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Witchchild

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«Witchchild» - 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…Double trouble for the Sinclair dynasty…It may be a case of mistaken identity, but Leonie Spencer isn't about to make things easy for Henry Hawker Sinclair. After all, he’d accused her of wanting to marry his son, just for a share in the Sinclair millions!In actual fact, it is Leonie's twin sister who is head over heels for the Sinclair heir! Now Leonie is willing to go to any lengths to keep the young lovers together—even if it means taking on the intimidating lord of the Sinclair mansion herself…!
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Witchchild Carole Mortimer

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Title Page

PROLOGUE

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

EPILOGUE

Copyright

PROLOGUE

LEONIE’S eyes widened on the man seated opposite her. ‘Please don’t feel you have to be in the least polite to me just because I only opened the door to my home and met you for the first time two minutes ago!’ She gave him a wry smile.

His mouth tightened. ‘Very funny, Miss Brandon,’ he snapped. ‘But I intend to make my feelings very clear about having a little gold-digger like you anywhere near my son!’

‘Oh yes, Eagle, I think—–’

‘Hawk,’ he cut in irritably. ‘My name is Hawk, not Eagle,’ he clarified, seeing her mystified expression.

Surely one bird of prey was much like another? She had told Laura that she hoped the name wouldn’t be prophetic, but two minutes into her acquaintance with Hawk Sinclair, after he had verbally attacked her as soon as they reached the lounge, and she knew it was an understatement; Shark might have been more appropriate!

‘Hawk,’ she conceded lightly. Oh dear, they were going to have problems with this man, if his grim expression was anything to go by. ‘I think you’ve expressed your feelings about that very plainly. However—–’

‘How much do you want, Miss Brandon?’

Leonie’s mouth quirked with amazement. ‘You’re actually offering me money?’ She absently tickled the pure white cat as it stroked against her denim-clad leg passing through the room on its way to the kitchen.

He nodded abruptly. ‘In exchange for your leaving Hal alone.’

Green eyes lit up with amusement. ‘No man has ever offered me money to leave him alone before!’

His mouth twisted with disgust. ‘I’m sure plenty have paid you to stay with them!’

‘You’re getting nasty again now,’ she reproved.

‘Miss Brandon—–’

‘Can’t you be a little less formal with the woman you’re insulting?’ she mocked. ‘My name is—–’

‘I know your name, damn it!’ He stood up forcefully, pacing about the comfort of the small lounge.

Even when he was so obviously angry with her this man was fascinating to watch, Leonie decided. He wasn’t handsome, not in the way Hal was, more a power to be reckoned with, his movements all made with a leashed energy that drew attention to him even when he was standing still. And he had the most wonderful hair, gloriously thick and straight. It was a pity about his eyes; their cold greyness stopped him just short of being perfect, far from friendly as they looked at her. Oh well, maybe he thought he had good reason.

‘Are you going to leave Hal alone or not?’ he grated in a voice of rough velvet, his Texas accent, if he had ever had one, completely erased from the years of living away from his native State.

‘Not. You see—–’

He glared at her. ‘I believe you should know right now that I never take no for an answer.’

Leonie was sure that was no idle threat, his business reputation having preceded him, at least. The Sinclair hotels were known worldwide for their exclusive luxury, and this man maintained complete control of them from his home in Manhattan, Hal had informed them ruefully. The occasional surprise visits his father paid to the individual hotels had been enough to put the fear of God into the staff until the next time he arrived unexpectedly. Having received one of those visits herself Leonie was beginning to understand the feeling.

‘Hal still has a long way to go to learn the hotel business,’ he rasped. ‘And he’s far too young to be thinking of marrying anyone—–’

‘Ah!’ she pounced with satisfaction, absently stroking the long-haired tortoiseshell cat as it stood up in the chair it occupied, stretching before settling down to sleep again.

Dark brows rose over frankly impatient eyes. ‘Ah?’ Hawk Sinclair repeated, dangerously soft, his hands thrust into the pockets of his denims as he glowered down at her from his imposing height of well over six feet. To someone who barely scraped over five feet he just looked huge.

It was a pity she couldn’t take notes of this conversation; she was sure she would never be able to convey all the nuances when she related it to Laura later. Those eyebrows, for example, expressed his feelings exactly every time he spoke.

‘How old are you, Hawk?’ she asked interestedly.

‘How old—–?’ He looked ready to explode. ‘What the hell does my age have to do with any of this?’

‘A lot—if you’re still young enough to be approaching your mid-life crisis rather than having already passed it.’ She eyed him guilelessly.

In the next second he did explode, using all the swear words Leonie knew—and quite a lot that she had never heard before!

‘Are you always this damned kooky?’ he finally calmed down enough to ask. ‘Hal needs his head examined—–’

‘Hal knows a good thing when he sees it,’ she corrected chidingly. ‘You haven’t reached forty yet, then,’ she guessed lightly, glancing sideways as Pop, a smoky-grey cat, strolled through the room to join the white cat in the kitchen.

