Kate s Dilemma
116 pages
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116 pages
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What happens when two people who are both of the same mind—this being to steer well clear of emotional entanglements—are struck down by instant attraction. Kate last met Liam when she was bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. A gangly, uncertain fourteen year old, going through the painful problems associated with growing up, she took an instant dislike to Liam, who made fun of her. When her recently widowed sister talks her into reluctantly accompanying her to her brother-in-law’s home, which was built by its owner, architect Liam, Kate falls in love with the house and, unfortunately for her, finds that she soon has corresponding feelings for the man who owns it. Meanwhile, Liam cannot believe that the tall, insecure teenager he met at his brother’s wedding years ago has blossomed into this beautiful, talented woman. His inbuilt antennae that had served him well, stood every chance of being annihilated if he didn’t watch out.

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 mars 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773622514
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Kate’sDilemma
Challenge theHeart Book 3
By TriciaMcGill
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB978-1-77362-251-4
Kindle978-1-77299-182-6
WEB978-1-77362-252-1
 
Amazon Print978-1-77362-253-8
 

Copyright 2015 byTricia McGill
Cover art by MichelleLee
 
All rights reserved.Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no partof this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced intoa retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the publisher of this book.
 
 
 
 
Chapter One
 
“I think youshould take Bart up on his offer. It will do you good to get awayfrom the house and all the memories.” Kate delivered this piece ofadvice to her sister, who had reacted glumly to the good-naturedinvitation delivered in the morning’s post.
Shaking backher mass of unruly hair, she unfolded from a yoga squat and kneltbefore Viola’s chair.
“But what aboutyou, Kate? I can’t go off and leave you here kicking your heels,especially at Christmas. You gave up your flat to come and staywith me. I’ll only go if you come with me.” Viola patted Kate’shand. “I need a chaperone. It wouldn’t be proper for me to stayalone in a house with two men.”
A trace of asmile quivered on her soft mouth, and Kate darted her a look ofsurprise. That was the first semblance of a smile she’d worn sinceher husband’s death.
Kate knew shewould do as her sister asked—she always did, but arguednonetheless, “You have to be joking. A chaperone—in this day andage?” She pushed herself up, and walked away. “Anyway, it’s notBart’s house. How would Liam fancy the idea of two women dumpingthemselves on his hospitality?”
Kate was sureLiam wouldn’t be too enthusiastic.
Viola waved ahand. “Nonsense. I’m sure Liam wouldn’t have allowed Bart to extendthe invitation if he didn’t agree. Besides, Kate, I want you withme. I don’t know how I would have managed without you sinceCharles’ death...”
Kate rushed tokneel in front of Viola again, squeezing her hands gently. Sixmonths after his passing Viola still mourned deeply. She’d gone alittle crazy at first and become painfully thin, making Katefrantic with worry over the sadness that hovered over her.
When herhusband of twelve years died, Kate feared for a while that Violawould follow him to an early grave. She’d helped Charles in hisimporting business. When it was sold, no sooner had Kate moved inwith her than Viola eased back into the old mode where Kate wasonce again her fortification against the world.
Kate couldn’tsee herself becoming totally dependent on a man. Early on she’ddecided it was better not to give up too much of herself. That wayshe couldn’t get hurt. Truth was she was terrified of getting hurt,and doubted she could stand the pain of losing someone sheloved.
Their parentswere besotted with each other. They now lived in Queensland, andKate always felt like an interloper in their home in the northernAustralian state. She and Viola had declined their invitation tospend Christmas with them.
Now thisinvitation had arrived from Charles’s brother, Bart. Kate thoughtit would be just the thing for Viola. Bart, a widower, and his sonGrant, now thirteen, lived down the coast with his younger brotherLiam.
“Tell youwhat,” Kate suggested. “Give Bart a ring. See how he takes the newsthat your sister might be coming with you, and if he thinks it willbe all right with his brother, I’ll consider it. Don’t forget Ihave this job interview in the New Year.” She shrugged. “I’m at aloose end till then.”
 
