All for love 3 series.., p.35
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.35

           Kris Pearson
 

  Kate tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “No—he’s gone to the vineyard. To help with the party preparations, I expect.”

  “And left you alone?” Surprise and outrage lit her mobile features.

  Kate shrugged. “It’s okay. He’s busy.”

  ~♥~

  Lottie glanced back over her shoulder as Kate pushed her chair into the elevator. “So you and Matthew are getting on well?”

  Kate laughed less than humorously. “We were last night, but I think it’s gone up in smoke. He seems to have changed his mind.”

  The elevator door slid aside and they entered the studio. “Ach, Katie, surely not?”

  “Well, I was searching for those sketches he did of me and he found me looking for them in his office. He hit the roof.”

  Lottie nodded slowly. “But you told him it was the sketches?”

  “Yes, of course. And he didn’t believe me.” Kate halted the wheelchair and perched on a nearby sofa arm, eyes downcast.

  Lottie sighed. “He does not trust easily after... something that happened before. He is a proud man, my brother.”

  “He’s a cold man,” Kate snapped.

  “I thought you were good for each other. He relaxed with you. I saw him smiling and looking happy again.” She reached across for Kate’s hand. “It’s at least a year since he sat in the studio and worked with me. I saw how he looked when he fed you lunch. How his eyes were warm when he sketched you. There was life in his eyes. More life than I’ve seen for a long time. You make him thaw.”

  Kate shook her head. “Now he’s frozen up again,” she muttered.

  Lottie released Kate’s hand. “Did you find a pretty dress for the party? That could be all it takes?”

  “Beautiful. But I don’t think...” Her voice trailed away. She drew a deep breath. “I don’t think I should go to the party after all. It might only annoy him further.”

  “Nonsense Katie. If it was good, can be good again. Pretty dress, nice wine, a little dancing?” Lottie smiled. “We patch him up—you wait and see.”

  “What are you wearing tonight?” Kate asked, wanting to change the subject.

  Lottie sighed. “My new evening trousers I bought will not go over this ankle plaster. What do you think are the possibilities? Have a look with me and say.”

  The proceeded to the bedroom and opened the big wardrobe doors. Together they investigated the extraordinary collection of clothes inside.

  “Everything is here. Many years of buying. No years of cleaning out.” Lottie poked a finger at a silver skirt. “Top name. Real haute couture. See the label?”

  Kate unhooked the skirt and Lottie grinned as her jaw dropped. “But I don’t wear now. Live a different life, and I’m not so thin.” She pointed to a check shirt. “From the local market. Good for painting. More my style these days.”

  Kate held up a brilliant pink silk jacket, edged with orange braid. It was tiny, and her eyes held questions.

  “That was before Carlo,” Lottie said. “My lovely son. Dead two years back. He was my darling.”

  Kate sent her an anguished glance. “I didn’t know. I saw a photo of a little boy in Matthew’s room last night, but I thought he might be his.”

  “No—my boy, my dear boy. A tumour.”

  Kate bowed her head. “They look so alike, Matthew and... Carlo?”

  “Like my father, both of them,” Lottie agreed. “The same intense eyes.”

  Kate turned back to the wardrobe and began to rummage along the racks. Lottie’s grief was raw. It was difficult to find any suitable words of consolation. “I could help you sort some of this out,” she offered. “The older things. The ones that don’t fit any more? We could see what’s best then as party outfits?”

  “Good to get it done. Not the sort of thing you expected with this job?”

  Kate grimaced at that. “I don’t think the job is a possibility now. Not after the way Matthew reacted when he found me in his office.”

  “There’s something I will tell you,” Lottie said. “Matthew was married. Not to a suitable woman. It was a bitter divorce after she stole his business information and asked for money to give it back.”

  Kate’s expression softened with understanding, and then resignation took over. “No chance for me then,” she said, turning back to the wardrobe. “Bad luck—I would have loved to work for you.”

  By one o’clock, they had five jumbo plastic garbage bags packed up ready for the local charity shop. The ladies there would soon be having a field day.

