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Passionate Winter

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«Passionate Winter» - 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…A forbidden attraction…No woman can resist the powerful attraction of Piers Sinclair! Sophisticated, experienced and dangerously exciting, his very presence unsettles Leigh Stanton. Especially since he happens to be her boyfriend’s father!There might be a big age difference too, but Leigh can’t help falling for his charismatic charms. Leigh knows she should try to avoid Piers—their chemistry might be sizzling, but they mustn’t succumb to the temptation of the forbidden… Yet when someone decides to play matchmaker, forgetting Piers is no longer a possibility!
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The Passionate Winter 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

‘WELL, I still think you’re making a mistake,’ repeated Karen, her youthful face pensive. ‘You’ve only known Gavin a couple of months.’

‘Long enough to know he isn’t quite the rake you’re making him out to be,’ Leigh grinned at her friend, grateful for her concern but hoping it would be needless. ‘Honestly, he’s quite harmless.’

She only hoped that she believed what she was saying. Gavin was harmless, at least she hoped so. She was now beginning to regret her impulsive acceptance of his invitation to stay at his father’s country home for the weekend. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she wasn’t so sure. After all, Karen was right, she didn’t know Gavin that well. She was prevented from saying any more by the arrival of the boy she had just been talking to Karen about.

As usual Gavin looked perfectly relaxed and casual in a tee-shirt and tight-fitting jeans, making Leigh think how silly her thoughts had been. At eighteen, the same age as herself, Gavin was rather handsome in a boyish sort of way. Long dark brown hair grew low to his collar, a firm slightly immature chin jutting out purposefully below a constantly curving mouth that gave the impression of good humour, and laughing blue eyes, all added up to a very attractive picture indeed.

‘Hi,’ he smiled at the two girls before seating himself in one of the only two armchairs they possessed. ‘Ready?’ he asked Leigh.

‘If you are.’ Leigh picked up her tiny overnight case. She had only packed a spare tee-shirt and extra underwear, being assured by Gavin that she wouldn’t need anything else.

‘Be good,’ warned Karen as she let them out of the flat she shared with Leigh.

‘Of course,’ replied Leigh, wishing Karen wouldn’t keep making comments like that. She had felt perfectly relaxed about this weekend until Karen began giving her doubts.

Gavin opened the passenger door of his bright red Spitfire and helped Leigh into the low car. Leigh looked about her appreciatively at the low leather seats and the highly technical-looking dials. This was certainly nothing like her old Mini. The car had been an eighteenth birthday present to Gavin from his father and it was the first time Leigh had seen it.

‘What a super car!’ she exclaimed as Gavin climbed agilely in beside her.

Gavin flicked on the ignition before answering her. ‘It is, isn’t it?’ he grinned. ‘Dad picked it out for me.’

They were now driving through the busy streets of London and Leigh for one felt glad to be leaving the rush and bustle for a couple of days. At the moment, with Christmas only three weeks away, everyone was in too much of a hurry to consider other shoppers and Leigh was usually one of the people to get trampled underfoot.

‘The insurance must cost you a fortune for a car like this at your age.’ There was no doubt about it, this was a beautiful car, and Leigh knew it must have cost a small fortune.

Gavin shook his head, changing gear smoothly and efficiently. ‘Not me—Dad. He included the insurance as part of the present. I could never afford to pay it on my allowance.’

‘You must have a very wealthy father,’ she said, completely without guile, settling more comfortably into her low black leather bucket seat.

He grinned at her as they left the London traffic far behind them. ‘He is,’ he said without conceit. ‘Very much so.’

‘And he spoils you.

‘No,’ Gavin replied slowly, ‘I wouldn’t ever say that. Oh, I know he bought me this car, but that was only because it was my coming of age birthday. He isn’t usually as generous. I mean, if I were spoilt would I bother to go to college so that I can learn a profession? Now would I?’

Leigh snorted with laughter. ‘You call art a profession?’

‘It is if you’re good enough.’

‘And are you?’ she asked mischievously, her violet-coloured eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘Good enough, I mean.’

Gavin looked slightly sheepish, some of his brash self-confidence deserting him for a moment. ‘I wish I were, but I’m afraid I’m going to be a failure at that as well as everything else I’ve ever tried to do.’

Leigh laughed lightly at his woebegone expression. ‘You’re only eighteen, Gavin, you can hardly have tried that many things.’

