by Penny Jordan
‘OH, I’m so looking forward to getting away,’ Sue murmured, easing off her shoes. ‘Aren’t you?’
She had rung up the previous day to tell Kelly that she was coming up to London to shop and they had arranged to have lunch together.
‘Jeremy is coming with us after all,’ Sue continued without waiting for an answer. ‘Jake…’
Kelly’s heart sank. There was a note in Sue’s voice that warned her of what was to come.
‘Kelly, I know you’ll think I’m being stupid,’ Sue got out in a rush, ‘but I’m so worried. Jeremy’s been so…so different since I lost the baby.’ She produced a watery smile. ‘I’d even got to the stage of wondering if there was someone else!’
‘Then you’re a fool,’ Kelly told her firmly, mentally adding to herself, Who would be stupid enough to want Jeremy?
‘Look, love,’ she told Sue. ‘Things have been difficult for you both lately. I know how much it hurt you—losing the baby…’
‘Jeremy too,’ Sue broke in loyally. ‘Oh, I know he doesn’t show it much, but he was looking forward to being a father…’
Kelly didn’t know what to say. To murmur that there would be other babies seemed so crass somehow.
‘I’m sorry, I told myself I wasn’t going to moan on to you. How’s Jake?’ Sue asked, determinedly changing the subject. ‘I like him, Kelly. He’s so right for you somehow.’
Kelly smiled noncommittally. She had already decided to tell Sue that her ‘romance’ with Jake was off. Then she was going to telephone the agency and cancel the arrangements for Corfu. So Jake thought he could blackmail her into providing him with a free holiday, did he? He was in for a big shock!
‘Oh, here’s Jeremy,’ Sue exclaimed, her face breaking into a smile. ‘He said he’d try to join us if he could.’
Jeremy greeted his wife, and Kelly tried to conceal her distaste as he turned to kiss her, making sure it was her cheek that received the moistly unpleasant touch of his lips and not her mouth.
Jeremy ordered fresh tea for himself and Sue excused herself to go to the ladies’, leaving Kelly alone with Jeremy.
‘All set for Corfu, then?’ he asked, leering at her faintly. ‘How’s the great romance? Shouldn’t have thought he was your type, Kelly. Doesn’t exactly strike me as the faithful sort either. Never mind,’ he told her with another leer, his hand finding its way to her knee. ‘I’m always ready to make sure you don’t get too lonely. You’ve only got to say the word.’ He was eyeing her speculatively, and Kelly felt sickened by the expression in his eyes. Were all men like this? Lusting after every woman who caught their eye with no thought of loyalty or respect?
‘Pity he’s coming to Corfu with us,’ Jeremy added, his eyes narrowing as he watched her. ‘So the ice-lady isn’t quite as cold as she pretended to be. How did he do it, Kelly?’
Kelly was thankful that Sue returned before she had to answer. Jeremy sickened her, but he was still Sue’s husband. She gritted her teeth, knowing now that it would be impossible to cancel the coming holiday. Jeremy had invaded the privacy of her bedroom once already—she wouldn’t put it past him to try again. She was going to have to find an opportunity to tell Sue that this time she and Jake wouldn’t want to share a room, although quite how she was going to do that she didn’t yet know.
Her vulnerability to Jake’s practised charm was something that astounded and terrified her. It was a galling admission to make, but she knew that she couldn’t trust herself to resist him if he tried to make love to her again. She couldn’t analyse what had happened to her; perhaps sheer old-fashioned frustration was the simplest answer; she was twenty-six and had never had a lover, had never wanted one, until now. She had once thought that Colin’s treatment of her had frozen all her natural responses for good, but she had been wrong. In spite of his charm, his pleasant manners, and his obvious physical attraction, something about Jake frightened her; or was it her own reaction to him which was so terrifying?
HEATHROW WAS A SEETHING CAULDRON of humanity. Kelly searched desperately for Sue’s familiar face amongst the crowd milling everywhere, wishing she had not had to come straight from the office to the airport. She felt hot, tired and grubby, uncomfortably out of place among these people in their obvious holiday clothes. She was wearing a wool and linen mix suit severely tailored, and a toning high-necked silk blouse. The temperature had started to rise during the day; she had had problems getting a taxi, and her suitcase felt uncomfortably heavy.
