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Flora's Defiance

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«Flora's Defiance» - Линн Грэхем

Women fall over themselves to say yes to anything Angelo van Zaal wants – so he’s shocked when proud redhead Flora Bennett says no to his plans! Flora is determined to adopt her baby niece, despite Angelo’s assumption that he will have guardianship.And, though he’s annoyed with himself for wanting her, Flora annoys Angelo even more for avoiding the shimmer of sexual attraction between them. There has to be a way to make Flora obey all his wishes, and there is – only it involves an unexpected pregnancy and three more babies… SECRETLY PREGNANT With this ring, I claim my baby!
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‘You are so beautiful. I’ve wanted you for so long.’

‘If you did you hid it well from me,’ she pointed out helplessly.

‘I’ve surrendered … I can’t hide it any more.’

Flora’s mouth ran dry. Clad in silk boxers that defined more than they concealed, Angelo was an intimidating sight for a woman who was still a virgin. Of course that was not a truth that she was eager to brandish. Her lack of experience was more an accident of fate than a deliberate choice, for she had not got close enough to consider intimacy with anyone since her engagement had been broken off three years earlier.

‘I’m not beautiful,’ she told him almost defiantly, unwilling to trust him or any man.

Angelo suddenly smiled, and his lean dark face lit up with a brilliance that made her heartbeat pick up speed as he came down beside her on the bed. ‘I think you are, and I’m only interested in my own opinion.’[satish]


With this ring, I claim my baby!

The amazing new trilogy

by best-selling Modern™ author

Lynne Graham

The charming and pretty English village of Charlbury St Helens is home to three young women whose Cinderella lives are about to be turned upside down … by three of the wealthiest, most handsome and impossibly arrogant men in Europe!

Jemima, Flora and Jess aren’t looking for love, but all have babies very much in mind. Jemima already has a young son, Flora is hoping to adopt her late half-sister’s little daughter, and Jess just longs to be a mum.

But whether they have or want a baby, all the girls must marry ultimate alpha males to keep their dreams … And Alejandro, Angelo and Cesario are not about to be tamed!



Jemima and Alejandro’s story


Flora and Angelo’s story


Jess and Cesario’s story






ANGELO VAN ZAAL studied the nine-month-old child that the nurse had brought to him. The little girl was golden-haired with the wide, pansy-blue eyes of a china doll, and the minute she saw him she smiled in happy recognition. The innocence of that trusting smile cut Angelo as sharply as a knife, for few children could have been subjected to a tougher start in life than little Mariska. Only a dark bruise and a scratch on one cheek bore witness to the fact that she had been miraculously thrown clear in her special car seat from the accident in which both of her parents had died.

‘I understand that you are not related by blood to Mariska,’ the female doctor by his side remarked.

‘Her father, Willem, was my stepbrother, but I thought of him as my brother and I treated him as such,’ Angelo stated with the clarity for which he was famed in the business world. ‘I consider Mariska to be part of my family and I’m keen to adopt her.’

‘The social worker in charge of her case did mention that you have been involved in Mariska’s life since she was born—’

‘I did what I could to support Willem and his wife, Julie. I only wish it had been enough,’ he imparted with a wry twist of his mouth, as he knew that the medical staff would be well aware of the state in which Mariska’s parents had been at the time of the crash. He was merely grateful that the sordid truth had not appeared in the newspapers.

Angelo van Zaal was an extraordinarily handsome man, the doctor reflected with an appreciative glance. He was also extremely wealthy, the bearer of a name famous for its benevolence in the field of philanthropy. Nevertheless, the steel magnate was equally well known for his ruthless cutting edge and success as a businessman. According to the press, a procession of international fashion models entertained him outside working hours. In looks, he had inherited his Spanish mother’s black hair and darker skin tone rather than his Dutch father’s fair colouring. But his eyes were a bright burning blue, as lucid as a flawless sapphire and enhanced by a frame of lush ebony lashes that gave his gaze spectacular impact. Tall, at several inches over six feet, and well built, he had attracted a good deal of notice from female staff and patients alike as they walked through the hospital to the children’s ward. He was also, as far as the doctor was aware, still a single man.

‘The hospital has had several enquiries about Mariska’s welfare from her aunt, Flora Bennett. I understand that she is Julie’s older sister.’

