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Archangel gallery, Paris.
'What the-?' Michael looked up to scowl his displeasure as he heard what sounded like a baby crying in the office opposite his own. He stood up quickly behind his desk as several voices now clamoured to be heard above the noise.
The sound of raised voices, so close to the inner sanctum of Michael's private third-floor office, was unusual enough, but a baby crying ? In one of the private areas of the prestigious Paris Archangel gallery and auction house? It was unheard of! And Michael had little patience for it having occurred now.
He continued to scowl as he strode forcefully across his office to wrench open the door into the hallway, only to come to an abrupt halt, his verbal protest dying in his throat at the pandemonium that met his narrowed gaze.
His secretary, Marie, was fiercely gabbling away in French, as was his assistant manager, Pierre Dupont. Both of them, as was usual with the French, communicating as much with their hands as with their mouths.
And standing between them, holding a young baby in her arms, was a young girl-woman?-with ebony shoulder-length hair, dressed in the de rigueur tight denims and fitted T-shirt of her generation. Her top was a bright purple, the expression on her flustered face flushed as she ignored both Marie and Pierre and instead attempted to soothe and cajole the crying baby into silence.
An attempt that failed miserably as the baby's cries seemed to grow even louder.
'Will you two please lower your voices?' The young woman turned impatiently on Marie and Pierre, her voice throatily husky. 'You're scaring her. Now look what you've done !' she fumed as a second baby began to cry.
Michael looked around dazedly for the source of that second cry, his eyes widening as he noticed the pushchair parked just inside Marie's office. A double pushchair, in which a second baby was now screaming at the top of its considerable lungs.
Pandemonium? This situation, whatever that might be, was like some sort of hellish nightmare, the sort every man wished-prayed!-to wake up from. And sooner rather than later!
'Thank you,' the disgruntled young woman muttered accusingly as Marie and Pierre both fell silent as she hurried over to the pushchair before going down on her haunches to coo and attempt to gently soothe the second baby.
Michael had seen and heard enough. 'Will someone, for the love of God, tell me what the hell is going on here?' His voice cut harshly through the cacophony of noise.
Absolute blissful silence, Eva realised with a sigh of appreciation for her aching head, as not only the two employees of the Paris Archangel remained silent, but even the babies' cries both quietened down to a soft whimper.
Eva remained down on her haunches as she turned to look through sooty black lashes at the source of that harshly controlling voice, her eyes widening as she took in the appearance of the man standing across the hallway.
He was possibly aged in his mid to late thirties, his short black hair was neatly trimmed about his ears and nape, and framed an olive-skinned and handsomely etched face that any of the male models Eva had photographed at the beginning of her career would surely die for. Dark brows arched above eyes of obsidian black, his nose a long straight slash between high cheekbones, with sculptured, slightly sensual lips above a firm and determined chin.
His wide shoulders, muscled chest, tapered waist, and lean hips above long legs also ensured that he wore the expensively tailored dark suit, white silk shirt and grey tie, rather than the clothes wearing him.
And leaving Eva in no doubt, along with the deference on the faces of the two silent gallery employees, and the fact that he had come from the office across the hallway, that this man had to be D'Angelo. The very man she had come here to see!
It was a realisation that ensured there was absolutely no deference in Eva's own expression as she straightened before crossing the room to thrust Sophie at him. 'Take her so I can get Sam,' she instructed impatiently as he made no effort to lift the baby from her arms but instead looked at her incredulously, down the long length of his aristocratic nose, with those black-on-black eyes.
Michael found himself having to look a long way down. Goodness, this woman was small, only an inch or two over five feet tall compared to his own six feet three inches. She had a coltish slenderness that was saved from appearing boyish by full and thrusting breasts tipped by delicate nipples, breasts that were completely bare beneath the purple T-shirt, if Michael wasn't mistaken. And he was pretty sure that he wasn't.
Those full breasts, along with the confident glint in those violet-coloured eyes surrounded by thick sooty lashes, were enough to tell Michael that she was indeed a woman rather than a girl, and possibly aged in her early to mid-twenties.
She was also, he acknowledged grudgingly, extremely beautiful, her face dominated by those incredible violet-coloured eyes, a short pert nose, and full and sensuous lips, while her skin was as pale and delicate as the finest porcelain. Dark shadows beneath the violet eyes gave her an appearance of fragility.