‘You think not?’ he grimaced. ‘Well, you’re wrong. I tried to get into university, and failed—Dad is paying for this course for me. I also tried racing driving, and failed.’

‘Racing driving!’ echoed Leigh, astounded at the thought. ‘Whatever for?’

Gavin glanced sideways at her. ‘That’s what Dad did. Didn’t I tell you? I thought I had.’

She shook her head. ‘I would certainly have remembered something like that. A racing driver! Was he really?’ she asked disbelievingly.

‘Mmm. And he was good at it too. I wasn’t.’

‘I should hope not!’ Leigh said in a disgusted voice. ‘That’s no profession for anyone, let alone someone your age.’

‘Dad was even younger when he started competitive driving.’

‘Your father had no right to push you into a profession he’s too old to compete in himself.’

Gavin laughed out aloud at her outrage. ‘Dad isn’t old. And he didn’t force me into anything—in fact he warned me against it.’

Leigh smiled knowingly. ‘So you instantly wanted to try it,’ she turned to look out of the window. ‘I know the feeling. My mother warned me against secretarial college, said I would be bored within a few weeks—and she was right too. It’s very disconcerting, isn’t it? Parents always seem to be right, don’t they?’

‘Well, Dad didn’t rub it in, if that’s what you mean. But to tell you the truth, I think he was quite relieved it didn’t work out. But then, so am I. Not at the time maybe, but I am now. It’s a very rough life.’

‘But exciting?’

Gavin shrugged his shoulders. ‘I suppose so. But my mother didn’t think so. She walked out and left Dad when I was three years old. Thank God she didn’t take me with her!’

Leigh made no comment, sensing an underlying bitterness at his mother’s early rejection of him. But had it been rejection? His mother might have just thought he would be better off with his father, although Leigh found this hard to believe. Who in their right mind would imagine that a three-year-old boy would be happier with a father who was constantly risking his life as a racing driver, a sport that seemed totally pointless to Leigh anyway, than with a mother who could look after him properly? It didn’t seem a very feasible explanation to Leigh, and yet what sort of woman could leave a little boy of three to such a fate?

‘Will it take long to reach your father’s house?’ she asked, changing the subject to something less painful to Gavin.

‘No,’ Gavin replied shortly. ‘About another hour now.

‘But two hours in a car like my father’s,’ Leigh retorted dryly. ‘You did tell your father that I’d be with you, didn’t you?’

‘Of course,’ he replied evasively.

Leigh looked at him sharply, her earlier feelings of nervousness returning. ‘Gavin? You did, didn’t you?’

‘I said yes, didn’t I?’ he said abruptly, a frown marring his otherwise handsome features. ‘Why should I say I have if I haven’t?’

‘I don’t honestly know,’ she shook back her long dark hair from her face. ‘But I hope you aren’t lying to me, Gavin.’

He sighed angrily. ‘I told my father, I promise you.’ He looked sideways at her as he drove. ‘What did your parents say about this weekend? You said they wouldn’t approve.’

‘I didn’t tell them.’ Was it her imagination or had Gavin actually smiled when she said that? ‘I thought about it for a while, and then decided it seemed pointless to worry them when I was only going away for the weekend with a friend. I’ve done it dozens of times before, and just because you happen to be a male friend it shouldn’t make any difference.’

Actually Leigh felt rather guilty about this omission to her parents. Usually she told them everything, but as she wasn’t romantically involved with Gavin this weekend seemed quite harmless. She wasn’t sure her parents would have felt the same way, though. She wasn’t even sure she did now.

‘Well, it does to me,’ Gavin laughed. ‘A great deal of difference.’

‘Gavin!’ she said reproachfully. ‘I told you, I’m not interested in you that way. You’re just a friend, that’s all. Anyway, we’re too young to be thinking of marriage.’

Gavin looked startled. ‘Marriage! Who said anything about marriage? I certainly didn’t.’

‘Gavin!’ Leigh half turned in her seat to look at him. ‘If you weren’t talking about marriage, just what were you—–? Oh!’

He laughed as she broke off in confusion. ‘It certainly wasn’t marriage,’ he chuckled. ‘Don’t look so shocked, Leigh. Stop being such a prude. Don’t you know it goes on all the time?’

‘Not with me it doesn’t!’ she said indignantly, crossing her arms protectively across her chest. ‘I think I’ve changed my mind about this weekend, Gavin. I didn’t realise what you had in mind when I agreed to come.’

