Read Innocent of His Claim Online

Authors: Janette Kenny

Innocent of His Claim

Kaz

This Christmas, we’ve got some fabulous treats to give away! ENTER NOW for a chance to win £5000 by clicking the link below.
www.millsandboon.co.uk/ebookxmas
.

 

Chills skipped up her spine, but she forced herself to stand straight and greet this next hurdle straight on. Deep breath in … slow exhalation. But even that failed to calm her racing heart or lessen the knocking of her knees
.

As for offering a serene smile—she wasn’t about to attempt one. Only a fool would smile at the shark swimming toward them.

Henry’s voice drifted to her, so clear she knew he was standing in the corridor outside the waiting room door. “Miss Tate is in her father’s office. If you’ll come this way, sir?”

“That will be all,” replied a deep, masculine voice that ground Delanie’s thoughts to a screeching, nerve-grating halt.

No! Her mind must be playing cruel tricks on her.

But there was no mistaking that husk of an Italian accent that she hadn’t heard in ten long years except in her dreams. That she’d never wished to hear again.

“Sir,” Henry sputtered. “I insist I be on hand …”

“Leave us!” The clipped order blew open the lid on painful memories she’d tucked away long ago.

The man from her past was here. Was
he
the corporate raider? The man with the wherewithal and the ruthless bent to strip everything from her?

Her gaze swept the room to find a way out, her pulse racing so fast she was lightheaded. Were the walls closing in on her?

No, just her past.

About the Author

For as long as
JANETTE KENNY
can remember, plots and characters have taken up residence in her head. Her parents, both voracious readers, read her the classics when she was a child. That gave birth to a deep love for literature, and allowed her to travel to exotic locales—those found between the covers of books. Janette’s artist mother encouraged her yen to write. As an adolescent she began creating cartoons featuring her dad as the hero, with plots that focused on the misadventures on their family farm, and she stuffed them in the nightly newspaper for him to find. To her frustration, her sketches paled in comparison with her captions.

Though she dabbled with articles, she didn’t fully embrace her dream to write novels until years later, when she was a busy cosmetologist making a name for herself in her own salon. That was when she decided to write the type of stories she’d been reading—romances.

Once the writing bug bit, an incurable passion consumed her to create stories and people them. Still, it was seven more years and that many novels before she saw her first historical romance published. Now that she’s also writing contemporary romances for Mills & Boon she finally knows that a full-time career in writing is closer to reality.

Janette shares her home and free time with a chow-shepherd mix pup she rescued from the pound, who aspires to be a lap dog. She invites you to visit her website at www.jankenny.com. She loves to hear from readers—e-mail her at [email protected]

Recent titles by the same author:

  • ILLEGITIMATE TYCOON
    (Bad Blood)
  • CAPTURED AND CROWNED
  • INNOCENT IN THE ITALIAN’S PASSION
  • PROUD REVENGE, PASSIONATE WEDLOCK

Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Innocent of
His Claim
Janette Kenny

 

 

www.millsandboon.co.uk

CHAPTER ONE

“I
T

S
done.” Henry returned the telephone to its austere black cradle with a decisive click, his face as stoic as the marble busts in David Tate’s executive office in central London. “The takeover of Tate Unlimited is complete.”

Delanie sat perfectly still and stared across the desk at her father’s massive, empty chair. Most women thrust into her situation would be a puddle of tears. Fretful. Scared. But she felt curiously numb. Detached, as if she was watching someone else go through the death of a parent, the subsequent ordeal of a swift hostile takeover of his corporation and now a very uncertain future.

Though she’d been unable to display grief at his funeral, she had at least shown respect. Considering her relationship with her father, even that was a lot.

“My bid to exclude the house and my family’s personal assets?” she asked, holding onto the hope that she had salvaged something from her father’s empire.

Henry, who’d been her father’s attorney for as long as she could remember and who she’d affectionately called Uncle Henry all of her life, shook his head, his papery lips pulled into a thin line that sent her hopes plummeting. “All gone. However the new owner has trumped your bid to buy Elite Affair with a counter offer.”

“What does he want?” she asked.

Not that it mattered. Her only means to negotiate a deal in
the first place hinged on selling the vintage cars. But those were gone, leaving her with nothing tangible to trade or sell.

“His solicitor wouldn’t say, stating the owner will inform us of the details upon his arrival,” Henry said.

Of course, more waiting. More drama added to this corporate piracy.

She huffed out a weary breath and pushed to her feet, smoothing her dress over her hips. Fittingly, she was garbed in a somber black Dolce and Gabbana sheath, although it made her pale complexion seem waxy and lifeless. Right now she felt bloodless but was too angry to surrender.

The fall of her father’s company had been inevitable, yet she’d hoped that the corporate dragon breathing fire down on them for the past two weeks would have the decency to show respect. That he would at least listen to her request. That the unknown entity hiding behind the group called Varsi Dynamics was, in fact, human and not a machine or monster.

Now she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure of anything.

It would be so easy to toss in the proverbial towel. Certainly people would understand that losing both parents and every worldly thing she possessed in such a short span of time was simply too much for her to bear. But her pride wouldn’t let her give in to pity and pride was all she had left.

