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‘Poor thing,’ Sylvia whispered into Holly’s ear. ‘Her husband’s been playing around. Darling, would you mind if I popped over to another table? I’ve just spied an old friend I haven’t seen for ages. I’ll be back when they start serving lunch.’

‘Of course not,’ Holly whispered back, and turned automatically to the man beside her as she unfolded her napkin. The seat on the other side of him was empty too, so they were like a little island in the throng. ‘How do you do?’

‘How do you do?’ he replied coolly and studied all he could see of her, from her upswept hair, her pearls, the vee between her breasts exposed by her jacket and her slim waist. But it was worse than that. She got the distinct feeling he was viewing her without her clothes and with a view to assessing her potential as a partner in his bed.

She lowered her lashes swiftly as her blue eyes blazed at the sheer insolence of this unexpected appraisal, and at the inexplicable reaction it aroused in her. A wholly unexpected ripple of awareness touched her nerve ends.

Her lips parted on a stinging retort, but before she could frame it he smiled slightly, a lethally insolent twisting of his lips as if he was quite aware of his effect on her, and posed a question to her with an air of patent scepticism.

‘Are you a great supporter of animal shelters?’

Holly looked taken aback for a moment but she recovered swiftly and said, ‘No—not that I’m against them.’ She shrugged. ‘But that’s not why I’m here.’

His eyes left her face briefly and she realized he was keeping tabs on the progress of Sue Murray as she moved from table to table introducing herself to everyone. When his gaze came back to her, he posed another question. ‘Why are you here?’

‘I came with my mother.’

A glint of amusement lit his dark eyes. ‘That sounds as if it came from a list of excuses the Department of Transport publishes occasionally: “my mother told me to hurry up, that’s why I was exceeding the speed limit”.’

If she hadn’t been so annoyed, if it hadn’t been so apt, Holly would have seen the humour of this.

‘Clever,’ she said coldly. ‘But I have to tell you, I’m already regretting it. And, for your further information, I don’t approve of this kind of fund-raising.’

He lifted a lazy eyebrow. ‘Strange, that. You look so very much the part.’

‘What part?’ she asked arctically.

He shrugged. ‘The professional, serial socialite. The embodiment of conspicuous philanthropy in order to climb the social ladder.’ He glanced at her left hand, which happened to be bare of rings. ‘Maybe even in the market for a rich husband?’ he added with soft but lethal irony.

Holly gasped, and gasped again, as his gaze flickered over her and came back to rest squarely on her décolletage; she had no doubt that he was mentally undressing her.

Then she clenched her teeth as it crossed her mind that she should have stuck to her guns. She should not be sitting there all dolled up to the nines, with her hair strangled up and starting to give her a headache, all to support a cause but giving off the wrong messages entirely. Obviously!

On the other hand, she thought swiftly, that did not give this man the right to insult her.

‘If you’ll forgive me for saying so,’ she retorted, ‘I think your manners are atrocious.’

‘Oh. In what way?’

‘How or why I’m here has nothing whatsoever to do with you and if you mentally undress me once more who knows what I might be prompted to do? I am,’ she added, ‘quite able to take care of myself, and I’m not wet behind the ears.’

‘Fighting words,’ he murmured. ‘But there is this—’

‘I know what you’re going to say,’ she broke in. ‘It’s chemistry.’ She looked at him scornfully. ‘That is such an old, dead one! Even my Mexican bandit didn’t use that one although, come to think of it, the sheikh did. Well, I think that’s what he was saying.’ She tipped her hand as if to say, ‘you win some, you lose some’.

He blinked. ‘Sounds as if you have an interesting life.’

‘I do.’

‘You’re not making it all up?’

‘No.’ Holly folded her arms and waited.

‘What?’ he queried after a moment, with utterly false trepidation.

‘I thought an apology might be appropriate.’

He said nothing, just gazed at her, and after a pensive moment on her part they were exchanging a long, telling look which came as quite a surprise to Holly. The luncheon and its environs receded and it was if there was only the two of them…

Whatever was happening for him, for Holly it became a drawing-in, not only visually but through her pores, of the essence of this man and the acknowledgement that his physical properties were extremely fine. He was not only tall, he was tanned, and he looked exceedingly fit, as if sitting at charity luncheons did not come naturally to him. His hands were long and well-shaped. His dark hair was crisp and short, and the lines and angles of his face were interesting but not easy to read.

In fact, she summarized to herself, there was something inherently dangerous but dynamically attractive about him that made you think of him having his hands on your body, his exciting, expert, mind-blowing way with you.

That’s ridiculous, she told herself as a strange little thrill ran through her. That’s such a girlish fantasy!

Nevertheless, it continued to do strange things to her.

It altered the rate of her breathing, for example. It caused a little pulse to beat rather wildly at the base of her throat so that her pearls jumped. To her amazement, it even caused her nipples to become sensitive and make the lace of her black bra feel almost intolerably scratchy.

Her lips parted, then she made a concerted attempt to gather her composure as his dark gaze raked her again, but he broke the spell.

He said very quietly, ‘I don’t know about the bandit or the sheikh, ma’am, but I can’t help thinking chemistry is actually alive and well—between us.’

Holly came back to earth with a thud and rose to her feet. ‘I’m leaving,’ she said baldly.

He sat back and shrugged. ‘Please don’t on my account. I’ll say no more. Anyway, what about your mother?’ he queried with just a shadow of disbelief.

Holly looked around a little wildly. ‘I’ll take her with me. Yes!’ And she strode away from the table.

‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,’ Holly said as she clutched the steering wheel and started to drive them home. Her mother still looked stunned. ‘But he was—impossible, the man sitting next to me! Talk about making a pass!’ she marvelled.

‘Brett Wyndham made a pass at you?’ Sylvia said in faint accents as she clutched the arm rest. ‘Holly, slow down, darling!’

Holly did more, she stamped on the brakes then pulled off the road. ‘Brett Wyndham,’ she repeated incredulously. ‘That was Brett Wyndham?’

‘Yes. Sue Murray’s his sister. We can only assume that’s why he’s there. I told you, she’s having husband troubles, and perhaps he’s providing moral support or something like that. I’ve never seen him at such a function before, or any kind of function for that matter.’

Holly released the wheel and clutched her head, then she started shedding hairpins haphazardly into her lap. ‘If only I’d known! But would I have done anything differently? He was exceedingly—he was—That’s why he was watching her.’


‘His sister. In between watching me,’ Holly said bitterly. ‘On the other hand, I could maybe have seen the funny side of it. I could have deflected him humorously and—who knows?’

‘If I had the faintest idea what you were talking about I might be able to agree or disagree,’ her mother said plaintively.

Holly turned to her then hugged her. ‘I am sorry. On all counts. And don’t mind me; it’s just that an interview with Brett Wyndham could have been the real boost my career needs.’

Chapter Two

A COUPLE of days later, Holly found she couldn’t get out of the masked fancy-dress ball she’d agreed to attend with her mother, much as she would have loved to.