‘Ah! A woman of integrity.’ He rolled the words out as though tasting them and his smile said he liked them.
Ivy was beginning to like him. She had managed to keep her father at home where he’d wanted to be during the last months of his life, but if he had gone into a nursing home, one of Jordan Powell’s would definitely have been the best choice. Sacha had done a painting of roses to hang in his bedroom, but her father would have liked Waterlilies, too.
A sudden welling up of sadness brought tears to her eyes. ‘Let’s move on. There might be something else that appeals to you,’ she said huskily, turning aside to draw Jordan with her as she blinked rapidly and took a deep breath to restore her composure.
Gentle fingers stroked the hand resting on his arm. ‘What is it, Ivy?’ he asked caringly.
She shook her head, not wanting to explain.
‘Something upset you,’ he persisted. ‘Was it my comment on integrity? Did you think I was being flippant? I assure you…’
‘No.’ She summoned up a wry little smile. ‘Nothing to do with you, Jordan. I was thinking of my father.’
‘What about him?’ There was concern in the eyes that searched hers.
Ivy was touched by it. Her heart swelled with the sense of caring coming from him. Maybe he simply wanted to dispose of the distraction from him, get it out of the way so he could pull her back to what he wanted, but it tripped her into spilling the truth.
‘Sacha’s last show…when we first met here… It was soon after my father had died. Your mention of nursing homes reminded me of how hard it was for him at the end.’
‘What did he die of, Ivy?’
‘Cancer. Melanoma. He had red hair and fair skin like me and he was always having to get sun cancers removed. It made him fanatical about protecting my skin.’
Jordan nodded. ‘So that’s why you have no freckles.’
The comment made her laugh again. ‘I’m a slave to block-out cream, hats and long sleeves. And you look like a slave to the sun—’ with his gleaming olive skin, ‘—which should make you realise I definitely don’t fit into your scene.’
He grinned. ‘I have no objection to hats, long sleeves and particularly not to block-out cream. In fact, I think it would give me a lot of pleasure to spread it all over your beautiful skin. It would be criminal to have it marred in any way.’
Desire leapt between them—his to touch, hers to be touched. It simmered in his eyes and shot a bolt of heat through her bloodstream. Her pulse started to gallop. Ivy wrenched her gaze from his in sheer panic, riven with an acute awareness of feeling terribly vulnerable to what this man could do to her, for her, with her.
It would probably be a big mistake to let it happen.
She might end up wanting more of him than was sensible or practical, given his track record and her circumstances.
‘What about a painting for yourself?’ she rattled out, waving at the next section of the exhibition.
‘Actually, I’m happy with the selection I have in my house,’ he said, apparently content to follow her lead. For the moment.
Ivy was extremely conscious of him waiting, patient in his pursuit of a more intimate togetherness. It didn’t need to be spoken. His intent was already under her skin, boring away at needs she had been dismissing for years. He’d brought the woman in her alive, kicking and screaming to be used, enjoyed, pleasured.
‘I guess you have a collection of European masters,’ she said lightly, thinking he could well afford it. She remembered Van Gogh’s Irises had been bought by an Australian billionaire.
‘No. I’m a proud Australian. I like my country and our culture. We have some great artists who’ve captured its uniqueness—Drysdale, Sydney Nolan, Pro Hart. I think I’ve bought the best of them.’
Sacha Thornton was not in that echelon of fame, although her work was popular and sold well. Ivy was impressed by the names he’d rolled out, impressed with his patriotism, as well. She’d never liked the snobbery of believing something bought overseas had a cachet that made it better than anything Australian.
‘You’re very lucky to have them to enjoy,’ she remarked as they strolled on.
‘It would be my pleasure to show them to you.’
She shot a teasing grin at him. ‘I’d have to say that’s one up on etchings.’
He grinned back. ‘It’s not a bribe.’
Her eyes merrily mocked him. ‘Just holding out a persuasive titbit.’
‘The choice is yours.’
‘I might think about it,’ she tossed at him airily, turning back to her mother’s art.
He leaned close to her ear and murmured, ‘You could think about it over dinner.’
The waft of his warm breath was like a tingling caress.
Temptation roared through her.
Fortunately two waiters descended on them, one offering a tray of hors d’oeuvres, the other presenting two glasses of fizzing champagne. ‘Veuve Clicquot,’ the drinks waiter informed them. ‘Especially for you, Mr Powell. Compliments of…’
‘Henry, of course. Thank him for me.’ Jordan picked up the two glasses and held one out to Ivy who was busy choosing a crab tartlet and a pikelet loaded with smoked salmon and shallots.
‘Hang on to it while I eat first,’ she pleaded. ‘I’m starving.’
‘Then you need a proper meal,’ he argued. ‘If you like seafood, I know a place that does superb lobster.’
‘Mmmh…’ Superb lobster, superb works of art, superb Casanova?
The temptations were piling up, making Ivy think she really should throw her cap over the windmill for one mad night with this man.
She finished eating and took the glass of champagne he was holding for her. ‘It’s Friday night,’ she reminded him. ‘Wouldn’t all the restaurants that serve superb meals be fully booked? How are you going to deliver on what you’re promising?’
‘There’s not a maître d’ in Sydney who wouldn’t find a table for me,’ he answered with supreme arrogance.
It niggled Ivy into a biting remark. ‘And not a woman who would refuse you?’
The blue eyes warred with the daggers of distancing pride in hers. ‘Please don’t, Ivy,’ he said with seductive softness. ‘I haven’t met anyone like you before.’
Her heart turned over. She’d never met anyone like him, either. ‘The spice of novelty,’ she muttered, mocking both of them—the strong desire to taste a different experience.