  “So—this long dark green velvet skirt and the gold tabard over the rusty silk blouse?” Kate suggested. “Or the navy patio pants and jacket with this amazing silver mesh top...?”

  Lottie considered them both. “Ya—those wide pants would hide my plaster. That blouse is good with my hair. Maybe the blouse, okay?”

  “And what are you doing with your hair?”

  “Matthew will take me for my three o’clock appointment.”

  “We’d better have lunch then,” Kate said.

  ~♥~

  But Matthew had not returned by two-thirty. Kate listened while Lottie phoned the vineyard. Hamish said he’d left there soon after twelve. Lottie tried his mobile. He’d switched it off. “So you take me, Katie.”

  Kate shook her head, horrified at the thought. Not in Matthew’s precious Alpha Romeo! And definitely not on snowy roads. “Let’s call a taxi.”

  “No time left,” Lottie said implacably, fishing out a bunch of keys from her bag. “That one,” she added, suspending the others from it.

  Getting Lottie into the low car took a bit of doing, but two determined women are rarely beaten.

  Kate had no idea how to put chains on a car, or if the Alpha even had any. The snow had now melted in places. The driveway was clearly marked by short posts topped with lanterns. Egged on by Lottie’s enthusiasm, she crept down to the main gates in the tracks Matthew’s SUV had made... into the slushy road below... and with slightly more confidence along the main highway which had been cleared and gritted. They made it to the hairdresser only a few minutes late.

  Her nerves were in shreds after driving the capricious and powerful vehicle. It was probably worth more than an up-market house! And Lottie’s exuberant but vague instructions had not made for an easy journey. Kate helped her into the salon and bolted out to guard the car.

  Moments later, Matthew drew up beside her. He strode to her window and indicated she should lower it. She fumbled with the unfamiliar controls. He waited, and said from his superior height, “Trying it on for size? Checked all the pockets?”

  “Taking Lottie to her hair appointment,” she snapped.

  He had the good grace to look slightly chagrined, but didn’t apologise for his absence. “You’ll be back when?”

  “No idea. Her appointment was at three.”

  “Take it carefully on the way home.”

  “I took it carefully on the way here, seeing that you didn’t turn up. It wasn’t my idea.” She stared straight ahead, willing him to leave.

  He must have taken the hint because the SUV roared off a few seconds later, although she never saw him slide away from her window.

  ~♥~

  The party invitations stipulated drinks at seven, dinner from eight, dancing until dawn—for the youngest guests maybe. Kate wondered how long she could survive the festivities if Matthew remained determined to freeze her out. The prospect of his cold presence was daunting. How far away was the vineyard? About five miles if she remembered Diana’s comments rightly. She’d be trapped there for hours with no means of escape.

  His comments after he’d arrived at the hair salon had been far from encouraging. He was still in a foul temper, and all because she’d been looking for something which she considered rightfully hers.

  She’d made several forays into the salon to check progress, and finally Lottie’s red-gold hair was swept up and sculpted into a tower of coils and curls. She was obviously taking
the party seriously.

  Kate sighed. At this rate her temporary assistant had better summon up some party spirit too.

  The ride home was not quite as bad as the ride in to town, and she escaped to her bedroom with a book once she’d done everything she usefully could. Matthew was still avoiding her—leaving the room if she entered, coldly turning down her offer of coffee.

  She feared she’d made a very great fool of herself, falling for him so fast. But how could she have resisted? He was the most charismatic and commanding man she’d ever met. He’d pursued her relentlessly, teased her, bested her at every turn until her brain was as useful as custard... her body a-quiver like jelly.

  Then he’d devoured her like the big bad wolf he apparently was, and now he was spitting out the bones.

  Kate had not expected cruelty like this. Although he’d made his interest obvious, he’d proceeded only at the pace she’d allowed. He’d not pressed her until she’d joined him in the electrifying game at the boutique. She’d presumed him a gentleman who’d play by most of the rules. His sudden desertion and stinging indifference shocked and confused her.

  The print in her novel wavered on the page. Something—or someone else—had all her attention. From his current cold manner, she saw very little chance of him softening toward her again.

