The Spanish Billionaire's Hired Bride(2)

By: Rachel Lyndhurst

“The Condesa?” What was the little crook up to now? Not that it mattered, but it would be nicer not to have to wrestle her to the ground before the police arrived. He took a long breath and allowed his gaze to drop to her mouth as she stood up to face him. “Very well, we’ll leave the Condesa out of it.”

“We can be civilized about this.” The blonde licked her lips and her voice dropped an octave, becoming silky as she fingered his collar. “What is your name?”

Ricardo suppressed the urge to laugh. The little minx was trying to seduce her way out of trouble! “Take off your clothes,” he said firmly and then everything went black with pain.

“You’re an oaf, Ricardo,” Condesa Antonella Almanza muttered with an expression as sour as green lemons. “The poor girl thought she was about to be raped and murdered up there. I expect you to apologize when she brings our coffee.”

Ricardo rose from a white leather sofa and thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets. His stepmother never failed to irritate him. “Perhaps, dear madrastra, you would care to explain to me what that English woman is doing here in the first place? Apart from making coffee, fetching your jewels, and kicking like a rabid mule, that is.”

“And perhaps you would like to explain to me what you were doing sneaking around upstairs without permission?”

“I own the place, remember?”

She frowned and ran a beautifully manicured hand over her shiny black hair.

“Helen Marshall is my Girl Thursday.”

“Your what?” Ricardo said with a laugh of disbelief.

“The same as a Girl Friday, only faster.” The older woman sniffed disdainfully, unwilling to look him in the eye. “It’s all about one’s work-life balance.”

Ricardo shook his head. “You kill me with your mad ideas, Antonella. You really, really do.”

She picked at an invisible speck on her Chanel jacket. “You don’t understand my needs, you never have.”

“Your needs? I think I’ve got a pretty good idea by now, judging by the accounts I approve for payment every month.”

“I need to relax more, have some ‘me time’.”

“Give me strength! What do you do all day? You have a cleaner, a cook, a gardener—”

“How dare you! I gave your father the best years of my life. He and your wretched family ruined me for anyone else. He owed me for that, and as a consequence, the debt is now yours, as eldest son.”

“The only son,” he snapped. “And I have never dishonored that debt. So how much are you paying this little English cuckoo?”

Helen Marshall coughed politely in the doorway, noting the fury on the Condesa’s face. She’d understood every word of their blazing row. “Your coffee, madam,” Helen murmured as she entered the salon, eyes lowered to the Turkish rug beneath her feet.

“Ah, at last.” The Condesa replied and waited as Helen poured the coffee with shaky hands. She took her cup carefully, so as not to tangle her nails in the tiny handle and jerked her chin towards the man Helen now knew was Ricardo Almanza. “Before you go, my appalling stepson has something to say.”

Helen took a step back from the coffee tray and slowly raised her face, catching her reflection in an elaborate mirror over the fireplace. She looked pale, her makeup having been partially rubbed off on the Condesa’s bedspread. She could no longer avoid acknowledging the tall shadow hovering to the far right of her vision. Ricardo Almanza’s aura dragged her eyes to meet his once again. The angry stare she remembered boring into her in the bedroom was the same, just calmer. His eyes were the color of Baltic amber, his hair as black as night and a trace of the mandarin and persimmon in his cologne hung in the still air. Gold cufflinks in the shape of a lion’s head glinted on the white shirt cuffs protruding from his black jacket. His fingernails were short and clean and a shiver ripped through her as she remembered the feel of his hard hands gripping her …

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