Enjoy the first chapter of my August release, The Millionaire’s Redemption!
The Millionaire’s Redemption
‘AND THE SOLUTION you’ve come up with is marriage?’
Lily Newman’s steps faltered at the words. Not because she was at an engagement party—her best friend Caitlyn’s—where marriage was supposed to be celebrated, but because of the anger that stiffened every word she’d overheard.
There was something familiar about the voice, though not because she knew the person speaking. It was just something in the tone… But that was ridiculous, so she focused on the fact that since she didn’t recognise the voice entirely she couldn’t be overhearing either of the individuals she was celebrating that evening.
She looked around to check whether she might be caught eavesdropping. Not that she wanted to be doing that. She had come upstairs to have some time alone. Yes, maybe it did have something to do with seeing her ex-fiancé Kyle arrive with the woman he’d cheated on Lily with. Okay, maybe it had everything to do with that.
Because she hadn’t wanted to face it, she’d escaped the lavish party Caitlyn’s wealthy fiancé Nathan was hosting at his newly purchased home, thinking she might as well explore considering the time she would spend there once her friend was married. But her exploration had ended fairly quickly when she’d heard those angry words from the room she was now standing outside.
‘Mr Brookes, we think—’
Brookes was Nathan’s surname, she thought, and realised why the man’s voice had sounded so familiar. He was one of Nathan’s family. Perhaps the brother Caitlyn had told her Nathan had a tenuous relationship with. The one she’d never met and knew not to bring up in front of Nathan after Caitlyn had told her not to. She knew she should give him his privacy, and was about to leave when the man spoke again.
‘It doesn’t really sound like you were thinking at all, Jade.’
The voice hadn’t risen in volume, but Lily felt a chill go through her.
‘We…we actually did put a lot of thought into this, Mr Brookes.’ A male voice took over from Jade, though his words were no more confident.
‘Then take me through your thought process.’
Careful, Lily thought.
She looked around again, saw that she was still alone, and leaned against the wall.
‘We did the research.’ Jade was speaking again. ‘The file we mailed you has all the results from various avenues—test groups, opinion polls, social media. Yes, you’re a successful businessman now, but you’ve done that largely outside of the public eye. People still remember you as the man who lost the Shadows Rugby Club their chance to compete internationally. They remember you as the man who would do anything to win a game, but took it too far in the end.’
There was a pause, and then Jade continued hesitantly. ‘And then all the attention was on your suspension, and the partying you did during the year after your last game for the Shadows…’
‘You’re not telling me anything new.’ The words were flat. ‘I hired you because I knew that it would be difficult to…restore my image. But I’m doubting my decision now, since you’re telling me marriage is the only way I can do that.’
‘It’s not the only way,’ the other man Lily had yet to identify said quickly. ‘But it’s the fastest way. And considering that the buy-out is time-sensitive…’ He trailed off.
There was silence for a while, and Lily pushed away from the wall. Guilt spread through her when she realised she shouldn’t be listening to a private conversation. Sure, she wanted to know more about Nathan’s mysterious brother—if that was who he was—but it was purely out of curiosity. There really wasn’t a reason for her to listen to Nathan’s family’s business.
She turned away, forcing herself to act like the confident woman she was trying to be and face Kyle, but she paused when she heard the voices in the room again.
‘I shouldn’t have asked you to come to my brother’s engagement party.’
So he was Nathan’s brother.
‘We can discuss this tomorrow, after the TV interview.’
Her thoughts froze when she realised the man was now walking towards the door, and her legs moved just in time to avoid being caught. She hurried down the passage and turned the corner that led to the stairs…
And then stilled when she saw the man she was trying to avoid walking up them.
His date—the other descriptions in her mind weren’t quite as polite—was giggling as he whispered something into her ear. Lily had never bothered to learn the woman’s name—why would she need to know the name of the woman she’d caught naked in her fiancé’s arms?—but she did remember the red hair and petite frame.
It made her pull at the dress Caitlyn had begged her to wear a few days ago. It was too tight, Lily thought desperately. She wished with all her might that it wasn’t in a shocking red colour that did nothing to hide the curves Lily had plenty of—too many, in fact.
