Bound By Her Shocking Secret by Abby Green
DANIEL DEVILLIERSSURVEYEDthe scene below him, where guests thronged the main salon floor. The iconic Devilliers jewellers, which had been standing at this location on Place Vendôme, one of Paris’s most exclusive addresses, since the eighteenth century, had been totally updated and refurbished in the last six months and this evening was the grand reopening.
Since his father’s death a few years ago, when Daniel had inherited one of the most enduring brands in the world, he’d slowly but surely been working with a very conservative and resistant board to haul Devilliers into the twenty-first century. And his efforts were finally paying off.
It was a triumph. The party of the month. The year. Invitations had been sought after by heads of state and royalty. But Daniel was eager to open up Devilliers to a more varied and vibrant demographic, and more than a few VIPs had been reduced to begging for admission.
Actors and actresses rubbed shoulders with politicians and titans of industry, and amongst them moved the most beautiful models in the world, male and female, showcasing the brand’s latest and legacy designs, from a new cutting edge wristwatch design to a diamond tiara that had been made for Empress Josephine.
Diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires and emeralds, set amongst gold, platinum and silver, sparkled and vied for attention on the models, complemented by dresses specially chosen to display the jewellery to best advantage.
Vintage champagne flowed freely and guests were offered hors d’oeuvres that resembled small pieces of sculpture, yet still eminently edible and delicious.
Framed black and white photos adorned the walls, depicting the history of Devilliers. An oil painting of the wife of the man who had founded the company hung in pride of place on a central wall, her intricate tiara sparkling amongst the elaborate up-do of her thick dark brown hair. Distinctive grey eyes looked out from a haughtily beautiful face. The same eyes and aristocratic features that had made it down through the generations to Daniel.
Except in Daniel those aristocratic features were hewn into something far more masculine and uncompromising. High cheekbones and a surprisingly sensual mouth were countered by deep-set eyes and a hard jaw. Together with thick dark hair cut short, and his tall, powerfully lean build, the whole package of an Alpha male in his prime was a siren call to anyone with a pulse.
A movement caught Daniel’s eye, and he saw his PR advisor motioning for him to come down. He knew he should join the party. But he’d taken a moment out to observe, to feel... He wasn’t sure what he’d been hoping to feel. A sense of triumph that his vision was finally being realised? A sense of satisfaction? But he didn’t feel either of those things. What he did feel was a certain kind of anti-climax. A flatness.
And then something else caught his eye. A strapless black satin dress. A flash of tawny-gold hair, piled high. The smooth slope of bare shoulders, lightly golden. His insides clenched in helpless reaction before he could control his response.
Whoever it was had disappeared behind a column. Out of sight. It had only been a flicker of recognition. It wouldn’t have been her. She wouldn’t have the nerve to appear on his turf again. It couldn’t have been her. And yet Daniel’s pulse was hammering under his skin at the very notion.
Memories, vivid and provocative, clawed at the edges of his mind, seeking purchase. A laughing face, bright white teeth. Lush mouth. Sparkling light green eyes. Wild tawny hair wrapped around his hand as he thrust deeper and deeper into an embrace so hot and tight he’d never wanted to stop.
And other memories, less carnal. A pale face, huge eyes red-rimmed from tears. Pain. A block of ice in his chest, freezing the blood in his veins.
‘It’s probably for the best. We both know this.’
‘Get out, Daniel. I don’t ever want to see you again.’
Daniel shook his head to dislodge the very unwelcome memories. The present returned. The chatter from the level beneath him. The music from the string quartet he’d had flown in from Vienna.
Angry with himself for indulging in this moment, Daniel pushed back from the railing that bordered the mezzanine area and moved to go downstairs. The past was the past and it had no place here. The future beckoned, and as Daniel came down the wide spiral staircase he pushed every lingering wisp of memories of her down so deep that they would be crushed for ever.
He caught the eye of one stunningly beautiful woman at the bottom of the stairs. She smiled and it was explicit. It didn’t move him in the slightest. Perfect.
Mia Forde knew she couldn’t hide in the toilet cubicle all night. She cursed herself. How on earth had she thought it would be a good idea to confront Daniel again at the relaunch party for the iconic Devilliers salon?
