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A Lost Love

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«A Lost Love» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…Return of the millionaire’s wife…Brooke Adamson knew how devilishly handsome magnate, Rafe Charlwood, felt about her. She was his wife after all—or rather she had been, until a terrible car accident three years ago, which Rafe still believed had claimed her life.Now she’s returned, with a new face and identity, to claim her son. But even though she despises Rafe—almost as much as he hates the memory of the woman he married—resisting his sinful touch and devastating kiss proves more difficult than Brooke ever anticipated…
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A LostLove

Carole Mortimer


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BROOKE looked at the palely fragile woman who lay back against the white bedclothes, her heart constricting in her throat at how much more ill the other woman looked since the last time she had visited her—and that had only been yesterday! Dear Jocelyn, how bravely she was handling the fatal illness that had suddenly afflicted her six months ago, the last month of it spent in this private nursing-home; she seemed to grow weaker and more frail with each passing day.

It made Brooke angry that the other woman, the best friend she had ever had, should have to suffer such pain, that she herself should feel so helpless in the face of Jocelyn's unspoken suffering.

To look at the two of them they had little in common; Jocelyn was in her sixties, Brooke in her early twenties. The older woman's face showed signs of a faded beauty, while the younger had an exquisitely beautiful face that required little make-up, just a light brown mascara to darken the blonde lashes that surrounded shadowed blue eyes, a deep red lipgloss outlining the perfect curve of her mouth. The older woman's hair had gone gracefully grey years earlier, the younger woman having a light brown colour with blonde highlights in the thick shoulder-length swathe of straight hair.

And yet during the last three years it had been Jocelyn who had become Brooke's confidante when she needed her so much, developing what could only be called a mother–daughter relationship, as they spent a great deal of time together, Jocelyn never having married and Brooke's parents having died long ago.

Brooke knew that the Charlwoods, Jocelyn's family, viewed the friendship with some scepticism, but as Brooke obviously had wealth of her own they hadn't been able to accuse her of being after the other woman's money. But both of them knew that the friendship was frowned upon by the head of the Charlwood family, Rafe, his brother Patrick and his wife Rosemary. But Jocelyn had never been influenced by the opinion of either of her nephews, nor their father either when he had been alive, and so the friendship had continued to flourish, Brooke visiting Jocelyn at her cottage on the Charlwood estate whenever she could. To their credit the attitude of the Charlwood family had been consistent as far as Brooke was concerned—they ignored her existence wherever possible.

And that was the way she wanted it, preferring not to have attention brought to her, especially in front of Rafe, the powerful head of the family and of Charlwood Industries, a man who was as harsh as he was wealthy. The family had amassed even more money under his guidance than when Robert Charlwood, Rafe's great-grandfather, had begun their first shipping line all those years ago. Brooke knew the whole history of the Charlwood family, had met several of them, and the only one she had ever liked had been Jocelyn.

‘Are you angry with the flowers, darling, or me?’ Jocelyn teased her from her sitting position in the bed in this sunlit room that looked little like a nursing-home and more like a woman's boudoir, soft and feminine, as was the woman in the bed, her pretty pink bed-jacket matching her lace nightgown.

Brooke had to blink back the tears as she looked at her friend, the carnations she had been arranging in the vase forgotten for the moment. ‘Neither,’ she choked. ‘I'm angry at life. Why you, Jocelyn?’ she groaned her despair. ‘Why not me, when I——’

‘It isn't for us to question that,’ the other woman gently rebuked. ‘Everything has a purpose. And I think I know what mine is,’ she added softly, patting the bed at her side. ‘Come and sit here, I want to talk to you.’

The sheer intensity of Jocelyn's voice when she was feeling so ill was enough to send Brooke across the room to sit on the bedside. ‘Is there anything wrong?’ she asked worriedly. ‘The tests you had at the beginning of the week …?’

‘Just confirmed what I already knew,’ the other woman patted her hand comfortingly. ‘I shan't last the month.’

‘You mustn't talk that way!’ Brooke blanched, her hand tightening about her friend's. ‘There are so many things they can do now, medical science is advancing every day.’

Jocelyn shook her head, her smile serene. ‘They told me at the beginning that my illness was inoperable, and science isn't moving quick enough for me. I've accepted it, darling.

I wish you would.’

‘I know,’ Brooke's bottom lip trembled. ‘And it's selfish of me to feel this way when your pain is so bad. But what am I going to do without you?’ She held the other woman's hand up to her cheek, her tears falling unchecked now.

Jocelyn gave a sad smile, smoothing the damp cheek with her fingertips. ‘You'll survive,’ she assured her gently. ‘And I've made provision for you in my will——’

‘No!’ Brooke raised stricken eyes, huge limpid blue eyes that reflected the fear in her heart. ‘I don't want anything, don't need anything, you know that. And it will just make Rafe—the family—dislike me more.’

