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Romance Of A Lifetime

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«Romance Of A Lifetime» - 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…Can she trust her very own Romeo…?Still nursing a broken heart, Beth isn’t sure if she should see striking Marcus Craven again—even after their delightful first, chance meeting in Verona. Not that Marcus is giving her much option: his pursuit of Beth is charmingly persistent, to say the least.But something is holding Beth back from confiding in Marcus. And she has a strange feeling that he knows more about her past than he has revealed… Can Beth really trust her unexpected Romeo?
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Romance of a Lifetime Carole Mortimer

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SHE had thought she would never cry again. Had actually been convinced that she couldn't. But there was no mistaking the heated dampness of tears on her cheeks now as she sat in the darkness.

‘Spectacular, isn't it?'

Beth turned sharply at the sound of that voice, her emotions a mixture of the usual surprise she felt at hearing an English accent—she had heard so few of them since her arrival in Verona the day before—and resentment that the man had chosen to talk to her at all; did she look so typically English, and approachable, possibly lonely?

She had seen many, quite surprisingly she had thought, blonde-haired Italian women, but perhaps none of them with the ash-blonde of her own hair, and probably none of them had skin so fair in complexion as her own; she hadn't been in Italy long enough yet to acquire a tan. And as for looking lonely? Well, she was so clearly here on her own, sitting on the end of a row of seats as she was, the couple seated beside her obviously German as they talked softly together.

Nevertheless, Beth deeply resented this man's intrusion into an occasion of such rare beauty as she was experiencing, frowning darkly as she looked at the man sitting directly behind her in the amphitheatre known as the Arena.

In a country populated by dark-haired Latin-looking men, this one none the less managed to stand out as being different. Italian men, at least the ones Beth had so far observed on this holiday, were possessed of a self-assurance that bordered on arrogance, and somehow seemed to be inborn in them. This man carried his self-assurance more quietly, less consciously, and it was all the more powerful because of that.

Dark hair was kept styled short and brushed back from a roughly hewn face of such hard beauty that it was only the grey eyes that drew the gaze reluctantly away from that fascinating hardness; light, enigmatic grey eyes that held a wealth of intelligence and knowledge in their depths. Unlike other all-too-familiar grey eyes that held only cruelty …

Even sitting down this man looked big—another fact that made him stand out from Italian men—the short-sleeved shirt he wore stretched smoothly across the width of a powerful chest, the skin on his arms darkly tanned and covered in fine dark hair.

A man to be wary of, Beth realised with a familiar inward shudder.

‘Would you care for a drink?’ he enquired determinedly as she was forced to stand up in order to let the German couple leave their seats.

All around them people were milling about in this unique open-air theatre, all of them, like Beth herself, here to see the performance of the spectacular opera Aida.

‘Go to Italy,’ her mother had instructed. ‘Forget all the misery and pain and live through the experience of a lifetime. Forget them all,’ she had advised with determined persuasion.

And the ‘experience’ of Aida had made her cry for the first time in months.

How could it not have achieved what nothing else could have done?

The thousands of people seated around this theatre were all being privileged with a performance of the opera that, to Beth's mind, could never be excelled.

Her mother, an ardent fan of opera herself, had known exactly what she was doing when she had arranged to start Beth's holiday with this amazing spectacle.

The voices weren't the best Beth had ever heard, the open-air stage meaning the performers couldn't perhaps project as well as they would have liked to do, but for the sheer impact of the occasion Beth was sure it couldn't be bettered.

And the truth was that she felt badly in need of the drink this man was offering, the air being hot and heavy within the Arena, and Beth not yet acclimatised to the heat of a late July climate in Italy. But she had no intention of accepting this man's offer, no matter how thirsty she might feel!

‘Champagne,’ he decided firmly at her lack of response, having also stood up now, as tall as Beth had anticipated, towering over the people around them, turning to move through the crowd in the direction of the bar with absolutely no difficulty at all, these people seeming to recognise, as Beth had instantly, a superior being.

As soon as he had been swallowed up by the crowd, Beth turned with deliberation in the opposite direction and walked away. She didn't particularly like champagne, and in this climate it would do nothing to quench the raging thirst she had known since her arrival, but that was completely irrelevant in the face of her determination to have as little to do with that arrogant man as she possibly could!

