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Man-Hater Page 5

by Penny Jordan

  ‘We’re supposed to be lovers, remember,’ he drawled laconically. ‘Sue expects to come back and find us in each other’s arms. Think back,’ he taunted. ‘Try remembering what it was like with Colin.’

  Kelly couldn’t stop herself. She went white, shaking with nausea as she did remember. Colin, wrenching her head round, pulling her hair, slapping her face. She wanted to be sick; to scream and cry as she hadn’t done then; she was aware of the room starting to recede, of Jake’s muttered imprecation, and then she was in his arms, struggling against their confines, hating the frighteningly male contact of his body—and yet in some strange way some part of her longed to simply acquiesce, to give in and rest her head against his shoulder, to draw comfort from the sheer solid maleness of him.


  She was aware of the anxiety in Sue’s voice as Jake responded to her. ‘She isn’t feeling too well, but it’s nothing to worry about.’

  ‘Darling, you must go upstairs and rest, can I get you anything?’

  ‘I just felt faint,’ Kelly assured her. ‘Nothing much—I came out without breakfast and felt slightly carsick, but I’m all right now.’

  ‘I think Sue’s right, you ought to go upstairs and rest,’ Jake cut in firmly. ‘I’d come with you,’ he added with a wicked twinkle, ‘but somehow I don’t think you’d get much sleep if I did.’

  Sue grinned, enjoying her friend’s embarrassment, but Kelly was glad to escape from the room; from Jake’s too disturbing presence. Something about him frightened her; and yet what possible reason could she have for feeling so threatened?

  In spite of her resolution she did fall asleep. Maisie was right, she thought drowsily, lying on the large double bed, she did need a reset. The thought of Corfu at Easter was tempting, but only if she and Sue could go alone. She couldn’t bear the thought of fending Jeremy off for an entire week.

  The door opening woke her. She glanced up sleepily, her heart pounding with fear, as she saw Jeremy standing there, watching her knowingly.

  ‘Nights too exhausting for you nowadays, are they?’ he taunted. ‘So the iceberg’s finally thawed! You should have told me, Kelly, I’d have been only too happy to oblige. Who is this guy anyway? I’ve never heard you mention him before. If you’d wanted a lover you only had to tell me.’ He was coming closer to the bed. Kelly knew she ought to get up, but her muscles were locked in remembered terror and dread, her eyes wild and haunted as she stared up at him.

  ‘You’re a very desirable woman, Kelly, in spite of that cold front that comes on so strong,’ Jeremy continued. His eyes were on her breasts and Kelly felt her heart pound with terror as he reached out towards her.

  ‘She’s also my woman,’ Jake’s voice interrupted coldly from the open door.

  Jeremy whirled round, glowering furiously. ‘What the…’

  ‘Sue’s looking for you,’ she heard Jake say contemptuously, ‘so unless you particularly want to cause an unpleasant scene I suggest you leave—now.’

  Kelly couldn’t move; not even when the door had closed behind him.

  ‘So that’s what it’s all about,’ Jake commented quietly. ‘Pity,’ he added, his mouth thinning, ‘I was just beginning to be intrigued by you, wondering what lay behind the mask, but it’s all a ploy, isn’t it, Kelly; a façade behind which you can conceal your affair with your friend’s husband? Have you no compunction about what you’re doing?’ he demanded angrily. ‘Don’t you think Sue had a raw enough deal as it is? Can’t you see what Benson is? Or don’t you care?’

  ‘You’ve got it all wrong,’ Kelly choked, struggling to sit up.

  ‘You think so?’ One dark eyebrow rose cynically. ‘It seems pretty obvious to me that the reason you needed an “escort” for this weekend was not so much to make up a foursome as to deceive your friend as to your real relationship with her husband.’


  ‘No? Then what?’ he taunted.

  ‘It was because of Jeremy, because I knew he…he wanted me,’ she shuddered, ‘that I wanted an escort. I couldn’t disappoint Sue, as you say, she’s been through too much, but I knew if I came here alone Jeremy would…’

  ‘Try to make love to you?’ Jake supplied, watching her with an intensity that was unnerving. ‘And that was why you came to the agency?’