‘Relax,’ he said abruptly. ‘We’re nearly there now anyway. At least see what the place looks like before talking of going home.’

‘I’d rather not if you don’t mind,’ she said stiffly.

His only reply was to put his foot down harder on the accelerator. Not that Leigh had for one moment been contemplating jumping out. She wasn’t that stupid, or that hysterical. She just felt an absolute fool. How could she have got herself into such a situation? Karen had warned her, her own subconscious had warned her, but as usual she had ignored all the signs. And now she was stranded in the middle of nowhere with a boy she hardly knew, she could admit that now when it was too late, and she had no way of getting herself out of this mess.

And Gavin knew it! This was what annoyed her more than anything, and at this precise moment she could cheerfully have hit him. But that would get her nowhere—except perhaps crash the two of them into the nearest ditch! Ooh, she could scream, she felt so helpless. And Gavin’s behaviour in this affair was absolutely disgusting. She looked at him again. All right, so his behaviour was disgusting and he was a powerful boy, but he couldn’t actually force her to go to bed with him. Even the thought of it made her shudder. No, she should be able to protect herself. Hadn’t she had plenty of practice at fighting boys with her two older brothers?

Gavin glanced quickly at her pale set face. ‘For God’s sake!’ he snapped impatiently. ‘Just calm down, will you? We’ll be at the house in a moment and I don’t want to have to try and force a near-hysterical female inside. Anyway, you might find it isn’t so bad once you get there.’

‘And I might find it’s worse!’

Gavin’s mouth tightened angrily and he remained silent until he turned into a long driveway, only speaking to her when he had at last drawn up in front of the house and turned off the ignition. He got out of the car, locking the door his side before coming round to open Leigh’s door for her. Leigh had thought of locking the door against him, but as he had the key the idea seemed rather pointless.

‘Come on.’ He pulled at her arm until she stumbled blindly out of the car. ‘And don’t make too much noise.’

‘Why?’ she whispered, their feet crunching noisily on the gravel of the driveway. ‘Is your father here after all?’ she asked hopefully.

‘No, he isn’t!’ Gavin snapped. ‘But we do have a housekeeper and her husband who’s the gardener. They live in the basement flat and I don’t want you waking them up.’

Leigh’s spirits lifted a little. So there was someone in the house. Perhaps—–?

‘No,’ Gavin shook his head as if guessing her thoughts. ‘The Nichols are very broadminded. They have to be in this house.’

‘I’m not surprised!’ Leigh said tartly, tugging at the firm painful grip he had of her arm. How could she have ever thought he was nice! Her mother had always said her trusting nature would get her into trouble one day. Why was her mother always right?

‘I was referring to my father, not myself.’ Gavin walked with long strides into the house, dragging the reluctant Leigh behind him.

‘Your father!’ The more she heard of Gavin’s father the less she liked him.

‘Sure,’ he grinned at her. ‘Have you never heard of Piers Sinclair? I told you he was a racing car driver—well, now he designs them. Surely you must have heard of him, I thought everyone had.’

Leigh shook her head slowly, stopping suddenly. Yes, she did remember reading an article about someone of that name. Now what had it said?

‘Probably a bit before your time,’ remarked Gavin, flicking a switch in the entrance hall and instantly throwing the huge reception area into a radiant flood of light. Reflections of light hit different corners of the hallway from the chandelier set in the ceiling high above them and Leigh couldn’t hold back her gasp of admiration. It was like something out of the glossy magazines she occasionally flicked through looking for her dream house—deep pile carpets thick enough to sink your feet into, and all the expensive luxury she had never expected to see out of those glossy pages. She hadn’t realised Gavin came from such a rich background; he never seemed to have any more money than the rest of them and dressed just as casually.

Gavin had now thrown open the big double doors that led into a room Leigh assumed to be the lounge. The decor in here was in autumn browns and golds and even in her discomfiture she could appreciate the elegant beauty of it.

Gavin put down her small overnight case which now seemed rather incongruous in this magnificent house. Walking confidently over to the drinks cabinet, that Leigh felt sure must be a genuine antique, he poured out two glasses full of liquid and handed one out towards her.

