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Authors: Melanie Milburne

The Blackmail Pregnancy

BOOK: The Blackmail Pregnancy
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“I’m digging you out of bankruptcy. I’ll settle the overdraft and pay off any outstanding debts you might have.”

“Why would you do that?” she asked, her mouth suddenly bone dry. “What possible reason could you have for doing that?”

“I have a very good reason,” he said evenly.

A flutter of apprehension settled deep in her stomach. Here comes the fine print, she thought to herself: his conditions. “And that is?” She managed to get the three words past the stiff line of her mouth.

His dark eyes held hers for a lengthy period before he finally spoke. “I want you to have my baby.”

He’s got her firmly in his grasp and she’s only got one chance of survival—surrender to his blackmail…and him…in bed!

Bedded by…Blackmail!

The new miniseries from Harlequin Presents
®

Dare you read it?

Coming in July:
His Convenient Mistress
by Cathy Williams #2479

Melanie Milburne
THE BLACKMAIL PREGNANCY

Dedicated to my husband Steve—love you to pieces.

CHAPTER ONE

‘I
F YOU
don’t nail this deal, Cara, we’re sunk.’

Cara stared at her business partner in shock.

‘What do you mean “sunk”?’ she asked, her palms moistening in mild panic.

Trevor flapped his hands in the air theatrically as he answered, ‘Kaput,
finito
, washed up.’

She swallowed the lump of fear in her throat as she met his troubled gaze across the desk.

‘But we’re doing all right,’ she said. ‘You said so only last month at our planning meeting. And with the Pritchard account due any day now—’

Trevor shook his head.

‘I had a meeting with the accountant this morning. Our business loan is stretched to the limit and the paltry Pritchard pennies won’t even cover this week’s interest, let alone next month’s. That’s why the Rockcliffe account is so crucial. We literally can’t survive without it.’

Cara automatically stiffened at the mention of that name. Tiny feathers of fear tickled the length of her spine as she brought its owner’s dark features to mind.

‘Why me?’ she asked after a lengthy silence, her skin still prickling in apprehension.

‘Because you’re the one he asked for, darling,’ Trevor’s tone was full of affront as he inspected his perfectly manicured nails. ‘He insisted on you handling the whole account. Quite homophobic of him, I thought. But then you’d know all about that since you were once married to him.’

Cara’s eyes gave little away, but inside she felt as if her stomach was unravelling.

‘It was a long time ago, Trevor,’ she said as dispassionately as she could. ‘Seven years, in fact. I hardly even remember what he looks like. Probably got a paunch by now, and a bald patch the size of a lawn,’ she added for effect.

‘Perhaps that’s why he asked for you.’ He grinned boyishly. ‘He might want to refresh your memory a bit.’

She gave him a reproving look.

‘I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with Byron Rockcliffe’s memory,’ she said. ‘It’s his motives that worry me.’

‘Motives?’ Trevor’s eyes widened expressively. ‘Who gives a fig about his motives? He’s doing our business a favour by engaging your services. Think of it! A harbourside mansion in Cremorne. Carte blanche, no questions asked.’

‘It sounds too good to be true,’ she cautioned. ‘I’d prefer to see the fine print before I commit myself.’

‘It’s too late for that. I’ve already committed us—I mean you.’ He gave her a shame-faced look and continued, ‘Sorry, pet, but I had to do it. I couldn’t see all that money going to someone else. You know what they say about looking a gift horse in the mouth.’

‘Yes,’ she said, getting to her feet and reaching for her portfolio. ‘I do know what they say, and you’d do well to remember it. A horse’s age is commonly assessed by the length of its teeth. You have only to insist on the horse’s mouth being opened to see if what you’re getting is really a good deal.’

‘I’m not sure it would have gone down too well if I’d asked Byron Rockcliffe to open his mouth for me to peer in.’ Trevor chuckled. ‘Perhaps I’ll leave that to you.’

Cara gave him a fulminating look as she opened the office door to leave.

‘If I don’t show up for work tomorrow it will be your entire fault. You’ve put me in over my depth and I’m holding you totally responsible.’

‘If you don’t show up for work tomorrow I’ll assume Byron Rockcliffe has talked you back into his bed,’ Trevor said with a wolfish grin. ‘He sounds so deliciously male. Mmm…such a waste.’

Cara turned on her heel and shut the door on her partner’s teasing expression.

‘Good luck!’ Trevor’s voice called from inside.

She didn’t answer; she needed more than luck to get through the next hour or so. She needed a miracle.

