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Claimed For The Leonelli Legacy

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«Claimed For The Leonelli Legacy» - Линн Грэхем

An innocent…Tia Grayson has never known life outside the Brazilian convent she calls home. Until Max Leonelli arrives with the shocking news that she is heiress to an English fortune – and ignites a burning need for his touch…A billionaire…Tia’s grandfather expects a match between his protégée and his heir – but Max is not a marrying man. Until the sight of Tia’s ravishing beauty has him reconsidering…A baby?Max must escort Tia home, but desire soon overtakes them. After one incendiary night, the potential for consequences gives Max the perfect opportunity to claim Tia as his bride!Conveniently wedded, passionately bedded!
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An innocent...

Tia Grayson has never known life outside the Brazilian convent she calls home. Until Max Leonelli arrives with the shocking news that she is heiress to an English fortune—and ignites a burning need for his touch...

A billionaire...

Tia’s grandfather expects a match between his protégée and his heir—but Max is not a marrying man. Until the sight of Tia’s ravishing beauty has him reconsidering...

A baby?

Max must escort Tia home, but desire soon overtakes them. After one incendiary night, the potential for consequences gives Max the perfect opportunity to claim Tia as his bride!

Max stiffened, squaring his wide shoulders, flattening his handsome mouth. If he did marry Tia, as Andrew had urged him to do, no actual wedding would take place for months. Max refused to rush into anything. Max liked structure, order, strategic planning. He didn’t do impulse or invite disruption in any field, and would never have scaled the heights he had without serious self-discipline.

The limo drew up outside the brightly lit hotel. Max sprang out first, and then disconcerted her by peeling off his suit jacket and draping it round her shoulders as she emerged from the car.

‘Is that really necessary?’ Tia enquired, reeling a little and struggling to find her balance in the ridiculous heels as fresh air engulfed her.

‘Sì... If you can turn me on this hard and fast, when I’m striving to stay cool, I imagine other men will stare too, and I am assuming you would prefer not to be stared at and lusted after,’ Max murmured in a raw undertone, astonishing her with the abrupt and unexpected admission. ‘On the other hand, if you enjoy being the centre of male attention, give me my jacket back... It’s entirely your decision.’

She turned him on. Tia was exhilarated by that grated confession and clutched self-protectively at his jacket, revelling in the intimacy of the silk lining, still warm from his skin, and the faint evocative fragrance of his cologne that still clung to the fabric. She breathed that fragrance in like an addict. The attraction was mutual.

Conveniently wedded, passionately bedded!

Whether there’s a debt to be paid, a will to be obeyed or a business to be saved...she’s got no choice but to say “I do!”

But these billionaire bridegrooms have got another think coming if they think marriage will be that easy...

Soon their convenient brides become the objects of an inconvenient desire!

Find out what happens after the vows in:

Baby of His Revenge

by Jennie Lucas

A Diamond for Del Rio’s Housekeeper

by Susan Stephens

Bound by His Desert Diamond

by Andie Brock

Bride by Royal Decree

by Caitlin Crews

Claimed for the De Carrillo Twins

by Abby Green

The Desert King’s Captive Bride

by Annie West

The Sheikh’s Bought Wife

by Sharon Kendrick

Wedding Night with Her Enemy

by Melanie Milburne

Look out for more Wedlocked! stories coming soon!

Claimed for the Leonelli Legacy

Lynne Graham

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen romance reader since her teens. She is very happily married to an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, who knocks everything over, a very small terrier, who barks a lot, and two cats.

When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Books by Lynne Graham

Mills & Boon Modern Romance

Bought for the Greek’s Revenge

The Sicilian’s Stolen Son

Leonetti’s Housekeeper Bride

The Secret His Mistress Carried

Brides for the Taking

The Desert King’s Blackmailed Bride

The Italian’s One-Night Baby

Sold for the Greek’s Heir

Christmas with a Tycoon

The Italian’s Christmas Child

The Greek’s Christmas Bride

The Notorious Greeks

The Greek Demands His Heir

The Greek Commands His Mistress

Bound by Gold

The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain

The Sheikh’s Secret Babies

Visit the Author Profile page at for more titles.

In memory of all the great Mills & Boon authors who went before me and inspired my stories.



Back Cover Text



Title Page

About the Author















‘IT’S A VERY big favour and I have no right to ask it of you,’ Andrew Grayson admitted ruefully, angling his wheelchair closer to the fire, his pale worn face taut.

