Read One Little White Lie Online

Authors: Loretta Hill

One Little White Lie (2 page)

‘Well he's quite a catch,' Tom mused. ‘Rich, famous,
mysterious
, not as good looking as me but then, you know, you can't have everything.'

‘Will you shut up and be serious for ten seconds?' Henry stood up angrily and began pacing the floor. ‘Besides, I'm not going to be mysterious for much longer.' He frowned as he thought about his upcoming engagements.

‘What do you mean?'

‘It's my publisher. The media has been hounding them and they don't want to keep me a secret anymore.'

‘How loyal of them.'

‘They made me sign a publicity agreement to promote my next trilogy. Book one is coming out in March.'

‘Publicity agreement?' Tom gaped at him. ‘But you hate that sort of thing. What have they got you doing?'

‘Everything,' Henry moaned. ‘Radio, print and television.'

‘Television,' Tom repeated. ‘I thought you wanted to keep your face out of the spotlight, maintain a bit of anonymity.'

‘Yeah well.' Henry rubbed his temples, his voice mocking his own stupidity. ‘At the time they made a few good arguments about how good it would be for sales and how I can't expect to stay out of the limelight forever.'

‘And you're never one to let your career down,' Tom snorted. ‘How long have you got before your privacy disappears?'

‘The first television interview is in four months, just after the new book comes out,' Henry sighed. ‘That time is going to go like that.' He snapped his fingers.

‘Ah,' Tom nodded. ‘So this is where all this soul-searching is coming from. You're afraid more self-exposure is only going to worsen your gold-digger problem.'

‘Well, what am I supposed to think?' Henry gazed out the window, pondering his failed relationships. ‘It seems to be a fairly logical conclusion.'

‘You know what it is?' Tom said with a sudden burst of inspiration. ‘You're just hanging out at all the wrong places.'

‘Huh?'

‘You need to come out with me,' Tom explained, rising to his feet. ‘Incognito!'

At first it had seemed like a pretty good idea, until they'd walked in the door of the Wet Elephant and Henry had cast his eyes across the enthusiastic crowd.

His brother had been right about one thing, there probably were no gold-diggers at this club. The women there were too young and too carefree to be thinking of marriage just yet.

He should have known that Tom would have difficulty realising he was talking about love and not lust. Tom didn't believe in love or marriage. Not after what their mother had pulled when they were kids. Tom was a confirmed bachelor, perfectly happy with his existence as the executive stud who loved them and left them. The ‘no baggage' policy, he called it. He wanted to spend his life ‘travelling light'.

But Henry wanted more.

Perhaps it was his inbuilt sense of optimism that prompted him to yearn for a deeper relationship or the close bond he had with his father that made him want children of his own.

However, instead of understanding that, Tom had dragged him off to a club that was filled with twenty-somethings high on hormones and alcohol. He really should have seen it coming.

Tom pulled Henry away from the dance floor toward some chest-high circular counters wrapped around a cluster of columns. He put his beer on this convenient platform and said, ‘How do you expect to meet anyone if you don't give it a chance?'

‘This is not exactly what I had in mind.' Henry scanned the room dubiously.

‘What do you mean?' Tom demanded.

‘Well, for a start,' Henry began, ‘these girls are all too young for me. Most of them look like uni students.'

‘For goodness sake,' Tom scoffed, ‘you're only thirty-two.'

‘That's at least ten years on the girls in here.'

‘Most of the girls in here,' Tom corrected. ‘As for the rest of them, you're a famous writer, you've got dibs on anyone.'

‘Keep your voice down,' Henry said through his teeth. ‘We said I was going incognito. I don't really feel like talking release dates and Hollywood tonight.'

Over the last five years his novels had really taken off. It seemed the more successful he got, the less sincere people became. He'd met a startling number since then who had basically wanted to know him for one of three things:

Money.

Fame.

Status.

