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Authors: Kim Lawrence

An Innocent Affair

BOOK: An Innocent Affair
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“Have you no shame at all?”

“My conscience is quite clear, thank you, Alex,” Hope replied crisply.

“Do you like playing games with people?” His icy glare impaled her.

“A girl's got to amuse herself.”

“Is that what you were doing with me?”

The flicker in Alex's hooded eyes made Hope feel uneasy, but she wasn't going to backpedal now. “Well, I've got to do
something
for the next month, and I do find
older
men so attractive,” she confided with her best come-hither smile.

Alex reached out to her, and glimpsed shock in her wide blue eyes before he kissed her….

Wanted: three husbands for three sisters!

Anna, Lindy and Hope—triplet sisters and the best, the closest, of friends. Physically, these three women may look alike, but their personalities are very different! Anna is lively and vivacious, Lindy is the practical one and Hope sparkles with style and sophistication.

But they have one thing in common: each sister is about to meet a man she will tantalize, torment and finally tame! And when these spirited women find true love, they'll become the most beautiful triplet brides….

Turn the page to enjoy the third Lacey sister's story as Hope meets her match!

Kim Lawrence
AN INNOCENT AFFAIR

CHAPTER ONE

‘A
UNT
Beth didn't cry at all.' There was implied criticism in the soft voice. ‘I
always
cry at weddings.'

Hope didn't think the lace-edged handkerchief her fellow guest shook gently would have been much serious use. On closer scrutiny she couldn't detect any tell-tale smears in the smooth, matt make-up.

‘Including your own, I expect.' She regretted the dry comment the moment she made it; the shaky condition of her cousin's marriage was well known. The trouble was she didn't like Tricia and never had; she was shallow, pretentious and totally lacking in spontaneity. Being in her company solidly for the past half-hour had worn her tolerance level down.

‘Roger is in Geneva; he has business there.' The brittle defences were clearly on show. ‘I miss him, but I don't expect
you
to understand about the special closeness marriage brings.'

Hope let the insult wash over her; she'd weathered worse over the past weeks. Besides, this time she'd deserved a reprimand. You're a cow, Hope Lacey, Hope told herself with disgust. Roger's ‘business' was a ten-years-younger version of his wife, and everyone knew it. Two bright patches of colour had emerged on her cousin's cheeks.

‘Then we'll have to take lots of pictures to show Roger how gorgeous you look, won't we?' she said, her generous personality reasserting itself. ‘Smile,' she instructed brightly. ‘Anna has instructed me to point this thing at everything that moves. She insists that the of
ficial photos never give an accurate impression of any occasion. Too cosmetic.'

‘Anna always has been a bit odd.'

Hope bit back the instinctive scathing retort that hovered on her tongue. ‘Well, she certainly has appalling timing. Fancy giving birth to twins twelve hours before your sister gets married.'

Hope knew that Anna's absence had been the one cloud on Lindy's horizon today. The triplets had a close relationship, and on today of all days Rosalind had wanted them all to be together.

‘Twins!' Tricia shuddered, and from her expression Hope instinctively knew she was about to receive a detailed history of her cousin's own labour.

‘Well, it's less dramatic than triplets.' Hope heroically fixed an interested expression on her face as Tricia launched into a detailed account. She found it hard to keep the glazed look from her eyes.

The story she was hearing didn't do much for her own maternal instincts, such as they were! It could be I'm meant to be a maiden aunt, she reflected. Her smile faltered. Tricia hadn't even got to the part where her waters broke yet. This might be a long haul! Look on it as penance for that catty remark, Hope, she told herself severely. Poor Tricia. Considering how many women she knew who, like Tricia, were hanging on for grim death to the shreds of miserable marriages, she wondered that the institution was so popular.

Twenty minutes later Hope had her long silk skirts in one hand and a fortifying glass of champagne in the other. She was heading towards the small marquee set on her parents' lawn from where the foot-tapping music emanated.

Her attention was diverted before she'd reached her destination. He wasn't the tallest figure standing in the
small group, but he was easily the most arresting. As he began to speak, using his hands to emphasise a point—no wide, sweeping gestures for this man; his hands inscribed economic, precise gestures in the air—Hope pulled the camera from around her neck and began clicking.

When he turned his head and looked directly at her, for once Hope's poise deserted her. She turned quickly away, guilty as a child caught spying on her elders.

Great move, she silently cursed, trying to ram the lens cap back onto the camera. ‘Damn thing!' She bent down on the damp ground, trying to recapture the item.

‘Can I help?'

