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Names, characters, place and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. The right of Serena Fairfax to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, digital, cyber, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN: 978-0-9569748-9-1
WILFUL FATE CHAPTER 1 Here lies Du Vall; Reader, if male thou art, Look to thy purse, if female, to thy heart. Much havoc did he make of all Men he made stand and women fall... Who were you? Jacintha nudged her small white van through the press of traffic, her imagination tantalised by the epitaph she’d seen just an hour earlier on a crumbling tombstone. The shade of the ancient London churchyard had provided welcome respite from the unseasonably warm May day and her haggling with veterans of the rag trade. She glanced in the rear view mirror, her berry- brown eyes dancing with satisfaction at the pile behind her semaphoring contemporary and classic labels. And what would Du Vall have made of it? If she half-closed her eyes she could see him now – a predatory, virile bandit and her lips curved in a wry smile that this man, long dead, long forgotten, could stir her blood. I'm going to Google strip search you, she resolved raking a hand through her glossy gold-dark fall of hair, itching to free him from the dusty pages of history. ‘Dammit- should've taken a left at the lights,' Jacintha muttered. Her ditzy preoccupation with lady-killer Du Vall had sidetracked her into unfamiliar territory - an upscale residential area of London where cream, stucco fronted, four-storied Victorian houses overlooking a tree-lined garden square rose behind immaculate black railings. The dusty road suddenly glistened with a treacherous oiliness...the van began a wild dance of its own. Jacintha’s hands tightened over the steering wheel, her heart pounding as she closed her eyes in the grim realisation that she was skidding out of control. There was a grinding crunch of metal as the van surged through cast iron railings; the windscreen raced to meet her as she was flung forward; shards of breaking glass rained down. The vehicle shuddered to a stop, its wheels spinning wildly, straddling a steep drop across a basement well. This isn’t meant to happen. But the seat belt had saved her from a gory end - that much Jacintha sensed as she slowly opened her eyes, nausea creeping over her.
'A woman driver- surprise, surprise.’ It was a deep male voice tinged with sarcasm and emerging from a kind of fog it took Jacintha several moments to grasp what was happening. The nearside door was being wrenched open- she felt strong hands reach across, unbuckle her seatbelt and slowly hoist her into the solid muscle of his chest. Desperately trying to keep a fragile hold on herself, Jacintha’s heartbeats almost sped off the radar as the Good Samaritan’s eyes, silver grey in a lean, sun-bronzed face, raked her face as he steadied her upright on the pavement. And although she was 5’6”, he was all height, broad shoulders, rock hard body and sensual mouth. ‘Well that’s the meet and greet out of the way. And you look ok to me -how do you feel?' 'As safe as…’ She stared at him, his sheer physicality nearly making her go weak at the knees. He’s hot, like one of those alpha males in a romantic novel. ‘… Don’t say it. Not this house.’ 'My van -’ Jacintha wailed on an edge of hysteria as she assessed the damage. It was intact – although that could scarcely be said of her flayed emotions – but for a badly buckled wing and a smashed windscreen. She exhaled a long sigh of relief that she hadn’t lost a valuable business asset 'You just don’t get it! This is one hell of a home coming for me.’ Exasperated eyes locked with hers. For the first time, Jacintha registered a Louis Vuitton suitcase parked on the front steps. ‘Armageddon for my railings.’ His voice was mocking. ‘Something even World War 2 didn’t achieve.’ 'It wasn't deliberate,' Jacintha fired off, aware, too late, that she ought to be thanking him for extricating her from the wreckage. She transferred her gaze to the devastation, seeking refuge in that rather than letting him see the colour flooding into her cheeks. As they spoke, gawking onlookers were gathering and a police car, siren screeching, came to a halt. She was breath tested and given the all clear. She sensed the man’s eyes flicker across her taking in the figure hugging blue skirt and her nipples jutting against the thin fabric of the lacy blouse. ‘You'd better come in as I’ll want to know more.’ As he moved past her to pick up his case, she
