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Мортимер Кэрол

Hidden Love

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CHAPTER TWO

SHE had calmly agreed to go to dinner with a famous tennis player! Of course she hadn’t known who he was then, but she knew now! He was one of the hot-shot left-handed players to come out of America the last fifteen years, and at thirty years of age he was being compared with the stamina and skill of Australia’s Rod Laver, was still winning the titles, although it was a well-known fact that Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe had dominated the courts of Wimbledon for the past six or seven years. Apparently it was a championship Nicholas St Clare coveted, and this year he was determined to win.

The way he had played today, by the look of the television coverage, he could just do it too. In the white shorts and short-sleeved tee-shirt he looked handsomer than ever, his golden hair clinging damply to his forehead, his blue eyes steely as he concentrated completely on winning the match from his opponent.

‘Did he win?’ Rachel asked breathlessly.

‘I don’t know who you mean by he,’ her father told her. ‘But Nicholas St Clare won, quite easily as a matter of fact.’

Of course he had won, he would hardly have been in that lazily charming mood otherwise. But she had agreed to have dinner with a good-looking man named Nick, not with Nicholas St Clare. She couldn’t go out with a man as famous as that. And she couldn’t imagine why he had asked her!

‘Danny called,’ her mother interrupted her panicked thoughts.

‘He did?’ she frowned. She had forgotten all about Danny during the last few hours!

‘He seemed quite surprised you were still at the hospital.’

‘He was surprised I went at all,’ Rachel remembered angrily. ‘If he’d had his way Mrs Lennox would have been left to fend for herself!’

‘Oh dear!’ her mother frowned, having the same dark hair as Rachel, although it was kept short and curly. ‘Have the two of you argued?’

‘Not exactly,’ she avoided, her mind racing on as to how she could get in touch with Nick St Clare and tell him she couldn’t go out with him tomorrow or any other time. She could call him, she had his number, but unless she got that impersonal answering service she didn’t want to do that. She certainly didn’t want to talk to Nick himself!

‘How not exactly, Rachel?’ her mother was concerned. ‘I thought you were—fond of him?’

‘I was—I am. But he wasn’t very understanding about poor Mrs Lennox.’ The only thing to do seemed to have Nick’s sister pass on a message to him.

Her mother smiled. ‘Men never are, dear. They have no idea.’

Nick St Clare had had no idea, he had been visibly shaken by what his sister was going through to give birth to her daughter. Nick St Clare …! Oh, she should have recognised him, should have known who he was. She just hadn’t been expecting to see a famous tennis-player, and so she hadn’t; she had even thought he could be a lawyer!

She had made a mess of things, and first thing tomorrow she would get herself out of it. Nick had said he would be visiting his sister some time tomorrow and so she could be sure he would get the message.

As she lay in bed later that night she did her best to convince herself that she was doing the right thing, the only think, by not meeting Nick again. A man like that could turn her life so upside down it would never be the same again. And boring as it might appear to him, she liked her little world, was enjoying this two-year course at college, and she loved her parents very much, as their only child she felt cherished and loved in return, and she enjoyed going out on the occasional date with boys like Danny. Yes, her life was good, satisfying, and she didn’t need the sophistication of Nick St Clare to spoil it all.

But hadn’t he spoilt it already? Hadn’t meeting him at all made her long for something she could never have? Hadn’t it made her want Nick St Clare himself?

She buried her head beneath the pillow, pushing such tortuous thoughts from her mind. She couldn’t see Nick St Clare again, and that was that.

Kay Lennox was sleeping when she telephoned from college early next morning, so she left a message with the nurse for Kay to pass on to her brother.

She slipped quietly into her place for her first class before Mr Balfour walked in to give the lecture.

‘What happened to you yesterday afternoon?’ Hilary leant over to whisper.

Rachel and Hilary had become friends the previous September when they had turned out to be the only two girls in this male-orientated class, but she shook her head at her friend as Mr Balfour came into the room. ‘I’ll tell you later,’ she promised, feeling as if she would burst if she didn’t soon tell someone about her meeting with Nick St Clare.

