HIGH-SOCIETY SEDUCTION by Maxine Sullivan
A question of lust or loyalty....
He needed a mistress. A pretend mistress, that is. So when Jenna Branson confronted playboy billionaire Adam Roth, demanding he return money his brother stole from her family, Adam saw his opportunity. He'd look into her accusations, but she must act as though they're involved - intimately. Anything to rid himself of the unwanted attention of his best friend's wife. The proposition seemed simple, but soon their game of seduction was no longer just for show. Then a high-stakes confrontation forced them to choose between family loyalty...and the chance of forever.
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"And this is Jenna Branson. She's one of our up-and-coming jewelry designers."
Jenna heard her boss's words, thankful that at least she'd had time to recover from her shock. Having Adam Roth walk into the Conti corporate box at Australia's Flemington Racecourse a few minutes ago had stunned her.
Oh, God! she'd thought. Here was the middle son of Laura and Michael Roth, iconic owners of Roth's, the luxury-goods department stores. His family was Australia's aristocracy. The crème de la crème of Australian society. She'd never wanted to meet any one of them. Not after what Liam Roth had done to her brother.
She watched in silent horror now as this Roth family member lowered his tall, lean body onto the chair opposite. His gaze came straight at her across the table, homing in like she was the only person in the room. She hid a small gasp as his pair of blue eyes trapped hers for a heart-stopping moment in time.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Jenna," he murmured, his gaze taking in her lustrous, shoulder-length brown hair, then the details of her face, before sliding down to the soft floral dress she knew looked good on her. For the first time ever, she actually wished she didn't look quite so feminine.
Jenna tried to smile, but she wasn't sure if she managed it. "Yes, you, too," she somehow said, hoping she sounded sincere but almost choking on the words. Why, oh, why had she given in to pressure and come here today? If only her boss, Roberto, and his charming wife, Carmen, hadn't been so insistent. She would have much preferred to spend her Saturday relaxing in her apartment.
"Have you backed any winners yet?" Adam asked in a smooth voice that was as cultured as it was deep.
She tried to settle her heart back in place. "Not so far."
He smiled the confident smile of a man who knew women. "Then perhaps your luck will change."
If he thought he was going to change her luck, he was in for a surprise. "Perhaps."
Just then her boss's son returned to the table and sat down next to her, almost making her shudder, giving her something else to worry about. Marco had been asking her out for months. Now he thought he'd worn her down. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"You didn't bring a date?" he said to Adam, after a short greeting.
"No. Not this time."
"That's not like you, amico mio," he joked, but he slid his arm along the back of Jenna's chair as if silently staking a claim.
A note of awareness docked in Adam's eyes, sending an odd ripple of apprehension shooting down her spine. She didn't want either man thinking she was here with Marco. Nor did she want either one thinking she was available for some sort of dalliance.
Unfortunately, as the afternoon wore on, she was fully aware of Adam surreptitiously watching her every movement. She tried her damnedest not to react, but his interest was a living thing. It made her uneasy, though not in a sleazy way like with her boss's son. Adam Roth was a playboy. A sophisticated master playboy, despite being a widower whose wife had died in a car accident over four years ago. She had no doubt he knew all the right moves.
One thing saved her. Her brother. Remembering what Stewart had been through gave her the advantage. She knew what this man's family was capable of, and that helped put up an invisible barrier to deflect any attempt at intimacy.
By the time they'd finished eating a late lunch, she was more than ready to make an escape to the powder room. Thankfully, Marco was involved in watching the next race with another woman and her generous cleavage. So while everyone was occupied Jenna grabbed her purse to slip out of the room, her heartbeat stuttering when she saw Adam notice her leaving.
Once in the corridor she hurried along the plush carpet to find the ladies' room. She had a feeling he would follow. That he was about to ask her out. She didn't want that, she decided as she found what she was looking for just ahead. She reached for the door handle…started to open it…
She stilled, tempted to ignore him and go inside the room but suspected he would merely wait for her to come out. Taking a deep breath, she dropped her hand and turned around to face him.
