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Authors: Penny Jordan

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BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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Gareth.

When
had she known just how she really felt about him? In Italy, when she had fought to deny it with a ferocity that should have warned her just how frightened she really was? At home that Christmas when everyone had tiptoed around her, afraid of mentioning Saul's name or the fact that he and Tullah had now set a date for their marriage, when in reality Saul and what she had once felt for him had paled to the faintest of shadows?

Gareth.

She had denied for as long as she could what had happened to her, telling herself that she was just overreacting, that it was the classic virgin's response to her first experience of sex to imagine she was in love with the man who had been her partner, reminding herself with bitter scorn of how pathetically trite it was for a student to fall in love with her tutor.

You don't even like him, she had told herself over and over again. You're just transferring your feelings to him from Saul... He doesn't really mean anything to you, and you certainly don't mean
anything
to
him.

The last part of that statement might have been true but the rest of it certainly hadn't.

And so she had transferred to another course, had told herself bitterly that she was
glad
that Gareth no longer taught her, had done everything and
anything
she could to make sure that she never came into contact with him. But, while she might have been able to control her daytime waking thoughts and responses, at night in her dreams it had been different. At night in her dreams she'd ached for him, yearned for him, clung to him while her body desperately tried to relive the pleasure he had given it.

The pain, the agony of waking each morning to the reality of knowing that he didn't want her, that he
wasn 't
a part of her life, had shown her more clearly than anything else just how childish and adolescent her feelings for Saul had actually been.

With Gareth there had been no question of her trying to pursue him, to convince him that he really wanted and loved her, no adolescent fantasising that against all the evidence to the contrary she could make him love her.

Finally, she had grown up.

She was still shivering, and her head had started to pound with sick intensity, a sure sign that she was about to suffer one of her fortunately rare migraine attacks. It was pointless even thinking about trying to go to work. Dizzily she picked up the phone and dialled her boss's number.

'A migraine!' Pam exclaimed when she had explained how she felt. 'Don't even
think
of trying to come into work. I know how bad they can be.'

By now the pain was so intense that it was all Louise could do to croak a disjointed response before she replaced the receiver and somehow managed to drag herself into her bedroom.

Gareth Simmonds. Why had fate so cruelly brought him back into her life? Why?

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

L
OUISE
woke up abruptly. Her migraine had gone and someone was knocking very loudly and impatiently on her apartment door. Pushing back the bedclothes, she swung her legs onto the floor, grimacing as she realised she had gone to bed still wearing her swim- suit.

As always in the aftermath of one of her migraines, she felt mercifully pain-free, but somehow slightly unfocused and not quite together, her body and her brain both working slowly as she reacted automatically to the continued knocking and went to open the door.

'Joss! Jack! What on earth are you two doing here?' she exclaimed as she saw her younger brother and cousin.

Whoever she had expected to find outside her door it had certainly not been them.

'Lou, Jack isn't feeling very well,' her brother announced urgently, ignoring her question as he put a comforting, protective arm around his cousin's shoulders and ushered him into Louise's apartment.

'He was sick during the Channel crossing and…'

'Sick...'

As Louise inspected the slightly green and heavy- eyed face of her younger cousin she recognised that he was indeed looking extremely unwell.

'Jack...' she began in concern.

But he shook his head and told her wanly, 'I'll be fine... I just need to lie down for a while...'

'The bedroom's this way, Joss,' Louise informed her brother, leading the way as Joss guided his cousin across her small living room and into the inner hallway that gave on to the apartment's single bedroom.

Quickly straightening the bed before Jack virtually fell down on top of it, Louise frowned. What on earth were the two boys doing here?

Jack, Olivia's younger brother, had made his home permanently with Louise's parents following his father's disappearance some years earlier, and was now looked upon by Louise as more of another brother than a cousin.

