Scandalous Seduction(56)

By: Miranda Lee

She pushed him away, frowning. 'You mean I remind you of your wife?' she asked, worried.

'Not at all. Other than that particular phrase you used, you're not even remotely like Helen. She was a sweet girl, and I loved her dearly, but looking back she was just that. A girl…as I was a boy. Perhaps that was why I couldn't cope with her death. I went berserk, cutting myself off from my family with my outrageous behaviour, treating women as little better than objects for my own ends, putting on this ghastly sophisticated act to a world I thought was too painful to endure.'

'But that wasn't the real you, Brad,' she soothed. 'You showed the real you to me. Kind, generous, loving…'

'That's because I had fallen in love with you, Harriet, you with your endearing honesty, your genuine warmth, your smouldering sexuality. And yes…your chip on your shoulder. I could empathise with that…'

'My smouldering sexuality?' she repeated dazedly.

'You don't agree?'

'Well, no… I always thought of myself as a fraction cold before you brought me out of my shell.' But even as she denied it she suspected Brad was right. Underneath, she had always been highly sexed. That was what had made her seeming lack of attractiveness to the opposite sex such a torment. Her cold aloofness had been a facade to hide the frustration. Yet the facade had only perpetuated the vicious circle, making males turn away from her even more.

'It was there right from the start, Harriet,' Brad whispered into her ear. 'In your eyes.' Which of course it had been. She hadn't been able to take her eyes off him that first night at dinner. 'And might I ask you the same question?' he retaliated. 'When did you fall in love with me?'

'I think… perhaps… when I watched you being interviewed on television. At least, that was when the seed was sown. It only needed you in the flesh to burst into life.'

He pulled her even closer, if that was possible. 'My darling Harriet, you can have all of me in the flesh you like.' His hand started roving under the jumper.

'Stop being naughty!' she reprimanded, but she didn't strike his hand away.

'You like me naughty.'

'I like you any way,' she laughed, her ribs being ticklish.

'Let's go back to my place?'

'All right,' she agreed eagerly.

They rose and made their way to the front door. 'I'm taking Harriet out for dinner, folks,' Brad called. 'Don't wait up!'

Julia materialised in the foyer, all smiles. 'How nice. Well, have a good time, dears. Oh, Harriet, could you spare just a second or two before you go?'

Harriet raised her eyebrows at Brad but followed her mother down the hall. 'Yes?'

Her mother leant forward like a conspirator. 'I do realise you're a grown woman, Harriet,' she whispered, 'but I feel I have to say something. I mean…you've always been a bit…naïve…where men are concerned, and a man like Brad… Well they can prove quite difficult to handle. They don't always like to wait till the wedding night…'

Harriet must have looked odd as she battled to control a fit of the giggles.

'Thank you, Mother,' she said with quivering lips and chin, 'but I think I can manage Brad all right. He's very kind and considerate, and he only wants what I want.'

Julia relaxed into a smile. 'That's a comfort to know. Oh, I think your father wanted to say something to you as well. He's in the study. I'll keep Brad entertained while he's waiting.'

Harriet opened the study door with a sense of curiosity. She could not recall the last time her father had asked to speak to her privately.

Raymond looked up from where he was sitting behind his desk. 'Ah, Harriet! Come in, my dear, come in.'

'I can't stay, Father. Brad and I are just off to dinner.'

'A celebratory dinner, eh? Splendid idea. Well, I won't keep you. I just wanted to say—and for Pete's sake don't repeat this to your mother, or Amanda—but between my two prospective sons-in-law, I think you got the better catch, by far!' He beamed at Harriet, then actually stood up to come round and give her a kiss. Harriet stood there, astonished. 'I've been very worried about you, my dear. Very worried. I've never been good at understanding women. Never. But I can see you've worked your problems all out by yourself and I think it's splendid. Just splendid!' And he actually hugged her!

Harriet left the room quite speechless, wandering back down to the foyer in a daze.