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The Millionaire's Revenge
By Cathy Williams
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGabriel Greppi stood outside the compact, ivy-clad Victorian house for a few minutes, his hands thrust into the pockets of his beaten suede jacket. He glanced up towards the left of the house, and saw that her room was in darkness. It would be. She would be at the stables now, even though it was after nine and the countryside was sunk in the frozen grip of winter.
The thought of her brought a smile to his lips. For her, he would go through this, but it wouldn't always be this way. He knew it. Could feel it in his bones. Knocking on the door of this house and being made to feel like a beggar, a distasteful presence to be endured by her parents with that particularly freezing politeness so typical of the British upper crust. No, things would change. He was only twenty-two and it might be a long haul, but things would change.
He hardened his jaw and pressed his finger to the doorbell, listening to it resound through the house, then he lounged against the doorframe and waited until the door was cautiously pulled open. Gabriel was tempted to ask whether they were expecting bandits to ring the bell before entering the house, but he refrained. A keen sense of humour had never been one of Peter Jackson's striking qualities, although that might justhave been towards him.
"Greppi. What brings you here, boy?"
Gabriel gritted his teeth together and summoned up all his self-control not to respond with something he would live to regret.
"Could I have a word with you, Mr Jackson?" He insinuated his foot through the small opening, just in case Peter Jackson gave in to the temptation to slam the door in his face.
"What, now? Can't it wait?"
Peter Jackson gave an impatient click of his tongue and regarded Gabriel's dark, handsome face with irritation, then he reluctantly pulled open the door and stepped back.
"If you've come to see my daughter, then you can start heading back to that house of yours, boy. Laura's in bed and I have no intention of getting her out of it at this ungodly hour."
"It's nine o'clock."
"And I haven't come to see Laura, I have come to see you. You and your wife." Gabriel fought to maintain his composure but, under his weathered jacket and faded jeans, every muscle in his hard body had tensed.
That stopped Peter Jackson in his tracks. He paused and narrowed his blue eyes. "I hope you don't intend to ask any favours of me, boy, because I can tell you right now that the answer is a resounding negative. I am not in the habit of bailing out anyone financially."
"I have not come here to ask for money." He kept his tone as polite as he could, but the derision underneath was unmistakable and the older man's mouth tightened.
"Then say what you have to say and leave."
This was turning out to be a big mistake. He had chosen to take the honourable path and now he wondered what had possessed him.
"Perhaps I could speak with your wife as well."
"Oh, very well. But you'll have to be brief. My wife is not a well woman. She needs to get to bed at a reasonable hour." He turned and began walking towards the snug and Gabriel followed behind him, slightly taller and with the easy, graceful stride of someone attuned with his body.
"Lizzie, darling, we have an unexpected visitor. No, no need to get up. It's just Greppi."
Elizabeth Jackson sat in one of the big, padded armchairs, a fragile figure but with the stunning prettiness of a woman who even now, in her mid-fifties, could still make heads turn. The classic English rose who exuded good breeding from every one of her fingertips. Neither invited him to sit, nor was he offered a drink, although both were, he could tell, curious to find out what the hell he was doing in their house at the unseemly hour of nine in the evening.
Peter Jackson stood behind his wife's chair, as ruggedly impressive as she was delicately pretty. "If you're thinking of buying one of the horses, Greppi, then you're out of luck. Laura tells me that you have a knack with Barnabus, but he's not for sale. If you could afford him, which I frankly doubt. Might be a bit tempestuous, that stallion, but he'll make a damned fine racehorse with the proper training, so don't think you can cut yourself a deal cheaply simply because you know how to handle him. Or, for that matter, because my daughter chooses to associate with you. I am doing enough of a good deed by employing you to do odd jobs around the stables on the weekends."
"I have come to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
I have come to tell you that I am from another planet. I have come to tell you that I am the son of Satan. Gabriel watched their astounded expressions and figured that he might as well have confronted them with either of those two possibilities.
"I know that Laura thinks the world of you both and I would very much like to receive your blessing." Gabriel's nerves remained steady as he stared at them both. Young he might be in years, but his life had not been an easy ride and he had learned to deal with pretty much anything that could be thrown at him. Including Laura's snobbish, insular parents who had made it clear from the very first moment they had set eyes on him that he was one of life's more lowly inhabitants.
"I love your daughter, and whilst I realise that at the moment I may not have much to offer her, I assure -"
That broke the gaping silence surrounding them. The mention of his penury. Peter Jackson flung back his head and roared with laughter, then he sobered up sufficiently to wipe a few residual tears of mirth from his eyes.
"What, are you completely mad, Greppi? Now you listen to me and you listen carefully, boy." The older man leaned over his wife and enunciated his words very slowly, as if addressing someone whose grasp of English was faulty.
"Neither Lizzie nor myself approved of your involvement with Laura, but she's a big girl and there has not been much we could do about it. However, the only way you will marry our daughter is over my dead body! Do you read me loud and clear, boy? She is our jewel and there is no way on the face of this green earth that we will give our blessing to any marriage between the two of you."
"She's only a child, Gabriel." Elizabeth Jackson's voice was quiet but firm. "Nineteen years old. And you're only a child as well."
"Why don't we cut through the child argument and get to the heart of the matter?" Gabriel said with rigid self-control. "You see me as an inferior citizen because I am not British."
"That's not true, young man!" But Elizabeth Jackson's protest was as empty as a shell. The truth was stamped on her husband's face and Gabriel turned his head to one side in anger.
"You're not what we have in mind for a son-in-law, Greppi. I have no doubt that you'll make something of yourself, and good luck to you, but Laura deserves ..."
"Better?" Gabriel's voice was spiked with acidity.
"Call it what you will. And I warn you, Greppi, you leave our daughter alone. We haven't wanted to interfere, but you are no longer welcome at these stables. You can find somewhere else to do your riding and earn your extra money."
And that was the end of the discussion. Gabriel could see it in the way the old man turned towards the window, offering him the dismissive view of his back.
"Very well." Jet-black eyes smouldered as he looked at the two of them who would both breathe a sigh of heartfelt relief when he disappeared out of their line of vision.
But this was not over. He had appealed to them for their blessing and they had turned him down. Laura would not. He would have preferred to have married the woman he loved with her parents fully on his side, but if that was not to be the case, then so be it.
He turned on his heel and walked out of the room, letting himself out of the front door. The meeting, which he had imagined would have lasted at least an hour, an hour of persuading them that, whatever their prejudices, he would devote his entire life to making their beloved daughter happy, had lasted a scant ten minutes.
Excerpted from The Millionaire's Revenge by Cathy Williams Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.