All for love 3 series.., p.24
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.24

           Kris Pearson


  Kate emerged from the fitting room wearing black leggings and a soft possum jersey in riotous mauve, tangerine and fuchsia just as Matthew returned. She managed two or three slinky steps and a twirl before losing her nerve and standing, eyes cast down. How did he do that to her?

  “Does the jersey come in any other colours?” he asked Sharon.

  “Lime, kingfisher and royal.” She held up the alternative for his inspection.

  “One of each then.”

  “I don’t need both,” Kate objected.

  “But I do. I’ll enjoy seeing you in those,” Matthew replied, unperturbed. “What else has she chosen, Sharon?”

  He turned and sorted through the pile of clothes. Kate felt her last shred of privacy being ripped away.

  “Not that,” he said, casting aside a long-sleeved khaki shirt.

  “Why not?” Kate objected.

  “Any other colours, Sharon?”

  “Grey, chocolate... black.”

  “Chocolate then,” Kate said.

  “Black,” he said firmly. They each reached for a hanger. He stood behind her, eyes locked with hers in the mirror. He was at least half a head taller. His warm breath stirred her hair... his dark dangerous cologne and the bitterness of fresh wood-smoke floated on the air around him. So good. She tried not to gulp great breaths of his scent as she held the chocolate shirt against her body.

  “You’re not a brown person,” he murmured, his deep voice only inches from her ear. “The khaki was wrong. The chocolate is wrong.” He took the hanger from her unresisting fingers and dragged the shirt past her breasts in a tingling caress. He replaced it with the black.

  Kate wanted desperately to be further apart, but how was she to manage that without giving him a sharp jab in the ribs with her elbow? So tempting—but goodbye to any prospect of getting the job if she did.

  “See what I mean?” he said. “That’s much better with your skin.” Again he dragged the shirt away past her sensitive nipples.

  She could do nothing. Here, in a well-lit store, in front of an assistant who knew him by name, he was openly flirting and she was helpless to escape. And worse, her body was responding with enthusiasm to his arrogant masculinity.

  “How would you know?” she demanded, privately conceding that maybe he was right.

  “I have eyes. I live with an artist.”

  She shrugged and turned away, conceding defeat.

  “Let’s see that jacket on you,” he suggested.

  Kate had been determined to choose sensible, inexpensive fleece instead of the other beautiful fabrics on offer. She’d tried to resist the buttery-soft raspberry leather jacket that Sharon had shown her, but now Matthew was practically forcing her into it. Sighing, she slunk into the fitting room to change, knowing she’d have his intrusive eyes inspecting her again in seconds.

  She slithered out for his scrutiny.

  Matthew nodded slowly, stepping closer. He gave the collar a small tweak, brushing his fingers through her hair as he did so. “Yes, beautiful. Consider it sold. You like it?”

  Kate ignored his question and whirled away, back to the privacy of the fitting room. What right did he have to treat her like that? A few suggestive remarks when they were on their own were bad enough. Touching her in front of someone else was so much worse.

  She slumped down on the little bench, mortified and scarlet. The curtain between them billowed in a slight breeze. She heard Matthew and Sharon concluding his purchase, and the crackle of bags as her clothes were packed up.

  She removed the raspberry leather, the leggings and the amazing jersey. Slid into her own clothes and the borrowed white jacket, and emerged with the last armful. She refused to look at him as Sharon finished folding the garments. He was overpowering—a bully—he stole the air from around her! She gave him the merest nod as she gathered up two of the bags.

  Outside the bars and cafes, hard-bodied thrill seekers clustered, comparing their day’s experiences. Music throbbed from an upstairs aerobics studio. Kate walked, almost oblivious to her surroundings, and still fuming at his high-handedness, as Matthew led the way back to the SUV.

  On her seat she found a further present—a grey and apricot package with a silken draw-cord securing it. She stood it on the dashboard until they were under way, then pulled the cord aside and found a froth of lace and satin snuggled in a nest of lilac tissue paper.

  “What!?” she exclaimed, snapping flinty eyes to his amused face.

