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Authors: Miranda Lee

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BOOK: The Passion Price
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‘That's good,' he said with a smile. ‘I like a girl who keeps her options open.”

Her hitting him playfully on the arm broke the tension he'd foolishly created.

‘I'm just a sex object to you, aren't I?' she accused.

‘Absolutely. So, do you want to go look at this wedding, or do you want to go home? Don't forget, we've only got four hours before I drive you home. We'll have to set off by eight if I want to be back in Sydney by midnight. I'm a Cinderella kind of guy when I have to be in court in the morning.'

‘Decisions. Decisions.'

‘Yeah, life's a bitch, isn't it? So what do you reckon? Which is it to be?'

Angelina knew he thought she'd opt to go home. And she wanted to. She wanted to so much it was criminal.

All the more reason not to.

‘I think it would do you good to see that there is more to a relationship than just sex. That couple in there are about to promise to love and cherish each other till death them do part.'

‘Until divorce them do part, don't you mean?'

‘You're a cynic, do you know that?'

‘Takes one to know one.'

‘Point taken. But I still want to see the wedding,' she said firmly, and walked over to press the button that would change the traffic lights. ‘Despite the fact that the bride has already gone inside.'

‘Fine by me. I not only like to watch sometimes, but also to wait. Waiting whets the appetite further.'

‘You have a one-track mind.'

‘Where you're concerned, I have.'

‘You'd better behave yourself in this church.'

‘I'll be an angel.'

‘Don't be facetious.'

The lights changed and Angelina launched herself across the road, Jake hot on her heels. She could hear the organ blaring out the
Wedding March
even from that distance.

‘No wandering hands during the ceremony,' she warned him as they skipped up the steps.

‘Definitely not. I know you. You won't be able to control yourself.”

‘I will!' she countered, but blushingly.

‘No? Pity. Well, let's hope this isn't one of those long ceremonies. I'm not sure I'll be able to sit on a hard pew for more than twenty minutes, max.”

She laughed, not a good idea since they'd just entered the vaulted interior of the cathedral, right at the moment when the organ stopped. Her laughter echoed up into the cavernous and unfortunately silent ceiling. Several heads whipped round to glare.

‘Sorry,' Jake apologised to them. ‘I can't take her anywhere.'

‘Stop it,' Angelina hissed. ‘Just shut up and watch.'

He shut up. But not for long.

‘Hard to see much from this far back. Want to get closer?'

‘No! I can't trust you to behave.'

‘True. I've always been a bad boy in churches. Can't stand all the hush-hush nonsense. Makes me want to break out.'

‘If you embarrass me,' she whispered, ‘I won't go to your place with you afterwards at all. I'll make you drive me straight home to the Hunter Valley.'

‘Don't think so,' he returned just as softly. ‘You left that pretty handbag behind, remember? We'll have to go collect it. Although, perhaps not. You could always collect it next weekend.'

Angelique frowned. She'd been trying not to think about tomorrow, let alone next weekend. ‘I…I have to have lunch with Alex next weekend.'

‘You don't
have
to do anything of the kind. Call him. Tell him it's over by phone.'

‘No.'

‘I knew you'd say that,' he muttered. ‘OK, go to lunch with him if you have to. But that's just on the Saturday during the day. As soon as you're finished with him…
permanently
this time…I will expect you at my place. Shall we say four? Five?'

‘Make it six.' The swimming carnival wouldn't finish till five.

‘That's one hell of a long lunch. I sure hope it's
going to be somewhere public. All right, all right, so I'm acting like a jealous fool. Six, it is. I'll book us a table for dinner at eight. You can stay over till Sunday night, can't you?'

Angelina swallowed. She really shouldn't let this fiasco continue. It wasn't right. She should tell him the truth.

But she just couldn't.

‘All right,' she said with a sigh. ‘Now hush up.'

He hushed up, but a small boy several rows up from them didn't. He started whinging and whining about wanting to go outside. Several warnings from both his parents to be quiet and to sit still had no effect. Finally, the father lost his patience, swooped the child up in his arms and headed with swift strides back down the aisle, past Angelina and Jake.

Angelina smiled a wry smile. She remembered full well the trials and tribulations of taking a small boy to church.

