Authors: Kate Walker
Did she want him?
Ridiculous question! Impossible, preposterous, unnecessary question. Of course she wanted him! She yearned for him,
for him. Butâ¦
And then suddenly she knew what was wrong. “Do I want you?” Felicity managed, a thread of near laughter running through her words. “But who are you? I don't even know your name. All I know is Ricoâif in fact that is the truth.”
” He laughed. “
Oh, yes, I told you the truth. My name really is Ricoâshort for Ricardo. Ricardo Juan Carlos Valeron at your service,
The words pounded into her senses like cruel blows, making her heart stop.
The one man who had the power to make an appalling situation even worse.
The Hostage Bride
There are times in a man's lifeâ¦
when only seduction will settle old scores!
Pick up our exciting series of revenge-filled
romancesâthey're recommended and red-hot!
brought the long, powerful car to a smoothly purring halt outside the house and drew on the handbrake. Checking his watch briefly, he turned the key in the ignition, silencing the idling engine. He had plenty of time, he told himself, and settled back in his seat, waiting.
From her bedroom, Felicity heard the sound of the vehicle's arrival just seconds before she heard her father hurry from the dining room into the hallway.
âYour car's here!' he called up the staircase, the sound of his voice echoing slightly. âAre you ready?'
I ready? she asked herself, looking into the grey eyes of her own reflection in the dressing-table mirror, then immediately away again. She didn't like what she saw in those eyes. They gave too much away.
âFliss!' Joe Hamilton was getting impatient now. âDid you hear me? The car's hereâwe should be going.'
âJust a moment!'
Felicity had trouble forcing her voice to work, making it strong enough to carry from her bedroom to the ground floor. In spite of all her efforts it didn't sound right. It had no strength, no conviction. It didn't sound at all believable.
Not at all the way a bride should sound in the moments just before she set out on her way to her wedding.
But then this wasn't the sort of wedding she had ever planned. Not the one she had dreamed of as a young girl. The wedding she had created in her fantasies, lying awake in her bed in the throes of her first adolescent crush. Then, she had imagined herself as Cinderella or Queen Guinevere,
with her groom as a mixture of Prince Charming and one of the knights of the round table coming towards her astride a white charger, ready to sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the perfect âhappily ever after'.
Not like this.
Not like this travesty of a marriage that she had been forced into by fear and desperation and had tried every possible way she could imagine to get out of. But without success.
Her father was getting impatient now. He only ever used the full version of her name when he was annoyed with her and she could sense the exasperation behind the word, could picture him pushing back his shirt cuff to glance at his watch in irritation.
What else could she say? She had no alternative. There was no knight on a white horse galloping to her rescue. She hadn't even been able to confide in her own mother. That would have meant revealing just what an appalling mess her father had made of things, the hole he had dug himself into, so deep that there was no hope of ever finding his way out.
Unless she went through with this.
âJust a minute!'
Drawing in a deep, sighing breath, she turned to the mirror once more, checking her appearance.
The white silk dress Edward had insisted on fitted her perfectly, its softly flowing lines enhancing her slender height, the sleeveless, off the shoulder style revealing slim arms and smooth skin touched by the golden tint of the sun. Her pale blonde hair was pulled away from her face, and coiled at the back of her head, under the fall of the veil that cascaded down from the delicate tracery of a small tiara. The severe style emphasised the fine bones of her
face, the high, slanting cheekbones and the wide, soft grey eyes.
But there was no colour in her skin under the carefully applied cosmetics; no light in the shadowed depths of her eyes.
Instead she looked like someone about to set out on the walk to the scaffold.
âNo one's going to believe this for a second,' she told her reflection fiercely. âCan't you at least manage a smile?'
But noâthat was much, much worse. The smile she switched on was so blatantly false it was almost a grimace and hastily she let it slide again, lifting her long skirts and heading for the door.
âAt last!' Joe exclaimed as he saw her descending the stairs towards him. âWe're going to be late!'
âIsn't that a bride's prerogative?' Felicity returned, hiding her apprehension under a mask of insouciance. âAnd Edward will wait.'
