All for love 3 series.., p.36
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.36

           Kris Pearson
 

  Kate nodded along, sipping her wine and forking up her food. Although she stood next to Patrick, it was Matthew who kept drawing her attention. Every now and again he glowered across in her direction. With nothing to lose, she transferred her weight from one foot to the other so the long split skirt revealed an equally long leg. And turned her sinuous sweep of back on him.

  It took perhaps thirty seconds before he strode across and poured himself another drink.

  “Better go easy if you’re driving,” she said sweetly.

  He gave her a withering look, opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, snapped it closed, and departed.

  “A friend of yours?” Patrick asked.

  “A lover from the past,” she dismissed.

  He leaned a little nearer.

  She shrank a shade away. “I must attend to Lottie, if you’ll excuse me?”

  She took her glass across to the wheelchair and bent to speak, well aware Matthew had a generous view of her breasts from that angle. “Can I get you anything else? Or will you wait for dessert? More wine maybe?”

  “Dessert I think, Katie. Another little drink until then.” Kate stepped away with the empty glass and a strangling grip on her wrist pulled her up short.

  “I’ll do it.”

  “I’m happy to, Matthew.”

  “I said I’ll do it. Stay here.”

  As if! She glanced at Lottie to find delight in her eyes and a half-hidden smile on her lips. Kate raised her eyebrows.

  Lottie relaxed into a cheeky grin as soon as Matthew turned away. “Serve him right,” she said. “I think he bites off his nose.”

  Kate snorted at the half-phrase, and grinned back.

  “Why do men do this?” Lottie demanded. They both cast their eyes down and hid their smiles at Matthew’s rapid return.

  So—he didn’t want her himself, but neither did he want anyone else taking over. Victory of a kind, she supposed.

  There was a renewed surge toward the table once the selection of decadent desserts appeared. Tea and coffee followed, and then the men cleared the floor for dancing. They rolled up the rugs and pushed the furniture to the extreme edges of the big room. Hamish cranked up a party compilation. Alistair circled seriously, shaking talcum powder. Ben slid and whooped across the floor to spread it around.

  The music soon had toes tapping and heads nodding. Diana and Hamish were first on the floor, encouraging everyone to join them.

  “Now this I cannot do,” Lottie said with regret.

  “Just once around,” Matthew insisted, scooping her up, protesting, in his strong arms. He managed a good imitation of a man dancing with a partner for a couple of minutes and returned her to the chair.

  “That was kind,” Kate said. He nodded curtly.

  The Irishman headed her way again. She didn’t fancy his touchy-feely act on the dance floor.

  Neither did Matthew, apparently. “Our turn, Miss Pleasance,” he said, giving her no option as he swung her out onto the floor seconds before Aerosmith gave way to the Blue Danube waltz.

  “Something for everyone,” Hamish confirmed as he and Diana circled by.

  Matthew drew Kate closer, cursing softly, refusing to look at her. He curved a hand around her waist; the other enclosed her fingers. She rested her left hand tentatively on his shoulder.

  She would have been so much happier bopping around to the rock music. Untouched. Further apart. Impersonal. It was agonising being held like this. His cologne drifted across the small gap between them, pumped into the air by the throbbing pulse she saw in his strong neck.

  She’d licked him there last night. Kissed him and smoothed her fingers very close to there, and then slid down and spread her hands wide to knead his firm flesh.

  He’d laughed and tensed his pecs for her, and his chest had become hard and perfect. Now he held her just close enough to look polite, but much too far away to be the least bit friendly. He was as icy as the weather.

  Kate wanted no part of this stiff chilly charade of a dance. “That’s enough,” she hissed, trying to pull away. But he clamped her rigidly into position as she attempted to escape. They circled on around the floor, together but apart.

  “Let me go, Matthew. This is no sort of a dance. You may as well be holding a broomstick.” She tried to escape his grasp again. Still he confined her with his iron hands.

