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Jess's Promise

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«Jess's Promise» - Линн Грэхем

Bedroom bargain…baby deal… Cesario di Silvestri isn’t just fast with women, he’s supersonic. After mere minutes spent in his charismatic presence, many of Europe’s most glamorous women tumble into his bed… With the exception of one – shy vet Jessica Martin, who refuses to become his weekend plaything. But when Jess’s feckless relatives steal from Halston Hall, Cesario’s country retreat, he has all the ammunition he needs! For now he’ll enjoy her creamy-skinned beauty, but in the future he’ll need an heir… SECRETLY PREGNANT With this ring, I claim my baby!
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‘All right, tell me. How could I help you?’

‘I would like to have a child, but not in the conventional way,’ Cesario explained wryly, his lean aquiline profile taut as she gazed back at him, fine brows rising in surprise. ‘I’ve never been convinced that I can meet one woman and spend the rest of my life with her. On the other hand I believe I could handle a marriage that had a more practical foundation.’

Jess was now frowning more than ever as she struggled to follow what he was telling her. ‘How can a marriage be practical?’ she asked him uncertainly, convinced that in some way she had misunderstood, because she found it hard to believe that he could possibly be discussing the subject of marriage with her.

‘When it’s a straightforward contract, freed from flowery ideals and expectations like love, romance and permanence,’ Cesario outlined with unconcealed enthusiasm. ‘If you will agree to have a child with me I will marry you, give you your freedom back within a couple of years, and ensure that you need never worry about money again.’


With this ring, I claim my baby!

The amazing 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




CESARIO DI SILVESTRI could not sleep.

Events in recent months had brought him to a personal crossroads, at which he had acted with innate decisiveness: he had stripped the chaff from his life in order to focus his energy on what really mattered, only to appreciate that, while he had worked tirelessly to become an extraordinarily wealthy tycoon, he had put next to no work at all into his private life. The only close friend he fully trusted still was Stefano, the cousin he had grown up with. He’d had many women in his bed, but only one whom he’d loved—and he had treated her so carelessly that she had fallen in love with someone else. He was thirty-three years old and he had never even come close to marrying. What did that say about him?

Was he a natural loner or simply a commitmentphobe? He groaned out loud, exasperated by the constant flow of philosophical thoughts that had recently dogged him, because all his life, to date, he had been a doer rather than a thinker: a great sportsman, a dynamic and cold-blooded businessman. Giving up on sleep, Cesario pulled on some shorts and strode through his magnificent Moroccan villa, impervious to the opulent trappings of the billionaire’s lifestyle that had lately come to mean so little to him. He filled a tumbler with ice cold water and drank it down thirstily.

As he had admitted to Stefano, by this age he would have liked to have had a child, only not with the kind of woman who cared more about money than anything else. For such a woman would only raise her child with the same shallow self-seeking values.

‘But it’s not too late for you to start a family,’ Stefano had declared with conviction. ‘Nothing is set in stone, Cesario. Do what you want, not as you think you should.’

Hearing the shrill of his cell phone, Cesario headed back upstairs, wondering which of his staff thought it necessary to call him in the middle of the night. But there was nothing frivolous about that call from Rigo Castello, his security chief. Rigo was phoning to tell him that he’d just been robbed: a painting, a recent acquisition worth a cool half-million pounds, had been stolen from Halston Hall, his English country home, and apparently the theft had been an inside job. Cold outrage swept Cesario at that concluding fact. He didn’t get mad, he got even. He paid his employees handsomely and treated them well and in return he expected loyalty. When the guilty party was finally identified, Cesario would ensure that the full weight of the law was brought to bear on him…

But, within a few minutes, his outrage and annoyance subsided to a bearable level and a grim smile began to tug at his handsome mouth as he contemplated his now inevitable visit to his beautiful Elizabethan home in England. There he would undoubtedly run into his very beautiful Madonna of the stable yard again, as his horses required her regular attention. And unlike the many women he had known and deemed to be almost interchangeable, his English Madonna did rejoice in one unique quality: she was the only woman who had ever said no to Cesario di Silvestri…and utterly infuriated and frustrated him. One dinner date and he’d been history, rejected out of hand by a woman for the first time in his life and he still had no idea why. For Cesario, who was by nature fiercely competitive, she would always be a mystery and a challenge…

A small, slightly built brunette with her long dark curly hair caught up in a practical ponytail, Jess kept up a constant stream of soothing chatter while she wielded the shears over the cowering dog’s matted coat.

