A Desperate Plea.
Ashley had no choice but to plead with Vito di Cavalieri to drop the charges that would put her brother in prison. She expected Vito to exact a high payment in return. But what shocked her was his asking price… A Demanding Proposition. He wanted Ashley … in his bed, as his wife. And passion surged beneath her shaking defenses and betrayed her like never before. Because how could she control love turned to white-hot hatred – and desire that raged dangerously out of control.
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ASHLEY couldn’t sit still. She got up to pace her sister’s kitchen again. Dear lord, how much longer would they be at the police station? Surely by now they realised that they had the wrong person? Her brother wasn’t a car thief or a joyrider. He had respect for other people’s property…hadn’t he?
Tim was no angel—what teenager was? But he was intelligent. He had a promising academic future ahead of him. He would soon be sitting his final exams. Why would he go off the rails and attempt to steal a car? He had a car of his own, for goodness’ sake!
Tim had been living here with her sister for the past two months. While their parents were in New Zealand, enjoying a long-anticipated reunion with relatives, there had been nowhere else for him to go. Unfortunately, Tim hadn’t wanted to stay with Susan and Arnold. And Ashley had understood his reluctance. She wouldn’t have wanted to live with Susan’s rules and regulations either.
The white space-age kitchen reminded her of an operating theatre. It was sterile. There was no clutter—Susan would not allow clutter. Her home was obsessively clean and tidy. Just like Susan herself. On the phone, though, she’d been hysterical, or as close to hysterical as someone as repressed as Susan could get. Tim’s arrest in full view of the neighbours had smashed her composure.
Break beyond the guidelines of Susan’s rigid moral code and you were out in no man’s land all on your own. A pariah. Nobody knew that better than Ashley. On the day Susan had discovered that her unmarried teenage sister was pregnant, Susan had turned her back without hesitation. When you threatened to become a social embarrassment, Susan would literally cross the street to avoid you.
Ashley took sudden ironic strength from that awareness. If Susan had had the slightest suspicion that Tim might be guilty, she would have let Arnold go to the police station alone.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea, Miss Forrester?’
Ashley spun round with a nervous jerk. Her sister’s housekeeper, Mrs Adams, stood in the doorway, rotund in her sensible dressing-gown, her discomfort palpable.
‘No, thanks. I couldn’t,’ Ashley muttered.
‘He’s such a…spirited young man,’ the older woman remarked.
Ashley paled at the reminder. Tim had his father’s temper. When he was roused, Tim was hot-headed and aggressive. Hunt Forrester rejoiced in Tim’s ability to stand up to him. A boy was supposed to have grit and guts. A girl wasn’t. Just as baby girls were the mistakes you had to accept on the road to fathering an all-important son, the second chapter in her father’s book of sexist ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ said that girls were supposed to be sugar and spice, rarely seen and never heard. Ashley had never fitted the rulebook. In one way or another she had always transgressed.
Ashley had rebelled but Susan had always conformed. Arnold had come along when Susan was eighteen. Although he was nearly twenty years older, he had been her sister’s first and last boyfriend. Susan had never spread her wings in the outside world, never fought for a taste of the freedom which other young women took for granted. Ashley had often wondered if her sister had rushed into marriage to escape their domineering bully of a father and a home atmosphere riven with tension and frequent angry scenes.
‘That’s the car…’ Mrs Adams tensed. ‘I’ll go back to my room, Miss Forrester.’
Ashley pushed a nervous hand through her dishevelled mane of red-gold curling hair and took a deep, steadying breath. Susan didn’t know she was here waiting and her sister would probably see her presence as an act of unwelcome interference. As she heard the key in the front door, she walked out to the hall, praying that Tim would walk in, angry and shaken but unafraid…in other words, an innocent accused. Dear God, she couldn’t even bring herself to consider the alternative!
The lanky youth who lunged through the door at full tilt didn’t even see her standing there. Tim raced upstairs and the loud slam of a door ricocheted through the house. Arnold appeared next. In the act of shedding his raincoat, the older man froze. ‘Ashley?’
Susan thrust past him. Her oval face was a waxen mask, stamped by bruised eyes and two burning spots of enraged red. ‘Ashley?’ she exclaimed shrilly.
‘Susan—’ Arnold planted a restraining hand on his wife’s sleeve.
‘Stay out of this!’ Susan rounded on her husband furiously. ‘She’s here and I’m glad she is. I want her to know what she’s done!’
‘What I’ve done?’ Ashley echoed after an incredulous pause.
‘This is all your fault!’ Susan hissed at her. ‘What am I supposed to tell Mum and Dad when they come home? They put Tim in our care. He was our responsibility. When Dad finds out about this, he’ll blame me for ever letting you near Tim. You don’t need to worry! Dad won’t come calling on you for his pound of flesh!’
Susan in a rage was a stranger to Ashley. She had the weird feeling that she had stepped into a crazy mirror-world where familiar people become unrecognisable. As a rule her sister was frigidly unemotional, but tonight she was a woman possessed, alien in her spitting belligerence.
Ashley moved a pleading hand. ‘Susan, please. I don’t know what you’re talking about. How can I be involved in this?’
‘Aren’t you involved in everything that drags our family down? Do you know whose car he wrecked?’ Susan ranted. ‘Do you know why he wrecked it?’
Ashley was in a daze, devastated by the obvious admission that Tim was apparently guilty as charged.