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Грэхем Линн

Mediterranean Millionaires

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FOUR days later, Gwenna was in London. The morning after her arrival, she was met at her hotel by an elegant brunette in her thirties. A senior coordinator in Angelo Riccardi’s employ, it had been Delphine Harper who liaised with Gwenna on the phone and orchestrated all the arrangements to be made on her behalf.

‘It’s my job to ensure that you enjoy a smooth transition to city life. You have a full programme of appointments today,’ Delphine trilled with a polished smile that displayed her perfect white teeth to advantage. ‘First on the agenda, I’ve organised a viewing of the property Mr Riccardi has selected for you.’

A smooth transition? Gwenna could have wept at that useful little cover-all phrase that took no account of the drastic upheaval in her once tranquil daily existence. Only now that her contentment had been wrenched from her did she appreciate just how happy she had been pottering about with plants. The same day that Angelo had visited, her father had signed over all the property he owned. Within twenty-four hours a Rialto employee had arrived to take charge of the plant nursery. The speed of that takeover had stunned Gwenna and she’d found it very hard to hand over control of the business and the gardens she loved. She’d also had to vacate her flat above the shop in a hurry; the new manager needed the accommodation and nobody had appreciated until it was too late that she actually lived there. That had forced her to move temporarily to the Old Rectory, where everyone but her father made her feel like an unwelcome interloper.

Pressed by his daughter’s reference to his owning a second apartment in London, Donald Hamilton had released a heavy sigh. ‘I had very good reasons for keeping that a secret. Eva would have wanted me to sell it to buy a larger family place and I wanted to keep it for our retirement. My motives weren’t entirely selfish either. The current tenant is an elderly lady with a lease due for renewal. I was worried that the change of ownership would force her out.’

‘But you stayed silent about it when you had promised to disclose your assets. That must’ve made a poor impression on the Rialto legal team,’ Gwenna pointed out uncomfortably.

‘If I don’t look to my own interests, who else will?’ her father countered without remorse. ‘Of course, I’m hoping that when you get the chance, you’ll do the best you can to ease our problems here.’

Recalling that conversation, Gwenna felt her stress level merely increase. Her father’s airy lack of concern about his dishonesty had unnerved her. When he’d stolen from Furnridge, it had not just been a case of a man with financial worries succumbing to a moment’s temptation. His problems went deeper than that. There was a weakness in her father’s character, she acknowledged unhappily. That could explain the womanising streak that had caused such havoc when he was a younger man and perhaps she had been too quick to forgive and forget his history.

‘We’ve arrived.’ Delphine’s bright tones cut through Gwenna’s anxious reflections and shot her back to the present.

Emerging from the car, Gwenna stared in astonishment at the substantial property in front of her.

Delphine shook out keys with a pronounced air of importance and unlocked the imposing front door. ‘This has to be one of the best addresses in London.’

Gwenna froze in the marble hall, gazing round in wonderment at the pillars and the elaborate staircase. Fifty questions were on the tip of her tongue. But she was too embarrassed to direct them at her companion, lest she confirm whatever mortifying suspicions the brunette already had about Gwenna’s precise relationship with her fabulously wealthy employer.

‘It is a very large property, and don’t be misled by its age. The house enjoys air-conditioning, touch-pad electronic controls, an integrated sound system and amazing security features,’ Delphine declared.

The official tour began and stretched from a basement swimming pool, gym and wine cellar right up through the floors above and a bewildering parade of vast empty rooms and high-tech bathrooms.

Delphine started to look a shade anxious at Gwenna’s continuing silence. ‘The mews house at the rear has staff accommodation and garaging. Now let me show you the garden, which I believe is of special interest to you. It’s large and sheltered and south-facing.’

‘Please excuse me for a few minutes…er, I need to call your boss.’ Gwenna squeezed the words from her dry mouth and retreated into one of the lower rooms to fumble through her bag until she located the card Angelo had given her. As she punched out the number on her mobile she blinked and shook her head several times.

The minute she heard his voice she burst into speech. ‘It’s Gwenna. I’m sorry to disturb you.’

Angelo almost smiled and gave his PA a wave of dismissal.

‘Not at all, gioia mia.’

‘It’s just you said you’d sort out accommodation, and I’m being shown this house and I don’t understand. It’s a stonking great enormous mansion with eight bedrooms!’

Angelo spun round in his office chair to enjoy a view of the Manhattan skyline. ‘All the properties that I use must enjoy three essentials—the maximum space, privacy and security available.’

‘Yes, but a house that must be worth millions is utterly insane in these circumstances unless…er…You’re not planning on moving in with me, are you?’ Gwenna gasped in an appalled tone. That was the sole explanation for such extravagant expenditure that made sense to her.

