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A Fiery Baptism

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«A Fiery Baptism» - Линн Грэхем

Why had Rafael Alejandro come back?In the five years since her marriage ended, Sarah Alejandro has kept herself and her beloved twins out of the lime light and away from men like her husband. But now he's walked back into her life with the same whirlwind of passion that he once ruthlessly used to seduce her.Rafael hasn't changed, he's still the thrillingly dangerous man she fell in love with. But Sarah won't let the desire that still burns between them ignite—she can't. Not if she is to keep her heart from going up in flames… again!
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is one of Mills & Boon’s most popular and bestselling novelists. Her writing was an instant success with readers worldwide. Since her first book, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, she has gone from strength to strength and now has over ninety titles, which have sold more than thirty-five million copies, to her name.

In this special collection, we offer readers a chance to revisit favourite books or enjoy that rare treasure—a book by a favourite writer—they may have missed. In every case, seduction and passion with a gorgeous, irresistible man are guaranteed!

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

A Fiery Baptism

Lynne Graham


Table of Contents

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten


‘I’M REALLY not much of a party animal,’ Gordon warned in the lift on the way up to Karen’s apartment.

‘We don’t need to stay long,’ Sarah said quickly. ‘I just want to put in an appearance.’

He smiled down at her, his shrewd grey eyes softening. ‘I wasn’t complaining. Far from it,’ he assured her. ‘I’m looking forward to meeting Karen. If she’s at all like you…’

Sarah laughed. ‘She’s not. Karen and I are about as different as two women could be!’

‘Even so, you’ve been friends since you were at school together.’

He was wrong in that assumption but Sarah didn’t bother to correct him. At school, Sarah and Karen had been poles apart. Popular and full of mischief, Karen had been the high-spirited centre of an admiring throng. Quiet and introverted, Sarah had been a loner, invariably on the outside of the girlish gossip sessions. Last winter she had run into Karen again quite by accident. Within ten minutes, Karen had been telling her that she had changed out of all recognition.

‘I used to think you were the most awful snobbish prig, who looked down on us all,’ Karen had confided bluntly some weeks after that first meeting. ‘But we were really just jealous little cats. You were quite disgustingly beautiful as well as being hatefully well behaved. You matured so much faster than the rest of us. I suppose that was the problem. We were pretty cruel sometimes, weren’t we?’

Listening to her, Sarah had come ridiculously close to tears. Karen recalled their schooldays with amused affection. Sarah recalled them with sharp pain. Nobody had sensed the crushing insecurity and loneliness she was concealing. Nobody had ever guessed how fiercely she had longed to be one of the crowd.

From earliest childhood, Sarah had been taught to hide her feelings from others.

Her wealthy parents had adopted her as a baby. Her father was a merchant banker, her mother a lady of leisure who did nothing more strenuous than consult with her housekeeper about the seating arrangements for her dinner parties. Charles and Louise Southcott were very controlled people, physically undemonstrative and uncomfortable with any strong display of emotion. At Southcott Lodge, nobody had ever shouted or argued in Sarah’s hearing. Disapproval had been signified by chilling silence. By the time she was four years old, the sound of that silence had quelled Sarah more thoroughly than the coldest rebuke. But unhappily that silence had done a lot more emotional damage.

Like any young child, Sarah had swiftly learnt how best to please her parents. She had conformed to their expectations of her. It had been unacceptable to get dirty or be untidy, even more unacceptable to fight, lose her temper or cry. In return for her obedient docility, Sarah had been rewarded with every material advantage and an inordinate amount of proud parental attention. Nothing she ever did or said had been too trivial for their notice. What age had she been before she realised that it was odd for her to have no friends in her own age-group?

Friends had never been encouraged. Her birthday parties had been well attended because an invitation to her parents’ gracious country home had been prized as a sign of social acceptance in the neighbourhood. Sarah hadn’t been able to unbend with other children. The ability to join in rough and tumble games or relax into the chattering, secretive intimacy of other young girls had been stolen by her antiseptic upbringing. She had attended an exclusive boarding school as a day-girl, kept scrupulously close to home, cosseted and protected by two extremely possessive parents from every potentially harmful influence.

