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A Virgin For Vasquez

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«A Virgin For Vasquez» - Кэтти Уильямс

A vow of revenge…When Sophie Griffin-Watt walked out of tycoon Javier Vasquez’s life, and down the aisle with another man, he swore to find a way to make her pay.A proposition from her past…With Sophie desperate for Javier’s help to save her family, his assistance comes with a price tag… the gorgeous body that was denied to him!An unimaginable outcome…Javier’s delicious game of retribution seemed the only way to get Sophie out of his system once and for all. But when he discovers Sophie’s exquisite innocence, he can no longer play by those rules…
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‘I don’t care what you think!’

How could Javier be so cool and composed when she was all over the place? Except, of course, she knew how. Sophie was just so much more affected by him than he was by her, and she could see all her pride and self-respect disappearing down the plughole if she didn’t get a grip on the situation right now.

She cleared her throat and stared at him and through him. ‘I … we have to work alongside one another for a while and … and this was just an unfortunate blip. I would appreciate it if you never mention it again. We can both pretend that it never happened—because it will never happen again.’

Javier lowered his eyes and tilted his head to one side, as if seriously considering what she had just said.

So many challenges in that single sentence. Did she really and truly believe that she could close the book now that page one had been turned?

He’d tasted her, and one small taste wasn’t going to do. Not for him and not for her. Whatever her back story, they both needed to sate themselves in one another. And sooner or later it would happen …

CATHY WILLIAMS can remember reading Mills & Boon books as a teenager, and now that she is writing them she remains an avid fan. For her, there is nothing like creating romantic stories and engaging plots, and each and every book is a new adventure. Cathy lives in London, and her three daughters—Charlotte, Olivia and Emma—have always been, and continue to be, the greatest inspirations in her life.

A Virgin for Vasquez

Cathy Williams















JAVIER VASQUEZ LOOKED around his office with unconcealed satisfaction.

Back in London after seven years spent in New York and didn’t fate move in mysterious ways...?

From his enviable vantage point behind the floor-to-ceiling panes of reinforced rock-solid glass, he gazed down to the busy city streets in miniature. Little taxis and little cars ferrying toy-sized people to whatever important or irrelevant destinations were calling them.

And for him...?

A slow, curling smile, utterly devoid of humour, curved his beautiful mouth.

For him, the past had come calling and that, he knew, accounted for the soaring sense of satisfaction now filling him because, as far as offices went, this one, spectacular though it was, was no more or less spectacular than the offices he had left behind in Manhattan. There, too, he had looked down on busy streets, barely noticing the tide of people that daily flowed through those streets like a pulsing, breathing river.

Increasingly, he had become cocooned in an ivory tower, the undisputed master of all he surveyed. He was thirty-three years old.

You didn’t get to rule the concrete jungle by taking your eye off the ball. No; you kept focused, you eliminated obstacles and in that steady, onward and upward march, time passed by until now...

He glanced at his watch.

Twelve storeys down, in the vast, plush reception area, Oliver Griffin-Watt would already have been waiting for half an hour.

Did Javier feel a twinge of guilt about that?

Not a bit of it.

He wanted to savour this moment because he felt as though it had been a long time coming.

And yet, had he thought about events that had happened all those years ago? He’d left England for America and his life had become consumed in the business of making money, of putting to good use the education his parents had scrimped and saved to put him through, and in the process burying a fleeting past with a woman he needed to consign to the history books.

The only child of devoted parents who had lived in a poor barrio in the outskirts of Madrid, Javier had spent his childhood with the driving motto drummed into him that to get out, he had to succeed and to succeed, he had to have an education. And he’d had to get out.

His parents had worked hard, his father as a taxi driver, his mother as a cleaner, and the glass ceiling had always been low for them. They’d managed, but only just. No fancy holidays, no flat-screen tellies for the house, no chichi restaurants with fawning waiters. They’d made do with cheap and cheerful and every single penny had been put into savings for the time when they would send their precociously bright son to university in England. They had known all too well the temptations waiting for anyone stupid enough to go off the rails. They had friends whose sons had taken up with gangs, who had died from drug overdoses, who had lost the plot and ended up as dropouts kicked around on street corners.

