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Emerald Mistress

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«Emerald Mistress» - Линн Грэхем

Beholden to the enemyWhen Harriet Carmichael's world comes crashing down, she's determined to count her blessings. Forget London, her failing career and her unfaithful fiancé—an unexpected legacy of a cottage and stables in an Irish village beckons!But her fresh start is soon threatened by Rafael Cavaliere: her new neighbour and the very man who cost Harriet her job! With her heart so recently burned she's reluctant to become another notch on his bedpost, but when passion ensnares them both, deep secrets are revealed—ones that could change their lives forever.
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is one of Mills & Boon’s most popular and bestselling novelists. Her writing was an instant success with readers worldwide. Since her first book, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, she has gone from strength to strength and now has over ninety titles, which have sold more than thirty-five million copies, to her name.

In this special collection, we offer readers a chance to revisit favourite books or enjoy that rare treasure—a book by a favourite writer—they may have missed. In every case, seduction and passion with a gorgeous, irresistible man are guaranteed!

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with 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, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.







IN AN INSTANT of searing honesty that came between sleeping and waking exhausted in her Manchester hotel room, Harriet Carmichael recognised that her life was not at all what she had once dreamt it would be. But she still hadn’t the slightest suspicion that she was about to face a day when her every worst nightmare would come true.

In any case, on her seventh birthday her stepfather had taught her to count her blessings when her exquisite mother had failed once again to put in a promised appearance. Those constant disappointments had hurt so much that Harriet had soon learned the art of looking on the bright side. That was how she protected herself. Negative thoughts were banished with a rousing mental mantra of all the things that she felt she should be grateful for. Right now there was her fantastic fiancé, Luke, who had fallen for her in spite of her imperfections. Then there was her wonderful and glamorous extended family. She also had a great job, which earned her a terrific salary and which had finally persuaded Luke to put marriage on the agenda.

A starry smile tilted her generous mouth now. Awash with feel-good buoyancy, Harriet reached for the television remote and flicked on the business news.

‘Following a recent drop in share prices, Rafael Cavaliere’s arrival in London is fuelling rumours of a crash in the electronics sector.’

Harriet sat up in bed with a jerk to study the camera shot of the notorious Italian tycoon at Heathrow Airport. As usual his staff and his bodyguards surrounded his tall, commanding figure while a posse of frantic paparazzi bayed for attention. In the midst of this mêlée, however, Cavaliere strode along without haste in an apparent oasis of personal peace. The iceman cometh, Harriet thought grimly. Although he was only in his mid thirties he emanated the brutal assurance of a powerful male at home with the raw politics of the business world. His enormous wealth and brilliant financial acumen were laced with formidable ruthlessness. Behind the shades he always wore his lean, dark and compelling profile was as unreadable as a granite wall. A disturbing little shiver ran down her spine.

With an impatient hand Harriet thrust back the tumble of rich dark red hair falling across her pale brow, the soft contours of her rounded face taut with disapproval. Ten years earlier Rafael Cavaliere had acquired the pharmaceutical company where her stepfather had worked. Stripped of its every asset, the ailing firm had ceased to exist. Subsequently unemployment had devastated the rural town where she had grown up, and wrecked more than one previously happy family. She despised everything Rafael Cavaliere stood for: he did not create, he simply destroyed, and all in the very convenient names of progress, efficiency and profit.

In those days Harriet had been a country girl, never happier than when she was helping out at the local riding school, and her sole ambition had been to work with horses. Which was exactly why she had been so very unsettled only two months ago, when she’d become the fortunate recipient of a most unexpected inheritance: a relative she’d never met had left her a small livery business on the west coast of Ireland. Initially astonished and ecstatic at the news, Harriet had been downright irritated to be told that a handsome offer had already been made to purchase the property. In fact she had been mad keen to book the first available flight to Kerry. Unfortunately for her, however, absolutely nobody else in her life had shared her enthusiasm for exploring either her Irish legacy or her Irish heritage, she recalled heavily.

Her mother, Eva, had fled Ireland and her family for London as a pregnant teenager. Eva’s memories were bitter and unforgiving, and she had always refused to tell her daughter who her father was. Harriet would have dearly loved some encouragement to visit the village of Ballyflynn, where Eva had grown up, and would have welcomed the chance to see if she could discover for herself the identity of her birth father. But fate had decreed otherwise, for tomorrow contracts were to be exchanged for the sale of the livery stable.

Urged to be sensible rather than sentimental, Harriet had given way to pressure and had agreed to sell her inheritance sight unseen. After all, to do otherwise would have entailed turning her life upside down.

Her mobile phone rang. Though discomfited by her somewhat downbeat reflections, Harriet answered it with concentrated brightness.

‘Harriet…do you know if my Armani suit is still at the dry cleaners?’ Luke enquired tautly.

