All for love 3 series.., p.8
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       All for Love - 3 Series Starters, p.8

           Kris Pearson
 

  “These won’t take long to assemble. Want that drink we both missed out on yesterday?”

  She swallowed again and nodded, trying hard not to supply the missing pieces to her fantasy.

  He rose to his feet and peeled the foil off the bottle’s neck. Sophie sighed as the muscles of his arms stood out in sharp relief as he wrenched at the cork.

  “She’s a tight one.” He reached for the piece of cloth to get extra traction, eased the cork out with the barest pop, gave a grunt of satisfaction, and bent down to pour.

  Sophie upended the empty box so they could use its flat base as a makeshift table.

  He raised his glass to her, sipped, then set it down and began to arrange pieces of timber. A plastic zip-loc bag contained screws and washers. “I’ve been meaning to do this ever since the weather came good,” he said. “The lightweight chairs blow around if the wind picks up. These’ll be a lot more stable.”

  He pulled the white fabric closer and tipped the contents of the plastic bag onto it so no small pieces could escape through the gaps in the decking. Sophie now saw it was a somewhat paint spattered T-shirt. She handed him the instruction sheet.

  Rafe shook his head and grinned. “If I can build a boat I can manage a kitset chair.”

  She silently acknowledged the truth of that, watching him arrange the jigsaw without effort. “Can I hand you things then?”

  “A screw and a washer each time? That’ll speed it up.”

  They worked without talking, Rafe fitting the pieces together, inserting the screws that Sophie offered, and driving them in deep and fast with a noisy tool that spat and rattled in his big hand.

  He set the first chair aside just a few minutes later. Sophie retrieved the cushions and sat. He split open the second box.

  “Is it to madam’s liking? Or are you still mademoiselle?”

  “What?”

  “Did you marry him—Mr. Hang-glider?”

  “No,” she said, surprised Rafe had asked. “He was just a friend who persuaded his mother to give me my first job. I was grateful. He was fun.” She shrugged, not wanting to give him any more of her story.

  She’d conceived Camille even though they’d always used condoms. Marriage had never been discussed until that point, and was quickly dismissed. They were both far too young and had little in common apart from their child. Sophie was organized, and determined to make something better of her situation. Adrian was a laidback thrill-seeker, and seeking those thrills had taken his life only days after he’d given her the silver and lapis earrings.

  “Grateful for the job he got you?” Rafe queried. “How’s the chair? Is that making you feel grateful, too?”

  Sophie heard the laughter in his husky voice. “Not that grateful. Sorry Rafe, I’ve grown up a bit since then. The chair’s good,” she added, wanting to change the subject.

  Rafe finished assembling the second one, and they sat together and drained their glasses before prowling the top floor of the house, checking measurements and discussing details. They’d barely returned to the deck when there was a shout of “Yo, pizza!” from road level.

  A few seconds later the cable-car began its descent.

  Sophie walked across to the landing platform and waited for it to arrive, feeling silly now she knew why he’d sent it up the cliff. Not to strand her. Not to leave her at his mercy.

  Indeed he seemed intent on looking after her. He’d hung her fabrics because he thought it was too dangerous for her to do. Taken her to lunch and introduced her to influential people. Bought her the champagne... been willing to play barman so she could devote her whole attention to her clients... foregone the dinner he probably wanted.

  She decided she needed to slightly review her opinion of him as a rash and arrogant womanizer. Damn—that was going to make her situation even worse.

  She picked up the warm box and padded back across the huge deck in her rubber soled skate-shoes, determined to be pleasant to him.

  By the time she returned he’d poured more champagne and lounged in one of the chairs with his long legs extended and his arms tucked back supporting his head. He stretched like a lazy cat and Sophie watched as all his muscles tightened and then relaxed again.

  She laid the pizza down and sat quickly, hoping for respite from the maddening throb which had just returned double-strong right against the centre seam of her hitherto comfortable jeans.