That was not going to be the fate of their son.

If, as a teenager, Javier had ever resented the tight controls placed on him, he had said nothing.

He had been able to see for himself, from a very young age, just what financial hardship entailed and how limiting it could be. He had seen how some of his wilder friends, who had made a career out of playing truant, had ended up in the gutter. By the time he had hit eighteen, he had made his plans and nothing was going to derail them: a year or two out, working to add to the money his parents had saved, then university, where he would succeed because he was bright—brighter than anyone he knew. Then a high-paying job. No starting at the ground level and making his way up slowly, but a job with a knockout financial package. Why not? He knew his assets and he had had no intention of selling himself short.

He wasn’t just clever.

Lots of people were clever. He was also sharp. Sharp in a streetwise sort of way. He possessed the astuteness of someone who knew how to make deals and how to spot where they could be made. He knew how to play rough and how to intimidate. Those were skills that were ingrained rather than learnt and, whilst they had no place in a civilised world, the world of big business wasn’t always civilised; it was handy having those priceless skills tucked up his sleeve.

He’d been destined to make it big and, from the age of ten, he had had no doubt that he would get there.

He’d worked hard, had honed his ferocious intelligence to the point where no one could outsmart him and had sailed through university, resisting the temptation to leave without his Master’s. A Master’s in engineering opened a lot more doors than an ordinary degree and he wanted to have the full range of open doors to choose from.

And that was when he had met Sophie Griffin-Watt. The only unexpected flaw in his carefully conceived life plan.

She had been an undergraduate, in her first excitable year, and he had been on the last leg of his Master’s, already considering his options, wondering which one to take, which one would work best for him when he left university in a little under four months’ time.

He hadn’t meant to go out at all but his two housemates, usually as focused as he was, had wanted to celebrate a birthday and he’d agreed to hit the local pub with them.

He’d seen her the second he’d walked in. Young, impossibly pretty, laughing, head flung back with a drink in one hand. She’d been wearing a pair of faded jeans, a tiny cropped vest and a denim jacket that was as faded as the jeans.

And he’d stared.

He never stared. From the age of thirteen, he’d never had to chase any girl. His looks were something he’d always taken for granted. Girls stared. They chased. They flung themselves in his path and waited for him to notice them.

The guys he’d shared his flat with had ribbed him about the ease with which he could snap his fingers and have any girl he wanted but, in actual fact, getting girls was not Javier’s driving ambition.

They had their part to play. He was a red-blooded male with an extremely healthy libido—and, as such, he was more than happy to take what was always on offer—but his focus, the thing that drove him, had always been his remorseless ambition.

Girls had always been secondary conquests.

Everything seemed to change on the night he had walked into that bar.

Yes, he’d stared, and he’d kept on staring, and she hadn’t glanced once at him, even though the gaggle of girls she was with had been giggling pointing at him and whispering.

For the first time in his life, he had become the pursuer. He had made the first move.

She was much younger than the women he usually dated. He was a man on the move, a man looking ahead to bigger things—he’d had no use for young, vulnerable girls with romantic dreams and fantasies about settling down. He’d gone out with a couple of girls in his years at university but, generally speaking, he had dated and slept with slightly older women—women who weren’t going to become clingy and start asking for the sort of commitment he wasn’t about to give them. Women who were experienced enough to understand his rules and abide by them.

Sophie Griffin-Watt had been all the things he’d had no interest in and he’d fallen for her hook, line and sinker.

Had part of that driving obsession for her been the fact that he’d actually had to try? That he’d had to play the old-fashioned courting game?

That she’d made him wait and, in the end, had not slept with him?

She’d kept him hanging on and he’d allowed it. He’d been happy to wait. The man who played by his own rules and waited for no one had been happy to wait because he’d seen a future for them together.

