Authors: Chantelle Shaw
Once again Emma felt a little quiver run down her spine
at the man’s husky, innately sexy accent. Definitely not French, she decided, but possibly he was Spanish or Italian. She was curious to know why he had been driving along a remote Northumbrian country lane in a snowstorm. Where had he come from and where was he heading? But politeness and her natural diffidence prevented her from asking him.
‘I’m a district nurse,’ she explained. ‘One of my patients lives out here on the moor.’
Beside her, she felt the stranger stiffen. He snapped his head towards her and seemed about to say something, but at that moment a stone gateway loomed out of the darkness.
‘Here’s Nunstead Hall,’ Emma said, relieved to have arrived in one piece. ‘Enormous, isn’t it? The grounds are beautiful, and there’s even a private lake.’
She turned onto the driveway and stared up at the imposing old house that was in darkness apart from one window, where a light was shining, and then glanced at the forbidding stranger, wondering why he made her feel uneasy. His brows were drawn into a deep frown, and she was puzzled by his tangible tension.
‘Does your patient live here?’ he demanded tersely.
It was too dark to see the expression in his eyes, but something about his hard stare unnerved her.
‘Yes. You can probably phone the garage from the house,’ she told him, assuming that he was frowning because he was anxious about his car. ‘I have a door key so that I can let myself in. I think it would be better if you stay here while I ask Mrs Symmonds if you can use the phone.’
She reached over to the back seat for her medical bag and seconds later felt a blast of cold air rush into the car. ‘Hey!’ Irritation swept through her when she saw that the
stranger had ignored her instructions and climbed out of the four-by-four. He was already striding up to the front door of the Hall, and she hastily jumped out and ran after him, stumbling in the thick snow that covered the ground. ‘Didn’t you hear what I said? I asked you to stay in the car. My patient is elderly and might be frightened at the sight of a stranger on the doorstep.’
‘Hopefully I’m not that terrifying a sight,’ he drawled, sounding arrogantly amused. He brushed off the snow-flakes that were settling thick and fast on his coat. ‘Although if you don’t hurry up and open the door I’m going to look like the Yeti that’s reputed to stalk the Himalayas.’
‘It’s not funny,’ Emma snapped. She did not care for the hard glitter in his eyes, and wished that instead of rescuing him from the roadside she had phoned Jim at Yaxley Farm, which was the closest neighbour to Nunstead Hall, and asked him to bring a tractor to tow the stranger’s car out of the ditch. She gave a startled gasp when the man took the key from her fingers and slotted it into the lock. Her anger turned to unease. For all she knew he could be a criminal on the run, or a lunatic! ‘I must
that you return to the car,’ she said firmly. ‘You can’t just stroll in as if you own the place.’
‘But I do own it,’ he informed her coolly as he pushed open the door.
For a few seconds Emma gaped at him, stunned, but when he stepped across the threshold into the house she regained the use of her tongue. ‘What do you mean? Who
She broke off when a door leading off the hallway opened and tiny, silver-haired Cordelia Symmonds appeared. Desperately concerned that the old lady would be scared to find a stranger in her home, Emma spoke quickly.
‘Cordelia, I’m so sorry—this gentleman was stranded in the snow and …’
But Cordelia did not appear to be listening. Her eyes were focused on the stranger and a beaming smile spread across her lined face.
, my darling. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?’
‘I wanted to surprise you.’ The man’s accented voice was suddenly as soft as crushed velvet. ‘Unfortunately my car skidded on ice, but luckily the nurse here—’ he flicked a sardonic glance at Emma ‘—offered me a lift.’
Cordelia did not seem to notice Emma’s confusion. ‘Emma, dear—what a wonderful girl you are for rescuing my grandson.’
Emma’s eyes flew to the stranger. In the brightly lit hall she could see his face clearly, and she recognised him now. Pictures of him frequently appeared in celebrity gossip magazines, alongside frenzied discussion about his tangled love life. Rocco D’Angelo was the CEO of a famous Italian sports car company—Eleganza—and a multi-millionaire playboy who was reputed to be one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors. And Cordelia’s grandson.
