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Authors: Penny Jordan

Unexpected Pleasures

BOOK: Unexpected Pleasures
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A CELEBRATION OF

PENNY JORDAN

Two favorite stories in one collectible volume

Secrets from the past emerge in the present—and the consequences are unexpected for these
two couples.

Yesterday’s Echoes

Tragedy had befallen Rosie when she was a vulnerable
sixteen-year-old—and Jake Lucas had witnessed the
entire thing. Since then Rosie has built a successful career, not allowing
anyone near the woman behind the cheerful face she shows to the world. But
Jake has entered her life again, and he isn’t about to let her forget the
past.

Master of Pleasure

Sasha walked away from handsome millionaire Gabriel Calbrini to
marry another—and he’s never
forgiven her. Now widowed, Sasha is shocked when Gabriel is named heir to
her late husband’s wealth and guardian to her two sons. But Sasha won’t
surrender. There’s far too much at stake—especially the one thing that
Gabriel must
never
know.…

Praise for
New York Times
bestselling author

“Women everywhere will find pieces
of themselves in Jordan's characters.”
Publishers Weekly

“[Penny Jordan's novels] touch every emotion.”
—RT Book Reviews

“This richly satisfying story is both sensual and emotional.”
—RT Book Reviews
on
Master of Pleasure

“Jordan's record is phenomenal.”
—The Bookseller

Penny Jordan
, one of Harlequin’s most popular authors, sadly passed away on December 31st, 2011. She leaves an outstanding legacy, having sold over 100 million books around the world. Penny wrote a total of 187 novels for Harlequin, including the phenomenally successful
A Perfect Family, To Love, Honor and Betray, The Perfect Sinner
and
Power Play,
which hit the
New York Times
bestseller list. Loved for her distinctive voice, she was successful in part because she continually broke boundaries and evolved her writing to keep up with readers’ changing tastes.
Publishers Weekly
said about Jordan, “Women everywhere will find pieces of themselves in Jordan’s characters.” It is perhaps this gift for sympathetic characterization that helps to explain her enduring appeal.

Unexpected Pleasures

Yesterday’s Echoes

CHAPTER ONE

‘I

M
BEGINNING
TO
dread christenings. In fact, I only have to hear the word
baby
these days and I come over all broody...and me a mother of two hulking great teenagers. I ought to know better.

‘I know what it is, of course... It’s the threat of empty nest syndrome looming, with nothing to look forward to but Greg’s mid-life crisis and hormone replacement therapy... Rosie...are you listening to me?’

Obediently Rosie turned towards her elder sister, and repeated obediently what she had just been told.

‘Of course, plenty of women are having babies at forty these days,’ Rosie heard her muse. ‘Although what the kids would have to say about it...and how on earth I’d even manage to get pregnant in the first place... You’ve no idea how inhibiting it is having almost-adult children in the house with you. It’s amazing how guilty and embarrassed they can make you feel. Mind you, talking of sex lives, how’s yours going at the moment?’

Rosie felt her stomach muscles tense and prayed that her facial muscles weren’t reacting equally betrayingly.

There was virtually a decade between her and her elder sister, and this had led to Chrissie’s adopting an almost parental attitude to her. Although Rosie knew that Chrissie would have been outraged had
she
been as inquisitive and critical of her most intimate personal life as Chrissie was of Rosie’s, she also knew that Chrissie would never be able to understand that there were times when she found her sister’s questions intrusive and over-personal. After all, she knew how much Chrissie loved her and that her questions, no matter how awkward, sprang from love and concern.

And of course today she
was
feeling extra-intensely sensitive, she admitted. Christenings always had that effect on her, and it was pointless expecting Chrissie to understand that, to
know
what she was going through, to
know
about the tearing, wrenching pain within her, the sense of loss and anguish.

It was all very well for Chrissie to talk glibly about feeling broody, about having another child, to assume that she, Rosie, as a single woman of thirty-one with a business to run—a woman who, as Chrissie was always reminding her, had chosen to keep any men who approached her at a wary distance—did not know what it meant to see another woman with a child, and to feel that aching sense of deprivation within her—that tight feeling of panic and pain, of loss and fear, of so many complex emotions that she herself could barely find the words to describe them.

And then for Chrissie to make that comment about her sex life!

The Hopkinses’ lawn wasn’t very big; they were a very popular couple and had invited a large number of people to the christening party. Rosie winced as someone standing behind her stepped backwards, and she felt a sharp elbow accidentally striking against her, jolting her glass and causing the other woman to immediately apologise as Rosie automatically turned round.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she began, but Rosie wasn’t listening to her.

