The Padova Pearls [NOOK Book]

Overview

Rare beauty Sophia Jordan has captured wealthy businessman Stephen Haviland's eye. And in Venice he'll execute his ruthless plan.... Sophia is swept off her feet by the handsome British billionaire, not realizing that Stephen knows something she doesn't: she is heiress to the priceless Padova pearls.

Once the truth is revealed Stephen will see Sophia, and the pearls, in naked glory....

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The Padova Pearls

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Overview

Rare beauty Sophia Jordan has captured wealthy businessman Stephen Haviland's eye. And in Venice he'll execute his ruthless plan.... Sophia is swept off her feet by the handsome British billionaire, not realizing that Stephen knows something she doesn't: she is heiress to the priceless Padova pearls.

Once the truth is revealed Stephen will see Sophia, and the pearls, in naked glory....

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426811029
  • Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
  • Publication date: 2/1/2008
  • Series: Dinner at 8 Series , #2697
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 339,060
  • File size: 144 KB

Meet the Author

Lee Wilkinson was born in Nottingham, the only child of loving parents. She was educated at an all-girls' school, and after leaving, tried her hand at several jobs, including modeling swimwear.

At 22 she met and married her husband, Denis. They had a traditional white wedding and a honeymoon in Italy, and have been happily married ever since. They have two children, a son and a daughter— both now grown up and married— and four lovely grandchildren.

Lee's writing career began with short stories and serials for magazines and newspapers before going on to novels. She has had more than 20 Mills and Boon romance novels published to date.

Amongst her hobbies are reading, gardening, walking, and cooking. Traveling is her main love, and teaming up with her daughter and American son-in-law, she and her husband spent a year going round the world, taking in India, China, Australia, New Zealand, and the States.

Last year she rented a palazzo in the heart of Venice, followed by a quick hop aboard the Orient Express. Lee is currently saving up for a whirlwind tour of Japan, a romantic and exotic destination she has wanted to visit since childhood.

At present she lives with her husband in a 300-year-old stone cottage in a picturesque Derbyshire village, which gets cut off by snow most winters.

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Read an Excerpt

The early June evening was damp and overcast, prematurely dark. Sophia Jordan, a plastic carrier bag in her hand, a stone-coloured mac belted round her slim waist, was hurrying home. Back to the ground floor flat in Roleston Square, Belgravia, she had shared with her late father, Peter.

The thought of the empty flat still filled her with sadness for though her father had been quite ill for the past year, his death, some twelve weeks earlier, had in the end been sudden and unexpected and had left her bereft and lonely.

Old Mrs Caldwell, a widow who owned the large house in Roleston Square and, along with her niece, Eva, occupied the flat across the hallway, had understood how she felt and been very kind.

Just that morning when Sophia had knocked at her door to enquire what shopping she needed, grey-haired and stooped, cheerful in spite of her arthritis, the old lady had urged, 'Come across after work, dearie, and we'll have some supper together.

'Though with Eva being away on that special course,' she had added, 'I'm afraid you'll have to do the cooking, if you don't mind?'

'Of course I don't mind. Is there anything in particular you'd like me to cook?'

'Would it be any trouble to make a paella?'

Stooping to stroke the marmalade cat that was winding sinuously around her ankles, Sophia said, 'No trouble at all.'

'Wonderful!' the old lady had cried enthusiastically. 'I haven't had a paella since Arthur took me to Spain on holiday. Eva dislikes all rice dishes.'

'Then I'll do the shopping on my way home tonight, and pop across as soon as I've changed.'

Looking delighted, Mrs Caldwell had promised, 'I'll have the table set ready.'

Handing Sophia a list and some money,she'd added, 'It'll be lovely to have your company and a freshly cooked meal.'

On hearing about Sophia's plans for the evening, David Renton, international art dealer and owner of A Volonté, the prestigious gallery where she worked, had suggested, 'Why don't you leave half an hour early? Joanna can cope, and you've put in a great deal of extra time over your father's exhibition.'

