All for love 3 series.., p.17
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.17

           Kris Pearson
 

  They’d dined properly at last—no pizza or deli food this time. And between the lobster and the chocolate hazelnut torte he told her he’d be out of New Zealand for a while.

  “I can’t afford to neglect the northern hemisphere business. Having the owner on site sometimes swings huge sales our way.”

  “So where are you going?”

  “Barcelona for starters. For the last few days of the International Boat Show.”

  “Spain...”

  Rafe heard the longing in her voice.

  “Like to come with me?”

  Sophie shook her head and sighed. “You can’t afford to neglect the boat shows and I can’t afford to neglect my new studio. And where to after that?”

  “London. Earls Court. Home in a couple of weeks.”

  She started to prod her dessert in a distinctly distracted manner. “Damn—I was just getting used to having you around.”

  “So we’ll make tonight memorable.”

  And later, in the privacy of the hotel suite their lovemaking had been way beyond anything he’d anticipated. He’d burned for more of her even as he’d subsided into exhausted sleep.

  On Wednesday morning he’d reluctantly put her on the plane back to Wellington while he attended to business in Whangarei, and then spent two more days of profitable meetings and client schmoozing in Auckland.

  Now it was almost midnight on Saturday—too late to call by her apartment. But by God he’d be there first thing tomorrow, early enough to unravel the mystery of her Sunday disappearances.

  If she went to see someone else, he wanted to know who. And put a stop to it. She was his now.

  *

  At seven-fifteen next morning he parked the Ducati a short distance away and waited less than patiently to see what transpired. He wore his oldest jeans and an army style camouflage patterned jacket one of the builders had left on the top floor. In his pocket were wraparound sunglasses and a long-billed cap. He felt disgusted with himself, yet nothing would have stopped him. Stalking her was abhorrent, but not knowing where she went felt even worse.

  Finally she appeared. Rafe followed her at a discreet distance and saw her turn off to the inter-island ferry depot. He watched as she parked her pink Vespa and headed for the terminal building. He did the same, removing his helmet, sliding the sunglasses on, and pulling the cap down low. Perhaps she had a Sunday job here?

  He kept well back, watching in astonishment as she checked in, bought a coffee, and sat down to read. She was going to the South Island again. Who was she really visiting?

  No wiser, but a good deal more on edge, he returned home, packed, and headed for the airport. He flew out that afternoon to Europe.

  *

  He landed back in Wellington in time for the next municipal lunch, and strode in to see Sophie just minutes after she’d unlocked the door to the studio.

  She straightened from smoothing out the throws and cushions on the sofa and dashed across to him. “Missed you, missed you, missed you!” she exclaimed as he swept her into his arms. The heat bubbled up, intense as ever. His mouth slanted over hers, possessive and passionate. Their hands wandered to unwise places given how publicly on display they were.

  “Good to be back,” he murmured. “Calls and emails just don’t do it.”

  “Nice to have you back, with a welcome like that.”

  “Missed you too. All business and no pleasure.”

  “I should hope so,” she teased, chafing against his growing erection. “Saved that just for me, did you?”

  “Any time you want him, he’s all yours.”

  “Soon... please...”

  “Greedy girl. And clever girl, too—the house is coming on well.”

  “You like the carpet? Suitable for ravishing me on?”

  “Want to try it out after today’s lunch at the Wakefield Club?”

  “Can we wait that long?”

  He pulled back and grinned. Glanced across at the big window to the street. “If you don’t mind giving the world an eyeful, I don’t.”

  She sent him a bashful grin. “Maybe this evening then?”

  He ran his thumb softly over her bottom lip, watching her eyes, enjoying the sexy little hitch in her breathing.

  “I’ve kissed off all your lipstick, baby—you’ll have to put some more on.”

  “Not until I’ve had enough of kissing you.”

  Their lips met and parted, met and parted.

  “Thank you for all the phone calls,” she added when he finally drew away. “Nicer than the emails, for sure. The sound of your voice gives me goosebumps.”

