Distracted by her Virtue

BOOK: Distracted by her Virtue
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That discussion they’d just had about happiness was already taking on a deeper significance that he wanted to explore.

Depositing his glass of wine on the small wrought-iron table in front of them, he suddenly pushed to his feet. ‘What makes you think I wouldn’t keep my promise?’ he asked, irked that she would doubt him.

‘My son’s been let down by people breaking their promises to him before, and I don’t want him building up his hopes only to have them dashed again.’

‘Not everyone breaks their promises. Maybe you need to learn to trust a little bit more?’

‘Trust
you
, you mean? I barely know you.’

‘But that can be remedied, right?’

THE POWERFUL
AND THE PURE

When Beauty tames the brooding Beast …

From Mr Darcy to Heathcliff, the best romantic heroes have always been tall, dark and
dangerously
irresistible.

This year indulge yourself as Mills & Boon
®
brings you a contemporary take on our favourite classic romances.

Formidable men—the ultimate heroes—untamable …
or so they think
!

This month one of the Brontës’ most brooding and passionate novels is given the Mills & Boon
®
Modern™ Romance twist in:

DISTRACTED BY HER VIRTUE by Maggie Cox

Look out for more timeless love stories retold for the 21
st
Century

THE FORBIDDEN WIFE by Sharon Kendrick

THE MATCHMAKER BRIDE by Kate Hewitt

IN WANT OF A WIFE? by Cathy Williams

THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER by Kate Walker

A WICKED PERSUASION by Catherine George

About the Author

The day
MAGGIE COX
saw the film version of
Wuthering Heights
, with a beautiful Merle Oberon and a very handsome Laurence Olivier, was the day she became hooked on romance. From that day onwards she spent a lot of time dreaming up her own romances, secretly hoping that one day she might become published and get paid for doing what she loved most! Now that her dream is being realised, she wakes up every morning and counts her blessings. She is married to a gorgeous man, and is the mother of two wonderful sons. Her two other great passions in life—besides her family and reading/writing—are music and films.

Recent titles by the same author:

A DEVILISHLY DARK DEAL
THE LOST WIFE
THE BROODING STRANGER

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?

Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Distracted
by her Virtue
Maggie Cox

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Lesley, who never fails to make me laugh
and see the funny side of things!

You are such a blessing
and I’m so glad that we’re friends.

CHAPTER ONE

A
S
J
ARRETT
picked his way carefully down the steep grassy bank that was made potentially treacherous by the odd jagged stone hidden amongst the greenery the chocolate-brown Lab accompanying him passed him with a swift, much more sure-footed tread. He lifted his head to follow the dog’s enthusiastic trail, and his gaze was suddenly captured by an unexpected sight. At the foot of the valley just ahead, down by the familiar babbling brook that the dog usually made a beeline for, he spied the unfamiliar figure of a lithe young woman dressed in jeans and a khaki-coloured weatherproof jacket. Her hands held a camera, and as he observed her she dropped to her haunches to photograph something.

At this distance it was hard to see what it was, but it crossed Jarrett’s mind that the woman might be one of those horticulturists who occasionally visited the area, cataloguing some rare plant or flower. It was a fine spring day and, having just closed the deal on a prime parcel of land not twenty miles from here, Jarrett was predisposed to be sociable.

‘Hello there!’ he called out as he drew nearer, and the woman lifted her head and glanced round at him, startled. As he drew nearer, the beauty of her face literally
stopped him in his tracks.
Who was she?
Inside his chest his heart thumped hard—as though he’d sprinted down that treacherous hillside. He’d never come across eyes of such a light green hue before … like the softest summer grass. And the silky mantle of chestnut hair that flowed down over her shoulders was the perfect foil to bring out the colour, he thought with pleasure as his lips formed an appreciative smile. ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’

‘Charlie? Charlie, come over here to me right now!’

He hadn’t seen the child, but at the woman’s urgent-voiced command, like an arrow expertly released from its bow to fly towards its target, he appeared out of a distant clump of trees and threw himself into her lap, almost knocking her over.
Was she his mother
? Jarrett wondered. She looked almost too young.

Though she might just be a passing stranger, the need to know who she was wouldn’t leave him alone. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you,’ he apologised, holding out his hand, ‘My name’s Jarrett Gaskill. I live on the other side of that rise up there.’

If he’d been expecting her to reciprocate with similar information then he was doomed to disappointment. Glancing at his outstretched hand, the green-eyed beauty made no move to take it. Instead she laid down her camera, sat back on the grass and tenderly patted the small boy on his back, as if to reassure him that everything was all right. The child’s riot of dark curls was tucked beneath her chin as if he wanted to hide.

