Read an Excerpt
'Were you seen coming up to my suite?' Navarre Cazier prompted in the Italian that came as naturally to him as the French of his homeland.
Tia pouted her famously sultry lips and in spite of her sophistication contrived to look remarkably young and naive as befitted one of the world's most acclaimed film stars. 'I slipped in through the side entrance'
Navarre ditched his frown and smiled, for when she looked at him like that with her big blue eyes telegraphing embarrassed vulnerability he couldn't help it. 'It's you I'm concerned about. The paparazzi follow you everywhere'
'Not here ' Tia Castelli declared, tossing her head so that a silken skein of honey-blonde hair rippled across her slim shoulders, her flawless face full of regret. 'We haven't got long though. Luke will be back at our hotel by three and I have to be there.'
At that reference to her notoriously volatile rock star husband, Navarre's lean, darkly handsome features hardened and his emerald-green eyes darkened.
Tia ran a manicured fingertip reprovingly below the implacable line of his shapely masculine mouth. 'Don't be like that, caro mio. This is my life, take me or leave me and I couldn't bear it if you chose the second option!' she warned him in a sudden rush, her confident drawl splintering to betray the insecurity she hid from the world. 'I'm sorry, so sorry that it has to be like this between us!'
'It's OK,' Navarre told her soothingly although he was lying through his even white teeth as he said it. He loathed being a dirty little secret in her life but the alternative was to end their relationship and although he was remarkably strong-willed and stubborn, he had found himself quite unable to do that.
'And you're still bringing a partner with you for the awards ceremony, aren't you?' Tia checked anxiously. 'Luke is so incredibly suspicious of you.'
'Angelique Simonet, currently the toast of the Paris catwalk,' Navarre answered wryly.
'And she doesn't know about us?' the movie actress pressed worriedly.
'Of course not.'
'I know, I know I'm sorry, I just have so much at stake!' Tia gasped strickenly. 'I couldn't stand to lose Luke!'
'You can trust me.' Navarre closed his arms round her slim body to comfort her. Her blue eyes glistened with the tears that came so easily to her and she was trembling with nerves. Navarre tried not to wonder what Luke Convery had been doing or saying to get her into such a state. Time and experience had taught him that it was better not to go there, better neither to know nor to enquire. He did not interfere in her marriage any more than she questioned his choice of lovers.
'I hate going so long without seeing you. It feels wrong,' she muttered heavily. 'But I've told so many lies I don't think that I could ever tell the truth.'
'It's not important,' Navarre told her with a gentleness that would have astounded some of the women he had had in his life.
Navarre Cazier, the legendary French industrialist and billionaire, had the reputation of being a generous but distant lover to the beautiful women who passed through his bed. Yet even though he made no secret of his love of the single life, women remained infuriatingly keen to tell him that they loved him and to cling. Tia, however, occupied a category all of her own and he played by different rules with her. Accustomed as he was to independence from an early age, he was tough, self-reliant and unapologetically selfish but he always restrained that side of his nature with Tia and at least tried to accommodate her needs.
Later that afternoon when she had gone, Navarre was heading for the shower when his mobile buzzed beside the bed. Tia's distinctive perfume still hung in the air like a shamefaced marker of her recent presence. He would see her again soon but their next encounter would be in public and they would have to be circumspect for Luke Convery was a hothead, all too well aware of his gorgeous wife's chequered history of previous marriages and clandestine affairs. Tia's husband was always on the watch for signs that his wife's attention might be straying.
The call was from Angelique and Navarre's mood dive-bombed when he learned that his current lover was not, after all, coming to London to join him. Angelique had just been offered a television campaign by a famous cosmetics company and even Navarre could not fault her desire to make the most of such an opportunity.
Even so, it seemed to Navarre that life was cruelly conspiring to frustrate him. He needed Angelique this week and not only as a screen to protect Tia from the malicious rumours that had linked his name with hers on past occasions. He also had a difficult deal to close with the husband of a former lover, who had recently attempted to reanimate their affair. A woman on his arm and a supposedly serious relationship had been a non-negotiable necessity for Tia's peace of mind as well as good business practice in a difficult situation. Merde alors, what the hell was he going to do without a partner at this late stage in the game? Who could he possibly trust to play the game of a fake engagement and not attempt to take it further?
