The Guardian's Forbidden Mistressñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
THE GUARDIAN’S FORBIDDEN MISTRESS
TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON
AMSTERDAM • PARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN • MADRID PRAGUE • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND
SEVEN years later…
A frown formed on Sarah’s forehead as she watched Derek turn from the crowded bar and slowly make his way back to their table, a full champagne glass in each hand.
In the time it had taken him to be served, she’d begun to worry about having accepted his invitation for a Christmas drink.
Sarah comforted herself with the thought that in the six months Derek had been her personal trainer, he’d never made a pass, or crossed the line in any way, shape or form.
But there was a definite twinkle in his eye as he handed her a glass, then sat down with his.
‘This is very nice of you,’ she said carefully.
Sarah’s heart sank when he beamed back at her.
‘I am nice,’ he said. ‘And no, I’m not coming on to you.’
‘I didn’t think you were,’ she lied before taking a relieved sip of the bubbly.
‘Yes, you did.’
Derek laughed. ‘This is just a little celebratory drink. One you deserve after all your hard work. But do be careful over the Christmas break. I don’t want you coming back to me at the end of January in the same shape you were in six months ago.’
Sarah pulled a face at the memory. ‘Trust me. I won’t ever let that happen again.’
‘Never say never.’
Sarah shook her head as she put down her glass. ‘I’ve done a lot of thinking while you’ve been working my blubbery butt off these past few months, and I’ve finally come to terms with the reason behind my comfort-eating.’
‘So what’s his name?’ Derek asked.
‘The reason behind your comfort-eating.’
Sarah smiled. ‘You’re a very intuitive man.’
Derek shrugged. ‘Only to be expected. Gay men are very simpatico to matters of the heart.’
Sarah almost spilled her wine.
‘You didn’t suspect at all, did you?’
Sarah stared across the table at him. ‘Heavens, no!’
‘I dislike guys who advertise their sexual preference by being obvious, or overly camp. Other gays sometimes guess, and the odd girl or two.’
‘Really?’ Even now that she knew the truth, Sarah couldn’t detect anything obviously gay in Derek.
Neither could any of the women who worked out at the gym, if the talk in the female locker room was anything to go by. Most of the girls thought him a hunk.
Whilst Sarah conceded Derek was attractive—he had nice blue eyes, a great body and a marvellous tan—she’d never been attracted to fair-haired men.
‘So now that you know I’m not making a beeline for you,’ Derek went on, ‘how about answering my earlier question? Or do you want to keep your love life a secret?’
Sarah had to laugh. ‘I don’t have a love life.’
‘What, none at all?’
‘Not this last year.’ She’d had boyfriends in the past. Both at university and beyond. But things always ended badly, once she took them home to meet Nick.
Next to Nick, her current boyfriend always came across as lacklustre by comparison. Time after time, Sarah would become brutally aware that she wanted Nick more than she ever did other men. Nick also had the knack of making comments that forced her to question whether her boyfriend was interested in her or her future inheritance.
Yet Sarah didn’t imagine for one moment that Nick undermined her relationships for any personal reasons. That would mean he cared who she went out with. Which he obviously didn’t. Nick had made it brutally obvious since becoming her guardian that he found the job a tiresome one, only to be tolerated because of his affection for and gratitude to her father.
Oh, he went through the motions of looking after her welfare, but right from the beginning he’d used every opportunity to shuffle her off onto other people.
The first Christmas after she’d left school, he’d sent her on an extended overseas holiday with a girlfriend and her family. Then he’d organised for her to live on campus during her years at university, where she’d specialised in early-childhood teaching. When she’d graduated and gained a position at a primary school out in the western suburbs of Sydney, he’d encouraged her to rent a small unit near the school, saying it would take her far too long to drive to Parramatta from Point Piper every day.
Admittedly this was true, and so she had done as he suggested. But Sarah had always believed Nick’s motive had been to get her out of the house as much as possible, so that he was free to do whatever he liked whenever he liked. Having her in a bedroom two doors down the hallway from his was no doubt rather restricting.
A well-known man-about-town, Nick ate women for breakfast and spat them out with a speed which was breathtaking. Every time Sarah went home he had a different girlfriend installed on his arm, and in his bed, each one more beautiful and slimmer than the next.
Sarah hated seeing him with them.
Last year Sarah had restricted her home visits to Easter and Christmas, plus the winter school break, during which Nick had been away, skiing. This year she hadn’t been home since Easter, and Nick hadn’t complained, readily accepting her many and varied excuses. When she finally went home on Christmas Eve tomorrow, it would be nearly nine months since she’d seen Nick in the flesh.
