Pregnancy of Revenge(3)

By: Jacqueline Baird

'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.

'Charlotte. I am delighted to meet you, and may I say how sorry I am at your sad loss?'

Somehow Charlie found her small hand enfolded in a strong male grasp, and he did not let it go. Not for him the brief handshake; and the piercing quality of the dark eyes that held hers was almost frightening in its intensity. She felt the power of his overwhelming masculinity like a blow to the heart, and her breath lodged in her throat.

A black brow quirked in amused enquiry as the silence lengthened and belatedly Charlie managed to respond with a mouth that had suddenly gone dry. 'Thank you, Mr d'Amato.'

'Oh, please, call me Jake. I do not want to stand on formality with you.' He lightly squeezed her hand. 'I too have recently lost a member of my family and I know exactly how you feel.'

Charlie fervently hoped not, because the warmth of his hand holding hers was sending an incredible surge of awareness through her whole body. But along with her purely physical reaction, she could not help being impressed by his sympathy. Her blood tingled and a curious spiraling excitement sizzled through her that made her even more tongue-tied, and she simply stared at him.

'But it must be a great consolation to you that your father has left you such a remarkable body of work.'

Body being the operative word. Charlie had the irreverent urge to giggle, and she could not prevent her lips parting in a broad smile.

'Yes, thank you,' she agreed, and tore her sparkling eyes from his to stare down at their joined hands. For heaven's sake, get a grip, she chided herself, and strove to control her erratically beating pulse. Finally she made a tentative effort to withdraw her hand from his, a responsive quiver lancing through her as he tightened his grip. In that moment she knew she would happily have held onto the man for ever, so fierce was her response to Jake d'Amato.

Jake noted her brilliant smile and it only added to his anger, but he let nothing show on his impressive features. 'It is my pleasure,' he said softly, and, bending his dark head, he pressed a swift kiss on the back of her hand, before finally releasing it. 'It is an honour to meet you. And now, please, you must give me your honest opinion on the painting I have purchased.' Placing a guiding hand at her waist, he turned her back to look at the portrait. 'Lovely, don't you agree?' Jake was determined to make her look at Anna's face—a woman she had insulted in life, but was happy to exploit after death.

The sound of Jake's deep, melodious voice sent another responsive quiver through Charlie, and his hand on her waist and the warmth of his great body seemed to envelop her. For the first time in her life she experienced the bone- melting awareness at the touch of a man, a sensation that overwhelmed her, and she knew with a feminine instinct as old as time that this man could be her destiny.

Charlie frowned. She wasn't given to flights of fantasy and it scared her, plus her intense awareness of him was tempered by the distaste she felt that he had bought the nude. Gathering together the shreds of her control, she said, 'Lovely, yes,' then added dryly, 'if you have a penchant for pictures of naked ladies.'

'You show me a man who does not. Charlotte, and I will show you a liar,' he said teasingly, his heavy lidded eyes sweeping over her beautiful face and lower to linger on the provocative thrust of her breasts. 'Though I must admit, I much prefer the live variety.' The brown eyes darkened, an unmistakable message in their depths, leaving Charlie more flustered than ever.