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But a real man needed a real woman — and Rachel was determined to win him back. She would seduce him, and let him love her. And maybe she'd conceive — and carry to full term — Jack's much-wanted baby.
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"THERE'S A YOUNG lady to see you, Mrs Riordan."
The housekeeper had emerged through the long windows at the back of the house and now stood looking at Rachel as she finished clipping a long-stemmed white rose and laid it in a trug at her feet.
Rachel straightened. She was neither in the mood nor dressed for visitors. The woman couldn't be someone she knew or Mrs Grady would have said so. She had to be either one of Jack's clients or collecting for charity. In which case, why hadn't Mrs Grady dealt with it herself?
"Didn't you tell her that Mr Riordan's not here?" she asked, deciding it must be one of Jack's clients. How she'd got his address, heaven knew, but then, Jack rarely abided by any of the rules that she'd always been taught to obey.
"She doesn't want to see Mr Riordan," said Mrs Grady at once. "She asked to speak to you, Mrs Riordan. She says her name's Karen Johnson. She seemed to think you'd know who she was."
All the blood seemed to drain out of Rachel's body at that moment. She felt both sick and dizzy. She might have lost her balance had it not been for the trellis close by that provided a convenient place to rest her trembling hand. But Mrs Grady knew her too well not to notice her sudden pallor, and, hurrying across the terrazzo tiles of the patio, she took Rachel's arm in a reassuring grasp.
"There now,'she said reprovingly. "I knew you shouldn't have been working out here in the hot sun without a hat. You've overdone it, haven't you? Come along inside and I'll get you a nice cool glass of iced tea."
"I'm all right, really." Rachel could feel faint colour coming back into her face as she spoke. "Um — where is Miss — Miss Johnson? Perhaps you'd better show her into the drawing room while I go and wash my hands."
"Now, is that wise?" Mrs Grady had picked up the trug of roses, and with the familiarity of long service she gave her mistress a doubtful stare. Then, retaining her hold on Rachel's arm, she urged her towards the house. "I can easily tell the young lady you're not available. If it's important, I'm sure she can come back another day."
Rachel was tempted. Unbearably tempted. But putting it off wasn't going to make it go away. All the same, she was stunned by the woman's nerve in coming here. Had Jack put her up to this? Somehow, despite his faults, Rachel doubted even he would be that cruel.
"Just show her into the drawing room, Mrs Grady," she said now, firmly putting all thought of changing her mind aside. "I won't be long. You can serve us both some iced tea in the meantime." Though whether she would be able to swallow anything in Karen Johnson's presence was uncertain.
Rachel took the back stairs to the upper floor, entering her bedroom with some relief. Despite what she'd told Mrs Grady, she still felt a little unsteady, so she went into the adjoining bathroom and sluiced her hot face with cold water from the gold-plated taps.
The beauty of her surroundings went some way to calming her. This suite of rooms — sitting room, bedroom and bathroom — was hers and hers alone, and although it was more extravagant than she could have wished, she couldn't deny it soothed her frazzled nerves.
That that woman should have the audacity to come here, she thought incredulously. And then, hard on the heels of that thought, Why on earth had she come? What could they possibly have to say to one another? She was Jack's mistress; Rachel was Jack's wife. Surely anything she had to say should be said to him?
She stared at her reflection in the long mirror above the vanity. God, she looked as shocked as she felt. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, she mused raggedly. With just as much sense of how to prevent the inevitable from happening.
But this wouldn't do. She couldn't let this woman come here and intimidate her in her own home. She was the mistress here, not Karen Johnson. If she had any sense she'd send the woman packing without even hearing what she had to say.
But it was too late to be thinking that. Already Karen Johnson was in her drawing room, being served iced tea by her reluctant but unfailingly polite housekeeper. She couldn't keep her waiting. She shouldn't keep her waiting. She mustn't give the woman any reason to believe that she was too timid to confront her husband's whore.
Taking a deep breath, Rachel surveyed her appearance with a critical eye. It was a very warm day, and because she hadn't been expecting any visitors, she'd chosen to wear pale green linen shorts and an aqua silk top. The top was loose and sleeveless, exposing the faint reddening of sunburn on her arms.
Should she change? Should she put on some make-up before meeting her guest? Perhaps some eyeshadow, she decided, shading her lids from beige to umber. And a brown-tinted lip gloss to complement the sun-streaked colours in her blond hair.
Surveying her appearance once more, Rachel professed herself satisfied with the result. In any case, she'd taken long enough. She didn't want Karen thinking she'd dressed especially for her. Taking another deep breath, she glanced about the elegant room to give herself confidence. But she had the uneasy feeling that, whatever happened between her and this woman, nothing was ever going to be the same again.
Karen was seated on one of the trio of velvet sofas that flanked the fireplace in the drawing room. Another elegant apartment, the windows here were open to the garden at the back of the house. Although the place had an efficient air-conditioning system, Rachel much preferred fresh air. When she was alone in the house, as now, she invariably had all the windows open.
Rachel hesitated on the threshold, for once less than confident as a hostess. Karen looked so relaxed, so at home here, she thought tensely. A stranger might be forgiven for mistaking Rachel as the intruder and Karen as the mistress of the house.
