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His Scandalous Mistress: The Master's Mistress / Count Toussaint's Pregnant Mistress / Castellano's Mistress of Revenge

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CHAPTER NINE

‘GRAB a plate out of the cupboard, Elizabeth, and then get the toast, will you?’ Rogan prompted when she entered the kitchen the following morning, while he stood over the hob, cooking eggs and bacon in two separate pans.

Elizabeth hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before, and as a consequence she had overslept and so missed her early-morning swim. She had thought she must have missed breakfast too, when she’d entered the small dining room and found it empty of all the usual signs of breakfast.

Lured to the kitchen by the tempting aroma of bacon sizzling in a pan, she was too surprised at finding Rogan there, doing the cooking, to do anything other than what he asked.

Rogan appeared perfectly relaxed, in faded blue jeans and a fitted white T-shirt. His feet were bare on the terracotta tiles, those dark eyes sleepily mesmerising, his hair silkily tousled, and the dark shadow of stubble on the firmness of his jaw showing that he hadn’t yet shaved this morning…

‘No Mrs Baines today?’ Elizabeth asked distractedly, as she laid out two settings on the breakfast bar after collecting the toast from the toaster.

‘I found her in here crying earlier this morning.’ Rogan shrugged. ‘We sat down and had a chat, and as you said yesterday she’s very upset,’ he said, his back towards Elizabeth as he continued to cook. ‘I’ve suggested she take the morning off, attend the funeral with us this afternoon, and then afterwards go up to Scotland for a few days and visit with her son.’

Elizabeth’s hands shook slightly as she realised that Mrs Baines’s unexpected departure meant that she and Rogan were now completely alone at Sullivan House…

She moistened dry lips. ‘That was… very kind of you.’

Was that hollow-sounding voice really her own? Of course it was! But her sleep had been so disturbed last night, so full of dreams of Rogan Sullivan—erotically arousing dreams!—that just the thought of the two of them being alone here together filled her with dismay.

Rogan turned briefly to give her a grin. ‘I can be kind, Elizabeth.’

‘No doubt when it suits you to be, yes,’ she acknowledged dryly.

He raised dark brows. ‘It didn’t suit me to have to cook breakfast this morning!’

Elizabeth shrugged. ‘Perhaps you should have thought of that before giving Mrs Baines the morning off?’

‘I gather from that you aren’t going to offer to finish cooking the breakfast?’

‘I’m sure you’re more than capable, Rogan,’ Elizabeth came back, with saccharin sweetness. ‘At cooking breakfast, anyway,’ she added hastily.

‘You don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?’ Rogan murmured ruefully as he served the food up onto two warmed plates before carrying it over to the breakfast bar.

‘I believe now is a good time for me to take the Fifth!’ she joked.

‘Did you just tease me, Elizabeth?’ Rogan asked appreciatively as he sat down on the stool opposite hers.

Warm colour entered her cheeks, and her gaze didn’t quite meet his as she muttered, ‘I may have done.’

Rogan nodded. ‘I liked it.’

‘I shouldn’t.’ Elizabeth raised her eyes to look across at him guardedly. ‘I doubt it will happen again.’

Rogan regarded her closely. Elizabeth was her usual efficient looking self this morning, in a cream silk blouse, brown tailored trousers and no-nonsense brown brogues. Her hair was moussed and spiky, her make-up light and her lips glossed pale peach. Even so, there was something different about her. A softness about her eyes and the full pout of her lips that made Rogan’s thighs harden and ache at just imagining them curved moistly about his.

Damn it to hell!

Rogan had spent most of the night telling himself to forget all about the prickly and complicated Elizabeth Brown. To forget the silky feel of her skin, and the erotic taste of her. That a woman like her spelt trouble for a man like him. And now, just looking at her again, he was sitting here aroused like never before!

‘Eat your breakfast, woman!’ he snapped, his own appetite—for food, at least—having completely evaporated in the last few seconds.

‘Yes, sir!’ she came back, with a mocking salute.

Rogan scowled across at her darkly. ‘Would you be quite so obliging, I wonder, if I were to order you to strip naked and lay yourself open to me on top of this breakfast bar?’ he rasped stupidly, his thighs throbbing anew just at the thought of having Elizabeth offering herself to him like that.

Elizabeth knew that Rogan meant to disconcert her. And he had definitely succeeded! But she had no intention of giving him the satisfaction of knowing that he had. ‘Not until after I’ve eaten my breakfast, anyway,’ she retorted tartly, before resuming eating.

He sighed heavily. ‘Elizabeth—’

‘Could we just eat, Rogan?’ The steadiness of her gaze met his unflinchingly.

He sighed. ‘You’re dangerous, do you know that?’

Elizabeth hid her surprise at this statement behind another glib comment of her own. ‘No one has ever accused me of being that before.’

Rogan’s mouth thinned. ‘You don’t have to sound so pleased about it.

