Read Knight and Stay Online

Authors: Kitty French

Knight and Stay (5 page)

He could spin this as business-related all he wanted, but the truth was that it was a massive temptation that she wasn't certain she would be strong enough to resist.

It was odd that she knew that the power lay in her hands. She sensed that Lucien would happily mix business with pleasure again if she gave him the green light, but also that he respected her red light enough to hold back. And therein lay the problem. If she were to waver, to flicker amber for even the merest moment, it would open the floodgates. She didn't see how she'd ever find the strength to swim against the tide.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

Sophie made herself a cup of tea, more for something to do than because she actually wanted one.

She'd already scrubbed the house from top to bottom even though it didn't especially need it, and she'd tried and failed to concentrate on a glossy magazine left over from Kara's visit the evening before.

A glance at the clock revealed the time to be just before midday, which came as no surprise since she'd checked it only ten minutes previously.

Dan would be here in half an hour.

It had been inevitable that he'd be in touch, but still, the curt text to let her know he'd be round over the weekend to collect his belongings had seemed unnecessarily abrupt.

Had he heard that she was working for Lucien again?

And what exactly did he plan to take?

Most of their belongings had been joint purchases, things they'd ummed and aahed pleasurably over together, enjoying the process of turning their house into a home. The last thing she wanted was one of those agonisingly hackneyed arguments over their CD collection.

Sophie jumped at the sound of the knock on the door. She'd wondered if he would use his key, and now she had her answer. In the hallway, she glanced at her reflection. She'd been stupidly stressed over what to wear for his visit, not wanting to appear downtrodden, but then she didn't want to look as if she'd dressed up for him either. In the end, she'd settled on jeans and her favourite T-shirt. An outfit that she hoped said '
I’m relaxed and comfortable, take me as you find me.'

She smoothed a nervous hand over her ponytail and opened the door.

"Hey Soph."

Sophie had tried to imagine how she'd feel when she came face to face with Dan again.

This was the man she'd shared her bed and her heart with for all of her adult life.

This was the man she'd promised herself to, for better, for worse.

This was the only man she'd ever loved. 

And now he was here the overriding feeling that spiked through her was fury, because as his car idled at the other end of the pathway to their door, she couldn’t fail to observe that Maria was behind the wheel.

Dan caught her looking past him and had the grace to flush.

"Sorry, Soph. She insisted."

Sophie rolled her eyes. "I can't think why. Are you allowed across the threshold, or shall I throw your clothes at you from the bedroom window?"

"Don't be stupid."

He shot a quick glance back towards his girlfriend and then followed Sophie down the hallway.

In the kitchen, she leaned against the work surface. "Coffee, or do you need to rush off?" However hard she tried to sound measured, the sarcastic edge won out.

He shrugged awkwardly. "I'd better not."

Sophie paused. "Right." He glanced around the kitchen, and she found she had to look away to swallow the sudden lump in her throat. His kitchen. Her kitchen. Their home… yet he already looked entirely out of place.

"I've packed your clothes for you. And some other stuff. Toiletries... books... you know... things." She shrugged, attempted nonchalance and fell a long way short of the mark. She couldn't pretend that this didn't matter, nor that the fact that he had allowed Maria to be here today had turned the screw even tighter.
He should have come alone.
Their marriage deserved that much respect, at least.

His eyes fell on the bags in the hallway, and his shoulders drooped a little as he nodded. He contemplated them but made no move to pick them up, and eventually he turned his gaze back to Sophie.

"How have you been?"

His quietly spoken question caught her unawares. She shrugged one shoulder and scrunched her nose up. "You know. Up and down."

He looked away, and she saw his throat work as he nodded.

"How about you?" she asked, all at sea with her emotions. The heat of her anger had dissolved into bone deep sadness, and she couldn't lift her voice to pretend otherwise.

His body language mirrored hers. "The same. Soph, I..." Dan broke off at the sound of the car horn blaring from the street. He swore under his breath, and his jaw stiffened in anger.

"You're wanted," Sophie observed tonelessly. Because there was nothing else to say.

