Heart of Stone
“You're a woman!”
It was more of an accusation than a statement of fact and a distant warning bell sounded at the back of Jaimie Anders’ mind. She made a conscious effort to let the smile reach her dark expressive eyes, as she answered.
“That's very astute of you, Professor Straker… I realise your forte lies more in the realm of dealing with fossils, than with members of the female species!”
There, she had said it, light-heartedly enough, but any hope of uncovering a sense of humour in the towering, brooding stranger was misplaced. Annoyance, even anger, registered visibly in the tight set of his well-defined features. While beneath a trim moustache, his mouth was an unyielding line.
“You are Jaimie Anders? I suppose there can be no mistake?” he stressed the last syllables dangerously, as though by sheer will-power, he could spirit her away and change her into something more to his taste.
“Certainly I am!” she affirmed, “See for yourself.” she thrust her passport at him. “If there is some problem Professor Straker, don't you think it's a little late in the day for a change of plan? I mean, our flight leaves in 50 minutes!”
Jaimie turned angrily on her heel and retraced her steps to the table she had occupied in the departure lounge, moments before the Tannoy system had summoned her to the enquiry desk. The coffee and hot snack were now cold and unappetising, she pushed them aside and stared
disconsolately out of the enormous panoramic windows. The view they afforded of Manchester Airport was impressive. Planes almost close enough to touch and passengers embarking at the numerous gates.
However, her initial excitement at the prospect of the forth-coming flight to Corfu and a new job waiting there, was now evaporating. Jaimie had been told to meet her employer, the much acclaimed Canadian archaeologist - Professor Daniel Straker, here at the airport. They were then to fly out to join the other three members of his team.
Armed with a photograph of him, from a recent Jewellers’ Trade Journal, she had known he would not recognise her. After all, the application for the post of his assistant had all been carried out by written correspondence with his brother Tony, who was also a keen archaeologist.
Unfortunately, as she had approached the enquiry desk just ten minutes ago and seen the immaculate, striking figure of Professor Straker waiting for her. Jaimie felt an unnerving invisibility as he had looked straight past her. She watched him turn expectantly toward a near-by young man carrying a rucksack. But he continued on his way, unaware of the momentary interest in his approach.
Jaimie had introduced herself then, extending her small, well-manicured hand, to the obvious disbelief of the impatient Professor. Slowly, his penetrating grey-blue gaze travelled up her long tanned legs, over her slim figure. Assessing the tailored linen suit, then pausing almost
imperceptibly upon the soft swell of her breasts. His appraisal lifted to her upturned face and the dark waves falling to her shoulders.
“You're a woman!” the words echoed over and over again in her mind. He had stated a fact which was quite obvious to most of the other men passing by… of course she was a woman! And Jaimie had never felt more aware of it, than in those few moments of his scrutiny. When his eyes seemed to burn into her with an intensity that both alarmed and fascinated her.
Jaimie jolted instantly out of her deep thoughts as a burgundy leather attaché case, was hurled noisily onto her table. Looking up, she found herself once more meeting Striker's piercing stare. He sank into the seat opposite and formed a contemplative steeple with his long, capable fingers.
“I can arrange more than adequate compensation for the inconvenience this fiasco has undoubtedly caused you!” he remarked with an air of composure that seemed to require some effort to maintain.
“Compensation?” repeated Jaimie frowning, wow he really was keen to get her off his team. “For what?”
“That's ridiculous, are you serious?”
“It's hardly a joking matter!”
“I haven't even started the job yet and you want me to give it up already? Have you heard of Equal Opportunities?”
“Yes of course, and you're not suitable for the position offered.” he stated firmly.
“Why? Because I'm a woman?”
“There has been a serious misunderstanding over your name,” he explained in his slow Canadian drawl. “It obviously leads one to assume that it's owner is male. I'm afraid my brother has made a mistake in choosing you. The fact remains, that the position is very much a job for a man!”
“I object to that line of reasoning Professor Straker,” declared Jaimie coldly. “The situation was open to both male and female applicants.”
“Your country's equal opportunities made that a necessary part of the advert,” he admitted, “Nevertheless, I cannot allow you to join an all male team out on an expedition. This isn't some cosy little desk job, Miss Anders, this is field-work at its dusty, raw best!”
