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Мортимер Кэрол

Only Lover

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CHAPTER THREE

‘HAVING second thoughts?'

Farrah didn't pretend not to know what he meant, grimacing her uncertainty. ‘And third and fourth ones too,’ she acknowledged. ‘But every time the answer comes out the same.'

Her apprehension had started the minute she stepped into his car this evening. His pure sophistication in white suit and black shirt had unsettled her and once again reminded her of his importance. Joel Falcone was a man who had worked himself up from a back-street child to a smooth polished man with an intelligence that baffled many a rival. But this nightclub had made her withdraw even more into her shell of shyness. There were so many celebrities here that she felt completely overwhelmed. And Joel Falcone seemed completely at home among them!

They were seated in a secluded corner, the reddish glow of the room surrounding them in a warm intimacy that was utterly deceiving. Couples were dancing in uninhibited abandon on the floor space provided, and Farrah felt less self-conscious about her revealed curves in the clinging dress after looking at some of the more exotic gowns being worn here.

The service was excellent and unobtrusive—and must surely be costing a small fortune in itself. This certainly wasn't the sort of place she would have chosen to come to, but she realised Joel Falcone must like this sort of atmosphere. He certainly seemed more relaxed, a faint mocking smile never far from those curved sensuous lips.

‘Joel! Darling!’ A tall girl, with long almost waist-length auburn hair, rushed to Joel's side, embracing him effusively as he stood up politely. ‘Where have you been all evening?’ she purred seductively.

Joel Falcone seemed to be withstanding this onslaught remarkably well, and instead of repulsing this girl's caresses he was actually encouraging her, returning the pressure of her lips with equal fervour. ‘Mmm,’ he sighed huskily. ‘You look good, Candida. As to where I've been, I've been sitting here all evening.'

The girl Candida grasped his arm possessively. ‘In that case, why haven't you joined the rest of us like you usually do?'

His arm was draped around her waist, his hand resting firmly on her hip. ‘I've—um—I've been otherwise engaged.’ He looked pointedly at Farrah.

Farrah found it difficult to meet the hostile gaze of the other girl, but nevertheless she managed to do so. Glacial blue eyes raked over her, a slight sneer to the girl's heavily painted lips. ‘But darling—–’ she began scathingly.

Joel put out a hand and pulled Farrah to her feet, his hold leaving the beautiful Candida and now encircling Farrah's slim waist. ‘Farrah, honey, come and meet Candida.'

The two girls looked at each other with dislike and finally it was Candida's gaze that dropped and fell away. Farrah wasn't particularly bothered about the other girl's dislike of her, but she did think that Joel Falcone should have acted less familiarly with her. After all, if she really had loved him and he her then she wouldn't have been able to meekly sit back and witness such behaviour.

‘Hello,’ Candida said huskily.

‘Good evening,’ Farrah replied formally.

She felt Joel Falcone's arm tighten painfully on her waist and the smile on his lips for her didn't reach the darkness of his eyes, deep unfathomable eyes that gave away nothing of his thoughts. ‘Candida is an old friend, my love,’ he chided gently.

So the act had begun! She had to force herself not to cringe away from such a false endearment. ‘Really?’ she looked at him steadily.

Candida's eyes had narrowed at Joel's protective air and murmured endearment. She pouted at him. ‘I thought I was more than a friend, Joel.'

He laughed at her exaggerated air of hurt. ‘Don't try to cause trouble, Candy. Farrah doesn't understand your warped sense of humour. And I won't have her hurt.'

The redhead looked away. ‘I see,’ she said quietly. ‘Are you going to join us?'

‘I'm not sure.’ He looked at Farrah. ‘Honey?'

She shied away from such a suggestion, unwilling to meet more of his friends if they resented her as much as the girl did. ‘I—I don't—–'

Joel didn't wait for the rest of her answer. He shook his head to Candy.

‘I don't think so. Not tonight.'

The beautiful redhead gave it one last reckless shot. ‘Is Laura coming here tonight?’ she asked casually.

She realised her mistake as Joel's eyes became icily cold. ‘I wouldn't know,’ he said shortly. ‘Laura and I no longer discuss our personal social engagements, as you very well know.'

