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Authors: Penny Jordan

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BOOK: The Perfect Lover
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As she reached reluctantly to take the dry towel from him she could feel the one wrapped around her body starting to slide away. Quickly she made a grab for it, but it was too late. She could feel the heat flushing her face as Gareth's sharp eyed navy blue gaze thoughtfully studied her nearly naked body, but it wasn't her breasts his glance lingered the longest' on, Louise noticed; it was her ribs and the narrow over-slenderness of her waist.

'You're still too thin,' he told her curtly, and before she could stop him, much to her chagrin, she felt him swiftly and practically envelop her in the dry, sun- warmed towel which he briskly fastened round her.

'I am
not
thin. I'm
slim
,' Louise retaliated through gritted teeth.

'You're
thin,'
Gareth countered grimly. '
And
you know it, otherwise you wouldn't be so defensive. I take it that your...that Saul isn't here on holiday with your family.'

Louise stared at him, her embarrassment over the fact that he had seen her virtually naked body forgotten as she marvelled not just at his memory but also his tutorial ability to make her remember that she was still his erring student.

'No, he isn't.
Not
that it's
any
business of yours,' she reminded him sharply.

'No? In so much as you are still one of my students—a student whose standard of work has dropped lamentably—it is
very
much my business. You were right about the Fiat. It won't start,' he added, before she could catch her breath to argue with him. 'I'll give you a lift home.'

'Tare's no need for that,' Louise protested. 'I can ring my father...and...'

'I'll give you a lift home,' Gareth reinforced as though she hadn't spoken. 'Give me five minutes to shower and get changed.'

'You might
think
you're a woman, Louise,' he told her astoundingly as he turned to go. 'But in fact, in many ways you're still very much a child—as you've just proved,' he told her as he glanced from the pool to her towel-wrapped body.

 

To Louise's chagrin, when Gareth drove up to the villa with her, her parents were standing outside, quite plainly having just returned home themselves. It naturally followed that she had to introduce Gareth to them, and explain not only what had happened to the Fiat but who he was.

'You're Louise's professor!' her mother exclaimed with a smile. 'Oh, poor you, coming all this way and then having your privacy invaded by one of your students.'

'I rather think that Louise believes if anyone is deserving of commiseration for the coincidence, then it's her,' Gareth advised her mother dryly.

Hospitably her mother offered Gareth a drink—but he hadn't had to accept, Louise fumed an hour later, as Gareth was still chatting, apparently quite happily, to her parents while
she
sat in silent resentment beside her mother. That was bad enough. But when her mother invited him to join them for dinner, and Gareth accepted, Louise wasn't sure which of them she disliked the most. However, a welcome diversion was fortuitously provided when Giovanni slouched round the corner of the villa, his face lighting up when he caught sight of Louise.

'Here comes your admirer,' she heard her father warning her. Louise tossed her head, suspecting that Giovanni was even more astonished than her father when, instead of irritably rejecting his unwanted and quite obviously sexually intentioned advances as she normally did, she not only responded to his soft-eyed looks and flowery compliments, but actively encouraged them.

'Oh, dear, Louise, was that wise?' her mother sighed once he had gone. 'Maria was telling us only this morning that his family are trying to encourage a match between Giovanni and his third cousin.'

'I wasn't actually thinking of
marrying
him, Mum,' Louise told her mother meaningfully, adding pointedly, just in case anyone listening—including her wretched and far too watchful tutor—had missed the point, 'He's got the most terrifically sexy body, though, don't you think?'

'Oh, Louise...' Jenny protested, but over her daughter's downbent head she gave her husband a rueful, slightly relieved look, which Louise caught out of the corner of her eye. She knew very well how concerned her family, especially her parents, had been about her crush on Saul, and they weren't to know that her pretence of being physically attracted to Giovanni had nothing to do with Saul but
everything
to do with the impassive and unwanted presence of the man seated next to her mother, silently watching the small piece of theatre being played out in front of him.

'I think I'll just go and see what Maria's planning for supper,' she told her mother airily, standing up to follow Giovanni who had disappeared in the direction of the kitchen and his aunt. 'Suddenly I'm rather... I'm...hungry...'