‘Let me think.’ Harriet thought back to the weekend, which had raced past in her usual feverish fight with the clock as she struggled to meet all her obligations. Luke had asked her to pick up his suit if she could manage it, and she had said she would. But had she actually done so? Since working overtime had begun encroaching heavily on her weekends, she had found it increasingly hard to factor in the time to take care of the ordinary things of life.

‘Harriet…’ Luke pressed. ‘I’m running late—’

‘I definitely picked your suit up—’

‘But it’s not in the wardrobe!’ Luke was as clipped and cutting in his impatience as only a lawyer could be. He had been equally blunt when it came to pointing out that the Emerald Isle was famously green because it rained a lot there, and therefore it was not at all his idea of the perfect setting for a holiday home.

‘So where is it?’

Harriet pictured him with his streaky blond hair swept back from his brow, his tanned, lively features lit by light green eyes. Love made her feel hollow with longing. With effort she retrieved a recollection of staggering into his apartment laden with shopping bags, the Armani suit draped over her arm. ‘Give me a minute. I’m thinking.’

‘Why are you always so disorganised?’ Luke condemned with sudden unexpected anger.

Taken aback by that unfair criticism, Harriet squeezed her eyes tight shut and with a meteoric effort remembered. ‘Your suit is hanging on the back of the kitchen door.’

‘It’s…where? Oh, never mind,’ Luke said ungratefully.

‘That is the last time I do a favour for you on a Saturday, just so that you can meet your friends at the gym,’ Harriet declared. ‘I’m not disorganised, just run off my feet!’

A sudden silence hummed on the line.

‘I’m sorry. I was out of order,’ Luke told her quietly. ‘Will I see you later?’

‘No. I’ll be lucky to make it home before midnight.’ Even when she got back to London she would still have to call into the agency, brief her boss, Saskia, and write up a detailed report. The monthly meeting with the executives at the Zenco headquarters in Manchester was the most important date in her diary.

‘That’s a shame, because I miss you,’ Luke asserted with easy charm. ‘However, I do have a lot on today too. So don’t worry if I switch off my phone. Just leave a message. Look, I have to rush…I’ll call you tomorrow, babes.’

Babes? Replacing the handset, Harriet was surprised by that particular term of endearment, for it had a frivolous edge that was not in his usual style. Her half-sister Alice used that expression too. But then Alice was an It-girl with a trust fund and an aptitude for always being at the cutting edge of the latest trends. Harriet smiled fondly. She was very proud of the younger woman and thought, not for the first time, that it was a great shame that two of her favourite people, her sister and her fiancé, could hardly stand to be in the same room together.

Her mobile shrilled once more, just as she was about to head out for her meeting.

‘Are you watching the news?’ Her boss hissed in a frantic tone of urgency.

‘No…why?’ As Saskia was a natural-born drama queen, Harriet turned on the television news again in no great hurry.

‘Zenco has gone down…’ Saskia framed harshly.

Harriet’s stomach flipped. She stared transfixed at the screen. Crowds of employees were milling around the pavement in front of the Zenco building. Some people were banging on the entrance doors, but nobody appeared to be getting inside. Expressions reflected anger, bewilderment and blank disbelief. The camera lingered lovingly on the face of a young woman sobbing.

‘You deal with Zenco’s people all the time.

Why didn’t you realise that there was trouble brewing?’ Saskia condemned, slashing like a knife through Harriet’s horror at the drama that was unfolding on screen. ‘If you’d warned us we could have pulled back!’

Unprepared for this attack, Harriet was bemused. ‘But, Saskia, how could I—?’

‘Right at this minute I’m not interested in listening to your excuses,’ her boss spat, with an almost hysterical edge to her voice. ‘Get over there and pull every bloody string you have to and find out what’s happening. Then come back here as soon as possible! Without the Zenco account you can’t afford to be running up expenses like some lottery winner.’

In the aftermath of that unreasonable accusation, Harriet pressed cooling hands to her hot cheeks. The brunette was well known for her acid tongue, but it was the first time that Harriet had personally felt its effects. Until this morning she had been a favoured employee, riding the crest of the wave on Zenco’s ever-increasing marketing budget, she acknowledged grimly. If Zenco was in trouble, so was she.

Two years had passed since Harriet had joined the staff at Dar Design. Back then the Zenco account had been small, but they had liked Dar’s creative department’s campaign and Harriet’s enthusiastic presentation skills—and the rest was history: the agency had expanded fast to meet the advertising needs of the giant multinational company. What if the gravy train had shrieked to a sudden halt?

Six hours later, Harriet crossed Dar Design’s elegant reception area. An eerie silence hung over the office. Hovering colleagues peered out of doorways and looked away again hurriedly. Nobody knew what to do or what to say. Before Harriet had even boarded her flight back to London Saskia had phoned her four more times. Everybody must have heard Saskia screaming at the top of her voice that Zenco owed the agency so much money Dar Design would go to the wall with them. Harriet’s attempts to talk to Luke had been foiled when, on calling his secretary, she had discovered that he would be at a legal conference until six; and his mobile phone was switched off, just as he’d said it would be.

