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Kira Montgomery pressed her forehead against the massage table's padded face cradle and shifted again to loosen the tension knotting her shoulders and neck. Impossible.
Her masseuse had "stepped out for a moment." The term obviously meant something different to her than it did to Kira. Leaving a client waiting fifteen minutes was unsuitable.
Chateau Mystique couldn't afford more bad press. The tragic deaths and ensuing scandals associated with the five-star hotel on the Las Vegas strip had hurt business. Hurt her in ways she'd never imagined.
To make her life more of a jumble, her doctor had confirmed the one thing she'd never anticipated. She was pregnant.
Her insides quivered and she took a deep breath. Held it. Let it out slowly. It didn't help. Nothing helped.
Ever since she'd heeded her solicitor's advice and traveled to the Caribbean island of Petit St. Marc for a closed meeting with André Gauthier, her life had tumbled into a chaotic nightmare. The devastatingly handsome billionaire had denied ever knowing of their meeting, and had refused to divulge how he'd gained stock in her hotel. Though she'd been frustrated and angry, she'd been captivated by the sheer power of his persona and his rapier-quick ability to debate an issue.
He'd mentally stimulated her and physically aroused her more than any man she'd ever met. But she wouldn't be swayed by his staggering offer to buy out her shares. He owned minority stock, and that was all he'd ever have.
The Chateau was her home. Her dream. Her legacy. There'd been no reason to tarry on the island any longer.
No reason except desire. She hadn't been able to deny the passion blazing between them and the raw hungerhe stirred in her. And why should she?
She was an adult. Surely she could engage in a brief affair and walk away?
But thirteen weeks later she hadn't been able to forget their stolen night of passion. Or the scandal that had erupted the following morning to rip them apart. Or André Gauthier, the father of her child, the man who'd recently made headlines with his ruthless attempt to break Bellamy Enterprises.
Would the shareholders force Peter Bellamy to sell his father's empire? Would they decide to defy André and set the stage for a hostile takeover?
Perhaps they'd agree to a merger. Yes, a nice peaceful working arrangement, like the one she'd thought to forge with André before she learned of his perfidy.
How naïve she'd been. Where she'd only worried about dealing with André over the Chateau, she now fretted over the merger of them as parents. How did one tell a chance lover that he'd soon be a fathera chance lover she'd parted with on hostile terms?
The nausea that had been her constant companion the past few weeks threatened to return. She concentrated on the doctor's instructions instead of dwelling on ringing up André again to relay her news.
One dragon at a time. That was the only way she'd come out of this debacle intact. She'd left a message for him to contact her. And if he didn't. If he chose to ignore her
The door opened behind Kira, and she quickly pushed her worries about André to the back of her mind to confront the tardy masseuse. "I trust you have a good excuse for leaving me here waiting for so long?"
Silence answered her.
Kira frowned at the floor, willing away the dark premonition that crept into the room like a cold London fog roiling off the Thames. But her trepidation only grew, because she knew someone stood in the doorway, watching her.
Someone, she sensed, who shouldn't be here.
She stilled, her breath catching in her throat as a wedge of light arrowed across the plush carpet and darted beneath the table to inch up the wall.
A chill born of anxiety hopscotched up her spine, and she shivered despite the luxurious blanket draped over her bare body. "Who's there?"
"Bonjour, ma chérie," he said, his deep, rough-edged voice causing her heart to race so fast her head spun.
André Gauthier! Instead of returning her call, he'd come to her. Her first impulse was to scramble off the table and launch herself into his arms, just to assure herself this wasn't a dream. Just to touch him, kiss him.
"I suggest we wait to talk until later, when I'm presentable," she said, in an effort to gain control of her rioting emotions.
"I didn't come here to chat."
A pair of obscenely expensive men's loafers stepped into the view afforded her through the face cradle, the hem of his charcoal trousers breaking perfectly on his vamps.
He splayed a hand on the small of her back, the heat of his palm sensuously electric, branding her, reminding her that the last time he'd touched her thusly she'd been awash with passion. Not that she needed a reminder.
But where she'd sensed his ardor before, she perceived his antagonism now. All directed at her.
His anger didn't bode well for what she must tell him.
"Then why are you here?" The tremor in her voice conveyed her trepidation and confusion.
