Solo, p.1

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Solo
 



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Solo


  ALSO BY JILL MANSELL

  An Offer You Can’t Refuse

  Miranda’s Big Mistake

  Millie’s Fling

  Perfect Timing

  Rumor Has It

  Take a Chance on Me

  Staying at Daisy’s

  To the Moon and Back

  Nadia Knows Best

  A Walk in the Park

  Thinking of You

  Don’t Want to Miss a Thing

  The Unexpected Consequences of Love

  Making Your Mind Up

  Falling for You

  Good at Games

  The One You Really Want

  You and Me, Always

  Three Amazing Things About You

  Thank you for purchasing this eBook.

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  Copyright © 1991 by Jill Mansell

  Cover and internal design © 2017 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover illustration by Lisa Mallett

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor in this book.

  Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168

  www.sourcebooks.com

  Originally published in 1991 in the United Kingdom by Bantam Press, a division of Transworld Publishers Ltd. This edition issued based on the paperback edition published in 2014 in Great Britain by Headline Review, an imprint of Headline Publishing Group.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Mansell, Jill, author.

  Title: Solo / Jill Mansell.

  Description: Naperville, IL : Sourcebooks Landmark, [2017]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016035335 | (pbk. : alk. paper)

  Classification: LCC PR6063.A395 S65 2017 | DDC 823/.914--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016035335

  Contents

  Front Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Author’s Note

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  About the Author

  Back Cover

  For my brother, Paul, because I’m proud of him. And because now he’ll have to read this book…

  Author’s Note

  Hello, Jill here! Just a quick note from me to let you know that this is the first time Solo has been published in the United States, but it is one of my earlier books and was written before technology took over the world. This was back when telephones were regarded as a luxury and computers were in their infancy. I thought it best to explain, in case the lack of them causes confusion.

  Having said that, many British readers still love this book more than any others of mine—so I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

  Chapter 1

  Parties full of strangers bored the knickers off Tessa.

  “Well, you’re damn well coming to this one,” declared Holly impatiently. “You haven’t been out for weeks, and it’s going to be brilliant. Everyone’s going. And just think, play your cards right, show a bit of leg, a bit of cleavage, and you too could find a husband like mine!”

  Tessa wiped her hands on her already paint-streaked sweatshirt and picked up the bottle of ridiculously expensive Chardonnay that Holly always insisted on buying because she liked the label, and which neither of them properly appreciated. Pouring herself half a mugful and wincing at its icy dryness, she said, “I don’t have a cleavage.”

  “What God didn’t give you, Scotch tape will,” pronounced Holly. “They showed us how on Sesame Street.”

  “And I haven’t been out for weeks”—Tessa mimicked Holly’s despairing tones—“because I have been working. Working pays the rent. It even occasionally allows me to eat. I simply can’t afford to mix in your kind of social circles.”

  “You can’t afford not to,” countered Holly. “These are the people who commission poverty-stricken artists to paint absurdly flattering portraits of their revolting children.”

  Tessa surveyed the almost-finished canvas before her and began to realize that Holly wasn’t going to let her wriggle out of this one. “Besides,” she continued, “you aren’t married.”

  Holly grinned, refilling her own mug with a flourish. “Ah! I didn’t say I had a husband; I said I’d found him. All that remains now is to exert a little gentle pressure.”

  “And I suppose he’ll be there tonight.”

  “There is that small chance,” conceded Holly smugly. “After all, it is his party.”

  • • •

  From the living room window of Tessa’s tiny cottage, perched on the side of one of the rolling, north-facing hills overlooking the spectacular elegance of the city of Bath, she could see in the far distance the equally spectacular and elegant Charrington
Grange Hotel.

  Even if Holly hadn’t been working there for the past two months and regaling her with endless details about it, Tessa would have heard of it. Everyone knew of the Charrington Grange Hotel, owned and run by the Monahan brothers and built up from nothing—well, scarcely anything—over the last fifteen years into one of the foremost country hotels in England. Originally a gracious Georgian residence commanding breathtaking views across the city from its position at the very top of the south-facing hills above Bath, it had fallen into hideous disrepair during its forty-year occupation by an elderly and eccentric Monahan maiden aunt. By the time of her eventual death, the roof was barely intact, the walls of the gracefully proportioned rooms were streaked with damp, and the entire place was overrun by the dotty old woman’s grand passion—several hundred decidedly unhousetrained cats.

