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Leigh Tremayne shrugged away the chill that assailed her as an unattached voice demanded her name and business after her Audi pulled to a halt in front of the massive iron gate. It wasn't really the voice that bothered her, she realized. She had been to Derek's Star Island estate before and knew what to expect. What was disturbing her, she admitted, was that she was coming closer and closer to the inevitable—her meeting with Derek.
"It's Mrs. Tremayne," she called irritably. "And you'll have to ask your boss what my business is!"
The gate rolled silently open. For a moment she merely stared at it, her fingers frozen on the wheel of her car. She was suddenly panicking, wishing she had never agreed to come. Then she pushed such ridiculous notions aside and turned the key in the ignition. There was no reason for her not to come; there was no reason for her to fear an encounter with Derek Mallory.
She drove slowly up the gravel driveway and past the manicured lawns, unconsciously smoothing back a wispy tendril of light auburn hair. Acutely aware that there was a good possibility that she was being observed by an electronic eye, she made no attempt to check her appearance. Besides, Richard had once assured her—in the days before he had begun to find fault—that her beauty lay in her "classic nobility of presence." And at twenty-seven she had come to an age when she was capable of assessing herself objectively. She might not be a great beauty, but she was an attractive woman. Almost elegant at times, thanks to the sophistication Richard had laboriously drilled into her. And today she had drawn on every natural asset and every grain of hauteur learned from her late husband. Her copper hair was knotted simply on her head beneath the rim of her low-angled beige hat; her large hazel eyes were subtly highlighted by blended green and brown shadows; her "classic" cheekbones were pronounced by a slight touch of blush.
As she crawled lithely from the car, she casually straightened her beige skirt. She had chosen the outfit, and the three-inch heels despite her slender five-nine frame, for a businesslike and aloof effect. Derek certainly hadn't called her to renew an old friendship. He had made his opinion of her quite clear at Richard's funeral, and they hadn't parted on the best of terms.
Derek, although he didn't say it in so many words, blamed her for the wasteful demise of his friend and partner, Richard Tremayne, undoubtedly one of the finest musicians of the twentieth century. The world mourned Richard sincerely while it seemed to Derek that his widow did not.
But what Derek didn't realize, she thought wryly, was that she had mourned the loss of her husband long before his death. And she had loved him. She had given him her heart, soul, and mind and catered to him completely until she began to lose her own existence in the shadow of his growing tantrums and demands. Then she awoke one day with the bitter and sad assimilation of the truth. Richard loved her in his way, but not enough to grant her the individual devotion of a normal marriage partner. Toward the end he cruelly pointed out that she should be grateful just for the privilege of being his wife. He kept her well; she could have anything in the world. He had literally given her fame and fortune. His laughter when she tried to explain that she didn't want the world but a stable home and family had been the final straw. She had filed for divorce, but Richard's untimely death had left her a widow instead of a "Ms."
The shrill cry of a mockingbird startled her into realizing that she had been staring blankly at the whitewashed facade of Derek's deco mansion. Shaking herself sternly, she climbed the five tile steps of the curved outer doorway and briskly clanged the heavy brass knocker. She was happy now, meeting each day with cheerful anticipation. She had mourned, but the past, with all its good and bad, belonged in its proper perspective. And if Derek Mallory intended to tear down her present complacency with accusations and disapproval, she would be back out the door before she ever sat down.
"Come in, please, Mrs. Tremayne."
Leigh was greeted by Derek's staid and proper butler, an English import like his Waterford crystal. Although Derek and the group spent most of their time in the States, they still considered Great Britain their home and often liked elements of "home" around them. Leigh also knew that the popular conception that the group had risen from the slums of Liverpool was absurdly far from the truth. Each of the five original members of the band had been born to affluent families. Derek, in fact, would one day be Lord Mallory.
"Thank you, James," she told the austere butler. A slightly wicked smile curved her lips. It always amazed her that James, so amazingly dignified and correct, could consistently maintain his rigid discipline of manner amidst the frequent cacophony of his employer's world. "How have you been?"
"Fine, madam, thank you," James replied without a twitch of his countenance. "Now if you'll follow me, please, I'll take you to Mr. Mallory. He's been expecting you, you know."
"Yes, I know," Leigh said smoothly, but James was moving down the cathedral-domed hallway before the words were out of her mouth. She hurried after him, listening to the sharp click of her heels on the Venetian tile of the floor. James was leading her to Derek's large office, a room where he carried out his business affairs and also kept a perfectly tuned grand piano so that he could work whenever the impulse came to him.
James swung open a set of varnished oak double doors, and Leigh stopped abruptly behind him, her eyes drawn to the man at the cherry-wood desk.