"To claim what is mine."
She dug her fingernails into the armrest, likely scoring the butter-soft leather. Of course. He was here to haggle with her over the Chateau again.
Kira had expected this quarrel. Yet in her imaginings she'd been dressed and in control of her emotions, at the board meeting scheduled two weeks from now, not naked and quivering with apprehension and need. Surely she didn't wish to feel sexually receptive to him? But his presence commanded all her senses.
He glided a hand up her spine, sliding the blanket over her sensitized skin slowly, and the desire churning to life within her silenced the protests in her head. She gritted her teeth, fighting the feelings erupting in her: annoyance, desire, need.
It was a losing battle.
From the very first time they'd met she'd been in tune to his every breath, to the way he filled a room with his intensity. To the way his unique scent of spice tempered with the tang of the sea called to her, stripping her inhibitions bare.
His long fingers danced over her bared back in a silken caress, flooding her with unbidden memories of the intoxicating kisses that she'd craved, of masterful hands that had brought her to the pinnacle of pleasure and beyond, and lovemaking that had been more intense, more consuming than anything she'd experienced in her life.
That firm, yet gentle caress muddled her thinking. Her body reacted to him with shocking welcome, her breasts growing heavy, the sensitive nipples peaking.
She bit back a sigh of pleasure, her emotions roiling in utter turmoil. A heavy ache of want converged at the apex of her thighs, spreading upward, making her quake with desire. Damn him!
One caress had reduced her to a quivering wanton, sweeping her away on a wave of raw need. She detested his power over her. Hated the magnetism that drew her to the powerful throb of his touch.
Kira forced her voice to remain steady when her emotions were anything but. "This isn't the place to discuss business."
The crackle of paper echoed in the tense stillness. A pristine white sheet was thrust beneath the face cradle.
She huffed out an annoyed breath, expecting another deca-dently outlandish offer for the Chateau. Her gaze skimmed the header, and her stomach plummeted as her world tipped on its axis.
No! This couldn't be! She read each damning word, her racing heart nearly stopping as the meaning sank into her soul. How could she have believed her future was safe from his power, from his dominance?
"What trickery is this?" she asked.
"No tricks, ma chérie. I own majority shares in Chateau Mystique."
Impossible! Edouard's shares were to pass into her hands after his will was read in two weeks. He'd promised she'd have majority control of the hotel then.
Yet the document proved Edouard's shares had fallen into this arrogant billionaire's hands. She doubted its validity, even though her solicitor's signature was there, a signature she'd seen countless times. This couldn't have happened, yet it had.
She felt betrayed. Used. Abandoned all over again.
André controlled her hotel. Her home. And he'd control her if she let him.
His hand glided over her shoulders in a mock caress, the fingers playing her skin like a fine instrument. Only the dirge sang her doom. She trembled, her mind reeling, more furious than she'd ever been in her life.
He laughed, no doubt gloating over his conquest and her reaction to him, and her humiliation was absolute. "Get up."
Kira sprang up so fast the room spun. She clasped the blanket around her heaving chest and shook her head to toss her heavy hair away from her face, too gripped with shock and anger to feel satisfaction when his eyes flared with sensual awareness, with masculine appreciation.
At least they were alone. She'd read that whenever André left his island compound his trusted guard accompanied him. The brute was undoubtedly in the hall, making sure nobody interrupted his decadently wealthy employer.
Her gaze climbed André's tall, muscular form, clad in an impeccably tailored charcoal suit that shimmered in the artificial light. French, of course, the cut emphasizing his long powerful legs, lean hips and broad shoulders.
His snow-white shirt was a startling contrast against his darkly tanned skin, and his silvery tie complemented his platinum watchband that had probably cost more than what she earned in a year. His thick black hair was combed off his brow, his clothing meticulous, his bearing indomitable.
Her heart did a traitorous flutter as she remembered how much she'd savored having his powerful body molded to hers, those elegant hands bringing her to pleasure again and again. Drowning in the passion in his eyes as they'd made love.
It had been this way from the start. Less than two hours after she'd met him they'd had sex: hot, wild, urgent. There had been no love involved, only an overpowering attraction and an intense demanding need.
She'd never behaved so recklessly in her life. Never thought of the consequences of falling into André's bed.
