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Мортимер Кэрол

A Bargain with the Enemy

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CHAPTER ONE

One week later...

SHE WAS ENTERING the enemy camp—again!—Bryn realised with a frown as she paused outside on the pavement to look up at the marble frontispiece of the biggest and the best of the privately owned galleries and auction houses in London, the name Archangel in large gold italics glittering in the sunlight above the wide glass entrance doors. Doors that swung open automatically as she stepped forward before walking purposefully into the high-ceilinged entrance hall.

Purposefully, because this really was the enemy camp as far as Bryn was concerned. The D’Angelos, Gabriel in particular, had been responsible for both breaking her heart and sending her father to prison five years ago....

She couldn’t think of that now, couldn’t allow herself to think of that now. She had to focus on the fact that the past two years of rejection from gallery after gallery were what had brought her to this desperate moment. The same two years, after leaving university with her degree, when she had believed the world was now her oyster, only to learn that the recognition she craved for her paintings was ever elusive.

Many of her friends from university had caved to the pressure of family and stretched finances and entered advertising or teaching instead of following their real dream of painting for a living. But not Bryn. Oh, no, she had stuck doggedly to her desire to have her paintings exhibited in a London gallery, believing that one day she would be able to make her mother proud of her and erase the shame of her family’s past.

Two years later she had been forced to admit defeat, not by abandoning her paintings, but by being left with no choice but to enter the New Artists competition at Archangel.

‘Miss Jones?’

She turned to look enquiringly at one of the two receptionists sitting behind the elegant cream-and-rose marble desk, which was an exact match for the rest of the marbled entrance hall; several huge columns in the same marble stretched from floor to ceiling, with beautiful glass cabinets protecting the priceless artefacts and magnificent jewellery on display.

And this was only the entrance hall; Bryn knew from her previous visit to the Archangel Gallery that the six salons leading off this vast hallway all housed yet more unique and beautiful treasures, and there were many more being prepared for auction in the vast basement beneath the building.

She straightened, determined not to be intimidated—or at least not to reveal that she was intimidated—by her elegant surroundings, or by the cool blonde and elegant receptionist who couldn’t be much older than her own twenty-three years. ‘Yes, I’m Miss Jones.’

‘Linda,’ the other woman supplied as she stood up from behind the desk and walked across the entrance hall, the three-inch heels of her black shoes clicking on the marble floor as she joined a hesitant Bryn still standing near the doorway.

Bryn felt distinctly underdressed in the fitted black trousers and loose flowered silk shirt she had chosen to wear for her second meeting with Eric Sanders, the gallery’s in-house art expert. ‘I have an appointment with Mr Sanders,’ she supplied softly.

Linda nodded. ‘If you would care to follow me to the lift? Mr D’Angelo left instructions for me to take you upstairs to his office as soon as you arrived.’

Bryn instantly stiffened, her feet suddenly feeling so leaden they appeared to have become weighted to the marble floor. ‘My appointment is with Mr Sanders.’

Linda turned with a swish of that perfectly groomed blonde hair as she realised Bryn wasn’t following her. ‘Mr D’Angelo is conducting the interviews this morning.’

Bryn’s tongue felt as if it were stuck to the roof of her suddenly dry mouth. ‘Mr D’Angelo?’ she managed to squeak.

The older woman nodded. ‘One of the three brothers who own this gallery.’ Bryn knew exactly who the three D’Angelo brothers were. She just had no idea which one Linda was referring to when she said ‘Mr D’Angelo’. The haughty and cold Michael? The arrogant playboy Raphael? Or the cruel Gabriel, who had taken her naive heart and trampled all over it?

It didn’t really matter which of the D’Angelo brothers it was; they were all arrogant and ruthless as far as Bryn was concerned, and she wouldn’t have come within twenty feet of a single one of them if not for the fact that she was as determined to become one of the six artists chosen to take part in the Archangel New Artists Exhibition next month, as she was desperate.

She gave a slow shake of her head. ‘I think there’s been some sort of mistake.’ She frowned. ‘Mr Sanders’ secretary phoned me and made the appointment.’

