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A Past Revenge

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«A Past Revenge» - 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…Revenge is a dish best served…Artist Danielle Smith is shocked to learn that wealthy, arrogant oil tycoon Nicholas Andracas has plans for her: he wants a portrait painted…and to seduce her with his lethal charm! Nicholas obviously doesn’t recognise her as the innocent young woman who'd given him her virginity seven years ago. And Danielle soon sees her chance to pay him back for the pain he'd caused……with passion!But how can she keep Nicholas at arm's length, when all she wants is to succumb to his powerful seduction?
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A Past Revenge Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

COLDLY grey eyes. Cruelly cold grey eyes, and black silk sheets. They were memories that would always be with her when she thought of him. Even more so now!

‘Danielle? Danielle!’ Lewis repeated impatiently as he still did not get her attention. ‘I asked if tomorrow afternoon would be convenient for the initial meeting,’ he explained none too patiently still. ‘I know you’ve been trying to finish the Gilbraith portrait for this week.’

‘I completed it today,’ she revealed reluctantly. ‘Although I’m not sure I want to become involved in another one just yet. I had it in mind to take a holiday.’

‘Not now, Danielle,’ Lewis looked scandalised at the idea, his blond good looks momentarily marred by his worried expression. At thirty Lewis Vaughn looked exactly what he was, a successful businessman. He always dressed impeccably, told Danielle that he didn’t like the way art had such a bad name with the public, everyone connected with it, including the agent he was, assumed to be bohemian. Lewis certainly had to be the exception to that rule! ‘You did hear who you would be painting?’ he said, as if she could not possibly have done and still refuse to do it.

‘I heard,’ she shattered that illusion instantly, knowing exactly who she was being commissioned to paint, and not liking it one little bit.

‘Audra McDonald, Danielle,’ he repeated anyway.

‘Yes,’ she still wasn’t impressed.

‘Okay, but do you realise who commissioned the portrait?’ he encouraged with enthusiasm.

She stiffened slightly, although on the outside she looked as cool as normal. She was a very cool lady, revealed little of her real emotions to any but those closest to her. That circle was very small, didn’t even include Lewis, despite the fact that he had been her agent and friend for the last five years, the last two of them very successful for them both, Danielle Smith portraits suddenly becoming the fashion. And yet still Lewis did not see beneath the cool façade, knew only her outward beauty, the silky blonde hair feathered in layers to her shoulders, the emotionless green eyes that hid a multitude of secrets he could not even guess at, her nose short and straight, inclined to freckle in the summer months, her mouth a perfect bow, the full pouting lips usually coloured with a peach lipgloss, a gentle blusher adding colour to her naturally pale cheeks. Her tall slenderness suited the loose tops and fitted denims she habitually wore, although she didn’t consider herself to be a bohemian either!

‘Yes, I know,’ she confirmed flatly, pleased her emotions were under control. She had learnt her lesson well.

‘Nicholas Andracas,’ Lewis told her unnecessarily. ‘He telephoned me personally,’ he added in a rather awestruck voice. ‘I could hardly believe it when he identified himself as the caller.’

Danielle could understand that, had once known that awed feeling herself. ‘And he wants me to paint a portrait of his current mistress?’ she arched blonde brows.

‘Danielle!’

‘Well, what would you have me call her?’ she mocked lightly. ‘It’s public knowledge the two of them have been living together for over a year.’

Lewis looked self-conscious. ‘I don’t think they’re actually cohabiting—–’

She gave a splutter of unexpected laughter, and it was all the more beautiful because of it, lighting up her whole face.

‘It isn’t like you to be so correct, Lewis,’ she chided. ‘Whether they live together or not they are still lovers.’

He still looked uncomfortable. ‘I don’t think we should moralise about a prospective client—–’

‘I’m not about to,’ she dismissed, standing up. ‘I’m just not sure I want to do this one.’ And that wasn’t strictly true either, she knew she didn’t want to do it!

‘Why not?’ a disappointed Lewis followed her across the room to stand at her side as she stared out of the window. ‘God, there’s no denying Audra McDonald would make a beautiful subject.’

No, there was no denying that, the actress was very beautiful, but then she would have to be to hold the attention of the rich Greek/American oil tycoon. Nicholas Andracas had a reputation for escorting only beautiful women, and the lovely red-haired actress had lasted longer than most, certainly longer than Danielle, that was for sure. She must have broken all records as far as his women were concerned!

