King's Price, p.1
His marriage deal...
Her sexual awakening!
Unscrupulous businessman Leon King is going legit. A calculated marriage to the daughter of a wealthy Sydney philanthropist could help redeem his family’s reputation. But Vita Hamilton has her own scandal to shake: a decade-old sex tape that still haunts her. Getting emotionally involved with Vita will cost Leon dearly. With their intense sexual connection, is it a price this King is willing to pay?
“DARE is Harlequin’s hottest line yet. Every book should come with a free fan. I dare you to try them!”
—Tiffany Reisz, international bestselling author
Jackie Ashenden writes dark, emotional stories with alpha heroes who’ve just got the world to their liking only to have it blown wide apart by their kick-ass heroines. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, the inimitable Dr. Jax, two kids and two rats. When she’s not torturing alpha males and their gutsy heroines she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, wasting time on social media or being forced to go mountain biking with her husband. To keep up-to-date with Jackie’s new releases and other news sign up to her newsletter at jackieashenden.com.
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If you liked King’s Price, why not try
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Discover more at Harlequin.com.
Excerpt from Look at Me by Cara Lockwood
‘IT’S VERY SIMPLE.’ I kept my back to the office as I gazed out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that gave magnificent views of Sydney’s impressive harbour. ‘I want your daughter.’
There was silence behind me.
Clearly, I’d shocked Thomas Hamilton—one of Sydney’s most beloved and lauded philanthropists—into silence.
Excellent. Keeping him off-balance until he’d agreed to my demands was half the battle.
‘What do you mean you want my daughter?’ he asked.
There was a hint of unsteadiness in his voice. It was very, very slight but I heard it, oh, yes, I did.
I said nothing, letting him stew, watching the yachts in the harbour and the ferry sailing towards Manly, the sunlight touching on the white curves of the iconic Opera House.
Christ, I loved Sydney. Bright and flashy and sexy, with a dark, dirty underbelly. My kind of town.
It was like looking at myself in the mirror.
Leon King. Second son of Augustus King, the erstwhile emperor of Sydney’s crime scene, now answering for those crimes in a maximum security correctional facility...aka prison.
Yeah, the King is dead. Long live the King.
Or should I say ‘Kings’?
The new Kings of Sydney were me and my two brothers, Ajax and Xander, and it wasn’t our father’s old empire we wanted to inherit, not when we were the ones who’d toppled it in the first place.
No, we were after redemption. Making good on the King name. Building something out of the ashes of the old empire. Going legit or some such bullshit.
At least that was what Xander and Ajax wanted.
Me, I was fine with going legit. Things were a hell of a lot easier if you didn’t have the cops interfering with your business, but it wasn’t redemption I needed.
I didn’t even particularly care about the King name.
I’d been my father’s lieutenant, the muscle at his back, and years of dealing out violence to other people had burned the fucks I had to give right out of me.
I’d been happy to be the bad guy back then and, five years after my father had gone to jail, I was still happy to be the bad guy.
It was a fresh start I wanted, in a city where no one knew who I was or who the Kings used to be. Where I didn’t have a past. Where I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be, master of my own destiny. Where I could escape.
But before all of that, I had one last order to obey. A debt I owed to my oldest brother. And I was prepared to do anything to make good on it.
I turned from the view to the sleek minimalist room that was my office. We were in the tower that housed King Enterprises, the hugely successful property development company my brothers and I had formed out of the rubble of Dad’s empire.
Hamilton was sitting in the uncomfortable chair I’d positioned in front of my desk. He was an older man, silver-haired and blue-eyed, with that well-preserved look that only the very rich had.
Except he looked every bit of his sixty-plus years right now.
I tended to have that effect on people.
‘What do you think I mean?’ I gave him my very widest smile, the one that I was infamous for giving right before I was about to do some serious damage; nothing put someone off-balance like a smile right before you punched them in the face. ‘I want to marry her.’
Hamilton paled. ‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Of course I’m bloody serious. I’d never joke about the sanctity of marriage.’
He stared at me, confused by my sarcasm and my smile.
Good. Let him stay confused. It would make it easier to close the deal.
‘But...why do you want to marry my daughter?’
‘I thought I explained.’ I adjusted the cuffs of my white cotton shirt, admiring the contrast with the dark blue of my suit and taking my time about it. Small movements right before the gut punch. Another way to play with an opponent, and I did love to play with my opponents. It was such a power trip. ‘My brother wants to expand the King portfolio into the luxury apartment market and we’re having difficulty getting investors.’