She had grown up with an outer shell of poise that was inevitably mistaken for a maturity beyond her years. But deep down inside she had been as wound up as a spring in a dangerously tight coil. She could not have gone on indefinitely as she was…as much a free-thinking individual as a one-dimensional cardboard image. The perfect daughter, the perfect teenager, always immaculately groomed, smilingly polite and obedient. A shiver ran through her, disrupting her ruminations. She shrank from recalling the years between eighteen and twenty.

‘This has to be it,’ Gordon remarked, shooting her back to the present.

Karen’s front door was wide open, feeding out mingled voices and music. What would Gordon make of Karen? Sarah wondered amusedly. Her friend was a successful photographer, extrovert and outspoken. Gordon was a banker, ultra-conservative in his tastes and inclined to take himself a little too seriously.

Glimpsing the casually dressed crush in the hall, Gordon frowned and curved a protective arm to her slender spine. ‘We’ll be standing in a smoky corner all evening,’ he forecast. ‘I don’t think I’ve been to a party like this since I left adolescence behind.’

Karen gave a frantic wave and waded towards them. A long-legged brunette, she wore a spectacularly short skirt and an antique lace top that exposed plenty of smooth, tanned flesh. ‘Where on earth have you been?’ she demanded.

Sarah grinned. ‘My babysitter got lost in her studies at the library and forgot the time. Sorry!’

‘It’s all right. You’re forgiven. Better late than never.’ Karen was running an unapologetically curious scrutiny over Gordon from the crown of his well-brushed fair head down over his tailored dinner-jacket to his knife-creased trousers. ‘I suppose you already know how hard it is to prise Sarah away from her little monsters for an evening. She can’t bear to miss out on a single bathtime and Beatrix Potter session,’ she complained with mock severity.

‘I can understand Sarah’s concern. Single parents do carry double the responsibility.’ As he sprang needlessly to her defence, Gordon sounded irritatingly pompous.

‘Are you talking from personal experience?’ Karen enquired drily.

Gordon stiffened. ‘No, actually I’m not, but—’

‘Gordon Frinton…Karen Chalmers,’ Sarah introduced hastily as Gordon’s fingers flexed with annoyance against her back. The fireworks of a personality clash were in the air.

Karen cast Gordon a glowing smile. ‘Sarah has mentioned you, but when I saw you I wasn’t at all sure that you could be Gordon,’ she said, typically cryptic, as she rested a determined hand on his sleeve. ‘While you go and lock your cashmere in my closet, Sarah, Gordon and I will—’

Gordon turned back to Sarah. ‘Let me take your coat.’

‘Don’t be silly, Gordon,’ Karen interposed sweetly. ‘I have to show you where the drinks are stashed. You can’t be in two places at once.’

Gordon was carted off whether he liked it or not. His innate good manners forbade further protest but the squared set of his shoulders spoke for him. The luminous amethyst eyes that dominated Sarah’s triangular face sparkled with humour. Poor Gordon. The more aloof he was, the more outrageous Karen would be. She had already told Karen that Gordon was no more than a casual friend but Karen wanted to check him out for herself.

Having disposed of her coat, Sarah scanned the spacious lowlit lounge, relieved that the room wasn’t as crowded as the hall crush had suggested. It was a very long time since she had been at a party. Indeed if it would not have been outright rudeness to refuse yet another of Karen’s invitations, Sarah would not have been here at all. She was more at ease with small groups of friends than she was amid a sea of strangers.

There was a brief lull in the music and a throaty burst of male laughter splintered through the covering buzz of conversation. Sarah’s head jerked round on a chord of recognition too instinctive even to be questioned. In appalled stasis, she froze, her pupils dilated by shock.

A tall, black-haired male with boldly cast sun-bronzed features stood in stark silhouette against the backdrop of floor-deep uncurtained windows. As he sank fluidly down on to the arm of a cream leather couch, he was the confident focus of a gathering crowd.

A woman pushed past Sarah to gain entry to the room. ‘Good lord, isn’t that…?’

The roaring in her eardrums drowned out the rest of the sentence. She could not believe at first, did not want to believe that he was real. But Rafael was breathtaking and unforgettable. Successfully blocking him from her every waking thought had not prevented his lithe dark image from regularly haunting her dreams.

