The Italian Inexperienced Mistress
climbed out of his limousine, a heavy-duty
vehicle armoured with reinforced panels and bulletproof glass,
built to withstand a rocket attack. The heat outside was relent-
less. His sunglasses screening his hard dark gaze from the
bright Venezuelan sunlight, he ignored the uneasy chatter of
the English intermediary sent to greet him at the airport. While
he understood the man’s tension he was also irritated by it.
Angelo had not experienced fear since childhood and the
shame of it had been beaten out of him. He had known
loathing, rage and bitterness, but fear no longer had the power
to touch him. His relentless rise to power and influence had
featured in hundreds of magazines and newspaper features,
but his birth and parentage had always been shrouded in a
haze of uncertainty. When he was eighteen he had been told
the truth about his ancestry. Any idealistic notions he’d had
had died that same day when his chosen career had become
a complete impossibility. With every successive year that had
passed since then he had grown tougher, colder and more
ruthless. He had used his brilliant intellect and razor-sharp in-
stincts to build a huge business empire. That he had not had
to break the law to become a billionaire was a harsh source
of pride to him.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘There’s a colossal security presence here,’ his companion,
Harding, muttered uneasily.
It was true, Angelo acknowledged. Armed guards were
everywhere: on the rooftops of the ranch buildings, in every
manicured clump of trees or bushes, their state of alert
palpable. ‘It should make you feel safe,’ Angelo quipped.
‘I won’t feel safe until I’m back home again,’ Harding
confided, mopping his round, perspiring face.
‘Perhaps this was not the job for you.’
He dealt Angelo a look of dismay. ‘Believe me, I meant no
offence. I’m delighted to be of service.’
Angelo said nothing. He was surprised that such a man had
been chosen to act as middleman in a secret meeting. But then,
how many outwardly respectable men accepted the kind of
undercover favours that forced them into uncomfortable re-
payments? He strode into the cool air-conditioned interior of
the opulent ranch house where a lantern-jawed older man
awaited him. Harding was dismissed like a lackey of no con-
sequence, while Angelo was looked over and greeted with a
level of respectful curiosity that bordered on awe.
‘It is a very great pleasure to meet you, Mr Riccardi,’ the
older man declared in Italian. ‘I’m Salvatore Lenzi. Don
Carmelo is eager to see you.’
‘How is he?’
The other man grimaced. ‘His condition is stable at present
but it’s unlikely that he has more than a couple of months left.’
Lean, handsome features taut, Angelo nodded. He had
thought long and hard before he had agreed to visit and the
old man’s declining health had provided the spur. The
infamous Carmelo Zanetti, head of one of the most notorious
crime families in the world, was a stranger to him. Yet Angelo
had never been able to forget that the same blood that ran in
Carmelo Zanetti’s veins ran in his own.
The elderly man lay propped up in a hospital-style bed sur-
rounded by medical equipment. His face was lined with ill
health. Breathing stentorously, he feasted his clouded dark
gaze on Angelo and sighed. ‘I can’t tell you that you look like
your mother because you don’t. Fiorella was tiny… ‘
Almost imperceptibly the inflexible cast of Angelo’s
features softened, for his mother had shown him the only
tenderness he had ever known.
‘But you have the look of my father and your own. Your
parents were the Romeo and Juliet of their generation,’ Don
Carmelo recited with caustic humour. ‘A Sorello and a
Zanetti, not a match made in heaven as far as either family
was concerned and the bride and groom were at each other’s
throats within weeks of the wedding.’
‘Is that why my mother ended up scrubbing floors for a
living?’ Angelo enquired smooth as glass.
The old man was unmoved by the reminder. ‘She ended up
doing that because she deserted her husband and disowned her
family. Who would credit that she was my favourite? It was
once my pleasure to spoil her and indulge her every wish.’
was a real Mafia princess?’ Angelo sliced
in with sardonic bite, unimpressed by the misty fairy-tale
aspect of that assurance.
‘Don’t mock what you don’t know about.’ Carmelo Zanetti
sent him an impatient look. ‘Your
had the whole
world at her feet. And what did she do? She turned her back
on all that education and fine breeding and married your father.
Compared to us, the Sorellos were
Gino Sorello was a handsome hothead always looking for a
fight. She couldn’t handle him or his extra-marital activities.’
‘How did you deal with the situation?’ Angelo was impa-
tient to have the facts that had so far evaded his every attempt
to discover them.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘In this family we don’t interfere between a man and his
wife. When Gino was jailed for the second time, your mother
walked out on her marriage. She ran away from her home and
her responsibilities as though she was a little kid.’
‘Maybe she felt that she had good cause.’
Dark eyes crackling with grim amusement rested on Angelo.
‘And maybe you’re in for a surprise or two, because I think you
put your precious
on a pedestal when she died.’
Anger at that insinuation made Angelo turn pale below his
bronzed complexion. Only the awareness that Carmelo would
revel in getting under his skin kept him silent.
The older man slumped heavily back against the pillows.
‘Fiorella was my daughter and dear to my heart, but she shamed
and disappointed me when she walked out on her husband.’
‘She was twenty-two years old and Sorello was serving a
life sentence. Why shouldn’t she have sought a fresh start for
herself and her child?’
‘Loyalty is not negotiable in my world. When Fiorella
vanished, people got nervous about how much she might
know about certain activities. Her treachery was a stain on
Gino’s honour as well and it made her many enemies.’
Carmelo Zanetti shook his head wearily. ‘But she was de-
stroyed by her own ignorance and folly.’
Angelo’s attention was keenly focused on the older man.
‘Obviously you didn’t lose track of my mother and you know
what happened to her after she arrived in England.’
‘You won’t like what I have to tell you.’
‘I’ll cope,’ Angelo said drily.
Carmelo pressed the bell by the bed. ‘You’ll take a seat and
have a glass of wine while we talk. This one time you will
behave like my grandson.’
Angelo wanted to deny the relationship but he knew he
could not. A certain amount of civility was the price he had
to pay for the information he had long sought to make sense
of his background. Squaring his broad shoulders, he sat down
in a lithe, controlled movement. A manservant brought in a
silver tray bearing a single glass filled with ruby liquid and a
plate of tiny almond pastries. With a glint of something hidden
in his sharp old eyes, Carmelo Zanetti watched the younger
man lift the glass and slowly sip.
The old man laughed. ‘
…you’re no coward!’
‘Why should you want to harm me?’
‘How does it feel to have rejected your every living relative?’
A sardonic smile of acknowledgement curved Angelo’s
handsome sculpted mouth. ‘It kept me out of prison…it may
even have kept me alive. The family tree is distressingly full
of early deaths and unlikely accidents.’
After having taken a moment to absorb that acid response,
Don Carmelo succumbed to a choking bout of appreciative
laughter. Alarmed by the aftermath in which the old man
struggled for breath, Angelo got up to summon assistance only
to be irritably waved back to his seat.
‘Please tell me about my mother,’ Angelo urged.
His companion gave him a mocking look. ‘I want you to
know that when she left Sardinia, she had money. My late wife
had left her amply provided for. Your mother’s misfortune was
that she had very poor taste in men.’
Carmelo Zanetti gave him a cynical glance. ‘I warned you
that you wouldn’t like it. Of course there was a man
involved. An Englishman she met on the beach soon after
your father went to prison. Why do you think she headed to
London when she spoke not a word of English? Her boy-
friend promised to marry her when she was free. She
changed her name as soon as she arrived and began to plan
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘How do you know all this?’
‘I have a couple of letters that the boyfriend wrote her. He
had no idea who her connections were. Once she was settled
he offered to take care of her money, but he took care of it so
well that she never saw it again. He bled her dry and I under-
stand he then told her he’d lost it all on the stock market.’
Angelo was very still but his brilliant gaze glittered like
black diamonds on ice. ‘Is there more?’
‘He abandoned her when she was pregnant by him and that
was when she discovered that he was already married.’
In shock at that further revelation, Angelo gritted his teeth
and was betrayed into comment. ‘I had no idea.’
‘She lost the baby and never recovered her health.’
‘You knew all this…yet you chose not to help her?’Angelo
recognised the cold, critical detachment that had ultimately
decided his frail mother’s fate.
‘She could have asked for assistance at any time but she
didn’t. I will be frank. She had become an embarrassment to
us and there were complications. Gino got out of prison on
appeal. He wanted you, his son, back and he wanted revenge
on his unfaithful wife. Your mother’s whereabouts had to
remain a secret if you were not to end up in the hands of a
violent drunk. Silence kept both of you safe.’
‘It didn’t stop us going hungry though,’ Angelo replied
without any inflection.
‘But she didn’t,’ Angelo incised.
Don Carmelo revealed no regret. ‘I’m not a forgiving man.
She let the family down and the final insult was her belief that
she had to keep her son away from my influence. She got
religion before she died and turned against us even more.’
‘If you never saw her again, how do you know that?’
The old man grimaced. ‘She phoned me when her health
was failing. She was worried about what would happen to you.
But she still begged me to respect her wishes and not to claim
you when she was gone.’
Angelo could see that exhaustion was steadily claiming the
older man and pushing their meeting to a close. ‘I appreciate
your candour. I would like the name of the man who stole my
‘His name was Donald Hamilton.’ Don Carmelo lifted a
large envelope and extended it. ‘The letters. Take them.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘Nothing?’ Angelo queried. ‘My mother died when I was
seven years old.’
‘And now here you are, proud not to be a Zanetti or a
Sorello. If you are so unlike the stock from which you were
bred, why do you want Hamilton’s name?’ the old man
riposted. ‘What could you intend to do with it?’
Angelo surveyed him with dark expressionless eyes and
shifted a shoulder in an almost infinitesimal shrug.
‘Don’t do anything foolish, Angelo.’
Angelo laughed out loud. ‘I can’t believe you’re saying
that to me.’
‘Who better? I’ve spent the last decade in exile. I’ve been
hunted across this planet by the forces of law and order and
by my enemies. But my time is almost up,’ Carmelo Zanetti
mused. ‘You are the closest relative I have left and I have
watched over you all your life.’
‘Only not so that I noticed,’Angelo countered, unimpressed
by the claim.
‘Perhaps we are cleverer than you think. You may also
find out that, under the skin, you have more in common with
us than you want to admit.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Angelo lifted his arrogant dark head high, strong denial of
that suggestion in every inch of his proud bearing. ‘No. I
really don’t think so.’
A basket of flowers on her arm, Gwenna hurried down the
muddy lane in pursuit of the two little boys. Thrilled by the
growling noises she was making in her role as a pursuing bear,
Freddy and Jake were in fits of giggles. With her dog, Piglet,
a tiny barrel-shaped mongrel, hard on their heels and barking
like mad, they made a noisy trio. The insistent ring of a mobile
phone sliced through the laughter. Gwenna fell still and with
a guilty air of reluctance dug the item out of her pocket.
‘Bet it’s the Evil Witch again,’ Freddy forecast gloomily.
‘Shush…’ Gwenna urged in dismay, wishing the children’s
mother were more careful about what she said in front of her
sons because the little boys didn’t miss a trick.
‘I heard Mummy tell Daddy that you’ll never get a man with
the Evil Witch around. Do you need one?’ Jake asked earnestly.
‘Course she does…to have babies and change the light
bulbs,’ Freddy told his little brother with immense superiority.
‘Is that children I hear?’ Eva Hamilton demanded sharply.
‘Have you let Joyce Miller lumber you with those horrid
Giving the twins a pleading glance, Gwenna put a finger
to her lips in the universal signal for silence and sidestepped
the question. ‘I’ll be with you in less than an hour—’
‘Have you any idea how much still has to be done here?’
‘I thought the caterers—’
‘I’m talking about the cleaning,’ her stepmother cut in acidly.
Gwenna almost flinched for it seemed to her that the past
week had passed by in a relentless blur of labour. Even her
back, well toned from regular physical activity at the plant
nursery where she worked, had developed an ache. ‘Did I miss
‘The furniture is getting dusty again and the flowers in the
drawing room are drooping,’ Eva Hamilton snapped out ac-
cusingly. ‘I want everything to be perfect tomorrow for your
father, so you’ll have to see to it all this evening.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Gwenna reminded herself that the endless
preparation required to stage Eva’s buffet lunch for a handful
of select guests was in aid of a very good cause. First and
foremost, tomorrow was her father’s big day. Donald
Hamilton had worked tirelessly to raise the funds necessary
to begin the restoration of the overgrown gardens of Massey
Manor. Although the manor house was virtually derelict, the
gardens had been designed by a leading nineteenth-century
garden luminary and the village was badly in need of a tourist
attraction to stimulate the local economy. A host of local VIPs
and the press would be present to record the moment when
Donald Hamilton symbolically opened the long padlocked
gates of the old estate so that the first phase of the work on
the grounds could begin.
‘The Evil Witch always steals your smile,’ Freddy lamented.
‘I’m a bear and bears don’t smile,’ Gwenna informed him
with determined cheer, snapping back into play mode for the
boys’ benefit. But the children had barely got to loose a de-
lighted giggle at the fearful face she assumed when an
outburst of frantic barking gave Gwenna something more
pressing to think about.
‘Oh no!’ she groaned, racing for the village green where
Piglet had clearly found a victim. She was furious with herself
for letting her pet off the lead. Although the little animal was
very loving and terrific with children he had one troublesome
quirk. Having been dumped by the roadside by his first owners
and injured as a result, Piglet had developed a pronounced
antipathy towards cars and was prone to taking an aggressive
stance with their male occupants. Fortunately for him, he was
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
so tiny that his belligerence usually struck people as a joke
rather than a source of complaint.
‘Piglet…no!’ Gwenna launched the instant she saw her pet
dancing furiously round the very tall dark male standing by
the church lychgate.
In spite of the sunshine and his undeniably picturesque and
bucolic surroundings, Angelo was not in a good mood. The
state-of-the-art satellite-navigation system in the limo, devel-
oped by one of his own companies, had proved to be as accurate
as a tenth-century map when challenged to deliver the goods
in this rural location. His chauffeur had tried to drive down a
lane barely wide enough to take a bike and had scratched the
limo’s paintwork before finally being forced to admit that he
was hopelessly lost. While Angelo had climbed out to stretch
his legs, his security team were endeavouring to locate another
living being in a village so deserted that he would not have been
surprised to find out that he had strayed onto the set of a disaster
movie. An attempted assault by a freaky mini-dog with
enormous rabbit ears and incongruous short legs was no more
welcome. As the careless pet owner approached him at a run
Angelo had an icy cutting reproof on his lips.
‘Piglet…stop that right now!’ Gwenna was aghast to see
that Piglet had targeted a male dressed in an immaculate
business suit, for in her experience such men were less tolerant
of annoyances. There were two houses for sale on the other
side of the green and she wondered if he was a city estate agent.
Angelo looked down into clear eyes the startling blue of
Dutch Delft, set in a heart-shaped face of such rare beauty that
for the first time in his life he forgot what he had intended to
say. In a millisecond the opportunity to stare was lost. Fair head
bowing, she bent down in an effort to catch the offending dog.
‘I’m so sorry…please don’t move in case you stand on
him,’ Gwenna begged, frantically chasing her defiant pet
round masculine feet shod in the very finest leather. By the
time she got a firm hand curved round Piglet’s wriggly little
body she felt hot and exceedingly foolish.
Out of the corner of his eye Angelo saw one of his security
team hurrying towards him to provide the usual if belated barrier
between his employer and the rest of the human race. Angelo
shifted a staying hand to keep the man at a distance. The rays
of the sun were picking out streaks of pure gold in her hair. Even
though that blonde waving mass was confined in a band at the
nape of her neck, it was still long enough to trail down her
narrow spine. In his mind’s eye he was still picturing her face
and already questioning why she had had such an impact on
him. He was fiercely impatient for her to look up again.
‘Piglet, you little rascal…I’m so,
declared feverishly, clipping Piglet’s lead to his collar and
rising. ‘He didn’t nip you, did he?’
Even while Angelo marvelled at the impact of her beauti-
ful eyes, wide cheekbones and generous mouth, he was also
registering that the world of fashion and style was foreign ter-
ritory to her. Her faded blue summer dress hinted at the lush
curve of her breasts before billowing out in shapeless folds
that revealed only her slender ankles. ‘Nip?’ he queried, his
lean, powerful frame poised with natural elegance while he
waited for her to respond to him as women always responded,
with widened eyes and smiles and a host of flirtatious signals.
‘Bite? He didn’t, did he? He has teeth like needles.’
Intimidated by his sheer size, for he was well over six feet in
height, Gwenna kept her distance. It was impossible though
to avoid noticing how extremely handsome he was. That
awareness, not to mention the weird compulsion she had to
stare at him, was sufficiently unlike her to make her feel dis-
tinctly unsettled in his presence.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘He didn’t bite…’ Angelo watched and waited in vain for
the female sexual response that was so predictable, he
expected it and took it for granted. Instead her long silky
brown lashes screened her expressive gaze and she evaded his
scrutiny. It annoyed him even while he was absorbing the fact
that, in spite of the unforgiving brightness of the light, her skin
retained the luminescent sheen of a pearl. He wondered if she
was that same pale-as-milk shade all over and almost smiled.
‘Thank goodness…Jake…Freddy!’ Gwenna was anx-
iously looking back to see where the boys had got to and eager
to focus her attention elsewhere.
Two ginger heads popped out from behind the hedge that
bounded the grounds of the church.
Angelo froze. She had kids? He scanned her hand. Her
wedding finger was bare.
‘Chase us, Gwenna!’ Freddy begged.
‘Are you their nanny?’ Angelo enquired.
Gwenna blinked in surprise at that unexpected question. ‘No,
I’m not…I’m just looking after them for an hour. Excuse me,’
she added, glancing up without meaning to and discovering
that his dark golden eyes held a light that made her tummy
clench and her throat tighten. Hurriedly she screened him out
again and grabbed up the basket of flowers that she had set down.
‘Perhaps you could tell me how far Peveril House is
Gwenna came to a halt again, for any appeal for assistance
was a sure path to her full attention. She glanced across the
green but there was no sign of the car he must have arrived
in. ‘It’s a good five miles. If you go down the fork behind the
church, you’ll see a sign for the hotel,’ she told him. ‘People
don’t often come this way.’
‘I wonder why not,’ Angelo drawled softly. ‘The scenery
is quite exquisite. Will you dine with me tonight?’
Taken aback by that smooth invitation, Gwenna flashed
him a surprised glance and soft pink warmed her cheeks. ‘But
I don’t know you…’
‘Seize the opportunity,’ Angelo advised silkily.
‘No…thank you, but I can’t.’
Other men invariably retreated at the first hint of refusal.
That bold demand for an explanation startled her. ‘Well, er…’
Tongue-tied by discomfiture, Gwenna shook her head and
wished she found it easier to tell lies. ‘No, but…’ Her full, soft
mouth folding, she dipped her head and fell silent.
She had turned down the only excuse that Angelo could
have accepted. Even then he would only have sought another
angle of approach, for he had yet to meet a woman capable
of resisting what he offered. Fidelity, he had long since dis-
covered, was usually negotiable. The silence lingered. He
could not credit that, for the very first time in his life, he was
meeting with a flat refusal.
‘Excuse me,’ she muttered again, her eagerness to be gone
yet another rebuff to the male watching her. ‘I have to go.’
Angelo stood in mute disbelief as she walked away from
him and through the church gate. His gaze tracked her every
move as he had a perverse need to know if she would look
back; she did not.
Breathless and taut, Gwenna secured the dog lead to the
wooden bench that sat to one side of the arched wooden door
and stepped gratefully into the cool dim interior of the old
church. Freddy and Jake chattered while she set about her task
of arranging the flowers for the christening that was to take
place the following morning.
It was quite some time since anyone had asked her out; she
met very few fresh faces. She could not understand why she
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
was so flustered. Or why she had the most peculiar desire to
creep back to the door to peer out and see if the handsome
stranger was still there, which of course he wouldn’t be. He
would now be well on the way to his incredibly posh hotel,
which was probably hosting an international business confer-
ence or some such thing. There had been a slight inflection
on certain words that had suggested that English might not
be his first language. Certainly men with that kind of gloss
and sophistication were scarcer than hen’s teeth, locally.
What was the matter with her? Why was she even curious?
She dashed impatient fingers through the strands of fair hair
clinging to her damp brow. She didn’t date. There was just no
point when it couldn’t go anywhere. She had learned the hard
way that even when men said friendship was fine, they always
wanted more and more always involved sex. But she didn’t
want physical intimacy without love, which would leave her
feeling just as empty and alone when it was over. The taunts
she had endured as she grew up had convinced her that old-
fashioned values could provide a bulwark of protection from
the worst mistakes. She was painfully aware that her own
mother had paid a high price for flouting those same principles.
An image of the stranger’s lean bronzed face swam before
Gwenna afresh, and the extraordinary impact of those dark
deep set eyes against the fantastic symmetry of his hard bone
structure. A soft gurgle of laughter was reluctantly dragged
from her. So, she was female and human and she had noticed
a breathtakingly gorgeous guy. Not her type though. He had
been altogether too arrogant and slick to appeal to her. She
liked open, friendly men with a creative bent. Add in tobacco
brown hair and laughing green eyes, she reflected abstractedly,
and she would be describing her likeness of the perfect man.
Fifty breathless minutes later, Gwenna returned Freddy
and Jake to their mother, who had had a pre-natal appointment
to attend at the hospital. She knew Joyce Miller well for the
two women had worked together at the nursery for over a year.
‘Come in for a while,’ the heavily pregnant redhead urged.
‘I’ll make you a cup of tea.’
‘Sorry, I can’t.’
Joyce gave her a wry appraisal. ‘Is the Evil Witch jerking
your chain again?’
Gwenna shrugged acceptance. ‘There’s still a few things
needing done at my father’s house—’
‘But you don’t even live there. I can’t see what the state of
the Old Rectory has got to do with you.’
It was quite a few years since Gwenna had moved into the
small flat above the office at the nursery. Her accommodation
was spartan but it had been a relief to embrace peace and in-
dependence. ‘I don’t mind if it keeps Eva happy. Tomorrow
is a special day for Dad.’
‘And for you,’ Joyce chipped in. ‘Massey Manor was built
by your ancestors. It was once your mother’s home—’
Gwenna laughed and shook her head. ‘More than a gen-
eration back and even then it was going to rack and ruin. My
grandmother moved out because the roof was leaking so badly
and by then she and my mother were only living in a couple
of rooms. It’s a pity that none of my Massey ancestors had
the magic knack of making money.’
‘Well, I think you’ve done incredibly well getting the locals
together and coming up with so many good ideas to raise cash
for the garden restoration.’
Gwenna grinned. ‘Thanks, but I’ve only ever been the
backroom girl. It was my father’s persuasive tongue and his
fantastic business connections which brought in the serious
pledges of money. He’s done a marvellous job. Without his
input we would never have made it this far.’
‘I’ve finally realised why you’re still single. You adore
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
your father,’ the redhead said ruefully. ‘No man will ever
match him in your eyes.’
Walking over to the Old Rectory where her father and step-
mother lived, Gwenna thought about that conversation. She
had not argued the point because the truth was too private.
But, even so, Gwenna did believe that for any man to match
Donald Hamilton would be a very tall order indeed. Her father
special. It had taken an exceptional man to acknowledge
an illegitimate daughter, take her into his home and keep her
there even when it had cost him his marriage. She accepted
that her father had his flaws. As a younger man, he had had
a pronounced weakness for women and more than one extra-
marital affair. Her mother, Isabel Massey, had been one of
The following morning, Gwenna watched while her father
posed for the cameras at the neglected main entrance of the
Massey estate. Although comfortably into his fifties, Donald
Hamilton looked younger. With his silvering blond hair swept
back from his tanned brow, he was a very presentable man.
A lawyer, who had forged a successful career with a furniture
company, he was accustomed to dealing with the media and
his short witty speech added gloss to an already polished
public performance. The gates were swept open and the local
television news team recorded the moment and punctuated it
with an interview. Gwenna’s stepmother and her stepsisters,
Penelope and Wanda, were revelling in the limelight. Gwenna
made no attempt to join the family gathering since she was
well aware that she would be unwelcome and that the subse-
quent unpleasantness would discomfit her father.
‘I didn’t realise the police bigwigs were coming too,’ a
member of the Massey Garden committee remarked at her
elbow. ‘That’s Chief Superintendent Clarke.’
Gwenna glanced over her shoulder and saw two men in
suits standing by a police car. Their faces were grave. Another
man was in conversation with her father and whatever was
being said was evidently not to Donald Hamilton’s liking, for
he had turned a dull red and he was saying loudly that some-
thing was nonsense. The news crew were now paying atten-
tion to the tableau. With an exasperated smile on his lips, her
father strode towards the men by the car, even making a
laughing sally as he approached. But a curious little puddle
of silence was steadily spreading through the crowd. It
enabled Gwenna to hear the senior police officer refer to ‘very
serious allegations’. She watched in frank disbelief as her
father had his legal rights read to him. In full view of his
family and the media, Donald Hamilton was being arrested.
In his opulent private suite at the Peveril House hotel later
that afternoon, Angelo Riccardi flicked on the recording that
had been made for his benefit. Having received an anonymous
tip off, the television crew had lingered for the more exciting
finale that had been promised: Hamilton, captured on film at
the very height of his self-glorification as local worthy and
philanthropist, brought crashing down from his little plastic
pedestal of respectability.
Angelo had bought the furniture company that employed
his quarry and had sent in his auditors to check the accounts.
Catching Hamilton red-handed had not been the challenge he
had expected. Indeed it had been almost too easy. Of course,
public exposure was only the beginning, Angelo reflected.
Hamilton had to be made to pay the proper price for his sins.
Piece by piece he intended to strip the man who had aban-
doned his mother of everything he valued and his good name
was only the first step in that process…
looked round the noisy room in despair and blocked
out the angry flood of accusations being hurled at the hunched
and pathetic figure of her father, who had been shorn of all
his natural buoyancy by the events of recent days.
The drawing room of the Old Rectory was large and
elegant. But the flower arrangement on the table, which
Gwenna had taken such special pains with, was now wilting
and dropping petals. It was three days since the world in
which she lived had shattered into broken shards and, along
with it, some of her most heartfelt convictions.
Donald Hamilton had been charged with fraud, false ac-
counting and forgery and informed that other offences
might yet be added to that terrifying tally. At first, every-
body had been up in arms in defence of the older man. Not
just his family, but his friends and neighbours as well for
he was a popular figure. The fact that his employer and work
colleagues stayed silent and kept their distance had been
loudly condemned. But then, possibly people were worried
about the security of their jobs. After all it was barely a
week since Furnridge Leather had been bought by Rialto,
the vast corporate business empire run by Angelo Riccardi.
Possibly because of that more cosmopolitan and powerful
connection, the case had attracted a great deal of unpleas-
Perhaps the biggest shock of all had occurred when Donald
Hamilton, confronted with overwhelming evidence of his
crimes, had chosen to confess his guilt. Gwenna had been
truly devastated. That the father she adored and admired
should have stooped so low as to steal money had appalled
her, but she had been proud that he had ultimately had the
courage to admit what he had done and accept the blame.
When he had finally been allowed home, he had taken
Gwenna into his study for a private chat. There he had
confided how the extravagant lifestyle he had been leading had
led to steadily mounting debts that he could no longer handle.
‘I just borrowed a little one month from the Furnridge
accounts to tide me over,’ her parent explained heavily.
‘Naturally I intended to pay it back. Unfortunately Penelope
sprang her big fancy wedding on us without warning and that
cost a fortune. Her mother spent another fortune comforting
her when her marriage failed. Last year Wanda needed the
capital to set up her riding school. As you know that was
another disaster and I lost a lot on that venture. But I do
realise that that’s no excuse for stealing. You mustn’t think I’m
blaming anyone either—’
‘I don’t…I don’t.’ Gwenna’s throat was thick with tears as
she gave the older man a comforting hug. She was well aware
that nothing less than the very best was ever acceptable to her
stepmother and her two stepsisters and that they expected her
father to provide for their every need and want.
‘You see, I’ve never been very good at saying no to the
people I love. I’m afraid that we’ve been living above our
means for a long time in this house but I found it impossible
to deny Eva anything. I love her
much, Gwenna. I don’t
know what I’ll do if she decides to divorce me over this.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
After that illuminating conversation, Gwenna was now
finding it very difficult indeed to stand by listening while the
rest of her father’s family made him the target of their bitter
recriminations. He was a solicitor, whose main source of
income had been earned by his employment at Furnridge
Leather. A few hours a week, he worked for a handful of
private clients, most of whom were elderly and whom he had
inherited from his late father’s now defunct legal practice.
‘They’ve frozen your bank accounts. My allowance hasn’t
been paid. How am I supposed to pay my credit card bill?’
her elder stepsister, Penelope, was demanding, her pretty face
contorted with fury.
Gwenna wondered what would happen if she dared to suggest
that perhaps it was time that the brunette looked for a regular
job. Both her stepmother’s daughters still lived at home.
Penelope was twenty-seven, a part-time model who treated her
career like a hobby and expected her stepfather to fund the
luxuries she enjoyed. Her sibling, Wanda, was two years younger
and had never held down a job for longer than six weeks.
‘What about the repayments on my sports car?’ Wanda
was demanding. ‘Where am I going to get the money to
keep them up?’
Eva Hamilton gave her silent husband a bitter look of tearful
condemnation. ‘Until now, I never appreciated how lucky I
was that my first husband was such an excellent provider.’
Gwenna winced at a reminder that she felt was unneces-
sarily cruel and wondered fearfully if her stepmother would
stand by her disgraced husband, now that the gravy train had
ground to a halt.
‘Yes, he was and I’m certainly not living up to that chal-
lenge.’ Slumped in his armchair in the corner, Donald
Hamilton was sunk so deep in depression that he was a soft
target for all such attacks.
‘If only you hadn’t admitted that you took the money!
With a good lawyer, we could have fought the charges!’
Penelope told him furiously.
‘We might have had a chance if Furnridge had still been
under John Ridge’s ownership. But not now…Rialto is
and Angelo Riccardi is a hard-hitter. In an organisation of that
size, the rules are rigid and the resources unlimited. They’d
pursue you to the edge of the grave for a penny, never mind
what I’ve creamed off the accounts over the years,’ the older
man framed bleakly. ‘I’m ruined.’
‘What matters is that you owned up to what you had done.
I’m sure that that was a relief to everyone concerned and that
you feel a little better now,’ Gwenna commented hastily.
‘Honesty is the best policy? Did you get taught that in
Sunday School?’ Her stepmother sobbed with scorn. ‘You de-
finitely didn’t pick it up at your mother’s knee. After all, she
was your father’s secret bit on the side for years!’
Gwenna reddened with the old sense of shame that she had
never managed to shake off. It was true: her mother’s long-
running affair with Donald Hamilton had been furtive and
built on lies and pretences. Even so, while she had often been
treated to such sneering reminders as a child, few had come
her way since she had attained adult independence. ‘Look, I
came over to—’
‘Stick your nose in where it’s not wanted?’ Wanda sniped.
‘So that we could all try to work out how best to deal with
this situation,’Gwenna countered doggedly. ‘If we can pay back
the money that’s been taken, Dad might still be able to escape
prosecution. Obviously the Massey gardens and the nursery
could be sold. Then there’s the apartment in London—’
The very suggestion that the city apartment, much used by
Eva and her daughters, should be put on the market roused
Gwenna’s step relatives to a vitriolic counter attack. But
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Donald Hamilton studied his only child with the first glimmer
of hope he had displayed since his arrest. ‘Do you think an
offer like that could make a difference?’
Gwenna gave a vigorous nod.
‘But if Massey is sold you’ll lose your job, the business
you’ve built up and the roof over your head. Would you really
do that for me?’ he prompted wonderingly.
‘Of course.’ Gwenna cleared her throat awkwardly. ‘Then
there’s this place…’
Eva emerged from her handkerchief like a ferret scenting
a rabbit. ‘This house is in my name and I’m not selling it
raising a loan on it!’
Gwenna had not been aware of that reality and she flushed
and muttered a hasty apology.
‘You’ve got some nerve!’ Penelope told Gwenna.
The phone rang. The police wanted her father to answer
some further queries. Before Gwenna’s anxious gaze the older
man turned a sickly grey shade. It hurt her to witness his obvious
fear at the prospect of yet another visit to the police station.
With an air of resolution, Gwenna stood up. ‘I’m going to
go to Furnridge Leather and ask to speak to whoever has the
power to make a decision on your behalf.’
‘You’ll be wasting your time,’ Donald mumbled. ‘I’m dead
in the water, dead no matter what you do.’
Angelo accepted a black coffee, but ignored the erotic invita-
tion in the PA’s admiring gaze and the manner in which she
contrived to bend low enough to show off her cleavage. Where
was her respect? If she had been on his personal staff she
would have been history. He didn’t like sex in the office. It was
a distraction and he disliked distractions. Women were won-
derful…outside working hours, at a convenient time of his
choosing. He let nothing get in the way of business or profit.
