Humour glinted in his eyes as he quickly masked his surprise at this sudden change in her. ‘I missed you too, darling.’ He teased her lips with his own as he curved her body up into his. ‘Five minutes is too long to be apart,’ he murmured mockingly.
‘Wait until you’ve been married almost five years,’ David derided. ‘Then you would be glad of five minutes to yourself!’
‘That’s all the thanks I get after becoming his child-bride at only nineteen, giving him all of my youth!’ Polly gave him a playful punch on the arm, the couple more in love now than they had ever been, and looking it.
‘What about my youth?’ he teasingly complained. ‘Have you seen how many grey hairs I have on my chest now?’
‘Six,’ his wife taunted. ‘I counted them last night. Afterwards.’
David gave Laurel and Reece an abashed smile. ‘She only treats me this way because she knows I lust after her body!’
Reece laughed softly. ‘I know the feeling!’ He looked warmly down at Laurel.
And she had thought her acting was good! If only a ‘slightly slimmer’ version of the woman he had looked at in the book illustration earlier this evening was his taste for a bed-partner then she fell far short of the required inches. What she had was all in proportion, but those proportions were minimum. Nevertheless, Reece managed to look as if he really couldn’t wait to get her into bed with him later this evening.
And secure in the knowledge that it wasn’t going to happen Laurel played the part of besotted fiancée for the rest of the evening. She was so convincing that as she and Reece languorously danced the night away she could feel the hard desire of his taut thighs against her stomach!
But none of her friends looked at her curiously any more, and even Giles’s work-mates looked convinced by her act, Laurel having assured them they had no need to leave, most of them convinced that Giles had been working this evening as a way of compensation for his broken engagement. They had assured Laurel he didn’t look too broken-hearted, and that they were sure he would quickly recover from his disappointment. Somehow that didn’t make Laurel feel better at all!
But her friends seemed to accept that, like the rest of them, she had fallen into the love-trap, that all her avowals in the past that it would never happen to her had fallen by the wayside when confronted with Reece Harrington. She was content to let them think that, knew it would only make her opinion more right when her engagement to Reece floundered.
‘I can’t tell you how happy I am for you both,’ her mother told them warmly, Reece insisting on driving them both home after the party had broken up after one o’clock in the morning, driving Amanda home first, even though Laurel had argued that he would only have to drive back again after taking her home. Reece had been adamant. ‘Robert is going to be so surprised when he gets home tomorrow,’ she added lightly. ‘You could have let me in on the secret before the party, Reece,’ she chided her stepson indulgently.
‘Laurel had to talk to Giles first.’ Reece’s warning look in the driving mirror as Laurel sat in the back of the car effectively silenced her, her mother sitting beside Reece in the sleek silver sports model Jaguar. ‘It wouldn’t have been fair for us to tell anyone else until she had had a chance to explain to him.’
‘No,’ her mother conceded, turning to smile at Laurel. ‘When is the wedding to be, darling?’
‘Give us time to catch our breaths, Amanda,’ Reece derided lightly. ‘We only realised this evening that we’re in love.’
Amanda’s eyes widened in the semi-light of the streetlamped streets. ‘When you went to the shop to see Laurel about my invitation?’
‘Yes,’ he nodded.
‘Goodness, Reece, you’re an even faster worker than your father,’ Amanda chuckled. ‘At least he waited a week after we met before proposing.’
‘But I’ve already known Laurel for a year,’ Reece reminded.
‘And suddenly realised you were in love with her when you knew she was going to marry another man! That’s so romantic,’ Amanda sighed happily. ‘Do you realise that once you and Reece are married, Laurel, that our last names will once again be the same?’
This time she ignored the warning look in the mirror, her mouth twisting derisively. ‘And it’s certainly been a long time since that happened,’ she rasped.
‘Has it?’ Amanda frowned. ‘Yes, I suppose it has,’ she nodded slowly. ‘You could have taken Frank’s name——’
‘I didn’t want it,’ she dismissed sharply, having disliked her mother’s second husband intensely.
‘No,’ Amanda grimaced. ‘You and Frank never did get on.’
She had never felt the need to tell her mother the reason she disliked Frank Shepherd so much, of the advances he always made to her whenever she came home from the expensive boarding-school they had sent her to after their marriage. She had been on the edge of sixteen at the time, just budding into womanhood, a late developer physically, and Frank had obviously found the way that she was developing extremely erotic.
‘Frank was a——’
‘We’ll get straight off if you don’t mind, Amanda,’ Reece cut in tightly as he stopped the Jaguar outside the impressive Harrington home, several lights glowing welcomingly inside the house. ‘Laurel has to open the shop in the morning.’
‘Of course, darling.’ Amanda got out of the car as Reece opened the door for her, turning to push the seat forward so that Laurel could get out. ‘I’m sure you want to sit next to Reece,’ she said knowingly.
As Laurel had been the one to insist her mother be the one to sit next to him on the drive here that assumption was completely erroneous. She reluctantly climbed out of the back of the car, receiving a hug from her mother before getting into the front passenger seat.
‘The two of you must come to dinner tomorrow evening,’ Amanda invited eagerly. ‘Robert will insist,’ she added firmly as Laurel seemed about to refuse.
‘And as Dad’s even more arrogant than I am we might as well give in gracefully,’ Reece accepted lightly. ‘About seven-thirty, okay, Laurel?’
‘Fine,’ she agreed drily, staring out the front window as Reece walked her mother into the house.
‘What did he do to you?’
Laurel turned to give Reece a startled look, the question coming out of the blue after they had driven in silence for the last ten minutes. ‘Giles?’ she frowned her puzzlement. ‘You read the letter——’
‘Not Gilbraith,’ Reece dismissed harshly. ‘Frank Shepherd!’
Her breathing suddenly became ragged. ‘I rarely saw him, I was away at school a lot.’
‘And when you weren’t?’ he persisted grimly.
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know——’
‘Laurel, don’t lie to me; I could clearly see your face in the driving-mirror.’ His hands tightly gripped the steering-wheel, his body rigid. ‘What did the bastard do to you?’ he asked again.
She swallowed hard, moistening stiff lips. ‘Amanda was only married to him for a year——’
‘Laurel,’ Reece cut in with controlled violence. ‘I could see the disgust in your face, a remembered fear in your eyes. Darling, tell me,’ he encouraged throatily. ‘It will be all right.’
She sighed. ‘He didn’t really do anything,’ she shook her head. ‘Not really.’
‘Then tell me!’
‘He… it was just talk, mainly! About my body.’ She looked down at her hands. ‘I was just developing breasts.’ She swallowed again. ‘And he—he was offensive, Reece, that’s all,’ she dismissed impatiently.
‘Did he touch you?’
She gasped at the bluntness of the query, glad of the semi-darkness to hide her