Scandalous Seduction(4)

By: Miranda Lee

* * *

Harriet stood back from her dressing-table mirror for a final assessment.

Not too bad, actually, she decided.

In the last couple of years she had finally come to terms with her looks, and in doing so had achieved a certain style of her own.

Gone were the frilly feminine dresses her mother had selected for her as a girl. Her present wardrobe was filled exclusively with tailored clothes which gave an elegance to her tall, slender frame, her long-legged, boyish figure looking particularly good in straight slim skirts and well-cut trousers.

Her hair too had undergone a drastic change from the lank mop that had used to stretch halfway down her back, and resisted curling no matter what torture it was subjected to. She now sported an excellently cut blunt bob, the straight thick brown hair swinging around her jawline, softening the sharp edges of her face. The top Sydney hairdresser who had achieved this miracle had suggested a layered fringe as well, showing how it disguised her high forehead.

Nothing, however, could disguise the thinness of her oval face, which made her cheekbones stand out and the widely set brown eyes seem enormous. Still, Harriet admitted that the fringe had minimised the doe-eyed effect somewhat, giving the eyes shadows which a romantic might have called mysterious.

A romantic…

Harriet conceded that no one would call her that. Life had taught her to be cruelly honest with herself. When she looked in the mirror she saw only a moderately attractive young woman who for some reason did not appeal to men on any level except a platonic one.

It had always been like that. In her years at school she'd had several friends who were boys, yet no boyfriends. At university, the other male students had often sought her out to talk to, to study with. They had seemed to enjoy probing her mind, but never her body.

And yet she had been a normal girl, with a normal girl's desires. She had thought about romance and sex as much, if not more than some of her girlfriends.

By the age of twenty-two, and doing her Diploma of Education, she had begun to think that she would never have a boyfriend, never be made love to. Then Graham had come into her life.

He had been her tutor, doing his doctorate in literature, an aesthetically handsome young man who had had all the female students swooning. Being top of the class, Harriet had attracted his interest at first in an intellectual way, and they'd begun going for coffee after lectures, then to the occasional movie. By the time he kissed her, several weeks later, Harriet had been deeply, irrevocably in love.

It amazed her now that Graham had ever asked her to marry him, for she could see with hindsight that he had never been in love with her. If he had, he would have been far more anxious to go to bed with her. But it had been he who had always pulled back, he who had said he wanted to wait till they were married, that he wanted their relationship to be different from others he had had. With no pressure—whatever that had meant.

Though frustrated at the time, Harriet had thought Graham wonderfully romantic and contented herself with sweet kisses and tender words. With stars in her eyes and a ring on her finger she had brought him home from Sydney to show him off to her family. She could still recall the way Amanda had looked at him from the very first moment…

Remembered pain wrapped its cruel tentacles around Harriet's heart and squeezed, bringing an unbidden sob to her lips. She snatched up her old rag doll and hugged it fiercely. 'You love me though, don't you?' she whispered into the well-worn face.

The knocking on the door and the opening happened simultaneously. Her mother came in, her face falling when she saw what her daughter was wearing. 'But… but I thought you were going to wear a dress!'

Harriet sighed and placed the doll on the pillow. She glanced down at her clothes, a tan pair of linen trousers—superbly cut—matched with a toning striped vest and off-white blazer. Off-white flat loafers covered her surprisingly small feet. The outfit was comfortable and stylish. And suited her.

'Don't you like it?' she asked, unable to hide her hurt.

'Well, I… well, it's…' Julia was flummoxed. 'You know I prefer you in a dress,' she finally hedged. 'I especially wanted you to look nice tonight.'

'I think I do look nice,' Harriet said patiently. Why couldn't her mother see that what had looked good on Amanda wasn't right for her?