Harlequin Presents #3282
Originally published: 11/01/14
Her awakening: San Francisco heiress Romi Grayson has only had a taste of Maxwell Black’s addictive brand of seduction and knows she should stay away…especially having discovered just how determined he is to possess her!
His proposal: Max prides himself on always being in control, yet somehow Romi sneaked under his cast-iron defenses, then walked away. Now he is driven to finish what they started….
The ultimate prize! This Russian tycoon will stop at nothing, even blackmail, to have Romi warm and willing in his bed. And her innocence will make his long-awaited possession all the sweeter….
“Another winner that will have you smiling long after you turn the last page!<snipped for spoilers>All in all, this is another winner that will have you smiling long after you turn the last page and set is aside. That, in my opinion, is the magic of any Lucy Monroe magic, and she never fails to deliver!”~Denyse Bridger, goodreads.com review
“Romi Grayson dated Maxwell Black for a year, but when he made her a proposal without a ring to go with it, she called it off. Now she hears he was offered a deal involving a ring with her “sister”. Not being the stand-in-the-corner type, Romi confronts the tycoon.<snipped for size>
A Virgin for His Prize was a delightful read that had more to tell at its heart than the surface explained. I know for all of Max’s beliefs in his ruthlessness, he wasn’t as awful as he wanted to be, at least not to Romi. Max was more like a wild bear that had already been tamed before A Virgin for His Prize opened. However, he can’t see that he’s really a softy, and so he goes about achieving his goals through his usual means in A Virgin for His Prize.” ~Vanessa, Joyfully Reviewed (click for full review)
“A Virgin For His Prize by Lucy Monroe is the follow up book to A Heiress For His Empire. Romi Grayson and Maxwell Black’s story. They met and the spark between them was there but Romi realized Maxwell did not want to have a happily ever after he was just looking for fun and she was in it for the long hall. Maxwell Black wants Romi in his bed, but there are things in his past that has made him leery of falling in love. When they meet again he still has a strong yen for Romy and makes her an offer she can’t refuse. This was a quick read with romance and a few erotic moments.” ~Alexia J. Evans, amazon.com reader review
“A Virgin for his Prize is the next book in the Ruthless Russians series and is a perfect example of why I love Lucy Monroe’s books. A hot alpha male who knows who he is and what he wants. And a smart heroine who follows her heart. What could be better than to have a man like Maxwell Black know that you are the one he wants enough to blackmail into his bed? Romy has waited for Max long enough..and knows it’s time to give him her body and her love.
I loved this story!” ~Hollie, goodreads.com reader reviewer
Fury fighting with the pain of betrayal, Romi Grayson set her phone down on the table beside her with careful movements. The temptation to throw the mobile device across the room was staggering.
That lying, manipulative, opportunistic tycoon!
Donovan Black had made it very clear to Romi that he wasn’t in the market for a long term relationship, but that hadn’t meant he wasn’t interested in something else. His generosity in and out of bed with his lovers had been the fodder for gossip for years. As were the unexpectedly amicable breakups.
Van had promised Romi sexual pleasure beyond the scope of her imagination.
He’d said she would be the sole focus of his interest.
Until he was done with her.
The über wealthy tycoon-playboy had offered Romi absolute fidelity with a time limit.
She’d walked away.
From the promise. From the possibilities. From the certainty of a broken heart.
They’d only dated a few times, but he’d sparked a depth of emotion in her that was both immediate and frightening. Terrifying for its intensity, Romi’d had no doubts that she wouldn’t survive a break-up down the road with her heart intact.
Walking away after their short, almost platonic association had been painful enough. Almost being the operative word. Van had given Romi her first taste of sexual pleasure with a partner.
Awed by the sensations he evoked, she’d been close to giving into Van’s offer.
Ultimately, she’d had no choice though. Not with his attitude.
For all her “free spirited” ways, Romi was a traditionalist at heart. She wanted a home, a family and the man she loved to be looking at the future, not the expiry date on their relationship.
That same man had been prepared to marry Romi’s sister-by-choice, Madison Archer.
For a payoff!
Shares in Archer International Holdings and the prospect of taking over when Jeremy Archer retired had tempted Donovan Black to break his “no commitments” rule.
The mercenary cad.
It was an old-fashioned word, but man, it fit.
“Romona!” Her dad’s wavering call came from the den he spent most of his time in these days.
He only made it into the office about two days a week, his longtime director of operations running Grayson Imports in everything but name.
