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Ice In His Veins

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«Ice In His Veins» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…Surrendering to the magnate’s demands…Media magnate Jason Earle has no right to make demands, much less insist that Eden Shaw travel to England to see her long absent grandfather. After all, the old man had ignored Eden for years! As her grandfather’s emissary, Jason may be breathtakingly handsome, but that doesn’t give him power over Eden…
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Ice in His Veins Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

EDEN knew there was something wrong as soon as she joined her mother and stepfather for drinks before dinner, knew it by the tightness about her mother’s painted mouth and the way her stepfather kept trying to soothe her down. Poor Drew, he didn’t have an easy time of it with his fiery wife.

She accepted the Martini he held out to her, smiling her gratitude as she waited for the explanation for her mother’s upset. Something was definitely wrong with her; Eden had never seen her so upset.

‘Where were you all afternoon?’ her mother demanded to know.

‘I was at Cheryl’s playing records,’ she replied dazedly. ‘Why?’

‘Because you had a visitor, that’s why.’

‘Anyone interesting?’ She sipped her drink.

‘Anyone interesting!’ Angela repeated shrilly. ‘Of course it was someone interesting, or I wouldn’t be in this state.’

Eden frowned at her mother’s agitation. ‘Who was it?’

‘Jason Earle!’

‘Jason Earle? But I don’t know any Jason Earle.’

‘The newspaper man,’ Drew put in before his wife exploded.

That Jason Earle!’ she whistled through her teeth. To say he was a newspaper man was an understatement. He was one of the most powerful men in the world, controlling a vast section of the media. ‘And you say he came here to see me?’

‘Yes! And he looked down his haughty nose at me with his steely grey eyes, ripping me to pieces at a glance.’ The ice rattled in the glass where Angela’s hand trembled with anger. ‘He was so damned arrogant!’

‘Calm down, Angela,’ Drew advised. ‘There’s no point in working yourself up about this.’

‘No point——’

‘Why on earth should he want to see me?’ Eden interrupted her mother’s tirade. ‘I don’t know the man.’

‘We haven’t seen any of them since Eden was two years old, and now David Morton has decided——’

Eden looked startled. ‘What does my grandfather have to do with Jason Earle being here?’

‘Everything!’ Angela paced the room in her agitation. ‘After eighteen years he’s decided he would like to see you again, and he’s sent that man over here to try and talk you into it. He says he’s a friend of David’s, but I’m sure he’s been going out with Isobel the last few years.’

Isobel, Eden knew, was her father’s second wife. She knew the history of her parents’ broken marriage, knew that Graham Morton had been engaged to Isobel Dean until he had met and fell in love with her mother, and that within a few weeks of meeting, her parents had married each other, much to the disgust of Graham’s father, David Morton.

David Morton had done everything in his power to break up the marriage, wanting his son to marry the daughter of his old friend Russell Dean. He had undermined Angela at every turn, ridiculed her until she could take no more and had issued her husband with an ultimatum—his father or her. He had chosen his father, and had married his former fiancée after his divorce.

Eden had been two years old at the time of the breakup, and only three when her mother had married Drew. Consequently she had always considered him to be her father, and his family her own. It seemed incredible to her that her real father’s family should suddenly take an interest in her after all this time, that her grandfather should want to actually see her.

‘Perhaps he has,’ Drew acknowledged. ‘But he’s here for David Morton, not Isobel.’

‘Oh, I know that,’ Angela scorned. ‘Isobel and I never had any time for each other. She always made it clear that she would take my husband from me the first chance she had.’

‘That’s past history now,’ Drew said quietly. ‘It’s here and now we have to concern ourselves with. He’s sent this Jason Earle to see us because he would like to meet his granddaughter.

‘Then he should have come himself, it would have made more sense than to send a stranger,’ his wife snapped.

‘He’s an old man, Angela, well into his seventies.’

‘He would never have come himself no matter what his age,’ she said disgustedly. ‘He wanted to get rid of me so that Graham could marry Isobel, and he had no interest in us once he’d managed to get Eden and myself out of his life. Of course, he had no way of knowing that Graham and Isobel wouldn’t give him any more grandchildren,’ she added with satisfaction. ‘That Eden would be the only true relative he has since Graham died. But I won’t allow Eden to go, Drew. I won’t allow it!’

Eden frowned. ‘Won’t allow me to go where?’

‘To England, of course,’ her mother snapped irritably. ‘Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?’

