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Authors: Miranda Lee

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BOOK: The Passion Price
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Now, suddenly, she had blossomed again, thoroughly enjoying the social interaction and yes, the admiration—however meaningless and fleeting—of the opposite sex.

She'd begun taking care with her appearance again, exercising off some of the extra pounds which had crept on over the years and paying more attention to her hair, her clothes and her make-up.

Of course, her father had noticed her transformation, plus the attention of the male tourists and guests. And yes, of course, he'd commented and criticised. But this time she'd put him firmly in his place, telling him she was a grown woman and he was to keep out of her personal and private life.

Not that there'd been one. Despite her father suspecting otherwise, she
hadn't
taken up any of the none too subtle offers she'd received from the many men who now asked her out. She didn't even want to go out with them, let alone go to bed with them. Maybe it was crazy to use her teenage experience with Jake as a basis for comparison, but none of these men had made her feel even a fraction of what she'd felt when she first met Jake.

Of course, Angelina understood that the intensity of her feelings for Jake had largely been because of
her age. He'd represented everything that a young, virginal girl found wildly exciting.

Angelina had no doubt that if Jake himself walked back into her life at this moment, she would not feel anything like she had back then. She no longer found long-haired, tattooed males even remotely attractive, for starters. The sight of him might make her heart race, but only with fear, fear of the bad influence he might have on her highly impressionable and very vulnerable son.

Thinking of this reminded her that, sooner or later, she
would
come face to face with Alex's father again, possibly sooner rather than later, if she started those phone calls tomorrow evening.

The thought bothered her a great deal.

‘Damn you, Jake,' she muttered as she stood up and marched across her bedroom towards her
en suite
bathroom. ‘Sixteen years, and you're still causing me trouble!'

CHAPTER THREE

T
HE
yellow Ferrari caught Angelina's eye the moment it turned from the main road into the Ambrosia Estate. She stopped what she was doing—opening a bottle of wine at one of the outdoor tables—and watched the brightly coloured sports car crunch to a halt in the nearby car park, her lips pursing into a silent whistle when a dark-haired hunk in designer jeans, pale blue polo shirt and wraparound sunglasses climbed out from behind the wheel.

What a gorgeous-looking guy!

Angelina's gaze shifted over to the passenger side. She could see another person sitting in the car but couldn't make out any details. The sun was shining on the windscreen. But Angelina was willing to bet on it being a pretty blonde. Men like that invariably had pretty blondes on their arms.

The hunk hitched his jeans up onto his hips as hunks often did. Not because his clothes really needed straightening, she'd come to realise during her recent people-watching years. It was a subconscious body-language thing, a ploy to draw female attention to that part of his body.

And it worked. Angelina certainly looked, as did the two middle-aged ladies she was serving. Both widows, their names were Judith and Vivien. They
were on holiday together and had been staying at the Ambrosia Estate for a few days.

‘Cocky devil,' Judith said with a wry smile in her voice when the hunk started striding round the front of the yellow Ferrari in the direction of the passenger side.

‘He has every right to be,' Vivien remarked. ‘Just look at that car.'

Judith snorted. ‘Don't you mean, just look at that body?'

Angelina had actually stopped looking at the hunk's broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, long-legged body and was frowning over his walk. It was a most distinctive walk, somewhere between a strut and a swagger. He moved as if he was bouncing along on the balls of his feet.

‘Jake…'

The word escaped her lips before she could help it, and her two lady customers immediately looked up at her.

‘You
know
the guy with the yellow sports car?' Judith asked, grey eyes narrowed. She was the sharper of the two ladies.

‘No,' Angelina denied, dismissing the crazy notion that the man could possibly be Jake. ‘But his walk reminded me of someone I used to know.'

‘A sexy someone, I'll bet.'

Angelina had to smile. ‘Very.' She pulled out the cork on the bottle of chilled Verdelho and poured both ladies a full glass. Each one immediately lifted
their glass to their lips. They did like their wine, those two.

The emergence of a grey-haired lady from the passenger seat of the Ferrari surprised the three of them.

‘Good lord!' Judith exclaimed. ‘Not quite what I was expecting. So what do you reckon, girls? His mother? Or do we cast lover boy in the role of gigolo?'

‘Oh, surely not,' Vivien said with a delicate little shudder.

‘You're right,' Judith went on. ‘She's much too old to be bothered with that kind of thing. But she's not his mother, either. Too old for that as well. Possibly a great-aunt. Or a client. He might be her financial adviser. She looks as rich as he does.'

