Pregnancy of Revenge(2)

By: Jacqueline Baird

No—she was being unfair. Her father had loved her, she knew. After her mother had died when she was eleven, her dad had insisted she spend a few weeks' holiday every year with him at his home in France. And he had left her everything he owned.

Charlie had known about one of the nude portraits, but she had discovered the rest when clearing out her dad's studio with Ted. It had come as something of a shock, but no great surprise. That was partly because, on her first visit to her father in France after the death of her mother, she had met Jess, his then lady friend, and liked her. But when Charlie had walked into his studio uninvited one day and found her dad naked with Jess, and saw the portrait he was working on, her dad had reacted with shame and fury. From then on he had always sent his current lover away when Charlie spent time with him. For a man of his morals to be so protective of his daughter was ironic, to say the least.

Ted had taken one look at the portraits and suggested arranging an exhibition. He'd advised Charlie to open it, to add human interest and help the sale of her father's work even more than his sudden death at the age of forty-six had done.

At first Charlie had flatly refused. She did not need the money. She had earned her own living for the past six years, when after the death of her grandfather she had taken over the running of the family hotel in the Lake District that had been their business and her home for all her life. But she knew thousands of people who did need the money.

Eventually she had spoken to Jess and offered to give her the painting she had posed for. Jess had been in favour of the pictures being exhibited, and approved of Charlie's idea to give any money made to charity, and Charlie had finally agreed to Ted's proposal.

At least something good would come out of her father's death, she thought with a tinge of sadness as she proceeded towards her goal.

Almost at the exit, the last canvas arrested her attention for a moment. The lady portrayed had incredibly long dark hair curving over one shoulder and falling almost to her thigh. But it was the face of the woman that really disturbed her. The artist had captured the love, the need in the dark eyes to a point it was almost painful to see.

Poor fool, Charlotte thought with a rare cynical smile twisting her full lips. How had the woman never realized what a philanderer Robert Summerville had been? Of the thirty paintings in the gallery, ten were nude studies of women. With a wry shake of her head she turned to walk away.

Jake d'Amato's narrowed gaze never wavered from the woman Ted had indicated as he moved through the elegant crowd at Ted's side.

She was about five eight, he judged: shapely with long legs, a simple black wool dress moulding her figure, outlining high, firm breasts and the gentle curve of her hips and thighs. Her hair was ash blonde and swept up in a twist on top of her head. Jake's dark eyes glittered with primitive male appreciation, and surprisingly he found himself drawing in a stunned breath. She wore little make-up and yet she was quite beautiful. She had obviously inherited her father's good looks but in an innocent, understated way.

Then his body tensed, and his dark eyes flared with barely leashed rage. Anna had been right. Charlotte Summerville had refused to meet Anna in life, and in death her disdain for her father's last lover was obvious in the knowing cynical smile that twisted her full lips, followed by a dismissive shake of her head as, with a sexy sway of her hips, she turned away from the portrait. As for innocent—he doubted a woman with a body like hers even remembered the meaning of the word.

'Charlotte, darling.' Ted's voice rang out loud and clear. 'I have someone here who wants to meet you.'

Charlie stiffened, cursing under her breath. Dwelling on the past, she had left it too late to escape. Reluctantly she lifted her head, resigned to wasting yet more time being polite to some wealthy fat old man who got off on looking at paintings of nude women. All in pursuit of the great god Mammon. Bare mammary glands were obviously a great money-spinner. Her lips curved up in a naughty smile at the thought.

'Allow me to introduce you to Jake d'Amato. He is a great admirer of your father's work, and has just bought this painting.'

Charlie's blue eyes, still lit with humour, met Ted's. 'Yes, of course.'

Privately she thought the man must be mad or blind. In her opinion her dad had been a much better landscape painter than portrait—apart from the last one; that did have character in the face. But she let nothing show on her face as, lifting her hand, she raised her eyes to the man at Ted's side.

There her gaze stuck as though hypnotised by the sheer physicality of the man. He wasn't the fat old man she had thought—anything but.

From his bronzed skin taut over high cheekbones to the straight nose and the firm mouth beneath, and finally to a hard, square jaw, the man was devastatingly attractive. Tall, something over six feet, and broad of shoulder, he exuded an aura of supreme confidence and masculine power that eclipsed every other man in the room. With his well- groomed black hair falling casually over his broad brow and his dark good looks he was clearly of Mediterranean de- scent. He was the most compellingly attractive man she had ever seen, and he was smiling down at her.