All for love 3 series.., p.27
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.27

           Kris Pearson
 

  Her beloved mother was dead. Her father had found new happiness with another woman. Simon was definitely in the past. And now, in this new place, she was even more alone. No local friends. No certainty of what lay ahead. It was suddenly all too much for her; she wept without restraint.

  ~♥~

  Matthew snapped alert as he detected the light level brightening outside his partly closed door. He rose silently from bed. Someone was creeping about, and there were secrets in his office he’d rather keep safely away from strangers’ eyes—especially the enticing green eyes of the gorgeous and mysterious Miss Pleasance.

  Robert Pleasance headed SouthernTel, a rival company. The lucrative telecommunications world was cutthroat beyond belief. The two men had often crossed swords.

  Matthew had quizzed Kate energetically at the cafe, learning nothing about Rob more than establishing he and Kate were father and daughter. She’d acted puzzled, innocent, and dismissive she was the least bit important.

  He sighed, and rubbed a hand over his jaw. Maybe this was the evidence he’d been waiting for. There was no reason to leave the bedrooms at night. Each had an en suite bathroom. He’d lay odds it was Kate moving about his house in secret, finally making her move.

  He walked with caution, clad only in slippery black pyjama bottoms. Even in winter, he hated anything wrapped around his neck in bed. He drew level with the office door and peered in. Nothing. No small bobbing torch light. No Kate. So far, so good.

  He approached the living area, all his senses alert. She was there somewhere—he’d been drawn through the house by her faint fragrance.

  He felt as well as heard her distress. Tension charged the air with humming energy. And then he noticed a new shape on the far side of the big room. He found her crumpled into one of the chairs where they’d sat with Diana for the afternoon’s coffee. She’d thrown back her head, and tears shone on her face in the moonlight. Her long throat jumped convulsively every few seconds. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her body, as though for comfort, but plainly she’d found none. She’d squeezed her eyes shut, trying to prevent the tears from escaping, but still they leaked out from under her sooty lashes, trickling like quicksilver down into her cascade of hair.

  “Katie,” he growled, bending close.

  She jumped, and clamped a hand across her mouth to muffle a scream.

  “Don’t panic... don’t panic... only me,” he murmured, smoothing his fingers down her cheek, trying to find the reason for her distress. She turned and burrowed her face into his palm, grabbing it with both of hers and holding it there. He felt her damp eyelashes, her soft lips, the tremors which still shook her. He stroked over her glorious hair with his other hand as though she was a lovely exotic animal needing gentling down after frightening treatment.

  After a few moments, she released him with a low breathy moan. “Oh God, sorry.”

  “Whatever’s wrong?” he asked with huge concern, squatting down beside the chair.

  “Diana and Hamish are making love,” she whimpered.

  He gave a sudden bark of mirth. The answer had been utterly unexpected. “Still gets a bonk on his birthday, does he? Good old Diana.”

  “No,” she whispered, embarrassed and shuddering. “That’s not what I meant. It’s me. It’s me... I suddenly felt so alone. I was madly busy until Mum finally died and—” she sniffed back her tears—“I had to keep going and get everything done. And it’s all just hit me, being away from home and hearing other people so happy... and everything.” She pushed her hair back with an impatient hand and raised her tragic wet eyes to his.

  “Delayed reaction,” he said. “Stand up.”

  He took her by the upper arms and pulled her against him, fitting his hipbone into the join of her thighs and pressing her head down onto his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her against his body. A long quiet sigh escaped from between her lips. He felt it flutter over his skin.

  ~♥~

  Kate continued to weep, but less convulsively now. It was just a hug. A lovely consoling human hug from someone who cared enough to ask what was wrong. She slid an arm around his waist, and settled her face more comfortably against his shoulder, absorbing his heat and strength as it soothed and healed her. “This is very kind of you,” she murmured with polite resignation. “I’ve been quite rude to you today—”

  “I’ve been asking for it,” he muttered.

