Authors: Janet Woods
Tags: #Contemporary Romantic Comedy
When did they meet and fall in love?
Were they planning a family?
How would Leon react if I said; we met in his bed when he thought I was his fiancée, but I wasn’t - and I fell in love, but he didn’t. Though, actually, I only married him to get back my land - which I thought he’d stolen, but he hadn’t. And yes, he seems to be planning a family - but I’m not?
The whole thing was crazy and she knew how he’d react. He’d kiss me in front of everyone and she’d melt. Nobody would believe they were anything but madly, desperately, and completely in love with each other.
It seemed that they were asked out everywhere, Darcie got to wear every item in her wardrobe, and knew if they lived permanently in Perth she would need more clothes.
‘I’ve suddenly become a social butterfly,’ she murmured ruefully, as she selected a soft jersey dress in dark blue for her lunch date with Jennifer.
Leon’s hands spanned her waist from behind, and her breath left her body as he gently bit the lobe of her ear, almost compelling her to lean back against him and invite him to slid his hands up over the silky black slip she was wearing.
‘There’s a surprise for you on the kitchen table. It will look nice with that dress. Have you seen my briefcase anywhere?’
She found it under the bed, and enticed a lingering kiss from him when she straightened the knot in his tie.
‘Don’t tempt me,’ he groaned, taking a deep steadying breath. ‘I’m late as it is. Give my love to Jennifer.’
Leon was so damned sexy, she thought, allowing him to escape. He made her melt with just one look and was becoming an addiction her body constantly craved.
She heard his car drive off within minutes, taking him to one of his interminable meetings with Gary - who was being inducted into the business with a crash course in management.
No wonder he’d wanted to sell the company. He was hardly ever home, except in the mornings and late at night. She was thinking like a possessive, neglected wife! Her grin was tinged by a modicum of shame. Neglected, she wasn’t. Leon always managed to find the time for love, often before she was fully awake and at her most vulnerable and responsive.
He showered her with gifts, jewelry, flowers and chocolates. She’d been spoiled, pampered, and made to feel cherished, she thought, as she pulled the dress over her head. She slipped into her shoes and headed for the kitchen, wondering what the surprise was this time.
She must tell him to stop buying her things. She really didn’t need so many pieces of jewelry. Her honeymoon had been absolutely wonderful - even if they did have to spend an extra week to hand over the business.
The only thing on the kitchen table was a set of car keys. She stared at them for a few uncomprehending seconds, then it hit her with the speed on an express train. He hadn’t! He wouldn’t have ... surely not a car. Grabbing up the keys she rushed outside.
The BMW standing in the driveway was a shining dark blue - its personalized number plate read. Darcie 1.
Bleeping open the door she sat in the driving seat with Wee Georgie beside her, and, placing her hands on the steering wheel she stared at the array of buttons and dials. Everything was shiny and bright and smelled of new leather. She couldn’t wait to drive it.
‘Oh God,’ she whispered to Wee Georgie, absolutely stunned by Leon’s generosity. ‘This is some surprise, we don’t deserve it.’
Leon laughed when she called to thank him. ‘Now you won’t have to walk or use a taxi all the time.’
‘There’s just one thing ... ’ She bit her lip as she imagined a pained expression crossing his face. ‘I haven’t got a driving license.’
‘Ah ... I should have thought to ask.’ He gave a resigned sort of sigh. ‘You haven’t been banned from driving, or anything?’
‘Oh no, nothing like that,’ she assured him. ‘I just haven’t had much luck in passing my test. I could never afford a car anyway, so I didn’t really need a license.’
How many times did you fail the test?’
She’d been hoping he wasn’t going to ask her that. ‘Does it matter? I’ll go to one of those driving schools this time.’
‘How many, Darcie?’
‘Three,’ she whispered, turning the word into a husky cough. ‘Excuse me, I seem to have something caught in my throat.’
There was a moment’s silence, then a chuckle. ‘Did you say nine?’
‘Certainly not! I said three ... or was it four?’ A grin crept across her face when he chuckled. ‘Actually, it might have been twice now I come to think of it.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘My cousin Colin taught me. He shouted so much that I lost confidence and was always a bag of nerves when I took the test.’
