The Billionaire’s Trophy

By: Lynne Graham

CHAPTER ONE



SEBASTIANO CHRISTOU, KNOWN as Bastian to his many friends and acquaintances, studied the huge emerald ring in his hand with seething frustration blazing in his dark golden eyes, his lean darkly handsome features settling into forbidding lines of hauteur. He was holding the Christou betrothal ring, which had, until very recently, adorned the hand of his intended wife, Lilah Siannas.

Ironically, Lilah had not voiced a single word of reproach concerning the terms of the pre-nup agreement presented to her lawyer. Instead, while leaving the pre-nup unsigned, Lilah had become irritatingly unavailable and distant but her burning resentment had ultimately triumphed, culminating in her public statement that the engagement was over and the wedding cancelled. And ever since then Lilah had been noisily painting the town red in the company of a good-looking toyboy millionaire.

Bastian was well aware that Lilah was throwing down a gauntlet she expected him to pick up. He was supposed to be jealous: yet he was not. He was supposed to feel foolish: but he did not. He was supposed to want her so much that he would forget about the pre-nup: only he did not. No, Lilah was playing a losing game for Bastian would never marry a woman without first securing his wealth with a pre-nup agreement. That was a lesson learned well at his grandfather’s knee.

His father had married four times and his three incredibly expensive divorces had decimated the Christou family fortune. Bastian’s grandfather had taught his grandson that love was unnecessary in a successful marriage and that shared goals and principles were more important. Bastian had never been in love but he had often been in lust. Lilah, a tiny exquisite brunette, had excited his need to chase and possess but he had never kidded himself that he loved her. Indeed before he proposed, he had evaluated Lilah’s worth much as though she were an investment. He had recognised the advantage of their similar backgrounds; he had admired her unemotional outlook, excellent education and her skills as a society hostess. But, as he now grimly reminded himself, he had seriously underestimated the strength and pulling power of his fiancée’s avarice.

Bastian thrust the ring back in its case and put it in the safe, angry at the months he had wasted on Lilah, a woman demonstrably unfit to be his wife. He was thirty years old, more than ready to marry and have a family, bored with casual affairs. He had not realised that finding a wife would be such a challenge and he was already wondering how the hell he was supposed to avoid a scene at his sister, Nessa’s wedding in two weeks’ time because Lilah was one of Nessa’s bridesmaids. Lilah would be outraged when Bastian didn’t, at least, try to win her back. She would relish being the focus of all eyes at the wedding and would delight even more in a confrontation, but Bastian did not want his baby sister to be embarrassed or upset on her special day. The only way of avoiding that danger would be for him to arrive with another woman on his arm, for Lilah was too proud to overlook such a statement.

But at this late stage where on earth would he find another woman to act as his partner throughout a weekend of family festivities? A woman who wouldn’t try to trap him into a relationship and who wouldn’t read more than he meant into his invitation? A woman nonetheless capable of pretending to be intimately involved with him, for nothing less would keep Lilah at a distance. Did such a perfect woman exist?

‘Bastian...?’ He spun round as one of his directors strode in with a laptop beneath his arm. ‘I’ve got something amusing to show you—are you in the mood?’

Bastian was not in the mood but Guy Babington was a good friend and he forced a smile to his hard mouth. ‘Always,’ he encouraged.

Guy opened the laptop on the desk and spun it round to display the screen to Bastian. ‘There...recognise her?’

Bastian studied the photo of a stunning blonde with bright blue eyes in a party dress. She was laughing into the camera. ‘No...should I?’

‘Take another look,’ Guy urged. ‘Believe it or not, she works for you.’

‘No way...I would’ve noticed her,’ Bastian instantly declared because she was such a beauty. ‘What’s her picture doing on the Internet? Are you on Facebook?’

Amused, Guy shook his head. ‘I’m on a website advertising a business called Exclusive Companions. It’s an escort agency for professionals, very exclusive,’ he said, rolling his eyes suggestively.

Bastian frowned, his sensual mouth curling a little with distaste. ‘Do you use escorts?’