Absorbed faces surrounded him. Lean golden hands sketched vivid word pictures in the air. His raw vibrance struck her like an electrical charge. Against that intensely physical aura of his, other men simply paled into the woodwork. Wherever Rafael went, women followed him with their eyes. They did it openly or covertly or even unconsciously. None of them was immune to the storm-force potency of his personality. Or that white lightning sexuality that could illuminate the darkest room…burning, blatant and blinding. God had beamed benevolently on Rafael’s birth but, even without that striking, hard-boned physical beauty, Rafael would have exerted a magnetic draw for her sex. He held court with the uninhibited ease of a natural extrovert.

Without warning, his chiselled profile spun in her direction. His piercing eyes narrowed, homed in on her with laserbeam velocity. Eyes tawny…hypnotic…compelling. Before she swung away on a high of mindless panic, she registered the loss of animation that stilled his dark, strong face. On wobbly legs that threatened to buckle beneath her, she pushed a driven passage back through the hall and down to the sanctuary of Karen’s bedroom.

Her stomach was heaving. She fled into the adjoining bathroom and retched painfully and miserably on an empty stomach. As she gasped for breath in the stricken aftermath, it occurred to her that she had to be the only woman alive capable of reacting to Rafael with nausea and recoil.

Oh, you’re so brave, so brave, Sarah. If she had known he would be here, wild horses wouldn’t have dragged her out tonight. That wasn’t cowardice, she reasoned weakly. You didn’t forget that amount of pain, not if you lived to be a thousand, you didn’t. But in five years she had changed so much; she wasn’t the same person, she was a completely different woman. Are you? an inner voice gibed. He’s out there ringed by fascinated, lusting females and envious, admiring males…and you are hiding in a bathroom. Dear heaven, had nothing changed after all?

A flush of shame covered her drawn cheeks. She returned to the bedroom. Backbone and pride had resurfaced, although neither was the equivalent of a burning Olympic flame. Dear lord, what was he doing here? But why shouldn’t he be here? Karen had countless friends and acquaintances. There was hardly anybody who was somebody on the social scene whom Karen didn’t know. However, Rafael didn’t live in London, he lived abroad. Like a lush, tropical plant of the jungle variety, he thrived only in hot, sunny climates.

Her fingertips pressed to her throbbing temples. He would leave. He had seen her. Of course he would leave. Even Rafael would not have the insolent detachment to stay on. Had he been reminded that he had two children he had never seen? Never even tried to see? Trembling, she forced herself to check her appearance in the mirror. Amazingly, the sleek wings of her cornsilk hair were still smoothly looped to the back of her small head. Her strappy whisper-green dress skimmed slender curves as delicately drawn as a porcelain figurine’s. Her agonised vulnerabilty was etched in her eyes alone.

A derisive echo from the past swam out of her subconscious. ‘You’re the pretty little doll, the fair princess they chose to elevate and create with their money. Dolls don’t live and breathe, querida. And neither do you.’

She was torn afresh by the agony of that rejection. A doll in an elaborate costume kept sterile within plastic casing. Perfect to look at, lifeless to touch. When her life was smashed to smithereens by the man she loved, that was how Sarah had seen herself.

The door opened, startling her.

‘So this is where you’ve got to. Here I am throwing the party of the year and you’re in hiding. Thank God,’ Karen pronounced in her off-beat style, shutting the door behind her. ‘I’ve dealt with Gordon for you. I stuck him behind the bar in the kitchen, pulled off his bow-tie in case someone takes him for an official barman, and I’ve advised him to have a few while he’s serving. He’s so nicely brought up that he’ll be there all night if you don’t decide to rescue him!’

Sarah faced her friend, pale but composed. ‘I wouldn’t care to bet on that if I were you,’ she quipped.

Karen peered at her. ‘Are you feeling OK? You’re as white as Gordon’s shirtfront.’

‘I had a bit of a headache. I took some tablets.’ As Sarah told the lie, she went pink.

‘Knowing your talent for understatement as per casual friends, you’ve probably got a migraine coming on. Lie down, for goodness’ sake,’ Karen commanded bossily, pulling up a chair and settling herself down. ‘I want to hear all about Gordon.’

