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'Nash ! Good to see you, my friend. Thanks for dropping by at such short notice. I know you're a very busy man.'
His hand was gripped by the bearlike clasp of the tall, darkeyed, bearded giant in front of him, and Nash TaylorGrant's answering smile was brief but relaxed. 'No problem. You'd better tell me what all this is about.'
'I'll get my secretary to bring us in some coffee first.'
'You go ahead, but I'll take a raincheck, if you don't mind.' Nash grimaced as he peeled off his expensive coat and sat down in one of the leather club chairs opposite the long polished desk. 'Cutting down on the caffeine,' he offered laconically.
Nash hadn't known Oliver Beaumarche long, but in the relatively short time they'd been acquainted it had become clear that the wealthy and successful restaurateur was to be a good friend. Having regularly dined at both his upmarket London restaurantsfor business and for pleasureNash didn't hesitate to recommend the establishments to his other wellconnected friends whenever the opportunity arose.
Now Oliver had asked for Nash's help in a professional capacity, and although he hadn't hesitated to assure him that of course he would help, in whatever way he could, Nash was perplexed as to why the older man would need the kind of expertise that he particularly excelled in. 'Damage limitation' was how his stock in trade was known in the PR businessthe protection of famous clients' reputations in the mediaand it had made Nash's fortune. And, whilst Oliver Beaumarche was a respected and wellknown name in the world of highprofile eateries, he was hardly an Alist or even Blist celebrityand as far as Nash was aware he hadn't been involved in any scandal lately that would make his reputation in need of rescuing.
'Well, then.' Following his lead, Oliver lowered his large, impressive frame into a wingbacked chair and sighed heavily. 'Someone I very much care about has been going through the most horrendous situation and needs some help. Unfortunately it's not the kind of help that I can deal with on my own, and that's why I need to talk to you.'
His lightly tanned brow furrowing, Nash leant forward in his seat, loosely linking his hands together as he thoughtfully surveyed the other man. 'It all sounds a bit of a mystery, if you don't mind my saying. You know what I do so how can I help?'
'The girl I'm talking about is my niece my sister Yvette's only child. I'm afraid I've rather doted on her since she was a baby, and when she lost her father when she was only sixI suppose I took on a paternal role in her life.'
'You aren't making this any clearer, my friend.' Now it was Nash's turn to sigh. As much as he respected the other man, and genuinely wanted to be of assistance if he could, he had practically backtoback appointments waiting for him at the office all the way up to seven o'clock this evening, and after that an important dinner with another valuable client. He sat back in his chair and swept his fingers through his hair, the floppily perfect dark blond strands falling back at an unconsciously rakish angle.
'Perhaps I should introduce her? Then no doubt all will become clear.' Getting to his feet, Oliver walked across to a door situated a few feet behind his desk and opened it. 'It's all right, darling you can come in now,' he invited warmly.
The frown that was already furrowing Nash's perplexed brow deepened. He hardly knew what to expect before the slender darkeyed brunette walked in. When she did, immediately he felt adrenalin pump through his insides, as though he was on a whiteknuckle fairground ride. Although her exotic features were touched with just a mere application of makeup, and the plain dark grey suit she wore over a red wool sweater was not an outfit that was designed to demand attention, the face before him was immediately familiar. Freya Carpenteran actress whose star had definitely been on the rise up until a couple of years ago, when there had been untold speculation in the press about her volatile marriage and her addiction to drink and possibly drugs.
Nash had met her once, at some celebrity bash he'd gone to, and although she'd looked more than sober enough at the time he'd been struck by how remote she'd appeared amidst the sea of wellknown facesas though the entire experience was an ordeal she'd really like to escape from. No.at that particular event it had been Freya's husband who'd been drinking too much and generally making a damn nuisance of himself. Nash remembered musing on how such a talented, beautiful girl could end up with such a loser. But if the rumours about her drinking and drug using were true, then clearly the woman's capacity for making good choices as far as her personal life was concerned was very definitely flawed.
Now, as he got to his feet and offered her his hand in greeting, of course he instantly knew why she might be in need of his help. Apart from the damage done to her reputation by accusations of drinking and drugtaking, two years ago Freya had also gone through the most horrendous divorcean event that had been nothing less than trial by the media, and which had consequently lost her an important part in a major film because the producers had commented at the time that she was unstable. Then, just over a year ago, she had reportedly almost got herself killed in a car smash. Her exhusband had very vocally reinforced the public perception that she'd been high on drink and drugs at the time. She'd been supposedly mourning their split, and the fact that he had left her for some nineteenyearold fashion model who was pregnant with his baby.
Reading between the lines, and recalling her solemn face at that party whilst her husband had commanded most of the attention with his loudmouthed antics, Nash now came to the conclusion that there was a hell of a lot more behind that story than the public had been led to believe. The young woman standing before him might have gone off the rails in her personal life, but she was still an actress with some highly notable roles to her name. She'd even graced the London stage a couple of times, and won critical praise bar none, so she was no bimbo just in it for the fame. That made it even more puzzling that she had wound up with a disaster like James Frazier.