Some might have expected Romi to take over the family business, but not her dad. Stanley Grayson had always made it clear he expected his daughter to follow her own dreams.
Filtered sunlight from the single window on the north side cast the den in gray light. Her father sat on the sofa facing the dark screen of a wall-mounted big screen television. The high-ball glass in his hand was empty but for a couple of ice cubes. Bloodshot, red-rimmed hazel eyes testified to the fact it hadn’t been empty for long, or often in the past hours.
She walked forward and took the glass from his unresisting fingers. “It’s only afternoon, daddy. You don’t need this.”
There was a time when he hadn’t picked up a drink with alcohol in it before the cocktail hour. He’d drunk steadily from that point so that he went to bed every night so inebriated, walking up the stairs was a danger.
But the drinking hadn’t gone on during the day.
Over the past few years, the drinking had gotten worse while she was away at school. Her father now started at lunchtime with a glass of wine that often became a bottle.
But drinking hard liquor this early in the day was still something new.
Recognition took seconds to register in his rheumy gaze. “Ramona.”
“Yes, daddy. You called me.” Something he never would have done sober.
Graysons did not do common things like shout through the house for one another. They used the intercom system.
But Stanley Grayson didn’t look in any shape to cross the room to the intercom. His brows drew together in an exaggerated effort at concentrating. “I did?”
“Yes, daddy, you did.”
He looked with confusion around the room, like the answer might leap out at him. “I think I lost the remote.”
Romi bent down and picked up the small electronic device from the floor at his feet. “Here it is.”
“Oh, thank you.” He frowned. “It’s not working.”
She swiped her hand on the screen and spoke the command to turn the T.V. on. The sound of afternoon news commentary filled the room from the surround sound speakers.
“It’s working just fine.”
“Wouldn’t turn on for me,” her father slurred.
She wasn’t surprised. The remote was programmed to take voice instruction with recognizable commands, not speech blurred by alcohol.
“You look upset, kitten.”
That was the thing about her dad. Even with his brain pickled by too much drink, he cared about her. He paid attention. She had no trouble remembering that even drunk, her dad was twice the father than a man like Maddie’s dad could ever hope to be.
“No, you’re not.” He was careful to enunciate every word.
And for some reason that made Romi feel like crying. “It’s nothing, really.”
“No, I know it’s something.” For just a moment, her dad wasn’t a drunk bent on destroying his liver.
He was the man who had loved her mother so much, he’d married her against his own family’s wishes. He was the guy who raised Romi from the time she was three, refusing the easy road of allowing other family members to take on her care.
“It’s an old story.” And she’d fallen for it.
“I fell for a man.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
Romi ignored that, incapable of coming up with a response that wouldn’t hurt one of them. “He told me he didn’t do commitment.”
“And you found out he’s married?” her dad asked, looking as angry as emotions dulled by over-imbibing would allow.
“No, but I did find out he’s willing to get married. For the right price.”
She couldn’t help smiling at how her father’s word echoed her own thoughts just a few minutes before. “Exactly.”
“You’re better off without him.”
“Of course.” If only she could convince her heart as easily as her head.
Donovan Black was bored. Attending these functions rarely provided anything but a few mind numbing hours interspersed with brief moments of useful networking.
Oh, he believed in the cause. Tonight’s gala was dedicated to raising funds for and awareness of the plight of hunger among school age children.
Considering the focus of the evening, he might have an opportunity to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes. Watching Romi Grayson.
Touching her was more satisfying, but she’d turned down his offer of a liaison in no uncertain terms.
In a rare show of restraint, he hadn’t continued the pursuit.
There was something different…almost special…about the old-money San Francisco heiress, a vulnerability he was unwilling to exploit.
A first for him, he’d stayed away from her as much out of self-preservation as anything else.
He felt protective toward her in ways he did not understand, ways that could be manipulated if she knew about them. So, she would never find out.
Even so, plans and intentions changed and he was coming to the conclusion that he and Romi might have a future after all. So long as Donovan dictated the terms.
The soft scent of jasmine and vanilla he always associated with the heiress activist reached him before she did.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Donovan Black, master tycoon.”
Squelching the urge to turn quickly, he slowly faced her.
Black, silky chin-length hair framed Romi’s pixie-ish features, her bow shaped lips set in an uncustomary flat line. Her makeup was dramatic tonight, bringing out the gentian blue of her eyes. Eyes that snapped with accusation he did not understand.
Or perhaps he did.
“Good evening, Romi. You look lovely tonight.”
