Bankrupt, homeless and alone, Lorelei St. James is an heiress on the edge. Yet she hides her desperation behind her glossy blond hair and even brighter smile. Getting lectured on her driving by a hot-temperedand ridiculously attractivestranger will not be what shatters her carefully crafted facade!
Legendary Australian racing driver Nash Blue knows a thing or two about pride and sees straight through Lorelei's polished front. Her vulnerabilities play havoc with his concentration. Never shy of a challenge, he begins his biggest yet: unwrapping the real Lorelei St. James .
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INNOCENT IN THE IVORY TOWER
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Nash as a rule didn't court publicity, so meeting with a publicist went against the grain. But this was for a charity event and he couldn't very well say no.
'I'll meet her at the American Bar in the Hotel de Paris.'
He checked his watch as he approached his low slung Bugatti Veyron.
'I'll be with Demarche until one. I can give her a couple of minutes in the bar. I'll try to make it, but she may have to cool her heels.'
It was one of the few perks of fame. People would wait. He hooked the door of the Veyron and idled for a moment, looking out over the calm Mediterranean water.
Cullinan was talking about seating.
'No, mate, don't book a table. This is a five-minute job. Nobody will be sitting down.'
Blue's management team was headed up by John Cullinan, a savvy Irishman Nash had used in his early racing career when he was thrust onto the world stage. John had protected him from the worst of the media for over a decade and he trusted him to deal fairly with the public and handle the professionals.
He'd need him in the coming weeks. There was already intense speculation about his future. He hadn't said a word during the running of the Grand Prix here in Monaco in
May, but somehow just his presence trackside with current Eagle heavyweight Antonio Abruzzi had sent the media into a frenzy. Not that it took much. Meat in the water and the piranhas swarmed. That was why this meeting with the construction firm Eagle was taking place in the privacy of a hotel room and security barracudas on both sides had elaborate lock-down procedures in place.
He ended the call and jumped into the Veyron, keen to get out of town.
The flip of a wrist and he had the engine purring. His deep-set blue-grey eyes, which one female sports commentator had called 'lethal blue' as if they not only needed colour coding but branding, assessed the traffic and he pulled away from outside the corporate offices of the business that had been his heart and soul for five years.
He had just tied up a deal with Swiss-based car manufacturer Avedon to produce Blue 22, and whilst every vehicle design was a rush this was the car he'd first conceptualised back in his racing days, when nobody would have taken him seriously if he'd spilled his guts on his future plans.
Fortunately he'd never been overly chatty. Being raised by a mean drunk who'd seen a kid's prattle as an excuse to deal out backhanders had bred in him the habit of silence. To the public he was notoriously impenetrable. 'Self-contained,' one journalist reported. 'A cold sonafabitch,' countered a disenchanted former lover.
But, however else he was perceived, the world took him seriously nowadays even when they weren't intrusively curious. At thirty-four, he'd survived as a professional in one of the most dangerous sports in the world for almost a decade before retiring in a blaze of gloryand unlike so many sports pros he'd parlayed his expertise and a passionate love of design into a second career.
An extremely successful second career.
One that overshadowed whatever fame he'd had as a driverwhich had been his intention. He could command any price for his work and right now he was in demandat the top of an elite field of specialists.
Yet he was restless, there was no denying that, and several times in the last year he'd caught himself asking the fateful question: What next?
But he knew the answer to that question. It was why the Eagle head honchos had flown in last night.
Yeah, he wanted back in the game, but this time on his own terms. His twenties had gone past in a rush of track groupies and speed as he'd raced against the world's best and outraced his own demons. He'd known when it was time to stop. He also knew this time it would be different. He wasn't a boy any more. His feelings about racing had undergone a change. He had nothing to prove.
The road cleared. He changed gear and took off up the hill.
He had a date this morning up on the Point, with a genuine glamour-girl car who had it all over this newer model he was driving, and even the stumbling block of dealing with meetings all afternoon couldn't dull the edge of what promised to be a very nice find. She was reported to be a sweet little number, with curves aplenty, an alloriginal and he was finally going to see what the fuss was about.
She'd only recently come on the market, and Nash knew he'd have to move quickly, but he didn't buy without handling the merchandise.
He'd flown in to Monaco that morning after twenty-four hours in the air to hear the news that the owner had loaned her out but she'd be available to look at this afternoon. With the morning to kill he'd decided to take the opportunity to run up the hill and possibly rescue the poor thing from whatever indignities had been visited upon her overnight.
The place overlooked the baynice and exclusive. But what address wasn't exclusive in this town? The house had a little fame for being a silent-film actress's hideaway in the twenties and he was a little curious to see it. He'd driven past many times, but this was the first occasion he'd had to turn in, idling at the gateswhich, to his surprise, were wide open. Security was usually pretty tight in this neck of the woods.
