Mason Foxx stood at the eighty-foot-long champagne bar, carved out of a single piece of mahogany, and nursed a lukewarm glass of 1959 Dom Perignon. He gazed at the guests making pointless small talk and gorging themselves on the free cordon bleu canapés in the cavernous warehouse space below, decked out in fake greenery to launch a male fragrance which smelled like mould, in his humble opinion.
The former power station on the South Bank of the River Thames had been gutted and rehabbed a few years ago, and eventually converted into this stunning entertainment venue.
His lips quirked in wry amusement. Funny to think this ultra-modern, minimalist palace of steel and concrete was within spitting distance of the hole where he’d grown up.
He rubbed his thumb over the scar on his eyebrow—a habitual gesture which reminded him of his childhood, and how hard he’d fought to ensure he never ended up back in that hole again.
His smile became tinged with contempt.
Not one of these pampered narcissists knew what it was like to fight for every single thing you needed to survive. Then again, the hotel empire he had worked his backside off to create came with social commitments like this one, which were nowhere near as much of an adrenaline rush as living by your wits on the mean streets of Bermondsey. Truth was, he’d almost rather be getting a kicking at The Dog and Duck—where fortunes had changed hands faster than the packets of little pills with smiley faces on—than sipping overpriced bubbles, bored out of his skull.
Of course, The Dog and Duck had been bulldozed ten years ago, and Bermondsey was now as gentrified as the rest of Southwark, while the villains he’d been terrified of as a boy were all banged up or dead. But at least those criminals had personality, unlike the array of dull, talentless nepo babies, corporate suits and limelight hoggers who turned up at these events like clockwork.
He placed the fancy flute on the bar. Time to head back to the empty penthouse suite he kept at The Foxx Grand in Belgravia, or his equally soulless loft apartment at Foxx Suites overlooking Tower Bridge, if he was getting sentimental about the bad old days—and the villains who had once made his life a misery.
‘Would you like a fresh glass, sir?’ the eager-to-please young barman asked.
‘No, thanks, mate, I’m driving. And don’t call me sir,’ he replied.
The kid blushed and let out a forced laugh. But then the barman’s eyes widened as he caught sight of something over Mason’s left shoulder.
‘Wow,’ the boy murmured, his expression awestruck. ‘She’s even more stunning in the flesh.’
Mason turned, expecting to be underwhelmed by whoever the kid was staring at.
He’d dated his fair share of stunning women, and in his experience looks were overrated—because they often came with zero personality. But then he spotted her too.
His mind blanked and his heartbeat slowed—then ramped up to about five thousand beats per second. Stunning didn’t even begin to cover it.
In a fragile, floaty sky-blue gown which clung to her subtle curves and sparkled in the million and one fairy lights which lit the warehouse’s exclusive balcony bar, the girl had the sort of regal beauty guys a lot classier than he was would once have written sonnets about.
He wondered if her skin could be as soft and luscious as it appeared.
The urge to plunge his fingers into the blonde curls perched on top of her head in an expertly constructed hairdo kicked him in the gut.
What the hell?
He shoved his fists into his trousers pockets. He might be more than happy to indulge his baser instincts, but even he had never wanted a woman with this much intensity at first sight. He didn’t like it, because it reminded him of the feral kid he’d once been—always on the outside looking in at other people’s perfect lives.
Her gaze coasted towards him, almost as if she could sense him watching her from the other side of the bar. And he got an eyeful of her delicate, perfectly symmetrical features.
Her face was as striking as the rest of her. Her bone structure was like a work of art while the smoky gunk around her eyes made them look huge… And strangely guileless.
Which had to be an act. No woman who carried herself with such effortless sensuality would be unaware of the challenge her I’m-too-perfect-to-touch appearance would present to every heterosexual bloke in the place.
Her tongue flicked out to moisten her lips in a nervous gesture which would have been endearing if it weren’t so hot.
It had the desired effect though, directing his voracious gaze to her mouth. Her plump, dewy lips glistened, and looked so kissable his throat became drier than the Gobi Desert.
He swallowed and sucked in a breath, annoyed to realise the rush of blood draining below his belt was making him lightheaded. But despite his disintegrating brain power, or maybe because of it, he could not stop staring.
But then those big doe eyes widened as her gaze finally connected with his, and she jolted.
What was that about? However goddess-like she appeared, surely she couldn’t read his filthy mind from twenty paces? Before he could decide how to react—still spellbound by her artless beauty—she turned and disappeared.
For several heartbeats he stood like a dummy, staring at the place where she’d been, trying to figure out if she had been real—or a figment of his sex-starved imagination. He hadn’t dated for over a month, after all. Not since Della had started making noises about moving in with him.