Tell him the result of the affair, her mind screamed. Get it out in the open now.
Hands trembling, she dug her cold fingers into the blanket and met his eyes, such an intense dark brown they gleamed black. A dizzying rush of emotions slammed into her, staggering her with their strength. No, now wasn't the time.
"Get dressed," he said.
Kira turned her back to him and slipped a blue silk sundress over her flushed body, hating the way her hands shook and how her body pulsed and quivered with awareness of him. Though the garment she donned was modest, she felt exposed under his knowing stare. Vulnerable.
"I assume you expect to buy my shares now?" she said.
"They aren't for sale."
"You haven't heard my offer."
"I don't need to." She faced him, head high, her insides tangled in a riot of emotions. My God, he was an extraordinarily gorgeous mantall, bronzed, strong, like a god come to life. And he was just as arrogant, just as domineering.
"I'm not selling," she said.
One dark eyebrow lifted, as if challenging her statement. "Everyone has a price."
"We shall see." André nodded to the door. "After you."
"I'll say my goodbye to you here, and see you at the board meeting in two weeks."
His smile was glacial. "You're coming with me, ma chérie."
Her skin pebbled as a cloying sensation settled over her. "In your dreams," she said, hating the tremor in her voice.
A muscle pulsed madly in his cheek. "I'll carry you if I must, but we are returning to Petit St. Marc."
The island? Her heart stuttered, then began racing. "Why?"
"To trump your lover, ma chérie."
Had he gone mad? "Then you are wasting your time, because I don't have a lover."
"I know you've been doing Peter Bellamy's bidding from the start. Now it stops."
"Peter?" A hysterical laugh bubbled from her. "I assure you that I'm not his lover."
"Spare me your lies. I know the truth."
No, he couldn't be more wrong. But she realized that if he didn't believe her in this, he'd never believe he was the father of her child.
"I'm not going anywhere with you. Leave now or I'll"
He snapped his fingers and she jumped, slamming her back against the wall. "That's all it would take to have this hotel razed. Your shares would be worthless. Is that what you want?"
This was blackmail. Kidnapping at the very least! But to balk would bring about the destruction of her hotel.
"No," she said, knowing he wasn't bluffing. "But I can't leave the Chateau without making arrangements."
"You can and you will." His long fingers curled around her bare arm and he guided her out the door, his touch surprisingly gentle.
Yet she felt the underlying steel and rage in him and knew fighting was futile. And she was so weary already.
André was a man who took what he wanted, when he wanted. He'd proved that when he'd seduced her on Petit St. Marc. Proved it again when he'd swum in from the Caribbean like a great white shark and gobbled up control of the Chateau.
Yet she'd glimpsed another side of him on the islanda tenderness that had called to her heart, and a vulnerability she hadn't understood.
Yes, for now she'd return to the island with him. Perhaps there she'd find the right time to tell him about their child. Perhaps there she'd be able to reason with him about the Chateauconvince him she'd been robbed of her birthright. Perhaps in time they'd be able to start over.
André Gauthier stared at the deceptive woman walking down the corridor before him, her rounded hips rocking in an invitation that any red-blooded man would accept. No wonder Bellamy had given her forty-nine percent of Chateau Mystique.
Kira Montgomery was sex personified. She had certainly beguiled him with the oldest trick in the book.
He'd prided himself on his cool control under duress, nurtured it until it was second nature. It had never let him downuntil Kira had invaded his island three months ago.
André hadn't been surprised when Bellamy had sent a female employee to Petit St. Marc to charm him after his last offer to buy the Chateau had been turned down. The excuse that she'd come for a prearranged meeting had been a lie.
The old man had banked on Kira's charms and André's moment of grief to alter his ultimate goal. Or so André had believed.
It had worked. For that one night. Kira had pleaded her case with passion, and André had found himself caught up in the most stimulating debate of his life.
He hadn't realized the extend of her deceit until much later. The elder Bellamy hadn't sent herhis son had. Peter. His most fierce rival. Peterthe man he now suspected had set in motion events that had brought about the accident that had killed Edouard's mistress and landed Edouard in a hospital.
Kira was not only Peter's mistress, she was his accomplice as well. Old, she was the brains of the maneuver that had ultimately eliminated the old manthat had earned her control of Chateau Mystique.