They both reached for the lens cover at the same instant, and her fingers touched the tips of a much stronger pair of hands. Hands that matched the powerful image of the man, with neatly manicured square fingernails. The hands of an artisan and not a philosopher. It was the impression of immense strength Alex Matheson emanated that had first caught her attention. She fleetingly imagined the intense vitality he exuded had transferred itself along the nerve-endings in her fingertips.

‘Thank you.' She turned her hand palm-up to receive the cap. ‘It doesn't belong to me,' she explained with a warm smile.

There was none of the immediate recognition on his face that Hope was accustomed to. She was one of an elite band of international supermodels, and her face made her public property. Strangers always made a big thing of identifying her, and after the unpleasant media coverage she'd received just lately there couldn't be many people in the country who didn't know who she was. At least he wasn't condemning her out of hand, the way a lot of strangers did, which disposed Hope to think well of him.

‘It's a good camera.' His deep voice had a gravelly, husky quality which was incredibly attractive. They straightened up in unison.

‘And idiot-proof, or so Adam says. Adam's my brother-in-law, or one of them. I've got two now.' This notion was still novel enough to make her grin.

‘I know Adam.'

‘Of course you do.' It was a small community, and as the main employer in the area Alex was bound to know most people. Adam and he no doubt moved in the same social circles. ‘Anna had the twins in the early hours of the morning. Boys. She didn't want announcements or anything today. She insists this is Lindy's day. Lindy and Sam stopped by at the hospital on their way from the church; that's why they were late.'

Alex nodded. ‘I had heard about the babies. You're cold,' he said as she shivered. ‘Shall we go inside?' He turned towards the farmhouse rather than the marquee, but Hope didn't demur; there was no competition when it came to the comparative attractions of the music and Alex Matheson! He was fascinating with a capital F.

‘I'm wearing my thermal underwear under this, but if anyone asks you to be a bridesmaid in winter have your excuses ready.'

‘I think that scenario is unlikely, but thanks for the advice. Tell me, are you really?'

The warmth enfolded her like a warm blanket as they walked into the farmhouse. Or was it the warmth and interest in his grey eyes? He had a peculiarly direct way of looking at a person, which could be vaguely unsettling, but Hope rather liked it. The less energetically inclined were clustered in groups in the unpretentious ground-floor rooms of her parents' eighteenth-century farmhouse. The wedding was an intentionally small, intimate occasion with an emphasis on informality.

‘Am I really what?'

Alex's eyes briefly touched the long line of her thighs outlined by the rose-coloured clinging fabric. He tried to picture long johns underneath the fine layer and found his mental picture kept shifting to frivolous lace and shimmering satin.

‘Wearing thermal underwear?' He delivered the line straight-faced, but she liked the lick of humour in his eyes. It was refreshing to meet a man who wasn't over-awed by her reputation, or at least one who was interested. He was interested, wasn't he? A bizarre thought suddenly occurred to her…

‘Do you know who I am? Oh, God, that sounds awful.' She winced. ‘I mean, people—men—tend to treat me…' She struggled in vain to explain what she meant. How did a girl say that a lot of the nice men were too scared to approach her, and that the sort of men who wanted her as a trophy left her cold, without sounding wildly conceited?

‘Like a goddess?' he interjected smoothly. The humour was more pronounced now. ‘Understandable.'

His grey eyes made a slow but comprehensive journey from her toes to the tip of her gleaming head. He looked as if he approved of what he saw. That in itself wasn't unusual—most men did like looking at Hope—it was the fact she
wanted
him to like what he saw that made the experience strange.

‘But not very desirable.' He
was
interested. A hiccough of excitement made her heartbeat kick up another gear. She was well accustomed to meeting interesting and important people, but there was something about this man that put him in a league of his own.

‘I'm not being reprimanded for not showing due reverence, then?'

Hope chuckled, a warm rich sound. She stopped
abruptly, a frown wrinkling her brow. ‘I don't quite remember—you're not married, are you?' Size sevens straight in the mouth, Hope—nice touch!

Alex didn't seem to find her direct approach undesirable. ‘Not even slightly.' There was the faintest of quivers around his firm rather delicious mouth.

‘Good. Can we be friends?'

Hope Lacey, he decided, blinking, had a smile that could stop a charging rhino in its tracks. She really is enchanting, and I'm a push-over, he concluded wryly.

‘Friends' had a nice, uncomplicated sound, but the feelings this man was arousing within her were far from simple. ‘The last time I met you I probably called you Mr Matheson.'

