A BARGAIN WITH THE ENEMY
A BARGAIN WITH THE ENEMY
Mills & Boon Modern
Gabriel D'Angelo: renowned and ruthless
Artist Bryn Jones never forgave Gabriel for sending her father to prison, tearing her family apart and breaking her heart in the process. But she has forged herself a new identity away from the scandal and disgrace…until she wins the chance to exhibit at the D'Angelos' prestigious London gallery!
International tycoon Gabriel D'Angelo is haunted by the unforgiving eyes that once stared at him across a crowded courtroom. Now the enticing Bryn is back, and this time she'll play by his rules to get what she wants…and Gabriel's determined that this bargain will be mutually pleasurable!
She was entering the enemy campagain! Bryn realised with a frown as she paused outside on the pavement to look up at the marble frontispiece of the biggest and the best of the privately owned galleries and auction houses in London, the name Archangel in large gold italics glittering in the sunlight above the wide glass entrance doors. Doors that swung open automatically as she stepped forward before walking purposefully into the high-ceilinged entrance hall.
Purposefully, because this really was the enemy camp as far as Bryn was concerned. The D'Angelos, Gabriel in particular, had been responsible for both breaking her heart and sending her father to prison five years ago….
She couldn't think of that now, couldn't allow herself to think of that now. She had to focus on the fact that the past two years of rejection from gallery after gallery were what had brought her to this desperate moment. The same two years, after leaving university with her degree, when she had believed the world was now her oyster, only to learn that the recognition she craved for her paintings was ever elusive.
Many of her friends from university had caved to the pressure of family and stretched finances and entered advertising or teaching instead of following their real dream of painting for a living. But not Bryn. Oh, no, she had stuck doggedly to her desire to have her paintings exhibited in a London gallery, believing that one day she would be able to make her mother proud of her and erase the shame of her family's past.
Two years later she had been forced to admit defeat, not by abandoning her paintings, but by being left with no choice but to enter the New Artists competition at Archangel.
She turned to look enquiringly at one of the two receptionists sitting behind the elegant cream-and-rose marble desk, which was an exact match for the rest of the marbled entrance hall; several huge columns in the same marble stretched from floor to ceiling, with beautiful glass cabinets protecting the priceless artefacts and magnificent jewellery on display.
And this was only the entrance hall; Bryn knew from her previous visit to the Archangel Gallery that the six salons leading off this vast hallway all housed yet more unique and beautiful treasures, and there were many more being prepared for auction in the vast basement beneath the building.
She straightened, determined not to be intimidated? or at least not to reveal that she was intimidated?by her elegant surroundings, or by the cool blonde and elegant receptionist who couldn't be much older than her own twenty-three years. 'Yes, I'm Miss Jones.'
'Linda,' the other woman supplied as she stood up from behind the desk and walked across the entrance hall, the three-inch heels of her black shoes clicking on the marble floor as she joined a hesitant Bryn still standing near the doorway.
Bryn felt distinctly underdressed in the fitted black trousers and loose flowered silk shirt she had chosen to wear for her second meeting with Eric Sanders, the gallery's in-house art expert. 'I have an appointment with Mr Sanders,' she supplied softly.
Linda nodded. 'If you would care to follow me to the lift? Mr D'Angelo left instructions for me to take you upstairs to his office as soon as you arrived.'
Bryn instantly stiffened, her feet suddenly feeling so leaden they appeared to have become weighted to the marble floor. 'My appointment is with Mr Sanders.'
Linda turned with a swish of that perfectly groomed blonde hair as she realised Bryn wasn't following her. 'Mr D'Angelo is conducting the interviews this morning.'
Bryn's tongue felt as if it were stuck to the roof of her suddenly dry mouth. 'Mr D'Angelo?' she managed to squeak.
The older woman nodded. 'One of the three brothers who own this gallery.' Bryn knew exactly who the three D'Angelo brothers were. She just had no idea which one Linda was referring to when she said 'Mr D'Angelo'. The haughty and cold Michael? The arrogant playboy Raphael? Or the cruel Gabriel, who had taken her naive heart and trampled all over it?
