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Мортимер Кэрол

Golden Fever

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CHAPTER TWO

‘CLARE!’ Harvey was frowning at her.

She blinked dazedly. ‘Yes?’

‘I was talking to you,’ his tone was petulant, ’and you haven’t heard a word I said.’

‘You were saying how lucky we were to get Rourke Somerville,’ she recalled dully.

‘Yes,’ he acknowledged eagerly. ‘If anything he’s better than Jason Faulkner.’

Clare was regaining her composure now, forcing herself to mentally collect herself together. ‘Do you think so?’ she said in a bored voice, once again the ’Ice Lady’ one perceptive newspaper had nicknamed her. The name had mainly been chosen out of pique by the reporter when she had refused his invitation to dinner, but nevertheless it was a truer description than ’Golden Lady’.

‘Of course.’ Harvey seemed not to have noticed her withdrawn attitude, that momentary slip of composure. Which was perhaps as well, because she had no intention of explaining the reason for it to him! ’If anything Rourke Somerville is a bigger box-office draw then you are.’

Clare gave a mocking smile. ‘Is that a good thing? As my manager aren’t you supposed to get me top billing?’

‘Oh, you’ll get that,’ Harvey took her seriously. ‘Somerville has no objection to your taking top billing over him. After all, his name will be under director too.’

Yes. And Rourke had had a sight longer than she had to become accustomed to the fact that they were to star in this film together, were to act as lovers. God, he must find the situation funny! If Rena hadn’t casually mentioned the change of director to her she would have walked into that meeting this afternoon totally unprepared. As it was she was going to find it difficult, if not impossible, to do.

‘Clare!’ Harvey gave her an impatient frown for her lack of attention. ‘Maybe I should call and tell them you can’t make the meeting,’ he frowned. ‘You seem to be suffering from jet-lag.’

She longed to accept the reprieve offered to her, and yet she couldn’t do it. Rourke was sure to know the real reason, and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of thinking she was frightened of meeting him again—even if it were true!

It was five years since she had last seen him, five years when she had tried not to even think about him, five years during which she had matured into a self-confident woman who wouldn’t allow a rake like him to get to her. He couldn’t touch her, not now or in the past; she had Harvey now, and would one day be his wife. Then why was she filled with such alarm just as the prospect of seeing Rourke again …?

She straightened her shoulders determinedly. ‘That won’t be necessary, Harvey,’ she said coolly. ‘I feel perfectly well enough to attend this—meeting.’ The nervous fluttering in her stomach wouldn’t be stilled. ‘I have to go now,’ she told him jerkily. ‘I don’t want to be late.’

‘Okay, darling,’ he kissed her tenderly on the mouth. ‘And if you would rather have dinner in your room tonight that’s fine by me.’

‘Thank you, Harvey,’ she said, touched by his gentleness. ‘Perhaps you would like to join me?’ she offered generously.

His handsome face became flushed with desire. ‘Clare …!’ he murmured huskily, his lips claiming hers in a kiss that told her of his passion.

Harvey desired her, she had always known that. And after accepting his ring she had allowed him more intimacies with her body, feeling his hand on her breast now, and yet so far they had never completely made love. Maybe if they had she would be able to banish rakishly attractive untidy black hair and twinkling blue eyes from her mind. Maybe from her body too …

She extricated herself from Harvey’s arms with a consoling smile. ‘I have to go. I’ll see you later.’

He was breathing raggedly, his eyes bright with suppressed desire. ‘I’ll look forward to it,’ he told her throatily.

Clare left with a quick, warm smile, but the smile faded as soon as she closed the door behind her. Twenty to two—she didn’t have to go to the Windsor Room quite yet, so she hurried back to her suite, shutting herself in with a feeling of relief.

Rourke Somerville! God, Rourke … She collapsed into one of the comfortable armchairs, closing her eyes to shut out the pain just hearing his name again had caused. In her mind she could see it all, all the pain, the disillusionment that she had thought forgotten, or at least buried. But it was far from being that, the memories, all of them, as vivid as if it had all happened yesterday.

She was eighteen again, newly arrived from England, having left school to come home and consider what she was going to do with the rest of her life.

Charles, her mother’s chauffeur, had met her at the airport as usual, her girlish pleasure as she climbed into the limousine still as delighted as the first time she had come home from school and been met in this way. She had been coming to Los Angeles for holidays for the past ten years, but this time it was different, this time she didn’t have to go back to England if she didn’t want to.

