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

           Kris Pearson
 

  “You hope.”

  “I’m positive. I don’t start a job unless I can finish it. You’ll learn that as you get to know me.” He reached out to reduce the volume as Bruce Springsteen started belting out ‘Born in the USA’.

  Sophie’s eyes swept over his hand. Big. Long fingered. Deeply tanned. His nails were short and neat, with one so bruised she wondered if maybe he’d hit it with a hammer. It looked incongruous with his impeccable clothes.

  And he’d said she’d be getting to know him? He sounded serious about considering her design ideas and letting her pitch for the work on his amazing home. A tremor of hope ran up from her toes to the top of her head.

  “So you’re thinking a casual look for the house?” She hoped she was right. This was so important.

  “It’s high above the water. Lots of glass. Big views. I don’t want the outlook overwhelmed with anything too fussy or too patterned.”

  “No red velvet swags or big splashy flowers, then?” she asked, nipping at the inside of her cheek as he glanced across to make sure she was teasing.

  “Neutral. Timeless.” A black eyebrow winged up in amusement at her suggestions.

  “Subtle, in other words.” Sophie took a deep breath and a big chance. “So the Subtle Design Studio should be just what you’re looking for. I have commissions I’m working on already, but I’d be a fool not to treat you seriously. At least until we know if we see eye to eye.”

  Would he bite? Was he serious about the work? Or just using her to taunt Faye? Whatever his motives, she knew she needed to be on her guard. If he genuinely wanted a decorator for his big house, that was fine. That was wonderful. It would be the hardest work she’d ever done, but what a chance.

  So she’d have to keep Camille an absolute secret. Rafe needed a talented and dedicated decorator, not a struggling single mother with a child to worry about. Certainly not a single mother who’d had to give up that child because she simply couldn’t cope any longer.

  What would he think of her if he discovered that? He’d said ‘children should be with their parents.’ Said it twice, so he obviously had strong views on the subject. No way could she let him know Camille existed.

  As the car purred on she became ever more curious about why he’d never lived with his parents and brothers. She sensed it still rankled with him even though he was now a wealthy and very successful man. She itched to ask.

  “Left up here,” she said as they reached the turnoff in Tinakori Road.

  He nodded, and she watched the sheen of sunlight dance across his ebony hair, wondering if it would be crisp or silky to touch.

  “How far?”

  “Ummm…?”

  How far up the road?”

  “Oh—just the other side of the bus stop, but parking’s almost non-existent.”

  “I’ll pretend I’m a bus for a sec. Will you be long?”

  Relief washed over her. She could get away from him and try to regain her equilibrium while she changed clothes. “Two minutes, tops.”

  He sent her a skeptical glance. “I’ve never known a woman change her outfit that fast.”

  “Not Faye, maybe.”

  The big car slowed.

  “Check your watch,” she joked. “Back in no time.”

  And then, right on cue, a van pulled out of a space ahead and he swung the Jaguar in.

  Sophie’s spirits plummeted when he opened his door in time with hers. “Don’t bother coming in. I’ll be very quick.”

  “If I see where you live I might learn something about your decorating skills.” He ignored her brushoff and stepped out of the car.

  She gritted her teeth and tried for polite. “Not much. I rent the place, so all I’ve been able to do is paint some walls and hang a few pictures. And it’s tiny—there’s no scope for more than that.”

  She pushed the creaky old gate open, and he followed her up the path. Far too close. She felt herself herded along with no choice but to fall in with his wishes. Her briefcase bumped against her knee as she hurried over the uneven surface of the pavers.

  She cast her mind back to earlier that morning. She’d departed in a rush. How tidy had she left things? Her cereal bowl and coffee mug would be in the sink, but that was better than having them cluttering the small kitchen counter. The flowers on the sideboard were on their last legs but he probably wouldn’t notice those. The dining table had some paperwork spread out, but nothing confidential and nothing too messy.

  “You’re close to town.” His husky voice caressed her ear.

