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Authors: Cathy Williams

A Tempestuous Temptation

BOOK: A Tempestuous Temptation
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‘This house looks wonderful,’ Aggie breathed, taken with the creamy yellow stone and the perfectly proportioned leaded windows.

‘Sorry?’ Luiz wondered whether they were looking at the same building.

‘I would rather not be here with
you
,’ Aggie emphasised, ‘but it’s beautiful. Especially with the snow on the ground and on the roof … Gosh, the snow is really deep as well!’

On that tantalising statement she flung open the car door and stepped outside, holding her arms out wide and her head tilted up so that the snow could fall directly onto her face.

In the act of reaching behind him to extract their cases, Luiz paused to stare at her. She had pulled some fingerless gloves out of her coat pocket and stuck them on, and standing like that, arms outstretched, she looked young and vulnerable and achingly innocent—like a child reacting to the thrill of being out in the snow.

What she looks like
, he told himself, breaking the momentary spell to get their bags,
is beside the point
. He had a job to do, and he had no intention of having his attention diverted—least of all by a woman about whose gold-digging intentions he had still to reach a conclusion.

About the Author

CATHY WILLIAMS
is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!

Recent titles by the same author:

THE GIRL HE’D OVERLOOKED
THE TRUTH BEHIND HIS TOUCH
THE SECRET SINCLAIR
HER IMPOSSIBLE BOSS

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

A Tempestuous
Temptation
Cathy Williams

www.millsandboon.co.uk

CHAPTER ONE

L
UIZ
Carlos Montes looked down at the slip of paper in his hand, reconfirmed that he was at the correct address and then, from the comfort of his sleek, black sports car, he briefly scanned the house and its surroundings. His immediate thought was that this was not what he had been expecting. His second thought was that it had been a mistake to drive his car here. The impression he was getting was that this was the sort of place where anything of any value that could be stolen, damaged or vandalised just for the hell of it would be.

The small terraced house, lit by the street lamp, fought a losing battle to maintain some level of attractiveness next to its less palatable neighbours. The tidy pocket-sized front garden was flanked on its left side by a cement square on which dustbins were laid out in no particular order, and on its right by a similar cement square where a rusted car languished on blocks, awaiting attention. Further along was a parade of shops comprised of a Chinese takeaway, a sub-post office, a hairdresser, an off-licence and a newsagent which seemed to be a meeting point for just the sort of youths whom Luiz suspected would not hesitate to zero in on his car the second he left it.

Fortunately he felt no apprehension as he glanced at the group of hooded teenagers smoking in a group outside the off-licence. He was six-foot-three with a muscled body that was honed to perfection thanks to a rigorous routine of exercise and sport when he could find the time. He was more than capable of putting the fear of God into any group of indolent cigarette-smoking teenagers.

But, hell, this was still the last thing he needed. On a Friday evening. In December. With the threat of snow in the air and a shedload of emails needing his attention before the whole world went to sleep for the Christmas period.

But family duty was, in the end, family duty and what choice had he had? Having seen this dump for himself, he also had to concede that his mission, inconvenient though it might be, was a necessary one.

He exhaled impatiently and swung out of the car. It was a bitterly cold night, even in London. The past week had been characterised by hard overnight frosts that had barely thawed during the day. There was a glittery coating over the rusting car in the garden next to the house and on the lids of the bins in the garden to the other side. The smell of Chinese food wafted towards him and he frowned with distaste.

This was the sort of district into which Luiz never ventured. He had no need to. The faster he could sort this whole mess out and clear out of the place, the better, as far as he was concerned.

With that in mind, he pressed the doorbell and kept his finger on it until he could hear the sound of footsteps scurrying towards the front door.

On the verge of digging into her dinner, Aggie heard the sound of the doorbell and was tempted to ignore it, not least because she had an inkling of an idea as to whose
finger was on it. Mr Cholmsey, her landlord, had been making warning noises about the rent, which was overdue.

‘But I always pay on time!’ Aggie had protested when he had telephoned her the day before. ‘And I’m only overdue by
two days
. It’s not my fault that there’s a postal strike!’

Apparently, though, it was. He had been kind enough to ‘do her the favour’ of letting her pay by cheque when
all his other tenants
paid by direct debit … And
look where it got him
… it just
wasn’t good enough
… People were queuing for that house … he could rent it to a more reliable tenant
in a minute

If the cheque wasn’t with him
by the following day
, he would have to have cash from her.

