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The Earl’s Villa Rosa Bride

Written by Jessica Gilmore

Chapter Three

Theo opened a bleary eye and immediately closed it again. Something wasn’t right. He was pretty sure this wasn’t his bedroom—it smelt different to his, softer, more floral. The sheets were thinner, the mattress springs older and less sprung.

He shifted and his hand brushed against a warm body. Theo froze. He wasn’t alone.

Where was he?

Slowly the details returned, shifting into place. His intimate stag night. Somehow Elisaveta had managed to pull an entire itinerary together in just twenty minutes; an itinerary which was almost disconcerting, it fit him so well. An hour speeding around the London velodrome had been followed by a dizzying skywalk on the roof of the O2 topped off with the adrenaline rush of a speedboat along the Thames before delicious and inventive dim sum in a little restaurant hidden in a quiet corner of Chinatown. The evening had wrapped up at a booth in a Soho karaoke club accompanied by a bottle of champagne and a series of heartfelt rock ballad duets. No wonder his throat felt like sandpaper. He’d be lucky if he was able to croak his vows out tomorrow.

Tomorrow! Theo sat upright, his eyes now wide open.

He was meant to be getting married tomorrow. He had never uttered words of love to Madeleine – nor had she to him – but he had promised her respect and fidelity.

His breathing slowed as he took stock. The room was dimly lit but he could see it was small, sparsely furnished but cheerful, with bright scarves and cushions scattered around. Slowly, carefully he eased himself out of the bed, and as he did the other occupant sighed and turned, one slim arm falling onto the slight indent where he had lain. Long dark hair tumbled over olive-skinned shoulders and as she moved again he caught sight of long lashes, a determined nose and a full mouth.

A mouth he knew as well as he knew his own. A mouth he’d been trying not to look at for the last six months. Until last night, when temptation had been too much and he’d succumbed to its lushness, its promise, its sweetness for just a few intoxicating seconds. And now he knew, knew how she tasted, how that heavy fall of hair felt in his hands, the way her body fit against his. He knew and he had to forget. Elisaveta was his assistant – and he had a fiancée.

He owed Madeleine a name, a title, a home – and when he had offered her all three he had been glad to do so. He’d known his responsibilities, known his duty. Madeleine knew his world, was part of it, understood it better than he ever had. She was happy to manage Flintock Hall, freeing Theo to expand the company he had founded at just eighteen. They were the perfect partnership, or so he had thought until Elisaveta had come to work for him and all his assumptions had crumbled away.

But none of this was Madeleine’s fault and he couldn’t, wouldn’t let her down.

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Jessica Gilmore

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