Socialite's Gamble (Harlequin Presents Series #3249)

Socialite's Gamble (Harlequin Presents Series #3249)

by Michelle Conder

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Original)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373132553
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Series: Harlequin Presents Series , #3249
Edition description: Original
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

From as far back as she can remember Michelle Conder dreamed of being a writer. She penned the first chapter of a romance novel just out of high school, but it took much study, many (varied) jobs, one ultra-understanding husband and three gorgeous children before she finally sat down to turn that dream into a reality.

Michelle lives in Australia, and when she isn’t busy plotting she loves to read, ride horses, travel and practise yoga. Visit Michelle: www.michelleconder.com

Read an Excerpt

By rights Cara should have felt like she was on top of the world.

And she had been yesterday when her agent had informed her that she had won the lucrative Demarche cosmetic contract that would take her modelling career in a more serious direction.

On some level Cara still couldn't believe her agent had pulled it off and she probably wouldn't relax until the big announcement was made at a glitzy event in London the following Sunday evening. Eight days from now.

It was going to be such a big deal that despite all her experience in the public eye, Cara knew that she would be nervous on the night. Especially when things had a tendency to go wrong for her at peak moments in her life and she had no idea why.

Not that she would let anything get in the way this time. Her agent had worked really hard to paint Cara in the best light possible. To explain that she had changed, that she was no longer the Chatsfield wild child and all-round party girl but a young woman who was revered by others around the world.

Cara secretly thought that had been pushing it a bit but Harriet Harland genuinely believed in her and Cara would not let her down. Especially after so many people had tried to distance themselves from her after that hideous rock video she had mistakenly agreed to appear in last year. Before the censorship board had pulled it, it had come with an R rating, but naturally, it had gone viral before then.

Cara had thought that she would never get a decent job again after that. Certainly that's what her father had implied.

Which brought her right back to why she couldn't yet bask in the glow of her big win. She was late. Seriously late.

Not entirely her fault because, really, who could have predicted that she'd get stuck on the tarmac at LAX for five hours due to an unexpected electrical storm that had hung over the city like a bad smell.

And by the look of the teeming rain outside she supposed she was lucky the plane had even landed in Vegas and not been rerouted to, say…Uzbekistan!

That would be more in keeping with the day she was having.

Probably she shouldn't have even detoured from London to LA but when she'd been told that she had to go to Vegas, she'd wanted to stop off and take her agent to lunch. Somehow lunch had turned into a private celebratory party and…well, she wouldn't waste time regretting it. No one other than her siblings had ever shown her any support in her life and Harriet had said it was important.

'More important than tonight,' she grumbled, wanting to kiss the aisle as the line of passengers started to shuffle towards the exit doors.

Poker was hardly noteworthy even if the game she was supposed to hostess later that night at one of her father's flagship hotels had the largest buy-in of any casino in the western world. It was only a game.

Glancing at the time on her phone she shoved it back into her shoulder bag and strode down the aerobridge. One hour.

One hour that apparently included a thirty-minute taxi ride from McCarran International to the glittering diamond on the Las Vegas strip—the Chatsfield International.

It had once had the reputation as the best casino in Las Vegas. Her father's recent appointment of the new CEO—the gorgeous but arrogant Christos Giatrakos—was an attempt to re-establish that. In fact, Christos had been given the task of revamping all the Chatsfield Hotels and thereby restore the family name to its former glory.

Former before her mother had walked out on them all years ago and her father had found the bottle and his next mistress. Now he'd met yet another woman and—surprise, surprise—he had found a new lease on life.

Christos, who took his job far too seriously in Cara's mind, had deemed that all her siblings had to be involved. Something all of them had resented as much as she did!

Rightly, or wrongly, the family business interested her about as much as moving into a nuclear-waste facility.

And she wasn't above admitting, at least to herself, that it had hurt when Christos had emailed to 'inform' her that he was sending her to Vegas to hostess some important high-rollers' poker game—supposedly the hottest ticket on the Chatsfield's gambling calendar—because deep down she knew that he was just trying to get her out of the way so that her siblings could get on with the more serious tasks.

Cara would have liked to have told him to go to hell when he had suggested it but beneath the implicit threat that she'd be cut off from her inheritance, just like her siblings, something had stopped her. There had been a tone to his words that implied that she couldn't do it. That the 'wild child' wasn't as good as her older siblings. It had raised her hackles and made her want to show him. And her father. Not that her father would say anything if she did a good job. He probably wouldn't even notice.

