All for love 3 series.., p.29
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.29

           Kris Pearson
 

  She took the coffee through to Lottie, asking if she needed anything else.

  “Can you tell Matthew dinner up here tonight? I go to bed properly, I think—I have a visit to make tomorrow.”

  Kate wondered if she should offer to help her undress.

  “Rest of the day off for you,” Lottie said cheerily, dismissing her with a wave of a paint-smeared hand and a wide smile.

  So it was back to see what Matthew wanted.

  She dawdled down the thickly carpeted stairs. No wonder she hadn’t heard him approaching with their lunch. On the landing there was another vast window. Kate stopped and drank in the perfectly framed view. Everything about this house had been planned to please. How much of it was Matthew’s work? Lottie said he’d designed the studio ‘all as I needed.’ He’d probably decreed exactly where that range of jagged mountains sat in the countryside, too.

  Lottie might be a painter, but Matthew was a draftsman. His meticulous recording of her body confirmed that. Her skin prickled as she thought of the two big charcoal sketches. Where were they now? She wanted to have them safely in her own possession. To keep them private for herself, because it would be a travesty to destroy them.

  She pondered how to retrieve his work as she gazed out. The peaks were a soft grey-blue with a mantle of white only along the higher ridges. They’d be magnificent after heavy snow. Perhaps it had been a mild winter in Queenstown? New Zealand was so long and narrow that farms could be snowed-over in nearby Southland while the hibiscus bushes still flowered in the far north.

  Sighing, she resumed her descent. A descent into hell, maybe. What sort of temptation or humiliation had he lined up for her this time?

  She wandered slowly, enjoying the magnificent art collection as she progressed along the main hallway to his study and peered in. There was no sign of him, but maybe he’d put the sketches there? She took a few cautious steps into the big room and glanced around. She had no idea where to start searching.

  “Katie?”

  She jumped as he came through the door.

  His piercing gaze pinned her in place. “What are you looking for?”

  “You. You said to come back.” Had she imagined it, or did his hard face relax a little?

  “Come and have coffee. I’ve spread something on the table. Needed more room.” He stretched out an arm, and she flinched away from his grip.

  No more touching, no more kissing. She’d see he didn’t get within feet of her again.

  She moved forward and he pulled the door closed behind him. Kate had the definite feeling he hadn’t wanted her in his study. The sketches must be there somewhere. Good to know. Relief washed through her.

  But worse awaited on the big timber table in the living area. He’d laid out a sinuous design like a many-chambered nautilus shell. A repeating pattern in assorted colours, spiralling in and in, getting smaller and smaller toward the centre.

  She smiled. It was unusual and eye-catching.

  “Amazing what you can do with a computer these days, isn’t it,” he said, leaning over her shoulder and placing strong hands on the table edge either side. She bent a little further to increase the distance between them.

  “We could call it ‘Yours for a thong’.” She heard the teasing laughter in his husky voice. With a sudden jolt, she recognised her own body, manipulated, many-coloured, used as patchwork to produce a totally different work of art. He’d reproduced just her hips and the tiny panties—again and again.

  “You stole the other Polaroid,” she gasped, swinging around and fending him off. “I want that destroyed. It’s embarrassing. It’s awful. I don’t want anyone to see it. Please?”

  She thrust out her hand imperiously, willing him to give it back to her. She shook with rage. Matthew parted his lips.

  “Now,” she snapped, beating him to it.

  “Katie...”

  “Right now.”

  He swung around and strode back to the study. She raced along behind. He raised the lid of a scanner; the photo lay there. Kate snatched it up, ripped it in half and then in half again.

  “And I want it out of your hard drive, and wiped off anything you’ve transferred it to.” She stood tall, trembling, absolutely outraged. How could he just treat her like meat?

  “Katie, I was only having a bit of fun. You inspired me. I thought the finished result was great, actually.”

  “Well, it wasn’t actually your backside, Matthew. Why couldn’t you at least ask? Did you really think I needed one more dose of humiliation? Are you so used to getting what you want with all your money? Didn’t you think at all?”

