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It was done.
Danielle Sinclair let out the breath she'd unconsciously been holding all day and thrust the snowy bridal bouquet of lilies, freesias and baby's breath into a hand–blown glass vase on her dressing table. Kim was safely married. At last.
After years spent looking out for her sister, dragging her out of endless scrapes, Kim was no longer her problem. Kim had a husband—and Danielle could relax.
The wedding of the year had been an ornate, A–list occasion frothing with white lace, formal flower arrangements and French champagne. Not exactly what Danielle had expected of her wild–child sister. Yet Kim had glowed in a stylishly unKim designer gown, her fiery hair framing her willful—yet unexpectedly pale—face.
As the festivities had drawn to a close, Kim had turned, scanned the crowd, then flung the bouquet straight into Danielle's unsuspecting arms. Clutching the blooms and enveloped with their heady perfume, Danielle had stood statue still. Catching a bouquet was not going to land her a groom–and certainly not the man of her dreams. If life had been that easy she'd have done exactly what Kim had done—spent wedding after wedding clawing like an agile cat at tumbling flowers, until it brought her the man she'd sought.
Danielle only hoped Bradley Lester, the CEO of her father's company and her newly acquired brother–in–law, knew what he'd let himself in for. But Kim deserved a slice of happiness—after the humiliation and misery Rico D'Alessio had put her through four years ago.
No. She wasn't thinking about that man on Kim's special day. He could burn in hell forall she cared! Danielle glanced at her wafer–thin gold watch. By now Kim and Bradley should be comfortably ensconced in the Hilton's Premier King suite overlooking the luxurious superyachts berthed in Auckland's Viaduct Basin. Tomorrow they'd fly out for a slice of tropical heaven in Fiji.
Danielle unpinned her hair and gave her aching head a shake. Oh, bliss. A swathe of mouse–mixed–with–toffee whispered across her shoulders. The pins tinkled from her fingers into the dresser drawer, and she nudged the drawer shut with her knee before shimmying out of the tight magenta taffeta sheath she'd worn all day. Out of habit she hooked the dress onto a hanger—even though she'd never wear it again.
The deep, rich colour wasn't her choice. She'd have gone for a cool aqua or an elegant iced blue. But who argued with a bride? Especially one everyone wanted to see settled.
A quick bath to soak away the aches from the too–high shoes and the forced, social smile she'd worn all day, and then she'd see what her father wanted to talk about. Perhaps she'd even get a chance to look over the report she'd finalised yesterday before she went to bed.
Work was something she understood far better than weddings.
"What the devil do you want, D'Alessio?"
To take you and your daughter to hell with me. But instead of declaring his intent, Rico D'Alessio ignored Robert Sinclair's demand and towered over the wide desk that would've dwarfed an ordinary room. Here, in the immense space of Sinclair's study in the Paritai Drive mansion, the desk barely filled a corner. With scarcely a glance at the splendour surrounding him, Rico slowly and deliberately placed the knuckles of his clenched fists on the antique desk and glared at the man on the other side.
Rico had to give Sinclair credit. The older man didn't cower in the face of six foot three of taut muscle. Nor did he quiver as the sole heir to countless generations of hot Italian D'Alessio blood leaned further forward.
Then Sinclair blinked.
So his former mentor was nervous. Rico narrowed his gaze as Sinclair glanced past him to check that the minions were in place. Rico wasn't particularly worried by the presence of David Matthews, Sinco's top legal eagle. Nor was he concerned about the young bit of muscle packing a gun who stood beside Matthews shivering like a whippet ready for action. But the dark, thick–set man across the room was another story. Ken Pascal would be the man to watch.
The glimmer of sweat beading Sinclair's brow gave Rico intense satisfaction. Sinclair was going to sweat a lot more before this was over.
"I told you on the telephone yesterday that I'd compensate you." Robert Sinclair gestured to a pile of paperwork in a wooden tray at the edge of the vast desk. "Sign the contract David Matthews has prepared and I'll arrange for a lump sum to be transferred to an account—anywhere in the world."
Rico clenched his jaw. "No sum of money you pay me could make up for what I've lost."
A frown creased Robert Sinclair's brow. "So what do you want?"
Rico decided to go for broke. "Everything!" "Everything?" For the first time the other man looked disconcerted. "What do you mean, everything?"
Sinclair was good, damned good. But good wouldn't be enough. Only a couple of days after receiving the call from his lawyer, Rico had flown to stand by his ailing father's bedside and endured his plea for a grandson. Later the same day, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Milan, his heart swelling with pain and unforgotten grief, Rico had sworn revenge. On Lucia's grave. For the first time in four years he had a mission: to return to New Zealand and make Robert Sinclair and his daughter pay. Already one of his goals had been thwarted: Kim was married.
Rico gave Sinclair a slow, menacing smile, allowing it to widen as the first hint of naked fear darkened the older man's steel–grey eyes. "You have a problem understanding the word everything?" Rico asked, his tone softly mocking. "Perhaps we can find a dictionary that can define the word?" He arched a black eyebrow. "Or it's my accent, hmm, that you are not able to understand?"
Sinclair set his chin pugnaciously. "Your English is impeccable, D'Alessio. How could it be anything else—after a decade in New Zealand?"
