Chatsfield’s Ultimate Acquisition
Series: The Chatsfield
He won’t take no for an answer!
Isabelle Harrington is furious when arrogant playboy Spencer Chatsfield becomes her new boss. He’s also the man who shattered her heart years ago. The only thing she can’t stand more than Spencer is the sizzling chemistry still burning between them!
Months of meticulous planning has led Spencer to this ultimate acquisition. The only thing standing in his way is the delicious Isabelle. He’ll just have to seduce her into compliance! Except Isabelle is keeping a secret…one that will raise the stakes higher than ever before.
An Excerpt from Chatsfield’s Ultimate Acquisition
Nowhere on Isabelle’s list of things to do before The Meeting was there any mention of cleaning up a fur ball. She looked at Atticus in dismay. ‘You do this to me now?”
Atticus purred as he indolently lifted a front paw to groom as if to say, What is your problem?
Isabelle blew out a flustered breath. ‘Why didn’t you do this yesterday when I had time to take you to the vet? Why today, when I’ve got a hundred people filing into the boardroom—’ she glanced at her watch and groaned ‘—like in about five minutes. Argh!’
She pictured the Chatsfield clan striding in—Gene and his eight adult children…and Gene’s nephew Spencer Chatsfield and his two younger brothers. Even thinking Spencer’s name made her blood boil. As if what he’d done ten years ago hadn’t been enough. How could she have fallen for someone so hard and so fast when he’d only been playing a game? That was what made her veins throb and pulse with rage. She had been too stupid to see him for what he was. Too gullible and naive to see he was toying with her because he could, not because he wanted to.
Seven months ago he had come breezing back into her life with a takeover offer. A takeover offer! As if she would ever sell anything to him.
But he was up to his old tricks, somehow in the interim gaining forty-nine per cent of the Harrington shares. But at least they were equals now. She had the other forty-nine so he would have his work cut out trying to get them off her.
To get anything off her, including her clothes—especially her clothes.
‘I should’ve brought home the smooth-haired tor-toiseshell,’ Isabelle said as she gingerly picked up the fur ball in a tissue. ‘What was I thinking getting a hair machine like you?’
Atticus blinked his green eyes and then lifted his back leg into a position Isabelle as a wannabe yogi could only envy.
‘Or a dog.’ She flushed the fur ball in the ensuite toilet. ‘One of those cute little yappy purse ones. That’s if dogs were allowed at The Harrington.’ She quickly checked her reflection in the mirror, grimacing at the way her layered hair hadn’t sat quite the way she’d wanted it to. ‘Or any pet for that matter. You should think yourself lucky I bent the rules to sneak you in.’
She came back out and looked down at her blue-grey Persian cat again. ‘Are you sure you’re not going to choke to death while I head downstairs?’
Atticus blinked again and mewed. ‘Purrht.’
Isabelle snatched up her bag and phone. ‘I hope to God that wasn’t a yes.’
Isabelle saw him as soon as she entered the boardroom. He was sitting to the left of his brothers, Ben and James. Dressed in a sharply tailored designer charcoal-grey suit, with an ice-white shirt and black-and-silver-striped tie, he looked every inch the corporate player. Wheeling and dealing was his forte. He thrived on the challenge of the game, be it in the boardroom or the bedroom…especially in the bedroom. Damn him.
His sapphire-blue eyes met hers across the space that divided them, making something punch against her heart like the jab of an elbow. His expression was inscrutable. But he’d always had the amazing ability to cloak what he was thinking behind a mask of marble or an enigmatic smile. Unlike her. Over the years she’d trained herself not to be so transparent. But it took so much energy to contain her emotions. Controlling them was like trying to bail out a wave-swamped dingy with a thimble.
She raised her chin and shifted her gaze to encompass the assembled family and hotel management staff. ‘I’m sorry I’m late. I was held up with a…a housekeeping issue.’
Leonard Steinberg, the business manager who was chairing the meeting, gave her a smile. ‘All sorted now, I hope?’
‘Absolutely.’ Isabelle looked at the one vacant chair on the other side of the table from Spencer. ‘Who are we waiting for?’
‘The mystery shareholder,’ Spencer Chatsfield said, clicking his pen on and off as his gaze tethered hers.
Isabelle suppressed a shiver as that cultured baritone with its English accent moved down her spine like a caress. She had to focus. This was the moment the Chatsfield family were waiting for, the moment when the final two per cent would be brought back to the table. She knew exactly who was going to walk through that door. Had known for quite some time. Had known and wondered how no one else had put the pieces of the puzzle together before now. The blowout in the press would be monumental. The Chatsfields were good at attracting scandals but this one was going to top the lot.
