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Blackmailed by the Italian Billionaire
By Nina Croft, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Nina Croft
All rights reserved.
"I'm lost," Lia Brent muttered into her cell phone. "At least I hope I'm lost, because if not I'm in big trouble. Look, Kelly, I have to go. I'll talk to you later."
Lia shoved the phone into her bag and glared down at the map of London clutched in her hand. She had an appointment at a club called The Crazy Frog, and she was pretty sure she was in the right place.
Except she couldn't be.
She didn't know London well — hadn't been back since her dad's disappearing act ten years ago — but this didn't look like the sort of area a nightclub would be in. Unless it was a very down-market nightclub. Her stomach churned at the thought.
It was nearly seven at night, but the sun still beat down. Lia's feet hurt from the stupid high heels she was wearing for the part, her head pounded from the constant drone of traffic, and she was suddenly overwhelmed by a desperate urge to turn around and run for home. But she wasn't a quitter, and besides, if she gave up now, then soon she wouldn't have a home to run to. And neither would her little brother, Mike, never mind her housekeeper, her three cats, and her dog.
No, she had no choice but to go on with her plan, however crappy and foolish it might be. Gritting her teeth, she sent up a silent prayer for inspiration. It came in the form of a sleek black sports car that pulled up on the other side of the road, and the man who uncoiled himself from the low front seat. Lia rarely noticed men, but even she had to admit that this one was gorgeous; maybe it was his height, or the immaculate fit of his dark business suit, or the lithe, predatory grace with which he moved. Whatever it was, Lia couldn't look away, and she watched until he disappeared through a set of black double doors. She stared at the closed doors for what seemed like an eternity, then slowly raised her eyes to the sign hanging above them. For a moment, she couldn't believe she had missed it; a huge picture of what could only be a crazy frog.
She started forward only to come to an abrupt halt, because beneath the sign was a photograph of an almost entirely naked woman.
Oh, yeah, she was definitely in trouble. Big trouble.
* * *
Luc Severino strolled through the dimly lit nightclub, the once-familiar scents and sounds washing over him, transporting him back to his misspent youth. The last time he'd been here, he'd been a cocky eighteen-year-old, blissfully unaware that his life was about to turn to shit. The place hadn't changed one bit.
It was early, and the seats were mostly empty. On the stage, an improbably built blonde was gyrating to the throbbing beat of some old rock song. She almost lost her grip on the steel pole as Luc passed, then instantly redoubled her efforts. He tossed her a smile as he passed, then dismissed her from his mind and concentrated on the meeting at hand. What could Harley possibly want after all these years?
The barman glanced up as he approached.
"I'm here to see Harley," Luc said, and the man nodded in the direction of one of the dark booths that lined the back wall of the club. Luc walked over and found his old friend seated at a small table.
"Luc, what can I get you to drink?"
"Nothing," he said, sinking into the seat opposite Harley.
"Sure?" Harley took a sip of his own drink and studied Luc over the rim of his glass. "Nice suit," he said. "Italian? Your mum send it over?"
Luc nodded, and Harley let out a huge sigh. "You look like a goddamned playboy. You certainly don't fit in here anymore."
Luc smiled. "You do."
"I got your invitation, by the way."
"And I got your acceptance — glad you can make it."
"What? Me miss what promises to be the swankiest party of the year? Never going to happen. Besides, it's for a good cause. You know most people in your position would forget their old life, pretend it doesn't exist — it's a good thing you're doing."
"I think so. So, come on Harley, cut the social chitchat and get to the point. Why am I here?"
"Okay." Harley sighed. "Just how interested are you in finding Jimmy Brent?"
Luc went still at the name, and something dark stirred to life deep inside him. The truth was, he didn't know the answer. At one point, finding Jimmy Brent and making him pay had occupied him body and soul. The man had almost destroyed him, had destroyed Luc's father. Then ten years ago, just as Luc was about to spring his trap, Jimmy Brent vanished off the face of the earth.
Luc had known back then that he could dedicate his life to hunting the man, or he could move on. He'd chosen the latter, and he'd never regretted the decision. Did he really want to stir up all the old memories?
"What do you think?" he asked, his voice intentionally toneless.
Harley shrugged. "I think you're very interested." He paused and Luc raised an impatient eyebrow. "Well, I might have a lead on him."
Leaning back in his chair, Luc stared at the ceiling, giving himself time to think. He'd believed that all thoughts of revenge were behind him, that he was satisfied with his life. After all, he had more now than he could ever have imagined back in the old days — wealth, success, anything he wanted was his for the taking. But all that faded to insignificance at the news that his old enemy might once more be within his reach. He smiled. For the first time in what seemed like years, he realized what it felt like to be fully alive.
"I think I will have that drink after all. Scotch."
