‘I’d better get finished here if I want to be ready on time,’ Laurel cut in firmly. ‘I have to go home and take a shower before I get ready for the party.’
Polly nodded, her disappointment showing in her deep brown eyes. ‘See you later, then.’
Laurel was vaguely aware of the bell on the door ringing as the other woman let herself out, a smile curving her lips as she thought of the dress she was going to wear that evening. It’s royal-blue colour deepened her eyes, made her short blonde hair look like gold, the straightness of the gown’s style emphasising her small uptilted breasts, narrow waist and hips. At only five feet in height she had always considered her figure too slender to be really alluring, but the silky dress showed what curves she did have to advantage. There wasn’t a lot she could do to enhance her gamin features, her face dominated by big blue eyes, her nose short and slightly snub, her mouth curving, her chin small and pointed. But the dress definitely made her look sexy. Giles was going to love it!
She turned sharply to the door at the sound of that mocking drawl, frowning at Reece as he leant against the door-frame. ‘How did you get in?’ she snapped.
He shrugged, strolling into the room. ‘Your assistant let me in on her way out.’
Laurel bristled resentfully, as she always did around this man. ‘I’m glad you approve of the decorations we have up in the shop,’ she answered his opening comment.
He picked up a book on French artists from her desk and began to flick through it. ‘I wasn’t referring to the decorations, I was talking about the way you were smiling gleefully as you counted the money you had made today.’ He paused at one of the pages in the book. ‘I prefer my women a little slimmer than this, but she certainly is a sexy lady.’
Laurel snatched the book out of his hands, looking down at the page he had lingered over; the black-eyed gypsy-looking woman stood naked in front of a mirror, her well-endowed body fully upstanding. ‘This has been put by for a customer,’ she explained its presence on her desk, closing the book with a firm snap.
‘Your Scrooge act is getting even more realistic,’ Reece mocked as he sat on the side of her desk, still wearing the dark business suit of this afternoon.
‘You have nothing to worry about,’ Laurel scorned. ‘You aren’t in the least like kind, affable Bob Cratchit. And I was smiling just now because I was thinking about my party tonight, not the money I’ve taken today.’
‘Ah yes, the party,’ Reece sobered. ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.’
Laurel stiffened warily. ‘You weren’t invited.’
‘No,’ he acknowledged raspingly. ‘But Amanda and my father were. Eventually.’
Her head went back challengingly at the rebuke she sensed in his words. ‘Yes?’
‘To your engagement party.’ His eyes were narrowed. ‘To a man they haven’t even met.’
‘I’m over the age of consent,’ she snapped.
‘Well over,’ he agreed harshly. ‘But all the same, I would have thought courtesy would have meant you gave your own mother a little more notice of your engagement than this morning!’
She became flushed at the condemnation, still smarting because he had implied that she was old at only twenty-six! ‘I sent the invitation four days ago,’ she bit out. ‘I can’t be held responsible for the Christmas post delaying its arrival.’
‘Four days,’ Reece repeated icily. ‘And how long have you been planning the party?’
‘A couple of months. But——’
‘And when did the other invitations go out?’ he persisted harshly.
‘Six weeks ago. But, Reece, I don’t think any of this is——’
‘And when did Gilbraith’s family receive their invitations?’
‘They didn’t,’ she was able to tell him with satisfaction. ‘All of Giles’s family live in Scotland, and will be coming down for the wedding next summer. Which was the reason Giles and I decided to invite only friends to our engagement party. But then——’
‘Then you were belatedly attacked by feelings of guilt,’ Reece said with disgust. ‘And at the last minute decided to invite your mother after all.’
‘I didn’t feel in the least guilty,’ Laurel denied heatedly. ‘It must be obvious by now that my mother and I lead our own, completely different, lives. Giles and I just decided it might look a little odd if my mother weren’t there when everyone knows she lives in London, too.’
‘God, I’m glad Amanda doesn’t realise she was only invited so that you and your fiancé shouldn’t be asked any embarrassing questions!’ Anger made his eyes gleam more golden than brown. ‘She’s really excited about the invitation, thinks that the rift that has grown between the two of you is finally to be mended.’
He was even more handsome than usual when blazingly angry, his eyes like molten gold, his harsh features taking on the sharpness of a hawk; a long straight nose, high cheekbones, a firm mouth, and a square determined chin. But his anger didn’t only show in his face, his six foot plus frame was tense with anger too, the muscles in his chest and arms rigid. And with his dark, almost black, short-styled hair he looked as fierce as the devil himself.
But he didn’t frighten Laurel; very little did any more. ‘The relationship between Amanda and me is the same as it’s been for the last fifteen years; tense.’
‘Since she divorced your father. Divorce is always rough on the children involved, Laurel,’ he accepted gently. ‘But I doubt they would be any happier holding together two people who would rather be apart.’
‘And what would you know about it?’ she scorned. ‘Your parents were happy together, your father was devastated when your mother died.’
‘Yes, he was,’ he watched her with narrowed eyes. ‘And now he’s found happiness again with Amanda.’
‘It won’t last,’ she scorned. ‘It never does.’ Since her mother’s divorce from her father there had been another marriage and numerous relationships; Amanda had found happiness in none of them. There was no reason to suppose this latest marriage to Reece’s father, not quite a year in duration, would be any different to them.
‘It doesn’t seem to have soured you to the idea of marriage,’ Reece bit out.
Not marriage, perhaps, but to the idea of children, yes. She never intended to have any.
Her mother had married John Matthews twenty-seven years ago, Laurel born only a year later. And for eleven years she had been at the centre of that family, had adored her father. And then had come her parents’ divorce, her mother the one to tell her that the two of them had talked and decided Laurel should be left in her mother’s care. From being a happy, well-adjusted child she had suddenly been alone with Amanda, occasionally going to stay at her father’s flat. But it was never the same, a strain between them now that had never been there before. Then her father had been transferred to America by his firm, and even her occasional visits to him had stopped. Laurel had hated her father as much for that as she blamed her mother for the divorce.
Maybe if Dan hadn’t been taken from her, too, she may have been able to cope with the trauma, but he had gone, had become a stranger to her, no longer her adored Dan. He had visited her several years ago on his holiday from the oil rig he was working on at the time, but Laurel was sure the relief when the visit ended had been mutual. They still sent each other birthday and Christmas cards, but the spontaneous affection they had known was gone.
Giles respected her decision not to have children, didn’t want any himself, the two of them agreeing they didn’t need them in their marriage. She doubted she would have agreed to marry him if he hadn’t felt that way.
‘You know nothing of my engagement or what really happened in the past,’ she told Reece coldly. ‘So please don’t have the arrogance to assume you know anything about me.’