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The Vengeance Affair

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«The Vengeance Affair» - Кэрол Мортимер

A marriage proposal because of vengeance…or love?Beau Garrett wanted a more peaceful existence. But the seemingly idyllic village of Aberton proved to be a hotbed of scandal and gossip–and Beau was the target!His «crime» was to employ female gardener Jaz Logan, branded by her mother's adulterous past. Soon Beau acted on his attraction to Jaz…and the poison pen letters started arriving.Just who was sending this cruel correspondence? Beau's solution was to propose that Jaz become his fiancée. But Jaz had always planned on marrying for love….
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“I did try to warn you the other evening.”

“I did try to warn you the other evening.”

“A little late, wouldn’t you say, when I’ve obviously already purchased the Old Vicarage?” he drawled.

“Just a little,” she conceded ruefully. “But don’t worry. If you intend on staying, you’ll soon get used to it.”

“Oh, I intend on staying,” he told her flatly. “But I also intend on living here in quiet seclusion, and have no intention of doing anything that will give the villagers cause to gossip about me,” he added grimly.

Perhaps now wasn’t the time to tell him that he wouldn’t actually need to do anything to be the subject of gossip; just his being here at all, a well-known television star, already had the inhabitants of Aberton agog with speculation as to why he had bought a house here. The last Jaz had heard—from the mailman this morning as he’d handed her her letters—Beau Garrett had come to the village to escape an unhappy love affair, when the woman in his life had left him following the car accident that had left his face scarred….

CAROLE MORTIMER was born in England and is the youngest of three children. She began writing in 1978, and has now written over ninety books for Harlequin Presents®. Carole has four sons—Matthew, Joshua, Timothy and Peter—and a bearded collie called Merlyn. She says, “I’m happily married to Peter senior; we’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live on the Isle of Man.”

The Vengeance Affair

Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

CONTENTS

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

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER ONE

‘OH!’ SHE came to an abrupt halt halfway across the moonlit terrace as a shadow moved out of the darkness only feet away from her, the pounding of her heart only lessening slightly as she recognized the man who stood there looking at her with the glittering eyes of a cat. She drew in a deep breath. ‘Shouldn’t the guest of honour be inside the house enjoying the party, rather than outside on the terrace—?’

‘Enjoying the peace and quiet?’ Beau Garrett finished harshly.

She had come outside herself in order to do just that. In fact, she had hoped that, once outside, she may just be able to slip quietly away without her hostess, Madelaine Wilder, being any the wiser. Bumping into the elusive guest of honour had not been part of her plan!

‘They’re looking for you inside,’ she told him pointedly.

‘Are they?’ he returned uninterestedly, his overlong hair a dark sheen in the moonlight, his features shadowed. ‘I’m hardly dressed for the role of guest of honour, am I?’ he rasped impatiently, the casual sweater he wore looking black in the darkness, as did his trousers. “‘Do pop in, I’m having a few friends over for drinks”.’ He mimicked a pretty fair imitation of Madelaine’s gushing voice. ‘There must be half the village in there.’ He nodded disgustedly in the direction of the audibly noisy house as people talked and laughed too loudly, their glasses chinking.

‘At least,’ she acknowledged, moving out of the shadows of the house to join him at the balustrade looking out over the garden, a garden sheathed in the mystery of March moonlight. ‘I hate to tell you this, but this is the third drinks party Madelaine has given to welcome you to the village of Aberton—you just didn’t appear at the first two!’

It was somehow easier to talk to this man in the covering of darkness, his sensuous good looks, the sheer masculinity of him that was so apparent on the small screen as he hosted the chat show that had been such a success for the last ten years, muted in the covering of darkness.

The grimness of his dark scowl wasn’t. ‘If I could have got out of this, without being completely impolite, then I wouldn’t have appeared at this one, either!’ he rasped.

If the way he occasionally ripped to verbal shreds his often controversial guests was anything to go by, then she didn’t think politeness was necessarily a part of this man’s character. In fact, it was the sheer uncertainty of what was going to happen each week on his live television chat show that made it so popular.