  Rafe reached into his pocket. “Here’s something else I’m hoping might give you goosebumps.” He handed her a flat leather covered jeweler’s box.

  “What...? What have you bought me now?” She raised the lid of the box with trepidation. “Rafe!”

  “You said you needed earrings with proper clips instead of just hooks.”

  She touched a reverent finger to the Tahitian silver-grey pearls that gleamed against their black velvet bed. Two earrings and a pendant—each with a perfect round dark pearl suspended from a string of three fiery white diamonds.

  She looked up into his face and shook her head sadly. “I can’t accept these.”

  “Of course you can. I chose them to match your eyes.”

  Sophie bit her lip. “They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” she murmured. “They belong in a glossy magazine or on someone rich and famous. Not on me.”

  “They belong,” he said with mock severity, “on you. They belong to you, and I want to see them being worn right now.”

  He smoothed her blonde hair back behind her ears and unthreaded the silver and lapis cubes that hung there. It felt good removing another man’s gift and replacing it with his own. Marking her as his. Expressing appreciation of his precious new woman.

  He narrowed his eyes in concentration as he pushed the first platinum post through the piercing and secured the clip. The shining pearl glowed against her pale skin; the diamonds spat sparks of light. He tilted her head, fixed the second jewel in place and leaned back to enjoy the effect. “Almost as pretty as the girl who’s wearing them. But only almost.”

  She smiled at that, and looped her long hair up so he could attend to the pendant. “Should I turn around?”

  “Might make it easier.”

  She swiveled, and he set his teeth into her neck with a grunt of satisfaction. “Mine,” he said roughly. He kissed the place he’d bitten. “I wish I could have taken you with me.”

  “And then you’d have no carpet and no tiles, and no other progress on the house either.”

  “I can think of better uses for you than tarting up my home. You could have been decorating my bed every night.” He fastened the catch of the pendant and buried his face in her fragrant hair, smoothing his hands down the soft fabric that covered her upper arms. “I like this little blouse,” he added, turning her to survey the finished effect. “Very prim and proper. A wonderful contrast with the sexy body underneath.”

  “It’s old,” Sophie said. “Edwardian I think. I’m not the first owner. It’s quite fun exploring the stores that sell pre-owned clothing.”

  *

  And, she thought sadly, it would be a lot more fun if I could explore the designer boutiques.

  “Second-hand?” It sounded as though he disapproved.

  “It’s been washed,” she said, rather too sharply. If only he knew how she had to economize...

  He stroked a long finger over the Tahitian pearl pendant and continued right on down between her breasts until he hit the lace-line.

  “I’ll collect you at lunchtime, Soph. You look like something out of a glossy magazine yourself now. I’m glad I bought them.”

  “Thank you,” she said again, rising on tiptoe for a final kiss. “And I’m glad you’re back. See you.”

  As soon as he left, she hurried into the washroom and inspected herself in t
he blotchy mirror. Even the awful old glass couldn’t disguise the lustrous beauty of the pearls or the glow on her face. She gathered her hair up in a rough bundle. Yes, she’d wear it up for lunch and show off her beautiful treasures.

  She wondered if Faye would be present again. The past Mrs Severino wouldn’t be dampening her spirits this time.

  *

  “White, thanks,” Sophie said in answer to Rafe’s inquiry. He returned a minute or two later with their wines, and guided her across to a circle of people discussing the up-coming rugby tournament. His hand remained in the small of her back, moving backward and forward across her black suit jacket.

  “Some of last year’s spectators looked totally indecent,” a potbellied man declared. “That stretchy fabric on the so-called ‘aliens’ didn’t leave a lot to the imagination. You could see the outline of... everything.”

  “Bet you didn’t mind the see-through tops on the mermaids though, Jim?” someone else said.

  Sophie recognized the pigeon-poop complainer, sounding much more cheerful this time.

  The man called Jim bristled. “Some standards have to apply,” he said. “Can’t have everyone half naked and half drunk. Bad for the city’s image.”

  “But fantastic for business,” a smoky-voiced redhead purred.

