Authors: Helen Bianchin
How much would a mother sacrifice for her child?
Carly Taylor had made it on her own for six years, raising her daughter and
hiding from the heartbreaking memories of the husband who d betrayed her.
But when her daughter's life was threatened, Carly was desperate enough to
go to the man she'd tried to forget and ask for his help.
Stefano Alessi was the embodiment of power and once he learned he had a
child, he was determined to wield that power ruthlessly. He gave Carly one
option: return to his home and to his bed.
And that was where the danger lay. For once Carly was locked in Stefano's
embrace, the world would cease to matter. For how could she fight the sheer
force of a man whose greatest weapon was the desire she felt for him?
IT WAS one of those beautiful southern hemispheric summer evenings with a
soft balmy breeze drifting in from the sea.
An evening more suited to casual entertainment outdoors than a formal
gathering, Carly mused as she stepped into a classically designed black
gown and slid the zip in place. Beautifully cut, the style emphasised her slim
curves and provided a perfect foil for her fine-textured skin.
A quick glance in the mirror revealed an attractive young woman of average
height, whose natural attributes were enhanced by a glorious riot of
auburn-streaked dark brown curls cascading halfway down her back.
The contrast was dramatic and far removed from the elegant chignon and
classically tailored clothes she chose to wear to the office.
Indecision momentarily clouded her expression as she viewed her pale,
delicately boned features.
pale, she decided, and in a moment of utter
recklessness she applied more blusher, then added another touch of
eyeshadow to give extra emphasis to her eyes.
There, that would have to do, she decided as she viewed her image with
critical appraisal, reflecting a trifle wryly that it was ages since she'd
attended a social function—although tonight's soiree was entirely business,
arranged for the express purpose of affording a valuable new client
introduction to key personnel, and only her employer's insistence had been
instrumental in persuading her to join other staff members at his house.
'All done,' she said lightly as she turned towards the small pyjama-clad girl
sitting cross-legged on the bed: a beautiful child whose fragility tore at
Carly's maternal heartstrings and caused her to curse silently the implicit
necessity to attend tonight's party.
'You look pretty.' The voice held wistful admiration, and a wealth of
unreserved love shone from wide, expressive dark eyes.
'Thank you,' Carly accepted gently as she leant forward and trailed slightly
shaky fingers down the length of her daughter's dark, silky curls.
Tomorrow the waiting would be over. In a way, it would be a relief to know
the medical reason why Ann-Marie's health had become so precarious in the
past few months. The round of referrals from general practitioner to
paediatrician, to one specialist and then another, the seemingly endless
number of tests and X-rays had proven emotionally and financially draining.
If Ann-Marie required the skills of a surgeon and private hospital care...
Silent anguish gnawed at her stomach, then with a concentrated effort Carly
dampened her anxiety and forced her wide, mobile mouth into a warm smile
as she clasped Ann-Marie's hand in her own.
'Sarah has the telephone number if she needs to contact me,' she relayed
gently as she led the way towards the lounge.
Leaving Ann-Marie, even with someone as competent as Sarah, was a
tremendous wrench. Especially tonight, when apprehension heightened her
sense of guilt and warred violently with any need for divided loyalty. Yet her
work was important/ the money earned essential. Critical, she added
Besides, Ann-Marie couldn't be in better hands than with Sarah, who, as a
nursing sister at the Royal Children's Hospital, was well qualified to cope
with any untoward eventuality.
'The dress is perfect.'
Carly smiled in silent acknowledgement of the warmly voiced compliment.
'It's kind of you to lend it to me.'
The attractive blonde rose from the sofa with unselfconscious grace. 'Your
hair looks great. You should wear it like that more often.'
'Yes,' Ann-Marie agreed, and, tilting her head to one side, she viewed her
mother with the solemn simplicity of the very young. 'It makes you look
'Sophisticated,' Sarah added with a teasing laugh as she collected a book
from the coffee-table. It was a popular children's story, with beautiful
illustrations. 'Ann-Marie and I have some serious reading to do.'
Carly blessed Sarah's intuitive ability to distract Ann-Marie's attention—and
her own, if only momentarily.
Their friendship went back seven years to the day they'd moved into
neighbouring apartments—each fleeing her own home town for differing
reasons, and each desperate for a new beginning.
'I won't be away any longer than I have to,' she assured quietly, then she gave
Ann-Marie a hug, and quickly left.
In the lobby, Carly crossed to the lift and stabbed the call-button, hearing an
answering electronic hum as the lift rose swiftly to the third floor, then just
as swiftly transported her down to the basement.
