All for love 3 series.., p.22
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.22

           Kris Pearson
“Of course,” Kate agreed, sipping again. The wine tasted wonderful. Although she’d resolved to drink very little so she could guard her comments, the sultry dark liquid slid so softly over her tongue and down her throat that Matthew had poured her a second glass before their food arrived.

  She’d attempted to dissuade him by raising a hand, but he’d beaten her to it and the rich ruby wine gurgled into her glass. “I never have a second at lunchtime,” she protested. “And never even a first unless it’s with my mother at the weekend.” She bowed her head for a moment and corrected herself. “Was with my mother at the weekend. You know about that? I presume you’ve read my CV?”

  A slight grimace touched his mouth. “Not until the airport this morning. A fairly brief run through, but I gather you nursed her.”

  “Not exactly nursed, but I did everything non medical I could.”

  “She was lucky to have you.”

  “We were very close.”

  “So no carousing with friends on Saturday nights? A pretty girl like you?”

  Kate compressed her lips and ignored the compliment. “Some things had to take a back seat for a while.”

  She certainly wouldn’t be telling him about her break-up with Simon and her subsequent awkward situation in their couples-oriented group. With much larger worries on her mind, she’d almost not noticed herself drawing away from them.

  Mercifully the waiter arrived at that moment with their cannelloni. The distractions of moving glasses aside and setting down the big white plates and the bowl of grated parmesan were just what Kate needed.

  “Yum,” she murmured, breathing in the richly fragrant aromas. She dug in with gusto, airline biscuits a faint memory.

  She found herself talking far more than she’d intended. Matthew was engaging and inquisitive. He questioned her closely. However much she tried to make little of her life, he had a way of digging—quietly, persistently—until she told him far more than she’d meant to.

  She tried to convince herself that of course he’d want to vet her thoroughly if she was to become Lottie’s assistant, but there seemed to be something more. She was puzzled about what it could be.


  Matthew sighed and tipped his face up to the sun. He was no further ahead. Was she Rob Pleasance’s daughter or not? Rob was a big man. This girl was tall. But Rob had sandy hair and hers was gloriously dark. Unless she’d coloured it as part of a disguise.

  Damn Lottie for not letting him know the names on her shortlist until it was too late! He’d have had Kate Pleasance off it in nano-seconds. The last thing he wanted was to grant the daughter of his wily and successful business rival the run of his home. He’d worked too hard to have all that progress put in jeopardy.

  He thought briefly and bitterly of his ex-wife, Martine. What a disastrous choice she’d been—initially bewitching and beautiful, but, soon enough, grasping and immoral. He’d been determined to guard his heart and his secrets ever since Martine’s defection. Delicious Kate Pleasance wouldn’t be getting close to either, that was for sure—even though she was by far the best candidate for the job.

  After they’d eaten, they continued to sit, enjoying coffees. Latte for her, black for him. As he sipped, he glanced across at her and caught her inspecting him.

  She instantly ripped her eyes from his, and began to screw up the tiny paper tube that had held her teaspoon of sugar, pressing and twisting at it until it became a small hard pellet.

  Matthew watched without commenting. Was this a little show of tension? Of nerves? He let her play with the paper for a few more seconds, and decided he had nothing to lose by asking her identity. It might be the easiest way after all.

  “Pleasance,” he said. “Unusual name. No relation to Rob I suppose?”

  Kate jerked her head up and met his gaze. “Rob’s my dad,” she said. “I don’t... throw his name around because he’s a bit too well known, and it might look like I expect things because of it.”

  She began to roll the little pellet of paper to and fro on the table top again.

  He considered her reply. Was she being very, very clever or was she genuine? “There’s nothing about telecommunications in your CV?” He let the words hang between them, hoping to force some sort of useful comment out of her, but all he got was a shrug and a vague smile.

  “Lord, no,” she said after a few seconds. “No, not my field at all. Marketing—that’s me. Until I stopped work to help my mum. After that, I wanted a total change. Change of job, change of scenery. So here I am.”