‘Would you like me to give you a couple of lessons at the weekend?’
‘That would be wonderful. I’ll get a permit today whilst I’m out.’ With Leon being so good-humored and patient, she knew she’d soon gain enough confidence to pass the test. She blew him a kiss before hanging up.
* * * *
‘What’s Darcie’s cousin, Colin, like?’ Leon said to Gary when they lingered over lunch later that day. ‘He comes across as a bit of a cold fish, but in actual fact he’s a good friend to have - has a dry sense of humor and is as straight as an arrow.’
‘Not the type of person to cheat Darcie out of her father’s money, then.’
‘God, no!’ Gary sounded surprised as he looked at him. ‘Darcie surely doesn’t believe... ?’ A grin inched across his mouth. ‘If she accused him of that she must be feeling as mad as hell with him.’ He gave a short bark of laughter. ‘Actually, the pair of them are chalk and cheese, always have been.’
‘Tell me about him.’
Gary leaned back in his chair. ‘What do you want to know?’
‘Okay ... Colin and Darcie’s fathers were twins. His parents were missionaries who disappeared in Cambodia. Colin was in boarding school in England at the time, and came out to Australia to join his uncle’s family. Darcie was about six then. Colin said she was furious when he moved in. She didn’t speak to him for weeks.’
‘Jealousy. Having lost her mother she clung to her father, and Colin diverted some of the attention away from her. Darcie was always a funny, contrary little thing ...’ Gary said with a smile. ‘Shy for most of the time, but when she was pushed into a corner she always came out with her claws at the ready. Colin used to tease the hell out of her just to make her mad ... like a brother would. When she grew older and twigged on, she turned the tables on him. She had him tearing his hair out when he insisted the driving school was a waste of money and he’d teach her to drive himself.’
Leon grinned. ‘About the father, what was he like?’
‘He was one of those vague intellectual types who prided himself on his rhetoric and thrived on worship from the less gifted. He was well-liked and made grand plans and generous gestures, but he seemed self-centered to me. Everything Colin and Darcie did for him he took for granted - but if he did something for them he always managed to make it sound like a grand sacrifice, so they were left feeling guilty.’
Leon remembered the letter Darcie had received from her father. ‘He did it for me,’ she’d said. Her father had even made her feel responsible for his death.
‘Was Darcie neglected?’
‘Not exactly, but she had to fight for his attention. He’d give his last dollar to charity without bothering to check if she needed a pair of shoes or a coat first. Colin practically assumed the role of father when she was growing up, and Darcie resented it. Yet when he went to university she ended up being little more than her father’s housekeeper. She did everything for him ... except manage the finances. Colin took those in hand as best he could, and managed to keep their heads above water.
‘I’m surprised her father made a move to better his career. He was the type who relished being a big fish in a small pond. I’m even more surprised Darcie didn’t know about it, though her father didn’t place much value on the opinion of women. Darcie worshipped him unconditionally, which is all his ego would allow. I imagine that’s one of the reasons his wife left him.’
‘The career move didn’t do him much good.’
‘Darcie must be cut up about his death; not that she’d show it. She’s always got her guard up. I’ve never seen that girl cry about anything.’
‘She cried,’ Leon said softly, then turned towards the door when his former secretary came in. ‘Yes, Frances?’ He smiled when her glance went in uncertainty to Gary. ‘Sorry, your call, Gary. I keep forgetting.’
‘Yes, Frances?’ Gary said, chuckling as he mimicked Leon’s voice.
Frances smiled at him. ‘Philip Gregory just called. He said he’s running late. He’ll be about two hours behind for the meeting this afternoon.’
‘He’ll be playing golf with Martin, I should imagine,’ Leon said softly.
‘Are his supplies essential to us?’
‘His product is no better or worse than that of other suppliers ... who, I might add, are just as competitive. Martin contracted this one through the old boy network.’
‘Get Gregory on the phone please, Frances. Put the call through to me.’
‘Gregory, where are you?’ he barked a couple of minutes later, then, ‘I’m not rescheduling all my appointments to accommodate a game of golf. Get your arse in here pronto if you want my business, or I’ll use another supplier.’
Gary banged down the receiver, stood up and stretched. ‘Right, let’s pick up the architect and the building engineer, then go and inspect the site for the shopping center complex.’
