Virgin's Sweet Rebellion

By: Kate Hewitt

PROLOGUE

  ‘YOU KNEW.’ BEN CHATSFIELD stared at his brother Spencer and tried to suppress the sudden surge of rage that threatened to overwhelm him. His hands clenched into fists at his sides and words—angry, bitter words—bubbled to his lips. He swallowed them down. He swallowed it all down, as he always had, and gave a wry quirk of a smile, as if Spencer’s revelation was nothing more than amusing. ‘So. How long have you known?’

  ‘That I was illegitimate?’ Spencer’s mouth tightened and he gave a little shrug. ‘Five years. Since my twenty-ninth birthday.’

  Five years. Ben blinked as he tried to take that in. For the past five years he’d been estranged from his brother, from his whole family, and for what?

  For nothing apparently.

  ‘It’s a nice place you’ve got here,’ Spencer offered, and Ben didn’t answer. Spencer gazed round the relaxed yet elegant dining room of Ben’s flagship bistro in Nice, where he’d shown up out of the blue, walking through the tinted glass doors, his sunglasses slid onto his forehead, as if he were for all the world just another tourist.

  Not Ben’s older brother, the leader of their Three Musketeers, once adored, always missed. When Ben had rounded the corner from the kitchen and come to a standstill, Spencer had smiled easily, as if they’d seen each other last week instead of fourteen years ago.

  ‘Hey, Ben,’ he’d said, and somehow Ben had found his voice and answered back, his voice clipped.

  ‘Spencer.’

  And now his brother was telling him that he’d known for five years the secret Ben had discovered when he was just eighteen years old, the secret that had broken his heart and forced him to leave home, severing all ties with his family. The secret that had cost him so much, maybe even his own soul, and still Spencer just smiled.

  ‘It’s old history now, Ben,’ he said, and Ben could tell Spencer was trying to be conciliatory. Five years too late. ‘Water under the bridge. I always knew there was something that made Michael treat me differently from you and James, and I’m just glad I finally found out it was because he always knew I wasn’t his biological son. I’ve made peace with that.’

  ‘Glad you have,’ Ben answered. He kept his voice even despite the tangle of emotion that had lodged in his chest: regret and guilt, sorrow and happiness at seeing his beloved brother again, but one trumped all the others. Anger.

  The old anger still burned red-hot, a molten river inside him, boiling over everything. So Spencer thought he could just stroll back into Ben’s life as if he’d never left. No apologies, no explanations, just a waving aside of fourteen years.

  ‘What are you doing here, Spencer?’ Ben asked, and his brother raised his eyebrows, looking slightly startled at Ben’s flat tone, the blunt question.

  ‘Aren’t you glad? It’s been a long time, Ben...’

  ‘You’ve known where I’ve been.’

  ‘You’ve known where I’ve been,’ Spencer countered. and Ben stared at him evenly.

  ‘I didn’t know that you knew the truth.’

  ‘Would that have made a difference?’ Spencer asked, his eyes narrowing, and Ben flicked his gaze away.

  ‘Maybe.’ Would he have come back into the Chatsfield fold if he’d known Spencer knew about his bastard birth? Hard to say. He didn’t have a lot of happy memories of being a Chatsfield. ‘So you haven’t actually answered the question,’ he told Spencer. ‘What are you doing here?’

  Because he was realising, with another white-hot shaft of anger, that Spencer had only come looking for him because he wanted something from him.

  ‘I decided it was time to reunite the Three Musketeers,’ Spencer said. ‘James is in Nice too, just for the weekend, and he wants to see you. We can finally all be together again, Ben, for the good of The Chatsfield.’

  The Chatsfield. The hotel empire that his father had lived for, that would have been Spencer’s legacy if he hadn’t been illegitimate. Except, of course, it was his legacy, because their uncle Gene had agreed to let Spencer step up as CEO after their cousin Lucilla had resigned. Ben had heard that much through the news at least. He tried not to read anything about The Chatsfield, but bits of news still reached him.

  And now it seemed Spencer wanted Ben to work for the good of The Chatsfield. Fall in with his plans as if half of their lives hadn’t been spent apart.