‘Poor Madelaine,’ she sympathized softly, knowing that the other woman’s heart was in the right place, even if somewhat misguided on occasion.

Beau Garrett gave a snort of dismissal. ‘You’re obviously a local too, so I’ll ask you the same question I’ve been asking all evening—the only reason I’m here at all! The garden at The Old Vicarage is a mess; who do you know who could do something with it?’

She gave a faint smile. ‘What answers have you already received?’

“‘Jaz Logan, old boy”,’ he mimicked. “‘Unorthodox but brilliant”.’

‘The major.’ She nodded.

“‘Jaz turned the chaos of my garden into wonderfully manageable order”,’ he mimicked again, just as distinctively.

‘That was Barbara Scott from the village shop,’ she guessed.

“‘Jaz is an absolute treasure”.’

‘Betty Booth, the vicar’s wife.’

‘And according to our hostess, “Jaz is a darling”,’ he finished with some disgust.

She gave a throaty chuckle. ‘Good for Madelaine.’

‘No, wait a minute, I think I got that quote slightly wrong,’ Beau Garrett corrected harshly. ‘What she actually said was, “Jaz made something beautiful of my darling little garden”.’

She chuckled again; only Madelaine, bless her, could possibly describe the acre of land that surrounded this grand old house as a ‘darling little garden’.

‘So what appears to be the problem with the advice you’ve already been given?’ she prompted interestedly.

‘My “problem”, as you call it, is that this Jaz Logan sounds slightly effeminate to me,’ Beau Garrett bit out tersely. ‘The last thing I want is the Old English village cliché, masses of beds of pink flowers and roses around the door!’

‘Tell me, Mr Garrett—’ she turned to him frowningly in the darkness ‘—if you have so much contempt for village life, why on earth have you moved here?’

‘Surely that’s obvious?’ he rasped, at the same time turning so that the moonlight shone fully on the right side of his face, throwing into stark relief the livid scar that ran from brow to jaw, a lasting souvenir from the car accident that had almost killed him four months ago.

She would be lying if she didn’t inwardly acknowledge she was deeply shocked by the thought of the injury he had suffered to have received such a scar, but she forced her own expression to remain unemotional as she looked at it. She had a feeling, from the bitterness that edged everything he said, that the scars inside this man were much more destructive than the more obvious one on his face.

‘Not particularly,’ she shrugged dismissively. ‘Scars fade, Mr Garrett,’ she added gently.

‘So I’ve been told,’ he said bitterly. But not soon enough for him, his tone implied.

She looked up at him consideringly. ‘Tell me, Mr Garrett, have you ever lived in a village before?’

His gaze narrowed guardedly. ‘No…’

‘I thought not,’ she nodded. ‘Well, we’re a curious lot,’ she warned from experience. ‘If it’s “peace and quiet” you’re looking for, then you’ve come to the wrong place,’ she told him ruefully.

Beau Garrett moved suddenly, swinging violently away from her, his face once more in shadow. ‘I have no intention of satisfying anyone’s curiosity.’ The last word came out with suppressed scorn.

‘I wish you luck,’ she said quietly.

He became very still in the darkness, that very stillness all the more ominous because of his earlier impatience. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Nothing really.’ She shrugged. ‘Except…’

‘Except?’ he prompted harshly.

She gave another shrug. ‘What people don’t know they will simply make up.’ And she should know!

He gave a scornful snort as he walked over to the door. ‘Let them!’

‘Oh, they will,’ she assured him softly, remaining on the terrace as he let himself back into the noisily crowded house, with the obvious intention of making his excuses and leaving.

But if Beau Garrett thought he had seen the last of her, either, then he was sadly mistaken.

CHAPTER TWO

‘WHY didn’t you tell me when we met at Madelaine’s on Friday evening that you work for Jaz Logan?’

She looked up from the bills scattered across the desk in the less-than-tidy room that passed as an office at the garden centre, completely unsurprised that Beau Garrett was the first customer of this less-than-busy Monday morning. In fact, she had been expecting him…

She shrugged. ‘You didn’t ask.’

