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Authors: Miranda Lee

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But Angelina knew you had to invest money to make money these days. It had been her idea for the winery to get a web site two years ago. Her father had argued against the idea, but she'd had her way and it had brought them in a lot of business.

‘Are you planning to marry this Alex one day?' Jake asked abruptly.

‘No.'

Jake shook his head, his expression bewildered. ‘That's what I don't get with you, Angelina. Why
haven't
you got married? I thought marriage and children were a must with Italian girls.'

‘Not with me. I have other priorities.'
Like our son.
‘Now that Papa's gone, I'm solely responsible
for the running of this place. That's a lot of work. But enough about me. What about you, Jake?' she asked, swiftly deflecting the conversation away from her own personal life and on to his. ‘Are you married?'

The corner of his mouth tipped up in a wry smile. ‘Come, now, Angelina. I told you way back when I was seventeen that I would never get married. I've had no reason to change my mind on that score.'

Her heart sinking at this news annoyed her. What had she subconsciously been hoping could happen here? That he would fall madly in love with her this time, marry her and they would live happily ever after, the three of them?

Dream on, Angelina.

‘What about children?' she couldn't resist asking. ‘Haven't you ever wanted a son? Or a daughter?' she added quickly.

‘God, no. I'd be a simply dreadful father. Just the thought of being responsible for a child's upbringing gives me nightmares.'

Oh, great, she thought. He's going to be thrilled when he finds out about Alex. It was as well Alex was almost grown up, if that was Jake's attitude.

‘Why do you say you'd be a dreadful father?' she asked, though she suspected it had something to do with his childhood. He'd never told her specifics all those years ago, but she'd been left with the impression of serious neglect.

Angelina's father had always been a right pain in
the neck, but he'd never left her in any doubt that he loved her.

‘I'm way too selfish for starters,' he confessed. ‘And damaged, Dorothy would say. You know the theory. An abused child often becomes an abusive parent. But let's not talk about life's little nasties,' he swept on, brushing aside any further explanation. ‘Let's talk about you instead. OK, so you don't want the traditional role of wife and mother. I can accept that. I guess you have got your hands pretty full running this place. A lot of women these days are into the business scene. And careers. Don't go imagining I'd ever judge you harshly for that.'

‘How generous of you,' came her caustic retort.

He just smiled at her again, as though amused by her impertinence.

‘So when are you going to dump that loser you've been seeing and go out with me?'

Now Angelina did laugh. The man had the hide of an elephant. Exasperated, she decided to prick his ego some more. ‘Alex is no loser. He's just as good-looking as you are. And just as successful, I might add. In fact, he's the only son and heir to a veritable fortune.' Besides being worth millions—property-wise—the Ambrosia Estate ran at a tidy profit each year, with their resort and restaurant very popular, and their wines in high demand over in America and Europe. If Angelina's plans for expansion into more markets bore fruit, profits could be even higher in future.

‘Not impressed,' Jake countered confidently. ‘Money
is nothing. Attitude is everything. He's a loser. Because if you were my woman,' Jake said, and leant closer to her across the table, ‘I'd make damned sure I wasn't away if you were going to be in Sydney next weekend. You wouldn't be staying at some hotel on Saturday night, either. You'd be staying at my place.'

His eyes locked on to hers and for the life of her, she could not look away. In the end, she laughed again. It was the only way she could safely draw air into her suddenly starving lungs.

‘But I'm not your woman, am I?'

He leant back in his seat again, still holding her eyes firmly captive with his. ‘What if I said I wanted you to be, more than anything I've wanted in a long time? What if I told you to tell this Alex he's history? What if I asked you to stay at my place next weekend instead of the Casino?'

She should have protested at that point. But she was too enthralled with thinking about what it would be like to spend next weekend with him, staying at his place.