Jake's suddenly leaping to his feet startled her. ‘Be back in a minute,' he said. ‘Got to check on something.' And he was off, bolting down the aisle after the man and child.

Angelina jumped up as well, and hurried after the three of them, catching up with Jake on the cathedral steps. He was standing there, staring, an odd confusion in his eyes.

Her hand on his tensely held arm was gentle. ‘You see?' she said quietly as her gaze followed Jake's to where the father was happily lighting up a cigarette whilst he watched his son enjoying himself im
mensely jumping up and down the steps. ‘No need to worry.'

‘I thought…'

‘Yes, I know what you thought,' she said softly.

She actually felt the shudder run all through Jake.

‘Can we get away from here?' he said, glancing around at all the onlookers who were gathering to see the bride emerge.

‘All right.' She tucked her arm through his and they just walked in silence for a while, finding their way across the road and back into the park at the next intersection.

‘Is that what your father did to you, Jake?' she asked gently at last. ‘Hit you?'

‘No, not my father. I never knew my father. He did a flit before I was born. It was my mother who did the honours. Man, she had a punch on her, that woman. Not a day went by that she didn't lay into me for some reason. Just about anything would set her off, especially when she'd been drinking. Sometimes it was just the way I looked at her. I can still remember how scared I was to go home after school, right from the time I was in kindergarten. Although weekends were the worst. No school to escape to those days.'

Angelina was both horrified and saddened by his story. What kind of a mother would do that to her son? ‘But didn't the teachers notice?' she asked. ‘I mean…there must have been bruises.'

He shrugged. ‘I'm a boy. Boys get bruises all the time. If they did notice, they just looked the other
way. Teachers weren't always as conscientious in reporting such matters back then as they are now.'

‘But what about you grandparents? Your aunts and uncles? Neighbours? Wasn't there anyone who cared?'

‘Not that I knew of. Mum was estranged from her family. And the neighbours we had were just as bad. It was not a salubrious street.'

‘So what happened in the end? Did you run away?'

‘I put up with it as long as I could. By the time I was in high school, I didn't go home much so I didn't get hit as often. I spent more and more time on the streets after school. Got into a gang. God knows how I didn't get arrested for shoplifting. I thought I was smart but I was just lucky. Anyway, one day when I was around fifteen, I came home late and Mum started swinging at me with this frying pan. Great heavy thing it was. Collected me a beauty. I'm not sure what happened next but it was Mum who ended up on the floor. Made me feel sick afterwards, I can tell you. But then…aggression breeds aggression. That was when I walked out and never went back.'

‘But where did you live?'

‘On the streets, of course.'

‘But…'

‘Look, I survived, OK, thanks to Edward and Dorothy. Let's not get into this. It's all dead and gone, even the lady herself. I looked her up last year when Edward died and found out she'd passed away
years ago. Hepatitis. I didn't grieve, but I needed to know what had happened to her. Closure, I guess.'

Closure? The man who'd started shaking at the sight of a father showing even a small amount of impatience with his son was a long way from closure. Angelina was so glad that she had never used corporal punishment on her son. She'd never allowed her father to hit Alex either, no matter what.

Poor Jake. All of a sudden, she wanted to hold him and love him, to make up to him for everything he'd suffered as a child.

‘Let's go home, Jake,' she suggested softly.

He stopped walking to throw her a speculative glance. ‘Home, as in your home or my home?'

‘Your home.'

‘Now you're talking.'

But she didn't do much talking on the way home. She kept thinking of everything Jake had suffered as a child.

It explained why he didn't want to have children himself. Clearly, he was afraid he'd be a bad father, that the cycle of physical abuse would continue. Angelina didn't believe that it would for a moment. Not with Jake.

Still, it was what Jake thought that counted.

It was going to come as a terrible shock when she told him about Alex. Perhaps it was as well, Angelina realised, that their son was a teenager and not a baby.

‘You've gone rather quiet,' Jake said as he un
locked his front door and ushered her inside. ‘Is something wrong?'

‘Wrong? No, no, nothing wrong.'

‘It's Alex, isn't it? You're worried about him.'

‘Alex will be fine,' she said. And he would be, too. He was going to be thrilled to have a father like Jake. It was Jake's reaction that worried her.