It didn't really matter which of the D'Angelo brothers it was; they were all arrogant and ruthless as far as Bryn was concerned, and she wouldn't have come within twenty feet of a single one of them if not for the fact that she was as determined to become one of the six artists chosen to take part in the Archangel New Artists Exhibition next month, as she was desperate.
She gave a slow shake of her head. 'I think there's been some sort of mistake.' She frowned. 'Mr Sanders' secretary phoned me and made the appointment.'
'Because Mr D'Angelo was out of the country at the time,' Linda said, nodding.
Bryn could only stand and stare at the other woman, wondering if it was too late for her to just cut and run while she still had the chance….
Gabriel rested his elbows on his desktop as he watched the link to the security camera in the entrance hall of the gallery on his laptop.
He had recognised Bryn Jones the moment she entered the gallery, of course. Seen the way she hesitated, before her expression turned to one of confusion as Linda spoke to her, followed by total stillness as her face went completely blank, making it easy for Gabriel to guess the moment Linda had told her that her appointment this morning was now with him rather than Eric.
Or, more accurately, Sabryna Harper.
The last time Gabriel had seen Sabryna had been five years ago, day after day across a crowded courtroom. She had glared her dislike of him with glittering but velvet-soft dove-grey eyes from behind dark-framed glasses every time she so much as glanced at him. And she had glanced at him a lot!
Sabryna Harper had only been eighteen at the time, her figure voluptuously rounded, her manner a little clumsy and self-conscious, light brown hair growing silky and straight to just below her shoulders, dark-framed glasses making her eyes appear large and vulnerable. A vulnerability and appeal that Gabriel had been inexplicably drawn to.
Her figure had slimmed down to a svelte elegance that was shown to full advantage in a loose floral blouse and fitted trousers. The light brown hair looked as if it had been given blonde highlights, as well as being expertly cut and styled as it winged out perkily about her ears, nape and creamy, smooth brow. And she had dispensed with the dark-framed glasses, probably in favour of contact lenses. She also possessed a new self-confidence that had allowed her to walk into Archangel with purpose and determination.
The loss of weight was even more noticeable in her face; there were now slight hollows in her cheeks, revealing sculptured cheekbones either side of a pert little nose. Her mouth? Thank God Rafe had warned him about that sexy mouth. As it was, he had an arousal that would need several minutes to subside?the same minutes it would take Linda to bring Bryn Jones to his office, he hoped.
Would Gabriel have recognised this beautiful and confident young woman as the Sabryna Harper of five years ago if Rafe hadn't prewarned him of her real identity, after Michael had decided to act with his usual arrogance by remaining silent on the subject?
Oh, yes, Gabriel had no doubts he would have recognised Sabryna. Voluptuous or slender, glasses or no glasses, slightly gauche or elegantly poised, he would have known Sabryna under any guise she cared to take on.
The question was, would she betray by word or deed that she remembered him too?
Delicious, decadent, sinful, melted-chocolate brown. It was the only way to describe the colour of Gabriel D'Angelo's eyes, Bryn acknowledged with self-disgust as, Linda having delivered her to his office, she now stood in front of the marble desk looking at the man she had long considered her nemesis. The man who, with the whiplash of his arrogant and ruthless tongue, had not only helped to send her father to prison, but also succeeded in killing Sabryna Harper and necessitating that Bryn Jones rise from her ashes.
The same man that the youthful Sabryna had been beguiled by, kissed by and lost her heart to five years ago.
The same man who only weeks later had stood in a courtroom and condemned her father to prison.
The same man that Sabryna had looked at across that courtroom and known that she still wanted, despite what he was doing to her father. Just looking at him had aroused her when she should have felt nothing but hatred for him, robbing her of both breath and speech.
A reaction, a dangerous attraction, that in the years that followed Bryn had convinced herself she hadn't felt. That the emotions that had bombarded her whenever she looked at him must have been dislike, perhaps even hate, because she couldn't have still been attracted to him after what he had done to her family.
