Authors: Lavyrle Spencer
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First edition (electronic): September 2001
to my husband, Dan,
the best thing that ever happened
in my life
Circumstances being what they were, it was ironic that Catherine Anderson knew little more of Clay Forrester than his name. He must be rich, she thought, scanning the foyer, which revealed quite clearly how well-off the Forrester family was.
The deep side of the expansive entry opened into a sprawling formal living room of pale yellows and muted golds. Above was a great crystal chandelier. Behind her, a stairway climbed dramatically to the second story. She was faced by double doors, a console table whose cabriole legs touched the parquet as lightly as a ballerina's toes and a brass accent lamp reflected by a gilt-framed mirror. Beside her stood an immense brass pitcher bursting with an abundance of overpoweringly fragrant dried eucalyptus.
The pungent stuff was beginning to make her sick.
She turned her eyes to the massive carved oak entry doors. The knobs weren't shaped like any she'd ever seen. Instead, they were curved and swirled like the handles of fine cutlery. Acidly Catherine wondered how much handles like those must cost, to say nothing of the pretentious bench on which she'd been left. It was lush brown velvet, armless, tufted—the kind of absurd extravagance afforded by only the very rich.
Yes, the entire foyer was a work of art and of opulence. Everything in it fit . . . except Catherine Anderson.
The girl was attractive enough, her apricot skin and weather-streaked blond hair having a fresh, vital look. Her features bore the strikingly appealing symmetry often found in those of Scandinavian ancestry—the straight nose and fine nostrils; shapely, bowed lips and blue eyes beneath arched brows of pleasing contour.
It was her clothing that gave her away. She wore a pair of heather colored slacks and shirt that spoke of brighter days long gone. They were homemade and of poor fabric. Her trench coat was limp, frayed at hem and cuff. Her brown wedgies were made of artificial stuff, worn at the heels and curled at the toes.
Yet her clean, wind-blown appearance and fresh complexion saved Catherine from looking disreputable. That, and the proud mien with which she carried herself.
Even that was slipping now, the longer she sat here. For Catherine realized she'd been left like a naughty child about to be reprimanded, which actually wasn't far from the truth.
With a resigned sigh, she dropped her head back against the wall. Vaguely she wondered if people like the Forresters would object to a girl like her laying her head against their elegant wallpaper, supposed they would, so defiantly kept it there. Her eyes slid shut, blotting out the lush elegance, unable to blot out the angry voices from the study: her father's, harsh and accusing, followed by the constrained, angry reply of Mr. Forrester.
Why do I stay? she wondered.
But she knew the answer; her neck still hurt from the pressure of her father's fingers. And, of course, there was her mother to consider. She was in there, too, along with the luckless Forresters, and—rich or not—they had done nothing to deserve a madman like her father. It had never been Catherine's intention to let this happen. She still remembered the shocked expressions of both Mr. and Mrs. Forrester when her father had barged in upon their pastoral evening with his bald accusations. They had at first attempted civility, suggesting that they all sit down in the study and talk this over. But within moments they understood what they were up against when Herb Anderson pointed at the bench and bellowed at his daughter, “Just plant your little ass right there, girlie, and don't move it or I'll beat the livin' hell outa you!”
No, the Forresters had done nothing to deserve a madman like Herb Anderson.
Suddenly the front door opened, letting in a gust of leaf-scented autumn air and a man whose clothing looked like the interior decorator had planned it to blend with the foyer. He was a tapestry of earth tones: camel-colored trousers of soft wool, European-cut, sharply creased, falling to a stylish break upon brown cordovan loafers; sport jacket of subdued rust and camel plaid, flowing over his shoulders like soft caramel over ice cream; a softer shade of rust repeated in the lamb's wool sweater beneath; an off-white collar left casually open to foil a narrow gold chain around his neck. Even nature, it seemed, had cooperated in creating his color scheme, for his skin bore the remains of a deep summer tan, and his hair was a burnished red-gold.
