Authors: Caro LaFever
to save her best friend from an arranged marriage, Darcy Moran marches into Marcus La Rocca’s boardroom intent on forcing him to release his younger brother from the commitment. Yet she’s up against a formidable foe who’s not only sure the marriage should happen, but takes one look at her and wants her far away from his brother.
Blackmailed into being his pretend mistress, Darcy finds herself transported into a world of luxury and high society, something a poor artist knows nothing about. Still, she’s not a girl to be intimidated by anyone or anything, and she manages to reject all of Marc’s lures even though lust for him threatens to overcome her will.
Marcus knows women and he knows what they like. But no matter how many gifts he showers on Darcy, she refuses them all. Frustrated with lust and entranced by her charms, he finds himself falling in love. An emotion he promised himself he’d never feel again.
Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph that liv’st unseen
Within thy airy shell
By slow Meander’s margent green,
in the violet-imbroider’d vale.
is brother was an idiot
Marcus La Rocca rocked back on his heels and stifled the urge to yell. The damn kid knew what was at stake, knew his assigned role. He'd agreed to the marriage months ago.
, he'd agreed enthusiastically. So why was he playing with fire at this late date? If his younger brother stood in front of him right now, he'd wring his sorry neck. But what good would it do? Matteo had been a thorn in his side from the moment he’d entered his life and would continue in the role for the foreseeable future.
Or until he succeeded in dragging the idiot to the altar.
“He doesn't know what he's doing.” His mother, Serafina, sobbed into her lace handkerchief. She sat in one of several burgundy leather office chairs across from his steel-and-glass desk. The bright overhead light shined with a harsh glare on her dyed-black hair.
With wry amusement, he noted there was no smearing of her makeup and her eyes weren’t red. His mother was a master at many things; she was pure genius at emotional manipulation. “He's twenty-five.”
“A mere baby.”
He snorted. Ten years ago, when he’d been twenty-five, he’d been running this company, making million-euro deals. Not running around and screwing around.
Her hands fisted and she threw him a glare. “You're never sympathetic.”
“I ran out of sympathy a long time ago.”
“You are always too hard on him.” Her voice rose to shrill. “This is all your fault.”
A phrase he'd heard so many times it could be tattooed on his brain. “Calm down.”
“How can I calm down when my baby is in a whore's clutches?” She jumped from the chair and began pacing, her thin body trembling with anxiety.
Examining the photos his mother had provided, he silently questioned her conclusion. The woman seemed more like an innocent girl, not the seductive siren his mother seemed to fear. “She appears harmless.”
” She threw her hands in the air and stopped, pinning him with another glare. “Those are the women you have to watch out for.”
Assuming what she claimed held a kernel of truth, this was a problem. However, the last thing he needed was his fiery mother going off on a tangent. If he didn't rein her in, she’d likely screech to a tabloid, or worse, gossip with her gaggle of crows. The society crows would pass the information along faster than the tabloids could print their sheets. He had to tamp this down, buy some time so he could address this situation in his usual purposeful manner.
He shrugged his shoulders and gave her a blank stare.
“You don't believe me,” she wailed.
“Momma,” he replied. “Be reasonable. Matteo is engaged.”
Si, si, si,
and that is why—”
“For all my little brother's faults, he would not betray his commitment. Nor his family.”
“He wouldn't mean to.”
“Supposing what you say is true, he's only having a last fling. Meaningless.”
The handkerchief waved his words away. “She's moved in with him.”
“What?” He stiffened and his eyes narrowed.
” she proclaimed triumphantly. “One month before the wedding!”
Marcus paced to the wall of windows lining one side of the room. Looking down, he noted the London traffic coursing through the financial district where his office building stood.
. He did not have time for this. He had to fly to Madrid tomorrow and then to New York a few days later. Why the hell couldn't his kid brother keep his pants zipped? Didn't he understand what this marriage meant to the business? This deal would ensure Rocca Enterprises would be a big player in the emerging equity markets in Eastern Europe.
