All for love 3 series.., p.6
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.6

           Kris Pearson
 

  She took a deep breath and released it slowly, willing herself to sound calm and rational. “I want the same for me. Every dollar I’ve been able to save has gone toward it. If I fail, I fail big-time. I have so much riding on this—more than you can possibly imagine.”

  She bit her bottom lip to hold back any further admissions. She would not let him know about Camille and her failure there.

  Her nerves fluttered with desperation. She’d taken such a risk. Lived on fresh air and hope during the weeks she’d renovated the studio. Her savings were almost gone, and her optimism felt as though it was shored up with string and paper clips.

  The corner of Rafe’s mouth twitched. “If it’s any consolation, she’s no hotshot businesswoman. She enjoys being known as the owner of Severino Design. Throwing my name around, having me to bail her out when jobs went bad in the past. Sure, she’s talented enough, but her concept of profit and loss is laughable.”

  Sophie stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds before recovering her train of thought.

  “But I presumed she must have been making a mint. She always seemed to have new jewelry... great holidays...”

  “All bought with the boats. When I saw you this morning, part of the reason I stopped was your gorgeous legs, and the other was I wondered if she was expanding or retrenching.”

  Sophie’s heart plummeted. “You expected she was going backwards? You think I’ve chosen a bad location?”

  “It’s an excellent location, and you know it is. Stop being so female!” He aimed a mock punch at her jaw and turned it into a quick sensuous caress. “Thorndon Quay’s taking over as the decorator district. You’ll do well there.”

  “I’ll do well on the reputation of your beautiful house, and that’s what worries me,” she said, shaking her head. “I really don’t want to risk mixing up the business side of my life with the personal side.”

  Rafe closed his eyes for a second. “Okay, back to basics. The contract in no way depends on that. The job’s yours. I should have pulled finger weeks ago. I had a word with Chris when I was getting a few screws for your signboard. Told him to clean everything up so you can go for it. I know it’s getting toward the end of the year, but at least start things rolling for me?”

  He reached over and clasped her hand, with more success now they were sitting close together. “Chase the kitchen people, Sophie. Bring me samples. Fast as you like. I won’t mess you around and I won’t let anything personal get in the way of your work.”

  He brought her hand to his lips. “But I’d really like to see you after hours—yes?”

  “No,” she said, trying to glare at him, and feeling the corners of her mouth lifting instead. “You’re a bulldozer. You just expect you’ll get your own way, don’t you? All that flirting and those muscles. That fabulous damn smile. Yes, that’s the one,” she added as Rafe flashed her another wicked grin.

  “I can wait.” He fired up the engine and checked the traffic. “If I have to.”

  “Don’t hold your breath.”

  “Snippy little thing, aren’t you? And so brave with big bad Faye. I enjoyed that.”

  He accelerated into a gap and concentrated on driving while Sophie tried to steel herself against his charm offensive and wished she didn’t have to.

  “I’ll be back at the studio by five with champagne,” he added. “Anything else you need?”

  She shook her head and sighed. “Lord, I hope not. They’re keeping the wine and juice chilled for me at McAllisters’ until later on. I’ve hired glasses and plates, I’ve ordered platters of nibbles from the deli, bought paper napkins.” She ticked them off on her fingers as she itemized. “Sent out invitations and lots of people have replied. There are plenty of business cards to give away. I didn’t get brochures printed because my website tells them everything. That’s all I can think of. Let’s hope most of them turn up and some of them book consultations.”

  “Let’s hope they don’t tie you up so much you’ve no time left for me.”

  Her lips twitched. “Ha, wouldn’t that be wonderful? That’d solve my problem.”

  “But not mine, Ms Calhoun. I have need of your services. I want a fair share of your attention to get my house moving toward completion.”

  “As long as that’s all.”

  She caught his brief smile before he returned his attention to the traffic.

  Chapter 6 — Champagne Celebration

  As the sun started to cast long shadows in Thorndon Quay and the final guests departed, Sophie flopped down on the studio’s sofa, kicked her high sandals off, and rotated her aching ankles. She stretched her arms sideways with a long soft groan.

