Harlequin Presents #3662
Originally published: 10/01/2018
His plan is merciless revenge.
His method is sizzling pleasure!
Ruthless tycoon Basilio Perez, famed for his familial loyalty, has a new target in sight. Miranda Smith is poised to bring the Perez name into disrepute – she must be stopped!
But when he meets Miranda, Basilio is captivated by her innocence and shy appeal. To uncover Randi’s secrets, his plan for revenge becomes one of lingering, passionate seduction…that tests his iron control to the limit!
The Spaniard’s Pleasurable Vengeance Excerpt (Before Edits)
“I don’t need a damn appointment! I’m his sister, you cretin.” The sharp American accent and strident tone of Gracia’s voice reached Basilio through his partially closed office door.
The heavy door opened forcefully, slamming back against the rich paneling of his wall, but surprisingly his administrative assistant made it into the office a step ahead of Basilio’s sister. “Sir, I’m sorry.” The distress at not holding her post was clear in his admin’s tone. “She refused to even wait for me to ascertain if you were still on your conference call.”
Gracia came storming around his admin at the same time as his executive assistant came rushing in from her annex office.
“What is going on in here?” Her hair in a severe chignon, her navy business suit immaculate, his fifty-year-old executive assistant could do freezing aristocratic disapproval better than even Basilio’s mother, who was actually the daughter of a count.
His admin immediately began apologizing again as he stood from his desk, giving his sister a look that would have made Basilio’s mother proud. Gracia halted in her approach to his desk, her annoyed expression morphing to one of consternation.
She gave the EA a moderately polite look, before looking at Basilio with wariness. “It is a family emergency.”
Basilio merely waited in silence for more information.
His executive assistant wasn’t so patient. “I see, and there was no time for you to call and apprise us of your imminent arrival so we could clear your brother’s schedule on your drive from the airport?” Camila Lopez asked with clear censure.
Gracia looked between Basilio and his EA, her cheeks going pink. “I wasn’t thinking of calling. Only getting here.”
“And if Señor Perez had been away from the office?” Camila pressed with a single raised, perfectly shaped black eyebrow.
“I didn’t think of that.”
As amusing as he found his sister’s interaction with his executive assistant, Basilio did not have time for the entertainment. He did in fact have a very busy day.
“Thank you for your assistance and I will need the next thirty minutes for Gracia,” he said to both his admin and Camila. “See that we are not disturbed.”
“Of course, señor,” Camilla said to him with just the right amount of deference before offering his sister a look that said clearly she wasn’t worried about someone else interrupting.
Once the other two women had left his office, both doors through which they’d gone closed firmly behind them, Basilio indicated one of the chairs facing his desk. “Sit down, Gracia, and tell me what has you forcing your way past my admin.”
Gracia sank into the seat with more grace than her behavior had shown so far. “It really is a family emergency, Baz.”
For the family that so rarely remembered he was a member?
“Explain,” he demanded as he settled back into his own chair.
Gracia frowned at his tone. “You remember when that awful teenager hit little Jamie with her car?”
“I am unlikely to forget.” Five years before his then four-year-old nephew had spent two weeks in a coma after being hit by a car while on an outing with his mother.
“Well, apparently she changed her name and moved away from Southern California.”
“Unsurprising.” While Basilio had been in Spain at the time, saving his father’s company from bankruptcy, he knew that Miranda Weber had been vilified in the broadcast media and even worse on all the social media outlets.
“Yes, well. Some idiotic reporter found out who she is and is resurrecting the story.”
And this was the family emergency that she needed Basilio’s help with? When usually both Carlos and Gracia were happy to forget they were half-siblings most of the time.
Putting aside his own sense of cynicism about their definition of family, Basilio said, “I can see where that would be emotionally difficult for Carlos and Tiffany.”
“Yes. It’s awful! And this time, some fly-by-night morning gossip show wants to interview the girl. She’s all set to give them her side of the story.”
“She’s not a girl any longer, surely.” Miranda had been nineteen five years ago.
“Woman then,” Gracia said dismissively. “She’ll go on television and lie. About our family!”
“Surely Carlos has PR people who can handle this.” Not to mention lawyers. If the woman lied in a public forum, they could bring a civil suit.
“You know he prefers you call him Carl.”
Yes, because it was less Spanish, letting him forget he ever had a father named Armand Perez. “That is what you want to discuss now?” Basilio asked, his voice dry.
“No, of course not.” Gracia wrung her hands. “It’s just you have to do something!”
