The Billionaire's Blackmailed Bride
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‘What the hell do you think you are playing at, woman?’ a deep voice roared. And Emily spun round to see Anton striding towards her.
‘I am not playing. I am leaving… The game is over,’ she said, standing tall and proud.
‘Over my dead body.’
‘That would be my preference,’ Emily tossed back.
‘It appears I must watch my back where you are concerned, my sweet, loving wife, because I have no intention of letting you leave. Not now. Not ever.’
‘You have no choice.’ She tilted up her chin and drew on every ounce of her pride to face him. ‘As far as I am concerned the marriage is finished.’
Anton’s dark eyes studied her. He was furious at her defiance, but he did not let it show. Hell, he could still hear her cries of love ringing in his ears as he took possession of her exquisite body. And he would again, he thought confidently. She just needed time to adjust to the reality of life as his wife.
‘We always have a choice, Emily,’ he murmured silkily, and, snaking an arm around her waist, he pulled her into the strength of his powerful body. ‘Your choice is quite simple. You stay with me, your husband.’
Jacqueline Baird began writing as a hobby, when her family objected to the smell of her oil painting, and immediately became hooked on the romantic genre. She loves travelling, and worked her way around the world from Europe to the Americas and Australia, returning to marry her teenage sweetheart. She lives in Ponteland, Northumbria, the county of her birth, and has two sons.
Recent titles by the same author:
THE ITALIAN BILLIONAIRE’S RUTHLESS REVENGE
ARISTIDES’ CONVENIENT WIFE THE ITALIAN’S BLACKMAILED MISTRESS BOUGHT BY THE GREEK TYCOON PREGNANCY OF REVENGE
THE BILLIONAIRE’S BLACKMAILED BRIDE
‘I STILL can’t believe you chose this for me,’ Emily Fairfax said with a shake of her head as she sat down opposite her older brother Tom and his wife Helen at their table in the vast ballroom of the deluxe London hotel. ‘I feel terribly conspicuous.’ Embarrassment coloured her face almost as red as the outfit she was wearing.
‘Oh, lighten up, Emily. You look great.’ Tom grinned at her. ‘This is a costume ball for Dad’s favourite charity, The Children of Africa’s Guardian Angel Project; he would have appreciated the Devil and Angels theme. Dad had a great sense of humour. Remember Mum’s fortieth when he insisted everyone dress as Knights and Squires? I think he would have seen the funny side…’
‘All too well. Most of the women ended up looking like young boys, dressed in doublet and hose. I wondered at the time if Dad had secret gay tendencies,’ she quipped and then turned her sparkling blue gaze on her sister-in-law, a petite gamine-faced brunette.‘But this is different, Helen. There is nothing funny about being squeezed into a red latex suit that is a couple of sizes too small. What on earth were you thinking of when you ordered it?’ she demanded, and saw the mischief dancing in Helen’s brown eyes and her lips twisted in a wry smile.
Tom and Helen had met at university and had married two years ago at the age of twenty-three. They were now the proud parents of a one-year-old daughter, who had been born the week before Tom and Emily’s father had died suddenly of a massive heart attack. The child was named Sara after their mother, who had died three years earlier after a long battle with cancer.
‘I don’t know what you are complaining about. You look fine, and I went to a lot of trouble to get that costume in the right size. At four and a half months pregnant I am actually the same bust measurement as you and I tried it on to make sure it would fit,’ Helen said with a grin.
‘Did it never occur to you that you’re five feet nothing and I am five nine—that it would have to go a little further on me?’ Emily groaned. ‘You damn near broke my neck pulling the hood over my head. It is still aching.’ She slipped a hand beneath the heavy fall of her hair and rubbed the nape of her neck to emphasize the point.
‘Don’t blame me. If you had come back to London yesterday as you were supposed to, you would have had time to get your own costume. But instead you spent another day on site and only arrived a couple of hours before the event. Plus it is April Fool’s Day,’ she said with an impish grin. ‘And be fair—I did cut the hood off and twist it into a braid so you could wear the horns as a head band.’ She burst out laughing.
Emily bit her lip to fight down the answering grin that threatened. She had totally forgotten it was the first of April, and Helen was right—she should have returned from Santorini yesterday instead of flying into London this evening. She really had no one to blame but herself, but she wasn’t going to let her beloved sister-in-law off too easy.
