An unexpected knock at the door turns reclusive billionaire Patrick Fitzsimon's life upside down! He's closed himself off from the world after a family tragedy, but intriguing neighbor Aideen Ryan needs help, and Patrick can't say no
After a business partnership turned relationship turned disaster, Aideen has sworn off romance. When Patrick whisks her away to Paris on a mission to save her business, she soon finds him equally infuriating and enticing! Aideen's head may be telling her to keep her distance from Patrick, but her heart begs to draw closer
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About the Author
You can visit Katrina at www.katrinacudmore.com
Read an Excerpt
'Hello? Is anyone home?'
Her lungs on fire, Aideen Ryan desperately heaved in some air as she waited for someone to answer her knock and call. She had run in the dark through gale-force winds and rain to get to Ashbrooke House: the only place that could give her shelter from the storm currently pounding the entire Atlantic coastline of Ireland.
Ashbrooke House, stately home of billionaire Patrick Fitzsimon. A man who, given the impenetrable walls that surrounded his vast estate and his uber-wealthy lifestyle, was unlikely to welcome her intrusion.
She straightened her rain jacket and ran a hand through her hair. Oh, for crying out loud. Her hair was a tangled mess. Soaked to the skull and resembling a frizz bomb She really hoped it wouldn't be Patrick Fitzsimon who answered the door. Not the suave, gorgeous man she had seen in countless magazines. A man who stared at the camera with such serious intensity and intelligence that she had held her breath in alarm, worried for a few crazy seconds that he could see her spying on him.
The only sightings anyone ever made of him locally was when he was helicoptered in and out of the estate. Intrigued, she had looked him up. But just because she'd been unable to resist checking out her neighbour, one of the world's 'top ten most eligible billionaire bachelors', it didn't alter the fact that she was determined to keep her life a man-free zone.
A nearby tree branch creaked loudly as a ferocious gust of wind and rain swept up from the sea. How was her poor cottage faring in the storm without her? And how on earth was her business going to survive this?
Pushing down her spiralling panic, she took hold of the brass knocker and rapped it against the imposing door again, the metal vibrating against her skin.
'Hello? Please I need help. Is anyone home?'
Please, please, let one of his staff answer. But the vast house remained in silence, while beyond the columned entrance porch sheets of rain swept across the often written about formal gardens of Ashbrooke.
And then slow realisation dawned. Although outside lighting had showcased the perfect symmetry and beauty of the Palla-dian house as she had run up the driveway, not a single interior light had shone through the large sash windows.
In her panic, that simple fact had failed to register with her until now.
What if nobody was at home?
But that didn't make sense. A house this size had to have an army of staff. The classically inspired villa had a three-storey central block, connected by colonnades to two vast wings. The house was enormouseven bigger than the pictures suggested.
Somebody simply had to be home. They probably just couldn't hear her above the storm. She needed to knock louder.
She grabbed hold of the knocker again, but just as she raised it high to pound it down on the door the door swung open. As she flew forward with it all she could see was a tanned, muscular six-pack vanishing beneath a grey sweatshirt, its owner in the midst of quickly dressing. But not before she headbutted that glorious vision of masculine perfection.
It was like colliding against steel. As she ricocheted backwards she heard a loud grunt. Then hands gripped her upper arms and yanked her back from slamming bottom first on to the ground. The momentum pulled her back towards that hard body, and this time her forehead landed heavily on the person's chest with a thud.
For a moment neither of them moved, and her already spinning head became lost in a giddy sensation of warmth, the safe embrace of another human being, the deep, masculine scent of a man
She couldn't tell who sprang away first, but as embarrassment barrelled through her, her eyes dropped down to bare feet and dark grey sweatpants before travelling back up over a long, lean, muscular body. Dark stubble lined a sculpted jawline. Taking a deep swallow, she looked up into eyes that were the light blue of an early-morning Irish spring sky. How often had she tried without success to replicate that colour in her designs?
Those beautiful blue eyes narrowed. 'What the?'
'I'm sorry I woke you, but my home's been flooded and everything I own is probably floating to America at this stage. I tried to drive into Mooncoyne but the road is flooded.
My car got stuck. I was so glad your gates were open I thought they would be locked, like they usually are. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do if they were locked.'