  So one day and night would be all there was.

  A teasing trip to buy the dress... the amazing flight over the Southern Alps... the time on the boat where he’d demanded her kisses, and dropped the wonderful bombshell of his availability.

  Then the sweet caresses and sizzling embraces here at the house.

  One night in his bed and goodbye.

  Well, she had her pride. She would somehow manage to put on a good enough show for the evening, even if she crashed and burned once it was over.

  Remembering his jibe about elastic marks across her back, she slipped her bra off in good time.

  She showered. She carefully made up her face. She pinned up her hair and pulled down some tendrils. Applied deep damson-plum nail enamel to match her dramatic lipstick. And slid into her dream of a dress.

  She’d never looked better or felt worse.

  His cold eyes blazed hot for an instant when she stepped from the twilight of the hallway into the glow of the main living room, but the heat was gone in a second, smothered in ice again.

  Kate’s heart lurched at his betrayal. Matthew stood tall and furious in an impeccable tuxedo. Impossibly gorgeous and hopelessly out of reach. The snowy evening shirt and black velvet bow tie were the ideal foil for his hard face and big lean body. He looked, quite simply, amazing. He held out his arm, taunting her with the illusion of affection. “Lottie wants a photograph,” he said, with barely controlled sarcasm.

  Kate drifted across and positioned herself next to him, avoiding his iceberg eyes. What emotions seethed deep under the surface? Nothing that he cared to show or share with her.

  Iceberg eyes. How utterly appropriate. Glittering like ice in sunshine when he was amused or playful, but with turbulent emotions hidden fathoms deep in the freezing sea below.

  Lottie used the iPad and took several shots, holding it out to show them how they looked. Matthew turned on his heel and ignored his sister. Kate shook her head and sent her a sad smile.

  ~♥~

  The air was biting cold... snow still on much of the ground... icy fur on every level surface. Lottie produced a dramatic black cape for Kate to wrap herself in. Matthew donned a cashmere overcoat. Lottie chuckled and admitted to a thermal vest under her thin blouse. She added a handcrafted wool shawl for the trip to the vineyard.

  Hamish had reserved a parking space close to the front door because of Lottie’s ankle, so the extra layers were dispensed with as soon as they’d wheeled her inside.

  Kate decided she was on wheelchair duty. It would keep her out of Matthew’s way.

  She gazed around the rustically styled house with appreciation. Pools of light from black iron sconces flooded the mellow ivory walls. Polished native timber floors gleamed under jewel-toned rugs. Chunky exposed beams supported an open gallery around the second storey. It was relaxed and different.

  Diana greeted them with glasses of spicy mulled wine. “Hamish says it’s a great way to ruin a nice red, but I think it’s festive,” she said, laughing and apparently noticing nothing amiss.

  The hot wine raced right down to Kate’s toes. Blissful warmth invaded her body, giving her much needed extra confidence.

  Matthew introduced her to one of his friends as ‘our spy from the north’.

  “Checking out our wine industry, are you?” the sandy-haired friend asked.

  “Checking out jobs,” Kate said evasively. “But the working conditions in Auckland are more straightforward.”

  “But do they have the same ‘compensations’?” Matthew asked with exquisite emphasis.

  “The ‘compensations’ can sometimes be attractive. But that changes very fast, I’ve found.” Her eyes held his in cool defiance.

  “May I get you another drink?” the friend asked. Kate moved away with him to escape.

  She returned to Lottie as soon as possible. Hamish squatted on his haunches beside her, enquiring about the ankle.

  Kate touched a tentative hand to his shoulder. “Happy Birthday, Hamish. Lovely party.”

  He looked up at her, raising his eyebrows appreciatively at her tall body in the spectacular dress. “My brother is a fool,” he said. “You weren’t seriously searching his office, were you?”

  Kate tried not to take offence. “I was searching, but not seriously,” she muttered. “For something that was much more mine than his.”

  He sent her a very speculative look.

  “Truly,” she added.

  “If you say so, Kate.” He rose to his feet and moved away, apparently unwilling to take sides.

