In Bed With...Collection
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He would make the decision later.
In the garden.
LAURA told herself it was just a job she had to take on and get through—escort Jake around the garden, bore him to death with her enthusiasm for built environments and deliver him back to her father, who had announced his intention to watch a football game on television in the home theatre.
Eddie helped clear the table, following her to the kitchen to have a private word with her as they stacked the dishwasher. ‘You’re the main target today, Laura. No doubt about it now,’ he warned. ‘I’d say Dad wants Jake as his son-in-law.’
‘It’s not going to happen,’ she snapped.
‘He’s a clever guy. Been playing all sides today. And I’ve been watching you. You’re not immune to him.’
‘Which made it very stupid of you to tell him what I thought.’
‘Obvious anyway. Believe me, a guy like that knows women think he’s sexy. He would have had them vying for his attention from his teens onwards. Just don’t say yes to him.’
Easy for him, sitting on the sidelines, Laura thought savagely. ‘What if I want to?’
Eddie looked appalled.
‘He is sexy,’ she repeated defiantly, fed up with being put on the spot.
He grimaced. ‘Then make damned sure you keep it at sex and don’t end up hooked on him. The way Mum is should be warning enough for you.’
‘I will never be like Mum.’
He shook his head. ‘I wish she would leave him.’
‘She can’t see anything else. Better play a game of Scrabble with her while I’m doing my duty with Jake. She likes that.’
‘Will do. That’s a lot more fun than duty.’
Laura heaved a deep sigh, trying to relax the tension tearing at her nerves. ‘I don’t want to want him, Eddie.’
He gave her a look of serious consideration. ‘Go for it if you must. You’ll always wonder otherwise. Sooner or later he’ll turn you off and I think you’re strong enough to walk away.’
‘Yes, I am,’ she said with certainty.
‘But you’d be better off not going there.’
‘I know.’ She made a rueful grimace. ‘Maybe he’ll turn me off out in the garden.’
‘Well I won’t be falling at his feet, that’s for sure. And you let Mum win at Scrabble, but don’t be obvious about it.’
‘No problem.’ He grinned his devil-may-care grin. ‘Let’s go and fight the good fight.’
She grinned back at him. ‘The gay bit was good.’
He laughed and hugged her shoulders as they returned to the dining room, where he immediately put their plan into action. ‘Better get out the Scrabble, Mum. Since you beat me last time, I want a return match, and heaven help me if I’m swamped with all vowels again.’
‘I’ll leave you to your game,’ her father said good-humouredly, rising from his chair, smiling at Jake Freedman. ‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy my daughter’s company.’
‘I will,’ he agreed, rising to his feet, as well, ready to take on the garden seduction scenario.
Resentment suddenly raged through Laura.Jake Freedman was playing her father’s game, but she didn’t have to. He wasn’t her guest. It was after three o’clock. Lunch had gone off reasonably well. The trickiest part of being together for Mother’s Day was over. Her father was sparing them his presence. His wrath wouldn’t fall on all of them if she didn’t remain polite to the man. She could put Jake Freedman on the spot, instead of being the target herself.
She smiled at him. ‘Let’s go.’
He accompanied her outside, making easy conversation to start with.
‘Was it your mother’s pleasure in her garden that led you to your choice of career, Laura?’
He seemed genuinely curious and she didn’t mind answering him. ‘Partly. Nick probably had more influence, the creativity he uses to generate Mum’s pleasure.’
‘The gardener and handyman Dad employs to maintain everything, but he actually does more than maintain.’
‘He thinks about what will delight Mum and does it. Like the solar lights he’s just put around the rock-pool. I’ll show you. It’s over this way.’
He strolled beside her, apparently content to bide his time, ensure she was relaxed with him. Which was totally impossible, but at least he didn’t know it and wouldn’t know it until he made a move on her.
‘A waterfall, too,’ he remarked as they came to the pool.
‘Yes. It makes a soothing sound. Most people enjoy sitting near falling water…fountains in a park. Also reflections in water. The lights placed around the pool shimmer in it when it’s dark.’
‘Does your mother come out here at night?’
‘Sometimes. Though she can also see this part of the garden from her bedroom window. What’s really special is how Nick lit up the figurines of the Chinese water-carriers coming down the rocks at the side of the waterfall. There’s another light at the back of the pot-plant below them. It bathes them in a ghostly glow. Quite a wonderful effect.’
‘Landscape architecture,’ he said, slanting her a rueful smile. ‘I’ve never thought about it but I can see why it should be appreciated.’
‘I guess in the career you’ve chosen, you don’t take the time to smell the roses,’ she shot at him.
‘True. I haven’t,’ he conceded readily enough, as though it didn’t matter to him.