‘Anyone with a grain of common sense would have ordered an angel costume for me. The same as yours, I might add. It is only logical that the women dress as angels and the men as devils. Like my idiot brother T—’
‘Excuse me.’ A deep, slightly accented voice cut into Emily’s good-natured tirade. ‘Hello, Tom, nice to see you again.’
‘Anton, glad you and your friends could make it.’
Emily looked over at her brother as he greeted the new arrivals he had invited to make up their table of eight.
She glanced up at the man who had so rudely interrupted her. His back was turned to her and he was pulling out a chair for his companion, a stunning brunette who naturally was dressed like an angel in a diaphanous gold and white fabric that seemed to reveal a lot more flesh than Emily imagined any self-respecting angel would reveal.
At least her outfit covered her from neck to toe, she consoled herself, though she had been forced to undo the front zip a few inches to prevent the damn thing crushing her chest so tightly she could barely breathe. It wasn’t her usual style, that was for sure, but it didn’t really faze her. She knew she had a decent enough body, she just wasn’t used to displaying it quite so dramatically.
‘Allow me to introduce my friend Eloise,’ the deep voice continued as the brunette sent a social smile around the table, ‘and my right-hand man, Max.’
Emily glanced at the middle-aged burly man and smiled in welcome as he took his seat at the table next to Helen. Then the stranger turned to her.
‘Emily, isn’t it? Tom has told me a lot about you. It is a real pleasure to finally meet you. I am Anton Diaz.’ A large strong hand was held out and she politely put her hand in his, while her mind busily wondered how Tom knew the man, and why her brother would have mentioned her to him.
Then suddenly her mind went blank as a bizarre sensation a bit like an electric eel snaking up her arm had her skin breaking out in goose-bumps under the latex. Hastily she pulled her hand free and slowly looked up.
Emily had a long way to go… He had to be at least six feet four, she reckoned, and then her curious blue gaze collided with deep brown eyes and she simply stared…
The man was like a sleek black panther: poised, powerful and predatory.
She grimaced inwardly at the fanciful notion, really not her usual style.
The introductions moved on and Emily supposed she had made the right response, though she could not be sure. Her mouth felt dry and she had trouble tearing her fascinated gaze away from the tall, striking man.
He was dressed all in black. A black silk-knit roll-necked sweater outlined the impressive musculature of his broad chest. A short black cloak covered his wide shoulders and flowed down like bats’ wings to broad cuffs around strong wrists, set off by tailored black trousers. He should have looked ridiculous in costume like the majority of the people present. Instead, if ever a man looked like a devil it was this one…
Dark and dangerous, she thought, her heart inexplicably tightening in her chest, and for a moment she had difficulty breathing that had nothing to do with the latex suit she wore.
His straight black hair worn slightly longer than was fashionable was swept casually back off his broad forehead. Distinctive arched brows framed deep-set almost black eyes, high cheekbones, a large hawklike nose and a wide sensuous mouth completed the picture. As she stared his lips parted to reveal even white teeth. He was smiling down at her. She lifted her eyes to his and even in her stunned state she recognized the humour did not entirely mask the cool remoteness of his dark gaze.
The man was not conventionally handsome, his features too large and harshly chiselled for classic male beauty.
Brutally handsome…was a better description.
There was something insulting about the way his dark eyes slid casually down to her cleavage and lingered for a long moment. But even as she recognized his insolent masculine appraisal for what it was her skin prickled with shocking awareness. The breath caught in her throat and she gave a shaky inward sigh of relief when he casually pulled out the chair next to hers, and lowered his long length into it.
It could be worse, Emily told herself, at least with Anton Diaz seated at her side, she did not have to face him.
Instinctively she recognized he was a man who was supremely confident in his masculinity and totally aware of his effect on the opposite sex, and discreetly she crossed her arms over her suddenly hardening nipples. A sophisticated charmer with an aura of ruthless power about him that would intimidate anybody, man or woman, she concluded. Not her type at all…
Even so, there was no escaping the fact he was an incredibly sexy man, as her body’s unexpected response confirmed.
‘I could not help overhearing your comment, Emily. Shame on you, your chauvinism is showing.’ The devil spoke in a deep, dark, mocking voice that made her hackles rise.
‘What do you mean, Mr Diaz?’ she asked him with cool politeness, flicking him a sidelong glance, and was once again captured by the intensity of his dark eyes.
‘In today’s world of equality between the sexes isn’t it rather politically incorrect to assume all the women should dress as angels and the men as devils? And, given the very striking outfit you are wearing, just a little hypocritical,’ he drawled mockingly.
‘He has got you there,’ Helen piped up and everyone laughed.
