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A Vow of Obligation

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«A Vow of Obligation» - Линн Грэхем

From making his bed… On a mission to steal Navarre Cazier’s laptop to save a fellow chambermaid’s reputation, Tawny Blake is caught red-handed! Blushing brighter than her flame-coloured hair, she’s sure she’ll be fired. Then Cazier presents her with a shocking proposition… To lying in it!The infamous billionaire needs to stop the prying media digging into his scandalous past, and Tawny is the perfect diversion. The seduction of society beauties has always come effortlessly to Navarre, yet getting feisty Tawny to wear his ring, even if just in public, could be his greatest challenge yet!
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About the Author

‘What’s the proposition?’

‘Are you agreeing?’

Tawny’s even white teeth snapped together. ‘Like I have a choice?’ she flashed back at him.

Rigid with resentment, Tawny looked at him, scanning the pure hard lines of his bronzed face. His eyes were piercing with the weight of his intelligence, and he wore an impenetrable mask of impassivity. He was incredibly handsome and incredibly unemotional. What the heck could the proposition be? She was a lowly chambermaid whom he believed to be a thief. In what possible way could she be of use to such a wealthy, powerful man? Even more to the point, how could she put herself in such a man’s power?

Logic reminded her that as long as that unseen camera of his held an image of her apparently stealing she was in his power whether she liked it or not.


Three sisters wedlocked to the world’s most powerful billionaires

A brand-new trilogy from bestselling author Lynne Graham!

The Blake heiresses have lived so long under the harsh

rule of their father’s iron fist, even the shackles of an

arranged marriage seem like a reprieve—at first!

But they go from the frying pan into the fire!

For their convenient husbands are men of the world—

international, experienced, and oh-so-devastatingly sexy!


Zara’s very public engagement

is hijacked by vengeful Italian billionaire

Vitale Roccanti. The scandal they’ve created

means there’s no way left but down—the aisle!

Roccanti’s Marriage Revenge, March 2012


Bee is worth her weight in gold to Greek tycoon Sergios

Demonides. But he needs her maternal skills rather than

a trophy wife.

A Deal at the Altar, April 2012


Caught red-handed by her boss,

Tawny is scandalised by Cazier’s shocking proposal;

a public engagement for her freedom!

A Vow of Obligation, May 2012

About the Author

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Recent titles by the same author:


(Marriage by Command)


(Marriage by Command)


BRIDE FOR REAL (The Volakis Vow)


Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

A Vow of


Lynne Graham



‘WERE you seen coming up to my suite?’ Navarre Cazier prompted in the Italian that came as naturally to him as the French of his homeland.

Tia pouted her famously sultry lips and in spite of her sophistication contrived to look remarkably young and naive as befitted one of the world’s most acclaimed film stars. ‘I slipped in through the side entrance—’

Navarre ditched his frown and smiled, for when she looked at him like that with her big blue eyes telegraphing embarrassed vulnerability he couldn’t help it. ‘It’s you I’m concerned about. The paparazzi follow you everywhere—’

‘Not here …’ Tia Castelli declared, tossing her head so that a silken skein of honey-blonde hair rippled across her slim shoulders, her flawless face full of regret. ‘We haven’t got long though. Luke will be back at our hotel by three and I have to be there.’

At that reference to her notoriously volatile rock star husband, Navarre’s lean, darkly handsome features hardened and his emerald-green eyes darkened.

Tia ran a manicured fingertip reprovingly below the implacable line of his shapely masculine mouth. ‘Don’t be like that, caro mio. This is my life, take me or leave me … and I couldn’t bear it if you chose the second option!’ she warned him in a sudden rush, her confident drawl splintering to betray the insecurity she hid from the world. ‘I’m sorry, so sorry that it has to be like this between us!’

‘It’s OK,’ Navarre told her soothingly although he was lying through his even white teeth as he said it. He loathed being a dirty little secret in her life but the alternative was to end their relationship and although he was remarkably strong-willed and stubborn, he had found himself quite unable to do that.

‘And you’re still bringing a partner with you for the awards ceremony, aren’t you?’ Tia checked anxiously. ‘Luke is so incredibly suspicious of you.’

