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Authors: Penny Jordan

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BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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She had a point, Gareth had to admit, but what he couldn't admit—at least not to her—was the fact that it wasn't merely concern for matters of diplomatic delicacy that had prompted his warning to her...

'You have no right to dictate to me
how
I live my private life,' Louise continued fiercely. 'You're not my tutor now, Gareth. You have
no
control over my life or my future. You might have been able to punish me for what you decided...for loving Saul, but—'

'To
punish
you?' Gareth interrupted her sharply. 'Louise, I promise you I—'

'You what?' she interrupted him shakily. 'You weren't responsible for the fact that I didn't get my first? It wasn't because of you that I—'

'You're not being fair.' He stopped her quietly. 'And neither are you being very logical. I wasn't your tutor and I—'

'No, you weren't,' Louise agreed. 'But...' She stopped. How could she admit to him that it had been because of her confused feelings for him, her fear of what those feelings actually were, that she hadn't been able to give her full attention to her work for her remaining time at university—that her thoughts of him had come between her and her work, that the sheer effort of denying them had drained her of the energy she needed for her study?

She was, she discovered, shamingly close to tears. The sheer intensity of the anger she was feeling was unblocking memories she had thought locked safely away.

Not once during her years at school had it occurred to her that she wouldn't always be the praised, clever student, and the shock to her pride and her self- esteem, never mind her plans for her future, when her work had been criticised had been very hard for her to come to terms with.

Yes, maybe
now,
with hindsight in a very small corner of her mind, she was just about beginning to admit that the life she was making for herself, the cut and thrust of the European scene, was far better suited to her passionate nature than the much more sterile atmosphere of the upper echelons of the British legal system would have been. But it was a very, very reluctant admission, and certainly not one she was prepared to share with Gareth Simmonds.

'I'm sorry if I said the wrong thing,' Gareth began quietly. 'I was simply trying to warn you.'

'Why warn me? What makes you think that
I'm
particularly in need of that kind of warning? Or can I guess? Just because I made the mistake of...of loving the wrong man...' She stopped and swallowed, and then told him bitingly, 'The relationship I choose to have with Jean Claude
—whatever
that relationship is—is no one's business but mine.'

'In one sense, no,' Gareth agreed. 'But in another... You don't need me to tell you that Brussels is a hotbed of gossip, and—'

'No, I don't,' Louise agreed tautly.

She had had enough of listening to Gareth lecture her. More than enough. Abruptly she turned on her heel, walking smartly away from him before he could say or do anything to stop her.

She was still seething over her run-in with him over an hour later, back in her flat, as she read through some notes while preparing for bed.

What right had he to dare to question the wisdom of her relationship with Jean Claude?

But it wasn't so much his assumed right to warn her that was making her so furiously angry—and not just with him but with herself as well—as the thinking she knew lay behind it. No doubt
he
was remembering her as the girl who had fallen so foolishly in love with a man who didn't want her, and who had then recklessly compounded her folly by inciting another man, who
also
didn't love her, to relieve her of her virginity—another man whom she had realised too late that she—

Those memories, that knowledge, and seeing Gareth, had reminded her of that hurt, and of her own foolishness.

 

Waking up early, unable to get back to sleep, Louise went down to the basement of the apartment complex which housed the gym and the swimming pool. At this hour of the morning she had the pool to herself, and the energy it took to make herself complete a punishing sixty lengths thankfully robbed her brain of the ability to concentrate on anything other than gritting her teeth and forcing herself to meet that target.

The last five lengths hadn't been a very sensible idea, she acknowledged when she eventually tried to haul herself out of the pool and discovered that she was too weak to do so. Instead she had to swim tiredly over to the steps and then climb them on legs that trembled with over-exertion and exhaustion.

Her short hair clinging sleekly to her scalp, her eyes momentarily closed as she willed herself not to give in to the jelly-like urging of her legs to simply sit down and rest, she was unaware of the fact that she was no longer alone in the pool area until she heard an unwontedly familiar voice demanding curtly, 'Louise? Are you all right...?'

Gareth Simmonds. What on earth was
he
doing here? Or was she simply hallucinating, dreaming him up in some insane desire to inflict even further punishment upon herself?

Groggily she opened her eyes. No, she
wasn't
dreaming. Despite the fact that the pool area was almost tropically heated, her skin suddenly broke out in a rash of goosebumps, and she started visibly to shiver. Gareth was standing less than a yard away from her, wearing a pair of businesslike black swimming shorts. The rest of his body...

Louise swallowed and gulped, then tried to draw extra oxygen into her suddenly starved lungs, a hot flood of perspiration drenching her skin despite the fact that she was actually trembling as though she was icy cold.

The sight of him brought down an avalanche of memories for which she was totally unprepared, against which she had absolutely no defences, and she could feel her knees starting to buckle under their crushing weight.

In Tuscany he might have been more tanned, but so far as she could see nothing else had changed. His body was still the same male powerhouse of energy and sensuality, and, yes, he
did
still have that same arrowing of dark hair, so very masculine and dangerous to look at, but so soft and sensually stirring to' touch.

'Louise...'

She could feel the strength starting to leave her legs as the blood roared in her head and her heart pounded with sickening force.

'No!'

Automatically she put out a defensive hand as she saw Gareth coming towards her, but he ignored it, catching hold of her by the shoulders, his face, his eyes, expressing an unexpected and unfamiliar look of concern as he demanded urgently, 'What is it? What's wrong? Are you feeling ill...?'

'Let...let me go,' Louise demanded, frantically struggling to pull herself free of his grip, but the tiled surround of the pool felt slippery beneath her wet feet, and she could feel herself starting to lose her balance, so that instead of pushing herself free of Gareth she had, instead, to cling onto him for security. This close she could smell the heat of his body—not, this time, as strongly musky as it had been on that fateful Tuscan day—and mingling with it a hint of lemon freshness from his soap... or aftershave... ?