  “Yes, you have, actually,” she said with more spirit, making a small effort to pull away, and finding herself very firmly confined. She relaxed against him again, wondering how long before she could escape without seeming impolite... and wanting desperately to stay just where she was. What could she say to make the hug last a little longer? “May I see your tattoo?” she tried.

  “No.”

  “Why not? I saw some of it in the spa room.”

  “I thought those shorts covered it.”

  “Yes, but when you were teasing me, your trousers slid down a bit...”

  She felt him nod. “Ah.”

  “So why not—seeing I’ve already seen it?”

  “It’s not for public consumption.”

  “Is it obscene?”

  “Not in the least. But it’s a personal thing. Only for me.”

  She moved her hand around his waist, rubbing over his velvety skin. “Am I touching it?”

  ~♥~

  Matthew closed his eyes and gave silent thanks he’d not settled her against his groin. God—the sensation of her breasts against his skin... Her nightgown was thin and soft. Barely there. She may as well have been naked. “Yes. Some of it. Feeling better now?”

  Kate nodded as she pulled away from him. Her hand trailed over his hip, pushing the loose pyjamas just a little lower.

  “Scheming woman,” he said with mock severity, realising exactly what she was up to. And then some little devil made him cup a hand over his groin to hold the pyjamas close, and he undid the waistband for her. She slid the soft black fabric aside, pushing it down his flank a few inches, her breath catching as she uncovered whorls and curves and bands of pattern in the moonlight.

  “Matthew....” she breathed. “It’s amazing....” She tried to push the fabric further, but he stopped her with his other hand.

  “That’s distracted you quite enough,” he said, turning aside to conceal himself again, and re-fastening the waistband.

  “How far does it go?”

  “As far as I wanted it to.”

  “How long have you had it?”

  “Since I was sixteen. That was the start of it.” He motioned her to sit down again, and took the chair beside her. She’d recovered her composure, but a little more time away from Hamish and Diana might be wise. “Dad was posted to Samoa for several years. They have the most amazing tattoos there—especially the chiefs and high born men. This is nothing...” He stayed silent for a few seconds, remembering. “They start far enough up to show above their lava-lavas and go right down to their knees. It’s the mark of a brave man if he can endure the process. It’s primitive.”

  “And you endured it?”

  Matthew shook his head. “Whole different deal, Katie. I designed what I wanted and had it done while I was at school in Auckland. A piece at a time as my pocket money allowed. In a safe commercial parlour. Starting where my father would never see it.”

  “Surely they weren’t allowed to tattoo schoolboys?”

  “Borrowed Hamish’s I.D. We looked enough alike in the photos. Each time I went home for the holidays, I wore a bigger swimsuit to hide the evidence.” He gave a small snort of amusement. “Dad probably thought I was turning into a prude.”

  “And what did your friends think?”

  “The boys at home were impressed. The teachers at school were horrified. But it was too late by then. As I told you, it’s for me—not for the rest of the world.”

  “Everyone’s doing it now,” Kate said. “Not me yet, but I wondered about a little butterfly or something.”


  “A ‘butt’-erfly,” he suggested.

  “Yes, maybe,” she said, getting the joke and laughing softly.

  They sat on in companionable silence for a while, Kate no longer sobbing, and now obviously curious about how far the tattoo extended; Matthew wondering if Hamish and Diana had concluded their celebrations.

  He glanced at his watch, angling the face of it to the moon. “Almost one o’clock, Katie. We need some sleep so we can look after Lottie tomorrow. You’re better now? I’ll walk you back—okay?”

  He held out his hand, against his better judgment, and she rose like a graceful ghost and took it. It seemed a very small consolation after their earlier full-body embrace.

  He was no closer to discovering why she was really in Queenstown. Her distress had certainly appeared genuine, and there’d been so sign of any house searching. But had she simply been testing the water? Experimenting to see how far she could explore without being detected?

  They returned, unspeaking, to their rooms. When no other movements were apparent, the floor-lights gently dimmed and switched off.