The job had to be done. As the sheepdog’s painfully emaciated body was revealed Jess’s soft full mouth hardened; the suffering of animals always upset her and she had trained as a veterinary surgeon in an effort to do what she could to help in the way of welfare.

Her volunteer helper at weekends, a pretty blonde schoolgirl, helped to keep the dog steady. ‘How is he?’ Kylie asked with concern.

Jess sent the teenager a wry look. ‘Not bad for his age. He’s an old dog. He’ll be fine once I’ve seen to his sores and fed him up a bit.’

‘But the older ones are very hard to rehome.’ Kylie sighed.

‘You never know,’ Jess said with determined optimism, though actually she did know very well. The little tribe of dogs she had personally rescued in recent years were a motley group, each of which was either older, maimed or suffering from behavioural problems. Few people were willing to take a chance on such dogs.

When Jess had embarked on her first job in the village of Charlbury St Helens, she had lived above the vet’s surgery where she worked. But she’d had to find other accommodation when the practice’s senior partner had decided to expand the business and turned the small flat into an office suite instead. Jess had been lucky enough to find a run-down cottage with a collection of old sheds to rent just outside the village. Although her home was not much to look at and offered only basic comforts, it came with two fields and the landlord had agreed to her opening a small animal sanctuary there. Even though she earned a good salary she was always broke, because every penny she could spare went towards animal feed and medical supplies. Even so, in doing what she loved, she was happier than she had ever been in her life. But then she would be the first to admit that she had long preferred animals to people. Shy, socially awkward and uneasy with men after a traumatic experience at university that had left her with both physical and mental scars, Jess struggled to fit in with human beings but was totally at home with four-legged beasts.

The sound of a car pulling up outside sent Kylie to the door of the shed. ‘It’s your dad, Jess.’

Jess glanced up in surprise; Robert Martin rarely called in on her at weekends. Recently, in fact, she had seen less than usual of her father and, when she had, he had seemed abnormally preoccupied with work. As a rule, though, he was a regular visitor, who often helped out by repairing the animal housing and the fences. A quiet man in his fifties, he was a good husband and an even better dad, for, while other family members had believed that Jess had been aiming too high in dreaming of becoming a veterinary surgeon, Robert had encouraged his daughter’s dream every step of the way. His love and support meant all the more to Jess when she reflected that while Robert was the only father she had ever known he had had nothing whatsoever to do with her conception. That, however, was a secret known to few outside the family circle.

‘I’ll get on with the feeding,’ Kylie proffered, as the stocky grey-haired older man nodded to her and entered the shed.

‘I’ll be with you in a minute, Dad,’ Jess promised, bending over the prone dog to attend to his wounds with antiseptic ointment. ‘It’s not like you to call in on a Sunday morning…’

‘I need to talk to you. You’ll be at church later and you’re often on duty in the evening at weekends,’ he said gruffly, and something odd in his voice made her lift her head, her unusually light grey eyes questioning.

She frowned because the older man looked pale and strained and every year of his age and more. ‘What’s happened?’ she prompted in dismay. She had not seen him look that frightened since her mother’s diagnosis of cancer the previous year.

‘Finish up with your patient first.’

