All for love 3 series.., p.12
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.12

           Kris Pearson
 

  Or ravishes me on the couch.

  “Not rushed off your feet?”

  “Not yet for a bit. I didn’t expect to be.” She reached out for his hand to steady herself, and stood on one leg while she pushed her other foot into the shoe that had fallen off when he’d tumbled her into his arms.

  “So you’ve got time to be my personal consultant?”

  He tightened his grasp on her hand to stop her moving away, and his dark brown eyes locked with her grey ones. It was a long intrusive candid invitation, and it was Sophie who looked away first.

  What had he really asked? The words were innocuous enough but his gaze burned deep into her soul. His personal consultant? Surely she was that already? She shrugged and decided to take his query at face value.

  “What do you think of the house progress?” she asked, trying to extricate her fingers from his warm grip. “Do you like the staircase walls?”

  “I’m straight off the plane—haven’t been home yet.”

  She bit her lip at that. The house was much closer to the airport than her studio. He should have gone home first; unpacked, grabbed some sleep, whatever he needed to help him wind down and relax.

  “Not talking about the house, Sophie. I’m talking about me.” He finally released her and leaned back into the cushions, arms behind his head, legs slightly apart to accommodate the visibly distended trouser fabric between his thighs.

  “You mean ‘me, Rafe Severino? Me the man’?” she teased, wanting to keep it light, trying not to let him see she’d noticed how aroused he was.

  “Me the man,” he agreed, eyes following her hands as she gathered up her hair and attempted to tidy it. “You the woman. How about a weekend in the tropical north? I need to visit the boatyard up in Whangarei.”

  Panic whispered over every nerve ending.

  He’s still hoping I’ll sleep with him, even though I’ve tried to explain why I can’t.

  She sought for a cool, neutral tone—not easy with that blatant bulge on display—the place her eyes kept sneaking back to, even as she willed them to stay clear. “A weekend away with you?”

  “Change of scenery, nice hotel. You’d enjoy it.”

  Sophie knew she would. And knew just as certainly that she couldn’t let it happen.

  She shook her head. “Sorry Rafe, Sunday’s out for me. I already have a family commitment.”

  “I thought you were interested in design work on the boats?”

  Was this another attempt at persuading her into his bed?

  “I certainly am, but wouldn’t a weekday be better?” This time she managed to stare him down.

  The ends of his mouth twitched in the tiniest of grins. “I own the place, Sophie. I have the key and the security code. I can show you around any time at all.”

  “It would probably be helpful to see it while your staff is working?” she tried.

  “No, much better on a weekend. We’d never hear each other over the music and power tools. They all wear ear protectors, so you won’t be chatting to anyone except me.”

  “Or we could visit your Wellington yard—”

  She saw his slight grin blossom into a full high voltage smile.

  “—and see everything there?” she suggested, knowing it was a lost cause from the expression on his face.

  “Composite and carbon fiber repairs? Not what you need, Sophie. I want to show you the big boats, the ones that make the money.” He eyed her speculatively. “Money doesn’t really do it for you, does it? Faye used to grab it with both hands. You haven’t even looked at your perfume.”

  Sophie turned aside and obediently reached for the duty-free bag. “I’ve looked at my orchids every day,” she countered, glancing at the ethereal bouquet drinking from its crystal column on a side table. “They’re amazing. I’ve never had anything so beautiful or extravagant.”

  “But a bunch of daisies would have pleased you just as well?”

  “Maybe two bunches,” she suggested with a small smile. “Sorry about before, Rafe. You surprised me, arriving out of the blue like that. And you looked exhausted so I was worried. I didn’t mean to ignore your gift.”

  She pulled her chair forward, sat, and dug into the bag. “Er, gifts, plural.” She stared at him, astounded, and then lifted out four elegantly decorated boxes, each containing a different French perfume. She lined them up beside her keyboard.

  “I didn’t know which one you’d like.”

  She swallowed. Never in her life had she been given such luxury. “So you bought the whole store?”

