Authors: Katrina Britt
Tags: #Harlequin Premiere
THE MAN AT KEY WEST
Her heart turned over at his kiss
he muttered against her lips,
I hope you know what you're doing to me. There's a limit to kissing and cuddling
you in my bed...
In spite of the longing surging within her, Sue managed to say,
t on, Jay. I
m going on assignment tomorrow."
ll come with you,
he said softly.
t any use fighting, my sweet. We were made for each other. Don
t think of the future—I
ll take care of you.
Sue stiffened. All she meant to him was another affair. She jerked back from his hold.
s no use, Jay. I intend to remain free to follow a career.
He laughed and drew her close again.
But you are free. I have no intention of tying you down.
speedboat gathered spray and wind as it roared through the brilliant blue water, and Sue threw her head back to enjoy the exhilaration of the salty tang of air. A faint smile curved her lips glossed over with bronze ice lipstick. Her skin was a delicious honey gold in the brief white bikini and her tawny hair flowed out over her beautiful satin
A faint smile of derision took the place of a pleasant one as she skimmed by the magnificent yacht anchored in the bay. A tall, dark-haired, bronzed-looking character stood on the bridge and she glared at him as he looked at her with a deliberate intentness. A challenging virility shrieked across the water at her from the handsomeness of his face and arrogant jaw. This combined with powerful width of well-muscled shoulders tapering to narrow hips in bathing trunks was enough to turn over the heart of any female. But not Sue.
She was accustomed to having men stare at her. After all, she dressed well, had the figure for it and had learned to look delightful in whatever she wore. Normally she would have turned her head away from the man’s probing look with a typical careless shrug, but there was something about this one that needled her profoundly.
The next moment she did something that surprised even herself. With an impish glint in her tawny eyes she put the tip of her thumb to her nose with outspread fingers and gave him a raspberry. His reaction was a lift of the dark eyebrows and a sudden answering glint in his narrowed eyes.
Sue was laughing softly to herself on closing into the harbour. She found herself humming as she slid behind the wheel of her long car to set it in motion. Shaking back her luxurious hair, she let the breeze lift it in a tawny stream as the song died on her lips. Goodness knows what she was singing for. It certainly was not because she was on her way home, that was if one could call a strange house furnished by her stepmother home.
Everything was going to be all right. Of course it was. Connie was a nice person really and very attractive, and what was more, her father appeared to be happy. Even so Sue felt the shock of his sudden marriage after only three weeks of courtship like something that had happened only yesterday.
It was a year ago that her father had rung her up on his nightly call from Florida where he had been on business to tell her of his sudden marriage to Constance Trail. Sue had lost her mother ten years before. She had been on her way to fetch her home from boarding school and had almost reached the school when a horse and rider had rounded the bend suddenly ill the narrow village street. Sue’s mother had swerved to avoid the collision and had driven into a wall. She had been killed instantly.
If Sue had been shattered, her father had received a mortal blow, for they had gone everywhere together. His business trips had taken him all over the world and his wife had been his business partner, valet, secretary, and general dogsbody. It was then that her mother’s younger sister had taken over. She was a secretary and she stayed with Sue’s father until Sue had graduated.
Sue had been at finishing school when her aunt married a young man she had been engaged to for years and they had gone out to Africa. For the last five years Sue had made her father her whole way of life. She had taken a Cordon Bleu course in cooking and between business appointments she had cooked for them to take things easy in chalets, caravans and rented cottages as a change from hotels.
A year ago their housekeeper had been taken ill and Sue had stayed with her, so her father had gone off to Florida alone. On the night the housekeeper had died Sue’s father had telephoned about his sudden marriage. Sue had reeled under the double blow, for the housekeeper had come to her parents long before she was born. She had never known life without the kindly woman who had looked after them so faithfully.
Sue had moved among the beautiful people in almost every capital in the world and had become accustomed to a money-coloured universe. But by the time she was twenty-three the life began to pall a little, and she began to pine for their home in the suburbs of London. Their returns home had become fewer and fewer, her father preferring to be on the move.
It had never occurred to Sue that her father might marry again, even though he had said from time to time that he was not being fair to her by keeping her with him. The shock of it still caused a blast in her stomach. She put on speed along the highway as she turned the big car up an incline towards what Connie wanted her to regard as home.
