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Authors: Penny Jordan

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BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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Louise started to grind her teeth.

Well, she'd got news for him. She wasn't the Louise she had been at Oxford any longer. She was a
woman
now, an adult, holding down a highly responsible and demanding job, proving that she could control and run her
own
life, that she didn't need the constant back-up and support of her twin sister to be there at her side all the time, to do her bidding, to make her feel whole and complete. God, but she had hated him for throwing that accusation at her—just one of the scathing criticisms he had made of her!

It should have been
Saul's
denouncement of her, after she had so dangerously tricked Tullah into following her into the maze and left her there at the masked ball, that should have remained like a scar on her consciousness, a dialogue that ran for ever through her head as she tried to argue her way out of it, but oddly it wasn't. It was her arguments, her confrontations with her tutor about which she
still
had bad dreams, and still, in times of stress, played over and over again through her memory.

Oxford, the time after she had finally been forced to realise that Saul would never love her, that in fact he loved someone else. Oxford and Gareth Simmonds. Oxford, Italy—and Gareth Simmonds.
Italy
and Gareth Simmonds.

Picking up her coffee, Louise walked into her small sitting room and curled up on the sofa, closing her eyes. She didn't
want
to relive those memories, but she could feel the weight of them pressing down on her, pushing their way into her consciousness just as Gareth Simmonds seemed to be pushing his way into the new life she had made for herself.

As though the debacle of the masquerade ball had not been punishment enough for her to contend with, that following week she had received a letter from Gareth Simmonds. A curt letter informing her that he wished to see her as there were certain matters concerning her work which he wished to discuss with her.

Her parents knew she had received the letter, and there had been no way she had been able to keep its contents a secret from them—although Katie had been sworn to secrecy over the worst of her excesses in skipping tutorials. If her mother and father had not actually stood over her while she went through the humiliation of telephoning Gareth Simmonds and making an appointment to see him, they had certainly left her in no doubt about their feelings of shock and disappointment at the way she had been abusing both her intelligence and the opportunity that going to Oxford had given her.

Furiously she had blamed Gareth Simmonds for adding to her problems, while having to give way to her parents' firm insistence that they would drive her to Oxford for the interview, where she planned to stay for a few days in order to try to catch up with her work.

They had set out after breakfast, her mother patently unhappy and trying to control her tears and her father unexpectedly grim-faced and distant, and Louise had known what was going through both their minds. Was
she,
like her elder brother Max, going to turn out to be one of those Crightons who had inherited the same genes as her uncle David—the 'S' gene, as she and Katie had nicknamed it as teenagers. The 'S' standing for selfish, stupid and self-destructive.

She had
wanted
to reassure them, to tell them that there was nothing for them to worry about, but she had still been deep in shock herself, still traumatised not just by
what
she had done but by the frightening emotions which had given rise to her dangerous behaviour.

'I can't believe you could behave so appallingly,' her father had told her grimly, his voice shaking slightly with emotion as he'd confronted her with the full enormity of what she had done after the ball.

'What were you going to
do?
Leave Tullah in the maze until—'

'No... No... I just...' Tears streaming down her face, Louise had turned her head away from him, not able to bring herself to admit that she had been so obsessed by her need to make Saul see her as a woman, to make him
love
her as a woman, that she had simply seen Tullah as a hindrance who was standing in her way. Someone who was preventing Saul from seeing her, Louise, properly, and recognising that they were meant to be together.

Katie had travelled to Oxford with them to give her some moral support. She was also going to use the time to see friends who'd stayed up in Oxford to earn some money waiting at the local bars and restaurant. While her mother had fussed around her rooms, tidying up Louise's discarded clothes and books, Katie had simply taken hold of her hand and gripped it tightly in a gesture of sisterly solidarity and love.

It was only when her mother had gone to shake her duvet and straighten up her untidy bed that Louise had finally moved, pushing her away and telling her fiercely, 'I can do that...'

What had already happened was shameful enough. To have her mother move her pillow and discover that she slept with Saul's purloined shirt beneath it would have been the ultimate humiliation.