Max Leonelli, a multimillionaire financier at the age of twenty-eight, who had known Andrew since he first entered his household at the age of twelve, frowned. ‘Anything,’ he declared, without hesitation in making that pledge.

Andrew surveyed the younger man with quiet pride. It was way too late to admit that he should have married Max’s aunt and adopted him. His housekeeper’s nephew had come into his life as a homeless adolescent, traumatised, frightened and distrustful. No sign of those traits was to be seen in the powerful and sophisticated businessman Max had become.

Women, furthermore, were mad for Max. The beautiful boy with wounded eyes had grown into a striking man with olive-toned skin sheathing spectacular bone structure and a hard, challenging gaze. Max was tough and his humble beginnings and horrible childhood had merely made him tougher but he was also fiercely loyal. And since Andrew’s failing health had removed him from the daily stresses of his international business empire, Max had been at the helm of it in firm control. While it had been Max’s baptism of fire he had proved to be more than equal to the challenge.

‘This goes beyond anything and you won’t like it,’ Andrew warned him.

Max was confused because Andrew usually came straight to the point. ‘OK...’

Andrew breathed in, his breath rasping in his struggling lungs. ‘I want you to marry my granddaughter.’

Black-lashed dark eyes flaring bright as topaz in the firelight, Max stared back at the older man in sheer bewildered disbelief. ‘Your granddaughter lives in a convent in Brazil.’

‘Yes and I want you to marry her. It’s the only way I can protect her when I’m gone,’ Andrew declared with conviction.

‘I should have fought her father when he refused to let her visit me but up until last year I still hoped that Paul would come home and step into my shoes and I didn’t want to alienate him. After all, she was his daughter, not mine. It was his right to decide how he wanted her raised.’

Max released his pent-up breath slowly. Marry a girl he had never met? A convent-bred female oddity who had not returned to the UK since she was born? It was an utterly extraordinary request but it was also the only serious sacrifice Andrew had ever asked of him and would inevitably be a last request because Andrew was dying. At that thought, Max’s eyes burned as though he had got too close to the fire, his sleek, strong, bone structure tightening into disciplined rigidity because Andrew’s quiet dignity demanded that restraint.

‘Tia is all I have left, my only surviving blood relative,’ Andrew reminded him heavily, his shadowed eyes veiling at the acknowledgement as he turned his greying head away, momentarily sidetracked by the grief of having lost both his sons.

Three years had passed since his elder son, Steven, had died childless, but it was only two months since Andrew had received word that his younger son, Paul, had succumbed to a sudden heart attack in Africa where he had been buried without fanfare and without ever properly mending fences with his estranged father. Tia was Paul’s daughter, the result of his short-lived marriage to a Brazilian fashion model.

‘She should have been made a part of our lives long ago,’ Andrew sighed.

‘Yes,’ Max agreed, reflecting on what little he had learned about Tia’s father, Paul. A generation younger than both of Andrew’s sons, Max had only ever known Steven. Steven had worked for his father for years, a conscientious plodder who lacked initiative. Paul, so Max had been told, had been far brighter and more promising, but he had walked out of his job in his mid-thirties and gone off to become a missionary, severing his ties with his father and the business world and ultimately losing his wife in the process. On Paul’s first posting to Brazil, his wife had gone off with another man, leaving her husband and her infant daughter behind her. Paul had dealt neatly with that unwelcome responsibility by placing the little girl in the care of the local nuns and continuing his travels to work with and preach to the poor in the world’s most troubled places.

‘Why would you want me to marry her?’ Max asked gently.

Andrew groaned. ‘Think about it, Max. She knows nothing about our world and she’ll be a substantial heiress. It would be like throwing a newborn baby into a shark tank. She will desperately need someone to look after her and guide her until she finds her own feet.’

‘She’s not a child, Andrew,’ Max pointed out wryly. ‘She’s...what? Twenty-one?’

‘Almost twenty-two,’ the older man conceded grudgingly. ‘But she still needs a safe harbour until she can learn her way in this cut-throat world.’

‘She may have grown up in the Amazon Basin but she may also be a great deal more current than you think,’ Max argued.

‘I doubt it and, while thousands of my employees depend on the stability of my companies, I’m not prepared to take that risk. I have a duty of care towards them as well. Tia will be a sitting duck for fortune hunters. I’ve been in contact with the Mother Superior at the convent. My biggest concern was that Tia ultimately intended to become a nun but apparently she has never expressed that wish.’

‘So why is she still living in a convent in her twenties?’ Max enquired with a faint edge of derision.

