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Мортимер Кэрол

Only Lover

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CHAPTER TWO

‘I'M what!’ At his words Farrah had jumped to her feet and she stood staring at him with disbelief on her face.

‘Calm down, Miss Halliday,’ he said with infuriating calm. ‘I realise my idea isn't quite what you expected, but—–'

‘You're right, it isn't!’ Farrah burst out indignantly, glaring at him defiantly as she saw anger spark in those icy blue eyes at her interruption. ‘How dare you!’ she continued angrily. ‘How dare you suggest such a thing? I couldn't do it!’ she said determinedly, her tiny nose wrinkling with distaste.

‘I said calm down, Miss Halliday,’ Joel Falcone said without emotion. ‘My suggestion that you do this for me was not meant in the physical sense. I've already said you're too young for my tastes.'

‘Yes. Yes!’ Farrah replied impatiently. ‘But if you didn't mean for me to—to—–'

‘Go to bed with me,’ he supplied tauntingly.

‘Yes, go to bed with you! If you don't want that how will she ever think you're serious about me? That seems to be the normal way you progress.'

Blue eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. ‘Do you want to share my bed?'

‘Certainly not!’ But the question gave her a warm unfamiliar feeling inside. What would it be like to be held in this man's arms? To be held intimately against his taut naked body? She brought her chaotic thoughts to a halt, her eyes opening wide with shock as she realised how wanton her thoughts had become. ‘Then I don't understand,’ her eyes were wide with bewilderment.

‘This is all to be pretence, Miss Halliday. Just a way of getting Laura out of my life.'

‘I still don't see why you can't just tell her how you feel.'

‘I've tried, damn you! She still maintains the mistaken idea that those shares give her some sort of hold over me, another woman should convince her otherwise. Although I doubt if she'll be very happy about it, especially as her rival is so much her junior.'

He said all this with a certain amount of satisfaction and she realised he was so angered by Laura Bennett's behaviour that he would enjoy doing this to her. ‘I'm not her rival,’ she said quietly.

‘Only you and I will know that. As far as everyone else is concerned we'll be ecstatically in love with each other.’ His mouth turned back in a sneer.

‘Not if you act like that they won't.'

‘Don't worry, Farrah Halliday, my acting will be superb.'

Farrah started shaking. This man really meant what he was saying! ‘You can't really mean to do this, Mr Falcone—–'

‘Joel, please. If I'm to be your lover—–'

‘You aren't!’ she said sharply.

‘Your pretend lover,’ he amended mockingly. ‘Then you should call me by my first name.'

Farrah laughed brokenly. This couldn't be happening to her! ‘No one's going to believe this, Mr Falcone—Joel then,’ she said at his dark look. ‘No one who actually knows us, especially Miss Bennett.'

‘They'll believe it,’ he said firmly. ‘If you don't know that then you must be as innocent as you look, which no one could ever be. All those baby waves and trusting green eyes!’ he said in disgust. ‘What do you imagine all the girls down in your office are thinking at this moment? Well, I'll tell you. They probably think I'm making love to you right now. According to rumour, no woman is safe left alone with me.'

‘They—they wouldn't think that,’ she denied uncertainly.

‘Sure they would. Why not? You're beautiful, in a childish sort of way. And like I said, no woman is considered safe alone with me.'

‘But they wouldn't—–’ she shook her head.

‘Of course they damn well would! And to convince them even more you're going to leave the building with me right now.'

‘I am not!’ Farrah said indignantly. ‘It's only three o'clock. I can't just leave without telling anyone where I'm going.

'

‘I don't intend that you should. That wouldn't benefit us in any way.’ He pressed down the intercom. ‘Cathy, get me Angie Preston.’ He turned to Farrah again. ‘This should set the tongues wagging.'

‘What do you mean to do—–?'