“I'm qualified for the post, surely you can't deny that?” protested Jaimie. “Why let personalities become an issue? I have the appropriate letters after my name… they were hard earned…”
“I don't doubt it,” he acknowledged, running an exasperated hand through his thick, dark hair. “You are a fine Gemmologist, your references are impeccable and I do need someone with your sort of skill set to be my assistant. Identifying and cataloguing the priceless jewels our team hopes to uncover in Corfu. But I must stress again, that this is no job for a lady…. the living conditions
will be overcrowded and too primitive. Besides which, I want the men to keep their minds on their work, your attributes would become err.. distracting to say the least!”
Angry flecks flared in Jaime's eyes, her chin rose adamantly. “I won’t resign and you won’t find another gemmologist in time to start your expedition!”
“You must!” the animosity sprang to his eyes and he caught her wrist tightly, in a move that took her completely by surprise. She was strangely aware of her own irregular breathing and the sudden weakness his insistent strength made her feel.
“I have no intention of bending to a display of force,” she warned, “this job means a great deal to me, I've left my previous employment for this…. and I will be on that plane whether you like it or not, Professor Straker. If you dismiss me before I've had a reasonable opportunity to prove I can do the work, I'll scream sex discrimination so loud, they'll hear it all the way back to the Rockies!!”
Some indistinguishable emotion flickered across his face and he released her wrist. “Women’s Lib is it?” he asked tersely.
“I'm just asking for a fair chance, that's all I want… I'm no feminist.”
At that moment, the tannoy crackled into life again.
‘Announcing flight BA 429 to Corfu… Departure Gate 4'
Jaimie stood up and gathered her hand-luggage determinedly, their eyes met in silent challenge.
“I believe you still have my passport.” she stated evenly.
Straker opened his attaché case and tossed the document at her, then snapped it shut, before also rising to his feet.
“So be it!” he inclined his head very slightly, he was conceding and yet, she had a very real feeling that the battle was only just beginning. “As you wish, Miss Anders, but do not expect any favours or special treatment. And when you've had more sweat and dirt than you can stomach, don't come running to me, because it'll be too late to turn back!”
“Is that some kind of threat?” she inquired sweetly, as they made their way to Departure Gate 4.
His answering laugh, was cold and disturbing. Minutes later, as she took her seat beside him on the jet, Jaimie was not at all sure that she felt safe with him, but there was an undeniable thrill in the threat he posed. Even now, while he perused some typewritten notes concerning the expedition, he deliberately avoided speaking or being remotely civil to her. She was certain he was still watching her though, analysing her silently and more intimately, than if he were to explore with searching fingers. It was less than an hour since they met, but Daniel Straker had already caused more mixed emotions to surge through her mind and body than any other man…
The jet lifted off smoothly, leaving her life in England behind. Somewhere down there, amongst the spaghetti of motorways and patchwork fields, was the jewellers shop where she had worked six of her twenty-seven years.
And somewhere down there, was strait-laced, inflexible Richard…
Jaimie closed her eyes and pictured that last meeting with him a month ago, etched in her mind like some recurring bad dream. The signs had all been there of course, she brooded. Right from the start of that final evening together, Richard Thompson-Jones had been determined to propose to her! Over a surprise candle-lit dinner for two, he began to make random statements that seemed to have little bearing on their general conversation. Or maybe it was just that Jaimie kept veering the subject away from his forthcoming question.
“My job prospects have never looked better,” he persisted as their dessert was served with an expensive flourish by the waiter. “and I mentioned some time ago that I was considering buying a house…. Besides which, it's ridiculous keeping up the rent on both our flats, throwing good money away.” he finished with a flash of the stockbroker logic he usually reserved for his clients.
The light lemon soufflé had tasted suddenly bitter to Jaimie and she let her spoon clatter noisily against the glass dish.
“I enjoy my independence.” she stated firmly and wondered how she was going to get through coffee and brandy, before he spelt out his intentions.
“Nonsense!” he dismissed her independence with a wave of his hand and allowed his gaze to drift over her cleavage.
For the first time in the six months she had known him, Jaimie had felt uncomfortable under his frank stare and
she leant forward deliberately. Her long, ebony hair falling quickly, concealing her gentle curves, perhaps too plainly visible beneath the thin, black dress. Richard appeared not to notice her sudden coyness and inability to meet his eyes, as he reached for her hand.