  He placed his hands carefully on her shoulders. She flinched but stood her ground, staring straight into his eyes, and praying she’d be able to keep her gaze level.

  “Katie, I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I... maybe... didn’t think at all. I certainly didn’t want to hurt you. But you’re beautiful—I enjoyed playing with you.”

  The apology sounded sincere enough, but she wasn’t about to back down.

  He dropped a kiss on her forehead. A light, quick, ‘sorry-and-let’s-be-friends-again’ sort of kiss. So much for keeping well clear of him! “Forgive me? I’ll buy you a stunner of a party dress.”

  “Money doesn’t always do it,” she snapped, still far from mollified.

  “It’ll do it tomorrow. You can have any dress in town.”

  “I want the backless one split up to the hip,” she demanded ungraciously.

  “Where did you see it?”

  “In my dreams.” She wriggled away from his hands with a sharply indrawn breath. Forgiveness was a way off yet, even though his kiss had been chaste and his regret seemed real.

  “We’ll see what we can find tomorrow then.”

  Kate hovered, eyes still searching for the sketches. Matthew had hidden them well. Where could they be? He’d closed the study door on her before, but this was another chance to try and retrieve them.

  “What do you do here?” she asked, playing for time.

  ~♥~

  He took a long slow breath. At least she’d changed the subject. Maybe that was a good sign, even though two spots of colour stained her cheekbones, and the rest of her face still looked chalky white with fury. “Internet projects. Some years back I created a very good Service Provider—an ISP—with a friend. We sold it for... more than I could have dreamed of. That’s what set me up. And I’m on the board of the company who bought it.”

  “And?”

  “Other business interests. I’m quite involved with the vineyard these days. And a graphics enterprise—I’ve always been keen on photography. Lottie’s not the only artist in the family.”

  “As you so ably demonstrated today,” she agreed, flicking him a look of disdain.

  He watched as she returned her gaze to his shelves and desk-tops. “Yes... well... my biggest project—where my brain really is right now—is the software I’m working on.

  Kate nodded, but her eyes continued to avoid his.

  “And that’s why I need you to stay and help Lottie,” he added. “I need time and concentration for this.”

  ~♥~

  Kate turned away with a sigh. She knew there was no way she could stay—and survive.

  There was no sign of the sketches. Maybe he’d slid them between the filing cabinets? The sheets of paper were too big for any of the drawers, and she couldn’t see them on the shelves. She wasn’t prepared to beg for them. Not yet.

  She glanced at her watch. “Lottie sent me down with a message. She wants her dinner brought upstairs. She’s decided to sleep up there tonight. Okay with you?”

  Tough if it isn’t.

  She turned and left him to it, but he followed her to the study doorway. She knew he was watching; his eyes almost burned holes in her spine. She tossed her hair back as she walked, and tried to make her long-legged stride confident and graceful.

  “I’m going out for a while,” he called after her retreating figure.


  She didn’t look back. Simply kept going, although she did raise a hand in a half-hearted acknowledgement of his comment.

  Good. He’d be out of the way, and Lottie was upstairs and didn’t need her. She could have a proper search for the damned sketches in a little while. She returned to her seat in the lowering sun.

  ~♥~

  Matthew swung himself into the SUV with a quiet and heartfelt curse. Offending Kate had been the last thing on his mind. He needed someone for Lottie. Needed someone desperately, so he could live his own life again.

  Lottie was not properly well—some sort of neurological problem, as yet undiagnosed. Multiple Sclerosis? It was early for that. She’d be very young to have it. So far the major symptom was her clumsiness. Her feet didn’t always know where the rest of her body was.

  She was his responsibility, and he’d look after her whatever the eventual outcome. But she was demanding. And she was scared—however vigorously she appeared to be getting on with life.

  Kate was by far the best applicant for the job. If he could persuade her to stay it would take a big weight off his mind (and maybe bring all sorts of other problems, he acknowledged grimly.) There was nothing for it except to jump in, feet-first, and see what happened. For the next few days at least, he had someone to share his ‘Lottie-watching’ duties. He was confident he could prevent Kate from discovering anything too vital about his business before Sunday. And equally confident that by then he’d know a whole lot more about her.