A fragility that was somewhat nullified by the stubborn set of the woman's full lips above an equally determined and thrusting chin.
Michael dragged his gaze away from that arrestingly beautiful face to instead stare down in horror at the pink-dress-clad baby this young woman held out in front of him; horror, because he had absolutely no experience with holding young babies. How could he have, when he had never been this close to a small baby since being one himself?
He recoiled back from the now-drooling infant. 'I don't think-'
'I've found that it's best not to think too much around Sophie and Sam, especially now they're teething,' he was assured dryly. 'You might want to put this on your shoulder to protect your jacket.'
The woman handed him a square of white linen as she dumped the baby unceremoniously into his arms before turning to stride back across the office, giving Michael a perfect view of her curvaceous denim-covered bottom as she bent down to unclip the strap that secured the second, still-whimpering baby into the pushchair.
Michael held the first baby-Sophie?-at arm's length, totally at a loss as to what to do with her, and more than a little disconcerted to find himself the focus of eyes the same beautiful deep violet colour as her mother's. A steady and intense focus that seemed far too knowing, almost mocking it seemed to him, for a baby of surely only a few months old.
Eva lifted Sam up out of the pushchair as she straightened, more than a little annoyed that the two gabbling Archangel employees had woken the babies up at all; it had taken the whole of the walk from the hotel to the gallery to lull them into falling asleep in the first place, after a disjointed night of one or other of the twins-and consequently Eva-being woken up with teething pains.
As a result both Eva and the babies were feeling a little disgruntled this morning. Which didn't prevent her from almost laughing out loud as she turned to find D'Angelo was still holding Sophie with both arms straight out in front of him, a look of absolute horror on his face, as if the baby were a time bomb about to go off!
But Eva only almost laughed.
Because there had been very little for her to laugh about these past few nightmarish months.
Those memories sobered Eva instantly. 'Sophie doesn't bite,' she snapped impatiently as she cuddled a denim-and-T-shirt-clad Sam in her arms. 'Well not much,' she amended ruefully. 'Luckily they both only have four teeth at the moment.'
Michael wasn't known for his patience at the best of times-and right now, in the midst of this chaos, was far from the best of times. 'I'm more interested in knowing what they, and you, are doing in the private area of Archangel, than in hearing how many teeth your children have!'
The woman's pointed chin rose as she looked at him with hard and challenging violet eyes. 'Do you really want me to discuss that in front of your employees, Mr D'Angelo? I take it that you are Mr D'Angelo?' She quirked a derisive brow.
'I am, yes.' Michael scowled darkly. 'Discuss what in front of my employees?' he prompted cautiously.
Her mouth thinned. 'The reason I'm in the private area of Archangel.'
He gave an impatient shake of his head. 'As I have absolutely no idea what your reasons might be I can't answer that question.'
'No?' she scorned.
'No,' Michael bit out harshly. 'Perhaps you would care to come through to my office.?'
Pierre, a man several years his junior, voiced his concern by launching into all the reasons-in French, of course!-as to why he felt it inadvisable for Michael to be alone with this woman, with several less than polite references made as to whether or not she was quite sane, along with the suggestion that they call security and have her ejected from the building.
'I understood all that,' their visitor answered in fluent French as she turned her glittering violet and challenging gaze on the now less than comfortable Pierre. 'And you can call security if you want, but, I assure you, I'm quite sane,' she mocked Michael.
'I never doubted it for a moment!' Michael drawled, equally mockingly. 'It's fine, Pierre,' he assured in English. 'If you would care to come through to my office ?' he prompted the woman again, before stepping out of the doorway to reveal the room behind him, still having no idea what to do with the baby in his arms. Especially as the baby-Sophie-was now smiling up at him beguilingly as she proudly displayed those four tiny white teeth.
'She likes you,' the baby's mother announced disgustedly as she continued to carry Sam at the same time as she manoeuvred the pushchair past Michael and into his office.
He hastily placed the piece of white linen on his shoulder and hefted the baby into one arm before he was able to close the office door behind him on the wide-eyed and slightly worried stares of Marie and Pierre.
'Wow, this is some view.'