  Pulling every conceivable string between them, the notorious Monahan brothers, Ross and Max, had somehow managed to raise the vast amount of capital necessary to transform the crumbling old house into an opulent hotel catering to the very wealthiest clientele.

  The press had had a field day at the time. The very idea that Max Monahan, moody and unpredictable, and Ross, with his mile-long reputation for carousing, heartbreaking, and generally misbehaving, could pull off such a stunt was so ridiculous it was laughable. Max, the elder brother by two years, having been sent down from Oxford following a particularly outrageous prank involving a prostitute dressed as a nun and a visiting trade union leader, had rapidly established himself as a star broker on the Stock Exchange. Six months later, the day after his twenty-first birthday, he had abandoned this glittering new career, disappearing to the Caribbean and returning eighteen months later with the completed manuscripts of not one but two fat novels. These thrillers, with their winning combination of sex, violence, tension, and wit were wildly successful, yet at the time Max had doubted whether he would want to do it again. It had been fun finding out that he could, but it was scarcely what he termed a proper job.

  In the end, however, the vast sums of money offered, the luxury of being virtually his own boss, the flexible hours, and the ease with which he conjured up fresh plots won the day. To Max Monahan, writing was a cinch and the rewards were too great to pass up. He rapidly became established as one of those few lucky writers whose books were read by everyone. Over the years, he had grown more levelheaded and now, with his astute business brain and almost ruthless determination to pile success upon success, he was recognized as the more down-to-earth of the two brothers. The Charrington Grange Hotel was owned jointly between them, and although Max didn’t work there full-time, he was involved in all the major decision-making, and both he and Ross still lived there. Blockbuster novels remained his major—and considerable—source of income, but the hotel acted as an antidote to the solitude that writing entailed, and because he didn’t need to sweat over a laptop for eight hours a day like some writers he’d heard of, there was still plenty of time left over in which to enjoy himself.

  Ross Monahan, on the other hand, devoted his entire life to enjoyment. Tessa had never made a particular point of reading the gossip columns, but even she was aware of his wicked reputation. Expelled from more schools than anyone cared to remember, his notorious passion for fun was equaled only by his stunning good looks and lethal charm. Incapable of remaining in one place for more than a few weeks, in his early twenties he was the archetypal playboy, his outrageous exploits hitting the papers almost weekly. Men despised and envied him; women—apart from those whose hearts he had broken—adored him.

  If everyone had been amazed when he had appointed himself manager of the Charrington Grange, they had been well and truly astounded when they finally realized what an out-and-out success he was actually making of the job.

  And fifteen years on, Ross Monahan was still doing it, running the hotel with such panache and enjoyment that he had made it seem scarcely like work at all. Having always moved in the most glittering and outrageous circles, he had turned The Grange into a kind of open house for those who played as hard as he did. It was quite simply the place to stay if you wanted to have a really good time—and could afford to pay for it.

  And according to Holly, Ross Monahan was absolutely lethal with women.

  “Gorgeous, gorgeous!” she had informed Tessa, shortly after going to work for him. “But definitely dangerous to know. When I first met him I made a solemn vow with myself not to get involved.”

  “But you have,” guessed Tessa, observing the sheepish look in her friend’s eyes. Holly had shrugged and smiled. “Given half a chance I would have done,” she’d admitted. “But the bastard isn’t interested. For God’s sake, Tess, he treats me like a friend!”

  • • •

  And now Holly was planning on treating him like a brother-in-law. She was passionately in love with Max, only Max didn’t know it yet. Tessa, who adored Holly but sometimes despaired of her, suspected that it would all end in tears and that most of them would land on her own inadequately small shoulders.

  Meanwhile, Holly was returning in less than two hours to pick her up and take her along to this horrible party. And she really didn’t have a single suitable thing to wear.

  • • •

  Two hours later, gloomily surveying the other women at the party, Tessa realized that she’d been even more right than she’d feared.

  “I told you,” hissed Holly, grabbing her arm and trying to drag her backward through the french windows leading onto the terrace. “Look, hardly anyone’s noticed yet. Why don’t we whizz back to my place and find you something decent to put on? You can’t stay here dressed like that.”

  “Stop panicking.” Tessa dug her heels in like a dog and pried Holly’s fingers off her elbow. “I’m being understated. If anyone says anything, I’ll tell them that designer labels are passé.”

