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Taggarts Woman

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«Taggarts Woman» - 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 marriage for inheritance…To inherit her rightful share of her family business, Heather Danvers is forced to marry her late father's partner, Daniel Taggart—a rough-edged, self-made millionaire, whose contempt for Heather seems beyond obvious!Yet in the two years since they first met, Heather has fallen for her captivating, yet distant, husband. But Heather doesn’t know that Daniel is hiding a secret—one that, if proved true, could have consequences… Can Heather show Daniel that there’s more to their marriage than convenience?
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Taggart’s Woman 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

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

AS PARTIES went, this was a good one. But then, all the parties at the Danvers’ house were sure to be good, the social successes of the year more than one guest had been heard to praise during the evening.

Heather kept a watchful eye on the enjoyment of all her guests, while dividing her time between the groups gathered around talking, making sure that no one was left out, that everyone was either dancing, talking, eating, or flirting, as she was. No one came to a Danvers’ party and claimed to be bored. Except, perhaps, for one man.

Her violet gaze flickered to him in annoyance. He was standing slightly apart from everyone else, looking as though he had dressed for a party in the black evening suit and snowy white shirt, even holding a partially drunk glass of champagne in his hand. And yet Heather didn’t need to be any closer to him than the length of the room to know he was looking down his contemptuous nose at both her and her guests!

Her father had always insisted on inviting his business partner to every social function they held, not because he liked the other man, but because he enjoyed seeing how uncomfortable Daniel Taggart was among people who merely tolerated him because of his wealth, rather than liked the man himself. Heather had invited Daniel for quite a different reason.

Why couldn’t he at least try to look as if he were enjoying himself—even if he wasn’t? She was no happier with this situation than he was, but at least everyone thought she was!

She stopped to chat with several people on her way over to Daniel’s side, seeming as if she were ecstatically happy, all the time getting closer and closer to him, watching as he threw the remains of his champagne to the back of his throat before reaching for another glass from one of the circulating waiters. In the two years Heather had known him she had never seen Daniel drunk, but there was a first time for everything!

At last she reached his side, the warm smile curving her lips not reaching the coldness of her eyes. ‘Could you stop swilling vintage champagne back as if it were water?’ she hissed vehemently.

‘Or beer, Miss Danvers?’ he taunted, taking another large swallow of the bubbly wine.

Her cheeks became flushed, her eyes flashing warningly. ‘The only snob standing here, Mr Taggart, is you,’ she snapped.

‘Oh, really?’ Grey eyes were narrowed angrily. ‘Then maybe I should leave——’

‘Don’t you dare!’ she warned furiously. ‘It may have escaped your notice, but you are supposed to be co-host of this party.’

‘This isn’t a party,’ he scorned, slamming his glass down angrily on the table. ‘It’s one last parting joke from Max to me!’

‘And me,’ she rasped bitterly.

Daniel’s gaze raked over her scathingly. ‘Heather Danvers, the socialite daughter of Max Danvers, marrying the self-made millionaire Daniel Taggart, for whom the rough edges haven’t even begun to be smoothed—how will you stand it, my dear!’ he derided with contempt.

The colour came and then went again in her cheeks, her eyes hugely purple. She knew the figure she presented tonight, the black gown clinging alluringly to her slender curves, her bare arms and shoulders deeply tanned, her hair a swathe of midnight-black waves falling to just below her shoulders, her make-up perfect; everything about her was as elegantly beautiful as the daughter of Maximilian Danvers should be.

She had dressed this way for the party that celebrated her engagement and forthcoming marriage to the man at her side who looked at her so disdainfully!

One last parting joke from her father, Daniel had said. Only there was nothing in the least funny about the two of them being forced to marry to maintain complete control over the airline her father had built up over the last twenty years, and in which Daniel Taggart had become a partner two years ago.

The illness that had been eating away at her father’s body for a year before his death six months ago had embittered him more than any of them had realised, the reading of his will revealing that Heather could only inherit her share of the company if she married Daniel Taggart, and that, should they fail to marry within one year after his death, his shares were to be sold on the open market to the highest bidder, except, he stipulated, to Daniel Taggart himself. He had also neatly taken care of Heather choosing the money over marriage to Daniel Taggart, by stating that any money made by the sale of the shares was to be given to numerous charities.

Heather felt as though he had physically slapped her from the grave as she sat in on the will-reading, knowing why he punished her, denying her the one thing he knew she wanted. Her father had hated her and had never lost an opportunity, within the privacy of their home, to let her know how he felt about her. Even in death he wasn’t going to let her forget that.

