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Brand Of Possession

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«Brand Of Possession» - 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…At his command…Actress Stacy Adams has no idea that Jake, the dreamy guy she’s been recently dating, is actually successful author and director Jake Weston! Not only is he renowned for being arrogant and difficult on-set—so unlike the man she’s come to know—but he’s also her new boss!Stacy is furious that Jake has misled her. But against his commanding presence, she is powerless to resist his charms. Especially when Jake is intensely honest about his attraction to her…
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Brand of Possession Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

‘YOU can keep your job!’ Green eyes blazed at the man sitting behind the desk. ‘I don't sell myself for any price.’

‘Miss Adams, if you will just calm down I will——’

‘You won't do anything,’ Stacy interrupted angrily. ‘You're just as weak as the rest of them. Whatever Paul Forbes decides he wants he has to have, and woe betide the poor girl if she isn't interested. Keep the star of your film happy at any price, that's your motto. Well, here's one girl who isn't going to keep him happy. I loathe the man!’

‘Miss Adams! You have completely the wrong impression of what I was trying to say. Mr Forbes merely expressed a wish——’

‘I'm well aware of what he wanted, Mr Payne, and he isn't getting it from me. Being the director of this film you should have better control over your actors!’

‘Now you've gone too far!’ The little man rose indignantly to his feet. ‘You have a part that lasts about fifteen minutes of the film and you think that gives you the experience to tell me how to do my job. I've been directing films and placating actors for thirty years and I——’

‘Then perhaps it's time you had a rest,’ Stacy told him rudely, her green eyes flashing, her long red tresses like fire down her back, softly waving down to her slender waist. She was still wearing the costume for her part in the film, the garb of a eighteenth-century peasant girl in rugged Cornwall. ‘Things have changed since you started out,’ she continued angrily. ‘The casting is no longer carried out on the studio couch.’

‘Miss Adams, you're fired!’ His face had reddened almost to bursting point.

‘Don't worry, I'm going. I like the part of Kate, but I'm not willing to sleep with Paul Forbes to keep it.’

‘I asked you to go to a party with him, not go to bed with him.’ The director sighed. ‘I don't know why you have to read so much into a simple invitation——’

‘If it's so simple why didn't he make it himself?’ she challenged.

‘I understand that he did—and you turned him down.’

‘Because I don't like him!’ Stacy said fiercely. ‘I've seen him in action the last couple of weeks, and he's nothing but an egotistical, pompus, overbearing——’

‘That's quite enough, Miss Adams,’ he told her coldly. ‘I think you've made your feelings concerning Mr Forbes very clear. And I think I've made my feelings about your future employment here equally clear.’

‘Oh, you have. Don't worry, I'll leave. I think the rape scene I have to go through with him could turn out to be too realistic.’

Martin Payne shifted some papers about on his desk. ‘Your cards and money will be ready for you first thing in the morning.’

‘No earlier?’ she sneered.

‘I would have thought you would have wanted me away from here as soon as possible.’

‘That isn't possible, I'm afraid. It's after five now and what meagre office staff we have down here will have returned to their hotel for the night.’

‘To get ready for the party this evening.’

He nodded. ‘Exactly. The party you've refused to attend.’

If the poor man thought she wasn't going to be there tonight he had another think coming! She had every intention of going—and with a partner of her own choosing. But she wasn't going to tell him that, he might try to prevent her. After all, it would be a slap in the face for Paul Forbes when she turned up with someone else. But it was a slap in the face she knew she would never physically be allowed to administer.

‘Then I suppose the morning will have to do,’ she accepted with ill grace, marching to the door of the caravan that passed as the director's office while they were on the location site. ‘Goodnight, Mr Payne.’

‘Goodbye, Miss Adams,’ he answered pointedly.

She gave him an impudent grin. ‘Oh, surely not goodbye, Mr Payne. After all, I have to wait until tomorrow before I can leave.’

‘I doubt we will meet again, Miss Adams,’ he said in a stilted voice.