The elegant peacock-blue evening gown accented her modest curves, highlighting Romi’s particular brand of delicate femininity. Fragility at odds with her gung ho approach to life. Romi didn’t consider any cause too great, or any opponent too intimidating to take on.
Borderline petite at five-foot-five, with a personality that more than made up for her smaller stature, Donovan had found Ramona Grayson intriguing from their first meeting.
“Thank you.” She frowned at him, but offered grudgingly. “You’re very handsome yourself tonight. Not a designer I recognize. A tuxedo from one of the tailors on Saville Row?”
He smiled, impressed by her power of observation. Having his clothing made to fit could be considered a luxury by some, but for Donovan it was more than that. Tailored Armani impressed, but having a bespoke suit (patterned and constructed entirely to his specifications) made another kind of impression, one in line with Donovan’s reputation for utter control in and out of the boardroom.
“My suit-maker is local, but he apprenticed with a Saville Row tailor.”
“Of course. I notice you don’t give his name.”
“Why? Are you looking for a new tailor for your father?” Not that Donovan thought his would take Grayson on.
The tailor was both expensive and extremely discerning about his clientele. An alcoholic on the verge of taking his company down to the bottom of a whiskey bottle had no chance.
Romi’s barely there grimace was quickly masked. “No.”
“The waiting list for his services is a year out.” Donovan found himself offering the truth as an excuse, an unaccustomed effort to spare her feelings.
“No doubt you subverted it somehow.”
Donovan smiled. “Not a chance. The man’s a martinet about his schedule and his client standards.”
“Still, I’m surprised,” Romi said, her intent to bait him obvious.
Something was definitely bothering her. “Are you?”
“You’re a very opportunistic man.” The edge to her voice was sharper than a chef’s cleaver.
He couldn’t deny it, didn’t want to. His ability to identify and take advantage of opportunities was something that had helped Donovan to build his business and his fortune to what they were today. A multi-millionaire personally, his company Black Information Technologies (BIT) was valued at ten times his personal assets.
Not bad for a thirty-two year old bastard having no acknowledged ties to wealth like Romi had been born with.
However, it was clear something about that character trait had upset Romi. Recently, if he wasn’t mistaken. Since there was no way she could know about the plans he’d been considering for her father’s company, it had to be something else.
Mentally going back through the events of the past week that others were aware of, Donovan thought he might know. “You’ve spoken to Madison Archer.”
“I talk to Maddie every day, several times a day.” The increased annoyance in Romi’s voice left no doubt he was on the right track.
Though he still was not sure why Romi would be upset with Donovan for being offered the marriage based business contract by Jeremy Archer.
“I can hardly be held accountable for her father’s actions.” Though he wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of the auspicious conditions Archer had provided, even if not for the opportunities the president of AIH had intended.
Romi crossed her arms, leaning back in a classic pose of annoyance. “Only your willingness to participate in them.”
He took a moment to appreciate the way her stance pressed her small breasts together to create a shadow of tempting cleavage. Everything about her body turned him on. Thin, with modest curves, she was nevertheless one-hundred percent enticing woman.
“I went to a meeting where Jeremy Archer offered a very lucrative contract and your so-called sister-by-choice held her own very well.” Though he wasn’t prepared to tell Romi how Madison had kept her father in line.
Donovan had plans for that information. Because he was an opportunistic bastard. Literally and figuratively.
Unless he’d misread Madison Archer, she had not shared her actions with her best friend.
Which created leverage for Donovan with Romi. She would do anything to prevent her SBC from being harmed in any way. Even by Madison’s own precipitous actions.
“You were willing to break your own rules for a price,” Romi sneered.
Ah. Now he understood. Donovan was actually a little surprised that Madison had shared his offer with Romi. The Archer heiress had never seriously considered it and he hadn’t expected her to. That didn’t mean he would deny himself the opportunity to give Viktor Beck a few seconds of doubt.
They’d been friends and competitors since early childhood.
Still, Romi was upset Donovan had made the counteroffer. That might bode well for his own plans where she was concerned.
“And that price wasn’t love.” He laced the last word with his own brand of disgust.
The overly emotional and incredibly naïve heiress thought that sentiment the only motivation worthy of note. Even after the loss of that love had nearly destroyed her own father and what remained of their family.
“More like thirty pieces of silver.” Her blue gaze snapped with fire he wanted in his bed.
The small taste he’d had of her had only whetted an appetite Donovan had come to accept would not be satisfied by anything but unfettered access to this woman alone.
