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Authors: Miranda Lee

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BOOK: The Passion Price
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‘Oh. We—er—export most of our wine. Here in Australia, we've only been selling bottles at the cel
lar door. Up till now, that is. Ambrosia Wines does have a booth at next weekend's food and wine expo at Darling Harbour, so hopefully we will be in some Sydney restaurants soon.'

‘I see.' Jake dropped his eyes and picked up the menu again. ‘These suggested glasses should suit you, Dorothy. You like to try different wines. But I won't indulge myself. Not when I'm driving. So just mineral water for me, thanks, Angelina.'

‘Flat or sparkling?' Angelina asked crisply, having extracted her order book and Biro from her skirt pocket.

‘Sparkling, I think,' he replied. ‘To match my mood.' And he threw her a dazzling smile that sixteen years ago would have rattled her brains and sent her heartbeat into overdrive.

Angelina's heart was still going pretty fast behind her ribs, but her brain hadn't gone to total mush. She flashed him back what she considered was a brilliantly cool smile, the sort of smile she could never have produced at fifteen.

‘Sparkling mineral water,' Angelina murmured as she jotted it down. ‘Now, what about your meal order?'

When she glanced up from her notebook again, she found Jake staring at her left hand—her
ringless
left hand. Her fingers tightened around the notebook.

‘You're not married,' he said, his tone startled.

‘No,' she returned in what she hoped was a crisp, it's-really-none-of-your-business tone. ‘I'm not.'

‘I can't believe it! I thought you'd have half a dozen kids by now.'

‘And I thought you'd be in jail,' she countered.

Mrs Landsdale laughed. ‘That's telling you, Jake. Now, stop badgering the girl and just tell her what you want to eat for now. Keep the third degree till later. But I must warn you, dear, he's the very devil when he starts questioning people. Not only is he not in jail these days, but he's also a lawyer. And a very good one, too.'

Angelina wished her mouth hadn't dropped open at this news. But Jake Winters…a
lawyer
?

‘Yes, I know,' he remarked drily. ‘I don't blame you for being surprised. Sometimes I'm a bit surprised myself. But Dorothy's right. We'll keep all this till later.'

Angelina digested this astonishing revelation with mixed emotions. Was this good news or bad news? She supposed it was a lot better than the father of her son being in jail. But a lawyer? She couldn't think. Too many shocks in too short a time. Best she just get on with what she was doing and think about it later.

‘Have you made up your mind yet, Mrs Landsdale?' she asked the grey-haired lady.

‘Do call me Dorothy,' the woman returned with a warm smile. ‘And yes, I'll have the Atlantic salmon. No entrée. I'll save some room for that coconut pudding you mentioned. I'm very partial to coconut.'

‘Me, too,' Angelina concurred. ‘And you, Jake? Made up your mind yet?'

‘The same. I'm easy.'

Angelina wanted to laugh. Easy? If there was one thing Jake Winters would never be, it was easy.

CHAPTER FOUR

S
HORTLY
after three, Jake jumped into his pride and joy and headed back towards the Ambrosia Estate.

Under normal circumstances, he would never leave Dorothy alone in the clutches of an eager real-estate agent on the verge of making a sale. But he could see within five minutes of Dorothy walking into that darned house that she was determined to have it. On top of that, his objections to her buying a property up here in the Hunter Valley had begun to wane.

The main reason for his change of heart lived less than a mile down this road.

Angelina Mastroianni. Unmarried, and more beautiful than ever.

Like a good wine, Angelina had only improved with age. Hard to believe she was thirty-two. She looked about twenty-five. If that.

Jake smiled when he thought of the way her big brown eyes had widened at the sight of him. Shock had mingled in their velvety depths with something else, that certain something which could not be mistaken.

She was still attracted to him, as he was still attracted to her. The sparks of sexual chemistry had flown between them all during lunch.

Frankly, Jake hadn't wanted to leave. He'd enjoyed just looking at her as she served other people, her lush Italian figure straining seductively against the crisp white blouse and hip-hugging black skirt she was wearing, especially when she bent over a bit, which was often.

As he'd sipped his mineral water, he'd imagined removing that black clip from the back of her head and watching her glossy black waves tumble in glorious disarray around her slender shoulders. Between mouthfuls of Atlantic salmon, he'd thought about slipping open the pearly buttons of her blouse and peeling it back to reveal her full breasts, those breasts which had once filled his hands. More than once he'd stared at her plum-coloured mouth and wondered if she would still be as susceptible to his kisses as she'd once been.

He'd eaten all the food she'd brought him but couldn't remember much of what it tasted like. His mind—and his appetite—had been elsewhere. Dorothy had raved about her meal and the wine afterwards, giving them both five stars. She'd raved about Angelina too, saying what a lovely girl she was and hadn't he let a good one get away all those years ago!

