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'I'm afraid I had an ulterior motive for inviting you here this weekend, Wolf Ah, I believe I hear Angel now,' Stephen Foxwood, Wolf's friend and overnight host, murmured happily, as the sound of a door closing could be heard inside the manor house behind them. The two men were seated outside on the terrace on this warm summer's evening, enjoying a glass of wine before dinner. 'Later,' Stephen promised as he got to his feet. 'Come and meet mycome and meet Angelica Harper,' he corrected as he stood up to enter the sitting room via French windows.
Wolf followed, intrigued. The two men had been friends for several years, and he had believed this Saturday night stay at Stephen's country estate was to discuss the successful conclusion of a joint business deal they had agreed earlier in the week. Stephen certainly hadn't given any indication before now that there was something else he needed to talk about. Or that his current mistressAngel?would also be present!
Stephen, as Wolf well knew, had been married to Grace for over thirty years until her death a year agonot a particularly happy marriage, but not an unhappy one, either. Having a wife certainly hadn't curtailed Stephen's other liaisons; it had just meant that he'd kept those relationships discreetly in the background.
Now that Grace was dead, obviously Stephen didn't feel he had to keep his mistresses a secret any more!
Although Wolf wasn't quite prepared for the appearance of Stephen's latest love. Lowering guarded lids over piercingly dark eyes, he watched the older man cross the room to warmly kiss the cheek of the woman who had entered the sitting room. Years of practice at shielding histhoughts in the boardroom, as well as in the bedroom, allowed Wolf to maintain a bland expression even as he felt shockwaves rock through him while he looked at the woman with whom the usually cynical Stephen was obviously deeply infatuated.
Aged, at most, in her mid-twenties, Angelica Harper had to be at least thirty years younger than Stephenand she was also the most beautiful woman Wolf had ever set eyes on!
Having been one of the most eligible bachelors in Europe for at least half of his thirty-six years, Wolf had seenand known intimatelymany beautiful women.
But Angelica Harperfive feet eight inches tall, with waist-length black hair, misty grey eyes surrounded by long thick lashes set in a delicately beautiful heart-shaped face, and with the slenderness of her body shown to advantage in her clinging black off-the-shoulder gownexuded a sensuality that Wolf was totally aware of.
'Come and say hello to Angel, Wolf,' Stephen encouraged, his arm resting possessively on her slender shoulders as he brought her further into the room.
'Angelica,' she corrected dryly as she held out a graceful hand. 'Only Stephen calls me Angel,' she added huskily.
Wolf took that hand automatically, feeling a tingling in his fingers just from touching her. 'Angelica,' he acknowledged guardedly, more than a little disturbed by his immediate awareness of this stunning woman.
Stephen's country estate was thirty miles from London, set in glorious English countryside, and Wolf had come here with the intention of relaxing after the intensity of concluding the business deal he and Stephen had made. The two of them had purchased some land together in the Florida Keys, with the intention of turning it into a development of exclusive villas along with a golf course. Hopefully the resort was destined to become one more of the many successful enterprises that had made Wolf and Stephen two of the richest men in Europe.
But Wolf certainly hadn't expected to meet Stephen's newest young and beautiful mistress while he was here.
And then he recalled that Stephen had casually mentioned there was an ulterior motive to his weekend invitation
Which had to be meeting this woman, who allowed only her lover to call her Angel.
A woman who made Wolf's body harden in anticipation just looking at her!
'This is WolfCount GambrelliAngel,' Stephen told her lightly, his blue gaze warm as he introduced the two of them. He was still a handsome man, despite his fifty-eight years. His dark hair having silvered only at the temples, and his body was still lithe and slim in his black evening suit.
'Count Gambrelli.' Angelica nodded a greeting, her eyes widening slightly when the Count didn't let go of her hand after their introduction but continued to hold it in his firm grip long after politeness dictated he should have released her.
She'd heard of Count CarloWolf Gambrelliof course. An Italian playboy whom the press enjoyed writing about, both on a personal and professional level, his success in business was only circumvented by his prowess with women, which had long ago earned him the nickname of 'Wolf'a name he seemed to have made entirely his own!
