The Billionaire's Contract Marriage (ebook)
The Billionaire's Contract Marriage (ebook)
Sebastian Richmond returns to England to take over the estate he’s inherited after his father dies, only to find his tyrannical father has played one last trick on him—he has to marry to inherit. And not just anyone. He has to marry the daughter of his father’s mistress. With a heart hardened by his cruel upbringing, Sebastian never had any intention of marrying. But now, it seems, he has no choice.
Indra Anand was seventeen when her mother became Charles Richmond’s mistress. Indra grew to love her step-father who doted on both her and her mother. He taught her how to manage the estate but she’d never imagined she’d inherit it. And she certainly never imagined he would be so cruel as to insist on marriage to the infamous Sebastian—his ruthless eldest son.
But Sebastian will do whatever it takes to inherit the estate which had belonged to his beloved mother’s family. Besides, marriages don't last forever—do they?
The Billionaire's Contract Marriage is the first book in Diana's British Billionaires series:
- The Billionaire's Contract Marriage (Sebastian)
- The Billionaire's Impossible CEO (Alexander)
- The Billionaire's Secret Baby (Harrison)
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Indra glanced at the flash cars parked outside the stone portico of Richmond Manor and urged her horse to a trot. She had to get away. Away from the strangers who were walking through her house, stamping their muddy shoes on the valuable carpets, tossing coats on the back of chairs which her mother had once kept spotless, and filling the quiet with their deep voices and loud laughter. The worst of it was, it was more their home than hers.
As she emerged onto the grassy fields which surrounded the Georgian manor house, the trot developed into an easy rolling canter and, with every foot she put between her and the strangers, she relaxed a little. She grimaced. Strangers. They were her step-brothers. Men who’d avoided her beloved step-father while he was alive. But now he’d died, they couldn’t wait to return and claim what was theirs. Well, at least two of them had arrived, making enough noise, creating enough chaos to fill the large house. The third, the eldest and heir to the Richmond Estate, had yet to arrive. But he would. She knew it. And where would that leave her? Tension gripped her gut. She’d have to leave her beloved estate. She’d be left homeless, jobless and friendless.
She urged her horse into a faster gallop until the distance between her and the house stretched into miles and she was alone in the expansive Norfolk countryside. There was no sound of people or cars. Only the birds in the trees, and the whinny of horses grazing in a nearby field, competed with the pounding of Starlight’s hooves on the soft grassy ground, giving Indra the peace she craved.
As her breathing and movements became attuned to her horse, the tension lessened. The rush of air cooled her heated face and loosed her long dark hair from its slide until it fanned behind her like the wake of a boat, as she continued to gallop across the fields.
She slowed as she came within sight of a stand of trees, their bare branches stark against the gunmetal gray sky. This was as far as she could ride, before reaching the road where she’d turn back into another meadow which was part of the extensive Richmond Estate. As she reached the trees a flash of yellow caught her eye. A car, parked miles from anywhere? Her horse suddenly skittered, losing her rhythm, as a man jumped out from behind a tree and shouted. Starlight reared, and Indra fell to the ground with a heavy thud, winding herself. She rolled onto her side and gasped for breath.
As she caught her breath, she pushed herself onto her hands on knees, and looked at the man who was comforting Starlight. He had his back to her but she could see that, between his comforting words and firm but gentle touch, Starlight was beginning to calm down. More than she was, anyway. The familiar sense of panic, which had the effect of freezing her to the spot, filled her, just as it always did when she was confronted with something threatening. The man was tall with broad shoulders and looked more than capable of handling himself, and her, if he wanted to. Her heart thudded heavily. She glanced around. Could she run away? She wouldn’t get far without her horse. Calm down, she told herself sternly. She was here, in the Norfolk countryside she loved so much. And this man was obviously a visitor to the racehorse training center and had got lost. It was easy enough to do. He wasn’t about to attack her. But her fears weren’t so easily quieted.
She watched him intently, alert for any sign that he might make a grab for her. It had happened once and resulted in deadly consequences. She’d never let it happen again. But the man continued to focus his attention on calming Starlight. He was dressed in a smart suit, not the kind you’d wear for a walk through the rain deep in the Norfolk countryside. He was definitely a racehorse owner with more style than sense. But it wasn’t this logic which made her fears subside. It was his voice. She understood why Starlight was calming down, because the stranger’s quietly comforting words were doing something very similar to her. His tone was reassuring, and deeply soothing. This was a man who knew how to control things and, whether she liked it or not, he was controlling her nerves, subduing them, until they’d all but disappeared.
