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Authors: Miranda Lee

The Passion Price

BOOK: The Passion Price
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“Don't!”

She snatched her hand away from under his, clutching it firmly in her lap with her other hand.

He searched her face with thoughtful eyes. “What's wrong, Angelina? Are you still angry with me for what happened sixteen years ago? I wouldn't blame you if you were. I was thinking earlier today how much I wanted to say sorry to you for how things turned out that night, so if it's not too late, I'm truly sorry.”

“No need for an apology.” She bit out the words. “I was as much to blame as you were.”

“Then what's the problem? Why snatch your hand away like that?”

Angelina could hardly tell him the truth. That just the touch of his hand fired up her hormones as no man had in the past sixteen years. Not even close. Even now she was looking at his mouth and wondering what it would feel like on hers again; wondering what making love would be like with Jake, now that he was older and much more experienced.

Where spirited women win the hearts of Australia's most eligible men!

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®
can imagine.

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There's another Miranda Lee title available in September:

The Magnate's Mistress
#2415

Australian hotel magnate Max Richmond was quite happy to keep Tara as his mistress—but as the mother of his child…?

Miranda Lee
THE PASSION PRICE

CHAPTER ONE

‘T
HE
ad says the property is open for inspection every Saturday afternoon between two and three,' Dorothy pointed out. ‘I'm going to drive up there today and have a look at it. What do you think of that?'

Jake put down the newspaper and looked up at the woman who'd been more of a mother to him than the woman who'd given birth to him thirty-four years before.

As much as he loved Dorothy, Jake wasn't going to indulge her in such a ridiculous idea.

‘I think you're stark, raving mad,' he said.

Dorothy laughed, something she hadn't done all that often this past year.

Jake frowned. Maybe it wasn't such a ridiculous idea, if it made her happy.

Hell, no, he immediately reassessed. She was seventy-one years old. Way too old to go buying some run-down boutique winery up in the back blocks of the Hunter Valley.

Still, perhaps it would be wise not to mention Dorothy's age in his arguments. She was sensitive about that, like most women.

Not that she looked her age. Dorothy Landsdale was one of those women who had never been pretty,
but had grown more handsome with age. Tall, with broad shoulders and an impressive bosom, she had an intelligent face, with few lines on her perfect skin, a patrician nose and intense, deeply set blue eyes. Her silvery hair, which was dead straight, was always cut very short in a simple yet elegant style.

That was Dorothy's style all round. Simple, yet elegant. Jake had always admired the way she looked and dressed, although he sometimes wondered if she'd had her lips permanently painted red, because he'd never seen her without her favourite lipstick on.

Not that it mattered. Frankly, red lips suited her, especially when she was smiling.

Jake determined not to say anything that would wipe that wonderful smile off her face.

‘Look, let's be sensible here,' he began in the same calm, cool, you-and-I-are-reasonable-people voice he reserved for juries during his closing addresses. ‘You know nothing about wine-making.'

‘Actually, you're wrong there, Jake, dear. You obviously don't know this, but Edward once planned on buying a boutique winery in the Hunter Valley. He fancied going up there on weekends. He collected a whole shelf-full of books on the subject of wine and wine-making at the time. Made me read them so we could talk about the subject together. But then he brought you home to live with us and that idea was abandoned. Though never entirely forgotten. He still dreamt of doing it after he retired.'

Jake experienced a dive in spirits, as he always did when the judge was talked about. He and Dorothy
had both been shattered when Dorothy's husband of thirty years had died of a coronary last year, a few short months before his retirement. Jake had taken the news extra hard. If Dorothy was like a mother to him, Edward had been like a father, and more. He'd been Jake's mentor and best friend. His saviour, in fact. A wonderful man. Kind and generous and truly wise.

Jake knew he would never meet his like again.

Edward had left Jake a small fortune in his will, an astonishing document with a written request that within six months of his death Jake was to use some of his cash legacy to buy a luxury harbourside apartment and a yellow Ferrari. Jake had wept when he'd been told this. He'd confided these two fantasy purchases to his friend one night last year over a game of chess, also confessing that he would probably never buy them, even if he could afford to. He already had a perfectly nice apartment, he had explained to Edward. And a reliable car.

But Edward's last wishes were sacrosanct with Jake and he'd taken possession of the new apartment—set on prestigious McMahon's Point—just before Christmas a couple of months back. The Ferrari had come only last week. He'd had to wait ages to have a yellow one imported and delivered.

