All for love 3 series.., p.18
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.18

           Kris Pearson
 

  So just like that it was over?

  Sophie held back a little, reached for the clasp on her exquisite pearl and diamond pendant and undid it. She released each of the matching earrings and cupped them in her palm.

  Many of the men had started removing their suit jackets in readiness for a relaxed lunch in the warm room.

  Moving like an automaton, she approached the table Rafe had headed for. When he settled his jacket over his chair-back she slipped her briefly owned treasures into one of its pockets, and kept right on walking.

  His attention was already on someone else. She didn’t think he even noticed her leaving.

  Unable to face food, and sick with desolation, she walked until she was back at the studio.

  Every time she thought of his cold voice, her heart froze a little more. If she’d been the least bit important to him surely he’d have invited her to leave, and driven her somewhere quiet and neutral to talk reasonably about the situation?

  One of the harbor lookouts would have been fine. They could have stared at the view if they couldn’t stand to look at each other. She might have been able to explain things better without Faye’s intrusive and gloating presence.

  Without everyone else in earshot.

  But it seemed he’d wanted a toy for his bed, not a real human being with a life and problems of her own. She was disposable.

  Well, her daughter was not.

  She bit down hard on the tip of her tongue, trying to make something else hurt more than her battered heart.

  Overwhelmed by sudden worry as well as grief, she called up his file on her computer and reviewed her financial situation. God, she now owed more money than she could imagine! How would she ever repay it?

  The advance Rafe had given her would not be used on chairs for clients. She’d ordered tens of thousands of dollars worth of carpet and ceramic tile in her own name, and so far he’d paid only the fifty percent deposit toward them.

  She’d asked Roy to charge him direct for the paint and his labor, so at least that was out of the equation. One small mercy anyway.

  If all the hours she’d spent consulting, sourcing and planning were never paid for, that was tough. Her valuable time would have been wasted but at least there were no outgoings attached, only total lack of income.

  Because Faye had started negotiations with the kitchen supplier months previously, that account would land on Rafe’s plate. She blew out a slow breath of relief— the kitchen had cost as much as a small house.

  But hell, the electric roller-shades she’d ordered were mega-expensive. Some of the curtain fabrics were way at the luxury end of the spectrum too. They’d been cut and dispatched. They’d all be charged to Subtle Interiors, along with the huge rugs and heaven knew what else.

  Sophie buried her head in her hands and felt her stomach beginning to roll and boil with terror.

  What if Rafe dragged the chain on paying her? He could hold up his money for months. She’d be ruined before she’d properly started. Her business would die a painful premature death. She’d be declared bankrupt. Camille would never leave the South Island.

  Sophie would hate him forever.

  *

  Rafe scraped an aggrieved hand through his hair and over his tired eyes. He surely hadn’t seen this mess on the horizon.

  So that accounted for all the trips down to Picton? Guilt trips because Sophie had deserted her daughter. What a fool he’d been to fall for her, and start imagining her as anything more than his decorator.

  Of course she’d looked competent with Lucy in her arms—she was well used to children, even if she’d pretended to be so career oriented.

  Scheming liar.

  Of course she’d be taking part in baby showers and hanging childish paintings on her refrigerator door.

  He should have seen the signs. He had seen the signs. And somehow persuaded himself to ignore them.

  His cellphone rang. He grimaced when he saw Sophie’s name on the screen.

  “Severino,” he barked, wanting to hurt her, wanting her to know she meant nothing to him.

  “Rafe?” She lapsed into silence.

  “Yup.” Flat and cold. He’d be damned if he’d offer her any encouragement or help.

  “We need to talk.”

  “You might need to. I don’t.”

  “You judged me, without knowing anything about me. You didn’t even let me explain.”

  “So explain. You had a baby, you farmed it out to your mother, you went on living your own sweet life as far as I can see. Not a million miles different from Huia.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous! Don’t be so judgmental. You saw me as a talented designer before you knew about Camille. And that’s how I had to keep things. Now you see a selfish solo mother who didn’t look after her own child?”