An emaciated brunette in her forties, clad in a pink tweed suit, thrust wide the door of her office. ‘So?’ Saskia demanded caustically.

Harriet breathed in deeply, walked in and closed the door behind her. ‘It’s not good. The rumour is that there’s a black hole in Zenco’s accounts and investigations are pending against three of the directors.’

Saskia uttered a very rude word and studied Harriet with raging resentment. ‘Why the hell am I only hearing about this now?’

‘Corruption in high places isn’t a topic of conversation amongst the Zenco personnel I’ve dealt with,’ Harriet pointed out as quietly as she knew how. ‘They don’t have the connections and neither do I.’

* * *

Despite the long estrangement that had existed between Valente Cavaliere and his son, Rafael chose to attend his father’s funeral.

Rafael believed family hostilities were not for public parade or debate, and he saw no reason to offend tribal traditions. Certainly it was inconvenient for him to leave the UK at the moment that Zenco went into its death throes, but he was still well on track to make another few million pounds in profit from other people’s stupidity and greed.

A silence filled with awe and respect greeted his arrival at the chapel in Rome. He marked the older man’s passing without visible emotion or sentiment. His impassive demeanour was a fitting footnote which his late parent would have very much admired. In seventy odd years of fully indulging his own essentially vicious nature, Valente had never once managed to match his son’s cold, proud detachment.

In a thwarted rage at his inability to intimidate Rafael, Valente had fought continually with him. He had competed in corrupt and underhand ways for his son’s every prize and had on many occasions attempted to bring the younger man’s business empire down. In defeat, Valente had learnt to his own astonishment that he was very proud of his own flesh and blood. Rafael was fiercely intelligent, icily self-controlled and lethally unemotional. By the time of his death Valente had come to believe that he had bred a king among men by the Irish wife who had so grievously failed to meet his expectations

Rafael’s reflections at the graveside were not of a religious or peaceful nature. By then memories sharp and sour as bile were afflicting him.

‘Your mother is a slut and a junkie. Don’t believe a word the lying bitch says!’ Valente had warned Rafael when he was seven years old, and he had gone on to carefully explain exactly what those words meant. ‘When you visit her never forget that you’re a Cavaliere and she’s Irish trash.’

Valente, however, had truly surpassed himself when Rafael had fallen in love for the first and last time at the age of fifteen. He had paid a remarkably fresh-faced hooker to charm and seduce his impressionable son over the space of a week.

‘I had to make a man of you and she was impressed. Tasty, wasn’t she? I should know. I tried her out before I picked her for you,’ Valente had chuckled. ‘But you can’t love her. She’s a whore and you’ll never see her again. All women are sluts under the skin when it comes to men with money and power.’

That devastating news had been delivered with tasteless hilarity in front of an appreciative audience of his father’s closest associates.

‘There can be no sentiment in business,’ Valente had explained when the father of Rafael’s best friend had shot himself over a deal that went wrong the week after Valente reneged on it. ‘I look after me and, as long as you are loyal, I look after you. That’s it. Family and friends don’t count unless I get something out of it.’

Not long afterwards Rafael had received a lecture on the respective values of abortion, denial and intimidation in respect of unplanned pregnancies. That ironic recollection almost made Rafael smile for the first time in days. Valente had fathered a child in Ireland, during a brief encounter with the widow who had once acted as the caretaker at his wife’s ancestral home, Flynn Court. Now Rafael had a half-sister, a lively fifteen-year-old girl with a brash, mouthy manner and big scared Cavaliere eyes. He’d been paying for her education at select boarding schools for almost the last four years. It wasn’t a sentimental attachment, though. There was always purpose in Rafael’s actions. His generosity had embarrassed and enraged his father and done his own image no harm whatsoever in the eyes of the once suspicious locals in Ballyflynn.

He tossed a copy of a faded photo of his mother and the neglected Flynn Court into the grave with Valente. May she haunt you through purgatory and hell, he urged grimly…

* * *

At Saskia’s command, Harriet finished work earlier than she’d expected and went home. By then she was fully aware that, with Zenco about to go down, her career would divebomb with it. In the short term a period of unemployment would not create a serious problem for her as she was financially secure, she reasoned, striving to be upbeat. But Luke, who was always cautious, would undoubtedly decide that setting a date for their wedding was out of the question.

Harriet tried not to think about the prospect of another couple of years spent concealing her secret addiction to bridal magazines and smiling with valiant unconcern when people asked when the big day would be. She would have cut off her arm sooner than let Luke guess just how keen she was to buy into marriage and eventually motherhood, because she did not want him to feel under pressure. But they had been together five years and engaged for two; at twenty-eight she was ready for the next step.

Once home, she listened to a message on her answering machine.

Alice’s beautifully modulated speaking tones, honed to an aristocratic edge by her expensive education, filled the room. ‘I thought we could do lunch…but obviously you’re off doing your big business bit somewhere. Shame! Catch you another time. I’m off to Nice tonight.’

