Ashley had no choice but to plead with Vito di Cavalieri to drop the charges that would put her brother in prison. She expected Vito to exact a high payment in return. But what shocked her was his asking price… A Demanding Proposition. He wanted Ashley … in his bed, as his wife. And passion surged beneath her shaking defenses and betrayed her like never before.

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She got up to pace her sister's kitchen again. Dear lord, how much longer would they be at the police station? Surely by now they realised that they had the wrong person? Her brother wasn't a car thief or a joy rider. He had respect for other people's property… hadn't he? Tim was no angel-what teenager was? But he was intelligent. He had a promising academic future ahead of him. He would soon be sitting his final exams.

Why would he go off the rails and attempt to steal a car? He had a car of his own, for goodness sake! Tim had been living here with her sister for the past two months. While their parents were in New Zealand, enjoying a long-anticipated reunion with relatives, there had been nowhere else for him to go. Unfortunately, Tim hadn't wanted to stay with Susan and Arnold.

And Ashley had understood his reluctance. She wouldn't have wanted to live with Susan's rules and regulations either.

The white space-age kitchen reminded her of an operating theatre. It was sterile. There was no clutter, Susan would not allow clutter. Her home was obsessively clean and tidy. Just like Susan herself. On the phone, though, she'd been hysterical, or as close to hysterical as someone as repressed as Susan could get.

Tim's arrest in full view of the neighbours had smashed her composure. Break beyond the guidelines of Susan's rigid moral code and you were out in no man's land all on your own. A pariah. Nobody knew that better than Ashley. On the day Susan had discovered that her unmarried teenage sister was pregnant, Susan had turned her back without hesitation.

When you threatened to become a social embarrassment, Susan would literally cross the street to avoid you. Ashley took sudden ironic strength from that awareness. If Susan had had the slightest suspicion that Tim might be guilty, she would have let Arnold go to the police station alone. Ashley spun round with a nervous jerk. Her sister's housekeeper, Mrs Adams, stood in the doorway, rotund in her sensible dressing-gown, her discomfort palpable.

I couldn't,' Ashley muttered. Ashley paled at the reminder. Tim had his father's temper. When he was roused, Tim was hot-headed and aggressive. Hunt Forrester rejoiced in Tim's ability to stand up to him. A boy was supposed to have grit and guts.

A girl wasn't. Ashley had never fitted the rulebook. In one way or another she had always transgressed. Ashley had rebelled but Susan had always conformed. Arnold had come along when Susan was eighteen. Although he was nearly twenty years older, he had been her sister's first and last boyfriend. Susan had never spread her wings in the outside world, never fought for a taste of the freedom which other young women took for granted. Ashley had often wondered if her sister had rushed into marriage to escape their domineering bully of a father and a home atmosphere riven with tension and frequent angry scenes.

Susan didn't know she was here waiting and her sister would probably see her presence as an act of unwelcome interference. As she heard the key in the front door, she walked out to the hall, praying that Tim would walk in, angry and shaken but unafraid… in other words, an innocent accused.

Dear God, she couldn't even bring herself to consider the alternative! The lanky youth who lunged through the door at full tilt didn't even see her standing there. Tim raced upstairs and the loud slam of a door ricocheted through the house. Arnold appeared next. In the act of shedding his raincoat, the older man froze.

Susan thrust past him. Her oval face was a waxen mask, stamped by bruised eyes and two burning spots of enraged red. I want her to know what she's done! They put Tim in our care. He was our responsibility. When Dad finds out about this, he'll blame me for ever letting you near Tim.

You don't need to worry! Dad won't come calling on you for his pound of flesh! Susan in a rage was a stranger to Ashley. She had the weird feeling that she had stepped into a crazy mirror-world where familiar people become unrecognisable.

As a rule her sister was frigidly unemotional, but tonight she was a woman possessed, alien in her spitting belligerence. Ashley moved a pleading hand. I don't know what you're talking about. How can I be involved in this? Do you know whose car he wrecked? He takes his car and goes berserk with it in the grounds of his home!

He's caused thousands and thousands of pounds' worth of damage. That car cost more than this house did! And it's a write-off! And for that, he's likely to go to prison! As Arnold attempted to comfort his wife, he was elbowed rudely away. Her sister fled upstairs as Tim had done minutes earlier. In the earth-shattering silence that she left behind, another door slammed.

A wave of dizziness was assailing Ashley. White as a sheet, she swayed and braced herself with both hands on the back of the sofa. It was impossible. It couldn't be true. Tim didn't even know who she had been involved with while she was at university. Somehow Susan had got hold of the wrong end of the stick, lost her head and made quite insane accusations. Over by the drinks cabinet, Arnold was talking to himself. The boy's out of control, but he was out of control long before he came to us.

Arnold sipped at his whisky. He had forgotten to offer her a drink. That oversight spoke volumes for his state of mind. You're still in the dark, aren't you? Take it from me, you'd be wiser staying there,' he completed heavily. Pietro moved with a fast crowd and Tim was popular with them. It was Pietro who started up that trouble at that nightclub, but since his family have more influence than we have, poor Tim carried the can alone-'.

Arnold groaned. The club had no intention of pursuing a Cavalieri to court. The two boys had already been involved in some silly rivalry over a girl. Pietro jumped on the bandwagon, made certain offensive remarks concerning-er-your past-er-relationship with his uncle, and there was a fight. Ashley's knees gave. She felt her passage down into the nearest seat, her stomach knotting up with nauseous cramps.

Arnold managed to avoid her anguished stare. He and his friends, having found Tim's weak spot, continued to bait him at school.


A Vengeful Passion

Vito di Cavalieri is the last man Ashley Forrester ever wanted to see again, but her brother's fate lies in his hands. So she has no choice—to save her brother and protect her secret—their son—she must pay whatever price Cavalieri exacts…. His demand: Vito wants her in his bed, as his wife! But the passion he awakens in Ashley surges beneath her shaking defences and betrays her like never before. Just how will she be able to resist a desire so strong that it threatens to pierce her heart?


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