Bedded for Passion, Purchased for Pregnancy(8)

By: Carol Marinelli


Jam.

Vegemite.

Salami.

Prosciutto.

All beautifully presented, of course, but as she bit into them the familiar flavours brought a gurgle of laughter to Emma’s lips. She got the joke.

‘Your father and mine used to swap their school lunches.’ Zarios grinned, too. ‘I can remember my father telling me the first time he tasted your father’s sandwiches. He thought they were the most disgusting thing he had ever tasted—and your father thought the same of his. Within two weeks they were trading lunches.’

‘My dad insists he was the first Australian to really appreciate a sundried tomato—he was eating them daily long before they were popular.’

‘He was,’ Zarios agreed. ‘He was also a friend to my father when no one else was. He’s a good man.’

‘He is.’ Emma smiled. ‘Which is why you’ll have to excuse me. I ought to socialise…’

‘You are.’

‘I mean…’ Emma was flustered ‘…with aunts and things…’

‘I’m sure your father would rather you looked after a guest who doesn’t know anyone…’

How dangerous was that smile, just curving on the edge of his full mouth?

‘It’s not fair to leave me on my own.’

‘I’m sure Cindy would be delighted to keep you company!’ Ouch! Emma could have kicked herself for letting him know that she’d noticed.

‘Cindy only wants me for my body!’ He leaned forward, his voice dropping an octave. Cool and confident Emma was not. Her face burned at the near contact, her toes curling in her sandals at the feel of his breath on her ear. ‘And I will not let myself be used!’

‘As if.’ Emma laughed, jerking her head back, but the laugh came out too shrill. The effect of him so close was devastating.

‘Anyway, I am under strict instructions to behave tonight…’ Again he lowered his head—just as he had a moment ago, just as he had six years ago—and again her body demanded a kiss. ‘I think Cindy has an issue with her age…’ His Italian accent was thick, his words curious rather than mocking. ‘Which puts me off.’

‘Her age?’ Emma checked, struggling to sound normal as he pulled her ever closer into his personal space.

‘No, the fact that she has issues…’ Zarios smiled. ‘I am too much of a bastard to remember to be reassuring.’

God, he was gorgeous. Wicked and bad, but funny, too! Pulling her head back, holding out her glass for a waiter to top it up, Emma was sorely tempted to ask for the ice bucket to douse herself in.

He was thoroughly good company, and if his conversation was laced with innuendo, not once was he sleazy. And, Emma noticed with a shiver of nervous excitement, despite his arrogance it was with great skill and surprising kindness that he deflected the numerous attempts from women to garner his attention.

For tonight at least his sole focus was on her.

Her mother had excelled herself—and for Emma it really was a wonderful party. The mixture and the number of guests was perfect, the food delicious and the drinks plenty. Zarios continued to be good company, and had it not been for Jake, following her into the house and colliding with her as she came out of the toilet, it would have been perfect.

It wasn’t good news—but then it never was with Jake. As he led her to the study to talk, and as Emma listened to all he had to say, the sense of foreboding that had been her companion for a long time where Jake was concerned gave way to sheer incredulity at what he was asking of her. There was no way she could help him.

‘Jake, I don’t have that sort of money…’

‘You could get it, though!’

‘How?’ Emma’s eyes widened. ‘You’re talking about a six-figure sum.’

‘Your flat’s worth way more than you paid for it, Emma.’

‘Why would I pay off your debts…again?’ she couldn’t help but add. She’d helped him out in the past and had never been paid back. She had chosen not to pursue it, but this was a ridiculous amount Jake was now asking for. ‘Why would I take out yet another loan to help you?’