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Authors: Penny Jordan

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BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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Ilse Weil had collared Gareth Simmonds again, she noticed as she started to collect her papers together. Much as it went against the grain for her to have to admit it, he
had
chaired the meeting extremely well. She had almost been able to see the committee members' respect for him growing as he'd dealt courteously but firmly with some of their more outrageous claims and counter-claims.

From a legal point of view, of course, his grasp of the subject would be absolutely first class.

 

Out of the corner of his eye Gareth watched Louise turn to leave.

He had known, of course, that she was working in Brussels, and it had been perhaps inevitable that they should run into one another. It hadn't been altogether welcome news for him to discover that the British representative on the committee had Louise working for her as her assistant, but by then it had been too late for him to back out.

Seeing her on the plane had been a shock that he hadn't been expecting, and he could still feel the after-effects of the jolt that had hit him like a surge of electricity when he had stood up and seen her.

Ilse Weil was still talking to him. He bent his head towards her and smiled politely. She had long blonde hair and good skin. Beneath the fine wool of her top he could see the firm jut of her breasts, her nipples discreetly outlined. Male instinct told him that she would be far from cool in bed, but his body refused to be impressed—or aroused.

Louise... She had had her hair cut short, a gamine crop. It suited her, revealing the perfection of her delicate bone structure, making her look somehow more feminine and fragile than she had done with it long. Her clothes, unlike Use's, did not reveal the curves of her breasts, and there was certainly no suggestion of any tempting thrust of an aroused nipple beneath the shirt she was wearing under her suit jacket. He had seen the flash of dislike in her eyes when she had seen him earlier, just as he had seen it on the plane. She had quite obviously still not forgiven him for what had happened that summer in Tuscany.

'Gareth?'

'I'm sorry, Ilse. I missed what you were saying.' He was forced to apologise as she placed a smooth white hand on his arm. Her nails were painted an immaculate glossy dark red. They were long and elegantly manicured. Louise's nails were short and unpolished, or at least they had been that summer in Tuscany. But they had still been long enough to leave long, raised, passion-driven weals in his skin, on his arms and his back where she had raked him with them in the frantic intensity of her sexual passion—but not for him.
Her
passion had not been for him. His mouth hardened. Had it been deliberate, the way she had tangled his name with another man's as she'd pleaded with him to satisfy her, to take her, to...?

'I'm sorry, Ilse. I really must go.' He interrupted his companion.

Immediately she pouted, her finger curling round the cloth of his sleeve.

'Oh, but I hadn't finished... But then I shall see you tonight at the dinner.' She gave him a flirtatious look. 'Perhaps I might even arrange for you to sit next to me...'

'I rather think the other members of the committee will have something to say if they think I'm paying you too much attention,' Gareth told her gently, before retrieving his arm.

An affair with a woman who threatened to be as tenacious as Ilse was obviously the last thing he wanted. An affair with
anyone
was the last thing he wanted... He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned against the wall. What he
wanted...what
he wanted was, ironically, what his mother and his married sisters were continually telling him he
needed.
A wife, children...a family... Louise!

All of those things, those life fulfilments, were denied to him, though, and had been denied to him since that fateful summer's day in an Italian villa when he had wilfully, stupidly, and for ever and ever, heart- achingly, life-challengingly allowed his emotions to overrule his intelligence.

Now, for him, there could be no happy-ever-afters. How could there be when he knew, had known, from the moment he touched her, that any other woman than Louise could only and for always be second best? And that any children he might have with her, no matter how much loved, would always stand in the shadow of the children he might have had with Louise.

He had known, of course, all along, that she had not shared the explosive, mind-shattering moment of stark truth and self-knowledge he had been forced to endure, that for her there had been no savage, searing pain of recognition for the emotional significance of what was happening, no realisation that here was something that wasn't going to remain hidden by the anger he was using to mask it, and that he was deluding himself by trying to convince himself that his reaction to her was merely physical.

He had been under no illusions; she had simply been punishing herself, trying to destroy her love for another man in the fierce heat of what they had shared. She had not emerged from the inferno of their lovemaking with her emotions transformed, transmuted, from the base metal of lust into the pure gold of love—but he had. Oh, yes, he most certainly had.

He had tried to contact her the following day, telling himself that it was the right thing to do, the responsibly aware thing to do, but when he had initially telephoned and then called round at the villa he had found it empty. It had been another day before he had been able to make contact with Maria and discover that an emergency had taken the family home.

On his own return to Britain he had tried again— telephoning Louise's home in Cheshire. Jenny had answered the telephone, her voice warm with recognition as he'd explained that he had learned from Maria that they had had to leave before the end of their holiday.

She had thanked him for telephoning and had written down his number when he had proffered it—'just in case Louise wanted to have a chat with me before the new term starts'.

There had been a brief but very significant pause before Jenny had told him a little uncomfortably that Louise had told her parents she had decided to change courses.

He had known then, of course, that what had happened between them was something that Louise didn't want to pursue. And he had told himself firmly that he was a mature, thinking man and that he would somehow get over what he was feeling.

And in a way he had. He no longer woke up every morning longing for her, and the memory of the time they had spent together was something he only allowed himself to relive very, very occasionally—or at least it had been.

His family thought the reason he hadn't married was that he was too choosy...too dedicated to his work.

'If you're not careful, you're going to end up a lonely old man,' they had warned him as, last Christmas, they'd plucked a miscellany of small children and large animals from his prone body.

'If you're not careful I shall be a
grandmother
before you're a father,' his eldest sister had told him direfully.

Since her eldest child, a girl, had not yet reached her teens, Gareth had felt impelled to deny this statement, but the truth was that, much as he would like to be married, to have for himself the obvious happiness and contentment that existed for his sisters with their partners and their families, there was one vital component missing from his life that made this scenario impossible.

