All for love 3 series.., p.2
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.2

           Kris Pearson
 

  “And what’s the trade?” she asked, narrowing her eyes because she knew from long experience nothing was truly free.

  “You visit the house with me this morning and see what you can come up with.”

  So he hadn’t been joking? “It’ll take more than a morning, and I charge an hourly fee.” She knew she’d almost be willing to work without payment to include such a prestigious job in her portfolio.

  “Naturally.”

  She gathered more courage. “Can I offset my first consultation against the cost of fixing your car? It would really help with my start-up expenses.”

  “Forget the damn car. Insurance will cover it.”

  “You said I’d be paying.”

  He shook his head. “Pay me with this consultation if that makes you feel better, but there’s no need.”

  She said a silent prayer of thanks, and then he added, “Come to lunch with me. It’s a business thing. Faye will probably be there. But you’re younger than her, you’ve cut yourself loose from her apron strings, and you might enjoy rubbing her nose in it. I know I would if I were you.”

  Lunch with Rafe Severino, just like that?

  “No.” She pitched her voice flat and determined. “I won’t be the meat in your matrimonial sandwich if that’s what you’re suggesting. You’re not using me to get back at her for something that’s none of my business.”

  She heard him draw a sharp breath.

  “There’s no ‘matrimonial sandwich’ as you so charmingly put it. That’s long done with.” He glanced back at the mood-boards. “But I need a decorator instead of Faye. I’d quite like her to know she was easy enough to replace.”

  “So I’m the easy option?”

  “A damned prickly option so far. I’ve offered to mend your sign, hang your fabrics, let you loose on the best new house in the city, and buy your lunch. I’m not asking for anything in return.”

  “Good, because you won’t be getting anything.”

  Then a flood of embarrassment rushed through her, and she clenched her hands together in front of her breasts. What would he think she meant by ‘anything’?

  “Sorry,” she added in a small voice.

  “Opening day nerves?”

  “I didn’t mean to sound so rude.”

  To her annoyance he burst into deep husky laughter.

  “Yeah, well I did get a glorious mental picture of what ‘anything’ might include, but...”

  “No, I wasn’t thinking that at all.”

  “Whatever that was.” He reached across and touched her hair, re-positioning one long strand.

  Hot little waves instantly skittered down her spine, and a slow insistent throbbing invaded her panties. “Leave it please.”

  He took no notice and stayed standing too close, running his fingers right to the end of it. “You need to tie it up when it’s windy. Great hair though.”

  Sophie managed a nod of thanks and backed away, face burning.

  “I’ll leave your sign until later,” he added. “I’ve no screws the right size here, so I’ll get something better from the guys at the house while you have your look around.” He set the drill back in his toolbox. “Do you have some more sensible shoes, or do we collect them on the way?”

  Sophie tried to damp down the sensations racing through her body by switching her mind to the old paint spattered trainers hidden in the washroom. She could imagine how silly they’d look with the floaty-paneled blue designer skirt she’d found at the Labels Live Again shop.

  “Yes, of course,” she said, trying for cool and competent. “But I put this skirt on for the opening. It’s hardly suitable for a building site. If we could call in to my apartment on the way I’ll change into trousers.”

  “Lead me to your fabrics, then.”

  So he was serious? She watched as he shrugged off his suit jacket and tossed it onto the low settee that ranged along one wall below the mood-boards. Did it look good enough in the studio? It was a thrift shop find, disguised by one gloriously extravagant throw and two others of much more humble origin. She’d sewn four cushions from deleted silk samples, trimmed their corners with real feather tassels, and arranged them against the throws.

  “I’ll get the ladder,” she said over her shoulder, heading for the dank washroom before he could see what a mess it was. “It’s those bolts of fabric by my work table.”

  He insisted on taking the stepladder from her the moment she re-appeared, so she took over unrolling the length of fabric he’d started on.

  “This is very kind of you,” she finally acknowledged, ashamed of her less than gracious reaction to him. “I could put my other shoes on, you know.”