She gave an indulgent smile as the female voice came over the Tannoy to announce that the interval time would be twenty-five minutes; the opera performances in Italy, especially events of this magnitude, were also social occasions, and Beth had been pre-warned that she could expect to be here tonight for between three and four hours. But if what she had been privileged to see so far was an example of what was still to come then she didn't mind if she were here ten hours!

If only that man would leave her alone. But the possibility of that happening, she knew, with them both being English, and his seat being so close behind her own, was extremely remote.

What was a man like that doing on his own in somewhere like Verona in the first place?

Even in the brief few minutes Beth had seen him she had realised he was a man of wealth and power; it had all been there in his confident self-assurance. Beth had learnt over the last few years that only the very rich and powerful could afford that sort of quiet arrogance. And the very rich and powerful very rarely chose to be alone anywhere, she had found, could afford to buy company if none was readily available.

And yet this man appeared to be alone. In fact, she felt sure he was.

And she had just wasted half the allotted interval time thinking about a man she had no interest in ever seeing again!

She delayed her return to her seat for as long as she dared after the final gong had sounded announcing the beginning of the second act, lingering over the cool orange juice she had purchased for herself.

On her return a long glass, of what Beth knew without a doubt to be champagne, stood on the cushion she had purchased the use of, to cover the otherwise metal seat, during the operatic performance.

Her mouth firmed as she stood looking down at the intrusive glass, having no choice but to pick it up if she wanted to sit down again, needing to do just that as the lights slowly lowered in preparation for the start of the second act.

Damn that man!

She would have loved to just push the full glass under her seat and forget about it, but that would have been taking rudeness to the extreme, and she wasn't normally that, not even to intrusive strangers, although this man was starting to push his luck just a little too far!

She turned only briefly, raising the glass in acknowledgement, her smile one of practised dismissal.

It would have been the end of the incident as far as Beth was concerned, except that she could tell by the determined glint in pale grey eyes that it was far from over.

But the champagne—and its purchaser—were forgotten as the lights blazed on the stage, and Beth was unaware of the fact that she sipped at the bubbly wine throughout the second act, once again caught up in its spectacular beauty.


The silkily smooth voice was unnecessarily close to the lobe of her ear this time, Beth felt, turning sharply as the lights came on for the second interval, only to find the man was too close for comfort, leaning forwards in his seat, his face now dangerously close to hers.

Beth's eyes blazed deeply emerald as she glared at him with anger.

‘You seem to have enjoyed that glass so much.’ Mockery glinted in his eyes as he indicated the empty glass in her hand.

Her cheeks blazed fiery red in her naturally pale cheeks, shoulder-length ash-blonde hair swinging agitatedly against the heat of her face. ‘I didn't even realise—–'

‘Ah, I didn't think I was wrong about your being English,’ he said with satisfaction. ‘Although I have to admit that I did wonder when I continually failed to get a verbal response—–'

‘Actually,’ Beth cut in coolly, ‘you are wrong; I happen to be Manx.’ And she felt a certain satisfaction in being able to contradict him, plus a certain pride in the small island in the middle of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland that was her birthplace, and had been her home until she was eighteen years old, was still her home in her heart despite the years she had spent away from it.

Dark brows rose. ‘Is there a difference?'

Her eyes flashed her indignation. ‘Of course there's a—–’ She broke off, looking at him with narrowed eyes, realising in that moment that she was giving him exactly the response he wanted. Her first impression of him had been a correct one—he was a very intelligent man, and he knew just how to use that intelligence to his advantage. She stood up smoothly. ‘If you'll excuse me …’ She gave him a coolly dismissive nod.

‘You didn't answer me about the champagne.’ His hand on her arm stilled her as she would have walked away.

Beth stiffened as if she had been burnt, staring stonily at his hand until he slowly removed it. As he did so she thrust her empty glass into his hand. ‘I didn't really want that one,’ she snapped, not allowing him to delay her any further but making her way outside to one of the bars.

The last thing she wanted, or needed, was a man like that showing an interest in her. She couldn't repress her inward shudder. The last thing she needed was any man showing an interest in her, let alone one of his type!

Thank God she was only in Verona for one more day, and then she moved on to Venice. She had only come to Verona at all for the opera. Like a lot of other people here tonight, she was sure.

It was unfortunate that she had no choice but to remain in that particular seat, close to that infuriating man, for the rest of the performance, but these seats in the centre of the Arena had been booked for months in advance, and there wasn't a vacant seat in the place, no one, understandably, wanting to miss the performance they had waited so long to see.

