The merest glimpse of handsome, sophisticated Benedict Warrender was enough to make wallflower Lily Gray blush. But since a twist of fate allowed her to enter his orbit, it's been the memories of their life-altering night together that make her cheeks burn.
One secret that will change everything...
When one night...leads to pregnancy!
Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.
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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
For the first two days of her holiday Lily had put on a sundress over her bikini, applied some clear gloss to her lips and a light smudge of eye shadow before walking, sandals in hand, along the white sandy beach. She'd joined the other guests in the dining room, a structure with a roof but no walls. In the evening, guests could eat and listen to music provided by a talented in-house pianist, while watching the sun go down over the ocean as they sipped exotic-looking, but lethal, cocktails.
Pretty much idyllic with one small but significant negative: Lily had no one to share the experience with. This was not a problem for her, just other people, it seemed. So this morning, she'd decided to have her meals on the patio of her beach-front bungalow.
'Just ring through if you'd like lunch here too, miss.'
Lily smiled at the maid, Mathilde, who had come to collect her breakfast things. 'I thought I might explore a little, walk into town maybe, so afternoon tea would be better and I'll have my dinner here.'
'Alone?' The maid looked almost as disapproving as her mother would have.
Lily nodded firmly.
To say you couldn't move without falling over honeymooners was a slight exaggeration, but the adult-only luxury resort was, unsurprisingly, geared towards loved-up couples. The only other singleton Lily had encountered was a chatty middle-aged travel writer. While it was interesting to know that the island had once belonged to Denmark before they sold it to America, another lecture over dinner tonight did not appeal.
And besides, these days being alone was something of a treat. Until you were a mother, she mused, picking up her towel and setting off along the white sand in the opposite direction to the maid, you could never quite grasp how much your life changed.
Not that she'd change it, she thought, her expression softening into a warm smile as she thought of her daughter. Motherhood might not have been something she'd planned, but Lily could not imagine her life any other way now. She missed Emmy so desperately, it actually felt as though she had a body part missing. But there was a guilty pleasure in spending half an hour on her nails and a couple of hours reading without interruptions.
Still, a new laptop—the third prize in the magazine competition—would have been a more practical option.
'You can't pass up a holiday in a tropical paradise!' Her mother had been outraged by the suggestion.
'You think I can't look after my granddaughter for a week?'
'Of course you can. But I couldn't possibly let you...'
Lily felt guilty enough as it was that she relied on her parent so much. Her mother had been incredibly supportive all the way through her difficult pregnancy and then a real sanity saver during those early sleepdeprived months. Lily would never have been able to take on her part-time job if her mum hadn't been there ready and cheerfully willing to look after Emmy on those two mornings she worked at the local college. What would I do on this island of sea and sand?'
'That you have to ask shows how much you need this holiday. When was the last time you had a half-hour to call your own, Lily? When did you last spend some time socially with anyone your own age? You need to let your hair down. You might even meet someone.?'
Lily gave an exasperated sigh. She knew exactly where this was going. 'I know you want to see me married off, Mum, but—'
'I want to see you happy, Lily. I want to see both my girls happy.'
Lily knew what 'happy' meant to her mum, who was fond of saying, 'There's someone out there for everyone—a soul mate. I found mine,' she added. 'There was never and never will be any other man for me but your father.'
Lily had always struggled to reconcile the misty-eyed romanticism with her childhood memories of angry raised voices, slamming doors and tears. Lily never voiced her thoughts, she felt disloyal for even thinking them, though she sometimes wondered if her mum really felt that way or if it was her way of dealing with being widowed so young. Had she been telling the stories for so long she believed them.?
'I am happy, Mum.' Why did no one believe her?
And even if she had been looking for romance, she had no time for it. Juggling her part-time job in the college drama department and the unpaid hours she put in at the hospice—where her mother fundraised so tirelessly—with caring for her two-year-old daughter left no time for anything except falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day.
Lily considered her life rich and fulfilling. Occasionally she thought what if... ? But those thoughts were swiftly quashed. She still had ambitions; they just weren't the same ones she'd had as a final-year drama student. Back then she'd had several small parts in TV dramas under her belt and the lead role in a new costume drama to walk into when she graduated—not bad for the invisible twin.
