A Contract for His Runaway Bride – Melanie Milburne

ELODIE CAMPBELL GLANCED at her designer watch and muttered a colourful curse. The one time in her life when she was bang on time for an appointment and she was kept waiting. Who was this guy who thought it was okay to leave her out here with her nerves ripping her stomach to shreds? This meeting was her last chance for financial backing. It had to go ahead. To fill the time—and to settle her anxiety—she’d glanced through the artfully splayed glossy magazines five times. One of which featured a spread of her on a photo shoot in Dubai. Then she’d consumed two expertly brewed black coffees. Maybe the second coffee hadn’t been such a good idea. Restless at the best of times, now she was so fidgety she wanted to pace the floor…or punch something. She crossed one leg over the other and kicked her top foot up and down in time with the tick-tock of the second hand on the clock above the receptionist’s desk. The clock went around another eight and a half minutes and Elodie was close to screaming. Not just a scream of frustration but one that was so loud it would shatter the windows of the swishlooking office tower. Normally people had to wait for her. Her identical twin, Elspeth, had inherited the punctuality gene. Elodie had got the chronically late one.


The longer she waited, the worse her anxiety spiked. What if this meeting turned out like the last? Her options were running out—especially since the recent scandal attached to her name. Her previous financial backer had pulled out once he’d heard about her role in sabotaging a society wedding. Urgh. What was it with her and scandals? If she couldn’t secure financial backing, how could she leave her lingerie modelling career behind? She was tired of playing on her looks. She wanted to prove she had more than a good body. She wanted to design her own label of evening wear, but she needed an investor in her business to get it off the ground. Another five minutes crawled past like a snail on crutches. Elodie blew out a breath and sprang up from the sofa in the plush reception area on the top level of the London office tower. She strode over to the smartly dressed receptionist with a smile so forced it made her face ache. ‘Could you give me an update on when Mr Smith will be available?’ The receptionist’s answering smile was polite but formal. ‘I apologise for the delay. He’ll be with you shortly.’ ‘Look, my appointment was—’ ‘I understand, Ms Campbell. But he’s a very busy man.

He’s made a special gap in his diary for you. He’s not usually so accommodating. You must’ve made a big impression on him.’ ‘I haven’t even met him. All I know is, I was instructed to be here close to thirty minutes ago for a meeting with a Mr Smith to discuss finance. I’ve been given no other details.’ The receptionist glanced at the intercom console where a small green light was flashing. She looked up again at Elodie with the same polite smile. ‘Thank you for being so patient. Mr…erm… Smith will see you now. Please go through. It’s the third door on the right. The corner office.’ The corner office boded well—that meant he was the head honcho. The big bucks began and stopped with him.

Elodie went to the door and took a deep calming breath, but it did nothing to settle the frenzy of flick knives in her stomach. She gave the door a quick rap with her knuckles. Please, please, please let me be successful this time. ‘Come.’ Her hand paused on the doorknob, her mind whirling in ice-cold panic. Something about the deep timbre of that voice sent a shiver scuttling over her scalp like a small claw-footed creature. Elodie ran the tip of her tongue over her suddenly carpet-dry lips, her throat so tight she couldn’t swallow. Surely her nerves were getting the better of her? The man she was meeting was a Mr Smith. But how could this Mr Smith sound so like her ex-fiancé? Scarily like him. She turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, her gaze immediately fixing on the tall darkhaired man behind the large desk. ‘You?’ Elodie gasped, heat flooding into her cheeks and other places in her body she didn’t want to think about right now. Lincoln Lancaster rose from his chair with leonine grace, his expression set in its customary cynical lines—the arch of one ink-black brow over his intelligent bluey-green gaze, the tilt of his sensual mouth that was not quite a smile. His black hair was brushed back from his high forehead in loose waves that looked as if they had last been combed by his fingers. He was dressed in a threepiece suit that hugged his athletic frame, emphasising the broadness of his shoulders, the taut trimness of his chest, flat abdomen and lean hips. He was the epitome of a successful a man in his prime.

Potent, powerful, persuasive. He got what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted. ‘You’re looking good, Elodie.’ His voice rolled over her as smoothly and lazily as his gaze, the deep, sexy rumble so familiar it triggered a host of memories she had fought for seven years to erase. Memories in her flesh that were triggered by being in his presence. Erotic memories that made her hyper-aware of his every breath, his every glance, his every movement. Elodie shut the door behind her with a definitive click. She clenched her right hand around her slimline purse and her other hand into a tight fist and stalked towards his desk. ‘How dare you lie to me to get me here? You know I’d never willingly be in the same room as you.’ His eyes shone with amusement, which only fuelled her anger like a naked flame on tinder. ‘You answered your own question. I wanted to meet with you and this seemed the only way to do it.’ ‘Mr Smith?’ She made a scoffing noise. ‘Couldn’t you be a little more original than that? And why not meet me at your Kensington office?’ ‘In another life, Smith could well have been my name.’ There was a cryptic quality to his tone and a flicker of something in his expression that piqued her interest.

