The Reluctant Heiress_A Novella, страница 1
Table of Contents
Note from the Author
About the Author
Also by L.M. Halloran
The Reluctant Heiress
Copyright © 2017 by L.M. Halloran.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Photography from Shutterstock.com
Proofreading by Judy’s Proofreading
For my sister and my cousin
Note from the Author
About the Author
Also by L.M. Halloran
I have a cramp in my right calf. Not a sharply painful one, but the dull, throbbing kind that will increase in intensity until I can stretch. Unfortunately, at the rate my current predicament is unfolding, it’s going to be another few minutes.
Hot breath fans over my ear. “Does that feel good?”
I summon appropriate enthusiasm. “Mmm, yes, Rob. Don’t stop.”
Robert Wiltshire III, the predicament, doesn’t hear the boredom in my tone. Even if he were at the pinnacle of avid listening, he still wouldn’t hear it.
Sometimes, when I think on how easily lies flow from my lips, it worries me. Other times—right now, for instance—I’m exceedingly grateful for the skill.
Since I’m watching the clock, I note that two minutes pass before Robert grunts and shudders in carnal delight. He doesn’t repeat last week’s mistake of kissing me, but simply rolls off to stare, panting, at the ceiling.
“Candace, you kill me.”
Shifting to face him, I prop my head on a hand. “That’s strange,” I say huskily. “You look perfectly robust to me.”
I trail fingernails over his flat chest, through a light dusting of blond hair. Goose bumps lift on his tanned skin. For a moment, I consider pinching a flat, dark nipple, but the impulse quickly fades.
Robert really is a stunning man. Finely built, with perfectly adequate equipment to bring pleasure. I happen to know—from several other women—that he takes great pride in giving his lovers orgasms. It was the main reason I pursued him. So far, though, the count remains zero. It’s not his fault—it’s always been extremely difficult for me to get off.
“Do you still want to go to LACMA tonight?” he asks hesitantly.
A twinge of guilt assails me, as I’m responsible for his tone. My brothers are fond of accusing me of emotionally castrating men. I’m equally fond of reminding them that they trained me.
“Of course I do,” I assure him, stroking his jaw until he turns his head toward me. He smiles, hazel eyes warming. There’s a darling cleft in his chin—I bend forward to kiss it. “What’s going on again?”
“Some new exhibition. Abstract, I think. Maybe afterwards, we can check out that new club in Hollywood?” His gaze travels from my face, flickers over my breasts, and skips downward. His breathing deepens. “Sound good?”
I smile and nod, despite clubbing being synonymous with torture in my mind. My acquiescence, I know, is an indicator that my guilt is reaching critical levels. I like Robert, I do. But I’m not the sort of girl who likes consistency. At least, I haven’t dated anyone who’s made me want to eat one flavor of ice cream the rest of my life.
Robert is getting attached, wanting to spend more time together than just a weekend night and an occasional midweek tryst. Soon, I’ll have to cut him loose.
I can almost hear my brothers’ groans.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, is one of my favorite places to spend a free afternoon. When visiting for pleasure, I only attend during the day, very rarely on a weekend, and never on the night of an exhibition opening. Any event that gathers patrons of the arts and society players equates me being on the clock.
A large part of my professional life is networking. Schmoozing. Hobnobbing. All for the purpose of charming monetary pledges for any of the handful of nonprofits I support. The proper term for what I do is philanthropy, but the tabloids color me in a less flattering light.
To the public, I’m an heiress with too much time on her hands and no redeemable skills besides smiling, cutting ribbons, and hosting parties. I’ve actually received quite a few commendations for my support of charities, but I’m a smart girl—they’re pats on the head not firm handshakes.
I’ve occasionally toyed with writing a public letter explaining exactly what it is I do. Correcting the misconception. Not that I think anyone would publish it or care. The truth is, having money doesn’t mean people will gleefully give me more, no matter how worthy the cause. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The reason I’m so damned successful at securing funds from tightfisted elitists is, quite simply, I’m a hell of a saleswoman and I work my ass off. I’m also highly competitive, aggressive, and occasionally belligerent.
It gets the job done.
Robert is touching me more than I like. A hand on my hip. A kiss on my temple. He’s mistaking hands-off glances for come-hither ones. Men. When he finally gives me some space, it’s because he sees a producer friend of his across the room.
Grateful for the reprieve, I sit on a bench before a massive, chaotic painting. It’s not beautiful or even very alluring, accounting for the lack of crowd. But it suits my mood perfectly. Brooding and bloody.
I feel a presence to my left. A moment later, a man joins me on the bench. He’s facing the opposite direction, a comfortable two feet between us. Don’t let him talk to me, I beseech the nonexistent stars above Los Angeles.
My prayer is answered.
I continue staring at the painting, wondering about the artist and the rage they must have felt to create such a grim collage. Then I consider that art is sometimes accidental—maybe they ran out of white paint. A few minutes pass before I grow bored attempting to unlock the artist’s motivation. I’ve met enough artists to know it’s a pointless venture, anyway.
I uncross my legs. Cross them again. Where the
My head swivels to face the man beside me, whose identity is suddenly, vividly clear. There’s only one man on the planet who smells like this one. The sight of his profile brings a clash of emotions, all of them potent. Most of them pleasant. Except for one… But I don’t think about that. It was a long time ago.
“Sebastian,” I croon.
His head turns slowly, eyes widening with feigned surprise. He’s an actor—a very famous one—but I’ve known him a long time.
“Candy, what a surprise.”
I narrow my eyes. “You know I hate that horrible nickname, Bast.”
Midnight eyes glitter in his darkly handsome face. With his tousled sable hair, Mediterranean complexion, and the piratical curl of his lips, it’s no surprise he’s cast mostly as damaged hero or soulful bad boy. The celebrated eyes, with their ridiculously long lashes, aren’t actually black. They are the darkest molten brown.
I have a sudden memory—and squash it.
“I do know that, Candy. Just as you know how much I adore Bast.”
Sebastian leans back on a muscled arm, the leather encasing it protesting softly. More of his scent invades my senses. I inhale instinctively, ignoring the little shiver of awareness in my belly.
He murmurs, “You know, calling me that only serves to remind me how much you want to put a leash on me.”
I ignore the impulse to look at the smooth column of his throat. Sebastian and I have played this game since we were old enough to be affected by pheromones.
I smirk. “I still don’t know why you weren’t flattered.”
“Oh, I was,” he purrs, eyes flashing to my mouth and back up. “Few moments in my life have compared to having an eight-year-old, mud-covered Candace Hughes inform me of my demotion to household pet. Whatever happened to that dog?”
My smile spreads. “Father made one of the neighbors take him after he chewed through a box of imported cigars. Last I heard, Bast is fat and happy, enjoying his golden years.”
Sebastian chuckles. The sound rolls through me, bringing a wave of heat which, as usual, I ignore. Let the rest of America drop their panties over that sound—I’ve seen the teenaged-version of him peeing in bushes after drinking too much stolen beer.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
He nods across the room. “Same thing you are.”
I look over my shoulder. Oh, there’s Robert. He’s chatting with a slim blonde woman. Flirting, actually. My first impulse is to be relieved. Then Sebastian’s words register.
“Are our dates flirting with each other?” I ask in wry amusement.
A black brow lifts, a smile teasing his lips. “It would appear so. How unexpectedly entertaining.” I giggle, which makes his eyes slant sharply to me. They’re melting dark, full of some feeling I can’t name. “I haven’t heard that in a while. Still sounds like a diseased cat.”
I debate sticking my tongue out at him but rational thought catches up first. We’re in public, surrounded by strangers as well as familiar faces. A few of them are clients of mine, and I have an image to uphold.
More importantly, Sebastian Bellizzi is very famous, both for his acting career and recently, his directorial debut. A cluster of young women is currently salivating over him. Sharing excited whispers. Cellphone cameras out. Lust-filled eyes and heaving bosoms angled our way. It’s only a matter of time before they work up the nerve to approach.
“How long have you been seeing Robert?” asks Sebastian, eyes on the flirting duo.
I focus on his profile, achingly familiar and foreign at the same time. If it weren’t for the sharp prominence of cheekbones, firm strength of jaw, and the day-old growth of stubble, Sebastian would skate across the line from handsome to beautiful.
“A few weeks,” I say noncommittally. “Have you spoken to Alex recently?”
He nods, smiling broadly, and for an instant my breath catches. It’s his real smile, not the one he offers for public consumption. I stare at the little chip in the bottom of one of his front teeth, remembering an accident with a water balloon and a baseball bat.
“He and Ms. Sands are happy as clams,” he says.
“Thank God,” I breathe. “He almost fucked that up big time.”
“He told me you convinced him to pull his head out of his ass. What did you tell him?”
I blink, taken aback by his intent tone. “I don’t remember. Probably some bullshit about making sacrifices for love, conquering fear of the unknown, seizing the day. Blah blah. I’m just glad it worked. They’re stupidly perfect for each other.”
Both of Sebastian’s brows lift. “Your faith in the power of love is overwhelming. I’m inspired.”
I snort. “Whatever.”
Our gazes connect and we share a jaded smile. I’m suddenly very glad he’s here tonight. With him, I never have to pretend, never have to manufacture conversation or interest. The sexual tension is nothing new—we’re only human—but Sebastian is the closest thing to family I have in Los Angeles. We have roots, a history spanning two decades.
My brother’s best friend.
After a minute of companionable quiet, he asks, “Are you bringing Robert to the dinner party at Alex’s tomorrow?”
“No, definitely not.”
“Ah,” he says knowingly. “Does the poor man know his time is limited?”
I glance at Robert, now grinning down at Sebastian’s date. They’re standing altogether too close for their conversation to be a casual one. Even knowing it’s irrational, I feel a pang of irritation. He had his dick in me two hours ago, for Christ’s sake.
“I don’t think he cares,” I say caustically, looking back at Sebastian. “What about your date? Aren’t you annoyed?”
He shrugs. “Jessica and I aren’t seeing each other, per se.”
My brows lift. “Just fucking, huh?”
His eyes cut to my face, flaring dangerously. “Candace,” he says with quiet censure. I flush, turning to stare at the angry painting. He continues mutedly, “What’s going on with you?”
“I’m fine,” I say quickly. “Just a lot on my plate. Funding issues for the gala.” And lack of orgasms, I add privately.
Sebastian stiffens minutely and I turn, already aware of the approach of high heels. Many of them.
“Damnit,” he mutters, even as he smiles brightly at the gaggle of girls. “Ladies, how are we this evening?”
Swooning and blushing commences, as well as a few unsubtle adjustments of shirts to better display cleavage.
“Mr. Bellizzi,” croons the pack’s alpha female. “Can we have a picture with you?”
Sebastian smoothly replies, “No pictures tonight. Will you settle for a hug?”
Sebastian stands, six-feet-four inches of jean- and leather jacket-clad sex appeal, and the girls crowd closer. “You first,” he says darkly to the pack leader. She turns bright red and saunters sensually—or tries to—into his open arms.
By the time the last girl has been dutifully embraced, I’m feeling a little bad for Sebastian. He was groped at least six times.
“Goodnight, ladies, it’s been a pleasure.” They ogle for another few moments, then bounce away. Sitting heavily beside me, he angles his mouth to my ear. “Wanna get out of here?”
The low tone lifts goose bumps. I jerk a little, then bend away to see his face. It’s the mask—sensual and dark. He hasn’t looked at me this way in years. Predatory. Carnal.
The axis of my world shivers and tilts.
“No,” I say weakly. “We have dates.”
His eyes are fixed on my mouth. “Just a drink, Candace, for old times’ sake.”
I have a sudden, technicolored recall of old times. Warmth floods my core, bathing my silk panties. Horrified by my body’s betrayal, I snap, “Un
I flinch as soon as the words leave my mouth. His eyes shutter immediately, his shoulders bunching.
“Sebastian, I’m sorry,” I say quickly. “You know I don’t think—”
“That I was a stray dog begging for scraps from the Hughes’ family table?” he asks with a dangerous undertone. “I was.”
I want to touch him, but I can’t. Won’t. “That’s not true,” I say, but my lies don’t work on Sebastian. He’s always seen right through them. “Sorry,” I add feebly.
His lips curve, lashes sweeping down as his gaze trails over my chest and lower. More heat builds, pulsing low in my body.
“Make it up to me,” he murmurs silkily. “I can think of something I’d like to eat that tastes better than milk and cookies.”
I almost slap him. Almost. Instead, I stand and walk away.
I don’t bother fetching Robert. We took separate cars. He’ll no doubt be relieved by my abandonment, having clearly moved on to greener, more responsive pastures. I can’t blame him.
Even though they’ll deny it to their dying breaths, sex isn’t enough for most men. After a certain amount of time, they want to be loved.
Love is a game I don’t play.
Neither is sex with Sebastian Bellizzi.
The trilling of my cellphone pulls me from sleep. Dream images collapse onto themselves, painting my mind with fading color. Sensation. Warm silk and dark eyes. My skin is damp, aching with need.