“Your inference would imply I betrayed someone. I didn’t.” He and Romi had gone their separate ways nearly a year ago.
“Your own integrity maybe.”
“What is dishonest about a business deal where the terms are laid bare for everyone involved?”
“So, your no commitment rule was only for me?” Romi’s voice betrayed pained disappointment.
He didn’t like hearing that from her. Even less than he’d liked the sound of no thank you spoken with a catch of desperation in her voice. “I didn’t offer Madison the kind of commitment you believe you need.”
“You offered to marry her.”
“I offered a business arrangement without conjugal rights or the promise of fidelity.”
“That’s horrible.” Romi was getting genuinely upset, her voice rising in agitation.
Soon, those around them would notice.
He took her by her elbow and began leading her toward the balcony doors. He was hoping the evening drop in temperatures would mean it was deserted.
“Where are we going?” she asked, though she didn’t try to pull away.
“Someplace more private than here.”
Memory slashed across his brain…a similar question, an almost identical answer, but for very different purpose.
He’d wanted to kiss her.
She’d been seething with an emotion very different from anger that time. She’d wanted the kiss too.
Her response had nearly caused him to lose control of his own body for the first time since his initial foray into sex.
The balcony was as deserted as he’d hoped it would be, with only one other couple tucked away into the corner shadows at the opposite end. The low level lighting and thirty feet separating the two couples insured a certain level of privacy so long as he and Romi did not raise their voices.
She shivered in the cool air and he moved them into the corner, where strategically placed potted greenery acted as both a privacy screen and wind barrier.
Anyone looking closely would see them, but only from certain angles. The other couple was not at that angle.
Even without the wind, the evening air was still chilly.
He removed his jacket and tucked it around Romi like a cape. “Better?” he asked.
Nodding, Romi bit her lip in a gesture of vulnerability that nearly derailed his intention to talk.
“You didn’t need to give me your coat.” She pulled it closer, a clearly unconscious action in direct opposition to the words she spoke. “We won’t be out here long. I’m not even sure why I came with you in the first place.”
“Because you are angry I considered Jeremy Archer’s business proposal and we need to talk about that.”
“I don’t know why.”
He merely waited in silence.
Romi huffed out a sigh. “Maddie deserves better than a business marriage.” She glared up at Donovan with a mix of emotions he couldn’t quite read. “You do too.”
“I do not find Madison particularly attractive. Foregoing conjugal rights would not have been a great sacrifice.”
“I find beauty in a different package.” The red-headed Archer heiress was undeniably pleasing to the eye, but she did nothing for Donovan personally.
He liked willowy figures, usually going for taller women because of his own six-foot-five-inch height. Though despite the foot difference in their height, Romi fit with him surprisingly well. He preferred dark hair and found her black tresses particularly appealing. Sharp elfin features were also unexpectedly attractive.
Before Romi, he’d never been drawn to blue eyes, but hers were so striking, so expressive he found them intensely alluring. He liked knowing everything his sexual partners were feeling and thinking. Romi’s eyes revealed what her charming verbal honesty did not.
And unlike her SBC who rarely blushed at all, Romi’s frequently pink cheeks (at least in his presence) that had nothing to do with her makeup were equally expressive.
“I just don’t understand how you were willing to marry her.” With a sound of frustration, Romi put her hand over her mouth, a sure sign she wished she hadn’t said that out loud.
“I was willing to entertain the idea, but she wasn’t interested in me as her future husband and I knew that before I ever made the offer of a marriage in name only.”
“What? How did you know?”
“Madison Archer may be better at hiding her emotions than you, but there can be no doubt that only one man in that conference room had the remotest of chances in fulfilling the contract her father had drawn up.”
Romi’s smile was soft. “They’re good together.”
“Let’s hope so.” Viktor and Madison’s engagement had already been announced, along with the whirlwind date set for their wedding.
He didn’t know Madison Archer well, but what he knew of her, he respected and liked. And while many would look on Viktor as Donovan’s lifelong rival, the man who shared his Russian heritage was one of a select few Donovan called friend.
Considering the fact that both people appeared to be entering the agreement with poorly hidden (to him at least) romantic aspirations and a long term future together as their goal, Donovan hoped it worked out for them.
He didn’t believe in permanent romantic ties. He considered marriage like any other contract – to be kept in place for the duration of the benefit of both parties.
His mother had taught him from an early age to see romantic relationships as a means to an end. Natalya Black had always told her son that love was the biggest fairytale of all.
