AN HEIRESS FOR HIS EMPIRE by Lucy Monroe
Harlequin Presents #3274
October 2014 (09-16-14)
The story: Innocent debutante Madison Archer has hit the headlines for a scandal not of her making. Now, marriage to the unscrupulous Viktor Beck is the only way to save what’s left of her reputation!
The contract: Maddie has always featured in Viktor’s plans to take over her father’s company and expand his empire. The intense attraction between them only sweetens the deal he’s offered....
The secret: Though love doesn’t beat in Viktor’s heart, he’ll show Maddie just how hot their chemistry can be. But even this corporate shark is in for a shock—his wild socialite is still a virgin!
BUY THE BOOK *** BUY IN KINDLE *** READ THE EXCERPT
MADISON ARCHER SET her morning coffee down, hot liquid spilling over the rim, as she read her Google alerts with growing horror.
Madcap Madison Looking for New Master?
Archer Heiress into Heavy Kink
San Francisco Bad Boy Dumps Very Bad Girl
The articles made lurid claims about a lifestyle and relationship between Maddie and Perry Timwater. A completely nonexistent relationship.
The fact that Perry was the source caused the coffee to sour in Maddie’s stomach.
His supposed exposé of their fictitious relationship claimed she was a submissive with a serious pain fetish and need for multiple partners. She gritted her teeth on the urge to swear as she read it was her inability to remain faithful that forced Perry to end things between them.
Maddie wouldn’t mind ending Perry right that minute. Betrayal choked her.
How could he have done this?
He was her friend.
They’d met their freshman year at university. He’d made her laugh when she’d thought nothing could. Not after her epic fail trying to get Viktor Beck’s attention. She’d started university with a broken heart and Perry had helped her paste over the cracks with friendship.
She’d helped him pass his accountancy courses. He’d played platonic escort for her and she’d provided him entrée to Jeremy Archer’s world—an echelon above his own.
But never, not once, had their friendship ever taken a turn toward something heavier.
Pounding sounded on her front door. “Maddie! It’s me, don’t freak.” Then barely a second later, the double snick of locks sliding back was followed by the door swinging wide.
Holding a bag from their favorite bakery aloft, her black bob swirling around her pixie face, Romi Grayson kicked the door shut behind her. “I come bearing the panacea for all ills.”
“I’m not sure even chocolate and flaky pastry can make this situation better.” Maddie slumped against the back of her chair.
Eyes the same vibrant blue as Maddie’s glittered with anger. “So, Perry’s lost his mind, right?”
“You saw the articles?”
“Only after reporters woke me from a dead sleep demanding my opinion of my best friend’s darker sexual proclivities.” Romi’s mouth twisted wryly. “Proclivities I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have even if you weren’t still a virgin.”
“You’ve got that right. I’ve never been able to trust one man enough to have sex, much less multiple partners.”
As ridiculous as that might seem at twenty-four, it wasn’t going to change anytime soon, either.
“If you ask me, it’s got less to do with trust and more to do with the fact you imprinted on Viktor Beck like a baby bird when you were a teenager and you’ve never gotten over him.”
“Romi!” Maddie was in no mood to hash out her unrequited feelings for her father’s dark-haired, dark-eyed, to-die-for-bodied golden boy.
“I’m just saying…”
“Nothing you haven’t said before.” Maddie’s stomach grew queasier by the second.
Along with the rest of the world, Vik would see the articles, but she couldn’t afford to think about that right now, or she really was going to lose it. “Father is going to kill me.”
This new scandal was bound to crack even the San Francisco tycoon’s icy demeanor. And not in the way Maddie had always craved.
He’d sent her away to boarding school months after her mother’s death and Maddie had courted media attention in the hopes of gaining his. It had worked for her mother, Helene Archer, née Madison, the original Madcap Madison, but Maddie had come to realize the strategy had backfired pretty spectacularly for her.
In the nine years since Helene’s death, Jeremy had developed a habit of thinking the worst of his daughter. When he wasn’t ignoring her existence all together.
“If he doesn’t die of a stress-related heart attack first.” Romi put a chocolate-filled croissant in front of Maddie.
“Don’t say that.”
