Pregnancy of Revenge(6)

By: Jacqueline Baird

'What would you like to eat? I am going to have the hot smoked salmon followed by the steak. How about you? The same?'

She placed the menu on the table and lifted her head. 'No, Jake,' she said coolly, before turning to the waiter and asking him in perfect French what he recommended. A lively debate ensued on the relative merit of the red sea bass or the chefs special stuffed trout. Finally Charlie gave her order for a starter of seasonal spring salad followed by the bass to a now beaming waiter, with a brilliant smile of her own.

'So, Charlotte,' Jake commented mockingly as the waiter departed. 'You are a woman of many talents, it would seem.'

Charlie turned sparkling eyes to the man seated opposite. 'Well, I'm not an idiot.' She smiled, her confidence restored.

'No, but, French aside, you did turn the poor waiter into a drooling idiot.' His eyes flashed with a hint of some dark emotion, then softened perceptibly as his gaze roamed down to the soft curve of her breasts. 'Though I can't say I blame him,' he added huskily.

She felt a flush of heat creep from her stomach to cover her whole body at his sensuous gaze, and she had to take a deep breath before she could respond steadily. 'Thank you for the compliment.'

'My pleasure, I assure you.'

Out of nowhere the thought of Jake at her pleasure deepened Charlie's colour, and she frowned. In the sexual stakes she was not in his league, and she wondered what she was letting herself in for.

Jake reached out to cover her slender hand resting on the table with his own. For some reason the reservation in her eyes bothered him. 'Charlotte, don't look so serious,' he said softly. Entwining his fingers with hers, he lifted her hand and pressed a tiny row of kisses across her knuckles. 'Please, relax and enjoy your meal, and let us see if we can get to know each other a little better. We can become friends—can we not?'

Friends? With every nerve in her body quivering at his casual touch, Charlie doubted she could ever be just friends with such a supreme specimen of the male sex as Jake. But it was a start.

'Friends. Yes.' Striving to appear cool, she continued conversationally, 'so, tell me, why the name Jake? It doesn't sound very Italian.'

'My mother was engaged to an engineer in the US Navy. She gave me his Christian name because he died in an accident at sea before she could give me his surname.'

'That is so sad.' Her eyes softened on his. 'Your mother must have been devastated, losing her fiancé like that.'

'Strange,' Jake said with an odd note in his voice. 'Most people respond with embarrassed silence or embarrassed laughter and a quip like, "I always knew you were a bastard." But you are obviously romantic at heart.' The fingers entwined with hers tightened slightly. 'And you are right. My mother was devastated. She never looked at another man to her dying day. Except me, of course, whom she adored,' he added with a soft chuckle, his dark eyes smiling warmly into hers.

'I'm not surprised.' Charlie grinned, relieved her casual query about his name had not embarrassed him. In fact, suddenly the atmosphere between them seemed much more relaxed. Maybe friendship with Jake was not so impossible after all, she thought happily. Though she wasn't sure she agreed that she was a romantic. She had always considered herself the most realistic of women. But then that was before she had met him...

'A compliment. I am flattered.' Jake grinned back.

'I didn't mean you. Well, maybe I did,' she added with a chuckle. 'But really I was referring to your mother. Having committed to getting married, she must have been as distraught at his death as any widow.'

'In my mother's case, yes, but that is very rare.' He leant back in his chair but still retained his grasp on her hand. 'In my experience, plenty of women see an engagement as simply a way of getting money out of a man.'

His cynical attitude appalled her. 'In your experience? You were engaged?'

'I was, once, when I was twenty-three and naive. I bought the ring, gave her money for the wedding, the whole nine yards.'

'And then you left her, I expect.' Charlie pinned on a smile as it struck her again that he might be married, and she hadn't asked—a glaring omission on her part, which she immediately rectified. 'Or else you're married.'

For a moment Jake looked astonished, then he laughed, but the humour didn't reach his eyes. 'How like a woman to blame the man.' His cool dark gaze held hers. 'But you are wrong. My fiancée left me, and spent the money on something else. So, no, I am not married, nor ever likely to be. It is not an institution I believe in.'

Feeling foolish, Charlie realised appearance could be deceptive. She could not imagine any woman turning Jake down, but she had been wrong, and that long-ago rejection must have hurt. Her soft heart went out to him. 'I'm sorry.'