All for love 3 series.., p.19
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.19

           Kris Pearson
 

  “You’re busy,” he said. “I should get out of your way.” He stayed seated.

  “We should all get out of her way,” Nancy agreed, also making no move to leave.

  “How about I take the three of you out to lunch?” he asked.

  “McDonald’s?” Camille begged, eyes wide and pleading.

  “Or maybe somewhere close to Santa,” Rafe suggested, winking at her, finally rescuing his tie, and rising to his feet. “I’ll be back about 12.30. Okay?”

  *

  They lunched at the pretty upstairs café in McKenzie and Raines’ department store. After they’d eaten, Nancy took Camille to see the Santa grotto with its myriad Christmas decorations and lights and automated figures, just as Rafe had hoped she would.

  Once he and Sophie were alone he reached across and took her hand, rubbing his thumb softly over her knuckles. “I have something here of yours.” He rummaged in a pocket with his other hand and rescued the pearl and diamond jewelry. “I know I’m still on shaky ground but will you at least wear this for me?”

  Sophie closed her eyes for a second or two and then looked up at him. “The ground seems a bit less shaky now—or am I only imagining that?”

  He heard definite caution in her voice but the words held enough hope to warm his heart. “I’m so, so sorry the way things went, Soph.” He lined up the earrings and started to shake the pendant’s chain free of its tangles. “I made assumptions, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

  “Based on your own past.”

  “Wrong assumptions. How could I be so stupid? My mother still had my father. Your partner wasn’t around any longer... and was never coming back.”

  “I sent Camille away for the best.”

  “I know that now. But I hurt you. Must have hurt you a lot, saying what I did.”

  “It wasn’t great,” she agreed. “But I gave you a fairly large earful in return as I recall. And I’ve been wishing all week I could take back the ‘sod off’ I yelled when I stomped away.”

  He grinned at her bashful face. “No, I quite enjoyed that. Showed you hadn’t lost your spirit. That you still had plenty of fight left.”

  Sophie tried to stifle her smile, without success. “I’ve had to stand up for myself,” she said, taking the pendant from his big hands and making easier work of the tangles than he was. “The only way to get out of the situation was to let Mom help. I never imagined it would take so long or be so hard. Weeks turned into months.” She set the pendant down on the table. “Months turned into long hopeless years.” She sighed and was quiet for a moment. “I thought if I could get the studio up and running I stood a chance of giving Camille a decent future. The only other choice was to struggle along on welfare payments with no end in sight.”

  Rafe bowed his head. Yes, she was a fighter. Willing even to stand up to him in his foulest mood. “So how long?”

  “Since she was about a year old. I was dead of exhaustion and worry. Mom put her life on hold so I could live mine. Which made me feel even guiltier of course.”

  “I don’t imagine either of you had it easy?”

  “I was guilty on all counts,” Sophie continued, ignoring his question. “Guilty for giving up my baby. Guilty for wrecking years my mother should have been able to enjoy. Guilty for not telling you about Camille. I wish I’d told you right at the start. You’ll never know how bad I feel about not doing that.”

  She flicked her gaze down to the table top and began to arrange the fine chain so it made a frame for the earrings. “But I hoped maybe—maybe—your work was going to be the big break to bring my life right and miraculously return my daughter to me. I was so sure you wouldn’t employ me if you knew.”

  She ran the tip of her finger around the earrings in a tight figure of eight pattern.

  When she raised her eyes again he asked, “You really thought I was so biased?”

  She shrugged.

  “Hold your hair out of the way,” he said, picking up the pendant. “And think about this while I’m fiddling with that little catch.” He rose to secure it around her neck. “Can we start again? Take it slow. Make it honest this time. Honest on both sides.” He bent and pressed a tender kiss onto her nape, then closed his hands around her long tail of hair and smoothed it down her back before he sat again. “I wanted you so much I probably rushed you off your feet.”

  “Just a bit.” She picked up one of the earrings, and held it dangling so the diamonds danced under the lights. “I quite liked it, if you want the truth.” She hid her face with her other hand, and then looked at him over the tips of her fingers. Her shoulders shook with mirth.