‘I understand that she works there now. Don’t judge her, Max. She’s never known anything else. Paul was a very rigid man and frankly more than a little sexist in his outlook. He wanted a son. On his terms a daughter was simply a worry and a disappointment. He seemed obsessed with the idea of keeping her pure and safe from modern influences. I believe he hoped that with his encouragement she would eventually enter the novitiate.’

‘But she hasn’t.’ Raking a long-fingered hand through his black tousled hair, Max strode restively across the room to help himself to a malt whiskey while wishing that he could not see Andrew’s point of view.

As the Grayson heiress, Tia would be a target and Max knew what that felt like because he had been a target since he made his first million. He knew more than most about being wanted primarily for his wealth and the richer he became, the more he was stalked, pursued and flattered by women who would have been equally keen to catch him were he ugly and old.

‘And I’m very fortunate that she hasn’t because everything I worked all my life to achieve would be sold up and given to the convent if she were one of the sisters there,’ Andrew pointed out ruefully. ‘I owe my employees more than that. I would also like to meet her...’

‘Of course you do.’ Max compressed his wide sensual mouth. ‘But I don’t need to marry her to fulfil that wish.’

‘It’s unlike you to be so slow on the uptake,’ Andrew murmured wryly as he frowned at the younger man with shadowed blue eyes. ‘Obviously I want to leave everything to you and Tia together.’

‘Together?’ Max repeated in a stunned undertone.

‘As a couple. If you marry Tia you become family and my empire will become absolutely yours. I know that, no matter what happens between you, when I am gone you will continue to look after her interests as well as your own. I trust you to do that,’ Andrew completed with satisfaction. ‘That’s what’s on the table, Max. This arrangement would greatly benefit you as well.’

Max stared back at him in shock for it had never once occurred to him that he would inherit anything from Andrew. ‘You can’t be serious...’

‘I’m very serious,’ Andrew assured him. ‘I have already had my will redrafted to allow for that development.’

‘You’re prepared to try and bribe me into marrying her?’ Max breathed in consternation.

‘It’s not a bribe. I prefer to call it a realistic incentive. After all, giving up your freedom would be a big sacrifice for you. I know that. I also appreciate that you have no current plans to marry and settle down,’ Andrew stated grimly. ‘And goodness knows what Tia will be like after the strange cloistered upbringing she’s had. She certainly won’t be like the sort of women you usually take out and about.’

Max stared down into his glass, reluctant to comment because he didn’t usually take his women out and about, he simply took them to bed. He didn’t do girlfriends and dates. He kept his affairs much looser than that, never offering flowers or explanations or exclusivity. That way there were no misunderstandings, no expectations and no dangerous routines or suggestion of permanency established. There was nothing complex about his attitude. He liked sex and he didn’t need or want to commit to any woman to enjoy it.

‘On the other hand, I can say upfront right now that I understand that this may be simply a starter marriage for you both. Isn’t that what they call it these days? A starter marriage? You and Tia may not get on and one of you may eventually want your freedom. I’m not unreasonable. I have faith that you would do right by Tia even if you separate. That said, what do you have to lose?’

‘You’ve given me a lot to think about. I can see you’ve considered this from every angle,’ Max conceded, the smooth planes of his lean, strong face tight and unrevealing.

‘And you haven’t outright refused,’ Andrew pointed out with satisfaction.

‘You’re assuming that Tia would be willing to marry me. That’s a pretty big assumption.’

‘Max, you’ve been romancing women since you were fourteen years old.’

Max winced. ‘I don’t do the romantic stuff and I’m not prepared to lie to her. I’ll consider the idea. I can’t promise more than that.’

‘Time’s ticking on,’ Andrew reminded him heavily. ‘I’ve told the Mother Superior that I’m ill and that you’ll be flying out there to collect Tia and bring her back here. She was very protective of Tia, demanded a lot of details from me and a character reference for you.’

‘Right,’ Max sighed, a steel band of tension tightening round his head, that and the occasional nightmare the only hangover from his dysfunctional childhood. He got nasty migraines and he could feel the approach of an oncoming attack.

‘Tia could be the love of your life,’ Andrew remarked in an upbeat tone. ‘Stop being such a pessimist.’

Having notified Andrew’s live-in nurse that he was leaving his patient alone, Max mounted the stairs of the big house. Love, he thought with rampant incredulity. Only Andrew, the veteran of a long and happy marriage and a wife who had died long before Max’s arrival, could talk so knowledgeably and confidently about love.