Hilary was incredulous as they ate a doughnut and drank coffee during the morning break. ‘You’re joking!’ Her eyes were agog, laughing blue eyes, her hair kept short and boyish.

‘I wish I were,’ Rachel grimaced.

‘You don’t!’

‘Of course I do.’ She stared mournfully into her rapidly cooling coffee. ‘I spoke to him as if he were just like you and me. I was even cheeky to him a couple of times.’

‘Being a famous tennis player doesn’t make him different from the rest of us,’ her friend teased.

Rachel pulled a face. ‘You didn’t meet him. He—well, he’s magnetic, has this leashed power …’ She shrugged. ‘He is different, Hilary, believe me.

‘I can see he is,’ her friend soothed. ‘But he can’t have minded the way you spoke to him, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked you out.’

‘I told you, that was just out of gratitude.’

‘Some gratitude!’ Hilary scorned. ‘Flowers or a box of chocolates would have sufficed as far as gratitude goes. No, Nick St Clare really wanted you to go out with him.’

‘That’s silly, Hilary—–’

‘I doubt if Danny will think so.’

‘Danny?’ Rachel frowned.

‘Danny,’ Hilary nodded, looking pointedly over Rachel’s shoulder.

She turned with a groan, seeing Danny making his way determinedly to their table. And he didn’t look very happy, far from it in fact.

‘Hilary,’ he nodded tersely in her direction.

‘Danny,’ she greeted in a tight voice. Danny Maxwell was not one of her favourite people, something he was only too well aware of.

‘Can I talk to you, Rachel?’ he asked tightly.

She flushed. ‘Well I—–’

‘Don’t mind me.’ Hilary stood up, as slender as Rachel but slightly taller. She picked up her cup. ‘I want to get a refill anyway. Rachel?’

‘Not for me, thanks,’ she refused, watching as Danny sat down in Hilary’s vacated chair. ‘That wasn’t very kind,’ she told him sharply.

‘I’m not feeling particularly kind,’ he scowled. ‘Did your mother tell you I telephoned last night?’

‘Yes,’ she nodded.

His eyes narrowed. ‘But you didn’t feel like calling me back?’

‘I got home late, Danny—–’

‘From taking that woman to hospital?’

‘Yes. You see—–’

‘I told you you’d get dragged into being involved—–’

‘I didn’t get dragged into anything, Danny,’ she sighed. ‘I stayed with her because I wanted to. She had a little girl, if you’re interested.’

‘I’m not,’ he said coldly.

‘I didn’t think you would be.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ He was instantly on the defensive.

‘Nothing,’ she muttered, gathering her books together. ‘I have to get to my next class.’

His hand on her wrist stopped her, but there was none of the tingling sensation she had experienced with Nick St Clare. ‘Is our date for tonight still on?’

She had forgotten all about their arrangements to go and see the latest James Bond film. But she didn’t want to go anyway, she found Danny’s behaviour of yesterday had put her off the boy himself. ‘Not tonight, Danny—–’

‘Why?’

‘I—Well, because—–’

‘You don’t want to see me any more, right?’ he said roughly.

Oh dear, she always hated breaking up with boys, especially as Danny didn’t appear to be going to make it easy for her; his grip on her wrist was unrelenting. ‘I think it might be better if—–’

‘Oh, spare me the little speech about how you don’t want to see me any more but we can still be friends,’ he sneered, releasing her wrist. ‘I’ve said it too many times myself to know it isn’t true.’

‘Danny, I’m sorry—–’

‘I’m not,’ he said insultingly. ‘You’re a little prude, Rachel. I think two months is long enough to tell me you aren’t going to give me anything but kisses.’

She flushed. ‘Is that all you can think about, what you can get from a girl?’

His mouth twisted mockingly, marring his good looks. ‘What else is there?’ he scorned. ‘You surely didn’t think I intended getting serious about you?’

‘I hope not,’ she told him with blunt honesty, standing up to look down at him with cold grey eyes. ‘I think you have a lot of growing up to do before you become serious about anyone.’

‘Ready, Rachel?’ Hilary appeared at her side.