The other woman grimaced. “Sorry. Stuff just comes out. You know what I’m like. Your dad is wound pretty tight, though.”
Maddie couldn’t argue that.
“I think this time, Perry’s diarrhea of the mouth has me beat anyway.” Romi chewed her pastry militantly. “What was he thinking?”
Morose, Maddie stared at her friend. “That he wanted the money the tabloid paid him for the story?”
She’d had no idea that turning down his latest request for a loan would result in her utter humiliation. How could she? Friends didn’t do that to each other.
Maddie usually played peacemaker between her two closest friends, but she wasn’t about to stand up for Perry this time. “What am I going to do?”
“You could threaten to sue and demand a retraction.”
“Based on my word against his?”
Romi made a sound very close to a growl. “You two have never even kissed with tongue.”
“But we have kissed, for the cameras.” Perry had always made a joke of it.
He had been Maddie’s go-to escort for years and more than one article speculating on their relationship had been run, often quoting anonymous sources and always accompanied by the joke kissing pictures.
“Do you think he’s done this before?”
“Sold confidential details of your supposed relationship?” Romi asked.
“You know what I think.”
Maddie sighed. “That he’s a leech.”
“Always has been.”
“He was a good friend.” Maddie couldn’t make herself claim he still was.
Romi just gave Maddie a disbelieving look, no words necessary.
Ignoring it, Maddie said, “I probably can’t prove we never had a relationship, but I can sue them for libel in the details.”
“His word against yours.”
“But he’s lying.”
“This is something new for the tabloids?”
Feeling hopeless, Maddie pushed her croissant away.
“You could always sic your dad’s dogs on Perry. That media fixer of his could be cast in Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.”
“I should.” Even supposing her dad cared enough to assign his media fixer’s precious time to helping Maddie.
Romi’s expression turned knowing. “But you won’t. Perry was your friend.”
Maddie opened her mouth, but Romi put her hand up, forestalling words. “Don’t you dare say he still is.”
“No.” Maddie swallowed back emotion. “No, it’s pretty clear he’s not my friend and maybe he never was.”
“Oh, sweetie.” Romi came around the table to hug her.
Maddie fought down stress-induced nausea. “I thought he was real.”
“Instead, he turned out to be just another one of the plastic people.” Romi’s tone reflected her own experience with that. “All looks and no substance.”
Maddie choked out a morbid laugh. “Yeah.”
A bugler’s reverie sounded from her smartphone.
With a snicker, Romi moved back to her seat. “Daddy’s PA?”
“I thought it was appropriate.” Maddie clicked into her text messages, unsurprised to see that there were dozens.
While she checked her phone periodically throughout the day, Maddie only had sound alerts set for certain people: Romi, Perry—who was going off the list today—Maddie’s father, his personal assistant. Viktor Beck.
Not that her father’s business heir apparent contacted Maddie these days. But still, if he did…she’d get an audible alert.
Ignoring the numerous messages from friends, acquaintances and the media jackals, Maddie clicked into the one from her father’s PA.
Mtg w Mr. Archer @ 10:45—confrm 2.
Mr. Archer. Not Mr. A, even though the PA had used text speak for the rest of the message. Not your father. That might have been too personal.
“He wants to meet this morning.” Maddie bit her lip, considering what she’d have to change to make that happen.
Romi nodded. “Are you going to go?”
Maddie considered putting off her morning plans for the meeting with her father.
“No.” It wasn’t as if her showing up when he called was going to make Jeremy any less angry.
She shot a quick text back to the PA offering to come anytime after noon-thirty.
Fifteen minutes later, Romi was gone after a final pep talk when the strains of Michael Bublé’s “Call Me Irresponsible” sounded from Maddie’s smartphone.
Her father was calling her. Personally. Not texting.
Any other time, she would be thrilled. But right now? The crooner’s smooth voice was as ominous as the sepulcher tones of a Halloween horror flick’s soundtrack.
Maddie put the phone to her ear. “Hello, Father.”
“Ten-forty-five, Madison. You will not be late.”
“You know I have a standing morning appointment.” Not that he knew what it was.