She knew why and she felt pathetic now. She’d thought that by being in a public setting it wouldn’t be so daunting. And also, weakly, she’d thought that wearing the full armour of designer clothes and make-up would make it easier to stand in front of Daniel again.
Even though, when they’d been together, their relationship had never been about that. Their relationship had been the antithesis of this sleek, rarefied world. She’d never appeared in public with Daniel in an official capacity. Not like his other lovers. She hadn’t wanted to. For lots of reasons that she didn’t have time to dwell on now.
A security guard was waiting outside, tasked with guarding the stunning yellow topaz and diamond necklace and matching earrings she was wearing as she had managed to get herself hired as one of the models to showcase Devilliers jewels for the evening.
She took a breath and left the cubicle, went back into the main part of the bathroom which was mercifully empty. She caught a glimpse of her reflection and grimaced. Her eyes looked too big and scared. The lipstick that had been applied earlier was all but bitten off her mouth. Her cheeks were still pink after catching her first glimpse of Daniel, where he’d been standing on the upper level, those cool grey eyes surveying the scene.
She hadn’t been able to breathe at that first sight of him, paralysed by the onslaught of so many things—memories, emotions, anger... But worst of all the return of a physical awareness so acute and visceral that it had been like a punch in the gut.
His eyeline had turned towards where she’d stood and somehow she’d managed to make her shocked limbs move, tucking out of sight before he could see her.
And now here she was, trembling like a leaf. Which was pathetic when she considered what she’d been through in the past two years. She’d become stronger than she’d ever been. Fierce, even. She could handle seeing Daniel Devilliers again. She was just here to impart a message and then she would leave, head held high.
The jewels glittered against her skin, set off beautifully thanks to the simplicity of the black satin dress. She looked at them dispassionately. Worth many thousands of euros. And yet they left her cold. Because she knew they were just pretty stones. Dead inside. Like her relationship had been with Daniel. Oh, there had been heat and fire. She felt weak at the thought of it. But no heart. No soul. No depth.
In fact, the man couldn’t be more perfectly suited to his inherited profession. All fire and heat on the surface but cold inside.
And was that his fault? a voice asked.
Mia sighed. No, it wasn’t his fault. He’d never made her any promises because she’d explicitly told him that their relationship was just about the physical and the transitory. She’d put up so many walls to guard her heart against him that when they’d crumbled it had all been too late. There had been no relationship to save.
At that moment Mia heard approaching voices and straightened her shoulders. She had to go and find him now. The door opened and a couple of women came in with a flurry of overpowering perfume. Mia avoided their eyes but couldn’t fail to hear their conversation.
‘Did you see him standing up there? Like some kind of god?’
‘I’ve never seen anyone so sexy in my life...’
‘He’s divorced now...it was all over the papers. Single again...’
A sharp pain lanced Mia when she heard those words: divorced...single again. She forced the pain and sting of jealousy down. They had no place here.
She was almost at the door when her clutch bag vibrated. It could only be one person. She pulled out her phone and immediately her forehead creased in worry.
The other two women were in cubicles now, still continuing their indiscreet conversation.
Mia quickly made a call. ‘What’s wrong, Simone? Is everything okay?’
Her friend spoke on the other end and Mia’s blood ran cold. She forgot everything and had one primal response. She had to get home now.
She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be right there.’
Terminating the call, she put her phone back in her clutch and left the bathroom, all thoughts of Daniel Devilliers eclipsed.
Daniel was doing the social rounds in the belly of the party. He could see a long line of people waiting to speak with him and swallowed a sigh of frustration. And then he berated himself. This evening was the first glittering milestone in achieving all he wanted to achieve with Devilliers. So why couldn’t he just damn enjoy it?
But the frustration prickling under his skin wouldn’t go away. Taunting him. A small voice in his head said: If you’re not satisfied with this then when will you ever feel satisfied?
It irritated him intensely, because he’d never been under any illusions that his loyalty to his inheritance was born out of sentimental emotion. The opposite, in fact. He’d always viewed it with a very dispassionate discerning eye. Any loyalty he did feel came from a sense of responsibility to the hundreds of workers behind this legacy, some of whom had worked for Devilliers over generations, and his own personal ambition to see the brand evolve and become an even bigger success.
You’re doing this for your sister too, a small voice reminded him.