  “Give her to me,” she suggested to her best friend Fran, reaching out for two year old Lucy. “And take some weight off your own feet as well. That was hectic.”

  Fran Spence handed over her dark haired daughter and collapsed beside Sophie. “You’re well and truly launched, babe. And in style,” she added, sending a hopeful glance in Rafe’s direction. “Is there another little dribble of Moet for a frazzled mom?”

  “You’ll be drunk in charge of a stroller,” Sophie said, expertly arranging Lucy on her knee. She buried her face in the toddler’s soft hair and blew a raspberry onto her scalp.

  Lucy squealed and giggled and looked up with adoration.

  “So have you brought me good luck, you unexpected guest?”

  Fran bit her lip. “Sorry I had to bring her. Pete was going to be home in plenty of time, but they couldn’t take off from Auckland with that sea fog. God knows when he can fly in now.”

  “She was fine. She was really good. And she reminded me I need to get a couple of picture books and maybe some blocks or puzzles to keep clients’ children occupied.”

  “More chippie?” Lucy begged, turning blue eyes up to Sophie.

  “No way, Luce. You’re already full of them. If you have any more you won’t eat the good things like broccoli and spinach Mom’s going to give you for dinner.”

  “Yuck,” Fran said unwisely as she turned to accept her half glass of champagne from Rafe.

  “Yucky-yuck,” Lucy echoed. “Chippie!” she bellowed.

  *

  Rafe stepped back behind the makeshift bar and smiled to himself. Lucy was a handful, no doubt about it, but Sophie didn’t seem too fazed by her.

  “No chippie,” she replied, lifting up one of the silk cushions and tickling Lucy’s nose with a feather tassel.

  “Hungry...”

  “I’ll bet you are. Desperate for a nice big dinner? I don’t think so.”

  “Chippie,” Lucy tried again, but with less insistence this time.

  “Cuddle,” Sophie suggested, gathering the little girl closer. “Cuddles are the best thing in the world. Better than chippies any day.”

  Rafe’s gut give a sudden churning twist. Sophie looked beautiful sitting there with the baby in her arms. What if she was cradling his own child? Dark haired like this one. Fractious, but soon calmed by her warm teasing manner. He forced himself to look away and stop dreaming. Sophie wasn’t the one, any more than Faye had been.

  Faye’s last vitriolic anti-maternal outburst had ended their partnership as surely as if she’d shot him through the head. Six years of marriage, and finally the truth. She didn’t want his children. Had never wanted children. Was still taking birth control pills and concealing it from him. And wouldn’t be changing her mind.

  Obviously Sophie felt the same. She’d just launched her new business and had huge ambition for it to succeed. She was pretty and fun, and good for a fling, but that was all.

  He’d never felt so conflicted. He didn’t want another shallow affair. But he wanted Sophie. Go figure...

  Months earlier, after separating from Faye, he’d told Chris and his team it was full steam ahead with the lowest level of the cliff house. He knew there was no point in looking backward to things that couldn’t be.

  But right now there was no real reason to look forward, either.


  He shook his head at his own stupidity. All very well picturing Sophie as an alternative to Faye, but she seemed every bit as ambitious... every bit as determined to devote her time and energy to her new business. Her earlier comments about wanting the same success flooded his brain, causing his gut to twist again.

  “You look like the ideal young mother,” he couldn’t help suggesting. He heard the bitterness in his voice, and wasn’t at all taken aback when Sophie shrugged and said, “Me? You must be joking.”

  He’d fixed his attention so firmly on Sophie cradling Lucy that he failed to see Fran’s look of puzzled surprise.

  *

  Sophie felt the dread roll right though her. What if Fran said something damning in front of Rafe? She lurched up and set Lucy on her feet. “Sorry to throw you out, but I’ve had it for the day,” she said quickly before Fran could spill any beans.

  She dived into the washroom to retrieve the stroller. Lucy’s bottom lip trembled, her eyes scrunched up and she howled in protest when Sophie returned a few seconds later.

  “Gotta go, Luce, sorry.” She bent and tried to console the little girl. “Want to phone my Mommy and tell her how my new shop went.”