The house in Beverly Hills had seemed as spectacular as usual, the pink and white painted hacienda-style house at the end of the long tree-edged driveway. Her mother had lived in this house for the last fifteen years, much acclaimed by the film world, often not even at home when Clare got there, more often than not on location in some exotic part of the world working on her latest film.

But she was home today, resting after a gruelling year filming the movie that was taking the world by storm.

Laughter could be heard coming from the direction of the pool as Clare stepped out of the car, both male and female.

‘Your mother had guests for lunch,’ Charles informed her in a deadpan voice. An import from England, he had been with her mother for the last twenty years, his trust and loyalty to his employer never in any doubt.

Clare had often wondered whether he and her mother had once been lovers, for Charles’ devotion to her mother was almost dog-like, despite her often volatile temper.

Clare had never known her father; he had apparently been killed in an automobile accident just after she was born. He had been an actor too, as famous as her mother was now, and with two such talented parents she was seriously considering an acting career for herself.

‘Thank you, Charles,’ she smiled as he carried her suitcase into her bedroom, moving forward to the balcony once he had left the room. There were about a dozen people sitting around the pool, but only one person actually in the water.

Her mother was draped decorously on one of the loungers. She was already forty years of age, despite her claim of being thirty. She was wearing a black bikini, two scraps of material that were only just decent, so it was no wonder she didn’t want to get it wet. It would probably dissove in the water! Her beautiful face was partly obscured by huge, round sunglasses, but Clare knew her eyes were deeply brown beneath them, her skin clear and youthful. Her hair was a deep auburn, thick and naturally straight to just below her shoulders, although having seen photographs of her mother as a child Clare knew it was kept that rich red colour by artificial means; her hair was really a mousy brown.

She considered her mother the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, magnetically so, and she could see the men in the party were all in love with that beauty. All except the man in the pool …

She looked at him with interest, mainly because he wasn’t one of the men who paid court to her mother. He was swimming the length of the pool with long, easy strokes, black hair plastered over his forehead, worn longer than was fashionable at the moment, although he didn’t look as if fashion particularly bothered him.

As he swung out of the pool Clare gasped her recognition. Rourke Somerville! He was the man starring with her mother in her latest film, the one everyone was raving about at the moment. One of her friends at school had a poster of him on her bedroom wall, and at the time Clare had thought the picture flattered the actor; now she knew that if anything it understated.

Rourke Somerville had the physique of an athlete, was tall, extremely so, with wide powerful shoulders, a slim waist, and muscular thighs, his only clothing a pair of black swimming trunks, and by the look of his tan he didn’t always wear them! His legs were long and firmly muscled, the whole of his body covered lightly with black hair.

As if sensing her scrutiny he suddenly looked up at the balcony she stood on, and Clare quickly ducked back into the room, but not before she had taken in every devastating feature. He had towelled his hair dry on stepping out of the pool, and it now hung in damp waves about his face, as black as night. His brows were the same dark colour, jutting over the deepest blue eyes Clare had ever seen, his lashes long and thick. His nose was long and straight, arrogantly so, his mouth full-lipped, the lower lip sensually so, his jaw square and determined, giving the impression of a haughty disregard for anyone’s wishes but his own. A gold medallion hung about the wide column of his throat, suspended there by a thick, chunky gold chain; even the single piece of jewellery he wore was totally masculine.

She wanted to go down and join them, to perhaps talk to Rourke Somerville. How jealous Diana would be when she wrote and told her about it! Her friend knew everything about him, his Irish-American parentage, his upbringing in an orphanage until he was sixteen years old, the way he had worked his way up to the top of his profession, until now, at the age of thirty-four, he could pick and choose the parts he played for any fee he demanded.

In one of the infrequent letters Clare had received from her mother she had been full of praise for her co-star. And it seemed they were still friends, otherwise he wouldn’t have been invited here. She wondered what Perry, her mother’s boy-friend for the last year, would think of that.

She was in the process of putting on her bikini when the door opened. Already wearing the yellow briefs that matched the top, she had paused to study her body in the full-length mirror before putting on the bra-top. Her breasts were full and pert, the tips rosy peaks, her waist flat and slender, her hips and thighs reed-thin. Until this last year she had had puppy-fat to contend with, and added to her height she had felt like an elephant. Fortunately she had slimmed down, and might even have considered a career in modelling if it weren’t for her full breasts.

To the man now standing in the doorway she must have looked as if she were blatantly admiring herself. She snatched up the bra of her bikini, clutching it in front of her as she stared at Rourke Somerville in fascinated horror.