With difficulty Jess mastered the spasm of fear that had immediately rippled through her. Goodness, had her mother’s cancer returned? That was her first panicky thought and her hands shook slightly as she finished her task. As far as she was aware, though, her mother had not had a check-up scheduled and she told herself off for being so quick to expect bad news. ‘Go into the house and wait for me. I won’t be long,’ she told him briskly, suppressing her apprehension.

She put the dog into a pen where food was already waiting for him and briefly watched the animal tuck into what was obviously his first proper meal in weeks. After pausing in the bathroom to scrub her hands clean, she hurried on into the house and then the kitchen where Robert Martin had already seated himself at the worn pine table.

‘What’s wrong?’ she prompted tautly, too anxious where her mother was concerned even to put her fear into words.

Her father looked up, his brown eyes full of guilt and anxiety. ‘I’ve done something stupid, really really stupid. I’m sorry to bring it to your doorstep but I can’t face telling your mother yet,’ he confided tightly. ‘She’s been through so much lately but I’m afraid that this business will break her…’

‘Just spit it out…tell me what’s happened,’ Jess pressed gently, sitting down opposite him, convinced he had to be innocently exaggerating his predicament because she just could not imagine him doing anything seriously wrong. He was a plain-spoken man of moderate habits, well liked and respected in the neighbourhood. ‘What did you do that was so stupid?’

Robert Martin shook his greying head heavily. ‘Well, to start with, I borrowed a lot of money and from the wrong people…’

His daughter’s eyes opened very wide, for his explanation had taken her aback. ‘Money is the problem? You’ve got into debt?’

The older man gave a weary sigh. ‘That was only the beginning. Do you remember that holiday I took your mother on after her treatment? ‘

Jess nodded slowly. Her father had swept her mother off on a cruise that had been the holiday of a lifetime for a couple who had never earned enough to take such breaks away from home before. ‘I was surprised that you could afford it, but you said that the money came from your savings.’

Shamed by that reminder, Robert shook his head dully ‘I lied. There were never any savings. I never managed to put any money aside in the way I’d hoped when I was younger.

Things have always been tight for us as a family.’

‘So you must have borrowed the money for that cruise—who did you borrow from?’

‘Your mother’s brother, Sam Welch,’ Robert admitted reluctantly, watching his daughter’s face tighten in consternation.

‘But Sam’s a loan shark—you know he is! Mum’s family are a bad lot and I’ve even heard you warn other people not to get mixed up with them,’ Jess reminded him feelingly. ‘Knowing what you do about Sam, how on earth could you have borrowed from him?’

‘The bank turned me down flat when I approached them. Your uncle Sam was my only option and, because he was sorry your mother had been ill, he said he’d wait for the loan to be repaid. He was very nice, very reasonable. But now his sons have taken over his business, and Jason and Mark have a very different attitude to the people who owe them money.’

Jess groaned out loud and she was already wondering frantically how she could possibly help when she had no savings of her own. That realisation made her feel very guilty, since she earned more than either her parents or her two younger brothers, yet she was still not in a position to offer assistance. But, perhaps, she thought frantically, she might be able to take out a loan.

‘The original amount I borrowed has grown and grown with the interest charges. And Jason and Mark have been at me almost every day for months now,’ the older man told her heavily. ‘Coming after me in the car when I was out working, phoning me at all times of the day and night, constantly reminding me how much I owe them. It’s been a nightmare keeping this wretched business from your mother. Jason and Mark wore me down—I was desperate to get them off my back! I had no hope of paying that money back any time soon, so when they offered me a deal—’

Jess gave him a bewildered look and cut in, ‘A deal? What kind of a deal?’

‘I was a bloody fool, but they said they’d write off what I owed if I helped them out.’

The look of overwhelming fear and regret in her father’s face was making Jess so tense that she felt nauseous. ‘What on earth did you help them to do?’

‘They told me they wanted to take pictures of the inside of Halston Hall and sell them to one of those celebrity magazines…you know, the sort of thing your mother reads,’ Robert extended with all the vagueness of a man who had never even bothered to look through such a publication. ‘You know how Jason has always boasted that he’s a really good photographer and Mark said the photos would be worth a small fortune. I didn’t see any real harm in it.’

