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His Unknown Heir

His Unknown Heir

Mills & Boon Modern Romance

February 2011

ISBN: 0263886328


Harlequin Presents

September 2011

ISBN: 0373528299


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About the Book

She committed a sin...and hides a shocking secret...

Ramon Velaquez, heir to the Velaquez winery, clearly stated his cardinal rule to Lauren Maitland – he can’t promise her more than a red-hot affair. Whilst she heard the words, her heart wasn’t listening, and her punishment for falling in love was to be sent away. Two years later, and Ramon still can’t escape the memories of the woman he banished. But when he finds Lauren again she’s independent, strong, and harbouring a shocking secret...


Read an Excerpt

Ramon lifted his glass of champagne. ‘I’d like to make a toast – to another successful take-over bid by Velaquez Conglomerates.’

Lauren froze - until the lengthening silence became awkward and she hurriedly snatched up her glass of juice. ‘Oh...yes – to Velaquez Conglomerates.’ She touched her glass to Ramon’s and gave him a tentative smile, which faltered when he made no mention of the other reason they were celebrating.

‘So, tell me what you’ve been doing while I was away,’ Ramon said comfortably.

It was not a question he had been prone to asking his previous lovers, he mused. Usually he was bored to death by the details of shopping and celebrity gossip that most women seemed to find so fascinating, but Lauren was a highly intelligent corporate lawyer, and he enjoyed discussing their respective careers, or the latest political thriller by an author they both admired.

Lauren could recall little of the past two weeks other than the mind-numbing panic that had swamped her after she had discovered she was pregnant. She could think of nothing to say, and instead fumbled in her handbag and handed Ramon a small gift-wrapped package.

‘It’s a present,’ she told him when he viewed the package suspiciously, as if he expected it to blow up in his face. ‘It’s nothing really.’ She could feel hot colour flooding her cheeks. ‘Just a little celebrate our anniversary.’

Ramon stiffened, and the sense of impending disaster he had felt when he had spoken to Lauren earlier in the day settled over him like a black cloud. ‘Anniversary?’ he queried coolly.

‘It’s six months since we met. I thought that was what we were celebrating – the reason you arranged for us to have dinner at the restaurant where you brought me on our first date...’ Lauren’s voice trailed a way. She stared at Ramon’s shocked expression and cringed with embarrassment as it became apparent that she had got things very wrong. ‘I thought you had remembered,’ she muttered, wishing that a hole would open in the floor beneath her chair and swallow her up.

Ramon regarded her in a taut silence. ‘I must admit I did not,’ he said bluntly, frowning as the implication of her words sank in. Six months! How had so much time passed without him noticing it? And how had Lauren insinuated herself into his life so subtly that he had grown used to her being there? Ordinarily he never dated women for more than a few weeks before he reached his boredom threshold. But even though she had been his mistress for half a year Lauren never bored him - either in bed or out - he acknowledged grimly. He hadn’t even been tempted to look at another woman.

His frown deepened. Dios! He had been faithful to her without realising the longevity of their affair, but now that she had made him aware of it he was shocked that he had allowed what had started off as just another casual fling to continue for so long. He felt as though it was Lauren’s fault. If she had started to irritate him - or, as so often happened with mistresses, shown possessive tendencies - he would have ended the affair months ago. But she had been the perfect mistress: undemanding, and happy to take a discreet role in his life. Her desire to celebrate an anniversary was like a bolt from the blue. It overstepped a line in their relationship, Ramon brooded, annoyance replacing his contentment of a few minutes ago.

‘I do not set great store by anniversaries,’ he told her curtly.

Impeccable manners forced him to untie the gold ribbon on top of the package, and he parted the wrapping paper to reveal a striped silk tie in muted shades of blue and grey. It was exactly the sort of thing he would have chosen for himself, but the realisation that Lauren knew his tastes so well did not improve his temper.

He looked up to find her watching him anxiously, and it struck him that she had seemed unusually tense since he had greeted her in the bar.

‘It’s charming,’ he said, forcing a smile as he lifted the tie from its wrapping. ‘An excellent choice. Gracias.’

‘I told you it was only a small gift,’ she mumbled, sounding defensive.

But it was not the size or value of the present that was a problem, it was the reason why she had given it to him that disturbed him, Ramon mused. Lauren had never seemed the type who indulged in sentimental gestures, and it was disconcerting to think that he might not know her quite as well as he had believed.