However, Jaimie’s mind had been on the letter which had arrived that morning. Offering her the chance to work abroad with a brilliant archaeologist and giving her a real opportunity to use her qualifications. All day she had mentally read and re-read the letter, wondering how to tell Richard of its contents. Contents that were going to change her future and certainly would alter the future he thought they might have together!
Two years of study and night-school, it had taken to gain those prized letters after her name… Miss Jaimie Anders FGA…. a degree in Gemmology, the study and identification of gemstones. If she married Richard, he would expect her to give up her job, become a stoic wife and present him with a child straight-away. Naturally to ensure the hyphenated family name continued.
Jaimie had felt suddenly claustrophobic, she wanted her career, she wasn’t ready to compromise yet. Of course Richard was proud of her achievement, but he had begrudged the nights of endless study, for something a wife of his, would be unlikely to utilise again.
So she had applied for a place on Professor Daniel Straker’s expedition and been accepted. Jaimie was sure that Richard did not love her, not in the way she needed
to be cared for. Surely something ought to stir inside her when he touched her skin, held her, looked at her, but there was something missing. Theirs was a friendship, she just felt a strange emptiness at the thought of spending the rest of her life with him. Maybe she had drunk too much wine that night, it always made her feel melancholy, started her questioning things too deeply.
“What is the matter with you tonight, Jaimie?” he had demanded impatiently. “You're miles away…. Not listening to a word I'm saying!”
She forced herself to meet his gaze levelly. “I’m sorry Richard, but that’s just the problem…. I am going to be miles away, you see…” she hesitated awkwardly. “I’ve accepted a job abroad!”
“You've what?” his voice was icy and a muscle pulsed in his temple.
“Gemmological assistant to the eminent archaeologist Professor Daniel Straker. There's to be an expedition in association with the Greek museums. It's a recently discovered site on the Greek island of Corfu… well away from the tourist areas….” her enthusiasm was wasted on him and her voice trailed off.
“Are you crazy?” he hissed. “You have a perfectly good career here in the city, what the devil gave you such a stupid idea?”
“It's something I want…. need to do Richard, call it a challenge, adventure or just plain folly. Whatever you like, but my mind is made up!”
“And where exactly, do I fit into these ludicrous plans? I
have been trying to propose tonight or haven’t you noticed?” he growled making it sound more like a threat than an offer of marriage.
Jaimie had never seen him so angry before, it was frightening to feel the barely contained fury, he was almost a stranger to her.
“It's not a long term venture.” she hedged desperately, to placate him, aware that their argument was providing the entertainment for fellow diners.
“Oh I see, you expect me to hang around waiting, until you see fit to come back!”
“Well no I….”
“It's outrageous!” he slammed his fist down on the table, both their wineglasses toppled over and curious heads once more swivelled round at near-by tables.
“I really am sorry Richard,” she said quietly, “but I don't want to get engaged… I'm just not ready for that.”
A deep blush rose hotly up Jaimie’s neck and face, their table now seemed to be holding centre-stage in the small, exclusive restaurant.
“You little bitch!” he snarled furiously, “I'll be a laughing stock!”
“Amongst your colleagues?” she queried, suddenly seeing him for the man he was. “That's all that really bothers you, isn't it Richard? Your pride and saving face - did the Partners at Jones, Thompson-Jones & Jackson, decide you needed a wife to entertain clients at dinner parties? You don't really care about me, do you?”
Jaimie had gone too far that time, for he stood up
abruptly, his chair falling backwards. His eyes burned with thinly disguised contempt as he turned and pushed his way roughly past stricken waiters, out of the hushed restaurant and out of Jaimie’s life.
She had settled the bill and left straight after Richard, climbing thankfully into the comforting darkness of a hackney cab. Jaimie hardly noticed the fifteen minute journey to her flat, it was raining heavily and the city traffic became a blur of coloured lights through the rain streaked windows and hot tears of relief and humiliation.
“If Richard is so damned hard to leave behind, why the hell didn't you stay with him?” demanded a familiar deep Canadian voice at her side.
