Two days after Christmas, in the soft pink Honolulu dawn, Josie Dalton stood alone on a deserted sidewalk and tilted her head to look up, up, up to the top of the skyscraper across the street, all the way to his penthouse in the clouds.
She exhaled. She couldn't do this. Couldn't. Marry him? Impossible.
Except she had to.
I'm not scared, Josie repeated to herself, hitching her tattered backpack higher on her shoulder. I'd marry the devil himself to save my sister.
But the truth was she'd never really thought it would come to this. She'd assumed the police would ride in and save the day. Instead, the police in Seattle, then Honolulu, had laughed in her face.
"Your older sister wagered her virginity in a poker game?" the first said incredulously. "In some kind of lovers' game?"
"Let me get this straight. Your sister's billionaire ex-boyfriend won her?" The second scowled. "I have real crimes to deal with, Miss Dalton. Get out of here before I decide to arrest you for illegal gambling."
Now, Josie shivered in the cool, wet dawn. No one was coming to save Bree. Just her.
She narrowed her eyes. Fine. She should take responsibility. She was the one who'd gotten Bree into trouble in the first place. If Josie hadn't stupidly accepted her boss's invitation to the poker game, her sister wouldn't have had to step in and save her.
Clever Bree, six years older, had been a childhood card prodigy and a con artist in her teens. But after a decade away from that dangerous life, working instead as an honest, impoverished housekeeper, her sister's card skills had become rusty. How else to explain the fact that, instead of winning, Bree had lost everything to her hated ex-boyfriend with the turn of a single card?
Vladimir Xendzov had separated the sisters, forcibly sending Josie back to the mainland on his private jet. She'd spent her last paycheck to fly back, desperate to get Bree out of his clutches. For forty-four hours now, since the dreadful night of the game, Josie had only managed to hold it together because she knew that, should everything else fail, she had one guaranteed fallback plan.
But now she actually had to fall back on the plan, it felt like falling on a sword.
Josie looked up again at the top of the skyscraper. The windows of the penthouse gleamed red, like fire, above the low-hanging clouds of Honolulu.
She'd caused her sister to lose her freedom. She would save her—by selling herself in marriage to Vladimir Xendzov's greatest enemy.
His younger brother.
The enemy ofmy enemy is my friend, she repeated to herself. And, considering the way the Xendzov brothers had tried to destroy each other for the past ten years, Kasimir Xendzov must be her new best friend. Right?
A lump rose in her throat.
I would marry the devil himself…
Slowly, Josie forced her feet off the sidewalk. Her legs wobbled as she crossed the street. She dodged a passing tour bus, flinching as it honked angrily.
There was no backing out now.
"Can I help you?" the doorman said inside the lobby, eyeing her messy ponytail, wrinkled T-shirt and cheap flip-flops.
Josie licked her dry lips. "I'm here to get married. To one of your residents."
He didn't bother to conceal his incredulity. "You? Are going to marry someone who lives here?'''
She nodded. "Kasimir Xendzov."
His jaw dropped. "You mean His Highness? The prince?" he spluttered, gesticulating wildly. "Get out of here before I call the police!"
"Look, please just call him, all right? Tell him Josie Dalton is here and I've changed my mind. My answer is now yes."
"Call him? I'll do nothing of the sort." The doorman pinched his nose with his thumb and finger. "You must be delusional…if you think you can just walk in off the street…"
Josie rummaged through her backpack.
"His Highness's presence here is secret. He is here on vacation. "
"See?" she said desperately, holding out a business card. "He gave me this three days ago. When he proposed to me. At a salad bar near Waikiki."
"Salad bar," the doorman snorted. "As if the prince would ever…" He saw the embossed seal, and snatched the card from her hand. Turning over the card, he read the hard masculine scrawl on the back: For when you change your mind. "But you're not his type," he said faintly.
"I know," Josie sighed. Twenty pounds overweight, frumpy and unstylish, she was painfully aware that she was no man's type. Fortunately Kasimir Xendzov wished to marry her for reasons that had nothing to do with love—or even lust. "Just call him, will you?"
The man reached for the phone on his desk. He dialed. Turning away, he spoke in a low voice. A few moments later, he faced Josie with an utterly bewildered expression.
"His bodyguard says you're to go straight up," he said in shock. He pointed his finger towards an elevator. "Thirty-ninth floor. And, um, congratulations, miss."
