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The Wade Dynasty

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«The Wade Dynasty» - 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…Back in the cowboy’s arms…Ten years ago Brenna's mother married Nathan Wade's father, and in time, Brenna not only found a new home at the Wade ranch in Alberta, she fell wildly in love with Nathan. She would have accepted his marriage proposal too—if she hadn't learned that all he really cared about was control of the ranch…Now a family crisis is pulling her back home. And despite Brenna's best efforts to despise Nathan, the desire between them is as strong as ever…!
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The Wade Dynasty 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

‘IF I assure you I no longer imagine myself in love with you will you stop running away and come home where you belong?'

Brenna froze on the rock where she sat, even the seagulls overhead seeming to stop their cries, as if they sensed the sudden tension of the young woman who, until a few seconds ago, had been sketching the beauty of their flight over the tranquillity of the grey-green of the Irish sea in midsummer.

Nathan. She knew that voice in a dozen or more different emotions, the rich timbre of his Canadian accent now faintly mocking. She had known him as the brother, the adversary, the arrogant tormentor, and finally the lover. And she knew from the tone of his voice now that the second most suited his mood at the moment.

Why had he come for her now, why had he left it over a year since she had walked—no, run away from him? Because she had run that Easter sixteen months ago, had scurried back to England as if the very devil were at her heels. The first time she had looked at Nathan Wade she had thought him in league with the devil, his faded denims snug on his leanly muscled hips, the black, dusty shirt taut across the power of his chest, piercing grey eyes delving into her soul as he looked at her beneath the black, dusty and sweat-stained stetson that was tilted low across his forehead.

Until that moment Brenna had only seen cowboys on television or in films, with the good guys wearing the white hats and the bad guys wearing the black ones; she hadn't needed Nathan's black hat to tell her he was a bad guy, had known just from looking at him that if it had been the last century Nathan Wade would have been a cold-hearted gun-slinger on the wrong side of the law. Instead he now masqueraded as a Canadian rancher, his ancestors having moved from the wide open spaces of America to its even wider and less crowded neighbour, two generations ago. They now owned land and wielded considerable power in their adopted county!

And Nathan had sought to own her, to help forge the dynasty that his brother and her sister were even now in the process of continuing, and their first baby was due in two months’ time.

It was strange the surprises Fate held in store for the unsuspecting. Until she was twelve years of age Brenna had lived quite happily in England with her older sister and their divorced mother, barely noticing the absence of the irresponsible man who was her father, the father who accepted no ties in his life, not even that of remaining faithful for more than a couple of months at a time to his wife and the two daughters she had borne him. Their divorce had barely registered with either eleven-year-old Brenna or thirteen-year-old Lesli; they had not seen any less of their father then because he had rarely been at home anyway. But the advent of Patrick Wade into all their lives almost a year later hadn't been as smooth. The rich Canadian rancher had demanded that Anna and her two daughters go back to Canada with him to the ranch he owned several miles from Calgary.

For the first time that anyone could remember, Andrew Jordan made a conscious decision; he didn't want his two daughters moving anywhere!

If he had known Patrick Wade a little better he would have realised that the harshly handsome man had never been denied anything in his life, that what he wanted he always got, one way or another. He had got Anna and her two daughters.

And Brenna and Lesli had acquired two of the most arrogantly self-assured stepbrothers that could ever have been wished on anyone. As they were already grown men of twenty-six and twenty-three, respectively, perhaps it was to be expected that Nathan and Grant had little patience for the two young English girls who had become part of their family.

How Brenna wished it had always remained that way!

But Grant and Leslie had suddenly fallen in love four years ago, and in the face of Brenna's distrust of all the Wade men it had seemed like a betrayal. And when Nathan had come after her sixteen months ago, she had run as far and as fast as she could go. It looked as if her running was over, at least as far as Nathan was concerned. If she could believe what Nathan was saying, he had changed his mind about marrying her. She had always known he wasn't motivated by love.