Irritation twisted the scar on his face. ‘I don’t suppose I did. But I would have thought, as I actually asked you about the man, that you might have volunteered the information,’ he added accusingly.

She grinned unabashedly as she sat back in her chair. ‘Something else you should know about village life; we’re always curious to know about others, but rarely volunteer information about ourselves. Anyway,’ she added determinedly as he would have spoken, ‘it’s actually worse than you thought.’ She stood up, wiping a dirt-smeared hand down her worn denims. ‘You see, I don’t work for Jaz Logan—I am Jaz Logan.’ She held her hand out in formal greeting.

Beau Garrett made no effort to take that proffered hand. Instead his silver-grey gaze moved over her with deliberate slowness, from her muddy wellington boots pushed into dirty denims, her over-large blue jumper, ragged at the sleeve ends, with a hole in one elbow, that critical gaze finally coming to rest on her face and the long ebony hair that had been blown about earlier by the strong wind blowing as she worked outside.

Despite hours spent outside in all weather, her skin remained creamy magnolia, her chin determinedly pointed, mouth wide and smiling, her nose small and snub above the fuller top lip, deep blue eyes fringed by lashes as dark as her hair, the latter worn long and in a shaggily unkempt style—it looked like that most of the time anyway, so Jaz just left it that way!

“‘Unorthodox but brilliant”,’ Beau Garrett murmured derisively. ‘I take it by that remark that the major meant it’s unusual to find a female landscape gardener?’

Jaz smiled. ‘The major is a little old-fashioned,’ she excused, not in the least offended by the remark.

“‘Capable of turning chaos into order”,’ Beau Garrett continued dryly.

She shrugged. ‘If you happen to frequent the well-stocked village shop, you’ll see that Barbara is something of a perfectionist when it comes to order.’ Even the cans of soup daren’t be out of line on her shelves!

“‘An absolute treasure”,’ he derided.

Jaz nodded. ‘Betty never has a bad word to say about anyone. But don’t forget the “darling” remark,’ she reminded him cheerily.

He didn’t look impressed by her own recall of their conversation on Friday evening, in fact that dark scowl was back on those mesmerizingly handsome features.

Maybe she should have told him who she was the other evening, but at the time it had been interesting hearing other people’s opinions of her without the inhibition of knowing she was the one being discussed. Although she didn’t somehow think Beau Garrett would be too impressed with that excuse!

Seen in the clear light of day like this, that scar on his face was much more noticeable, a livid red mark against the otherwise paleness of his skin. Not that the scar detracted from his attractiveness in the least, he just looked even more dangerously piratical.

Although from the challenging glitter in those silver-grey eyes she had a feeling Beau Garrett wouldn’t appreciate being told of that particular observation!

But that scar apart, he had to be one of the most handsome men ever to grace the small screen; aged in his late thirties, possibly early forties, well over six feet in height, lithely masculine, the slightly overlong dark hair flecked with grey at his temples, his chin square and determined in the bold handsomeness of his face.

Was it any wonder that Madelaine, only forty-five herself but widowed for the last eight years, had been eager to invite him over for drinks; not only had it been a feather in the other woman’s cap to be the first in the village to socially entertain the celebrity who had decided to appear in their midst, but Beau Garrett had to be the likeliest husband material to appear in the village for some time. If ever!

Not being a great fan of television, or those gossipy magazines that seemed so popular nowadays, Jaz had no idea whether or not this man was married. But one thing she did know just from looking at him; those lines of bitterness beside his eyes and mouth didn’t auger well for any woman showing a matrimonial interest in him.

Thank goodness Jaz didn’t count herself amongst that number. She was far too busy keeping her garden centre and landscape gardening business going to have any time for love herself, let alone a husband and children.

“‘Jaz”?’ Beau Garrett finally prompted dryly.

Her mouth tightened, her cheeks flushing slightly. ‘Short for Jasmina,’ she said with disgust. ‘Although I wouldn’t advise you to ever call me that,’ she added tersely. ‘The last person who did still has the bruises to prove it!’

Humour softened the harshness of his features. ‘I feel the same way about Beauregard.’ He grimaced. ‘Parents have a lot to answer for, don’t they, when it comes to the choice of names for their poor, unsuspecting children?’

