The intoxicating scent of his aftershave assailed her senses, making it difficult for her to concentrate on what she was doing. As she carefully manoeuvred the bandage around the wrist and hand, the feel of his skin spread a warm glow through her and an atmosphere of intimacy began to envelop them.
Suddenly Brad broke the silence that had been between them since she had begun to work the bandage into place. ‘You’re not wearing a damn thing under that robe,’ he growled accusingly. Startled, she glanced upward into his darkened features. But before she could speak he added, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t presentable? This could have waited.’
Feeling suddenly very vulnerable, Sara realised that it had seemed perfectly proper to be in his presence whether she was fully clothed or unclothed. Flushing, her startled expression hardened into a defensive glare. ‘You’ve been behaving so much like Steve, I guess I finally bought your big brother role,’ she snapped. A heavy silence followed. Angry embarrassment kept her hands steady as she completed fastening the bandage. Finally slipping the last clip into place, she said tersely, ‘There. How does that feel?'
'Fine,’ he returned, pushing his chair back and rising. Then standing, towering over her, he added darkly, ‘As you’ve been so quick to point out, I am not your brother, and in future I would appreciate it if you would keep that thought in mind.’
The flush that had never quite left her face deepened as she met his shuttered gaze for one painfully intense moment before he turned and stalked out of the room.
Back in her room, as she applied her make-up, she tried to force her enigmatic employer out of her mind, but his presence continued to linger. And in spite of his hostile exit she could not erase the sensation of intimacy she had experienced as they had sat at the table. Even though she was fighting her emotions every step of the way, the man was becoming more and more a part of her and she knew that never seeing him again was going to be like cutting off an arm or a leg. Still, that would be easier than seeing him with someone else.
The dress she had chosen to wear was one of her favourites. It was a light-weight, multicoloured creation of blues, pinks and purples with a form-fitting bodice, discreet neckline and puff sleeves. The full, tiered skirt was knee-length and had a gently flowing motion to it when she walked.
Angry with herself for allowing Brad to affect her so adversely, she wasn’t paying attention as she began to fasten the zipper, and three-quarters of the way up her back it caught in her slip and stuck. Pulling and tugging did nothing to help. It would move neither up nor down. ‘This is all his fault,’ she muttered, glaring at the ceiling as if she could see through the other two floors into his bedroom. A muscle in her back went into a spasm, forcing her to realise how very tense she was about this evening.
Too emotionally overwrought to even attempt to sort out what was going on inside of her, she concentrated on the zipper. ‘Darn!’ she fumed, going into the kitchen and hunting through the drawers for anything that looked as if it would be useful.
When that search proved futile, she went up to her studio. Maybe one of her tools would offer a solution. In her unruly frame of mind, she knocked a can of paintbrushes to the floor, and they hit the wooden surface with a loud clatter.
‘What’s going on in here?’ Brad demanded from the doorway, his voice filled with exasperation.
‘Sorry I disturbed you,’ she threw back, setting the brushes on the table with almost as loud a noise as they had made when they had fallen.
‘Don’t you think you should finish zipping your dress?’ he remarked bitingly as if he found her appearance disgraceful.
‘That’s exactly what I’m trying to do,’ she snapped back. ‘It’s stuck, and I thought I might find something in here to help.’
For a moment he stared at her as if in indecision, then with a resigned sigh he said, ‘I could use some help myself.
I can’t get my tie to look right. How about an exchange? I’ll fix your zipper and you can tie my tie.’
Recognising this as the most practical solution for both of them, Sara reluctantly agreed.
‘Your zipper first,’ he directed, his manner tightly controlled as he turned her around.
His breath played havoc on the sensitive nerve endings in the back of her neck while his hands brushing against her skin, felt so very enticing. She bit her lip and prayed he would be finished soon.
‘You’re going to have to help,’ he growled after a few minutes that had seemed more like a lifetime. ‘Hold the dress tight below the place where this zipper is stuck.’ Immediately obeying, she felt the fabric come free and Brad finished fastening the dress. A sigh of relief escaped from her as the disturbing contact was broken. Turning around to thank him, she found herself uncomfortably close to his large frame and backed away half a step.