Maddie had tried to tell him once, but Jeremy had mocked the very idea of his flighty daughter doing anything worthwhile. Worse, he’d made it clear how useless he thought it was to spend time volunteering at an underfunded public school predominantly populated by the children of poverty-level families.
Since then, Maddie had kept her two lives completely separate. Maddie Grace, nondescript twentysomething who loved children and volunteered a good chunk of her time, had nothing in common—not even hair and eye color—with Madison Archer, notorious socialite and heiress.
“Cancel.” No give. No explanation. Just demand.
“No. It is not.” His tone was so cold it sent shivers along her extremities.
“It is to me.” She wished she could be as unaffected by his displeasure as he was by hers. “Please.”
“Ten-forty-five, Madison.” Then he hung up.
She knew because the call dropped.
Wearing the armor of her socialite Madison Archer persona, Maddie got off the elevator at the twenty-ninth floor of her father’s building in San Francisco’s financial district.
None of the nerves wreaking havoc with her insides showed on her smooth face.
Makeup applied to highlight, not compete with, the blue of her eyes and gentle bow of her lips, she’d styled her chin-length red hair in perfectly placed curls around her oval face so like her mother’s. No highlights had ever been necessary for the natural copper tones.
Her three-quarter-length-sleeved Valentino black-and-white suit wasn’t this year’s collection, but it was one of her favorites and fit the image she intended to convey. The wide black banded hem of the straight skirt brushed a proper two inches above her knees and the Jackie-O-style jacket with a statement bow was a galaxy away from slutty.
She’d opted for classic closed-toe black Jimmy Choo pumps that added a mere two inches to her five-foot-six-inch height. Maddie carried a simple leather Chanel bag, her accessories limited to her mother’s favorite Cartier watch and diamond stud earrings.
Maddie didn’t look anything like the woman described by Perry in his “breakup interview” with the press.
She walked into Conference Room Two without knocking, stopping for a strategic pause in the doorway to allow the other occupants a moment to look their fill.
She wasn’t going to scurry in like a mouse trying to avoid the cat’s attention.
The brief moment had the added benefit of allowing her to take her own lay of the land.
Seven people sat around the eight-person conference table. As to be expected, her father occupied one end. Maddie was equal parts relieved and worried to see his media fixer at the other end, but not happy at all to see the man seated to the right of her father.
Romi was right that Maddie had had a crush on the gorgeous Viktor Beck since he started working for Jeremy Archer ten years ago. The unrequited feelings had evolved from schoolgirl infatuation to something more, something that made it impossible for other men to measure up.
That first year, Maddie had still had her mother and Helene would tease Maddie for her blushes in the tycoon-in-the-making’s presence.
Maddie had learned to control her blushes, but not the feelings the handsome third-generation Russian engendered in her.
Having him here to witness her humiliation tightened the knot of tension inside her until she wasn’t sure it would ever come undone.
Less understandable, but not nearly as upsetting, was the presence of two of her father’s other high-level managers in the remaining chairs on that side of the table. Her father’s PA sat to his left, with an empty chair beside her.
The final man at the table had a powerful presence and a familiar face, but in her current state of highly guarded stress, Maddie couldn’t place him.
Everyone had a stack of papers in front of them. It took only the briefest glance to see what they were: printed-out copies of the news stories Maddie had seen earlier on her smartphone. Underneath them was an individual copy for each person in the room of the actual tabloid the original story had run in.
Vik’s pile was different. It had what looked like a contract on top. Looking around the table, Maddie realized everyone else had a copy of that as well, but on the bottom of their pile—the stapled corner was the only thing visible in the other piles.
She looked at her father and gave him the sardonic expression she’d been using for years to mask her vulnerability. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you to discuss this with me privately before bringing in a think tank.”
“Sit down, Madison.” He didn’t even bother to respond to her comment.
Which should neither surprise, nor hurt. So why did it do both?
She waited a count of three before obeying his brusque order, deliberately ignoring the stack of papers in front of her. “I assume we’ve already drafted a letter demanding a retraction?”
When her father didn’t answer, she stared pointedly at his media fixer.
“Is it likely your ex-lover will recant his commentary?” the fixer asked in a flat tone.
“First, he was never my lover. Second, he doesn’t have to recant his lies for us to sue the tabloid for libel.” Though her chances of winning the suit weren’t high without Perry’s honesty.