  “It’s all right for you, Suzy. Your bar does well out of it every year. I doubt I sold one extra roll of wallpaper over that weekend.”

  There was a burst of laughter at that.

  “Horses for courses, Jim. No-one stocks up on DIY supplies if they’re here for the rugby.”

  The good natured banter continued. Sophie caught Rafe’s eye and smiled. “I think it’ll be the same for me,” she said. “People don’t come to watch a big sporting event and book a decorating consultation on the side.”

  Her new earrings swung from her lobes—a tiny sexy caress each time she turned her head. Happiness bubbled right through her.

  “But think of the locals streaming by your windows on the way to the stadium and remembering you later on?” Rafe suggested.

  “Maybe.”

  “Oh hardly, Rafe!” Faye’s strident voice intruded as she joined the group. “Good designers earn their reputations one job at a time, and word of mouth is by far their most powerful sales tool.” She laid a hand on his other arm. “Friends telling friends, and so on.”

  Sophie flinched. Knew Rafe would feel it. She was grateful when his fingers slid around her waist and tightened a little.

  Faye flicked her glamorous eyes around the circle.

  “So—new business going well?” she asked, singling Sophie out.

  “Very well indeed thanks, Faye.” She tried hard to match Faye’s casual tone.

  An elegant eyebrow arched. “Of course your idea of ‘good’ is probably not up there with my idea of good.”

  Sophie shrugged. “My studio may be new, but I can already see my margins will be healthy. Maybe better than yours? Not so many overheads?”

  Faye sniffed and turned her attention to Rafe. “I had dinner with Jane and Joe Bateson on Sunday, darling. They’re off to Perth for Christmas. Too hot by far, I thought.”

  “It was damned cold in Europe last week.”

  “Oh—of course—the boring boat shows. Poor you.”

  “My bread and butter Faye, as you well know.”

  “You’ll be getting through plenty of bread and butter,” Faye needled, eyeing Rafe’s possessive hand, “now you’ve got a start on the little family you’ve been so frantic for. Shame it couldn’t be your own child, darling, but I suppose secondhand is better than nothing where you’re concerned?”

  Her malevolent smile flared scarlet; her teeth flashed very white against her vivid lipstick.

  Sophie felt her world beginning to crash.

  Chapter 20 — Faye's Bombshell

  “What?” Rafe demanded.

  “Little Camellia—the daughter she’s had hidden away for years. Surely you knew about her?”

  “Camille,” Sophie corrected, feeling absolute desolation engulf her. There was no point in denying Camille’s existence, but at least the bitch could get her child’s name correct.

  “Camille, that’s right,” Faye cooed. “The girl she disposed of to her mother. Just like you were parked out of sight with your granny for all those years, Rafe. How history repeats itself.”

  Sophie felt Rafe’s hand loosen its comforting grip and slide away from her waist.

  She tried to find some oxygen in the suddenly starved atmosphere, and somehow dared to look up at him. His dark eyes bored down into hers, searching for the truth. And she saw the very moment he registered that her correction of Camille’s name had confirmed Faye’s story.

  “And how old is...”

  “Camille? Almost five.” She held her chin high, silently pleading with him to understand.

  The rest of the circle had fallen silent the instant Faye dropped her bombshell. Now there was a hectic rush of babble to cover the awkward situation.

  “Five years old?”

  She heard his strong censure slicing her to shreds. Recalled him saying that by the time he was three or four he’d known he should have been with his parents. Obviously he felt the same about Camille.

  She somehow held his accusing gaze. “Four and three-quarters, she says. She’s due to start school in February.”

  “And how much longer were you going to keep her a secret? Keep me in the dark?” His eyes held no warmth at all.

  “It’s not about you, Rafe. It’s not even about her. It’s about—” She threw her hands up in a gesture of defeat. The remains of her wine almost slopped over the rim of her glass. “Survival,” she finished, reaching over to set it on a nearby windowsill before she lost it. Before she threw the dregs in his handsome face for reacting so coldly, perhaps? “Listen,” she pleaded.