Her pretend confidence was already dwindling, she realised. And although there was a part of her that told her it was to be expected when she was about to face the man who had broken her down throughout their relationship—who had cheated on her—she had expected more of herself.
It also did her no good to notice how much smaller than Lily Kyle’s date was. She watched the man she had once thought she loved slide a hand around the woman’s tiny waist, pulling her close enough that there was no space between them. They were sneaking away to fool around, she realised, nausea fierce in her belly. How many times had she thwarted Kyle’s attempts to do just that with her when they were at parties? He hadn’t only found a woman smaller than her, Lily thought. She was also the risk-taker Kyle had always wanted and Lily would never be.
In the split second before Kyle saw her Lily decided to take a risk. She wanted Kyle to think that she had been making out with someone upstairs. That the thing she had refused to do with him—the thing he had found someone else for—she was now doing with someone other than him.
She would probably think that it was a terrible decision later, but as she fluffed her coiled curls and rubbed her lips together to smudge her lipstick she only hoped one thing—that Nathan’s brother had a sense of humour.
Kyle’s voice immediately sent her skin crawling and her heart galloping. She couldn’t believe that she’d once found that voice attractive. Now she heard the slime curl around every word.
She lifted her eyebrows. ‘Kyle? I didn’t see you there. How are you?’
The of-course-you-saw-me glint in Kyle’s eyes set her teeth on edge and had a small part of herself recoiling.
‘I’m well. How are you? I heard you managed to get that bookstore up and running eventually.’
‘It’s doing really well, actually. My initial investment was quite substantial, as you know.’
Kyle’s eyes hardened, and satisfaction pumped through her. But then it gave way to the usual feelings of disgust at the thought of how their relationship had ended. At how she’d compromised her integrity, her dignity.
She ignored the fact that her self-confidence was deteriorating with every moment she spent in his presence.
‘You’ve never met Michelle before, have you? At least not officially.’ Kyle pushed the woman forward. ‘We’re getting married in a few months.’
‘Congratulations,’ she answered, and though ice stiffened her spine at the woman’s cold look she felt nothing else at the news that Kyle was getting married.
That didn’t mean relief didn’t wash over her when she heard steps behind her.
Not even considering that it might be someone else, she spoke again. ‘I didn’t think you needed that much time to recover, honey…’
She turned around, and the words tailed off when she saw her supposed ‘boyfriend’ for the first time. His skin was the colour of coffee with cream, complemented by dark hair tousled in a style that made her fingers wish they’d been the ones to style it. His dark eyes were stormy, and she realised she had taken a massive gamble with the man—he was clearly still upset about the conversation he had just had.
But the storm cleared immediately after that thought, and was replaced by a look of calm that made her feel even more uneasy. His eyes flickered over her, and then looked at Kyle before resting on her again. The calm then transformed into interest—amusement, too, she thought—with the faintest hint of some secret knowledge that made her skin heat.
He looked nothing like his traditionally handsome brother. His face was made of rugged planes that suggested he had a thousand stories to tell, and just above his mouth was a scar that she could imagine feeling during a kiss.
When the sides of the lips she was admiring curved upwards, she flushed. He might not be traditionally handsome, but he sure as hell was sexy.
‘“Honey”? You and Jacques…you’re dating?’
Kyle interrupted her perusal, and Lily felt her tongue stick in her mouth when she realised that Kyle knew Nathan’s brother—Jacques.
You should have thought of that, Lily admonished herself.
She knew that Kyle was here because Nathan worked in Kyle’s family’s law firm. Nathan loved his job, and hadn’t wanted to upset the prestigious Van der Rosses by not inviting the man who would one day become his boss. Caitlyn had assured her it was the only reason Lily’s ex-fiancé had been invited.
‘Yes, we’re dating.’
The smooth baritone of Jacques’s voice sent shivers down Lily’s spine, and she struggled to shake the feeling.
‘For how long?’ Kyle said, and she turned back to see the smugness disappear.