‘Angelique Simonet, currently the toast of the Paris catwalk,’ Navarre answered wryly.

‘And she doesn’t know about us?’ the movie actress pressed worriedly.

‘Of course not.’

‘I know, I know … I’m sorry, I just have so much at stake!’ Tia gasped strickenly. ‘I couldn’t stand to lose Luke!’

‘You can trust me.’ Navarre closed his arms round her slim body to comfort her. Her blue eyes glistened with the tears that came so easily to her and she was trembling with nerves. Navarre tried not to wonder what Luke Convery had been doing or saying to get her into such a state. Time and experience had taught him that it was better not to go there, better neither to know nor to enquire. He did not interfere in her marriage any more than she questioned his choice of lovers.

‘I hate going so long without seeing you. It feels wrong,’ she muttered heavily.

‘But I’ve told so many lies I don’t think that I could ever tell the truth.’

‘It’s not important,’ Navarre told her with a gentleness that would have astounded some of the women he had had in his life.

Navarre Cazier, the legendary French industrialist and billionaire, had the reputation of being a generous but distant lover to the beautiful women who passed through his bed. Yet even though he made no secret of his love of the single life, women remained infuriatingly keen to tell him that they loved him and to cling. Tia, however, occupied a category all of her own and he played by different rules with her. Accustomed as he was to independence from an early age, he was tough, self-reliant and unapologetically selfish but he always restrained that side of his nature with Tia and at least tried to accommodate her needs.

Later that afternoon when she had gone, Navarre was heading for the shower when his mobile buzzed beside the bed. Tia’s distinctive perfume still hung in the air like a shamefaced marker of her recent presence. He would see her again soon but their next encounter would be in public and they would have to be circumspect for Luke Convery was a hothead, all too well aware of his gorgeous wife’s chequered history of previous marriages and clandestine affairs. Tia’s husband was always on the watch for signs that his wife’s attention might be straying.

The call was from Angelique and Navarre’s mood dive-bombed when he learned that his current lover was not, after all, coming to London to join him. Angelique had just been offered a television campaign by a famous cosmetics company and even Navarre could not fault her desire to make the most of such an opportunity.

Even so, it seemed to Navarre that life was cruelly conspiring to frustrate him. He needed Angelique this week and not only as a screen to protect Tia from the malicious rumours that had linked his name with hers on past occasions. He also had a difficult deal to close with the husband of a former lover, who had recently attempted to reanimate their affair. A woman on his arm and a supposedly serious relationship had been a non-negotiable necessity for Tia’s peace of mind as well as good business practice in a difficult situation. Merde alors, what the hell was he going to do without a partner at this late stage in the game? Who could he possibly trust to play the game of a fake engagement and not attempt to take it further?

‘Urgent—need 2 talk 2 you,’ ran the text message that beeped on Tawny’s mobile phone and she hurried downstairs to take her break, wondering what on earth was going on with her friend, Julie.

Julie worked as a receptionist in the same exclusive London hotel and, although the two young women had not known each other long, she had already proved herself to be a staunch and supportive friend. Her approachability had eased Tawny’s first awkward days as a new employee when she had quickly discovered that as a chambermaid she was regarded as the lowest of the low by most of the other staff. She was grateful for Julie’s company when their breaks coincided, but their friendship had gone well beyond that level, Tawny acknowledged with an appreciative smile. When, at short notice, Tawny had had to move out of her mother’s home, Julie had helped her to find an affordable bedsit and had even offered her car to facilitate the move.

‘I’m in trouble,’ Julie, a very pretty brown-eyed blonde, said with a strong air of drama as Tawny joined her at a table in the corner of the dingy, almost empty staff room.

‘What sort of trouble?’

Julie leant forwards to whisper conspiratorially, ‘I slept with one of the guests.’

‘But you’ll be sacked if you’ve been caught out!’ Tawny exclaimed in dismay, brushing back the Titian red spiral curls clinging to her damp brow. Changing several beds in swift succession was tiring work and even though she was already halfway through a glass of cooling water she still felt overheated.

Julie rolled her eyes, unimpressed by the reminder. ‘I haven’t been caught out.’

