All for love 3 series.., p.13
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.13

           Kris Pearson
 

  “Mmmmfff,” she responded as his mouth claimed hers.

  Rafe knew she didn’t intend that as encouragement, but she tasted so good and smelled so damn female that stopping wasn’t any kind of option. Even though he’d not broken through to her yet, forbidden fruit was always the sweetest, and Sophie was as sweet and forbidden as he’d ever found. If he had to push a little to enjoy an illicit slice of paradise he was up for the challenge.

  He held her immobile by tangling one hand into her soft hair and grasping her around her hips with the other, dimly thinking that the denim of their jeans must be close to spitting sparks.

  Fireworks exploded somewhere. White explosions in his brain pulsed in time with his tongue as it slipped and slid against hers in the hot cavern of her pretty mouth.

  His hand dropped lower—a perfect fit around one cheek of her peachy butt.

  And she hit him hard on the thigh with her helmet.

  He jerked back, aware he’d almost lost control again. How the hell did this happen?

  “You obviously got some sleep then,” she needled, regarding him with narrowed eyes.

  He stood there half as big again as she was, feeling like a shambling mutt of a dog who’d just been zapped across the nose by a feisty kitten. “Yeah, I crashed out in one of the chairs on the deck while I was waiting for you. Maybe I’m still asleep and dreaming.”

  “You looked half dead in the studio, so that’s an impressive revival you just demonstrated.” She cast an amused glance down at his straining zipper.

  He saw the corners of her mouth twitch.

  “Are you making fun of me, Ms Calhoun?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t look like fun to me.”

  Rafe privately agreed. It felt no fun at all being so turned on with no definite prospect of release.

  “Use your wandering hands for something useful and carry the dinner,” she suggested as she passed him the bag. “And don’t give the cheesecake the same treatment you were giving my backside.”

  He watched her turn away from him—black jeans, blue and white striped T-shirt, black leather bomber jacket, pink crash helmet and half a yard of tousled blonde hair.

  What was it about her? What the hell was it?

  “Garage is coming on well,” she said.

  *

  Sophie locked her knees to steady herself as the cable-car dropped down the cliff face. She clung to one of the corner posts and stared across the water, mind whirling.

  Every time he kisses me I slip further into danger. And I like it. I like him. But there’s too much at stake. I don’t dare, however much I want...

  She sent him an embarrassed glance. “Sorry I hit you. I’ve never hit anyone else in my entire life.”

  What a stupid reaction it had been. She didn’t know which was worse—hitting a really lovely man or hitting a client. A client! No way to ensure business success...

  “It was only a bump.”

  “It was the hardest bump I could manage.” She looked up again and found herself trapped by his lively dark eyes.

  “I’ll live. To fight another day, I suspect.”

  She watched as he drew a deep breath, hesitated a second or two, and then appeared to make a decision.

  “Why do you keep pushing me away? You know the attraction’s mutual.”

  His eyes held hers—probing, hopeful, almost tender. She couldn’t untangle the emotions she saw there. Certainly couldn’t untangle her own at that moment. Huge yearning was part of the mix. And confusion. And sorrow for the girl inside her who’d had to grow up too soon and attempt too much. And utter determination not to give in and lose everything she’d worked so hard for. “Things,” she said softly. “Things are in the way.”

  “Don’t include Faye among those things.”

  She shook her head. The cable-car stopped, and he opened the door.

  “No, not Faye. I think I saw enough at the Wakefield Club to know you and she are done with.”

  “So what things? Are they fixable?”

  “Not like my broken signboard was.” She worried at her bottom lip as she walked across the deck.

  He nodded slowly, and the ghost of a smile touched his face. “So a handyman’s not the answer?”

  “It’s personal stuff, Rafe. Not handyman stuff. Yes, partly Faye being my old boss and your wife makes things...difficult.”

  “My ex-wife,” he cut in. “Emphasis on the ex.”

  “You’re not divorced yet.” She focused on the closely spaced timber planks as she walked, unable to look him in the eye now she’d voiced such private thoughts.

  “Married in Nevada. Divorced in Nevada. It takes six weeks.”