  He shrugged and grinned, unrepentant.

  A warm blush prickled up her neck. She’d never be able to repay his generosity. “I still won’t go to Whangarei with you.”

  “I’m not trying to buy you.” A shadow flickered across his face, chasing the grin away.

  Sophie sighed. “I never thought for a moment you were. But I can’t. As I said, Sunday is reserved for something else.”

  She wondered if this might be the moment to admit to Camille’s existence. The words trembled on the very tip of her tongue but somehow didn’t emerge. What if he thought really badly of her for giving her daughter into her mother’s care, just as he’d been given to his own mother’s mother? If he cancelled her work on his house she’d be scrambling for enough money for the bigger apartment she’d need, the after school care, and all the extra expenses of tending to a young child.

  “Okay, your call,” he conceded, leaning back into the sofa cushions again.

  “I could do a weekday,” she repeated. And then cursed her runaway tongue.

  “Up and back the same day? Doesn’t give us much time? I suppose I can’t take you away from your new enterprise for too long, can I?”

  “No.” She was pleased he’d thrown her that lifeline. “But I can manage one day. A weekday would be good. Anyway, you need to rest up a bit and get over your jet lag.”

  “And that’s really going to happen. God knows what sort of chaos has broken out here while I’ve been gone.”

  She watched as he stretched and then relaxed. His eyelids drooped... his eyes slowly closed... his breathing calmed, and his head slumped a little to one side. As fast as that, he slept.

  Without thinking too much about it she reached into her nearby briefcase for the ever present phone, made sure the auto flash was off, framed him, and clicked. He didn’t stir.

  She returned the phone to her bag and crept closer. She’d always loved watching Camille sleep—so trusting and unguarded and abandoned. Totally relaxed, with only tiny snuffles and twitches. These days Sophie enjoyed that pleasure very rarely; during her Sunday visits to Picton her daughter was a bundle of energy and seldom off her feet.

  And here was Rafe similarly abandoned to her care. She knelt beside him, finally able to gaze her fill.

  His Native American heritage was obvious in his high cheekbones, long almond eyes, and almost straight black brows.

  She presumed his Maori grandmother’s genes had reinforced his glossy black hair and golden skin. Maybe his long aquiline nose was from her as well? The Maori people varied from heavy-set with broad features to lean and haughtily aristocratic, depending on which tribe they descended from. Rafe resembled the latter far more than the former.

  And his beautiful, sharply defined mouth simply had to be Italian. She leaned a little closer, wondering if she dared drop a soft kiss on his lips while he drowsed.

  He twitched and sighed. She reared back, watching as he settled a little deeper into the cushions.

  Silly idea Sophie. You’ll wake him, and he’s obviously desperate for sleep.

  She rose and went back to her desk, deciding to check the flights north to Whangarei so she could call the shots on travel times.

  She pulled a face at the orange curtains on the screen, changed them back to ivory, and navigated to Air New Zealand’s website.

  Sophie had flown overseas exactly once in her life; Faye had taken her whole staff to a design exhibition in
Melbourne two years earlier. Thrilling though it had been, the cost of getting a passport had put a severe crimp in her budget that month.

  She’d had to forego two trips to see Camille, hating the lies she’d told her mother about the exhibition running over the first weekend, and about the flu she seemed to have picked up and preferred not to spread around during the second.

  She glanced across to Rafe, still deeply asleep. She supposed he’d paid for her Australian airfares and accommodation if Faye was so slipshod with her accounting.

  He gave a sudden shudder and his eyes shot wide open. Sophie felt relieved beyond measure she wasn’t leaning over him with a yearning expression on her face, but it made her voice a little sharper than she intended.

  “You need to get home and go to bed for a few hours, Rafe. Get some rest. Forget taking me out to dinner tonight. Let me come over later and bring some food from the deli so you don’t have to bother at all.”

  When he started to object she jabbed a finger at him and added, “I’ll see you about seven-thirty. I want to check the color on the staircase walls under artificial lights anyway. Are you safe to drive?”