Max had never experienced love. His parents hadn’t loved him and his Aunt Carina, Andrew’s former housekeeper, who had given Max a home when he’d needed one, hadn’t loved him either. Neither a sentimental nor child-hungry woman, Carina had done her duty by her dead sister’s son, nothing more, nothing less. And bearing in mind his sordid childhood, Max didn’t blame his aunt for her coldness. If he too struggled with memories of his dark past to the extent that he had never yet discussed it with anyone and hated even to think about it, how much harder must it have been for his mother’s sister to feel any genuine warmth towards him? After all, nothing could ever change the reality that he would always be his father’s son.

Even more pertinently, Max had good reason to distrust love and the damage it could do. He had become wildly infatuated with a girl in his teens and it had been a disaster. His supposed best friend at the time and the girl Max had loved had schemed against him, hoping to destroy him and cover their own sins. He had seen first-hand the harm that trusting and loving the wrong person could unleash.

So, no, Max didn’t seek love in his life. Even so, he had dimly assumed that it would sneak up on him again some day and catch him when he wasn’t protecting himself from its treacherous influence. But that hadn’t happened either. He was entirely heart whole and rather ashamed that the women in his life were all but interchangeable, not one more memorable than the last. He went for identikit brunettes with a sexual confidence to equal his own. He didn’t daydream about them, didn’t miss them when they were absent, indeed he reckoned that they were purely a selfish means to an end. He gave them jewellery and they gave him sex and if he stopped to think about that exchange it left a nasty aftertaste in his mouth.

A wife, however, was something else entirely and the very concept of a wife brought Max out in a cold sweat. A wife would be around all the time, particularly a clingy, dependent one, who needed support.

Of course, he could say no...couldn’t he?

Unfortunately, Max was ruled by two very strong drives. One was loyalty, the other an equally fierce streak of ambition. Andrew had presented him with the perfect package deal calculated to tempt. Andrew had been his mentor and the closest thing Max had ever had to a father. Everything that he had achieved he owed to Andrew, who had paid for the expensive education that had propelled Max and his razor-sharp wits straight into the heady realms of meteoric business success. Yes, Andrew had had motives of his own for that generosity, he conceded wryly, but that did not change the fact that Max had profited greatly from his support and advice. How could he possibly refuse to offer that same support to Andrew’s last living relative?

In addition, Andrew had mentioned that all-encompassing word, family. Max would become family if he married Tia. The word, the very connotations of the word harboured a mysterious allure for Max that increased his discomfiture. All his life in one way or another Max had been an outsider. He had wanted to belong and he never really had—not within any group—because he was very much a self-made man. His dirt-poor repugnant background, which Max himself could never forget, kept him isolated in many ways. At his exclusive school the other pupils had been from privileged backgrounds and he had naturally kept his childhood miseries a secret for fear of being pitied. His birth family had not been a family in the normal sense of the word and Andrew’s careless reference to Max becoming one of his small family had made much more of an impression on Max than the older man could ever have guessed.

* * *

The rain was torrential and like no rain Max had ever seen in his life. The downpour that had already reduced the road to a dangerous mud bath still bounced in shimmering noisy sheets off the windscreen and bonnet of the heavy-duty four-by-four he had hired to convey him from Belém to the Convent of Santa Josepha.

Through the flickering vehicle lights ahead he saw, not the established mining settlement he had dimly expected to see, but something more akin to a shanty town. On both sides of the road tumbledown buildings, shabby cabins and even tents stretched off in every direction. The view put him strongly in mind of a refugee camp. Meanwhile his driver continued to chatter in voluble streams, possibly explaining why so many people were braving such primitive conditions to live in the back of beyond, but Max understood only one word in ten because although he was fluent in several languages, sadly Portuguese was not one of them.

An ornamental bell tower loomed ahead and he sat forward, noting the dark outline of the extensive buildings rising behind a tall manicured hedge.

‘Estamos aquí... We are here!’ his driver proclaimed with an expansive wave of his hand as he stopped at a gated archway, shouting out of the window until an elderly man appeared and moved very slowly, his narrow shoulders bowed against the wind and rain to open the heavy wooden gates.

Max suppressed a sigh but, while he was weary after the unexpectedly onerous journey and his delayed arrival, he was far from bored. In fact Max’s adrenalin was running at an all-time high and he sincerely hoped that a hot shower and a meal awaited him in the accommodation the Mother Superior had offered him for the night. Above all though he was incredibly impatient to meet Constancia Grayson and discover if Andrew’s last wish was in any way viable.

