An Heir for the Millionaire

By: Julia James

PROLOGUE

CLARE took a deep breath and walked forward into the dimly lit cocktail bar. Soft music issued from the white piano in the corner, and she vaguely recognised an old number from the fifties. But she paid it no attention, heading instead for the nearest table, set low and surrounded by deep leather easy chairs designed to soothe the bodies of besuited businessmen, weary from a hard day’s work in the corridors of power.

Her mouth twisted slightly. Those corridors—and the boardrooms and suites that opened off them—might demand long hours, but they also awarded a deluxe lifestyle to those who stalked them. Bespoke suits, handmade shoes, perfect grooming, and the ability to pay exorbitant prices with a flick of a platinum credit card.

As Clare approached the table, around which a cluster of suits eased back in the armchairs, a soft, throaty laugh made her turn her head slightly. A little way away, at another table, a couple sat on a sofa, drinks in hand. It was not the man who had laughed so seductively, but his female companion. For a brief moment Clare allowed herself to look. Even in the soft lighting she could see that the woman was very beautiful, with chic hair, expertly styled, and immaculate make-up. Her dress was a designer number, and clung to her lissom form. As she gave her soft laugh, she crossed her long, sheer-stockinged legs, and one elegantly manicured hand hovered over her companion’s thigh.

A little stab went through Clare. She looked away.

I shouldn’t have taken this job. I knew it was a mistake!

For four long years she had kept away from places like this. The world she lived in now was in a different universe. Stepping back into this lush, expensive environment was not something she had wanted to do.

It brought back too many memories.

And the brief glimpse of that designer-clothed female had intensified them.

Was I ever really like that?

It seemed impossible—and yet with her brain she knew it was true. She too, once, a lifetime ago, had been like that woman. Beautifully clothed, immaculately made up, elegant and chic.

She inhaled sharply. What did it matter that this place brought back the past? Memories she didn’t want and didn’t welcome. She was here simply because it was the best way she had of making the extra money she needed if her determination to take Joey and her friend Vi on holiday that summer was to succeed. Evening work was the only kind that was possible, and waiting cocktail tables in this swish new hotel, recently opened on an arterial road en route to Heathrow in West London, a bus ride away from where she lived with Vi, had to be a lot better than working in a pub, or in her local pizza parlour.

As for the memories its luxury triggered—well, tough. Her chin lifted. She’d have to get over it.

The uncompromising injunction resonated in her head. Get over it. One of the toughest self-help commandments around—and yet it had helped her, she knew, during those four long years. Years when she’d had to completely change her life—not just her lifestyle, but something far more profound. Far more difficult.

No. Don’t go there!

That was another maxim she’d had to rigidly cling to. Don’t go there—where in her dreams, her yearnings, she longed to go. Back into the past. A past that ached like an old, deep, unhealable wound.

Or, worse, don’t go into a present that did not exist—a parallel universe of longing and desire that was conjured up out of her deepest places, where the choice she had made had been quite, quite different.

Well, I didn’t make that choice! I chose a different way. And it was the right way to choose—the only way.

However hard the choice had been, it would have been far worse if she hadn’t made it. She’d paid the price for her decision, and even to think of it was agonising…just agonising.

Her own voice interrupted her painful thoughts.

‘Good evening, gentlemen—what may I get you to drink?’

Painting a bright, attentive smile on her face, she listened and nodded and scribbled as fast as she could, hoping she was getting it down right. She headed back to the bar to relay the order.

‘Doing OK?’ asked Tony, one of the barmen, congenially.

‘I hope so,’ Clare replied cautiously.

He wasn’t to know that it was not just her being new to the job that was making her cautious. That the whole expensive ambience of the place was disturbing her. Threatening her with memories of a life she had once led, and which was gone for ever. At least she’d never been at this place before; she was more familiar with the classic deluxe hotels, like the Savoy in London and the Plaza in New York. This hotel was too new, too impersonal, not at all the kind that—