Alejandro Navarro Vasquez, the Conde Olivares, has long desired vengeance…
His wife betrayed him with an act that by the proud Spaniard’s code was unforgivable. What’s more, the breakdown of their marriage is a bitter truth which undermines Alejandro’s every achievement. Alejandro’s opportunity for justice comes when the private detective he’s hired pinpoints Jemima’s whereabouts…and delivers the news that she has a two-year-old son. Clearly her wanton ways have led to an illegitimate birth… But no matter: Alejandro is determined to settle the score with his runaway wife…
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ALEJANDRO NAVARRO VASQUEZ, the Conde Olivares, sat on his superb black stallion in the shade of an orange grove and surveyed the valley that had belonged to his ancestors for over five hundred years. On this fine spring morning, below a clear blue sky, it was a gorgeous view encompassing thousands of acres of fertile earth and woodland. He owned the land as far as the eye could see, but his lean, darkly handsome features were grim as they had often been since the breakdown of his marriage almost two and a half years earlier.
He was a landowner and wealthy, but his family—which every Spaniard cherished far beyond material riches—had been ripped asunder by his imprudent marriage. For a male as strong, proud and successful as Alejandro, it was a bitter truth that undermined his every achievement. He had followed his heart and not his head and he had married the wrong woman, a very expensive mistake for which he was still paying the price. His half-brother, Marco, had taken a job in New York, cutting off all contact with his mother and siblings. Yet if Marco, whom Alejandro had helped to raise after their father’s premature death, had appeared before him at that moment could he have forgiven the younger man and urged him back to his childhood home with sincerity and warm affection?
Alejandro swore under his breath as he pondered that merciless question and the less than acceptable negative answer that he would have had to give it. However, when it came to Jemima, there was no forgiveness in his heart, only outrage and aggression. He nursed a far from charitable desire for vengeance against the wife and the brother who had together betrayed his trust and his love. Ever since Jemima had walked out on their marriage and disappeared, defying his wishes to the last, Alejandro had burned with a desire for justice, even while his keen intelligence warned him that there was no such thing when it came to affairs of the heart.
His mobile phone vibrated and, suppressing a groan of impatience, for it was always a struggle to protect his rare moments of leisure, he tugged it out.
His ebony brows rose when he learned that the private detective he had hired to find Jemima had arrived to see him. He rode swiftly back to the castle, wondering impatiently if Alonso Ortega had finally managed to track down his estranged wife.
‘My apologies for coming to see you without an appointment, Your Excellency,’ the older man murmured with punctilious good manners and a promising air of accomplishment. ‘But I knew you would want to hear my news as soon as possible. I have found the Condesa.’
‘In England?’ Alejandro questioned and, having had that long-held suspicion confirmed, he listened while Ortega furnished further details. Then, unfortunately, at that point his mother, the dowager countess, entered the room. A formidable presence, Doña Hortencia settled acid black eyes on the private detective and demanded to know if he had finally fulfilled the purpose of his hire. At the news that he had, a rare smile of approval lightened her expression.
‘There is one more fact I should add,’ Ortega revealed in a reluctant tone of voice, evading the uncomfortably intense scrutiny of his noble hostess.
‘The Condesa now has a child, a little boy of around two years of age.’
Alejandro froze and a yawning silence greeted the detective’s startling announcement.
The door opened again and his older sister, Beatriz, entered with a quiet apology to her brother for the interruption. She was hushed into silence by her domineering mother, who said glacially, ‘That wanton English witch who married your unlucky brother has given birth to a bastard.’
Horrified at such an announcement being made in front of Alonso Ortega, Beatriz shot her brother an appalled glance and hastened to offer the detective refreshments in an effort to change the subject to one less controversial. His discomfited sister, Alejandro appreciated, would quite happily sit and discuss the weather now while he, her more primitive brother, was strongly tempted to seize hold of Ortega’s lapels and force every single fact from the man without further ado. But, possibly sensing his employer’s impatience, the detective handed Alejandro a slim file and hastily excused himself.
‘A…child?’ Beatriz gasped in shock and consternation the instant the door had closed on the detective’s departure. ‘But whose child?’
His profile set like granite, Alejandro answered his sister only with a dismissive shrug. It was certainly not his child, but for him that had to be the biggest badge of ignominy he had ever endured. Yet another metaphorical nail in Jemima’s coffin, he conceded bitterly. Jemima, he had learned the hard way, knew exactly how best to put a man through an emotional and physical wringer. Dios mio, another man’s child!
‘If only you had listened to me,’ Doña Hortencia lamented. ‘The instant I met that wicked young woman I knew she was wrong for you. You were one of the biggest matrimonial prizes in Spain and you could have married anyone—’
‘I married Jemima,’ Alejandro pointed out tersely, for he had never had much time for the older woman’s melodrama.
‘Only because she mesmerised you like the shameless hussy she is. One man was never going to be enough for her. Thanks to her, my poor Marco is living on the other side of the world. That she could have given birth to an illegitimate child while still bearing our name is the most disgusting thing I ever—’
‘Enough!’ Alejandro incised with crushing force to close out that carping voice. ‘There is no point to such recriminations now. What is done is done.’
Doña Hortencia, her lined face full of anger and malice, rested accusing eyes on his lean strong visage. ‘But it is not done yet, is it? You still haven’t begun divorce proceedings.’
‘I will travel to England and see Jemima as soon as the arrangements can be made,’ Alejandro pronounced grittily.
‘Send the family lawyer! There can be no need for you to make a personal trip to England,’ his mother protested with vigour.
‘There is every need,’ Alejandro contradicted with all the quiet, unhesitating assurance of his rich, well-educated and extremely aristocratic background. ‘Jemima is still my wife.’
As Doña Hortencia broke into another barrage of loud objections Alejandro lost patience. ‘I inform you of my intentions only as a matter of courtesy.
I do not require either your permission or your approval.’
Alejandro retired to the privacy of his study and poured himself a stiff brandy. A child? Jemima had had a child. He was still in shock at that revelation, not least because he could hardly forget that his wife had miscarried his baby shortly before she’d left him. That was how he knew beyond any shadow of doubt that this child, which she had given birth to since, then could not possibly be his. So, was the boy Marco’s baby? Or some other man’s? Such speculation was sordid, he acknowledged with a distaste that slivered through his lean powerful frame like a knife blade.