He stood by the window that overlooked the ground-floor
reception area of Furnridge Leather’s premises and listened to
his executives uneasily discussing ideas to regenerate the
company with the former owner, John Ridge. Occasionally
Angelo spoke up to rubbish the more unrealistic suggestions.
This was the smallest company he had taken over in a decade.
It was a challenge for his staff to think small enough to suit the
project, particularly when this latest acquisition had a big black
hole in its accounts. Now there were two thousand employees
with very good reason to hate Donald Hamilton because the
future of the business was very much in the balance.
A young woman approached the reception desk. Her long
blonde hair was caught back in a simple clasp. Angelo stiffened,
keen dark eyes narrowing in immediate recognition of the
graceful angle of her head and her perfect profile. Well, what
do you know? he thought without great surprise. Gwenna from
the deadest little village in Somerset had found him again. Had
she seen his limousine as he’d departed and recognised his fi-
nancial worth? Whatever, she had evidently now identified
him and intended to save him the hassle of looking for her. He
felt disappointed. He had thought that just for once he might
actually have to make a concentrated effort to get a woman into
bed. The phone buzzed. The call was for John Ridge.
The older man set down the handset and muttered uncom-
fortably, ‘Donald Hamilton’s daughter, Gwenna, is down-
stairs asking to see me or whoever is in charge. Is there anyone
here willing to speak to her?’
Angelo had become as still as a granite statue. He was
frowning because when he had glanced through the background
information on Donald Hamilton there had been no reference
to a daughter by that name. ‘Hamilton’s
‘His only child and a lovely girl, but I would really prefer
not to have to deal with her. There’s nothing to say, is there?’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘Nothing,’ one of the executives agreed very drily.
‘I will see her in here in fifteen minutes,’ Angelo
decreed, rigorously suppressing the angry sense of shock
and recoil spreading through him. A lovely girl?
could vouch for that. He was a connoisseur and she had
stopped even him in his tracks. Impervious to his compan-
ions’ surprise at his announcement, he immediately
accessed the file on Hamilton on his laptop. And there he
found the brief reference to her as Jennifer Gwendolen
Massey Hamilton, aged twenty-six years. Donald
Hamilton’s only child, who had to be precious even to a
lying, cheating fraudster.
Gwenna sat in the waiting area feeling the hostile chill in
the air around her and registered that she was reaping what
her father had sown. The nerve-racking minutes ticked past.
She was astonished to be told that Angelo Riccardi, the bil-
lionaire head of Rialto, was in the building and prepared to
speak to her, for she had dimly assumed that someone so rich
and powerful would have little personal involvement in the
acquisition of a comparatively small rural business. By the
time she was escorted past the door that had once led to her
father’s office and shown into the boardroom, she was very
pale, stiff with shamed discomfiture and exceedingly nervous.
‘Miss Hamilton…’ Angelo murmured without intonation,
watching the shock of recognition stamp the pure lines of her
face. She could not hide her dismay and embarrassment and
he marvelled at a transparency that was a rare trait in the
world in which he lived. ‘I’m Angelo Riccardi.’
Astonished to be greeted by the male she had met in the
village, Gwenna exclaimed in confusion,’ You’re…but you
Angelo elevated an ebony brow.
A timeless moment stretched while she stared, absorbing
all over again the stunning set of his tawny gaze above the
smooth dark planes of his high cheekbones, the masculine jut
of his nose, the sensual fullness of his hard, handsome mouth.
A curious little pulse of uneasy heat flickered in the pit of her
stomach. Snatching in a ragged breath she made a mighty
effort to regain her scattered wits.
‘Well, obviously you are…er, who you say you are,’
Gwenna conceded in an awkward rush. ‘My goodness, a co-
incidence I could’ve done without today.’
‘I still don’t know why you wanted to see me.’Angelo was
enjoying her frank inability to conceal how flustered she was.
It seemed—and he considered himself a very good judge of
character—that his enemy’s daughter lacked her parent’s
innate guile and cunning.
‘To talk about my father.’
‘I’m surprised you think that I would be interested.’
Gwenna stiffened. ‘My father worked here for a long
‘While he systematically stripped this business of its capital.’
Her lashes dipped over her troubled eyes. ‘I have no inten-
tion of trying to deny anything that he has done.’
‘Why else are you requesting this interview? But then,
perhaps you expect the same special treatment that your father
enjoyed when he worked here.’
Her uneasiness escalated. ‘I don’t know what you’re
‘John Ridge treated your father more as a friend than an
employee and he could never understand why improved pro-
ductivity consistently failed to deliver more profits. That’s
why he finally sold up.’ Angelo watched her lose colour and
duck her head at that news. He was grimly amused by a sen-
sitivity that he knew he would use against her. It was second
nature to him to pick up on other people’s weak points and
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
utilise them for his own benefit. ‘He’s gutted now that he
understands how his trust was betrayed.’
‘Dad is very ashamed. I know that doesn’t change
‘You’re living in your own little world, Miss Hamilton.
Right now my staff are trying to find a way for this business
to survive without massive redundancies.’
Her tummy executed a sick flip of alarm. Already cringing
at the reminder of how John Ridge had been deceived, she was
even more dismayed to learn what a precarious position the
company had been left in. Angelo Riccardi’s rebuke struck her
as horribly well deserved; she
failed to consider the wider
repercussions that might arise from her father’s embezzlement.
In fact she had naively assumed that the future of Furnridge
Leather would be more secure as a part of a much larger or-
ganisation like Rialto. The risk of redundancies appalled her
since the furniture company was the main local employer.
‘I didn’t know…I genuinely had no idea matters were so
‘How could you not know? A large amount of money has
been misappropriated.’Angelo was discovering that the anger
roused by the disclosure of her identity had gone to be replaced
by a growing buzz of satisfaction. Why not? She was
Hamilton’s daughter. He now had two people to play with,
instead of only one, and as he was already discovering she was
a very beautiful plaything with an entire repertoire of responses
that he had not seen in a long time. ‘No business of this size
could weather such a financial loss without shedding staff.’
A gleam of optimism lightened her anxious gaze and she
lifted her head. ‘But that’s why I’m here…to talk about how
that money could be repaid.’
‘Repaid?’ Angelo queried, his narrowed gaze skimming
over her with renewed intensity. The upward tilt of her eyes
and the sprinkling of freckles across her nose had an appeal
he could not define. The trouser suit might be drab and un-
flattering to her frame, but it was outshone by a radiant beauty
that continually drew his attention back to her.
‘My father has property interests that could be sold and the
proceeds put towards repayment.’ Eager to put that point
across, Gwenna partially evaded his gaze as she became aware
of the force of his scrutiny. Not for the first time she wondered
why he made her feel so uncomfortable. Her throat was tight,
her muscles clenched taut. Was it fear?
‘If any of those property interests were purchased with
stolen funds and your father is found guilty in court, those
assets could be seized and sold to provide compensation.’
That smooth assurance sliced through Gwenna’s hopes
like a blade and she felt the full force of her own ignorance.
‘I wasn’t aware of that.’
His agile intellect was already engaged in wondering what
favour she had intended to ask in return for the repayment of
the stolen funds. In spite of what he had said to her, he was
aware that the courts were often reluctant to seize and sell
private assets, particularly where there was a wife involved.
It would not be the first time that a con man had served his
sentence only to emerge from prison and enjoy the ill-gotten
gains of his crime. That was a galling prospect to Angelo, who
was determined to see Donald Hamilton punished on every
possible level. Stripping the offender of his worldly goods
would add savour to that process.
‘However, bringing a case such as this takes time, and this
business is almost out of time.’ Angelo offered up that piece
of encouragement to draw her out again.
‘Dad has already admitted his guilt,’ Gwenna reminded him
readily. ‘He would be happy to agree to the properties being put
up for sale and to the proceeds being used to repay his debt—’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘He’s a thief, not a debtor,’ Angelo cut in drily. ‘What is
more, although I hate to rain on your parade, property can take
a very long time to sell.’
Her teeth worried anxiously at her full lower lip. Although
she too had thought of that angle there was no getting round that
potential hiccup that she could see. ‘Yes, I appreciate that…’
Ebony eyes of extraordinary power sought and held hers
in a grip as strong as forged steel. ‘Of course,
I was prepared
to consider such an arrangement, a valuation could be done
and the properties concerned could simply be signed over.
That could be achieved very quickly.’
Ready to grasp at any prospect of agreement, Gwenna
nodded eagerly at that suggestion. She snatched in a ragged
breath, wildly aware of his gaze and the insidious unsettling
pulse of awareness at the secret heart of her body. Her lovely
face suddenly flaming at that acknowledgement, she tore her
attention from him and walked over to the window. She could
not credit that
could have such an effect on her. He was a
stranger and alien in every way to her. How could he rouse
the physical consciousness that she had suppressed and
buried? She refused to believe that he could. It was a long time
since she had decided that she would never give her body
without her heart.
‘It would also lessen the risk of anyone suffering last-
minute regrets,’ Angelo pointed out, gaze glinting with
triumph at his success in finally raising a reaction from her.
He had seen the flare of surprise in her eyes. Not quite the ice
maiden after all, it seemed. ‘Obviously your objective is to
free your father from the threat of prosecution.’
Not knowing whether to be relieved or threatened by the
ease with which he had deduced that fact, Gwenna spun back
to face him. She lifted her chin and knotted her hands together
tightly as if she was bracing herself. ‘Yes.’
‘No can do,
. It is my personal conviction that all
wrongdoers should be punished by the full weight of the law.’
‘But if that money was replaced it would benefit this
business and all the people who work here!’ Gwenna protested
feverishly. ‘Don’t you care about that?’
‘My heart rarely bleeds, Miss Hamilton.’
Angelo watched her brush a fine strand of honey-blonde
hair back from the peach soft curve of her cheek. She was ex-
quisite, delectable, he acknowledged, his usually disciplined
body reacting with painful immediacy to the sexual charge of
her presence. She was trembling almost infinitesimally. He
liked the idea that he might be responsible for that potent
effect. He had an almost overpowering desire to see her long
hair falling loose round her shoulders in a tumbling mass of
waves. She made him think of a Victorian painting he had
once seen of a naked woman on horseback—Lady Godiva.
That whimsical reflection surprised him but that image gave
him a distinctly erotic kick.
‘But in this particular case…’ she dared to prompt.
‘Business is all about the art of profit and the bottom line
here is that there’s not enough in your offer to tempt me.’
Disappointment at his refusal flooded Gwenna. She had
never felt so nervous or out of her depth. At her most happy
when she was working outdoors, she had acquired a host of hor-
ticultural qualifications while still regarding herself as only a
keen gardener. Now, for the first time, she was uneasily con-
scious of her lack of sophistication. She genuinely did not know
how to appeal to such a man. He had the cold, hard glitter of a
very expensive and elegant diamond and he showed no emotion.
It was a combination that she found utterly intimidating.
‘What would it take to…er, tempt you?’
Angelo studied her with unnerving calm. ‘You.’
Gwenna blinked. ‘I’m sorry…I don’t follow.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘I want you.’
‘I don’t understand.’ Her Delft-blue eyes widened and she
dragged in a ragged breath. She felt incredibly stupid because
of course he could not mean what she had thought he might
mean. True, he had asked her out, but it had been very casual,
‘Are you always this slow on the uptake?’
‘Are you talking about…sex?’ Gwenna was furious that
embarrassment made her mangle that last word into an almost
Dense black lashes lifted over his brilliant dark tawny eyes
and he managed to look very bored. ‘What else?’
Gwenna surveyed him with as much unrestrained amaze-
ment as she would have shown a zebra that suddenly appeared
out of nowhere to walk across the office. She had always had
a problem seeing herself as a sexual being. The passes that
came her way were usually pretty half-hearted because she
was much better at being sympathetic and sensible than sexy.
That a guy of such immense wealth and supposed sophisti-
cation should target her as if she were a provocative siren
struck her as unbelievable.
‘Is this some kind of a wind-up?’ she asked tautly.
‘I don’t do wind-ups.’
Gwenna studied him, poised there so straight and tall in his
sharply tailored black designer business suit. He was devas-
tatingly handsome but she crushed that thought as soon as it
entered her mind. ‘But are you really suggesting that if I sleep
with you you might reconsider prosecuting my father?’
‘Yes.’ Angelo made that confirmation.
Gwenna was stunned by that unhesitating agreement. ‘But
that’s morally wrong.’
‘We’re consenting adults and you have a choice.’
Gwenna flung her head high, furious that she was dying
of embarrassment like a schoolgirl, while he was behaving as
though nothing untoward was happening. ‘Do you get a thrill
out of insulting me like this?’
‘One woman’s insult is another woman’s compliment.’
Angelo sent her a dark smile of challenge. ‘It’s not my ego
talking, but fact, when I tell you that a score of women would
kill to have the same opportunity.’
Gwenna, who rarely lost her temper, learned now that she
could want to kill another human being. His insouciance, his
sheer arrogance, his silken insolence, indeed the whole glossy
patina of his rich and rarefied existence, which he wore like
armour, made her teeth grit. Absolute hatred hurtled through
her in an acrid flow. ‘Well, I’m not one of them! I have higher
‘Which makes you infinitely more desirable.’
‘So, you’re one of those men who always wants most what
he can’t have?’
Angelo held her outraged blue gaze, more intrigued than
ever by her resistance and the anger that had unexpectedly cut
through her tranquil surface. ‘I have never met with a “can’t
have”,’ he told her truthfully.
‘You just have,’ Gwenna told him grittily and turned on
her heel. ‘My body isn’t something I’m prepared to barter,
‘Then your father will have to pay the piper and go to
prison,’ Angelo murmured and she stopped halfway to the
door and turned back, her raw pain at that likelihood etched
in her candid gaze.
Torn between stalking out in angry mortification and the
sinking conviction that she could not afford such a demon-
stration of disdain, Gwenna hovered. The very idea of her
father going to prison appalled her. He had already lost so
much: his job, his reputation, his friends, his financial security.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
His marriage might well soon slip into that same category of
loss. She knew and she accepted that he had done wrong. But
what dominated her thoughts was the debt she had owed to
her father since the day that he had opened the doors of his
home to her after her mother’s sudden death.
When her mother, Isabel, had fallen pregnant during her
long-term affair with Donald Hamilton, she’d expected her
lover to leave his childless wife, Marisa. Instead Isabel had
learnt that she had not been his only extra-marital interest.
Heartbroken and bitter, Gwenna’s mother had become a less
than enthusiastic single parent.
When Gwenna was eight years old, Isabel had died in a car
crash. Donald, still married to his first wife, had come to his
illegitimate daughter’s rescue at a time when Gwenna had
had nobody else whom she could call her own. Even though
he had been almost a stranger, her father had made her feel as
if she truly mattered to him. Even when his long-suffering
wife, Marisa, forced him to choose between his daughter and
his marriage, he had refused to put Gwenna up for adoption.
Not long afterwards, Marisa had demanded a divorce. The
older man had never reminded Gwenna of the price he had had
to pay for choosing to raise his daughter. But in spite of her
father’s subsequent remarriage to Eva, Gwenna had always felt
very guilty. And the passage of time and the arrival of maturity
had not altered her belief that she would always be in her
father’s debt for the loving sacrifice he had made on her behalf.
‘Before you leave, hear me out,’ Angelo drawled softly,
playing on Gwenna’s hesitation with skill and cool.
Blinking, Gwenna focused on him again.
‘If sufficient assets are signed over to set against the empty
coffers here at Furnridge Leather and you agree to be my
mistress, I will withdraw the current charges against your
father,’ Angelo spelt out.
A long shiver ran through her taut, slender body. He wanted
a lot, he wanted everything. Mistress? What was that fancy
term for? A one-night stand? Was conquest that important to
him? Could he really want to have sex with her that much?
The extent of her own sexual ignorance annoyed her.
‘What does being a mistress encompass?’ she pressed
without looking at him.
‘Pleasing me…’ Angelo trailed out the word with exqui-
She gritted her teeth. ‘I don’t think I’d be very good at that.’
‘I’m willing to give lessons at no extra cost.’
Furious resentment burned like lava inside her. ‘I think you
just can’t stand being turned down…’
‘I don’t think you’re going to turn me down twice.’
Gwenna sucked in a jerky breath. Unable even to imagine
taking her clothes off in front of a man without cringing, she
blanked out all thought of the nitty-gritty details of actual
intimacy. She was aware that lots of people had sex without
making a big issue of it. It would be physical, not emotional.
There was no need for her to make a major fuss about some-
thing that really wasn’t that important, she told herself
urgently. She was a pragmatist. She might not be into sex but
presumably she could put up with it. ‘Well, as far as I’m con-
cerned it’s senseless and crazy, but if my sleeping with you
one night will help my family—’
‘One night won’t suffice.’
Gwenna was as flattened by that unexpected comeback as
if a giant rock had been dropped on her. He wanted more than
one night? The silence pulsed. Newly discovered defiance
made her tilt her chin. She collided with brilliant dark eyes
enhanced by spiky black lashes. If eyes were truly the
windows of the soul, she thought helplessly, he lacked one.
‘Only hell has no time limit,’ she told him prosaically.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Disconcerted by that comment, Angelo studied her and
then flung back his dark head and laughed with grim appre-
ciation. ‘I like your sense of humour,
‘But I wasn’t trying to be funny. I need to know how long
you envisage me filling such a strange role in your life.’
Angelo lifted a broad shoulder in a fluid shrug. But in a
lightning-fast change of mood unfamiliar to him he was dis-
covering that he had gone from amusement to an emotion very
much akin to anger. He was a proud man and her parade of
reluctance, which he refused to believe in, was fast becoming
more insulting than intriguing. Long before they parted, she
would sing a different tune, he swore inwardly. She would
love him as his mother had once fruitlessly loved her con artist
of a father.
‘I’ll want you for as long as you provide me with enter-
‘You find it entertaining when a woman hates you?’
Gwenna asked fiercely.
Liquid gold flared in Angelo’s intense gaze and it was as
if all the oxygen burned up in the atmosphere between them.
‘I promise you that hatred won’t be what you feel.’
Gwenna compressed her generous mouth and recalled that
she was supposed to feel honoured by his interest, like some
maidservant of old catching the eye of the lord of the manor.
Loathing roared through her to such an extent that she felt
dizzy. But then reality penetrated and she thought of her father
and of how much she loved him. Angelo Riccardi was giving
her the chance and the power to protect her father from prose-
cution and gaol. How could she say no? How many years of
freedom would her father lose if she said no? How would he
endure years of being shut away from the world? He would
not be the same man when he emerged from such an ordeal,
whereas if she kept him out of prison he would find it much
easier to embark on a fresh start. What right did she have to
deny him that chance of redemption?
‘I want your answer now,’ Angelo told her flatly.
‘Yes…you’ve made me an offer I can’t refuse,’ Gwenna
Angelo extended his hand.
‘But let’s not pretend that it’s a civilised offer,’ Gwenna
heard herself add as she took a step back from him.
Angelo took a step forward and before she had the slight-
est idea of his intention he framed her cheek with long brown
fingers and brought his beautiful insolent mouth down in a
mocking taunt on hers. Shock held her paralysed for the first
ten seconds and then a wild surge of heat flamed up between
her thighs, stretching every feminine muscle wickedly taut.
It was like flame in freezing temperatures, shocking and
sudden and shatteringly sweet. He lifted his arrogant dark
head again, his scorching dark golden gaze raking in an as-
sessing arc over her dazed expression.
‘Being civilised can be overrated,
. My lawyers will be
in touch. If everything is in order, I’ll contact you next week.’
slowly shook his distinguished head. ‘I’ll
have nothing left, not even my independence.’
‘The valuations aren’t what you hoped? Even for the city
apartment?’ Gwenna questioned anxiously.
‘I would say that the figures are anything but generous.’
Gwenna frowned. ‘Of course property prices have fallen
in some areas. How did the Massey garden and nursery fare
in the valuation stakes?’
‘The estate is listed and protected by law,’ Donald
reminded her. ‘That keeps its value low because there are too
many rules preventing more profitable types of development.
The nursery is a small enterprise. You’ve worked wonders
‘It’s hardly big business,’ Gwenna filled in heavily.
‘Even so, if selling up protects me from having to make a
court appearance, how can I possibly complain?’ her father
asked her in a more upbeat tone. ‘As for what you told me
about you and the owner of Rialto, that’s made all this even
It seemed an odd choice of word. Gwenna
coloured, her lashes concealing her bemused eyes. She was
still wondering if the older man had quite grasped what she
had delicately endeavoured to tell him with regard to her
future association with Angelo Riccardi. In an effort to
conceal her confusion, she bent down to pet Piglet, who was
slumped at her feet.
‘You’re a beautiful woman and all grown up now.’ Donald
Hamilton treated his daughter to a distinctly misty-eyed ap-
praisal. ‘I mustn’t forget that. I’m not at all surprised that a
man of Angelo Riccardi’s calibre should notice you and go
for you in a big way.’
‘Well…he did notice me,’ his daughter muttered half under
her breath, reckoning that her father could not possibly have
registered the sort of liaison that she was being offered. No
doubt that was a mercy, for she had worried about him kicking
up a fuss even though she had packaged the unlovely truth
with the pretence that she had been similarly impressed by
‘Perhaps you could have a little word with him about the
valuations,’ the older man murmured casually. ‘Not right now,
necessarily, but possibly in a week or two.’
Having tensed, Gwenna slowly lifted her head. ‘Have a
word with him?’
‘You can’t be that naïve,’ Donald Hamilton said with a
chuckle. ‘ Obviously you’ve got influence with the man in the
seat of power.’
‘I don’t think you can say that—’
‘This is not the time for false modesty,’ her father told her
a touch irritably. ‘Choose your moment to speak to him about
how unhappy you are over the treatment of your family. My
word, do I have to paint pictures for you? Have you any idea
what my life is going to be like when I don’t have a penny to
call my own? When I’m forced to live off your stepmother like
some ghastly ageing gigolo?’
But Gwenna was both taken aback and dismayed by his as-
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sumption that she would be able to persuade Angelo Riccardi
to offer the older man a better price for his properties. She was
very pale. ‘Look, I’m sorry…I hadn’t thought that far ahead
yet. All I’ve been thinking about is keeping you out of prison.’
Donald Hamilton winced as though she had been guilty of
a gross lack of tact. ‘I think that risk has been safely laid to
rest now and life does go on,’ he declared. ‘It is going to be
very difficult for me to find another job.’
‘Yes, I suppose it will be. But how are you expecting me
to help out by speaking to Angelo Riccardi?’ Gwenna asked
Her father grimaced. ‘You can be very naïve, Gwenna. For
as long as you have Riccardi’s interest the world will be your
oyster. Ideally I would like my job back at Furnridge Leather.’
Gwenna was staggered by that announcement. ‘Your old
‘Yes.’ Impervious to her incredulity, Donald Hamilton
added, ‘That would silence the scandalmongers. And help
me get back on my feet again.’
Gwenna swallowed hard. ‘I honestly don’t think that I
could do anything to help you to get your old job back.’
‘Well, if not it, something of equivalent status elsewhere.
Why so shocked?’ he queried with dissatisfaction. ‘It would
be no big deal to Riccardi to do one little favour for you.’
For once, Gwenna found it a relief to be joined by Eva and
her stepsisters. She did not know how to tell her father that
she did not have the influence he imagined, but she did feel
that his expectations were unrealistic. At the same time, she
strove to make allowances for his state of mind. He was under
enormous pressure and the troubled state of his relationship
with his wife was not helping.
‘Nice to see that you’re still running round in your dreary
old Barbour and jeans like Little Miss Ordinary.’ Penelope
treated Gwenna to a sour appraisal. ‘When does Angelo
Riccardi wave his magic wand and turn you into a sex kitten?
Or does mud turn him on?’
Gwenna had no wish to consider what might turn Angelo
Riccardi on. Ever since that startling kiss, she had blanked him
out of her mind. The discovery that he could dredge such a
physical response from her had been deeply unwelcome.
Indeed she was mortified to her core to appreciate that she was
not impervious to his sexual charge. But, equally, forewarned
was forearmed, and she had no plans to gratify his ego in that
‘You lucky, lucky cow,’ Wanda groaned with unhidden
envy. ‘When I think of the effort I make to look beautiful, it’s
depressing that you can go out looking like a dog’s dinner and
still pull a billionaire.’
‘It won’t last five minutes,’ her stepmother, Eva, forecast
with a dismissive but speaking distaste that raised goose bumps
of chagrin below Gwenna’s skin. ‘These things never do.’
‘I’d better go. I’ve got orders to take to the post office,’
Gwenna muttered, keen to make her escape from the trio of
cold, critical gazes fixed to her. Her stepmother’s contempt
bit deepest of all.
‘Don’t forget what I’m going through here,’ her father
urged, having taken the unusual step of accompanying his
daughter to the door.
‘Of course, I won’t.’ Gwenna was touched by the affection-
ate hug he gave her.
‘See if you can work out something on my behalf with
Gwenna drove slowly back to the nursery in the van. There
was nothing more that she could do for her father at present,
she thought unhappily. He was going to have to deal with the
fact that his life was never going to be the same again, but that
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would take time. Her brow was pounding out her tension.
Reasoning was a challenge when she felt as though the shock
of recent events had set up a barrier between her and her wits.
She was still struggling to accept that, in the space of ten days,
her whole life had fallen down round her like a house of cards
and with it the future that she had taken for granted. The
village where she had lived from birth would no longer be her
home. She would be barred from the gardens where she had
grown up and happily worked whenever she had a moment
free. The business she had laboured so hard to build would
pass on to a stranger and might not even survive. After all, the
profit margins at the nursery were low and, with Joyce on ma-
ternity leave, she was working alone.
Her mobile phone rang just as she finished packing the
orders from the mail-order catalogue in the rear storeroom. It
was Toby. Smiling with pleasure, she relaxed and went into
the shop to chat and savour every piece of his news. He told
her that he was in Germany. A landscape architect, Toby
James had already made his name in design and he often
accepted commissions abroad. Gwenna had first met him at
college and saw a lot less of him than she would have liked.
‘A mate of a mate saw the story about your father in the
paper and passed it on,’ Toby volunteered. ‘You must be really
torn up about this. Why didn’t you tell me about it yourself?’
Piglet had started barking in the storeroom and she called out
to him to hush. ‘There was no point spreading the bad news.’
‘How often have I cried on your shoulder?’ he censured.
‘Only once,’ she sighed, recalling that night with pained
regret. ‘The nursery and the gardens are being sold.’
‘That is a total disaster… I can’t believe it!’
Gwenna pictured Toby raking an impatient hand through
his brown hair, his green eyes glinting with concern and dis-
appointment on her behalf. He was very attractive and tremen-
dous fun. They had so much in common and she even got on
like a house on fire with his family. It had taken a long time
for her to register that their close friendship was destined to
go no further because, although few people appreciated the
fact, Toby was gay. By the time she’d found out she had been
head over heels in love with him and had yet to meet the man
who could compete with Toby’s hold on her affections,
although goodness knew she had tried.
While Gwenna was enjoying her conversation with Toby,
Angelo was descending from his limo that had purred to a halt
outside. He surveyed his surroundings with huge disdain. The
nursery as such was composed of ramshackle sheds and an
ancient greenhouse. He strolled towards the open door of the
shop and just as he began to frown at the strong perfume in
the air he saw Gwenna. Endless long slim legs clad in slim-fit
jeans, blonde hair in a pony-tail, she was leaning back against
the counter, a glorious smile lighting up her lovely face. She
was chattering, unaware of his presence. Instantly he knew that
he would not be satisfied until she smiled at him like that.
‘It feels like a hundred years ago since I saw you…I miss
Stilling in the doorway, Angelo began to listen. He was
fifteen feet from her and she still hadn’t noticed him. That had
never happened to him before. The average woman went on
hyper-alert when he entered the building, never mind the
same room. She was locked onto that phone as if it were her
lover. Or, as if she were talking to her lover, eyes shining,
voice husky, giggly, her entire manner in feminine flirt mode.
His eyes turned to chips of black ice.
‘Things are kind of up in the air right now,’ Gwenna
confided, having told Toby only what she deemed necessary
for him to know, which was not a lot. ‘We’ll catch up when
you get back.’
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Gwenna did not know what it was that made her look up
and when she did she jerked and almost dropped the phone.
Shock gripped her vocal cords and her lungs. Angelo Riccardi
was standing in the doorway, a long black cashmere overcoat
hanging loose over his dark pinstripe suit, strikingly elegant,
even more strikingly handsome.
‘Toby…I have to go…someone’s come into the shop,’
Gwenna announced in a clumsy staccato rush of unease, eyes
wide and defensive. Her smile had fallen off her lips as if she
had been slapped.
Angelo strolled in. ‘Who’s Toby?’ he enquired lazily.
‘A friend.’ Gwenna crammed the phone back in her pocket.
‘How can I help you?’
‘Are you going to ask me that in bed?’ Angelo murmured.
‘I’m not a customer.’
Hot pink washed her cheeks and only slowly receded. Her
bright blue eyes touched on his and fled again, her hands
clenching because he’d had the cruelty to mention what she
had steadfastly refused to think about. She applied her tried-
and-tested least-said-soonest-mended formula to her
thoughts. As a young child she had learned the futility of ex-
cessive anticipation and worry when she was powerless to
alter things. Now a tiny pulse beat out her extreme tension
in the blue-veined hollow beneath her collar-bone. Even
without looking at him, she felt the high-octane hum of
energy that laced the atmosphere around him. It put her entire
body into a crazy state of anticipation: her muscles were
rigid, her breathing audible and her breasts felt heavy, her
‘I’d like you to show me around the estate,’Angelo imparted.
‘There’s not much of an estate left.’
‘Whatever. I need fresh air. I can hardly breathe for the
perfume in here.’ Before he stepped outside, Angelo directed
a cutting glance in the direction of the headily scented bowls
of rosebuds and other mixtures set out by the counter.
‘I make pot-pourri. It’s a big seller. My customers come
from miles away to buy from me,’ Gwenna told him.
Angelo said nothing. With difficulty she silenced the self-
protective words on her tongue. His uninterest was blatant but
she reminded herself that she owed it to the Massey Garden
committee to check out his intentions in advance of the
takeover. She let Piglet out of the storeroom. The little dog
headed for Angelo, hovered in unsuccessful hope of an ac-
knowledgement, and then raced out in a delighted fury of
barking to investigate the strangers outside. The parking area
out front was, at first glance, packed with cars and men.
‘Who are all these people?’ Gwenna frowned.
Gwenna was tempted to make a tart comment, relating to
his undoubted need to take such precautions. His brilliant
tawny scrutiny met hers. ‘Much better not,’ he said softly. ‘It’s
never a good idea to put me in a bad mood.’
Momentarily she shut her eyes, disconcerted by the speed
with which he had read her and almost equally shaken by her
ongoing need to fight with him. On the other hand the idea of
giving way to the chill of fear that he evoked scared her even
more. ‘Only a tiny part of the gardens has been restored. I use
part of the old kitchen garden to display the plants I grow in
their natural habitat—’
‘I wouldn’t have said that this was your natural habitat.’
‘Well, then, you’d be wrong—’
‘I’m very rarely wrong about anything.’
Gwenna hung onto her temper with difficulty. He had come
to a halt and he cast a long dark shadow.
In silence, Angelo reached for her hand and she had to
combat a strong urge to whip it out of reach. Long brown
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fingers encircled her wrist with complete cool and exposed
the roughened skin on her palms and the ragged state of her
nails. ‘When I realised that you ran the nursery, I didn’t ap-
preciate that that entailed working the ground like a navvy.’
Off-balanced by that physical contact, Gwenna breathed
unevenly. ‘That’s what I enjoy the most.’
‘You’ve led a restricted life.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘You’re very stubborn.’ Stunning dark eyes linked with
hers and her chest went tight round the quickened pound of
her heartbeat, until she was aware of nothing but him. He
carried her fingers to his handsome mouth and pressed his lips
softly to them in an elegant gesture that had immense style
and assurance. ‘I like it. In a world of yes-women, you shine
like a star,
Shivering, she jerked her hand back but she could still feel
the touch of his lips on her skin like a fiery brand of intent. A
hard, tight knot of heat sat low in her tummy. Nothing fazed
him. His ruthlessness was like a steel wall of chain-mail. That
she knew it and was
capable of responding to him with
excitement shamed her to the core. Excitement? He’d kissed
her hand and the sizzle in the air blew her mind. What did that
say about her? That she had spent too long dreaming about a
man she could never have? She forced a breath into her strain-
ing lungs and started talking fast about the garden and the res-
toration plans and funds that were already in place.
Angelo listened without interest or comment. He had no
intention of agreeing commitment to a project that on the face
of it offered no useful advantage or prospect of profit. He
wasn’t into green spaces. He had never had the time or
patience to stand still and smell the roses or admire a view.