‘Because Mr D’Angelo was out of the country at the time,’ Linda said, nodding.

Bryn could only stand and stare at the other woman, wondering if it was too late for her to just cut and run while she still had the chance....

* * *

Gabriel rested his elbows on his desktop as he watched the link to the security camera in the entrance hall of the gallery on his laptop.

He had recognised Bryn Jones the moment she entered the gallery, of course. Seen the way she hesitated, before her expression turned to one of confusion as Linda spoke to her, followed by total stillness as her face went completely blank, making it easy for Gabriel to guess the moment Linda had told her that her appointment this morning was now with him rather than Eric.

Bryn Jones..

.

Or, more accurately, Sabryna Harper.

The last time Gabriel had seen Sabryna had been five years ago, day after day across a crowded courtroom. She had glared her dislike of him with glittering but velvet-soft dove-grey eyes from behind dark-framed glasses every time she so much as glanced at him. And she had glanced at him a lot!

Sabryna Harper had only been eighteen at the time, her figure voluptuously rounded, her manner a little clumsy and self-conscious, light brown hair growing silky and straight to just below her shoulders, dark-framed glasses making her eyes appear large and vulnerable. A vulnerability and appeal that Gabriel had been inexplicably drawn to.

Her figure had slimmed down to a svelte elegance that was shown to full advantage in a loose floral blouse and fitted trousers. The light brown hair looked as if it had been given blonde highlights, as well as being expertly cut and styled as it winged out perkily about her ears, nape and creamy, smooth brow. And she had dispensed with the dark-framed glasses, probably in favour of contact lenses. She also possessed a new self-confidence that had allowed her to walk into Archangel with purpose and determination.

The loss of weight was even more noticeable in her face; there were now slight hollows in her cheeks, revealing sculptured cheekbones either side of a pert little nose. Her mouth— Thank God Rafe had warned him about that sexy mouth. As it was, he had an arousal that would need several minutes to subside—the same minutes it would take Linda to bring Bryn Jones to his office, he hoped.

Would Gabriel have recognised this beautiful and confident young woman as the Sabryna Harper of five years ago if Rafe hadn’t prewarned him of her real identity, after Michael had decided to act with his usual arrogance by remaining silent on the subject?

Oh, yes, Gabriel had no doubts he would have recognised Sabryna. Voluptuous or slender, glasses or no glasses, slightly gauche or elegantly poised, he would have known Sabryna under any guise she cared to take on.

The question was, would she betray by word or deed that she remembered him too?

* * *

Delicious, decadent, sinful, melted-chocolate brown. It was the only way to describe the colour of Gabriel D’Angelo’s eyes, Bryn acknowledged with self-disgust as, Linda having delivered her to his office, she now stood in front of the marble desk looking at the man she had long considered her nemesis. The man who, with the whiplash of his arrogant and ruthless tongue, had not only helped to send her father to prison, but also succeeded in killing Sabryna Harper and necessitating that Bryn Jones rise from her ashes.

The same man that the youthful Sabryna had been beguiled by, kissed by and lost her heart to five years ago.

The same man who only weeks later had stood in a courtroom and condemned her father to prison.

The same man that Sabryna had looked at across that courtroom and known that she still wanted, despite what he was doing to her father. Just looking at him had aroused her when she should have felt nothing but hatred for him, robbing her of both breath and speech.

A reaction, a dangerous attraction, that in the years that followed Bryn had convinced herself she hadn’t felt. That the emotions that had bombarded her whenever she looked at him must have been dislike, perhaps even hate, because she couldn’t have still been attracted to him after what he had done to her family.

One look at him now and Bryn knew that she had been lying to herself for all these years; that Gabriel D’Angelo, despite being the one man she should never have been attracted to, never have allowed herself to be flattered by or allowed to kiss her, had then, and still now, held a dangerous fascination for her.

So much so that she could feel how his overpowering presence managed to dominate the dramatic and opulent elegance of the huge office with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the London skyline and original artwork adorning all of the delicate pink-silk-covered walls.

Gabriel D’Angelo...

