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We are gathered here today in the face of this company to join together Kimberley Blackstone and Ricardo Perrini in matrimony ."
Jarrod Hammond heard the words of the female marriage celebrant, but his eyes were drawn not to the bride, but to the woman sitting opposite him in the horseshoe circle surrounding his cousin Kim and her soon-to-be husband, Ric Perrini.
Adrenaline kicked in as he leaned back in his chair and let his gaze rake over Briana Davenport, the Australian supermodel who was the face of Blackstone Diamonds. Through the massive yacht's large windows behind her, the late-afternoon sun highlighted the most glorious harbor in the world and created a picture-perfect backdrop for her beauty.
Framed by the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and dressed in a silky, pale blue pantsuit that flowed as she moved, she was elegance and sophistication. The epitome of glamour. A crowning glory for the diamond company she symbolized. He could see why Howard Blackstone had chosen her to represent his business.
And just as expensive, Jarrod mused rather cynically, noting with satisfaction the exact moment she saw him looking at her. Her eyelids flickered just a bit before she looked away, but only someone with an internal radar for this woman would pick up on it.
Someone like him.
"If anyone can show just cause" the celebrant continued.
Much to Jarrod's displeasure, his internal radar was constantly tuned on Briana. It had been that way from the moment he'd set eyes on her at his brother's marriage to her sister four years ago. It had been on high ever since, even though he knew Briana had a serious flaw. An expensive serious flaw. She liked money, andplenty of it, and went through it like it was going out of fashion, according to her now-dead sister, Marise.
Of course, being attuned to Briana didn't help when everywhere he turned she was there in front of him: up on billboards on television in glossy magazines. Nor was it easy knowing they lived in the same city in another part of the country. Thankfully with her jet-setting around the world as a supermodel, and him with his law practice, Melbourne was big enough for the two of them not to run into each other.
"Ric, do you take Kimberley for your lawful wedded wife, to live in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, honor, comfort and "
But now, seeing Briana in the flesh againher ohso-delicious fleshreminded him why he'd inveigled an invitation to the Blackstone Jewellery launch here in Sydney last Friday and flown up from Melbourne. And why he was glad he'd accepted Kim's invitation today. Being a Hammond at a Blackstone wedding was never going to be easy, but with Briana here, the day suddenly seemed full of sensual possibilities, despite the presence of millionaire Jake Vance, who once again partnered her.
"Kimberley, do you take Ric for your lawful wedded husband, to live in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, honor, comfort and "
Jarrod's mouth tightened as he looked at the man sitting beside Briana. The pair had been photographed together in the Melbourne papers at the St. Valentine's Day races a few weeks ago. And again last Friday at the jewelry launch. Were the two of them lovers? Probably, he decided, not pleased by the burst of irrational jealousy he felt at the thought of her in the other man's bed.
"May this ring be blessed so that he who gives it " the woman continued.
Dammit, was he being a glutton for punishment by going after her? Hadn't he already made his decision to bed her? A decision based on wanting to find out all he could about her sister for his brother's sake. He'd seen Matt only two weeks ago and had been shocked at how worn and bitter he'd become. Jarrod and Matt may have been adopted, but they were closer than blood brothers, and he'd do everything in his power to make sure Matt found some inner peaceno matter what it took.
But he couldn't blame his brother for being bitter when his wife, Marise, had died from injuries sustained in a plane crash almost two months ago, along with Howard Blackstone and four others. It had conjured up a myriad of questions: questions that no one had any answers to, except maybe Briana Davenport.
"Wear it as a symbol of love and commitment " Surely Briana knew why her sister had been on Howard's plane before it crashed.And she knew if her own sister was having an affair with Howard, the enemy of the Hammond family ever since his greed parted the two family factions many years ago. She just wasn't saying.