Her love and enthusiasm for the hilly overgrown acres sur-
rounding them were patent. But his mind was occupied with
less innocent pleasures. He was wondering how she could look
so marvellous when she was dressed like a tramp. He was keen
to see her all packaged and groomed to her feminine best for
his benefit. He was recalling the faint evocative perfume he
had smelled on her skin, suspecting that it might possibly be
the unspoilt aroma of simple soap. He was constantly noticing
and being irritated by the skittish way she backed off on her
long coltish legs every time he got within two feet of her.
‘Stop what?’ she exclaimed.
Angelo closed a restraining hand over hers and anchored
her to his side.
And that formal mode of address filled him with such fe-
rocious dissatisfaction that he hauled her to him and kissed
her luscious pink lips with all the fierce desire that he usually
kept in iron-clad restraint.
A muffled gasp of fright escaped her before the descent of
his hard, hungry mouth silenced her. He stole her words, her
breath, her ability to think and her legs threatened to buckle
under her with the shock of it. The shattering swell of excite-
ment snatched her up into a maelstrom. The sensual thrust of
his tongue into the damp interior of her mouth set her body
alight with reckless response. He backed her up against the
old stone wall behind her. Firm hands cupped her denim-clad
buttocks, lifting her off her feet into stirring contact with his
erection. Seductive sensation made her tingle all over. His
passion was raw and thrilling and terrifyingly new to her.
Suddenly, Angelo lifted his dark head and vented what
sounded like an Italian expletive. ‘Your dog’s bitten me…’
Momentarily speechless, Gwenna blinked and focused
with difficulty on the sight of Piglet growling like mad and
hauling frantically at the hem of Angelo’s immaculate
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trousers. ‘Oh, my word, he really doesn’t like you…’
Crouching down, trembling all over like a wobbly jelly inside
and out, she was grateful for the excuse to lift the little dog
up in her arms.
! Is that it? No, “Are you hurt? Bleeding? In need
of a tetanus shot?”’Angelo Riccardi drawled with icy sarcasm.
‘I’m really sorry…are you okay?’
‘I don’t think I’ll bleed to death. And the shots are up to
date,’Angelo said very drily, unable to avoid noticing how the
dog was being gently petted and soothed. He could have
sworn there was a triumphant smirk in those little round
doggy eyes. The fever in his blood had made him act without
thinking and that awareness angered him. What was it about
her? He looked forward to the aftermath of total conquest
when he would no longer want her.
Legs feeling shaky, Gwenna thanked heaven for her pet’s
opportune intervention and moved away. Putting Piglet back
onto his four stubby legs, Gwenna straightened with reluc-
tance. She was seriously ashamed of her own behaviour and
not enough of a hypocrite to tell off her pet. Not when she was
convinced that Piglet had saved her from losing her virginity.
She did not believe that Angelo Riccardi would have called a
decent halt. He did what he liked when he liked. He had
hauled her into his arms like a Viking on the rampage. He was
violently oversexed. Those daunting truths had sunk in on her.
Her mouth felt hot and swollen and she was afraid to look at
him. ‘The gardens are a wasteland beyond the wall. There’s
really not anything more to show you.’
‘The ancestral mansion?’
A few minutes later she came to a halt a hundred yards
from the large shell of the Regency house where her mother
had been born. Its ruinous state had embittered Isabel Massey,
who had never got over the conviction that fate had dealt her
a very poor hand. In comparison, Gwenna regarded that part
of her family’s history with rueful acceptance, for the truth
was that her Massey ancestors had been hopeless social
climbers who had never been able to afford to maintain the
white elephant they had built.
‘What’s the inside like?’
‘A wreck. It had to be boarded up years ago for safety.’
‘This is only a flying visit,’Angelo murmured on the walk
back to the nursery. ‘I should mention that your father has
been called to a meeting this afternoon.’
Gwenna tensed. ‘Am I allowed to ask what the meeting is
‘The fact that he hasn’t given a truthful account of his
Her cheeks flamed, surprise and anger assailing her.
‘That’s an out-and-out lie!’
Angelo regarded her with impassive cool. ‘I don’t like
people who waste my time.’
‘But Dad hasn’t been wasting your time and he hasn’t lied
to you either!’ Her china-blue eyes sparking, Gwenna curled
her hands into protective fists by her side. ‘You can’t assume
he’s deceived you just because he made the mistake of helping
himself to cash at Furnridge Leather.’
‘I’m not. Your father was told that he had to make a full
disclosure of his assets.’
‘And he has done so.’
‘While carefully omitting details of the
apartment he owns.’
‘He only has one, for goodness’ sake!’
‘He’s fortunate to own a second, as there is still a shortfall
in the amount he has to repay.’
Gwenna sucked in a steadying breath. ‘You’ve got it wrong.’
‘I’m afraid not. My information about the second town
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property is from an impeccable source.’ Angelo watched the
fraught look of sudden uncertainty and dismay tauten her fine
bone structure. She could not hide her sorrow. He could have
told her that her loyalty and affection were wasted on so un-
deserving a cause. Donald Hamilton had an unbroken record
of lying, cheating and robbing those foolish enough to place
their trust in him.
Worrying at her lower lip, Gwenna turned her head away
because her eyes were stinging with tears. Like it or not, there
was something horribly convincing about Angelo’s supreme
confidence. ‘If you’re right, I really don’t know what to say.’
‘Our deal will still stand. Your father will sign over the
agreed assets and we will draw a line below this matter.’
Gwenna swallowed convulsively. ‘In the circumstances
that’s very generous of you.’
Angelo smiled. His smile would have chilled an iceberg.
Events were moving exactly to plan. He was well aware that
Donald Hamilton had committed at least one other offence,
which would eventually surface. When it did, a court case
and a custodial sentence would be a virtual certainty. By the
time Angelo had finished, his quarry would have lost every-
thing he valued.
‘My father is not a bad man, just a foolish one. I don’t know
what’s got into him…maybe it’s some kind of mid-life crisis,’
Gwenna reasoned in desperation. ‘I honestly can’t explain
why he’s done what he’s done, or why he seems to be acting
like his own worst enemy right now. But I can tell you that
he’s been an absolutely marvellous father to me. He’s done
so much work in the community as well.’
Angelo found himself focusing on the sincere glow of con-
viction in her damp eyes. She was like a distress beacon ra-
diating emotion. She was not putting on a show for his benefit.
He was fascinated by the feelings she could not hide. His bed
partners always had a hard glossy shell that matched his
renowned self-containment. Full of ideals and optimism as
she was, she was ridiculously vulnerable. In a few months’
time, possibly even sooner, she would be sadder and wiser. A
faint stab of regret assailed him that that should be the case.
Perturbed by that unwelcome jab of seeming sensitivity, he
crushed it dead.
‘I’ve organised accommodation for you.’Angelo turned to
a subject of greater interest to him.
Gwenna froze, silky brown lashes screening her gaze to
conceal her reaction to the sudden impact of that announce-
ment. ‘What sort of accommodation and where?’
‘A penthouse in London…I like lofty spaces.’
‘I don’t…is there a garden? Piglet will need a garden,’
Gwenna told him tightly.
‘Piglet?’ Angelo queried.
‘I’ll pick up the bill for his stay in a pet hotel,’ Angelo
imparted in a dry tone of dismissal.
‘No. He has to stay with me. He pines and refuses to eat
when I’m not around,’ Gwenna responded with unhidden
anxiety. ‘I know it might sound silly to someone who’s not
sentimental about pets…but he’s a very emotional dog.’
Angelo settled his black gaze on the ugly little dog messily
digging up the border behind her back. The dog with a foolish
owner twisted round its short but crooked tail. No way was he
prepared to share house-room even briefly with her pet. ‘He
goes to the hotel. My staff will choose the very best available.’
‘But if I’m not there he won’t eat—’
‘It’s not nonsense—’
‘I’m not into animals indoors,’ Angelo pronounced with
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Gwenna breathed in very deep and reminded herself that
it was two years since Piglet had starved himself to skin and
bone while she was on holiday. The following year, Toby had
helped her to get the little dog a pet passport so that he could
travel with his mistress. But now it was very much to be
hoped that he had got over such excessive reliance on her for
his sense of security. She could feel her eyes prickling at the
prospect of life without Piglet and would have died sooner
than betray her weakness. Angelo Riccardi would be fed up
with her within the space of a week, she told herself comfort-
ingly. She would bore him to death.
‘Do I have any say about anything?’ she enquired flatly.
Angelo thought hard about that. If he had had a chain
attached to her ankle, he would have been set on removing
links to restrict her freedom even more. It was an unfamiliar
attitude to a male accustomed to easy conquest and it annoyed
him. ‘Your accommodation?’
Gwenna went for that assurance at speed because she saw
no reason why she should be anything other than difficult.
After all, she was in no hurry to fulfil the agreement he had
enforced. ‘I want to live somewhere with a garden,’ she told
him with complete truth. ‘I’ll go mad if I’m in the city and
shut in between four walls.’
‘There’s a pool with a roof that rolls back.’
‘I want a garden…even a condemned man gets one last
‘You’re not facing a firing squad.’ Angelo treated her to
a fulminating appraisal. A garden? What the hell did she
want with a garden? That was not a reasonable request.
That would take more time to organise and waiting for her
was killing him by inches. Ever since he had first seen her,
a parade of disturbingly erotic images had kept up a
constant assault on his concentration. He was tired of that
mental invasion and unlikely ever to be a convert to the art
‘How soon will you come to me?’Angelo prompted levelly.
Unnerved by that bold question, Gwenna made the mistake
of looking directly at him. She clashed with stunning tawny eyes
hot with hunger and her face flamed at what he let her see there.
Her entire skin surface prickled and tightened over her bones.
‘Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.’ A rougher
edge had entered his dark-timbred drawl.
‘When I have to…when I have no choice.’
‘The answer of a pure and virtuous virgin facing ravish-
ment about a century ago.’ His cynical smile of insolent
amusement made the blood burn hotter than ever in her
cheeks. ‘Take a reality check. You’re not in that category.’
‘You think you know everything, don’t you?’ Furious re-
sentment raced through Gwenna. ‘But you don’t. For what it’s
in that category!’
His hard gaze narrowed, black spiky lashes lowering to in-
tensify the black glitter of his potent scrutiny. He studied her
in the charged silence and she dragged her attention from him,
ferocious embarrassment and anger engulfing her.
‘Don’t you dare make any snide comments,’ she warned
Angelo was travelling from stunned surprise over her claim
to a powerful surge of satisfaction. Was this the source of her
unusually strong attraction for him? Had he somehow sensed
the subtle distinction between her and the other women he had
different, the exact opposite of his usual
sexually adept partners. A virgin. Asking her to go back to
London with him for a couple of hours to fill in the time
before his flight to New York now struck him as very inap-
propriate, even tacky. For a split second the entire scenario
felt tacky, but when he looked at her he blocked out that
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thought before it could get a toehold. He had never felt such
an urgent desire for a woman and now that he understood that
the source of her reluctance was inexperience the need to
possess her had an even sharper edge. She was not indiffer-
ent or impervious to him. She was just shy, and he was willing
to admit that he wasn’t used to shy women.
The silence had settled like a blanket. His lack of comment
suddenly infuriated her and made her feel foolish. She so
wished that she had not blurted out one of her biggest secrets.
‘Look, I have loads of work to do,’ she muttered curtly. ‘When
do you expect me to come to London?’
‘Next week. You’ll be informed of the arrangements.’
Angelo withdrew a card from his pocket. ‘Should you wish
to talk to me…here’s my private number. You’ll be able to
reach me no matter where I am.’
Gwenna accepted the card, unable to imagine why she
would ever wish to voluntarily seek contact with him. Her
troubled thoughts were fixed to a much more important issue
and, finally, she took her courage into both hands and just
asked outright, ‘What are you planning to do with this place?’
Angelo shrugged, his expression noncommittal.
His indifference to the future of the historic gardens pierced
Gwenna to the heart and sank even her lowliest expectations
to rock-bottom. His lack of interest was monumental and
unapologetic. He didn’t do polite pretences. She reckoned that
he was probably the last man alive likely to shell out cash on
a venture that would struggle to survive outside the main
Before he climbed into the limo, Angelo glanced back in
her direction. She didn’t return the compliment. Scooping up
the muddy little dog, which was belligerently intent on
barking at the nearest car, she vanished back into the shop at
speed. His aggressive jaw line clenched.
days later, Gwenna was in London. The morning after
her arrival, she was met at her hotel by an elegant brunette in
her thirties. A senior coordinator in Angelo Riccardi’s employ,
it had been Delphine Harper who liaised with Gwenna on the
phone and orchestrated all the arrangements to be made on
‘It’s my job to ensure that you enjoy a smooth transition to
city life. You have a full programme of appointments today,’
Delphine trilled with a polished smile that displayed her perfect
white teeth to advantage. ‘First on the agenda, I’ve organised
a viewing of the property Mr Riccardi has selected for you.’
A smooth transition?
Gwenna could have wept at that
useful little cover-all phrase that took no account of the
drastic upheaval in her once tranquil daily existence. Only
now that her contentment had been wrenched from her did
she appreciate just how happy she had been pottering about
with plants. The same day that Angelo had visited, her father
had signed over all the property he owned. Within twenty-
four hours a Rialto employee had arrived to take charge of
the plant nursery. The speed of that takeover had stunned
Gwenna and she’d found it very hard to hand over control
of the business and the gardens she loved. She’d also had to
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vacate her flat above the shop in a hurry; the new manager
needed the accommodation and nobody had appreciated
until it was too late that she actually lived there. That had
forced her to move temporarily to the Old Rectory, where
everyone but her father made her feel like an unwelcome
Pressed by his daughter’s reference to his owning a second
apartment in London, Donald Hamilton had released a heavy
sigh. ‘I had very good reasons for keeping that a secret. Eva
would have wanted me to sell it to buy a larger family place
and I wanted to keep it for our retirement. My motives weren’t
entirely selfish either. The current tenant is an elderly lady
with a lease due for renewal. I was worried that the change
of ownership would force her out.’
‘But you stayed silent about it when you had promised to
disclose your assets. That must’ve made a poor impression on
the Rialto legal team,’ Gwenna pointed out uncomfortably.
‘If I don’t look to my own interests, who else will?’ her
father countered without remorse. ‘Of course, I’m hoping
that when you get the chance, you’ll do the best you can to
ease our problems here.’
Recalling that conversation, Gwenna felt her stress level
merely increase. Her father’s airy lack of concern about his
dishonesty had unnerved her. When he’d stolen from
Furnridge, it had not just been a case of a man with financial
worries succumbing to a moment’s temptation. His problems
went deeper than that. There was a weakness in her father’s
character, she acknowledged unhappily. That could explain
the womanising streak that had caused such havoc when he
was a younger man and perhaps she had been too quick to
forgive and forget his history.
‘We’ve arrived.’ Delphine’s bright tones cut through
Gwenna’s anxious reflections and shot her back to the present.
Emerging from the car, Gwenna stared in astonishment at
the substantial property in front of her.
Delphine shook out keys with a pronounced air of impor-
tance and unlocked the imposing front door. ‘This has to be
one of the best addresses in London.’
Gwenna froze in the marble hall, gazing round in won-
derment at the pillars and the elaborate staircase. Fifty ques-
tions were on the tip of her tongue. But she was too
embarrassed to direct them at her companion, lest she
confirm whatever mortifying suspicions the brunette already
had about Gwenna’s precise relationship with her fabulously
‘It is a very large property, and don’t be misled by its age.
The house enjoys air-conditioning, touch-pad electronic
controls, an integrated sound system and amazing security
features,’ Delphine declared.
The official tour began and stretched from a basement
swimming pool, gym and wine cellar right up through the
floors above and a bewildering parade of vast empty rooms
and high-tech bathrooms.
Delphine started to look a shade anxious at Gwenna’s con-
tinuing silence. ‘The mews house at the rear has staff accom-
modation and garaging. Now let me show you the garden,
which I believe is of special interest to you. It’s large and shel-
tered and south-facing.’
‘Please excuse me for a few minutes…er, I need to call
your boss.’ Gwenna squeezed the words from her dry mouth
and retreated into one of the lower rooms to fumble through
her bag until she located the card Angelo had given her. As
she punched out the number on her mobile she blinked and
shook her head several times.
The minute she heard his voice she burst into speech. ‘It’s
Gwenna. I’m sorry to disturb you.’
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Angelo almost smiled and gave his PA a wave of dismis-
sal. ‘Not at all,
‘It’s just you said you’d sort out accommodation, and I’m
being shown this house and I don’t understand. It’s a stonking
great enormous mansion with eight bedrooms!’
Angelo spun round in his office chair to enjoy a view of
the Manhattan skyline. ‘All the properties that I use must
enjoy three essentials—the maximum space, privacy and
‘Yes, but a house that must be worth millions is utterly
insane in these circumstances unless…er… You’re not
with me, are you?’ Gwenna gasped in
an appalled tone. That was the sole explanation for such ex-
travagant expenditure that made sense to her.
Silence hummed at the other end of the line. Angelo was
gritting his even white teeth. She might have the grace of a
gazelle but she also had the diplomacy of a rampaging
elephant. Didn’t she know
about him at all? Had not
even the mildest curiosity stirred her into surfing the internet
or checking out the gossip pages? He didn’t
or live-in arrangements.
‘Naturally, I’m not planning to move in,’ he murmured
with deflating cool. ‘I’m sorry if that’s a disappointment.’
‘Oh, my goodness, no!’ Gwenna asserted at a much more
cheerful pitch, quite impervious to the presence of the snub
she was delivering. ‘We wouldn’t suit each other at all. But
that doesn’t explain the house when we won’t last five minutes
together. All this trouble and expense is so unnecessary.’
Angelo’s eyes flashed tawny-gold. ‘Perhaps you would
like me to take you to some cheap hotel that hires out rooms
by the hour!’
Gwenna bit down on her ready tongue. She was shocked
to realise that she was trembling. Honesty obviously didn’t
pay with him, she reflected uneasily. She had made him angry
and she knew that wasn’t a good idea. She dared not say what
she had almost said for fear of provoking him even more. But,
in her opinion, the fancy trappings of a house in Chelsea
would not alter the nature of the sexual transaction he had
offered her and if a cheap hotel got the wretched business over
with quickly she would have been the last to complain. False
pride was not one of her problems.
‘If it is my wish, you will live in a stonking great mansion
even if it is only for five minutes. Is that understood?’Angelo
enquired in a chilling tone of finality.
‘Yes,’ she conceded in a voice wiped clean of any expres-
sion or life.
‘I have work to do. I’ll see you when I get back to London.’
Angelo set down the phone. He was furious with her. He had
expected her to be overjoyed with the house. It had an award-
winning garden. He had
selected it from his
property holdings. When had he ever made that much effort
for a woman?
Gwenna rejoined her guide and walked out into the beau-
tiful garden, an oasis of peace and sunlight right in the centre
of a huge city. Her eyes were stinging. She was all shaken up
by that conversation with Angelo. She knew that she would
not make the mistake of phoning him again. As far as he was
concerned she had no rights and no opinions worth hearing
that did not match his own. She would not make the mistake
of forgetting that in the future.
Her next port of call with Delphine was the luxury pet hotel
where a booking had already been made for Piglet’s benefit.
The underfloor heating, miniature bed, webcam and the
promise of a daily photo and bulletin about her pet made little
impression on Gwenna. She explained that she would only be
making occasional use of the facilities. Piglet would be exiled
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only when Angelo was around and, going by Delphine’s en-
couraging comments on her employer’s schedule, Angelo was
much too busy to be around that often.
One week later, her eyes bright with extreme tension, Gwenna
contemplated her imminent engagement at three with Angelo
and its probable conclusion. A late lunch and then? Blocking
out that intimidating thought-train, she studied her reflection
in the vast hall mirror.
Her shift dress was white piped with black, tailored to a
perfect fit and strikingly elegant. It had a famous designer
label, just like all the other garments picked by the fashion
consultant who had had the task of kitting Gwenna out with
a fabulous new wardrobe. In truth, Gwenna barely recog-
nised herself after her dutiful morning visit to a beauty salon.
Her honey-blonde mane of waves had been straightened into
a sleek glossy fall, her face expertly made up and her
eyebrows ruthlessly waxed into perfect curves. She thought
she bore a striking resemblance to a doll with big blue eyes
and an artificially full mouth.
She had always happily gone for the natural look, choosing
comfort and practicality over style. Her use of cosmetics had
encompassed a touch of mascara and lipstick on special oc-
casions. But Angelo had plunged her into the world of fashion
and beauty in which her looks were all that mattered—and she
was discovering that that was her equivalent of hell. She found
it very hard to walk in flimsy high heels. She absolutely
loathed the fake fingernails and felt hugely uncomfortable
wearing white because she was convinced that she would
brush against something and soil it. Even so, not a word of
complaint had passed her raspberry-tinted lips; she had
learned her lesson during that single voluntary phone call to
Angelo Riccardi. He wasn’t interested in her personal pref-
erences or her physical comfort. All the effort and expense that
was being expended on her immaculate grooming was essen-
‘The car’s here.’The housekeeper opened the front door and
ushered Gwenna out. It was only forty-eight hours since she
had moved into the house and she still felt very much like a
guest staying in a top-flight hotel. Her new home had been fur-
nished, fully equipped and staffed without any input from her.
Gwenna slid into the waiting limo. The parlous state of her
nerves offended her pride. But how did Angelo Riccardi
expect her to eat when she was presumably destined to
provide the evening entertainment without so much as a dress
rehearsal? When her phone rang she very nearly leapt a foot
in the air.
It was Angelo. ‘It looks as though I’m not going to make
it back in time,’ he informed her grimly. ‘The air traffic con-
trollers here are calling a one-day strike.’
Gwenna blinked. ‘Oh, dear…’
. I’m sorry, I was very much looking forward
to seeing you,’ Angelo grated, striving not to yield to the sus-
picion that her mild response lacked any note of dissatisfac-
tion at his news. ‘I’ll call when I have more information.’
Gwenna told the chauffeur to take her to Piglet’s pet hotel.
As they sat in the heavy lunchtime traffic she couldn’t help
picturing Angelo’s lean, darkly handsome face, hard with
impatience. His compelling image was stuck in her mind like
a fixture and she couldn’t push it out again. She realised that
she was being torn in two by very different reactions: a sharp
and shocking sense of unexpected disappointment, accompa-
nied by a helpless sense of relief. She was startled by that stab
of regret. For goodness’ sake, what was the matter with her?
Okay, he was incredibly gorgeous and insanely fascinating in
the same dangerous way that a sleek man-eating tiger would
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be. But in terms of compassion and decency Angelo Riccardi
was an absolute bastard. Knowing that, how could she
possibly respond to him on any level?
Her phone rang again and she tensed—but it wasn’t
Angelo; this time it was Toby. ‘I tried to catch you at home
and got your stepmother instead. Digging info out of her was
not easy. Since when did you move to London and get into a
relationship with some guy I’ve never even heard of?’
Gwenna winced. ‘I only moved this week…and, er, the re-
lationship is very new.’
‘Not to mention sudden and impulsive and that is most
unlike you. It can only be a wild passion—and about time too!’
Toby told her cheerfully. ‘Look, I’m flying in tomorrow for a
meeting with a new client and I’d love to see you in the evening.
We could go to a club. I could do with a chill-out session.’
Gwenna beamed. ‘I’d love that too. Will you be staying long?’
‘No. I have to go back to Germany to tie up loose ends on
the park project.’
Comforted by the prospect of seeing Toby again, Gwenna
went into the pet hotel with a spring in her step. Even though
they had only been parted the night before, Piglet was as
ecstatic to see his mistress as she was to see him. Having per-
suaded him into eating, she played with him and took him out
for a walk. She was grateful to have a task to devote her
energies to, for her recent period of idleness had made time
hang heavy on her hands. Her plan to take the little dog home
with her again was disrupted when the chauffeur came inside
to pass on a message he had received on the car phone: Angelo
would meet her at the same exclusive restaurant for an early
dinner instead. Quite unprepared for the news that Angelo had
successfully evaded being delayed abroad for the rest of the
day, Gwenna was cast into renewed panic…
* * *
Having moved metaphoric mountains to overcome a major
hitch in his travel schedule, Angelo was still in aggressive
single-minded mode, energy pumping through him in an ad-
renalin-charged flow. Events had conspired to keep him out
of the country longer than he had hoped and his impatience
to see Gwenna had a raw edge that was unfamiliar to him.
‘Miss Hamilton has arrived, boss,’ Franco, his chief of
security, approached Angelo’s table to murmur.
Angelo picked up on the note of admiration and soft ripple
of comment and lifted heads that accompanied Gwenna’s
passage through the restaurant. At first glance, her stunning
beauty held his appreciative gaze. Yet, equally quickly, he re-
gretted the changes he saw: he had liked the luxuriant waves
in her hair and the unadorned glow of her skin. The artificial
polish of perfection, however, had already taken a beating.
Her shiny blonde mane of hair was wind-tossed and she had
a set of clearly defined muddy little dog paw-prints stamped
on the front of her dress. He rose to greet her with a smile that
bore little of his usual sardonic reserve.
Mesmerised by the potent dark allure of his lean bronzed
face, Gwenna could not drag her attention from him. When
that smile slashed his wide sensual mouth he was staggeringly
handsome, indeed nothing short of breathtaking. Ten out of
ten women would appreciate him at such a moment, she
assured herself hurriedly. That she should notice him too was
par for the course. Had Toby been in the vicinity she was con-
vinced she would not have registered that Angelo even
existed. Her face pink with self-consciousness, she dropped
down into the chair pulled out for her occupancy.
‘I didn’t think you’d make it back today at all,’ she confided,
noticing that the table was set well back from the other diners
to create an exclusion zone of greater privacy for their benefit.
Scorching golden eyes locked to hers and stole the very air
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from her lungs. ‘I wanted to be with you and when I want
something I stop at nothing to get it.’
Detaching her gaze from his, Gwenna lowered her head.
Now she felt hot all over and there was a tightness low in her
tummy at the unmistakable awareness of his meaning and the
high voltage sexual charge that he made no attempt to hide.
‘Is that your recipe for success?’
‘That would be too predictable for me. I choose my battles,
As champagne was poured she grasped her glass, sipped
steadily through the effervescent bubbles tickling her nose and
studied the menu with fevered determination. He began to talk
to her about Paris and she was intrigued by the discovery that
he was an unexpectedly brilliant storyteller, capable of
drawing an amusing picture with a handful of words.
Enthralled, she listened and drank more than she ate; before
dinner, she had shared a bar of chocolate with Piglet. As the
champagne stole away her remaining discomfiture she was
happy to let herself be entertained.
‘Are you not eating?’ Angelo enquired.
‘I’m not hungry.’
Except for you
, a little voice whispered
inside her head, shocking her with that instinctive message
that rebelled against everything she had believed about her
nature. But it was true: fascination had taken a powerful hold
of her and she had shut out the voice of common sense that
usually kept her feet on the ground. Even though she had sup-
pressed that initial reckless thought she still found it almost
impossible to break the potent hold of his dark golden eyes.
Soon she was lost in her admiration of the ebony luxuriance
of his lashes, the smooth olive planes of his hard cheekbones
above the blue-black roughened skin of his jaw line and the
pure masculine beauty of his wide sculpted mouth. In the
same way she could not resist the exhilarating zing of aware-
ness in the atmosphere.
Every fibre of his lean, powerful body on sexual alert, Angelo
thrust his plate away. Finally he had her full attention and his
predatory reaction was instinctive: to take immediate advantage.
He reached for her hand. ‘Let’s go…’ he urged huskily.
‘But we haven’t finished,’ she framed shakily.
Angelo used his strength to inexorably tug her upright. His
smouldering gaze gripped hers with a sensual force that made
her knees tremble. ‘We haven’t even begun,
The buzz of conversation around them died. Gwenna was
conscious of the stares as Angelo escorted her out, an arm pos-
sessively closed to her slim back. Her colour was high, her
legs as weak as twigs. Without warning she found herself
wondering if he had been with any other woman while he’d
been away and a hollow sensation filled her tummy. He tucked
her into the limo, got in beside her and pulled her to him. A
heartbeat later the hungry driving heat of his mouth was on
hers and a blaze as hot as an indoor sun was coursing through
her tremulous length. It hurt not to breathe, but it would have
hurt more to do without the gloriously erotic plunge of his
tongue and the sweet flood of sensation he unleashed. A vital
force was energising her body to a pitch of response so intense
it almost hurt.
He released her lips, leaving her gasping for air and yet
stricken at that loss of contact. Her bemused blue eyes focused
on him again.
‘You’re amazing,’ Angelo purred. ‘I knew you would be.’
Her lashes dropped to shadow her shaken gaze. In a matter
of moments he had rewritten her knowledge of herself. Her
body was crying out for him and she was shocked. Chafed by
the lace cups of her bra, her tender nipples were tingling. The
prickling throb between her slender thighs painted her face
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
pink. She wanted him. He had made her want him. Of course,
a few glasses of champagne had loosened her inhibitions, she
told herself defensively. But wasn’t that a good thing? Angelo
Riccardi had offered her the devil’s bargain, and she had sur-
rendered choice when she agreed to share his bed in return
for the charges against her father being dropped. Wasn’t it
wiser to make the best of a bad situation rather than try to
resist the inevitable? And wouldn’t asking if she was currently
the only woman in his life demean her? Give him the impres-
sion that she cared?
Angelo could feel her trembling and his very sensitivity to
that fact annoyed him in the same way that so many things
had in recent weeks. Disturbed nights when he had tossed and
turned and burned for her had presumably affected his mood.
The concept of deferred satisfaction was not for him. He
wasn’t used to waiting for a woman. But he wasn’t an animal
either, was he? She was a virgin and as highly strung as one
of his pedigree racehorses. Gone, he could not help noticing,
was the happy aura of serenity she had exuded at their first
meeting. The brutal pressure he had utilised had left its mark.
But why should that bother him? As Donald Hamilton’s
daughter, she had been raised in the cosy comfort of middle-
class respectability, he reminded himself grimly. The discov-
ery that the world could be a much more challenging place
would be a character-building exercise for her.
In the hall of the Chelsea house she gave him a swift un-
certain glance from eyes as blue as the china his mother had
once collected. He closed a hand to hers in an imprisoning
gesture. ‘You haunt my dreams,’ he ground out with a harsh
laugh. ‘You could be seriously bad for my health.’
Gwenna was feeling slightly dizzy from the champagne.
Her mind was full of muzzy, disjointed thoughts, but the bitter
light in his brooding dark eyes twisted something painfully
inside her. Without understanding or conscious decision she
lifted a hand to trace his aggressive jaw line in a soothing
motion. Then startled by that extraordinary prompting, belat-
edly aware that he was equally surprised as questioning gold
drenched the darkness of his gaze and his ebony brows
pleated, she froze in confusion.
‘Per amor di Dio,’
Angelo breathed roughly, cupping her
soft cheeks between long brown fingers. ‘Right now I think
I could die from wanting you,
He tasted her lips with a searing sweetness that sent her
every barrier crashing down. She didn’t want to think, she
refused to think when he bent down and scooped her up into
his arms as though she weighed nothing to carry her up the
handsome staircase. But fear of being seen prompted her to
mutter uneasily, ‘The housekeeper—?’
‘Off duty until we call.’ Angelo claimed a passionate kiss
that silenced her.
minutes later, Gwenna caught an accidental glimpse of
herself in the cheval mirror in her bedroom. Dismayed, rudely
recalled to reality, she stared at her hectically flushed cheeks
and swollen mouth. She looked like a shameless hussy. Air
cooled her spine as Angelo ran down the zip on her dress and
inched it off her shoulders.
‘I feel like a slut…’ she gasped strickenly.
Angelo spun her round, simmering dark eyes pinned to her
unhappy face. ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,
,’ he censured. ‘I want you and you want me.
What could be more natural than the desire to make love?’
A half-dozen tart retorts hovered on the edge of Gwenna’s
mind but she kept them there, consciously protecting herself
from a pointless outburst that would only upset her more. She
was having an affair, nothing more or less, she told herself
squarely. Hadn’t she always been a very practical person?
Flights of fancy and histrionics were not for her. She would
live only in the present, taking each day as it came.
Angelo smoothed her honey-blonde hair back from her
troubled brow in a motion so gentle she blinked in surprise.
‘I saw you and I wanted you before you even spoke. One look
and that was that.’
‘But that’s crazy.’
, I would have moved heaven and earth to bring
us to this moment,’ he drawled in a driven undertone. ‘Being
desired to that degree should be a source of pride to you.’
Disconcerted by that statement, she blinked. ‘We…we
don’t think the same…’
Angelo drew her to him with strong hands, a blaze of heat
in his hungry gaze. ‘I wouldn’t want you if you were like me.’
