An Unwilling Desire(5)

By: Carole Mortimer


The lounge was empty when she walked in at seven-thirty, so she moved to the vast array of drinks on the sideboard to pour herself a small glass of sherry as James had invited her to do in the past if she should get down before him, turning back with the glass in her hand to find Maxine’s friend standing in the doorway, a cynical twist to his lips. As she had thought, he had dressed for the part, in a white dinner jacket and white silk shirt, a black bow-tie and black fitted trousers, his blond hair brushed casually back from his face.

Holly stood her ground with effort as he came into the room, flushing almost guiltily as his gaze remained fixed on the drink in her hand.

‘A secret drinker, hmm?’ he taunted.

‘Not at all—’

His soft laugh interrupted her. ‘Are you always so quick to jump to the bait?’ he mused. ‘If you are, I’m going to enjoy my stay here this time.’

Her eyes widened at the implication behind these words. ‘You’ve been here before?’

His mouth twisted. ‘Many times.’

She should have realised that by the confident way he moved about the house. ‘You haven’t been here for the last three months,’ she said stiffly.

‘Not since you’ve been here, no,’ he acknowledged derisively. ‘Maybe if I’d known what a fiery secretary James had engaged I might have done.’

‘I’m not fiery—’ Holly banked down her anger. ‘At least, not usually,’ she mumbled.

‘Do I take that as a compliment?’ He moved closer to her to pour himself a large whisky.

‘No!’ Holly snapped.

‘I thought not,’ he said dryly. ‘So you don’t usually lose that delightful little temper of yours,’ he murmured thoughtfully. ‘What is it about me, do you think, that triggers off this rarely used temper?’

‘You’re insufferable!’ she glared at him.

‘Besides that,’ he dismissed uninterestedly.

‘Isn’t that enough?’

He shrugged. ‘I wouldn’t have thought so. You disliked me on sight.’

‘I’m sure many women find you very attractive,’ Holly derided at his chagrined expression at the realisation. ‘I just find you obnoxious.’

‘Mm, novel, isn’t it?’ He appeared clinically interested by the fact.

She gave him an exasperated look. ‘Don’t you ever take anything seriously?’

‘Life’s too short for that. And I don’t consider your dislike of me to be serious.’

‘You conceited—’

‘Not conceited, Holly,’ he disagreed softly. ‘I’m just intrigued by the fact that almost everything I say and do brings a heated reaction from you. James was singing your praises when I went back to the lounge this afternoon; I couldn’t believe the cool competent young lady he was describing was the same one I’d just met. You may be competent, in fact that determined little chin tells me you are, but you certainly aren’t cool. I was wondering what it was about me that brings about this Jekyll and Hyde change in character.’

‘I told you, I find you insufferable.’

‘And I told you it isn’t enough.’ He studied her through narrowed green eyes. ‘Maybe it’s my similarity to James you dislike. You defend him like a cat defending its kitten. I wonder—’

‘Would you please pour me another sherry?’ she requested stiffly.

He took the glass she held out, his eyes mocking as he refilled it. ‘I thought you weren’t a secret drinker?’

‘I’m not!’

He looked pointedly at the second sherry which she had almost consumed. ‘I hope that isn’t on a completely empty stomach. Which way do you go when you’re drunk, happy or sad?’

Holly paled at the taunt, slamming the glass down on the table, spilling some of its contents on the polished surface. ‘I have never been drunk,’ she told him tautly. ‘Never!’

His eyes widened at her unwarranted vehemence.

‘Holly—’

‘Ah, Zack darling!’ Maxine Benedict floated into the room, her black hair brushed in casual waves to her shoulders, her make-up perfect, the black dress she wore clinging suggestively to her model-thin figure. The contrast, in the style and wearer of the two black gowns, had the effect of making Holly’s look nun-like! ‘Pour me a drink, darling, you know what I like. Hello, Holly,’ she greeted with her usual friendliness. ‘What happened to you this afternoon?’

Holly gave the other woman a startled look, glancing briefly at the man she now knew was called Zack. His deliberately bland expression didn’t help her at all! ‘Happened?’ she enquired abruptly, wondering what on earth reason the man Zack had given for her not joining them this afternoon.