Valdezs bartered bride, p.1

Valdez's Bartered Bride, page 1

 

Valdez's Bartered Bride
 


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Valdez's Bartered Bride


  Blackmailed into marriage...by Christmas!

  Genealogist Lydia Carter-Wilson is horrified by the debts her father has run up in her name. Then magnate Raul Valdez approaches her with an outrageous proposition. If she helps him claim his inheritance, he’ll pay off her debts and save her tarnished reputation. But there’s a catch. If she fails, she will marry Raul on Christmas Eve!

  No matter their instant and electrifying attraction, Lydia knows Raul’s proposal amounts to blackmail. Yet faced with an impossible choice—risking ruin or becoming Raul’s bartered bride—Lydia finds she cannot resist her desire to make a deal with the dark-hearted billionaire!

  ‘Don’t you dare laugh at me!’ Indignation hurtled out with those words, all but lashing at Raul, and he reluctantly pushed away the image of this woman in his bed.

  ‘Maybe a little laughter is how we need to deal with this situation. Now, please sit down. The poor waitress has no idea if we are staying or going.’ He tried to instil some order into their meeting—which didn’t feel anything like a business lunch.

  He liked the way Lydia’s brunette hair moved: slipping over her shoulder, those loose curls bouncing with the movement, and the way she tucked it back behind her ears. There was an air of vulnerability about her, but he didn’t buy into that at all. There was no way this fiery creature was vulnerable. Spoilt and used to getting her way, yes, but vulnerable? No.

  ‘I’m not entirely sure being forced into marriage is a laughing matter.’

  She fixed those gorgeous eyes on his face, her full lips pouting slightly, making him briefly wish this was a date and that by the end of the evening he would be able to kiss them.

  Savagely he pushed those thoughts aside. This was not a time to become distracted. ‘Then on that we agree.’

  Introducing a sizzling and sexy new duet from Rachael Thomas

  Convenient Christmas Brides

  Estranged brothers Raul Valdez and Maximiliano Martinez are about to unlock some dark and hidden secrets. But with Christmas around the corner first comes seduction!

  Lydia Carter-Wilson finds herself blackmailed into an engagement by Raul Valdez in

  Valdez’s Bartered Bride

  Available now!

  Maximiliano’s life is turned upside down when his estranged wife announces she is carrying his heir in

  Martinez’s Pregnant Wife

  Coming soon!

  Valdez’s Bartered Bride

  Rachael Thomas

  www.millsandboon.co.uk

  RACHAEL THOMAS has always loved reading romance, and is thrilled to be a Mills & Boon author. She lives and works on a farm in Wales—a far cry from the glamour of a Mills & Boon Modern Romance story—but that makes slipping into her characters’ worlds all the more appealing. When she’s not writing, or working on the farm, she enjoys photography and visiting historical castles and grand houses. Visit her at rachaelthomas.co.uk.

  Books by Rachael Thomas

  Mills & Boon Modern Romance

  The Sheikh’s Last Mistress

  New Year at the Boss’s Bidding

  Craving Her Enemy’s Touch

  Claimed by the Sheikh

  A Deal Before the Altar

  The Secret Billionaires

  Di Marcello’s Secret Son

  One Night With Consequences

  A Child Claimed by Gold

  From One Night to Wife

  Brides for Billionaires

  Married for the Italian’s Heir

  The Billionaire’s Legacy

  To Blackmail a Di Sione

  Visit the Author Profile page at millsandboon.co.uk for more titles.

  For Marie Dry and the happy memories of the fun time we spent in Madrid and Seville.

  Contents

  Cover

  Back Cover Text

  Introduction

  Convenient Christmas Brides

  Title Page

  About the Author

  Dedication

  PROLOGUE

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  EPILOGUE

  Extract

  Copyright

  PROLOGUE

  Middle of September, two months earlier

  ‘DO YOU REALLY expect me to go through with it?’ Raul Valdez’s voice thundered around the room, his Spanish words fluid and fast.