Derek was casually seated. His long, jean-clad legs were stretched on top of the desk, crossed at the ankle. A pair of Adidas sneakers adorned his feet, a simple navy tank top exposed more of his broad, golden-haired chest than it covered. His sturdy tanned hands and incredibly long fingers were engaged in holding a ledger and scribbling upon it. His handsome features—high arched brows, deep golden-brown eyes, long aquiline nose, and beard-fringed, sensual mouth—were taut, tense, and engrossed, as if the ledger before him posed infinite problems. At the sound of their approach, he glanced up sharply, his gaze falling quickly from James to Leigh, a dark, fathomless gaze that seemed to strike her with the force of a physical blow, divest her of chic clothing down to the vulnerable flesh, even go beyond the flesh and bare the terrible beating of her heart to open view. How ridiculous! she admonished herself. Cowardly whimsy. Derek couldn't possibly see a thing except a well-dressed young woman.
"Mr. Mallory, Mrs. Tremayne," James announced unnecessarily. He made a clipped goose step and disappeared down the hall.
"Hello, Derek," Leigh said coolly, striding into the room with what she hoped was assurance.
He rose slowly, almost insolently, from his relaxed pose, towering several inches over her despite her own regal height in heels. A shaft of light streamed in from the huge bay windows, highlighting his hair, his beard, and rippled chest to reddish gold as he reached out a hand to take hers, enveloping its fine-boned smoothness in a firm grip. Leigh struggled inwardly to prevent her facial muscles from forming a wince. She was experiencing a far worse reaction than she had expected. It felt as if the long fingers that held her so lightly were charged with electricity, sending shock waves of heat through her entire system. She withdrew her hand as quickly as she could after his slow return of, "Hello, Leigh," dismayed to note the flash of amusement that flickered through his golden-brown eyes at her obvious haste.
"Sit down, will you," he suggested cordially, indicating a comfortable straight-backed but thickly padded chair opposite the desk. She silently acquiesced, taking the opportunity to study him covertly from beneath the shade of her downcast, fluffy lashes.
Derek was undeniably possessed of an innate, animalistic charm. It was something he had a vague acceptance of, like his thick, shaggy hair or deep, compelling eyes. He was superbly built, sinewed but slender, his height belying his true strength and breadth. Powerful, taut shoulders tapered to a steel-flat waist and trim hips and long, well-muscled thighs. Yet his sensuality was not a physical thing, not in that sense. It was part of his languorous movements, his shrewd eyes, his deceptive conviviality. Derek was like a cobra. A woman could find herself hypnotized by those magnetic eyes, lulled by that sleek, fluid grace, then suddenly struck, the victim of a swift and venomous attack. A woman could, if she allowed herself to be vulnerable. And vulnerable, Leigh swore silently, she would never be. In the early days of her marriage she had adored him. Her husband's best friend had become her own. Even then she had been acutely aware of his devastating sexuality. But in those days she had considered herself immune. Her equally charming and talented husband demanded her complete concentration. And then of course Derek would never have dreamed of touching her. Since Leigh was his best friend's wife, Leigh knew that Derek would rather die than touch her.
But they had been close. For a time, very close. When things began going wrong, Leigh reached for him. And that was when she began to despise him. He turned on her coldly, accusing her of being heartless and mercenary, a frigid, uncaring wife.
Sustained by her memories, she stiffened rigidly in the chair and stared up at Derek imperially. He was now standing before the desk, leaning haphazardly against it, scrutinizing her as she had been him, except openly.
"Why did you ask me here?" she snapped bluntly.
"I wanted to see you," he returned immediately, undaunted by her antagonistic tone.
"Obviously!" she drawled with tart sarcasm. "Why?"
He grinned easily. "My, my!" he mocked. "The ever-sweet, conniving little wife did turn into a waspish widow. Defensive and suspicious. Why not take this at face value? Why not believe that I was simply concerned for your welfare?"
She grinned back with equal malice. "Because I know better. And defensive, Derek, I'm not. Suspicious—yes. Very. Why don't you get to the point? What do you want?"
"First," he replied firmly, "I want you to have a drink. It might have a dulling effect on that razor-edged tongue you're brandishing." He didn't wait for her assent, but clanged a bell on his desk, his eyes never leaving hers. "What would you like?"
She stood angrily and protested, "I do not want a drink! I want to finish this meeting and get out of here!"
She gasped with shock when all appearance of polite cordiality dropped from his features and he took one menacing step toward her, planting his hands on her shoulders and pushing her roughly back into the chair. "Sit, Mrs. Tremayne, and have a drink!" he ordered in a low growl. He did not release her, but continued to challenge her, his fingers biting into her flesh in subtle warning. "I insist."