Peter Jordan had been a very talented amateur painter and after his death, David—his long time friend—had remarked, 'His work is brilliant. It's a pity he was too modest to agree to me showing it.

'I tried to persuade him by telling him that seeing his canvases would inspire other young amateur painters. But he still held back.'

'I really think he was coming round to your way of thinking,' Sophia had said. 'He was talking about it a few days before he died.'

'Then why don't we put on an exhibition of his work as a kind of memorial? A celebration of his life? If we include his miniatures, there should be enough to fill the balcony.'

Liking the idea, Sophia had agreed.

She had collected together all her father's paintings, except for a single canvas that hung in her bedroom.

It was a head and shoulders portrait of a handsome young man with fair hair and dark eyes, and a mouth that, with its combination of asceticism and sensuality, had always affected her strongly.

Since her childhood, the portrait had held a strange fascination for her, and as a teenager she had woven extravagantly romantic dreams around it.

Knowing how much she liked it, her father had given it to her for her sixteenth birthday.

His pleasure had been in the actual painting and, with little regard for his own talent, he had often given the finished portrait to his sitter. Which meant that there weren't all that many for a lifetime's work.

However, David had collected what there were and taken them over to the gallery.

There, Sophia had worked long hours to hang them, produce catalogues and organize the advance publicity. Now the one-man exhibition was ready and due to open the following morning.

That off her mind, she had accepted David's kind offer and left the gallery at six-thirty, stopping at the local store to do the necessary shopping.

It was Friday night and the store was crowded. By the time she had succeeded in battling her way through an obstacle course of people and trolleys, one of her stockings was laddered and her heavy coil of hair was coming down.

Bundling it up again, she felt for the clip that held it in place, only to find it was missing.

The queue at the checkout was a long one and on leaving the store she found a fine drizzle had started to fall.

With an exasperated sigh, she turned up the collar of her mac and tucked the dark silky mass of hair into it as best she could.

Only when she was walking away from the 'convenience' store did she appreciate wryly that it would have been a great deal more convenient if her purchases, which included milk and tinned food for Mrs Caldwell's three cats, had been put into two carriers rather than one.

As it was, she had to keep swapping the heavy bag from hand to hand as the thin plastic handles cut into her fingers, stopping the blood flow.

She was changing hands for the umpteenth time when one of the flimsy handles gave way, letting the bag drop and spilling its contents at the feet of a tall, fair-haired man who was walking some half a dozen paces behind her.

While the other pedestrians parted and flowed smoothly either side, like water round a rock, the well-dressed stranger stooped and with deft efficiency began to gather all the items together.

As she stared down at his bent head, noticing how the thick blond hair, dampened by the drizzle, was trying to curl, he replaced the groceries in the carrier. As he picked up the last item he laughed, 'Good thing there's no eggs.'

His voice was pleasant and well-modulated, with a fascinating hint of an accent she couldn't quite place.

Holding the carrier to him with one arm, the other supporting the bottom, he rose to his feet, dwarfing her five foot seven.

Glancing up into his handsome face, she felt a jolt of recognition, a shock of surprise.

But while her brain insisted that it couldn't be him, her heart and eyes told her it was.

Though she was unable to make out the exact colour of his dark, long-lashed eyes, the strong, clear-cut features, the beautiful, ascetic mouth with its controlled upper lip and sensuous lower, the cleft chin and squarish jaw, were as familiar to her as her own face.

She was filled with joy and wonderment, an overriding sense of fulfilment, as though she had been subconsciously waiting for this meeting. As though it had been preordained.

As she stared at him, he went on, 'Oh dear, I'm very much afraid that the whole thing's starting to tear open. Have you very far to go?'

Knocked off balance by the strangeness of it all, she stammered, 'N-no, not far. Just a little way down Roleston Road.'

Hitching the carrier a little higher, he suggested, 'Then suppose you lead on?'

Her natural good manners coming to the fore, she managed, 'Thank you, but I don't want to take you out of your way,' then waited in an agony of suspense. If he just handed over the shopping and walked away she would never see him again.

