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Swept into the Rich Man's World

By:Katrina Cudmore

Swept into the Rich Man's World
Katrina Cudmore

       CHAPTER ONE

'HELLO? IS ANYONE HOME?'

Her lungs on fire, Aideen Ryan desperately heaved in some air as she  waited for someone to answer her knock and call. She had run in the dark  through gale-force winds and rain to get to Ashbrooke House: the only  place that could give her shelter from the storm currently pounding the  entire Atlantic coastline of Ireland.

Ashbrooke House, stately home of billionaire Patrick Fitzsimon. A man  who, given the impenetrable walls that surrounded his vast estate and  his über-wealthy lifestyle, was unlikely to welcome her intrusion.

She straightened her rain jacket and ran a hand through her hair. Oh,  for crying out loud. Her hair was a tangled mess. Soaked to the skull  and resembling a frizz bomb... She really hoped it wouldn't be Patrick  Fitzsimon who answered the door. Not the suave, gorgeous man she had  seen in countless magazines. A man who stared at the camera with such  serious intensity and intelligence that she had held her breath in  alarm, worried for a few crazy seconds that he could see her spying on  him.

The only sightings anyone ever made of him locally was when he was  helicoptered in and out of the estate. Intrigued, she had looked him up.  But just because she'd been unable to resist checking out her  neighbour, one of the world's 'top ten most eligible billionaire  bachelors', it didn't alter the fact that she was determined to keep her  life a man-free zone.

A nearby tree branch creaked loudly as a ferocious gust of wind and rain  swept up from the sea. How was her poor cottage faring in the storm  without her? And how on earth was her business going to survive this?

Pushing down her spiralling panic, she took hold of the brass knocker  and rapped it against the imposing door again, the metal vibrating  against her skin.

'Hello? Please... I need help. Is anyone home?'

Please, please, let one of his staff answer.

But the vast house remained in silence, while beyond the columned  entrance porch sheets of rain swept across the often written about  formal gardens of Ashbrooke.

And then slow realisation dawned. Although outside lighting had  showcased the perfect symmetry and beauty of the Palladian house as she  had run up the driveway, not a single interior light had shone through  the large sash windows.

In her panic, that simple fact had failed to register with her...until now.

What if nobody was at home?

But that didn't make sense. A house this size had to have an army of  staff. The classically inspired villa had a three-storey central block,  connected by colonnades to two vast wings. The house was enormous-even  bigger than the pictures suggested.

Somebody simply had to be home. They probably just couldn't hear her above the storm. She needed to knock louder.

She grabbed hold of the knocker again, but just as she raised it high to  pound it down on the door the door swung open. As she flew forward with  it all she could see was a tanned, muscular six-pack vanishing beneath a  grey sweatshirt, its owner in the midst of quickly dressing. But not  before she headbutted that glorious vision of masculine perfection.

It was like colliding against steel. As she ricocheted backwards she  heard a loud grunt. Then hands gripped her upper arms and yanked her  back from slamming bottom first on to the ground. The momentum pulled  her back towards that hard body, and this time her forehead landed  heavily on the person's chest with a thud.

For a moment neither of them moved, and her already spinning head became  lost in a giddy sensation of warmth, the safe embrace of another human  being, the deep, masculine scent of a man...

She couldn't tell who sprang away first, but as embarrassment barrelled  through her, her eyes dropped down to bare feet and dark grey sweatpants  before travelling back up over a long, lean, muscular body. Dark  stubble lined a sculpted jawline. Taking a deep swallow, she looked up  into eyes that were the light blue of an early-morning Irish spring sky.  How often had she tried without success to replicate that colour in her  designs?

Patrick Fitzsimon.

Those beautiful blue eyes narrowed. 'What the-?'

'I'm sorry I woke you, but my home's been flooded and everything I own  is probably floating to America at this stage. I tried to drive into  Mooncoyne but the road is flooded. My car got stuck. I was so glad your  gates were open... I thought they would be locked, like they usually  are. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do if they were locked.'                       
       
           



       

He held up a hand in the universal stop position. 'Okay. Slow down. Let's start again. Explain to me who you are.'