Tossing her head, she left her startled parents to exchange surprised looks as she stalked ferociously after her prey.

Once inside the kitchen, though, it was a different matter. Under Maria's stern eye, Giovanni's earlier swaggeringly macho display of flirtation quickly turned into bashful silence, and while Louise herself had been happy enough to encourage him while Gareth was looking on—how dared he imply that she was little more than a child?—now she lost no time in making it plain to the young Italian that she simply wasn't interested.

 

In the days that followed Louise very quickly came to regret not just encouraging Giovanni, who had now taken to following her around at every opportunity, but even more importantly running into Gareth.

An easy, relaxed friendship had very quickly developed between her parents and her tutor—even Joss and Jack seemed to enjoy his company, going off on long walks with him to explore the Italian countryside—and, whereas normally Louise would have been able to give vent to the pent-up irritation his almost constant presence in their family circle was causing her to Katie, there was a certain amount of distance between her and her twin still, a small and as yet not totally healed sore place from the quarrel they had had at Oxford—the quarrel of which Gareth himself had initially been the cause.

When her cousin Olivia, her husband and their little girl came to join her own family the situation, at least in Louise's eyes, became even worse.

Like Gareth, Olivia's husband Caspar was a university lecturer, and the two men very quickly hit it off, so that while technically Gareth was the one who was the outsider in their family group it was Louise who often felt on the outside of the comfortable closeness that everyone else was enjoying sharing.

Part of the reason for this was that she couldn't quite bring herself to forget that Olivia was a close friend of Tullah's. Tullah, who had taken the place in Saul's heart and Saul's life that she, Louise, had so desperately wanted for herself. And, worse, Olivia had been there on that ill-fated evening when she, Louise, had behaved so stupidly and so...so dangerously, tricking Tullah into following her into the maze and leaving her there so that she could spend the evening with Saul. Only it hadn't worked out like that, and instead...

Watching Olivia and Caspar sitting with her father and Gareth in the sun one afternoon, Louise couldn't help wondering if Olivia had told
Gareth
about what she had done.

'Lou, why don't you come and join us?' Olivia called out cheerfully. 'I could do with some female support among all these men.'

For a moment Louise was tempted. She had always liked Olivia and, yes, even admired her—and, oddly, perhaps, for someone with her relatively competitive and ambitious nature, Louise had a very definite soft spot for small children, especially Olivia's little girl, Amelia. Louise had often gladly given up her own free time to occupy Amelia so that Olivia and Caspar could have some time alone. But today, seeing the way that Gareth broke off his conversation with Caspar to look at her, she fibbed quickly, 'I can't...I...I'm seeing Giovanni. He's taking me out for a drive...'

'Giovanni?' Olivia gave her an old-fashioned look, and Lyuise could see that she was surprised.

'Careful, Lou,' Caspar teased her. 'These young Italians can be hot stuff, and they aren't—'

'Will you all please stop telling me what to do and trying to run my life for me?' Louise interrupted him angrily, her anger caused in reality far more by the fact that Gareth was an unwanted witness to Caspar's teasing than what Caspar had actually said.

'First you tell me to keep away from Saul, and now you're telling me to keep away from Giovanni. I
am
over eighteen, and who I choose to...to be with is
my
affair and no one else's,' she finished in a fierce voice, before turning on her heel and starting to walk away.

She was almost out of earshot when she heard Caspar saying, 'Phew...what did I do?'

'She still must be feeling very...sensitive about Saul,' she heard Olivia telling him. Bunching her hands into angry fists, Louise almost ran the rest of the distance to her bedroom.

No doubt by now Olivia and Caspar would be regaling Gareth with the full details of her wretched stupidity. Her cheeks burned, and to her chagrin she discovered that hot angry tears were splashing down her face.

Why, oh, why had she had to bump into Gareth like that? And why did he have to keep on coming round here? The rest of her family might have made him welcome, but surely he could see that she...

