- Ludlow Hall Series collage, designed by reader Jane Aschtgen Bowen
It’s not like me not to have a cover for this one, but we’re struggling to find the right model. Anyway, for you avid readers who’ve been asking about Jacob and want peek and a preview of what’s coming. Here’s the prologue. I don’t usually write prologues, but in this case it was required since readers have met Jacob before and know what he’s like, so I’ve had fans ask me what happened to him to make him the way he is. Plus we meet him in The Trouble With Coco Monroe, which means I’ll be inundated with queries.
Here’s the answer – enjoy!!
The Fall of Jacob Del Garda
A Ludlow Hall Story, book 5.
‘I’m sorry, Jacob. But I can’t do this. I can’t go through with it.’
Gabriella’s voice was no more than a whisper.
Her fiancè’s spectacular face swam in front of her eyes.
And she blinked to clear them.
He simply stared at her as if she’d sprouted another head.
Blanking out her surroundings, the penthouse apartment of The Prince Felipe Hotel in the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. This was their dream home with its carefully chosen pieces. Pieces they’d shopped for together. Yet another wedding gift, beautifully boxed with a waterfall of silver ribbon lay unopened and forgotten on the table between them.
‘I do not understand, querida,’ he said carefully. His deep voice went rough and he cleared his throat. And those dark, dark eyes were riveted on her face. ‘You want to postpone our wedding. Or you do not want to marry me, ever?’
Colour rose and fell from high cheekbones leaving him too pale.
Her heart fractured.
Gabriella clung to the back of the chair for support. A corner of her mind registered the fact that her knuckles were bone white.
She wouldn’t think about why her life, her future, with a man she loved so much was lying in tatters. If she thought about it, she knew she’d never be able to go through with this.
Even now the mere thought of the pain, the harm, she was inflicting on a man who didn’t deserve either, made her sick to her stomach.
But the alternative made her straighten her spine and look him dead in the eye.
Jacob Del Garda was a hard man. In business he gave no quarter, she knew that. But with her he’d been patient, so loving and giving. Dark eyes the colour of burnt chestnuts narrowed into hers, while a crease lined his usually perfect forehead. He had a smooth lean face that complemented the aristocratic carve of his cheekbones and his long, thin mouth. His nose was slightly aquiline, which had always appealed to her. The hair, raven black, and those brooding eyes always made her think of one of those statues of a fallen angel.
She was used to seeing wonderful looking men. In her line of work a carefully maintained body was a given. At twenty-three she needed to workout four times a week to stay lean, healthy and to keep her body in shape.
A body she’d taken utterly for granted. And body that had let her down in the worst possible way.
Bitter tears stung again. Oh God, please help her do this.
The buzz in her ears became louder and she forced herself to take a shallow breath.
Her eyes stayed on his.
She saw the blow hit him and read a toxic mix of pain, confusion and desperation.
Her legs threatened to give way so she held on tight to the chair.
Be strong, you can do this, she told herself.
‘This is madness, Gabriella.’ Jacob’s deep voice cracked as he paced and ran a shaky hand over his hair. He wore a lightweight suit in pale grey, immaculately cut by an up and coming tailor from Savile Row. His crisp shirt was pristine white cotton, the windsor knot of his silk tie perfection.
He shook his head.
Dark eyes lasered into hers. ‘I know I have been busy with the new acquisition. You knew how it would be.’
She could almost hear his clever, analytical mind clicking through the probabilities of what had gone wrong.
Now he stopped. ‘You have been quiet and distracted, lost a little weight. But I put it down to nerves. I know you wanted a small wedding.’ He frowned, rubbed the back of his neck, that strong jaw. He stared hard at her. ‘Is that what this is all about? I agree things have got way out of hand. My father is enough to drive any sane person crazy. Has he …?’
‘No,’ she said quickly. She adored his father. ‘It has nothing to do with him. I’m sorry …’
Her voice faded. She could have written a letter, run as fast as she could. The thought had crossed her mind more than once. But that would have been sheer cowardice.
