Pregnancy of Revenge(4)

By: Jacqueline Baird

He was here on business, with meetings lined up over the next fortnight. For once in his life combining business with pleasure held great appeal. Without conceit, he knew he was a good lover and it would be interesting to slowly seduce the lovely Charlotte until she was desperate to share his bed, as her father had done his foster-sister...

Turning on the charm, he murmured softly, 'Ah, I see I have embarrassed you, Charlotte.' His dark eyes narrowed on her face. 'You think I am some old lecher who spends his day ogling naked women, perhaps?' he prompted, and noted the deepening flush in her pale cheeks with amusement. It was a long time since he had seen a woman blush and Charlotte Summerville did it beautifully. She played the innocent to perfection, even though he was sure she was anything but.

'Let me set your mind at rest, Charlotte. I am a businessman first and foremost, and when I see a good deal I snap it up, whether it be a company or art. The painting is an investment. I do not wish to sound callous, but you, who sanctioned the exhibition, must be well aware work by a dead artist is much more marketable than that by a living one.'

The ease with which he had read her thoughts was scary. But Charlie knew his cynical assessment was correct. 'Yes,' she murmured, finally finding her voice.

'And let me reassure you...' his deep voice thickened as he turned back to the painting '...this is the only nude I want to own. I believe it is your father's best and last.'

Following the line of his gaze, Charlie looked once more at the picture, in which her father had captured the mood of the woman perfectly.

'Yes, she is beautiful,' she agreed again. But, though it might be his best, she knew it wasn't his last. There was a half-finished portrait in her possession of a red-headed woman. Determined to try and match his sophistication, she looked up at Jake. 'But not, I think, his last,' she said archly, and was about to tell him of Robert's last affair in what she hoped was a sophisticated attempt to keep his interest. But her effort was wasted; he wasn't listening. She saw the glazed look in his dark eyes, and reality hit her like a slap in the face. The man was transfixed by the portrait.

But then, he had just paid a hefty amount of money for the picture—why wouldn't he be fascinated? she told herself firmly. What was she thinking of, trying to impress a man she had just met? A man, moreover, who was captivated by the portrait of a luscious brunette. Where did that leave her a very average blonde? Precisely nowhere, and she castigated herself for being a fool.

Her first assessment had been right before she'd ever seen Jake d'Amato. He was certainly no fat old man. The very opposite—a more striking male would be hard to find. But as for the rest, she had been correct. He was wealthy— it was evident in the supreme confidence he displayed, and in every line of the designer suit right down to the handmade shoes, never mind the fact he had bought the painting. But that aside, she told herself firmly if a little regretfully, he was also the type of guy who got off on looking at pictures of nude women.

Not her sort of man at all. She had been here far too long and it was scrambling her brain. She tightened her grip or her clutch bag and with a swift sidestep put some space between them.

'Well, I wish you joy of your purchase, Mr d'Amato Nice to meet you, but now I must be leaving.' And, spinning on her heel, she dived headlong into the crowd before she made a bigger fool of herself than she already had.

Safely in the ladies' cloakroom, she studied her reflection in the mirror. Her face was flushed, her blue eyes unusually bright. She could not believe a man who was obviously from the same mould as her father could have such a startling effect on her, and it scared her witless. She had loved he dad, but only a complete idiot would willingly get entangled with a philanderer of the same ilk.

The only reason Charlotte existed was because Robert Summerville, nineteen and studying art, had got her mother pregnant, and her parents had insisted they marry. It was probably the only time in his life Robert had been coerced into anything. When he had graduated two years later he had left wife and daughter with the maternal grandparents in the Lake District and gone to find his 'true artist's soul'. Charlie and her mother hadn't seen him for three years, and only then to obtain the inevitable divorce.

Charlie suddenly thought it was quite possible Jake d'Amato was also a married man, and she had been so overwhelmed by his effect on her she had behaved like a fool. How embarrassing was that? She needed to get back to her own world, and quick. A taxi back to the apartment her friend Dave had lent her, a simple dinner and an early night were what she needed, not swooning over some man. Straightening her shoulders, she walked out of the cloakroom, and hastily left the building.