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One in a Billion
FROM PRODIGAL DAUGHTER-TO BILLIONAIRE HEIRESS?
The discovery that corporate mogul Lincoln DuBois had left her half his company rocked Deidre Kavanaugh’s world. After all, she’d only just learned that the billionaire could be her real father. And with his right-hand man, Nick Malone, up in arms, claiming her share of the inheritance wouldn’t be easy.
Charismatic tycoon Nick Malone had his doubts about Deidre’s paternity claim, but it was hard to remain aloof when all he wanted to do was kiss her! Nick couldn’t seem to stop wanting to protect the rebellious beauty-or silence the desire to make her his own. And if her claim was true, Nick could lose half his inheritance. So why was he focusing on what he could gain…a lifetime of love with the woman of his dreams?
Read an Excerpt
Clutching one of the delicate centerpieces from her brotherâs wedding reception, Deidre Kavanaugh walked out of the near-empty ballroom alone. She was beyond grateful to have witnessed Liamâs happiness at marrying the love of his lifeâNatalie Reyesâtonight. Now that family and friends were gone, however, and the romance and gaiety of the wedding was over, she couldnât help but feel a little disappointed to be flying solo.
She didnât have to be alone, of course. Staying at Cedar Cottage instead of at her sister Colleenâs had been Deidreâs choice. She was used to her solitary ways at this point in her life, and old habits died hard.
Of course, her mother had invited Deidre to stay at the Kavanaugh house on Sycamore Avenue. Deidre had politely refused, and then tried to harden her heart when she saw her motherâs hurt, sad expression. Her refusal couldnât have been too surprising, considering that Deidre held such anger toward her mother. Brigit had kept the identity of her biological father a secret for so many years. Deidre had only learned Lincoln Dubois was her natural father late last summer. If it hadnât been for Liamâs and Natalieâs investigation into their past, Brigit would have taken the secret to the grave with her.
A million stars sparkled against the backdrop of an ebony night sky when she walked out of the Starling Hotel. Liam and Natalie had chosen a windless, frigid night to celebrate their marriage. She took a deep breath when she walked out onto the steps, but it didnât help much to revive her. The last three months of her life had been stressfulâŚlife-altering. Sheâd learned the identity of her biological father, and then lost him to cancer within months of gaining that knowledge.
Deidre was exhausted, body and soul.
She paused on the steps, inspecting the little town by starlight. It seemed surreal to be back in Harbor Town. The quaint little community had once been the site of so much childhood innocence and bliss. Itâd also been the place where sheâd made the horrific discovery she wasnât really Derry Kavanaughâs daughter. Derry had had that truth confirmed on the same night. His consequent ragged emotional state was what had led to a traumatic car crash in which Derry had been killed along with three others. Deidre had left Harbor Town the summer before college and never returned until last night.
She was in the process of searching for her rental car keys in her evening bag, clutching at the floral centerpiece the whole time, when a man called out to her. She came to an abrupt halt in the parking lot, her breath sticking in her lungs. She recognized that clipped, authoritative voice.
Hearing Nick Malone so unexpectedly here in Harbor Town set her immediately on edge. For some reason, one of the first things Nick Malone had ever said to her when she told him about her discovery that she was Lincoln Duboisâ biological daughter popped into her brain at that moment.
You must have thought you woke up one day and won the lottery.
She spun around. His shadow looked large and imposing set against the backdrop of the night sky.
âWhat are you doing here?â she asked Nick breathlessly.
“We have important things to discuss. I would think that’s obvious, following Lincoln’s death.”
His face was difficult to make out in the dim light, but what Deidre couldnât see, she filled in from memoryâthe rugged, bold features, the cool, suspicious gaze that always seemed to be detailing her flaws.
âI canât believe you came here.â
âI canât believe you thought for a second I wouldnât find you, wherever you went,â he replied dryly. âYou knew the reading of Lincolnâs will took place yesterday at The Pines,â he continued, referring to Lincolnâs palatial lodge on the edge of Lake Tahoe.