Angelo’s superb bone structure took on a forbidding aspect. At the same time, he had a mental flash of eyes the colour of emeralds, skin as impossibly white as milk and the sort of lush full pink mouth that could plunge a man into an erotic daydream. Flora was a tall, feisty redhead with the kind of sensual appeal that would have entrapped a less wary and experienced male. As he had on previous occasions, Angelo crushed that provocative thought and shook himself free of it in exasperation. ‘A half-sister,’ he pronounced quietly. ‘She and Julie had the same father.’

Angelo could have said a great deal more but he compressed his lips, reluctant to voice his hostility towards the other side of Mariska’s family because that was a private matter. He’d had the then pregnant Englishwoman Julie Bennett and her connections investigated when Willem had decided to marry her, and his strong reservations about Julie had proved prophetic.

Had it not been for Julie’s inclinations, Angelo was convinced that Willem would still be alive and, from what he had learned about Julie’s elder sister at the same time, she was not to be trusted either. The same investigation had revealed that lurid scandal laced Flora’s background; some years earlier she had used sleazy tactics in an attempt to advance and enrich herself in the workplace. While Flora was considerably more memorable in looks and personality than her rather more ordinary sister, she was an already proven gold-digger and Angelo knew he would go to any lengths to ensure that Willem’s daughter, Mariska, was protected from her influence.

Mariska would, after all, inherit her father’s trust fund. As Willem had died before he’d reached the age where he could gain access to the money, his daughter would some day be a rich young woman.

Indeed, if Angelo had anything to do with the matter, Mariska would lead a very different life from that of either of her feckless parents. His wide sensual mouth hardened. He might have failed to rescue Willem from his demons, but doing the very best he could for his stepbrother’s daughter would help him to sleep a little more peacefully at night.

The doctor cleared her throat as Mariska lay in Angelo’s arms; he had been granted temporary custody of the child. ‘Have you any plans to marry?’ she enquired, unable to stifle her curiosity on that score.

Brilliant blue eyes flew straight to her blushing face. Angelo was too much of a player to reveal his thoughts but tension held him fast. ‘It is possible,’ he responded. ‘Where this little girl is concerned, I still have much to think through.’

His acknowledgement that there might be some grounds for concern over his suitability as a single parent made the doctor give him an approving appraisal. Someone had once called Angelo van Zaal chilly but, although she would never have called him an emotional personality, he was innately practical and reliable. Many men would have shrugged off the problems of so troublesome a set of relatives, but Angelo had stood his ground and done what he could to help until the inevitable tragic end was reached. In the doctor’s book, that not only made him a force to be reckoned with but also a very suitable guardian for a vulnerable child.

Flora sat rigid-backed in the taxi that had collected her from her flight into Schipol airport. Every step of her journey to Amsterdam had been organised without any input from her and, although those arrangements had made the trip easier for her, she was not only ungrateful for that assistance, but also as tense as a bowstring.

At five feet eleven inches tall, she was a long-limbed coltish beauty with slender curves in elegant keeping with her height and graceful carriage. But Flora had never seen herself in that favourable light because from an early age she had been made to feel excessively large and gawky beside her dainty, diminutive mother who had often bemoaned her daughter’s size.

Her thick auburn hair, which when loose fell well past her shoulders since she had decided to grow it again, was tied back with a black ribbon at her nape. Her apple-green eyes shone clear against her flawless skin, but the swollen reddened state of her eyelids betrayed the physical signs of her grief.

The knowledge that she would soon have to thank Angelo van Zaal for arranging her trip to Amsterdam for the double funeral made Flora grimace. She loathed him: he was such a controlling seven-letter-word of a man! His word was law within his family circle, at his offices and even beyond those boundaries, for such wealth as his carried considerable power and influence in every sphere. Flora, of course, had never liked being told what to do. She had learned to put up with it when she was an employee. She had also learned to keep her temper around bossy guests at her guest house, to nod and smile and let their arrogance wash off her again like a light rain shower.

But Angelo van Zaal could put Flora’s back up without even trying. He had not even had the courtesy to phone her personally when her sister and his stepbrother had died within hours of crashing their car, she reflected bitterly. Instead he had instructed his family lawyer to ring and break the news for him. It was a dispassionate decision that was typical of his determination to keep her at arms length from events, thereby underlining his own authority and the absence of a true familial connection between them.

But if she was honest—and Flora always liked to be honest with herself—her primary objection to Angelo van Zaal was that, at first glance, he had turned her head as easily as if she were a dizzy adolescent. Even though eighteen months had passed since that debilitating first encounter, her cheeks could still burn at the mere memory of the effect he had on her—in spite of the fact that a man like Angelo van Zaal would never give her so much as a second glance.