  How far away was he? Inches only. Sophie tried for bigger steps but feared his long legs would easily keep up.

  “Walking distance,” she managed. “And I have the botanic gardens nearby, too. The best of both worlds.”

  “Do you run?”

  “It’s a great place for that. Some of those tracks through the wilder parts. Yes, when I can. Watch the steps,” she added as the path took a sudden dip.

  She clattered down as fast as her high heeled sandals allowed, racing to put some room between them. “Around here.”

  They arrived at the back door of the old timber cottage. A huge climbing rose frothed over a trellised archway—the path seemed ankle deep with its pink petals.

  “I don’t know if I’m supposed to sweep all of this up, or Mrs Ferris the landlady,” she added. “She lives upstairs and does the gardening.”

  A sudden gust of wind shook a shower of petals down as she hunted for her key.

  “The Rose Queen.”

  Sophie stilled at his quiet murmur. He’d stopped right behind her to sift petals from the wavy strands of her hair. So he had a thing for long hair?

  She shivered as she felt him touching her. “Don’t. I’ll get rid of them in a minute.”

  It felt unnerving having him so close again. Maybe he just intended being helpful but her jangling nerves told her she needed more distance between them.

  And the jangling grew even louder when he moved in front of her and continued to pluck at the rose petals with his dark face now only inches above hers. She squeezed her eyes closed, unable to look at him. But she could smell his faint cologne over the swirling rose perfume.

  And feel his hands.

  Gentle but insistent.

  “All gone,” he said, and she opened her eyes in time to find him holding the final petal. He brushed it over her mouth before he tossed it onto the path. Back and forth in the softest of caresses that made her think of warm days, gentle breezes, time to spare on sensual pleasures. How long since she’d been so instantly lost?

  She parted her lips to object and Rafe grinned disarmingly.

  “Just tidying you up. You looked like something out of a fairy story.”

  “Not businesslike,” she snapped as her commonsense leaked back. “This is a business arrangement.”

  Yeah, right, her body jeered, quaking at the knees, moistening and buzzing where an entirely different business seemed to be under way.

  She shrugged aside and jammed the key in the lock, relieved when it turned at the first attempt. Once the door swung open she stepped past him, releasing a huge and grateful sigh. Now she could hurry into the bedroom and get out of his disturbing presence.

  “Have a seat,” she called back over her shoulder, indicating the only armchair, and hoping he’d sit instead of prowling around. “I’ll truly be fast.”

  To her annoyance he chose the sofa, slouched down, leaned back against the cushions, crossed his very long legs at the ankle, and looked thoroughly at home.

  Sophie bit back her resentment. Why did some people have all the confidence in the world? Money helped of course, but there was more to it than that.

  Look at him—taking up half the room as though he owns the place.

  She pushed the bedroom door almost closed.

  “Definitely compact,” she heard him remark.

  “More affordable that way,” she shot back, rattling her small selection of hangers along the wardrobe rail.


  “Just the one bedroom?”

  “All I need.”

  “There’s only you?”

  “I see plenty of clients during the day and like peace for my paperwork at night.”

  “All work and no play...?”

  She could hear definite amusement in his voice now.

  “Plenty of play when it suits me,” she insisted, peeling off her skirt, struggling into her black jeans, and hopping about until she had both feet on the floor again. She zipped the jeans up with a savage rasp. They were much more sensible for a building site, but might they have to double as her lunch outfit? They looked okay with her white silk camisole, anyway.

  If I take my leather jacket, that should work.

  She glanced at her watch. No way would she exceed her estimated two minutes.

  Shoes. Damn. Take the sandals, wear the ankle boots and hope the site is somewhere near civilized.

  “And what do you consider play?”

  She sighed to herself. There wasn’t much play...

  “Dinner with friends. A run in the gardens. My art class. Movies, clubbing, all the usual stuff.”