He was whistling as he breezed in, unaware of Catherine who sat partially shielded by the eucalyptus. She flattened her back against the stair wall, taking advantage of her sparse camouflage, watching as he crossed to the console table and glanced through what must have been the daily mail, still whistling softly. She caught a glimpse of his classically handsome face in the mirror, its straight nose, long cheeks and sculpted eyebrows. They might have been cast in bronze, so flawless and firm were their lines. But his mouth—ah, it was too perfect, too mobile, too memorable to be anything but flesh and blood.
Unaware of her presence, he shrugged off the stylish sport coat, caught it negligently in the crook of one wrist and bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Catherine wilted against the wall.
But she stiffened again as the study door burst open and Mr. Forrester stood framed against the bookshelves within, his slate-gray eyes submerged below craggy brows with a formidable expression, his anger scarcely held in check. He wasted not so much as a glance at the girl on the bench.
“Clay!” The invincible tone stopped the younger man's ascent.
The voice was the same as Catherine remembered, though the formal word of address surprised her. She was not used to hearing fathers called
“I think you had better step into the study.” Then Mr. Forrester himself did so, leaving the door open as yet another command.
Had the circumstances been different, Catherine might have felt sorry for Clay Forrester. His whistling had disappeared. All she heard now was the soft shush of his footsteps coming back down the stairs.
She squeezed her ribcage with both arms, fighting the unexpected flood of panic. Don't let him see me! she thought. Let him walk right past and not turn around! Yet common sense told her she could not escape him indefinitely. Sooner or later he'd know she was here.
He reappeared around the newel post, shrugging once again into his sport coat, telling her even more about his relationship with his father.
Her heart beat in the high hollow of her throat and she held her breath, the stain of embarrassment now coloring her cheeks. He stepped to the mirror, checked his collar and his hair. To Catherine, for the briefest moment he seemed vulnerable, being watched from behind that way, unaware of her presence or of what awaited him in the study. But she reminded herself he was not only rich, he was degenerate; he deserved what was coming.
He moved then and her image became visible in the mirror. His eyes registered surprise, then he turned to face her momentarily.
“Oh, hi,” he greeted her. “I didn't see you hiding back there.”
She was suddenly conscious of the frightful thud of her heart, but she carefully kept her face placid, giving him no more than a silent, wide-eyed nod. Never having planned to lay eyes on him again, she was not prepared for this.
“Excuse me,” he added politely, as he might have to any of the clients who often waited there to do business with his father. Then he turned toward the study.
From within came his father's command. “Shut the door, Clay!”
Her eyes slid closed.
He doesn't remember me, Catherine thought. The admission made her suddenly, inexplicably want to cry, though it made no sense at all when she'd hoped he'd walk right past like a stranger, and that was precisely what he'd done.
Well, she berated herself, that
what you wanted,
She summoned up anger as an antidote to the tears which Catherine Anderson never allowed herself to shed. To feel them threatening—and here, of all places!—was unspeakable. Weaklings cried! Weaklings and fools!
But Catherine Anderson was neither weakling nor fool. The circumstances might appear otherwise just now, but in twenty-four hours everything would be far different.
From behind the study door Clay Forrester's voice exploded, “Who!” and her eyes came open.
He doesn't remember me, she thought again, resigning herself to the fact once and for all, straightening her shoulders, telling herself not to let it matter.
The study door flew open, and she affected a relaxed and unconcerned air as Clay Forrester confronted her framed in that doorway, much as his father had before. His eyes—gray, too—impaled her. His scowl immediately told her he didn't believe a word of it! But she noted with satisfaction that his hair now looked finger-combed. Pushing back both front panels of his sport coat, hands on hips, he challenged her with those angry eyes. He scanned her summarily, allowed his glance to float down to her stomach, then back up, noting her detached air.
She suffered the insolent way his gaze roved downward—like a slap in the face—and retaliated by pointedly studying his full, lower lip, which she remembered quite well, considering the brevity of their association and the time that had lapsed since. But, knowing virtually nothing about him, Catherine decided she'd best take care in dealing with him, so she carefully remained silent beneath his scrutiny.
“Catherine?” he asked at last. She expected to see his breath, the word was so cold.