A light touch on her shoulder had her whirling round, her eyes darkening in bitter recognition as she saw Jake standing there. Unlike her he was dressed for the flight, in jeans which clung smoothly to the intensely masculine shape of his body, and a checked shirt open at the neck to reveal the dark hair shadowing his chest. Her heart in her mouth, Kelly could only stare at him, shocked by her own response to the intense masculinity of him. Eyes narrowed, he watched her. Did he know what sort of effect he had on her? She felt herself flushing as foolishly as any schoolgirl and turned angrily to lift her suitcase.
‘I’ll take that.’
‘I can manage.’
‘Who would dare doubt it?’ His eyes mocked her. ‘But we are supposed to be lovers, remember? Sue and Jeremy are waiting in the bar.’
He lifted her suitcase effortlessly, matching his long stride to her shorter one, indicating the bar where Sue and Jeremy were waiting.
‘I’ll get this checked in for you,’ he told her. ‘Sue’s given me the tickets.’
Sue had made all the arrangements and Kelly had sent her a cheque for their tickets. Her mouth compressed angrily at his assumption of control, her body bristling with resentment. What was it about him that affected her like this? Was it because he made her feel so vulnerable? So…feminine? Was that why she had hired him? Because somehow the fact that she was paying for his time gave her the upper hand, made her feel safer—evened out the differences between them? Was she afraid to give him any advantage over her? Was she afraid of him? She shivered, not liking the direction of her thoughts. Since Colin, she had deliberately kept any involvement with the opposite sex to a bare minimum; in fact her male friends were mostly older, well-married men; or younger less sexually aggressive ones…
‘What would you like to drink?’
She hadn’t heard him arrive and jumped slightly, her eyes widening as he placed his hand on her shoulder, bending towards her, capturing her parted lips and caressing them briefly.
‘Mmm…nice,’ he murmured as he released her. She could feel Sue and Jeremy watching them and flushed angrily. There had been no necessity for Jake to kiss her like that. It was already well established in their minds that they were lovers; there had been no need for him to underline it. Her lips tingled pleasurably, and she hated herself because she knew that when he kissed her she had felt an almost irresistible urge to touch him.
They went through the normal boarding formalities without any problems, and as the engines warmed up Kelly experienced her normal stomach-clenching fear. She had never been able to get over her dislike of flying and she knew her nails were digging into the arms of her seat, her eyes fixed rigidly on the back of the seat in front of her.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to keep calm, not to give in to the fear clenching her muscles.
‘So you are human after all,’ Jake murmured against her hair. He lifted her hand from the seat arm, clasping it warmly between his. She wanted to pull away, but the plane started to move and her nails curled protestingly into her palm.
‘It’s okay, we’ll soon be up.’ Jake spoke soothingly, transferring one arm round her trembling shoulders, her face buried in the curve of his chest, his free hand still clasping hers. Beneath her cheek his body felt solid and muscular. She was suddenly aware of the warm masculine smell of him, the reassuring thump of his heart; the comfort of his arm holding her, protecting her…
What on earth was she thinking? This was a man who made his living from making hims
elf attractive to women. The plane lifted, and she moaned a small protest, closing her eyes and clutching instinctively at the open neck of his shirt. And then they were airborne, and the pounding of her heart had lessened. The stewardesses were moving about, the relieved chatter of the passengers filtering through the tense silence of takeoff.
‘All right?’ Jake asked matter-of-factly, releasing her.
‘Fine.’ She knew she sounded abrupt, but she hated him seeing and knowing her weaknesses.
‘You really hate it, don’t you?’ he drawled sardonically.
Kelly glanced at him suspiciously.
‘Tell me something. Have you ever relied on anyone, Kelly; let your defences down; given them your trust? Or did you bury all the normal feminine responses with your husband?’
‘For “feminine” read “weak and vulnerable”, I suppose you mean?’ Kelly stormed back.
Jake was shaking his head, his mouth wry. ‘No, that’s what you mean, Kelly. When I say “feminine”, I mean a woman’s instinctive and very flattering need to lean on a male shoulder occasionally. Don’t you ever stop to think how emasculating your attitude is, what a turn-off it can be? I pity the poor male who’s fool enough to fall for you, Kelly, you’d never give him a chance, would you? You’d never let him be a man…or a lover.’