‘I'm not doing this just for you.’ The older woman held her gaze. ‘This has always involved more than just you and me, that's why I allowed things to go as far as they did.’ She gave a deep sigh. ‘Rafe is a hard, unforgiving man, there was no other way. But I haven't left you any money, Brooke, we both know there's little need for that,’ she added wryly. ‘And as you say, the family already dislikes you enough.’

Brooke frowned her puzzlement. ‘If not money then what …?’

‘You'll soon see.’ Jocelyn gave a tight smile. ‘And don't think I didn't give it all a great deal of thought before I did it, because I did.’

‘I would feel easier in my mind if I knew what “it” is,’ Brooke sighed.

‘You'll know all in good time,’ she was assured. ‘My lawyer will contact you at the appropriate time.’

‘When you're dead,’ Brooke said flatly.

‘Now, now, dear, we all have to go some time,’ Jocelyn smiled. ‘I've had a good life, a happy one. And now I want to try and give you a little happiness too——’

‘Your dying couldn't do that!’ Brooke choked.

‘None of us wish for my aunt's death, Miss Adamson,’ rasped a deeply harsh voice. ‘I'm sure none of us wish to even consider it.’

The sound of that voice brought Brooke to her feet, her face averted as she wiped away all trace of her recent tears, not needing to look at the man who had just entered the room to know who he was: Rafe Charlwood, head of the Charlwood family. Thirty-nine years old, dark hair liberally sprinkled with grey at his temples, a harsh face seeming as if carved from granite; the eyes a light steady grey, his nose long and straight, flanked by high cheekbones and lean cheeks, a firm uncompromising mouth, his chin square and strong, his jaw determined. His body was lean, his height immense, and yet he possessed a certain elegance of movement, a feline grace in the wide shoulders, tapered waist, narrow hips, and long legs. Brooke knew all that about the man without even looking at him, hating to look at him, remembering then all the pain he had caused her in the past. And such was this man's arrogance, his fiercely possessive vengeance, that he hadn't even known he had wronged her.

Jocelyn shot Brooke an understanding glance before concentrating on her nephew. ‘You may not want to discuss it, Rafe,’ she said softly, ‘but I can assure you it's going to happen. Now tell me what you're doing here?’ she demanded. ‘I thought you were going to Italy for the next few weeks.’

He shrugged, moving forward to kiss her dutifully on one powdered cheek, as sophisticated as usual in an elegant charcoal-grey three-piece suit and silver-grey shirt and tie, both of the latter looking like silk. ‘I concluded my business early,’ he dismissed, ‘so I thought I would pay you a visit.’ The steely gaze was once more turned on Brooke. ‘I had no idea Miss Adamson was going to be here.’

Brooke hadn't needed to be told that; she knew that if he had realised he would have arranged for his own visit not to have coincided with hers. It was his lack of effort to hide his disapproval of her that had influenced his young brother Patrick into feeling the same way, and his sister-in-law needed no encouragement in that direction; her reaction was hostile on sight.

‘Brooke comes to see me most afternoons.’ His aunt spoke conversationally, although she was well aware of the tension between her friend and her nephew, preferring to ignore it rather than argue against it, as she had once tried to do. She knew Rafe well enough to know that once he decided on something, in this case that he disliked and distrusted Brooke, then nothing would change his mind.

Brooke disliked and distrusted him too—worse than that, she feared him; knew of the cruelty inside him that governed his own actions and those closest to him, mainly Patrick and Rosemary Charlwood. Whatever Rafe said went, as far as all of the family were concerned. Even though Jocelyn stood up to him on occasion she still accepted that Rafe was the head of the family, that he ran the business with precision skill, adding to the family fortune every day that he headed the company.

Brooke had never been able to understand this family's blind acceptance of one man's will, and she avoided meeting Rafe Charlwood whenever possible. Unfortunately, as Jocelyn had already pointed out, neither of them had expected him here today. If they had Brooke would have suitably absented herself. As it was, she would now have to brazen this meeting out—and make her excuses to leave as soon as possible.

‘Indeed?’ Hard grey eyes studied her across the width of the bed as he answered his aunt.

She turned fully to face him, meeting his gaze steadily, unflinching as his mouth twisted in derision, perfectly able to guess at the antagonism she felt in his sensed mockery. Clear blue eyes warred with steely grey ones, and it was hard to say who would have been the first to look away if Jocelyn hadn't softly interrupted the silent battle, drawing her nephew's attention back to her.

‘How are the family?’ she asked lightly.

Rafe looked down at the elderly woman from his imposing height, his thick dark hair styled low over his ears and collar in a casually windswept look that was nevertheless expensively cut—like the rest of him. ‘Didn't Patrick and Rosemary visit you only this morning?’ he drawled.

Jocelyn flushed. ‘They don't happen to be the whole family,’ she said waspishly.

His mouth firmed. ‘If you want to know how Robert is then why not come right out and ask?’

Brooke's temper rose in indignation at the way he spoke to his aunt.

But she needn't have been concerned for Jocelyn. The other woman hadn't reached her sixty-fifth year, remained unmarried, without learning to stand up for herself against the Charlwood men, Rafe most of all, if she felt strongly about something. ‘I shouldn't need to ask, Rafe,’ she snapped. ‘He is the only great-nephew I have.’

