Married in haste…for his passionate pleasure!
Antonio Rocha saw Sophie Cunningham as a tramp – she was raising his orphaned baby niece in a trailer! However, Antonio didn’t appreciate that though she might not be a lady, Sophie had plenty of love to give. And she was a virgin. Antonio soon found himself attracted to Sophie, and he knew how to indulge this passion: a marriage arrangement on his terms.
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‘BUT why didn’t Belinda tell us last year that she had given birth to Pablo’s child?’ Antonio Rocha, Marqués de Salazar, demanded of his grandmother, lingering astonishment etched in the hard set of his sculpted cheekbones, his lean, darkly handsome face grim.
‘We barely got to know Belinda while your brother was alive.’ Doña Ernesta’s fine-boned features reflected her regret over that state of affairs. ‘How could we expect her to turn to us for help after he had abandoned her?’
‘I tried several times to set up a meeting with Belinda. She always made excuses,’ Antonio reminded the older woman. ‘Finally, she insisted that she didn’t need our help and she made it clear that she no longer regarded us as being related to her.’
‘Her pride may have spoken for her. I imagine Pablo left her with little else. Now that we know that he must have deserted her when she was pregnant, my heart is even heavier,’ Doña Ernesta confessed. ‘Yet when he married her, I truly believed that he might finally settle down.’
Being an incurable cynic, Antonio had had no such hopes. After all, his younger brother had broken the heart of his own family long before he had graduated to wreaking havoc beyond that select circle. Although born with every advantage into the most élite stratum of Spanish high society, Pablo had started getting in trouble at an early age.
His parents had found it impossible to control him. By the time Pablo had reached his early twenties, he had dissipated a substantial inheritance and defrauded several relatives and friends of large amounts of money. Throughout those troubled years, countless people had made repeated efforts to understand, correct and solve Pablo’s problems. All such attempts had been unsuccessful, not least, Antonio believed, because his brother had got a huge kick out of breaking the law and swindling the foolish.
It was three years since Pablo had come home to mend fences and announce his intention of marrying his beautiful English girlfriend. Overjoyed by his return, Doña Ernesta had insisted on throwing the wedding for the happy couple while at the same time making them a very generous gift of money.
The marriage, however, had failed and Pablo had returned to Spain twelve months ago. Soon afterwards, the younger man had lost his life in a drunken car crash.
‘It astonishes me that Pablo could have kept such a secret from us,’ Doña Ernesta lamented. ‘It is even more sad that Belinda could not trust us enough to share her child with us.’
‘I’ve made arrangements to fly over to London tomorrow morning,’ Antonio told her, frowning when the elderly woman seated by the elegant marble fireplace continued to look deeply troubled. ‘Try not to dwell on your sorrow. As a family, we did all that we could and we will now do our very best for Pablo’s daughter.’
It was only that afternoon that Antonio had received an urgent call from the family lawyer, who had in turn been contacted by Belinda’s solicitor in England. Antonio had been sincerely shaken by the news that his brother’s widow had not only given birth to a child six months earlier, but had died from pneumonia just a fortnight ago. He had been relieved that, independent though Belinda had evidently intended to be, she had still had the foresight and sense to nominate him in her will as the guardian of her daughter, Lydia. At the family lawyer’s instigation, however, Antonio had also agreed that, even though he had no reason to doubt that the little girl was his brother’s child, DNA testing, distasteful though it was, would be a sensible precaution.
The lawyer had then informed him that Belinda’s sister, Sophie, was currently looking after the child. Dismayed by that information, Antonio had appreciated that his own intervention was immediately required. Sophie was far too young for such a responsibility and he thought it unlikely that her lifestyle would be conducive to the care of a baby.
Antonio had met Sophie when she had acted as a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. The pronounced differences between the two sisters had disconcerted his conservative family. While Belinda had had the confident gloss and clear diction of the British middle class, Sophie had appeared to hail from a rather less privileged background. Indeed Antonio’s English had been much more grammatically correct than hers had been. As he recalled those unexplained discrepancies his incisive gaze veiled. An involuntary memory of Sophie with her tumbling fall of blonde curls and glinting green eyes assailed Antonio. Not a beauty in the classic elegant style of her sister, certainly. Even so, Antonio had found his attention continually returning to the youngest, smallest bridesmaid that day and he had been equally quick to notice that there wasn’t a man in the room impervious to her appeal.
But her apparent appeal had been very short-lived, Antonio reminded himself grimly, his expressive mouth curling with disdain. Sophie had been sparkling, sexy and intensely feminine. But as he had discovered she had also been a slut. Watching her trail back into her hotel at dawn with her youthful lover and with her clothing dishevelled from a night of passion on the beach had been a salutary lesson. Clearly, she had been no more particular in her habits than the many tourists who came to Spain to indulge in rampant casual sex and an excess of alcohol.
‘A little girl. My first great-grandchild,’ Doña Ernesta remarked with a tentative smile softening her rather severe features, her well-modulated speaking voice breaking into what was a rare moment of abstraction for her grandson. ‘Lydia. It is a pretty name. A baby will transform the castillo.’