Hamilton nodded. ‘I understand that. But I still fail to see why marriage is necessary for that kind of expansion.’
‘It’s the name,’ I said. ‘No one wants to put money behind a King. Not with our past.’
A muscle twitched in the side of Hamilton’s jaw. ‘But you don’t need my daughter for that. Simply pay me the money you said you would, and I’ll mention to my friends that you’re a good bet and—’
‘If only it were that simple,’ I interrupted with a heavy sigh. ‘But sadly it isn’t. I need an...insurance policy, you see. In case you decide to renege on the deal or change it, or alter the terms.’
‘I would never do that!’ Hamilton looked incensed.
I didn’t give a shit. He wasn’t the do-gooding pillar of the community everyone
Unfortunately for him, it was no longer a secret. At least not to me. I was good at finding dirt on people and I’d found plenty of it on him.
‘I don’t care what you would or wouldn’t do,’ I said coldly. ‘I need an insurance policy and your daughter is it. Plus, a few “introductions” to your friends is not enough. We need a total image overhaul.’ I paused to make sure he was with me. ‘Having Sydney’s biggest charity donor as my father-in-law will silence anyone who still has doubts about us. And hopefully set a few minds at ease about investing with King Enterprises.’
It had only been five years since our father had gone to jail but people’s memories could be long. Ajax, Xander and I had done very well to get where we were in that time, yet many viewed us and our intentions with suspicion.
We’d gone straight, but in some people’s minds we were still criminals.
A past like ours was difficult to escape—and I never would—but I’d do my bit to help my brothers escape.
Hamilton shook his head, but I continued. ‘You’ll put the word around that we can be trusted. Invite us to all the best charity parties, talk us up to your cronies, tell them the past is in the past, et cetera.’
‘You can’t possibly think that I’d—’
‘And in return,’ I interrupted, ‘I’ll pay your gambling debts.’
Hamilton’s mouth closed with a snap, his expression becoming sharper, more predatory. ‘Gambling debts?’
‘Come now, Tommy,’ I murmured, enjoying the spark of anger in his eyes at my patronising tone. ‘You’re neck-deep in the red at the moment. All those investments you thought would pay off that didn’t, all that tax evasion with those wonderful charities that isn’t as effective as it used to be. Or maybe you’re simply living beyond your means? Whatever it is, I can help.’ I gave him another smile. ‘All you have to do in return is give King Enterprises the big thumbs-up to your friends. Oh, yes, and your daughter as an insurance policy.’
This time Hamilton’s stare was much more assessing, as if he was weighing up a business decision. Which it was: my help in clearing his debts in return for assistance in the image department for the whole King family.
It was a win-win for everyone.
‘I have two daughters,’ Hamilton said at last, eyeing me.
Interesting. I only knew of the one who featured in all the society pages. Clara Hamilton. A pretty little socialite with a wealth of honey-blonde hair, big blue eyes and gorgeous tits. In other words, exactly my type, and I did like a society girl. It was funny how all their socialite ways would vanish once their clothes were off and I was inside them. How their dignity would crumble as they begged, as I made them scream my name.
On the outside they made a fuss about my past, about my links to my father’s crime empire, about all that nasty violence.
But on the inside, in the darkness of the bedroom, they loved it. That past thrilled them, got them off. Those girls loved a bad boy and I was as bad as it got.
Apart from Ajax. He was worse.
‘Give me the pretty one,’ I said.
Hamilton’s mouth twisted. ‘Clara isn’t—’
‘I can’t promise I won’t touch her, but I can promise I won’t hurt her.’ I didn’t mind a bit of pain with my sex, but I wasn’t a fan of forcing myself on anyone. Where was the fun in that?
But Hamilton didn’t like it. At all. ‘And if she says she doesn’t want to marry you?’
‘That’s your problem, not mine.’ I put my hands in my pockets, my posture relaxed. ‘Look, it’s not a life sentence. Tell her all I want from her is to pretend we’ve had a whirlwind romance and that she’s desperately in love with me. Then we’ll have a nice big society wedding and afterwards she can have my Darling Point mansion. I’ll be leaving the country so she’ll get it all to herself. In six months, once we’ve got some solid financial backing, she can send me the divorce papers and we’ll both go our separate ways, no harm, no foul.’
Hamilton’s eyes narrowed. ‘Why the pretence?’
‘Appearances matter, Tommy,’ I pointed out. ‘Which you, of all people, should know. Wouldn’t do for it to look like a marriage of convenience now, would it? It’s a bit too mercenary. Not at all the image we want for the King name.’