She took one last wistful look at the calmness of the water off the north-west coast of England, knowing Nathan still stood behind and above her. Brenna had climbed down the cliff to sit on a jutting rock as she did her sketching, enjoying the wildness of this rugged beauty, alone in this secluded cove, but not feeling in the least lonely. She loved everything about England, and even after six years in Canada had felt immediately at home as soon as she stepped off the plane in London on her way to college four years ago. She had no intention of returning to Canada, it wasn't where she ‘belonged'.

She drew up her knees with her sketch-pad on, regretting that she wasn't going to be able to finish her drawing, unzipping the leather pouch that lay on the flatness of the rock beside her and putting her equipment carefully inside. Just because she was going to have to turn and face Nathan again after sixteen months, there was no reason not to take her usual care with putting away her work!

‘Brenna!'

The harsh command of his voice wasn't lazily mocking this time, the impatience that was never far from the surface of his decisive nature ripping coldly into her.

She knew she had no choice now but to turn and face him, that if she didn't, he was going to come down here after her. She prepared herself for the confrontation as best she could, getting slowly to her feet, small and slender in the tight denims and green T-shirt, her hair a wild tumble of ebony down her spine, eyes the colour of darkest emeralds seeking him out. No amount of preparation could have prepared her for the lean figure that stood on top of the cliff, the midday sun behind him making him appear only as a dark silhouette. It was enough.

Brenna drew in a shuddering breath, blinking coal-black lashes that fanned out thickly from the almond shape of her eyes as they fleetingly touched her cheek. She could see Nathan a little better now her eyes had become accustomed to the bright sunshine. He stood in the shadow, but she knew his harshly handsome beauty as if by heart, hair as black as her own, black brows jutting out over icy grey eyes, a long straight nose, high cheekbones that looked as if they could have belonged to some unclaimed Indian ancestry, a sculptured mouth that rarely laughed, his smiles cynical at best, and a square chin that laid claim to his arrogance. He was wearing a black, Western-style suit, although the jacket was dangling over his shoulder held by a single finger in the heat of this August day, the black and white checked shirt stretching tautly across his chest as he did so, the black boots slightly dusty from his walk from the road to the cove. Brenna knew that at a couple of inches over six feet, he stood a foot taller than her, but at the moment it looked like three times that!

While she had been studying him he had taken the same time to look at her, his eyes narrowed as he met her challenging gaze.

Had he noticed any changes in her since their parting at the airport all those months ago? She could see none in him, he looked as harshly forbidding as usual. She knew there had been few changes in her either, except perhaps that her hair was even longer than before, impractically reaching almost to her waist. And unfashionably too, when all her friends were going for a variety of much shorter styles.

But it was a vanity that she was loath to part with, a gentle breeze from the sea behind her stirring the slightly wavy tresses about the small oval of her face.

‘I'm not running away,’ she told him firmly, almost defiantly, she realised angrily. But Nathan had always had the power to put her on the defensive, and she realised their months apart hadn't changed that. ‘And I'm perfectly happy where I am,’ she added with dismissal for his claim of her home being in Canada.

Nathan chose to read her claim literally, dark brows rising as he looked pointedly at her precarious position on the rock. ‘I think perhaps you might be a little more comfortable up here,’ he drawled, reaching out a hand to help her up beside him.

Brenna looked at that hand as if it were a snake about to strike, not wanting any sort of physical contact with him. So instead of taking his hand, she slapped her leather pouch into it before scrambling up the cliff beside him, dusting the dirt from her hands as she realised her flat trainers put her on a level with his shoulder. Great, now she felt like a twelve-year-old again!

She kept her distance from him, her head tilted back to look at him. ‘How did you find me?’ she asked.

‘I went to the cottage where you're staying, your friend told me,’ he watched her with pebble-hard eyes.

Brenna stiffened at the way he said ‘friend'. ‘What's wrong, Nathan? Aren't my friends good enough for you?’ she said scornfully.

Is he good?’ he bit out harshly.

‘He?’ she frowned.

‘Your lover,’ he said contemptuously.

Her frown darkened ominously. ‘Just who did you talk to at the house?’ she snapped.

Nathan shrugged dismissively. ‘I believe he said his name was Nick.'

Brenna shot him a resentful glance, hating him more than ever for his assumption. ‘Carolyn happens to be my friend,’ she bit out precisely. ‘Nick Bancroft is her fiancé.'

