Kept For Her Baby
Harlequin Presents Extra
Collection: Dark Nights with A Billionaire
ISBN: 0263848531
October 13, 2009
Buy from Amazon.com or eHarlequin.com

Kept For Her Baby
Mills & Boon
ISBN: 0263874303
September 4, 2009
Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Find Kate's books in ebook format at Harlequin.com or in the UK at MillsandBoon.com.

Excerpt From Kept For Her Baby

CHAPTER ONE

The heat of the day was fading from the atmosphere and the warm air was slowly beginning to cool. The shadows of evening had started to gather as Lucy carefully brought the small, scruffy rowing boat up to the beach where the edge of the tiny island sloped down to the lake and jumped out.

The cool shallow water swirled around her bare feet, coming up ankle deep, just below the rolled up cuffs of her blue cargo pants, as she tugged the small craft on to the shore, biting her lip as she heard the raw, scraping sound its hull made in the sand.

Would anyone hear that? She couldn't afford to be caught now; still too far away from the house to achieve her aim. If one of the small army of security guards that Ricardo employed had heard the noise and came to investigate then she was lost before she had even started. She would be escorted off the island, taken back on to the Italian mainland and dumped back into the tiny, shabby boarding house which was the only place she could afford to stay this week.

This vital, desperately important week.

If she managed stay in Italy at all. Once Ricardo knew she was back he was far more likely to decide that he wanted her out of the country as well. Out of Italy and out of his life for good. Just as he had believed that she was already

'Oh, help.'

Realising that she was holding her breath, she let in go again on a raw, despondent sigh, pushing a hand through the tumbled blonde hair that had escaped from the band she had fastened it back with as her clouded blue eyes flicked rapidly, urgently from side to side, trying to see if she could spot anyone approaching. If someone had been alerted by the sound of the boat on the sand then surely they should be here by now?

It had to be safe to move. Dipping into the boat, she snatched up her canvas shoes, carrying them to the edge of the beach before she sank down onto the grass to dust off her feet and pull on the footwear.

She wished she could pull the rowing boat up further on the shore. Perhaps even cover it with leaves or branches so that it was more fully concealed from view. But she didn't have the strength to move it any further and the impatient, nervous thudding of her heart urged her to take other action, move on quickly.

Now that she was here, she really couldn't delay any more. She'd waited and planned for this so long, making careful preparations, and she couldn't do so any longer. From the moment that her letter to Ricardo had been returned to her unopened, she had known that this was her only way. She had to take matters into her own hands and do the only thing possible.

She'd tried the polite way; the civilised way and had been firmly rebuffed. She'd tried to appeal to Ricardo's better nature but it seemed that he didn't have one — at least not as far as she was concerned.

And so she'd been forced to come here like this, in secret. Like a thief in the night she had come back to the island in the gathering dusk, finding her way to the one spot where she knew that, tight as Ricardo's security was, it was just possible to sneak up close when hidden behind some bushes that overhung the lake. Paddling rather than rowing so as to be as silent as she could, she'd managed to get on to the shore without being spotted and now she could only hope that her luck would hold as she made her way to the house.

Pausing under the shady protection of a big cypress tree, Lucy found that she was blinking back bitter tears as she stared up at the huge, Neo-Gothic villa that rose up before her at the top of the lushly green sloping gardens. Carefully shaped terraces with ornate stone balustrades linked by flights of steps led up to the sprawling white-painted building that had once been a monastery and then later a palace.

The glass in the Gothic windows reflected the glow of the setting sun, and in the south western corner a tall tower rose crowned by battlements sculpted in stone with floral decorations. From those windows in the Villa San Felice she knew you could look out across the calm blue waters of Lake Garda and see the provinces of Verona to the south-east, and Brescia to the west. Directly opposite was San Felice del Benaco that gave both the island and the villa its name.

This amazing place, this fantastic house had once been her home.

But it was her home no longer. Not for many months now. And it hadn't ever felt like home in all the time she'd lived there..

Lucy shivered in spite of the mildness of the evening as memories assailed her. Distress made her skin prickle with cold goose bumps and she shuddered at the images that passed through her thoughts reminding her of how it had once felt to be here. Ti live here and yet never feel that she belonged.

'I can't do this!' she muttered aloud to herself. 'I can't go through with it. Can't face . . . '

Abruptly she shook her head, fighting to drive away the unhappy thoughts. She had to face things; had to go through with it. Because inside that villa as well as the terrible memories of some of the worst months of her life there was also the one thing that mattered most to her in the world. The one thing that made her life now worth living.

Her feet followed the indistinct path with the ease of instinct built up in her time living on San Felice. She found the small gate into the private gardens in the same way, easing it open carefully and wincing in distress as the weathered wood creaked betrayingly.

'Please don't let anyone come,' she prayed under her breath as she dashed across the soft grass and into the concealment of the lush shrubbery that grew beside the lowest level of the stone paved terraces.

'Please don't let anyone see me.'

She had barely hidden herself again when she heard the sound of a door opening above her. The patio doors that led from the big sitting room, she recalled. The same doors through which she had made her escape not quite seven months before when she had fled this house, not daring to look back, terrified of what might happen if someone realised what she was planning stopped her.

'Buona sera. . .'

The voice from inside the house floated down to her making her heart stop dead in her chest so that she gasped in shock. A moment later it had kick-started into action again, setting her pulse racing.

Ricardo.

She recognised that voice instantly; would know it voice anywhere. Only one man possessed those dark, sultry tones or had that slightly husky note in every word he spoke.

How many times had she heard him speak her name in so many different ways? In amusement, in scorn, in anger. And yet at other times - times she could no longer bear to remember — she had heard him speak to her in burning ardour, taking the simple ordinariness of her name and turning it into magic as he called her his Lucia, his delight, his passion . . .

. . . His wife.

Her heart flinched away from the memory of that word and the way that Ricardo Emiliani had once used it on a note of pride — or so she had thought at the time.

'My wife,' he had said as he took her hand to lead her away from the altar where the priest had just declared that they were married. 'Mia moglie.'

And for a time she had gloried in the title. She had let herself enjoy being called Signora Emiliani. She had buried the doubts that assailed her deep under the cloak of happiness that shielded her from reality. She had smiled until her jaw ached and she had played the role of the happy young bride who had all that she could dream of.

When all the time, deep down inside, she had known the truth of the only reason why Ricardo had married her in the first place.

And love had had nothing to do with it.

'If you hear anything more, then let me know . . .'

The once-loved voice came again, startling her because it spoke in English and not his first language of Italian.

So who was he talking to in English? And why?

A nervous shiver ran down Lucy's spine as the sudden thought struck her that perhaps she might have made a fatal mistake coming out of hiding and getting back in touch with Ricardo after so long. By writing to him, however desperate her need, she had let him know where she was. And Ricardo being the hugely wealthy, hugely powerful man that he was, would have no difficulty in using that information to find out more. He had only to click his fingers and he had an army of men at his disposal, private detectives, investigators, ready to do anything it need to find out more, to track her down and . . .

And what?

What would the man who in one last dreadful row had declared to her face that marrying her had been the biggest mistake he had ever made in his life do once he found out where she was?

Excerpt from Kept For Her Baby © Kate Walker

 

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