And then there was the obvious effect of his touch. Starlight’s eyes went from rolling back in her head with fear, to her lids drooping as the stranger gentled her with his hand. He slid one large hand up her neck, his long fingers splaying sensitively over the horse’s back and rump. A shiver ran down Indra’s back.
Pale misty raindrops were forming on the expensive silk of his jacket and hung on the dark curls which brushed his collar. She had a strange urge to do exactly as he was doing with Starlight, to reach out and run her fingers over his hair, to feel the texture of his curl and test its strength. Impulsively, she took a step forward. Everything changed in an instant, as he turned to her with a dark glower. Lips grim, eyes narrowed and dark hair, too long, falling over his face, he looked like the very devil.
“What the hell were you doing?” he asked, in a controlled but forceful voice so as not to frighten Starlight. “You would have knocked me over if I hadn’t jumped away at the last minute. And this is an expensive horse you’re riding. She could have been injured.”
Anger got the better of her fears and she tilted her chin to better challenge those dark, furious eyes. “What the hell am I doing? It was you, jumping out at me! You nearly killed us both!”
He didn’t reply immediately, as if struck by something. She could almost feel his arrogant gaze track over every inch of her petite frame. The fierce intensity in his eyes softened a little. She wasn’t sure which was worse and stepped away, reminded of how alone they were. But she stopped herself from backing away any further. That would make her look afraid, which could encourage him. She needed him to release her horse so she could get the hell out of there.
For a second, everything hung in the balance, and she couldn’t predict how he was going to respond. Then he looked back at Starlight. If she’d expected an apology, it looked like she was going to be disappointed.
“She looks familiar,” he said, running his fingers over her legs.
“Yes, I recognize her.”
“I doubt it. She never leaves the estate.”
The stranger raised a surprised eyebrow. “A horse this good? Why not?”
She walked slowly to the other side of Starlight from where the stranger stood, and slid her fingers onto the reins without him noticing. “Because she’s fine where she is. On the estate.”
“That’s the world’s loss,” he said, glancing at her before turning his roving eyes over Starlight’s flanks. “Because she’s a thoroughbred, all right. I recognize the markings. Her mother must have been Ladyhawk.” He jerked his head in the direction of the stables. “From Richmond.”
She frowned. How could this stranger know about Starlight’s bloodline?
“I rode Ladyhawk when I was a boy.” He returned his gaze to her, challenging her to put two and two together. She did. And she didn’t like the result.
Her grip tightened on the reins as she put the other hand on the saddle, and a foot in the stirrups. She sprung up and sat astride Starlight.
“You’re Sebastian Richmond,” she said.
“I am. And you are?”
She flicked the reins and shifted her body so the sensitive horse would understand her intentions.
“Me?” she said. “I’m nobody.”
She didn’t look at him again, just crouched over Starlight, urging her on as fast as she could gallop, over the fields, and away from the man.
Of all the ways she’d imagined meeting her step-father’s eldest son and heir, this scenario hadn’t even entered her mind.
She might be nobody, but she was a stunning nobody, thought Sebastian, as he watched her gallop across the field towards the manor, at least two miles away. Her thick, glossy black hair fanned out behind her and her jodhpur-clad long slim legs clung to the horse in a way which sent his imagination into overdrive. And, he thought as he twitched up his collar against the increasing rain, she was a stunning nobody who’d left him to walk across the fields in a downpour.
He thrust his hands into his pockets, hunched his shoulders against the rain, which was getting heavier with every passing minute, and began the long walk across the fields. He knew it would be an even longer walk if he stuck to the roads. But, with his rented Lamborghini parked at the side of the lane showing no signs of life, he had no choice. His cell phone was out of charge and there were no houses, no villages, no sign of life except ‘nobody’ since he’d set foot on the Richmond Estate.
Who was she? Some jockey his father had hired? He wasn’t surprised. His father always had an eye for exotic beauties. Rumor had it that his recently deceased mistress had been one. Whoever she was, she’d be first out the door after he took control. He wanted no reminders of his father.
Sebastian could see the shower would soon pass and so waited under the relative shelter of a small copse of trees as the rain continued to thunder down. In the distance he could see the manor house, positioned perfectly amid the trees, and he felt the buzz of excitement he’d felt at returning to Norfolk intensify. He hadn’t expected it. He’d spent years living in Monaco but now, coming back to the place where he’d spent his young life, it was as if he’d never been away. The light was the same, he thought. It had a unique quality. He couldn’t have named that quality, but he knew its effect. It had a soothing effect on his soul, which he’d not experienced in years.