‘You didn’t see any harm in it?’ Jess repeated incredulously. ‘Letting strangers go into your employer’s home?’

‘I won’t pretend that I didn’t know that Mr di Silvestri wouldn’t like it. I know how he is about his privacy. Of course I do,’ her father admitted unhappily. ‘But I also thought—wrongly—that there was no way anyone would ever find out that I’d been responsible for letting Jason and Mark into the house, or even that it was them who had got in.’

True comprehension finally slotted into place and Jess was impelled up out of her chair, a look of horror stamping her finely moulded features. ‘Oh, my goodness, the break-in at the hall…the painting that was stolen! Were you involved in the robbery?’ she demanded in ringing disbelief. ‘Was it your fault it happened?’

‘That same evening I gave Jason and Mark my security access codes and key card for the house,’ Robert admitted shakily, his complexion the colour of grey clay as he stared pleadingly at her. ‘I honestly believed that it was only photos they wanted, Jess. I had no idea they were going to steal anything, but I suspect now that it was all planned and I was an idiot to swallow the story they fed me.’

‘You have to go to the police right now and tell them what you know!’ Jess exclaimed.

‘I won’t need to…the police will be coming for me very soon,’ Robert countered in a bleak rejoinder. ‘I found out last night that Mr di Silvestri’s security system is so sophisticated that the IT consultant he’s bringing in will be able to tell which employee’s access code was used to gain entry to the hall and switch off the alarm. Apparently we all have individual codes, so the boss will know soon enough that it was me.’

Chilled to the bone by that news, Jess suppressed a shiver. She was appalled; there was no point pretending otherwise. Her cousins, Jason and Mark Welch, had undoubtedly set her father up to gain access to the hall. They had deliberately subjected him to continual threatening visitations about the debt he could not repay, before finally approaching him with their seemingly simple little proposition. The older man had been naïve indeed to swallow their story of only wanting to take photographs. But then he was naïve, Jess conceded painfully; an uneducated handyman on the Halston estate, who until that cruise had never travelled more than fifty miles from his birthplace or worked in any other environment.

‘Did the Welchs steal the painting?’

‘I know nothing about what happened that night. I just handed over the codes and the key card, which was put back through the letterbox before I even got up the next morning,’ he admitted heavily. ‘The week after, Jason and Mark warned me to keep my mouth shut. Later, when I spoke to them about the robbery, they insisted that they had had nothing to do with it and that they have an alibi for that evening. I’m not sure I can see them as international art thieves. I wonder if they gave the codes and card to someone else to use. But I really haven’t a clue.’

Jess was thinking sickly about Cesario di Silvestri, the billionaire Italian industrialist, the theft of whose painting her father would ultimately be held responsible for. Not a man to take such a crime lying down, not the forgiving sort either. How many people would even credit her father’s version of events? Or that he had not willingly conspired with his wife’s cousins? The fact that he had worked for almost forty years for the Halston estate would cut no ice, any more than his current lack of a criminal record and his good reputation. The bottom line was that a very serious offence had been committed.

As the older man took his leave and urged her not to mention the matter to her mother yet Jess frowned in disagreement. ‘You need to tell Mum about this and quickly,’ she objected. ‘It’ll be a much bigger shock for her if the police turn up and she doesn’t know.’

‘Stress could make her ill again,’ Robert argued worriedly.

‘You don’t know that. Whatever happens, there are no guarantees,’ Jess reminded her father of the oncologist’s wise words following her mother’s treatment programme the previous year. ‘We just have to pray and hope for the best.’

‘I’ve let her down…’ Robert shook his head slowly, his dark eyes filmed with tears. ‘She doesn’t deserve this.’

