‘Come with me, Lynn, please,’ he urged, taking hold of her left arm. ‘I need to talk to you.’
‘I can’t!’ she shouted above the music. ‘I’m with someone. What do you want?’
‘You. I want you. Please. Just a few minutes, I promise.’
The young lady followed, tugged off balance by the force of the tall man’s grip, leaving Peter alone on the dance floor. Whatever happened, she certainly didn’t wish to cause too much of a scene in front of the country’s entire entertainment industry press corps, given her father’s strict instructions before she had left for New South Wales.
With a lethal concoction of macho pride and blessed relief coursing through his veins, Jeff led his quarry out of the ballroom and towards a small meeting room off to the side, much to the astonishment of their fellow guests. His head began to pound on approaching a very solid wooden door. Fighting to catch his breath and with his brain jam-packed with the usual crazed images, he crashed straight through.
The anxious man slammed the door closed as soon as he had made sure Lynn was safely inside. While he struggled to regain his composure, he felt her hand on his shoulder, and a current pulsated from head to toe. It was all he could do not to spin around and grab hold of her shoulders to yank her into his starving body. He managed to stifle an almighty roar which was desperate to escape from his lungs.
‘It’s OK. Slow down,’ the nervous woman smiled.
Stepping forward, Jeff deflected her conciliatory gesture by removing his suit jacket, tossing it onto the highly-polished, mahogany table. He was determined not to lose control in front of her; not after so long and with so much at stake. There was a familiar compassion in her voice that left him aching with desire. He did his best to block it out, unwilling to show weakness. He had waited two years for this moment.
‘Please don’t patronise me,’ he warned through gritted teeth.
Lynn watched her former boyfriend pause, facing the wall with his eyes closed and head tipped back. His breathing was loud and laboured. Obviously nothing had improved for his scarred mind, regardless of the new star’s successful career and considerable wealth. She dared to imagine what might be going through his head and considered the danger she might have brought upon herself by agreeing to leave the crowded dance floor unaccompanied. The recent commentary provided by her father’s investigators spoke of violence of the highest order, and her mind flew back to the tennis skirt episode once again.
The nineteen-year-old’s heart began to beat faster, the palms of her hands itching with perspiration. Was she about to fall victim to some horrendous act of jealous rage? Was the Jeff Diamond she remembered truly capable of such terrible acts? And was the shrouded history she had done her best to deny set to repeat itself right here in this Sydney hotel?
Suddenly and infused with high drama, the commanding man swung round on his heels and strode over to her.
‘OK,’ he sighed, rolling his shoulders. ‘I’m sorry.’
The songwriter pointed to a chair and indicated for Lynn to sit down, which she did, a little more at ease now that his demeanour had lost its deranged edge. The atmosphere in the room remained turgid with anticipation, leaving both musicians breathing heavily and uncertain where their next move would take them.
Jeff inhaled deeply, his face breaking into a broad smile. ‘By the way, for starters, you look absolutely, mind-blowingly gorgeous. You are the most beautiful woman in this whole fucking world. D’you know that?’
‘Thank you,’ the young woman responded. ‘I’m sure that’s not true.’
Her eyes darted downwards modestly, hoping her controlling captor would come to the point quickly. Having recovered from the effort required to enter the room, the lost boy felt a familiar anger welling up inside him. He had no choice but to confront this most irresistible of women and break the impasse that had robbed him of all rational thought. He needed to preserve his sanity and behave civilly towards the most important person in his life.
The rock star leaned back on the table, almost facing her, and stared at the delicious female form sitting in front of him. ‘Lynn, I need to know what’s going on. I need you to tell me why you’re here with that bloody Englishman when you could be here with me. I love you so much. It’s been a bloody long two years, and I’ve done everything you and your fucking family wanted me to. I’ve played by the rules, and then at breakfast the other day you were as cold as ice. Why, Lynn? Why? What more do you want from me?’
After courteously listening until his opening salvo had been released, the elegant celebrity took a very deep breath and attempted to provide answers to the many questions all of which were seeking the same answer. Everything her dejected former lover had said was perfectly true. He had stuck to his word, and she couldn’t dispute that he was owed some sort of explanation.