Jake had to agree. Angelina left all the girls he'd dated over the past few years for dead. Where they'd all been entrants in the plastic-beauty parade, Angelina Mastroianni was the real thing. Everything about her was real, from her hair to her breasts to
the artless way she'd tried to hide her responses to him.

She'd failed brilliantly, making her even more attractive to him.

He was already planning to ask her out. And he wasn't going to take no for answer.

The only fly in the ointment was her father.

Jake scowled his displeasure at the thought of having to tangle with that old Italian dinosaur once more. But surely, at thirty-two, Angelina could date whomever she pleased.

If she was
free
to date, of course. Just because she wasn't married didn't mean there wasn't some man in her life.

Jake swiftly dismissed the notion of any serious competition. No woman who'd looked at him as Angelina had during lunch was madly in love with another man.

The Ferrari crested a rise and the Ambrosia Estate came into view on its left, stretching across several rolling hills, most of which were covered in vines.

There was no doubt Antonio Mastroianni had made good on his grand plans for the place. The restaurant was fabulous, positioned perfectly on the property's highest point. The guest accommodation, Jake had noted earlier from the vantage point of the restaurant car park, was further back from the main road. A modern-looking, motel-style complex, complete with swimming pool, tennis courts and lush gardens.

Sixteen years ago, that area had been nothing but bare paddocks.

The huge, barn-like structure that housed the winery itself was still on the same spot, not far from where the restaurant stood. But there were several new sheds, Jake noted as he whizzed along the road towards the main entrance. Possibly packaging and storage sheds. There was also a large dam that hadn't been there before, no doubt providing irrigation to stop the vines from becoming too stressed during droughts.

The summer he'd picked grapes here sixteen years ago had been very dry and hot, and old-man Mastroianni had talked endlessly about how stressed the vines were from lack of water. Jake had thought the notion that plants could be stressed was funny at the time. Of course, he'd been a complete idiot back then, in more ways than one.

Hopefully, Angelina would give him the opportunity to show her that he was no longer such an idiot.

His heart quickened as he turned into the restaurant car park for the second time that day. An odd happening for Jake. His heart rarely beat faster, except when he was working out or about to address a difficult jury. It rarely beat this fast over a woman.

Was he worried she might say no to him?

Yeah. He had to confess he was.

Now, that was a first.

 

Angelina knew the moment Jake arrived back in the car park. She'd been watching out of the corner of
her eye, and that bright yellow was hard to miss. This time, thankfully, Vivien and Judith were no longer there in the restaurant to make any comments. They'd not long left after a very leisurely lunch, planning to have naps in their rooms before returning for dinner. Drinking and eating made up the mainstay of their holiday.

There were only two couples left in the restaurant, lingering over coffee. But they were seated inside. Angelina could sit outside with Jake and Dorothy, and be in no danger of being overheard, or interrupted.

She was taking a few steadying breaths and pretending to tidy up behind the counter when Jake walked in, alone. Momentarily rattled, she restrained herself from commenting till they were seated safely outside, having instructed a highly curious Wilomena to bring them both coffee and carrot cake.

‘Where's Dorothy?' she asked once they were alone.

Jake took off his sunglasses and relaxed back into his chair with a sigh whilst Angelina fought the temptation to stare at him once more.

‘I suspect putting a deposit down on a property up the road,' he replied drily. ‘A boutique winery which has certainly seen better days. I would have stayed and tried to talk her out of it if I could. But Dorothy is one stubborn woman once she sets her sights on something. And she's set her sights on this place. The house, anyway. I left her having a second view
ing and finding out the ins and outs of everything. The real-estate agent said he'd drop her off here after they were finished. He said he had to pass by on his way back to Cessnock.'

Angelina tried not to panic at this unexpected development. ‘Is this house…um…white, with wide verandas?'

‘That's the one.'

‘Good lord, that's Arnold's place!' If Dorothy bought Arnold's place there was no hope of keeping Alex's existence a secret. The vineyard community up here was like a small town. Everyone knew everything about everyone.

Her exclamation sent Jake's dark brows arching. ‘You know the owner?'

‘He…um…he works for me. He's my new wine-maker.'

‘I thought your father was the wine-maker here,' Jake said with a puzzled frown.

Oh, dear. Impossible now to keep secret that her father was dead. Still, everything was going to come out, sooner or later. She might as well start with the lesser revelation.

‘Papa died last year,' Angelina said, and tensed in anticipation of Jake's reaction.

He said nothing for several seconds. Perhaps he was mulling over why she hadn't told him about this earlier when she had the chance.

‘I'm sorry to hear that,' he said at last. ‘Truly. I know how hard it is to lose someone you care about. A very good friend of mine died last year. Dorothy's
husband. You don't realise how much you miss someone till they're not there for you any longer.'

