Read an Excerpt
The Spaniard's Woman
By Diana Hamilton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSebastian Garcia's mood was blacker than a coalminer's fingernails as he faced the rambling sixteenth-century facade of Troone Manor. His smoke-grey eyes narrowed then glittered with angry determination. He'd claw his heart out of his breast with his own hands before he'd allow Terrina Dysart to get her gold-digger's talons on his godfather's extensive property!
For the first time in his twenty-nine years a visit to the charming old house that had been like a second home to him for most of his life was lacking in anything remotely approaching pleasure.
The cold March wind pushed icy fingers through the sleek blackness of his hair, reminding him that his family home in Southern Spain and the village of Hope Baggot in the uplands of west Shropshire might as well be poles apart.
Firming his already hard jaw, he reached a leather suitcase from the back seat of the silver Mercedes and strode over the circular sweep of gravel to the main door where Madge Partridge was waiting to greet him. His tersely snapped, "Is everything in hand?" wiped the welcoming smile from the housekeeper's lined face, and she took a flinching step backwards.
Silently cursing himself for losing his cool, he dredged up a smile. A lift of one ebony brow was enough to have his business staff jumping if the occasion demanded it. But dear old Madge was his godfather's housekeeper and she was only following Marcus's orders - as he himself was reluctantly doing. And making good and sure Marcus Troone got to see what Terrina really was, was his problem, not Madge's.
"Sorry," he apologised through the smile he was doing his best to keep in place. "I didn't mean to bite your head off." He lifted wide, leather-coated shoulders in an expressive shrug. "I've been driving through the night; put it down to that and forgive me?"
"Of course." Briefly, Madge put a workworn hand to the side of his face, her gaunt features relaxing as she grumbled at him, "You wouldn't take the easy way out and fly over in comfort, get a driver from the London office to meet you at the airport and chauffeur you here, not you!"
Her brown eyes glinted with affectionate amusement as he walked past her into the huge, raftered hall where a log fire was burning brightly in the stone fireplace. "The first time you ever stayed here without your parents - you'd have been six years old - you decided that coming down to breakfast via your bedroom window and the wisteria would be more of a challenge than using the stairs. So nothing's changed, has it?"
The memory of the truly awe-inspiring scolding he'd received from Tia Lucia on that long-ago occasion made his heart dip with sadness. Marcus Troone and Sebastian's father, Rafael, had been business partners and Marcus had married Rafael's younger sister, Lucia. They had regarded themselves as one family.
Sebastian had spent long weeks every summer at Troone Manor, and life had seemed happy and uncomplicated.
But shadows had invaded the scene, invaded and deepened. To their sadness, his aunt and Marcus - who was also his godfather - had remained childless, and he had been approaching his eighth birthday when the unthinkable had happened and his lively, loving Tia Lucia had been stricken with multiple sclerosis. The next time he'd visited she'd been confined to a wheelchair, almost as helpless as a baby.
Two years ago Lucia had died and now Marcus, lonely and childless, was on the point of marrying a gold-digging witch!
"Not knowing exactly when to expect you, I held lunch back. It will be about an hour, so would you like coffee before you freshen up?"
With difficulty, Sebastian hauled himself out of the pit of his seething anger and grunted an affirmative to the housekeeper's question, dumping his case on the worn flagstones and following her through to the comfortably homely kitchen regions.
The whole place reeked of fresh emulsion. It made him shudder. Not the smell of the paint itself, but the implications. If Terrina got her hands on this property, the comfortable, slightly shabby ambience of what he'd always regarded as the essence of an English country house would be replaced by smart, over-decorated, expensive tat.
Not that he begrudged his godfather the happiness and companionship of a second marriage - Lord knows his role of husband had been reduced to that of dedicated carer for well over twenty years - but marriage to a greedy little harpy who would do anything, say anything, to get her hands on his enormous wealth and then, inevitably, break his heart - no way!
"Sir Marcus is more himself now?" Madge asked, motioning Sebastian to the old armchair at the side of the vast kitchen range as she busied herself with the coffee things. "I was shocked, but not surprised, when he collapsed just before Christmas. He'd been working himself to a standstill since Lady Troone passed away, poor thing."
"Much better," Sebastian conceded as he accepted the coffee she handed him; strong, black and unsweetened, just the way he liked it. "A few weeks on the warm shoreline below Jerez with my mother to cluck over him, and me, as his partner since my father's death, to report back on both the London and Cadiz ends of the business, and he's fighting fit again."
"Must be, if he's gone and got himself engaged."
He noted the questioning tone, the undercurrent of anxiety, understood exactly where she was coming from, but decided to ignore it. Faithful and loyal though the good soul was, there was nothing the housekeeper could do. It would be unkind to tell her of his own deep misgivings and add to her worries. It was his problem and, utterly distasteful though it was, he knew how he had to handle it. But, for the time being at least, he would comply with his godfather's request.
"The decorators have finished?" He deliberately changed the subject.
"Yesterday." She sat at the central scrubbed pine table and ladled sugar into her milky coffee. "Sir's instructions were just a plain, freshening-up job. No doubt his new wife will have her own ideas of how she wants to redecorate the house."
Visions of expensive designer chic - stark, shiny and completely soulless - flooded his brain again. He quickly ousted them and asked, "And the temporary staff?"
"Ah." Madge's mouth turned down at the corners.
"Only two responded to the advertisement so it was Hobson's choice. Sharon Hodges from the village - you might have seen her around? Big, bulgy, mouthy lass. Knowing that feckless, lie- abed family, I insisted she live in for the full six weeks; that way I can make sure she gets out of bed and starts work on time. And the other girl comes from Wolverhampton. A little bit of a thing, she is. Looks as though a puff of wind would blow her over - I did explain there was a good deal of hard physical work involved, but if that bothered her she didn't say so. Come to think of it, she didn't say much, just that her mother had died a few months ago and she wanted a stop-gap job while she decided what she wanted to do. Name of Rosie Lambert. She'll be twenty the day after tomorrow, blushes if you so much as look at her and hangs her head as if she's got something to be ashamed of.
Excerpted from The Spaniard's Woman by Diana Hamilton Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.