“What do you imagine I can do that Carl and Tiffany cannot? They are not exactly without resources.” Carlos’ wife came from an old and wealthy East Coast family.
Basilio’s brother ran his stepfather’s business, one of respectable enough size to have public relations people on retainer. While Perez Holdings were much bigger and more successful now, that had not always been the case.
“She had a restraining order taken out against both Carl and Tiffany, it includes any representative working for, or on retainer from them.”
“How did she manage that?” Basilio wondered aloud.
“It’s insane, I know.”
That’s not what Basilio had said. For Miranda Weber to obtain such a thing, serious threats had to have been made. Cursed with a deep seated sense of entitlement, his brother could be a hothead as well. Carlos had never had to save a company, or put the hours into shoring up his family’s name in the international community as Basilio had done. When their father split with Carlos and Gracia’s mother, she’d remarried quickly and both of Basilio’s older siblings had embraced their new American family whole heartedly, taking their stepfather’s last name and rejecting their Spanish heritage for their American mother’s way of life.
While Basilio was not sure he could blame Carlos, considering the current circumstances, clearly the older man’s temper and certainty he could do as he pleased had cost him access to Miranda.
When Basilio didn’t say anything right away, Gracia added, “I think it might have been her brother-in-law, or something.”
“She has a sister?” He didn’t remember that. He’d thought the woman who put his nephew into a coma was an only child.
“Apparently. Only a half-sister, but still…”
“Yes, still.” Basilio knew just how little regard his sister and brother had for the concept of a half-sibling.
“Oh, get off it, Baz. I didn’t mean you.”
“As you say.”
Gracia leaned forward. “You need to do something.”
“What would you have me do?”
“Well, Carl’s company doesn’t have quite the sway yours does.”
That was an understatement. Basilio had ruthlessly built Perez Holdings into powerful multi-billion dollar international entity, while his brother’s realty group was worth mere millions. “Madison Realty is hardly a global concern,” was all Basilio said though.
“So?” Basilio prompted.
Gracia’s expression turned crafty. “So, maybe you can convince the brother-in-law to withdraw his support.”
“Who is this in-law?”
“His name is Andreas Kostas. That’s Greek, isn’t it? I don’t remember the name of his company.”
Surprise made Basilio sit up straighter in his chair. “Yes, it is Greek and I know exactly who he is. My company uses his company’s security software, or what used to be his company. I believe he recently merged with Hawk Enterprises.”
Andreas Kostas was a shark’s shark and he was now in business with one of the biggest sharks swimming in their waters. No wonder Carlos needed help dealing with Miranda’s family.
Gracia waived that information away. “Whatever, he didn’t respond well when Carl contacted him hoping to convince him to talk Miranda out of doing the interview.”
“If he threatened him, I don’t imagine so.” Kostas wasn’t known for tolerating fools or blow-hards. Unfortunately, Carlos had played both on occasion.
“Who said Carl threatened anybody?” Gracia sounded indignant, but her guilty expression didn’t jibe with her words.
Basilio just gave his sister a look until she squirmed in her chair.
“Okay, he may have said some things he didn’t mean, but come on.” Gracia waved her hands in agitation. “He and Tiffany went through enough five years ago.”
“On that we can agree.”
“So, you’ll do something?”
“I will come to the States and look into the situation.” That was all he would promise.
If it came down to it, Basilio wasn’t above using his influence and power to push either Andreas Kostas, or his sister-in-law, into doing what was best for Basilio’s family because for him family came first, last and always. However, first he would get some real answers about what was going on.
“You have to hurry. She’s slated to do her interview in three weeks, the recent media storm is just starting to die down and if she does that interview, it’s bound to blow everything up again.”
“Understood. What name does she go by now?”
“She kept her first name, but changed Weber to Smith.”
Gracia’s lips twisted in distaste. “Yes.”
Well, Weber, or Smith, Basilio had every intention of finding the woman who had already cost his family so much. Whatever it took, he would protect the brother and sister-in-law that had suffered enough.
Late for her dinner with her newfound sister and recently acquired brother-in-law, Randi rushed out of her even more recently acquired office.
She’d been shocked and delighted when Kayla asked Randi if she was interested in taking over managing responsibilities for Kayla’s for Kids, the shelter her sister had founded for at risk children and youth. The opportunity to do what Randi loved while living near enough to get to know her long-lost sister had been too good to pass up. Besides, she got to use both her degree in business and adjunct degree in social services.
Part of her new job would include launching a second site in the western suburbs of Portland. Apparently, Andreas had donated enough for the expansion as a wedding gift, in addition to designating his new company’s charitable contributions all to Kayla’s for Kids, making fund raising efforts a lot less stressful for Randi’s team.
