"Yes, I do. I object!"
Standing at the altar, Sebastian Rey-Defoe has resigned himself to a marriage of convenience, until a flame-haired siren interrupts the ceremony! Worse, he recognizes her, and this must be her idea of revenge
Mari Jones is determined to put a dent in Sebastian's insurmountable prideand to make him pay for his sins. But she hasn't bargained on the sparks that fly the instant she and the arrogant tycoon meet again.
Nor did she ever imagine that the consequences of her plan would see her walking down the aisle toward Sebastian!
Seven Sexy SinsThe true taste of temptation!
About the Author
Kim Lawrence was encouraged by her husband to write when the unsocial hours of nursing didn’t look attractive! He told her she could do anything she set her mind to, so Kim tried her hand at writing. Always a keen Mills & Boon reader, it seemed natural for her to write a romance novel – now she can’t imagine doing anything else. She is a keen gardener and cook and enjoys running on the beach with her Jack Russell. Kim lives in Wales.
Read an Excerpt
Mari hadn't expected it to be this easy, but so far no one questioned her presence in the cordoned-off street where she blended in pretty well with the other women negotiating the ancient cobbles in high heels, worried that any slip or inelegant stumble would be recorded for posterity by the photographers lined up along the other side of the barrier.
She had more things than falling off her heels to worry about!
Relax, Mari. A ghost of a smile touched her lipsshe was, after all, only following doctor's orders. Admittedly it was doubtful if the well-meaning medic had had this in mind when he had noticed her shaking hand was unable to hold a teacup and banned her from the hospital for twenty-four hours.
'We'll let you know if there is any change. Go home,' he had encouraged. 'Have a meal, get some rest. You need a change of scene and something to take your mind off things. I know it's hard, but you're in this for the long haul and you'll be no good to your brother if you collapse from exhaustion, believe me. I've seen it happen.'
If she'd had the energy Mari might have laughed at the thought of anything taking her mind off her brother's situation. But common sense had made her recognise the grain of truth in his words, so she'd not protested when he'd called her a taxi, not that she'd had any intention of being away from Mark's bedside for longer than it took her to shower and get a change of clothes.
After the shower she had sat looking at a sandwich she had no appetite for with the television playing in the background to drown out her thoughts If only? Her brain wouldn't switch off; it just kept going around in dizzying circles. She managed a bite, chewing and swallowing without tasting before her eyes began to close, her chin sank to her chest and she was on the point of drifting off when she was jolted awake by a name. Hate pushed away fatigue as, her expression set in lines of loathing, she reached for the volume on the TV control.
The news presenter on the scene was giving the viewers the life story of the bride and groom in what was being grandly called 'the wedding of the year'.
God, was that today ?
Mari sat there, her hate an aching solid presence on her chest, her thoughts buzzing as she tuned out the woman who droned on while images of the bride looking beautiful somewhere fashionable and the groomeven more beautifullooking down his aristocratic nose at someone or something flashed across the screen.
She knew all she needed to about Seb Rey-Defoe and his bride-to-be, and as far as she was concerned they deserved one another! When she had seen the announcement of their forthcoming wedding she had laughed.
The bride, Elise Hall-Prentice, was an upper-crust beauty whose claim to fame beyond her wardrobe and her social connections was being the star of a reality show that had involved her pretending to have lost all her moneywould she lose her friends?
As if anyone cared! The woman had all the sincerity of a fake tan, and the empathy of a reptile, without the charm!
And this was their day, while Mark was lying in a hospital bed, and, thanks to that hateful man, if she died tomorrow she'd be a virgin while they'd have the perfect day. Nothing would dare go wrong.
It was so unfair!
But then life was unfair, she reflected, reaching for the control as the picture on the screen cut to VIP guests in flowing Arab gowns getting out of helicopters. She dropped the control, her eyes flying wide open What if something or someone spoilt their perfect day? Her laugh was a mixture of fear and exhilaration as she thoughtand why not?
Why should everything go his way? Why should he walk through life immune to the stuff that everyone else had to deal with, cushioned by money and power? Both her and Mark's lives had been touched, and not in a good way, by that man, and he had probably forgotten they existedmaybe it was time to remind him?
Suddenly no longer tired at all but filled with a sense of purpose, she went to the wardrobe and pulled out the blue dress and held it against herself as she looked critically at her mirror image. That man had humiliated her in public. Let's see, she thought grimly, how he enjoys it when he's the one on the receiving end.
'I just have to ask.'
Mari started violently as the young woman touched her arm, stepping back onto the neatly trimmed grass verge as a cluster of well-dressed people, their laughter sounding like a flock of seagulls, went by.