  ‘You don’t believe me?’ Kelly was astounded to hear herself asking the question. What did it matter to her whether he believed her or not?

  ‘Oh, on the contrary, I believe you completely,’ he averred, ‘but what does puzzle me is why a cool, controlled lady like you should act like a terrified innocent every time a man comes near you. You were petrified just then,’ he reminded her, ‘and I only have to come within a yard of you and you shrink away from me.’

  ‘You’re exaggerating,’ Kelly lied nervously, sliding off the bed. There was a look in his eyes she didn’t like. It was distinctly speculative, and more…much more, she acknowledged, shivering with a sensual awareness of all that the look he was giving her implied.

  ‘Let’s just put that to the test, shall we?’ Jake murmured dulcetly.

  ‘I don’t know what sort of game you think you’re playing,’ Kelly gasped, ‘but may I remind you that you happen to be in my employ, and that I could report you to the agency for this!’

  ‘Go ahead,’ he invited, mocking her. ‘It might just be worth it.’

  Before she could stop him he had reached her, ignoring her stiffening muscles as his arms went round her, one hand tracing the rigid line of her spine, while the other deftly removed the snood constraining her hair, his fingers sliding through the silken weight he had released.

  ‘Stop this!’ Kelly ordered. ‘Stop it right now!’

  She saw him frown, his eyes darkening suddenly as he exclaimed, ‘You’re frightened! I wonder why…’

  ‘I’m not frightened,’ Kelly denied, ‘I’m just furiously angry. Who do you think you are? Just because you’re a man you think you can assume whatever physical rights you choose to take—well, not with me, I…’ Her eyes blazed their defiance up at him, her fists beating an angry tattoo against the impervious wall of his chest.

  ‘I’ve just saved you from a fate worse than death, remember?’ he taunted. ‘Don’t I get a reward?’

  ‘What do you want?’ Kelly demanded nastily, ‘a bonus?’

  ‘Why, you…’

  It was too late to tell herself that she had gone too far, much too late to evade the bruising pressure of his mouth on hers, stifling her protests, cutting off her breath, as he ground her lips back against her teeth, making her feel faint with fear and pain, only her eyes mirroring her shock and bitter resentment.

  ‘Kelly!’ Her bruised mouth was released, and she winced with pain when his thumb brushed softly against its swollen fullness. ‘God, I…’

  ‘You wanted to hurt me,’ she stormed at him. ‘Well, you did. Satisfied? Is your male ego flattered by the knowledge that you can hurt me physically? You men, you’re all the same!’ she raged half hysterically. ‘You…’

  ‘No!’ The harsh denial cut through her furious ravings. ‘No, Kelly, we’re not all the same. I’m sorry I hurt you.’ He bent his head and she flinched, watching his eyes narrow and harden in some purpose she couldn’t guess at.

  ‘You made me angry and I got angry back, but it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to hurt you. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that any man is bound to act like that when a woman freezes in his arms? Didn’t Colin ever tell you that?’

  She went milk-white, her eyes dark with pain, her fingers curling against his shoulder.


  ‘I…’ She gasped as his mouth brushed the parted softness of hers, but it was too late to reject him. Her defences were already far too weak and it seemed far easier simply to lie passively against him, and give in to the gentle motion of his mouth against hers; teasing, and tantalising with a touch as gentle as butterfly wings, the moist warmth of his mo
uth stroking over the outline of her lips, encouraging them to soften and part to cling helplessly to the hard warmth of his; her mind reeling, spinning with the impact of what was happening to her.

  ‘Kelly, are you all right?’

  She was dimly aware of Sue’s voice outside the door, of Jake releasing her slowly, his eyes holding hers, daring her to deny that she hadn’t responded to him; that she hadn’t—she shivered with the knowledge—actually for one brief second physically wanted him.


  She made a superhuman effort to regain control of her senses.

  ‘We’re coming, Sue,’ she called back to her friend. ‘I’m fine now.’


  Jake was watching her, and she sensed that there was something that he wanted to say to her. Could he have guessed how long it was since she had been kissed like that? How many years her starved senses had been denied the sensual contact they had just enjoyed?

  ‘I must go…I…’

  ‘Kelly, what is it you’re so frightened of?’ he asked quietly.