‘So what is it?'

‘I'm worried that I might be getting addicted to this.'

‘To what?'

‘To being with you.'

He dropped the shopping bag, kicked the door shut behind them and drew her into his arms once more. ‘There are worse addictions, you know,' he murmured as he bent his mouth to hers.

Angelina wasn't so sure. Already it was responsible for her changing her mind about telling Jake the truth. And possibly for longer than a couple of weekends.

‘This is one addiction which I would happily subscribe to,' Jake muttered against her lips. ‘Come on, gorgeous,' he said, taking her hand and scooping up the shopping bag at the same time. ‘Your breather is up.'

CHAPTER ELEVEN

‘T
HURSDAY
,'
Angelina muttered to herself as she set about making her bed.

Four days since she'd seen Jake. Four long, boring, lonely days. And two more till she saw him again.

Coming round to the other side of her double bed, she picked up the pillow on that side and held it against her cheek. This was where Jake had laid his head the other night.

Could she still smell the scent of him on it?

Angelina imagined she could.

It had been quite late by the time Jake had driven her home last Sunday. She hadn't thought he would want to come in with her; hadn't anticipated it. But he'd insisted on walking her to the door, then claimed he needed to come inside to use the bathroom before driving back.

Her panic had been instant, and intense. For how could she let him come in? The place was full of Alex memorabilia. Photos everywhere. Trophies in his bedroom. Stuff on the fridge.

She'd finally managed to stall Jake at the door, saying that the place was a mess and she'd die of embarrassment if he saw it like that.

‘Just give me one minute,' she'd begged. ‘Please, Jake.'

He'd seemed amused. ‘Don't tell me you're not perfect,' he'd said.

‘Hardly,' she'd replied. ‘Who is?'

Her dash around the rooms had been like something out of a farce. She'd scooped all the photos on top of the sideboard into the top drawer. The same with the ones on her bedside chests. She almost missed the reminder for Alex's swimming carnival on the fridge door, shoving it on top, along with the magnet photo of him as a baby. Alex's bedroom was a lost cause so she just closed that door, then flung open the bathroom door so that Jake wouldn't walk into his son's room by mistake.

He hadn't. But neither had he left after his trip to the bathroom, as she'd expected him to. He'd kissed her again, and soon she was ripping at his shirt and pulling him into her bedroom—the two-hour drive enclosed in that sexy car with Jake had done dreadful things to her resolve to be good—and the last thing Angelina remembered was falling asleep in his arms.

When she'd woken in the morning he was gone.

Mid-morning that Monday, a huge arrangement of red roses had arrived, with a card attached saying, ‘Next weekend can't come quickly enough. Jake.'

The flowers were still alive and utterly gorgeous, sitting on the sideboard in place of the still absent photos. She didn't dare put any of them back up yet. In fact, since last Sunday, she'd locked Alex's bedroom door, and hidden anything else that might give
the game away if Jake ever showed up here again. After his phone call last night, Angelina wouldn't be at all surprised at his driving up tonight. He'd been so excited after winning that case.

And missing her terribly, he'd said.

Angelina sighed. He wasn't the only one.

 

Jake sat down on his favourite seat in Hyde Park, placed the banana smoothie on the grass at his feet, then proceeded to unwrap his king-sized roll. This was the first time he'd had the opportunity to eat lunch in the park this week. Not because of the weather. Sydney had continued to be dry and warm. Circumstance had been the guilty party.

Monday, he'd been too wrecked to eat lunch. He'd had to call on every reserve of strength he had to deliver his closing address in court that morning, the weekend finally catching up with him. After the jury had retired to consider their verdict, he'd gone home and just collapsed into bed. Tuesday, he'd been far too agitated to eat. The jury had still been out. Wednesday, he'd been much too elated. At eleven that morning, the jury had found for the plaintiff to the tune of fourteen million dollars.

Now it was Thursday and the bedlam of the last couple of days was hopefully behind him. If another television station showed at his office, wanting another damned interview, he was going to go bush, preferably to the Hunter Valley.