Her porcelain-pale skin reddening, Tawny wished she had been more tactful, for she did not want Julie to think that she was judging her for her behaviour.

‘Who was the guy?’ she asked then, riven with curiosity for the blonde had not mentioned anyone, which could only mean that the relationship had been of sudden or short duration.

‘It was Navarre Cazier.’ Wearing a coy look of expectancy, Julie let the name hang there.

‘Navarre Cazier?’ Tawny was shocked by that familiar name.

She knew exactly who Julie was talking about because it was Tawny’s responsibility to keep the penthouse suites on the top floor of the hotel in pristine order. The fabulously wealthy French industrialist stayed there at least twice a month and he always left her a massive tip. He didn’t make unreasonable demands or leave his rooms in a mess either, which placed him head and shoulders above the other rich and invariably spoilt occupants of the most select accommodation offered by the hotel. She had only seen him once in the flesh, though, and at a distance, the giving of invisible service being one of the demands of her job. But after Julie had mentioned him several times in glowing terms Tawny had become curious enough to make the effort to catch a glimpse of him and had immediately understood why her friend was captivated. Navarre Cazier was very tall, black-haired and even to her critical gaze, quite shockingly good-looking.

He also walked, talked and behaved like a god who ruled the world, Tawny recalled abstractedly. He had emerged from the lift at the head of a phalanx of awe-inspired minions clutching phones and struggling to follow reams of instructions hurled at them in two different languages. His sheer power of personality, volcanic energy and presence had had the brilliance of a searchlight in darkness. He had outshone everyone around him while administering a stinging rebuke to a cringing unfortunate who didn’t react fast enough to an order. She had got the impression of a ferociously demanding male with a mind that functioned at the speed of a computer, a male, moreover, whose intrinsically high expectations were rarely satisfied by reality.

‘As you know I’ve had my eye on Navarre for a while. He’s absolutely gorgeous.’ Julie sighed.

Navarre and Julie … lovers? A little pang of distaste assailed Tawny as she pulled free of her memories and returned to the present. It struck her as an incongruous pairing between two people who could have nothing in common, but Julie was extremely pretty and Tawny had seen enough of life to know that that was quite sufficient inducement for most men. Evidently the sophisticated French billionaire was not averse to the temptation of casual sex.

‘So what’s the problem?’ Tawny asked in the strained silence that now stretched, resisting a tasteless urge to ask how the encounter had come about.

‘Have you fallen pregnant or something?’

‘Oh, don’t be daft!’ Julie fielded as if the very suggestion was a bad joke. ‘But I did do something very stupid with him …’

Tawny was frowning. ‘What?’ she pressed, unaccustomed to the other young woman being hesitant to talk about anything.

‘I got so carried away I let him take a load of pictures of me posing in the nude. They’re on his laptop!’

Tawny was aghast at the revelation and embarrassment sent hot colour winging into her cheeks. So, the French businessman liked to take photographs in the bedroom, Tawny thought with a helpless shudder of distaste. Navarre Cazier instantly sank below floor level in Tawny’s fanciability stakes. Ew!

‘What on earth made you agree to such a thing?’ she questioned.

Julie clamped a tissue to her nose and Tawny was surprised to see tears swimming in her brown eyes, for Julie had always struck her as being rather a tough cookie. ‘Julie?’ she prompted more gently.

Julie grimaced in evident embarrassment, clearly fighting her distress. ‘Surely you can guess why I agreed?’ she countered in a voice choked with tears. ‘I didn’t want to seem like a prude … I wanted to please him. I hoped that if I was exciting enough he’d want to see me again. Rich guys get bored easily: you have to be willing to experiment to keep their interest. But I never heard from him again and now I feel sick at the idea of him still having those photos of me.’

Even though such reasoning made Tawny’s heart sink she understood it perfectly. Once upon a time her mother, Susan, had been equally keen to impress a rich man. In Susan’s case the man had been her boss and their subsequent secret affair had continued on and off for years before finally running aground over the pregnancy that produced Tawny and her mother’s lowering discovery that she was far from being her lover’s only extra-marital interest.