‘And likely to remain so,’ the man at her side bit out.

Brooke's sharp gaze raked over the sudden tightness of his face as he talked about his son. Dear God, Robert was only three years old—how could he have evoked such a tight-lipped response from his own father? Was the man completely inhuman?

‘Well?’ Jocelyn demanded.

Rafe gave an arrogant inclination of his head, disapproval of being spoken to in this way emanating from each tautly held line of his body. ‘Robert is very well.’

‘Did you take him to Italy with you?’ his aunt probed.

‘He stayed at Charlwood with Nanny Perkins.’

‘As usual,’ his aunt said disapprovingly. ‘You really don't see enough of the boy, Rafe. He needs his father——’

‘I don't believe that's something that should be discussed now, Jocelyn.’ His softly spoken words cut her off effectively, the edge to his voice ominously clear.

But Jocelyn didn't heed that warning, having lived through too many decades of the harsh authority of the Charlwood men to listen to it from her nephew. ‘Because of Brooke?’ she dismissed impatiently. ‘It isn't exactly a secret that you neglect your son, and after you fought so fiercely for custody of him too.’

Rafe shot Brooke a resentful glance, although his voice remained controlled. ‘I fought for my son for the simple reason that my wife was an unfit mother for him.’ His narrow-eyed gaze returned to Brooke as he heard her gasp. ‘Don't act so surprised, Miss Adamson,’ he mocked abruptly. ‘The sensation of my much-publicised separation from my wife two and a half years ago is often held up by the press as an example to less wary men of wealth when they find themselves attracted to a totally unsuitable woman.’ Contempt curled his top lip. ‘My wife was a dancer when we met, Miss Adamson, did you know that?’

As he said, she knew all about his much-publicised marriage, the nine-day wonder of the way he had exposed his wife's infidelity to the court and public alike in an effort to gain custody of their only child at their separation, a baby of only six months at the time. At least the little boy had been too young to know of his mother's humiliation and consequent death. And considering the way this man had exposed his private life then, admitted to the mistake he had made in marrying the nineteen-year-old dancer, he seemed to care little for the son he had wanted so desperately to keep, and left the child mainly to the care of his nanny.

‘Oh, not ballet or classical,’ Rafe Charlwood derided himself. ‘She belonged to a group of modern dancers who appeared on the Greg Davieson show—they were called Sensuous Romance,’ he added distastefully.

‘I remember them,’ Brooke nodded woodenly.

His hands tightened momentarily into fists before he seemed visibly to force himself to relax, smiling without humour. ‘Then you will also remember that my wife found Mr Davieson more attractive than our marriage.’

‘Don't you mean than you?’ Brooke bit down painfully on her bottom lip as his rapier-sharp gaze ripped into her with barely controlled anger. ‘I'm sorry,’ she muttered, looking down at her clasped hands. ‘I shouldn't have said that.’

‘Why not?’ he scorned harshly. ‘You're exactly right, Miss Adamson,’ he bit out grimly. ‘My wife did indeed find Greg Davieson more attractive than me.’

‘I'm sure Brooke doesn't want to hear all this, Rafe——’

‘Why not?’ he coldly interrupted his aunt. ‘I'm sure Miss Adamson isn't so innocent that the fact that my wife had an affair with another man would shock her.’


‘It's all right, Jocelyn,’ Brooke soothed the other woman as she looked like becoming agitated by the exchange. ‘Mr Charlwood and I are just—talking.’ She turned back to him, having to bend her head back slightly to meet his gaze despite her own height of five feet eight, the three-inch heels on her black sandals even adding to this. ‘I'm not shocked by your wife's behaviour at all, Mr Charlwood, although I would be very surprised if the breakdown of your marriage rested solely with her. You see, I too have been married,’ she continued despite his icy grey eyes chilling over even more, watching now as his gaze moved to her ringless hands. Her mouth twisted with derision for that look. ‘One doesn't have to wear a ring to bear the scars of a marriage,’ she told him tautly. ‘Those you carry inside you—for ever,’ she added bitterly.

His head moved questioningly to one side, a slightly puzzled look on the arrogantly self-assured face. ‘I had no idea you had been married—are married?’

‘Was,’ she corrected abruptly.

‘Then you aren't Miss Adamson at all …’

‘I am,’ she told him sharply. ‘It isn't unusual for a woman to revert to her maiden name once a marriage is over.’

‘And your husband?’ Rafe Charlwood eyes were narrowed. ‘Where is he?’

For a moment she hesitated, breathing deeply. ‘Like your wife, he's dead,’ she finally stated flatly. ‘Yes, he's dead,’ she repeated more confidently, and turned with a gasp of dismay as she heard Jocelyn give a choked cry, bending over the other woman concernedly as she saw how pale she had become. ‘I'm sorry, Jocelyn,’ she groaned her remorse. ‘Our conversation has upset you.’ Her eyes pleaded with the other woman for her understanding, knowing it was given by the compassionate look in her friend's eyes. ‘You're looking tired,’ she squeezed Jocelyn's hand between both her own. ‘I'll leave you to rest now.’