  “You can put your own earrings on after telling me that, Ms Calhoun.”

  “Yes, Rafe,” she said meekly. And slipped off a shoe so she could rub her foot up and down his leg under the table.

  *

  A week later, as they drove home from one of the harbor-front restaurants, Rafe finally shared what he’d been turning around in his mind for the last several days.

  He reached across and clasped her hand, steering the big car easily with the other. “I know I said we should take it slowly, so I want to give you time to think about this. Would you three consider sharing my house? In time for Camille to start school in February?”

  He heard her indrawn breath and pressed on. “Once we’ve got things a bit more finished, of course.” He tightened his warm grip. “Think about it for me? Your mother would be very private in the suite downstairs, apart from me wandering by to use the gym.”

  “With half your gorgeous body on display?

  “Possibly.”

  “I’d want to supervise that,” she said.

  Rafe heard the laugh in her voice and smiled as the Jaguar scythed through the darkness. “She could rent out her Picton house for some extra income until she decides what to do longer term,” he added. “She’d see plenty of Camille this way. She could work part time or help you in the studio or mind Camille after school. Whatever the two of you decide. You seem to be a good team.”

  He knew Sophie’s eyes were on him, and he kept his own on the winding road. She’d said nothing in the affirmative yet.

  He continued with his negotiating. “Camille can take her pick of at least four different bedrooms. And ours is all finished bar the curtains. We could manage without curtains for a while, couldn’t we?”

  “Couldn’t we?” he asked again when there was no immediate reply from her.

  She squeezed his hand, and puffed out a quiet laugh. “I asked for express service on them a couple of days ago.”

  Hope thumped in his big heart. “You belong with me, Sophie. Don’t mess me about.”

  “You and me and Mom and Camille?”

  He nodded in the darkness. “I want to put a ‘reserved’ sticker on you until you’re sure things are okay between us. I’ll buy you one hell of a ring and ask your mother’s permission on one knee if I have to.” He slowed, retrieved his hand, and signaled the garage door to open.

  “And my daughter’s permission too?” she asked as the lights flickered on and the door started to slide up.

  He shook his head and grinned as he braked to a halt. “Nah—she’s a pushover. She was mine the instant our eyes met. Just like I was hers.”

  He reached across and turned Sophie’s face toward his for a gentle kiss. “Just like her gorgeous mother was.”

  *

  The months drifted by in the house above the sea. Sophie supervised the completion of Rafe’s whole project, and Subtle became a quiet but definite success. The eccentric dog-bed sisters proved to have a number of friends keen to upgrade their dated homes. Councilor Gordon’s wife offered to keep a stack of Sophie’s business cards in the reception area of her beauty spa. Contacts led to more contacts.

  Nancy Calhoun moved to Wellington, working mornings at the studio and dividing her afternoons between attending craft groups and caring for Camille after school.

  With three females who adored
him, Rafe began to relax a little—even toward his estranged parents.

  February thirteenth the following year dawned fine and started early; it was Cammie’s sixth birthday. After school that afternoon, while the adults enjoyed a quiet drink by the barbecue, classmates and cousins in fancy dress rampaged over the deck, begged for rides on the cable-car, sprawled on the media room floor for the latest animated movies, and ate too much candy and too many chippies.

  There were two angels, a cowboy, a pirate, an odd looking dinosaur, a Red Indian, a beauty queen, a ghost, a rosebud, a clown, a ballerina, and a mouse.

  Rafe tucked a drowsy Cammie into bed soon after seven and returned to the kitchen for dinner. A little later, Sophie sat thumbing through a magazine. “Mmmm, that went so well,” she said. “Luca and Huia enjoyed themselves, don’t you think? It seems to be easier between you now? I know their gift was a big hit with her.”

  Rafe shrugged, still not entirely comfortable about his parents. “Our daughter was a big hit in return.”

  She smiled, then rubbed a hand across her eyes and stretched. “I’m going to have a long soak and a really early night.”

  “I’ll be there to scrub your back in fifteen.”

  She dropped a brief kiss on his cheek.

