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Zacharie Deverell swept along the hospital corridor, paused briefly to check the name above the door before he entered a ward and strode purposefully towards the nurse seated behind the reception desk.
'I'm here to see Freya Addison. I understand she was admitted yesterday,' he added, the hint of impatience in his voice making his accent seem more pronounced. The nurse gaped at him but Zac was used to being stared at. Women had stared at him since he was a teenager and at thirty-five his stunning looks, combined with an aura of wealth and power, meant that he was accustomed to being the centre of attention.
When it suited him he would respond to a flirtatious look with one of his devastating smiles, but today he had other things on his mind. There was only one reason why he was here, he acknowledged grimly, and the sooner he saw Freya and told her exactly what he thought of her latest stunt, the better.
'Um Miss Addison ' Thoroughly flustered by the presence of six feet four of brooding Frenchman holding an angelic-looking child in his arms, the nurse hurriedly flicked through the pile of papers in front of her. 'Oh, yes, down the corridor, third door on the leftbut you can't see her at the moment, the doctor is with her. Please, wait a minute, Mr ?'
The Frenchman was already striding along the corridor and the nurse scooted around the desk and chased after him.
'Deverell,' he murmured coolly, not slowing his steps. 'My name is Zac Deverell and it is imperative that I see Miss Addison immediately.'
Freya sat on her hospital bed and stared gloomily at her bandaged wrist. The past twenty-four hours had been hellish and she hoped that any minute now she would wake up and find that it had all been a nightmare. Instead the throbbing ache of her badly sprained wrist and a splitting headache were evidence of the force with which her car had ploughed into a fallen tree, brought down during the ferocious storm that had hit the south coast.
She had been on her way home from the yacht club where she worked as a receptionist and fortunately hadn't yet collected her little daughter from the day nursery when the accident had happened. Aimee was safe, and she was lucky to be alive, she acknowledged with a shudder, but her car was damaged beyond repair and she was going to have to take time off work, which was not going to help her ailing finances.
She had spent the night in the hospital with mild concussion and the doctor had explained that the ligaments in her wrist had been torn and she would need to wear a support bandage for several weeks. After prescribing strong painkillers he had told her she could go home, but she was worried about how she was going to manage to carry Aimee and her pushchair up and down the four flights of stairs to their attic flat when she only had the use of one hand.
She would have to ask her grandmother for help, she fretted, her thoughts turning to the woman who had brought her up after her mother had abandoned her when she was a baby. But Joyce Addison had taken on the role of parent out of a sense of duty rather than affection. Freya had endured a loveless childhood and when she had fallen pregnant and immediately been dumped by her baby's father, her grandmother had made it clear that she would not support her or her child.
She guessed Joyce had been furious when the hospital contacted her yesterday and passed on her request that she should collectAimee from nursery. She had half expected her grandmother to turn up at the hospital last night with the toddler in tow, but there had been no word from the older woman and Freya was growing increasingly anxious. She glanced up expectantly when the door opened and felt a sharp pang of disappointment when a nurse entered the small side ward.
'Have you heard anything from my grandmother? Has she phoned? She's looking after my daughter but she's due to fly to New York any day now.'
'As far as I know, there has been no word from your grandmother, but your daughter is here at the hospital,' the nurse said cheerfully. 'Her uncle's looking after her. I'll tell him he can come in.'
'Uncle?' Freya stared at the nurse in bewilderment. Aimee didn't have an uncle.
'Yes, I asked Mr Deverell to wait in the visitor's lounge while the doctor was with you, but I know he's impatient to see you,' the nurse added wryly. The Frenchman had to be the sexiest male on the planet, but it had been evident from the haughty expression in his flashing blue eyes that patience wasn't one of his strong points.
The nurse disappeared before Freya could question her further. The world had gone mad, she decided as she ran a shaky hand through her hair. The name Deverell conjured up a face from the past that she had spent the past two years desperately trying to forget and hearing it again caused a peculiar cramping sensation in the pit of her stomach. The nurse must have made a mistake. But who was this mysterious unclewho exactly was looking after Aimee?
She glanced towards the door at the sound of her daughter's gurgling laughter and focused on Aimee's cherubic face, a heady mixture of love and relief coursing through her veins. But almost instantly her gaze moved higher and clashed with the cool blue stare of the man who had haunted her dreams for the past two years.
'Zac?' she whispered disbelievingly.