And since he’d seen her.
The thought made her heart flutter wildly in her chest.
What a fool you are, Sarah, she castigated herself. Nothing will change. Nothing will ever change. Don’t you know that by now?
Time to face the bitter truth. Time to stop hoping for a miracle.
‘His name his Nick Coleman,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘He’s been my legal guardian since I was sixteen, and I’ve had a mad crush on him since I was eight.’ She refused to call it love. How could she be in love with a man like Nick? He might have made a financial success of his life in the years since they’d first met, but he’d also become cold-blooded and a callous womaniser.
Sometimes Sarah wondered if she’d imagined the kindnesses he’d shown her when she was a child.
‘Did you say eight?’ Derek asked.
‘Yes. He came to work for my father as his chauffeur on my eighth birthday.’
‘It’s a long story. But it wasn’t Nick who started my eating binge,’ she confessed. ‘It was his girlfriend.’ The one who was there draped all over him last Christmas, a drop-dead gorgeous, super-slender supermodel who’d make any female feel inadequate.
A depressed Sarah had eaten seconds at Christmas lunch, then had gone back for thirds. Food, she’d swiftly found, made her feel temporarily better.
By Easter—her next visit home—she’d gained ten kilos. Nick had simply stared at her. Probably in shock. But his new girlfriend—a stunning-looking but equally skinny actress this time—hadn’t remained silent, making a sarcastic crack about the growing obesity problem in Australia, which had resulted in Sarah gaining another five kilos by the end of May.
When she’d seen the class photo of herself, she’d taken stock and sought out Derek’s help.
Now here she was, with her hour-glass shape possessing not one skerrick of flab and her self-esteem firmly back in place.
‘Amend that to two girlfriends,’ Sarah added, then went on to fill in some more details of her relationship with her guardian, plus the circumstances which had led up to her coming to the gym.
‘Amazing,’ Derek said when she stopped at last.
‘What’s amazing? That I got so fat?’
‘You were never fat, Sarah. Just a few kilos over-weight. And lacking in tone. No, I meant about your being an heiress. You don’t act like a rich bitch at all.’
‘That’s because I’m not. Not till I turn twenty-five, anyway. My father made sure in his will that I won’t get a dime till I reach what he called a mature age. For years I had my educational and basic living expenses paid for, but once I could earn my own living I had to support myself, or starve. I was a bit put out at first, but I finally saw the sense of his stand. Handouts don’t do anyone any good.’
‘That depends. So this Nick fellow lives in your family home, rent-free?’
‘Well, yes…My father’s will said he could.’
‘Till you turn twenty-five.’
‘When, exactly, does that happen?’
‘What? Oh, next February. The second.’
‘At which point you’re going to turf that blood-sucking leech out of your home and tell him you don’t want to see his sorry behind ever again!’
Sarah blinked, then laughed. ‘You’ve got it all wrong, Derek. Nick doesn’t need free rent. He has plenty of money of his own. He could easily buy his own mansion, if he wanted to.’ In actual fact, he’d offered to buy hers. But she’d refused.
Sarah knew the house was way too big for a single girl, but it was the only connection she still had to her parents, and she simply could not bear to part with it.
‘How come this Nick guy is so flush?’ Derek asked. ‘You said he was your father’s chauffeur.’
‘Was being the operative word. My dad took him under his wing and showed him how to make money, both on the stock market and in the business world. Nick was very lucky to have a man like my father as his mentor.’ Sarah considered telling Derek about Nick’s good fortune with Outback Bride but decided not to. Perhaps because it made Nick look as though he hadn’t become successful in his own right. Which he had. ‘Have you ever been to Happy Island on a holiday?’ she said instead.
‘No. But I know about it.’
‘Nick borrowed money and bought Happy Island when it was going for a song. He personally supervised the remodelling of its largely derelict resort, built an airport on it, then sold the whole shebang to an international equity company for a fortune.’
‘Dad always said luck begins and ends with hard work. He also advised Nick that he’d never become rich working for someone else.’ Which was why Nick had set up his own movie production company a couple of years back. He’d already had some success but nothing yet to rival Outback Bride.
‘Your dad’s right there,’ Derek said. ‘I hated it when I had a boss. That’s why I started up my own gym.’
‘You own The New You?’
Derek gave her a startled look. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t know that either.’
He smiled, showing flashing white teeth. ‘Talk about tunnel vision.’
‘Sorry,’ Sarah apologised. ‘I can be like that. I’m a bit of a loner, if you haven’t noticed,’ she added with a wry smile. ‘I don’t make friends easily. Guess it comes from being an only child.’