Harriet suppressed a disappointed sigh just as the doorbell sounded. Lunching with her glitzy kid sister and hearing all about her wonderfully exciting life was always entertaining.

It was Juliet, the pneumatic blonde glamour model who lived across the hall. ‘I’m moving out this evening.’

‘My goodness, that’s sudden—’

‘I’m off to Europe with my bloke and I have a favour to ask…’ Juliet, who never came to Harriet’s door for any other reason, displayed perfect teeth in an expectant smile. ‘You have such a soft heart, and you’re fantastic with animals. Would you give Samson a home?’

Harriet blinked in dismay. Samson was Juliet’s chihuahua, purchased as a girlie fashion accessory when the film Legally Blonde had been in vogue. Harriet realised she’d not seen the little dog since another resident had reminded Juliet of the no-pets clause in her rental agreement. ‘I didn’t know you still had him.’

‘He’s been living a life of luxury in a posh pet hotel and costing me a bloody fortune,’ Juliet lamented. ‘But I don’t have time to sell him.’

‘I’m sorry—I can’t help.’ Harriet hardened her heart against the thought of poor neglected Samson and felt very much like shaking his feckless owner until her pearly teeth rattled in her selfish head. ‘Couldn’t the kennels find another home for him?’

‘No, they’d rather hang on to him to make more dosh out of me!’ Juliet wailed accusingly. ‘You’ve got to help me with this. Danny’s picking me up in less than an hour!’

‘I’m afraid I don’t have anywhere to keep a dog either.’ Harriet steeled herself not to surrender to the blonde’s steamrolling personality; Luke was not a dog lover, and had vehemently objected when she had once taken care of Samson over a weekend.

An hour and a half later, having changed into a blue dress that was a particular favourite of Luke’s, Harriet was on the way over to his flat with the intention of surprising him—his conference would have ended by now. She clutched the ingredients of an oriental stir-fry; he loved her cooking. Would it be manipulative to feed him before she mentioned the giant black cloud hovering on her career horizon? Her scrupulous conscience twanged. She was also being haunted by an image of Samson, small enough to sit in pint jug, being bullied by other larger dogs in some gloomy canine holiday home. But the chihuahua was not her responsibility, she reminded herself hurriedly. Luke got really irritated when she plunged headfirst into helping other people solve their problems.

She let herself into his ultra modern apartment and went straight down the hall and into the kitchen. A burst of giggling from the open plan living-cum-bedroom area made her still in surprise. She moved to the door.

‘We called her Porky Pie when we were kids,’ a familiar female voice was saying. ‘Ma was so ashamed of Harriet that she once pretended that she was the housekeeper’s child. She was plump, and she talked with a horrible country bumpkin accent. She might have slimmed down since then, but she’s still got a fat face and a bum the width of a combine harvester.’

Harriet was welded to the spot by astonishment. What was Alice doing in Luke’s apartment, and why was her sister saying such horrible things about her? Was she trying to amuse Luke? Once or twice she had heard Alice being cruelly sarcastic and funny at the expense of others, but had put it down to immaturity since the girl was six years her junior.

‘Alice,’ Luke chided, in an inexcusably indulgent tone.

‘“My name is Porky Pie and I am so boring. I talk about recipes and am so desperate to be liked that I am a total pathetic doormat to everyone around me,”’ Alice proclaimed, mimicking Harriet’s burr well enough for her shaken victim to wince and turn even paler as she moved forward hurriedly to reveal her presence before anything more could be said. ‘Would you prefer a slice of my chocolate cake or another shag, babes?’

‘Do you need to ask? Open those beautiful legs…’

Harriet’s own lower limbs set like lead beneath her. Her stomach churned like a whirlpool while she stared across the spacious stretch of polished wood flooring in utter disbelief. Luke was lying back on the bed stark naked and he was pulling her equally naked half-sister down on top of him! Giggling with carefree abandon, her pale blonde silky hair rippling across her slim tanned shoulders, Alice moved straight into a much more intimate pose with the ease of habit and confidence.

‘I love your dainty little boobs…’ Luke groaned with pleasure, stretching up greedy hands to the pert mounds jutting over him as Alice arched her spine with taunting sexiness.

Harriet was frozen to the spot in sheer shock at the graphic scene before her. ‘Not like mine…’ she heard herself say flatly, and out loud, her own voice sounding curiously detached and lifeless to her ears.

The lovers froze with an immediacy that might have been comic in other circumstances. Luke reared up off the pillows. ‘Harriet?’

‘How long have you been seeing each other?’ Harriet enquired with revulsion, her hands knotting into fists as she physically forced herself not to avert her gaze from their intimacy.