Unaware of Max’s arrival, Tia was swathed in a plastic rain poncho to deliver food on a battered tin lid to the mournful little dog sitting patiently waiting for her below the shrubs outside the doors of the chapel.

‘Teddy,’ Tia whispered guiltily, hurriedly looking around herself to check that she was unobserved before bending down to pet the little animal as he eagerly gobbled up the food she had brought.

Pets of any kind were forbidden at the convent. When human beings were going hungry, using precious resources to feed an animal that did not itself provide food was unacceptable. Tia told herself that she was using her own food and not taking from anyone else but Teddy’s existence and her encouragement of his attachment to her weighed heavily on her conscience. For Teddy’s sake she had done things that shamed her. She had bribed Bento, the old man who kept the gate, not to close the hole in the fence that Teddy used to enter the convent grounds. She had lied when Teddy had been seen in the playground and she had been questioned, and she was lying every time she smuggled food off her own plate to take outside and feed to him.

But Tia loved Teddy to distraction. Teddy was the only living thing who had ever felt like hers and just a glimpse of his little pointy tri-coloured face lifted her spirits and made her smile. Only what was going to happen to Teddy now that she was supposed to be travelling to England? But would that actually happen? After more than twenty years at the Convent of Santa Josepha, Tia couldn’t imagine ever getting the opportunity to live another life in a different place. That seemed like a silly fantasy.

Why, after all, would her English grandfather suddenly decide he wanted her when he had ignored her existence for so many years? And now, worryingly, Andrew Grayson’s representative had failed to turn up to meet her. Mother Sancha had said the man’s non-arrival was probably due to the bad weather but Tia remained unconvinced. Tia, after all, was very much accustomed to broken promises and dreams that didn’t come true. How many times, after all, had her father visited and suggested that she might eventually be able to leave the convent to work with him? Only it had never happened. And over two years ago he had paid his last visit and had declared that it was time she became independent because he could no longer afford to contribute to her care. Once again he had suggested that she become a nun and when she had asked why she couldn’t live with him and support him in his ministry he had bluntly told her that a young attractive girl would only be a hindrance to his work, and her safety a source of worry.

After her father’s death the solicitor had explained that there was no money for her to inherit. Paul Grayson had gifted her his bible and left his savings to the missionary team he worked with.

Tia hadn’t been the smallest bit surprised to be left out of her father’s will. It had always been obvious to her that her father had no great fondness for her or even interest in her. Indeed, nobody knew better than Tia how it felt to be rejected and abandoned. Her mother had done it first and then her father had done it when he left her at the convent. He had then cut off her options by refusing to help her to pursue the further education that could have enabled her to become properly independent of both him and the convent. So, how could she possibly abandon Teddy?

Teddy depended on her. Her heart clenched at the image of Teddy trustingly continuing to visit long after she had gone only to find that there was no more food for him. How could she have been so selfish as to encourage his devotion? What had she been thinking of? What were the chances that he would miraculously find someone to give him a home? In two long years nobody had cared enough to do that while Tia had slowly transformed Teddy from a living skeleton to a bouncy little dog. Teddy had been abandoned too, probably by one of the miners chasing the gold rush, who had left again in disappointment when he failed to make a notable find and his money ran out. The prospectors regularly left women, children and animals behind them.

Hurrying back to her room in the convent guest quarters, Tia peeled off her poncho and hung it up. Her hair was damp and she undid her braids, brushing out her thick honey-blonde hair to let it dry loose. There was nothing for her to do now but go to bed and listen to the little radio one of the girls at the convent school had given her. Occasionally she came across magazines and books in the bins when she cleaned the school building and that helped her to stay in touch with the outside world. Although she earned a wage for her work, there was nothing much to buy within reach and she had been slowly accumulating savings at one stage, only that hadn’t lasted in the face of women struggling to feed hungry children. She was a soft touch and unashamed of the fact, confident that she knew which women were the decent mothers, whom she could rely on to use her money to buy food rather than alcohol or drugs.

A knock sounded on her door and she opened it to find one of the sisters, there to tell her that Reverend Mother Sancha was waiting for her in her office.

‘Your visitor has arrived,’ Sister Mariana told her with a smile.

Tia hurriedly straightened her hair but there wasn’t time to braid it again. Smoothing down her rumpled clothing, she breathed in deep and headed downstairs into the main convent building. Her grandfather’s representative had arrived, she registered in genuine surprise. Did that mean that she was truly going to travel to England and the grandfather who hadn’t seen her since she was a newborn baby?

