Gain a wife… or lose his company?
For billionaire businessman Cal Prescott, there was no question. He’d marry and produce the requisite heir. And he wouldn’t have to look far for the right bride – his one-night affair with Ava Reilly had left Cal’s senses riled and Ava pregnant with his baby.
Sheer desperation had Ava agreeing to marry without love. She wanted her land as much as Cal wanted his corporation… and they both wanted their unborn child. Surely that would be enough to build a marriage on. That, and the burning passion that longed to be reawakened…
Silhouette Desire ~ North America – August 2009 / Australia/NZ – September 2009 / UK – October 2010
On Saturday at ten am, after her two paying customers had checked out, Ava knew she couldn’t stall any longer. She’d called and offered to drive the twenty minutes to Parkes, but Cal had pre-empted her. Now as she watched from her porch, a brand-new red Calais made its way down the dirt road. It finally stopped in the small designated parking area, directly below the huge gum tree.
Ava took a breath, then another, dragging in the comforting kitchen smells to give her strength – vanilla, coffee and fresh baking apple pie, aromas that said “welcome, come on in!” or so she’d read in a decorating magazine.
When Cal finally unfolded himself from the car, she did a double-take. She’d expected expensive casual: a polo shirt, sharply pressed pants, imported Italian shoes. But he surprised her in a pair of faded Levis, work boots, brown leather jacket and white cotton t-shirt, the latter hugging like cling wrap, outlining every muscular dip and curve of his chest. Natural command and raw sexuality oozed from his every bone and Ava couldn’t help but stare.
He stalked purposefully up her steps with a long-legged stride that indicated he’d no place else to be, his dark eyes shuttered and focused squarely on her. She threaded her fingers once then released them and suddenly the air was filled with his warm, spicy scent.
“Ava,” he said, making her name sound sexier than the promise of a hot, wet kiss. Lord, he undid her. Did he remember how in the dark of night, she’d confessed her name on his lips made her want to melt in a puddle at his feet? How he’d sensuously turned that confession against her and sent her body into a whimpering frenzy with every word, every whisper?
She quickly turned and walked in the kitchen door but not before she caught his mouth twitch for one brief second. She groaned inwardly. He remembered.
Thankful that the warm kitchen disguised her flushed cheeks, she said over her shoulder, “We’ll go into the lounge room.”
As she led him down the hall, the tide of impending doom tugged at her legs. Her lounge room was welcoming and expansive, with cream walls and pine colonial-style furniture, but she couldn’t help but think Cal could buy a place like this a thousand times over. He was decisive, powerful and obscenely rich. If Jillian thought to sell her on all those attributes, she was sorely mistaken. It only proved to her that Cal was unfamiliar with the word “no”.
His closed expression pitched her stomach into queasy unrest. This man, with his brooding thoughtfulness and silent staring, who’d stormed back into her life and accused her of blackmail, was a complete stranger to her.
What on earth was she thinking?
She sat on the chaise longue and folded her legs under her, watching as he remained standing.
“I apologize,” he began stiffly, “for yesterday. I believe I could have come off a little…”
“Pushy?” She offered, surprised.
“Determined.” He amended firmly. “I’m not used to making deals based on…” He ran his eyes over her and for one second, something flared in the dark depths before he shut it down. “…personal matters.”
Ava could only stare. When he unflinchingly met her eyes, something clicked. He was actually embarrassed at admitting that – a man worth billions, a business genius who was a dead ringer for Russell Crowe and attracted women by the boatload. Yet his expression said he’d rather eat glass than reveal any emotional vulnerability.
Despite herself, despite his demands, she felt a tiny thread of sympathy unfurl. Yet before she could say anything, he crossed his arms and swiftly changed the subject.
“What I’m offering is a business proposition. You need money. In return, the baby – and you – will have the Prescott name and all that entails.”
The smooth conciseness to his proposal took her aback for one heartbeat. In the next, she realized exactly what was happening: sheer brute force hadn’t worked, so he was playing his next hand. Calm reasoning. She wondered what he’d try next if she refused. Seduction, perhaps? To her annoyance, a gentle anticipatory buzz tripped over her skin.
“Won’t a wife put a downer on your lifestyle?” She said now, shoving those distracting thoughts aside.
His eyes bored into her. “Let me make this clear – you are having my baby. Which means I want you.”
Hot excitement fired through her veins, steamrollering every other thought into oblivion. She tried to will it away but it kept on coming, a constant pounding wave that alternately thrilled yet alarmed her.
With a deep breath she finally managed to gain some modicum of control. Cal was simply claiming his child, that was all. He just wanted what she could give him.
So why was she acting like a jittery fool in love?
She dragged her eyes away, her mind spinning. Why couldn’t he be the man who’d stormed in her door and accused her of blackmail? At least that way, she could refuse his demands with a clear conscience.
Bottom line – losing Jindalee was not an option. And her other choices included bankruptcy and poverty. She also had Jillian to think about: she’d convinced her aunt to sell her little cafe and come live with her. And Cal was offering more than financial security, a chance to keep the land and ensure the Reilly legacy stayed in the family. He was willing – no, demanding – to be a presence in her child’s life. A man who wanted all the responsibilities that being a father entailed.
That was more than a lot of children got these days, herself included.
She finally glanced up, only to catch Cal studying her with an intensity that made her itch to smooth her hair and check her teeth.
“What kind of arrangement did you have in mind?” She said now.
“A legally binding contract. You marry me and in return I’ll pay off all your debts, plus give you any assistance necessary to see this place turn a profit.”
“I’m not handing this place over to some manager. The land and property remains in my name.”
“Naturally. But I do expect you to be in Sydney whenever I need you, to be available for functions, dinners and such.”
“No.” Ava swallowed. A quickie wedding was one thing. But to publicly flaunt it, to pretend?
He crossed his arms with a small sigh, a sure indication he’d lost patience. “Yes. Did you think I’d just give you money and that’d be it until the child was born?”
“Well, you thought wrong.” His jaw tightened. “This is my stipulation.”
Any hope of taking the money and keeping a low profile quickly disintegrated. “So I’m to be your arm decoration.”
“My fiancee,” he corrected. “You will be my wife, the mother of my child, and I expect you to conduct yourself accordingly. As I will.”
She blinked. “Which means?”
“No unscripted interviews, no tell-all book deals if and when we divorce.” His eyes suddenly darkened. “And no lovers while we’re married.”
A surprised breath tore at her throat. “I need to think.” Quickly she rose and the room tilted beneath her feet. Just as she grabbed the longue, Cal’s hand shot out to steady her.
The shock was so instantaneous, so unexpected, that she gasped. As his long fingers curled around her upper arm, her treacherous flesh caved. A sudden flicker of heat sparked in her belly, sending desire across her skin, making her muscles ache with want.
As if her mind could sense the thin thread of control she teetered on, that night came flooding back in hot, bright technicolor. His eager mouth on hers, on her neck. His sure, skilful hands cupping her breasts, teasing her nipples into peaking hardness. And his hot passionate breath trailing a path of seduction from her navel down to-
She pulled away, refusing to meet his eyes, barely managing a “thank you.” Inside, she tried to squelch the spurt of panic but reality crashed in. If she wanted to save Jindalee, she had no other choice.