The apartment block comprised three levels, and was one of several lining
the northern suburban street, sharing a uniformity of pale brick, tiled roof,
and basement car park, the only visual difference being a variation in the
grassed verges and gardens, dependent on the generosity of any caring
tenant who possessed both the time and inclination to beautify his or her
Carly unlocked her sedan, slid in behind the wheel and urged the aged Ford
on to street level, taking the main arterial route leading into the city. It was
almost seven-thirty, and unless there were any delays with traffic she should
arrive at the requested time.
Clive Mathorpe owned an exclusive harbourside residence in Rose Bay, and
a slight frown creased her forehead as she attempted to recall a previous
occasion when her employer had organised a social event in his home for the
benefit of a client—even the directorial scion of a vast entrepreneurial
Acquiring Consolidated Enterprises had been quite a
, for Mathorpe
and Partners bore neither the size nor standing of any one of the three
instantly recognisable internationally affiliated accounting firms.
Carly's speculation faded as she caught a glimpse of towering multi-level
concrete and glass spires vying for supremacy in a city skyline, followed
within minutes by an uninterrupted view of the unique architectural
masterpiece of the Opera House.
It was a familiar scene she'd come to appreciate, for it was here in this city
that she had developed a sense of self-achievement, together with an inner
satisfaction at having strived hard against difficult odds and won. Not
handsomely, she admitted a trifle wryly, aware of the leasing fee on her
apartment and the loan on her car.
Negotiating inner-city evening traffic demanded total concentration, and
Carly gave a silent sigh of relief when she reached Rose Bay.
Locating her employer's address presented no problem, and she slid the car
to a halt outside an imposing set of wrought-iron gates.
Minutes later she took a curving path towards the main entrance, and within
seconds of pressing the doorbell she was greeted by name and ushered
It was crazy suddenly to be stricken with an attack of nerves; mad to
consider herself a social alien among people she knew and worked with.
Soft muted music vied with the chatter of variously toned voices, and Carly
cast the large lounge and its occupants an idle sweeping glance. Without
exception the men all wore black dinner-suits, white silk shirts and black
bow-ties, while the women had each chosen stylish gowns in a concerted
effort to impress.
Within minutes she was offered a drink, and she managed a slight smile as
Bradley Williamson moved to her side. He was a pleasant man in his early
thirties and considered to be one of Mathorpe and Partners' rising young
His roving appraisal was brief, and his eyes assumed an appreciative sparkle
as he met her steady gaze. 'Carly, you look sensational.'
'Bradley,' she acknowledged, then queried idly, 'Has Clive's honoured guest
His voice took on an unaccustomed dryness. 'You're hoping he'll appear
soon and let you off the figurative hook.'
It was a statement she didn't refute. 'Maybe he won't come,' she proffered
absently, and caught Bradley's negative shake of the head.
'Doubtful. Mathorpe revealed that the director favours a personal touch in all
his business dealings. "Involvement on every level" were his exact words.'
'Which explains why the company has achieved such success.'
Bradley spared her a quizzical smile that broadened his pleasant features
into moderate attractiveness. 'Been doing your homework?'
Her answering response was without guile. 'Of course.'^ Figures,
projections, past successes had been readily available. Yet mystery
surrounded Consolidated Enterprises' top man, inviting intense speculation
with regard to his identity.
'Such dedication,' he teased. 'The way you're heading, you'll be the first
woman partner in the firm.'
'I very much doubt it.'
His interest quickened. 'You can't possibly be considering resigning in
favour of working elsewhere.'
'No,' Carly disclaimed. 'I merely expressed the observation that Clive
Mathorpe has tunnel vision, and, while an accountant of the feminine gender
is quite acceptable in the workforce, taking one on as a partner is beyond his
personal inclination.' A faint smile tugged the corners of her generously
moulded mouth. 'Besides, I'm comfortable with things as they are.'
He absorbed her words and effected a philosophical shrug. 'Can I get you
'Thank you. Something long, cool and mildly alcoholic.' She smiled at his
expression, then added teasingly, 'Surprise me.'
Carly watched Bradley's departing back with an odd feeling of restlessness,
aware of a time when her slightest need had been anticipated with unerring
accuracy, almost as if the man in her life possessed an ability to see beyond
the windows of her mind right to the very depths of her soul. Those were the
days of love and laughter, when life itself had seemed as exotic and ebullient
as the bubbles set free in a flute of the finest champagne.
Entrapped by introspection, Carly fought against the emergence of a vision
so vivid, so shockingly compelling, that it was almost as if the image had