For this reason he didn't get out much – preferring the company of his brother to most others. It was catch-22 because it meant that all the women he met were either in his industry or associated with it. They knew who he was before he was introduced as H. L. Carter, author of
The Carnegia Trilogy
, the biggest young adult story to hit shelves (and soon the screen) since the infamous
Twilight
series. That wasn't being conceited. That was just being honest.

‘I must admit,' Tom grudgingly lowered his voice, ‘I'm finding your whole attitude frustrating.'

You're finding my attitude frustrating!

‘Tom, I'm not looking for a one-night stand,' he snapped, but his outburst did make his brother pause. Tom swirled the contents of his glass with a stubborn look on his face.

‘Have four gold-diggers in a year taught you nothing? Commitment at this point is a waste of your time. You should enjoy your fame, for what that's worth. Be sensible later.'

Henry winced. He knew there was no point arguing with his brother. The man had made up his mind years ago. It was better if he just dealt with the problem himself. He felt his phone buzz in his back pocket and withdrew it.

Tom glanced over his shoulder to check out the caller ID.

It was their mother.

When his brother realised it, he grimaced and looked away. ‘Still taking her calls, I see.'

‘Not in a noisy nightclub I'm not.' Henry shook his head. ‘I won't be able to hear a thing in here.' He turned the phone off and put it away.

‘I seriously don't know why you bother.'

‘She's our mother.'

Tom snorted. ‘She wasn't our mother for twenty-five odd years and then all of a sudden she turns up out of the blue begging forgiveness.'

‘People change.'

‘Yeah,
you
did.' Tom shook his head. ‘As soon as you starting banking a million bucks a year she grows a conscience. A little too convenient, if you ask me. She makes your gold-digger girlfriends look like a bunch of nuns.'

Henry sighed. ‘I thought we agreed you weren't going to use that phrase anymore.' He felt like his life was a revolving door. Just like the money they so prized, people came in and people went out. Nothing stuck. And every time he tried to ground himself he failed.

Was he wrong to believe that his mother really wanted to make amends for abandoning them as children?

Was he delusional to think that he could meet a girl who would love him and not his money?

Suddenly he just wanted to quit the club and go home. He wasn't going to meet anyone here.

‘Listen, Tom,' he began, ‘I really appreciate everything you're trying to do. But I don't want –' Henry lurched forward as somebody hurtled into the back of him. His first feeling was anger. Couldn't these crazy kids look where they were going? He turned around and managed to grab the girl just before she fell backwards. Her eyes were half shut due to the bright strobe lights behind him.

But he'd seen enough.

She was an angel.

A blonde, blue-eyed, pink-lipped vision with skin like strawberries and cream. The delicate frame he was holding was small, slender and quietly sexy, dressed in sleek black slacks and a sleeveless red top with a scooped neckline. His hands dropped from her elbows as his jaw hit the ground somewhere between his feet. She was the kind of woman men died in battle for. Hell! If she asked him to take a bullet for her, he'd say, ‘Where?'

Unfortunately for him, his star-gazing cost him big time. One minute she was standing there looking at him, the next minute she had turned away. He heard her mumble something like ‘Sorry' under her breath and, before he had a chance to gather his wits, she'd escaped.

He slapped a palm to his head.

‘Look, mate,' he felt Tom's hand on his arm, ‘you're obviously not comfortable here, let's just go. Isn't the footy on tonight?'

‘Tom,' Henry spoke without turning around, ‘scratch everything I said before. I might just owe you big time. I've met her.'

‘Who?'

‘A girl who might be able to change my life!'

CHAPTER 2

Kate finally found Lisa. She knew her best friend would still be at the club somewhere because she always waited around to find out the result of her little ‘introductions'. She was sitting with her fiancé, Andrew, at a small table for four at the far end of a large courtyard. A paved path wound its way between the tables, interspersed by the occasional tree decorated with fairy lights. You could still hear the music from inside the club, however it was at a much more acceptable volume here. The warmth of the evening made it the perfect night for a drink under the stars.

