Miss Prim and the Billionaire

By: Lucy Gordon

PROLOGUE




AS THE soft light of dawn crept into the room the young man looked down on the girl, asleep beside him, her long blonde hair cascading across the pillow, her face soft and sweet. He kissed her lips gently and she stirred, murmuring, ‘Marcel.’

‘Shh,’ he said. ‘I just want to tell you—’

‘Mmm?’

‘—lots of things. Some of them I can’t say when you’re awake. When I look at you I’m struck dumb. I can’t even find the words to tell you how lovely you are—but then, you already know that.’

He drew the sheet back to reveal her glorious form, both slender and voluptuous.

‘There are plenty of people to praise your beauty, those photographers, and so many other men who’d take you from me if they could. But you don’t let them. Bless you, my darling, my sweet Cassie.’

Without opening her eyes, she gave a sleepy smile that made Marcel’s heart turn over. He was in his early twenties with a face that was still boyish, and as gentle as her own. His naked body was lean, almost too much so. Time would fill out his shape and bring maturity to his features, but perhaps he would never be better than he was now, his dark eyes full of adoration as he gazed down at her.

‘Can you hear me? I have something to tell you. You may be cross with me for concealing it, but you’ll forgive me, I know you will. And then I’ll ask—no, I’ll beg you to become my wife. What we have now is wonderful, but I want more. I want to claim you in the sight of the world, to climb to the top of the highest tower and cry aloud that you belong to me. To me! Nobody else. We’ll marry as soon as possible, won’t we, my darling? And all the world will know that you’re mine as completely as I am yours.

‘That time will come soon, but first I have to explain what I’ve been hiding. The fact is that I—no, let me keep my secret a little longer. In truth I’m a coward. I’m so afraid that you’ll be angry with me when you know that I deceived you, just a little, that I let you think—never mind. I’ll tell you when the right moment comes.

‘For this moment I just want to say that I love you, I belong to you, and nothing will ever part us. My darling, if you knew how I long to call you my wife. I pray that our wedding will happen soon.

‘But sleep now, just a little longer. There’ll be time later. We have all our lives to love each other.’





CHAPTER ONE




‘THE trouble with weddings is that they bring out the idiot in people.’

The cynical remark made Marcel Falcon glance up, grinning with agreement. The man who’d come to sit beside him was a business associate with whom he was on cordial terms.

‘Good to see you, Jeremy,’ he said. ‘I’ll get the drinks. Waiter!’

They were at a table in the bar of the Gloriana Hotel, one of the most luxurious establishments in London, providing not only rooms but wedding facilities for those who could afford them. Marcel gave his order, signed for it to go onto his bill and turned back to his companion, saying, ‘You’re right about weddings. No good to anyone. I’d just as soon have avoided this one, but my brother, Darius, is the bride’s ex-husband.’

Jeremy stared. ‘And he’s a guest at her wedding to another man? I’ve heard of sophisticated, but that takes the biscuit.’

‘It’s for the children, Frankie and Mark. They need to see their parents acting friendly despite the divorce.’

‘And I’ll bet your father had a hand in the decision.’

‘There aren’t many decisions my father doesn’t have a hand in,’ Marcel agreed wryly. ‘He actually got them to delay the wedding until a certain date had passed, so that he could come to England without incurring a huge tax bill.’

Amos Falcon was so extravagantly wealthy that he’d had to flee to the tax haven of Monaco where he lived for most of the time, venturing back to England for only ninety days of the year.

‘Frankie and Mark are his only grandchildren,’ Marcel said, ‘so he’s determined to stay part of their lives.’

‘Strange, that. A man with five sons and only one of them has carried on the line so far.’

‘He says the same thing. He’s always urging us to marry, preferably Freya.’

‘Who’s Freya?’

‘His stepdaughter, the closest thing to a daughter that he has, and he’s set on marrying her to one of us, and so binding her into the family.’

‘Don’t any of you get a say in your choice of wife?’

‘Are you kidding? This is my father we’re talking about. Since when did anyone ever get a say?’ Marcel spoke cynically but with wry affection.