Jess said nothing, as she had no words of comfort to offer; the future did indeed look bleak. Should she approach Cesario di Silvestri and speak up on her father’s behalf? Unfortunately, when she thought about the background to her own distinctly awkward relationship with Cesario di Silvestri, that did not seem quite such a bright idea. She had gone out to dinner with Cesario once. When he had invited her, she’d had no choice but to accept out of courtesy, because of her father’s employment with him, and also because he was their most important client at the practice. Her face still burned though whenever she thought back to that disastrous evening when everything that could have gone wrong had done so. Now, she hated visiting the Halston Hall stud while Cesario was in residence. He always made her feel horribly self-conscious and her professional confidence took a nosedive around him.

Not that he was rude to her; in fact, she had never met anyone with more polished manners. She could not accuse the smoothly spoken Italian of harassment either, because he had never made the smallest attempt to ask her out again since. But there was always an ironic edge to his attitude that made her feel uncomfortable, as though she was a figure of fun in his eyes. She had never understood why he’d invited her out in the first place. After all, she bore no resemblance to the extremely decorative and flirtatious party girls, socialites and starlets who usually entertained him.

Cesario di Silvestri had a downright notorious reputation with the female sex, and Jess was very well aware of the fact. After all, her parents lived next door to his former housekeeper, Dot Smithers. The stories Dot had told of wild house parties and loose women flown in for the benefit of the rich male guests were the staples of village legend and had provided the fodder for several sleazy tabloid spreads in the years since the Italian billionaire had bought the Halston Hall estate. More than once Jess had personally seen Cesario di Silvestri with two or more women vying for his attention and she had no reason to doubt the rumour that he did, on occasion, enjoy more than one woman at a time in his bed.

So, in the light of that information, there had never been any question of Jess wanting an invitation to dine out or in with Cesario. Even without all the attendant scandal of his raunchy lifestyle, she remained convinced that he was way out of her league, both in looks and status, and she very firmly believed that nothing good could develop from a relationship based on such obvious inequality. In her opinion, people from different walks of life should respect the boundaries that kept them separate. Her own mother, after all, had paid a high price when she’d chosen to flout those boundaries as a teenager.

And Jess’s belief in that social division had only been underlined by that catastrophic dinner date. Cesario had taken her to an exclusive little restaurant and she had quickly realised she was seriously underdressed in comparison with the other female diners. He’d had to translate the stupid pretentious menu written in a foreign language for her benefit. During the meal she had struggled in sinking mortification to understand which pieces of cutlery went with which course and was still covered in blushes at the recollection that she had eaten her dessert with a spoon rather than the fork Cesario had used.

But the highlight of the evening had to have been his invitation for her to spend the night with him after just one kiss. Cesario di Silvestri wasn’t just fast with women, he was supersonic. But his move on her had outraged her pride and hurt her self-image. Had she struck him as being so cheap and easy that she would fall into bed with a man she barely knew?

All right, so the kiss had been spectacular. But the dizzy sexuality he had engulfed her in with his practised technique had unnerved her and had only made her all the more determined not to repeat such a dangerous experience. She had far too much self-respect and common sense to plunge into an affair with an impossibly wealthy womaniser. Such an imbalanced relationship could lead to nothing but grief, the results of which she had already seen within her own family circle. In all likelihood, if she had slept with Cesario that night he would have ticked some obnoxious male mental score-sheet and never have asked her out again.

In any case, in recent years Jess had pretty much given up dating in favour of a quiet uncomplicated existence. Her sole regret on that issue was that she adored children and, from her teenage years, had dreamt of one day becoming a mother and having a child of her own. Now, with her thirty-first birthday only months away, she was afraid that she might never have a baby and she made the most of enjoying her brother’s two young children. She also recognised that in many ways her pets took the place of offspring in her affections. Once or twice she had considered the option of conceiving and raising a child alone, only to shrink from the stressful challenge of becoming a single parent who already worked long unsocial hours. Children were also supposed to do best with a father figure in their lives and in such a scenario she would not be able to offer that possibility; she did not think it would be fair to burden her own father with such an expectation.