Stacy left the caravan with a defiant flick of her head, an amused curve to her full mouth. Mr Payne was right, most of the staff had already left, but there were still some of the cast left. Matthew Day was one of them, and he had been a good friend of hers for the past three years. She linked arms with him as they walked over to his car to drive back to the hotel.

Matthew was tall, dark and rugged, very handsome, and making quite a name for himself in films and television. Stacy had no doubt that within a couple of years Matthew would be landing leading roles in major films, but for the moment he only had a supporting role like herself—like she had had.

‘You're looking pleased with yourself,’ he remarked on the way back to the hotel.

‘I've been sacked!’

His foot momentarily jerked on the accelerator. ‘You've been what?’

‘Sacked,’ she repeated happily.

‘But why? And why do you look so happy about it? I thought this job meant a lot to you. The part of Kate may not be a large one, but it is a crucial one.’

‘I've been sacked because of Paul Forbes. He's decided that I attract him now.’

‘God, that man's incredible!’ Matthew exclaimed. ‘Last week it was Jan in Make-up, the week before that Cindy Davies, and now you. I take it you refused to play his little game?’

‘Yes, so he went straight to Payne and used all his egotistical power to try and get me to change my mind.’

‘Which you didn't,’ he stated knowingly.

‘Did you expect me to?’

‘No,’ he grinned ruefully. ‘I have first-hand experience of your moral principles.’

‘I thought you'd got over that long ago.’ The two of them had dated for a few months a couple of years ago, but they had finally decided to end things when it became apparent that they wanted different things from the relationship. Luckily they had managed to remain friends.

Matthew squeezed one of her hands as it lay in her lap. ‘I have, Stacy,’ he assured her. ‘I was only teasing you. But if Forbes got you the sack why are you looking so pleased?’

‘Because Paul Forbes wanted to take me to the party tonight being given for Jake Weston's arrival, and I'm going to enjoy turning up there with you.’

‘You mean you're still going, even after being sacked?’

‘Certainly. I may not have been too enthusiastic about going in the first place, people fawning all over the author of this film isn't exactly my idea of a fun evening, but I'm definitely going now.’ She smiled her glee. ‘I wouldn't miss it for the world.’

Matthew accepted her determination with a smile, knowing that once Stacy made her mind up about something she very rarely changed it. ‘I'm quite looking forward to meeting the famous Jake Weston,’ he commented.

‘You don't think the lowly workers like us will get an introduction, do you,’ she scoffed. ‘Goodness, you're expecting a lot!’

‘Why shouldn't we?’ He drove the car into the huge hotel car park, most of the hotel full even though it was almost out of season. The film crew had more or less taken over the large hotel, any other guests finding it strange to be invaded with actors and all the technical staff that went with the making of a film. ‘We have as much right to meet him as anyone else.’

‘A man constantly on top of the best-seller list, every book he writes turned into a major film?’ Stacy shook her head. ‘He won't be interested in the lowlies like us. Besides, I've heard he isn't all that sociable.’

‘If he can attend a party of this size he has to be.’

‘Mm.’ Stacy got out of the car. ‘Well, I'm not at all interested in meeting him. He's probably one of those brash Americans who wears loud clothes and calls everyone “buddy”.’

Matthew laughed, as he locked the doors to his blue sports car. ‘You shouldn't generalise. He could turn out to be tall, dark and handsome.’

‘Like you?’ she teased. ‘No, I picture him as being short and fat, probably balding, and in his mid-forties,’ she said thoughtfully.

‘Now I know you're wrong about his age, he's thirty-eight.’

She wrinkled her nose. ‘Well, that's almost forty.’

They had entered the hotel now, the receptionist giving them both a glowing smile as they walked over to the lift. It was all very exciting having all these actors staying here, meeting people she had only ever seen on the television or at the cinema.

Matthew chuckled. ‘I don't think people of thirty-eight would agree with you.’

‘Maybe not,’ Stacy agreed, lowering her voice slightly as someone came to stand behind them. ‘But he's still twice my age, that makes him old.’

‘Poor devil,’ Matthew murmured. ‘Do you fancy a drink before dinner?’

