Chapter Eighteen (Part Two)

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Half an hour later, the girls arrived, and I was there to greet them in the hall. As I enveloped Beth in a huge bear hug, I shot Lara a dirty look. She mirrored her distaste before following us into the living room, from where the faint sounds of a choral choir emerged.

Someone had gone to a lot of trouble. It was beautiful. The room was lavishly swathed with holly and evergreen garlands. Between the two end windows, a huge, ornately decorated Christmas tree with gleaming baubles and pretty, twinkling lights stood, with its golden angel appearing to prop up the elaborately painted Rococo ceiling. A heady scent of pine merged with winter spices hailing from a large bowl of warm, mulled wine, sitting invitingly on the coffee table, in front of the roaring fire crackling cosily in the grate under a candle-adorned mantelpiece.

“Not out with Vincent tonight, then?” I sneered at Lara, as she settled down on the sofa, pinning a rather peeved Connor against the sofa’s arm.

She absent-mindedly stroked her smooth, dark locks. “He’s working. Christmas Eve’s a busy night in the club.”

“Doesn’t he mind you putting it about in his absence?”

She narrowed her eyes. “I’m a free agent, and I’ll see who I like.” Her hand dropped possessively onto Connor’s knee and she gave it a suggestive squeeze. I swore I saw him cringe with embarrassment, before picking up a copy of Mojo from the side table in an attempt to escape her attentions. “It’s not my fault that I’m blessed with this body and men are falling over themselves to date me,” Lara continued, reaching over with her other hand to stroke Connor’s arm. He ignored her, his eyes never leaving the page.

“Don’t you mean sleep with you?” I said, trying to provoke her.

“I won’t deny that I like to share the goodies.”

My eyebrows shot up at her candour. “That’s not exactly something to boast about. Your intelligence must be as skimpy as your clothes.”

“Jealous are we, little Miss Cock-tease?”

“As if. I’m more than happy with one man. Thanks for asking, though.”

“Let me see. Oh yes, that would be a man who’s totally out of your league, and whose life you could only ever dream of fitting into. A man who obviously has had some kind of brain seizure and decided to slum it for a while…ooo, and yes, one of my rejects.”

“I heard that,” Sebastian said, from the other side of the room.

“You wish it were that way around.” I chuckled. “Just because you met a man who refused to bow down to the Throne of Lara…”

“Look. Is there going to be an intermission in this? Because non-stop bickering is not exactly what I had in mind for this evening,” Beth interrupted, as she threw peanuts in the air and caught them in her mouth. “Could we at least try to play nicely girls? I’m in need of some serious festive R & R tonight, and I don’t want to be retrieving scratched-out eyeballs from under the sideboard.”

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