After the rain had stopped as suddenly as it had started, Sebastian continued on his way. A watery sun came out, bathing the fields with a soft light, glistening off wet leaves and the lake. The slate gray roof shone in the sunlight. The twisted bare branches of wisteria wove their way around the front portico. In front of the door were his brothers’ cars, he supposed. He rarely saw them. He’d left when they’d been young and they were all very different people, and had gone their separate ways. It had taken the death of their father to bring them back together.
He ran up the steps and reached out to press the bell, before realizing that this place was his now. Instead, he pushed the door open wide and stepped inside. It had changed. He was surprised. Whenever he remembered it, the house was the same as when he’d left it all those years ago. Inherited pieces gathering dust after his mother died and everything had turned sour. His father had stopped caring for anyone or anything after that. But now, the peeling wallpaper and paint and the damp smell he remembered were no longer there. He raised his eyebrows in surprise and looked around.
At that moment, he heard his name shouted, and he looked up to see two men in the drawing room. While their physical appearance made them undeniably his brothers, their distinct personalities made them appear different. Alexander, the middle brother, was the quintessential business executive—charming on the outside but with a will of iron which few saw. His smile was even warmer than usual today, knowing that he was about to inherit the company which would be the perfect complement to his already extensive portfolio of companies. Beside him, athletic and purposeful, strode his youngest brother, Harrison. A dedicated polo player and spoiled apple of their father’s eye, Harrison spent his days playing polo and his nights seducing women. Or, at least, he had been until, according to Alexander, he’d suddenly stopped. Neither brother knew what was going on in Harrison’s world. He kept his secrets close to his chest.
“Sebastian!” said Alexander with a grin, reaching out to shake Sebastian’s hand. “Where the hell have you been? Look at the state of you!”
“Good to see you, too, Alexander,” said Sebastian. “And you, Harrison,” he said. “How’s the polo?”
“Sebastian,” greeted Harrison curtly. “I’m taking some time out from polo.”
“Why?” asked Sebastian. “That’s not like you. What’s going on?”
Harrison scowled, and Alexander laughed. “I’ve been trying to get it out of him, but he’s not saying. A woman, I should imagine.”
Harrison scowled again.
Alexander took a sip of his champagne and held it aloft. “Want a glass? We’re celebrating.”
Sebastian nodded and accepted a glass from the butler, who offered it with a disapproving air. “And what are we celebrating?” Even he, for whom there was no love lost between him and his father, didn’t have the poor taste to celebrate the death of his estranged father. “Our reunion, maybe?”
“No,” said Alexander, who’d always been the toughest one out of the three, despite his deceptive good humor. He raised his glass and the sunlight, which now streamed through the high windows, made the popping bubbles sparkle. “Our inheritance.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
All three of them finished their glasses and placed them on the sideboard.
Sebastian glanced down at the wet mark his dripping clothes were making on the parquet floor and peeled off his sodden jacket. “I don’t suppose any of you have a change of clothes I could use? My bag’s in the car a couple of miles away. That’s the trouble with renting sports cars. They get thrashed, and the Lamborghini died.”
“Sure,” said Alexander. “My bag’s in the hallway. You can use the last bedroom on the right.”
Sebastian ignored the amused grunt from Harrison, simply glad that something was amusing him.
“We’ll talk after I get changed.
Outside in the hallway, he picked up Alexander’s suitcase and went upstairs to the bedroom to which he’d been directed. At least it wasn’t the old nursery. He couldn’t have coped returning to that. The room he’d been given had been his mother’s. It was beautiful, sunny, and wasn’t usually used by guests. But then, he wouldn’t be a guest here anymore, he thought, looking around. It would be his room.
There were still feminine things around which he remembered from his mother’s time, and others that he didn’t remember. It was almost as if someone had been staying here recently. But it had been a long time since he’d been in this room. Maybe it had always looked like this and his father hadn’t bothered to change anything. For once he was glad of his father’s indifference.
He stripped off all his clothes, and stood, naked, looking across the front lawn. He felt a mixture of things, regret over everything that had happened in this house between him and his father, and sadness for the boy he’d once been, but he also felt a sense of rightness. He was home. Where he was meant to be.
Suddenly, he heard a slamming sound as if a shower door had been closed. He twisted his head in the direction of the bathroom. A woman came out drying her hair, her open robe revealing an exquisite figure—slim, but with full breasts and long slender legs. She looked up, caught his eye and screamed.
“What are you doing in my bathroom?” he asked.
“What the hell are you doing in my bedroom, more like?” she replied, fumbling to pull her robe together, but it was caught on the door and tugged even further apart. It wouldn’t have been normal if his gaze hadn’t dropped to her sex. And he was certain that any healthy male would have responded as he did. His erection was immediate and so was her reaction. She screamed once more and ran into the bathroom. The lock clicked shut.