‘What would you have done if I hadn’t been here to help?’ he questioned drily.
‘I would have been forced to wait until my date arrived and asked him for his help,’ she replied coolly, determined to maintain an outward air of indifference.
‘Then I’m glad I was here,’ he scowled. ‘I wouldn’t want Fallon getting any more ideas than he already has.’ Briefly, she considered reminding the infuriating man that he had only recently told her to remember that he was not her brother and adding that she would appreciate it if he would keep that thought in mind. However, not wanting to increase the hostilities between them and not fully trusting herself about what she might reveal, she bit back her retort and turned her attention to his tie. ‘I don’t know how to make one of these knots,’ she frowned. ‘You’ll have to guide me through it.’
As she stood following his instructions, the sensation of intimacy she had experienced earlier returned with an even greater intensity. A vague fogginess clouded her mind and she saw herself and Brad as a comfortably married couple preparing to go out for the evening. The urge to go up on tiptoe and playfully kiss away the downward tilt at the corners of his mouth was strong. Then the image of Monica Fallon impinged into the misty illusion and harsh reality returned. Almost violently she shoved the knot into place. ‘There, that should do it,’ she announced, taking a step backward as she spoke and intending to continue her flight without hesitation.
But Brad caught her hands before she could turn away from him. ‘Sara, don’t,’ he began, only to stop himself in mid-sentence as if it was necessary to reconsider his words. His fingers toyed with the small ring on the little finger of her left hand as the pause lengthened perceptibly.
Not trusting herself to meet his gaze, Sara concentrated on the middle button of his shirt.
‘Sara,’ he began again, his hold on her hands tightening, ‘don’t let Marc drive you home if he drinks too much.’
Her body went taut. She had been so certain he was going to make a very different request. Then realising that this was merely wishful thinking brought on by her fantasies, she pulled her hands free. ‘I’m not stupid and I don’t need your guidance to behave rationally,’ she told him with a cool calmness she did not feel.
‘Sara,’ he breathed her name with an exasperated sigh.
Glaring up at him defiantly, her eyes dared him to give her any more advice.
‘You look very lovely,’ he murmured.
‘Thank you,’ she stammered, her expression softening in confusion.
‘You’re welcome.’ His voice caressed her as his hand came up to stroke the line of her jaw. A stillness enveloped them; a stillness so intense that it created the illusion that they were the only two people in the world.
As a wistfulness replaced the confusion in her eyes, his thumb travelled over her lips and they parted as if to whisper, but no sound came out.
Green jade flamed and his fingers entwined themselves in her hair. Her breath locked in her lungs as his head inclined towards hers. The thought of fighting him did not enter her mind. The need to be touched by him was too strong.
But before his lips found hers, the harsh sound of the doorbell intrusively reverberated on the air, shattering the illusion of isolation. As if suddenly becoming aware of his actions, Brad straightened away from her, his hand falling to his side and his expression darkening.
‘Brad?’ she said his name quietly, questioningly.
The bell rang again. ‘Marc sounds impatient,’ he commented, his cool exterior fully in place once again.
Sara’s mouth tightened into a hard line. Spinning round, she descended the stairs without a backward glance.
‘You look absolutely delicious,’ Marc greeted her. Then as he handed her a florist’s box containing a wrist corsage made of white rosebuds, his eyes travelled over her shoulder and he added, ‘Evening, Brad.’
‘Evening, Fallon,’ Brad returned the salutation in censorious tones.
Sara knew without a doubt that he had followed her downstairs to check on Marc’s condition, and she bristled. With Steve she would have tolerated such an invasion of her privacy, but with Brad Garwood she would not. ‘The flowers are lovely,’ she smiled at Marc. ‘If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll get my bag and we can be on our way.’
‘She does move nicely; an enticing yet gentle sway to the hips, don't you think, Brad?’ Marc commented with an air of masculine appreciation as she walked swiftly away from the men.
Missing Brad’s response as she let the kitchen door swing closed behind her, Sara frowned darkly. Marc was deliberately baiting the other man, and it made her angry. Marc’s little games might be basically harmless, but they placed other people in difficult or embarrassing situations, and she was tiring of him rapidly.