He’d been a fool and he’d paid the price.

But that was seven years ago and now...

He strolled back to his chair, leant forward and buzzed his secretary to have Oliver Griffin-Watt shown up to his office.

The wheel, he mused, relaxing back, had turned full circle. He’d never considered himself the sort of guy who would ever be interested in extracting revenge but the opportunity to even the scales had come knocking on his door and who was he to refuse it entry...?

* * *

‘You did what?’

Sophie looked at her twin brother with a mixture of clammy panic and absolute horror.

She had to sit down. If she didn’t sit down, her wobbly legs would collapse under her. She could feel a headache coming on and she rubbed her temples in little circular movements with shaky fingers.

Once upon a time, she’d been able to see all the signs of neglect in the huge family house, but over the past few years she’d become accustomed to the semi-decrepit sadness of the home in which she and her brother had spent their entire lives. She barely noticed the wear and tear now.

‘What else would you have suggested I do?’ There was complaint in his voice as he looked at his sister.

‘Anything but that, Ollie,’ Sophie whispered, stricken.

‘So you went out with the guy for ten minutes years ago! I admit it was a long shot, going to see him, but I figured we had nothing to lose. It felt like fate that he’s only been back in the country for a couple of months, I just happen to pick up someone’s newspaper on the tube and, lo and behold, who’s staring out at me from the financial pages...? It’s not even as though I’m in London all that much! Pure chance. And, hell, we need all the help we can get!’

He gestured broadly to the four walls of the kitchen which, on a cold winter’s night, with the stove burning and the lights dimmed, could be mistaken for a cosy and functioning space but which, as was the case now, was shorn of any homely warmth in the glaring, bright light of a summer’s day.

‘I mean...’ His voice rose, morphing from complaint to indignation. ‘Look at this place, Soph! It needs so much work that there’s no way we can begin to cover the cost. It’s eating every penny we have and you heard what the estate agents have all said. It needs too much work and it’s in the wrong price bracket to be an easy sell. It’s been on the market for two and a half years! We’re never going to get rid of it, unless we can do a patch-up job, and we’re never going to do a patch-up job unless the company starts paying its way!’

‘And you thought that running to...to...’ She could barely let his name pass her lips.

Javier Vasquez.

Even after all these years the memory of him still clung to her, as pernicious as ivy, curling round and round in her head, refusing to go away.

He had come into her life with the savage, mesmerising intensity of a force-nine gale and had blown all her neat, tidy assumptions about her future to smithereens.

When she pictured him in her head, she saw him as he was then, more man than boy, a towering, lean, commanding figure who could render a room silent the minute he walked in.

He had had presence.

Even before she’d fallen under his spell, before she’d even spoken one word to him, she’d known that he was going to be dangerous. Her little clutch of well-bred, upper-middle-class friends had kept sneaking glances at him when he’d entered that pub all those years ago, giggling, tittering and trying hard to get his attention. After the first glance, she, on the other hand, had kept her eyes firmly averted. But she hadn’t been able to miss the banging of her heart against her ribcage or the way her skin had broken out in clammy, nervous perspiration.

When he’d sauntered across to her, ignoring her friends, and had begun talking to her, she’d almost fainted.

He’d been doing his Master’s in engineering and he was the cleverest guy she’d ever met in her life. He was so good-looking that he’d taken her breath away.

He’d been also just the sort of boy her parents would have disapproved of. Exotic, foreign and most of all...unashamedly broke.

His fantastic self-assurance—the hint of unleashed power that sat on his shoulders like an invisible cloak—had attracted and scared her at the same time. At eighteen, she had had limited experience of the opposite sex and, in his company, that limited experience had felt like no experience at all. Roger, whom she had left behind and who had been still clinging to her, even though she had broken off their very tepid relationship, had scarcely counted even though he had been only a couple of years younger than Javier.

She’d felt like a gauche little girl next to him. A gauche little girl with one foot poised over an unknown abyss, ready to step out of the comfort zone that had been her privileged, sheltered life.

