His Last Gamble

His Last Gamble by Maxine Barry Page B

Book: His Last Gamble by Maxine Barry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Maxine Barry
penny that at least it hadn’t been deliberate.
    Lucy would have been fair game in his eyes—an up and coming actress, here for a holiday and perhaps a romance. It would never have even crossed his mind that she wouldn’t know the rules. That she might actually fall in love. He would probably be amazed if she were to blurt out right now that her sister had been almost mortally wounded by his treatment of her.
    So he was reprehensible, yes. But he was not deliberately cruel.
    But she would have no such defence to put forward, should her own plan succeed, she realised miserably. She would have come here expressly to hurt and wound, humiliate and belittle. She’d have done it with her eyes wide open.
    And as she stared at him across that candlelit table, she knew she couldn’t do it.
    Not now.
    Payne too reached for his wine and sipped, but his eyes were shuttered and revealed nothing. Behind them, though, his mind was racing.
    What was going on? She looked as if she’d just seen a ghost, or had lost her best friend, or had some other life-changing calamity befall her. What could he possibly have done or said in the last few hours or minutes to make her look like that?
    â€˜I’m really not very hungry, I’m afraid,’ Charmaine said, picking up her fork, but only to listlessly part her fish and push the tender flakes around her plate.
    â€˜Not dieting I hope,’ he said softly. ‘You don’t need to lose weight.’
    Charmaine smiled. ‘No, you needn’t worry. Besides,
Jonniee
doesn’t employ ultra thin models.’ She had always been horrified by the prospect of even unintentionally endorsing anorexia nervosa by going along with the trend for almost skeletal models, a policy in which Jo-Jo was in total accord. They both designed clothes for healthy women of all sizes.
    Payne nodded. ‘I’m pleased to hear it. You obviously run a good company,’ he said, with deliberate emphasis on the word ‘you.’
    Charmaine nodded, and took another sip, apparently unaware of the implications in what he’d just said. Payne watched her closely, then saw her suddenly stiffen.
    Charmaine looked at him with wide blue eyes, which had darkened in alarm. ‘What do you mean? I don’t run the company. Jo-Jo does.’
    So she was still lying to him. Though it saddened and puzzled him, it somehow didn’t surprise him. Payne leaned slowly back in his chair and swirled the wine in his glass. ‘Don’t you think it’s time that that particular lie be allowed to die a graceful death, Charmaine?’ he asked softly. ‘I know you and Jo-Jo are full business partners, and that, creatively, you are the driving force behind one of the biggest and best Fashion Houses in the world. Tell me, are you ashamed of your designs? Or your partner? Or the company?’
    â€˜No, of course not! I love clothes, and stand by all my creations!’ she said hotly. ‘And Jo-Jo’s marvellous at all sorts of things—promotions, getting orders from the big-name stores, doing the publicity and everything.’
    She abruptly subsided as she realised, a little late, that she’d risen to the bait far too quickly. ‘Anyway, how did you know?’ she asked after a moment of tense silence.
    Payne shrugged. ‘Does it matter?’
    Charmaine wasn’t so sure. It depended on what else he knew. Did he know who her family was—who Lucy was! And if he did know, or regularly made it his business to know these sorts of things, how long would it be until he found out about Lucy’s overdose? And guess that she had come out here hot foot on some vendetta?
    It would be ironic if, just when she’d come to her senses and realised that she couldn’t go through with her revenge, he found out about it and sent her packing.
    The thought of never seeing him again was so painful it actually made her wince.
    â€˜So why all the secrecy?’

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