Authors: Chantelle Shaw
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Series, #Harlequin Presents
She lifted her eyes to meet the hard grey gaze of the man standing before her and felt her heart slam against her ribcage. A medieval castle suited him perfectly, she thought ruefully.
He exuded an air of power and authority, and she sensed that he was as strong and uncompromising as the granite walls of his castle.
Perhaps he was a sorcerer who had trapped her in his spell. She could not look away from him, and in that moment something happened—something unexpected and impossible to explain. She felt a sharp pain beneath her ribs, as if an arrow had pierced her heart.
Don’t be ridiculous
, she silently berated herself. She had always been stupidly over-imaginative. How could she feel a connection to a complete stranger? Especially a stranger who was staring at her with grim impatience etched onto his scarred face.
She looked down at Sophie and took a deep breath. ‘I have come because the child in my arms is yours, Mr Piras,’ she told him quietly.
About the Author
lives on the Kent coast, five minutes from the sea, and does much of her thinking about the characters in her books while walking on the beach. She’s been an avid reader from an early age. Her schoolfriends used to hide their books when she visited—but Chantelle would retreat into her own world, and still writes stories in her head all the time. Chantelle has been blissfully married to her own tall, dark and very patient hero for over twenty years, and has six children. She began to read Mills & Boon
as a teenager, and throughout the years of being a stay-at-home mum to her brood found romantic fiction helped her to stay sane! She enjoys reading and writing about strong-willed, feisty women, and even stronger-willed sexy heroes. Chantelle is at her happiest when writing. She is particularly inspired while cooking dinner, which unfortunately results in a lot of culinary disasters! She also loves gardening, walking, and eating chocolate (followed by more walking!). Catch up with Chantelle’s latest news on her website: www.chantelleshaw.com
Recent titles by the same author:
A DANGEROUS INFATUATION
AFTER THE GREEK AFFAIR
THE ULTIMATE RISK
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
William and Oliver.
My six wonderful children who are now amazing adults.
You make me happy (and turn my hair grey)!
road twisted up the mountainside like a sinuous black snake, its wet surface gleaming in the glow from the car headlamps. The rain seemed to fall harder the higher they climbed. They had left Oliena some fifteen minutes ago, and as the car rounded another bend Beth watched the lights from the town disappear from view.
She leaned forward in her seat to speak to the taxi driver. ‘How much farther?’
She had already discovered that he spoke little English and sighed when he shrugged. But perhaps he had understood her, because a few moments later he glanced over his shoulder.
‘Soon you see Castello del Falco … er … Castle of the Falcon, I think is how you say,’ he explained in a heavy accent.
Beth frowned. ‘You mean Mr Piras actually lives in a real castle?’ She had assumed that the owner of the Piras-Cossu Bank’s private residence in Sardinia would be a luxurious villa, and that ‘castle’ was simply an extravagant title he had given to his home.
The taxi driver did not reply, but as the car crested another ridge of the Gennargentu Mountains, Beth caught her breath at the sight of a great grey fortress looming out
of the darkness. Peering through the rain, she saw that the road stretched ahead until it disappeared through a cavernous black gateway. The outer walls of the castle were illuminated by lamps which revealed the sheer vastness of the structure, and grotesque gargoyles leered out of the shadows like portents of doom.
For heaven’s sake! She gave herself a mental shake, angry that she had allowed her imagination to run away with her. But as the taxi drew nearer to the castle entrance she could not dismiss an inexplicable feeling of apprehension, and she was tempted to ask the driver to turn around and take her back to the town. Maybe she was being over-imaginative, but she sensed that her life would change for ever if she crossed the threshold of the Castello del Falco.
She had come to Sardinia for Sophie’s sake, she reminded herself, glancing at the baby-carrier affixed to the seat beside her. She could not turn back now. Nevertheless, her heart lurched as the car sped between the black gates, and she cast a last look behind her, feeling as though she had passed from a safe and familiar world into the unknown.
The party was in full swing. From his vantage point on the balcony overlooking the ballroom Cesario Piras watched the guests dancing and drinking champagne, and through a doorway leading to the banqueting hall he could see more people crowded around tables laden with food.
He was glad they were enjoying themselves. His staff worked hard, and deserved his thanks with this lavish reception in recognition of their services to the Piras-Cossu Bank. The guests were not to know that their host was counting the hours until he could be alone again. He regretted now that he had not instructed his PA to rearrange the
date she had picked for the party. Donata had only worked for him for a few months, and was unaware that the third of March was a date that would forever be branded on Cesario’s soul.
Unconsciously he traced his fingers over the deep scar that began at the corner of his left eye and sliced down his cheek to his mouth. Today was the fourth anniversary of his son’s death. Time had moved on inexorably, and the savage grief he’d felt in the first months and years after the tragedy had slowly turned to dull acceptance. But anniversaries were always difficult. He had sanctioned the party date hoping that his duties as host would distract his thoughts. But all evening images of Nicolo had filled his mind, and the memories had evoked a pain inside him that felt like a knife through his heart.
A faint noise from behind him alerted Cesario to the fact that he was no longer alone. He swung round, his frown clearing when he saw his butler.
‘What is it, Teodoro?’
‘A young woman has arrived at the castle and has asked to see you,
Cesario glanced at his watch. ‘A guest has arrived this late?’
‘She is not a party guest. But she is most insistent that she must speak with you.’ Teodoro could not hide his disapproval as he recalled the bedraggled-looking woman shrouded in an enormous grey coat whom he had reluctantly admitted to the castle. She had been soaking wet from the storm raging outside, and was no doubt dripping water onto the silk carpet in the drawing room where he had instructed her to wait.
Cesario cursed beneath his breath. The only person he could think of who would dare to turn up at the Castello del
Falco uninvited was the journalist who had been hounding him recently and wanted to interview him about the accident which had claimed the lives of his wife and child. His jaw hardened. Perhaps it was to be expected that the press were fascinated by the reclusive billionaire owner of one of Italy’s largest banks, but he resented any intrusion on his privacy and never spoke to journalists.
introduced herself as Beth Granger.’
Teodoro’s voice broke into Cesario’s thoughts. It was not the name the journalist had given when she’d somehow managed to get hold of his private mobile phone number. But the name Beth Granger
familiar. He recalled that his PA had said an Englishwoman had phoned his office in Rome several times the previous week, asking to speak to him. ‘She said she needs to talk to you about something important, but refused to give any more details,’ Donata had informed him.
So maybe the journalist who had been badgering him was using a pseudonym? Or maybe Beth Granger was another member of the gutter press hoping to persuade him to drag up the past? Cesario was in no mood to find out.
‘Inform this Ms Granger that I never see uninvited visitors at my private residence. Suggest that she contact Piras-Cossu’s head office and explain her business to my secretary,’ he instructed Teodoro. ‘And then escort her from the castle.’
The butler hesitated. ‘Ms Granger arrived by taxi, which subsequently left,’ he explained, ‘and it is raining.’
Cesario gave an impatient shrug. He had experienced the underhand tactics used by certain journalists too often to feel any sympathy. ‘Then call another taxi. I want her off the premises immediately.’
With a stiff nod Teodoro turned and made his way back
down the sweeping staircase. Cesario glanced over the balcony at the guests milling about the ballroom. He wished the evening was over, but he had yet to make a speech, after which he would present a retirement gift to one of his executives and give an award to the Employee of the Year.
Duty took precedence over his personal feelings, he reminded himself. It was a lesson ingrained in him by his father and reinforced by his position as master of the Castello del Falco. The castle had been built by his ancestors in the thirteenth century; its history ran deep in his bones and the ancient greystone fortress was his bastion away from the scrutiny of the rest of the world. Duty drove Cesario to push thoughts of his son to the innermost recesses of his mind, and he squared his shoulders before striding down the stairs to rejoin his guests.
Beth was glad to be inside the castle out of the torrential rain. Her wool coat was soaked through to the lining, and she wondered if she could take it off without disturbing Sophie. It would be impossible, she realised, without first laying the baby down on the sofa and thereby risking waking her. She carefully shifted Sophie into the crook of one arm and tried to unfasten the top button, so that she could at least push the coat’s hood back from her face. But after fumbling unsuccessfully for several minutes she gave up.
Surely Cesario Piras would not be much longer, she thought, feeling a flutter of trepidation at the prospect of meeting him. She glanced around the room to which the butler had escorted her before he had gone to inform the master of the Castello del Falco of her arrival. The plush jade-coloured carpet complemented the brocade curtains that were drawn across the windows. Two ornate lamps
illuminated an exquisite tapestry hanging above the fireplace. But despite these decorations the room, with its bare stone walls, seemed as sombre and forbidding as the castle had looked from the outside when her taxi had pulled up in the courtyard.
Once again Beth cursed her fanciful imagination and tried to dismiss her unease. But as she stared down at the baby in her arms she prayed that Cesario Piras would be more welcoming than his home.
The door opened and she quickly looked up, her heart thudding with nervous expectation. But it was only the butler who walked back into the room.
Teodoro halted, and a flicker of surprise crossed his face when he saw that the visitor was holding a small baby. He had not noticed the child when he had admitted the woman into the castle. He was unaware that when Beth had climbed out of the taxi and hurried up the castle steps she had pulled her coat around Sophie to shield her from the rain.
Teodoro hesitated, and his gaze rested on the sleeping infant for a few seconds before he returned his attention to Beth. ‘I am afraid the master is busy and cannot see you,
Signor Piras suggests that you telephone his office in Rome and speak to his personal assistant, who oversees his business diary.’
phoned his office—several times.’
Beth’s heart plummeted. She had been doubtful about bringing Sophie to Sardinia, but Cesario Piras had refused to take her calls, and in desperation she had decided that the only option left to her was to travel to his home and hope he would agree to see her. It appeared that she had wasted her time—not to mention the cost of a flight from England that she could ill afford.
‘I wish to talk to him about a personal matter,’ she explained. ‘Please … will you tell Mr Piras that I must see him urgently?’
The butler’s impassive features did not alter. ‘I am sorry, but the master has refused to see you.’
The pleading look in the young woman’s eyes evoked a degree of sympathy in Teodoro, but he knew better than to disturb Cesario for a second time. Ms Granger’s face was pale and tense beneath the hood of her coat. But he could not help her. The master of the Castello del Falco guarded his privacy as fiercely as his ancestors had guarded their mountain fortress, and Teodoro had no wish to incur Cesario’s anger by disobeying an order.
‘I will arrange for a taxi to come and collect you,’ he told her. ‘Please remain here until it arrives.’