Nick would attract women to him even without his millions, was tall and dark, with a harsh attractiveness that hadn’t diminished despite his thirty-eight years. And he had grey eyes, coldly cruel grey eyes.

‘I’ve worked hard this last year, Lewis,’ she told him curtly. ‘I’d like to take a break now.’

‘Can’t it wait just another month?’

‘It could. …’

‘Then let it,’ he pounced eagerly, looking a little sheepish. ‘Actually, I’ve already told Mr Andracas you’re free tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock. I hope that is convenient?’

‘It’s a little late to ask me that,’ she turned on him waspishly, emotion in her eyes now. ‘I think you could at least have asked me first.’

‘I tried. I’ve been calling you all afternoon, you were always out.’

Danielle sighed her impatience with that excuse. ‘You know I always put the telephone on the machine when I’m working, I can’t concentrate with it constantly interrupting me. It wouldn’t have hurt you to have told Mr Andracas you couldn’t reach me and you would call him back when you had.’

‘He isn’t the sort of man you keep waiting too long,’ Lewis grimaced. ‘For anything,’ he added with rueful resignation.

She knew all about the forceful arrogance of Nicholas Andracas, she also knew the easy-going Lewis would be no match for the older man. ‘I can see that,’ she sighed. ‘All right, Lewis, I’ll see Miss McDonald tomorrow.’

‘And Mr Andracas,’ he put in hastily. ‘He wants to meet you too.’

‘Lewis—–’

‘I know,’ he held up his hands defensively. ‘It’s only necessary for you to meet the subject you’re to paint,’ he recited parrot-fashion. ‘But he’s commissioning the portrait. And he’s willing to pay a nice fat fee too,’ he named an amount that made her eyes widen.

‘You know my fees aren’t as high as that,’ she protested.

‘It was the amount he suggested,’ Lewis explained.

‘It’s too much,’ she shook her head.

‘You haven’t tried working with Audra McDonald yet,’ he told her ruefully. ‘I’ve heard that isn’t always a pleasant experience. You could earn every penny of that money in the circumstances.’

The actress’s volatile nature was well known to the gossip columns, and Danielle could well imagine Nicholas Andracas would enjoy the constant challenge of taming such a beautiful shrew. Such a woman would suit his own autocratic nature perfectly.

‘Nevertheless,’ she told Lewis coolly, revealing none of her inner thoughts. ‘He will be charged the usual fee.’

‘But Danielle—–’

‘I hope I’ve made myself clear, Lewis,’ she levelled cool green eyes on him.

He shrugged resignedly, knowing it would do no good to argue with her, especially when he had already won the main battle, that of doing the portrait. ‘But you’ll see Andracas too?’ he had to push this point.

The thought of seeing Nick again after seven years wasn’t something she had ever wanted or welcomed, but no one had ever accused her of lacking courage. And it was going to take plenty of that to meet Nicholas Andracas again.

‘I’ll see him too,’ she nodded.

‘Now if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at the Gilbraith portrait and then delivering it to his office tomorrow? I understand it’s to be a birthday present for his wife. What’s the occasion of the Audra McDonald portrait?’ she enquired casually.

‘Probably the opening of Broken Dolls next month,’ Lewis followed her through to the studio to study the portrait she had done of Melissa Gilbraith from several casual meetings with the other woman the last few months, all of it done without the other woman’s knowledge that she was being painted. Danielle wished the Audra McDonald portrait could be done in the same way! ‘I heard Andracas is backing it,’ he added dryly.

She had heard the actress was in the process of rehearsing the play for the West End, and it didn’t surprise her in the least that the woman’s lover was financing it. It was difficult to get money to finance even the most excellent of plays nowadays, Nicholas Andracas wouldn’t even notice a dent in his fortune of millions with the hundreds of thousands it would cost to back the play.

‘How nice to have a rich and obliging lover,’ she said with an uncharacteristic bitchiness.

‘Just say the word,’ Lewis gave her a leering look.

Danielle gave him a mocking look beneath silky lashes. ‘You aren’t rich, and I’m certainly not in the market for a lover, obliging or otherwise,’ she told him dryly.

‘Just my luck,’ he grimaced. ‘Still, I have to keep trying, one of these days I might catch you in a weak moment. Hey, this is good,’ he admired the completed Gilbraith portrait.

