An Unwilling Desire(7)

By: Carole Mortimer


‘Mr Benedict,’ she nodded abrupt acknowledgment of him.

‘Zack,’ he corrected smoothly. ‘Or Zachary, if you prefer. But never Mr Benedict, Holly. Surely you’re used to the informality here by now?’

Holly flushed her resentment as he very effectively reminded her that she was the outsider here, but she was restricted from answering him as she would have liked because of the other couple. Zack Benedict had deliberately encouraged her to believe her mistaken assumption of the reason he was here, was even now enjoying her discomfort, a taunting smile to his lips. But was she so wrong about his relationship with Maxine? Just because the two men were brothers that didn’t preclude such a relationship between Maxine and Zack, in fact it could increase the possibility, the two men were enough alike to encourage Maxine to transfer her attention to the mobile brother.

She looked up to find Zack Benedict’s eyes narrowed on her, as hard as emeralds as he seemed to guess her thoughts. Her head went back in challenge. ‘Zack,’ she repeated softly.

‘Well, now that’s settled,’ Maxine put in waspishly, ‘could we go in to dinner? It’s hours since Zack and I ate in London.’

‘But it was a delicious meal,’ Zack smiled, grooves etched either side of his mouth. ‘You have such a good cook.’

‘Yes, I do, don’t I?’ Maxine purred at the compliment, smiling naturally for the first time that evening. ‘You remember Abigail, James?’

‘Of course I remember her,’ he snapped his bad humour. ‘I hired her!’

His wife flushed. ‘It’s been so long since you visited the flat in London that I—’

‘I may be confined to a wheelchair, Maxine, but I am not senile!’ he cut in harshly. ‘Let’s go in to dinner,’ he decided roughly.

‘James—’

‘Dinner,’ he repeated in an autocratic voice, a voice that brooked no argument from anyone.

Maxine was the one to walk beside the electrically operated wheelchair as they went through to the dining-room, and Holly had perforce to accept the arm Zack Benedict mockingly held out to her. Not that she gave him a second glance, being too taken aback by James’s attitude to Maxine.

She had never heard him speak to his wife like that before in her presence, and she could only wonder at his uncharacteristic sharpness with her now. Perhaps he too wondered about his wife’s relationship with his young brother.

The small round table had been set with four places, one of the chairs being removed as James skilfully manoeuvred his chair into this vacant spot. Holly and Maxine were to sit either side of him, with Zack opposite, the younger man seeing both women seated with a gallant flourish.

The meal was nothing like the quiet ones of enjoyment Holly and James had shared together in the evenings the last few weeks, James eating his food in morose silence, Maxine and Zack seeming lost in their own thoughts, Holly just feeling awkward and uncomfortable in the tense atmosphere.

‘How is the writing going, James?’ Zack finally cut through the soft clatter of cutlery.

‘Fine,’ his brother answered curtly.

‘I’m sure working with Holly must be a great inspiration,’ the younger man taunted.

"Holly is—restful to be with,’ James replied slowly.

‘Really?’ Dark blond brows rose over sceptical green eyes. ‘She doesn’t make me feel that way.’

‘Holly makes Zack feel protective,’ Maxine put in derisively.

Hazel eyes sharpened suspiciously. ‘Protective?’

‘Actually,’ Zack answered the other man, ‘she doesn’t make me feel that way either. Can you sing, Holly?’

‘Sing?’ she echoed in a startled voice, leaning back as hex soup bowl was removed to be replaced with a clean plate for her main course. When she first came to work here she had been slightly unnerved by the abundance of servants in the house, but now she took it in her stride, although she was aware that the household staff considered her to be apart from them, treating her more like a guest than an employee like themselves.

‘Mm,’ Zack was watching her over the rim of the wine glass he held cupped in his hands. ‘With your looks, some sexy clothes, and a good singing voice, you could go far.’

‘At least as far as your bed, darling,’ Maxine drawled mockingly.

‘Maxine!’ James slammed his glass down on the table. ‘Keep that sort of talk for your London friends, neither Holly or I appreciate it.’

His wife’s mouth tightened at the rebuke. ‘But we all know Zack’s little songbirds occupy his bed at some time or other.’