Angelo was undeniably drop-dead gorgeous and Flora found it a terrible challenge not to stare at him and just float off into fantasy land. He flustered her and made her blush and stammer and, no matter how hard she tried to suppress her responses, she was already on the edge of her seat with anticipation at just the thought of seeing him again. There was no rhyme or reason to sexual attraction, she reminded herself impatiently. But all the same it exasperated her that even after her past unhappy experiences with men she could still succumb to a meaningless physical reaction. In truth, she was convinced that if sexual weakness could be inborn she had undoubtedly inherited that dangerous flaw from her womanising father. The acknowledgement that she could be drawn to someone she didn’t even like shocked and affronted her, but she would have chewed off her own arm sooner than give Angelo van Zaal reason to suspect her weakness for him.

Furthermore, Angelo was severely underestimating her if he imagined that she might be willing to stand back and just allow him to claim full custody of her niece. Flora was ready to fight for the right to take Mariska back to England with her so that she could raise Julie’s child as her daughter. Why should Angelo automatically assume that he would make the most appropriate guardian for a baby girl?

After all, Flora owned a comfortable detached house with a garden in the English village of Charlbury St Helens and was in a position to offer her niece her care and attention. At present, Flora, who also had a childcare qualification, ran a successful bed and breakfast business from her home. But, if need be, she could stop taking in paying guests until Mariska was of an age to attend school. Financially she could handle that temporary sacrifice of earnings because she had a good deal of money sitting untouched in the bank. She might not like to think about where that money had come from and what she’d had to go through to get it, but the very fact of its existence surely had to improve her chances of being considered a suitable adoptive parent.

As Flora detached herself from the disturbing memories of the very different life she had led as a city career woman before she’d settled into her former great-aunt’s home in the village, she was painfully conscious of the ache of loss in her heart. Julie was gone and, sadly, Flora had seen all too little of her vivacious younger sister since she’d moved to the Netherlands. She had only seen Willem and Julie when they’d come over to the UK. Only once had Flora contrived to visit them in Amsterdam, for Willem and Julie had led very busy lives and it had quickly become apparent to her that they’d preferred to be guests rather than hosts.

Yet once upon a time Flora and the sibling five years her junior had been very close, although nobody who’d known the background from which both young women had come would ever have forecast that development.

Flora had grown up as an only child in an unhappy marriage. Her father had been a chronic womaniser and she had few childhood memories that did not include a background of raised voices and the sound of her mother sobbing. Her emotionally fragile parent had often intimated that she would leave her unfaithful husband if only she could afford to do so, a lament that had ensured that her daughter set out to gain the highest possible educational qualifications in the hope of ensuring that she never had to rely on a man to keep a roof over her head.

Flora’s parents had finally divorced while she’d been at university and she had then withstood the shock discovery that her father already had a second family, living only a few streets away from her childhood home! Evidently he had carried on an affair with Julie’s mother, Sarah, almost from the outset of his marriage to Flora’s mother. Her father had married Sarah straight after the divorce and there had been a huge family row when he’d insisted on introducing his daughters to each other. Even when that second marriage had also broken down in a welter of accusations of infidelity, Flora and Julie had stayed in touch, and when Julie’s mother had died and Julie started college she’d moved into Flora’s apartment in London. During the following two years, which had encompassed a period of great upheaval and unhappiness for Flora at work and in her personal life, the sisters had become close.

Flora’s eyes swam with tears while she allowed herself to picture her late sister as she had last seen her. A small pretty blonde, Julie had been bubbly and chatty. Within months of meeting Willem, who had spent his gap year working in London, Julie had decided to abandon her studies so that she could live on a houseboat in Amsterdam with the handsome young Dutchman. Rejecting all Flora’s cautious advice to the contrary, Julie had put love first with the wholehearted determination of the very young. Within weeks she had announced her pregnancy and soon afterwards a rather hasty marriage had taken place.

Angelo van Zaal had paid for the civil wedding and the small reception that had been held in London. Flora had only met him for the first time that day and, already warned what to expect from him by her sister, she had not been impressed by his chilly disapproval.

‘I’m too common for Angelo’s taste, not well enough educated and too cheeky for a woman,’ Julie had told her with a scornful toss of her pretty blonde head. ‘Catch me standing saying, “Yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir” like Willem does! Willem is terrified of him because he’s never managed to measure up to Angelo’s expectations.’