His gaze was frankly appraising as he came farther into the room, closing the door behind him, still wearing only the brief black trunks. ‘I thought I hadn’t imagined you,’ he murmured, his voice having a magical lilt to it that charmed without effort. ‘Where have you been hiding yourself?’ he asked huskily.

‘I—Why, nowhere.’ But she wished she could hide herself now, knowing this man had taken in every naked inch of her—and by the glint in his eyes he had liked what he saw!

He walked slowly over to where she was, unsuccessfully, trying to hide herself, plucking the bikini top out of her nervous fingers, holding her hands down at her sides as he slowly looked at her. The eyes he finally raised to hers had flickering flames lighting their deep blue depths. ‘I’ve certainly never met you before,’ he said throatily.

Clare licked her lips, not realising how provocative the movement was. ‘You haven’t?’ she delayed, her embarrassment fading, and a languorous warmth starting to invade her lower limbs under his avid gaze, her eyes the colour of rich, molten gold.

Rourke Somerville smiled, his teeth very white against his tanned skin. ‘I would have remembered you,’ he murmured, releasing her hands to run his fingertips lightly over the flatness of her stomach, a devil entering his eyes as his hands came to rest at the top of her bikini briefs. He laughed softly in his throat as he heard her catch her breath, those sensuous hands moving up towards her breasts now, his gaze fixed firmly on her flushed face, smiling as he watched her reaction to his caresses.

She flinched as he touched her breasts. Ten years of convent education had not prepared her for the sensuality of this man. The nearest the nuns had ever come to discussing sex had been in the Biology class, and then it had only been mentioned briefly as part of life’s cycle.

But this man was everything the nuns had ever warned her about in a man—and everything the other girls had ever whispered about in their secret fantasies!

‘Please don’t do that!’ She shuddered as his hands resumed their exploration of her lower body.

He raised heavy lids. ‘Why not?’

‘Because—well, because——’

He shook his head. ‘But I want to touch you. You’re like sunshine, do you know that?’ One of his hands moved to cup her chin, rubbing his thumb caressingly over her lips. ‘Young, fresh, and bright.’

‘Please——’

‘No need to ask, Sunshine,’ he said huskily, his head bending towards hers. ‘I have no intention of leaving this room until I’ve at least kissed you.’

Dating boys hadn’t exactly been encouraged at the convent, although Clare had had her fair share of dates. But they had been with boys, boys of her own age, and Rourke Somerville was definitely a man, in every sense of the word.

As his mouth moved druggingly over hers he pulled her thighs in between his, their bathing suits no barrier to the throb of Rourke’s body, and her lips parted willingly beneath his.

His hands moved beneath her bikini to cup her heated flesh, moving his thighs against her as he held her steady, leaving her in no doubt of his full arousal.

Clare panicked. Everything was moving too fast for her inexperience, and she wrenched her mouth away from, his, pushing at his hands. ‘Please—stop!’ She looked at him with darkened eyes. ‘Stop …’ she groaned as his lips moved to the sensitive cord in her throat.

‘You don’t really want me to do that,’ he taunted softly. ‘And I don’t want to either.’

‘But I do!’ she cried, finally managing to push him away, her breathing heavy as she escaped his arms. Rourke watched the heaving of her breasts until she snatched up the blouse she had worn for the flight, pulling it on over her nakedness.

Rourke shrugged, making no effort to hide the arousal of his own body. ‘What’s the panic?’ he shrugged.

She gave him an angry glare. ‘The panic is that you shouldn’t be in here.’ And he certainly shouldn’t have touched her the way he had! Her skin still tingled from the contact.

‘Why?’

‘Because—You just shouldn’t!’ she said angrily, knowing that while she might tell Diana she had met Rourke Somerville, she would never tell her what else had happened between them.

His eyebrows rose. ‘You aren’t the maid or something, are you?’

‘Of course not!’ She flushed.

‘Of course not.’ He looked pointedly around the luxurious bedroom she was occupying, the totally feminine lemon and white decor. ‘Darling, anyone who comes to one of Carlene’s parties knows the score,’ he drawled.

Clare blinked hard. ‘They—they do?’

‘Mm,’ he nodded. ‘Anything goes—and I mean anything. So if we choose to spend the rest of the afternoon in bed together no one is going to mind.’

‘No!’ She backed away as he advanced, more shocked by what he was saying than she wanted him to know. Did her mother really give parties like that?

‘Why not?’ His deep blue eyes narrowed. ‘Or is one of those guys downstairs yours’?’

‘Guys? Downstairs …? Oh no,’ she realised he meant the other men by the pool. ‘No,’ she shook her head firmly.