For the next few minutes they discussed the merits of the portrait, and as they did so Danielle tried to convince herself that this was just another day in her life, an ordinary day. Only she knew it wasn’t, and as soon as Lewis left her the memories came back to haunt her.

She remembered a lot more about Nicholas Andracas than his cold grey eyes and those black silk sheets on his bed, remembered too much for her own peace of mind sometimes. And those memories crowded in on her now.

She hadn’t wanted to go to the party, probably wouldn’t have done so if her friend Rhea hadn’t persuaded her to. The two of them had never got on that well with Carly Daniels when they were all at finishing school together, but the chance to see the other girl’s home had been too much of a temptation for them both. Carly was a Greek/American, had driven them all mad in Switzerland with tales of how rich her family was. As the older sister of the oil tycoon they knew Carly’s mother was rich in her own right, but she had also married into the Daniels fortune, and Carly never let anyone forget it, even if most of her schoolfriends were her peers. Rhea and Danielle had seen the party invitation at the end of their finishing-school days together as something of a joke, and had decided to go in the same frame of mind.

They had been giggling together like the schoolgirls they had just stopped being as they arrived at the Andracas home, the big L-shaped lounge already full of people.

‘I think Carly invited half of London too,’ Rhea mocked as they helped themselves to a glass of champagne from one of the numerous circulating waiters.

‘Probably. I—–’ She stared openly as she saw the glowering man standing across the room from them. He was the sort of man anyone would stare at!

‘Ellie? Ellie, what is it?’ Rhea prompted her impatiently at her continued silence.

She dragged her gaze away with effort from the glowering man, blinking as she looked at her red-haired friend. ‘It’s—–The man over there,’ she began again. ‘I was just thinking he certainly wasn’t at school with us,’ she managed to infuse mockery into her voice, although in reality the impact of the man had left her stunned. Her statement was also superfluous. The fact that he was a man meant he couldn’t possibly have attended the all-female finishing-school, his age, about thirty to their nineteen also indicating that she had probably never seen him before; her father was quite strict about the men he let her date.

She watched as Rhea turned to look at the man, wondering if she saw the same as she did, the hair so dark it had to be black, brows the same colour jutting out over steely grey eyes, the nose long and straight, the full mouth thinned into a belligerent line as he stared down into a glass which contained something much stronger than the bubbly champagne everyone else was drinking. The black evening suit and white shirt were flimsy camouflage for the leashed power in the body beneath, his six foot plus in height adding to that impression of power, of danger. Danielle, or Ellie as she was known to her friends, had never been so affected by the sight of just one man.

‘He looks as if his date stood him up,’ she joked to cover the embarrassment she felt at being caught gawking at him like a naive child.

‘I doubt any woman has ever stood him up in his life,’ Rhea derided softly.

‘I doubt it too,’ she grimaced, chancing another glance at the man. He had another full glass of what looked like whisky in his hand, drinking it as if it were a particularly nasty medicine he needed to take.

Rhea gave her a curious look. ‘You still haven’t realised who he is, have you?’

Ellie shrugged. ‘Should I know him? Do you?’ she asked interestedly; she hadn’t known Rhea knew any men like this one.

‘Not personally,’ her friend shook her head. ‘Ellie, that’s Nick Andracas.’

She looked at Rhea blankly. ‘Nick Andracas …? Oh!’ realisation hit her blushingly, and she turned to look at the man with renewed interest—only to find him looking straight back at her, obviously aware of their interest in him! ‘Oh God,’ she groaned as she swung her gaze away wildly, looking anywhere but at those coldly mocking grey eyes.

‘What is it?’ Rhea looked worried by her sudden tension. ‘Ellie, what’s wrong?’

‘What’s wrong?’ she spoke in a whisper, although she didn’t quite know why. ‘He looked at me. God, it felt as if he stripped me naked at that one glance!’ She gave an involuntary shiver. ‘It was the most erotic experience of my life,’ she admitted shakily.

‘Ellie!’ her friend gave a surprised splutter of laughter.

She could understand Rhea’s reaction, her statement hadn’t been one she would normally have made. But then Nick Andracas wasn’t a normal man, and he hadn’t induced a normal reaction within her either. She was still shaking from that single clash of eyes between them, although a below-lashes look at him now showed he had lost interest after that one searing glance, his attention once again fixed in the bottom of his whisky glass.