A man who should by now—Bryn had many times wished it so!—be balding, running to fat, with lines of dissipation etched into his overbloated and self-indulgent face.

Instead, he was still well over six feet of taut, lean muscle, all shown to advantage in a dark and tailored designer-label suit that probably cost as much as a year of Bryn’s university fees! And his hair was just as thick and dark as she remembered it too, brushed casually back from his face to fall in silky ebony waves to just below the collar of his cream silk shirt.

As for his face...!

It was the face of a male model. The sort of face that women of all ages would have drooled over before buying whatever it was he was selling; a high intelligent brow above those sinful brown eyes, his nose aquiline, cheekbones high and sharply defined against light olive skin—with not a line in sight, of dissipation or otherwise! He had perfect chiselled lips—the top one fuller than the bottom—and the strong line of his jaw was exactly as Bryn remembered it: square and ruthlessly determined.

‘Miss Jones.’ His cultured voice, as Bryn had discovered five years ago, wasn’t in the least accented, as might have been expected from his name, but was as English as her own. The same deep and husky rumble of a voice that had once caused Bryn’s knees to quake, and had still done so even as she had listened to that voice condemn her father and seal his fate.

Bryn almost took a step back as Gabriel D’Angelo stood up and moved out from behind the marble desk. She managed to stand her ground as she realised he had only risen to his feet in order to hold out his hand to her in greeting. A lean and elegant hand totally in keeping with the strength Bryn could discern in every leanly muscled inch of him.

The sort of strength that she had no doubts was capable of crushing every bone in her own much smaller hand, if he chose to exert it.

Bryn gave an inward jolt as she realised he was studying her just as closely through narrowed lids, those melted chocolate-brown eyes appearing to see everything and miss nothing.

Would he recognise her as Sabryna Harper? Somehow she doubted it, given the fact that the gauche Sabryna, despite Gabriel having kissed her once, would have made very little impact on the life of a man like Gabriel D’Angelo, and there would have been so many other women in his life—and his bed!—during the past five years.

Besides which, her name was different, and she looked dramatically different: she was twenty pounds lighter, her hair was now cut short with blonde highlights, her face thinner, more angled, and she wore contact lenses rather than dark-framed glasses.

But was it possible—could Gabriel D’Angelo have recognised her, despite those changes?

Bryn moved one sweat-dampened hand surreptitiously against the thigh of her trousers before raising it with the intention of brushing it as briefly as possible against his much larger hand. A move Gabriel D’Angelo instantly circumvented as those long, lean fingers closed firmly about, and retained hold, of Bryn’s—instantly renewing and deepening that jolt of electricity, the sexual awareness, as it throbbed from his hand into hers, moving the length of her arm before settling in the fullness of her breasts, causing her nipples to tingle and harden beneath her blouse.

A jolt that Gabriel D’Angelo also felt, if the tightening of his fingers about hers and the increased narrowing of those captivating eyes, was any indication.

‘We meet at last, Miss Jones,’ Gabriel murmured as he deliberately continued to hold the slenderness of her hand firmly within his own.

Bryn blinked, her expression suddenly wary, those dove-grey eyes even more beautiful now that they weren’t hidden behind glasses. ‘I—I’m not sure what you mean.’

Gabriel wasn’t completely sure what he meant either!

Rafe’s advice, when the two brothers had met for dinner before he flew back to New York five days ago, had been that the easiest and best way for Gabriel to avoid any further unpleasantness with the Harper family was to simply tell Eric Sanders to take Bryn Jones off the list of possible candidates for the upcoming New Artists Exhibition.

And on a professional level Gabriel understood exactly why his brother had given him that advice; given the circumstances of his past history with her late father William Harper, it was sound, even necessary, advice.

Except...

Gabriel had a history with Bryn too. Brief, admittedly, just a stolen kiss when he had driven her home from visiting Archangel one evening, but he had hoped for more at the time, had thought of Bryn often the past five years, had wondered, speculated, what would have become of the two of them if not for the scandal that had ripped them apart.

