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Bought: One Bride

By:Miranda Lee

Bought: One Bride
Miranda Lee

       PROLOGUE





THE lift purred its way up to the penthouse floor, coming to a quiet  halt before the door slid smoothly open, revealing a marble-floored  foyer underfoot, and a breathtaking view straight ahead. Sydney Harbour  on a clear summer's day was always a sight to behold, with its sparkling  blue water and picturesque surrounds, but more so from this height and  this vantage point.

Richard shook his head as he walked from the lift towards the huge  plate-glass window, his expression wry as he glanced over his shoulder  at Reece, who'd hung back a little.

"I can see why you've had no trouble selling these apartments," he  remarked to his friend and business colleague. "I've never seen a finer  view."

Reece's handsome face showed satisfaction as he came forward to stand at  Richard's shoulder. "I always abide by that famous old real estate  saying. Position. Position. Position. Aside from being north-facing with  a great view of the bridge, this point at East Balmain is just a short  ferry ride from Sydney's Central Business District, and an even shorter  ride across to Darling Harbour."

"It's certainly a top spot, especially being near to the CBD. Which is  just as well," Richard added. "There were mutterings at the bank all  last year that I'd used their money to back one too many of your  projects. My new position as CEO could have been on the line if this had  proved to be one big white elephant. The board were seriously worried  when you wouldn't allow investors to buy off the plan."

Reece smiled. "Aah, but these apartments weren't directed at investors.  They were designed so that people would fall in love with at least one  of them and want to live here. As well as devoting two floors to a  private gym, pool, sauna and squash courts, I had each apartment  individually decorated and furnished, right down to the sheets, towels  and accessories. It added between one and two hundred thousand to the  cost of each apartment, but it's proved to be a most successful selling  tool."

Richard winced. Up to two hundred thousand, spent decorating each apartment. Good God.

"I'm glad you didn't tell me that earlier. The old fogies at the bank  would have had a pink fit. I might have too," he added with a dry laugh.  There were factions at the bank who didn't approve of Richard's  promotion last year. A couple of the senior executives thought he was  too young at thirty-eight to run a multibillion-dollar financial  institution.

"That's why I didn't tell you till now," Reece said with a wry grin. "I  know when to keep a secret. But you've had the last laugh, dear friend,"  he said, clapping Richard on the shoulder. "The building's only been  open since last October and we already have a ninety-five per cent  occupancy rate. Three short months, and there's only one penthouse left  empty, along with a few apartments on the lower floors."

"What's wrong with the penthouse you haven't sold?" Richard asked. "Too expensive? Wrong colour scheme?"

"Nope. It's not on the market."

"Aah. The developer has claimed it for himself."

Reece's blue eyes twinkled. "Come on. I'll show it to you."

"I can understand now why you've kept this one," Richard said ten minutes later.

It was nothing like other city penthouses Richard had seen during his  lifetime. And he'd seen quite a few. This was like a house up in the  sky. A beach house, complete with garden beds, a lap pool and wide,  cream-tiled terraces where you could stretch out and enjoy the view and  soak up the sun.

Inside, the décor continued the promise of a relaxed, sun-filled  lifestyle, with the same cream tiles on the floors throughout. The walls  were painted either cream or a warm buttery colour. Most of the  furniture was made of natural cane, with soft furnishings in various  shades of blue. Rugs in blues and yellows gave warmth to the tiled  floors.

No curtains or blinds blocked the view, though the glass doors and  windows were tinted to reduce any glare. Naturally, the interior was  fully air-conditioned and Reece proudly announced there was heating  under the floor tiles to warm the place in the winter. Every room had a  view and sliding glass doors that led out onto the terraces. A high  cement wall separated the two top-floor penthouses, providing privacy  and a courtyard effect to house the lap pool.

When Richard walked into the spacious master bedroom with its  luxuriously large bed and built-in television screen in the wall  opposite, a feeling of sheer envy consumed him.

He'd always admired Reece for his tenacity and resilience, admired how  he'd picked himself up both professionally and personally a few years  back and worked his way back from the brink of bankruptcy to his current  position as the golden boy of Sydney's property development business.                       
       
           



       

But he had never, ever envied him.

Till now.

Suddenly, Richard wanted this penthouse. Wanted to live in it. Wanted to  come home to it every night, instead of the cold, soulless apartment  he'd occupied since his wife's death eighteen months ago. He even wanted  to share it with someone, which was a surprise as well. Up till this  moment, the thought of sharing his life-and his bed-with another woman  had been anathema to him. He'd been in total emotional shutdown since  he'd buried Joanna. Total sexual shutdown as well.

No wonder he'd been capable of putting in twenty-four-hour days at the  bank. His male hormones had to be directed somewhere. It seemed,  however, that his male hormones were about to emerge from their  cryogenic state, for when Richard looked at the king-sized bed in front  of his eyes, he didn't envisage sleeping in it alone.

His flesh actually stirred with the mental image of himself making love  to a woman on top of that blue satin quilt. No one he already knew. An  attractive stranger. Brunette. Soft-eyed. Full-breasted. And very  willing.

His flesh stirred even further.

"You really like this place, don't you?" Reece said.

Richard laughed. "I didn't think I was that obvious. But, yes, I really do. Would you consider selling it to me?"

"Nope."

Frustration flared within Richard, alongside another surge of  testosterone. "Damn it, Reece, you already own a mansion on the water  just around the corner. What do you want this place for?"

"To give to you."

"What?" Richard's eyebrows shot ceiling-wards.

Reece smiled that disarming, charming smile of his. "Here are the keys, my friend. It's yours."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Richard exclaimed, though his heart was hammering  inside his chest. "I can't let you do that. Hell, this place has to be  worth a small fortune."

"Five point four million the other penthouse sold for, to be precise.  But this one is bigger and better. Here." And he pressed the keys into  Richard's right hand.

"No, no. You have to let me pay for it!"

"Absolutely not. It's all yours, in appreciation. You were there for me,  Rich, when no one else was. And I'm not just talking about the money.  You gave me your hand in friendship. And you had faith in my judgement.  That's worth more than all the money in the world."

Richard didn't know what to say. Only twice in his banking career had he  made personal friends of men he'd lent money to. It was generally  advised against. But he'd never had any cause to regret either decision.

Reece, of course, was always a hard man to say no to, and impossible not to like.

Mike had been a different kettle of fish entirely. As dark in looks and  personality as Reece was light and bright, the young computer genius had  come to the bank several years ago for backing to start his own  software company. A one-time juvenile delinquent who had a permanent  chip on his shoulder, Mike had no ability to sell himself at all.

But he was creatively brilliant, cripplingly honest and unashamedly  ambitious. Richard had been so impressed, he'd invested his own money  into Mike's company as well as the bank's.

Over time, Richard had found himself really liking Mike as well, despite  his gruff manner. He'd persuaded Mike to go along to one of Reece's  famous parties and the three of them had soon become close friends.

Nowadays, Richard counted Reece and Mike as his best and only true  friends. Other male colleagues in his life pretended friendship, but  Richard knew that they had knives ready behind his back, to be used if  he gave them a chance.

"You have no idea how much this means to me," Richard said, his hand  closing tightly around the keys. "But to accept a luxury penthouse as a  gift-especially this one-would put me in an impossible position at the  bank. My enemies would have a field day. There'd be all sorts of rumours  about corruption and paybacks and Lord knows what else. You must let me  pay for it."

"You and that bloody bank and those pompous pricks you work with!"

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