by Amy Wilkins, Harlequin Digital
“Rich, famous and notorious.” Those three words describe Raúl Sanchez Fuente, the hero of Carol Marinelli”s new book from Harlequin Presents, . Intrigued? Of course you are! The book is on sale now and keep reading for an excerpt
About the Book:
“Rich, famous and notorious. Raúl Sanchez Fuente scores three out of three.”
When she agreed to help out a friend, Estelle Connolly didn”t expect to end up as an escort to a society wedding, or to catch the eye of the most powerful man in the room.
Innocent Estelle struggles to retain her sophisticated cover especially when Raúl makes her an outrageous offer—the money to settle her family problems in exchange for a few months of her time…as Mrs. Sanchez!
The contract has been signed, the Spanish honeymoon arranged, but there isn”t a clause to cover all consequences of the wedding night….
“Estelle, I promise, you wouldn”t have to do anything except hold Gordon”s hand and dance….”
“And?” Estelle pushed, pulling down the corner on the page she was reading and closing her book, hardly able to believe she was having this conversation, let alone considering going along with Ginny”s plan.
“Maybe a small kiss on the cheek or lips…” As Estelle shook her head Ginny pushed on. “You just have to look as if you”re madly in love.”
“With a sixty-four-year-old?”
“Yes.” Ginny sighed, but before Estelle could argue further broke in, “Everyone will think you”re a gold-digger, that you”re only with Gordon for his money. Which you will be…” Ginny stopped talking then, interrupted by a terrible coughing fit.
They were housemates rather than best friends, two students trying to get through university. At twenty-five, Estelle was a few years older than Ginny, and had long wondered how Ginny managed to run a car and dress so well, but now she had found out. Ginny worked for a very exclusive escort agency and had a long-term client— Gordon Edwards, a politician with a secret. Which was why, Ginny had assured her, nothing would happen or be expected from Estelle if she took Ginny”s place as his date at a very grand wedding being held this evening.
“I”d have to share a room with him.”
Estelle had never shared a room with a man in her life. She wasn”t especially shy or retiring but she certainly had none of Ginny”s confidence or social ease. Ginny thought the weekends were designed for parties, clubs and pubs, whereas Estelle”s idea of a perfect weekend was looking around old churches or ruins and then curling up on the sofa with a book.
Not playing escort!
“Gordon always takes the sofa when we share a room.”
“No.” Estelle pushed up her glasses and returned to her book. She tried to carry on reading about the mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor but it was terribly hard to do so when she was so worried about her brother and he still hadn”t rung to let her know if he had got the job.
There was no mistaking the fact that the money would help.
It was late Saturday morning in London, and the wedding was being held that evening in a castle in Scotland. If Estelle was going to go then she would have to start getting ready now, for they would fly to Edinburgh and then take a helicopter to the castle and time was fast running out.
“Please,” Ginny said. “The agency are freaking because they can”t get anyone suitable at such short notice. He”s coming to pick me up in an hour.”
“What will people think?” Estelle asked. “If people are used to seeing him with you.”
“Gordon will take care of that. He”ll say that we had an argument, that I was pushing for an engagement ring or something. We were going to be finishing soon anyway, now that I”m nearly through university. Honestly, Estelle, Gordon really is the loveliest man. There”s so much pressure on him to appear straight—he simply cannot go to this wedding without a date. Just think of the money!”
Estelle couldn”t stop thinking about the money.
Attending this wedding would mean that she could pay her brother”s mortgage for an entire month, as well as a couple of his bills.
Okay, it wouldn”t entirely solve their dilemma, but it would buy Andrew and his young family a little bit more time and, given all they had been through this past year, and all that was still to come, they could certainly use the reprieve.
Andrew had done so much for her—had put his own life on hold to make sure that Estelle”s life carried on as normally as possible when their parents had died when Estelle was seventeen.
It was time for Estelle to step up, just as Andrew had.
“Okay.” Estelle took a deep breath and her decision was made. “Ring and say that I”ll come.”
“I”ve already told him that you”ve agreed,” Ginny admitted. “Estelle, don”t look at me like that. I know how badly you need the money and I simply couldn”t bear to tell Gordon that I didn”t have someone else lined up.”
Ginny looked more closely at Estelle. Her long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her very pale skin was without a blemish, and there was no last night”s makeup smudged under Estelle”s green eyes because Estelle rarely wore any. Ginny was trying not to show it but she was actually more than a little nervous as to what a made-up Estelle would look like and whether or not she could carry it off.
“You need to get ready. I”ll help with your hair and things.”
