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Authors: Penny Jordan

The Perfect Lover

THE PERFECT LOVER

 

Penny Jordan

 

Book 5 - The Crightons

 

 

THE CRIGHTONS
The breathtaking saga The Perfect Family continues.
She had found passion in Gareth Simmonds's arms. For one brief moment, in sun-drenched Italy, Louise Crighton had been able to forget her hurt at seeing the man she thought she loved fall for someone else.
Ashamed at her unexpected--and uninhibited--response to Gareth, she had gone out of her way to avoid seeing him again. But now Gareth is back, as attractive as ever. One question burns in Louise's mind: Does Gareth still suspect that she'd used him as a substitute for another man?

 

The Crighton Family

BEN CRIGHTON:
Proud patriarch of the family, a strong- minded character in his eighties, determined to see his dynasty thrive and prosper.

RUTH REYNOLDS:
Ben's sister, a vibrant woman now happily reunited with Grant, the man from whom she was tragically separated during the war years—and also with the daughter she gave up for adoption. Ruth is a caring, perceptive woman and she holds the Crighton family together.

JON AND JENNY CRIGHTON:
Steady, family-orientated couple. Jon keeps the Crighton law firm running smoothly, and Jenny is a partner in a local antiques business.

MAX CRIGHTON:
Son of Jon and Jerry, a self-assured, sexy, ruthlessly ambitious lawyer who married his wife Madeleine, a gentle woman and daughter of a High Court judge, to advance his career. While Max spends the week in London, Maddy and the two children make their home with Ben in Haslewich. The whole family is concerned about the stability of their marriage.

LOUISE AND KATE:
Twin daughters of Jon and Jerry. A year out of university and their careers have pulled them in different directions. Louise is finally over her adolescent crush on her cousin Saul, but still has reason to be embarrassed over her past actions.

SAUL CRIGHTON:
After a painful first marriage, he is now happily wed to Tullah and they have a baby son to join his other three young children. He is aware that he needs to tread carefully to close the emotional gap between himself and Louise.

JOSS:
Sensitive and caring fourteen-year-old son of Jon and Jenny.

JACK:
Two years older than Joss, he is Jon and Jenny's nephew. They have brought him up like their own son since his father, David, mysteriously disappeared and his mother moved away to start a new life.

GARETH SIMMONDS:
One of Louise's tutors while she was at university. She found temporary comfort in his arms, but he suspected she'd only turned to him as a substitute for Saul. As their paths cross again, Gareth knows they have some issues from the past they need to resolve.

CHAPTER ONE

'
M
Y GOODNESS
, we
are
honoured, aren't we? It isn't very often these days that you manage to tear yourself away from the bureaucratic delights of Brussels.'

Louise tensed as she heard the sarcastic voice of her elder brother, Max. They had never got on particularly well, even as children, and in her view maturity had done nothing to improve either their relationship or her brother.

'It was commented at Christmas that you weren't around,' Max continued jibingly. 'But, of course, we all know Saul was really the reason for that, don't we?'

Louise gave him an angry look before retorting, 'Perhaps if you spent more time thinking about your own relationships and less talking about other people's you might learn something genuinely worthwhile, but then you never were much good at appreciating what's really of value in this life, were you, Max?'

Without giving him any opportunity to retaliate, Louise turned on her heel and walked quickly away from him.

She had promised herself that on this, her first visit home since she had started working in Brussels over twelve months ago, she would prove to her family just how much she had changed, .matured...and just how different, distant almost, she was from the girl who...

Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Saul, her father's cousin, who was standing with his wife, Tullah, and the three children from his first marriage. Tullah had her arm around Megan, Saul's daughter, while Saul held the little boy they had had together.

The large drawing room of her grandfather's house seemed to be filled by the presence of her peers, proudly showing off their growing families.

Clustered around the fireplace were her cousin Olivia, with her husband and their two children, talking animatedly with Luke, from the Chester branch of the family, and his American wife Bobbie and their little girl, while Maddy, her brother Max's wife, kept a discreet eye on Gramps, who was becoming increasingly irascible.

According to her mother, Maddy was close to a saint for humouring him the way she did. When Jenny Crighton had made this comment this morning, over breakfast, Louise had immediately pointed out that if Maddy could put up with being married to Max, then her grandfather must come as a form of light relief.

'Louise,' her mother had protested, but Louise had remained unrepentant.

It was no secret in the family that Max was not a good or kind husband to Maddy, and privately Louise couldn't understand why on earth Maddy stayed with him.

'You're looking very cross.'

Louise grimaced as she saw her twin sister. Twins were a feature of the Crighton family, in the same way that poppies were a feature of a field of corn— they sprang up all over the place, although as yet there were no sets in the current new generation.

'They'll come,' her father's aunt Ruth had predicted.

'I've just been receiving the benefit of Max's brotherly conversation,' Louise informed her grimly. 'He doesn't change...'

'No...' Katie looked at her twin. 'You know, in a lot of ways I feel quite sorry for him. He—'

'Sorry
for
Max!'
Louise exploded. 'What on earth for? He's got everything he's ever wanted—a cushy place in one of the country's leading sets of chambers, with his pick of all the best briefs—and all he's had to do to get it is to persuade poor Maddy to marry him.'

