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Authors: Laurey; Bright

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BOOK: Guilty Passion
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“It's okay. Perhaps I'll give you a copy of one of my thrillers, and see if it will keep you awake.”

“I promise I'll finish the history,” she said. “What I did read looked interesting. I hadn't known the island was named after a ship that was wrecked here.”

“Well, it was a long time ago. Last century. Wait till you get to the bit about how the survivors reacted to their situation, and the struggles for leadership. Jealousies, sexual rivalry, intrigues, murder, the lot. I defy you to fall asleep over that!”

“I'll look forward to it.”

“The research was fascinating,” Jeff said, as they reached the house, which was set into the hillside, with plenty of glass in front to make use of the view. “Come in.”

Chapter Five

To her surprise, Celeste enjoyed herself, sipping coffee and talking with Jeff Saunders. When she said she ought to go, he took her cup and got up. “I'll walk you back. If Ethan stops for lunch today, there's something I want to see him about, anyway.”

“He doesn't always?” she queried.

“We both have rather erratic working habits. We've been known to take a boat out and go fishing when the weather and water look promising, and have to stay up half the night afterwards to meet our deadlines.”

“You're good friends, then.”

“I guess. Ethan's very helpful when I strike trouble with my computer, and I've sometimes helped him write instruction manuals for his programmes. He says it's useful having my input because I'm practically illiterate in computer language, even though I use a word processor for my work, and some of his programmes will be used by people like me.”

“I can understand a writer living in a place like this,” Celeste said. “But I would have thought Ethan would need to be nearer to a city.”

“Designing software is not just technical, you know. It involves imaginative thinking. We creative types need to be able to get away from the madding crowd and let our thoughts flow. At least, that's the theory. Actually, of course, we just like an excuse to live in a place as beautiful as this. Ethan spends a fair amount of his time away from the island, though, just as I do. He has to contact clients, and keep up with what's happening in his field. There was that conference in Sydney last month, for instance.”

“Conference?”

“Big computer buffs' convention that he went to. Didn't he see you, then?”

“No,” Celeste said baldly. She knew nothing about that.

“Oh.” Jeff seemed surprised. “Well, I guess the conference schedule was pretty heavy.”

When they reached the top of the path to Ethan's house he was standing on the terrace, and watched them coming towards him. Jeff had not taken the path at the same pace that Ethan had the day before, but the climb was quite steep, and Celeste's cheeks were flushed when she emerged from the trees at Jeff's side.

Jeff lifted a hand in casual greeting. “Hi. I found your sister-in-law wandering all alone on the beach.”

Ethan gave him a nod and transferred his gaze to Celeste. “You look better,” he said.

Jeff turned to her. “Have you been unwell?”

Suddenly impatient, she said, “I'm perfectly all right. I'll just go and wash my hands.”

“Lunch is ready,” Ethan called after her as she made for the stairs.

She hadn't realised it was so late. Mrs. Jackson must have left. When Celeste came downstairs again, Ethan was alone at the table on the terrace, but another plate was set opposite his, and he was helping himself to salad and French bread and sliced ham.

As she paused in the doorway he said, “Come and eat.”

“Thank you. Jeff didn't stay long, did he?”

“Disappointed?”

Suspecting a sneer in his voice, she looked up quickly as she took her chair, but he was spreading butter on a thick piece of bread. “He seemed nice,” she said. “You didn't invite him for lunch?” There was plenty of food on the table, more than she and Ethan could possibly eat on their own.

“I did,” Ethan said shortly. “He declined.”

“I'm not surprised.”

It was Ethan's turn to look up, his brows sardonically raised.

“You seem to be in a bad mood,” Celeste said. “If it's because you felt obliged to make lunch for me, you really needn't have, you know.”

“I'm not in a bad mood.”

“All right, you're not. You're just naturally surly.”

He put down his fork and sat back. His mouth was grim, but a gleam of reluctant humour lit the dark eyes. “Okay,” he said. “I admit it. But it has nothing to do with making lunch for you.”

“Work not going well?” she guessed.

He paused, then picked up his fork again. “Not particularly. I take it
you
had an enjoyable morning.”

That sarcasm was there again, but she decided to ignore it. “Yes, thank you. Jeff says you often skip lunch.”