Jaimie forced her eyes to focus, she must have fallen asleep… the blurred memory of the taxi resolved itself once more, into the aeroplane window. Now, as she stared out, dark clouds surrounded the jet and only her slightly startled reflection peered back at her. Straightening self-consciously in her seat, Jaimie glanced at the enigmatic man at her side. Straker had taken full advantage of the refreshments available and was sipping what smelt like a whisky. He eyed her sardonically and she felt herself colouring under the penetrating stare. She did not usually talk in her sleep, what on earth had she said?
“Does flying bother you?” he asked, looking so relaxed and at ease with his whisky, that it annoyed her intensely.
“Not in the least.” she snapped too quickly. “I've had a lot on my mind.”
“Ah yes, Richard!” he repeated the name meaningfully.
“I'm over tired and your charming welcome at the airport was ill-mannered and….”
“Dangerous habit, talking in your sleep,” he continued relentlessly, not allowing her to change the subject so easily. “Could get you into trouble, sleeping with someone and calling out a different name..” he smiled, the idea amusing him.
“It's none of your business!” she glared at him and then took a deep breath, after all, she didn't owe him any explanations, why let him niggle her?
Richard was definitely part of her past, a nightmare she chose to forget. If the Professor thought Jaimie was reluctant to give up a former lover, then so be it! Maybe he would leave her alone and eventually permit her to get on with the job and not keep harassing her at every opportunity. At the moment his close proximity was both magnetic and disconcerting. She must not show any indication of how he affected her, the advantage and power that it would lend him was immeasurable.
Unconsciously, Jaimie’s hands were clenched tightly together in her lap; she felt him pull them apart and place a drink between them. He released her again almost at once, but not before he heard her sharp gasp as he touched her. It escaped before she could check herself, everything about him, made her ache with an unfamiliar tension. Swallowing half the soothing martini in one go and rapidly finishing the reminder, Jaimie willed herself to concentrate on the brightly lit sign that advised passengers
to fasten their seatbelts. When she risked a glance at Straker, his eyes were closed, long, dark lashes casting a faint shadow on his angular cheekbones, whilst beneath the neatly trimmed moustache was the beginnings of a smile.
The plane began its descent, suddenly dropping below the thick cloud cover and emerging into a world of brilliant sunshine and glittering turquoise sea far below. From her window seat, Jaimie could glimpse small islands coming into view, floating like pieces of a beautiful jigsaw puzzle that had somehow drifted apart in the gentle currents of the Ionian sea. Many of the islands were a deep emerald green, covered in lush foliage, skirted by yellow sands and fringed with lacy white foam, while over to the left, was Corfu itself.
“It's so lovely,” she whispered animatedly. “A paradise, I'm really glad I didn't let you talk me out of coming!”
“Are you?” he mocked. “I'll be interested to hear if you're of the same opinion in a couple of weeks time. My guess is, you'll be sorry not to have a return ticket!!”
Jaimie glared at his arrogantly smug countenance. You certainly wouldn’t win any personality awards, she thought wryly. “Maybe when we’ve worked together for awhile, you’ll change your mind about me.”
“Ha,” he laughed mirthlessly. “You won't last five minutes working in the heat out there.” he stabbed an emphatic finger at the nearing landscape. “Corfiotes have siesta between 1pm and 5pm, but due to the pressure of
our schedule, we’ll have no such luxury. Raising the finance for this venture has cost me an arm and a leg, so no-one gets paid for sleeping on the job! Neither do I intend to let some interfering female get in my way and foul things up!”
“Thanks for the continuing vote of confidence, Professor.” snapped Jaimie. He was impossible, a male chauvinist of the worst sort. A living, breathing monster who made her tremble with indignation at the injustice of it all.
“Look, let's face it Miss Anders,” he continued, giving her a cursory appraisal from her dark wavy hair, down to the high heeled strappy sandals. “You're smartly dressed, well-groomed, not unattractive…”
“Thanks again,” she acknowledged curtly. “Don't you think all this flattery is a little late in the day?”
“But,” he went on, ignoring her remark. “I sure as hell don't need an assistant who's worried about ruining her clothes or breaking a nail!”
He was making the whole thing sound like some kind of mammoth assault course. Out in the wilds, where he would be the man in charge, giving the orders, wielding the whip. Maybe the site was so primitive that he had to shave with a knife in front of a broken mirror. She blinked and wondered how she could feel such a strange combination of emotions, thinking about him this way.
