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Amber's teeth clenched hard in her jaw as she checked her phone for messages again. Still nothing from Warwick. She punched in his mobile number and was told for the umpteenth time that his phone was not available. She didn't leave a message. There was no point. She'd already left three, each one sounding more frustrated than the last.
When she'd suggested a romantic dinner for two tonight rather than a restaurant meal, Warwick had promised to be home by seven-thirty. But then he'd messaged her shortly before six saying he'd been delayed and that he might be back a bit late, maybe by eight o'clock.
It was now almost nine and still there was no sign of him. No more messages, either.
'Surely you have time to call me,' Amber muttered under her breath as she returned to the kitchen, threw her cell phone onto the black granite counter-top, then switched off the oven in which the already overdone beef stroganoff had been keeping warm.
At least she hadn't started cooking the rice. Maybe the meal was still salvageable. Though her own appetite had long gone.
Opening the oversized stainless-steel fridge, which never held all that much foodnot much point when they rarely ate at homeAmber reached for the bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which had become her favourite, and poured herself a glass. Carrying it with her and sipping at the same time, she made her way back through the dining room, grimacing as she passed the beautifully set table before heading for the balcony and the hopefully soothing effect of the water view.
Using her free hand, she slid open one of the glass doors that led out onto the huge curving balcony and that fronted the entire apartment, providing a spectacular view of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately, it was freezing out there, the stiff breeze that came off the water quickly making a mess of Amber's long hair. Grimacing, she turned and hurried back into the temperature-controlled interior, shutting the glass door behind her. She'd forgotten for a moment that it was winter, Warwick always keeping the apartment pleasantly warm.
Putting her wine glass down on one of the glass-topped side tables that flanked the white leather sofa, Amber made her way across the plushly furnished living room and into the vast expanse of the master bedroom. Her chest tightened as she took in the turned-down bed, the cream satin sheets and the scented candles she'd placed on the bedside tables, in anticipation of the evening ahead.
'Bastard,' she muttered, and marched on into the cream marble en suite bathroom where she took a brush out of the drawer on her side of the twin vanities and began attacking her ruffled hair with angry strokes.
It didn't take her long to put order into her hair which was easily managed, being long and straight with a blunt-cut fringe.
Her ruffled emotions, however, were not so easily controlled.
Amber could still remember the first time she'd stood on this very spot, looking into this mirror, her blue eyes wide with excitement. It had been the night she'd gone to dinner with Warwick, the night her life had changed forever
He'd taken her to a five-star restaurant first, where he'd impressed her with the very best of food and wine, along with his highly entertaining conversation. It'd been impossible for a twenty-five-year-old girl who'd only left Australia for family holidays in Bali and Fiji not to be impressed with this man who'd been everywhere and done everything. Impossible not to be flattered by the fact that someone of his intelligence and status would choose to be with her: Amber Roberts, receptionist.
Afterwards, he'd brought her back here, without bothering to make any excuses, his intentions perfectly clear to Amber as they had been from the moment he'd asked her out.
She'd tried not to appear too blown away, either by his Italian sports car, or his multimillion-dollar Point Piper apartment, which he'd bought two weeks earlier, fully furnished. But she was an ordinary working-class girl who'd been brought up in the western suburbs of Sydney. She wasn't used to this kind of luxury living. She certainly wasn't used to this kind of man.
He hadn't just swept her off her feet and into his bed that night. He'd taken possession of her with a power and a passion that had left her, not only reeling, but ready to say yes to anything he wanted.
But what he'd wanted had been slightly surprising.
She'd feared, when she'd woken in his king-sized bed the following morning, that that might be that. She was sure it would be a case of hasta la vista, baby.
Instead, he'd pulled her to him, told her he was crazy about her and asked her to become his girlfriend. Not just in a casual relationship, either. He wanted her to move in with him, travel with him, be with him all the time. She wouldn't be able to work, of course. She had to be ready to accompany him at a moment's notice. He travelled quite a lot, both for business and pleasure.