She had never actually met Mr Cholmsey. Eighteen months ago, she had found the house through an agency and everything had been absolutely fine—until Mr Cholmsey had decided that he could cut out the middle man and handle his own properties. Since then, Alfred Cholmsey had been an ongoing headache, prone to ignoring requests for things to be fixed and fond of reminding her how scarce rentable properties were in London.

If she ignored the summons at the door, she had no doubt that he would find some way of breaking the lease and chucking her out.

Keeping the latch on, she cautiously opened the door a crack and peered out into the darkness.

‘I’m really sorry, Mr Cholmsey …’ She burst into speech, determined to get her point of view across before her disagreeable, hateful landlord could launch his verbal attack. ‘The cheque should have arrived by now. I’ll cancel it and make sure that I have the cash for you tomorrow. I promise.’ She wished the wretched man would do her the courtesy of at least standing in her very reduced line of vision
instead of skulking to the side, but there was no way that she was going to pull open the door. You could never be too careful in this neighbourhood.

‘Who the hell is Mr Cholmsey, and what are you talking about? Just open the door, Agatha!’

That voice, that distinctive,
loathsome
voice, was so unexpected that Aggie suddenly felt the need to pass out. What was Luiz Montes doing here? On her doorstep?
Invading her privacy?
Wasn’t it bad enough that she and her brother had been held up for inspection by him over the past eight months? Verbally poked and prodded under the very thin guise of hospitality and ‘just getting to know my niece’s boyfriend and his family’. Asked intrusive questions which they had been forced to skirt around and generally treated with the sort of suspicion reserved for criminals out on parole.

‘What are
you
doing here?’

‘Just open the door! I’m not having a conversation with you on your doorstep!’ Luiz didn’t have to struggle to imagine what her expression would be. He had met her sufficient times with her brother and his niece to realise that she disapproved of everything he stood for and everything he said. She’d challenged him on every point he made. She was defensive, argumentative and pretty much everything he would have made an effort to avoid in a woman.

As he had told himself on numerous occasions, there was no way he would ever have subjected himself to her company had he not been placed, by his sister who lived in Brazil, in the unenviable position of having to take an interest in his niece and the man she had decided to take up with. The Montes family was worth an untold fortune. Checking out the guy his niece was dating was a simple precaution, Luisa had stressed. And, while Luiz couldn’t see the point because the relationship was certain to crash
and burn in due course, his sister had insisted. Knowing his sister as well as he did, he had taken the path of least resistance and agreed to keep a watchful eye on Mark Collins, and his sister, who appeared to come as part of the package.

‘So who’s Mr Cholmsey?’ was the first thing he said as he strode past her into the house.

Aggie folded her arms and glared resentfully at him as he looked around at his surroundings with the sort of cool contempt she had come to associate with him.

Yes, he was good-looking, all tall and powerful and darkly sexy. But from the very second she had met him, she had been chilled to the bone by his arrogance, his casual contempt for both her and Mark—which he barely bothered to hide—and his thinly veiled threat that he was watching them both and they’d better not overstep the mark.

‘Mr Cholmsey’s the landlord—and how did you get this address? Why are you here?’

‘I had no idea you rented. Stupid me. I was under the impression that you owned your own house jointly. Now, where did I get that from, I wonder?’

He rested cool, dark eyes on Aggie. ‘I was also under the impression that you lived somewhere … slightly less unsavoury. A crashing misconception on my part as well.’ However far removed Agatha Collins was from the sort of women Luiz preferred—tall brunettes with legs up to their armpits and amenable, yielding natures—he couldn’t deny that she was startlingly pretty. Five-four tops, with pale, curly hair the colour of buttermilk and skin that was satiny smooth. Her eyes were purest aquamarine, offset by dark lashes, as though her creator had been determined to make sure that she stood out from the crowd and had taken one little detail and made it strikingly different.

Aggie flushed and mentally cursed herself for falling in
with her brother and Maria. When Luiz had made his first, unwelcome appearance in their lives, she had agreed that she would downplay their financial circumstances, that she would economise harmlessly on the unadorned truth.

‘My mum’s insisted that Uncle Luiz check Mark out,’ Maria had explained tightly. ‘And Uncle Luiz is horribly black-and-white. It’d be better if he thinks that you’re … okay … Not exactly rich, but not completely broke either.’

‘You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,’ Aggie dodged.

‘Where’s your brother?’

‘He isn’t here and neither is Maria. And when are you going to stop
spying
on us?’