  Matthew nodded slowly, never taking his eyes off her. Okay, she’d admitted her true identity. But surely such candour was designed to put him off her trail? No way would he believe Rob Pleasance’s daughter was here in Queenstown innocently. Of course she’d had to admit who she was when he’d asked so directly. Now he wished he’d done it much earlier in their interview and saved himself a lot of time.

  There wasn’t a hope in hell he’d allow her to have the job, but Lottie had offered accommodation for the night and he could hardly refuse Kate that courtesy. It might even be possible to twist things to his advantage—turn the tables and see where it led. If the boyfriend was now out of the way, it could lead to a night of pleasurable passion.

  He watched as her glossy hair bounced and glinted. As her long lashes hid her eyes when she glanced demurely down. As her cheeks flushed delicately pink. Might she be on for a brief no-strings affair?

  A prickle of excitement stirred his groin, and he closed his eyes as he allowed it to thread its way through his whole body. How long had it been since he’d initiated the pursuit of a woman? And how much sweeter would it be if the woman was Rob Pleasance’s pretty daughter? He smiled slightly as his cock stirred and lengthened, safely hidden beneath the table-top. God—it would serve the scheming pair right!

  Eventually he stretched, and rose from his seat. “Better try the hospital again,” he said, lifting Kate’s chair away so she could stand with ease.


  Finding herself uncomfortably close to him, she stepped sideways. “Ouch,” she exclaimed, as one of the spokes of a big sun umbrella stabbed her scalp.

  “You’re in the wars today,” he said, reaching out to steady her and then running his fingers through her hair to check for injury.

  “I’m fine,” she assured him, unnerved by the intimate caress, and trying to shrug away from him to regain her own space.

  “Indeed you are,” he said with a broad grin.

  Kate marched toward the door, sensing the flush rising up her neck again, knowing she must look pink and offended. He’d only been offering help to a visitor, after all. Why had she reacted so gauchely?

  She knew he followed close behind her; could still picture that sudden devastating smile, and feel his hands in her hair and on her skin as she bolted ahead in confusion and consternation.

  Leaving him to pay for lunch, she stood outside the cafe, hoping the crisp winter air would make her feel cooler and calmer. Her reaction to Matthew McLeod was simply ridiculous. She tried to convince herself of this as people streamed by... as the huge lake sparkled ahead of her... as her thumping heart gradually slowed.

  She saw another smile twitch at Matthew’s lips as he opened the door of the SUV for her. He waited until she’d climbed in before gently closing it. Kate pulled her fashionably short skirt down and smoothed it across her thighs. It had never seemed too short before. Surely he was simply being courteous? Why did she keep imagining it was anything more than that?

  She simmered away in silence as he drove back toward the hospital. Erotic pictures floated through her mind. She didn’t want to be attracted. Couldn’t possibly be attracted. And yet… something hummed between them. An edgy awareness. And, unwelcome as it was, she couldn’t banish it.

  She gazed out the window as the view of leafless trees and dark conifers rushed by. Inspected the houses on the surrounding slopes with their stony colours and unusual angles. Stared up higher toward the s
now-dusted peaks glistening in the hard sunlight. All new, all different, and none of it as spectacular as the man beside her.

  He turned into a parking space at the hospital and said, “Better luck this time.”

  Kate unclenched her hands, stretching out fingers she hadn’t known were twined tightly together. “I hope she’s not in too much pain. She’ll need a nurse rather than a P.A. if that’s the case.”

  Matthew opened his door. “I’ve been wondering about that. She’s as tough as old nails though. Won’t give in and show any weakness. We’ll see what they say.”

  They entered the warm shining reception area and paced side by side to Lottie’s room again. She was still very drowsy when they reached her bedside.

  “Doctor’s not certain she’s concussed,” the nurse informed them. “We had to give her a little sedation. She’s very excitable, isn’t she?”

  Matthew’s description of ‘a daunting task’ floated back into Kate’s brain. What might she be getting herself into? An ‘excitable, daunting’ boss didn’t sound ideal. And a husband as disturbing as Matthew was just plain dangerous.

  He smiled at the nurse, who beamed in reply. “Ah well, we’ll phone again later and see how she’s doing.”