And to be fair to Angelo van Zaal, he had made no attempt to pretend that he approved of her sister’s relationship with his stepbrother. ‘They’re far too young and immature to be parents. This is a disaster,’ he had pronounced with grim insensitivity after the ceremony, staring down at Flora with cold-as-ice blue eyes.

‘It’s a little late now,’ Flora had countered, being of a naturally more optimistic bent, while marvelling at the unearthly beauty and unusual hue of those eyes of his. ‘They do love each other and, thank goodness, they’ll have Willem’s trust fund to help them along—’

Angelo’s lean bronzed face had frozen. ‘Where did you get that idea from? Willem won’t come into his trust fund for another three years.’

Flora had felt her face flood with mortified colour and wished she had kept her mouth shut. Was it wrong of her to have assumed that early access to the bridegroom’s nest egg would provide much-needed help to the young couple in setting up their first home? The disdain on Angelo’s handsome face had warned her that, as far as he was concerned, she had grossly overstepped her boundaries in referring to Willem’s future prospects.

‘I understand that they’re both hoping that in the circumstances—Julie expecting their first child,’ Flora had extended uncomfortably, ‘they can challenge the provisions of the fund—’

‘It would be insanity. I will not allow it,’ Angelo had decreed in a tone of sardonic finality as though his opinion was the only one that counted. ‘Willem and his wife will have to work for a living. Clearly that was not your sister’s plan.’

Flora had bridled at the insinuation that her sister might have married Willem in the hope of sharing his handsome trust fund. ‘Of course Julie is willing to get a job.’

‘She’s not qualified to do anything other than the most menial work,’ Angelo had pointed out drily. ‘And Willem will have to complete his business degree before he can aspire to a well-paid career.’

Ultimately the trust fund had been kept safe but what Flora had most feared from the outset had come to pass instead: Willem had dropped out of university to seek employment when Julie had become too sick to work during her pregnancy. Flora had blamed Angelo van Zaal entirely for that development, believing that as one of the trustees for the fund he had probably still patted himself on the back for having kept that precious money intact. She was not at all surprised that the steel billionaire had put the conservation of cash ahead of family concern and kindness.

The taxi waited for her while she checked into her hotel and then whisked her on to the funeral home. By the time she arrived there she was truly dreading her approaching encounter with Angelo van Zaal. There was a large gathering of mourners, many of them young people. But in spite of the crowd the only person Flora was really aware of strode across the room towards her and his very presence in the same airspace made her light up inside like a secret firework display. Her spine rigid with shame and denial, she blanked him out as though he weren’t there, evading any form of eye contact while warm colour began to infiltrate her pallor.

Angelo spoke the conventional words of regret with perfect courtesy, awaited her response and escorted her round the room to meet some of Willem’s relatives. When it came to public behaviour his manners were always letter perfect. But, so close to him, Flora could hardly breathe for tension and she hated him for the effect he was having on her, hated him for the lethal combination of looks and hormones that had entrapped her from their first meeting. Even the faint evocative aroma of his citrus-based cologne was familiar to her and she had to resist a powerful urge to lean closer to him. No man, even the one she had once planned to marry, had ever made such a strong impression on her.

Indeed, sex had never been a driving need for her and she was still a virgin. She had always been level-headed and reserved with men. She had seen too much unhappiness growing up to want to rush into any relationship. She had also once suffered badly from the harassment of a bullying sex-pest in the workplace. And the discovery of the potent physical attraction that Angelo, a man she didn’t even like, could exude had merely underlined her caution and disenchantment with that aspect of life.

‘How is Mariska doing?’ Flora asked the moment she had the chance to speak to Angelo van Zaal without an audience.

‘Children are resilient. She was all smiles over breakfast this morning,’ Angelo recalled, staring down at her with his electrifyingly blue eyes, eyes unfairly surrounded by lashes as dense and enhancing as thick black lace.

‘You saw her that early at the hospital today? ‘ Flora pressed in surprise, thinking that he must have called in to see the little girl on his way to the funeral.

Angelo gazed down at her in an unnervingly steady appraisal and it was as if pure energy were dancing over her skin with silken taunting fingers. Tensing, alarmingly conscious that her nipples were tightening beneath her clothing, she coloured accordingly, stilled a shiver of awareness and stared fixedly at the knot on his silk tie.

‘Mariska is no longer in hospital,’ Angelo revealed. ‘She was released into my care yesterday.’

That was news to Flora and she lifted her chin. ‘You pulled that off very quickly. Who’s looking after her?’

‘Her nanny, Anke.’