A familiar tightness made Daniel absently touch his chest. Yes, if there was any sentiment attached it was for his sister, who had loved coming to the salon as a child, staring in awe at all the sparkling gems, asking reverently, ‘Do we really own all of these?’
Daniel pushed the past aside. He found that his gaze was wandering, looking for a glimpse of tawny gold hair.
It hadn’t been her. Let it go.
Angry with himself for dwelling on a ghost from his past, he reminded himself that there were plenty of beautiful, willing women in his immediate vicinity. Not ghosts. And he didn’t need the reminder of how long it had been since he’d had a lover in his bed.
Not since her.
One was approaching him now. Blonde. Icy cool in a white dress. Blue eyes. Her throat, arms and ears literally dripped with diamonds. She was smiling with the kind of sexual confidence mixed with avarice that Daniel knew all too well. He told himself this was exactly what he was looking for, even as something inside him recoiled when she came closer.
But just before she could reach him someone else approached from the side. One of his security detail, who said, close to his ear, ‘Sorry to bother you, sir, but there’s been an incident.’
Daniel looked at him, the approaching woman forgotten. ‘Incident?’
‘A woman—one of the models—was trying to leave with her jewellery.’
Daniel raised a brow. ‘If she’s been apprehended why do I need to be involved?’
The man looked uncomfortable. ‘She’s saying she knows you and that you can vouch for her.’
A prickling sensation tickled the back of Daniel’s neck. He asked, ‘Where is she?’
‘In the security office.’
Emitting a sound of irritation, Daniel strode towards the front of the salon. The security office was near the main entrance, its door camouflaged to look like a mirrored wall. Another security guard was waiting there for him, looking grim.
‘Sorry to disturb you, sir. She’s in here.’
The man opened the door into a large room with its walls covered in screens showing every inch of the salon and all the other rooms.
It took a second for Daniel’s eyes to adjust to the dim bluish light so he didn’t see her at first, standing in the centre of the room.
But then he did. And for a heart-stopping moment he thought he might be hallucinating. But then he forced oxygen to his lungs and brain. She wasn’t a ghost. He hadn’t imagined seeing her earlier.
Mia Forde. The last woman he’d ever expected to see again. The last woman he’d wanted to see ever again.
And yet even as he told himself that he couldn’t stop or deny the helpless physical reaction heating his blood and making his body tight. Forcing him to exert control.
She looked as beautiful as he remembered. More so. After two years. She’d been twenty-one when they’d met. Now it was as if a layer had been removed to reveal the woman underneath. Her face seemed more...angular. Cheekbones more defined. That lush, wide mouth was as provocative as ever, even when pursed in a line of tension.
It was only then that Daniel noted the black satin gown. Strapless. Hugging her curves. The top of the dress couldn’t hide the swells of her breasts. He could still see them in his mind’s eye, full and high. Her tempting nipples—
Daniel slammed down on that incendiary memory. The knowledge that this woman still had the ability to short-circuit his rational brain was like pouring acid onto an old wound.
It made his voice curt. ‘What the hell are you doing here, Mia?’
Mia had to lock her legs to stay upright, when every instinct was telling her to curl up, hide. Run.
The expressions crossing Daniel’s face might have been comical if Mia had felt remotely like laughing. There had been recognition, shock, disbelief, and now blistering anger.
Fatally, she couldn’t take her eyes off his lean face, even as she said faintly to the security guard who had hauled her in here, ‘See? I told you I knew him.’
Daniel folded his arms, which made his biceps bulge against the fabric of his tuxedo. ‘What are you doing here? Is this some kind of sick joke?’
Mia recovered some of her wits. ‘A joke? Do you really think I set out to be here this evening just for a few lols because I’ve nothing better to do on a Saturday night?’
The fact that her usual Saturday night routine was dinner, maybe a TV movie and then faceplanting into bed before ten p.m. was not something she was about to divulge in this hostile atmosphere.
His eye dropped to where the necklace and earrings she’d been wearing were laid out on the table beside where she stood. ‘Were you really trying to steal the jewels?’
‘Of course not. I just... I got a call. I panicked. I forgot I was wearing them. I’m not a thief.’
Daniel frowned. ‘How did you even get in here?’
Hurt lanced Mia. ‘I was hired to work here this evening. I know we share a...a complicated history, but I wasn’t aware that I was on some persona non grata list.’
