Pregnancy of Revenge(7)

By: Jacqueline Baird

'Don't be. I am not. But enough about me. Tell me how you learned to speak fluent French—and do you speak any other language?'

'No, just French.' She accepted his change of subject.

Obviously it still hurt him to talk about his ex-fiancée, and it made him seem more human somehow. 'I learned French at school, but I became fluent mainly because from the age of eleven I used to spend a few weeks' holiday every year with my father at his home in France. Not so often in recent years, but I did stay with him last year, a little while before he died.'

'Ah, yes, your father. I should have guessed.' He dropped her hand, and a shadow seemed to pass over his face. Charlie wondered what she had said to cause it—or perhaps he was still thinking of his ex-fiancée? Then the wine waiter arrived with a bottle of Cristal champagne and filled two glasses before placing the bottle in the champagne cooler and leaving, and she banished the dark moment to the back of her mind.

'To us and the start of a long friendship,' Jake said, raising his glass, and Charlie reciprocated, her blue eyes shining into his as another waiter arrived with their food.

'So tell me, have you any other family?' Jake asked casually as they both tucked into their first course.

'My mother died when I was eleven, my grandmother when I was seventeen and my grandfather three years later. My father was an orphan, so I'm alone in the world now he's died.'

'With a father like yours, can you be certain of that?' Jake queried sardonically.

'Yes, I'm certain.' She glanced up, surprised by his cynical question, and thought she saw a bitter look in the dark eyes, but she must have been mistaken, as the next moment he grinned.

'Ah, another illusion bites the dust. I should have known the exploits of your father were more fiction than fact— probably circulated to increase the price of his work.'

'Well, I don't know about that,' Charlie murmured, pushing her empty plate away. There was something in the tone of his seemingly jocular comment that struck a discordant note and made her wary. Plus she was not comfortable talking about her father or about money.

'No, of course you wouldn't,' Jake agreed smoothly, and for the rest of the meal he endeavored to keep the conversation general while trying to discover more about the woman before him. Though he was loath to admit it, Charlotte was beginning to intrigue him more than any woman he had met in a long time.

For Charlie the next hour passed in a hazy bubble of happiness. Jake was a great conversationalist and, without her realising it, she had soon told him where she lived and how, after the death of her grandmother, she had left school to help her grandfather run the small family hotel overlooking Lake Windermere.

'And you inherited the hotel, of course,' Jake prompted when she fell silent for a moment.

'Yes. Yes, I did.' The thought of the family she had lost dulled the sparkle in her eyes for a moment.

'Lucky you,' Jake said. Charlie frowned and she was about to argue there was nothing lucky about losing one's family, when he added, 'But I was very lucky in a way,' and to her surprise proceeded to tell her more of his own past. After the death of his mother when he was eight, he had been placed in an orphanage and got involved with a bad crowd. But miraculously he had been fostered at the age of ten by a man whose pocket he had tried to pick. It had saved him from a life of crime and had been the incentive he had needed to study and become a marine engineer, and owner of his own company. His foster-parents were still alive and he visited them regularly.

Charlie simply beamed at him, and thought how kind. He must have a very caring nature.

Also a very sensual nature, because as they ate the meal and drank the bottle of champagne Jake subtly managed to keep her in a state of simmering sexual tension. A forkful of his food offered to her willingly parted lips, a casual touch of his hand, an intimate smile. By the time they got to the coffee stage Charlie was unaware she had consumed the lion's share of the champagne, and as she spooned sugar into her cup and added cream any resistance to his sophisticated charm was well and truly vanquished.

'I am glad to see you are not one of these women who have to watch their figure all the time,' Jake said, glancing at her coffee cup, then allowing his gaze to glide slowly up over her high firm breasts and to her beautiful if slightly flushed face. A lazy smile curved his sensuous lips as his dark eyes finally met and held Charlie's. 'Though it is well worth watching—quite perfect,' he declared throatily.

She recognized the male appreciation and the suggestion of more on offer in his gleaming dark eyes. She wasn't totally naive; she had experienced sexual chemistry before, but never as potent as this. Her pulse started to thud under her skin, and instinctively she lifted her hand to the hollow at the base of her throat. Her tongue slipped out to lick over her suddenly dry lips and she saw Jake's gaze drop to her mouth, and she heard his sharp intake of breath.