Rachel looked down at Danny’s angrily flushed face, flicking her hair back. ‘More than ready,’ she nodded, leaving with her friend.

Hilary giggled as they stepped into the lift. ‘What did you say to upset him?’

‘Just the truth,’ she shrugged. ‘That I didn’t want to go out with him any more.’

‘You finished with Danny Maxwell?’ her friend gasped.

‘Well … yes.’

‘You really did?’ Hilary frowned.

‘Yes.’

‘Goodness!’

‘Well, don’t sound so surprised,’ Rachel laughed. ‘It isn’t unheard-of, you know.’

‘To Danny Maxwell it is!’

‘Not any more,’ she grinned, feeling no remorse. Danny had been as surprised as Hilary by her decision not to see him any more, and his reaction had shown him in his true colours.

‘I’m glad,’ Hilary said seriously. ‘I never did like him. He’s all tight jeans and biceps.’

‘Hilary!’

‘Well, he is,’ her friend muttered. ‘Now Nicholas St Clare is what I would call a real man.’

Rachel stiffened, glad that the lift had arrived at their floor. ‘I don’t want to talk about Mr St Clare.’

‘But—–’

‘Hilary!’ she said in a warning voice.

‘Well, I think you’re mad. Even if you never saw him again you would at least have had this one evening to remember.’

She knew that, that one thought had been going through her mind all morning. Maybe she should have just had this one date with him. But what good would it do? He was probably another one of those men who weren’t interested if he couldn’t have more than kisses.

‘I’m not interested,’ she told Hilary firmly.

The rest of the day seemed to drag to Rachel, and for once she wasn’t giving her whole attention to her work, something one of the tutors warned her about.

‘Do you want to come over tonight?’ Hilary offered. ‘We could play a few records, chat, you know.’

‘I know,’ Rachel pulled a face. ‘You only want to try and get my innermost secrets out of me.’

‘How did you guess?’ her friend grinned.

She laughed. ‘It wasn’t difficult. Thanks for the offer, Hilary, but I have to wash my hair.’

Hilary looked admiringly at the long dark tresses. ‘I bet it takes all evening, hmm?’

‘More or less. My mother usually brushes it dry for me. It takes hours.’

‘Your poor mother!’

Rachel grinned. ‘I tell her it’s the price she has to pay for my growing it this long.’

Hilary touched her own boyishly styled hair. ‘I sometimes wish I hadn’t had mine cut, but when I hear I’d have to waste an evening just washing and drying hair your length I’m glad mine only takes half an hour to wash and dry.’

‘It has its benefits,’ Rachel agreed.

‘It does?’

‘Hm, it fills an empty evening.’ And it looked as if she would be having a lot of them in the near future.

Hilary shook her head. ‘And you could have filled this one with Nick St Clare, not a shampoo bottle.’

‘Hilary, I’d rather—–’

‘Well, well, well,’ drawled an insulting voice. ‘If it isn’t the little girl that likes to date tennis stars!’

Rachel turned to face Danny, finding he had two of his friends with him. Billy and Malcolm were nice enough boys on their own, but Danny was obviously their leader, and they were following his lead in this, their expressions as mocking.

‘I don’t know where you got your information—–’

‘Why, your little friend here.’ Danny’s gaze strayed to Hilary. ‘She’s full of the fact that her best friend is going out with Nick St Clare.’

Rachel looked at her friend, knowing by her flushed cheeks that Danny spoke the truth. ‘Hilary!’ she groaned.

‘I’m sorry,’ the other girl looked at her appealingly.

‘No wonder you aren’t interested in going out with me any more,’ Danny scorned. ‘Some hot-shot with a lot of money comes along and I’m no longer good enough for you.’

‘It wasn’t like that,’ Rachel flushed. ‘I—–’

‘Rachel?’

She instantly paled, turning at the sound of that familiar drawl, her eyes widening as she looked at Nicholas St Clare. He was standing only a couple of feet away from them, the dark brown shirt stretching tautly across his chest and shoulders, partly unbuttoned, the sleeves turned back to just below his elbows, the cream trousers fitted to his muscular thighs.