She'd been about to blindly say yes when he'd qualified the terms of the relationship he was proposing.
'Just so you don't get the wrong idea,' he'd added. 'I don't do marriage and children. And I don't do for ever. I have a notoriously low boredom threshold. Twelve months is usually my limit when it comes to any woman. Though with you, my sweet lovely Amber, I just might make an exception. To be honest, you're already one big exception. Up till now, I've never asked a woman to live with me. I dare say it's going to cost me dearly in the end, but there's something about you which I find totally irresistible. So what do you say, beautiful? Do you want to get aboard the Kincaid roller-coaster ride, or not?'
She should still have said no, despite the seductive flattery he'd included in what was really a totally appalling and extremely selfish proposition. But how did a girl say no to more of what she'd experienced the night before? Amber had never known such excitement, or such pleasure. There were things Warwick knew about lovemaking that had quite blown her away. He'd been able to turn her on and keep her that way for hours, reducing her to total mush.
So of course she'd said yes, and now here she was ten months later, still his live-in girlfriend. Or his mistress, as Aunt Kate had once caustically called her. But for how much longer?
This was the third time lately, Amber conceded as she stared blankly into the vanity mirror, that Warwick had let her down. A couple of weeks ago, he'd cancelled a weekend getaway to the Hunter Valley that she'd been looking forward to, instead jetting off by himself to New Zealand with two of his business associates to go heli-skiing, a high-risk, thrill-seeking, extremely dangerous sport that had recently cost other lives and that had left her worried sick all weekend. But his worst transgression, in her opinion, had been when he'd refused to accompany her to Aunt Kate's funeral last week, claiming he'd had important business to attend to that day, then adding insult to injury by saying that the old duck hadn't liked him and he hadn't liked her, either!
Which was totally beside the point. Amber had been very fond of her aunt Kate and terribly upset by her aunt's rather sudden death of a stroke. She'd only been seventy-two, hardly ancient.
It had been horrible, sitting in that church all by herself, then having to defend Warwick's absence afterwards. Her relationship with him had already alienated her from her family to a degree. He'd only accompanied her to two family gatherings during the time they'd been together, Christmas Day at her parents' house in Carlingford, and then last Easter, to a family barbecue at her aunt Kate's place up at Wamberal Beach on the Central Coast.
And whilst he'd been quite polite to everyone, he'd somehow made it obviousto her at leastthat he'd been bored rigid. On both occasions they'd been the first to leave.
Amber's two older brothers hadn't pulled any punches last week when it had come to making forthright remarks about her wealthy lover not bothering to attend Aunt Kate's funeral. Even Warwick's lending to her of his flashy red Ferrari for the drive up to Wamberal hadn't softened their disapproval over his absence.
And they'd been quite right. He should have gone with her. His claiming that he'd had important business to attend to that day had just been an excuse. If he'd cared about her at all, he would have made other arrangements and driven her to the funeral himself.
By the time Amber had arrived back home after the wake, she hadn't been able to contain her emotions, telling Warwick exactly what she thought of his lack of sensitivity and support, before flouncing off to sleep in one of the two guest bedrooms.
She'd been half expecting him to come to the room and persuade her back into the master bedroom. But he hadn't. In fact he hadn't made love to her since, which was unusual. When Warwick wanted sex, he could be quite ruthless.
Clearly, he hadn't wanted sex this past week. But she'd wanted him to want it. Wanted him to want her.
If she'd been a bolder type of girl, she would have attempted a seduction of her own. But playing the femme fatale was not Amber's style. Although not exactly shy, she never made the first movealthough she'd never needed to where Warwick was concerned: he had more than enough moves for both of them.
By now, an increasingly desperate Amber knew she would have to do something to allay her growing fears that he was definitely growing bored with her. Her suggestion this morning over breakfast of a candlelit dinner at home seemed to have gone down well, with Warwick giving her a long lingering kiss at the door before going off to attend to his latest property development.