It was a slightly shorter interval than last time, although Beth had plenty of time to purchase another glass of orange juice, the evening feeling even more airless than earlier.

Thank goodness she had thought to put on a cool green sheath of a dress rather than one of the gowns she would normally have worn to the opera or theatre in London. Her uncovered shoulders at least felt the benefit of any small breeze that there was, although it wasn't much. Stormy weather was on its way, the man behind the reception desk at her hotel had warned her. She was sure he would know, being a local, but she could only hope it would hold off until after the performance; it would be too awful if it were to be rained off now.

Just as the continued persistence of the man seated behind her was awful; a glass of orange juice was waiting on her seat for her return this time.

She studiously avoided looking at the man as she picked up the glass so that she might sit down, although she could almost feel the touch of his gaze on her bare shoulders.

‘I thought you might find the juice more refreshing,’ he leant forwards to murmur.

She couldn't deny the truth of that. In fact, she had thought of bringing a drink back herself to sip through the third act, but hadn't relished trying to return to her seat with a full glass through the jostling crowd.

The German couple were now watching the two of them with a knowing indulgence, and Beth hated the assumptions they must be making. Damn the man, why couldn't he just leave her alone and accept that she wasn't interested in him? It had to be obvious to him by now that she wasn't. Although, as she very well knew, a man like him would probably see that reluctance on her part as even more of a challenge!

‘Thank you,’ she accepted tightly, aware that the German couple were now nodding their heads approvingly in their direction.

‘I'll let you buy me a drink during the next interval,’ the man murmured as the lights went down once again.

Beth opened her mouth to protest at this idea but was prevented from doing so as the music began to play.

But she had no intention of buying him a drink, at any time this evening, hadn't asked for either of the ones he had given her, and she had no intention of returning the gesture. If he wouldn't take the hint that she wasn't interested in him then she would just have to tell him so, and as soon as possible.

If he had given her the chance!

She had no sooner stood up at the end of the third act than her arm was taken in a firm grasp and she was literally dragged out to one of the bars.

By the time Beth had got over her shock and managed to catch her breath, they were almost there! ‘Will you please—–?

Mi scusi, mi scusi—–’ The man at her side totally ignored her struggles as he pushed his way through the crowd, nodding politely to the people who allowed them to pass, not even checking his stride at her unmistakable protest at his cavalier behaviour.

‘What do you think you're doing?’ she finally gasped as they reached the foyer ahead of the crowd, impatiently pushing lean fingers from her arm, glaring up at him indignantly.

‘Avoiding the rush,’ he murmured with satisfaction, looking around them pointedly. ‘What would you like to drink?'

‘I thought it was my turn to buy you a drink,’ she sarcastically reminded him of his earlier arrogance.

‘Thanks, I'll have a glass of champagne,’ he accepted smoothly.

Too smooth. Too slick. Too damned self-assured. And his look of satisfaction at having her apparently comply with his wishes was almost too much for her to bear.

‘Certainly.’ Beth gave a gracious inclination of her head before moving lightly through the groups of people that had now joined them.

Despite their rush outside there were still several people who had arrived at the bar ahead of them, and it took some minutes to buy the champagne and make her way back to the man's side, all the more determined in her resolve to have nothing to do with him as she took in his arrogant expression.

She handed him the glass. ‘I hope you enjoy it.’ Her expression was one of cool disdain as she turned away.

‘Where's your own drink?’ The man frowned as he realised she was about to leave.

Her brows rose coolly as she glanced back at him. ‘I didn't say anything about having a drink myself.’ Satisfaction at having turned his manipulation back on him darkened her eyes to emerald. ‘Excuse me,’ she nodded abruptly.

‘Cheers.’ He held his glass up in acknowledgement of her victory, his eyes dark with admiration.

Beth knew with certainty that not too many people managed to achieve any sort of victory over this man!

Unfortunately, despite the obvious pleasure her action over the champagne had given her, it had probably been the worst thing she could have done with this type of man. She had probably just managed to make herself even more of a challenge to him …

Due to technical difficulties with the set for the fourth and final act the third interval was an even longer one than any of the previous ones. Beth avoided going back to her seat during this time, although she was sure the man who was proving such a pest to her had more finesse than to actually lie in wait for her there.

She was right; his seat was noticeably empty when she finally did return, although she was very much aware of the movement behind her a few minutes later when he did resume his seat. She didn't need to turn around to confirm it was him, could literally feel the warmth of his gaze on her neck as he looked at her.

