Authors: Kim Lawrence
“You say that now,” Rafe replied, “but when you meet someoneâ¦”
Tess glared at him. “Marriage is all about providing a loving, secure environment for children. That's why a man gets married.”
get married,” he corrected. “They're the practical ones. A man gets married for other reasons. Most men are thinking about love when they get married, Tess.”
“You're talking about sex!”
lives on a farm in rural Anglesey, Wales. She runs two miles daily and finds this an excellent opportunity to unwind and seek inspiration for her writing! It also helps her keep up with her husband, two active sons and the various stray animals that have adopted them. Always a fanatical consumer of fiction, she is now equally enthusiastic about writing. She loves a happy ending!
Kim Lawrence's fast-paced, sassy books are real page-turners. She creates characters you'll never forget, and sensual tension you won't be able to resistâ¦.
2123âHIS SECRETARY BRIDE (2-in-1)
2147âWIFE BY AGREEMENT
2161âTHE SEDUCTION SCHEME
2171âA SEDUCTIVE REVENGE
TORONTO â¢ NEW YORK â¢ LONDON
AMSTERDAM â¢ PARIS â¢ SYDNEY â¢ HAMBURG
STOCKHOLM â¢ ATHENS â¢ TOKYO â¢ MILAN â¢ MADRID
PRAGUE â¢ WARSAW â¢ BUDAPEST â¢ AUCKLAND
Tess Trelawny closed her eyes tight in denial and willed herself to wake up from this nightmare. Minorâno,
flaw in this plan: she already was awake, awake and shaking as if she had a fever. Along with the deluge of adrenalin, blind, gut-twisting panic raced through her body. The leaden hand she lifted to her throbbing head was trembling and icily cold.
Chloe chose not to respond to the pulsating note of entreaty in her aunt's voice. She often ignored things which made her feel uncomfortable; besides, there was no reason for her to feel guilty. If Tess got awkward, Ian would back her up. Tess would listen to him; everyone did. He was the smartest person she'd ever metâ¦and he was hersâ¦A dreamily content smile curved her collagen-enhanced, red-painted lipsâ¦
âIan is just
to meet dear little Benjy.' Her lips tightened in exasperation as the pedicurist began to paint her toenails. âHold on a sec, Aunty Tessâ¦'
The prefix invariably made Tess feel as if a generation separated her from her elder sister's only child, not a mere seven years. Now was no exception.
girl is using the wrong colour.'
Tess could hear the muffled sounds over the phone as Chloe paused long enough to sharply inform the unfortunate young woman attending her that she had no intention of being seen with a shade that was so sadly dated.
âI was wondering,' Chloe continued once she'd satisfied herself the right shade was being applied to her toes. âHas he got more hair these days?'
The question bewildered Tess. âWhy do you ask?'
âWell, you keep saying it's going to grow!' Chloe responded in an ill-used tone that implied Tess had been heartlessly leading her on. âI mean, those little wispy bits are not very attractive, are they?' she elaborated sulkily. âAnd they look gingery.' Her worried tone implied there were few things in life worse than a red-headed child.
Tess closed her eyes and took a deep breathâ¦sometimes she felt the unworthy desire to shake her beautiful niece until her white even teeth rattled.
âYes, Chloe,' she replied woodenly. âBen does have some hair now, and you'll be pleased to hear it's a gorgeous strawberry blonde.'
âYou mean sandyâ¦?'
âNo, I mean strawberry blonde.'
âThat's excellent,' came the relieved reply. âAnd, Aunty Tess, for God's sake dress him in something half decent. How about that nice little outfit I sent from Milanâ¦?'
Chloe's fleeting visits had always been infrequent, but during the last few months her acting career had taken off with several small but well received film roles, and the visits had become almost non-existent.
Tess was guiltily aware that she should have remonstrated with the younger girl, but the truth was life was easier without the stress and disruption of Chloe's visits. The problem was her niece resented not being the centre of attention and she didn't like to share that attention with anyoneânot even a baby.
âHe grew out of it.'
âOh, pityâ¦at least make sure he's not covered in jam or anything!' Chloe found it hard to accept that spotless, freshly scrubbed and sweet smelling wasn't the normal state of babies. âI want him to make a good impression on Ian.'