As Kate stepped onto the path, she couldn't help but admire what a good-looking couple Lisa and Andrew made, their heads bent together in intimate conversation. The scene could have been her and Mark before … her mind bent away from the memory. It was easy to remember the good times. Not so pleasant to recall the day he had broken her heart. Her shock at his infidelity had been numbing. In hindsight, all she could think now was, how could I not have known?

She hadn't caught him in the act. Mark was too smart to bring his lady friends back to their apartment. He was definitely more of a dodgy hotel kind of guy.

She'd found out from his phone. He'd left it on the kitchen counter as he'd dashed out one evening … back to work supposedly. When it had rung, she'd just automatically picked it up. She could still hear that sultry stomach-turning voice in her ear.

‘You're late and I'm already naked.'

After that first gut-stabbing awakening, she hadn't been able to stop herself from sifting through his contacts list. She found his address book full of girls' names she didn't know and his inbox brimming with dirty texts from Ms Naked, who not only liked her guests punctual but also leather-clad.

After finishing her search through his phone, she had gone to his computer and found a folder of stored emails that dated back almost as long as they'd been together.

Sick didn't even begin to describe how she had felt, though yes, she did vomit a couple of times before Mark returned home.

He hadn't just cheated on her once. He'd cheated on her constantly. It was almost as though he had a double personality: one for her and one for the rest of his … women. He'd picked her for his public persona, for his career. The heart surgeon working for a top hospital that was always looking for funding from the community. He needed someone educated, respectable but ordinary. Someone smart enough to make him look good, but dumb enough never to guess he had an appetite for something on the side.

It was humiliating to realise that she had been kept in the dark for so long. The deception couldn't help but leave her with a complete lack of confidence in her judgement of people.

If he could fool her so easily then who could she trust?

Her gaze fell once more to her best friend.

Lisa and Andrew were so relaxed, so in tune with each other. They were the real deal and deserved the happily ever after.

Don't you deserve it too?

She banished the small, almost inaudible voice inside her head and clenched her hands. She had to be strong and firm – not indecisive – if she was going to convince Lisa that being single was exactly what she wanted. Just then she reached their table and her hands immediately came to her hips in a no-nonsense stance.

‘Lisa Mary Ashley Henderson! This has gone on long enough.'

Lisa and Andrew, who noticed her presence for the first time, lowered their wine glasses and looked up in trepidation. Andrew, seeing that an argument was brewing, did the only thing a male in his right mind could do at that point. He invented an excuse and left.

‘I … er … think I see someone waving to me. Er … be back soon.'

If Kate had blinked she wouldn't even have seen him go.

Lisa's big blue eyes turned to Kate with wide concern. ‘It didn't go well, did it.'

‘That's the understatement of the year.' Kate dropped herself into the chair just vacated by Andrew. ‘You should have seen him. If sleaze-bags were rated out of ten he'd be an eleven.'

‘Really?' Lisa winced. ‘He didn't seem that way yesterday.'

‘You met him yesterday?' Kate gasped.

‘Yeah,' Lisa hunched her shoulders guiltily, ‘that's when I sort of arranged for us to meet him here …'

‘
Lisa!
'

‘Well, he seemed like a nice guy,' Lisa explained hastily. ‘And you have to admit when he first arrived tonight he was very friendly and happy.'

‘Lisa,' Kate prayed for patience, ‘he was
plastered
.'

‘He was?'

‘Yes he was!'

‘Oh,' Lisa frowned. ‘I guess that didn't help then.'

‘No, it didn't.' Kate crossed her arms.

‘Damn,' Lisa groaned. ‘It's just so hard finding reliable talent these days.'

‘You're telling me.'

‘I'm so sorry.' Lisa laid an affectionate hand on her friend's arm, accompanied by a bright smile. ‘I'll do better next time.'