  “Excuse me.”

  She stood there speechless as he strode away. He’d left her to the mercy of Faye and these near strangers at the worst moment of her life?

  “Ooops,” Faye said, looking delighted.

  Sophie ignored her and watched as Rafe approached the bar and upended his glass. He swallowed the rest of his wine in one savage gulp. She saw the movement of his Adam’s apple... the stretch of the tanned neck she’d stroked and nipped and kissed with such tenderness.

  She swung her attention back to Faye, and her fury boiled out. “You sad disgusting cow! Why are you trying to break us up? He wouldn’t take you back if you were the last woman on earth.”

  Faye smirked. “I wouldn’t have him back if he begged. Not after the stories that are spreading around town. How do you think I feel, hearing he’s run off with my assistant and set her up in her own business?”

  “What?” Sophie almost shrieked. “Set me up? Never! Subtle is entirely my project, my money.”

  Faye gave her a supercilious smile. “And how are you going to convince people of that? How do you think it looks? People assume the two of you have been carrying on behind my back for years. No-one does that to me.”

  “Get real,” Sophie hissed. “Rafe’s got more class than that, and so have I.” She snatched a fierce breath and thrust her face closer to Faye’s. “And get this straight, too—there’s nothing secondhand about my daughter. Just because you don’t want children, you’ve no right to try and to spoil other people’s pleasure in them.”

  To Sophie’s annoyance, Faye’s brittle smile grew wider and more complacent. “She was just the ammunition I needed, wasn’t she… He’ll never have you back now.”

  “I don’t give a damn about that.” Sophie raised her voice to include the others. “Camille hasn’t been ‘disposed of’. What a stinking thing to say.” She rounded on Faye again. “You know what happened. Her father died, and my mother took care of her to help me through a terrible time.”

  “But he’ll never have you now,” Faye repeated.

  “You’ve totally twisted the situation,” Sophie snapped. “You wouldn
t recognize a kind deed if it bit you on the ass, Faye. And everyone who knows you feels the same.”

  She whirled away and stared out the window. Was Faye’s ego really that fragile? Had she seriously launched her vitriol just to stop people thinking her husband might have cheated on her?

  Her shoulders drooped in defeat. Oh, what did it matter now? The harm was done.

  She turned around as Rafe strode back. He made an all too obvious point of standing a couple of feet away from her while he sipped the large whiskey he’d just collected.

  Was his shock any worse than hers? She’d endured four long weeks of dread, knowing sooner or later he’d have to be told. As they’d gotten increasingly close it had become ever more impossible to confess. It seemed doubly unfair it should be Faye who’d dropped her in the putrid mud.

  And wasn’t the woman enjoying it! Another triumphant glance from her heavily made up eyes flashed in their direction.

  Rafe moved closer so only Sophie could hear him. “You thought you’d found a wealthy sugar daddy to spring your kid onto?” he demanded.

  She stepped away a little and he followed.

  “I thought I’d found a big enough commission that I could afford to bring her back home to live with me at last. You didn’t come into it on a personal level until you absolutely forced yourself into my life.”

  “I did no such thing.”

  “You grabbed me and touched me and kissed me every opportunity you got. I told you again and again that I needed to keep it just business.”

  “You didn’t tell me why.” His eyes flamed with passion, and his beautiful lips compressed with resentment.

  “Why should I? You were a client. My personal life had nothing to do with you. I gave you perfectly good business reasons.”

  “You’re a cold little bitch, Sophie. Surely you could have told me?”

  Her hopes shriveled even further at his accusing tone. “When did you have in mind, Rafe? When you described your dysfunctional family while we ate that pizza on the deck? I was itching to tell you, but I had to balance your possible disapproval—”

  “Possible?” he sneered.

  “All right, your certain disapproval, with the chance to reclaim Camille. And she won.”

  A spoon rang out against someone’s glass.

  “If everyone could take their seats for lunch please?”

  Mutters of anticipation and general shuffling toward the dining room ensued. Rafe turned away from her, mouth tight, eyes furious.

 
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