The features above her were rigid and grim; the muscles that held her in their command were tense and strained. For a moment she stared into his angry brown eyes with indecision. She was no match for him on a physical level, but she could scream! Yet, what good would that do? She had the uneasy feeling that James would merely walk in stiffly with his usual calm, set a tray of drinks on the desk, ask Derek if there would be anything else, and totally ignore her whether she was screaming bloody murder or not!
"I'll take a glass of wine," she said glacially, refusing to blink as she met his commanding stare with marked resentment.
Derek moved away instantly. "Good, love. I'm glad to see that you're beginning to see things my way."
Leigh forgot her aloof reserve. "I'll never see things your way!" she cried, shocked by her own vehemence. Why was she allowing herself to become emotional?
Derek raised an arched brow in mock surprise. "What? Is that a crack I'm seeing in Madam Frost? How amazing! I thought that blood had long ago ceased to run in your veins!"
Leigh contained a retort as James chose that moment to enter the room. Derek requested a carafe of wine and as poker-faced as ever James exited to comply. As soon as the double doors were tightly closed, Leigh was once more on her feet, this time ready to do battle. A springing leap put the barrier of the chair between her and Derek
"I'm getting out of here, Derek," she hissed with ringing bravado. "I was crazy to come. I knew all you wanted to do was insult me and—"
"Stop, please," Derek said quietly. He scratched his forehead tiredly and sighed. "I really didn't mean it to be like this. I'm sorry. It's just that you sailed in here like Her Majesty the Queen and I reacted badly. I knew this would be difficult for both of us. But maybe it's better that we started out this way. Maybe we've cleared the air a bit. Please, sit. We won't talk about the past or anything personal except in the context of the present. Agreed?"
Leigh watched Derek guardedly, feeling like a fox being conned by a hound. If only he had continued to be rude and harsh! Then she could have logically called a halt to their meeting and blamed the disaster on him!
She had to admit that she wanted to stay. When she had heard from Derek, after fourteen months of silence, she had been quite surprised. She told herself it was only curiosity that caused her to accept his invitation to Star Island for a "mutually beneficial" meeting. But although she would never admit it on a conscious level, it had not been curiosity that had brought her. Honestly not understanding why they had become bitter enemies, she still simply wanted to see him.
"All right, Derek," she said slowly, sidling back into the chair. "I'm willing to listen to what you've got to say."
This time he didn't hedge for a second. "I want to finish the rock opera on Henry the Eighth," he said bluntly.
She stared at him fop several seconds without a muscle in her face moving. Then she whispered, "Why?"
"Because it is good."
Leigh looked down at her hands, dismayed to find that they were trembling. The rock opera was hers. Although Richard had often taken her work and ideas and claimed them as his, he had scoffed at the one composition she had put her most loving effort into. He told her it would never sell; he wanted nothing to do with it. To the best of her knowledge, Derek had only seen the rough draft once. He had displayed interest in the project, but that interest was quickly squelched by Richard, who had dismissed it with a wave of his hand, telling Derek with apparent loving humor that it was just an "exercise" for his wife. Leigh hadn't bothered to dispute him.
Now she glanced back to Derek, trying to find a motive for his renewed interest in his penetrating eyes. His expression told her nothing. Careful to keep her voice nonchalant, she reminded him, "You know that Richard didn't write any of the songs. He helped me with the music, but he didn't even like the work he did himself."
Leigh crossed her legs and reached into her bag for a cigarette. Moving with surprising grace for a man his size, Derek took a marble lighter from his desk and was on his haunches in front of her to light a flame before she could. She wished she had never dived for the cigarette. It was hard enough to hide her pleasure over his apparent belief in her work with him several feet away; having him so close that she could feel his warm breath on her cheeks had made it an impossible task.
"I haven't looked at it since Richard died," she-said noncommittally.
"I doubted that you had," Derek said without moving. His presence at her side, literally at her feet, was totally unnerving. She could smell a pleasant hint of musky cologne, feel the vigorous, coiled tension that made him so very alive and exciting.
Exhaling a long plume of smoke, avoiding his eyes, she asked quietly, "What did you have in mind?"
He raised teasing brows and she blushed. "I mean, do you want me to give you what I have? Are you going to take it from there? Are we going to bill it as Richard's final work? I'm not sure he'd like that."
Derek finally stood and ambled back to his desk, running his fingers through his curly hair. "No, no, no, and you're probably right. I want you to plan on staying here for the next month. You and I will finish it together. We won't bill it as Richard's work, although he will be listed in the credits."
Excerpted from When Next We Love by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1983 Heather Elizabeth Graham. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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