Adam was right behind her, his proximity surprising her, causing her knees to wobble. He reached out to cup her elbows and steady her. At his touch the sound of the race caller outside wound down to a mere whisper, and the excitement of the guests cheering their horses along the final stretch muted to low volume, making her forget everything else for a moment.
Then his eyes warmed and his firm lips spread into a sensual smile that promised to take her places she'd never been. "I think you'll find that's not what you want," he drawled, his voice a hot whisper along her spine.
She blinked. "It…isn't?"
He indicated the sign on the door. "That's a storeroom."
"Oh." In her hurry, she hadn't noticed. Her mind had been focused on getting away from him. She pulled back and he dropped his hands. He was still too close.
If she'd had time to think, she would have felt foolish for rushing and making such a mistake. As it was, she half turned to take a quick look down the corridor hoping to see the ladies' room and still make her escape in the next few seconds.
But then a thought flashed through her mind. Wasn't she crazy to walk away when she had a Roth right here in front of her? Wouldn't swallowing her pride and confronting this man be a small price to pay? She'd been praying for a way to help her brother and now she had it. Heck, she had to do something to help Stewart.
Taking a deep breath, Jenna opened her mouth to speak, but shut it again as a young woman walked by. A hallway wasn't the place to talk about a private matter.
Instead, she gestured to the storeroom. "Do you think I could have a word alone with you?"
The oddest gleam entered his eyes. "In there?"
"Yes." She had to talk to him. Now. If she wasn't quick enough, the opportunity would pass. "Please."
Adam didn't move. He had a strange look about him. As if he were…disappointed in her.
He shook his head. "Sorry, beautiful. You're stunning, and I must admit I'm very tempted, but a quick grope in a broom cupboard isn't my thing. I prefer to wine and dine a woman first."
She gaped at him. "Wh-what?"
He assessed her with a touch of regret. "No doubt many a man would be pleased to make you their own on such short acquaintance, but I find a little romance is more…satisfying." He went to turn back to the function rooms. "I was going to ask you out, but—"
She pulled herself together in time to grab his arm. "You think I'm after sex?" she hissed, totally insulted. "I can assure you that's the last thing on my mind."
His gaze darted down to her hand on his sleeve, then up again but she refused to let go in spite of feeling the muscle beneath her palm.
"I really do need to speak to you. I prefer we do it in private…." She swallowed, then dared to threaten, "But I can do it just as well in front of an audience."
A cool look entered his eyes. "Seeing how we only met a few hours ago, I can't imagine you'd have anything of importance to say to me."
She continued her grip on his arm. "Then you'd be wrong."
There was a measured silence. "Did you engineer this meeting today?"
"No. But that doesn't mean I don't have a valid complaint about your family."
"My family?" he said, stiffening.
"Perhaps you'll let me explain in private."
There was a pause. He inclined his head. "Very well."
At his reluctant acquiescence, she finally dropped her hand, letting out a silent sigh of relief, but aware this was only the first step.
Adam reached past her and pushed open the door, indicat ing she should precede him into the room. He was all business now, making it clear he had nothing else on his mind. Once inside he closed the door and positioned himself in front of it. "Okay, talk."
She realized her mistake in not getting him go first into the room. She had no escape now, only a large frosted window that gave a false impression of freedom—and a short distance between her and her inadvertent captor. Oh, God, what on earth was she doing?
Then she made herself remember her brother's anguish. And that gave her the courage to press onward. She drew back her shoulders. "I want you to give my brother the money your brother Liam conned out of him."
He froze, then, "Rewind that and play it again. Slowly this time."
Oh, this man was good at keeping his cool—very good—but he'd probably had plenty of experience covering up for his late brother. Many times he would have had to lie to the people Liam Roth had duped over the years.
"I expected you to deny it. The Roths stick together." Stewart had told her that and she had no reason not to believe him. The rich and privileged always seemed to get away with everything. Her ex-boyfriend, Lewis, had been the same, though he was nowhere near equal to the Roths. He'd thought his money had entitled him to do whatever he liked—including cheating on her.
Adam Roth's eyes flickered with annoyance. "I can't deny something if I don't know the details," he said curtly,
bringing her back to the present. His brows jerked together. "Who's your brother anyway?"