‘Hal’s age is the one that’s relevant here.’ Silver eyes dared her to pursue whatever subject she might be leading up to with her questions. ‘He’s not even twenty yet, and you’re already twenty-four—–’

‘Twenty-five last month,’ she corrected pertly, her eyes widely innocent as he looked at her fiercely for interrupting.

‘Too old—and too experienced—for Hal,’ he rasped.

‘Do you really think so?’ Leonie sat forward on the edge of her seat, looking very youthful with her rich red shoulder-length hair curling loosely about her make-upless face, her green T-shirt moulding the slender delicacy of her childlike body, the tight-fitting denims making her legs look longer than they actually were.

‘Not the way you look right now, no,’ he conceded, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘Did Hal call you and let you know I’d probably be coming to see you today?’

She wished he had! ‘The last time Hal mentioned your whereabouts you were in Nassau.’

‘That was over a week ago!’

Leonie shrugged. ‘To tell you the truth, Hal and I haven’t really spoken a great deal.’

Hawk drew in a harshly angry breath, towering over her threateningly, his hands at his sides now, clenching and unclenching. ‘Do you get some cheap thrill out of telling me you’re too busy sleeping with my son to bother with conversation?’ A nerve pulsed at his jaw.

‘I realise you’re having trouble accepting Hal’s maturity because it makes you feel old, but—–’

‘The only thing I feel when I think of the two of you together is angry!’ he grated.

‘Because knowing your son is involved in an intimate relationship forces you to acknowledge that he’s grown-up—–’

‘When did you qualify as a psychiatrist?’ Hawk Sinclair demanded viciously.

Leonie relaxed back in her chair, lifting her feet up to rest on the cushion beneath her, her arms wrapped about her knees. ‘I didn’t,’ she said without rancour. ‘However, I am an observer of life.’

‘Well, I wish you’d do your observing a thousand miles away from my son!’ He glared at her.

She observed him curiously. ‘Did you know you have the most expressive eyebrows? They define your every mood. They’d make a fascinating characteristic for one of the people in our books—–’

‘If I ever recognise anyone even remotely like myself in one of your books you’ll live to regret it!’ he warned savagely.

Leonie sat forward eagerly, her chin resting on her knees. ‘Have you ever read any of our books?’ she asked.

‘Fourth-rate detective novels aren’t my favourite choice of literature,’ he said with contempt. ‘They obviously aren’t making you a fortune either, otherwise you wouldn’t need to take advantage of Hal’s youthful naïveté in this way.’

‘Hal was never naïve, not even in the cradle,’ she dismissed reprovingly. ‘He’s too much like you.’

‘Thanks—I think,’ drawled Hawk Sinclair dryly.

‘And our books aren’t fourth-rate,’ she defended indignantly. ‘Leonaura Brandon is very popular.’

‘You may well be,’ he dismissed with impatience. ‘Personally I can’t stand books where everyone ends up getting murdered and the butler did it!’

Leonie shook her head. ‘No one ever gets murdered in our books.’

‘Then how the hell can they be murder books?’

‘They aren’t,’ she shrugged. ‘Not every detective investigates murders.’

He gave an irritated sigh. ‘Miss Brandon, I asked you how much you want to get out of—–Why the hell do you keep saying our books?’ He gave a dark scowl at the realisation that his curiosity about her had once again diverted him from his purpose of buying her out of Hal’s life.

‘My sister and I co-author them,’ she explained lightly. ‘Leonie and Laura—Leon-aura,’ she provided.

‘Let’s leave your sister out of this—–’

‘Oh, I don’t think we can do that,’ she told him thoughtfully. ‘You see, I’m Leonie.’

Angry disbelief claimed the hard contours of his face, his eyes were silver slits. ‘You mean you aren’t—you’re not—–’

Leonie realised she was probably witnessing history being made, seriously doubting that Hawk Sinclair had ever before been rendered speechless. ‘I mean you’ve been trying to buy off the wrong sister,’ she confirmed ruefully. ‘Laura is the one who’s been dating Hal, as I’m sure you know.’

‘You—I—–’

‘Why don’t you sit down?’ she offered as angry colour darkened his cheeks. ‘Your blood-pressure—–’

‘There’s nothing wrong with my blood-pressure!’ he finally managed to burst out.

‘Except that it’s rising,’ Leonie told him calmly.

‘You really should learn to relax—–’

‘Relax!’ he repeated harshly. ‘I’ve been trying to reason with a child when I meant to bargain with a mercenary, and you tell me to relax!’

‘Laura and I are twins,’ she chided his reference to her age, bending to stroke Pop as he left the kitchen after eating his lunch.

Hawk became suddenly still and, if anything, more dangerous. ‘You mean there’s another one just like you running around loose somewhere?’

Her mouth quirked. ‘Not quite.’