‘Then what’s wrong?’ His mouth twisted. ‘Don’t tell me you don’t like me!’

She knew she deserved his mockery. Of course she couldn’t deny liking him, she hadn’t exactly screamed the place down when he had kissed and caressed her. And this man was too experienced with women not to know she had responded totally to him.

‘No …’ she acknowledged faintly.

‘And I certainly like you. Relax, beautiful,’ he grinned, his hands lightly grasping the tops of her arms to pull her slowly towards him. ‘If you want to take it slow we’ll take it slow,’ he shrugged. ‘But not here. Let’s go back to my place, relax—you can even sunbathe nude if you want to,’ he added throatily. ‘I often do.’

He was only confirming what she had already guessed, and the transition from the convent to nude sunbathing was too much of a shock for her to do anything else but blush.

Rourke’s eyes narrowed on her fiery cheeks. ‘Who are you?’ he asked in a puzzled voice, his hands dropping away from her arms.

‘I——’

‘Rourke? Rourke, where are you?’

His mouth twisted as he half turned towards the door. ‘Our beautiful hostess,’ he drawled. ‘Which means I’d better get out of here.’

‘Yes,’ Clare agreed, her eyes wide, terrified her mother was going to come in here and find her in a state of undress with Rourke Somerville. He might claim that her mother gave wild parties, but she had never seen any evidence of them; her mother was very strict about her behaviour whenever she was at home.

Rourke shrugged. ‘Maybe the daughter’s arrived from the convent. You have her to thank for not being able to show us all that beautiful body of yours.’

She gulped. ‘I—I do?’

He nodded. ‘Mm. Carlene ordered bathing suits to be worn in her daughter’s honour.’

Did that mean they usually bathed nude …? Including her mother? No, she couldn’t believe that. And this man obviously didn’t realise that she was ’the daughter’ who was spoiling all his fun.

‘You’d better go,’ she advised softly.

‘Yes,’ he sighed, looking impatient. ‘Are you coming down to join us?’

‘I—In a minute.’ When she had recovered from the shock of the last fifteen minutes!

He strolled casually over to the door, tall and lithe, moving with an animal grace that was totally sensual. ’I’ll be waiting for you,’ he said softly. ‘And don’t forget the rest of your bikini—we wouldn’t want to shock the child.’

Clare’s mouth compressed in consternation as Rourke Somerville left the room. How old did he think she was, for goodness’ sake!

Her sense of humour got the better of her, and she giggled at the idea of the little girl he expected her to be. How surprised he was going to be when he found out he had just been making love to ’the child’!

But it wasn’t really funny, and she sobered instantly. Rourke Somerville had touched her intimately, hadn’t expected her to be surprised by his behaviour. Just what sort of man was he? And what sort of girl did he think she was!

She had all her bikini on when her mother entered the room a few minutes later, running to meet her with a tiny sob. She hadn’t seen her mother for almost a year because she had been busy filming, and yet she found her little changed, her beauty as youthful as ever.

‘Mummy!’ She hugged her, feeling ridiculously tearful.

‘Hello, darling,’ her mother greeted in her offhand voice. ‘Don’t cling, Clare, it’s much too hot for body contact.’ She stepped away from Clare, her sunglasses now pushed back into her hair.

Her mother’s words reminded her of the body contact she had just had with Rourke Somerville, and she felt suddenly shy. ‘You’re looking well, Mummy,’ she said awkwardly, feeling tall and gauche against her mother’s petite beauty and grace.

‘Thank you, darling.’ Carlene looked pleased by the compliment. ‘And so are you,’ she frowned, tiny lines appearing at the sides of her eyes. ‘When did you grow to be so—attractive?’

Clare gave a happy laugh, flushing her pleasure. ‘I’ve slimmed down, that’s all.’

‘No, that isn’t all!’ Her mother’s voice was sharp. ‘Oh well, never mind,’ she dismissed irritably. ‘Gene’s waiting for you downstairs.’

Clare’s face lit up with excitement. Gene was Perry’s son, and the two of them had dated casually the last time she was home. It would be lovely to see him again.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen—No,’ her mother answered her own question, ’I don’t suppose you have. Come along, Clare, I can’t neglect my guests any longer.’

The two of them walked down the stairs together, totally different to look at, both startlingly beautiful, although Clare would never have guessed that her own youthful beauty far outshone that of her mother. In her opinion no one could be as beautiful as her mother. All her life she had been in awe of that beauty, and now was no different.

‘Seen who, Mummy?’ she asked casually.