Alice detached from Luke with unhurried grace and angled a bright look of defiance at Harriet, her brown eyes sparkling, her beautiful face expressing unashamed challenge. ‘Months. He can’t get enough of me, in bed or out of it. I’m sorry you had to find out this way. But that’s life, and it’s tough on all of us. I haven’t enjoyed sneaking around like I’m doing something to be ashamed of.’

Striving to pull on his trousers with something less than his normal assurance, Luke harshly told Alice to keep quiet. Harriet recoiled from that pitying intervention from her fiancé. Only he wasn’t her fiancé any more, she told herself starkly. When he had slept with her sister he had made a joke of their engagement. Rigid with the effort of self-control required to keep her emotions from betraying her, she turned round in a stilted movement and walked straight back out of the apartment.

She couldn’t catch her breath at first. She felt like someone had locked her in a little black box and deprived her of oxygen. She was fighting off the urge to panic and scream. Her mind kept on feverishly replaying what she had seen, what she had heard and been told. The words and the images were like serrated knives, twisting ever deeper inside her. The pain was unbelievable, for she had adored Luke for what felt like half of her adult life. She could not imagine living without him. She could not bear the knowledge that he had made love to her sister, had laughed and listened to Alice’s degrading comments. What had happened to loyalty and decency?

What had happened to the dislike that Luke and Alice had been so keen to parade previously, their snide comments about each other? Luke had called Alice a spoilt little princess and had scorned her life of carefree self-indulgence. Alice had often referred to Luke as a pompous prat. Had that supposed animosity only been put on for Harriet’s benefit?

When Harriet had first met Luke at university she had been his mate when she’d wanted to be so much more, a rank outsider forced to smile on the sidelines while he dated and bedded prettier and slimmer and more sophisticated girls. But through friendship she had won his trust and affection. Love had blossomed when he’d begun to look for her when she wasn’t there, and had shared his hopes, failures and successes with her.

She had starved herself down two full dress sizes to meet Luke’s standards. Indeed, this was the worst of moments to appreciate that she had honed herself into a different person simply to make herself more attractive to the man she had set her heart on holding. But maybe that had been trying to cheat fate. Maybe she and Luke had never been meant to be. Certainly she could not compete with Alice, who was six inches taller and a naturally slender blonde with a fantastic figure. Alice was truly beautiful, and she did not have to work at self-presentation.

Wanting Luke, Alice had just reached out and taken him without apology. She had probably picked up that simple philosophy of life from their mother, Eva. The older woman had left her humble beginnings behind in Ireland and had missed no opportunity to better her prospects. Now based in Paris, and on her third marriage, to a Norwegian shipping magnate, Eva had attained all her goals in life. Harriet was her eldest child and had been raised by Eva’s first husband. Eva had had Alice, and Harriet’s younger half-brother Boyce, with his successor.

‘You only get one life,’ Eva had remarked without regret when she walked out on her devastated second husband for his younger, richer and more powerful replacement. ‘Sometimes you have to be totally selfish to make the most of it. Be true to yourself first.’

That had been a foreign creed to Harriet, who had been forced to put other people’s feelings and needs ahead of her own. But now that her own world had come crashing down around her she could see how self-interest could pay off, and how it might give her another desperately needed focus. It was to meet Luke’s expectations that she was living in the city and working in a high-powered job for money that gave her very little satisfaction. Suddenly she was seeing how her broken heart might be turned into something much more positive.

With Luke out of her life, and a career that was fast fading, she was free to do exactly as she liked, she told herself fiercely, determined to find a source of optimism in the savage, suffocating pain she was struggling to hold at bay. If losing Luke to her half-sister meant the chance to downshift to a simpler lifestyle in the Irish countryside, should she not snatch at that opportunity? After all, there would never be a better time to take such a risk. She was young, single, solvent and healthy.

She was taken aback to find Samson the chihuahua parked outside her front door in his pet carrier. A box of doggy accessories, which included his fake diamond collar collection and designer coats and matching boots, was placed beside him. She rummaged through its contents: there was no feeding bowl, no food, not even a lead. The tiny animal shivered violently at the back of the carrier, enormous round eyes fixed to her in silent pleading.

Harriet suppressed a groan of angry exasperation. How could Juliet abandon her pet when she knew that Harriet didn’t want him? Samson had been dumped, just the way she had been, Harriet recognised painfully. Dumped when he fell out of fashion and a more promising prospect came along. She had always wanted a dog—but a big, normal dog, not one the size of a tiny stuffed toy. But didn’t that make her guilty of body fascism? How had she enjoyed being judged against some impossible marker of physical female perfection and found wanting by Alice? She squirmed with guilt and frustration. It wasn’t Samson’s fault that he was very much undersized…

* * *

The ivy-covered tumbledown wall of an ancient estate bounded the road for what seemed like miles before a roadsign in English and Irish Gaelic alerted Harriet to her arrival in Ballyflynn.

Her heart started beating very fast. A very old stone church appeared in advance of the first houses. Had her mother worshipped there as a girl? Trying as she was to look in every direction at once, Harriet slowed her car to the speed of a snail. Buildings painted in ice cream pastels lined both sides of a wide street embellished by occasional trees. It was distinctly picturesque if sleepy little village.

