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Pagan Enchantment

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«Pagan Enchantment» - Кэрол Мортимер

Carole Mortimer is one of Mills & Boon’s best loved Modern Romance authors. With nearly 200 books published and a career spanning 35 years, Mills & Boon are thrilled to present her complete works available to download for the very first time! Rediscover old favourites – and find new ones! – in this fabulous collection…Swept away by the millionaire…Promising young actress, Merry Charles, is beyond excited when celebrated movie director, Gideon Steele, arrives to see her play. She can’t help but dream that it’s so he can offer her a part in his next production.But that isn't what Gideon wants at all. In fact the reason he has come to see Merry is much more personal… Soon Merry finds herself being swept away to the Mediterranean on Gideon’s luxury yacht. And posing as Gideon’s girlfriend is only the first surprise…
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Pagan Enchantment Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

‘DID you see who was in the audience?’ Vanda asked excitedly at the end of the first act, as the two of them were changing for their next scene.

‘Who?’ Merry asked wearily, knowing there was always supposed to be ‘someone’ in the audience. There rarely was, and somehow she doubted it very much for this play—it would probably be closed down within the week! A dozen or so inexperienced actors and actresses parading about the stage wearing weird clothes and having shocking coloured hair—her own was pink!—spouting inane dialogue to the meagre audience, was not something that was likely to attract the interest of anyone who really mattered. In fact, it no longer held her interest—and she was appearing in it!

‘Gideon Steele!’ Vanda pulled on her own tight leather trousers and leather waistcoat, her hair bright orange, her own blonde hair hidden beneath the atrocious wig.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Merry dismissed, putting on a similar outfit, hating the amount of bare flesh it left. This play might have paid her rent for the last month of rehearsal, but even though it would once more leave her one of the numerous unemployed, she would be glad when it came to an end. It would probably never have opened at all if Harry Anderson, the author, hadn’t been rich enough to pay to have it put on himself. All it had proved was that you could put anything on the stage if you had the money to pay for it. Nevertheless, the critics would close this play as soon as possible; even Harry Anderson couldn’t expect them to play to an empty theatre! Although having come to know Harry this last month she thought maybe that wasn’t so unbelievable. Left a millionaire many times over three years ago when only twenty-two, he had more money than sense, as her father would have put it.

As for Gideon Steele being in the audience, it was not only unlikely, it was highly ridiculous. He had won an Oscar last year for best film director, his work being highly acclaimed by fellow directors and critics alike. And he wouldn’t come to see a play like this. Besides, he was a film director, not a stage director.

‘Handsome Harry said he is,’ Vanda used their pet name for Harry Anderson.

‘Wishful thinking,’ Merry grimaced. ‘Come on, the second act is about to start. And in case you forgot, we should be on stage.’

‘Okay,’ the other girl shrugged. ‘But take a look in the front row. I only saw him on the box last year at the awards, but I don’t normally forget a good-looking man,’ she gave an exaggerated leer, ‘and Gideon Steele is a handsome devil. In fact, he’s gorgeous! I’m sure it’s him. Your mascara has run.’ Vanda handed her a tissue. ‘God, this make-up is awful!’ She shook her head.

It certainly was. Stage make-up was always thick, necessarily so because of the lights, but as they played the parts of two showgirls their eye make-up was very thick too, their lip-gloss a deep slash of red across the mouth.

The second act went as badly as the first, and Merry saw several people actually get up and leave. But not the man sitting alone in the very front row, several vacant seats away from other people. She couldn’t see him clearly, just caught glimpses of him every now and then, a dark-haired man wearing glasses with tinted lenses, making it impossible for her to see the colour or expression of his eyes. He was sitting back in his seat, the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other one, the elbow of one arm resting on the side of the chair, his hand up over his mouth partly obscuring his face.

‘Did you see him?’ Vanda asked as they came off to prepare for the third and final—perhaps in more ways than one!—act.

‘I saw a man,’ Merry nodded. ‘But the way he’s hiding his face he could be anyone.’

Vanda giggled. ‘You’d probably hide your face too if you were Gideon Steele watching a play like this!’

If he is Gideon Steele.’

‘He is,’ Harry spoke from behind them.

Vanda spun round. ‘He is?’ her pretty face lit up, although she looked very garish in the bright make-up. ‘He really is?’ She grabbed Harry’s arm.

‘Yes, darling, he really is,’ he drawled, his fair hair brushed back from a middle parting, a white silk scarf draped casually around his neck, falling loosely down over the black evening jacket he wore. His features were almost too perfect, making him occasionally look beautiful, like right now, aptly earning him the nickname of Handsome Harry.