Jacob deserved to be told face to face that the future he’d dreamt of, of having a wife, a family, with her, could never be.
Of course, she could never tell him why because he’d never let her go. He was an honourable man with a highly developed sense of duty. He’d stick by her, of course he would.
But she was the one who couldn’t live with it, refused to even consider giving him a choice in his own future, his own destiny. She loved him too much to see him suffer, to see him look at other couples, normal couples, living a normal life. To see him wish that he’d chosen differently.
Jacob’s eyes went into dark slits, became cool and she shivered.
Those eyes missed nothing as they searched her face.
‘I know you can handle him. You can handle anything.’ But the tone had gone cold now. ‘Why?’
Gabriella licked parched lips.
‘I made a mistake. I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. But I …’
Her voice broke.
‘Stop saying you are sorry,’ he exploded and moved towards her.
Gabriella winced and took a step back, fear skidding up her spine. If he touched her she would break and never, ever, let him go.
His eyes went wide and she recognised hurt battling through utter disbelief.
‘You are scared of me?’
Shame scorched her cheeks.
Nausea crawled into her throat.
She was deliberately hurting a good man. A man who would stand by her, she knew he would. And that was precisely why she needed to let him go.
‘I would never harm you. How could you even think of such a thing,’ he said, and his Spanish accent became stronger as he looked at her as if he’d never seen her before. ‘Gabriella, we love each other. Do we not?’
His eyes, dark with pain pierced a shaft of agony right into her heart.
Sending up a prayer for forgiveness, she lied straight to his face.
‘No. I don’t love you,’ she whispered. And rubbed the burning ache below her breast bone.
She’d thought she’d experienced anguish, but it was nothing compared to this.
Jacob’s breath came hard and fast, and she watched him fighting a war of attrition to keep it together, hands clenched at his sides.
With trembling fingers, she took off her diamond and platinum engagement right, placing it on the table.
He flinched as if she’d slapped him.
‘Keep it.’ The raw torment in his voice mirrored the spear of agony in her chest.
But she merely shook her head and on shaky legs moved past him. ‘What about the house?’ he asked.
Their new home was almost complete, but she couldn’t think of it.
Truly she was in the middle of a waking nightmare, had been for ten hellish days, reliving over and over again the exact moment when her whole world had collapsed.
Don’t think about it, not now.
‘It’s yours,’ she whispered. ‘It’s the least I can do.’
‘Just like that? That is it? No discussion?’
Rage replaced pain in those dark eyes and Jacob’s fury lanced a heart already in pieces.
Gabriella knew that if she didn’t get out now, she never would. The only thing keeping her together was the unbearable knowledge of what their future held. And she drew strength from that.
She picked up her coat, her purse, and moved towards the door.
With her hand on the handle she paused, the pleading in his tone almost broke her.
She could not bear to look at him.
‘I want the truth. Is there someone else?’
For a second she stiffened, blinking with shock, then realised he’d thrown her a lifeline. What difference would one more lie make? And there would be no going back now. Because she knew Jacob would never, ever, forgive betrayal.
Her conscience was screaming now, asking what the hell she was doing?
He would be there for her in sickness and in health. But that was the whole point, wasn’t it? Thank God, she’d found out before they’d taken their vows. He deserved to be happy. Deserved to have a future, to have all the things he dreamed of, things she couldn’t give him.
‘Something like that.’
The shocked gasp behind her had her open the door.
‘Damn you, Gabriella. God damn you straight to hell,’ he said through clenched teeth as his voice finally cracked.
Hot tears blinded her.
‘I’m already there, my darling,’ she said so softly he could never hear her.
With a shaky breath Gabriella Dolman straightened her spine and stepped through the door to an uncertain future.
So that’s the answer to all the questions.
God, you’re an impatient lot. I like that about you!