Oh, yes, Edward would wait. He stood to gain so much from this travesty of a marriage. Much, much more than he had ever promised Felicity for her agreement.
Catching the blurred signs of movement through the frosted glass of the front door, Rico abandoned his apparently indolent pose and straightened up. Narrowed dark eyes took in his surroundings in a swift, appraising survey, and he nodded in grim satisfaction.
There was no one around. Everyone had been invited to the wedding of the year and even the staff had been given the day off to stand outside the cathedral and watch the guests arrive. If his luck held he should be able to manage this totally unobserved. As the door opened he slid out of the driver's seat, one hand slipping unobtrusively into his pocket.
âWe're just coming!' Joe shouted to the waiting chauffeur as he waved his daughter out of the house. âCome on,
come on, Fliss! You'll have Sir Lionel thinkingâ¦ Oh, what's that now?'
Felicity turned her head in the direction of the phone which had started to ring back inside the house, suddenly a prey to a renewed rush of nerve-twisting uncertainty.
âLeave it,' she said. Now that they were on their way she wanted this over and done with.
But her father was incapable of ignoring the insistent summons.
âYou go on, darling,' he said, already turning back. âI'll just deal with this and thenâ¦'
Left alone, Felicity found herself unable to move. Her feet seemed frozen to the spot, her mind refusing to function. The intense wave of inexplicable fear was like a cold shadow chasing over her skin, making her shiver in spite of the heat of the July sun. She could see nothing, sense nothing that might have sparked it off, and yetâ¦
It was the chauffeur who had spoken, bringing her eyes to focus on him properly for the first time. Images bombarded her already sensitive nerves, giving her a confused impression of a very tall, impressive figure, not at all what she had expected of a professional driver.
He stood straight and proud by the gleaming silver-grey Rolls, an almost military discipline about his bearing. Straight shoulders under the black uniform jacket, a strong chest tapering to a narrow waist and long, long legs. Highly polished shoes, so elegant they looked almost hand-made, were set squarely on the ground, and one black leather-gloved hand held the rear door of the car open invitingly.
But his face was hidden underneath the peaked cap and, even squinting hard against the brightness of the sun, she couldn't make out a single one of his features.
âIt is Miss Felicity Hamilton?'
He sounded almost surprised, as if she was not quite
what he had expected, and the faint hint of an accentâSpanish, perhaps?âthat she had caught as he first spoke was stronger now. Rich and husky, it turned the syllables of her name into a murmured enticement, one that curled seductively around her senses.
, he had said, and suddenly the shiver of apprehension she had felt earlier was transformed into a very different response. The tingle of pure excitement that zigzagged down her spine was totally inappropriate in a bride setting out to her wedding to another man. Or it would be, Felicity told herself, if she was marrying someone she truly cared about.
âFelicity,' she corrected crisply, hiding the pang of regret that twisted inside her behind the careful control of the English form of her name. âThat's right.'
She must look like a dithering fool, standing here in the middle of the drive, as if she couldn't make up her mind where to go. And the way that the chauffeur was watching her only aggravated that feeling of discomfort, making her feel uncomfortably like something not too pleasant that he had dissected and examined under a microscope.
âFelicity Jane Hamiltonâsoon to be Felicity Jane Venables.'
Gathering her distracted thoughts hastily, she caught up her skirts in a grip that was far too tight, crushing the beautiful silk impossibly, as she marched down the path towards him.
âBut you knew that, didn't you? After all, that's why you're here.'
His silence was just a heartbeat too long, tugging at already tightly drawn nerves, stretching them out to the point of discomfort.
âYes, Miss Hamilton,' he said softly. âThat is exactly why I am here.'
His eyes were dark, such a deep, ebony brown that they
were almost black, and his skin had a smooth olive tone that made her fingers itch to reach out and touch it. A straight slash of a nose combined with a squared, determined jaw to speak of a strength that bordered on ruthlessness, but the mouth told a very different story. Beautifully shaped and surprisingly soft, it made her long to see him smile, to feel the caress of those lips on her skin, toâ¦
âWon't you get into the car, Miss Hamilton?'
