The Bought-and-Paid-For Wife. Bronwyn Jameson
The Bought-and-Paid-for Wife
MILLS & BOON
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For all my readers, with a special mention
to those who’ve written to me. I treasure
every note and letter and card.
And to Mrs. White, the number one
advocate for my own little “Lew.”
Thank you, K.
Special thanks and acknowledgment are given to
Bronwyn Jameson for her contribution to
THE SECRET LIVES OF SOCIETY WIVES miniseries.
Coming Next Month
He’d seen pictures. He’d expected beautiful. After all, when a man chooses a trophy wife, he wants one other men will covet. But Tristan Thorpe hadn’t appreciated the extent of that beauty—or its powerful clout—until the front door of the Connecticut colonial opened in a rush and she was there, five-and-a-bit feet of breathtaking impact.
Vanessa Thorpe. His father’s widow. The enemy.
In every one of those society diary pictures she looked as glossy and polished as a trophy prize should…which had left Tristan speculating over how much was real—the platinum hair? the full lips? the petite but perfectly curved body?—and how much came courtesy of his father’s wealth.
He hadn’t wondered about the sparklers at her throat and in her ears. Those, he knew, were real. Unlike her other multi-faceted assets, the diamonds appeared on the listed valuations of Stuart Thorpe’s estate.
But here, now, seeing her in the flesh for the first time, Tristan didn’t notice anything fake. All he saw was the very real sparkle in her silvery-green eyes and the smile. Warmer than the August sun at his back now that the rain had cleared, it lit her whole face with pleasure and licked his body with instant male appreciation.
That hot shot of hormones lasted all of a second, which was as long as it took for shock to freeze the smile on her perfect pink lips.
Her whispered gasp came coated with dismay and, although she didn’t move, Tristan saw the recoil in her expression. She wanted to back away. Hell, she probably wanted to slam the door in his face, and a perverse part of him wished she would give it a go. The long flight from Australia and the snarled afternoon traffic following a heavy rainstorm had him edgy enough to enjoy that kind of confrontation.
Logic, however, was Tristan Thorpe’s master and it cautioned him to remain cool. “Sorry to disappoint you, duchess.” And because he wasn’t the least bit sorry, he smiled, as slow and mocking as his drawled greeting. “Obviously, you were expecting someone else.”
Tristan arched an eyebrow. “Didn’t you say I was welcome here any time?”
“I don’t recall—”
“Two years ago,” he reminded her. After her husband’s death. Seeing as she had to call his estranged family on the other side of the world to inform them of his passing, why not extend her largesse? An ex-waitress with expectations of a cool hundred million in inheritance could afford to appear generous.
Right now she didn’t look so generous. In fact she looked downright inhospitable. “Why are you here, Tristan? The court date isn’t until next month.”
“If it’s even necessary.”
Surprise and suspicion narrowed her eyes. “Have you changed your mind? Are you dropping your contest of the will?”
“Not a chance.”
“Then what do you want?”
“There’s been a new development.” Tristan paused, savoring the moment. He’d flown nearly ten thousand miles for this. He wanted to drag it out, to see her flail, before he brought her down. “I think you’ll change your mind about keeping that court date.”
For a second she stared at him, her expression revealing nothing but annoyance. Behind her, somewhere within the mansion’s vast interior, a phone started to ring. He saw her momentary distraction, a glance, a tightening of her lips, before she spoke.
“If this is another of your attempts to obstruct execution of Stuart’s will—” the hostility in her eyes and her voice confirmed that’s exactly what she thought “—please take it to my lawyer, the same as you’ve done with every other new development the past two years. Nothing has changed in that regard. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
Oh, no. No way would he be dismissed. Not with that snooty voice, not with that imperious lift of her perfect little chin.
Tristan didn’t stop to consider propriety or good manners. To prevent her closing the door on him, he stepped forward. To halt her leaving, he reached out and caught her by the arm.
The bare arm, he realized as the shock of her warm and female softness shot through his system.
Vaguely, beneath that purr of awareness, he felt her stillness and heard the hitch of her breath. Shock, no doubt, that he’d dare lay a hand on her.
“You don’t want to close that door on me.” His voice sounded rough, a deep growl in the tense silence. And he realized that the shrill ringing of the telephone had stopped, whether because someone had picked up or the caller had quit, he didn’t know and couldn’t care. “You don’t want me taking this public.”
“If you’re smart—” And she was. They might have dealt with each other largely through lawyers, but he’d never underestimated the smarts behind her platinum blond looks “—you’ll keep this between you and me.”
Their eyes clashed with raw antagonism and something else. The same something that still buzzed through his system and tightened his gut. The same something that made him release his grip on her arm without breaking eye contact, even when he heard the rubbery squelch of rapidly approaching sneakers on the foyer’s marble floor.
“Take the call if you need,” he said. “I can wait.”
The owner of the sneakers stopped and cleared her throat and Tristan’s