Private school, skiing holidays, piano lessons and horse riding on Saturday mornings had not prepared her for anyone remotely like Javier Vasquez.

He wasn’t going to be good for her but she had been as helpless as a kitten in the face of his lazy but targeted pursuit.

‘We could do something,’ he had murmured early on when he had cornered her in that pub, in the sort of seductive voice that had literally made her go weak at the knees. ‘I don’t have much money but trust me when I tell you that I can show you the best time of your life without a penny to my name...’

She’d always mixed with people just like her: pampered girls and spoilt boys who had never had to think hard about how much having a good night out might cost. She’d drifted into seeing Roger, who’d been part of that set and whom she’d known for ever.

Why? It was something she’d never questioned. Oliver had taken it all for granted but, looking back, she had always felt guilty at the ease with which she had always been encouraged to take what she wanted, whatever the cost.

Her father had enjoyed showing off his beautiful twins and had showered them with presents from the very second they had been born.

She was his princess, and if occasionally she’d felt uneasy at the way he’d dismissed people who were socially inferior to him, she had pushed aside the uneasy feeling because, whatever his faults, her father had adored her. She’d been a daddy’s girl.

And she’d known, from the second Javier Vasquez had turned his sexy eyes to her, that she was playing with fire, that her father would have had a coronary had he only known...

But play with fire she had.

Falling deeper and deeper for him, resisting the driving desire to sleep with him because...

Because she’d been a shameless romantic and because there had been a part of her that had wondered whether a man like Javier Vasquez would have ditched her as soon as he’d got her between the sheets.

But he hadn’t forced her hand and that, in itself, had fuelled her feelings towards him, honed and fine-tuned them to the point where she had felt truly alive only when she’d been in his company.

It was always going to end in tears, except had she known just how horribly it would all turn out...

‘I didn’t think the guy would actually agree to see me,’ Oliver confessed, sliding his eyes over to her flushed, distressed face before hurriedly looking away. ‘Like I said, it was a long shot. I actually didn’t even think he’d remember who I was... It wasn’t as though I’d met him more than a couple of times...’

Because, although they were twins, Oliver had gone to a completely different university. Whilst she had been at Cambridge, studying Classics with the hope of becoming a lecturer in due course, he had been on the other side of the Atlantic, going to parties and only intermittently hearing about what was happening in her life. He’d left at sixteen, fortunate enough to get a sports scholarship to study at a high school, and had dropped out of her life aside from when he’d returned full of beans during the holidays.

Even when the whole thing had crashed and burned a mere few months after it had started, he had only really heard the edited version of events. Anyway, he had been uninterested, because life in California had been far too absorbing and Oliver, as Sophie had always known, had a very limited capacity when it came to empathising with other people’s problems.

Now she wondered whether she should have sat him down when he’d eventually returned to the UK and given him all the miserable details of what had happened.

But by then it had been far too late.

She’d had an engagement ring on her finger and Javier had no longer been on the scene. Roger Scott had been the one walking up the aisle.

It didn’t bear thinking about.

‘So you saw him...’ What did he look like? What did he sound like? Did he still have that sexy, sexy smile that could make a person’s toes curl? So much had happened over the years, so much had killed her youthful dreams about love and happiness, but she could still remember, couldn’t she?

She didn’t want to think any of those things, but she did.

‘Didn’t even hesitate,’ Oliver said proudly, as though he’d accomplished something remarkable. ‘I thought I’d have to concoct all sorts of stories to get to see the great man but, in fact, he agreed to see me as soon as he found out who I was...’

I’ll bet, Sophie thought.

‘Soph, you should see his office. It’s incredible. The guy’s worth millions. More—billions. Can’t believe he was broke when you met him at university. You should have stuck with him, sis, instead of marrying that creep.’

‘Let’s not go there, Ollie.’ As always, Sophie’s brain shut down at the mention of her late husband’s name. He had his place in a box in her head, firmly locked away. Talking about him was not only pointless but it tore open scabs to reveal wounds still fresh enough to bleed.