Silence hummed at the other end of the line. Angelo was gritting his even white teeth. She might have the grace of a gazelle but she also had the diplomacy of a rampaging elephant. Didn’t she know anything about him at all? Had not even the mildest curiosity stirred her into surfing the internet or checking out the gossip pages? He didn’t do commitment or live-in arrangements.

‘Naturally, I’m not planning to move in,’ he murmured with deflating cool. ‘I’m sorry if that’s a disappointment.’

‘Oh, my goodness, no!’ Gwenna asserted at a much more cheerful pitch, quite impervious to the presence of the snub she was delivering. ‘We wouldn’t suit each other at all. But that doesn’t explain the house when we won’t last five minutes together. All this trouble and expense is so unnecessary.’

Angelo’s eyes flashed tawny-gold. ‘Perhaps you would like me to take you to some cheap hotel that hires out rooms by the hour!’

Gwenna bit down on her ready tongue. She was shocked to realise that she was trembling. Honesty obviously didn’t pay with him, she reflected uneasily. She had made him angry and she knew that wasn’t a good idea. She dared not say what she had almost said for fear of provoking him even more. But, in her opinion, the fancy trappings of a house in Chelsea would not alter the nature of the sexual transaction he had offered her and if a cheap hotel got the wretched business over with quickly she would have been the last to complain. False pride was not one of her problems.

‘If it is my wish, you will live in a stonking great mansion even if it is only for five minutes. Is that understood?’ Angelo enquired in a chilling tone of finality.

‘Yes,’ she conceded in a voice wiped clean of any expression or life.

‘I have work to do. I’ll see you when I get back to London.’ Angelo set down the phone. He was furious with her. He had expected her to be overjoyed with the house. It had an award-winning garden. He had personally selected it from his property holdings. When had he ever made that much effort for a woman?

Gwenna rejoined her guide and walked out into the beautiful garden, an oasis of peace and sunlight right in the centre of a huge city. Her eyes were stinging. She was all shaken up by that conversation with Angelo. She knew that she would not make the mistake of phoning him again. As far as he was concerned she had no rights and no opinions worth hearing that did not match his own. She would not make the mistake of forgetting that in the future.

Her next port of call with Delphine was the luxury pet hotel where a booking had already been made for Piglet’s benefit. The underfloor heating, miniature bed, webcam and the promise of a daily photo and bulletin about her pet made little impression on Gwenna. She explained that she would only be making occasional use of the facilities. Piglet would be exiled only when Angelo was around and, going by Delphine’s encouraging comments on her employer’s schedule, Angelo was much too busy to be around that often.

One week later, her eyes bright with extreme tension, Gwenna contemplated her imminent engagement at three with Angelo and its probable conclusion. A late lunch and then? Blocking out that intimidating thought-train, she studied her reflection in the vast hall mirror.

Her shift dress was white piped with black, tailored to a perfect fit and strikingly elegant. It had a famous designer label, just like all the other garments picked by the fashion consultant who had had the task of kitting Gwenna out with a fabulous new wardrobe. In truth, Gwenna barely recognised herself after her dutiful morning visit to a beauty salon. Her honey-blonde mane of waves had been straightened into a sleek glossy fall, her face expertly made up and her eyebrows ruthlessly waxed into perfect curves.

She thought she bore a striking resemblance to a doll with big blue eyes and an artificially full mouth.

She had always happily gone for the natural look, choosing comfort and practicality over style. Her use of cosmetics had encompassed a touch of mascara and lipstick on special occasions. But Angelo had plunged her into the world of fashion and beauty in which her looks were all that mattered—and she was discovering that that was her equivalent of hell. She found it very hard to walk in flimsy high heels. She absolutely loathed the fake fingernails and felt hugely uncomfortable wearing white because she was convinced that she would brush against something and soil it. Even so, not a word of complaint had passed her raspberry-tinted lips; she had learned her lesson during that single voluntary phone call to Angelo Riccardi. He wasn’t interested in her personal preferences or her physical comfort. All the effort and expense that was being expended on her immaculate grooming was essentially for his benefit.

‘The car’s here.’ The housekeeper opened the front door and ushered Gwenna out. It was only forty-eight hours since she had moved into the house and she still felt very much like a guest staying in a top-flight hotel. Her new home had been furnished, fully equipped and staffed without any input from her.

Gwenna slid into the waiting limo. The parlous state of her nerves offended her pride. But how did Angelo Riccardi expect her to eat when she was presumably destined to provide the evening entertainment without so much as a dress rehearsal? When her phone rang she very nearly leapt a foot in the air.

It was Angelo. ‘It looks as though I’m not going to make it back in time,’ he informed her grimly. ‘The air traffic controllers here are calling a one-day strike.’