‘I have this wonderful harbourside apartment with all the mod cons and only a short ferry ride to Darling Harbour,' he went on when she foolishly stayed silent. ‘We could paint the town red on Saturday night, or stay in, if you prefer. Then on Sunday we could have lunch down on the waterfront somewhere. You must surely get a lunch break. Unfortunately, I have to be in court first thing
Monday morning, or we could have made it a long weekend.'

Angelina finally found her voice. ‘What is it you expect me to say to these extraordinarily presumptuous suggestions?'

‘Right now? Nothing. I wouldn't like to be accused of rushing you into anything, like last time. I'll call you later this week. Or you can call me earlier than that, if you'd like. Here…' He whipped out his wallet from his jeans and extracted two business cards. ‘You got a pen on you?'

She did, in fact. She kept one in her skirt pocket. She fished it out and gave it to him. He flashed her a quick smile before bending to the task of adding some numbers to the first card before handing it over. ‘That first number is my private and unlisted number at home. The second is my cellphone. Now, write yours down for me on this…' And he handed her a second card, along with the Biro.

She stared down at the white card which said simply ‘Jake Winters, Lawyer' in bold black letters, along with an office address and phone number in smaller lettering underneath.

She turned it over and jotted down both her numbers, all the while thinking to herself, what
was
she doing?

She wasn't going to say yes to his invitation. How could she? OK, so she was tempted. She was only human. What woman wouldn't respond to what Jake was making her feel at this moment? As if she was the most beautiful, most desirable girl he'd ever met.
What had he said? That he wanted her to be his woman more than anything he'd wanted in a long time.

The devil would be proud of him!

Sixteen years ago, she'd fallen for such a line, hook, line and sinker. Well, she
had
, hadn't she? But sixteen years had taught Angelina to recognise the signs of a dedicated womaniser. You didn't have to have jumped into bed with that type to recognise their trappings. Jake had them all. The car. The clothes. And the charm.

Angelina knew beyond a doubt that being Jake's woman was only a temporary position, whereas her being Alex's mother was forever. Allowing herself to be seduced a second time by Alex's father was just not on.

At the same time, she
was
curious to learn a little more about him, and his life. This was the man she was going to have to entrust her son to, possibly sooner than she'd anticipated. After all, once Dorothy moved up here and found out dear Angelina at the Ambrosia Estate was a single mum with a fifteen-year-old son who just happened to be the dead spit of Jake, the cat would be out of the bag. And as much as Jake might try to abdicate his responsibilities where Alex was concerned, Angelina knew that her stubborn son would not let him get away with that. No, Alex would force himself into Jake's life whether Jake wanted it or not.

‘I'm not promising anything,' she remarked coolly as she handed back the card. ‘But you're welcome
to ring me. I might agree to have lunch with you. Alex wouldn't mind my having lunch with an old friend.'

‘I'm sure he won't,' Jake said as he tucked the card back into his wallet. ‘It's hardly a grand passion between you two, is it?'

‘You know nothing about my relationship with Alex.'

‘I know enough,' he stated with an arrogance which was as unsettling as it was wickedly attractive. Why, oh, why did she have to find him so exciting?

Maybe she shouldn't agree to lunch with him. Even lunch might be a worry, especially down at Darling Harbour, with its air of away-from-home glamour and glitz. Sydney could be a very seductive city. Angelina often found herself losing her head a bit when she was there and spending more money than she should. Especially on clothes. She had a wardrobe full of lovely things she rarely wore.

She would have to weigh up the pros and cons of lunching with Jake before his call. If she thought there was any danger of making a fool of herself, she would not go.

‘I'll look forward to ringing you,' Jake said, and slipped his wallet into the back pocket of his jeans. ‘Meanwhile, surely you have some questions for yours truly? Don't you want to know how come I'm a lawyer and not in jail?'

Angelina shook her head at him in frustration. He was like a rolling bulldozer, difficult to stop.

‘I'm sure you're going to tell me, whether I want to hear or not.'

‘You
want
to hear,' he said cheekily. ‘You know you do.'

