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Man-Hater Page 10

by Penny Jordan

  ‘Oh, Kelly, you look gorgeous—doesn’t she, Jeremy?’ Sue asked, turning to him for corroboration.

  Kelly hated the way Jeremy’s eyes moved insultingly over her body in the thin silk.

  ‘Gorgeous,’ he agreed softly. ‘The ice has melted with a vengeance! I’ll have to get Jake to let me into the secret.’

  As Sue’s genuinely amused laughter filled the room, Kelly wondered how her friend could be so blind to the venom in her husband’s eyes. Jeremy still hadn’t forgiven her for rejecting him. Men were so vain; so arrogant in their assumption that they had the right to react like spoiled children simply because a woman did not find them desirable.

  ‘Ah, here’s Jake—now you’ll be able to ask him,’ Sue teased Jeremy as Jake strolled into the room.

  He had changed into cream pants that clung to the powerfully lean thighs, his cream shirt open at the neck revealing the crisply curling hair that darkened his chest. In comparison to Jake’s lithe maleness Jeremy looked flabby and out of condition.

  ‘Ask me what?’ Jake prompted, giving Sue a slow smile that appreciated her femininity in her new dress, and watching her friend glow with pleasure. Kelly felt a frisson of emotion she recognised bewilderingly as the beginnings of a knife-sharp pain.

  ‘Oh, just how you managed to turn our ice queen into a smouldering sex bomb,’ Jeremy drawled unpleasantly.

  Kelly wondered if anyone else noticed the way she shrank as Jake curled his arm round her waist, drawing her to his side, her nostrils teased by the warm male scent of his body.

  ‘It isn’t hard,’ Jake told him equably, an excellent facsimile of tenderness softening his gaze as he turned to Kelly and added huskily, ‘All you need is love, isn’t that right, Kelly?’

  She couldn’t have moved even if someone had told her a bomb was about to go off next to her. Love! Her pupils dilated with shock, a sickening sensation of anguish filling her. Of course she didn’t love Jake. The very idea was ridiculous. How could she? After Colin she knew better than to risk loving any man, least of all one like Jake who made his living from weak, foolish women.

  They walked to the villa where the party was being held. Far larger than Sue’s father’s, its gardens backed on to his, and Sue explained that they owned the land right down to the sea itself, where the owner had a private mooring for his yacht.

  The garden itself was illuminated with what seemed to be hundreds of pretty Japanese-style paper lanterns, and as always the absence of the sun seemed to enhance the scent of growing things, so that Kelly’s nostrils were full of the scent of wild thyme and other aromatic bushes.

  She was lost in a vision of how this island must have appeared to the first Greek adventurers, when Jeremy destroyed her dream by cursing vehemently as he caught his foot in an exposed root.

  Kelly winced for her friend as he swore angrily, ‘I suppose it was your bloody stupid idea to walk here,’ but to her surprise Jake said coolly, ‘Actually it was mine.’

  ‘Huh, I would have thought you’d have had enough of walking this afternoon. We did the full eighteen holes.’

  ‘Oh, Jeremy dragged you round the full course, did he?’ Sue smiled sympathetically at Jake. ‘I’m afraid he’s something of a golf-aholic, although he tells me he only plays for business reasons. Are you a keen player?’

  Kelly’s heart turned over as Jake smiled back at Sue, a ridiculous surge of jealousy submerging her in its tormenting depths.

  ‘Not really. I prefer squash.’

  ‘No need to be that modest, old man,’ Jeremy cut in acidly. ‘He was good enough to beat me.’

  Kelly hid a small smile of amusement. Jeremy prided himself on his golf—she had in the past been obliged to listen to him boasting endlessly about his prowess, and it was obvious that he was admitting Jake’s superiority with grudging reluctance.

  ‘Oh, we’re nearly there—there’s the pool,’ Sue told them, with evident relief. ‘It’s full Olympic size—although I’ve heard that he rarely uses it.’

  A short flight of steps brought them on to the same level as the pool and patio area, which was already thronged with other guests. The pool, as Sue had said, was huge, but Kelly doubted that many zealous swimmers would appreciate the design of it, which wasn’t rectangular, but instead seemed to form an elongated figure of eight, the smaller circle disappearing inside the house in traditional Hollywood manner.

