Bought for his pleasure – forced to be his bride?
Tabloids were ready to pounce: had disgraced supermodel Lydia Powell really stolen money from Happy Holidays, a charity for disadvantaged children? Cristiano Andreotti really hoped so. Here was his chance to exact revenge on the only female who’d ever turned him down. He would pay back the missing money if she would sleep with him. And according to Cristiano’s code of honour, if he took a woman’s virginity, then he had to make her his bride!
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CRISTIANO ANDREOTTI, the software billionaire, stood on the topmost deck of the megayacht Lestara. Built to his exacting specifications, and already regarded as the most beautiful craft ever built, Lestara was a floating palace, complete with twin helipads, a cinema, a freshwater swimming pool and a sleek landing craft tucked in her stern. Yet Cristiano was infuriatingly conscious of the faintest tinge of disappointment with his latest acquisition.
His guests, however, were talking about the yacht in hushed tones of reverence.
‘The most staggering level of luxury I’ve ever seen…’
‘You have a private hospital and you’re never ill…wow, is all I can say…’
‘The gym and the basketball court are to die for…’
‘The glass viewing area in the hull blew me away…’
‘Sixty crew members to sail her and wait on you…you must feel like a king…’
His lean, darkly handsome profile detached, his brilliant dark eyes bleak, Cristiano continued to look out to sea. A king? Not so as he had noticed. He wondered if he had brought company on board to say for him what he no longer said or felt himself. Increasingly, only aggressive takeovers or extreme sports gave Cristiano a genuine buzz. Born into fabulous wealth, he had discovered that few experiences, or indeed possessions, lived up to their initial promise.
‘Have you heard the gossip?’ the socialite Jodie Morgan was asking in her piercing English upper-class voice when he emerged from his reverie. ‘About Lia Powell?’ she continued.
As Cristiano tensed at the unexpected sound of that name, female giggles broke out.
‘There are rumours all around London. How do you think she’ll take to life in prison?’
‘Who are you talking about?’ his friend, Philip Hazlett, enquired.
‘The Powell girl…that model who took off with Mort Stevens. Her career dive-bombed when he was done for drugs and she disappeared off the map,’ Jodie reminded her fiancé cheerfully. ‘A couple of months ago she tried to make a comeback by doing good works—’
‘Yes. I believe she organised a fashion show for some children’s charity called Happy Holidays and made a mess of it,’ Philip interposed in a suggestive tone of finality.
Impervious to the hint that the subject matter might not be welcome, Jodie continued to tell the story. ‘Lia persuaded her fellow models to donate their services free to the show, and the goss is she robbed the poor little kiddies blind by pocketing the proceeds!’
A spark of raw splintering gold flared in Cristiano’s brooding, dark gaze. He was grimly amused by Philip’s attempt to silence Jodie. Evidently the socialite was not aware that Lia Powell and Cristiano had briefly been an item. For a nanosecond time leapt back eighteen months, to Cristiano’s first glimpse of Lia Powell during a Paris show. Slender and sinuous as a willow wand, she had stalked down the catwalk like a warrior princess, her pale blonde hair rippling back from her hauntingly lovely face like silvery streamers of moonlight. Huge eyes the mesmeric blue of lapis lazuli had blanked him when he was introduced. Her smile had been a masterpiece of indifference. Accustomed to instant awe and fawning attention, Cristiano had been intrigued, his lust heightened by that rare sense of being challenged. He had been eager to see just how well she played a game he had assumed was naïvely aimed at increasing his interest.
But, unusually, Cristiano had underestimated the brazen avarice and ambition of his scheming target. Although he had been unaware of it, he had not been the only wealthy male in Lia’s sights, and she had been chasing a better offer than a casual affair. After a handful of dates he had invited her to his country house for the weekend. There Lia had come over all virginal and refused to share his suite. At dawn the following day, however, she had eloped with one of his guests: a dissolute rock star more than twice her age, famous for his very expensive habit of marrying his youthful arm-candy. As he chirpily introduced Lia to the press as his new fiancée, Mort Stevens must have seemed the more rewarding prospect in financial terms. Unhappily for Lia, though, cruel fate had intervened to ensure that all her plotting and planning had come to nothing in the end.