So Angelina listened—yes, in rapt silence—whilst he told her everything that had happened to him since that fateful night. She marvelled at his good fortune, and couldn't help feeling a bit proud of him. Both Dorothy and her husband had clearly been wonderful, but Jake must have worked very hard to accomplish what he had.

Not that she intended telling him that. He was smug enough as it was.

‘And to think I worried myself sick that I'd been responsible for your going to jail,' she said when he finished his tale of miracles.

‘Did you really? Oh, that's sweet. But you were sweet back then. Very sweet.'

‘Don't count on my being so sweet now, lover-boy. I've grown up. I might not live in the big bad city but a number of Sydney's more successful swinging singles have stayed at the Ambrosia Estate over the years. I know all about men like you.'

He laughed. ‘Tell me about men like me.'

‘You work hard and you play hard.'

‘True.' He picked up his coffee-cup again.

‘You like your own way and you don't always stick to the rules.'

‘Mmm. True, I guess.' And smiled at her over the rim of the cup.

‘You're all commitment-phobic sex addicts who change girlfriends as often as you do your cars.'

Jake almost choked on the last of his coffee. ‘Now, wait here,' he spluttered. ‘That's not quite true.'

‘Which part is not quite true?' she asked tartly.

‘I've only had two cars in the last few years. A navy Mazda and the yellow Ferrari I'm driving today.'

‘Surprising. OK, so what's the girlfriend count during that time?'

He looked a bit sheepish. ‘I don't have that many fingers and toes. But what about you, Miss Tough Cookie? Or shouldn't I ask?'

No way could she let him find out there hadn't been anyone since him. His ego would probably explode. And his predatory nature would go into full pursuit mode.

‘You can ask, but I'm not into the kiss-and-tell scene,' she tossed off. ‘Let's just say I'm a big girl now and I run my own race.'

‘Even when your father was alive?'

‘After my not-so-successful rendezvous with you, I learned to be more sneaky.'

‘You'd have to be with a father like yours around,' came his rueful remark. ‘So! Did your dad
like
this Alex of yours? Or didn't he know about him?'

‘He adored Alex.' Too late, Angelina wished she hadn't started that silly subterfuge.

‘An Italian, is he?' Jake said drily.

‘Half. Now, no more questions about Alex, please. Aah, Dorothy's back,' she said, spying the lady her
self walking along the path towards them, accompanied by a portly, grey-haired man in his fifties. ‘She seems to have brought the real-estate agent with her.' Fortunately, not one Angelina knew personally.

But when Dorothy swept in with the news she had secured the property and that she was here to get the owner's signature on some papers, a panic-stricken Angelina jumped to her feet and offered to find Arnold for them.

‘But why don't you want them to know about Alex?' Arnold said when she cornered him in the barrel room of the winery five minutes later.

‘The man with the woman who's buying your place is Alex's father,' Angelina explained reluctantly. ‘All right?'

Arnold's eyes rounded. ‘Heaven be praised! Just as well Antonio isn't here, or there'd be hell to pay. But he's not here, Angelina, so why keep the boy a secret?'

‘Only for a little while, Arnold. I will tell Jake. But in my own good time. OK?'

‘Has this Jake turned into a decent kind of chap?'

Decent. Now, decent was a subjective word.

‘He's a lawyer,' she said.

‘Nothing wrong with lawyers. At least he's got a job. Things could be worse.'

Angelina nodded. ‘You're so right. Things
could
be worse.'

But not much.

CHAPTER FIVE

‘Y
OU
don't look too pleased,' Dorothy said within seconds of leaving the Ambrosia Estate. ‘Did the lovely Angelina surprise you this time by saying no?'

Jake's hands tightened on the steering wheel. ‘Things didn't go exactly according to plan. But I haven't given up yet.'

‘Good.'

Jake's eyes slanted over towards Dorothy. ‘You mean my old flame has your tick of approval?'

