Her heart rate was raised rapidly. And she knew exactly what had caused it. Rafael Sanguardo...
Celeste Philips's night was meant to be about raising money for charity. Not trying to douse the flames of attraction between herself and self-made millionaire Rafael Sanguardo, a man who always gets what he wants.
Celeste knows she shouldn't fall for Rafael's practiced charm, yet the more her head tells her to walk away and protect her fragile heart...the more she craves his forbidden touch!
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Mills & Boon novels were Julia James’ first “grown up” books she read as a teenager, and she's been reading them ever since. She adores the Mediterranean and the English countryside in all its seasons, and is fascinated by all things historical, from castles to cottages. In between writing she enjoys walking, gardening, needlework and baking “extremely gooey chocolate cakes” and trying to stay fit! Julia lives in England with her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Celeste stood poised at the head of the long curving flight of marble stairs that led down into the great hall below. It was already crowded with people in black tie and evening clothes, and servers were circulating with trays of champagne and canapés. Her fellow models for the evening were mingling in evening dress, prior to the charity fashion show that was about to start. She had arrived slightly late at the stately home in Oxfordshire that was the evening's venue, but had seized the last-minute opportunity to be here tonight, well away from London-and from Karl Reiner.
Celeste's expression tautened even just from her thinking about the man. She had known when she became the new face of Blonde Visage, one of the skincare ranges belonging to Reiner Visage-one for each complexion type-that Karl Reiner liked to have a more than professional relationship with the Reiner Visage models, but because he had been preoccupied with another 'face'-Monique Silva- Celeste had felt it safe to allow herself to be tempted by the lucrative contract. Making good, regular money was, even after years in the fickle and intensely competitive modelling business, not something to turn down lightly.
A bleak expression lit the back of her eyes.
There was never, ever, any such thing as easy money-
She of all people should know that..
For now Karl had tired of Monique and was turning his attention to Celeste-and he assumed she would be as willing as Monique had been.
Celeste's expression hardened. Karl Reiner could assume what he liked, but he would not get what he was after from her. Not even now he had flown in from New York this weekend specifically to pressure her to extend her contract-and pay the price he wanted her to pay for it.
Well, she would not be extending it. Yes, the money had been good, but these days making money was not the be all and end all of her preoccupations. A cold miasma seemed to touch at her skin. Not any more...
Her refusal was a message Karl Reiner didn't want to hear, and he had demanded she make herself available to have dinner with him in London tonight. To evade him Celeste had been obliged to volunteer at a late hour for the charity fashion show that was shortly to take place in the grand salon.
Just thinking about Karl Reiner and what he wanted of her-what he thought she would provide- intensified the feeling of a cold miasma on her skin. It was penetrating into her like a toxic memory, fetid and foul...
With effort, she pushed it from her mind.
No! She would not think-would not remember.
She had dealt with those memories long ago! Paid the price for dealing with them-a price she was still paying, must always pay-and it was a price she paid because there was no alternative. Could never be.
All she could do was what she had done for years now-build her career, focus only on that. Be dedicated, hard-working.
On her own.
Always on her own.
For a last fleeting moment the bleakness showed in her eyes again. She knew far too well the price she was paying for those memories whose dank tendrils dragged across her flesh.
A stab of self-revulsion jabbed at her. Once she had lacerated herself with such stabs, but she gave herself a mental shake. She would not let anything drag her mind down such dark pathways. She was here tonight to do a job. One she had done a hundred times before.
Yet as she gathered her long skirts gracefully, preparing to descend into the thronged hall below, something stayed her for one last moment. She felt as if something were different tonight. As if she were poised on the edge of her familiar world. On the threshold of a new one.
Then, with a sharp, dismissive intake of breath, she took a step forward and started to move down the staircase. There was no new world awaiting her. There could not be.
She did not need the echo of that trailing miasma across her skin to tell her that.
Rafael Sanguardo stood, empty champagne glass loosely held in long fingers, and let his dark gaze rest on his opulently baroque surroundings, painted and gilded to profusion. It was an irony not lost on him that, as one of the sponsors of the charity, he should be a guest here-considering that it had been the exploited wealth of the Americas that had built this eighteenth-century splendour and that it had been the labour of his peon ancestors, albeit under Spanish colonial masters and not British ones, who had so signally contributed to this display of old-world wealth.
But now history had turned its wheel of fortune. In the global village of the twenty-first century it was the industrious entrepreneurship of former colonials who generated much of the world's wealth- and Rafael Sanguardo knew he could count himself one of their number.
Thanks to his own intelligence, determination and drive, he had transformed himself in little more than a dozen years from an orphaned teenager living in one of the smallest of the string of countries stretching from Mexico to Colombia, via a philanthropic scholarship to a prestigious North American university, into a serial entrepreneur who had backed a succession of highly successful companies and who could now, had he so wished, have made his home in just such a palatial pile as the one he was tonight a guest in.