'Urgentneed 2 talk 2 you,' ran the text message that beeped on Tawny's mobile phone and she hurried downstairs to take her break, wondering what on earth was going on with her friend, Julie.
Julie worked as a receptionist in the same exclusive London hotel and, although the two young women had not known each other long, she had already proved herself to be a staunch and supportive friend. Her approachability had eased Tawny's first awkward days as a new employee when she had quickly discovered that as a chambermaid she was regarded as the lowest of the low by most of the other staff. She was grateful for Julie's company when their breaks coincided, but their friendship had gone well beyond that level, Tawny acknowledged with an appreciative smile. When, at short notice, Tawny had had to move out of her mother's home, Julie had helped her to find an affordable bedsit and had even offered her car to facilitate the move.
'I'm in trouble,' Julie, a very pretty brown-eyed blonde, said with a strong air of drama as Tawny joined her at a table in the corner of the dingy, almost empty staff room.
'What sort of trouble?'
Julie leant forwards to whisper conspiratorially, 'I slept with one of the guests.'
'But you'll be sacked if you've been caught out!' Tawny exclaimed in dismay, brushing back the Titian red spiral curls clinging to her damp brow. Changing several beds in swift succession was tiring work and even though she was already halfway through a glass of cooling water she still felt overheated.
Julie rolled her eyes, unimpressed by the reminder. 'I haven't been caught out.'
Her porcelain-pale skin reddening, Tawny wished she had been more tactful, for she did not want Julie to think that she was judging her for her behaviour.
'Who was the guy?' she asked then, riven with curiosity for the blonde had not mentioned anyone, which could only mean that the relationship had been of sudden or short duration.
'It was Navarre Cazier.' Wearing a coy look of expectancy, Julie let the name hang there.
'Navarre Cazier?' Tawny was shocked by that familiar name.
She knew exactly who Julie was talking about because it was Tawny's responsibility to keep the penthouse suites on the top floor of the hotel in pristine order. The fabulously wealthy French industrialist stayed there at least twice a month and he always left her a massive tip. He didn't make unreasonable demands or leave his rooms in a mess either, which placed him head and shoulders above the other rich and invariably spoilt occupants of the most select accommodation offered by the hotel. She had only seen him once in the flesh, though, and at a distance, the giving of invisible service being one of the demands of her job. But after Julie had mentioned him several times in glowing terms Tawny had become curious enough to make the effort to catch a glimpse of him and had immediately understood why her friend was captivated. Navarre Cazier was very tall, black-haired and even to her critical gaze, quite shockingly good-looking.
He also walked, talked and behaved like a god who ruled the world, Tawny recalled abstractedly. He had emerged from the lift at the head of a phalanx of awe-inspired minions clutching phones and struggling to follow reams of instructions hurled at them in two different languages. His sheer power of personality, volcanic energy and presence had had the brilliance of a searchlight in darkness. He had outshone everyone around him while administering a stinging rebuke to a cringing unfortunate who didn't react fast enough to an order. She had got the impression of a ferociously demanding male with a mind that functioned at the speed of a computer, a male, moreover, whose intrinsically high expectations were rarely satisfied by reality.
'As you know I've had my eye on Navarre for a while. He's absolutely gorgeous.' Julie sighed.
Navarre and Julie lovers? A little pang of distaste assailed Tawny as she pulled free of her memories and returned to the present. It struck her as an incongruous pairing between two people who could have nothing in common, but Julie was extremely pretty and Tawny had seen enough of life to know that that was quite sufficient inducement for most men. Evidently the sophisticated French billionaire was not averse to the temptation of casual sex.
'So what's the problem?' Tawny asked in the strained silence that now stretched, resisting a tasteless urge to ask how the encounter had come about. 'Have you fallen pregnant or something?'