  Chapter Four — Lottie Awakes

  “I had fun. See what you think.”

  With trembling fingers, she withdrew a tiny green lace thong. A pair of violet silk French knickers. Another thong that was mostly a print of a dark red full blown rose with tiny twinkling dewdrops. Two pairs of innocent white knit bikini panties, and shiny black boxers embroidered with silver stars.

  “How dare you buy me things like this,” she snapped, trying for ice and outrage.

  He took no notice. His slow burning grin widened, and his crackling eyes danced with humour. “I thought you were probably a medium. Slim without being bony. Curvy without being voluptuous. A happy medium.”

  Kate snatched an enraged breath. “A most unhappy medium.”

  “If they don’t suit, you can exchange them.”

  “Oh sure. I’ll just waltz in to the shop and say ‘nice Mr. McLeod bought these for me but I’d rather have something else?’”

  “Kate—what is your problem?”

  “You are!”

  “Well, I thought you’d need underwear.”

  “And you thought these would be to my taste?”

  “Some more than others, Katie. Some more than others.” His eyes held hers in a steady stare as they waited at an intersection for two pedestrians with snowboards. One eyebrow lifted slightly. Then his wide kissable mouth compressed again as though holding back further mirth.

  “And don’t ‘Katie’ me,” she lashed.

  “Look—I hoped there’d be something here you’d find useful or suitable or pretty.”

  She shot him a killer glance.

  “I didn’t know if you wore those little things or something a bit more... concealing. Who knows what women prefer? Not me—but I can picture you in that rosy arrangement...”

  “Well, stop picturing me, thank you.”

  He tossed her a cavalier grin. “Pretty picture though.”

  She snorted. “None of your business,” she muttered.

  “And there’s something else in the back that might be handy,” he continued, unperturbed.

  Startled, she glanced over her shoulder and found another much larger offering from the same store. Matthew slowed for a turning vehicle. Kate reached backward and dragged the bag over to her seat, quivering with embarrassment.

  First, she unwrapped a pair of cream slippers, which looked exactly her size. She had a sudden chilling picture of him prowling her bedroom, long fingers roaming through her possessions, checking her spare pair of shoes. Surely he’d had no time to?

  “Just right,” she said coldly.

  “Took a punt, seeing they’re backless.” She relaxed a little.

  The rest of the big bag contained a soft full-length velour robe to match. Kate ran her fingers along the pale pink silk piping edging the pockets and lapels. She would never have treated herself to anything as luxurious and expensive. “Thank you. It’s very... nice.” It was a tepid word, she knew, but she hoped not to enrage him again. And she certainly didn’t want to encourage him. At least he wasn’t expecting her to flit about his big house in something short and transparent. She was relieved about that, anyway. She packed the robe away as best she could, and sat staring straight ahead, still far too aware of him.

  It was early dusk when they reached the hospital again. This time Lottie was awake—and fractious.

  “Ach, this place,” she complained, pushing away the remains of her dinner. Kate hung back as Matthew moved her food tray aside and stood close
. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and bent to kiss her forehead. She leaned against him, burying her face against his body and releasing a long noisy sigh.

  What an easy affection they had, Kate thought. A sharp tweak of jealousy twisted her heart. It was a long time since her parents had been so relaxed together. A long time since Kate had been embraced as casually and easily. Simon had touched her often, but tended to expect a sexual response in return. To hug with no follow-up wasn’t his style.

  “And this is why you are so late to see me?” Lottie asked, turning her wide blue eyes in Kate’s direction.

  Matthew grimaced. “Third time lucky, Lotts. We came by this morning as soon as I’d collected Kate off the plane but they had you well sedated. We came back after lunch and you were still dead to the world. At last you can meet Kate. Kate Pleasance—Lottie Janssen.”

  Kate stepped forward, hand outstretched to shake Lottie’s. “It’s amazing to meet you. And a great surprise.”

  Lottie clasped Kate’s carefully manicured hand between her own surprisingly rough ones. It was not a handshake—it was the warmest of welcomes. Her blue eyes twinkled. “The names, ya? I need to be a little careful and not give everything away so soon.”

