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'What do you mean you lost it?' Angelique stared at her father in abject horror.
Henri Marchand gave a negligent shrug but she could see his Adam's apple moving up and down as if he'd just had to swallow something unpleasant. But then, losing her late mother's ancestral home in the highlands of Scotland in a poker game in Las Vegas was about as bitter a flavour as you could taste, Angelique supposed.
'I was doing all right until Remy Caffarelli tricked me into thinking he was on a losing streak,' he said. 'We played for hours with him losing just about every hand. I thought I'd clean him up once and for all. I put down my best hand in a winner-takesall deal but then he went and trumped it.'
Angelique felt her spine turn to ice and her blood heat to boiling. 'Tell me you did not lose Tarrantloch to Remy Caffarelli.' He was her worst enemy. The one man she would do anything to avoidto avoid even thinking about!
'I'll win it back.' Her father spouted the problem gambler's credo with arrogant confidence. 'I'll challenge him to another game. I'll up the stakes. He won't be able to resist another'
'And lose even more?' She threw him an exasperated look. 'He set you up. Can't you see that? He's always had you in his sights but you made it a hundred times worse, sabotaging his hotel development in Spain. How could you have fallen for such a trick?'
'I'll outsmart him this time. You'll see. He thinks he's so clever but I'll get him back where it really hurts.'
Angelique rolled her eyes and turned away. Her stomach felt as if it had been scraped out with a rusty spoon. How could her father have lost her beloved mother's ancestral home to Remy Caffarelli? Tarrantloch wasn't even his to lose! It was supposed to be held in trust for her until she turned twenty-five, less than a year from now.
Her sanctuary. Her private bolthole. The one place she could be herself without hundreds of cameras flashing in her face.
Gone. Lost. Gambled away.
Now it was in the hands of her mortal enemy.
Oh, how Remy would be gloating! She could picture him in her mind: that cocky smirk of victory on his sensual mouth; those dark espresso-brown eyes glinting.
Oh, how her blood boiled!
He would be strutting around the whole of Europe telling everyone how he had finally got the better of Henri Marchand.
The bitter rivalry between her father and the Caf-farellis went back a decade. Remy's grandfather Vit-torio had been best friends and business partners with her father, but something had soured the relationship and at the last minute Henri had pulled out of a major business development he had been bankrolling for Vit-torio. The Caffarellis' financial empire had been severely compromised, and the two men hadn't spoken a word to each other since.
Angelique had long expected it would be Remy who would pursue her father for revenge and not one of his brothers. Of the three Caffarelli brothers, Remy had had the most to do with his grandfather, but their relationship wasn't affectionate or even close. She suspected Remy was after his grandfather's approval, to win his respect, something neither of his older brothers had been able to do in spite of creating their own massive fortunes independent of the family empire.
But Angelique had clashed with Remy even before the fallout between their families and his dealings with her father. She thought him spoilt and reckless. He thought her attention-seeking. The eight-year difference in their ages hadn't helped, although she was the first to admit she hadn't been an easy person to be around, particularly after her mother had died.
Angelique turned back to her father who was washing the bitter taste of defeat down with a generous tumbler of brandy. 'Mum's probably spinning in her graveand her parents and grandparents along with her. How could you be so so stupid?'
Henri's eyes hardened and his thin lips thinned and whitened. 'Watch your mouth, young lady. I am your father. You will not speak to me as if I am an imbecile.'
She squared her shoulders and steeled her spine. 'What are you going to do? Call me a whole lot of nasty names like you did to Mum? Verbally and emotionally abuse me until I take an overdose just to get away from you?'
The silence was thick, pulsing, almost vibrating with menace.
Angelique knew it was dangerous to upset her father.
To mention what must never be mentioned.
She had spent her childhood walking around on tiptoe to avoid triggering his ire. His temper could be vicious. As a young child she had witnessed how her mother's self-esteem had been eroded away, leaving her a wilted shadow of her former self.
But, while her father had never raised a hand either to her mother or to Angelique, the potential threat of it was there all the same. It hovered in the atmosphere. It crawled along her skin like a nasty, prickly-footed insect.