As he eased the sports car down the linden lined gravel drive he slowed to a creep, taking in the state of disrepair. Masses of flowering bougainvillaea couldn't hide the fact that the old place needed a face-job.
And then he saw her.
Nash barely had his car at a standstill before he was out, slamming the door, advancing on the object of his desire. Sticking out of a flowerbed.
A 1931 Bugatti T51, currently upended in a parterre of small flowered bushes. As if to add to the indignity one of its doors was hanging open.
Every muscle in his body stiffened. He wasn't angry. He was beyond anger.
He was appalled.
But he was a man who had made self-control a byword. He reined in the furyknew it needed to be directed where it could do some good.
Coming towards him was a rotund man in garden greens, shaking his arms towards the sky as if inviting divine intercession.
'Monsieur! Un accident avec la voiture!' Yeah, that was one way of putting it. And that was when the shouting started.
Lorelei St James came awake with a languorous stretch, sliding her bare arms over silken sheets, revelling sensuously in the luxurious comfort. She made a 'mmph' sound, rolled over and buried her face in the pillow, prepared to sleep away the day, if that were possibleonly to hear a deep male voice raised in anger somewhere outside her bedroom terrace.
Ignore it, she decided, snuggling in.
The voice lifted.
She snuggled a bit more.
She wrinkled her nose.
Sighing, Lorelei pushed her satin sleep mask haphazardly up her forehead and winced as she copped an eyeful of bright Mediterranean sunshine. The room did a rinse-cycle spin around herno doubt the product of too much champagne, inadequate sleep and enough financial trouble to sink this house around her ears.
She shoved thoughts about the latter to the back of her mind even as her heart began to beat the band, and she felt about for a glass of water to ease the Sahara Desert that was her throat this morning. She was greeted by a clatter as she clumsily knocked her watch, her cell phone and a tangle of assorted jewellery to the stone floor.
Easing herself into a sitting position, pushing the fall of chin-length blond curls out of her eyes, Lorelei wrinkled her nose and held on to the mattress as the room did another gentle spin.
I will never drink again, she vowed. Although if I do, she revised, only champagne cocktails and at a pinch G&T's.
As if sensing she was at her most vulnerable, the phone on the floor gave a judder and began to vibrate. Her heart did that annoying leap and race thing again. She made a pained face. When the phone rang nowadays there was usually somebody angry on the other end
To dissuade her from getting out of bed it stopped, but the muted sound of male voices coming up from below her terrace lifted to a crescendo. This was what had woken her. Men shouting. Some sort of altercation going on.
Surely she didn't have to deal with this, too? Not today
But without the catering staff from last night there was only Giorgio and his wife, Terese, and it was unfair to expect them to deal with interlopers. They'd had a lot of them in the past few weeksall of them creditors, hunting her down now that her father Raymond was banged up in a low-security prison.
As if she had a cent to her name after two years of legal fees.
It wasn't that she was exactly ignoring her problemsshe preferred to think of it as delegating responsibility. She'd deal with the phone calls later, and the emails and the lawyers who wanted her signature on a mountain of documents. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. It was just such a nice day. The sun was shining. She shouldn't ruin it. One more day in paradise and then she'd pay the piper.
Just one more day.
And then she remembered. Not only did she have a client booked in at noon, she had an appointment this afternoon at the Hotel de Paris. It was about her grandmother's charity: the Aviary Foundation. Every year they hosted an event to raise money for cancer research.
This year the feature was a one-day vintage car rally, and a famous racing driver would be giving kids struggling with cancer the pleasure of a spin around the track in a high-powered vehicle. Their usual publicist was ill, and the foundation's president had personally asked her to do the meet-and-greet with their guest celebrity.
She squeezed her temples. She hadn't even done any research. What if he expected her to know his stats? She could barely balance her own chequebook.
Last year they had lined up a Hollywood actor who famously had a home here in Monaco. Now, that one would have been easywatch a few films, gush Everyone knew actors had egos like mountains. Frowning, she contemplated racing-car drivers. Weren't they kind of like cowboys? She pictured swagger and ego in equal dimensions. Blah.
Reaching for the eau de nil silk evening gown crumpled at the foot of her bed, Lorelei tugged it over her head. Really, she was happy to do the meet-and-greetshe'd do anything the Aviary Foundation asked of herjust not today
She gave a shriek as something small and furry tunnelled its way onto her lap, claws digging into her flesh.
'Fifi,' she admonished, pulling the silk to her waist, 'behave, ma chere.'
Lifting her beloved baby, she buried her face in a ball of white fluff.
'Now, be good and stay here. Maman has things to attend to.'