“I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty,” she declared resolutely. “and the idea of ‘roughing it' doesn't intimidate me either!”
“Really?” he raised a speculative eyebrow and once more his searing gaze drifted meaningfully over her tanned limbs.
“Why don't you just accept that I'm here to stay?” she persisted, “There's nothing you can do about it now, short of refusing to pay my wages. You haven't time to find a replacement, you said yourself the schedule is too tight.”
“We'll see.” he answered slowly and again that arrogant smile twitched on his lips and disconcerted her.
“Tell me, Straker?” the unexpected insolent address made him wince. “What exactly has given you such a low opinion of women?”
“You mean who.”
“All right then, who?” she asked sharply.
His reply coincided perfectly with a rapid loss in height by the plane and part of her inside seemed to lurch wretchedly; leaving her heart and stomach some distance above her body and out of alignment. Straker’s eyes bored into her, assimilating every expression that moved over her face. She wished she could throw off the restraining seatbelt and slip away from his scrutiny, but she was his prisoner until the plane touched down. Moistening dry lips, she produced a faltering smile.
“No doubt your wife…” why did those words stick in her throat? “No doubt she has a similarly high opinion of you?”
“No doubt!” he agreed and continued to survey Jaimie with evil amusement.
Why had it shaken her to discover that he was married? After all, he was not her type, he infuriated and unsettled Jaimie and hardly tolerated her presence with any grace! She had noticed earlier during their flight, that he wore no wedding ring, just a diamond set signet on his right hand. It was not unusual for her to look at someone’s jewellery, she had told herself at the time; just natural curiosity after working in the trade for so long. Married men did not have to wear a wedding ring, nevertheless, she felt oddly cheated by his sudden admission to having a wife.
“A present for my 21st birthday, from my parents.” said Straker as though he could read her mind and she realised she'd been staring at his signet ring. “Of course that's going back some 12 years now!” he added.
“Do archaeologist have parents?” she queried silkily. “Don't they just evolve or something?”
“You men break the mould?” his impulsive grin took her already confused senses completely by surprise. For a moment, the ill-bred monster was almost in danger of becoming sociable. His eyes could be so very expressive when he dropped that mask of pained tolerance and slacked the tight reined control. Jaimie had seen it slip when he was studying the notes on the forthcoming expedition, the enthusiasm and dedication of the man lit his features and seemed to bring him vibrantly alive. He lived for his work and heaven help anyone who represented a threat to that vocation, but despite his resolve, he could still laugh at himself.
Disappointingly, the momentary rapport was lost as
rapidly as it arose. Several passengers were exclaiming and craning their necks to view some point of interest, visible as the plane reduced altitude. Straker’s attention was also diverted and he leaned slightly across Jaimie to look out of her window. Staring past his distracting dark, sleek hair and enveloped by his aftershave, she endeavoured to follow his gaze. Catching her breath, Jaimie saw that they were perhaps only a hundred feet above the sea and there, almost within her grasp, was a tiny exquisite islet, just off Corfu’s coastline. It was spiked with the main island’s characteristic cypress trees and surrounded by crystal water. There was a square jetty and at the top of a myriad of minute steps, lay a white stone building resembling a church or monastery.
“That's Pondikonissi or island of the mouse, something of a landmark.” Straker informed her, easing back into his seat. “We'll be down in another couple of minutes, the airport approach is over a lagoon. It's always a novelty that the plane can decelerate in so short a distance!”
“You've got real tour guide potential!” she marvelled ironically and re-checked her seatbelt. “Is there something special about Pondikonissi?” she asked, trying to turn her attention away from the impending touchdown.
“Certainly, according to Greek tradition, it's the rock where Ulysses was cast ashore by a storm. The whole of Corfu is steeped in legend,” he added frowning. “I just hope we're not chasing rainbows with this expedition, I've no wish to go down in Greek history as the archaeologist fooled by legend. I don't expect the ancient gods to look
very favourably on a Canadian digging up their treasures. They probably sent you along to thwart my efforts!”
Jaimie was about to protest at this further libellous remark, but the plane had landed smoothly and almost straight away the hatch doors were being opened and hand luggage re-claimed from overhead lockers.