Hell, the kid had liked the girl. Had declared he was pleased. If Matteo had objected, Marcus would have let him off the hook and found another way to get the deal done. But he hadn’t, and this deal and marriage had been on the books for months. If the marriage fell through now, there’d be no way to salvage the contract. Not with the Casartelli bride’s pride and honor at risk.
“You're sure of this information?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “You've been keeping an eye on him.”
“It's a mother's prerogative.” She met his gaze with a defiant one of her own.
He turned and leaned on the window. The cold November wind blowing outside cooled the glass. And his irritation. Slightly. “I want all the information you’ve collected.”
A gleam of victory lit in her dark eyes. “Now you are listening.”
“If what you say is true—”
“Then this is a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud before the Casartellis find out.”
” His mother's arms waved in the air, her eyes flashing.
His cool tone stopped her agitated movements and her gaze met his.
“I'll take care of this.”
The magic words she'd been waiting to hear. He knew it and she knew it.
Her smile beamed through her happy tears. “Marcus—”
“I need to get back to work.” He ran his hands through his hair, trying to stifle his irritation.
Rushing over, she threw her arms around him. “Your father would be so proud.”
“Matteo's father would be so thankful.”
Unlikely in both cases. But what did it matter? Both men had been dead for years and the responsibility for everything had been on his shoulders for what seemed like forever. It was his job to keep this financial empire intact and it was clearly his job to deliver his stupid brother to the wedding. The wedding that would ensure Rocca Enterprises’ continuing prosperity.
Assuming his mother didn't babble and his brother didn't renege.
“No talking to your friends, Momma.”
“Well, I don’t think—”
She eyed him, gauged his temper as only a mother could do, and made the right decision. “I will leave all this in your capable hands, Marcus.”
With a flurry of lace and purse and flounce and drama, his mother left the room. Leaving him with the mess.
arcy Moran was a fighter
At first she'd had to be and now, it was second nature. This situation, obviously, called for a fighter. It made no difference that her knees were doing some serious knocking below the edge of her one good dress. And it made no difference that the office building standing before her was a bit more grand and glorious than she'd imagined.
She had a fight to win.
It was the least she could do for her best friend.
He'd come through for her many times—the latest being when her ugly, old landlord had objected to another overdue rent payment. If not for Matt, she'd have ended up on the streets. She had figured she’d take a couple of weeks to get her feet back under her and then she’d start searching for another flat. Until then, she’d bunk on Matt’s sofa.
But last night, she'd found out she could have his whole place in a month.
All to herself.
“Married?” She hadn't believed him at first. “Forced to marry?”
“I'm afraid it’s true.” Matteo Costa's big brown eyes shone with despair. She knew he used them all the time for effect, but still. Still.
“How could you let him do this?”
“He's the head of the family.”
Her hands fisted in her jeans pockets. “He's not your lord and master.”
“The next best thing.” Her friend’s expression grew more mournful.
“You must confront him,” she instructed. “You need to tell him to go to hell.”
“You don't know my brother.”
He sighed. “It's about the families. The connection. This seals the deal. In many ways, the marriage makes sense.”
“You’re being barmy.” Darcy frowned. “No one gets married to seal a business deal.”
“No one but me.”
“Don't give in,” she cried. “Don't you ever give in!”
“That's your rally cry, not mine.” He leaned his head back on the flat’s kitchen wall and closed his eyes. “At least Viola is pretty.”
“You have got to be kidding.” As if the pretty factor of his potential wife would have any impact on whether or not they'd be happy.
“No,” he said, one eye opening to squint at her rigid figure. “She is pretty. And stop shouting.”
“You've got to tell your brother you made a mistake.”
“He'd kill me.”
“Better a quick death than a long protracted death by marriage.”
“Cynic.” Matt's stare turned shrewd.
“Realist.” He'd asked and questioned, but she had no desire to confide about her past. He didn't know how she'd grown up and no amount of talking would ever give him a sense of what it had been like. What it had been like to see her parents fight and split and fight and split. What it had been like to land in foster care at the age of twelve. What it had been like to know she was all alone. Out of long practice, she'd shut the conversation down before the questioning went any further. She had more than enough information anyway.
