Lady Lay by Caro French by Caro French - Read Online

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Summary

Farcreek is an exclusive community bordered by millionaires' mansions; a beautiful yachtsman's paradise, awash with money - old and new - and with people prepared to cheat, lie, steal, or even sell out their loved ones if it will enable them to hold on to their lifestyles. The ink on Joseph and Poppy Cullen's marriage certificate is barely dry, but the cracks are beginning to show ... Meanwhile, Joseph's brother Adam fights to clear his name - and that of his lover Lisa - in a police investigation, one that could prove disastrous for the influential Cullen clan ... Promiscuous, unethical businessman Rick Morris keeps scheming, as his erstwhile wife Esme tries to make up for the lost time of their long, unfulfilling marriage by embarking on a new career, finding fresh confidence with her new lover, John - a man who has some heartbreaking decisions of his own to make ...
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681465975
List price: $3.99
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Lady Lay - Caro French

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Chapter One

The afternoon sun percolated through the lace that curtained the windows, softening its harsh light to a rich, golden glow. Adam Cullen smiled down at Lisa Michaels as he curled his fingers into her hair. Lowering his head, he kissed her deeply, lingeringly, and lovingly before easing himself away from her to seek a cooler spot on the edge of the king-size bed.

‘Don’t go.’

‘If I don’t, I’ll melt all over you like a cheese topping on a pizza.’

‘Very romantic.’

‘It’s too damned warm for romance.’ He pushed her long, dark curls away from her face and spread them out on the pillow behind her.

‘And when summer’s over and winter begins, no doubt you’ll be moaning it’s too damned cold.’ She played with the black hair on his chest as she snuggled her head down on to his shoulder.

‘No I won’t. I’ll wrap you in bearskins, light a fire, and make love to you in an atmosphere of flickering flames and spiced, mulled wine.’ He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the tips of her fingers.

‘While I dream of hot sultry summer.’

Throwing aside the duvet, he leant on his elbow and gazed appreciatively at her naked body, ‘That’s the problem with you women. You’re never satisfied.’

‘I wouldn’t say that.’ Mischief glinted in the depths of her mahogany eyes.

‘There’s nothing like a handsome, virile man to make a woman contented with her lot in life.’

‘Why you arrogant …’ He retreated as she threw a pillow at him. ‘Oh hell!’ she exclaimed in irritation as the front doorbell shrilled.

‘Ignore it. It’s probably only the Commander or Bert Marner run out of whisky.’

‘At four in the afternoon?’ Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed she reached for her silk dressing gown.

‘Don’t go,’ he snatched the gown from her hands.

‘I’m paid to act as steward of this club.’

‘Not when it’s closed.’ The bell resounded a second time drowning out his words.

‘There might be a fire,’ she protested as he pulled her down on top of him and nuzzled her ear.

‘There’s one burning right here.’

‘And I’ll be right back to put it out.’ Struggling to free herself from his embrace, she retrieved her gown, slipped it over her arms, tied it around her waist, and padded softly on bare feet into the hall and down the two flights of stairs that led to the side door of the yacht club.

She could see the outline of a tall, dark figure behind the patterned glass set into the door frame, but she could also hear heavy footsteps clumping over the wooden veranda that fronted the bar. Opening the bar door she caught sight of a man with his face pressed against the French windows peering into the club.

The bell shrilled again. Unaccountably she suddenly felt very afraid and very cold. ‘One minute,’ she called out as she stooped to thrust back the bolts on the door.

‘Miss Michaels?’

There was no mistaking the thick-set, square-built figure on the doorstep, nor the man who moved in behind him. Even if she hadn’t seen them before, she would have known them for policemen.

‘We’ve met, Sergeant, Constable,’ she acknowledged warily.

‘May we come in?’

‘As you can see,’ she clutched the neck of her robe, pulling it high around her throat, ‘I’m just about to take a shower.’

‘Odd time to be showering, isn’t it?’

‘Not for someone who works the hours I do.’

‘We really do need to talk to you in private,’ the sergeant pressed. ‘It’s important.’

‘It really isn’t convenient.’

‘There is rarely a convenient time to bring bad news, Mrs Michaels.’

Shaking, she retreated into the small foyer, and the sergeant followed.

‘A body was washed ashore in Traceport Marina this morning. We have reason to believe it is your husband’s.’

‘Ciaran? But …’

‘Are you alone?’

She shook her head.

‘Mr Cullen is with you?’

‘He’s upstairs,’ she whispered as his news sank in.

‘We have to ask you to accompany us.’

‘Accompany you?’ A dense black cloud descended from the ceiling, making it difficult for her to see or hear what was being said.

‘Formal identification has to be made.’

‘Of course.’ She turned and gripped the banisters, staring blankly up the steep flight of stairs.