"Looks that way," he muttered, huffing as he stalked down the hallway to gather up the bags. He turned to her just before he opened the front door, and for a second the annoyance dropped off his face and left him vulnerable and exposed.

"I miss you."

Sophie looked at him, not sure what he expected her to say.
That she missed him too?
She didn't say it because she wasn't sure it was true. Oh, she'd had moments of utter, raw despair, but mostly she'd been angry and resentful. She hadn't yet reached the place where it was okay to miss him without berating herself for being weak.

The horn blared again.

Dan considered her for a few seconds more, and then turned and opened the door, leaving Sophie with just the scent of another woman’s perfume to remind her that her husband had been there at all.

 

Later that evening, Sophie refilled two glasses of wine and took them upstairs to Kara, otherwise known as the queen of packers. They'd spent the afternoon shopping for Sophie's upcoming trip to Paris. Her plans to buy just a few essentials had gone badly awry with Kara at her side reasoning that new clothes were a necessity given her recent weight loss. She'd returned home laden with designer bags, accessorized with aching feet and a badly over-flexed credit card.

"I'm so borrowing this when you get back." Kara held Sophie's new cocktail dress against herself and turned critically to view her reflection. It wasn't a dress Sophie would usually have bought, but then it wasn't from a shop Sophie frequented, either. One of Kara's favourite designer haunts, the flamboyant owner had taken one long, assessing look at Sophie and held out the hideously expensive dress with a knowing look on his face. He'd dismissed Sophie's protests with an airy wave towards the changing room, and Sophie had accepted her fate. She'd try on the dress to prove him wrong. It was especially annoying that he’d called through a reminder that she'd need to take off her bra to do the dress justice.

Except she didn't prove him wrong. She proved him to be skilled at his job, because the instant she’d shimmied into the dress, she had fallen instantly in couture love.

Gossamer black lace over gunmetal grey silk, with tiny capped sleeves and a daring central black mesh V panel that showcased the curve of her breasts. The gown somehow managed to pull off demure and ultra sexy all at the same time. It was thoroughly grown up and sophisticated, very Parisian, and the closest Sophie had ever come to having an Audrey Hepburn moment.

Despite the heart attack price tag, she left the boutique with the killer dress wrapped and gift bagged, and a new fan in Conrad, the haughty boutique owner. Kara had clearly filled him in on Sophie's Paris trip while she'd been busy in the changing room, because he'd wafted her with perfume and bid her a theatrical 'au revoir' as he opened the door and bowed them out of the shop. The glint in his eye was more than knowing. It bordered on lascivious.

Sophie assessed the clothes that covered her bed, along with shoes and accessories. Kara was organised to the point of borderline compulsive disorder. The outfits were perfect, right down to the earrings arranged on her pillow and the shoes positioned along the footboard - it looked like the bodies had been spirited away, leaving their clothes and accessories behind.

"You scare me." Sophie handed Kara a wine glass.

"Years of living out of a suitcase does that to a girl."

Kara held down a job as a sales manager for an international drugs company and spent much of her time on the road for conventions and meetings. Coupled with her addiction to designer clothing, she was a girl who could out-pack a royal lady-in-waiting.

"You've got professional day outfits, more relaxed evening clothes, and your killer dress." Kara waved her hand to indicate each option as she spoke. "The only thing missing here is underwear."

Sophie knocked back a gulp of wine. "I don't need your help with that. I can sort out my own knickers."

Kara grinned. "I hope you're going silk and lace. No granny pants, okay?"

Sophie dropped onto the small sofa at the foot of the bed.

"Okay. Not that it really matters, because no one is going to see them."

Kara sat next to her and curled her legs underneath her. "You're sure about that?"

Sophie nodded and swirled the wine in her glass. "It's strictly business."

"You said that when you went to Norway."

Sophie bit her lip.
Norway.
Just the mention of the place sent a shiver down her spine. Though it was more akin to a finger stroking lightly down her backbone than a shudder of revulsion. 