Convinced that her guilt was written across her forehead in neon letters, she waited, breath held, for the axe to fall. Which it will if you don't start believing in yourself, she told herself sternly.
'You've got to tell me, who are you wearing?'
The comment poked a tiny hole in Mari's grim focus, allowing a ghost of a wry smile to touch her full lips.
Her reply was honest. Honesty was the best policy. She pushed away the stab of unease. There were exceptions to every rule and occasions when breaking them was the right thing to do.
'I'm not sure.'
Another smile almost escaped. The woman's wide-eyed reaction suggested she was seeing Mari walk into a wardrobe crammed with designer outfits. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. She possessed one other dress beside this bargain designer second with the label cut out.
The blue silk shift that had excited the other woman's admiration left her arms bare and ended just above the knee. She liked the simplicity of the flattering figure-skimming cut, and the bright cerulean shade echoed the colour of her eyes almost exactly. People who got past her hair often commented on the colour of her eyes, frequently asking if she wore coloured contact lenses to achieve the dramatic shade.
'If I had your hair I wouldn't wear a hat either.' Her eyes on Mari's tumbling auburn curls, the young woman touched a rueful hand to the frothy pink confection perched jauntily on her smooth blonde hair as she responded to an irritable, 'Come on, Sue!' from a tall, grumpy-looking young man, top hat in hand.
He saw Mari, looked far less grumpy and adjusted his tie. Mari, oblivious to the male admiration, attempted to slip away but the young woman moved to block her way.
'Do you mindcan I have a picture for my blog?'
Before she could respond the woman was snapping Mari on her phone.
'Who was that?'
'I think she's that model or the actress in what was that film, the one with.?'
Under normal circumstances the overheard snatch of conversation as she hurried on would have made Mari laugh, but this situation was not normal, and she couldn't allow herself to be distracted.
What would they say if they could share the joke: not only was she not a famous model or actress, she was not even a guest at this wedding!
She was crashing it!
A thing that a month, a week, even a day ago, she could not have imagined herself doing. A lot of things could change in a week!
A week ago Mari was listening to her twin brother telling her how his life was ruined, ignorant then of the real life-wrecking disaster that would strike him within the next few hours. At that moment disaster meant being dumped by the woman he loved because her very important brother, with his blue blood and family estates, didn't think that he, Mark Jones, who didn't even know who his parents were, was good enough for a Defoe!
Mari offered her sympathy, while in reality she was dizzy with relief. It was all she could do not to punch the air in triumph. The sick feeling that had been in the pit of her stomach ever since she had realised who her twin's new girlfriend's brother was had gone.
That her happiness came from her brother's misery made her feel terribly guilty, but the truth was, since she had realised that there was a strong possibility that Mark's new relationship might bring her face-to-face with the man who after six years still featured in her nightmares, she had been living with a sense of impending doom.
Crazy, reallyfor years she'd fantasised about coming face-to-face with him and telling him all the things she wished she had at the time, instead of just standing there and taking every vile insult he'd thrown at her She had actually apologised!
No matter how many times she tweaked the cathartic speech she longed to deliver, deep down she had always known this was only a fantasy, and the knowledge infuriated her. She had spent her life not only standing up for herself, but also fighting the battles of anyone less able to fight for themselves, but there was no escaping the shameful fact that when the opportunity had arisen for her to defend herself, she'd bottled it!
And run away rather than face things!
She could still remember years ago, how cold the wind had felt as she had dashed across the lawn into the hotel away from all those eyes and the people judging her.
'He was on the news tonight. Did you see him?'
'Who?' she asked, her thoughts still on that terrible night six years ago.
The name made her tense and the awed way her brother said it made her want to scream. She could admire achievements, even when money and power were not things she personally felt any desire for, but to inherit a position and money What was to admire about that? Any more than you could admire someone for being beautiful and brooding, for inheriting genes that gave him sculpted features, spectacular eyes and sensually moulded lips.
'They were talking about the massive deal he has with some Gulf state. The royal family there are putting up half the capital and one of his companies is supplying the know-how to computerise their health service, sort of a tit-for-tat thingit could bring over a thousand jobs back to the area where they plan to build'
Mari gave a cynical snort and cut across him. 'And line his pockets with money, too.'
Mark's sigh was tinged with envy. 'If only I had some money.'
'What's money got to do with it, and what does it matter what he thinks if you want to be together?'
'I don't know why I expected you to understand. I mean, you've never been in love, have you? Oh, I forgotyou go for married men, don't you ?'
Essentially a nice person, this was Mark when he was hurting. He hit out, wanting to share his misery, and he usually succeeded because he knew her weak spots.
