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Authors: Miranda Lee

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BOOK: The Passion Price
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Don't fall for all that bulldust. Keep your head, honey.

Angelina could almost hear those very words coming from Wilomena's mouth.

‘You're not the first man to tell me that, Jake,' she said in a rather hard voice.

‘I don't doubt it.'

‘City men are amazingly inventive, especially when they're away from home. The Ambrosia Estate has become a popular venue for conferences,' she elaborated. ‘Lots of them pass through all the time.'

‘You sound as if you've been burnt a few times.'

‘Who hasn't in this day and age?' came her offhand reply. If he thought she'd jumped into bed with her fair share of such men, then all well and good. No way did she want him thinking he was the only man she'd ever known.

‘I'm sorry but I really must go, Jake. I was in the middle of something important when you called. I'll see you on Saturday at the expo. I'm sure you can manage to find the right booth. Shall we say twelve-thirty?'

‘Noon would be better.'

‘Noon it is, then. Bye for now.' And she hung up.

Jake was grinning as he replaced his receiver.

Alex, old man, he thought elatedly, come next weekend, you're going to be history!

CHAPTER SEVEN

A
NGELINA
couldn't stop titivating herself. If she'd checked her make-up and hair once, she'd checked it a hundred times.

Not for the first time this morning, she hurried into the hotel bathroom so that she could stand in front of the cheval mirror that hung on the back of the door.

The dress she was wearing was not casual. But she knew she looked good in it, which was the most important thing to her right at that moment.

Light and silky, the sleeveless sheath skimmed her curvy figure, making her look slim yet shapely at the same time. Its scooped neckline stopped just short of showing any cleavage, the wide, softly frilled collar very feminine. The hem finished well above her knee on one side and dipped down almost to mid-calf on the other, as was the fashion this year. The print on the pale cream material was floral, the flowers small and well-spaced, their colours ranging from the palest pink to a deep plum, her favourite colour. She'd matched the dress with open-toed cream high heels and a plum handbag. Her lipstick and nail-polish were plum as well. Strong colours suited her, with her olive skin and dark hair and eyes.

Her hair—which had been up and down several
times so far this morning—was finally down, its natural wave and curl having been tamed somewhat with a ruthless blowdrying, but it still kicked up on the ends. Shoulder-blade-length, it was parted on one side and looped behind her ears to show her gold and pearl drops. A gold chain with a single gold and pearl pendant adorned her neck. The floral scents of her perfume, an extravagant one she'd bought during her last shopping trip to Sydney, was only just detectable on her skin. Angelina didn't like it when a woman's perfume preceded her into a room like a tidal wave.

She stroked the figure-hugging dress down over her hips before turning round and looking over her shoulder at her back view. Her scowl soon became a shrug. Nothing she could do about her Italian lower half. She had wide hips and a big bottom, and that was all there was to it.

Angelina turned back and looked with more approval at her front view. At least she had the breasts to go with the backside. They were a definite plus. Just as well, however, that her nipples were hidden by the wideness of the collar, because she could feel them now, pressing against the satiny confines of her underwired bra, making her hotly aware of how excited she was. How incredibly, appallingly excited.

A small moan escaped her lips, Angelina stuffing a closed fist into her mouth and biting on her knuckles in an effort to get some control over her silly self. But she was fighting a losing battle. The truth was she was dying to see Jake again. She wanted to see
that look in his eyes once more, the one which made her feel like the most beautiful girl in the world.

Oh, she knew that he'd probably looked at a hundred different girls that way over the years. There were no end of lovely-looking girls here in Sydney, model-slim girls with more sophistication and style than she had. But no matter. She could pretend she was the only one, just for one miserable lunch.

Surely there was no harm in that. Lunch was safe. They wouldn't really be alone. Impossible for him to get to her sexually during lunch, no matter what his secret agenda might be. Sharing a meal was also a good opportunity to find out more about him.

Her eyes went to her wrist-watch. It was ten-past ten, still almost two hours to go before noon. The minutes were dragging, but then, she'd been up since dawn.

She hadn't slept well, and she couldn't even blame the hotel bed. She hadn't slept well all week, her mind never giving her any peace. She'd been tormented by regrets and recriminations.