He held up a hand in the universal stop position. 'Okay. Slow down. Let's start again. Explain to me who you are.'
Oh, why did she jabber so much when she was nervous? And, for crying out loud, did she have to blush so brightly that she could light up a small house?
Pushing her hand out towards him, she said, 'I'm Aideen Ryan. I'm your neighbour. I live in Fuchsia Cottage down by the edge of the lough.'
He gave a quick nod of recognition, but then he drew his arms across his impossibly wide chest and his gaze narrowed even more. 'What is it you need, exactly?'
Humiliation burnt in her chest at having to ask for help from a stranger, but she looked into his cool blue eyes and blurted out what had to be said. 'I need a place to stay tonight.'
His mouth twisted unhappily. For a moment she feared he was about to close the door on her.
But instead he took a backward step and said, 'Come inside.'
At best, it was a very reluctant invitation.
The door closed behind them with a solid clunk. Without uttering a word, he left her standing alone in the vast entrance hall. Her body started to shake as her wet clothes clung to her limbs. Her teeth chattered in the vast space and, to her ears, seemed to echo off the dome-shaped ceiling, from which hung the largest crystal chandelier she'd ever seen.
Why couldn't she have a normal neighbour? Why did hers have to be a billionaire who lived in a palace at the end of a mile-long driveway? She hated having to ask for help. From anyone. But having to ask for help from a megarich gorgeous man made her feel as though the universe was having a good laugh at her expense.
When he returned, he passed her a yellow and white striped towel without comment. Accepting it gratefully, she patted her hands and face. For a moment their eyes met.
Her heart stuttered as his gaze assessed her, his generous mouth flattened into a grimace, his long legs planted wide apart, his body rigid. Her breath caught. She felt intimidated by the intensity of his stare, his size, his silent unsmiling presence. She lowered her gaze and concentrated on twisting the towel through her hair, her eyes closing as an unaccountable nervousness overtook her.
'So where's your car?'
'I tried to drive into Mooncoyne but the river had burst its banks at Foley's Bridge. It's the same on your estatethe bridge on your drive is impassable, too.'
He shook his head in confusion. 'So how did you get here?'
'I climbed on to the bridge wall and crawled along it. My car is still on the other side.'
Just great. Not only had he been woken from a jet-lagged sleep, but now he realised he was dealing with a crazy woman. This was all he needed.
'Are you serious? Are you telling me you climbed over a flooded river in gale-force winds? Have you lost your mind?'
For a moment a wounded look flashed in her cocoa-brown eyes, but then she stared defiantly back at him.
'The sea was about to flood my cottage. I called the emergency services but they are swamped with the flooding throughout Mooncoyne. And anyway they can't reach hereFoley's Bridge is impassable even to them. You're my only neighbour. There was no other place I could come to for shelter.' Throwing her head back, she took a deep breath before she continued, a tremor in her voice. 'I did contemplate staying in my car overnight, but frankly I was more concerned about hypothermia than climbing along a bridge wall.'
Okay, so she had a point. But it had still been a crazy risk to take.
He inhaled a deep breath. For the first time ever he wished his staff resided in the house. If she'd been here, his housekeeper, Maureen, would happily have taken this dishevelled woman in hand. And he could have got some much-needed sleep.
He had awoken to her knocking jet-lagged and perplexed as to how anyone had got past his security. All of Ashbrooke's thousand-acre parkland was ring-fenced by a twenty-foot stone wall, built at the same time as the house in the eighteenth century. The impenetrable wall and the electronic front gates kept the outside world away.
Well, they were supposed to.
He would be having words with his estate manager in the morning. But right now he had a stranger dripping water down on to his polished limestone floor. He had an urgent teleconference in less than four hours with Hong Kong. To be followed up with a day of endless other teleconferences to wrap up his biggest acquisition ever. The acquisition, however, was still mired in legal and technical difficulties. Difficulties his teams should have sorted out weeks ago. The arrival of his neighbour at this time of night was the last thing he needed.
He glanced at her again. She gave him a brief uncertain smile. And he did a double take. Beneath that mass of wild, out-of-control hair she was beautiful.
Full Cupid's bow lips, clear rosy skin, thick arched eyebrows and the most expressive eyes he had ever seen, framed by long dark eyelashes. Not the striking, almost hard supermodel beauty of some of his exes. She was really pretty.