Narrow shoulders squared, she strode to the draped window and gathered her courage around her for this meeting with the tycoon who had gobbled up everything her father had owned. Everything she owned and valued as well, damn him!

She flung back the drapes and stared at the cold rain streaking down the mullioned windows. Steel-gray clouds barred the sun from making an appearance.

The gloomy weather was appropriate to laying her father and his wretched empire to rest once and for all. If she could just get back what was hers….

“Do we at least now know who’s behind Varsi Dynamics?” she asked as she faced her father’s loyal attorney.

“No.” Henry consulted his Baume & Mercier watch, a gift for service long ago. The brown leather band now seemed too bulky and masculine for his bony wrist that was only slightly bigger than her own. “But we shall soon find out. He’s scheduled to arrive at quarter past two.”

Any time then
, she thought. “Good. I want to get this over with and go home.”

Only she didn’t have a home anymore. She had nothing. So where would she go? Impose on friends? Pound the streets looking for a job?

Delanie tried to tuck an errant strand of hair behind her ear but the tremor that continued to rock through her undermined the effort. She gave it up with a heavy sigh and let the pale gold strand fall as it had repeatedly done at the cemetery.

If she were prone to outbursts then this would be the ideal time to have one. What kind of man would demand that this meeting be held in the closed offices of Tate Unlimited on the heels of her father’s burial?

Perhaps a visceral man with horns and a tail. Clearly he was a man without principles.

The man behind Varsi Dynamics had launched his takeover on Tate Unlimited in her father’s last hours. Before her father was interred at the Tate family plot at Sumpton Park, the corporate shark had gained control of her father’s assets, right down to the furniture in the mansion and the fleet of Rolls Royces in the garages.

“I imagine the new owner will take great delight in personally firing everyone on staff,” she groused as she stopped behind the burgundy leather chair her father had ruled from.

Henry fidgeted with his crimson-and-gold striped tie, the first sign that he wasn’t quite as calm as he let on. “Actually, his solicitor assured me that all Tate employees would remain on staff through a six-month vetting period.”

She blinked, that news the one ray of sun on this gloomy day. “That’s a surprise.”

“Indeed,” Henry said, consulting his watch again. “Time to go below stairs to meet and show him up. Wouldn’t want the gent wandering around the building and getting lost. Will you be all right alone?”

His concern brought a bittersweet smile to her face. “Yes, I’ll be fine.”

Henry gave a crisp nod and left, his gait swift and sure for a man his age.

Silence thrummed in the room that held only bitter memories. No, she wouldn’t miss Tate Unlimited. But Elite Affair, the company her father had swindled out of her, meant everything to her. It was her dream. Her means to support herself. Her freedom from a man’s control.

She was anything but fine, she thought as her palms pressed into the sumptuous leather back of the executive chair.

The scent of spice wafted in the air. Her father’s aftershave. Faint, as if he’d just stepped out of the office.

The old urge to run pinged through her like a cold pounding rain and she shivered. To her father, a woman’s main purpose was to marry well and produce an heir. A male heir, according to the verbal barbs he’d flung at her mother for failing to uphold her duty.

In his eyes, Delanie was no better. Her fingers dug into the leather as his biting diatribes played over and over in her mind. A failure. A liability. No better than her mother.

If he hadn’t blackmailed her to stay on this past year she would have left. In hindsight she should have done that, for she’d ended up with nothing anyway—unless by some miracle she could meet the new owner’s counteroffer.

The
ding
of the elevator echoed dully down the corridor. Masculine footsteps pounded the marble floor like an advancing army. Her pulse rose with each step.

The waiting was over.

He was here.

Chills skipped up her spine, but she forced herself to stand
straight and greet this next hurdle straight on. Deep breath in, slow exhalation. But even that failed to calm her racing heart or lessen the knocking of her knees.

As for offering a serene smile, she wasn’t about to attempt one. Only a fool would smile at the shark swimming toward them.

Henry’s voice drifted to her, so clear she knew he was standing in the corridor outside the waiting-room door. “Miss Tate is in her father’s office. If you’ll come this way, sir.”

“That will be all,” replied a deep masculine voice that ground Delanie’s thoughts to a screeching, nerve-grating halt.

No! Her mind must be playing cruel tricks on her.

But there was no mistaking that husk of an Italian accent that she hadn’t heard in ten long years except in her dreams. That she’d wished never to hear again.

“Sir,” Henry sputtered. “I insist I be on hand …”

“Leave us!” The clipped order blew open the lid on painful memories she’d tucked away long ago.

The man from her past was here. But why? Was he the corporate raider, the one with the wherewithal and ruthless bent to strip everything from her?

Her gaze swept the room to find a way out; her pulse raced so fast she was light-headed. Were the walls closing in on her?

No, just her past.

The waiting-room door slammed shut, likely in Henry’s face. She jumped in heels that suddenly pinched, her skin pebbling and her heart thundering with each determined step that brought Marco closer.