‘Honestly, I’m fine.’ Sarah sat down on the foot of the bed. ‘Should you be leaving your party?’

‘I’ve Gordon on the bar, big brother looking out for drunks and kid sister minding the music,’ Karen confided. ‘The food is all cold and laid out in the dining-room. As a hostess, I am superfluous.’

‘You’re certainly well organised.’

‘Gordon,’ Karen repeated impatiently. ‘You’ve been holding out on me. Who? Where? How? I would have had to pin him to the wall and throw knives to get the details out of him! Even then, it might just have been name, rank and number. Still, he looks exactly what protective Mummy and Daddy Southcott would prescribe for an unattached daughter.’

Rafael would be gone when she returned to the party. Bolstered by the conviction, Sarah’s rigid spine relaxed slightly. ‘He’s a banker.’

‘I knew it!’ Karen carolled with exuberant satisfaction. ‘I said to him, you’re a broker, an accountant or a tax consultant. He didn’t look at all pleased, but he’s got a face like a bank vault! Without the magic combination, you stay out in the cold.’

Karen’s madcap conversation was steadily easing Sarah’s tension. ‘We are just friends. He recently transferred here from New York. He’s a widower. His wife died of leukaemia last year,’ she related ruefully. ‘Understandably he’s not over that yet. It must have been harrowing for him.’

Karen was aghast. ‘Oh, no!’ she groaned. ‘I’ll have to take him off the bar now! No wonder he looked so grim when I was reduced to my tinker, tailor rhyme and came up with undertaker.’ Her friend’s embarrassment ebbed fast and her generous mouth slowly upcurved again. ‘But on the other hand, I’d say that Gordon is coping with his tragic loss rather better than you suspect. The one time he didn’t look as locked up as a bank vault was when I was trailing him away from you. Gordon, my pet, is half in love with you already!’

Sarah stared at her in astonishment. ‘Of course he isn’t. I hardly know him. He’s spent a couple of weekends with my parents. We’ve lunched once or twice, gone to the theatre…that’s all.’

Karen shook her head in exasperation. ‘You’re dating him, Sarah. You just haven’t noticed yet.’

‘You don’t understand,’ Sarah protested uneasily.

‘Casual acquaintances aren’t as protective as guard dogs,’ Karen teased. ‘And you are far too beautiful to inspire purely platonic thoughts. Why should that be a problem?’

‘Gordon and I have been quite frank with each other, Karen.’ Sarah was maintaining her amused smile with difficulty. ‘Neither of us is interested in emotional involvement. I like him but that really is all there is to it.’

‘He’s handsome, successful and free and the best you can do is like the guy?’ Karen was quite appalled by the admission. ‘What am I going to do with you? Is this the female who knocked our entire school on its ear by eloping with an exceptionally ineligible foreigner in Upper Sixth? You went out in style, my pet. What happened to all that risk-taking passion and spontaneity?’

Sarah’s facial muscles locked, what colour she had recovered evaporating. ‘I grew up,’ she muttered tightly.

‘No. You buried yourself,’ Karen argued. ‘Look, I’ve never pressed you…well, not seriously pressed, for a single gory detail about your marriage. I know it must have been very painful because if it hadn’t been you’d have been able to talk about it by now. But there’s more to life than motherhood, Sarah. Goodness knows, everyone’s allowed to make one mistake. First time round you obviously landed a prize bastard. So what? I don’t think I’d have done much better choosing a life partner at eighteen, but you don’t let one bad experience put you into permanent retirement!’

‘Lecture over?’ Sarah prompted. A drink or two and Karen became a crusader. Unfortunately Karen just didn’t know what she was talking about.

Venting a rather rude word, Karen leapt up to renew her lipstick at the mirror. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are. Gordon’s cute. I fancied him the instant I laid eyes on him!’

Sarah’s taut mouth twitched. ‘Feel free.’

Karen sent her a wry glance. ‘I’d need a rope and tackle. He’s taken. And he’s tailor-made for you. At least give him a chance.’

The idea that Gordon might actually want that chance disturbed Sarah. Could Karen be right? Her friend was surprisingly perceptive about people. Her snap judgements were often spot on. If Karen was right about Gordon, Sarah would have to stop seeing him.

