‘Do you know why Amanda divorced him?’ Reece asked harshly.
Laurel shrugged uninterestedly. ‘She told me they had realised they weren’t suited to each other.’
He nodded. ‘That was part of it. She stayed with him to try and give you a stable life, the education you deserved. I’m sure that if she had any idea what he was doing to you——’
‘I didn’t tell her then, and I don’t want her to know now,’ Laurel gave him a warning glare. ‘I don’t blame her for it, Frank was careful always to be the loving stepfather whenever my mother was around.’
‘She had quite an unhappy time with him too, although it isn’t up to me to discuss that with you. What a damned mess!’ he ground out. ‘Has—did the experience put you off making love?’
‘No,’ she answered abruptly. How could she be put off something she had never been on! She had been prepared to be a wife to Giles, but he hadn’t been all that interested in the physical side of their relationship either, had never tried to make love to her fully. It had been something else about him that she liked and approved of.
‘Thank God,’ Reece sighed his relief at her answer.
‘Why didn’t you let me tell Amanda the engagement wasn’t a real one?’ she abruptly changed the subject.
‘I didn’t think you would want to be the object of her pity any more than you did anyone else’s,’ he rasped. ‘Less so than most!’
She blushed at the truth of that. ‘Thank you. I—I don’t think I said this earlier, but——’
‘You didn’t,’ he mocked.
Laurel glared at him. ‘You have no idea what I’m going to say!’
‘I don’t?’ He raised innocent brows. ‘I thought you were going to thank me for becoming your fiancé and so rescuing you from an awkward situation.’
‘I was,’ she snapped.
‘Well?’ he prompted as no gratitude was forthcoming.
‘I said I was; I changed my mind!’
Reece began to laugh softly. ‘Laurel, has anyone told you that you’re adorable?’
No one ever had. She hadn’t been a pretty child, a late developing adolescent, was now a capable lady rather than a sexy one. ‘Not lately,’ she drawled. ‘Although I’m glad you find me so amusing,’ she added with obvious sarcasm.
He sobered instantly. ‘I’m not laughing at you, Laurel, I’m laughing at your humour. I like it.’
‘It isn’t something I’m renowned for,’ she scorned drily.
‘That’s why it’s all the more refreshing when it does surface.’ He began to frown. ‘What are you going to do about Giles?’
She managed to keep up with his change of thought this time, glad the subject of her unhappy experience with Frank Shepherd had been forgotten. She had never forgotten it, was surprised she had told Reece about it. But then he seemed to bring out a lot of reactions from her that weren’t strictly normal for Laurel Matthews. ‘I don’t think I have to do anything about Giles; he seems to have already done it.’
‘So it’s over between the two of you, just like that?’ he said disbelievingly.
‘It would seem so,’ she nodded abruptly, still raw from the betrayal.
‘No loose ends to tie up? No broken heart to be mended?’
‘My heart is my affair,’ she snapped. ‘And there aren’t any loose ends that I can see,’ she frowned.
‘What about the ring he asked for?’
‘If he wants it he’ll have to come and get it,’ she bit out tightly, thinking of the unfinished business with Giles that she didn’t want to discuss with Reece.
‘Tomorrow evening,’ Reece nodded slowly. ‘I’ll make sure I’m there.’
‘Why?’ Her eyes widened indignantly.
‘Because I don’t think you should be alone with him!’
She gave a scornful laugh. ‘Reece, until a few hours ago I was going to marry the man; he won’t harm me,’ she dismissed assuredly.
‘That isn’t the reason I don’t want you to be alone with him.’ He shook his head, his mouth firm.
‘Then why——’ She paled at the look in his eyes as he parked the car outside her home before turning in his seat to look at her. ‘Reece, this engagement isn’t real! It’s just a face-saver for me until we can break off our engagement.’
‘I know that,’ he nodded. ‘And so will Gilbraith if I’m not with you tomorrow.’
‘He won’t know we’re even engaged,’ she protested.
‘Some of the people there tonight were his colleagues,’ Reece reminded tautly. ‘One of them is probably telephoning him right now with the news that you announced your engagement to me. The whole charade will have been a waste of time if he discovers it isn’t real. And then we’re both going to look twice as foolish.’
He was right, of course, it didn’t take a genius to work it out. And why not let Giles think his defection had affected her so little she had immediately become engaged to a man who was twice the man he would ever be? If Reece were agreeable, and he obviously was, why not?
‘He said he would be over once I’ve closed the shop for the night, that’s about six-thirty,’ she told Reece abruptly.
‘Fine,’ he nodded. ‘I’ll be there.’
And Laurel knew that Giles would be at the shop by six so that gave her half an hour to talk to him alone!
Reece got out of the car to open the door for her. ‘I’ll walk you inside.’
She didn’t argue, knowing that it would have no effect if she did; Reece would do exactly what he wanted to do. He held her elbow on the way up in the lift, taking the key from her hand to unlock the door to go in and switch on the lights before she entered.
‘How do you think I manage every other evening?’ she mocked his protective action, throwing her bag down into a chair.
‘Alone,’ he bit out grimly. ‘Why didn’t you accept the invitation to move in with us?’
Her mouth twisted. ‘Because I’m a grown woman, not a child. I run my own business and my own life. I have no intention of moving back in with my mother,’ she derided.
‘If that’s a dig at me I have my own wing of the house,’ he drawled.
‘You still live with your father and my mother, take your meals with them,’ she dismissed.
He looked at her unblinkingly. ‘I’m not about to justify myself to you,’ he told her coldly. ‘I live there because it’s my home. Now come here——’
‘You deliberately moved provocatively against me on the dance floor tonight.’ His arms moved about her tightly as he effortlessly moulded her body to his. ‘Now it’s time to pay up on those promises.’
‘I’ve discovered the fire in you, Laurel,’ he grated. ‘And I intend to burn in it!’
His words made her feel on fire, never having been the recipient of such earthy compliments before. He had kissed her this evening several times, with varying degrees of emotion, she couldn’t help but feel curious now about how it would be to be kissed by him with sensual intensity.
The kiss began as a slow exploration, but as the warmth spread through her body and she moved searchingly against him the kiss became subtly different, demanding, arousing; Laurel’s hands moving restlessly over the warmth of his back beneath the evening jacket.
She had never felt in the least curious about