‘I wouldn’t mind using this blonde,’ Guy confided, ducking the question with a lascivious look.

Bastian elevated an ebony brow. ‘You said she worked for me—’

‘She does—as an intern on a three-month placement on this floor. Emmie...she does research for your PA.’

Astonishment gripped Bastian as he turned his attention back to the screen. ‘That’s Emmie?’ he queried in disbelief, mentally flicking up an image of the young woman as she looked at work: hair tied back, specs anchored on her nose, dowdy clothes. Still frowning, Bastian zeroed his attention in on the dark mole on the centre of the blonde’s cheek as he recalled that the intern had the same beauty mark in the identical place. ‘Diavelos...that is her! She’s actually moonlighting as an escort?’

‘Evidently...but what I’d really like to know is why she dresses to look like the ugly duckling when she comes into work here,’ Guy confided.

‘Her name is Emerald according to the site...’

Sebastiano flipped open his own computer and hit several buttons to access the list of his staff. Yes, it wasn’t Emmie short for Emily or Emma as most people would assume; her true name was indeed Emerald. So, weird and unbelievable as it seemed to him, it was the same woman.

‘Doesn’t she clean up amazingly well?’ Guy chuckled lecherously.

Bastian would not have described the intern as an ugly duckling although he had to admit that on the few occasions she had been around him she had thoroughly irritated him.

‘Sugar is bad for your teeth,’ she had told him when she handed him his coffee, strong and sweet the way he liked it.

‘Manners maketh man,’ she had quipped when he strode through a door ahead of her and they almost collided in the doorway.

But he had noticed that, even clad in the ubiquitous black tights, she had incredibly long legs, the sort a man thought about wrapping round his waist. An escort, he ruminated thoughtfully, a woman whose company was available for hire. If she cleaned up as well as she did in that photo, she would make a very presentable piece of arm candy and, after all, it would be in her own best interests to meet his expectations. Possibly she wasn’t fully aware of the terms of her temporary employment, one condition of which specified that she must do nothing to bring the company into disrepute. And working a lucrative sideline as an escort for rich men definitely didn’t fit the bill of acceptability. He had never used an escort service before, nor would he have considered doing so in normal circumstances, but for this particular occasion he liked the idea of a woman he could hire to accompany him to his sister’s wedding. He would not have to ask anyone for a favour, nor would he have to pretend an interest in a woman that he didn’t feel anything for and there would be no room for misunderstandings in such an arrangement: he would pay Exclusive Companions and she would deliver the act he told her to deliver. In fact the more he thought about it, the more he liked that idea; she would be as much under his control as a robot.

* * *

Emmie swallowed back a yawn with difficulty while Bastian Christou’s PA, Marie, gave her exhaustive details on the company she wanted her to research. Her hand unwittingly rubbed at her aching leg, which always bothered her when she was on her feet too much. Her right leg had been badly injured in a car crash when she was twelve and for years afterwards Emmie had been disabled, initially forced to use a wheelchair and only later recovering sufficiently to get around on crutches. Indeed, without experimental surgery she would never have walked unaided again and so grateful was she still for that surgery that she always shrugged off the occasional ache as unworthy of note or fuss.

Unfortunately, her tiredness made concentration a virtual impossibility and, not for the first time, Emmie marvelled that she had ever believed that an unpaid internship would be the perfect solution to her unemployment crisis. After months working a temporary dead-end job in the local library, Emmie had been willing to try anything to get her career out of the doldrums. She had jumped, however, from the frying pan straight into the fire. Although she had several friends working for no money to gain some experience for their all-important CVs they were all, without exception, still in receipt of parental financial support.

Emmie was rather less fortunate in that field. Although she had an excellent business degree the economic downturn meant there were few graduate jobs and the few that there were went to applicants with the skills and practical know-how that were only attainable from actual employment. After countless unsuccessful applications, Emmie had known that she needed work experience to improve her chances and she had initially been ecstatic when she got through a tough assessment centre and first won the internship at Christou Holdings, one of the most aggressive and successful software companies in London.

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