‘How “not quite"?’ He was eyeing her now as if he thought he might need to make an escape at any moment.

He really did look worried, poor man! ‘Laura and I are identical. But only in looks,’ Leonie added consolingly as he gave a pained groan. ‘I’m the only kooky one,’ she added mischievously.

He had the grace to look uncomfortable. ‘I was angry when I said that.’

‘And you aren’t angry now?’ she teased.

‘Bloody furious, as you English would say,’ he scowled. ‘If your sister isn’t here where is she?’

‘Out. With Hal,’ she revealed without guilt. ‘They left early this morning.’

‘Why didn’t you say so when—–Oh, what the hell!’ He raised his eyes heavenwards. ‘I’ll talk to her some other time.’ He turned to leave. ‘When my blood-pressure is back to normal,’ he muttered grimly.

‘A nice cup of tea will help with that.’ Leonie sprang to her feet. ‘I’ll go and make one and we can drink it while we finish talking.’

‘I thought we had finished…’ He was starting to look slightly dazed now.

Leonie had seen the same confused expression on the faces of most of the people she met. It usually faded once they had known her for a while, but Hawk Sinclair seemed determined this would be a brief acquaintance. A very brief acquaintance! Maybe he would change his mind once she had told him about Laura.

‘I don’t think so,’ she smiled. ‘We haven’t really talked about my sister yet. I’m relieved the two of us met first,’ she continued chattily. ‘It means that most of your anger will have dispersed by the time you do meet Laura.’

‘I wouldn’t count on it!’ He sank down weakly into an armchair, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Leonie moved happily about the kitchen, preparing the promised tea, confident she would be able to reason with Hawk Sinclair once he had calmed down enough to listen.

A kook, he thought. A one hundred per cent, fourteen-carat kook! And he had been trying to reason with it—her.

It had all seemed so straightforward when he had left the hotel this morning, enjoying the drive out into the country to this big rambling house that stood completely on its own on the outskirts of a small village. But that was before he had met Leonie Brandon!

Twenty-five. She didn’t look anywhere near twenty-five. And what was all that rubbish about his age? Damn it, thirty-nine—well, almost forty—wasn’t old. He certainly wasn’t going through any crisis because of it. Hell, he was trying to justify his age to himself now! he realised with an inward groan.

God, if Laura Brandon was anything like her peculiar sister this was going to be more difficult than he could ever have imagined; Leonie seemed incapable of even taking an insult seriously!

When he had left New York yesterday he had been looking forward to being with Hal, and he had been shocked to the roots of his being when shortly after meeting him at the airport Hal had told him that he had met the woman he intended to marry. God, the woman was six years older than him, wrote flaky detective novels for a living—with her kooky sister; it was obvious she was more interested in what the Sinclair heir could give her than in Hal himself.

That surmise had been easy to make after Hal had told him all about Laura Brandon last night, just as it had been a simple thing to decide he would pay her off as she had obviously intended he should.

Fifteen minutes with Leonie Brandon and he wasn’t even sure what he was doing here any more!

And how many more cats were going to come strolling through here? He had no patience with the creatures himself, thought they were totally hopeless as companions, never there when you wanted them, demanding when they were. Very much like a woman, in fact, and he had little time for them either, apart from their rather obvious attraction.

He turned sharply as Leonie Brandon came back into the room with the tea. My God, he thought, she looked so young. Or maybe he was getting old after all. He certainly didn’t want any tea—a Scotch maybe, but not tea!

‘Here we are.’ She put the tray down on the coffee-table, smiling at him brightly.

She looked ten years old in that get-up and with that sprinkling of freckles across her uptilted nose, and yet the breasts beneath the T-shirt definitely proclaimed her a woman—–Get a grip on yourself, Sinclair, he instructed himself impatiently. That was definitely a complication this situation didn’t need!

He sat forward obediently to take the proffered cup of tea.

He had such strong hands, Leonie admired as she curled up on the sofa opposite him. He also looked totally ridiculous wrapping those long fingers about one of their delicate china tea-cups!

‘Laura,’ he prompted abruptly.

‘No,’ she smiled. ‘I told you, I’m Leonie—–’

‘I meant you intended telling me about your sister,’ he clarified in a controlled voice.

‘Drink your tea,’ she encouraged.

‘Why?’ he raised dark brows sceptically. ‘Do you think it will leave me more open to the sad tale you’re undoubtedly going to tell me?’

‘It is only tea, Hawk,’ she reproved. ‘And what sort of sad tale did you have in mind?’

‘Oh, something like Laura needs money for your old, sick mother, or father, or aunt, or—–’

‘There’s only Laura and I,’ she cut in quietly. ‘And all Laura wants is Hal. She happens to love him very much.’

His mouth twisted scornfully. ‘I’m sure she does,’ he rasped. ‘More to the point, Hal is sure she does,’ he added harshly.