When they were on their own Katie asked her awkwardly, 'Do you...do you want to talk about it...?'

Angrily Louise shook her head.

'Oh, Lou,' Katie whispered sombrely, her voice full of pain and despair at what her twin had done, and love and pity for Louise herself.

'Stop fussing,' Louise commanded her.

'I'm sure Professor Simmonds knows what we've been doing,' Katie warned. 'I didn't want to say anything in front of the parents, but, as I told you, he's definitely rumbled the fact that I've been standing in at his lectures for you,' she went on. 'Have you got the notes I did for you?'

'Yes,' Louise acknowledged shortly. 'But how could he know of our switch? We've played tricks on our friends before now, and they've never realized.'

Katie waited several seconds before responding quietly, 'It's different with Professor Simmonds. He just seems to know. It's almost as though he's got some kind of sixth sense which allows him to tell the difference between us.'

'Some sixth sense?' Louise derided, scoffing. 'He's a professor of law, not a magician.' But even so she was left feeling uneasy and on edge. Something about Gareth Simmonds challenged her to defy him and to get the better of him, and it infuriated her that so far all her attempts to do so had ended up in her ignominious defeat.

'He called me Katherine,' Katie reminded her. 'Even though I was wearing your clothes and the others all believed I was you.'

'Arrogant, self-assured pig,' Louise muttered aggressively. 'I
loathe
him.'

But nowhere near so much as she loathed herself.

After Katie had left to let her sister draw her thoughts together—they had made the decision that, although they both wanted to go up to Oxford, they did not want to live together, nor to be thought of as an inseparable pair, and so were taking different courses and rented separate accommodation—Louise picked up the course notes her twin had left for her. But although her eyes skimmed over their contents her brain was simply not capable of taking in their meaning. How
could
it, when it, like her emotions, was still struggling to come to terms with the death blow that events had dealt her?

She had been in love with Saul and had dreamed of him returning her feelings for as long as she had been capable of knowing what being in love meant, and it had simply never occurred to her that she would not ultimately win him. Why should it? Every other goal she had ever set herself she had reached, and it had never entered her head that securing Saul's love would be any different.

Katie's writing started to blur in front of her eyes. Shakily she flung the papers down, wrapping her arms around her body. She felt so cold inside, so empty, and yet at the same time filled with such an enormous weight of fear and pain.

Automatically she went over to her bed and felt beneath the pillow for Saul's shirt, hugging it to her, closing her eyes and breathing in the warm Saul smell of him which still clung to it. But for once his faint but oh, so evocative scent failed to comfort her.

It wasn't his shirt she wanted to hold, she acknowledged as she threw it away from her with a wrenching shudder. It was the man himself.
Saul
himself. But he had made it cruelly plain to her that
that
was never going to happen.

'Saul, Saul, Saul...' Helplessly she cried out his name, whispering it over and over again inside her head as the tears started to flow.

Worn out by the intensity of her emotions, she finally fell asleep, only to wake up in the early hours, cold and shivering, her eyes sore and hot.

She was still fully dressed. She hadn't eaten, but she knew that the very thought of food was totally repugnant to her. As she got up she caught sight of the discarded notes that Katie had given her, and her heart gave a small, anxious thud.

Gareth Simmonds wasn't like old Professor Lewis. There was no way she would be able to sweet-talk him into overlooking the falling standard of her work—and Louise knew that it
had
been falling—but how could she be expected to concentrate on her studies when her thoughts, her heart, her whole self had been focused so totally on Saul?

 

'Ah, Louise. Good. Thank you for returning to Oxford at short notice. Did
your sister
come with you?'

Despite the calm and apparently friendly tone of his voice as he invited her into his study, Louise was not deceived by her tutor's apparent affability, nor by the way he'd emphasised the words 'your sister'.