She couldn’t help smiling at his disgruntled expression. ‘I’m a boring university lecturer—of course I’m pleased about it!’

Boring was one thing Elizabeth Brown definitely was not, Rogan acknowledged grimly. For one thing, he never quite knew what mood she was going to be in when next he saw her—this morning’s teasing was an example of that. For another, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the feel and taste of her yesterday out of his head. Or his senses. In fact, just looking at her now made him want to repeat the experience.

‘Let’s get one thing straight, shall we, Elizabeth?’ he said. ‘I have some more of my father’s things to go through this morning, the funeral to attend this afternoon, and then I’m definitely getting out of here.’

As if the hounds of hell were snapping at his heels, Rogan acknowledged self-disgustedly. Because there was already a danger of being snared in the trap that a woman like Elizabeth Brown could set around a man’s heart and his freedom…

Elizabeth’s expression remained calmly noncommittal as she nodded. ‘You already told me that.’

‘Well, now I’m telling you again!’ Rogan scowled at her fiercely.

Elizabeth placed her knife and fork carefully against the side of her plate before reaching out to lightly touch one of the hands Rogan had clenched on top of the breakfast bar. ‘I realise this is going to be a difficult day for you, Rogan… ’

‘Do you really?’ He turned his hand over and tightly gripped Elizabeth’s between steely fingers. ‘And how can you possibly know that?’ he scorned. ‘Have you ever had to attend the funeral of the father you despised?’

No, she had never had to do that. Not yet, anyway. But one day Elizabeth knew she would have to do so. And, just like Rogan, she was going to hate the hypocrisy that would necessitate her being there.

Rogan watched the emotions on Elizabeth’s face. She wasn’t guarded enough or quick enough to hide them from him. He saw her pained expression. Her dismay. Followed by her firm resolve to do what she knew was right.

So was he.

‘Tell me about him, Elizabeth,’ Rogan encouraged persuasively, his fingers gentling as they became entangled with hers and he ran the soft pad of his thumb caressingly across her palm. ‘Tell me about your father.’

Those blue eyes flickered briefly to his before she looked quickly away again. ‘There’s nothing to tell.’

‘Elizabeth… ’

She ran the pink tip of her tongue over dry lips. Completely unaware, it seemed, of the eroticism of the movement.

Unlike Rogan, who was aware and responded to everything that Elizabeth Brown did and said…

‘Please, Elizabeth… ’ he urged softly.

She closed her eyes briefly, before raising her lids to stare at a point over Rogan’s left shoulder, her gaze unfocused as her thoughts and emotions all became channelled inwards. ‘My father married my mother after deliberately getting her pregnant.’

‘Why deliberately?’

Elizabeth swallowed hard. ‘My mother was—well, she was… My mother came from a wealthy family. Was an heiress. He—Leonard—wanted the life her prestige and money could give him, and so when her father died unexpectedly he—he—’ She broke off to shake her head sadly. ‘This certainly doesn’t get any prettier in the telling.’

Rogan frowned as he inwardly processed the little Elizabeth had already told him. Her mother had been an heiress. Her father’s name was Leonard Brown. Why did that name sound so familiar?

‘Your mother was Stella Britten?’ he breathed incredulously, as the information Elizabeth had given him finally began to fall into some sort of order and he remembered what else was already stored in his memory.

Stella Britten. Only child of millionaire industrialist James Britten. Which meant that Elizabeth was James Britten’s granddaughter—although he’d died almost thirty years ago. Within a year of his death he had been succeeded as Chairman of Britten Industries by his son-in-law, Leonard Brown, a playboy and serial adulterer. From all accounts a total louse to the wife who had adored him. She had begun to drink as a way of shutting out the humiliating reality of her marriage, finally killing herself instantly ten years ago, when she had driven her car into a brick wall, blind drunk. Obviously the reason Elizabeth herself didn’t drink alcohol.

The pallor of Elizabeth’s face and the pained darkness in the depths of her eyes was enough to confirm the truth to him.

Rogan drew in a ragged breath. ‘I’m sorry, Beth—’

‘What do you have to be sorry about?’ she came back tartly. ‘You aren’t responsible for my father being the selfish rat that he is any more than I am.’

Rogan shook his head. ‘I should never have pushed the subject.’

‘Why shouldn’t you?’ Elizabeth said, as she wrenched her fingers from his to stand up and move restlessly about the kitchen. ‘You thought your parents’ marriage was bad, Rogan? Well, you should have tried being caught in the middle of Stella and Leonard!’ She gave a deep sigh. ‘The worst of it is that when I was a child I absolutely adored him—’ Her voice broke emotionally.