‘That's very liberal of her,’ he rasped.

‘You—–'

‘Let's not get into an argument here,’ he told her patronisingly. ‘I would hate one—or both—of us, to go over the side of this cliff.'

It didn't surprise her that he had known that was just what she would like to do to him. ‘Then don't make assumptions,’ she ground out angrily.

‘I'll try not to,’ he drawled. ‘But when a young man answers the door of the cottage I've been told you're a guest at, what else was I supposed to think?'

Ever since she had reached sixteen years of age she had had to contend with Nathan's over-protectiveness where boys were concerned, when, after years of taking no notice of her, he had suddenly decided to offer her a big brother's protection, a protection she hadn't wanted then and deeply resented now. Even if Nick had been her lover instead of Carolyn's it was none of this man's business—she was twenty-two, not sixteen! Besides, it was protection from him she had needed—and not received.

‘Maybe you should have asked.’ Her eyes flashed her resentment.

Grey eyes warred with green for several seconds, until finally Nathan sighed heavily, running an impatient hand through the overlong hair he was somehow always forgetting to have cut. But the longer style suited the harshness of his face, slightly softening those intimidating features, the lines that indicated that he had lived a hard thirty-six years for all his wealth. ‘I didn't come here to discuss your lovers—or lack of them,’ he added at her rebellious expression.

Somehow even that sounded like an insult. ‘Then why are you here?’ she asked impatiently, taking her leather pouch from him to begin walking up the hill to the cottage Carolyn had rented for the month.

‘Lesli has walked out on Grant and I have reason to think she's coming to you.'

If Nathan, a man who lashed with his tongue rather than his hands, had struck her hard across the face she couldn't have been more stunned, coming to an abrupt halt before she whipped around to face him. He hadn't moved, silhouetted against the grey-green sea now. ‘Lesli has left Grant?’ she repeated disbelievingly; Lesli had always worshipped the ground Grant walked over.

Nathan gave an abrupt inclination of his head. ‘Three days ago. You obviously knew nothing about it,’ he sighed at the realisation.

Lesli had left Grant? It was unthinkable. Her sister adored the man, had given up the idea of law school as soon as he had asked her to marry him, and had never seemed to regret that decision, becoming the perfect rancher's wife only three months before their parents were killed in a light aeroplane crash only five miles from the ranch. She had continued that way for the last four years.

‘I don't believe it,’ Brenna shook her head. ‘Lesli would never leave Grant.

'

‘Believe me, she has,’ Nathan drawled.

‘But why?’ she groaned.

He shrugged. ‘They had an argument—and don't ask me what about, Grant told me to stay out of it when I asked him,’ he revealed drily.

Brenna could believe that; Grant was as arrogant as his brother. ‘You said you believe she was coming here?’ she prompted faintly.

‘She was booked on the flight that should have landed two days ago.'

‘Then she's in London,’ Brenna groaned.

‘All I know is that she was booked on the flight, the airline wouldn't tell me whether or not she actually got on it,’ he explained grimly.

‘Wouldn't or couldn't?’ she scorned.

‘Wouldn't,’ he repeated softly, dangerously. ‘The dictates of security. Do you really think now is the time for an argument about what the Wade money can or cannot buy?'

Colour darkened her cheeks as he correctly guessed the reason for her derision. She had learnt early in life what power the Wade name and money wielded, and even ten years later she hadn't been able to bury her bitterness. In fact, it had increased.

She swallowed hard. ‘If Grant wanted you to stay out of it why didn't he come after her himself?’ she demanded resentfully.

‘I told you, we aren't sure she actually got on that flight, and if she didn't then whoever came here was going to have a wasted journey. If she changed her mind and went home Grant wanted to be there.'

‘Waiting for her,’ she rasped.

Anger flared in the silver-grey eyes. ‘You make it sound as if he intends beating her as soon as he gets his hands on her,’ Nathan snapped harshly.

‘For daring to leave him?’ Brenna questioned tautly. ‘It's a possibility.'

Nathan's mouth tightened. ‘Don't be so damned stupid!’ he said caustically. ‘I don't believe anything can be solved by running away,’ his tone was accusing. ‘But even I would hesitate to hit a woman seven months pregnant with my child!'