They certainly did—and Jaz wasn’t sure she didn’t feel more sorry for him than she did herself. Beauregard, for goodness’ sake!

She nodded. ‘If I ever have a child of my own I’m going to call it either Mary, if it’s a girl, or Mark, if it’s a boy—if only because there’s absolutely nothing you can do with plain, solid names like that!’

Beau Garrett frowned. ‘I couldn’t help noticing that it says “J Logan and Sons” on the sign outside the garden centre?’

‘My father,’ she supplied abruptly. ‘His name was John. But there aren’t any sons. Just me,’ she eyed him challengingly. ‘The “and sons” was my father’s idea of a joke.’

‘I see,’ he murmured, obviously not seeing at all. ‘You said “was”?’ He looked at her with narrowed eyes.

She gave a brief inclination of her head; for someone not brought up in a village, this man was doing a very good job of extracting information himself! ‘My father died three years ago when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college. I just left the sign up because—well, because it’s always been there,’ she finished lamely, but knowing that wasn’t really the reason she had left the sign as it was.

It served as a reminder. Of what, she wasn’t quite sure. But one thing she did know, every time she looked at that sign she felt a new resolve to make a success of this gardening centre.

‘And your mother?’ Beau Garrett prompted softly.

Her mouth twisted humourlessly. ‘I don’t think she appreciated the joke, either—she walked out on my father and me when I was just seventeen!’

‘I’m sorry,’ he bit out abruptly.

‘Oh, don’t be,’ Jaz dismissed hardly, moving to sit back behind her desk. She had no intention of telling him that her mother hadn’t left alone. Or that she and her lover had been killed in a car accident in the South of France three months later. ‘You know, Mr Garrett—’ she looked up at him assessingly ‘—you’re very good at this. No wonder your television show is so successful if you get your guests to talk about themselves in this same candid way!’ She hadn’t discussed her mother, or the fact that she had left her father and herself, for longer than she could remember, and yet a few minutes into conversation with this man and she seemed to have told him half her life history!

But if she didn’t want to pursue that subject any further, then Beau Garrett seemed to share her view, his expression having tightened bleakly, his eyes glittering silver. ‘Perhaps we should get back to the subject in hand,’ he rasped. ‘You already know the problem, the question is, do you have the time to do something with the wildness of The Old Vicarage garden?’

‘Of course.’ Her own tone matched his in crispness, determined to get this conversation back on the footing of two strangers discussing a business transaction. ‘Would you like me to call round this afternoon and give you a quote on time and cost?’

He arched dark brows. ‘Don’t you have to check your diary or anything like that first?’

She met his gaze unblinkingly. ‘No.’

Those brows rose higher. ‘Or need to know exactly what work I want done?’

Her mouth twisted wryly. ‘I thought we could discuss that when I call round this afternoon.’

The mocking humour returned to those pale grey eyes. ‘Business a little slow at the moment, is it?’ he drawled dryly.

In truth, business, in the middle of March, was almost non-existent!

It was too early in the season for any of her regulars to need their lawns or flower-beds tended, and the flowers and plants she had been carefully nurturing in the greenhouses. To add to that, she had nothing in the books for the landscape gardening side of the business. In fact, if she managed to get a down payment from Beau Garrett for the work he wanted done, she might actually be able to pay off one or two of the bills that were piling up on her desk!

‘A little,’ she allowed lightly. ‘But, then, it always is in March,’ she defended dismissively. ‘Although it’s the perfect time of year to clear and landscape a garden,’ she added reassuringly.

His mouth twisted mockingly. ‘I believe you.’

Jaz gave him a considering look. ‘I can’t believe you’ve really bought The Old Vicarage.’

When the ‘Sold’ sign had gone up outside the old house a month ago everyone in the village had been agog with curiosity as to who could possibly have bought such a monstrosity. The house itself was big and old, very run-down, had stood empty for the last five years since the last people to rent it had moved out into one of the more convenient cottages on the edge of the village, claiming that the house was too big and draughty to keep warm, that the roof leaked, and the electric wiring and drainage systems were antiquated to say the least.