Deidre shifted in her high heels anxiously. “My brotherâs wedding was tonight. But you must already know or you wouldnât have shown up here. I guess youâve been giving more work to that private investigator you hired to snoop into my personal life.â
Her gaze dropped to his coat-draped, broad shoulders when he shrugged. âNothing so melodramatic. Your sister Colleen told me about the wedding after Lincâs funeral. It didnât take a detective to figure out you were probably here. As to your personal life, that pretty much became my business the day you told me about your claim to be Lincoln DuBoisâ daughter.â
She tamped down her flare of temper at his arrogant presumption. âLincoln was my father. I just wanted to know him. Iâve told you from day one I donât care about Lincolnâs money or your precious company,â she said, referring to her biological fatherâs multi-billion dollar conglomerate, DuBois Enterprises, where Nick acted as Chief Executive Officer. Nick not only ran Lincolnâs company, heâd been like a surrogate son to her newfound father. As such, he seemed to think it was his business to question her every move and treat her like a conniving gold-digger. It seemed an utter impossibility to convince him that she had no designs whatsoever on Lincolnâs wealth. She gave an exasperated sigh when he stubbornly remained silent. âWhy should you care where I go? What difference does it make what I do, now that Lincoln has passed away?â
“It makes a difference. Look, why donât we go and find a place to have a cup of coffee and talk?â
âThereâs really nothing left for us to talk about. Besides, didnât you interrogate me enough at The Pines?â she said. Deidre had lived there, nursing her newly found father until heâd finally succumbed to a brain tumor last week.
âInterrogate? You hardly ever stuck around long enough for me to ask a question, let alone interrogate you. You avoided me like the plague whenever we were both at The Pines. If you would just consider the matter rationally for a moment, youâd see the importance of me understanding your motivesâŚof knowing you better. Lincoln entrusted me with his company. It’s my job to protect his interests.â
Deidre glanced away guiltily. She had avoided Nick a lot, but she told herself sheâd done so because she didnât care for Nickâs patronizing manner. In truth, her avoidance might have had something to do with her reaction to him as a man. Nick Malone was the last man on the planet she should find attractive.
She shivered, whether it was from anger or anxiety over Nickâs unexpected presence, she couldnât say. “I’m not interested in Lincoln’s estate or DuBois Enterprises. I wanted to know him as best I could, given the short time we had. Why is that so hard for you to comprehend?”
His head went back, his indrawn breath hissing against his teeth. She sensed his profound frustration, but given how bewildering his presence here was, she had a hard time feeling sorry for him. Wasnât her life complicated enough without Nick? She shivered again and wrapped her arms around her waist in attempt to warm herself.
âItâs freezing out here, and thereâs something important I need to tell you,â he muttered. He reached and cupped her elbow. âWill you at least sit in my car, so I can turn on the heat?â
Those sharp eyes of his didnât miss much, she recalled. Something in his tense, strained manner sent a distant alarm going off in her head.
âIs it really that important?â
âMore important than you know.â
âAll right,â she said cautiously after a moment. She took a step, breaking their contact. His touch unsettled her. He waved to the left and tilted his head.
She followed him into the next aisle of cars. He hit the remote lock with his thumb and a dark sedanâs headlights blinked. Deidre sat when he opened the door for her, placing the floral arrangement on the floor next to her feet. She said nothing when he got in the car and turned on the ignition, but she was highly aware of him. The dim dash lights made it possible for her to make a covert study of him. Nick was the type of man who dominated a room once he entered it. Inside a car, his presence crowded rational thought completely out of her mind.
He wore a suit and an attractive black cashmere dress coat, making her wonder if heâd been prepared to enter Liamâs wedding reception to find her. Deidre had immediately understood upon being introduced to Nick that while he may possess a handsome face and the fit, lean body of an athlete and horseman, he wasnât about looks.
He was about power.
The walking embodiment of an alpha-male tycoon, Nick conquered the business world just like cowboys had vanquished the intimidating, rugged landscapes of the American west.
She wouldn’t let him conquer her with the same heavy-handed tactics.
He gripped the steering wheel with gloved hands. She tensed, waiting for his attack.
âYouâre pale,â he muttered. âHave you been sick?â
Deidreâs jaw dropped open. She looked at him in amazement, but he kept his face turned in profile. His gruff solicitation was the last thing sheâd expected.
âYou can tell Iâm pale by examining me in a dark parking lot?â she asked, saying the first thing that came to mind to cover her embarrassment.
