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Authors: Dorothy Vernon

Paradise Found

BOOK: Paradise Found
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PARADISE FOUND

PARADISE FOUND

Dorothy Vernon

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the Author.

Epub ISBN 9781445824703

Copyright © 1984 by Dorothy Vernon

All of the characters in this book are fictitious. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is
purely coincidental

All rights reserved

Cover illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

CHAPTER ONE

The doorbell rang. Now who could that be? A double rap followed, answering Zoe's question. That was Tony's knock. The frown that came to her face went with neither the engagement ring on her dressing table nor the white wedding gown that hung on the outside of her wardrobe. It did, however, tie up with the fact that she had just stepped out of the shower and her hair was still dripping onto her naked body. It was unlucky for the bride to see the bridegroom on the eve of their wedding, but to her consternation she realized that that superstition wasn't the sole reason for her reluctance to admit Tony. She shrugged away her prudishness. Why bother about Tony seeing her like this? After tomorrow . . .

A second double rap cut off her thoughts. Sighing, she pulled on a short toweling robe, slid her feet into a pair of bedroom mules, and went to answer the door, drying her hair with a towel as she went.

She gasped. ‘What are you doing here?' The words would have served for Tony, who was supposed to be on a stag night outing with his friends, but not the belligerent tone. That went better with her follow-up accusation. ‘That was a dirty trick to pull, Matt Hunter.'

‘Trick? What trick?'

‘You
know.'

‘The knock, you mean?'

‘What else? You knew that I'd think it was Tony.'

‘Did I?' The slow indifference of his tone was at odds with his active gaze, which swept over her scantily clad body and the long shapely length of her legs, not offensively, yet creating a disturbance in the pit of her stomach which brought home to her the fact that she was still susceptible where he was concerned. His gaze lifted, night black and sharp with male interest, locking with her eyes and making it impossible for her to look away. ‘You're even more beautiful than I remembered.'

‘You're even more audacious than I remembered. I'm getting married tomorrow. Why did you have to turn up now, after all this time? Couldn't you have shown enough consideration to stay away, tonight of all nights?'

‘You've got it the wrong way round. It's consideration for you that brings me here. I thought it would be less traumatic for us to meet in the privacy of your apartment than in church.'

She bit her lip. ‘You intend to be there, then?'

‘That's not very friendly. If you didn't anticipate seeing me again, you shouldn't have got involved with my nephew. Your future
mother-in-law
happens to be my only sister. No way could I miss Tony's wedding.'

‘I didn't know you were that close.'

‘We aren't. Perhaps I should have said, no way could I miss your wedding.'

It was like a knife in her heart. It had been her long-ago hope that Matt would be at her wedding, but she had seen him in a more prominent role than that of a guest.

‘Why did you have to come, Matt?' she asked anguishedly.

‘To bring your wedding gift,' he replied prosaically. ‘I thought you might want to wear it tomorrow. The lucky something blue.'

‘How very thoughtful of you!'

‘Aren't you going to ask me in? You're not very adequately covered. And your hair's wet,' he said, taking the towel from her hand and giving her hair a brisk rub. ‘I wouldn't like to have it on my conscience if you caught cold.'

‘I'm tougher than I look, and you haven't got a conscience,' she said, snatching the towel back again, but nevertheless holding the door open for him to come in.

‘M'm, an improvement on your old place,' he said, glancing round with interest. ‘Of course, I always knew you'd get on in the world.'

‘As insulting as ever, Mr. Hunter.'

‘I didn't mean it as an insult, Miss Fortune. Just stating a fact. Do you think that Tony knows?'

‘That
you and I used to be friends, you mean? Not from me. I saw no point in telling him at the beginning, and then—'

‘And then you couldn't tell him because it pointed to deception?' he said, a curious smile that made no sense to her playing about his mouth.

‘Yes, that's the way it went.'

‘We were rather more than friends, Zoe. Our relationship was much warmer than that implies.'

‘You never got me to bed.'

‘I could have. I remember once, the last time, the barriers were right down. You were ripe for the taking. I was very, very tempted. But, you were too young and—'

Her fingers itched to slap his smirking face. She flattened the palm of her hand against the rough toweling of her robe and gritted her teeth. ‘Say it.'

There had been bitter irony in their names. Fortune and Hunter. Because that's what he had firmly believed she was: a fortune hunter. She had admired his life style—who wouldn't have been impressed by the places he went to, the type of car he drove, that special polish and assurance that wealth gives? He had once asked her if it would have made any difference to the way she felt about him if he'd driven an old heap and only been able to afford to take her to coffee bars, which was all her dates could usually manage. She had been so naive
that
it had never occurred to her to lie. She had replied truthfully that it would have made a great deal of difference. If he had never amounted to anything, he wouldn't have been the Matt who fascinated her out of her mind. All the same, it wasn't his full wallet that attracted her, but his commanding personality, his rapier wit and his intelligence. She hadn't explained it very well. Or perhaps she had been up against a disproportionate amount of cynicism that would have defeated even the most plausible tongue. People, men as well as women, fawned over him for what he had. He was rarely accepted for himself.