They waited in silence until the waitress brought Luc's drink, Harley drumming his fingers against the tabletop.
Luc took a long swallow. "Okay, what do you know about Jimmy Brent?"
"You know Jimmy was married?"
"Well, his wife lived in town with him on and off, probably depending on whether Jimmy had a bit on the side at the time. I was working for him back then and I often drove her around. She was classy, didn't really fit in with the people in the old neighborhood and we sort of became friends. Anyway, they had a daughter. She must be about twenty now."
"Twenty-two," Luc said.
"Whatever. Anyway, she was a right little madam, but Jimmy doted on her, used to call her his little princess. It must have broken his heart to leave her behind."
"Get to the point, Harley."
"Well, Jimmy's daughter called me up about a week ago and said she wanted a job dancing here at the club." He sat back for a moment, watching, but Luc kept his expression blank. "She's coming here tonight for an interview."
Luc glanced at him sharply. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
Harley frowned. "I wasn't sure I should even tell you now." He gestured around the club. "This isn't your life anymore. It's behind you, and that's where it should stay. But I owe you, and I thought you'd want to know."
Luc sat quietly for a moment, absently stroking one finger along the scar that ran down his right cheek. The name Jimmy Brent had raised some old demons he thought he'd overcome. But could you ever overcome something like that? And now his daughter had turned up, contacting old acquaintances of her father. What could she possibly want after all these years?
"Do you think she's genuine? Just wants a job?" he asked
"Hell no," Harley said. "I don't know what she wants, but I doubt very much that it's a job dancing. If she's anything like her father, she won't have an honest bone in her body. Jimmy Brent was the most treacherous crook in London. You know that better than anyone. And if she's anything like her mother, she wouldn't be seen dead in a place like this." He waved a hand around the club. "The thing is, though, her mum used to call me up every couple of months to find out if I had any news of Jimmy, but for the last year or so nothing, not a whisper from her. Then out of the blue this Olivia phones and says she wants to move to the city and her mother suggested she look me up." Harley grinned. "Like Penelope Brent was ever the sort to suggest her daughter takes up stripping." He sat back in his chair and let the news sink in a minute. "So, how do you want to play this?"
Luc thought for a moment. "She says she needs a job?"
"How about you convince her that she really doesn't want to work here." Luc paused, glanced around the club, and grinned. "No disrespect, Harley, but it shouldn't be too difficult. Then I'll make her an offer she can't refuse."
"So we do the old good crook, bad crook routine?"
"Hmm, just be your charming self and she'll be begging me to take her out of here in minutes. After that, it should be easy to find out what she knows."
"What do we tell her about you?"
"Tell her I'm an old acquaintance of her father's." Luc smiled. "Tell her the truth. Tell her I owe her father. Big time."
"You know, I can't help feeling a little sorry for Olivia Brent." Harley glanced toward the door. "And if I'm not mistaken, that must be her now."
Luc followed his gaze and went instantly still. A young woman stood inside the doorway, staring at the dancer on the stage as if transfixed, something akin to surprised horror on her expressive features. She appeared dismayed and so out of place that Luc almost smiled. Then she turned toward them and he saw she had her father's eyes — blue as a summer sky, seemingly guileless, and so clearly inherited from Jimmy Brent that a surge of hatred washed over him.
He forced himself to examine her objectively. Slightly over medium height, she had a slim, almost boyish figure and endlessly long legs. As he watched, she tugged self-consciously at the hem of the short, pink dress. Her blond hair hung straight to her shoulders, pushed back showing a classically beautiful face with high cheekbones and a wide mouth. She was nibbling on her lower lip, and her small pink tongue darted out. In a flash, the hatred was replaced with a stab of unexpected lust.
Relaxing in his chair, he savored the heat that coiled low in his belly. A woman hadn't affected him this way in a long time, and he knew he would use it to discover what she was really after. He'd never had a problem getting any woman he wanted. Olivia Brent would be no different, and before long, she would be telling him anything he needed to know. He smiled to himself, and Harley laughed softly beside him.
"Would you like me to make a private lap dance part of the audition?" he asked.
"Piss off, Harley."
"Sure?" Harley grinned. "Anyway, that's definitely Jimmy's girl and from the expression on her face, I don't think it's going to be difficult to persuade her that dancing isn't the job for her."CHAPTER 2
Lia stumbled through the door into the murky nightclub, righted herself on her borrowed heels, and stood inside, blinking a little. For a moment, it was a relief to be in the cool darkness, then her eyes adjusted to the dim light.
On the stage, right in front of her, an almost-naked blonde, with the most enormous breasts Lia had ever seen, was doing something obscene and definitely inadvisable with a stainless steel pole.