Now Daniel looked frustrated. He unfolded his arms and slashed a hand through the air. ‘I don’t mean like that. I just mean...’ He stopped. And then, ‘Why would you come here?’
‘I needed to talk to you. When my agent arranged for me to be one of your models I figured it would be an easier way to...to get to you.’
A man as famous and wealthy as Daniel Devilliers was nigh on impossible to contact unless he wanted you to contact him. As Mia had found out to her cost when she’d discovered that the number she had for him was no longer in use.
But the panic that had galvanised her to leave in the first place, before she’d even spoken to him, surged up again. She said, ‘Look, I really do have to go. It’s an emergency. Can I leave, please?’
Much to Daniel’s chagrin, his first reaction to Mia saying she wanted to leave wasn’t abject relief. It was a tangled mess of many things, including a resurgence of desire that was as powerful as it was unwelcome.
‘You said you needed to talk to me. What about?’
He noticed now that Mia looked pale beneath her natural all-American tan. ‘I can’t explain now. I just have to go.’
‘You were caught in the act of leaving while wearing hundreds of thousands of euros worth of jewels. You owe me an explanation.’
Mia was wringing her hands in front of her. ‘I know. Look, I wasn’t thinking. I forgot I had them on. You know me. You know I’d never steal anything!’
A memory assailed Daniel before he could stop it. He’d opened a velvet box and Mia had looked down, her eyes widening with predictable awe, as she’d taken in the stunning pearl bracelet with a diamond-studded flower in the centre. She’d even touched it reverently, saying, ‘It’s beautiful.’
Daniel had said idly, ‘One of our new designs.’
Then she’d looked at him with genuine confusion. ‘What is this?’
She’d shaken her head. ‘But...this isn’t that kind of relationship.’
Daniel could remember feeling a sense of frustration that she wasn’t behaving as he expected. As he was used to. Even though, at every step of the way since he’d first asked her out, she’d behaved contrary to any other woman he’d ever known. At first she’d told him it would be one date. Then, when they’d slept together, that it would be one night. But one date and one night had bled into more dates, and more nights, because the chemistry had been just too strong to ignore.
Even then, she’d always made a point of making sure he knew that she didn’t expect more. In many ways it should have been Daniel’s dream scenario: a woman who set out boundaries before he even had to. Because he certainly didn’t want more either. But some rogue part of him had been prompted at that moment to ask, ‘What kind of relationship is this, Mia?’
‘Not one where you give me...stuff.’
He’d felt bemused. ‘Do you have any idea what this stuff is worth?’
She’d backed away then. ‘I don’t care, Daniel. It’s lovely...truly. But I don’t want it. I’d feel uncomfortable.’
It had been the first time a woman had refused a gift from him. Daniel might have cynically suspected it was some kind of ploy, in spite of Mia’s protestations, but the following morning when he’d been leaving her apartment she’d handed him the box saying, ‘Don’t forget this.’
‘You really don’t want it?’
‘Thank you, but no.’
The past faded. The present returned. Mia said with a desperate tone in her voice, ‘Please, Daniel, I need to go.’
‘If it was anyone else we’d be calling the police.’
Now she went so pale Daniel thought she might faint. He even reached out, but she backed away, her hip bumping awkwardly on the corner of the table.
‘Mia, dammit... Why are you here?’
She bit her lip and Daniel had to curl his hand into a fist to stop himself from reaching out to tug that lower lip free. It had been one of her habits before, which he’d suspected she’d played on because she knew it drove him crazy.
She spoke so fast he almost didn’t hear her.
‘It’s my daughter. I have to get home to her. My friend is babysitting and Lexi has a high temperature and she’s vomiting.’
Daniel went cold inside. ‘You have a baby?’
It had been two years. Of course she could have had a baby by now. Another baby. With someone else. Lexi. A girl.
Daniel shook his head, words coming out before he had time to rationalise why he needed to know. ‘How? Who...?’
Mia looked at him. The moment stretched.
Daniel became aware of the silent presence of at least two guards, who had been watching this interplay. He said abruptly, without looking at them, ‘Please leave us.’
The guards left.
Mia looked at him.
His sense of the ground beneath him shifting slightly was disconcerting. There was no need to think at all that this child could be—
Mia said, ‘I really don’t want to get into this now. I have to go to her.’