He had hated Daniel Taggart too, for coming along with the money he needed when the airline began to falter, had reluctantly made the other man his partner rather than lose his company completely. Now he was forcing Daniel to accept Heather as his wife or risk losing the control over the company that now meant so much to him. Daniel knew that if it came to selling the shares he could lose everything he had worked for since he had made the company a profitable one again. Her father had even hated him for that. Daniel Taggart was a man who had clawed his way up from his poor beginning to the point where he had the millions her father needed to keep his company running, and, according to Max—although Heather was inclined to mistrust the opinion because of his bitterness!—Daniel hadn’t always done it honestly.

Her father had treated the other man with grudging respect, never losing an opportunity to belittle him or make things uncomfortable for him. A final joke, Daniel called this last vindictiveness, only her father’s idea of a joke was to hurt someone, and this time he had hit out at the two people he most seemed to despise.

She had been nineteen when she had first met Daniel, and had found him attractive in an austere sort of way. But he had lost no time in letting her know that, at thirteen years his junior, he considered her too immature to even notice. Now, two years later, he was being forced to notice her, to take her as his wife. And his contempt was obvious.

‘I’ll cope,’ she rasped. ‘Will you?’

Grey eyes raked over her critically, and Heather’s breath caught in her throat at the beauty of those eyes; gun-metal grey ringed by black. Daniel was a man who possessed presence rather than surface handsomeness, his face harshly powerful, thick hair as black as her own styled to his ears and collar, dark brows jutting out over those beautiful eyes, his nose long and straight, his mouth a sculptured slash above a strongly square jaw. Tall and powerful, he had all the rugged grace of an athlete. And, as he claimed so derisively, none of the rough edges of his childhood had been smoothed, neither by his wealth nor his success.

He and her father had been as different as any two men could be, her father a product of the charmingly false society he had lived in all his life, Daniel bluntly honest to the point of rudeness. Of the two she preferred the latter, having been on the receiving end of her father’s charmingly laced barbs too often not to appreciate open hostility when she encountered it.

‘With you as my wife?’ Daniel derided scornfully. ‘No doubt I’ll survive.’

Her gaze didn’t falter as she met his challenge. Survive, would he? She wasn’t sure she would! For years she had been searching for the man whom she could love and one day proudly call husband, and now it seemed she was to have this cold stranger as that very important person in her life. She wasn’t naïve, she knew that not all marriages took place because the couple were in love; she had just never imagined hers would be a marriage of convenience.

‘Will you?’ she taunted. ‘Then maybe you could start acting a little as if it isn’t a prison sentence!’

‘Oh, I realise that,’ he bit out. ‘I can’t get any time off for good behaviour!’

He might not think his barbs hurt her, the cool sophisticate, but they did! ‘I doubt that you’ll be good,’ she retorted hardily. ‘I doubt either of us will,’ she hissed with scorn.

His eyes narrowed. ‘If you think that I’m going to meekly stand by while you flaunt an affair with Wingate, or someone like him——’

‘I have no intention of having an affair with Phillip or any other man once we’re married,’ she snapped, her year-long friendship with Phillip over from the moment she had agreed to become Daniel’s wife. She had no doubt that, once she was married to him, Daniel would be quite enough for any woman to cope with in her life! ‘Can you say the same?’

His mouth twisted. ‘Don’t you think these little problems should have been sorted out before you agreed to marry me and threw this party to tell all your friends? After all, I’m due to make the announcement soon.’

‘Your neat avoidance of an answer tells me that you have every intention of continuing to see—Sandra, isn’t her name?’ she said, coldly dismissive.

His expression darkened. ‘I didn’t avoid giving you an answer. And her name is Cassandra,’ he corrected drily, seeming to know that Heather had been fully aware of his mistress’s name. ‘Are you going to be a wife to me?’

Heather swallowed hard at the bluntness of the question. ‘We’re to be married in a month——’

‘I’m not talking about wearing my ring and calling yourself Mrs Taggart,’ he drawled. ‘I’m talking about being my woman, sharing my bed, giving that delectable body to me——’

‘As you said, I think we should have discussed this at some other time.’ She was rigid with embarrassment.

‘Too crude for you?’ Daniel arched dark brows. ‘Perhaps I should have asked if we’re going to fully cohabit?’