‘I'll leave you two ladies to speculate,' Angelina said as she placed the bottle in the portable wine cooler by their table. ‘Wilomena will be over shortly to take your orders. Enjoy your meal.' And your gossiping, she added silently.

As she made her way back inside, Angelina threw another glimpse over her shoulder at the man and woman who were now walking together along the path that led over the small footbridge, past the outdoor dining area and along to the main door of the restaurant. The hunk was holding the woman's arm but his head was moving from side to side as though he was looking for something. Or someone.

Angelina found herself hurrying out of his line of sight, tension gripping her insides. Her actions—plus
her sudden anxiety—really irritated her. As if it could possibly be Jake! How fanciful could she get?

That's what you get when you start thinking about ghosts from the past, Angelina. You conjure one up!

She resisted the temptation to watch the hunk's approach through the picture-glass windows of the restaurant, though she did go straight to the counter where they kept the reservation book, her eyes dropping to run over the names that had been booked for lunch. There was no Winters amongst them.

Of course not. Why would there be? The hunk just walked like Jake, that was all. OK, so he
was
built a bit like Jake as well.
And
he had similar-coloured hair.

Dark brown hair, however, was hardly unusual. On top of that, this guy's hair was cropped very short, almost in a military style. Jake had been proud of his long hair. He would never have it cut like that. Not that the short-all-over look didn't suit the hunk. It was very…macho.

Jake had been very macho.

It couldn't be him, could it?

Once he came inside and took off those sunglasses, Angelina reassured herself, there would no longer be any doubt in her mind.

And if he
did
have eyes like chips of blue ice? came the gut-tightening question. What then? How did you deal with such an appalling coincidence? What sick fate would send him back to her today, of all days?

The restaurant door opened and Angelina forced
herself to look up from where she was practically hiding behind the front counter.

The hunk propped the door open with one elbow and ushered his elderly companion in ahead of him. The lady was not so fragile-looking up close, her face unlined and her blue eyes bright with good health. But she had to be seventy, if she was a day.

And the hunk? It was impossible to tell his age till he took those darned sunglasses off. He could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty, although there was an air of self-assurance about him that suggested he'd been around a while.

The grey-haired lady stepped up to the counter first. ‘I made a booking for two for twelve-thirty,' she said with a sweet smile. ‘The name's Landsdale. Mrs Landsdale.'

Angelina was highly conscious of the hunk standing at the lady's shoulder. Was he staring at her from behind those opaque shades? It felt as if he was.

‘Yes, I have your booking here, Mrs Landsdale,' she replied, proud of herself for sounding so polite and professional in the face of the tension that was building inside her. ‘Would you like to dine inside, or alfresco? It's really lovely outside today. No wind. Not too hot. And not too many flies.'

The lady's smile widened. ‘Alfresco sounds wonderful. What do you think, Jake? Shall we sit outside?'

Angelina froze. Had she heard correctly? Had the woman really said that name?

Angelina stared, open-mouthed, as he finally took
off his sunglasses, her whole world tipping on its axis.

It
was
him. Those eyes could not possibly belong to anyone else.

‘Jake,' she blurted out whilst her head whirled with the incredibility of this scenario.

‘Hello, Angelina,' he said in the same richly masculine voice he'd already had at seventeen. ‘I'm surprised you recognised me after all these years.'

If it hadn't been for the eyes, she might not have. He was
nothing
like the boy she remembered, or the man she'd imagined he might have become. This Jake was smooth and suave and sophisticated. More handsome than ever and obviously no longer underprivileged.

‘Goodness, you mean
this
is Angelina,' the grey-haired lady piped up before Angelina could find a suitable reply. ‘Jake, you naughty boy. Why didn't you say something earlier?'

He lifted his broad shoulders in an elegant shrug. ‘I spotted her through the windows, and decided if she didn't recognise me back I wouldn't embarrass her by saying anything.'

Well, at least that meant he hadn't deliberately come looking for her, Angelina realised with some relief. Still, this was an amazing coincidence, given she'd been thinking about him all morning. She could feel herself trembling inside with shock.

‘I—er—didn't recognise you till you took off your sunglasses,' she admitted whilst she struggled to pull herself together.
Think,
girl.

‘You do have very distinctive eyes, Jake,' she added, bracing herself to look into them once more. This time she managed without that ridiculous jolt to her heart.

‘Do I?' he said with a light laugh. ‘They just look blue to me. But now that you
have
recognised me, I must ask. Is your father around?' he whispered. ‘Should I put the sunglasses back on, pronto?'