Looking at him, his reputation as a consummate womaniser wasn't too difficult to believe: Wolf Gambrelli was one of the most lethally attractive men Angelica had ever seen.
His shoulder-length hair was a rich burnished gold, rather than the darker colouring she would have expected in a Sicilian. But his skin was a rich mahogany, his eyes a deep, unfathomable brown, and his high cheekbones jutted either side of a patrician nose under which his mouth sat, full and sensuous, above a squarely determined chin. Tall and elegant in a black tie and tuxedo and a snowy-white dress shirt, his outer sophisticated trappings did little to hide the leanly powerful body beneath: wide shoulders, tapered waist, and long, long legs.
Yes, Wolf Gambrelli was a lethally attractive man. But even on a few minutes' acquaintance Angelica detected that he was also a man all too aware of his own power, and that he emanated a ruthlessness which indicated he wouldn't hesitate to use his looks or his wealth to get whator whohe wanted.
'Please call me Wolf,' he invited softly.
Angelica made a point of releasing her hand even as she gave him a coolly dismissive smile.
It was a coolness that aroused a desire in Wolf to peel her black dress from her temptingly curvaceous body and lay her down on the carpet, to caress and kiss her until she was wanton in his arms!
But at the same time Wolf knew that Stephen's possessive male arm about her slender shoulders was a warning to him that Angelica Harper was Stephen's exclusive property
Wolf studied Angelica Harper from between narrowed lids. Why was such a young and beautiful woman involved with a man so much her senior? For his money? Now that Stephen was widowed, was she hoping to become one of those trophy wives? A woman who traded on her youth and beauty in order to trap herself a rich husband? Stephen certainly looked besotted enough to offer her that!
'Drink, Angel?' Stephen asked.
'That would be lovely, thank you,' Angelica Harper accepted huskily. 'Is this a long or short visit to England, Wolf?' she turned to enquire politely, once Stephen had crossed the room to pour her a glass of chilled white wine from the bottle the butler had brought in earlier.
'I haven't decided yet,' Wolf found himself replying, his attention caught and held by the peachy-pearl fullness of Angelica Harper's lips.
Lips that were surely made for kissing and being kissed !
'Here we are.' Stephen's smile included both Wolf and Angelica as he returned with the glass of wine, handing it to her before once again draping his arm lightly about her shoulders. 'You're looking exceptionally lovely this evening, Angel,' he complimented, his blue eyes warmly appreciative. 'Don't you think so, Wolf?' he prompted proudly.
Wolf's mouth tightened as he noted the delicate blush that had entered Angelica's creamy cheeks. This woman was undoubtedly beautifulmesmerisingly so. But the fact that she obviously belonged exclusively to another man made null and void the primitive urge Wolf had to claim Angelica for his own!
'Angelica is very beautiful,' he acknowledged noncommitally, none of his inner turmoil visible.
What was wrong with him?
He had seen and physically known dozens of beautiful women. Blonde, brunettes, redheads. Other women with hair as ebony as Angelica Harper's. So what was it about this particular woman that made him want to fling Stephen's arm from her shoulders and throw her over his own shoulder, to carry her off like some marauding Viking?
Just imagining the things he would like to do to her once he had carried her off made his body pulse hotly!
Angelica gave Stephen a questioning look from beneath lowered lashes, knowing him too well by now to be fooled by the lightness of his tone, and aware that there was some sort of purpose behind Wolf Gambrelli being here with them this weekend. After months of sharing a home with Stephen at weekends, whenever their mutual commitments allowed, she knew that he rarely did or said anything that didn't have a purpose or ulterior motive.
Quite what purpose there was behind Wolf Gambrelli's visit here, she as yet had no idea!
Although she did find the intensity of Wolf Gambrelli's dark gaze more than a little unnerving. His first searing appraisal of her had felt as if he had stripped her dress from her body and gazed his fill of her nakednesssomething that made her feel hot all over.
Which was ridiculous!
Wolf Gambrelli was a Sicilian playboy of such repute that there wasn't a month that went by without one glossy magazine or another featuring a couple of pages of photo spreads of his latest relationship. The man seemed to change his women as often as he changed the silk sheets reputed to be on his bed!
All of which proved he was exactly the type of man Angelica had absolutely no intention of being attracted to!