‘But he isn’t here to see you,’ he told Vanda smugly. ‘He’s here to see Merry.’

Her head went up. ‘Me?’ she gasped. ‘You really mean me?’

‘Well, he took me to one side and asked me to point out which one was Meredith Charles. He said you all looked alike,’ he added with a disgusted sniff.

Merry frowned. ‘But why would he want to see me?’ she puzzled.

‘Use your head, darling,’ said Harry in his most affected drawl. ‘He’s casting his latest movie, maybe there’s a part in it for you.’

‘Step on to my casting couch!’ Vanda giggled. ‘I might even be persuaded to do that for a man like him.’

‘Really, darling,’ Harry drawled haughtily, ‘do have some class! That approach is old hat now. And you, darling,’ he spoke to Merry, ‘make a good impression, there’s a love.’

‘“There’s a love”,’ Vanda mimicked softly as he moved away. ‘Do you know why he calls us all darling or love?’

‘Why?’ Merry asked vaguely, wondering if Gideon Steele really did have her in mind for his next film. What a break that would be if he did. This awful play would have been worth it!

Vanda grimaced. ‘Because he can’t remember our names.’

‘Who can’t?’ she frowned.

‘Handsome Harry can’t. Hey, are you with me?’ her friend teased.

‘Sorry,’ she smiled. ‘I was just—I can’t believe Gideon Steele asked to see me!’

‘Fantastic, isn’t it?’ said Vanda without jealousy, her arm through the crook of Merry’s as they went to the dressing-room they shared with two other girls.

Merry was very nervous when she went back on stage, even more conscious of the man sitting alone in the front row. His hand was down from his face now, revealing deeply tanned skin, a long straight nose, the well-shaped mouth twisted derisively, the tinted glasses still hiding his eyes. Merry had always believed the eyes to be the mirrors of the soul, and without seeing his eyes she couldn’t begin to tell what he was thinking. But that derision on his mouth made her squirm.

By this time the theatre was slowly emptying, so that by the time they came to the end of the play the clapping in the darkened theatre sounded to be half a dozen people. And Gideon Steele wasn’t one of them, getting to his feet and going through the stage door to the right of him. Merry had a brief glimpse of him before the curtain came down, a tall powerfully built man, wearing fitted denims and a brown bomber jacket.

‘Wonderful, darlings. Wonderful!’ Harry enthused ecstatically as they wandered off the stage.

‘It may have escaped your notice, Harry,’ one of the male cast taunted, ‘but the damn theatre was empty by the time we got to the end!’

‘Exactly!’ he cried. ‘That’s exactly the reaction I was looking for.’

‘Idiot!’ hissed Vanda.

‘I don’t know what you’re all complaining about,’ he snapped. ‘You have nothing to lose—–’

‘Except their reputations as actors,’ drawled a sardonic voice.

‘Gideon!’ Harry exclaimed with a smile. ‘My dear man! What did you think of it?’

Merry was busy studying the man she now knew was Gideon Steele. He stood only feet away from her, taller than any of the other men here, older too, with an aura of power and vitality that seemed to make him impatient with his surroundings. His hair was very dark, almost black, brushed casually back from his face and long over his collar and ears, the face hard, as if carved from granite, the glasses still in evidence and so shielding the expression of his eyes.

He looked at Harry unsmilingly. ‘It was trash,’ he said bluntly. ‘And that’s being kind.’

Harry’s mouth dropped open, a hurt look to his face. ‘Gideon …’

‘And who gave you permission to call me your dear man, boy?’ he snapped, using his obvious seniority to humiliate the other man. ‘You ought to be put against a wall and shot for the setback you’ve given the reputation of the theatre tonight. In fact, I’d like to be the one to do the shooting,’ he derided harshly.

Several of the cast members turned away to hide their smiles, but not Merry.

She knew the play was awful, that they must all have been mad to appear in it, that without his own money to back it Harry would never have got it as far as a theatre, but that didn’t excuse the way Gideon Steele was verbally humiliating the other man in front of everyone. It was cruel and unkind—but then Gideon Steele had a hardness about his mouth that seemed to indicate he enjoyed being cruel on occasion.

‘I’m sure we all have our failures when we first start out,’ she heard herself say. ‘Even you, Mr Steele,’ she added softly, holding her breath at her own daring.