‘It’s true,’ she told Rhea breathlessly. ‘He just looked at me and I—God, it was the weirdest feeling!’

‘It’s also dangerous,’ her friend warned seriously. ‘Stay away from him, Ellie, he—–’

‘Ah here you both are,’ Carly cut in with her usual intrusive drawl.

‘Yes, here we both are,’ Rhea replied with dry sarcasm, not having moved from this spot since they arrived ten minutes earlier. ‘Great party, Carly;’ she added derisively.

‘Isn’t it,’ the raven-haired beauty gushed. ‘Even Uncle Nick managed to put in an appearance,’ she glanced across the room, grimacing slightly. ‘Although the mood he’s in I’m beginning to wish he hadn’t bothered; he’s hardly the life and soul of the party, is he? You’ll have to excuse him, I’m afraid,’ her bright smile flashed over her beautiful face. ‘He had some rather bad news today.’

‘Oh?’ Rhea asked interestedly.

Carly shrugged dismissively. ‘It’s nothing important. Enjoy yourselves,’ she called gaily before passing on to more guests, the typical ‘social butterfly’.

‘Mm,’ Rhea murmured thoughtfully. ‘She cut that conversation off pretty abruptly. I wonder what’s happened that could upset a man like Nick Andracas?’

‘Carly said it was nothing important—–’

‘Carly can be very close-mouthed when she wants to be, especially when it comes to protecting her family. None of us knew her brother had been in trouble with the police until we saw it in one of the newspapers,’ she reminded Ellie of an incident that had happened earlier in the year.

‘I doubt it’s anything like that this time,’ she shook her head.

‘Of course not,’ Rhea agreed with impatience. ‘He’s hardly likely to be involved in drugs. But if ever I saw a man drowning his sorrows it’s Nick Andracas.’

Ellie felt nervous about looking at him again, hadn’t got over the last time she had, and yet she felt a drawing curiosity about him. ‘Even millionaires have their problems,’ she teased.

Rhea smiled. ‘So they do. Let’s forget about Nicholas Andracas and enjoy the party. After all, it’s supposed to be for us,’ she grinned mischievously.

Forgetting about Nick Andracas wasn’t something she found easy to do, although she followed Rhea into the adjoining reception room cheerfully enough, even joining in the dancing when urged to do so. But her thoughts kept drifting back to the gloweringly unhappy man in the other room, wondering if he were still downing whisky as if it were water, even more curious to know what it was that could have affected him that deeply. He didn’t appear to be a man that was easily ruffled.

She had an opportunity to see him again when she returned from the bathroom upstairs, saw he was still glowering at people, the glass of whisky still in his hand. As she reached the bottom of the stairs he glanced up, as if sensing her gaze on him, his eyes narrowing, as cold as ice. Ellie repressed another shiver, wondering why this man had such an effect on her, even her legs seeming turned to stone, keeping her rooted to the spot. She watched as Nick Andracas swallowed the last of his whisky with slow deliberation, putting the glass down on a nearby table before walking purposefully towards her. Ellie’s eyes widened as he came to stand directly in front of her, so close she could see the black flecks in his eyes, could smell the tang of his aftershave.

‘I was thinking of leaving this mad-house, would you like to join me?’

His voice was deep and gravelly, spinning off her nerve endings like an abrasive caress. ‘Er—–’

‘I’d like to leave,’ he added when she seemed speechless. ‘I’d like you to come with me.’

She was even more taken aback at his lazy insistence. Where did he intend taking her if she did leave with him?

‘Well?’ he rasped impatiently.

‘Mr Andracas—–’

His eyes became hooded. ‘It would seem you have me at a disadvantage.’

‘Ellie,’ she supplied breathlessly. ‘Ellie Smith.’

‘Well, Ellie Smith,’ he drawled mockingly. ‘Do you want to leave or don’t you?’

‘I came with a friend—–’

‘The invitation was for you and you alone,’ he bit out. ‘And I’m likely to change my mind about that in a minute. I dislike argumentative women.’

Not a patient man, she could see that. But she wanted to go with him, knew she would regret it if she didn’t. ‘I meant I would just like to tell my friend that I’m leaving,’ she told him huskily.