Everyone but Emily.
‘My costume was my sister-in-law’s choice, not mine. She has a warped sense of humour,’ she explained, forcing a smile to her lips. ‘And I see you are dressed as a devil, rather upholding my theory. Though you do seem to have forgotten the horns,’ she prompted smoothly.
‘No, I didn’t forget. I never forget anything,’ he asserted, his dark eyes holding hers with an intimacy that made her pulse race and she could do nothing about the pink that tinged her cheeks. ‘I am supposed to be an angel, admittedly a dark angel, but an angel nevertheless.’
Emily saw what he meant, her blue eyes sweeping over him. It was the perfect costume for him. Unrelenting black and somehow threatening… She glimpsed a darkening in his deep-set eyes and something more. Anger… Why? She had no idea, and in an attempt to control her overheated imagination and body she looked somewhere past his left shoulder. She took a deep steadying breath, but for a long moment was incapable of making a response. No man had ever had such a startling effect on her in her life, and she had met plenty, and been attracted to a few, but never quite like this.
She was a twenty-four-year-old freelance marine archaeologist and had spent the last two years since qualifying gaining experience in her field. She had been on a few seagoing explorations. Her colleagues were mostly men, explorers, divers and fellow archaeologists with the skills needed to search and map out underwater wrecks and artifacts. Yet never once had she felt the sudden heat, the stomach-churning excitement that this man aroused in her with one look.
Get a grip, girl, she told herself. He was with his very beautiful girlfriend and, while Emily considered herself passably attractive, she was no competition for the lovely Eloise.
What was she thinking of?
At twenty-one, after a disastrous engagement that had ended abruptly after three days when she had found her fianc? in bed with her flatmate at university, she had sworn off men.
Nigel had been an accountant in her father’s firm. A man she had fallen in love with at sixteen, a man who had kissed her at her eighteenth birthday party and declared he felt the same, a man who had offered her comfort and support when her mother was ill and died, a man whose proposal she had accepted shortly after. A man who, when she had confronted him in bed with her flatmate, had actually admitted the affair had been going on for a year. Her flatmate, her supposed friend, twisted the knife by telling her she was a fool. Nigel’s interest in Emily had only ever been for her money and connections.
Which was a laugh. Admittedly the family home was probably worth millions in today’s market, but they lived in it, had done for generations. The business earned the shareholders a decent dividend each year but not a fortune by any means, but at the time she had felt utterly betrayed. She would no more compete for a man than fly to the moon, and, to be honest, over the intervening years, she had never felt the need. Which was probably why she had never since had a long-term relationship? she thought wryly.
‘Yes, of course, I see it now, a silly mistake on my part,’ she finally responded.
‘You’re forgiven,’ he said with a smile that took her breath away all over again.
But at that moment the last two guests making up the table arrived and Emily smiled with relief. It was her aunt Lisa, her father’s older sister, and her husband, James Browning, who was also the Chairman of the Board of Fairfax Engineering since her dad’s death. She felt the light brush of Anton’s shoulder against hers as, like a perfect gentleman, he stood up until Lisa was seated, and she determinedly ignored it.
Her equilibrium thankfully restored…
James took the seat on the other side of Emily. ‘Aunt Lisa, Uncle James, it’s good to see you,’ she offered, her wayward emotions firmly under control.
But it was the sotto voce comment that Anton Diaz made among the flurry of introduction as he sat back down that threw her off balance yet again. ‘But if a devil is more to your liking I’m sure something can be arranged.’
Her mouth open, her face scarlet, she stared at Anton. One dark brow rose in sardonic query, before he turned to respond to Eloise’s rather loud request for champagne.
Was she hearing things? Had he actually made such a blatantly flirtatious comment or had she imagined what he said?
She did not know…and she did not know whether to feel angry or flattered as dinner was served. Emily’s emotions stayed in pretty much the same state of flux until it was over; she was intensely aware of the man at her side.
The conversation was sociable, and when the meal ended and the band began to play Emily could not help watching Anton and Eloise as they took to the dance floor. Both Latin in looks, they made a striking couple and the way Eloise curved into her partner’s body, her arms firmly clasped around his neck, left no one in any doubt of the intimacy of their relationship.
Emily turned to James and asked what she had been dying to ask all evening. Who exactly was Anton Diaz?