But her life had changed unexpectedly and she didn't resent it. Now she wanted more than anything to be a role model for her daughter. Although she'd been an OK actress, she had discovered by accident she was a better than OK teacher. As soon as Emmy was in school she had plans to get the qualifications to enable her to lecture and not just be an assistant. She might never see her own name in lights, but she might be responsible for some other shy, awkward kid—as she'd been—discovering the liberation of becoming someone else on stage.
Lily's thoughts were not on her future career as she wandered down the deserted beach, her feet sinking into the sand. She was replaying the conversation she'd had via the computer link with her daughter the previous evening. Well, conversation might be overstating it. Emmy had fallen asleep after five minutes on her grandmother's knee saying loudly that she wanted a dog, a wiggy dog.
'She means waggy, I think,' Elizabeth had translated, stroking her granddaughter's curly head. 'She grabbed Robert's poor old Lab by the tail and wouldn't let go.'
Lily's eyes misted as the longing to hold her daughter, smell her hair, brought an emotional lump to her throat.
Dropping her towel on the sand, she stared out to sea, the ache in her chest a mixture of pride and loneliness as she waded out into the warm, clear water.
Returning the painting had been a theatrical stunt. The big reveal had gone down like a lead balloon, but in his defence Ben had tried everything else. Nothing had worked. His grandfather had refused then, as he did now, to give an inch. He still refused to concede that selling off the odd heirloom or parcel of land was not a fiscally sound form of long-term financial planning.
This morning the argument had not gone on long before his grandfather had given his never darken my door again speech and Ben, knowing that if he stayed he'd say something he'd regret, had accepted the invite.
Striding through the corridors of the old house, he'd predictably felt his anger fade, leaving frustration and the realisation that he needed a change of tactics. Governments and financial institutions listened to his analyses, they valued his opinion, but he just had to accept that his grandfather didn't even think of him as an adult, let alone someone qualified to offer advice.
He'd paused, responding to a text from his PA reminding him he had a meeting in Paris in two hours, when he heard the sound. Glancing through the deep stone-mullioned window at the helicopter he'd arrived in, which was sitting on the south lawn, Ben was tempted to pretend he hadn't heard it. Then he heard it again—the sound of a child crying.
Curious, he slid his phone back into his pocket and followed the sound of the cries. The search led him to the kitchen, a room that, like the plumbing at Warren Court, would have made a Victorian feel right at home.
The door to the vast room was open, and as he stepped inside the source of the noise, a child held by his grandfather's harassed-looking housekeeper, Elizabeth Gray, let out an ear-piercing screech, made even louder by the room's tremendous acoustics.
'Wow, that's quite a set of lungs.' And quite a head of hair. The wild red curls on the toddler's head opened a memory he'd have preferred to stay locked inside the file marked move on.
And he had moved on; it was ancient history.
Would Elizabeth's smile have been so warm and welcoming had she known he'd slept with one of her daughters? The lazy speculation vanished as she advanced towards him holding the screaming child. Horror slid into the vacuum it left.
'Your grandfather didn't tell me you were coming...'
'He didn't know.' Ben prided himself on the ability to extricate himself from uncomfortable situations, but for once his ingenuity failed him.
'Are you staying for...? Never mind—hold her, will you?'
It was not a suggestion or a request, it was a plea, which he hadn't responded to when he had found his arms filled with crying toddler. A new experience for him... He stood rigid, holding the wriggling, screaming child the same way he would an unexploded bomb—at arm's length! He'd have felt more comfortable with a bomb; they were more predictable.
Ben had nothing against children, and he understood why people felt the urge to procreate, he just wondered why some did. People like his mother, who had never made any pretence of being maternal. His mother, who had done her level best to forget that she'd had a child after she'd given birth and had done so pretty successfully. She had never made any bones about what came first—her career. And as she'd pointed out, not having a mother coddling him had made him self-reliant.
He recognised similar character traits—some might call them faults—in himself. He was ambitious, ruthlessly focused on his work. Ben had no illusions about his character. Bottom line, he was selfish. That combined with razor-sharp instincts made him successful in his chosen career.
He didn't need those instincts to tell him he'd have been a terrible parent. It was pretty obvious. Being a good parent required sacrifice and compromise, which he was simply not capable of. His decision not to have children was yet another bone of contention between him and his grandfather, who was fixated on the idea of the family name living on.