‘Tia is a very kind, affectionate and generous girl and she may impress you as being quiet,’ the Mother Superior informed Max levelly. ‘However, she can be stubborn, volatile in her emotions and rebellious. You will need to watch over her carefully. She will break rules that she disagrees with. At the moment she is feeding a dog she has adopted, which is not allowed, and she has no idea that I am aware of her behaviour.’

Max studied the calm, clear-eyed nun and reckoned that very little escaped her notice. ‘She is not a child,’ he asserted in gentle reproach.

‘No, she is not,’ the Reverend Mother agreed. ‘But although she badly wants her independence I’m not sure that she could handle too much of it too soon.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ Max fielded, relieved to hear that Tia was imperfect and desired her independence. Somehow Andrew had given him a disturbing image of a pious young girl with high ideals, who would do no wrong, and he found the elderly nun’s opinion of her character reassuring rather than off-putting.

And then the door opened and Max’s mind went momentarily blank as a young woman of quite extraordinary beauty tumbled through the door spilling breathless apologies. A great mass of honey-blonde hair tumbled round a heart-shaped face, distinguished by high cheekbones, cornflower-blue eyes and a perfect pouty little mouth. Her skin was flawless. He breathed in deep and long, disconcerted and temporarily stuck for words, which was a quite unfamiliar experience for Max with a woman.

Tia stopped dead a few feet inside the door. In the lamplight, one glance at Max literally took her breath away. He had one of those almost Renaissance faces she had seen in illuminated manuscripts. Smooth bronze skin encased a sleek, stunning bone structure that framed a straight masculine nose, a wide sensual mouth and eyes as dark and rich as chocolate, fringed by dense black lashes. He. Was. Gorgeous. That reaction thrummed through Tia like a bolt of lightning and suddenly all she was conscious of was what she herself lacked. She had no make-up, no decent clothes. Her hands smoothed down over her skirt in a nervous, awkward gesture.

‘Tia. This is Maximiliano Leonelli, whom your grandfather has sent in his stead,’ Mother Sancha announced.

‘You can call me Max.’ Max relocated his tongue as he sprang upright and extended a lean brown hand in greeting.

‘Tia...’ Tia muttered almost inaudibly, barely touching his fingers and gazing up at him in surprise, for she was quite astonished by his height. He had to be well over six feet tall and she only passed five feet by two inches. The few men she met were usually smaller, much older and of stockier build and few of them were clean. Max in comparison was all lean, muscular power and energy, towering over her in a beautifully cut suit of fine dark grey cloth.

She had her grandfather’s eyes, Max recognised while trying to fathom what she was wearing and what sort of shape was concealed beneath the frumpy long, gathered skirt and the worn peasant blouse with its faded decorative stitching. She was small in stature and either very thin or very tiny in proportion, her breasts barely visible in the loose smocked top, her slender hips no more prominent below the skirt. She wore stained espadrilles on her feet and for an instant Max was incensed by her poverty-stricken appearance, but he didn’t know who to blame. Paul for being a lousy, neglectful father or Andrew for not trying harder to make his son put his daughter’s needs first.

‘You can show Mr Leonelli to his room and ensure he receives the meal I have ordered for him,’ Mother Sancha suggested. ‘You’ll be leaving us tomorrow, Tia.’

Tia whirled back, her blue eyes very wide. ‘Will I?’

‘Yes,’ Max confirmed.

The Compline bell for prayers peeled and Tia tensed.

‘You are excused for this evening,’ Mother Sancha told her. ‘Mr Leonelli is not a practising Catholic.’

‘But what about your soul?’ Tia shot at Max in patent dismay.

‘My soul gets by very well without attending mass,’ Max told her smoothly. ‘You’ll have to accustom yourself to living a secular life.’

Catching the Mother Superior’s warning shake of her head, Tia folded her lips, taken aback by the prospect of a grandfather who never attended mass either. Her father had said his father, her grandfather, lived in a godless world and it seemed on that score, at least, he had spoken the truth.

‘I expect prayers are an inescapable part of life in a convent,’ Max remarked as he accompanied her down the corridor.


‘Nobody will prevent you from attending services in England,’ Max assured her thoughtfully. ‘You will be free to make your own choices there.’

Tia nodded, a little breathless about the prospect of having such choices.