“I am not in the habit of wasting time or resources on a hopeless endeavor,” her father said.
“The story is out there and that can’t be changed,” she agreed. “But that doesn’t mean we leave Perry’s lies unchallenged.”
Her father’s eyes were chips of blue ice. “If you wish to challenge your ex-lover’s lies, you may do so, but that is not my concern.”
“You don’t believe the stories?” she asked with a pained incredulity she couldn’t quite hide.
“What I believe is not the issue at hand.”
“It is for me.” There were only two people in that room whose opinion Maddie cared about.
Her father’s and Viktor Beck’s, no matter how much she might wish that wasn’t the case.
Her gaze shifted to Vik, but nothing from the stern set of his square jaw to the obscure depths of his espresso-brown eyes revealed his thoughts.
There had been a time when he might have tried to encourage her with a half smile or even a wink, but those days were gone. There’d been no softening in his demeanor toward her since her first trip home after going away to university.
And while that might be her own fault, she didn’t have to like it.
Her father cleared his throat. “Those tawdry stories may have precipitated this meeting, but they are not the reason for it.”
Maddie’s attention snapped back to her only remaining family. “What do you mean?”
“The issue we are here to address is your unacceptable notoriety, Madison. I will not sit by while you attempt to rival other heiresses for worldwide infamy.”
“I don’t.” Even when Maddie had tried to court her father’s attention by gaining that of the media, she hadn’t gone that far.
Okay, so she and Romi were known for their participation in political rallies of the liberal variety, which included a well-publicized sit-in protesting cuts in local school funding. That Maddie had gone further, bungee jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge with five others and unfurling a giant banner that read Go Green or Go Home, was beside the point.
There were videos online of her bungee jumping in less politically motivated and slightly more risky circumstances. The snowboarding had been a total failure, but she’d always loved downhill skiing and learning to jump had been fantastic. Of course, only her tumbles made it into the media.
But she hadn’t done a thing to get herself in the papers in over six months. Not since hitting the headlines with a nighttime adventure in skydiving that had resulted in her hospitalization with a hairline fracture to her pelvis.
Her father had not only ignored her exploit, but he’d also ignored Maddie’s injury. And not only had he refused to take her phone calls from the hospital, but he'd also made it clear, through his PA, that Maddie was not welcome at the family mansion for her recovery.
She’d been forced to hire a nurse to help during the weeks of her limited mobility. Romi had offered to stay with her, but Maddie refused to take advantage.
“Am I to understand you didn’t read Madison in on the contents of this contract?” Vik asked, unexpected disapproval edging his deep tone. “Do you actually expect her to agree?”
“She’ll agree.” Her father gave her a stern glare. “Or I will cut her out of my life completely.”
The words were painful enough to hear, but the absolute conviction in her father’s voice stabbed straight through Maddie’s carefully cultivated facade to the genuine and all-too-vulnerable emotions underneath.
“Over this?” she demanded, waving her hand toward the printed articles. “It’s not true!”
“You will not continue to drag my name and that of my company through the mud, Madison.”
“I don’t do that.” While she’d managed a certain level of media notoriety, it had never before been because of anything even remotely like the lies Perry had spewed to the tabloids.
Her father began reading the headlines out loud and weak tears burned the back of her eyes. Maddie refused to give in to them, wishing she could be as genuinely emotionless as the steel-gray-haired man flaying her with other people’s words.
“I told you, he lied.”
“Why would he?” the media fixer asked, sounding interested in an almost clinical way.
“For money. For revenge.” Because she’d turned him down one too many times and compounded that by refusing his latest request for a loan. “I don’t know, but he lied.”
How many times did she have to say it?
“It is time for definitive measures to be taken,” Jeremy said, as if she hadn’t spoken.
“On that at least, we can agree, beginning with the demand for a retraction. I can do my own interview.” Even though she hated that kind of direct contact with the media.
She considered offering the ultimate sacrifice of integrating her Maddie Grace life with that of socialite Madison Archer in order to combat the negative image that clearly concerned her father.
Jeremy dismissed her offer with a slicing gesture. “I believe I’ve made it clear that the current scandal is not my primary concern.”