That was not his preference, however. He was footloose, preferring to rent apartments in London and New York and stay in hotels in whichever other countries he did business in. 'Settling down' was not on his agenda.
Not any more.
Madeline had seen to that.
Into his head stabbed the last words she had thrown at him. Mocking. Furious. Thwarted.
'Why, Rafe, darling, what a puritan you are!'
But her taunting had masked anger, lashing out at him. Repelling him as much as what she had disclosed to him had repelled him.
Repelled him still.
He pulled his thoughts away. Madeline was history. Out of his life. And she should be out of his head, too. She was not worth even the memory...
There was only one thing Madeline was worth- had only ever been worth-and that was what was most precious to her.
Rafael's mouth tightened. His eyes darkened. Well, now Madeline had all the money she craved- but money was all she had. Even though she had once craved more. Memory darkened his expression again. She had once craved him-craved everything that had once been between them.
Their affair had lit up like a torch between them. It had been a match that had seemed to be ideally cast. He the self-made, darkly handsome Latino multimillionaire, she the British flame-haired British beauty whose business abilities had made her as rich as him. They had been a wealthy, glamorous couple, cutting a swathe wherever they went.
Then it had ended.
Like an unwelcome replay, he saw the scene inside his head yet again.
Madeline was looking at him. Looking at him with her almond-shaped emerald eyes from where she lay on the bed, her fabulous auburn hair tumbling sensuously around her naked shoulders. Her lush, peaked breasts were on show for him. So was the rest of her curved, enticing body. She lay, lounging back on the pillows. Alluring. Seductive.
'Now tell me you don't want me, Rafe, darling,' she purred.
She let her thighs slacken, easing her hand sensually along the divide between her legs.
He walked to the bedroom door. Turned to look at her. Still repelled.
'Be gone by the time I get back,' he told her.
Then he left.
He heard her laughter-that rich, mocking laughter-infused with what he knew was a jibing anger at him for his rejection of her, following him as he shut the front door of his apartment behind him.
It tried to follow him still, that mocking, jibing, angry laughter, as he knew she wanted it to.
But its power was gone.
Just as Madeline had gone. Out of his life-totally.
Now even the thought of Madeline repelled him. As did everything about her...her looks, her attitude, her ambition, her values. Everything.
A hovering waiter pulled him back to where he was, and with a slight smile of thanks Rafael placed his glass on the extended tray. As he turned back, something caught his eye.
Walking down the sweeping staircase with an aura about her that made his gaze focus piercingly. Taking in everything about her.
Pale beauty. Hair caught in a chignon the colour of champagne at the nape of her swan-like neck. Her face was in profile. Perfect profile. As perfect as her tall, slender body, sheathed in a single-shouldered ecru gown that moulded slight breasts, draped slender hips and dropped down long, long legs to skim slim ankles, revealed by the draping of her skirts, around which snaked the clasp of her heeled evening shoes.
She must surely be one of the models, he realised. Her height, her slenderness, the way she held herself, the way she wore her clearly couture gown-all indicated that. As she reached the foot of the stairs she blended into the throng and was lost to his view. He craned his head a moment, seeking her, but could not see her.
A sense of frustration at her disappearance caught at him. Then he stilled, frowning for a quite different reason. A jolt of realisation.
This was the first woman who had caught his attention since he had severed all links with Madeline-
Oh, plenty of women had sought his attention- he was well used to that-but in the grim aftermath of Madeline none had been of any interest to him.
So what is it about this one?
Yet even as the question formed he knew it was redundant. He could answer it immediately.
She is nothing at all like Madeline!
Madeline's richly hued flashy beauty and her egoistic temperament had demanded that everyone look at her. The pale girl descending the staircase had looked as cool as Madeline had been fiery.
But there was more to the difference than looks, he sensed. Madeline would have descended the grand staircase like a drama queen, wanting everyone to gaze at her. To admire and envy her. To desire her.
This pale blonde girl had slipped down the steps as quietly as a ghost-as if she were not quite part of this world, as if she wanted no eyes drawn to her.
Odd, he mused, in someone who was a model. If, of course, she was one.
Well, he thought, impatient to see her again, if she were, he had better go and take his seat and find out.
One thing he knew with certainty: whoever the pale, elusive blonde was, he wanted to see her again. His dark eyes glinted. Finally he'd seen a woman to spark his interest-an interest he definitely wanted to pursue. Would that interest survive acquaintance with her? Or would getting to know her put him off, despite that incredible pale beauty of hers?
Will she prove as flawed as Madeline?
That was the question that haunted him.
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Book Description Harlequin, 2014. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110373137214