‘I’m an only child too,’ he confessed. ‘Which makes my being gay especially hard on my parents. No grand-kids to look forward to. I only told them a couple of years ago when Mum’s pressuring me to get married got a bit much. Dad hasn’t talked to me since,’ Derek added, the muscles in his neck stiffening.
‘That’s sad,’ Sarah said. ‘What about your mum?’
‘She rings me. But won’t let me come home, not even for Christmas.’
‘Oh, dear. Maybe they’ll come round in time.’
‘Maybe. But I’m not holding my breath. Dad is a very proud and stubborn man. Once he says something, he won’t back down on it. But back to you, sweetie. You’re simply crazy about this Nick fellow, aren’t you?’
Sarah’s heart lurched. ‘Crazy describes my feelings for Nick very well. When I’m around him, I just can’t stop wanting him. But he doesn’t want me back. And he never will. It’s time I accepted that.’
‘But surely not till you’ve had one last crack at him.’
‘You haven’t been working your butt off because some anorexic model said you were fat, sweetie. It’s Nick you’re out to impress, and attract.’
Sarah didn’t want to openly admit it. But of course Derek was right. She’d do anything to have Nick look at her with desire. Just once.
No, not once. Again. Because she was pretty sure she’d spotted desire in his eyes one Christmas, when she’d been sixteen and she’d come down to the pool wearing an itsy-bitsy bikini that she’d bought with Nick in mind.
But maybe she’d imagined it. Maybe she was just desperate to believe he’d fancied her a little that day, despite his actions to the contrary. Teenage girls were prone to flights of fantasy, as were twenty-four-year-olds, she thought ruefully. Which was why she’d spent all week buying the kind of summer wardrobe that would stir an octogenarian’s hormones.
The trouble was Nick wasn’t an octogenarian. He was only thirty-six, and he kept his male hormones well and truly catered to. Sarah already knew that the actress girlfriend had gone by the board, replaced by an advertising executive with a penchant for power-dressing.
Sarah might not have been home personally for several months, but she rang home every week to talk to Flora, who always gave her a full update on Nick’s comings and goings before passing the call over to Nick. If he was home, that was. Often he was out, being a social animal with a wide range of friends. Or contacts, as he preferred to call them.
‘I presume you spend the Christmas holidays back at home?’ Derek asked, cutting into her thoughts.
‘Yes,’ she said with a sigh. ‘I usually go home as soon as school breaks up. But I haven’t this year. Still, I’ll have to make an appearance tomorrow. I always decorate the Christmas tree. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. Then I help Flora prepare things for the following day. The lunch is partially catered for, but Flora likes to cook some hot food as well. Flora is the housekeeper,’ she added when she saw Derek frown at the name. ‘She’s been with the family for forever.’
‘I have to confess I couldn’t see your Nick with a girlfriend named Flora.’
‘You’d be right there. Nick’s girlfriends always have names like Jasmine, or Sapphire, or Chloe.’ That was what the latest one was called: Chloe.
‘Not only that,’ Sarah went on waspishly, ‘they never help. They always just swan downstairs at the last minute, with their fingernails perfect and their minuscule appetites on hold. It gets my goat when they sit there, sipping mineral water whilst they eat absolutely nothing.’
‘Mmm,’ Derek said.
Sarah pulled a face at him. ‘I suppose you think I’m going to get all upset and make a pig of myself again.’
‘It’s highly possible, by the sounds of things. But what I was actually thinking was that you need someone by your side at this Christmas lunch. A boyfriend of your own.’
‘Huh! I’ve brought boyfriends to Christmas lunch before,’ Sarah informed Derek drily. ‘In no time, Nick makes them look like fools, or fortune-hunters.’
‘And maybe they were. But possibly they were too young, and totally overawed by the occasion. What you need is someone older, someone with looks and style, someone successful and sophisticated who won’t be fazed by anything your playboy guardian says and does. Someone, in short, who’s going to make the object of your desire sit up and take notice. Of you.’
‘I like the idea, Derek. In theory. But even with my improved looks, I don’t think I’m going to be able to snaffle up the type of boyfriend you’ve just described at this late stage. Christmas is two days away.’
‘In that case let me help you out. Because I know just such an individual who doesn’t have anywhere to go on Christmas Day and would be happy to come to your aid.’
‘You do? Who?’
‘You’re looking at him.’
Sarah blinked, then laughed. ‘You have to be kidding. How can you be my boyfriend, Derek? You’re gay!’
‘You didn’t know that till I told you,’ he reminded her. ‘Your Nick won’t know it, either, especially if I’m introduced as your boyfriend. People believe what they’re told, on the whole.’