‘Well, yes, but——’

Suzy, the maid, came in at that moment. ‘Mr Earle is here, Mrs Shaw,’ she informed her employer.

‘Well, show him in,’ Angela said abruptly, waiting until the girl had left the room before speaking again. ‘Now you, Drew,’ she hurriedly straightened his tie, ‘you are not to let him daunt you.’

He gave a short laugh. ‘I have no intention of letting him——’

‘You haven’t met him,’ his wife interrupted, standing back to survey him critically. She turned her attention to Eden. ‘And don’t let him force you into agreeing to anything. We have to talk this over as a family.’

Eden was curious to meet this man who had put her mother into such a fluster. It wasn’t easily done, so he must be quite something.

‘Mr Earle,’ Suzy gave a shy smile before disappearing.

Eden’s first impression was of a tall lithe man, the focal point being a pair of steely grey eyes that flickered over them all with cool disdain. He wasn’t merely handsome, that was too weak a description, he was striking, breathtakingly attractive. Eden was struck dumb by the vitality, the magnetism he emitted.

He was like no one she had ever seen before, had ever expected to meet, the black dinner suit tailored on to his powerful frame, his linen immaculate. In his mid-thirties, she guessed, with a muscular physique that showed no signs of excess flesh, a look of cynicism to his eyes, a hardness to his mouth that should have detracted from his attractiveness but only seemed to make him more so, and dark hair worn over-long but styled.

She was no longer surprised by her mother’s antagonism; after Drew’s easy going nature this forceful man must be something of a shock to her. She could see Drew was slightly overwhelmed by the other man, despite his assertion that he wouldn’t be. Thank goodness she was looking her best, intending to go to a disco later with Tim. She knew the black velvet cat-suit suited her slender curves, that it made her hair even more golden than usual, made the short cap look like spun gold as it framed her smooth cheeks, giving depth to her golden eyes and colour to her creamy skin.

The man she knew as Jason Earle shook hands with her stepfather, but for all the notice he took of her she might as well not have been in the room.

He was talking to her mother now. ‘I expected your daughter to be here,’ he said curtly.

Her mother gasped. ‘Eden——’

‘Yes—Eden,’ he said her name as if he had difficulty in getting it off his tongue. ‘I expected the child to be here.’

Child! At twenty that was something Eden didn’t consider herself to be. She stepped forward into the light, the smile freezing on her lips as those icy grey eyes swept over her with barely concealed insolence. This man might be devastatingly attractive, but his manners left a lot to be desired.

She took a deep breath, meeting that critical gaze unflinchingly. ‘I am Eden,’ she told him in a slightly husky voice, her American accent only slight as it had never been encouraged by her mother.

He looked momentarily taken aback before the cold mask was back in place. ‘You are David Morton’s granddaughter?’

He gave Eden the impression that he now expected her to deny it. ‘My name is Eden Shaw, but I believe David Morton is my grandfather,’ she told him distantly.

His irritation was obvious. ‘I expected you to be—younger.’

‘Really?’ she raised her eyebrows. ‘My grandfather probably thinks of me as a child, I was two the last time he saw me,’ she added dryly. ‘When you get older you have a way of trying to forget the passing of the years—I’m sure you know that yourself.’ She knew this last was insulting, but this man’s condescending attitude was not something she was prepared to accept.

He showed by the narrowing of those icy grey eyes that her insult had not gone unnoticed, and by the look on his face it wouldn’t go unpunished either. ‘I’m sure David knows exactly how old you are; he never forgets anything. But now that I’ve seen you for myself I feel I’ve had a wasted journey.’

‘Probably,’ she gave a nod of her head.

‘Shall we go in to dinner?’ Angela suggested tersely. ‘We can talk about this later.’

‘Unfortunately I can’t stay to dinner,’ their guest refused, not looking sorry about it at all. ‘I only came to arrange to take your daughter back to England with me on Monday. I have people to meet for dinner this evening, business acquaintances.’

‘I see,’ Angela said tightly, angered by his obvious snub. ‘Then we won’t keep you,’ she dismissed.

‘About Monday——’

‘As you’ve already realised, Mr Earle——’ Eden interrupted, also aware of his deliberate show of a desire to avoid their company. He must have known that they would assume by his dress that he would be dining with them. God, he was an arrogant swine! ‘I’m old enough to take myself to England if I had any desire to go there. But I don’t, and I have no intention of going to England on Monday or any other time. England has never appealed to me,’ she drawled insolently, ‘and even less so now. I hear one can die of the cold over there without anyone being aware of it,’ she added tauntingly, hoping her double meaning wouldn’t be lost on him.