By midnight last night, she'd made a decision.
The only decision she could make.
Matt had saved her many times. Now was the time she’d pay him back. She didn’t know exactly how she was going to convince his big brother to stop the marriage, still she’d figure something out. Once she met the guy, she’d find some way to wrap him around her finger or bring him to his senses by finding his weaknesses and exploiting them. She’d become good at both a long time ago. Sure, he was a billionaire, but that didn’t mean he had super powers. He was just a man.
Darcy lifted her chin and stared with fierce intent at the massive building in front of her.
Time to make this happen.
She marched across the busy London street, ignoring the well-heeled crowd swirling past her. Marshaling her arguments, she lined up her words. She'd first have to get through the walls of security and secretaries before she reached her goal, but she had charm. A quick tongue. Other talents.
The sign swept over the entrance, silver and elegant. Impressive. Intimidating.
She found it hard to picture her best friend coming from this environment. When she'd met him, she'd assumed he was like her: poor. The news that his brother was a billionaire, who ruled an entire empire of various businesses, had been a huge shock. The Great Man, Matt called him. With annoyance, yet sometimes she noted a hint of affection underlining his words. Still, there was nothing affectionate about this situation.
Her friend didn't have the courage to confront his brother.
But she did.
Pushing through the doors, she entered the foyer. Sculptures of silver glass speared toward the cathedral ceiling. A wide wall of glimmering elevators lined the end of the foyer, swishing open and closed, filling and emptying with a dizzying number of women dressed to the nines and men dressed to impress. All rather overwhelming. For a moment.
Keep your focus
She peered past the girth of an elderly woman walking by her and spotted the first hurdle.
Planted behind a wide desk, four uniformed guards scanned the crowd with sharp attention. She was short, but not short enough to sneak past sight unseen. Plus, her dress didn't come close to competing with the high-fashion women surrounding her. If she didn't act fast, she'd be spotted. Stopped.
“Not on your life,” she muttered.
She'd managed to pry a few critical pieces of information from Matt, without letting him know what she had planned for his benefit. For example, everyone who worked for Rocca got a blue ID card, which they had to wear to get past security. All she needed to flit past this hurdle was one of those cards. Too bad her friend didn't have one. His brother wouldn't even allow him on the premises without prior approval.
Another strike against the Great Man. What an egotistical tyrant he must be.
Scanning the crowd, she found a promising target. A behemoth of a man ambled toward the elevators, his jacket slung across his arm, his blue card flopping on the polished wool.
Well, actually, it was her blue card.
She slipped beside him, her keen gaze focused on what she needed to know. “Hi, John.”
The man stopped and looked down and down into her smiling face.
“How lovely to see you.” She beamed at him and angled herself so his large body stood between her and the security desk.
Blinking again, he smiled back. “I don't think I know you.”
“John, John.” She batted her eyes as her hand deftly did its work. “How could you forget what we had together?”
“We…we…” The man sputtered to a close and blinked once more.
“Well, I guess I'll have to let you go, then.” She turned and walked away, swinging her hips as her mum had shown her long ago.
“Wait!” His voice didn’t stop her.
Darcy smiled and snapped the lovely blue tag on her lapel. Nothing ever stopped her.
The Great Man had no idea what was about to hit him.
.” Blake Reston, head of his security, stepped into his office. “She’s no longer at your brother’s flat. We’ve located her.”
Marcus had taken two days to calculate what had to be done. After reviewing the information his mother had collected, within hours his security team had filled in the rest of the details on one Ms. Darcy Moran. In his methodical, careful way, he'd mulled over the situation when he’d been in Madrid and made a decision. Now it was only a matter of tracking down the prey and springing the trap. He glanced away from his computer screen. “Well?”
A gruff laugh escaped the blond man. “She's here.”
“She's been able to glide through the security on the ground floor and is currently on her way to…” Blake focused on his phone, scanning his messages. “It appears she's here to see you, big guy.”
“Interesting.” Standing, he slipped on his suit coat. “I can’t remember the last time a person I was hunting came right to my door.”