‘She's a big improvement on your last few girlfriends,' Dorothy said in her usual droll fashion. ‘And she'd be very convenient, considering where I'll be living soon. I'll have no worries about seeing you regularly if you start going out with a local girl.'

‘I have to get her to drop some guy named Alex first.'

‘You've never had any trouble getting your girlfriends to drop their old boyfriends before.'

‘This one sounds formidable. A poor little rich boy. Very good-looking. Lives in Sydney. Too bad I didn't find out his last name. I could have had him investigated. From the sound of things, they don't get together all that often. He's probably two-timing her with some city chick. Guys like that are never faithful.'

‘You'd know.'

‘Dorothy Landsdale, I'll have you know I've always been faithful to my girlfriends!'

‘Oh, I don't doubt it. They don't last long enough for you to do the dirty on them. Every few weeks it's out with the old and in with the new.'

Jake didn't like the flavour of this conversation. Dorothy was making him sound as if he was some kind of serial sleazebag where women were concerned. Angelina had inferred the same thing.

‘I can well understand Angelina not jumping at the chance of being next in line,' Dorothy went on before Jake could defend himself. ‘She might like a bit more security in her relationships. And a possible future.'

‘I'll have you know she's no more interested in marriage and having a family than I am. She told me so. She's a career girl.'

‘What? Oh, I find that hard to believe. That girl has marriage and motherhood written all over her.'

‘You're just saying that because she's Italian.'

‘Not at all. I've known enough career women in my life to recognise one when I meet her. If Angelina Mastroianni is a career woman, then I'm…I'm Marilyn Monroe!'

Jake laughed. ‘In that case, perhaps I should be relieved that she said no to me.'

‘Perhaps you should.'

But he wasn't relieved. He was annoyed. And frustrated. And jealous as hell of this Alex bloke.

Angelina belonged to
him
. She'd always belonged to him.

The sudden primitiveness—and
possessiveness
—of his thoughts stunned Jake. This wasn't him. This was some other man, some caveman who believed that his taking a female's virginity gave him the rights to her body forever.

Logic told Jake this was crazy thinking. But logic wasn't worth a damn beside the passion and determination that was firing Jake's belly at this moment. She was going to be his again. That Alex guy was going to be history, no matter what it took!

 

Angelina watched the yellow car till it disappeared from view, then she turned and walked with slow steps back down the path to the restaurant.

Wilomena—who had no doubt been waiting with bated breath to collar her alone—pounced immediately. A tall, rake-thin brunette, the restaurant's head waitress had sharp eyes to go with her sharp features.

‘All right, fess up, Angelina? Who was that gorgeous hunk in the yellow Ferrari?'

‘Just a guy I used to know. No one special.'

‘Just a guy you used to know,' Wilomena repeated with rolling eyes. ‘Did you hear that, Kevin?' she called out to the chef, who was the only other staff member left in the restaurant at this hour. The rest of the evening's waitresses wouldn't arrive till five-thirty, which was almost an hour away. ‘He was just a guy she used to know. No one special.'

Kevin popped his bald head round the doorway that connected the body of the restaurant with the kitchen. In his late thirties, Kevin was English and
single and a simply brilliant chef. He'd been on a working holiday around Australia a few years ago, filled in for their chef, who'd been taken ill, and never left. Since his arrival the restaurant's reputation had gone from good to great.

‘Amazing how much he looked like Alex, isn't it?' Kevin said with a straight face. ‘If I didn't know better, I would have said he was Alex's father.'

Angelina groaned. It was no use. She had no hope of keeping Jake's identity a secret, not even for a minute.

‘It's all right,' Wilomena said gently when she saw the distress on her boss's face. ‘We won't say anything. Not if you don't want us to.'

‘I don't want you to,' Angelina returned pleadingly. ‘Not yet, anyway. The other girls didn't notice, did they?'