‘Jeff, I’m sorry I wasn’t too friendly the other morning,’ she began, with as much confidence as her nerves would grant. ‘Your ‘phone call came out of the blue, and I didn’t know what to say. I shouldn’t have agreed to meet you at all. You see, I can’t go back. We’re not the same people as we were two years ago, and I can’t go backwards. It wouldn’t be right.’
The intensity in those dark-ringed, bloodshot eyes sent a flood of sensuous memories through Lynn’s body, and she fought the reaction they ignited in her core. Her explanation evidently hadn’t made a positive impression on the disappointed man, judging by the steeling of his jaw and the familiar forced gulp of a tight throat. Still breathing heavily, she imagined him quickly replaying her response in his head to see if he could unravel it a second time around. After a long pause, he spoke.
‘I have no fucking clue what you’re talking about,’ the angry man snarled. ‘Back where? Who’s asking you to go back anywhere? We are the same people. That’s one of the few things that are still the same. We’ve just got older and done more things. We’re no different to anyone else. No-one goes backwards, angel.’
Jeff thumped the table with his fist, and it startled the nineteen-year-old. She sat straighter in her chair. Angel. What a long time it had been since she had heard this endearing nickname. This man wouldn’t hurt her, she worked hard to convince herself. He had never done her any harm; not even through those horrendous few weeks prior to their separation. Surely he hadn’t brought her into this wood-panelled meeting room to unleash his wrath?
‘I’m sorry,’ he snapped, seeing her frightened eyes. ‘Calm down. I know.’
‘That’s OK,’ Lynn responded, scarcely remembering how to deal with the old mastery. ‘It wasn’t a very good explanation. I just can’t think of anything else to tell you. I can’t go out with you again, and you can’t force me to give you all the reasons.’
‘All the reasons? How many are there? Fucking hell!’
The sequined, silver-clad singer couldn’t help but smile at the exaggerated tone of incredulity. ‘That’s not what I meant either,’ she sighed.
‘Yeah? Tell me something I can believe then. Don’t you ever think about what we had at all?’ the frustrated man implored, reducing the volume slightly. ‘All those great times we had? Christ, Lynn! I know I do. I still think about you every minute of the day. Every woman I fuck, every time I go to bed and every bloody time I wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Is all that lost for you? Seven months of perfection… All that means nothing to you now?’
Lynn’s heart was aching, drinking in the raw poetry of this quite majestic beast. Of course she had fond memories of their time together. She often thought about her mysterious Catholic Argentinean Polish Jew, and never more so than when she had arrived back at Benloch and was reminded of those heady weekends they had spent making love and writing music by the creek. Those seven passionate months most definitely meant something to her, yet her situation now dictated in no uncertain terms that those carefree days were over.
‘No. It means a lot. But my father...’ she started, catching her breath.
‘Your father? Your bloody father.’
With his head bowed and muttering to himself, a pair of sunken eyes looked up at the fearless young woman from under his eyebrows. Her body language had relented somewhat, as had her strident gaze. Was that a chink in the stalwart’s glamorous armour?
She continued. ‘Dad told me I can’t go back, that I must look forward and forget the past. You know how he is about drugs and partying and getting drunk. He doesn’t want me to associate with you.’
Jeff thumped the table again, and this time there was no apology. ‘Associate with me?’ he echoed. ‘I don’t want your association, baby. I want you in my bed, as my soul-mate and my best friend. I want to become each others’ forever again. Share all the plans we spoke about. All the things I’ve started in the hope we’d be able to finish them together. You used to want that too. Is your dad the only thing that’s stopping you, or is there something else?’
‘I can’t live your kind of lifestyle, can I?’ the aristocratic star reverted to her original argument. ‘The parties, the alcohol. You know I can’t. I still have to play tennis, et cetera…’
Her adversary stood up and began to pace the floor. Lynn allowed her eyes to follow him around the room. He wore a suit so well, and again she felt familiar frissons of arousal. He wore jeans and a t-shirt well too, she remembered. In fact, he wore nothing well! Her eyes darted back to the table-top, knowing he had noticed her dreamy expression. She blushed without warning. Nothing escaped this man’s attention.
Despite the depth of her feelings, the strong-willed champion mustered a spirited objection. ‘You’re always making the news, and not always for the good things you do. I don’t agree with my father on everything, but I do on that subject.’