Angelina opened her mouth to tell him that her father was dead. But something stopped her. Some sudden new fear…

This man before her, this grown-up and obviously wealthy Jake might present more of a danger than the loser she'd been picturing barely an hour earlier. This man had the means to take her son away from her, in more ways than one.

She had to be very, very careful.

‘You're quite safe in here,' she said, deciding she would tell him absolutely nothing of a personal nature till she'd found out more about him.

But she was extremely curious. What woman—what
mother
—wouldn't be?

The questions tumbling round in her head were almost endless, the main one being how on earth had he come to look as if he'd win the bachelor-of-the-year award in every women's magazine in Australia? And who was this Mrs Landsdale? What did she mean to Jake and how come she knew about
her
?

Despite—or perhaps because of—all these mysteries, Angelina resolved to keep her wits about her. And to act as naturally as possible.

Picking up a couple of menus, she said ‘this way' with a bright smile, and showed them to what she'd always thought was the best table outside. It was to the right of the ornamental pond, with a nearby clump of tall gum trees providing natural shade. All the outdoor tables had large umbrellas, where required. But this table never needed one.

‘Oh, yes, this is lovely,' Mrs Landsdale said as she sat down and glanced around. ‘What a beautiful pond. And a lovely view of the valley beyond too.'

‘Papa chose this spot for the restaurant because of the view. And the trees.' Too late, she wished she hadn't brought up her father.

Swiftly she handed them both menus, doing her best not to stare at Jake again. But it was hard not to. Her gaze skimmed over him once more, noting his beautifully tanned skin and the expensive gold watch on his wrist. He had money written all over him. Lots of money.

‘The main-meal menu is on the front,' she explained. ‘The wine list and desserts are on the back. We don't have a vast selection at any one time, but the chef does change the menu every two weeks. I can recommend the Atlantic salmon, and the rack of lamb. For dessert, the coconut pudding is to die for. I think you—'

‘If you're not too busy, Angelina,' Jake interrupted, ‘could you find the time to sit down and talk at some stage?'

She wanted to. Quite desperately. But pride—and common sense—refused to let her appear too eager.

‘Well, we are pretty busy here on Saturdays.'

‘We can't linger too long over lunch either, Jake.' Mrs Landsdale joined in. ‘The property is only open for inspection between two and three. Maybe we could come back here afterwards for afternoon tea and you could catch up on old times with Angelina then. Do you serve afternoon tea here, dear?'

Angelina didn't answer straight away, her mind ticking over with what the woman had just said about a property inspection. Was Jake a real-estate agent of some kind? Or an investment adviser? What kind of property was the woman talking about?

There were quite a few wineries for sale in the valley at the moment, from the boutique variety to the very large. Arnold's old place was on the market just up the road. But he was having dreadful trouble selling it. He'd really let the house and garden go since his sister passed away.

There was only one way for Angelina to have all her questions answered. And that was to ask them. Given she'd been going to try to contact Jake anyway in the near future, it seemed silly to pass up this opportunity.

Yet some inner instinct was warning her to do just that, to not let this man back into her life. Not till Alex gave her no choice.

She searched Jake's face for a hint of the man he'd become, then wished she hadn't. The sexual power of his eyes was as strong as ever.

There was no use pretending she could just coldly send him away. She had to at least talk to him.
Fortunately, she wouldn't be alone with him. This Mrs Landsdale would be there as a buffer. And a safeguard.

‘We don't actually serve afternoon tea,' she said. ‘But the restaurant doesn't close for lunch till four. You are quite welcome to come back after you've inspected this property, if you like. We could have a chat over coffee.'

‘I'd like that,' Jake returned. ‘Give me an opportunity to find out what you've been up to all these years.'

‘Same here,' she replied, pleased that she could sound unconcerned, when inside she was severely agitated. ‘Now, since time is of the essence, perhaps you might like to have a quick look at the menu and give me your full order straight away. Either that, or I could take your drinks order now, then send a girl over in a couple of minutes for your meal order.'

‘No, no, we'll order everything right now,' the grey-haired lady said and fell to examining the menu. ‘Jake, you decide on the drinks whilst I make up my mind on the food. You know my taste in wine.'

‘I see you have a suggested glass of a different Ambrosia wine with each course,' Jake said as he examined the menu. ‘You know, Angelina…' he rested the menu on the edge of the table and glanced up at her ‘…I've never seen any Ambrosia wines in bottle shops, or on Sydney restaurant wine lists. Why is that?'

BOOK: The Passion Price
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