According to her uncle, Anton Diaz was the founder of a private equity business that made massive profits out of buying, restructuring and then selling on great chunks of worldwide businesses. It made him a man of enormous influence and power. It had also made him extremely rich. He was revered worldwide as a financial genius, with a fortune to match. His nationality was hazy, his name was hispanic, yet some considered him Greek because he spoke the language like a native. Rumours about him abounded. Her aunt Lisa offered the most colourful speculation that his grandmother had been the madam of a high-class brothel in Peru, and her daughter had been a wealthy Greek’s mistress for years and Anton Diaz was the result of the affair.
Her aunt also informed her archly that he owned a magnificent villa on a Greek island, a vast estate in Peru, a luxurious apartment in New York and another in Sydney. Recently he had acquired a prestigious office block in London with a stunning penthouse at the top, and there were probably more. Plus the parties he held on his huge luxury yacht were legendary.
James attempted to steer the conversation back to less gossipy ground by continuing that he knew Anton was multilingual because he had heard him employ at least four languages when they had first met at a European conference a couple of months ago. Since then they had become business acquaintances and friends of a sort, hence Tom inviting Anton and his party to join them tonight. In fact, Anton Diaz’s expert advice had been instrumental in them deciding to diversify and expand Fairfax Engineering, James informed her in an almost reverential tone.
It was news to Emily that the firm needed revising or expanding, but she had no time to dwell on that revelation as her aunt chimed in again. Apparently Anton was a confirmed bachelor and as famous for the women he had bedded as he was for his financial skills. His countless affairs were apparently well documented by the press, actresses and models featuring prominently.
Emily believed her uncle and aunt and in a sense felt relieved. Her earlier reaction to Anton Diaz had been normal under the circumstances. The man exuded a raw animal magnetism that probably affected every woman he met the same way, and if his press was to be believed he took full advantage of the fact. He was not the type of man any self-respecting woman would want to get involved with.
After her one disastrous relationship Emily had very firm ideas on the type of man she eventually wanted to marry. She wanted a like-minded man she could trust. Certainly not a womanizing, globe-trotting billionaire, plus she was in no hurry to marry—she enjoyed her work far too much to think of curtailing her career for any man for years yet.
Draining her coffee-cup, she smiled at James and Lisa affectionately as they decided to dance. Then looking around the table, she saw only the burly Max was left.
Emily was naturally a happy, confident girl with a successful career and a growing name in her field of expertise. She was also a realist and never let anything she could not change bother her for long. She was a firm believer in making the best of any situation. Neither the blatantly sexy costume she wore nor her strange reaction to the indomitable Anton Diaz was going to prevent her enjoying the evening.
‘So, Max, would you like to dance?’ she asked with a broad smile. She watched him blink, then grin and leap to his feet with alacrity.
‘It will be my pleasure,’ he said as he pulled out her chair. His brown eyes widened as she rose to her feet, sweeping over the length of her body with unconcealed admiration. ‘You are a very lovely lady, se?orita,’ he said, taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor.
Max was about an inch taller than Emily, and quite a lot wider, but for a heavy man he was a very good dancer and surprisingly light on his feet. Emily relaxed in his hold and began to have fun.
* * *
Anton Diaz allowed a small satisfied smile to curve his hard mouth. True, the man he had really wanted to meet, Charles Fairfax, had died a year ago. But his family and firm still existed, and would do just as well for his purpose.
He glanced around the glittering throng. London’s social ?lite letting their hair down in a costume ball in aid of African children, and apparently a favoured charity of the Fairfax family. The bitter irony of it did not escape him and for a moment his black eyes glinted with an unholy light.
Last December when his mother, as if sensing the end was near, had finally told him the truth about the death of his sister Suki twenty-six years ago it had given him one hell of a shock. Actually Suki had been his half-sister, but as a child he had never thought of her like that. To him she had been his older sister who took care of him.
He had believed Suki died in a car accident, tragic but unavoidable. But apparently she had deliberately driven her car off a cliff and left a note for his mother that she had immediately destroyed.
Suki had committed suicide because she had been convinced it was due to her family name and her illegitimacy that her lover, Charles Fairfax, had left her and married someone else. Then his mother had made him promise never to be ashamed of his name or his heritage.
Bitterness and bile rose in his throat just thinking about it now. He had named his company in memory of Suki, but the name had an added poignancy now. The letter he had discovered among his mother’s papers after her death had confirmed she had told him the truth and more, and he had vowed on his mother’s grave to avenge the insult to his sister no matter how long it took.
He was not a fan of costume parties and usually avoided them like the plague, but on this occasion he had an ulterior motive for accepting the invitation to share a table with the Fairfax family.
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