She had remembered something about Gideon Steele, something she had read about him once. He may be a highly acclaimed director now, but when he had started out fifteen years ago he had had an absolute disaster of a film, had had trouble getting finance for future films, and it had taken the succeeding five years to prove his skill. But he had been at the top of his profession for ten years now.

He looked over in her direction, everyone about them suddenly falling silent, the ones that had been rushing off to change now lingering on at the prospect of a heated exchange. ‘Touché, Miss …?’

‘Charles,’ she supplied stiltedly.

His mouth tightened. ‘Meredith Charles?’

‘Yes.’

He turned furiously to Harry. ‘You told me the one with the orange hair!’ he ground out.

Harry looked uncomfortable. ‘I’m sure I said pink … Does it matter?’ he shrugged dismissively.

The other man controlled his anger with effort. ‘Not now,’ he sighed. ‘I’d like to talk to you, Miss Charles,’ he told her impatiently.

The buzz of interest deepened about them, and Merry felt herself blush. Whatever he had to say surely shouldn’t be said in front of the rest of the cast?

Obviously he thought so too, for he took her arm in a firm grip to move her to one side of the corridor, out of earshot of the others, most of them starting to wander off to their dressing-rooms now, losing interest when it was obvious he had come to see Merry and not themselves.

‘Do you mind?’ She shook off his hand, conscious of the speculative looks she was receiving; some of her fellow actors obviously doubted that this man’s interests were professional—as she did herself. He hadn’t even realised which one she was, had thought Vanda was her!

Someone pushed by them, momentarily knocking Gideon Steele off balance, so that for a moment Merry was crushed between the wall and the hardness of his body. She wasn’t very tall herself, only five feet two, and consequently her face was squashed against his chest, his thighs grinding into her.

‘Hell!’ he muttered, moving back. ‘It’s impossible to talk here. Go and change, I’ll wait for you outside.’ He pushed the tinted glasses up the bridge of his arrogant nose. ‘Don’t be long.’

‘Mr Steele!’ Her angry outburst stopped him in the process of turning to leave.

His brows rose. ‘Yes?’

She frowned her consternation. ‘I’m sure you’re a brilliant director, in fact, I know you are—–’

‘You surprise me,’ he drawled, ‘after appearing in this garbage.’

Her eyes sparkled angrily. ‘I have to pay the rent, Mr Steele. And if appearing in this “garbage” can do that, then I’ll do it!’

His mouth twisted, his eyes just discernible now, although not the colour. ‘You had to be desperate.’

Merry’s mouth tightened at his insulting tone. ‘I’m not so desperate that I’ll meekly agree to meet you when I’ve changed! I’ve heard of Gideon Steele, of course, and Harry seems convinced you are who you say you are, but I think we’re all agreed that Harry is an idiot.’

‘And after you defended him so bravely a few minutes ago,’ he taunted.

‘You were ridiculing him!’

‘He deserves to be ridiculed! If I had my way he would never be allowed near a theatre again,’ Gideon Steele bit out angrily.

Merry gave a half-smile. ‘He probably never will be.’

‘No,’ he agreed ruefully. ‘So if you don’t think I’m Gideon Steele, just who am I?’ he mocked.

She shrugged. ‘I have no idea.’

‘But you don’t intend meeting me later to find out?’

She looked at him unflinchingly. ‘No.’

‘So I need someone—other than Harry Anderson,’ he derided, ‘to vouch for me?’

‘There’s no need to go that far,’ she snapped. ‘Perhaps I could meet you somewhere tomorrow?’

He gave an impatient sigh. ‘Would you feel safer with me in daylight?’

‘I would feel safer if I never saw you again,’ she told him coldly, her head at a haughty angle. ‘But if you really are Gideon Steele …?’

‘Yes?’

‘I would be a fool not to at least listen to what you have to say.’

‘More so than you realise,’ he nodded grimly. ‘Okay, we’ll meet tomorrow. Do you have anywhere in mind?’

His derision rankled. After all, she hadn’t been born yesterday, and she had heard too many stories from friends of hers that had warned her to beware of the men who promised sudden fame. Even in this day and age it wasn’t unheard-of to be fooled by these men. She would be stupid to go off into the night with a man she didn’t even know.

‘The Ritz, I think,’ she told him airily. ‘For lunch.’

His mouth twitched. ‘One o’clock?’

To his credit he hadn’t even flinched at her choice of one of London’s leading hotels and restaurants. Perhaps he was Gideon Steele after all; his arrogance certainly seemed to say he was.