The telephone buzzed to interrupt her and Joel Falcone picked up the receiver. ‘Angie? Joel Falcone,’ he said shortly. ‘No, no, it isn't that. We'll get together about that some other time. I just wanted to tell you that Farrah Halliday won't be back in the department today. No, she isn't ill,’ his eyes silently mocked her. ‘She happens to be leaving with me.'

Farrah almost got up and ran then. It had started already, this deception that would become more and more involved. And she hadn't even agreed to it! But she had no choice in the matter. Joel Falcone had her trapped, and he knew it.

‘That's right,’ he continued, seemingly unaware of Farrah's inner turmoil. ‘And she may be a little late in the morning too. Right. We'll talk about that other matter at a later date.’ He rang off.

Farrah's eyes filled with unshed tears. ‘This is terrible,’ she said huskily. ‘I can't go through with it.'

‘Wouldn't you rather it happened this way than to have everyone know your father is nothing but a common thief?'

‘He isn't a common thief! He needed that money, desperately.'

‘So you've told me. I'd be interested to hear the reason.'

Anger sparked swiftly at his taunting voice. ‘Well, you aren't going to. My father is twice the man you'll ever be. And do you know why? I'll tell you why. Because he loves. You couldn't love anyone or anything—you wouldn't know how to. But my father would and does, and for someone he loves he's willing to do anything. You're just a machine, Mr Falcone, a cold unfeeling machine!'

‘But a rich one,’ he said dryly, completely unmoved by her outburst. ‘And in this case it means I hold all the right cards. Wouldn't you agree?'

‘I hate you, Mr Falcone. I hate you!'

‘No, you don't, Farrah. From this moment on you're going to love me, or at least pretend to. It's something I've found women are good at.'

‘I couldn't even pretend to love you,’ Farrah said hotly. ‘You're hateful!'

‘So you would prefer that I prosecute your father?'

‘No! You know I wouldn't,’ she said miserably.

Joel Falcone sighed impatiently. ‘You can't have it both ways, you know. Go through with this pretence and I drop the charges against your father, plus forget the twenty-five thousand pounds he owes me. You know the alternative.'

‘You consider this charade worth twenty-five thousand pounds!'

He nodded. ‘I simply don't want Laura involved in my business affairs any longer. No doubt she'll want more than the market value for those shares.

'

‘And won't you mind paying it?'

He shrugged. ‘Why should I? She'll be out of my life, finally.'

‘That's some friendship you have there,’ she said dryly.

‘That's right, but I've just explained that to you.’ He stood up in one fluid movement. ‘Are you ready to leave now?'

Farrah also stood up, moving jerkily to the door. ‘My—my bag and jacket. I left them in the office. I can't just leave them there.'

‘That's all right. Angie wanted to talk to me about something anyway. You can collect your things while I talk to her.'

‘Oh, but I—–'

‘Do it, Farrah!’ he ordered impatiently. ‘Make your mind up to this, because once we step outside this room there'll be no turning back. Once you're committed you will follow this through to the end. And no one is to know it's pretence. You understand, no one! Not even your father.'

‘But I have to tell him,’ she said, horrified. ‘I can't let him think that I—–'

‘Not even your father, Farrah!’ he repeated firmly. ‘You can tell him when it's all over and not before. It shouldn't take long, a couple of months, no more.'

‘A couple of months!'

He looked at her with steady blue eyes, collecting a burgundy-coloured leather jacket from what appeared to be a cloakroom and shrugging his powerful shoulders unhurriedly inside. ‘A couple of weeks would hardly be convincing. The first few weeks we'll just make sure we're seen together in all the right places, later we'll progress to the occasional night spent together at my apartment.'

Farrah looked at his open-mouthed. ‘I couldn't do that! What would everyone think if I stayed at your apartment? What would my father think!'

‘Exactly what they're supposed to, I should imagine. Believe me, Laura won't be able to stand too much of that sort of treatment. She likes to think that any man she wants will come running when she calls.'

‘But you won't,’ she derided.

‘Not any more—if I ever did.'