Footsteps stopped outside the office door. She swallowed hard. Had Marco paused to straighten his tie—a quirk he’d done often because he detested wearing one? Or, on a wilder thought that mirrored her rising hysteria, was he sharpening his teeth for the proverbial kill?

Her heart thundered, her body swayed as the dizzying rush of memories swirled around her like a choking fog. Each second
nipped along her skin, chipping away at the confidence she tried desperately to shore up.

The man she’d thought never to see again stepped into the office and shut the door behind him with a deafening click. Her traitorous eyes drank him in: tall and commanding, broad shoulders racked tight. Breathtakingly handsome.

Piercing dark eyes set in a classic face drilled into her, impaling her to the spot. “
Ciao
, Delanie.”

Her fingernails dug into her father’s chair, likely scoring the leather. But it remained her only shield against the enemy.

Enemy … In her wildest imaginings, she had never guessed that the mystery owner of Varsi Dynamic was Marco Vincienta, her ex-fiancé. The man who’d held her heart in his powerful hands and crushed it without remorse.

There could only be one reason for him to take over Tate Unlimited and demand that she meet him here a scant hour after her father’s funeral. Revenge.

She swallowed, her throat parched, the spacious room shrinking as the powerful throb of his aura reached out to encircle her. Trap her.

“Marco,” she said, her voice catching over his name that she’d once said lovingly, the emotionally wounded man that she’d foolishly thought she could heal with her love.

He looked larger, stronger, colder. His lean torso was in top physical form, more so than memory served. His wealth of dark hair that she’d loved running her fingers through was clipped short in a fashionable style, yet an errant curl strayed onto his broad tanned forehead to hint at his rebel soul.

He was far more handsome and intense than she remembered. Far more dangerous-looking. Hungry. Like a caged wolf she’d seen at the zoo, its cool gaze scanning the crowd, searching for easy prey.

Only Marco stared straight at her. The look of a predator who’d tracked down his quarry. Who had it cornered and was moments away from pouncing.

Perspiration beaded her forehead and dampened the deep V between her breasts. It took supreme effort to stand straight and keep her head high, refusing to show fear or any weakness.

“So you are the man behind Varsi Dynamics,” she said.

A rapacious smile curved his chiseled lips that had once played so tenderly over her eager flesh, awakening sensations she’d never felt before or since he’d exited her life. Sensations that maddeningly still caused heat to curl in her belly.

She hated that odd loss of self-control, that awareness of him on that level. Hated him as much as she’d once loved him. Perhaps more now that she knew he’d been the one to put her through such hell the past few weeks.

“It is one of my lesser acquisitions.”

“Lesser?” She couldn’t hide her surprise.

The wolf’s smile widened. “Hard to believe that the young bastard you and your father stole a company from amassed a fortune and the power to take down a titan.”

“I had nothing to do with what my father did,” she said, earning a snort from him. “Everything I felt for you was real.”

“Yes, just like your tearful confession of family abuse, revealed after I confronted you and your father with the truth, after I said I was done with you.” His dark eyes were void of emotion. “It was too little too late. Perhaps if you’d told me your story before you betrayed me …”

“I never betrayed you,” she spat. “Why are you so blind to the truth? Why must you think the worst …”

He sliced the air between them with a hand and she stammered to a halt. “History. What happened then has nothing to do with why I’m here now.”

She forced her chin up and met his cold gaze head-on. “That’s rather difficult to believe after you’ve systematically stripped me of everything.”

The tailored sleeves of his jacket pulled into perfect pleats as he crossed his arms over his chest, his face an impassive
mask. He was a stranger, worlds away from the young Italian she’d lost her heart to. An older, harder version of the dynamic lover who’d broken her heart.

“I’m in need of your services,” he said sharply.

She blinked, stunned speechless. As a wedding planner? Lover? Did it matter when either was cruel to ask of her?

“Is this a joke?”

“Not at all,” he said. “I want you to come to Italy with me today.”

For a moment she couldn’t think, couldn’t get past those same words he’d spoken long ago. Come to Italy with me … Leave the hell of her life. Leave her mother at her father’s mercy …

She couldn’t do it then. She wouldn’t now.

“No way,” she said. “The only reason I honored your order to be here today was to hear your counteroffer to my bid for Elite Affair.”

One dark brow winged up. “This is my counteroffer. Come to Italy and plan a wedding. If you please the bride and me then Elite Affair will be yours.”

Could it be that simple? No, there would be nothing simple about being around Marco, seeing him fawn over his bride.

It would be emotional hell for her. Torture. But, she thought, her mind catching on the carrot he dangled before her, in the end she would gain Elite Affair—if she could trust him to uphold his end of the bargain.

Her eyes met his intense ones and her foolish heart fluttered. It was a dangerous game. But right now she had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“All right. But I can plan your wedding from London and send one of my consultants to ensure the events go off perfectly.”

Other books

Dragons Realm by Tessa Dawn
Eyes Full of Empty by Jérémie Guez
Diseased by Jeremy Perry
Book of Luke (Book 2) by Chrissy Favreau
The Lord-Protector's Daughter by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Stone Kissed by Keri Stevens
Night Chills by Dean Koontz