Her whole body frozen rigid with shock and rejection, she was staring past her at the man standing several yards away watching her.

Jake Lucas! What was
he
doing here?
Watching
her! She hadn’t realised that he knew the Hopkinses. If she had suspected for a moment that
he
was going to be here...

‘Rosie...’

She shivered, the rigidity leaving her body as she responded to the quick anxiety in her sister’s voice.

Across the space which divided them, Jake Lucas continued to watch her. She could feel the concentrated burn of that look. She knew exactly what he was thinking...how he viewed her...without having to look directly into his eyes.

‘Rosie...’

This time Chrissie wasn’t content with speaking to her; she was touching her as well—an elder-sisterly hand placed firmly on her arm, giving it an admonishing little shake.

‘What is it? What’s wrong?’

Wrong? Alarm bells clamoured violently inside her.

‘Nothing... Nothing’s wrong,’ she denied quickly, turning her head back towards her sister so quickly that her hair spun round her, fanning out of its neat, shoulder-
length cut before falling silkily back into place, its thick russet sleekness concealing her expression as she lowered her head defensively.

Jake Lucas. Even now that she was no longer looking at him, his features remained burnt into her memory so that it wasn’t her sister’s firm but anxious face she saw, but his, with its hard, masculine features, his mouth curling disdainfully, his hard, flinty grey eyes watching her with distaste, everything about him, even down to the way he was standing, registering his contempt for her—that and the knowledge of her which they both shared.

‘Rosie, what
is
it? And don’t tell me nothing. You’ve gone as white as a sheet,’ Chrissie accused. ‘Is it the sun? You should have kept your hat on; you know how vulnerable you are to sunstroke. You’d better not drive home.’

Numbly Rosie let her sister’s bossy fussing wash over her, for once unable to summon the independence to remind her sister that she was an adult and not one of her children.

‘It’s time we left, anyway. I promised Greg I wouldn’t be late. We’ve got the Curtises coming round this evening, and I want to make sure that Allison and Paul aren’t thinking of going out tonight. I don’t like them going out on Sunday evenings, not with Paul’s A levels coming up and Allison’s GCSEs next year.’

Rosie stayed silent, letting her sister’s conversation wash over her. Jake Lucas... She tried to remember the last time she had seen him—was it four years ago or three?—but she felt too dizzy with shock to be able to concentrate.

He lived on the opposite side of town from her and their paths never crossed. He moved in different social circles, and the partnership he had in a marina on one of the less accessible Greek islands meant that he was out of the country a good deal.

He was closer to Chrissie’s age than her own, although even her redoubtable sister had always been a little in awe of him, despite the fact that she was a couple of years his senior.

He was that kind of man.

Awe didn’t describe
her
reaction to him, Rosie acknowledged. Fear...dread...pain...panic...anguish; he made her feel all of those, and other and even less bearable emotions as well.

The mere sound of his name was enough to make her go cold with fear and shame, and to see him so unexpectedly, when she was unprepared for it and in such a vulnerable situation, when she was already feeling so off balance, so emotionally open to the anguish of her past and the burden of the pain she had kept a secret from everyone else who knew her...

Silently, she let Chrissie take hold of her arm and firmly make her way through the tightly packed group of people around their host and hostess.

The baby, the Hopkinses’ third, was now contentedly asleep in her father’s arms. A wrenching jolt of pain stabbed through Rosie as she watched him deftly transfer his new daughter’s sleeping weight from one shoulder to the other while he ducked his head to kiss first Chrissie and then her on the cheek.

‘Isn’t it time we saw you holding one of these?’ he teased Rosie.

His teasing wasn’t malicious or unkind. Rosie and both Neil and Gemma Hopkins had all been at school together. Gemma was her own age. She herself was, Rosie reminded herself bleakly, the only one of her peers now who had not experienced a committed relationship of some kind. Some of her friends were even on their second marriages.

She knew how curious people were about her, and could guess at the questions they probably asked one another about her. Always sensitive and by nature an extremely private person, she was acutely aware of how different she was, how isolated from experiences which seemed commonplace to others.

It wasn’t as though she weren’t attractive, as though men weren’t drawn to her, Chrissie had exclaimed in exasperation four months ago on Rosie’s thirty-first birthday, when she had brought up her perennial complaint about Rosie’s dedication to her single state.

‘I’ve watched you,’ she had accused. ‘You freeze the poor things off as soon as they try to get close to you.’

Her mother had been more understanding, but equally concerned.

‘I don’t understand it,’ she had said sadly. ‘Rosie, you were always the one who loved playing with your dolls, who always, from being a small child, talked about getting married and having children. Of the two of you, I always thought it would be Chrissie who would be the career girl. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your life, darling. If being single is what you want...’