"Actually, I didn't. I knew perfectly well what was going to happen there. This genuinely is business. Lucien's opening a club in Paris, and he needs to visit the site."

"A sex club?"

"An
adult
club."

Kara laughed and shook her head. "And the difference is?"

Sophie shrugged and studied her wine glass. There wasn't a difference, aside from the nicety of the description.

When she looked back up, her friend's expression was troubled.

"Are you sure you're okay with this, Soph? Going to Paris, I mean?"

"Not really." Sophie took a deep drink from her wine glass. "But if I can't do my job, I'm no use there. I'll have to leave."

Kara nodded slowly, well aware of the demands of working for a high-flying boss. But this thing with Lucien and Sophie was a world away from her own experience. She sensed it wasn't the unsociable hours and sexual nature of the business that bothered her friend. It was Lucien, and having met him in all his dirty blond glory, Kara could well see why. It would take a saint to go to Paris with that man and not jump his bones, and lovely as Sophie was, she was no contender for sainthood. She was soft, and gentle, and still all kinds of messed up over Dan.

Kara understood why Sophie felt the need to keep Lucien at arm’s length, but she wasn’t convinced that her friend was equipped to act on her conviction. Nor even whether she should.

"What will you do if he makes a play for you?"

Sophie picked up a cushion and plucked at the stitching for a few seconds. "He won't."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because he hasn't so far. I made the rules, and he's stuck to them."

Sophie knew in her heart that Lucien was a man who could be trusted. He wasn't Derek, shoving his pudgy, clammy hands where they shouldn't be. He wasn't seedy, and out to exploit her vulnerabilities. But, she admitted to herself, she was no safer with Lucien, because the man oozed sex from his very bones. Even with their chaste behaviour firmly established over the past weeks, he still stirred feelings inside her that left her breathless, confused and wildly turned on. She knew it wasn’t a
safe
combination.

"That's all well and good in the office. You're going to Paris, the city of romance."

Sophie blew out a defiant sigh.

"I'm done with romance."

Kara flinched and rubbed Sophie's knee. "For now maybe. But not forever, Soph. You'll feel better, I promise."

"Promise?" Sophie tried to draw comfort from Kara's assurance. Clichéd as it was, she loved romance. She'd always cried at rom-com movies even as Dan scoffed his way through them, and she adored Valentine's Day, even though her ever-cynical husband wrote it off as a marketer’s manufactured wet dream. 

"Can I say something without you hitting me?" Kara said.

Sophie nodded.

"Well, it's just... you’re going to Paris with the most gorgeous man either of us have ever laid eyes on." She paused. "You have a killer dress." Kara paused again and cleared her throat. "So...throw your bloody rules out the window and shag his brains out!"

"Kara!" Surprise rounded Sophie's eyes into big blue pennies.

"What?" Kara asked, thoroughly unrepentant. "They say the best way to get over a man is to get under another one." She raised her eyebrows over the rim of her wine glass at Sophie. "What happens in Paris stays in Paris, and all that. Just sayin'.”

Sophie shook her head and laughed softly. Kara had no clue, and she herself didn't have the words to explain how impossible it would be to have anything approaching a casual Parisian fling with Lucien Knight. The last time she'd dropped her guard and let him close, it had been all consuming. He'd taken her body and her mind to places she'd never known existed, and then returned her to her small world like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight.

Except she hadn't lost her shoe. She'd lost her marriage, her peace of mind, and her acceptance of being ordinary. Lucien was a whole lot of trouble because he made her want things she couldn't possibly have. He made ordinary life feel pale and insipid, a watered-down version of the existence she’d tasted that had him in it.

Was that why she'd gone back to work for him? To be close to him, to bask on the edge, bathed by the glow of the fantasy of Lucien’s life without actually stepping back into the full glare?

Maybe. Truth told, Sophie didn't really know herself all that well at the moment.

Lucien had awoken sexual needs and desires within her that she'd never before acknowledged, and they were still there now, whether he was in her life or not.

He'd opened Pandora's box, and there was no way to put its troubles back inside again. Even if she sat on the lid.

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