A Proposal to Secure His Vengeance

By: Kate Walker

CHAPTER ONE

THE WALK DOWN the aisle on your wedding day was supposed to be the longest walk in the world, and today it certainly felt as if that would be the case.

Imogen shivered at the way the words whirled in her head as she contemplated the stone-flagged aisle of the small village church, making her admit to the state of mind she’d been trying so hard to hide—even from herself—for the past few weeks.

A feeling that had grown so much worse as the date of her wedding had come closer, so that now it was just a couple of days away and she still wasn’t ready at all.

She doubted if she would ever be ready.

It could all have been so much worse. She could have had no one to turn to, no one who could help her and her family out of the morass of disaster they had fallen into, and with it the loss of the stud that had been in the family for over a century. Even perhaps the prospect of a prison sentence for her father.

No one to push her into a marriage she didn’t want but saw as the only way she and her family could possibly go forward.

Imogen pushed her hands through the tumble of black hair that fell onto her shoulders, exerting extra pressure with her fingers as if she could erase the chaos of her thoughts.

It was the only way, she told herself silently. Adnan at least was a friend; they liked each other—always had—and they both had so much to lose if this didn’t go ahead.

Besides, there was another possible advantage, she hoped, that perhaps, after her marriage, the scandal press would let go of the hateful nickname they used whenever she or her sister Ciara were mentioned. If this redeemed Ciara’s reputation too, left her free to go forward in life and put her own shadows behind her, then that was another reason it would be worth it.

She’d always loved this little village church. The church where her parents had married, where she’d been christened, and her sister after her. She had so loved being an older sister, until their mother had run away with a new, much younger lover, taking Ciara with her. At least the preparations for this wedding had brought Ciara back to the family home where she belonged and now, hopefully, could actually stay.

After a lifetime apart, she had only discovered the whereabouts of her sister a couple of years ago, but the two of them hadn’t had any real time to get to know each other properly. Ciara since then had been living and working in Australia, and Imogen’s whole attention had had to be focused on fighting to save the reputation and financial position of the stud. But she’d adored Ciara from the moment they’d met again and if she could do anything to help make up for the loss of happiness and family life that Ciara had endured, then she’d do her damnedest to make sure that happened.

She owed Adnan so much. After all, it could have been someone else she was so deeply indebted to, someone else she was having to marry.

Someone like Raoul Cardini, a wicked, tormenting little voice whispered into her subconscious.

‘No!’

Involuntarily she started away from the pew beside which she had been standing, the surge of memories taking the strength from her legs. She was so distracted that she didn’t hear the heavy wooden door open behind her, the soft footsteps on the floor that marked the arrival of someone else into the church.

He hadn’t expected to see her here, Raoul reflected as he stood just inside the open porch, staring down the aisle at the tall, slender figure who stood with her back to him, one hand on the polished edge of the pew beside her. Just seeing her like this, so unexpectedly, brought all the bitterness, the cold fury that he’d been fighting to hold in check bubbling up inside him.

The original idea had been to wait until the pre-wedding dinner tonight to implement his plan for revenge. He had been looking forward to seeing the sudden rush of shock in her eyes, the way her expression would change. Yes, he was sure she would fight to keep control, do everything she could not to show how she was feeling. She was good at that, he recalled, remembering the cool control he had seen her exhibit at times during the two weeks they had spent almost every moment in each other’s company.

She certainly hadn’t shown any emotion when she had left him, two years before, her face tight and controlled. He hadn’t begun to suspect the secrets that lay behind that expression, the truth she had hidden from him without a qualm. She’d never even revealed a hint of that life-changing secret until it was gone, the tiny beginnings of what might have been his son or daughter thrown away with the help of the expensive clinic she’d taken herself to. He’d never seen her composure break.

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