Roger, she told herself, had been a learning curve and one should always be grateful for learning curves, however horrible they might have been. She’d been young, innocent and optimistic once upon a time, and if she was battle-hardened now, immune to girlish daydreams of love, then that was all to the good because it meant that she could never again be hurt by anyone or anything.

She stood up and gazed out of the patio doors to the unkempt back garden which rolled into untidy fields, before spinning round, arms folded, to gaze at her brother. ‘I’d ask you what he said...’ her voice was brisk and unemotional ‘...but there wouldn’t be any point because I don’t want to have anything to do with him. He’s...my past and you shouldn’t have gone there without my permission.’

‘It’s all well and good for you to get sanctimonious, Soph, but we need money, he has lots of it and he has a connection with you.’

‘He has no connection with me!’ Her voice was high and fierce.

Of course he had no connection with her. Not unless you called hatred a connection, because he would hate her. After what had happened, after what she had done to him.

Suddenly exhausted, she sank into one of the kitchen chairs and dropped her head in her hands for a few moments, just wanting to block everything out. The past, her memories, the present, their problems. Everything.

‘He says he’ll think about helping.’

‘What?’ Appalled, she stared at him.

‘He seemed very sympathetic when I explained the situation.’

‘Sympathetic.’ Sophie laughed shortly. The last thing Javier Vasquez would be was sympathetic. As though it had happened yesterday, she remembered how he had looked when she had told him that she was breaking up with him, that it was over between them, that he wasn’t the man for her after all. She remembered the coldness in his eyes as the shutters had dropped down. She remembered the way he had sounded when he had told her, his voice flat and hard, that if he ever clapped eyes on her again it would be too soon... That if their paths were ever to cross again she should remember that he would never forget and he would never forgive...

She shivered and licked her lips, resisting the urge to sneak a glance over her shoulder just to make sure that he wasn’t looming behind her like an avenging angel.

‘What exactly did you tell him, Ollie?’

‘The truth.’ He looked at his twin defensively. ‘I told him that the company hit the buffers and we’re struggling to make ends meet, what with all the money that ex of yours blew on stupid ventures that crashed and burned. He bankrupted the company and took us all down with him.’

‘Dad allowed him to make those investments, Oliver.’

‘Dad...’ His voice softened. ‘Dad wasn’t in the right place to stop him, sis. We both know that. Roger got away with everything because Dad was sick and getting sicker, even if we didn’t know it at the time, even if we were all thinking that Mum was the one we had to worry about.’

Tears instantly sprang to Sophie’s eyes. Whatever had happened, she still found it hard to blame either of her parents for the course her life had eventually taken.

Predictably, when her parents had found out about Javier, they had been horrified. They had point-blank refused to meet him at all. As far as they were concerned, he could have stepped straight out of a leper colony.

Their appalled disapproval would have been bad enough but, in the wake of their discovery, far more than Sophie had ever expected had come to the surface, rising to the top like scum to smother the comfortable, predictable lifestyle she had always taken for granted.

Financial troubles. The company had failed to move with the times. The procedures employed by the company were cumbersome and time-consuming but the financial investment required to bring everything up to date was too costly. The bank had been sympathetic over the years as things had deteriorated but their patience was wearing thin. They wanted their money returned to them.

Her father, whom she had adored, had actually buried his head in his hands and cried.

At the back of her mind, Sophie had stifled a spurt of anger at the unfairness of being the one lumbered with these confidences while her brother had continued to enjoy himself on the other side of the world in cheerful, ignorant bliss. But then Oliver had never been as serious as her, had never really been quite as responsible.

She had always been her father’s ‘right-hand man’.

Both her parents had told her that some foreigner blown in from foreign shores, without a penny to his name, wasn’t going to do. They were dealing with enough stress, enough financial problems, without her taking up with someone who will end up being a sponge, because you know what these foreigners can be like... The man probably figures he’s onto a good thing...