  “Where shall I wheel you?” she asked Lottie with false brightness. She’d have to survive somehow—the house was too far away to flee back there.

  “Now here’s someone,” Lottie said, beckoning to a serious boy carrying a plate of tiny pastries. “Kate, this is Alistair, one of Diana and Hamish’s sons.”

  He nodded and held out the food so they could make their choices.

  “Alistair and Ben are twins,” Lottie continued. They look the same as Matthew and me.”

  “Like nothing at all the same,” the boy said gruffly.

  He was as blond as Diana. Kate presumed his brother must be dark. “Do you mind being twins?” she asked.

  “I’m pleased we’re not identical,” he mumbled, trying not to stare at Kate’s cleavage.

  She smiled and took another morsel before he moved away.

  “Fourteen,” said Lottie, as though that explained everything. “Good boys. Nice boys. Home from boarding school for this weekend.”

  Across the room, Matthew’s tall presence had become the centre of attention for three women. Kate clenched her jaw.

  One had taken hold of his hand and laughed, head thrown back. The second flipped her rippling blonde hair around rather obviously. The third reached for his free arm to steady herself so she could fiddle with her shoe. She returned her foot to the ground but retained the arm. He glanced down at her, but did nothing to shake himself free.

  Kate tried to ignore them, but his face, his body, his scent had all sunk deep into her psyche now. Her eyes wandered to him every few minutes. She could have throttled the whole group. Her relief was palpable when he moved away from the trio.

  Not that she lacked for company herself. The ‘spy from the north’ man stuck close for a while. The other twin—darker and much more self-assured—arrived with nibbles and a good line of chat. Several of Lottie’s art admirers clustered around, including Kate in their conversation.

  Soon after eight the dinner gong rang out and Hamish called for silence. After cheerful abuse the animated conversation faded away.

  “My dear friends,” he began pompously. Someo
ne popped a couple of balloons and general laughter broke out. “Look—dinner is ready. Do go through and help yourselves, and find a seat wherever you can. We’ve spread them around all over the place.”

  Diana threaded her way through the guests and took his arm. He smiled down at her and said something meant for her alone. Then he raised his voice again. “Thank you Di and the rest of my family for going to all this trouble for me. And thank you all for the horribly offensive cards and good wishes. It’s almost worth turning forty to have you here tonight. Now eat up all the lovely food you’ve brought us.”

  Kate drew a regretful breath. They were such nice people. Relaxed and cheerful and interesting. They’d made her feel so welcome. And she would never see them again.

  Guests gave way to the wheelchair. Kate pushed it around the laden table and Lottie chose her food. Matthew appeared beside her and took over the handles. “Get some for yourself.” His tone was ungracious.

  “I’m not all that hungry, thanks.”

  “That makes two of us, then.”

  Lottie glanced up, but when she started to remonstrate with him, he turned the chair aside, excluding Kate from any further conversation.

  She served out as much as she felt like eating and went to top up her glass. Not far away, another man was looking to do the same. He moved closer. “Now why would a pretty girl like you be finding her own drink?” He had a soft Irish accent, with twinkling Irish eyes to match. Such an obvious come-on that Kate couldn’t resist. She looked at him from under her lashes, and batted them. “Because the chap who drove me here has other things on his mind right now.”

  His mouth quirked. “I’m Patrick Donovan.”

  “Kate Pleasance.”

  He reached for her hand and held it a little longer than necessary. “And you’re not from round these parts, that I can tell. You’re a girl from the city for sure.”

  Kate laughed at his blarney and retrieved her hand to pour the wine.

  “Good guess,” she said. “Auckland. Some for you?”

  He held his hand over hers to steady his glass. Definitely one of the touchy-feely brigade. She glimpsed Matthew watching from across the room. She avoided his eyes and smiled at Patrick. “How do you know Di and Hamish?”

  “There’s a bit of a story to that,” he said, bending close. Closer than he needed to be. Kate retreated a fraction. “Some years ago now—” and he embarked on a long rambling description of a trip through vineyards in the south of France.

 
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