‘Wow,’ the barman whispered. ‘Why do they call her the Ice Queen when she’s so hot?’
‘Who is she?’ Mason demanded, wishing for once he took an interest in celebrity gossip.
‘Th…That’s Beatrice Medford,’ the guy stuttered. ‘Lord Henry Medford’s daughter.’
Medford’s daughter? Seriously? He knew Medford, in passing. He’d met the guy a couple of times at the exclusive Mayfair club Mason had joined a few years back, mostly just to piss off the posh nobs who hung out there. The man was a pompous ass who had inherited a fortune and then lost most of it… Because he wouldn’t know a good investment if it sucker-punched him in the gut.
How could a woman that stunning have come from Medford’s inbred gene pool?
‘She’s also Jack Wolfe’s sister-in-law,’ the barman supplied. ‘They were engaged a few years ago, but he ended up marrying her older sister, Katherine, of Cariad Cakes. It was all over the tabloids,’ the barman finished, falling over himself to answer Mason’s question.
Mason stared some more at the empty spot across the bar.
Wolfe. He knew Jack Wolfe a lot better than Medford. They came from similar working class backgrounds. And, like Mason, Wolfe was smart and ambitious and a ruthless businessman. Or at least he had been, until he’d got married and had a kid, and softened right up.
He’d met Wolfe’s wife too. And while the woman had an earthy, voluptuous, force of nature kind of beauty, which had obviously enslaved Wolfe, Mason would not have put Katherine Wolfe in the same gene pool as the goddess he’d just stripped naked with his thoughts either.
‘Is that right?’ he said to the barman, with an insouciance he didn’t feel. Desire was still pumping through him in a way he hadn’t felt in far too long. Maybe right back to when he’d been a teenager and had craved the kind of human contact he’d only ever found in sex.
The thought made him uneasy.
So, the goddess was a daughter of the aristocracy. If she were priceless antique porcelain, that would make him the knock-off kitchenware you could buy in bulk at any South London street market.
It figured. That had to be where the regal grace came from—wealth, privilege and a sense of superiority he had always found a pain in the arse.
Then again, it had been a long time since he’d enjoyed the thrill of the chase and maybe knocking a princess off her pedestal would salvage this evening’s entertainment.
Strolling over to the balcony, he searched the crowd. He spotted her instantly, her blonde hair like a beacon.
The warehouse lights dimmed and a world-famous DJ opened his set from a stage at the far end of the cavernous space.
Mason headed down the winding metal staircase leading to the dancefloor, already full of people moving to the beat. The music pulsed, while multi-coloured lasers slashed through plumes of artificial smoke, ramping up the throb of anticipation in his gut.
Of course, it was doubtful he’d still want Medford’s untouchable daughter after having a conversation with her—given his low tolerance for snooty society princesses—but there was only one way to find out.
He spotted the blonde chignon taking the stairs opposite him. Was she heading for the exit? So soon?
Not so fast, love…
Who was that guy? Looking at me as if he wanted to gobble me up in a few greedy bites…
Beatrice Medford lifted the hem of her designer gown and shot up the stairs towards the first-floor balcony.
She really ought to be outraged. Bar Guy’s gaze had roamed over her body with an insolent entitlement she’d never encountered before. Men usually gazed at her with awe, or adoration. Because all they ever saw was the sheen of class, the shield of respectability, the sexless and untouchable grace which was all part of the façade her father had created.
But she hadn’t been outraged at all—if she were being entirely honest with herself, what she’d actually been was…well, turned on.
Which was seriously weird for two reasons: she didn’t get turned on by male attention. Because she got enough of it to know it had no real connection to who she was inside. And also because she had no desire to even be here, wearing this far too revealing dress and uncomfortable five-inch heels, simply because her father had demanded it of her.
She shouldn’t have let him bully her into ‘being seen’ at tonight’s event. Because she knew exactly what his decision to hire her a stylist and a designer gown at vast expense and demand she come to the Cascade Scent launch was really all about. It was just another of Henry Medford’s increasingly desperate attempts to shore up his flagging finances by hooking his daughter up with the nearest eligible billionaire.
This afternoon, in his study, he’d even given her a shortlist of men he thought it would be suitable for her to ‘engage with’ tonight—his cold, assessing glare raking over her with a chilling mix of calculation and contempt. If that hadn’t been enough of a wake-up call to his demeaning intentions, his preposterous list had included a three times divorced investment banker who was older than he was, and a boutique hotel magnate who’d dragged himself out of a notorious South London council estate and was well known for dating and dumping beautiful women with the same ruthless efficiency he’d acquired his property portfolio,
Gee, thanks, Daddy, why not tell me you’re pimping me out without telling me you’re pimping me out?