  He accelerated sharply once he hit the road, roaring along far past the speed limit until the major intersection forced him to slow down and blend with other traffic. He felt edgy, super-aware of his skin and the blood coursing warmly just beneath it.

  He’d enjoyed seeing Kate really angry, although he regretted being the one to upset her. She’d revealed herself as strong willed and passionate—a challenge to any virile red-blooded male. She could certainly stand up for herself when she felt the situation warranted it.

  She’d make a feisty lover. His body stirred again, thinking of her. Naked and eager for him. Her glorious hair tumbling over his pillows. Arms upraised in welcome, urging him to take her, tugging him down so they were skin to skin and mouth on mouth.

  He looked forward to the vineyard party with extra enjoyment now, picturing her tall body in a slide of wine-red fabric—heavy, shining, figure-hugging. The dress she’d seen in her dreams. In his, too, by the sound of it.

  She had dynamite legs; he’d enjoyed them in the spa-room the previous evening when he’d gotten a quick glimpse before she submersed herself. Not to mention a couple of hours ago in the studio. Yes, a long split skirt to show them off.

  Friends would notice her and start speculating immediately. They’d all want to know more, and be curious as hell. He grinned to himself. It was time they thought he had a new woman, even though the truth might be far from that.

  It was a long time since he’d felt so attracted. Kate had appeared like a flash of lightning through a thunderous sky—so desirable he could barely keep away. He needed her as an employee, but he also wanted her as a woman.

  Dangerous choice, he muttered to himself. Was she the bait in a honey-trap? She wouldn’t be the first pretty woman sent to distract a man while making off with his secrets.

  He’d trusted his ex-wife, Martine. Loved her. Thought she’d loved him. Had never seen the sting coming. Ever since then, his electronic security arrangements had been extreme.

  He’d call Sy Karlsen and ask him to check Kate out. He’d scan that CV for starters, and email it off. Sy was a discreet and thorough investigator. If Kate Pleasance had things to hide, Sy would lay them bare. And in the meantime, Matthew decided he’d pursue her for the pure pleasure of it.

  Chapter Ten — Searching for Sketches

  Once he’d left, Kate prowled along the main hallway and slipped into Matthew’s study. She peered between all the cabinets, and anywhere else he could have hidden the big sketches. She found nothing.

  She quickly searched the luxurious sitting room, although she found it an unlikely hiding place. Nothing. Except memories of a pleasant evening, and the knowing look he’d given her when he caught her inspecting him. Again, she felt the delicious heat flowing through her; the ridiculous craving and edgy excitement.

  Get back to the job in hand, Kate!

  There were no sketches in the magnificent dining room, either.

  Bedrooms, then? She peeked into the room next to hers where Diana and Hamish had slept. Nothing under the big bed. Nothing in the generous walk-in wardrobe. Nothing in any of the drawers. Or in the en suite bathroom.

  Nothing in her own room, naturally.

  Nothing in the two bedrooms further along the hallway.

  Nothing even remotely resembling sketches in the chilly storeroom, although the racks of wine were impressive, and she found skis and snowboards, and all manner of other things there.

  Could he have deviously hidden them up in the studio? She trod up the densely carpeted stairs and peered around. Lord—that was a mission...

  She crossed to Lottie’s bedroom, ostensibly to check on her wellbeing.

  “Would you like any more coffee? Or anything?”

  “Ach, Katie—you’re a good girl. No thank you. Just dinner when it’s ready. How is that painting looking now?”

  Kate grimaced. “Very different from the sketches Matthew did.”

  Lottie grinned at her expression. “I never saw the second one. How was it?”

  “I’ll see if I can find the pad for you,” she said, pleased to have an excuse to dig around. But a further search amongst the mess brought no result.

  She returned downstairs, hurried to the front of the house, and checked for any sign of him returning. The long driveway was empty.