It niggled Laura into asking, ‘Is it worth it?’
There was a subtle shift of expression on his face, a hardening of his jaw, a determined glint in his eyes. ‘Yes, it is. To me,’ he answered in a tone that didn’t allow for a different point of view.
Laura couldn’t leave it alone. ‘You like working for my father?’
‘Your father is part of a system that interests me.’
It was a clever sidestep, depersonalising her question.
‘The system,’ she repeated, wanting to nail down his motivation. ‘I can’t imagine any pleasure in dealing with bankruptcy.’
‘No, it can be very traumatic,’ he said quietly. ‘I would like to make it less so.’ The dark brown eyes drilled into hers. ‘Not even the most beautiful parks in the world resonate with people in that situation, Laura. All they see is their lives crumbling, their jobs gone, their plans for the future shattered. It can lead to divorce, suicide, violence, depression so dark there is no light.’
She shivered at the intensity of feeling coming from him, a depth of caring she hadn’t expected in this man. It didn’t sit with coldly calculated ambition. Not only that, but he’d also somehow turned the tables on her, making his job much more seriously special than hers.
‘I know that people going through trauma do find some solace in a pleasant environment,’ she argued with conviction. Her mother, for one.
‘I didn’t mean to undervalue it.’ He gestured an appeal. ‘I’m not your father, Laura. Perhaps we can both work on having open minds about each other.’
‘Why did you come here today?’ she asked point-blank.
‘Your father wanted me to meet you and I was curious enough to accept the invitation,’ he answered, his eyes gently mocking the hard challenge in hers.
She planted her hands on her hips, sick of how he was churning her around and wanting open confrontation. ‘So what do you think of me?’
His mouth moved into a very sensual smile. ‘I think you’re very sexy.’
A tidal wave of heat rushed through Laura. She snatched at his own words to her and threw them back at him. ‘That doesn’t have much currency with me.’
He laughed and stepped forward, sliding an arm around her waist and scooping her into body contact with him, his eyes glittering with reckless intent. ‘I’ve been wanting to do this from the moment we met, so I’ll do it, and you can slap me down afterwards.’
There was time—a few seconds—for her to slam her hands against his shoulders and push away. His mouth didn’t crash down on hers. It seemed to her he lowered his head in slow motion, moving his free hand to tilt her face upwards. She did nothing, waiting for the collision of the kiss, wanting it, wanting to know if it would be better than any other kiss a man had given her.
A weird exhilaration was buzzing through her at being held in his embrace, as though he was the right man for her, the perfect man—a sensation she’d never felt until now. Whether it was his intense maleness, his strength, his aggressive confidence, his sexy physique…Laura couldn’t pin it down, but curiosity held her totally captive.
His lips brushed over hers with surprising gentleness, tantalising her, exciting her with a sensuality she had not expected. She did move her hands to his shoulders, but not to push away, to touch, to feel, to slide around his neck and hold his head to hers. She liked the shape of it, liked the clean, bristly thickness of his short hair—no gel.
He started tasting her, little flicks of his tongue slipping seductively between her lips, and she responded with her own provocative probing, wanting to taste him, a pulsing primitive streak urging her to goad him into less control. It was as though he was testing how good she was for him, whether she would be worth pursuing beyond today, and everything female in her wanted to blow him out of his mind.
A wild exultation zinged through her when he plunged into a far more passionate kiss. No more holding her face. Both arms were around her, pressing her into intimate contact with him and she revelled in the hard evidence of her desirability. He was very definitely aroused, and so was she, as fiercely passionate as he was in the meshing of their mouths, seeking and driving for more and more excitement.
He clutched her bottom, grinding her even closer, and she was so hot for him she didn’t care how intimate they were. Her heart was pounding, her thighs were quivering, and the only thought she had was yes, yes, yes. It was powering through her. More than desire. Need that craved instant satisfaction. Urgently.
It was he who pulled back, breaking the kiss, lifting his head, sucking in air like a runner at the end of a marathon. She gulped in oxygen, too, the dizziness in her head demanding it. Her breasts were still crushed against his chest and she could feel his heart thumping in unison with hers. Then his cheek was rubbing against her hair and his voice vibrated in her ear.
‘I want you, Laura, but it can’t be here.’
Here…in the garden…in open view of anyone who wandered outside. Madness. She couldn’t take him inside, either. Everyone would know. She recoiled from giving her father the satisfaction of thinking his plan was working. It would worry her mother. Eddie, too. It couldn’t be done. The time and place wasn’t right. But the man was. Which was very confusing because he shouldn’t be.
‘I need to sit down,’ she said, acutely aware of how shaken she was. ‘There’s a garden bench…’
‘I see it.’
