Blackmailed by the Italian Billionaire

By: Nina Croft

Chapter One

“I’m lost,” Lia Brent muttered into her cell phone. “At least I hope I’m lost, because if not I’m in big trouble. Look, Kelly, I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.”

Lia shoved the phone into her bag and glared down at the map of London clutched in her hand. She had an appointment at a club called The Crazy Frog, and she was pretty sure she was in the right place.

Except she couldn’t be.

She didn’t know London well—hadn’t been back since her dad’s disappearing act ten years ago—but this didn’t look like the sort of area a nightclub would be in. Unless it was a very down-market nightclub. Her stomach churned at the thought.

It was nearly seven at night, but the sun still beat down. Lia’s feet hurt from the stupid high heels she was wearing for the part, her head pounded from the constant drone of traffic, and she was suddenly overwhelmed by a desperate urge to turn around and run for home. But she wasn’t a quitter, and besides, if she gave up now, then soon she wouldn’t have a home to run to. And neither would her little brother, Mike, never mind her housekeeper, her three cats, and her dog.

No, she had no choice but to go on with her plan, however crappy and foolish it might be. Gritting her teeth, she sent up a silent prayer for inspiration. It came in the form of a sleek black sports car that pulled up on the other side of the road, and the man who uncoiled himself from the low front seat. Lia rarely noticed men, but even she had to admit that this one was gorgeous; maybe it was his height, or the immaculate fit of his dark business suit, or the lithe, predatory grace with which he moved. Whatever it was, Lia couldn’t look away, and she watched until he disappeared through a set of black double doors. She stared at the closed doors for what seemed like an eternity, then slowly raised her eyes to the sign hanging above them. For a moment, she couldn’t believe she had missed it; a huge picture of what could only be a crazy frog.


She started forward only to come to an abrupt halt, because beneath the sign was a photograph of an almost entirely naked woman.

Oh, yeah, she was definitely in trouble. Big trouble.

Luc Severino strolled through the dimly lit nightclub, the once-familiar scents and sounds washing over him, transporting him back to his misspent youth. The last time he’d been here, he’d been a cocky eighteen-year-old, blissfully unaware that his life was about to turn to shit. The place hadn’t changed one bit.

It was early, and the seats were mostly empty. On the stage, an improbably built blonde was gyrating to the throbbing beat of some old rock song. She almost lost her grip on the steel pole as Luc passed, then instantly redoubled her efforts. He tossed her a smile as he passed, then dismissed her from his mind and concentrated on the meeting at hand. What could Harley possibly want after all these years?

The barman glanced up as he approached.

“I’m here to see Harley,” Luc said, and the man nodded in the direction of one of the dark booths that lined the back wall of the club. Luc walked over and found his old friend seated at a small table.

“Luc, what can I get you to drink?”

“Nothing,” he said, sinking into the seat opposite Harley.

“Sure?” Harley took a sip of his own drink and studied Luc over the rim of his glass. “Nice suit,” he said. “Italian? Your mum send it over?”

Luc nodded, and Harley let out a huge sigh. “You look like a goddamned playboy. You certainly don’t fit in here anymore.”

Luc smiled. “You do.”

“I got your invitation, by the way.”

“And I got your acceptance—glad you can make it.”

“What? Me miss what promises to be the swankiest party of the year? Never going to happen. Besides, it’s for a good cause. You know most people in your position would forget their old life, pretend it doesn’t exist—it’s a good thing you’re doing.”

“I think so. So, come on Harley, cut the social chitchat and get to the point. Why am I here?”

“Okay.” Harley sighed. “Just how interested are you in finding Jimmy Brent?”

Luc went still at the name, and something dark stirred to life deep inside him. The truth was, he didn’t know the answer. At one point, finding Jimmy Brent and making him pay had occupied him body and soul. The man had almost destroyed him, had destroyed Luc’s father. Then ten years ago, just as Luc was about to spring his trap, Jimmy Brent vanished off the face of the earth.

Luc had known back then that he could dedicate his life to hunting the man, or he could move on. He’d chosen the latter, and he’d never regretted the decision. Did he really want to stir up all the old memories?

