21 July 2019

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Dangerous to Know

Date Published: 12 April 2011

ISBN Number:

Publisher: http://www.astraeapress.com

Link to purchase book: http://www.astraeapress.com

Full Excerpt:

“Dangerous to know.”
Nathalie’s words about her elder brother, Jerome, resonated in Gemma’s mind.
“Strawberries taste better when they’re dipped in chocolate.” Jerome suggested and dangled one near her mouth.
Gemma licked her lips, a gesture that was purely automatic. The air was warm inside Nathalie’s sitting room and Gemma struggled to draw enough air into her lungs.
Why had she decided the best way to get over being dumped yet again was to boost her confidence by flirting with Jerome? The corners of his deep blue eyes crinkled, and she knew he found her naïve attempts at flirtation amusing.
Gemma leaned forward and took the fruit from his fingers with her teeth. She chewed and swallowed as Jerome’s pupils darkened in the soft light from a nearby lamp.
“You’re right. It makes all the difference.” Even to her own ears her voice sounded husky.
He smiled and her heart skipped a beat. “Well, there’s more if you want some.” His fingertips were coated in melted chocolate from the fountain that stood in the centre of the platter of fresh fruit.
His words held the unmistakable note of challenge. Gemma sucked in air. This was not a good idea. She was in too deep. She tried not to stare at his fingers or imagine the taste of his skin. Phew, she felt hot…
“Gemma, Tali says could you come and be in the photo she’s taking?”
Gemma blinked and tore her eyes away from Jerome. Polly, Nathalie’s little stepdaughter, stood waiting in her pink party dress.
“Of course, where is she?”
“She’s in the hall. She said to get you as well, Uncle Jerome.”
“Lead the way then, princess.” Jerome wiped his hands on a napkin and leaned forward to murmur, “Later,” in Gemma’s ear. His words fell soft and intimate on her hot face and her heart rate quickened.
Polly giggled as he ruffled her ponytail. Gemma rose quickly to her feet from where she’d been sitting opposite Jerome on the rose chintz-patterned couch. She followed Polly into the large square hallway, conscious of Jerome’s commanding presence close behind her.
Nathalie was busy arranging people on the broad oak balustrade staircase that swept into the centre of the hall. Gemma thought how well her friend looked now that she’d recovered from the surgery she’d had only a few months before.
“Come on, you two! I want pictures of everyone.” Nathalie laughed as she directed Gemma into position on the stairs.
“And you, Jerome.” Nathalie lined her brother up next to Gemma near the back of the group.
Gemma’s senses flared onto red alert as he draped an arm around her shoulders for the picture.
“Okay, smile everyone!” Nathalie clicked off a shot and checked in her viewfinder. “That looks great.” People began to drift back towards the food and drink in the various rooms.
“Oh, let me get one of you two together.”
Gemma realized she and Jerome were alone on the stairs. His arm was still around her and the bare flesh at the top of her shoulder tingled as he ran his finger lightly over her skin.
“Okay.” Nathalie’s voice broke the spell and Gemma shivered as Jerome removed his arm.
“Are you cold?” He placed a gentle hand on the small of her back. Heat sizzled through the soft chiffon fabric of her dress.
“No, I’m fine. Someone must be walking on my grave.” She took a quick step away from him and rubbed the goose-pimpled flesh on the tops of her arms. Oh, she was way out of her depth - she must have been insane to think she could flirt with Jerome and not get burned.
“My sister told me you were a free agent again?”
She sucked in a breath and supposed that could be one way of putting it. It sounded better than the truth - that Carl, her boyfriend of the last year had dumped her in favour of a pretty blonde and a trip to Australia.
“Yes, I’m free, single and loving it.” She tilted her chin upwards in challenge.
“I always thought you were much too good for him.” Jerome smiled at her.
“Uncle Jerome, Daddy says he wants to show you something.” Polly reappeared with chocolate cake crumbs around her mouth.
“If you’ll excuse me for a minute?” Jerome’s dark blue eyes appeared to hold a deeper meaning.
“Of course.” Gemma hated the way her voice squeaked the words out as Jerome turned away hand-in-hand with Polly.
“Is everything okay?” Nathalie re-entered the hall from the kitchen.
“Fine, it’s a lovely party.”
“I’m glad you changed your mind and decided to come.” Nathalie gave her a warm smile.
“Me, too.” Gemma decided she was glad she’d come. It was definitely better to be here amongst friends than home alone feeling sorry for herself.
“Don’t take too much notice of Jerome. You know he’s a dreadful flirt.”
Heat flared at once in Gemma’s cheeks. “Oh, he wasn’t. I mean, we weren’t.”
Nathalie laughed. “Relax, he’s always liked you. I just meant don’t take any messing from him.”
“I feel much more cheerful now. I’m glad you talked me into coming.”
Nathalie tucked her arm through Gemma’s and patted her hand. “What else are friends for? It wouldn’t have been the same without my best friend.”
“So, do you have any more eligible bachelors hidden away at this party?” Gemma was well aware of Nathalie’s penchant for matchmaking.
Her friend grimaced. “I’m not sure Jerome is very eligible and the only other free agent here is Barnaby, my younger brother. He’s no fun at all to be with at the moment. I don’t know what’s gone on. I may have to do some sisterly digging.”
