All for love 3 series.., p.7
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.7

           Kris Pearson
 

  “Was the champagne from the city councilor?”

  “No Mom, not him, another man.” She hesitated for a moment, then hurtled on. “You remember Faye Severino who I used to work for? Her husband. Well, they’re separated these days. And he has this huge house he wants finished now he and Faye have split up.”

  She hugged herself with her free arm and did a little dance through to the bedroom where she kicked off her sandals.

  “Goodness, Sophie, you’ve really had a day of it.”

  “You can’t imagine. But I’m absolutely whacked. I’m going to do some quick paperwork, make an omelet, and crash into bed pretty darn soon. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow morning once I’ve calmed down.”

  “As long as it’s good news.”

  “More than good. I’ll ring you before eight, okay? Can I have Camille for a moment now?”

  She waited through some muffled noises and then her tiny daughter said “Hi Mommy.”

  Immediately her heart swelled with love and ached with loss. She pictured Camille’s petal-soft skin and flossy hair, and could touch neither. She should be crouching beside her little daughter, kissing her, swinging her up into her arms. Instead the too-short Sunday visits and frustrating evening phone calls were the only current possibilities.

  “Hi Sweetie. How are you today?” She hoped her voice was steady and betrayed none of the intense emotion that swamped her every time she spoke with Camille.

  “Good, Mommy,” came the piping reply.

  “Did you have a nice time at kindergarten?”

  “We painted elephants.”

  “And I’ll bet yours is wonderful. What color is it?”

  “Blue.”

  “Of course,” Sophie agreed, smiling sadly. “A lovely big blue elephant. You could hang that on Nanna’s fridge door, couldn’t you? Or you could give it to me and I could hang it on mine with those pretty pink flower stickies you gave me?”

  “And we did sand castles with flags on. And red harbottles.” Camille chattered on, unaware of her mother’s distress.

  “Goodness,” Sophie managed, wondering what on earth red harbottles could possibly be. Any other evening she’d stop and ask. “You’ve really been busy, haven’t you? Well, so have I, and I’ve made your Barbie a princess dress with silver sparkles. Okay?”

  “And new shoes, Mommy?”

  “Not yet, Cammie. But maybe I’ll find some that will be just perfect. I’ll see you on Sunday morning darling. Can I talk to Nanna again? Big kisses.” She blew some into the phone and Camille did the same.

  She closed her eyes, trying to feel Camille’s soft lips on her cheek, the brush of her golden hair. Imagining she was hugging Camille close instead of consigning her love to the empty air.

  “Sorry to dash so fast, Mom,” she apologized once her mother had the phone again. “It was an amazing day. Unbelievable. The studio looks great—or it will by the time I’ve tidied up tomorrow morning. Maybe you could come over for a day or two sometime soon? I’ll bring you some photos, but it’s not the same, is it?”

  “I’ll enjoy your photos anyway.”

  “I’d love you to see the real thing.”

  “We’ll see what we can manage. Get a good night’s sleep, honey, and I’ll catch up again tomorrow.”

  “Bye Mom.”

  “Bye darling. So proud of you.” And the line went dead.

  *

  “So this is what you get up to when I’m not keeping an eye on you?” Rafe said, pushing the studio door further open next morning. He strode in with the two takeaway coffees he’d bought, pleased to see Sophie’s guilty jump. He set them on her desk, well clear of the fabric swatches she was flipping through, and grinned at her discomforted expression. The most visible sample featured blue and white stripes with pink rosebuds. Definitely not for him.

  “You’re not my only client,” Sophie said, interpreting his expression correctly.

  Was that a blush climbing her pretty cheeks?

  “Pleased to hear it. Is this for a little old lady?”

  She laughed at that and shook her head. “A little old lady’s dog, if you can believe it. A white Bischon Frise, and Miss Templeton wants to pretty up the plastic dog bed so she’s going to have a quilted cover made from this.”

  His lips quirked. “You’re wasting your time on dog beds? Lots of money in that is there?”