It was Randi’s dream job and she adored her sister and brother-in-law for making it possible.
Collision with a hard, muscular wall on the sidewalk abruptly halted Randi’s headlong flight to her car.
She cried out and then immediately started apologizing, even as she felt her balance waiver. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you.”
Big, strong hands on her upper arms stopped her bounce backward that would have landed Randi on her backside. “Is that a common occurrence, running into people you didn’t see?” he asked, a foreign accent subtle but unmistakable.
Randi winced. The man could not know the old wound his words bled yet again.
She pulled herself together with a firm mental yank and shrugged. “I’d love to say no, but I have a tendency toward klutziness, especially when I’m in a rush..”
Why she was admitting that particular failing to this gorgeous man, she did not know. Because man, total hottie alert. Easily as tall as her brother-in-law, who stood at six-feet-four-inches, the black haired man with sexy stubble on his face, towered over Randi’s own five-feet-five-inches.
Espresso brown eyes locked on hers. “I see. Are you in a rush often?”
For whatever reason, she didn’t step back from him. “Not really, just sometimes. Though it’s usually walls I run into, or doorjambs, or you know, furniture. I hardly ever bump into people.”
Even, white teeth flashed in a smile that didn’t quite reach his dark brown eyes. “I’m special then.”
“You could take it that way, yes.”
He released her arms. Finally, but he did not step out of her personal space. “I believe I will.”
“Okay.” Heat climbed up her neck and into her cheeks that Randi could do nothing about.
He offered his hand. “Basilio Perez.”
“Oh, um, Randi Smith.” She laid her palm against his.
Instead of shaking hands, he lifted hers to his lips, brushing a barely their kiss on the back of her knuckles. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Smith.”
Randi finally understood what it meant to be electrified by a man’s touch. His lips against her skin sent frissons of sensation throughout her body and she gasped.
“Ms. Smith? Are you all right?” There was something in his too knowing gaze that said he was perfectly aware of the effect he was having on her.
She tried to speak, then cleared her throat and tried again. “Randi, please.”
“Randi is short for?”
“Oh, um, no one ever asks, they just ask stuff like if I enjoy having a boy’s name.”
“So?” He hadn’t let go of her hand and he now brushed his thumb over her knuckles, where his lips had been.
She had no thought of not answering. “Miranda.”
“You think so?” She’d always found it old-fashioned.
“Basilio is pretty neat too. Spanish?” she guessed.
“You got it in one. My friends call me Baz.”
“My friends call me Randi.”
“I prefer Miranda.”
Did that mean he didn’t want to be friends? Only he’d implied she should call him Baz. “Are we going to be friends?”
“I would like that.”
Good. “Me too, I mean…” But she wasn’t sure what she’d meant to say, the sexual chemistry between them playing havoc with the efficient firing of synapses in her brain.
“I hope you mean just that.”
“So, dinner tonight?” he asked, still caressing her hand.
“I have plans with my sister and brother-in-law.” And as much as she wanted to spend time with her sister, giving up a date with such a delicious man was hard.
“After dinner drinks?”
“Really?” Oh, man, why had she asked that? “I mean, that would be great. Fine.”
She was just going to sink into the sidewalk right now.
“When and where?”
She thought about the location of the restaurant she was supposed to meet her family at and a likely spot near it. “How about the piano bar at the Heathman?”
It was quiet, with lots of places to sit in an intimate tete-a-tete.
“Fine. What time?” Basilio asked.
“Eight o’clock?” She was having an early dinner with Kayla and Andreas.
“Perfect. I will get my own dinner and meet you there.”
Taking a risk, Randi asked, “You could join us?”
“You are sure I would not be an unwelcome intrusion?”
She loved the formal cadence of his speech, so different from her own. “Not at all. I’m sure Kayla and Andreas would not mind at all.”
But she’d better call and give a heads up on her way over.
“Then I would be pleased to accept.”
“Great. Um, you can meet me there?”
“Naturally. I would not expect you to get into a car with a stranger after such short acquaintance.”
And why she wished she could, she wasn’t even going to think about. Ever since the trouble five years before, Randi had become very wary of new people and even making friends, much less dating. But no way was this man was a grubby reporter, looking for lascivious details from the years old tragedy.
Not in his five-thousand dollar suit and shoes that probably cost more than she made in a week.
They made arrangements to meet at the restaurant in twenty minutes. Then Randi was running for her car, even later than she had been.