‘You aren't the faithful type at all, are you?’ she saw his mouth tighten angrily. ‘I'm sorry, but you did say I wasn't to be sulky and angry.'

‘I didn't say you had to be rude instead. And no, I'm not the faithful type. I've yet to meet a woman who can make me feel possessive enough to feel the need to be a one-woman man.'

‘You consider women are only to be used and not loved?’ she asked interestedly.

He gave a mocking smile. ‘Oh, I love them.'

Farrah blushed. ‘I don't mean physically.'

‘I know that,’ he smiled at her embarrassment, a mocking smile that taunted. He shrugged. ‘No woman has ever proved to me to be any different, you're all money-grasping. A present pays for many things, but without them you get nothing.'

Farrah shook her head. ‘That isn't true, at least not on my part. No man has ever given me presents for services rendered.'

Joel Falcone's eyes raked mercilessly over her casual appearance. ‘Seeing you dressed like that, I can believe it.'

‘Well, you don't exactly look the part of the debonair millionaire yourself,’ she retorted tartly.

‘Perhaps not,’ he agreed. ‘Okay, let's go.’ He put a casual arm about her slim shoulders and felt her stiffen. ‘Once we step outside this door,’ he reminded her.

Farrah forced herself to accept his touch, resisting the impulse to move away from the closeness of his lithe athletic body. Not that it was unpleasant—that was the trouble. She found him much too attractive and dangerous this close to. And if his acting proved to be as superb as he said it would be she hated to think what would happen. His hand rested lightly on her shoulder and she could feel his warmth through her thin cotton shirt.

Those compelling blue eyes looked into her own apprehensive green ones. ‘All right?’ he asked softly.

‘All right,’ she agreed.

Joel Falcone opened the door for her, ushering her out of the office before him but managing to retain his hold on her. ‘Smile, Farrah,’ he said quietly. ‘I don't want Cathy to think I'm taking you out of here under duress.'

Farrah forced an almost natural smile on to her lips. all too much aware of the vital man at her side. His secretary, Cathy, glanced up from her typing to look at them, her eyes narrowing with surprise as she saw her employer's arm draped casually across Farrah's shoulders.

‘I'll be out for the rest of the day,’ Joel Falcone informed her smoothly. ‘Cancel the rest of my appointments for today, and for tomorrow morning.'

‘Yes, sir.’ Cathy looked puzzled by this strange turn of events. ‘Is there anywhere I can reach you if necessary?'

Joel looked at Farrah. ‘Under no circumstances am I to be disturbed,’ he drawled. ‘By anyone.'

Farrah walked out of the office with him, not having said a word, and the smile seemed fixed on her face. And this was just the start! ‘I'm not sure I can go through with this,’ she said shakily, moving away from him as they entered the lift together.

‘Too late,’ he said unconcernedly.

‘Has it ever occurred to you that I might have a boy-friend?’ she asked resentfully.

‘It did, but no protestations were forthcoming in that direction, so I assumed there wasn't a particular man in your life.'

‘But there is!'

‘Then he can't be very important to you or you would have mentioned him earlier. Forget him.’ He waited for her to precede him out of his private lift on to the sixth floor. ‘I already have.'

‘Are you always this dismissive of other people's happiness?'

‘Only when it's interwoven with mine. Look, Farrah, no one is going to be hurt by this pretence of ours. Laura just has a thing about becoming my wife at the moment. Once she realises it's no go she'll be glad to accept the money I'm offering her for her shares. Your father will stay free, you will have whatever I care to give you in presents during the next couple of months, and I—well, I will gain my freedom from a determined woman.'

‘And how do I tell Nigel I won't be seeing him any more?'

‘That's up to you.’ He stopped outside the door to her department. ‘I'll be with Angie only a matter of minutes, join us when you've collected your belongings.'

Joel Falcone caused quite a stir when he walked into the large open plan office that accommodated ten girls and Angie Preston who had her own separate office at the end of the room, but when Farrah followed him in all conversation ceased altogether and nine pairs of eyes were riveted on them.