  She grabbed her black bomber jacket, hooked a finger through the straps of her sandals, and sneaked a quick look in the mirror. Her hair looked terrible. She gave it a few desperate strokes with her hairbrush, bundled it into a hair-tie, picked up her sandals and jacket again, and hurried back to the little sitting room.

  She halted abruptly. Rafe was nowhere in sight. Then he leaned out of the small alcove that housed her kitchen. Camille’s splashy paintings dominated the fridge door.

  “You have a child?”

  Chapter 3 — Cable Car Ride

  Her heart skidded to a halt. Everything might be ruined if she confessed to being a mother. So, feeling horribly guilty, she drew a deep breath and hoped for the best. “I have a niece,” she lied, looking down at the floor, and scuffing the toe of her boot over an imaginary spot there.

  Sorry Camille darling. It’s business. He wants a career-woman, not a frazzled Mom. If I can just get us through these final few months we’ll be okay.

  “Are we going?” she asked too sharply, desperate to get him out of her private space. Away from bedrooms and roses, and especially signs of Camille.

  “I’m pleased I came in. You have a clever eye. The retro china display on the bookcase. The way you’ve grouped those prints in the corner. The colors of your cushions.”

  “You see more than most people, then.”

  “You forget I lived with a designer for years—and that I’m in the design business, too.”

  “Boats?” She felt her eyebrows rise.

  “Lines and curves. Attractive spaces with maximum efficiency.”

  “I suppose...” she conceded, lifting her briefcase and hurrying to the door.

  “Why do I get the feeling you want me out of here?”

  He lounged at ease against the end of the kitchen counter. Sophie sensed steel behind his casual enquiry.

  She shook her head and huffed with annoyance. “I’ve got heaps to do today. I need to inspect your house, go to this lunch, get my evening function organized...”

  “So you do,” he agreed. “But the house is only a preliminary look. The lunch will take exactly an hour and a half because we’re all busy people, and I need to drop the car in for its repair. And I’ll be your barman this evening if you like? Or are you employing caterers?”

  “Fat chance of that.”

  “So I’m hired?”

  She realized she’d been set up by an expert.

  Dammit, dammit, I could do without this.

  “The pay’s really bad,” she flannelled.

  “I’ll work for wine.” A lazy smile touched his lips.

  “Staff don’t get to drink.”

  “Mean boss, eh?”

  Sophie felt a grudging grin sneaking over her face. He’d certainly add class to the event, and affirmation her design skills were in demand by the city’s best. Why was she resisting his offer?

  She knew all too well why. Because it meant being trapped in his dangerous company for another couple of hours; evening hours, when a glass of wine on a near empty stomach could cause all her good intentions to melt, and her commonsense to evaporate.

  Especially if tall handsome Rafe was on the prowl.

  She watched as he pushed away from the counter and sauntered toward her.

  “If the pay’s that bad I’ll need some other compensation.”

  He brushed a hand through her long pony-tail on his way out and her heartbeat rocketed to panic level.

  I have to stay clear of him...

  To her relief he strode off along the path, leaving her to lock up and follow.

  Other compensation? She stilled for a moment, trailing her fingers across some of the luscious roses on the trellis, enjoying their sensuous texture and wondering if his dusky skin would feel as good. More petals floated down to join the feathery mass below. Once again she felt the soft glide of that single pink petal across her lips, and her mouth tingled in anticipation of his.

  Then she shook the fantasy away and dashed after him, thinking, ‘Dream on, Rafe Severino. You’re one hell of a hunk but I’m not letting sex mess up the best assignment I’m ever likely to get.’

  *

  He drove her around the harbor to the wild south coast where long rolling waves surged and crashed against sharp rocks far below.

  The Jaguar bounced to a halt beside a cluster of tradesmen’s vehicles on the rough ground at the side of the road. There was no sign of a house.

  “So where is it?”

  Rafe turned to her with half a smile. His eyes crinkled at the corners and his teeth glinted very white against his dark golden skin.