But then with a twinge of guilt he realised that she was shivering, and that she had noticeably paled in the past few minutes.
'You need to get out of those wet clothes and have a shower.'
A glimmer of heat showed on her cheeks and she shuffled uneasily. 'I don't have any spare clothes. I didn't pack any. I only had time to get some office equipment and files out the things I had to save.'
Oh, great. Well, he didn't have any spare women's clothes hanging around here. He had never brought any of his dates to Ashbrooke. This was his sanctuary. And it had become even more so in the past few years as his ever-growing business demanded his absolute concentration.
Deep down he knew he should say some words of comfort to her. But he was no good in these situations, at saying the right thing. God knew his history with his own sister, Orla, proved that. His skill in life was making money. It clearly wasn't having effective personal relationships.
The thought of how he had failed not only Orla but also his mum and dad left a bitter taste in his mouth as his eyes moved up to meet his neighbour's. Two pools of wary brown met him. He could provide this woman with practical help. But nothing more.
'Pass me your jacket and I'll show you to a guest bedroom. I'll find you some clothes to wear while you shower.'
Her hands trembled as she shrugged off her pink and red floral rain jacket. Beneath it she wore a red and white striped cotton top, a short denim miniskirt, black wool tights and Converse trainers. Not exactly clothing suitable for being outdoors in the midst of an Atlantic storm.
The wet clothes clung to her skin. Despite himself he let his gaze trail down the soft curves of her body, gliding over the gentle slope of her breasts, narrow waist and along the long length of her legs.
When he looked up she gave a shrug. 'I didn't have time to get changed.'
She must have mistaken his stare of appreciation for incredulity. Good. He certainly didn't want her getting any other ideas.
He took her coat and in silence they walked up the stairs.
He glanced briefly at his watch. He would show her to her room and then go and get some sleep. He needed to be at the top of his game tomorrow, to unravel this mess his acquisition teams seemed incapable of sorting out.
She followed him up a cantilevered stone staircase. Despite her longing to get changed out of her rain-soaked clothesnot least her trainers, which squelched with every stepshe couldn't help but stop and stare at the opulent rococo plasterwork that curved along the walls of the staircase. Exquisite delicate masks and scallop shells rendered in porcelainlike plaster had her longing to reach out and touch the silent angelic faces, which seemed to follow her steps with knowing smiles.
It was one of the most stunning rooms she had ever seen if you could call a hallway a room. Good Lord, if the entrance hall was like this what was the rest of the house like? Talk about making a girl feel inadequate
Ahead of her he continued to climb the stairs, his tall, broad frame causing an unwanted flip in her stomach. He was big, dark, and handsome beyond belief. And you didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that he wasn't too keen on having her here.
Well, she wasn't too keen on being here herself. She'd much prefer to be at home, snuggled up in her own bed. Having to face the displeasure of a billionaire who, given his monumental success at such a young age, was probably hard-nosed and cold-hearted, was not exactly her idea of a fun night.
Upstairs, he led her down a neverending corridor in silence. She had an insane urge to talk, to kill the tension that seemed to simmer silently between them.
'Your helicopter often passes over my cottage. Do you travel a lot?'
Okay, so it hadn't been the most interesting or insightful of questions, but he could have given a little more detail in the way of an answer. It wouldn't kill him to make a little small talk with her, would it?
He stopped and opened a door, and signalled for her to enter first. As she passed he studied her with a coolness that gave nothing away. She found herself giving him an involuntary smile. But when his face remained impassive, apart from the slight narrowing of his eyes, she felt rather silly.
His cool attitude pinged in her brain like a wake-up call. She was here out of necessity, not because she wanted to be, and he shouldn't be making her feel so uneasy. She straightened her back with resolve and pride and marched further into the room. First thing tomorrow morning she was out of here.
But she hadn't gone far when her steps faltered. 'Oh, wow, this bedroom is stunning and it's huge! A family of six could easily sleep in that bed.'
An imposing oversized bed sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by sofas and occasional chairs covered in glazed cotton in varying tones of sage-green. An antique desk and a vanity table sat either side of the white marble fireplace.
He didn't acknowledge her words of admiration but instead made for the door. 'I'll go and get you some clothes to change into.'