  He looked down at her with the oddest expression. “Broomstick?” he queried, suddenly pulling her hard in against him. She was shocked to find him stiff with desire. Long with lust. Hidden under his beautifully cut tuxedo, a whole different story lurked. The civilized man the others saw was wildly, potently, ready to mate. And one big hand now clutched the small of her back so they rubbed and chafed together as they danced amid the throng of unsuspecting party guests.

  “I don’t like what you were trying to do, but it seems I still want you,” he said through gritted teeth.

  “I wasn’t trying to do anything, and I don’t like you either,” she ground back.

  “But do you want me? That’s a whole different question, isn’t it Katie.” He stared at her intently, so snug against her she easily imagined every detail of him.

  The music finished.

  “No,” she lied, wrenching herself away from him, escaping just barely alive.

  She somehow lasted through the rest of the party. Matthew occupied himself elsewhere, which both relieved and destroyed her.

  Lottie was happy to depart quite early; they drove back to the house in near silence.

  And it seemed to Kate that she spent every hour of the long night tossing and turning as she re-lived the party, and the contradictory messages he’d sent her as they danced.

  Chapter Seventeen — Desertion

  He spoke exactly thirteen cold words to her the next morning: “I’ve booked a taxi to take you to the airport. I’m going flying.” He turned and left.

  Lottie watched with concern. “Katie—still not good? You looked so beautiful in that dress, and I saw you and Matthew dancing close?”

  Kate shook her head. “Punishment, not forgiveness,” she muttered. “Your brother doesn’t know what he wants.” She closed her mouth before she said anything further that might offend Lottie.

  “My brother wants someone to love him.”

  Kate laughed—a sharp little snort. “He has a funny way of showing it, then. You have to trust someone before they’ll love you.”

  “His first marriage ended badly. No children, thank heavens. But his wife was—what you say—mercenary? After money?” Lottie nodded at her choice of word. “Ya, it went badly. He was hurt.”

  “It doesn’t excuse him, Lottie. I wasn’t after money. He kept trying to spend it on me, but it was his choice, not mine. The clothes. That party dress. And I’m not taking any of them with me. He can throw the stuff away, for all I care.”

  After breakfast, Kate scrupulously packed exactly what she’d brought with her: one spare blouse, one pair of panties, one pair of shoes, one red jersey, her makeup and nightgown. All of his clothes she left in the wardrobe. All of his lingerie she left in a drawer.

  To pass the rest of the long morning she helped Lottie. There were letters to prepare. Exhibition details to confirm. A painting had been commissioned by one of the big corporations for their boardroom; money and timing needed discussing. Notes for a prestigious lecture had to be located amongst the clutter in the studio.

  “Katie, I wish you could stay. It would be so good to have you here.”

  Kate shook her head. “I know, Lottie. I’d enjoy it enormously.”

  “When I travel you would be such a help, too. Not so easy on my own these days. And I cannot expect Matthew to be always with me.”

  “It’s not possible for me to stay. Not with him like this.”

  “I know. The only decision you can make right now.” Lottie sighed and glanced across at her easel. “He’s out of our way if he’s flying. We could have one more little session for your painting
, maybe?”

  Kate agreed. Her fight was not with Lottie. Once again, she collected and placed the bedroom lamps, and after inspecting the painting so far, stripped to her panties and resumed the pose. She wondered if she’d ever see the finished work. “Send me a photo when it’s done?” she asked.

  “I Polaroid it for you,” Lottie agreed as she began to squeeze the paints onto her palette.

  This time there was no excitement; no darkly handsome visitor, no feverish distraction or nerve tingling inspection from intrusive silver-grey eyes. Kate tried very hard not to imagine him sitting just feet away, watching and sketching, feeding her sandwiches and snapping the elastic of the tiny panties he’d bought her. She saw it all in a different light now, knowing he was not Lottie’s husband.

  The swift kiss he’d branded her with still sizzled on her lips when she thought of him. But she mustn’t think of him like that ever again. It was over. However much her heart felt wrung dry, however much her throat ached with unshed tears, Matthew didn’t trust her. Didn’t want her any more. Couldn’t even be polite.

  ~♥~

  She arrived back in Auckland in time for a solitary dinner—chilli prawns, fried rice, and stir-fried greens from her local takeaway. Not a patch on his Queenstown meal. She had no-one to flirt with, no-one to gaze across the table at as she pushed the food around with her chopsticks.