* * *
 
“Have you everseen anything so beautiful?” Kate looked toward the stretch ofgolden sand and beyond, where a turquoise sea glittered with a fewyachts moving listlessly on its placid surface.
“I’m glad wetook the coast road. The inland road would have been faster, butwouldn’t have been so pleasant.” Viola pointed to a container shipgliding across the bay. “I wonder where that’s off to.”
“Probably goingto some far away port.” Kate smiled as she slowed to let a familyof holidaymakers cross the road. Viola had definitely perked upsince Kate agreed to accompany her. With the last minute rush topack she’d almost been her old self.
Viola touchedKate’s arm. “Take the next left. Then first right, and Liam’s houseis along on the right.” Kate followed her instructions, and thenslowed when Viola said, “It’s that one with the wrought iron gatesand high fence.”
She drovethrough the open gates, where a small plaque on one post declaredthat this was Allawah . A tree spread high and wide over thered brick pathway and Kate pulled up beneath its blossom-packedbranches.
“It’s lovely,”she murmured, getting out of the car to look up at the ramblinghouse of mellowed brown brick and weathered wood. Miniature palmsand ferns grew lushly around the shaded courtyard sheltering theentrance. The scent of blossoms permeated the warm air. Althoughthe neighbouring houses were within shouting distance the foliagemade her feel as if they were on a remote tropical island.
Kate shieldedher eyes as she looked up to an unusual turret atop the gabledsecond storey above the treetops. “It’s wonderful.”
Viola gave hera pleased look.
Kate’s skinprickled as she experienced an odd sensation. It was rather likereturning home after a long trip. Viola had been here many timeswith Charles, but Kate had never been to Liam’s house, and neverwanted to come here, given that they took a dislike to each otherat their last meeting. Now she felt as if, like a floundering ship,she’d found her way to a safe haven.
The door openedwide, and Bart stood there, smiling. “Hello there,” he saidpleasantly. “It’s turned damned hot. Come in, ladies, where it’scooler.” He ushered them inside. Flourishing plants in terra cottaand brass pots graced the slate-tiled hall, and that feeling ofhomecoming intensified. “I’ll bring your luggage in when you’ve gotsettled. I’m sure you’re thirsty.”
All thebrothers were good-looking in varying degrees. Charles, atforty-eight, had been seven years older than Bart. Kate estimatedLiam’s age at about thirty-six or seven. She hadn’t set eyes on theyoungest Austin male since Viola’s wedding day.
“Welcome toAllawah.” Bart still grinned as he shut the door.
“That’s alovely name,” Kate said. “What does it mean?”
“It’sAboriginal for rest and stay here, and we hope you’ll do just thatfor as long as you wish. Liam had to go to Melbourne.” He answeredthe question uppermost in Kate’s mind. But not for anything wouldshe have asked. “He’ll be back in time for dinner. He left me incharge of my lovely visitors.”
Bart pushed hisgrey-streaked hair back as, with boyish enthusiasm, he ushered theminto a lounge-room that spread over two thirds of the ground floor.The shortest of the brothers, he was an inch shorter than Kate,thickset and very fit-looking.
Cane chairs anda sofa with brightly patterned cushions sat randomly about a highlypolished floor. Scatter rugs gave it an air of comfort andhomeliness. Huge windows brought the lush garden inside and morepot plants gave it the same feeling of welcome.
“Please sit,”Bart offered.
Kate settled onthe deep cushions, glancing at the paintings, mostly landscapes,adorning the walls. A big rug of autumn tones sat in front of thesliding doors overlooking the patio and back garden, where swallowsdipped and dived among the foliage, chased by a pair of brilliantgreen and red parrots.
“It’s sobeautiful here.” Bart’s grin widened at Kate’s remark.
“It is ratherspecial, isn’t it?” he agreed.
The furniturewas at a perfect stage of comfort and goose bumps prickled the backof Kate’s neck as she concluded that she would love this place tobe a part of her life. She was growing more entranced by the minuteby a sense of tranquillity she’d never known before.
“Now, let meget you both a drink.” Bart’s voice broke into her thoughts.
Kate feltunsure of these peculiar feelings. Oddly, she’d never wished topersonalise the flats she always rented, offering the excuse thatif a job came up in a far-flung city she could drop everything andtake off. But, now, suddenly she was settling back here like ahoming pigeon come to roost.
Perhaps becauseher senses were heightened, she was acutely aware of the reverencewith which Bart made sure her sister was comfortable. His smile,amiable as he looked at Kate, became altogether different when helooked at Viola.
He’s in lovewith her.
The knowledgehit Kate squarely in the middle. She smiled inwardly. How long hadhe felt this way? No wonder he’d been so eager to get her here.
“Grant will behome from school in a few days,” he said over the serving benchdividing the kitchen from the lounge-room. He poured drinks andscooped in ice cubes.
The kitchen wasalso enchanting, with a riot of flowers spilling from hanging pots.Lavender and pink, blue and purple—a rainbow of gorgeous colours. Apine dresser lined with bright crockery and a rack above thesplit-level stove holding copper pots and pans testified that thiswas truly the home of an artist with a love of colour.