  “This you’ve got to see,” he said.

  She shot a sideways glance at his acres of bare skin. “I’ve seen plenty, thanks.”

  He repeated the cat-stretch thing. The pizza box sat unopened.

  “What?” she demanded, spooked and apprehensive all over again.

  “Just wait. See that glow over the top of the hills?”

  She drew a deep breath. Was this a game?

  Slowly the edge of the moon rose over the skyline. More than the edge. Even more.

  “To new beginnings,” Rafe said, reaching for his glass and tilting it in her direction. Sophie sat, entranced, as the final curve of a huge golden disc emerged from behind the dark hills across the harbor.

  She tilted her own in answer. “New beginnings,” she agreed. “For my little studio. For your lovely house.”

  “For us as well?”

  She shook her head. “Thank you, but no thank you.”

  She hoped Rafe sensed it wasn’t an angry turndown. Hoped he knew she found him attractive, but circumstances were against them. She flicked a cautious glance sideways and saw he was staring out to sea, face neutral, body long and taut in the moonlight. He tipped his glass up and swallowed. She watched his throat constrict and was hit again by that hot sexy throb.

  Was she mad? Should she go along with his flirting and see where it led?

  No, she daren’t. It would be far too easy to fall for him, and agonizing once he’d had enough of her. And what else could she expect but eventual dismissal?

  Sighing, she reached across to the pizza box and levered the lid up. The steam carried parmesan and tomato and oregano into the still air. “Eat,” she said. “It smells fantastic.”

  Rafe turned and reached for a slice. “Yeah, they do a good one. Even my Italian sisters-in-law don’t turn their noses up too far at this.”

  “Both your brothers married Italian girls?

  “At Papa’s suggestion. He never left his roots far behind. Even after all these years in New Zealand he’s as Italian as they come.”

  “But your mother’s not Italian?”

  “Huia is certainly not Italian, although if you saw a photo of her at twenty and didn’t know she was half Maori/half Cherokee, you’d easily believe she came from somewhere around the Mediterranean.”

  “Would you show me? The photo of her?”

  “I don’t have one,” he said, sharp and cold. “My mother never did any of the mother-things other women do. Why would I want a photo of her?”

  *

  He took a savage bite of pizza and chewed for too long while he decided what to say next. Sophie silently took a slice and bit into it less fiercely than he had.

  Finally he swallowed, knowing he must have shocked her with his comment. He considered what he could offer in explanation.

  After a gusty sigh he said, “When I was born, I looked so unlike my father, he more or less disowned me. I’m not sure he ever believed I was his child.” He fell silent for a while longer, and then added, “I know I am. I sneaked some of his DNA a couple of years ago and had the tests done. Just for my own curiosity.”

  He took another bite of pizza, wondering why he’d told Sophie that. He’d never told Faye or anyone else. But hell, what did it matter now? Grudgingly he continued. “He put up with me for a few months after I was born, but when my mother fell pregnant with the twins, he persuaded her to whangai me until her new babies arrived. Know what I mean by whangai?”

  He saw her tentative nod. “More or less. It’s an unofficial adoption thing the Maori people sometimes do.”
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  “Close enough,” he agreed. “There are Maori kids whangaied all over the place. Mostly for perfectly good reasons. Orphans brought up with cousins. A baby handed on to a childless woman by her over fertile sister.”

  “I’ve heard of that. How can they bear to do it?”

  “It solves both sides of the problem I suppose. No different from surrogate mothers if you look at it that way.” He took another bite and chewed for a while longer. “Parents in shearing gangs or traveling for other seasonal work sometimes park their children with friends or rellies so the kids can stay in school. It can be short or long term.”

  “And how long were you whangaied?”

  “For my whole life.”

  He heard her shocked intake of breath as he upended his glass and drained it. “Children often move easily between their real family and their whangai family,” he added as he set it down deliberately on the box. “They’re loved and wanted by both. That wasn’t what happened to me.”

  “So who...?”