“Get out of my bedroom!” she shouted, her voice trembling.
“Hey,” he said, feeling uncomfortable. He was more used to playing the role of savior to women rather than aggressor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Then what on earth do you think you’re doing standing naked in my room?”
“My brothers.” He pushed his hands through his hair. “I’m afraid they thought this would be funny.” He looked down at his arousal and shook his head. He grabbed the suitcase and his wet clothes. “I’ll find another room. Sorry,” he said, before exiting and going into the next bedroom along, where he could see Alexander had already installed his things.
As he stepped into the shower, he contemplated the beautiful woman with the long, glossy dark hair and the most amazing breasts he’d seen. Full, for someone so petite, and with luscious dark skin and even darker peaked nipples. They were beautiful and he’d a lot to compare them to. He took a little longer in the shower than was necessary as he imagined how he could pleasure such a body. Indra, he presumed. His step-sister. The woman he would have to pay off.
He returned to his brothers half an hour later and found them in the billiard room. He sat in the easy chair and watched them. Harrison had all the strength of an athlete, while you couldn’t take your eyes off Alexander. He had charm and charisma in spades.
“When did you see him last?” Alexander asked.
“Charles?” He couldn’t ever remember having referred to his father by anything other than his name. It was indicative of their cool relationship. “Ten years ago when he told me never to darken his door again.” He took a sip of whiskey. “It wasn’t what you’d call a warm invitation. How about you?”
Alexander shrugged. “He came by my London apartment, urged by his new mistress to make amends. It didn’t work.”
“Nor me,” said Harrison. “You can’t do what he did to you two, then turn around and apologize and expect everything to be all right.” He squared his shoulders. “I might not have had it as bad as you both did, but I could never forgive him what he did to you.”
“For a spoiled brat you’ve got your values right,” said Sebastian to Harrison’s frowning face.
“No,” said Alexander. “There was no way he should ever have been forgiven.”
“My thoughts exactly,” said Sebastian. They were, but then why did he feel bad? He rubbed his gut where the ache for his family had always manifested itself, ever since he was a child and so blatantly rejected by his father. “And the old man hardly suffered.”
“Got himself shacked up with a new mistress.”
“And the mistress’s lovely daughter.” Alexander and Harrison looked across at Sebastian, whose mind had slipped back to two spectacular breasts. “Did you see her?”
He looked at them, his face as implacable as ever. He’d made a fortune at the poker tables by not giving away his thoughts or feelings. It was second nature now.
“And why would I have seen her?”
The two men looked from one to the other. Alexander shrugged and looked away. “Just thought you might have done.”
“It’s a big house,” Sebastian said mildly, his thoughts returning to her, except this time to her long, slender legs and the dark triangle of hair which sat at their crux. His brothers thought they’d tricked him. They’d done him a favor.
“It’s a small house if there are two of you who think you own it, in it.”
He looked up. “Charles’s step-daughter?” The others nodded. “She doesn’t own it. How could she think she does? No, I’ll pay her off. She looked after the old man after her mother died.”
Several car doors slammed shut and they could hear voices approach the house.
Alexander tossed the billiard cue onto the table. “Show time.”
Alexander put his arm around Harrison’s shoulders. Sebastian noticed their closeness with regret. He was glad they had each other, but, as the eldest, knew he’d missed out on a sibling relationship. But he didn’t sense it viscerally. He’d had a long time to cool off his heart until it had hardened like a fossil in rock. People had tried to prod it into life since that time, so long ago, when he’d surrendered his heart in order to survive, but they’d always failed.
He followed them out of the billiard room with its heavy, masculine drapes and furniture, and into the library where his father’s solicitor was already seated, his assistants shuffling papers between them.
There were four other chairs set out in front of the desk, one of which was already occupied. This time, her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was dressed in black trousers and a black shirt. As he took a seat beside her, he caught her eye and she glared at him. She crossed her arms and looked directly at the lawyer. Sebastian guessed he deserved the snub.
“I thought this meeting was for my father’s beneficiaries only,” said Alexander, never one to be backward in coming forward.
“It is,” said Mr. Jackson, an immaculately-suited solicitor. His gray hair was slicked back from a bespectacled face, and he looked over the half-frames at the three brothers. “I requested Miss Anand to be here,” he said.
An alarm bell rang in Sebastian’s mind. His brothers made dismissive noises, which the solicitor ignored. Sebastian admired the old man’s inability to be threatened by the three men.
“Thank you for coming,” Mr. Jackson said. “And may I offer my condolences for your father’s”—he looked at Indra—“and your step-father’s passing. A very sad loss for you all.”