He claimed her luscious mouth and she trembled again,
made weak by the hunger he could awaken so easily. While she
struggled to catch her breath he stripped off the dress and lifted
her onto the bed, peeling off her shoes and, more slowly and
provocatively, then her lace-topped stockings. He punctuated
each and every action with the drugging demand of his lips on
hers. So roused was she by this treatment that when he at-
tempted to step back she automatically put her arms out to
prevent him and stretched up to find that taunting, teasing
mouth of his for herself. An earthy laugh rasped low in his
throat as he toyed with her full lower lip and let his tongue
plunge deep in an erotically sweet invasion that left her gasping.
Gwenna lay on the bed where he had put her, her senses
singing and quivering. Clad only in a flimsy white bra and
panties, however, she soon began feeling horribly exposed and
shy and all too shamefully aware that
back to her, desperate for another kiss. She watched as he cast
aside his jacket and his tie in a series of easy fluid movements.
Impatient tanned fingers moved to release the buttons on his
shirt. The fabric edges parted to display the sleek bronzed
expanse of his muscular chest and taut flat abdomen. Her
tension went up another notch.
‘Relax.’ Registering her apprehension in the evasive flicker
of her eyes, Angelo endeavoured to employ a soothing tone
for the first time in his life. ‘You look incredibly lovely.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Gwenna shot him a reluctant glance. He was down to black
silk boxers that revealed more than they concealed of his bold
state of arousal. It was a view that shocked her and she hastily
looked away, her heart racing like an express train. Her tension
acquired an edge of panic, for suddenly it seemed unbeliev-
able to her that she was actually about to get into a bed with
a man she barely knew. ‘I could really do with another drink.’
‘On the cabinet, beside you.’
Gwenna, who had hoped he would have to go off and get
her a drink from somewhere, looked in dismay at the bottle
of champagne and the glasses sitting in readiness. Angelo
strolled round the bed and uncorked the bottle. Golden liquid
foamed down into a delicate flute. He extended it with reluc-
tance. ‘You really don’t need liquid anaesthesia.’
Refusing to look at him and edging away, Gwenna
hugged her knees with one arm while taking a very hearty
gulp of champagne.
‘I understand that you’re nervous—’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Gwenna gritted over the edge of the
‘I’ll make it good,
,’ Angelo swore softly. ‘In
fact I’ll make the experience addictive.’
‘You couldn’t possibly.’
Angelo sank down on the bed with all the panache of a tiger
stretching out in the sunshine. ‘I think that someone’s been
telling you old wives’ tales. It won’t hurt.’
Gwenna flushed to the roots of her hair. ‘What would you
know about it?’
‘You may be my first virgin but I have intelligence,
common sense and exceptional proficiency in certain fields.’
Angelo loosened her hold on the champagne flute and eased
her firmly back into his arms. ‘Don’t let alcohol take the edge
off what promises to be a very pleasurable event.’
At the instant of contact with the muscular warmth of his
lean, powerful body, she shivered violently. ‘You’re all ego—’
‘No, all confidence.’ Gazing down at her with glittering
dark eyes of purpose, Angelo skimmed a casually possessive
hand over the pale, slim expanse of her thigh. ‘Trust me. I’m
not a clumsy or selfish lover.’
Little tremors rocking her from the intimate feel of his lean
fingers on the taut smoothness of her thigh, Gwenna looked
up at him with bemused blue eyes.
It should have
been a laughable request. But she was making the extraordi-
nary discovery that she was ready and willing to be convinced
even if she could not understand why that should be.
Angelo kissed her and she stopped wondering and trying to
think her way round unfamiliar and complicated corners.
Wanton craving took over. He unclipped her bra and the cups
fell away revealing smooth white delicate curves crowned by
pouting pink buds. ‘You’re ravishing,’he groaned appreciatively.
Lowering her down onto the pillows, he rubbed the
luscious crests to even greater prominence with skilful thumbs
and finally laved the straining peaks with the tantalising
warmth of his mouth.
Gwenna was catapulted from a moment of extreme shyness
over her nakedness into an infinitely more shocking surge of
pleasure. She shut her eyes tight at the height of it. Her tender
nipples throbbed beneath his administrations while a feverish
damp heat stirred between her thighs.
‘You can equal my passion at every step.’ As she tried to
catch her breath and emerge from the sexual spell he had cast
she looked up to find Angelo surveying her with unashamed
‘It means nothing,’ she protested, fighting to detach herself
from the urgent messages of her awakened body.
He turned his attention back to the inviting fullness of her
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
small breasts, coaxing the rosy points to a peak of throbbing
sensitivity that made her hips writhe against the mattress. ‘It
means we’re wonderfully compatible,
It scared Gwenna that what she was feeling could over-
whelm all control. But she still could not resist the pleasure.
At some stage in the breathless fervent heat he evoked her last
garment was removed. Expert fingers feathered through the
silky blonde down covering her mound to explore the coral-
pink lushness beneath. He toyed with the delicate pearl at the
apex and she whimpered helplessly, her back arching in sensual
shock from the instant onslaught of her own intense response.
‘Tell me that you want me,’ Angelo commanded thickly,
ceasing his tantalising caresses when she was utterly enslaved
by her craving for that sweet, drowning pleasure.
Her dazed blue eyes struggled to focus on him.
‘I have to hear you say it,
,’ Angelo admitted
in a fierce undertone, his hot tawny-golden gaze welded ex-
pectantly to her lovely face.
There was an unbearably tight feeling of yearning low in
her pelvis. She shifted up skittishly against a hair-roughened
masculine thigh, absolutely desperate for his touch, controlled
by instincts far stronger than she had ever imagined. ‘I
Angelo studied her with sizzling determination. ‘Stop
acting the victim. Tell me the truth.’
There was not an atom of softness in that lean, darkly
handsome visage and the flaming high of anticipation he had
induced came as close to physical pain as any she had ever
encountered. Tears of fierce shame and angry frustration
washed the backs of her eyes. ‘All right!’ she cried, despis-
ing herself for yielding. ‘I want you!’
Just as quickly that frightening instant of forced self-dis-
covery was forgotten again beneath his expert touch. The
dark, exquisite pleasure of his seduction made her jerk and
moan and cling. And she didn’t care, she really didn’t care
about anything but that he should continue holding her and
teasing her with an erotic skill that made her feel as if she
could fly as high and bright as the sun.
At the exact instant when the excitement threatened to
become an indescribable torment, Angelo shifted over her and
slid between her thighs. She felt the iron-hard length of his
sex push against her tender entrance and, although she was
frantic, all keyed up with eagerness for the ultimate act, she
froze with nerves and the conviction that he was much too
well endowed for her.
‘Don’t tense,’ Angelo urged grittily.
Gwenna lay as still as a sacrifice, eyes firmly closed. He
stole a sexy, savage kiss that lifted her lashes and he gave her
a slashing smile of challenge in reward. Coming up on his
knees, he dragged a pillow across the bed and eased it below
her hips. ‘It’ll be sublime,’ he swore in a roughened undertone.
The slick, hot heat of him forged a passage into the tender
depths of her damp, resisting flesh. He felt massive. A
startled moan of discomfort was wrenched from her.
Immediately he stopped, apologised, swearing in ferocious
Italian below his breath.
Gwenna looked up at him with accusing eyes. Fierce strain
was etched in his lean, strong face along with an astonishing
hunger that made her feel oddly empowered. She was at a
screaming pitch of nervous anticipation, both wanting and
not wanting, burning quivers of need still shimmying through
her slender frame because he had roused her to a point
Scorching dark eyes met hers with frowning force. ‘You’re
very tight. We could try this in another position—’
it!’ she gasped in wild embarrassment.
He was skilful and smooth, but that slow, deep plunge into
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her silken softness and the final piercing of the barrier of her
virginity caused fleeting tears to well into her eyes. He stayed
very still then, allowing her to adjust to the invasion. ‘I’m
sorry…I hated hurting you.’
Ripples of heat and stimulation pulsed from the hot, secret
heart of her again. Newly sensitised, she quivered, her body
angling up to his in an invitation that spoke louder than any
words. With a ragged laugh of gratification he moved again
and a whimper of excitement escaped her because he felt
amazing. Her heart began to hammer against her ribs.
Exquisite sensation built and the knot of ravenous need in her
was tightened and tightened as he set up a raw, sensual
rhythm. Delirious with pleasure, she abandoned herself to his
dark, driving passion. At the height of a shattering climax she
screamed in ecstasy before she tumbled down and down and
down in a release from her physical body that was so powerful
that she was not quite sure she was conscious for several
Angelo kissed her and she stiffened, for once the fog of
pleasure had seeped away she was gripped by a stark sense
of shame and denial. She felt horribly emotional and tearful.
How could she have let herself enjoy it? How could she have
let herself down like that? Where was her pride? She was at-
tempting to block out those disturbing thoughts when she
registered that Angelo was removing her wrist-watch.
‘What are you doing?’ she mumbled unevenly, lying as still
as a corpse under him as if to underline the fact that he was
holding her entrapped.
Impervious to the hint intended, Angelo murmured lazily,
‘Giving you a present,
Her smooth brow indented. ‘A present?’
She lifted her hand to examine the new watch in shock and
dismay. Gold, diamonds, a famous designer name. Painful
early memories of similar expensive gifts surfaced. Revulsion
ripped through her and she struggled with desperate fingers
to take it off again but the intricate clasp defeated her. ‘No,
thanks, I don’t want it. Look…how do you get this off?’
Angelo rested his stubborn jaw on the heel of his hand and
surveyed her with deceptively sleepy tawny eyes. ‘I want you
to wear it—’
‘What for?’ Her Delft-blue eyes flashed into direct contact
with his narrowed gaze for the first time and the angry distaste
etched there startled him. ‘So that you can kid yourself that
you’re really a kind, generous guy? Or so that you can belittle
me by paying me in jewellery for what I just did with you?
Well, I may be stuck living in your stonking great status
symbol of a mansion and forced to wear the fancy clothes that
you paid for but—’ Gwenna had to pause just to draw breath.
Angelo encouraged, outraged that his generosity
could be twisted into an insult and rejected.
‘I refuse to wear jewellery you give me.’
Angelo, confounded by her behaviour and furious with her,
finally released her from his weight. ‘You will if it pleases me.
Consider it part of the role you took on of your own accord.’
‘And do I have that role all to myself?’ The question flew
off Gwenna’s tongue before she even realised that she
intended to ask it. But just as quickly she accepted that she
had to know, she simply
to know, whether or not she was
one of a crowd.
His stunning dark gaze veiled; he was a veteran at facing
down awkward questions from the women in his life. ‘No
Gwenna read only one meaning into that unrevealing
response. And she felt as if he’d punched a hole right through
her and sent the ground beneath her feet crashing away. He
wasn’t even willing to be faithful to her? That new knowledge
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was like a jagged iceberg settling in her stomach and his unapolo-
getic attitude was a humiliating slap in the face. How much
lower could he make her sink? She was appalled by his attitude.
Distaste sliced through her. ‘Then, I suppose what we just
did is the equivalent of a one-night stand.’
His lean bronzed face was grim as he pulled himself up
against the pillows. ‘I don’t do those,’ Angelo growled with
‘Perhaps I can only face thinking about this arrangement
one day at a time.’ Gwenna had already been stripped of vir-
tually everything she valued. Everything he said merely
heightened the frightening sense that she was no longer in
control of her own life.
Suddenly all the bewildered misery and anger and hurt
she had been holding back just broke free of restraint and
overflowed. ‘For goodness’ sake, I don’t even like you! You’ve
taken my home, my garden, my very history from me and
marooned me in a city where I don’t belong. You’ve even
taken Piglet!’ she launched in a wild, almost incoherent surge
of condemnation, scrambling out of bed to shoot into the
bathroom at speed and noisily bolt the door behind her.
Angelo heard her sob and he sprang out of bed. Outrage
powering him, he pulled on his boxers. So, let her cry, get it
out of her system. She was overwrought. He always gave
women in tears the widest possible berth.
I don’t even like you!
‘Gwenna…’ Angelo reached the bathroom door without
having taken a conscious decision to move in that direction
and knocked once. ‘Open this door.’
Her eyes wet, Gwenna sucked in a ragged breath and
turned on the bath taps to drown him out. Womanising louse,
all sweet-talk one moment, ice-cold, heartless and utterly
immoral the next. How could she have just sleepwalked into
becoming the mistress of such a man?
Angelo rapped on the door again. ‘I want to know you’re
okay. And I want to know
Blocking him out because she had absolutely nothing left
to say to him, Gwenna slid into the warm bathwater. The hint
of an intimate ache between her thighs made her pale and,
reaching hurriedly for the soap, she washed with helpless
urgency. Tears inched down her quivering cheeks and she
dashed them away with a furious hand. Why was she crying?
She never, ever cried!
Angelo tried the handle one more time and then pulled on
his clothes in haste. He kicked the door at the weakest point
beneath the lock and it burst open, slamming back against the
wall. She was in the bath, drenched blue eyes enormous with
fright, honey-blonde waves of hair cloaking her and trailing
in the water.
‘I’m sorry if I scared you but you should have unlocked
the door,’ Angelo murmured with measured quietness. ‘I was
Trembling, Gwenna stared at him, absorbing the sight of
his shirt hanging loose, disclosing a muscular wedge of
bronzed hair-roughened chest. Shock was rippling through
her. He had called her bluff. He had kicked in the door. She
couldn’t believe he had done that. She tipped up her chin to
snatch a glance at his lean strong face and then hurriedly
jerked her head away, out of breath and more tense than ever.
Angelo crouched down by the side of the bath. ‘Look at
‘Do you have to be so intimidating?’ she muttered tautly,
sitting knees to chin in the water, naked and cornered.
‘I’m trying bloody hard not to be!’ Angelo flared back at
her. ‘Stop cringing…you don’t have to be afraid of me.’
Gwenna dropped her head. How could she not be afraid?
‘I would never harm you.’
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Gwenna thought about the kind of harm that had a more
lasting effect than mere bruises.
Frustration was roaring through Angelo. She wasn’t listen-
ing to him. She often gave him the impression that she was
only giving him part of her attention. Not in bed though, he
reminded himself with grim satisfaction. But the rest of the
time? Either he got the feeling she was holding back or she
was lost in her own little world and he didn’t like either sen-
sation. ‘I want to understand why you blew up over the watch.’
Gwenna studied the clear water lapping round her legs
and compressed her full ripe mouth. ‘Dad was always giving
stuff like that to my mother.’
His brows pleated. ‘So? He was her husband.’
Gwenna was surprised enough to look up again. She had
forgotten that he had moved down to her level and she collided
unwarily with lustrous dark eyes the colour of autumn. A
very dangerous man with strikingly beautiful eyes that made
her heartbeat race. She shut her eyes tight in self-reproach.
What was the matter with her?
‘Gwenna,’Angelo chided huskily. ‘I thought women loved
to talk about themselves. What’s wrong with you?’
‘My father wasn’t married to my mother,’ she admitted flatly.
Angelo frowned. ‘I don’t follow.’
Gwenna reddened. ‘Mum had an on-off affair with Dad
that dragged on for years and years. He was married to his first
‘I wasn’t aware that your father had been married twice.’
‘Yeah, well, why would you be?’ Gwenna was mortified by
the need to explain the unpalatable facts. ‘When Mum fell
pregnant with me she thought he would leave his wife, who
couldn’t have children. But he didn’t. Sometimes we didn’t see
Dad for months on end and then he’d come visiting with ex-
travagant pressies. My mother liked things like that…I don’t.’
‘But your father must’ve raised you…you have his name,’
Angelo pointed out flatly.
‘Mum died when I was eight and I went to live with Dad
and he adopted me. His first wife wasn’t happy about that and
‘I had no idea.’ Angelo was furious that the confidential
report he had had done on Hamilton had omitted such highly
relevant details. He was astonished by the reality that her
mother appeared to have been yet another one of the older
man’s sadly deluded female victims. But no sooner had that
angle occurred to Angelo than he reminded himself that she
Donald Hamilton’s only child with the taint of his
blood in her veins.
Gwenna watched him rise to his full imposing height, the
sleek, hard planes of his darkly handsome features shuttered
and cool. She assumed that the story she had just told him had
made him think less of her. A lot of people had despised her
mother for having an affair with another woman’s husband
and giving birth to his child. Taunted and teased at primary
school, Gwenna had had few friends. The locals had ex-
pressed their scorn and disapproval by excluding Donald
Hamilton’s mistress and child from community activities.
In the uneasy silence, Angelo squashed the urge to ask
further personal questions. He did not
personal in relation-
ships. He kept it simple. He strolled out of the bathroom.
don’t even like you.
That assertion rang clear as a bell in his
head all over again, infuriating him. Since when had he cared
whether he was liked or not? But then women made a real
effort to please him. They were deferential, flatter-
? The suspicion revolted him. Couldn’t he handle
a challenge? Wasn’t he man enough to handle what could just
be the very first honest woman he had met? At the last possible
moment, Angelo paused in the doorway. Tugging a fleecy
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towel off the rail he shook it out and strode back to extend it
to her. ‘Stop worrying about things.’
‘I’m not worried.’
‘You’re stressed out of your mind,’ Angelo corrected.
In an abrupt movement she scrambled up, water streaming
off her slender curves in rivulets, and accepted the embrace
of the towel. She felt manipulated, controlled, managed into
doing what he wanted her to do. He lifted her out of the bath.
‘Don’t,’ she dared, drawing hurriedly back from him to
firmly anchor the towel beneath her arms.
Gleaming eyes surveyed her from below a lush fringe of
black lashes and she could feel her skin tightening and burning
over her cheeks. Her lips felt full and moist and she imagined
and immediately craved the scorching heat and pressure of his
mouth on hers. She went rigid in rejection but still cruel sen-
sation leapt and danced over her, wreaking havoc with her
body. She was madly conscious and thoroughly ashamed of
the straining prominence of her nipples and the wicked
dampness of the tender place between her thighs.
‘You see, you may not like me,
murmured silkily, ‘but all I have to do is carry you back to
that bed and you’re one hundred per cent mine.’
Gwenna was white with humiliation and self-loathing and
she reacted with anger to that derisive gibe. ‘I’m not yours and
I never will be because you can’t touch me where it matters,’
she launched back furiously. ‘I don’t care what you think of
me, or what you say or do with anyone else either, because I
gave my heart a long time ago to someone worth ten of you!’
As Gwenna spun away to the vanity basin Angelo closed
a lean, strong hand to a slim white shoulder to turn her back.
Incredulous dark eyes flashed down at her. ‘Are you saying
what I think you’re saying? You’re telling me that you’re in
love with another man?’ he pressed in a raw undertone.
Slowly she nodded, savouring the anger she had roused and
yet disturbed by that ungenerous response. Being mean, ar-
gumentative or vengeful had not come naturally to her until
she had met him. The reactions Angelo Riccardi incited were
as foreign to her nature as the emotional highs and lows she
was experiencing. ‘I don’t like the way you make me behave.’
don’t like?’Angelo framed in a dark, deep voice redolent
of thunder in a confined space. ‘
! Who is this guy?’
Gwenna tilted her chin. ‘You don’t have the right to ask
me that question.’
Angelo’s lean, shapely hands clenched into potent fists. He
did not lose his temper. He never, ever lost it and prided
himself on his rock-solid self-control. But a rage like a
burning blinding surge of darkness was rising up inside him.
Barely able to credit her answer, he strode into the bedroom
and swung forcefully back to face her. ‘On the contrary, I have
every right. I set no boundaries on our arrangement.’
‘You wanted my body and you’ve got it. You didn’t ask for
and you’re certainly not getting anything else!’ Gwenna
‘His name,’ Angelo framed in a tone of ice.
‘None of your business.’
‘I expect compliance.’Angelo fixed his tie and reached for
his jacket. She was hyper-aware of his every move.
‘What I think and what I feel is my business,’ Gwenna told
‘Your attitude offends me,’Angelo delivered with lethal cool.
Her fingernails dug stinging crescents into her palms. The
silence was awesome and terrifying in its totality. ‘Ditto.’
Angelo raised an ebony brow. ‘
Non ci capisco niente?
‘Me too…your attitude offends me,’ she traded quietly, a
tight, fearful feeling trapped somewhere inside her.
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Angelo settled his chillingly intelligent gaze on her. ‘We
have an agreement and you won’t walk away from it until I
choose to set you free. You can’t insult me into dumping you.’
‘Is that what I’m doing?’
But Angelo didn’t answer her. He walked out without another
word. Snatching in a sustaining breath, she studied the door with
the busted lock. Her legs feeling wobbly, she sank down on the
bed. He had gone and, instead of being over the moon, she felt
annoyed and confused and…strangely abandoned. Had he left
to take advantage of more entertaining and compliant female
company? Her small white teeth gritted. She hated him with a
passion. She had not thought it possible to hate anyone so much.
Indeed she had not realised that she had it in her to loathe any
living being with such venom. That he should refuse even to be
faithful was the ultimate put-down. She was glad she had come
clean and told him that she was in love with someone else. That
had offended him. How dared he talk to her as if she
to him? How dared he? Yet when he came close or touched her
she couldn’t say no to him and he knew it. Indeed he knew his
own power so well he had thrown it in her face.
Hastily Gwenna stifled that disquieting train of thought.
Her attraction to him was a crude, coarse, hormonal thing that
had got the better of her self-discipline, she reasoned pain-
fully. An irrational chemical reaction. Had she contrived to lie
there like a stone statue he would’ve been a lot less keen. She
glanced down and belatedly realised that she was still wearing
the watch and that she had actually worn it in the bath. In
guilty consternation, she examined it. The water had got in
and fogged up the face. Had he noticed? She hoped he hadn’t
assumed that she had deliberately set out to damage it…
The diamond watch that swam without a lifebelt. Maybe she
would take a hammer to it next, Angelo mused, his handsome
mouth set in a bloodless line as his limo ferried him across
the city. She didn’t want anything he gave her. Nor did she
appreciate anything. Not the house, the garden, the clothes,
the fabulous lifestyle that he had created for her benefit. Yet
when had he ever made so much effort? Where, one might
have wondered, was the punishment factor in his acquisition
of his enemy’s daughter?
Eyes hot as a bonfire, Angelo knocked back a brandy and
savoured his misfortunes. Indifferent to the luxury that he
offered, she preferred dressing like a tramp and grubbing
through the soil in all weathers. He was the cruel bastard who
had marooned her in a city mansion to be waited on hand and
foot. That distance he had sensed within her? Oh, yes, there
was very good reason for that distance. Although she was
bed, it was in body rather than spirit because
she loved another man. That struck Angelo as a deeply un-
natural, distasteful and indeed outrageous state of affairs.
He was astonished at how bitter, affronted and cheated he
felt. No woman had ever had that effect on him. But then no
woman had ever regarded him as less than the main event.
Revenge was threatening to take on a twist and rebound on him.
He should ditch her, forget about her. What man would accept
the role of second best in a woman’s bed? Angelo wanted very
badly to smash something. Maybe a whole lot of somethings.
In an implacable rage he told his chauffeur to head for a night-
club. There was a hell of a lot of other women available…
The following morning, Angelo attended a board meeting.
He had had very little sleep. He had got drunk the night
before, something he had not done since he was a teenager.
Once he had learnt that his father had had a problem with
alcohol, he had been ultra careful to monitor his consumption
and he was annoyed and disturbed by his lack of discipline.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Gwenna was out in the garden when Angelo called her
The dark timbre of his deep voice vibrated down her spine
and her tummy clenched. Sensual imagery threatened to
engulf her and she tensed as though she had been slapped. No
matter how hard she policed her mind he continually forged
a bold passage into her thoughts. ‘Yes?’ she prompted tightly.
‘I’m planning to take you somewhere special tonight,’
Angelo told her smoothly.
Her bright blue eyes widened in dismay. ‘But I can’t see
Gwenna had no intention of cancelling her night out with
Toby. ‘I’m already going out. I organised it yesterday.’
-organise it.’ With difficulty Angelo haltered his temper
that was on a short fuse after the events of the past twenty-
four hours. ‘I want to see you this evening.’
‘But I can’t alter the arrangement—this particular friend
won’t be available another time.’
‘What gender is the friend?’
She stiffened. ‘I don’t have to answer that—’
‘You just did.’
‘He’s a friend…okay?’ Gwenna fired back, sudden guilt
coming at her out of nowhere, which she fiercely fought off.
How much honesty did she really owe Angelo Riccardi?
‘I’ll meet up with you, then. Give me a time, a place.’
She was aghast at that suggestion. ‘No way! I’m sorry, but
I didn’t know you were planning to see me tonight. You can’t
expect me to be available twenty-four hours a day!’
‘I’ll start tomorrow…please be reasonable.’
Unhappily, Angelo was not in a reasonable mood. Refusal
rarely came his way. Refusal in the face of his expressed dis-
pleasure had never come his way. He called Franco and in-
structed him to ensure that Gwenna was watched over from a
discreet distance. He thought he should know where she was,
what she was doing, who she was with. He did, however, have
complete trust in her. After all, she had been a virgin, which
suggested that the object of her affections was, for whatever
reasons, unattainable. On that basis, Angelo decided that there
was no reason why he should even think about the matter.
The bottom line for Angelo was that he
Gwenna Hamilton. Even angry with her, he had fallen asleep
aching for her and woken up in a worse state. He didn’t like
that. But the more she held back and refused to play by his
rules, the more determined he became to hold onto her. Was
he suffering from some knee-jerk primal reaction to the chal-
lenge she set? Whatever, he was becoming increasingly eager
for the moment when cool reason would be reinstated and he
would find her more tiresome than desirable.
been doing some research on your boyfriend,’ Toby
confided with a disapproving shake of his head over drinks
in a fashionable bar. ‘You’re seriously out of your league.’
Gwenna wrinkled her nose in reproof. ‘What happened to
‘Your friends are supposed to be honest. From what I can
understand, Angelo Riccardi makes it a mission to live up to
his bad reputation.’ Toby pushed his tobacco-brown hair off
his brow in a rueful gesture.
An unexpected current of irritation darting through her in
response to that criticism of Angelo, Gwenna folded her lips.
‘In what way?’
‘In every way. He’s a shark in business and he runs through
women like a knife through butter. I mean, what are you
playing at? You’re a softy—’
‘Perhaps Angelo brings out the concrete in me. I don’t
know why we’re talking about him—’
‘How about he’s a billionaire? You only met him a few
weeks back? He’s an urban predator and you’re a country
mouse? You have nothing in common with him. Of course I’m
concerned about you.’
‘But when I spoke to you yesterday you talked like you
approved,’ Gwenna reminded him in bewilderment. ‘You said
I needed passion in my life.’
‘Where were you last night?’
Toby grimaced. ‘I didn’t want to be the one to tell you
but—according to the newspaper I read over my breakfast—
Angelo Riccardi was partying very publicly with three fashion
models last night.’
In shock, Gwenna went very still. So awful was the pain
she couldn’t immediately speak or breathe. She wanted to
argue that Angelo had been with her the previous evening but
he had left early. In the mood he had been in, it was very
possible that he had sought out the sort of women who would
tell him how fantastic he was and swoon over a diamond
watch. Whereas she had locked herself in the bathroom, wept,
told a sad story and served him with a large bitter dollop of
home truths. No comparison, was there?
‘Don’t you read the newspapers?’ Toby sighed.
It took effort but she made a stumbling recovery. ‘Not the
sort that devote space to rumours like that.’
‘I don’t think it’s a rumour, Gwenna.’
Gwenna struggled hard to blank out what Toby had just
told her. Why should she care? Why should the news hurt so
much? And how could she be shocked when Angelo had
slickly sidestepped an opportunity to promise fidelity? Nor
could she understand her almost overwhelming urge to track
Angelo down and confront him. Indeed the incomprehen-
sible power of her reactions frankly appalled her.
‘You’re honest and loyal and you deserve better than him,’
Toby declared bracingly.
‘It’s not important. Do you think I don’t know that Angelo
and I won’t last five minutes?’ Gwenna fixed a bright smile
on her mouth, but her facial muscles felt as if they were set
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in solid cement. ‘But, hey, I’m twenty-six and I felt it was time
to take a few risks.’
But the gloss went off her evening at that point and she
couldn’t recapture it. She loved talking to Toby and she found
she would get lost in an interesting dialogue about his work,
only to have enjoyment vanish when a stab of memory pierced
her afresh. She couldn’t really think of anything but Angelo
for longer than five minutes. Her imagination kept on flashing
up horribly creative pictures of Angelo playing around with
a group of dazzling women. Time and time again she rear-
ranged her thoughts.
‘I’ll always be here for you,’ Toby swore earnestly, holding
her hand. ‘Even if I’m abroad, you can call me any time.’
Across London, Angelo was working late. He couldn’t settle,
though. He paced round his office and finally phoned Franco
to find out exactly where Gwenna was. After all, she had spent
the whole evening with her friend. An hour later, he strolled into
the chill-out room of the same club and saw Gwenna standing
with a rangy guy with floppy brown hair. Honey-blonde waves
rippling down her back, she was simply dressed in jeans and a
blue vest top. He was torn between satisfaction and annoyance;
satisfaction that she hadn’t bothered dressing up for her male
companion’s benefit and annoyance that she had totally ignored
her vast new collection of designer clothes.
An unwilling smile playing round the edges of his
handsome mouth, Angelo headed towards Gwenna and her
escort. Franco was organising a table and drinks and the club
manager was hovering at a respectful distance. In his readi-
ness to play host, Angelo felt that he was being very civilised,
very liberal. The dark mood that had powered him through-
out the day was lifting, lightening. But as his attention
lingered on Gwenna he caught the expression on her face as
she glanced up at her companion. To Angelo’s razor-sharp
gaze the loving warmth of that look was indisputable. His lean
powerful frame went rigid. It was as if something vital tore
asunder inside him and savage anger flooded into the danger-
ous gap that opened up.
Gwenna only realised that Angelo had arrived when he
closed an arm round her to say flatly, ‘Time for you to say
She twisted round and met scorching dark eyes and her heart
jumped as if someone had pushed a panic button somewhere
inside her. Resentment and excitement melded into an indis –
tinguishable whole. ‘How the heck did you know where I was?’
Angelo shifted her to one side and nodded to the older man,
who was awaiting instruction nearby. ‘Franco will see you out
to the limo. I want a word with your…
The deliberate hesitation in his reference to Toby made
Gwenna stiffen. Mental alarm bells ringing, she picked up on
the current of primitive masculine aggression Angelo exuded.
Consternation gripped her but she could not quite credit her
suspicions. ‘Angelo, for goodness’ sake—’
‘Go with Franco.’
‘Don’t you dare touch Toby!’ Gwenna gasped in a panic,
hastily stepping in front of the younger man, for the dark
menace in Angelo’s lean, strong features was unmistakable.
A savage wave of anger gripped Angelo. That she should
oppose him and put herself at risk in a ridiculous effort to
protect another man only heightened his antagonism. But a
glimpse of the apprehension in her expressive eyes snapped
him straight back into control.
‘Come home with me, then,’ he breathed tautly.
‘I’m not going any place with you.’ Yet, Gwenna still
couldn’t take her eyes off Angelo. There was a light in his bril-
liant, brooding dark eyes that held her tighter than any chain.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Slowly her attention stretched to encompass the impressive
whole. In tailored black chinos worn with a striped designer
shirt open at the neck, he looked absolutely gorgeous. As
usual she was full of wildly conflicting responses. When she
had believed he was about to thump Toby she had been terri-
fied and then madly relieved by his withdrawal. Now her
anger escalated in direct response to the fierce emotions she
had been suppressing all evening.
‘I’m Toby James…just by the way, in case anyone’s inter-
ested in knowing that,’ Toby remarked wryly, hovering and
much intrigued by the proceedings.
‘I’m not,’Angelo imparted without looking in his direction.
‘You’re just so rude…you’ve got no manners!’ Gwenna
simply exploded into speech, startling herself with that
outburst as much as she startled Angelo.
‘One model is infidelity, two models is greed, three is
hopelessly decadent,’ Toby extended in obliging explanation
for Angelo’s benefit.
Pale as milk, Gwenna refused to even look in Angelo’s di-
rection. ‘Let’s dance, Toby.’
‘I think you should have this out with Angelo…only not
because we’re attracting attention,’ Toby spelt out in a
Still ignoring him, Angelo strode forward and closed a
hand like a cast-iron anchor to Gwenna’s narrow wrist. Long,
lean fingers smoothed her delicate bones, but when she tried
to pull free he retained his hold. ‘We’re going.’
Furious pink flushed her cheeks. Had Toby not reminded
her that she was in a public place she would have screeched
back at Angelo like a harpy. But she was keen to leave and
say what she wanted to say with dignity. Chin at a pugna-
cious angle, she bade Toby goodbye and told him she’d
‘Not if I’ve got anything to do with it,’ Angelo contra-
dicted in a raw undertone as he walked her away. ‘You told
me you were out with a friend. I
‘I was out with a friend.’
‘Where did you get the idea that you could fool me?’
Angelo shot her a chilling glance. ‘Now I know you can’t be
trusted, you’ll have company everywhere you go.’