  “Cammie had a wonderful day,” he added.

  Yes, she did, Sophie thought as she walked down. We all had a wonderful day, and it’s not over yet.

  She began to fill the big spa bath, and added scented gel. Fragrant steam and bubbles billowed up as she slowly undressed. With the water nearly deep enough she lowered herself in, groaning with satisfaction as it lapped around her shoulders and breasts.

  A little later she heard Rafe in the adjoining bedroom.

  “Still awake?” he asked as he sauntered in for his shower.

  “And just as well,” she murmured. “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a sight like you.”

  He grinned at her admiring gaze and stepped into the glass walled shower cubicle.

  Sophie’s eyes followed everything. Every bend and flex of his beautiful tall body. Every slide of suds over golden skin and ebony hair. Every shining sluice of water that exposed him again for her admiration.

  He turned off the mixer and reached for a towel.

  “I especially like the bit where you hold that behind you and seesaw it to dry your back,” she said. “All my favorite bits jiggle.”

  Rafe smiled and jiggled for her, then wrapped the towel around his hips.

  “Ready for a backrub?” he asked, stepping close.

  “Ready for a front rub,” she countered, sneaking a dripping hand up under his towel.

  “I thought you were tired?”

  “I very carefully said ‘ready for bed’. Not the same thing at all.”

  He closed his eyes.

  “Goodness,” Sophie said. “You’re making that towel go all bulgy.”

  “Watch it or I’ll make you go all bulgy. Come on, sit up, I want you out of there and in the bedroom.” He slathered gel on the big sea-sponge and began to work it into her shoulders.

  Minutes later, clean and scented and shot through with anticipation, she walked into the dimly lit bedroom—and choked and laughed until tears ran down her face and she had to bend double.

  Rafe sat cross legged in front of the pillows. His arms were folded over his chest, Hollywood Red Indian style.

  He wore the garish feather headdress abandoned by their small party guest, a stripe of lip gloss across each cheekbone, and a salacious grin.

  He raised a hand. “How,” he said.

  Sophie hiccupped and giggled and groaned. “That’s some totem pole you’ve got there Chief,” she spluttered as she pulled the headdress off him, kneeled up on the bed, and wrapped him in her arms.

  She looked down into his shining eyes. “Let’s turn the tables for a while,” she murmured. “You’re always the one who’s kissing the lip gloss off me. Tonight it’s going to be me kissing it off you.”

  She licked across his cheekbones, then sucked and licked some more. Watched his long eyelashes droop until his eyes were fully closed to intensify the sensation of her mouth on him.

  With tenderness she kissed his eyelids, then progressed down the line of his jaw until she reached his mouth.

  “I love you,” she whispered before feeding him hot, deep, tongue-stroking kisses. Then she smoothed her cheek down his neck, and nipped along the hard ridge of his shoulder.

  “Lie down Chief Bighawk.”

  “Blackhawk.”

  “Not from where I’m looking.”

  His mouth twisted in an amused grin and he stretched full length on the bed so Sophie could continue her torture.

  “What did I do to deserve someone as lovely as you?” she asked as she shuffled further down to anoint his chest with soft kisses and nibbles.

  “Goes both ways, Soph.”

  “No, I’ve got a whole new life.”

  “Win/win. I have a gorgeous daughter and a wonderful wife.”

  She started to stroke her tongue down the fine line of dark hair that bisected his belly, and then paused.

  “Thank you for this incredible year, Rafe. Thank you for letting me be a proper mother to Cammie at last. For giving me time to get the studio up and running. For taking me traveling with you. Letting Mom live here...”

  “How would we manage without her?”

  “Not as well as we do, I suspect.”

  He smiled at that, and she resumed her progress southward.

  “There is one thing?” she murmured.

  “Mmmmmmmm...?”

  “You’re going to have to put up with a bit more of this for the next little while.” Her lips closed around his cock and he groaned in appreciation. She sucked. She slid her tongue to the places he liked. Then wrapped her hand around the hard hot shaft and started to massage and tease him.

  She heard his sharp intake of breath, his soft exhale.

  “I won’t be complaining about that.”

