The Billionaire's Blackmailed Bride

By: Jacqueline Baird

CHAPTER ONE


‘I STILL can’t believe you chose this for me,’ Emily Fairfax said with a shake of her head as she sat down opposite her older brother Tom and his wife Helen at their table in the vast ballroom of the deluxe London hotel. ‘I feel terribly conspicuous.’ Embarrassment coloured her face almost as red as the outfit she was wearing.

‘Oh, lighten up, Emily. You look great.’ Tom grinned at her. ‘This is a costume ball for Dad’s favourite charity, The Children of Africa’s Guardian Angel Project; he would have appreciated the Devil and Angels theme. Dad had a great sense of humour. Remember Mum’s fortieth when he insisted everyone dress as Knights and Squires? I think he would have seen the funny side…’

‘All too well. Most of the women ended up looking like young boys, dressed in doublet and hose. I wondered at the time if Dad had secret gay tendencies,’ she quipped and then turned her sparkling blue gaze on her sister-in-law, a petite gamine-faced brunette. ‘But this is different, Helen. There is nothing funny about being squeezed into a red latex suit that is a couple of sizes too small. What on earth were you thinking of when you ordered it?’ she demanded, and saw the mischief dancing in Helen’s brown eyes and her lips twisted in a wry smile.

Tom and Helen had met at university and had married two years ago at the age of twenty-three. They were now the proud parents of a one-year-old daughter, who had been born the week before Tom and Emily’s father had died suddenly of a massive heart attack. The child was named Sara after their mother, who had died three years earlier after a long battle with cancer.

‘I don’t know what you are complaining about. You look fine, and I went to a lot of trouble to get that costume in the right size. At four and a half months pregnant I am actually the same bust measurement as you and I tried it on to make sure it would fit,’ Helen said with a grin.

‘Did it never occur to you that you’re five feet nothing and I am five nine—that it would have to go a little further on me?’ Emily groaned. ‘You damn near broke my neck pulling the hood over my head. It is still aching.’ She slipped a hand beneath the heavy fall of her hair and rubbed the nape of her neck to emphasize the point.

‘Don’t blame me. If you had come back to London yesterday as you were supposed to, you would have had time to get your own costume. But instead you spent another day on site and only arrived a couple of hours before the event. Plus it is April Fool’s Day,’ she said with an impish grin. ‘And be fair—I did cut the hood off and twist it into a braid so you could wear the horns as a head band.’ She burst out laughing.

Emily bit her lip to fight down the answering grin that threatened. She had totally forgotten it was the first of April, and Helen was right—she should have returned from Santorini yesterday instead of flying into London this evening. She really had no one to blame but herself, but she wasn’t going to let her beloved sister-in-law off too easy.

‘Anyone with a grain of common sense would have ordered an angel costume for me. The same as yours, I might add. It is only logical that the women dress as angels and the men as devils. Like my idiot brother T—’

‘Excuse me.’ A deep, slightly accented voice cut into Emily’s good-natured tirade. ‘Hello, Tom, nice to see you again.’

‘Anton, glad you and your friends could make it.’

Emily looked over at her brother as he greeted the new arrivals he had invited to make up their table of eight.

She glanced up at the man who had so rudely interrupted her. His back was turned to her and he was pulling out a chair for his companion, a stunning brunette who naturally was dressed like an angel in a diaphanous gold and white fabric that seemed to reveal a lot more flesh than Emily imagined any self-respecting angel would reveal.

At least her outfit covered her from neck to toe, she consoled herself, though she had been forced to undo the front zip a few inches to prevent the damn thing crushing her chest so tightly she could barely breathe. It wasn’t her usual style, that was for sure, but it didn’t really faze her. She knew she had a decent enough body, she just wasn’t used to displaying it quite so dramatically.

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