Gabriel wasn’t in the least proud of the part he had played in the events of five years ago. Not William Harper’s conviction and incarceration for fraud, his death in prison just months later or the way in which his wife and teenage daughter had been hounded and harassed during the whole ordeal.

Against his brother’s advice Gabriel had tried to see Sabryna, both during the trial and after her father was sent to prison, but she had turned him away every time, refusing to answer the door to him and changing her number so he couldn’t call her either. Gabriel had decided to step back, to give her time, before approaching her again. And then William Harper had died in prison, putting an end to any hopes Gabriel might have had for himself and Sabryna ever having a relationship.

He had also taken an objective look, a purely professional look, over the past few days at the paintings Bryn Jones had submitted to the competition. They were really good—her still-life paintings so delicately executed it was almost possible for him to smell the rose petals falling gently down from the vase. To want to reach out and touch the ethereal beauty in a woman’s eyes as she looked down at the baby she held in her arms.

Gabriel could see genuine talent in every brush stroke, the sort of rare artistic talent that would one day make Bryn Jones’ paintings highly collectable, as both objects of beauty as well as a sound investment. Because of this Gabriel didn’t feel he could eliminate her as a candidate for the New Artists Exhibition just to save himself from the discomfort of facing her and having her hate every breath of air he took.

He did, however, have every intention of keeping the question of Bryn Jones’ own motivation for entering the competition in the forefront of any of his future dealings with her.

Gabriel released her hand abruptly before moving to retake his seat behind the desk, very aware that his earlier arousal had returned with a vengeance the moment he had touched the silky softness of Bryn’s hand. ‘I was referring to the fact that you’re the seventh, and last, candidate to have been interviewed in the past two days.’ The only candidate that Gabriel was interviewing personally, but she didn’t need to know that.

Her cheeks slowly paled. ‘The seventh candidate?’

He gave a dismissive shrug. ‘It’s always best to have a reserve, don’t you think?’

She was a reserve?

Bryn had been so desperate she had swallowed her pride, her dislike of all things D’Angelo, to enter their damned competition, only to be told she was a reserve?

Bryn had thought—believed—that being asked to come in to Archangel for another interview meant that she had been chosen as one of the final six artists for the Archangel New Artists Exhibition. And now Gabriel D’Angelo was telling her she was a reserve! Like an actor who was expected to learn all the lines and then stand in the wings of the theatre every night, in the full knowledge they might never have the chance to appear on the stage!

Had she been recognised after all? And if she had, was this Gabriel D’Angelo’s idea of amusing himself, of extracting further retribution for the scandal her father had brought upon the Archangel Gallery, and the three brothers who owned it, five years ago?

‘Are you quite well, Miss Jones?’ A frown now creased Gabriel’s brow as he stood up once again and moved round the desk. ‘You’ve gone very pale....’

No, Bryn wasn’t ‘well’. In fact she was feeling far from well! So much so that she didn’t even attempt to back away as Gabriel moved far too close to her. She had swallowed her pride, risked everything, the whole persona and life she had made for herself these past five years, by even bringing herself to the attention of the D’Angelo brothers, only to now be told she wasn’t good enough!

‘I— Is it possible I could have a glass of water?’ She raised a slightly shaking hand up to the dampness of her brow.

‘Of course.’ Gabriel was still frowning darkly as he strode across to the bar.

She was a reserve.

How disappointing was that?

How humiliating was that?

Damn it, she had been living in a state of nervous tension since entering the competition and this was the thanks she got at the end of all that anxiety, all that swallowed pride: to be made the reserve artist for the Exhibition!

‘I’ve changed my mind about the water,’ she snapped tautly as she straightened. ‘Do you have any whisky in there?’

Gabriel turned slowly, eyes narrowing as he saw that colour had returned to Bryn Jones’ cheeks, her eyes taking on a similar angry glow. A glow he easily recognised as being the same one he had felt directed at him across the courtroom. Why was Bryn suddenly so angry? They had been in the middle of a conversation about—

Ah. Gabriel had stated she was the seventh candidate being interviewed in a six-candidate competition.