‘You don’t understand—–’

‘No, you’re the one who doesn’t understand,’ he slammed his cup down impatiently. ‘My son is nineteen years old, I’m not about to sit back and let him ruin his whole life by getting married far too young to a woman he barely knows!’

‘Is that what you did?’ she asked shrewdly. ‘After all, to have a son of his age you must have married at nineteen yourself.’

‘I was just twenty when I married,’ he ground out, looking as if he would like to pick her up and bodily shake her. ‘And the situation was entirely different. My wife and I grew up together, we always knew we would marry.’

‘Okay, so it didn’t happen this way for you, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t such a thing as love at first sight,’ Leonie reasoned. ‘Or that that isn’t the way it happened for Laura and Hal,’ she defended.

He sighed. ‘I’m not denying that at this moment in his life Hal is sure he does feel that way about your sister, it’s her feelings for him that I doubt,’ he bit out grimly.

‘Because your name is Sinclair and hers is Brandon, because you’re rich and we’re not so rich, because—–’

‘The reasons for my doubting the sincerity of her feelings are, as you are so ably proving, too many and would take too long to go into individually,’ he told her impatiently. ‘Besides which, Hal still has a long way to go before he knows the business as well as he’ll need to to take over from me one day. He’s going to be travelling extensively over the next few years.’

‘Laura could go with him—–’

‘And no doubt she’d want to take her sister along too,’ he sneered.

Leonie chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip. ‘Have you always been rich?’ she asked at last.

‘Always,’ he admitted without apology for the fact. ‘My father founded the Sinclair hotels, and by the time I was born they were already a worldwide concern.’

She nodded. ‘Then I suppose you must have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be pursued just for your money.’

‘Yes, I—–I believe I was just insulted,’ he drawled irritably.

Her eyes were widely innocent. ‘Really? I can’t imagine by whom.’

‘Leonie,’ he began reasoningly, ‘I do not intend to let your sister marry my son.’

She grimaced. ‘I was afraid you were still going to feel that way.’

Hawk eyed her suspiciously. ‘Afraid?’ he repeated slowly.

‘Don’t look so wary,’ she chided. ‘I’m not threatening you. Good gracious, do I look as if I could threaten anyone?’ She looked down pointedly at her childlike body.

‘It’s the non-violent threats that are usually the most dangerous,’ he replied.

She sighed. ‘Well, I’m not making any kind of threat. I was just going to tell you that of the two of us Laura is the more practical one—–’

‘So practical she knew a meal-ticket when she saw it,’ scorned Hawk.

Leonie gave him a censorious frown. ‘When I get Winnie in a seemingly unsolvable situation Laura is always the one who—–’

‘I know I’m going to hate myself for asking, but who is Winnie?’ he prompted irritably. ‘Not one of your cats?’

She shook her head with a smile. ‘The detective in our books,’ she supplied. ‘No matter how unlikely the situation—and believe me, I’ve thought of a few over the years—–’

‘Oh, I believe you,’ he muttered.

Her eyes glowed with humour. ‘Laura is always the one who comes up with the solution to the problem.’

‘I’m surprised anyone reads your books at all; it’s difficult to relate to a man named Winnie—even if you did once have one as Prime Minister over here!’ Hawk sneered.

She arched mocking brows. ‘That coming from a man with a name like Hawk?’

‘Henry Hawker Sinclair the Second,’ he corrected dryly.

She blinked at the length of the title. ‘Then Hal is…?’

‘Henry Hawker Sinclair the Third,’ he confirmed softly. ‘My father was called Harry, by his friends—none of his enemies was ever brave enough to come forward and say what they called him!’ he drawled. ‘I was called Hawk to avoid confusion, and now my son is called Hal for the same reason.’

‘What’s wrong with Henry?’

‘About the same thing that’s wrong with Winnie,’ he returned mockingly.

‘Henry seems a good solid name to me,’ she shrugged. ‘By the way,’ she added as an afterthought, ‘Winnie is a woman. Now, about Laura—–’

‘You write about a female detective?’ he said disbelievingly.

‘Are you a chauvinist, Hawk?’ she taunted.

‘Not at all, Leonie,’ he drawled. ‘I was just a little surprised. I don’t know why I should have been! Is Winnie as kooky as you?’

She smiled. ‘Things—happen to her,’ she nodded.

‘I’ll just bet they do,’ he jeered. ‘You were going to tell me about your practical sister Laura,’ he reminded her dryly.

She sobered. ‘Maybe that’s the wrong word to have used. Sensible might be a better way of putting—–’

‘Believing herself in love with a nineteen-year-old boy is sensible?’ scoffed Hawk.

‘I doubt if Hal was any more as innocently gullible as you’re making him out to be than he was naïve,’ Leonie reproved. ‘He gives the impression of having always been mature.’

The man seated opposite her gave a heavy sigh, his eyes narrowed. ‘There’s nothing wrong with bringing your child up to be independent.’