Candida was instantly contrite. ‘I'm sorry, Joel, I didn't mean—–'

‘I know very well what you meant, Candy, and it wasn't anything polite. Now if you'll excuse us I think I'll take Farrah into the other room and do what passes for dancing in this place.'

Farrah followed him wordlessly, pulled along by his hold on her hand. She didn't have time to say goodbye to the other girl, but she didn't think it really mattered, as Joel had said, Candida did not have politeness on her mind. The poor girl had been positively green with jealousy. Farrah shook off all thoughts of the beautiful Candida, at the moment she had something more pressing to think about. She had seen what Joel said they called dancing when they came into the club, and to her it looked more like making love to music!

‘Relax,’ Joel murmured in her ear, bending down as they danced so that his face was buried in her creamy throat. ‘Try to look suitably ecstatic.'

Farrah was much too aware of his hard lithe body pressed close to her own to look anything else but terrified. She had never danced this close to a man before and each muscle and sinew was firmly outlined against her own trembling body. ‘How can I?’ she asked tautly. ‘When you terrify the life out of me.'

Joel moved his head up and away from her. ‘I do, Farrah Halliday? And how do I do that?'

She looked away from him crossly. ‘You mock me.'

‘I mock everyone, child,’ he said with some humour. ‘Including myself.'

‘But why are you so cynical?'

He shrugged his broad shoulders. ‘I have no idea. Unless you count boredom as a reason.'

‘Boredom!’ Farrah was frankly astounded. ‘But you have so much.'

Joel's mouth twisted. ‘So everyone keeps telling me.'

Farrah wished they could sit down again, the movement of his body on hers was so blatantly sensual that she felt like part of the man himself. And yet they would have looked strange dancing any other way, everyone seemed to be moving with the same closeness. ‘Could we—–’ she cleared her throat. ‘Could we sit down again, please?'

‘Sure,’ his eyes mocked her silently as he saw her seated before sliding on to the bench seat beside her, his thigh brushing hers. ‘You don't like to dance?’ He watched her over the rim of his glass.

‘Yes, I like to dance,’ she said tartly. ‘But I wouldn't call that dancing.'

‘Just what would you call it?'

‘Making love to music?'

She heard him give a deep throaty chuckle and watched as his teeth flashed whitely and his blue eyes crinkled with laughter. ‘An apt description,’ he toasted her with his glass. ‘So you're a prude, Farrah Halliday.'

‘I am not! I just think that sort of thing should be done in private.'

‘What sort of thing?’ He watched the couples dancing for several seconds. ‘It's only body contact.'

Farrah wrinkled her nose delicately. ‘I didn't like it,’ she said firmly.

‘Strange, I found it rather—satisfying.'

Farrah knew he had intended embarrassing her, but she blushed anyway. ‘Then you're satisfied very easily,’ she retorted shortly.

‘Oh, but I'm not,’ he corrected her softly. ‘I'm very difficult to—please.'

She knew this was a double-edged conversation, and she also knew that Joel Falcone was enjoying her discomfiture immensely. ‘Tell me, Mr Falcone,’ she ignored his dark scowl at her formality, ‘why didn't you ask someone like your friend Candida to assist you with your little problem? She's obviously aware of the breakdown of your relationship with Miss Bennett.'

‘I should think all my friends are,’ he said grimly. ‘It's been on the cards for some time now.'

‘But what—what happened?’ Her eyes were like huge green pools of curiosity.

Joel sighed. ‘I suppose you have a right to know. Now I may not be the epitome of the perfect male and Laura and I have never been very faithful, each of us having other casual friendships. But I draw the line at having her burst into my apartment just as I was—–’ he broke off. ‘Making love, you would call it,’ he looked grim. ‘With another woman.'

‘But you told me that you—that you and she still—–'

‘Oh, we do, on the odd occasion. Why not? I take Laura as I would take a shower, not a necessity but pleasant on the right occasion. And as for using Candida, I have better sense. I don't intend to gain my freedom from one scheming woman just to get caught in another trap equally disastrous. Believe me, Candida would demand more from me than you do, both physically and in other ways. And I'm not willing to answer to any woman for my actions.'

‘I see.'