He was the only one who did know this particular weak spot. Not the shameful detailsthose she would never share with anyonejust the basics. Well, knocking on his door at 4:00 a.m., having lost her key during the terrible journey back from Cumbria that had involved trains, buses and multiple changes, had required an explanation of sorts.
'Adrian, he's married!' had been all she'd got out before she had burst into tears and fell sobbing through the door.
It was the past and she had moved on, Mari reminded herself.
Moved on or not, the fact remained that she couldn't think of her eighteen-year-old self without cringing. How had she ever been that naive, that needy? How could she not have seen past the smooth, slick charm and macho posturing of her personal tutor?
'If you're not ready, Mari, I understand you want the first time to be special. I can wait '
She had almost fallen over herself to assure Adrian that she was ready and she loved the Lake District. She'd never even had a boyfriend and here was this gorgeous, sophisticated man who looked like one of the Byronic heroes he lectured on falling for her, Mari Jones. Of course she couldn't wait to show him how much she loved him.
And she would have.
If that man hadn't appeared when he had
For a year after the event he had been that man in her head, the strong, amazingly handsome lines of his lean face clearer somehow than Adrian's, until the day she had opened a magazine in the dentist's waiting room and there he was on a silver-sanded beach, too beautiful to be real, just like the blonde model he was entangled with.
The man who had humiliated her in front of an audience who had eaten up every word, every insult he had so eloquently delivered, was Sebastian Rey-Defoe: rich, gifted and born with several silver spoons in his cruel, insult-spewing mouth.
He'd made her feel grubby and guilty, his contempt somehow worse than Adrian's deceit; at least she'd got the chance to tell Adrian that he was a total sleaze.
That man had not paused to ask questions, he'd just presumed the very worst. It hadn't even crossed his mind that she might be a victim. Or she would have beenhe'd saved her from her own ignorance and in the process made her a hell of a lot more cautious where men were concerned.
Done her a favour Maybe ? That part had been accidental. He hadn't been saving her from anything; he had been there to judge, to serve her up on a platter for public condemnation.
The incident had left Mari unable to trust her own judgement, which had proved an obstacle when some seemingly nice guy had wanted to get serious Yes, she had trust issues.
She'd taken the psych class and she knew a therapist would say her fear of rejection stemmed from being an abandoned baby, which was stupid because Mark shared her history and he tumbled in and out of love at the drop of a hat.
She glared at her brother now. 'You know, Mark, there are times when you can really be a vicious little'
'Sorry, Mari.' Immediately contrite, her twin got up and came over, enfolding her in a hug. 'You know I didn't mean it. I don't know what I'm saying. Everything was going so great. I mean, I actually made money last month, though the loan was much appreciated, sis, and the weekend was perfect, it was another world, Mari, honestly you've no idea. She never said that her grandfather was a lord, and the house They live on this incredible estate, Mandeville Hall. It turns out the Defoes came over with William the Conqueror or something and what are we?' His handsome face despondent now after the burst of envious enthusiasm, he sank back down into the chair.
'Luckywe are lucky to have found a terrific foster family, people who cared about us.'
It had been third time lucky.
Initially there had been plenty of people eager to adopt the cute twin babies whose discovery on the doorstep of a church had captured the public imagination for about five minutes. There had still been plenty of interested would-be parents at the point some months later when the authorities had decided the babies' biological parents were not going to come forward to claim them.
Their enthusiasm had decreased when they had discovered that one of the babies, so pretty as a newborn, had developed a raft of allergies that gave the infant a constant cough and various unattractive rashes, kept under control only by a complicated prescription of numerous lotions and ointments.
If the twins had not come as a package deal, the rosy-cheeked blond-haired boy would have been easy to home, but the authority's policy was not to split twins. So the boy had been left behind with his problematic sister.
There had been two temporary foster homes before they had finally been taken in by the Warings, a marvellous couple who had plastered a wall of their Victorian semi with photos of the dozens of happy children who had lived under their roof over the years, some for a short time, others like the twins growing up as part of the large extended family.
'Yeah, I know, count my blessings,' Mark drawled. 'Don't you ever get tired of counting them, Mari, being so damned grateful when our own mother left us on some step?'
'I'm sure she had her reasons.' 'I don't care why she did it.'
It was true, Mari knew ithe didn't care, and she envied her twin this attitude. He never asked himself why. Or, was it something about me.?
'The fact remains she did Do you know that the Defoes can trace their lineage back to William the Conqueror?'
Mari gave a bored yawn. 'Yes, Mark, you mentioned it.'
Her twin missed the sarcasm. 'Now, that's the sort of background to be proud of.'