‘I’m sure there isn’t,’ she soothed. ‘I was just pointing out that Hal is hardly your typical nineteen-year-old.’

‘No—he’s a potentially very rich nineteen-year-old,’ his father grated.

‘You’re going to upset Laura with that sort of talk, you know,’ she chided. ‘She’s very sensitive about the age difference.’

‘Not sensitive enough to stop seeing Hal!’

‘That’s the trouble,’ Leonie sighed. ‘She will if you ask her to.’

He gave an inclination of his head. ‘Then I’ll ask her to,’ he drawled. ‘End of problem.’

‘You don’t really believe that.’ She shook her head. ‘Laura will be heartbroken if you ask this of them—something I’m sure isn’t going to bother you too much!—but Hal will resent your interference in his life.’

‘He’ll get over it,’ his father dismissed harshly.

‘Would you have “got over” loving your wife if your father had disapproved?’

Hawk gave an impatient frown. ‘The situation never arose.’

Leonie stood up restlessly. ‘Because the woman you loved was suitable.’

‘She came from a prominent Texas family, yes,’ he admitted grudgingly.

‘Rich,’ Leonie drawled. ‘Maybe we don’t have a lot of money, but Laura is rich in such a lot of other ways—she’s kind, totally loyal to those she cares about, and she cares for Hal so much. Oh, Hawk,’ she went down on her knees beside his chair, her hands resting imploringly on his legs, ‘don’t break my sister’s heart!’

He flinched back at her close proximity, the tension slow to leave his body. ‘Leonie,’ he sighed, ‘I can’t, in all conscience, approve of this marriage. They’ve only known each other three weeks, damn it!’

‘You’re getting over-anxious again,’ she warned lightly. ‘Would you give your approval if they’d known each other three months, six months, a year, say?’ She looked up at him with excited green eyes.

He frowned. ‘Why do I have the feeling I’m being set up?’

‘Oh, come on, Hawk, answer the question,’ she cajoled.

‘Yes, I—–’ He gave an impatient shrug. ‘I suppose any of them might be more encouraging than three weeks!’

‘Twenty-four days,’ Leonie corrected. ‘I think Laura could even tell you down to the minutes and seconds if you asked her,’ she said fondly. ‘They met at the hotel Hal is managing over here at the moment, you know,’ she added teasingly. ‘There was a meeting of authors there, and Laura went along as one of the guest speakers.’ She eyed him mockingly as he scowled. ‘Thinking about having the conference facilities ripped out?’

‘Thinking about it,’ he acknowledged grimly.

‘I shouldn’t,’ she patted his hand. ‘They’ve met now. So what you’re really afraid of is that their love for each other won’t last?’ she returned to their previous conversation without any loss of the intensity of the subject.

‘What I’m really afraid of is that I seem to have lost control of this conversation,’ scowled Hawk. ‘I get the distinct feeling I’m being manoeuvred—and I don’t like it.’

She could see that, she realised he was a man who liked to be in control at all times. It was only that she wanted to make things right for Laura and Hal, and this man had it in his power to destroy the beauty of their love. ‘I wouldn’t do that, Hawk,’ she told him truthfully. ‘I’m just trying to come up with a compromise that will make everyone happy.’

‘I’d be happy if Hal never saw your sister again,’ he drawled.

‘No, you wouldn’t,’ Leonie shook her head confidently. ‘Hal could make life very uncomfortable for you if he chose to do so.’

‘I thought we’d already established that I don’t like threats.’ His eyes were narrowed.

‘Just as we established that I don’t make threats,’ she nodded. ‘I was just going to point out that Hal would naturally be unhappy—–’

‘And he would make my life hell,’ Hawk acknowledged ruefully. Even as a kid Hal had been able to make his displeasure felt. And he was definitely no longer a child. If he had been this situation would never have arisen!

If only this little witchchild would get her hands off his thighs he might be able to think straight!

The jolt his body had received when she first touched him had had very little to do with surprise, more like shock, an electric shock that had momentarily rendered him helpless. And now that his equilibrium was returning he shifted uncomfortably, his denims suddenly uncomfortably tight. He didn’t enjoy having to hide his arousal, because the woman he had been aroused by was the last one who should have evoked such a reaction within him!

Was she doing it on purpose, this little witchchild? The absolute candour in her sparkling green eyes seemed to say no.

Her fingers were lightly kneading his flesh now, and she seemed completely unaware of the turmoil she was causing inside him!

He stood up impatiently, feeling regretful as she overbalanced slightly at the abruptness of his movement, but leaving her to straighten without his assistance, knowing that he daren’t touch her right now, that to do so could be his downfall.

Instead he attacked. ‘How the hell many more cats are going to walk through here?’ The incongruousness of the question struck him as much as it must her, but he knew he just had to talk about something that would take his mind off the throbbing ache in his thighs.

