Passionate Retribution

By: Kim Lawrence


A dark figure silently emerged from behind a bank of luxuriant foliage and Emily let out a sharp yelp of alarm. A sliver of moonlight revealed the intruder's features and she gave a grunt of shock which she swiftly disguised as irritation. 'Must you loom like that? You almost gave me a heart attack.' She gave a frown. 'I thought you were in the Bahamas or somewhere,' she added critically. 'What are you doing here?'

'I knew you'd be delighted to see me,' a deep, gravelly voice murmured smoothly. 'How long has it been?' Emily had a glimpse of white teeth as he gave an ironic grin. 'Actually it was the Seychelles,' he corrected.

'Somewhere hot, anyway,' she agreed, brushing aside a few miles of ocean with an airy wave of her hand.

'Talking of hot, infant, why are you skulking in the conservatory?' He loosened his tie as he spoke and idly plucked a juicy grape from the vine which was trained above his head.

Emily's lips pursed in aggravation as she watched him bite the dark fruit. He had used the denigrating childhood term with benevolent scorn. Luke had always made the most of the fact that he was twelve years her senior, and as a child 'infant' had always been able to send her into an incoherent rage. She was sure that despite his negligent manner the word had been calculated; most things about Luke were calculated and his malicious humour took a continual lazy delight in mocking her own family. 'I was seeking a little privacy,' she said pointedly, refusing to notice the minor irritation. Tonight even Lucas Hunt wasn't going to spoil the euphoria of the occasion.

'It is an incredibly tedious party,' he said sympathetically. 'Don't grind your teeth like that; it's very bad for the enamel,' he advised her helpfully.

'If it's such a tedious party I don't know why you bothered coming,' she hissed back. 'No one invited you.'

'What? Miss an occasion like this—my favourite Stapely engaged to be married? It's an obligation.'

She gave a derisory hoot. 'You wouldn't recognise obligation if you fell over it; and as for being your favourite…'His opinion of her family hardly gave her cause to consider this casual comment a compliment.

'Admittedly there's not much competition: Charlotte sends me to sleep if I spend more than five minutes in her company, and your brother has the wit and charm of a waxwork. If he were similarly dumb I might be able to tolerate him, but he reveals the intellect of a bigoted bore every time he opens his mouth.'

'My sister…' Emily began, her eyes sparkling. In all sincerity she couldn't help sympathising with this opinion of her brother; his pompous smugness made it almost impossible for her to be civil to him. Fortunately their paths crossed little, but she felt instantly protective of her sister. Charlotte might be no intellectual giant but there was more to her than Luke's damning comment suggested.

'Is so two-dimensional I half expect her to disappear viewed sideways on.'

'You are incredibly snide and unpleasant to her and she suspects there's some dark, sinister meaning to everything you say.'

'And do I inspire similar inarticulate awe in you?'

'I know there's some dark, sinister meaning in everything you say,' she responded frankly. 'And if you've come here to spoil my night, I warn you, Luke…if you pull one of your tricks…'

Luke took a step forward and she could see his features clearly for the first time. The innocent expression should have looked absurd on the severely chiselled, swarthily dark features, but it didn't. He had changed little over the four years since she'd last seen him, unlike herself. Even if she was never going to be a raving beauty, she knew she had more to recommend her now than as the awkward, confused adolescent she had been then. Fortunately she was also now immune to the effortless charm. Mockery glittered in the intensely blue eyes. 'Tricks, Emily…?'

She clicked her tongue with disapproval recalling the occasions he'd turned up at family events, his attire and companions always geared to offend the stuffy formality. 'Are you alone?' she asked suspiciously, recalling the voluptuous actress he'd brought to her parents' silver wedding celebrations. Her father had tried so hard to avoid the lady's ample cleavage, without much success. Luke had obviously been behind the woman's embarrassingly tactile admiration of her parent, and the conveniently placed photographer who had captured the moment for the gossip column of a national newspaper the following morning…

'Straight from the plane.' He rubbed his jaw. 'Didn't even have time to shave; suffering from jet-lag. Aren't you flattered, Emmy?' He gave a long-suffering sigh. 'You little sceptic—here, feel.'

Emily was too startled to demur when he firmly placed her hand against his jaw, rubbing the pads of her fingertips against the coarse, dark growth. She blinked to banish a sudden flurry of confusion as her eyes met the intense blue regard. 'Don't be ridiculous,' she snapped, pulling her hand away. She looked pointedly at his fingers, very brown against her arm. Luke smiled slowly and released her, but not before his fingers had trailed over the blue-veined inner aspect of her wrist.