Flora was unimpressed. ‘When she’s already lost her parents the company of a stranger can’t be much of a consolation.’

‘Anke is not a stranger. She has been taking care of Mariska on a part-time basis for several months now …’

‘Willem and Julie employed a nanny?’ Flora was taken aback, as she had not thought that the financial problems Julie had often mentioned during their phone calls would have stretched to such a luxury as one-to-one care for Mariska. And, certainly, Julie had never once hinted that her daughter enjoyed the attentions of Anke.

‘I took care of the expense.’ His wide sensual mouth compressed, Angelo dealt her a tough uncompromising look as though daring her to say more on yet another subject that he clearly considered to be none of her business.

‘How very generous of you … as you have been in shelling out for my travel costs,’ Flora commented stiffly. ‘Thanks, but it wasn’t necessary, though it did save me a lot of hassle and got me here much faster, which I do appreciate. I can’t stay for long though, and I would like to spend what time I do have in Amsterdam with—’

‘Your niece. Of course,’ he incised smoothly. ‘When this is over, everyone is invited back to my home for coffee and you’ll see her then.’

Flora flushed, for she had not expected him to make seeing Mariska so easy and had somehow expected obstacles to be put in her path. The wind taken from her sails before she even got airborne, she nodded relieved acceptance of his assurance.

‘I should mention …’ She hesitated and then pressed on, guided by her streak of innate honesty, which preferred all the facts to be out in the open. ‘I have an interview with a solicitor here tomorrow and after that with Social Services. I intend to apply to adopt Mariska.’

All of a sudden, those impossibly blue eyes briefly resembled chips of indigo-tinted ice, but then she wondered if that was the result of her fertile imagination because he merely nodded his acceptance. ‘Of course, that is your prerogative.’

The funeral did not last long. Someone had told her that the Dutch were partial to giving eulogies at funerals, but the tributes paid to Willem and Julie were short and sweet. Tears continually flooded Flora’s eyes because it seemed so wrong that two such young people with everything to live for should be dead and she struggled to get a grip on emotions that still felt exceedingly raw. Apart from Mariska, Flora no longer had any surviving relatives and that made her feel very alone in the world. Her best friend, Jemima, had recently returned to her husband in Spain and that had left another hole in her life.

When the talking was over, Flora accepted a lift with Willem’s aunt and uncle to Angelo’s home. He lived in an imposing historic building, a literal mansion, which Julie had once described to Flora in the most fulsome of terms as a ‘palace’. The house, which had belonged to several generations of van Zaals, was very traditional inside and out, featuring high ceilings, polished wooden floors, gleaming antique furniture and walls covered with huge splendid paintings. Coffee was served in the very elegant drawing room by the plump, smiling housekeeper whom Angelo addressed as Therese.

Under cover of a conversation with a business colleague, Angelo found himself discreetly watching Flora, noting her every tiny move and change of expression and the faint silvery sheen of tears still marking her cheeks. Even at a glance he could see that she seethed with emotion, messy dangerous stuff that it was, he acknowledged grimly, for she was the sort of woman he had always avoided getting involved with. More than a year had passed since their last meeting. He approved of the fact that her hair was no longer short and he could not resist picturing those luxuriant coppery tresses freed from the restraint of their ribbon. And trailing across a pillow? a sarcastic little inner voice enquired. As irritation with his male predictability gripped Angelo, there was a tightening heaviness at his groin, his libido reacting all too enthusiastically to Flora Bennett’s presence and the allure of an erotic fantasy.

He sensed the passion in her and it drew him like the sun on a cold wintry day. Brilliant eyes cloaked, he studied her fixedly and, just as he had from their very first encounter, fought the magnetic pull of her with all his considerable force of will. Control and lucidity were everything to Angelo, who demanded more of himself than he ever had from anyone else. After all, nobody knew better than Angelo that an affair with the wrong woman could lead to disaster and it was the one risk he would not take.

Flora dragged her attention from a superb painting of an ancestral family group, striving not to seek Angelo’s resemblance to some of its members with his clear good-looking features, though he would be like a sleek dark avenging angel set amongst those fair rosy-cheeked faces, she thought absently. She turned round to see where he was and collided headlong with his burning appraisal. An arrow of pure burning heat slivered through her slim length, kicking every nerve-ending into almost painful sensitivity. Her full lips pressed together tightly as she walked towards him, suppressing her responses with furious resolve.

Angelo inclined his handsome dark head to his housekeeper and summoned her to his side. ‘Therese will take you upstairs now to see Mariska.’