No doubt cutting her hair into a cute pageboy bob and dying it pink hadn't been the smartest thing to do though, and she wondered if her sister, Lucilla, wasn't right that she'd done it to get back at Christos and his derogatory 'It's time you did something worthwhile for the family name, Cara. After all, it paid for your fancy education when you were growing up and provided you with everything your heart desired.'

Cara had really hated him in that moment and had wanted to inform him that actually it hadn't given her everything her heart had desired. It hadn't given her two parents who loved her.

But Cara would show him tonight. And next week when the announcement was made about her new modelling contract her father would have to finally acknowledge that not only did she exist, but that she was a force to be reckoned with, as well!

Feeling more empowered she strode into McCarran International with purpose, the bright lights and the sounds of the poker machines in action greeting her, along with the smell of air freshener and polish.

Welcome to Vegas, she thought somewhat grudgingly. Her normal world was far behind her and she felt a bit like Dorothy in Oz, who would give anything to return to her normal existence. She almost glanced around her seeking out the wicked witch but she knew the evil warlords in her life were back in London, miles away. Thank heavens.

She wheeled her Vuitton overnight case behind her and strode through the throng of commuters, ignoring curious eyes that happened to fall her way. Thanks to her name, her modelling career and her tendency to cause a scandal even when she didn't mean to, her face was well-known.

She sighed. Yes, her life was a goldfish bowl; it always had been, so why was that bothering her lately when before she hadn't given a toss?

Taking a deep breath to ease the sudden constriction in her throat she told herself that everything would be fine. She was here. And an hour—okay, fifty minutes—was time enough to get to the hotel, shower, dress and brief herself on who would be seated at her father's esteemed poker table. Something she would already know if the casino hadn't sent her a corrupted file she'd been unable to open on the plane.

Whatever.

She was good at thinking on her feet. She just had to get her feet and the rest of herself to the hotel. And fast. Tonight was just one of those nights that had to be endured.

AG, she corrected herself, not endured so much as conquered.

She gave a faint smile as she took in her skinny arms and legs, her delicate high-heeled gladiator sandals. She wasn't exactly 'conqueror' material. She never had been.

But still, she wouldn't muck up tonight. Her pride demanded that she didn't.

Hearing her phone ring, and glad for the divergence, Cara sidestepped a group of tourists and didn't break stride as she reached into her bag to retrieve it.

Fumbling she glanced down and only just got the impression of a tall, well-dressed man in a hurry, his long legs eating up the space between them, a dark scowl on his square jaw as she sidestepped again and he ran right into her.

He didn't make a sound but Cara gasped at the impact, her foot twisting alarmingly beneath her. She would have toppled right into him but his reflexes were lightning fast and he gripped her upper arms and held her upright. His hold was hard and firm and she felt the jolt of his touch almost as if she'd had an electric current pass right through her.

Shocked, she stared up at him and for a moment she forgot to breathe. Rich blue eyes stared—no, glared—back at her in a beautifully boned face that could only be described as hard. Angular.

In the blink of an eye she took in his short, dirty-blond hair, straight nose and a firm surly-looking mouth ringed by what looked like a day's beard growth. It was a beautiful, masculine face that brought to mind a warrior battling it out on the Scottish highlands with nothing but a shield and a powerful sword.

A powerful sword?

Slightly flustered by her startling reaction to a stranger, Cara frowned. 'Can you please watch where you're going next time?'

'Can I…?' Aidan Kelly narrowed his eyes between thick lashes and stared at the woman in front of him. He'd just been in transit for thirty-three ungodly hours from Australia to get here and he was tired, hungry, aggravated and in a hurry, and this pink-haired waif had the audacity to accuse him of being in the wrong. 'Lady, I was watching where I was going. You were the one with your head stuck in your bag.'

'I stepped out of your way and—oh, no!' She glanced down between them. 'I think you broke my shoe.'

Aidan made a disgusted noise. 'I haven't broken anything.'

Twisting her foot out to the side she ran her hand down her long, slender legs and Aidan's eyes couldn't help but follow her movements. He felt an unexpected stirring of lust in his blood and his frown deepened. Had she just done that deliberately to get his attention?

'Damn,' she muttered softly. 'It is broken.'