‘I can’t believe you have the nerve to talk like this to me.
You just ignored what Toby said about the models you were
with last night!’
‘I have nothing to say on that score,’ Angelo delivered
with the lethal hard-nosed cool that always silenced female
‘But I’ve got plenty to say,’ Gwenna hissed on the
pavement outside. ‘No, I’m not getting into your limo. I have
no need of a lift—’
Angelo shot her a warning glance from glittering dark
eyes. ‘I won’t tolerate a scene.’
‘Well, I’ll keep it short and sweet.’ Gwenna squared her
narrow shoulders and wondered why Franco was staring at her
as if she had suddenly sprouted angel wings and a halo. ‘Just
two little words…
Sizzling gold burnished the darkness of Angelo’s scepti-
cal gaze. ‘What the hell are you talking about? What’s over?’
‘Angelo Riccardi…you are dumped!’ Gwenna launched
back at him full volume. ‘Do you want it in writing?’
Angelo slung her an exasperated appraisal. Espying a man
with a camera moving rapidly in their direction, he scooped
her up and settled her bodily into the rear seat of the limo. He
slid in beside her. ‘We’ll discuss this in private.’
‘I thought you had nothing more to say on that score!’
Gwenna reminded him irately as the car moved off.
Angelo reached for her, knotting a lean brown hand into
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the honey-blonde luxuriance of her hair to hold her fast.
Breathing in short, shallow spurts, she focused on him in
surprise and a second later he claimed her luscious pink lips
with ravenous driving heat. Her head swam and her body
clenched tight. She quivered violently in the circle of his arms.
‘I hate you,’ she whispered fiercely.
Smouldering dark eyes held hers. ‘So? It’s far from over.’
Gwenna raked trembling fingers through her wildly
tumbled hair and twisted away from him into the far corner
of the seat. Shame over her surrender threatened to choke her
and she fought it by keeping her next move on track. ‘I haven’t
got time for this and we’ve got nothing to discuss. I have to
pack and pick up Piglet.’
Angelo wanted to drag her down horizontal and finish
what he had started. He was painfully aroused and hugely
angry and the last thing he wanted to do was talk. That word,
‘pack’. It was another challenge. He couldn’t believe she was
still doggedly fighting him. Men feared his anger, his power,
his opposition. Women, however, loved his power, his arro-
gance, his strength. Why didn’t she? He remembered her in
the sunlight outside that church: serene and beautiful and
gentle. He filed that soothing image away again. She had a
core of steel, he acknowledged grimly.
Only when Gwenna stalked out of the car and into a por-
ticoed entrance did she appreciate that she was not where she
had expected to be. She rounded on Angelo. ‘Whose house is
this? Where have you brought me?’
‘My place.’ Angelo dismissed the hovering staff with a
practised inclination of his handsome dark head and ensured
that the front door was locked behind him. ‘You’re honoured.
My house is a very private space.’
Refusing to be impressed by that claim or intimidated by the
soaring ceiling and marble pillars, Gwenna flung her head back.
‘You’re wasting your breath.You’re a total bastard and you have
no standards. I refuse to have anything more to do with you!’
‘And where were your standards tonight?’Angelo derided,
strolling forward, which had the immediate effect of making
her back away. ‘You set up a meeting with the guy you love
behind my back!’
The colour drained from Gwenna’s face leaving her eyes
looking a more vivid blue than ever against her pallor. How
had he guessed? How on earth had he worked that out?
‘When you agreed to be with me you never mentioned him,’
Angelo continued in attack mode. ‘How truthful was that?’
‘I didn’t think you’d be interested—’
No, that’s the sort of information every man
wants up front and you know it.’ Glittering dark eyes slashed
over her with punitive force and she quailed. ‘And when you
went sneaking off to see him tonight—’
‘I did not sneak!’ Anger surged to Gwenna’s aid again.
‘Yes, you did. It was much more than an innocent night out
with a friend. How fair and decent was your behaviour?’
‘According to some newspaper, you were out on the town
with three other women last night, so what’s your problem?
You can’t expect me to be truthful and decent when you’re
out cavorting with a bunch of tarts!’ Gwenna shot back at him
‘You’re getting hysterical—’
‘No, I’m giving you the truth you said you wanted and I
don’t think you like it much!’
‘Our agreement doesn’t give you the right to question my
every move or make new rules,’ Angelo delivered with icy
‘That’s okay. I don’t care.’ Gwenna walked past him, a
tight, hard knot in her tummy, her eyes hot and gritty with
stinging tears. ‘I’m not staying here one minute longer,
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though. No agreement is capable of forcing me to share a bed
with a guy who sleeps around—’
…I don’t sleep around!’
‘There’s no point you arguing with me. My mother may
have chosen to accept a relationship of that sort—’
—do you dare to compare me to your father?’
Angelo thundered in raw disbelief.
‘All I’m saying is that I won’t let any man make a fool of
me like that. It’s me and
me, or you can’t have me at all
and not all the money in the world is going to change that,’
Gwenna swore shakily, her slender back ramrod-straight. But
she was doubly mortified by his palpable distaste for her
father. ‘So, open that door and let me out.’
Angelo swore in vicious frustrated Italian.
‘You virtually kidnapped me. I didn’t agree to come here,’
she reminded him steadfastly, only the nervous clenching and
unclenching of her slim hands by her sides betraying the level
of her agitation. ‘Keeping me here against my will is just not
Lean, powerful face rigid, Angelo studied her with seething
intensity. The silence pounded and stretched. And then he
dragged in a slow deep breath and said grittily, ‘Nothing
happened last night.’
Gwenna studied him fixedly. A flood of relief washed over
her and left her dizzy and more hopelessly confused than
ever. It was not only her pride and sense of decency that had
been offended by his apparent faithlessness, she registered in
dismay. She had been downright tormented by the idea that
he might have been with someone else. She had been jealous,
hurt and furious.
Lean, angular features taut, Angelo set his perfect white
teeth together. ‘I didn’t touch them…the models…they were
company. That’s all.’
‘Did the company stay clothed?’
Angelo ground out as if he were being tortured, and
that was very much how he felt. Why wasn’t he throwing her
out of his house and his life? But the closer she got to the door,
the more urgent became his desire to haul her back from it. It
was lust, total overpowering lust, and one taste of her had set
up one very powerful craving. He loathed the very suspicion
that he was no longer one hundred per cent in control, but need
was overriding principle.
Gwenna realised that her legs were quaking beneath her.
Slowly she turned back to face him fully. ‘Okay…do you
think you can do faithful now?’ she asked with sincerity.
‘There’s no point me hanging around if you can’t.’
Angelo dug potent fists of naked outrage and aggression
into the pockets of his well-cut trousers. He could not believe
what she was doing to him. What did it take to satisfy her?
She was as persistent as water dripping on stone. Plain ques-
tions left no room for prevarication. He felt like a wild bear
being chained up and forced to learn demeaning tricks.
‘Just yes or no will do,’she whispered in helpful interruption.
Stubborn jaw line set at a most forbidding slant, Angelo
was set on categorical resistance when he first rested his hard
gaze on her. He did not respond to demands. He guarded his
freedom. But with her honey-blonde curls tangled by his
fingers and her pink pouting mouth slightly puffy from the
imprint of his, she made a picture capable of enticing him over
a cliff edge. She looked impossibly sexy. Later he did not
recall the moment when he decided to surrender. ‘
He closed the distance between them in two graceful strides
and closed his hands over hers. ‘You’ll stay?’
Unprepared for the immediacy of that demand, Gwenna
blinked and mumbled, ‘But—’
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. I’ve agreed. I’ve given you
what you want.’
With that resolute reminder, Angelo angled her head back
and drew her close before she could think up any further re-
finements. He let his provocative mouth glide down the
extended length of her neck. A sensation like hot wires tight-
ening sent a frisson of delicious heat darting through her
pelvis and she shivered and moaned. He pushed open a door
into a dimly lit room and pressed her back against the wall.
The heavy pressure of his lean, hard, muscular body against
hers sparked a tantalising tingle of delicious warmth and
awareness in her erogenous zones. In the midst of an exchange
of hot, driving kisses, she found herself pushing back against
him, maddeningly conscious of the engorged sensitivity of her
breasts and the hollow ache stirring between her thighs. She
squirmed against him, her fingers roving over his broad shoul-
ders, delving into his black hair and finally forcing a path
between their bodies to rip at the buttons of his shirt.
With a roughened laugh of satisfaction, Angelo lifted his
head and let his hand close over the pouting curve of her
breasts, teasing at the prominent peaks. The barrier set up by
her clothes impelled a low moan of frustration from her. She
wanted to touch him so badly she could hardly bear it and
splayed her fingers across his hard, flat stomach, revelling in
the feel of his warm bare skin.
‘Don’t do that,’ Angelo groaned, pushing away her hand
and lifting her into abrasive connection with his fierce
erection. He crushed her full, soft lips below his and plundered
the damp interior of her mouth with an explicit sensual force
that left her trembling.
‘Later…all that you want but not now,
,’ he growled,
hauling her up into his arms and tipping her down onto the
arm of a sofa to yank at the zip on her jeans and wrench them
off with more impatience than cool.
She tumbled back into the cushions, passion-glazed china-
blue eyes locked to him in surprise as he stripped her of her
jeans and her panties just at the point when she had naively
assumed he would take her upstairs. Her cheeks flamed red
as fire but her entire body was hot and throbbing and desper-
ately on edge and she made no complaint. Indeed she locked
her arms round his neck for support while he discovered the
moist, soft welcome between her thighs. With a guttural sound
of uninhibited masculine pleasure, he buried himself to the hilt
Her back arching at the shockingly erotic impact of his
entrance, Gwenna cried out. Smouldering tawny eyes welded
to her, Angelo withdrew, slowly rotated his hips and then
slammed back into her. Pleasure exploded along her nerve-
endings in a blinding wave. She lost any sense of time, all
ability to reason. Wicked excitement controlled her. He pushed
her vest and her bra out of his path and stroked the painfully
beaded tips of her breasts until she was whimpering she knew
not what. From that point there wasn’t a moment where she
regained control or even came close. She was squirming,
writhing, begging him not to stop, possessed by a greedy
blaze of elemental need. At an intoxicating high of delirious
pleasure she was gripped by wild convulsions of ecstatic
release. Shell-shocked by the jolting, all-encompassing power
of that experience, she clung to him in the aftermath.
.’ Angelo surveyed her with
rampant appreciation and dropped a teasing kiss on her brow.
So what if he had never done fidelity before? He had never
spared much thought for his sexual relationships, but he was
becoming powerfully aware that she had an extra-special
something that brought a whole new dimension to their every
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encounter. He should be congratulating himself on his
amazing perception. Had he not recognised her extraordinary
appeal the very first moment he met her? Hamilton’s daughter
she might be, but she was also a triumph worth a harem of ten.
Smiling, he vaulted lithely upright and rearranged his clothing.
Like a sleepwalker, Gwenna scrambled up on unsteady
legs, wrenching at her vest with one hand and going for her
discarded jeans with the other. They hadn’t even got un-
dressed, never mind made it as far as a bedroom. She was em-
barrassed, hopelessly unsure of how to behave. Her mind was
in total turmoil. Everything she had believed she knew about
herself was being turned upside down. But she fought off her
misgivings and reminded herself that Angelo seemed to be
making a genuine effort.
After all, hadn’t he come looking for her this evening? He
had been annoyed to find her with Toby. Had he been jealous?
Perhaps Angelo was not quite as cold and unfeeling as his
womanising reputation. Hadn’t he told her that she should be
proud of the fact that he wanted her so much? Worrying at her
full lower lip, she studied the sofa and reflected that he had
not been exaggerating on that score. Maybe she was ridicu-
lously old-fashioned. Maybe she needed to loosen up a little
and stop fretting about the moralities. Although it was obvious
that a promise of fidelity was a major undertaking for him,
he had given it to her, she reminded herself bracingly. No
longer was everything on his terms.
‘We need a shower.’ With that husky, mocking assurance,
Angelo closed a lean hand over hers and walked her upstairs.
Gwenna was in a daze—a happy daze, and that acknowl-
edgement stunned her. Her fingers trembled in his and his grip
tightened. She had the feeling he didn’t want to let go of her
and she liked that. He was making her feel things she didn’t
understand, making her think things that struck her as unwise.
It was just the impact of all the physical stuff that was con-
fusing her, she reasoned, hurriedly squashing an almost over-
whelming sense of vulnerability.
Her mobile phone rang two steps inside the door of a palatial
bedroom. She dug it out to answer and walked away from
Angelo the minute she recognised Toby’s familiar voice. ‘Yes,
of course, I’m all right,’ she muttered in some embarrassment.
Angelo froze, dark eyes flaring angrily as he worked out
who had called her. Here she was in
bedroom and she was
just chatting to the guy as though that was all right, accept-
able, even normal. His perfect white teeth gritted when she
gave him an apologetic glance and finished the conversation
with the gentle assurance that she would be in touch soon. She
smothered a yawn with a polite hand.
‘I don’t think you should be accepting calls from him.’
Delft-blue eyes met his in honest surprise. ‘Why not?
Toby’s my oldest friend.’
‘You’re in love with him,’Angelo spelt out with stinging cool.
‘But nothing’s going to happen. Toby doesn’t think of me
that way.’ Embarrassment and uncertainty, however, were
claiming her. She always tried to be fair, always endeavoured
to look at opposing points of view. It occurred to her that in
the light of the fuss she had made about fidelity, Angelo
probably thought he had every right to object to her friend-
ship with Toby.
‘But I don’t like it,’ Angelo countered flatly.
Absorbing the smouldering aspect of Angelo’s intent gaze,
Gwenna was surprised to feel an unexpected twinge of amuse-
ment. She dipped her head to hide it. He was so possessive,
so incredibly passionate. He was not at all the cold, callous
and insensitive guy she had once believed. ‘I can see your
point,’ she answered with determined tact.
The savage tension in Angelo’s broad shoulders eased. He
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took her into a vast
bathroom and undressed her.
Each garment was removed with subtle caresses and an ex-
quisitely skilled sensuality that made her quiver and burn. The
bright lights made her feel desperately shy but not even that
could suppress the helpless tingle of arousal he roused. The
lush, swollen heart of her ached but it didn’t stop her wanting
him, didn’t stop the hunger rising to a torturous peak of need.
He took her in the shower. She shut her eyes tight, surrender-
ing to the melting ripples of slow burning erotic pleasure and
the shivering, whimpering rapture of delirious relief.
Afterwards, she just wanted to sleep and could hardly stand
upright. He wrapped her in a fleecy towel.
‘I wish you would stay awake,
‘Can’t…hardly slept last night,’ she mumbled, all the
stresses of the past forty-eight hours finally taking their toll.
Her eyelids felt as though weights were attached to them.
He eased her between cool sheets and she waited for him
to join her. Instead she heard a door open and she peered
sleepily across the room at him, noting that his sleek bronzed
length was clad only in boxers. ‘Where are you going?’
‘My room is through here.’ He was poised on the threshold
of the room next door.
Her pale brow indented. ‘But—’
The smooth brown breadth of his muscular shoulders
shifted in a casual shrug. ‘I always sleep alone. I’ll see you
in the morning.’
The door closed.
I always sleep alone.
She had spent a
lifetime sleeping alone too and could not comprehend why
she should now feel rejected by his withdrawal. Exhaustion
soon kicked in, however, to blur her troubled thoughts and
sink her into a deep slumber.
She woke with a start, unsure of her surroundings and of
what might have wakened her. In a rush she remembered that
she was in Angelo’s house and she fumbled for the light
switch by the bed. She was sitting up when she heard a dis-
turbing sound from his room. A cry? Without further thought
she slid out of bed and snatched up the shirt he had left in a
careless heap. Hastily donning it, she opened the communi-
cating door between their rooms.
In the dawn light filtering through the shutters she could
see Angelo tossing and turning in the big bed. He was
moaning something in his own language. The sheer terror in
his voice grabbed her by the throat, shook her up and sent her
flying straight to his side. She scrambled up on the mattress
to get within reach of him and rested a soothing hand on his
shoulder. His skin was as hot as fire.
‘Angelo…wake up!’ she whispered urgently, shaking
Angelo wrenched himself up in a sudden movement that
startled her. He was trembling, muttering in Italian. With a
gruff exclamation, he raked rough fingers through his dis-
hevelled black hair and he turned to study her with a frown
that drew his sleek ebony brows together. ‘What are you
‘You were having a bad dream—’
‘I don’t get them—’
‘You cried out and woke me up!’
‘I couldn’t have,’ Angelo growled, dark eyes defensive,
the fierce tension in his big powerful frame communicating
itself to her.
Gwenna loosed a rueful sigh. Evidently, macho men didn’t
have bad dreams. In the dim light he was a dazzling bronzed
vision of raw masculine appeal. With his hair ruffled and
blue-black stubble outlining the aggressive set of his jaw line
he looked startlingly handsome, but it was the grim cast of his
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lustrous eyes that made Gwenna shimmy closer on her bottom
and wrap her arms round him. ‘I get nightmares sometimes…’
‘Really?’ Angelo said very drily, but she noticed he didn’t
push her away.
Gwenna rested her chin on his shoulder, absently drinking
in the warm and already familiar scent of his skin. ‘I wasn’t
there when it happened but I used to dream I saw my mother’s
car crash. Then when I was at boarding-school—’
Angelo tensed. ‘When was that?’
‘I was ten when Dad first set up home with Eva and her
daughters. Unfortunately, Penelope and Wanda didn’t take to me
and, for the sake of peace, I was sent off to school. I hated it.’
‘Why…were you bullied?’
‘For waking the other girls up with my nightmares and
being a terrible cry-baby.’ Gwenna winced in remembered
shame over her past weakness. ‘I was horribly homesick—’
Angelo reached behind him with a long arm and tipped her
round and deftly forward into his lap. ‘I was too, but I didn’t
have a home to go to any more.’
‘You boarded too?’
‘My mother was dead and her generous employer paid for
my education at an exclusive school. I didn’t fit in. Sardinian
mothers spoil their sons. I spoke lousy English, and I was a
science geek and very small—’
Gwenna squinted up at his shadowy profile.
interrupted in disbelief.
Angelo nodded. ‘Tiny…I didn’t shoot up until I was well
into my teens.’
‘Were you bullied too?’
‘Of course not.’
But Gwenna caught a certain intonation in his dark-timbred
drawl and sighed. ‘Yes, you
. I can tell.’
‘How? With your crystal ball,
?’ Long, taunting
fingers explored beneath the shirt she wore and she shivered,
her breath catching in her throat. He cupped a pouting breast
and in coaxing its tender pink nipple to straining prominence
he provoked a gasp from between her lips.
‘Stop trying to distract me…’ she muttered breathlessly.
Angelo swung her down onto the bed beside him and
shifted over her in one lithe motion, angling his hips into the
soft cradle between her thighs to acquaint her with his thrust-
ing hardness. Scorching eyes scorned her reproachful scrutiny.
‘Is that what I’m doing?’
‘But I want to know…I
want to know what happened
to you to make you sound so scared!’ she protested.
His fabulous bone structure clenched hard and he was pale.
‘I was burned with cigarettes, kicked where it most hurts and
‘Oh my word…’ She was overcome by horror and conster-
nation, and her eyes glistened, awash with moisture.
‘Angelo…that’s awful. And you still dream about it?’
Even as he wondered why the hell he had told her,
Angelo was surveying her reaction in fascination.
Gwenna struggled to fight off the tears of sympathy
without much success. She gulped, swallowed, sniffed and
finally linked her arms tightly round him and hugged him
hard. She was thinking of that bewildered and bright little boy,
suddenly deprived of a loving mother and plunged into an
‘It made me tough…I was too soft,
. It was
good for me—’
‘Don’t talk rubbish!’ Gwenna gasped, sucking in a steady-
ing breath of oxygen. ‘I mean, I was just teased and scolded.
But you were brutalized—’
‘Do you think I deserve a sympathy shag?’ Angelo
enquired in silken interruption.
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Her clogged lashes lifted on troubled blue eyes. ‘Some-
times you can be really offensive.’
Almost imperceptible colour scored his superb cheekbones.
‘And the answer is no…not because I’m annoyed with you
but because—and I find this very embarrassing—I think I
would find it rather uncomfortable right now.’ Grinding to a
mortified halt as she referred to the fact that she was rather
sore, she bit her lip and turned her face away.
Angelo hadn’t thought of that possibility and guilt came
out of nowhere and attacked him full force. It was less then
forty-eight hours since she had been a virgin and he had been
pretty demanding as well as passionate. Either he had a cold
shower or he introduced her to a more creative way of satis-
fying his high sex drive.
‘I can be a selfish bastard,’ he remarked and waited confi-
dently for her to argue that description.
But it did not even occur to Gwenna to contradict him for
a statement she considered accurate. ‘Maybe we could…
‘Later I’ll be in NewYork,
,’Angelo groaned in frus-
tration, releasing her reluctantly from his weight but tugging
her into his arms, fully intent on attacking her learning curve.
Gwenna squinted at the face of the clock by the bed and
gasped. ‘My goodness, is that the time?’
‘It’s only half past six,’ Angelo told her gently.
‘In less than an hour it’ll be feeding time at the pet hotel
and I don’t want to be late,’ she lamented, pulling free and
rolling over to vacate his bed at a frantic pace. ‘The staff
don’t mind me going to give Piglet breakfast because he
wouldn’t eat otherwise. But they do like me to fit in with their
routine and they don’t like visitors between eight and nine in
Barely able to credit that harried explanation, Angelo sat
up. ‘Give me a moment,’ he urged tautly. ‘Are you telling me
that you’re running over there every single morning to feed
‘Evenings too…he has a very tiny tummy,’ Gwenna told
him defensively. ‘You should see him on the webcam in his
kennel…he’s so depressed, it would break your heart. He
won’t even look at the TV or play ball any more.’
Her departure from his room was hasty. Angelo cursed
vehemently while he took a cold shower and strode out of the
wet room determined to get a look at Piglet malingering on
the webcam. And there he was, the clever little tyke, curled
up on his gilded four-poster bed with his head sunk between
paws, little round eyes dull and his ridiculous bat ears
drooping. In no need of canine acting lessons, he was the very
picture of full-blown doggy misery.
But Gwenna was devoted to her pet. Totally devoted and
obsessed, Angelo reflected dourly. And why not? How much
love and attention had she got from her sleazy father and a
mother who had probably only had her in an effort to destroy
her lover’s marriage? He lifted the phone. When Gwenna got
out of his bed at dawn to trek across the city simply to feed
the dog, it was time to release Piglet from captivity.
surveyed the huge crowded room with concealed
dissatisfaction. He wondered why it was that when fate gave
him what he believed he had always wanted he should find it
so irritating. Clingy women who remained welded to him
like superglue in company had always exasperated him.
In the course of a month, he had learned that Gwenna did
not cling, shadow him round the room or continually seek
ways to attract his attention. In fact, he sometimes felt like
handcuffing her to his wrist or tagging her with a satellite-
navigation system he could use to locate her when he wanted
her back by his side. When she got talking to his guests, she
lost track of time. She was wildly popular with the garden en-
thusiasts and had to be regularly rescued from those who took
advantage of her horticultural knowledge to request free
advice and even personal visits.
‘Where is she?’ Angelo was finally forced to ask Franco.
A few minutes later, his chief of security at his heels, he
strode out to the rear terrace of his impressive London abode
and looked down into the garden below. Her iridescent blue
evening gown trailing across the damp grass in her wake,
Gwenna was showing off a flowering wall plant to a man and
a woman. The man was a notoriously lecherous Swiss
banker. That he should even be close to Gwenna set Angelo’s
teeth on edge.
Franco cleared his throat. ‘You know, boss…Miss
Hamilton doesn’t know she might be rattling your cage.’
‘Is that a fact?’ Angelo murmured without expression.
‘She’s a very friendly lady, who loves helping people,’ the
older man remarked into the awkward silence.
So, that dangerous virus of niceness was subverting the
loyalties of all the staff who came into regular contact with
her, Angelo acknowledged sardonically. She took what
Angelo considered to be an inordinate interest in other people
and made no distinction between his employees and his
acquaintances. Even Franco, a tough nut with a jaundiced
view of the female sex, was eager to speak up on her behalf.
His chauffeur, cured of a persistent cough with the gift of
some magical mixture derived from honey, regarded her with
positive reverence. His hard-hitting senior PA had mentioned
how very pleasant and courteous Gwenna was. His chef
conjured up special dishes adorned with horticultural motifs
because she had planted herbs in containers for him.
Unfortunately, Angelo felt pretty much excluded from that
general niceness and that awareness nagged at him like a fine
stiletto knife in his side. She did not take an inordinate interest
in him or question his absences. There was a barrier beyond
which she did not go. But she
set him on fire in bed and
wasn’t that what was most important? he asked himself im-
patiently. Sometimes he joined her at dawn after an all-night
meeting. No woman had ever given him so much pleasure and
he went to great lengths to make time to be with her. He also
gave her a lot of attention. Naturally he wanted her to be
content with her role in his life and he was a very generous
lover. But she was not responding to his efforts to gratify her.
She wore the clothes and the jewellery he gave her with
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
indifference, shedding them for jeans and T-shirts the first op-
portunity she got. Film premières and fashionable parties did
not impress her. Celebrities, the very few that she actually rec-
ognised, roused an equal lack of enthusiasm. His houses were
a roof over her head, but no more, and only the outside spaces
were capable of engaging any real interest. Hadn’t he reunited
her with her precious pet? Did he complain when that tiny
psychologically disturbed mutt lay in wait to attack him?
Piglet was the canine version of a piranha fish.
But what bothered Angelo most of all was the sneaking
suspicion that Gwenna was not happy. She didn’t brandish
that unhappiness, never mentioned it and didn’t droop in
public. Yet he was continually conscious of it. Was she pining
for Toby James? The very suspicion filled Angelo with a mur-
derous tide of hostility. Infuriated by that lack of mental dis-
cipline, he used his fierce strength of will to thrust both the
name and thought from his mind.
And if she was unhappy, Angelo was aware that he would
soon be breaking news that would make her even unhappier.
Three weeks ago, he had had a call from the lawyers he had
instructed to check over every aspect of the properties that
Donald Hamilton had signed over. Question marks had
speedily been raised by certain anomalies in the paperwork
and further extended investigation had revealed that Hamilton
was guilty of yet another crime. Angelo now had the proof of
an unscrupulous fraud that would destroy Gwenna’s faith in
her father for ever.
Her face pink from the attention Johannes Saudan was
paying her and the dagger looks of resentment emanating
from his girlfriend, Gwenna answered the middle-aged
banker’s query as briefly as she could. When she saw Angelo
on the terrace above, it was a relief to be able to say, ‘I think
Angelo wants me…’
‘What man would not? You are stunning.’ The older man’s
appraisal made her feel horribly like a piece of meat on a slab.
‘Excuse me.’ Suppressing a shudder of revulsion, she
headed back indoors.
Angelo strode in from the terrace to greet her. His brilli-
ant gaze rested on hers and an erotic twist of instant heat
shimmied through her pelvis. She stiffened, hating the
weakness in her legs, the heavy feel of her breasts and the
dulled hollow ache of response in a place she didn’t care to
think about. He owned her body, she thought wretchedly. He
looked at her, he touched her and she would be seduced by
her own weakness and craving. Physically he reigned supreme
over her for she had yet to find a way of resisting him.
‘I always have to look for you…even in my own house,
,’ Angelo murmured silkily.
It was a reproof but she bent her head, lowered her long
curling pale brown lashes and said nothing. After all, what
could she have said? She operated a deliberate policy of being
elusive and could hardly complain if it exasperated him. In
the bedroom she was always where he expected to find her
because to her mind that, according to their agreement, was
where their relationship began and ended.
He had sex with her. He had sex an awful lot with her. She
was honest enough to admit that she was equally keen to have
sex with him. She supposed that, in the circumstances, this
was fortunate, but her anguished pride and her shame at what
he had made of her would not allow her to award him much
notice outside the bedroom door. She had resolved not to
make a fuss about the physical stuff and not to act like the
virtuous virgin he had once called her. Regrettably that did
not make it any easier to deal with an inner turmoil that was
growing stronger by the day. In every way that mattered, that
agreement offended her beliefs and destroyed her self-respect.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘I would like to see a little more of you when we enter-
tain,’ Angelo spelt out in the same even tone as he lifted her
‘Okay.’ Gwenna reminded herself that he had said nothing
when Piglet chewed up one of his shoes. Either time it had
happened. For a man who didn’t like indoor animals he was
being remarkably tolerant.
His thumb smoothed over the soft skin of her inner wrist
and lingered. The faint aroma of her perfume flared his
nostrils. Her pulse was going crazy. A slight tremor ran
through her and the increased rapidity of her breathing stirred
Madly conscious of the warmth of his skin against hers and
of the electric sparks of awareness in the atmosphere, Gwenna
glanced up at him. The dark pupils of her blue eyes were
dilated. Sensual tension sizzled through her, holding her still.
She was on a high and although she tried she could not pull
back from that intoxicating sense of energy and power while
his smouldering tawny eyes burned over her with masculine
Angelo bent his arrogant dark head to murmur thickly,
‘How do you do this to me?’
Taunting heat pulsed at the heart of her. She felt so wicked
she closed her eyes tight, fighting his electrifyingly sexual
magnetism. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about—’
Let me show you.’ Snapping both hands over
her wrists, Angelo backed into the room behind him and drew
her with him.
The instant she registered his intention, Gwenna went rigid.
She knew that hot, intent look on his lean, darkly handsome
face. It filled her with an excitement she loathed. All too often
Angelo had proved to her how weak she was by choosing un-
conventional times and places to slake his passion and always
she surrendered, too caught up in excitement to resist. But,
for a split second, she had an image of how she would look
emerging from the room with tousled hair and smudged
make-up and she recoiled in shame from that prospect.
‘No…not now. Your guests will notice we’re missing.’
‘So what?’ Angelo curved lean, determined hands to her
hips to jerk her into more intimate contact with his hard thighs.
‘They’ll guess what we’ve been doing—’
Angelo vented a low-pitched laugh of amusement. ‘Why
But Gwenna had often seen herself in the mirror after their
encounters, the feverish pink of her cheeks and the languorous
daze in her eyes that told an all-too-intimate story. ‘They
‘But why should we care about such things,
Undaunted, Angelo reached up to undo the halter ties at the
nape of her slender neck.
‘No!’ Angry distress gripping her, Gwenna thrust his hands
away from the ties. ‘You don’t care and why should you? All the
men will think you’re a real ace, but I’ll just look like a slapper!’
Angelo dealt her an incredulous appraisal. ‘What has come
over you? Where is all this nonsense coming from?’
‘It’s not nonsense. We really don’t need to advertise what
this relationship is about,’ Gwenna slung back at him bitterly.
‘And I won’t be humiliated in front of smarmy creeps like
‘What did Saudan say to you?’ Angelo demanded angrily.
‘How have I humiliated you?’
‘Relax, Saudan didn’t say anything, but I could see what
he was thinking and he’s not the only one—’
Angelo spread his hands in a slashing movement. ‘Will you
calm down and talk sense?’
‘You put me on parade for them all like a prize poodle. The
diamonds round my neck are the equivalent of a collar—’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘Isn’t it amazing how many women look with envy on
‘It’s like being branded by your ownership and I don’t care
how much moneys it’s worth!’ Gwenna practically spat at
him. ‘You just don’t get it, do you? You think that being your
playmate is some kind of honour—’
Move away from that door,’ Angelo in-
structed with chilling ferocity. ‘I need to talk to Saudan about
what he said to you.’
‘I told you that he didn’t
anything—he didn’t need to!
He believes I can be bought and, when he looked at me, I
could see that he was wondering how soon you’d put me back
on the market again. Because to him I’m just a commodity
and he was thinking that he could have me too—’
Angelo lifted her bodily out of his path. ‘I’ll bloody kill him!’
‘What for?’ she demanded wildly.
He upset you,’ Angelo grated.
Afraid of a scene, she stepped in front of the door to prevent
his exit. ‘Why should you care about that?’Without the slight-
est warning her voice had developed a wobble and tears were
drenching her eyes.
Angelo loathed female tears like poison and never, ever let
himself be swayed by tantrums. But when he saw those spark-
ling drops on Gwenna’s lashes he felt as hugely relieved, as if
she had provided him with a list of instructions on how he should
respond. She was upset, crying. He could not possibly take
offence at anything she had said. The raging frustration inside
him immediately subsided. Suddenly everything seemed simple
and his own function wonderfully clear-cut. He rested his hands
on her shoulders and in a clever series of stealthy moves slowly
and gently eased her shivering slender length into his arms.
A sob convulsed Gwenna’s throat and she gulped it back
hurriedly. ‘I don’t cry…I don’t—’
‘I don’t hear you crying,’Angelo breathed, wondering if he
was a pervert for just wanting to kick out all his guests and drag
her up to bed and keep her there for at least twenty-four hours.