And then there'd been the shock of Marise having been named as a beneficiary in Howard's will. A seven-sum figure and the Blackstone jewelry collection was a considerable inheritance for a young mistress. And that begged the question as to whether Blake was really Howard's son and not Matt's. Blake certainly had the same dark hair as Howard, unlike Matt's sandy-blond head. It made Jarrod sick to his stomach to think about it.
"You may now seal the promises you have made with each other with a kiss."
Dammit, the Blackstones had caused enough pain for his family. His parents would be devastated if they found out that Blake was not their grandson, but their great-nephew, instead. Not that it would make any difference to the way they felt about the child. They'd proven that by adopting him and Matt all those years ago. As for Matt and how he would feel about Blake not being his own
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo Perrini."
Just then, as if his angry thoughts had drawn Briana's blue eyes back to him, Jarrod held her gaze among the clapping and the cheers, and let her know with a look what he had decided. She was the woman he wanted.
She was the woman he would have.
While she was waiting to be seated for the wedding feast, Briana sipped champagne and listened with delight as the beaming and slender Jessica Cotter talked about her newly announced pregnancy. They'd spoken last Friday night at the jewelry launch, but it had been a busy night for both of them and their chat had only been brief. Now it was great to be able to catch up with each other.
"Ryan's thrilled," Jessica said, sending the man in question an adoring look across the deck where he stood talking to his just-married sister, Kim.
And the ruthless and handsome Ryan Blackstone smiled back. A warm, love-filled look that was meant for one woman and one woman onlyhis fiancée.
"You're one very lucky woman, Jess," Briana said with a smile, envious of Jessica's happiness but so very pleased for her. "I know," Jessica said, grinning. Then her gaze slid to the woman standing next to Ryan, brother and sister clearly both Blackstones. "And doesn't Kim look absolutely gorgeous? That white gown is exquisite, but with her dark hair and green eyes, she looks stunning."
Briana's gaze slid over Kimberley Blackstone, now Kimberley Perrini, who wore an elegant couture wedding dress. "I've got to agree. She's stunning."
"I bet Ric thinks so, too." Jessica gave a dreamy sigh.
"This must be so different from the first time they were married in Las Vegas. It just goes to prove that divorce isn't always final."
"I guess it all depends on the couple," Briana said, thinking about some of the people she knew in the modeling world. Her profession wasn't easy on a marriage. She'd seen some wonderful partnerships, as well as some horrors.
"By the way," Jessica said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Did you contact Quinn Everard yet about those diamonds Marise left in your safe?"
At the thought of her dead sister, Briana's heart squeezed tight. "Yes, I phoned him the other day. I've been so busy lately that I just kept putting it off. What with work and trying to help Dad cope with Mum's death and now Marise's, it hasn't been a priority."
"That's understandable," Jessica said sympathetically.
"You just make sure you take care of yourself, too."
"I will," Briana said, her eyes thanking her friend.
"Anyway, Quinn said to drop the diamonds off at his office. He's away at the moment but I can leave them with his office manager. I'll do that tomorrow morning." She grimaced. "Frankly, I'll be glad to know their value so that I can decide what to do with them. Matt said he didn't want anything of Marise's, but I just can't keep them."
Jessica nodded. "Well, Quinn's the man. He's got an excellent reputation as a gem appraiser. He" All at once her gaze focused on the men across the room and she scowled. "Oh no, I think I'm needed. Ric and Ryan look like they've had enough of each other for a while." She rolled her eyes. "Men!"
Briana chuckled as she watched Jessica hurry away, but she knew that tensions associated with members of the Blackstone family right now weren't anything to laugh about.
Knew it only too well, unfortunately.
Not that any of them held the controversial deaths of her sister and their father against her. They'd all been very considerate. Ric and Ryan had treated her with respect, and Jessica and Kim had become good friends. Not to mention the elegant Sonya Hammond and her charming daughter, Danielle. Though the latter two were not blood relations to Howard Blackstone, they were still related, and they'd shown her kindness at Howard's funeral, and welcomed her warmly today.
