Read A Spanish Marriage Online

Authors: Diana Hamilton

A Spanish Marriage

“I'm about to remedy my bride's neglect.”

He fastened strong fingers around Zoe's fragile wrist and drew her to her feet. Her elusive, utterly tantalizing perfume made his head spin. The warmth of her sensuous body as she fluidly closed the space between them sent a shaft of driving need through his nervous system, the force of it rocking him back on his heels.

This was about sex. He knew it and she knew it.

It was there in the hazy glow of her golden eyes, the rapid pulse beat at the base of her long creamy throat, the wild rose color that stole across her cheeks, the erect nipples angled against his chest just below his thundering heart. It was there in the quiver of heated flesh beneath slinky silk as he scooped her into his arms, and, tossing the words over his shoulder as he walked through the doorway, he said, “I know you'll excuse us. My wife and I have some serious remedying to do.”

VIVA LA VIDA DE AMOR!

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#2412

Diana Hamilton
A SPANISH MARRIAGE

PROLOGUE

‘M
UST
you leave us tomorrow, Javier? We don't see nearly enough of you. Your father and I go to the coast in one week, as you know. Spend it here with us? Just one more week of your time; it's not too much to ask?'

‘Sorry, Mama.' Genuine regret darkened Javier Masters' smoke-grey eyes as he accepted his mother's huff of exasperation. In her mid-fifties Isabella Maria was still the dark-haired, proud-eyed Spanish beauty his English father had fallen fathoms-deep in love with thirty years ago when he had been in his mid-forties and, so he often said, had resigned himself to never finding a woman he could contemplate spending the rest of his life with.

Isabella Maria drew herself stiffly upright in her brocaded chair. ‘Hah! So much for your always saying how much you love being here!'

A log fell in the huge stone hearth, sending sparks flying. Javier unfolded his long legs, left the squashy confines of the sofa and went to tend the fire, a necessary indulgence now that the cold winds from the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada heralded the approach of winter. His father's, ‘Don't nag the boy, Izzy,' brought a wry smile to his flattened mouth as he accepted the truth of what his mother had said.

He'd loved this place as soon as he'd set his fas
cinated eyes on it as a seven-year-old when his parents had bought it as a holiday home. A former Moorish caravanserai, it lay in the heart of the tiny Andalucian town behind a stout studded door, the building arcaded around a flagged courtyard, which in summer was filled with the heady scents of roses, myrtle and lilies.

Since his father's retirement and health problems his parents had transferred the family home, Wakeham Lodge in Gloucestershire, to him and spent the summers here but left for their home on the coast when winter pressed down from the mountains, remaining there until after the Easter celebrations.

‘There's nothing I'd like better than to stay on,' he admitted as he straightened and took a straddle-legged position in front of the hearth, his wide shoulders lifting in a resigned shrug beneath the fine black cashmere that moulded his impressive torso. ‘But I have a problem.'

‘The business?' Lionel Masters put in sharply. He had retired three years ago, handing over the reins to his only son, but he still took a keen interest in the construction business he and his one-time partner Martin Rothwell had founded and brought to impressive success, now a world beater in Javier's more than capable hands.

‘Nothing like that,' he quickly put his father's mind at rest, adding drily, ‘Business problems I can handle. But this one goes by the name of Zoe Rothwell.'

Two simultaneous expressive ‘Aah!'s were followed by a silence so intense Javier could hear his heart beating. Heavily.

He glanced at the slim gold-banded watch he wore on his flat wrist. In roughly fifteen minutes Solita, the resident housekeeper, would announce that dinner was served. Best spell it out, get it over with.

‘Yesterday, as I was leaving a meeting in Madrid I received a call from Alice Rothwell on my mobile. She sounded at the end of her tether and—to leave out the histrionics—it boils down to a blunt demand that I take over Zoe's guardianship because Alice can't and won't cope any longer.'

‘And?' Isabella Maria arched fine black brows and laid a dramatic hand on her silk-clad breast. ‘How could Alice think this is possible? I always thought she was a strange old woman—so cold and prim and proper—and now we add madness to the catalogue! Why should she think you can care for her little granddaughter? It would be different if you had a wife. But you do not.'

Registering the latent disapproval in that last statement, Javier caught his father's grin and gave back a wry shrug. As an only child his confirmed bachelorhood had been Isabella Maria's greatest anxiety since he had reached the age of twenty-five three years ago. His mother wanted grandchildren; there was the future generation to think of—well, wasn't there?