Gabriel strolled back with the glass of whisky she had asked for. ‘I believe there’s been a misunderstanding—’

‘There certainly has.’ She nodded, taking the crystal glass of whisky he held out to her and drinking it down in one swallow, only to breathe in with a gasp before coughing as the fiery alcohol hit the back of her throat.

‘I think you’ll find that thirty-year-old single-malt whisky is meant to be sipped and savoured rather than guzzled down like lemonade at a child’s birthday party,’ Gabriel drawled dryly as he took the empty glass from her slightly lax fingers and placed it safely on his desk as she bent over at the waist, obviously still fighting for breath. ‘Should I—?’

‘Do not even think about slapping me on the back!’ she warned through gritted teeth as she straightened and saw his raised hand, her cheeks now a fiery red, eyes ringed with unshed tears caused by her choking fit.

At least, Gabriel hoped they were caused by her choking fit and not from disappointment. She had obviously misunderstood his earlier comment; he had caused this woman enough heartache already in her young life. ‘Would you care for that glass of water now...?’

She glared even more fiercely. ‘I’ll be fine,’ she snapped. ‘As for your offer, Mr D’Angelo—’

‘Gabriel.’

She blinked long silky lashes. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I asked that you call me Gabriel,’ he invited warmly.

A frown settled on her face. ‘What possible reason could I have for wanting to do that?’

Gabriel eyed her mockingly; with her hair styled in that short spiky fashion, at the moment she looked very much like a bristly, indignant hedgehog! ‘I thought, perhaps, in the interest of...a friendlier working relationship?’

She gave an inelegant snort. ‘We have no relationship, Mr D’Angelo, friendly, working or otherwise.’ She picked up her shoulder bag from where it had fallen to the floor during her choking fit. ‘And, while I’m sure many artists would feel flattered to be chosen seventh out of a six-candidate competition, I’m afraid I’m not one of them.’ She turned sharply on her heel and marched towards the door.

‘Bryn.’

She came to an abrupt halt at hearing her name spoken in that throaty rumble through those perfectly sculptured lips. The same chiselled lips that had once kissed her, that had filled her fantasies every night for months before, during, and after her father’s trial and incarceration.

Her name sounded...sensual, when spoken in that husky voice. Soft, seductive and definitely sensual. A sensuality Bryn’s body instantly responded to, her breasts once again feeling fuller, the nipples firming, aching.

Bryn turned slowly, her expression wary as she acknowledged, inwardly at least, that her traitorous body still thought Gabriel D’Angelo was the most decadent, wickedly attractive man she had ever set eyes on.

And it shouldn’t.

She shouldn’t.

How could she possibly still feel this way when this man had been instrumental in destroying her family?

They had been five tough years for both Bryn and her mother. The two of them had remained living in London while her father was in prison, only changing their surname and moving out of London after he had died.

On top of their grief had come the ordeal of finding somewhere to live, finally moving into the cottage they had found to rent in a little Welsh village.

Then had come the difficulty of Bryn finding and getting into a university that allowed her to live at home; she hadn’t wanted to leave her still-devastated mother on her own. Her mother was a trained nurse, and had found a job at a local hospital, but Bryn had had to settle for working in a local café and fitting her hours of study around her work shifts.

In amongst all that change and struggle there hadn’t been a lot of time for men in Bryn’s life—the odd date here and there, but never anything prolonged or intimate. Besides which, any serious involvement would have eventually necessitated that she confide her real name wasn’t Bryn Jones at all, and that her father had been William Harper, something she had been loath to do.

At least Bryn had thought, until now, that was the reason she had avoided any serious involvement....

To look at Gabriel D’Angelo now, however, to hear his voice again, and realise that he was the reason behind her lack of interest in other men, was humiliating in the extreme.

To realise, to know, that it was this man’s sensual good looks, that deep voice, that filled her senses and created a sexual tension within her without even trying.

To acknowledge that the hateful Gabriel D’Angelo, a man who had kissed her just the once, a kiss he had no doubt regretted as soon as it had happened, had been the yardstick against which Bryn had judged all other men for the past five years, was not only masochistic madness on her part, but disloyal to both her mother, and her father’s memory....

.

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