In the early years Angelique had tried hard to please him but nothing she had ever done had been good enough, or at least not good enough for his impossibly exacting standards.
In the end she had decided to do the opposite. Since the age of seventeen she had deliberately set out to embarrass him. To shock him. That was why she had pursued her career as a swimsuit model so determinedly. She knew how much it annoyed and embarrassed him that his little girl's body was displayed in magazines, catalogues and billboards all over Europe. She had even deliberately courted scandals in the press, not caring that they further cemented her reputation as a wild, spoilt little rich girl who loved nothing more than to party, and to party hard.
'If you're not careful I will disinherit you.' Her father issued the threat through clenched teeth. 'I will give every penny away to a dog's home.'
Angelique would have said, "Go on. Do it," but the fortune he threatened to give away had actually belonged to her mother. And she was going to do her darned hardest to get back what was rightfully hers.
The desert of Dharbiri was one of Remy's favourite places. One of his friends from his boarding-school days, Talib Firas Muhtadi, was a crown prince of the ancient province. The golden stretch of endless wind-rippled sands, the lonely sound of the whistling, pizza-oven-hot air; the vibrant colours of the sunset; the sense of isolation and the almost feudal laws and customs were such a stark change from his thoroughly modern twenty-first-century life.
No alcohol. No gambling. No unchaperoned women.
He loved his fast-paced lifethere was absolutely no doubt about thatit was just that now and again he felt the need to unplug himself from it and recharge his batteries.
The hot, dry air was such a contrast to the chill of autumn that had come early back in Italy where he had spent a couple of days with his grandfather. No matter the season, Vittorio was a difficult person to be around, bitter and even at times violent. But Remy liked the sense of power it gave him to drop in without noticewhich he knew annoyed the hell out of his grandfatherstay a couple of days and then breeze off without saying goodbye.
But while Remy loved Italy it was hard to decide where he felt most at home. His French-Italian heritage, on top of his English boarding-school education, had more or less made him a citizen of the world. Up until now he hadn't really had a base to call home. He'd lived in and out of suitcases and hotel suites. He liked that he didn't know where he was going to be from one week to the next. He would pick up a scent like a foxhound and go after a good deal. And nail it.
He liked to move around the globe, picking up business here and there, wheeling and dealing, winning the unwinnable.
Like winning that winner-takesall hand with Henri Marchand in Vegas. It had been a masterstroke of genius on his part. He didn't like to be too smug about it but, truth be told, he did actually feel a little bit proud of himself.
He'd hit Henri Marchand where it hurt: he had taken that double-crossing cheat's Scottish castle off him.
Victory was more than sweetit was ambrosial.
Remy had come out to Dharbiri so he could reflect on his prize. Tarrantloch was one of the most beautiful and prestigious estates in Scotland. It was isolated and private. It would make a fabulous base for hima place he could call home. It would be the perfect haven to hunt, shoot, fish and hang out with his friends during his infamous week-long parties. He could have gone straight there to take ownership but he didn't want to appear too eager to take possession.
No, it was better to let Henri Marchandand his spoilt little brattish daughter Angeliquethink this was just like any other deal done and dusted.
There would be plenty of time to rub her retrousse little nose in it.
He couldn't wait.
Getting a flight to Dharbiri was hard enough. Getting access to where Remy Caffarelli was staying was like trying to get through an airport security check-in with a fistful of grenades or an AK47 in her hand luggage.
Angelique ground her teeth for the tenth time. Did she look like a security threat?
'I need to speak to Monsieur Caffarelli. It's a matter of great urgency. A family er, crisis.'
Her family crisis.
The attendant on the reception desk was cool and disbelieving. Angelique could only suppose he was used to fielding off droves of female wannabes who would give an arm or a legor bothto have a few minutes with the staggeringly rich, heart-stoppingly gorgeous Remy Caffarelli.
As if she would ever sink so low.
'Monsieur Caffarelli is not available right now.' The attendant gave her a look that immediately categorised her as just another hopeful, starry-eyed wannabe. 'He is dining with the Crown Prince and his wife, and according to royal protocol he cannot be interrupted unless it is a matter of utmost political urgency.'