  “I’ve got a bit more reach than you, and I’m used to ladders and heights. I just throw this over the rod, do I?”

  “Ummm—not quite. See those little clippy things? Fold the raw edge in and squeeze the top of the fabric into them.”

  He climbed until his glossy shoes were level with her face. Sophie looked up to admire the graceful folds of her soft taupe linen, and instead found her eyes riveted on a pair of long masculine legs. The trouser fabric pulled taut as he stretched. She could easily imagine the muscles of his hard sinewy thighs and tight butt.

  Higher, his fine white cotton shirt spanned powerful shoulders.

  And all that beautiful man might be available.

  No longer involved with his talented wife, he’d asked her out to lunch. Was it possible he had no other current woman in his life?

  Not likely, she thought with sudden derision. He was a magnet to women, especially if he was separated now. Why would he want Sophie Anne Calhoun with her thrift-shop clothes and paint speckled hands when he could choose anyone in New Zealand—or the whole world? He’d asked her to lunch for one reason only. To annoy Faye.

  She decided she’d harden her heart and not be the least bit impressed by him. The only time she’d ever mixed business with pleasure had been disastrous; it had led to the birth and ultimate shattering loss of little Camille. No way in hell would she make another mistake like that one.

  Rafe Severino could be a huge and profitable source of business, but that was all. She’d allow herself just this one indulgent moment and then banish the warm rush of possible pleasure from her mind.

  Possible? Guaranteed pleasure, surely? To be kissed by that mouth, caressed by those long capable fingers, covered by such a prime body?

  As he clipped the length of fabric up, Sophie watched him and unconsciously licked her lips.

  Chapter 2 — Surprise Proposition

  “Something like that?”

  “Fine.” She cleared her throat. “Shall I hand you up the next one?”

  “I’ll move the ladder.” He stepped down beside her and lifted it sideways.

  “You’re faster at it than I would have been.” She unrolled a length of sheer gold and cream striped voile. “Be careful with this—it might snag.”

  Rafe smiled, undid his belt buckle, pulled the black leather strip from his trousers, and tossed it onto the sofa with his jacket. “Can’t have that, can we?”

  Sophie’s eyes widened as he removed his square cufflinks and gold Rolex, and turned his sleeves back on themselves several times. “Stop that!” she finally exclaimed.

  “Nothing sharp left now,” he said, smiling broadly and extending his hands toward her as though she was a school teacher doing fingernail inspection.

  “I’m sure you’re safe.” The desperate squeak in her voice indicated it was far from the truth. The man was hurling sex all around her new studio. She wanted to bite his beautiful arms. How ridiculous!

  She thrust the length of voile toward him and stood well out of his way, knowing nothing about him was the least bit safe. He gave her dangerous thoughts, and made her hot and bothered, and now he was flirting?

  Rafe Severino—teasing me? Doing a sexy little striptease, sending me his big-bad-wolf grin and making me feel far too warm?

  She set her hands
on her hips and pushed at her back with her fingers. Yup, her spine was still there.

  Well come on then, stiffen up, spine! I need to think of him as a great source of business and forget any other ideas about him. Help me here...

  She watched his long legs as he climbed, and some wicked little brain-demon started stripping his clothes away.

  Okay, just a few more moments of indulgence.

  “Do you do any sailing?” He’d braced himself high up the ladder again.

  Sophie tried to banish her picture of long tanned legs dusted with dark hair, a smooth muscular back, and rippling shoulders. And gathered her scattered thoughts together to remember the endless to-and-fro inter-island ferry trips she took every single Sunday to see Camille.

  “A bit. Not in your kind of boats though.”

  “Faye used to handle some of the marine decor for me. Would you be up to that?”

  Too much, too soon, she told herself, glad his back was toward her. Surely he couldn’t be serious? Boats? The amazing Severino Superyachts?

  His spectacular body receded just a little in her imagination.

  “The interiors?” She somehow managed this query without croaking or squealing. “Wall finishes, fabrics, flooring?”