“You”re not coming near me with that cough,” Estelle said. “I can manage.” She looked at Ginny”s doubtful expression. “We can all look like tarts if we have to.” She smiled and Ginny laughed. “Though I don”t actually have anything I can wear…would anyone notice if I wore something of yours?”
“I bought a new dress for the wedding.” Ginny headed to the wardrobe in her bedroom and Estelle followed.
Estelle”s jaw dropped when she held the flimsy gold fabric up.
“Does that go under the dress?”
“It looks stunning on.”
“On you, perhaps…” Estelle said, because Ginny was a lot slimmer and had a tiny pert bust, whereas, though small, Estelle was curvy. “I”m going to look like…”
“Which is the whole point.” Ginny grinned. “Honestly, Estelle, if you just relax you”ll have fun.”
“I doubt it,” Estelle said, wrapping her long dark hair in heated rollers at Ginny”s dressing table, and setting to work on her face under her housemate”s very watchful eye. Gordon was supposed to be a womanizer, and somehow Estelle had to get the balance right between looking as if she adored him while being far, far too young for him too.
“You need more foundation.”
“More?” Estelle already felt as if she had an inch on.
“And lashings of mascara.”
Ginny watched as Estelle took out the heated rollers and her long dark hair tumbled into ringlets. “Okay, loads of hairspray…” Ginny said. “Oh, and by the way, Gordon calls me Virginia, just in case anyone mentions me.”
Ginny blinked a few times when Estelle turned around. The smoky grey eyeshadow and layers of mascara brought out the emerald in her green eyes, and the make-up accentuated Estelle”s full lips. Seeing the long black curls framing her friend”s petite face, Ginny started to believe that Estelle could carry this off.
“You look amazing! Let”s see you in the dress.” “Won”t I change there?”
“Gordon”s schedule is too busy. Once you land I would imagine you”ll be straight into the wedding.”
The dress was beautiful—sheer and gold, it clung everywhere. It was far too revealing but it was delicious too. Ginny gaped when Estelle wobbled on very high shoes.
“I think Gordon might dump me.”
“This,” Estelle said firmly, “is a one-off.”
“That”s what I said when I first started at the agency,” Ginny admitted. “But if it goes well…”
“Don”t even think it!” Estelle said as a car tooted in the street.
“You”ll be fine,” Ginny said as Estelle nearly jumped out of her skin. “You look stunning. I know you can do this.”
Estelle clung onto that as she stepped out of her cheap student accommodation home. Teetering on the unfamiliar high heels, she walked out of the drive and towards a sleek silver car, more than a little terrified to meet the politician.
“I have amazing taste!”
Gordon greeted her with a smile as his driver held open the door and Estelle climbed in. He was chubby, dressed in full Scottish regalia, and he made her smile even before she”d properly sat down.
“And you”ve got far better legs than me! I feel ridiculous in a kilt.”
Instantly he made her relax.
As the car headed for the airport he brought Estelle up to speed. “We met two weeks ago…”
“Where?” Estelle asked. “At Dario”s.”
Gordon laughed. “You really don”t know anything, do you? It”s a bar in Soho—sugar daddy heaven.”
“Oh, God.” she groaned. “Do you work?” Gordon asked. “Part-time at the library.”
“Maybe don”t mention that. Just say you do a little bit of modelling,” Gordon suggested. “Keep it all very vague, or say that right now keeping Gordon happy is a full-time job.” Estelle blushed and Gordon noticed. “I know. Awful, isn”t it? I seem to have created this terrible persona.”
“I”m worried that I shan”t be able to pull it off.”
“You”ll be fine,” Gordon said, and he went through everything with her again.
They practised their story over and over on the short flight to Edinburgh. He even asked after her brother and niece, and she was surprised that he knew about their plight.
“Virginia and I have become good friends this past year,” Gordon said. “She was ever so upset for you when your brother had his accident and when the baby was born so unwell…” He gave her hand a squeeze. “How is she now?”
“Waiting for surgery.”
“Just remember that you”re helping them,” Gordon said as they transferred to the helicopter that would take them to the castle where the very exclusive wedding was being held.
As they walked across the immaculate lawn Gordon took her hand and she was grateful to hold onto it. He really was nice—if they had met under any other circumstances she would be looking forward to this evening.
“I can”t wait to get inside the castle,” Estelle admitted. She”d already told Gordon she was studying ancient architecture.
“There won”t be much time for exploring,” Gordon said. “We”ll be shown to our room and there will just be time to freshen up and touch up your hair and make-up before we head down for the wedding.”
“And just remember,” Gordon said, “this time tomorrow it will all be over and you”ll never have to see any of them again.”