Angelique mentally rolled her eyes. It looked like she would have to try another tactic; find some other way of getting under the radar. But she was good at that sort of thing.
Outsmarting. Outmanoeuvring. Outwitting.
She smiled to herself.
That was her speciality.
It didn't take long to bribe a junior housemaid who recognised Angelique from a magazine shoot she'd done a couple of months ago. All it took was an autograph to get access to Remy's suite.
The young housemaid had mentioned how important it was Angelique wasn't seen in Remy's room other than by Remy himself. Apparently there were strict protocols on women and men socialising without appropriate supervision. As much as it annoyed her to have to hide until she knew for sure it was Remy entering the suite, Angelique decided to play things safe.
She scanned the room for a suitable hiding place.
Behind the curtains? No; she would be seen from outside.
The bathroom? No; a housemaid might come in to clean up the appalling mess Remy had left there.
Angelique looked at the wall-to-ceiling wardrobe running along one wall.
A little cliched perhaps.
* * *
Remy felt a strange sense of disquiet as soon as he entered his suite; unease; a sense that the place was not quite the way he had left it. He had cancelled the evening housekeeping visit because he hated people fussing around him all the time. Surely they hadn't gone against his wishes?
He closed the door and stilled.
His gaze scanned the luxuriously appointed suite for any signs of a disturbance. His laptop was still open on the desk and the screensaver was the same as when he'd left to have dinner. The can of soda he had half-drunk was still sitting where he'd left it, and a ring of moisture from the condensation had pooled around the bottom.
His gaze went further, to the open door of the palatial bedroom. The bed cover was slightly crumpled from where he had sat while he'd taken a call from one of his office staff in Monte Carlo. One of the towels he'd used when he'd showered was still lying on the floor. The clothes he'd worn earlier were in a messy pile nearby.
It was jet lag, that was all. He gave himself a mental shake, shrugged off his dinner jacket and threw it over the arm of the nearest sofa. He reached up and loosened his tie. It had been feeling a little tight all evening, but rules were rules, and he was happy to go along with them because out here he could forget he was the youngest son of the Caffarelli dynasty.
Here there was no one measuring him up against his older brothers or his impossible-to-please grandfather.
Out here he was as free as a desert falcon. He had the next few days to kick back and chill out in one of the hottest places on earth. Life could be pretty good when he was in the driving seat.
Angelique held her breath for so long she thought she would faint. But she knew she had to wait until Remy was well and truly inside the suite and in a relaxed mood before she came out of the closetso to speak.
Not that there were too many of his clothes in the closet.
Most of them seemed to be on the floor of the bedroom or spilling haphazardly out of his lightweight travel bag. The en suite bathroom she'd scoped out earlier was just as bad. He'd left a dark ring of stubble in the marble basin when he'd shaved and there had been yet another wet towel on the floor.
It confirmed what she already knew: Remy Caffarelli was a spoilt playboy with more money than sense who had grown up with servants dancing around to satisfy his every whim.
It was a tiny bit ironic of her to point the finger at such a shiny black kettle as Remy when she too had grown up surrounded by wealth. But at least she knew how to pick up after herself and she could cook a three-course gourmet meal with one arm and her appetite tied behind her back.
Remy had never even boiled an egg.
He had probably never even boiled a kettle! Angelique clenched her fists and her jaw.
He just boiled her blood.
She heard him moving about the suite. She heard the ring pull of a can being opened. It couldn't be alcohol, as this was a totally dry province. There were stiff penalties for bringing in or consuming contraband liquor.
She heard the click of his laptop being activated and then the sound of his fingers typing on the keyboard. She heard him a give a deep, throaty chuckle as if something he'd just read online or in an email had amused him.
Her belly gave a little flip-flop movement.
He had a very nice laugh. He had a very nice smile. He had a very nice mouth. She had spent most of her teenage years fantasising about that mouth.
Stop it right now, you silly little fool!
You are not going to think about his mouth, or any other part of his totally hot, totally amazing body.
Just as Angelique was about to step out of the wardrobe, she heard a sharp, businesslike knock at the door of the suite. Her heart gave a jerky kick against her breastbone.
Was he expecting someone?