Maybe if she hadn't been so overwhelmed at the end of the performance, so enthralled with the poignancy of the final act of the opera that she was loath to move, she might have escaped the theatre without further incident. But as she had been, and she was, she was literally a sitting target for his forceful determination.

By the time she realised that, the damned man had once more taken charge of her without so much as a word being spoken, and she was politely but firmly being hurtled through the crowd of milling people who, now that the performance was over, were eager to leave the amphitheatre. They had been an appreciative audience during the last four hours but now that the opera was over it was as if the magnitude of it all had made them realise a need to get on with their lives.

‘Will you stop doing this?’ Beth came to an abrupt halt, unconcerned by the people who accidentally knocked into her in the process, wrenching her arm out of his grasp. ‘I do not appreciate this habit you have of—of manhandling me!’ She rubbed the touch of his hand off her arm, her eyes glaring her displeasure.

He held up his hands defensively. ‘I just thought it—–'

‘I really don't care what you thought, Mr …?’ She looked at him pointedly, her mouth firm as she made him remember the fact that they hadn't even been introduced.

‘Craven,’ he supplied softly. ‘Marcus Craven.'

Why was he looking at her like that, as if she should know the name? If that were the case she was afraid she had to disappoint him; the name wasn't in the least familiar to her. Not that she would have given him the satisfaction of acknowledging it even if it had been!

‘Well, Mr Craven,’ she continued coldly, ‘whatever you may have thought to the contrary, I do not appreciate being dragged about by you like a sack of potatoes that—–'

Nothing like a sack of potatoes,’ he cut in mockingly, his gaze on her appreciative.

Beth met that gaze unflinchingly, determined to show him that she wasn't in the least impressed by him or anything he had done tonight. ‘Whatever you may have thought. I was, Mr Craven,’ she said in a controlled voice, ‘I have found your behaviour this evening very offensive.’ She sighed. ‘I politely refused your offer of a drink, refusals you completely ignored, incidentally,’ she snapped, ‘only to find myself taken over by you in a way that was as unnecessary as it was arrogant. Now if you will excuse me—once again!—the evening is at an end and I wish to return to my hotel.'

‘No,’ he said evenly.

Already in the process of making her dignified exit after what she had believed to be a complete set-down, Beth was instantly halted in her tracks, turning slowly back to Marcus Craven. ‘What do you mean, no?’ she repeated dazedly.

‘I mean, no, I don't excuse you,’ he returned coolly. ‘I recognised a fellow—Brit,’ he mockingly amended the earlier assumption he had made that had irritated her so much, ‘in a foreign land, thought it would be nice if you took pity on me and we could spend a little time together, the sound of a friendly voice and all that. But if you would rather be unfriendly there isn't a lot I can do to change that, is there?’ He shrugged.

As a performance aimed at making her feel guilty it ranked pretty high. In terms of actually succeeding in doing that it failed miserably, was completely wasted on her. ‘Nice’ wasn't a word she would ever have associated with this man, in any context whatsoever; she felt sure it was a word he had rarely, if ever, used before. As for him needing the pity he was trying to arouse in her …!

No one looked as if he needed pity less—the man was the epitome of success. He certainly didn't need to seek her out, could have women at his side day and night without any effort at all. A possible language barrier wouldn't make any difference to that at all; this man exuded power, and that was enough of an attraction for a lot of women. It would always have the opposite effect on her.

Always …

‘Quite,’ she bit out tersely, nodding dismissively before pointedly walking past him, her head held high, daring him to apprehend her once again.

There was no hand grasping her arm, no sarcastic or cajoling comment that invoked a response, and yet Beth could feel that steely gaze on her back for the whole length of the foyer, sensed it even as she walked up the steps and out of the amphitheatre, knew he was following her, quite a distance behind her, but following none the less.

She would have liked to have strolled along as the other people were doing; the square looking quite beautiful now that it was lit up by the street lamps and cafés, the amphitheatre itself something to behold from this angle, most of the outside walls being intact as well. It seemed hard to believe that the amphitheatre had been built in the first century AD; the history it must have witnessed was incredible.

And Beth would have liked time to ponder on that history, to take time while still in these magnificent surroundings to think of the spectacle she had witnessed herself within its walls this evening. Instead she fled as if she were being pursued.

Resentment burned within her at the need to hurry past the strolling people, hating this feeling of being hounded back to her hotel.

But hounded was exactly how she felt!


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