This time, neither of his brothers made a sound. The only sound came from Indra—a kind of stifled noise like an animal in pain. All three men looked at her, but she held a trembling hand to the side of her face, hiding her reaction. But they had heard it and looked from one to the other in surprise.
The solicitor smiled at Indra and looked down at his papers once more. “Your father instructed me to meet with all four of you after his passing to inform you of the contents of his will.”
Alexander leaned forward, ever impatient. “He told us its contents. Sebastian, being the eldest, gets the house, estate and title, and I get his other business interests and Harrison get his investments. Which”—he shot an amused glance at Sebastian—“is fine by us. Who’d want to inherit this mausoleum?”
“There’s the training center and the estate,” said Harrison.
Alexander waved away the notion. “I have no interest in any of those things. All I want is the family company. It’ll fit in nicely with my business portfolio. The jewel in the crown. Sebastian can have the lot. And you can have the investments. Get someone to manage them and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. You can focus on polo and women.”
“I’m not interested in either,” muttered Harrison.
Sebastian exchanged a surprised look with Alexander, but didn’t follow up on his youngest brother’s astounding comment. He was more annoyed with them for talking so much and revealing their desires. Trouble had taught him caution, but his brothers hadn’t had such a troubled upbringing as he had and were far more open.
“So, if that’s all there is,” said Harrison, standing up. “We can get back to our game of pool.”
The solicitor held up his hand. “I would appreciate your patience, gentleman. The will to which you refer was an earlier one. Your father made another will a few years ago, which has changed slightly.”
Harrison sighed and took his seat again. Alexander sat forward, alert. “How ‘slightly’? A summary would be appreciated, Mr. Jackson.”
The solicitor cleared his throat. “As you wish. Alexander and Harrison. As in the previous will, the family company will go to you, Alexander. And Harrison will inherit your father’s stocks and shares, which have a paper value of a similar amount.”
Alexander sat back with a relieved low whistle. “I’m happy with that and I’ve checked the Financial Times.” He and Harrison slapped hands in triumph. “You’re sitting pretty, too.”
Sebastian was happy for his brothers. They didn’t know it, but he had more money than he knew what to do with, courtesy of not only the inheritance they’d each received from their mother’s personal fortune, but also his sole obsession these past ten years as a professional poker player. No, it wasn’t money he wanted. He wanted the one thing that was his. The one thing which nobody could take away.
“So what about Sebastian?” said Alexander, turning to him with a smile. “Or should we call him Lord Richmond now?”
Sebastian didn’t change his expression. He wasn’t bothered about the title. Only what came with it.
The lawyer cleared his throat and looked at Sebastian. Did Sebastian imagine it or was there something like an expression of sympathy in his eyes?
“As eldest son, Sebastian, you will, of course, inherit the title.”
Sebastian nodded. The silence extended as the solicitor shuffled some papers and beckoned one of his assistants for another document. Sebastian didn’t fill the silence, and neither did Alexander. There was a sense of drama in the air which was tangible. It was heightened because Indra, to his right, no longer hid her face but was looking with a frown at the solicitor. No doubt she, like him, had been expecting a portion of their father’s investments to come her way. But he’d given them to his two younger sons. But he would make sure she wouldn’t leave empty-handed. He was nothing if not fair.
“In addition, Sebastian, you will also inherit the estate and all of its contents—the manor, the racehorse training center and the lands and businesses on the estate, providing…” The solicitor cleared his throat and shuffled in his seat, looking uncomfortable.
Sebastian gritted his teeth and frowned. He tilted his head to one side and gave the solicitor his best stare. “Providing?” he prompted in a gruff growl.
“Providing you marry Miss Anand.”
A heavy silence fell upon them all, like a guillotine.
He didn’t bother to look at the woman who’d obviously set this whole thing up. “Miss Anand?” he asked in utter disbelief.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
He turned to her, but she sat straight, staring at the solicitor, in obvious shock.
The silence was broken by the laughter of his two brothers.
“We’ll leave you two to it, then. We’ll have a double whiskey ready for you, Sebastian.”
He didn’t bother to answer, simply stared at the solicitor, knowing that, for once, his poker-straight face wasn’t poker straight. He couldn’t hide his astonishment that he’d been robbed.
He’d wanted one thing from his father. His rightful inheritance. The manor and the estate. It had belonged to his mother’s family, and he’d promised his beloved grandmother that he would, one day, take ownership and care for it, exactly as they had.
He hadn’t wanted the riches. It had been his home he’d wanted. And he’d just had that taken away from him. By a woman. And not just any woman. But by the daughter of his father’s mistress.