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No Longer Forbidden

By:Dani Collins

CHAPTER ONE


NICODEMUS MARCUSSEN rose to shake hands with his lawyer, his muscles aching with tension as he kept his reaction to all they’d discussed very much to himself.

“I know this is a difficult topic,” his lawyer tried.

Nic shook off the empathy with a cool blink and a private, No, you don’t. Nic trusted Sebastyen, but only within the framework of the media conglomerate Nic had fought to run after Olief Marcussen’s disappearance. Sebastyen had been one of Nic’s first supporters, believing in Nic’s leadership skills despite his inexperience. Nic was grateful, but they weren’t friends. Nic eschewed close relationships of every kind.

“I appreciate your advice,” Nic said with aloof sincerity. Everything Sebastyen had presented was the height of practicality, outweighing any sentiment that might have held Nic back. “It’s definitely time to consider it as the anniversary approaches. I’ll let you know how I’d like to proceed,” he concluded in dismissal.

Sebastyen hovered, appearing to want to add something, but Nic glanced at his watch. His days were busy enough without social chit-chat.

“I only wanted to reiterate that it would be helpful if both next of kin agreed,” Sebastyen blurted.

“I understand,” Nic drawled, keeping his patronizing tone muted but heard. It was enough of a butt-out to have the lawyer nodding apologetically and making haste to leave. Nic was quite sure the entire corporation, along with the rest of the world, followed the escapades of the other next of kin, but he wouldn’t abide open speculation about how he’d gain her cooperation.

The fact was, he already had an idea how he’d accomplish it. He’d been putting things together in his mind even as Sebastyen had been stating his case.

As Sebastyen closed the office door Nic went back to his desk and the courier envelope he’d received that morning. Bills of every description came out by the handful, their disarray as fluttery and frivolous as the woman who’d racked them up. The forget-me-not-blue notepaper was a particularly incongruous touch. He reread the swooping script.

Nic,

My bank cards aren’t working. Kindly sort it out and send the new ones to Rosedale. I’m moving in this weekend for some downtime.

Ro.



His initial reaction had been, downtime from what? But for once Rowan’s self-serving behavior was a convenience to him. Since she hadn’t got the message when he’d stopped her credit cards two months ago, he’d confront her and do what Olief should have done years ago. Make her grow up and act responsibly for a change.

Rosedale.

A warm sense of homecoming suffused Rowan O’Brien as she climbed the hill and looked over the sprawling vineyard surrounding the sturdy house of gray stone and mullioned windows. The turreted Old English mansion was out of place against the white beach and turquoise water, pure folly on a Mediterranean island where white stone columns and flowing architecture typically reigned, but it had been built to indulge a loved one so Rowan adored it with all her heart. And here she was free.

She’d sent the taxi ahead with her things, initially frustrated that her finances had stalled to the point where she’d had to take the ferry from the mainland, but the slow boat had turned out to be therapeutic. As much as she’d ached to see the house again, she had needed the time to brace herself for its emptiness.

With a bittersweet throb in her chest she descended to the lawn, ignored her luggage on the stoop and tried the door, half expecting it to be locked and wondering where she’d put her key. She’d left a message for the housekeeper, but wasn’t sure Anna had received it. Rowan’s mobile had stopped working along with everything else. Very frustrating.

The door was unlocked. Rowan stepped into silence and released a sigh. She had longed to come for ages but hadn’t been able to face it, too aware that the heart of the home was missing. Except …

A muted beat sounded above her. Footsteps crossed the second floor to the top of the stairs. Male, heavy steps …

Before she could leap to the crazy conclusion that by some miracle her mother and stepfather had survived, and were here after all, the owner of the feet descended the stairs and came into view.

Oh.

She told herself her reaction stemmed from the unexpectedness of seeing him face-to-face after so long, but it was more than that. Nic always made her heart trip and her breath catch. And—and this was new, since she’d thrown herself at him in a hideous moment of desperation nearly two years ago—made her die a little of abject mortification.

She hid that, but couldn’t help reacting to his presence. He was so gorgeous! Which shouldn’t matter. She knew lots of good-looking men. Perhaps none combined the blond Viking warrior with the cold Spartan soldier quite the way he did, but marble-carved jaws and chilly, piercing blue eyes were a mainstay among her mother’s film and stage crowd.

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