THE legal soirée was invitation-only, hosted in a luxurious hotel and presented for the city’s legal eagles and their partners.
Judges, barristers and eminent lawyers of note. Where friendships flourished and opponents left the rigours of the court-room behind.
The familiar male drawl had the power to quicken Lisane’s heartbeat…and more, so much more.
Lisane tilted her head a little, met Zac’s dark, gleaming eyes, and almost drowned in their depths. ‘Do I appear to need it?’
A loaded query, if ever there was one!
Mingling with her peers would be a breeze in comparison with the formal dinner, where seating arrangements would place her at Zac’s side in the company of his parents, and Allegra Fabrisi, their preferred choice of a partner for their son.
Tonight she would field empty compliments, the brilliant female smiles that didn’t reach the eyes…each of which were a mere salutation in deference to attract the attention of the man at her side.
Zacharias Winstone, wealthy in his own right, a prominent barrister and son of an eminent judge, he was the embodiment of everything that was charismatic male.
In his late thirties, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, broad-shouldered, wide-boned, sculptured features, a sensual mouth and piercing dark eyes, didn’t come close to describing the inherent sensuality he projected with effortless ease.
Zac, the babe magnet.
One had only to look at him to know he could drive a woman wild. It was there in his eyes, the faint, teasing smile…the promise, simmering beneath the sophisticated façade.
Women undressed him with one lingering, seductive look, and blatantly moved in for the kill. For some it was a challenge, others had more serious plans in mind…So far none had been successful.
For the moment he was hers. Friend, lover…
Commitment wasn’t a word Zac mentioned and marriage didn’t enter the equation.
Relationship? Lisane pondered the word, sought its true meaning, and failed to pin it down.
Together…for now, seemed appropriate.
A pensive smile tilted the edge of her mouth.
It was enough…wasn’t it?
They shared much, yet in many ways were poles apart.
His wealth earned him a position on an accredited list of Australia’s wealthiest names, while she came from an ordinary family of humble means and her education had been gained via scholarships and part-time work to help pay expenses.
Within the legal profession, Zac was recognised as one of the best in his field of criminal law…while Lisane occupied a position in the Crown Prosecutor’s office.
He had chambers in Brisbane, resided in a city apartment and owned a magnificent waterfront mansion on Sovereign Islands, an élite suburb on Queensland’s Gold Coast, seventy kilometres distant.
Vastly different from the small, weathered cottage in fashionable suburban Milton that Lisane had bought, mortgaged and was in the process of renovating.
A Sydney-based girl of French-born parents, she’d relocated to Brisbane a year ago…a move due in part to the need for change. And the desire to remove herself from what had become an awkward situation.
Two couples…two blonde, blue-eyed sisters dating two brothers. Except whereas Solene and Jean-Claude had fallen in love and planned to marry, Lisane didn’t share the same feelings for Alain. Friendship, yes, and affection. But not love.
Something it had taken a while to divine, given the almost life-long connection. Solene’s engagement to Jean-Claude had prompted Alain’s marriage proposal, and Lisane accepted his ring, temporarily caught up in Alain’s persuasion and her sister’s euphoria…only to have doubt soon cloud her perspective.
It hadn’t been easy to break off the engagement, nor to leave the city of her birth. Except it wouldn’t have been fair to Alain to stay.
He deserved more. So did she.
The law had fascinated Lisane from an early age, fostered and shaped by gritty television police and court-room dramas…none of which bore much resemblance to reality, she reflected with a tinge of wry amusement.
At twenty-seven, she hadn’t found it difficult to settle into a new job in a different city. In many ways she’d relished the changes, new faces, forming tentative friendships…and running into Zac.
Literally. Three days after assuming her position in the Crown Prosecutor’s office.
The momentous occasion had occurred in the city courthouse when she exited from the lift on the wrong floor.
It had taken only seconds to realise her mistake, and she’d swiftly turned…only to collide with a hard male frame.
An immediate apology had left her lips, and in the same instant she became aware of the man’s physical impact…his impressive height, breadth of shoulder, his sculptured facial features. Not to mention the fine quality of his clothing, the faint aroma of his cologne. The slight smile curving his sensuously moulded mouth. And foremost, his indisputable aura of power.
Definitely off the Richter scale in terms of the wow factor, she had acknowledged a few minutes later as she rode the lift to the correct floor.
Who was he?
Discovery hadn’t taken long. The family Winstone was well-known in legal and social circles. Zac Winstone was a legend in both.
The fact he sought her out had seemed little short of amazing. So, too, had his invitation to join him for coffee. A week or two later it had been followed by dinner, then a show…
‘Pleasant thoughts, I hope?’
Lisane spared him a stunning smile. ‘Why shouldn’t they be?’
He was something else. Tuned in to her in a way that made her wonder if he’d become adept at reading her mind. Although pure people skills, the ability to weigh up character traits and successfully divine them, contributed much to his success in the court-room. Very little, if anything, seemed to escape him.
Zac curled his fingers through her own, and leant in close. ‘Just remember I get to take you home.’
A teasing light entered her eyes. ‘That’s supposed to see me through the next few hours?’
His place or hers. It hardly mattered which, as long as they shared what remained of the night together.
‘The jury’s still out.’
His soft laughter almost undid her. ‘Let’s commence the tour of duty, shall we?’
Zac’s parents, Max and Felicity Winstone, had just entered the large lounge area, followed, Lisane saw, by Leo Fabrisi, his wife, Charmaine, and their daughter, Allegra.
Two brilliant judges married to two equally qualified solicitors, who had each borne a child destined to follow in their footsteps into law.
There was little doubt the coupling of Zac Winstone with Allegra Fabrisi would make a perfect match. Or that both sets of parents were intent on actively encouraging it. Allegra made no secret that snaring Zac was her prime focus.