‘And afterwards, we’d like you and Mr Cullen to come with us to the station.’

‘Why?’ Barefoot, bare-chested, and dressed in a pair of jeans, Adam ran down the stairs towards them.

‘To assist with our enquiries into the death of Ciaran Morris,’ the sergeant answered blandly.

‘Ciaran Morris is dead?’

‘A body was washed ashore in the marina this morning,’ the sergeant repeated. ‘We have reason to believe it is his.’

‘But neither myself nor Miss Michaels has seen him recently.’ Adam went to Lisa and laid his arm protectively around her shoulders.

‘You reported that Ciaran Morris broke into these premises last month.’

‘Breaking and entering hardly constitutes a social exchange in my book,’ Adam retorted.

‘At this stage in our enquiries we have to follow every lead we have, sir.’

‘I assure you that neither Miss Michaels nor myself are in a position to assist you. We haven’t seen Ciaran Morris since that night.’

The sergeant looked to Lisa, ‘Are you still married to Ciaran Morris?’

‘I reverted to my maiden name after Ciaran left me.’

‘I see.’

‘What do you see, sergeant?’ Adam demanded coldly.

‘At the moment very little, sir. But then this investigation is just beginning. Contrary to what the papers would have us believe, most people die in bed. It’s our job to find out why Mr Morris didn’t.’

‘I assure you Miss Michaels and I know nothing.’

‘I have a job to do, sir.’

‘If we refuse to go with you?’

‘I’ll return with a warrant.’

Lisa scarcely felt Adam’s reassuring hug or the weight of his arm across her shoulders as she stood shivering at the foot of the stairs. What she and Adam had shared these past few weeks was miraculous. It was as though she had never experienced a moment of happiness before he’d moved into her apartment and her life.  Had it all been too wonderful to last?

‘Reef the sail in, reduce speed, and ride out the waves. Aim for that channel between the rocks.’

‘You trust me to manoeuvre that close to the headland?’ Poppy Cullen brushed her wind-whipped hair from her eyes and looked dubiously at Ellis Landon.

‘It’s not just a question of sailing, Poppy,’ Ellis lilted patiently. ‘The essential prerequisite for safety at sea is knowing your waters. Don’t worry, the channel’s deep enough to take this boat, and the current will carry you safely into Mount’s Bay. If a squall blows up it’s the perfect anchor in which to ride out a storm. It’s time you became acquainted with its vagaries.’

‘But the channel looks too narrow for the boat.’

‘Go for it,’ Ellis smiled at her. A wide-mouthed, winsome grin he practised in front of the bathroom mirror every morning. His white teeth were perfectly aligned, courtesy of capping; his skin was clear and tanned all the year round, thanks to the sun beds in the health club, and his dark eyes gleamed like polished onyx against the choppy blue and white background of the sea. Even his hair was styled to ruffle becomingly in a breeze. At every hairdresser’s appointment he tested it by bullying four of his stylist’s assistants into simulating wind with blow driers turned up full blast.

‘First I have to take the sail in, right?’ Poppy fluttered her eyelashes and ran her tongue over pouting rose-pink lips. After four weeks spent in the constricting cage of a monotonous marriage to Joseph Cullen, it felt marvellously liberating to be out and about and alone with an attractive man. Even in a boat.

‘Reef,’ Ellis corrected. ‘But seeing as how this is our first time out together, I’ll help you. Just don’t expect special treatment again. And concentrate on that tiller!’

The cry came too late. Poppy closed her eyes and winced as the bow of the dingy scraped noisily on a rock.

‘Don’t worry, it’s only a scratch,’ he commiserated after leaning over to inspect the damage.

‘Joseph would kill me; he’s so pernickety about small things.’

‘I doubt he’d actually do away with you. No man would want to lose a wife as beautiful as you.’

‘If it came down to a choice between me and his boat, Joseph would plump for his boat every time.’

‘Ah, but this isn’t the Lady Chance,’ Ellis commented tactfully, ‘it’s only my teaching boat, and she’s accustomed to receiving a knock or two.’ He laid a reassuring hand over Poppy’s, guiding the tiller as the dinghy scudded over the crest of the waves into the calmer waters of the bay.

‘I never knew there was a bay this big close to the headland.’

A deep scoop of fine yellow sand faced them, sheltered by a rocky outcrop that concealed it from the coastal side. It was protected on the landward side by the towering cliffs of the headland.

‘And it’s filled with quiet waters. Just what a student needs half-way through an arduous first lesson.’

‘It’s enchanting.’ Relieved, Poppy began to relax. Sailing was proving to be a nerve-racking business. On the rare occasions she’d crewed for her husband and brothers-in-law, all they seemed to do was dive around the boat without rhyme or reason and scream at her for not doing the same.