Gwenna blinked. ‘Oh, dear…’

‘Dannazione. I’m sorry, I was very much looking forward to seeing you,’ Angelo grated, striving not to yield to the suspicion that her mild response lacked any note of dissatisfaction at his news. ‘I’ll call when I have more information.’

Gwenna told the chauffeur to take her to Piglet’s pet hotel. As they sat in the heavy lunchtime traffic she couldn’t help picturing Angelo’s lean, darkly handsome face, hard with impatience. His compelling image was stuck in her mind like a fixture and she couldn’t push it out again. She realised that she was being torn in two by very different reactions: a sharp and shocking sense of unexpected disappointment, accompanied by a helpless sense of relief. She was startled by that stab of regret. For goodness’ sake, what was the matter with her? Okay, he was incredibly gorgeous and insanely fascinating in the same dangerous way that a sleek man-eating tiger would be. But in terms of compassion and decency Angelo Riccardi was an absolute bastard. Knowing that, how could she possibly respond to him on any level?

Her phone rang again and she tensed—but it wasn’t Angelo; this time it was Toby. ‘I tried to catch you at home and got your stepmother instead. Digging info out of her was not easy. Since when did you move to London and get into a relationship with some guy I’ve never even heard of?’

Gwenna winced. ‘I only moved this week…and, er, the relationship is very new.’

‘Not to mention sudden and impulsive and that is most unlike you. It can only be a wild passion—and about time too!’ Toby told her cheerfully. ‘Look, I’m flying in tomorrow for a meeting with a new client and I’d love to see you in the evening. We could go to a club. I could do with a chill-out session.’

Gwenna beamed. ‘I’d love that too. Will you be staying long?’

‘No. I have to go back to Germany to tie up loose ends on the park project.’

Comforted by the prospect of seeing Toby again, Gwenna went into the pet hotel with a spring in her step. Even though they had only been parted the night before, Piglet was as ecstatic to see his mistress as she was to see him. Having persuaded him into eating, she played with him and took him out for a walk. She was grateful to have a task to devote her energies to, for her recent period of idleness had made time hang heavy on her hands. Her plan to take the little dog home with her again was disrupted when the chauffeur came inside to pass on a message he had received on the car phone: Angelo would meet her at the same exclusive restaurant for an early dinner instead. Quite unprepared for the news that Angelo had successfully evaded being delayed abroad for the rest of the day, Gwenna was cast into renewed panic…

Having moved metaphoric mountains to overcome a major hitch in his travel schedule, Angelo was still in aggressive single-minded mode, energy pumping through him in an adrenalin-charged flow. Events had conspired to keep him out of the country longer than he had hoped and his impatience to see Gwenna had a raw edge that was unfamiliar to him.

‘Miss Hamilton has arrived, boss,’ Franco, his chief of security, approached Angelo’s table to murmur.

Angelo picked up on the note of admiration and soft ripple of comment and lifted heads that accompanied Gwenna’s passage through the restaurant. At first glance, her stunning beauty held his appreciative gaze. Yet, equally quickly, he regretted the changes he saw: he had liked the luxuriant waves in her hair and the unadorned glow of her skin. The artificial polish of perfection, however, had already taken a beating. Her shiny blonde mane of hair was wind-tossed and she had a set of clearly defined muddy little dog paw-prints stamped on the front of her dress. He rose to greet her with a smile that bore little of his usual sardonic reserve.

Mesmerised by the potent dark allure of his lean bronzed face, Gwenna could not drag her attention from him. When that smile slashed his wide sensual mouth he was staggeringly handsome, indeed nothing short of breathtaking. Ten out of ten women would appreciate him at such a moment, she assured herself hurriedly. That she should notice him too was par for the course. Had Toby been in the vicinity she was convinced she would not have registered that Angelo even existed. Her face pink with self-consciousness, she dropped down into the chair pulled out for her occupancy.

‘I didn’t think you’d make it back today at all,’ she confided, noticing that the table was set well back from the other diners to create an exclusion zone of greater privacy for their benefit.

Scorching golden eyes locked to hers and stole the very air from her lungs. ‘I wanted to be with you and when I want something I stop at nothing to get it.’

Detaching her gaze from his, Gwenna lowered her head. Now she felt hot all over and there was a tightness low in her tummy at the unmistakable awareness of his meaning and the high voltage sexual charge that he made no attempt to hide. ‘Is that your recipe for success?’

‘That would be too predictable for me. I choose my battles, gioia mia.’

As champagne was poured she grasped her glass, sipped steadily through the effervescent bubbles tickling her nose and studied the menu with fevered determination. He began to talk to her about Paris and she was intrigued by the discovery that he was an unexpectedly brilliant storyteller, capable of drawing an amusing picture with a handful of words. Enthralled, she listened and drank more than she ate; before dinner, she had shared a bar of chocolate with Piglet. As the champagne stole away her remaining discomfiture she was happy to let herself be entertained.