  She stopped dead. Her stomach dropped through the deck. He was single again? Available? Did this make things better or worse? It certainly added huge confusion to the mix already spinning in her head.

  “But... but...” she stammered. “Your wedding photo was in her office. And I recognized the curtains from the Wakefield Club.”

  Rafe’s beautiful mouth flattened into a travesty of a smile. “We had a party when we got home. Not a wedding; a trumped-up dressed-up celebration party. Faye and her mother’s idea of course.”

  Sophie breathed out slowly, not knowing how she should react to his unexpected revelation. “God, six weeks. Not long to change your mind. I thought it took two years.”

  “Two years in New Zealand. Six weeks in Nevada. We gave the marriage more than six years. We’ll never get back together—total guarantee on that.” He pulled the house door open and held it for her.

  She stepped into the huge living area. The solid floor may as well have been quicksand. Now she had no idea how to maintain the space between them, no safe path to follow. She decided to appeal to the ambitious businessman in him. “Well I’m still serious about needing to keep my business life separate from the personal stuff. You’ve done all your hard setup work, Rafe. You’ve earned your success. I’m just starting out, and I’m so grateful you’ve given me this chance.”

  She heard his derisive snort.

  “I don’t want grateful. I thought I was getting the city’s best decorating advice?”

  She looked up then—to find his killer grin taunting her. “Watch it or I’ll hit you again,” she muttered.

  “I’ll be ready next time.”

  “Next time?” She pretended to be outraged. “You think there’s going to be a ‘next time’, do you?”

  “Or a ‘this time’?” He set the deli bag on the floor.

  Sophie froze as he placed his hands on her shoulders. She tightened her fingers around the crash helmet strap, ready to bop him again if need be.

  “You,” he said, gazing down at her with apparent affection, “are the most infuriating, most tempting little thing I’ve ever had to contend with.” He smoothed his fingers down her leather covered arms and up to her shoulders again. “I don’t beg, Sophie. Begging did me no good when I was a kid. My mother never took me home with her; I learned my lesson.” He shook his head slightly. “But these days I’m a good negotiator. I don’t give up until I reach the win/win point.”

  His thumbs moved to and fro on the bare skin at the neck of her T-shirt, and her pulse started to skitter and lurch like a small anxious animal.

  Rafe continued his dreamy caresses and dropped his voice to a husky murmur. “Every time I get really close, you go up in flames with me, then you pull back. Something’s in the way. I’d like to know what the hell it is. I sense room for compromise, so we’re going to negotiate.”

  “No,” she choked out. “I won’t negotiate. I can’t.”

  He bent, slowly, slowly, until his lips were a heartbeat away from hers. “Are you going to pull back this time, too?”

  “Yes!”

  But she couldn’t move.

  He shook his head, just enough to brush his lips across hers and back again.

  “No you’re not.”

  She let out a long anguished groan of frustration
. Her aching nipples threatened to machinegun him dead. The sexy flicker in her panties danced and taunted like a tiny electric shock.

  “Yes I am,” she wailed, wrenching her head to the side and scrunching her eyes closed so she wouldn’t see the derision and disappointment on his face. And then opened them wide when she heard his throaty chuckle.

  “Doing better,” he said, releasing her and picking up the dinner bag. “Are we eating outside or down below?”

  Outrage and confusion flooded through her. He’d been playing games?

  “How can you just switch on and off like that?” she demanded, staring up into his teasing face.

  He laughed again and took her hand in his big warm grasp. “Not long now until we’re at win/win, Sophie. Good to know.”

  Chapter 15 — Win/Win?

  She attempted to push her jacket off as they walked; sudden heat had flooded through every inch of her. Instantly Rafe stepped behind her, peeling the sleeves away. He tucked the jacket over his arm and used his spare hand to gather her hair aside. His lips touched her nape. So soft and warm that her breath caught in a helpless gasp.

  Desperate to avoid any more of his stealthy seduction she leaned sideways and peered down into the void beside the staircase. “When does the elevator get installed?” Damn, her voice sounded so breathy!

  “A few weeks yet.” She heard his amusement all too clearly. “The walls need to be finished first.”