‘Ask him to delete the photographs,’ Tawny suggested stiffly, feeling more than a little out of her depth with the subject but naturally sympathetic towards her friend’s disillusionment. She knew how deeply hurt her mother had been to ultimately discover that her long-term lover didn’t consider her worthy of a more permanent or public relationship. But after only one night of intimacy, she felt that Julie would recover rather more easily from the betrayal than Tawny’s mother had.

‘I asked him to delete them soon after he arrived yesterday. He flatly refused.’

Tawny was stumped by that frank admission. ‘Well er …’

‘But all I would need is five minutes with his laptop to take care of it for myself,’ Julie told her in an urgent undertone.

Tawny was unsurprised by the claim for she had heard that Julie was skilled in IT and often the first port of call when the office staff got into a snit with a computer. ‘He’s hardly going to give you access to his laptop,’ she pointed out wryly.

‘No, but if I could get hold of his laptop, what harm would it do for me to deal with the problem right there and then?’

Tawny studied the other woman fixedly. ‘Are you seriously planning to try and steal the guy’s laptop?’

‘I just want to borrow it for five minutes and, as I don’t have access to his suite and you do, I was hoping that you would do it for me.’

Tawny fell back in her seat, pale blue eyes wide with disbelief as she stared back at the other woman in dismay. ‘You’ve got to be joking …’

‘There would be no risk. I’d tell you when he was out, you could go in and I could rush upstairs and wait next door in the storage room for you to bring the laptop out to me. Five minutes, that’s all it would take for me to delete those photos. You’ll replace it in his room and he’ll never know what happened to them!’ Julie argued forcefully. ‘Please, Tawny … it would mean so much to me. Haven’t you ever done something you regret?’

‘I’d like to help you but I can’t do something illegal,’ Tawny protested, pulling a face in the tense silence. ‘That laptop is his personal property and interfering with it would be a criminal offence—’

‘He’s never going to know that anyone’s even touched it! That possibility won’t even occur to him,’ Julie argued vehemently. ‘Please, Tawny. You’re the only person who can help me.’

‘I couldn’t—There’s just no way I could do something like that,’ Tawny muttered uneasily. ‘I’m sorry.’

Julie touched her hand to regain her attention. ‘We haven’t got much time—he’ll be checking out again the day after tomorrow. I’ll talk to you again at lunch time before you finish your shift.’

‘I won’t change my mind,’ Tawny warned, compressing her soft full mouth in discomfiture.

‘Think it over—it’s a foolproof plan,’ Julie insisted as she stood up, lowering her voice even more to add huskily, ‘And if it would make a difference, I’m willing to pay you to take that risk for me—’

Pay me?’ Tawny was very much taken aback by that offer.

‘What else can I do? You’re my only hope in this situation,’ Julie reasoned plaintively. ‘If a bit of money would make you feel better about doing this, of course I’m going to suggest it. I know how desperate you are to help your grandmother out.’

‘Look, money’s got nothing to do with the way I feel. Just leave it out of this,’ Tawny urged in considerable embarrassment. ‘If I was in a position to help out, it wouldn’t cost you a penny.’

Tawny returned to work with her thoughts in turmoil. Navarre Cazier, handsome, rich and privileged though he was, had cruelly used and abused Julie’s trust. Another rich four-letter word of a man was grinding an ordinary woman down. But that unfortunately was life, wasn’t it? The rich lived by different rules and enjoyed enormous power and influence. Hadn’t her own father taught her that? He had dumped her mother when she refused to have a termination and had paid her a legal pittance to raise his unwanted child to adulthood. There had been no extras in Tawny’s childhood and not much love on offer either from a mother who had bitterly regretted her decision to have her baby and a father who did not even pretend an interest in his illegitimate daughter. To be fair, her mother had paid a high price for choosing to bring her child into the world. Not only had her lover ditched her, but she had also found it impossible to continue her career.

Tawny suppressed those unproductive reflections and thought worriedly about Julie instead. She felt really bad about having refused to help her friend. Julie had been very good to her and had never asked her for anything in return. But why the heck had Julie offered her a financial bribe to get hold of that laptop? She was deeply embarrassed that Julie should be so aware of her financial constraints and regretted her honesty on that topic.