  ‘The debt needs to be repaid and, whether you like it or not, the contract your father made before his death with Henry Carter-Wilson still stands. As a member of the board I insist upon it.’ Carlos’s voice ripped through Raul, increasing his anger to an explosive level.

  Raul swore savagely as he glared at the older man. ‘Come on, Carlos, we go back further than that.’

  ‘As a long-standing family friend, I urge you to stop looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found and marry the girl—as your father obviously intended.’

  ‘Marry her?’ Raul couldn’t believe he was hearing this, from Carlos of all people.

  ‘Repay the debt, then file for a divorce once the two years are up.’

  Rage charged through Raul like a bull. How could his father have done this? But that wasn’t a question he needed to ask. He’d never been able to gain his father’s approval, had tried all his life to no avail. This was just one more stab at the son he’d never wanted.

  ‘You make it sound so easy.’ Raul drew in a deep breath and marched to the windows looking out over Madrid, basking in the late summer sunshine. On paper it did look easy, but marriage was the one thing he’d never wanted.

  ‘It is,’ Carlos replied, his tone neutral and matter-of-fact. ‘Two years living with a woman who, you’ve got to admit, is very beautiful, then you can file for a divorce.’

  ‘I have no intentions of marrying anyone. Ever.’ Raul strode across the office, the constraint of the walls making him feel more like a caged animal, trapped against its will. Anger at what his father had done mixed with the fear of being controlled by him still becoming a potent cocktail.

  Raul stopped pacing and looked out over Madrid again, trying to control his temper. He stayed like that for several minutes, his back resolutely turned to Carlos Cardozo, the man who had been there for him more than his father ever had. His father. That was a joke.

  He’d always known he’d been a disappointment to his father, but never had he expected such revelations after his sudden death. He’d never suspected his father had hated him, but then he’d never suspected his father had had another family—another son.

  ‘The only other option you have is to find your half-brother.’ Carlos’s calm voice brought him out of his dark thoughts and back to the present with a sharp jab of shock. ‘Which would mean sharing your inheritance—everything you have built this banking enterprise up to be.’

  Raul whirled round. This had been a detail his father’s lawyer had revealed, one he’d kept secret since that day. How did Carlos know? ‘You know about him?’

  ‘Yes.’ Carlos looked him in the eye, challenging him to ask more.

  ‘How long?’ Raul took the challenge.

  ‘Long enough to know how this is affecting you now.’ Carlos’s voice softened a little as he walked over to him.

  Raul had been in ignorance of his half-brother’s existence until his father’s will had been read out two months ago. It seemed Carlos had known the full facts of his father’s double life long ago.

  ‘And you didn’t think I should know?’ His anger rallie
d again as he glowered at Carlos, the taste of deception filling his mouth with its bitterness.

  ‘I never knew your father would make finding him a condition to you inheriting. Or that he would attach such a huge financial incentive to that task.’

  Huge financial incentive.

  That was an understatement.

  ‘That or marry a woman I barely know.’ Raul glowered at Carlos, suspicion rising at just how much this man knew.

  ‘Marriage would be the easier option.’

  ‘Is that so?’ Raul seriously doubted that. Besides, his brother was out there somewhere.

  ‘It is. You are your father’s son. Marriage will be easy for you. Far better than to share all you’ve worked for.’

  Raul turned away again. His world had been tipped upside down and then inside out. In order to inherit the financial company he’d built into a world player, he had to clear one very large debt by either marrying the debtor’s daughter, or by acknowledging his half-brother and bringing him into the business as an equal, which would unlock funds that would clear the debt and keep the board of directors happy. If the debt wasn’t settled, the company would be sold to the highest bidder.

  The fact that his father had even kept those funds hidden exposed the depths of calculation he had gone to, but that he was prepared to risk his company if the debt wasn’t settled, to risk the jobs of all the people who worked for Banco de Torrez, was a step too far. What the hell had he been doing loaning that kind of money and why was Carlos the only one privy to such information?