Parking outside McNally’s, the solicitor dealing with her late cousin’s will, she lifted her designer handbag. Luke had bought it for her birthday. Suddenly she had a flashback to the photo of Alice and Luke that had been printed in a gossip column two weeks earlier. Her tummy gave a sick lurch of remembrance. Luke had always been ambitious and he would be thoroughly enjoying his new public profile. Hungry for the offer of a partnership in the legal firm where he worked, he had told Harriet that appearances were all-important when it came to impressing the senior staff. Alice had to be the definitive image enhancement, with her beauty and her entrée into more exclusive circles. Harriet snatched in a shaken breath. It was only seven weeks since they had broken up and the pain was still horribly fresh. But she was going to get over it without turning into a bitter, jealous monster, she urged herself.

Eugene McNally, the portly middle-aged solicitor, handed over the keys to the late Kathleen Gallagher’s property with wry reluctance. His disappointment had been palpable when Harriet had stated her complete uninterest in discussing or even hearing about the increased offer that had just been made for her inheritance. However, although she had already received copious details in the post, Harriet did have to sit through a further recitation by Mr McNally of the liabilities which were still being settled against her late relative’s estate.

‘Your legacy is unlikely to make you rich,’ the ruddy-faced Mr McNally warned her. ‘It may even cost you money. Making a profit out of horses is not easy.’

‘I know.’ Harriet wondered if he thought she was the type to chase foolish rainbows. Of course her lastminute change of heart about selling must surely have caused considerable annoyance and inconvenience for both him and the prospective buyer, she allowed guiltily. But she’d been hugely apologetic when she’d explained on the phone that an unexpected crisis in her life had made her rethink her future. The buyer she had let down was a business called Flynn Enterprises. Obviously a local one, she reflected ruefully, and treading on local toes was not the way to make friends. Yet, while moving to Ireland was an admittedly bold and risky move on her part, she was convinced that her nearest and dearest were wrong in believing that she was making the biggest mistake of her life….

‘Are you doing this to punish me and make me feel bad?’ Luke had condemned resentfully when he found out.

‘All of a sudden you seem to have gone haywire,’ her stepfather had muttered worriedly. ‘You’re acting like a giddy teenager!’

‘A hair shirt and a spell in a convent would be more exciting than burying yourself alive in that hick village at the back end of nowhere,’ her mother Eva had warned in exasperation. ‘I couldn’t wait to get away. You’ll hate it. You’ll be back in London within six months!’

But what Harriet had chosen to do felt very right to her. In fact she felt different, and she didn’t quite understand why. But she did appreciate that for once she was in complete control of her own destiny, and that gave her a wonderful sense of freedom. She could hardly wait to meet the challenge of running her own business and was quietly confident that, with hard work, she could make a go of it.

She drove very slowly out of Ballyflynn. The same estate wall that had greeted her arrival still stretched before her in an even worse state of repair. There was a tight knot of anticipation in the pit of her tummy. Eugene McNally’s helpful receptionist had given her exact directions: travel about half a mile past the hump backed bridge and turn sharp left down the lane behind the chestnut tree.

The lane was rough and winding, the tall hedges on either side so overgrown that any view was obscured. The verges were lush and green, the floating tumbrels of Queen Anne’s lace moving softly in the slight breeze. She wasn’t expecting too much, Harriet reminded herself. It was so important not to have unrealistic expectations. The lane fanned out into a concrete yard surrounded by a collection of old sheds and stables fashioned of a variety of materials and not at all scenic. Obviously repairs were on the agenda. Well, she had a little money to spend, and two hands to work with.

She drove on round the next corner and lost her heart within thirty seconds flat. In a grove of glorious trees a little whitewashed cottage sat below a thatched roof so endearingly steep it resembled a witch’s hat. Worn red paint picked out old-fashioned mullioned windows and a battered wooden door. Utterly astonished by the sheer eccentricity and apparent age of the building, Harriet blinked and stared. Then she slammed on the brakes, thrust aside her seat belt and climbed out to explore.

The key turned in the door’s lock with ease. A good sign, she thought, buzzing with anticipation. She stepped into a dim interior and was struck by the evocative smell of beeswax and flowers filling her nostrils. A tiny fire glowed in a massive smoke-blackened fireplace, which still rejoiced in all the black metal fittings that had once functioned as a cooking range. The light of the flames gleamed and danced over the dark wood patina of a centrally positioned table, on which was placed a bunch of misty purple lavender spikes and soft pink roses in a chipped crystal vase.

There were two doors, the first of which led into a small room dominated by a high brass bed and a massive Victorian wardrobe. The other led into a much more recent extension to the cottage. Here, the kitchen housed an Aga and had an office corner that accommodated a very cluttered desk set against walls papered with tatty rosettes and faded photos of racing events and horses. Another bedroom led off a small rear corridor. Praying that the final door next to it led into a bathroom that enjoyed full washing facilities, Harriet depressed the knob.