‘No, thanks.’ Leigh put her hands effectively behind her back so that she couldn’t be made to take the glass. ‘I don’t drink,’ she said in an effort at lightness. The atmosphere between them had become too tense for comfort, besides that she had the feeling she was going to need all her wits to get out of this situation. ‘Remember?’

He still held out the glass. ‘Make this an exception,’ he said insistently.

Leigh shook her head again. ‘I don’t want it,’ she said firmly.

‘Take it!’ Gavin ordered. ‘It will help steady your nerves.’

‘They don’t happen to be unsteady!’ She glared at him with dislike. ‘And I don’t like alcohol, you know that.’ She brought one of her hands forward to brush back her dark swathe of long hair, and Gavin, thinking she had relented, pushed the glass at her in a triumphant gesture. The amber liquid upset all over her dark blue jeans and the coldness of it made her gasp.

‘Ooh!’ She brushed frantically at the fast soaking in liquid, wrinkling her nose delicately at the stickiness of her legs.

Gavin pulled out a handkerchief and began mopping up as best he could, bending down on one knee to gain better access to the largest of the wet patches on her jeans.

Leigh, seeing her chance of escape, pushed him over, and not waiting to see any more she ran blindly to the door. She found herself in an unfamiliar darkened room and realising her mistake turned to re-enter the lounge, only to be stopped in her tracks by the harsh anger of a voice she didn’t recognise.

‘Gavin! What the hell are you doing on the floor?’

Leigh resisted an impulse to chuckle at the ridiculous picture Gavin must make lying on the floor, unwilling to draw this man’s attention to herself. She wondered how Gavin was going to explain himself to this obviously angry man.

‘Dad!’ Gavin exclaimed, and Leigh shrank back against the door. Piers Sinclair! And from what his son had mentioned about him he certainly wasn’t going to help the situation in any way. ‘Why are you here?’ he asked his father lamely.

‘I happen to live here. I take it you have no objection to my staying in my own home?’ the voice asked scathingly. Leigh had to admit that she felt rather curious about the man that went with that voice, its deep tone husky and attractive.

‘Er … no … But I…’

‘Yes? God, it smells like a brewery in here! How much have you had to drink, Gavin? And where’s Lee?’

So he had told his father he was bringing her here after all! She felt some of the tension leaving her rigidly held body, or did that man assume, as Gavin had, that she intended sleeping with his son! If so, Gavin was right and the Nichols’ must have very broad minds to tolerate such behaviour from their employer. But if the money was right, who were they to complain?

‘Leigh is …’ Gavin hesitated. ‘Leigh is in your study.’

‘In my—–! What the hell is he doing in there?’

Before Leigh could move further back into the room the study door was flung open and she stood in the sudden glare of the lights staring at the silhouette of the man she only knew as a name, her violet eyes huge and terrified. The man before her took a step forward and pulled her effortlessly into the lounge.

Leigh stared up into a pair of deep blue eyes set in a ruggedly handsome face. At the moment his features were grim and forbidding, but even so Leigh found him completely devastating. It was perfectly obvious that this was Gavin’s father, the likeness between them was too great to be any other. But whereas Gavin’s face was still young and boyish, this man’s was hard and cynical, as if he had seen all life had to offer and found it wanting. He was aged between thirty-five and forty and Leigh found herself trembling at his nearness.

No man had ever affected her like this before and she found it impossible to look away from his narrowing eyes. Dark brown hair, almost black, flecked with grey at the temples, grew low on his collar and the sideburns low down his jawline. He was dressed in close-fitting black trousers and a black silk shirt unbuttoned almost to the low waistband of his trousers, and looked very lean and attractive. Over these he wore a thick sheepskin jacket, and Leigh found herself wishing he would take it off so that she could see him better. No wonder Gavin’s mother had left such a man! Any woman would have difficulty holding and keeping him by her side.

He dropped her arm, stepping back to survey her tousled dark hair and dishevelled appearance before turning his mocking eyes on his now standing son. Gavin was studiously brushing down his denims, effectively avoiding his father’s eyes. ‘Well?’ Piers Sinclair demanded, his expression deceptively lazy. To Leigh he had the look of a sleepy feline, a black panther perhaps.

‘Well what?’ Gavin asked evasively.

Gavin was playing for time and Leigh knew it, unfortunately for Gavin, so did his father. But he had told his father about her—or at least, he had told him something. Whatever the information had been she felt sure Piers Sinclair had not expected her to be here. Then why had he asked about Leigh? It was all too puzzling for her and she sighed deeply.

