Page 16 of The End of Faking It

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‘Not now, or not ever?’

‘Ever.’

‘Really?’ He sounded surprised. ‘Me either.’ He started to laugh. ‘That’s what’s so great about Nick. He’s the new generation Dodds boy to take over from me. No pressure on me to procreate now, Dad’s done it.’

‘Do you think they’ll have more?’ Penny couldn’t imagine having a sibling she was old enough to be the mother of.

‘I don’t know. Lucinda probably doesn’t want to risk her figure again. She has the new heir now—she has Dad round her little finger as tight as she can.’

‘Maybe she loves him.’ Penny just had to throw in that possibility because she suspected Carter might have his bitter eyes on.

‘She loves his money and status.’

Yeah, bitter. ‘Gee, not down on her at all, are you?’

‘I’ve met her type before. The first stepmother—remember?’

‘So you’re not close to your dad.’ She figured his scathing attitude might get in the way of that.

‘Actually we are pretty close. He retired from the companies completely a few years ago—mainly to be with her. And part of me hopes their marriage will last because, I think it’d kill him to lose the kid, but it won’t. Then he’ll undoubtedly find someone else. I try to treat Lucinda with respect. But he knows I don’t trust her. He tells me time will take care of that and I guess it will. They’ll either break up or last the distance.’

‘You don’t think it’s kind of romantic?’

‘I don’t believe anything is romantic.’

Ah. Penny sat up and repositioned her towel, her interest totally piqued. ‘Who taught you not to?’

Even in the gloom she could see the devilish spark light up his eyes. ‘My stepmother’s yoga instructor.’

‘You’re kidding.’ She couldn’t help but smile. He was so naughty. ‘A yoga instructor.’ Giggles bubbled then. ‘No wonder you won’t settle for one woman—she gave you unrealistic expectations.’

‘You think she set the bar too high?’ he asked, all wickedness.

‘A cougar who taught you hot yoga sex? Way too high.’ And no wonder he’d shot her through the roof with a mere touch, probably some Tantric trick.

‘My stepmother was only eight years older than me,’ he pointed out sarcastically. ‘And Renee was only six.’

Her name was Renee? Penny maintained her grin, but her teeth gritted. ‘But you were how old?’

‘Sixteen. What?’ His grin broadened. ‘Too young?’

‘Too young to have your heart broken.’

He laughed. ‘That wasn’t what happened. It was just sex.’

‘Your first time is never just sex,’ she said with feeling. ‘So what happened?’

‘She had a fiancé I didn’t know about. She wanted to play around on her man for the power trip. And she wanted to break me in.’

Penny had the distinct impression no woman had ever broken Carter, and none ever would. But he’d definitely been bruised. ‘What happens with your first can really leave a mark.’ She knew that for a fact.

‘You think?’ He laughed. ‘Renee was just about fun. It was the next one who really tried to do me over.’

‘Oh? How old was she?’

He chuckled. ‘Three months younger than me, honey. She was Head Girl of the school, I was Head Boy. The perfect match—on paper.’

‘You were Head Boy?’

He shrugged, looked a bit sheepish. ‘Good all-rounder.’

She knew what it took to be appointed the head of one of those elite schools—excellent grades, good sporting or musical achievement, community spirit. The golden boy going with the golden girl. Yeah, she knew all about that. ‘So you were King and Queen of the prom. Then what happened?’

‘We went to university. She switched to be at the same as me.’

‘Oh.’ Penny smiled wryly. ‘Her first mistake.’

‘We were only eighteen, you know? I wasn’t looking to settle down.’

She understood that too. And a decade or so later, Carter still wasn’t looking to settle. ‘So it turned to custard?’

‘She started getting serious about us getting married. Lots of pressure and angst. Eventually she used another guy to try to push me into it.’

‘She tried to make you jealous?’

‘Yeah, but I don’t get jealous. Frankly, I didn’t care that much—as bad as that sounds. So it didn’t work. I just realised I couldn’t trust any of your fair sex.’