âI saw you at the reception, dancing with that man.â
âYou actually came in to the ballroom?â
âI just stood in the door, looking for you.â He ignored Deidreâs exasperated sigh. âWho was he?â
She did a double take. âWho was who?â
âThe man you were dancing with.â
Deidre blinked. Sheâd forgotten Nick wasnât at The Pines last autumn when her brother Marc had visited to offer her support.
âIt was my brother Marc. Can you please get on with whatever is so important?â
âYou canât just run away from all this, Deidre. Itâs naĂŻve of you, or stubborn, or both to think you can say youâre Lincoln DuBoisâ daughter and not expect any ramifications to that claim. Why won’t you agree to the genetic testing, at the very least?”
Nervousness fluttered in her stomach. Sheâd been expecting him to broach this topic. Just the term âgenetic testingâ had taken on an electrical charge in the past few months. Unbeknownst to Nick, sheâd already had the testing done. Sheâd refused to comply when Nick and DuBois Enterpriseâs Chief Legal Officer, John Kellerman insisted upon it. Mostly sheâd ignored their demands because theyâd made them in such a condescending, suspicious manner. Her body wasnât the property of DuBois Enterprises, and as far as she was concerned, its representatives had no right to make demands upon it. When Lincoln had requested the same thing, however, sheâd immediately agreed.
But heâd died before theyâd received the results.
What if she wasnât Lincolnâs daughter? Deidre wondered for the thousandth time. The thought caused a familiar raw ache to expand in her belly. It frightened her a little, to consider how much hope sheâd invested in being Lincolnâs natural child. If she wasnât Lincolnâs, sheâd be right back where sheâd been for most of her entire adult life.
An outsider. Anchorless. Different. Fatherless.
âDeidre?â Nick prompted quietly. She blinked. Had he noticed her anxiety? She took a deep breath.
âIâve already had the genetic testing done at a place called GenLabs in Carson City.â
“You did?” he asked intently.
“About three weeks ago. Lincoln asked me to have it done, but he died before he got the results,” she said, her hushed voice quaking. From the periphery of her vision she saw his hand came off his thigh jerkily, but then he replaced it. A strained silence followed. For a split second, sheâd thought he meant to touch herâŚto comfort, before logic had set in. Her heart thrummed louder in her ears as she stared fixedly out the front window.
“And?” he asked in a subdued tone.
“They told me at the lab that the results would take up to seven weeks. We should have the results before Christmas. They agreed to call me and tell me the final result before they send out the report.”
She turned when he exhaled raggedly. He looked tense.
âWhatâs wrong? Arenât you glad that Iâve had the testing? Itâs what you and John Kellerman and everybody at DuBois wanted all along.â
âOf course Iâm glad. Now thereâs nothing to do but get to know one another better. And wait.â
âWhy should the results matter so much to you? I wonât make any claims on Lincolnâs assets one way or another.â
He laughed softlyâŚmirthlessly. He had dimples. It had struck her as amazing the first time she’d met him to see those two indentations in such a formidable face. She recalled how once sheâd seen some graffiti painted on a craggy rock face of the mountains several miles outside of the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistanâa smiley face grinning innocuously from a war zone.
She had a similar reaction to Nickâs dimples.
“You make it sound so simple,” he murmured.
“It is simple.â
“It never was simple, and it just got exponentially more complicated.â
“What are you talking about?” she asked slowly.
“I came to Harbor Town to tell you that Lincoln had a new will drawn up. He’s left you half of the wealth and property he didnât leave to charity. Heâs also left you a fifty percent controlling interest in Dubois Enterprises.â
âWhat?â she asked numbly.
âYouâre an heiress, Deidre. The way things stand right now, youâre one of the wealthiest women in the country.â
She might have heard the flutter of a butterflyâs wings in the ensuing silence. She inhaled slowly, trying to ground herself. This could not be happening.
And yetâŚwhat was that strange, warm, wonderful feeling growing deep down in her belly?
He made me his heiress. Lincoln truly did believe I was his daughter. His faith was his proof. Lincoln hadn’t required the scientific variety.
Something shivered through her. It took Deidre a moment to recognize the feeling as pure joy.