‘What?’ Her mother seemed preoccupied. ‘Oh, one of the guests seems to have wandered off. I didn’t know if you’d seen him.’

So she was still looking for Rourke. Maybe he had left; he seemed to have been bored by the party. But he had said he would be waiting for her, and somehow she believed he would be.

The two women stepped into the pool area together, one with hair like sunshine, her youthful perfection giving her a feline grace, the other with hair like flame, a woman conscious that her own beauty was beginning to fade—and determined to hang on to it, and the power it gave her, at all costs.

‘Hello …’

Clare instantly recognised that husky purr, and turned apprehensive eyes on Rourke Somerville. He had a drink in his hand now, a long, slim glass that contained some form of alcohol, she felt sure. And his hair was completely dry now, loose black curls that lay in complete disorder across his brow, giving him a rakish attraction that made her pulses race.

‘Ah, there you are, Rourke.’ It was her mother who answered him, slipping her arm into the crook of his. ‘I thought you’d gone, darling,’ she added throatily, looking very small and feminine against his broad masculinity.

He looked down at her with amused indulgence. ‘And miss meeting your beautiful guest?’ His deep blue gaze caught and held Clare’s gold one, and her breathing was suddenly constricted.

Her mother frowned, her normally smooth brow creased into lines of puzzlement. ‘Guest? What guest——? Oh, you mean Clare,’ she snapped her irritation.

Rourke ignored her, his gaze slowly caressing Clare, his mouth curved into an intimate smile, as if they shared a secret.

She blushed scarlet, knowing that because of her behaviour with him earlier he had a right to look at her in that—knowing way.

‘If that’s her name, yes,’ he answered her mother but continued to look at her, his gaze on her mouth almost a caress.

‘Well, it is,’ her mother’s voice was sharp. ‘And she isn’t a guest.’

His eyes narrowed, his expression wary now. ‘She isn’t?’ he asked slowly.

‘Of course not. This is my daughter,’ he was informed almost angrily.

Her mother had all of his attention now; all the lazy sensuality disappeared as he looked from one to the other of them, apparently trying to see some sign of likeness between them. Clare knew he would find none. She took after her father, Drew Anderson, both of them being tall and fair. Even her features were nothing like her mother’s, her mother having an almost elfin beauty, while her own features were more regular and rounded.

Now he frowned. ‘This is ‘‘little Clare’’?’ he derided.

Her mother flushed. ‘Yes.’

His mouth twisted. ‘She’s hardly little, Carlene.’

Her mother’s laugh sounded forced. ‘She is rather tall——’

‘I wasn’t talking about her height,’ Rourke drawled, his gaze frankly admiring on Clare’s curves.

‘Really, Rourke,’ her mother’s voice was brittlely light now, ’you can’t flirt with my daughter!’

His mouth tightened grimly, his eyes becoming hard. ‘No, I can’t,’ he agreed tautly, extricating himself from her hand. ‘I have to go now, Carlene——’

‘Oh, not yet, Rourke,’ she pouted provocatively. ‘Stay to dinner, everyone else is.’

‘It isn’t possible,’ he refused smoothly. ‘I have another appointment this evening.’

Clare’s eyes widened; she knew this statement to be untrue. He had invited her to spend the evening with him, so he certainly didn’t have another appointment. He looked at her in challenge, as if daring her to dispute his claim, but she remained silent.

‘Oh, Rourke,’ her mother chided disappointedly.

‘Oh, Carlene!’ he taunted.

‘Tomorrow, then?’ her mother insisted.

‘We’ll see.’ He was noncommittal. ‘Miss Walters,’ he nodded in Clare’s direction, already turning to go and change when she corrected him.

‘Anderson,’ she said huskily.

Blue eyes swung back in her direction. ‘I beg your pardon?’ he drawled.

She drew herself up to her full height, still only on a level with his nose. ‘My name is Anderson, Mr Somerville,’ she told him coolly. ‘Clare Anderson.’

‘I see,’ he mocked. ‘I’ll remember that for future reference.’

‘I doubt we’ll meet again,’ she snapped, unable to stop herself. Heavens, he was so arrogant! How dared he treat her mother so casually!

His eyes narrowed as he sensed her resentment. ‘Oh, I think we will, Clare. In fact, I’m sure of it.’

She felt relieved when he at last moved towards the house to change, and turned gratefully as someone called her name.

‘Gene!’ she smiled recognition of the tall sun-bronzed boy standing in front of her. He hadn’t changed at all, was still as good-looking as ever, his blond hair sun-bleached, his eyes a deep attractive brown, wearing only a pair of cut-off denims, his body lean and suntanned.