“I forget it sometimes. I eat when I'm hungry.”

“I could make lunch for you,” she said, “and bring it to your workroom if you don't want to stop.”

“Thanks, but you needn't wait on me.”

“By the same token,” she argued, “
you
don't need to wait on
me
. I can make my own lunch if I'm hungry. And I can cook dinner, if you like. I feel I should do something to earn my keep.”

He shrugged. “If you insist. Sure you feel up to it?”

“There's nothing wrong with me.”

“So you keep saying.” He regarded her thoughtfully.

Celeste said, “Jeff says you attended a conference in Sydney.”

“I attend quite a number of conferences.”

“Last month. He seemed surprised that Alec and I hadn't seen you then.”

“I saw Alec. We had lunch together on the second day. He didn't mention it?”

“No.” She didn't look at him, concentrating on her salad. “He didn't say anything about it.”

A constrained silence fell, and Celeste pushed away her plate.

“You haven't finished.”

“I've had enough.” She stood. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“No, I'll take one up to the workroom with me. What do you plan to do this afternoon?”

“I have no particular plans. But I might swim. I haven't been in the water yet.”

“I'll come with you.”

“There's no need—”

“I'm not sure I ought to allow you to go in alone.”

“You said it was safe.”

“For a normally healthy person and a strong swimmer, yes. Don't argue, Celeste. Give me half an hour and we'll go together.”

After dealing with the dishes, Celeste pinned her hair up, covered most of her body with sunscreen and donned a one-piece black swimsuit. Then tucking a towel about her like a sarong, she went to wait for Ethan on the terrace.

When he joined her he was wearing dark blue trunks and had a towel slung around his shoulders. His skin was well tanned, and she guessed he must spend quite a lot of his time in the sun.

He let her lead the way, and when they came to the beach he said, “Straight in, or do you like to soak up the sun first?”

“For a little while,” she answered politely. “But don't let me stop you if you want to go in.”

He nodded, threw the towel on the sand and strode to the water, flinging himself in and powering away from the shore in a fast crawl. Celeste lay down on her towel and closed her eyes.

The world gradually floated away, and it wasn't until she felt a light showering of cold droplets on her skin that she opened her eyes. Ethan was standing over her, his hair sleek with water and his body gleaming.

“I hope you put on some sun lotion,” he said. “Going to sleep was not the idea.”

“I wasn't!” she protested, sitting up.

“Looked like it to me.” He dropped down beside her and subjected her to a piercing scrutiny. “What
is
all this falling asleep at the drop of a hat?”

“I didn't sleep well last night,” she admitted, “that's all.”

“Did I disturb you?”

She shook her head. “No, not at all. I quite often have trouble sleeping.”

“And then make up for it in the daytime?”

“Sometimes.”

“I think I'll get Henry Palmer to check you over. He's one of the neighbours, and a doctor.”

“I already saw a doctor,” she reminded him. “If I want to see another one,
I'll
make the decision.”

She got up and walked to the water, allowing it to reach her thighs before she dived into its silken caress. In a few minutes she knew that Ethan had joined her and was swimming not far away, keeping an eye on her, no doubt. She ignored him, and floated, dived, swam gently for twenty minutes or so, before making her way to the shore. She felt as though it had been hours.

Ethan splashed out beside her. As she reached the dry sand, he suddenly trailed a finger over her shoulder blades. “You're much too thin,” he said. “These bones didn't used to be so visible.”

She flinched away from him, half turning. “Don't!”

He stopped short, standing in her way. “Don't touch, or don't criticise?”

“Both.”

“Things change, don't they, Celeste? And people. For the record, you're the last woman in the world I'd be tempted to ravish.”

He went past her and picked up his towel. As she came slowly after him, he said, “I'll see you later. Don't go out of your depth if you want to swim again.” And he walked away from her to the path up the cliff.

She stayed on the beach all afternoon, moving into the shade for a doze when the sun had dried her body, later wandering along the water's edge, then having another quick dip.

When she was dry again, she went back to the house and showered off the sand. She changed into the same dress she had worn the night before, then investigated the refrigerator and the well-stocked freezer and walk-in pantry.

When Ethan came down, she had a couple of pork chops almost ready, with vegetables and a crisp salad.