His mother, never particularly maternal and suffering from an eating disorder, had announced that the last thing she felt capable of doing was single-handedly looking after a teenage boy—and one, moreover, who had already spent far more of his time with her brother-in-law and his wife than he had with her— and Olivia, his elder sister, while more than willing to give him a permanent home, had allowed herself to be persuaded by Jenny and Jon that it was in Jack's best interests for him to remain where he was, living under their roof, instead of being subjected to even more changes.

It was an arrangement which worked very well. At fourteen, Joss was two years younger than Jack, and they were not just close in age but close in other ways as well—more so than if they had actually been brothers, Jenny often said. And to Louise and Katie, growing up in their parents' comfortable family home, Jack had simply been accepted as though he were an extra sibling.

There had been some talk of Jack going to Brighton to live with his mother and his maternal grandparents once his mother's health had recovered, but when offered this option Jack had declared very firmly that he wanted to stay where he was.

An extra mouth to feed, an extra child to love and nurture was, as Louise knew, no problem to her parents, and if anyone had ever asked her she herself would have said quite honestly that she'd never thought of Jack as being anything other than a very close member of her intimate family, and she knew that her twin would have said exactly the same.

Within the family Joss and Jack were known collectively as 'the boys', just as she and Katie were referred to as 'the twins', but she hadn't missed the way that Jack had withdrawn from her just now, when she had gone to give him the same swift and automatic hug of greeting she had given to Joss, nor the way he hunched his body away from her as he lay on her bed as though somehow in rejection of her.

As she closed her bedroom door she beckoned to her brother to follow her into her small kitchen, where she automatically filled the kettle with water and, much to her own wry amusement, heard herself taking on a role which she had hitherto assumed belonged exclusively to women like her mother as she asked him, 'Are you hungry? I don't have much in, but I can rustle up some sandwiches, I expect.' And then, without waiting for a response, she continued firmly, 'What on earth is going on, Joss? What are you doing here? Mum never rang to say you were coming. I don't even have a spare room to—'

'Mum doesn't know.'

Louise, who had been just about to start slicing some bread to make him some sandwiches, stopped what she was doing and turned to face him, putting the knife down on the breadboard.

'What do you mean, Mum doesn't know?' she demanded suspiciously. There was a small silence while her brother looked down at his feet and then at the kitchen wall.

'That's one of the sketches you did in Tuscany, isn't it?' he asked her. 'I—'

'Joss.' Louise warned him.

'I've left them a note...explaining.'

Louise's eyebrows rose.

'Explaining what?' she asked warily.

'Well, I couldn't tell them what we were doing— they would have stopped us.'

'Oh, now, surely not,' Louise protested dryly. 'I mean, why on earth should she? You're only fourteen. I can't think of any reason on earth why the parents should possibly object to the pair of you doing a disappearing act...'

Joss gave her a sheepish look.

'I know. I know...' he conceded. 'But I had to come. If I hadn't...I tried to persuade Jack that it wasn't a good idea, but he just wouldn't listen, and the mood he was in I was afraid he would just up and leave anyway. At least this way I was able to come with him and persuade him that we should come here to you. He didn't want to, and it took me ages to persuade him that you might be able to help...'

'To help with what?' Louise demanded, exasperated.

'He wants to find David...his father,' Joss told her simply.

There was a brief silence while brother and sister looked at one another, and then Louise picked up the bread knife and reached for the loaf, telling Joss quietly, 'I think you'd better tell me the whole story.'

Ten minutes later, when she and Joss were sitting opposite one another in the small sitting room, Joss biting appreciatively into the sandwiches she had just made, he told her with a grin, 'Do you know, you sounded just like Mum back there in the kitchen?'

He was growing up fast, Louise recognised as she studied his lanky frame. Once he filled out a bit more he would probably top Max's six-foot frame, and maybe even grow taller than the Chester cousins, the shortest of whom was a good six feet two.

'Mmm...maybe. But don't expect me to listen as indulgently to whatever piece of mischief the pair of you are up to as she would,' Louise warned him, adding, 'You're lucky I was here. I
should
have been at work. If I hadn't had to go back to bed this morning with a migraine...'