 

The offices of Rockcliffe and Associates were huge even by Sydney standards. Cara took the shiny lift to the nineteenth floor, her heart beating a steady tattoo in her chest at the thought of seeing her ex-husband again.

The lift stopped on the thirteenth floor to let some people in and she wondered if it was some sort of omen. She pressed herself to the back of the stainless steel and mirrored walls and tried to concentrate on getting her breathing under some sort of control.

The lift stopped three more times, prolonging the agony, and she stared at the illuminated numbers above her head as if they were a countdown to disaster…Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…nineteen.

The doors pinged open and she jerked upright. Another wall of mirrors faced her as she stepped out. She looked at her reflection as if seeing it for the first time. Her mid-brown hair with its blonde highlights was falling from its clasp, her cheeks were flushed as if she’d just run up the nineteen floors, and the dark blue business suit she’d thrown on this morning shrieked off-the-peg. It was two seasons old and she’d lost weight since she’d bought it.

The blonde receptionist, however, was armoured with Armani and a heady perfume to match. Cara approached the arc of the front desk with a resentful trepidation.

‘I have an appointment with Mr Rockcliffe,’ she said in a voice that sounded distinctly rusty. ‘At three p.m.’

The receptionist glanced at the appointment file on the computer screen in front of her.

‘Ms Gillem?’

‘Yes,’ Cara answered.

‘He’s running a little behind.’ The receptionist lifted a clear blue gaze from the screen to meet Cara’s hazel one. ‘If you don’t mind waiting…’

‘How much behind?’ Cara interjected in irritation.

Now that she was here she wanted it over. She didn’t want to be cooling her heels in his reception area under the catwalk gaze of his latest flavour of the month.

‘Twenty minutes?’ The blue eyes held no trace of apology. ‘Maybe thirty.’

Cara took a steadying breath.

‘I’ll wait.’

Forty-three minutes later Cara heard the buzz of the intercom and buried her head back in the magazine she’d been pretending to read. Her heart thumped and her fingers shook as she turned the next page.

‘Ms Gillem?’ The receptionist’s cool voice lifted Cara’s head from the article on off-the-road four-wheel driving.

‘He’ll see you now,’ she said. ‘It’s the first door on your right down the hall.’

Cara got to her feet, put the magazine down amongst the others and made her way down the hall on legs that threatened to give way beneath her. The hand she lifted to knock on the door marked ‘Byron Rockcliffe’ was visibly trembling, but she straightened her back and waited for his command.

‘Come in.’

His deep voice washed over her in waves as she turned the doorknob. Her eyes searched for him as soon as the door was open, and found him seated casually behind his gargantuan desk. She was at an immediate disadvantage, as his broad shoulders blocked the afternoon light slanting in from the windows behind his desk. Although most of his face was in shadow, she could somehow sense his expression. She knew it would be mocking, sardonic, unaffected, while she stood before him like a reprimanded schoolgirl, her knees threatening to break the cool silence with their attempt to knock against each other.

‘Cara.’

One word. Two syllables. Four letters.

‘Byron.’

So formal. So coldly formal.

‘Have a seat.’

She sat.

He leant back in his chair and surveyed her face for interminable seconds.

‘Would you like a drink? Coffee? Something stronger?’ he asked.

She shook her head and tightened her grasp on the portfolio she had clutched to her chest.

‘Nothing, thank you. I’d prefer it if we were to get straight down to business.’

He reached for a pen, twirling it in his hand as his dark chocolate gaze met and held hers.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said, putting the gold pen down. ‘The business. How’s it going, by the way?’

‘Excuse me?’ Her tone was wary.

‘Your business.’

‘Fine.’

Even in shadow she could see the sceptical quirk of one dark brow.

‘Fine?’

She swallowed and clutched her folder a little closer, as if it would protect her from the heat of his penetrating gaze.

‘I’m sure you know I wouldn’t be here if it were fine,’ she said in a cold, almost detached voice.

‘Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged you?’ he quipped.

‘I thought Melbourne was your stamping ground,’ she said.

‘I’ve expanded,’ he said. ‘Business is booming.’

‘Congratulations.’ Her tone was anything but congratulatory.

‘Thank you.’

‘Trevor informed me of your request,’ she said into the tight silence that had fallen between them. ‘I can’t imagine why you insist on me doing the work. Trevor is the creative brains behind our decorating business.’

‘Your tendency to undersell yourself hasn’t faded, I see,’ he commented idly. ‘How is your mother, by the way?’

‘She’s dead.’

Cara felt a faint glimmer of satisfaction at his reaction. Her simple statement had jerked him upright in his chair.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I hadn’t heard.’

She shrugged her slim shoulders dismissively.