Angelina was touched—and somewhat surprised—by Jake's sentiments. But at least she'd had one of her questions answered. In part. She now knew who Dorothy was. The wife of an old friend.

‘How did your father die?' Jake asked. ‘Had he been ill?'

‘No. He was as healthy as a horse. It was quite tragic, really. He was bitten by a snake. A King Brown.'

‘Good lord. That is tragic. But isn't it also unusual these days? To die of snake-bite? Don't they have antidotes?'

She nodded whilst she struggled to get a grip on herself. She hated talking about that awful day. After all, it wasn't all that long ago. Three months and a bit.

‘He might have lived if he'd been bitten on the hand,' she explained. ‘Or a foot. But he must have been bending over and was bitten on the chest, not far from the heart. He…he stopped breathing before the ambulance arrived. They tried to revive him but it was too late.'

Tears flooded her eyes as all the turmoil and torment of that day rushed back. Jake's reaching over the table to cover her hand with his catapulted her back to the present, and made her hotly aware that she'd been wrong this morning. Jake, the man, still had the same effect on her as Jake, the boy. When
his long fingers started moving seductively against hers, a charge of electric sensations shot up her arm.

‘Don't,' she snapped, and 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. ‘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 him, now that he was older and so much more experienced.

Jake would be only too happy to accommodate her, she knew. Angelina had seen the way he'd looked at her during lunch today. She'd been on the end of such looks from men a lot lately. Invariably, they were followed up by some kind of pass.

She wouldn't mind betting Jake had organised leaving Dorothy behind for a while so that he could
be alone with her. The realisation that he thought he could just take up with her where he'd left off all those years ago infuriated Angelina.

‘You look as if you've changed, Jake,' she said sharply. ‘But you haven't changed at all. You still think you can have any female you fancy.'

He smiled the most heart-stopping smile. ‘It would be hard not to fancy you, Angelina. You were a gorgeous-looking girl, but you're one stunning-looking woman.'

Angelina gritted her teeth to stop herself from smiling back at him. Damn the man, he was incorrigible. And almost irresistible.

Wilomena arriving with the coffee and cake was a godsend. But she was gone all too soon.

‘This is great cake,' Jake praised after his first mouthful.

‘Glad you like it,' she remarked snippily.

He took another mouthful, followed up by some coffee. She watched him, her own appetite nil, her frustration growing. Who did he think he was? It would serve him right if she upped and told him right now the result of his last encounter with her. Finding out he had a fifteen-year-old son was sure to wipe that satisfied look off his far too handsome face.

But she didn't tell him. She couldn't be sure of his reaction, and there was no way she was going to upset Alex this year. Angelina aimed to delay Jake finding out about his son as long as possible.

‘So!' Jake exclaimed, dabbing at his mouth with a serviette after polishing off his slice of cake and
most of his coffee. ‘Is there a current man in your life, Angelina? Or are you footloose and fancy-free?'

Here comes the pass, she thought irritably. Well, he was in for a surprise because she intended to head him off at the pass. As much as Jake still had the power to turn her head—and turn her on—Angelina wasn't about to fall for his smooth but empty line of patter twice in one lifetime.

‘Yes, of course there's a man in my life,' came her blithe reply. Alex was almost a man after all.

Jake muttered something under his breath before searching her face again with those hard, sexy blue eyes of his. ‘So what's the score? Is it serious? Are you living with him?'

‘Sometimes.'

‘Sometimes.' Jake looked puzzled. ‘What does that mean?'

‘He lives in Sydney most of the time. Comes up here for holidays and the occasional weekend. And I go down there to see him every once in a while.'

‘What about next weekend? Will you be seeing him next weekend?'

‘Nope. I'll be attending the food and wine expo at Darling Harbour.'

‘You mean you'll be in Sydney and you're not going to see each other, not even at
night
?'

Angelina couldn't decide if she found Jake's shock amusing or annoying. Clearly, his priority in a relationship was still sex.

‘Alex will be away next weekend,' she said coolly. Actually, Alex was going to a special swimming
training camp in preparation for the big interschool swimming carnival the following weekend. He was the captain of the team. ‘I'll be seeing him the following weekend.' At the swimming carnival.

‘Where are you staying this weekend in Sydney?'

Angelina almost laughed. Obviously, Jake didn't aim to go quietly off into the sunset. She should have known.

‘I've booked a room at the Star City Casino for Saturday night,' came her composed reply. ‘It's the closest hotel to the expo.' In truth, she wasn't strictly needed at the expo. The marketing agency who now handled the Ambrosia Estate account had hired professional sales people for the weekend. But she thought it wise to check personally on how her money was being spent. This venture hadn't been cheap.

BOOK: The Passion Price
3.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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