Floating gently on peaceful waters with a handsome, considerate man made a pleasant contrast. Despite Ellis’s persuasive insistence over a drink in the yacht club that a few lessons with him would make all the difference, she doubted she’d ever make a good sailor. Not in the same fanatical way that all the members of the Cullen clan were.

She loathed the smell and feel of the damp oilskins that chafed her delicate skin. Her nails broke, and her hands blistered on the rough nylon rigging ropes. Her hair, fine at the best of times, became stiff and sticky, impregnated with salt, and hopelessly tangled by the wind no matter how many tons of conditioner she plastered over it beforehand, or afterwards. Although she’d paid over ninety pounds for a thumb-sized bottle of face cream that was guaranteed to keep sun, wind, and wrinkles at bay, she wasn’t sure the formula was up to coping with Traceport Bay conditions and she was absolutely terrified of getting a weathered, cheese-grater complexion like her mother-in-law.

‘Drop anchor.’

‘Here?’

‘I thought it would be a good place to take a breather, go over what we’ve learnt, and indulge in a warming nip.’ Ellis produced a metal flask from the inner recesses of his oilskin.

She returned his smile wondering, not for the first time since Joseph Cullen had slipped the wide gold band onto her finger, why she’d been in such a hurry to marry Joseph when he was nowhere near as good-looking or appreciative as Ellis Landon.

True, she’d been in dire need of money, and Joseph had given her a generous dress allowance, a classic Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster to run around in, and a practically limitless budget for their apartment in his father’s house. But then Ellis seemed to live well too.

Perhaps Ellis would have been just as generous if she’d married him, and he was so much more fun, and charming and amenable with it – and, most important of all, always around – unlike Joseph who practically lived in the factory he ran for his father.

‘It’s bloody hot out of the wind.’ Ellis tossed his lifejacket onto the deck. His head disappeared beneath his yellow oilskin. When it emerged he beamed conspiratorially at her. ‘Wouldn’t you like to get more comfortable?’

‘I thought you weren’t supposed to remove your lifejacket once you boarded a boat.’

‘Very good, you know your safety manual. But one step on the rock, another off it, and we’ll be on the beach. Then I can draw pictures in the sand to explain tacking into the wind. You’re looking at my favourite classroom.’

‘A lesson on terra firma sounds heaven.’ She meant it; even Ellis’s company couldn’t entirely compensate for the tense, unsettling business of trying to remember all that needed to be done to stop a boat from capsizing.

‘Don’t worry.’ He helped her to unfasten her lifejacket and divest herself of the top half of her oilskin. ‘A couple more lessons and you’ll be as hooked on flying before the wind as the rest of us.’

‘I don’t know about that.’

‘Here.’ He stepped nimbly out of the boat and balanced on a ledge in the rock. Extending his hand, he grasped her wrist.

‘Do you think I’ll ever be good enough for racing?’ She wondered just how many lessons Joseph would fund with Ellis, who was expensive, even by Farcreek standards. Then, as Ellis smiled at her again, she forgot all about sailing and wished she wasn’t wearing waterproof over-trousers. They made her hips look positively elephantine.

‘You are good enough to do whatever you want in a boat, Poppy, believe you me.’

The ‘believe you me’ echoed repeatedly through her mind as she slid from his grasp. For one panic-stricken moment, icy water lapped over her head. Balancing precariously, he leant forward, grabbed her hands, and hauled her out of the sea. Carrying her to the beach, he deposited her on the sand before returning to the boat locker to fetch a towel.

‘Poppy, don’t stand there catching pneumonia, strip off,’ he commanded sharply, tossing her an enormous bath sheet.

Shivering, she crawled closer to the cliff. He followed. Slipping the knot on her waterproof trousers, he tugged at the buttons on her jeans. In two minutes he had the whole soggy mess around her ankles.

‘Here, sit on the towel.’ He threw it on to the sand.

The sudden warmth of the sun after the cold of the sea sapped her will. Too numb to think for herself she followed his directives blindly, obediently, like a child at a new school.

He lifted her feet and pulled away her trousers and jeans, wrenching her shoes off with them. ‘I should have been more careful. That rock was slippery.

‘It wasn’t your fault.’

She lifted her arms and allowed him to peel off her sweater. The only garment beneath it was a chocolate-trimmed, skin-toned, silk and lace body. It would have left little to the imagination dry; wet, it was transparent. She saw that he was staring at her and a thrill of something other than cold brought a pleasant tingle to her skin. There were some things about being single she really missed.

‘My grandmother always used to say wet underclothes mean colds.’ He turned his back. ‘If you take it off I’ll spread it out to dry with the rest.’

Slipping the straps, she wriggled out of the body, dangled it over his shoulder, and wrapped herself in the towel. It felt warm, thick, and comforting after the sudden chill of the water.