‘OMG!' Kate's hand flipped over and this time it was she who gripped her friend's arm. ‘No, no and
no
. There's not going to be a next time.'

‘But –' Lisa began.

‘Honey, you've got to stop doing this. I'm not going to humour your last-minute surprise match-making meetings anymore. I swear it.'

‘But there's this guy that Andrew was just telling me about that would be –'

Kate held up her hand. ‘OK, stop. You're not listening.'

Lisa pouted. ‘I'm just trying to help.'

‘I know you are. But next time you spring a guy on me, I'm just going to leave. I'm not even going to talk to him.'

‘But, Kate, you owe it to yourself,' Lisa started. ‘When I think about how happy you were with Mark before you knew he cheated on you with twenty tarts –'

‘Don't bring Mark into this.' Kate snatched her hand back and folded her arms protectively across her chest. She looked away.

Lisa shook her head. ‘Yes, he was bastard. I'm not arguing with you there. But it doesn't mean every other guy is.'

‘Have you ever heard me say that?' Kate demanded.

‘No, but I know what a hard time you went through after you found out what he was really like. You'd built your whole life around marrying him and when that –'

‘It's all right,' Kate quickly cut her off. ‘We don't need to relive it.' But inside she could feel her heart cracking.

‘Well, he was a dick,' Lisa tossed her head adamantly, ‘which is why I just can't understand why you're still doing this.'

‘Doing what?'

‘Mourning him.'

Kate blinked. ‘You think
that's
why I don't want to be set up on dates? Believe me, I am not mourning him. I couldn't be more over the guy.'

‘Then act like it.' Lisa lifted her hand and started ticking off fingers. ‘You're a workaholic, you don't get out unless I drag you kicking and screaming.'

Kate's jaw dropped. ‘Not kicking and screaming.'

Lisa looked at her pointedly and Kate felt her colour heighten. ‘Well, I'm a busy person. I have commitments.'

‘Come on, Kate.' Lisa shook her head. ‘Be honest with yourself. You've changed. You used to be such an outgoing person – so open and optimistic. Now you have trouble trusting anyone.'

‘Can you blame me?'

But Lisa didn't respond to her question. ‘You know, I was talking to your mum the other day –'

‘Oh for goodness sake!' Kate blew her fringe out of her eyes. ‘She's as bad as you are.'

‘Because she wants you to be happy?' Lisa inquired. ‘Ever heard of the old saying about getting back on the bike?'

Kate sighed. ‘I think you mean horse.'

Lisa slapped the table. ‘
Exactly
. A new man will pull you right out of this closed cycle you seem to have trapped yourself in. You can bring him to my engagement party.'

Kate groaned. ‘Not the match-making again.'

‘Just listen for second,' Lisa leaned in excitedly. ‘A minute ago, before you found us, Andrew was telling me about a friend of his who just came back from London …'

Kate tuned out as Lisa began to describe the next unsuspecting male she was about to manipulate into a meeting. Kate lifted a hand to her temple and began to massage it, her
frustration growing by the second. She had to face facts. Lisa was never going to give up. The girl just couldn't help herself. Come hell or high water, Lisa wasn't going to rest until Kate was happily paired off to some other guy like Andrew and on the road to a storybook ending.

If Kate wanted out, she was going to have to do something drastic. Something a little unethical. She was going to have to lie. Convincingly.

She just needed some peace. Peace from her best friend and peace from her family. Only last week, her mother had mentioned that her dentist was young, handsome and newly divorced; perhaps Kate might like to book an appointment.

She gritted her teeth as she thought of that dental surgery magnet her mother had left on her fridge. It couldn't go on. She had to make them stop.

It would be just one little white lie.

What harm could it do?

‘Lisa.' She put a hand on her friend's arm, causing the girl to break off in the middle of her description of the new victim's various qualities.

‘You don't like sexy London accents?' Lisa was clearly surprised.