‘What exactly does your job here entail?’ Max asked as they mounted the stairs, noting that her golden hair tumbled as low as her waist, or to where he guessed her waist had to be since the tremendous amount of fabric she wore prevented any body definition from showing.

‘Lots of different things. Every day I go where I’m needed. I bake, I clean, I work in the orphanage with the young children. I give English lessons to the girls in the school. Sometimes I go out in the community to work with the sisters.’

‘The community looks like a refugee camp,’ Max commented.

‘There’s been another gold rush. Someone found a tiny bit of gold and because of that miners flooded in from everywhere. Nothing’s been found since, of course, so the fuss will die down and most of the prospectors will give up and move on somewhere more promising. Right now it’s like the Wild West out there,’ she told him with a rueful smile.

Max studied the perfect bow of her upper lip and the soft inviting fullness below, his body stirring, sexual imagery awakening that for the first time ever embarrassed him. He tensed defensively. And then argued with himself. To marry her he had to want her. He could not marry a woman he didn’t find attractive. Why was he trying to stifle a natural physical reaction? Andrew’s granddaughter was a classic, unspoilt, utterly natural beauty. Of course he was reacting.

Tia showed him into the room at the other end of the corridor from hers. ‘There’s only you, me and Sister Mariana up here, so it’ll be quiet enough.’

Max elevated a fine ebony brow. ‘Are nuns noisy?’

Tia cast down her eyes but not before he had seen the brightening leap of amusement in them. ‘That would be telling...’

Max was entranced and he forced himself to study the room instead, unsurprised to see that it was as bare as a cell with an iron bedstead set below a large wooden crucifix and the absolute minimum of furniture, while cracked linoleum snapped beneath the soles of his hand-stitched leather shoes.

‘The bathroom is opposite. Do you want to eat first?’ she prompted, staring up at him, wondering how often he had to shave because black stubble already covered his strong jaw line. Her curiosity about him was intense. In fact dragging her attention from him was proving to be an incredible challenge.

‘Yes...feed me,’ Max teased, black lashes semi-screening his dark golden eyes as he gazed down at her, marvelling at the glow of her skin even below the stark unflattering light shed by the bare bulb above them. ‘I’m hungry.’

‘I’ll take you down to the refectory.’

‘And tell me about the dog,’ Max suggested. ‘I understand there is a dog.’

‘Who told you about Teddy?’ Tia gasped in horror. ‘Oh, my goodness, Mother Sancha knows, doesn’t she?’

‘I would say that very little gets past that woman and of course she mentioned the dog. If you want to bring him back to England with you I will have to make arrangements to allow him to travel,’ Max pointed out levelly.

Her heart-shaped face lit up with instantaneous joy. ‘I can bring Teddy with me?’ she cried in wonder. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Of course you can bring him, but he will probably have to spend some time in quarantine kennels before you can take him home with you again,’ Max warned, mesmerised by the sheer brimming emotion that had flooded her formally still little face and glittered in her beautiful eyes. ‘I’ll have to check out the rules and regulations and organise it.’

‘I can’t believe I can just bring him like that,’ Tia confided in amazement. ‘Won’t it cost a lot of money?’

‘Your grandfather is a wealthy man and he wants you to be happy in England.’

‘Oh, thank you, thank you...thank you!’ Tia wrapped her arms round Max with enthusiasm and gave him a fierce hug of gratitude without even thinking about what she was doing.

For a split second, Max froze because he wasn’t accustomed to being hugged, in fact could not recall ever being hugged by anybody, and that acknowledgement in the face of her enthusiasm made him feel uncomfortable and think about the kind of stuff he had always thought it best to repress. He very slowly lifted his arms and placed his hands rather stiffly on her slight shoulders. ‘Don’t thank me, thank Andrew when you see him. I’m only acting for him.’

Buoyant with happiness, Tia took Max down to the refectory, chattering away in answer to his questions, her earlier unease forgotten. ‘Do you like dogs?’ she asked.

‘I’ve never had one but I believe your grandfather kept dogs when he was a younger man.’ And an astute little voice was warning Max not to hand all the bouquets to Andrew when he was supposed to be trying to impress Tia.

Unhappily Max had not a clue how to impress a woman because he had never had to try before and a pair of sparkly diamond earrings was highly unlikely to cut the mustard with Tia. But had he but known it, he had done the one thing calculated to open the gates to Tia’s heart and trust.

That Max was willing to arrange for a very ordinary little mongrel to travel to another country simply to please her overwhelmed Tia’s every expectation of him and filled her with appreciation and gratitude. He had to be a kind, sensitive man, she decided happily.