He needed to find
someone
he could
love
—someone who would love him in return. He was a long way past the age when the excitement of mere sexual lust, no matter how strong, was enough to convince him that it was a sound basis for a long-term relationship.

'Please don't blame Lou for...for... She can't help it,' her twin sister Katie had told him, her voice trembling slightly as though she could feel an echo of her sister's pain. 'It's because she's in love.'

In love... Oh, yes, Louise had been in love...!

'If I can't have Saul then it might as well be anybody...' she had told him passionately, when he had pointed out to her the consequences of her flirtation with the young Italian nephew of the villa's housekeeper.

Anybody...
Even
him...
Wearily Gareth bowed his head. There was pain and then there was guilt, and of the two of them...which did he find it hardest to bear? The knowledge that he couldn't control his emotions, or the knowledge that he couldn't control himself? Both were spirit-crushing, heart-numbing emotions, but of the two... He looked again at Louise, and for some reason she stopped what she was doing and looked back at him. Even at this distance he could see the rejection and the dislike in her eyes. What would she say, he wondered, if he were to go over to her and tell her...take her...?

 

Having watched Gareth lever his shoulders away from the wall on which he had been leaning, Louise looked abruptly away from him. When she picked up the last pages of her notes she saw that her hand was trembling. Stuffing the pieces of paper into her case, she warned herself that she couldn't afford to give way to her emotions.

She hated the knowledge that he had about her, the fact that she could
never
take back the power she had given him over her, the fact that she could
never,
ever forget or wipe out what had happened between them. Even now there were times when she came awake from her dreams with his name on her lips, when she could hear an echo, the sound of her own voice calling out to him in the throes of her agony of sexual need. She had been a virgin, and yet, in the space of those few hours, her body had flowered, burst into full womanhood in a way that had left her feeling as though she hardly knew herself at all.

All her dreams of sex with Saul had centred on the thrill of finally having him to herself, of
his
desire for
her, his
arousal,
his
need. Naively she'd visualised him begging her to allow him to touch her body. It had simply never occurred to her that
she
might be the one doing the begging, that
her
emotions,
her
desires might be the ones that were out of control, that
she
might...

But in the end it hadn't been Saul who had heard those shaming cries, who had seen...felt...
known
her body's urgent need for fulfilment.

She could feel her body starting to grow hot, and she had an urgent desire to run out of the building and away from Gareth Simmonds just as fast as she could- But of course she couldn't give in to such a childish temptation. Instead she held her head high and walked as calmly and quickly as she could towards the exit.

'I'll see you tonight,' Pam told her when the car stopped outside Louise's apartment building.

'Er...yes,' Louise agreed, before climbing out of the car.

Her telephone was ringing as she let herself into her apartment. Picking up the receiver, she was surprised to hear her twin's voice on the other end of the line.

Their mother's habits of good housekeeping and thriftiness had, as Katie had once ruefully confided to Louise, proved almost as beneficial in her career as her Oxford degree, her boss at the charity for whom she worked being profoundly impressed by Katie's firm grip on their departmental budget. As Louise was well aware, Katie was not given to making expensive overseas telephone calls merely for the self- indulgence of hearing her sister's voice.

Knowing this, her response to her twin's warm greeting was coloured by a little bit of anxiety as she asked her, 'What is it? Why are you ringing? Has something happened to Gramps or...?'

'No. Everything's fine.' Katie quickly reassured her. 'I just wanted to make sure you'd got back all right and that everything was...er...okay.'

There was a photograph of her sister, of both of them, in fact, in their university gowns, on the table just in sight of where Louise was standing, and she frowned suspiciously into her twin's smiling features now as she quickly mentally ran over all the various interpretations that could be put on Katie's comment.

'Why did you leave it until my flight to tell me Gareth Simmonds would be in Brussels?' she demanded quietly.

'I wanted
to tell you,' Katie admitted guiltily. 'Don't be cross, Lou,' she coaxed. 'I just didn't want to spoil the weekend. Are you angry?'

Louise closed her eyes and then opened them again.

'What's to be angry about?' she asked as carelessly as she could. 'With any luck I shan't have to have very much to do with him.

'How much longer are you working on your current project?' Louise asked her twin, firmly changing the subject and at the same time trying to banish from her mind the annoying image that would keep on forming there of Gareth's dark head inclined attentively towards Use's bright blonde one.

'I'm not quite sure,' she heard Katie telling her.

'Well, don't forget you promised you'd try to get over here soon if you can.'

'I will try,' Katie agreed. 'It was lovely seeing everyone at home—so much has happened while I've been away working in London that there was simply masses for me to catch up on with everyone. What with Tullah and Saul's new baby—and I couldn't get over how much Olivia and Caspar's two have grown—and Mum and Aunt Ruth have done wonders with their fund raising for their mums and babes. Mum told me that she and Aunt Ruth are going to try to buy an older house for conversion into flatlets for single mothers.

'Aunt Ruth was saying that the stable block at Queensmead would make a wonderful potential conversion, and that its setting would be perfect...'

'Gramps would never agree to anything like that,' Louis? laughed, her face breaking into a wide grin as she pictured her irascible grandfather's reaction to the news that his sister wanted to turn the stable block of his large mansion into homes for the area's single mothers and their babies.

'No, I know, and so, of course, does Aunt Ruth. I sometimes suspect that the only reason she pretends to Gramps that she's serious about it is because she knows how much he loves to have something to get angry over and to fight about. He's just not been the same since Uncle David disappeared...'

'No. He hasn't,' Louise agreed, and for a second both of them were silent as they thought about their father's twin brother.

BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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