Her face was darkly flushed. Kelly hated him for what he was saying, but wasn’t it true?
‘I don’t want a man,’ she managed thickly at last, ‘or a lover.’
‘Why? Because no one could compare with Colin?’
‘You’re just like all the rest,’ Kelly hit out wildly. ‘You want a woman to be subservient, to…’
‘What I want a woman to be is a woman,’ Jake corrected. ‘A woman isn’t a man, Kelly, and that means she is neither inferior nor superior; she is simply different, and I personally wouldn’t want it any other way.’
No, because he knew how vulnerable her sex was to men like him, Kelly seethed, men who used their sexuality to beguile and deceive, just as Colin had once deceived her into believing he loved her. All he had loved was her money!
Her head started to thump and she searched in her bag for some aspirins. When Jake saw her produce them he summoned the stewardess and asked for some Perrier water, handing it to her.
‘I could have asked for that myself if I wanted it,’ she snapped childishly.
His mouth thinned. ‘As I am sitting nearer the aisle I simply thought I’d save you the trouble. You know what the problem is with women like you, Kelly—women who want to boss the whole world—they daren’t let themselves be women; so they spend all their time fighting to overcome their sexuality, fighting to make themselves asexual. Have you ever looked at yourself—properly, I mean?’ he demanded thin-lipped. ‘Those clothes, the way you wear your hair…everything laced up tight and repressed…’
‘What are you trying to say?’ Kelly whispered back furiously. ‘I’m a business-woman and my clothes and hair reflect my life-style.’
‘Exactly, you’re a cool hard lady, Kelly, and you like letting the world know it. But don’t expect me to toe the line.’
‘You’re paid to toe it—remember!’
She watched the grey eyes darken to flint.
‘Of course,’ he agreed sardonically. ‘That’s how you prefer your men, isn’t it, Kelly? Bought and paid for—obedience guaranteed. It makes you feel good, doesn’t it, reminding me of your wealth… Be careful, Kelly,’ he warned her. ‘The road you’ve taken leads only to loneliness.’
‘Perhaps that’s what I want,’ she retorted in a clipped voice, but inside she felt like crying; crying like a lost and frightened child, only there wasn’t much point, was there? She had learned a long time ago that when she cried there was no one there to dry her tears, and the only person she could rely on was herself.
She must have slept—the effect of the headache pills, because the next thing she knew was that Jake was shaking her gently, telling her that they were coming in to land. She opened her eyes, flushing self-consciously as she realised that she was in his arms.
He smiled sardonically. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he told her. ‘Even Homer nods, so they tell me. Personally I’d hate to be you, Kelly, terrified of giving in to even the slightest human instinct…but then each to his own.’
Was that how she struck others? Kelly wondered as they left the plane. She knew that she had a formidable reputation at work, but then she was head of the agency and she had worked hard to build it up. She had to keep on top of things, otherwise she would lose everything she had worked for… But what was ‘everything’? It didn’t take too much of an effort to remember back to the days when all she wanted from life was a home and family, love…she pushed the thought away. Love! She ought to have learned by now that the love she had once dreamed of simply didn’t exist. She only had to look at her friends. How many of them were really happily married? But at least they had had the courage to try; to commit themselves to another human being, whereas she… They hadn’t experienced what she had, she reminded herself bitterly, they hadn’t…
She realised with a start that Sue was watching her anxiously. ‘Are you all right?’ her friend asked. ‘You look so pale.’
‘A headache,’ she responded briefly. ‘There was a crisis at the office before I left.’
‘Good old Kelly,’ Jeremy jeered. ‘Always reminding us what a big business-woman she is! You’ve got a winner there, Jake. If I were you I’d give up work and let Kelly keep you.’
‘You might just have an idea there,’ Jake responded lazily. ‘There’s something very sexy about successful women.’
‘Ignore Jeremy,’ Sue whispered as they waited for the men to collect the luggage. ‘I don’t know what’s got into him lately.’
Kelly did. He was trying to needle her, trying to humiliate her in front of Jake. Little did he know!