Gemma smiled to herself and felt a little sorry for Barnaby. Nathalie was a force to be reckoned with when she was on a mission.
“Oh, just look at that child! That must be her third piece of cake! She’ll be sick.” Nathalie dropped Gemma’s arm and darted off after Polly who had just taken a bite of a very large slice of cake.
Gemma laughed out as her friend pursued her stepdaughter into the kitchen. Since Nathalie had married Evan, she had settled happily into her new role as a mother. She and Polly were always together and shared an enviable bond.
A door opened off the hallway and Jerome reappeared. Immediately, she looked for an exit, mortified that he might think she had hung around by the stairs waiting for him.
* * * *
Jerome emerged from Evan’s study deep in thought. His brother-in-law had confirmed his own thoughts about the situation he was in. It had sounded as if he would have to take the warnings he’d received more seriously.
“Gemma’s still a bit raw about the break-up with her ex-boyfriend. You will be careful, won’t you, Jerome?” The sound of his sister’s voice pulled him from his reverie.
Nathalie leaned against the door frame, her dark blue eyes fixed on his face. A whisper of aqua-coloured chiffon disappearing into the kitchen caught his eye. Gemma must have had second thoughts about their flirting game.
“It’s just a bit of fun, Tali. Gemma’s a grown-up girl.”
“Oh, when are you ever going to settle down? It’s always just a bit of fun to you.” Nathalie’s tone held a gentle reproof.
“That’s rich coming from you! You were busy extolling the virtues of the single life only a few months ago, until Evan came back.”
His sister’s eyes sparked at his remark. “Gemma’s my friend as well as my business partner. I don’t want her feelings hurt.”
Jerome raked a hand through his hair. “I like Gemma, Tali.” He wasn’t about to tell his sister, but he’d admired Gemma for quite a while. Ever since he’d first met her at his sister’s bridal shop. She’d been unavailable back then and Jerome hadn’t been in the market for a serious relationship anyway.
Tonight, though, after his conversation with Evan, he needed something to distract him from his problems, and a little light flirtation with Gemma seemed perfect.
Something in his expression must have convinced Nathalie about his good intentions because her cheeks dimpled into a smile and the fire died from her face. “Okay. I’ll let you off.”
He bent his head a little and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be good.”
Nathalie laughed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Jerome left his sister and walked back through into the sitting room and the first thing he saw was Gemma on the end of one of the sofas talking to his youngest brother. A twinge of something a little like jealousy stabbed him as he watched the two of them together.
Gemma laughed at something Barnaby said, touching the delicate gold dropper of her earring as she did so. Jerome’s fingers curled into unconscious fists at the sight of his brother chatting so intimately with her. As if she sensed his eyes on her, she turned to meet his gaze, her cheeks pinking under his scrutiny.
Barnaby followed Gemma’s gaze and lifted a lazy hand to acknowledge Jerome before murmuring something to Gemma and strolling away. Her cheeks turned pinker as Jerome crossed the room to join her.
“My family seem intent on protecting you from me.” He sat down next to her and stretched his arm along the back of the sofa. He liked being near her, smelling the delicate scent of freesia that she wore and touching her soft skin.
“Are you dangerous?” Her eyes were wide as she asked the question.
He felt, rather than heard, her gasp as he brushed her shoulder with his hand. Heat scorched into his fingertips from her cool flesh. “I don’t know. What do you think? Is my sister right? Do you need protecting?” He wasn’t sure quite why he liked teasing her so much. Except that something about her reactions told him she enjoyed their flirting as much as he did, even if she didn’t appear to be taking him seriously.
“That depends if you think you’re the predator or the prey?”
* * * *
Jerome’s deep rumble of laughter at her answer caused a couple of people’s heads to turn in their direction.
“Touché!” He grinned. “So I don’t frighten you?”
“Like I said, maybe it’s you who should be scared of me.” She hoped the pulse she could feel fluttering wildly in her throat wasn’t visible.
His eyes twinkled. “And why should I be scared of you, Gemma?”
“Well, let me see. You’re a well-known bachelor of this parish and here am I, a dumped and desperate spinster.” Although her words were in jest, she couldn’t help but feel bitter towards her former boyfriend.
“You are much too lovely to ever be desperate.” His eyes locked onto hers and his lips brushed her mouth, warm and soft against hers, stealing her breath away. “And your ex-boyfriend was a fool to let you go.”
Startled, her words stuck at the back of her throat. “See, I could be luring you into my web.”
“Step into my parlour said the spider to the fly?” His lips were still only a few inches from her own and the sound blew soft on her face.
“Something like that,” she agreed. Gemma couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. She had never flirted like this with a man before and every nerve in her body told her that with Jerome, she was playing with fire.
He stroked a finger down her cheek and she shivered.
“What if the fly were to ask the spider out tomorrow?”
