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Authors: Sara Craven

Dark Paradise

BOOK: Dark Paradise
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Dark Paradise
By
Sara Craven
Contents

"You didn't fool me for a moment, Kate."

Matt's voice was cold and contemptuous. "And now I'll tell you why you're staying. I'm here to work, but its not a thing I want generally known. So-for anyone who wants to know, I'm here to enjoy the sun and a romantic interlude with my new lady." He paused. "That's your role, and I expect you to be convincing."

Kate eyed him warily. "You expect me to pretend that I'm in love with you?"

"A state of mutual physical rapture might be easier to aim for."

Kate swallowed. She was remembering her unbridled response to his sensuous kiss, and knew that he was, too. The realization galled her. "And if I won't?" she snapped.

His gaze stripped her. "Then we'll play it for real!"

Harlequin Presents first edition July 1984

 

ISBN 0-373-10704-8

 

Copyright © 1984 by Sara Craven

 

       
    CHAPTER ONE

    The wine in her glass glowed like a ruby. And had cost very nearly as much, Kate Marston reflected drily.

    She'd been expecting a business lunch, but this was fast developing into an occasion, and she wasn't sure she could take it.

    She wondered what would happen if she were to lean across the table and say to her companion, 'Clive, you're very sweet, and I like you. But it will never, ever be any more than that. So if all this expensive claret and sharing a Chateaubriand is to promote a shift in our relationship, then they'd better go back to the kitchen'.

    She wouldn't say it, of course. She was too fond of Clive to give him such a public affront, besides being fairly dependent on him financially, and extremely hungry as well.

    She had been a young hopeful in her final year at art college when they had met. He was the youngest director of a well-known publishing firm specialising in children's books, and she'd been hawking a portfolio of her work around, looking for a job as an illustrator.

    She was tired of hearing how talented she was, accompanied by regretful little speeches about economic recession and cutbacks, and she had expected little different from Barlow and Herries. Her confidence, her belief in herself had taken several hard knocks already, and she was surprised to get beyond the reception desk.

    Her surprise deepened as the fair-haired, rather solemn young man into whose office she had been shown began to exhibit signs of positive enthusiasm as he examined the paintings and sketches she had brought.

    'Do you know,' he had said at last, 'you could be exactly the person we need.'

    He told her confidentially that they had just acquired an established and popular author for their list who was proving troublesome to say the least. The lady in question had left their chief rivals after rows about publicity and the quality of illustrations for her books, and Barlow and Herries were naturally anxious to satisfy her on both these points.

    Only it was proving more difficult than anyone had ever imagined.

    'She's turned her nose up at all our regular artists,' Clive Joffrey had said rather bitterly. 'She claims she wants something original and unique to match her very personal style, and I quote. I think you might have what she wants.' He picked up one painting and studied it closely. This is a scene from one of her books, isn't it?'

    'Yes,' said Kate, hope and excitement choking any deeper explanation.

    He nodded. 'I like it. All that sweetness and light on the surface, and the sinister undertones.' He shuddered. 'God knows why kids go overboard for her, but they do. Her books would have given me nightmares when I was a child!'

    Kate smiled. 'I love them.'

    'Better and better. Make sure you tell her that when you meet. That's another thing she insists on—meeting everyone, checking on the vibrations. Awful woman.' He gave her a narrow glance. 'Think you could cope?'

    Amazingly, she had, and was still doing so. Not that the dreaded Felicity, as she was known, was her only source of income. Clive had seen to that, recommending her to contacts in the magazine and advertising worlds, so that now, three years after that fateful interview, she had a flourishing freelance career as an artist.

    The only fly in the ointment had proved to be Clive, whose personal interest in her had developed as rapidly as his professional interest had done. That was something she hadn't wanted at all, and she had done her best to dissuade him, but all to no avail. Clive might seem quiet, but he was also determined, she had discovered, and eventually she had succumbed in a moment of weakness to his gentle pressuring and agreed to go to the theatre with him.

    That evening, and subsequent outings in his company, had proved pleasantly undemanding, and if Clive was content to be held at arm's length, then Kate supposed she had no real reason to complain.