He shifted, tucking her tightly against him, walking her to the bench. Laura had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. He saw her seated then sat beside her, leaning forward, elbows on knees, still recovering himself from the rage of desire that had swept through both of them.
Laura breathed in the scent of the nearby lavender bush. It was supposed to be calming. It did help to clear her head to some extent. Jake Freedman might be his own man but he was closely connected to her father. However right he might feel to her, she couldn’t overlook that situation.
‘If you think this means I’m a pushover for the taking, it doesn’t,’ she blurted out. ‘The chemistry between us is just chemistry and I won’t be losing sight of that, so don’t imagine it gives you any power over me.’
He nodded a few times, then shot her a wry smile. ‘Well, you’ve certainly slapped me down.’
Not for the kiss. For the possible motive hidden behind it because the kiss had got to her, more powerfully than she cared to admit. She tore her gaze away from his tantalising little smile and stared at the waterfall, wishing it could soothe the deep disturbance this man had caused.
‘Not so much a slap, Jake,’ she said more calmly. ‘Just letting you know how I feel about it. My father is obviously pushing me at you. Maybe he wants you as his son-in-law. No way will I be used as a step up your career ladder.’
No comment from him.
His silence went on for so long it began to shred her nerves. ‘Sorry if I’ve dashed your hopes,’ she said bitingly.
‘Not at all.’ He sat up, hooking his arms on the backrest of the bench in a totally relaxed manner, smiling at her as though he was perfectly at peace with her decision. ‘I’m not looking for a wife at this point in my life and you’re not looking to fill that position. With that understood, do you want any part of me, Laura?’
Which put her right back on the spot.
His eyes glittered with the knowledge that she did, but wanting and taking were two different things. As Eddie said, she’d be better off not going there. Jake could be lying, secretly thinking he could seduce her into becoming his wife. Not that he’d be able to, but if she entered into any kind of relationship with him, he could report to her father that everything was sweet between them, and she’d hate that.
Yet looking at him, remembering how it had felt with him, the thought of not experiencing more of him actually hurt. Which was probably another danger signal. He did have power over her.
‘I want you,’ he said quietly, seeing her struggle with his question. ‘Not because you’re your father’s daughter. I think the chemistry between us makes that totally irrelevant. I want you because I can’t remember wanting any other woman quite as much.’
It echoed her response to him. Jake Freedman was definitely the ultimate ten out of ten. But he could be saying those words because they were what any woman would like to hear. He was such a sexy man, he might affect every woman this way and she was no exception at all to him. Clever, playing all sides, Eddie had said.
She eyed him sceptically. ‘Is that the honest truth, Jake?’
‘Much to my own dismay, yes,’ he said with a rueful grimace.
It was an odd thing to say and she looked at him in puzzlement. ‘Why to your dismay?’
The riveting brown eyes bored into hers with heart-stopping intensity. ‘Because I don’t want to want you, Laura. Any more than you want to want me. And with that said, why don’t we both take time to think about it?’
He rose from the garden bench, apparently preparing to leave her. Laura was so startled by the action, she simply stared up at him.
‘Do you have a mobile phone?’ he asked.
‘Give me your number. I’ll call you at the end of the week if I’m still thinking of you and you can then say yes or no.’
It was so abrupt, hard, cut and dried, and the turbulent feelings it set off inside her made it difficult to think. Time…yes…time to decide if she couldn’t bear not to know more of him…or time to have his impact recede to something less significant.
He took a slim mobile phone out of his shirt pocket and she rattled out her number for him to enter it in his private file.
‘Thank you,’ he said, pocketing the phone again and flashing an ironic smile at her. ‘I’ve seen enough of the garden. You might like to join Eddie and your mother playing Scrabble. I’ll say goodbye to them and then to your father on my way out.’
Relief poured through her. No more stress today. Decision-making could wait. She returned his smile as she rose from the bench. ‘I didn’t have you pegged as a garden man.’
‘I shall take up smelling roses.’
‘You need a garden for that. The hothouse ones don’t have much scent.’
He raised one eyebrow in a lightly mocking challenge. ‘Perhaps we can give each other new experiences.’
She shrugged, deliberately noncommittal. ‘Perhaps we can.’
No more was said.
He accompanied her back to the dining room and with every step she sensed him withdrawing from her, wrapping himself in self-containment. It was a weird, cold feeling—in sharp contrast to the wild heat of their physical connection. He was leaving her alone and that troubled her far more than it should.
Eddie and her mother said all the polite responses to his polite appreciation of the day spent with them. Her mother took him in tow to the lounge room so he could say goodbye to her father and she was left behind in the dining room with Eddie, whose eyes were full of questions.