Fifi sat up expectantly in the pool of white silk sheets, curious eyes on her mistress as she opened the French doors and went to step outside. Lorelei doubled back as she remembered she wasn't wearing any underwear. She wasn't prudish about her body, but she knew Giorgio was conservative and she didn't want to embarrass him unnecessarily.
Belting her robe at the waist, Lorelei wandered out onto the terrace. It was going to be another one of those perfect early September days, and she inhaled the briny breeze filled with lavender and rosemary scents from the garden. She most definitely didn't want to go and sort this out. As she weaved her way down the stone steps, pulling her sunglasses into place, she told herself that whoever it was couldn't do anything worse than yell at her.
But it wasn't easy being shouted at, and she wondered if she was ever going to become inured to other people's anger. In her defence, she'd been facing more than her fair share latelyand it wasn't getting any easier. Maybe she was suffering from overload, because this morning it felt harder than ever. But Giorgio didn't deserve this either, and the buck had to stop somewhere.
It would just be nice if for once it didn't stop with her.
Lorelei saw the Bugatti first and her heart sank. How on earth had it ended up in the garden? On second thoughts, she had a pretty good idea.
And then she saw the man who had disturbed her slumber.
He was. She was.
Lorelei was vaguely aware that her mouth had formed a little 'oh' of wonder. In the next instant she remembered that she hadn't run a brush through her hair, she wasn't wearing any make-up and her panties were upstairs.
Too late now. He'd spotted her.
She couldn't do anything about her wrinkled evening gown, but she smoothed her sleep-mussed hair, glad of the shadeswhich this morning were hiding a thousand sins. She tried to remember that even if she wasn't looking her best she wasn't without her own certain charm.
Besides, men were so easy.
He headed over, all six foot forever of him, with shoulders that would have served a linebacker, a deep chest, a lean waist, tight hips and long, powerful legsand one of those classically handsome faces that made her think of old-time movie stars.
Lorelei knew better than to be a sitting target. She took the initiative and approached the Bugatti, giving her scowling uninvited guest her back view, which she knewthanks to riding and an hour a day on her Stairmasterwasn't bad, and came up with her best line.
'Goodness me,' she drawled, 'there's a car in my rose bushes.'
On the other hand, maybe humour hadn't been the best direction to take this in. As she listened to the crunch of gravelbig, heavy male footsteps coming up behind her Lorelei experienced that sinking feeling: the one that told her she'd read the situation all wrong.
Giorgio's expression told her to duck and cover, but after a brief, desperate glance at the older man she decided to stay where she was. It wasn't her style to cut and run, and she'd come this farshe just needed to brazen it out. And the guy had stopped shouting, which was encouraging.
'Are you responsible for this?'
Lorelei took in three things. He was Australian, he had a voice that made Russell Crowe sound like a choirboy, andas she turned around and looked up into a set masculine facehe clearly wasn't in any mood to be amused or charmed. She couldn't blame him. The car did look pretty bad.
''Are you?' he repeated, snapping off his aviators and revealing a pair of spectacular eyesnavy blue rimmed with grey, surrounded by dense, thick, dark lashes.
Those eyes. They were sort of amazing. Lorelei couldn't help gazing helplessly back.
Except they pinned her like a blade to a dissection board. She could almost feel him deciding which part of her to excise first. She came back to earth with a thump and tried to ignore the pinch in her chest. It was a look she was becoming depressingly familiar with of late, and it didn't mean anything, she told herself. She would have thought she'd be used to it by now.
He shoved the aviators into the back pocket of his jeans and settled his arms by his sidesstance widened, pure masculine intimidation.
'Anything to say for yourself?'
He was pumping out lots of frustrated testosterone, which was making her a little nervous, but she couldn't really blame him. He wanted another man to punch on the nose and he'd got her.
He clearly didn't know what to do about that.
She lifted a trembling hand and smoothed down her hair.
'Are you high, lady?'
Lorelei was so busy staying her ground that his questions hadn't quite penetrated, but now that he was turning away the last one landed on her with a thump.
But the guy was already focussing his entire attention back on the car, his hands on those lean, muscled hips of his as he eyed the Bugatti nose-deep in the rose bushes.
Giorgio was muttering in Italian, and the guy said something to him in his own language. Before her eyes the men appeared to be bonding over their shared outrage about the car. Freed from that penetrating stare, Lorelei frowned.
This wasn't how the man-meets-Lorelei scenario was supposed to play out. Her Italian was minimal, at best, and she didn't like the feeling of being forcibly held at bay by her inability to understand what was being said.
She was also a little piqued at being ignored.
And she most definitely didn't like being intimidated.
She cocked a hip, one slender hand resting just below her waist.
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Got to read it
We all hide from ourselves and others but these two finally figured out what made the other click. Sweet and cute. Read and enjoy.