‘No.' Kate lips curled despite herself. ‘It's not that. It's …' She paused, trying to choose her words carefully. ‘There's another reason apart from my own self-doubt as to why you have to stop match-making.'

Lisa must have caught Kate's serious tone because she immediately put both hands in her lap and sat up straight. ‘And what's that?'

Kate took a deep breath. Lisa knew her better than anyone. They'd met at primary school. Stuck by each other through thick and thin. When she'd broken up with Mark, she'd stayed in Lisa's apartment for six months.

She had never lied to her before.

Didn't even know if she could.

She looked down at her hands on the table.

Please, please, just believe what I'm about to tell you and release us from this never-ending cycle of dating disasters.

‘Kate?' Lisa's voice was concerned. ‘Is something wrong?'

‘No, you're right. After Mark I have been over-cautious, which is why I didn't tell you …' She looked up and caught Lisa's gaze. Eye contact was important. If she didn't make eye contact, Lisa would know she was lying. ‘That I … that I've already met someone.'

Lisa's jaw dropped. ‘You've what?'

Kate paused, waiting for lightning to strike her.

Nothing happened.

With an inward sigh of relief, she lifted her chin and continued. ‘It's early days and I didn't want twenty questions. So I stayed quiet about it.'

‘But I'm your
best friend
.' Lisa was cross. ‘You don't stay quiet about those sorts of things with your best friend.'

‘Well, I just wanted to see where it went without any fuss,' Kate hastily rushed out. ‘I'm only telling you now so you know I can find my own men,
without
your help. So you can quit it with the match-making.'

‘
Really?
' Lisa's expression was dubious, leaving Kate wondering about the wisdom of this plan. She was in too deep now to pull out, however.

‘That's right.' Kate lifted her chin, keeping her voice perfectly even.

Her best friend folded her arms with raised eyebrows. ‘I'll reserve judgement on that till I've heard the details.
Every single one of them
.'

 

‘This is just ridiculous,' Henry groaned. ‘This club is not even that big. How can one woman just disappear?'

Tom shrugged. ‘Maybe she left.'

‘Don't say that.' Henry pushed past him. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. ‘Maybe there's an outdoor area.'

‘Yeah there is,' Tom nodded. ‘But only couples sit out there.'

‘It's worth a look. We've been everywhere else.' The two men hurried outside and Henry scanned the tables of drinkers. ‘There she is.'

‘She's with another girl,' Tom grinned. ‘That's good. One for me.'

‘No way. You're not saying anything,' Henry protested. ‘If you open your mouth, it'll just convince them we're both sleaze-bags.'

Tom spread his hands. ‘Honesty's the best policy.'

‘Oh be quiet,' Henry threw over his shoulder as he spun back to see his vision in red and black leaving first the table and then the alfresco area. She was walking down the brick paved path to the exit, her sexy hips swaying invitingly at him like a beacon bobbing in the waves.

‘She's leaving.' Henry punched Tom's arm. ‘Quick.'

They started down the path just as Henry's dream girl left the club. He quickened his pace. Of all the dumb things to do, he berated himself. Why hadn't he acted sooner? He had wasted precious time telling Tom off. As they passed through the gate and into the street, Henry glanced from left to right trying to locate the girl. To his dismay, he saw her hop straight into a taxi and shut the door. He broke into a run just as the cab took off.

‘Damn!' he panted when he reached the kerb where the taxi had been parked just seconds earlier.

‘Not to worry,' Tom came up behind him. ‘Plenty of fish in the sea. Shall we go back for the other?'

Henry shook his head. ‘You don't understand. That was my fish.'

‘You don't even know her.'

‘I don't care. Don't ask me how I know, but I do. She is my fish and she's not going to be the one that got away.'

Tom slapped his hand to his head. ‘You're not going to go all philosophical on me again.'

‘No,' Henry assured him. ‘We don't have time.' He turned back towards the club.

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