“He’s settledinto his new school at last, but we had a rough patch at first,”Bart went on. Kate smiled at him as he brought the drinks in tothem and sat beside Viola on the sofa. “You know what it’s likewith kids. They never can make up their minds what they want fromlife.”
Kate shruggedand shared a look with Viola. Neither of them had the slightestidea what pleased or upset a thirteen-year-old. Viola murmuredsomething about children being hard to understand.
“Are you sureLiam doesn’t mind having both of us to stay?” Kate asked as theysipped their drinks and the birds filled the air with liquidsong.
“He’s as happyas I am,” Bart said enthusiastically.
I wonder,thought Kate cynically.
“As you knowhe’s working from home.”
Kate knew hewas an architect.
“As long as wedon’t interrupt him while he’s in his office he doesn’t give a figwho stays here. Our Liam’s the strong silent type.” Bart smiled.“Unfortunately his reticence to conform is often mistaken forarrogance.”
Kate nearlysnorted. In her opinion he was downright arrogant, and nomistake.
“If he appearsto be a bit like a bear with a sore head at times, you must ignorehis moods—as I do.” Bart stood and took their empty glasses fromthem. “I can assure you he’ll be as happy as I am to have youhere.”
Kate hid asmile as he came back to sit beside Viola, who looked more fragilethan ever amid the plump cushions. At twenty-six Kate was twelveyears younger than her, but had always been her protector. Althoughshe was a successful businesswoman, Kate found her sister immaturein some aspects. Perhaps she was to blame, for treating her as ifshe might break under the slightest pressure.
“We’ll soon putthe roses back in your cheeks,” Bart pledged as he peered closelyat her. “But you’ll have to watch that you don’t get too much sun.Being near the beach has many advantages. But the sun can be deadlythis time of the year, and the winds are often strong.”
They chattedfor a while longer, and then Bart showed them to their rooms on theupper floor. There were four bedrooms, each pair with an adjoiningen-suite. Kate’s room delighted her. A pretty green and beigebedspread matched the drapes framing a wide window. She could justglimpse the sparkling sea over the tops of the tea trees clumpedalong the foreshore.
Afterunpacking, she decided on a quick shower. A cooling breeze blew inthrough the window as she pulled on a cotton dress with narrowshoulder straps and a softly bloused bodice. Her skin glowedpeach-like after the shower, so she applied a minimum of make-up,then caught up her hair on either side of her head with green combsthat matched the sprigs of flowers on her dress.
As she wentdown the stairs she admired the paintings high on the walls. By thesounds coming from the kitchen, Kate guessed Viola was helping Bartwith the meal. It was good to hear Viola’s laugh. Kate feared for awhile that she would never hear it again.
“Ah, there youare, and looking as pretty as a picture.” Bart looked at heradmiringly before returning his attention to the food on thebench.
Kate perched onone of the high stools and crossed her legs, pushing her hair awayfrom her neck with a negligent gesture. Viola’s eyes held an amusedglint, and Kate was glad she’d come. It would be worth putting upwith Liam’s arrogance to see her sister happy again. She alreadylooked more relaxed, her limp barely noticeable, as she potteredabout the kitchen. The slight knee deformity that she was born withoften made her limp when she was tired or filled with tension. Katesmiled to herself. It would be very nice to have somebody else whowas as willing to cherish her fragile sister as she was.
“Do you prepareall the meals?” Kate asked.
Bart shrugged,waving the knife he held. “We have a grand lady, Daisy, who comesin daily to clean up after us untidy men. But, whether I like it ornot, it usually falls to me to cook.”
“Aha, itbecomes clear. Now we know why you’re happy for us to stay.” Katetouched a finger to her nose thoughtfully. “You’re sick of cookingand you thought that by having two of us you’d be able to pass thechore over.”
“Plot uncoveredbefore it even got off the ground,” Bart said with a grin. “Damn.Actually, if I do say so myself, I’ve become a not so bad cook.Nothing extravagant, you understand. But at least I don’t serveshepherd’s pie and sausages every day.”
“Blast.” Katesighed. “Both my favourite dishes.”
“In that casewe’ll have them every second day,” Bart agreed. “Liam’s in theshower, by the way. He arrived home while you were upstairs. He’slooking forward to renewing your friendship, Kate.”
Kate made asmall sound of disbelief and both Viola and Bart turned theirattention to the pans on the stove. Kate wasn’t sure how Liamviewed their brief meeting, but was sure he’d forgotten it.
As if conjuredby her thoughts he entered the room, silently, with the grace of apanther. Kate hadn’t been quite sure what to expect, but Liam wasjust as good-looking as she remembered. In fact, apart from a fewgrey hairs at his temples, he’d hardly changed.