Piers Sinclair looked at her with cold indifference. ‘As my son doesn’t seem forthcoming perhaps you wouldn’t mind supplying a few simple answers to a few simple questions. Like, who the hell are you? What are you doing here, if that isn’t a rather too stupid question,’ he added enigmatically. ‘And why do you smell like a whisky bottle? Unless of course you’ve drunk the contents of one, which wouldn’t surprise me—your eyes look over-bright and your appearance isn’t exactly perfection.’

Leigh gasped in disbelief. Somewhere along the line she had come out of this as the person in the wrong, how she didn’t know, but she felt her temper rising at this man’s unwarranted rudeness. ‘My name, Mr Sinclair, happens to be Leigh, Leigh Stanton.’ She saw dawning realisation in his eyes and carried on, her voice stilted with disapproval at his attitude. ‘I’m here because your son chose to bring me here. And I smell of whisky because Gavin tipped a whole glassful down my jeans. And may I add that after meeting you I understand his actions much better than I did.’

‘Really, Miss Stanton?’ His voice had softened dangerously, and Leigh saw that even Gavin was beginning to shift uncomfortably. ‘It this true?’ Piers Sinclair demanded of his son.

‘Yes, I suppose so,’ mumbled Gavin.

‘Don’t ever lie to me again, Gavin!’ his father said harshly. ‘You know it’s the one thing I will not tolerate, not after your mother.’

‘But I—I didn’t lie.’ Gavin’s eyes, so much like the older man’s, began to look pleading and Leigh began to feel sorry for him. ‘I did tell you I was bringing Leigh here for the weekend.’

She glared accusingly at Piers Sinclair. So he actually condoned his son’s outrageous behaviour. How dare he! No wonder Gavin behaved in this fashion with such a father for an example.

As if reading her thoughts Piers Sinclair smiled with mocking amusement, and walking lazily over to the drinks cabinet helped himself to a liberal amount of whisky before turning to face them again. At the moment his not undoubted anger was directed towards his son, but Leigh was tensing in anticipation of his attention turning on her, as she surely knew it would.

Piers Sinclair looked coldly at Gavin. ‘You told me you were bringing someone called Lee here, knowing full well that I would think it was that boy Lee you share your flat with,’ he put up a silencing hand as Gavin tried to speak. ‘All right, I accept that you didn’t lie, but you certainly didn’t tell the truth either. You omitted to mention the most important fact, that Lee was—no, is a female.’

‘It had the female spelling, L-E-I-G-H,’ she put in resentfully.

Those blue eyes flickered over her contemptuously. ‘We didn’t actually go into the spelling of it during our telephone conversation.’

Leigh picked up her case and marched purposefully towards the door. ‘I couldn’t give a damn what you talked about during your telephone call. If you and your son will excuse me, I am going home.’

‘Don’t let me spoil your little weekend,’ put in Piers Sinclair smoothly, discarding the thick sheepskin jacket in the warmth of the room. ‘Just try and forget I’m here.’

It was something Leigh knew she could never do under any circumstances, let alone now when she was alone here with him and his son. In every way that Gavin was still a boy this man was very much a man. Her eyes were drawn again and again to the dark sensual face of Piers Sinclair, the power of his body clearly outlined in the close-fitting trousers and shirt he wore, the shirt clinging to his hair-roughened chest.

Leigh drew herself to her full height, and being a tall girl she was usually on a level or near level with most of the men she knew, but Piers Sinclair was at least a head taller than she was and she felt at a distinct disadvantage. ‘I don’t know the type of person Gavin usually mixes with, Mr Sinclair, but let me tell you now that if I’d known what Gavin’s plans were for this weekend I would never have come here.’

He sat down in one of the soft leather armchairs, resting the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other, his eyes veiled and mocking. ‘It pretty obvious to me that you were progressing very satisfactorily until I arrived,’ he gave a nod to Gavin. ‘A fact for which I now apologise. If you’d explained the situation to me earlier, Gavin, I wouldn’t have burst in here and broke up your evening.’

‘That’s all right, Dad. I—–’

‘When the two of you have quite finished!’ exploded Leigh, flicking her long hair away from her face. She walked angrily back into the room to glare at the two of them. ‘The two of you disgust me! But you, Mr Sinclair, you disgust me the most. Gavin can’t be expected to act any differently with you as an example. The only trouble appears to be that I’m not that type of person.’