  Sophie sent him a killer glare. “Not wasting my time at all, Rafe. This dog bed is in a beautiful old house belonging to two eccentric sisters, and they need sofas re-covered, and curtains replaced in at least three rooms, and maybe a new rug for their big front entrance hall. We’re starting small and working up to the big stuff.”

  “You hope.”

  “I think we’ll get there. They seem pleased to be taken seriously.”

  He separated the coffees from their carry-tray and handed one across to her. “You said you might come out to the house later for a better look?”

  “Yes, four o’clock or so?”

  He shook his head. Why make it easy for her? “I’m tied up until about 5.30. Will that work?”

  He watched her fighting her annoyance, and decided he’d keep the pressure on. He wanted more time with her than a quick work related session.

  “Sure,” she said slowly. “I could go to the Fabric Library and maybe get some sample books for you...”

  “I’ll collect you here in case they’re heavy.”

  “From the apartment, if you don’t mind, Rafe.”

  And, feeling he’d won a small victory, he agreed and took his coffee across to the sofa.

  “You got this place back in good shape pretty fast,” he said, checking out the studio. The glasses and platters stood stacked in their hire-boxes and the floor gleamed as the morning sun lit up the grain of the old planks. He watched as she took a couple of sips and set her drink down again.

  “It wasn’t too bad. No damage to anything.”

  “I could drop those boxes back if you like? Or will they be collected?”

  She glanced across at the stack. “No—I thought I’d get a taxi.”

  “Right, that’s a job for me then.” He was pleased to have another small way to plant himself in her mind, and lounged back enjoying his coffee in the sun. “So I’ll collect you somewhere around six at your apartment?”

  She nodded and sipped, a small frown creasing her forehead and then clearing away. What was she thinking?

  Eventually he rose to drop his cup in the trash basket under her desk. “I like the skirt,” he added, trailing a finger up her thigh until it reached the white linen, and then ducking clear before she swatted his hand away.

  He swung out of the studio with a huge grin on his face, leaving Sophie no doubt shooting daggers into his back from her big grey eyes.

  *

  That evening she stepped out of her white linen skirt, pulled the wardrobe door open, and considered her best plan of attack from its meager contents. It boiled down to jeans again, whichever way she looked at it. If she was going there to work and to look for her earring then it had to be something casual, easy-care, and able to foil Rafe’s wandering hands.

  She tossed her old blue Levis onto the bed.

  But she was woman enough to want her top half to have a bit more class. The long white tunic, maybe? She lifted the hanger out, pictured the loose-knit fabric snagging too easily in the unfinished house, and hung it up again.

  The black scoop neck T-shirt? It would have to do, and she’d add her silver snake-chain to dress it up a little.

  She changed quickly, pulling on socks and flat shoes, nodding with a grin of satisfaction as she thought what passion killers the black socks were.

  A spritz of perfume, a brush through to untangle her long hair from its crash helmet twist, a lick more lip gloss. Done. She was determined not to ‘dress up’. Hopefully that would help squash any spark of attraction he might feel for her.

  Or was he just a typical unattached male trying
his luck with any available woman? Strange how it seemed easier to think this when she wasn’t right next to him, breathing in his warm masculine scent and running her fingers down his tanned forearm.

  This had to stay business. Right now she was very determined about that.

  And she really didn’t feel like a big meal after the Thai food her old workmate, Steve, had unexpectedly brought to the studio at lunchtime. When had she ever eaten more than a sandwich or a salad in the middle of the day? Maybe she could talk Rafe into takeaways...

  She took one last look in the mirror, pulled a gruesome face at herself, and checked she had her phone.

  *

  Rafe glanced across as he pulled up on the bus stop. Sophie jogged down the path in a blur of movement—hair flying, sample books clutched against her hip.

  She looked like a carefree teenager, not one of the city’s newest businesswomen. And damn if she wasn’t wearing jeans in place of the skirt he’d been looking forward to all day...

  He reached over and pushed the door open for her.

  “Hi Rafe, another great evening.” She pushed the samples into the foot-well, sat, pulled the door closed, and snapped her seatbelt on.