  He blew out a long breath between pursed lips before pushing himself upright and leaving. “You’ll be one tough mother,” he grouched as he pushed the door open. “If you ever get around to it.”

  Chapter 14 — Deli Dinner

  ‘One tough mother...’

  She was no sort of mother at all. She was a very part time mother, doing the best she could, and all too aware it wasn’t nearly enough.

  Feeling uneasy and out of sorts, she sent Fran a text.

  ‘COFFEE?’

  The reply arrived almost instantly. ‘CU SOON’.

  She grinned at that, and her spirits rose a notch. Maybe Fran was already on her way? Just as well she hadn’t breezed in fifteen minutes earlier...

  It was a bare sixty seconds before the stroller appeared, closely followed by Fran, whose sharp eyes missed nothing.

  “Wow. Who gave you those?”

  Sophie glanced across at the orchids, but to her consternation Fran had pounced on the boxes of perfume beside the duty-free bag.

  “It was him, wasn’t it?” She scooped the bag up and waved it at Sophie gleefully. “You said he had business in America for a while. So he’s back?”

  Sophie tried to ignore her and instead hunkered down beside Lucy, talking to the little girl about today’s red hair ribbon and the velour rabbit that seemed to be the week’s favored toy.

  Fran examined each of the perfume choices in turn, making noises of approval. Sophie felt herself getting pinker and more embarrassed by the second.

  They were interrupted by the telephone, but as soon as the enquiry had been dealt with Fran was in hot pursuit again. “Four, and all expensive. He’s after you.”

  “No way, Fran.”

  “Lilies,” Fran said, holding up a finger.

  “Champagne.” Another finger followed.

  “Those dreamy orchids.” A third finger.

  “No...” Sophie protested.

  “Yes,” Fran said, keeping the third finger up. “You didn’t think I knew about those, did you?”

  Sophie shrugged.

  “And now bucket-loads of perfume. He’s after you.” She held up a triumphant fourth finger.

  “You forgot the pizza,” Sophie muttered. “You may as well make it the whole hand.”

  “I forgot the coffee, too.” She bent to lift the holder containing two flat whites from under the stroller. “Okay, when was the pizza?” She set the coffees on Sophie’s desk.

  “Tuesday night—when I went out to his house because he was going away early next day. It was business, Fran. But yes, there was a pizza so add it to your rolling total.”

  “Bunny...” Lucy grizzled.

  Fran reached down to retrieve it and gave it back to her. “What are you going to do about him?”

  Sophie closed her eyes and shook her head. “I have no idea in the world. I’d be kidding you if I didn’t admit he’s an absolute hunk. You can see that for yourself. But he’s my meal ticket to getting Camille back. It sounds terrible saying it, but I need to keep working for him because he’s worth money to me. And his house will be an incredible boost to my reputation. It’ll establish me right where I want to be.”

  “And...?” Fran cajoled.

  “And no. How can I?”

  “How can’t you, you mean?”

  “No, I seriously can’t, Fran. That’d wreck everything. A hot little affair might be good for my ego, but once it’s over, working together would be impossible.”

  “Bunny!”

  “Poor Lucy—we’re ignoring you.” Sophie picked up the toy and snuggled it against the toddler.

  She sipped her coffee again, took a deep breath, and huffed it out, tempted and frustrated. “It’ll be weeks and weeks before all the work in the house is completed so it’s best not to start anything.”

  “It might not end,” Fran objected.

  “It doesn’t stand a chance. Believe me, there are issues.”

  “Such as?”

  “Such as his ex-wife for one. I worked for her, remember? And she’s not even his ex-wife—they’re only separated. He’s not available.”

  “And?”

  “Camille.”

  “He’s Italian, Sophie. They love kids. He’ll adapt to her.”

  “I don’t want my daughter ‘adapted to’, Fran. And anyway, he’s part Maori and there’s a whole other story there.”

  Fran raised her eyes in silent enquiry.