  “Mine isn’t,” retaliated Holly, shocked. In order to reassure herself, she glanced in a nearby mirror, admiring the strapless, emerald-green Fendi creation that enhanced her generous breasts—no need for Scotch tape there—and expertly played down her slightly too-generous hips. Then she turned back to face Tessa, whose black, cotton-jersey dress was looking plainer by the second. In Holly’s eyes, the severity of the cut did Tessa no favors at all, encasing her as it did from neck to knees and almost completely obscuring the enviably slim figure beneath. Worse still, she was wearing no jewelry whatsoever, and her fingernails, although at least scrubbed clean of oil paint, were unvarnished. Sometimes she didn’t understand her friend at all.

  “Oh well,” said Tessa with more hope than conviction, “maybe I’d better just go home.”

  “Shut up!” shrieked Holly, so vigorously that her breasts jiggled in their casings. “I’ve got you here and you’re not running away now. Oxfam dress or no Oxfam dress, you’re staying.”

  Tessa grinned. “How did you know it was from Oxfam?”

  Holly raised her eyebrows. “It’s the only place you ever shop, stupid.”

  • • •

  Ross Monahan was doing what he did best: circulating, having fun, and idly wondering whom he might take to bed with him at the end of the evening. It was a game that amused him, particularly when so many of the women were so blatantly obvious. Jennifer Johnson, with her rich-but-thick fiancé standing less than six feet away, had pressed herself against him and all but stuck her tongue in his ear. Sally Paige-Latimer had made a particular point of telling him that she didn’t have to get back to London until tomorrow evening, and that daft bitch Clarissa Fox had actually taken his hand and shoved it down the front of her dress so that he might experience—firsthand, so to speak—the wonder of her expensive new silicone implants.

  Liberating a fresh glass of champagne from the tray of a passing waiter, Ross loosened his bow tie and moved across to the fireplace at the far end of the room, from which strategic position he could see exactly what was going on in both the ballroom and th
e hall beyond. The party was going well; the two hundred or so guests were clearly enjoying themselves, judging by the amount of noise and laughter, and Max, in particular, appeared to be having a good time. At present he was being cornered by Holly King, who was looking like an overdecorated Christmas tree, but whose incredible boobs undoubtedly owed nothing to silicone. Watching her now as she tossed back her equally bouncy red-gold hair for the third time in less than a minute and placed her hand on Max’s arm as she spoke, Ross was amused to find his suspicions confirmed. Holly was besotted with his brother. And a big, curvy, talkative redhead like Holly was just about the last type of woman that Max would ever go for.

  For a moment, Ross almost felt sorry for Holly, of whom he was extremely fond. He had had his doubts about her when she’d applied for the job on reception, noting her appallingly patchy CV and recognizing that her family’s wealth meant that if she didn’t feel like working, she didn’t have to. But sensing his concern, she had assured him that she would work “like stink,” and for a moment she had so reminded Ross of himself that he had given in. He had taken the risk and Holly hadn’t let him down. In the two months since she had been working at The Grange, she had committed some appalling faux pas, but her sense of humor, punctuality, and willingness to learn had more than made up for it. And the customers adored her, despite her appalling dress sense.

  Then he stiffened. Clarissa-better-than-natural-Fox was beelining toward him once more, and right now he simply couldn’t face her. Them. Whatever, he had to escape.

  Taking a sharp left turn and assuming his purposeful I’m-the-Manager expression, Ross stepped through the open french windows out onto the terrace. Couples, couples everywhere. If he didn’t move fast, Clarissa would catch up with him and do something even more outrageous in the open air. All of a sudden the memory of her overpowering perfume and ungentle fingers was almost nauseating.

  • • •

  Tessa, sitting alone on a grassy slope beyond the terrace, was hugging her knees and wondering whether this was really the most boring night of her life or whether there had been another she’d forgotten about. Maybe there was something lacking in her character, she decided, unconcerned. Apart from the spectacular view before her, she couldn’t think of one single, even halfway decent, reason for being here. Holly had disappeared with Max, she didn’t know anyone else, and no one had shown the slightest inclination to strike up a conversation with her. According to Holly, of course, she should gate-crash their cliquey little groups and announce with suitable drama: “I’m an artist! And talented too! Wanna portrait of your wife…husband…brats…pets?”

 
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