Why hadn’t it clicked? Emma asked herself impatiently. The clues had been there—the flash car, his foreign accent and his indefinable air of
that only the very rich possessed. She hadn’t been expecting to meet him, of course. But why hadn’t he explained who he was? she thought irritably.
‘Come along in, both of you,’ Cordelia invited, turning back to the sitting room.
Emma went to follow, but found her way barred as the stranger—she was still struggling with the shock news that he was Cordelia’s grandson—stepped in front of her.
‘Just a moment—I’d like a word with you. Why exactly are you here?’ Rocco asked in an undertone, pulling the sitting room door half closed so that his grandmother could not hear their conversation. ‘Cordelia looks perfectly well. Why does she need a nurse to visit her?’
It was there again—that faintly haughty tone in his voice that made Emma’s hackles rise. Images flashed in her head of poor Mr Jeffries, who had died alone, and Cordelia’s joyous smile at her grandson’s unexpected visit. The elderly lady clearly thought her grandson was Mr Wonderful, and from his arrogant air Rocco D’Angelo seemed to share that opinion.
‘If you took
interest in your grandmother you would know why I am here,’ she said sharply, feeling a small spurt of satisfaction when his eyes narrowed. ‘I don’t know if you’re aware that Cordelia fell and broke her hip a few months ago. She’s still recuperating from hip replacement surgery.’
‘Of course I know about that.’ Rocco disliked the nurse’s belligerent attitude, and the implicit criticism of him that was apparent in her tone. His voice iced over. ‘But I understood that she was recovering well.’
‘She’s over eighty, and she should not be living here in this remote house all alone. Her recent accident when she burned her hand is proof of that. It’s a great pity that you are too busy with your own life to pay Cordelia any attention.’ Emma gave him a scathing look. ‘From what I understand, you are her only living relative. You should be doing more to help your grandmother.’ She pushed past him. ‘Now, please excuse me. I need to see my patient.’
The sitting room was like an oven. At least Cordelia did not stint on heating the house, Emma thought, watching Rocco—who had followed her into the room—immediately shrug off his coat. Her eyes seemed to have
a magnetic attraction to him, and she felt a peculiar sensation in the pit of her stomach as her brain registered that he was utterly gorgeous. His black jeans and matching fine wool sweater moulded his lean, hard body. Raven-dark hair was swept back from his brow, emphasising the perfect symmetry of his chiselled features, his sharp cheekbones and square chin giving him a harsh, autocratic beauty that took her breath away.
With his incredible looks he could be a film star, or a male model from one of those glossy magazines that were occasionally donated to the surgery’s waiting room and featured articles about the rich and famous aboard their yachts in Monaco, she brooded.
He looked over at her, and she felt embarrassed that he had caught her staring at him. Her face grew hotter when he trailed his unusual amber-coloured eyes over her in brief assessment, before dismissing her with a sweep of his thick black lashes. Clearly he did not consider her worthy of a second glance. But why would he? she asked herself irritably. She was not a skinny, glamorous clothes horse like the stunning French model Juliette Pascal, who was reputed to be his current mistress. Emma had long ago accepted that even if she dieted permanently she would never be a fashionable and totally unachievable size zero, and she was painfully conscious that in her padded jacket she looked like a sumo wrestler.
Rocco was seething. The gratitude he had felt towards the nurse for rescuing him from the roadside had rapidly disappeared when she had voiced her opinion that he did not care properly for his grandmother. She knew nothing about his relationship with Cordelia and had no right to pass judgement on him, he thought furiously.
He adored his
, and the nurse’s assertion that he was too wrapped up in his own life to pay her any attention
was ridiculous. However busy he was, he always phoned her once a week. It was true he hadn’t managed to come to England for quite a while—not since his brief visit at Christmas. He felt a pang of guilt when he realised that it was nearly three months since he had last been at Nunstead.
But Cordelia did not live alone. The nurse—Emma, he recalled his grandmother had called her—was wrong about that. Before he had returned to Italy he had employed a housekeeper to take care of the house
Thoroughly riled, he glared at Emma, whose face was still half hidden beneath her scarf. Never in his life had he seen a woman wear such an unflattering hat, he mused, his eyes drawn with horrible fascination to the red woollen monstrosity on her head, which had slipped so low that it now covered her eyebrows. But she was no longer looking at him, and was staring down at Cordelia’s feet.
