Claimed: The Pregnant Heiress

By: Day Leclaire

One




She was here.

Chase stood in the shadows of the portico just outside the banquet room of the Vista del Mar Beach and Tennis Club. The room glittered and sparkled with both people and jewelry, the people in full cocktail-party mode, the jewelry, too, he supposed. Dead center in the middle of all that glitter and sparkle stood Emma, the woman he’d spent a single incredible night romancing, seducing…and then losing.

While dance music played in the background, voices rose and fell, determined laughter taking the edge off the rocky undercurrents that flowed around the room. Ostensibly the cocktail party celebrated the impending sale of Worth Industries to Chase’s stepbrother and closest friend, Rafe Cameron. But old grudges and past secrets stirred restlessly beneath the surface. As his brother’s money manager and one of those involved in negotiating the purchase of Worth, tonight marked the start of a rough and treacherous passage.

Chase studied Emma while he sipped a thirty-year-old Laphroaig that his brother had stashed for those not interested in the free-flowing champagne. The single-malt Scotch whiskey went down as smooth as silk. Almost as smooth as Emma’s skin. She had a good portion of that skin on display, the pearl-gray silk dress she wore clinging to curves he’d do just about anything to uncover once again.

Her dress appeared vaguely Grecian in style, one shoulder bared while the silk draped from the other shoulder across her breasts. It hitched in a clever knot on her hip before flowing to just beneath the knee. Continuing with the Grecian theme, she wore toothpick-heeled sandals with straps that wrapped around narrow ankles and trim calves. With her ice-blond hair swept into an elegant chignon, she looked like a goddess. Like a player.

His eyes narrowed. Which begged the question…what the hell was she doing here? Since the guests were all connected in one way or another to either Cameron Enterprises or Worth Industries, she was, too. Either that, or she was the “plus one” gilded on to a guest’s invitation.

Maybe he’d wander over and find out. And maybe while he was finding out, he’d ask her why the hell she disappeared the way she had, leaving him ripping apart all of New York City in a fruitless search for the mysterious Emma With No Last Name. Before he could, Ronald Worth, soon-to-be ex-owner of Worth Industries, joined Emma and placed a proprietary hand on her bare shoulder.

Chase straightened, his mouth settling into a grim line. No way. Surely she wasn’t the arm candy of Rafe’s nemesis. Oh, hell, no. She couldn’t possibly be sharing a bed with that sixtysomething-year-old bastard. But based on the way good ol’ Ron lowered his head and whispered a loving comment in her ear and the affectionate manner in which she leaned into him and kissed his cheek, that was precisely what she was. Son of a—

“Don’t even think about it.”

Chase glanced over his shoulder at the sound of Rafe’s voice, his pale blond hair giving away his location in the darkness. “What?”

“The Princess. I see you staring at her, and I’m telling you. Don’t even think about it. That one will eat you up and spit you out just for the sheer pleasure of it.”

Chase fell silent, a tactic he’d learned during those rough, early years when he’d gone to live with his father. He turned to face his stepbrother, careful to conceal the anger surging through him. “You know her?” he asked mildly enough.

“Emma Worth, aka Spawn of Satan.”

Chase lifted an eyebrow, relief replacing his anger. So she wasn’t Ronald Worth’s mistress, but his daughter. “I gather Worth is cast in the role of Satan?”

Rafe’s grin lacked even a shred of humor. “What can I say? It comes naturally to him.”

“And the daughter? What do you know about her?” Since Chase didn’t want his brother to think he had a personal interest, he added, “Is she a factor in the sale?”

“She better not be a factor or she’ll find herself moved out of the way by whatever means necessary,” Rafe responded with characteristic ruthlessness. “But I don’t think she’ll be a player in any of this. She’s shallow. Overindulged. Pure useless fluff.”

“A party girl?”

Rafe hesitated. “A little lower profile than that. You don’t see her plastered across the scandal sheets. More of a private party girl.”

Chase turned and studied Emma once again while he considered this latest information. A private party girl. That fit with his experience, even though he hadn’t picked up on the cues when they’d been together. Nor had she come off as shallow. But considering they’d only spent one night together, what the hell did he know?

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