8. Superb After Superb

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Twenty-five minutes later, Valerie looked up after finishing her volaille de Bresse dorée. "And where did you grow up?"

"In Saltau, northern Germany for my first eight years, then in Brixton."

She tilted her head. "Lorne Benton doesn't sound like a German name."

"No, my father was in the Army, and his brigade was based there." Lorne paused a while before continuing. "I was eight when he was shipped home in a coma from Quwait."

Valerie nodded as she absorbed this. Need to change the subject again.

Lorne continued, "They unplugged him two months later."

"We have a habit of stumbling into traumatic pasts."

"It's inevitable." He shrugged. "We're looking beneath the surface now. Beyond the façades."

"True. So, your mother raised you on her own?"

"We moved in with her mother, and they both spoiled me." He grinned.

"Likely why you're such a gentle sweetheart." She reached her hand across the table, and he took it.

"But also why I was a punching bag for all the bullies." He ran a finger along the ridge of his nose. "I wasn't born with the crook."

"It adds intrigue to your face. Accents its perfection."

He squeezed her hand. "And you have nothing spoiling the exquisite beauty of yours." He ran his gaze down her neck and across her bare shoulder, trembling as his eyes settled on the curves of her breasts above the black dress. "You would have made a great model."

"I did."

Lorne raised his eyes. "You did?"

"I worked my way through university as a fashion model." She smiled at his changing expression. "Mum had been coaching me in the moves and the poses."

"On the runways?"

"Some, but the demands were too high; the anorexic look was still in vogue." She sucked in her cheeks, then giggled. "I did mainly fashion photography. Magazines and catalogues."

"Girlie magazines?"

"They tried." She shook her head. "I never did anything but clothed, but, God, did they ever try. The Playboy agent hounded me for months with ever-escalating offers."

"I've always wondered what the models get paid for those spreads."

She laughed. "Did you intend that pun, or was it more of your endearing naïveté?"

"What?"

"Spread. That's the model's term for nude open-legged poses."

Lorne blushed. "I meant the photo arrangement on the pages."

"I was offered sixteen thousand pounds for Playmate of the Month."

"A lot of money."

"He talked a smooth line that I'd be a shoo-in for Playmate of the year. Sixty-five thousand pounds, a car and so on."

"That must have been tempting, coming from a poor background. When was that?"

"Shortly after I had turned nineteen, so 2001."

"So, you're thirty-four."

"Not quite; It's coming up. And you?"

"I'll be thirty-four this summer." He smiled and lifted his glass. "Here's to 1982; a great vintage."

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