Jake loved being a litigator. Loved having victories over the bad guys. Attention from the media,
however, was not one of his loves. He hated having cameras and microphones shoved in his face. Of course, the law firm he worked for didn't mind one bit. But that kind of publicity was not Jake's bag, even if it did result in his being offered a partnership.

Strangely, Jake wasn't sure if he wanted to become a partner in Keats, Marsden and Johnson. Neither did he fancy being pushed into taking on the inevitable rush of perhaps not-so-worthy clients who thought they could make a mint out of suing their bosses over supposedly adverse working conditions. He'd only won this case because his client had a genuine complaint. Copycat cases rarely had the same integrity, or sympathy.

Jake munched into his salmon and salad roll—man, it tasted good—and wondered if now was the right time for him to make a move, start up a practice of his own. He'd be free then to take on only the clients he really wanted to represent. He wouldn't be influenced by money, which a big law firm invariably was. Of course, this would mean forgoing his six-figure salary plus bonuses, not to mention his generous expense account. It would also mean a lot of work. Starting up your own business involved a lot of red tape.

On the plus side, he would be his own boss. And the temporary loss of salary wouldn't be any great hardship. He still had a small fortune in cash left over from Edward's legacy.

Maybe he'd run the idea by Angelina tonight. She
was a businesswoman. She would know what was involved. See what she thought.

Aah, Angelina…

Already, he was looking forward to talking to her tonight. Their nightly chat was the highlight of his day, something to look forward to after work. He would ring her a lot more than that, but Angelina had forbidden him to call during the day, claiming she'd never get anything done if he did that.

Possibly true. Once they were on the phone together, they sometimes talked for hours.

Of course, he
had
broken the rules and called her as soon as the verdict came in on the Wednesday. But that was a special occasion and he hadn't kept her on the line for long.

The salad and salmon roll duly disposed of, Jake picked up his banana smoothie and started to sip.

How soon, he wondered, could he tell her he loved her and wanted to marry her?

Not too soon, Jake suspected.

A couple of times last weekend, she'd fallen silent on him. Suspiciously silent. You could almost hear the wheels turning away in her brain. Yet she'd been unforthcoming when he'd asked her what was wrong.

In a way, she was secretive. She rarely opened up to him about herself in any depth. And she never talked about her feelings for him.

In the past, he hadn't been able to stop women telling him their feelings, especially how much they loved him. Angelina never went near the subject of
love. She said flattering things about his lovemaking but that wasn't the same.

Already addicted to having sex with him, she'd said last Sunday.

Jake frowned. He didn't like the idea that she might be only coming back to see him this weekend for more of the same. There was no doubting she liked sex. After his initially thinking she was pretty inexperienced in bed, she'd turned into a veritable tiger.

Once his mind took that tack, the worry started up that she hadn't been totally truthful over what she was up to this coming Saturday. To put aside a whole day to tell any man she was breaking up with him seemed excessively kind.

Maybe she's not going to break up with him at all, a dark voice whispered in his head. Maybe she's going to spend the whole day at Alex's place, in Alex's bed. And then come on to
his
bed for the rest of the weekend.

The idea revolted him. But it was possible, wasn't it? She had a very high sex drive. But was she capable of that level of deception?

He wouldn't have thought so. Still, his buying that huge diamond engagement ring yesterday afternoon now struck him as being ridiculously premature. Amazing the things a man in love would do! Fools did rush in, as the saying went.

The buzzing on Jake's cellphone had him sitting up abruptly, his banana smoothie slurping back and forth in its cardboard carton. Setting the drink down,
he fished his phone out of his trouser pocket, clicked it on and swept it up to his ear.

‘Yes?'

‘Sally here, Jake. Sorry to bother you, but if you've finished your lunch perhaps you should get back here. You have a visitor.'

‘A visitor. What kind of visitor?'

‘A young man. Name of Alex.'

Alex!
Jake didn't have any colleagues or acquaintances named Alex, so presumably this had to be
the
Alex.

Jake frowned over Sally calling him young. Of course, Sally thought anyone under forty was young, but it sounded as though Angelina's Alex was what was commonly called a ‘younger' man.

Jake tried to ignore the instant stab of jealousy and focus on what the fool was doing, showing up at
his
office.