It bothered him, she thought, her heart accelerating in an instinctual response to Kyle’s anger. But then she paused, and told herself she didn’t have to be worried about him lashing out.
She didn’t have to worry about him at all any more.
‘Almost six months now,’ she said as Jacques moved down a step to stand beside her. He was a full head taller than she was, and she tried to ignore the awareness that realisation brought.
‘Six months?’ Kyle repeated, and she saw his eyes flash.
They’d broken up a year ago, and clearly he thought six months was too short a time for her to mourn for him.
‘It doesn’t feel like six months, though,’ Jacques said, and she shifted her gaze to him. ‘I barely feel like I’ve scratched the surface with you.’
So he did have a sense of humour, she thought, and smiled. When he responded with a smile of his own her breath caught and she thought something crackled between them. Her heart thudded when Jacques wrapped an arm around her waist, and for a moment she forgot that it was all a game and lifted her hand to brush at a piece of his hair.
‘How did you two meet?’
Kyle’s voice punctured the tension in the air and she looked at him with a foggy mind. It took her a minute, but when she came out of her Jacques-induced haze she noted the grim set of Kyle’s lips. He really didn’t like this, she thought, and waited for the panic. For that quick rush of trepidation that anticipated that she was about to be put in her place.
But nothing came. And somehow she knew it was because of the easy strength exuded by the man at her side.
‘I’d love to tell you all about it, Kyle, but we were up there for far too long.’
Lily shot a flirtatious glance at Jacques, and briefly wondered how deep a hole she was digging when she saw a flash of heat in Jacques’s eyes.
‘We should probably spend some time with the happy couple. Enjoy the rest of your evening.’
Taking Jacques’s hand, she hurried down the stairs, weaving her way through the guests. She only stopped once they were outside on the balcony, and then she immediately let go.
‘I’m so sorry about that,’ she said hurriedly, her chest suddenly tight.
Just breathe, Lily, it’s over now.
‘Care to explain?’
There was a slight breeze in the air and Lily walked to the edge of the balcony, turning her face towards the wind. It helped steady her, and when she opened her eyes—when she saw the view in front of her—that did, too.
Nathan’s new house stood at the top of the Tygerberg hills in Cape Town, and she could see Table Mountain and most of the city from where she was. It reminded her of how small her problems were.
Even the after-effects of a bad relationship.
‘How about we start with an introduction?’
Her words were said a little breathlessly, and she cleared her throat. Nerves had replaced panic, and she glanced around. No one was paying attention to them. That helped.
‘Lily Newman—best friend to the bride-to-be.’ She offered a hand.
‘Jacques Brookes—brother of the groom-to-be.’
He took her hand and it was like touching the coals of a fire. It made her want to break the contact immediately, but he held on, shaking her hand slowly. The heat went up her arm, through her chest…
Before it could move any further she pulled her hand away. ‘Nice to meet you,’ she said, and folded her arms, constraining the hands that suddenly wanted more of the fire. ‘It probably would have been better if that had happened before the whole debacle inside.’
‘I don’t know,’ he answered with a sly smile. ‘It was much more interesting than the way I usually meet girls.’
‘I’m sure you must mean women, because clearly…’ She gestured to herself, and then flushed when she saw appreciation in his eyes.
But he only said, ‘Touché,’ and made her wonder why she’d said those words.
They’d made her sound sassier than she was. As if she was in his league. As if she was used to playing the cat-and-mouse game of flirtation. She almost laughed aloud at the prospect of being in any league.
No, she thought as she took in how effortlessly Jacques’s muscular body wore his suit. He was way too attractive to be interested in her. Someone who looked like him spent time with models and actresses—definitely not with women who had more than twenty-five per cent body fat.
She distracted herself by offering the explanation he’d asked for earlier. ‘Kyle’s my ex-fiancé—’
She broke off when he lifted a hand, and she saw that his ring finger was a little crooked.
‘The one who dumped him a month before the wedding?’
‘I always thought the woman who did that had some balls.’
She smiled. ‘Thanks.’
‘It doesn’t explain why you dated him in the first place.’
