Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)

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Next: Chapter Six

Chapter Five


“Tell me it isn’t true!” Natasha Price, Keyonna’s close friend and confidant, cried on the other end of the phone line. Natasha also happened to be the editor of a popular society magazine which was nothing more than a glorified gossip sheet on the rich and mighty. She was around the same age as Keyonna, and both girls had looked out for each other over the years, while trying to inch their way up their respective career ladders.

Keyonna sighed dejectedly. “I wish I could.” She slumped back into her seat as she pushed a catalogue of designs to the far edge of her desk. “But I can’t. I really did jump Nick Vitale with a kiss at the tribute dinner of my military ex-boyfriend. I’m almost afraid to ask how you heard about it.”

“Phew. I was almost certain it was all just a hoax,” Natasha breathed with expressive relief that Keyonna found not in the least reassuring. Natasha was the kind of girl who had ears and eyes everywhere. She knew anyone who was anyone and rubbed shoulders with people from all walks of life thanks to her confident and winning personality.

Keyonna’s eyes rolled heavenwards. “Always the incurable gossip, aren’t you?”

“It’s all part of my job description, honey,” her friend cooed. “And yet when that nasty female showed up at my office with the scoop you could have knocked me over with a feather. To think that her fiancé of over a year, the dangerously hunky Nick Vitale, has been given the boot. Well. I couldn’t believe any woman would be demented enough to let him go – even if he was caught necking with another woman. And when I found out that woman was you...damn girl I almost died. I thought it was either the bitch was lying or it wasn’t the same Keyonna Hayes I knew.”

“Well, now you’ve confirmed it,” Keyonna said ruefully. “I didn’t even know that Conte girl recognized me.”

“You’re not as unknown as you think, my dear. Besides, she could easily have found out about you. Anyway you’ll be in the spotlight soon enough because the story’s coming out in the latest edition. Sorry, babe,” she went on when Keyonna groaned, “But I had to do it. It’s just too juicy to drop. Better look out for the headlines: “Rachel Conte Breaks Dream Match with Nick Vitale.” Here, why don’t I read out the first paragraph: “Things are not looking up for the rakish Vitale heir as his fiancée, young and beautiful Rachel Conte, breaks off the year-long engagement after catching him smooching at a party with Keyonna Hayes, well-known interior decorator.”

“Oh God, stop!” Keyonna groaned, a palm against her temple as her vision seemed to swim for a moment in embarrassment.

“For what it’s worth, I didn’t exactly handle the story,” Natasha explained in a gentler tone. “My editor-in-chief snatched it off me and refused to keep your name out. Something about not letting personal interest get in the way of my job of giving readers the truth – the whole truth and so on.”

“It’s okay, Natasha; it’s not your fault. Obviously, Rachel what’s-her-name was set on disgracing Nick for what he did and that’s why she sold your paper the story. No; I have only myself to blame for being so stupid as to go kissing a near stranger – handsome and irresistible though he is. It was just one of those crazy impulses, you know? The ones that blink on and off in your head and before you know it, you've made the dumbest mistake of your life.”

Natasha chuckled. “Now now, don’t go feeling sorry for yourself. Feel sorry for poor Nick Vitale. Now that his bride-to-be has dumped him, he might lose everything he’s ever owned.”

Keyonna’s eyes widened in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s strictly confidential – you know, “hush-hush,” Natasha said in comically husky whisper that Keyonna had to strain to hear, “And only a handful are really aware of this detail, but when Nick’s father died six months ago, he left a clause in his Will that if Nick didn’t get married by the time he turned thirty, then the Vitale fortune – worth over a billion dollars – would be taken from him and given to charity. Every red cent.”

Keyonna sank back against her desk for support. “Oh.” No wonder he’d been furious with her for jeopardizing his engagement.

“I guess I blew it, right?” she said at last, grimacing.

“With a cannon ball,” Natasha agreed, chuckling softly but not unkindly. “Rachel’s father is a close friend of the family and it would have gone down so ‘pat’ if both families could have been linked by marriage, both having strong Italian American heritage. Well, now the Conte and Vitale fortunes will have to go their separate ways.”

Oh shit! What have I done, Keyonna wondered in remorse as she chewed on her thumbnail. This didn’t sound good. Whoever said a kiss was just a kiss had no clue what they were saying.

“Looks like hunky Nick will probably now be scouting for a new candidate,” the gossipy Natasha went on and Keyonna listened raptly, despite herself very interested in hearing more. “And sure, there’s probably a sea of females out there who’d be willing to jump into the role of the Vitale bride, but who knows what Nick intends to do now? Not that I think for a moment he’ll willingly give up all that money. Losing his birthright all for some stupid reason....Hmmm, well, Nick’s father must have felt his son was too much of a roving rake and wanted to make sure the gorgeous Nick settled down when the time was right. Nick would be a fool not to find a replacement and quick, since his thirtieth birthday is in just one month. He’s in deep shit, I must say.”

And it’s all thanks to me, Keyonna thought, her sense of guilt steepening. Nick Vitale might be a prize bastard; he’d treated her worse than any man ever had and yet she wouldn’t have wished all this on him. It had simply been a case of the wrong place and time, for both of them.

Now there seemed to be nothing she could do to make it all better – or was there?

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Next: Chapter Six