Aidan rolled his eyes. Not his problem. 'Next time you might want to look where you're going.'

She stared at him open-mouthed as if she couldn't believe him and that made two of them because he couldn't quite believe her, either.

'And next time you might remember this is not a racetrack,' she said prissily, moving her foot gingerly inside her sandals that hugged her slender calves all the way up to her knees. 'These are my favourite shoes,' she grouched at him. 'I've had them for years.'

He cast them a disparaging glance. 'Fascinating. Now excuse me, I need to be somewhere.'

She shook her head as if he completely disgusted her and hobbled over to a nearby seat, the words rude and irresponsible and typical male ringing in his ears.

Aidan's back straightened. If there was one thing he was, it was responsible, and there was no way this pompous English totty was going to pin the blame for her broken shoe on him.

'What did you just say?' His voice was low, the softness of it underlying a lethal menace she would do well to heed in his current frame of mind.

He had important business to take care of at the Chats-field Casino and every minute he spent with her was a minute he wasn't focused on his end goal.

Her lower lip trembled as he towered over her and he planted his hands on his hips. 'And here comes the waterworks,' he scorned.

She stared at him and he had a moment of wondering where he had seen her face before. Then he discarded the thought. He didn't know her and he didn't want to know her.

'You are really not a nice man, are you?'

He shook his head as if to say lame, very lame and reached into his pocket to withdraw his wallet. 'Here's a fifty.' He held the money out to her. 'That should cover it.'

She looked at his offering as if he'd just pulled it off the bottom of his shoe. 'Hardly.' She lifted her chin and her hair fell back from her face. She was really quite exquisite with her chin jutting out like that. Her lips a strawberry pink, her cheekbones high and her eyes heavily lashed. With mascara, no doubt.

'These shoes are worth a thousand pounds.'

Aidan blinked, realising that he'd lost his train of thought while he'd been staring at her. Pulling himself together he raked her slender frame and let an insolent curl shape his mouth. 'I doubt it, honey.'

'Honey?'

'Look, lady, I get it. Run into someone and then try to fleece them. Sorry, I'm not that gullible.' 'Fleece them?'

If possible her eyes widened even more and he refused to let himself be drawn in by her. Refused to glance down at the sexy thrust of her small breasts or those long silken legs showcased to perfection in tiny denim shorts. 'Look, I don't know if you're a broke tourist on the make or a working girl but I don't like being played for a fool.'

'A working…' Her eyes narrowed and he felt pinpricks of heat on his skin as she dragged her eyes down over his lightweight suit and then back up. He saw her shoulders straighten and noticed that a hot flush had risen up along her amazing cheekbones.

Then she rose in front of him like Cleopatra on the throne and for a minute he expected to feel the sharp sting of her small hand connecting with his face. Lucky for her she pulled herself back in time and only stuck her nose up at him.

'You really are a horrible man.'

Aidan shook his head. He didn't have time for her games. 'For all I know the shoe was already broken,' he said curtly.

'For all you care, you mean,' she spat at him. 'I hope you have an interesting life,' she said, smiling coldly before grabbing hold of the handle of her suitcase.

If he wasn't mistaken, Aidan thought, the little witch had just blessed him with a Chinese curse.

About to give her a true piece of his mind and tell her just what he thought of her benign attempts to extort money out of him, he heard his name being decimated by a shrill female voice.

'Mr Kelly? Oh, Mr Kellllly?'

Aidan turned to find the stewardess who had dogged his every move during the flight from hell bearing down on him like a Hungarian linebacker. 'Oh, Mr Kelly. I'm so glad I found you.' She flashed all her teeth at him like a barracuda spying lunch. 'I have something for you.'

He just had time to see the pink-haired woman roll her eyes heavenward before disappearing into the crowd. Frustrated that he hadn't had time to deal with her impertinence properly, he glared at the stewardess in front of him. 'This had better be good.'

As soon as the out-of-breath stewardess had placed her manicured hand against her chest in a move redolent of Scarlett O'Hara, her posture giving the impression that she'd like nothing better than to plaster herself all over the front of the man Cara had nicknamed 'the cretin jerk,' she knew it was her cue to disappear. No doubt it was her phone number that she wanted to give him. Or maybe she was about to drag him off to the nearest broom cupboard and put those pearly whites to good use. Cara didn't care, but she hoped he picked up a nasty disease in the process.

Rude, horrible, loathsome man!

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