Danny’s stance instantly became challenging. ‘How nice,’ he taunted. ‘Your boy friend has come to pick you up from school!’

Rachel gave him a distressed look, and she heard Hilary gasp at her side. Nick looked unmoved, eyeing the younger man with amusement. She had no idea what he was doing here, or even how he had got here. She didn’t remember telling him what time she finished, or even what college she attended. ‘Ready?’ she repeated dazedly.

‘I told your mother and father I’d take you straight home,’ he further astounded her by announcing.

She swallowed hard, still not understanding, but getting his message that he was here to drive her home. She could see the Jaguar parked a short distance away, although with the hostile audience they had it could seem like a mile.

‘You haven’t forgotten?’ he prompted, his eyes narrowed.

‘I—er—No, of course not. ‘Bye, Danny, boys.’ She couldn’t quite look at any of them.

‘Would your friend like a lift home?’ Nick offered as she reached his side.

She had forgotten all about poor Hilary, although in the circumstances perhaps that wasn’t so surprising. ‘Hilary?’ she asked softly, almost pleadingly.

Hilary’s awed gaze hadn’t left Nick St Clare since he had first spoken, and she had some difficulty answering Rachel. ‘Er—no—thanks,’ she finally managed to stutter. ‘I have some shopping to do.’

Rachel knew the other girl must be completely bowled over, otherwise she would never have refused!

‘I’ll see you tomorrow, Rachel,’ Danny put in softly, obviously still out to cause trouble.

‘Probably,’ she answered coolly. ‘The college isn’t that big.’

‘Goodbye,’ Nick said generally, his hand firm on Rachel’s elbow, and guided her over to the Jaguar, opening the passenger door with a flourish.

She daren’t look in Danny’s direction as the car moved away from the kerbside, knowing she would see contempt in his face if she did.

‘I gather he’s a friend of yours?’ Nick spoke abruptly.

Her lashes fluttered nervously as she looked at him, the realisation of seeing him once again washing over her. His presence outside the college really had come as a surprise to her, so much so that it hadn’t occured to her to protest when he told her he was driving her home. It had almost been as if she had no mind of her own.

‘He was,’ she answered huskily.

‘Was?’ Nick prompted.

‘Yes,’ she almost snapped her reply.

‘He wouldn’t happen to be the boy you were kissing in the park yesterday, would he?’ Nick taunted.

Colour flooded her cheeks. She hadn’t realised Kay Lennox had seen her with Danny, but she was the only one who could have passed on such information to Nick St Clare. Had she also passed on her message to him?

‘I can see he was.’ Nick’s eyes mocked her as he glanced at her, the rush-hour traffic holding most of his attention. ‘Don’t you know there are more private places for making love?’

Rachel flushed, with anger this time. ‘We weren’t making love, we were kissing! And it’s none of your business where I do it.’

‘It might be if I were the man you were kissing,’ he said softly.

His words robbed her of speech, as they were supposed to, she felt sure. She had pushed the memory of the light kiss he had given her last night to the back of her mind, but now the thrill just that fleeting touch of his lips had given her came flooding back.

‘Did your sister give you my message?’ she asked to cover her embarrassment.

Nick glanced at her. ‘That you couldn’t make dinner tonight?’

‘Yes,’ she nodded.

‘Yes, she gave it to me.’

Rachel frowned her consternation. ‘Then why are you here?’

‘To take you home. Your mother said you usually finish about this time—–’

‘When did you see my mother?’ she asked sharply.

‘About an hour ago.’

‘But—I—You—–’

Nick chuckled softly. ‘Did you want to say something, Rachel?’

‘Yes, I did!’ she snapped. ‘What are you doing here?’

He sighed. ‘I just told you—–’

‘You didn’t tell me anything,’ she flashed. ‘If your sister passed on my message that I couldn’t meet you tonight then why did you go to my home?’

‘To give you the flowers.’

‘What flowers?’ She was becoming really agitated now, and Nick’s annoying attitude did not help.