The door opened and in came Isabelle’s stepmother, causing no less of a shock to the assembled family than if a vaporous ghost had appeared.
‘How could you?’ ‘Liliana?’
Isabelle felt sorry for all of them, all except Spencer. How Liliana had kept her identity a secret for so long was part miracle, part luck, especially in the digital age of camera phones and social media tagging. But Isabelle had always found her stepmother to be a secretive, elusive type, hard to get close to, even harder to know.
The Chatsfield siblings had been young children— Cara, the youngest, a tiny baby—when their mother had left after suffering postnatal depression, but Liliana never made contact again. Isabelle found it hard to understand how Liliana could have remained incommunicado with her own flesh and blood but she knew her stepmother to be a complicated personality who kept very much to herself. How did it feel for the Chatsfield family to see their mother sweep in like a reclusive Hollywood celebrity who had suddenly decided to reclaim the limelight?
‘I know this must be a terrible shock to you,’ Liliana said. ‘I know you can’t possibly forgive me but I would like to explain. But business first.’ She turned to Spencer. ‘I’m giving you my two per cent.’
Isabelle shot to her feet so fast her chair rolled back and hit the wall behind. ‘What?’
Liliana turned to look at her. ‘On the condition you remain as president of the Harrington chain.’
Isabelle opened and closed her mouth but she couldn’t access her voice. She felt the colour drain out of her face like one of those cartoon characters she had watched as a child. All of her extremities fizzed as if her blood pressure was dropping. This couldn’t be happening. Those shares were meant to be hers. It was her dream. Her life’s goal was to own a majority share in The Harrington. She’d been working in the hotel since she was in bobby socks. She was a Harrington, for God’s sake. The staff were her substitute family. They relied on her to keep things ticking over like clockwork. How could the hotel be handed to someone else who didn’t love and nurture it the way she did?
It was her hotel, not Spencer Damn-his-eyes Chatsfield’s.
‘As majority shareholder Spencer will now be CEO of The Harrington, New York,’ Liliana said.
Isabelle ignored the rumble of voices from the Chatsfield siblings and their father, Gene, who looked like he was about to have a conniption. Spencer remained composed and silent. Coolly composed. How he must be enjoying this, she thought as a knot of resentment twisted hard and tight in her belly. How he would be getting off on seeing her hopes dashed. He must have known this would be the outcome of the meeting. Why else would he be sitting there as if butter wouldn’t melt in his blistering-hot mouth? Had he done something to win over Liliana? Isabelle knew all too well how skilled he was at getting what he wanted by fair means or foul.
Look how he’d showered her with gifts and romantic attention in the past. She had tried not to succumb but in the end she had fallen and fallen hard. But then, how could she not? Back then she had lacked street smarts while he had graduated from the school of charm with first-class honours.
‘I’m not working with him!’ she said, flashing him a livid glare.
Liliana gave her a placating look. ‘I’ve given this a great deal of thought. Believe me, Isabelle. I know this is the right thing to do. I think it’s what your father would’ve wanted.’
‘My father?’ Isabelle choked. ‘How can you say that? He’s the one who gave Jonathan forty-nine per cent to throw away in a stupid poker game. Those shares should’ve been given to me in the first place.’
Liliana let out an impatient-sounding breath. ‘Look, I know this is difficult for you to understand but I think it’s the best way forward.’
‘Why are you doing this?’ Isabelle said. ‘Why give the shares to him?’ She jerked her head towards Spencer without looking at him. She couldn’t bear to look at him and see him sitting there gloating over his prize. The prize that belonged to her. ‘Why not to me? You know how much this hotel means to me. You know how hard I’ve worked to—’
‘Sort it out between yourselves,’ Liliana said. She turned to her family—her bewildered and shell-shocked family. ‘I can only imagine what you’re thinking. But I need to tell you my side of the story…the reasons I left the way I did.’
Gene got up and stalked out with an embittered curse, slamming the door so loudly the surface of the water in the glasses on the boardroom table rippled.
Liliana let out a sigh and faced the stunned and hurt and shocked faces of her adult children. ‘And there goes reason number one.’
Isabelle watched as each Chatsfield sibling dealt with his or her mother’s presence after such a long absence. Anger, disappointment, loss, despair and frustration swirled in a torrid whirlpool that was palpable in the air.
But before she could do or say anything Spencer was at her side with a firm hand placed on her elbow. ‘I think it’s best if Liliana and her family have some privacy right now,’ he said.
‘We have our own business to discuss.’ His look was indomitable, his touch on her elbow electrifying, reminding her of the sensual power he’d once had over her.
