An Unwilling Desire(8)

By: Carole Mortimer


‘You flatter me, sweet,’ Zack said dryly. ‘I have been known to fail on the odd occasion.’

‘I’m sure that neither Holly nor I are interested in your prowess in bed,’ his brother dismissed. Mocking green eyes were turned on her.

‘Aren’t you?’

A delicate blush darkened her cheeks. ‘I’ve always believed that if a man has to constantly prove himself in bed with a string of different women there’s something wrong with him,’ she told him coldly.

‘Such as?’ He was still amused.

‘Such as he really prefers men, he’s very shallow, or — he’s just afraid to fall in love with one woman,’ she said bluntly, looking only at him as she made the statement. Maxine gave a laugh of pure enjoyment, her air of bored sophistication leaving her for a moment.

‘Well, Zack?’ she gave a gurgle of laughter, looking years younger, a warm glow to her blue eyes.

‘Hm,’ he grimaced. ‘You can safely discount the first, Holly,’ he said dryly. ‘I enjoy and like women too much for that to be true. The second? No, I don’t think I’m shallow either. A little cynical, perhaps,’ he admitted thoughtfully. ‘As for being afraid of love ...’ he shook his head, ‘I don’t think that’s true either. What’s your excuse?’

She raised startled eyes at the unexpected suddenness of the question. ‘Excuse for what?’ she frowned.

‘For not being married.’

‘Holly is only twenty-two,’ James defended tautly. Much too young to be married.’

‘I was engaged to you at that age,’ Maxine reminded him sharply.

‘That was different,’ he snapped.

‘Was it?’ Her voice was hard.

‘I think so,’ he nodded grimly.

‘How?’

‘Maxine—’

‘How was it different, James?’ she persisted.

His eyes were hard as he looked at her. ‘This is not the time to discuss it.’

‘It never is.’ She stood up with a noisy scrape of her chair. ‘Excuse me,’ her tone was brittle, ‘I’m no longer hungry.’

‘Maxine!’ James’ voice thundered across the room, baiting her.

She turned slowly to face her husband, very pale beneath her make-up. ‘Yes?’

‘Sit down,’ he ordered abruptly.

‘Go to hell!’ she snapped.

His mouth tightened ominously. ‘I—said—sit— down!’

Maxine’s head went back in challenge. ‘Make me.’ James went deathly pale. ‘Bitch!’ he groaned in a pained voice, and threw his napkin down on the table, manoeuvring his chair over to the door, pushing it open with a crash. The room was starkly silent after his exit.

Maxine suddenly gave a choked cry before she too rushed from the room.



CHAPTER TWO

HOLLY had sat in horrified silence as Maxine challenged James’s disability in that cruel way. Although Maxine was often absent from the house she had never heard the other couple be so hurtful to each other before. It wasn’t—

‘Stay where you are.’

She hadn’t even been aware of standing up, just as she had forgotten the presence of Zack Benedict in the dining-room with her. She resented being told what to do by him or anyone else when they had no right to do so! ‘I beg your pardon?’ She looked down at him icily.

‘Leave them alone,’ he advised gently. ‘From the look of them this argument has been a very long time coming.’

‘But—’

‘I said leave them, Holly.’ He smiled to take the edge of his words. ‘After all, there’s no reason for us to miss dinner too. James and Maxine’s marital problems. They have to be worked out between them. So sit down and we’ll eat.’

‘I…’

‘I could make you,’ he warned softly.

She knew he could too. Most of the time he was lazily relaxed, almost indolent, and yet beneath the superb cut of his dinner jacket and silk shirt she was ware of the powerful shoulders and arms, had more than once been a witness to the steelier side of his nature, a side he took pains to hide most of the time.

She sank slowly back into her chair, beginning to eat her meal in silence. He might have ‘persuaded’ her to sit down with him, but she didn’t have to give him the satisfaction of actually talking to him too.

She should have known the irrepressible Zack Benedict wouldn’t be put off so easily. ‘You never did say whether or not you can sing,’ he prompted as they stood up to take their coffee through to the lounge.

‘Not a note,’ she answered absently, wondering if James was all right.