Authors: Lynne Graham
Introducing this exciting rerelease of
bestselling author Lynne Graham’s longer-length Harlequin Presents title,
, available digitally for the first time!
When Harriet Carmichael’s world comes crashing down, she’s determined to count her blessings. Forget London, her failing career and her unfaithful fiancé—an unexpected legacy of a cottage and stables in an Irish village beckons!
But her fresh start is soon threatened by Rafael Cavaliere: her new neighbour
the very man who cost Harriet her job! With her heart so recently burned she’s reluctant to become another notch on his bedpost, but when passion ensnares them both, deep secrets are revealed—ones that could change their lives forever.
Table of Contents
N AN INSTANT
of searing honesty that came between sleeping and waking exhausted in her Manchester hotel room, Harriet Carmichael recognised that her life was not at all what she had once dreamt it would be. But she still hadn’t the slightest suspicion that she was about to face a day when her every worst nightmare would come true.
In any case, on her seventh birthday her stepfather had taught her to count her blessings when her exquisite mother had failed once again to put in a promised appearance. Those constant disappointments had hurt so much that Harriet had soon learned the art of looking on the bright side. That was how she protected herself. Negative thoughts were banished with a rousing mental mantra of all the things that she felt she should be grateful for. Right now there was her fantastic fiancé, Luke, who had
fallen for her in spite of her imperfections. Then there was her wonderful and glamorous extended family. She also had a great job, which earned her a terrific salary and which had finally persuaded Luke to put marriage on the agenda.
A starry smile tilted her generous mouth now. Awash with feel-good buoyancy, Harriet reached for the television remote and flicked on the business news.
‘Following a recent drop in share prices, Rafael Cavaliere’s arrival in London is fuelling rumours of a crash in the electronics sector.’
Harriet sat up in bed with a jerk to study the camera shot of the notorious Italian tycoon at Heathrow Airport. As usual his staff and his bodyguards surrounded his tall, commanding figure while a posse of frantic paparazzi bayed for attention. In the midst of this mêlée, however, Cavaliere strode along without haste in an apparent oasis of personal peace. The iceman cometh, Harriet thought grimly. Although he was only in his mid thirties he emanated the brutal assurance of a powerful male at home with the raw politics of the business world. His enormous wealth and brilliant financial acumen were laced with formidable ruthlessness. Behind the shades he always wore his lean, dark and compelling profile was as unreadable as a granite wall. A disturbing little shiver ran down her spine.
With an impatient hand Harriet thrust back the tumble of rich dark red hair falling across her pale brow, the soft contours of her rounded face taut with disapproval. Ten years earlier Rafael Cavaliere had acquired the pharmaceutical company where her stepfather had worked. Stripped of its every asset, the ailing firm had ceased to exist. Subsequently unemployment had devastated the rural town where she had grown up, and wrecked more than one previously happy family. She despised everything Rafael Cavaliere stood for: he did not create, he simply destroyed, and all in the very convenient names of progress, efficiency and profit.
In those days Harriet had been a country girl, never happier than when she was helping out at the local riding school, and her sole ambition had been to work with horses. Which was exactly why she had been so very unsettled only two months ago, when she’d become the fortunate recipient of a most unexpected inheritance: a relative she’d never met had left her a small livery business on the west coast of Ireland. Initially astonished and ecstatic at the news, Harriet had been downright irritated to be told that a handsome offer had already been made to purchase the property. In fact she had been mad keen to book the first available flight to Kerry. Unfortunately for her, however, absolutely nobody else in her life
had shared her enthusiasm for exploring either her Irish legacy or her Irish heritage, she recalled heavily.
Her mother, Eva, had fled Ireland and her family for London as a pregnant teenager. Eva’s memories were bitter and unforgiving, and she had always refused to tell her daughter who her father was. Harriet would have dearly loved some encouragement to visit the village of Ballyflynn, where Eva had grown up, and would have welcomed the chance to see if she could discover for herself the identity of her birth father. But fate had decreed otherwise, for tomorrow contracts were to be exchanged for the sale of the livery stable. Urged to be sensible rather than sentimental, Harriet had given way to pressure and had agreed to sell her inheritance sight unseen. After all, to do otherwise would have entailed turning her life upside down.
Her mobile phone rang. Though discomfited by her somewhat downbeat reflections, Harriet answered it with concentrated brightness.
‘Harriet…do you know if my Armani suit is still at the dry cleaners?’ Luke enquired tautly.
‘Let me think.’ Harriet thought back to the weekend, which had raced past in her usual feverish fight with the clock as she struggled to meet all her obligations. Luke had asked her to pick up his suit if she
could manage it, and she had said she would. But had she actually done so? Since working overtime had begun encroaching heavily on her weekends, she had found it increasingly hard to factor in the time to take care of the ordinary things of life.
‘Harriet…’ Luke pressed. ‘I’m running late—’
‘I definitely picked your suit up—’
in the wardrobe!’ Luke was as clipped and cutting in his impatience as only a lawyer could be. He had been equally blunt when it came to pointing out that the Emerald Isle was famously green because it rained a lot there, and therefore it was not at all his idea of the perfect setting for a holiday home.
‘So where is it?’
Harriet pictured him with his streaky blond hair swept back from his brow, his tanned, lively features lit by light green eyes. Love made her feel hollow with longing. With effort she retrieved a recollection of staggering into his apartment laden with shopping bags, the Armani suit draped over her arm. ‘Give me a minute. I’m thinking.’
‘Why are you always so disorganised?’ Luke condemned with sudden unexpected anger.
Taken aback by that unfair criticism, Harriet squeezed her eyes tight shut and with a meteoric effort remembered. ‘Your suit is hanging on the back of the kitchen door.’