  “That’s exactly it, Sophie. You’ve summed yourself up beautifully.”

  “No! I’ve only told you what you’ve assumed. What you’ve wrongly assumed. You have no idea of the situation. I’m nothing like your mother—and at least her husband stood by her.”

  There was another deathly silence. He was damned if he’d tell her how gutted he was.

  That he’d hoped to explore making a life with her.

  That he’d found the jewelry in his pocket and seen it as a cruel brushoff and a sign she wanted no more to do with him. He’d spent a lot of time finding a perfect gift to please her, and already she’d thrown it back in his face.

  “If that’s the best you can do, then goodbye,” he said, breaking the connection.

  *

  Bastard, bastard, bastard! Sophie thought. Rotten bastard. Filthy bastard. Unfeeling bastard.

  Earlier that morning he’d hung pearls and diamonds on her, bitten her neck and told her she was his woman. Now she was pond scum?

  She slapped her phone down, leaned her elbows on her desk, and buried her face in her hands.

  I mustn’t cry. I cannot let him make me cry. I need to stay civil and calm so he’ll pay me what he owes.

  After a few minutes she drew a long, shuddering breath and raised her head. Everything outside on Thorndon Quay looked summery, carefree, relaxed. Everything inside her beloved studio seemed tense, shadowy and dismal.

  She cupped her chin in one hand and used the fingers of the other to peck around the keyboard and compose him a slow and careful invoice.

  The carpet was all laid. That would have to be paid for. The electric blinds were ordered and probably half made by now. They couldn’t be cancelled. There were also the fabrics and the specially woven rugs for the living areas. The wet areas on the middle and lower floors were already tiled.

  At least she could cancel the tile installation on the big main floor and send all those heavy boxes back for a refund, even though the cartage would be a cruel extra expense. She had to assume there’d be no more work.

  She wrapped her arms across her body and rocked to and fro, trying to find some comfort. Trying to gain some confidence back. Trying to suppress the awful hot burn in her throat. She would not cry.

  Finally she sighed and sat up straighter. Her eyes barely functioned, blurred with pain and unshed tears. She corrected mistake after mistake as she keyed in wrong numbers, but no way would she give him any excuse to question her invoice. She concentrated harder until it was perfect in every detail. After she’d printed it she creased it carefully, slid it into a heavy cream envelope and positioned her Subtle Interiors address label in the corner.

  But how did she get it to him? She really didn’t want to post it to the boatyard because that would take extra time. There wasn’t a mailbox at the house yet, unless Chris had incorporated one into the big garage by now.

  She hadn’t been there since Thursday. Maybe she could hand deliver her envelope, and have one last look while Rafe wasn’t there? One last look at what might have been.

  *

  Rafe took the long way home, avoiding as much civilization as possible so he c
ould let the Ducati have its head. He needed to do something violently physical to burn Sophie out of his brain and body, but killing himself on the road wasn’t the answer. He coasted into the almost finished garage and locked the bike.

  Five minutes later he’d changed his suit for shorts and started hacking away at the fennel and blackberry that choked the timber steps from the clifftop down to the far end of the deck—the alternative access if the cable-car failed. Right now even a cat would have trouble slinking through.

  Every chop and hack and heave helped to dispel his anger a fraction of a degree. After an hour he’d calmed from savage to simmering. Sweat rolled off him. He was dirty and scratched, and feeling the burn in his arms and legs and back. As he scrambled down to the deck to grab another bottle of water he heard the winch mechanism of the cable-car switch on. And then saw Sophie starting to descend.

  He stood, feet apart, knees braced as he sucked the liquid down. He drank half; tipped the rest over his chest and shoulders.

  And waited, hot and dripping and hating her.

  She stepped out, looking like a thief. “I wasn’t expecting you’d be here,” she faltered.