In truth, Tawny only worked at the hotel to earn enough money to ensure that her grandmother could continue to pay the rent on her tiny apartment in a private retirement village. Celestine, devastated by the combined death of her beloved husband and, with him, the loss of her marital home, had, against all the odds, contrived to make a happy new life and friends in the village, and there was little that Tawny would not do to safeguard the old lady’s tenure there. Unfortunately rising costs had quickly outstripped her grandmother’s ability to pay her bills. Tawny, having taken charge of Celestine’s financial affairs, had chosen to quietly supplement her grandmother’s income without her knowledge, which was why she was currently working as a chambermaid. Prior to the crisis in the old lady’s finances, Tawny had made her living by illustrating children’s books and designing greeting cards, but sadly there was insufficient work in that field during an economic crisis to stretch to shoring up Celestine’s income as well as covering Tawny’s own living costs. Now Tawny’s artistic projects took up evenings and weekends instead.

But, regardless of that situation, wasn’t it rather insulting that a friend should offer to pay you to do something for them? Tawny reasoned uneasily. On the other hand, wasn’t that inappropriate suggestion merely proof of Julie’s desperate need for her assistance?

Would it be so very bad of her to do what she could to help Julie delete those distasteful photos? While Tawny could not even imagine trusting a man enough to take pictures of her naked body, she could understand Julie’s cringing reluctance to continue featuring in some sort of X-rated scalp gallery on the guy’s laptop. That was a downright demeaning and extremely offensive prospect to have to live with. Would he let other men access those pictures? Tawny grimaced in disgust, incensed that a guy she had believed was attractive could turn out to be such a creep.

‘All right, I’ll have a go at getting hold of it for you,’ she told Julie at lunchtime.

Her friend’s face lit up immediately and a wide smile of satisfaction formed on her lips. ‘I’ll make sure you don’t regret it!’

Tawny was unconvinced by that assurance but concealed her fear of the consequences, feeling that she ought to be more courageous. She wore colourful vintage clothing, held strong opinions and her ultimate ambition was to become a cartoonist with a strip of her own in a magazine or newspaper. In short she liked to think of herself as an individual rather than a follower. But sometimes, she suspected that deep down inside she was more of a conventional person than she liked to admit because she longed for a supportive family and had never broken the law by even the smallest margin.

‘We’ll do it this afternoon. As soon as his room is empty, if there’s no sign of him having the laptop with him I’ll ring up and you can go straight in and get it. Just leave it in the storage room. I’ll be there within two minutes,’ Julie told her eagerly.

‘You’re absolutely sure that you want to do this?’ Tawny pressed worriedly. ‘Perhaps you should speak to him again. If we get caught—’

‘We’re not going to get caught!’ Julie declared with cutting conviction. ‘Stop making such a fuss.’

Tawny went pink, assumed that Julie’s outburst was the result of nervous tension and fell silent, but that tart response had set her own fiery temper on edge.

‘Just go back to work and act normally,’ Julie advised, shooting Tawny an apologetic look. ‘I’ll call you.’

Tawny returned with relief to changing beds, vacuuming and scrubbing bathrooms. She kept so busy she didn’t allow herself to think about that call coming and yet on some level she was on hyper alert for when she heard the faint ping of the lift doors opening down the corridor she jumped almost a foot in the air. Julie’s call telling her that his assistant had just left and the room was empty came barely a minute after that. Her heart beating very fast, Tawny sped down the passage with her trolley. Arming herself with a change of bedding as an excuse she used her pass key to let herself into Navarre Cazier’s spacious suite. She set the fresh sheets down on the arm of a sofa as her eyes did a frantic sweep of the reception room and zoomed in on the laptop sitting conveniently on the table by the window. Although it was the work of a moment to cross the room, unplug the computer from its charger and tuck it below her arm, her skin dampened with perspiration and her stomach churned. Turning on her heel, she literally raced back to the exit door, eager to hand over the laptop to Julie and refusing to even think about having to sneak back in again to return it.