‘Divorce so soon afterwards wouldn’t exactly project the right image either.’
‘It’s long enough to convince enough people it’s legit and, like I said, bag some investment dollars.’ I gave him a conspiratorial look. ‘It’ll be our little secret, hmm?’
Hamilton leaned an elbow on the arm of his chair and stroked his chin, acting like he was thinking carefully about it. But that gleam in his eye told a different story. He wanted my money and he wanted it desperately.
I remained standing, staying casual. Strange how being relaxed could put people on edge, but it did.
It was putting Hamilton on edge right now. I could see it in the tension in his shoulders and the way he was tapping one foot against the carpet.
I said nothing, letting the silence sit there, because silence could be a useful weapon to someone who knew how to use it. And I did. I was very good with weapons in general.
The silence lengthened, became oppressive.
Eventually, Hamilton shifted then said, ‘I’ll put the idea to Clara and see what she says.’
I shook my head. ‘You do want the money, don’t you? I mean, without it, you’ll lose everything. And think of the scandal if word got out about your little gambling problem. I don’t think you want that, do you?’
He shifted again. ‘Fine. I’ll make sure she’s on-board with the idea then.’
I was conscious of a slight loosening inside my chest, one that couldn’t and shouldn’t be relief, not when I’d been confident he’d agree to my request, yet felt like it all the same.
Ajax had given me responsibility for securing the King Enterprises’ potential expansion and I wanted to make sure I fulfilled that responsibility, especially given what I owed him.
Now it looked like that debt would be paid.
It was satisfying, I couldn’t deny it.
What a good little soldier you are.
But not for much longer. Once I was away from Sydney I’d get something I’d always been denied: the luxury of choice.
‘You do that,’ I said to Hamilton. ‘And if she has any issues with the marriage remind her that my house has a pool. Girls love pools.’
Slowly, Hamilton pushed himself out of the uncomfortable chair. ‘I do have a condition.’
My smile froze. ‘I’m not sure you’re in any position to demand conditions.’
‘Nevertheless, I have one.’ His gaze was very direct and very certain; he wasn’t going to back down on this. ‘You’re not to make contact with her before the wedding. And you’re not to touch her after it. It will be a marriage in name only.’
I almost laughed. ‘What? You don’t want my filthy King hands all over your precious daughter?’
He said nothing, but the look in his eyes was clear. No. He didn’t.
I raised a brow, playing with him because that was the fun part and I could never resist a show of power. ‘But what if she wants to put her hands on me?’
He flushed. ‘She won’t. She abhors you.’
‘Sure she does. When she doesn’t know me from Adam.’ I lifted a shoulder. ‘Not that I care. Like I told you, if she doesn’t want me I won’t force myself on her. But if she does...well...’ I grinned, just to mess with him ‘...I can make no guarantees.’
Hamilton’s expression became fixed. ‘She won’t. I can guarantee that.’
It was sweet how protective this pillar of the community was of his daughter. Except, again, I knew it was a sham. It was h
Unfortunately, though, telling me not to touch the girl only made me want to touch her even more.
I was perverse like that. Or a cliché—take your pick.
‘Sadly for you, not making contact with your daughter negates my need for a public love affair, which means I’m going to have to refuse your condition,’ I said, letting my grin fade, showing him steel instead. ‘You want my money then you give me the girl. That’s all.’
He didn’t like that, naturally enough, but, since he didn’t have the leverage, all he could do was bluster empty threats as I got Security to usher him out of my office.
As soon as the office door shut behind him I reached for my phone and hit Ajax’s number.
He answered with a curt, ‘Yeah, what?’
‘You’ll be pleased to know that Hamilton will give us his backing when it comes to finding investors for the new King Enterprises expansion,’ I said.
He grunted. ‘How? That prick didn’t want anything to do with us.’
‘Let’s just say I offered him a big incentive.’
‘What did you—? On second thoughts, I don’t want to know.’
‘You don’t,’ I agreed. ‘There’s one other thing.’
‘You need to offer me your congratulations, brother.’
I turned to the view once more, my reflection staring back at me, the predatory smile on my face a reflection of the monster beneath the handsome prince. It didn’t scare me, that monster, not any more.
Your bride is going to get one hell of a shock, though.
Yes, she might.
I smiled wider. ‘Why? Because I’m getting married.’
‘YOU’VE GOT TO be kidding.’ I stared at my father in shock. ‘You want me to marry who?’
Dad had that hard expression on his face, the one he always got when he wanted his own way. ‘Leon King, of King Enterprises. The one who—’