'Is she ill?' He struggled to hide his unease and eyed the child warily. She might be attractive, but right now, with her crumpled, tear-stained face as red as her hair, she wasn't.
'She bumped her head, slipped chasing the cat. Now let's have a look...it's not deep,' Elizabeth said, brushing a mass of auburn curls from the squawking kid's head. 'But it simply won't stop bleeding and Emmy doesn't like the sight of blood. But she's a brave girl, aren't you, my darling?' she crooned.
The brave girl gave another ear-splitting bawl. Was it normal for a kid to be that loud? Ben, who had been his parents' only mistake, wasn't sure.
'I didn't know Lara had a child,' he said, struggling to make himself heard above the din. 'Is she visiting, or have they moved back from the States?' he asked, pretending a polite interest he didn't feel. Though he'd felt mild surprise when the news of the wedding had reached his ears six months after the event.
Lara Gray was the last person he would have imagined marrying young, she'd been a bit of a wild child, but then what did he know? Her sister had always seemed like the last sort of person who'd spend the night with a man and leave before he woke.
But she had.
To wake and find the pillow beside him empty should have been a relief. Yet finding her gone, leaving nothing but the elusive scent of her perfume, scratches on his shoulders and a pearl earring, he'd been furious. While recognising his response as irrational and disproportionate, Ben had struggled to shrug it off. Even now, three years later, the sight of a red curl could flip his mood.
He didn't like being used, and he'd always hated bad manners.
Sure, Ben, you 're getting worked up after nearly three years over bad manners...what did you want from her, a thank-you note?
Ben's ego was not fragile and there had been occasions in his life when he would have liked to fast-forward past the morning-after scene. Yet when he had reached across, anticipating contact with warm womanly skin, and found nothing but a cold indent his anger had almost, but not completely, masked that initial gut reaction. loss.
It was no use pretending otherwise—the timing had been bad. He'd known it but he'd still done it. He'd known that his personal life, in the immediate future, was going to be subjected to public scrutiny. His on-off engagement when it came out was going to sell papers, but if it had got out that he'd fallen straight into another relationship, or at least into another bed...was it fair to expose Lily to that sort of smutty tabloid speculation?
You had to laugh at the irony—not that he had. But then what man wouldn't feel a little raw if he'd woken up and found that the woman who had awoken dormant chivalrous instincts—and who just happened to be the best sex he'd ever had—had walked out? But then life was a learning curve and he'd moved on.
He'd rationalised the event. Lily had been what he'd needed, when he'd needed it. He'd just been surprised really—she'd always seemed so... sweet. Well, good for her. Clearly she had her mind firmly focused on her career and sex was strictly recreational. He'd met any number of women with that pragmatic attitude; he'd dated more than a few.
'Lara?' Elizabeth, blowing a strand of blonde hair from her eyes, looked up, appearing surprised by the comment. 'Lara doesn't have children. This is Lily's little girl.'
'Lily is married?' Ben, who had never been one to wrap up unpalatable truths in pretty packaging, found himself not analysing too deeply his powerful gut response to this news.
'No, she isn't married. Lily is a single parent. I'm very proud of her,' she added defensively, explaining, 'She moved back to the village. She works part-time at the college and I help out when I can.'
Ben struggled to take on board all the information and the surprisingly strong emotions it shook loose.
So no big acting career, no glamorous red carpets, no name in lights, just... He looked at the child, who had stopped crying. Tears trembled on the ends of her sooty lashes as she returned his look with one of deep suspicion through eyes that were a deep blue.
He stiffened as somewhere in the back of his mind the seeds of a crazy suspicion sent out tentative roots.
'That must be a struggle.' His sympathy elicited a nod.
'Oh, I love helping... Just hold still a moment for Granny. Emmy is a total sweetheart but Lily.'
'M...Mummy...' Ben watched the child's lower lip tremble ominously before she gave another sniff, her small rounded chin jutting pugnaciously as she yelled, 'Want Mummy now!'
'A child who knows her own mind.'
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Description du livre Harlequin (Uk), 2015. Paperback. État : Brand New. 192 pages. In Stock. N° de réf. du libraire zk0263249085