Without the slightest warning, however, there was a click and the door of the suite snapped open. Eyes huge with fright, Tawny clutched the laptop and froze into stillness. Navarre Cazier appeared and it was not a good time for her to realise that he was much bigger than he had seemed at a distance. He towered over her five and a half feet by well over six inches, his shoulders wide as axe handles in his formal dark suit. He was much more of an athlete in build than the average businessman. She clashed in dismay with frowning chartreuse-green eyes, startlingly bright and unexpected in that olive-skinned face. Close up he was quite breathtakingly handsome.

‘Is that my laptop?’ he asked immediately, his attention flying beyond her to the empty table. ‘Has there been an accident? What are you doing with it?’

‘I … I er …’ Her heart was beating so fast it felt as if it were thumping at the foot of her throat and her mind was a punishing blank.

There was a burst of French from behind him and he moved deeper into the room to make way for the bodyguards that accompanied him virtually everywhere he went.

‘I will call the police, Navarre,’ his security chief, Jacques, a well-built older man, said decisively in French.

‘No, no … no need to bring the police in!’ Tawny exclaimed, now ready to kick herself for not having grabbed at the excuse that she had accidentally knocked the laptop off the table while cleaning.

‘You speak French?’ Navarre studied her with growing disquiet, taking in the uniform of blue tunic and trousers she wore with flat heels. Evidently she worked for the hotel in a menial capacity: there was an unattended cleaning trolley parked directly outside the suite. Of medium height and slender build, she had a delicate pointed face dominated by pale blue eyes the colour of an Alpine glacier set in porcelain-perfect skin, the combination enlivened by a mop of vivid auburn curls escaping from a ponytail. Navarre had always liked redheads and her hair was as bright as a tropical sunset.

‘My grandmother is French,’ Tawny muttered, deciding that honesty might now be her only hope of escaping a criminal charge.

If she spoke fluent French the potential for damage was even greater, Navarre reckoned furiously. How long had she had his laptop for? He had been out for an hour. Unfortunately it would only take minutes for her to copy the hard drive, gaining access not only to highly confidential business negotiations but also to even more personal and theoretically damaging emails. How many indiscreet emails of Tia’s might she have seen? He was appalled by the breach in his security. ‘What are you doing with my laptop?’

Tawny lifted her chin. ‘I’m willing to explain but I don’t think you’ll want an audience while we have that conversation,’ she dared.

His strong jawline clenched at that impertinent challenge as he read the name on her badge. Tawny Baxter, an apt label for a woman with such spectacular hair. ‘There is no reason why you should not speak in front of my security staff,’ he replied impatiently.

‘Julie—the receptionist you spent the night with on your last visit,’ Tawny specified curtly, surrendering the laptop as one of his security team put out his hands to reclaim the item. ‘Julie just wants the photos you took of her posing wiped from your laptop.’

His ebony brows drawing together, Navarre subjected her to an incredulous scrutiny while absently noting the full pouting curve of her pink lips. She was in possession of what had to be the most temptingly sultry mouth he had ever seen on a woman. Exasperated by that abstracted thought, he straightened his broad shoulders and declared, ‘I have never spent the night with a receptionist in this hotel. What kind of a scam are you trying to pull?’

‘Don’t waste your breath on this dialogue, Navarre. Let me contact the police,’ the older man urged impatiently.

‘Her name is Julie Chivers, she works on reception and right now she’s waiting in the storage room next door for the laptop,’ Tawny extended in a feverish rush. ‘All she wants is to delete the photos you took of her!’

With an almost imperceptible movement of his arrogant dark head, Navarre directed Jacques to check out that location and the older man ducked back out of the room. Tawny sucked in a lungful of air and tilted her chin. ‘Why wouldn’t you wipe the photos when Julie asked you to?’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ he countered with a chilly gravity that sank like an icicle deep into her tender flesh. ‘There was no night with a receptionist, no photos. Ditch the silly story. What have you done with my laptop?’

‘Absolutely nothing. I’d only just lifted it when you appeared,’ Tawny replied tightly, wondering why he was still lying and eagerly watching the door for Julie’s appearance. She was sure that once he recognised her friend as a former lover there would be no more talk of calling the police. But didn’t he even recognise Julie’s name? It occurred to her that she never wanted to become intimate with a man who didn’t care enough even to take note of her name.