Sleep with this man, make love with him? It sounded a little like hell—and heaven! ‘Maybe we shouldn’t make the announcement until we’re both a little more sure of what we want from this relationship——’

‘Don’t be a fool, Heather,’ his voice was harsh. ‘We want to keep control of Air International, that’s what we want from this relationship!’

‘And—er—the other?’ She moistened the dryness of her lips.

He shrugged broad shoulders. ‘We can sort that out some other time.’ He glanced at his watch, his hands long and powerful. ‘The witching-hour is upon us,’ he drawled drily.

He hated the thought of this marriage, and she couldn’t blame him, hating it herself; but what choice did either of them have?

She stood back and watched him as he moved away from this position for the first time during the evening, silencing the small band that played at the other end of the room, taking over the microphone as all the guests gave him their full attention.

Her palms felt damp, her legs shaky, a sense of panic making her want to run, and keep on running. And then Daniel began to speak, and a sudden feeling of calm assailed her, completely in control again.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ his voice was warm and smooth, infused with a friendliness Heather knew he was far from feeling towards the people who had mainly been friends of her father’s, ‘my fiancée, Heather Danvers.’ He held out his hand for her to join him as everyone began to clap, almost everybody in the room having already known of the reason for the party. And those that didn’t hid their surprise behind a polite show of enthusiasm.

Heather didn’t doubt she and Daniel would provide after-dinner conversation for weeks to come. The full contents of her father’s will had been kept within the privacy of the family circle and most of the people here assumed this to be a love-match. Unlikely as that might seem between the two of them, Heather preferred that to everyone thinking they were marrying for purely mercenary reasons!

She reached Daniel’s side in a flurry of congratulations, her hand taken firmly in his as family and friends gathered around to ply them both with questions. When was the wedding? Where were they going on their honeymoon? Where were they going to live after the wedding?

She glanced at Daniel at the last. It was another one of those questions they had never got around to asking each other. There had been so much else to do over the last six months, and then this party to arrange when they decided the only thing they could do was marry, that the details just hadn’t been worked out. She realised now that perhaps they should have been.

Where would they live once they were married? This house had been left as another part of her inheritance, had been her home all her life, but Daniel never seemed to be comfortable when he was here, and she couldn’t see him wanting to set up home here for any reason. If the truth were known, she would rather sell the place, too, and make a fresh start away from all the memories.

‘Details, details,’ her uncle Lionel dismissed laughingly. ‘I propose we drink a toast to the happy couple.’

Heather gave him a grateful smile. Her father’s younger brother, he had never shown her anything but kindness, and she didn’t know what she would have done without him during the last six months. He had been her father’s assistant from the time Max first began the airline, had been happy to continue helping Daniel in the same way, and had also helped Heather with all the arrangements after her father’s death. In fact, over the years, she had felt closer to Uncle Lionel than to the man she called Father!

‘Heather and Daniel!’ He beamed at them both once everyone had a glass of champagne in their hand.

Heather smiled awkwardly as the toast was drunk in their honour, pointedly keeping her face averted from the brief glimpse she had had of Daniel’s sardonic expression. But she had to agree with the thought she knew was going through his mind; anyone who could believe the two of them were marrying because they loved each other was either blind or a complete romantic. And she doubted many of the people here tonight were the latter, although their complete self-interest often made them the former!

She received a jolt as she looked sceptically at their guests and found Phillip glowering at the two of them. He looked as if he hated her at that moment!

She couldn’t exactly blame him for being angry with her, they had been seeing each other on a regular basis for almost a year, and then a month ago she had had to tell him of her decision to marry Daniel. One of Air International’s youngest executives, Phillip hadn’t taken the news well, had accused her of marrying the man with the most money. Perhaps in the circumstances his bitterness had been understandable, but she had genuinely liked him, wouldn’t have continued to see him exclusively for that length of time if she hadn’t, and it had hurt her to give up his friendship.

Several other guests were looking at him speculatively too, and, with a mocking inclination of his golden head in her direction, he threw the champagne to the back of his throat before slamming the glass down and walking out.

Her eyes widened as she looked about her awkwardly to see who else had witnessed his abrupt departure.

Grey eyes met hers mockingly, and Daniel bent his head as if to nuzzle against her throat. ‘Maybe you should have told your lover about your father’s will,’ he mocked. ‘He seems a trifle put out!’

She stiffened in his arms, turning slightly as if to kiss the powerful line of his jaw. ‘I suppose Cassandra is quite happy to continue to be your mistress even when you have a wife?’ she taunted.