    Except that lately she had sensed a change in his attitude, a growing impatience perhaps with the course of their friendship, because it was nothing more.

    This lunch today was a case in point. She was used to the publishing habit of conducting business discussions over well-cooked food in congenial surroundings, but these surroundings were more than congenial—they were luxurious, and the whole meal was developing all the hallmarks of a celebration of some kind.

    Kate sighed inwardly. Clive's whole manner was portentous too, suggesting that it was all leading up to something. A proposal? she wondered wryly. And if so—what? Marriage, or something rather more casual. Because neither was acceptable.

    And as if to confirm her worst fears, Clive lifted his glass and said, 'To us.'

    She smiled wanly, and drank, without echoing his words. She wished she didn't feel so depressed. This was a fantastic restaurant, and the Chateaubriand currently being dissected for them on a serving table looked delicious. Why couldn't she enter into the spirit of the occasion, and worry about overtures from Clive as and when they occurred?

    There was a slight hubbub nearby and she glanced round to see a well-known film star making his way to a table, trying to pretend that he wasn't instantly recognisable.

    Her mouth relaxed into a smile as she wondered how many other lunchers had shared her enjoyment of that air of total selfconsciousness. Not Clive. He was too busy fussing about the vegetables, she thought, as she glanced round the restaurant. But there were others exchanging amused smiles, and one girl in particular, her face alive with excitement and laughter as she leaned towards her companion.

    Kate froze. Alison? she thought. But it can't be! For a moment she wondered if the wine could be giving her hallucinations, or if there'd been a maverick among the wild mushrooms she'd been served as a first course.

    It couldn't be her sister-in-law sitting only a few tables away. For one thing, there was no way Jon, her stepbrother, could afford these prices…

    Almost reluctantly, she looked again, aware of a sense of foreboding.

    It was Alison all right.. That blonde head was unmistakable, and so was the way she moved her hands when the conversation became animated.

    Kate couldn't see her companion. There was a waiter in the way, and she watched tensely, willing the man to move.

    '
    Mange-touts, madame
    ?' The slightly reproachful tone of their own waiter indicated it was probably the second time of asking.

    'Please,' she said, aware of Clive's puzzled look. She forced a smile. I'm sorry—I thought I saw someone I knew. But I was mistaken.'

    The view to the table where Alison was sitting was unimpeded now, but she made herself pick up her knife and fork, taste the Chateaubriand, pass an appreciative remark before she looked again.

    There wasn't much to see. The back of a man's dark head, the breadth of his shoulders under an expensive jacket. And certainly not Jon. Which led to the question—what was her sister-in-law doing having lunch in one of London's top restaurants with another man after barely a year of marriage?

    Not merely another man, either. That lightning glance had told her all the bad news. Alison was with Matt Lincoln.

    Kate would have known that arrogant tilt of the head anywhere, she thought bitterly, even if Alison herself hadn't given the secret away. How many times had she seen that same expression of pleasure and absorption lighting up Alison's face, usually accompanying some anecdote in which 'Matt said' or 'Matt did…'

    Such a pretty girl, her family had agreed, and clever too to hold down such a responsible job, because Matt Lincoln, her boss, was a name to be reckoned with in the world of television. He'd started out as a journalist, switched to TV news reporting, and then moved into the area of current affairs, producing and presenting a hard-hitting series of documentaries which had already collected a small clutch of prized awards.

    Kate had watched and admired, even if she had reservations about the man himself. He was clever, ruthless and possessed of a sexual charisma that was almost tangible, and she didn't like or trust men like that—men who were invulnerable, who marched through life like archetypal lords of creation.

    His documentaries were brilliant, of course. He was an ace investigative journalist, and his targets were left with their villainies and weaknesses totally exposed. People rarely emerged with credit once Matt Lincoln's searchlight had been trained on them.

    Kate had sometimes wondered what his victims did with the ruin of their lives when it was all over. She'd mentioned this once to Alison, who had stared at her in amazement and asked what it mattered?