Distracted from the wantonly sensual path her thoughts had been drifting along, Felicity could only blink in confusion and embarrassment, a wave of hot colour flooding her cheeks. That intent, probing gaze was so powerful, so unwavering, she almost felt that he could see into her mind, read the fantasies she wanted to keep hidden from him.
The fantasies she shouldn't have been allowing herself to have! She might not love Edward, but she had promised to behave as his wife, and there was to be no hint that the marriage was anything other than a real one. That promise was going to be impossible to keep if she was already fantasising about other men and she hadn't even got the ring on her finger!
âGet into the carâ¦'
Something had changed. Suddenly, subtly his tone had altered. A new note in it scraped uncomfortably over Felicity's unsettled nerves.
âI'm waiting for my fatherâ¦'
âYou can wait for him in the car.'
The note that had disturbed her was stronger now, worryingly so. In an attempt to disguise the way it had made her feel, to ignore the slow creeping of cold pins and needles over her skin, she lifted her chin and met that ebony gaze head on.
âI prefer to stay out here. I don't want to crush my dress.'
The flashing glance of those dark eyes downwards over
the dress in question was a look of pure scorn, and the shrug that lifted those broad shoulders dismissed her comment as purely feminine trivia.
âWe're running late. Please get into the car, Miss Hamilton.'
It was that âplease' that did it. Something in the way it was enunciated, a dark edge that crept into his voice, moved it light years away from the common courtesy and turned it into a sound that sent something cold and unpleasant slithering down her spine.
But from inside the hall she could hear her father struggling to end the call.
âI really have to goâcan we talk about this laterâ¦?'
He would be with her any moment and that knowledge restored something of the confidence that the chauffeur's disturbing attitude had chipped away at. She would get into the car, but because
wanted to, not because of his insistence.
She hadn't realised just how difficult it would be. Hadn't anticipated the problems of getting onto the high, soft leather seat while managing her long skirts, the enveloping veil, the silk train. She had one foot in the car when the struggle to avoid crumpling the dress resulted in an awkward loss of balance that drove a cry of shock from her lips.
He was there at her side in a second. One gloved hand came out, caught the fingers that waved in panic, searching for assistance. Caught and held them, the powerful muscles in his hand and arm tensing iron-hard to support her full weight.
Within a moment she was upright again, sliding safely into the car, her dress unharmed, her position secure, and nothing but another wave of colour to give any indication of the near disaster that had just been avoided.
âTh-thank you,' she managed, shockingly aware of the fact that it was his closeness, the feel of that strength under her clutching fingertips that had put the breathless, uneven note into her voice and not any thought of the fall she had almost had.
Strong hands arranged the folds of her skirt so that they were well away from the door, smoothed down her veil, his touch cool and totally impersonal. With the harsh force of those searching eyes turned away from her, his gaze fixed on what he was doing, Felicity found that some of the disturbing tension was seeping from her body.
She had to have been overreacting, she told herself. Had to be jumping to conclusions that were totally unjustified. She had been letting her imagination run away with her and had ended up creating a situation where none had existed.
âThank you,' she said again, more confidently this time and when the chauffeur lifted his head again she managed to switch on a smile, directing it straight into the deep pools of his eyes.
There was no response. Nothing but the blankest, coldest stare she had ever encountered, one that turned her blood to ice in her veins and had her sinking back against the seat in sheer horror.
Her thoughts were still reeling as if that glare had been an actual physical blow so that she barely noticed the way he moved sharply, closing the door on her with a firm, decisive thud. It was only when he moved smoothly and unhurriedly round to the front of the car that she registered that all was not as she had anticipated.
Her father was still in the house, andâ¦
âJust a minuteâ¦'
He ignored her, swinging long legs into the car and turning the key in the ignition in almost the same moment that
he slammed the door to. With the Rolls in gear, he set it in motion, steering one-handed as he pulled something from his pocket and held it up. Her stomach clenching on sudden panic, Felicity realised that what he held was a mobile phone.
âOkay,' he snapped into it, his eyes on the drive ahead of him. âMission accomplished. You can stop now.'