  “I’m hoping so.”

  She shot him a slitty-eyed look. “Weather-wise.”

  “That too,” he agreed as he moved out into the traffic.

  Her slitty-eyed look grew more intense. “Don’t get too hopeful.”

  “Hopeful about what?” He hoped his air of baffled innocence seemed realistic. He kept his eyes on the road ahead and refused to give her the satisfaction of direct eye contact.

  “You know absolutely about what.”

  “Finding your earring? It must be there somewhere.”

  “Not about finding my earring. But it better be, because they were a twenty-first birthday present from my partner.”

  He slowed for the Hobson Street intersection and waited for a car to cross in front of the Jaguar as the shock washed through him. Had she been married at twenty-one? Just the thought of her with another man set his teeth on edge. “So how old are you now?”

  “Twenty-five.”

  He accelerated into Hobson Street. “And what became of the partner?”

  He finally glanced sideways. Sophie had turned away, shutting him out.

  “He died in a hang-gliding accident,” she muttered.

  Rafe caught his breath, and remorse hit him hard. “Hell, I’m so sorry. I wish I’d never asked.”

  “More than three years ago,” she added, bringing her eyes over to his again and giving a faint shrug. “It’s okay. It seems a while back now. He was my first boss’s son...”

  Rafe considered that for a minute or so, wondering what else he could possibly say.

  “That’s where Fran and Pete live,” she said, pointing to a large old white house with a weeping elm cascading over the lawn.

  “Nice place,” he agreed, hardly sparing it a glance.

  Her first boss’s son. Is that why she’s keen to keep me at arm’s length? No mixing business with pleasure a second time because the first ended badly?

  “I’m sure we’ll find the earring,” he said after another short gap. “On one of the two lower floors. I can’t see how it would have fallen out anywhere else.”

  He felt like an absolute heel now—partly from teasing her, and partly from stirring up bad memories.

  “I don’t have much jewelry. It’d be good to get it back.” And she promptly changed the subject to paint colors as he drove on across the city and out through the suburbs. Soon they were high above the crashing rollers of the south coast again.

  *

  Sophie knew what to expect this time. She stepped straight out of the Jaguar and would have hurried across to the cable-car except that Rafe said, “Hang on, are you strong enough to carry this?”

  ‘This’ turned out to be a heavy cardboard box labeled ‘Siesta Chair. Assembly required’.

  She hefted up the box, amazed to see Rafe tucking an identical one under his long arm before lifting out his battered metal toolbox, setting that on the rough ground, closing the trunk and locking the car. He picked up the toolbox again, and they proceeded to the cable-car at the cliff edge. She knew he carried twice the weight she did, and his strength didn’t appear challenged in the least. Plainly he hadn’t been joking when he’d told her he’d been used to working physically hard.

  “Can you get the door for me?” he asked.

  She put her box down and unlatched the sliding sheet-metal door. Rafe stepped aboard and stowed his cargo. Sophie added hers.

  “Going to struggle again this time?” he asked, snaking an arm around her to steady her against the corner post.

  “No,” she said, biting her lip and glancing up.

  Lord, he still had exactly the same effect on her as he’d had yesterday. The seam of her jeans felt maddening. It pressed up between her thighs. Surely it didn’t usually? Her body felt sensitive, swollen, delicious. And it would only get worse if he kept looking down at her like that.

  As though he was her protector. As though her wellbeing seriously mattered to him.

  He pushed the green button and the cable-car lurched into its slow descent. He held her secure against the sway of the little carriage. “Warm enough for you?”

  Was he teasing? She decided to ignore the possibility. “Yes, it’s real summer now. And when the wind drops like this it’s wonderful.”

  She gazed out across the harbor, willing her body to take no notice of his. Trying to ignore the steely strength of his arm, his soft breath as it stirred her hair, the thud of her heart and the thump of his where her cheek lay cradled against his chest. She pressed her hand against the pulse in her throat and was astounded to find their heartbeats equalizing. She didn’t want to believe it possible, but as they dropped lower she heard the unmistakable evidence. His big heart was picking up pace slightly as her own pulse slowed its hectic beat against her fingers.