Her plan of action, before her arrival here in Gareth Simmonds' study, had been to attempt to bluff things out, and to stick determinedly to the fiction that she had attended all his lectures and that
he
was at fault in mistaking her for Katie. But one look at his face, one brief clash between her own still sore and aching dark beautiful eyes and his far too clear and penetrative navy blue gaze, had been enough to alert her to the disastrous potential of such an unwise course of action.

'Sit down,' he instructed her when she failed to make any response—a first for Louise. She was not normally short of quick, sassy answers to even the most awkward questions.

It was a new experience for her to feel unnerved enough to hold her tongue and apprehensively await events. She could see a mixture of pity and irritation on his face that hurt her pride. How dared he pity her?

To her chagrin, she could feel her eyes starting to burn with the betraying sting of her emotions. Quickly she ducked her head. The last thing she wanted was for the urbane, controlled and hatefully superior man seated in front of her to guess that she wasn't feeling anywhere near as sure of herself as she was trying to pretend, and that in fact, far from not giving a damn about what he was saying to her—as she was desperately trying to show—she was feeling thoroughly and frighteningly vulnerable, and shocked by the situation she had got herself into.

Blinking furiously to banish her tears, she was unaware of the fact that Gareth Simmonds had got up from behind his desk until she suddenly realised that he was standing beside her, the muscled bulk of his body casting not just a heavy shadow but inexplicably causing the air around her suddenly to feel much warmer.

'Louise. The last thing I want to do is to make things hard for you. I know things haven't been...easy for you and that emotionally ...If there's a problem that I...'

Immediately Louise stiffened. It had been bad enough having to cope with the mingled anger and pity of her family, but to have Gareth Simmonds offering her his lofty, condescending 'understanding' was more than she could bear.

'The only problem I have right now is you,' she told him aggressively, relieved to be able to stir up her own anger and use it to keep the humiliating threat of her tears at bay.

She thought she heard him catch a swiftly indrawn breath, and waited for his retaliation, but instead he simply said humorously, 'I know that legally you're an adult, Louise, but right now you remind me more of my six-year-old niece. I'm not your enemy, you know. I'm simply trying to help you.'

'Don't you dare patronise me. I am not your niece,' Louise retaliated, standing up, her cheeks flushed with temper, fully intending to storm out of his office.

But before she could do so he stopped her, taking hold of her wrist and gently but determinedly pushing her back down into her chair. And then, before she could voice her anger, to her consternation he knelt down beside her chair, so that their eyes were level as he told her, 'Stop making things so hard for yourself. You've got a first-class brain but it won't do you any good whatsoever unless you stop letting it be overruled by that stiff-necked pride of yours. We all go through times in our lives when we need other people's help, you know, Louise—'

'Well, I don't,' Louise interrupted him rudely, adding fiercely, 'And even if I did, the last person I would turn to for it would be you.'

There was a long pause before he finally said softly, 'That's a very interesting statement, Louise, and if I may say so, a rather dangerously challenging one.'

He was, Louise recognised with a sharp thrill of awareness, looking not into her eyes any more but at her mouth.

'He is just so sexy,' she remembered her fellow female students saying when they talked about him, and now, like someone hurtling recklessly into unexpected danger, she knew exactly what they meant.

As immediate as that recognition, and twice as powerful, was her panicky, virginal rejection of it. She didn't want to see Gareth Simmonds as a sexually compelling and desirable man. She was only allowed to have that kind of reaction to Saul.

'I want to go,' she told him unsteadily. 'I...'

'Not yet. I haven't finished talking to you,' he had countered calmly. But he stepped back from her, as though somehow he had guessed just what she was feeling and wanted to make things just that little bit easier for her—which was totally impossible, of course. Louise knew that he disliked her every bit as much as she did him, and that he enjoyed making life difficult and unpleasant for her.

Holding her gaze, he said, 'Very well, Louise, if you want to do this the hard way then that's your choice. I do know what's been going on, Louise, so don't bother to waste my time or your own apparently failing brain power in trying to lie to me. In your shoes it would be pointless wasting the energy and intelligence you very obviously need for your studies on dreaming up unrealistic scenarios.

BOOK: The Perfect Lover
2.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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