  ‘That’s so that they can use the pool in winter,’ Sue informed her knowledgeably. ‘Huge glass doors cut off that part of the pool and enclosed it inside. I believe it cost a fortune. And just have a look behind you,’ she added, waiting with a knowing grin as Kelly obediently turned and gasped her amazement as she saw what appeared to be a floating white trelliswork gazebo in the centre of the second circle.

  ‘Good heavens,’ she managed weakly, while Sue laughed her appreciation. ‘Mmm. Vintage Hollywood, isn’t it? The third, or was it fourth Mrs Wrayman had the original villa almost torn down and all this done in its place, and just wait until you see the inside. Carne Wrayman is a fanatical collector of Byzantine religious relics and the like. He has some fantastic icons that were brought out of Russia during the Revolution—they’re worth a fortune, but then of course he’s a millionaire several times over.’

  ‘Sounds just your type,’ Jake murmured sotto voce against Kelly’s hair. ‘No worries about him wanting you for your money!’

  ‘Perhaps you’ve got a point!’ Kelly bit out the words, small white teeth snapping together as she fought against her anger.

  ‘Jake darling! How wonderful! What on earth are you doing here?’

  A lissom blonde girl extricated herself from the crowd by the pool and almost threw herself into Jake’s arms. She was about eighteen, and Kelly knew beyond doubt that the feelings tearing at her with sharply venomous claws were pure feminine jealousy.

  ‘Well, well,’ Jeremy murmured tauntingly. ‘A little bit of something from his past? You want to watch it, love,’ he warned Kelly acidly, ‘you might find she’s making a takeover bid for the present and the future.’

  ‘Jake, there’s someone I want you to meet. Do come with me… You won’t mind if I borrow him for a minute, will you?’ the blonde asked Kelly with an arch smile that revealed surprisingly genuine dimples.

  ‘Feel free.’ Her face felt stiff and she knew her smile looked totally unnatural.

  ‘I won’t be long,’ Jake told her casually before walking away, his arm round the blonde girl’s shoulders, her face turned up to his full of laughter, and— Kelly was forced to admit it—love!

  ‘Mmm, I wonder why he was so keen not to introduce her to us.’ Jeremy was watching her with a triumph that was unmistakable, and it didn’t take a genius to see what he was thinking. Even so, Kelly had to clench her teeth to stop herself retorting when he said with mock concern, ‘Perhaps I’d better make a few enquiries. You can’t be too careful, you know, Kelly, a woman of your wealth. Okay, I know he has all the trappings of success, but I would hate to see you taken in—again,’ he added deliberately.

  Kelly went white. The patio seemed to be whirling round, the noise of the party roaring in her ears. Struggling to re-assert her normal control, she managed a husky, ‘What do you mean, “again”?’

  ‘Oh, come on, darling!’ Jeremy was really enjoying himself now, and Kelly wondered how long he had been storing up this bitterness, this need to cause her pain and inflict hurt. ‘Old Ian told me—we were at a conference together, we’d had a few drinks, you know how it is. I happened to mention you, and he told me about what happened with Colin, how he deliberately set you up—married you for your money.’

  ‘Jeremy!’ Sue sounded shocked and angry, but Kelly was past caring. Amazingly, the old story lacked all the old pain. She couldn’t care less what Jeremy had heard and it no longer caused her the slightest pang that Colin had not loved her. What she did feel was regret that she had been foolish enough to fall for what she could see now had been a clumsy charm at best, and sorrow that s
he had let it spoil so much of her life.

  ‘It’s quite all right, Sue,’ she managed to say evenly. ‘Jeremy’s quite right, Colin did marry me for my money.’

  ‘But Jake isn’t the slightest bit like Colin,’ Sue broke in hotly, ‘and I can’t think why Jeremy should suggest that he is. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he beat you at golf,’ she suggested to her husband, who, Kelly was half amused to see, was regarding her with stupefied disbelief.

  ‘You ought to apologise to Kelly, Jeremy,’ Sue continued. ‘Oh, saved by the bell,’ she added. ‘Here’s our host.’