Still had over her.
She could feel the latent strength of the cup of his hand. Pull away. Pull away, her brain insisted. But her body was following another script entirely, one that was firmly anchored in the past. Her body recognised his touch. Responded to it. Reacted to it with a maelstrom of excitement. His touch stirred deep longings, needs she had stoically ignored or blanked out with work. The physical contact with him, as idle as it was, awakened them, activated them into a frenzy of anticipation.
He led her outside and closed the door on the ruckus that had started inside. ‘Gotta love a family get-together.’
Isabelle whipped out of his hold before her senses went haywire. ‘Get your hands off me.’
His brows lifted as if he found the notion of her anger mildly amusing. ‘That’s not what you were saying ten years ago,’ he drawled in a husky undertone.
Isabelle curled her fingers into her hands so tightly she felt her nails embed themselves into her palms. Hatred swelled in her chest so rapidly and so thickly it was suffocating. She snatched in a scalding breath, glaring at him so furiously it felt as if her eyeballs were on fire. ‘I thought I’d made it clear what I thought of you and your business propositions seven months ago.’
He lifted a hand to the left side of his face, stroking it pointedly. ‘Slap me again if you dare, but I should warn you that this time there will be consequences.’
Isabelle felt a frisson pass over her flesh at the gauntlet he’d thrown down. She had never been the sort of person to resort to violence. She hadn’t hit or slapped anyone or anything in her entire life. But that meeting seven months ago had made something in her snap. She had flown at him like a virago. She could still hear the loud crack of her palm as it connected with his jaw and the way his head had snapped back. In her mind she could still see the crimson print of her hand starkly outlined on his lightly tanned face. He had shown nothing in his expression other than a steely glint in his eyes that had made something deep and low in her belly tremble. That same glint was in his eyes now, warning her, goading her, challenging her. It was having the same physical effect on her. Making her quiver, that shifting-sand feeling behind her knees and between her thighs. How could he still have this effect on her?
She could not allow it. It must stop. She had to get control of herself.
She swung away and stalked down the corridor in the direction of her office, tossing dismissively over her shoulder, ‘I have work to do.’
He caught up to her in two strides and placed a restraining hand on her forearm. ‘We have work to do,’ he said, and all but frogmarched her into her office and closed the door with a spine-tingling click as the lock fell into place.
His take-charge manner annoyed the hell out of her and she had a feeling he knew it. What was with all this touching, for God’s sake? What did he hope to prove? That she was the same weak little pushover she had been as a naive twenty-two-year-old?
Even though she was wearing silk sleeves she felt his touch sear through her flesh like smouldering coals. She held his glittering gaze as she unpicked his hold, finger by finger, dusting off her sleeve as if it had been contaminated by something disgusting. ‘I don’t think you heard me, Spencer,’ she said through tight lips. ‘I want nothing to do with you or your business. If you want to play hotels go find yourself a Monopoly board.’
The corner of his mouth lifted in a crooked arc. ‘Ten years on and you’re still mad at me?’
Isabelle ground her teeth in an effort to disguise her tumultuous emotions. How dare he ridicule and mock her for still feeling betrayed? How could she not feel betrayed? He had deliberately set about seducing her only so he could boast to his friends about ‘doing’ stuck-up Isabelle Harrington. She could just imagine the ribald laughs they would have shared over a few drinks. Thank God she hadn’t told him he’d been her first lover. Deflowering a New York virgin would no doubt have won him some serious bragging rights.
And then there was her other secret, the secret she had told no one but her friend Sophie.
Isabelle slammed the door in her brain where she had locked the pain of the past. She had every right to be infuriated with him and nothing he could do or say would ever change that. He could never undo the damage, even if he still to this day didn’t know the full extent of it. ‘I have absolutely no feelings where you’re concerned,’ she said.
Before she could move away he lifted his hand to a stray tendril of her hair and positioned it cosily back behind her ear. His idle touch triggered a frenzy of sensation, all the nerves beneath her skin quaking in reaction. She would have jerked away but she was determined to show him he didn’t have the same effect on her he’d had in the past…or at least that was what she rationalised. It was dangerous to allow him this close, dangerous and yet irresistible. He was a powerful magnet and she was a tiny iron filing. She could feel his force field every time she looked at him. It was there in his eyes, the tug of attraction that refused to be subdued. She held her breath as he trailed that same lazy finger along the line of her gritted jaw, back and forth, making her skin tingle with the thrill of his touch. It had been months and months since someone had touched her. Her skin craved the contact. Her whole body trembled and shivered inside the shield of her clothes in its hunger for more.