“What do you think?” he asked, his voice intentionally toneless.

Harley shrugged. “I think you’re very interested.” He paused and Luc raised an impatient eyebrow. “Well, I might have a lead on him.”

Leaning back in his chair, Luc stared at the ceiling, giving himself time to think. He’d believed that all thoughts of revenge were behind him, that he was satisfied with his life. After all, he had more now than he could ever have imagined back in the old days—wealth, success, anything he wanted was his for the taking. But all that faded to insignificance at the news that his old enemy might once more be within his reach. He smiled. For the first time in what seemed like years, he realized what it felt like to be fully alive.

“I think I will have that drink after all. Scotch.”

They waited in silence until the waitress brought Luc’s drink, Harley drumming his fingers against the tabletop.

Luc took a long swallow. “Okay, what do you know about Jimmy Brent?”

“You know Jimmy was married?”

Luc nodded.

“Well, his wife lived in town with him on and off, probably depending on whether Jimmy had a bit on the side at the time. I was working for him back then and I often drove her around. She was classy, didn’t really fit in with the people in the old neighborhood and we sort of became friends. Anyway, they had a daughter. She must be about twenty now.”

“Twenty-two,” Luc said.

“Whatever. Anyway, she was a right little madam, but Jimmy doted on her, used to call her his little princess. It must have broken his heart to leave her behind.”

“Get to the point, Harley.”

“Well, Jimmy’s daughter called me up about a week ago and said she wanted a job dancing here at the club.” He sat back for a moment, watching, but Luc kept his expression blank. “She’s coming here tonight for an interview.”

Luc glanced at him sharply. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Harley frowned. “I wasn’t sure I should even tell you now.” He gestured around the club. “This isn’t your life anymore. It’s behind you, and that’s where it should stay. But I owe you, and I thought you’d want to know.”

Luc sat quietly for a moment, absently stroking one finger along the scar that ran down his right cheek. The name Jimmy Brent had raised some old demons he thought he’d overcome. But could you ever overcome something like that? And now his daughter had turned up, contacting old acquaintances of her father. What could she possibly want after all these years?

“Do you think she’s genuine? Just wants a job?” he asked

“Hell no,” Harley said. “I don’t know what she wants, but I doubt very much that it’s a job dancing. If she’s anything like her father, she won’t have an honest bone in her body. Jimmy Brent was the most treacherous crook in London. You know that better than anyone. And if she’s anything like her mother, she wouldn’t be seen dead in a place like this.” He waved a hand around the club. “The thing is, though, her mum used to call me up every couple of months to find out if I had any news of Jimmy, but for the last year or so nothing, not a whisper from her. Then out of the blue this Olivia phones and says she wants to move to the city and her mother suggested she look me up.” Harley grinned. “Like Penelope Brent was ever the sort to suggest her daughter takes up stripping.” He sat back in his chair and let the news sink in a minute. “So, how do you want to play this?”

Luc thought for a moment. “She says she needs a job?”

Harley nodded.

“How about you convince her that she really doesn’t want to work here.” Luc paused, glanced around the club, and grinned. “No disrespect, Harley, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Then I’ll make her an offer she can’t refuse.”

“So we do the old good crook, bad crook routine?”

“Hmm, just be your charming self and she’ll be begging me to take her out of here in minutes. After that, it should be easy to find out what she knows.”

“What do we tell her about you?”

“Tell her I’m an old acquaintance of her father’s.” Luc smiled. “Tell her the truth. Tell her I owe her father. Big time.”

“You know, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Olivia Brent.” Harley glanced toward the door. “And if I’m not mistaken, that must be her now.”

Luc followed his gaze and went instantly still. A young woman stood inside the doorway, staring at the dancer on the stage as if transfixed, something akin to surprised horror on her expressive features. She appeared dismayed and so out of place that Luc almost smiled. Then she turned toward them and he saw she had her father’s eyes—blue as a summer sky, seemingly guileless, and so clearly inherited from Jimmy Brent that a surge of hatred washed over him.

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