  “My mother’s mother. Matakino from the military dance all those years ago. She married Koro after John Blackhawk was killed. Brought my mother Huia up, but never had any more babies, which was unusual for the times.”

  “And she was good to you?”

  “Wonderful. And as angry as me about why Huia and Luca never took me back. I heard the arguments...”

  Oh yes, he’d heard the arguments all right. His grandmother insisting it was time for him to live with his parents and brothers. His mother equally insistent there was no room in their house... not enough money to raise a third child... that he looked nothing like her twins, which would make it ‘awkward’.

  He’d listened outside the open kitchen window, keeping well down out of sight, petrified he’d have to leave Nanny and Koro, and just as scared he’d have to stay with them because Huia and Luca still didn’t want him.

  As he grew, Koro encouraged him to take utu—Maori revenge.

  “Do everything well, boy. Do it better than them. Be a better rugby player, better at your job. Outshine them everywhere. Tramp on their pride. Go far, and leave them sniveling in your dust.”

  It had been a big challenge for a gangly twelve year old, but it had got him through, and got him ahead. Got him three boatyards, a socialite wife, and a house the talk of the capital city. So why didn’t it feel like enough?

  He reached out to pour himself more Moet, topped up Sophie’s glass at the same time, and set the bottle down again.

  “Poor little boy,” he heard her say.

  He shook his head sharply. “I was better off with Nanny and Koro. They wanted me.”

  “Even so...”

  He cut off her sympathy by adding, “Nanny’s a kuia now— a respected elder of her people. She’s heading for eighty. Getting frail. Almost ready to rejoin John and Koro.”

  He sat forward as the memories washed over him. He didn’t want Sophie seeing his face for a while.

  *

  She glanced across, knowing he’d deliberately moved so his eyes were out of her line of sight. He planted his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, and stared out across the water, still as a statue.

  Able to finally look her fill, she admired his beautiful moonlit thighs. Sinewy, packed with power and lightly furred with dark hair. His calves were long and strong, muscles bunched, tendons tight. His ankles where they met the boots were lean.

  She saw he still wore the black socks he must have worn with his suit. A narrow cuff showed above each scuffed brown boot. She’d chosen black socks herself because she’d thought them off-putting; how wrong could she be! Rafe Severino had the sexiest legs in the world—even better than her imagination had conjured up when he’d climbed the ladder in her studio.

  She slid her eyes upward again. His smooth golden back sat in semi darkness, but from this angle the moonlight illuminated the highest bumps of his spine and the impressive breadth of his shoulders.

  He was sex on a stick, but he was hurting.

  Hardly knowing she did it, Sophie ignored her champagne and walked across to him. She smoothed a hand over his shoulders and said, “Don’t be sad.”

  Chapter 9 — Unhappy Families

  His nearest arm enclosed her and drew her against his side.

  “Not sad. Just thinking.” But his voice was not quite that of the confident man she’d become used to, and his arm pulled her very close. The heat of his skin burned through her T-shirt in nano-seconds, and breathing became infinitely harder.

  “I can maybe understand how a man couldn’t accept a son who looked nothing like him at all,” Rafe continued huskily, “but my mother... my hard-hearted bitch of a mother... she knew I was hers.”

  He turned away from the sea and laid his face against Sophie’s breast—so much like a child seeking comfort, so unlike a man hoping for sex—that she raised her other hand and pressed him to her, stroking softly through his hair again and again.

  “I’m sure she wanted you,” she murmured. “It must have been hard for her too? Being without her first-born? No mother wants that.”

  She’d certainly not wanted Camille ripped away from her. Had fought every way she could to keep her. It had been hard enough while Adrian was alive, but they’d somehow survived by working different hours...by leaving Camille in a spare crib in the room behind his mother’s shop for a short time each day...by foregoing casual pleasures they should have been able to take for granted. Life had been tough, but she’d proved they could make it work.