  He didn’t trust her. Maybe he’d never trust a woman properly again. What a waste of a life. She gave in to her misery, and tears slid slowly down her cheeks as she thought about resuming her job search. She’d use the time before starting a new job to do some work on the townhouse she’d inherited from her mother. Plainly she wouldn’t be moving south to work for Lottie, so she’d update it to her own taste.

  Her mother had collected blue and white china. Kate laid down her chopsticks and began to plan. She decided to pack away the pretty ornaments, and paint over the rose-strewn wallpaper in the dining and sitting rooms. A neutral shade as a base to display paintings on. The Queenstown house had intensified her interest in artwork.

  She’d search out a rich tribal patterned rug to liven up the plain carpet. Something like Diana had on her hardwood floors. A total change. Sooner or later the past would recede.

  But Matthew was constantly on her mind. Next day, after hurrying to the nearest paint store, she worked the roller up and down over the roses and recalled their first meeting at the air terminal, and the ride to see Lottie in hospital. The Italian lunch, the clothes buying spree, the dinner and subsequent spa. His body. God, his body...

  His sinful mouth. His taste. His silky skin. His scent.

  She finished the first coat over the walls by mid-afternoon, made coffee, and took it to the outdoor table to enjoy the unexpected winter sunshine. The steam spiralled up, carrying the drink’s rich fragrance. Kate dropped her head into her hands and closed her eyes, blotting out the reality of drab winter in sub-tropical Auckland and exchanging it for sparkling Queenstown.

  She remembered every moment of ecstasy in the spa, in front of the glowing fire, and in his bed. She’d never imagined she’d abandon herself so absolutely to a man. She’d lowered her defences and given him her total trust—and where had that got her? Back home. Alone. Hurting deeply.

  After the extreme rapture Matthew had created for her, the pain he’d inflicted was agonising. She vowed never to leave herself so open to rejection again.

  Two days later, she returned with a handsome rug and spread it on the floor. She set a bunch of golden chrysanthemums in a tall black vase, and gazed around with satisfaction. Redecorating the sitting room had been a success—she’d tackle the main bedroom next and try to create some sophisticated ambience. Two coats of low sheen paint... she’d be finished in another couple of days. Three silver-grey walls with deep charcoal on the fourth behind the bed. Not to remind her in the least of Matthew, she told herself, but because she’d seen the scheme in a décor magazine on the flight home from Queenstown. The pale curtains and carpet would be fine as they were.

  She bundled up her mother’s flounced bedspread to donate to the church shop, deciding to replace it with the geometric grey and cream bed linen she’d seen in the Bed’n’Bath boutique. Her mother’s peachy scheme was soon just a memory. If only she could wipe Matthew from her life so easily...

  The next afternoon she bought the linen and visited several galleries, searching for the perfect painting to complete the charcoal wall. She couldn’t afford anything in Lottie’s league, but maybe a dramatic and sombre nude would look good in the room?

  She wondered where in the world the countryside/woman painting would be hung. Her final morning’s work in Queenstown had given her a deeper understanding of what a truly international figure Lottie was. It would have been a wonderful job.

  But...

  ~♥~

  By early Friday, Matthew was still waiting with barely controlled patience for the results of Sy Karlson’s investigation. Surely Sy must be back from his break in Fiji by now?

  He was desperate for ammunition to blast Kate out of his mind. His concentration had been shot to pieces. She wandered through his thoughts uninvited, hour after hour.

  But she was Rob Pleasance’s daughter. He had found her in his study more than once. And the second time, when she’d thought him safely asleep, he’d seen with his own eyes she’d been searching for documents. Her excuse about the sketches had been feeble.

  The evening before that, she’d not wanted him to see her e-mail. Asked him to get the glasses of juice to give her privacy. Sent the message off the screen the instant he’d returned. When he’d retrieved it, he could certainly see why. But he was still in the dark about the mysterious merger.

  She was poison—no other interpretation was possible.