She rested her brow against a broad shoulder. She felt
totally bewildered by her own behaviour. How had she ended
up so close to him? The angry pain that had taken her over
had gone and she recognised a disconcerting change in her
attitude to him. Arguing with Angelo had once made her feel
stronger and more in control but this time around it had made
her feel as if she were being torn in two.
‘I’m all right,’ she muttered awkwardly just as her mobile
phone rang. ‘Excuse me…’
It was her stepsister, Penelope.
‘We need to talk to you urgently,’ Penelope declared in a
sharp voice that made Gwenna’s heart sink like a stone and her
anxiety level rise even faster. ‘It’s a family matter and I can’t
discuss it on the phone. How quickly can you get down here?’
‘I’ll get on the first available train tomorrow.’
‘I have to go home for a couple of days,’ Gwenna told
Angelo, anxiously wondering if the problem that her stepsis-
ter had refused to discuss related to the total breakdown of
their respective parents’ marriage. ‘It’s a family crisis.’
His lean, strong face austere, Angelo frowned. ‘I’ll come
Gwenna was painfully conscious of Angelo’s attitude to
her father, and could only think that Angelo’s presence would
increase the strain and embarrassment for all concerned.
‘Thanks, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. This is private
Angelo thought that was doubtful. Most probably Donald
Hamilton was in serious trouble again. When Angelo had
exposed the older man’s thefts from Furnridge Leather, he had
known that it would only be a matter of time until further
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
crimes were laid at Hamilton’s door. Other people’s suspi-
cions and worries would almost inevitably lead to an investi-
gation of Donald Hamilton’s other financial dealings. He
studied Gwenna’s pale, troubled profile and marvelled that
she could still be so vulnerable and naïve. He thought it was
past time that she appreciated that her parent was a greedy,
lying con man without a conscience.
‘Do you think you could look after Piglet?’ Gwenna asked
uncomfortably. ‘It’s just my stepmother doesn’t like dogs and
I think he would be traumatised if he was put back into the
Angelo felt oddly humbled by her trust in him as regards
her pet, for there was no doubt that Piglet was her most
precious possession. ‘
Non c’è problema
He closed a strong, tanned hand over hers. A wave of un-
identifiable emotion was washing about inside Gwenna. She
wanted to lean on him but she wouldn’t let herself and could
not explain why such a strange prompting should assail her.
‘When I take you home later we’ll make it a night to
,’ Angelo husked, turning her insides
to a delicious jelly of shameless anticipation.
Early the following morning, she wakened and listened to
Angelo moving about in the room next door. He never spent
the whole night with her. He always slept alone. Yet he gave
her the most unimaginable pleasure…
Angelo strode in. Fully dressed in a very snazzy designer
business suit and looking devastatingly handsome, he came to
a halt at the foot of the bed. Her torrent of warm honey-coloured
hair was an exotic tangle that framed her heart-shaped face and
accentuated her glorious blue eyes and luscious pink mouth.
…I’m not sure I can let you go,
breathed and he was only half joking. ‘You were amazing last
Although she reddened, Gwenna shifted between the
sheets like a sinuous cat being stroked by silk. His purring in-
tonation and the hot glow of his hungry gaze made her feel
empowered, but she was shocked when she heard herself say,
‘You should’ve stayed…’
‘I have a meeting in an hour,’ he intoned huskily. ‘It’s very
The sexual buzz in the air tingled through Gwenna like a
shot of adrenalin. She studied his stunning dark features from
below her lashes, crystalline blue eyes limpid.
It was the first time Gwenna had given him a come-on and
Angelo felt dizzy with sheer lust and triumph. He called
Franco and murmured in slightly ragged Italian, ‘Inform the
office that I’ve been unavoidably detained.’
He loosened the knot of his tie with an air of purpose and
shed it along with his jacket. Not once did he remove his
striking gaze from her perplexed face. He released the buttons
on his shirt with taunting slowness.
Gwenna was paralysed by surprise and the dulled heavy
sensation of warmth low in her belly. ‘What are you doing?
Angelo came down on the bed beside her and reached for
her with confident hands. ‘Make missing it worth my while,’ he
invited in erotic challenge, letting his tongue delve deep between
her parted lips and ravish the sweetness from her soft mouth.
Around noon, he shook her awake. She blinked up at him
like a rabbit caught in headlights, still so exhausted that her
body literally felt weighted to the mattress. Angelo on the
other hand looked re-energised. His black hair was still wet and
spiky from the shower, his beautiful eyes brilliant as diamonds
above his superb bronzed cheekbones. ‘You’ve missed your
train. A driver is standing by to take you to the heliport. You
can fly down to see your family. Don’t stay away too long.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Gwenna never woke up quickly and she was as flustered
by the wild passion that had exploded between them as by the
prospect of being flown by helicopter to Somerset. ‘Okay…’
Angelo carried her fingers to his handsome mouth and
kissed them in a mocking gesture that made her tense up even
more. Straightening, he surveyed her with wolfish satisfac-
Gwenna gave him a bemused look. ‘For what?’
‘You finally feel like you belong to me.’
Gwenna went white.
‘That’s how I wanted it and how it has to be. There was
never any way that I was going to settle for less,’ Angelo
imparted silkily. ‘What price true love now? You’re more
mine than you could ever be his.’
Angelo strolled out the door whistling quietly. Gwenna
stared into space, a sick sense of humiliation coruscating
through her. In the grip of a frantic surge of tempestuous
emotion, she leapt out of bed, snatched up her dressing gown
and hurtled to the door to bawl. ‘Angelo?’
Angelo came to a lazily graceful halt on the landing and
swung round to regard her from below dense black lashes in
mocking enquiry. ‘Yes…?’
‘Who do you think I’m thinking about whenever I’m with
you?’ she hurled and even as she said it she cringed for herself.
Such spite and such lying were unfamiliar to her, but every
time Angelo hurt her she found herself reacting in unpre-
Angelo stared steadily back at her, eyes black as pitch, lean,
strong face expressionless. She saw his loss of colour and
knew her nasty retaliation had hit home. Yet she was more
ashamed and troubled than pleased by her success. She felt
the sudden dangerous drop in temperature and she shivered,
afraid and full of regret.
Reeling back into the bedroom, she leant back against the
door to close it and covered her clammy face with trembling
hands. What was happening to her? What had he done to her?
Since when had she been a vindictive witch who told
When had thoughts of Toby even entered her head in
Angelo’s presence? Not once, not once had she thought of
Toby. That belated realisation shocked and frightened her…
travel in luxury: a private helicopter for your sole use
and a limo and driver to deliver you right to our door?’ Donald
Hamilton awarded Gwenna an admiring smile across the
depth of his spacious book-lined study. ‘I’m impressed.
Obviously, Angelo Riccardi thinks very highly of you.’
‘I don’t know about that. I just missed my train.’ Gwenna was
already wondering if Penelope had exaggerated the family crisis
because her father did not seem unduly concerned. Indeed he
seemed quite relaxed. ‘Penelope made the situation here sound
grave and she was very mysterious. I’ve been really worried.’
‘Then you’ll be relieved to learn that my current problem
is only what you might call a footnote to that other business
at Furnridge.’ The older man grimaced. ‘There I was in a hell
of a bind and I did what most people in a financial crisis do—
I borrowed just a little from Peter to pay Paul.’
Gwenna tensed again. ‘Meaning…er, sorry, I don’t quite
‘I’m afraid that certain irregularities in the garden commit-
tee’s accounts have been uncovered. Of course, given time I
could make all good.’ Donald shrugged. ‘Unfortunately the
stuffy old worrywarts on the committee are demanding instant
‘You took money from the Massey Garden Fund…
?’ Gwenna was appalled when she finally grasped the
gravity of what she was being told. ‘What on earth were you
‘I don’t care for your tone, Gwenna,’ her father censured
with a lofty look of reproof.
‘I just can’t believe that after all that fund-raising and all
those speeches you actually helped yourself to the donations
of the people who trusted you,’ she whispered painfully,
shame weighing her down like a giant piece of concrete.
‘Why didn’t you mention this last month?’
‘Obviously because I hoped to be in a position to replace
the money. But that’s since proved impossible. I’m unem-
ployed, and Eva and I can barely afford to live in this house.
Two members of the garden committee called yesterday.
They’re threatening to call in the police.’
Her brow felt as though a tension band was tightening
round it. ‘How much money are we talking about?’
Donald winced and mentioned a sum that shook her rigid.
‘Oh, my word…what are we going to do?’ she exclaimed.
‘Well, possibly you could sell a diamond necklace or some-
thing to save our skins,’ a female voice interposed with very
Gwenna looked up in dismay to see her stepsisters and her
stepmother coming into the room.
‘Or, you could simply
your fabulously rich lover to bail
your father out,’ Penelope continued in the same sarcastic tone.
‘I can’t do that,’ Gwenna whispered sickly, not knowing how
to explain that she did not consider herself the owner of any of
the diamond jewellery that Angelo had insisted she wear.
‘Sadly, you’re the only person who can help me now,’ her
father told her heavily. ‘We have no money and no hope of
getting a loan.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
And with that final comment, Donald Hamilton left the room.
‘I can’t do anything,’ Gwenna said again. ‘I don’t have any
Eva spoke up for the first time. ‘If you don’t find the means
to sort this out discreetly, I assure you that I will divorce your
father and then he won’t even have anywhere to live. I’ve had
enough. I won’t tolerate any more.’
Gwenna sighed heavily. ‘I can understand how you feel—’
‘I don’t think you do. While our lives have been crashing
and burning as we struggled to pay our bills, you’ve been
swanning down red carpets to film premières!’ Penelope con-
demned furiously. ‘I see your picture in all the top magazines
and your name in the gossip columns. You’re shacked up with
a Category-A billionaire!’
‘It would have been crude to present Angelo with a
shopping list of demands in your very first week,’ Wanda
opined, ‘but it’s time you stopped being selfish and shared
your amazing good fortune with your family.’
‘That’s enough, girls,’ their mother, Eva, murmured. ‘I’m
quite sure that Gwenna has got the message.’
In shock from that combined verbal attack, Gwenna was hit
even harder by the pure injustice of the allegations of selfishness.
‘I don’t believe that finding the money will be a problem
for you,’ Penelope remarked sweetly. ‘After all, you’re
wearing a fortune on your back. That handbag alone must be
worth fifteen hundred pounds!’
Gwenna stared down at her bag in horror. Did bags come
that expensive? She had not a clue what any of her clothing
or accessories had cost, for the simple reason that she had not
shopped for them personally and they had not been delivered
with price tags attached. She now deeply regretted raiding her
designer wardrobe in an effort to boost her confidence in
advance of an encounter with her sharp-tongued stepsisters.
‘I don’t have any money of my own and I can’t ask Angelo
for it,’ she argued tautly, her mind in turmoil.
‘How can you be such a mean, selfish cow?’ Wanda
Real bitterness flooded Gwenna at that denunciation. ‘I’m
not a prostitute…I won’t ask him for money.’
Her stepmother wrinkled her nose with distaste. ‘Let’s not
overdo the melodrama, Gwenna. From what I’ve seen, Angelo
Riccardi needs very little encouragement to spoil you rotten.’
Angry, frustrated tears blinding her, Gwenna leapt to her
feet. ‘Stop talking like I’m with Angelo out of choice! Or like
it was some big treat for me! I was in love with someone else,
for goodness’ sake. Angelo offered me a deal—if I slept with
him, he would drop the charges against Dad!’
No sooner had the words left Gwenna’s lips than she re-
gretted an admission that she would never have made had she
not been so upset and desperate to defend herself. Silence had
fallen. All three women were now viewing her with dropped
jaws of disbelief and she was totally mortified.
‘I had no idea,’ Eva retorted frigidly. ‘It sounds absolutely
immoral and I hope you’re not blaming us for your decision.
Do we need the sordid details?’
‘Angelo Riccardi had to
you into bed with him?’
Wanda gasped wide-eyed. ‘I’d have knocked him flat in the
rush. What’s the matter with you?’
‘That is so,
sexy.’ Penelope could not conceal her envy.
‘You are really sad, Gwenna. No normal woman would be
moaning about it!’
Dumbfounded by those reactions, Gwenna walked out of
the room. She was taken aback to see Toby waiting in the hall.
Just as quickly she appreciated that Toby, as a member of the
garden committee, would already have been informed that her
father had taken money from the restoration fund.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘I only found out about this yesterday. I volunteered to
break the news to you and I couldn’t do it on the phone. I
meant to make it here before you but my flight was delayed,’
Toby confided apologetically.
‘Gwenna…’ Donald Hamilton spoke from the far end of
the hall in an admonishing tone.
‘Get me out of here,’ Gwenna begged her oldest friend in
a frantic whisper, before turning back to address her father.
‘I don’t know what to say to you right now. I need to think
things over. Please don’t expect me to pull off a miracle. I’ll
be in touch.’
Ignoring the older man’s protests, Toby ushered her
quickly out to his car. ‘Look, I’m booked in at the Four
Crowns inn for the night. Why don’t we go there to talk?’
Her mobile phone was buzzing. It was Angelo calling.
was still talking to her, then.
But her surge of guilty relief was
short-lived when she contemplated telling Angelo about her
parent’s latest act of embezzlement. Mentally shrinking from
that ghastly challenge, she switched off her phone. When
they arrived at the Four Crowns, Toby confessed that he hadn’t
eaten for hours and added that, as far as he knew, starving had
never solved a crisis. Neither of them mentioned the theft over
a late dinner. Afterwards they went up to his comfortable
room with its ancient oak beams to talk over a bottle of wine.
‘I’ll be blunt. The committee is champing at the bit to call
in the police but I persuaded them to hold off for another day
or so. They don’t want the scandal of this going public in case
it inhibits further donations to the fund,’ Toby explained. ‘
Angelo likely to bail your dad out?’
Gwenna swallowed hard. ‘I doubt it—Angelo won’t be
‘But Angelo struck me as keen on you.’
Gwenna reddened because she didn’t feel that she could
point out that her sole value in Angelo’s terms was of a highly
physical nature. And that after the lie she had flung at Angelo
earlier, even that low measure of her worth had probably hit
‘I won’t say what I’d like to say about your father.’
‘I appreciate that…’ Gwenna flinched nervously as a knock
sounded on the door.
Toby opened the door. Gwenna saw Angelo and her heart
reacted as if it were jumping right out of her chest. She jumped
to her feet, Delft-blue eyes locking in sudden fear to the icy
black outrage flaming in Angelo’s glittering gaze. As she
moved forward Angelo hit Toby, who went flying backwards
to fall against the side of the bed.
‘Are you insane?’ Gwenna shrieked.
‘You were lying on his bed!’ Angelo gritted. ‘Stay out of
this. This is between me and him—’
‘I’m not a coward, but I’ve just never seen the point of all
that macho shouting and thumping stuff,’ Toby groaned,
hugging his ribs and struggling to catch his breath.
Angelo studied him in incredulous disgust. ‘He won’t even
fight for you!’
‘Why would he fight for me? He’s gay,’ Gwenna said
woodenly, crouching down beside Toby to ask him if he
was all right.
‘Gay?’ Angelo thundered in disbelief.
‘Gay,’ Toby confirmed, squinting at Gwenna in surprise
and then back at Angelo. ‘Didn’t she mention it?’
‘It was none of Angelo’s business,’ Gwenna declared,
refusing to look at either man.
Angelo strode forward and immediately extended a hand
down to Toby to help the younger man up. ‘I’m sorry. I owe you
a sincere apology.’He sent Gwenna a shimmering glance of chal-
lenge. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? How wasn’t it my business?’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Her cheeks flushed a discomfited pink, Gwenna folded
her lips on a stinging retort. A slanging match in front of
Toby in which Angelo was certain to give as good as he got
would only embarrass her more. She already felt foolish,
angry and guilty that Toby had got hurt. She did not want to
recall that, when she first realised that Angelo had followed
her down to Somerset, she had been pleased.
‘Are you coming back to my hotel with me?’ Angelo
Gwenna jerked her chin in grudging affirmation. ‘How
could you do that?’ she snapped the minute she was alone
‘You’re responsible for that stupid farce,’ Angelo drawled
with cutting cool, thrusting open the inn door for her to
precede him into the car park.
‘And how do you make that out?’ Gwenna demanded.
‘You didn’t answer your mobile phone. You walked out of
your father’s house with the man you told me you loved. You
then dined alone with him and went upstairs to his hotel room.
What was I supposed to think?’
‘That not everyone is as oversexed as you are!’
Gay! The guy was gay! Why hadn’t she said? Angelo’s ag-
gressive jaw line squared. She was all sweetness and light with
everyone else, but she had gone out of her way to put him
through the equivalent of a meat mincer. Subtle torture of the
most female kind. Naturally he had found it offensive that her
main source of interest should be another man, when it was
bed she was sharing! When she had thrown that fact in his
teeth earlier that day, Angelo had been dismayed by the dis-
covery that he was struggling to restrain his temper even with
‘I still don’t understand how you knew where I was today.’
Angelo dealt her a sardonic look. ‘I always know where
you are. Whenever you go out, someone on Franco’s team
watches over you. I’m in the public eye. I have enemies. Even
if the only threat is from the paparazzi, you need protection.’
Gwenna could hardly contain her annoyance. ‘It’s like
being under police surveillance…why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Your safety is my concern. So, tell me the tale of Toby,’
Angelo invited, determined to satisfy his curiosity. ‘How did
you manage to fall for someone who’s gay?’
Gwenna worried at her lower lip with her teeth before she
finally answered. ‘It was a secret and I wasn’t in on it when
I first knew him. By the time I found out, it was too late.’
‘How too late? Finding out
should have been a wake-
up call,’ Angelo said very drily.
‘It’s not that simple—’
‘In the same scenario I would find it very simple.’
Gwenna tilted her chin. ‘When did you last fall for anyone?’
Angelo felt as if he had been dumped in conversational
quicksand. He didn’t do love, didn’t believe in it, didn’t go
into the building, never mind the living room. Love was a
four-letter word that had never crossed his lips since child-
hood and not something he was prepared to talk about. His
icy reserve was well known. People didn’t ask him personal
questions. They didn’t have the nerve. They didn’t want to
‘How come you can ask me but I can’t ask you?’ she
prompted in the simmering silence.
…I don’t fall. Okay?’
Gwenna fixed stunned china-blue eyes on him. ‘You
‘So what?’ Angelo was infuriated by her compassionate
look that implied he must be some kind of emotional cripple.
Gwenna wished she hadn’t asked. She felt terribly sad for
him and hastened to breach the awkward silence. ‘My grand-
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mother used to say that it takes all sorts to make a world,’ she
continued brightly. ‘I suppose that if I’d ever met anyone else
worth caring about, I would’ve got over Toby. There again,
he would be a hard act to follow. He’s very creative—he
designs parks and gardens. We have a lot in common—’
‘Soil…plants…’ Angelo slotted in with lethal derision.
‘The wow factor.’
Her heart-shaped face tightened. ‘Toby’s really special—
kind and caring.’
Worth caring about.
Although he wasn’t looking for love,
Angelo felt affronted. Toby was kind, caring and creative. It
was not a level playing field. Possibly Toby filled in for the
saints in his spare time. Angelo decided that pursuing the
topic was beneath his dignity.
It was almost midnight when they arrived at the Peveril
House hotel. A private lift whisked them up to an opulent suite
that comprised several rooms. Gwenna had taken one step
through the door when Piglet hurled himself at her in raptur-
‘My word, you brought him with you!’ Gwenna pounced
happily on her pet. ‘Thank you.’
Angelo wondered how he was supposed to have left behind
a dog that went on hunger strike without her. Piglet had to be
the most successful attention-seeker in canine history.
The next morning, Gwenna woke up at nine. In spite of ev-
erything she had slept like a log and Angelo had left her un-
disturbed. Totally undisturbed. Maybe he had realised how
exhausted she had been. She was surprised that he hadn’t
asked about the nature of her family crisis the night before.
But then why should he be interested? But if he wasn’t inter-
ested, why had he followed her down to Somerset?
She could no longer avoid the disagreeable decision she
had to make. Did she or did she not ask Angelo to help her
father? Certainly, she didn’t want to make that approach. In
fact she cringed at the very thought of it. But although Eva
and her daughters had been unpleasant and her father had
treated the matter far too lightly, Gwenna still felt that she
should do what she could to try and help. The money had been
taken from the garden fund around the same time as the
money from Furnridge. In many ways it could be seen as
another strand of the same offence, she told herself bracingly.
When she appeared for breakfast, Angelo acknowledged
her with an inclination of his handsome dark head. He was
poised by a desk across the room and talking in rapid Italian,
and it was clear to her that he was fully engaged in business.
She watched him covertly while she chased some cereal round
a bowl, her appetite steadily dwindling at the prospect of the
dialogue that lay ahead.
Angelo tossed the phone aside and strolled fluidly towards
her. In a well-cut suit the colour of rich caramel, a silk shirt
and a narrow trendy tie, he was drop-dead beautiful, she ac-
‘Sleep well?’ he enquired casually.
‘I didn’t.’ Lean, powerful face intent, Angelo lounged back
against the table edge. He watched her with a smouldering in-
tensity that spoke louder than any words. Slow, painful colour
inched up her pale, slender throat and into her cheeks and she
didn’t ask him why he hadn’t slept well because she knew.
‘Come here,’ he breathed softly.
And she lifted out of her chair before she even appreciated
that she was going to move. With a husky sound of amuse-
ment, Angelo curved an assured hand to her hip and looked
her up and down with bold visual appreciation. ‘I picked out
that dress for you in New York.’
Gwenna was surprised. ‘I didn’t know you picked anything.’
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Angelo was wholly engaged in admiring the enchanting
picture she made. The dress was a perfect fit for her luscious
curves and the exact same shade of blue as the one she had
worn the day they met. ‘Only a couple of items that caught
my eye. I’ve decided that we need a break,
imparted. ‘We’re flying to Sardinia at the end of the week.’
‘Are you serious?’ Gwenna exclaimed.
‘I have a house there…a huge garden,’Angelo tossed in for
good measure. ‘You’ll love it and so will I. Like your plants,
I need copious amounts of sunlight and attention to thrive.’
Gwenna studied him uncertainly. ‘Don’t you want to know
why I needed to see my family yesterday?’
Angelo released his breath in a slow, expressive hiss. ‘I
have a fair idea.’
Her smooth brow furrowed. ‘How? I mean…you didn’t say
anything,’ she faltered.
‘How? I have senior staff at Furnridge and the rumours
about the depredations on the local garden fund hit the grape-
vine there a few days ago,’ Angelo confided with precision.
‘I then made further enquiries, which is why I’m here.’
‘It’s not just a rumour.’
Level dark eyes gazed steadily down at her. ‘I didn’t think
it would be.’
Gwenna moistened her dry lips. ‘My father took the money
and used it to try and conceal the sums he had taken from
Angelo lifted his hand to skate a warning forefinger gently
across her full lower lip. ‘Let’s rewind and not have this con-
versation. I don’t like the direction I suspect it might be taking.’
Her lashes fluttered up on her bemused gaze. ‘How am I
supposed to answer that?’
‘Hopefully with a change of subject.Your life has moved on.’
‘You don’t just move on from family.’
His lean face was sombre. ‘You could be surprised.’
about this and you didn’t even mention it last
night?’ Gwenna shook her head in genuine confusion. ‘No
wonder you didn’t ask me what was wrong! How do you
keep things in separate compartments like that?’
‘I’m a practical guy,’ Angelo quipped.
‘But just to ignore the whole issue like that…’
Angelo lifted and dropped a broad shoulder in silence.
Gwenna could feel the chill in the air. She also noticed that
he was no longer touching her. ‘Angelo…’
‘Don’t go there,
,’ Angelo cautioned.
Gwenna spun away from him and turned round again in a
troubled half-circle. ‘You can’t know what I’m about to say
before I’ve even said it!’
‘Can’t I?’ Angelo countered bleakly.
‘You’re making this very hard for me. Do you think I find
it easy to ask you for money?’ she prompted unevenly and
then groaned out loud. ‘And now I’m making a mess of it.’
‘Not at all. You’ve packaged yourself very prettily for the
challenge. No jeans and T-shirt in sight,’Angelo derided softly.
Gwenna scrutinised him in sincere shock. ‘You really think
that that’s why I’m dressed like this? I’m packaging myself?
I’m not like that—’
‘I thought you weren’t like that too. Sadly, you seem set
on course to prove me wrong.’
Pale and taut, Gwenna stilled, her eyes full of strain. ‘Stop
being clever and trying to scare me into silence. Don’t you
understand that I can’t
‘No, I don’t. Do you honestly believe that your father is a de-
serving cause? A truly penitent sinner worthy of a helping hand?’
His cold contempt lashed stinging colour into her cheeks.
‘He’s my father and I love him. Just at present, I’m ashamed
of him too,’ she confided with a catch in her low-pitched
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voice. ‘He’s weak and he’s broken the law and he’s betrayed
the trust of others, but he’s still my closest living relative—
and I can’t forget how he stood by me when I was a child.’
Angelo vented a harsh laugh. ‘And what if he didn’t stand
by you in quite the way you imagine?’
Gwenna gazed back at him in bewilderment. ‘What do
‘Forget it. I was thinking of something else.’
Angelo veiled his granite hard gaze. She would have to
deal with the truth some time. But now when she was already
upset would be very poor timing. He would tell her in
Sardinia and that would cut her loose. Like most con men,
Hamilton was a seasoned liar and his life had more sordid
secrets than a soap opera. Once she had been made to face
the reality, she would soon rethink her sentimental take on
family ties. And although he thought it regrettable that she
would lose that trusting naivety in the process, he was deter-
mined to do it.
Gwenna laced her fingers through each other and threw
back her slight shoulders as she steeled herself. ‘I desperately
want my father to have the chance to turn his life around—’
Angelo threw up his hands in a gesture of total derision and
walked over to the window to turn his back on her.
‘Oh…please,’ he said acidly.
‘He’ll never do it if nobody believes in him. He’ll go to
prison if the garden committee has to press charges and what
choice do they have? Some very influential people donated
money to the fund. Please consider replacing the money,’ she
whispered shakily. ‘Even as a loan.’
… A loan with what security?’ Angelo swung
back and rested sardonic dark-as-night eyes on her. ‘You
almost had me convinced that you were different and I liked
that idea. A lady with principles. Until now you had the unique
distinction of being the only woman who has never asked me
for money… Or jewels to the value of.’
The blood drained from below her fine creamy skin. She
wanted to sink through the floor in shame and could not
sustain his challenging gaze. The line that divided right from
wrong was no longer as well defined as she had once believed
it to be. Even while she felt bound in duty to try and protect
her father, she was appalled by what she was doing.
‘You also told me that you couldn’t be bought,’ Angelo
reminded her darkly. ‘But you just named your price.’
Hot, prickly tears hit the backs of her eyes. ‘Angelo…I
really didn’t want to do this—’
‘Yet you did. If I wanted to play games, I could ask you
what’s in it for me. But it would be cruel to put you on the
spot when I have no intention of giving you a positive
response. Do I care what happens to your father? No. Do I
wish to please you to that extent? I’m afraid not,’ Angelo
completed with chilling cool.
That final assertion hurt as much as an unexpected slap in
the face. It was one thing to tell herself that her sole value to
Angelo Riccardi was sexual, quite another to be confronted
with his unapologetic confirmation of the fact. Indeed he was
so cold, so unemotionally distant, that he frightened her. It was
as though the last month hadn’t happened and he had reas-
sumed the guise of a callous stranger.
Gwenna straightened her taut shoulders. ‘I’m sorry I made
the mistake of believing that you might have some compassion.’
‘I reserve compassion for worthy causes and your father
will never feature in that category.’
‘Yet you can squander a fortune on stupid clothes for me!
Hang diamonds worth…whatever round my neck!’ she pro-
tested in a feverish rush of incomprehension. ‘Even the way you
sneer at me for caring about what happens to my father—’
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‘I don’t sneer—’
‘Your voice does it for you!’
‘Your father is trying to use you again. Where’s your
common sense? Can’t you tell? Does a decent man let his
daughter pay for his freedom with her body?’ Angelo raked
at her with derision.
Gwenna gulped. ‘That’s not fair. Dad thinks we’re really
‘You know what I mean. He thinks we
other,’ she shot back wretchedly. ‘And since you said it first—
does a decent man ask a woman to pay for her father’s
freedom with her body?’
Outrage flashed in Angelo’s punitive appraisal. ‘
Don’t pair me with your father in the same sentence.
If people could still be bought and sold like goods, he’d be
the first to sell you to me at a profit!’
‘That’s a filthy lie! My father loves me—’
‘He’s a con man and a swindler,’ Angelo sliced in with
cutting hauteur. ‘I’ve an even better question for you to ask
yourself. What sort of man steals his eight-year-old daughter’s
inheritance from her?’
Her feathery brows lifting in a frown of incomprehension,
Gwenna stared back steadily at him. ‘What are you saying?
I’m sorry…what’s that supposed to mean? What inheritance?’
Lean, darkly handsome features taut, Angelo swore under his
breath for he had not intended to reveal that information. ‘Donald
Hamilton forged his own version of your mother’s will.’
It took so much effort to concentrate that Gwenna felt
dizzy. ‘Forged? I beg your pardon?’
‘There’s a lot of solid evidence. Handwriting experts
have been consulted. The will is not even a clever fake.
One witness and the solicitor involved have since died,’
Angelo explained. ‘The second witness, however, has been
tracked down abroad and he’s prepared to swear that the will
is not the document he originally signed in your mother’s
presence. Your father forged another will and named himself
as the main beneficiary. He wanted the Massey Manor estate
and he took advantage of your mother’s death to steal it
Gwenna was shaking her head back and forth like a met-
ronome. ‘This is nonsense, totally ridiculous nonsense—’
‘And when your father rushed to offer you a home and
adopt you, everybody was surprised but impressed. Nor did
anyone ask why a woman who had been known to have hated
him would have left him everything she possessed.’
‘Angelo…this is wicked, what you’re trying to insinuate,
what you’re saying,’ Gwenna told him jerkily, words and
phrases getting jumbled as she attempted unsuccessfully to
master her shock.
‘I’m sorry. It’s the truth.’
‘No…no, it can’t be.’ Gwenna grabbed up her bag from
the seat where she had left it the night before and hauled
out her phone.
‘Who are you calling?’
Angelo snatched the phone off her. ‘What do you need
‘Give me my phone!’ Gwenna screeched at him.
‘Think before you spill the beans…can you trust Toby
James with such highly sensitive information?’Angelo set her
phone down on the table between them as though it were a very
dangerous weapon. ‘He’s on that garden committee, isn’t he?’
Gwenna snatched up her phone but she did not make the
call. She wanted to hit Angelo for making her think twice
about contacting her best friend for support. Her throat was
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thick with emotion. ‘Dad did not forge my mother’s will and
this entire issue is nothing to do with you.’
‘He signed over the property against his debt to Furnridge.
If he didn’t legally own the estate, he committed another act
of fraud. Perhaps you would prefer the police to investigate
A chill settled over Gwenna then. She felt as if she were
trapped in a nightmare from which there was no escape.
Angelo settled a hand to her spine. She pulled away in a
violent movement of rejection.
‘You had to be told some time,
Gwenna shot him a defiant glance. ‘I intend to discuss
your insane allegations with my father.’
‘You should see the evidence first.’ Angelo removed a file
from the drawer of the desk and walked back to hand it to her.
‘Go away,’ she urged unevenly.
Angelo went out to the hall where Piglet had been corralled
in disgrace. The little dog’s morning walk had concluded with
the noisy harassment of a driver climbing out of his car.
Angelo had been quite heartened when he’d heard about that
unprovoked attack. It was good to know that he wasn’t the
only man that Piglet hated. Purposefully leaving the door
back into the drawing room ajar, Angelo watched Piglet take
the bait and pelt past him to join Gwenna with a triumphant
burst of barking.
Clutching her pet below one arm, Gwenna sat down at the
desk and opened the file. There were legal letters, samples of
her mother’s signature, expert opinions. But when she came
on the deposition from the man who had witnessed her
mother’s will, her tummy turned queasy. The witness was
prepared to swear in court that Isabel Massey had left her
estate to her child.
When Angelo reappeared half an hour later, Gwenna was
proud that she had hung onto her composure. She stood up.
‘I want to see my father.’
‘He’ll give you a pack of excuses. My staff tell me that
that’s how he operates,’ Angelo advanced.
‘I can handle it.’ Her blue eyes were bright as stars with
defiance as she looked steadily back at him.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t agree.’
‘What the hell has it got to do with you? How would you
know?’ she practically screamed at him, the sudden uncon-
trollable flare of her temper taking her by storm and
Angelo remained tactfully silent.
‘You think I’m going to lose it. Well, I’m not going to. I
only lose it with you!’ she muttered defensively.
Gwenna sat in the limo like a stone statue, but below the
surface she was seething with a mess of disturbed emotions.
The vehicle pulled up outside her father’s home.
‘You don’t have to confront him. Why don’t you let me deal
with this?’ Angelo asked levelly.
father.’ Clutching the file, Gwenna climbed out.
‘And don’t you dare come in!’
leafed frantically through the file Gwenna
had presented him with. Finally he thrust it down on the
table. His complexion had taken on an unhealthy grey hue,
his shock palpable. ‘Did Angelo Riccardi put all that stuff
together for you?’
‘Yes,’ Gwenna breathed. ‘Please don’t tell me any lies. I
need to hear the truth.’
‘It looks a lot worse than it is,’ Donald declared defensively.
‘Let me explain how it happened—’
‘It wasn’t something that just happened. Don’t talk as
though it was something that you had no control over,’
Gwenna broke in tautly. ‘You forged my mother’s will so that
I was left penniless. That’s what it comes down to!’
‘You’re making too much of this,’ the older man argued
vehemently. ‘It all started out quite innocently. When you
were a baby, I tried to persuade your mother, Isabel, into a
business partnership. I hoped that together we could build
houses on the Massey estate.’
‘Build?’Gwenna parroted. ‘But it’s against the law to develop
a site that’s been listed as being of historical significance.’
‘It was over twenty years ago and the estate wasn’t listed
then,’ he reminded her doggedly. ‘I wanted to make some
money for us all. Isabel was as poor as a church mouse, but
she went crazy when I suggested the property deal. Playing
lady of the manor, even if the big house was in ruins, was very
important to your mother.’
‘I know,’ Gwenna acknowledged reluctantly.
‘By the time you were born, my relationship with Isabel
was only a friendship,’ Donald Hamilton contended.
That was not how Gwenna remembered it. The affair had
waxed and waned according to her father’s mood. Her
mother’s bitterness had escalated when she had finally begun
to appreciate that the man she had loved for so long had never
cared for her the way she cared for him.
‘My first marriage was a disaster and I wanted a divorce.
Developing the Massey estate seemed like my only escape
route,’ the older man continued with determination. ‘I needed
to make a lot of money. I had a wife to keep, I had you and your
mother to support and, by then, I’d also met another woman.’
Gwenna could not say that she was surprised by that ad-
mission. ‘Didn’t that happen to you rather too often? Off with
the old, on with the new?’
Her father grimaced. ‘I don’t expect you to understand but
Fiorella was different. She was an Italian, very glamorous. I
hoped to marry her but that affair blew up in my face—’
Gwenna frowned. ‘I don’t see what all this has got to do
with my mother’s will.’
‘I’m trying to explain why I did what I did.’
Unimpressed by what struck her as a clumsy attempt to
somehow excuse the inexcusable, Gwenna stared at the
damning file, which lay on the coffee table. Beneath the table,
Piglet sighed in his sleep. She was beginning to wonder why
she had even bothered coming to see her father. She felt
empty. Nothing he could say was going to make her feel
better about the fact that he had stolen her birthright and held
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
onto it for so many years at her expense. She had felt so guilty
about his first marriage breaking up. He had allowed her to
believe that her adoption had led to his divorce. Yet he had
just admitted that he had wanted out of that marriage.
Things she had closed her eyes to, comparisons that it hurt
to make, were now crowding in on her. Her stepsisters had
grown up in a lovely big house with their mother and her
father, while Gwenna had been exiled to a down-market
boarding-school that she’d hated. During the holidays, her
presence in her father’s marital home had been barely toler-
ated by her stepfamily. Gwenna had scrimped and saved and
worked part-time through all her college courses. From the
age of eighteen, she had lived in a cramped and shabby little
flat that was basically just the roof space above a glorified
shed of a shop and she had run the nursery for a meagre wage.
Yet a mere word of approbation from her father had been suf-
ficient to keep her walking on air for days afterwards.
‘Gwenna…’ Donald Hamilton spoke with unusual
urgency. ‘You have to listen to me.’
‘If you want me to listen, tell me something relevant. The
story of your romance with some glamorous Italian woman
isn’t,’ she muttered with distaste.
‘In this case, it is,’ he insisted. ‘One day three men walked
into my office in broad daylight and told me I’d been messing
around with a very important man’s daughter, who already
had a husband. I was warned that if I wanted to stay alive and
prosper I had to get out of Fiorella’s life.’
‘Really?’ Gwenna only registered that her father had been
indulging in an affair with a married woman and she thought
it served him right if he had for once been called to account
for his behaviour. ‘Maybe my mum would have had a happier
life if she’d had a father capable of pulling the same stunt.’
‘For heaven’s sake, Gwenna. They put a gun to my head—
I thought I was going to die!’ Donald Hamilton protested fu-
riously. ‘They were violent criminals.’
‘I’m sure,’ Gwenna sighed, wondering where the tall tale
would go next.
‘I was managing Fiorella’s money and she was a wealthy
woman. Her father’s thugs demanded that I hand over all of
that money. They escorted me to the bank and waited while
I made arrangements to withdraw her cash. But she’d already
spent a good deal of it and the men threatened to come back
and visit me a third time if I didn’t cover the amount that had
been spent. I had to pay up. They bled me dry. Needless to
say I cut loose fast from Fiorella, but I was financially ruined.’
‘I’m sorry… I don’t believe any of this and I don’t know
how you can expect me to.’
‘Your mother’s solicitor worked in the same practice as I
did. He was elderly, overdue for retirement. It was easy to
remove papers from his safe,’ the older man admitted. ‘I ap-
proached a loan company in London and pretended I owned
the Massey estate. Using it as security, I borrowed a large sum
of money. I had to have some way of meeting my obligations
at home. Remember you and your mother were my depen-
Gwenna frowned, finally grasping the connection, even if
she didn’t credit the preceding story. ‘How could you do that
to my mother? Was she just one more person to be used and
fleeced? Is there anyone you won’t use?’
‘When your mother died, there was still an outstanding
loan against the estate and I had to cover up the evidence of
that. What choice did I have? I may have forged that will but
I did it with the best of intentions. I had such wonderful plans.’
A ragged laugh fell from her lips. ‘Mum wanted me to have
the estate, not you.’
‘I gave you a home. I adopted you,’ her father reminded
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her without hesitation. ‘I hoped to develop the estate and you
would have benefited from that too, if it had come off.’
‘I don’t think so. I was just a means to an end and a cheap
way to keep the nursery going.’ Gwenna lifted the file and got
up on stiff legs. ‘I’m taking the Jeep. It’s mine.’
‘You can’t leave like this. What’s going to happen now?’
Vaulting to his feet, the older man skimmed an apprehensive
glance out the window.
She followed his gaze. Angelo was leaning up against the
long gleaming bonnet of his ridiculously sumptuous car. She
realised that she didn’t care what action Angelo took over her
parent’s most recent act of fraud. Presumably Angelo would
relish the opportunity to prosecute him. That was fine by her
but it also meant that her private agreement with Angelo
would be null and void. Her father would be arrested and
charged and he would go to court. And if she could not or
would not intervene that meant that she was free again, as free
as a bird, she registered numbly.
Angelo Riccardi?’ her father queried, his frown
deepening. ‘He looks younger than he does in newsprint. He
reminds me of someone. Why don’t you invite him in?’
‘I don’t want to,’ she admitted without apology.
She walked out to the kitchen, grabbed the keys to the old
four-wheel drive and went straight out to the yard at the back.
She drove round the house, braking to a halt beside the limo
before she could lose her nerve. With clumsy fingers, she
frantically lowered the creaking window.
The epitome of cool, Angelo elevated an enquiring brow.
‘Is that a roadworthy vehicle?’
‘Don’t be a snob,’ Gwenna breathed tightly. ‘Well, I
suppose this is it. Our arrangement is over.’
Disturbed by the hollow, unfocused look in her eyes,
Angelo cut in. ‘Over?’
‘You can press charges against my father. I don’t care any
His dark, lustrous eyes glittered. ‘You don’t mean that—’
‘Yes, I do. He’s a horrible man,’ she said flatly. ‘I’m cer-
tainly not going to sacrifice my life to keep him out of prison,
so go ahead and prosecute him.’
‘I wasn’t referring to your father. It’s the, “over” angle that
I was questioning,’ Angelo countered with pronounced care.
‘You and me…’
Gwenna stared out the windscreen, her classic profile
pale and tight. ‘There is no you and me,’ she whispered.’
There was an arrangement and now it’s finished. If the will
was forged, the Massey estate is mine and just as soon as the
legal work’s done and your staff move on, I’ll be taking over
‘This is not the place to stage this discussion—’
‘I don’t have to discuss it. You can keep the clothes and
forward the rest of my stuff to the nursery.’ With that final as-
surance, Gwenna angled her vehicle round the nose of the
limo and sped off down the drive.
Angelo was thunderstruck by the turn of events. She had
taken him by surprise. How had that happened? He was always
ahead of the game. Why hadn’t it occurred to him that she
might walk away once she stopped caring about what happened
to her father? When had he lost his grip to that extent?
Piglet appeared round the corner of the house and ran past
him in frenzied pursuit of Gwenna’s old banger of a car. Left
behind, the little dog had had a hair-raising encounter with the
white Persian who ruled the Hamilton kitchen and he had fled
through the cat flap.
For about ten seconds, Angelo stared after the dog in
frowning surprise, and then, seeing the distraught little animal
charging right out into the road, he unfroze and sprinted down
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
the drive. Shouting at his team, Franco took off after him. The
older man reached the roadside just in time to see his employer
make a dive for Piglet, who was running frantically through
the traffic. Scooping the little animal up, Angelo tossed him
onto the grass verge and almost lost his balance in the process.
As he rocked back on his heels, he was clipped by the wing
of a car. Flung up over the bonnet, he came crashing down
again to the accompaniment of squealing brakes and strident
shouts. He lay still on the road, blood seeping from the side
of his head. Shaking and whining with fright, Piglet sought
security from the only familiar face and darted nervously into
the shelter of Angelo’s body to lick at his hand.
Gwenna had almost driven right through the village before she
realised that she had not a clue where to go. At first she did
not want to think about anything that had happened that
morning. Every thought seemed laden with the threat of hurt
and she felt curiously unable to cope even with the compara-
tively minor decision of where to go next.
The familiar sight of the Massey Manor gates took care of
that concern for her. That part of the estate was closed to ve-
hicular traffic and she parked outside, scrambling out to walk
up the rough lane that had once been the entrance drive to the
house. For the first time she wondered if her inability to think
and react normally related to shock. Shock at her father’s
treachery and greed?
Shock at the revelation that she was, after all, the rightful
owner of the estate that had been in her family for genera-
tions? Of course that fact would have to be ratified by a court
of law before it was officially hers but, even so, it was good
news, wasn’t it? Nobody would ever be able to take the estate
away from her again and in her hands it would be safe. The
plant nursery would belong to her once more. It had made a
reasonable income. When she was no longer required to pass
over all the profits to her father, she would be able to build up
the business and look forward to more comfortable takings
in the future.
Yet even those rousing prospects failed to comfort her.
What she had learned about her only surviving parent had dev-
astated her. Worse still she was looking back and seeing that,
although she had chosen to avoid acknowledging it, she had
always been a rank outsider in her father’s family circle. She
had hovered on the sidelines, eager to please, desperate to
make a place for herself at the Old Rectory and most often
ignored, dismissed or scorned.
She wandered round the overgrown grounds of the estate
for quite a while and the familiarity of her surroundings
helped her to calm down somewhat. Perhaps, she finally
conceded, she was also a little bit in shock at the concept of
a life that no longer contained Angelo. How had he managed
to become so entwined with her every thought and expecta-
tion? Why could she not imagine a future without him? Her
mind served up a compelling image of Angelo. Aggressive
and dynamic, he lived and moved at a fast pace. His electric
energy, high expectations and impatience were symptomatic
of his genius. He was only still and silent when he was
asleep. At last she let herself contemplate the prospect of
never seeing Angelo again and she realised with greater
shock than ever that it hurt much more than anything else
had that day. She pressed clammy hands to her tear-wet
cheeks and sank down shakily on the worn sun-warmed
steps of the old house.
When had she stopped hating Angelo? And why hadn’t she
realised that she had long since stopped hating him? At what
point had Toby begun to feel like a much loved friend rather
than the source of her unfulfilled dreams? How could she have
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
fallen in love with Angelo? She fought all the time with him!
He always knew best about everything! What interests did
they share? But she got quite a buzz out of fighting with him,
didn’t she? He was incredibly attractive and sexy and he made
everything seem wildly exciting. Was it an infatuation? Well,
she was soon going to have the chance to find out, wasn’t she?
She had just dumped him.
Could she change her mind about that? Would that be
foolish? Pathetic? Or was it her duty to go cold turkey and get
over him? Why, oh, why had she left her phone in the car?
Suppose Angelo had called her?
It was at that point that Gwenna finally registered Piglet’s
absence and realised that she had left her pet behind at the Old
Rectory. What a state she must have been in to walk out of
there and just forget about poor Piglet! Rising upright and
dusting down her dress, she went back down the lane and
found Toby walking round her car and peering in.
‘Looking for me?’ she asked, unlocking the driver’s door
and immediately reaching for her phone.
‘I was surprised to see your car parked here…’
There were a number of missed calls on her phone and she
was about to access them to check out the caller when she
noticed the odd note in Toby’s voice. ‘What’s up?’
‘I assumed you’d be at the hospital.’ Toby was watching
her closely for signs of reaction. ‘You don’t know, do you?
Angelo’s been involved in an accident.’
Her tummy flipped and her head swam.
She stared at Toby in horror. ‘An accident? Where?
‘Your stepmother saw it happen. She was coming home
with her shopping—’
‘Never mind where she was coming from—just tell me
about Angelo! Is he all right?’
‘Look, I’ll take you to the hospital now.’ Toby tucked her
into the passenger seat of his low-slung sports car.
‘Toby!’ she prompted sickly. ‘Just tell me!’
Toby drove out onto the road and cleared his throat. ‘Eva
said he was unconscious. He was hit by a car—’
‘You mean his car was hit—’
‘Angelo wasn’t in his car. It’s possibly not the moment to
mention it, but Piglet’s all in one piece.’
‘What’s Piglet got to do with it?’
So Toby told her that Angelo had saved her dog’s life.
Angelo, who had once referred to her pet as a piranha fish on
four legs. She felt sick with fear and horribly guilty.
‘It was an item on the lunchtime news. I didn’t quite ap-
preciate how important the guy was—’
‘Where is he?’ Gwenna interrupted.
‘I’m taking you straight there.’
Her mobile rang and she snatched it up. It was Franco. She
was grateful for his calm but disturbed to hear that Angelo had
still not regained consciousness. Having warned her that the
press were gathering at the front of the hospital, Franco
arranged to meet her in a less public location.
‘I’ve told everyone that you’re Mr Riccardi’s partner,’
Franco confessed, within a minute of their harried meeting.
Considering the connotations of that label and deeming
them an outright lie in her case, Gwenna bit her lip. ‘I don’t
think that…I mean—’
‘That’s the only way you’ll be allowed to see him, Miss
Hamilton. Lawyers are already on their way here to take charge.’
Gwenna stepped into the lift.
The only way you’ll be
allowed to see him.
The risk of being barred from seeing
Angelo was quite enough to silence her qualms. ‘Lawyers?’
‘Decisions have to be made quickly about Mr Riccardi’s
treatment. You care about him. I trust you to make the right
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
choices.’ Franco looked grave. ‘If you don’t accept the re-
sponsibility, other interests could step in and take over here
Gwenna was startled by that warning, but she respected a
candour that cut right through to what was really important.
In the absence of family, Angelo’s lawyers would hold sway
and evidently Franco distrusted them. Angelo was hugely
wealthy. Might that influence the quality of the choices made
on his behalf? Angelo reposed great trust in his chief of
security. Gwenna didn’t understand why Franco was so
worried but she recognised his sincere concern for Angelo and
hastily nodded agreement.
Franco guided her through a throng of people and into the
presence of a harassed doctor, who was eager to issue a report
on Angelo’s condition. He thought Angelo’s head injury
should be scanned, which meant taking him to another
hospital. But the lawyers were fighting over whether or not
Angelo should be moved. Time was passing and the doctor
was worried about the delay.
‘Go ahead and make the arrangements for the scan,’
‘You’ll take responsibility?’
‘Yes, may I see him now?’ Gwenna was struggling to
contain her fierce impatience.
Angelo was pale, the side of his face cut and badly bruised
and he was very, very still. She closed her hand over his limp
brown fingers curled on top of the sheet. Swallowing convul-
sively, she sat down by the bed. Angelo just about tolerated
Piglet, yet he had put himself in jeopardy to save the little dog
from being run over. Angelo had done a crazy but wonderful
thing. And he could only have done it for
her eyes, she mustered a steadying breath and began to pray.
Very few minutes passed before the nursing staff came in to
prepare Angelo to be airlifted to a city hospital.
Angelo surfaced from what felt like the worst hangover of all
time with a splitting headache. He was in the act of master-
ing a surge of nausea when he registered that a man was
speaking in a sharp hectoring tone and that a hand was tight-
ening on one of his as if he were a lifeline.
‘I’m afraid you’re going to hear my opinion whether you
want it or not, Miss Hamilton,’ the suave lawyer intoned with
contempt. ‘The scan was a waste of time. You let a junior
doctor dictate a decision that may have seriously damaged Mr
Riccardi’s prospects of recovery.’
‘That hospital didn’t have the facilities to carry out a proper
investigation. At that point, I felt that there was no time to
waste.’ Gwenna was wondering how many hours it was since
she had last slept, for her head felt too heavy to be supported
by her neck. Dawn light was filtering through the curtains.
‘You acted without authority and with my express
disagreement. Who are you? His
?’ the lawyer derided.
‘Don’t make me laugh! You’re the daughter of a criminal, and
only one more in a long line of little—’
The thick black fringe of Angelo’s lashes lifted to reveal
the blazing impact of his gaze. ‘
Stop right there if
you want to stay employed,’ he growled hoarsely. ‘Treat Miss
Hamilton with respect. You do not abuse or bully her. Is that
Gwenna was only dimly aware of the other man’s shaken
apologies and immediate retreat. She was so overjoyed that
Angelo had recovered consciousness that she was incapable
of appreciating anything else. Her eyes filled with tears of
relief. ‘I was scared you were never going to wake up. I’ll ring
the bell for the nurse.’
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‘Not yet.’Angelo surveyed her, taking in the tousled honey
tumble of her hair, her mascara-smudged-and-shadowed eyes
and her unflattering pallor. He had never seen her look less
beautiful and could not comprehend why, in spite of all the
evidence to the contrary, she should look so wonderful to
him. ‘How long have I been out of it for?’
‘Almost eighteen hours.’
She was still wearing the same clothes. Most probably, he
reflected, she had not even looked in a mirror, for she was not
vain. ‘Have you been with me all that time?’
‘Yes, of course.’
She had not left his side. She had sat up all night. He could
not imagine a single woman of his acquaintance caring so
little for her appearance or comfort and he was touched. ‘You
fought with my lawyers for my benefit. That was very brave,’
he pronounced, retaining a firm grip on her hand. ‘Did you
shout at them?’
‘So, it’s only me you shout at.’
Tears ready to overflow, she shook her head in wordless
defeat at the over-emotional state she was in.
‘It’s a distinction that makes me feel special,
Angelo declared, wondering why he liked the fact that she was
crying over him.
Gwenna darted an uncomfortable glance at him and then
lowered her lashes. ‘After what I said, you must be wonder-
ing what I’m doing here.’
‘You’re here now,’ Angelo cut in with the faintest sugges-
tion of haste. ‘Planning to go anywhere?’
And it was as if a door swept open in front of her without
warning and he was already walking through it and away
from her. The future had been static and unthreatening while
Angelo was out for the count. Now life was beckoning again
and the decision was hers. Yes to Angelo’s question would
mean turning her back on her misgivings and letting her heart
guide her. If she listened to common sense, she would tell him
no. She did not know if she could ever forgive him for the way
things had started out. But the alternative was to leave him
and she could not face that. Love, she was discovering, was
much more complex than she had once fondly believed and
it had stolen her freedom of choice.
‘I still want you to come to Sardinia with me,’ Angelo
imparted huskily. ‘I’m not putting any pressure on you. You
owe me nothing.’
But she only had to look at that lean, dark, devastating face
to feel the magnetic pull of the pressure he exerted without
even trying. When he said that she owed him nothing he was
coming as close as he was prepared to come to the fact that
he had plunged her into a highly immoral arrangement. But
he wasn’t saying sorry and he probably never would. Yet she
still needed him, still wanted him, she acknowledged guiltily.
At that moment nothing else mattered. With a preliminary
knock the consultant and his staff strode in. She had to give
up her seat to let them carry out their checks on Angelo but
his brilliant dark gaze did not stray from her.
‘I’m waiting for an answer,’ he told her as if they were
And she gave the only answer she could give.
But it was eight full days before they managed to get
together again in Sardinia. A strike by an airline that Angelo
owned resulted in chaos for thousands of travellers and
Angelo left hospital and flew straight to Paris to take part in
talks to end the crisis. As a result, Gwenna did not see him
again until she landed at Olbia on the Costa Smeralda coast.
Piglet, equipped with his official pet passport, travelled out
in the cargo hold of the same plane. A slender but shapely
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
figure clad in white linen cropped trousers and a white lace
top, Gwenna attracted a good deal of male attention at the
airport. Eyes starry, she jumped into the passenger seat of
Angelo’s Range Rover.
‘You look fantastic,’ he ground out sexily before he took
her strawberry-tinted mouth in a devastatingly sensual kiss
that set every nerve-ending she possessed alight and left her
His villa rejoiced in a stunning site on the limestone cliffs
of the Golfo di Orosei. The property was surrounded by vi-
brantly colourful tropical gardens. A twisting secret path
hedged in by vegetation led down through a grove of ancient
cork oaks to a private beach of white sand. The magnificent
house was staggeringly opulent. The overhanging roof, natural
stone walls and wood floors kept the interior cool while huge
comfortable sofas heaped with cushions made it inviting.
…’ Angelo trailed out the word with purring
satisfaction at the conclusion of the grand tour ‘…is the
At the press of a button, the wall of glass that overlooked
the sunlit stone veranda split into two sections that slid back
into recesses at either side. A hint of a breeze sent the diapha-
nous drapes fluttering. Gwenna strolled out to enjoy the
dazzling view of the Mediterranean. In the sunlight, the sea
had a sparkling turquoise brilliance.
‘I’m in paradise,’ Gwenna sighed, revelling in the warmth
of the sun on her skin. ‘I love the sound of the waves. It’s so
soothing. Mum used to have a friend with a house at the beach
and when we went to visit we stayed over. I used to fall asleep
listening to the surf.’
‘How well do you swim?’
‘Like a mermaid…why do you never mention your
family?’ Gwenna asked abruptly.
His lean body tensed as he closed his arms round her.
‘What is there to say? After my mother died, I stayed in foster
homes between school terms. I never knew my father.’
‘That’s a shame.’
‘Think of the grief your father has caused you,
Angelo turned her slowly round. Dark eyes smouldering
beneath his black lashes, he dropped a kiss on top of her head.
‘Chill,’ he urged huskily.
He tugged loose the ties on her lace top. The heady strength
of anticipation made her breath catch in her throat. Heat was
slowly uncoiling in her pelvis, sending out wicked little
tendrils of sensual awareness to every part of her. The swollen
peaks of her breasts pushed against the lining on her top.
‘No bra…’ Angelo registered with appreciation, sliding
the edges of the lace apart as if she were his one and only gift
and he was in no hurry to unwrap her. As the full perfection
of the pouting swells was revealed, he expelled his breath on
an admiring hiss. But the sensual appeal of the protruding
velvety pink peaks wrested a hungry groan from him. He
unzipped her cropped trousers, pushed them off her hips.
The burn of his gaze on her nakedness made her tingle. A
clenching sensation pulsed between her thighs and she reacted
to the surge of moist response there with heightened colour
and an almost soundless gasp.
‘You like being stripped.’ Angelo pulled her to him and
toyed with her achingly tender nipples. Exquisite sensation
flooded her trembling body.
‘Yes.’ She was both shamed and excited by that new knowl-
edge about herself. Supporting her, he let his sensual mouth
engulf an engorged rose crest while he scored a forefinger
back and forth across the damp band of silk stretched tight
over her secret place. Involuntary whimpers of sound were
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forced from her. Her legs went weak and he lifted her to carry
her over to the bed.
‘You’re so ready for me,’ Angelo stood over her, wrench-
ing off his clothes.
He too was fiercely aroused and she began to conduct her
own exploration. Bending her head, she pleasured him with
the sensuality that he had taught her.
‘I want more…I want to be inside you,’ Angelo growled,
breaking free to tumble her back against the pillows.
As he spread her slender thighs every individual fibre in
her body was leaping with eager excitement. She angled her
hips up in helpless supplication for his possession. He came
into her hard and fast and hungry. Sweet pleasure engulfed
her in a haze of passion. Tormenting sensation piled on sen-
sation. She was frantic, her responses getting stronger and
wilder. It was as if her system were on fast-forward and she
was wildly out of control by the time that he sent her hurtling
into an explosive climax. Hearing him cry out her name as he
shuddered over her, she felt intensely happy.
‘I apologise…that was a little rough and ready,
,’ Angelo groaned, studying her with melting tawny eyes
that were slightly dazed.
Gwenna gave a delighted little shimmy beneath him and
hugged him tight. If that was rough and ready, she could only
look forward to refined.
Angelo tipped up her face. ‘I mean it. That was more of a
quick snack than the banquet I planned.’
Noting that the bruises were fading fast from his temples
and cheekbone and feeling incredibly tender towards him,
Gwenna grinned up at him. ‘You are always so ambitious—’
‘I wanted you to know how much I—’
‘Missed me?’ she slotted in buoyantly.
‘How much I appreciate you,’Angelo contradicted a shade
stiffly, beautiful eyes guarded, for it felt like a major state-
ment to him.
Smothering a yawn, Gwenna let her eyelids drift down.
‘I’m so sleepy.’
Angelo stared down at her in frustration. ‘I
‘Whatever,’ she mumbled, drowsily unimpressed.
threw a stick for Piglet to fetch as she walked along
the beach. Four weeks of perfect relaxation and contentment
in Sardinia had put a healthy glow in her cheeks and a spring
into her step. She had got her peace of mind back and the
silliest things made her smile, she reflected cheerfully.
Angelo had shamelessly bribed his way into Piglet’s affec-
tions with chocolate treats. It had amused her that Angelo, so
hopelessly competitive in every way, would not settle for
mere tolerance from her pet. Piglet now adored Angelo and
one of his favourite spots to sleep was below Angelo’s desk.
Unfortunately Angelo did not appreciate Piglet’s amazingly
Gwenna thought about the fact that she adored Angelo just
as much as her pet. She was very happy, but occasionally a
cold chill would run over her when she considered the in-
evitable end of the affair. Nothing lasted for ever and she
knew it. He was sure to get bored with her. She couldn’t
believe that she had what it took to hold his attention much
longer. But she was determined to live for the moment…
And the moments that every fresh day brought were won-
derful. Sometimes they were very active and she had been
sailing, windsurfing and scuba-diving, not to mention dancing
all night at a couple of exclusive clubs and at a much less ex-
clusive street carnival. She had cheered at a horse race and had
got embarrassingly tipsy at a peach festival, an instant of
mistaken judgement that Angelo was prone to mentioning more
than she liked. They had eaten out in tiny restaurants in inland
villages where tourists were still rare and she had fallen madly
in love with cheese and honey pastries. Occasionally, however,
they had gone no further than their bedroom or the beach, and
she had fallen asleep in his arms and wakened still in them for
Angelo no longer left her to sleep in a bed of his own.
Slowly but surely she had come to recognise that he was
truly making an effort to please and entertain her. He seemed
gloriously unaware of the reality that she found just being with
him a joy. He gave her flowers. He bestowed a jewelled collar
and toys on Piglet. He ordered the food she liked best when
they stayed in. He had said, rather touchingly, that he hoped
it would be all right to buy her diamonds for her birthday. As
that was still two months away she had been secretly over-
joyed by that evidence of forward planning and stability…
The newspapers had been delivered at nine and, from the
instant that Angelo saw the first headline, he was flooded by
negative uneasy feelings. Blanking them out, he finally threw
the papers aside and went outside to take some much-needed
fresh air. He used binoculars to locate Gwenna, checking the
shrubberies first and smiling at the reflection that his garden-
ers had been very more active since her arrival.
On this occasion, however, she was on the beach larking
about with Piglet like a kid. Dressed in blue polka-dot shorts
and a lemon sun top, she looked delectable. His shapely
mouth compressed. She was solid gold. Unspoilt, honest and
kind, as well as being the first woman to value him more than
his wealth. Of course there was that guy, Toby, but Angelo had
noticed that references to him had become a rarity. In any case
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
he resolutely avoided recalling that awkward angle because,
in every way that mattered, Gwenna Massey Hamilton was
his. Possession was nine-tenths of the law, he reminded
But sometimes as now, when disquiet put him into a more
contemplative mood, Angelo was seriously spooked by what
he had done to Gwenna. Once or twice he had endeavoured
to get himself to the point of discussing his attitude to her
when they had first met, but he had not known what he could
possibly say. He knew that what he had done was unpar-
donable and he was just as aware that she had a lot of heart
and not a spiteful bone in her beautiful body. Unfortunately,
he was equally conscious of her principles, her outlook on the
world, her essential trusting innocence. How could she forgive
betrayal? Or cruelty? How could she ever understand a desire
for revenge that had got out of hand?
He couldn’t possibly tell her the truth. It wasn’t his fault
that his family tree was full of gangsters. But it
that he had acted like one. He did not feel it would be wise to
admit that he was haunted by the fear that there
thing as bad blood and that he had inherited it in his genes.
After all, he had treated her badly and, put in possession of
those facts, might she not understandably decide that he was
a total bastard? And even if he was a total bastard, he reasoned
fiercely, there was no reason why she should ever have to
know. A leopard could change his spots—at least into the
stripes of a tiger.
Gwenna noticed that Angelo was unusually quiet over
dinner. There was a distant aspect to his lustrous dark eyes.
Although he rarely touched alcohol, he took a brandy out onto
the veranda without inviting her to join him. So, he was having
an off-day, acting human, maybe even keen to escape the in-
cessant chatter she occasionally directed at him, she reasoned
ruefully. She was annoyed that she was being so over-sensi-
tive and when he went down to the beach she resisted the urge
to follow him. To occupy herself she lifted the newspaper he
had been studying. It was a lengthy article about the life of a
Mafia don who had died in South America. She took it to bed
with her and ended up reading every word of the ghastly
‘What are you reading?’
Startled, Gwenna looked up and focused on the tall dark
male poised beyond the circle of the lamplight. ‘Angelo…
where have you been?’
‘You sound like a wife.’ His dark voice was slightly slurred.
‘If I was your wife, I’d have phoned you and asked you
where you were and exactly when you would be back,’
Gwenna admitted without hesitation.
Angelo flung back his cropped dark head and laughed with
raw amusement. ‘I like your candour,
In a black designer shirt and jeans, with his masculine
beauty enhanced by stubble, Angelo looked mean, moody
and magnificent. Her heartbeat speeded up. He threw himself
down on the bed beside her and tapped the paper she had cast
down. ‘So, you’re reading about Carmelo Zanetti…’
‘He was so wicked and yet he never went to prison for
‘But he died in exile, alone and sick and despised.’
Gwenna blinked because she wasn’t accustomed to Angelo
showing a more sensitive side unless he could make a joke of
it. ‘There is that…’ Glancing back at the article, she pulled a
face. ‘He was very good-looking when he was young, which is
deeply creepy. Did you know he was originally from Sardinia?’
Angelo scrunched up the newspaper and thrust it clumsily
off the bed.
‘What on earth—?’ Gwenna began.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
He reached up and hauled her down to him, kissing her
breathless with a hunger that could have burned out a bonfire.
‘I need you,’ he confided hoarsely. ‘I really need you with me
Although he was far from sober, there was something in
that appeal and the almost clumsy way he was holding her
prisoner that melted Gwenna down deep inside. ‘I’m not
going anywhere,’ she whispered, tracing one bronzed cheek-
bone with tender fingers.
He made love to her first with blazing power and potency,
and then with a piercing sweetness that brought tears of
gladness to her eyes in the aftermath.
‘Even when you’re drunk, you’re amazing,’ she muttered
gently, wishing she knew what was wrong with him—because
there was very definitely something wrong.
‘I’m not drunk,’ Angelo groaned, and even though it was
a very warm night he kept hold of her until he slid into a
Before dawn, she wakened to see him emerging from the
bathroom towelling dry his hair and she switched on the lights
to study him with troubled blue eyes. ‘Can’t you sleep?’