The cutting rejoinder she had been about to make in retaliation to his ‘running away’ remark fled her mind at the mention of Lesli's pregnancy. ‘Heavens, I'd forgotten for a moment,’ she moaned. ‘Where could she have gone?’ Worry darkened her eyes.

‘Well, it's obvious that if she did come in on that plane she wasn't able to persuade your landlady to tell her where you were.'

‘As you were,’ she put in drily.

‘Brenna—–'

‘I'm sorry,’ she grimaced. ‘Force of habit.'

‘I'm aware of that,’ he rasped.

‘I said I was sorry,’ she glared.

‘And that makes everything all right?’ Nathan demanded tersely.

Brenna was aware that he had seen a double meaning to her apology—and taken it. ‘You said you were over that,’ she avoided the piercing ice of his eyes, knowing how he must have hated being thwarted a year ago when she hadn't returned to Canada as she was expected to.

‘That?’ he gave a harsh snort. ‘What's the matter, Brenna, can't you even use the word love?'

Her chin rose challengingly. ‘Not in connection with you, no!'

A dangerous glitter narrowed his eyes. ‘Then it's as well I am “over that”, isn't it?’ he bit out harshly. ‘Otherwise you just might have hurt my feelings, mightn't you?'

The idea of anyone or anything being able to pierce this man's heart and actually find any softer emotions that could be hurt was as laughable as his derisive tone implied.

‘Did you try the hotels in town?’ Brenna returned to the subject of Lesli, not willing to get into an argument with Nathan about what had happened sixteen months ago, and the fact that she hadn't returned to Calgary when college finished that summer as she had told Nathan she would.

‘All the major ones,’ he nodded. ‘None of them had a Mrs Wade or a Miss Jordan registered, which means that if she is in London she has no intention of being found until she's good and ready. Which leaves you,’ he reasoned. ‘Wherever she is, here or still in Canada, she'll be in touch with you some time in the near future; the Jordan sisters always stick together,’ he added derisively.

She knew he was referring to the fact that although she hadn't been back to Canada the last year, she had telephoned her sister regularly once a month just to let her know she was all right, had even written a couple of times. She had made no such contact with Nathan, and Lesli had promised not to give him her address. Her eyes widened as she realised that.

‘Grant and I searched out a few of those letters from you that Lesli has been hoarding the last year,’ Nathan drawled as he guessed the reason for her accusing look.

‘You read my letters to Lesli?’ she gasped, desperately trying to remember all that she had said in them; little about Nathan, she was sure.

His expression darkened. ‘No,’ he rasped. ‘Although I had the right; when you left you promised to marry me!'

‘I said I would be back in the summer and we could talk about it!’ she corrected heatedly. ‘Obviously I decided we didn't even need to talk about it!'

‘Wouldn't it have been more polite to come back and tell me that yourself?’ he ground out.

She hadn't felt able to do that, had feared—yes, feared that he might be able to persuade her into bed as he had during her Easter break at home. Because she knew if he managed to share her bed again she wouldn't be able to deny him anything. Even now she could vividly remember the strength of his lean body wrapped about hers, the musky male scent of him as his mouth nuzzled against her neck. The memories of that night hadn't faded at all during the last sixteen months away from him.

‘We had nothing to talk about,’ she dismissed in a hard voice.

‘I'd told you that I loved you!’ he reminded her tautly.

And that claim had caused her more pain than happiness; it still did! ‘And as you can now say you don't, it's as well I didn't take you seriously,’ she derided. ‘Now could we, for once, stop bringing our conversation back to a personal level and concentrate on Lesli and the fact that she's alone somewhere and seven months pregnant?'

Nathan gave an abrupt inclination of his head. ‘I'll have to call Grant and let him know I've had no luck finding her here.'

And Brenna could see how much admitting that failure irked him. ‘You can do that once we get back to London,’ she snapped. ‘Right now Lesli is the important one.'

His mouth thinned. ‘Grant is suffering too, you know,’ he rasped.

‘Of course,’ she scorned. ‘After all, Lesli is carrying the Wade heir! It wasn't enough to make him leave his prize herd, was it?’ she accused.