‘One o’clock will be fine,’ she nodded, deciding she had pushed her luck far enough for one day—or night. Goodness, she was tired, and if she didn’t soon get this heavy make-up off she would break out in a rash. ‘If you’ll excuse me …’

‘Meredith—–’ his hand grasped her arm, the skin firm and tanned, with a light sprinkling of dark hair, the fingers long and tapered, very strong, as he held her immobile.

She looked from that hand into the hard, inflexible face. ‘Yes?’ She suddenly felt breathless.

‘Don’t let me down,’ he instructed softly. ‘It’s too important. All right?’

‘All—right,’ she nodded, wishing the tightness away from her chest. And miraculously it was as he released her. ‘Good—goodnight.’ She went into her dressing-room, not looking back, although she wanted to, if only to see if he were still there.

‘Well?’ Vanda pounced on her excitedly as she entered the room, looking more like her normal self, her short blonde hair now in evidence, the thick make-up removed now, showing her own clear complexion and sparkling blue eyes.

‘Well what?’ Merry said absently.

‘Has he offered you a part in his next film?’

‘Not yet.’

Vanda frowned. ‘What does that mean?’

She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It’s eleven-thirty at night, much too late to be discussing anything. I’m exhausted! We’ve arranged to meet tomorrow,’ she revealed reluctantly, knowing Vanda wouldn’t rest until she knew everything. ‘For lunch,’ she supplied before the other girl asked, and pulled the pink wig off with a sigh of relief, taking the pins from her ebony-coloured hair, allowing it to cascade in gleaming waves down her back, the feathered fringe swept back either side of her small heart-shaped face. Next came the make-up, and her skin really started to feel uncomfortable. ‘Ugh!’ She removed the artificial lashes, cleansing her eyes of the black clog applied to them earlier, instantly looking more like her twenty years without the cheap image she had projected on stage.

‘Sounds promising.’ Vanda sat cross-legged on the sofa that was pushed against one wall of the small room. The two girls were the only ones left, the others having already gone home.

‘Mm, he said it was important,’ Merry said slowly.

‘Even if it’s only a small part—–’

‘Oh, it will be,’ Merry smiled ruefully, feeling more comfortable in her denims and casual blouse.

‘But just to work for Gideon Steele—–’

‘If he is Gideon Steele.’ She picked up her shoulder-bag. ‘Ready?’

Vanda followed her out of the theatre on their way to the Underground. ‘You surely don’t have any doubts about that?’ she frowned.

‘Well, Harry’s hardly a good character witness,’ Merry derided. ‘We all know Liam only got the male lead in the play because he’s Harry’s “friend”.’

‘But it was Gideon Steele. All six foot three, one hundred and seventy-five pounds, thirty-four years, black-haired, blue-eyed bachelor inch of him,’ Vanda finished breathlessly.

‘Know a bit about him, do you?’ Merry teased.

‘Not really,’ her friend said tongue-in-cheek. ‘His father is Samuel Steele, he owns one of the big airlines, I’m not sure which one. Well, I wasn’t really interested in his father,’ she protested at Merry’s mischievous derision.

‘Of course not.’

Vanda grinned, sitting beside her on the Underground train. ‘He’s really rich, you know.’

‘The father or the son?’ Merry mocked.

‘Both. His father’s loaded, but Gideon Steele is rich in his own right now. And his films speak for themselves.’

Yes, they did. After that first youthful mistake, they had all been masterpieces in their own way, and last year’s Oscar had been well deserved. If she could get a part in one of his films her career could really take off—and in the right direction this time! The sooner this play was over and forgotten the better she would like it.

Vanda was of the same opinion. ‘At least you’re in with a chance,’ she grimaced. ‘I think it’s back to the dole queue for me tomorrow.’

Merry’s eyes widened. ‘That soon?’

‘In case you didn’t notice, it was the critics who walked out first. This play will be heralded as Harry Anderson’s biggest folly to date.’

And indeed it was! The critics ripped him and the play to pieces. In fact, they didn’t have a good word to say for anyone in it either, although luckily no one was mentioned by name. When they turned up for rehearsal that morning it was to be told that ‘Mr Anderson has decided to take a cruise on his yacht. For an indefinite period’. All the staff were paid off, and they were all out of work again.

Merry dressed carefully for her luncheon appointment, wanting to make a good impression now that she had checked and found that Gideon Steele was who he said he was. It wasn’t too difficult to verify, he was a well-known personality in the crowd she mixed with, and it was rumoured that he was on the look-out for new talent for a film he intended doing later in the year.