But, to her vast relief, he did no such thing.

With a little smile, he told her, 'As it happens I'm going in the same direction.'

The excitement of seeing him—only it couldn't possibly be him—and the sheer charm of that white, crooked smile sent her heart winging, making her forget, momentarily, the sadness that had been her constant companion over the last few weeks.

After a second or two, she said breathlessly, 'Well, if you're sure it's no trouble?'

'I'm sure.'

She returned his smile and, feeling as if something momentous had happened, tried to contain the fluttery excitement that was so unlike her.

As they began to walk on, the stranger—for in spite of that instant, joyful recognition she knew they had never met before—queried, 'So you live on Roleston Road?'

'No, just off, on Roleston Square. I've a flat in one of the old Georgian houses that overlook the Square's gardens.'

He raised a well-marked brow. 'You live alone?'

'I do now.'

'You're very young to live alone.'

'I'm not that young.' Glancing at her lovely heart-shaped face with its flawless skin and almond eyes, the winged brows, the small straight nose and generous mouth, the long curly tendrils of seal-dark hair that had escaped from her collar, he said, 'You look about sixteen.'

'I'm twenty-five.'

'Twenty-five,' he repeated, as though the knowledge gave him some satisfaction. Then, harking back, 'So how long have you lived alone?'

Her voice wasn't quite steady as, with remembered grief, she told him, 'Since my father died a few months ago.'

He caught the sadness in her tone and asked, 'Was it unexpected?'

'In a way. He'd been ill for quite a long time, but in the end it was sudden.' Sophia could feel a tear begin to form but quickly brushed it away.

He probed gently, 'And your mother?'

'She died when I was about seven.'

'Any brothers or sisters?'

'No. I was an only child.'

He frowned a little. 'Your father couldn't have been very old?'

Sophia shook her head. 'Dad was just sixty-two. He didn't marry until he was thirty-six.'

'And after your mother died he didn't remarry?'he questioned.

'No.' She shook her head again. 'I've never understood why. Apart from the fact that he was good-looking and talented, he was kind and thoughtful, a really nice person with a wonderful sense of humour…'

'In what way was he talented?'

'He painted.' Sophia smiled at the memory of her father's talent.

'It was his profession?'

'No. He was a diplomat. Painting had always been his hobby. But when, after his accident, he retired from the diplomatic service, he did a lot more.'

'Landscapes?'

'Some, but portraits mainly. He painted one that's very like you.'

He gave her a quizzical glance and, embarrassed, she wondered what on earth had made her blurt that out. Except that it was the simple truth.

'Very like me?' He sounded amused.

'Yes.'

'Really? And is his work good?'

'I've heard it described as brilliant.'

Seeing a look on her companion's face that might have been scepticism, she added defensively, 'There's going to be an exhibition of his paintings at the art gallery where I work.'

'Which gallery is that?' he enquired politely. 'A Volonté.'

'Then you're an artist too?'

She shook her head. 'Though I wanted to be, and went to art school with that intention, unfortunately I don't have his talent.'

'What exactly do you do at the gallery?'

'As well as helping to sell pictures, I value them, set up exhibitions, take care of the photography and cataloguing and do any cleaning and restoring that may be necessary.'

Seeing her companion raise his eyebrows, she explained, 'Before I joined the gallery I spent two years working in a museum cleaning and restoring old or damaged paintings. I found I had a flair for it, and it was work I really enjoyed.'

'An invaluable skill.'

'Dad thought so.'

'You must miss him.'

'I do. Very much.'She swallowed past the lump in her throat.

'I still haven't got used to being on my own…' She let the words tail off as common sense shouldered its way in. Normally she was somewhat reserved, even with her friends, so why on earth was she opening her heart like this to a man she didn't know?

Only she did know him.

She had always known him.

'Surely there's a special boyfriend?'

'Not now. I was engaged to be married, but when Dad became worse and I didn't want to leave him alone in the evenings, it put a strain on the relationship. Philip resented the fact that I was no longer a free agent, and finally I gave him back his ring.'