The following morning, after a disturbed night of sleep, Jess went into the surgery, where she checked on the sole resident patient, a cat with liver disease. After carrying out routine tasks, she took care of the emergency clinic, which encompassed everything from a goldfish in a bowl that was as dead as a doornail, to a dog she had to muzzle to treat and a moulting but healthy parrot.

That night she lay awake worrying about her father until almost dawn. Her mother, Sharon, had not phoned, which she knew meant that Robert had not yet summoned up the courage to tell his wife that he was in trouble. Jess’s heart bled at the prospect of her mother’s pain and anxiety once she understood the situation. Mother and daughter had always been very close.

Jess had little hope that a personal appeal to Cesario di Silvestri would help her father’s cause. After all, why would anything she had to say carry any influence with him? On the other hand, if there was even the smallest chance that she could make a difference she knew she owed it to her family to at least try. Already painfully aware that Cesario had arrived the previous evening in the UK, she accepted that she needed to make her approach to him as soon as possible.

On Tuesday she was scheduled to make a regular check on the brood mares at the Halston stud and she planned to make her move then. With her travelled half of her little tribe of dogs, for she routinely divided them into two groups and took one out with her on alternate days. Today there was Johnson, a collie with three legs and one eye after a nasty accident with farm machinery, Dozy, a former racing greyhound who suffered from narcolepsy and fell sleep everywhere she went, and Hugs, a giant wolfhound, who became excessively anxious when Jess vanished from his view.

Cesario knew Jessica Martin was on his land the instant he saw the three scruffy dogs outside the archway that led into the big stable yard. He smiled at the familiar sight, while idly wondering why she burdened herself with other people’s rejects; a less appealing collection of misfits would have been hard to find. The tatty hound was whining and fussing like an overgrown, fractious toddler, the greyhound was fast asleep in a puddle, while the collie was plastered fearfully against the wall, shrinking in terror from the noise of a car that was nowhere near him.

As his head groom, Perkins, hurried to greet him, Cesario glanced straight past the middle aged man to rest his dark, deep-set gaze intently on the slight figure of the woman engaged in rifling her veterinary bag for a vaccination shot. A glimpse of the sheer classic purity of Jessica Martin’s profile gave Cesario as much pleasure as the image of a Madonna in a fine Renaissance painting. Blessed with skin as rich and fine in texture as whipped cream, she had delicate but strong features and a luscious Cupid’s-bow mouth worthy of a starring role in any red-blooded male’s fantasies. And the footnote to that list of attributes was amazing eyes that were a luminous pale grey, as bright as silver in certain lights, and a foaming torrent of long black curly hair that she always kept tied back. She never used cosmetics or indeed wore anything the slightest bit feminine if she could help it, yet no matter how she dressed her diminutive height, beautiful bone structure and slender and subtle curves gave her an exceptionally arresting appearance.

Clad in faded riding breeches, workmanlike boots and a waxed jacket that should have been thrown out years ago, she was the living, breathing antithesis of Cesario’s usual taste in women. Cesario had always been a perfectionist and great wealth and success had only increased that natural inclination. He liked his women sophisticated, exquisitely groomed and clothed. Every time he saw Jess Martin he reminded himself of those facts and questioned the depth of her apparent appeal for him. Was it simply because she had once said no and sentenced him to a cold shower rather than the pleasure of slaking their mutual attraction? For, although she denied it and did what she could to hide the fact, the attraction was mutual. He had known it when she looked at him over the dinner table and, since then, every time she went out of her way to avoid his eyes or keep him at arm’s length. Either some man had done a very good job of souring her attitude to his sex or she had a problem with intimacy.