  ‘Susan, my darling, you grow more lovelier every time I see you!’

  ‘It’s lovely of you to say so, Carne,’ Sue responded to the well-built greying man who was embracing her, ‘but we both know you’re a liar.’

  Carne Wrayman released her to shake Jeremy’s hand and then turned to Kelly, his eyes narrowing in appreciation as he smiled at her.

  ‘You are here alone?’ he questioned when Sue had introduced them.

  ‘She is now,’ Jeremy responded viciously. ‘She’s lost her partner to an eighteen-year-old blonde.’

  ‘Is that so?’ The hooded eyes studied Kelly again. ‘Well then, his loss is my gain. Allow me to escort you to the bar. Sue, you know the way.’


  ‘SO, and what do you do with yourself when you’re not holidaying on Corfu?’ Carne Wrayman asked Kelly.

  They were sitting by the patio drinking the driest Martinis Kelly had ever tasted in her life. She had lost sight of Sue and Jeremy, and Jake was just a painful blur on the edge of her vision; someone she tried not to see, just as she tried not to see the blonde girl clinging to his side.

  ‘I…I’m in publicity. I have my own company,’ Kelly told him briefly.

  ‘A career woman.’ Again that sharply hooded glance. ‘You know, I find that an incredible turn-on,’ Carne Wrayman told her, leaning closer to her, ‘and as it happens I’m looking for someone to handle the British side of the publicity for a documentary we’re doing. Fancy the idea?’

  ‘I’d have to know more about it,’ Kelly told him cautiously. ‘You see, we only handle work we feel we can give our best to. I don’t believe in making false promises to my clients, and the promises I do make to them I want to be able to fulfil.’

  ‘Baby, I like what I’m hearing,’ Carne breathed fervently. ‘Something tells me that you and I are going to get along real fine together. Look, why don’t we blow—we can go out to my yacht and talk this thing through. We’ll get more privacy there. What do you say?’

  Kelly’s first instinct was to refuse. She glanced across the sea of faces and saw Jake dancing with the blonde girl, her body pressed provocatively close to his, and jealousy burned through her. Like an animal in pain she wanted only to escape, and her eyes were still on the slowly gyrating couple as she murmured distractedly, ‘Yes…yes…fine…’

  ‘Good. Good, let’s go, then.’ Carne Wrayman got up, and Kelly followed him along a path which led down through the gardens, giving the odd tantalising glimpse of the moon-silvered sea and the huge white yacht lit from stem to stern and drifting languidly at anchor.

  ‘Hop in,’ Carne instructed, indicating the small powerboat tied up at the jetty. ‘The water in this cove is quite deep,’ he told her as they headed for the yacht, ‘but unfortunately not deep enough for the Mary Belinda—after wife number three I got sick of changing her name, and so, although the real Mary Belinda has long since left my life, her namesake remains.’

  The small motorboat chugged noisily towards the yacht, Kelly entranced by the reflections of the stars in the midnight-blue water, the swell caused by the boat crested silver by the new moon.

  ‘I’ve given the crew the night off,’ Carne told her as they went on board. He saw Kelly’s bemused expression and grinned boyishly. ‘Would you like to see over her? She’s one of my favourite toys, and I’m idiotically proud of her.’

  With good reason, Kelly reflected half an hour alter as Carne escorted her into what he described as the ‘main saloon’. As large and lavishly equipped as a small drawing-room, the room was decorated in soft shades of green and toning cream.

  ‘It’s…it’s like something out of a film,’ she managed at last. ‘A floating stately home!’

  Carne laughed. ‘You should see some of the yachts that put in to Corfu, they make mine look very small beer indeed—but I still haven’t shown you my own private quarters.’

  Still smiling, Kelly followed him through a door and into a corridor carpeted in a thick pale cream carpet.

  As Carne opened a door she caught a glimpse of the room beyond it; almost stark in contrast to the pastel prettiness of the ‘saloon’, it was furnished in a richly Oriental style with a low bed, and several items of beautifully lacquer-worked furniture, including an antique ‘medicine cabinet’ and a screen. The walls were painted a vivid scarlet, the bed covered in black silk.