‘Actually, you jumped the gun just now,' he said. ‘When I asked if Tony knew, I didn't mean about us. I was asking if Tony knew that you were marrying him for his money.'

‘His money!' That was ludicrous. Tony believed that money was for spending. It ran through his fingers and would never be allowed to accumulate.

‘If you're splitting hairs, I'll rephrase. His prospects, then.'

‘In spite of your being his boss, I would have said they were only average.'

‘He gets a fair deal. I fulfill my obligation by employing him. In return, he gives me a good day's work for a good day's pay. I see to that. But that's not what I was referring to. You're not telling me that you don't know that Tony is my heir.'

‘That's
news to me. But anyway, even if I had known, what would that amount to? Let's face it, you're a young man yourself; there's only ten years' difference in your ages. You'll marry and have children of your own, and Tony will be cut out.'

‘That could happen, but it's unlikely. I'm thirty-five. I'm too used to my freedom. The acquisition of a legitimate heir isn't a good enough reason for giving it up.' He was standing close, tensely regarding her. It showed in the unsmiling mouth, which was too sensual to be called hard, the frown matting his deeply suntanned features; the thoughts it was safer not to speculate upon in the bright black eyes. His eyes narrowed; that fascinating mouth pursed. ‘How long has it been, Zoe? Women are usually better at dates than men.'

Her mouth was unbearably dry. She swallowed to moisten it, and his eyes followed the telltale ripple running along her throat. ‘Five years,' she said huskily.

‘As long ago as that. You amaze me. And you were. . . ?'

‘I was nineteen.'

‘You don't look much older now.'

‘You've got me at a disadvantage.'

That was nothing new. He always did. But she meant that he was fully dressed and therefore more in command of himself and the situation than she could hope to be. Her contrasting lack of clothes made her feel
vulnerable,
yet, strangely, she wasn't embarrassed. Things came back: how acutely feminine he had always made her feel; the way he had stroked her senses and accelerated her pulse just by looking at her, an acceleration she was fighting to steady at that very moment.

A droll, ‘Oh?' barely parted his lips.

‘If you're staying, I should make myself decent.'

‘You look all right as you are. Regrettably, I can't stay. I'm joining your fiancé's stag party. Thanks for the invitation, all the same.'

‘I wasn't inviting anything. I was just being sociable to my future'—she couldn't resist the jibe—‘uncle by marriage,'

His jaw tightened. He hadn't liked that. She knew that she shouldn't be so pleased about it because that meant she was letting him get under her skin again. She must concentrate on her affection for Tony and remember how well they got on together. Tony had chased her with matrimony in mind from the very beginning. He was clean-living and honorable and would make her a good husband. Matt had never once considered asking her to marry him. He didn't intend to get married, ever. He was content to let Tony be his heir; with that need satisfied, he would never be short of a woman to fulfill his physical requirements. Unfortunately, knowing all that wasn't helping her as much as she would have liked.

‘I'll hand over your present and go,' he said.

‘Something
blue, you said?' She was intrigued, despite herself.

‘To match your eyes. I never thought about the “wearing something blue” bit tomorrow until Nerissa made that comment. I'd like to put it on for you, if I may?'

‘It's not a garter, is it?' she asked suspiciously.

A smile quivered on his mouth. ‘I wish it had been now. Unfortunately, no. I didn't think of that. I must be getting slow in my old age.'

‘I find that hard to believe.'

He took a flat, oblong box from his breast pocket. ‘I thought about a dinner service but decided on something more personal, although not as personal as a garter,' he quipped dryly. He snapped open the box and lifted out a sapphire pendant on a fine gold chain.

‘It's beautiful,' she said.

‘Turn around,' he instructed.

She did so, lifting her hair to make it easier for him to fasten it round her neck. The brush of his fingers on her skin sent shivers through her system to shame her. She should only be that responsive to Tony's touch. Surprise held her rigid as his lips replaced his fingers on the nape of her neck. She didn't seem capable of throwing off the arms that twisted her round until she was fully facing him any more than she could deny the hot tingling glow that raced
through
her as his mouth possessed hers.

Her pliant body remembered and yielded to the hands pressing against her back, forcing her to arch into his unyielding male strength, crushing her softness against the potent masculine length of him. Yet the moment she came to her senses she had no difficulty in getting free. She gained her release so quickly that she realized that he had been waiting for some sign, a stiffening away to suggest that his kiss was repugnant to her. She hadn't recoiled quickly enough; come to that, she didn't think she had recoiled from him at all? It had been the hammering of her own conscience that she had backed away from. Her body felt alive in a way it never had before in any man's arms. Not even Matt's, except, perhaps, for one unforgettable occasion. For the most part, his kisses of five years ago, the tempered caresses of his free-roaming hands, had been enough, and he hadn't awakened this aching need in her. Nor was that the only shock she experienced. She looked into his eyes and held her breath at the look of triumph she read there. He had done it on purpose to make her aware of her need, to show her the difference and make her face up to the truth. Tony had never aroused this reaction in her, and, damn him, he knew it!

BOOK: Paradise Found
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