Piers laughed tauntingly. ‘Oh, come on, girl! You mix in Gavin’s crowd, don’t you? And even the most shy innocent, which I’m sure you aren’t, couldn’t miss seeing where their scene is—where most young kids’ scene is nowadays.’

‘Not mine,’ Leigh denied vehemently. ‘I know very few of Gavin’s friends, and after today I don’t think I want to know any of them.’

‘You don’t have to defend yourself to me, Miss Stanton. I’ve already been there.’

‘That’s perfectly obvious!’ she said with disgust.

‘Dad, Leigh is—–’

‘Shut up, Gavin!’ Leigh snapped at him. ‘Your father isn’t in the least interested in what I am or am not. And I’m not sure it’s any of his business anyway.’

‘I should think there’s very little to tell. Most of Gavin’s friends are long-haired layabouts,’ he looked at her from head to toe, his nostrils flaring sneeringly, ‘and you seem to be no exception. If you want my opinion—–’

‘But I don’t! You see, your opinions don’t really matter to me,’ Leigh cut in angrily, aware by the tightening of his well shaped stern lips that Piers Sinclair wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to in this manner. This only made her feel better for being the one to do so. ‘Now if you don’t mind I really do have to go home,’ she smiled bitterly. ‘I won’t say it’s been fun, because that’s the one thing it hasn’t been.’

‘But you can’t go home now, Leigh,’ interrupted Gavin. ‘It’s very late. I’m certainly not taking you back at this time of night.’

‘I didn’t ask you to.’ And she had thought him a nice harmless boy! How wrong could she have been? If she had met his father before tonight she could possibly have guessed at his plans for her; no son of Piers Sinclair would ask a girl away for an innocent weekend. ‘I have two perfectly healthy legs and I’m sure some nice kind person will offer me a lift home.’

Piers Sinclair stood up, shrugging the sheepskin jacket back over his powerful shoulders. ‘You’re right—I will.’

Leigh’s eyes widened. ‘I wouldn’t exactly call you kind, Mr Sinclair,’ she told him rudely.

He released the case from her resisting fingers. ‘Is this all you have with you?’ he asked, ignoring her previous comment.

Leigh made an effort to retrieve her case but found all her efforts quite ineffectual against such stubborn strength. ‘Will you please give me back my property?’ she said stiffly.

He shook his dark head. ‘Sorry. I realise you probably hitch-hike all over the country, and get into all sorts of trouble by doing so, but I will not be held responsible for you travelling nearly a hundred miles in that manner at this time of night. That’s just asking for trouble, you may welcome it, I really don’t care. I’ll take you home and that’s that. My son doesn’t feel gentlemanly enough to return you to your home, a feeling I quite understand in the circumstances, so I feel obliged to carry out the task, with or without your co-operation.’

‘Don’t trouble yourself!’ Leigh told him tartly. ‘As you’ve just pointed out, I’m accustomed to hitch-hiking. You meet some very interesting people that way.’ In actual fact she had never hitch-hiked in her life and felt little inclination to do so now. She had heard too many stories of different girls being attacked and molested in such circumstances to ever contemplate such a reckless idea. Until now! But this wasn’t from choice, but necessity. Unless of course she accepted Piers Sinclair’s forced offer of a lift, which she had no intention of doing.

‘I’m sure you do,’ retorted Piers Sinclair dryly. ‘But not this evening,’ he flicked an indifferent look towards his son. ‘I take it you have no objections to my taking your—girl-friend home?’

Gavin shook his head sulkily. ‘Not if you want to take her.’

Leigh’s eyes glittered her distaste. ‘Quite the gentleman, aren’t you?’ she smiled bitterly. ‘And I actually liked you! And as for you—–’ she turned angrily on the older man, ‘I’d rather risk getting into some of that trouble you mentioned earlier than spend any more time in your company!’

‘You certainly know how to pick them, Gavin.’ Piers Sinclair viewed his son with narrowed eyes. ‘Quite the little spitfire, isn’t she?’

‘Would you mind not talking about me as if I weren’t here!’ snapped Leigh. Really! This man was the absolute end!

‘Oh, we know you’re here all right,’ he said with some humour. ‘I must say you’re quite an improvement on some of the girls Gavin has introduced me to.’