‘It’s unfortunate for you that I came back unexpectedly,’ Navarre shot back at her, wholly unconvinced by her plea.

Of course she would try to tell him that she had not had enough time to do any real damage. But he was too conscious that she could have copied his hard drive within minutes and might even be concealing a flash drive beneath her clothing. He was in the act of doubting that the police would agree to have her strip-searched for the sake of his security and peace of mind so his attention quite naturally rested on her slender coltish shape.

She had a gloriously tiny waist. He could not help wondering if the skin of her body was as pearly and perfect as that of her face. When almost every woman he knew practically bathed in fake tan it was a novelty to see a woman so pale he could see the faint tracery of blue veins beneath her skin. Indeed the more he studied her, the more aware he became of her unusual delicate beauty and the tightening fullness at his groin was his natural masculine reaction to her allure. She had that leggy pure-bred look but those big pale eyes and that wickedly suggestive mouth etched buckets of raw sex appeal into her fragile features. That she could look that good even without make-up was unparalleled in his experience of her sex. In the right clothes with that amazing hair loose she would probably be a complete knockout. What a shame she was a humble chambermaid about to be charged with petty theft, he reflected impatiently, returning his thoughts to reality while marvelling at the detour into fantasy that they had briefly and bizarrely taken.

Jacques reappeared and shook his head in response to his employer’s enquiring glance. Something akin to panic gripped Tawny. Evidently Julie wasn’t still in the storage room ready and able to make an explanation. Until that instant Tawny had not appreciated just how much she had been depending on her friend coming through that door and immediately sorting out the misunderstanding.

‘Julie must have heard you come back and she’s gone back downstairs to Reception,’ Tawny reasoned in dismay.

‘I’m calling the police,’ Navarre breathed, turning to lift the phone.

‘No, let me call Reception and ask Julie to come up and explain first,’ Tawny urged in a frantic rush. ‘Please, Mr Cazier!’

For a split second Navarre scanned her pleading eyes, marvelling at their rare colour, and then he swept up the phone and, while she held her breath in fear and watched, he stabbed the button for Reception and requested her friend by name.

Colour slowly returning to her drawn cheeks, Tawny drew in a tremulous breath. ‘I’m not lying to you, I swear I’m not … I didn’t even get the chance to open your laptop—’

‘Naturally you will say that,’ Navarre derided. ‘You could well have been in the act of returning it to the room when I surprised you—’

‘But I wasn’t!’ Tawny exclaimed in horror when she registered the depth of his suspicion. ‘I had only just lifted it when you returned. I’m telling you the truth!’

‘That I had some kinky one-night stand with a camera and a receptionist?’ Navarre queried with stinging scorn. ‘Do I strike you as that desperate for entertainment in London?’

Suffering her very first moment of doubt as to his guilt in that quarter, Tawny shrugged a slight shoulder in an awkward gesture while her heart sank at the possibility that she could be wrong. ‘How would I know? You’re a guest here. I know nothing about you aside of what my friend told me.’

‘Your friend lied to you,’ Navarre declared.

After a tense two minutes of complete silence a soft knock sounded on the door and Julie entered, looking unusually meek. ‘How can I help you, Mr Cazier?’

‘Julie …’ Tawny interposed, leaping straight into speech. ‘I want you to explain about you asking me to take the laptop so that we can get this all sorted out—’

‘What about the laptop? Take whose laptop?’ Julie enquired sharply, widening her brown eyes in apparent confusion and annoyance. ‘What the hell are you trying to accuse me of doing?’

In receipt of that aggressive comeback, Tawny was bewildered. She could feel the blood draining from her cheeks in shock and the sick churning in the pit of her stomach started up afresh. ‘Julie, please explain … look, what’s going on here? You and Mr Cazier know each other—’

Julie’s brow pleated. ‘If you mean by that that Mr Cazier is a regular and much respected guest here—’

‘You told me that he took photos of you—’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. Photos? I’m sorry about this, Mr Cazier. Possibly this member of staff has been drinking or something because she’s talking nonsense. I should call the penthouse manager to deal with this situation.’

‘Thank you, Miss Chivers, but that won’t be necessary. You may leave,’ Navarre cut in with clear impatience. ‘I’ve heard quite enough.’

