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The Tycoon's Mistress: His Cinderella Mistress

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«The Tycoon's Mistress: His Cinderella Mistress» - Кэрол Мортимер

Back by popular demand! These great value titles feature stories from Mills & Boon fans' favourite authors. His Cinderella Mistress by Carole Mortimer Millionaire lawyer Max Golding wants to play Prince Charming to January’s Cinderella, but she suspects he wants the family’s land – and how better to get it than by melting her resistance in the warmth of his bed?The Unwilling Mistress by Carole Mortimer From their first fiery meeting Will Davenport’s hooked on March. He wants her – and will do anything to make her his. However, March isn’t willing to sleep with the enemy – even if, secretly, he’s captured her heart…The Deserving Mistress by Carole Mortimer May is determined that no one shall take her home and her livelihood! Especially not arrogant property tycoon Jude Marshall! May has always been overlooked in the past – and now sexy, charming Jude is out to wine and dine her, how can she resist?
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The Tycoon’s Mistress

The Tycoon’s Mistress

By

Carole Mortimer

HIS CINDERELLA MISTRESS

THE UNWILLING MISTRESS

THE DESERVING MISTRESS

www.millsandboon.co.uk

HIS CINDERELLA MISTRESS

by

Carole Mortimer

Carole Mortimer was born in England, the youngest of three children. She began writing in 1978, and has now written over one hundred and forty books for Harlequin Mills and Boon. Carole has four sons, Matthew, Joshua, Timothy and Peter, and a bearded collie called Merlyn. She says, “I’m happily married to Peter senior; we’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live in a lovely part of England.”

Don’t miss Carole Mortimer’s exciting new novel, The Sicilian’s Innocent Mistress, out in August from Mills & Boon® Modern™.

CHAPTER ONE

‘WOULD you allow me to buy you a drink?’

Sitting at the bar, sipping a glass of sparkling water, taking a well-earned rest after an hour of singing, January turned to politely refuse the offer. Only to have that refusal stick in her throat as she saw who it was doing the offering.

It was him!

The man who had been seated at the back of this hotel bar for the last hour as she sat at the piano and sang. The man who had stared at her for all of that time with an intensity that had made it impossible for her not to have noticed him in return.

She should refuse his offer, had learnt to keep a certain polite distance between herself and the guests who stayed at this prestigious hotel, transient people for the most part, here for a few days, never to be seen again.

Remember what happened on the farm last year, her sister May would have told her. January did remember—only too well!

Remember what you told me—afterwards, her sister March would have said; taking people at face value only brings trouble!

‘That would be lovely, thank you,’ January accepted huskily.

The man gave an inclination of his dark head, ordering a bottle of champagne from John, the barman, before standing back to allow her to precede him to his table in the corner of the luxuriously comfortable room, made even more so at the moment because, although Christmas had come and gone, the decorations wouldn’t be taken down for several more days yet.

January was aware of several curious glances coming their way as they walked by the crowded tables, could see their reflection in one of the mirrors along the walls. She, tall and willowy in the long black spangly dress she wore to perform in, her dark hair cascading down over her shoulders, eyes a mysterious dark smoky grey, fringed by sooty black lashes. The man walking so confidently behind her, the epitome of tall, dark and handsome in the black dinner suit and snowy white shirt he wore, his eyes a deep, unfathomable cobalt-blue.

It was those eyes, so intense and compelling, that had drawn her attention to him an hour ago, shortly after she began her first session of the evening. Those same eyes that even now, she could see in the mirror, were watching the gentle sway of her hips as she walked.

He stood to one side as January sank gracefully into one of the four armchairs placed around the low table, waiting until she was seated before lowering his considerable height into the chair opposite hers, that intense gaze having remained on her for the whole of that time.

‘Champagne?’ January prompted throatily a few minutes later—when it became apparent he wasn’t going to make any effort to begin a conversation, seeming quite happy to just stare at her.

He gave a slight inclination of his head. ‘It is New Year’s Eve, after all,’ he came back softly.

End of conversation, January realized a few seconds later when he added nothing further to that brief comment, beginning to wish she had listened to those little voices of her sisters’ earlier inside her head.