But something dark compelled Daniel to say, ‘I’ll let you go when you tell me who her father is. Are you still with him?’
Mia swallowed. Her heart was beating like a trapped bird in her chest. She’d hoped against hope that Daniel would have lost his appeal since she’d seen him last, that any desire had been incinerated by the words he’d said to her before he’d walked out.
‘I think this is for the best.’
But no. Her body was still attuned to his as if it was an instrument that sang only in proximity to him. And when she thought of the amazing things her body had done since she’d seen him last it was even more galling.
She’d had a baby. She’d experienced one of the most primal, beautiful things on earth. And yet right now all she could think of was the fact that Daniel looked even leaner and more powerful than the last time she’d seen him.
He’d never had any softness, but it was as if a layer had been removed to reveal the starkness of the man underneath. All edges and angles and hard muscles. Unforgiving.
‘It’s for the best.’
She tried to stay focused. Her main priority was getting out of here ASAP. ‘No, I’m not with the father.’
‘Who is he?’
Mia’s heart stopped and then started again. She longed to be able to say, You don’t know him or, It’s none of your business. But she couldn’t lie and she couldn’t prevaricate.
This was why she had come here after all.
She took a deep breath but still felt breathless.
They spoke at the same time. Daniel’s mouth shut. His expression went blank. She wasn’t sure if he’d heard.
Mia said, ‘She’s your daughter. Eighteen months.’
It wasn’t often that a man like Daniel Devilliers was left lost for words—not that Mia could enjoy the novel experience right now.
‘Look, I’m sorry... That’s why I came this evening. I was hoping to get a chance to arrange a meeting with you. I didn’t want to tell you like...this.’
In the security office of the Devilliers salon, with every important and famous person in France just feet away, having been accused of trying to steal Devilliers jewels.
Eventually Daniel spoke. ‘But...how?’
Mia’s phone started to vibrate inside her bag, which was on the table. She reached for it, seeing her friend’s name. She answered and listened for a second and then said, ‘Okay, look... I’m leaving now. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’
She terminated the phone call and looked at Daniel. ‘I’m very sorry to have had to tell you like this, but I have to go now.’
She spied a pen and paper on the table and scribbled down her address and phone number. ‘If you are going to insist on calling the police, or whatever, or when you’re ready to talk, this is where I live now.’
She handed the piece of paper to Daniel, who took it, still looking shocked.
Mia took her bag and walked to the door. She opened it and went out, but a security guard held up his hand.
He looked over her shoulder, presumably at Daniel. ‘Sir...?’
There was nothing from behind her, and Mia was close to shoving the security guard out of the way, but then she heard Daniel’s deep voice.
‘Let her go.’
Relief flooded her system. She vaguely heard Daniel say something else, but she was already at the entrance of the salon, where a bank of paparazzi were waiting. She saw them lift their cameras and then lower them again. She wasn’t recognisable to them. She might have been a model, but she’d never attained supermodel status. And when she’d gone out with Daniel they’d managed to evade the glare of publicity.
But Mia couldn’t care less about not being recognised. What was far worse was that she couldn’t see any taxis waiting. Feeling panic rise, she was about to take out her phone to try and use a taxi app when her arm was taken by a big hand. A familiar touch.
She looked up. ‘What...?’
He was grim. Not looking at her, tugging her back towards the salon before the photographers noticed. ‘Come on, I’ll take you home. My car is at the side entrance.’
Mia was so relieved that she would shortly be in a vehicle heading to her baby that she just followed Daniel along a corridor that led to another entrance.
A sleek black car was waiting in the street. The driver was standing by an open back door. Daniel handed the driver the piece of paper with Mia’s address on it and helped her into the car before getting in on the other side.
Then they were moving. It was only as they left Place Vendôme behind that Mia realised what was happening. Daniel was coming with her. A different kind of panic gripped her. She wasn’t ready for him to meet Lexi yet. To explain everything.
She looked at him in the gloom of the back of the car. His profile was stern. As she watched, he tugged at the bowtie at his throat, undoing it, flicking open a button on his shirt with long, dextrous fingers. His hands were masculine. She remembered being surprised that they weren’t soft, as she might have expected of a businessman...of a billionaire who handled precious gems every day.