‘I don’t need your approval, Mr Sinclair. And if I never see you or Gavin again it will be too soon. I’ve never been so insulted in my life before as I have been by you and your son!’

‘Now that I find very hard to believe.’

‘But Dad, she really is—–’

‘Will you please keep out of this, Gavin!’ Leigh almost shouted in her anger. ‘You’re only making the situation worse—if that’s at all possible. Your father has already formed his opinion of me, and I’m certainly not going to disillusion him.’

‘I doubt very much if you could do that, Miss Stanton, that was done a long time ago, when you were only a baby. Now—if you’ve quite finished wasting time I’m ready to leave. I gather you live in London?’

‘Yes, but I—–’

‘Please, Miss Stanton!’ he said tersely, guessing she was about to protest again. ‘No more arguments. I’ve had a long day and am not really in the mood. They’re quite pointless anyway as I have no intention of leaving a kid like you to her own devices. I can well imagine what they might be.’

Leigh followed him out of the house, not bothering to say goodbye to Gavin; she felt sure he already knew that was what it was. ‘I’m not a “kid”, Mr Sinclair!’ She glared at him defiantly, for once glad of her height. This man was a positive bully!

She almost gasped out loud at the beauty of the car he led her to. That it was much more powerful than Gavin’s she had no doubt; as an ex-racing driver Piers Sinclair would obviously crave speed. Its deep green colour was also to be expected, as he was more conservative in his tastes than his son, and not as showy in any of his mannerisms.

Piers Sinclair viewed her admiration with amusement, deftly flicking open the door for her to enter before climbing in next to her. ‘You like it?’ he asked softly, turning to look at her.

Leigh looked with pleasure at the luxurious interior of the car, its smoky windows giving it an intimate atmosphere she found slightly claustrophobic with such a man. She was wholly aware of his warm compelling body so close to her own, and could smell the aftershave lotion he wore and the clean male smell of him.

‘It’s very nice,’ she told him primly, sitting as far away from him as it was possible to do in such close confines.

He laughed slightly, a deep pleasant sound, and not full of mockery as his humour had been earlier. ‘Very politely said. You don’t give much away, do you?’

‘Not much. What sort of car is it anyway?’ She relaxed back in her seat, finding his driving more efficient and self-assured than Gavin’s. Here was a man who had complete control of himself, and the car he drove. And the people in it, she thought wryly. She wouldn’t ever like to oppose this man, knowing he would be a formidable adversary for anyone, let alone her.

‘A Ferrari. Have you never driven in one before?’

She shook her head. ‘Contrary to your imaginings, Mr Sinclair, I do not idle my time away riding about in expensive cars and generally wasting my life. I do work!’

‘Oh yes?’ Arrogant amusement shone from his taunting eyes. ‘And just how did you meet my son?’

‘I met him at college, but—–’

‘And you call that work?’ he interrupted.

Leigh bridled angrily at the scornful mockery in his voice. Who was he to scoff at her when he had chosen racing driving as a career! ‘One has to learn before one can achieve,’ she said tautly.

‘Does one?’ he taunted, his long slender hands moving with expertise on the steering wheel. ‘Then why is it that Gavin doesn’t seem to have learnt anything? Not that I’m complaining, you understand. I’m sure he’ll find his vocation one day.’

Leigh didn’t miss the ring of steel in his voice and wondered if his father’s attitude had anything to do with Gavin’s behaviour this evening. It seemed to her that Gavin was trying to justify himself to his father in any way he could. But he surely didn’t imagine this evening’s episode was the right way to go about it! No matter what sort of morals his father had she felt sure they weren’t expected to be followed by the son.

She sat quietly beside him, willing the miles away and wishing she hadn’t been obliged to accept this lift. But then she hadn’t accepted it at all, but was ordered here by Piers Sinclair. He had already put her in the same category as his son, and he had nothing but contempt for him. But what gave him the right to judge other people? Nothing, if his attitude was anything to go by.

Leigh studied him under lowered lashes, noting the cruel hard set of his mouth, the unrelenting strength of his finely carved features. He wasn’t the sort of man that she thought she would ever want to become involved with. Not that she would ever be given the chance, but he was much too overpowering to ever be ignored, whatever the situation.

‘Satisfied?’ His eyes momentarily flickered over her before returning his attention back to the road.

‘Sorry?’