'Oh, don't be daft!' Julie fielded as if the very suggestion was a bad joke. 'But I did do something very stupid with him '
Tawny was frowning. 'What?' she pressed, unaccustomed to the other young woman being hesitant to talk about anything.
'I got so carried away I let him take a load of pictures of me posing in the nude. They're on his laptop!'
Tawny was aghast at the revelation and embarrassment sent hot colour winging into her cheeks. So, the French businessman liked to take photographs in the bedroom, Tawny thought with a helpless shudder of distaste. Navarre Cazier instantly sank below floor level in Tawny's fancia-bility stakes. Ew!
'What on earth made you agree to such a thing?' she questioned.
Julie clamped a tissue to her nose and Tawny was surprised to see tears swimming in her brown eyes, for Julie had always struck her as being rather a tough cookie. 'Julie?' she prompted more gently.
Julie grimaced in evident embarrassment, clearly fighting her distress. 'Surely you can guess why I agreed?' she countered in a voice choked with tears. 'I didn't want to seem like a prude.I wanted to please him. I hoped that if I was exciting enough he'd want to see me again. Rich guys get bored easily: you have to be willing to experiment to keep their interest. But I never heard from him again and now I feel sick at the idea of him still having those photos of me.'
Even though such reasoning made Tawny's heart sink she understood it perfectly. Once upon a time her mother, Susan, had been equally keen to impress a rich man. In Susan's case the man had been her boss and their subsequent secret affair had continued on and off for years before finally running aground over the pregnancy that produced Tawny and her mother's lowering discovery that she was far from being her lover's only extra-marital interest.
'Ask him to delete the photographs,' Tawny suggested stiffly, feeling more than a little out of her depth with the subject but naturally sympathetic towards her friend's disillusionment. She knew how deeply hurt her mother had been to ultimately discover that her long-term lover didn't consider her worthy of a more permanent or public relationship. But after only one night of intimacy, she felt that Julie would recover rather more easily from the betrayal than Tawny's mother had.
'I asked him to delete them soon after he arrived yesterday. He flatly refused.'
Tawny was stumped by that frank admission. 'Well er.'
'But all I would need is five minutes with his laptop to take care of it for myself,' Julie told her in an urgent undertone.
Tawny was unsurprised by the claim for she had heard that Julie was skilled in IT and often the first port of call when the office staff got into a snit with a computer. 'He's hardly going to give you access to his laptop,' she pointed out wryly.
'No, but if I could get hold of his laptop, what harm would it do for me to deal with the problem right there and then?'
Tawny studied the other woman fixedly. 'Are you seriously planning to try and steal the guy's laptop?'
'I just want to borrow it for five minutes and, as I don't have access to his suite and you do, I was hoping that you would do it for me.'
Tawny fell back in her seat, pale blue eyes wide with disbelief as she stared back at the other woman in dismay. 'You've got to be joking '
'There would be no risk. I'd tell you when he was out, you could go in and I could rush upstairs and wait next door in the storage room for you to bring the laptop out to me. Five minutes, that's all it would take for me to delete those photos. You'll replace it in his room and he'll never know what happened to them!' Julie argued forcefully. 'Please, Tawny it would mean so much to me. Haven't you ever done something you regret?'
'I'd like to help you but I can't do something illegal,' Tawny protested, pulling a face in the tense silence. 'That laptop is his personal property and interfering with it would be a criminal offence'
'He's never going to know that anyone's even touched it! That possibility won't even occur to him,' Julie argued vehemently. 'Please, Tawny. You're the only person who can help me.'
'I couldn't There's just no way I could do something like that,' Tawny muttered uneasily. 'I'm sorry.'
Julie touched her hand to regain her attention. 'We haven't got much timehe'll be checking out again the day after tomorrow. I'll talk to you again at lunch time before you finish your shift.'
'I won't change my mind,' Tawny warned, compressing her soft full mouth in discomfiture.
'Think it overit's a foolproof plan,' Julie insisted as she stood up, lowering her voice even more to add huskily, 'And if it would make a difference, I'm willing to pay you to take that risk for me'
'Pay me?' Tawny was very much taken aback by that offer.