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

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Next: Chapter Ten

Chapter Nine


There had been some satisfaction knowing that she’d stood her ground by not sleeping with Nick, thought Keyonna. Seeing him walk out of her bedroom had left a bittersweet sensation that still kept her throbbing with regret in secret places. Still, it was indeed a small victory after being forced to give in to his marriage ‘contract’.

And that’s exactly what it is, Keyonna – a business deal. You get to be a billionaire’s wife for a year, and then you get your life back. Simple as that.

Turned out being the woman on Nick Vitale’s arm was anything but simple.

He was no mob boss but he had to be the next closest thing judging by the way they were treated each time she had to go out with him somewhere; to have dinner with his friends, associates or family.

Nick had insisted she play her part as his new fiancée – a role now obvious to the outside world thanks to the huge engagement ring he’d placed on her finger. Keyonna wondered if he’d got her a new one or it was the same one Rachel must have worn. Not that it mattered to Keyonna either way. This wasn’t a romantic relationship – it was a business arrangement. He got his bride and hence his precious inheritance – while Keyonna got...well, she was spared having to lose all she’d ever worked for. Day by day, she reminded herself how Nick’s cruel blackmail had forced her to agree to marriage to him – and yet if she was honest, it wasn’t all angst.

Nick Vitale was a handsome man; and very charming when he chose to be. In public, he was the perfect companion, attentive and even romantic. Every time he placed a kiss on her cheek or took her hand in a warm grasp, Keyonna squirmed with hidden embarrassment. Even with the envy she saw on every woman’s face who happened to be present, she couldn’t help the feeling of resentment. Once, she asked him privately if all the show of affection was really necessary.

“All eyes are on us, in case you didn’t notice,” he murmured, looking his usual debonair self as they arrived at another one of the high-society dinners he made her attend with him. “We have to come across as authentic as possible. Especially since my father’s lawyers have to be sure none of this is a sham. I’d hate to jeopardize anything just because anyone suspected this is less than a romantic union.”

“I see,” Keyonna had replied, quelling an exasperated sigh. She was sure neither of them had been able to fool any of Nick’s relatives whom Keyonna had met over the past week; she could tell they looked far from pleased that Nick was marrying her instead of Rachel. She could almost read the disdain on their aristocratic faces each time they looked at her. Not that Keyonna could say she blamed them but still.

She just simply couldn’t understand the real reason Nick had picked her instead of any of the other women he could have had. In fact, Keyonna thought he seemed to enjoy the look of surprise on people’s faces when he introduced Keyonna as his ‘fiancée’ especially in those ultra-exclusive gatherings they were invited to. It was times like those that Keyonna was glad she’d agreed to Nick’s insistence that she get a whole new wardrobe.

Keyonna had assured him at first that her own clothes were perfectly fine, but being the alpha male he was, he soon had her with no choice but to give in to the two days of designer shopping which saw Keyonna up to her ears in shoes, bags, outfits and jewelry that cost more than she’d make in five years.

An all-round makeover seemed inevitable as her hair, nails and even her body was given the movie-star treatment. Now when Keyonna looked into the mirror she hardly recognized herself. She looked like a million dollars – which she was probably worth if she added up the cost of what she was wearing at a particular time.

Keyonna told herself she’d never asked for any of this, and though she hated every second she had to play a part, she couldn’t deny her feelings for Nick were starting to change.

He was still insufferably arrogant – but spending more and more time around him gave her some insight to the man beneath the mask. When he was around family or friends, he seemed a whole different person. She got to see him laugh more, talk more. She loved listening to him speak Italian; it was the sexiest language a man’s tongue could utter and with his cousins, uncles and aunts, he usually slipped into their native language while Keyonna was present but she never really minded. She could pick a few words here and there, and besides this was a part of who he was. She could begrudge him all she wanted for putting her in this situation, but deep down she knew that bit by bit, she was losing her hold on reality.

How many times in the past two weeks had a simple goodnight kiss from him almost had her wanting to pull him into her apartment with her and finish what he started that first time he’d come calling? It wasn’t just because it had been many months of celibacy for Keyonna; she really was genuinely in lust with Nick and being around him day in and day out wasn’t helping her hormonal balance one bit.

She could tell he wanted her too; it wasn’t something he’d ever tried to hide. Not since that first time when he’d slipped a finger deep into her pussy and he’d growled deep in his throat with carnal appreciation. He’d known then how much she’d melted for him, despite her defiant words.

Now, each time his knuckles brushed against the bare skin of her arm, or whenever she felt the warm gust of his breath on the back of her neck, Keyonna shivered with helpless desire. Nick was all-man, certainly more man than she’d ever had the fortune to come across. Every other guy she’d met over the years had always seemed to fall short of her perfect fantasy lover. Nick, on the other hand, fell short at nothing.

Keyonna would always remember the sheer size of him, even when restrained beneath his expensive dress pants. He’d been so hot and hard for her that every night, she moaned in her sleep with her thighs pressed tightly together as she berated herself for passing up that one chance in his arms.

And yet, with every look he sent her way when no one else could notice, Nick gave her no doubt that he was merely biding his time. He smiled that rakish smile of a man who knew the prize was there for his taking. And yet the handsome devil seemed to torture himself – and her as well, with the prospect that sometime soon, all the breathless waiting would come to an end.

Being an only child and with his mother dying when Nick was just a child, Keyonna soon learned that Nick had grown up pretty much raised by close relations and family friends. His tough as nails father had never had much time for his young son which meant Nick learned early on in life to stand on his own. Keyonna respected that even as she wondered if that was all that had happened to turn him into the enigma he was now. Always, she sensed there was something beneath the surface, still locked away from her. A part of him she’d never get a glimpse of or even understand.

Why she’d want to understand Nick Vitale was beyond her. The man was a heartless beast. He’d as much as held her future in his hands when he’d bought that company handling her life’s investments.

That’s what you get for putting all your eggs in one basket, thought Keyonna. Though, in the back of her mind she was reminded that she’d brought this all on herself that night she’d flown into his arms and kissed him in full view of Mark – and unknown to Keyonna, Nick’s fiancée Rachel Conte.

None of that mattered now. Keyonna had vowed to put that all behind her and move on, taking each day at a time. And when she went to bed at night, she prayed that when she woke up the next morning, it would get easier and easier to face the future.

But it never did.

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Next: Chapter Ten