‘I hate to disillusion you, Mum, but this is one thing Jake will never budge on. He would be absolutely furious to find out he had a son. I just know it. It was one of the things we argued about the most.’ She bit her lip as the memory of their bitter parting scored her brutally, before she continued. ‘He would be so angry…so terribly angry…’

Gwen reached into her pocket and handed Ashleigh a card. ‘He left this card so you can contact him. He’s staying at a hotel in the city. He apparently wants some work done on his father’s house before he moves in. I think it would be wise to see him on neutral territory.’

Ashleigh looked down at the card in her hand, her stomach clenching painfully as she saw his name printed there in silver writing.

Jake Marriott CEO Marriott Architecture.

She lifted her gaze back to her mother, resignation heavy in her tone. ‘Will you and Dad be all right with minding Lachlan if I go now?’

Gwen gave her a soft smile. ‘That’s my girl. Go and get it over with, then you can get on with your life knowing you did the right thing in the end.’

Ashleigh stood outside the plush city hotel half an hour later and wondered if she was even in her right mind, let alone doing the right thing. She hadn’t rung the mobile number printed on Jake’s business card to inform him of her intention to see him. She told herself it was because she didn’t want him to have the advantage of preparing himself for her arrival, but deep down she knew it had more to do with her own cowardice.

In the end she had to wait for him, because the reception desk attendant refused to give Jake’s room number without authorisation from him first.

She decided against sitting on one of the comfortablelooking leather sofas in the piano lounge area and took a stool at the bar instead, perching on the edge of it with a glass of soda water in her hand, which she knew she’d never be able to swallow past the lump of dread blocking her throat.

As if she could sense his arrival, she found her gaze tracking towards the bank of lifts, his tall unmistakable figure stepping out of the far right one, every scrap of air going out of her lungs as he came into full view.

She knew she was staring at him but just couldn’t help it. In four and a half years he had not changed other than to look even more devastatingly handsome.

His imposing height gave him a proud, almost aristocratic bearing and his long lean limbs displayed the physical evidence of his continued passion for endurance sports. His clothes hung on his frame with lazy grace; he had never been the designer type but whatever he wore managed to look top of the range regardless. His wavy black hair was neither long nor short but brushed back in a careless manner which could have indicated the recent use of a hairbrush; however she thought it was more likely to have been the rake of his long tanned fingers that had achieved that just-out-of-bed look.

She was surprised at how painful it was to look at him again.

She’d known every nuance of his face, her fingers had traced over every hard contour of his body, her gentle touch lingering over the inch-long scar above his right eyebrow, her lips kissing him in every intimate place, and yet as he strode towards her she felt as if she had never known him at all.

He had simply not allowed her to.

‘Hello, Ashleigh.’

Ashleigh had trouble disguising her reaction to his deep voice, the smooth velvet tones with just a hint of an English accent woven through it. How she had longed to hear it over the years!

‘Hello.’ She met his dark eyes briefly, hoping he wouldn’t see the guilt reflected in hers at the thought of what she had kept hidden from him for all this time.

‘You’re looking well,’ Jake said, his gaze running over her in a sweeping but all-encompassing glance. ‘Have you put on weight?’

Ashleigh pursed her lips for a moment before responding with a touch of tartness. ‘I see your idea of what constitutes a compliment is still rather twisted.’

One eyebrow rose and his mouth lifted in a small mocking smile. ‘I see you’re still as touchy as ever.’ His eyes dipped to her breasts for a moment before returning slowly to hers. ‘I think it suits you. You were always so bone-thin.’

‘It must have been the stress of living with you,’ she shot back before she could stop herself, reaching for her drink with an unsteady hand.

A tight little silence fell in the space between them.

Ashleigh felt like kicking herself for betraying her bitterness so unguardedly. She stared at a floating ice cube in her glass, wishing she was able to see Jake without it doing permanent damage to her emotional well-being.

‘You’re probably right,’ Jake said, a tiny frown settling between his brows and, as he took the stool beside her, lifted his hand to get the barman’s attention.

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