He didn’t trust women at all. But then who could blame him? His mother had left—okay, she’d died, but it was being left in a sense. His first lover had used him, his first serious girlfriend had tried to manipulate him into something he didn’t want…and he’d got ever so slightly bitter.

Well, he didn’t need to trust her. He just wanted some fun. In theory he was perfect. Because in theory he posed no threat—he wouldn’t ask for anything she didn’t want to give.

Except he already had. When he kissed her, his body demanded hers to surrender. Still that step too far for her, but she was so tempted by him she knew she was going to have to figure out a way of working it in a way she could handle.

He was looking at her slyly. ‘So what’s the deal with your family?’

‘What do you mean?’ She pulled her legs up tighter and wrapped her arms around her knees. The temperature was really dropping now.

‘You haven’t been home in years and you take me, a near stranger, to ride shotgun on a dinner with your brother. There’s some kind of deal going on.’

‘There’s no deal,’ she said innocently. ‘I have a nice family.’

‘So what, you’re a runaway without a cause?’ He looked sceptical. ‘There has to be something. Some reason why you don’t want to marry or have kids. Not many women don’t want that. Most spend half their lives trying to manipulate their way into that situation.’

‘You have such a nice impression of women.’

‘I call it as I see it. And I like women a lot.’

‘You mean you like a lot of women.’

His grin didn’t deny it. ‘Why limit yourself? And you’re the same in that you don’t want to settle. Why not? Your parents have an ugly divorce or something?’

‘No, they’ve been married almost thirty years and they’re still happy.’ Her heart thudded.

‘Oh.’ Carter looked surprised. ‘That’s nice.’

‘Yeah, they’re good together. They’re not like you, they fully believe in for-ever happy.’

‘So why don’t you?’

She fell back on her stock avoidance answer. ‘I like my freedom. I like to travel. That’s what I do.’

‘And you really don’t want kids?’

Oh. He’d gone back to that. ‘No. I don’t want children. Most men who want to marry do. I don’t want to disappoint someone. It’s easier to be with men who don’t want either of those things.’

He looked serious. ‘Can you not have kids, Penny?’ he asked softly.

‘Oh, no,’ she said qui

ckly. ‘No, it’s not that. As far as I’m aware, that’s all…fine.’ Even in the dim light, she figured her blush was visible. ‘I just don’t want to bring a kid into this world. It’s too cruel.’

He said nothing and eventually she settled back against the wall, tiredness beginning to pull her down. Age-old tiredness.

‘Who’s Isabelle?’

‘Sorry?’ Her tension snapped back.

‘You clammed up when Matt mentioned her last night,’ Carter said. ‘You’re clamming up now.’

Penny blew out a strangled breath. ‘She’s just someone from our home town.’ Then she let enough silence pass to point out the obvious—that she wasn’t talking any more. She suppressed a shiver and clamped her jaw to stop her teeth chattering. Curled her limbs into an even tighter bunch.

‘You’re cold.’ Carter shuffled closer to where she sat. ‘Come on, we have to keep warm.’

That was going to be impossible in this damp fridge. She went more rigid as he came close enough to touch. He sighed and put his arm around her, ignoring her resistance and pulling her down so they were half lying, half propped with their backs against the cold wall.

‘Go to sleep,’ he said softly, his body gently pressing alongside hers. ‘Nothing’s going to happen.’

Penny didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to move. She was so deliciously warm, even her feet—which were like blocks of ice year round. And a soft wave of even greater warmth was brushing down her arm with gentle regularity.

She wriggled and the warm comfort tightened. The warmth was alive—male arms, bare arms, encircled her. So did bare legs. And against her back? Bare chest.

She jerked up into a sitting position. ‘Where are your clothes?’

‘You were freezing,’ he answered with a lazy stretch.

‘So you had to get naked to keep me company?’

‘Skin on skin, Penny. It was the best way I could think to warm you up. You wouldn’t wake up and I started to think you were getting hypothermic.’


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