He nodded tersely, as if he didn’t really see the need for it. ‘I’ll wait for you outside.’

All Rhea’s pleas for her not to go with him had been to no avail, and within five minutes she had joined him in the waiting Ferrari, the powerful black car as smoothly dangerous as its owner. He didn’t speak as they drove, his expression grim.

He parked the car outside an exclusive block of flats in town, his hand firm beneath her elbow as they entered the building. For the first time Ellie considered the fact that she had left the party with a man she didn’t know, that no matter how compellingly attractive she found him that he was still an enigma to her. But suddenly she knew exactly why and where he was taking her!

‘Mr Andracas,’ she tried to talk to him as they went up in the lift. ‘I think I—–’ her words were cut off as his mouth suddenly crushed down on hers, forcing her body back against the lift wall, grinding his hips against hers to transmit his desire for her.

How long the lift doors stood open into his penthouse apartment she never knew, only that he carried her in there several minutes later, laying her down on the silky sensuousness of black sheets, quickly removing her clothes. Ellie lay watching as he stripped off his own clothes, unable to fight the inevitable, knowing from the moment she looked across that room at him that he was her destiny, that she had fallen in love with him on sight.

He didn’t say a word as he made love to her, merely deriving enjoyment from the pleasure he gave her body, his experience undeniable as he took her to each new plateau of ecstasy, making her ready for him before he possessed her with a fierce thrust of his body. If she cried out at that possession she didn’t know it, although the pain ripped through her until the world began to spin. And then passion soared, a sensation such as she had never dreamt existed, and she knew Nick felt the pleasure too as with a groan he crashed through the realms of ecstasy with her.

He moved away from her immediately, the glittering pleasure she had seen alight in his eyes and face as he made love to her now replaced by cynical boredom, his gaze assessing as it swept over her contemptuously. ‘I gather you were one of Carly’s personal guests?’ he finally drawled.

She drowned her puzzlement that he should make the statement so contemptuously, the black silk sheet now pulled up to her chin, although Nick felt no such need to cover his nakedness, stretched out on the bed beside her like a sleek cat. ‘How did you guess?’ She moistened swollen lips, feeling their tenderness with the tip of her tongue, the rest of her body feeling equally as sore now that desire had faded.

His mouth twisted. ‘It wasn’t difficult,’ he dismissed dryly, standing up, the sleekness of a cat instantly intensified by his grace of movement. He picked up his jacket from the floor where he had thrown it earlier, taking out a cigar case and lighter. ‘Do you mind?’ he quirked dark brows at her.

She despised the habit of smoking, but she had a feeling his request for permission was only perfunctory, that he didn’t really care what her answer was. ‘Please do,’ she nodded distractedly. ‘Does it bother you that I know Carly?’

He looked at the tip of his cigar as smoke curled up to the ceiling. ‘Not at all. My little niece may have her parents convinced what a sweet little girl she is, but I happen to know better,’ he derided.

So did Ellie, although she wasn’t about to go into the other girl’s indiscretions just now. ‘What does Carly’s behaviour have to do with us?’ she frowned.

Cold grey eyes raked over her mercilessly. ‘Use your imagination, Ellie Smith,’ he mocked. ‘Your performance just now may have been a little—mechanical, but I’m sure you have one.’

‘I don’t understand,’ she shook her head, pale at the description he gave to her inexperienced lovemaking.

‘A complete stranger comes up to you at a party and asks you to leave with him, you agree, and you now ask how I know you know Carly,’ he scorned harshly, pulling on the black silk robe that lay over a chair. ‘What are you, a consolation gift from my dear little niece?’ he made the words an insult.

Ellie was so pale now her eyes looked as dark as emeralds, her long hair tangled down her back. ‘Consolation gift?’ she repeated dazedly.

His expression was grim. ‘It’s just the sort of thing that little madam would do,’ he rasped. ‘And I’m glad she chose someone like you.’ He looked at her once again. ‘Anyone remotely resembling my wife would have turned me off completely.’ He stubbed his cigar out in the ashtray with vicious movements.

‘Your—your wife?’ She felt as if someone had just dealt her a painful body blow.

‘You can cut the cute little act now, Ellie,’ he derided. ‘I realise Carly asked you to send me those charming little messages across the room with your eyes to help me forget the fact that my wife served me with divorce papers today. And it has helped,’ he nodded, his eyes narrowed. ‘Now get your beautiful little body out of my bed,’ he bent down to slap her bottom hard. ‘I don’t want you any more tonight, pleasant as the experience may have been.’