Normally, Sue would have loved coming to Miami, despite waking on her first morning to cast one eye on a clock that told her that they were now several hours back. Way out across the blue ocean a cruise liner was heading for the Bermuda Triangle, and Sue half wished that she was on it, heading perhaps for the Bahamas.
Then she pulled herself up short, knowing that she was being selfish when her father was obviously happy in his marriage to a woman nothing like his first wife. The sun was a golden butterball sending out heat, but inshore, among the breakers, the ocean faded into the palest jade green, giving an illusion of coolness.
The long ranch-style house amid palms and tropical growth called the Villa Repose brought a smile to Sue’s lips as she mused that Connie had not done much reposing in getting her man. Braking outside the front entrance, she felt the rush of hot air as she slid from her seat.
Inside the house it was cool, the luxurious interior reminding Sue that her stepmother had not been exactly on the breadline before marrying her father. A uniformed maid came from nowhere to say that Connie was in her sitting room and Sue was to go right in to see her.
The maid, a rather plain woman in her forties, gave her a cool empty look, and even Sue’s bright smile failed to whip up a response. The woman’s name was Vera Klaus and she ran the Villa with her husband Hal on oiled wheels. They had both been civil enough when Sue had arrived, but they had not become friendlier—rather the reverse.
Sue put a hand to her tawny hair and pushed it back from her honey-gold face. Trying not to let the woman’s cold manner unnerve her, she made her way to the room where her stepmother was waiting. Inwardly she was hoping to find some explanation for the animosity shown her, and consoled herself that they were probably slow in making friends.
Connie was sitting at her writing desk in an elegant hostess gown of ice blue that made her blue eyes vividly impersonal. Her blonde hair was taken back in a French pleat at the nape of her neck; she was a good-looking woman with a somewhat enigmatic expression on classically-cut features. Her figure was slim, but it lacked the youthful soft curves of Sue, who felt rather than saw those ice
blue eyes regarding her shrewdly.
Connie had turned in her chair to cross long slim legs visible between the open folds of her hostess gown.
The smile was not even a good try. ‘You’re thinking that I’m not in the least like your mother?’
Sue went pink as she met the challenging blue eyes. ‘You’re wrong,’ she said forcefully. ‘I was wondering why the staff here seem to resent me.’
Connie lifted a plucked eyebrow and reached out for a cigarette from a brass box on the writing desk. She drew in a satisfying pull at the cigarette before replying. As she sent the smoke curling ceilingwards she surveyed Sue’s flushed face through the haze.
Carelessly, she said, ‘They’ll come round to it when they see how you behave.’
Sue frowned, at a loss. ‘Whatever do you mean?’ she demanded.
Connie shrugged her shoulders. ‘I expect they’re waiting to see if you throw any tantrums or anything. After all, you’ve been Daddy’s girl and your nose has been pushed out of joint.’
Sue went pale. ‘Charming,’ she said huskily, knowing with a heavy heart that she could never come really close to this hard-eyed stranger whom her father had married. ‘So what? You’ve taken my place, and why not? Daddy has a right to live his own life the way he chooses, just as I have the right to live my own as I choose.’
‘Any ideas?’ The ice blue eyes were insolently half closed.
Sue decided to be just as rude. ‘About your life or mine?’
‘I don’t think you’re equipped for any kind of life except marriage, according to your father. He wants you to get married.’
‘And I suppose you do too?’
Sue’s tawny eyes hardened and Connie stubbed out her cigarette into an onyx ash tray.
‘Naturally,’ she answered evenly. ‘Have you anyone in mind? After all, you have no qualifications for a decent kind of job.’
‘I’ll survive.’ Sue made a move to go.
Connie said sharply, ‘Most girls of twenty-five are married or living with a partner. Aren’t you interested in men?’
Sue did; not even bother to reply. She was at the door when Connie said harshly, ‘Just don’t look on us as a survival kit, that’s all.’
Sue closed her eyes briefly to squeeze out the tears as she made her way to her room. It was the word ‘us’ that brought on the emotion. Connie had no intention of sharing her home with her stepdaughter.