  “Bad luck. I am.”

  “It doesn’t matter. I just wanted one last look at how things went today and then I’ll be out of your life.” She produced a long cream envelope with the SUBTLE logo and held it out toward him with an unsteady hand. “My invoice for the rest of the work I’ve done, and the balance for the carpet and the tile work.” She gave an almost audible swallow. “I don’t suppose you want me to get the top floor finished off now? I can send those boxes back if you like?”

  Rafe had to admire her courage.

  He curled his lip as he reached across for the envelope and stuffed it into the pocket of his shorts. “Come and see it then.” His tone was brusque but he half extended a hand in invitation.

  Sophie hesitated a second or two and then crossed the deck to the doors while Rafe slapped and wiped at his wet chest and belly.

  *

  They walked down the stairs without talking. She clutched the handrail, overcome by all that skin, his quiet air of menace, and her dependence on him settling his account with her.

  “It’s good,” she said, trying to sound much calmer than she felt. “It’s how I hoped it would look. You think it’s okay?”

  “I think it’s fine. No worries with the house, Sophie, but what the hell happened to us?”

  She shrugged, and then said with exaggerated calm, “Oh, that’s easy. I thought you cared for me, and you didn’t even give me a chance to explain before you finished it between us.”

  “Explain to me now.”

  She shook her head. “What good would it do? You’re not going to see past the fact I’ve left my daughter in my mother’s care since she was a baby. You don’t know I phone her every night. You don’t give a damn I make the effort to spend every Sunday with her—whole weekends when I can. That I travel on that wretched ferry three hours each way when flying would be so much faster and nicer.”

  “I do know you see her. But why do you always sail?”

  “Because it’s half the price of flying! I can afford to go twice on the ferry compared to once by air. It was the only way I could manage to give Mom money for Camille’s care and save something toward the studio as well.”

  Her gaze sought his. “Have you ever seen me wear anything that’s not black or white or blue?” she demanded.

  “What the hell’s that got to do with it?”

  “Because it’s all I have. It’s what I can afford. My clothes all go together different ways. I don’t have spare stuff. I wear it all. None of it’s fancy designer gear like yours and Faye’s—and most of it’s secondhand. You and I live in different worlds and always will. I was mad to ever start hoping.”

  She turned and dashed up the stairs, frustration and anguish warring for supremacy in her aching heart.

  He was never going to listen properly. Never going to understand. She might as well be talking to a brick wall. He saw what he wanted to see, and that was all.

  “Sophie...”

  What he wanted to see was obviously not her and her daughter.

  “When the hell were you planning to tell me the truth?” he shouted after her as she ran across the deck to the cable-car and set the carriage in motion.

  “Sod off, Rafe!” she yelled, half blinded by tears of impotence and fury.

  Chapter 21 — Fairy Does Flips

  Rafe spent the next few days in an agony of indecision.

  The twinkling light that was Sophie had been switched off, and there were shadows where sunshine had been before. He missed her soft skin and her scent and her laughter. Missed her cheeky comments and her enthusiasm. His life seemed flat as a punctured tire.

  But... she’d sneakily deceived him. Kept her huge disgusting secret from him, and seemed to have no intention of ever letting him know about her daughter.

  And still he was haunted by the taste of her, the feel of her tongue sliding against his, the throaty catch of breath between her kisses.

  He missed her beyond belief.

  As the time dragged by he forced himself to consider if she was really as bad as his hard hearted mother.

  Huia had virtually given him away. Was Huia that much under Luca’s thumb? Or—and the thought startled him—had she been so much in love with Luca that she’d been willing to bend to his wishes and give up her dark skinned child because that’s what her fair complexioned husband had wanted and demanded?

  Had Rafe been left in his grandmother’s care because his mother loved her husband more than she loved her son?

  He had to concede that hadn’t been the case with Sophie and Camille. Sophie’s partner had died. Her world had no doubt been thrown into chaos, and she’d been left on her own. Young, grieving, and maybe without much financial support.