‘I don’t know,’ he shrugged. ‘I didn’t make a list of the different varieties.’

‘Nick!’

‘Hmm?’

‘Oh, I give up!’ She subsided into her seat. ‘You’re impossible!’ She contented herself with glaring at the perfection of his profile.

‘So I’ve often been told,’ he shrugged.

‘It’s true!’

‘Rachel,’ he was serious now, the teasing had left his eyes, his mouth was no longer smiling, ‘why did you call off our date?’

‘I—You—–’

‘I don’t remember you stuttering like this last night,’ he frowned.

‘When we spoke last night I had no idea you were Nicholas St Clare!’ She fidgeted with her tee-shirt, pulling it down over her denims.

‘But now you do.’

‘Yes, now I do!’

‘And you no longer want to go out with me?’

‘No.’

‘Why?’

She had been hoping he wouldn’t ask that. ‘I—Well, because of who you are, I suppose. When I got home I saw you on the television—–’

‘A bit of a shock for you,’ he said dryly.

‘Yes. Congratulations on the win, by the way,’ she mumbled.

‘Thanks,’ he drawled. ‘But I usually like to win with women too.’

She could imagine he did; she had often seen photographs of him in the newspapers with beautiful women—which made his wanting to take her out all the more unbelievable.

‘I’m not in any competition,’ she told him firmly. ‘If I’d known who you were yesterday I would never have accepted.’

‘But having accepted, it isn’t polite to back out now.’

‘I’m not backing out—–’ she began.

‘You are.’

‘No, I—–’

‘Rachel,’ he spoke her name softly, but he instantly had her attention. ‘I’m taking you out to dinner.’

‘But—–’

‘No more arguments.’

‘Have you always been spoilt?’ she asked moodily.

‘No,’ he answered somewhat grimly. ‘Which is why I like my own way now.’

She frowned. ‘My parents—what did you say to them?’

‘Nothing outrageous, I can assure you,’ he mocked, pulling the car over to the side of the road, ignoring the ‘No parking’ sign as he turned to look at her. ‘Richard wanted to send you some flowers for helping bring his daughter safely into the world, so I told him I would deliver them in person, and when you weren’t home your mother gave me directions to the college. That’s all there was to it.’

Her mother was an ardent tennis fan, never missed any of Wimbledon, and Rachel doubted she had taken the arrival of Nicholas St Clare on her doorstep with the calm Nick thought she had. Her poor mother was probably in a complete panic by this time!

‘Rachel?’ Nick gently touched her cheek.

She looked up at him with wide grey eyes, her lashes long and thick, her face completely bare of make-up; she did not even wear lip-gloss to college. ‘Why did you decide to bring the flowers yourself?’ she asked huskily.

His eyes deepened in colour, fixed on the parted softness of her mouth. ‘I think we both know the answer to that,’ he murmured.

Her lashes fluttered nervously. ‘We do?’

Nick nodded, suddenly so close his warm breath stirred the hair at her temple. ‘Did you know that your mouth tastes like honey?’ he said throatily, his thumb-tip caressing her lips.

It was as if they were in a world of their own, the roar of the passing traffic, the rush and bustle of the pedestrians all ceasing to exist, all the world, all the reality she needed, right here in Nick’s eyes.

His head lowered and his mouth claimed hers, parting her lips with the tip of his tongue as he felt her complete surrender. That dizzy pleasure that she had felt only fleetingly the night before came back tenfold, and her hands clung weakly to his shirt-front as he plundered her mouth with deeper intensity.

At last he raised his head, his eyes the colour of a stormy ocean, his breathing as ragged as her own. ‘Pure nectar,’ he murmured huskily.

Rachel gazed up at him with stars in her eyes. ‘Nick …?’

‘Yes,’ he breathed deeply. ‘Explosive, aren’t we? Still refuse to have dinner with me?’

At that moment she could have denied him nothing, although luckily he was asking for nothing but dinner. She forgot to be frightened of who he was, forgot her apprehension as to how long he would want her in his life, remembering only that together they were explosive.