  Then Adrian had slammed into a rock face in a tangle of fabric and wires, and as Sophie tried to maintain her studies, continue with her job, spend time at his bedside and care for Camille, her life had disintegrated. Camille became difficult, Sophie exhausted, and when Adrian died of an unexpected hemorrhage, her mother took over and saved her.

  “I’ll take Camille until you’re feeling better.”

  “...for a few more weeks, darling.”

  “...until you find a full time job and a crèche.”

  “...only until the end of the year.”

  “...so you can get your studio up and running.”

  “...just until she’s ready to start school.”

  And so far, guilty and grief stricken, and still fumbling for stable ground, she’d not been able to reclaim her tiny daughter.

  Rafe sighed and relaxed his death grip a fraction, finally letting the hurt pour out. “When I was a baby it didn’t matter to her because she had the twins to look forward to. And it didn’t matter to me because I was too young to know better. But a couple of years later, by the time I was three or four, I knew damn well where I should have been.”

  Sophie’s hands stilled in his hair.

  Three or four. Camille’s four. If he ever finds out about her he’ll think I’m as bad as his mother. Worse, because I’ve no other children to worry about.

  She slipped out of his embrace and resumed her seat, mute and trembling.

  Rafe swiveled toward her as he continued. “Koro got me into carpentry, and that meant I could work anywhere in the world. I took off when I was still nineteen to find some of my grandfather’s Blackhawk relatives if I could.”

  “And did you?” She lifted her half eaten slice of pizza and then put it down. There was no way she was hungry any longer.

  Does Camille feel as deserted as Rafe did?

  Does she see me as a fly by night visitor who swoops in once a week and then leaves her again?

  “In Oklahoma and Wyoming,” Rafe said, dragging her away from her distressed thoughts. “Before you could easily Google things, of course. I had to do a lot of traveling, but I knew a bit about his war record so that was a place to start.”

  “Were they nice?” she asked, functioning on automatic.

  How would she keep Camille a secret? Should she just confess right now? But if she did, and Rafe was as offended as she expected, it was goodbye to his contract, and goodbye to Subtle’s possible success, and ther
efore goodbye to her chance of claiming Camille back too. She was trapped.

  “Nicer than the Severinos,” she heard him say. “The Blackhawks were different. Quiet people. Stoic about what they’d had to endure.”

  “At least you found them.”

  “Some of them, anyway.”

  “Anyone really close?”

  “My cousin Joe,” he said with more warmth in his voice. “He persuaded me to try boat building work in San Diego. And that turned my life around.”

  *

  He looked more intently at Sophie. She seemed light years away. Had he bored her? She was too damned easy to talk to. He’d told her things he probably shouldn’t have. Things he’d sworn never to tell anyone. Right now she looked as though she hadn’t heard any of it, but her replies had been succinct and appropriate. He watched her as she sat there, so distant. “Earth to Sophie?”

  “I’m listening.”

  “Could have fooled me. You went away for a while.”

  “Mmmm...”

  “And you’re still not back.”

  “I’m here. Just considering a problem.”

  “A house problem?”

  “No, not at all,” she said, sounding slightly irritated. “But I don’t know when you expect me to get this whole big place finished for you. It’s the worst time of the year with Christmas around the corner.”

  She reached down for the sample books and began to flip through the fabrics. It was far too dark now to see the colors with any accuracy.

  Somehow he didn’t think the house was the problem. The expressions which had flitted across her face weren’t work related. She had something personal going on. Something much larger than paint colors or curtain fabrics. Something that didn’t include him.

  “I’m not expecting miracles. I’m comfortable enough. But there’s no point leaving the house like this any longer.” He leaned back in his chair a little and she set the samples down on the deck again. “Chris and the boys are just about due to start the garages so they’ll be out of your way any day now.”

  That brought no response at all.

  They sat on in silence as the moon rose higher. Rafe ripped into another slice of pizza, still uneasy about her distracted manner. Sophie did a little more nibbling.

 
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