‘Brenna—–'

‘Oh, let's get back to the cottage so that I can get my things together,’ she bit out impatiently. ‘I'd like to get back to London this afternoon.'

He grabbed her arm and swung her round to face him, his features contorted with anger. ‘If Lesli leaving Grant had anything to do with you I promise you you'll regret it!’ he threatened harshly.

Brenna frowned. ‘What do you mean?'

‘You've shown your contempt of the Wade family for so long maybe a little of it rubbed off on Lesli. Maybe I should have read those letters!'

Her eyes shot flames at him. ‘If Lesli has come to her senses and no longer sees you and Grant as big fearless heroes, then all I can say is it's about time!’ she challenged. ‘But I can assure you nothing I've said influenced her; I've been telling her for years that you're both arrogant sons-of—–'

‘Your success as an illustrator of children's books doesn't seem to have moderated your language any,’ Nathan bit out grimly. ‘Your mouth still needs washing out with soap!'

Brenna's eyes flashed like emeralds. ‘And who taught me every curse in the book?'

His mouth thinned. ‘I always told Dad he should have kept you away from the ranch hands.'

‘I was referring to their boss!'

He gave a deep sigh. ‘A lot of things can go wrong on a ranch,’ he defended.

‘And you swear about every one,’ she recalled softly, her expression hardening as she realised she sounded almost wistful. ‘How did you know about my illustrating?’ she bit out.

He shrugged. ‘Lesli was very proud of her baby sister's accomplishments,’ he drawled. ‘The copy of the book that you sent her has been put by for the baby.'

‘What did you think about it?’ she mumbled.

Grey eyes glinted with humour. ‘Koly the Koala is not exactly my taste in literature.'

‘No,’ she snapped. ‘I remember Mum throwing out of the house a few of your ideas of literature,’ she scorned.

‘They were Grant's,’ he rasped. ‘He brought them back from university.'

‘And you didn't even glance at them,’ taunted Brenna.

‘Oh, I glanced at them,’ Nathan drawled derisively. ‘But they were giving me an inferiority complex; I didn't realise most of those positions were possible!'

Carolyn had got back from the village during their absence, and Brenna made the introductions Nathan had been in too much of a hurry to bother with when he arrived. Carolyn, beautiful blonde, blue-eyed Carolyn, had difficulty hiding her surprise at the sudden appearance of a stepbrother she had never heard of.

‘Although I don't blame you for keeping him a secret, darling,’ her friend told her as she put her arm in the crook of Nathan's, smiling up at him warmly. ‘He's beautiful!’ Carolyn laughed softly as Nathan raised surprised brows in Nick's direction, the dark-haired man lounging in an armchair, completely unperturbed by his fiancée's flirtatious manner. ‘Don't worry, Nathan, Nick isn't likely to challenge you to a duel or anything just because I like the way you look. Just because we're getting married there's no reason to act as if we don't see the attraction of other people.'

Brenna was well aware of Carolyn's views concerning her engagement, just as she was also aware that Carolyn had been faithful to Nick and the love they shared, since the moment they first met. But Nathan couldn't know that from the way Carolyn was acting, and Brenna could sense his sceptical gaze on her.

‘Carolyn is the author of Koly the Koala,’ she defensively explained her friendship with the other woman; the two of them had been introduced through the publisher almost a year ago. ‘We're currently working on another book together,’ she added protectively as she could still feel the sting of his contempt for the arrangement he thought Carolyn and Nick had, obviously considering her part of their relationship at the moment.

‘How nice,’ he drawled uninterestedly, managing to extricate himself from Carolyn's languidly dangling arm before moving to stand in front of the window. ‘If you would like to pack your things, Brenna,’ he added hardly, ‘we can be on our way.'

‘I'll help you,’ offered Carolyn with a generosity uncharacteristic of her, almost pushing Brenna from the room and up the narrow stairs to the two bedrooms and bathroom above. Brenna had one of the bedrooms, Carolyn and Nick shared the other one. ‘Where are you going with that delicious hunk of a man?’ Carolyn demanded to know as soon as the bedroom door closed behind them, making herself comfortable on the bed as Brenna ruefully began to pack.

