Italian tycoon ditches brand-new bride!
On their wedding day, Molly and Sholto had separated. The split made newspaper headlines, though no one ever guessed why their marriage wasn’t consummated. Molly had vowed that no pressure or price would persuade her to share Sholto’s bed, but she knew her brother owed him a lot of money …. Sholto struck a deal: he would settle the debt if Molly moved in with him and he would get to enjoy his wedding night after all. Then Molly found herself with a new dilemma: she was Sholto’s ex-wife and mistress …and soon she would be the mother of his child!
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AS THE snow became a blinding white blur, the wipers struggled to keep a wedge of the car windscreen clear. Then, finally, the narrow, twisting road began to climb. Not much further now. Molly cut down another gear, praying that the tyres would keep a grip on the treacherously slippery gradient.
That petrol-pump attendant had warned her that it would be crazy to attempt the lake road in snow but Molly often flew in the face of sound advice. And her stubborn determination to reach Freddy’s isolated home had its deepest roots in guilt. She hadn’t gone to his funeral. Her fiancé, Donald, had offered to go with her as moral support but she still hadn’t been able to face such an ordeal.
The small car slid slowly back down the hill again. Molly gritted her teeth and started up it again. She was almost there. The house sat at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. Over four years had passed, but she still remembered that misty view of the moorland running down to the water’s edge. Her face stiffened and shadowed, fingers clenching round the wheel. She also remembered the slavish way she had tried to follow Sholto out of the room when a call had come for him. Freddy had caught her back, his wise old eyes almost pitying as he scanned her anxious, adoring face.
‘Don’t cling, my dear. It’ll put wings on his feet. You can’t tame a wild bird and keep it in a cage… Sholto isn’t a domesticated animal. This is all new to him. Hasten slowly.’
But she hadn’t listened, she conceded sickly, hadn’t seen, hadn’t been able to focus on anything but her own desperate need to be as close to Sholto as his skin. And the more he had stepped back from her, the harder she had pushed, not even knowing then, not even suspecting that Sholto’s heart could never, ever be hers. She wore another man’s ring now but remembrance still cramped her stomach and her tired legs trembled, the foot she had on the accelerator pressing down with sudden involuntary force.
She cried out in fright as the car slewed violently sideways and then skidded with unnatural, terrifying grace off the road. Her heartbeat thundered in her eardrums as she brought the hatchback to a shuddering halt, headlights gleaming out over the daunting expanse of dark water only yards away. Swallowing hard, she tried to reverse back up onto the road but the tyres spun on the boggy, snow-slick ground and the car stayed where it was.
Finally, she detached her seatbelt and climbed out into the teeth of the wind. She would walk up the hill. Dear heaven, she might have killed herself! The car might have kept right on going and the lake was deep.
Grabbing up her shoulder bag, shivering convulsively as the wind blew snow into her face and snatched up her long fall of russet hair to whip it across her eyes and mouth, she pulled up the hood of her light jacket and locked the car. It was well after eight. Freddy’s housekeeper wasn’t even expecting her and now Molly would have to ask her for a bed for the night into the bargain.
Stupid, stupid, Molly castigated herself as she toiled up the hill. Why avoid the funeral and then drive all the way to the Lake District just to collect the old vase which Freddy had left her and leave a few flowers at the cemetery? Her brother, Nigel, had been stunned when he’d realised she could have gone to the funeral and the scene which had followed that revelation had left Molly feeling sick with irrational guilt.
‘The perfect opportunity…and you didn’t take it?’ Nigel had condemned in disbelief. ‘But Sholto would’ve been there! You could’ve talked to him then.’
‘Don’t, Nigel…’ his wife, Lena, had begged, her strained eyes swimming with tears. ‘This isn’t Molly’s problem. It’s ours.’
‘Will you still feel like that when you and the kids have no roof over your heads?’ Nigel had demanded, the stress of recent months etched in his thin, boyish features. ‘What would it cost Molly to go and eat a bit of humble pie? I’d do it…but I can’t get near him!’