Those cold grey eyes raked over her mercilessly, narrowed and speculative. ‘I believe the winters over here can be even more severe,’ he snapped tersely.

Eden raised one blond eyebrow. ‘Were we talking about the season…?’

There was a dangerous tension about him now, an aura of anger barely kept in check. ‘Perhaps not,’ he glanced at his wrist-watch. ‘But I don’t have the time right now to persuade you that it would be in your best interest to visit your grandfather.’

Her harsh laugh rang out. ‘If you’re talking about monetary gain, Mr Earle, you can forget it. The last thing I’ve ever needed from David Morton was money.’

His look was chilling. ‘Perhaps tomorrow would be a better time to discuss this.’

‘Are you sure you can spare the time?’ she asked sweetly. ‘You appear to be rather busy,’ she added by way of explanation, although she knew he was as aware as she was that that hadn’t been her meaning at all.

His mouth tightened. ‘No, I don’t have the time.’ He appeared unworried by her gasp at his honesty. ‘So perhaps you wouldn’t mind meeting me at my hotel for lunch.’

Eden didn’t want to meet him again at all, let alone in the privacy of his hotel. ‘I don’t——’

His mouth curled contemptuously. ‘I didn’t mean in my suite,’ he mocked, ‘but in the dining-room of the hotel. I don’t think either of us has any desire to be alone with the other.’

‘I’m afraid it’s out of the question, Mr Earle,’ Angela cut in. ‘We make it a rule to always have Sunday lunch together. It’s the one English tradition I refuse to give up.’

‘I see,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Then perhaps dinner would be more convenient?’ He looked straight at Eden.

She was unnerved by the directness of that gaze. She wished her mother had invited him to lunch tomorrow, although in the circumstances it was perhaps understandable why she hadn’t ‘I—er——’

‘Would eight o’clock suit you?’ he took her hesitation for agreement to his suggestion.

‘I—Yes, I suppose so.’

‘Good,’ he nodded his satisfaction with the arrangement. ‘I’ll call for you here.’

‘Wouldn’t it be easier for me to meet you at your hotel?’

‘Perhaps,’ he agreed curtly. ‘But I would prefer to call for you. People might misunderstand the situation.’

That brought a smile to Eden’s lips, her golden eyes dancing with mischief. ‘Meaning you wouldn’t like the management to think you have young girls calling for you,’ she taunted.

‘Quite,’ he acknowledged tersely.

Her grin deepened. ‘Very well, Mr Earle.’

He looked at her parents. ‘I trust you have no objection to my talking to your daughter?’

‘No——’

‘None at all,’ Angela interrupted her husband. ‘As long as you do only talk. Any decision that’s made about Eden visiting David will obviously have to be a family one.’

Jason nodded. ‘I can understand that. Now, if you will all excuse me…’

Angela rang for the maid to show him out, keeping a tight-lipped silence until she was sure he was out of earshot. ‘The nerve of the man!’ she finally burst out. ‘The sheer nerve of the man!’

Drew wordlessly handed her a drink, watching her take a large swallow of it before he thought it safe to speak. ‘Not a man to oppose,’ he remarked softly. ‘I should think he’s broken people and not given a damn what happened to them. A man who likes to be in control—at all times.’

His wife’s blue eyes flashed angrily. ‘I didn’t ask for a breakdown of the man’s character—or an assessment of his sexual prowess.’

‘Mummy!’ Eden gasped.

Drew frowned at his wife. ‘That wasn’t what I meant and you know it.’

‘I suppose not,’ she grudgingly agreed. ‘Although remembering Isobel I don’t think you would be far wrong. I shouldn’t think she has a lot to offer in that direction.—All right, all right,’ she sighed at the censure in their faces, ‘forget I said that. But you do see why he annoyed me so much when he called this afternoon.’

‘Oh definitely,’ Eden said forcibly. ‘I thought he was horrible.’

‘And you, Drew?’ his wife enquired. ‘What did you think of him?’

He seemed to consider for a moment. ‘I thought he was—interesting.’

‘Interesting!’ she scorned. ‘What sort of an answer is that?’

He shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t like to pass an opinion on him. On the surface he’s everything you said he was, but underneath—who knows? Jason Earle appears to me rather like an iceberg, ninety per cent of him below the surface.’

‘You mean that arrogance was only ten per cent of him?’ gasped Eden.

Drew laughed at her expression. ‘Maybe twenty,’ he conceded.

She shivered. ‘I hate to think what the other eighty per cent is like.’

‘I doubt if anyone knows that. He didn’t seem the type to let anyone even know what he’s thinking, let alone get close to him.’

‘Oh, don’t let’s talk about him any more,’ Angela dismissed. ‘He’s already ruined my lunch today, I have no intention of letting him do the same thing with my dinner.’

Despite her mother’s dismissal of the man Eden was aware of a tension about them all as they ate their meal. She felt sure their thoughts were all running along similar lines—her grandfather’s sudden wish to see her after all these years of silence. She had forgotten she had any other family than her mother and Drew, even taking Drew’s surname for her own. She knew her real father had died when she was five years old; driving too fast on a slippery road he had driven straight into a tree and been killed instantly. As her mother had pointed out, his second marriage had produced no children, hence her grandfather’s interest in her now.

She had to admit to a certain amount of curiosity about her family in England, a sneaky longing at the back of her mind to know exactly what sort of man her grandfather was. Her father must have been very weak to have been ruled by him as he had been, pointing to her grandfather having as forcible a nature as their visitor. No wonder they were friends!

And yet her grandfather hadn’t made one enquiry about her in eighteen years, had never even bothered to ascertain whether she was alive or dead. To turn around now and ask to see her, to expect her to drop everything and rush over to England, seemed to her to be the height of arrogance. Besides, didn’t her father’s second wife still live in the same house as David Morton? And Jason Earle was the last person to send to persuade her to take that flight; everything about him had antagonised her.

No, she had already told him she wouldn’t go and she meant it. Nothing he said to her tomorrow or any other time would make any difference to her decision.

She was waiting in the lounge when Tim arrived for their date that evening, putting down the magazine she had been flicking through to move into his arms for his kiss. He was two years older than she was, and they had been dating for the last six weeks. Not very long really, but longer than most of her boy-friends lasted. Perhaps it was because she spent so much time in her stepfather’s company, but most of the boys she dated seemed childish after a while, always trying to get her into an intimate relationship and finishing with her when they realised she had no intention of sleeping with them.

Tim was different, rich, self-assured, and very sophisticated for his age. She enjoyed his company immensely, found his light lovemaking pleasant, and hoped he felt the same way about her.

She laughingly smoothed away some of her peach lipstick from his mouth. ‘Must remove the evidence,’ she teased.

Tall and athletic, tanned skin, sun-bleached blond hair and the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen, Tim was every girl’s dream. He smiled down at her, that heart-melting smile that never failed to win over the women. Even her mother fell for it, approving of him wholeheartedly.

He placed his lips on hers again. ‘Mm,’ he sighed against her parted mouth. ‘I don’t give a damn who knows I’ve been kissing you.’

Eden snuggled against him. ‘Neither do I.’

‘Where are your parents tonight?’

‘Gone to the Merricks’ for the evening.’ She moved unhurriedly out of his arms.

‘Hey,’ he teased, flicking a curling tendril of hair away from her face, ‘I’m not about to attack you because we’re alone here!’

She grinned at him, pulling on her short white linen jacket. ‘I know you aren’t.’ Their lovemaking had never gone beyond a passionate kiss and a tentative caress.

Tim frowned. ‘I’m not sure I like that, this natural assumption you have that I wouldn’t even try.’

She arched an eyebrow at him. ‘And would you?’

‘I might,’ he said slowly. ‘If I didn’t know three servants would come running at the first cry of rape.’

Eden watched him below lowered lashes. ‘I’m not about to cry rape.’

‘You aren’t?’ His blue eyes quickened with interest.

‘No,’ she opened the door. ‘I’m about to go outside to your car,’ she laughingly left the room.

Tim caught up with her outside, opening the car door for her before getting into the low sports car beside her. He turned to look at her in the darkness, the early snow lying about them outside like a white carpet. ‘You were teasing me in there, weren’t you?’

Her golden eyes challenged him as she snuggled down into her linen jacket. ‘Was I?’ she asked throatily.

He sighed, switching on the ignition to manoeuvre the car out into the steady flow of traffic. ‘Yes, you were.’