He winked gamely at her disingenuous prudish excuse. ‘Isn’t it better to fear what comes out of people’s mouths than what goes in them?’ he deliberately sent her pulse rate into overdrive, determined to capitalise on his apparent hold over her senses.
Jeff walked over and pulled a chair up beside her, straddling it menacingly. He was staring straight into her eyes, but his gorgeous hostage didn’t recoil. The Olympian hadn’t forgotten how insistent he could be, and it unnerved her how readily she accepted his extreme behaviour. His special brand of persuasive poetry was drawing her in again. His every word caressed her, and she was only too aware of the lifeline she had inadvertently thrown her disconsolate suitor. The conflict burned inside her, knowing he was bound to pick up on this too.
What time was it? Lynn couldn’t see a clock in the room, unless it was behind her. Her childhood self-defence classes had taught her never to turn her head away from an aggressor and risk missing a vital clue. She tried to read Jeff’s watch, but half of its face was hidden in the sleeve of his white dress shirt. Her thoughts turned briefly to Peter, at the same time realising that she wasn’t in much of a hurry to get back to him. Damn her father! And damn the promise she had made before leaving for the awards ceremony this morning.
‘OK. I get it,’ the young man repeated slowly, the veins on his forehead and neck pumping visibly. ‘But what does your father have to do with us now? Didn’t you just have another birthday? You’re old enough to make your own decisions these days. You know that. Your parents shouldn’t be running your life anymore. What do you want, Lynn? What do you want?’
With his patience smouldering under the surface, Jeff leaned over so that their heads were closer together. He could feel her breath on his face, and hoped she could do the same. He knew her responses well enough to be sure it would have the same effect. Each time he said the word “you”, he gently pressed against her sternum with his index finger, just above the neckline of her dress, quite clearly aiming for her heart.
Lynn felt her pulse rate accelerating as he prodded her skin. ‘I know, but it’s not that simple.’
‘Yes, it is that simple,’ her former lover countered, more quietly this time. ‘Christ! Do you know how much I want to touch you right now? It’s exactly that simple. I’m sober, I’m clean and I love you. Plus together we generate enough electricity to power this whole damned hotel.’
The lady in the sleek ballgown raised a slight smile before smartly stifling it again, choosing not to reply. Her lips were full, red and so conspicuously kissable that the hot-blooded poet struggled to concentrate on what else he might say to convince her. In an effort to limit his distraction, he brought his mind back to the fact that she still hadn’t explained why her relationship with Peter Elswick was sanctioned while he was out of bounds.
‘So… You can go out with that pommy bloke, but you can’t go out with me? Why is that? What does he have that I don’t? Forget your dad for a minute. Am I not good enough for you either anymore? Even now, with everything that’s happened?’
This awful home truth was far too difficult to explain away, Lynn realised, instantly driven to the verge of tears. She had prepared for this question before their awkward breakfast date, knowing that photographs of the blond pair had been plastered all over the television and magazines. She could only imagine how seeing them together must have made Jeff feel, having kept his promise to the letter. He hadn’t asked the question that morning, and yet now here it was; front and centre, inescapable.
‘It’s nothing to do with whether you’re good enough, or who’s better than whom. I don’t love Pete. In fact, he’s leaving tomorrow, and we’ll probably never see each other again. But that’s the only kind of boyfriend I can have right now. It’s a using relationship, Jeff. I remember what you used to say very well. I just need a using relationship at the moment and I’ve actually become quite good at them. Could you have one with me? I don’t think so. What we had before is impossible now.’
No, absolutely not! A using relationship was definitely not what the devoted songwriter had in mind. This was something he understood, and he hung his head, feeling as if he had been punched in the stomach. Jesus! This smart woman had called his bluff, damn it. He cursed the alarming regularity with which his own words came back to haunt him. Those early, dangerous and intimate conversations with his naïve schoolgirl seemed a long, long time ago, and he was at least flattered to hear her quote him, even if it was to make the opposite point.
A wry grin spread across his face. ‘Whoa! That’s very good,’ he sighed. ‘You just shot me with my own gun.’
The physical attraction bleeding out of the millionnaire’s every pore was beginning to overwhelm him. He watched as the superstar’s supple, sexy shoulders with their shoestring straps sunk ever so slightly as his self-deprecating humour relaxed them both. He felt grateful when this tiny giveaway sign was followed by a shy smile from the tanned and radiant face.
