The Redemption of Darius Sterne(5)

By: Carole Mortimer

Whatever the reason for his attraction to her, Darius had the definite feeling it was reciprocated, as he had felt those beautiful green eyes continuing to watch him through the curtain of her thick dark lashes as he and Xander strolled through the restaurant to join his mother and stepfather at their table.

But maybe a more plausible reason for having become so preoccupied by the blonde was that he didn’t really want to be here at the restaurant at all?

It was Darius’s reluctance to start the evening that had caused him to work so late at his office he hadn’t even had time to go to his apartment and change before meeting up with Xander outside the restaurant. The two of them had decided during a telephone call earlier today that presenting a united front tonight was probably the best policy.

His mother’s frown of disapproval, when he had bent to place the perfunctory kiss on her smooth and powdered cheek, had clearly told him that she had taken note that Xander and their stepfather were both wearing black evening clothes and Darius wasn’t.

Not that it had bothered Darius for many years whether or not he had his mother’s approval. Twenty years, to be exact. Since the death of the father he and Xander had hated and the husband Catherine had feared. The man that Darius so resembled, in looks, at least; no doubt it was difficult for Catherine to even look at the son who so reminded her of the husband she had disliked.

Darius could understand some of his mother’s aversion but it didn’t stop her rejection from hurting him. Over the years he had found the best way to deal with that hurt was to distance himself from his mother in return. It was not the ideal, by any means, but as the years had passed it had become the best way for him to deal with the situation.

Consequently mother and son now rarely talked, let alone spent evenings together like this.

Thankfully the rest of his family usually more than made up for Darius’s brooding silences.

Xander was currently behaving with his usual charming urbanity.

Their mother, Catherine, still beautiful at fifty-eight, was also presenting a gracious and charming front for the benefit of the other diners, who they were all only too well aware were continuing to watch the family surreptitiously.

Only Charlie, or Charles, as his mother preferred her second husband to be called, was being his usual warm and affable self as he ignored the other diners, and the underlying tensions at their table, in favour of keeping the conversation light and impersonal.

It might be Catherine’s birthday today, and the reason they were all sitting here, but his relationship with his mother was now such that it was out of respect and affection for Charlie that Darius had made the effort to make an appearance at all this evening.

‘Isn’t it time we drank the toast to your birthday, Mother?’ He picked up his glass of champagne. ‘I can’t stay long. I have somewhere else I need to be.’ He glanced towards the back of the restaurant where the second blonde’s escort had disappeared a few minutes ago. Probably on his way to the men’s room.

His mother gave another frown of disapproval. ‘Surely you can spare me one evening of your time, Darius?’

‘Unfortunately not,’ he cut her off unapologetically.

‘You speak to him, Charles!’ Catherine turned to appeal to her husband.

‘You heard the boy, Catherine, he has work he needs to do.’

Silver-haired, and in his mid-sixties, Charles Latimer obviously adored his wife, and Darius knew that the older man did everything in his power to ensure her happiness. But even Charlie knew better than to argue when Darius made a statement in that flat, uncompromising tone.

‘He didn’t say it was work.’

‘It is,’ Darius bit out tersely, deliberately choosing to ignore Xander’s accusing glare.

He had turned up tonight, hadn’t he? Had made the required appearance at his mother’s private birthday dinner celebrations, as he would make an appearance at the more public celebrations next weekend, at a dinner given in aid of one of his mother’s numerous charities. What more did any of them want from him? Whatever it was, the estrangement between Darius and his mother was now such that he wasn’t willing to give it.

He gave another glance towards the back of the restaurant, having just decided exactly what he did want.

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