  There were no sketches hidden in the wonderfully appointed gym where very hot scenes featuring a bare-chested Matthew floated through her mind and would not be erased.

  The spa-room and changing room weren’t really options, although she glanced quickly into each.

  So that left only the main bedroom, and now her search was getting far too personal. She hesitated by the half open door, breathing fast, heart lurching and fluttering as though she’d just run for miles. Then she took two quick steps inside, pushed the door almost closed, and tried hard to concentrate. This was where he slept, where he showered, where he made love. Where the scent of him lingered.

  It was a huge calm silver-grey room with silky black curtains and a very large bed with a throw of the same glossy fabric. Kate crouched and peered underneath. It was low to the floor. Nothing.

  There were black lacquered chests set either side of the bed. Not big enough to conceal the sketches. She hesitated, fingers caressing one of the drawer-pulls, wondering if she dared to open it. Wanting to open it and share a little more of his life. But perhaps this was Lottie’s side of the bed? The clock-radio and empty coffee mug on top gave no clue. The other chest had nail scissors, a hank of ribbon, and a box wrapped in birthday paper. Sighing, she turned away, resolved not to spy unnecessarily.

  Her gaze drifted to two comfortable armchairs set by floor-to-ceiling glass doors in front of a sunny terrace. A table between them held magazines, books and framed photographs.

  She bent to see better. A younger Hamish and Diana with boys and dogs. Matthew, Lottie, and a small, dark-haired child. The same small boy again, close-up, held in masculine arms. Lottie beautifully dressed at a formal ceremony. Matthew, impassive behind sunglasses, lounging against a small plane.

  She touched the glass with a finger, sliding over his face, down his body, all the way to his booted feet. Felt the arousing sensations that even a photo of him caused.

  You don’t like him. You don’t want him. He’s not available. He’s nothing but an arrogant tease.

  She made herself turn away and scan the huge walk-through wardrobe for anything that could be his sketches. Nothing—unless they were concealed in the travel bags
on the topmost rack, which seemed unlikely.

  She turned back to the table. Whose was the child? She’d not detected any sign of children in the house, nor heard any mention. She stole another look at the photos, intrigued and confused. The small dark-haired boy looked nothing like Hamish and Diana’s sons. But was that Matthew’s Rolex just visible below the cuff of the shirt? Could Matthew have a son somewhere?

  She jumped as the telephone shrilled. Not wanting to be in such a private space for a second longer than needed, she raced back to the living room to answer it.

  “Kate, it’s Diana. Is Matthew there?”

  “Can I ask him to phone you back? Or you could try his mobile? He’s out, but not for too much longer.”

  “Well, it’s just about the movie tonight. The new James Bond thing. He gave us tickets for the charity premiere and I wanted to ask a couple of questions.”

  “I’ll tell him you rang.”

  “How’s Lottie doing?”

  “She’s gone to bed, very sensibly. But she says she’s going on some sort of visit tomorrow. She seems good, but I don’t know her well yet of course.”

  “If she’s in bed, she won’t be going to the premiere. Will you come with us? Shame to waste a hundred dollar seat?”

  Kate sighed, tempted to spend more time with such pleasant people. “I’ve nothing fancy to wear.”

  Diana chuckled. “Lord, it’s not a dress-up deal! Only a movie. No sequins required.”

  “Well, okay. Maybe. I’ll get Matthew to phone you as soon as he’s back.”

  The distant rumble of the garage door signalled his return a few minutes later. He loped in to the kitchen where Kate was making coffee, and dumped several packages onto the dark green marble counter.

  The moment he entered the room, her body screamed into emergency mode. She found it impossible to ignore him, feeling him intruding on her personal space even from several feet away. “Diana phoned about your movie tonight,” she said.

  He looked blank for a moment. “Oh, the charity thing? That’s crept up faster than I expected. Tonight?”

  Kate nodded. “Apparently. I said you’d get back to her.”

  “Damn... so much for a leisurely dinner.” He grabbed his phone. “Di? Kate said you rang?”

 
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