    'They're crooks,' she had said with calm confidence. 'All of them, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Save your sympathy for the people they've conned and swindled.'

    The spark in her blue eyes added silently, 'And don't criticise Matt to me, because he can do no wrong.'

    Alison was very different from the majority of the girl-friends Jon had brought home, and this was what had made Kate suspect that this time it might be serious—at least with him. She wasn't so sure about Alison's feelings. After all, she had a glamorous job. She accompanied Matt Lincoln everywhere—even abroad. She met everyone that he met, and clearly enjoyed every exuberant moment of it, so would she be prepared to jettison all that for marriage with an assistant solicitor in a suburban legal practice?

    Kate loved Jon, and always had, but she had no illusions about him. He was attractive, without being an Adonis, and possessed of a quiet charm, but might not his personality seem pallid when compared with Matt Lincoln's arrogant forcefulness?

    She knew without being told that Jon had misgivings too, although she hadn't the slightest doubt that he was in love with Alison, and one evening when they'd had the house to themselves, he'd confided in her.

    The trouble is I can't figure out the situation,' he'd said gloomily. 'She's worked with him closely for nearly two years, she's travelled the world with him, she mentions him in every other breath, and yet I don't know how heavily she's been involved with him—if at all'

    Kate felt her way carefully. 'Is it important that you do know?'

    He was silent for a moment, then he said, 'Yes. I wish it wasn't.'

    'Then can't you ask?'

    'I've tried,' he said unhappily. 'Part of the problem is I feel a swine for probing. I keep telling myself that I love her, and therefore I should trust her. I really want to—and yet…'

    Kate understood what he was trying to convey. Her mother had been a widow when she met Jon's father but Michael Herbert had been divorced, and gradually it had emerged that his wife had left him for another man when Jon was quite small. Jon had been a reticent child, but gradually he had learned to relax under the influence of his stepmother's gentle serenity and to accept and even return the affection which was offered.

    Yet always at the back of his mind there had to be the memory of what his mother had done, she thought which probably explained this strange streak of possessiveness he was displaying towards Alison.

    She said gently, 'I don't think you have anything to worry about. After all, it's the future you should be concerned with, not what's past.'

    He had smiled ruefully, running a caressing finger down the curve of her cheek. 'Like you, Kate?' Then, seeing her face change, he said swiftly, 'No, I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean it.'

    'No, I asked for it.' Kate forced a smile. 'It's really a case of "Physician, heal thyself", isn't it? But the thing is, Jon, you don't
    know
    that there's been anything between Alison and Matt Lincoln. Not every secretary has an affair with her boss, you know.' She giggled suddenly. 'Has Alison ever speculated about you and Miss Chalmers?'

    Jon laughed too, his pleasant face relaxing. 'I doubt it, but then if Miss Chalmers was in her thirties instead of her fifties, and diabolically attractive to boot, perhaps she might.'

    Whatever his reservations, he had obviously managed to overcome them, because he and Alison had been married only a couple of months later, and Matt Lincoln had been one of the guests at the wedding—as Kate had good reason to remember, she thought with a sudden stiffening of her spine.

    Clive's voice cut plaintively across her reverie. 'I have the oddest feeling I'm lunching alone. Come back to me, Kate.'

    'I'm sorry.' She ate another mouthful with feigned enthusiasm, because she might as well have been chewing cardboard.

    'Still spotting familiar faces?' Clive signalled the wine waiter to pour some more into her glass. This is the place for them.'

    'I think it is,' Kate said wryly, mourning her wonderful meal. She would have to lie and say she wasn't very hungry. She could hardly say, 'My sister-in-law is over there having a whale of a time with the man she used to work for, who may or may not have been her lover, and knowing what this could do to Jon has ruined my appetite.'

    But that was the truth. Because Kate was ready to swear it had been quite some time since Alison had worn that particular glow for her husband. Teething troubles,' Kate's mother had said, and she was probably quite right. For all Kate knew, Alison was lunching here with Matt with Jon's blessing and approbation, only she didn't believe it for one moment, because if there was going to be a bone of contention between the newlyweds, then it was likely to be called Matt Lincoln.

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