‘I won't be long,’ Joel said huskily, but loud enough for people close to them to hear.

Farrah walked quickly to her desk, her head downbent as she gathered up her black velvet jacket and her denim shoulder bag. This was proving to be more embarrassing than she had imagined and she could hear a few whispers from her workmates now. Well, this was no good, she couldn't creep about like this all the time, and so flinging back her head almost defiantly she faced the girls in the office with pride and dignity. Fiona was looking at her with puzzled eyes and somehow Farrah managed to summon up a smile.

Fiona came over to her. ‘What's going on?’ she asked curiously.

‘I—er—I—It's rather awkward to explain—–’ She spotted Joel Falcone out of the corner of her eye as he made his way across the office to her side.

He smiled straight into her eyes and Farrah felt her heart lurch. It was a warm possessive smile and she couldn't help but respond to it. She didn't think this pretence was going to prove too difficult if he smiled at her like that too often, in fact it could prove too easy, much too easy, and it could end with her being very hurt by this man.

‘Ready to leave, honey?’ Again his arm slipped about her shoulders.

Farrah ignored the audible gasps coming from around the room. She nodded. ‘Ready,’ she agreed. ‘I'll talk to you tomorrow, Fiona.'

Complete silence followed their progress out of the room, but as soon as the door closed behind them Farrah could hear the sudden murmur of conversation. Joel Falcone gave a satisfied smile. ‘By five o'clock this evening the whole building should know about our little affair.'

Farrah pressed the lift button for the ground floor. ‘I don't see what good that's going to do, except embarrass me, of course. Miss Bennett is a famous actress, she doesn't go about gossiping with the staff.'

‘From little acorns …’ he quoted softly. ‘The more people who know about it the better. This way it will be more believable.'

‘If I don't believe it I don't see why anyone else should.'

‘They will.’ He studied her intently for several seconds. ‘Of course you don't look kissed as you ought to do,’ he took a step towards her, ‘but that can soon be remedied.'

‘No!’ Farrah backed away from him, more frightened that he might get a response than of the actual man himself. ‘I—I don't want to be kissed!'

He watched her through mocking eyes. ‘Why not?’ he asked softly.

‘Because—well, because I—I don't find you attractive.'

‘But you've already told me that you do find me attractive,’ he reminded.

‘I find a tiger attractive in the same way,’ she retorted hotly. ‘All right to look at from afar but too dangerous to touch.'

‘Dangerous?’ he repeated curiously. ‘What a strange word to use!'

‘But fitting, don't you agree?'

‘Maybe.’ He opened the lift doors with the touch of a button. ‘Try to look as if you aren't terrified of me—or I could just give you that kiss here in reception.'

‘You wouldn't!’ Her green eyes widened.

‘I wouldn't count on it,’ he said lazily, retaining a tight hold on her arm as they walked unhurriedly out of the building. A black Ferrari stood parked on the forecourt and Joel Falcone nodded dismissal of the commissionaire as he moved to open the doors for them. Joel himself saw Farrah seated in the passenger seat before climbing in beside her. ‘Comfortable?'

Farrah shifted about in the confines of the car, all too much aware of the man at her side. She could smell his aftershave and the clean male smell of him and her senses stirred unbidden. It was a fantastic car and completely suited to its sleek, confident owner. ‘Fine, thanks,’ she answered shortly.

‘Good.’ He put the car into gear.

‘Where are you taking me?’ Farrah asked with more confidence than she felt.

‘Home,’ Joel Falcone drawled. ‘Your home.'

‘Oh, but I thought—–'

‘I'm well aware of what you thought. I'm taking you home now and calling for you later. We're going to a nightclub I know.'

Farrah was completely fascinated by the harsh face of Joel Falcone, harsh and cynical and yet completely riveting. Deep lines of experience were etched from nose to mouth and his mouth had a cynical twist to it. He left her breathless and it took all her strength to answer him. ‘Tonight?’ she squeaked, swallowing convulsively at the thought of spending the evening with him.