  She glanced up and pretended the paintwork was fascinating. “Roy’s good,” she said. Even in the harsh light of the bare bulbs, the walls and ceiling were looking wonderful. “Nice surface.” She ran a hand over the smoothness. “And I’ve tracked down some amazing light fittings for you to consider.” She dared to flash a challenging glance in his direction. “Some might be just a little ‘out there’ for your taste, but we’ll see.”

  “Try me.” Rafe turned to guide her through the middle level of the house. The floors were now swept clean, ready for the eventual carpet. The walls had been sealed and undercoated. Some were finished a soft shade of parchment.

  “Any decisions for the panels behind the beds?” She stooped to pick up one of the blue sample squares she’d set there for his consideration. “This is a nice one for a boy’s room.”

  “If I ever have a son.”

  She sensed the deep, dark bitterness in his quiet remark. “Your parents had three of them. Boys seem to run in your family.”

  “Girls run in yours?”

  “Not really.” She and Camille were both the only children of their generation. “I’ve no brothers or sisters.” She set down the color square, and then felt the appalling heat of yet another lie wash over her. Would he remember she’d claimed Sophie’s drawings were by her ‘niece’? If she had no brothers or sisters, where had the niece come from?

  “Did you miss having them, Soph? When you were growing up?” He lowered the dinner bag to the floor.

  “I never... had anyone else for comparison. There was just me. I suppose it made me self-sufficient.”

  She looked over and saw his tightly guarded expression, his grim mouth.

  “I was surrounded by big families,” he said. “Where I grew up the number one entertainment was probably sex. Well, drinking at the pub and then sex. Followed by rugby, once there were enough kids old enough to kick a ball around.” He left a small silence. “But I was on my own with Nanny and Koro. I would have liked... more.”

  “How often did you see your brothers?”

  “When Huia brought them up to see Nanny. A week each January in the summer school holidays.”

  “And that was all?” She knew her voice reflected her appalled feelings.

  “She considered that was her duty done.” His tone remained flat and dismissive. Sophie’s heart ached for the solitary boy he must have been. She’d had a loving mother who would sacrifice anything for her—and was still doing so.

  “Or maybe it was my father’s doing,” Rafe grated. “He stayed fiercely Italian. My brothers are Giancarlo Tauhai Severino and Allessandro Apanui Severino. Enough said; the Italian names take precedence over the Maori ones.”

  “And Rafe Blackhawk?”

  “Raffaello.” He spat it out savagely. “But I won’t be called by the name he gave me.”

  “Raffaello,” she murmured. “No, Rafe suits you better. It’s decisive and ambitious, just like you.”

  “That’s how you see me?”

  Sophie shrugged. “Well, you are, aren’t you? You know what you want and you go and get it. How do you expect me to see you?”

  He narrowed his eyes again. The bitterness had left his face and been replaced with something like mischief.

  “Warm,” he said, surprising her. “Hopefully I got that from Nanny and Koro. I don’t think Huia or Faye managed to beat my upbringing out of me.”

  She managed to return his sizzling smile. “Only warm? I’d say heading for hot.”

  Rafe grinned and gave his chest a few light pats. “Hot, huh? I said we were heading for win/win.”

  The sudden sound of his cellphone intruded, breaking the moment.

  “Heading for dinner.” Sophie snatched up the bag with relief and left him to his call.

  A few minutes later she had plates and cutlery arranged on the downstairs site office table. By the time Rafe arrived she’d spooned out egg salad, bean salad and mesclun greens from three deli pots, and was starting to arrange slices of ham and pastrami beside them. There were two wedges of sinful looking lemon cheesecake waiting in the refrigerator and she’d blown half her food budget for the week.

  Rafe yawned and stretched, surveying her efforts with apparent pleasure.

  “I’ve had an idea for Saturday.” He produced a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc from the fridge. “You’re tied up on Sunday—right?”

  Sophie nodded, fearful he’d quiz her further. To her intense relief he continued, “Let’s take the bike up the Kapiti Coast. Grab lunch somewhere. Go for a walk on the beach.”

  “Your bike?”

  “Well, Pinky isn’t exactly made for the open road.”