‘It was a very private funeral.’ Her voice was flat and unemotional. ‘My mother had few friends.’

‘How long ago?’

‘Three years,’ she said. ‘It was very…quick.’

‘Cancer?’

‘No.’ She met his dark gaze briefly. ‘Complications after simple surgery.’

‘It must have been a terrible shock for you.’

Cara rolled her lips and lamented the absence of lipstick. Ironic, really, that the absence of lipstick was more important to her than the demise of her mother.

‘One moves on,’ she said dispassionately.

‘One does,’ he replied, watching her steadily.

‘So.’ She swivelled her chair so that she was on a level with his dark eyes. ‘Let’s get down to business. Trevor said the property is in Cremorne. Does it have a harbour view, or is it—?’

‘I’ll take you there this afternoon,’ he interjected.

‘I can make my own way there,’ she put in hastily.

‘As you wish.’

Cara bit her lip. This was all wrong. She didn’t feel at all like a person who laid down colour sheets and furniture brochures for the client’s appraisal. She felt inadequate and on edge, as if the floor beneath her was going to be ripped out from under her.

‘I need to go over colour schemes,’ she said. ‘I need to get some idea of layout, and—’

‘I’ve got the plans here.’ He reached towards a black shiny briefcase on one end of the large desk. He handed a sheaf of papers to her. ‘All the specifications are there.’

She glanced down at the papers in her hands.

‘What’s the date of completion?’ she asked.

‘October first.’

‘That’s not a lot of time.’

‘A month,’ he said. ‘Long enough.’

She lifted her eyes to his.

‘Most furniture manufacturers require at least six to eight weeks’ notification—fabric availability and so on.’

‘So choose ones that only take a month,’ he suggested.

‘But—’

‘Do it,’ he said. ‘I’m sure you of all people can pull a few strings to bring it about.’

Cara swallowed her answering retort and instead focused on the plans on her lap. The intricate architectural drawings blurred in front of her; it was like trying to read an ancient script with no prior knowledge of the language. She felt her nerves tightening in the back of her neck as she struggled to make sense of what was usually second nature to her. How swiftly he had unsettled her! She’d gone from a professional, highly skilled interior designer to a jittery mess in the space of a few minutes.

‘I’ll need some time to think about this,’ she said, after another heavy silence. As she lifted her head she felt the clash of his dark gaze on hers.

‘How much time?’

‘A day or two—maybe three,’ she answered, recalling her interminable wait for him in Reception.

He seemed to give her response some thought.

‘All right,’ he said at last. ‘You have three days. I’ll meet you at your office at twelve noon on Friday, but I want no further delays.’

‘What exactly is the hurry on this?’ she asked. ‘You surely know enough about the business to realise a good job takes time?’

He tossed aside the pen he’d been clicking.

‘I wish to move into the house as soon as possible. As it is, I’ve been at a hotel for three weeks and I’m getting a little impatient with all the stalling.’

‘This is
your
house?’ She looked at him in shock. ‘You’re going to live there?’

He nodded.

‘But…but you live in Melbourne,’ she said in rising panic. ‘What about your family? And your business?’

‘I decided it was time for a change.’

She took one deep swallow, hoping he couldn’t see the way his words had unsettled her.

‘The telephone directory is full of interior designers crying out for work,’ she said, disguising her inner turmoil with an even tone. ‘Why me?’

‘Why not you?’

‘Because there are so many more talented designers than me, that’s why.’

‘But I want you.’

Four simple words, but somehow she sensed a double meaning in them. She sat on the edge of her seat, her hands clamped down on her knees to keep them from trembling in reaction.

‘I’m flattered, of course,’ she said without sincerity.

He got to his feet and his face came out of the shadows. Cara felt her breath trip in her throat at his sheer height and presence. His six feet five to her five feet seven had always been slightly intimidating, and now it was even more so. His dark straight hair was cut short and smoothed into place with styling gel. His clean-shaven jaw was already developing an evening shadow. The soft skin of her cheeks tingled in remembrance of the feel of his masculine skin rasping along hers. His mouth was set in a grim line, as if he was no longer in the habit of smiling. She mentally recalled his smile; it had been the first thing she’d noticed all those years ago: straight, even white teeth, and lips that curved upwards, sending crinkles of amusement to the corner of his chocolate eyes. Those eyes held no trace of such laughter now.

‘You’ve changed your hair.’

Cara was knocked out of her silent reverie at his words. She got to her feet and self-consciously tucked a strand of blonde highlighted hair back behind her ear.

BOOK: The Blackmail Pregnancy
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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