Miranda Lee.

The Guardian's Forbidden Mistress






Miranda Lee
THE GUARDIANS FORBIDDEN MISTRESS



TORONTO NEW YORK LONDON

AMSTERDAM PARIS SYDNEY HAMBURG STOCKHOLM ATHENS TOKYO MILAN MADRID PRAGUE WARSAW BUDAPEST AUCKLAND

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

SEVEN years later

A frown formed on Sarahs 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, shed 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, hed 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.

Sarahs heart sank when he beamed back at her.

I am nice, he said. And no, Im not coming on to you.

I didnt think you were, she lied before taking a relieved sip of the bubbly.

Yes, you did.

Well

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 dont 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 wont ever let that happen again.

Never say never.

Sarah shook her head as she put down her glass. Ive done a lot of thinking while youve been working my blubbery butt off these past few months, and Ive finally come to terms with the reason behind my comfort-eating.

So whats his name? Derek asked.

Who?

The reason behind your comfort-eating.

Sarah smiled. Youre 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 didnt 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 couldnt 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 attractivehe had nice blue eyes, a great body and a marvellous tanshed never been attracted to fair-haired men.

So now that you know Im 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 dont have a love life.

What, none at all?

Not this last year. Shed 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 didnt 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 didnt. 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 hed used every opportunity to shuffle her off onto other people.

The first Christmas after shed left school, hed sent her on an extended overseas holiday with a girlfriend and her family. Then hed organised for her to live on campus during her years at university, where shed specialised in early-childhood teaching. When shed graduated and gained a position at a primary school out in the western suburbs of Sydney, hed 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 Nicks 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 hadnt been home since Easter, and Nick hadnt complained, readily accepting her many and varied excuses. When she finally went home on Christmas Eve tomorrow, it would be nearly nine months since shed seen Nick in the flesh.

And since hed 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. Dont 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. Hes been my legal guardian since I was sixteen, and Ive 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 theyd first met, but hed also become cold-blooded and a callous womaniser.

Sometimes Sarah wondered if shed imagined the kindnesses hed 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.

His chauffeur!

Its a long story. But it wasnt 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 whod make any female feel inadequate.

A depressed Sarah had eaten seconds at Christmas lunch, then had gone back for thirds. Food, shed swiftly found, made her feel temporarily better.

By Easterher next visit homeshed gained ten kilos. Nick had simply stared at her. Probably in shock. But his new girlfrienda stunning-looking but equally skinny actress this timehadnt 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 shed seen the class photo of herself, shed taken stock and sought out Dereks 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.

Whats 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 dont act like a rich bitch at all.

Thats because Im not. Not till I turn twenty-five, anyway. My father made sure in his will that I wont 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 dont do anyone any good.

That depends. So this Nick fellow lives in your family home, rent-free?

Well, yesMy fathers will said he could.

Till you turn twenty-five.

Yes.

When, exactly, does that happen?

What? Oh, next February. The second.

At which point youre going to turf that blood-sucking leech out of your home and tell him you dont want to see his sorry behind ever again!

Sarah blinked, then laughed. Youve got it all wrong, Derek. Nick doesnt 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, hed offered to buy hers. But shed 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 fathers 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 Nicks good fortune with Outback Bride but decided not to. Perhaps because it made Nick look as though he hadnt 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.

Lucky man.

Dad always said luck begins and ends with hard work. He also advised Nick that hed never become rich working for someone else. Which was why Nick had set up his own movie production company a couple of years back. Hed already had some success but nothing yet to rival Outback Bride.

Your dads right there, Derek said. I hated it when I had a boss. Thats why I started up my own gym.

You own The New You?

Derek gave her a startled look. Dont tell me you didnt know that either.

No.

He smiled, showing flashing white teeth. Talk about tunnel vision.

Sorry, Sarah apologised. I can be like that. Im a bit of a loner, if you havent noticed, she added with a wry smile. I dont make friends easily. Guess it comes from being an only child.

