Authors: Lee Wilkinson
The night was silky dark and quiet apart from the endless shrill song of the cicadas. The sky above her head was a vault of black velvet, the stars closer than she had ever seen them before.
“Tired?” he asked.
“A little,” she admitted.
He reached for the robe she had discarded earlier, and wrapped it around her.
“In that case…” Taking her hand, he led her toward the hot tub.
It was screened from the house and terrace by a waist-high semicircular stone wall, but the front was open to what in daylight would be a pleasant view over the gardens.
As they approached, Perdita could hear the faint bubbling sound of water and see wisps of steam rising from the surface. A nearby alcove held a neat pile of towels.
Slipping the robe from her shoulders, he said, “This is what you need.”
A broad seat made a horseshoe around the tub, and when she had descended the steps, she sat down, submerged up to her shoulders.
The gentle, erotic swirl of hot water around her weary limbs felt lovely, and she was just starting to relax when Jared inquired, “Mind if I join you?”
Her breath caught in her throat.
attended an all-girls school, where her teachers, often finding her daydreaming, declared that she “lived inside her own head,” and that is still largely true today. Until her marriage she had a variety of jobs, including PA to a departmental manager and modeling swimsuits and underwear.
As an only child and avid reader from an early age, she began writing when she and her husband and their two children moved to Derbyshire. She started with short stories and magazine serials before going on to write romances for Harlequin
Lee is a lover of animals. After losing Kelly, her adored German shepherd, she now has a rescue dog named Thorn, who looks like a pit bull and acts like a big softy, apart from when the postman calls. Then he has to be restrained; otherwise he goes berserk and shreds the mail.
Traveling has always been one of Lee’s main pleasures, and after crossing Australia and America in a motor home and traveling around the world on two separate occasions, she still periodically suffers from itchy feet.
She enjoys walking and cooking, log fires and red wine, music and the theater, and still much prefers books to television—both reading and writing them.
CLAIMING HIS WEDDING NIGHT
a lovely early June day. After a miserably cold spring, a cloudless blue sky hailed the start of summer in the city.
The dust and heat and the oppressive air that trapped and held the exhaust fumes hadn’t yet built up. Instead, a light balmy breeze played hide and seek, fluttering flags and awnings, and giving London the air of being
In spite of the financial problems that at present beset JB Electronics, the bright sunshine lifted Perdita Boyd’s spirits and put a spring in her step as she walked along Piccadilly.
Tall and slender, with a natural grace of movement, even in a business suit, her hair in a no-nonsense coil, she turned male heads.
Considering herself to be somewhat nondescript, with eyes of palest turquoise and hair the bleached gold of ripe corn, she would have been surprised had she known what an impact she made.
Even the elderly, and somewhat crusty, bank manager she had been to see earlier that morning, whilst refusing to give JB Electronics a loan, had smiled at her and sighed for his lost youth.
After leaving the bank, attempting to gather herself and regain some shred of optimism, she had called in at the nursing home where her father was recovering from recent heart surgery.
John Boyd had been sitting by the long windows that looked out over the well-kept grounds.
He was a tall, nice-looking man of just turned fifty five, with a good head of thick grey-blond hair and a slight gap between his top middle two front teeth that gave him a boyish appearance.
As she’d crossed the room to kiss him, he had queried, ‘No luck, I take it?’
Sitting down opposite, she shook her head. ‘I’m afraid not. While the bank manager was sympathetic, he was also adamant that they could offer neither a loan nor a bigger overdraft.’
John sighed. ‘Well, as the Silicon Valley set-up is in an even bigger mess than we are, that means we’ve no alternative but to negotiate with Salingers.’
‘It won’t be easy. They’re a tough lot. They have us over a barrel and they know it.
‘Even so, we can’t afford to let them have the controlling interest if we can possibly help it. We need to keep it down to no more than forty-five per cent of the shares.’
‘I’ll do my best.’
‘Go up to fifty per cent if you
to. When are you going to see them?’
‘I’m going to their Baker Street offices first thing tomorrow morning.’
‘That’s good, we’ve no time to spare. Who will you be seeing?’
‘I’ve an appointment to see a Mr Calhoun, one of their top men.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard of him. He’s a tough nut to crack, by all accounts.’
Wanting to take the worried look off her father’s face, Perdita hastily changed the subject. ‘Oh, by the way, Sally mentioned that she’d like to pop in later, if that’s all right with you?’
‘It’s fine by me.’
‘She said something about getting her own back.’