‘I'll leave with you.’ Rafe Charlwood straightened to his full height of well over six feet.

Brooke gave him a stricken look, bending down to kiss Jocelyn goodbye before turning to pick up her clutch-bag from the coffee table in front of the Regency-style sofa, her figure as slender as that of a model, wearing a cream and black silk dress with an elegance that also spoke of professional training, moving with unconscious grace. ‘I'm sure you would rather stay and talk to your aunt privately for a few minutes,’ she gave him a cool meaningless smile. ‘I'll come and see you again tomorrow, Jocelyn.’ Her voice warmed noticeably.

‘You mustn't waste all your time on an old woman,’ she was instantly scolded. ‘I won't mind if you miss one day.’

‘But I would,’ Brooke rebuked gently. ‘It's my time, Jocelyn, and nothing pleases me more than visiting you. Can I bring you anything?’

‘Maybe an Agatha Christie?’ the other woman requested hopefully. ‘I like a good mystery novel.’

Brooke gave a light laugh. ‘I'll hunt around for one you haven't read,’ she lightly mocked the stack of books that had already accumulated on the bedside table, ignoring the cynicism she sensed emanating from the silent Rafe Charlwood. ‘You'll soon be able to start your own library,’ she teased.

Jocelyn gave a rueful smile of acknowledgment of the fact. ‘You've been very good to me——’

‘It's no more than you deserve,’ she hastily cut in on the words of gratitude, knowing that Rafe Charlwood's scorn Was growing by the second. ‘Same time tomorrow, hmm?’ she prompted lightly.

‘Lovely,’ her friend smiled.

‘Mr Charlwood,’ Brooke gave him a cold nod of dismissal, knowing by the hard glitter of his eyes that it wasn't something he was used to. Well, she didn't give a damn about what he liked or disliked, the only person she cared about in this room was Jocelyn and the help she had given her both now and in the past, and it was for that reason and that reason alone that she had been able to control her temper earlier when it had threatened to spill over into anger.

She began to breathe easier as soon as she left the private room, the heels on her sandals clattering noisily as she walked down the quiet corridor, out of the door at the end and into the sunshine. Strange, while she had been confined in the room with the oppressive presence of Rafe Charlwood she had forgotten it was a bright and sunny day in mid-August. There was a beautiful picturesque garden outside the clinic, and Brooke took a few minutes to breathe in the enchantment of a sea of multi-coloured flowers, listening to the soothing sound of the birds singing overhead in the lush green trees.

‘Waiting for me?’ drawled a familiar voice, heavily veiled with sarcasm now.

Had she been, even subconsciously? No, definitely not, came back the unequivocable answer. ‘Not at all, Mr Charlwood,’ she replied stiffly, turning to face him, clinically noting how the bright sunshine made his hair appear almost black, the wings of lighter hair at his temples silver. He had a deep tan out here in the sunshine, as if he had recently been on holiday. Perhaps all his time in Italy hadn't been spent working?

He strolled over to join her, moving with lithe grace, the dark suit strangely formal for a visit to the aunt he was so fond of. He seemed aware of her disapproval. ‘I came here straight from the airport,’ he explained mockingly.

‘What a busy man you are!’ She turned to begin walking to her car which was parked a short distance away, feeling irritation as he fell into step beside her, the grey matallic and black Rolls-Royce that he drove parked next to her dark green Porsche.

‘And you,’ he drawled. ‘What do you do when you aren't visiting sick friends in hospital?’

Her fingers curved about her bag, the long nails that were painted the same deep red as her lipgloss digging into the fine leather. ‘Nothing,’ she stated abruptly. ‘But then there have to be people like me to give people like you an example not to follow.’ She arched dark blonde brows at him in challenge.

For a moment he looked perplexed by the acidity of her tone, then his expression became bland once again. ‘You don't like me, do you?’ he said conversationally.

Brooke almost sighed her relief as she reached her car, unlocking the door with quick, fluid movements and sliding gratefully behind the wheel. ‘I think you have that the wrong way round, Mr Charlwood.’ She closed her door, turning on the ignition to press the button that would automatically open the window next to her and turning to look at him. ‘It's you who doesn't like me.’

He leant back against his car as it stood only a couple of feet away in this almost-full car park. ‘I don't know you,’ his mouth quirked. ‘It's hard to dislike someone you don't know.’

Brooke tossed the straight thickness of her sunbleached hair over her shoulder. ‘Then let's just say you give a very good impression of it,’ she said with saccharine sweetness, revving the engine pointedly as she began to reverse her car away from him.

In two strides he had caught up with her, his hands on the frame of the open window at her side making it impossible for her to move the car back any further. ‘Maybe I do,’ he conceded abruptly. ‘And maybe we should do something about it. Will you have dinner with me tonight?’