S
INCE SHE DIDN'T, IN REALITY, HAVE A DATE WITH
G
IOVANNI AND SINCE IN REALITY DATING HIM WAS THE LAST THING SHE WANTED, SHE WAS FORCED TO SPEND THE AFTERNOON SULKING IN HER ROOM HOPING THAT NO ONE WOULD REALISE THAT SHE WAS THERE
.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

I
T WAS
during the last week of their stay in the villa that things finally came to a head.

Caspar and Olivia had already returned home. Katie, with whom Louise had still not totally made her peace, had gone out for the afternoon with the rest of the family, who had wanted to visit the local monastery, so that Louise was on her own. Even Maria was having a day off, which was no doubt why, she realised later, that Giovanni had decided to pay her an unexpected and unwanted visit.

She was lying on the sun-baked patio when he arrived, her bikini top untied and her eyes closed as she soaked up the hot sun and the even more welcome peaceful solitude.

The first intimation she had that Giovanni was there was when she heard his liquid voice asking if she would like him to put some suntan oil on her bare back.

Startled by his presence, she immediately turned over, and realised her mistake when she saw the way ,j)e was staring appreciatively at her naked breasts.

Immediately she reached for her bikini top, telling him at the same time that his aunt was not there and that he had better leave.

'I know she is not here,
cara
,' he told her crooningly. 'But that is why I am here. So that we can have some time together alone. I have wanted to be alone with you for a very long time, and I know that it is the same for you. Your eyes have told me so,' he teased her.

His own eyes were liquid with something that Louise judged had been ignited more by physical lust than tender emotion, but either way she was simply not interested.

'Giovanni...' she began warningly as she scrambled to stand up, but either he had misread the tone of her voice or he had decided to ignore it, because instead of giving her some distance he made a grab for her.

Thoroughly outraged, Louise tried to break free of his hold, but he was a strongly built young man, much taller than her and much, much heavier, and it suddenly struck her with a sharp thrill of fear that if he should choose to do so he could quite easily physically overpower her.

'Giovanni,' she began again, but this time, as she was all too uncomfortably aware, her voice sounded rather more hesitantly pleading than firmly assertive.

'Louise...what's going on?'

Never had she thought she would be so grateful to see Gareth Simmonds, Louise admitted as Giovanni immediately released her and started to say something to Gareth that she felt too shaky to catch.

Her hands, as she reached down for the skimpy top of her bikini, were trembling so much that it was impossible for her to fasten it, and instead she could only hold tight to it while wrapping her arms protectively across her naked breasts as Gareth told Giovanni curtly that he wanted him to leave.

'You
do
realise what could have happened, don't you?' he asked Louise sharply, once the noise of Giovanni's battered Vespa had died away.Both his expression and his tone of voice immediately set Louise's back up. He was behaving as though he were her father, or her brother, as though he had a
right
to tell her what to do, to bully and correct her.

'Yes, I do,' she answered, her voice shaking as she added, completely untruthfully, 'And, for your information, I
wanted
Giovanni to make love to me...'

'To do what?' Gareth's voice dripped with cynical contempt. 'I doubt that
love
had very much to do with what he'd got in mind...' he told her derisively.

Louise's chin tilted dangerously.

'So he wanted to have sex with me. Is that so wrong?' she challenged him, tossing her head. 'After all, I've got to lose my virginity somehow, become the woman you're so keen to tell me I'm not. And since, as I'm sure you're now very well aware, thanks to my cousin and my loving, loyal sister, I can never share that experience with the one man...the
only
man I...'

Pausing, Louise bit down hard on her bottom lip. Why on earth had she got involved in this conversation, embroiled in this situation? Just thinking about Saul had made her heart ache, and filled her eyes with treacherous tears. Fiercely she fought to suppress them.

'It doesn't matter to me who the
hell
it is—who
he
is any longer.' Louise virtually spat at him. 'I just don't care...'

She had said more, far more than she had ever intended to say. Much more...too much, she acknowledged shakily. But instead of taunting her for her immaturity, instead of talking down to her as he had been doing all these last unbearably long weeks, she heard him saying in a voice that shook almost as much with anger as her own had done, 'Are you
crazy
? Have you
any
idea just what you're saying? Of course it damn well matters.'

BOOK: The Perfect Lover
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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