Of course, in hindsight, she
should
have told Jake about Alex straight away last Saturday when he'd come back to the restaurant. And she shouldn't have begun that silly charade, letting Jake think Alex was her boyfriend. No, not boyfriend. Lover. It had only made Jake even more determined, it seemed, to win her. She'd become a challenge.

By Friday her nerves had been so bad that she hadn't felt capable of driving down to Sydney, let alone coping with the inner-city traffic. Whenever
she came down to visit Alex at weekends, she always stayed at the Rydges Hotel in North Sydney, which was near his school. There was never any need for her to drive over the Harbour Bridge. If she wanted to go shopping in the city during her weekend trips down, she caught the train over the bridge. She never attempted to drive. For a country-raised girl, driving in that congestion would be a nightmare.

But getting to the expo, and the Star City hotel, would require her to go over the bridge and negotiate all those confusing lanes that went off in myriad different directions. Her father had brought her down to a show at the Star City theatre last year, and even he'd taken a wrong turn. Much easier to catch the train down and get a cab from Central. Much easier to come down on the Friday, too, rather than wait till the Saturday morning.

Arnold had kindly driven her into the station yesterday morning and she'd arrived in Sydney just after two, giving her enough time after booking in at the hotel to go for a walk and locate where the weekend expo was being held. It was down on a nearby wharf, in a building that had once housed the old casino.

The finishing touches on the Ambrosia Estate booth were being made when she arrived and she'd been very impressed. It looked like a little piece of Italy, with vines climbing over a mock-pergola, from which hung big bunches of grapes—not real but very lifelike. The right side of the booth was dedicated to white wines, with the red wines on the left. Each side would have its own team of pretty female demon
strators for wine-tasting, she'd been informed by the man running the show. Cheese would be offered with the reds, slices of fruit with the drier whites, and exotic sweets with the dessert wines.

The only negative during her inspection tour was this man himself. He was a typical salesman. Thirtyish and suavely handsome with a moustache and goatee beard, he just couldn't help flirting with her. Not too strong for a first meeting. But Angelina had had plenty to do with salesmen at the resort, and she knew as sure as the sun was already up and shining that morning that today would be a different story. Today, he was going to come on much stronger. Today, he was going to be hands-on.

Which created a dilemma for Angelina. She didn't want to encourage the guy by turning up again today. At the same time, she didn't want Jake to think her presence wasn't required at the expo. She needed to actually be there at the booth, doing something constructive, when Jake showed up. Which meant she'd have to leave the sanctuary of her hotel room soon and make an appearance.

Angelina sighed. She hoped that Wayne—he must have told her his name ten times—didn't think she'd dolled herself up for him. Yesterday she'd only been wearing jeans and a simple white shirt, and he hadn't been able to stop eyeing her up and down.

The telephone suddenly ringing startled Angelina. As she hurried from the bathroom, she wondered who it would be. Unlikely to be Alex. The team wasn't allowed any outside calls during their week
end camp. The focus was to be all on swimming. Angelina had called him last night from the hotel and they'd talked for simply ages. Mostly about the expo. Alex was all for advertising their wines, unlike his grandfather, who'd been old-fashioned in his ways.

No, it couldn't be Alex, she thought as she crossed the hotel room and scooped up the receiver. Hopefully not the dreaded Wayne, wanting to know where she was.

‘Yes?'

‘Do you always answer the phone as if it's bad news?'

Jake. It was Jake. Angelina's stomach started to swirl.

‘How did you know to ring me here?' she said.

‘I was just talking to the chap running your booth at the expo and he mentioned you'd arrived yesterday. You yourself told me where you were staying, Angelina.'

‘But what are you doing at the expo this early? You said noon. It's only just after ten.'

‘I didn't want to risk not being able to find you later, so I thought I'd do a preliminary sortie. I'm glad I did. This place is a madhouse. You should see it. Which reminds me. Why aren't you down here, selling your wares? It wouldn't be because you don't really need to be here, would it? You couldn't possibly have lied to me about that too, the way you lied to me about when you would be arriving in Sydney?'

Angelina didn't know whether to be annoyed with
him, or charmed. ‘I didn't want you pestering me any more than necessary.'

‘Pestering! Wow, you really know how to take the wind out of a guy's sails, don't you?'

‘Sorry. That was a bit harsh. But you know what I mean. Is there a purpose to this call, Jake, or is it just a softening-up trick?'

He laughed. ‘I can see I'm going to have to be very careful with you.'