Leonie sat back on her heels, eyeing him curiously. ‘How many have you seen?’

‘Three—no, four,’ Hawk corrected as he remembered the grey tabby he had seen stretched out in the hallway when he arrived.

She nodded. ‘Then there are just two more. That’s probably Daffodil and Pansy.’

‘Who the hell has six cats?’ he derided impatiently.

‘I do,’ she shrugged. ‘Daffodil, Daisy, Tulip, Pansy, Rose, and Pop. That’s short for Poppy,’ she explained. ‘I only found out after I’d named him that he was a boy.’

‘You named all your cats after flowers?’ He looked at her disbelievingly.

Her eyes widened. ‘Why not?’

Why not indeed? Someone in a professional capacity could probably give him a lucid answer to that, but it was obvious there wasn’t going to be one from this woman! Being in her company for too long was a little like being in a room with a bomb, unsure if it were active or not! She was strange with a capital S.

Then why did she intrigue him more than any other woman had for a very long time? If her sister was anything like her no wonder Hal was so enthralled with her; predictable this woman certainly was not! Boredom was always a problem with him with the women in his life; he doubted any man would have time to be bored with Leonie Brandon.

‘They’re all inside today, except Daffodil and Pansy, because of the rain.’ Leonie took his silence to mean he wanted to hear more about the cats.

And damn it, she had piqued his curiosity! ‘Why aren’t—Pansy and Daffodil in too?’ What stupid names to give those haughty creatures!

She shrugged. ‘Because they like the rain.’

A stupid question deserved an equally stupid answer. Hell, he had better things to talk about than six oddly-named cats! Or their intriguing owner, he told himself sternly. Her twin couldn’t be that innocent if she had enticed a nineteen-year-old boy into her net, but the woman in front of him, with her childlike body and guileless green eyes—how had he ever thought she could be the one involved with Hal?—was decidedly no match for the passion he would demand of her. She was probably still a virgin, and they were one breed he definitely avoided.

But an image of her kept flashing in and out of his mind, of her slender legs entwined with his, those pert little breasts crushed against his chest, the nipples nuzzling against him, her face flushed with ecstasy.

‘We were talking about Hal and your sister,’ he prompted harshly, his self-contempt at his thoughts chilling his eyes.

Leonie nodded, her bright red hair moving silkily against her cheek as she got gracefully to her feet. ‘What if they leave it three more months before coming to any decision about marriage?’

‘A year,’ he insisted instantly.

‘Six months appears to be the middle line.’ She gave him one of those guileless smiles, her eyes wide and innocent.

He had been out-classed, out-manoeuvred, at a game at which he had always been considered an expert. And all because of a pair of wide green eyes—and a taut little bottom beneath tight denims, he acknowledged self-derisively. You are getting senile, Sinclair, he berated himself, when the mere movement of a woman’s body against her clothes can distract you from your purpose!

He straightened. ‘I told you, I don’t want a gold-digger in my family,’ he snapped insultingly. ‘Six years wouldn’t be long enough for me to accept that!’

‘You may have to,’ she told him heavily. ‘Laura might be willing to accept any terms you care to make, but Hal has definite plans of his own, and he’s the one you’ll have to convince that you’re only doing this for his own good.’

She was right, this little witchchild. Hal was his son all right, and there was no way he would have stood by and meekly accepted his father’s interference in his life in this way, at any age. But he wasn’t about to let Leonie Brandon know that he realised they might all have to compromise, him most of all!

‘I’ll deal with my son, Miss Brandon,’ he said confidently. ‘And when the time comes I’ll deal with your sister too!’ He turned to leave.

Leonie followed him out of the room. Even if she had made no sound as she walked, her perfume, the elusiveness of a spring flower, told of her presence; Hawk had never been so aware of a woman’s perfume. He turned to face her all the more sharply because of that as she spoke quietly at his side.

‘I’m afraid I still haven’t introduced myself to you properly,’ she shrugged as his eyes narrowed. ‘My name isn’t Brandon, it’s Spencer.’

She was married! This witchchild was married? He glanced at her left hand, noticing for the first time the thin gold band on her finger that he had missed when he looked at her earlier. And he knew the reason he had missed it—he had been too intent on the beauty of the delicate hands, had imagined them caressing his body—Damn it, this couldn’t go on! He could have his pick of women, he certainly didn’t need to get mixed up with this strange, married one!

‘It’s what you are that matters to me,’ he ground out. ‘And as far as I’m concerned you’re just the sister of the woman trying to trick my son into marrying her!’

Leonie stood shaking her head as she watched him leave. Laura and Hal were in love, genuinely in love, and the objection of Hal’s father to that love could cause a rift between them all that might never heal.

She had to admit that she had been dismayed herself when Laura returned home, from speaking at one of the literary meetings Leonie took such pains to avoid, to drop into an armchair and dreamily sigh that she was in love. Laura had always been the level-headed one, the sensible one, and an announcement like that had to be taken seriously.

