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Excerpt from Indebted to Moreno


THE ALMOST-FULL MOON was burning, cold and high in the darkness of the sky as Rose slipped out of the door, shutting it cautiously behind her. She winced inwardly as the battered wood creaked on rusted hinges, the sound seeming appallingly loud in the stillness of the night, and froze in a panic, waiting for someone to stir upstairs, to come after her as her stepfather had done on that day almost three months ago. But the house remained silent and still, apparently empty though she knew that there were half a dozen or so figures hidden behind the filthy, cracked windows on the upper floors.

She had to be grateful for the moonlight that illuminated her way down the weed-clogged path towards the street. It helped make sure that she didn’t stumble over the beer cans or plastic bags of rubbish that littered her way. But for the few minutes it took her to reach the road and scurry out of sight, panic screamed a need to run along her nerves fighting a vicious battle with the need to move carefully and avoid making a sound. At any moment she expected to hear movement behind her, the sound of a shout waking and alerting everyone in the squat.

And one dangerous person in particular.

Rose’s heart clenched as she tried to pull her thoughts away from the man she was leaving behind. A man she had once seen as her rescuer, coming to her aid when she needed help most. The man she now had to leave behind or lose herself once and for all.

It was a bitter irony that she had once seen this squat in the abandoned shell of a once-elegant town house as a sanctuary as she’d fled the unwanted attentions of her hated stepfather, only to find that she had well and truly jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

‘Oh Jett . . .’

The name slipped past her lips, and despite everything she did to push them away, images slid into her mind. The picture of his long, powerful body lying on the dusty floor of the bedroom they had claimed as their own, his head with the overlong jet black mess of hair pillowed on the olive skinned arms in which he hid his face. He had always slept like that, even after they had made burning, passionate love, tumbling deep into sleep as if at the press of a button. But she knew that the appearance of deep slumber was a false impression. One awkward move, the faintest sound and he would jolt awake in a moment, coming upright and alert in the space of a heartbeat, every wary sense on high alert.

He’d stirred in his sleep as she ‘d left his side and only by murmuring something about needing to use the toilet had she persuaded him to let his head drop back on to his arms.

‘Don’t be long,’ had been the curt, brief command and although she’d known he couldn’t see her she had shaken her head, letting the long fall of her bright red hair conceal her face.

‘I won’t be a minute,’ she’d managed, knowing that he wouldn’t take that the way she meant it. She was not going to be absent from his side for just a minute, but for ever. This would be her one and only chance to get out of here before all hell broke out and she was going to snatch at that chance and run with it.

Yet even as she ran down the road there was a terrible tearing sensation inside her, in the region of her heart. A sense of loss and yearning for what she had thought she had, for what she’d dreamed of, that now, with a bitter realisation, she knew to have been a fake all the time.

If only . . . but there was no room, no time for ‘if only’. There was no future for her with this man, the man she had been foolish enough to fall head over heels for, to give herself body and soul to until she had realised the truth about the sort of person he was.

She should have known he was no knight on a white charger when he’d, literally, picked her up off the street. But then she’d been so lost and alone that she’d been grateful for any help, caught up in the dark spell he had woven around her from the start. Now, she could no longer ignore the evidence that told her that Jett was involved in the abominable trade of dealing illegal drugs. A trade that had resulted in the horror of the death of one of the other squatters. She shuddered fearfully just thinking of it.

Which was why she had to get out of here right now. She had to go as far and as fast as she could and never once look back.

The sound of cars coming down the road caught her ears. She knew why they were there. The police had acted on her information, and their approach meant that time really had run out for her.

Speeding up, she dashed away from the house that had been the only thing she could call home for the last few months, breath catching in her lungs as, skidding slightly, she whirled around the corner. Behind her, the convoy of police cars came into the street and pulled up sharply outside the door to the squat.

It was over. But the real truth was that it had never truly begun and her naïve foolishness had blinded her to the reality until it was almost too late.


NAIRO Roja Moreno stepped out of the door of his private jet and frowned savagely as the icy blast of air and rain crashed into his face, making him blink hard against the cold.

‘Perdicion!’ he swore, pulling up the collar of his jacket, the wind whipping the word from his lips and whirling it up into the steel grey sky. ‘It’s raining!’