  ‘Nothing,’ she lied tautly. ‘I’m not frightened of anything… Now, will you let me go,’ she hissed, pulling away from him and heading for the door. Was she going completely out of her mind? Allowing him to kiss her like that? What on earth was happening to her? She had been told she was frigid for so long that she had come to believe it, she acknowledged as she opened the door. She had thought herself impervious to the kind of sexual arousal Jake had just subjected her to, but she wasn’t, and the knowledge terrified her. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a completely different reflection from the one she was accustomed to. Jake had kissed her—once—and her body ached with a need she was terrified to put a name to. Why? Why now? and why, oh, why with this man who saw and knew far too much about her already?

  ‘SO YOU’RE KELLY’S FRIEND?’ Jennifer Gordon eyed Jake appreciatively. ‘Lucky Kelly!’

  ‘Exactly my sentiments,’ Sue admitted with a laugh. At the other end of the table Jeremy shot his wife a thin-lipped smile and said nastily, ‘Sorry, darling—you couldn’t afford him, could she, Kelly?’

  Jennifer Gordon’s cold blue eyes sharpened speculatively, and Kelly longed to dash the contents of her wine glass in Jeremy’s over-fed and pasty face.

  ‘My feelings for Kelly have nothing to do with her wealth,’ Jake cut in coldly, and if Kelly hadn’t known better she could have sworn that that was real anger she saw in his eyes, real intent behind the pointed comment, real desire in the look he bestowed upon her as he lifted her hand and turned it palm upwards, towards his lips, his brief caress where her pulse raced treacherously sending shimmering waves of reaction through her.

  She wouldn’t be sorry when the whole farce was over, Kelly decided later, smiling politely as the Gordons left. It was well after one, Jeremy was obviously and unpleasantly drunk, and Sue had borne his snide insults so bravely all evening that Kelly could have wept for her. Sue was worth twenty of her husband, Kelly fumed; how could she simply sit there and allow him to insult her, the way he had done?

  Half an hour later she was on the point of going upstairs when Jeremy staggered out into the hall.

  ‘I wish you luck of her,’ he muttered to Jake, who was behind her. ‘Frigid little bitch!’

  Kelly was glad Sue hadn’t been there to overhear him, and her face was still flushed with anger when she walked into the bedroom.

  ‘I’m sorry about this,’ she apologised in a stilted fashion to Jake. ‘Jeremy’s idea of a joke.’

  He recognised the bitterness in her voice and glanced thoughtfully at her. ‘Meaning that since he never loses an opportunity of calling you “frigid” he thinks he’s punishing us both by telling Sue that we wanted to sleep together? You’ve been behaving rather strangely for a liberated and experienced lady.’

  ‘Meaning what exactly?’ Kelly demanded, suspecting that he was mocking her.

  ‘Merely that I thought every woman knew these days that feminine frigidity is a myth put about my incompetent male lovers.’

  His raised eyebrows invited her to comment and when she didn’t he mused thoughtfully, ‘Personally, I’m still romantic enough to believe that sex—no matter how excellent—lacks impact without the intensity of mutual desire—mutual love.’

  Kelly stared at him in surprise. These were the last sentiments she had expected to hear him express.

  ‘What’s wrong? You know,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘there’s something distinctly intriguing about you, Kelly. On the one hand we have the cool controlled career woman, who cuts emotion right out of her life; on the other we have the grieving widow who misses her husband so much that she can’t bear to let another man near her. Something tells me the real Kelly is neither of those women. You could represent an irresistible challenge to some man, Kelly.’

  ‘But not to you,’ she parried dangerously, daring him to contradict her.

  ‘Oh, I don’t know… But that’s not what you hired me for—or is it?’ he asked softly. ‘Is that what you wanted, Kelly? A man to share your bed without question or criticism; someone who you could simply pay to disappear when you’d grown bored with him…’

  ‘That’s a disgusting suggestion!’ Kelly choked. ‘If I wanted someone to go to bed with, I wouldn’t have to resort to buying myself a man!’

  ‘I wasn’t suggesting you would,’ Jake retorted quietly. ‘I was merely implying that your inadequacies might prompt you to do as men do in similar circumstances—that is, you might prefer to pay for your pleasure; treat your partner as an object; a commodity who you could simply use and discard…’

  Kelly wasn’t listening; she hadn’t heard more than the first few words.