‘So it is,’ she answered dismissively, smiling up at John as he arrived with two glasses and the ice-bucket containing the bottle of champagne, deftly opening it before her anonymous companion nodded his thanks—and his obvious dismissal.

John turned to leave, but not before he had given January a speculative raise of his eyebrows.

Well aware that she always kept herself slightly aloof from the guests staying at the hotel, John was obviously curious as to why this man should be so different. Join the club!

‘January.’ She turned back to the man determinedly.

He gave the semblance of a smile as he leant forward to pour the two glasses of champagne himself, competently, assuredly, not a single drop of the bubbly liquid reaching the top of the glass to spill over. ‘That’s what usually follows December,’ he drawled dismissively.

‘No, you misunderstood me.’ She shook her head, smiling. ‘My name is January.’

‘Ah.’ The smile deepened, showing even white teeth against his tanned skin. ‘Max,’ he supplied as economically.

Not exactly a scintillating conversationalist, she decided, studying him over the rim of her champagne glass. The strong, silent type, maybe, the sort of man who only spoke when he had something significant to say.

‘Short for Maximillian?’ she asked lightly.

His smile faded, leaving his face looking slightly grim. ‘Short for Maxim. My mother was a great reader, I believe,’ he added scornfully.

Her eyes widened at his tone.

‘Don’t you know?’

His gaze narrowed. ‘No.’

Obviously not a subject to be pursued!

‘And are you in the area on business, Max?’ she prompted curiously; after all, it was New Year’s Eve, a time when most people would be with family or friends.

‘Something like that.’ He nodded tersely. ‘Do you work at the hotel every night, or just New Year’s Eve?’

She found herself frowning slightly, unsure whether he had meant the question to sound insulting—as it did!—or whether it was just his usual abruptness of manner.

She shrugged, deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt—for the moment. ‘I work here most Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings,’ she added the last pointedly.

‘And as this is a Friday—’

‘Yes,’ she confirmed huskily. ‘Look, I’m afraid I have to go back on in a few minutes,’ she added with a certain amount of relief; this man was more than a little hard going!

He nodded. ‘I’ll wait for you at the end of the evening.’ He had so far made no effort to drink any of his own champagne, merely continued to look at January with that almost blinkless stare.

Which was just as unnerving close up as it had been from the distance for the last hour while she sang!

She had accepted his invitation on impulse—curiosity?—and now she was regretting it. Okay, so his brooding stillness made Heathcliff and Mr Rochester, two of her favourite romantic heroes, seem almost chatty by comparison, but it was also extremely uncomfortable to be stared at in this single-minded fashion.

She gave a brief shake of her head. ‘I don’t think so, thank you.’ She smiled to take some of the bluntness out of her own words; after all, he was a guest at the hotel, and she just another person employed here. ‘Usually I finish about one-thirty, two o’clock, depending on how busy we are, but as tonight is New Year’s Eve I’m here until three o’clock.’

And by the time she had driven home it would be almost four o’clock, by which time she would be physically shattered but mentally unable to relax, which meant she would stay up until her sisters woke shortly before six. Not an ideal arrangement by any means, but she knew she was lucky to have found this job so close to home at all, so beggars couldn’t be choosers.

‘I’ll still wait,’ Max answered her evenly.

A perplexed frown furrowed her brow; this was exactly the reason she had always kept a polite, if friendly, distance between herself and the male guests staying at the hotel. What had prompted her to make an exception in this man’s case…?

She felt a shiver run down the length of her spine—of pleasure or apprehension?—as that deep blue gaze moved slowly down over the bareness of her shoulders in the strapless dress, the gentle swell of her breasts, the slenderness of her waist. Almost as if those long, artistically elegant hands had actually touched and caressed her!

‘I’ll wait,’ he repeated softly. ‘After all, what’s a few more hours…?’ he added enigmatically.

Very reassuring—she didn’t think! In fact, there was a decidedly unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach, accompanied by mental flashes of those recent newspaper articles about lone women being attacked in this area late at night.

Not that this obviously wealthy and assured man gave the impression of being in the category of the Night Striker—as the more lurid tabloids had dubbed him—but then, what did an attacker actually look like? The other man probably appeared perfectly normal during the day, too—it was only at night that he turned into a monster! She didn’t—

‘Tell me, January—’ Max sat forward intently now, that dark blue gaze once again unfathomable as he looked at her face ‘—do you believe in love at first sight?’