Always angular,he seemed taller than ever. Used to being as tall as her dates, itwas a pleasant surprise to be confronted by a man she could look upto. Their eyes clashed across the space separating them and hisexpression proved him as arrogant as ever. Kate tried to come toterms with a peculiar tingling sensation that had begun in theregion of her navel and was now sending messages to every nerveending in her body.
At Viola’swedding they took an instant dislike to one another. At fourteen,Kate, in the painful throes of growing up, felt like a greatgalumphing fool in her bridesmaid’s dress of aqua and white. Liammade fun of her, and she’d fled to the bathroom in tears.
Kate hated theidea of being a bridesmaid. Self-conscious of her towering height,she’d felt a fool next to her dainty sister. Her hair had been herone saving grace, its rich auburn splendour setting off the aqua inthe gown. Liam had been full of mocking contempt and her alreadytouchy adolescent ego was thoroughly shattered by his remarks. Katevowed she would despise him forever.
At the time,Liam was engaged to a curvaceous blonde who peered down her snootynose at Kate in open amusement, until Kate felt like tripping herup to wipe the sneer off those near-perfect features. Theengagement had been called off—by Liam, so Viola said. Kate neverfound out the reason. In fact had not a smidgen of interest in theloathsome man’s life, except to feel an immense sense ofsatisfaction that the stuck-up blonde had been thrown over.
Kate liked topaint in watercolours and Liam dabbled in oils in those days. He’dscoffed at her naive attempts to paint, and was, in her teenageopinion, a fatheaded idiot with less brain than a flea.
Unsmiling, Liamnow held out a lean-fingered hand, first to Viola, then to Kate.His grip was firm, his fingers warm. That tingling now went up herarm and her cheeks began to glow.
He was staringat her as if she’d just stepped out of a space ship, the strangeglint in his silver grey eyes unnerving. With a trembling touch shepushed back a tendril of hair that had escaped from one of thecombs. The impact the house had on her was now multiplied athousand fold by its owner.
“You’vechanged.” He released her fingers, and no smile of welcomeaccompanied his softly drawled statement.
“I’ve grownup.” Kate was annoyed with the way her voice shook slightly. Noother man affected her like this.
“So I see.”
Still he didnot smile, merely nodded as his eyes roved over her with a kind ofinsolence that made her quiver. Why was he being so...?Antagonistic, was the best way she could describe his attitude.
Bart was sowrong. Liam didn’t want her here.
Kate began tofeel not much different from the self-conscious teenager she’d beenat their last dreadful meeting. To her consternation sheblushed—she could feel the colour flooding her face and neck. Witha slight lift of the brows he studied her openly, which onlyworsened her confusion. She felt a tingle run through her. Then heshrugged, and she watched the heave of his broad shoulders.
A boldlyarrogant male in his prime. There was a glint of steel in his eyes.Her insides tried to unknit themselves from the tangle they foundthemselves in.
At last a smilecurved his ruthless mouth, as he said, “I remember you as a veryprecocious youngster with too much puppy fat.”
“I see youhaven’t changed. I recall you were a rude man without a hint ofcompassion for a girl going through the agony of adolescence.”
Liam laughed,pushing back a wayward lock of the mane that curled around histough face. The soft beige shirt emphasized his wide chest and thelightweight brown trousers lovingly embraced long legs and thighs.Goodness—what was wrong with her? She never usually let physicalappearance affect her in any way. Leaning back against the cornerof the dresser, he hooked his thumbs into the side pockets of histrousers and nonchalantly crossed one ankle over the other.
“You laughed atmy, what you thought, funny name,” he reminded her equably. “And Iexplained I was named after our Irish grandfather. You wanted toknow why I wasn’t called William, the English equivalent.” His grintransformed his face, making him appear much younger. “I wanted tobox your pink ears, for I was very self-conscious about my unusualname for a long time after that.”
“Oh yes,” Katescoffed. She couldn’t believe he remembered so many details oftheir encounter. He’d confounded her by actually recalling morethan she did.
“Shall we sitdown?” Bart gave a small cough as he interrupted them. Kate turnedto stare at him. She’d forgotten he and Viola were present whileher attention had been so focused on Liam.
As she slidfrom the stool Kate was shocked to feel small and vulnerable besideLiam. His brows went up as he gestured for her to go before him tothe recess at the far side of the lounge-room that held a diningtable with eight chairs. The table was set with a fine linen clothand silver cutlery. The scent of the roses in the vase at itscentre filled the air.
Kate caught aspeculative glance Viola exchanged with Bart and wondered atit.
The topicsranged far and wide during the meal. Liam proved to be veryknowledgeable on any subject that obviously interested him. Katealways prided herself on being freethinking and independent, but heknocked spots off her. He was the epitome of arrogant independenceand it was impossible to imagine him wanting or needing the help ofanother.
He reminded herof a lone wolf.
 