‘But he’s too young for me,’ Laura wailed regretfully. ‘A boy disguised as a man!’

A boy? Dear God, what did that mean? ‘Tell me about him,’ Leonie prompted softly.

‘He’s so tall and—and handsome.’ Laura blushed. She was her sister’s mirror image, except that her eyes were occasionally filled with an unspoken sadness. ‘He was the manager of the hotel where we held the meeting, and—–’

‘Then he can’t be that young,’ Leonie said with some relief.

Laura’s eyes rolled expressively. ‘His family owns the hotel!’

Leonie became suddenly still. ‘He’s one of the Sinclairs?’ Everyone had heard of the multi-millionaire family!

‘Son of the Sinclair,’ her sister nodded, her dismay reflected in sea-green eyes. ‘Oh, Leonie, he’s young, so much younger than I am, but when he looked at me I knew I loved him. And he said he felt exactly the same way!’

‘You talked to him, then—–Of course you talked to him,’ Leonie chastised herself for her stupidity. ‘Otherwise how would you know his name?’

‘He said he’s coming to see me tomorrow night,’ Laura groaned. ‘That we should start discussing our wedding plans!’

‘He said that?’ Leonie gasped at the speed with which the relationship had progressed. When Laura had left this evening she had been heart-free, yet a few hours later she was obviously deeply in love.

‘Yes.’ Her sister blushed again. ‘Oh, Leonie, he asked me to marry him!’

And he had continued to ask every day since that evening three and a half weeks ago!

Leonie had liked Hal instantly; she had found him not to be the boy Laura had led her to believe, that he had been a man for some time, possessed of a confidence that had been inborn in him. And he was obviously deeply serious about his feelings concerning Laura, spending every moment that he could with her.

Hawk Sinclair wasn’t going to find it at all easy to ‘deal with’ his son!

Hawk’s temper hadn’t cooled in the least by the time he returned to the penthouse suite of the hotel.

Jake Colter, his assistant and friend for the last fifteen years, looked up from the contracts he had been working on, his blond brows rising over laughing blue eyes as Hawk let out a bellow for Sarah, his private secretary. ‘How did the meeting with the mercenary author go?’ he drawled.

Hawk’s scowl deepened. ‘It didn’t! Sarah, where the hell are you?’ he bellowed again.

The elegantly calm woman who had organised his business life for more years than he cared to think about emerged from her bedroom that adjoined the lounge, not at all perturbed by the chaos Hawk seemed to have brought back with him. After ten years she was probably used to it!

‘Yes, Hawk?’ she prompted softly; a beautiful woman, she usually knew what he wanted before he did.

It had been her complete efficiency at her job that had thrown him into a panic four years ago when her marriage began to flounder and she had considered the idea of leaving her job to see if that might stop her husband jumping into bed with every woman who so much as smiled at him. Knowing her husband as he had, Hawk hadn’t believed anything would stop him playing around with other women, but he hadn’t tried to interfere; he knew that if Sarah loved Paul she should stay with him. However, he had been very supportive when she decided to divorce the bastard after finding him in her own bed with a woman she had thought was her friend. He hadn’t been averse to using a little of his charm to persuade her to stay on with him either, after she had voiced the possibility of perhaps making a completely new start; he knew that he would never be able to find a more efficient secretary, wining and dining her until she agreed to stay on.

But for once her cool control irritated him. ‘Find out all that you can about a Leonie Spencer—Mrs Leonie Spencer,’ he added grimly. ‘Especially anything about Mr Spencer. She lives in the wilds of Buckinghamshire,’ he supplied absently. ‘I want to know everything there is to know about her, and I don’t care who you have to disturb on this English Sunday afternoon to get it,’ he warned harshly.

‘Will that be all?’ Sarah arched blonde brows.

‘Yes!’ Hawk glared at her. ‘Damn woman,’ he muttered once he was alone with Jake.

‘Who, Sarah?’ his assistant mocked disbelievingly.

Grey eyes raked over him mercilessly. ‘Why do I keep you on the pay-roll?’

The other man grinned. He possessed the type of fair-haired good looks that had caused more than one female to bemoan the fact that he was determined to remain a bachelor since his divorce sixteen years ago. ‘Probably because I’m a damned good assistant,’ he drawled.

‘Oh yeah,’ Hawk acknowledged dryly. ‘I knew there had to be some reason why I put up with you!’

Jake’s grin widened. ‘You’re just put out because the woman on the plane last night offered me a date instead of you.’

Hawk gave the other man a scathing look. ‘So that’s why your bed wasn’t slept in last night! I should watch it, my friend,’ he drawled, remembering the over-familiarity of the beautiful brunette on the plane; it was far from the first time she had picked up a man in that way! ‘You expose yourself to—all sorts of dangers that way,’ he added derisively.