‘I’m beginning to think that my
spying
is starting to pay dividends,’ Luiz murmured. ‘Which one of you told me that you lived in Richmond?’ He leaned against the wall and looked down at her with those bottomless dark eyes that always managed to send her nervous system into instant freefall.

‘I didn’t say that we
lived
in Richmond,’ Aggie prevaricated guiltily. ‘I probably told you that we go cycling there quite a bit. In the park. It’s not my fault that you might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.’

‘I
never
get hold of the wrong end of the stick.’ The casual interest which he had seen as an unnecessary chore now blossomed into rampant suspicion. She and her brother had lied about their financial circumstances and had probably persuaded his niece to go along for the ride and back them up. And that, to Luiz, was pointing in only one direction. ‘When I got the address of this place, I had to double check because it didn’t tally with what I’d been told.’ He began removing his coat while Aggie watched in growing dismay.

Every single time she had met Luiz, it had been in one
of London’s upmarket restaurants. She, Mark and Maria had been treated over time to the finest Italian food money could buy, the best Thai to be found in the country, the most expensive French in the most exclusive area. Pre-warned by Maria that it was her uncle’s way of keeping tabs on them, they had been unforthcoming on personal detail and expansive on polite chitchat.

Aggie had bristled at the mere thought that they were being sized up, and she had bristled even more at the nagging suspicion that they had both been found wanting. But restaurants were one thing. Descending on them here was taking it one step too far.

And now his coat was off, which implied that he wasn’t about to do the disappearing act she desperately wanted. Something about him unsettled her and here, in this small space, she was even more unsettled.

‘Maybe you could get me something to drink,’ he inserted smoothly. ‘And we can explore what other little lies might come out in the wash while I wait for your brother to show up.’

‘Why is it suddenly so important that you talk to Mark?’ Aggie asked uneasily. ‘I mean, couldn’t you have waited? Maybe invited him out for dinner with Maria so that you could try and get to the bottom of his intentions? Again?’

‘Things have moved up a gear, regrettably. But I’ll come back to that.’ He strolled past her through the open door and into the sitting room. The decor here was no more tasteful than it was in the hall. The walls were the colour of off-cheese, depressing despite the old movie posters that had been tacked on. The furniture was an unappealing mix of old and used and tacky, snap-together modern. In one corner, an old television set was propped on a cheap pine unit.

‘What do you mean that
things have moved up a gear
?’
Aggie demanded as he sat on one of the chairs and looked at her with unhurried thoroughness.

‘I guess you know why I’ve been keeping tabs on your brother.’

‘Maria mentioned that her mother can be a little over-protective,’ Aggie mumbled. She resigned herself to the fact that Luiz wasn’t leaving in a hurry and reluctantly sat down on the chair facing him.

As always, she felt dowdy and underdressed. On the occasions when she had been dragged along to those fancy restaurants—none of which she would ever have sampled had it not been for him—she had rooted out the dressiest clothes in her wardrobe and had still managed to feel cheap and mousey. Now, in baggy, thick jogging bottoms and Mark’s jumper, several sizes too big, she felt screamingly, ridiculously frumpy. Which made her resent him even more.

Luiz gave an elegant shrug. ‘It pays to be careful. Naturally, when my sister asked me to check your brother out, I tried to talk her out of it.’

‘You did?’

‘Sure. Maria’s a kid and kids have relationships that fall by the wayside. It’s life. I was convinced that this relationship would be no different but I eventually agreed that I would keep an eye on things.’

‘By which,’ Aggie inserted bitterly, ‘you meant that you would quiz us on every aspect of our lives and try and trip us up.’

‘Congratulations. You both provided a touchingly united front. I find that I barely know a single personal thing about either of you and it’s dawning on me that the few details you’ve imparted have probably been a tissue of lies—starting with where you live. It would have saved
time and effort if I’d employed a detective to ferret out whatever background information was necessary.’

‘Maria thought that—’

‘Do me a favour. Keep my niece out of this. You live in a dump, which you rent from an unscrupulous landlord. You can barely afford the rent. Tell me, do either of you hold down jobs, or were those fabrications as well?’

‘I resent you barging into my house.’

‘Mr Cholmsey’s house—if you can call it a house.’

‘Fine! I still resent you barging in here and insulting me.’

‘Tough.’

‘In fact, I’m asking you to leave!’

At that, Luiz burst out laughing. ‘Do you really think that I’ve come all the way here so that I can leave the second the questioning gets a little too uncomfortable for you?’

BOOK: A Tempestuous Temptation
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