Alex winced; he'd been trying to forget that. ‘You did.' He doubted they'd ever exchanged more than a passing greeting. There had been very little common ground between a man in his late twenties and a teenager. If he recalled Hope at all it was as one of the coltish daughters of his neighbours, Beth and Charlie Lacey.

‘I was in my teens then, and you were?' He had the sort of face that was impossible to give an age too. His body certainly showed no signs of wear and tear!

‘I'm forty now—next week, actually.'

He was a man who got directly to the point, Hope noted appreciatively. There was quite a lot to appreciate about him. He wasn't pretty, more arresting, she concluded. His features were strong and angular, his high cheekbones had a Slavic cast and his jaw was square and firm. His Roman nose had obviously been broken at some point, but Hope found she didn't disapprove of this irregularity.

‘I'm twenty-seven. It's amazing how time has diminished the age-gap.'

‘Has it?' His lips compressed in a cynical smile and Hope noticed with interest that though his upper lip was firm, his bottom lip was altogether more sensually full.

‘Certainly,' she replied confidently. ‘Unless you still want me to call you Mr Matheson?'

‘Call me Alex. But it won't do anything to lessen the age-gap. And shall I call you Lacey?'

‘That's a professional thing; my friends call me Hope.' Someone murmured an apology and Alex moved aside to let them pass. He had the sort of shoulders that could single-handedly block most hallways; they were massive, as was his chest, and it made him seem taller than he actually was.

She stood five-eleven in her bare feet, and nose to nose, as they were now, she could look him directly in the eye. Alex put one hand out to brace himself against the wall as the guests moved past. This close, his physical presence was literally overwhelming.

‘I bet you can't buy a suit off the peg.' She closed her eyes and allowed herself a small groan. ‘I'm not always so personal.' She'd spoken in response to a surge of unexpected panic that had attacked her.

‘You can be as personal as you like with me, Hope. I like directness. You're right. I have my clothes made to measure.'

He had to shave twice a day too, she realised, noticing the shadow across his jaw. She was gripped by a sudden and frighteningly strong urge to sink her fingers into his lush dark hair.

‘This is silly,' she breathed with a frown.

‘And dangerous,' he agreed drily.

Hope stared in a dazed fashion into his eyes. As she watched, the pupil expanded until it almost met the dark rim that surrounded his grey iris. Her eyes slid slowly to his mouth…she licked her dry lips nervously. It ought
to be illegal for one man to have this much earthy sex appeal.

‘You too?' She was amazed he'd replied to her soft self-recrimination.

The lines bracketing his strong mouth deepened as he smiled a little grimly in response. His expression remained enigmatic. She instinctively recognised that he wasn't the sort of person who permitted his emotions to rise close to the surface.

‘Your halo's crooked.' He inclined his head towards her corn-coloured hair.

The puzzlement vanished from her face as her fingers touched the coronet of dried rosebuds that was wound into the Pre-Raphaelite curls her hair had been teased into. The tiny village church had been lovingly decorated with garlands of the same pink roses, bound together with lichen and rosemary on a base of rich, rosy velvet.

‘It was a lovely service,' she remarked dreamily. ‘Lindy looked beautiful.'

‘I suppose she did.'

‘Suppose!' she echoed indignantly.

‘I was looking at you. You looked like a glowing Botticelli angel.'

This was unexpected enough to take her breath away. He wasn't the sort of man she would have associated with flowery compliments. ‘I'm no angel.'

‘No,' he agreed in that slow, deliberate manner of his. ‘That would be boring. I can't abide being bored, even by an angel.'

‘Looks don't compensate for lack of character, then?'

‘You've got both.' He spoke calmly, as if he were simply stating the obvious.

‘Some people take convincing.'

‘I'm a quick learner.'

‘Talking to you makes a person dizzy,' she gasped. ‘Are
you
always so personal?'

‘I'll do the weather and the economy if you prefer.'

‘How about what a lovely wedding it was?'

‘I don't like weddings, but, as such occasions go, this wasn't too bad. Tell me, how did you manage to keep the affair secret? I thought when the likes of Sam Rourke married, the press from every continent would be camped on the doorstep.'

‘Sam's very good at laying false trails,' she said, smiling affectionately when she thought of her new brother-in-law. Sam was an actor of international repute, and millions of women would shed a tear, or several, when they learned he'd married. ‘Also, the invitations weren't sent out until Wednesday, and they listed the groom as “Patrick S. Rourke,” which happens to be his other name. I'm surprised a busy man like you could drop everything and come at such short notice.'

BOOK: An Innocent Affair
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