Never Say No to a Caffarelli(8)

By: Melanie Milburne

He swept his gaze over her lazily. ‘Indeed you would. I’ve never had a redhead before.’

Her cheeks coloured and her mouth tightened. ‘It’s not red. It’s auburn.’

‘It’s very beautiful.’

Her gaze flashed with venom. ‘If you think flattery is going to work with me, then think again. I’m not going to sell my house to you no matter how many insincere compliments you conjure up.’

‘Why are you so attached to the place?’ Rafe asked. ‘You could buy a much bigger place in a better location with the money I offered you.’

She gave him a hard little look. ‘I don’t expect someone like you to understand; you’ve probably lived in luxury homes all your life. The dower house is the first place I’ve ever been able to call home. I know it’s not flash, and that it needs a bit of work here and there, but if I sold it would be like selling part of myself.’

‘No one is asking you to sell yourself.’

Her brows arched up again. ‘Are they not?’

Rafe held her gaze for several beats. ‘My plans for the manor will go ahead with or without your cooperation. I understand the sentiments you expressed, but they have no place in what is at the end of the day a business decision. You would be committing financial suicide to reject the kind of offer I’ve made.’

Her posture was stiff and defensive, her eyes slitted in hatred. ‘You know nothing of my financial affairs. You don’t know me.’

‘Then I will enjoy getting to know you.’ He gave her a smouldering look. ‘In every sense of the word.’

She swung away with her colour high and stomped back down the steps. Rafe watched her disappear into the distance with a smile on his face. One way or the other he was going to win this.

He would stake money on it.

* * *

Poppy was still fuming when she got back to her house. Her three little dogs—Chutney, Pickles and Relish—looked up at her with worried eyes as she stormed through the gate. ‘Sorry, guys,’ she said bending down to give them all a scratch behind the ears. ‘I’m just so cross I can hardly stand it. What an arrogant man! Who does he think he is? As if I’d fall for someone like him. As if I’d even think about sleeping with him.’

Well, maybe it was OK to think about it a teeny weeny bit. There was no harm in that, was there? It wasn’t as if she was going to act on it. She wasn’t that type of girl. Which kind of explained why her ex-boyfriend was now shacked up with another woman.

Poppy knew it was ridiculously old-fashioned of her to have wanted to wait a while before she consummated her relationship with Oliver. It wasn’t that she was a prude... Well, maybe a bit, given she’d been raised by her grandmother, who hadn’t had sex in decades.

The trouble was she was a soppy romantic at heart. She wanted her first time to be special. She wanted it to be special for the man who shared it with her. She’d thought Oliver Kentridge was going to be that special man who would open up the world of sensuality to her, but he had betrayed her even before they’d been dating a couple of months.

Poppy couldn’t say her heart had been broken, but it had definitely been heavily bruised. Men were such selfish creatures, or at least that was how it had seemed in her life so far. Her well-heeled but wild playboy father had deserted her mother as soon as she had told him she was pregnant. And then, to rub more salt in the wound, within weeks of Poppy’s birth he had married a wealthy socialite who stood to inherit a fortune to prop up his own. Her mother had been devastated by being cast aside so heartlessly and, in a moment of impulsivity, no doubt fuelled by her hurt, had turned up at his high-society wedding with her ‘child of scandal’, as Poppy had been called. The press attention had only made her mother’s suffering worse and horribly, excruciatingly public. Poppy had frighteningly clear memories from during her early years of running down back-alleys holding tightly to her mother’s hand, trying to avoid the paparazzi. During that time her mother had been too proud to go to her own mother for help and support for fear of hearing the dreaded ‘I told you so’.

Poppy still remembered that terrifying day when the grandmother she had never met came to collect her from the hospital where her mother had drawn her last breath after taking an overdose. Her gran had seemed a little formidable at first, but over time Poppy realised it was her way of coping with the grief of losing her only child, and her regret at not having stepped in sooner to help her daughter cope with the heartbreak and shame of being cast aside by a rich man who had only used her.