Both the apartment and the car had already given him great pleasure. But he would give them both back—hell, he'd practically sell his soul to the devil—to have the man himself sitting alive and well at this breakfast table with them.

‘So that's what this is all about,' he said with a raw edge in his voice. ‘You want to make Edward's dream come true.'

‘In a way. But don't get me wrong. This would mostly be for me. I need a new venture, Jake. A new interest in life. Edward would hate for me to be moping around all the time, thinking my life was over because he was no longer here. When I saw that ad in the
Herald
this morning, it jumped right out at me. But it's not just the winery. I simply love the look of the house.'

Jake glanced down at the photograph of the house. ‘It just looks old to me.'

‘It's beautiful. I love old Australian farmhouses. Look at those gorgeous wraparound verandas. First thing I'd buy would be a swing seat. I'd sit there every afternoon with a gin and tonic and watch the sunsets. I've never had a house, you know. I've always lived in apartments. I've never had a garden, either.'

‘They're a lot of work, houses and gardens,' Jake pointed out. ‘Wineries, too,' he added, suddenly thinking of another time and another winery.

It, too, had been in the Hunter Valley. But not one of the boutique varieties. A reasonably large winery with acres under vine, producing tons of grapes each season that the anti-machinery Italian owner always had picked by hand.

Which was where he had come in.

Jake hadn't thought about that place, or that time
in his life, for ages. He'd trained himself over the years not to dwell on past miseries, or past mistakes.

But now that he had, the memories came swarming back. The heat that summer. The back-breaking work. And the utter boredom.

No wonder his eyes had kept going to the girl.

She'd been the only child of the Italian owner. Angelina, her name was. Angelina Mastroianni. Lush and lovely, with olive skin, jet-black hair, big brown eyes and a body that had looked fabulous in the short shorts and tight tank tops she lived in.

But it was her come-hither glances which he'd noticed the most.

As a randy and rebellious seventeen-year-old, Jake had been no stranger to sex. No stranger to having girls come on to him, either.

Yet it had taken him all summer to talk Angelina into meeting him alone. He'd thought she was playing hard to get, a conclusion seemingly backed up by the way she'd acted as soon as he'd drawn her into his arms. She hadn't been able to get enough of his kisses, or his hands. He hadn't discovered till after the big event, and her father was beating him to a pulp, that she'd only been fifteen, and a virgin to boot.

Within the hour, he'd been bundled off back to the teenage refuge in Sydney from whence he'd come. The subsequent charge of carnal knowledge had brought him up in front of the very man who'd sent him on the ‘character-building' work programme at the winery in the first place.

Judge Edward Landsdale.

Jake had been scared stiff of actually being convicted and sentenced, something he'd miraculously managed to avoid during his rocky young life so far. But he'd felt his luck had run out on this occasion and the prospect of a stint in an adult jail loomed large in his mind, given that he was almost eighteen.

Fear had made him extra-belligerent, and even more loud-mouthed than usual. Judge Landsdale had seen right through him, and also seen something else. God bless him. Somehow, Edward had had the charges dropped, and then he'd done something else, something truly remarkable. He'd brought Jake home to live with him and his wife.

That had been the beginning of Jake's new life, a life where he realised there were some good people in this world, and that you could make something of yourself, if someone had faith in you and gave you very real, hands-on support.

Angelina had lingered in Jake's thoughts for a long time after that fateful night. In the end, however, he'd forced her out of his mind and moved on, filling his life with his studies and, yes, other girls.

Now that he came to think of it, however, none of his girlfriends so far had ever made him feel what Angelina had made him feel that long-ago summer.

Who knew why that was? Up till their rendezvous in the barn, they'd only talked. Perhaps it had been the long, frustrating wait which had made even kissing her seem so fabulous. The sex had hardly been memorable. She'd panicked at the last moment and
he'd had to promise to pull out. Then, when she'd been so tight, he hadn't twigged why—young fool that he was. His only excuse was that he'd been totally carried away at the time.

Really, the whole thing had been nothing short of a fiasco, with her father finding them together in the winery only seconds after Jake had done the dastardly deed. He'd barely had time to zip his jeans up before the first blow connected with his nose, breaking it and spurting blood all over one highly hysterical Angelina.

Jake reached up to slowly rub the bridge of his nose.