Max and Tia were not left alone at the table in the refectory for long. Visitors to the convent rather than the school or orphanage were rare and various nuns arrived to make his acquaintance. Max withstood the onslaught with admirable cool and the inherent courtesy engrained in him by his education. English was in short supply but Max contrived to speak in French, German and Spanish to facilitate the dialogue and Tia was even more impressed. Sister Mariana managed to extract the fact that Max was single and even the explanation that he had not yet married because he had still to meet ‘the right woman’.

Once the pleasantries were at an end and Max had regretfully declined an invitation to watch a DVD of the Pope’s most recent message in the common room, Tia was spellbound by him, convinced she would never meet a more self-assured and refined, sophisticated male in her lifetime. Not that she had much experience of such men, she was willing to admit. Max smiled at her, dark eyes mesmerising below the thick veil of his lashes, and butterflies danced in her stomach while her heart beat so fast that she felt weirdly dizzy.

Sister Mariana accompanied them back upstairs and showed Max the small seating area on the landing. ‘You must have so much to discuss,’ she said cheerfully before she headed for her own room.

‘Does she think I’m about to jump you or something if you come into my room?’ Max asked, shocking Tia.

Paling at the crack, she looked up at him wide-eyed. ‘No, she meant to be kind,’ she replied stiltedly. ‘She knows I would not go into your bedroom.’

As a deep rose flush flowered to chase Tia’s pallor, Max recognised his mistake but could not even explain to his own satisfaction why he was so on edge. ‘I apologise. I thought the rules were restricting us, which would be a little ridiculous when you are leaving this place tomorrow.’

‘It’s not “this place”,’ Tia murmured a shade drily. ‘It’s been my home.’

‘I do understand that but this...all this.’ Max shifted a brown hand expressively. ‘I’m a complete fish out of water here.’

Tia absorbed the fluid elegance of that physical gesture and marvelled that even his movements could be so graceful. Recognising his discomfiture, she forced a smile. ‘Yes. I can understand that. I can only hope I won’t feel the same way in my grandfather’s home.’

Max gazed down at her, recognising that the laughing, relaxed Tia had gone into retreat as soon as he’d spoken earlier. ‘Not while I’m around,’ he swore instinctively, feeling ridiculously protective for no reason that he could comprehend.

‘Do you live with my grandfather?’ Tia asked hopefully.

Having stumbled again, Max almost swore out loud. ‘No, but I’m a frequent visitor.’

‘I’m glad to hear that,’ Tia told him.

Her sincerity mocked all that Max was concealing from her. His strong jaw line clenched. Rain lashed against the window beside them as they stood there. A sexual tension so strong it almost unnerved him gripped Max, tightening his every muscle into immediate self-disciplined restraint. He connected with translucent cornflower-blue eyes. He lifted his hand and brushed a stray strand of gold hair back from her cheek to tuck it behind a small ear.

That intimate little motion, the brush of his fingers against her ear lobe, seemed to burn a fiery trail across her skin and the breath caught in Tia’s throat, the noise of the rain outside suddenly mirroring the tempest inside her. She could feel a tightness in her breasts and a sudden embarrassing surge of warmth between her legs. Still as a statue she stayed where she was, foolishly wanting him to do it again, wanting him to touch her. As an adult she wasn’t used to being touched except by the younger children. Oh, she had been shown plenty of affection by the nuns while she was still a child but as she’d matured the sisters had naturally become less demonstrative and affectionate and the kind of touching that could remind you that you were not alone in the world was what Tia had missed the most in recent years...only she hadn’t realised that until Max broke the ice and showed her that reality.

Max forced his hand to drop back to his side and breathed in slow and deep. He was incredibly aroused and incredibly frustrated but her sheer innocence overpowered and haltered his lust. ‘I must phone Andrew. He’ll be waiting to hear all about you,’ he explained, the Italian accent that had faded over his years in England fracturing every word.

Tia nodded. ‘I’ll catch Teddy before breakfast so that he can’t wander away and lose his big chance to travel,’ she joked and, turning on her heel without another word, she left, evidently quite unaware that he had wanted to grab her in the most inappropriate way and kiss her.

Still breathing like a man who had climbed a mountain only to discover another mountain awaiting him at the summit, Max went for a shower to cool off. It was the absolute worst and coldest shower he had ever had but Max, who now took luxury and comfort for granted, genuinely didn’t notice, so preoccupied was he with his own thoughts.


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