‘Listen to me, you gorgeous thing,’ he requested, by now making no attempt to hide his lust. ‘You can have whatever you want. Just don’t tell me we’re nothing without finding out for sure.’
Stroking Lynn’s face and tracing his highly-sensitised fingers along her neck and then across her right collarbone, Jeff felt her muscles twitch at his touch. It had not been surprise which had made her jump so violently earlier. The spark was still there. No doubt about it.
‘Tell me you don’t feel anything,’ his deep, sultry voice whispered in her ear. ‘I dare you.’
The nineteen-year-old straightened up, gulped and breathed in sharply, as if trying not to cry. ‘Jeff, don’t. This isn’t fair. I can’t do this,’ she blurted out. ‘My father’s told me he’s found out some disturbing things about your past and he’s forbidden me to see you. That’s it. Plain and simple.’
Shocked by this sudden admission, the young Sydneysider backed away, a metaphorical dagger piercing his heart. Springing to his feet and causing the chair to rock a few times before righting itself, he threw his arms in the air and roared. Lynn thought his eyes were about to burst out of their sockets.
‘Halleluja!’ he shouted, spinning round to face her again. ‘Finally we get to the real story!’
The young woman craned her neck to follow his imposing presence as he stormed around the end of the table. He looked magnificent in his anger. This was her beautiful black stallion, she was reminded; so wildly indignant at the stance her conservative parents had taken.
Again the staunch sportswoman stood her ground, needing to bring this clandestine standoff to a close. ‘But what is the real story? Jeff, I don’t know the real story. That’s why I have to obey my father. I have no way of knowing whether what he knows is the truth or not. You didn’t tell me, and now he won’t tell me. I’m not a child anymore. You keep reminding me of that. I need to know what it is I’m being protected from by both of you. Can’t you see?’
The tall man heaved his leaden frame onto the table and swang his legs to purge the cramp that was steadily sapping his strength. The conflicted celebrity had revealed the magic key to her heart, knowing it would be quite the hardest thing for him to grasp. Even though he had often contemplated disclosing his collection of immured secrets to his dream girl upon their reunion, he had not foreseen being pressured into doing so as a condition of their continuing friendship.
‘Christ Almighty!’ he exclaimed. ‘The ultimate test! Is that it? You’re fucking right you’re not a child anymore, angel. You are truly formidable! I’ll tell you everything, if that’s what it takes. Is it? Would that make the difference? Would that make me better than that arsehole out there?’
Lynn was crying now, shaking her head. ‘Jeff, please stop. You’re too angry to talk about this sensibly now, and we have to go back to the party. This isn’t getting us anywhere.’
The despondent man couldn’t bear the thought of her returning to the clean-living, middle-classed actor, especially now they finally appeared to be making some progress, but the elegant beauty was right. He couldn’t hold her hostage any longer. Her abandoned boyfriend would soon summon security, and then the rock star with the party reputation would be tossed unceremoniously out on his ear like a loutish troublemaker. Such a humiliating fate would worsen his position still further with Big D, not to mention the fun the paparazzi would have in documenting the spectacle.
Jeff calmly sat down opposite the stunning woman again and kissed her wet lips, wiping tears from her face. ‘Alright. I’m sorry to kidnap you. Have dinner with me, and I’ll tell you everything. Then you can make your choice. Is that fair?’
The graceful princess nodded, relieved that the hot-head had seen reason. The kiss tasted good. Really good. Another was therefore totally out of the question. Looking into his big, brown eyes, she smiled.
‘Yes, OK. That sounds good, thanks. I will have dinner with you soon. I’ll give you a ring on Friday when I get back to Melbourne. I still have your number on that napkin.’
‘Great. Thank you.’
Her lowly serf pushed his chair back and let Lynn stand up in front of him. She adjusted the line of her dress, and he looked on in admiration while his libido had no trouble visualising the perfection hidden underneath. She turned the stiff door handle and exited calmly, with her fellow award-winner following at a respectable distance until she disappeared into the ladies’ toilets. Pausing for a moment to take stock of his situation, he eventually turned and dragged himself back into the ballroom to locate his fun-loving guest.
‘Where the fuck have you been? You look like shit!’ Gerry shouted, as his famous friend approached him on the dance floor, only to be quickly engulfed by a surge of screaming admirers.
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