The Executive's Vengeful Seduction(7) by Maxine Sullivan

Damien’s baby.

A baby she’d miscarried at six months because of the car accident. God, how she wanted to tell Damien about their unborn baby that she’d loved and lost. Only, she knew she couldn’t tell him…could never tell him. He may not have cared for her, but she had no doubt he would have cared for their child. And she would never want any person knowing that brand of heartache.

Certainly not the baby’s father.

Damien glanced up from his paperwork and saw Gabrielle stroll out onto the patio, then stand looking out beyond the swimming pool, over the manicured lawn and lushly landscaped gardens.

Adrenaline kicked in as he watched the sun beat down on her face, giving a glow to her smooth skin. The high humidity of the November build-up toward the wet season wisped strands of the blond shoulder-length hair at the base of her neck. God, he couldn’t get over how beautiful she was. In the past five years he’d made love to other women, some more beautiful than Gabrielle, but none of them had…what was the word he was looking for?

Connected.

Yes, that was it. None of them had connected with something deep inside him the way Gabrielle did. Something fundamental. Something that was grabbing at him even now.

He thrust his papers aside and pushed off the sofa to go to her. “I’m impressed,” he said as he stepped through the open patio doors to join her.

She spun around, her face quickly assuming a blank mask that made him want to strip aside all the layers and get to what was truly inside this woman. “You are? With what?”

He went to stand beside her at the balustrade. “You.” He saw her start of surprise. “I like the way you stood up to Keiran.”

Her mouth curved into an unexpected smile, fascinating him. “Well, now you know. You’re not the only one I can stand up to.”

He went still, caught by an invisible pull of attraction. “I can see that,” he murmured, his gaze dropping to those kissable lips.

Awareness flared in her eyes, and she quickly turned and looked down at the garden instead. “Let’s hope my father gets better soon.”

“It’s going to take some time for your father to recover enough to get back to work.” If indeed he came back at all. “Many months at best.”

She sighed. “Then there’s nothing further I can do here. I may as well leave Keiran to it.”

Damien’s gut clenched. It wasn’t just the thought of Keiran ruining everything for Russell that made his spirits sink. It was the thought of Gabrielle leaving. She would be on her way back to Sydney just as soon as Russell pulled out of danger. A week was probably all she’d stay, and that wasn’t good enough. He wanted her in his arms and in his bed. He would settle for nothing less.

Just then an idea clicked inside him and his pulse began to race. It was the answer to the company’s prayers. Surprisingly, he wasn’t averse to the idea either. Lately, he had been watching Brant and Flynn with their wives and he’d felt like he was missing out on something special that came from being a couple. And Gabrielle was the only woman he could imagine being a couple with.

“Of course, we could always combine our shares and get Keiran out that way,” he said quietly.

Her eyes were confused as she turned to face him fully. “I don’t understand. How would we do that?”

He captured her eyes with his. “I’m a silent shareholder. I own the other twenty percent.”

Her head snapped back. “What!”

“And I have the perfect solution.”

She blinked and a wary look crossed her face. “You do?”

“Marry me, Gabrielle,” he said smoothly. “Marry me and let’s make sure Keiran never takes control of Kane’s again.”

Four

G abrielle stared at Damien, unable to believe she was hearing right. “Marriage! To you?”

The line of his mouth tightened. “That’s the idea.”

Her heart constricted. Did he know what he was asking? “But why? I mean, I know you feel my father gave you a helping hand years ago but this is going too far, Damien.”

“No. I’d say it’s going just far enough.” A look of implacable determination crossed his face. “It’s the only way to stop Keiran.”

She winced inwardly, trying to remember this was about Keiran, not about her and Damien. Yet she and Damien would pay the price. Again. Hadn’t they already paid enough?

She tilted her head. “But even if we marry, my shares belong to me and your shares belong to you. It doesn’t give us controlling interest.”

For a long moment he stared at her. Then, “It does if I sign over eleven percent of my shares to you as a wedding present.”

“What!” she exclaimed, giving him a glance of utter disbelief.

He arched a brow. “Can you think of a better way to get Keiran out?”

She swallowed hard. “There must be another way,” she said, trying not to let the desperation show in her voice.

“If there is I’d be glad to hear it.”

She gathered her wits about her. “Let me talk to Keiran again. I’m sure I can make him see reason.”

“Keiran will only see reason if there’s something in it for him. And I don’t think anything you offer will tempt him away from the top seat, do you?”

He was right. It would take much more than anything she had for Keiran to step aside.

“Of course,” Damien drawled, wry amusement entering his eyes. “We could always kill him to get him out of the way.”

She glared at him. “This is too serious to joke about.”

“Who’s joking?” he mocked, but there was a hardness to his tone that bode ill for the other man. “I’m just trying to make you see that marriage between us is the only alternative. It may not be what you want to hear but it’s the best there is.”

No, she couldn’t believe that.

She wouldn’t.

“Surely you don’t want to get married, Damien? More to the point, surely you don’t want to marry me?”

“I’m glad you know what I don’t want,” he snapped. “Actually, it’s time I settled down. I’m getting older and I want a wife and…” a moment crept by “…you’re the wife I want.”

She swallowed hard. For a minute there she’d thought he was going to say he wanted a family with her. She wasn’t sure if she were up to that.

But being Damien’s wife…

“Would this be a temporary arrangement?” she asked, not considering it but asking all the same.

“No.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean…”

“Once we marry, we stay married.” A muscle ticked in his cheek. “It’s forever, Gabrielle. Remember that.”

“I don’t think I could forget it,” she muttered. Then a hopeful idea came to mind. “Of course, you could always just sign over the eleven percent to me anyway. That would be a good way to repay my father.”

“No, the best way to repay your father is for us to marry. A united front will put confidence back in the company for our clients.” He paused. “Oh, and Gabrielle. I will want your parents to think this is a real marriage between us.”

Her heart thudded inside her chest. “You mean you want them to think we’re in love?”

He nodded. “Yes. I’ll tell your father about me giving you the shares, of course, but only after he’s on the mend. I don’t want him getting even a hint that we married to stop Keiran from ruining the company. It could set back his recovery.”

Damien was right about her father not needing to hear bad news. “But surely my mother should be told the truth?” she questioned, even as she told herself the point was moot.

He shook his head. “No, if we’re going to do it, we may as well do it properly. I don’t want any slip-ups in front of your father, and with your mother being under a lot of stress, it wouldn’t be fair to burden her.”

He made it all sound so rational. Yet how could she pretend to be in love with this man? And why the heck was she considering this, anyway?

She lifted her chin. “I’m sorry but I won’t marry you, Damien. My father wouldn’t want me to go that far.”

He arched a brow. “Really? I’m sure Russell would want you to do everything in your power to save all he’s built over the years. And that includes marriage to me.”

She straightened her shoulders. “Look, you can be a martyr about it, but I will not sacrifice myself like this for the sake of the company. Not for my father. And not for my mother, either,” she added, preempting him.

His eyes narrowed. “Then what about for all those people who work for your father?”

Her hands clenched. “It’s no use, Damien. Just give it up.”

“No, you need to give in. There are people depending on your decision. People like James. People who have worked for your father for years, not just here in Darwin but all around Australasia. If Keiran destroys the company then there’s going to be a hell of a lot of people out of work.”

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