She shook her head. ‘No, thanks, it's a bit early for me. Besides,’ she looked down ruefully at the costume she was still wearing, ‘I think I should get out of this before I get accused of stealing it.’

He laughed. ‘Okay, I'll see you later at dinner. And try not to be rude to our fat, balding, ageing author tonight. I don't want you upsetting anyone else to do with the film, I still have to work here.’

‘Don't worry—like I told you, Jake Weston won't be interested in us.’ She stepped into the lift, moving aside to allow the man standing behind them to enter too. ‘And I promise to be on my best behaviour.’

Matthew grimaced. ‘You wouldn't know how!’

She gave him a cheeky grin as the lift doors swished shut, giving the man at her side, the only other occupant of the lift, a casual look-over. She instantly did a retake. Wow! Now here was a good example of someone tall, dark and handsome,—and she felt sure this individual wasn't Jake Weston.

Stacy had never seen him before, but with those looks she felt he should have been starring in the film instead of Paul Forbes. He was gorgeous, although the dark scowl on his face gave him a slightly satanic look. He had jet-black hair, worn long over his collar but styled, piercing deep blue eyes, a high-bridged nose, and a strong firm mouth that hinted at a steely determination, gave an impression that this man always got what he went after. He was very tall, well over six foot, his wide powerful shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist and firm muscular thighs, all shown to advantage in the black polo-necked jumper he wore and the fitted black trousers. Stacy guessed his age to be somewhere between thirty-five and forty.

She cleared her throat before attempting to talk. ‘Which floor?’ she squeaked, her usually bubbly nature completely overwhelmed by his blatant magnetism.

He looked at her for the first time, those deep blue eyes running coolly over her appearance. ‘I beg your pardon?’ he drawled, obviously not welcoming this intrusion into his thoughts.

Stacy hadn't missed the faint transatlantic twang to his voice, the tone and sound very attractive. She hesitated with her finger on the lift button. ‘Which floor would you like?’ she explained.

‘Oh,’ he nodded. ‘The top, please.’

She couldn't help the slight rise of her eyebrows. The top floor contained the luxury suites of the hotel, reserved for the more wealthy guests. Adding two and two together, namely his American accent and the top floor suite, she would hazard a guess on this man being an employee of Jake Weston.

She pressed the button for her own floor and then lightly touched the top button for her silent companion. She could smell the masculine odour of his aftershave, and her nose twitched appreciatively.

Not normally a reserved type of person she found the silence between herself and this attractive man slightly irksome. Finally she couldn't stand it any longer, turning to look at him, only to find herself being thoroughly appraised by deep blue eyes. Her breath caught and her face flamed at the totally sexual assessment of that steady gaze. She turned hurriedly away, regretting her impulse to talk to him. She was used to causing some reaction in members of the opposite sex, but never anything this blatant!

‘I take it you're working on the film?’

Stacy turned sharply at the sound of that deep attractive voice. ‘Sorry?’

‘By your costume I presume you're working on the film,’ he repeated.

She looked down ruefully at her revealed curves in the low neckline of the dress she wore, her face flaming with colour as she realised this was probably the reason he had been staring at her and not because he found her attractive. He might only be an employee of Jake Weston but she felt sure he wouldn't be interested in a young actress who was only just beginning to make a name for herself—had been. Now that she had been sacked she didn't know what her next job would me, or when.

She nodded. ‘I was.’

Those blue eyes narrowed, the dark shadow on his chin evidence that he was one of those men who needed to shave twice a day. Stacy felt sure he would have a thick mat of hair on his chest too, his skin deeply tanned. She brought herself up with a start as she realised how intimate her thoughts of him had become.

‘Was?’ he echoed sharply.

Stacy was surprised by the intensity of his gaze. ‘I'm afraid so. I've been sacked,’ she answered abruptly.

‘You play the part of Kate,’ he said slowly, thoughtfully.

‘I did. Excuse me,’ she stepped out as the lift doors swished open at her floor. She was surprised when the man followed her out, while the lift moved swiftly up to the top floor, completely empty. ‘This isn't your floor,’ she pointed out hurriedly, unnerved by his proximity.