  “Yup. More or less,” Rafe said, trying to pleat the voile into the clips.

  “I don’t see why not. I’d love to try. I’ll have stuff to learn, but the basics won’t be too far different. A luxury look and improved practicality?”

  She watched his tight butt cha-cha-ing back down the ladder, and then averted her eyes before he turned and found her looking.

  “Absolute luxury. The best of everything. Sometimes no practicality at all.” He raised an eyebrow. “We’ll see. A thought for the future, maybe. You have possibilities, Ms...?” He scooped one of Sophie’s new business cards off the neat stack on the end of her work table. “Ms Calhoun.”

  “Sophie.”

  “Rafe.”

  There seemed to be more invitation in his eyes than the insistence on using his first name. Hot waves of wanting rolled through her like approaching thunder. Shaking her senses. Rattling her resolve.

  He’d been ‘Mr Severino’ all the time she’d worked for Faye, and she’d seen him mostly in photographs because he didn’t visit the design studio often.

  Mr Severino—who was so gorgeous, so rich, so entrepreneurial, so sexy and so far out of reach. Not someone to be fantasized about and addressed casually.

  “Rafe,” she repeated, determined not to sound overawed. She wondered how much more courage she could dredge up after that unexpected lightning strike of lust.

  He reached over to the settee, rummaged in his jacket pocket, and produced a card in return. Black. Printed in silver. Rafe Blackhawk Severino, with a phone and cell number. On the reverse were business details.

  “Blackhawk?” It was curiously right for him. Dark and predatory and different, all the things he was himself.

  He smiled and she saw wolf, not hawk.

  “Cherokee. My grandfather was John Blackhawk.”

  She blinked. “Faye said you were Italian.”

  “My father’s Italian, but he’s a fair haired northerner, almost Swiss. I’m something of a mongrel. A throwback to my grandparents.”

  She just couldn’t help but ask, “Well how on earth did you get a Cherokee grandfather?”

  Instantly she imagined him in fringed buckskins, his midnight hair long and plaited, his cheekbones decorated with stripes of ochre. He looked sensational.

  “He was a Marine, stationed here in New Zealand in 1942. Up the coast at Paekakariki.”

  “And? There’s got to be more to the story than that?” She struggled to banish the devastating warrior image from her brain.

  “And he met a pretty Maori girl called Matakino at a military dance...”

  He sighed and shrugged his big shoulders. The fine cotton shirt lifted and fell. “John left her pregnant with my mother. Died on Okinawa, so I never knew my grandfather from anything but a snapshot.”

  He pushed Sophie’s card into his trouser pocket and turned for the next bolt of fabric.

  Had she asked too many questions? The following two display lengths went up in total silence and she could see conflicting emotions chasing each other across Rafe’s expressive face.

  But on his next trip to floor level he said, “Children should be with their parents. I was never with mine.”

  His black eyes meshed with hers. It was definitely not the right moment to admit she had a daughter she’d been unable to continue caring for.

  “Never with your parents?”

  “Not after my brothers were born.”

  The shutters slammed down on his lively eyes. So he knew he had brothers? And he knew who his parents were? Why had they not all been together?

  “Family circumstances can sometimes make things difficult,” she hazarded, thinking of Camille’s constant colicky crying, and her own furious studying, and Adrian’s hang-gliding smash, and the endless hopeless hours she’d sat at his hospital bedside.

  “Children should be with their parents,” he repeated, more softly this time.

  She nodded, and reached for the fifth length of fabric. Yes, Camille should be living here in Wellington with her, not stuck in a small town down in the South Island with her granny where the house prices were so much lower than the capital city. It was the best compromise she and her mother had been able to arrange.

  She ached to share cuddles with her tiny daughter every morning instead of only on Sundays. Yearned to admire each colorful painting Camille brought home from kindergarten; to praise her efforts and make her big blue eyes light up.

  Instead, a couple of Camille’s past daubs greeted her each day—stuck to the refrigerator door with the awful bright pink plastic flower magnets that were a birthday present from her absent child. They never failed to tear at her heart and remind her of the less than adequate mothering she gave her precious daughter.