“Hello, Clay,” she replied levelly, maintaining that false air of aloofness.
Clay Forrester watched her rise, slim and seemingly assured. Almost haughty, he thought, but certainly not scared . . . and hardly supplicating!
“You belong in here too,” he stated tersely, holding that implacable stance while she gave him one extended look which she hoped appeared cool. Then she walked past him into the study. Antagonism emanated from him. She could nearly smell it as she passed so close in front of him.
The room was like a storybook setting: pre-supper fire burning on the grate, stem glasses half full upon polished tables, book-lined walls, an original Terry Redlin wildlife oil on the wall behind a leather loveseat, soft carpeting underfoot. Masculine, yet warm, everything about the room spoke of an interrupted coziness, which was precisely why Herb Anderson had chosen this time of day to make his appearance, when he figured all the Forresters would be home. His exact words had been, “I'll get them rich sons-a-bitches when they're all holed up together in that fancy brick mansion, wearin' all them family jewels, and we'll see who does the paying for this!”
The contrast between Clay's parents and Catherine's was almost laughable. Mrs. Forrester was ensconced in a wing chair at one side of the fireplace. She was shaken, yet extremely proper, feet crossed at the ankles. Her clothing was impeccable and up-to-date, her hair done in a tasteful coiffure which made her features appear youthfully regal. Upon her shapely hands glittered the magnitude of gems Herb Anderson derided.
Ada Anderson, in the matching chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, picked at a slub of her bargain basement coat, keeping her eyes downcast. Her hair was mousy, her shape dumpy. Upon her hand was only a thin gold band whose apple blossom design was worn smooth from years of hard work.
Mr. Forrester, double-vested in well-tailored business gray, stood behind a morocco-topped desk that held several leatherbound books in a pair of jade bookends worth as much as the entire Anderson collection of living room furniture.
Then there was her father, decked out in a red nylon jacket boasting the words
on its back. Catherine avoided looking at the bulging beer belly, the bloated face, the ever-present expression of cynicism that perpetually claimed the world was out to beat Herb Anderson out of something, when actually it was the other way around.
Catherine stopped beside her mother's chair, conscious that Clay had stopped behind her. She kept a shoulder turned away from him, choosing instead to face his father, easily the most formidable person in the room. Even his position behind the desk was strategically chosen to connote command. Understanding this, she chose to confront him on her feet. Her own father might swear and carry on like a drunken sailor, but this other stern adversary was by far the greater threat. Catherine sensed the man's total control, sensed, too, that should she face him with a hint of challenge on her face it would be the worst possible mistake. He was the kind of man who knew how to deal with hostility and defiance, thus she carefully kept them from her countenance.
“My son doesn't seem to remember you, does he?” His voice was like the first edge of November's ice on a Minnesota lake—cold, sharp, thin, dangerous.
“No, he doesn't,” Catherine replied, looking at him squarely.
“Do you remember her?” the father snapped at his son, daring it to be true.
“No,” answered Clay, raising Catherine's ire not because she wanted to be remembered, but because it was a lie. She hadn't really expected the truth out of him anyway, had she?—not once she'd suspected he had enough money to back up any lies he chose to tell. Still, his answer rankled. She turned to find him nearer than was comfortable and accosted him with blue eyes that rivaled the frost in his father's.
Liar! Her eyes seemed to shout, while he smugly perused her features, then cast a glance over her blond hair and saw the fire create sundogs on it, dancing behind her that way. And suddenly he recalled it backlit by fireworks.
Oh, he remembered her all right. . . . Now he remembered her! But he cautiously kept it from showing in his face.
“What the hell is this, a frame-up?” he accused.
“I'm afraid it isn't, and you know it,” Catherine replied, wondering how long she could maintain this feigned calm.
But then Herb Anderson jumped in, yelping and pointing. “Your goddam right it isn't, lover boy, so just don't think—”
“You're in my home,” Mr. Forrester interrupted explosively, “and if you want this . . . this
to continue, you will control yourself while you are here!” There was an undeniable note of sarcasm in the word
it was obvious Herb Anderson didn't know the meaning of the word.