His lean, darkly handsome face tightened. ‘I have some-
thing to tell you,’ he breathed abruptly. ‘I’ve done some stuff
you know nothing about…’
Gwenna went rigid and suddenly she didn’t want to know
what was wrong; she was afraid that any confession he made
would haunt her for ever. She wanted to shove a brick in his
mouth. Had he been with another woman? But, in the space of
a month he had left her side for a total of just three nights and
he had spent a lot of time on the phone to her those evenings.
Angelo had slammed the door shut on the secret room of
sins concerning her inside his head. He was convinced there
would be no profit and only loss if he risked walking the true
confessions route. Instead he presented her with what he saw
as good news, designed to alleviate her worries, protect her
reputation and make her happy.
‘I’ve paid off your father’s debt to the garden restoration
Astounded by that announcement, Gwenna gazed at him
with wide blue eyes. ‘That’s not possible. I thought he was
‘Prosecuting him wouldn’t be a good idea. Your father has
made a full statement confessing to the forgery of your
mother’s will. That’s to protect you and I from any future
claim he might try to bring. I’ve also signed over ownership
of the Massey estate to you. This way the dirty linen stays
hidden and nobody need ever know. The garden committee
Angelo sank down on the bed beside her. ‘If your father
goes to prison now that you own the estate, some people will
suspect that you were involved in his thefts. Mud sticks,
Gwenna winced. ‘I didn’t think of that…but I did think that
he should be punished this time.’
‘Don’t worry. He’s an incorrigible thief. He’ll be caught
stealing again and I won’t intervene,’ Angelo asserted with a
confidence on that score that she found ever so slightly
chilling. ‘This time around, however, I was thinking of you,
and you don’t deserve to suffer any more for his crimes.’
‘Okay,’ she muttered uncertainly, wishing he had waited
until she woke up properly before tackling such a serious
subject. ‘But it means that you’ve lost thousands and thou-
sands of pounds.’
Angelo shifted a smooth brown shoulder in remarkably
casual dismissal. ‘My choice.’
‘And what about Furnridge?’ she pressed.
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘The company won’t suffer.’
‘But it’s just not right that you should make a loss because
you want to protect me.’ Gwenna raked anxious fingers
through her sleep-tangled honey-blonde tresses.
.’Angelo curved her back firmly
into his arms and she rested her drowsy head back against his
shoulder. ‘Go back to sleep.’
‘Got a hangover?’ she quipped.
‘I wasn’t drunk so I couldn’t have one,’ Angelo asserted
with level cool.
Gwenna turned her head round so that her cheek rested
against him. He smelt of soap and the indefinable scent that
was just him. With a drowsy smile she drifted back to sleep.
She wakened to the noise of a helicopter coming in to land
and a phone ringing somewhere. It was almost lunchtime. She
had slept in and was surprised that Angelo hadn’t roused her.
From the veranda she could hear voices speaking in Italian
on the level below. It sounded as though Angelo had flown in
staff to work. After a shower she put on a light skirt and top
and wandered downstairs in search of Angelo. The ground
floor office suite was jumping with activity. People rushed
past her, hurrying between one room and the next, while
phones seemed to be ringing incessantly.
‘We need a massive piece of damage limitation,’ someone
was saying urgently in English. ‘But it won’t do the boss any
harm in the market-place.’
Angelo was in his study and he was doing something she
had never seen him do in their entire acquaintance; he was
doing nothing. In spite of the obvious crisis he was staring into
space, pale as death beneath his olive skin, his striking bone
structure clenched into hard, forbidding lines.
Gwenna closed the door behind her. ‘Please tell me what’s
wrong,’ she pressed worriedly. ‘It was wrong last night as
well, but you were determined to act like everything was
okay. Where were you? Did something happen?’
Angelo rose lithely upright. ‘I had a couple of drinks and
then went to the church and lit a candle for my mother. I got
talking to the priest. That’s why I was out so late.’
Surprise and relief assailed her. ‘I could’ve come with you…’
‘I needed some time to think. But events have caught up
with me. I have to tell you what happened because that infor-
mation is now in the public domain. It’s in the papers, on the
TV news, all over the internet.’
‘It sounds important, but I’m sure that whatever it is can’t
be as bad as you seem to think. You seem…a little shocked,’
she said gently, striving to be tactful after his rejection of the
suggestion that he might have imbibed too much alcohol the
Grim dark eyes rested on her. ‘I’m angry and I’m bitter,
but I am not shocked.’
Gwenna went the diplomatic route and nodded in agreement.
‘And to explain, I have to go back a few years. When I was
eighteen I was called to a lawyer’s office and told who my
parents really were. My mother had left instructions to that
effect in her will,’ Angelo volunteered flatly. ‘Before she died
she had already warned me that she came from a bad family,
that my father was a dangerous man and that if they found out
where we lived, they would try to take me away from her.’
Gwenna thought that such knowledge must have been a
very frightening burden for a little boy to carry around with
him. Introduced to that culture of secrecy and fear at a very
young age, it was hardly surprising that he had matured into
so reserved a character.
‘Riccardi is not the name I was born with,’ Angelo contin-
ued. ‘In fact my mother changed our surname a couple of
times after she came to England because she was afraid of
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
being traced. She was running away from her heritage and I’ve
spent my life denying it,’ Angelo admitted harshly.
‘My mother was Carmelo Zanetti’s daughter and my father
was the son of another crime family.’
It took Gwenna thirty seconds to work out what he was
telling her and if she was aghast, it was not for the reasons he
had expected. ‘My word, that old man who died this week was
your grandfather and yet you didn’t trust me enough to tell
me that. No wonder you were upset last night!’
Per amor di Dio!
I wasn’t upset!’ Angelo launched at her
in an immediate denial. ‘He was an evil man and I didn’t know
him—we met only once when he was already dying.’
Gwenna saw that being upset fell into the same category
as being drunk and in shock in Angelo’s uncompromisingly
tough expectations of himself. If he said it wasn’t happening,
he could avoid having to acknowledge that he had emotions.
She could only imagine how disturbing he must have found
that meeting with his grandfather. She would have put her
arms round him if she hadn’t known that such obvious
sympathy would infuriate him.
‘You may have despised the person Carmelo Zanetti was,
but he was still a close relative and you’ve been on your own
virtually since your mother died,’ she reminded him gently.
‘Who your parents were doesn’t matter, though. What you are
inside is more important.’
‘And where did you pick up that piece of worldly wisdom?
Out of a Christmas cracker?’ Angelo derided.
Gwenna stood her ground. ‘What you do with your life
matters more than your ancestry.’
Angelo vented a humourless laugh. ‘Believe it or not, I
wanted to be a barrister when I was eighteen. Once I found
out that my entire family on both sides of the tree were
involved in organised crime, I knew there was no way I could
pursue such a profession.’
Drawn by his bitterness, Gwenna moved closer to him.
‘That must have hurt.’
‘It’s immaterial. I had to know who I was to protect myself.
I had to be careful who I trusted, who I did business with. I
swore that everything I did would be legal and above board,’
he breathed in a savage undertone.
‘Of course you did,’ she murmured softly.
‘The same year the Zanetti family approached me through
an intermediary with a job offer and a Ferrari car.’
Gwenna was appalled. ‘So your mother’s family knew who
you were and where to find you in spite of the change of names?’
‘I rejected the offer and ensured that I kept my distance. I
should never have agreed to that meeting with Carmelo. It was
the worst mistake I ever made,’ he breathed grittily.
‘Naturally you were curious.’ Gwenna closed her hand
over his in a helpless gesture of supportiveness. ‘Don’t be so
hard on yourself. Obviously your mother tried to make a new
life for both of you. But having to keep such a huge secret all
these years must’ve put you under a lot of strain as well.’
Closing his arms round her, Angelo stared down at her with
frank fascination. ‘Have you put all this together in your head
yet? Or are you still too busy trying to make me feel better?’
‘Too busy trying to make you feel better. But I don’t quite
understand yet. You’re annoyed because somehow your con-
nection to Carmelo Zanetti has become public knowledge?
How did that happen?’
‘Carmelo decided to have the last laugh and he’s blown my
reputation sky-high,’ Angelo volunteered heavily. ‘The
contents of his will have been leaked and I’ve been informed
that he’s left me all his worldly goods. In death he has made
our relationship impossible to deny.’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘He must’ve had a soft spot for you…I mean, you’re very
successful and you didn’t have to become a thug to achieve
that. Making you his heir was probably his equivalent of
boasting about you,’ Gwenna contended in a positive tone,
leaning into the hard shelter of his big tense frame and wishing
he would relax a little.
‘I also learned that it wasn’t my mother’s elderly former
employer who financed my boarding-school education,’Angelo
said bitterly. ‘It was Carmelo. That makes me feel like an idiot!’
‘I don’t see why. You were only a child and people lied to
you,’ Gwenna said sensibly. ‘Did Franco already know that
you have dodgy relations?’
‘Not the details, but the reality that I had to take certain
precautions about how I operate and who I employ close
Gwenna recalled the older man’s concern that what he had
called ‘other interests’ might try to take control when Angelo
was unconscious and unable to make decisions for himself.
It dawned on her that Carmelo Zanetti, as a blood relative,
might have demanded a say in the proceedings and she sup-
pressed a shiver.
‘Did your grandfather leave you much?’ she asked as an
‘Millions…all clean and legitimate, according to his
lawyer. I was the only close relative he had left. But I don’t
want his filthy money,’Angelo ground out with ferocious bite.
‘Then you make sure that all that cash gets spent on really
deserving causes. Cancer research, famine relief, Third World
projects,’ Gwenna suggested. ‘Good can be made to come out
of bad and nobody can fault you for that.’
Gazing wonderingly down at her serene face, Angelo was
more than ever determined to take the story of his own involve-
ment in her father’s downfall to the grave with him. Not for
one moment had she considered holding his ancestry against
him. In addition, her inspired suggestion was the simple
solution and the most appropriate to his predicament. His
very highly paid PR consultants would not have dreamt of pro-
posing that he give away that much money. But he didn’t want
it and putting that massive legacy to humanitarian use was the
only way of acknowledging his unfortunate connections,
while at the same time detaching himself from that taint.
Long brown fingers framed her cheekbone and his glinting
golden gaze was openly approving. ‘You’re a very special
‘Sometimes you take stuff too seriously. Rise above it all,’
she urged. ‘Remember that your mother rejected her family
so that she could bring you up to lead a law-abiding life. Be
proud that you’ve honoured that.’
His lean, powerful face shadowed. ‘Law-abiding,
conceded sombrely. ‘But I’ve still done things I’m not proud of.’
Someone knocked on the door and Angelo answered it.
‘There’s a phone call for you,’ he interpreted as the maid spoke.
Less than pleased by the interruption at a point when
Angelo seemed to be dropping the steel barrier of his reserve,
Gwenna hurried past him. ‘I’ll be back in two minutes…don’t
go away anywhere.’
Angelo smiled and then looked very surprised that he was
smiling. Knowing that she had lifted his mood delighted her.
It was a challenge for her to follow the maid into the next room
when all she could think about was how much she loved him.
Although she would never have dreamt of telling him the fact,
she loved him all the more for betraying his vulnerability.
The sound of her father’s voice on the phone made her
tense in dismay. She supposed it would be too much to hope
that he had not seen or heard some report of Angelo’s origins.
‘What is it?’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
‘Angelo Riccardi is Fiorella’s son,’ Donald Hamilton an-
Gwenna was perplexed by that statement, for it came at her
from an unexpected angle. ‘Sorry, what are you saying?’
‘Haven’t you seen today’s big story? Listened to the news?
Don’t you realise that your boyfriend is Don Carmelo
‘Yes, but…this Fiorella lady you mentioned—’
‘She was Zanetti’s daughter, but she wasn’t calling herself
Riccardi when I knew her. I only saw Angelo a couple of times
when he was a toddler. Fiorella always left him with a babysit-
ter,’ her father informed her. ‘Remember me saying that Angelo
put me in mind of someone that day he got hit by the car?’
‘Yes.’ Gwenna was finding it hard to catch her breath and
her legs were feeling all wonky. She backed down into the
nearest chair. A past connection that close between her family
and Angelo’s? How could that be possible?
‘He’s got his mother’s eyes. Don’t you see what this means?’
Her brain felt as if it were drowning in sludge. ‘What a very
small world we live in?’
‘You can’t be that naïve. Obviously we have both been set
up to take a fall. I ditched Angelo’s mother and ran, and
maybe life wasn’t too good for her after that without her
money or me. But it wasn’t my fault!’
‘What are you talking about?’ she exclaimed. ‘Why on
earth would I have been set up?’
‘You’re my daughter and that must have been the ultimate
power-play for Riccardi. He’s been toying with us like a cat with
mice before it goes in for the kill!’Donald Hamilton condemned
bitterly. ‘My recent bad luck is no coincidence. Riccardi buys
Furnridge and suddenly I’m being accused of theft—’
‘You were guilty of theft—’
‘Use your brain. The minute I realised who he was I knew
I had to warn you. He’s out to settle scores. What is he
planning to do to you? I let his mother down badly… All right,
I admit it. But I had no choice,’ he argued fervidly. ‘At least
I now know that the reason I’m living a nightmare is that
Angelo Riccardi came into my life!’
‘I think the people you’ve stolen from might have a differ-
ent opinion on that. I’m sorry, I don’t want to continue this
conversation.’ Gwenna replaced the phone handset on its base
with a shaking hand.
She could not bear to think about what she had just been
told. She was afraid that if she did she might lose control. But
could Angelo have been using her, intending to hurt her all
along? Before she could lose her nerve, she went back into
‘Was your mother called Fiorella?’ she asked straight out.
Angelo froze as if she had drawn a gun on him.
Her tummy performed a nasty little somersault, because
she had been so eager for him to tell her otherwise. Yet, some-
where in her heart of hearts, she already knew that, for once,
her father had been telling the truth. ‘Did you know that she
had an affair with my father?’
—that was him on the phone, wasn’t it?’
Angelo could actually see the change in her. Her face had a
tight, pained aspect and her normally clear eyes were dulled
and wary. He had a horrible sick sense of inevitability and
it paralysed him. He could not think of a single line of
defence. He could still hear Carmelo’s voice saying, ‘Don’t
do anything foolish.’ He knew that what he had done was
much worse than foolish. He had hurt her, and he couldn’t
take that hurt back.
Gwenna moistened her full lower lip with a nervous flicker
of her tongue. ‘A month ago, Dad told me about Fiorella for
the first time. I thought it was such a silly melodramatic story
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
and I didn’t believe a word of it. I mean—gangsters threaten-
ing to kill him, taking your mother’s money and his—’
‘What story?’ Angelo broke in to demand.
She repeated it as well as she could remember. Angelo lost
colour and stared at her with incredulous dark eyes. He swung
away then and turned back just as quickly. ‘If they stripped
her of her money, it would’ve been a deliberate ploy to force
her home to her husband. If that is the real truth—’
‘Dad didn’t know who you were when he told me. He
didn’t realise you were her son until the newspapers identi-
fied you. I think that for once he wasn’t lying but, hey…you
go question him yourself!’ Gwenna slung in a low, shaking
voice, the pain and the anger coming out of nowhere at her.
‘You were so careful never to go near him until things started
getting too complicated—’
Angelo flung up his hands and brought them down again
in a slow, holding movement. ‘Just calm down…’
‘Did you set out to destroy my father?’
‘That’s a hard question to answer.’
Her nails dug into her palms and the sting of discomfort
spurred her on. ‘I deserve an honest answer.’
His eyes were very dark and stormy, and he threw up his
hands and strode out onto the veranda.
Gwenna followed him. ‘Angelo…please don’t lie.’
‘Don’t do this…it’ll rip us apart,’ he breathed very low.
‘You’re ripping me apart right now!’ she fired back at
Releasing his breath on a hiss, he swung back to her. ‘It
was my belief that your father stole my mother’s money and
left her destitute—’
‘No…that’s not what’s at issue here.You don’t try and muddy
the water with excuses. Did you deliberately target him?’
‘Yes. I had him investigated and it was obvious that he was
spending much more than he was earning. I took over
Furnridge and sent in the auditors. That’s all it took to uncover
She swallowed thickly. ‘What about me?’
‘You…’ Angelo echoed hoarsely. ‘I can’t explain you. I
saw you and it was like being hit with a sledgehammer.
I would have done anything to make you mine. I swear that I
didn’t know you were
daughter until you came to the
office to plead for him—’
‘It gave you a kick, didn’t it?’ she condemned in disgust.
‘When did you realise that it wasn’t him you were hurting,
it was me?’
‘Do you think I’m proud of it? Do you think I’m so stupid
I didn’t realise that I was damaging you?’ Angelo shot at her
fiercely. ‘But I was in too deep before I understood that and
then I thought I could make it all right. I just didn’t want to
let you go—’
‘I was your mistress,’ Gwenna flung back between gritted
teeth of self-loathing. ‘That’s all I’ve ever been.’
‘No, we passed that point long ago. You put me through
hell. You kept on trying to dump me—you came to Sardinia
of your own free will.’
‘Blame that on your fatal charm. Or maybe you brain-
washed me. I obviously wasn’t clever enough to see that I was
just part of your revenge,’ she muttered shakily. ‘You weren’t
going to confess either, were you?’
‘I didn’t want to lose you,’ he bit out thickly.
‘You never had me to lose,’ Gwenna lied, determined not
to show her distress. ‘But I can see now that you set out to
own me. Replacing the garden fund money, giving me back
the estate. What else was that about?’
Angelo was studying her with raw intensity. ‘Not about
owning you. You’ve had so little in your life…what it was
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
about was putting you first, taking your worries away, making
Gwenna shook her head in vehement disagreement. She
had booted all her soft, squishy feelings and optimistic hopes
behind a mental locked door. She didn’t want to fool herself.
She didn’t want be taken in by anything he might say. She
knew that she loved him so much she had to be very strong
to break free of his hold on her.
So, all of a sudden, she was making herself look at their
relationship as it really was. Why had she refused to see that
she was still his mistress? He had even contrived to ensure that
she cheerfully accepted that demeaning role. The only com-
mitment she had asked for was fidelity and in return she had
a guy who
appreciated her. That was how much in love
she was. Like her misguided mother before her, she had
settled for less because she was willing to take him on virtu-
ally any terms. Flailing herself with that humiliating belief,
Gwenna stalked forward and crouched down to haul Piglet out
from beneath Angelo’s desk.
‘As soon as it can be arranged, I want to leave and go home.’
‘The press will eat you alive if you’re linked with me now,’
Angelo warned her tautly.
Gwenna hugged Piglet tight. ‘If I can survive you, I can
Angelo watched her walk away and he did not know what
to do. He felt like a man in a strait-jacket being tortured. The
right words wouldn’t come, yet
was a master of manipu-
lation! He didn’t know what was the matter with him. He
knew he could handle anything but, for some reason, he could
not handle what was happening with her.
Gwenna beat to death a weed, hammering it into the ground
until it was obliterated. Straightening, she sucked in a quiver-
ing breath and pushed her hair off her damp brow. Piglet was
seated on the path looking anxious a good twenty feet away.
Shocked by the turbulent emotions that kept on overwhelming
her, she blinked back tears and took in another steadying breath.
It was only a week since she had seen Angelo, seven days
of unadulterated hell and misery. Over and over again she kept
on reviewing everything that had happened and everything
that Angelo had said. He had not said much. He had not
denied his guilt, which was in his favour, and he was hopeless
at talking about feelings. But he hadn’t fought to keep her
either, had he?
Every time she thought about texting him like a lovesick
teenager she made herself recall that Angelo, who thrived on
aggressive challenge and argument and scorching passion,
had done nothing to stop her leaving him. Yet he was abso-
lutely ruthless when he wanted to be. But he still hadn’t tried
to drag her off to bed to change her mind, or at least give her
a proper chance to think over what she was doing. He hadn’t
threatened to hold her hostage or claim custody of Piglet. She
could think of a dozen things he could have done to hang onto
her—none of which he had done.
Twenty-four hours and the space to think over what had
happened would have made a difference to her attitude, she
reflected unhappily. For once she had begun looking back she
had seen how much their relationship had changed and
strengthened. Most importantly she had appreciated that
Angelo had abandoned all thought of revenge when he chose
to repay her father’s depredations on the garden fund and
sustained the loss of the value of the Massey estate without
complaint. He hadn’t cared that the downside of his generosity
was that, once more, Donald Hamilton had escaped retribu-
tion. No, Angelo had indeed put her first. He had showed that
he cared more about her peace of mind and happiness. That
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
had been a big step for him. Only what did that matter now,
and why did she keep on rerunning it all in her mind? In
refusing to accept that Angelo had decided to let her go, she
was driving herself crazy!
Piglet’s tail began to wag and he charged off down the
walled garden. When she called him, he ignored her. He had
got very wilful since he had been spoilt rotten in Sardinia, she
ruminated ruefully. He had also been very restless and ex-
citable. The suspicion that he missed Angelo set her teeth on
edge. She attacked another clump of weeds with her hoe.
Piglet’s wild barking finally made her look up. Her dog was
leaping and dancing in frantic welcome round the feet of the very
tall, dark male striding across the grass towards her. Angelo, all
potent masculinity and sophistication in a designer raincoat and
a sleek business suit. As always, he was the living, breathing
definition of drop-dead gorgeous. Her heart started thumping.
She let go of her hoe and stepped off the soil onto the gravel path.
Angelo came to a halt ten feet away. His brilliant dark
eyes roved over her in a hungry, all-encompassing appraisal,
but there was a combative edge to his stance. ‘I’m not leaving
without you,’ he intoned with cool resolve, ‘but first you have
to listen to what I need to say.’
Her mood had taken wings at that first declaration;
however, she had too much pride to show the fact. ‘You didn’t
have much to say when I left Sardinia last week.’
‘I thought I deserved it. I was ashamed. I didn’t know what
to say to you.’
Her worried eyes brightened.
Angelo looked unusually pensive. ‘Carmelo made a fool
of me and who likes to admit that? I knew next to nothing
about my mother. I only had a few memories. My enquiries
met a brick wall and then I was invited to meet Carmelo and
fill in the blanks.’
‘So, of course, you went.’
‘I took the bait. I was so arrogant, so sure I was incor-
ruptible, but I was wrong,’ Angelo admitted stonily and
quietly. ‘The old man reeled me in like a fish. He wound me
up with the tale of how Donald Hamilton had seduced, robbed
and dumped my mother when she was pregnant—’
‘Oh…was she? Pregnant, I mean?’ Gwenna questioned in
‘Your father says no, but I’m not sure he could be trusted
to give an honest answer on that score.’
Her eyes widened. ‘You’ve been to see him…actually
‘This morning. It was the sane thing to do. It’s what I
should’ve done when I first found out about him. Instead I
tried to play God and I got burned.’
Gwenna was really impressed that he had been prepared
to talk to her father but sort of cringing at the same time.
‘What did you think of him?’
‘He’s very slippery with the truth, but he does tell a rol-
licking good story.’ Angelo shrugged. ‘I can’t blame him for
running like hell when he realised my mother was
Carmelo’s daughter and the wife of a Sorello. He’s not
‘No, he’s not.’
‘He also swears that my mother knew he was already
married, and how are we ever going to know otherwise? The
truth is, it doesn’t matter to me as much as it did. It’s over and
done with. Neither of them were saints.’
Gwenna had not appreciated just how badly his mother had
been betrayed, or how deeply attached Angelo must have
been to the image of the mother he had lost when he was still
very young. ‘But why did your grandfather wind you up about
what my father had done?’
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Angelo loosed a rueful laugh. ‘Because he could; because
it amused him. He saw that I believed I was different. I thought
I was better than the tainted stock I came from—’
‘Don’t talk like that…you
‘Carmelo still taught me a valuable lesson. Power and wealth
corrupt.’ Lean, powerful face taut with discomfiture, Angelo
murmured curtly, ‘I thought I was above the rules. I thought it
was all right to use that power to expose your father—’
‘And then you thought it was all right to use your power
over him to have me,’ she completed tightly.
‘Will you ever forgive me for that?’ Angelo asked gruffly.
‘I don’t know.’
Angelo paled and shifted from one foot onto the other. ‘I
never wanted anything as much as I wanted you…no woman,
no deal, no prize ever exerted that much of a hold on me.
You’re in a class of your own,
‘I’m not denying that, for some weird reason, I found you
very attractive too,’ Gwenna allowed, softening a little because
he really did look miserable.
‘But I didn’t treat you properly. I was very stubborn. I
couldn’t understand why you couldn’t be happy with what
other women had accepted. But I didn’t want you to be like
them—in fact I wanted you because you were different.’
Gwenna finally grasped why he had sought her out again
and her heart sank like a stone. ‘You’re here to tell me that
Shimmering dark golden eyes collided with hers. ‘But not
sorry to have met you or known you. I can never regret that.
I’m sorry I screwed up. I’m sorry I kept the truth from you.
I’m sorry I hurt you,’ he told her urgently. ‘But right from the
start I wanted you to love me and want me the way I believed
you wanted Toby.’
Tears burned the backs of her eyes and she blinked
fiercely. ‘I was lying when I said I thought about him when
I was with you.’
Angelo loosed an uncertain laugh. ‘Now she tells me. You
put me through hell.’
‘I couldn’t help it.’
‘You kept on dumping me, but if you give me the chance
I’ll spend the rest of my life making you happy.’
Gwenna studied him fixedly. ‘Seriously?’ she enquired a
tad shrilly, for she was very much afraid of misinterpreting
what he was saying.
Without batting an eyelash, Angelo got down gracefully on
one knee. ‘Will you marry me?’
Gwenna was so astonished that she couldn’t find her voice
at first. He was asking her to marry him.
He was asking her to
Her Delft-blue eyes shone. She struggled to think
of all the questions she should ask before coming to a decision
and then decided not to bother, because there was absolutely
no doubt in her mind about what her answer had to be. ‘Yes…’
Angelo sprang upright, surprised at the speed of her
response but content not to question it. ‘Does that mean you
‘Not necessarily…but I will marry you.’ Gwenna discov-
ered that her teeth were chattering with shock.
‘Okay,’ Angelo pronounced, wondering if that dazed look
was positive or negative, and then remembering what he had
not yet said. ‘I love you…I love you a lot,
Dazzled by the enormous sapphire and diamond ring he’d
placed on her finger as he confessed his love, Gwenna lifted
startled eyes to his lean, darkly handsome face. ‘You don’t
have to say that if you don’t mean it.’
Angelo strode forward and caught both her hands in his.
Intense tawny eyes claimed hers in a look as possessive and
urgent as his hold. ‘I can’t sleep at night without you. When
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you left Sardinia I thought my life was over. I’ve been in love
with you for weeks and weeks without realising it… I really
need you to be with me…for ever. ‘
Overwhelmed, Gwenna nodded several times and squeezed
his fingers and whispered fervently, ‘I love you too…’
‘What about Toby?’ Angelo enquired with forced light-
ness of tone.
‘I think I was just really scared of falling in love,’ she con-
fessed with an embarrassed grimace. ‘It wrecked my
mother’s life, and Dad has a dreadful track record. Perhaps
believing that I still loved Toby when I couldn’t have him
made me feel safe—’
him?’ Angelo checked, not quite sure
what he was being told, but hauling her up against his hard,
muscular length just the same. ‘Like,
‘I love him as a friend… You know, I never did fancy him
the way I fancied you.’ Gwenna dropped that news in a self-
conscious whisper. ‘There’s times when I can’t wait to rip
your clothes off.’
‘I know the feeling,
,’ Angelo agreed raggedly,
long, tanned fingers skimming through the layers of her jacket
and her T-shirt to find the smooth skin of her slender waist.
Gloriously happy and quivering with the hot pulse of ex-
citement that he always aroused, Gwenna wrapped her arms
round him. ‘I’m all muddy,’ she muttered apologetically.
‘I’m not fussy,’ Angelo confessed, covering her luscious
pink mouth with his, and groaning with sensual satisfaction
when she responded with the abandoned enthusiasm that had
made him her biggest fan.
From the gallery above the classic Regency hall of the Massey
Manor, Angelo watched with amusement as the assembled
members of the press tried without success to catch a photo
of Gwenna either standing still or even looking in their direc-
tion. Having posed earlier that day to mark the official opening
of the gardens, she had had quite enough of the cameras.
A glittering charity benefit in aid of a children’s hospice
was being staged in their exquisitely restored English country
home. In fact, a whole busy calendar of such events had been
organised by the Rialto Foundation, the charitable trust estab-
lished with Carmelo Zanetti’s legacy. Angelo and Gwenna
were giving as much time as possible to the foundation and
it had been well supported by the media, who had been well
impressed by Angelo’s surrender of that amount of money.
Angelo thought that Gwenna was looking ravishingly
beautiful in her pale blue evening dress, with sapphires and
diamonds flashing at her throat and ears. He was very proud
of his wife. In two years of marriage she had overseen the res-
toration of both house and gardens, travelled all over the
world with him and acquired the name of being a wonderfully
laid-back hostess. She also wrote a regular gardening column
in a Sunday newspaper. He was the envy of many men.
But the greatest gift that Gwenna had given him apart from
herself and her love was the lively little bundle Angelo was
cradling against his shoulder. She had been christened Alice
Fiorella Massey Riccardi, a giant moniker for a tiny baby. Six
months on, they called her Ella. Angelo had been totally un-
prepared for the instantaneous attachment he had experienced
the first time his daughter was placed in his arms. Piglet
trotting at his heels—for Piglet did
like large crowds—
Angelo took Ella back to her nanny in the nursery and laid
her down in her cot. It was time to go downstairs and escort
Gwenna onto the floor in the ballroom for the first dance.
‘It’s been a long day. I can’t wait to have you all to myself,
,’Angelo confided as he closed his arms round her.
A delightful quiver of anticipation rippled through
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
Gwenna’s slight frame. He was so demanding, she thought
blissfully. She knew she was a very lucky woman. Whirled
round the floor below the magnificent Venetian glass chande-
liers, she nestled closer to her husband’s lean, powerful body.
It was a wonderful evening.
After she had said goodbye to the last of their guests she
shooed Piglet out of the dining room. ‘You’re getting fat,’ she
scolded, lifting him away from the plate of cake he had dis-
covered lying beneath a chair. The little animal was assuming
an even more barrel-like shape.
She went upstairs and checked on Ella, beaming down at
her darling rosy-cheeked daughter with her riot of black curls.
She had to admit that her pregnancy had come as a surprise.
In fact Angelo had been teasing her about her weight gain long
before it had dawned on either of them that an impromptu bout
of outdoor lovemaking during the previous summer had borne
fruit. But they had found Ella so much fun that they were
planning to have another baby quite soon so that their
daughter would have a playmate.
Gwenna felt that life had been exceedingly kind to her. She
was busy and fulfilled and not even her problem father had
managed to put a check on the great joy of her marriage.
Admittedly, Donald Hamilton had proved to be an ongoing
source of concern. His second marriage had broken up in a
welter of acrimony. Forced to live in reduced circumstances
and shunned by former friends, the older man had drowned
his sorrows in alcohol. Gwenna had tried her best to help but
to no avail. She had been very pleasantly surprised when
Angelo had taken the trouble to intervene and succeeded
where she had failed. Within weeks, Donald Hamilton had
been attending regular AA meetings in clean, smart clothes,
and last month he had started his new job: advising on how
to detect fraud within Rialto.
‘He’ll have no access to money and he’ll be watched like
a fox in a hen coop. His boss is an ex-policeman,’Angelo had
assured her when she’d voiced the fear that the temptation
might prove too much for her parent. ‘I believe your father
has already come up with some useful ideas.’
Angelo strolled up behind her as she removed her last
earring. He scanned her dreamy blue eyes in the bedroom
mirror. ‘What are you thinking about?’
She went pink, for she had been thinking how touched she
had been that he had sorted out her father’s problems purely
for her sake. That, in her opinion, was the definition of real
‘You were chatting to Toby for ages this evening. Any old
vibes for me to worry about?’ Angelo enquired, utterly de-
spising himself for voicing that question but unable to
silence it. He got on great with Toby James, but he could
never quite forget that Toby had once been a threat to his
peace of mind.
‘Angelo…we were talking about the drainage problem in
the kitchen garden,’ she proffered gently.
She spun round and he linked his arms round her.
‘I’m much more exciting,
,’ Angelo mur-
‘I know…’ Her breath tripped in her throat as he cupped
her hips and lifted her against him in a shamelessly erotic
move that literally melted her from outside in.
‘Drainage,’ Angelo repeated in a genuinely pained tone
His kiss was sweet, honeyed intoxication and wonder-
‘I may not be creative in the garden—’
‘You’re awfully creative in other ways,’ Gwenna pointed
S INEXPERIENCED MISTRESS
His slashing smile was her reward. ‘Because I love you…in
bed, out of bed, any place, any time—’
Gwenna let her fingers delve adoringly into his luxuriant
black hair. She was filled with a glorious swell of happiness
and contentment. ‘I love you too.’
* * * * *