  Sophie bit back the defensive comment that threatened to escape. Her bike was beautiful.

  But, a whole day out, after all the weeks of unrelenting work? She could unkink the muscles in her neck and back that had seized up from painting the studio and sitting hunched over her computer late every night. Breathe in the salty blue air. Not to mention spend an hour each way pressed against Rafe’s body, her arms tight around his waist and him unable to grab her in return.

  “As far as Peka Peka maybe?” He opened the bottle and poured them each a glass. “There’s sand forever there—great for walking.”

  Oh give in Sophie. You deserve it. He can’t jump you on a public beach in broad daylight.

  “Sounds great,” she said. “I’ve been so busy I’ve barely even gone running in the last few weeks. I’ll be getting out of shape.”

  He passed her a glass of wine, taking a few seconds for a leisurely survey. “Yep, way out of shape.” The gleam in his dark brown eyes told her otherwise.

  They ate, Rafe wolfing down his food with appreciation, Sophie eating more slowly, watching him from under her eyelashes when she thought he wasn’t looking. To her attentive eyes he still seemed weary. His smile looked just a little strained, his expression guarded.

  “Right,” she said once they’d finished. “Bed.”

  She stood to retrieve her jacket.

  Rafe shook his head and clasped a hand around her wrist. “No, the clothes come off, Soph.”

  She grinned at his everlasting optimism. “You’re dead on your feet, Rafe. You went to sleep on my studio couch. You went to sleep on your chair on the deck. This time you pass out in your own bed and get some proper rest. Saturday would be lovely. What time?”

  “Nine thirty? Bring your shorts so we get some sun. What are you doing tomorrow?”

  “Chasing light fittings for you, and curtain fabrics for a nice Greek l
ady, and starting on a kitchen design for a man who probably can’t afford it. But you never know... And then a baby shower at Fran’s for our friend Cassie. Lots of bibs and booties and little frilly dresses and giggling.”

  He pulled a face. “Girls still do that? How about Friday then?”

  “More appointments—including your friend the city councilor. I’m hoping the fabric sample book for your main bedroom might be available then, too. I’ll let you know. And Friday evening’s my art class. Life drawing.”

  His eyes widened. “Naked people?”

  She smiled like a cat with cream. “Great fun. So I’m afraid your win/win’s on hold for the next couple of days, unless that book turns up in time for a quick lunch meeting. See you Saturday morning.”

  “If that’s really the best you can do,” he grumbled, standing to hold her jacket so she could slip her arms into the sleeves. He carefully lifted her hair out from under the collar, smoothing his fingers through it before she could object.

  “Get some sleep,” she repeated, loving the feel of his hands as they moved slowly over her scalp and shoulders but knowing she should discourage him so she could keep the unacceptable absence of her daughter a secret.

  Together they retraced their steps up the two flights of stairs and out onto the big deck again. The wind had freshened; the waves slapped harder on the rocks below. Clouds obscured the moon now, and she was glad of his company in the darkness.

  “I need to get the outside lighting hooked up,” he said, setting the cable-car on its upward journey and pulling her in against him as usual. She didn’t try and get away this time. After all, she was safe now. Escaping. Out of his clutches.

  But his shower soap and his freshly laundered T-shirt and his warm skin blended into a potent masculine fragrance that held her close... drew her closer... She turned her face toward him a fraction more, sniffing deeply and quietly, feeling herself filling up with frustrated longing.

  “Yeah, your scent gets me, too.”

  The amusement in his deep voice was obvious. And the sexy edge of danger.

  Because she had her head tucked in under his chin, Sophie couldn’t see his face. And the arm that held her safe wasn’t letting her draw away in the slightest.

  “You can’t fool me, Soph. I felt that big deep breath. You like the way I smell. I like the way you smell, too. Win/win.”

  The cable-car continued its quiet upward climb, but Sophie felt as if she was plummeting down into an ever more dangerous pit. She’d really given herself away that time. And with something so small. Yes, she loved the scent of him. Loved the taste of him, too, but she wasn’t going to admit that as well. He was becoming more and more difficult to resist, but she had to find the strength from somewhere—she simply had too much at stake.

 
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