Zac Deverell; billionaire businessman, renowned playboy and chief executive of the globally successful company Deverell's, which owned exclusive department stores around the world, instantly seemed to dominate the room. He was even more gorgeous than she remembered, she thought numbly as her brain struggled to assimilate the shocking reality of his presence at the end of her bed. He was tall, lean and devastatingly good-looking, his black jeans and matching sweater were effortlessly stylish and accentuated his athletic build.
Weakly Freya closed her eyes. For a few seconds the image of his bronzed, muscular torso and the covering of fine black hairs that arrowed down over his flat stomach flooded her mind. Zac was the epitome of male perfection. For a few brief, incredible months she'd enjoyed free access to his body and had revelled in the feel of his satiny skin beneath her fingertips as she'd trailed a daring path over the solid strength of his thighs. She had a vivid recall of how it had felt to lie beneath him, skin on skin, their limbs entwined so that two became one
With a low murmur she released her breath and stared at his face, noting the male beauty of his sharp cheekbones and square chin, and the way a lock of his jet-black hair had fallen over his brow. His eyes were the deep, dense blue of a Mediterranean summer skythe same shade as Aimee's eyes. The thought sent her crashing back to reality and she frowned at the way her daughter was sitting contentedly in his arms. It was a sight she had dreamed of frequently, but never in her wildest fantasies had she expected it to happen.
'What are you doing here?And since when did you become Aimee's uncle?' Shock seemed to have robbed her of her strength and to her chagrin her voice sounded pathetically weak.
Zac regarded her silently for a moment, his black brows drawn together in a harsh frown. 'It was easier to tell the hospital staff that I'm a relativeor would you rather I'd explained that I'm the man you tried to trick into believing was the father of your child?' he queried pleasantly, aware that any hint of aggression in his tone could frighten the little girl sitting on his hip.
Freya gave a bitter laugh. 'It was no trick, ZacAimee is your daughter.'
'The hell she is!' The denial came out as a low hiss and Zac abruptly lowered Aimee onto the bed. He smiled reassuringly at the toddler, making a Herculean effort to mask his impatience from her. It wasn't the child's fault, he reminded himself. With her halo of golden curls and enormous blue eyes, Aimee was angelic. It was her mother who was a cheat and a liar and if Freya hadn't looked so damned fragile he'd be tempted to throttle her for manipulating him into this situation.
'We went through this two years ago, Freya, when you sprang the news that you were pregnant. My response is the same now as it was then,'he told her coldly. 'You might have convinced your grandmother of my paternity but you and I both know you weren't telling the truthdon't we?'
'I've never lied to you,' Freya snapped, stung by the contempt in Zac's eyes. It was the same expression that she'd seen when she'd told him she was expecting his babycontemptuous disbelief, followed by his devastating accusation that she had obviously cheated on him. The pain in her heart was no less intense, despite the passing of time. In a strange way it was worse. The mental wounds Zac had inflicted on her were far more painful than her injuries. Seeing him again had re-ignited her agony and she wished he would go, before she suffered the ultimate humiliation of breaking down in front of him.
'I no longer care what you think,' she told him wearily, unable to stifle a groan when Aimee scrambled over her and knocked against her sore ribsbruised in the accident by the force of her seat belt locking against her. 'I can't imagine what you're doing here, but I think it's best if you leave.'
'Believe me, I'm not here through choice,' Zac ground out savagely. 'I was at Deverell's London office this morning to give a press conference announcing record profits made by the Oxford Street store, when your grandmother turned up with your daughter. Presumably you'd planned the timing of her visit to create maximum impact,' he added harshly. 'Her accusation, that Aimee is my child, was overheard by several journalists as well as members of my staff and rumours have already got back to the Deverell board.'
'Aimee was in London? I don't understand,' Freya said sharply, frowning in confusion. 'The hospital phoned my grandmother yesterday and asked her to look after Aimee. Where is Nana Joyce now?'
'Jetting off across the Atlantic for the start of her cruise, I imagine,' Zac replied. 'She went on about how she'd saved for years for a round-the-world trip and that nothing, not even the fact that you were in hospital, would induce her to miss it.'
His eyes darkened as he remembered his meeting with Joyce Addison.
'I'm sick to death of feckless fathers,' she told him when she marched into his office wheeling a pushchair in front of her and handed him an enormous holdall, which, she informed him, contained all the necessary paraphernalia for an eighteen-month-old child. 'I was left to bring up Freya after her mother got herself pregnant at sixteen by some shiftless Lothario she'd met at a funfair. Sadie soon got bored of motherhood and went off, leaving me stuck with a child I didn't want.