It was the same thing she’d asked herself when she’d realised how poorly he’d treated her. But that realisation had only come at the end—when she’d been forced to see the truth. She’d been blinded by how charming, how handsome he was at first. And at all the times when he’d switched it on again sporadically throughout their relationship.
But the simple truth was that the blinkers had been kept in place because he’d been interested in her. It had been intoxicating—until it hadn’t been. And then she’d found him with a naked woman and regained the gift of sight. It had grown clearer with each hour that had passed after she’d ended it. With each phone call Kyle had made. With each threat…
She was ashamed that she’d dated a bully—that she would have married him—just because she didn’t think enough of herself. She’d dealt with bullies her entire life—she should have known better. And then there was the guilt, the indignity of her actions after the break-up…
‘Some things you only realise with time,’ she finally answered Jacques.
‘Touché,’ he said again.
She watched him shift his weight from one leg to the other and frowned. The movement was so out of place for a man who clearly had an abundance of confidence. She thought of the conversation she’d overheard, wondered if what she saw was vulnerability, and felt it hit straight at her heart.
No! she commanded herself. She had her hands full with her own problems. Like the store she’d wanted all her life—had sold a piece of herself to start—which was failing. She needed to focus on fixing that—on fixing herself—before she could even think of getting involved with someone else’s problems.
And yet when she looked at the sexy man in front of her the resolutions that she’d thought were firmly in place seemed hazy.
‘Kyle didn’t seem to like you,’ Lily said to distract herself. ‘Why is that?’
Jacques moved closer, and the breeze brought his fresh-from-the-shower scent to her nose. Her insides wobbled as attraction flowed through her, but she chose to ignore it.
Or tried to.
‘We have history.’
Lily waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she said, ‘That’s all you’re going to tell me?’
He chuckled. ‘Apparently not.’
He leaned against the balcony’s railing.
‘Our families run in the same circles, so I’d met him a few times before Nathan started to work for him. Because I knew he was a—’ He looked at her, as though checking what her reaction would be, and then continued with a grin. ‘Because I knew he wasn’t a very nice person, I used to make a game out of stealing his dates.’
Her heart raced. ‘But you stopped?’
Something sparked in his eyes. ‘A while before you, yes. Unfortunately.’
Her face heated and she leaned against the railing as well, looking away from the view he was facing towards. She didn’t want him to see how uncomfortable he made her. And heaven only knew why she was staying there with him so that he could make her uncomfortable.
‘Why did I stop?’
She nodded, and he sighed.
‘Because Nathan started working for Kyle’s firm. Because I stopped going to events he would be at.’
Jacques fell silent, and Lily wondered if he was remembering why he’d stopped going to those events. Had it been because he’d started playing rugby? Because he’d stopped? Had it been during the year after he’d stopped?
She folded her arms again when guilt nudged her at the way she’d got the information to wonder those things at all.
‘And,’ Jacques said after a while, ‘because I didn’t have time to deal with the punches he tried to throw at me.’
Surprise almost had her gasping. ‘Kyle tried to hit you?’
His lips curved and her pulse spiked.
‘Tried being the operative word. It was entertaining for me…painful for him, I imagine.’
‘You hit him back?’
‘Don’t sound so surprised. I was defending myself.’
It took her a moment to process that, and then she laughed. ‘I would have paid to see that.’
He smiled. ‘You could still see it.’
She gave him a look. ‘I’m not actually going to pay you to hit my ex.’
Jacques laughed. ‘It wouldn’t cost you much if you wanted me to, but I wasn’t talking about that. I saw the way he looked at us when he heard we were together. He hated it. So I bet if you and I go into that party right now and pretend to be a couple for a while longer his reaction would pretty much be the same as a punch in the gut.’
She’d barely had enough time to consider his proposal before he’d pushed up from where he was leaning and moved closer to her, sliding an arm around her waist. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened as she drew a quick breath. She watched his eyes lower to it. He only needed to dip his head—it was barely five centimetres away—and she would know if she could really feel that scar during a kiss…
He moved his mouth until it was next to her ear and whispered, ‘Kyle’s watching, so you might want to make that decision quickly.’