Michael turned to see the violet-eyed woman gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling-windows at the view up the length of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe; that view, and the prestigious address, were the main reasons for choosing this stunning location for the Paris gallery. 'We like it,' he drawled with hard dismissal. 'Now, if you wouldn't mind explaining yourself ?' he added pointedly. 'Beginning with who you are?' Michael had wondered briefly if she wasn't the persistent Monique from Rafe's past, but the English accent seemed to say not.
Eva turned, still holding a now-quiet Sam in her arms. 'My name is Eva Foster.'
'And?' D'Angelo prompted when she added nothing else to that statement, those obsidian-black eyes blank of emotion.
Eva eyed him impatiently. 'And you obviously have absolutely no idea who I am,' she realised with horror.
He arched dark brows. 'Should I have?'
Should he have? Of course he should, the arrogant, irresponsible jerk- 'Perhaps the name Rachel Foster would be more helpful in jogging your memory?' she prompted sweetly.
He frowned darkly even as he gave a slow shake of his head. 'I'm sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what-or who-you're talking about.'
A red tide seemed to pass in front of Eva's eyes. All these months of heartache, chaos, heartache, loss, and, yes, just plain heartache, and this man didn't even remember Rachel's name, let alone Rachel herself-!
'What sort of man are you? Don't bother to answer that,' Eva added furiously as she began to pace the office. 'Obviously so many women pass in and out of your privileged life, and your no doubt silk-sheeted bed, that you forget about them as soon as the next one takes up occupancy-'
'Stop right there,' D'Angelo advised harshly. 'No, I didn't mean you, little one,' he added softly as Sophie gave a protesting whimper at the tone of his voice. His eyes were as black and piercing as jet as he turned back to Eva. 'Are you implying that you believe I've been involved with this Rachel Foster?'
Eva's eyes widened angrily, her cheeks warming with temper. 'This Rachel Foster happens to be my sister, and, yes, you've been "involved" with her. In fact, you're holding part of the evidence of that involvement in your arms right now!'
Michael instantly stared down at the baby he held. Not a newborn, certainly, probably a few months old, possibly five or six, and very cute, as babies went, with her mop of black hair, those violet-coloured eyes, and her little face screwed up in concentration as she played with one of the buttons on the jacket of his several-thousand-pound suit.
If this woman, this Eva Foster, was trying to say that he was somehow responsible?
Shades of yesterday
'I've never met your sister,' Michael stated firmly. 'Let alone-I've never met her,' he repeated coldly. 'So whatever scam the two of you are trying to pull here I would advise that you forget it-' He broke off abruptly as one of Eva Foster's hands made loud and painful contact with one of his cheeks, causing the baby in his arms to let out another deafening wail. 'That was uncalled for,' he bit out between gritted teeth, his jaw clenched as he jiggled the baby up and down in his arms in an effort to silence her screams.
'It was very called for,' Eva Foster insisted heatedly, her face having become even paler as she moved forward to soothingly stroke the back of the baby in Michael's arms. 'How dare you stand there and deny even knowing my sister, accuse the two of us of trying to pull a scam on you, at the same time as you're holding your own daughter in your arms?' Her eyes flashed deeply violet in contrast to the emotional shaking of her voice.
'I am not-' Michael broke off to draw in a deep, controlling breath, his cheek still stinging from that slap. 'Sophie is not my daughter.'
'I assure you she is,' she snapped.
'Do you think we could both just take a couple of deep breaths, maybe step back a little, and try to calm this situation down? It's distressing the babies,' Michael added firmly as Eva Foster opened her mouth with the obvious intention of continuing to argue with him.
It was unusual for anyone to argue with him, period, Michael being accustomed to issuing orders and having them obeyed rather than have people dispute them. Nor did he appreciate the added complication of this woman- a feisty young woman he acknowledged as being irritatingly beautiful-continuing to accuse him of fathering her sister's babies.
It was an accusation Michael didn't appreciate. He'd learnt his lesson many years ago when it came to the machinations of women. And he had Emma Lowther to thank that, for teaching him to never, ever trust a woman, when it came to contraception or anything else.
How many years ago was it since Emma had tried to blackmail him into marriage by claiming she was pregnant?
Fourteen. And Michael still remembered every moment of it as if it were yesterday.