  “Pencarrow lighthouse looks spectacular,” she murmured. Anything to distract herself from what she’d just discovered.

  They surely weren’t in tune any other way. She scrimped along from day to day and he had money to buy expensive champagne for strangers. She was serious and self-contained, he an extroverted flirt. That their hearts could do this felt too intimate to contemplate.

  As the cable-car jerked to a halt Rafe tightened his grip to prevent her leaving.

  “Watch.” He nodded toward a glitter in the far sky. As they stood together it materialized into a silver airliner which floated steadily lower, past the old white lighthouse, past the far hills, until it was almost level with the sea. Seconds later the muffled roar of its reverse-thrust reached them as it touched down at the international airport.

  “Not just boats, but planes as well. I’ll never get tired of this view.”

  He released her at last, slid the door aside and they lifted their cargo out. She was still astounded by the heartbeat thing. How had they tuned in to each other like that?

  She paced across to the glass barrier at the deck’s edge and clung to it with one hand, nonplussed. The other she used to touch her face, gauge her temperature. Her skin felt burning hot despite her lack of jacket.

  A sharp ripping noise behind her made her whirl around to investigate. Rafe knelt on the deck attacking one of the boxes with a knife from his toolbox.

  “What are you doing?” she asked, walking closer.

  “Making us a couple of decent chairs.”

  “Change out of your suit then.” She said it without thought, so used to giving Camille guidance on her Sunday visits.

  “Yes, Mom,” he teased, never knowing how the words hurt.

  She hesitated a moment before speaking again. “Steve from Faye’s place turned up at the studio with Thai lunch.”

  “Spying?”

  “Spying for Faye? I hope not. I always liked him. Big Steve with the horn-rims.”

  “Steve from ‘Noo Y
ark’? Yeah...watch out for Faye though, she holds a grudge forever. You’re not too hungry then? Pizza maybe?”

  “Fine by me.”

  “Any special orders? No anchovies? Double parmesan?”

  She shook her head. “Whatever you usually have.”

  He dug out his mobile and beeped through to one of the pre-selects as he walked toward the house. So he was a regular customer? Sophie pictured him here on his own eating takeaways. But he wouldn’t be on his own, she swiftly corrected herself. There’d be a woman for sure.

  She tried to banish the scene from her imagination. None of her business. She couldn’t possibly get involved with him, so what did it matter...

  She occupied herself for the short time he was gone by unpacking the first box. She set the seat cushions aside and placed all the timber components in an organized line. Then she unfolded the instruction sheet, looking up from the diagrams as she heard the door close.

  Rafe walked across the deck toward her.

  And she felt her pulse soar up through fast, through disturbed, past urgent to total hammer.

  Chapter 8 — Trapped and Trembling

  He sent her a broad smile, white teeth against dark skin, and continued on past as far as the cable-car.

  Sophie drew a quick panicked breath as he reached in and pushed the ‘up’ command. The winch motor whirred. The carriage door rattled momentarily and then became quiet. It started to climb.

  She was now trapped halfway down a cliff face with no-one else in sight—except for a huge strong man who was—

  Who was what? Totally naked?

  Less than half dressed, anyway.

  “You’re going well.” He set down two champagne flutes and the bottle of Moet, and tossed a white cloth aside.

  She dragged her eyes up his long, seriously muscled legs to his flat belly, up past his hard chest and shoulders to that devastating smile again. She swallowed. “I just... thought...” she mumbled.

  What? What the hell did I think?

  “...that I’d make a start for you.”

  He squatted beside her and surveyed the collection of legs and crossbars and heaven knows what else.

  She saw now that he wore dusty brown elastic sided ankle boots—standard issue for Kiwi builders. And soft old khaki shorts, slung low on his narrow hips. That was all.

  It wasn’t nearly enough, but at least it was more than her first startled impression. His dark gold skin and khaki shorts and brown boots had all merged in the warm evening light into one long tanned naked body. A body with no apparent genitals, now she thought about it more lucidly.

 
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