He grinned. ‘She has a pocket chess set, and the last game we played, I beat her.’
Then seriously, ‘I take it she’s looking after you all right?’
‘Can you doubt it?’
‘Not really. Sometimes I wonder how we ever managed without her.’
When their previous housekeeper had left to get married, Sally Eastwood, an attractive English widow of forty-five, home from the States after her American husband died, had taken the post.
Hard-working and sunny-natured, in the ensuing six months Sally had proved to be an absolute gem. Born and bred in Lancashire, she had soon become part of the family.
A tap at the door announced the lunchtime trolley.
‘Well, I’d better be on my way,’ Perdita said, stooping to kiss her father’s cheek.
‘The best of luck for tomorrow, lass,’ he said, touching her hand.
Then, obviously trying to hide his anxiety, ‘I don’t hold out much hope of reaching an agreement straight away though, heaven knows, we need to.’
‘If there does seem to be any chance of an agreement, will you need to consult Elmer first?’
‘No. He’s given me carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to save the company.’ Then, quickly, ‘When you’ve been to see Calhoun, you’ll let me know how things are going?’
She and her father had always been very close, and Perdita knew how much he hated being hors de combat at this crucial time.
Her face soft and concerned, she went on, ‘I know you’d much rather you or Martin were doing this negotiating, but—’
‘That’s just where you’re wrong, lass,’ he broke in firmly.
‘You’ve got what it takes, and I think your chances of pulling it off are appreciably better than mine. Or Martin’s, for that matter.’
Martin, who lived with them in London and ran the Technical Information side of the company, was the only son of Elmer Judson, John’s American business partner. As well as being the apple of Elmer’s eye, Martin was also a lifelong favourite of John’s, taking the place of the son he had never had.
So for him to say that
had a better chance of pulling it off than either himself or Martin was high praise indeed.
Pleased by his vote of confidence, Perdita had walked back through the park. Feeling hungry, and lured by the sight of an empty bench in the sun, she had sat down to eat the sandwiches that Sally had packed for her, before continuing back to work.
Once back at the company’s Calder Street offices, she would grab a quick cup of coffee before starting the afternoon’s work.
While her father was convalescing, and Martin was in Japan on urgent business, Perdita was to all intents and purposes, running the firm.
Whilst coping with the extra pressure of work, she was struggling to make the final preparations for her wedding to Martin, which was now only six weeks away.
He had bought her a beautiful diamond solitaire, and their engagement had been officially announced early that spring, bringing in its wake an absolute whirl of activity.
But things were finally coming together. The church and the caterers had been booked, her dress was being made by Claude Rodine, and yesterday, after consulting her father, she had made the final arrangements for a marquee to be erected on the lawn of their home in Mecklen Square.
Now, all that still remained to be done was…
Her train of thought was suddenly and violently derailed by the sight of a tall, well-built man with dark hair leaving a taxi that had just drawn up outside Piccadilly’s Arundel Hotel.
Brought up short by the shock, Perdita stopped dead in her tracks, scarcely aware that another pedestrian following on her heels had to sidestep abruptly to avoid walking into her.
No! It couldn’t be! It just couldn’t! She
to be mistaken.
But, as the man paid the driver and turned to head for the hotel entrance, she knew that she had made no mistake. She could have picked out that clear-cut, handsome profile from a million others.
‘Oh, dear God,’ she breathed.
Jared who, after all this time, still had the power to stop her heart.
He had reached the entrance when, as if sensing her presence, he paused and looked back.
Always in the past, on entering even a crowded room, he had known precisely where she was without having to look.
Now, as he turned his head and their eyes met, she felt as if she had been kicked in the solar plexus.
While she stood and gazed at him, rooted to the spot, he smiled slowly, mirthlessly.
That smile made her blood run cold. The moment she had dreaded, and felt in the depths of her being was inevitable, had arrived.
Adrenalin surged through her and, though she knew it was hopeless, knew he wouldn’t let her go so easily, she turned blindly to run.
As he moved to intercept her headlong flight, a taxi that had pulled up alongside her to drop a fare started to draw away.
Dragging open the door, she scrambled in anyhow and, weak-kneed and trembling, her heart thumping like a sledgehammer, sank onto the seat.
‘Where to?’ the driver asked laconically, swinging out into the traffic stream.
Though all her attention was fixed on the man standing gazing after them, instinctively cautious, she answered, ‘The top end of Gower Street.’
For the entire length of Piccadilly the traffic was heavy and slow-moving and, as the taxi crawled along, the blood drumming in her ears, she kept glancing over her shoulder.