Eden looked at him closely, noting a certain tension about his mouth. ‘Are you angry with me?’

He sighed again, turning to give her a warm smile. ‘No, Eden, I’m not angry with you. But I wish you wouldn’t play with me. One of these days I’m going to take your teasing seriously.’

‘You mean…’

‘Yes, I mean! I know you’re an innocent, Eden, but I’m not. It can be quite a strain behaving like a gentleman. Not that I mind,’ he added hastily. ‘But it doesn’t help when you keep playing with me.’

‘I never realised…’ She looked at him with new eyes, not seeing him as the fun-loving partner of innocence of the past six weeks but as the young rich socialite that he was. Seeing him like this she could well imagine that there had been plenty of girls in his life who would give anything to become the wife of Tim Channing, heir to millions. It was something she had never thought about before, that showed him in a new light. And she wasn’t sure she liked it.

‘You aren’t that innocent, Eden,’ he scorned.

She blushed in the darkness, glad he couldn’t see her confusion. ‘I didn’t mean that,’ she said impatiently. ‘I meant I didn’t realise about—about——’

‘The girls in my past,’ he finished for her. ‘You grow up quickly in the society I mix with.’

She knew he was sophisticated for his age, had admired the way he always took control on their dates together, but it had never occurred to her that his relationships with other girls hadn’t been as innocent as their own friendship. Somehow this new knowledge frightened her, unnerved her, made her suddenly shy with him.

It made her wonder if their mutual friends thought their relationship more intimate than it actually was. Colour flooded her cheeks at the thought. She couldn’t bear for people to think such things about her, no matter how erroneous those thoughts were.

She looked down at her clenched hands. ‘I suppose so,’ she mumbled.

Tim gave her a sharp look. ‘Hey, are you okay?’

She gave him a quick nervous smile, looking hurriedly away from his probing glance. ‘I’m fine,’ she lied.

One of his hands left the steering wheel to cover the nervous movements of hers as she fidgeted with her small black evening bag. ‘I’ve shocked you, haven’t I?’ he guessed with a sigh.

Eden attempted a light laugh, flicking her head back in a careless gesture. ‘Don’t be silly, Tim. I’m not a child who doesn’t know the facts of life.’

‘No, but you are an innocent, no matter how assured you like to act. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘I’m not upset.’ Her attempt to laugh it off sounded dismal even to her own ears.

‘Shocked, then.’

‘I’m not that either,’ she lied. ‘Good heavens, Tim, this is the twentieth century, and you’re quite old enough to do what you want, with whom you want.’

‘Yes, but——’

‘Let’s drop the subject, Tim,’ she said sharply, uncertain in her own mind why she was so shocked by his disclosure. She was aware that most of her friends freely engaged in sexual relations with their boy-friends. Why should Tim be any different from them, especially with the temptations he must have had? She was being stupid, childish, all the things he accused her of being, and yet she couldn’t stop herself. ‘Where are we going tonight?’ she herself changed the subject.

‘Delanie’s. Claire will be meeting us there later. She and her date are having dinner elsewhere.’ Claire was Tim’s older sister, a hard-headed career woman who had sacrificed any idea of marriage in preference to running the popular woman’s magazine she edited. She had little time for men and Eden was surprised at her having a date this evening. Not that Claire Channing wasn’t beautiful, she was, extremely so, but her intelligence and ambition often frightened away any would-be boy-friends. Besides, no man liked to date a woman who was earning more money than they were.

‘I didn’t realise she had a boy-friend,’ Eden couldn’t hide her curiosity.

Tim grinned. ‘She doesn’t. This is an old friend, someone she’s known for years. Whenever he’s in town she drops everything to go out with him.’

He must be something to affect the supremely confident and hardened Claire in this way. Eden felt a burning curiosity about the man who could make Claire forget her job. She herself liked Claire, had tremendous respect for her, but given the same choice, a career or marriage, Eden felt sure she would choose quite differently. But then Claire was nothing like her.

‘Have I ever met him?’ she asked now.

He shook his head. ‘It must be six months since he was last here. But don’t worry, you’ll like him, most women do. Although I don’t want you to like him too much,’ he added hurriedly. ‘And don’t be bowled over by his charm.’

‘Is that likely?’

‘Oh yes.’

Eden could feel herself starting to relax, the tension starting to leave her body. She laughed huskily, back on a footing with Tim she could cope with. ‘Could I make you jealous, Tim?’ she teased.