‘Go away…I’m in the bath, Una!’ a startled male voice yelled in protest.

Almost simultaneously Harriet heard a door open off the kitchen and a girl shouting, ‘Fergal…there’s a strange car out front. Forget having a soak. If that’s the Carmichael woman arriving, she’ll not want to find a strange fella in her bath!’

A tall whip-thin teenager in dirty jodhpurs focused on Harriet with sparkling brown eyes and thumped a dismayed hand to her full mouth. Her spiky black hair was threaded with purplish streaks in true gothic style, but she was without a doubt an extraordinarily pretty girl.

There was the sound of a body hastily vacating sloshing bathwater. ‘How do you know? I have a way with women,’ Fergal quipped cheekily. ‘She might be glad enough to find me here—’

‘I can’t give you an honest opinion on that score until I see you,’ Harriet murmured truthfully.

A silence that screamed fell, and then the upper half of a young giant with a tousled blond head twisted round the door to peer out at her. He had navy blue eyes and an unshaven chin. Even though Harriet was thoroughly irritated to find her magical cottage invaded by strangers, she was not at all surprised at Fergal’s belief that he had a way with her sex. In his early to mid-twenties, and with a smile that could strip paint, he was very handsome.

‘Bloody hell…I’m sorry!’ Fergal groaned, and slammed the door fast.

‘I’m Una Donnelly…your part-time groom,’ the teenager announced, tilting her chin pugnaciously.

‘I didn’t realise that anybody else had keys for this place,’ Harriet remarked carefully.

Una reddened. ‘Fergal’s not anybody,’ she proclaimed defensively. ‘He’s like Kathleen’s unofficial partner and he’s always made himself at home here.’

‘Only not now that there’s a new owner!’ Fergal called hurriedly from behind the door he had opened a crack.

‘I assume I have you to thank for dusting and lighting the fire in the hall.’ Harriet walked back into the kitchen to fill the kettle and put it on to boil. She was very tired and extremely hungry, and she needed to get Samson out of the car. After a crack-of-dawn start yesterday, she had driven her packed car from London to board a ferry in Wales. After spending the night on Irish soil in a bed and breakfast, her subsequent journey across the midlands to the Atlantic west coast had been long and draining.

‘No. Why would I do that?’ Una asked in a startled tone that suggested such homely domestic tasks were alien to her.

‘Well, someone did.’

‘But I didn’t know for sure when you were coming—’

‘Good heavens!’ Harriet lost interest in that minor mystery when she looked out of the window for the first time. A simply huge mansion sat on the hill above her new home. Silhouetted against the dulling blue sky, the house was as pure and classic an example of Georgian architecture as she had ever seen, and the setting was spectacular. ‘What’s that?’

‘Flynn Court.’

Harriet tensed. ‘Any connection with a business called Flynn Enterprises?’

‘Big connection,’ Una emphasised at her elbow. ‘With Rafael Flynn on your case you don’t need to worry about us. We don’t want you out. We’re on your side. We think it’s great that you want to make a go of the yard.’

‘I’m delighted to hear it.’ Smothering a yawn, Harriet trekked outside to release Samson from the captivity of his cosy carrier and bring in the groceries she had bought on the road. Did this Rafael Flynn want her out? She winced. Obviously he had tried to buy her out already. But he couldn’t achieve that without her agreement, so why should the teenager’s words leave her feeling threatened?

Samson danced round her feet, tossing a half-hearted bark of greeting at Una, but reserved his main enthusiasm for the food and water that Harriet was placing outside for him.

‘I’ve never seen anything that tiny,’ Una gasped. ‘Is it a dog or a rat? You’d better watch out for it in the yard. Horses spook easily.’

‘Samson will learn. He may be small but he has the heart of a lion.’ Harriet made a determined attempt to build up the chihuahua’s profile.

Unimpressed, Una frowned in wonderment at the lion-hearted miniature dog. ‘Don’t let him wander. The wolfhounds up at the Court would eat him up in one big bite.’

Fergal reappeared, fully dressed in the shabby gear of a horseman. With his damp blond head hovering within inches of the low ceiling, his blue eyes anxious, he held out a huge hand. ‘I’m Fergal Gibson, Miss Carmichael—’

‘Harriet,’ she said automatically

He put a set of keys down on the table with a definitive snap. ‘I wouldn’t have been using the facilities if I’d known you were arriving today. There’s the spare keys back.’

‘But you can’t just surrender to her like that!’ Una launched at him fierily. ‘Like this place is nothing to you and you don’t care that you’re losing a fortune. Kathleen never meant for this to happen—’

‘Stay out of this, Una,’ Fergal cut in with frank male embarrassment. ‘Harriet’s only just got here, and I’m sure she’d prefer to be taking stock of her new home without uninvited visitors. I’ll lock up the horses for the night, shall I?’