If she were here right now, so help me, I'd strangle her! Tess's voice shook with suppressed outrage as she responded. âThis isn't an audition, Chloe.'
âNo, this is the start of the rest of my life!' came back the dramatic, throbbing response. To Tess's uncharitable ears it sounded as though she were practising a line from her latest part. Abruptly Chloe's tone changed. âMust dash, Aunty Tessâ¦I've got a yoga class in half an hour, and I really can't miss it. You should try it yourselfâI've really attained an inner harmony you wouldn't believe. See you soon!' The phone line went dead.
Tess didn't think she'd ever feel harmony, inner or otherwise, again as she responded urgently to the stomach-churning nausea and dashed up the narrow flight of stairs two at a time to reach the bathroom. When her stomach was quite empty she splashed her face with cold water. The face that looked back at her from the mirror was waxily pale, dominated by a pair of wide green eyes. The desperation and panic she felt was clearly reflected in those haunted emerald depths, and, even though speaking to Chloe always made her feel middle-aged, the person staring back at her looked a lot younger than her
Her feet automatically took her to the half-open door of the smaller of the two bedrooms in the cottage. Quietly she went inside. The curtains were drawn against the afternoon sunlight. She went to stand silently by the cot in which a small figure was taking his afternoon nap. He was dressed in dungareesâhe was sound asleep.
The figure's ruffled blonde hair lay in spiky tufts over his little head. His face was rosily tinged and his long eyelashes lay dark against the full curve of his infant cheek.
Tess closed her eyes and a single tear slid down her cheek. Not so very long ago if anyone had told the dedicated career girl she had been that it was possible to love anyone so much it hurtâwith the possible exception of George Clooneyâshe'd have laughed. But she did; she loved this little boy with all her heart and soul. Part of her wanted to bundle him up and run away somewhere safe, somewhere Chloe would never find them.
The sleeping figure opened his eyes, saw Tess and, with a sleepy smile, closed them again. Tess held the noisy sobs in check until she had stumbled out of the room.
The village was in total darkness as Rafe Farrar drove towards the stone manor house tucked behind its high walls on the outskirts of this picturesque little hamlet. A hamlet that was just far enough away from the popular stretch of coast to avoid exploitation and remain relatively unspoilt and sleepy.
He'd spent what most people would consider his idyllic childhood here. Since the death of his elder brother, Alec, and their father's enforced retreat to the Riviera, the only permanent occupant of the Farrar family home was his grandfather, an elderly but far from frail individual who was not adapting well to his belated retirement from the world of international banking. His relationship with his grandfather being what it was, Rafe could be sure of a
welcome from the old man, who didn't consider the black sheep of the family warranted breaking out the fatted calf for.
When he'd made the arrangements for this duty visit he hadn't planned on making the journey alone; a third party to act as buffer zone was always helpful when he and the old man came face to face. In this instance he'd been hoping to introduce the third party as his future wife. This had always been a situation with explosive possibilities, especially when his grandparent had learnt this future bride would have to rid herself of a husband before she made her second trip to the altar. At least he didn't have that problem now.
Thinking about the reason for his solitary stateâfor an individual not given to brooding or self-pity, he was catching on fastâkept the mobile curve of Rafe's sensual lips in a firm thin line. He was normally a scrupulously careful driver, but his dark embittered gaze did not on this occasion flicker towards the speedometer as his big powerful motor sped grimly through the narrow silent main street.
His language went rapidly downhill from this point as, with a display of reflexes that bordered on the supernatural, he only hit the dog that had darted out in front of him a glancing blow.
Still cursing, he leapt from the car, performing this simple task with the athletic fluidity that typified all his movements. He noticed immediately that his front headlight had not escaped as lightly as the animal. He kicked aside the broken glass that surrounded the tree he'd collided with. His unbroken headlight picked up the mongrel that lay trembling on the grass verge.
âAll right, boy,' he crooned in a firm but soothing voice. With the careless confidence of someone who had never experienced a moment's nervousness with any animalâand this one was big and powerfulâRafe's capable hands moved gently over the animal's spare frame. The dog endured his examination passively. Rafe was no expert but it seemed likely to him that the animal was suffering from shock rather than anything more immediately life-threatening.