  ‘I could have told you my father would be so calculating, so manipulative—had I known about his other life.’ Raul found himself snarling those last two words, hating the anger that sliced through him with the sharpest of blades.

  ‘He’s your father—doesn’t that count for something?’ Carlos reached for him; the false show of sympathy and understanding in that gesture was too much. Raul moved away. This man was not the friend he’d always thought—not to him anyway.

  ‘I’m done with my father, so much so that I don’t give a damn about inheriting his company. I have built my own as well as expanded his. I don’t need this.’ Raul marched towards the door. As far as he was concerned the discussion was over; there was nothing more to say.

  ‘What about your mother?’ Carlos’s next words halted his steps, kept him from walking out for good.

  Raul remained with his back to Carlos, breathing deep and slow, clenching his fingers into tight fists at his sides. His mother was the only reason he’d spent the last two months trying to find his half-brother, not wanting the press—or anyone else—to get to her first with the revelation of her husband’s secret life. It would finish her.

  ‘You can’t walk away, can you, Raul? You can’t risk her finding out by reading salacious gossip in the press?’ Carlos challenged. Again. Damn him. The man knew just how to twist the situation, how to manipulate him.

  Raul whirled round to face Carlos again. ‘No, I damn well can’t. If not for my mother’s happiness, then for all the jobs which depend on me settling this debt by either finding my half-brother or marrying a spoilt little rich girl. Either way I despise my father for it.’

  ‘So why not take the easy option and marry this Lydia girl?’

  ‘That will never happen,’ Raul spat officiously at him. After the example he’d seen of marriage, he would rather welcome a stranger into his life, into his father’s company. Hell, as far as he was concerned, his brother could have it all if it kept people in work and his mother in ignorance of his father’s past actions. He didn’t need any of it.

  ‘The board are getting nervous, Raul. They think you’ve lost your influence, especially after the Lopez deal fell through.’ Carlos touched yet another raw nerve, ratcheting up the desire to prove him and every damn member of the board wrong. One lost deal didn’t spell the end.

  ‘I haven’t given up on that yet, just as I haven’t given up on the search for my half-brother.’ Raul glared angrily at Carlos, resenting the challenge the man was issuing, inadvertently or not.

  ‘Either way, the debt needs to be settled before the end of the year. Sooner if possible.’

  ‘That’s just over three months away. I’ll find my half-brother before then, settle the damn debt and keep the scandal from my mother.’

  ‘If you don’t, you will have to meet Lydia Carter-Wilson.’ Carlos spoke carefully. Quietly.

  ‘If she is anything like she was ten years ago, I would rather lose my father’s business.’ Raul baulked at the memory of the simpering sixteen-year-old girl on the verge of womanhood who’d looked at him like an adoring puppy. Was that when his father had started loaning funds to hers?

  ‘What about all those people who will lose jobs? Shutting down companies isn’t who you are, Raul. Saving them and building them up, giving the people who work within them, a secure life. That’s who you are and I’ve never known you to refuse a challenge yet.’ Carlos spoke the truth, but Raul was too angry to acknowledge it right now.

  ‘I need more time.’

  ‘If you haven’t found your half-brother by the end of November, I will expect you to announce your engagement to Lydia Carter-Wilson.’

  ‘What if the lady is unwilling?’

  Carlos laughed, defusing the tension somewhat. ‘You will find a way, Raul. Your charm with the ladies has never failed you yet.’

  CHAPTER ONE

  Late November

  LYDIA MENTALLY BRACED HERSELF for battle, because this was one fight she was not prepared to lose. Over the twenty-six years of her life, she’d perfected the art of hiding her emotions and now she intended to use it fully. Raul Pérez Valdez wouldn’t know what had hit him. Ten years ago he’d made her feel totally insignificant, like nothing more than a spoilt little rich girl, and she hated him for that. Ever since she’d gone to live with her grandmother as a child, she’d worked hard to shake off that label.