‘No. They're too new. And too silly. All they can think about on a Saturday is where they're going tonight, and with whom. So! Does he know about Alex? Is that why he was here?'

‘No. He has no idea. He just dropped in for lunch by sheer accident and he…he…. Oh, Wilomena, it's terribly complicated.'

‘Why don't you sit down and tell me all about it?'

Angelina looked at Wilomena, who at thirty-eight had a few years on her. Divorced, with two teenage girls, she lived in Cessnock and worked long hours at the restaurant six days a week to support herself and her kids. Angelina realised she could do worse than confide in Wilomena, who was both pragmatic
and practical. And she needed someone to confide in. The only friends she had now were the people she worked with. Her father had been her best friend. Still, this little problem wasn't something she'd have been able to talk to him about. He'd been totally blind when it came to the subject of Jake Winters.

‘OK,' she said with a sigh. ‘Let's have a glass of wine and I'll tell you all.'

Wilomena smiled. She was really quite attractive when she smiled. ‘Fantastic. Let's go into the kitchen so Kevin can hear. Otherwise, I'll just have to repeat everything after you've gone.'

Angelina laughed. ‘You two are getting as thick as thieves, aren't you?'

‘Yeah,' Wilomena said with a twinkle in her quick blue eyes. ‘We are.'

 

Half an hour later, Angelina made her way slowly along the path that ran from the restaurant and past the cellar door before branching into two paths. One led to the winery, the other followed the driveway that led to the resort proper, a distance of about a hundred metres. She headed for the resort, her shoes crunching on the gravel, her head down in thought as she walked down the gentle incline.

Kevin had advised her to tell Jake the truth as soon as possible, especially since Alex himself wanted to meet his father. He'd said he would want to know if he had a son and would be seriously annoyed if such news was held back from him.

‘And that's bulldust about this Jake saying he'd be
a rotten father,' Kevin had pronounced. ‘Lots of men talk like that. You wait till he finds out he has a son for real, especially a great kid like Alex. He'll be falling over himself to be the best father he possibly can.'

Wilomena hadn't shared Kevin's optimism. There again, she had more jaundiced views about the opposite sex and their ability to be good fathers.

‘What fantasyland do you live in, Kevin?' she'd countered tartly. ‘Obviously, you've never been a father. From my experience, lots of men these days soon get very bored with the day-to-day responsibilities of fatherhood. Guys like Jake, especially. He admitted to Angelina he was selfish. And damaged, whatever that means. I think Angelina's right to be careful. I don't think she should tell him anything for a while. If nothing else, it gives Alex time to grow up some more. It'll be weeks before this Dorothy lady moves up here. Meanwhile, Arnold's not going to say anything.'

They'd argued back and forth, with Angelina a bemused onlooker. In the end, Kevin had thrown up his hands and told Wilomena it was no wonder she was still single, if she was so distrusting and contemptuous of men.

Angelina had done her best to smooth things over between them but by the time she'd left, there'd been a chilling silence in the kitchen. She was relieved she wasn't working there tonight. Or on the reception desk. She'd already planned to take the evening off, to do some female things, like have a long bath,
shave her legs, put a treatment in her hair and do her nails. It would be good to be alone, to think.

‘Angelina, Angelina!'

Angelina turned to find Wilomena running after her.

‘Sorry about the ruckus in there,' Wilomena said on reaching her. ‘Don't worry about it. Kevin will be fine later tonight. And yes, before you ask, we are sleeping together.'

‘I…I wasn't going to ask.'

Wilomena frowned. ‘No, you wouldn't, would you? You're not like other girls. It almost killed you to tell us what you told us in there, didn't it? I mean, you're not one to gossip, or to confide.'

‘No, I…I guess not.' When you spent the amount of time
she
had spent alone, you lost the knack of confiding in other people. You tried to solve your problems yourself.

‘Look, I just wanted to say that I think you should go out with Jake, but without telling him about Alex. Aside from having a bit of long-overdue fun, you can go see where Jake lives, and how he lives. See what kind of man he is.'