Of course, she couldn't think about the Blackstones without thinking about Matt Hammond. Her brother-inlaw could be hardnosed but he was also a fine, upstanding man, and hadn't deserved the legacy of doubts her sister had left him and their young son, Blake. His adoptive parents, Katherine and Oliver Hammond, had been wonderful to Marise, too, but her sister hadn't really appreciated them.
As for the older adopted son it was obvious to her that beneath Jarrod Hammond's veneer of sophistication, he fully believed she and Marise had shared the same liking for the good life that Marise had enjoyed as Matt's wife.
Only, nothing was further from the truth. Marise may have been flighty and always looking for something more, but she was happy with her lot in life. And for that she still felt guilty. If only she'd been closer to Marise, maybe then she'd understand why her sister had been keeping company with Howard Blackstone and why he'd left all his jewelry to Marise in his will. But no matter how she'd tried to breach the gap, they were poles apart. She didn't understand how Jarrod couldn't see that.
Just then, her eyes met the man in question across the breadth of the middle deck, and a hush seemed to descend upon everything in the room. An imaginary hush, obviously, though there was nothing imaginary about the hunger in Jarrod Hammond's eyes. The hunger had always been there, waiting for what, she wasn't sure. He'd certainly made no move to further anything between them over the years.
Not that it would have done him any good. She wasn't getting involved with another high-powered male. Not after Patrick, her ex-business manager and lover, had invested most of her money in a "surefire" deal and had lost it.
No, she didn't need a man in her life.
And definitely not Jarrod Hammond.
Suddenly he started to walk toward her. She wanted to run as fast and as far away as she could, up the stairs and out on the top deck where the breeze off the harbor would cool her heated cheeks, but her strappy high heels seemed fixed to the floor.
And then he was standing in front of her, and she could do nothing but face him and try not to let him overwhelm her with his sheer presence.
"Hello, Briana," he murmured as he leaned in close and kissed her cheek, his firm lips lingering just a whisper too long. "We seem to be running into each other a lot lately."
She tingled. "Yes, we do," she said, then saw his eyes darken at her husky tone. Quickly she cleared her throat, trying not to show that she cared he had touched her. "Um but I didn't expect to see you here, Jarrod."
"Really?" A cool light came into his eyes. "Why not? Kim is my cousin."
"Yes." And one he must know more than the others, seeing that Kim had worked for the Hammonds until recently.
But that was merely a reason for his presence, not an explanation. The Hammonds and the Blackstones, despite being related, had thrown some pretty wild accusations at each other's dynasties over the years. Marise had once briefly mentioned how Jarrod's father, Oliver, had accused Howard Blackstone of some pretty dastardly things, including marrying Oliver's sister for monetary gain. In retaliation, Howard had accused Oliver of arranging the kidnapping of his two-year-old son, James Blackstone. The child had never been seen again. "Maybe I'm surprised to see you here," Jarrod said, cutting across her thoughts, and she knew nothing much would surprise this man. She had the feeling he'd known she'd be here today.
"Kim and I have been working together on some of the Blackstone events," she said, a touch defensively.
"We've become friends."
"Good. She could do with another friend right now." For a moment, Briana thought he was being sarcastic, but then she realized he was sincere. Something inside her softened. Kim had certainly had it tough these past few months, but coming from hima Hammond who on his brother's behalf now had another reason to hate any Blackstonethe comment was even more surprising. Perhaps he wasn't as coldhearted as she'd thought?
"She looks beautiful, doesn't she?" Briana said, turning away from him to look at her friend, mainly so she didn't have to look at Jarrod.
"Yes, she does," he said in a seductive voice that made her spin back toward him. He was staring at her.
Whatever had softened inside her now turned to mush. She had to force herself not to redden, her years of modeling doing nothing to stop the faint warmth rising up her neck.
She took a sip of champagne, then, "What did you think of the ceremony?" she asked for something to say.
His knowing blue eyes held hers a moment longer before breaking contact. He shrugged. "A wedding's a wedding.