Ellie had never felt so mortified in her entire life. She had had no idea until now that he had misunderstood her coy glances at him earlier, but she now knew the reason for the desperate drive behind his possession, realised that the ‘bad news’ he had received today had been his wife’s intention of divorcing him.

She could only stare at him now, not knowing how to defend herself. It was obvious he thought her as promiscuous as she knew Carly to be, that he thought the two of them had planned together that she should share his bed as a way of helping him forget his impending divorce. It was also obvious that he had mistaken her virginity and inexperience as a mechanical response to his lovemaking, so how was she now supposed to tell him she had fallen in love with him on sight, that he had taken her virginity! She couldn’t, not when he saw her only as a mild diversion in his bed.

‘I’m going to take a shower now,’ he told her. ‘You can use the other bathroom if you want to, but I want you to have left by the time I get back.’ He picked up his jacket for a second time, taking out a leather wallet, pulling several notes from inside it, putting them on the dressing-table. ‘Take a cab home,’ he ordered. ‘I don’t feel like going out again tonight, and I don’t want you walking alone at this time of night.’

‘Please—–’

‘Not enough?’ he raised dark brows mockingly, misunderstanding the reason for her protest. ‘Maybe not,’ he acknowledged with a humourless smile. ‘But you aren’t very experienced at this sort of thing yet. Complacence may have been what I wanted tonight, but I can assure you most men will want more than that. Maybe you could give me a call when you’ve learnt to show a little more fire and enthusiasm,’ he dismissed derisively, pausing at the door. ‘And don’t try and rip me off once I’ve gone to shower,’ he warned in a pleasantly threatening voice. ‘I’ll have you arrested so fast you won’t know what’s hit you.’ He closed and locked the bathroom door behind him, the shower running seconds later.

Ellie had listened to him with increasing wide-eyed incredulity, the reality of what he thought her to be becoming apparent by the second. He certainly didn’t believe her to be a friend of Carry’s! She moved slowly from the bed to pick up the money he had thrown down so casually, counting it as if in a dream. Two hundred pounds!

Danielle came back to shuddering reality, the humiliation she had suffered at Nicholas Andracas’s hands that night something she had never forgotten. It had been the first time in her nineteen years that someone had treated her with such contempt, and although he may have forgotten her existence in the last seven years—may have forgotten her the moment he entered that bathroom for all she knew!—she had never forgotten him, not even for a day.

The news of Nick’s divorce had hit the newspapers a couple of days after she met him, his wife accusing him of adultery several times over. After her own experience with him she could quite well believe that Beverley Andracas probably deserved the millions of dollars she received in settlement from him. Any woman who could stay married to such a man for four years deserved everything she could get out of him.

But her main worry now was whether or not he would recognise Danielle Smith, successful portrait painter, as Ellie Smith, the girl he had once paid for going to bed with him? God, that must have been a novel experience for him, he had probably never paid a woman for sex in his life before! He would never need to.

But she was still worrying about whether he would recognise her as she waited for him and Audra McDonald to arrive at her apartment the next afternoon. If he didn’t remember her she could carry out this meeting with some degree of dignity, but if he should remember her …! The consequences of that didn’t bear thinking about, and she tried not to.

When the doorbell rang promptly at two o’clock she took her time about answering it, checking her appearance in the mirror one last time. The denims and loose green top weren’t an act of defiance on her part, more a need to be wearing something so completely different than the sophisticated black evening gown she had been wearing the last time she met Nick Andracas. Her outward appearance had changed the last seven years, her hair was styled shorter now, her once slightly rounded face smoothed out to high cheekbones and angled features, her whole bearing one of maturity now rather than a raw adolescence.

She deliberately trained her attention on Audra McDonald as she opened the door, ignoring the man who stood arrogantly at her side, although she was instantly aware of him, sensing that same charged electricity she had known in him seven years ago. Audra McDonald was as beautiful as her photographs proclaimed her to be, although the sharp brown eyes were narrowed assessingly on Danielle, as if gauging her attractiveness, the brief contempt registered there dismissing her as unimportant. That suited Danielle perfectly, she wanted as little tension and unpleasantness from this commission as possible.