  She lifted her head just long enough to say, “Because the doctor advises going a little gently for the next few weeks. Until the baby’s nice and safe.”

  She waited for his reaction.

  Felt the absolute instant her news sank in—all the rest of him went rigid, too.

  “Happy Valentine’s Day for tomorrow, darling,” she whispered.

  Epilogue

  Sunlight poured over the wide planked deck where two little dark-haired boys splashed and squealed in the portable paddling pool.

  Sophie glanced sideways from her lounger and smiled at Rafe. “Are they getting cold yet?” she asked.

  He reached out and placed a big palm on each twin’s back.

  “Don’t, Dadda,” Kahu wailed, edging away.

  “Not cold,” Rico insisted, slapping his plastic submarine down onto the surface of the little pool. Water flew everywhere.

  “Stop that, Rico,” Sophie said. “Daddy doesn’t want to get wet.”

  “Daddy’s plenty wet already,” Rafe said with a grin. “They feel fine for a while longer.”

  Kahu gave a loud squeal as he grabbed the submarine and tossed it out of the pool.

  “Ow!” Rafe exclaimed as it landed on his bare foot. “They don’t call this age ‘the terrible twos’ for nothing, do they?”

  Sophie watched as he bent to rub his toes. Even now, the sight of her husband wearing only swim briefs and his wedding ring sent a thrill right through her. “They’ll get past it,” she said. “Camille wasn’t a total angel at two, either.”

  Rafe moved out of the way of other possible missiles and settled into one of the Siesta chairs beside her. A noise behind them had their heads turning in unison.

  “Good girl, Cammie,” Sophie said as her daughter carried a tray out through the front doorway and lowered it onto the nearby table. “Want me to pour?”

  “I can do it,” Camille said, setting out the unbreakable tumblers and attempting to unscrew the big bottle of orange juice.
Her pretty face contorted as she wrenched at the cap. “Why do they make them so tight?” she complained, giving in and handing it to Rafe.

  He twisted it easily and set it back on the tray. “You’ll soon be as strong as me.”

  Cammie blew him a rather grown-up raspberry. “Yeah, right!”

  Sophie rolled her eyes and Rafe sent her a wink in return. “Seems like no time,” he murmured.

  “Since what?” Cammie demanded, all pre-teen cheek and sharp hearing.

  “Since you galloped across the studio and almost smashed the orchids over.” He reached out and grabbed her before she picked the bottle up again. “And ended up like this.” He pulled her off her feet, wrapped both arms around her, and plunked her onto his lap.

  “You’re wet, she squealed.

  “So are you now, but you’ll dry out in the sun.” He pressed a kiss onto her pale hair. “And you’re growing up so fast you’ll soon be too big for my knee.”

  She wriggled so she could look up at him. “No I won’t. You do this to mommy, too. I’ve seen you.”

  Sophie coughed. Rafe laughed. Cammie sighed and nestled closer to him.

  Rafe glanced across to his twins, and seeing no mayhem, said to Sophie, “I’ve been thinking about a bigger swimming pool so we could all fit into it.”

  “Not much chance of that on land like this,” she said, eyebrows raised.

  “Yes, Daddy,” Camille said. “That baby pool’s no fun.”

  Rafe wrapped his hand around his daughter’s pony-tail and tugged it gently. “We’ve got a couple of options, ladies. When I built the house I made provision for a pool under the gym. Floored it over for use in the meantime, but it wouldn’t take much to convert it.”

  Sophie tipped her head on one side. “It’d be messy though. All the building materials would have to come up and down through the house.”

  He nodded. “Swings and roundabouts. It would be an indoor pool, and heated. But we wouldn’t have sunshine like this.”

  “And no gym any more.” She reached across and prodded his tanned bicep. “I do enjoy having you in good shape.”

  “No gym where it currently is,” he agreed, lips twitching. “But we could relocate the gear to the end bedroom. Nancy won’t need the guest suite once she’s married to Leon.”

  Sophie sighed and stretched, yawning mightily. “I’m so glad they found each other. She deserves her whole new life after giving up so much for me.”

 
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