felt the hard brush of a male thigh against her and shifted slightly trying to ignore the tell tale flutter in her stomach. The policeman nodded at Jacintha. 'That’s ok. We’re done with you. But we’ll take the van as we want to check it out before we release it.' Taking a deep breath, Jacintha told herself to hold it together and trailed indoors after her rescuer getting the distinct impression of a contemporary, elegant interior. He dumped his case in a wide hall and led her into what was obviously his study a large, book lined room bristling with the latest electronic equipment that gave the impression of control. Crossing the room to a cleverly concealed bar, he poured out a generous measure of brandy. ‘ Now drink up.’ Jacintha glanced at him as he held the glass and steadied herself feeling her tummy flip as she registered the washboard belly, the thick dark hair, the explicit sensuality of the lips now tightened in a firm line. And those were Armani jeans, her expert eye confirmed. 'Aren't you scared this may make me run amok? After all, you’re risking it, inviting in a complete stranger. You never know I might just start smashing up the place.' Jacintha's voice cracked as she held back the tears that threatened to undo her. She subsided into a black leather armchair crossing her legs, unaware that he’d registered the cuts on the back of hands and across her wide brow. 'I wouldn't,' he said, the expression on his face showing that there was little he could not handle 'even begin to think of that if I were you.' He got up and disappeared, returning with a bowl of warm water, disinfectant and cotton wool. 'I can do that,' Jacintha said quickly. 'I'm sure you can.' He smiled. 'But whatever you can do, I can do better,' and before she could move away, his fingers had cupped and tilted her face. ‘Chin up,' he said proceeding to dab her forehead with a Dettol soaked swab and even as he performed this mundane task he exuded a sexuality few men could hope to match. His nearness made her skin tingle and Jacintha swallowed hard. 'That's done. Borne like a trooper. Now why declare war on my poor, unsuspecting railings?’ The rebuke was relieved by a gleam of amusement in his eyes. 'Oh, for Chrissake, back off.’ Something inside her snapped. 'It was accidental.'
‘Lousy driving, then. You're a road menace.' His tone became weary.' Once upon a time, many metres of original Victorian cast-iron iron railings fronted my territory. Now...' He leaned forwards the smell of pine and musk in his aftershave pin pricking her senses. 'Seventy five percent irredeemably mowed down with the efficiency of a combine harvester. Even that 1987 hurricane was less of an apocalypse. Have you any idea how much it’ll cost to reinstate? That I might have to contend with a modern replica?' 'I...' His eyes darkening to sand-grey silenced her protest. 'Not to mention the basement windows blown to bits by collapsing ironwork. And some ugly boarding, pending repair. The mess, the inconvenience, the expense, the time-wasting.’ ‘That’s a shame,’ Jacintha retorted. ‘I can hear the plaintive sounds of those gypsy violins and my heart just bleeds for you. You're insured. You won't personally have to fork out a penny. Anyway, you don’t look as if you’re exactly scraping. It wasn't my fault and for heaven’s sake it wasn’t a hanging offence. I skidded. It happens and voila force majeure. And I’m not going to let you trap me into admitting liability.’ 'I suppose the van had a will of its own- they say a poor workman always blames his tools.' 'That's unfair.’Her eyes flashed. ‘And I can’t see you supervising any repairs you look as if you could afford to hire a project manager.’ She knew he was needling him, and for a moment his nostrils flared but he was too smart, too polished to take the bait. He walked past her to the glass desk and his eyes dropped to his Ipad. ‘Have you never heard it said, don’t judge a book by its cover? Now, to business.’ His voice sharpened. ‘I want details of your motor policy. 'You are-?' He raised his dark eyebrows his gaze intent on her creamy complexion and the lush mouth and he fought the sexual tug to pull her into his arms, to hear that husky voice cry out as she abandoned herself to his libido. Careful, he told himself as he fought the urge the thought invited. Get a grip. 'Jacintha Fleming- Lower Lane Barn, Pelstowe.' She seemed not to have noticed that he was clenching a fist, struggling for self-control. She would’ve given anything to be back home and, barring the accident, would now be arranging the newly acquired stock on rails in the spacious spare bedroom, converted by her