Flora was introduced to the pretty dark-haired nanny, Anke, but she really only had eyes for her niece, who sat in a child seat playing with a selection of toys. With her slightly turned-up nose and dimples, blue eyes and golden hair, the little girl bore a startling likeness to Julie. Flora’s eyes stung and she got down on her knees beside the chair to get reacquainted with her niece, once again deeply regretting the truth that she was almost a stranger to Mariska.

Mariska studied Flora with big blue eyes and laughed when her aunt tickled her chubby little hand. A cheerful, affectionate child, she played happily with Flora and she was the perfect comfort for her aunt after the highly stressful week she had endured. When the little girl became sleepy, Flora checked her watch and was surprised by how much time she had spent with her niece, for the afternoon was over. Descending the stairs, she saw Angelo in the hall below. He was so tall and dark and his glossy black cropped hair shone beneath the lights. He had the bronzed profile of a Greek god and the body of one as well, her rebellious thoughts added defiantly.

‘I wondered if it would be possible for me to visit the houseboat where Willem and Julie lived tomorrow afternoon,’ she asked tautly.

‘Yes. A cleaning crew is currently sorting the vessel out for a handover back to the landlord,’ Angelo revealed. ‘There may be some of your sister’s things which you wish to take home with you.’

There was a thickness in Flora’s throat. Julie had always travelled light so she doubted that there would be many keepsakes. She forced a rather watery smile and took her leave to walk out into the cool evening air.

Watching her departure from the window, Angelo had the cold comfort of knowing that he was behaving badly. Flora was on her own in a foreign city and she had just buried her sister and her brother-in-law. Yet he was leaving her to return to an anonymous hotel for the evening. His handsome mouth clenched hard. Even as he watched her he noticed the enticing feminine sway of her hips in the dark suit she wore, the pouting curve of her bottom that stretched the skirt’s fabric and the shapely turn of her calves and narrow ankles. She had terrific legs. He imagined inching up that skirt and as his body reacted with full blown arousal he released his breath in a sudden sharp hiss. He knew that he could not trust himself if he offered dinner and so left it at that.

Exhaustion engulfed Flora by the time she reached her room as she had barely slept since receiving the news of the double tragedy. She kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed, where she fell asleep almost instantly. The chirrup of the phone by the bed wakened her. ‘Hello?’ she mumbled drowsily.

‘It’s Angelo.’ It was an unnecessary announcement because Flora knew only one male possessed of a dark deep drawl as rich and potentially sinful as chocolate melting on her taste buds. ‘Have you dined yet? ‘

Flora froze in surprise and wondered if he could hear the sound of her jaw dropping in shock. ‘Er …’

‘If you haven’t I would be happy to take you out to eat this evening,’ Angelo murmured, smooth as silk.

His voice actually set up a chain-reaction quiver down her taut spine and she sat up with a start. She could not credit the invitation and it unnerved her. ‘Thanks, but I’ve already eaten,’ she lied without hesitation. ‘But it was kind of you to offer.’

‘I wasn’t being kind,’ Angelo countered, a rougher edge filtering through his unforgettable drawl.

‘Oh …’ Dry-mouthed and flushed, Flora could not think of a single thing to say and he filled in the silence with complete cool and bid her goodnight. He didn’t like her, she knew he didn’t like her, for the cool censure when he looked at her with those amazing eyes of his was unmistakeable, even if she didn’t know what she had done to deserve that attitude. So why on earth had he suddenly decided to invite her out to dinner? Had he felt sorry for her? The very suspicion made Flora bridle because she had never sought out any man for comfort.

She ordered a snack from Room Service and then went for a quick shower. She ate perched cross-legged on the bed with a book propped open and just knew that Angelo would disapprove. But she had said no and she should be proud of herself, although if she was honest panic and surprise had together combined to ensure her negative response. In addition she had nothing to wear but the suit she had worn to the funeral, since she had only packed casual jeans and a top for her short stay. She could not even imagine dining out in some fancy restaurant in Angelo’s company. On her final visit to Charlbury St Helens, Julie had shown her sister a magazine article featuring a couple of Angelo’s lady friends, beautiful women dressed in cutting-edge fashion, who could match his sophistication and cool.

Regardless of those reflections, Flora could not help wondering what it would have been like to be the sole focus of Angelo’s attention for a couple of hours. Heat bubbled like excitement low in her pelvis and she tensed and suppressed that disturbing line of thought. It was a very long time before she contrived to drift off to sleep again that night …


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