All he could think of was that Angelina had changed her mind and broken up with Alex over the phone, plus told him the identity of the guy she'd thrown him over for.

Jake groaned. As much as he was happy to find that his paranoid thoughts about Angelina two-timing him were just that…paranoid, the last thing he wanted was a confrontation with a furious ex boyfriend.

‘I gather you know who I'm talking about,' Sally said.

‘Possibly. Does my visitor have a second name?'

‘Mastroianni,' Sally supplied.

‘Mastroianni!'
he repeated, totally taken aback.

And then the penny dropped. Alex was some kind of relative. Angelina had said he was half-Italian. Maybe that was what she'd meant about her relationship with him being complicated. If he was a cousin or something, she would have to explain things more fully. She couldn't just dump the guy without giving him a reason.

‘I think you should get back here, Jake. This is something you have to attend to personally, by the look of things.'

‘OK,' Jake said with a sigh. ‘Tell him I'll be there shortly.'

The offices of Keats, Marsden and Johnson were spacious and classy, occupying half of the tenth floor of the building Jake had pointed out to Angelina the previous Sunday. Their main reception area was set directly opposite the lift well, behind a solid glass wall and two equally solid glass doors. Sally reigned over the reception desk and the waiting room, and had done so for many years. Although not unattractive for her age—she had turned fifty last month— Sally was the exception to the rule that highly visible Sydney receptionists should be curvy blondes with seductive smiles.

Jake, for one, enjoyed the wonderfully pragmatic and no-nonsense atmosphere Sally brought to the firm. Actually, Sally was one of the reasons he just might stay. He'd miss her if he left.

‘Well?' he said as he strode in. ‘Where is he and what am I in for?'

Sally glanced up, her no-nonsense grey eyes sweeping over him from top to toe in a critical survey, as though she were meeting him for the first time. Jake found himself automatically straightening his tie and wondering if his fly was undone.

‘A shock, I would think,' she said drily. ‘I put him in your office to wait for you.'

Jake ground to a halt beside her desk. ‘What did you do that for? And what kind of a shock? Don't tell me he's a big bruiser.'

‘He's not small,' she said, her grey eyes now gleaming rather mischievously. ‘But then, neither are you.'

Jake wasn't sure if he was getting the subtle meaning behind this interchange.

‘Looking for a fight, is he?'

‘I wouldn't think so. More likely some answers to some questions.'

‘Do you know something here that I don't know?'

Her finely plucked eyebrows lifted in feigned innocence. ‘Know? No, I don't
know
anything. But I am a highly observant person, and a darned good guesser.'

‘Sally, remind me to have you fired when I get to be partner.'

‘Aah, so you've changed your mind about going out on your own, have you?'

He just stared at her. The woman had to be a witch in disguise. He had never discussed that idea with anyone in this firm.

‘How did…? No, no, I am not going to ask.'

‘Like I said,' she threw after him as he strode off down the corridor towards his office, ‘I'm a darned good guesser.'

Jake hesitated at his door, irritating himself when he started checking his clothes again, as if he was going in for a bloody interview. Comforted that he looked his best in one of his newest business suits—the charcoal-grey mohair-blend—Jake still slicked his unslickably short hair back from his face before reaching for the knob.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting,' he ground out as he opened the door and walked in.

The only other occupant of Jake's office immediately spun round from where he'd been standing at the corner window.

He was tall, though not as tall as Jake, or as solidly built. He was very good-looking, with strong facial features and an elegantly athletic frame. His long-lashed blue eyes reminded Jake of someone, but Jake couldn't remember who. His hair, which was dark and thick, was cut very short. Short was the fashion at the moment.

The only thing wrong with Jake's visitor was that he was dressed in a school uniform.

A shock, Sally had said.

She'd been right there.

This
couldn't
be the Alex Angelina had talked about. As sexy as Angelina was, he couldn't see her in the role of conscienceless cradle-snatcher. This boy could not be a day over seventeen. Eighteen, at a pinch.

Then who was he? Her ex-lover's younger brother? His son, maybe? Alex Mastroianni junior? If so, what was he doing here? And why was he staring at
him
as if he'd seen a bloody ghost or something?

Certainly, he wasn't in the mood for this!

BOOK: The Passion Price
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