There was no sign of any pursuit but, even so, it was a few minutes before her heart stopped pounding and she could breathe properly again.
She was safe.
At least for the time being.
But suppose he had finally managed to track her down? Suppose he knew exactly where to find her?
She shuddered at the possibility.
Still, if he
, she thought, rallying a little, what could he possibly
But, recalling his smile, cold chills began to run up and down her spine, and she was forced to admit that her attempt at bravado had failed miserably.
The Jared she had fallen in love with had been passionate and caring, with a strong sense of justice and fair play. Even then, however, he had been quite capable of setting aside conventional or so-called ‘ethical’ standards and being ruthless.
She shuddered again as the word
brought a return of her previous panic.
Gritting her teeth, she told herself firmly that she mustn’t lose her head. It would all depend on
Jared was in London. It might have nothing to do with her.
He might be over from the States on a business trip of some kind. Or perhaps he was here on holiday? His mother had been born in Chelsea and he had always had a soft spot for London.
But neither option seemed logical. The Arundel was the
haunt of the rich, and the last time she had had news of him he had been virtually penniless.
Of course he might
be staying at the Arundel, but just lunching there.
She took a deep steadying breath. And it was quite possible that seeing each other had been merely an unlucky chance. A case of her being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If she hadn’t been passing the hotel at that precise moment she would no doubt have remained in blissful ignorance of Jared’s presence in town.
But, even more important,
wouldn’t have known for sure that she was living here.
Three years ago, when she and her father had returned home from California, John had taken every precaution to keep their exact whereabouts a secret.
He had changed both the name and address of the company, bought a different house in a different location, and had their home telephone number listed as ex-directory.
In short, he had made it as difficult as he could for Jared to find them.
Difficult, but not impossible…
‘This OK?’ The driver’s voice cut through her jumbled thoughts.
‘Oh, yes…fine, thanks.’
Gathering herself, she paid him, added a tip and climbed out.
As he drove away, she started to walk on. It was about a quarter of a mile to the Calder Street offices, but she had been afraid to be dropped any closer in case Jared had managed to get the number of the taxi.
Her legs still felt shaky, and she wished Martin was here in London rather than in Japan.
Whilst she had struggled to forget Jared and all the pain his perfidy had caused, Martin had been her anchor, her safe harbour, and she missed his reassuring presence.
He was an attractive man, tall and sturdily built, with fair hair and cornflower-blue eyes. A man she felt sure would make a good husband and father.
Even so, it had taken three years of patient, undemanding devotion on his part to finally get her to accept his proposal of marriage.
Now she would be glad when the wedding was over and they were man and wife. She would feel safer. Be—almost—able to believe that she had finally managed to escape from the past.
But though Martin had admitted that he had first fallen madly in love with her when she was just seventeen, she knew she would never again feel the kind of passionate love she had felt for Jared.
Nor did she want to. It was too traumatic. It had brought nothing but bitter disillusionment and heartbreak.
Or so she told herself.
In truth, it was simply that having once given her heart she had nothing left to give, just a void where her heart should have been.
All she felt for Martin was gratitude for his unfailing support, and an almost sisterly affection.
But, even so, he still wanted her and she was satisfied that she could make him happy and, while he would never rock her world, neither would he cause her pain.
When John and Elmer were told the news the two men had been highly delighted.
‘I’ve always known how he felt about you,’ Elmer had told her, ‘so I wasn’t surprised when he decided to follow you to England. I’m just pleased that his tenacity has finally paid off. There’s no one I’d sooner have for a daughter-in-law.’
While her father had said gladly, ‘I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you’ve finally decided Martin’s the man for you. Dangerfield couldn’t be trusted and would never have amounted to anything; I was beginning to think you’d never get over him.’
Only Perdita knew in her heart of hearts that she
got over Jared, and she never really would. Hadn’t she spent the last three years trying?
Reaching the glass and concrete tower block that housed JB’s suite of offices, Perdita exchanged greetings with the security guard before taking the lift up to the second floor.
In the outer office, Helen, their attractive blonde secretary-cum-PA, glanced up from her computer to ask hopefully, ‘Did you have any luck?’
Perdita shook her head. ‘Unfortunately not.’
Helen, who’d been with them for the past three years, sighed. ‘How did your father take it?’
‘Very well, really. I think he’d resigned himself.’
‘So now your only hope is Salingers?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘Then you’ll just have to charm their Mr Calhoun.’