The air-conditioned cabin of the jet, gave no indication or warning of the instant heat that met Straker and Jaimie as they disembarked. Walking a short distance to the airport building, the smell of hot, melting tarmac underfoot, vied with engulfing exotic scents carried on the warm breeze from flowers somewhere inland.
Customs was a mere formality and they were not even detained waiting for their luggage. Straker informed her that someone would take care of everything and see that their belongings reached the hotel safely. Indeed, Straker seemed to hold something near celebrity status, his arrival had been anticipated by the media and all the way out to the waiting chauffeured car, they pressed him for details of his visit. Why had he come to Corfu? Would he be working on a dig somewhere? Who was Jaimie? Where was his wife? Straker shook his head, uncommunicative as ever, he shied away from the insistent cameras and strode on; Jaimie struggling to keep up with him.
“Quite a reception committee!” she gasped as they finally found refuge and pulled away in the waiting luxurious car. Only ten minutes since they had left the plane, but already Jaimie felt like a wilting flower after the heat and hectic
Straker was far from amused by the proceedings either. “So much for keeping things under wraps!” he scowled. “The last thing the expedition needs is publicity. If the tourists and locals ever get wind that there is treasure to be found, it’ll be disastrous!”
“Yes,” agreed Jaimie in mock horror. “They'll all take to ‘them thar hills' with picks and prospecting pans…”
“This is no laughing matter.” he cautioned her bitterly. “One expedient headline and it could mushroom into the next great gold-rush, overnight!”
“You're right,” she agreed soberly. “Sorry.”
“Luckily, by stopping over for a few days at our five-star hotel, we should be able to throw the press off the trail.”
Jaimie looked puzzled, first the fancy car to meet them at the airport and now a stay in some fabulous hotel. “I thought you said it had been difficult financing the expedition,” she protested. “Why the unnecessary extravagance?”
“Before you take a tumble off that high horse of yours Miss Anders…” his voice was pained. “We are to be guests of Corfiote hospitality for awhile, it would be discourteous to turn down such an invitation.”
“Yes of course…..I see, how lovely.”
“Indeed,” he continued, “I suggest you make the most of it, there will be few home comforts after we leave!”
They had come full circle, thought Jaimie despairingly, the initial distance between Straker and herself had opened up again and yawned like some unbridgeable chasm. The
mask was firmly back in place and he still resented her being there. He had no time for her in her professional capacity and he certainly would never need her on a personal level…. as a friend…. as a woman. She remained silent for the rest of the short journey to the hotel near Kanoni, and he also, appeared preoccupied and sullen.
By the time they reached their impressive hotel, set high on a rock promontory, Jaimie’s clothes were sticking to her and she longed for a shower. It was mid-August and late afternoon, past the main heat of the day, but Straker had been right, she admitted reluctantly to herself. Swapping the muggy warmth of Manchester for this sweltering heat, was going to take some getting used to! Thankfully, the hotel was fully air-conditioned, although she knew their next accommodation would afford no such luxury. It was a palatial hotel, with cool marble pillars and polished stone floors. In the lobby, arched alcoves displayed Greek statues and fantastic flower arrangements.
After checking in, Straker and Jaimie were shown to adjacent rooms, which really amounted to lavish suites. They made plans to meet in the cocktail bar at 7pm to go over the next day’s itinerary, then entered their rooms. Jaimie’s luggage was already, miraculously installed and her enormous suitcase seemed to shrink to the size of an overnight bag, in the vast grey and pink accommodation. Concealed lighting emphasised the modern design, while a small spotlight illuminated a single orchid in a narrow bud
The king-sized bed rippled with cool satin sheets and if she had not seen Straker shown into the suite next door with her own eyes, she could easily have believed that he had booked a double-room for them. Strange, how the thought made her shiver, but whether it was with fear or excitement, she couldn’t decide. She really ought too stop letting her mind explore such impossible fantasies… already, the heat was beginning to have a peculiar effect upon her!