Her eyes widened with suspicion. She didn't trust this man, had good reason not to do so. Her mouth tightened. ‘Why don't you go home and spend some time with your son, Mr Charlwood?’ she rasped contemptuously. ‘You don't sound as if you know him either!’ Her foot stepped down on the accelerator, not caring now that he still stood dangerously close to the car, her last sight of him as she glanced in the driving mirror and saw him looking after her with coldly vengeful eyes.

That last comment about his son had been stupid and reckless, had assuredly alienated a man she knew to be cruel and vicious. But he was also a man she couldn't afford to become close to, a man that she hated, and feared, with all her heart.

Jocelyn seemed much worse in succeeding days, her vitality draining quickly, her wanderings into the past becoming more and more frequent, although she was aware of what was happening at these times, simply regretting mistakes made in a youth that had been long gone.

Brooke listened with fascination to the tales Jocelyn told her of life at Charlwood when she was a child, of the grand parties given there, which she had only been allowed to witness from illicit looks from upstairs.

‘It was wonderful to grow up there.’ Jocelyn lay back weakly on the pillows, tiring more and more easily now. A troubled frown marred her brow. ‘I wish Robert could enjoy it the way I did.’ She sighed. ‘Rafe wanted to bring him in to see me——’

‘Here?’ Brooke gave a dismayed gasp.

She nodded. ‘I told him how ridiculous he was being. A three-year-old shouldn't have to see his Aunt Jossy lying here looking helpless—and feeling it.’

‘No,’ Brooke absently toyed with the pattern on the pink candlewick bedspread. She hadn't seen Rafe Charlwood since that last troubled incident, although it seemed he had visited his aunt recently.

‘I managed to persuade him that a hospital is no place for an impressionable child,’ Jocelyn told her with satisfaction.

‘Persuade?’ she mocked.

‘I forbade him,’ Jocelyn corrected with a trace of her old imperiousness. ‘He's too hard on the boy,’ she muttered. ‘Expects too much of him; he's still only a baby.’ Her face softened as she thought of her great-nephew.

Brooke knew how much Jocelyn loved the little boy, a tall boy for only three years of age, with his father's dark hair and clearly defined features, although his eyes were a warm blue. Brooke had met the little boy several times herself when visiting Jocelyn at her cottage on the estate, Robert being a constant visitor to his Aunty Jossy, seeming to enjoy the informality and fun to be found at her home. As yet Brooke could see no effect on the little boy from his father's strict and often harsh attitude towards him, but one day it would come, the nervousness, the fear, and when that day did come Rafe Charlwood would have lost his son's love as surely as he had once lost his wife's.

‘It isn't wise to antagonise Rafe.’ Jocelyn sensed Brooke's resentment. ‘He's more powerful than all of us.’

Brooke repressed a shudder. ‘I know that,’ she said dully. ‘But that's no reason to be a tyrant to a little boy who can't stand up for himself.’

‘He isn't a tyrant,’ the other woman shook her head. ‘He loves the boy, but he just can't show it, doesn't like to show any sign of weakness. He was hurt and disillusioned once, but he has no intention of repeating the experience.’

‘With his own son?’ Brooke scorned. ‘There's no shame attached to loving one's child, in loving him so desperately that you'll do anything, be anything, to be with him.’ She spoke with a vehemence of feeling that made her voice quiver.

Jocelyn squeezed her hand to help lessen the pain. ‘I'm so sorry things didn't work out for you, darling,’ she sympathised gently. ‘It's so difficult——’

‘Please don't worry about it,’ she hastened to reassure the other woman, knowing that fretting about her problems was the last thing Jocelyn needed. ‘I'll manage.’

‘I know you will,’ her friend nodded, giving a regretful sigh. ‘You're a very strong-minded young lady. It's a pity——’

‘Please, Jocelyn,’ she said tightly. ‘There's no point in talking about it.’

‘No. But my will,’ Jocelyn went on insistently. ‘You won't oppose it?’

Brooke sighed, not wanting to upset her friend, but not wanting anything from her will either. The subject hadn't been discussed since the day Rafe Charlwood had arrived so unexpectedly at the clinic, and she looked about her almost guiltily now, half expecting him to overhear and misunderstand the situation a second time. It was something he was good at!

‘He's away.’ Jocelyn's mouth quirked as she correctly guessed Brooke's haunted thoughts.

‘Again?’ Brooke's brows rose reproachfully.

‘America this time,’ the other woman nodded. ‘For forty-eight hours, he said.’ She gave a rueful smile. ‘And God help anyone who delays him over that time! His work schedule would kill other men,’ she shook her head, ‘but Rafe actually seems to thrive on it.’

‘And Robert?’

‘He's quite happy with his nanny, happier than he should be if the truth were known.’ Jocelyn shook her head sadly. ‘It isn't the way it should be.’

‘Rafe wanted his son,’ Brooke bit out tautly.

‘Because he felt Robert's mother was unfit to bring him up,’ Jocelyn told her evenly.

‘And was she?’ Brooke scorned.

‘I never thought so.’

‘But Rafe did!’