‘Holy Moses! I’ve a head like a sieve!’ Karen gasped, comic dismay widening her eyes. ‘I forgot about my celebrity guest. What are we doing in here? One of the models I worked with in Italy simply walked in with him as cool as you please. Rafael Alejandro! Here! In my humble home. Can you believe that?’

Deception didn’t come naturally to Sarah. ‘Alejandro…the painter?’

‘Dear God, is there another one around? He’s only one of the most famous artists alive!’ Karen stressed. ‘Considering that most of them have to drop dead to achieve recognition, we are talking here about fame as in serious fame, fame with a capital F!’

‘I believe he’s a remarkably talented artist.’ Even to her own ears, Sarah sounded wooden.

‘Believe me, when you look at him his skill with a paintbrush is about the last thing on your mind.’ Karen was dry, annoyed by Sarah’s refusal to be impressed. ‘Newsprint doesn’t do him justice.’

‘The gossip columns do.’

Karen dropped her offended stare and grinned. ‘Sarah, my innocent, when you get an incredibly beautiful man the wild reputation goes with the territory. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” may not be you but you haven’t seen him yet. The guy is pure fantasy. I swear my hormones went into a feeding frenzy on the doorstep!’

As Sarah stood up, her conscience twanged. Sarah would be upset when she found that the rare bird had flown in her absence. ‘More you than Gordon?’

‘No. I like to appreciate but I’ve no ambition to touch…well, at least not in my sane mind,’ Karen confided with her usual devotion to the absolute truth. ‘I prefer my men less…what do they call it in Spain? Muy hombre? A volatile artistic genius would be much too unpredictable for me.’

In actuality, Rafael was not unpredictable, Sarah reflected helplessly. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted. He had a tongue like a whip and a convoluted, brilliant mind that thought round corners into the dark, secret places other people sensibly left alone.

‘Anyway, he’s reputed to be fantastically clever as well,’ Karen rattled on. ‘I’m not running myself down but I’m no Einstein and you just couldn’t be in control with a guy like that. It’s fatuous but people will talk about this party forever simply because he’s here.’ Karen pulled open the door to find Gordon raising a hand to knock on it. Half amused, half irritated, she said, ‘I underestimated you. Have you got a homing device planted on her?’

Gordon smiled and looked through her simultaneously. Karen flushed and muttered something about food in the oven.

‘Sorry, was I ages? We got caught up,’ Sarah said lightly.

‘I got taken over,’ Gordon shared wryly. ‘You were right. She’s not at all like you. She’s like a great overgrown schoolgirl.’

‘She’s a lovely person and there’s not an ounce of malice in her.’

Reluctantly he smiled. ‘Can you imagine the havoc she’d wreak if there were? Her brain is two steps behind her conversation.’

‘I wonder why she thought you were cute.’

‘Cute?’ His nostrils flared fastidiously.

‘A compliment you do not deserve.’

Unexpectedly he laughed, his pugnacious aspect vanishing. ‘I think of fluffy toys as cute but I was out of order. Let’s grab a seat,’ he suggested.

Gordon being Gordon there was no need to grab or even to search. He guided her between a low table and sofa, stowing her down in one corner. Ten seconds later he reappeared with two drinks he had evidently stashed somewhere near by in readiness. Gordon was always well organised. Meeting the level scrutiny she had been self-consciously evading, Sarah smiled. For once, Karen had made a mistake. Purely platonic friendship was perfectly possible between sensible people.

Her wandering gaze suddenly jolted to a halt. Shock reverberated through her in sickening waves and her fingers curled into her evening bag like white-knuckled talons, bracing for attack.

Rafael was lounging on the matching sofa on the other side of the low table. Her throat closed over. Every long lean line of his magnificent body emanated unnatural relaxation. There was a reckless violence in the dark, glittering stare that entrapped hers across the divide. Her ability to breathe was suffocated at source.

‘The punch has the kick of a mule,’ Gordon told her warningly.

Half of it went down Sarah’s convulsed throat in one go. Rafael had switched his attention back to the sinuous redhead curled under his arm. Cerise-painted fingertips were idly tracing the taut inner seam of the faded denim encasing one long, muscular thigh. Those caressing fingers exercised a sick fascination over Sarah. She could not take her eyes off them.

