He dragged in a prickly breath and tried to concentrate on the line of traffic ahead, watching as each car edged closer and closer together, as if to nudge the red light signal into changing. His foot hovered on the accelerator, biding his time to go forward, his fingers drumming the steering wheel in increasing agitation.

All he could promise was to what?


ASHLEIGH was so determined she wasn’t going to say another word to Jake for the rest of the journey, if not the rest of the evening, that it took her a quite a while to realise that he hadn’t directed a single word her way for several minutes. She cast him covert glances every now and again as he negotiated the city traffic, but his eyes didn’t once turn her way and the stiff line of his mouth clearly indicated that he had no desire to engage in conversation with her.

OK, so he hadn’t appreciated her little dig about his forceful proposal.


She could handle his stonewalling. It would make for a long and tense evening, but why should she always be the one to smooth things over? Besides, he was the one who’d steamrollered her into committing to a marriage she knew he would never have been insisting on if it wasn’t for Lachlan’s existence.

How was that supposed to make her feel? He hadn’t even tried to pretend to have any feelings for her, other than displaying his usual rampant desire which he no doubt felt for any woman between the ages of nineteen and forty.

Admittedly, he’d somehow convinced her family that things were now all rosy and romantic between them, but she knew that was probably because Howard had always seemed to them to be not quite the right partner for her. Her parents, of course, had known better than to say so out loud, but Mia and Ellie hadn’t abided by any such polite boundaries. The open joy on their faces as they’d toasted her engagement to Jake that evening was testament to their relief that she had finally come to her senses. But exactly what was sensible about marrying a man who not only didn’t love her but loathed the whole notion of marriage and family life?

The hotel valet parking attendant greeted Jake by name as he drove into the reception bay. Ashleigh stepped out of the car when one of the uniformed bell boys opened her door for her and stood waiting for Jake, who was exchanging pleasantries with another staff member.

‘I’ll have the young lady’s luggage brought up to your room immediately,’ the young man said as he took the keys from Jake.

Ashleigh gave an audible snort. Her small tote bag could hardly be described as luggage; she’d barely put a thing in it besides her cosmetics purse and her oldest, most unflattering, nightgown. If Jake thought he was in for a hot night of passion with her in his hotel bedroom he could think again.

‘Will you require a reservation for dinner in the restaurant this evening or will you be ordering room service, Mr Marriott?’ The concierge asked as they approached reception for Jake to collect his mail.

‘Room service will be fine,’ Jake answered without even consulting Ashleigh. ‘Were there any messages left for me today?’

The concierge handed him two or three envelopes. ‘That’s all so far. Is there anything else we can do for you, Mr Mar-riott?’

‘Yes.’ Jake’s mouth tilted into a smug sort of smile. ‘Have the bar send up a bottle of your very best champagne and two glasses.’

‘Right away, Mr Marriott.’ The concierge’s eyes went to Ashleigh, standing rigidly to one side. ‘May I ask, are we celebrating something special this evening?’

‘Yes. Ms Ashleigh Forrester and I are celebrating our engagement and forthcoming marriage,’ Jake said and, tucking the envelopes in his back pocket, added, ‘Oh…and could you also contact the press and make a formal announcement on my behalf?’ He took one of the gold pens off the reception counter and, reaching for a hotel notepad, quickly wrote down what he wanted to appear in the following day’s paper and handed it back to the concierge.

‘Consider it done, Mr Marriott. And on behalf of the hotel management and staff may I offer you our most sincere congratulations.’ He turned towards Ashleigh and gave her a polite smile. ‘Nice to meet you, Ms Forrester.’

Ashleigh mumbled something in reply and stumbled after Jake as he led her by the elbow towards the bank of lifts.

Once they were out of earshot of the reception area she tugged herself out of his hold and dusted off her elbow as if to remove something particularly nasty from it before sending him a furious glare. ‘You’ve got a dammed hide!’

Jake pressed the call button without answering and, folding his arms across his chest, leaned indolently against the wall.

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