‘Cordelia, why is there snow on your slippers?’ Emma frowned when she saw the elderly lady shiver. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve been outside in the garden? It’s freezing, and you could have slipped on the ice.’
‘Oh, I only went a little way down the path.’ A worried look crossed Cordelia’s face. ‘Thomas has disappeared. I can’t find him anywhere.’
‘I’ll look for him, and then I’ll make some tea. You sit by the fire and warm up,’ Emma instructed firmly, concern for her patient providing a welcome distraction from Cordelia’s disturbingly handsome grandson.
In the kitchen she filled the kettle and then opened the back door. The garden was a white wilderness illuminated by the moonlight. She compressed her lips at the sight of footsteps across the snow-covered lawn. Thank heavens Cordelia hadn’t fallen; hypothermia would have set in very quickly in the sub-zero temperature.
Gleaming green eyes caught her attention. ‘Thomas, come here you little pest.’ A ball of ginger fur shot past, but she managed to catch it, wishing she was still wearing her gloves when the cat dug his needle-sharp claws into her hand. ‘It would have been your fault if Cordelia had slipped over,’ she told the animal with mock sternness.
Her expression became serious. This situation could not be allowed to continue. For her own safety Cordelia would have to be persuaded to move closer to the village—or her arrogant grandson who had turned up out of the blue would have to be persuaded to take responsibility for his frail grandmother, and at the very least arrange for fulltime staff to care for her at Nunstead Hall.
Rocco D’Angelo was in the kitchen when she went back inside. Although the room was a fair size it suddenly seemed claustrophobically small as he prowled around like a sleek, dark panther. Even his name was sexy, Emma thought ruefully, irritated with herself for the way her heart-rate quickened when he strode around the table and halted in front of her, his glittering golden eyes trapping her gaze.
‘Who is Thomas?’ he demanded curtly. ‘And why are
making tea? Surely the housekeeper should do that?’
‘This is Thomas.’ Emma set the cat on the floor. ‘He turned up on the doorstep a couple of weeks ago and Cordelia adopted him. We think he’d been abandoned and had been living wild, but sought shelter when the weather became colder. He’s half feral and usually only goes to your grandmother,’ she added, glancing at the scratch on the back of her hand and feeling a flare of annoyance when Thomas rubbed his head against Rocco’s leg and purred. ‘And there isn’t a housekeeper, as I’m sure you know,’ she continued sharply. ‘To be honest, I don’t know how you can have allowed Cordelia to remain here when there’s
no one to help with shopping and cooking, and generally keeping an eye on her. I’m sure you lead a very busy life, Mr D’—’
‘I hired a housekeeper called Morag Stewart to look after the house
my grandmother the last time I was here at Nunstead.’ Rocco interrupted the nurse mid-flow. It was obvious she had been itching to give him a lecture on his inadequacies, but he was in no mood to listen.
He was well aware of his failings, he thought grimly. As always, coming back to Nunstead Hall evoked memories of Giovanni. It was twenty years since his younger brother had drowned in the lake on the grounds of the house, but time had not erased the memory of his mother’s hysterical screams, nor her accusation that it was
fault Gio was dead.
‘I told you to look after him. You’re as irresponsible as your goddamned father.’
The image of his brother’s limp, lifeless body still haunted him. Gio had only been seven years old, while Rocco had been fifteen—old enough to be left in charge of his brother for a few hours, his mother had sobbed. He should have taken better care of Gio. He should have saved him. But he had failed.
Rocco’s jaw tightened. The guilt he felt about Gio was now mixed with a new guilt that once again his actions had resulted in terrible consequences—although mercifully not in another death. But it had been a close call, he acknowledged grimly. A year ago a young actress, Rosalinda Barinelli, had swallowed an overdose of sleeping pills after he had ended their affair. It had only been by lucky chance that a friend had found her and called an ambulance. Rosalinda had survived, but had admitted that she had tried to take her life because she could not bear to live without
‘I always wanted more than an affair, Rocco,’
she had told him when he had visited her in hospital.
‘I pretended to be happy as your mistress, but I always hoped you would fall in love with me.’