Im 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 Mums pressuring me to get married got a bit much. Dad hasnt talked to me since, Derek added, the muscles in his neck stiffening.

Thats sad, Sarah said. What about your mum?

She rings me. But wont let me come home, not even for Christmas.

Oh, dear. Maybe theyll come round in time.

Maybe. But Im not holding my breath. Dad is a very proud and stubborn man. Once he says something, he wont back down on it. But back to you, sweetie. Youre simply crazy about this Nick fellow, arent you?

Sarahs heart lurched. Crazy describes my feelings for Nick very well. When Im around him, I just cant stop wanting him. But he doesnt want me back. And he never will. Its time I accepted that.

But surely not till youve had one last crack at him.

What?

You havent been working your butt off because some anorexic model said you were fat, sweetie. Its Nick youre out to impress, and attract.

Sarah didnt want to openly admit it. But of course Derek was right. Shed do anything to have Nick look at her with desire. Just once.

No, not once. Again. Because she was pretty sure shed spotted desire in his eyes one Christmas, when shed been sixteen and shed come down to the pool wearing an itsy-bitsy bikini that shed bought with Nick in mind.

But maybe shed imagined it. Maybe she was just desperate to believe hed 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 shed spent all week buying the kind of summer wardrobe that would stir an octogenarians hormones.

The trouble was Nick wasnt 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 Nicks 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 havent this year. Still, Ill have to make an appearance tomorrow. I always decorate the Christmas tree. If I dont do it, it doesnt 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. Shes been with the family for forever.

I have to confess I couldnt see your Nick with a girlfriend named Flora.

Youd be right there. Nicks 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 Im going to get all upset and make a pig of myself again.

Its 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! Ive 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 wont be fazed by anything your playboy guardian says and does. Someone, in short, whos 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 dont think Im going to be able to snaffle up the type of boyfriend youve 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 doesnt have anywhere to go on Christmas Day and would be happy to come to your aid.

You do? Who?

Youre looking at him.

Sarah blinked, then laughed. You have to be kidding. How can you be my boyfriend, Derek? Youre gay!

You didnt know that till I told you, he reminded her. Your Nick wont know it, either, especially if Im introduced as your boyfriend. People believe what theyre told, on the whole.

Sarah stared at Derek. He was right. Why would Nickor anyone else at lunchsuspect that Derek was gay? He didnt 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 mans interest in a woman as well as another mans undivided attention in her.

Sarah still hesitated.

What are you afraid of? Derek demanded to know. Success?

Absolutely not!

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. Youre on.

CHAPTER TWO

SARAHS positive attitude towards Christmas lasted till she pulled her white car into the driveway the following morning and saw Nicks bright red sporty number parked outside the garages.

Darn it, she muttered as she pressed the remote to open the electronic gates.

Shed presumed Nick would be out playing golf, as he always did every Saturday, come rain, hail or shine. Come Christmas Eve as well!

If shed imagined for one moment that Nick would be home, shed have put on one of her sexy new sun-dresses this morningprobably 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 theyd 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 homes harbourside position.

Actually, there werent many rooms in the house that didnt 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 Sarahs 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 Sarahs father and mother soon after theyd bought the house nearly thirty years ago, a tradition her father continued after her mothers death, and which Nick seemed happy to honour in the years hed 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 muchpossibly morethan 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 shed defended Nick in this regard, Sarah had to concede that living in Goldmine was a huge social advantage. Not so much because of its sizesome of the neighbours homes were obscenely largebut 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 Nicks car. She frowned over at it, still perplexed that he hadnt gone to golf today.

Thinking about golf, however, reminded her of the Christmas present shed 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. Shed bought it on eBay and it had cost several hundred dollars, more than she usually spent on him.

The moment shed seen it, shed known Nick would like it.

But would he think it odd that shed bought him something so expensive?

She hoped not.

Sarah grimaced when she realised he might think it even odder that she hadnt bought her new boyfriend anything at all. Which she hadnt. She and Derek had discussed when he was to arrive tomorrow and what to wear, but they hadnt thought of presents.





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