  Sophie bit her lip at her body’s unmistakable reaction to his masculinity. She knew she was noticing every tiny delicious thing about him—dangerous considering how much she needed his business.

  “Right here.” He waved a hand at thin air and opened the Jaguar’s door.

  She followed suit. If he wanted to play games that was over to him. And goodness, he had a great way of moving.

  He guided her between a red pickup truck and a huge rusty shipping container, and when she hesitated, took her hand and led her toward the edge of the cliff. Lord, she hadn’t wanted that. She tried to tug free but he caught her eye and his grin widened.

  “Just keeping you safe.”

  To Sophie his warm clasp felt anything but safe.

  The waves roared, but not as loudly as a screaming saw, and an explosive nail gun, and the music from a radio somewhere below. The construction noises swirled around her as she picked her way through tufts of tussock and muddy puddles and remnants of broken pavers. For the moment her eyes were employed finding a safe route to walk, but when Rafe drew her to a halt she became acutely conscious of his hand again. She looked about for any other diversion, and gasped.

  They were almost at the harbor entrance. On the far hills, over the swathe of ruffled water, the old Pencarrow lighthouse stood silhouetted against the gold-green vegetation. To the right the Pacific Ocean stretched forever.

  One of the familiar inter-island ferries ploughed through the blue sea half a mile or so distant. The little white ship bucked in the windy conditions, sending great surges of spray up into the sunshine. Sophie had just enough time to feel relieved she wasn’t on the seesawing ferry before the magnificent position of the house claimed her whole attention.

  She hardly registered Rafe pushing a button on a nearby post. The noise of the winch engine wasn’t obvious over the nail gun, but when the small metal cable-car rose into view and shuddered to a halt she turned her attention back to him. “It’s incredible.”

  “Nice site?”

  She peered over the cliff edge. “How on earth did you get machines down there to create the platform?”

  “Dug in from the top. Craned them out. Slow going, but worth it, don’t you think?”


  “Now I’ve seen it, yes.”

  From this angle the cableway dropped almost straight down to an expansive timber deck cantilevered over the water. The house roof seemed to cover most of the other available ground. A flight of narrow steps also led down to the house, but they were half overgrown with fennel and other seaside vegetation, and plainly hardly ever used.

  She eyed the small cable-car with trepidation. Its walls were only hip high and there were very thin looking sheet-metal doors on the sides. No seats, no roof, just a high post in each corner. Rafe rattled a door open, stepped on board and drew her toward him.

  “Don’t worry. It’s safe.”

  “I’m not scared,” she muttered, willing herself to believe that a flimsy box plunging almost vertically down a steel rail was not in the least hazardous. “I’ve seen nicer ones.”

  He grinned. “It’s only for the construction work at this stage. The proper weatherproof cab with seats isn’t far off.”

  She nodded at that, imagining how many loads of timber and fittings must have traveled up and down this way.

  As though reading her mind Rafe said, “We used a chopper for the big stuff. A tough job for the pilot—there are tricky up-drafts off the sea.” He crowded her against one of the corner posts and slid an arm around her waist before he pushed a green button and sent them whirring downwards. Sophie was grateful for the arm, not that she would admit it. She grasped the post and tried to ease away from his too-close chest. His grip was inescapable. She was trapped there, head tucked under his chin, far too aware of his body as they dropped toward the huge expanse of slatted timber. His heart beat steadily in her ear. His cologne displaced the ocean’s salty fragrance. Then she heard a rumble of laughter deep in his chest.

  “Stop struggling.”

  “I’m not.” She could feel her face heating with a telltale blush.

  “Could have fooled me.”

  “You’ve probably done this dozens of times.”

  “Hundreds. It’s not far. It’s perfectly safe.”

  But I’m not, she thought as flickers of sensation rampaged low in her belly. She felt so sexy. So deliciously damp and strangely swollen.

  For heaven’s sake stop it, she begged her twitching flesh. Okay, he’s gorgeous. But he’s a possible client. Keep it that way and you’ll get Camille back sooner.

 
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