‘I’m using this office for a few weeks while my other premises are being renovated.’ He waved a hand at the plush chair in front of his desk. ‘Take a seat. We have things to discuss.’ Elodie remained standing, her fists so tightly balled she could feel her fingernails cutting halfmoons into the skin of her palm and the soft leather of her purse. ‘I have nothing to discuss with you. You’ve no right to waste my valuable time by luring me here under false pretences.’ ‘Sit.’ His one-word command was as sharp and implacable as the steely don’t-mess-with-me glint in his eyes. Elodie raised her chin, a frisson skittering over her flesh at the combative energy firing between them like high-voltage electricity. Fighting with Lincoln had formed a large part of their previous relationship. Their strong wills had often clashed and their passionate fights had nearly always been resolved in bed. The thought of this fight ending that way made her heart race and her pulse skyrocket. ‘Just try and make me.’ She injected her tone with ice-cold disdain to counter the fiery heat pooling between her legs.

Only Lincoln Lancaster could have this effect on her, and it made her furious to think he still had the power to make her feel things she didn’t want to feel. Dangerous feelings. Overwhelming feelings. Feelings she couldn’t control. One side of his mouth came up in a half-smile, and the slow burn of his gaze sent tingles cascading down the length of her spine to pool in a ball of molten heat in her core. ‘Tempting as that is, right now, I want to discuss a proposal with you.’ ‘A proposal?’ She unclenched her fists and gave a bark of scathing laughter. ‘There’s nothing you could ever propose to me that I would find irresistible.’ There was a long beat of silence. A silence so weighted, so intense, it sent goosebumps popping up along the skin of her arms. His unreadable eyes held hers in a lock that made her blood tick with excitement. It was an excitement she wished she could quell, but it seemed her body had a mind of its own when it came to Lincoln. And somehow, she suspected he knew it. Lincoln came around to perch on the corner of his desk, close enough to her for her to catch a tantalising whiff of his aftershave. The citrus notes were fresh and clean, the base notes a little more complex, reminding her of the rich, earthy scent of a densely wooded forest after rain.

His eyes were an unusual mix of green and blue—a bottomless ocean with flashes of kelp and green sea glass swirling in their unreachable depths. She couldn’t drag her eyes away from the dark shadow of regrowth peppering his jaw. How many times had she run her fingers over that prickly stubble? How many times had she felt its sexy rasp on the sensitive skin of her inner thighs? Her gaze drifted to his mouth and her stomach bottomed out. Suddenly she found it hard to breathe. Those sensually curved lips had explored every inch of her body, stirred her into cataclysmic pleasure time and time again. She had never had a more exciting lover than Lincoln Lancaster. His touch had set fire to her body, making it erupt into roaring flames of need only he could assuage. Every lover since—not that there had been many—had been a bitter disappointment. It was as if Lincoln had ruined her for anyone else. No one could ignite her flesh like he had. No one could make her feel the things he made her feel. It seemed her body was programmed to respond to him and him alone. ‘How about we start again?’ His voice had a disarmingly gentle note, but his gaze was still unwavering on hers. ‘You’re looking good, Elodie.’ The pitch of his voice went down half a semitone to a deep burr that put her resolve to resist him in Critical Care.

He was impossible to resist when he laid on the charm. Elodie swallowed the choking lump of her pride, intrigued by his change of tactic. Intrigued by why he had set up this meeting under a false name and in a high-rise office tower that was on the other side of town from his London base. Intrigued to find out exactly what he was proposing. Office renovations aside, surely he could have contacted her without the need for pretence? ‘Thank you.’ She glanced behind her to locate the chair and sat—not because she wanted to do as he had commanded earlier, but because right then her legs were feeling decidedly unsteady. She positioned her leather purse on her lap, her fingers absently fidgeting with the silver clasp. ‘You said you had something to discuss with me? A proposal?’ Lincoln rose from his perch on the edge of the desk and went back to sit in his office chair. He rolled the chair forward and then rested one of his forearms on the desk. His other hand reached for a sheaf of papers. ‘A business proposal.’ His gleaming eyes met hers and he added, ‘You weren’t expecting any other type of proposal, were you?’ Elodie schooled her features into cool impassivity. ‘I can’t imagine you’d be interested in repeating past mistakes.’ An inscrutable smile tilted one side of his mouth. ‘I hear you’re interested in some financial backing for your own evening wear label.

’ He drummed his fingers on the paperwork beneath his hand. ‘Are you interested in hearing my terms?’ Elodie ran the tip of her tongue over her lips, aware of another moth-like flicker of excitement in her blood. Could this be her chance to fulfil her dream at last? She had never aspired to be a lingerie model, but she had played the role with aplomb. Smart, successful, sassy, sophisticated and sexy were the five words to describe her brand. A brand she had never intended adopting in the first place but had somehow drifted into. Lincoln was offering her an escape route—but he’d mentioned terms. What would they be? Dared she even ask? He was one of the most successful self-made businessmen in the country. He turned around ailing businesses within a year or two for a sizeable profit. Did he see her venture as a sure bet? ‘You want to finance me? But…but why?’

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Updated: 24 November 2021 — 02:15

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