‘Sure…sure, Georgie,’ Jack called back before loping off down the sand.
‘Georgette,’ she said with a grimace. ‘My family call me Georgie. That’s my stepbrother,’ she explained, nodding to the skinny running figure.
She turned as she spoke and found he wasn’t looking at the distant figure of the fair-headed boy, but at her. There was a sensual quality in his dark-eyed scrutiny that sent a secret shiver through her body; the condition of her nipples was less a secret as they pressed against the stretchy fabric of her bikini top.
She looked around red-cheeked and mortified for the shirt she had discarded. She found it in a crumpled heap under the sun cream; hastily she fought her way into it.
‘I will call you Georgette,’ he pronounced.
She was never going to see him again, but as far as Georgie was concerned this man could call her anything.
‘HOW old are you, Georgette?’
Georgie flirted briefly with the notion of coming back with a cool, Old enough, but she knew she’d never carry it off. Besides, how mortifying would it be if he laughed?
‘Twenty-one,’ she responded more conventionally.
‘Will you come to dinner with me?’ he asked without skipping a beat.
Her eyes, round with astonishment, flew to his. ‘Me…you…?’
‘That was the general idea.’
Georgie swallowed before running her tongue over her dry lips—they tasted salty—and she looked at him suspiciously. ‘You’re not serious.’ She tried to laugh but her vocal muscles didn’t co-operate.
‘Why would I not be?’ She shook her head, flushing as his gaze became ironic. ‘You are the most attractive woman on the beach.’
‘I’m the only one under sixty without a husband and children,’ she rebutted huskily, ‘so I’ll try not to get carried away with the compliment.’
Who was she kidding? Her entire life she had thought of herself as an average sort of girl—hidden depths, sure, but was anybody ever going to bother looking? Now totally out of left field there came this incredible man who was looking at her as though she were a desirable woman.
Carried away…? She was quite frankly blown away!
She tried to adopt an amused expression and failed miserably as the screen of ebony lashes swept up from his cheekbones. Combustible best described his smoky-eyed stare.
‘I don’t even know your name,’ she protested weakly.
His smile had been confident, tinged with the arrogance that came naturally to someone like him. And why shouldn’t it be? she mused, four years down the line. Angolos Constantine was used to getting what he wanted; a little bit of complacence was understandable when women had been falling at his feet since the day he’d hit puberty!
‘Not an insuperable barrier and I already know yours, Georgette.’ The way he said her name had a tactile quality. It made the hairs on her nape stand on end and intensified the unspecified ache low in her belly.
She stared back at him dreamily.
It was just dinner.
‘It’s just dinner,’ he said as if he could read her thoughts.
What was she doing, hesitating? All the girls she knew wouldn’t have needed coaxing. They saw what they wanted and went for it. Georgie applauded them, but privately wondered if in secret they weren’t just as insecure as she was.
When she opened her mouth she intended to say yes, but her dad hadn’t raised a reckless child. Caution had been drilled into her from her infancy, and at the last second her conditioning kicked in.
‘Thank you, but I couldn’t.’ He was a total, a total stranger who could, for all she knew, be a psycho or even a married psycho. She shook her head; she was out of her depth and she knew it. ‘Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t. My boyfriend wouldn’t like it.’
Under other circumstances the look of baffled frustration on his lean face would have been laughable.
Georgie didn’t feel like laughing; she didn’t even feel like smiling. She was actually pretty ambivalent about the entire ‘done the right thing’ situation.
His dark brows lifted. ‘Are you saying no?’
She could hear the astonishment in his voice and she realised that being knocked back had never crossed his mind. No was obviously not a word this man was used to hearing.
This time there was a hint of annoyance in his appraisal. ‘As you wish.’
His irritation made her feel slightly better. Her normal nature, the one she had when she wasn’t turned into a brainless bimbo by the sexual aura this man radiated, briefly reasserted itself. Why should he assume she was a sure thing? She might have been a bit obvious, but a girl could look without necessarily wanting to touch…
She flashed a quick semi-apologetic smile in his general direction. She wasn’t trying to strike a blow for female equality here—better and braver women had already done that—she just wanted to get the hell out of there without making herself look any more a fool than she already had!
Aware that his disturbing eyes were following her actions as she crammed her possessions in her canvas bag made her clumsy.
‘Jack!’ she bellowed, zipping up the bag with a sigh of relief.
‘You forgot this.’
She half turned and saw he was holding out a tube of sun-block.
She extended her hand. ‘Thank you.’ The fingertip contact lasted barely a heartbeat but it was enough to send an electrical tingle through her body. Her wide, startled eyes lifted momentarily to his and she knew without him saying a word that he knew exactly what she was feeling.
Well, at least someone did!
Without waiting to see if her aggravating stepbrother was following her, Georgie stumbled and ran across the sand to the pebbly foreshore, all the time fighting an insane impulse to turn back.
A childish shout jolted Georgie back to the present. She made admiring noises as her son proudly showed her a small pile of stones he had placed on the patio.
She could remember doing the same thing as a child herself; continuity was important. Her own childhood had been a long way from deprived, but there was a gap—questions that remained unanswered because her mother hadn’t been there to answer them. Now Nicky had an absent father… Continuity strikes again!
Her jaw firmed. Rejection wasn’t hereditary, it was bad luck, and if she had anything to do with it Nicky was going to be a better judge of character than his mother.
It was strange—she had changed beyond recognition from that girl running away that day on the beach, but the beach house and the town hadn’t. It was as if the place were in some sort of time warp.
The town remained defiantly unfashionable. There were no trendy seafood restaurants and no big waves to attract the surfing fraternity, but despite everything Georgie had a soft spot for this place. She rubbed her sandy palms on the seat of her shorts and accepted the seashell Nicky gravely handed her.
This was the first time she’d been back here since that fateful summer. Partly she had come to lay the ghosts of the past and more practically there was no way she could afford a holiday for Nicky any other way.
The jury was still out on whether she had succeeded on the former!
She inhaled, enjoying the salty tang in the air. Memories sort of crept up on you, she reflected. The most unexpected things could trigger them: a smell…texture. As earlier, one second she had been trying to get the sand off her feet before putting on her sandals, the next—zap!
It had been incredibly vivid.
Her foot had been in Angolos’s lap, his dark head down-bent, gleaming blue-black in the sun as he’d brushed the sand from between her toes. The touch of his fingers had sent delicious little thrills of sensation through her body. He had felt her shiver and his head had lifted. Still holding her eyes, he’d lifted her foot to his mouth and sucked one toe.
Her hand had pressed into the sand as her body had arched. ‘You can’t do that!’ she gasped. Snatching her foot from his grasp, she lifted her knees to her chin.
Angolos’s expressive mouth quirked. ‘Why?’
‘Because you’re killing me,’ she confessed brokenly.
The way he looked at her, the hungry, predatory gleam in his glittering eyes, made her insides melt. ‘You won’t have long to wait, yineka mou,’ he reminded her. ‘Tomorrow we will be man and wife.’
Back in the present, Georgie opened her clenched fists. Her palms were damp and inscribed with small half-moons where her neatly trimmed fingernails had dug into the flesh. She sighed and rubbed her palms against the seat of her shorts. Would she ever be able to think about her husband without having a panic attack?
‘They could hardly keep their hands off one another.’
The salacious details… This I can really do without.
‘I’m no prude,’ the older woman continued, ‘but really…she couldn’t keep her hands off him…’