She wished she hadn’t been so presumptuous as to choose the Ritz, though. It had been a perverse act of defiance on her part, and it had backfired on her. It wasn’t really her sort of place, not the pomp and ceremony, the snobbishness. Oh well, she would make the best of it. After all, she was an actress, wasn’t she?

None of her nervousness showed as she was taken to Gideon Steele’s table in the lounge area, and her red suit, the narrow skirt and blouson top, looked as good as any of the clothes the other women wore. Except the woman in the fur coat—and as she abhorred the killing of animals for furs, this really didn’t count.

Gideon Steele stood up as she arrived at the table, easily the most impressive man in the room, his light grey three-piece suit and black shirt perfectly tailored, very expensive by the look of the cut, his tie a perfect match in colour for the suit. And today the tinted glasses had been removed, revealing very deep blue eyes surrounded by thick dark lashes, the face incredibly handsome in a rugged sort of way. Certainly handsome enough to star in one of his own films instead of just directing them!

If Merry was bowled over by his good looks he made no effort to hide his surprise at hers. ‘God …!’ his eyes were intent on her face and hair as she sat down, sitting down himself once she had done so. ‘I thought last night that the hair was yours!’

‘Pink?’ she derided with sarcasm, giving every impression of frequenting restaurants like this every day of her life.

He shrugged broad shoulders. ‘It was possible. Women today seem to dye their hair to match the colour of their clothes.’

‘I never wear black, Mr Steele,’ she told him coldly. ‘But my hair stays that colour.’

‘And green eyes.’ He shook his head. ‘It’s incredible!’

Those green eyes widened, the lashes thick and silky, naturally dark, the tips golden. ‘There’s nothing incredible about my colouring, Mr Steele.’

‘Oh yes, there is,’ he nodded, watching her with narrowed eyes. ‘Let’s go in to lunch and you can tell me about yourself.’

‘There’s nothing to tell,’ she dismissed.

‘Nevertheless, I want to hear it.’ He stood up to pull back her chair for her, towering over her as they walked side by side into the dining-room, the walls lined with mirrors, the ceiling very ornate. Meredith had never been here before, and she found it all beautifully elegant.

For the next fifteen minutes she gave him a résumé of what she had been doing since she left school four years ago, hardly noticing the food that was quietly and efficiently placed in front of her, only knowing that it was delicious.

‘And your family?’ he prompted.

She frowned. ‘Is that necessary?’

She couldn’t see what her family history had to do with giving her a part in a film, but after the indifference she had treated him with the night before she was willing to do anything to please him. Well, not quite anything, she thought ruefully.

‘Something funny?’ He quirked one dark brow, perfectly relaxed with his surroundings, taking the efficiency of the service for granted, the perfection of the food.

And also the female attention coming his way. And there was plenty of that! Young and old alike seemed to feel his magnetism, the aura of sensuality that Merry was becoming more and more aware of with each sip of wine.

‘Not really,’ she smiled. ‘It was really good of you to agree to meet me here. You must have thought me very audacious yesterday.’

‘Possibly,’ he replied enigmatically, dismissively. ‘You were going to tell me about your family.’

She looked at him over the rim of her glass. ‘What would you like to know?’

He sat forward, his expression intent. ‘Everything.’

‘What an invitation!’ she laughed huskily. ‘I’m sure you don’t mean “everything”?’

‘My dear Miss Charles,’ he drawled with barely concealed impatience, ‘I never do, or say, anything I don’t mean.’

‘How clever of you!’ her sarcasm was barely veiled.

‘Yes,’ he agreed tersely.

‘Don’t you know that it’s fatal to invite an actor or actress to talk about his or herself? I could go on for hours,’ she warned lightly.

‘I’m willing to take the risk,’ he taunted, the blue eyes deeply mocking.

‘All right,’ Merry sighed. ‘I’ve lived a very normal life, with very normal parents.’

He scowled at her, the black brows dark over his eyes. ‘That was hardly hours,’ he snapped.

‘I can’t help that,’ she shrugged. ‘That’s been my life so far. I’ve lived a very uneventful life. In fact,’ she added softly, ‘the most exciting thing to happen to me so far is meeting you.’ Her eyes were widely innocent.

His mouth twisted with scepticism. ‘I don’t need flattery, Miss Charles,’ he rasped. ‘Especially the insincere kind.’