  ‘What inadequacies?’ she demanded shakily. ‘What do you mean?’

  Jake shrugged. ‘You know damned well what I mean, Kelly. You freeze every time anyone comes near you—you’ve been married; you’re not a child; I don’t know what it is that makes it impossible for you to react normally to men, but it’s definitely there.’

  Kelly didn’t dare to respond. Instead, she picked up her robe and bolted for the bathroom. Hateful creature! How dared he imply that she might feel inadequate! If she didn’t like being mauled and pawed by all and sundry that was only because she was choosy. She despised men…and she had every right to. She had proved that a woman could be every bit as successful, every bit as ruthless and determined… But what about the cost of proving it? Slowly she stopped undressing, shivering slightly. The cost had been high, she acknowledged. She trusted no one; shared her life with no one; neither lover nor family. She was completely and absolutely alone, and she was tired of telling herself that she preferred it that way.

  She was glad that she had the privacy of the bathroom, and that she could run the water to drown out the sound of her tears. Not that there was much sound; they flowed silently and steadily, as though they had been dammed up for far too long, until she was too exhausted to do more than shower briefly and get ready for bed.

  When she opened the door, Jake was sitting in an armchair apparently engrossed in a book.

  ‘Ah,’ he exclaimed when she walked in. ‘Bathroom free? What’s the plan for tomorrow?’ he asked casually, picking up the pyjamas she had laid on the bed, and a towelling robe. ‘What time do you plan to leave?’

  ‘After lunch,’ Kelly told him expressionlessly, wondering why she should feel so affected by the fact that he had barely glanced at her. That was what they had arranged before dinner, wasn’t it? That since they had to share a room, they would do so in a civilised and unfussing manner. At least, she amended, that was what she had arranged. Jake had merely listened grimly in a silence which she remembered now had been fraught with an odd sort of tension.

  She heard the bathroom door close behind him as she unpinned her hair and started to brush it methodically. She hoped that before he emerged she would be in bed and feigning sleep. Not that she had any fears that he might attempt to touch her; his comments ab
out her inadequacies had more than banished those, and her face burned fiercely as she remembered the look which had accompanied them! How dared he pity her! How dared he!


  KELLY moved restlessly in her sleep, tormented by the ghosts who pursued her. Colin…mocking her. Colin…hurting her. She cried out, twisting desperately to escape the clutching hands she knew from experience could cause such pain, suddenly jerked from her nightmare as a light snapped on and a husky voice growled sleepily, ‘For God’s sake, what’s going on?’

  It took her several seconds to realise where she was, who the voice belonged to, by which time Jake too was fully awake, his face puzzled and concerned as he studied her.

  ‘That was some nightmare,’ he commented briefly. ‘Are you all right?’

  She wanted to say ‘yes’, but the word stuck in her throat. She sat up, shivering as she felt the chill night air striking her bare back and shoulders, unconscious of the terror trapped in her eyes as she glanced nervously round the room.

  ‘Would you like a drink? A cup of tea?’

  A cup of tea! Oh, how she yearned for one.

  ‘I’ll go down and make us one. You stay here.’

  ‘Us.’ How intimate the small word sounded! Kelly shivered when Jake left the room, without him it seemed alien and empty, her nightmares crowding back, dragging her back into the past. Why, tonight of all nights, did she have to re-live the horror of her wedding night? She had stopped dreaming about it years ago, but tonight for some reason the old nightmare had surfaced in all its shocking intensity. She could almost imagine she saw the bruises forming on her smooth flesh where Colin had punished her. She moaned softly, her eyes going blank, and she was shivering with reaction and terror when Jake came back, frowning as he put the mug of steaming tea on the table beside her, the bed depressing under his weight as he sat down.

  ‘Want to tell me about it?’ His hand stroked her hair back off her hot face.

  ‘Your hair’s lovely,’ he told her unexpectedly. ‘Like silk, and your skin’s so pale.’ His glance lingered appreciatively on the outline of her breasts beneath the flimsy fabric of her nightgown, his eyes narrowing as she flushed darkly.


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