‘It is,’ Rosie had told her mother fiercely, but she suspected that her mother knew as well as she did that she was not telling the whole truth.

But how could she explain, reveal to her mother, to anyone, the thing that had made her like this, the guilt, the pain, the shock of self-discovery, the realisation that her degradation and humiliation, her stupidity, had been witnessed by someone else? These had proved so painful to her that the only way she could deal with them was to try to cut herself off from them, from the person she had been before it had happened, to try to create a different person—a safer, better, more responsible, more controlled person.

How could she tell anyone about what had happened? She was too afraid of them condemning her, looking at her, reacting to her in the same way that Jake Lucas had done.

Over the years she had gone over and over it so many times in her own mind, hating herself for having allowed it to happen, for not being more aware, for not realising what was going to happen.

She knew she was not guilty of ever having done anything to encourage him; she could acquit herself of that crime. She had never come anywhere near doing or saying anything to make him think that she might actually want him. How could she have done? She had not had the least conception of what sexual desire was.

She had been a very naïve, protected sixteen, and still far too shy and immature to be sexually aware in any way.

No, she had done nothing to lead him on, but she had had that drink and she hadn’t been able to stop him, and she knew enough about the world now to realise that if she were ever to tell what had happened there would always be those who would wonder...doubt... especially if they were male.

And she could never allow herself to get involved with a man without telling him, without wanting to share with him that secret, shamed, still-hurting part of herself.

And since she was afraid of allowing herself to love a man, only to discover him turning away from her with the same disgust that Jake Lucas had manifested, she had chosen instead not to take the risk of becoming emotionally committed to anyone. It was safer that way, and safety, protecting herself from hurt—these were very important to Rosie. When people commented on her manless state, she told them coolly that she was content the way she was. Normally the coolness she exhibited, the control, was enough to deter them and to protect her, but today was different.

Today she was feeling too vulnerable...too raw inside, too achingly aware of that small, sleeping bundle held protectively against Neil’s shoulder and the man still standing somewhere among the crowd on the lawn, perhaps still watching her...

She shivered, feeling the perspiration break out against her skin, watching helplessly as Neil’s expression changed to one of concern.

‘It’s the heat,’ she heard Chrissie saying. ‘She’s always been vulnerable to it. It’s that red hair and Celtic skin. I told her not to take her hat off.’

There were, Rosie decided faintly as Chrissie led her firmly away, perhaps advantages to having Chrissie for a sister after all.

She quickly changed her mind, though, when Chrissie refused to allow her to drive home.

‘But I need my car,’ she protested.

‘Not now, you don’t,’ Chrissie told her. ‘And if you have got heat or sunstroke, you won’t be needing it tomorrow either.’

‘I’ve got a meeting in Chester tomorrow morning,’ Rosie protested, but Chrissie wasn’t listening.

‘Honestly, Rosie, I should have thought at your age you’d know better,’ she was complaining as she opened her own car door. ‘At times you can be even worse than Paul and Allison... Now get in and I’ll take you home. If we didn’t have the Curtises coming round this evening, I’d take you home with me. I know you...’

Sickly, Rosie closed her eyes. She felt as weak and nauseous as if she
were
in fact physically ill, but she knew quite well whatever—or rather, whoever had caused those symptoms.

No matter how much logic she used, her senses, her reactions still continued to remind her of the trauma which lay buried in her past.

Jake Lucas. If only
he
had not been there...that night.

But he had been there...

She winced as Chrissie slammed her car door and started the engine. She was still feeling nauseatingly sick, her body clammy with shock. If only she hadn’t already been caught up in the aching pain that seeing the Hopkinses’ new baby had caused her, she might have been better able to control her reaction to Jake Lucas, she told herself miserably.

Her sister was still talking, still admonishing her for taking off her hat.

‘You left it upstairs on Gemma’s bed,’ she heard Chrissie reminding her. ‘You mustn’t forget to collect it when you go back for your car.’

Rosie lived several miles away from her sister and her family. She could well remember the fuss Chrissie had made when she had found out that Rosie was selling her neat, modern flat and buying a run-down, isolated farm worker’s cottage.

‘It will eat money,’ she had warned Rosie. ‘And wait until you have to spend a bad winter there. You’ll be completely cut off.’

She had frowned disapprovingly at Rosie’s
sotto voce
‘Please God’ before going on to remonstrate again with her for her foolishness.

‘I don’t like leaving you here on your own like this,’ she said now as she stopped her car in the lane outside the cottage.

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