‘I know that.’ He took hold of her elbow as someone walked past them. ‘Shall we go to your room?’

She snatched her arm out of his grasp, startled by his words. ‘How dare you!’ she gasped. ‘I may have spoken to you, but I certainly didn't——’

His mouth turned back mockingly. ‘I'm not so stupid that I think a polite conversation in the lift entitles me to invite myself into your bed. I suggested we go to your room as a means of gaining privacy, we seem to be attracting quite a lot of attention standing here.’ As if to prove his point one of the porters walked by, turning back to stare at them curiously.

‘Well, yes. But why should we need privacy?’ she asked sharply.

He looked even more impatient. ‘I want to know more about the reason for your being dismissed from the film.’

Her green eyes widened. ‘Why? It has nothing to do with you.’

‘It may do,’ he contradicted curtly.

‘The fact that you work for Jake Weston doesn't give you the right——’

His dark brows rose. ‘What makes you think I work for Jake Weston?’

She shrugged. ‘I—Well, you do, don't you?’

‘I may do.’

She nodded. ‘I thought so.’

‘Mm—well, now that you know I'm not just a curious stranger perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me the reason you were fired.’

‘But I would,’ she said stubbornly. ‘The reasons are private and need only be known to the director and myself.’

Those blue eyes remained intent upon her. ‘I disagree with you. Don't you think Mr Weston has the right to know the reasons too?’

‘Perhaps,’ she admitted grudgingly. ‘But you aren't Jake Weston.’

He acknowledged this with a grim smile. ‘Perhaps not, but I could tell him.’

Stacy had to almost bend back to look up at him, he being at least a foot taller than herself if not more. He made her feel small and feminine, as if she could easily be crushed in his muscular arms, and it was a feeling she found strangely pleasing. ‘Why should he be interested in the sacking of a girl playing a minor role in a film he wrote?’

His mouth tightened as if in anger. ‘Because although you consider him to be—now what was it? Fat, bald and ageing? Mm,’ he nodded at her flushed face, ‘I think that was the way you described him.’

‘You know it was,’ she muttered resentfully. ‘I didn't realise anyone had heard what we had to say.’

‘It wasn't intentional.’ He pushed back a dark swathe of hair with impatient fingers, as if its thick vitality irritated him. ‘But just because you consider him to be all of those things it doesn't mean he's incapable of appreciating a beautiful woman.’

Stacy blushed, although the words were in no way presented as a compliment but more a statement of facts. She knew she was attractive, in her job she had to be aware of her own potential, but this man had made it almost seem a crime for her slender figure, long red hair, sparkling green eyes, small uptilted nose and wide smiling mouth to be in the least beautiful.

Her eyes flashed angrily, her lashes naturally sooty and long. ‘Well, as he's never seen me he won't know what he's missing,’ she snapped. Really, this man was arrogant!

Even his stance was arrogant, his legs slightly apart, challenge in every muscle and sinew. ‘But he has seen you, several times, in fact,’ he told her calmly.

She frowned. ‘I'm sure I would have remembered it.’

‘Really?’ he asked mockingly. ‘Do you remember every short, fat, balding man who makes your acquaintance?’

Stacy flushed angrily. ‘You overheard a purely private conversation, and it's very rude of you to keep reminding me of it.’

‘I stand rebuked,’ he taunted.

‘You're damned arrogant!’ she said tautly.

He gave a deep husky laugh, an attractive sound that made her nerve-endings tingle. His teeth were firm and white against the dark tan of his skin and he looked younger when he laughed, although she would say he was in his late thirties, the fine lines at the corner of his eyes and mouth an indication of the licentious life he had led the last thirty-seven, thirty-eight years.

‘So I've been told,’ he acknowledged without shame.

‘I'm sure I would have remembered if I'd met Mr Weston. Besides, he only arrived today, and I've only just got back to the hotel.’

He still looked amused. ‘I didn't say you'd met him, I said he'd seen you—on film. Your screen test actually. There were over a hundred applicants for that part when they narrowed the field down, and he wanted to choose the girl for that part himself. He chose you.’

‘I didn't realise.’