‘Yes, you are. I'm fragile.'

He laughed again. ‘You're about as fragile as Dorothy. OK, so I won't confess I just wanted to hear the sound of your voice. That would probably go down like a lead balloon. The second reason for this call is to check that you don't get seasick.'

‘Seasick,' she repeated blankly. She was still thinking of his wanting to hear the sound of her voice.

‘Yep, I'm planning on booking us a luncheon cruise on the harbour. That's another reason for my early arrival over here. I wanted to find out what was available.'

‘Oh. Oh, how…lovely,' she finished, having almost said how romantic.

‘I thought you might never have done that, living where you do.'

‘No. No, I haven't. That's very thoughtful of you, Jake.'

‘I cannot tell a lie. It wasn't thoughtful. It was my next best softening-up trick. After this phone call.'

Angelina smiled. ‘You really are shameless.'

‘And you really are beautiful. Yes, I know, I shouldn't have said that, either. I can't seem to help myself with you. My mouth has a mind of its own. Have you told Alex about us yet?'

‘There is no
us
, Jake.'

‘About lunch with me, then?'

‘No.'

‘You're only delaying the inevitable.'

‘Yes. I know that.'

She heard his sharp intake of breath. ‘Does that mean what I hope it means?'

‘Let's just take one day at a time, Jake,' she said.

‘Fair enough.'

‘See you at the booth at noon,' she said, and hung up before she could say another single silly word.

CHAPTER EIGHT

J
AKE
watched her from a safe distance, Angelina totally unaware of his presence. He was a good thirty metres away from the Ambrosia Estate booth, with the milling crowds providing the perfect cover for his observation post.

She looked even more beautiful today than she had last Saturday. That dress was a stunner. But then, Angelina would look stunning in anything.

Woman was the right word to describe Angelina. So many girls these days were like stick insects. But not her. She was all soft curves and lush femininity. The two skinny blonde demonstrators working next to her in the booth looked positively anorexic by comparison.

Jake had been thinking about Angelina all week. She'd constantly distracted him at work and disturbed his sleep with dreams of the most erotic kind.

Last night had been especially erotic. He'd woken and reached for her in the bed—so real was the dream. But where he'd anticipated finding her warm and naked next to him, there'd only been a cold emptiness.

And to think she'd actually been
here
, in Sydney, last night, staying at the Star City hotel! This revelation had frustrated the hell out of him. If he'd
known, he could have persuaded her to at least have dinner with him.

And she would have come. She'd virtually admitted to him over the phone this morning that she'd decided to give Alex the brush-off in favour of him.

Unfortunately, she'd also made it clear that he was still on probation. One day at a time, she'd said. He could not afford to rest on his laurels just yet. Or presume that she would say yes to more than a meal or two today.

Never in the last ten years had Jake had to be this patient with a woman. And never had he felt
less
patient.

His body was on fire, aching to be with her in the most basic way.

As his eyes roved over the silky dress she was wearing, his loins stirred alarmingly. He shifted away from the wall he was leaning against, taking several deep breaths and willing his flesh back to a semblance of control, and decency.

Suddenly, Angelina's eyes started to search the crowd as though she was looking for someone. Despite it only being ten to twelve, Jake instinctively knew she was looking for him. With rather anxious eyes, he thought. Perhaps because that Wayne fellow was being a pest. Ever since Jake had taken up his vantage point five minutes earlier, the sales rep had been chatting away to Angelina, his slimy dark eyes all over her.

When the sleazebag actually had the temerity to reach out and lay a hand on Angelina's bare arm,
Jake decided that waiting till noon was not on. He forged forward, amazed at the wave of fierce emotion which had consumed him.

Not jealousy. He didn't think for a moment Angelina fancied the guy. Jake had read her body language. He just couldn't bear for any man to touch her like that. Or to undress her with his eyes the way that guy had been doing.

The thought that
he'd
been doing some undressing with his own eyes was a sobering one. Though Jake quickly dismissed any guilt with the added thought that it was different with him. He
cared
about Angelina. It wasn't just a question of lust.

Her eyes lit up at the sight of him, making him feel almost ten feet tall.

‘Ready to go, darling?' he said, firmly staking his claim.

Fortunately, Angelina didn't give him one of those don't-go-getting-carried-away-with-yourself looks she'd bestowed upon him last Saturday.

‘I just have to get my handbag,' she replied eagerly.

Within thirty seconds, he was shepherding her away through the crowd, his hand resting possessively in the small of her back. Once they were out of sight of the booth, he rather expected her to tell him to keep his hands to himself.

But she didn't.

 

Angelina knew she was being foolish. But ooh…the touch of Jake's hand on her body was electric. His
palm was like a hot iron, burning its way through her dress to her skin beneath. Heat radiated through her, making her feel as if she was glowing all over.

‘Thank you for rescuing me from that creep,' she said as he steered her through the throng towards the exit.

‘My pleasure.'

‘I can't stand touchy-feely men.'

‘Oops!' His hand promptly lifted away.

‘Not you,' she hastily assured him with an upwards glance. ‘I didn't mean you.'

Their eyes met and Angelina knew she'd just crossed a line, that line which she had taken such pains to draw earlier, but which was now in danger of disintegrating entirely.

Her eyes ran over him, and she thought how utterly gorgeous he was looking in his trendy city clothes. No jeans for him this time. But not a suit, either. His trousers were a bone colour, not dissimilar to the cream in her dress. Very expensive by the look of their cut, and the lack of creases. His shirt was made in black silk, worn open-necked, with its long sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Casual, yet sophisticated and suave, the epitome of the man about town, such a far cry from the Jake whom she'd ogled just as shamelessly sixteen years ago.

Only his eyes were the same. Still that same hard, icy blue, and still with the same intent. To get her into bed.

‘That's a relief,' he said, and his hand settled right back where it had been.

A shiver ran down Angelina's spine. How would it feel if she had no clothes on at all? If she was lying with him, naked, in a bed, and he was sliding his hand down her back whilst the other was…?

She gulped the great lump which had formed in her throat and tried to find reasons for why his making love to her should never be allowed to happen. But none came to mind at that moment.

‘Did that guy say or do anything really offensive?' Jake asked as he guided her out onto the wharf and into the sunshine. ‘Do you want to me go back and sort him out?'

Angelina drew in some blessedly fresh air and tried to get herself back on to an even keel. ‘Lord, no. No, that's not necessary. Wayne's harmless, really. Just too full of himself. And it's not as though I have to see him again.' Too late, she realised she'd made another blunder.

Jake pounced on it immediately. ‘You don't have to go back to the booth today?'

‘Not if I don't want to.'

‘And do you want to?'

‘Hardly.' Silly to say that she did. ‘I thought I might do some shopping after our lunch,' she added, hoping to retrieve lost ground.

‘Shopping for what?'

‘Clothes.'

His gaze travelled slowly up and down her body. ‘More clothes to drive men wild with lust?'

She flushed. ‘That's not my intent when I buy a dress.'

‘It might not be your intent,' he said drily. ‘But the result's the same. I have to confess I do understand where poor Wayne was coming from. You'd tempt a saint, looking as you do today. And not many men are saints. But I doubt you'll have much time for shopping after our luncheon cruise. The one I've booked takes three hours. Most shops close at four on a Saturday. Besides, I was hoping you'd agree to come back to my place for a while. I live over in that direction there on MacMahon's Point,' he said, pointing straight across the expanse of sparkling blue water at the distant skyline of high-rise, harbour-hugging apartment blocks. ‘I've already organised for the boat's captain to put in at the wharf there and let us off afterwards.'

‘That was presumptuous of you, Jake,' came her surprisingly cool-sounding remark. Inside, she felt far from cool.

He shrugged. ‘I didn't think you'd mind. I thought you might like to see where I live. I'm happy to drive you back to the hotel later in the afternoon. If you want to change for dinner, that is. But you look perfectly fine to go out with me exactly as you are.'

She laughed. ‘You have today all planned out, don't you?'

‘Being a lawyer has taught me that it's always wise to have a plan.'

‘And do things always go according to your plans?'

‘On the whole. But there are exceptions, of which
I suspect you might be one,' he finished with a rueful sigh.

She smiled, gratified that he thought she had more will-power and character than she actually possessed at that moment.

‘You said one day at a time,' he reminded her. ‘This is just one day, Angelina.'

He was right. It was. But she knew how Jake aimed for this day to end. All she could hope was that, when the time came, she had the courage to say no to him.

BOOK: The Passion Price
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