Of course it was raining. This was England, and it seemed that the weather had conspired to remind him just how much he loathed the place.

London where he'd once thought his life might start afresh only to find that what was left of his heart had been taken and carelessly discarded without a second thought.


He made his way down the steps, tossing back his hair in defiance at the weather. The memories that swirled in his thoughts had nothing to do with the temperatures, except for the fact that it had always been cold in that damn house. Cold and miserable except for the times that he had been able to persuade Red to join him in the tatty, inadequate sleeping bag.

Be honest. It wasn’t the weather or the house that had got to him. It was the coldness of betrayal. The coldness of a heart he had once thought was warm and giving. Until she had left him with nothing when she had vanished out of his life and into the night.

Well, good riddance to her, he told himself, shaking off his memories in the same moment as he slid into the car that was waiting for him. He had had no inclination to go after her; and there had been no time to even consider it. He had been so occupied turning his life around and making his way back to his family – a reconciliation that she had almost destroyed by her actions - that she had been the last thing on his mind. He’d managed a second chance and he wasn’t going to stuff it up. This trip to London would be the final part of the task he had set himself.

‘Dacre Street,’ he told the driver in response to the man’s request for a destination. He could only hope the driver knew where the damn place was; it was in no part of the London he usually frequented. Nairo settled back on the seat, frowning darkly as he raked his wet hair back from his face. He had to get into the city, do the job he’d come to do, keep his promise to Esmeralda. He had so much to make up to his sister and this one last thing to make her happy, was what mattered. After this, his duty was done.

If there ever was a day when it was the worst possible moment for Louise to need to go home sick, then it had to be today, Rose told herself, sighing as she pushed back a floating strand of bright auburn hair that had escaped from the neat braid for the nth time. Obviously her normally efficient and organised assistant had been feeling worse than she had let on the previous day, if the state of the reception area was anything to go by. Everything needed tidying, and the diary that detailed today’s appointments had been splashed with coffee, blurring the details.

Not that Rose needed any reminders. The appointment had been made a week ago, the first contact being with a heavily accented voice on the other end of the phone. Nairo Roja Moreno’s PA as she declared herself to be.

‘Nairo Roja Moreno . . .’ Rose murmured to herself as she considered the blurred words in the diary. The eldest son of an aristocratic Spanish family, his PA had informed her. And he wanted to talk to her about a wedding dress?

She’d meant to look up this Spaniard on the internet last night, but her mother had been so unwell that it had taken all of her time and attention to get them both through the evening.

When she’d got the confirmation email she’d been overjoyed. It had seemed like a rescue mission arriving just in time. Caring for her mother through her illness had drained her resources, taken all her energy, mental and physical. She'd had no new commissions in an age. The mess of her marriage that had never been and the scandal that had followed it had seen to that. She was behind with the rent on the boutique, had barely been able to met the costs of her flat. But if this Nairo Moreno really did want her to design his sister's wedding dress together with the bridesmaid's outfits, the flower girls and pageboys of which there seemed to be dozens, well it might just save her from going under. Save her reputation publicly, save her life financially and perhaps even save her mother’s life in reality.

Joy had endured a long and difficult battle with the cancer that had assailed her. She was weak and drained by chemotherapy, the operation, and was only just starting to recover. Any new shock, any extra stress might be dangerous, and after all the time it had taken to rebuild their relationship from a perilously rocky point ten years before, Rose hated to think that everything could be destroyed now.

Her aristocratic visitor would be here any moment. Tapping her pen in a restless tattoo on the appointment book, Rose frowned as she looked out at the lashing rain that was splattering the plate glass window of her design rooms. Not the best day to imagine a summer wedding.

Jett had hated the rain, particularly in the unheated squat. As a result, so many rainy days had been spent cuddled up together . . .

A rush of dark memories swamped her mind, loosening her grip so that the pen dropped from her hand, falling to the floor and rolling away under a display cabinet.

‘Darn it!’

Getting down on her hands and knees, she groped in the darkness, fumbling for the pen just out of reach. It was then that she heard the door open behind her, the rush of cold damp air telling her that someone had come into the building from the street.

Excerpt from Indebted to Moreno © Kate Walker


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