“What is your concern?” she asked, confused.
“The capricious lifestyle that has resulted in your unacceptable and notorious reputation.”
“You want me to come work for AIH?” she asked with zero enthusiasm and even less belief.
The last time the issue of Archer International Holdings had come up, her father had made it clear he no longer harbored dreams of her one day taking over.
His harsh bark of laughter was all the answer she needed. “Absolutely not.”
“You want me to get a job somewhere else?” She could do that.
She preferred using her education as a volunteer teacher’s aide, but if it would help her relationship with her father, she would get a paying job—which hopefully wouldn’t conflict with her volunteering schedule.
More derisive laughter fell from her father’s lips. “Do you really think any reputable charity or business would hire you right now?”
Heat climbed up her neck, ending in a very rare blush. She’d become adept at hiding her emotions, even suppressing her blushes of embarrassment a long time ago.
But suddenly, she realized that if it did become known that Madison Archer was Maddie Grace, the school might be forced to disallow Maddie’s volunteering. All because a man she’d thought was a friend had turned out to be a lying, manipulative, opportunistic user.
“He wants you to get married,” Vik informed her, no indication in his tone or demeanor that he was joking.
Her father did not jump in with a denial, either.
For the first time, she looked around the room to see how the other occupants were reacting. Her father’s media fixer and PA were both busy on their tablets, ignoring the conversation now, or giving a pretty good pretense of doing so.
One of his managers was looking at her with the type of speculation that left Madison feeling dirty, but the fact he had the articles about her spread out in front of him could have something to do with that, too.
The other manager was reading through the paperwork and the man who Maddie did not know was looking at her father, his expression assessing.
Vik’s expression was enigmatic as always.
She met her father’s gaze again, finding nothing there but implacable resolve. “You want me to get married.”
“Who?” she asked, unhappily certain she already had an inkling.
“One of these four men.” Her father indicated Vik, the two other managers and the man she did not know. “You know Viktor, of course, and I am sure you remember Steven Whitley.” Jeremy nodded toward a manager she was fairly certain had been divorced once already and was nearly twice her age.
Maddie found herself acknowledging both men with a tip of her own head in some bizarre ritual of polite behavior. Or maybe it was just the situation that was so bizarre.
He indicated the manager whose look had given her the willies. “Brian Jones.”
His expression was benign now, almost pitying.
“I thought you were engaged,” she said, her voice almost as tight as her throat. But that couldn’t be helped.
Hadn’t Maddie met his fiancée at the last Christmas party?
“Are you?” her father asked, annoyance clear in his tone. “Miss Priest?”
His PA looked up from her tablet with a frown. “Yes, sir?”
“Jones is engaged.”
“Is he?” Miss Priest didn’t sound concerned. “He is not married.”
“But I will be.” Brian stood. “I don’t believe I’ll be needed for the rest of this meeting, if you’ll excuse me, sir?”
“Did you read the contract?” her father demanded.
“And you are still leaving?”
A measure of respect shone in her father’s eyes even as he frowned. “Then go.” He nodded toward the stranger on the other side of Maddie as if the introductions had not been interrupted by the defection of one of his candidates. “Maxwell Black, CEO of BIT.”
Maxwell smiled at her, magnetism that might actually rival Vik’s exuding from him. “Hello, Madison. It’s good to see you again.”
He wasn’t overtly sexual, but there was a vibe to him that made Maddie wrap her arms protectively around herself. This man carried power around him the same way Vik did, but with a predatory edge she hadn’t experienced from her father’s heir apparent.
Then, she’d never been his business rival.
“I don’t believe we’ve met?” She forced her arms to fall to her sides.
“I saw you at the Red Ball last February.”
She remembered going to the charity event that raised money for research into heart disease, but she didn’t remember seeing him.
“I would have remembered.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so.” His teeth flashed in a blinding white smile. “But I meant what I said. I saw you there. We were not introduced.”
Her father cleared his throat in that disapproving way he had, but if he expected Maddie to say it was a pleasure to meet the man—under these circumstances—he didn’t know her very well.
But then that had been her problem most of her life, hadn’t it?
LIKED THE EXCERPT?? CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK