The Spanish Billionaire's Hired Bride

By: Rachel Lyndhurst

Chapter One

“Stop right there or I’ll snap your neck.”

Ricardo Almanza heard the blonde’s breath catch as his hand closed around her throat and pulled her backwards against his body. Her pulse was rapid beneath his fingertips, and her short gasps indicated fear. He loosened his hold. She might be a thief, but she was still a slightly-built woman and he had no intention of deliberately hurting her.

He grabbed her wrist and shook it roughly until she dropped the diamond necklace she was holding onto the bedspread. Her other hand flew to protect her throat, and she arched her back as if she was trying to look at him, or spit in his face, perhaps. Her voice was laced with panic.

“The Condesa—”

A pause. Her accent betrayed her, clearly not Catalan or a native of Ibiza and her Balearic sister islands. “Be quiet,” he growled in English. “And do as I tell you.”

Ricardo manoeuvred her toward the edge of the bed, pushing his knees into the back of hers until her legs buckled, and she fell forward. Her face twisted against the silk coverlet and he sensed she was looking for a means of escape. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he quickly tipped her onto her back and was suddenly staring into the widest, greenest eyes he had ever seen. They flashed like emeralds, and shallow, rapid breaths escaped her parted lips. His gaze slipped lower, snagged for a fraction of a second by the sight of her brea**sts as they rose and fell beneath a close-fitting black T-shirt. She reminded him of a trapped panther, beautiful, wild and poised, ready to fight back. A savage creature that would scratch his eyes out given half a chance.

He let go of his quarry and stepped backward to get a better look. The terrified blonde lay there panting, her eyes darting back and forth with terror. But a few more seconds were enough to confirm his very first thought. If he really had to take a wife someday, this was exactly how he’d want her to look.

“You should have done more research before you targeted this place.” He trickled the necklace through his fingers as her eyes lasered into his. “These diamonds will never find a buyer on the black market. They’re unique and each one traceable. No criminal on Ibiza worth his salt would touch them. Unless, of course, you’re stealing to order.”

“I’m not stealing anything,” she hissed and pushed herself up onto her elbows. “I was just—”

“Just passing?” Ricardo injected a deliberately unpleasant tone into his voice, irked by the way her T-shirt now strained across her chest. A distraction. “You must think I’m completely stupid. Now take off your clothes.”

“What?”

“You heard me. You wouldn’t be the first amateur thief to hide stolen goods in her underwear.”

The woman sat bolt upright on the edge of the bed and stared at him open-mouthed for a few seconds. “I’m not taking anything off. Who the hell do you think you are?”

“You don’t know? I’m disappointed.” Clever, playing the outraged innocent, but he was having none of it. “You can call me Señor while we do this. Now take off your clothes, or I’ll do it for you.”

“If you touch me again, I’ll—”

“You’ll do what? Scream? Call the police?” Ricardo laughed and took a step closer, bending so that his face was close enough to see flecks of gold in her irises. It wouldn’t be the first time a corrupt police officer was in league with a petty criminal either, so he was taking no chances on what she may have already stashed away. “They’ll be here soon enough. Once I’ve finished with you …”

Her eyes were wide and clear. “Just promise me you won’t hurt the Condesa if I agree to do what you say.”

“The Condesa?” What was the little crook up to now? Not that it mattered, but it would be nicer not to have to wrestle her to the ground before the police arrived. He took a long breath and allowed his gaze to drop to her mouth as she stood up to face him. “Very well, we’ll leave the Condesa out of it.”

“We can be civilized about this.” The blonde licked her lips and her voice dropped an octave, becoming silky as she fingered his collar. “What is your name?”

Ricardo suppressed the urge to laugh. The little minx was trying to seduce her way out of trouble! “Take off your clothes,” he said firmly and then everything went black with pain.



“You’re an oaf, Ricardo,” Condesa Antonella Almanza muttered with an expression as sour as green lemons. “The poor girl thought she was about to be raped and murdered up there. I expect you to apologize when she brings our coffee.”