She’d believed in Donovan and told him he could do anything he set his mind to, but never give into “so-called” love. It only weakened the afflicted and made them lose their focus.
Donovan didn’t know where his mother’s life lessons had come from, but he knew his own and he’d discovered early on she was right.
Leaving Russia and her disapproving relatives for a new start in America had not included Natalya giving up her tendency to line her nest with the golden straw of cleverly chosen bed partners of defined duration.
The transience of the men in his mother’s life had taught him one thing. There was no such thing as forever and anyone who believed in it was a fool.
They’d only come close one time. One man had made Natalya glow with something besides satisfaction in a well-chosen partner. The man had also taken a paternal interest in Donovan as none of his mother’s other affairs ever had or been allowed to.
For three years, Donovan had a father-figure show up at his activities, someone as interested in teaching him what it was to be a boy raised in America as his mother and those at the cultural center had been in exposing him to bits of his Russian heritage, someone besides a neighbor the school could call when Donovan needed to go home early with the flu.
Then Carlyle’s estranged wife had returned, along with his real son and daughter and Donovan never saw the man again. Natalya lost her glow, but not her determination to give Donovan every chance life in America had to offer.
“Madison said she thought something about Perry’s claims intrigued you.” Romi frowned, her gaze searching.
Broken out of the unexpected reverie in his past, Donovan took a moment to catch up. Then he said, “You know I like control in bed.”
Yes, he hadn’t hidden his preferences during their kisses and the touching. “I had no desire to take her to bed, therefore it follows my preference for control wasn’t my reason for intrigue.”
“Oh.” Romi’s frown turned to puzzlement. “Then why?”
“I found it interesting that Perry made the claims he did.”
“The more salacious the story, the more money they would pay for it.” The lovely heiress’ tone dripped cynicism.
Donovan’s was a bit more derisive when he said, “Perry Timwater isn’t capable of upholding a more dominant role in sex.”
“How would you know?”
“I’ve met him.” And what Donovan had seen of the other man had neither impressed, nor inspired a desire to further their association. “He has neither the confidence, nor the attention to the needs of others to succeed in that role.”
“I’m sure he’s a selfish lover,” Romi said with her customary direct honesty. “He was a very selfish friend.”
“You are probably right.” Donovan felt his lips quirking as they often did in her presence.
Romi Grayson always entertained him, even when she didn’t mean to. She intrigued him as much because of the attraction he felt for her as the fact she was so unlike him. He didn’t understand her.
That was not something Donovan was used to.
Understanding what motivated people was what made him so good in the business world. He knew how to identify a need and exploit it, without compromising his own sense of honor.
It might not be as shiny and uncomplicated as Viktor’s, but Donovan did have one.
Romi’s mercurial nature made her an enigma. He’d been sure she would go for his offer of monogamy of limited duration, but she hadn’t. Even more inexplicably, her reaction had told him the offer had hurt her in some way, which he hadn’t expected and found he did not like.
“So, why were you intrigued?”
“Why do you think?” he prodded, wondering how much she’d really learned about him during their brief time of dating.
She paused and thought, which wasn’t something anyone else would have expected from her. She came off as passionate and impetuous, but he’d learned that as much as she might appear to act without thought, Romi rarely ever did.
Finally, she said, “You’ve got more curiosity than any man I’ve ever met. The situation didn’t make sense to you, something you aren’t really on a first-name basis with. So you wanted to understand it.”
He nodded, not really surprised she guessed his reaction so easily. He’d learned that she studied him with as much attention as he had any business rival in his career.
“The stories themselves were a puzzle,” Donovan agreed. “Despite both you and Madison Archer’s penchant for making it into the media spotlight, neither of you are known for sexual exploits.”
Something he should have paid closer attention to before making his offer to her. He should have realized that the reason her sex-life was never speculated on in the media was because she didn’t have one.
That innocence wasn’t going to leave her open to the kind of liaison Donovan was used to negotiating with his lovers.
Which meant that if he wanted Romi, and the year apart had shown him that at present no one else would suffice, he would have to figure out a different arrangement.
One they could both live with.
If his plans included a measure of what he thought might well be irresistible persuasion, well his honor didn’t require a level playing field.
Winning was key. Full stop.
A Virgin for His Prize
by Lucy Monroe
© Lucy Monroe 2014
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without express, written permission from the author Lucy Monroe who can be contacted off her website http://lucymonroe.com.