Gordon was talking to her and she couldn’t hear him. In desperation she turned towards him, only to be nailed again by Rafael’s steel-bright stare. Unforgivably he had been watching her watching him. She felt like an animal caught cruelly in the jaws of a trap with the hunter standing over her, making no attempt to administer a clean kill. She had the terrifying sensation that Rafael was seeing her naked and defenceless. Her muscles were so clenched that she physically hurt. For a crazed moment she was so wildly out of control that she almost ran for cover again.

Karen’s voice exploded in her ear. ‘Why aren’t you circulating?’

Karen wasn’t real. Gordon wasn’t real. The only reality was Rafael, even when Karen was blocking her view. He had not needed to speak to brutally intimate his savage contempt for her as a woman. He only had to sit there letting that tramp practically make love to him in public! She read the message like the banner he intended it to be and she felt ill, cornered.

Por dios, this world is truly a small place.’ Sarah’s head jerked up, a row of spectral toothmarks biting into her jangled nerves, her pallor pronounced.

Rafael had moved. He stood over her now, casting a long dark shadow before he crouched down in front of her with a natural athlete’s grace. So close, so unexpected was it that it took every atom of will-power she possessed not to rear back. Somewhere Karen was loudly proclaiming an introduction.

‘Sarah and I know each other.’ He said it to her, nobody else, his tiger’s eyes a golden threat on her white immobility.

‘You know each other?’ Karen positively squealed, hanging over the back of the sofa. ‘Where from?’

A smile slashed Rafael’s expressive mouth. A long brown forefinger skated over Sarah’s fiercely clenched hands, a mountain cat taking a first playful swipe at a trapped prey, frozen with fear. ‘Where from?’ he prompted silky soft. ‘Am I so easily, so quickly forgotten?’

Only desperation came to her rescue. ‘Paris, wasn’t it?’ she managed tautly.

‘When I was still starving in my garret, although not alone,’ he mocked, velvety smooth, smiling again as her trembling fingers snaked jerkily back out of reach. ‘I believe I was part of the Francophile experience.’ Slowly he sprang upright again, still ignoring Gordon. ‘Es verdad?’

‘Boy, have you got some explaining to do!’ Karen snapped painfully close to her eardrum as he walked away. ‘Give me an inch, Gordon, there’s a love. This is girl-talk, utterly beneath your notice. Sarah, you couldn’t possibly have forgotten him!’

‘To think that I once believed that the Spanish were a uniquely courteous race,’ Gordon drawled. ‘Shall we sample supper?’

Karen cut in on him, ‘Sarah, tell me—’

‘You don’t need a public address system, do you?’ Gordon detached Sarah’s numbed arm from Karen’s over-enthusiastic grip. They were a hair’s breadth from fighting over her, Sarah realised on the brink of hysteria. Rafael’s behaviour had shocked her into dumb stupidity. She couldn’t have made small talk to save her life.

‘Paris,’ said Karen and suddenly she burst out laughing. ‘Of course! He was one of Margo’s and you never did tell tales.’

Karen had herded them both into the dining-room. She was chatting nineteen to the dozen now, glad to have solved the mystery so easily. ‘We all thought it was a scream when Sarah’s parents let her go and stay in Paris with Margo. Easter in Upper Sixth, wasn’t it?’

Gordon passed out plates. ‘Margo?’ he prompted obediently.

Sarah parted bone-dry lips. ‘Margo Carruthers. Her father had an engineering business in Paris.’

‘Sarah used to sleep in French class,’ Karen took up impatiently. ‘And her parents put French on a level with flower arranging and good carriage.’

‘I went to Paris to improve my French.’ Sarah had to fight to keep her voice level on the unnecessary explanation.

Karen was giggling like a drain.

‘I’m afraid I don’t see the joke,’ Gordon imparted.

Karen gave him a ‘you-wouldn’t’ look. ‘Margo was sex mad. Anything in trousers,’ she emphasised. ‘But she acted like a little novice nun round parents. You must know what the Southcotts are like. If they’d had a clue what Margo’s favourite pursuit was, they’d never have let Sarah within a mile of her exclusive company!’