“Smells good,” he commented as he looked into the kitchen. “Like a drink before we eat?”

“A small sherry, thank you,” she answered, “if you have it.”

“Coming up.” He brought it in for her and leaned on the counter, watching as she put the finishing touches to the meal. “I think this rates opening a bottle of wine,” he said when she had placed the dishes on the table. “White?”

“Yes.”

He seemed to be going out of his way to be nice, she thought, and tried to match him. When he had poured the wine into two glasses and begun helping himself to the meat, she said, “I hope the work went better this afternoon.”

“A bit.” He commented, “You've caught some sun. It suits you, but don't overdo it, will you?”

Tempted to tell him to mind his own business, she said instead, quite meekly, “I won't.”

Ethan looked up. “So I'm a bully. Put it down to a feeling of responsibility.”

“You're not a bully,” she admitted. “And I don't see that you need to feel that way at all.”

“Don't you?” he said. “Alec appears to have left you in my care.”

“How do you make that out?”

“It's the only sense I can make of his will. And if that's not what he had in mind—”

“I'm sure it wasn't!”

“—then I still feel morally responsible.”

“I'm twenty-eight years old,” Celeste said distinctly. “No one needs to be responsible for me!”

“That,” Ethan said softly, “sounds almost like your old self.”

Celeste took a sip of wine. She wasn't sure what her old self was, but certainly she felt rather less jaded in Ethan's company, aware that under the surface of his apparent urbanity some powerful emotion was simmering forceful enough to penetrate the indifference that held her in thrall. She shivered, gulping down more wine.

Ethan refilled her glass, and she recklessly drank that, too, before they had finished the first course. Standing up to bring cheese and biscuits from the counter where she had set them out on an oiled board, she had to pause a moment because her head was swimming slightly. When Ethan offered to make the coffee, she accepted gratefully.

“In the other room?” he suggested, and she followed him, sinking down on one of the chairs. He put on a recording of easy-listening music, and when it was finished he took the coffee cups out to the kitchen, saying, “Play something else if you like. I'm going to do a bit more work before I go to bed.”

She found some other records that appealed to her and played them, not too loudly in case she disturbed him. When she went up to bed, there was a thin line of light under the door to his workroom.

For the rest of the week, Ethan breakfasted early, and Celeste came down later and spent the morning on the beach, taking a book with her. She would return for a snack sometime after midday, and in the afternoon read or rest, then cook dinner. After the shared meal Ethan went back to work, and she listened to music or read some more. Once she met Jeff again on the beach and had coffee with him, and another day she washed out some of her clothes and ironed them. Ethan asked her if she was getting bored, and she shook her head. Temporarily at least, she had no desire to lead a more active life.

“I have to go into town and get some supplies and mail,” he told her. “You can come along, if you'd like.”

“I need a pair of sandals. I suppose I could buy some.”

“Sure. I'll be about an hour or more. We can stay longer if you want to shop.”

“That should be plenty of time.”

They were on their way in his car when Ethan asked, “Are you okay for money?”

“Yes, thank you.” She didn't have a lot, but since coming to the island she had not had any expenses.

She found a pair of Brazilian leather sandals in a shop that sold everything from clothing to hardware and even had a counter devoted to makeup. On impulse she bought a bright red cotton dress printed with white hibiscus flowers. The dress, she knew, would highlight the lack of colour in her face, so she invested in a lipstick and blusher and eye shadow.

The shops were modest but bright and well-stocked. Trade was quiet, but in the season no doubt the wide streets, lined with tall palms and flame trees, would be thronged with tourists. The population was a mixture of races. Tall, brown-skinned Polynesians and darker, woolly-haired Melanesians mingled with a few Chinese, some Indian women wearing graceful saris, and Europeans sporting tans of varying shades. Hardly anyone would have met the description “white.”

“It's a fair old potpourri here,” Ethan agreed when she mentioned it, meeting him in the brick-paved square where they had left his car. “The island was apparently unpopulated until the mid-nineteenth century, when a ship was driven ashore in a storm. There was a Chinese, a Portuguese and a black American among the survivors of the
Sheerwind
, for a start. And later, of course, people of all races ended up here, for one reason or another.”

BOOK: Guilty Passion
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