Chapter One: Emma
Emma shivered with anticipation as she stepped off the escalator, sidestepped the chaos of the crowded linen section and made her way toward homewares. Never would she have believed something so simple as acquiring a centrepiece would cause her heart to race. Her lips curled into a smile. Acquire – the perfect description for her unconventional shopping methods.
It was a finishing touch she was after. The menu for the dinner party was set, she knew exactly which table linen, cutlery and serving platters she would be using. She smiled as she passed by appliances and glassware and headed toward the tables boasting fine china, candlesticks and an assortment of other ornate pieces. She had one final item in mind to complete the table.
She should have been an event planner. Her husband’s expectations for their dinner parties were high. In their early days together she had suggested they employ an expert. Daniel had said no, building a successful investment company was something he wanted to achieve as a team. He’d encouraged her to become the expert, and over time she had. It certainly hadn’t been instant. Emma’s expertise had been born of trial and error; like the time she’d decided to turn their outdoor entertaining area into a winter wonderland. She’d placed almost two hundred candles in the area, having given no thought to the fact it was a windy night. It had been a spectacular sight to welcome their guests when the table linen caught fire and the outdoor area was reduced to a pile of ashes.
Emma fingered a lace tablecloth as she moved toward the centrepieces. She didn’t want anything elaborate, just something that showcased her discerning style. She grinned. Style. That’s something she definitely had.
Less than five minutes later Emma strode toward her car. She revelled in the familiar feeling as her heart thumped. The centrepiece had slipped easily inside her bag. Of course she knew it was wrong, that she should stop. But the anticipation, the rush it gave her, was all too addictive.
Emma sighed and cast her favourite Donna Karan aside in favour of the Gautier. She’d prefer something casual but securing Andean as a client tonight was important, and she needed to make the extra effort. With her honey-blond hair piled high on her head in a French bun, the tiered slip dress ensured a modern, sophisticated look. Perfect for entertaining on a warm Brisbane night.
Daniel’s wolf-whistle as he entered their bedroom suggested the Gautier was the right choice. ‘Gorgeous, Mrs Wilson, you are absolutely gorgeous.’
Emma smiled as Daniel wrapped his arms around her.
‘How did I get so lucky? Not only are you incredibly talented but you’re sexy, too.’ Daniel slipped his finger through the strap of the dress and pushed it off her shoulder. ‘Why don’t we take this off for just a minute? Don’t want it getting messed up before dinner.’
Emma laughed and swatted him away. ‘Come on, there’ll be plenty of time for that later. You need to shower and get dressed. Your thoughts should be completely focused on Di and impressing her and the others from Andean. Million-dollar deals don’t fall in your lap every day. Don’t waste your charm, use it on her to get this contract secured. Then you can work your charm on me.’
Daniel stood to attention and saluted. ‘Yes, ma’am. Charm will be reserved at all times for the sole purpose of client manipulation, as directed.’
Emma rolled her eyes and shooed him in the direction of the ensuite. ‘Go on, glam up, I expect to be impressed.’
Daniel grinned, planted a quick kiss on Emma’s forehead, and headed into the shower.
The usual oohs and aahs were exhibited by the eight guests as they were led from the front door to the dining room. With high ceilings, marble floors and spacious living areas, the home, while opulent, retained a relaxed and inviting feel. The interior designer who’d worked on the house five years earlier had been right, the art deco furniture and finishings were impressive and provided great talking points.
Now, after a delicious entrée and main course, Emma finished serving the dessert of raspberry soufflés amid the laughter and chatter of their guests. She took her own seat and gazed at Daniel as he moved around the table and refilled wineglasses. It was amazing how young and sexy the new clipped haircut made him look. His receding hairline was no longer a prominent feature. Instead, the fitted design of his azure shirt not only highlighted the blue of his eyes but, pulled taut across his muscular chest, left no doubt that he looked after himself.
‘Oh, how beautiful. Is it a sooty owl? I saw one just like it up at the Bunya Mountains last Easter.’