The most recent slur to suddenly reignite frenzied interest in the actress had been speculation about her mental stability, and it had had the press camping out in droves on her doorstep for the past week. The story went that Freya Carpenter was all washed up: she'd suffered a major breakdown and was not likely to return to the stage or screen any time soon. Yes.it was obvious to Nash why Oliver Beaumarche's famous niece might urgently need the help of a man like him.
'Freya, this is Nash TaylorGrant,' Oliver introduced her.
Warily, it seemed, she placed her chilled palm in his, and Nash saw her flinch as if contact with another human beingany human beingwas tantamount to putting her hand into a tank of piranhas. Vaguely troubled, he volunteered a smile nonetheless. 'We've met before, Ms Carpenter a long time ago at a party. I doubt that you'd remember.'
'I thought you looked familiar although I have to say I can't recall the particular party.' Quickly withdrawing her hand, she pulled her glance away with it and went to sit in the seat that her uncle had positioned for her near his, her quick, light movements naturally graceful.
Once the men had resumed their seats, Oliver Beaumarche glanced very seriously at Nash. 'You will now have some idea as to why we need your help. I never told you about my connection with Freya before because naturally, as someone who cares very deeply about her welfare, my need to protect her privacy has always been paramount,' he commented, stealing a moment to smile at the reserved brunette. 'But now Freya wants to start rebuilding her career after the trauma she has been through, and she cannot do so unhindered while her unscrupulous exhusband is still busy doing his utmost to undo every bit of good that she is trying so hard to achieve. Look at what has happened now, for instance! She has been nothing less than a prisoner in her own home after all this ridiculous nonsense in the press about her state of mind, and I do not doubt for a minute that the rumours were started by that goodfornothing, unspeakable'
'Please don't think that I am totally blaming my exhusband for my recent lack of success, Mr TaylorGrant,' Freya interjected quietly and her mesmerising, slightly smoky voice had the disarming effect of making all the hairs on the back of Nash's neck stand on end. 'I take full responsibility for what's happening in my life. It's my uncle who seems to believe that my reputation needs some helpthough if you ask me after this latest fiasco I think it would probably be better if I just go quietly away somewhere and disappear until everybody forgets about me.'
An ironic little smile touched a mouth that was undeniably tinged with sadness yet still suggested the most riveting sensuality. As though hypnotised, Nash felt his gaze magnetised by it. He shifted ever so slightly in his seat. 'I don't think anyone who has read the papers or heard the news in the past couple of years would deny that your reputation has definitely taken a bit of a battering, Ms Carpenter. Nonetheless I'm certain that there must be a lot of public sympathy out there for your predicament.'
A shadow of distress seemed to pass across her arresting features. Her slender shoulders stiffened beneath her unremarkable fitted jacket and her velvety brown eyes stared almost accusingly at Nash. 'I'm not looking for sympathy, Mr TaylorGrant! And I'm not mentally unstable either! I'm angry, but then I think I have a right to be! Look.all I want is to be able to get on with my life again without interference. Can you imagine what it's been like being literally hounded by a pack of storyhungry reporters and photographers? If I did have a breakdown, could anybody blame me?'
'I don't think they could. It can't be pleasant,' Nash concurred.
'Besides… why should the public have sympathy for someone they believe had everything and then threw it all away because she let her private life go to rack and ruin? They probably think I got exactly what I deserved!'
'I'd hardly call a major car accident and defamation of character by someone I presume must have loved you once upon a time something that you "deserved" Would you?'
His words were like a cutlass, slicing her in half, and for a long, dreadful moment Freya was frozen by the wave of pain that throbbed sharply through her. Did he but know it, he was wrong about James loving her. Oh, his passionate words and declarations of being crazy in love with her had definitely convinced Freya that he was in earnest at the time, but she had quickly discovered that lies and deceit came very easily to himespecially when employed to get him whatever it was that would serve his own greedy ambition. But still Freya had to silently admit that she'd been complicit in all too easily believing his lies.
'Freya?' Her uncle's unfailingly kind eyes regarded her with more concern than she could handle right then. He'd been so good to her so patient. And she wished that not even one single ounce of her predicament had ever visited its pain upon his heart.
'I'm fine really. But if I'm honest ' She glanced at Nash and made herself endure the unflinching examination in his piercing blue gazean examination that seemed to reach deep inside her and see her soul laid bare Was he looking to gain some advantage? she wondered. She'd learned the hard way to be wary in a profession that raised you up to the skies one minute and then sent you crashing back down to earth onto a bed of redhot nails the next. Her uncle was too trusting for his own good sometimes. How long had he known this PR guru, anyway? Not long, was her guess. Though it was perfectly true that she remembered seeing Nash before even though her comment about forgetting which party they'd met at had probably convinced him that she was probably too drunk or high at the time to remember.
Freya had been neither, and a flash of anger and despair assailed her. But, recalling the encounter with Nash, she remembered she'd certainly observed at the time that the man possessed an almost careless kind of male beauty and a sexual aura that was magnetising. She also recalled that the lissom beauty who had accompanied him that night had poured herself into the kind of tightfitting dress that had made Freya wonder how she even breathed in it, let alone moved! The woman had spent practically the entire evening gazing up at her escort adoringly, as if there was no other man in the room but him.