Oh, why did she jabber so much when she was nervous? And, for crying out  loud, did she have to blush so brightly that she could light up a small  house?

Pushing her hand out towards him, she said, 'I'm Aideen Ryan. I'm your  neighbour. I live in Fuchsia Cottage...down by the edge of the lough.'

He gave a quick nod of recognition, but then he drew his arms across his  impossibly wide chest and his gaze narrowed even more. 'What is it you  need, exactly?'

Humiliation burnt in her chest at having to ask for help from a  stranger, but she looked into his cool blue eyes and blurted out what  had to be said. 'I need a place to stay tonight.'

His mouth twisted unhappily. For a moment she feared he was about to close the door on her.

But instead he took a backward step and said, 'Come inside.'

At best, it was a very reluctant invitation.

The door closed behind them with a solid clunk. Without uttering a word,  he left her standing alone in the vast entrance hall. Her body started  to shake as her wet clothes clung to her limbs. Her teeth chattered in  the vast space and, to her ears, seemed to echo off the dome-shaped  ceiling, from which hung the largest crystal chandelier she'd ever seen.

Why couldn't she have a normal neighbour? Why did hers have to be a  billionaire who lived in a palace at the end of a mile-long driveway?  She hated having to ask for help. From anyone. But having to ask for  help from a megarich gorgeous man made her feel as though the universe  was having a good laugh at her expense.

When he returned, he passed her a yellow and white striped towel without  comment. Accepting it gratefully, she patted her hands and face. For a  moment their eyes met.

Her heart stuttered as his gaze assessed her, his generous mouth  flattened into a grimace, his long legs planted wide apart, his body  rigid. Her breath caught. She felt intimidated by the intensity of his  stare, his size, his silent unsmiling presence. She lowered her gaze and  concentrated on twisting the towel through her hair, her eyes closing  as an unaccountable nervousness overtook her.

'So where's your car?'

'I tried to drive into Mooncoyne but the river had burst its banks at  Foley's Bridge. It's the same on your estate-the bridge on your drive is  impassable, too.'

He shook his head in confusion. 'So how did you get here?'

'I climbed on to the bridge wall and crawled along it... My car is still on the other side.'

* * *

Just great. Not only had he been woken from a jet-lagged sleep, but now  he realised he was dealing with a crazy woman. This was all he needed.

'Are you serious? Are you telling me you climbed over a flooded river in gale-force winds? Have you lost your mind?'

For a moment a wounded look flashed in her cocoa-brown eyes, but then she stared defiantly back at him.

'The sea was about to flood my cottage. I called the emergency services  but they are swamped with the flooding throughout Mooncoyne. And anyway  they can't reach here-Foley's Bridge is impassable even to them. You're  my only neighbour. There was no other place I could come to for  shelter.' Throwing her head back, she took a deep breath before she  continued, a tremor in her voice. 'I did contemplate staying in my car  overnight, but frankly I was more concerned about hypothermia than  climbing along a bridge wall.'

Okay, so she had a point. But it had still been a crazy risk to take.

He inhaled a deep breath. For the first time ever he wished his staff  resided in the house. If she'd been here, his housekeeper, Maureen,  would happily have taken this dishevelled woman in hand. And he could  have got some much-needed sleep.

He had awoken to her knocking jet-lagged and perplexed as to how anyone  had got past his security. All of Ashbrooke's thousand-acre parkland was  ring-fenced by a twenty-foot stone wall, built at the same time as the  house in the eighteenth century. The impenetrable wall and the  electronic front gates kept the outside world away.

Well, they were supposed to.

He would be having words with his estate manager in the morning. But  right now he had a stranger dripping water down on to his polished  limestone floor. He had an urgent teleconference in less than four hours  with Hong Kong. To be followed up with a day of endless other  teleconferences to wrap up his biggest acquisition ever. The  acquisition, however, was still mired in legal and technical  difficulties. Difficulties his teams should have sorted out weeks ago.  The arrival of his neighbour at this time of night was the last thing he  needed.                       

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