She banged one last time before she remembered—Monique didn’t work weekends. Pepe had told her just a few hours ago that she would be returning to her own home.
Despair was almost enough for Cara to hit her head against the unyielding door.
Eejit that she was, she’d run away to an empty house for which she didn’t have a key.
Swallowing away the bile that had lodged in her throat, she tried to think. Nothing came. Her mind was a complete blank.
She didn’t have a clue what to do.
‘I can’t get into the house.’
‘I want my money.’ The driver’s tone was amiable enough but she detected the underlying menace in it.
‘You’ll get it.’ She rubbed a hand down her face. ‘Give me your address. I’ll drop it over to you as soon as Pepe gets home and lets me in. I’ll sign anything you want.’
‘You don’t pay?’
‘I will pay. But I can’t get into the house, so I can’t get my purse.’
‘You don’t pay, I get police.’
‘No, please.’ Her voice rose. ‘I promise, I will pay it. I promise. I’m not a blaggard.’
A meaty hand grabbed her shoulder. ‘You pay or I call police.’
Her fear rising, she tried to shake him off. ‘I will pay. Please don’t call the police.’
His hand didn’t budge other than to lock onto her biceps. ‘Come, we go see police.’
‘Get off me!’ she cried. All the heat in her skin had been replaced by cold terror. The thought of being dragged into a police station and being accused of criminality was more than she could bear.
But the driver was clearly furious and had no intention of letting her go. Keeping a tight grip on her, he hauled her back down the steps to the cab.
Before she could open her lungs to scream for help, a large car sped around the corner, coming to a stop before them in a screech of brakes. The engine hadn’t been turned off before Pepe jumped out of the passenger side and took long strides towards them.
‘Take your hands off her now,’ he barked, his anger palpable.
‘She no pay,’ the driver said, refusing to relinquish his hold, even though he’d turned puce at the sight of Pepe.
‘I said, take your hands off her. Maintenant!’
Before Cara knew what was happening, the driver let her go and a slanging match between the two men erupted, all of it conducted in French, so she couldn’t keep up. Her hands covering her mouth, she got the gist of it well enough.
If she weren’t witnessing it with her own eyes, she would never have believed Pepe was capable of such fury. The menace came off him in waves of pumped-up testosterone, his face a contortion of wrath.
It ended with Pepe pulling a wad of notes from his pocket and throwing them at the driver with a string of words spat at him for good measure. A couple of the said words jumped out at her as she recalled how she and Grace had once made it their mission to learn every possible swear word in French. She was pretty sure Pepe had just used the very choicest of those words.
When he finally looked at her, the rage was still there. ‘Get in the house,’ he said tightly, sweeping past her and up the steps, unlocking the door.
‘What the hell do you think you’re playing at?’ He slammed the door shut behind her.
‘I’d forgotten Monique had the night off. Thanks for coming to my rescue.’ Her breaths felt heavy, the words dredged up. She knew she should show proper gratitude towards him—if Pepe hadn’t arrived when he did she would likely be bundled in the back of the taxi on her way to the nearest police station. But now they were safely ensconced in his home, her fright had abated a little but blood still pumped through her furiously. Forget the driver, all she could see were those overfamiliar women and Pepe’s amused, arrogant self-entitlement as he accepted their attentions.
‘I thought he was trying to rape you.’
‘Well, he wasn’t.’ She was barely listening. She kicked her crystal shoes off. ‘He was trying to get me to a police station to have me arrested.’
‘What did you run off for? You told me you were going to the bathroom! You humiliated me in front of my friends.’
‘Oh, poor diddums,’ she said, making no effort to hide her sarcasm. ‘I couldn’t stomach staying at that party a minute longer.’ Turning, she hurried through the reception and up the spiral staircase.
‘Are you feeling ill?’ He kept pace easily. Too easily.
‘Yes. I feel sick. Sick, sick, sick.’ She practically ran to her room.
‘Why didn’t you say something instead of running off and leaving me like a fool waiting for your return?’