  But maybe now, if she secured some work from Rafe, she could at last retrieve her and make their lives normal? It mattered so much she hardly dared imagine it.

  Camille back where she belonged?

  Her mother finally able to reclaim the freedom she’d so generously given up to care for her grand-daughter?

  And the weight of guilt lifted from Sophie’s own overburdened shoulders? It was everything she’d slaved the last three years for. Everything.

  She unrolled the last bolt of fabric and handed it across with slightly shaking hands. Then she stepped back so he could climb the ladder for the final time.

  *

  Sophie insisted on sweeping up the jagged shards of glass from the Jaguar’s light before leaving. There must be nothing to detract from her new studio’s appearance. She juggled the glass into one of the expensive bags she’d had printed with the Subtle logo, winced at the cost, taped it tightly closed and dropped it into a nearby garbage bin.

  Soon they were gliding along Thorndon Quay in the opulent car with Norah Jones keeping them company. She wished the music was something boppy or poppy—the soft piano and Norah’s sultry voice kept pulling her thoughts back to that most inconvenient flash of attraction to Rafe.

  “So what’s this lunch about?” she asked, trying to sound brisk.

  “Just a collection of like-minded business people.”

  “And?”

  “And we get together every month at the Wakefield Club to discuss how things are progressing in our city.”

  Surely he was being evasive? Her skin prickled with a strange awareness—a sensation that didn’t often let her down. Of course it could be the prospect of facing up to Faye again, or the daunting task of the Severino home. But deep down she knew it was Rafe. A force-field surrounded him. It pulsed and crackled as though he exuded pure energy. It set him apart from any other man she’d met.

  She tried to relax but kept being distracted by his husky voice and his beautifully shaped and sensual
lips. It was a mouth to brand a woman and steal her soul, and reduce her to a begging, yearning mess. She could easily conjure up the sensation of his warm insistent kiss. Was that why the strangest quivers were invading her thighs and turning her muscles to water?

  Oh this is terrible, girl. Behave.

  But seeing him up close in the flesh thrilled her. She’d sometimes glimpsed him from a distance as he loped in to see Faye, and in the glossy magazines, but most often in the photographs in matt silver frames on Faye’s office wall.

  In one, Rafe wore a tuxedo and Faye a shimmering scarlet gown against a window filled with Manhattan’s night-time skyscrapers. In another, Rafe in a black T-shirt held a huge fish, and Faye had draped herself around his shoulders. In the third, Rafe and Faye wore wedding finery. Faye’s pearl encrusted strapless ivory dress and triumphant smile screamed ‘got him’.

  They were photos of Faye rather than Rafe. So why had she always seen the beautiful coffee skinned man instead of her flamboyant boss?

  She clenched her fists so her nails dug into her palms as punishment.

  He’s strictly business, she told herself, trying to drag her brain back in that direction.

  “How big is your house?” she asked.

  “Just over ten thousand square feet.”

  Huge! She sucked on her bottom lip as she considered how much work it could provide. And reminded herself there was no guarantee she’d get even a fraction of the job.

  “Aren’t you up to it?”

  “Just watch me,” she flashed back. “I’m ambitious and focused. I’m determined Subtle will succeed.” She tugged her skirt down to her knees. He seemed to be paying a lot of attention to her legs, which wasn’t helping the quivering-thigh problem. “Ten thousand square feet—how did you find enough seafront land to build something that size?”

  “Cut a cliff away. Made a shelf. Easy.”

  She let out a puff of laughter. “Easy with untold heavy machinery and unlimited funds.”

  “And if you’re determined to create something amazing.”

  “I bet planning permission...?”

  “...took forever,” he finished, sending her a wry smile. “I’m turning a boring uninhabitable chunk of rock into a spectacular showplace. You can’t see it from the road. From the harbor it’s currently very visible, but once the exterior timber has weathered and the landscaping’s completed, it’ll blend in beautifully.”

 
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