But Javier was nowhere near ready to tie himself down; he enjoyed his male freedom far too much. He worked damned hard so he was entitled to play hard. He enjoyed women, lovely, sophisticated creatures who shared his view that only an immature fool could mistake old-fashioned lust for love.

‘Zoe can no longer be classed as a child,' Javier
pointed out at last, ignoring the barb about his wifeless state. ‘She's sixteen. The worst kind of bolshie teenager, according to her grandmother. Apparently, she is now flatly refusing to return to boarding-school, skulking around the house, playing loud music at all hours of the day and night, giving Alice a load of grief. Which she wants to hand over to me,' he ended drily.

‘Why you?' Lionel Masters regarded his son over steepled fingers. ‘You're already a corporate legend,' he commented proudly. ‘A tough operator but fair, the original iron fist in a velvet glove. The responsibility of a tricky teenage girl wouldn't cause you to lose a second's worth of sleep, so I can see the way Alice's mind would be working. But there is no blood relationship, no family duty Alice Rothwell has a right to call on.'

Javier's handsome mouth tightened. ‘There's a moral duty. Dating from when Zoe's father sold his share in the business to you and then died with her mother, Grace, in that house fire six weeks later,' he reminded coolly. ‘Thankfully, Zoe was staying with a school friend and was spared, but that night she lost both her parents, her home, all the security an eight-year-old girl had ever known. I felt deeply sorry for both Alice and Zoe and I thought someone from our family should take an interest,' he emphasised bluntly.

‘Alice Rothwell's not the easiest woman to like.' He spread his hands dismissively. ‘That aside, her husband had died the year before, she'd lost her son and was landed with a granddaughter she found im
possible to handle. She is constitutionally lacking the warmth and sensitivity required for the care of a needy child. I knew that and made a point of keeping in touch over the years. So I guess you could say that Alice sees me as the likeliest person to take over.'

Moral issues aside, ignoring the implication that she and Lionel should have offered practical help for an ex-business partner's orphaned child, Isabella Maria's mind was walking an entirely different path. ‘Zoe Rothwell was such a pretty child, as I remember. Such a happy little thing. She and her parents spent that Christmas with us at Wakeham Lodge. You remember, Lionel—you and her father spent most of the time finalising the details about buying him out of the business. Weeks later both her parents were dead, so there must be a mass of money sloshing about. Little Zoe might have turned into a handful but she must be worth a great deal. Surely that's right, Javier?'

‘So?' Javier bit back his impatience. ‘Zoe will inherit a considerable amount when she reaches twenty-one. In the meantime the money's in trust.' He answered the question, even though it had no relevance to the present situation, only to receive another from the same off-beat direction.

‘Is she still pretty? I recall she had the loveliest long pale blonde hair—and such huge golden eyes!'

As he expelled an I-don't-believe-this hiss Javier's dark brows met. What had Zoe's looks got to do with the problem he was faced with? Tips on how to persuade a reluctant teenager to finish her education would have been more to the point! ‘How should I
know?' he grouched. ‘I visit a couple of times a year to make sure things are ticking over as well as can be expected, only to be regaled with tales of temper tantrums, nannies disappearing at the speed of light.'

In those days Zoe had been clingy around him on his visits, he recalled. Still at university himself, he'd found fun things to do with the orphaned scrap, given her a few hours of the type of childish fun not permitted by her starchy grandmother or her ancient housekeeper, both of whom repeatedly spouted the principle that children should be seen but not heard.

Later, when Zoe had been packed off to boarding-school, she'd become sulky, her mouth in a perpetual pout, her hair plaited in a tight braid that fell down her back to her waist.

It must have been almost a year since he'd seen her. Pressure of work had kept him out of England. His frown deepened to a scowl. She'd spent the whole of his two-hour visit staring at him, he recalled, remembering how oddly uncomfortable she'd made him feel.

‘You should marry her. She has her own fortune so she wouldn't be spending yours—which is a huge consideration when one never knows if a woman thinks more of the size of a man's wallet than the extent of his happiness,' Isabella Maria pronounced lightly. ‘In two years, when she's eighteen. Provided she has child-bearing hips, of course. What could be more convenient? And if anyone could cure her of her apparent habit of bad behaviour then it would be my handsome, strong-minded son!'

