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Beauty and the Bachelor

By:Naima Simone

She may be the highest bidder, but this bachelor's price is blackmail and passion …

Billionaire Lucas Oliver is hell bent on revenge. And his plan begins  when Sydney Blake-the stunning daughter of his enemy-is tricked into  bidding on Lucas at a bachelor auction. Then he serves up a little  blackmail...followed by a marriage proposal Sydney has no choice but to  accept.

Sydney has been controlled by her family her whole life. When Lucas  threatens to reveal her father's shady business, she is once again  forced to do her duty for her family. But worse-oh so much worse-is the  rush of lust that Lucas ignites in her blood.

Lucas is determined to make Sydney suffer, but it's tough when he can't  keep from touching her – or thinking about touching her – all the time.  She's not fairing much better since she's engaged to a darkly handsome  beast intent on destroying her entire family...along with her heart.


To Gary. 143.


Chapter One


During Lucas Oliver's first week as a new transfer student to the  Chicago public school system, he'd witnessed a fight between a kid who  should've been a sophomore in college, not high school, and a tall,  skinny freshman.

Well … "fight" was a bit of a misnomer.

The skinny kid, Terrance Wallace, had tried to walk away-probably  applying that "turn the other cheek" rhetoric he'd learned in Sunday  school. He'd ended up sprawled on the floor, that cheek busted.

The following year, Terrance returned to school beefed up and full of  'roid rage. The prey had suddenly become the predator, handing out the  same beatdowns he used to suffer.

Lucas had learned two valuable lessons then. Well, two and a half.

One. Get before you get got.

Two. Preparation is the key to successful revenge.

Two and a half. Steroids are some nasty shit.

Now, years later, standing in a crowded ballroom at an event hosted by  the Rhodonite Society, a philanthropic organization comprised of  Boston's wealthy elite, Lucas possessed an affinity for Terrance. True,  Lucas's own revenge plan had taken considerably more time to set in  motion than a summer of pumping weights and shooting up. Fifteen years  longer.

Still, as he hovered on the cusp of realizing his dream of retribution,  reflecting on every long, hard year felt sweet. As sweet as it must've  been for Terrance to plant his fist in the mouth of the thug who'd made  his life a living hell.

He lightly traced the thin, flattened ridge of scar tissue under his  right eye, picturing its twin that bisected his eyebrow. Bitterness  throbbed inside him like a wound unable to heal because his memories  insisted on ripping off the scab, keeping the injury fresh and angry.

Every scar. Every agony. Every humiliation. Every moment of fear-they  were all worth this moment. He watched his quarry hold court among his  peers, laughing and basking in his power, his glory, completely unaware  he was being hunted. This moment of happiness would be the man's last  before he suffered the same pain and devastation he'd so carelessly  meted out to others.

Lucas studied the face of the man who'd betrayed Lucas's family so  deeply, the scars on his face didn't compare to the ones carved into his  soul.

And smiled.

"Oh, shit, you're smiling," a voice said to his left.

He slid a sidelong glance at Aiden Kent, his business partner and best  friend since high school. Hell, his only friend. Most people called  Lucas the Beast of Bay Bridge Industries-or "cold-blooded," "bastard,"  or "son of a bitch." But not "friend."

"Since you've ignored my advice up until this point, I'm not holding out  hope you'll listen to me at this late date. But, once again, I'm going  to put it out there. I don't agree with this," Aiden stated. "Buy his  business, ruin his reputation. Those are fair game. But you should leave  his daughter out of it. She's innocent."

Lucas glanced across the room again, his gaze landing on the "she" Aiden  mentioned. Statuesque. Elegant. Hair straight as a ruler and the color  of sun-bleached wood. Skin like the richest, purest honey.

And guilty by association.

"Your concern is duly noted … again," Lucas drawled.

Aiden swore under his breath. "All this damn intrigue." He shook his  head, his eyes troubled. "There's something about you blue bloods with  your plots and schemes. Us blue-collar folk? We might not have been born  with silver spoons in our mouths or McMansions on the Gold Coast, but  at least you can immediately tell if we don't like you. A fist to the  face transcends race, religion, creed, and social and economic lines."         