'I believe it's time for us to go in to dinner,' she said with some relief as she saw Holmes, Stephen's butler, hovering in the doorway.
Coming from an ordinary home, which she'd shared with her parents and two younger sisters, and then having shared a flat with three other girls while at university, she still found the opulence of Stephen's lifestyle a little overwhelming at timesfelt she would have just liked to cook the two of them a meal occasionally, which they would eat at the kitchen table. But that was something that Stephen had assured her was a definite no-no; the kitchen and servants' quarters in both his London and his country home were completely off-limits to her.
'Perhaps you would like to escort Angel into dinner, Wolf ?' Stephen suggested as he removed his arm from her shoulders. 'Much as I would like to, I appreciate I can't keep her all to myself,' he added huskily.
'Certainly,' the Sicilian Count moved obligingly to her side, holding out his arm invitingly.
Angelica shot Stephen another questioning look before placing her hand lightly on Wolf Gambrelli's arm, aware of the hardness beneath her fingers, like tempered steel beneath silk, as he moved with the grace of a natural athlete.
Although quite when this man found the time, between the bedroom and the boardroom, to hone his body to such muscled perfection, she couldn't imagine!
She removed her hand from his arm as quickly as possible when they reached the dining roomalthough her relief was short-lived as he moved to pull her chair back for her to sit down. His silky blond hair brushed lightly against her bare shoulder as he bent down to push the chair in behind her, the slightly elusive smell of his cologne invading her senses as she felt the warmth of his breath dangerously close to her earlobe.
Angelica moved sharply away from his slightly overwhelming proximity, at the same time frowning her irritation; there had surely been no reason for him to get quite that close!
'It's high time that we began to entertain, Angel,' Stephen said once Angelica was seated between the two men at the round table.
Angelica frowned slightly. In the six months since she had begun to spend some of her weekends with Stephen they had never entertained, having spent the majority of that time getting to know each other. Wolf Gambrelli was their first dinner guest, let alone weekend guest
'I really must start to show you off rather than greedily keeping you to myself,' Stephen added lightly. 'Don't you think so, Wolf?'
Angelica looked at Wolf Gambrelli from beneath lowered lashes as he took his time answering the older man, his expression as unreadable as Angelica's own.
'I'm not sure I would want to share her with anyone else, either, if she were mine,' Wolf finally answered tautly, knowing that if Angelica Harper really were his, he would definitely want to greedily keep her to himself!
Perhaps that was the reason for this inexplicable attraction? Perhaps it was the fact that Angelica Harper wasn't his, that she was so obviously Stephen's, and the fact that she wasn't available, that made her more desirable in his eyes?
No, that couldn't be it, he instantly dismissed; he had always made a point of never poaching on another man's marriage or a prior claim to a woman. The newspapers might like to depict him as an international playboy, but that didn't mean he didn't have a moral code that he lived by.
Unfortunately, just looking at Angelica Harper, gazing into the deep mystery of those misty grey eyes, lowering his gaze to the bare skin of her shoulders and the firm thrust of her breasts against the soft material of her dress, was enough to make him want to throw his moral code out of the window along with his senses!
Stephen gave a husky laugh. 'That's honest, anyway!'
Honesty had nothing to do with it; Wolf knew himself well, and he was truly intrigued by the beautiful Angelica Harper!
Though he knew nothing about her apart from the fact that she was the most breathtakingly beautiful and sensually arousing woman he had ever met.
And that she belonged to Stephen
'Stop teasing Count Gambrelli, Stephen,' Angelica told him shortly, her grey eyes flashing a warning as he raised innocent brows. The look she gave him in return promised there would be a reckoning later. 'I hope that you like smoked salmon, Count ?' She turned to Wolf politely.
Although his heated gazeas dark and warm as melted chocolateshowed no such politeness as it rested hungrily on her slightly parted lips, completely taking her breath away. Even as her tongue instinctively moved to moisten the lips he stared at so intently, that dark gaze followed the movement of her tongue before rising again to meet hers in a look that seared.
'More wine, Wolf?' Stephen lightly broke into the tension, and Angelica looked up to find Holmes standing patiently beside their guest, waiting to replenish his glass with the white wine that was to accompany their first course.