Two double louvre doors revealed a balcony that overlooked a deep blue swimming pool, several floors below. The sun still glittered on its surface and bronzed guests sat around with long, cool drinks. Turning back into her room, Jaimie explored the bathroom, where the grey and pink colour scheme continued. She kicked off her high heeled sandals to savour the cold tiles beneath her bare feet. Deciding to unpack later, she let her limp, linen suit and underwear drop to the floor. What she needed more than anything right now, was a reviving shower. Fingering the shell shaped soap, she stepped under the jet of water and let the traumas of the day wash away. Then, wrapping a thick, pastel towel around her tanned body, she felt human again and padded barefoot into the bedroom…. only to immediately collide with Straker. Jumping back in surprise, she peered at him beneath the rivulets of water running from her hair.
“It seems a bit late to inquire whether you bothered to knock,” she said glancing at the open door that connected
their suites. “But how long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough!” he drawled and she realised he could see right into the bathroom from where he stood.
He was immaculately dressed for the evening, in a white dinner-jacket, black tie and black, well-cut trousers outlining his lean hips and long legs. He had shaved again too, a fresh application of that refined aftershave seemed to pervade the room. There wasn’t a hair out of place on his head or moustache, he was breathtaking in his arrogant masculinity. The only flaw in the image was a large damp area on his lapel, where he had collided with Jaimie’s wet hair and the sight of it, gave her a strange satisfaction.
“Your microscope,” he said as though they had just spent the last few minutes discussing it. She used the instrument, along with her other special equipment, for testing and identifying gemstones; surely he wasn't going to talk ‘shop' now?
“What about it?”
“I've had it stored with the rest of the expedition tackle and provisions,” he informed her, “All your other instruments are there too, I want to keep our presence here, as low-key as possible and to all intents and purposes we're just on vacation!”
“I see, couldn't you have told me this later?”
“I thought you might wonder whether your things had been lost, when they weren't sent up and I didn't want you flying down to reception, arousing unnecessary suspicion.” he stated plausibly. “However, it appears you haven't even missed the items in question. Remarkable diligence
on your part, Miss Anders! I trust you will take greater pains over the safe-keeping of any jewels that we may find?”
She felt hot indignation rise in her, but where was her excuse? She had overlooked the fact that only part of her luggage had reached her room. There was no credible reason she could throw at him, certainly none that came to mind while she stood before him, wearing just a towel.
“Priorities Miss Anders!” he admonished. “You'd better start getting them into perspective. You should have stayed a city girl, if you want to pamper yourself!” As though to stress his point, he ran a hand over her shoulder, smoothing away the little channels of water which continually dripped from her hair. Jaimie pulled away, her eyes flashing, his touch against her skin was like fire…
“Get out of here, I want you to leave right NOW!” she snapped furiously.
“No, you've got it the wrong way around… I want you to leave!” he said. “You must go, back to England.”
“I won't...I've told you!”
“True, but there are other ways of making you change your mind, before it's too late.” he persisted.
“What do you mean?” she demanded and regretted it, because he intended to show her right now. One strong hand slid beneath Jaimie's hair at the nape of her neck, while the other, anchored her own hands. Then his mouth was on hers, cruelly, devastatingly possessing her lips. Forcing them apart, bruising the soft flesh. Jaimie resisted, but her cries of protest died against his lips. He pressed
her body to his and it was several moments, before she was aware that his hands no longer imprisoned her or compelled her to submit to his demands! Somewhere along the way, she had ceased to struggle and writhe and begun instead, to respond. Her own body seemed to have rebelled against her senses and come alive in his arms. Straker stood back suddenly and she clutched the loosened towel to herself. Her lips felt swollen and she could only stare at him speechlessly.
“I wonder Richard can bear to be parted from such sweet hunger?” grimaced Straker. “It seems that forcing myself on you, is no deterrent at all, little lady! I shall have to consider some more appropriate course of action!”
She felt ravaged and vulnerable, as if she stood naked before him. He had surely tasted the desire on her lips…. Desire that she had failed to conceal and just as surely, he had discarded and thrown back at her. But perhaps, he also, was unprepared for the instant ‘electricity’ between them, because Straker had groaned in her arms seconds before he pushed her away. There could be no doubt that opposites attracted and the magnetism was so palpable, it was almost a solid force.
His searing gaze had never left her face, but now he turned and walked away, leaving Jaimie leaning against the wall… shaking, her eyes closed. Heaven help her, he had almost become an intimate stranger, for she hardly knew him at all and what was worse, after witnessing her own reaction to his insistent advances, she no longer recognised herself!!
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