  “Damn well, that’s how it went,” Fran confirmed, reaching out and stroking Lucy’s hair before up-ending the last of her champagne and handing the glass back to Rafe.

  “Need a ride?” he offered, quirking an eyebrow as she stumbled slightly.

  Fran shook her head and grinned, unoffended by Sophie’s abrupt dismissal and Rafe’s suggestion she had the wobbles. “We’ll be fine, won’t we Luce?”

  Lucy continued her sobbing.

  “Some nice fresh air will do us both good. We’re just around in Hobson Street,” she added to Rafe. “Close as. Not even any roads to cross.”

  “Can you manage this then?” He pushed an unopened bottle of Moet toward her.

  “Not what the baby bag generally contains,” Fran said with a delighted smile. She bent and rummaged for the roomy quilted mauve carrier. “But I think we can squeeze it in beside the emergency banana. Looks like Pete gets to toast Subtle’s future success after all.” She turned toward Sophie as she persuaded Lucy into the stroller. “Say hi to your Mom for me. Shame she and Camille couldn’t make it.”

  Sophie encouraged her out through the doorway and walked with her for a few seconds, waving to Lucy and hoping Rafe hadn’t heard, or wouldn’t ask.

  Heart racing, she turned back and picked up the sign he’d mended. As she stepped back into the studio she said, “Mom lives too far away.” Would that stall any questions from him? She changed the subject adroitly. “Where did you get your uniform?”

  Rafe glanced down at the black waiter-style apron he’d worn for the occasion. He’d bought it for a joke, but had been pleased enough to have it protecting his trousers once his barman’s job got busy.

  “Saw a display of them at the liquor store.”

  “Very smart. You absolutely looked the part. I’d like to offer to pay you for all the lovely champagne—”

  “You can forget about that.”

  “—but right now it’s way beyond my budget.”

  “It was a ‘good luck’ gift, Sophie. You won’t be paying for it.”

  “You’re very generous. Too generous. It gave my opening a lot more class. Thank you.”

  She sighed, and turned to survey the studio. The sofa throws were rumpled, someone had looped the lengths of display fabric back to make more room, and the glowing timber floor was scattered with crumbs from the snacks and nibbles. Empty glasses garnished every level surface.

  “What a mess,” she added, inspecting the floor and then releasing the fabrics so they hung straight again. “Let me just grab the remains of the food. I’ll come in early tomorrow and sort everything else out.”

  She stuffed the snack platters and their wilting lettuce leaves and kebab sticks into a garbage bag and secured the top while Rafe removed his apron. Then she hurried into the washroom and came out carrying her pink and silver crash helmet.

  “What’s that girly thing?” he teased.

  “It matches my Vespa.” She sent him a challenging look that told him he’d be pushing his luck if he commented further in that vein.

  “You’ve got a little Italian stallion?”

  “If you insist. I love it. It’s cheap to run and I can squeak it into Mrs. Ferris’s garage beside her car.”

  “All that throbbing power between your legs?”

  “Not as much power as you have between yours.”

  He raised an eyebrow, obviously wondering if she was talking dirty.

  She waited a couple of beats, and added “I saw a crash helmet in your bedroom. I doubt you’re buzzing around on a scooter.”

  She enjoyed the guilty grin that spread across his gorgeous face. So he had at least one weakness...

  “A Ducati Multistrada. Until the garages are finished up by the road I lock the Jag in the boatyard overnight and use the bike to get to the house and back again next morning. You don’t leave a car like that sitting unprotected on a cliff top.”

  “And what about the bike at night?”

  “Locked inside the shipping container, along with a lot of my other stuff. Not ideal, but it works.” He bundled up the apron, grabbed the remaining unopened bottle of Moet by its neck, and pulled the studio door open.

  Sophie felt the prickle of desire wash through her as she moved past him. She could easily picture him in motor cycle leathers—a big rangy man in black, carving through traffic as though he owned the road. Owned the world.