'Yes, I know what he's got in the material sense, Lou, but is he happy?' Katie persisted. 'I think he feels what happened with Uncle David far, far more than he's ever shown. After all, they—'

'They were both made in the same mould. Yes, I know,' Louise cut in. 'If you want my opinion, it would be a good thing for this family if Uncle David
never
surfaced again. Olivia as good as told me that her father had been guilty of serious malpractice when he and Dad were partners, and that if he hadn't disappeared when he did...'

Both of them were silent for a moment as they remembered David Crighton, their father's twin brother and Olivia's father, and the near disaster he had plunged the family into prior to his disappearance some years earlier.

'That's all in the past now,' Katie reminded her gently. 'Dad and Olivia have managed to sort out all the problems they had been having with the practice—and in fact they've built up the business so much that they've decided they need to think abouttaking on an extra qualified solicitor to cope with the increased workload. But Gramps still misses David, you know. He was always—'

'The favourite. Yes, I know. Poor Gramps. He never has had very good judgement, has he? First he makes David the favourite, ahead of Dad, and now it's Max.'

'Mum's really glad that you were able to make it home for Gramps's birthday,' Katie told her sister quietly. 'She was...upset at Christmas when you didn't come home...'

'When I
couldn't
come home,' Louise corrected her sharply. 'I told you at the time. My boss put me under pressure to put together a report on the legal aspects of a new community law she thought might be passed, and I had no option but to agree. It wouldn't have been worth coming home for what would have amounted to just about forty-eight hours, even if I could have got the flights.'

Three months after leaving university, and not wanting to take the next stage in her training to become a barrister immediately, Louise had taken a temporary post working for a newly appointed Euro MP who'd wanted someone to work for her as a legal researcher.

Six months ago the temporary post had become a permanent one, and while the hours were long and the work extraordinarily demanding, Louise had thrown herself into it with determination, knowing that the contacts she was making in Brussels would ultimately equip her to make a change of career should she want to do so.

Their choice of careers couldn't have been more different, Katie acknowledged as she silently and sympathetically studied her twin. While Louise, true to her nature, had chosen to fling herself head-first into the maelstrom of politics and intrigues in the hothouse melting-pot atmosphere of Europe's bureaucratic capital, she had opted to join a still very youthful and emergent new charity which had been set up to help young children across the world who had been made orphans and refugees by war.

'Have you spoken to Saul and Tullah yet?' Kate asked her sister softly.

Louise reacted sharply to her question, tensing and almost physically backing off from her as she replied angrily, 'No, I haven't...Why should I? For God's sake,
when
is everyone in this wretched family going to stop behaving as though...?' She stopped, and took a deep breath.

'Look, for the last time, Saul means nothing to me now. I had a silly, stupid crush on him, yes. I made a total and complete fool of myself over him, yes. But...' She stopped again, and shook her head.

'It's over, Katie. Over.'

'Mum thought when you didn't come home at Christmas—' Katie began.

Louise wouldn't let her finish, breaking in bitterly, 'That what? That I couldn't bear the thought of seeing Saul? Or, worse, that I might—'

'She thought that perhaps you'd met someone in Brussels.' Katie overrode her with quiet insistence. 'And that you weren't coming home because you wanted to be with him...'

Interestingly, a soft tide of warm colour started to tinge her sister's skin, and, even more interestingly, for once in her life she seemed almost lost for words as she turned her head and looked down at the carpet before saying quickly, 'No. No, there isn't anyone. ..at least not like that. I...'

It wasn't totally true—there was someone, of sorts—but she knew perfectly well that the relationship Jean Claude wanted with her was one based on sex only.

Jean Claude was twelve years older than her, and moved in the higher echelons of Brussels' diplomatic circles. He was, as he himself had told Louise, a career diplomat, who currently held a post connected with the French fishing industry.

Louise wasn't quite sure as yet how she felt about him. He had a suave, dry sense of humour, and the kind of Gallic good looks that fell just short enough of outrageously handsome to ensure that he was very attractive to the female sex. Politics and the law, as Jean Claude had already teasingly commented to her, could make very exciting bedfellows.

'Brazen, I think you mean,' Louise had corrected him firmly.

'Be careful if you're looking for commitment,' a colleague had already warned Louise. 'He's got a reputation for liking variety.'

Louise had shrugged away the other woman's comments. Commitment was the last thing on her mind at the moment, and would be for a very long time to come. She might be over Saul in the sense that she was no longer suffering from the massive crush which had caused her to make such an idiotic fool of herself, but she was certainly far from over the feelings of humiliation and searing self-disgust—self-dislike— which had resulted from the sharp realisation of just how dangerously and potentially destructively out of control her feelings for Saul had threatened to become.

She would certainly never make that mistake again.
Never
allow herself to become such a victim, such a slave to her emotions ever again—she didn't really understand how it had happened in the first place. Right from her early teens she had set her sights firmly on aiming for a career. Marriage, babies, emotions, although she'd once have openly welcomed them with Saul, were more Katie's forte than her own. The terrifying force of her feelings for Saul had been an aberration, and the behaviour they had resulted in so totally abhorrent and repugnant to her that even now, nearly three years later, she could scarcely bear to think about it.

Yes, it was possible now for her to look at Saul with Tullah and the children without suffering even the smallest flicker of the emotion which had torn her apart and threatened every aspect of her normal life during those months when it had held its strangulating, choking grip on her life. But what
wasn't
possible, what she suspected might
never
be possible, was for her to forget just how traumatic that time, those
feelings
had been.

Louise frowned, her thoughts switching from the past to the present as she recognised the suspiciously furtive way her younger brother Joss and their cousin Jack were edging their way towards the French windows.

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