‘Hello, beautiful!’ He didn’t stand on ceremony, but picked her up to swing her round, kissing her soundly on the mouth.

After being with Gene for ten minutes it was as if she had never been away; the two of them were once again enjoying each other’s company. Perry smiled at them indulgently; a man in his mid-forties, very handsome, with prematurely iron-grey hair, liking the fact that his son and the daughter of the woman he loved liked each other.

‘Rourke’s leaving, darling,’ her mother called Perry over to them.

Clare couldn’t resist looking at Rourke Somerville once more, to find him looking at her too, a lazily amused smile curving his lips. She hurriedly looked away again, but not before she had noticed everything about him, his hair a riot of black curls, a deep blue silk shirt fitting snugly across his chest and flat stomach, tucked into the low waistband of his white trousers. He held a pair of sunglasses in his hand as he talked to her mother and Perry, even such a simple movement looking sensual on this man.

With a mocking nod in her direction he was gone—and with him went all the fun and gaiety of the party, or so it seemed to Clare.

The next few days were spent mainly in Gene’s company, their days being spent at Malibu Beach, where Gene spent most of his time on his surf board, although the waves hardly seemed high enough to accommodate him. But he enjoyed it, and Clare found it relaxing to be in his company. Their evenings were spent going to one party after another, renewing old acquaintances for Clare, and often making new ones. It was at one of these parties that she met Rourke for the second time.

She hadn’t completely forgotten him, but she had pushed the thought of him to the back of her mind. He hadn’t been to the house any more, and her mother never mentioned him, so it was hard to find out anything about him. Not that she was altogether sure she wanted to find out anything about such a dangerous man; just remembering the way he had looked at her sending shivers of apprehension down her spine. And his words that they would meet again had sounded almost like a threat to her sensitive ears.

It was almost a week later that Gene and she were at yet another party, the only thing making this one different from the others being that Rourke Somerville had arrived shortly after eleven o’clock, a beautiful blonde on his arm, a woman that Clare instantly recognised as Livia Marriott, an actress known for her more ’revealing’ roles. The last film she had made had been banned in many parts of the world, and it seemed she was no less daring in her private life, the black dress she almost had on having no back at all and hardly any front.

Rourke was dressed almost as casually, his white trousers skin-tight, his black shirt almost completely unbuttoned, the hair visible on his chest thick and dark.

Clare tried not to notice him and his affectionate partner, but it was impossible not to. When they danced together they almost made love, and when they didn’t dance Livia Marriott draped herself so sensuously over Rourke that they might as well have been making love then too.

She looked away, shocked by their behaviour, although no one else seemed to be taking the least bit of notice. Some of the other women in the room even looked jealous of the full-breasted actress—probably wishing themselves in her place, Clare thought disgustedly.

‘Why the frown?’

Once again Rourke had caught her unawares, leaning casually against the wall as she sat in a corner waiting for Gene to return from dancing with one of their friends.

She blushed. ‘I didn’t see you, Mr Somerville,’ she said stiltedly.

He moved to sit on the side of her armchair, much too close for comfort, smelling of some spicy, masculine cologne. ‘So the frown wasn’t for me?’ he asked throatily.

Clare moved uncomfortably, sure that he must be able to see straight down the low neckline of her cream halter-necked dress. And the frown had been for him, for his blatant behaviour with the young actress. ‘I didn’t say that, Mr Somerville,’ she told him stiffly, her years at the convent preventing her telling a deliberate lie.

‘Oh?’ His eyebrows rose. ‘What did I do this time?’

‘This time?’ She blinked her puzzlement, licking her lips nervously.

Rourke watched the movement, and those flames started to leap in his eyes once again. ‘Do you do that on purpose?’ he rasped.

Clare frowned. ‘Do what?’

He gave her a disbelieving look, his mouth twisting derisively. ‘Never mind,’ he dismissed scathingly. ‘So, what did I do?’

‘I—Why, nothing.’ She went to stand up, totally unnerved by his closeness, but Rourke’s hand on her arm stopped her. ‘Let me go,’ she requested softly.

‘Why?’

‘Why …?’

‘Yes. You know you don’t want me to really,’ his eyes teased her. ‘You aren’t what I expected ‘‘little Clare’’ to look like. Not at all,’ he added mockingly.

She already knew that! ’What did you expect, Mr Somerville, white socks and a gymslip?’ she flashed, resenting the hold on her arm that wouldn’t be shaken.

His mouth quirked into a smile. ‘Now there’s a thought,’ he leered wickedly.

