Pregnancy of Revenge(7)

By: Jacqueline Baird

'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.'

'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.'