‘All too easily. Although I wouldn’t recommend it tonight, Claire is likely to do you an injury if you attempt to steal him away from her.’

‘She likes him that much?’

‘And the rest. She would marry him tomorrow if he asked her.’

‘And will he?’ So there was someone Claire considered more important than her career!

‘Not in a million years,’ Tim said with brutal honesty.

‘Does Claire know that?’

‘Oh, sure. But where he’s concerned she isn’t too proud to accept any crumbs he cares to give her.’

‘You mean…’

Tim laughed softly at her expression. ‘Poor Eden, this is your night for shocks. Yes, I mean they’re lovers.’

‘And yet it’s six months since she last saw him?’ She was dumbfounded.

He nodded. ‘But it could be six years and she’d still go running when he snapped his fingers.’

It didn’t sound like the Claire she knew, the Claire who could handle the advances of any man with chilling hauteur. ‘Doesn’t it bother you?’ she asked.

‘Why should it bother me? Claire’s a big girl, she makes her own decisions.’

‘Yes, but——’

‘I’m not her keeper, Eden. If she chooses to make a fool of herself every time the guy comes to town that’s up to her. She wouldn’t thank me for interfering.’

She could well imagine she wouldn’t. ‘Perhaps not, but——’

‘Wait until you’ve met him, Eden, and see for yourself how she changes in his company. No one could fight that.’

‘You like this man, don’t you,’ she stated with certainty, noting a certain respect when he spoke of the other man.

‘Sure I like him.’ Tim parked the car, turning in his seat to look at her. ‘Have you been put off the Channing family by these blunt revelations? Has it shocked you too much?’

She was a little less sure of her feelings towards him, but she wasn’t going to admit that to him, to show her naïveté any more clearly than she already had. She smiled brightly. ‘Of course not.’

He caressed one of her creamy cheeks with long gentle fingers. ‘I’m glad about that, because I do care for you, Eden, more than for any other girl I’ve ever dated. I wouldn’t like you to think I’d frightened you off me.’

He had a little, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. ‘I’m not easily frightened,’ she said jokingly. ‘Now, shall we go in?’

Tim straightened in his seat before getting out to come round and open her car door for her. He wrapped her jacket more firmly about her by pulling the lapels close together, bending to kiss her lightly on the nose. ‘Don’t go away,’ he ordered huskily, moving to lock the car before coming back to her side, his arm about her shoulders as he held her to his side. ‘I wish Claire wasn’t joining us now, we could have ducked out and gone somewhere to be alone.’

‘With what in mind?’ Her golden eyes were guarded.

‘Now, Eden,’ he rebuked gently. ‘Haven’t I always behaved perfectly with you?’

‘Perfectly,’ she agreed.

‘And I’m not going to behave any differently now. I respect and like you too much. Okay?’

‘Thank you,’ she smiled at him shyly.

‘Mm, now forget the conversation we had in the car. I’m a nice guy, remember?’

‘I remember,’ she laughed.

And she did try to keep that thought in mind during the next hour, tried to get back on the mildly flirtatious footing they had always been on. But something had changed between them, a new awareness there that hadn’t been in their relationship before. But she hid her uncertainty with him well, joining in with his lighthearted bantering with a gaiety she hoped only she knew was forced.

His admission of experience shouldn’t have had this effect on her, she had been out with other boys who she knew had an equal experience. And yet she had been getting very fond of Tim, more than fond, and she didn’t like to think there had been other girls in his life who had shared an intimate knowledge with him.

She felt a certain amount of relief therefore when he announced the arrival of his sister and her escort. He stood up. ‘Try not to show your disapproval,’ he bent down to whisper in her ear.

‘Oh, I wouldn’t!’ she told him indignantly.

He grinned down at her. ‘I know it.’

She acknowledged his teasing with a smile before turning to look at the approaching couple. What she saw made her gasp, and her face pale. Pushing her way through the crowds of people was Tim’s sister Claire, looking breathtakingly beautiful as usual, her long sun-bleached blond hair waving glowingly down her back, her perfect face alight with pleasure, the deep red halter-necked dress she wore moulded to her slender curves.

But it wasn’t Tim’s sister who made her gasp, it was her escort. Looking arrogantly confident, his hand resting lightly on Claire’s elbow as he guided her towards their table, was Jason Earle! And by the look on his face as he recognised Eden he was no more pleased to see her here than she was him.

.

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