To Mia’s disgust, flames of desire burst to life in her belly at that memory.
‘You shouldn’t have left the party. It’s an important night,’ she said.
He looked at her and her skin prickled with heat.
‘Yes, it is. But the news that apparently I’m a father has managed to eclipse the importance of the evening.’
The driver put up the privacy partition. Mia knew Daniel. She had been subjected to his very persuasive and determined brand of seduction, so she knew it would be nigh on impossible to persuade him to change his course of action.
Nevertheless, she tried. ‘It’s really not appropriate to come with me now. Lexi might be—’
‘Lexi. What kind of name is that?’
Mia bristled defensively. ‘It’s short for Alexandra.’
‘You say it’s not appropriate for me to come with you now? Yet you thought it was “appropriate” to come and disrupt one of the most important nights in the Devilliers calendar?’
Mia refused to feel as if she was in the wrong. ‘If I had been able to contact you through regular channels then obviously I would have done that. And I did try. But the number I have for you is no longer in operation, and when I tried to contact you through your office they refused to pass on just my name. I had to give more detail, and I wasn’t prepared to tell a stranger what I had to tell you. I would have come to the salon, but as it was being renovated, obviously you weren’t in the office there.’
‘We set up temporary headquarters nearby.’
‘It would have been easier to try and arrange a meeting with the President of the United States.’
Daniel wasn’t amused. ‘If what you say is true and this...this baby is mine—which I can’t understand is possible since I saw you after—’
Mia cut him off before he could say it. ‘She’s yours.’
Daniel’s jaw clenched. ‘If she is, then why didn’t you come to me before now?’
A familiar ball of pain that Mia hated to acknowledge lodged in her gut, dousing the flames of desire. ‘You were married.’
A muscle in Daniel’s jaw ticked. ‘Nevertheless, I deserved to know.’
‘As soon as I read about your divorce I started trying to contact you.’
‘What if I hadn’t divorced?’
The ball of pain got heavier as she considered that. In truth, Mia hadn’t really contemplated the long-term plan, and that made her defensive. ‘If you hadn’t divorced, I would have told you at some stage.’
Daniel made a disbelieving sound.
Before Mia could lose her nerve, she said, ‘I’m sorry, by the way. About the divorce. No matter what the circumstances of your marriage were, I can’t imagine it was easy.’
‘By “circumstances” you mean the fact that it was an arranged marriage?’
Mia and Daniel had been dating for almost two months when a headline had appeared in the newspapers, speculating about a long-standing arrangement for Daniel to marry an heiress from one of France’s other great dynastic families. The news that he was promised to someone in marriage had blindsided her, reminding her painfully of a similar experience at the hands of her first boyfriend.
When she’d confronted Daniel about it, he’d been dismissive. ‘It’s not an engagement. It’s an ancient agreement that was arranged by my grandfather when he had to borrow money from the Valois family. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it.’
Mia had replied angrily. ‘Well, it seems your intended fiancée hasn’t forgotten.’
She’d thrown the paper down on the floor between them in her apartment, leaving the luminously pretty face of his future wife, dark-eyed and dark-haired, staring up at them impassively.
And at that moment Mia had suddenly thought of something. ‘No wonder you were so happy to go under the radar with our affair—because you knew this was imminent and you didn’t want our relationship to appear in the press right now.’
He’d looked at her, his dark grey gaze narrowing. ‘You were the one who dictated the terms of this affair. You specifically said you didn’t expect any commitment, that you were happy to keep things casual, discreet.’
She had. And it had hit her in that moment that, in spite of her best efforts to protect herself from developing any feelings beyond the physical for this man, she’d failed woefully.
A prickling sense of shame and exposure had made her realise how badly she’d exposed herself. She’d vowed never to fall for a man like Daniel again—rich and privileged—and yet there she was, her heart feeling as if it had been sliced open.
Mia’s attention came back to the present moment when she noticed the car was turning into her quiet street. Daniel had been right that day. She hadn’t wanted anything more. But somewhere along the way she’d forgotten the lessons of her past and had humiliated herself spectacularly.
The car pulled to a stop outside the tall building where she had an apartment on the top floor. She looked at Daniel. ‘I really would prefer if we could arrange another time to meet.’
He looked at her. ‘Tough. I deserve answers, and I’m not going anywhere until I get them.’