‘Stop looking so disapproving, Farrah,’ he chuckled huskily. ‘And for God's sake relax! Don't you ever smile?'

‘Sometimes. I haven't had much to smile about lately.'

‘Look, I'm not going to hurt you. This is all pretence, and it won't last very long.'

‘Just long enough for me to be known publicly as your new woman.'

‘It may not come to that, Laura and I may be able to settle this privately.'

Farrah looked at him eagerly. ‘Could you do that?'

‘Maybe,’ he said non-committally.

‘Oh, Joel, I'd—–’ she broke off.

He grinned at her. ‘Carry on, Farrah, it would be a pity to spoil your effort.'

She looked at him shyly. ‘It wasn't such an effort,’ she admitted.

Blue eyes narrowed, but he still smiled. ‘All the more reason,’ he said huskily. ‘Just try and forget our reason for being here. I think that our mission has been accomplished. Candy and her friends have been giving us speculative looks for the past hour or more, and since talking to us I should think Candy has told them all who you are. Don't worry, Laura should know within the next day or so that we were seen together.'

‘But would it matter to her? You've already admitted that you both occasionally see other people.'

‘That's why I told you it would take a couple of months to convince her, my girl-friends don't usually last that long.'

‘Tell me, Mr—Joel, have you ever been in love?'

‘No. It's a luxury that has never been granted me. You've grown very curious, Farrah Halliday. Why the sudden interest?'

Farrah sipped her Martini and lemonade before answering him. ‘If I have to spend time with you I may as well make conversation. Most people enjoy talking about themselves.'

‘I don't.’ He bent forward, effectively cutting off the rest of the room from her vision. ‘I would far rather talk about you. Are you as innocent as you look?'

‘You've said that once before. I can't help the way I look.'

‘Does that mean that the answer is no?'

‘No, it doesn't! If by innocent you mean do I sleep around, then the answer is no. So that makes me innocent in your eyes. I've never gone in for casual love or lovemaking.'

‘Does that mean you're a virgin?'

‘It's none of your business! I—–'

‘Does it?’ he repeated sharply.

‘I can't—– It—– Oh yes! Yes, it does! Are you satisfied now?'

‘No. I'm interested, very interested. Do you have boyfriends, Farrah? Of course you do,’ he answered his own question. ‘Someone called Nigel wasn't it, and I presume there have been others. And yet none of them have wanted to make love to you.'

Farrah gasped. ‘I didn't say that!'

‘So they have wanted to make love to you. And you've said no. Why was that, Farrah, are you holding out for marriage? Are you thinking of how privileged that man will feel when you go into your marriage bed pure and untouched?'

There was no mistaking the sneer in his voice and Farrah bridled angrily. ‘Like I said, you mock everything.’ She shifted away from him and breathed more easily when no longer made quite so much aware of his physical attractiveness. For a few minutes he had held her attention like a magnet, and she was made all too much aware of how easy it was to fall for his charm when he chose to exert it. And she wouldn't give him that satisfaction.

His hand moved to cover her own as it rested on the table, holding her even tighter as her first instinct was to snatch her hand away. ‘Careful,’ he warned. ‘Don't spoil it all now. You've managed very well so far.'

‘Thank you very much, sir! How kind you are!'

Her anger made him smile. ‘Your eyes are flashing again.'

Farrah blushed. ‘Leave my eyes out of it!'

Joel shook his head. ‘Impossible. They're really quite beautiful. Are those dark lashes natural?'

‘You're prevaricating again.’ She was unable to meet his eyes.

‘Not me, honey, you're the one doing that. I asked you a perfectly normal—–'

‘Normal! Nothing about our whole relationship is normal! Can we go home now?'

‘Yours or mine?’ he taunted.

‘You to yours, and me to mine,’ she said ungrammatically.

Joel picked up her hand, studying the palely painted nails and her slim tapered fingers. ‘There ought to be a ring on this hand,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘A huge emerald to match your eyes. Has no one ever offered?'

‘I'll only marry for love. Now can we go home?’ she repeated stubbornly.

‘It's early,’ he replied vaguely, still looking at her hand as it rested in his own much larger one. He looked at his watch. ‘It's only eleven o'clock, much too early to leave. I rarely leave before two in the morning.'