‘Sure, tonight.’ Those deep blue eyes raked over her pale face, eyes surrounded by thick dark lashes that should have looked effeminate but didn't. ‘You weren't going anywhere else, were you?'

Farrah gave a wan smile. ‘If I were I'm sure you would tell me to break it.'

To her surprise he smiled too, a warm natural smile that reached his eyes. ‘You learn fast, young Farrah Halliday. Were you going out?'

‘No,’ she admitted reluctantly.

‘Then you won't need to break it, will you. Are you going to tell your father about me? Oh, not of our agreement, but that we'll be going out together.'

‘Not until I have to.’ She blushed as she realised how bad that sounded.

Joel Falcone frowned heavily. ‘Do you think that's wise? It could come as quite a shock to him to learn from someone else that his little girl is having a full-scale affair with someone like me. If he's as ill as you say he is then the knowledge can't be going to help him.'

‘Exactly,’ Farrah said dryly.

‘And it will be even worse coming from a stranger, or worse still, a newspaper. And how will your mother feel about it?'

It was a perfectly natural question in the circumstances, and yet Farrah felt a sharp pain at his casually spoken words. ‘My mother is dead,’ she said quietly. ‘And I hope you'll leave it to me to tell my father.'

‘I have no intention of seeing your father, when and how you tell him is up to you.’ He stopped the car before the block of flats where she lived with her father. ‘Can you be ready by eight-thirty?'

‘I should think so,’ she laughed lightly. ‘It's only four o'clock, it doesn't take me four and a half hours to get ready. What—what do you want me to wear?’ His steady gaze unnerving her and she fidgeted unnecessarily.

‘We'll be going to a nightclub, quite an exclusive one. Do you have anything suitable?'

‘Yes,’ she snapped, stung by his condescension. ‘Don't worry, I won't disgrace you.'

‘I've arranged for you to go to a salon tomorrow and choose a new wardrobe. That's the reason I told Angie you would be late in the morning.'

‘I don't want anything like that from you,’ she told him angrily. ‘I can buy my own clothes, thank you.'

‘I'm sure you can. Consider these part of your payment.'

‘I don't want anything from you,’ she repeated firmly. ‘Not your expensive presents or your clothes. Letting my father go free will be enough. And I can promise you that I'll pay as much of your money back as I can.'

‘Did you know your eyes flash in the most tantalising way when you're angry?’ he said huskily, ignoring her outrage and fiercely spoken words.

Farrah blushed fiery red. ‘Don't prevaricate,’ she said stiffly.

‘Is that what I was doing?'

‘You know you were. I mean it, Mr Falcone, I won't accept anything from you.'

He turned away from her. ‘Please yourself. I have an appointment in half an hour,’ he said pointedly.

‘I'm sorry!’ She looked at him nervously. ‘You'll be back at eight-thirty?'

‘Yes. And as you don't want me to meet your father you'd better come down here.'

‘Very well.'

Farrah hesitated about going up to the flat just yet; her father wouldn't be expecting her home for at least another hour and he would obviously wonder why she was home so early. She could hardly tell him that Joel Falcone had brought her. No, that wouldn't do at all.

She walked back in the direction of the town. She had her cheque book with her, and although she had told Joel Falcone that she had a suitable dress, she didn't really. It had been a show of bravado on her part and even though the sort of gown he would expect his companion to wear would make a great hole in her savings she had no intention of letting him see her in anything but the best.

The gowns she looked at were very beautiful, and very expensive, and she tried on several before making her final choice. It had to be something sophisticated, but not too old for her, and the black gown seemed to fit both those requirements. It was what she would call slinky, clinging in all the right places and yet retaining an air of mystery. The thin satin shoulder straps did not allow for a bra, but as she had never had any qualms about the suppleness of her body this didn't concern her too much. The low neckline made the dark curve of her breasts just visible, but the bareness of her throat alleviated the darkness of the dress.

