The Innocent's Sinful Craving

By: Sara Craven

CHAPTER ONE

AT THE TOP of the hill, she stopped the car on the verge and got out, stretching gratefully after the drive from London.

The house lay below her in its secluded green valley, a sprawl of stones like some ancient dragon sleeping in the sunlight.

Dana drew a long, satisfied breath, her taut mouth relaxing into a smile of pure pleasure.

‘I’ve come back,’ she whispered. ‘And this time I’m going to stay. Nothing—and no one—is going to drive me away again. You’re going to be mine. Do you hear me?’

And after one final, lingering look, she returned to the car and drove down the hill towards Mannion.

It would not—could not be the same. For one thing, there would be no Serafina Latimer with her kindness and smiling grace that could so suddenly change to severity. She was back in her beloved Italy, and Aunt Joss, of course, had gone with her.

But I’ve changed too, she thought.

She was a long way from the confused seventeen-year-old who’d left here seven years earlier, physically, emotionally and—yes, she supposed, even financially.

No longer the housekeeper’s niece, there on sufferance, for ever on the outside looking in, but a successful and well-paid negotiator with a top London estate agency.

And the past years of fighting her way up the ladder, reinventing herself into a force to be reckoned with, had taught her a lot.

I’ve helped a lot of people make their dream come true, she thought. Now, it’s my turn.

Except that Mannion wasn’t simply a dream. It was her birthright, whatever the law might say. There was such a thing as natural justice, and she would lay hold to it, no matter what means she had to employ. Or what the consequences might be.

She’d decided that a long time ago, and the passage of time had only deepened her resolve.

She drove through the tall wrought-iron gates and up the long drive through the sweeping lawns and formal gardens to the house. There were already cars parked on either side of the main entrance and she slotted her Peugeot into the nearest available space.

Climbing out, she stood for a moment, scanning the other vehicles, steadying the sudden flurry of her breathing, and smoothing any creases from her khaki linen skirt before collecting her weekend case from the boot.

As she turned she saw that the heavily studded front door had opened and a plump woman in a neat dark dress was waiting there.

‘Miss Grantham?’ Her voice was quietly civil. ‘I’m Janet Harris. Let me take your case and show you to your room.’

I probably know the way better than you do, Dana thought, amused, as she followed the housekeeper. How many times have I trotted round after Aunt Joss, making sure everything was ready for arriving guests? Sometimes even being allowed to put the flowers in the bedrooms.

I wonder if anyone’s done that for me?

The answer to that, she soon discovered was ‘no’, along with the fact that she’d been allocated the smallest of the guest rooms in the remotest part of the house, looking over the shrubbery to the slope of the valley where the summer house still stood.

The one thing she had no wish to see. That she’d hoped would no longer exist, although the memories it evoked were still potent. Bitterly and disturbingly so.

However the choice of view was probably not deliberate, she thought, turning from the window. Unlike the selection of the room with its faded decor and elderly carpet, seemingly intended to put her firmly in her place.

That’s fine, she thought. When the game’s over, let’s see who’s won.

‘The bathroom is just down the corridor, Miss Grantham.’ Mrs Harris sounded almost apologetic. ‘But you’ll have it to yourself. If there’s anything else you need, please let me know.’ She paused. ‘Miss Latimer asked me to say there is tea in the drawing room.’

How very formal, Dana thought with faint amusement as the housekeeper withdrew. And how very unlike Nicola. But perhaps she was finding it was rough going being a hostess.

She hadn’t much to unpack apart from her dresses for this evening and tomorrow night’s party which she hung in a wardrobe as narrow as the single bed.

The bathroom was basic but well supplied with towels, a tub with a hand shower and a full-length mirror.

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