Unlike Rachel, Karen was quite formally dressed, considering the heat of the day. A short-skirted pale pink suit exposed her legs and her cleavage and, although she didn't appear to be wearing any stockings, she had high-heeled pumps on her feet.
She looked — sure of herself, thought Rachel uneasily. Smart and sophisticated, confident in her ability to catch a man's eyes. She was also a redhead, Rachel noticed, although she doubted that was any more natural than the smile that spread over her full lips when she saw Rachel in the doorway.
She got to her feet at once and, despite Rachel's initial impressions, there was tension in the way she clutched her handbag with both hands. She wasn't as tall as Rachel, who was five feet ten even in her bare feet, but she was voluptuous, her heavy breasts almost spilling from a scarlet bust-ier.
She didn't immediately say anything, however. She just stood there, looking at Rachel, waiting for her to make the first move. Rachel wanted to shout, What the hell are you doing in my house? But that would have sounded childish. So, instead, she moved into the room and said with what she thought was admirable coolness, "Miss Johnson, I presume?" as if she hadn't already seen pictures of her with Jack. "If you're looking for my husband, I'm afraid he's not here."
"I know that, Mrs Riordan." The confidence was back, and if she'd been surprised that Rachel should recognise her so easily she managed to hide it. "He's in Bristol, signing the contract for the new shopping development."
So she knew his schedule, thought Rachel, striving for indifference. No doubt Jack kept her informed of his movements. "You're right," she said casually, although Jack rarely told her where he was going these days. "Which makes me wonder why you'd come here, Miss Johnson. I don't think you and I have anything to say to one another."
"Oh, we do." Karen didn't wait for an invitation before subsiding onto the sofa again. "Why don't you join me, Mrs Riordan? What I have to tell you may cause you some distress."
Rachel wondered idly how much it would cost to replace all three of the sofas. Several thousand pounds — but it might be worth it not to have to remember this scene. "I'll stand," she said, hoping the other woman would take the hint and make this — whatever it was — brief. She had no desire to get cosy with her.
"As you please."
Karen shrugged her shoulders, but before she could say anything more Mrs Grady bustled into the room with a tray containing two tall glasses and a jug of iced tea. Rachel remembered asking the housekeeper to provide the tea in the first few moments after learning Karen was here. Now she wished she hadn't, but it was too late to have second thoughts.
"There, now. Is there anything else I can get you, Mrs Riordan?'Mrs Grady asked, eyeing her with some concern.
"No, that's all." Rachel managed a terse smile. "Thank you."
"Well, you sit down and take it easy,'advised the housekeeper shrewdly. "You're still looking peaky. Are you sure you're feeling all — "
"I'm fine, Mrs Grady.'The last thing Rachel wanted was for Karen Johnson to think her arrival had caused her to feel ill. Or distressed, she added silently, giving the housekeeper a meaningful stare. "If I want anything else, I'll let you know."
Mrs Grady arched her brows, but she had the sense not to argue, and after she'd gone Rachel gestured towards the tray. "Help yourself," she said, refusing to put herself in the position of having to serve her. "You must be hot," she continued. "I hope you didn't wear that suit for my benefit."
She had the shabby pleasure of seeing how Karen bristled at this comment. But what the hell? Rachel thought defensively. She deserved worse than that for having the nerve to come here. What did she want, for God's sake? Wasn't the fact that she was sleeping with Jack enough for her? Did she have some notion of splitting them up as well?
"I always dress for the occasion," Karen replied at last, having considered her argument. "Clothes are so important, don't you think? Particularly if you want to please a man."
"I dress to please myself," retorted Rachel, not altogether truthfully. But she'd used to, she reminded herself staunchly. Before Jack Riordan had entered — and subsequently ruined — her life.
"I can see that,'Karen said now, leaning forward to pour herself a glass of the cool beverage Mrs Grady had provided. Ice chinked and Rachel wished she could pour one for herself. But she didn't trust her hand not to shake as she did so, and that would be a dead giveaway. No, better to remain where she was until the woman had gone.
"Mmm, delicious." Whether she'd detected Rachel's ambivalence or not, Karen raised the glass to her lips and deliberately savoured her first mouthful. A pink tongue appeared to collect every drop from her glossy lower lip and she sighed with pleasure. "Are you sure you won't change your mind, Mrs Riordan? I'm sure you must be feeling as hot as me."
Rachel shifted to stand beside the sofa opposite. Then, resting one hand lightly on the soft cushion, she said calmly, "I'll survive. Why don't you get to the point, Miss Johnson? If your intention was to shock me with your existence, then, as you can see, you're wasting your time."
Karen set the glass back on the tray and folded her hands together in her lap. Then she looked up at the other woman with malicious eyes. "You think you're so secure, don't you, Rachel?'she mocked, obviously using her name to show she wasn't intimidated by her attitude. "I wonder how you'll feel when I tell you I'm expecting Jack's baby?"
A pain sharper than a rapier seared through Rachel's stomach at her words. It took every ounce of will power she had not to cry out at the agony it caused. It couldn't be true, she told herself. The woman had to be lying.After all the misery she'd suffered trying to give Jack the child he wanted, surely he had more compassion than to make his mistress pregnant?