* * *
 
“That wasdelicious. I couldn’t eat another thing,” Kate protested when Barttried to press another slice of apple pie on her. “I’ve alreadyeaten far too much, and if you keep feeding me like this during mystay I won’t be able to fit into any of my clothes.”
“Don’t tellfibs,” Viola chided with a smile. “You’re one of those lucky peoplewho can eat to their heart’s content and never put on anysurplus.”
“Ah, but mylong legs take a lot of filling up,” Kate shot back, blushing anewwhen Liam’s eyes assessed her from across the table.
She was nonearer to solving the puzzle that was Liam than she was at thebeginning of the meal. Could it be her imagination or did he seemto resent her presence in his home? Why had he extended theinvitation if that was the case?
“Seeing asViola helped you prepare that delicious feast, Bart, I consider itonly fair that I wash the dishes,” Kate said, rising to clear thetable.
“We just stackthem in the dishwasher and leave them for our good lady who comesin the mornings to clean and tidy up.”
“I insist ondoing it,” Kate said. “It’s the least I can do.”
“In that caseI’ll help you,” Liam astounded her by offering.
Kate’s thinveneer of composure threatened to crack as he followed her to thekitchen. His presence was overpowering and she feltridiculous—carrying on like a schoolgirl in the throes of her firstcrush, for God’s sake. She glanced at his profile while he dried adish as if he did this simple task every day.
She let thesuds out and dried her hands, then asked, “Where does this go?”holding a dish aloft.
“I’ll put thethings away,” he said amicably, surprising her even more when heknew where everything should be stashed. He picked up a glass andpolished it, then held it up to the light to examine it.
“Do you do thisoften?” she wondered.
“Never.” Hislop-sided grin did strange things to her. As he stretched to open ahigh cupboard, the fabric of his shirt strained over powerfulshoulders and surreptitiously Kate fanned her hot cheeks.
“Then yourDaisy is going to be searching for all the plates and stufftomorrow.”
“No doubt.” Heglanced swiftly about. “Still, she’s used to cleaning up after usmen. She’ll sort it out.”
“You’re anarchitect?” Kate could have kicked herself for blurting that out.Fidgeting with her bracelet, she tried to control her blush,without luck.
He leanedagainst the bench, arms folded, surveying her with those piercingeyes again. “Yes. I work under contract. I have my office here.” Henodded vaguely towards the other side of the house.
“I’d like tothank you again for allowing us to stay in your home,” she said,throat gone stupidly dry.
“Good God, youmake me sound like I’m doing a great favour. Viola’s one of thefamily. She’s welcome to bring whoever she pleases with her.”
Kate wasunaccountably hurt. It was clear he didn’t care one way or theother whether she was here or not. “I realise I’m not as welcome asher.”
“Any woman asbeautiful as you, Katie, is more than welcome in my home,” he saidsoftly, making her feel hot and bothered again.
Anyone wouldthink she’d never been complimented on her looks before.
But somethingtold her that Liam wasn’t the type to spout useless phrases justfor the sake of it. This thought baffled her.
 