‘Although it's only a small part he considered that role important, the girl Jason eventually marries.’

She looked surprised. ‘You seem to know a lot about it.’

‘I would hardly be a good employee if I didn't take an interest in my employer's work.’

‘What exactly do you do?’

He shrugged his wide powerful shoulders. ‘This and that.’

‘I see.’

‘I doubt it,’ he mocked, not rising to her contempt. ‘But I really couldn't give a damn. So, the reason you've been fired?’

Stacy gave a defiant flick of her head, her long red tresses flying back over her shoulder. ‘If you're that interested ask the director.’

‘He's the one who dismissed you?’

She grinned as she remembered the meeting she had just been through with Martin Payne, her good humour never down for long. ‘You could say that,’ she agreed.

‘Then I'll talk to him.’

Stacy shrugged. ‘Please yourself. I have to go and change for dinner, excuse me,’ and she walked off before he could answer her.

‘You didn't tell me your name,’ he called after her.

She hesitated with her key in the door to her room, turning to look at him as he stood several feet away from her. ‘My name? You seem to be the one with all the answers, so find out!’ She quickly opened the door, slamming it hurriedly behind her.

She leant back against the door, smiling impishly at her room-mate, who sat on one of the single beds yawning tiredly. As one of the unknowns in the film Stacy didn't merit being given a room of her own, but luckily she liked Juliet Small, which was perhaps as well in the circumstances. Juliet had a slightly smaller part than herself, another love of the hero Jason, so she supposed it was only natural for them to be put in the same room.

Juliet was slightly older than her, twenty-five to her nineteen, with bubbly black curls and an impish face. She stood up now, stretching her aching limbs. ‘God, I'm tired!’ she groaned. ‘I had to go through that scene in the hayloft with Paul Forbes so many times today that I feel positively unclean!’

Stacy grimaced, beginning to unpeel the figure-hugging dress from her own tired limbs. ‘I'm not surprised, having to let him paw you all over like that.’

Juliet grinned. ‘Oh, I didn't mind that. It was all that hay, I have an allergy to it.’

‘And I have an allergy to Paul Forbes.’ Stacy stepped out of the dress completely, clothed now in only a pair of minute briefs. ‘Thank God I don't have to let him touch me!’ she shuddered at the thought, going through to the adjoining bathroom to run the water for her shower.

Juliet followed her. ‘But you have the rape scene,’ she shouted above the roar of the water. ‘And you can bet your life on it that Paul Forbes will want that to be very explicit!’

‘Then he can damn well want,’ Stacy said sharply. ‘Even if I were staying I wouldn't allow him to do more than give a token show of rape.’

‘Yes, but you know him, he—If you were staying?’

‘I shall be leaving tomorrow, Juliet,’ Stacy said with a sigh, explaining her reasons. ‘I'm afraid he's picked on the wrong girl for his next affair,’ she added. ‘He just sickens me.’

Juliet nodded. ‘At forty-three I think he's rather disgusting to want someone of nineteen.’ She patted her own glowing curls. ‘I'm much more his age,’ she teased.

‘Juliet!’ Stacy couldn't help laughing. ‘You don't really like him?’

‘Well … Let's just say that it wasn't all acting today. I could have quite enjoyed it if it hadn't been for that hay.’

Stacy stepped under the water, soaping her body. ‘Shame!’ she taunted lightly. ‘Rather you than me.’ She rinsed herself before turning off the shower and stepping out into the towel Juliet held out to her. ‘Now, I've just been accosted by what I would call a real man—and I do mean real.

‘Well, don't keep him all to yourself. Who was he? Where is he?’

Stacy laughed softly. ‘By this time he should be upstairs with his employer, Jake Weston.’

‘So, what's he like?’

‘Tall, dark, handsome, very muscular, arrogant, experienced—very experienced, I would say.’

‘He sounds dreamy.’

‘Oh, he is.’ In fact Stacy was surprised at the impression the man had made on her. She could still remember the cynical twist to that firm mouth and the taunting mockery of his deep blue eyes. ‘A little overpowering, but definitely dreamy.’