âLooks like this was your lucky night, mate.' Rafe scratched the dog, who gazed up at him with slavish adoration, beneath one ear. âThat makes one of us,' he added bitterly. He didn't need to look at the tag on the mutt's collar to work out where this jaywalker originated from.
This wasn't the sort of animal most people would consider worth a broken headlight. This was the sort of animal that looked mean, the sort of animal that was left behind at the animal shelter when all the more appealing ones had been selected. His off-white tatty coat didn't gleam, it was covered in an interlaced network of old scars; then there was the mega-bad case of canine halitosis. Given all this, there was only one person this animal
belong to. Even when they'd been kids she'd always managed to pick up every waif and stray within a ten-mile radius!
Trying not to think about what was happening to his pale leather upholstery, Rafe laid the old dog out on the back seat. Climbing back into the car, he headed in the direction of the picture-postcard cottage Tess Trelawny had inherited from her grandmother, old Agnes Trelawny, four years back.
Even if the lights hadn't been unexpectedly on in the cottage Rafe would have had no qualms about waking Tess up. Actually he welcomed the fact he had a legitimate reason to yell at someoneâtonight he
wanted to yell! And with Tess he didn't have to fret about delicate female sensitivities; she was as tough as old boots and well able to give as good as she got. The more he thought about it, the happier he felt about his enforced detour.
Arms full of damp, smelly dog, he gave the kitchen door a belligerent kick. It opened of its own accord with a horror-movie series of loud creaks.
âYour door needs oiling,' he announced, stepping over the well-lit threshold.
It wasn't just the bright light that made him blink and recoil in shock, it was the disordered state of the room. For some reason the entire contents of the kitchen cupboards seemed to be stacked in haphazard piles all around the room.
âMy God!' he ejaculated. âHas there been a break-in?' He voiced the first most likely possibility that came to mind.
The shortish, slim figure, dressed incongruously in a cotton jersey nightshirt and yellow rubber glovesâa fashion statement this ensemble was notâignored this question completely.
Tess rose in some agitation from her crouched position in front of one of the empty kitchen cupboards and rushed forward.
âBaggins!' she shrieked huskily. âWhat have you done to him?' she demanded indignantly of Rafe.
âWhy didn't you lock the door?' he enquired with a censorious frown. âI could have been anyone!'
Tess spared her caller a brief unfriendly glare before her attention returned to the dog. âBut you turned out to be you.
Aren't I the lucky one?
' she drawled.
âQuit that!' he rapped out sternly as she tried to forcibly transfer the animal from his arms to her skinny ones. âHe's too heavy for you. Besides, the miserable, misbegotten hound is quite capable of walking under his own steam.'
To demonstrate this he placed the animal on the floor. âI just didn't want to risk him sloping off again and killing some poor unsuspecting motorist.' He pointedly snapped shut the door behind him.
âOh!' Tess's anxiety retreated slightly as Baggins began to behave like the puppy he no longer was. âI fixed the fence, only he's started burrowing under it. You hit him with that flashy car of yours, I suppose?' Her full lips pursed in disapproval.
âBarely.' He noticed that Tess's narrow feet were bare too. Like the rest of her they were small, and though she was skinny it wasn't a matchstick, angular sort of skinniness, more a pleasing, rounded, supple sveltenessâ¦
Rafe was unprepared for the mental postscript, only once the thought was out there it seemed natural to speculate on what was underneath the skimpy shirt thing. He cleared his throat and managed to drag his wayward thoughts to a slightly less tacky levelâit wasn't thinking about sex that bothered him, it was thinking about sex and Tess simultaneously!
âSpare me chapter and verse on your lightning reflexesâ¦
Rafe, who was working up a cold sweat getting other reflexes under control, smiled grimly, displaying a set of perfect white teeth. âYour gratitude for my sacrifice is duly noted.'
âOne smashed headlight, and, yes, thanks for your concern, I did escape uninjured.' Testosterone surge firmly in check, Rafe found to his intense relief he could look her in the eye and see Tess, his friend, not Tess, a woman. It was a well-known fact that rejection could make a man act and think weird.