‘Failing Freya,’ he went on, ‘then some other wife to continue the great Falcon dynasty. But except for Darius we’ve all disappointed him. Jackson seems to find wild animals more interesting than people, Leonid is a man we hardly ever see. He could have a dozen wives, but since he seldom leaves Russia we wouldn’t know. And Travis doesn’t dare marry. He’d lose all his fans.’

He spoke of his younger half-brother, born and raised in America, and a successful television actor with an army of adoring female followers.

‘No man could be expected to risk his fortune just for marriage,’ Jeremy agreed solemnly. ‘That just leaves you, the amorous Frenchman.’

Marcel grimaced. ‘Enough!’ he said. ‘If you knew how that stereotype bores me.’

‘And yet you make use of it. The life in Paris, the endless supply of women—all right, all right.’ He broke off hastily, seeing Marcel’s face. ‘But since you have what most men would give their eye teeth for, the least you can do is enjoy it.’

The waiter arrived with their drinks. When he’d gone Jeremy raised his glass.

‘Here’s to being a bachelor. I’d give a lot to know how you’ve managed to stay single so long.’

‘A sense of reality helps. You start off regarding all women as goddesses, but you soon see reason.’

‘Ah! Let you down with a crash, did she?’

‘I can’t remember,’ Marcel said coldly. ‘She no longer exists.’

She never really did, said the voice in his head. A figment of your imagination.

‘Well, I reckon you’ve got it right,’ Jeremy said. ‘All the women you want, whenever you want.’

‘Stop talking nonsense.’

‘I’m not. Look at those girls. They can’t keep their eyes off you.’

It was true. Three young women were at the bar, buying drinks then glancing around, seeming to take stock of the men, form opinions about them, each pausing when they came to Marcel. One of them drew a long breath, one put her head on one side, and the third gave an inviting smile.

You couldn’t blame them, Jeremy reckoned, Marcel was in his thirties, tall, dark-haired and well built but without a spare ounce on him anywhere. His face was handsome enough to make the girls swoon and the men want to commit murder.

But it was more than looks. Marcel had a charm that was delightful or deadly, depending on your point of view. Those who’d encountered only that charisma found it hard to believe in the ruthlessness with which he’d stormed the heights of wealth and success—until they encountered that ruthlessness for themselves. And were floored by it.

But the willing females at the bar knew nothing of this. They saw Marcel’s looks, the seemingly roguish gleam in his eyes, and they responded. Soon, Jeremy guessed, at least one of them would find an excuse to approach him. Or perhaps all three.

‘Have you made your choice?’ he asked caustically.

‘I don’t like to rush it.’

‘Ah yes, of course. And there are some more just coming in. Hey, isn’t that Darius?’

The door of the bar led into the hotel lobby, where they could just see Marcel’s half-brother, Darius Falcon, pressing the button at the elevator. A young woman stood beside him, talking eagerly.

‘Who’s she?’ Jeremy asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Marcel replied. ‘I think she comes from the island he’s just acquired. A man who owed him money used it to pay the debt, and he’s living there at the moment while he decides what to do. He told me he’d be bringing someone, but he didn’t say a lot about her.’

By now Darius and his companion had stepped into the elevator and the doors had closed.

‘I must go up and greet them,’ Marcel said, draining his glass. ‘See you later.’

It was an excuse. Before visiting Darius he meant to call on their father, who’d arrived an hour ago. But instead of heading straight for the main suite, he strolled about, inspecting his surroundings with the eye of a professional. The Gloriana might be among the top hotels in London but it couldn’t compete with La Couronne, the hotel he owned in Paris.

He’d named it La Couronne, the crown, to let the world know that it was the queen of hotels, and his own pride and joy. He had personally overseen every detail of an establishment that offered conference facilities as well as luxurious accommodation, discretion as well as flamboyance. Anybody who was anybody had stayed there: top level businessmen, politicians, film stars. It was a place of fashion and influence. But most of all money.

Money was the centre of his life. And from that centre it stretched out its tentacles to every distant detail. He’d started his business with loans guaranteed by his father, who also added money of his own, to be repaid in due course. Marcel had returned every penny.

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