‘You’ve been staring at me for the last five minutes as if any second you expected me to attack you or something. I can assure you that my tastes run to something a little more sophisticated.’

‘I don’t doubt it for a moment.’

‘Then why the appraisal?’

‘Is that what it was?’ she asked coolly. ‘I thought it was more of a perusal.’ She gazed at him with wide violet eyes. ‘You don’t like me very much, do you, Mr Sinclair?’

‘Not much,’ he replied smoothly. ‘But then I think the feeling is reciprocated. If you were my daughter I’d give you a good hiding when you get home and keep a closer watch on you in future.’

‘But you aren’t my father.’

‘Thank God for that! As it is I intend to tell your parents about this evening and leave your punishment to them.’

‘Aren’t you being rather hypocritical? I mean, you’re all for Gavin gaining more experience.’

‘He’s a boy.’

‘I know that. But he can hardly get this experience on his own.’

‘Is that what you were doing? Gaining experience?’

‘Maybe,’ she lied.

‘You’re a mass of contradictions, young lady,’ he said disapprovingly. ‘First of all you deny that you knew of Gavin’s intentions, and now you say you were actually encouraging him. Which is it to be, Miss Stanton? The outraged virgin or a young girl looking for excitement where she can find it?’

Leigh coloured at his insulting words. ‘Neither. I wouldn’t think either of those descriptions fits me, both in part maybe. You’ll have to decide for yourself which parts.’

‘I think I can do that quite easily,’ Piers Sinclair replied shortly. ‘Why don’t parents keep a closer watch on their kids nowadays?’

‘Like you do?’ she enquired sweetly, and instantly regretted her impulsiveness as she saw his mouth tighten cruelly and his hands grip the steering wheel as if he might hit her if he didn’t hold on to something. After all, it was none of her business what his relationship with his son was like. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said quietly, unable to look at him.

Piers Sinclair pushed an irritated hand through his thick vibrant hair. ‘Don’t pay lip service to me, young lady. I’d rather you were candid, as you usually seem to be. And you should never apologise for stating the truth.’ He glanced about him at the still busy streets. ‘Now where do you live?’

Leigh saw with some surprise that they were already back in London. The journey had passed quickly, taking even less time than it had with Gavin, but then that was only to be expected. She gave him the directions to her flat, only offering extra instructions when he asked for them, his voice clipped and impersonal.

‘Right,’ he turned in his seat, one of his knees accidentally touching hers and causing her to recoil back into her seat. His blue eyes clearly mocked her reaction. ‘Would you mind getting out of the car now?’ he said bluntly.

‘You aren’t very polite, Mr Sinclair.’ She scrambled in-elegantly out of the low car and was amazed to see him already standing on the pavement beside her. He moved very quickly and quietly for such a large man. ‘You didn’t need to get out of the car,’ she told him nervously.

He firmly took hold of her arm and walked with her towards the house where she shared the top floor converted into a tiny apartment with Karen. ‘I want to have a word with your parents,’ he said sternly. ‘You’re much too young to be living the way you do.’

‘And just how is that?’

‘Rough,’ came the short reply.

Leigh looked at him resentfully. ‘I don’t live with my parents. And I’ll thank you to keep out of my life. I’ve managed perfectly well so far without any interference from you, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so.’

‘I’m sure you will,’ he agreed coldly. ‘And as your parents don’t seem to care who you spend your weekends with, why should I?’

‘I didn’t say my parents don’t care about me, just that I don’t live with them,’ Leigh said crossly.

‘It amounts to the same thing.’

‘Is that the way you feel about Gavin living away from home?’

‘No, of course it isn’t. But then it isn’t the same thing at all. It just isn’t possible for Gavin to live with me all the time. I travel a great deal and it would be too unsettling for him if he lived with me. Although why I should be explaining myself to you I really don’t know.’

‘It isn’t possible for me to live with my parents either. They happen to live forty miles away and I need to live near my work.’

‘Ah yes, your work,’ he derided. ‘Well, as there seems to be no one I can tell to look after you better in future I may as well leave you to continue ruining your life.’

‘Goodbye, Mr Sinclair. I won’t bother to be hypocritical and say it’s been nice meeting you, because it hasn’t been that for either of us.’

‘Too true.’ With this he turned sharply on his heel and walked away. The last Leigh saw of him was as he accelerated the car down the road, overtaking all the cars in his way and breaking all the speed limits.

.

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