Emma’s thoughts were broken by Di, the managing director of Andean. She’d picked up the new centrepiece and was examining it.
Emma’s heart raced as it had when she’d left the department store. Would anyone suspect? She smiled at Di. ‘I’m actually not sure. It was passed down from my grandparents.’ She ignored Daniel’s raised eyebrows. ‘It’s been in the family for a long time.’
‘Really?’ The surprise in Di’s voice was obvious. ‘It looks brand new, you’ve looked after it very well.’
Emma swallowed. Why did she say it had been passed down? She was lucky she’d remembered to take the price tag off. ‘I’ve had it restored recently.’
Di nodded. ‘They’ve done a marvellous job.’
Emma’s heart rate slowed. Of course no-one had suspected, why would they?
‘I’ve been a mad bird watcher since I was ten.’ Di smiled at Emma. ‘I’m guessing by your choice of centrepiece that you may have worked out my interest in birds already. Owls are my favourite, of course, which the company name suggests.’ Di went on to explain her encounter with an Andean pygmy owl when she’d been travelling in Venezuela.
It was close to midnight when the last of the guests left. Daniel turned to Emma as he shut the front door. ‘You were fabulous tonight.’ He pulled her toward him. ‘If they sign the deal, it’s because of you and your sooty owl. That was amazing, Em. How did you know Di was so keen on birds?’ He laughed. ‘She went on about her owl encounter for close to an hour. Did you see her husband’s eyes glaze over?’
‘And just about everybody else’s.’ Emma smiled at Daniel. The centrepiece had been the perfect choice. She’d had no idea about Di’s bird interest, or the fact that Andean was named after an owl. However, the piece had jumped out at her when she’d been shopping for a reason.
‘Did your grandparents really give it to you?’ Daniel asked.
Emma lowered her eyes and shook her head. ‘No, sorry, that was a stupid lie. I have no idea why I said that. It sounded better than saying I’d gone out shopping for it.’
Daniel chuckled. ‘Good choice. She’d think we were trying too hard if we were buying birds to impress her.’ His hands travelled slowly up the sides of her dress, causing a shiver of anticipation to run down her spine. There was a softness in his eyes, a gentleness in his smile as he pulled Emma toward him, his lips brushing her ear. ‘You are an amazing wife. We make such a great team.’
His lips met hers briefly before he slowly pulled away. ‘How about you go and relax while I clean up the kitchen, you’ve done enough tonight.’ He winked. ‘Then I plan to whisk you to bed and show you my appreciation for your efforts.’
Emma smiled as Daniel walked back to the kitchen. He was such a good man, so loving, so generous. He adored her. Her thoughts flicked briefly to the owl. How would he feel if he knew? She pushed the thought out of her mind and concentrated instead on the delicious sensations travelling through her body. She smiled, the fact that her husband still turned her on after fifteen years was a true sign they were made for each other.
She moved into the dining room. She’d give him a hand before she went upstairs. The table was strewn with empty coffee cups and dessert plates. She found herself glancing at the owl as she stacked the dishes. Its eyes drilled into her, full of accusation.
She should be thankful to it; the dinner had been a success and Daniel was delighted with her. But the more she stared the more uneasy it made her feel.
Emma picked it up. Making her way through the dining room to the laundry she walked out of the internal door to the triple garage. She manoeuvred her way past Daniel’s BMW and opened the sliding door to the enormous storage cupboard. The boxes were all neatly labelled, most of them marked Kitchen Supplies. She removed the lid of the nearest box and placed the pewter owl on top of a crystal vase, another item acquired from Danes, the large department store. When she looked at the boxes she realised how many items in the past five years had come from Danes. She needed to get smarter, diversify. Twinges of guilt stabbed at her gut. This time she couldn’t push thoughts of Daniel out of her mind. She shook her head. Diversify? Was she kidding? Imagine Daniel’s disappointment if he discovered her secret. What she needed to do was stop.