When Ava finds herself stranded for a night with Leo Ferrante, the chemistry between them is scorching! But Ava won't let anything happen between them because, as far as she's concerned, Leo is off-limits. At least until Christmas Eve--when the truth is revealed...
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By Carole Mortimer Catherine Spencer Diana Hamilton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter One"YOU wanted me?"
Mrs Heavenly was aware of the soft, fluttering sensation behind her that told her she was no longer alone. But her attention was so intent upon the vision that she didn't want to leave it, even for a second!
At last! She had waited a long time for this particular plea for help to come. Almost too long, she acknowledged ruefully. But at last it had come.
She looked up to smile warmly at the young angel who stood before her. Faith. Yes, she would be perfect for this particular assignment. Warm, compassionate, and with a mischievous sense of humour that had almost been her undoing a couple of times in the past. But in this particular case Faith's qualities were more suited to the problem than the equally admirable ones of Hope or Charity.
"Come and look at this, my dear." Mrs Heavenly encouraged the angel to step forward and share the vision with her. "It will help you to understand the problem that has - thankfully! - been presented to us."
Faith stepped into Mrs Heavenly's vision, eager to learn what her assignment was to be. Christmas was only two days away - always a fraught time of year for humans, when the inadequacies in their normally busy lives often became glaringly obvious. It was also a time when they often cried out for help to cope with those difficulties.
"This incident happened a short time ago," Mrs Heavenly told her softly, a smile on her cherubic face.
Faith gazed down interestedly at the scene being enacted below them.
A tiny woman of about thirty - startlingly beautiful, her fine-boned body clothed in a black trouser suit and cream blouse, and with golden-blonde hair cropped close to her head - was stepping lithely out of a lift, her expression one of determination as she marched down the carpeted corridor to rap sharply on an oak door at the end of the hallway.
"She looks rather angry," Faith murmured.
Mrs Heavenly nodded unconcernedly. "She invariably is," she informed Faith lightly.
"Why -? Goodness, who is that?" Faith gasped as the oak door swung open to reveal a man almost as handsome as Gabriel himself.
Or Lucifer, she decided as an afterthought. His hair was so dark it was almost black, his eyes so dark a brown it was difficult to see where the iris stopped and the pupil began. As for his looks - they could only be described as devilishly attractive.
"Is he her husband?" Faith prompted breathlessly.
"Hardly." Mrs Heavenly smiled. "Listen," she encouraged softly.
"Ms Hardy," the man greeted dryly. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
Olivia, despite the obvious derision in his tone, stared back at him unmovingly. Ethan Sherbourne had occupied the apartment directly above hers for over a year now. But apart from an occasional greeting to him - on the rare occasion they happened to get into the lift together - or to one of the constant stream of women that seemed to flow in and out of his apartment, Olivia had remained firmly detached from the man.
The only other exception being when his mail became confused with her own. Which it had already several times this Christmas.
"Yours, I believe." She held up the pink envelope she carried with her.
He raised dark brows as he reached out a lean hand and took the envelope, checking the writing on the front before holding it up in front of his nose and sniffing appreciatively.
"Gwendoline," he announced knowingly.
Olivia repressed a delicate shudder. "I didn't real-ise women still did that sort of thing," she commented scathingly.
Neither did Olivia understand why Mr Pulman, the caretaker of this exclusive apartment building, should think she might be the recipient of a scented Christmas card!
Ethan Sherbourne gave a roguish smile. "Only certain women," he drawled huskily.
Utterly stupid ones, in Olivia's opinion. But she was sure Ethan Sherbourne wasn't in the least interested in her opinion. She wasn't tall, willowy - or young! - as the majority of women trooping in and out of his apartment seemed to be.
She gave a cool inclination of her head. "I'll leave you to open your card -" She broke off with a frown as the lift doors opened down the corridor, immediately releasing the ear-splitting wail of a baby. A very young baby, by the sound of it, Olivia realised, wincingly.
She turned slowly in the direction of the cry, just in time to move out of the way of the young woman striding purposefully towards Ethan Sherbourne's apartment.
The roguish smile had been wiped off Ethan Sherbourne's face the moment he looked at the approaching virago. "Shelley ...?" He betrayed his uncertainty with a frown.
The tall, youthfully leggy blonde, looking not much more than a child herself, gave him a humourless smile, the screaming baby held firmly in her arms. "I'm surprised you remember me," she snapped. "We met so briefly."
"Of course I remember you," Ethan Sherbourne returned smoothly, sparing a reluctant glance for the shawl-wrapped bundle in the girl's arms. "And this is ...?"
Olivia stood to one side of the hallway now, an unwilling but at the same time fascinated eavesdropper on this conversation.
The girl - for, on closer inspection, she most certainly was a girl, probably no older than twenty or so - was gazing down at the screaming baby with a look that somehow managed to combine motherly love and sheer terror at the same time.
"Here." She thrust the child into Ethan Sherbourne's unsuspecting arms.
The screaming - to its mother's obvious frustration - instantly ceased, although emotional hiccups quickly followed.
Excerpted from Christmas Secrets by Carole Mortimer Catherine Spencer Diana Hamilton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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