  Any moment he would arrive and walk through the diners of one of London’s top restaurants to the intimate candlelit table he’d arranged, referring to it as neutral territory in his blunt email. The mood she was now in, he was going to need every bit of help he could get from the chosen venue, which was anything but neutral if his reputation of romancing women was true. It was very much a setting he would be at home in, whereas she was distinctly uncomfortable in such surroundings, having avoided anything remotely romantic after witnessing so many relationships turn sour, including her own supposed happy ever after.

  Irritation filled her as the minutes ticked by. He was late. The time he’d appointed had already passed. Was the man intending to make her suffer even more? Make her so nervous she could easily jump at her own shadow? Or had he decided against the ludicrous deal his father had concocted with hers? Did this mean she was free to go back to her life and not honour the conditions of that deal she’d unwittingly been dragged into? Her father had reached an all-time low with that deal, leaving her to pay the price.

  Except she’d had enough. She didn’t owe her father anything, not after all the years of ignoring her, unless it suited his latest negotiations, of course. Like the time she’d been paraded as a sixteen-year-old in front of the man she was about to meet, as if she was some sort of bait. That plan had failed—or so she’d thought.

  With a huff of irritation, Lydia picked up her purse from the small round table and stood up to leave. She wasn’t wasting any more time waiting for Raul Valdez. If he wanted her father’s debt settled, he could chase around London after her.

  ‘Going somewhere?’ The sultry accent snared her senses and she turned and looked up into the face of a man so handsome he couldn’t possibly be the perpetrator of such dire circumstances. He’d changed, but from the intent look in his inky black eyes she knew without a doubt this was Raul Pérez Valdez, CEO of the Spanish investment bank her father had defaulted to in the most spectacular way.

  Every sculpted angle of his face, from the high cheekbones to the Romanesque nose and th
e deep-set eyes, sent her body’s senses spinning into overdrive. Memories of being an impressionable girl on the brink of womanhood collided with that reaction and she was unable to quell the erratic racing of her pulse, or the shiver of something she quickly dismissed as nothing more than attraction.

  ‘We had a meeting ten minutes ago.’ Her sharp words did nothing to this specimen of cool reserve. The heavy brows lifted slightly in disbelief—or was it amusement? She couldn’t tell. The intensity in his eyes increased, but she was determined he wouldn’t use his well-known charm on her. She glared at him, hoping the icy coldness she was renowned for showed in all its glory. She wasn’t an impressionable sixteen-year-old any more.

  ‘For my lateness, I apologise.’ He held the back of the chair she’d just vacated, the expression on his face showing he expected her to sit back down.

  Lydia tried to remain focused as she looked up at him, hating the way excitement sparked inside her as his dark eyes travelled down her body, making her display of cold demeanour extremely difficult. She stood boldly as his gaze seemed to rip the black fitted skirt and businesslike white blouse from her. Each second that ticked by increased her vulnerability, raising it higher than it had ever been, and the urge to fight back kicked in. If he was going to blatantly inspect her, she’d return the compliment.

  With huge effort she dragged her gaze from the black depths of his eyes, taking in the clean-shaven face, then to the strong neck encased in a pristine white shirt collar, intensifying the olive tones of his skin. His hair was thick and as dark as coal and his broad shoulders gave her the impression they were strong enough to carry any problems. His arms flexed tantalisingly beneath the fine cloth of his suit as he stood and leant slightly on the back of the chair, his cold stare barely masking his irritation.

  How would it feel to be held within the strength of those arms? Her pulse leapt at the thought and she fought hard again to quell the instant attraction that had stirred the woman in her she’d long since hidden away. This was not the time to indulge in silly romantic notions and most definitely not with this man, one who’d made his thoughts of her plain many years ago.

 
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