It wasn't crooked any longer. Neither were his front teeth still broken. He didn't have any tattoos left, either. Dorothy had taken him to the best Macquarie Street cosmetic surgeons and dentists within weeks of his coming to live with her, beginning his transformation from Jake Winters, dead-beat street kid and born loser, to Jake Winters, top litigator and sure winner.

He wondered what had happened to Angelina in the intervening years. No doubt that hotheaded father of hers would have kept a closer eye on his precious daughter after that night. He'd had big dreams for his winery, had Antonio Mastroianni. Big dreams for his lovely Angelina as well.

With the wisdom of hindsight, Jake could now well understand the Italian's reaction to discovering them together. The last male on earth any father would have wanted his daughter to get tangled up
with was the likes of himself. He'd been a bad boy back then. A very bad boy.

Not to Judge Edward Landsdale, though. When Edward had first met Jake, he hadn't seen the long hair, the tattoos or the countless body piercings. All he'd seen was a good boy crying to get out, a boy worth helping.

Aah, Edward. You were right, and wrong at the same time. Yes, I
have
made something of myself, thanks to you and Dorothy. But beneath my sophisticated and successful veneer, I'm still that same street kid. Tough and hard and self-centred in the way you had to become on Sydney's meaner streets to survive. Basically, a loner. Such programming is deep-seated, and possibly the reason why my personal life is not as great as my professional life.

A top trial lawyer might benefit from being on the cold-blooded side, from never letting emotion get in the way of his thinking. But how many of my girlfriends have complained of my lack of sensitivity? My selfishness? My inability to truly care about them, let alone commit?

I might be able to argue great cases and win verdicts, along with massive compensation payments for my clients, but I can't keep a woman in my life for longer than a couple of months.

And do I care?

Not enough.

The truth is I like living alone, especially now, in my fantastic harbourside apartment. I like being responsible for no one but myself.

Dorothy, of course, was a responsibility of sorts. But Dorothy was different. He loved Dorothy as much as he had loved Edward. That was why he visited her every Friday night, and why he sometimes stayed the night. To make sure she was all right. Edward would have wanted him to look after Dorothy, and he aimed to do just that.

Not an easy task, Jake reminded himself, if she was living way out in the country.

He really had to talk her out of the ridiculously romantic idea of buying this winery.

But talking Dorothy out of something was not always an easy thing to do…

When Jake's eyes glazed over and he kept idly rubbing his nose, Dorothy wondered what he was thinking about. Edward, probably. Poor Jake. Edward's death had really rocked him. They'd become so close over the years, those two. The crusty old judge with the heart of gold and the cocky street kid with no heart at all.

Till Jake had met Edward, that was.

Impossible to remain completely heartless around Edward. Dorothy knew that for a fact. The day she'd met her future husband, she'd been forty years old. Overweight and on the frumpy side, way past her prime. Edward had been five years younger at thirty-five, tall and handsome and beautifully dressed. He'd come to her aid when she'd been knocked over in Market Place by some lout on a skateboard. He'd taken her for a cup of coffee to settle her nerves and swiftly made her forget that she was a dried-up old
spinster with a dreary office job and a bitter cynicism about men, especially the good-looking ones.

She'd fallen in love with Edward that very first day. Why he'd fallen in love with her, she had no idea. He'd claimed it was the heat in her eyes. Whatever, she'd lost those extra pounds she'd been carrying over the next few weeks. In her few spare hours, she'd also smartened herself up. Bought some decent clothes. Had her hair styled by a good hair-dresser. And started always wearing the red lipstick Edward had admired.

They'd been married six months later, to predictions of doom from relatives. But their marriage had proved to be a great success, despite their not having any children.

Other men might have resented that. But not Edward. When she'd tearfully questioned him over his feelings about her infertility, he'd hugged her and said he'd married her for better or worse, and that resenting realities was a waste of time. But that was when he'd started working with charities that helped underprivileged boys, and where he'd lavished all his unused fatherly love.

Still, he hadn't become too personally involved with any of the boys till Jake had come along. Jake, of the ice-blue eyes and serious attitude problem.

When Edward had first brought Jake home to live with them, Dorothy couldn't stand the boy's smart mouth and slovenly ways. But gradually, a miracle had happened. Jake had changed and maybe she had
changed a bit, too, becoming more tolerant and understanding.

BOOK: The Passion Price
12.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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