Basilio pulled into the valet parking for the Heathman.
A walk from the restaurant to the piano bar would be further opportunity to draw Miranda Smith (nee Weber) out. Bumping into her on purpose had made two things very clear. One, the picture in the file he’d had compiled on her did not capture the sweet naiveite she wore like a cloak, nor her unconscious sensuality. Two, seduction might well be his best course of action in achieving the goal his family needed.
While intimidation tactics were not yet off the table, he had a feeling using the instant attraction between them would be more easily effective.
Walking into the restaurant a few minutes later, he was once again struck by the clarity of her grey eyes as they met his across the roomful of diners in the upscale steakhouse. Even the subdued lighting of the restaurant, the grey orbs glowed. Miranda was sitting with Andreas Kostas and another woman with eyes the exact color and vibrancy of Miranda’s, declaring her the sister.
Basilio allowed the maître d’ to lead him across the restaurant to the linen clad table for four. Appetizers and bread were already on the table, indicating the Kostases had been there for a while.
Miranda stood up. “You made it.”
Basilio nodded, finding her enthusiasm almost charming. There was such an innocence about this woman, he found it hard to believe she had plans to blow his family’s peace right out of the water. She did not look or behave like someone who would go on a talk show to spite them, particularly after committing such a heinous act as hitting a small child with her car.
But he had it on good authority, Miranda Smith, for all her airs of innocence, was exactly that kind of woman.
He could not afford to forget that fact.
“This is my sister, Kayla Kostas and her husband, Andreas.” Miranda indicated the other two people with one hand, nearly knocking over a filled water goblet.
Her brother-in-law saved the table from getting dowsed with a discernable lack of impatience.
Basilio inclined his head to the married couple. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Randi said she met you on the street?” Kayla asked as Andreas sat down, clearly wanting more information.
Miranda had dropped back into her chair across the dining table from him. She smiled shyly at him, her cheeks tinged with color. Was she embarrassed she’d allowed him to pick her up?
He winked at her and watched the color darken along her lovely cheekbones, then turned his head to meet Kayla’s eyes. “We bumped into each other.”
“More like I mowed him down in my rush to be on time.”
The twinge he felt that she was taking responsibility for the collision he had orchestrated was odd, and Basilio ignored it. “You were in a rush to get here, I believe.”
“I was late.”
She ducked her head. “Yes, well…”
“Do you make a habit of picking up women you bump into on the street?” Andreas asked, his tone cynical.
“Having dinner with a beautiful woman is never a hardship.” Basilio met the assessing green gaze steadily.
He’d spent years rebuilding his father’s company and the Perez name in business circles. Basilio had learned long ago not to allow anyone else’s opinion of him, or his actions, disconcert him.
Andreas Kostas was not the only dangerous business shark in the room.
“You didn’t answer my question.” The other man was not easily fobbed off.
Basilio didn’t mind. “I did not.”
He was going to leave it that way until he noted the uncertainty clouding Miranda’s expression. His plans required her trust.
So, he spoke to her, not the nosy Greek sitting to Basilio’s left. “I have never picked up a woman I met on the street. I did not pick you up like a lost puppy. I asked you for drinks. You suggested dinner and I was pleased to accept.”
“If that’s not the definition of a pick-up, I don’t know what is,” Kayla inserted.
But Miranda looked happier and that’s all that Basilio was worried about. She smiled at him. “I’m glad to hear that.”
“Be assured you are not one of many.” She was in fact the only woman who could give his family what they so desperately needed: peace.
Miranda let out a small gasp, but the sound that came from her brother-in-law was far more cynical.
Basilio gave him a dry look. “How do you like venture capitalism? Different from digital security?”
“You meant to run into Randi!” Kayla exclaimed. “You wanted to meet Andreas. You know who he is.”
Miranda’s head jerked and her beautiful grey eyes filled with hurt.
This was getting ridiculous. Basilio frowned at the sister. “While I applaud your concern for Miranda, please stop putting such negative thoughts into her head. I assure you, if I wanted to meet your husband to discuss a business venture, he would take my call.”
Andreas narrowed his gaze. “Don’t glower at my wife. She’s just looking out for Randi.”
“As I said, laudable, but unnecessary.”
“What does he mean, Andreas? Do you know something about Basilio?” Kayla asked.
Andreas’ jaw hardened, like he’d just realized who Basilio was. “Basilio Perez is the President of the worldwide real estate and hotel consortium known as Perez Holdings. He has fingers in more pies than Sebastian Hawk.”
“You are?” Miranda asked, looking pale.