Not a hotel this time. Warwick wasn't interested in buying another Sydney hotel, despite his earlier acquisition now making a nice profit after he'd put in a gym and a lounge bar, as she'd suggested. This time he'd chosen a night club up at the Cross, a rather run-down, seedy establishment that had definitely seen better days. But Warwick had seen potential in its position and was currently making the place over into the kind of high-class club that would attract the rich and famous with its luxurious ambience, wonderful food and top entertainment. He'd consulted Amber quite a lot about the refurbishing, complimenting her often over her various suggestions. In truth, she was as excited by the project as he was and often accompanied him to the site.
Not this past week, however. He hadn't offered to take her and she hadn't asked. Even if he'd asked her today, she probably would have said no. She'd had other plans.
Amber had known it would take many hours to prepare for the evening ahead. She'd gone to the hairdresser first, after which she'd bought herself a new dress, something extra pretty and feminine. Then she'd had to shop for food, set the table, prepare the bedroom, and, finally, herself.
Oh, yes, Amber thought ruefully as her eyes cleared to rake over her reflection. She'd spent hours on herself, making sure that she looked exactly as Warwick liked her to look.
On the surface, her appearance hadn't changed much since the first day they'd met. Her hairstyle was exactly the same, though she'd given in to Warwick's request to have her honey colour lightened to a cool, creamy blonde. And it did look classier somehow. Her eyebrows were more finely plucked these days, and the makeup she now wore was extremely expensive, not from the supermarket ranges that she used to buy. Although she couldn't see all that much difference, despite the time it took to apply everything. Maybe the lipsticks stayed on a little longer and the mascara was definitely waterproof.
Her figure was still basically the same, longer workouts in the gym ensuring that all the restaurant food she'd devoured over the past ten months hadn't settled on her thighs or her stomach. Slightly taller than average, Amber had been blessed with a naturally slim body, yet enough curves to attract male attention.
Of course, her wardrobe had changed dramatically, Warwick insisting that she allow him to dress her the way a woman of her 'exquisite beauty' should be dressed. He always called her a woman, never a girl. She'd been powerless to resist his complimentsas she'd been powerless to resist himand now had a walk-in robe full of designer clothes; something for every possible occasion.
Nothing too sexy, though. Warwick said that true sexiness was what was hidden, not what was displayed.
A shiver trickled down Amber's spine when she thought about what was hidden under the softly feminine Orsini original she was wearing.
The long-awaited sound of her cell phone ringing had her throwing her hairbrush down and racing back out into the living room, where she thought she'd left it. But the sound wasn't coming from there. Had she left the handset out on the balcony? She didn't think she had.
And then she remembered.
Amber prayed for it to keep on ringing as she bolted for the kitchen, wishing that the rooms in this place weren't quite so big.
At last she snatched the phone up into her hands, sweeping it up to her ear and saying, 'Thank heavens you didn't hang up,' rather breathlessly at the same time.
'Er.it's Mum, Amber. Not.who you thought it was.'
Amber suppressed a groan of dismay. Thank goodness she had a call waiting facility or she'd go stark raving bonkers, having to talk to her mother when Warwick might be trying to contact her.
'Hi, Mum,' she said much more calmly than she was feeling. 'What's up?'
Her mother rarely rang her these days, their relationship having become strained since the day she'd announced that she'd quit her job, broken off with Cory and moved in with her billionaire boss.
Amber could well understand why her family didn't approve of her actions and she'd finally given up trying to justify what she'd done. Because there was no justification. She couldn't even use love as an excuse. There'd been no love back then, just lust. Though she preferred to think of it as passionthe kind of passion that was as powerful as it was impossible to describe, especially to your mother.
It had been quite a few months before Amber realised she'd actually fallen in love with Warwick. Up till then she'd been so blinded by her desire for the man that she'd been unaware of the deepening of her emotional attachment. The illumination of her true feelings had happened with all the suddenness and force of a bolt of lightning. They'd been staying at a resort in far North Queensland one weekend late last summer, when Warwick had decided to go bungee-jumping.