‘That “delicious hunk of a man” is merely my stepbrother—–'

‘Nathan Wade has never been merely anything in his life,’ her friend dismissed knowingly. ‘I can't believe you haven't noticed how handsome he is,’ she chided. ‘After all, a stepbrother is no relation at all.'

It would be useless to deny that she hadn't been aware of Nathan's masculinely magnetic pull from the time she had first met him; there had been a constant and steady stream of women in his life the last ten years to testify to that even if she hadn't been aware of it.

‘When someone has watched you progress through braces on your teeth, pimples, braids, and a flat chest, there doesn't seem any place left for romance,’ she avoided drily.

‘I would have made sure he noticed the disappearance of the braids, the brace and the pimples, and the appearance of my breasts,’ Carolyn told her enviously. ‘We would probably have been sharing a bed by the time I reached seventeen!'

Brenna didn't doubt that, and smiled affectionately at her friend. Before she met Nick, Carolyn had known a lot of other men, she was a woman that men seemed to like instinctively. Except Nathan, she realised frowningly. Probably her friends weren't good enough for him!

‘I was still wearing the brace at seventeen,’ she dismissed scornfully.

‘But surely… Oh, never mind,’ Carolyn sighed frustratedly at Brenna's closed expression. ‘Where's he taking you?'

‘London. I… He and my sister decided to pay me a surprise visit and I ruined it by not being there.’ She had no intention of discussing this family crisis with Carolyn, considering it too personal. ‘She's waiting in London for me.’ Which was true—she hoped!

‘Your sister came over with Nathan?’ Carolyn frowned. ‘But I thought she was married to someone called Grant? Why…?'

‘She is. Look, I really don't have the time to talk right now, Carolyn,’ Brenna cut in briskly. ‘I have to get my packing done; Nathan doesn't like to be kept waiting,’ she added truthfully, remembering a couple of times he had been waiting up for her when she arrived home later from a date than she had said she would. And she could do without his chilly sarcasm in front of her friends!

Carolyn stood up in a graceful movement, sighing her disappointment. ‘You're really no fun when it comes to confidences, Brenna,’ she complained. ‘I've told you all about my life before I met Nick.'

And some of it had made her toes curl! But she liked Carolyn, and the two of them worked very well together, she just had no intention of discussing her complicated family tree, and the problems her mother's marriage to Patrick Wade had made for all concerned.

‘Maybe when I get back.'

‘How long will you be gone?’ Carolyn was completely professional now, the deadline for the book being only weeks away.

Brenna grimaced. ‘I'm really not sure.’ Everything depended on whether or not Lesli came to her, and what her sister decided to do then.

‘Call me as soon as you know,’ Carolyn instructed as she made her way out of the room. ‘We're really on a tight schedule.'

She knew that, it was the reason they had sought the peace and privacy of this out-of-the-way cottage. But if Carolyn and Nick hadn't disappeared to Florida for the month of July they wouldn't have had this problem.

But she didn't argue that point, but nodded abruptly, concentrating on getting her cases packed so that she and Nathan could leave.

Carolyn had prepared a tray of coffee during Brenna's absence—it had to be coffee, Nathan didn't drink tea!—as the three of them sat together in the lounge. Nathan looked very relaxed as he lounged in his chair, his jacket casually flung over the back of it, as if he had no intention of giving it up in case it got lost in the clutter that Carolyn surrounded herself with wherever she went. Brenna anxiously searched their faces, deciding that Nathan looked the most relaxed—and wondering what he had said or done to put that wary look in the eyes of the other couple. He returned her accusing look with bland indifference to her discomfort.

She said hasty goodbyes to Carolyn and Nick while Nathan put her luggage in the back of the sleek car he had hired, its smooth compact lines telling of its exclusive nameplate. She barely waited before they were down the lane and out on to the road before turning on him. ‘Well?’ she demanded.

He shot her a cursory glance before turning back to the road. ‘Well what?’ he drawled unhelpfully.

‘What did you say to them?’ Her eyes were narrowed suspiciously.

He shrugged. ‘We barely spoke while you were upstairs packing.'