Tonight the glamorous barrister had chosen a designer gown in sinful black which hugged her tautly honed curves like a second skin. Long, gleaming hair the colour of rich sable cascaded in loose waves halfway down her back, and even from this distance her make-up resembled perfection.
Lisane couldn’t compete. Her budget didn’t allow for the purchase of designer originals, or the Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo stilettos that inevitably graced Allegra’s slender feet. And her jewellery was limited to a diamond pendant and matching ear-studs she’d inherited from her mother.
Fortunately, her talents included the skillful use of a sewing machine, and she doubted even the most observant society maven would spot that the exquisite gown in floral silk she wore had been fashioned by her own hand.
Muted music provided a pleasant background to the social chatter abounding among numerous patrons in the large lobby, and Zac’s progress was frequently stalled as they paused to speak with a friend or associate.
Lisane briefly entertained the uncharitable thought that they might escape detection for a while longer, and thus delay a confrontation with the Winstone and Fabrisi parents.
She watched with detached fascination as Zac’s elegantly attired mother caught sight of her son, and began leading the group of five towards him.
‘Darling.’ Allegra stepped in close and pressed glossy lips to Zac’s cheek. ‘We’re a little late.’ Her mouth performed a pretty teasing pout. ‘Traffic.’ Dark, eloquently warm eyes assumed a cool tinge as she acknowledged the young woman at his side. ‘Lisane.’
She bore Allegra’s studied appraisal with a practised smile before greeting each set of parents with a politeness gained from instilled good manners.
Wealth and social position lent that certain indefinable air some people exuded with an inborn ease acquired almost from birth. Maximilian Winstone, or Max, as he preferred to be known, could trace his ancestors back several centuries to an era of obscene wealth, enormous holdings and a social position almost second to none.
‘Go fetch some champers, darling.’ Allegra issued Zac the directive with a seductive look that was definite overkill. ‘I need something to kick-start the evening.’
There were waiters and waitresses in abundance. Zac merely lifted a hand to catch attention, and within seconds a waiter bearing a tray of filled champagne flutes moved to their group.
Allegra wrinkled her perfectly shaped nose. ‘Not, I think, the house variety.’ She placed a beautifully lacquered nail on Zac’s arm. ‘Shall we adjourn to the bar?’
‘We’re about to be seated.’ His voice was even, yet there was a warning hint beneath the surface.
One Allegra chose to ignore.
‘There’ll be at least thirty minutes of boring speeches before they serve the first course. We’ve plenty of time.’
Lisane felt her body tense. For what? An intimate têteà-tête? To cause a temporary division between her and Zac?
She should be used to Allegra’s ploys, for they occurred at frequent intervals and without doubt were deliberately orchestrated to diminish Lisane’s existence in Zac’s life.
It was a relief to see the ballroom doors swing open, and they joined the mingling guests entering the large room.
Polite, superficially pleasant conversation tempered the evening, and the addition of a further three guests at their table provided some light relief from Allegra’s not so subtle attempts to command Zac’s attention.
The food was superb, although Allegra barely sampled a morsel from each course while sipping Cristal champagne.
Discretion and client privilege ensured that only generalities within the legal system were discussed, and Lisane did her best to appear interested in Charmaine and Allegra’s recount of a recent shopping expedition in Sydney, where it seemed Allegra had been intent on adding to her collection of expensive shoes and bags.
‘Prada, darling,’ Allegra extolled. ‘And the most gorgeous Louis Vuitton.’ She subjected Lisane to a sweeping appraisal. ‘Your gown. Is it a Collette Dinnigan?’
I wish! ‘D’Aubigne.’ It was her late mother’s maiden name, and one she felt entitled to use.
An eyebrow slanted in overt puzzlement. ‘I’m not familiar with the label.’
‘It’s French,’ Lisane enlightened solemnly.
‘Of course. One can tell from the superb craftsmanship.’
Lisane restrained the desire to smile. Allegra was completely unaware she’d inadvertently gifted a compliment.
It was almost a relief when the evening drew to a close. Allegra’s attempts to monopolise Zac’s attention had moved Lisane from mild amusement to irritation. Had the beautiful barrister no scruples?
Don’t answer that!
The ‘goodnight’ process took a while, and Lisane felt her tension ease as she slid into the passenger seat of Zac’s sleek Jaguar shortly before midnight.
Thank heavens for the weekend. It would allow time to put the finishing touches to the kitchen trim, then mid-week, when the laquer paint had hardened, she could hang the lace curtains.
The cottage was gradually coming together. She adored the homely country-style furniture and refurbishing she’d chosen. It suited the one-hundred-year-old wooden structure, and she’d painstakingly polished the wooden floors, added rugs and wall-hangings in cross-stitch and tapestry.
She could walk indoors and feel at peace with her surroundings. Her plans for the garden were underway, a vegetable patch already yielding some fine produce; and while she still had some work to complete in the flower borders, there was time to bring it to its full potential.
Tomorrow, after a lingering breakfast at one of the city’s pavement cafés, Zac would deliver her home.
Tonight…what remained of the night was theirs.
Just the thought of how it would end caused her heartbeat to accelerate and heat to course through her veins.
Gentle fingers brushed her cheek, almost as if he sensed what she was thinking, and she covered his hand with her own for a few timeless seconds before releasing it to offer him a lingering smile.
The Jaguar swept down into the underground car park beneath the tall city apartment building and came to a smooth halt in Zac’s designated space.
He took hold of her hand as they entered the lift and buried his lips in her palm. His eyes were almost black, and she was willing to swear her bones began to melt at the degree of emotion reflected in those dark depths.
She needed to have his mouth
В таком случае ему не нужно будет передавать пароль кому-то. Возможно, он работал в одиночку. Стратмор хмыкнул.