'I thought I'd warned Freya of the dangers of handsome men who want nothing more than a good time,' Joyce continued, trailing her eyes over him as if he were some sort of stud, Zac recalled furiously. 'I told her when you offered her a job on that fancy boat of yours that you were only after one thing, and evidently you both got more than you bargained for. But now it's time you took responsibility for your actions.
'I don't know how long Freya is going to be in hospital and I'm not waiting to find out. If you won't look after Aimee, you'd better hand her over to social services, because I refuse to be landed with another baby.'
Joyce Addison's vitriolic tirade had captured the attention of everyone at the Deverell officesalthough his staff had done their best to hide their curiosity, Zac conceded darkly. The whole, unbelievable scenario had been bloody humiliating, he thought bitterlyand there was only one person he could blame.
'You can drop the act, Freya,' he said coldly. 'It's quite obvious you told your grandmother to bring Aimee to me, and, having met Joyce, I can't even blame you,' he went on, ignoring Freya's gasp. 'I wouldn't leave a dog in your grand-mother's care, let alone a young child. But if all this is a ploy to get money out of me in the form of maintenanceyou can forget it.'
He glared at her, his anger increasing when he felt his body's response to Freya, with her small, heart-shaped face and mass of silky honey-blonde hair. She had intrigued him for barely three months, but two years on he could instantly recall her slender, pale limbs and small, firm breasts. The passion they had shared had been explosive, he acknowledged, aware of an uncomfortable tightening in his groin as unbidden memories surfaced. He had wanted her from the moment she'd first joined the crew of his luxury yacht, The Isis, and the attraction between them had been mutual.
Shy, innocent Freya had been unable to hide her awareness of him and he had wasted no time persuading her into his bed. Although it had been a shock to discover just how innocent she was, he thought grimly. He liked his women to be self-confident and experienced in bedwilling participants in the mutual exchange of sexual pleasure without the pressure of emotional ties. But the temptation of her satiny skin as she curled her legs around him and the enticement of her breathless whispers begging him to make love to her had been impossible to resist. She had proved a willing pupil and he had delighted in tutoring her. Her shyness and inexperience had been refreshing and against his better judgement he had invited her to move into his penthouse apartment as his mistress.
It was a decision he had later regretted and after discovering her to have slept with another man behind his back he had evicted her from his life with ruthless efficiency. His bed had not remained empty for very long. His vast fortune meant that there would always be a queue of willing candidates vying to be his mistress, he acknowledged cynically.
He had hardly given Freya a thought since he'd dismissed her back to England and it irritated him to realise that the chemistry between them still burned as fiercely as ever.
'I did not instruct my grandmother to bring Aimee to you,' Freya said shakily, still struggling to accept that Zac was really standing in front of her. 'Trust me; you're the last person I'd ever turn to for help.' She glared at him, her green eyes blazing with anger and unconcealed hurt. He was so beautiful, she thought painfully. She couldn't tear her eyes from him and the sight of his broad chest and powerful abdominal muscles, delineated by his close-fitting, fine-knit jumper, made her insides melt.
Zac was utterly gorgeous but fatally flawed, she reminded herself. His arrogance and cynicism had almost destroyed her, but her body seemed to have a short memory and was responding to his closeness with humiliating eagerness. He had treated her diabolically. When she had needed him most, he had let her down and demolished her pride with his foul accusations that she had been a two-timing whore. Two years ago he'd made it clear that she meant nothing to him, so why was her heart racing? And why was her brain intent on recalling every detail of his kiss, the feel of his hands on her body ?
Frantically she dragged her mind from her memories. 'I admit I once told Nana Joyce that you're Aimee's fathershe kept on and on about it, and it's the truth, whatever you might think,'she stated with quiet dignity. 'You were the first and only man I've ever slept with, Zac,'she whispered sadly, 'but you had your own reasons for choosing not to believe me, didn't you?'
Zac's expression of cool disinterest did not flicker and his only reaction to her last statement was a slight quirk of his brows. 'And what was that, chérie?'
'You'd decided before I told you I was pregnant that you wanted to end our relationship. After three months together you'd grown tired of me. Don't deny it,' she said fiercely. 'I recognised the signs, the way you mentally withdrew from me during those last few weeks that we were together. The only time we were close was in bed, and even then you were distant.'
'Not that distant,' Zac replied mockingly. 'Your voracious appetite for sex wouldn't allow any distance between us, would it, Freya? I still find it amazing that you had the energy to sleep with anyone else when you put so much effort into sleeping with me.'