Uncertain as to what to do and say at that moment, Harriet walked out in to the yard with Una in the young blond man’s wake. As her mother’s cousin had died nearly four months earlier, it had not occurred to Harriet that there might still be livestock on the property. Certainly none had appeared on the inventory of assets. What exactly was the role of an ‘unofficial partner’? Encountering a truculent look of suspicion from the hot-headed teenager, Harriet suppressed a groan, for she was beginning to suspect that nothing about her Irish inheritance was likely to be as straightforward as she had fondly imagined it would be.

At the back of the cottage a new barn and a row of state-of-the-art stables greeted Harriet’s astonished scrutiny. Her attention skimmed over the floodlit sand paddock with jumps sited towards the rear and what looked like the entrance to an indoor arena.

‘Kathleen and Fergal split the costs of construction. He did the actual building himself. It took three years, and he worked all the hours of the day to afford his share. He bought in young stock and he trained them to sell on as four-year-olds. The horses are his.’ Una spelt out that information with the curtness of youthful stress. ‘But he owns nothing else because it’s all built on your land, and he’s got no right to compensation, either.’

Harriet drew in a long deep breath and slowly exhaled again. ‘I’ll handle this with Fergal direct,’ she countered gently. ‘Give me time to get settled in.’

Spirited brown eyes sought hers. ‘I just want you to do what’s right. Kathleen was very fond of him, and he kept the yard going for her when she was ill.’

Discomfited, Harriet nodded and wandered over to the stables to escape any more argument. Fergal gave her an admirably cheerful introduction to the three inmates that dispelled her unease. There were two brown geldings and a huge almost black stallion of about seventeen hands. Sighting Harriet, the big horse gave a nervous whinny and pranced restlessly in his box.

‘Watch out for Pluto. He can be a cheeky devil,’ Fergal warned her. ‘Don’t try to handle him on your own.’

‘He’s superb,’ Harriet acknowledged, impressed by Pluto’s undeniable presence.

‘He’s the one I’m hoping will make my fortune,’ Fergal confided with a sunny smile that lit up his open tanned face. ‘Don’t be listening to Una. She means well but she’s too young to understand,’ he added in a rueful undertone. ‘This is your place and Kathleen always meant you to have it.’

‘I didn’t even know she existed. I wish we’d met.’ Harriet grimaced. ‘I’m not only saying that because I think I should. Ever since Kathleen Gallagher remembered me in her will and I had to ask my mother who she was I’ve been eaten with curiosity about Kathleen and a side of the family I never knew.’

‘Let me tell you, in some cases never knowing your relations could be a gift,’ her companion opined wryly, surprising her with that hint of greater depth than his candid expression and easy smile suggested.

A couple of hours later, with Samson at her heels, Harriet took a rough tour of the fields that were designated as hers on the property plan. A wave of happiness and enthusiasm had temporarily banished her exhaustion. It was on this fertile ground that she would build a viable business that would still allow her the time to savour life. It didn’t matter that the fencing needed to be renewed, or that the outbuildings that had not been built by Fergal were badly in need of repair: she had enough money in the bank for now to take care of things. The green rolling countryside ornamented by scattered groups of stately mature trees was truly beautiful, and that was infinitely more important to her.

The smell of the sea was in the air when she followed a winding uneven track that took her right down to the seashore and a stretch of glorious white deserted beach that disappeared into the distance. With the sun setting in crimson splendour it was breathtaking. The sound of the Atlantic surf breaking against the silence of true isolation enclosed Harriet and she smiled. Tomorrow she would deal with any problems, but this evening was just for celebrating—not only the joyful surprise of ownership but also a new beginning and an independence that she had never known before.

Back at the cottage, she unpacked only the necessities and enjoyed a quick supper of soup and a roll. She thought how comfortable it was not to have to stick to a strict diet or feel the nagging need to retire still hungry from the table. Not having a man around had advantages, she told herself with determined good cheer as she went into the bedroom: she didn’t care that she had put on weight since breaking up with Luke. She pulled on a floral jersey camisole and matching shorts and sank into the blissfully soft brass bed with a sigh of grateful contentment. Cosy comfort and a full tummy felt good.

It was daylight when she wakened with a jolting start and sat up. From somewhere she could hear a loud clattering and banging noise. Alarm made her tense. Scrambling out of bed, she raced through the kitchen to look out into the stable yard. Her breath tripped in her throat in dismay when she saw the door of Pluto’s stall swinging back on its hinges in the stiff breeze. How the heck had he got out?

Yanking open the back door, she hauled on the muddy Wellington boots she had worn while she walked the boundaries of her land the evening before. As she hurried round the corner of the cottage she was just in time to see Pluto sail like a ship on springs over the fencing that marked the division between the livery yard and the grounds of Flynn Court. Saying a rude word under her breath, Harriet threw herself at the fence and clambered over it to set off in keen pursuit…


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