‘Beth—’

‘No, let me, Rogan,’ she insisted. ‘Maybe if I talk about him I will finally be able to put all this behind me. It’s easy to see how my mother fell for him. When I was a child my father seemed so big and strong. So incredibly handsome. A golden Adonis.’ Her expression softened slightly. ‘He was always laughing. Forever buying me outrageously expensive presents for no reason whatsoever. The latest toys. A pony. A diamond bracelet on one occasion, because I had said I liked the rainbow lights inside it.’ She shook her head bleakly. ‘I was too young at the time to realise that those gifts were probably given as a way of salving Leonard’s conscience because he was such a lousy husband. He had never loved my mother. Had only made her pregnant and married her because he wanted to get his hands on the company and the money she had inherited from her own father.’

There was something else nagging at the back of Rogan’s memory. Something important. Something…

Then he had it. The last piece of damning information.

Stella Britten might have been besotted with her husband, but the condition of her father’s will had prevented her from actually handing Britten Industries over to him, meaning that on her death her only daughter had inherited the company instead of Leonard Brown…

Elizabeth Brown. Now Dr Elizabeth Brown. Lecturer in History at a London university… and owner of Britten Industries…

Elizabeth gave a hard, embittered smile. She knew the precise moment when Rogan realised exactly who she was: his eyes widened, brows rising, that dark gaze becoming speculative.

‘Yes, I’m that Elizabeth Brown,’ she confirmed flatly. ‘Are you happy now that you know everything there is to know?’ she added challengingly.

Rogan didn’t look happy. Instead he looked grimly forbidding, eyes hard and glittering, his mouth a thin and angry line above a clenched jaw. ‘Why didn’t you tell me all this sooner?’ he demanded.

Her eyes widened. ‘Why should I?’ She frowned her confusion. ‘None of that has any relevance to my reason for being at Sullivan House.’

‘No relevance?’ Rogan stood up impatiently. ‘You’re an heiress. A millionairess several times over—’

‘Actually, I’m not,’ Elizabeth cut in evenly. ‘I gave a lot of the money away to charity, and floated most of the shares in Britten Industries on the open market ten years ago.’

‘And no doubt made a fortune doing it!’ Rogan scowled across the kitchen at her.

‘Well… yes,’ she confirmed uncomfortably. ‘But none of that changes who I am now.’

‘Don’t be naïve, Elizabeth,’ Rogan growled. ‘You’re the granddaughter of James Britten—and the daughter of Stella Britten and Leonard Brown.’

‘I’m myself!’ she bit out angrily, her hands clenched at her sides.

Rogan had no idea why he was so angry at Elizabeth’s disclosure about who her family were. He only knew that he was. ‘You’re only fooling yourself if you truly believe that! Damn it, Elizabeth, why are you wasting your time teaching History and cataloguing other people’s libraries when you—’

‘When instead I could be living the life of a rich socialite, like my mother did?’ Elizabeth was as angry as Rogan now, her eyes sparkling like sapphires as she glared at him, two bright spots of angry colour on her cheeks. ‘Attending numerous parties. Film premieres. Charity dinners.’ She gave a disgusted shake of her head. ‘I never wanted that. Never wanted to end up being used and abused the way my mother was.’

‘She just married the wrong man.’

‘And you don’t think I would have been just as hotly pursued by every fortune-hunter in England if I’d become part of that elite crowd?’ Elizabeth gave him a pitying look. ‘I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life, Rogan. And teaching gives me that satisfaction.’

Rogan accepted that, but it could never change who she really was…

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘You carry on living in fantasyland, if that’s what you want to do. It still doesn’t change the fact that you’re James Britten’s granddaughter, and worth more dollars than I’ll ever see in my lifetime—’ Rogan broke off, breathing hard in his agitation.

Was that really what was bothering him? The fact that Elizabeth was a wealthy heiress? That knowing exactly who and what she was put her beyond his reach?

He had never wanted her to be within his reach!

He was a free agent. Answerable to no woman. And he intended remaining that way.

‘Oh, to hell with this!’ He threw up his hands in utter exasperation. ‘I have work to do.’ He turned and strode towards the door.

‘So do I,’ Elizabeth reminded him softly.

Rogan turned to give her a cold and narrow-eyed stare. ‘I guess. Until you get tired of it. Then I expect you’ll revert to type.’

‘What type is that?’ Elizabeth interrupted swiftly. ‘I was eighteen when my mother died, Rogan—the same age you were when your own mother died. You disappeared to America and joined the army as a result. Instead of living the life of luxury you no doubt imagine, I chose to go to university, to take my degree and then get my doctorate.’

‘Where no doubt you were the only student living in a penthouse apartment and being driven about by your own personal chauffeur!’

‘Do I live in a penthouse apartment now?’ she challenged. ‘Do you see a chauffeur driving me around?’

‘You probably decided to leave him in London.’

‘Or maybe I just never had a chauffeur to begin with?’ Her chin was raised scornfully. ‘I never would have believed it, Rogan, but you’re an inverted snob!’

.

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