* * * *
Nick decided that if Deidre Kavanaugh had had any part in manipulating Linc to alter his will in her favor, she certainly was one hell of an actress. Every nuance of her face and body suggested she was utterly stunned by the news she was an heiress to a massive fortune.
“He didn’t,” she whispered, obviously in shock.
“Lincoln can’t have meant it. There must be a mistake. I’m a nurse, not a business woman,” she said hollowly.
“From your reaction, am I to assume you didn’t have prior knowledge of the change of will?”
“I had no idea,” she said. Her spine stiffened when he cocked one eyebrow in a show of subtle disbelief, testing her. She leaned across the console toward him. He caught the subtle scent of her floral perfume and for a few seconds, his thoughts scattered. Deidre had a way of making him forget practical goals and objectives.
“I resent your tone,â she said. âI suppose you have it all worked out, don’t you? You figure I manipulated and cajoled a sick, vulnerable man into leaving me all his money, is that it?”
âWhat have I told you, time and again while we were at The Pines together, Deidre?â he murmured softly.
She snapped her jaw closed. He found himself studying her beautiful face cast in the dim dashboard lights. What was it about her? Her elegance mingled with a sort of bad-girl charm. She fascinated him, whether he wanted to be fascinated or not.
âThat youâre Lincolnâs man,â she answered his question, her chin tilted at the stubborn angle to which heâd grown all too accustomed. âThat youâll do whatever is in your power to make sure his wishes are carried out,” she quoted the familiar refrain.
He nodded. Their meetings at The Pines had been few and fleeting, not to mention charged. Nevertheless, Nick was glad to hear heâd imparted that particular message loud and clear to her.
“There’s something else I want you to know,” Nick said.
“Until I can rest assured youâre his daughter, that Lincoln was of sound mind when he drew up the new will, and that you had no part in coercing Lincoln’s actions in the last days of his life, I plan to contest the will.”
She flinched as if heâd just slapped her. Regret spiked though his awareness, the strength of it taking him off guard. Sheâd gotten under his skin. He could understand why Lincoln had been so taken by her. But the fact remained, the way things stood, there was a good chance Deidre and he would be sitting across a courtroom from each other sometime in the near future. He had no right to find her fascinating.
“You just don’t get it,” she said, her low voice shaking with fury. “I nursed and cared for Lincoln with every ounce of compassion and skill I possess. Ask any of the servants, or the hospice nurses, or Dr. Leland. Everything I did, I did with the hope of having him for another dayâŚanother minute.â
“That may be true. I’m suspending judgment on the matter.”
She gave an incredulous bark of laughter. “Suspending judgment until when?”
“Until I have the opportunity to observe you, understand your character, your motivations, your life. I’ll be staying in Harbor Town for the next few days or weeks or however long it takes to do that.â
âWho says I plan to stay in Harbor Town?â
He shrugged. âIâll make a point to go wherever you go. I hope youâll cooperate with this. If youâve got nothing to hide, why should it matter if I spend time with you and get to know you better?â
âWhy donât you just get that private investigator you hired before do it?â she asked scathingly.
âI donât trust his powers of observation as much as I do my own.â He held her stare. He watched as her expression went slack in disbelief as she realized he was dead serious.
“You’re crazy,” she whispered.
“No,â he corrected. âI’m determined. And Iâm committed to the health and wellbeing of DuBois Enterprises and its thousands of employees.
She made a sound of disgust, but Nick was undaunted. He studied her in the dim light. She’d combed her short, golden blonde hair behind her ears, where it curled in gleaming waves. It looked silken soft. She was clearly a beauty, but it wasn’t her physical attributes that made him want to touch her–at least not entirely. It was the way Deidre carried herself, the way she moved with a careless grace and bone-deep confidence. Without ever trying, she was a classic American beauty with an edge. A perfect, prickly, long-stemmed roseâŚ
âŚGrace Kelly with a serious attitude.
Beautiful, fierce and fascinating Deidre may be, but heâd come here with a mission. Either heâd determine that Deidre was somehow unworthy of Lincâs estate or heâd gain her compliance. It just wasnât an option to be left at the helm of DuBois Enterprises without any real control, watching helplessly while the great company crashed, taking thousands of employees and dependents down with it.
