"They're lovely. Thank you,' she said, smiling at him.
'Pleasure.' He hated the stiff formality, but he really didn't know what else to say.
'My turn to give you the guided tour?' she suggested.
When she showed him around, he felt even more awkward. His entire flat would probably fit into two of the rooms here! The kitchen had proper terracotta tiles, handmade wooden cabinets, granite worktops, top-of-the-range electrical equipment. A million miles away from his cheap and cheerful kitchen. And she had a proper dining room rather than a corner of the kitchen to eat in; the antique table was set with silver, lead crystal, white porcelain and damask napkins in silver rings. He'd just bet she set the table properly like this every night, even if it was only for herself.
Her bathroom was enormous, too. Though when he noticed that the bath was big enough for two people, he had a tough job convincing his libido to shut up: it was sitting up, begging and whining loudly.
Her spare bedrooms—doubles, he noticed—both had deep pile carpets: one had a bateau lit and the other a wrought-iron bedstead. Both had pure white bedding—real high-maintenance stuff. And both smelled of lavender. Either she had a housekeeper who did it for her, or she was just very, very organised. Both were very probable: he wouldn't hazard a guess. And Lord only knew what her bedroom was like because she—following his lead, last night—didn't show him behind the closed door.
This was a mansion flat—and inside it felt like a mansion, too.
Though what else should he have expected from the Honourable Victoria Radley?
Her living room was a surprise and yet exactly what he'd expected. Bookshelves stuffed with medical texts and classic fiction—all arranged strictly in alphabetical order, he noticed—a desk with a halogen lamp and what looked like a state-of-the-art laptop, an overstuffed sofa. But there were other surprises: a shelf full of DVDs, mainly musicals and black-and-white James Stewart films. A plasma-screen TV. And silver-framed photographs on the mantelpiece.
Two wedding photographs: the men were obviously Vicky's brothers, because they looked so much like her. Another of Vicky with them both, wearing casual clothes and a mischievous grin. And one of Vicky cuddling a baby.
That was the picture that intrigued him most. Vicky, who said her career meant more to her than anything else, had a look of sheer tenderness on her face as she looked at the child.
A look he could still remember Beth giving him.
The look of a mother.
'That's my niece,' Vicky said softly. 'My goddaughter, Chloë Victoria Radley. She's four months old.'
He glanced at her, and there was the same expression on her face as there was in the photograph. That was when he knew. Vicky wanted it all. She wanted her career and a family, but she thought she couldn't have it. That she had to give something up.
Maybe he could show her that she didn't have to. That she could have it all.
'She's beautiful.' Like her aunt. 'Anything I can do to help with dinner?' he asked.
'Open the wine?' she suggested.
He just hoped he wouldn't spill it all over the table. Wine, coffee and even mineral water wouldn't be good for the polished surface. But then they were sitting opposite each other. She'd lit a candle—a vanilla-scented candle, just like he'd lit when she'd had dinner at his flat—and a Mozart piano sonata was playing softly.
She lifted her glass. 'Well. Cheers.'
The first course dispelled his nerves. Melba toast and fish pate. 'Mackerel and...?' He couldn't quite place the other taste.
Bought from some upmarket deli?
'It's our cook's favourite recipe,' she said, surprising him. 'She taught me how to make it.'
'You made this yourself?'
'Yes.' She looked slightly offended.
Then he realised what she'd done, and chuckled. 'You wanted to prove you're a better cook than I am.'
She flushed. 'No, I didn't.'
'Yes, you did. You've got a competitive streak a mile wide.'
'Don't be ridiculous.'
Though he could see the glitter in her eyes. Anger? No. Unshed tears. He stopped teasing her. 'You don't have to prove anything to me,' he said softly. Hell, if this table wasn't so wide, he'd reach across and take her hand. 'And you don't need to compete with me either. We're a team.' Weren't they?
She said nothing, but cleared the table ready for the next course. Melt-in-the-mouth beef Stroganoff with baby steamed vegetables—and the rice was moulded in a dome, instead of being spread as a bed for the Stroganoff.
'Did you ever think about becoming a chef?' Jake asked.
'Your brasserie would have a waiting list of six months, if not longer. This is seriously good.'