‘So?’ he asked, as soon as their visitor was out of earshot.
‘So, nothing,’ she answered. ‘I showed him the garden.’
She couldn’t bring herself to open up a discussion on what had happened between her and Jake Freedman. Somehow it was too personal, too private.
Besides, it would probably come to nothing.
And it was probably better that way.
THE end of the week, he’d said.
It was the first thought Laura had when she woke up on Friday morning.
If he was still thinking of her, she mentally added, half-hoping that he wasn’t so she wouldn’t be faced with the decision of whether or not to see him again.
It had been impossible to get him out of her head. She couldn’t look at a guy without comparing him to Jake Freedman. None of them measured up to him. Not even close. Her uni studies had suffered with him slipping into her mind when she should have been concentrating. As for being a Director of First Impressions at her receptionist job, no impressions at all had got through to her. Directing the doctors’ patients had all been a matter of rote this week. It was like her whole life was revolving around waiting for his call.
Which was really, really bad.
What had happened to her strong sense of independence? It should be rising above this obsessive thinking about a man, putting him in a place of relative unimportance. She didn’t like not being in full control of her life. It was as though a virus had invaded her system and she couldn’t get rid of it. But as all viruses did, it would run its course and leave her, she told herself.
Especially if Jake didn’t call.
However, if he did…
Laura heaved a fretful sigh and rolled out of bed, unable to make up her mind on what she should do. Would she always wonder about him if she didn’t try him out?
It was an unanswerable question. Nevertheless, it plagued her all day, distracting her from the lectures at uni. By late afternoon she had decided it was best if Jake didn’t call so a choice wasn’t even available. She felt so woolly-headed, it was a relief to board the ferry from Circular Quay to Mosman and stand on the outside deck, needing a blast of sea breeze to whip away the fog in her mind.
The ferry was halfway across the harbour when her mobile phone rang. Her heart instantly started hammering. It might not be him, she told herself, plucking the phone out of the side pocket of her bag. He would not have finished work yet. It wasn’t quite five o’clock. Her father rarely arrived home before seven.
Gingerly she raised the phone to her ear and said, ‘Hello.’
‘It’s Jake, Laura.’
His voice conjured up his image so sharply, her breath stuck in her throat.
‘Would you like to go out to dinner with me tomorrow night?’
Dinner! Her head whirled. To go or not to go…
‘I thought we could try Neil Perry’s Spice Temple. A new experience for both of us if you haven’t been there.’
Neil Perry…one of Sydney’s master chefs! His restaurants were famous for their wonderful food. The Rockpool. The Rockpool Bar and Grill. The Spice Temple. She would love, love, love to eat there, but…
‘I can’t afford it.’
‘My treat. You gave me a great meal last Sunday.’
True. He owed her. ‘Okay. I’d like that very much,’ she said recklessly. A Neil Perry dinner was worth one evening with the man, regardless of what inner turmoil he caused. And maybe that would stop on further acquaintance. ‘I’ll meet you there,’ she quickly added, not wanting her father to know she was seeing Jake Freedman again. ‘What time?’
‘Will seven o’clock suit?’
‘You know the address?’
‘I’ll look it up.’
‘It’s a basement restaurant. Go straight downstairs. I’ll wait for you inside.’
‘I won’t be late. Thanks for the invitation.’
She ended the call, quite pleased with herself for handling it with a fair amount of control. This meeting could be contained at the restaurant…if she wanted it to be. Eddie would let her stay over at his apartment in Paddington on Saturday night so being taken home by Jake could be avoided, too.
Excitement buzzed through her…wicked, wanton excitement.
A sexy man, a sexy meal…impossible not to look forward to experiencing both.
Jake steeled himself for the Friday afternoon wrap-up meeting in Alex Costarella’s office, suspecting there was only one issue of real interest on the agenda. He was right. After a half-hour chat about the week’s work, Costarella leaned back in his executive chair, a smug little man-to-man smile on his face as he asked, ‘Will you be seeing Laura this weekend?’
‘Yes. We’re having dinner together tomorrow night,’ he answered, hating this matchmaking farce, but knowing that going along with it was to his advantage, keeping his position in the company ripple-free until he was ready to strike.
Jake smiled back, playing the game to the hilt. ‘Thank you for introducing me to her.’
‘Pleasure. Laura needs a man to take her in hand and I hope you’re the man to do it, Jake.’
The only way he was going to take her in hand was in bed, if she agreed to it. ‘She’s certainly very attractive.’
It was a noncommittal statement but Costarella found it encouraging enough to let the matter pass. ‘Enjoy your weekend,’ he said, and Jake was free to leave.
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