Ricardo rose from a white leather sofa and thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets. His stepmother never failed to irritate him. “Perhaps, dear madrastra, you would care to explain to me what that English woman is doing here in the first place? Apart from making coffee, fetching your jewels, and kicking like a rabid mule, that is.”

“And perhaps you would like to explain to me what you were doing sneaking around upstairs without permission?”

“I own the place, remember?”

She frowned and ran a beautifully manicured hand over her shiny black hair.

“Helen Marshall is my Girl Thursday.”

“Your what?” Ricardo said with a laugh of disbelief.

“The same as a Girl Friday, only faster.” The older woman sniffed disdainfully, unwilling to look him in the eye. “It’s all about one’s work-life balance.”

Ricardo shook his head. “You kill me with your mad ideas, Antonella. You really, really do.”

She picked at an invisible speck on her Chanel jacket. “You don’t understand my needs, you never have.”

“Your needs? I think I’ve got a pretty good idea by now, judging by the accounts I approve for payment every month.”

“I need to relax more, have some ‘me time’.”

“Give me strength! What do you do all day? You have a cleaner, a cook, a gardener—”

“How dare you! I gave your father the best years of my life. He and your wretched family ruined me for anyone else. He owed me for that, and as a consequence, the debt is now yours, as eldest son.”

“The only son,” he snapped. “And I have never dishonored that debt. So how much are you paying this little English cuckoo?”

Helen Marshall coughed politely in the doorway, noting the fury on the Condesa’s face. She’d understood every word of their blazing row. “Your coffee, madam,” Helen murmured as she entered the salon, eyes lowered to the Turkish rug beneath her feet.

“Ah, at last.” The Condesa replied and waited as Helen poured the coffee with shaky hands. She took her cup carefully, so as not to tangle her nails in the tiny handle and jerked her chin towards the man Helen now knew was Ricardo Almanza. “Before you go, my appalling stepson has something to say.”

Helen took a step back from the coffee tray and slowly raised her face, catching her reflection in an elaborate mirror over the fireplace. She looked pale, her makeup having been partially rubbed off on the Condesa’s bedspread. She could no longer avoid acknowledging the tall shadow hovering to the far right of her vision. Ricardo Almanza’s aura dragged her eyes to meet his once again. The angry stare she remembered boring into her in the bedroom was the same, just calmer. His eyes were the color of Baltic amber, his hair as black as night and a trace of the mandarin and persimmon in his cologne hung in the still air. Gold cufflinks in the shape of a lion’s head glinted on the white shirt cuffs protruding from his black jacket. His fingernails were short and clean and a shiver ripped through her as she remembered the feel of his hard hands gripping her …

“I owe you an apology, Senorita Marshall. My behavior was unfortunate. I felt compelled to protect my stepmother from an intruder. I had not been informed of your employment. I made a mistake.”

Tall, dark, and angular, he would tick all the boxes if he wasn’t such a misery. “And I’m sorry I kicked you so hard in the—I apologize for being so vicious,” she said, recalling the ferocity with which she’d slammed her foot into his groin. A slow smile changed his countenance entirely and a lump formed in her throat.

“You were frightened, it was understandable.”

“Yes. Yes I was,” she murmured. No air moved and the atmosphere was heavy as a clock chimed five times. She gritted out a smile. “Will that be all today, madam?”

“Going so soon?” Ricardo interjected before the Condesa could answer. “Please, there’s something I’d like to know before you go. What exactly did you do here today?”

“Do?” Helen switched to the Condesa, silently pleading for guidance. She was sure her employer didn’t want her stepson to know what happened most afternoons during siesta.

“Yes, fulfilling the terms of your contract, you know, earning your pay.” He shot a scornful glance at his stepmother and appeared to ignore the vitriol in her expression.

“Well, um, today we started learning Mandarin,” Helen said brightly.

“Mandarin? Is that so?” Ricardo slapped the back of the sofa. “Well, well, well that’s going to be so incredibly useful when you go handbag shopping in Milan, Antonella. How forward thinking of you. I am so very, very impressed.”

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