‘And Gregory?’ Leon said, his grin letting Gary know he liked his style. It seemed the company he’d worked so hard to build up was now in good hands.
Gary grinned. ‘He can damned well wait here until I’m ready to see him. If he doesn’t, he’s gone.’
* * * *
Ricardo’s seemed to be the place for ladies to lunch on Thursdays. The place was crowded with women and the air twittered with gossip, as if it were a perfumed aviary. They’d been unexpectedly joined by two other women over coffee. They’d kissed the air at either side of her cheek, and chatted about people Darcie didn’t know before flitting off to another table to recount it all over again.
Jennifer seemed to know everyone, and there were frequent comings and goings. The food was good, the service bad with a long wait between courses because the waiters, all young men, chatted with the customers in too familiar a manner.
Darcie learned that someone called Philly was getting a divorce, and that Amanda Swift was having an affair with Paul.
Someone asked Jennifer if it were true Leon Price had got married on the rebound - and had she met his wife?
‘I’ve heard she’s a little nobody from the country, but rumor has it she’s a friend of that millionaire, Gary Morgan.’
‘Rumor is right,’ Darcie said coldly.
Jennifer slipped her an apologetic smile and hastily introduced her. ‘This
Darcie Price, Joanne.’
‘Whoops! I’m most sorry, darling, you must bring Darcie over for lunch so I can get to know her.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Darcie said sotto voce as the woman walked away.
‘I’d forgotten Thursday was ladies day. I hope you can forgive me, Darcie.’
Darcie’s smile said she would, but she was dying of boredom and resolved never to come to Ricardo’s for lunch again as she glanced at her watch. It had lasted nearly three hours.
Rising to her feet she murmured, ‘I’d better ring for a cab. I promised Leon a steak and kidney pie for dinner and it takes time to prepare.’
Jennifer called for the bill. ‘I’d drive you home myself but I’ve got to collect Laura from school and take her to a dental appointment.’ Outside the restaurant she took Darcie’s hands in hers and smiled. ‘Look, my dear, I hope you won’t hold what happened with Joanne against me. She’s not a bad sort. The day has been an absolute disaster and I can’t apologize enough.’
‘It’s not your fault. Joanne was right. I am a little nobody from the country. I don’t fit into this scene, and if I didn’t happen to be married to Leon I don’t suppose I’d even bother to try.’
Jennifer gave her a brief hug. ‘No wonder Leon snapped you up so fast. You’re like a breath of fresh air.’ For as long as the marriage lasted
Darcie thought about it as the taxi bore her home. She and Leon were virtual strangers. She knew nothing about his background, except what he’d let slip - that he’d been brought up in one foster home after another.
It was obvious he was talented. He’d built up a successful business from scratch and had become wealthy in the process. Yet he was able to hand over the reins once he’d achieved what he’d set out to do, so he wasn’t driven by greed.
Now his goal was marriage and children. He wanted to build something he’d never had for himself - an ideal family. She’d fallen neatly into the spot Helen had vacated. He’d discovered her weakness and taken advantage of it.
Their relationship was based on a sexual attraction that was hot and wild, and seemed to feed off itself. How could a relationship survive such a furnace of sensuality long term?
Leon was generous to a fault, but the suspicion was there that he was drawing her inexorably into his web, getting her used to having the luxuries of life, so eventually she wouldn’t be able to live without them.
One year, he’d said. He’d given himself one year to buy her love. What then? Two children with himself as the devoted father. He’d be a wonderful father, she had no doubt about that. But what would happen to her once her usefulness was over? Divorce, with a generous settlement for services rendered?
She gazed at the expensive car he bought her as she paid off the cab. Would that be part of the settlement, an exchange for the children she’d given him? She hadn’t even read the prenuptial settlement before she’d thrown it - unsigned-into a drawer.
She wished she hadn’t married him as she let herself inside the house. She’d accepted his terms, and now he’d regard her as a gold-digger. He’d never believe she’d actually fallen in love with him.
Anna had cleaned the house whilst she was out. It smelled of polish, and everything was set neatly in its place. This was a beautiful house, stylishly furnished and decorated - but it wasn’t a home.