"Thank you," Josie murmured, tugging her knapsack higher on her shoulder as she turned away. She felt the doorman watching her as she crossed the elegant lobby, her flip-flops echoing against the marble floor. She numbly got on the elevator. On the thirty-ninth floor, the door opened with a ding. Cautiously, she crept out into a hallway.
"Welcome, Miss Dalton." Two large, grim-looking bodyguards were waiting for her. In a quick, professional motion, one of them frisked her as the other one rifled through her bag.
"What are you checking for?" Josie said with an awkward laugh. "You think I would bring a hand grenade? To a wedding proposal?"
The bodyguards did not return her smile. "She's clear," one of them said, and handed her back the knapsack. "Please go in, Miss Dalton."
"Um. Thanks." Looking at the imposing door, she clutched her bag against her chest. "He's in there?"
He nodded sternly. "His Highness is expecting you."
Josie swallowed hard. "Right. I mean, great. I mean…" She turned back to them. "He's a good guy, right? A good employer? He can be trusted?"
The bodyguards stared back at her, their faces impassive.
"His Highness is expecting you," the first one repeated in an expressionless voice. "Please go in."
"Okay." You robot, she added silently, irritated.
Whatever. She didn't need reassurance. She'd just listen to her intuition. To her heart.
Which meant Josie was really in trouble. There was a reason her dying father had left her a large parcel of Alaskan land in an unbreakable trust, which she could not receive until she was either twenty-five—three years from now—or married. Even when she was a child, Black Jack Dalton had known his naive, trusting younger daughter needed all the help she could get. To say she could be naive about people was an understatement.
But it's a good quality, Bree had told her sadly two days ago. I wish I had more of it.
Bree. Josie could only imagine what her older sister was going through right now, as a prisoner of that other billionaire tycoon, Kasimir Xendzov's brother. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.
"For Bree," she whispered, and flung open the penthouse door.
The lavish foyer was empty. Stepping nervously across the marble floor, hearing the echo of her steps, she looked up at a soaring chandelier illuminating the sweeping staircase. This penthouse was like a mansion in the sky, she thought in awe.
Josie's lips parted when she saw the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Crossing the foyer to the great room, she looked out at the twinkling lights of the still-dark city, and beyond that, pink and orange sunrise sparkling across the Pacific Ocean.
"So…you changed your mind."
His low, masculine purr came from behind her. She stiffened then, bracing herself, slowly turned around.
Prince Kasimir Xendzov's incredible good looks still hit her like a fierce blow. He was even more impossibly handsome than she remembered. He was tall, around six foot three, with broad shoulders and a hard-muscled body. His blue eyes were electric against tanned skin and dark hair. The expensive cut of his dark suit and tie, and the gleaming leather of his black shoes spoke of money—while the ruthlessness in his eyes and chiseled jawline screamed power.
In spite of her efforts, Josie was briefly thunderstruck.
Normally, she had no problems talking to people. As far as she was concerned, there was no such thing as a stranger. But Kasimir left her tongue-tied. No man this handsome had ever paid her the slightest notice. In fact, she wasn't sure there was any other man on earth with Kasimir's breathtaking masculine beauty. Looking into his darkly handsome face, she almost forgot to breathe.
"The last time I saw you, you said you'd never marry me." Kasimir slowly looked her over, from her flip-flops to her jeans and T-shirt. "For any price."
Josie's cheeks turned pink. "Maybe I was a bit hasty," she stammered.
"You threw your drink in my face."
"It was an accident!" she protested.
He lifted an incredulous dark eyebrow. "You jumped up and ran out of the restaurant."
"You just surprised me!" Three nights ago, on Christmas Eve, Kasimir had called her at the Hale Ka'nani Hotel, where she was working as a housekeeper. "My sister told me to never talk to you," she'd blurted out when he introduced himself. "I'm hanging up."
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Text Copyright © 2013 by Jennie Lucas • Cover Art Copyright © 2012 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
"A REPUTATION FOR REVENGE (4) by Jennie Lucas: Russian Prince Kasimir Xendov is determined to marry Josie Dalton — for all the wrong reasons. Josie's always been taken care of by her big sister, so when it's Josie's fault that her sister is in harm's way, she would marry the devil to save her. And she just may have — especially since Kasimir is using her to get the revenge he's planned for 10 long years. Can love heal a marriage built on lies and deceit? Set amidst a beautiful backdrop of sea, sand and snow, Lucas' tale of payback is a dramatic success, with a smoothly flowing narrative and love scenes hotter than the Sahara. "
- RT BookReviews, 4 Stars (posted February 2013)