The hand holding her champagne glass shook slightly at the unexpectedness of his question, her movements carefully deliberate as she placed the glass down on the table in front of her.

What had happened to the social pleasantries? The ‘hello, how are you?’ The ‘do you have any family?’ The ‘when you aren’t singing what do you like to do?’ How did you go straight from ‘how often do you work at the hotel?’ to ‘do you believe in love at first sight?’ The obvious answer to that was—you didn’t!

January’s features softened into gentle mockery. ‘In a word—no,’ she dismissed derisively. ‘Lust at first sight—maybe. But love? Impossible, don’t you think?’ she scorned softly.

He didn’t so much as blink at her mocking reply. ‘I was asking you,’ he reminded softly.

‘And I said no.’ She was beginning to feel slightly rattled by this man’s sheer force of will. ‘How can you possibly fall in love with someone without even knowing them? What happens when you discover all those annoying little habits that weren’t apparent at first sight?’ she attempted to lighten the conversation. ‘Like not squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube? Like reading the newspaper first and leaving it in a mess? Like walking around barefoot whenever possible? Like—’

‘I get the picture, January,’ he cut in dryly, something like warmth lightening the intense blue of his eyes. ‘Are you telling me that you do all those things?’

Was she? Well…yes. And the toothpaste thing annoyed March to the point of screaming. And May was always complaining about what a mess she made when she read the newspaper. As for walking about barefoot—that was something she had done since she was a very small child; it was also something that was totally impractical when you lived in a working farmhouse. Once she had stepped on a plank of wood and ended up with a nail stuck in her foot, followed by a trip to the hospital for a tetanus injection, and another time she had stepped on a hot coal that had fallen out of the fire, again followed by a trip to the local hospital.

‘I’ve been assured that love is supposed to nullify things like that,’ Max continued dryly at her lack of reply. ‘After all, no one is one-hundred-per-cent perfect.’

She had a feeling that this man might be, had a definite intuition that he would never squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, or leave the newspaper in a mess, and as for walking about barefoot—! No, this man gave the impression that everything he did was deliberate, carefully thought through, without fault. But perhaps that was a fault in itself…?

Although why she was even giving his question any serious thought she had no idea; it was simply ridiculous to suggest you could fall in love with the way someone looked!

‘It may do, Max—but it doesn’t stop hundreds of couples arriving in the divorce courts every year claiming incompatibility because of “unreasonable behaviour” by one or other partner,’ she derided.

He smiled, his gaze definitely warmer now. ‘I don’t think they’re referring to how you do or do not squeeze a tube of toothpaste,’ he drawled.

‘Probably not.’ She shrugged.

‘But I believe I’ve adequately answered your initial question.’ Although why he had asked it at all was beyond her.

Next time she had an impulse like this, she would ignore it—no matter how handsomely intriguing the man was!

‘More than adequately,’ he confirmed derisively. ‘And I have to say, January, it’s very unusual to meet a woman with such an honest view to what everyone else chooses to romantically call love.’

January eyed him warily; she didn’t think she had actually said that was the way she felt towards falling in love! ‘It is?’

‘It is,’ he confirmed softly. ‘But—’

‘January, I’m really sorry to interrupt.’ John, the barman, appeared beside their table.

‘Not at all.’ She turned to him with a certain amount of relief. ‘Is it time for me to go back on?’ she asked hopefully; she really had had enough of this conversation. And Max…

John grimaced. ‘I just thought I should let you know Meridew is on the prowl again,’ he warned, referring to the over-efficient manager of the hotel who had just strolled into the lounge bar, his gaze sweeping critically over the room.

Strictly speaking January wasn’t exactly a member of the hotel staff, but that didn’t stop Peter Meridew, the hotel manager, having his say if he was displeased about something. January had never tested him before on having a drink with one of the hotel guests, but perhaps that came under the heading of ‘displeasing’ him? Whatever, January needed this job too much to risk losing it over a man she would never see again after this evening.

