The Winter Bride

December 5, 1997

October 1, 1998

December 5, 1997

October 1, 1998

Preview

From mistress…

Angie loved Leo Demetrios but his desire for her was brief and meaningless. After all, he was heir to a Greek shipping fortune and she was just the butler’s daughter. And mother… For over two years Angie has kept secret the legacy of her stolen weekend of passion with Leo. But then she and her small son are forced to spend Christmas with him. How can Angie not tell Leo that Jake is his child? To wife? Maybe Leo won’t guess he’s really Jake’s daddy… If he does, one things for certain – he’ll insist that Angie become his winter bride!

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Excerpt

‘A RISE…YOU’RE ACTUALLY asking us for a rise?’ Claudia looked at the younger woman with shocked and incredulous eyes, much as if the girl had asked for a half-share in the house. ‘I think we’re more than generous as it is. You have your salary as well as free board and lodging, and do please remember that we’re keeping two of you!’

Although Angie was severely embarrassed by that response, she forced herself to continue. ‘I often work six days a week and I baby-sit several nights as well…’

Her persistence fired angry colour in the elegant brunette’s cheeks. ‘I can’t believe that we’re even having this conversation. You do some housework and you mind the children. Why shouldn’t you baby-sit? You have to sit in every night to look after Jake…surely you’re not expecting us to pay extra for what you’d be doing anyway? I don’t know how you can be so ungrateful after all we’ve done for you—’

‘I’m just finding it very hard to make ends meet,’ Angie slotted in tightly, a deep sense of humiliation creeping over her.

‘Well, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re doing with your salary when you have all your bills paid for you,’ her employer retorted very drily. ‘What I do know is that my husband, George, will be extremely shocked when I tell him about this demand of yours.’

‘It wasn’t a demand,’ Angie countered tensely. ‘It was a request.’

‘Request refused, then,’ Claudia told her sharply as she stalked to the kitchen door. ‘I’m very annoyed about this and very disappointed in you, Angie. You have a really cushy job here. Gosh, I wish someone would pay me to stay home and fill the dishwasher! We treat you and Jake like part of our family. We kept you on when you were pregnant…and let me assure you that not one of our friends would even have considered retaining a pregnant and unmarried au pair in their home!’

Angie said nothing. There was nothing more to say unless she was prepared to risk Claudia’s explosive temper and the threat of dismissal. No au pair worked the hours Angie did. But then she wasn’t an au pair even though Claudia persisted in calling her one. She might have come to the Dickson family in that guise, accepting the equivalent of pocket money in place of a salary, but slowly and surely her hours had crept up until she was doing the full-time job of a housekeeper and childminder. At the time she had been so grateful to still have a roof over her head that she had made no objection.

But then she had been very naive when she was pregnant. She had seen the Dicksons as a temporary staging post, had fondly imagined that once she had her baby she would be able to move on to better-paid employment and build up her life again. But piece by piece that confidence had faded once she appreciated the cost of child care and the even greater cost of renting accommodation in a city as expensive as London. Ultimately it had come down to a choice between continuing to work for the Dicksons and moving out to live on welfare.

‘We’ll say no more about this,’ Claudia murmured graciously from the doorway, well aware that silence meant that she had won. ‘Do you think you could start putting the children in the bath now? It is half past six, and they’re so dreadfully noisy when they get over-tired.’

By the time Angie had got the children to bed it was well after eight, and George and Claudia had long since gone out to dine. Six-year-old Sophia and the four-year-old twins, Benedict and Oscar, were lovely children—very rich in material possessions but pretty much starved of parental attention. Their father was a circuit judge, regularly away from home, and their mother a high-powered businesswoman, who only rarely left her office before seven in the evening.

They had a spacious, beautifully furnished home and a Porsche and a Range Rover, but Claudia was so mean with money that she had had a pay meter installed on the gas fire in Angie’s room over the attached garage. Since the room had no central heating, and had originally been cheaply converted only for the purpose of storage space, it was freezing cold in winter.

The doorbell shrilled while Angie was ensuring that the only part of her son exposed to that chilly air was the crown of his dark, curly head. She tucked the duvet round Jake in a rush and hurtled through the door that connected with the bedroom corridor to race downstairs before the bell could go again and wake Sophia, who was a very light sleeper.

Thrusting back the wild tangle of platinum pale hair that had flown round her anxious face, she pressed the intercom. ‘Who is it?’ she asked breathlessly.

‘Angie…?’

In severe shock, Angie fell back from the intercom. Like sand on silk, and splinteringly, shatteringly sexy, the voice had a husky Greek accent that roughened every vowel sound. It had been over two years since she had heard that masculine drawl and recognition filled her with sheer, blind panic.

The doorbell went again in a short, impatient burst.

‘Please don’t do that…you’ll wake the children!’ Angie gasped into the intercom.

‘Angie…open the door,’ Leo drawled flatly.

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