  Chapter Eight — Studio Scene

  Without her wristwatch Kate had no idea of the time. She peeked through the heavy curtains and found the sun up, the frost down. The world was white. Everything sparkled and shone.

  Fearing that she’d overslept—marvellously, deeply, dreamlessly for once—she drew on the robe, found her slippers, and retrieved her clothes and jewellery from the changing room. Matthew’s gold chain glimmered at her, reminding her of the serpentine curves of his amazing tattoo.

  It was past eight-thirty, she discovered to her surprise. They were due to collect Lottie around ten. She’d better hurry.

  She walked down the long main gallery to the kitchen, and found coffee brewed but no other sign of habitation. She filled a mug, and took it across to where big glass doors had been folded open to the air.

  It was totally still, crisp and cloudless again. Matthew threaded his way through the big clumps of frosty tussock grass some distance from the house. She smiled shyly as he drew nearer. “Good morning.”

  “So Sleeping Beauty awakes?”

  She sighed. “I slept really well. It’s so quiet here.”

  “Mostly,” he said with a grin.

  Kate lowered her gaze, remembering the noises in the night. “Have they gone?” she asked with trepidation.

  “Dogs to feed. Speaking of food, what will you eat? I brought breakfast to your room earlier but you were dead to the world.”

  Had he watched her sleeping? She supposed so, from his Sleeping Beauty comment. Her skin prickled at the thought. She’d feel more comfortable once Lottie was home and deflecting his attention.

  “Thank you. Just toast will be fine. I’d better hurry now I’ve slept in.”

  His eyes roamed over her with masculine possession. Kate lifted a hand to the collar of the robe and drew it more closely around her. Matthew’s smile grew wider, and she turned and fled back to her bedroom.

  She showered and dressed at top speed, and gulped another cup of coffee and a slice of whole-wheat toast and apricot jam before they climbed into the SUV. Matthew drove with care because of the ice-covered roads.

  She looked everywhere but at him. She’d stroked his naked hip! He’d undone his pyjamas and she’d drawn closer instead of turning away. It seemed unreal now, but she knew quite well it had happened. Her body knew, almost more surely than her brain.

  Each time she’d been close to him this morning, some perfidious internal place had trembled, heated, expanded, felt special. She wouldn’t be returning from Auckland after Sunday. There was no other viable decision now. However spectacular the surroundings, however desirable the job, Matthew had made it impossible for her to stay.

  She clenched her hands together and stared out of the window. No hardship with such scenery. In the chilly morning air frost still covered each blade of grass and twig. The low angle of the sun set everything sparkling. Drifts of mist rose from hollows. Mountains thrust into the cloudless sky whichever way she looked. The Remarkables with their distinctive jagged outline. Coronet Peak with its heavier mantle of snow. Maybe there were already keen skiers and snowboarders up there, enjoying the fantastic morning? She cleared her throat, wondering if she should ask, and then couldn’t voice even such an innocuous remark.

  Matthew broke the silence when the lake became visible. “Wakitipu’s looking great in this light.” He pulled to the side of the road for a moment. As they watched, a bright red boat burbled slowly out. “Shotover Jet. He won’t be doing that speed for long.” Sure enough, a plume of spray eventually kicked up from the stern, the boat shot forward, and they dimly heard the roar of its powerful engine splitting the tranquillity of the still morning.

  Lottie was chafing to get home, already seated in a wheelchair close to the reception desk.

  “I thought you’d be on crutches,” Kate said, surprised.

  Lottie beckoned her to bend. “Sometimes it’s okay to have the famous name,” she murmured. “I told them ‘really big house—too far to walk on crutches—painter can work sitting in the wheelchair... And so—” She looked very pleased with herself. Kate laughed.

  “I hope this folds up,” Matthew interrupted, bending to inspect the other side of the chair.

  “Oh ya,” Lottie said airily, patting his shoulder as he crouched beside her.

  He turned and kissed her wrist. “How’s your head?” he asked.

  “Little bang. Not so bad.”

  “And the ankle?”

  “Horrible.”