‘What's his name?’ Juliet sat back on the bed, her chin resting on her denim-clad knees.

That brought Stacy up with a start. ‘Do you know, I have no idea. He didn't say and I didn't think to ask,’ although after the way she had refused to tell him her name she doubted he would be any more forthcoming.

‘Bowled over by his charm?’

She smiled, taking her gown for the evening off the rack in the wardrobe. ‘Not exactly. I didn't say he was charming.’

‘Oh, I see. So he doesn't have charm to go with all these other attributes?’

‘I think he could have, I just didn't see any evidence of it. Are you going to the party tonight? I could show him to you then, he's bound to be there.’

‘Oh, I'm going. With him and Paul Forbes in attendance I wouldn't miss it for anything.’

Stacy laughed. ‘No one seems at all interested in meeting the famous author.’

‘Oh, I want to meet him too. He's such a mystery man that I just have to know what he looks like. He's never photographed, you know, not even for the back of his books, he guards his privacy with fanatic intensity.’

Stacy nodded. ‘I think the man I met just now may have been a sort of bodyguard. He certainly had the physique for it. But from what I can gather Mr Weston isn't worth photographing. I suggested to this other chap that he was short, fat and bald, and he didn't deny it.’

‘Not very loyal of him.’

‘How can he deny it if it's the truth?’

‘Mm,’ Juliet reluctantly agreed. ‘And here was I hoping he guarded his privacy because he's so good-looking.’

‘Hard luck,’ Stacy said unsympathetically. ‘You'd better get ready, we'll have to go down to dinner soon.’

She dressed while Juliet went into the bathroom, her white dress square-necked, with narrow shoulder straps, a thick band of embroidered flowers at the waist before it flared out in four layers of pleated chiffon to just below her knee. It was a beautiful dress and made her hair appear redder than usual. It had been an expensive gown too, and in the light of today's events she wished she had saved the money to help her through what could be weeks of being out of work.

She applied a light make-up, the natural brightness of her green eyes and her thick sooty lashes needing no adornment. She felt very satisfied with the result by the time she at last surveyed herself in the full-length mirror. As a final gesture she pinned the white gauzy rose she had bought to go with the dress over her left ear in the waving thickness of her hair. It gave her a gypsy look and she felt pleased with her appearance.

Juliet seconded her opinion when she came through from the bathroom a few minutes later, her own dress a royal blue silk that clung to her curves and gave a black sheen to her hair.

They made a lovely contrast when they entered the dining-room together and several male heads turned to look in their direction. They joined Matthew and his room-mate Daniel at their table, Stacy having a hurried look around the large room once they had ordered their meal, just to see if her arrogant stranger was present.

He wasn't, although she supposed that if his employer had an aversion to meeting people he would probably be eating with him upstairs in his suite. She couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed, although he should be at the party being held privately in one of the lounges. She found herself looking forward to seeing him again, even though he had been so disagreeable.

Matthew clicked his finger and thumb in front of her eyes. ‘Hey, come back to us, dreamboat,’ he teased. ‘Surely our company isn't that boring?’

She turned to give him a dazzling smile. ‘You aren't boring at all. I was just deep in thought.’

‘I'm not needed tomorrow, would you like me to give you a lift up to London?’

‘I wouldn't want to put you to all that trouble,’ she refused. ‘I can easily get a train.’

‘Certainly not. I'll take you.’

‘Well, if you're sure …’

‘I'm sure,’ he said firmly.

She smiled again, her green eyes glowing. ‘In that case, I accept. I didn't particularly relish the idea of carrying a couple of suitcases to and from the station.’

‘You never know,’ put in Daniel. ‘You may even get an invitation to stay the night.’

Matthew grinned. ‘You don't know Stacy very well if you think that. All that fiery hair and the invitation in her eyes could mean she has a passionate nature—but I've never been allowed to find out. Stacy is waiting for someone to marry her before she makes that kind of commitment.’

Daniel leant forward to hold her hand. ‘Will you marry me?’ he asked, his eyes full of merriment.

She laughed at his teasing. ‘I would actually want the wedding ring on my finger before I allowed you to do more than hold my hand,’ she warned.