‘Ouch!’ Jake grimaced, putting the contracts to one side. ‘So your meeting with the author didn’t work out,’ he remarked thoughtfully. ‘Don’t you think, in this day and age, especially with two old reprobates like us as an example, that perhaps you should be grateful Hal just wants to marry a woman you don’t approve of?’

‘I think that if Stephen came home and told you he intended marrying a woman he’s only known three weeks, a woman who’s older than him, you’d react the same way I did,’ Hawk grated.

Jake shrugged. ‘I can think of plenty of worse things he could come home and tell me.’

‘Maybe,’ Hawk accepted grudgingly. ‘Maybe I should have made Hal go to college with Stephen instead of giving in to him when he said he wanted to learn the business by experience. They always got on well together, and Stephen might have been good for Hal, stopped him growing up quite so quickly.’

When Jake had come to work for him fifteen years ago he had just been awarded custody of his five-year-old son after his divorce, and with Hal being a similar age the two boys had gravitated to each other from the first. Their friendship was probably as deep as his and Jake’s was. The two young men were opposites, Stephen always getting into mischief, and usually taking Hal along with him. Yes, maybe he should have insisted Hal attend college rather than going straight to work. But it was too late for that now.

‘He seems to be doing all right,’ observed Jake.

‘Too well,’ Hawk scowled. ‘Why the hell he wants to tie himself down with a wife I have no idea.’

‘Because he loves her,’ Jake suggested softly.

Hawk gave a disbelieving snort. ‘He thinks he loves her,’ he corrected firmly. ‘And I object to being called an old reprobate,’ he added suddenly, and Jake grinned at his ability not to forget anything that was said to him. ‘The reprobate was fine, but I’ve already had enough aspersions cast on my age today without you starting too. How could anyone feel anything else but old after being in Leonie Spencer’s company for half an hour?’ he added disgustedly. ‘Her mind leaps from subject to subject without giving any indication that you’re now talking about something completely different! And even when she’s sitting still you get the impression she’d rather be on her feet and moving. She is definitely not a relaxing person to be around!’

‘Sounds familiar.’ Jake looked at him pointedly.

‘Very funny,’ snapped Hawk.

‘Who is Leonie Spencer?’ Jake asked slowly. ‘I thought you went to see a Laura Brandon?’

‘Leonie Spencer is an infuriating, provoking, kooky—–’

Jake whistled through his teeth. ‘Whoever she is, she made quite an impression!’

‘About as much as a puppy-dog chewing at my pants leg,’ Hawk replied. ‘She has six cats. Six!’ he repeated disbelievingly.

‘Shocking,’ Jake taunted.

‘Stop being so damned—–Sarah,’ Hawk pounced as she came quietly back into the room, ‘what did you find out?’

‘Mrs Leonora Spencer lives at—–’

‘I know her address, damn it!’ He glared at her.

Blonde brows rose over reproving blue eyes. ‘She’s twenty-five years old,’ Sarah continued undaunted. ‘Her parents were killed years ago in a car accident. She has one sister, her twin, Laura Brandon—–’

‘Ah,’ Jake nodded comprehendingly, shrugging as Hawk gave him a quelling glance.

‘Laura Brandon,’ Sarah continued determinedly. ‘Leonie was married at twenty to Michael Spencer. The marriage doesn’t appear to have been a success—–’

‘Was he rich?’ Hawk cut in suspiciously.

Sarah glanced at the notes she had made. ‘It says here he was a clerk in a—–’

‘Not rich,’ drawled Jake.

Hawk scowled as the theory of Leonie having married for money too was taken away from him. If only he could find something to dislike about the woman!

‘Shall I go on?’ Sarah enquired coolly.

‘Sure,’ he instructed tersely, ignoring Jake’s smile of amusement.

‘The marriage lasted only a short time—–’

‘They’re divorced?’ Hawk interrupted sharply.

‘It would appear so,’ Sarah nodded.

‘Any children?’

‘None were mentioned,’ said Sarah in her usual precise way that was somehow managing to annoy him deeply today. ‘Leonie co-authors books with—–’

‘Thanks, Sarah,’ he cut in dismissively. ‘I know the rest.’

She shrugged, sharing a puzzled glance with Jake before returning to her bedroom to continue working.

‘Divorced,’ murmured Hawk triumphantly, suddenly realising he no longer needed a reason to dislike Leonie Spencer, none that need matter to them. Hal and Laura were completely separate from this. ‘Jake, my friend, I’m going out again,’ he announced determinedly.

‘Am I allowed to enquire where?’ the other man drawled.

He grinned. ‘I’m going to show a woman, who believes a man of my age must be suffering from a mid-life crisis, just how wrong she is.’

‘What?’ Jake was astounded by his explanation.

‘You heard me,’ said Hawk with satisfaction. ‘And, Jake—–’ he paused at the door.

‘Hm?’ The other man still looked dazed.

‘Don’t wait up,’ he advised softly.

.

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