But his suspicions about her had not the smallest cooling effect on him while those breeches clung to every line of her slender toned thighs and the gloriously pert swell of her behind. Strip off the clothes and she would be pure perfection. As the familiar stirring heaviness at his groin afflicted him, Cesario’s perfect white teeth gritted behind his firmly modelled mouth. Per l’amor di Dio! He went from enjoying the view to exasperation because he had never been a guy happy to look without the right to touch. Lust from afar was not his style. She was not at all his type, he reminded himself brutally, recalling the dinner engagement from hell when she had turned up wearing a black tent dress and had barely talked. She didn’t even know how to speak to him. Look at her now, pretending that she hadn’t yet noticed him to put off the moment of having to acknowledge him for as long as she possibly could!

Jess felt almost paralysed by the awareness that Cesario di Silvestri was nearby. Prior to his arrival she had noted the frantic activities of the stable staff, keen to ensure that everything looked good for the boss’s visit, and she could scarcely have missed the throaty roar of his Ferrari, for, while other men might have chosen a four-wheel drive to negotiate the rough estate roads, Cesario travelled everywhere in a jaw-droppingly expensive sports car. Slowly she turned her head and looked at him while he spoke to Donald Perkins and, in that split second of freedom, she took in her fill and more.

Cesario was so gorgeous that, even after a couple of years’ exposure to him, his charismatic good looks still exercised a weird kind of fascination over Jess. With the exception of a tiny scar on his temple he was without flaw, an acknowledgement that only reminded her of her own physical scars, and which chilled her. Cesario stood comfortably over six feet tall and enjoyed the long, lean, powerful build of an athlete. Even in country casuals he looked as elegant as though he had just stepped off a fashion catwalk, as his garments were tailored to a perfect fit, enhancing his broad shoulders, narrow hips and long muscular thighs. He wore his black hair short and cropped and his skin carried the golden hue of the Mediterranean sun. His narrow-bridged arrogant nose, sleek, proud cheekbones and sardonic, sensual mouth were arranged in such a way that you looked at him and then immediately had to look back again. Turning back to her task, she wondered frantically what she was going to say to him about her father. The fact that Robert was still walking around free meant that the older man’s role in the robbery had yet to be identified.

‘Jessica…’ Cesario murmured smoothly, refusing to accept being ignored.

Flustered, her cheeks warming with colour, for he was the only person alive who ignored the diminutive by which she was known and continually employed her baptismal name, Jess twisted back to him. ‘Mr di Silvestri…’

Cesario was reluctantly impressed that she had finally pronounced his name correctly without stumbling over the syllables like a drunk. She’d simply ignored repeated invitations to call him by his first name, keeping him at a distance with her cool reserve. Then Perkins asked her advice about a stallion with a tendon injury that was not responding well to ice packs and bandaging and she accompanied him into the stables to examine the horse. Soldier was a valuable animal and the head groom should have called her in sooner to administer anti-inflammatory drugs, but Jess could not bring herself to criticise his decision to hold fire in front of his employer.

‘Jessica should have been consulted the day the injury occurred,’ Cesario commented, picking up on the oversight with ease.

Jess finished her tasks and moved slowly towards the arch that led out of the courtyard. Sadly when, for once, she would have welcomed an attempt, Cesario made no move to keep her longer by striking up a conversation. Finally steeling herself, with her backbone rigid, she turned back and said without any expression at all and a tightness in the foot of her throat that gave her voice a husky edge, ‘I’d appreciate a word with you, Cesario…’

Cesario settled brilliant dark eyes on her, making no attempt to hide his surprise at her use of his first name. Colour crept into her cheeks again as she gripped her bag between clenched fingers, fiercely uncomfortable below his intent scrutiny. Of course he was staring, one satiric ebony brow slightly quirked like a question mark because he could not imagine what she wanted. After all, she rarely spoke to him if she could help it.

‘I’ll be with you in a moment,’ he responded in his rich, dark, accented drawl.

And no moment had ever stretched longer for Jess as she hovered with her dogs beyond the archway waiting for him. Worst of all she still had no idea at all of what she was planning to say to him.


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