His expression gave nothing away. "Am I supposed to know him?" He didn't give her time to answer. "I'm afraid you're talking to the wrong guy, sweetheart. My family has nothing to do with this."
She was annoyed by his instant dismissal. "I know what my brother told me."
His jaw set. "I'd like to hear exactly what he said."
Jenna let out a slow breath, relieved he was at least willing to keep listening. "Six weeks ago there was a segment on the news about your parents attending an Australia Day dinner. They showed footage from Liam's funeral." Adam's younger brother had died from a terminal illness in early December.
He didn't move. "Go on."
"Stewart had dropped by my apartment. He looked terrible. I was just about to ask him what was wrong when he looked at the television and saw the funeral procession and broke down. He said your brother had tricked him into giving him a large sum of money he could ill afford." She could still remember how appalled she'd been at what she'd learned.
"Liam wouldn't do that."
"I'm afraid he did," she said with total conviction.
"He had his own money. He didn't need anyone else's."
She tilted her head. "Didn't he invest in a failed theme park up north?" It had been in all the papers recently. She even remembered Liam's name in particular because of his death.
Now, that appeared to get Adam Roth's attention.
The air was tight with tension, but Jenna couldn't let trepidation get to her. "Around two years ago Stewart met Liam at a function and—"
"What function?" Adam fired at her.
She tried to think, but it was hard with him staring her down like this. "I don't know. Stewart didn't say."
Adam's brows drew together, then he murmured, "That's around the time my brother found out he was sick."
"I know," she said quietly, feeling bad for bringing all this up again. "But that doesn't change anything. Your brother still took the money."
His mouth flattened. "I'm not convinced."
Jenna hated this. As far as she was concerned she shouldn't have to convince him of anything. It just was.
"I believe they discussed the theme park venture and Liam assured him it would be no risk. Foolishly, Stewart used his house as collateral and gave him three hundred thousand dollars."
Adam gave a harsh laugh. "Three hundred thousand? And he handed it over without question?"
"Stewart trusted your brother," she said, her teeth setting on edge. "I mean, he's a Roth, right? Your family's integrity is supposed to be beyond question."
"It is beyond question." His whole demeanor said she'd offended him.
"So where's my brother's money then? They were supposed to start building the theme park six months ago, only there were delays on top of delays. Finally the company went bust, as you would know." It was in the media. No one could have missed it, nor the fact that Liam had been one of the investors, notwithstanding being terminally ill at the time. "My brother believes that Liam took the money under false pretenses, and so do I. Your family owes it to Stewart to repay the full amount."
His gaze sliced over her. "Where's your brother now?"
"He's an architect. He's gone off to the Middle East to try and earn some fast money so he won't lose his family home. Fortunately, he's managed to keep up his house payments until recently, but now…" Her heart constricted with pain. "And he's got a wife and two small children who are missing him badly. They want him home, but he won't return until he has enough to keep the bank happy and to stop him from losing the house."
The worst thing for Jenna was not being able to talk to anyone about this. She'd been keeping it all to herself. Both her parents and Stewart's wife thought he'd simply gone overseas to pay off his house sooner. Poor Vicki had no idea she was at risk of losing their gorgeous family home of which she was so proud.
"Why didn't he come to me himself?" Adam asked. "Surely you shouldn't have to do your brother's dirty work for him?"
She didn't appreciate his tone. "Stewart said it was no use talking to your family about it because you'd close ranks anyway." She studied his hostility. "I see what he means." Stewart had been a total mess that day at her place, and she wouldn't have him worrying over her involvement in this now. She'd get it sorted first.
He fixed her with an intense stare. "There's a legal system in place to protect him. Has he started proceedings?"
"How can he do that? He doesn't have the money. And besides, he had to find a way to stop his wife and children from being thrown out on the street now. Once he gets that sorted, you can bet he'll be back to take you to court." Her lips twisted. "Not that it would do him much good. No doubt your legal team will find a way to evade paying up in the end."
A muscle ticked in his cheekbone. "I don't take kindly to insults to my family."
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