Chapter Two
 
Liam couldn’tbelieve it. Talk about an ugly duckling turning into a swan. Hersnub nose with its sprinkle of freckles was all that saved her facefrom perfection. The combination of auburn hair and tall lissomfigure must attract men wherever she went, yet she was blushinglike a schoolgirl, as if unused to male attention. Wide eyes werewatching him with wariness at odds with the luscious fullness ofher mouth. The dress she wore graced perfect curves, a slim waist,and full breasts.
The beautyshe’d become stunned him. This truly magnificent creature, hesurmised, was totally unaware of the effect she had on people. At agood five foot eight, she was above average height and moved withthe grace of a ballerina. And those large luminous eyes weresomething else.
Viola toldthem, on one of her visits, that her sister’s looks had set many amale heart thumping. Liam secretly scoffed at that—but now couldsee exactly what she meant.
He backed offat the look that came into her eyes, his inbuilt bachelor’santennae going into action, when she murmured, “Why thank you,”flashing him a brilliant smile that sent his libido intoover-drive. “Viola was very sick, as you know, and this break willdo her the world of good. I gave up my flat to stay with her, andshe wouldn’t come without me.” Her shoulders lifted in a shrug andthe small movement entranced Liam. There was an innate grace abouteverything she did, be it moving a limb or a lip. “It was nice ofyou to invite her.”
Liam grinned atthat, not missing the way her eyes settled on his mouth. Could shebe as stunned by her reaction to his every move as he was by hers?“I have had many epithets bestowed on me in my time, Katie, but nice has never been applied to me before.”
Her mouthcurved in a soft smile.
“It’s amazing,the difference between you and Viola. People must find it hard tobelieve that you’re sisters.” Liam remembered hearing that fromViola.
Liam knew thatViola’s mother died when she was eight and her father remarriedpractically straight away. Four years later Kate was born.Apparently Viola’s mother had been tiny, but Kate inherited her ownmother’s height. Viola told them once that when Kate was ten they’dbeen the same height, but then as Kate shot up, she’d been hersister’s defender.
“You could saythat.” Her nose wrinkled charmingly. “When I was fourteen andfifteen, plump and gawky, I was very envious of her fragility.”
“But when thismiraculous metamorphosis of yours took place you could hardly havebeen envious then, Katie. You’ve grown into a very lovely woman,”he drawled.
Her mouthmoved, and his stomach did a somersault as she licked thoseinviting lips. For a moment she stared mutely at him.
“I could get tolike these compliments,” she said huskily.
“You’re notgoing to tell me you aren’t quite used to them. Many men must haveadmired you.”
“Oh yes, many,”she said with an enigmatic little smile.
“How’s Violareally coping without Charlie?” he asked, thinking it wise tochange the subject.
Sadness cloudedher eyes. “I think it’s getting better. I liked Charles. Although Imust be honest and admit I resented him at first. But once I sawhow he loved and cherished her I grew to respect him.”
“He was a goodman.” Liam swallowed. His own grief still weighed heavily on hisheart.
“Yes.” Shepaused, as though realising his distress. “Did you design thishouse?” Her beautiful eyes wandered over the kitchen. “It’s alovely home.”
Liam lookedaround, seeing it in a new light. “Do you really like it? Idesigned every detail down to the last brick. I guess it’s thematerialisation of a dream.” He knew he sounded like a proud parentpraising his favourite offspring, but couldn’t help it. “Do youstill paint?”
Kate wasastonished again. Her painting was something he’d ribbed her about,too. “Mm, I still like working in watercolours. How about you?Still dabbling in oils?”
“Yes, I stillpaint.” He jabbed a long finger in the air. “You can see myamateurish efforts filling the walls.”
“Amateurish?”Kate chuckled. “Please don’t be falsely modest on my behalf.”
He shrugged,grinning. “I have little spare time now, unfortunately. One has topay for success, and in turn it gives one back monetary success.”His sigh was exaggerated.
“Yes, it mustbe hard being rich as well as successful,” she agreed.
He winkedmischievously. “Come, I’ll take you to my studio.” He waved a handfor her to precede him from the kitchen.
Viola and Bartsat close together on the sofa, deep in conversation. They didn’tlift their heads as Kate and Liam passed on their way across theroom. Kate had noticed a spiral staircase at one side of the patiothat faced the rear garden and Liam now stood at the bottom,gesturing for her to go up.
Halfway up, shealmost tripped, but before she could grab the rail Liam steadiedher with a warm hand on her arm and one on her waist. Once again,her reaction to his closeness stunned her and a tide of colourflooded her face as she tried to free herself. But he insisted onholding her steady until they reached the top. On the landing heflicked a switch, flooding the circular studio with light.
“Oh, it’s theturret. How lovely.” Kate let her gaze wander around the room.
“Like it?” heasked, jamming his hands in his trouser pockets.
“Yes. Verymuch.” The top half of the walls was glass, the lower part taken upwith canvasses leaning against the wall. Beams rose to a point highabove them. Kate went to stand before a half finished seascape onan easel in the middle of the room. “How lucky you are.” Going toone of the windowpanes she pressed her forehead on the glass. “AndI’ll bet the view from here is wonderful.”
“It is.” Hestood beside her and her heart thundered as she felt the heatcoming off his body. “You’re more than welcome to come up here anytime you wish as long as you’re staying here,” he said softly. Katesmiled and he watched her mouth, his eyes taking on a strangeglint. “I’m afraid I don’t get as much time as I’d like to paintthese days, but feel free to use the studio.” He returned hersmile, his sensual lips softening. “We won’t get in each other’sway. But please don’t poke your nose into any of my things.”
Kate noddedseriously, “You needn’t worry about that. I notice your studio isin immaculate order. I will try to keep it that way. Thank you forthe offer.”
Her mouth wentdry as he brushed a knuckle down her cheek, then took a tendril ofher hair and twisted it around his finger. “I can’t believe howmuch you’ve changed,” he murmured, pulling on the tress gently.
Had Kate’slimbs been capable of functioning she would have put some spacebetween them. But her feet were stuck like limpets to the floor.His touch sent her heart off at an erratic beat.
When his handsframed her face she felt her world tilt. His thumbs brushed at thecorners of her mouth before moving to remove the combs at the sideof her head, sending her hair tumbling about her face. Mutely shestared at him.
“Did youconsider me an ogre last time we met?” he asked.
“To be frank,yes.” Kate cleared her throat when her voice came out husky. “Youlooked at me with such open contempt. I thought you a conceitedfool. I was eager to learn and you dashed all my enthusiasm withyour smart remarks about my artistic abilities—or lack of them asyou saw it.”
“Hmm. I was anegotistical bore, wasn’t I?”
“Yes, you wererather horrible.” Kate snatched back her combs and refastened themin her hair. He made a small sound of repentance then played hisfingers down her arms, closing them about her wrists.
This man wastoo overpowering by far. Kate swore beneath her breath when thecorners of his eyes crinkled. The arrogant so and so was laughingat her.
“I wonderedwhat that leggy blonde saw in you,” she said sweetly, and anexpression of pained indignation settled on the tough features.“What happened to her, by the way? I thought you were going to bemarried.”
“Yes, well...”He shrugged carelessly. “I broke off the engagement. Have you everheard that old proverb: A young man should not marry yet, an oldman not at all? I heeded that advice. Don’t get me wrong, I lovewomen. But as for marrying one, forget it!”
“Ah, at leastwe agree on something.”
“We do?”
Kate nodded.“Truth is, I’m not the marrying kind either.”
“Great.” Hewinked again, his mouth curving in another mischievous grin. “Ithink I should enlighten you about something, Katie. That connivingpair downstairs have picked you as a likely candidate to end mybachelorhood. Mark my words, they’ll pitchfork us together at everyopportunity.”
“Is that so?”Pretending a horror she was far from feeling, Kate gasped. Theprospect of spending time in his company grew in attraction by theminute.
“How wonderfulwe’re of the same mind about preserving our single status. Now wecan enjoy each other’s company and know exactly where we stand.”There was a teasing light in his grey eyes.
Offering hishand, he turned to switch off the light, then preceded her down thespiral staircase.
 