The sound of seagulls and the distant throb of music didn”t wake Raúl from his slumber; instead they were the sounds that soothed him when he was startled in his sleep. He lay there, heart pounding for a moment, telling himself it was just a dream, while knowing that it was a memory that had jolted him awake.
The gentle motion of his berthed yacht almost tempted him back to sleep, but then he remembered that he was supposed to be meeting with his father.
Raúl forced his eyes open and stared at the tousled blonde hair on his pillow.
“Buenos días,” she purred.
“Buenos días.” Raúl responded, but instead of moving towards her he turned onto his back.
“What time do we leave for the wedding?”
Raúl closed his eyes at her presumption. He had never actually asked Kelly to join him as his guest, but that was the trouble with dating your PA—she knew your diary. The wedding was to be held this evening in the Scottish Highlands. It was nothing for Raúl to fly from Spain to Scotland for a wedding, but Kelly clearly thought that a few weeks out of his office and in his bed meant she was automatically invited.
“I”ll speak to you about that later,” Raúl said, glancing at the clock. “Right now I have to meet with my father.”
“Raúl…” Kelly turned to him in a move that was suggestive.
“Later,” he said, and climbed out of bed. “I am supposed to be meeting with him in ten minutes.”
“That wouldn”t have stopped you before.”
He took the stairs and walked up onto the deck, picking his way through the debris and the evidence of another wild Raúl Sanchez Fuente party. A maid was already starting the mammoth clean up and she gave a cheery wave to Raúl.
“Gracias,” she said as he gave her a substantial cash bonus without apologising for the mess. She did not mind his excesses—Raúl paid and treated her well, unlike the owners of some of the yachts, who expected her to work without complaint for very little.
Raúl put on his shades and walked along the Puerto Banus marina, where his yacht was moored. Here, Raúl belonged. Here, despite his decadent ways, he fitted in—because he was not the wildest. Raúl could hear a party continuing on, the music throbbing, the sound of laughter and merriment carrying across the sparkling water, and it reminded Raúl why he loved this place. Rarely was it ever silent. The marina was full of luxurious yachts and had the heady scent of filthy money. Ludicrously expensive cars were casually parked, all the fruits of serious wealth were on display here, and Raúl—dishevelled, unshaven and terribly beautiful—blended in well.
A couple of tourists stumbling home from a club nudged each other as Raúl walked past, trying to place him. For he was as good-looking as any film star and clearly he was someone. People-watching was a regular activity in Puerto Banus, for amongst the tourists and locals were the rich, the famous and the notorious too.
Raúl scored two out of three—though he was famous in the business world.
Enrique, his driver, was waiting for him, and Raúl climbed in and gave a brief greeting, and then sat silently as he was driven the short distance to the Marbella branch of De La Fuente Holdings. He had no doubt as to what his father wanted to discuss, but his mind was going over what Kelly had just said.
“That wouldn”t have stopped you before.”
Before what? Raúl asked himself.
Before he lost interest?
Before the chase had ended?
Before she assumed that a Saturday night would be shared?
Raúl was an island.
An island with frequent visitors and world-renowned parties, an island of endless sun and unlimited luxury, but one who preferred guests not to outstay their welcome, only allowed the superficial. Yes, Raúl was an island, and he intended to keep it that way. He certainly didn”t want permanent boarders and he chose not to let anyone get too close.
He would never be responsible again for another”s heart.
“I shan”t be long,” Raúl told Enrique as the car door was lifted and he climbed out.
Raúl was not looking forward to this conversation, but his father had insisted they meet this morning and Raúl just wanted it over and done with.
“Buenos días.” He greeted Angela, his father”s PA. “What are you doing here on a Saturday?” he asked, because Angela usually flew home to her family for the weekend.
“I am trying to track down a certain Spaniard who said he would be here at eight a.m.,” Angela scolded mildly. She was the one woman who could get away with telling Raúl how it was. In her late fifties, she had been employed by the company for as long as Raúl could remember. “I”ve been trying to call you—don”t you ever have your phone on?”
“The battery is flat.”
“Well, before you speak with your father I need to go through your diary.”
“No, Raúl. I”m flying home later this morning. This needs to be done now. We also need to sort out a new PA for you—preferably one you don”t fancy!” Angela was less than impressed with Raúl”s brief eye-roll. “Raúl, you need to remember that I”m going on long service leave in a few weeks” time. If I”m going to train somebody up for you, then I need to get on to it now.”
“Choose someone, then,” Raúl said. “And you”re right; perhaps it would be better if it was someone that I did not fancy.”
“Finally!” Angela sighed.
Yes, after having it pointed out to him on numerous occasions, Raúl was finally accepting that mixing business with pleasure had consequences, and sleeping with his PA was perhaps not such a good idea.