Jocelyn shrugged. ‘He believed he knew his wife. And we'll never know for sure now, not when Jacqui has been dead for two years. But I do know that Rafe will never give up his son, not to anyone.’

‘What if he marries again?’

Jocelyn's reply was emphatic. ‘That will never happen. My will, Brooke—you didn't answer me,’ she prompted insistently.

Brooke sighed at the reintroduction of the subject she had been trying to avoid. ‘It isn't money?’ she asked warily.

‘No,’ came the assured answer.

‘Then I suppose it will be all right,’ Brooke said slowly.

‘Thank you, dear.’ Jocelyn closed her eyes tiredly. ‘And don't be sad when I'm gone,’ she murmured sleepily. ‘Dying isn't so bad, it's living that can sometimes be so hard to do.’

Brooke knew that, knew all about the pain of living when what you really wanted to do was lie back and die …

It was a quiet funeral, the way Jocelyn would have wished it to be, just her close family and a few friends; the people who had really cared about her.

Jocelyn had died peacefully in the end, during her sleep, and after months of suffering it was the way she deserved to go. Brooke had received a terse telephone call from Rafe Charlwood himself telling her of his aunt's death during the night. Perhaps because it was he who called Brooke managed to contain her initial grief, answering him coolly.

‘When will the funeral be held?’ she asked stiltedly.

‘The arrangements haven't been made yet,’ he told her smoothly, showing little or no emotion himself, despite the fact that he had been very fond of his aunt. ‘But I'm sure you would like to attend.’

‘Of course.’ Her tone was slightly defensive. Of course she wanted to attend; Jocelyn had been the best friend she had ever had, to desert her now would be disrespectful—even if the thought of going to Charlwood without her support terrified the life out of her!

‘And I'm equally sure that Jocelyn would have wanted you to travel with the family——’

‘No!’ Her tone was sharp, and she sought to control that. ‘I would rather drive myself, if you don't mind.’

There was silence for several minutes, as if Rafe Charlwood wasn't altogether pleased with her reply, but he knew there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it. Brooke was her own woman, financially independent, and Rafe Charlwood had no influence over her whatsoever—she wasn't even attracted to him, as she felt sure many other women would have been.

‘If that's what you prefer,’ he said coolly. ‘You will, of course, come back to the house after the service.’


‘Our lawyer has requested that you do so, Miss Adamson,’ he cut into her refusal. ‘I believe your name will be mentioned in my aunt's will,’ he added dryly.

The will! Dear God, she had forgotten her promise to Jocelyn about accepting the bequest in her will. But surely directly after a funeral was no time to read a will; it seemed positively macabre to Brooke.

‘It's a family tradition,’ Rafe Charlwood drawled as if reading her thoughts.

‘I see.’ Her tone capably conveyed her opinion that it was a tradition that should have been stopped years ago, although she gave no verbal opinion. ‘In that case I'll come back to Charlwood after the funeral. If that was all …?’ she queried distantly.

‘I'll call you.’ Rafe Charlwood managed to convey his own feelings over the telephone just as capably—and he was coldly angry! ‘As soon as I know the details,’ he added abruptly.

‘I would appreciate that.’ She quickly rang off, realising that her control was about to slip. The shock of never seeing Jocelyn again was finally getting to her as Rafe Charlwood calmly discussed the ‘arrangements'—almost as if those arrangements weren't the time and last resting place of one of the kindest, most understanding women Brooke had ever known.

She was going to miss Jocelyn more than she cared to think about; the other woman had been her one and only friend during the last few years, the only one she had dared to make. The future promised to be even more bleak than the last three years, but at least Jocelyn had been released from her pain, and Brooke could feel grateful for that.

As Rafe Charlwood approached her after the funeral she stood her ground, although as usual her first instinct was to turn and run. But none of her inner unbidden panic showed as she looked up at him with cool query, aware of the curious glances Rosemary Charlwood had given her before being persuaded by her husband to accompany him over to the waiting black limousines that would take the family back to the Charlwood estate.

Brooke stood pointedly beside her own car as Rafe Charlwood reached her side, wearing a brown suit tailored to her slenderness, a brown velvet hat covering the brightness of her hair. Rafe Charlwood was also suitably dressed in sombre clothing, having taken a day off from his business affairs to show his last respects to the woman who had helped his father bring up his brother and himself after his mother had died when he was a child. Maybe he was adept at hiding his feelings, but he didn't seem as heartbroken as Brooke knew herself to have been since he had telephoned her with the news of Jocelyn's death.

His icy gaze moved over her with cold appraisal—almost as if she were a well-bred racehorse being appraised for, and by, the prize stud. Brooke withstood that assessment with one of her own, at least having the satisfaction of knowing he hadn't defeated her with the silent battle of wills, although she knew by the mocking curve to his mouth that she hadn't been the victor either.

‘Perhaps you could give me a lift back to the house?’ he requested in that coolly clipped voice. ‘That way I can direct you.’

Her own smile was tight, her eyes remaining hard. ‘I know the way to Charlwood, thank you,’ she returned with arrogance. ‘I've often stayed with your aunt there.’

‘Of course,’ he nodded acknowledgment of the fact. ‘But I'm afraid that without me you might have a little trouble getting inside the gates today.’

As Brooke had said, she had visited Jocelyn at her private cottage half a mile away from the main house many times, and never once had any trouble passing through the guarded gates. She gave Rafe Charlwood a puzzled frown.

‘Only the cars carrying the family are cleared through our security today,’ he explained in a dry drawl, as the black limousines began to file slowly past them.

‘I've often wondered why you need the security at all,’ she derided, knowing that he had an extensive system set up throughout the grounds and house.

His mouth tightened. ‘I'm a rich man,’ he bit out. ‘There have been too many kidnappings of members of wealthy families for me to take any risks with my son.’

Brooke didn't argue with him any further, but got in behind the wheel to open his door for him, turning on the ignition to follow the limousines. ‘I've met your son several times—at Jocelyn's,’ she explained lightly. ‘Is there—really any possibility of someone wanting to harm him?’ She gave Rafe Charlwood a sideways glance as she drive.

‘Yes,’ he rasped. ‘And today would give them the ideal opportunity to make such a move, during the confusion of the funeral.’

He sounded very calm, considering it was his son he was discussing as being a possible kidnap victim. God, she thought, this man really was inhuman, every action and word only confirming it.

The security around the house was indeed tight; the electronic gates were also guarded by a man, and the man who greeted them at the door of the house also seemed to check on everyone who entered.

‘Not that way,’ Rafe instructed curtly as Brooke would have followed the rest of the family into the main lounge. Charlwood was tastefully and elegantly furnished, a great and lasting compliment to Edwardian architecture, the house being surrounded by the immediate grounds of twenty acres, although Brooke knew the actual estate stretched for thousands of acres, containing several small-holdings. All the Charlwood family lacked for this to be a stately home was the title, already having the picture gallery of portraits of famous ancestors, the priceless antiques and furnishings passed down from generation to generation, even managing to have that vital asset so many titled families didn't possess nowadays—money. ‘Mr Gardner has decided to read the will in the library,’ Rafe explained at her questioning look.

The library. Just the word conjured up the massive book-lined room; many of the titles there were first editions, although this was just another wealth the Charlwood family took for granted.

A strange silence fell over the room as Brooke entered at Rafe's side, and her eyes widened as she saw that only Rosemary and Patrick were seated in the room with the man sitting behind the mahogany desk who Brooke assumed to be Mr Gardner. Were they the only four beneficiaries? It would seem so.

Rafe Charlwood's hand remained beneath her elbow as he took her across the room to introduce her to Reginald Gardner.

‘Miss Adamson,’ the elderly lawyer greeted distantly. ‘Now that we are all here,’ he cleared his throat noisily, ‘I would like to proceed with the reading of the will. There are—certain things I have to explain pertaining to its contents.’ He seemed a little uncomfortable with the fact.

‘I won't keep you much longer, Reginald,’ Rafe Charlwood told him coolly, guiding Brooke over to the two waiting chairs. ‘I believe you know my brother Patrick and his wife Rosemary,’ he introduced casually as he saw her seated before lowering his weight into the armchair next to hers.

‘Vaguely,’ Rosemary snapped, her green eyes flashing her dislike, her short hair as black as the dress she wore with such style.

‘I certainly do.’ Patrick flirted with her, his blue eyes having an irrepressible humour even on such an occasion, his over-long hair a sandy blond, his easygoing nature no match for his wife's sharp tongue.

‘Mr Charlwood, Mrs Charlwood,’ Brooke greeted them both with cool indifference.

The lawyer cleared his throat once again, obviously deciding it was time they got on with the business in hand. ‘Miss Charlwood was a very good friend of mine,’ he began. ‘I shall miss her a great deal.’

‘I'm sure we all will,’ Rafe snapped impatiently.

‘Yes, yes.’ The man placed horn-rimmed glasses on the end of his long nose. ‘The will is quite a lengthy one, so I will just read out the relevant facts.’ He shuffled some papers about in his briefcase, taking out the relevant ones and placing them tidily on the desk-top before looking up at them. ‘Not all the benefactors are in this room,’ he informed them nervously. ‘But I have done this for a reason——’

‘I hope it's a good one,’ Rafe Charlwood bit out tautly.

‘Indeed,’ the older man was beginning to look flustered. ‘The people not here today receive only nominal bequests, and the nature of the rest of the will is rather—private, to the family,’ he chose his words with care.

Brooke sensed Rafe Charlwood stiffen at her side, seeing the look that passed between him and Patrick before his narrow-eyed gaze was turned on her. She felt the colour move slowly up into her cheeks—almost as if she were actually guilty of something!

‘In that case you'd better proceed,’ the head of the Charlwood family instructed haughtily.

Reginald Gardner shot Rafe a nervous look and shuffled the papers about even more. ‘I—Yes, well, I—I'll omit all the legal bumf and get straight to the point, shall I?’

‘I think that would be best,’ the other man drawled icily.

Brooke's hands clenched together tensely in her lap as the lawyer began to talk, having a feeling, by the way the lawyer had decided on secrecy for the reading of the will to the family, that by the end of this meeting she was going to be even more unpopular with them than when she had arrived. What had Jocelyn done?

She listened as Reginald Gardner told them that all Jocelyn's money went back to the family, relieved that Jocelyn had kept her word about that. And yet she could feel her tension rising with each modulated word the man spoke, sensing that the ‘private matter to the family’ was going to be a bombshell, and she was going to be at the centre of it. She could tell the Charlwoods expected it too; Rosemary and Patrick were looking anxious, although Rafe's expression remained bland, as if he was prepared for whatever came next.

Reginald Gardner was starting to look flustered again, and Brooke felt her palms actually become damp. Oh, Jocelyn, what have you done? she cried silently.

‘Now we come to Miss Charlwood's last bequest.’ The lawyer shot Rafe another anxious look. ‘I'm afraid it isn't straightforward, and——’

‘For God's sake get on with it!’ Rosemary snapped. ‘All that's left are the shares Jocelyn had in the company.’

‘And the cottage,’ the lawyer reminded her softly.

‘The cottage?’ Rosemary frowned. ‘But surely that reverts to the estate?’

‘Not necessarily,’ the lawyer shook his head. ‘Mr Charlwood, your father,’ he looked at the other two men in the room, ‘and as such Jocelyn's brother, deeded both the cottage and its surrounding gardens to your aunt after the two of you were grown up and so no longer needed her at the main house.’

‘But surely it was only for her lifetime?’ Patrick spoke for the first time.

Reginald Gardner shook his head. ‘There was no mention of that in the deeds.’

‘But surely it was intended,’ Rosemary persisted sharply.

‘Intent does not make it so,’ the lawyer told her stiffly. ‘I drew up the deeds to the cottage, and neither by word or deed did Mr Charlwood imply that that was to be the case.’

‘Read the rest of the will, Reginald,’ Rafe Charlwood told him harshly, his features looking as if etched from granite. ‘We can argue the legalities of this later.’

‘Oh, it's legal,’ the other man said indignantly. ‘I drew the will up myself. It's just a little—unorthodox, that's all.’

‘And obviously involves Miss Adamson,’ Rosemary shot her another look of intense dislike.

‘It involves you all ultimately,’ he informed them quietly. ‘I'll read out the last bequest now, although as I've already said, it's perfectly legal. “To my dear friend Brooke Adamson, I leave the cottage in the grounds of Charlwood for the duration of her lifetime when it will revert to the estate——” ’


‘Did Aunt Joss have a brainstorm?’ Patrick echoed his wife's outrage.

Brooke had no idea why they were so surprised; after hearing that the cottage belonged to Jocelyn she had expected as much. She had a feeling by Rafe Charlwood's silence that he too had suspected it. Well, none of them need worry; she had no intention of accepting the bequest.

‘Go on, Reginald,’ Rafe invited softly.

‘There's more?’ Patrick mocked.

‘Quite a lot more,’ the lawyer nodded. ‘And I can assure you that Miss Charlwood's faculties were perfectly in order when she made this will,’ he told the young man sternly.

‘Sorry,’ Patrick murmured almost guiltily.

‘Hm.’ Reginald Gardner had stopped looking nervous now, continuing to read. ‘ “And to my nephews, Rafe and Patrick, I leave my shares in Charlwood Industries, eleven per cent to Rafe, nine per cent to Patrick, giving them fifty-one and forty-nine percent respectively—on condition that they make no effort to prevent Brooke Adamson inhabiting the aforementioned cottage.” ’

‘That's ridiculous——’

‘And if we do “make an effort” to prevent Miss Adamson living in the cottage?’ Rafe Charlwood coolly interrupted his sister-in-law, surprisingly calm.

‘Then the shares revert to Miss Adamson,’ the lawyer told him in the hushed room.

Brooke swallowed hard, sensing the antagonism building up around her. ‘What if I don't want the cottage?’ she asked softly, not looking at any of the family, not needing to know of their resentment. ‘Give it back to the family?’

‘Then the shares automatically become yours, and you will have the controlling interest in Charlwood Industries,’ the lawyer told her gravely. ‘I have a letter for you here from Jocelyn.’ He stood up to walk over to her, handing her an envelope. ‘I have no idea of the contents,’ he told her gently. ‘But I do know that she intended you to have the cottage and not the shares. But it will, of course, be your decision.’

Brooke stood up to rip open the envelope, moving slightly away from the family as she read the contents of the handwritten sheets, vaguely aware of Rosemary Charlwood's cutting comments to her husband about the outrage of the contents of the will, declaring they would fight it.

All the discontent around her faded into the background as Brooke read the letter, and all she could do was silently thank her friend once again. Even in her illness Jocelyn had thought of Brooke, imposing the conditions of her will so that Brooke might be with her son at last—with Robert, the son she had given Rafe three years ago.


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