Although she wasn’t sure she could count on that to continue as she took the other couple through to the lounge, turning to find the brown eyes were no longer scornfully dismissing, snapping with anger now as Audra McDonald saw and recognised her lover’s open interest in Danielle. Danielle was forced to recognise it too as she also met the warmth in narrowed grey eyes.

Nick had changed little in the last seven years, the black hair showing flecks of grey, the cynicism in his expression deepened, but otherwise he was the same devastatingly attractive man she had once fallen instantly in love with. She felt a similar leap of her senses to the one she had felt that night, although she remained outwardly cool and uninterested, maturity showing her how best to handle this meeting.

‘Do you have any idea what sort of portrait you would like?’ she addressed her question to Audra McDonald, although she wasn’t altogether surprised when Nick Andracas answered.

‘We know exactly what sort of portrait we want, Miss Smith,’ he told her smoothly. ‘It’s a requirement of the play Miss McDonald is in, and will be presented to her at the end of the play’s run.’

‘Oh,’ she nodded understanding, giving no indication that his gravelly sensuous voice meant anything to her, her interest wholly professional as she listened to him explain the details of the portrait needed.

‘You have precisely one month to complete the portrait to our requirements, Miss Smith,’ he finally concluded. ‘We need it for the opening night.’

‘Of course,’ she acknowledged stiltedly. ‘I’ll do my best.’

‘And I’m sure that will be good enough,’ he returned huskily, his eyes darkly caressing.

She refused to meet that gaze, deliberately turning to the actress who had sat quietly at his side on the sofa as he talked. ‘When would you like to begin your sittings, Miss McDonald?’

Anger still burned deep in the brown eyes. ‘Is that really necessary?’ she drawled in a bored voice. ‘Wouldn’t a photograph do?’

Danielle shook her head, all the time aware that narrowed grey eyes never left her face. But they contained no grain of recognition of the past, she was sure of that, saw her only as the beautiful woman she was now. ‘I’m afraid I can’t work that way,’ she explained politely. ‘Although I could recommend someone else who—–’

‘No,’ Nick Andracas cut in abruptly. ‘I want you to do the portrait.’

‘Really, Nick,’ Audra McDonald turned to him impatiently, her beautiful mouth pouting provocatively. ‘Do I have to sit around here for hours on end, bored out of my mind?’

‘Yes,’ his answer was uncompromising.

Her hand came to rest on his thigh. ‘I’d much rather spend the time with you.’

He looked at her without emotion. ‘You’ll come here as often as Miss Smith requires you to.’

‘But, Nick—–’

‘Audra!’ He didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t need to, his tone enough to silence his mistress.

Danielle witnessed the exchange with a certain amount of embarrassment. That the fiery Audra McDonald was about as ‘tamed’ as she could be when with this man was obvious, her expression now rebellious, although she raised no more objections. Danielle did not like the other woman in the least, but she could feel sorry for her. ‘I doubt I’ll need to trouble you for more than one or two sittings,’ again she ignored Nick Andracas, talking to the actress. ‘And probably only for an hour or so at a time, perhaps on a Saturday morning if that’s convenient?’

Brown eyes shot Nick Andracas a resentful glare, although he seemed immune to it. ‘I suppose Saturday is all right,’ she agreed ungraciously. ‘Although it will have to be in the afternoon,’ she gave her lover a smouldering look from beneath long lashes. ‘I don’t like to get out of bed early.’

‘What time is most convenient for you, Miss Smith?’ Nick Andracas ignored the actress’s effort to flirt with him, removing her hand pointedly from his thigh, his mouth a thin straight line of disapproval at the intimacy.

Danielle was beginning to get the feeling she had been brought in on the middle of a lovers’ tiff. Or perhaps this was the way Nick always treated his mistress? He had been cruel and unfeeling in the past, perhaps those emotions had just intensified with the passing of the years. ‘The afternoon will be fine,’ she said coolly. ‘About two o’clock?’

He nodded. ‘I believe Mr Vaughn has told you the details of your fee?’ he raised dark brows in challenge, as if he already knew of her refusal to accept the amount he had offered.

‘It’s too much,’ she met his challenge. ‘You will get the bill for the usual amount once the portrait is completed. If my work is satisfactory.’

The grey eyes rekindled with interest. ‘I’m sure it will be.’