Beau Garrett eyed Jaz speculatively now. ‘Is there some reason why I shouldn’t have done?’

All of the above, Jaz would have thought.

‘It’s very run-down,’ she began tentatively.

‘The builder started work on that this morning,’ he dismissed.

Next!, his tone seemed to imply.

‘I would have thought it was very inconvenient for commuting to London,’ Jaz obliged.

This man’s chat show had taken the prime-time ten o’clock spot on a Friday evening for the last ten years, mainly because of his decisive, informative interviews, but his dark, brooding good looks certainly hadn’t done him any harm, either. But the village was a couple of hundred miles away from London, hardly within commuting distance for a man who worked from a London studio.

‘Good,’ came his uncompromising answer, his silver gaze palely challenging, his mouth thinning grimly.

Jaz shrugged. ‘Isn’t it also a little big for just one man to live in? Unless, of course, you intend bringing your family up here, too,’ she added as an afterthought. After all, two could play at this game…

‘I don’t,’ he answered unhelpfully. ‘Now could we get back to the subject of your working on the vicarage garden?’ It was made as a request, but the steely edge to his tone clearly told Jaz that he had no intention of discussing his private life with her. Or, indeed, with anyone else!

That was fine with her; it was his private life, after all.

She nodded. ‘Well, as I’ve said, I’ll call round this afternoon and we can discuss what needs to be done. After that, I can probably start working on it by—would Wednesday morning be okay with you?’

‘Fine,’ he agreed tersely, turning to leave, and then pausing as he reached the door. ‘I hope you’re going to be more reliable than the builder—he should have started work a week ago!’

‘And he arrived this morning,’ Jaz said admiringly. ‘That’s pretty good. You must have made a good impression on him.’

Beau Garrett’s mouth twisted ruefully. ‘No—I just made a damned nuisance of myself by telephoning every day for the last week to find out when he was going to start work!’

She laughed, standing up. ‘Maybe village life is going to suit you, after all, Mr Garrett,’ she said appreciatively. ‘You obviously know how to deal with unreliable workmen,’ she explained at his questioning look.

‘Knowing how to deal with them has nothing to do with it,’ he bit out dismissively. ‘I just don’t suffer fools gladly.’

Now that, even on such brief acquaintance, she could believe!

But even so, Dennis Davis, the only builder for miles around, was well known for his lackadaisical attitude to turning up for jobs on time—in fact, Jaz had been waiting for weeks herself for Dennis to fix a leak on one of her shed roofs!

She grinned sympathetically. ‘I can assure you, Mr Garrett, that if I say I’ll be with you at two-thirty this afternoon, then that’s exactly when I will be there.’

‘Call me Beau,’ he invited abruptly.

Jaz felt the warm colour enter her cheeks, not sure she could take such a liberty—even when invited to do so—by this national television figure; it somehow seemed far too familiar with this distantly haughty man.

‘Jaz,’ she returned uncomfortably. ‘Two-thirty, then,’ she added briskly.

‘Fine,’ he accepted tersely. ‘I’m out of coffee, so I thought I might call in at the village shop on the way home,’ he added dryly, that hint of humour once again in those silver eyes. ‘But I should have escaped by two-thirty.’

Effectively telling Jaz that as well as being aware of the neat precision with which Barbara Scott liked to stack her shelves, she was also, predictably, the biggest gossip in the village; there was no way Barbara would easily relinquish the novelty of Beau Garrett’s presence in her shop!

Jaz smiled appreciatively. ‘You may just get used to village life, after all!’

‘Somehow I’m starting to doubt that,’ he rasped dismissively.

Jaz stood at the doorway watching him as he strode purposefully to the black Range Rover parked in the muddy driveway, raising a hand in farewell as he drove away.

But Jaz’s smile faded as soon as he had gone, a frown marring her creamy brow as she returned to the problem of the pile of bills on her desk even while her thoughts actually remained on Beau Garrett’s last comment.

‘Somehow’ she very much doubted he would ‘get used to village life’, either.

Which posed the question: what was he doing here in the first place?

.

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