‘Thanks, John.’ She smiled up at him before turning back to Max. ‘I really do have to go.’ She managed to keep her voice evenly unemotional as she prepared to leave.

Max’s gaze narrowed. ‘Would you like me to have a word with him?’

‘Who—? Certainly not,’ she protested frowningly as she saw he was now looking at the hotel manager. Although no doubt a word in Peter’s ear from this assuredly arrogant man would ensure that no word was ever mentioned to her about sitting down to have a drink with him! ‘It’s time for me to go back on, anyway,’ she dismissed lightly.

Max nodded. ‘I’ll be waiting here when you’ve finished.’

January opened her mouth to protest for a third time, and then thought better of it; what was the point? Besides, she was quite capable of slipping quietly away at the end of the evening without this man even being aware she had done so…

She stood up. ‘Thank you for the champagne.’

‘You’re welcome.’ He nodded.

January was aware of him once again watching her as she crossed the room to the piano, knowing he would see a tall, beautiful brunette in a sexy black dress. But that was all he would see—because he knew nothing else about her but her name.

Max should see her at half-past six tomorrow morning, up to her wellington-booted ankles in mud, as she trekked through the farmyard to the cow shed for early milking!

What on earth did he think he was doing? Max remonstrated with himself with an inward groan.

Was he trying to frighten the woman away before he even had chance to get to know her? Or—more importantly!—her him? If he was, he was certainly succeeding!

He hadn’t wanted to come on this particular business trip at all, would have been quite happy to stay where he was until after the New Year, had been enjoying the mild, if unsuccessful, flirtation with the actress April Robine, a woman at least ten years older than his own thirty-seven, but looking at least twenty years younger than her actual age.

But it had been pointed out to him quite strongly, by his friend and employer, that these negotiations needed to be settled as quickly as possible, and it was his job, after all. Never mind the fact that Jude was as interested in April Robine as he was—and probably with more success, if he knew Jude. Which he did. Only too well.

How could Max possibly have known that a chance drink in the piano-bar of the hotel he was staying in would completely erase April, and every other woman he had ever known, from his mind, would result in his seeing the one woman he knew he had to have for his own?

Well…for a time, anyway; if he was honest with himself there wasn’t a woman in the world he wanted permanently in his life. No matter how beautiful. And January was incredibly beautiful.

She was perfect, from the top of her ebony head to the soles of her delicate feet in those ridiculously strappy sandals she was wearing.

So perfect that he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her the whole time he had been sitting here. So perfect that he had been uncharacteristically tongue-tied in her company. Except when he had asked her if she believed in love at first sight…

And been totally stunned—if pleasantly surprised!—by the honesty of the answer she had given him.

But, then, he had been stunned in one way or another since the moment he’d first looked at her, felt as if he had been punched in the stomach then, felt completely poleaxed now that he had actually spoken to her, her voice huskily sexy, her face even more beautiful close to, and as for her body…!

Perhaps he had better not dwell on the wonder of her willowy body just now; after all, it wasn’t even midnight yet, which meant there were at least another three hours or so before he could take her out of here.

They were the longest three hours of his life, Max decided as he waited impatiently for January to play her final song. He hadn’t even been able to get close to her when the clocks had struck midnight, had been forced to watch from afar as she’d made the countdown and had then been surrounded by well-wishers. Most of them male, he had noted with dark disapproval. All of whom he had wanted to punch on the nose as they’d claimed a New Year kiss from her.

The hotel manager had claimed her attention during her next break, the two of them talking comfortably together until it had been time for January to go back on. While Max had sat frustratedly at his table just willing her to look in his direction. Which she hadn’t.

Deliberately so? After the way he had come on so strongly earlier, he wouldn’t be in the least surprised!

How Jude, his longtime friend and boss, would have laughed if he could see him now! Or, more likely, having seen her, Jude would have made a play for January himself…

Now there was a thought he would rather not have had!

Ordinarily it wouldn’t have bothered him if Jude was interested in the same woman he was, but he already knew January was different; it would certainly test his long-term friendship with Jude if he were to make any sort of move on her!

When at last she had finished January looked extremely tired, he noted frowningly as he stood up to join her. Not that he was in the least tired himself; jet lag had ensured that he slept this afternoon and now felt wide awake.