Wondering where her father was and too unhappy to enquire, Sue showered and felt too miserable to admire her new honey tan. Over her brief lace panties and bra, she wriggled into a sun-dress of Swiss cotton, tied a narrow scarf bandwise around her hair and picked up her purse and camera.
One thing Sue knew about, apart from cooking, was photography. Her first scoop was a flying formation of pelicans, and soon she forgot her problems in a wide variety of subjects to take with her camera. The white coral strand over three hundred miles wide and stretching far into the distance was a good hunting ground for pictures of interest.
The sunburnt lifeguard, a huge hunk of a man, made a colourful picture.
‘Say, what about a date?’ he asked in a voice as booming as rough seas landing on the beach.
Sue declined, willing to bet that he had a wife and family somewhere in the offing. Wandering on, she wondered about his home life and wondered how many hours he put in a day. Not as many as her father, she thought. I would never marry a man in a similar position to Daddy, she told herself. He was never at home, and the trouble was he had grown used to the idea of being on the move.
While Connie would accompany him on his future travels Sue knew that the all-male secretary
cum-valet who would accompany him had been instigated at Connie’s request. There had been no reason why Sue could not have accompanied them both in the guise of secretary, but Connie was not going to have anyone around her husband but herself.
Sue spent some time taking pictures at random, knowing that there would be some fine shots among them. The idea had occurred to submit them to a magazine. She was taking a scene of yachts on the water when a big shadow loomed in front of the camera. It was the lifeguard character, flexing his muscles and grinning.
Sue took several pictures of him and said ‘Thanks’ with a sunny smile. The next moment he was standing right in her path and she gazed up at him in astonishment.
‘Is there something you wanted?’ she asked, adjusting her sunglasses.
‘Yes. You,’ he told her bluntly. Immediately he reached out and pulled her against him intimately. When she resisted, he grinned more widely.
‘Trying to be hard to get, are you, my pretty?’ he grunted as he held her firmly against his bare hirsute chest.
‘How dare you, you ... you big oaf!’ she gasped. ‘Let me go!’
But he only laughed and the next moment his lips were muzzling down to the soft swelling between her breasts. Sue felt the heat of his muscular body pressing hard against her and her efforts to free herself were not making much headway. Furthermore, she had moved to a quieter part of the beach in order not to have people walking across in front of her camera. He was moving with her clamped in his arms to an even more secluded spot, and Sue grabbed at his hair in desperation.
The man, however, seemed not to feel his hair being pulled out by the roots, for his mouth sought hers in a moist smothering kiss. Revulsion rose inside her, and with it anger that gave her strength. Twisting his hair round in her fingers, she pulled and pulled at it .with all her might. Then he was lifting his head, still grinning.
‘I’m enjoying this, you little devil,’ he told her, and caught her wrists in a vice like grip pushing her arms behind her trembling body. Now he was leering into her face. ‘Why fight? You’ll find it much more enjoyable if you give in, I promise you.’
His lips locked on her own again, and Sue was filled with despair and loathing. She tried to bring her knee against him, but he was holding her too tightly. Sweat oozed from her struggling body as she wriggled and kicked, but her strength was ebbing fast. Terror took over as she realised that there was no chance of anyone seeing them in the right capacity as captor and victim. Mercilessly his lips burned in the hollow in her neck. Any moment now he would throw her down on to the sand and have his way with her. Sue was almost hysterical with fright and loathing. She began to whimper, moving her mouth from his reach as he held both her slender wrists behind her with one big "hand. Gradually her senses were becoming blurred. The surroundings were swimming around her in a haze, voices, laughter and the distant blare of a car hooter were all fading with her strength.
Then when all seemed lost release came with a savage tug and the sound of a bone-cracking blow. Sue fell on the soft sand, panting and in a sense of shock. Presently she focussed on the sprawling lifeguard, who was now sitting up nursing a bruised jaw.
‘Get, before I break your neck!’ boomed a deep cultured English voice. ‘You’ll only get more punishment if you don’t!’
Sue closed her eyes in relief as her trembling ceased. In doing so she missed the fracas between the two men. When she opened her eyes again the lifeguard was flying through the air from a judo grip used by her rescuer. Sue pushed the tawny hair, now minus the scarf she had tied round it, away from her face and took off her sunglasses.