‘But how did you…?'

‘Yeah, I know, you didn't tell us he'd asked you out. But I didn't come down in the last shower, honey, and I watched you two today. Both times. He asked you out all right and you said no, didn't you?'

‘I haven't actually given him an answer yet.'

‘What does he want you to do?'

‘Stay at his place when I go to Sydney for the expo next weekend.'

‘Wow. He's a fast mover all right. It took Kevin two years to ask me out, then two months to get me in the sack.'

‘It took Jake about two minutes the first time,' Angelina said drily.

‘Ooooh. That good, eh?'

‘His kisses were. The sex itself was not great. I froze, and he just went ahead.'

‘But you wouldn't freeze this time,' Wilomena said intuitively.

Angelina stiffened. ‘I have no intention of finding out if I would or I wouldn't. And I have no intention of staying at his place next weekend.'

‘But why not? I wouldn't be able to resist, if it were me. The guy's a hunk of the first order.'

Angelina didn't need to be told that. Jake, the man, had even more sex appeal than Jake, the bad boy. And
he'd
had oodles.

‘If it was anyone other than Alex's father, I would.'

‘If it was anyone other than Alex's father, you wouldn't want to,' Wilomena said. ‘I've known girls like you before, Angelina. You're a one-man woman. And he's the man.'

‘That's romantic nonsense!'

‘Is it?' Wilomena probed softly.

‘Yes,' Angelina said stubbornly whilst secretly thinking that Wilomena could be right. Why else hadn't she accepted dates with other men? It wasn't
as though she hadn't been asked. She couldn't even claim to be protecting Alex any more, now that he was at boarding school most of the time.

Wilomena shrugged. ‘Have it your way. So, you're really not going to see Jake next weekend? Not at all?'

‘I…I might go to lunch with him.'

The look on Wilomena's face was telling.

‘Just lunch!' Angelina insisted. ‘As you yourself said, I need to find out some more about him.'

‘Sounds like an excuse to gaze at him some more.'

‘I didn't gaze at him today. I was just shocked at how much he looks like Alex.'

‘Who do you think you're kidding?'

Angelina groaned. ‘I did stare, didn't I?'

‘Don't beat yourself up over it. The man was worth a stare. I ogled myself. So did every other woman in the place.'

‘Which is why I can't risk being alone with him again. The man's a right devil where women are concerned. He always was.'

‘Mmm. But aren't you curious over what it would be like with him now? I mean, he's sure to be very good in the sack. If what you say about him is true, he's had plenty of practice.'

‘Too much practice. No, I'm not curious about his lovemaking abilities,' she lied. ‘Only about his character and whether he's going to be good for Alex.'

‘You know, Angelina, you're a woman as well as a mother. Do you ever think of your own needs?'

‘Yes, of course I do.'

‘But I've never known you to go out on a date. Not during the time I've worked here, anyway.'

‘Dating is seriously overrated. And so is sex.'

‘Don't knock it till you try it.'

Angelina flushed. ‘Who says I haven't?'

‘I have eyes, honey. And ears. If you'd slept with someone around here, I'd know about it. Look, your father's gone now and Alex is almost grown up. Time for you to live a little.'

‘Maybe. But not with Jake.'
I'd probably fall in love with him again and then where would I be?

‘Yeah, perhaps you're right. If you slept with him, it could be awkward once he finds out about Alex. He might think you were trying to trap him into marriage.'

‘I'd be more concerned over what Alex thought.'

‘I dare say you would. You're a very good mother, Angelina. You put me to shame sometimes.'

‘Nonsense. You're a great mother.'

‘I try to be. Talking of kids, I have to go and ring mine. See what the little devils are up to.'

‘And I have to ring Alex and see how he did at cricket today.'

‘Being a mother just never stops, does it?' And with a parting grin, Wilomena hurried off.

BOOK: The Passion Price
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