Confessions of a Millionaire's Mistress. Robyn Grady
the crowd, she excused herself from Brooke and accompanied her father down a wide airy hall. As they passed the ethereal image of her mother’s portrait, Celeste heard more clearly the crystals rustling around her evening gown’s hem.
She’d considered wearing a smart black jacket and trousers ensemble, but had decided on the feminine look her mother had said suited her best. The peachy tone complemented her long Titian-blonde waves, and in no way challenged the last faint smattering of freckles that refused to leave her nose and shoulders. Anita Prince had said her daughter’s sun kisses made her glow like an angel. She’d never understood that Celeste hadn’t wanted to glow quite so much.
When they reached the study, her father shut the door on a room stacked with filing cabinets. He drew her towards his desk, then held her eyes with his. ‘In ten minutes I’ll make an announcement. I’ve given it a great deal of thought.’
Celeste gathered herself against rising excitement. ‘I’m sure you have.’
‘Prince Landscape Maintenance has grown into a huge enterprise…a swag of employees to oversee and organise. Master and subordinate franchises that need to be monitored. Its director should be involved at all levels, and can’t be above driving a Bobcat or trimming a tree.’
Although Celeste nodded, her toes wriggled in their silver high heels. She didn’t intend to be that hands-on; a great second-in-charge could handle any day-to-day grind. Rather she planned to invest her time in branching out to incorporate a chain of florists, which would accommodate only the biggest occasions, like celebrity weddings and gala events. She wanted the new section to be exclusive, celebrated, in demand by the elite. It would be her personal contribution to the further development of the company. Under her leadership, they would reach even greater heights.
Her father crossed his arms. ‘Papers need to be signed, but I’ve invited Mr Scott to stay a few days to help ease him in.’
Celeste’s smile wilted. ‘Who’s Mr Scott?’
A new accountant? Lately, whenever she visited her father here at the office he ran from home, he’d been poring over the books, his face more lined than she could ever remember…and not merely from years spent in the sun. At sixty-five, he needed to relax and leave the toil to her.
‘Mr Scott has enjoyed a meteoric financial rise these last five years,’ her father went on. ‘He’s offered to buy Prince Landscape Maintenance. I thought you should meet him before I address our guests and share the news.’
The mahogany panelled walls warped and receded as her legs threatened to buckle and give way. She held her somersaulting stomach and forced the bitter-tasting words from her mouth.
‘You want to sell our company to a stranger?’
She was hit by a frightening impulse to grab her father’s tux lapels, shake him and shout, Don’t do this. You can’t do this! But she’d learned long ago that such displays of emotion got her nowhere. The last time she’d ‘acted out’, she’d been sent to boarding school. Thank heaven for Brooke.
Her father droned on about ‘the generous offer’ and ‘everything working out well’. But Celeste could only think of how she’d always done what was expected of her. She’d excelled at school—even in reviled Maths—and had never attracted trouble while she’d waited in the wings.
How could he do this to her? More importantly, how could he do this to her mother?
She wouldn’t hold her tongue. ‘You knew I wanted to step in when you bowed out. We spoke about it just today.’
Her father’s arms unravelled. ‘Sweetheart, we talked about your handbag shop. I asked whether you’d thought about expanding.’
On the surface maybe. But the subtext had been there…hadn’t it? Although she loved her shop, it was a placeholder business—somewhere to build on her university knowledge and practical skills until this happened. She constantly inquired about PLM, whether the franchises were growing, if there was anything at all she could do to help. Damn it, it had always been understood!
She grabbed at a likely buoy. ‘You said no papers have been signed. Tell this Mr Scott you’ve changed your mind. That you’re handing your daughter over the f-f-firm.’
While her cheeks caught fire, her father’s brow lifted in surprise, then furrowed with mild disapproval at the stutter he hadn’t heard in years.
He shook his head. ‘This is best. It’s a man’s business, and, believe me, I’ve found the right man for the job.’
Celeste set her jaw. She was the only man…er, woman for the job. Besides robbing them of a chance to reconnect, selling PLM was tantamount to betraying her mother’s memory. Anita had been yesterday’s New-Age woman. She’d stayed so strong and had given so much, and she’d done it not only out of loyalty to her husband, but in the staunch belief that Celeste would benefit by taking over one day. Without her mother’s sacrifices, frankly, the Prince franchise wouldn’t exist.
A knock on the door echoed through the high-ceilinged room. Her father glanced over and raised his voice. ‘Come in, Benton.’
Benton…? Benton Scott. Yes, the name rang a bell. Exceedingly wealthy, rather an enigma. Big on charity but stayed well clear of the press.
Her free hand fisted by her side while the other clenched her flute’s stem. She didn’t care if Scott was a monk. PLM was hers. Watch out anyone who stood in her way.
But when the enemy entered, the oxygen seeped from her lungs until there was no air left to breathe.
That jacket. Those eyes. Oh, Lord.
Her tall dark delectable hit man.
His eyes met hers and widened at the same time he stopped dead.
So he’d been just as clueless about her identity when he’d given her the once-over earlier. Well, if he was still interested, so was she…in getting rid of him as fast as she could.
She jumped in to take advantage of the awkward moment. ‘Sorry to sound rude, but my father and I are in the middle of an important discussion. Perhaps we could talk later.’
Her father went to protest, but perceptive Benton Scott held up a hand. ‘It’s fine, Rodney. This doesn’t appear to be the best time for introductions. And possibly tonight isn’t the night for announcements either.’
Celeste shivered. Those exquisite tingles again, but this time at a voice that was as rich and tempting as it was dangerous, like a stream of darkest chocolate undulating over jagged rock.
‘No, no.’ Rodney Prince moved toward his guest, his five-ten stature minimised beside this other man’s impressive height. ‘Come through.’ He flicked a glance at his daughter. ‘We’ve finished here, haven’t we, hon?’
Emotion thickened in her throat. Had he forgotten that much? Did her feelings matter so little?
Benton Scott spoke up. ‘Actually, Rodney, I over-heard a guest—Suzanne Simmons. She said she needed to find you to say goodbye. She’d already called for her car.’
Her father’s moustache twitched and he cleared his throat. ‘I should go. Ms Simmons is one of my most important clients.’
The younger man stepped aside. ‘I understand.’
When her father clapped his guest on the back and left without a backward glance, Celeste braced herself against another twinge of hurt. But she didn’t have time for self-pity. Savvy businesswomen didn’t pout; they dealt the hand rather than merely played it. And, as much as it pained, Benton Scott could well be her trump card.
Outwardly cool, she concentrated on her words and indicated a leather tub chair. ‘Please, take a seat.’
He smiled almost gently, then caught the door knob. ‘As I said earlier, it’s best we leave more thorough introductions for now. Goodnight, Miss Prince.’