Oh, never mind,’ Luke said ungratefully.
‘That is the last time I do a favour for you on a Saturday, just so that you can meet your friends at the gym,’ Harriet declared. ‘I’m not disorganised, just run off my feet!’
A sudden silence hummed on the line.
‘I’m sorry. I was out of order,’ Luke told her quietly. ‘Will I see you later?’
‘No. I’ll be lucky to make it home before midnight.’ Even when she got back to London she would still have to call into the agency, brief her boss, Saskia, and write up a detailed report. The monthly meeting with the executives at the Zenco headquarters in Manchester was the most important date in her diary.
‘That’s a shame, because I miss you,’ Luke asserted with easy charm. ‘However, I do have a lot on today too. So don’t worry if I switch off my phone. Just leave a message. Look, I have to rush…I’ll call you tomorrow, babes.’
Replacing the handset, Harriet was surprised by that particular term of endearment, for it had a frivolous edge that was not in his usual style. Her half-sister Alice used that expression too. But then Alice was an It-girl with a trust fund and an aptitude for always being at the cutting edge of the latest
trends. Harriet smiled fondly. She was very proud of the younger woman and thought, not for the first time, that it was a great shame that two of her favourite people, her sister and her fiancé, could hardly stand to be in the same room together.
Her mobile shrilled once more, just as she was about to head out for her meeting.
‘Are you watching the news?’ Her boss hissed in a frantic tone of urgency.
‘No…why?’ As Saskia was a natural-born drama queen, Harriet turned on the television news again in no great hurry.
‘Zenco has gone down…’ Saskia framed harshly.
Harriet’s stomach flipped. She stared transfixed at the screen. Crowds of employees were milling around the pavement in front of the Zenco building. Some people were banging on the entrance doors, but nobody appeared to be getting inside. Expressions reflected anger, bewilderment and blank disbelief. The camera lingered lovingly on the face of a young woman sobbing.
‘You deal with Zenco’s people all the time. Why didn’t you realise that there was trouble brewing?’ Saskia condemned, slashing like a knife through Harriet’s horror at the drama that was unfolding on screen. ‘If you’d warned us we could have pulled back!’
Unprepared for this attack, Harriet was bemused. ‘But, Saskia, how could I—?’
‘Right at this minute I’m not interested in listening to your excuses,’ her boss spat, with an almost hysterical edge to her voice. ‘Get over there and pull every bloody string you have to and find out what’s happening. Then come back here as soon as possible! Without the Zenco account you can’t afford to be running up expenses like some lottery winner.’
In the aftermath of that unreasonable accusation, Harriet pressed cooling hands to her hot cheeks. The brunette was well known for her acid tongue, but it was the first time that Harriet had personally felt its effects. Until this morning she had been a favoured employee, riding the crest of the wave on Zenco’s ever-increasing marketing budget, she acknowledged grimly. If Zenco was in trouble, so was she.
Two years had passed since Harriet had joined the staff at Dar Design. Back then the Zenco account had been small, but they had liked Dar’s creative department’s campaign and Harriet’s enthusiastic presentation skills—and the rest was history: the agency had expanded fast to meet the advertising needs of the giant multinational company. What if the gravy train had shrieked to a sudden halt?
Six hours later, Harriet crossed Dar Design’s elegant reception area. An eerie silence hung over the
office. Hovering colleagues peered out of doorways and looked away again hurriedly. Nobody knew what to do or what to say. Before Harriet had even boarded her flight back to London Saskia had phoned her four more times. Everybody must have heard Saskia screaming at the top of her voice that Zenco owed the agency so much money Dar Design would go to the wall with them. Harriet’s attempts to talk to Luke had been foiled when, on calling his secretary, she had discovered that he would be at a legal conference until six; and his mobile phone was switched off, just as he’d said it would be.
An emaciated brunette in her forties, clad in a pink tweed suit, thrust wide the door of her office.
Saskia demanded caustically.
Harriet breathed in deeply, walked in and closed the door behind her. ‘It’s not good. The rumour is that there’s a black hole in Zenco’s accounts and investigations are pending against three of the directors.’
Saskia uttered a very rude word and studied Harriet with raging resentment. ‘Why the hell am I only hearing about this now?’
‘Corruption in high places isn’t a topic of conversation amongst the Zenco personnel I’ve dealt with,’ Harriet pointed out as quietly as she knew how. ‘They don’t have the connections and neither do I.’
* * *
Despite the long estrangement that had existed between Valente Cavaliere and his son, Rafael chose to attend his father’s funeral.
Rafael believed family hostilities were not for public parade or debate, and he saw no reason to offend tribal traditions. Certainly it was inconvenient for him to leave the UK at the moment that Zenco went into its death throes, but he was still well on track to make another few million pounds in profit from other people’s stupidity and greed.
A silence filled with awe and respect greeted his arrival at the chapel in Rome. He marked the older man’s passing without visible emotion or sentiment. His impassive demeanour was a fitting footnote which his late parent would have very much admired. In seventy odd years of fully indulging his own essentially vicious nature, Valente had never once managed to match his son’s cold, proud detachment.
In a thwarted rage at his inability to intimidate Rafael, Valente had fought continually with him. He had competed in corrupt and underhand ways for his son’s every prize and had on many occasions attempted to bring the younger man’s business empire down. In defeat, Valente had learnt to his own astonishment that he was very proud of his own flesh and blood. Rafael was fiercely intelligent, icily self-controlled and lethally unemotional. By the time of
his death Valente had come to believe that he had bred a king among men by the Irish wife who had so grievously failed to meet his expectations