Never Say No to a Caffarelli

By: Melanie Milburne
CHAPTER ONE

‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN, she won’t sell?’ Raffaele Caffarelli frowned at his London-based secretary.

Margaret Irvine turned her palms over in a ‘don’t blame me’ gesture. ‘Miss Silverton flatly refused your offer.’

‘Then make her a bigger one.’

‘I did. She refused that too.’

Rafe drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment. He hadn’t been expecting a hiccup like this at this stage. Everything had gone smoothly up until now. He’d had no trouble acquiring the stately English countryside manor and surrounding land in Oxfordshire for a bargain price. But the dower house was on a separate title—a minor problem, or so he’d been led to believe by his business manager, as well as the estate agent. The agent had assured him it would be easy enough to acquire the dower house so that the Dalrymple Estate could be whole once more; all he would have to do was to offer well above the market value. Rafe had been generous in his offer. Like the rest of the estate, the place was run down and badly needed a makeover, and he had the money needed to bring it back to its former glory and turn it into a masterpiece of English style and decadence. What was the woman thinking? How could she be in her right mind to turn down an offer as good as his?

He wasn’t going to give up on this. He had seen the property listed online and got his business manager, James—who was going to be fired if this didn’t get sorted out soon—to secure it for him.

Failure was not a word anyone would dare to associate with the name Raffaele Caffarelli. He was not going to let a little hurdle like this get in the way of what he wanted. ‘Do you think this Silverton woman’s somehow found out it’s me who’s bought Dalrymple Manor?’

‘Who knows?’ Margaret shrugged. ‘But I wouldn’t have thought so. We’ve managed to keep the press away from this so far. James handled all the paperwork under cover and I made the offer to Miss Silverton via the agent, as you instructed. You don’t know her personally, do you?’

‘No, but I’ve met her type before.’ Rafe curled his lip cynically. ‘Once she gets a whiff that it’s a wealthy developer after her house, she’ll go for broke. She’ll try and milk every penny she can out of me.’ He let out a short sharp expletive. ‘I want that property. I want all of that property.’

Margaret pushed a folder across the desk to him. ‘I found some news clippings from the local village from a couple of years ago about the old man who owned the manor. It seems the late Lord Dalrymple had rather a soft spot for Poppy Silverton and her grandmother. Beatrice Silverton was the head housekeeper at the manor. Apparently she worked there for years and—’

‘Gold-digger,’ Rafe muttered.

‘Who? The grandmother?’

He shoved his chair back and got to his feet. ‘I want you to find out everything you can about this woman Polly. I want her—’

‘Poppy. Her name is Poppy.’

Rafe rolled his eyes and continued. ‘Poppy, then. I want her background, her boyfriends—even her bra size. Leave no stone unturned. I want it on my desk first thing Monday morning.’

Margaret’s neatly pencilled eyebrows lifted but the rest of her expression remained in ‘obedient secretary’ mode. ‘I’ll get working on it right away.’

Rafe paced the floor as his secretary gathered a stack of documents to be filed from his desk. Maybe he should head down and have a little snoop around the village himself. He’d only seen the manor and the surrounding area from the photos James had emailed him. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little reconnaissance trip of his own to size up the enemy, so to speak.

He snatched up his keys. ‘I’m heading out of town for the weekend. Anything urgent, call me, otherwise I’ll see you on Monday.’

‘Who’s the lucky girl this time?’ Margaret gathered the bundle of paperwork against her chest. ‘Is it still the Californian bikini-model or is she yesterday’s news?’

He shrugged on his jacket. ‘This may surprise you, but I’m planning to spend this weekend on my own.’ He stopped pulling down his left shirt cuff to glower at her. ‘What’s that look for?’

His secretary gave him a knowing smile.’ You haven’t spent a weekend on your own since I don’t know when.’

‘So?’ He gave her another brooding frown. ‘There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?’

* * *

Poppy was bending over to clear table three when the door of her tearoom opened on Saturday afternoon. Even with her back to the door she knew it wasn’t one of her regulars. The tinkling chime of the bell sounded completely different. She turned around with a welcoming smile, but it faltered for a moment as she encountered an open shirt-collar and a glimpse of a tanned masculine chest at the height she’d normally expect to see someone’s face.

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