‘What did you say to them?'

‘Calm down, Brenna,’ he advised impatiently.

‘I am calm,’ she ground out. ‘I just want to know what you said to upset my friends.'

‘They weren't upset.'

‘Nathan!'

He gave a weary sigh. ‘I merely expressed regret for breaking up your ménage à trois. That is the fashionable description for what you were doing, isn't it?’ he added harshly.

Strangely the insult made her feel like crying rather than shouting. That Nathan could think she had changed so much as to be involved in anything so distasteful! She had been a virgin when they made love, did he really think she could have become such a wanton in the last year?

‘Maybe I shouldn't have made love to you when I did.’ The same memories seemed to be going through his mind, making his expression grim. ‘If I hadn't maybe you wouldn't have felt free to experiment with other men.'

There had been no other men. She wasn't stupid, she knew that what she and Nathan had shared that last night in Canada had been unique, unmatchable with any other man. She knew that just as surely as she recognised that, for her own sanity, it could never be repeated. Never, she vowed with a shudder. It had taken her months to accept that she and Nathan had made love. And she wasn't going to let herself fall into the same trap her mother and Lesli had.

‘Brenna?'

She flinched as he would have touched her, moving as far away from him as she could.

‘What the hell!’ Nathan's face darkened like a thunder-cloud as he turned to look at her. ‘Brenna, what is it?’ He frowned at how pale she had become.

‘What is it?’ she repeated haltingly, still very disturbed. ‘It isn't every day I'm accused of being a whore!'

‘I never called you that!’ he rasped.

‘As good as.’ She flushed in her anger.

He gave a deep, ragged sigh. ‘Okay, what was your relationship to those two?'

‘I told you, Carolyn writes the books, and I illustrate them.'

‘And Nick Bancroft?'

‘Shares Carolyn's room,’ she told him resentfully. ‘The two of them go everywhere together.'

‘That wasn't the impression I got,’ Nathan bit out contemptuously.

‘Appearances can be deceptive.’ Although Carolyn had been very sexually active before meeting and falling in love with Nick, to her knowledge, for all her friend's talk, Carolyn had been faithful to him since they first fell in love. The habit of flirting with every man she met was obviously a hard one for Carolyn to break. ‘Carolyn writes children's books, not sex manuals!'

‘Okay,’ Nathan sighed. ‘If I was wrong, I'm sorry.'

The words were so quietly spoken Brenna couldn't help wondering if she had imagined them; Nathan never apologised for anything, none of the Wade men did. But this time Nathan had, she could tell that by the angry set of his mouth, the stiff way he sat behind the wheel of the car, as if he deeply resented having to apologise. And Brenna was sure that he did.

She neither accepted nor denied the apology, turning so that she was looking out of the side window, her face stiffly averted all the way back to London.

It was late afternoon by the time they reached London and the top floor of the Victorian building which Brenna occupied, one of the rooms having been converted into a studio for her, the light up there being excellent for her work. She had lived in the flat only a year, moving from the one she had shared with two other girls through college, so that Nathan shouldn't find her if he came looking. It seemed she could have saved herself the trouble, she thought ruefully; Nathan didn't give a damn about reading other people's personal mail to obtain what he wanted.

He carried her two suitcases up the six flights of stairs, putting them down outside her door while Brenna searched for her key in her bag.

She turned to him. ‘If you tell me the name of your hotel I'll call you if I hear from Lesli—–'

‘I booked out of my hotel this morning.’ Nathan took the key out of her hand and deftly turned it in the lock. ‘If Lesli calls or comes here, I'll be waiting for her.’ He gently urged Brenna inside the flat before he followed with the two suitcases.

‘Here?’ Brenna finally managed to gasp. ‘You mean here?’ She came to an abrupt halt just inside the lounge when she saw the brown suitcase standing in the middle of the room. ‘Yours?’ she squeaked at Nathan.

His mouth quirked. ‘When I explained to your landlady that I'm your brother, and flashed Lesli's and Grant's wedding photograph at her with the four of us standing together, she was kind enough to unlock your door and let me leave my case here. So you see, Brenna, I'm here for the duration.'

.

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