Farrah felt a sense of dread. Another three hours with him. In this mood he was far too dangerous for her peace of mind. In a short time they had become much too intimate for Farrah's liking. Joel seemed to be amusing himself with her and he was being deliberately charming. The trouble was her traitorous body was falling for it. Each time he gave her that dark brooding look she trembled with anticipation, of what she wasn't sure.

‘If we leave now your friends will naturally assume we're going to your apartment to—to—–'

‘Make love,’ he drawled. ‘That seems to be the topic of the evening. And I can quite as well make love at two in the morning as I can now.'

Farrah blushed. ‘You're embarrassing me,’ she shook her head. ‘I've never spoken about such things to anyone before, let alone a man I only met for the first time yesterday. Are you always so—so basic?'

He let go of her hand, sitting back to light up a cheroot with his gold initialled lighter. ‘No, I enjoy shocking you. Does that surprise you?'

‘I suppose not. My naïveté must be very amusing,’ she said dejectedly.

Joel was surrounded by thick smoke, his expression unreadable. ‘Nothing about you amuses me,’ he said harshly. ‘On the contrary. It's a long time since I met anyone as fresh and young as you undoubtedly are. It's quite a novelty.'

‘There are plenty of girls like me about. We hardly even know the sort of world you live in exists.'

‘So you're going to settle for a respectable young man with a semi in the country and the estimated 2.4 children,’ he mocked her. ‘Or are you going to try and find yourself a rich husband?'

‘Neither. All I want is a man I can love with all my heart. You're so cynical, but one day you'll find someone to love. I only hope you recognise the emotion for what it is.'

‘I know desire and I know indifference, and that's enough for me. I don't need anything as complicated as love in my life. Now if you're ready to leave?'

‘Oh, I'm ready. There's just one thing, Mr—Joel. My father is only forty-five, he has at least another twenty years left to work. I realise you can't give him too good a reference, but if you could just not give him a bad one? He wouldn't do anything like this again, I promise you.'

‘I'm not giving him a reference at all—–'

‘Oh, but—–'

‘I haven't sacked him, Farrah. He can come back to work any time he likes.'

Farrah looked at him sharply. ‘But he—I—– Do you mean it?'

‘Sure. Your father made a mistake, a mistake not too many people know about, and I think he's paid for it. But he'll be watched,’ he warned her. ‘Security advised me to sack him, so they'll be keeping an eye on him. No one else in the company is aware of his—borrowing, so he shouldn't find it too difficult to return.'

‘You really mean it?’ She saw his faint nod, and sighed with relief. ‘Oh, Joel, I could kiss you!'

‘Don't let me stop you.’ He watched her below hooded lids.

She blushed and gave him a shy smile, unable to hold back the bubbly laughter she felt in her happiness. ‘Oh, Joel, this is marvellous! It's such a relief. Daddy's been so worried. So have I for that matter.'

‘I gather the kiss isn't going to be forthcoming? I thought not,’ he took in her flushed cheeks. ‘That's the first time I've seen you laugh.'

‘It's the first time I've really felt happy for weeks.'

Joel looked at his watch again. ‘Nearly twelve. I guess we can go now.'

They had to walk past the table at which his friends were seated and it was only polite that he stop to say a few words. Farrah was aware of being thoroughly appraised by men and women alike and it was only Joel's grip on her waist that stopped her running. There were six men and an equal number of women at the table, although none of them actually seemed to be in couples.

‘Unsociable tonight, weren't you, Joel?’ remarked a tall blond man.

Joel grinned at him. ‘Farrah's worth being unsociable for,’ he said smoothly.

There was a knowing gleam in the other man's eyes. ‘Trust you to come up with someone new and beautiful. Where are you going now?'

‘Farrah has a headache,’ he explained. He turned to look at her pale face, bending suddenly to kiss her parted lips. Farrah was taken completely by surprise and responded without thinking. She registered firm caressing lips on her own before they were slowly removed. Joel's blue eyes shone down at her in challenge, and to her shame she was the first to look away. He turned back to his friends. ‘I'm taking her home now. We'll join you another time.’ And with a casual goodbye they left the nightclub.

.

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