‘Only time will tell.’ She had a feeling Audra McDonald wasn’t going to be an easy subject to paint. Besides the fact that she didn’t actually like the other woman, there was the problem of her brittle hardness to contend with, a quality they didn’t want in the portrait, she felt sure. ‘I—–’ she broke off as the telephone began to ring, surmising it to be Lewis wanting to know how the meeting had gone. He was a little premature. ‘Excuse me,’ she gave a bright meaningless smile in the other couple’s direction before picking up the receiver.

‘Ellie?’

She instantly recognised her father’s voice, some of the tension leaving her. ‘How are you?’ she asked warmly, listening as he went on to tell her briefly about the holiday he and her mother had just taken. ‘Dinner tonight?’ she repeated his suggestion. ‘That would be lovely.’ She rang off a few minutes later, turning to find narrowed grey eyes levelled on her, displeasure etched into the harsh features. ‘Sorry about that,’ she felt compelled to make the apology. ‘Now where were we?’

‘I believe we had just about concluded the meeting,’ Nick Andracas rasped harshly, standing up, the three-piece suit in charcoal grey fitting his lithe masculinity to perfection. ‘Miss McDonald will be here at two o’clock on Saturday.’

The other couple left so abruptly Danielle was left with a sense of anti-climax, although she had to admit to a certain amount of relief too. The meeting had been as much of a strain as she had thought it would be, although at least she had been spared the humiliation of recognition. Nick had seen her only as Danielle Smith, although there could be no doubt that he found her attractive in that capacity. He was a dangerous man for any woman to find attractive, had been lethal for her all those years ago.

When the telephone rang half an hour later she felt sure that this time it had to be Lewis. It was not.

‘Danielle, will you have dinner with me this evening?’

There was no need for him to identify himself, she recognised his voice immediately. ‘I’m sorry, Mr Andracas, I already have an appointment this evening,’ she refused frostily, a telephone call from him so soon after he had left the last thing she had been expecting.

‘So I heard,’ he bit out. ‘I want you to break it.’

Now she knew the reason for his abruptness before he left. She had thought he had been annoyed that she had taken the telephone call while he was here, instead he had been eager to drop off his mistress so that he could ask her for a date! The cold-blooded arrogance of the man. ‘I’m afraid that’s out of the question.’ She thought back on the conversation he had overheard, realising that not once had she identified her caller as her father. ‘I really couldn’t let my friend down at such short notice,’ she added with throaty insinuation.

For a moment there was angry silence on the other end of the telephone. ‘Tomorrow?’ he finally rasped.

‘I’m afraid not.’

‘You’re seeing the same man again then?’

‘Possibly,’ she evaded lying.

‘In other words you don’t wish to go out with me?’ he said dryly.

‘That’s right,’ she acknowledged coldly.

He gave a throaty laugh at her honesty. ‘But I always get what I want, Danielle. And I wanted you the moment I set eyes on you.’

‘Wouldn’t Miss McDonald have something to say about this?’ she taunted with sarcasm.

‘No,’ he answered abruptly. ‘She wouldn’t. She doesn’t own me, no woman does.’

‘I’m really very sorry, Mr Andracas,’ she snapped. ‘But I really have no desire to go out with you, either now or in the forseeable future.’

‘I can be very persistent when I want something,’ he warned throatily.

‘And I can be just as determined myself. Goodbye, Mr Andracas,’ she rang off before he could say any more, sitting down abruptly. He hadn’t changed at all, was still the arrogant bastard who had once paid her to go to bed with him.

She moved dazedly into her bedroom, going straight to the green onyx jewellery box that stood on her dressing-table, lifting the lid with shaking fingers. The twenty pound notes inside instantly unfolded, as crisply new as the day she had received them. Danielle had no need to count them, she already knew exactly how much money there was there.

After Nick had gone into the shower that night she had dressed in a daze before leaving, not realising until she reached home and the sanctuary of her bedroom that she had stuffed the ten twenty pound notes which Nick had so contemptuously tossed at her in her handbag. At first she had wanted to take it straight back, but the thought of facing his mocking derision for a second time that night hadn’t appealed to her at all in her still shocked state. She decided to post it back to him. By morning she had changed her mind about that, deciding to keep the money as a reminder of the man who had paid her two hundred pounds for her virginity. And she had never forgotten him, hated him now as she had hated him then.

.

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