Two hire cars were waiting for them at the airport. They had decided on two at Jake’s suggestion so that they could go their separate ways if they wished, and now that Jeremy had elected to join the party, Kelly was glad. Things were bad enough without the added strain of keeping up the friction of devoted ‘lovers’ in front of Jeremy.
Sue knew where the villa was, having stayed there before, so they left first, with Jake and Kelly following.
The sun was blindingly brilliant and Kelly blinked painfully as she searched in her bag for her glasses. Unlike her, Jake seemed completely unaffected by the heat. Sue had told them that it was a four-hour drive to the villa and, since the small car did not have air-conditioning, Kelly wished she had had the fore-thought to bring a change of clothes with her for travelling—she could easily have changed on the plane and her silk blouse was sticking uncomfortably to her skin, her thick skirt oppressively hot.
Jake, on the other hand, looked perfectly comfortable and relaxed in his jeans and shirt, and Kelly envied him.
They were driving through a small village when he braked suddenly, stopping outside a small general store. At first Kelly thought there was something wrong with the car, but anxiety turned to irritation when he calmly climbed out and sauntered across the road to the shop. It was the kind that seemed to sell everything, judging by the articles hanging up outside. Jake disappeared into the dim interior, returning five minutes later with a parcel which he tossed across to her as he climbed in and restarted the engine. ‘A present for you,’ he said casually.
‘What is it?’ Kelly asked suspiciously.
‘Open it and see.’
Inside the bag was a pretty pink crinkle cotton dress; a tiered affair with shoestring straps and a scalloped hem.
‘I’ll stop the car when we reach a quiet bit of road and you can put it on,’ Jake told her, apparently oblivious to her expression.
‘Put it on? I don’t want to put it on,’ Kelly told him angrily. ‘I…’ She broke off as the car screeched to an abrupt halt and Jake turned to her, sparks of anger glinting in his eyes.
sp; ‘Look, we’ve got a three-and-a-half-hour drive in front of us with the hottest part of the day coming up. Any woman with the slightest bit of sense would have realised that before she set off and dressed appropriately as Sue did. Look at yourself! You’re hot and you’re uncomfortable…but if you want to go on suffering, that’s okay by me. I simply thought you might feel cooler in that,’ he picked up the cotton dress, ‘than what you’re wearing.’
He was right, of course, Kelly knew that, and she was behaving like a cross child. She was too hot, and she should have had the sense to know that it would be much hotter here than it was at home… She bit her lip, turning away so that he wouldn’t see the glitter of tears in her eyes. What on earth was the matter with her?
‘You’re right,’ she agreed huskily. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘It’s relatively quiet here,’ Jake said coldly. ‘I’ll get out and stretch my legs if you want to change. Don’t worry about us getting lost. I’ve been to Corfu before and Sue’s given me directions.’
So he’d visited Corfu before. Who with? Kelly wondered curiously. Another ‘client’?
She wriggled out of the straight skirt, keeping an eye on his retreating back. He sat down on a rocky outcrop, the wind lifting the thick dark hair, the thin shirt stretched over the lean muscles of his back. Her fingers trembled over the buttons of her blouse. Oh, the bliss of taking it off! She frowned as she realised that the bra she was wearing would show under the strappy dress, and quickly took it off. Her skin looked pale against the warm pink cotton. Jake turned and seemed to be studying the car, and she fumbled with the straps in her nervousness, tying them in clumsy bows. Jake started to walk back and Kelly grimaced as she caught her hair in the hook of her blouse, pulling out a few pins. She glanced in the driving mirror, pulling a face when she saw how untidy she looked. Strands of hair hung down her back, her make-up was smudged and she felt sticky and grubby.
‘Here, these might help.’ Jake was opening the door, and handing her a pack of tissues. He seemed to think of everything, she thought wrathfully, dabbing at her sticky skin. The untidiness of her hair irritated her, and she pulled out the rest of the pins, rummaging in her handbag for her brush, dragging it ruthlessly through the tangled skeins of hair. She couldn’t be bothered putting it up in a chignon again, but there was a rubber band in her bag and she used it to secure her hair off her face, quickly plaiting it, while Jake watched.