* * *
 
As Kate stoodbefore the open window in her bedroom, she went over their earlierconversation. The sigh of the sea whispered faintly on the coolbreeze. It was a glorious night with a star spangled sky, thesilvery radiance of the moon casting mysterious patterns across theroom.
Going to flopon the bed, she sighed. Liam might be well in charge of thesituation and know exactly where he stood, but she felt as confusedas a child. There was something potentially dangerous about the wayhe’d played her along in Viola and Bart’s company, conveying tothem that he knew what they were up to. And he’d made it clear hewould get every ounce of pleasure out of it as he saw fit—and nevermind about Kate’s feelings.
That was themain problem—she had no idea exactly what her feelings were. Whenhe touched his lips to her wrist before she’d come upstairs to bedshe’d been unable to read the message in his eyes, but her heartthumped like a drum and her nerves pulsated.
Here was avirile, handsome man, and cocksure into the bargain. She’d comehere fully expecting a cool reception, so sure that he’d forgottenher, yet he’d easily resurrected all her uncertainties. No man hadcome within a mile of arousing her senses as Liam did, and she’dconvinced herself that she didn’t care. Her career took precedence.But her reaction to him astounded her as well as bamboozlingher.
 
* * *
 
Kate steppedback a pace to view her work. Yes, she was pleased with the overalleffect. People commented that there was a hazy, dreamlike qualityto her paintings. She was trying to get a bird down on paper, withthe light touching his feathers to a misty shade of yellow.
“That’s verygood.”
She nearlydropped her brush. “Good grief,” she grumbled. “You scared me. Doyou have to creep up on people like that?” She glared at Liam overa shoulder.
“I wasn’texactly creeping. You were so absorbed in your work you wouldn’thave heard a navvy in hob-nailed boots.”
“I guess not.Do you really like it?” A surge of pleasure washed over Kate.
“I never lie,”he assured her, studying her watercolour closely.
The contrastbetween their work was huge. Liam loved daring and harshcolours—his trees bold and stark, whereas hers were smears of huesas seen through a mist. His scenes were an exact copy but hers weremystical and vague, as if viewed through gauze.
They had barelysaid two words to each other in the last few days. He worked hardin his office on the ground floor, and so far had offered noinvitation to enter that hallowed place. When he wasn’t in hisoffice, he was off to Melbourne, driving a nifty sports car,sometimes going off as early as seven, leaving a hint of tangyaftershave about the house to tantalise Kate when she came down tobreakfast.
He’d dined outevery evening this past week, and Kate was assailed by a nigglingannoyance. Was he deliberately avoiding her? Bart told them hisbrother was never short of female escorts. But after a few veiledinquiries Kate gleaned that he’d never been seriously involved withanyone since the break-up with Blondie .
Bart wasconvinced Liam would never marry. The brothers were all sodifferent. Charles and Viola’s marriage had been happy andfulfilling.
Kate couldn’thelp but wonder what turned Liam off the idea of marriage. Still,wasn’t she as opposed to it—with no solid reason, except that thethought of tying oneself to another for life seemed too risky toher? So many of her friends tried the marriage stakes and failedmiserably—usually leaving small children to suffer the anxieties ofbeing torn between two people who each cared for them in their ownway.
“I’m glad youtook me up on my offer of coming up here to work.” Liam went tolook out the window, showing her his broad back.
“Thanks forletting me. It’s a great place to paint.”
“Isn’t it? Ionly wish I didn’t have so much work on at the moment. We couldspend more time together.”
Kate’s surprisemust have showed, for as he turned back to her his brows shot up.“I didn’t expect you to spend every waking moment with me. Afterall, I’m just a blow-in. It was a good chance to get Viola awayfrom surroundings that brought her nothing but pain.”
“Yes, I can seethat. She’s a nice woman. Charlie was lucky.” He went serious for amoment and Kate bit her lip. She tended to forget that he’d lost abrother. “She and Bart are getting along like the proverbial houseon fire, aren’t they?”
“They certainlyare. Bart’s a good man.”
Bart was onlytoo pleased to keep Viola company. The pair strolled often alongthe foreshore. Bart was ever attentive to Viola’s needs. They spenthours sitting beneath the trees in the garden, discussing sharedtastes in music and books. Bart had apparently taken leave from hisjob and was devoting all his time to Viola, who seemed to bequietly gaining some of her former contentment.
“I’ll leave youto it, then,” Liam disappointed her by saying. “Unfortunately, Ihave a lot on down in my office.”
When he’d gone,Kate stared pensively at the painting before her. The room seemedempty and lonely without him in it. Shrugging off the stupidfeeling, she returned to her work.
 