‘Where are you going?’ he prompted as she turned away without looking up.

Smoky grey eyes looked up at him guardedly beneath sooty lashes. ‘Home?’ she suggested ruefully.

She really did look very tired, Max noted with a frown, dark shadows beneath those incredibly beautiful grey eyes, a weariness to her shoulders too now that she was no longer on public display, the hotel guests and New Year’s Eve visitors making their way noisily from the bar.

‘I said I would wait for you,’ he reminded huskily.

She frowned, seeming on the point of protest, one look at his obvious expression of determination making her shrug defeatedly instead. ‘I just have to go and collect my coat and bag,’ she told him lightly.

‘I’ll come with you,’ Max told her firmly; having found her, he wasn’t about to let her escape him now.

Those dark brows rose mockingly. ‘To the women’s staff room?’

He grimaced. ‘I’ll wait outside.’

A look of irritation flickered briefly across her creamy brow at his obvious persistence. ‘Fine,’ she finally acknowledged tersely. ‘Give me a few minutes,’ she added lightly before going into the room clearly marked ‘Staff Only’.

He wasn’t quite sure he could wait much longer to be alone with her. Patience had never been one of his virtues, even less so now it seemed.

But as the minutes passed with no sign of her return it appeared he didn’t have much choice in the matter. Where the hell was she?

‘Can I be of any assistance?’ the manager—Peter Meridew?—paused to enquire politely.

Max turned to him scowlingly, the memory of how this man had monopolized January’s company during her next—and only—break, still fresh in his mind. ‘Is there another way out of this room?’ he prompted hardly, more convinced than ever as the minutes passed that she had somehow managed to elude him.

The other man glanced at the door, his brows raised in surprise as he turned back to Max. ‘Why, yes, there is,’ he answered slowly, obviously perplexed by a guest’s interest in what was clearly marked as a staff only room. ‘It opens out into the adjacent corridor, but—Is there anything I can do to help?’ the manager prompted at Max’s fierce scowl.

‘Not unless your name is January,’ Max muttered impatiently. ‘Which it clearly isn’t!’ he added frustratedly.

Damn it, she had got away, he was sure of it, knew she had deliberately gone out of this staff room through another door.

Why was he so surprised? a little voice taunted inside his head; he had come onto her so strongly earlier that he must have sounded like a bored businessman just looking for a female to share his bed for the night!

And wasn’t that exactly what he was?

No, it wasn’t, damn it! He already knew that one night with January simply wouldn’t be enough. And given a little more time in her company, he might have been able to convince her of that.

Don’t be too sure of that, that little voice taunted again.

‘I’m sorry?’ The manager looked more confused than ever at Max’s mutterings. ‘Is January a friend of yours?’ the other man prompted tightly.

Max drew in a deep, controlling breath, aware that January had left his table earlier as soon as she had been informed of the manager’s presence in the room. After all, what was the saying, ‘tomorrow is another day’…? And as, in this case, tomorrow was a Saturday, Max at least knew where she was going to be tomorrow evening…

‘Not yet,’ he answered the manager enigmatically. ‘By the way—’ he turned his full attention on the other man now, his smile at its most charming ‘—I would like to compliment you on the smooth and efficient running of your hotel. I travel all over the world on business, and this is definitely of a world-class standard.’

The other man visibly preened at this effusive praise—as he was meant to do; the last thing Max wanted to do was make things difficult for January at her place of work. With any luck, Max’s words of praise would override any of this man’s previous curiosity as to Max’s interest in January.

‘It’s very kind of you to say so.’ The other man beamed.

‘Not at all,’ Max continued lightly. ‘It’s refreshing to stay at such an obviously well-managed hotel.’ Too effusive? Not if the other man’s flush of pleasure was anything to go by.

‘If you require any assistance during the remainder of your stay, please don’t hesitate to call on me personally,’ Peter Meridew told him in parting.

Well, there was one happy man, at least, Max acknowledged ruefully as he watched the other man’s retreating back.

Wishing that he could feel the same, Max sobered heavily, his earlier annoyance at what he was sure were January’s evasive tactics returning with a vengeance.

But if she thought she would succeed in avoiding him for ever, she was in for a surprise.

A big surprise!

.

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