'It must have been hard for you.'

'Not as hard as it might have been,' she admitted honestly. 'After he'd gone, I realized that, though I'd been fond of him, I hadn't really loved him.'

She had also realized that she'd only imagined herself in love because he'd reminded her a little of the man in her portrait.

'And there's been no one since?'

She shook her head.

With a grin, the stranger said, 'From the amount of shopping, I felt sure you must be feeding a small army of suitors.'

His teasing lightening the mood, she told him, 'It's for the old lady who owns the house and lives in the flat opposite. She's on her own at the moment and she's invited me to supper.'

'Any chance of her taking a rain check? I was about to ask you to have dinner with me.'

Sophia's heart leapt and then plummeted as she realized she couldn't accept his invitation.

It took a lot of willpower, but still she said, 'I'm sorry, but I can't let her down. She's really looking forward to the evening, and I've promised to do the cooking.'

'Pity.'

He said nothing further and she wondered if he had regretted his spur-of-the-moment invitation and been relieved when she'd refused.

But somehow she didn't think so.

They turned the corner into the quiet, tree-lined Square, its central gardens set with green lawns and bright flower-beds, and stopped outside the porticoed entrance of number twelve.

Yellow light from one ground floor window and the fanlight above the door was spilling across the pavement. But, as she might have expected, the upper windows were dark. The whole of the upstairs was one flat, and its tenants—a husband and wife team of lawyers who owned a boat and went sailing every weekend—would be gone.

Glancing at the lighted window, Sophia noticed one of the curtains move, and guessed that Mrs Caldwell had been looking out for her and seen them arrive.

As she fished in her handbag for her keys, hoping very much that the stranger would ask to see her some other time, she queried, 'Do you live in this area?'

'No. I don't live in London at all. I'm just here on business.'

'Oh.' Her heart sank.

Holding the carrier with one arm, he took the keys and, choosing the right one at his first attempt, opened the front door and held it wide for her.

As they crossed the hall, Mrs Caldwell appeared at her door. 'Oh, there you are, my dear!' she exclaimed. 'I was beginning to wonder if you'd been forced to work late.'

'I actually left early, but it took me rather a long time to do the shopping,' Sophia explained.

'Friday nights have always been busy,'Mrs Caldwell agreed. Then, glancing with interest at the tall, good-looking man by Sophia's side, she suggested, 'If you want to opt out of our arrangement and make other plans, I don't mind.'

Aware that the fair-haired stranger was waiting for her answer, after an almost imperceptible hesitation, Sophia said, 'No, of course I don't…'

Sensing that he was still staring at her, and wondering if he was annoyed because she hadn't taken advantage of the old lady's offer, she went on resolutely, 'I'll be over as soon as I've changed out of my suit.'

'There's no need to hurry, dearie. In the meantime I'll leave the door on the latch and pour us both a glass of sherry.' The old lady beamed at her and disappeared back inside.

Having opened Sophia's door and waited until she had switched on the lights, her companion followed her through the small lobby and into the pleasantly spacious combined living-room and kitchen.

While she took off her mac, he put the groceries carefully on the coffee table and, glancing around, remarked, 'I'm surprised to find it's open-plan.'

When he looked straight at her again, she could see that his eyes, like those of the portrait, were a clear grey and so dark they were almost charcoal. Eyes that were intriguingly at odds with his naturally fair hair.

Dragging her gaze away with an effort, she told him, 'When Mrs Caldwell had the house converted into three flats, she decided on extensive alterations.'

Nodding his head in approval, he said, 'I must say it works extremely well. It must be a pleasant place to live.'

'I've always liked it,' Sophia agreed. Then, anxious to know more about him, 'So where do you live?'

'Since I left university, I've been living mainly in New York.'

'Oh.'Did that mean he still lived in New York? If he did, that seemed to rule out any chance of getting to know him better.

Swamped by disappointment, she took a deep, steadying breath. Even so her voice was a little jerky as she said, 'I've been wondering about your accent… It doesn't seem typically American.'


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