It had just gone five when she entered the flat and her father was just in the middle of making a cup of tea. He smiled at her as she sat down tiredly in an armchair. ‘Been shopping?’ he indicated the bag in the chair beside her.

‘A new dress,’ she explained.

‘You're going out tonight, then?’ he asked interestedly.

‘Yes. You're going over to see Uncle Ben, aren't you?'

‘Mmm, we'll probably sink a few jars at the local and talk ourselves silly like we usually do.'

‘You know you enjoy yourself,’ she smiled.

‘Farrah, I don't want to seem too inquisitive, but did you talk to Joel Falcone today?'

‘He spoke to me,’ she corrected. ‘I'm sorry, I should have told you earlier.’ So much had happened since she left home this morning that she had completely forgotten her father's anguish. ‘Joel Falcone has agreed to drop the charges.'

‘Oh, that's wonderful!’ exclaimed her father. ‘At what price?’ he asked shrewdly.

Farrah evaded her father's questing look. ‘No price, Daddy.'

‘No price! But I—– He must have a reason for this, Farrah! Unless you told him about your mother—–'

‘No!’ she denied sharply. ‘I didn't tell him anything.'

‘Then I don't understand,’ he shook his head.

Farrah shrugged, standing up impatiently. ‘Perhaps I just caught him in a good mood, Daddy. Everything should be sorted out within the next few days.'

‘Did he say anything about my job?'

‘No, he didn't! But I should think you'll be sacked, don't you?’ she said shrilly. ‘It was a silly thing to do and it'll probably ruin the rest of your life.’ And mine, she groaned inwardly. ‘Mummy wouldn't have wanted you to do it and you know it. I know it was for her, Daddy, but she would hate to know what trouble you've brought upon yourself.'

‘Your mother always had second best, Farrah, she didn't deserve to die that way too.'

This was an old argument and one Farrah always lost. She had loved her mother too, and if she had died believing the money for her private nursing came from an insurance policy then perhaps it was all to the good. ‘I could have left work and nursed her, Daddy. You know I wanted to.'

‘She didn't want that. You're young, Farrah, nursing your mother would have cut you off from your friends, denied you a proper social life. Your mother wanted you to enjoy your youth.'

‘And I have, Daddy, but this threat over our heads is worse than any hardship I might have had nursing Mummy. I loved her too, you know!'

Her father put a comforting arm about her shoulders. ‘It was better this way, poppet. Your mother died having had all the medical and nursing care there was available. The trip to Switzerland was the most expensive, but I had to make sure the English doctors were right when they said there was no hope.'

‘But company money, Daddy!'

‘I know,’ he said wearily. ‘I know it was wrong. I still have a couple of thousand of it, Farrah, I can give that back,’ he added almost eagerly.

‘A couple of thousand! That won't even dent the twenty-five thousand. He's a powerful man, Daddy, you should have known better than to try and trick him.'

‘I wasn't tricking him personally, only the company.'

‘He is the company.'

‘You're a good child, Farrah, but if I had the same odds against me again I would have to act the same way. I'd have to, do you understand?'

Farrah hugged her father tightly, blinking away her tears as she looked at him. ‘I understand, Daddy, but it doesn't make things any easier. I still have to work there and people ask me how you are every day. I never know what to say. They all want to know when you'll be well enough to go back to work.'

‘I know it's hard for you, Farrah, but you could always leave. You have the experience behind you now, you could easily get a job with another company.'

She shook her head. ‘I don't think so, Daddy.’ Joel Falcone wouldn't allow it, for one thing. This way he had easy access to her, and also to cause a stir among his own numerous staff. No, the time to change her job would be when all this was over, that would be when she needed her privacy the most. During the next few months she was going to be known as Joel Falcone's new woman, and the reason for the abrupt end of his friendship with Laura Bennett. God, what a mess!

.

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