The return of Julian with the desserts brought them all back to the table, Charles beating Richard in doing the honors in seating Heather. The attention seemed to amuse Richard, causing a three-way exchange of glances between John Prentice, Charles Stuart and Richard, Heather was at a loss to interpret, her head swiveling as she tried to catch the nuances from one man to the other. John Prentice’s nod at the end of it did little to clarify her confusion. She felt like a child eavesdropping on the half understood conversation of adults.
Richard knew her temper better than the others. He leant close to make his words private. “Don’t worry. I’ll explain later.”
Heather flashed him a smile for the others, hiding the import of her words. “You’d better. I’m beginning to feel like the idiot child at a grown-up’s party.”
“They think you’re extremely sexy and are worried I might too.” He leant back, ending the private conversation while Heather was still unraveling its meaning.
Julian served the desserts and started setting up a low round table at the far end of the room. Surrounded by six club chairs, it was the next stage of this strange business dinner. So far, there’d been no hint of the proposed deal beyond their interest in Malaysia, making Heather wonder if anyone outside John Prentice and Charles Stuart knew anything. At a gathering like this, she’d have expected a few slips by now, as the wine loosened tongues. There’d been none. Yet, these men wielded power in their own right. Whatever made them passive partners had to be big.
Julian provided a finger bowl with her fruits in season allowing Heather to ignore the fork and transfer the cut pieces to her mouth with her fingers, rinsing them between morsels and drying them on her napkin. It allowed her to sit back from the table and observe the others. Strawberries and clotted cream was the common choice, only Charles Stuart opting for a swirling confection of white and dark mousse served in an ornate parfait glass with a gold leaf patterned edge and topped with strawberries sliced into decorative fans.
“I can’t help thinking you made the best choice.” John Prentice had finished and was sitting back too. “Have you been to Malaysia?”
Heather shook her head.
“I’ve visited often,” John Prentice said. “Went to the Commonwealth Games there, but I’ve learnt more tonight than I did in all my time there. Richard is a shrewd observer. He’s made sense of things that puzzled me at the time, but I never followed up.”
“He makes a habit of success. I doubt it’s accidental.” Richard didn’t need her praise, but it could do no harm and would demonstrate her loyalty.
“You’re only related by marriage, Charles tells me.”
The change of subject wrong-footed Heather and she paused before she responded, exploring its significance. “Yes. My father married his mother when I was young. I gained a big brother and he was saddled with a small nuisance. He went out of his way to make me welcome and I followed him around like a shadow.”
“He’s still very protective.”
Heather couldn’t decide whether this was polite conversation or had some hidden significance. She’d been involved in no incident to justify it. Had something happened outside her knowledge?
“The perfect big brother.” She decided to take it at face value.
“Perhaps you’re right.” John Prentice smiled politely and turned away to respond to Julian who’d approached during the exchange. “Yes.”
Heather didn’t hear what Julian said, a movement to her left alerted her Richard had finished and was sitting back, his face turned towards her. She turned to him and drowned in his eyes. It was an incredible sensation. He was just sitting there, his lips curved in the slightest of smiles and his eyes slightly hooded as if lost in contemplation, but their blueness expanded to take her in and she was lost in their depths, deaf and blind to everything else.