'Yes, it was lucky,' Joss agreed, happily munching on another sandwich. 'I
was
a bit worried about how I was going to persuade Jack to hang around if you weren't here. When we hitched a lift from the ferry terminal he was all for going as far as Spain before we stopped.'

'Spain?'

'Mmm... He said that Uncle David once sent Gramps a card from there. Jack saw it when he went round. It was on Gramps' desk, apparently, although he couldn't get a proper look at it, and he says that when he went back to try and read it
properly
it had gone.'

'To read it
properly
? He had no right to be even thinking of doing such a thing,' Louise told him severely, wisely forgetting all the times she had been guilty of attempting to read her school reports upside down on her father's desk.

'Uncle David
is
his father,' Joss pointed out with unanswerable logic.

'Yes. I know,' Louise agreed. She started to frown. What she had initially assumed was just some boyish prank was beginning to take on a much more ominous perspective. So far as she knew, Jack had been happy—very happy—to make his home with her parents. She couldn't remember ever having heard him
mention
his father, never mind expressing a desire to see him. Olivia, she knew, had very ambiguous feelings about both her "parents, and had once remarked to her that she found it was much, much easier to think charitably of them now that they were not a part of her day-to-day life.

'I know that Uncle David is Jack's father,' Louise repeated. 'What I
don't
understand is why Jack should have decided he needs to see him so urgently that the pair of you have to set out to do so without first discussing it with Mum and Dad. Has there been a problem at home—a row about something...bedrooms not being kept tidy, homework not being done, that kind of thing?' Louise asked, mentally casting her mind back to her own adolescence and the areas of contention between herself and her parents then that might have led to her taking the same kind of action. Although, to be fair, she couldn't actually remember ever having wanted to leave home.

'No, it's nothing like that.' Joss shook his head, his answer so immediate and so positive that Louise knew he was telling her the truth.

'Then what
is
it?' she asked him.

'Not what, but
who...'
Joss corrected her, explaining, 'It's Max. He was in a foul mood when he was home last time. I think he must have quarrelled with Maddy because I saw her crying in the kitchen. Max had wanted Dad to play golf with him, but Dad said he couldn't because he'd already promised to take Jack fishing. Max probably wanted to borrow money off him anyway—you know what he's like.'

'Go on,' Louise encouraged him when he paused to wolf down the last of the sandwiches. She would have to go out and buy some extra food. There was no way she had enough in her meagre store cupboards to fuel a pair of appetites like her brother's and her cousin's.

'Well, I don't know exactly what Max did say to Jack, but...' Joss pulled a face. 'All Jack would say was that Max had called him a cuckoo in the nest, unwanted by his own parents, and asked Jack if he had any idea how much his school fees were costing Dad. Not that it's—'

'He did
what
? Do the parents know about any of this?' Louise asked her brother acerbically.

Joss shook his head. 'No. I wanted to tell them but Jack wouldn't let me. I think he's a bit afraid that Max might be right and that—'

'Right? Of course he isn't right. Mum and Dad look on Jack as one of us,' Louise protested indignantly. 'They'd no more begrudge the cost of Jack's school fees than they would yours. Less...'

'No,, I know that. But you know how Max is about money…'

'Yes. I do know,' Louise agreed. It was an unfathomable mystery to her how she and the rest of her siblings, her cousins, could ever have come from the same gene pool as Max.

'I suppose one of the things that makes Max so horrid is that, deep down inside, he must know that no one likes him,' Joss suggested.

Louise gave him a surprised look.

'If only! If you're trying to drum up my sympathy for Max you're wasting your time—and putting the cart before the horse. The reason no one likes
Max
is because he is the way he is, not the other way around. Look at the way he treats poor Maddy—'

Louise broke off, wondering belatedly if her mother would approve of her discussing such a subject with her younger sibling. But Joss didn't look in the least disconcerted by her comment.

BOOK: The Perfect Lover
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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