‘Teenagers are very vulnerable,’ Gordon said coolly.

‘You can’t know the Southcotts very well. When there was a flu outbreak at school, they kept Sarah home for a whole six weeks!’ Karen sent Sarah’s shuttered face a guilty glance. ‘Sorry, forgot you were there. Where are you in this conversation, anyway?’

Karen’s sister came up and whispered something. ‘No!’ Karen exclaimed in angry vexation. ‘Excuse me. Someone’s been in my dark-room.’

‘I hope we can assume that the interrogation is over,’ Gordon said grimly. ‘Alejandro had one hell of a nerve forcing himself on you like that. But then what can you expect from a gypsy?’

An extraordinary urge to slap the complacent superiority from Gordon’s well-bred features assailed Sarah. Karen’s assumption that Rafael had been one of Margo’s men had filled her with embittered humour. Even her closest friend couldn’t imagine any more intimate connection between them. Only the devil’s idea of a black joke could have matched two such radically different personalities. And why had she had to go to hell and back to discover what was so obvious to everyone else? The North Pole and the equator did not meet.

Gordon hailed a familiar face with relief. Another dinner-jacket and bow-tie. A man with a thin blonde on his arm shook her hand, spoke, and she must have spoken back. The dialogue roamed from government cuts to the Booker Prize on to Wall Street. Gordon was in his element. They worked their passage slowly back to the lounge, a comfortable part of a foursome, but shock was still curdling Sarah’s stomach. Nervous tension always made her feel sick.

Rafael was leaning back against the wall. He didn’t have a restful bone in his superbly built body. He was never still even when he was working. Oh, God…oh… In despair, she struggled to suppress the memories chipping away at what little remained of her poise. As people pushed past, propelling her uncomfortably closer to Rafael, Gordon draped an unexpected arm round her narrow shoulders. Rafael’s lady friend was tugging at his sleeve, her other hand resting on his chest. Sarah was reminded of a red setter bouncing up and down with a lead in its mouth, begging for a walk. Repulsion slithered through her. Some cruel fate had decided to punish her tonight.

‘I think it’s time we went home.’ It was Gordon’s clipped drawl.

‘Yes, it’s getting late.’ She had no idea what time it was, how long it might have been since she had finally contrived to wrench her magnetised attention from Rafael.

Gordon steered her out to the hall with surprising speed. ‘I’ll collect your coat.’

A chill was spreading along her veins. She would phone Karen tomorrow. In all likelihood, Karen would not even recall that she had left without speaking to her. Before she could take refuge in that hope, Karen emerged from the lounge and hurried over to her.

‘Will someone please tell me what was going on in there?’ she hissed.

‘Sorry, I don’t…’

‘Gordon and Rafael Alejandro. For a minute I thought there might be a punch-up but Gordon predictably opted for the diplomatic retreat. Talk about instant antipathy and not a word exchanged!’ Karen giggled. ‘You don’t mean to say you didn’t notice all that silent flexing of male egos? You’re blind, Sarah.’

Gordon appeared in the midst of these unwelcome confidences. Smoothly cutting in on Karen, he mentioned an early morning meeting with just the right touch of polished regret.

‘Phone me when you get home,’ Karen mouthed, unimpressed.

There was silence in the lift. Her high heels clicked noisily over the pavement. Gordon unlocked the passenger door of his Porsche. Her hands were trembling. She clasped them together on her lap. When a taxi cut in front of them, Gordon cursed, which was most unlike him.

‘It was you in Paris with Alejandro,’ he murmured flatly, abruptly.

Sarah shut her eyes. ‘Yes.’

Silence stretched but mentally she imagined that she heard the crash as she fell off her ladylike pedestal.

‘Just yes?’ Gordon queried, crunching the gears at the traffic lights. He was revealing a flip side character unfamiliar to her. ‘It’s none of my business, but he upset you.’

She straightened out her coiled fingers, rearranging her hands with the care of a small child mindful of adult appraisal. ‘I’m not very good with surprise encounters. I didn’t expect to ever see him again.’

‘You were still at school! What kind of a…?’ His voice broke off harshly.