‘Brandy?’ He offered her the flask after he’d spread her clothes over the rocks.

She took it and sipped delicately.

‘You need more than that after the nasty shock you’ve just had. I refuse to wade into British waters without a wetsuit, even at the height of summer.’ He watched while she attacked the flask a second time, then helped himself. ‘This is the worst of dinghy sailing. It’s hard work to begin with and no matter how good you are, you always run the risk of capsizing in freezing waters.’

‘I didn’t capsize.’

‘You did, the boat didn’t; that’s no reflection on you, Poppy, I shouldn’t have let you go. You really do have the makings of a brilliant sailor. And you’re so brave. Most women in your position would stick to sunning themselves on the deck of their old man’s cruiser, not learning to cope with the vagaries of a racing dinghy. I hope this hasn’t put you off.’

‘It’ll take more than one ducking to do that.’

‘That’s exactly what I meant by being brave.’ He sat next to her and clamped his hands on her shoulders. ‘You’re cold.’ Rubbing his hands vigorously up and down her arms, he pulled her around to face him. Afterwards, she tried to remember just who had made the first move. Not that it mattered. Either way, she was ready and more than willing.

His lips were hard, almost brutal as they pressed down on hers. His tongue slid sensuously, probing between her teeth into her throat. Slowly, gradually, the towel slid away, its warmth replaced by the heat that emanated from his body.

‘You’re still cold.’ His hands caressed her breasts and thighs, massaging, stroking, warming, then as life and circulation returned to her numbed extremities, his touch lightened, tantalizing and arousing.

She lay back, spread-eagled on the sand, drinking in the taste of brandy from his lips, inhaling the mixed fragrance of the sea and his cologne.

An image of her husband flashed briefly into her mind as she watched Ellis strip off his shirt and jeans to reveal taut, bronzed muscles and an erection of pylon proportions.

Joseph’s body was pale and plump, his muscles flabby from lack of exercise, his mind obsessed with work.

She closed her eyes, tensed her body and banished all thoughts of Joseph. She didn’t want to think about him, not now. Wrapping her hands around Ellis’s neck she pulled him close, drawing his lean, hard body against hers until it bruised her flesh.

‘I’ve dreamed of doing this since I first saw you at that party in the Cullens’,’ he whispered. He thrust himself into her. ‘You’ve no idea how much.’

The hairs on his chest tickled her nipples as she locked her ankles around his waist. He began to pound into her, his movements less tender, more savage than Joseph’s.

She cried out, screaming into his ear as orgasm swiftly flowed and ebbed. Then with the return of sanity, panic set in. ‘What if someone’s seen us?’ She clutched the towel to her breasts as she sat up and scanned the beach.

‘Who? The gulls?’ He leant back on his outstretched arms and laughed. ‘Look at them wheeling up there. They’re probably crying with envy and frustration right now, wishing they were human so they could do what we’ve just done.’ He jerked the towel from her hands and threw it out of reach. Reaching across, he traced an imaginary triangle with his index finger from the tip of one rosy scrunched nipple to the other and down between her thighs. ‘Relax, the only way into this cove is the way we came, by sea. And that,’ he pointed to the huge black dome of rock behind them, ‘hides everything from the coast. So if you want to,’ he pushed the tip of his wet tongue into her ear, ‘we can indulge again. Always supposing you’re not too tired.’

‘Too tired …’

Her indignation quietened as he bent his head. His tongue moved from her ear to her nipples, each in turn, before travelling downwards over the flat of her stomach. She forgot the cold as her moans grew louder, long drawn-out cries that floated skywards to meet the shrieks of the birds soaring overhead.

A small man dressed in a black-hooded sweater and dark jeans inched his way forward, commando-style, on the cliff top. He stuck his head into space and peered dizzily downwards. The figures spread out on the sand below him fused – separated – touched – broke away in an orchestrated pattern of naked limbs and bare torso.

He waited until their movements grew more abandoned; more frenzied, then pulled the camera from his pocket, focused the telephoto lens, and began to click.

John Chin would have rather spent the afternoon on the oval bed in the stateroom of his yacht with his live-in lover than working on the neglected deck of Commander Farcreek’s boat, Jazz Age, but he had little choice in the matter.

Esme was busy running the Traceport Art Gallery that Bert Marner owned and had become bored with. Bert had been only too happy to hand it over to Esme’s loving care when she’d gone looking for a job.

John knew it was churlish of him to feel resentful. Esme would never have left her husband to live with him on board the Freedom if she hadn’t had an independent wage. Besides, running the gallery had given her a sense of worth and a belated hope of a career after twenty-seven years of domestic servitude to Rick Morris and their three grown-up children. But while the job was doing wonders for Esme’s sense of self-worth and burgeoning