Thankfully the waiter arrived with their first course, and while they ate he steered the conversation away from the contentious topic of their so called anniversary to a discussion about the mixed reviews for a new play that had opened in the West End.

The food at The Vine was always superb, but afterwards Lauren had no recollection of what she had eaten. She ordered a camomile tea to end the meal, and sipped it frantically to try and counteract her queasiness induced by the aroma of Ramon’s coffee. Usually she loved coffee, but for the past week just the smell of it was enough to send her running to the bathroom.

Morning sickness – which seemed to strike at any time during the day - was a physical indication that her pregnancy was real, and if she was honest she felt scared and uncertain of the future. Tell Ramon about the baby now, her brain insisted. But she could not forget his harsh tone when he had announced that he did not set much store by anniversaries, and the words, I’m pregnant, remained trapped in her throat.

Ramon’s reaction to her innocuous gift had been bad enough. He had made her feel like a criminal for wanting to celebrate the fact that their relationship was special to her. Clearly it was not special to him, she thought miserably. But the stark fact remained that she was expecting his baby, and sooner or later he was going to have to know.

During dinner she’d managed to smile and chat to him as if her humiliating discovery that their anniversary meant nothing to him had had never happened. Ramon certainly seemed to have put it out of his mind. But when he draped his arm around her shoulders in the back of his limousine and instructed the chauffeur to take them to his apartment overlooking Hyde Park, anger slowly replaced the hurt inside her. If they did not have a relationship that was worth celebrating, what did they have? she wondered bitterly.

The car purred into the underground car-park beneath his apartment block. Moments later they entered the lift and he pulled her into his arms.

‘Alone, finally,’ Ramon murmured in a satisfied voice. Lauren’s perfume tantalised his senses and his breathing quickened when he took the clip from her chignon and ran his fingers though her mass of silky blond hair that tumbled to her shoulders. Dios, he was hungry for her. She was like a fever in his blood. With a muttered oath he covered her mouth with his and teased her lips apart with his tongue to plunder her moist warmth.

The unsettled feeling that had dogged him throughout dinner faded when he felt her instant response. For a few moments he had wondered if he was going to have to end their affair, and he was surprised by his reluctance to do so.

But once a mistress started to mention anniversaries it was time they became an ex-mistress - because how could you celebrate what was essentially a casual sexual relationship? He had thought Lauren understood the rules, and he was relieved that it seemed now, after all, that she did. She had made no further reference to the amount of time they had been together, and when she pressed her soft, curvaceous body against him, his doubts were swept away by the thunderous intensity of his desire.

He steered her out of the lift and through the front door of his apartment without lifting his lips from hers. His hands deftly tugged off her jacket and set to work unlacing the front of the sexy bustier while he backed her along the hall towards his bedroom.

How could she resist him? Lauren thought despairingly, her body trembling with anticipation. Soon he would be caressing her naked flesh. With his dark hair falling over his brow, his jacket and tie flung carelessly to the floor and his shirt now open to the waist to reveal his muscular, bronzed chest covered with a mass of wiry dark hairs, he was lethally sexy – but more than that, he was her world.

But she wasn’t his. The thought forced its way into her head, and her mouth quivered beneath the demanding pressure of his kiss. Her legs hit the end of the bed at the same time that he loosened the bustier and her breasts spilled into his hands.

‘I missed you, querida,’ Ramon groaned hoarsely.

But instead of his words soothing her battered pride they caused her to stiffen and draw back from him.

‘Did you miss me – or sex with me?’ she asked him tremulously, watching him with wary grey eyes when he frowned.

‘Don’t play games,’ he said impatiently. ‘It’s one and the same thing. Of course I missed having sex with you. After all, you are my mistress.’

The blood drained from Lauren’s face, and she could have sworn she actually heard the ripping sound of her heart being slashed by sharp knives as her pathetic hopes crumbled to dust.

‘I am not your mistress,’ she said tightly, gritting her teeth to stop herself from wailing like a distraught child - because that was how she felt.

Just as she had as a little girl, when she had witnessed her pony bolt out of the field into the path of a lorry, or as a teenager when she had watched her adored father walk down the garden path and out of her life forever.

She stepped away from Ramon and clutched the edges of the bustier together, her hands shaking. ‘A mistress is a kept woman, and you do not keep me. I have my own flat, a job, and I pay my own way.’