Navarre motioned his security chief back to his side with the movement of one finger and addressed the older man in an undertone.

In disbelief, Tawny watched her erstwhile friend leave the suite with her head held high. Julie had lied. Julie had actually pretended not to know her on a personal basis. Her friend had lied, turned her back on Tawny and let her take the fall for attempted theft. Tawny was not only stunned by that betrayal, but also no longer convinced that Julie had ever spent the night with Navarre Cazier. But if that suspicion was true, why had Julie told her that convoluted story about the nude photography session? Why else would Julie have wanted access to the billionaire’s laptop? What had she wanted to find out from it and why?

As Tawny turned white and swayed Navarre thought she might be about to faint. Instead, demonstrating a surprising amount of inner strength for so young a woman, she leant back against the wall for support and breathed in slow and deep to steady herself. Even so, he recognised an attack of gut-deep fear when he saw one but he had not the slightest pity for her. Navarre always hit back hard against those who tried to injure him. At the same time, however, he also reasoned at the speed of light, an ability that had dug him out of some very tight corners while growing up.

If he called the police, what recompense would he receive for the possible crime committed against him? There would be no guarantee that the maid would be punished and even if this was not a first offence she would be released, possibly even to take advantage of selling a copy of his hard drive to either his business competitors or the paparazzi, who had long sought proof of the precise nature of his relationship with Tia. Either prospect promised far reaching repercussions, not just to his extensive business empire, but even more importantly to Tia, her marriage and her reputation. He owed Tia his protection, he reflected grimly. But it might already be too late to prevent revealing private correspondence entering the public domain.

On the other hand, if he were to prevent the maid from contacting anyone to pass on confidential information for at least the next seven days, he could considerably minimise the risks to all concerned. Granted a week’s grace the business deal with the Coulter Centax Corporation, CCC, could be tied up and, should his fear with regard to the emails prove correct, Tia’s world-class PR advisors would have the chance to practise damage limitation on her behalf. In the event of the worst-case scenario isolating the maid was the most effective action he could currently take.

And, even more to the point, if he was forced to keep the maid around he might well be able to make use of her presence, Navarre decided thoughtfully. She was young and beautiful. And, crucially, he already knew that her loyalty could be bought. Why should he not pay her to fill the role that presently stood empty? With a movement of his hand he dismissed Jacques and his companion. The older man left the suite with clear reluctance.

Tawny gazed back at Navarre, her triangular face taut with strain. ‘I really wasn’t trying to steal from you—’

‘The camera recording in here won’t lie,’ Navarre murmured without any expression at all, lush black lashes low over intent green eyes.

‘There’s a camera operating in here?’ Tawny exclaimed in horror, immediately recognising that if there was he would have unquestionable proof of her entering the suite and taking his laptop.

‘My protection team set up a camera as a standard safeguard wherever I’m staying,’ Navarre stated smooth as glass. ‘It means that I will have pictorial evidence of your attempt to steal from me.’

Her narrow shoulders slumped and her face fell. Shame gutted her for, whatever her motivation had been, theft was theft and neither the police nor a judge would distinguish between what she had believed she was doing and a crime. She marvelled that she had foolishly got herself into such a predicament. Caught red-handed as she had been, it no longer seemed a good idea to continue to insist that she had not been stealing. ‘Yes …’

‘Having you sacked and arrested, however, will be of no advantage to me,’ Navarre Cazier asserted and she glanced up in surprise. ‘But if you were to accept my terms in the proposition I am about to make you, I will not contact the police and in addition I will pay you for your time.’

Genuinely stunned by the content of that speech, Tawny lifted her head and speared him with an ice-blue look of scorn. ‘Pay me for my time? I’m not that kind of girl—’

Navarre laughed out loud, grim amusement lightening the gravity on his face as her eyes flashed and her chin came up in challenge. ‘My proposition doesn’t entail taking your clothes off or, indeed, doing anything of an illegal or sexual nature,’ he extended very drily. ‘Make your mind up—this is very much your decision. Do I call the police or are you going to be sensible and reach for the lifebelt I’m offering?’


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