Now the snow was falling thicker and heavier, crunching over the sides of her shoes and freezing her feet. In no mood to dwell on her brother’s desperate financial problems, Molly dug icy hands into her pockets and plodded on up the hill. The dark, unadorned bulk of the house loomed just where the road dropped down again and she felt quite weak with relief. There were no lights visible but on a bad night like this an elderly woman might already be tucked up warm in her bed.
The freezing wind slashing with cruel efficiency through her inadequate clothing, Molly rushed to press the old-fashioned doorbell. A couple of endless minutes later, she hit it again, and then more quickly the third and the fourth time, dismay powering her as she stood back and peered up at the black, unrevealing windows in search of an encouraging chink of light.
She had assumed that the housekeeper would be here for at least another week. But maybe she didn’t live in. As that possibility occurred to Molly for the very first time, she could’ve kicked herself for blithely assuming that Freddy’s housekeeper lived on the premises. If the house was empty, she was in deep trouble. She might freeze to death spending the night in the car. She didn’t even have a travel rug to wrap around herself. When she had left home after lunch it had been a beautiful sunny day and she hadn’t paid the slightest heed to the weather forecast.
Panic firing her, Molly trudged round to the back of the house. Obviously there was nobody inside. She peered at the snow-covered ground, prowling up and down until she found a suitable stone. Fingers almost numb, she yanked off her jacket and wound it round her arm, her hand fiercely gripping the stone as she braced herself in front of the small window beside the back door. Taking a deep breath, she swung her arm up full force and smashed the pane. Stepping back, she breathed out in a rush, shook herself free of broken glass and dragged on her jacket again.
Reaching inside with great care, she undid the latch and the frame swung out. Planting her chilled hands on the stone sill, she hauled herself up with a groan of effort and crawled on her knees through the open window, slowly feeling her way onto the kitchen worktop. A startled yelp of pain escaped her as a splinter of glass pierced her knee. But even as she stilled in exasperated acknowledgement of her own foolishness she had the terrifying sense of something big moving fast towards her in the darkness.
As a pair of powerful hands snatched her up into midair, she screamed so hard she hurt her throat. Then she was hitting the stone floor face down, all the breath driven from her body by the impact, hands flailing in wild terror as a suffocating weight dug into her spine. Hard, imprisoning fingers raked down her arms to entrap her frantic hands and then as quickly loosened their grip and freed her again.
A burst of Italian invective assailed her ears at the same time as the knee braced on her back was removed and the fluorescent light above flickered on. Quivering with stark terror, Molly jerked up and rolled back against the cupboards like a cornered animal bracing itself for another attack. When her glazed eyes focused on the male standing over her, she simply stared, wide-eyed with disbelief.
‘Madre di Dio…I could have broken every bone in your body!’ Sholto raked down at her in driving condemnation.
So deep in shock, she was incapable of response, Molly’s huge green eyes clung to the six-foot-three male towering over her as if he were a terrifying apparition, her cheekbones prominent with stress, her complexion bone-white, her lips bloodlessly compressed.
With a stifled imprecation, Sholto dropped down into an athletic crouch and ran lean brown hands gently down over her limp arms and thighs. His startlingly handsome features clenched as he saw the blood seeping messily through the torn knee of her black tights. He completed his check for any further injury before he drew back.
Molly still couldn’t move. Slowly, she closed her eyes, meaning to open them again and see if he was still there but the impersonal touch of his beautifully shaped hands still lingered like the kiss of fire on her frozen flesh, blocking out all rational thought. Four years since she had seen him, not since that fateful night he had walked out on her to go to his cousin, Pandora. Her paralysis gave and she started to shake uncontrollably, the aftermath of choking fear and horror at his appearance combining to threaten a tidal wave of emotion.
‘What the hell were you playing at?’ Sholto bent down and scooped her up into his arms as if she weighed no more than a feather. ‘And what are you doing here at this hour of the night?’