  He touched Kate’s arm to usher her out, and she jumped at even that small contact.

  “Looks like I’ll have to take you home for a look around,” he suggested. “We’re out by the Shotover River,” he added, as they returned to the parking lot.

  “Where the jet-boats rush along? I saw one loading passengers at the jetty while I waited for you outside the cafe.”

  He beeped the SUV unlocked and opened the door for her. “Yes, but we’re high above all that, and some way distant. We don’t really hear them.”

  Soon they were humming along the highway. After several miles, Matthew turned off where dark trees threw a pool of dense shadow over the road. Kate shivered in the sudden shade. “It’s colder here than I expected,” she said.

  “So I see.” He glanced at her folded arms and smiled slightly. “I can turn the heating up further if you like, but I hope you’ve got something warmer than that to wear?”

  “Of course,” she said, glaring at him. “But I wanted to look businesslike to meet Charlotte—not padded out like an Arctic explorer.”

  He smiled more broadly. A truly killer grin that didn’t settle her nerves in the least. Delicate shivers chased up and down her spine.

  “Fair enough,” he said. And a little later; “Here we are.”

  His home was huge—long and low, with a second storey at one end only. It was entirely clad with the local silver-grey schist rock. Kate had plenty of time to be impressed as they progressed up the curving driveway. Gravel crunched under the big tyres, then the garage door rose, and the house swallowed them.

  Matthew lifted her overnight bag from the rear seat and led the way in to another world. He dropped the bag at a branch in the main hallway, but kept walking.

  Amazing artwork covered the walls. It was blessedly warm inside. Kate followed as he stripped off his bulky navy jacket, eyeing his big shoulders as she trailed behind him.

  “Main living area through here,” he said, waving a long arm into a vast honey-coloured room with windows around three sides. “Kitchen, there.”

  Kate had never seen so many electrical appliances.

  “Dining room. Formal sitting room... which we hardly use... and my study.”

  Kate glanced in as he rushed her by. It was a serious place of work; she registered several computer screens, assorted business machines, big desks and capacious filing cabinets.

  He swept back along the main hallway. “Master bedroom wing... spa pool and gym over this side... guest bedrooms along this way.” He reached down for her bag and led her into a suite with a view of floor to ceiling mountains only a few miles distant.

  “Wow,” she gasped.

  “Your accommodation for the evening, Miss Pleasance. I’ll leave you to freshen up.”

  “Thank you. It’s wonderful.” As soon as he left she unbuttoned her jacket, peeled it off, and tossed it on the bed; then unzipped the bag to find the soft red jersey she’d packed.

  “Sorry, I meant to ask—” she heard him saying as he returned, unheard, on the thick carpet.

  Kate attempted to haul the jersey over her head, but it snagged on the big spring clip holding the top of her hair back. She tugged, infuriated, but the jersey held firm, and she was blind above and far too bare beneath. She struggled, enraged and embarrassed.

  “Oops, sorry,” Matthew murmured, sounding anything but. “Hold on—I can see where you’re snagged. Stop tugging like that.”

  “Go away,” she spat, through gritted teeth.

  “Kate, you have two pretty layers over your enticing body—pretend you’re decent,” he said.

  One of his warm hands pushed up over her face and into her hair, working the clip free. She would have given a lot not to have been wearing the sexy black and red bra and camisole she’d put on to boost her confidence. ‘Two pretty layers’ he’d said. Obviously he’d checked them both out.

  “Good girl,” he said, finally sliding his hand away.

  Furious, she pushed out through the polo neck of the jersey and faced him, flushed and dishevelled, thrusting her arms through the sleeves and dragging some cover over her body at last. “What did you want?” she demanded.

  “I just wondered if you’d rather have tea or coffee.” It looked as though he was working hard to keep his face blank and neutral.

  Kate glared at him though a curtain of tangled hair. “Coffee—please.” To her own ears she sounded barely civil.

  “In the living room in five minutes then.” He raised a dark eyebrow and left her to recover any bits of composure she could.

  Darn, darn, darn! That was so unprofessional.