Clare tried to be annoyed, but her humour got the better of her as she burst out laughing. ‘The nuns would be shocked,’ she giggled.

Rourke’s eyes darkened appreciatively. ‘I’m sure they would.’ He stood up in one fluid movement. ‘Let’s dance,’ he said abruptly.

‘Oh, but I—Miss Marriott?’

He smiled. ‘So that’s what I did wrong. Livia is busy—seducing a director.’

Clare’s eyes widened. ‘Don’t you mind?’

‘Should I?’ He sounded bored.

‘Well, I—You came here together!’

‘So?’

‘So you—well, you——’

He shrugged. ‘Livia and I make no claims on each other. Does Gene have any claim on you?’ His eyes were narrowed.

‘Gene …?’ she repeated in bewilderment.

‘The beautiful young daughter of Carlene Walters and the son of Perry Lester have been seen together all over L.A., at the beach, at restaurants, at parties,’ he added pointedly. ‘Didn’t you know you’re the talk of the town?’

‘No,’ her face was scarlet with embarrassment. ‘Gene and I are just friends——’

Rourke gave a mocking laugh. ‘Now where have I heard that before?’ he taunted.

Clare blushed. ‘I don’t think you’re a very nice person, Mr Somerville.’

‘I hope not,’ he still smiled.

‘You’re impossible!’ She spluttered with laughter, finding this outrageous man more and more attractive by the minute.

‘I hope I’m that too,’ he nodded. ‘Now, shall we dance?’

‘Yes, please,’ she accepted shyly.

‘I thought you were never going to agree,’ he groaned, taking her to the dance area before pulling her unresistingly into his arms.

Not an inch separated them as they slowly danced to the music, Clare resting her head on Rourke’s shoulder, her arms about his neck as his hands rested possessively on her hips.

‘Now aren’t you glad you didn’t become a nun?’ he murmured in amusement, his lips warm against her earlobe.

Clare smiled. ‘There was never any chance of that.’ She respected the wishes of the Sisters to shut themselves away from the world, from the love of a flesh-and-blood man, but she knew it wasn’t for her. She enjoyed being kissed, being held, and she knew that one day she wanted a husband and children to take care of.

‘No,’ Rourke gave a throaty chuckle, one of his hands exploring the curve of her spine now. ‘No, I don’t suppose there was.’

For some reason she didn’t like the way he said that, and she stiffened in his arms before moving away from him. ‘I think I’d like to return to Gene now,’ she said stiltedly.

Blue eyes narrowed with displeasure, his lashes ridiculously long for a man. ‘And if I don’t want you to?’

Her brows rose with more calm than she was feeling. ‘Should it matter to me what you want?’

She was surprised at her own coolness, her pulse fluttering erratically just to look at him. But she had seen the way her mother handled men, and she knew that if she showed Rourke how nervous he really made her feel he would tease her unmercifully—worse, he would know how deeply she was attracted to him.

And she was attracted, very much so. She had known it the moment she saw him again; a nervous fluttering was beginning in the pit of her stomach, an excited flush coming to her cheeks. And she could quite cheerfully have scratched Livia Marriott’s eyes out for the way she kept touching him, pressing herself against him while he looked on in amusement.

It was that amusement that attracted too, the challenge his contemptuous attitude towards women gave every female who so much as looked at him. And he was contemptuous. He found women amusing, playthings, and to her shame Clare knew that she would like to act just as clinging as the other women in his life. But she wouldn’t. She might only be eighteen, lack the experience to control a man like this, but she was sensible enough to know that Rourke Somerville enjoyed the chase more than the capture. With a maturity beyond her years she knew that he was intrigued by her, that he found the contradictions of her sun-kissed appearance and her convent upbringing a challenge he had never faced before.

‘It matters to me what you want,’ he answered her now. ‘Do you want me?’

His direct approach was too much for her, and she blushed a deep red. ‘Certainly not!’ she replied in a shocked voice.

‘I want you.’

Clare swallowed hard. ‘You—you do?’

‘Mm,’ he nodded, his eyes warm on her lips. ‘When can I have you?’

‘You can’t!’ She moved completely away from him. ‘Excuse me, Mr Somerville, I have to get back to Gene.’

He shrugged philosophically, letting her go without a word of protest. Clare couldn’t decide whether she was piqued or relieved at his easy acceptance of her departure from his side. In the end she decided she was piqued. She hadn’t been so clever after all; Rourke regarded her with just as much amusement as he did every other woman he came into contact with.

She found Gene out by the pool, and her eyes widened as she saw there were several people in the water—all of them completely naked, male and female alike!

