The Runaway Princess

The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne Read Free Book Online

Book: The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hester Browne
Tags: Fiction, General, Humorous, Contemporary Women
friends had nose jobs without telling anyone.
    “Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked, following him down the stairs.
    It came out less flirty and more accusatory. I scrabbled to salvage it before I made it worse.
    “I mean, I don’t mean that to sound like you’re forgettable, because obviously you’re not, ha-ha, um …”
    He paused by the communal post table and extended a hand, inclining his head in an old-fashioned courtly manner. I hoped he hadn’t noticed the thermal underwear catalogue with my name on it, and I leaned against it, just in case.
    “Leo,” he said. “I was just thinking the same thing. But I’m sure I’d have remembered your name if we’d met.”
    Leo had a good handshake. A tingly sensation spread through me as he gripped my hand and held it just long enough for me to register his smooth skin and the warmth of his grasp.
    “Amy,” I said, and my voice didn’t wobble. “Amy Wilde. I’m from Yorkshire.”
    “Ah. That’s where your accent’s from. Sorry, I’m very bad with accents. It’s unusual. Melodic.”
    I could feel myself blushing. “You’re the first person who’s ever said that. Most people ask me where I’ve parked my tractor.”
    Leo laughed, and if I hesitated for a micromillisecond, just enjoying the feel of his hand in mine, he did too. Just long enough for me to notice. Then he smiled and released it to open the front door.
    “Very pleased to meet you, Amy,” he said, and held the door open for me. “Now, whereabouts do you think these pots fell?”
    “Round here.” I pointed down the narrow passage that led round the back of the house. From the front, No. 17 was elegant white stucco; at the back it was a rat-run of fire escapes, television aerials, and scabby window boxes. The second-floor flat, belonging to the Harrises, who were rarely there, had a bigger balcony than ours, jutting out onto a sort of extension, which they used as a storage space for junk. Currently one sandbox (no idea why, they had no kids) and a very dead Christmas tree.
    It wasn’t a very charming scene, and I made a mental note to offer to replant everyone’s window boxes ASAP. I scanned the yard for smashed pots and a flat cat; then the security lights went on, and I caught sight of something red sticking up out of the sand.
    “Up there!” Relief rushed through me. “Look, in the sandbox!” Then the relief rushed back out. “But they’re away until the middle of next month. That’s one of the reasons we had the party. I won’t be able to get in for ages.”
    “No probs.” Leo stepped back and grabbed hold of the fire escape, testing the brackets for strength. Then he shrugged off his jacket. “Hold this.”
    “What? No, you don’t have to—” I started, but he shushed me good-naturedly and started to climb up the fire escape toward the Harrises’ balcony. He made it look very easy.
    His jacket was light and lined with a beautiful purple satin that gleamed in the streetlight. There was a label in it that I didn’t recognize and it smelled of some expensive cologne that was far more subtle than Rolf’s pungent aftershave, which I could still smell on my own clothes. I glanced up and saw that Leo was concentrating on judging the jump to the balcony from the fire escape, and while his back was turned I took a surreptitious sniff.
    It was one of those colognes that bypasses your brain and goes straight to your hormones. I wasn’t an expert like Jo, who could categorize all men in London by their bathroom shelves, but I could pick out geranium, rose, and something else. Real smells. Flowers and plants and grasses and air and skin—
    “Is this it?”
    I looked up so fast my neck nearly cracked, and saw Leo holding a pot aloft like a trophy. It was one of my seedlings.
    “There’s only one that’s not broken, I’m afraid,” he went on. “Unless you also want some—
. You don’t want
.” He gave something a discreet kick, and it fell off the balcony

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