  She heaved a deep sigh and collapsed onto the bed in despair. How could she hope to be taken seriously after displaying such tarty underwear? It had only been a joke. A private laugh. She and her friend Shelley had each bought a set at a lingerie party a few weeks ago. A bra so low-cut it was barely decent, with transparent lacy cups. And a gauzy black camisole with matching scarlet trim. Also far from concealing. No doubt he’d seen right through both. Kate’s confidence shrivelled even further.

  She stretched his five minutes out nearer to ten while she summoned the courage to face him again. She unpacked her overnight bag, and gave her hair a vigorous brushing, leaving it loose now she was out of the wind. As she prowled back through the enormous house, a car gave a cheerful toot somewhere close. She paused, out of sight. Heard Matthew opening the front door. A woman responded to his greeting.

  “Good to see you,” he said.

  “How is she?” the woman asked. Kate stayed concealed.

  “Distraught of course. Major dramatics. But genuinely damaged, poor dear.”

  It sounded as though he was talking about a farm animal, not a wife. Could this visitor be more than a friend? He looked the sort of man who’d collect women easily. Debauched. Dissolute. Kate tried to think of other suitable words for someone with such a hard, lived-in face.

  “Kate,” he yelled.

  Guilt made her jump. “Just coming,” she called back, rounding the last bend between them.

  “Kate Pleasance... my sister-in-law, Diana,” he offered by way of introduction. Kate had to work hard to hide her surprise. She’d been half expecting a slinky creature in designer gear, but what she found was a cheerful short-haired blonde in jeans and a bulky brown jersey. “You’re right in time for coffee, Di,” Matthew added, striding off toward the living area, plainly expecting the two women would follow.

  “You live close?” Kate asked, as they strolled more slowly behind him.

  “Not far. About five miles. You’re not from here?”

  “Auckland. We have our green volcanoes, but no scenery like this.” She waved at hand at the nearby mountains.

  Diana l
aughed, and led the way to a group of chairs by the window. Kate chose one with her back to the expansive view—she wanted the light on Matthew’s face. She watched him covertly as he set the tray down on a low table. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans wrapped around them.

  He moved very quietly for a big man—no wonder she’d not heard him turn back to her room. She pictured him stalking prey in the wild, sliding noiselessly over rough ground. A predator. She was pleased with the word.

  He sat—and her eyes immediately flew to the fabric of his dark trousers. Legs that might have been thin proved to have powerfully muscular thighs. “Are you a climber?” she blurted.

  He glanced across and began to pour the coffee. “I enjoy tramping, but I don’t feel the need to scale mountain peaks.” He passed her a steaming cup. “It would be a shame not to go out and enjoy spectacular countryside like this. I’ll buy you some decent walking boots if you get to stay.”

  It was probably the oddest offer she’d ever had. But it spurred Diana into sudden conversation. “Oh—you’re the helper for Lottie,” she exclaimed. “I thought you were one of Matthew’s friends.”

  He gave a sardonic smile. “She’s from the big smoke,” he said. “Might find it a total bore around here.” Kate knew he was watching for her reaction.

  “Oh, surely not,” Diana chuckled. “You and Lottie are enough to entertain half the country.”

  “Nothing’s settled yet, Di.”

  Kate sensed a warning in the words. Maybe he’d decided she wasn’t suitable?

  “It was time I did something different,” she replied to Diana. “This seemed like an interesting change.”

  “I can’t imagine there’s another job like it in the whole of New Zealand. You’d need to make it up as you go along, I should think.”

  “If I get offered the job. And if I decide to take it.”

  She caught the slight flicker of surprise on Matthew’s face as he handed Diana her coffee.

  He stood. “Talk amongst yourselves, ladies,” he said. “I’m going to try the hospital again.”


  He fingered his mobile, but then crossed the big room to the landline, needing to get away from her. The trickle of sexual awareness had spread through his body again—advancing until it was a positive tide of sensation.

  Damn, but simply being close to her made him react like a teenager. How delicious it would be to have a couple more days with her, here in the privacy of the house. No rushing, no pressure—just letting things take their natural course. Surely he’d be able to keep her under close surveillance for so short a time?

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