Roger was eager to join the company and he had inherited a great deal of money when his dear parents had passed away. And hadn’t they been dating? Wasn’t he already like a member of the family?

Sophie had been dumbstruck as her life had been sorted out for her.

Yes, she had known Roger for ever. Yes, he was a perfectly okay guy and, sure, they had gone out for five minutes. But he wasn’t the one for her and she’d broken it off even before Javier had appeared on the scene!

But her father had cried and she’d never seen her dad in tears before.

She had been so confused, torn between the surging power of young love and a debt of duty towards her parents.

Surely they wouldn’t expect her to quit university when she was only in her first year and loving it?

But no. She’d been able to stay on, although they hoped that she would take over the company alongside Roger, who would be brought on board should they cement a union he had already intimated he was keen on.

He was three years older than her and had experience of working for a company. He would sink money into the company, take his place on the board of directors...

And she, Sophie had read between the lines, would have to fulfil her obligations and walk up the aisle with him.

She hadn’t been able to credit what she had been hearing, but seeing her distraught parents, seeing their shame at having to let her down and destroy her illusions, had spoken so much more loudly and had said so much more than mere words could convey.

Had Roger even known about any of these plans? Was that why he’d been refusing to call it quits between them even though they’d been seeing one another for only less than eight months before she had left for university? Had he already been looking to a future that involved her parents’ company?

She had called him, arranged to see him, and had been aghast when he had told her that he knew all about her parents’ situation and was keen to do the right thing. He was in love with her, always had been...

With no one in whom to confide, Sophie had returned to university in a state of utter confusion—and Javier had been there. She had mentioned nothing but she had allowed herself to be absorbed by him. With him, she could forget everything.

Swept along on a heady tide of falling in love, the panic she had felt at what was happening on the home front had been dulled. Her parents had not mentioned the situation again and she had uneasily shoved it to the back of her mind.

No news was good news. Wasn’t that what everyone said?

She surfaced from the past to find a drink in front of her and she pushed it aside.

‘I’ve got another appointment to see the bank tomorrow,’ she said. ‘And we can change estate agents.’

‘For the fourth time?’ Oliver gave a bark of laughter and downed his drink in one gulp. ‘Face it, Soph. The way things are going, we’ll be in debt for the rest of our lives if we’re not careful. The company is losing money. The house will never sell. The bank will take it off our hands to repay our overdraft and we’ll both be left homeless. It’s not even as though we have alternative accommodation to return to. We don’t. You bailed university to get married and moved into the family pile with Roger. I may have stayed on to get my diploma, but by the time I got back here everything had changed and we were both in it together. Both here, both trying to make the company work...’ His voice had acquired the bitter, plaintive edge Sophie had come to recognise.

She knew how this would go. He would drink away his sorrows and wake up the following morning in a blurry, sedated haze where all the problems were dulled just enough for him to get through the day.

He was, she had been forced to accept, a weak man not made for facing the sort of situation they were now facing.

And she hated that she couldn’t do more for him.

He was drinking too much and she could see the train coming off the tracks if things didn’t change.

Did she want that? Wasn’t there too much already on her conscience?

She shut down that train of thought, shut down the deluge of unhappy memories and tried hard to focus on the few bright things in her life.

She had her health.

They might be struggling like mad trying not to drown but at least Mum was okay, nicely sorted in a cottage in Cornwall, far from the woes now afflicting herself and her brother.

It might have been a rash expenditure given the dire financial circumstances, but when Gordon Griffin-Watt had tragically died, after a brief but intense period of absolute misery and suffering, it had seemed imperative to try to help Evelyn, their mother, who was herself frail and barely able to cope. Sophie had taken every spare penny she could from the scant profits of the company and sunk it all into a cottage in Cornwall, where Evelyn’s sister lived.