Louise wasn't even aware she had asked such a question until she heard him reply, his voice disconcertingly close to her ear, 'Shower gel. My eldest niece's choice—a Christmas present.'

'In Italy you smelled of...'

What was she saying... thinking... betraying... ? She cursed herself mentally in desperation, but it was too late; Gareth was already holding her slightly away from him so that he could look down into her face, her eyes...

Louise blinked and tried to look away from him, but it was impossible. She felt her breath rattle in her lungs as their glances locked, clung, refusing to let go, like lovers' bodies.

'In Italy
you
smelled of sunshine and heat and of being a woman,' Gareth told her softly, as though he knew exactly what it was she had been about to betray herself by saying.

Louise opened her mouth to protest that what he was saying was wrong, that he was speaking the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the forbidden, but no words came out, and instead she discovered that she was focusing blindly on his mouth, studying it, staring at it as though she was starved for the...

'Louise...'

Afterwards she would ask herself why on earth her brain interpreted the way he said her name as an invitation to do what she did—to close the gap between them and to press her mouth against his, not so much in a kiss, more in a compulsive, instinctive response to a hunger that demanded far, far more than the mere meeting of their lips.

What she was doing was wrong, crazy... insane. But it was too late. She had already done it and Gareth... Gareth...

Heavily she closed her eyes as she heard him repeating her name over and over again, before he started to kiss her.

Her body trembled violently beneath his hands, but she made no move to stop him when he wrenched down the top of her swimsuit, baring her breasts to his touch. Against her body she could feel the hardness of his, and her own flesh leapt in immediate response, immediate recognition of its first...its
only
lover.

Heedlessly, ruthlessly, it laid waste to all the barriers she had painstakingly erected between herself and, and this... And instead of repudiating him, as she knew she must, Louise heard herself moaning his name, sobbing it aloud almost as she hung helplessly in his arms, her body no longer her own to command or protect, responsive only to what he might tell it or arouse within it.

She could feel the heat of his chest against the naked dampness of her breasts, and it was as though their first coming together had only been yesterday. As though she had learned
nothing
in the time since— as though all the resolutions she had made for herself in those long, agonising weeks and months afterwards, when she had finally realised just what was happening to her, just what
had
happened to her, had never been. As though this man had never caused her so much pain that she had sworn she would
never,
ever forget the agony of the lesson she had learned through him.

A sound, a long, tortured, aching sob of need and longing, tore at her throat. Beneath Gareth's hands she felt her body tremble and burn; beneath his mouth she felt herself melt, yield, yearn, until the intensity of her own hunger threatened to devour her.

All sense of place or time had long since left her. They could have been anywhere; she really didn't care. All that really mattered, all that was actually real, was what she could feel. Eagerly she pressed herself against Gareth, and felt the answering hardness in his own body.

Somewhere in the distance a door slammed, and abruptly Louise came back to reality. Immediately she pulled back from Gareth, covering her exposed breasts with her hands and then turning her back to him as she frantically struggled with the straps of her swimsuit.

'Louise.'

She could hear him saying her name urgently, but she shook her head in denial of whatever it was he might want to say to her, not even daring to turn round, knowing she couldn't allow herself to look at him as she denied him fiercely. 'No. No! Just leave me alone, Gareth...
leave me alone.'

And without giving him the chance to stop her she started to walk away from him, and then to run.

 

Silently Gareth watched her go. What was there, after all, that he could say? What explanation, apology could he make for what he had done? To admit that he had momentarily lost control would make matters worse rather than better, and as for pointing out to her that she had been similarly vulnerable...

To see that tormented hurt in her eyes, to feel the need coursing through her body, to sense the longing she was so obviously struggling to repress and to know that she was repressing it because she still wanted, still loved another man, a man she could not have, had been like receiving a death blow, which was ironic when he had long ago assured himself—and believed those assurances—that he had come to terms with the knowledge that she loved someone else.

In Italy he had told himself initially that it had been anger, irritation, impatience with the way she was so wantonly and childishly destroying the pleasure of sharing herself with a partner who genuinely cared about her that had driven him to do what he had done. But he had known the moment he touched her that he was lying to himself, that he was just as guilty, just as burdened by inappropriate emotions for someone who did not want him as she was herself.

He
might not have called those emotions love—not then—but he had known for sure what they were when he had held her in his arms and heard her cry out another man's name while
he
loved her.

Gareth closed his eyes. The Louise he had fallen in love with had been a mere girl, and he had derided himself for having done so, telling himself it was the classic tale of the mature tutor falling for his youthful pupil, hoping to recapture his own youth through her. But they were tutor and pupil no longer, and Louise was now a woman in
every
sense of the word. And his feelings hadn't changed, merely deepened, strengthened. But then he hadn't needed anyone to tell him that. He had known it the moment he saw her on the plane. Had known it even before then.

Had known it at Christmas, when his family had teased him about his lack of a wife and children of his own. Had known it and ached for it as he'd held his youngest nephew in his arms and known beyond any kind of doubt that the only mother he wanted for
his
children was Louise. How had it happened? He didn't know. And when? Before Italy? What did it matter now? All that mattered was that quite obviously for Louise nothing had changed, and she still loved her cousin Saul.

 

Even though she had had a hot shower to warm her cold body, and drunk a mug of coffee, she was still shivering, still shaking with reaction to what had happened down by the pool, Louise acknowledged. And no amount of water, no matter how piping hot, could wash away the scent of Gareth that still clung somehow to her own skin, which had embedded itself for ever in her vulnerable senses.

BOOK: The Perfect Lover
8.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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