     



 

"I'm not a blue blood," Lucas stated flatly, tone carefully void of emotion.

Aiden sighed. "You were born into the same world these people live in,  even though the streets of Chicago raised you as they did me. Still, the  tax bracket your parents belonged to doesn't make you any less, or  more, of a man. But what you've set in motion here"-he nodded in the  direction of the man and woman under discussion-"doesn't speak to the  person you've become. Luke, let the rage and hatred go before it eats  you alive and leaves you with nothing."

You have no idea what the hell you're talking about.

The words surged to the back of his throat, scalding the lining like  bile. But he swallowed the hot rebuke. Aiden might have been born and  raised in Chicago's rough South Side, but somehow his spirit hadn't been  sullied with a bitterness that had been embedded inside Lucas since he  lost his family at fourteen. And also underneath the unsolicited  kumbaya-why-can't-we-all-just-get-along advice, he detected Aiden's  affection and love. And worry.

"I made a promise, and I'm not going back on it. Not even for you or my highly debatable soul."

"Oh, you have a soul," his friend scoffed. "It might be a little charred  around the edges, but it's there." Aiden scrubbed a hand over the back  of his neck. "Fine. I can't talk you out of going through with it. But  just … be careful. Ever hear the saying, ‘Unforgiveness is like drinking a  poison and hoping the other person dies'?"

Lucas stared at Aiden. Blinked. "What the hell? Did you read a box of Hallmark cards before coming here tonight?"

"You know the redhead I met last week?" Aiden shrugged a shoulder. "She  was watching Dr. Phil earlier. The show was about warring in-laws, but I  thought the quote seemed appropriate for the situation."

Lucas snorted. "I remember her. What worries me is you were with a  gorgeous woman, and the only thing you could find interesting to do was  watch Dr. Phil."

"Unlike you, I know there's more to romance than sex." He clapped Lucas  on the shoulder. "I'm out. Only ten of these women will leave with a  bachelor. The others will need consolation."

"Real romantic," Lucas called after him.

With a wicked grin, Aiden walked away, and damned if several  appreciative gazes didn't follow him. The attention didn't surprise  Lucas. With his dark blond hair, green eyes, and classically handsome  features, Aiden drew women like flies to shit. Not that Lucas had ever  experienced any problem attracting women, either. Aiden was just  prettier to look at.

He slid his hands into the pockets of his tuxedo pants and returned his  attention to the older man surrounded by family, friends, and those who  wished they were friends.

Pleasure stole through him, filling him like the hearty beef-and-carrot  stew his uncle used to cook on the coldest Chicago winter nights. Thick.  Warm.

Satisfying.

Fifteen years.

It'd taken fifteen years, but finally Jason Blake would pay for everything he'd cost Lucas.

His childhood.

His legacy.

His father.





Chapter Two


"Welcome to the Rhodonite Society's tenth annual Masquerade Bachelor  Auction." The cultured voice of the mistress of ceremonies echoed  throughout the brightly lit ballroom. "We have a fabulous night planned  for you. In just a few minutes, ten of the most handsome and eligible  bachelors the city of Boston has to offer will take the stage offering  ten romantic, luxurious dates! And every penny of the proceeds will  benefit the Blake Literacy Foundation, which raises awareness of  illiteracy as well as provide programming, tutoring, and technology to  Boston's underprivileged youth. So bidders, have your checkbooks ready!"

As the MC's announcement gave way to excited chatter, Sydney Blake  worked to maintain the gracious smile ingrained in her since she was old  enough for tea parties with her dolls: a polite curve of the mouth with  the corners tipped just enough to be demure but not so much to appear  garish or bold.

A perfect lady's smile. For the perfect daughter. For the perfect fiancée.

Lie. Lie. Lie.

"I am absolutely determined to go home with a bachelor this evening. Of  course, some of us don't have to worry about snagging a handsome, rich  man. I heard congratulations are in order, Sydney." A young blonde with  the sharp, dangerous beauty of a bejeweled sword purred and air-kissed  Sydney's cheeks. "I was so delighted to hear about your engagement."

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