âWhat are you really doing here, Nick?â she asked warily.
âIâve told you. Iâm here to learn more about you. If Iâm given the opportunity to get to know you for a period of time without you avoiding me, Iâll come to a conclusion about you. We can move on regarding Lincolnâs last will and testament.â
âSo whatâŚyou plan to investigate me? Stalk me? Harass my friends and family? Lurk around and take pictures of me through a telephoto lens?â
âWould I catch anything interesting?â he asked, hiding a smile.
âIâd make sure you did,â she promised so menacingly he raised his eyebrows. Seeing her slender, elegant figure swathed in a sophisticated dress had temporarily made him forget Deidre was a warrior. The background report heâd commissioned had painted a picture of a courageous, headstrong, fiercely independent woman who refused to settle down into any traditional path. She was not only a collegiate championship diver, sheâd been an expert trick skier, financing much of her college education by performing in water shows. Her military record was stellar. Sheâd even been awarded a medal for entering an active area of combat to save one of her patients when a field hospital had been unexpectedly attacked.
âYou canât plan on staying in Harbor Town,â she continued, looking at him like he was possibly mad. âItâs hardly a place for movers and shakers.â
âIâll manage. I work on the road all the time. The hotel is offering me decent business facilities. Iâve made it clear at company headquarters that weâll keep my presence here under wraps for a while. I donât want the press getting hold of the story about you and the will yet. Itâs going to be a media frenzy when they do.â
She closed her eyes and he sensed it again, her extreme fatigue, her vulnerability.
âThereâs another reason we should spend some time getting to know each other better, Deidre.â
She opened her eyes. He couldnât see their hue in the dim light emanating from the dashboard, but he knew they were an unusual blue-gray color. He could clearly see the line of her jaw and the delicate shell-shape of her ear.
Was she made so perfectly everywhere?
âIâm afraid to ask,â she murmured.
âLincoln wrote me a letter before he died. He specifically asked me to get to know you better.â
âWhy?â she demanded. She leaned toward him, her fatigue seemingly disappearing at the mention of the man she believed to be her father. Her curiosity bordered on hunger. It struck him as understandable, but sad, that she was so desperate for information about Linc. Again, he inhaled her clean, floral feminine scent. His muscles clenched tight in restraint.
âLinc knew I had my doubts about your claim to be his child. Maybe he thought us spending time together would put those doubts to rest. He likely also knew that no one else could teach you about your inheritance as well as I could.â
“Can I read the letter?”
She started at his abruptness.
He shut his eyes briefly when he saw her hurt, incredulous expression. Lincolnâs letter had been heartbreakingly honest, almost child-like in its plea. Nick had been moved deeply by that letter, but at the same time, itâd made him question whether or not Lincoln was of sound mind when heâd changed his will. He couldnât tell Deidre that, though. Sheâd just accuse him of causing his prejudice against her to influence his opinion about Lincolnâs motivations and state of mind.
“Not now, you can’t, Deidre,â he said quietly. âI have my reasons for saying that. Don’t take offense. Please.â
But she had taken offense, he realized. Her backbone went ramrod straight.
âMay I ask why it is that you believe you have the right to constantly call my morals and character into question, why you have the right to observe me, investigate me like a common criminal, when I donât even have the right to ask a simple thing of you?â
âI didnât mean you canât ask me things,â he grated out.
âIt sounded that way to me,â she said, picking up her evening bag from her lap and retrieving the centerpiece from the floorboard. She reached for the car door and then suddenly went still, her hand outstretched. She turned, her brow crinkled in consternation. Her mouth fell open as something if had just dawned on her.
âWait a secondâŚâ she muttered.
âThe other half of Lincolnâs estateâhe left it to you, didnât he?â
âYes,â Nick admitted.
The weighty silence was shattered by Deidreâs desperate bark of laughter.
âDo you mean to tell meââ
âThatâs right,â he said more calmly than he felt. âMy hands are tied without you. Thereâs a major acquisition deal Iâve been brokering now for months, for instance, and even though the time is ripe for DuBois Enterprises to buy, Iâm powerless to act without your consent. The way things stand legally right now, I canât make a major decision on behalf of DuBois Enterprises without your agreement. For the time being, weâre partners. Whether we like it or not.â