She flushed at the way he had seen straight through her. So much for her acting! He was right, her flattery was insincere. Something about this man warned her to beware, that he was dangerous. Maybe it was the way he kept staring at her, those deep blue eyes totally unnerving, making her wish he had kept the tinted glasses on. Whatever the reason for her nervousness, she knew that here was a man she could never relax with, and her guard was well and truly up—although she had nothing to hide.

‘Do you still live with your parents?’ he asked now.

She shook her head. ‘My father lives in Bedfordshire. I have to live in London for my work.’

‘And your mother?’

A flicker of pain crossed her face. ‘She died, two years ago,’ she revealed huskily.

Gideon Steele nodded. ‘I didn’t think there’d been any mistake. The moment I saw you today, without the wig and that atrocious make-up, I knew Harrington hadn’t been wrong about you. But I had to be sure.’

‘Sure of what?’ Merry frowned, suddenly tense. ‘And who is Harrington?’

‘That isn’t important for now,’ he dismissed impatiently. ‘What is important is that Anthea sees you straight away.’

‘Who is Anthea? Your casting director?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous! Anthea is—–’ he broke off with a frown. ‘Why did you think I wanted to meet you today?’ he asked slowly.

‘Well, everyone knows you’re in town looking for people for your next film, and—–’

‘You thought I was going to cast you?’ he finished incredulously.

She flushed resentfully. ‘Why else would you want to see me?’

‘Because of your mother,’ he rasped. ‘Good God, girl, you could be a brilliant actress for all I know, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell from Anderson’s play.’

‘That isn’t the only thing I’ve been in,’ she defended heatedly, her disappointment acute. He wasn’t going to offer her a part after all. ‘And what does my mother have to do with you? I told you, she’s dead.’ Her voice shook with emotion.

‘You told me Sarah Charles is dead—–’

‘That is my mother. And how did you know her name?’ Her voice was sharp with suspicion. ‘I didn’t tell you.’

‘I already knew it. I also know your father’s name is Malcolm, that you were born on April the fourteenth twenty years ago, that you had a boy-friend called David—–’

‘How do you know all that?’ she gasped, her glass landing heavily on the table, unconcerned with the curious glances now coming their way. ‘Why did you need to know that? You had no right going into my background!’

‘I had every right,’ he told her abruptly. ‘You see, I’m your stepbrother. Your mother is married to my father.’

Merry paled. ‘My mother is dead,’ she said weakly. ‘I just told you that.’

He gave her an impatient look. ‘I meant your real mother—–’

Real mother?’ she echoed shrilly, her eyes huge in her pale face. ‘I don’t know what you mean!’

‘Perhaps we should get out of here and go somewhere where we can talk more privately?’ he suggested abruptly, signalling the waiter for their bill.

Merry’s movements were jerky as she picked up her handbag. ‘We have nothing more to say to each other.’

‘Meredith—–’

‘Take your hands off me!’ She wrenched away from him. ‘You got me here under the pretence of offering me a part in your film—–’

‘I didn’t,’ he sighed. ‘You surmised that all on your own.’

‘What else was I supposed to think?’ Her eyes flashed deeply green. ‘I had no idea you had some sort of dossier on me!’

‘Meredith, you have to listen,’ his expression was intent, the jaw rigid. ‘Anthea wants to see you.’

Who is Anthea?’ she cried her bewilderment, wondering if this man were deranged.

‘Your mother.’

‘My mother’s name was Sarah—Sarah Charles!’ she told him heatedly.

He gave an angry sigh. ‘You aren’t helping matters by this ridiculous refusal to admit the truth. You may have thought of Sarah Charles as your mother, and I’m sure she was a very good one, but that doesn’t change the fact that Anthea, my stepmother, is really your mother, that the Charleses adopted you when you were only a few months old. I realise it must have been painful for you to accept when you were a child, but surely by this time you’re used to it?’

Merry shook her head dazedly, unable to hide her distress. ‘You were wrong about me, Mr Steele. I’m not the girl you were looking for after all. My name is Meredith Charles, yes, and my parents’ names are Sarah and Malcolm, but I—I wasn’t adopted.’ Her voice shook.

‘Meredith—–’

She stood up. ‘You have the wrong girl, Mr Steele,’ she told him hardly. ‘The wrong girl!’ She turned away, walking straight into the waiter bringing their bill, pushing past him with a muttered apology, almost running out of the restaurant, knowing that Gideon Steele couldn’t follow her when he had to pay the bill.

But why should he want to follow her? He had the wrong Meredith Charles, the wrong person completely. He had to have! She couldn’t possibly be the daughter of some woman called Anthea. Her mother was Sarah Charles. She was!

.

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