He straightened, his mouth taut, his eyes glittering dangerously. ‘You——’

‘Speech, Daniel,’ her uncle demanded cheerfully. Lionel was tall and loose-limbed, with hair almost as black as Heather’s, although his was liberally sprinkled with grey in his fifty-fifth year.

‘Yes, Daniel,’ drawled Stella, Lionel’s wife of the last five years, twenty years her husband’s junior, beautifully exotic in the clinging red gown that made her hair appear like spun gold. ‘Do tell us all how you and Heather fell in love.’

Heather felt her cheeks burn under her aunt’s derision. Not that she was allowed to call the other woman Aunt, Stella insisting she was far too young for the title. And Stella knew damn well that she and Daniel hadn’t ‘fallen in love’; as a member of the family she was well aware of the contents of her father’s will.

Daniel looked at the older woman mockingly.

‘The same way most couples fall in love,’ he said drily.

‘But it was so sudden,’ Stella taunted, her blue eyes maliciously bright.

He gave an inclination of his head. ‘As sudden as your own marriage to Lionel five years ago!’

Stella’s face flushed at the challenge: before becoming Lionel’s wife she had been his secretary for several months. Heather had always thought the other woman’s motives slightly mercenary, but Daniel’s challenge was as close as anyone had ever come to saying so outright. And Stella obviously didn’t like to be reminded of her more humble beginnings, having firmly established herself in this society over the last five years.

She put her arm through the crook of her husband’s, smiling up at him brightly. ‘Love can be rather sneaky in its unexpectedness, can’t it?’ she purred.

Heather shot Daniel a relieved smile as she realised he had won that battle. Stella was hardly in a position to ‘throw stones’! ‘Daniel?’ she prompted huskily, their guests still waiting expectantly.

He nodded abruptly, turning back to their guests. ‘Heather has kindly consented to be my wife,’ he told them evenly. ‘The wedding will be next month, and——’

‘Next month?’ one of the female guests exclaimed incredulously.

Daniel arched questioning brows at the blushing woman. ‘Is there some problem with that?’

‘Er—no, of course not.’ Heather recognised the woman as a friend of Stella’s. ‘I just—it isn’t long,’ she excused lamely.

‘No,’ he acknowledged drily. ‘But you’re all welcome to come to another party here in three months’ time, and I’m sure you will find Heather as slender then as she is now!’

Heather’s uncle gave an uncomfortable cough. ‘I’m sure Rita didn’t mean——’

‘It’s all right, Lionel,’ Daniel sighed. ‘The truth of the matter is, what man in his right mind would want to wait any length of time to make Heather his bride?’ Several of the male guests gave an appreciative murmur, and Daniel gave them an acknowledging smile of his good luck in being the man to make Heather his bride. ‘As I was saying,’ he began again pointedly, ‘Heather and I will be married next month, and I’m sure you—and several hundred others!—will all be invited. For the moment, I suggest we all continue to enjoy the party!’

As if on signal the band began to play a slow love song, and everyone moved back expectantly, leaving Heather and Daniel at the centre of attention.

She turned to him with frantic eyes. ‘They’re expecting us to dance!’

‘I’m not completely stupid,’ he rasped, taking her in his arms to move expertly around the room in time to the music. ‘And I do know how to dance!’

She knew that, had watched him with other women. Strange, but in all the time she had known him, all the parties he had come to here, she had never danced with him before tonight. For such a big man he moved with a natural grace, in complete command as he guided their movements, his steps smooth and sure.

‘I didn’t mean——’

‘Just dance, Heather,’ he snapped. ‘And let’s get this over with!’

It was ‘over with’ soon enough, Daniel not speaking to her again as their bodies occasionally touched, releasing her as the music came to an end to ask Stella to dance, leaving her with her uncle. She absently took the glass of wine her uncle handed her, watching the other couple as they moved fluidly together. They were of a similar height, Stella several inches taller than her own five foot five inches, and with the three-inch heels on her sandals Stella’s body matched Daniel’s perfectly, a fact she seemed to take note of as she danced much too closely to Daniel in Heather’s opinion.

On the few occasions Heather had seen them together Daniel hadn’t seemed overly fond of Stella, and yet surely the couple were speaking together more warmly, and dancing together more closely, than their relationship required?

She glanced at her uncle, receiving an affectionate smile in return before he turned to watch his wife admiringly. Oh well, if he didn’t mind she was sure she shouldn’t either. But somehow it didn’t seem quite right to see her aunt dancing so intimately with the man she intended to marry, even if it wasn’t a love-match.