  ‘Very sybaritic,’ she murmured to Carne, ‘and quite different from the rest of the décor.’

  ‘Yes, I had my own suite redecorated when I divorced my third wife. Do you like it?’

  A tiny frisson of warning prickled along her spine. There was a look in Carne’s eyes that she recognised and distrusted.

  ‘It’s…it’s very eye-catching,’ she told him, edging back towards the door. ‘But hardly the place to discuss business.’

  ‘That depends,’ Carne told her, watching her intently. ‘On the business, and the potential business partners. I could put a good deal of work your way, Kelly…’

  ‘Provided, in return?’ she questioned evenly. She was furiously angry, not so much with Carne as with herself by being stupid enough to get herself in this situation. Good heavens, how many times in the past had she been faced with the same potential hazard? More than she cared to remember, but this was the first time she had been idiotic enough to walk blindly into the trap as naïvely as a child.

  ‘My dear,’ Carne protested, ‘need we be so crude? You aren’t doing much for my ego, you know.’

  ‘I shouldn’t think it’s in much danger from anything I can do,’ Kelly said drily. ‘I’m not stupid enough to believe you have any interest in me as a person, Carne. This is simply an exercise in power politics.’

  ‘How astute you are!’ He drawled the words pleasantly enough, but there was a look in his eyes that warned Kelly that he was annoyed. ‘I thought you and I were two of a kind.’

  ‘Perhaps it would be as well if I left…’

  ‘From whose point of view?’ There was no humour in his smile now. ‘If you return to the villa now, having been seen leaving in my company, my guests, and even worse the inevitable press photographer who always manages to gatecrash these do’s, will jump to the correct, and as far as I’m concerned, humiliating conclusions. I don’t want you making a fool of me by going back to the villa now, Kelly. You’re a grown woman, you knew what you were doing when you agreed to come here with me. Okay, now you’ve changed your mind, but I haven’t changed mine.’

  He lunged for her, taking Kelly off guard as he grasped her arm. Pain jerked up her arm as he dragged her towards him. The urbane host who had amused and entertained her was gone. In his place was a man governed by vanity and obsessed with his public image, and she had been a fool not to read the truth in the weak mouth and greedy eyes before.

  Common sense warned her against panicking; that was just exactly what he hoped she would do. Cool cynicism would be a far more effective weapon if she could just keep her head long enough to use it.

  ‘Look,’ she pleaded, playing for time, ‘I can understand why you’re annoyed—and some of the blame does lie with me. I wasn’t thinking properly and I genuinely thought you did want to talk business. Let’s go back to the villa together—that should stop any gossip, and I give you my word as far as I’m concerned that will be the end of the whole thing…’

  ‘Your word!’ He laughed harshly. ‘My God, if there
’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that when a woman gives you her “word”, it means exactly nothing. And besides,’ he said softly, ‘I want you. You’re a very desirable woman—my kind of woman.’

  ‘But you aren’t my kind of man,’ Kelly retorted pointedly. ‘And now—I’m leaving, with or without you.’

  ‘Brave words,’ Carne sneered, ‘but unfortunately for you no more than that. You can’t start the boat without the ignition key, which I have here.’ He patted his pocket. ‘And besides, you couldn’t outrun me, Kelly, but go ahead if you want to.’

  His voice told her that he would love her to try and make a run for it; that he would enjoy her panic and fear, and even though inwardly she was tense with anxiety and dread, Kelly forced herself to stand her ground and say calmly, ‘I have no intention to staying here with you, Carne—or of allowing you to make love to me.’

  His sneer almost made her panic.

  ‘How are you going to stop me?’ he mocked, tightening his grip on her arm. ‘And don’t start telling me you’ll cry “rape”, Kelly. The courts are getting tired of trumped-up charges from women who change their minds at the last minute.’

  White-faced and thoroughly frightened, Kelly was forced to admit the truth of his comment. Even if she were to accuse him of rape she doubted that her case would stand much chance of success in court. By her own folly she had placed herself in a vulnerable position. She had come willingly with Carne to his boat, after all.


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