‘I know it may not look like it, but I’m not taking pictures purely for my own amusement. I’m actually working.’

The bewitching green eyes flashed, but for a moment
Jarrett’s attention was more captivated by her voice. There was such resolve and firmness in its husky tones—a
warning
too—that it took him aback.
Did she think he presented some kind of threat to her and the child?

The thought made him retreat a couple of steps, and he let his hand drop uselessly down by his side. As if to remind him of his presence, the chocolate Lab that he was dog-sitting for his sister Beth nudged his muzzle into his palm and gave him a lick. The creature had done his usual trick of galloping joyfully through the water, and as a result was now sopping wet from head to tail. ‘It’s all right, boy … we’ll be on our way in just a minute.’

‘Was there something else?’

The woman appeared almost affronted that he might be contemplating staying for even a second longer when she’d clearly demonstrated that his presence wasn’t welcome. Swallowing down the disagreeable sense of rejection that curdled briefly in the pit of his stomach, Jarrett met her unflinching glare with an equally unwavering one of his own. His lip even curled a little mockingly. ‘No … I was simply passing the time of day. Nothing more sinister than that.’

‘Don’t be offended. It’s just that when I’m working I have to give my full attention to my subject. If I allow myself to get distracted then the photograph turns out to be useless.’

‘In that case I won’t distract or disturb you any longer. Enjoy the rest of your day.’

‘You too.’

‘Come on, Dylan … time for us to go.’

The boy on her lap turned his head to steal a helpless
glance of longing at the dog. Jarrett saw that the child, too, was uncommonly striking. But his bright long-lashed eyes weren’t the arresting green of the woman’s. They were a dark berry-brown.
Was
she his mother? he wondered again. He’d love to know. More to the point, did she come from one of the nearby villages? Due to the demands of his business, he didn’t spend a lot of time at home, but nonetheless he didn’t think she was a native of the area.
He was certain he would have heard about her if she was
. Such beauty would not go unnoticed for long.

Despite his curiosity, Jarrett knew that it was time for him to go. As he turned away it felt as if the bright day had suddenly dimmed. Even the memory of the deal he had just closed couldn’t diminish the blow to his ego that the green-eyed beauty had dealt him with her indifference and distrust.

‘Her name’s Sophia Markham. She’s moved into High Ridge Hall.’

‘What?’ The information his sister had so helpfully provided when she’d rung to let him know that she and her husband Paul had returned from their weekend trip to Paris had sent a thunderbolt jack-knifing through Jarrett’s heart. He’d been trying to purchase the old manor house for years, but the elderly lady who had lived there until two Christmases ago had doggedly refused to sell—even when it became clear that the building was heading for rack and ruin due to her neglect. The place had been standing empty since she’d died, and even though he’d made several enquiries to all the local agencies neither they nor he were any the wiser regarding who owned it or what was going to happen
to it now. So now, when Beth so matter-of-factly told him that the girl he’d described down by the stream yesterday had moved into it he was crushed with disappointment.

High Ridge Hall was much more than just a once grand crumbling edifice he yearned to restore to its former glory. Historically, it had always been the seat of one of the richest families in the area. Owning such a place would set the seal on the successes of the past few years during which his ‘property empire’—as Beth teasingly called it—had gone from strength to strength. He couldn’t help but feel jealous that the green-eyed beauty had moved into the place. She must have some important connections indeed for her to be able to live there—even though it must be falling down round her ears. But then, as he remembered the powerful tug of attraction he’d experienced towards her almost on sight, he was reminded of the lustful heat that had assailed him at just a single glance from her bewitching eyes …

‘Local opinion is that she is related to old Miss Wingham,’ said Beth. ‘How else could she move in? The place wasn’t even put up for sale.’

‘Damn it all to hell!’

‘Mum would turn in her grave if she heard you say that, Jarrett.’

‘Thankfully I’m not encumbered by our late mother’s religious proclivities—and nor should you be,’ he answered irritably.

‘Anyway … you say you met her down by the stream in the valley? I hear she has a son. Was he with her?’

‘Yes. He was.’

‘There’s no evidence of a father or husband. Do you
think she’s divorced? Or maybe her husband works abroad?’

‘You’re becoming as nosey as the rest of the village.’

‘Don’t pretend you’re not interested. I hear our Ms Markham is a real looker.’

Jarrett elected not to reply. He was still coming to terms with the idea that purchasing the house—a goal he had set his heart on—was no longer an option. At the other end of the line his sister emitted a long-suffering sigh.

‘Couple that with the fact that she’s moved into High Ridge Hall, and my guess is that you won’t be so eager to fly off on any long-haul business trips any time soon … at least not until you find out how she got the house and who she is.’

BOOK: Distracted by her Virtue
10.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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