She turned her back on the dancing couple. ‘I hope that you will give me away, Uncle Lionel,’ she invited warmly.

‘Not because I want to,’ he agreed reluctantly, ‘even though Daniel is a fine young man.’ His eyes twinkled blue-grey. ‘I’d rather you had moved in with Stella and me and become the daughter we never had. But,’ he sighed, ‘I’m sure you and Daniel are doing the right thing.’

Given the choice between moving in with her uncle and Stella, or becoming Daniel’s wife, she had no doubt she was making the right choice! She and Stella would have been at each other’s throats in a day!

‘Let’s hope so,’ she dismissed lightly, absently noting that Daniel was dancing with one of her friends now.

‘I think the conditions in Max’s will were completely unfair, but——’

‘When did he ever behave any other way?’ she finished bitterly. ‘He never forgave me for not being the boy he’d wanted!’

Her uncle sighed, his smile regretful. ‘Max could be an unreasonable man——’

‘You know he could be worse than that.’ Her eyes were hard with the memories.

Her uncle frowned. ‘In his own way he did care for you, Heather.’

‘Then why has he arranged to marry me to a man he despised?’ she scorned.

‘He didn’t despise Daniel,’ Uncle Lionel sighed. ‘He resented him——’

‘Because he came along at the right time with the money he needed!’ Her eyes were bright. ‘If I could have proved he was insane when he made that will, Uncle Lionel, then I would have done so, I would have publicly contested it.’

‘Daniel, too,’ he nodded with a sigh. ‘But it was impossible.’

Her father had made certain of that, had made sure every loophole was covered at the time he made his outrageous will. For six months, she and Daniel had consulted their lawyers trying to find a way out of it, and in the end they had had to admit defeat, to accept that her father had won. How he must be laughing at them both!

Maximilian Danvers hadn’t been a kind or yielding man, hated to be thwarted in any way, and when she had been born instead of the son he had wanted he had received the biggest setback of his life.

Heather grew up knowing he resented her gender, that she was a disappointment to him. She had been sent away to school when she was eight, rarely seeing him after that, even when she came home for the holidays. She hadn’t been able to understand how her mother could have loved and married such a coldly self-centred man, let alone had a child by him. But as she got older, and her mother told her the truth, she had respected the fact that at the time her mother had believed she was doing the right thing for everyone.

Pregnant, the father of her child already married and not interested in her pregnancy, her mother had been working for Max Danvers’ newly established airline at the time and hadn’t known who to turn to for help when she realised she was to have a child. The airline had been small then, with the owner playing quite a large part in the running of it, and Joyce had broken down one day and told Max Danvers of her predicament, her complete desolation. After that, he had begun to take her out, to offer her comfort when she felt so frightened of what the future held for her, until finally he had offered her and her child a home and his name. It had seemed like a miracle to her mother, believing that Max Danvers had come to love her as she had him, and she had gratefully accepted his proposal, determined to be as good a wife to him as she possibly could.

It was only after the birth of her child that Joyce had realised what had been expected of her; a daughter was not what Max Danvers wanted at all. It had been then that he had told his wife of his sterility, of the son he had wanted to continue his name, to one day inherit the empire he intended building, and that he had only married her because she was already pregnant!

But, unless he divorced Joyce and found another pregnant woman to become his wife, a daughter was what he had got, and in the end he had decided that even that was better than no child at all, everyone believing Joyce had been pregnant with his child when they were married. Only Uncle Lionel and her parents had known the truth, and it had remained that way until Heather’s mother told her about her real father.

She had understood Max’s resentment towards her then, his disappointment in her, and she had learnt to live with the fact that he practically ignored her existence most of the time, his barbs only becoming painfully obvious after the death of her mother six years ago, and then only in the privacy of their home where people wouldn’t learn that he wasn’t her father at all.

Maybe if he had been, the pain of what he was doing to her would have been too much to bear, but over the years, she had learnt to armour herself against the hurt he inflicted.

But he had known how she felt about Daniel, had somehow guessed at the love she felt for him, she was sure, and he was giving her the final punishment for not being the son he wanted, making it impossible for Daniel ever to feel anything but contempt or hate for her; contempt because if she agreed to the marriage she was obviously marrying him for the money she would inherit, or hate because if she refused to marry him she forced him to lose control of his airline.

It was a situation she couldn’t possibly win, and her father had known that!

.

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