He moved away in mock horror. ‘In that case … Will you marry me, Juliet?’

‘The same conditions apply, I'm afraid.’

Daniel sat back with a sigh. ‘I wish someone would tell me where all these girls who belong to the permissive society are, because I've certainly never met any of them!’

They all laughed together at his woebegone expression, quietening down as their meal began to arrive. They were a boisterous lot working on this film and Stacy felt sure the staff of this hotel were accustomed to a much soberer clientele, although they seemed to be coping with them quite well.

It was almost nine o'clock by the time they left the dining-room, the meal superb as usual. Paul Forbes had passed their table on his way out, giving Stacy a cold look that left her in no doubt as to his feelings towards her now. She had shrugged this off resignedly; after tomorrow she wouldn't have to worry about him any more.

She felt a certain amount of regret about leaving, not about her decision concerning Paul Forbes advances, but because she had enjoyed working with the majority of the people here.

There were quite a lot of people already in the lounge when they got there, each of them grabbing a glass of champagne as a waiter hurried past them. There was soft background music drifting out from the strategically placed speakers, although the babel of conversation drowned a lot of this out.

Matthew stayed at her side, grinning down at her. ‘I can't see our famous author yet.’

Neither could she, but she could see her handsome stranger standing over the other side of the room with Martin Payne. He looked devastatingly attractive in a wine-coloured velvet jacket that fitted tautly across his wide powerful shoulders, a snowy white shirt with a ruffle front and black trousers that moulded to his firm muscular thighs. He stood head and shoulders above any other man in the room and was easily the most handsome man there.

He moved slightly and for the first time Stacy saw the man standing at his side. She knew straight away that this must be Jake Weston; he fitted her description perfectly, even to the bald head.

She turned with a triumphant smile. ‘I wish I'd made a bet over Mr Weston,’ she said to Matthew.

‘Mm?’ he followed her line of vision. ‘It looks as if you would have won.’

The handsome stranger turned to look at them as if aware of their scrutiny, nodding distantly as he recognised Stacy. She nodded back before he turned away again, feeling strangely breathless at the brooding expression in his eyes.

Matthew looked at her with raised eyebrows. ‘Who was that?’

She took a sip of her drink, giving him a composed look. ‘I have no idea.’

He gave a splutter of laughter. ‘No idea, when he looks at you like that?’ He shook his head. ‘The man was mentally undressing you.’

She coloured delicately. ‘Can I help that?’

‘No, I suppose not, not the way you look tonight. Did I tell you how beautiful you look?’

‘No.’

‘Well, you do. Payne's a fool to drop you from this film, you're going to be a really big name one day.’ He looked up as a shadow fell across them in the dimmed room.

Stacy looked up too, straight into those compelling blue eyes set in the deeply tanned face. ‘Hello,’ she said huskily, unable to think of anything more intelligent to say.

He nodded. ‘Good evening,’ he drawled. ‘I have something I would like to talk to you about, Miss Adams.’

Matthew took the hint. ‘I'll just go and get another drink from the bar,’ he said quietly. ‘Can I get you anything, Stacy?’

‘Er—no, no, thank you.’ She felt mesmerised by this tall arrogant stranger, unable to look away from his compelling features.

‘Okay, I'll see you later, then.’ Matthew nodded to the other man before leaving.

‘You found out my name.’ She said the first thing that came into her head.

He nodded, a mocking smile lifting the corners of his mouth. ‘Stacy Adams,’ he drawled slowly. ‘Very professional.’

She flushed at his intended mockery. ‘There's nothing professional about it, it happens to be my name,’ she snapped. ‘At least, the name I was given at the orphanage,’ she added resentfully.

He looked unperturbed. ‘How long were you in an orphanage?’

‘All my life, until I was sixteen.’

‘Poor kid,’ he said softly.

Her eyes flashed angrily. ‘I had quite a happy childhood as childhoods go. I certainly don't need your sympathy.’

‘You aren't getting it,’ he retorted hardly. ‘I came over here to tell you you've been reinstated. You still have the part of Kate.’

.

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