If her parents were at all surprised to have Nicholas St Clare sitting in their lounge waiting for their daughter to change to go out to dinner with him then they didn’t show it, her mother offering him a cup of tea, her father offering him the newspaper he hadn’t even read himself yet.

Rachel floated up to her bedroom, having duly admired the beautiful bouquet her mother was arranging in vases for her. The accompanying card contained the sincere thanks of Richard Lennox.

She really didn’t have a lot in her wardrobe that was suitable for dinner with Nick, although he had warned her it would be a quiet and early dinner, as the semi-finals tomorrow meant he had to get plenty of sleep tonight. She had a silky shirtwaister dress that would be suitable for a quiet dinner for two, its muted shade of grey matching the colour of her eyes, and darkening her hair to ebony. She could see Nick approved of her appearance when she entered the lounge a few minutes later; he stood up as she entered the room, having eyes only for her.

She blushed at that look, breaking into speech about how beautiful the flowers looked in the three vases it had taken to hold them all. ‘I hope you’ll thank your brother-in-law for me,’ she said shyly.

His mouth quirked into a smile. ‘At this rate it could take a lifetime to pass your thanks backwards and forwards to each other!’

A lifetime? Yes, she would like that.

‘Do you mind if we go back to my apartment first?’ he asked once they had taken their leave of her parents. ‘I have to change.’

‘No, of course not,’ Rachel answered confidently enough, a wild fluttering sensation beginning in the pit of her stomach. ‘Go to his apartment,’ he said, so casually, when she had never even known a man who had his own apartment! All the boys she had been out with had lived either with their parents or two or three flatmates, although not for anything would she let Nick St Clare see how nervous the prospect of going to his apartment made her.

‘Help yourself to a drink,’ he invited once they were inside the luxurious apartment he called home while in England. In Wimbledon itself, conveniently near to the tennis courts, it was the top floor of a two-storey apartment building. ‘I’m just going through to shower.’

She ignored the extensive array of drinks, moving nervously about the room, a room only made personal by the magazines lying on the table, the books on the shelf in the Welsh dresser. Her parents’ home was comfortable, homely, but this apartment was something else, like one of the pictures in glossy magazines she often drooled over.

‘Like it?’

She turned at the sound of Nick’s voice, swallowing her shock as she saw he was dressed only in a black silk robe, the smoothness of the material telling her he wore nothing beneath.

She cleared her throat. ‘I—er—it’s lovely.’ She lowered her eyes to the carpet, the memory of his bare legs beneath the robe staying with her. He was more adequately dressed than he was on the tennis court, was more covered at least, and yet the intimacy of this situation unnerved her.

Nick seemed to feel none of her embarrassment, as he came over to drape his arm lightly about her shoulders. ‘Do you like Italian food?’

‘Er—yes.’ Her gaze wouldn’t be raised above the open neckline of his robe, the darkly tanned chest, and dark blond hair that grew there.

‘Good,’ he kissed her lightly, ‘because I’ve booked a table for us at this little Italian restaurant I know.’

‘That—that will be nice.’ Her mouth actually tingled from that kiss! What was it about this man, and only this man, that made her feel this way?

‘I hope so,’ he nodded. ‘Will you get my clothes out for me while I shower?’

Now she did raise her eyes, stormy grey meeting a more calm blue. ‘Get your clothes out?’ she gulped.

‘Mm, the cream suit and black shirt should do it. Okay?’

‘I—Okay,’ she nodded agreement, never having performed such an intimate task for a man before.

Nick went into the adjoining bathroom while she sorted through his vast wardrobe for the cream suit and black shirt, the sound of the shower water being turned off just as she found them both.

‘O.K.?’ Nick came through from the bathroom towelling his hair dry, a darker shade of blond now in its dampness, a towel draped about his waist, his torso completely bare.

Rachel just stared at him. He was like a bronzed god out of Greek mythology, his chest powerfully muscled, as were his legs. His hair was almost dry now, ruffled into disorder, almost returned to its former gold colour.

‘Rachel?’ he frowned at her silence.

‘Er—yes, here you are,’ and she thrust the suit and shirt at him before rushing from the room.

.

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