One look at him now and Bryn knew that she had been lying to herself for all these years; that Gabriel D'Angelo, despite being the one man she should never have been attracted to, never have allowed herself to be flattered by or allowed to kiss her, had then, and still now, held a dangerous fascination for her.
So much so that she could feel how his overpowering presence managed to dominate the dramatic and opulent elegance of the huge office with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the London skyline and original artwork adorning all of the delicate pink-silk-covered walls.
A man who should by now Bryn had many times wished it so! Be balding, running to fat, with lines of dissipation etched into his overbloated and self-indulgent face.
Instead, he was still well over six feet of taut, lean muscle, all shown to advantage in a dark and tailored designer-label suit that probably cost as much as a year of Bryn's university fees! And his hair was just as thick and dark as she remembered it too, brushed casually back from his face to fall in silky ebony waves to just below the collar of his cream silk shirt.
As for his face.!
It was the face of a male model. The sort of face that women of all ages would have drooled over before buying whatever it was he was selling; a high intelligent brow above those sinful brown eyes, his nose aquiline, cheekbones high and sharply defined against light olive skin with not a line in sight, of dissipation or otherwise! He had perfect chiselled lips?the top one fuller than the bottom?and the strong line of his jaw was exactly as Bryn remembered it: square and ruthlessly determined.
'Miss Jones.' His cultured voice, as Bryn had discovered five years ago, wasn't in the least accented, as might have been expected from his name, but was as English as her own. The same deep and husky rumble of a voice that had once caused Bryn's knees to quake, and had still done so even as she had listened to that voice condemn her father and seal his fate.
Bryn almost took a step back as Gabriel D'Angelo stood up and moved out from behind the marble desk. She managed to stand her ground as she realised he had only risen to his feet in order to hold out his hand to her in greeting. A lean and elegant hand totally in keeping with the strength Bryn could discern in every leanly muscled inch of him.
The sort of strength that she had no doubts was capable of crushing every bone in her own much smaller hand, if he chose to exert it.
Bryn gave an inward jolt as she realised he was studying her just as closely through narrowed lids, those melted chocolate-brown eyes appearing to see everything and miss nothing.
Would he recognise her as Sabryna Harper? Somehow she doubted it, given the fact that the gauche Sabryna, despite Gabriel having kissed her once, would have made very little impact on the life of a man like Gabriel D'Angelo, and there would have been so many other women in his life?and his bed!?during the past five years.
Besides which, her name was different, and she looked dramatically different: she was twenty pounds lighter, her hair was now cut short with blonde highlights, her face thinner, more angled, and she wore contact lenses rather than dark-framed glasses.
But was it possible could Gabriel D'Angelo have recognised her, despite those changes?
Bryn moved one sweat-dampened hand surreptitiously against the thigh of her trousers before raising it with the intention of brushing it as briefly as possible against his much larger hand. A move Gabriel D'Angelo instantly circumvented as those long, lean fingers closed firmly about, and retained hold, of Bryn's?instantly renewing and deepening that jolt of electricity, the sexual awareness, as it throbbed from his hand into hers, moving the length of her arm before settling in the fullness of her breasts, causing her nipples to tingle and harden beneath her blouse.
A jolt that Gabriel D'Angelo also felt, if the tightening of his fingers about hers and the increased narrowing of those captivating eyes, was any indication.
'We meet at last, Miss Jones,' Gabriel murmured as he deliberately continued to hold the slenderness of her hand firmly within his own.
Bryn blinked, her expression suddenly wary, those dove-grey eyes even more beautiful now that they weren't hidden behind glasses. 'I'm not sure what you mean.'
Gabriel wasn't completely sure what he meant either!
Rafe's advice, when the two brothers had met for dinner before he flew back to New York five days ago, had been that the easiest and best way for Gabriel to avoid any further unpleasantness with the Harper family was to simply tell Eric Sanders to take Bryn Jones off the list of possible candidates for the upcoming New Artists Exhibition.
And on a professional level Gabriel understood exactly why his brother had given him that advice; given the circumstances of his past history with her late father William Harper, it was sound, even necessary, advice.