  He sighed as he shuffled some papers together and snapped his briefcase shut. Auckland later today for a board meeting. It would be even harder to keep her from invading his mind there, knowing she was only a few minutes’ taxi ride away.

  The early morning flight was full. Most of the passengers were business people. Holidaymakers didn’t travel at crack of dawn as a rule. Matthew found himself seated next to an older woman who didn’t appear to be a frequent flyer. She peered about nervously, and gave her full attention to the safety demonstration. When the flight attendant came by offering magazines, the woman accepted two. She opened the first, and tilted it to the light.

  The hairs on Matthew’s neck rose, and a sputtering buzz filled his brain. The other magazine lay on her lap. A nubile blonde smiled in triumph over a screaming red headline: ‘Terry to marry her tycoon.’ Behind her lurked Rob Pleasance.

  He made an undignified grab for it, causing the woman to jump.

  “Sorry—just spotted someone I know on the cover.” He snapped the pages over until he found the story.

  So that was the merger? A marriage—not a business deal at all. He skimmed through the article, voracious for facts.

  Top businessman Rob Pleasance, blah blah blah, had proposed to well-known socialite Terry De la Hunt, blah blah blah, and the couple would marry on picturesque Waiheke Island in September. He had considerately waited until his former wife, Jennifer, had passed away from cancer before proposing to his new love. His only child from the former marriage, swimming champion Kate Pleasance, had given her blessing to the new union. The bride’s dress would be designed by Trelise Walker. Terry’s six-year old son Damien would be a pageboy. And so on, ad infinitum.

  The merger was a marriage.

  He read through it again with growing dismay, appalled he’d jumped so easily to the wrong conclusion. Kate had mentioned letting people know she’d be unable to attend a celebration of some kind. The engagement bash, apparently.

  She’d said some people would be stunned. The ambitious Terry was about half the age of her prospective groom—more his daughter’s age than his own. His ex wife was very recently dead. Yes, people might indeed be surprised.

  Acid
burned Matthew’s gut as he thought of the way he’d treated Kate. His furious words, his cold-shoulder treatment. His rudeness at the party. His cavalier manner on the dance floor—holding her against her will, and then so violently demonstrating his fierce lust for her body even as he threw unkind words in her face.

  What had Sy Karlsen discovered about her? Anything more to back up his own suspicions? Or would Sy’s report show Kate was pretty much what she claimed to be?

  Damn the cell phone suppression on the plane! He had to get his hands on the facts today. If he’d been as wrong as now seemed possible, he needed to make one hell of an apology—and fast.

  But was there the least chance he could patch things up between them? Recapture the blissful state they’d achieved in the snowbound house?

  He’d never been so attracted to a woman. Despite all his suspicions, head over heels in half an hour. Inventing excuses for her to stay. Buying her clothes whether she wanted them or not. Foisting his choices on her as though she was a doll to be dressed to his wishes.

  Within minutes of meeting her, Kate had his body and brain in turmoil.

  He’d been in both paradise and purgatory when he held her sobbing in his arms while Diana and Hamish made love. Only a miracle had stopped him from ripping his pyjamas down and showing her a hell of a lot more than a slice of his tattoo.

  He’d grabbed her and kissed her in the cinema like a love-struck sixteen year old, and had no idea how he’d summoned up the strength of will to stop at one kiss. It had taken all his steely determination to try and lose himself in the movie as a distraction from the beautiful desirable woman pressed close against him, smelling so good, tasting so luscious.

  Joining Lottie in the studio and sketching Kate had been a real turn-on. The charcoal had re-created her for his private pleasure, sliding smoothly over the paper just as his hands itched to wander over her lustrous skin. He’d consigned the drawings to the back of the SUV, and taken them to a picture framer before he bought the prawns for that evening’s meal. They must be almost ready by now. Mounted in black. Framed in sleek chrome. A tribute to her desirable body.

  He was glad he hadn’t told her. Now they might be the only way he’d see her again.

  He squeezed his eyes shut and fought for equilibrium. His world had just lurched off its axis. He’d made a total fool of himself and probably alienated her forever. It would take a miracle to get her back.

 
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