Sooner or later, Gordon and Karen would both add two and two and make four. She had fallen in love when she was eighteen. Love had sent her off the rails. Love had plunged her into a kind of compulsive insanity that had left her at the mercy of emotions she could neither understand nor control.

For the first time in her life, someone had had more power over her than her parents. The Southcotts had been faced with someone as strong-willed, as ruthlessly manipulative and possessive as they were themselves. Battle had commenced with a vengeance. Stranded in the middle of the war zone, already sinking beneath the pressures of a relationship in which she was hopelessly out of her depth, Sarah had slowly been torn in two.

Rafael was the estranged and unrepentantly unfaithful husband who had had the unmitigated gall to refuse her a divorce. The high-powered lawyer her father had hired had tried repeatedly to break the deadlock. He had failed. Had Sarah been prepared to prove Rafael’s adultery, she would not have required his consent to a divorce. But Sarah had not been prepared to grasp that stinging nettle. Indeed she had shrunk from the threat of the publicity that would have accompanied a contested case. And three months from now the five-year time limit would be up. Technical freedom would be hers once more.

And what difference would it make to her? Sarah had stopped feeling married in the white-walled prison of a luxurious private clinic while she had waited…and she waited for a man who never arrived. What did it do to a woman when she offered understanding, if not forgiveness, and even understanding was rejected? Why had she even bothered to write to him? Time and time again she had asked herself that question. In her darkest hour she had offered an olive branch…in her own parlance, she had crawled. Her husband had committed adultery. And she had crawled. For nothing. That was what was still burned into her soul. She had put her pride on the line for nothing.

It was a blessing that nobody knew his identity. Her parents had gone to great lengths right from the beginning to bury all the evidence. When she had failed to return from Paris, they had told the school that she was ill and when time wore on that she was convalescing abroad. Rafael’s starburst ascent from impoverishment to success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams was a savage irony. ‘An offence against good taste,’ her mother had called it.

She rested her aching head back while Gordon drove her home to her small Kensington flat. ‘I wish you’d talk to me,’ he said.

‘I’m sorry.’

At the door of her flat, he caught her wrist between his fingers. Suddenly he was kissing her, the pressure of his mouth warm and practised on hers. She endured the embrace passively. Unmoving, unresponsive. To respond you had to feel something. Sarah felt nothing beyond an awkward sense of embarrassment.

Gordon drew back, a faint flush on his cheekbones. ‘I don’t win any prizes for timing, do I?’ But he smiled down at her, restored to his normally even temper. ‘I’ll call you.’

Karen had once told her that no man ever believed his interest might be unwelcome to a woman. And Gordon was a very confident man, calmly proving the concept. At the start of the evening the mere idea of Gordon kissing her would have been enough to alarm Sarah, but Rafael had already sent her crashing through the shock barrier.

‘I’ll be very busy this week,’ she replied.

His mouth quirked but he said nothing, standing there until she was safely indoors. Dropping her coat on the hall chair, she kicked off her shoes and walked into the lounge.

Her babysitter was already bundling up her books. ‘You’re early. I didn’t expect you for ages yet.’

‘I was tired.’ Sarah dug into her purse and paid the teenager, who lived just across the corridor. ‘Any problems?’

‘Oh, no!’ Angela grinned, digging the notes deep into the pocket of her skin-tight jeans. ‘I let them watch the late film with me,’ she then conceded carelessly. ‘I’ll let myself out.’

Sarah wandered over to the sideboard and withdrew the bottle of brandy which she kept for her father’s occasional consumption. She was pouring a measure into a crystal glass when she thought she heard Angela speaking to someone. With a frown she lifted her head just as the front door rocked on the teenager’s noisy slam, making her wince.

Angela was trustworthy and sensible but she had a soft-hearted tendency to give way to Gilly and Ben’s pleas to get back out of bed. Give the twins an inch and they took a mile. Tomorrow they would be overtired and cross. Tomorrow…her hand shook and she curved an arm over her stomach. Damn him, damn him…damn him.

‘Dios mio.’ It was a purred intervention in the quiet. ‘I should think you would need to drain the bottle to sleep tonight.’

Incredulously, she whirled round. The glass slid between her fingers and fell with a soft thud, spilling out an amber pool of liquid in a slowly spreading stain on the carpet.


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