Women fall over themselves to say yes to anything Angelo van Zaal wants – so he’s shocked when proud redhead Flora Bennett says no to his plans!
Flora is determined to adopt her baby niece, despite Angelo’s assumption that he will have guardianship. And, although he’s annoyed with himself for wanting her, Flora annoys Angelo even more by avoiding the shimmer of sexual attraction between them. There has to be a way to make Flora obey all his wishes, and there is – only it involves an unexpected pregnancy and three more babies…
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ANGELO VAN ZAAL studied the nine-month-old child that the nurse had brought to him. The little girl was golden-haired with the wide, pansy-blue eyes of a china doll, and the minute she saw him she smiled in happy recognition. The innocence of that trusting smile cut Angelo as sharply as a knife, for few children could have been subjected to a tougher start in life than little Mariska. Only a dark bruise and a scratch on one cheek bore witness to the fact that she had been miraculously thrown clear in her special car seat from the accident in which both of her parents had died.
‘I understand that you are not related by blood to Mariska,’ the female doctor by his side remarked.
‘Her father, Willem, was my stepbrother, but I thought of him as my brother and I treated him as such,’ Angelo stated with the clarity for which he was famed in the business world. ‘I consider Mariska to be part of my family and I’m keen to adopt her.’
‘The social worker in charge of her case did mention that you have been involved in Mariska’s life since she was born—’
‘I did what I could to support Willem and his wife, Julie. I only wish it had been enough,’ he imparted with a wry twist of his mouth, as he knew that the medical staff would be well aware of the state in which Mariska’s parents had been at the time of the crash. He was merely grateful that the sordid truth had not appeared in the newspapers.
Angelo van Zaal was an extraordinarily handsome man, the doctor reflected with an appreciative glance. He was also extremely wealthy, the bearer of a name famous for its benevolence in the field of philanthropy. Nevertheless, the steel magnate was equally well known for his ruthless cutting edge and success as a businessman. According to the press, a procession of international fashion models entertained him outside working hours. In looks, he had inherited his Spanish mother’s black hair and darker skin tone rather than his Dutch father’s fair colouring. But his eyes were a bright burning blue, as lucid as a flawless sapphire and enhanced by a frame of lush ebony lashes that gave his gaze spectacular impact. Tall, at several inches over six feet, and well built, he had attracted a good deal of notice from female staff and patients alike as they walked through the hospital to the children’s ward. He was also, as far as the doctor was aware, still a single man.
‘The hospital has had several enquiries about Mariska’s welfare from her aunt, Flora Bennett. I understand that she is Julie’s older sister.’
Angelo’s superb bone structure took on a forbidding aspect. At the same time, he had a mental flash of eyes the colour of emeralds, skin as impossibly white as milk and the sort of lush full pink mouth that could plunge a man into an erotic daydream. Flora was a tall, feisty redhead with the kind of sensual appeal that would have entrapped a less wary and experienced male. As he had on previous occasions, Angelo crushed that provocative thought and shook himself free of it in exasperation. ‘A half-sister,’ he pronounced quietly. ‘She and Julie had the same father.’
Angelo could have said a great deal more but he compressed his lips, reluctant to voice his hostility towards the other side of Mariska’s family because that was a private matter. He’d had the then pregnant Englishwoman Julie Bennett and her connections investigated when Willem had decided to marry her, and his strong reservations about Julie had proved prophetic.
Had it not been for Julie’s inclinations, Angelo was convinced that Willem would still be alive and, from what he had learned about Julie’s elder sister at the same time, she was not to be trusted either. The same investigation had revealed that lurid scandal laced Flora’s background; some years earlier she had used sleazy tactics in an attempt to advance and enrich herself in the workplace. While Flora was considerably more memorable in looks and personality than her rather more ordinary sister, she was an already proven gold-digger and Angelo knew he would go to any lengths to ensure that Willem’s daughter, Mariska, was protected from her influence. Mariska would, after all, inherit her father’s trust fund. As Willem had died before he’d reached the age where he could gain access to the money, his daughter would some day be a rich young woman.
Indeed, if Angelo had anything to do with the matter, Mariska would lead a very different life from that of either of her feckless parents. His wide sensual mouth hardened. He might have failed to rescue Willem from his demons, but doing the very best he could for his stepbrother’s daughter would help him to sleep a little more peacefully at night.
The doctor cleared her throat as Mariska lay in Angelo’s arms; he had been granted temporary custody of the child. ‘Have you any plans to marry?’ she enquired, unable to stifle her curiosity on that score.
Brilliant blue eyes flew straight to her blushing face. Angelo was too much of a player to reveal his thoughts but tension held him fast. ‘It is possible,’ he responded. ‘Where this little girl is concerned, I still have much to think through.’
His acknowledgement that there might be some grounds for concern over his suitability as a single parent made the doctor give him an approving appraisal. Someone had once called Angelo van Zaal chilly but, although she would never have called him an emotional personality, he was innately practical and reliable. Many men would have shrugged off the problems of so troublesome a set of relatives, but Angelo had stood his ground and done what he could to help until the inevitable tragic end was reached. In the doctor’s book, that not only made him a force to be reckoned with but also a very suitable guardian for a vulnerable child.