‘Amanda doesn’t really know me, either,’ she snapped.
‘She would like to.’
Laurel sighed. ‘This isn’t some old black-and-white film, and I’m too old for the happy ending. Amanda and I grew apart years ago, and I prefer it that way,’ she added hardly.
‘Scrooge is coming back,’ he gently mocked. ‘Don’t you know that Christmas is the time for forgiving and making up?’
‘Reece, what’s your purpose for coming here?’ she asked wearily. ‘I can’t believe you just wanted to reprimand me for not sending Amanda her invitation earlier.’
‘No,’ he straightened. ‘My father is in New York, there’s no way he can get back in time for your party tonight. I’ve offered to accompany Amanda in his place, but I wanted to make sure you were agreeable to the idea first.’ He watched her with narrowed dark eyes. Devil’s eyes, one minute dark and brooding, the next shining like gold.
‘I wouldn’t have caused a scene, Reece, if that’s what you thought.’ Her mouth twisted derisively. ‘When I was a child I never knew which “uncle” would be at my birthday party!’
His mouth thinned disapprovingly. ‘If you’re hoping to shock me, Laurel,’ he rasped, ‘I wouldn’t even bother to try. Amanda has been perfectly frank with us about her past relationships.’
‘And you and your father have forgiven her,’ she scorned bitterly. ‘Having lived through it all I don’t feel the same generosity!’
‘You’re a woman yourself now, Laurel,’ he spoke softly. ‘Can’t you see how anyone could have made the mistakes your mother did?’
‘Anyone as selfish as Amanda, yes,’ she acknowledged coldly. ‘Anyone who didn’t mind taking their happiness at the expense of innocent children!’ There were two bright red spots of colour in her cheeks.
Reece looked at her silently for several minutes, and then he gave a slight shake of his head. ‘Does Gilbraith know he’s marrying a block of ice?’ he finally asked contemptuously.
She met his gaze defiantly. ‘Giles knows exactly what he’s getting when he marries me!’
‘Your mother said you always used to feel so passionately about things, that you were a very intense little girl.’ He sounded as if he couldn’t believe that description had ever fitted her.
‘Everything I felt intensely about she took away from me.’ Fire made her eyes glitter angrily. ‘After she divorced my father we moved so many times that even my toys got left behind most of the time. Amanda said there wasn’t room for them.’ She remembered the hurt of often finding, after the latest move, that several more of her treasured toys had disappeared. In the end it had become so that she stopped becoming attached to anything.
‘Do you have any idea how hard things were for her after the divorce from your father?’ Reece asked impatiently. ‘It wasn’t easy for her——’
‘I’m sure that whatever Amanda has told you about that time sounded convincing,’ Laurel cut in dismissively. ‘But I was there, and I know what happened.’ She glanced down at the plain gold watch on her slender wrist. ‘By all means bring Amanda to the party tonight,’ she told him impatiently. ‘She looks young enough to be your wife anyway!’
‘She should, she’s only twelve years older than me,’ he rasped reprovingly.
‘And instead of looking the forty-nine that she is she looks at least ten years younger!’
‘Don’t tell me you resent her because of that, too?’ Reece scorned. ‘Is that why you haven’t introduced Gilbraith to your mother, because he might have found her the more attractive of the two of you?’
‘Swine? Bastard?’ Reece easily caught her arm as her hand arced up to make contact with one lean cheek, using that hold to pull her up against the rigid hardness of his body. ‘You can show fire when you want to, can’t you?’ he grated as he looked into her furious face. ‘Is that the only fire you have, I wonder?’ he mused as his head lowered to hers.
Laurel was too stunned by the action to stop his mouth claiming hers. She was going to be an engaged woman in a few hours, they both knew it, and yet Reece held nothing back from the kiss, his lips moving gently over hers, temptingly, erotically, against her soft flesh, enticing her to respond as he sucked her bottom lip fully into his mouth.
She was shaking in reaction, leaning heavily into him, aware of the hard thud of his heart beneath her hand, the hardening of his thighs as he stirred in arousal. She moved up into him, her lips clinging to his now, his tongue moving gently along them but not venturing into the moist cavern beneath.
‘Show me you want me, Laurel,’ he urged raggedly, his lips on her throat now.
The mad trembling stopped as she looked up into Reece Harrington’s face. This wasn’t Giles, the man she was going to marry. ‘You’re wrong,’ she pushed away from him. ‘I don’t want you.’
He released her slowly, the gold in his eyes just as slowly changing back to a dark brooding brown. ‘Are you sure about that?’ he asked huskily. ‘Maybe you should think again before committing yourself to an engagement.’
Her mouth twisted, fully in control of her emotions now. ‘I don’t need to think about anything, Giles is the man I intend to marry.’
‘Do you love him?’
‘I don’t have to——’
‘How can you love him and yet still kiss another man the way you did me?’ he derided hardly.
‘You kissed me,’ she corrected abruptly. ‘And one kiss from another man, expert as it may have been, doesn’t change the fact that Giles is the right man for me.’ In every way. Giles was handsome, charming, in love with her, and best of all, not interested in becoming a father.
Reece gave a terse inclination of his head. ‘I’ll see you tonight at your engagement party, then. And I won’t bother to tell Amanda she only got an invitation to stop there being any gossip about family rifts,’ he added contemptuously.
‘Tell her whatever you please,’ Laurel invited dismissively. ‘I’ve never held back from telling her the truth in the past.’
‘Then I think maybe a few of those times you should have done!’
She looked at him scornfully. ‘The way that you protect my mother is touching. Perhaps if you had been the first to meet her it might have been you that she married!’ she added challengingly.
He gave her a quelling look of disgust before turning and leaving, the tinkle of the bell over the door preceding its slam. Laurel sat down shakily, the scene much more traumatic than she would ever have let Reece Harrington guess, not the least of it being the unexpectedness of the kiss he had given her.
It had been because of her and Reece that their parents had met at all. Driving home from a friend’s one evening last winter her car had skidded on the wet road and she had smashed into the back of the car in front of her. Reece Harrington had been the driver of that car.
Reece had been uninjured but her legs and arms had been cut by the glass from the broken windscreen, and Reece had insisted on accompanying her to the hospital in the ambulance. None of her cuts were too serious, but the doctors decided to keep her in hospital for a couple of days in case of concussion or delayed shock. Reece had been marvellous, going to her flat to pick up some of her nightclothes and toiletries, telephoning her mother to let her know what had happened once he had established she was her nearest relative.
When he came to see her the next day he had missed meeting her mother by only a few minutes, and knowing Amanda as well as she did she had been glad of that. Once her mother got her claws into a man he didn’t usually escape until she wanted him to.
Reece had telephoned the next morning, explaining he wouldn’t be able to get in to see her that afternoon because of a business meeting, but he had asked his father to come instead and