* * *
 
Kate had takento going for a brisk walk after breakfast, before it got too warm,but the closer it got to Christmas, the more crowded the beach was.She decided if she wanted to miss the hordes of morning joggers shewould have to rise earlier and walk before breakfast. It seemedthat Liam never missed his early morning run, and some days was outwhen the sun had barely risen.
Barefoot, sheran down the stairs and slipped silently out the back door, thensat on the step to pull on her jogging shoes. The sun was justslanting across the garden as she unfolded and stretched her armsabove her head.
“Goodmorning.”
Kate gave astartled squeak when Liam appeared beside her.
“Consideringyour size, you sure know how to move with stealth,” shemuttered.
“It seems wehave the same idea in mind. Why don’t we go together?”
Kate poked hersunglasses down the neck of her tee shirt and nodded. “Why not?Although you’ll find me a bit slow for you. I usually only walkfast. So if I slow you down, don’t wait for me, just go onahead.”
His hair waslonger than she expected of a professional man, and he ran hisfingers through it while he regarded her. “Fair enough.” In bluedenim shorts and a baggy shirt he looked more like a surfer than aman who spent his life working over plans.
“Come on then.”He was off before she’d managed to have second thoughts.
It was one ofthose perfect summer mornings, with barely a breeze to ripple thesurface of the water. Once on the beach they overtook a few peoplewalking their dogs. A dozen pelicans took off, annoyed at havingtheir morning disturbed. Liam seemed to be pacing his stride tohers and Kate glanced sideways at him. Lithe and lean, heovershadowed any man she had ever come into contact with.
After a whileher calves began to ache, and although he appeared to be merelystrolling, she felt as if she was struggling through mud in aneffort to keep up with him. “I’m spoiling your run. You go on,” shepuffed.
“Not on yourlife.” He chuckled and shook his head. “It’s not every morning Iget the chance to walk with such a very attractive woman.”
“Don’tpatronise me.” She stopped to draw in a few gulps of air.
“Patronise you?I don’t get it. Don’t you know you’re beautiful?” His lips curvedsensuously. “You, my dear, are gorgeous. You have fabulous legs.And on top of your obvious attributes you are one talentedlady.”
Kate stared athim. “Talented?”
“Yes, ofcourse.” His lips twisted wryly. “Have you had lessons since welast met?”
“Yes, and I’vetaught myself a lot from books on the subject. But I’m nowhere nearas talented as you. That seascape you’re working on is verydramatic. And I love some of your works around the house.”
“Thank you. I’mnot as cautious as I once was.” He looked genuinely pleased withher praise.
“Cautious? You?You don’t know the meaning of the word.”
He grinned, andshe smiled back. “Yes, believe it or not. I experiment more. Youshould try it. Be more daring, try new things.”
Kate wonderedif he was talking about her art, or if he was hinting at somethingelse entirely. “I’m as daring as the next person,” she huffed.
He sent her anenigmatic look. “I’ll have more spare time in the next fortnight.My current contract is about finalised. I’ll be able to relax more.Then you can show me just how daring you are.”
They hadstopped and he seemed even larger out here in the open, the newlyrisen sun behind him, outlining his body with a haze of pink. Wasthat a proposition?
Hands on hips,he asked, “Do you like to sail?”
“I’ve nevertried. But I like the sea and I did a little water skiing a fewyears back.” As she pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, he rana hand through his own disordered thatch.
“I have a smallboat. I’ll take you out in it.”
“I’d like thatvery much.” Kate realised that was the truth. In fact she wanted tospend as much time as possible in his company.
“Great.” Theybegan to walk again. “You intend to stay a few weeks, don’tyou?”
“Well.” Katerolled her shoulders. “I was going back to town in January.”
“Oh? Aboyfriend waiting for you?” he asked mildly.
“No. There’s noone special at the moment.” In fact, there had been no one specialfor quite a while, if ever.
“You surpriseme.”
“Why?” She gavehim an indignant glance. “You don’t want to be tied to one woman.Is it so hard to believe I should like my freedom, too?”
“Not at all. Ijust thought the men would be queuing up at your door.” He laughedat the face she made. “So, hasn’t there ever been anyone who sweptyou off your feet?”
“There was onethat was more special than the others.” Kate shrugged. “It was overages ago. He wanted marriage and children.” She wasn’t about toreveal that they’d quarrelled because Keith had been possessive andwanted her to give up work even before they’d set the date for thewedding. Kate couldn’t bear being so stifled. And she’d admittedlong ago that it hadn’t been love on her part. If it was true loveas touted in romance books she would have been prepared to makemore sacrifices.
“And we’veestablished you want neither.” His eyes took on that strange glintagain. “At least you don’t want the ties of marriage, so I assumeyou don’t intend to become one of those single mothers whoabound.”
“Not all womenare frantic to be some man’s slave,” she said airily. She wouldlove to have babies, but had given up expecting the man of herdreams to materialise.
“Quite.” Hegrinned, halting her with a hand on her arm. “Quit scowling,” headmonished. “I’ve one of the keenest senses of self-preservationyou could ever come across. You don’t have to preach to me aboutthe desire to remain self-reliant, Katie. So, why do you have to goback in January?”
“I have a jobinterview. I’ve been working for a publicity agent, but she’sdecided to uproot and move to New Zealand.” Kate waved a handtowards the water as if New Zealand was over in that direction. “Ireally liked that job. I had the option of going with her.”
“So, why didn’tyou choose to?”
Kate pushed hersunglasses up with a finger. “I wouldn’t leave Viola. Especially atthis time.”
“Yes, I seeyour point. She’s the leaning type, isn’t she?”
Kate lookedsharply at him. “I don’t mind my sister being dependent on me.”
“Of course youdon’t. I wasn’t suggesting there was anything wrong with thesituation. I was merely stating an opinion. I find your devotion toeach other admirable.”
They turned forhome, saying little on the way back. The new tension that hadsprung up between them was something Kate couldn’t put a nameto.
 
* * *
 
Three daysbefore Christmas Bart picked up his son from boarding school. Grantwas tall for a thirteen-year-old, already reaching his father’sear. It soon became obvious that he didn’t seem to hit it off toowell with his father, but obviously worshipped his Uncle Liam.
“I do believeGrant has a crush on you, Katie,” Liam declared the next morning asthey left at sunrise for their morning walk. As if by unspokenagreement they both emerged from their bedrooms at the sametime.
“Rubbish. He’sjust tongue-tied. He barely said three words to Viola either.”
“Take it fromme, lady, that little trick of yours when you licked your lips atdinner last evening had his eyes nearly popping out of his younghead. Beware, the lad’s already head over heels in love, so if youdon’t want to lead him up the garden path, watch what you do withthat tongue of yours.”
Kate stared athim. “You’re joking. I’ve never led a man anywhere, let alone upthe garden path. And as for leading an innocent boy astray, what doyou take me for?”
The door openedsuddenly behind them, and the subject of their conversation cameout, asking sheepishly, “Mind if I tag along with you?” His eyeswere riveted on Kate’s legs, bare below her shorts.
“Of course not,old son,” Liam agreed, his brows reaching his hairline as he gaveKate a look that spoke volumes.
The next dayfollowed the same pattern. Kate was sure Liam was overdramatisingthe situation, but nevertheless tried to keep from being alone withGrant. The last thing she needed was a teenage boy falling in lovewith her. Luckily Grant spent as much time with Liam as he wasallowed.
Viola’sdepression had vanished and Kate knew it was a good idea to comehere. Bart was a kind-hearted soul and his attentions had helped toboost Viola’s flagged spirits.
 
* * *

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