Gene put his arm protectively about her shoulders. ‘Time to leave, I think,’ he grinned.

‘I’m not a prude, you know,’ she snapped, still raw from Rourke’s casual treatment.

‘Hey, I know that,’ Gene chided. ‘But it’s getting late. And I make it a rule never to get involved in this sort of scene. It can only get worse,’ he grimaced. ‘Let’s leave.’

Clare was secretly relieved by his decision, although she remained outwardly calm, waiting in the spacious hallway while Gene went in search of her jacket.

‘Leaving already?’ remarked an all too familiar voice.

Her hands clenched at her sides, but she faced Rourke coolly enough, tall and beautiful, the cream colour of her dress giving her skin a golden glow, her hair like burnished gold as it hung straight to her shoulders, the fringe winged back over her tawny eyes.

They were strangely alone out here, as the rest of the party were in the spacious lounge and pool area. Rourke looked dark and disturbing—mainly disturbing, all amusement gone now as he continued to look at her, his eyes a deep, dark blue.

‘The fun’s just beginning,’ he added in a murmur, standing perhaps six feet away from her, his masculinity a tangible thing.

Clare’s mouth twisted derisively. ‘It depends on what you call fun,’ she drawled, pleased with herself as she managed to infuse just the right amount of contempt into her voice.

One dark eyebrow rose, and Rourke moved several steps forward, standing only inches away from her now. ‘And what’s your idea of fun, Clare?’ he asked huskily.

She maintained a calm exterior with effort, inside her emotions in complete turmoil. No man had the right to have so much animal magnetism, not and be allowed loose among the susceptible female population—of which she was one.

She felt sure he would be riveting on the big screen. She had never personally seen any of his films, but Diana had seen every one several times, exclaiming over the sexuality he brought into the roles he played.

‘Certainly not what’s going on in there,’ she nodded in the direction of the pool.

‘No?’

‘No,’ she blushed. ‘I prefer a—a one-on-one basis,’ she added bravely.

‘So do I.’ He took another step forward, fitting his body against hers, each hard contour evident against her softer curves. ‘Do you have to go?’ he asked throatily.

‘I—Yes.’ Excited colour heightened her cheeks, a fevered look to her eyes. Gene often kissed her, touched her in a casual way—but there was nothing casual about Rourke’s touch, and heat coursed through her body as she began to tremble.

‘Do you really?’ he said huskily, slowly bending his head to claim her mouth for the second time since she had known him.

It was just as nerve-shattering as before, the slow, drugging movement of his lips on hers, the erotic way he ran his hands over her bare back, her flesh seeming to tingle where he touched.

‘Stay, Clare,’ he breathed against her mouth.

‘I——’

‘Stay!’ he urged, his mouth more urgent this time, telling her better than words of his desire for her. ‘Or better still,’ he raised his head to groan, ’come home with me.’

The warning bells began ringing more strongly where this man was concerned, and she reluctantly pulled away from him. A look of angry irritation flitted across his hard face before it was quickly masked by his usual look of cynicism, telling her that it was a long time since any woman had turned him down.

‘Unfortunately,’ she drawled confidently, ’you aren’t the man I want to be one-on-one with.’

Anger blazed in the deep blue eyes before it was quickly controlled. ‘Are you telling me Gene Lester is?’ he mocked insultingly.

She raised her brows in cool query, sure that she had a vocation for acting—if this performance were anything to go by? Rourke was completely taken in by her blas$eA attitude. ‘Is there any reason why he shouldn’t be?’ she asked distantly.

Rourke scowled. ‘He’s too damned young for you!’

‘He happens to be twenty.’

His mouth twisted. ‘And you’re eighteen going on thirty-five!’

He was being deliberately insulting, she knew that, but was that really how she appeared to him? He made it sound as if she were too experienced for Gene. She might have responded to Rourke’s kisses, but she didn’t think that was any basis on which to make such an assumption about her.

‘Clare!’ Gene, luckily, arrived at her side at that moment, placing her lightweight jacket about her bare shoulders. ‘How are you, Rourke?’ he greeted the other man with his usual friendly manner.

‘Fine,’ the other man answered tersely. ‘I think I’ll get back to the party.’

Clare knew this last was added for her benefit, making her wonder if he were about to join in the nude bathing. Livia Marriott had already been in the pool! An angry sparkle lit up her eyes. Well, let him! Why should she care? And no doubt the beautiful actress, or one of the other women here, would be sharing his bed later tonight. No matter how she denied it that gave her a painful wrench in her chest.

.

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