Her Wealthy Husband Margaret Mayo Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR It was a case of instant attraction for Australian millionaire Bryce Kellerman. Lara was so totally unlike the affected gold-diggers he had to fight off every day! Lara thought Bryce didn't have a penny to his name.Lara had grown up poor and married once before for financial security. It had been a disaster! Now, her only criteria in a husband was honesty. So how was Bryce going to reveal his secret? “Have you ever been married?” He didn’t want to talk about himself, he wanted to talk about her. He wanted to find out everything. “No,” Bryce answered. “I’ve never found the right girl.” “Really?” Her deep blue eyes widened. “I find that difficult to understand.” Did that mean she was interested in him despite her apparent indifference? He felt a sudden hormonal surge. And then berated himself because he knew nothing about her. For all he knew she could be the same as the rest. “It’s not because I’ve been short of choice,” he said. “There’s simply been none whom I’ve wished to marry.” “You have very exacting standards, is that it?” she asked, her fine eyebrows delicately arched. “I suppose so.” “And you’ve never found Miss Perfect?” “Not yet.” But maybe today he’d got lucky…. Born in the industrial heart of England, MARGARET MAYO now lives in a Staffordshire countryside village. She became a writer by accident, after attempting to write a short story when she was almost forty, and now writing is one of the most enjoyable parts of her life. She combines her hobby of photography with her research. Her Wealthy Husband Margaret Mayo www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) For Sheila and Hank With happy memories of a wonderful holiday CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER ONE HE HAD the most compelling eyes Lara had ever seen—an unusual smoky grey, almost blue and yet not quite. They were the best part of his face, lashes long and thick, matching the raven blackness of his hair. His attention had immediately focussed on her and maybe she should have felt flattered, most women would, but instead it gave her an uncomfortable feeling. She turned to her aunt, found that she was watching this man watching her, a faint, approving smile on her lips. It was Helen’s Welcome to Australia party. ‘You need to get to know people,’ she’d said, and against Lara’s wishes had invited half the neighbourhood. ‘That’s Bryce Kellerman.’ Her aunt turned and looked at her. ‘Come, let me introduce you.’ And before Lara could demur she’d taken hold of her arm. The grey eyes never wavered as they approached. The man eased himself away from the veranda rail, straightened his back, and waited. He was casually dressed in beige moleskins and a brown open-necked shirt that hid none of his tightly muscled body. A deep tan suggested he worked outdoors most of the time. And he was tall. Lara hadn’t realised quite how tall until she stood in front of him. She was five-nine and he towered over her. Six-four she guessed, at least. Six feet four inches of raw, male animal. Not particularly handsome, a slightly hooked nose and a strong square jaw, and a straight mouth that needed to be more generous. It was the eyes that had it. Close up she could see the dark outline that defined them, the unusual mixture of blue and grey, and the almost brazen confidence that he could fell with one swoop any woman he set his sights on. And she was in the firing line! ‘Lara, I’d like you to meet Bryce Kellerman, long-time friend and jack of all trades. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Bryce, this is my niece, Lara Lennox.’ ‘Good to meet you, Lara.’ Grey eyes locked into hers as he extended his hand, reading her soul, instantly knowing everything about her. Lara looked away. She glanced down at their hands instead. Hers looked pale by comparison. His fingers were square-tipped, nails neatly manicured; he had broad hands, strong hands, more used to manual labour than caressing a woman. The thought horrified her the instant it was born and she snatched away. He gave a faint, knowing smile, as if well aware of her thoughts. As if! No man could possibly know what another person was thinking. Nevertheless it was the impression he gave. He was a woman’s man without a doubt. But not this woman! He didn’t interest her, no man did. She’d had enough pain to last her a lifetime. Her own fault, admittedly, but it was a mistake she didn’t intend repeating. And if her aunt had it in mind to do some matchmaking she was deeply mistaken. ‘I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.’ Helen smiled widely and happily. She was in her early fifties, slim, blonde, looked about forty, had been a widow for ten years, and Lara couldn’t understand why some other man hadn’t snapped her up. Lara had been six when Helen emigrated from England seventeen years ago and her aunt hadn’t been home since, not even when her husband died. She had no children but had many friends and loved Sydney so much that she said she’d never move away. But she’d always kept in touch with her sister, phoning almost every week, and when Helen had heard that Lara’s marriage had unhappily ended she’d immediately invited her to stay with her for as long as she liked. She’d even sent money for the plane ticket. ‘So, how are you enjoying Australia?’ Bryce Kellerman’s voice was so deep that it vibrated through Lara’s bones. It was as though her body was the string of a guitar and he’d plucked it. Feeling this man’s dynamic sexuality was something she hadn’t expected and didn’t want. Escape was uppermost in her mind. ‘Very much,’ she said with a reluctant smile, ‘although I’ve hardly had time to form a proper opinion.’ ‘The heat’s not too much for you?’ He was leaning back against the veranda rail now, relaxed and utterly sure of himself, one brown-booted foot crossed over the other, thumbs hooked into a wide leather belt. ‘You’ll need to take care.’ Lara nodded. ‘I’m doing that.’ Because of her fair skin she ladled on lashings of sun screen whenever she went out and always wore a wide-brimmed hat. It was something her aunt had instilled into her the moment she’d arrived. ‘English roses, that’s what your skin reminds me of.’ ‘I bet you say that to all the girls,’ she retorted sharply. Such compliments annoyed her. They were so glib, so practised; Roger had been a past master at it. ‘Only if it happens to be true—which it is in your case,’ he said softly, brushing the back of one finger across her cheek. A gentle touch and yet Lara felt as though he was branding her and she turned her head swiftly away. ‘You don’t like me touching you?’ He sounded as though he wasn’t used to this sort of reaction. ‘No, I don’t, as a matter of fact.’ Lara held his gaze, ignoring her quickened heartbeats. ‘I’ll try to remember that.’ But it didn’t sound as though he was going to make much of an effort. ‘Do you know that you look remarkably like your aunt?’ ‘More like her than my mother actually,’ she agreed. ‘They’re sisters.’ ‘The same blonde hair, the same wide-spaced blue eyes. Your mouth is a little more—generous.’ He smiled. ‘I was going to say kissable but something tells me you wouldn’t like that?’ ‘You’re learning.’ ‘What’s put you off men?’ ‘Who says I’m off them?’ Her shoulders stiffened automatically. He was too perceptive by far. Well-shaped dark brows rose and disappeared into the thatch of hair that fell across his brow. ‘You’re giving a very good performance of not liking them. Unless it’s me you resent? Am I missing something? Have you heard something bad about me?’ ‘I didn’t even know you existed until a few seconds ago,’ she answered tartly, and he’d have done her a favour if he hadn’t turned up. There was something about Bryce Kellerman that Lara instinctively distrusted. She felt that he was the sort of man who would use women for his own purpose and then toss them to one side without a thought for their feelings. The way he’d deliberately set his sights on her proved it. She was a newcomer, she was blonde and good-looking—she’d been told that enough times even though her mirror suggested otherwise. Her brow was too high, her eyes too big, her mouth too wide, and compliments that she knew were untrue didn’t please her. ‘And now that you know I exist?’ Brows rose laconically, smoky eyes showed dangerous interest. ‘I think I’ll steer clear,’ she answered decisively, and looked deliberately away. ‘There’s someone else I want to speak to. If you’ll excuse me…’ But Bryce Kellerman was not ready to let her go. ‘I haven’t finished with you yet.’ Lara frowned meaningfully down at his hand on her arm and then looked straight into his face, not speaking until he let her go. ‘Thank you,’ she said with exaggerated politeness. ‘What do you mean, not finished? I wasn’t aware that we’d started anything.’ ‘Helen wants us to become friends.’ His smile was slow and confident. ‘It would be rude to disappoint her.’ It was Lara’s turn to lift her brows. ‘My aunt can want all she likes. I choose my own friends. She had no right discussing me.’ ‘She didn’t.’ ‘Then, how—?’ ‘Your aunt is of the opinion that it’s time I found myself a wife.’ ‘And I somehow suspect that she thinks I should find another husband,’ added Lara wryly. All of a sudden they both burst out laughing. ‘I think we should at least pretend that we like each other,’ said Bryce in a wickedly loud whisper. ‘It will make Helen’s night,’ she agreed. ‘We don’t have to go on with it afterwards.’ ‘Just for tonight?’ Bryce nodded. ‘Shall we take a walk in the garden?’ He held out his hand and after a second’s hesitation Lara slipped hers into it. Glancing back towards the house she saw Helen watching them, saw her aunt give a nod of approval, and after that they were out of sight. They were two souls together in the blackness of the night. They could hear the music and voices and laughter but could see no one, and no one could see them. Without warning Bryce took her into his arms, and to Lara’s horror she felt an immediate response. Since the breakdown of her marriage she’d avoided men like the plague, so why this sudden reaction? Why this tingling in her limbs? Why were her pulses pounding? It had to be because she felt flattered. What woman wouldn’t feel a stirring of her senses when a man as magnetic as Bryce Kellerman sought her out? But he was mistaken if he thought she would let him kiss her. It might be a magical, moonlit night. It might be warm, sensually warm, an evening made for love, but it was not for her. ‘Is this a typical Australian greeting?’ she asked, wrenching free. ‘I hadn’t realised I was supposed to fall into the arms of every man I met.’ ‘My apologies.’ He gave a curt little nod. ‘Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me about this guy who’s ruined your life?’ He steered her towards a bench a few feet away. ‘I thought you said my aunt hadn’t told tales,’ she retorted sharply. His broad shoulders lifted. ‘Helen is the soul of discretion. It’s nothing more than a calculated guess, but an accurate one judging by your reaction. He can’t be much of a man to let go a beautiful woman like you.’ More flattery! Lara felt like kicking him. ‘As a matter of fact, I left him,’ she informed Bryce tightly. Far below, on the opposite bank of the river, house lights twinkled like giant stars. The sky was a deep midnight purple, there was hardly a sound except for the murmur of voices coming from the veranda. It was an idyllic spot and she didn’t want this man messing up her mind with talk about Roger. ‘How long were you married?’ ‘Three years.’ ‘What was he like?’ Lara gave him a hard stare. ‘What’s it to do with you?’ ‘It’s therapeutic to talk about your problems.’ Her eyes flashed. ‘I don’t have a problem. Except that you’re being a nuisance asking questions I don’t want to answer.’ A faint smile softened the hard lines of his face, made him look more understanding and approachable. ‘That’s the trouble, Lara, you’re bottling up your hurt. It does help to talk. How long’s it been since your divorce? ‘Nearly four months.’ ‘So the wound’s still raw?’ Lara nodded. She didn’t look at him, didn’t want to see any compassion in his eyes; she was thinking back to the day she’d declared to her school friends that it was her ambition to marry a rich man. The youngest of five children, brought up by a single parent, Lara had sworn that she was never going to get into that same situation. She had known what poverty was like, how her mother had struggled to make ends meets. It wasn’t for her. She’d stayed on at school to get her A levels then had found a job with a PR company, and it was here that she had set her sights on Roger Lennox. Roger had owned the company. He’d had pots of money and wasn’t bad-looking either. The trouble was, he’d known it. He’d had every nubile female employee drooling over him, and he’d lapped it up. Lara had known that she would have to do something outstanding to make him notice her. Her opportunity had come one day when she’d been crossing the car park and had seen her employer sitting in his low-slung silver convertible. ‘Goodnight, Mr Lennox,’ she called cheerfully. ‘Oh, er, goodnight.’ He looked up abstractedly. His car, for some reason, didn’t want to start. He was both embarrassed and angry—and so would she have been if she’d bought such an expensive car and it failed her. She turned back to him. ‘Can I help?’ Roger had blond hair and blue eyes and was slightly overweight, but his charm made people forget it. He was like a Greek god, some of the girls claimed. Those blue eyes looked at her now scornfully. ‘You’re a woman.’ ‘It doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about engines.’ Lara tossed back. Being the only girl in a family of boys she had spent a good part of her life watching them pull cars apart and put them back together, helping whenever they’d let her. She knew as much as any man about the way a car’s engine worked. Roger Lennox frowned. ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Of course I am. Open your bonnet.’ She didn’t dare to think that he would, but amazingly he did as she asked, although his frown deepened and she could see that he wasn’t sure it was wise. And when he got out to inspect what she was doing, when one thigh brushed against hers, Lara felt the full impact of his sexuality. It was what every girl in the building fantasised over. ‘You sure you know what you’re doing?’ he asked. ‘I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t.’ She tried to sound nonchalant but it was difficult. He was attractive without a doubt, and he did quicken her heartbeats, but more importantly he was part of her strategy and her hands trembled as she checked that everything was as it should be. ‘Would you like to try it again?’ she asked huskily, mentally crossing her fingers that it would start. She wanted to make an impression, not a fool of herself. The engine sprang into life at the first turn of the key. Roger Lennox looked at her disbelievingly as she appeared from behind the bonnet. ‘What did you do?’ It was clear he had never tinkered with a car engine in his life. Lara shrugged. ‘The distributor lead had worked loose.’ ‘I’m impressed. I didn’t know women knew about these things. Let me give you a lift home, it’s the least I can do.’ Triumph welled in her. She couldn’t have orchestrated this any better if she’d tried. She dropped the bonnet, wiped her hands on a tissue, and slid into the seat beside him. ‘Where are you?’ Bryce Kellerman’s deep voice broke into her thoughts. Sitting beside another man. Ruining my life. Roger Lennox had sent her flowers the next day, causing a furore in the office. It had been good manners, or so she told herself, to go and thank him. One thing had led to another. Before long he’d asked her out. They got married eight weeks later. She had achieved her dream. ‘I was thinking about Roger,’ she said quietly, ‘about the day I met him.’ ‘Ah!’ It was as though he saw everything. ‘I thought I’d met the man of my dreams.’ ‘Love at first sight?’ Hardly, when it was Roger’s bank balance she’d been interested in, but she wasn’t admitting that. It was too embarrassing by far. She’d heard the saying that money didn’t buy happiness, hadn’t believed it, but now knew it was true. She’d made a foolish mistake. ‘I thought so,’ she answered weakly. ‘So what went wrong?’ Still more questions. If she wasn’t careful he’d end up hearing her life story. She’d never met a man who showed this much interest. She lifted her shoulders. ‘This and that. Actually he was a control freak.’ And that was putting it mildly. Roger had ruled her life. ‘And I can see that you’re not the type of girl who likes to be controlled,’ he said with a measured smile. ‘In my opinion no one should have their spirits repressed. I would never do that, especially to a woman. I like them feisty.’ And Lara Lennox was most definitely feisty. Bryce loved the way her eyes shot daggers, the proud tilt of her beautiful face, the way her tantalising body stiffened and rejected him. He wanted to break through those defences; he wanted to show her that not all men were the same. At least her husband hadn’t repressed her altogether. She’d had enough strength to get out of a marriage that wasn’t working. When Helen had invited him to this party he hadn’t been sure that he’d wanted to meet her niece. Helen was an inveterate matchmaker: she’d been trying for years to find him a wife, and he was tired of her game. If and when he ever married he wanted the girl to be of his own choosing. He wanted to make quite sure that she wasn’t interested in him for all the wrong reasons. He’d had a few near misses; he’d allowed himself to be fooled by a pretty face and a willing body; he’d even almost married on one occasion, only finding out in the nick of time what she was like. He was beginning to wonder whether all women were the same: whether a rich, successful husband was their prime target in life. This girl sitting beside him was the most intriguing he’d met in a long time. Maybe it was because she was so anti-men that he found her challenging. Maybe because she was so hauntingly beautiful. And he hadn’t been lying when he’d said her skin was like the petals of an English rose. He wanted to touch, to stroke, to feel its silken, velvety texture. The sun had never burnt it; it had never felt the incredible heat that could do so much damage here in Australia. ‘Tell me,’ she said now, ‘have you ever been married?’ He didn’t want to talk about himself; he wanted to talk about her. He wanted to find out everything. Helen had been vague, and even Lara seemed disinclined to give much away. ‘No,’ he answered. ‘I’ve never found the right girl.’ ‘Really?’ Her deep blue eyes widened. ‘I find that difficult to understand.’ Did that mean she was interested in him, despite her apparent indifference? He felt a sudden hormonal surge. And then berated himself because he knew nothing about her. For all he knew she could be the same as the rest. ‘It’s not because I’ve been short of choice,’ he said shortly. ‘There’s simply been none whom I’ve wished to marry.’ ‘You have very exacting standards, is that it?’ she asked, her fine eyebrows delicately arched. ‘I suppose so.’ ‘And you’ve never found Miss Perfect?’ ‘Not yet.’ But maybe today he’d got lucky. If she took after her aunt then he’d have no complaints. Helen was a wonderful, caring woman. Money didn’t mean anything to her. She always said that it was a person’s mind and attitude that counted. ‘This is a beautiful spot,’ said Lara. ‘So different to what I’m used to. I live in a town with no river or lake for miles. Water is so relaxing, don’t you think?’ If you sat and looked at it, yes, he supposed. But not when you had an exciting girl by your side. ‘Some people find it that way,’ he agreed. ‘But you don’t?’ ‘You know what they say about familiarity.’ ‘I’d never get fed up of this. Nor Darling Harbour. My aunt took me there the other day. I don’t know where it got its name, but it’s very apt. I didn’t want to come away.’ ‘I’m glad you like it. One of our early governors, Sir Ralph Darling, renamed it after himself. The Aborigines called it Tumbalong.’ He would have liked to take her there but knew it was too soon. She was being nice for her aunt’s sake, but after tonight—would she want to see him again? For the first time in his life Bryce Kellerman felt unsure of himself. CHAPTER TWO FIVE days had gone by since the party and Lara had heard nothing from Bryce Kellerman. To her dismay and increasing horror she felt disappointed, and couldn’t understand why since she’d made it plain that she didn’t want to see him again. Wasn’t she better off without a man in her life? Helen also commented on Bryce’s lack of communication. ‘Perhaps he’s busy. We’ll give him a few more days and then invite him to dinner.’ Lara hadn’t mentioned Bryce to her aunt so she knew that this was Helen up to her tricks. But even so, the thought of seeing him again sent her heart into overdrive. It also annoyed her that he’d caused a chink in her carefully erected armour. She’d need to be careful. As it happened Helen didn’t need to invite him. The next day, when they got back from a sightseeing trip, there was a message for Lara on the answering machine. ‘I’d like to take you out for a meal tonight,’ Bryce said, his deep, gravelly voice sending a shiver down her spine. ‘I’ll pick you up at eight. Any problems, give me a ring.’ Although her aunt was all of a fluster, Lara played it down. ‘I don’t want to go; I don’t want to get involved,’ she declared firmly. Helen shook her head. ‘Bryce will never hurt you.’ Maybe not! But why take risks? And yet even as she thought this Lara heard herself say, ‘I suppose one date will do no harm.’ ‘It will give you a chance to get to know him properly,’ reassured the older woman with a pleased smile. ‘If I was twenty years younger I’d marry him myself.’ ‘Who’s talking about marriage?’ demanded Lara, eyes sparking indignation. Helen grinned. ‘I simply wanted to let you know what a good catch he is.’ ‘I came here to get over one man, not get hooked by another,’ she retorted, cross with her aunt for letting her imagination work overtime. But when Bryce came, looking devilishly handsome in grey linen trousers and a blue short-sleeved shirt, Lara couldn’t stop her heart quickening. Her head told her not to get involved, to be wary every step she took, but there was no escaping the fact that he was an exciting male who aroused her in every way possible. Not that it meant anything. Roger had thrilled her in the first few months of knowing him, and she really had thought she was in love—until she’d discovered what he was like. Her husband had stifled her feelings and emotions. He had used her. He’d made love when he’d wanted to, when he’d felt like it, her own needs and desires never entering into it. For all she knew Bryce could be the same. She daren’t risk it. For her date Lara wore a pale blue sundress with shoestring straps and a ballerina-length skirt, her corn-gold hair tied back in a blue scrunchie, wisps of fringe softening her hairline. Her only concession to make-up was a touch of lip gloss and mascara. She didn’t need anything else. Already her colour was heightened, her eyes bright with anticipation. Bryce’s smoky grey eyes made a slow, thorough inspection. ‘You look stunning,’ he said softly. Lara swallowed and tried to appear nonchalant. ‘This old thing, I’ve had it for years.’ ‘Whatever, the colour suits you. Hi, Helen, I promise to take good care of your niece.’ ‘I know you will,’ said Helen with a fond smile. ‘Lara has a key so you don’t need to bring her back early on my account.’ Lara frowned. ‘I will be early, Helen.’ ‘As you like, dear. Now you two run off and enjoy yourselves.’ Bryce’s car was an old black Ford and as he opened the door for her Lara couldn’t help remembering the day she had climbed into Roger Lennox’s car. She’d been so pleased with herself. Nothing had warned her of what was to come. She was more wary now, more attuned to the way a man’s mind worked. She had no intention of making the same mistake twice. To her delight Bryce took her to Darling Harbour, to a seafood restaurant overlooking the water. It was magical. A myriad lights shone around them—from the buildings, from the boats, from reflections in the water, from the indigo, star-hung sky. It was perfect. A night for romance! Lara shivered at the thought. ‘Tell me about this guy who let you down so badly.’ Bryce had ordered pre-dinner drinks and they’d chosen from the extensive menu. She closed her eyes, not really wanting to talk about anything that would spoil this moment in time. But Bryce was insistent. ‘You said he was a control freak. In what way?’ Lara shrugged. ‘He was a wealthy man but not a generous one. I had to account to him for breathing almost. He chose my friends, what I wore, what I did. He sold my car and kept making excuses for not buying me another, so I was trapped in the house unless he took me out. We lived miles from anywhere, not even on a bus route.’ ‘And you had no inkling before you married him?’ ‘I was swept off my feet. He owned the company I worked for. He indulged me; I was flattered; I was blinded by love.’ Change that to greed, she added silently, and it would be about right. She hadn’t been able to see any further than the pound signs. It was something of which she was now deeply ashamed. On the other hand it could have worked out, if Roger had been different. ‘Now it’s over and I don’t want to talk about him. It’s a part of my life I’d prefer to forget.’ ‘Do you still love him?’ ‘No!’ Lara’s answer was swift and fierce. Bryce crooked a dark brow. ‘It seems to me that you’re not letting yourself forget him. He’s there all the time, haunting your thoughts. You need a friend, someone to take you out of yourself, someone to confide in, laugh with, and enjoy the real pleasures of life.’ ‘And you’re proposing that you should be my friend?’ she said with derision. It was laughable. Bryce Kellerman didn’t want to be her friend. Her lover perhaps. It was there in the way he looked at her, the way his eyes devoured her body. Were they the pleasures he was talking about? Friend? Huh! Who was he trying to kid? ‘I am,’ he said, his tone serious, ‘if you’d let me.’ But it would be hellishly hard. How could he be a platonic friend to a woman as sexy and desirable as Lara Lennox? It would be well-nigh impossible. He’d spent the last few days in some kind of hell. Should he see her again or shouldn’t he? He’d been let down so many times that he was almost afraid to let himself care for anyone else. It was an odd feeling to be afraid when he’d made such a success of his business life. But for Lara’s sake he was prepared to give it a go. She needed her faith restored in mankind. At least that’s what he kept telling himself. She looked at him long and hard, her blue eyes probing his. ‘I’ve never had a male friend. I didn’t think it possible. I always thought that sex would rear its ugly head somewhere along the line.’ Ugly? Sex? It was the most wonderful and natural thing in the world. Obviously her husband had screwed her up on that score as well. He drew in a steadying breath, hiding the anger he felt, the questions he still wanted to ask. ‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ he said. ‘Lots of women have male friends.’ ‘I don’t know any.’ ‘You don’t have to know them, Lara. Simply take my word for it. So what’s your answer?’ He held his hand out across the table. ‘Friends?’ He thought she was going to refuse, had virtually resigned himself to never getting to know this stunning woman any better, decided he’d be better off for it, when slowly, and with obvious reluctance, and a great deal of courage, she slid her hand into his. ‘Friends,’ she agreed huskily. ‘Nothing more.’ ‘It’s a deal.’ He enclosed her hand in both of his, feeling a desperate need to lean across the table and kiss her, seal their pact properly. Instead he looked deeply into her troubled eyes. What a beautiful shade of blue they were, cobalt perhaps, rich and unconsciously sultry, beckoning him without her knowledge. His male hormones wreaked havoc. What had he done? How could he go through with this? And how could he not? This woman had captivated him from the word go. It was with great difficulty that he released Lara’s hand. He could feel her stiffening, getting ready to pull away, perhaps even regretting her decision. He smiled, a wide, friendly safe smile. ‘You won’t be sorry.’ ‘I hope not.’ She fired the words at him, a warning glitter in her eyes. ‘Because I have no intention of letting another man mess me around. If you hurt me, Bryce Kellerman, if you go back on your word, you’ll find me a very dangerous lady. I wasn’t brought up with four brothers for nothing.’ He pulled a face, pretending alarm, loving her fiery nature. ‘I will never do anything to hurt you, Lara. I give you my word.’ He lifted his glass. ‘To us, to a true friendship.’ Lara clinked hers against it. ‘To friendship.’ And she allowed a slow smile to wipe the worry from her face. She was beautiful, he thought, absolutely ravishingly beautiful. He loved everything about her: her silken hair; her delectable blue eyes; the wide, sexy mouth that absolutely begged to be kissed; her slender body that he wanted to urge against him; high, firm breasts that tempted him through the thin cotton of her dress. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep his hands off her. ‘How long are you planning to stay?’ He didn’t realise how harsh his voice was until he saw her sudden frown. ‘I don’t know. Aunt Helen says for as long as I like.’ ‘Until you’ve got over your disastrous marriage? Is that it?’ ‘I guess so,’ she agreed. ‘Whereabouts in England do you live?’ There was still so much he wanted to know. ‘In the Midlands, near Birmingham. I share a flat with a friend.’ She shared! From choice or necessity? ‘Did you get a settlement from your husband?’ The second he’d asked he realised it was a very personal question, too personal considering they hardly knew each other. Fortunately Lara didn’t seem to mind. ‘I wanted nothing from him,’ she announced bitterly. ‘I walked into marriage with nothing, I left it with nothing. He didn’t offer anything, I didn’t ask. I was glad to be free of him.’ ‘Strong sentiments,’ he agreed, ‘but not very practical ones. He owed you something for the three years you gave him. Do you still work for him?’ ‘Goodness, no!’ she exclaimed hotly. ‘He made me give up my job when we got married.’ ‘What sort of a man is he, for God’s sake?’ Bryce was finding it difficult to contain his anger. ‘He doesn’t sound human. Didn’t your feelings, your needs, your rights, enter into the equation at all?’ ‘Do we have to talk about this?’ she asked, her eyes shooting dangerous sparks of fire. Bryce cursed his too-ready tongue and was grateful when the waiter appeared with their entråe. Lara’s baby octopus tart served with a Kakadu plum and chilli sauce had been served at exactly the right moment. She wished Bryce wouldn’t keep questioning her. It was only friendly interest, she knew, but some things were best kept private, and her catastrophic marriage was one of them. She ought never to have said anything, and she was definitely beginning to doubt the wisdom of agreeing to become friends. Bryce Kellerman was a dangerously sexy man; it might be impossible to hide the attraction she felt. It wasn’t love, could never be love, but she couldn’t rule out the possibility that she would enjoy him making love to her. In fact her body went warm at the very thought and she kept her head bent over her food so that he shouldn’t see the sudden surge of colour in her cheeks. But—so long as he stuck to his side of the bargain—there shouldn’t be a problem. The trouble was, would he? Or would he fall at the first hurdle? Would they both fall? Would the temptations of the flesh be too much for them? What had happened to the grim determination that had carried her through the dark days of her separation and divorce? She had vowed to let no other man near, not for a very long time, if ever. And now here she was, only months into her freedom, agreeing to be Bryce Kellerman’s friend. What sort of a friend, for heaven’s sake? A man as sexy as he couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of a platonic relationship. ‘You’ve gone very quiet.’ His deep tone startled her, made her look at him with wide, disturbed eyes. ‘I’m enjoying my food.’ ‘You’ve been attacking that poor octopus as though it’s still alive.’ ‘Oh, dear.’ She smiled suddenly. ‘Actually it’s very delicious. How’re your prawns?’ ‘As tasty as prawns in a lemon myrtle sauce can be,’ he answered with an approving nod. ‘You can never fault the food here.’ ‘You eat here often, then?’ With other women? By himself? It was a top-class restaurant. Surely a bit out of his league? ‘Only when I’m trying to impress.’ ‘You don’t have to impress me,’ she said with a quick smile. ‘It’s a pricey place, we can go Dutch if you like.’ He gave a disapproving wag of one finger. ‘Don’t insult me. I would never take out a girl if I couldn’t afford it. I’m not saying I’d do it every night, but…’ He let his words trail into silence. ‘I’m honoured, then,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ Their dishes were whipped away and their main course placed in front of them. They had decided to share a seafood platter. Lara tried to concentrate on eating but was acutely aware of Bryce watching her. Ignoring him was impossible and when their fingers touched as they both went for the same oyster, she drew back swiftly, feeling as though a savage volt of electricity had zapped through her. His eyes asked the questions not his voice. What’s the matter? What did I do? ‘That was silly of me,’ she said quickly. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Why are you so nervous?’ There was a rough edge to his tone now, a frown darkening his brow. ‘Don’t you think I’ll keep my word?’ ‘Of course.’ She grimaced and gave a weak smile. ‘But you’re not sure. You keep wondering whether you’ve made a mistake.’ He shook his head, mouth suddenly grim. ‘Maybe you have, maybe I made the mistake. We’ll call the whole thing off.’ ‘No!’ Lara surprised herself by the quickness of her response. ‘I don’t want that. I could do with a friend.’ ‘You have your aunt.’ ‘Yes, but she’s family, there’s a difference.’ ‘How?’ ‘If I say too much to her it might get back to my mother and brothers. They don’t know all the ins and outs of my marital problems. Actually my mother thought the world of Roger. She couldn’t understand why I walked out on him. She did everything she could to try and persuade me to patch things up.’ ‘You didn’t tell her the whole story?’ Lara shook her head. ‘No. She’d warned me about jumping so quickly into marriage. It’s what she did with my father. So I always pretended to be happy.’ ‘So what excuse did you give her for the divorce?’ ‘I just said I didn’t love him any more, that the magic had gone out of the marriage and I wanted out.’ ‘And she believed that?’ He looked faintly sceptical. ‘OK, I’ll accept that you can’t talk to your aunt. But if you’re going to behave like a skittish kitten every time we accidentally touch, then I think we have a problem, too.’ ‘It won’t happen again,’ she assured him, knowing that she sounded more confident than she felt. She wasn’t even sure why she was pleading for them to remain friends. It made no sense. As they continued to eat Bryce talked about his childhood. He was an only child and envied Lara her four brothers. ‘My parents both worked and I was left to my own devices most of the time,’ he said. ‘I’m not saying they didn’t love me, but they were so taken up with their careers that they didn’t spare me much time. I was very lonely.’ ‘Where are they now?’ ‘Dad died two years ago. My mother’s remarried and moved to New Zealand. He’s an OK guy and she’s happy enough. How about your parents?’ Lara shrugged and pulled a wistful face. ‘My father walked out just after I was born. My mother brought us up on her own. She never found another man. My brothers are married now with families of their own.’ ‘What did she think about you coming here? Did she want to come with you?’ ‘She was pleased for me. Aunt Helen’s my godmother and has always regretted that she’s seen so little of me. But my mother’s afraid of flying. She’s happy with her grandchildren around her. They go and see her most days.’ ‘Have you any children?’ Lara shook her head emphatically. ‘No, thank goodness.’ Roger had been definite about not wanting to start a family. ‘I can’t bear the thought of snivelling kids around me,’ he’d said. ‘You don’t want any?’ He looked at her long and hard, as if finding it difficult to understand. ‘Of course I do,’ she said quickly. ‘I’m just glad I didn’t have any with Roger. Because as sure as eggs are eggs he would have kept them from me once we divorced.’ ‘It might have helped your marriage.’ ‘Nothing could have helped that,’ she said fiercely. ‘It was the worst experience of my life. In fact it’s doubtful I’ll ever get married again.’ ‘That’s a mistake. Not all men are like your ex.’ ‘Maybe not, but I’m not prepared to take the risk. I shall get a new, better paid job when I go back to England. I shall buy my own place and answer to no one.’ A faint smile lifted the corners of his mouth. ‘What if you meet Mr Right? He’s out there for you somewhere, you know.’ ‘Maybe,’ she shrugged. ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. The way I feel at the moment men are at the bottom of my list of priorities.’ ‘You’ve allowed me into your life,’ he pointed out. Lara gave a wry smile. ‘Am I crazy, or what?’ Was he hinting that she couldn’t be as anti-men as she proclaimed? Was he hoping that their friendship would turn into something more? Had he tricked her? ‘You’re not crazy, Lara.’ His warm smile made her stomach muscles bunch. This was going to be so much more difficult than she’d first thought. ‘You’re a very lovely lady who’s gone through a hard time. And I’m going to do my best to restore your faith in mankind.’ ‘It’ll take a lot of doing.’ ‘I have the time.’ Lara began to feel uncomfortable. Best change the subject. ‘How did you meet my aunt? She thinks very highly of you.’ ‘As I do of her. She’s a great character—warm, kind, witty, charitable. We met at a mutual friend’s. I was fixing a door hinge and she asked whether I’d repair a broken rail on her veranda. We struck up a friendship and I go to see her whenever I can.’ ‘That’s kind of you,’ said Lara. ‘Actually I think she regards you as the son she’s never had. What work do you do besides helping my aunt out when she’s in need?’ She still couldn’t believe that all he did was odd jobs. He simply didn’t look the type. ‘All sorts,’ he declared with a vague shrug, pausing in the act of spearing a succulent prawn. ‘You can’t tell me you left school or college, or whatever, with no qualifications, no job in mind.’ She refused to accept that. He grinned wryly. ‘Well, let’s see. I started in law then decided it wasn’t for me. So I took a course in electronics, then computer programming.’ He studied the prawn on the end of his fork before popping it into his mouth. ‘If something interests me I find out all I can about it. I suppose I’m a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none. I’m a dab hand with a drill and a saw.’ ‘I see. Where do you live?’ The more they talked the more interested Lara became, and she was unaware that she was asking the same sort of questions that Bryce had fired at her. ‘I have a little place not too far away. I’ll take you there if you like?’ ‘Maybe one day,’ she agreed. But not yet, not until she got to know him better. Her aunt might trust him but it was early days. All Lara knew was that he’d eyed her lasciviously when they’d first met, and now he’d agreed to an innocent friendship. It didn’t add up. ‘You still don’t trust me?’ Lara was aghast that he’d read her thoughts. ‘What makes you think that?’ ‘The look in your eyes. Your husband really did a hatchet job on you, didn’t he? It’s going to be my pleasure to prove that I’m nothing like him. Tomorrow I’ll pick you up and we’ll go out on the harbour. Would you like that?’ Although Lara would have liked to say no, that it was too soon to spend so much time together, she found herself nodding. ‘I’d love it.’ He’d cleverly guessed she would be attracted by the harbour. His smile reached out and hustled her heart into overdrive, sent a hot, warning prickle over her skin, and for the rest of the evening Lara felt an awareness that was troubling. This shouldn’t be happening, she thought. I’m off men completely. What has this man got that is so compelling? It was an easy answer. He oozed sex appeal. But it was not only that. Most men who were good-looking thought they were God’s gift to women and expected to be worshipped. Bryce wasn’t like that. She had thought so in the beginning but was quickly discovering her mistake. He was forceful; he liked to get his own way—he’d shown that when he’d insisted they become friends—yet he was considerate too, more of a gentleman. He would never harm her, she was almost sure about that; her feelings would always be considered. Her aunt’s recommendation had been enough, but her own gut instinct confirmed it. At the end of the evening she felt mellow and happy, and much more relaxed than she had in a long time. Bryce dropped her off at the door with the promise to pick her up at ten the following morning. She thought he was going to kiss her, felt the rapid thud of her pulses as his head swooped low, but all he did was drop a light kiss on her brow. ‘I’ve enjoyed this evening, Lara,’ he said in his deep, toe-curling voice. ‘I hope you have, too?’ She nodded, suddenly shy. ‘I have, very much.’ ‘And I’m looking forward to tomorrow.’ ‘Me, too. You’re very kind. You don’t have to go out of your way to entertain me, you know.’ ‘Believe me,’ he said with a slow smile, ‘I wouldn’t do it unless I really wanted to.’ Those magnetic, smoky eyes of his darkened as he looked at her, sent tantalising shivers down her spine, twisted her stomach into knots. It was time to go in. She turned her key in the lock. ‘Goodnight, Bryce. Thank you again for a lovely evening.’ Helen was waiting up for her. Lara expected a rash of eager questions; instead her aunt said worriedly, ‘I’ve had a phone call from your mother.’ CHAPTER THREE LARA’S eyes shot wide. Panic set in. ‘My mother is all right, isn’t she? Oh, Lord, I knew I shouldn’t have left her.’ ‘Of course she’s all right,’ assured her aunt quickly. ‘It’s just that Roger’s been in touch and—’ ‘Roger?’ queried Lara loudly. ‘What the devil did he want?’ ‘He was asking about you. He apparently wants you back.’ ‘What?’ Her mouth fell open; her heart slammed into her shoes. ‘I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room as him. I hope my mother told him where to get off. Would you mind if I rang her?’ ‘I said you’d do it tomorrow.’ ‘I’m going out with Bryce again tomorrow,’ she said, remembering. Helen beamed. ‘You had a good time, then? He’s lovely, isn’t he?’ ‘Yes, he is nice,’ she agreed, ‘but I don’t want you getting any ideas, dear aunt. We’ve agreed to be friends, and that’s all.’ Helen’s brows rose, as if to say, How can two beautiful people like you not fall in love? But she made no comment, merely smiled. And when Lara went to bed she asked herself the same question. How could she stop herself falling in love with Bryce Kellerman? Lara looked in astonishment at the speedboat hitched up behind Bryce’s car. ‘You’ve surprised me. I imagined we’d be going on one of the harbour cruises.’ And she couldn’t help wondering how he could afford such a boat. These things didn’t come cheap. Obviously doing odd jobs paid better than she’d thought. ‘I wouldn’t have you all to myself, then.’ His voice was low and sexy and deeply meaningful. Alarm bells rang in Lara’s head. Had she underestimated this man? ‘It sounds as though your motives are not entirely honourable, Bryce Kellerman,’ she said sharply. Immediately his smile faded. ‘I can assure you that wasn’t my intention, Lara. I thought it would be fun. But if—’ She shook her head, instantly regretting her harsh words. ‘You don’t have to change your plans. It’s just that it wasn’t what I expected.’ Or was it that she was afraid of spending so much time alone with him? She had thought there would be other people around, no chance for quiet, intimate conversations such as they’d had last night. ‘Good, we’ll get going, then.’ There was a grimness to his mouth now as though she’d annoyed him with her suspicions. And in the car he hardly spoke. She had no idea where they were when he drew up at the water’s edge, reversing expertly down the ramp. He kicked off his shoes as he let the boat slide into the water, and only then did he speak. ‘Do you think you could hold the boat steady while I park the car?’ he asked with exaggerated politeness. Lara nodded, wishing she’d said nothing of her suspicions because already it was spoiling the day. Soon they were out on the harbour, the boat bouncing over the waves as Bryce opened the throttle, and Lara loved every minute. She wished she could tell him. But his face was still set and he didn’t look once in her direction. Or so she thought. As she smoothed sun cream on her arms, legs and face, Lara was unaware that Bryce watched, that his smoky grey eyes were grave in their appraisal, that his fingers tightened on the wheel. When Harbour Bridge came into view Bryce slowed down and they cruised gently into the harbour. It looked different from the water, the sails of the Opera House appeared first beneath the bridge, then Centre Point, the Post Office tower, the towering office blocks. It was an exciting skyline. And then they were off again. Sometimes Bryce took his time; sometimes he skimmed the waves at breakneck speed. The silence between them lengthened and Lara deeply regretted her earlier outburst. What should have been a pleasurable day was proving most uncomfortable. Bryce was polite but that was all. He wasn’t friendly and funny and entertaining like he had been last night. And it was all her fault. Unable to stand the tension any longer, she said quietly, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’ He looked at her then, and he slowed down, let the engine idle. ‘When I said I wanted you all to myself it was a figure of speech. I had no intention of forcing you to do anything you didn’t want to do. I thought it would be a pleasure.’ His nostrils flared as he spoke, a tough mask over his face. ‘I was forgetting that you think all men are control freaks.’ Lara winced. ‘Maybe not all men.’ ‘But you’re not prepared to give anyone else a chance.’ His eyes were hard and condemning. ‘If that’s the case then I see no point in us continuing our—er, friendship.’ He hurled the word contemptuously. ‘It’s not that,’ she protested. Why, oh why, had she opened her mouth? ‘I do want to be friends with you, Bryce. I guess I’m on edge because Roger phoned my mother yesterday.’ ‘Your ex?’ The news brought his head up with a jerk. Lara nodded, grimacing as she did so, letting him see how unhappy she was. ‘What did he want?’ ‘For us to get back together.’ There was a sudden stillness about him. ‘And?’ A tiny shrug lifted her slender shoulders. ‘I was supposed to phone my mother back this morning. I can’t believe I forgot.’ She could only blame the excitement of getting ready to spend a day with Bryce! And it was true, she had been excited. She’d dithered for ages about what to wear, trying on outfit after outfit, finally settling on navy cotton shorts and a navy and white top. Helen had said she looked very nautical. He glanced at his watch. ‘She’ll be in bed now. I’ll remind you when we get home. Did she tell him where you are? Will he make a nuisance of himself?’ Lara hadn’t even thought along those lines. Now she frowned contemplatively. ‘I shouldn’t think so.’ ‘What makes him think there’s a chance that you’d go back to him?’ His voice was harsh and disapproving. ‘Is there something you haven’t told me?’ Lara turned her mouth down at the corners, not wanting to discuss Roger with this man. It was none of his business. But she had to say something. ‘He didn’t want the divorce, to tell you the truth. He couldn’t understand why I felt as I did. He couldn’t see anything wrong in his behaviour.’ ‘There’s none so blind as those who don’t want to see,’ he said scathingly. ‘You’re telling me,’ she declared fiercely. ‘He seemed to think that because he bought me nice things, because we had a comfortable home, because we entertained his friends on a fairly regular basis, that I had a good and fulfilling life. He didn’t realise that I’d have liked my own friends around me, that I’d have liked a say in some things. He had no idea how stifled I felt.’ ‘It’s a shame he’s spoilt your holiday,’ said Bryce. ‘Last night you began to relax. Today you’re as uptight as when I first met you. You’ve rebuilt the wall. I’m an outsider.’ Lara gave a rueful smile. ‘I didn’t mean for that to happen. I appreciate the trouble you’ve gone to on my behalf. I’m enjoying today.’ A dark eyebrow quirked upwards. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Absolutely.’ She had only herself to blame for the tension that had settled over them like a thundercloud. ‘Are you ready for lunch?’ Lara looked around at all the water surrounding them. ‘Where are you suggesting we eat?’ ‘You have two choices,’ he said, his smile warmer now. ‘We could go to Doyles at Watsons Bay—you’ve heard of our famous fish-and-chip restaurant? Or we could drop anchor and eat right here. I have a hamper in the cabin.’ ‘I think I’d like the picnic,’ Lara decided. She no longer wanted to be surrounded by other people. She was enjoying Bryce’s company too much. ‘You’re not afraid of me any more?’ he asked, eyes narrowed. ‘It was silly of me to be wary,’ she said with a wry, apologetic smile. ‘I should have known differently.’ And so out came the cool-box filled with thick slices of ham and chunky chicken portions, with salads and cheeses, with bread rolls and wine, and for dessert a mango already sliced, glossy plums and finger bananas, as well as several different flavoured yoghurts. Far too much for them, but all utterly, utterly delicious. ‘This is wonderful,’ she said more than once. ‘You’re certainly doing me proud today.’ ‘I would always do you proud if you were mine,’ he said seriously. ‘I would never treat you like a possession.’ Although his eyes were grave they managed to send sensual messages at the same time. Her skin grew warm; her fingers clenched around the wineglass, and so that she didn’t need to look at him she swallowed what was left in one gulp. Immediately he refilled her glass, his own too, and they sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. Other craft moved past them, their occupants either waving or calling out a greeting—he seemed to know many people—but they didn’t intrude on their privacy. ‘You’re not thinking of going back to Roger?’ he asked at length. ‘Goodness, no!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s the last thing I want.’ ‘Sometimes men like your ex wield a power that a woman finds hard to resist.’ Lara shook her head. ‘Getting away from that marriage was the best thing I ever did.’ Eventually Bryce said it was time they moved and he pulled up the anchor, but when he turned the key nothing happened. The engine groaned but refused to start. He swore beneath his breath. Was a boat engine like a car engine? Lara wondered, and then cursed. Dammit, she hadn’t wanted to think about Roger again. Why did he keep intruding into her thoughts? It was the phone call, of course, one she could have easily done without. And until she rang her mother she wouldn’t know exactly what he had said—and he would continue to plague her. She watched as Bryce lifted the engine cover and fiddled with leads and wires before he tried it again. Still no joy. But at least he looked as though he knew what he was doing. When the engine finally sprang into life he gave a grunt of satisfaction. ‘What was wrong?’ she asked. ‘I suspect the fuel pump. It’s not the first time it’s done this on me. In fact…’ He let his voice trail away. ‘In fact what?’ she asked with a frown. ‘I think I should pull into shore and check it out. Better to be safe than sorry.’ All Lara could see on the shoreline were private houses, large exclusive mansions worth millions of dollars with steeply terraced gardens leading down to the water’s edge. She’d been studying them as they’d eaten their lunch, wondering what sort of people lived there. ‘I can’t see anywhere you can tie up.’ ‘That’s simple. I live there.’ He pointed to one of the elegant properties. Lara frowned. ‘What do you mean, you live there?’ Dread filled her. He would need to be fantastically rich to live in one of those houses. And if this was the case why hadn’t he told her? Why hadn’t Helen told her? Bryce had convinced her that he was a man she could trust; she had begun to relax with him, feel happy in his company—and now this! Bryce saw her changing expressions and laughed. ‘I live in a converted loft above that boathouse.’ Lara followed his pointing finger. And there, poking out from behind a fancy cruiser, she saw it. ‘You mean you—rent the loft?’ ‘Actually it comes free with the job,’ he admitted, sounding a trifle self-conscious. ‘It must be some job,’ she said, her eyes widening with surprise at the same time as relief washed over her. ‘What are you, a permanent handyman there?’ ‘In a manner of speaking, but I also tinker about with boats. They’re my driving passion. This guy owns a fleet. He keeps me pretty busy.’ ‘For the moment, you mean,’ she said with a laugh, realising how wrong she had been to mistrust him. ‘Until something else takes your fancy.’ ‘How well you’re getting to know me,’ he answered, with a laugh of his own. ‘Your boss must be fabulously wealthy to live in a place like that.’ It was easily the largest house in the area. She wondered what he was like, this man Bryce did so much work for. Had wealth gone to his head, made him feel he was better than anyone else? Bryce’s boat looked like a poor second cousin as he tied up beside the handsome cruiser. Perhaps it wasn’t even his. Perhaps it too belonged to the owner of the house. And he certainly couldn’t be too much of an ogre if he let Bryce live here rent-free. He helped her out and as their hands locked Lara felt a surge of desire flood through her. She tried to ignore it, didn’t even snatch away, although she was tempted. Instead she kept her eyes down and prayed Bryce hadn’t noticed her reaction. She suspected that he wouldn’t need much encouragement. When he let her go she drew in a painful breath of relief, annoyed with herself for letting such feelings surface. And yet, how could she have stopped them when she hadn’t known they existed? Nothing had happened today to stimulate such desire. Bryce had been the perfect gentleman. So where had these feelings come from? She was given no time to dwell on it. Bryce led the way up some steep wooden steps to the converted loft space. The main house itself was on the hillside above them and couldn’t be seen. ‘What a lovely spot,’ she declared enthusiastically. ‘You’re so lucky.’ And she deliberately pushed all other thoughts out of her head. ‘It suits my purpose,’ he agreed. ‘It would suit me, too,’ she informed him. ‘I’d never look for anywhere else to live.’ The walls and ceiling were timber lined; the floor was wooden too with scattered rugs. A counter unit divided the huge living area from the kitchen, and an open staircase led to an apexed, galleried bedroom with a bathroom leading off. Only the bathroom had any privacy. But for one man on his own it was perfect. It was definitely a man’s place: simple, clean, uncluttered lines; solid, practical furniture. Everything had its use; nothing was allowed in that didn’t serve a purpose. ‘Help yourself to a drink while I see to the boat. I shouldn’t be long.’ ‘Maybe I could help?’ she suggested hopefully. ‘And get those beautiful hands dirty. I don’t think so. This is men’s work.’ Lara stuck her hands on her hips and looked at him fiercely. ‘Is that chauvinism? You’re forgetting my brothers. I was one of them or I was out. I can do anything a man can do.’ ‘Really?’ Her outburst sent his lips curving in amusement. ‘I’ll remember that one of these days. For the moment, though, sit down and look beautiful. I shouldn’t be long.’ But Lara couldn’t relax; she stepped out onto the veranda that ran the width of the loft and looked down at Bryce. Her breath caught in her throat. He’d stripped off his shirt and as he leaned over the engine powerful muscles flexed beneath darkly tanned skin. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, and she saw a power and strength that she’d only guessed at. It did strange things to her, knotting muscles and quickening pulses, and it became increasingly clear that Bryce Kellerman was beginning to creep beneath her skin. She turned back into the room, needing to escape while she could still breathe. It was a perfect place to live. Why would anyone want to buy a huge house full of rooms that were rarely used? This was spacious enough to entertain and yet small enough to look after with the minimum of fuss. Even in the kitchen there was everything to make life easy, a huge fridge and freezer standing side by side, a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave, a double oven with separate hob. It was a dream kitchen. I could work in here, she thought, and never want for anything. So engrossed was Lara that she didn’t hear Bryce come up the stairs and enter the apartment, wasn’t even aware of his presence until she turned around—and cannoned into him. Instinctively she put her hands out to steady herself and felt firsthand those powerful muscles, felt the hardness and warmth of his body. And again desire flared through her—hot, instant desire. It ripped through her body like an exploding firework. Involuntarily she looked up into Bryce’s face—and saw her own raw need mirrored there. Move, before it’s too late, she ordered, before something happens that you’ll regret, but she was incapable even of speaking, much less retreating. It felt like for ever that she stood there touching him, her palms burning, her heartbeats racing, her eyes locked into his. And even when she heard him groan, saw his head bow down towards her, she could do nothing about it except wait for the inevitable. When, with another groan, one sounding like despair this time, he backed away from her, shot away in fact, it came as a distinct shock. ‘Why did you have to do that?’ he asked harshly. Lara felt bemused all of a sudden and shook her head. ‘Do what?’ ‘Touch me like that, dammit.’ Bryce’s belly was on fire, his pulses jerked uncontrollably, and it had taken every ounce of his not inconsiderable will-power to back out of the situation that had begun to look so promising. He knew that Lara would have hated him for it afterwards. She might not have been able to help herself in that instant—it was one of those moments of madness that crept up on most people at some time or another—but she’d made her feelings crystal clear. If he dared go beyond the bounds of friendship he would lose her altogether. Much as he might want to make love to her, hold her in his arms and feel that wonderfully sexy body against his, he had to be patient. Even if it meant a long, ice-cold shower every time he left her. ‘I wasn’t touching you.’ She spat the words back. ‘Not in the way you mean. I was simply steadying myself. You’re a fool to yourself if you took it to mean anything else.’ She looked beautiful, blue eyes flashing, cheeks an angry red, her whole body pulsating. She would never have admitted it, he knew, but that moment of contact had disturbed her as much as it had him. If he’d given in to temptation she would have returned his kiss with the passion she was strongly trying to deny. He tried to control his deepened breathing, tried to take his eyes away from her, but it was like attempting to stem a tidal flow. ‘You took long enough about moving.’ He grunted. ‘It looked to me like an invitation.’ It wasn’t true, but it was his best form of defence. ‘If that’s the type of relationship you want, why don’t you be honest with yourself and admit it?’ Lara shook her head angrily and turned her back on him, hands splayed on the counter top, not even deigning to answer. She was rigid from head to foot—and it was entirely his fault! He cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have backed away the instant she fell against him; he should never have allowed time for desire to erupt—except that it had been so instant he could have done nothing about it. ‘Is the boat ready?’ she asked raggedly. She’d had enough of his company! She wanted to go home! She probably never wanted to see him again! He pulled a wry face, fists clenched at his side. ‘Almost. I came up for a drink. Would you like one?’ Trying to appear normal, almost impossible considering the state of his hormones, Bryce opened the fridge and took out an ice-cold can. ‘No, thanks.’ It was a tight, tiny voice, still shutting him out, still telling him in no uncertain terms that she disapproved of his behaviour. ‘Well, there’s one here if you want it.’ He left the room; he couldn’t remain there watching her hating him. The whole day had started wrongly and he blamed it on Roger. If the damn man hadn’t upset her none of this would have happened. Why on earth would he go through with a divorce and then want her back? It didn’t make sense. And how much of the truth was he ever likely to learn? Lara could have been exaggerating. He might be a very nice guy. It might be that she hadn’t been ready for marriage and had felt the constraints, had regretted losing her carefree, single status. It did happen. He gulped down the drink and threw the can in the bin, then tried to concentrate on what he was doing. He hadn’t really needed to go upstairs to get a drink when there was one in the cool-box. But he had sensed Lara looking down at him and it had created urges. Urges he could do nothing about, but at least he could be near her. It was a ridiculous state of affairs. He was treading on dangerous ground. He wasn’t even being perfectly honest with her. Yet she was getting beneath his skin like no other woman ever had, and time spent apart was like being under the surgeon’s knife with no anaesthetic. He worked feverishly, trying to shut her out of his mind, but it was impossible. The merest thought sent his testosterone levels rising. The best thing he could do would be to take her back to Helen’s and then forget her. There was no hope for him. This friendship thing wasn’t working. She was too dangerously attractive. He’d tried—he hadn’t given it very long, admittedly—but this latest incident had proved how unattainable such a friendship was. Why he’d suggested it in the first place he didn’t know. He’d wanted her from the second he’d clapped eyes on her. How could he have even contemplated settling for anything less? As soon as the new fuel pump was connected and all was running sweetly he washed his hands beneath the outside tap before running up to the loft apartment, this time taking care to let her know he was coming. Lara was reading a magazine. A man’s magazine! Or maybe she was pretending to read it. She looked up as he entered, her expression cool and disinterested. ‘Ready?’ Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925906&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.