She sighed as she reached one of the venue’s many secret bars and gazed at the throng of gyrating bodies blocking her route to the exit.
She should have told her father to take a hike this time. The way her sister Katie had been suggesting she do for years. Instead of allowing herself to be parcelled up like a mannequin in shoes that made her arches ache and a practically transparent dress and deposited at an event where she would rather fade into the high-end furnishings than ‘engage with’ one of the men her father had suggested, who were no doubt just like him.
As if one unconscionable overbearing bastard in her life wasn’t enough!
She’d been terrified of her father once… Back when she was twelve years old and she’d watched him rant and rave and kick her sixteen-year-old sister out of the house. It still disgusted Bea that she had done not one thing to help Katie, because she’d been too busy cowering in a corner with her hands over her ears, pretending to be invisible.
But she’d discovered in the past few years, ever since she’d asked Katie to dump the fiancé her father had lined up for her—because Bea had been completely overwhelmed by Jack Wolfe’s forceful personality—and then watched her brilliant, beautiful and entirely independent sister make a life with Wolfe instead, it was past time she got a life of her own.
Which meant no longer kowtowing to her father’s agenda—or relying on his money.
She wasn’t terrified of him any more—and she had options now. She’d spent the last two years, on the afternoons she was supposed to be at the beauticians or the gym or ‘lunching’ with the ‘friends’ she had never really liked from her finishing school in Lausanne, attending classes which Katie had paid for. She had a natural ability for learning languages, her ear attuned to the nuances of pronunciation, her mind fascinated by the intricacies of grammar and verb constructions. And she hoped one day to make a career out of her skill. Although she hadn’t quite figured out how yet.
Katie, of course, had also offered her a place to stay with her and Jack and their toddler son, Luca, at their home in Mayfair. But there was only so much of Katie’s charity Bea could accept without destroying what was left of her pride.
Unfortunately, knowing she had no intention of attracting the nearest billionaire so he could shore up her father’s ailing finances tonight was a lot easier than saying no to him…
She would find a way out from under her father’s influence eventually, she told herself staunchly. But she had to do it under her own steam. Unfortunately, planning and thinking and then overthinking her options was one of Bea’s super powers. Taking direct action, not so much.
She edged through the bar full of ravers getting into the groove on the throbbing retro disco beat.
Case in point: she’d totally convinced herself, while sitting in her father’s leased car being driven to this event, that she would seduce the first unsuitable guy she met to show her father her love life was not his concern and manipulating it not a sound investment strategy. But as soon as Bar Guy had managed to kick-start a sex drive she didn’t even know she had with one searing I-want-to-see-you-naked look, she’d totally lost her nerve.
Fabulous. So much for Bea the man-killer! More like Bea the virgin prevaricator.
No wonder her father thought her love life was still his to control, when she’d never had a proper boyfriend, except Jack Wolfe—and she hadn’t even had the guts or the inclination to sleep with him before she’d got Katie to ditch him by proxy.
It would actually be mortifying she was still a virgin at twenty-two, still living at home and still relying on her father to support her—because learning five different languages without finding a way to make a living from them didn’t count—if it weren’t so pathetic.
She reached the other side of the bar and entered another long corridor.
Why had Bar Guy’s searingly hot look had her flight instinct kicking in this time?
Because his attention had seemed different from other men she’d dated?
He was very handsome, in a rough, rugged sort of way, his tall, muscular frame perfectly displayed in the expertly tailored designer suit as he dominated the bar. But it was the dark knowledge in his gaze which had disturbed her the most—burning over every inch of exposed skin and making her pulse points pound in unison with her accelerating heartrate.
That hot look had been so exhilarating and its effect on her so surprising—because wow, she actually had a libido. But then his attention had become too exhilarating, and felt like far too…much.
She slowed her pace, still breathless but more than a little annoyed now with her latest display of total capitulation.
Bar Guy hadn’t approached her. He hadn’t really even acknowledged her. All he’d done was look.
So why are you running away from him, exactly?
Was this just another instance of her failure to stand her ground? And engage with life.
She gathered some deep breaths into her burning lungs to calm the sensations pulsing in her abdomen when a figure appeared at the end of the corridor.
Her heartbeat jumped, then shot to warp speed as he walked towards her.
Had he followed her?
‘Hello there, Beatrice,’ he murmured, the rumble of amusement almost as disturbing as the sensations now throbbing in time with the base beat from below. ‘What’s the hurry?’