‘Dream on, Mama!' His mocking laughter was a
release for his irritation. He could never stay annoyed with his outrageous, adored parent for more than two minutes at a time. And as for the state of Zoe's hips, he had no idea whether they were as wide as a barn door or as narrow as a snake's.

 

Zoe's heart was beating so rapidly she felt sick. The carriage clock on the mantelpiece ticked the interminably slow waiting minutes. Javier was coming for her! Her head was spinning; her whole body felt out of control.

She shifted restlessly on the upright chair in the window enclosure, staring out over the dull November garden, over the top of the low neatly clipped privet hedge where she would see his car as it turned off the village main street and onto the driveway, her eyes stinging with the effort of not allowing herself the smallest blink in case she missed his arrival.

For the first time in her sixteen and a half years she actually believed in her own guardian angel, something or someone who did care about her, nudge her in the right direction. What else could explain her sudden decision to walk out of school, hitch a lift back here and state she was never going back?

She'd hated that school ever since she'd been sent there at the age of eleven. Surrounded by strangers who hadn't known her from Adam and hadn't wanted to—because by that time Zoe had learned that the only way to dull the pain of not being loved by a single living soul was to act as if she didn't care.

The other sixty-odd pupils were meek little swots
and Zoe soon discovered why. The guiding principle of The Blenchley Private Academy For Girls was strict discipline. Severe punishments were handed out for anyone who stepped out of line, no mitigating circumstances considered.

The threat of punishment meant nothing to Zoe. Whatever the grim-eyed tutors dealt out—for answering back, bad attitude, inattention, whatever—meant next to nothing because it was a pale shadow of the punishment she'd been dealt on the night she'd lost both her loving parents, her home, everything. The only survivor from her happy past had been Misty, her darling Shetland pony, safe in his stable. But Grandmother Alice had flatly refused to allow her to keep him. Misty had been sold.

So she'd loathed Grandmother Alice, too. Truth to tell, when the grandmother she'd seen only rarely had taken her in she'd been scared by the way the old lady had recoiled and pushed her away whenever she'd tried to climb on her knee for a cuddle. Zoe had never before encountered an emotional rebuff or been treated as if she were an inconsiderate nuisance. She hadn't liked being scared so she'd turned that fear and bewilderment into anger, a stubborn refusal to do as she was told, ever.

When she'd woken that morning, just over a week ago, and decided she wouldn't stay at school one moment longer, she'd had no idea how events would unfold. Twenty-four hours ago Grandmother Alice had announced, ‘Javier Masters has agreed to take you into his care for the remainder of your minority.' Her thin mouth had pursed. ‘I have performed my
duty thus far, but am unwilling to continue. My only hope is that Javier can instil some common sense into you and exact at least some good behaviour. He will collect you tomorrow afternoon. Make sure you are packed and ready.'

Since then she'd been in a state bordering on delirium. Her guardian angel had been working overtime! She'd always adored Javier.

In the beginning he had given her treats every time he'd visited. Trips to the zoo, ice creams and burgers, a day at the seaside where they'd built the biggest sandcastle known to mankind, a magical few hours watching a pantomime, lots of fun but, more importantly, his time and attention. All that had more or less stopped once she'd been packed away to boarding-school. He'd still visited a couple of times a year when she'd been back on holiday but Grandmother Alice had vetoed any outings, telling Javier that, because of consistently bad reports from school, treats of any kind were out of the question.

The visits she'd so much looked forward to had become torture. The three of them taking tea, served by the grumpy old housekeeper, Grandmother Alice's strictures to ‘Sit up straight', ‘Don't fidget so', ‘Answer the question.'

Javier's gentle questions about school, the friends she'd made, nothing she'd wanted to answer because nobody must know how unhappy she was. It would have made her seem weak and she wasn't, she was tough!

But his smile had always been kind even though she'd known she was behaving like a sulky brat. And
when he'd left he'd always given her a big hug and that had always made her want to cry because he'd seemed the only person in the world able to like her, and she'd known it would be months before she would see him again.

Then, around a year ago, on his last visit, something amazing had happened. She'd fallen for him with a resounding crash. Not only because of his fantastic looks—that soft black hair, sexy, black-fringed smoky eyes, the hard slash of his high cheekbones, tough jawline and wide, beautiful male mouth—but because of that intrinsic kindness, coupled with the aura of supreme self-assurance that told her that he was a man who would fight to the death for anything or anyone he cared about.

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