Awakening the Ravensdale Heiress

By: Melanie Milburne

CHAPTER ONE

MIRANDA WOULDN’T HAVE seen him if she hadn’t been hiding from the paparazzi. Not that a fake potted plant was a great hiding place or anything, she thought. She peeped through the branches of the ornamental ficus to see Leandro Allegretti crossing the busy street outside the coffee shop she was sheltering in. He didn’t seem aware of the fact it was spitting with rain or that the intersection was clotted with traffic and bustling with pedestrians. It was as if a transparent cube was around him. He was impervious to the chatter and clatter outside.

She would have recognised him anywhere. He had a regal, untouchable air about him that made him stand out in a crowd. Even the way he was dressed set him apart—not that there weren’t other suited men in the crowd, but the way he wore the sharply tailored charcoal-grey suit teamed with a snowy white shirt and a black-and-silver striped tie somehow made him look different. More civilised. More dignified.

Or maybe it was because of his signature frown.

Had she ever seen him without that frown? Miranda wondered. Her older twin brothers, Julius and Jake, had been boarding school buddies with Leandro. He had spent occasional weekends or school holidays and even university breaks at the Ravensdale family home, Ravensdene, in Buckinghamshire. Being a decade younger, she’d spent most of her childhood being a little intimidated by Leandro’s taciturn presence. He was the epitome of the strong, silent type—a man of few words and even fewer facial expressions. She couldn’t read his expression at the best of times. It was hard to tell if he was frowning in disapproval or simply in deep concentration.

He came into the coffee shop and Miranda watched as every female head turned his way. His French-Italian heritage had served him well in the looks department. Imposingly tall with jet-black hair, olive skin and brown eyes three or four shades darker than hers.

But if Leandro was aware of his impact on the female gaze he gave no sign of it. It was one of the things she secretly most liked about him. He didn’t trade on his appearance. He seemed largely unaware of how knee-wobblingly gorgeous he looked. It was as if it was irrelevant to him. Unlike her brother Jake, who knew he was considered arm candy and exploited it for all he could.

Leandro stood at the counter and ordered a long black coffee to take away from the young, blushing attendant, and then politely stood back to wait for it, taking out his phone to check his messages or emails.

Miranda covertly studied his tall, athletic figure with its strongly corded muscles honed from long hours of endurance exercise. The broad shoulders, the strong back, the lean hips, taut buttocks and the long legs. She had seen him many a time down at Ravensdene, a solitary figure running across the fields of the estate in all sorts of weather, or swimming endless laps of the pool in summer.

Leandro took to exercise with an intense, single-minded concentration that made her wonder if he was doing it for the health benefits or for some other reason known only to himself. But, whatever reason it was that motivated him, it clearly worked to his benefit. He had the sort of body to stop female hearts. She couldn’t stop looking at him, drinking in the male perfection of his frame, her mind traitorously wondering how delicious he would look in a tangle of sheets after marathon sex. Did he have a current lover? Miranda hadn’t heard much about his love life lately, but she’d heard his father had died a couple of months ago. She assumed he’d been keeping a low profile since.

* * *

The young attendant handed Leandro his coffee and as he turned to leave his eyes met Miranda’s through the craggy branches of the pot plant. She saw the flash of recognition go through his gaze but he didn’t smile in welcome. His lips didn’t even twitch upwards. But then, she couldn’t remember ever seeing him smile. Or, at least, not at her. The closest he came to it was a sort of twist of his lips that could easily be mistaken for cynicism rather than amusement.

‘Miranda?’ he said.

She lifted her hand in a little fingertip wave, trying not to draw too much attention to herself in case anyone lurking nearby with a smart phone recognised her. ‘Hi.’

He came over to her table screened behind the pot plant. She had to crane her neck to meet his frowning gaze. She always felt like a pixie standing in front of a giant when she was around him. He was an inch shorter than her six-foot-four brothers but for some reason he’d always seemed taller.

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