  “He was whangaied. You know much about that?”

  “Fung-eyed?”

  “Given away to someone else in the family. Not an official adoption—apparently it happens quite a lot. And he’s still gutted about it. Really messed up.”

  And I can’t reveal any more of his secrets. He told me about his family in confidence, I’m sure.

  Sophie pulled down the corners of her mouth. “If he gets a whiff of Camille being packed off to Mom for years on end he’ll see it as the same thing and I’ll be off the scene. Money lost.”

  Aping Fran’s former action, she held up a finger. “Daughter not retrievable.”

  She held up the second. “Reputation ruined. Heart smashed too, I daresay.”

  She raised fingers three and four. “What a mess.”

  “But you like him?” Fran persisted.

  More than I’m willing to admit, even to myself.

  “Yes, of course I like him. He’s tall, dark, rich and gorgeous. What’s not to like?”

  She sipped her coffee and sent Fran a sudden wicked grin. “And he’s built. You should have seen him the other night with his shirt off.”

  “You said nothing happened?” Fran’s face had transformed into a study in disbelief and curiosity. “How did you get him out of his gear?”

  “It was a very warm evening,” Sophie teased.

  “Sounds more than warm?”

  “He would have liked it to be.”

  “And you?”

  “Yes,” she said through gritted teeth. “He turns me on more than anyone I’ve ever met. But I can’t let it happen. I can’t let it happen.”

  She sipped her coffee again and eventually added, “We sat on his deck for hours the other night. He’s so damned dangerous I almost don’t dare be around him.”

  She left a small silence.

  “Which is probably why I’m taking him something to eat there tonight.”

  Fran gave a whoop of triumph. “Sophie,” she squealed. “You go, girl.”

  *

  Rafe stretched and ran a hand through his hair.

  How do I get to her? She’s more interested in the house than in me. More thrilled to be given work than flowers or perfume. A twenty buck pizza and a bottle of great French fizz made about the same impression as each other. She kisses me like she means it and then turns away.

  He drew a deep breath and rubbed his eyes.

>   She’s Ms Independence. And then she comes over all warm and bosses me out of my suit or tells me I need to rest as though she might actually care...

  The late sun soaked into his chest and shoulders through the black T-shirt. He’d stripped off his travelling clothes, showered, and pulled on his old jeans. Then he’d hefted one of the timber chairs across to the deck railing so he could look up toward the road because he wanted to see her arrive.

  He’d plummeted asleep of course. She’d been right.

  But now he was drowsily awake, wondering quite what he was up against.

  Rafe knew when a woman was interested. And he could tell whether his money or his body interested her more. These days the money always won.

  Sure, Sophie was interested in his money, but apparently only in return for her work. She seemed more taken by his body. He’d seen the looks. The covert admiring glances. The small, quick, assessing inspections when she thought he wasn’t watching. He’d been checking her out in return, with his eyes, and with his hands whenever possible.

  Although she sent enticing signals, she still shied away whenever he got too physical. What the hell was holding her back?

  There’d been a lot of women, but he was no longer a randy kid. These days he could wait for what he wanted. And what he wanted was a determined little decorator with a pink motor scooter and long blonde hair.

  A girl in love with his house but resisting its master.

  A girl who coped easily with fractious Lucy even as she professed to be interested only in business success.

  He could measure their acquaintance in days; the time they’d spent together in hours. It was downright crazy to be so affected.

  He turned his head to distinguish the puttering buzz of her Vespa from the swoosh of the waves below. Yes!

  He burst out of his contemplative bubble into full energetic wakefulness, strode across the deck to the cable-car, and started it climbing. Standing spread legged for balance, he punched one fist into his other palm over and over as though it would hurry his progress to the top.

  When the carriage stopped he saw she’d set the scooter on its stand beside the big rusty shipping container and the framed up garage. She pulled her crash helmet off and reached for a bag. He was there before she had time to take a single step in his direction. And while both her hands were full he moved in close, cupped her face up and went for broke.

 
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