Her eyes widened, and she glanced away only to find her gaze dragged back. She'd spent all day with her best friend Kelly being transformed into Kelly's idea of an exotic dancer. Now, staring at the woman on the stage, it was obvious Kelly had no more idea of what an exotic dancer looked like than she did.
Great job, Kelly.
Stiffening her back, she tried to remember Kelly's instructions. Think bimbo, her friend had told her — nobody will expect you to have a brain. Unfortunately, if the woman on the stage was anything to go by, they were going to expect her to have breasts.
A truly horrible thought occurred to her. Would they want to see them? She went cold at the idea and sneaked another quick peek at the stage. They wouldn't expect her to do anything like that, would they?
No freaking way.
Don't think about it. Focus on the plan.
Trouble was, planning had never been one of her strong points. She was more of a "jump right in and worry about the consequences later" sort of person. But at least the plan was simple. All she had to do was meet Harley Watson, pretend she needed a job, and then casually slip in a question about her father's whereabouts. After that, she could leave, and she need never come near the place again. So what if the club wasn't quite what she expected? It wasn't as though she actually wanted a job here.
Okay — step one: find Harley Watson. She peered around for someone to ask, finally spotting a waitress leaning on the bar. Lia moved over to her.
"Excuse me," she said, tapping the waitress's arm. "I have an appointment with Mr. Watson."
"You do? With Harley?" the woman asked, giving Lia a far-from-flattering inspection. "He's over there." She nodded in the direction of a shadowed booth.
There were two men in the booth. One of them stood up and withdrew farther into the shadows as Lia approached. Lia tripped in the darkness, cursed, caught herself on the table, and found herself nose-to-nose with the biggest man she'd ever seen.
She knew she must have met Harley Watson as a child, but had no recollection. If she had, she was convinced she would have come up with a different plan — one that didn't involve her being here. He was huge! Not merely tall, but broad and dressed entirely in black leather, with black hair pulled into a ponytail. His dark eyes lingered insolently on her breasts, or more likely lack of breasts. She resisted the urge to thrust them forward — it really wouldn't do any good. Instead, she wiped a clammy palm down the side of her dress and held it out in front of her. He ignored the hand, and she let it drop to her side.
"So, you're Jimmy Brent's girl — Olivia?"
Lia plastered a smile on her face. "Yes," she croaked, then cleared her throat. "Yes, Mr. Watson. But call me Lia — everyone does."
"And you can call me Harley. So, how's your mum, then?"
"Fine," Lia said lying. "She sends her regards."
Harley Watson lifted one eyebrow in obvious disbelief. As well he might. Her mother would have shriveled up in shame if she ever found out where Lia was and what she was up to. But then her mother was dead and would never know, a fact Lia had thought best to keep to herself in case Harley Watson had some fond memories of her mother, which wouldn't extend to her.
"Now darling, what is it I can do for you?"
He sounded bored, uninterested in her answer, and Lia swallowed. "I need a job."
"You said you wanted to be a dancer. Like that?" He nodded toward the stage, and Lia risked a quick peek. The blonde seemed to be getting even more intimate with the stainless steel pole. And seriously, were those breasts for real? It seemed highly unlikely. Lia looked away but couldn't resist a glance down at her less than generous proportions. She'd always been pleased by her lack of curves, always considered breasts as something that got in the way. Now she couldn't help but compare herself with the blond. It didn't seem possible that they were the same species.
"I don't suppose you do a classic night?" she asked hopefully. "Ballroom?"
He curled his lips into something halfway between a smile and a snarl. "It's a strip club, darling. What do you think?"
Lia bit her lip and decided an answer wasn't expected of her.
"Experience?" he asked.
Of what, Lia wondered wildly. "I brought my résumé." She scrabbled in her bag for the piece of paper and handed it over. He put it on the table without even glancing at it, then lounged back in his chair, lit a cigarette, and took a long draw, eyeing Lia through the smoke.
"Okay, let's have a look at you."
"What?" she squeaked.
"Lose the clothes, sweetheart. Let's see what you've got."
"Well," Harley said, and Lia could hear the thread of cold amusement in his voice, "if you can't do it in front of us, you're going to find it pretty difficult up there." He nodded toward the stage.
He did have a point.
"Come on." His voice roughened with impatience, and his expression became even more menacing as he stared at her coldly. "Are you wasting my time?"
Lia had the strangest feeling she was going to throw up. Heat washed over her. She wasn't sure she could go through with it, but she had come this far and she hated the thought of going back with nothing to show for her plotting. This might have been a long shot, but it was her only shot — she didn't have a next move. Besides, what would happen if she just said no? She had a horrible suspicion that no was not an option.
Excerpted from Blackmailed by the Italian Billionaire by Nina Croft, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2012 Nina Croft. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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