It was a surprise, but she doubted she would ever think of it as lovely! Why on earth had Reece told these people such a lie and landed them in this mess?
He was in front of her now, his arm about her waist as he pulled her to her feet and held her at his side, the heat of his hand seeming to burn through the silky material. Laurel stood by him numbly as he charmingly accepted the congratulations still coming their way.
She felt devastated by Giles’s betrayal, knew he had to realise what an embarrassing position he would put her in by not turning up at the party they had been arranging for months. She felt alternately like sitting down and crying like a hurt child or punching him in the face! If she ever saw him again. Oh yes, she would see him again; he had said he would call around tomorrow once the shop had closed to collect the ring. If he thought she was handing that over to him as well he was in for a shock!
She looked up at Reece with blank eyes, too lost in thoughts of what a fool she had been to have kept up with the conversation.
He frowned as he saw the bewilderment in her eyes, his mouth firming before he bent his head to quickly claim her lips with his. Laurel gasped as she realised what he was about to do, her parted lips seeming like an invitation to the people watching them. It wasn’t an exploratory kiss like the one he had given her earlier at the shop; this time he demanded, and took when she didn’t freely give. His arrogant demand made her even more angry than she already was, kissing him back as roughly, her mouth swollen and bruised when he finally drew back, her eyes bright and feverish.
‘When two combustible substances meet…’ David murmured admiringly.
The indulgently amused laughter of their onlookers broke the tension, Laurel turning hastily away from the humour Reece tried to share with her. ‘Please, everyone, there’s plenty of food and drink,’ she invited. ‘We’re here to have a good time.’
‘We’ll start the dancing off.’ Reece pulled her back into his arms as the band began to play a slow haunting melody, moving gracefully to the music as he moulded Laurel to him from breast to thigh. His face nuzzled in her hair as he bent down to her. ‘Are you all right now?’ he finally asked softly.
‘You said you would handle it,’ she choked.
‘And you told me to do what I thought best,’ he reminded huskily, giving every impression of a newly engaged man, slowly caressing her as they danced. ‘If I had told them the truth you would now know the pity and embarrassment of having to return their gifts to them.’
‘And instead I’m now the envy of several of my friends,’ she said disgustedly, knowing that as far as Heather was concerned her boyfriend of the last few months came a very poor second to Reece.
He looked down at her with amused eyes. ‘Which ones?’ he teased.
Her nails dug into his neck where he had put her arms about him. ‘Behave yourself!’ she frowned.
‘I’d rather have you fighting me than see that defeated look in your eyes when you read Gilbraith’s letter,’ he said seriously.
‘I wasn’t defeated,’ she told him stiffly. ‘I was angry. I still am.’
‘Good,’ Reece nodded admiringly.
‘At you, too.’ She glared at him. ‘You——’ Reece stopped her tirade by once again putting his mouth on hers.
‘Will you stop doing that!’ She wrenched away from him.
‘Careful.’ The warmth of his smile didn’t waver for an instant. ‘We have an audience,’ he added pleasantly, once again holding her lightly against him.
Laurel turned sharply to look about them, feeling the colour darken her cheeks as she realised they were the only two people dancing, her friends standing around the dance floor watching them indulgently. She quickly turned back to Reece. ‘Oh God,’ she groaned. ‘This is awful!’
‘Smile when you say that.’ His lips moved lightly across her cheek to the edge of her mouth.
‘Reece, I feel as if I’m caught in a nightmare and can’t wake up!’ She trembled.
He laughed softly as he straightened. ‘That’s the first time any woman has described kissing me as a nightmare! I’m obviously not finding the experience of being your fiancé as unsettling as you are.’
‘Why did you do it?’ she groaned.
‘Cheer up,’ he told her lightly. ‘It will only be for a few weeks.’
‘A few weeks!’ she repeated aghast. ‘Reece, we can’t possibly——’
‘Of course we can,’ he dismissed her objections. ‘I’m quite enjoying myself, actually,’ he grinned.
Anger darkened her eyes, making them look bigger than ever. ‘I’m not!’ she snapped.
‘I can see that,’ he said amiably. ‘I don’t have to be the consolation prize, you know.’
She frowned. ‘What on earth do you mean?’
He shrugged broad shoulders. ‘Well, we are engaged. It seems a pity to waste the opportunity——’
‘The opportunity doesn’t arise,’ she told him firmly, abruptly ending the dance. ‘Ask my mother to dance, Polly is getting a little frantic,’ she added scornfully, several other couples dancing with them now, David and Amanda one of them, David obviously enthralled by her mother.
Reece frowned down at her. ‘Amanda can’t help her beauty and warmth.’
‘Can’t she?’ Laurel said brittlely. ‘Don’t tell me you are another one, Reece?’ she derided the fallibility of men falling for a beautiful face and sexy body, oblivious of the woman inside the body.
‘I like your mother very much,’ he told her firmly. ‘In fact, sometimes I wonder how she could be your mother!’ he reproved.
She drew in an angry breath. ‘Believe me, there’s no doubt about that, I checked it out myself years ago!’
‘I have to go and powder my nose!’ She walked away from him, her head held high, looking at no one, although she knew people were watching her. My God, no one believed for a minute that this engagement to Reece was a real one!
That wasn’t so surprising. She had made no secret of the fact that she was marrying Giles for anything but love. She was fond of him, he was charming and pleasant to be around, made no demands on her that she wasn’t prepared to give.
None of the people that really knew her would ever believe she had chosen arrogant, sensually attractive Reece Harrington in his place!
Then she would just have to make them believe it, make them think she had been so overwhelmed with love for Reece that for once she had thrown caution to the wind and given in to an impulse, that of marrying Reece. When the engagement was broken that would only reaffirm the claim she had always made that a relationship should be founded on liking and respect rather than the painful emotion of love.
But that would never be with Giles now. Even if he should get over his attack of nerves and change his mind and ask to come back she would never let him. He had forfeited any right to her affection by the humiliating blow he had dealt her tonight. If it hadn’t been for Reece…
Reece. She had known from the moment he helped her from her wrecked car that he was a dangerous man to be around, that any woman that became involved with him would have to give her soul as well as her heart and body.
But she had no intention of becoming involved with him, merely of letting him continue to pretend to be her fiancé. And she was about to start pretending to be his fiancée.
He was standing near the bar talking to Amanda, Polly and David when she entered the room, setting her shoulders determinedly as she walked over to his side. ‘I hope I wasn’t gone too long, darling.’ She stretched up to kiss him, even the high heels on her shoes meaning she still had to go a long way to reach his lips. ‘I missed you,’ she told him throatily.