Swept into the Rich Man's World

By: Katrina Cudmore


Her lungs on fire, Aideen Ryan desperately heaved in some air as she waited for someone to answer her knock and call. She had run in the dark through gale-force winds and rain to get to Ashbrooke House: the only place that could give her shelter from the storm currently pounding the entire Atlantic coastline of Ireland.

Ashbrooke House, stately home of billionaire Patrick Fitzsimon. A man who, given the impenetrable walls that surrounded his vast estate and his über-wealthy lifestyle, was unlikely to welcome her intrusion.

She straightened her rain jacket and ran a hand through her hair. Oh, for crying out loud. Her hair was a tangled mess. Soaked to the skull and resembling a frizz bomb... She really hoped it wouldn’t be Patrick Fitzsimon who answered the door. Not the suave, gorgeous man she had seen in countless magazines. A man who stared at the camera with such serious intensity and intelligence that she had held her breath in alarm, worried for a few crazy seconds that he could see her spying on him.

The only sightings anyone ever made of him locally was when he was helicoptered in and out of the estate. Intrigued, she had looked him up. But just because she’d been unable to resist checking out her neighbour, one of the world’s ‘top ten most eligible billionaire bachelors’, it didn’t alter the fact that she was determined to keep her life a man-free zone.

A nearby tree branch creaked loudly as a ferocious gust of wind and rain swept up from the sea. How was her poor cottage faring in the storm without her? And how on earth was her business going to survive this?

Pushing down her spiralling panic, she took hold of the brass knocker and rapped it against the imposing door again, the metal vibrating against her skin.

‘Hello? Please... I need help. Is anyone home?’

Please, please, let one of his staff answer.

But the vast house remained in silence, while beyond the columned entrance porch sheets of rain swept across the often written about formal gardens of Ashbrooke.

And then slow realisation dawned. Although outside lighting had showcased the perfect symmetry and beauty of the Palladian house as she had run up the driveway, not a single interior light had shone through the large sash windows.

In her panic, that simple fact had failed to register with her...until now.

What if nobody was at home?

But that didn’t make sense. A house this size had to have an army of staff. The classically inspired villa had a three-storey central block, connected by colonnades to two vast wings. The house was enormous—even bigger than the pictures suggested.

Somebody simply had to be home. They probably just couldn’t hear her above the storm. She needed to knock louder.

She grabbed hold of the knocker again, but just as she raised it high to pound it down on the door the door swung open. As she flew forward with it all she could see was a tanned, muscular six-pack vanishing beneath a grey sweatshirt, its owner in the midst of quickly dressing. But not before she headbutted that glorious vision of masculine perfection.

It was like colliding against steel. As she ricocheted backwards she heard a loud grunt. Then hands gripped her upper arms and yanked her back from slamming bottom first on to the ground. The momentum pulled her back towards that hard body, and this time her forehead landed heavily on the person’s chest with a thud.

For a moment neither of them moved, and her already spinning head became lost in a giddy sensation of warmth, the safe embrace of another human being, the deep, masculine scent of a man...

She couldn’t tell who sprang away first, but as embarrassment barrelled through her, her eyes dropped down to bare feet and dark grey sweatpants before travelling back up over a long, lean, muscular body. Dark stubble lined a sculpted jawline. Taking a deep swallow, she looked up into eyes that were the light blue of an early-morning Irish spring sky. How often had she tried without success to replicate that colour in her designs?

Patrick Fitzsimon.

Those beautiful blue eyes narrowed. ‘What the—?’

‘I’m sorry I woke you, but my home’s been flooded and everything I own is probably floating to America at this stage. I tried to drive into Mooncoyne but the road is flooded. My car got stuck. I was so glad your gates were open... I thought they would be locked, like they usually are. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do if they were locked.’

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