  He flashed a big grin up at Kate. “Welcome to the world’s worst patient.” He unfolded to his full height and pushed the chair around to face the exit. “Anything I have to sign?”

  “All done,” Lottie said, leaning back, content as a queen with her attendants. They proceeded out to the parking lot.

  “Will it be easier for you in the back or the front?” Kate asked, surveying Lottie’s ankle.

  “The back, maybe. I can go sideways.” Kate helped her in to the SUV, flinching at each of Lottie’s dramatic grimaces and groans. Matthew chuckled, and left them to it to while he wrestled with the chair.

  “He’s not very sympathetic, is he?”

  “Always the same,” Lottie agreed, finally settling. She turned her twinkling blue gaze to Kate’s. “Good idea for a new painting today,” she said. “Quite different for me. Could be woman, could be hillsides. Fun, ya?”

  Kate nodded cautiously, not seeing what Lottie saw.

  “So my new assistant’s first job is model, okay?”

  “A portrait?”

  Lottie waggled her hand in a maybe/maybe not gesture. “Perhaps not your face at all. Your hips, your back... keeping the panties on of course.”

  Damn right! Kate thought, caught unawares. This wasn’t quite what she’d bargained on. And there weren’t many panties to keep on, drat it. She hadn’t been able to resist the tiny green lace thong. She needed to change into something more concealing... the French knickers perhaps. She relaxed a little at that thought as Matthew drove them back through the icy-clear day and into the big garage.

  He pushed the chair along the wide main hallway of the house, then stopped at a door which was neatly concealed just around a corner. He pressed a button. The door folded sideways. Kate had her first view of Lottie’s private elevator.

  Lottie motioned her in and waved Matthew away. The door closed and they ascended.

  “Good to carry all sorts of things up, ya? And maybe me when I’m older and don’t do the stairs.”

  Kate nodded, impressed. “Good for big paintings, too,” she agreed.

  “My studio is the top floor. Lots of room. Lovely light. Matthew designed it all as I needed.”

  The door opened on another world. Kate stood astounded.

  The paintings were powerful, dominant, fierce. Lottie may not have lived permanently in New Zealand, but her love for the terrain was obvious—in every
stroke and slash, every line and gradation of colour. There were canvasses in all stages of progress, leaning on walls and against furniture. Bookshelves, storage cabinets, easels, tables... the litter of painting paraphernalia was everywhere. Sketch pads, coffee mugs, wine glasses, and magazines spread in a rising tide on every level surface. A big book of Leonardo da Vinci’s exquisite life drawings lay open on a chair. A tome of French impressionists had fallen to the floor.

  A circle of black leather recliner chairs around a low oak table formed the only island of sanity Kate could see in the huge space.

  To one side there was a smaller room, obviously set up for sleeping.

  Along the back wall a kitchen counter had sliding doors to conceal it—except they were not closed, and the litter of unwashed plates, orange peel, and paint spatters looked far from hygienic.

  Lottie laughed at her reaction. “My eagle’s nest,” she said with satisfaction, waving a hand toward the surrounding views.

  “Incredible,” Kate whispered. There was no other word. The long line of windows had been positioned to frame the up-thrust peaks of The Remarkables—for all the world like a gigantic canvas on which a supremely talented artist had produced their life’s masterpiece.

  But Lottie allowed her scant time to admire it. “So, we have the red couch there,” she said, pointing. “Can you put those papers off? Anywhere will do.”

  Kate shuffled them into a tidy heap, cast around for somewhere clear, shrugged, and finally balanced them on some magazines.

  “And you pull it around this way a little? Good.”

  Lottie sat, considering, eyes narrowed. “And Kate—in the bedroom there are lamps. Can you bring them?”

  The bedroom was perfectly civilized. The lamps were easy enough to retrieve.

  “Ya—one there, one the other side. You find the wall-plugs?”

  Kate fossicked around as instructed.

  “Now—you sit. Lean over. The other way. Onto the cushions?” She tipped her head on one side. “I think you move this lamp further out, and bend its arm so it is low...”

 
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