with flair on a tight budget into a dress shop, with long mirrors and a curtained off fitting area . Her bungalow, a skilful barn conversion, stood below the paddock of Brigadore, a house in Queen Anne style built of the prettiest pale pink brick in an idyllic setting. Owned by Roger and Zoe Carr, her uncle and aunt, it adjoined the horse training stables masterminded by Roger into a flourishing business after he’d retired as a top jump jockey. Was that her imagination or did his fingers pause for a micro second? Forestalling questions, he proffered a business card and she glanced at it only to freeze as she registered: Edmund D. Amory - Chairman and Chief Executive Amory Enterprises Plc followed by an office address in Canary Wharf, London’s expensive Docklands business district. Ed Amory! Incredulity numbed her for several moments and her thoughts spun off. It couldn’t be ... it was the guy that Kim Straker, her ex- fiancé had worked for three years ago. She gazed at him appalled, her hand almost scrunching up the card. Some of the horror must have shown in her face for Ed, in complete command of himself, reacted swiftly, ‘you’ve gone as white as a sheet. Delayed reaction, probably. Another drink?' He sent her a searching look. Jacintha swallowed and shook her head. 'No, I'm fine.' He’d caught her off guard and her voice sounded odd to her. Fighting panic she stood up and cleared her throat. ‘Mr Amory, I ought to head home.' ‘Ed. Are you quite sure you can make it?’ He frowned slightly and looked at her for a long moment his eyes swept over her in a comprehensive assessment that made her bones melt. She felt as if she was teetering on the rim of a volcanic crater. 'I'm ok,’she insisted but her insides churned. Never had she dreamt that she’d meet Ed like this. Never had she dreamt she’d feel so ill equipped for retribution or that she’d meet this bruiser in such circumstances. ‘Well, I suppose you're the best judge of that.' He shrugged his shoulders, annoyed with himself for not practising what he preached – carpe diem- seize the day and fulfil the desire that caught him in the gut. He glanced out of the window. 'Look, your van’s being loaded onto a transporter. You'd better find out what’s going on while I call you a taxi.'
Pinning on a bright smile, Jacintha shot down the hall into the street. ‘On no!’ Her shoulders slumped as realisation dawned that no way could she transfer the stock to Pelstowe without the van. She shouted up to the man in the transporter and he yelled down reassuring her that the goods would be safe, just as a black cab pulled into the kerb. Ed had followed her out, a half-amused expression on his face as he registered her frantic dialogue with the transporter driver. ‘Everything sorted? He opened the cab door, his gaze, despite himself, lingering on her shapely legs and helped her in, the touch of his bronzed arm with its dark hair making her tingle. Jacintha nodded, her emotions rioting inside her. 'My insurer’ll be in touch.’ I bet he will. 'Oh, you’ll want my cell phone number.’ She suddenly remembered she’d forgotten to give it. The last thing she needed was him berating her for trying to pull a fast one. ‘I’ve got your number,' he said silencing her with a little gesture and an ironic smile. Meanwhile safe journey.’ Turning his back he was disappearing up the steps with fluid lupine grace, the solid black front door shutting firmly behind him, sealing him off from the outside world. 'Very clever, ha ha,’ Jacintha thought sourly as the cab moved off, her nerves frayed, feeling angry at the way she’d reacted to the brush of his hand against her. Glancing back she told herself he’d come off lightly- some structural damage, easily repaired. I hate you, Ed, I hate you she wanted to say. Kim and I had promised ourselves to each other and you vaporised it. You crucified him until he fled, a broken man, to a new life- without me. She was in a hurt place, her emails and calls dropping into a black hole until a few months later a letter arrived bearing exotic stamps; in a few terse lines, Kim ended the engagement blaming Ed. Eventually she removed the symbol of their commitment - a whopper of a boulder fire opal and diamond ring and stiffened her heart and sexual instincts against being hurt again because that’s what loving had done to her. Jacintha stared unseeingly out of the cab window, her hands twisted together. Her thoughts slid back to Ed. He must be somewhere in his late thirties now. Yet in Kim’s three years at the company she’d never met him, Kim always
maintaining in that easy way of his that the laddish office parties were no place for a nice girl like her.
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