“I am. That does not change your desire to dine with me, does it?” he teased, knowing it wouldn’t. He’d never met a woman not drawn to his power and position.
She looked like she wasn’t sure of her answer though. “I’m not in your league.”
“I’m not looking for a baseball team to dine with, just one quirky, charming woman and her very suspicious relatives.” Not that they had nothing to worry about in her regard, but their concerns were in all the wrong directions.
While Basilio dated his fair share of woman, he was by no means a womanizer. And he was not looking to use her for her family business connections.
“Oh, that’s kind of sweet,” Kayla said.
Miranda nodded. “It is.”
Andreas was still watching Basilio with suspicion, however after they ordered their food and the evening progressed, the other man thawed some. Basilio found himself actually enjoying conversation with the somewhat socially awkward Kayla, her very business savvy husband and the unexpectedly sweet Miranda.
“So, are you here looking at an acquisition?” Andreas asked at one point.
Andreas put down his glass of very good scotch after taking a sip. “That’s not something I can discuss.”
“Why not?” Miranda asked, pausing with the bite of steak she had been about to eat dangling on her fork.
“If word got out I was looking at a property, the sale price would increase immediately.”
“Because you have deep pockets?” Miranda asked, sounding like she was trying to understand.
“Exactly.” He was, in fact, looking at a property, a historic hotel that had closed down and would need extensive remodel and updates before it could be opened again.
But the property was beautiful and the bones of the hotel were strong. He hadn’t made a decision about the purchase yet though.
“So, property acquisition is your thing?” Kayla asked.
“Sometimes.” He had too much to do running Perez Holdings for him to be a full-time acquisitions manager. “I enjoy it.”
“Then maybe you can help Randi find the property for our expansion house.”
“Expansion house?” he asked, like he didn’t have all the details in his report on the family back in his hotel suite.
“I run Kayla’s for Kids.” Miranda smiled, her tone saying how much satisfaction her job gave her. “It’s a shelter for children and youth.”
“Not their parents?”
Miranda’s smile did not dim. “If their parents are around, we have services to help them, but our focus is the kids. The number of children in need of a safe place after school and homeless teenagers is greater than the facilities available to serve them.”
“And you want to help these children?” Was she looking for absolution in service after what she’d done five years before?
“I do.” Miranda’s eyes darkened to molten silver. “Children deserve the best we can give them, but just as important they are the beginning of change. If we give them hope for now, a chance to learn and grow, there’s no way of knowing how much each child will touch and influence the world in their lifetime.”
“So, it starts with giving them a place to play games after school?”
“And experience art, a place to read a book in peace, a place to be safe.” Her passion was damn near addictive.
Could he believe she was that committed to the welfare of children and her still be the woman willing to tear his own nephew’s life apart with media interest?
“You are adding on another shelter then?” he asked.
“Yes, where the rate of homeless teens is one of the highest.” She named a western suburb of Portland. “But I don’t expect you to help me find the building. I’m sure you’re way too busy.”
“On the contrary, I would be happy to help you.” Doing so would give him the excuse he required to spend time with her.
“Really?” she asked, her lovely face covered in delight.
“That’s great. I’m supposed to look at properties tomorrow.”
“Send me a list of the properties and your requirements for the shelter. I’ll vet them and see what else I can find for you.”
“Seriously? You’d do that? I’ve got a realtor working with me. She’s going to donate her commission to the shelter, but doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a budget and long term running costs.”
“Send me her name as well and I will make sure she understands your requirements, or I will find a realtor who will.”
“Oh, I don’t want you intimidating her. Like I said, she’s generously donating her commission to the shelter.”
“That donated commission could end up costing you quite a bit more in the long run.”
“I tried to tell both Kayla and Randi this.” Andreas gave both women a speaking look. “But they’re convinced that anyone willing to donate their income is as committed to the best interests of the shelter as they are.”
“Give me her name and I will make certain.”
Miranda bit her lip. “I really don’t want you scaring her.”
“You think I would?”
“Um, just sitting at dinner with you is a little intimidating. Being under your scrutiny in a business setting?” Miranda gave an exaggerated shiver. “That would be downright frightening.”
“And then some,” Kayla said with a firm nod.
Andreas looked just a little horrified at her wife’s honesty, but Basilio merely laughed, not offended in the least. He filed away the knowledge that Miranda was quite a bit more discerning than he’d given her credit for.
She might even recognize on some subconscious level that he was a danger to her. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t understand just how ruthless he really was.
No man got to where he was in the business world without being an apex predator.