  “I was amazed when Matthew told me.”

  “Not too scared off?”

  “Not yet, anyway.”

  Lottie nodded and finally let go of Kate’s hand. “We see how we go,” she said.

  Matthew smiled only faintly. “You can have a big chat tomorrow when we take you home. The doctor says you need to stay the night because of your head. But we’ve got Kate for a few days extra to help look after you.”

  Lottie slid her eyes back to Kate’s. “So you stay—how long?”

  Kate looked across at Matthew and shrugged. “Sunday?” she asked.

  “Here for the party then,” Lottie said with satisfaction. “He is the little brother,” she added, wagging her head at Matthew. “Hamish is forty today, and the birthday party is at the vineyard on Saturday.”

  Kate couldn’t imagine towering Matthew being anyone’s ‘little’ brother.

  “Good thing I made that curry yesterday,” Lottie continued. “You can do some rice and a salad? Diana’s bringing her Banoffie pie. They’re still coming?”

  Kate had lost the thread of the conversation entirely. Who was coming? When?

  Matthew nodded. “Eight o’clock. Kate can eat your share.” He glanced across at her. “Only Diana and my brother Hamish,” he explained. “We’d planned a celebration dinner at home on the actual birthday. Lottie’s missing out now.”

  Kate relaxed slightly as his gaze washed over her. Thank heavens they wouldn’t be alone in the house after all. Or not until much later in the evening. She’d just have to cope with that when it happened. She vowed to keep conducting herself as the cool collected job-seeker, and hoped it would send him the appropriate message of non-availability.

  “I’ll need to take you shopping again,” he said.

  Kate gazed at him warily. “Whatever for?”

  “A party dress for Saturday.”

  “I can wear my suit, surely?”

  He shook his head. “Real party, Katie. Pretty dresses and tuxedos. We do things properly here in the deep south.”

  “Oh that’s ridiculous. I just won’t go—that’ll be easiest.” She looked across to Lottie for back-up.

  “Kate, you must come with us—a mysterious guest to make a little thrill for our friends.”

  Well, that was no help!

  “Do be our mystery guest, Katie,” Matthew encouraged.

  Her eyes shot him full of razor blades.

  “What shall we dress her in, Lottie?” he continued, including Kate in his lazy smile. “Black or wine-red? Green for the eyes or ...?

  Kate felt herself being outmanoeuvred again.

  “Ya—the wine-red for the vineyard—why not? That would suit you very well Kate. Let him buy you a dress. There’s nothing in my wardrobe that will fit a tall model-girl like you.” Lottie indicated her own generous bosom. “The money is very little to us—at least we have been lucky that way.”

  Kate sensed a hint of misfortune in the comment. What could possibly be wrong in their apparently idyllic lives?

  “And the hair tied up with...” Lottie circled her hands to indicate cascading tendrils.

  In two long strides, Matthew arrived beside Kate and plunged his hands into her luxuriant mane. He quickly twisted up a rough topknot and held her captive. She tried to pull away but his warm fingers were steel-strong. He tugged, less than gently, so her eyes had to meet his. She glared, helpless, but unwilling to make a scene in front of Lottie.

  “That’s hurting me,” she said very quietly. He was too close. Making her heart race and her palms break out with anxious dampness.

  “Then relax, and it won’t.”

  “Let me go please.”

  “In a minute.” He turned toward Lottie. “Something like that? To show off her lovely long neck?” Very slowly he ran the fingers of his other hand down Kate’s nape before releasing her and moving away.

  “Doesn’t she have beautiful hair?” he asked Lottie, face a picture of innocence.

  Kate itched to smack it. Hard.

  “Surely you should be playing with Lottie’s hair?” she suggested with saccharine sweetness.

  Matthew didn’t react to that, but Lottie did.

  “I have it always in the braid to keep it out of the paint,” she said.

  “Then I shall fasten mine up out of the way, too,” Kate agreed, sending Matthew a furious glare.

  “You’ll spoil my fun,” he said.

  She nodded. “With any luck.”