It had been worth it. Her mother’s contentment was the brightest thing on the horizon, and if she was ignorant about the extent of the troubles afflicting her twins, then that was for her own good. Her health would never be able to stand the stress of knowing the truth: that they stood to lose everything. One of the sweetest things Gordon Griffin-Watt had done had been to allay her fears about their financial situation while dealing with his own disastrous health problems, which he had refused to tell his wife about. She had had two strokes already and he wasn’t going to send her to her grave with a third one.

‘Vasquez is willing to listen to what we have to say.’

‘Javier won’t do a thing to help us. Trust me, Ollie.’ But he would have a merry time gloating at how the mighty had fallen, that was for sure.

‘How do you know?’ her brother fired back, pouring himself another drink and glaring, challenging her to give him her little lecture about staying off the booze.

‘Because I just do.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong, sis.’

‘What do you mean? What are you talking about? And should you...be having a second drink when it’s not yet four in the afternoon?’

‘I’ll stop drinking when I’m not worrying 24/7 about whether I’ll have a roof over my head next week or whether I’ll be begging in the streets for loose change.’ He drank, refilled his glass defiantly, and Sophie stifled a sigh of despair.

‘So just tell me what Javier had to say,’ she said flatly. ‘Because I need to go and prepare information to take with me to the bank tomorrow.’

‘He wants to see you.’


‘He says he will consider helping us but he wants to discuss it with you. I thought it was pretty decent of him, actually...’

A wave of nausea rushed through her. For the first time ever, she felt that at the unseemly hour of four in the afternoon she could do with a stiff drink.

‘That won’t be happening.’

‘You’d rather see us both living under a bridge in London with newspapers as blankets,’ Oliver said sharply, ‘rather than have a twenty-minute conversation with some old flame?’

‘Don’t be stupid. We won’t end up living under a bridge with newspapers as blankets...’

‘It’s a bloody short drop from the top to the bottom, Soph. Can take about ten minutes. We’re more than halfway there.’

‘I’m seeing the bank tomorrow about a loan to broaden our computer systems...’

‘Good luck with that! They’ll say no and we both know that. And what do you think is going to happen to that allowance we give Mum every month? Who do you think is going to support her in her old age if we go under?’

‘Stop!’ Never one to dodge reality, Sophie just wanted to blank it all out now. But she couldn’t. The weight of their future rested on her shoulders, but Oliver...

How could he?

Because he didn’t know, she thought with numb defeat. What he saw was an ex who now had money and might be willing to lend them some at a reasonable rate for old times’ sake. To give them a loan because they had nowhere else to turn.

She could hardly blame him, could she?

‘I told him that you’d be at his office tomorrow at six.’ He extracted a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and pushed it across the table to her.

When Sophie flattened it out, she saw that on it was a scribbled address and a mobile number. Just looking at those two links with the past she had fought to leave behind made her heart hammer inside her.

‘I can’t make you go and see the man, Sophie.’ Oliver stood up, the bottle of whisky in one hand and his empty glass in the other. There was defeat in his eyes and it pierced her heart because he wasn’t strong enough to take any of this. He needed looking after as much as their mother did. ‘But if you decide to go with the bank, when they’ve already knocked us back in the past and when they’re making noises about taking the house from us, then on your head be it. If you decide to go, he’ll be waiting for you at his office.’

Alone in the kitchen, Sophie sighed and rested back in the chair, eyes closed, mind in turmoil.

She had been left without a choice. Her brother would never forgive her if she walked away from Javier and the bank ended up chucking her out. And her brother was right; the small profits the company was making were all being eaten up and it wouldn’t be long before the house was devouring far more than the company could provide. It was falling down. Who in their right mind wanted to buy a country mansion that was falling down, in the middle of nowhere, when the property market was so desperate? And they couldn’t afford to sell it for a song because it had been remortgaged...

Maybe he’d forgotten how things had ended, she thought uneasily.

Maybe he’d changed, mellowed. Maybe, just maybe, he really would offer them a loan at a competitive rate because of the brief past they’d shared.

Maybe he’d overlook how disastrous that brief past had ended...

At any rate, she had no choice, none at all. She would simply have to find out...


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