Sarah stared at Derek. He was right. Why would Nick—or anyone else at lunch—suspect that Derek was gay? He didn’t look it. Or act it.
‘So what do you think?’ Derek said with a wicked gleam in his eyes. ‘Trust me when I say that nothing stimulates a man’s interest in a woman as well as another man’s undivided attention in her.’
Sarah still hesitated.
‘What are you afraid of?’ Derek demanded to know. ‘Success?’
‘Then what have you got to lose?’
Nothing at all, Sarah realised with a sudden rush of adrenalin. At the very least she would not feel alone, as she often did at Christmas, especially during that dreaded lunch.
This year she would not only be looking her best, but she would also have a very good-looking man by her side.
‘All right,’ Sarah said, a quiver of unexpected excitement rippling down her spine. ‘You’re on.’
SARAH’S positive attitude towards Christmas lasted till she pulled her white car into the driveway the following morning and saw Nick’s bright red sporty number parked outside the garages.
‘Darn it,’ she muttered as she pressed the remote to open the electronic gates.
She’d presumed Nick would be out playing golf, as he always did every Saturday, come rain, hail or shine. Come Christmas Eve as well!
If she’d imagined for one moment that Nick would be home, she’d have put on one of her sexy new sun-dresses this morning—probably the black and white halter-necked one that showed off her slender shoulders and nicely toned arms. Instead, she was sporting a pair of faded jeans and a striped yellow tank-top. Suitable clothes in which to decorate a Christmas tree. But not to impress a man, especially one who had a penchant for women who always looked as if they’d just stepped out of a beauty salon.
Still, with a bit of luck, she might be able to sneak up to her bedroom and make some changes before running into Nick. The house was, after all, huge.
Built in the 1920s by a wealthy mining family, Goldmine had been renovated and revamped many times since then. Its original stone walls were now cement-rendered white, with arched windows and lots of balconies, which gave it a distinctly Mediterranean look.
Because of the sloping site, the house looked double-storeyed from the road, but there was another, lower level at the back where the architecture incorporated a lot of glass to take advantage of the home’s harbourside position.
Actually, there weren’t many rooms in the house that didn’t look out over Sydney Harbour, the view extending across the water to the bridge and the opera house in the distance. On the upper floor, all the bedrooms had individual balconies with water views, the master bedroom opening out onto a walled balcony that was big enough to accommodate an outdoor table-setting.
The enormous back terrace had the best vantage point, however, which was why it was always the place for Christmas lunch. Long trestle-style tables would be brought in, shade provided by huge canvas blinds put up for the day. Only once in Sarah’s memory, when the temperature soared to forty degrees, had the lunch been held inside, in the family room, the only room large enough to accommodate the number of guests who swamped Goldmine every Christmas Day from midday onwards.
The tradition had been started by Sarah’s father and mother soon after they’d bought the house nearly thirty years ago, a tradition her father continued after her mother’s death, and which Nick seemed happy to honour in the years he’d been living there.
Of course, the cynic in Sarah appreciated that Christmas lunch at Goldmine was more of a business lunch these days than a gathering of family and long-term friends. Most of the guests at the table would be the people Nick did business with, valuable contacts whose priorities were where the next few million were coming from.
Sarah was under no illusion that Nick was any different from the types he mixed with. He liked money as much—possibly more—than they did.
This last thought reminded Sarah of what Derek had implied over drinks last night: that Nick was taking advantage of his position as her guardian to live, rent-free, in her harbourside home. Although she’d defended Nick in this regard, Sarah had to concede that living in Goldmine was a huge social advantage. Not so much because of its size—some of the neighbours’ homes were obscenely large—but because of its position. There was no doubt that having such an address had benefited Nick no end in the business stakes. Which was why he wanted to buy the place.
The gates finally open, Sarah drove through and parked next to Nick’s car. She frowned over at it, still perplexed that he hadn’t gone to golf today.
Thinking about golf, however, reminded her of the Christmas present she’d bought him. It was a set of miniature golf clubs, with the club heads made in silver, the shafts in ebony and the bag crafted in the most beautiful red leather. She’d bought it on eBay and it had cost several hundred dollars, more than she usually spent on him.
The moment she’d seen it, she’d known Nick would like it.
But would he think it odd that she’d bought him something so expensive?
She hoped not.
Sarah grimaced when she realised he might think it even odder that she hadn’t bought her new ‘boyfriend’ anything at all. Which she hadn’t. She and Derek had discussed when he was to arrive tomorrow and what to wear, but they hadn’t thought of presents.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî