Authors: Jennifer Lewis
Tags: #Contemporary romance Revenge Billionaire Chemist Bastard Heir New York
GRAPES OF WRATH
Sixty-seven year old Tarrant Hardcastle has everything most men dream of: a multi-billion dollar retail empire, beautiful houses around the world, a gorgeous young trophy wife…and a lot of regrets. He lived the egocentric and decadent life he wanted, and now he’s reaping the bitter harvest. He has the empire, but no dynasty to continue his legacy. He’s fought and won more than one paternity suit—did he inadvertently reject the heir he so desperately needs? His wife convinces him to try and gather his scattered children and bring the family together at his Manhattan mansion before it’s too late.
Grapes of Wrath
Fetching home a long-lost heir is not in Susannah Clarke’s job description, but she’ll do what it takes to get the job done—even bargain with a steamy night of passion. When Argentine wine-grower Amado Alvarez discovers the truth about his parentage, his world is shattered. He’s furious at the bewitching woman who brought such terrible news and decides to exact revenge of a very sensual kind—until he starts to realize he can’t imagine life without her.
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Susannah Clarke’s rental car was almost totally out of gas. She’d known the Tierra de Oro
was well outside Mendoza, Argentina, and had planned accordingly. But the car and its fuel tank were tiny, and everything else here was on a much grander scale than she’d imagined.
Including her own trepidation.
To her right, the sun glittered amongst the high, snow- dusted peaks of the Andes. Around her lay the fertile plain that supported some of the finest vineyards in the world.
As she turned off the highway, the needle on the fuel meter hovered below zero. Come on, just a little farther. She didn’t want to run out of gas and have to walk the rest of the way to the house with her news. “Hey, I think you’re my boss’s illegitimate son—got a gallon of gas to spare?”
She swallowed hard as a building came into view.
She eased off the accelerator, anxious to stretch the last few drops of gas as far as they’d go. Rows of cypress trees now lined the drive, shading it from the bright sun. An elegant painted sign pointed to the right, where she could see a large brick structure against the backdrop of mountains. The Tierra de Oro
She pressed on toward the house. For once she wasn’t coming to talk to the chief viticulturist about which kinds of grapes thrived in the local soils or how many cases Hardcastle Enterprises wanted for its flagship restaurant.
The avenue of cypress widened into a lush garden, surrounding a lovely old house with a red-tiled roof and wide, arched windows.
This is it.
She pulled the stick-shift car to a jerky stop in front of the paneled wood doorway. She opened the car door and stepped out, her heart thudding.
Then she heard the barking. Loud, guttural and getting closer with every second. Two huge white dogs bounded around the side of the house and careened toward her across the gravel.
Susannah staggered back and struggled with the car door handle, her brain crowded with visions of being eaten alive on Amado Alvarez’s doorstep.
It wouldn’t open.
The worn door handle had apparently done enough work today.
“Help!” she finally cried, in Spanish, as the first giant animal leaped toward her, jaws wide.
It jumped on her, knocking her against the car as the other dog barked and growled from a few feet away. Pain shot through her elbow when it collided with the half-open window. “Help!”
The front door flew open and she heard a gruff male command. The dogs immediately backed away and sat, panting innocently. Susannah struggled to catch her breath, still flattened against the side of her tiny rental car.
A tall man came down the steps in a loping stride. “I apologize for my dogs’ overenthusiastic greeting.”
He spoke in Spanish. And why wouldn’t he? He had no idea who she was.
His dark brown hair dipped seductively to almond-shaped eyes. The soft drape of his khakis and cream-colored shirt revealed broad shoulders, slim hips and long, powerful legs.
He was handsome.
And about thirty.
The age of Tarrant Hardcastle’s long-lost son.
Her heart, already pumping hard from the near-death encounter, beat faster.
She shoved out her hand. “At least you don’t have to worry about burglars.”
He smiled. A slightly lopsided grin. White teeth against suntanned skin.
Susannah found her heart fluttering for reasons that had nothing to do with fear as he grasped her palm in a warm handshake. Did she imagine it, or did he give her hand a suggestive squeeze? Mischief shimmered in those wicked brown eyes.
Susannah was good at reading people and she could tell this man was used to getting his way.
His features were aristocratic, elegant. His long, slightly aquiline nose tapered to tear-shaped nostrils. Everything about him telegraphed ease and comfort in his surroundings.
He snapped his fingers and the two giant hounds scampered to his feet and crouched there, tongues hanging, as they gazed adoringly up at him. “Apologize to the lady.” He raised his hand in a gesture, and the dogs immediately turned. Then he snapped his fingers and they sprawled at her feet.
“Castor and Polux are usually well-behaved. I don’t know why they got so worked up.” He paused, and let his arrogant gaze drift over the front of her blue jacket to the loose flowered cotton of her skirt. “Then again, maybe I do.” His eyes glittered with suggestion. “How may I help you?”
“Are you Amado Alvarez?”
“At your service.” He lowered his head in a mock bow. “Your name?”
“Susannah Clarke.” Susannah took a deep breath. “I…I have a private matter to discuss with you.”
His elegant brow crinkled slightly. “How intriguing. Do come in.” He indicated the wide stone steps in front of the open door.
He stood to one side as she climbed past him, her elbow still smarting from where his dog had smashed her against the car.
Of course, the news she brought might leave Amado Alvarez with far more than a bruised elbow.
He ushered her into a large living room with comfortable sofas arranged around a grand fireplace. The patter of massive dog feet followed them over the tiled floors.
“A private matter, you say?” He indicated for her to sit on one of the leather sofas. He sat next to her, but with enough distance to be polite. The dogs sprawled on a patterned rug in front of the unlit fireplace.
“Yes.” She knitted her fingers together. “Have you ever heard of Tarrant Hardcastle?”
Blood pounded in Susannah’s brain as he contemplated the question.
He shrugged. “No, should I have?”
“Well—” She twisted her fingers. If she blew this she could lose her job. “I’m not really sure how to say this, but he believes he’s your father and he’d like very much to meet with you.”
Amado’s eyes narrowed and his mouth widened into that crooked smile. “Is this some kind of joke? Who put you up to this? Tomas?”
She inhaled. “I’m afraid it’s not a joke. Tarrant believes he had an affair with your mother in Manhattan thirty years ago, and that you are the result of that union.”
Amado’s face creased with amusement. “Manhattan? In New York?”
“Yes. She was there studying art. At least, that’s how Tarrant remembers it.”
Amado looked at her as if she’d just sprouted a third eye. “My mother...was studying art in New York City?” He let out a guffaw.
He turned his head. “Mama!” His voice rang across the room. Susannah cringed as he called for his mother. A woman probably now in her fifties and living a respectable life, about to be confronted with a single indiscretion from many years ago that could upturn all of their lives.
She shrank into the sofa.
“What is it, sweetheart?” called a soft voice. Susannah rose to her feet as his mother entered the room. A short, rotund woman with fluffy gray hair, thick-framed glasses and navy orthopedic shoes.
Susannah blinked. Mrs. Alvarez was a stark contrast to Tarrant’s ex-beauty-queen, third wife.
Amado rose and kissed her. “Mama, you’re going to love this. First, let me introduce you. Susannah Clarke, this is my mother, Clara Alvarez.”
“Delighted to meet you.” Clara shook Susannah’s hand gently. Her skin was soft, like her voice. Her pale blue eyes sparkled with warmth. “Have you traveled far?”
Susannah swallowed hard. “From New York.”
“Mama, have you ever been to New York?”
Susannah could swear the older woman—and she looked to be close to seventy—suddenly changed. Her bearing stiffened, and her expression hardened. “Never.”
“Susannah seems to think you were studying art there at one time.”
Clara Alvarez laughed. Not a natural laugh, though. A sharp, forced one. “What nonsense. I’ve never been farther than Buenos Aires. Why would she think such a crazy thing?”
Her eyes gleamed with suspicion—and reproof—as she glared at Susannah over the rims of her glasses.
Susannah hesitated. It was impossible to imagine Tarrant having an affair with this...little old lady. Even thirty years ago she’d have been middle-aged. Tarrant’s current wife was half his age, if that.
“Excuse me, I have a pot on the stove.” Clara excused herself and bustled away.
“See what I mean?” Amado raised an eyebrow. “It pains me to say this, but I think you have the wrong Amado Alvarez.”
Susannah frowned. Alvarez was a common name. Could the researcher have made a mistake?
Tierra de Oro was the right place, though. And she’d been ordered not to return to Hardcastle Enterprises without a sample of
Amado Alvarez’s DNA.
Time was of the essence. Tarrant Hardcastle had already outlived his doctor’s projections, and if he was to meet his missing son before it was too late—
“The matter could be cleared up with a simple test. If you’d be so kind as to give me a DNA sample, I could get it processed immediately and we’d know the truth one way or the other.”
Amado’s eyes widened. “DNA? You want my blood?”
“It doesn’t have to be blood. In fact, a scraping from inside your mouth would be ideal.”
He clapped a large hand against one side of his face as if someone might attempt to gouge into it. “No.”
Clara reappeared, tugging a silver-haired man who stared at Susannah. Clara whispered so rapidly that Susannah couldn’t make out the words.
The dogs rose to their feet, sniffing tension in the air.
The older man strode up to Susannah and nodded a brusque greeting. “Young lady, I am Ignacio Alvarez and Amado is my son. Your business here is concluded. Allow me to escort you to your car.”