let my mum choose who I date?’
‘Not exactly, no. But…’ Roxy gestured round the maze. ‘But maybe she has a point. Someone like Jemima would know how to run a place like this. She’d fit in with your family. Your parents were wrong to not believe in you, but…they are family and I’m sure they do love you.’
Did they? It wasn’t a word that was really used in his family. The Hardings didn’t believe in showing emotions. They believed in sending their children to boarding schools, in keeping a stiff upper lip. But… ‘I think they have always wanted what they believe is best for me.’
‘Then perhaps you need to work towards healing the rift.’ Her voice was soft now. ‘I’ve come to terms with losing my parents. But I wish, so wish they were alive now.’
The sadness in her eyes touched him and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to pull her into a hug. She tensed and then she relaxed against him, her head resting on his chest. They stood like that for an eternal moment and then she gently pulled back, put her hands on his chest and looked up at him.
The air zinged with desire, his body strummed with awareness and all he wanted to do was kiss her.
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