‘Are you not eating?’ Angelo enquired.

‘I’m not hungry.’ Except for you, a little voice whispered inside her head, shocking her with that instinctive message that rebelled against everything she had believed about her nature. But it was true: fascination had taken a powerful hold of her and she had shut out the voice of common sense that usually kept her feet on the ground. Even though she had suppressed that initial reckless thought she still found it almost impossible to break the potent hold of his dark golden eyes. Soon she was lost in her admiration of the ebony luxuriance of his lashes, the smooth olive planes of his hard cheekbones above the blue-black roughened skin of his jaw line and the pure masculine beauty of his wide sculpted mouth. In the same way she could not resist the exhilarating zing of awareness in the atmosphere.

Every fibre of his lean, powerful body on sexual alert, Angelo thrust his plate away. Finally he had her full attention and his predatory reaction was instinctive: to take immediate advantage. He reached for her hand. ‘Let’s go…’ he urged huskily.

‘But we haven’t finished,’ she framed shakily.

Angelo used his strength to inexorably tug her upright. His smouldering gaze gripped hers with a sensual force that made her knees tremble. ‘We haven’t even begun, bellezza mia.’

The buzz of conversation around them died. Gwenna was conscious of the stares as Angelo escorted her out, an arm possessively closed to her slim back. Her colour was high, her legs as weak as twigs. Without warning she found herself wondering if he had been with any other woman while he’d been away and a hollow sensation filled her tummy. He tucked her into the limo, got in beside her and pulled her to him. A heartbeat later the hungry driving heat of his mouth was on hers and a blaze as hot as an indoor sun was coursing through her tremulous length. It hurt not to breathe, but it would have hurt more to do without the gloriously erotic plunge of his tongue and the sweet flood of sensation he unleashed. A vital force was energising her body to a pitch of response so intense it almost hurt.

He released her lips, leaving her gasping for air and yet stricken at that loss of contact. Her bemused blue eyes focused on him again.

‘You’re amazing,’ Angelo purred. ‘I knew you would be.’

Her lashes dropped to shadow her shaken gaze. In a matter of moments he had rewritten her knowledge of herself. Her body was crying out for him and she was shocked. Chafed by the lace cups of her bra, her tender nipples were tingling. The prickling throb between her slender thighs painted her face pink. She wanted him. He had made her want him. Of course, a few glasses of champagne had loosened her inhibitions, she told herself defensively. But wasn’t that a good thing? Angelo Riccardi had offered her the devil’s bargain, and she had surrendered choice when she agreed to share his bed in return for the charges against her father being dropped. Wasn’t it wiser to make the best of a bad situation rather than try to resist the inevitable? And wouldn’t asking if she was currently the only woman in his life demean her? Give him the impression that she cared?

Angelo could feel her trembling and his very sensitivity to that fact annoyed him in the same way that so many things had in recent weeks. Disturbed nights when he had tossed and turned and burned for her had presumably affected his mood. The concept of deferred satisfaction was not for him. He wasn’t used to waiting for a woman. But he wasn’t an animal either, was he? She was a virgin and as highly strung as one of his pedigree racehorses. Gone, he could not help noticing, was the happy aura of serenity she had exuded at their first meeting. The brutal pressure he had utilised had left its mark. But why should that bother him? As Donald Hamilton’s daughter, she had been raised in the cosy comfort of middle-class respectability, he reminded himself grimly. The discovery that the world could be a much more challenging place would be a character-building exercise for her.

In the hall of the Chelsea house she gave him a swift uncertain glance from eyes as blue as the china his mother had once collected. He closed a hand to hers in an imprisoning gesture. ‘You haunt my dreams,’ he ground out with a harsh laugh. ‘You could be seriously bad for my health.’

Gwenna was feeling slightly dizzy from the champagne. Her mind was full of muzzy, disjointed thoughts, but the bitter light in his brooding dark eyes twisted something painfully inside her. Without understanding or conscious decision she lifted a hand to trace his aggressive jaw line in a soothing motion. Then startled by that extraordinary prompting, belatedly aware that he was equally surprised as questioning gold drenched the darkness of his gaze and his ebony brows pleated, she froze in confusion.

‘Per amor di Dio,’ Angelo breathed roughly, cupping her soft cheeks between long brown fingers. ‘Right now I think I could die from wanting you, mia bella.’

He tasted her lips with a searing sweetness that sent her every barrier crashing down. She didn’t want to think, she refused to think when he bent down and scooped her up into his arms as though she weighed nothing to carry her up the handsome staircase. But fear of being seen prompted her to mutter uneasily, ‘The housekeeper—?’

‘Off duty until we call.’ Angelo claimed a passionate kiss that silenced her.


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