  “Ah well,” he said, glancing at his watch and then at Lottie. “We’d better get that curry heated. We’ll be back for you after ten tomorrow. Hope you sleep well.

  Kate added her farewell and they paced back down the corridor in silence.

  I’m mad if I stay, she thought. He’s total trouble. I should run while the going’s good.

  She turned the various possibilities over in her brain: leave right away and find accommodation in town for the night. Suffer this evening’s dinner party and chance one night alone in the house with him. Wait until Sunday, as agreed, on her guard the whole time. Or take the job for as long as it lasted, somehow keeping out of Matthew’s way.

  Okay, he was away from home a lot. He’d said so. How often? For how long? She wondered how she could find out, because working for Lottie was an awesome opportunity. What an addition to her CV Lottie Janssen’s name would make.

  Kate had been attracted to the job the moment she’d read the advertisement. Had been pleased to be short-listed... impressed to be flown south at the McLeods’ expense for the interview. She’d fallen instantly in love with Queenstown during their brief pre-lunch tour. It was the ideal diversion from Auckland, where memories of her mother and Simon lurked. It was smaller, totally different—a winter place instead of a summer one.

  She’d felt immediately comfortable with Lottie, even after the warning from Matthew that she could be difficult. Not as difficult as a dying mother, she thought sadly. Not as difficult as Matthew! It was a heaven sent opportunity—apart from him.

  He opened the door of the SUV for her, tall and silent, his face cast into deep shadow by the garish security lighting. Kate nodded her reluctant thanks and the door clunked shut. She watched as he walked around to the driver’s side and slid in, his breath visible on the cold air. She was grateful for her borrowed jacket—the temperature felt only a degree or two above frost-point.

  “So you’re the ‘little’ brother?” she said, to fill the lengthening silence.

  “The younger,” he corrected. “Lottie’s English is a bit eccentric, even after all these years.”

  “How long has she lived here?”

  He thought for a while. “Mmmm—she’s six years younger than me...born in Samoa, and taken to the Netherlands by her mother when she was
five I think. Came back to New Zealand ten or eleven years ago. She’s lived all over the place. Speaks scraps of various languages.”

  “I liked her.”

  “See how you get on tomorrow, then.” He punched the engine into life.

  Once they’d left the lights of Queenstown behind, Kate could still discern the jagged outline of mountains against the star sprinkled sky. Surely the horizon was growing lighter, not darker? She queried Matthew.

  “Full moon due up in a while,” he said. “It’ll be good in the spa pool tonight. We can put the lights off.”


  Chapter Five — Slicing Lemons

  Kate thought about that while the SUV carried them the rest of the way home. A secluded little seduction scene? A foursome with Diana and Hamish? Surely not. Her wary mind ran riot with possibilities until they rolled into the big garage and he switched the engine off.

  A wicked extra scenario had sneaked in among the options she’d assembled earlier; make the most of him while they were alone for the night and desert him in the morning. By an odd co-incidence it was her birthday, too, and she felt like a treat. Matthew McLeod was the biggest treat she’d ever laid eyes on.

  No, she wouldn’t. Of course not. But she knew he found her attractive. And he stole her breath away with his powerful physical presence... his self-assurance... his hypnotic silver-blue eyes... that sudden incredible smile.

  He’d unsettled her the moment they’d met at the airport. Since then her feet had not quite touched the ground. He annoyed her immensely, constantly, outrageously. He was an itch just begging to be scratched... and Kate’s fingers were now twitching with the temptation.

  Matthew shucked his dark blue jacket off as they left the garage, and turned to collect hers as well. He opened the door to the adjoining storeroom.

  “Is it Hamish’s wine?” she asked, eyeing the huge collection, and remembering the vineyard comments. She shivered. It was cooler in there.

  He reached for a bottle and held it label-up for her.

  “McLeod Brothers. Both of you?”

  “His know-how. My money. Except these days I’ve got some know-how and he’s making money.” He replaced the bottle in the rack, then thought better of it, holding it by its neck and closing the door. “Do you want to take the clothes to your room? There’s plenty of time—Diana and Hamish aren’t due until eight. Or will you help me with a salad first?”

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