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea.” Oh boy, she was in much too deep. In fact, she was more than in deep - she was probably drowning and with no hope of a life belt.
“I see.” He moved a little away from her and the tops of her arms chilled.
“I, um…” She tried to think of a good reason why she shouldn’t go out with him.
“If you tell me you need to stay in and wash your hair, I won’t believe you.” The corner of his mouth quirked and she knew he had called her bluff. For all her brave words she was a little scared of him. Scared of the feelings he roused when she was near him and when he touched her.
“There’s a friend of mine with an animal sanctuary not too far from here. I promised I’d take some photographs for a new brochure. I thought you might like to come along.”
“As unpaid help?” It sounded less frightening if she thought of it as helping him out - less like a formal date.
“I’ll buy you dinner.”
“A Big Mac and fries?” Relief swept through her now they were back on more familiar jokey terms.
“If that’s what you’d like, but I was thinking of something more sophisticated.”
Heat flared in her cheeks as an image of Jerome sitting opposite her in a romantic candlelit restaurant popped into her head.
“What can I say - I’m a cheap date.”
He ignored her pun and instead, tucked the wayward strand of her hair that kept escaping back behind her ear. “So you’ll come with me?”
Gemma swallowed hard at the fleeting touch of his fingers. “Okay.”
She’d intended to refuse but the little imp inside her head kept egging her on, urging her to take a chance for once and have some fun. Her ex-boyfriend’s words repeated themselves in her mind. “Boring, in a rut, playing safe.” Here was her chance to prove him wrong and see if she could be fun, unpredictable - even a little reckless.
A dangerously sexy dimple appeared in Jerome’s cheek and she half-suspected he could read her mind.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning about half-ten. You’ll need old clothes and good footwear.”
“Sounds like you mean to show me a good time.” She couldn’t resist sparring with him.
“You’d better believe it.” He winked at her. The action sent her temperature up a notch.
“I’d better give you my address.” She spotted a notepad and pen on a side table and jotted the details down. Her handwriting looked shakier than usual but Jerome didn’t comment on it. Instead, he read the address and tucked the slip of paper inside his wallet.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He took her by surprise when he rose to his feet. “I have to leave early as there are some business matters I need to sort out.”
“See you tomorrow then.” Her shoulders drooped a little with disappointment that he had to leave. It had been surprisingly comfortable to be ensconced so intimately next to him on the sofa.
He bent his head and his lips brushed hers for the second time that evening. Her heart raced as he straightened back up and walked away, leaving her flushed and flustered.
Oh boy, what had she just agreed to? If she was this hot and bothered in a room full of people with Jerome, what would she be like tomorrow when it would just be the two of them?
Jerome’s work as a wildlife photographer and ardent conservationist was well-known and he’d stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy with a series of lectures which had been broadcast on the radio. His opposition to the proposed exploitation of a large tract of Lake District countryside by a property development corporation had made him both friends and enemies.
Gemma had listened to them all, enjoying Jerome’s intelligent arguments and the husky, sexy tone of his voice. Ever since she’d first met him at the bridal shop where she worked with Nathalie, she’d been aware of an attraction between them. But she had been on the brink of becoming engaged to Carl, or so she’d thought, and Jerome had a reputation as a ladies' man.
Although she might have enjoyed the remainder of the party, it had lost its sizzle for her so she decided to leave a little early.
Nathalie helped her find her coat. “I’m so glad you came to help us celebrate Evan’s birthday.”
“Me, too.”
Nathalie surveyed her for a moment. “Listen, about what I said earlier about Jerome. He really does like you.”
“He’s taking me on a wildlife trip tomorrow to take some pictures.” Gemma blushed.
“Where at?” Evan came to join Nathalie, slipping a loving arm around his wife’s waist.
“I’m not sure. He said it was a favour for a friend.”
Nathalie and Evan exchanged a meaningful glance.
“Sounds like fun.” Nathalie smiled but Gemma got the feeling that something she’d said had bothered them.
“Is there something wrong?”
“No.” They spoke together.
“It’s just… well, it’s probably nothing, but Jerome and Evan were talking earlier about the controversy over his radio broadcasts and Evan suggested he take a holiday for a while.” Nathalie looked at Evan.
“I don’t follow.” Gemma knew about the letters in the papers and the questions in Parliament but couldn’t make the connection with her planned date.
“There are a few lunatics out there and, well, Jerome’s had some death threats.” Nathalie rushed out her sentence in one breath.
“If he keeps up his work?” Gemma asked.
“Yes. That’s why we thought if he kept a low profile for a few weeks then it will all just blow over.” Evan’s face was sombre.
“I see.” Gemma blew out a breath. It looked as if going on a date with Jerome could be hazardous in more ways than one.

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