‘You virtually live at my apartment when I am in London,’ Ramon reminded her tersely. He was frustrated that Lauren was wasting time arguing when all he could think about was thrusting his throbbing erection between her soft thighs.

‘True. But I keep the fridge stocked with your favourite foods - including caviar and champagne - and I take your suits to the cleaners. They are only little things, I know, but I try to balance out our living costs fairly.’

Irritated beyond measure, Ramon raked a hand through his hair. How on earth had he allowed his affair with Lauren evolve into such cosy domesticity that she dealt with his dry-cleaning? That was the sort of thing a wife did, not a mistress. And how were they even having this conversation when seconds ago they had been on the verge of making love?

Having sex, he corrected himself. Love was certainly not a factor of their relationship. Yes, she had become important to him, he admitted. More so than he had realised until he’d spent the past couple of weeks missing her like hell. But, whether she agreed or not, she was his mistress. The course of his life had been determined from birth, and the responsibilities that came with being a member of the Spanish nobility meant that she could never be anything else.

Tension thrummed between them, and the unedifying label of mistress drummed in Lauren’s brain. She had thought they were lovers who shared an equal relationship, but clearly Ramon did not view her in that way. Her voice sounded rusty when she forced herself to speak. ‘I...need to know where we’re going,’ she said baldly.

Dark eyebrows winged upwards in an expression of arrogant amusement and sherry brown eyes rested insolently on the unlaced bustier that she was clutching across her breasts. ‘I had thought we were going to bed,’ Ramon drawled.

The flare of hurt in her eyes tugged on his conscience, and he cursed his quick temper. But, Dios mio, she had started this ridiculous conversation. He was tempted to snatch her back into his arms and kiss her until she melted into submission, but she looked as fragile as spun glass tonight – something he had only just noticed, he thought grimly. He wondered if she was ill. She was certainly upset. But why was she insisting on defining the nature of their affair when it worked perfectly well for both of them without the need for explanation?

‘I mean where our relationship is going,’ Lauren said with quiet dignity.

Sick fear churned in her stomach. Under ordinary circumstances Ramon’s forbidding expression would have warned her not to proceed with a conversation that felt horribly like it was going to smash full-pelt into a brick wall. But these were not ordinary circumstances. She was pregnant with his child, and her instinct to do the best for her baby was more important than her pride.

‘Tell me honestly: do you envisage us having any kind of future together?’ she asked quietly. ‘Or am I just another blonde to temporarily share your bed?’

His silence confirmed what her heart already knew.

Ramon’s eyes narrowed. ‘I have never made false promises, or led you to believe that I wanted more than an affair. You never hid the fact that your career plays a major part in your life, and I thought you were content with a relationship that did not put the pressure of unrealistic expectations on either of us.’

She had never had expectations, Lauren thought sadly. But she had hoped that she was beginning to mean something to him. How could she have been such a fool? she asked herself angrily. She had been blinded by her love for Ramon, and had kidded herself that the companionship they shared was proof that he cared for her. Now she knew that he had only ever regarded her as a convenient mistress - who provided sex and entertaining conversation on demand, but never made demands of her own.

As for her career… Her hand moved instinctively to her stomach. She had worked hard to become a lawyer and undoubtedly her job was important to her, but in eight months time she was going to take on the most important role a woman could fulfil - and it looked increasingly as though she was going to be bringing up her baby on her own.

She stared at Ramon’s perfectly sculpted features and her heart clenched. ‘Things change,’ she said huskily. Life can’t stay the same or we would stagnate. How do you see your future, Ramon? I mean…’ her voice shook slightly ‘…do you ever want to marry?’

This was not how he had envisaged spending his first night back in London, Ramon thought furiously. Up until now he had been clinging to the hope that this new Lauren, who had broken the unwritten rules of their liaison by demanding to discuss it, would suddenly metamorphose back into the familiar, delightfully easy-going Lauren, whose sole aim had always seemed to be to please him in bed. He was outraged that she had brought up the thorny subject of marriage, but now that she had asked he did not intend to lie to her.

‘The Velaquez family are among the oldest members of the Spanish nobility, and can tract their ancestors back to the eleventh century,’ he told her harshly. ‘As the only son of the Duque de Velaquez it is my duty to marry a bride from another aristocratic Spanish family and provide an heir to continue the bloodline of Velaquez.’

‘You’re the son of a duke?’

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