  ‘You don’t care about reuniting the Three Musketeers,’ he told his brother, a sneer entering his voice. ‘Give me a break, Spencer. What you really want is for me to do something for you. For The Chatsfield. Don’t you?’

  Spencer drew back, surprised and perhaps affronted. I’m not the brother he remembers, Ben thought. The puppyish, eager to please brother who had tried to make everyone so damn happy, and had always failed. Failed spectacularly. He was done with that, done with pleasing other people for no real purpose. And he wasn’t about to work for Spencer or The Chatsfield.

  ‘I’m a little busy already, as you can see,’ he told Spencer, lightening his words with another wry smile. Joking was his default, the better and easier option than what he really felt like doing, which was punching something, maybe even Spencer.

  ‘I know, I know, you’ve done a great job here,’ Spencer said quickly. ‘I heard you were awarded a Michelin star. Congratulations. How many restaurants do you have now?’

  ‘Seven.’

  ‘Amazing.’

  Ben said nothing. He could feel his jaw bunch, his teeth grit. He didn’t need Spencer’s patronising praise.

  ‘The thing is, you might have heard about the deal with The Harrington in the news...’

  ‘That it didn’t go through? Yeah, I might have heard that.’ The two hotel empires had been all over the news lately, what with all the conflict over The Chatsfield’s proposed buying out of The Harrington, and then his brother James’s engagement to Leila, the princess of Surhaadi. James had proposed to Leila in front of The Chatsfield’s hotel in New York, after first taking out a billboard in Times Square declaring his love for her. The whole thing had become the kind of media circus Ben hated, but the public had lapped it up and The Chatsfield’s popularity had soared.

  ‘The Harringtons are going to have to come around at some point,’ Ben told Spencer, his tone dismissive. ‘They don’t have as big an operation as The Chatsfield. They don’t have the resources to withstand you.’

  ‘The negotiations are going to be delicate,’ Spencer answered. ‘I have some of the shareholders on board, but not all of them. Yet.’

  Ben shrugged. He didn’t care about either of the hotels, not any more.

  ‘Look,’ Spencer said. “I need to be on-site, in New York and London, dealing with this buyout. It’s at a critical stage just now, and I’ve got to be there.’

  ‘So be there.’

  ‘And I’m meant to be in Berlin starting next week, overseeing the hotel during the Berlinale.’

  ‘The what?’

  ‘The film festival.’ Ben just stared, nonplussed, and Spencer continued. ‘Most of the Hollywood types stay at The Chatsfield for the festival. It’s an important time for the hotel, and for the company as a whole.’

  ‘I’m not sure why you’re telling me all this,’ Ben told him, even though he was starting to have a suspicion.

  ‘I need someone on-site,’ Spencer explained. ‘A Chatsfield.’

  And he was a Chatsfield. ‘So you expect me to drop my own business, my whole life, and head over to Berlin to help you out?’ Ben filled in, his voice dripping disbelief. ‘And all this after fourteen years of silence?’

  Spencer’s eyes flashed with sudden temper. ‘You’re the one who left, Ben.’

  Ben nearly took a swing then. He felt his hands bunch into fists and his heart start to race. The desire to hit Spencer felt almost overwhelming, but he choked it down, as he always did. Once his anger had left a man nearly dead. Now he forced himself to breathe evenly, to relax his clenched fists.

  ‘So I did. And I’m not coming back for you or your hotel, Spencer.’

  Spencer’s gaze flicked over him. ‘You’ve changed,’ he said quietly.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘But you’re still my brother, Ben,’ Spencer continued with a small, sad smile. ‘And I’m still yours. Maybe I should have got in touch before now. Hell, I know I should have. But you could have too. We’re both to blame, aren’t we?’

  The old Ben would have tripped over himself to accept the blame, to apologise, to make it right. To do whatever it took to make Spencer happy, his whole family dancing a damned jig. This Ben, the man who had had fourteen years of work-focused isolation and suppressed bitterness and rage, just shrugged.

  ‘Please,’ Spencer said. He tilted his head to one side, gave Ben the whimsical, lopsided smile he remembered so well from their childhood, a smile that felt as if it catapulted him back in time, back to the boy he’d once been. ‘I need you, Ben.’

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