Suddenly her back muscles tightened as the anxiety she had been experiencing lately returned. ‘Brad Garwood can take care of himself,' she stated sharply to the image in her bedroom mirror, and with that pronouncement she rejoined the men.
Following a short, stilted salutation, she and Marc left. As she walked beside her escort to his car, she could feel Brad's eyes on her but refused to acknowledge his presence.
‘I had the impression that at any moment Brad was going to ask me how much I'd had to drink before I came to pick you up,’ Marc quipped as they reached the small yellow sports car.
‘How many have you had?’ she questioned, a slight edge to her voice.
‘Only two since lunch. You have a very sobering effect on me, lovely. However, since I’m led to believe that the modern, independent female prefers to be in the driver’s seat, why don’t you chauffeur us?’ he suggested, extending the keys towards her.
‘I’m not so independent that I always insist on being in the driver’s seat, but I’ve always wanted to drive a Jaguar,’ she said, accepting the offer with relief and, admittedly, a twinge of delight.
After giving her some brief instructions, Marc settled back in his seat and proclaimed with a laugh, ‘This is marvellous!’
‘Being chauffeured?’ she questioned as she switched on the engine and the machine began to purr, causing a spark of excitement to flash in her eyes.
‘Having pleased my princess and in the process put off the angry dragon,’ he clarified with an amused look.
‘Put off the angry dragon?’ She threw him a puzzled glance.
‘You didn’t think Brad was actually going to let you leave with me behind the wheel?’ he laughed, turning to wave to the man standing in the doorway.
‘He does have a strong brotherly instinct,’ Sara frowned, using anger to mask the pain.
‘Is that what you call it?’ Marc mused, more to himself than to his companion. Then in stronger tones, he said, ‘I don’t like the idea of you still living under his roof.’
‘It’s a job,’ she replied, then wondered why she didn’t tell him that she was planning to move fairly soon.
‘It makes me furious to think of you waiting on him hand and foot,’ he glared as she guided the car out on to the main road.
‘I do not wait on him hand and foot,’ she frowned, ‘and I would appreciate if we could change the subject.’
‘All right.’ Marc smiled mischievously. ‘Let’s talk about you waiting on me hand and foot. Or better still, why don’t I hire someone to wait on both of us hand and foot and we can spend our time simply enjoying each other’s company.’
‘I refuse to wait on anyone, nor do I wish to be waited on myself,’ she scowled. ‘What I would like is not to discuss anything more personal than the weather while I concentrate on my driving.’
‘As you wish,' he conceded. ‘But I warn you, I plan to get you out from under that man’s roof.’
Knowing that Marc would insist on having the last word and again rebelling against divulging her plans to him, Sara offered no comment to this last statement. Instead she glanced at the sky and said, ‘It looks as if it will stay clear tonight.’
‘And you’ll look ravishing in the moonlight,’ Marc declared gallantly, smiling at her resolve to change the subject while refusing to keep the conversation strictly impersonal.
Arriving at the club, Sara discovered that the sobering effect he had professed that she had on him was short-term. As soon as they were seated he began to drink.
To make matters worse, the sense of dread she had been experiencing where Brad’s safety was concerned had returned. It was not as strong as it had been the night of the accident or the afternoon before, but it was there, causing her to feel edgy and tense.
The waiter was bringing Marc his third before-dinner cocktail when Sara felt a prickling sensation on the back of her neck and intuitively knew that Brad was in the room.
‘Good evening, Miss Manderly, Marc,’ said Monica as she and Brad paused at Sara and Marc’s table on their way to their own.
‘Good evening, Miss Fallon,’ Sara returned, sensing a hidden anger in the woman and guessing that Monica’s understanding nature was wearing thin. The woman could not have missed seeing her and Brad together the day before and she might have got the impression that they were out for a pleasant stroll together which would not fall into the category of proper relations with the hired help. Or perhaps Marc’s courtship of an obscure painter was not sitting well with the Fallon household.
‘Evening, Monica, Brad,’ Marc raised his glass in salute, then drained the contents.