  He roamed around the deck above the surging waves, feeling more and more uncomfortable when he contrasted the relative positions of the two women. His mother might have been heartbroken, but she’d made her own choice. Sophie had had her choice ripped away.

  But she should have told him. She didn’t trust him. He was no ogre; she should have known he’d understand.

  *

  On Friday morning, after endless anguish and confusion, he paced his splendid master bedroom suite. The walls and carpet and en suite bathroom were perfect. Only the curtains remained to be finished. Indeed they hadn’t even been started. The fabric sample book still leaned against the dressing room door.

  Sophie had been gnawing at his composure, wrecking his concentration, messing with his mind at the most inopportune moments. If he got this final reminder of her out of the house perhaps that would put paid to things once and for all.

  Or is it the excuse I need to see if there’s a chance of re-igniting what we had?

  He lifted the heavy book up and riffled through the swatches, pausing at the one she’d pinned a yellow Post-it note to.

  He nodded, confirming the rightness of her taste yet again. At the very least he should get the curtains under way—get the room completed. He needed to somehow go on with his life.

  An hour later, clutching the book, he opened the studio door and found she had a customer, a short-haired blonde woman inspecting photos.

  Sophie called across to him coolly, “I’ll be with you in just a minute.”

  He would have laid the sample book down and returned at a more auspicious time except that the customer’s child peeked around the edge of the sofa and then ducked back out of sight with a giggle.

  “There’s a fairy behind the sofa,” he whispered, which made the fairy pop its head up again. She had immense blue eyes and a cheeky grin. “Can you do flips?” she asked.

  He thought about that for a moment or two. “What—cartwheels? Somersaults?”

  “No—flips. You know?”

  “Not really,” he said, setting the heavy book aside. “Show me how and then I
ll know.”

  She huffed her breath out as though he had a lot to learn. “Like this,” she said, trotting across to the other wall of the studio and launching herself into an exuberant run and tumble. Rafe threw himself sideways and caught her the instant before she smashed the orchids off their stand and scattered crystal and flowers and water the length of the room.

  “Camille!” Sophie yelped, and looked across at her ex-lover and her daughter, collapsed on the sofa together, both laughing their heads off.

  Rafe drew back to inspect the child, although it was difficult with her determined little arms twined around his neck. “I’ve heard about you,” he said. He didn’t dare glance at Sophie, but here she was in miniature, cuddled on his knee. Long blonde hair, rose-petal skin, eyes to drown in. “Not a good place for flips, eh?”

  He adjusted his arms around her.

  “Mom, this is Rafe,” he heard Sophie gulp. “The man with the house...”

  Rafe glanced sideways at the sample book. “The man who’s come to order his bedroom curtains,” he said, hoping not to be instantly dismissed. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mrs Calhoun.”

  “Have you really?” Sophie asked, her voice far from steady.

  “Nice to meet you too, Rafe. My daughter’s just been showing me some photos of what she’s doing for you.”

  His gaze finally homed in on Sophie’s. “I like the sample you’re suggesting.”

  “Can we please have one conversation at a time?” she asked, back to being the snippy little organizer who’d captured his heart and then broken it.

  “My Barbie’s got new silver shoes,” Camille confided, right in his ear. “Your face smells nice.” She twisted so she could look across at Sophie. “Come and smell this man’s face, Mommy.”

  *

  “So much for trying to raise a child who won’t climb into cars with strangers,” Nancy said a little later. Her tone was dry but her eyes were warm.

  “Camille knows I’m safe.”

  “About as safe as a boa constrictor,” Sophie murmured.

  Rafe continued to sit, unwilling to leave. Camille played with his five hundred dollar tie, spreading sticky marks over it from the Barbie hair-gel she’d been showing him how to use.

  Sophie had taken three phone-calls, checked several emails and signed for a courier delivery.

 
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