  A drift of his earthy cologne reached her and she closed her eyes for a moment to savor his scent. Combined with the freshly laundered cotton of his shirt and his clean skin and the faint bouquet of good champagne, he smelled wonderful. Everything about him invited her closer, but she knew closer could lead only to disaster.

  She stood for a moment looking back at her new venture, hoping fervently for even a fraction of the success Rafe had achieved. Then watched as he pulled the door shut and gave it a joggle to check it had locked.

  They walked as far as his nearby car, now returned to showroom condition.

  “I can picture you on something fast,” she said, choosing her words with care. “But why the Jag? You should have an Italian car like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.”

  Rafe compressed his lips and avoided her gaze. “I’ll explain some time. You might not like the answer.” He glanced up the road to where a lone pink Vespa kept company with a Harley and a Suzuki in the nearly deserted bike park. “So that’s yours?”

  “All mine.”

  “Are you going to be safe on it?”

  She sent him a withering look. “You were the barman. You know how much I drank—or didn’t drink. I did so much talking I didn’t get more than a few sips.” She drew a deep breath and let it out in a noisy sigh. “Rafe, I’m absolutely wrecked. You weren’t serious about dinner, were you? After the big lunch and those nibbles I’m barely hungry anyway.”

  “Tomorrow then?”

  “Not dinner—you know how I feel about being seen in public together—but maybe I could spend some more time prowling around the house and taking measurements later in the afternoon if you’re free? Are you safe to drive?”

  “My mean boss said her bar staff weren’t allowed to drink.”

  She sent him a wry grin at that and set down her bag, twisted her long hair up into a rough topknot and dragged the helmet down over it.

  “I’ll see you tomorrow then. I can’t wait to phone Mom.”

  “And have a little boast?”

  “Got it.” She slammed the visor down on the helmet before he could quiz her further, picked up her bag and headed off toward her pink Vespa.

  *

  Rafe stood on the now quiet sidewalk, fingering the earring in his pocket and watching her walk away. He considered his progress so far. Not falling at his feet, that was for sure. Not even saying ‘no
and meaning maybe. She was self-contained. Coolly aloof. With just an occasional smile that promised—what? Not much yet.

  But now he’d found such an intriguing woman there was a tug of war to follow. His whole body hungered. If he had to use a few wiles to attract her, well, sex was a game and a damn fine one.

  As Sophie buzzed off up Thorndon Quay he pulled the earring from his pocket and stood in the late sunshine, tossing the little jewel from hand to hand. It had been an absolute impulse to lift it, and of course she’d ‘find’ it without difficulty, but it pleased him to have it as ammunition.

  It fell silver side up, then blue side up.

  Heads she will, tails she won’t.

  Chapter 7 — Pulse Rate Rising

  Sophie waved farewell at the last intersection and smiled at his goodbye toot. He was gone, and just as well. The last thing she needed was for him to overhear her talking to Camille.

  As soon as she’d set the Vespa on its stand she pulled off her crash helmet, breathed a sigh of relief, and dashed along the path.

  The rose perfume pooled sensuously in the sheltered porch. The wind had died away as it often did in the evenings. It would be beautiful at his house tonight; shame she wouldn’t be there to enjoy it.

  Her mobile’s ringtone sounded as she jiggled the key into the lock. She glanced at the caller ID and smiled.

  “Hi Sweetie.” She edged inside and let her helmet slide down onto the sofa.

  “You can have Camille in a moment,” her mother’s excited voice said. “I want you first. How did it go? I’m bursting to hear.”

  “You should have waited for me to phone you,” Sophie admonished, thinking of Nancy’s tight finances. “Now I’m officially in business for myself I can claim my calls as a legitimate expense.”

  “So how did it go?”her mother repeated

  “Hmmm... just about the best day of my life. The studio opening was amazing—so many people turned up for a look.”

  “And a free drink and nibble, I suppose?”

  “Yes Mom, but it worked. Someone gave me a dozen bottles of champagne, and the biggest new job you can imagine!”

  “Slow down, darling. Free champagne?”

  “Real French stuff, too. And I went out for lunch, and met a city councilor who’s buying an apartment and might want that decorated, and—”

 
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