Rico shifted onto the balls of his feet, the desire to punch the other man rising through him. With effort he restrained himself. He had no intention of getting himself arrested. Even though he didn't give a damn about much anymore. "So what exactly is it that you do not understand?" he murmured, and gave Sinclair a reckless, don't–care smile for good measure.
More tiny droplets of sweat sprang out across the other man's brow. "What do you want?"
"I want my shares in Sinco Security returned and compensation for what I've lost."
"Done." Relief made Sinclair's voice gruff.
"And I want more."
"How much?" Sinclair looked at Rico as if he resembled something nasty and scaly that had crawled out from under a log. Rico curled his fists, fighting the fury and pain that threatened to make him run mad. So Sinclair still thought he could be bought! Rico's lip curled. Robert Sinclair's wealth had once lured him like the vision of a mirage to a thirsty explorer. Now he no longer needed Robert Sinclair or Sinco Security. He possessed a fortune beyond Sinclair's wildest dreams.
A fortune he hadn't wanted for the price he'd paid.
But Sinclair didn't know that. Sinclair thought he was dealing with a rootless wanderer he'd driven into exile. Through tight lips, Rico said, "I don't want your bloody money."
"So what do you want, D'Alessio?" Sinclair fired the staccato words at him.
If Sinclair only knew…
Rico thought for an instant, floundering to find the words he might have used four years ago, before he lost all respect for the man opposite. The answer came in an instant. He met Sinclair's shrewd metallic eyes. "I want my place on the Sinco board back." He deserved it—he'd worked his guts out to help build Sinco Security into what it was today. It had been he who had come up with the idea of providing supersecurity to the wealthy making Sinco a force to be reckoned with in the Australasian–Pacific region. "And, damn it, I don't just want any position, I want to be CEO."
"Impossible—that position is already filled." Deep lines snaked across the older man's forehead. "Come on, D'Alessio. I'm a reasonable man and I'm trying my utmost to accommodate you."
Abruptly Rico stood and headed for the door. "Where are you going?" Sinclair sounded alarmed.
Rico swung around and raked a lean hand through his hair, his fingers smoothing the overlong locks into an illusion of order. "To get some photos taken. There'll be a high demand for them in the morning papers. Oh, and perhaps I'll call some television channels. See who'll make the best offer." He threw Sinclair a careless smile. "Ciao—for now."
Of course, he had no intention of selling his story to the tabloids. But Sinclair didn't know that. As Rico turned toward the door, he could hear Sinclair grinding his teeth. Satisfaction curled through Rico when Sinclair spoke from behind him. "Don't be so hasty, D'Alessio."
Rico stopped dead and swivelled on his heel, insolence loaded into every move. No doubt Sinclair had never had to beg in his life before.
But he'd learn.
Later, bathed and dressed, all the professionally applied makeup carefully cleansed away, the gooey hairspray and mousse washed out of her hair, Danielle felt refreshed and relaxed enough to turn her mind to her father. Robert Sinclair was a man who thought of little but work. After returning home, instead of celebrating Kim's wedding over a glass of champagne with his remaining daughter, he'd tersely told Danielle he wanted to see her in an hour in his study.
A frown furrowing her brow, Danielle smoothed the crinkle cotton fabric of the white dress she'd donned. She was late. Twenty minutes late. And her father hated being kept waiting. But for once she took pleasure in dallying, a hint of unaccustomed rebellion stirring inside her.
Kim had always been the wild one. Several years ago Danielle had tried to escape the prison the beautiful mansion had become, but her father had blocked every attempt she'd made to move out to a flat with old school friends. Eventually her girlfriends had given up on her, pursued their own lives, leaving her behind, still living with Daddy.
Danielle grimaced. How incredibly stupid she'd been—not paying attention to how isolated she'd become. There'd been her degree to complete—plus the unremitting pressure from her father to attain top marks.
And, of course, she'd also had her hands full with Kim painting Auckland red, ricocheting from one crisis to the next, while Danielle damage–controlled behind her, hiding the worst of her sister's high jinxes, wheedling with Kim's minders not to report her sister's excesses. How much her father knew she couldn't tell. More than she suspected, no doubt—because he'd used Kim as another hold over her.
She'd been the submissive daughter for so long, it had become habit.
Even as she made her way to the door of her suite, the shrill ring of the phone stopped her in her tracks. That would be her father, ordering her to hurry. Resentment warred with the urge to obey. For three shrill rings she considered ignoring the summons, then the ingrained habits of a lifetime kicked in and, with a sigh, she crossed the thick cream carpet to answer it.
"Kim?" Danielle failed to hide her astonishment as her sister's voice greeted her. "What's wrong?"
Kim was babbling. "Try not to hate me. I couldn't live with it all hanging over me. Not when I was so happy. I had to do something."
Oh, no. "Whoa, slow down." Danielle tried desperately to make sense of the fractured statements. "What have you done?" She bit back the damning this time.
Silence. Then, "Hasn't Daddy told you yet?" "Told me?" A longer, more ominous silence. Danielle took a deep, calming breath and counted to three. "No. He's called some sort of meeting, but wanted to see me first. I should go. I'm already late."
"He's going to tell you." The jagged sound of her sister's gasp came over the line, causing Danielle more concern.
"Daddy will tell you." The phone clicked.
"Kim…?" Danielle called desperately.
But the line had gone dead.
Danielle set the handset down, the relaxing calm from a soak in fragrant bubbles evaporating like hope before a raging fire.