A Vengeful Affair
by Carmen Falcone
Rich people get away with murder every day, but Vivian Foster intends to make billionaire Javier Rivera pay for what he did to her best friend—and how better to destroy a money-grubbing bastard than to sabotage the merger that means everything to him.
Javier Rivera would never hurt a woman much less kill one. But when he catches a gorgeous corporate spy in his office, he knows he can’t let her go—not when even a hint of scandal could ruin his career. Until the merger is signed, he’ll keep her close, even if he has to shackle her to his wrist. Literally.
But the closer Javier gets to Vivian, the more he wants her, and the more time she spends with him, the less she believes he could ever be a killer. Now Vivian and Javier have to discover the truth…and Vivian has to win the trust of her worst enemy.
© 2012 Carmen Falcone
Vivian Foster took a deep breath and wrapped her fingers around the door handle, the steel a cold weight in her palm. The key was already inside the lock, and she knew the moment she opened that door, everything she’d been taught by her parents would disappear.
Be good. Do the right thing. Don’t steal.
Her conscience justified her action. Stealing is okay if it fixes a bigger wrong.
Revenge had its own moral code.
This was not the time for moral dilemmas. If she wanted to search Javier Rivera’s office before the security team made its nightly rounds, she had to stop thinking about what she was about to do. Javier needed to pay for killing Molly, and Vivian knew just the price—his coveted billion-pound merger.
It had been naive of Molly to start an office affair with the boss, but she hadn’t deserved to be fired for it, and she’d done nothing to deserve the emotional abuse that followed. And when Molly had retaliated by trying to take Rivera’s precious merger from him, he’d had her followed and harassed. Within a week of having her flat vandalized, Molly had been found dead in her bedroom. All alone.
The police had ruled it a suicide, but Vivian knew her friend would never shoot herself. Javier had done it—or ordered it done.
He killed her. Don’t forget. You heard his voice mail.
She entered the room, relocked the door, and withdrew the key. Slipping it into her pocket, she shut the door again with a small click. Vivian used a sleek flashlight to guide her through the spacious, dark office. She didn’t want to draw any attention by turning the overhead lights on.
Floor-to-ceiling glass along one wall showcased the twinkling lights along the opposite bank of the river Thames. Her white beam skipped over a long leather sofa, a low glass coffee table scattered with business magazines and international newspapers, a trio of bookshelves, a sleek refrigerator and minibar, then finally to the desk.
Vivian’s grasp on the flashlight loosened for a moment as cold sweat slicked her palm. Since her position was at the reception desk, she’d never been to the CEO’s office before. Mrs. Wright, his snooty personal assistant, screened all of his calls and appointments.
She walked among the shadows that stretched along the polished hardwood floor, approaching the heavy glass-and-metal desk, which had probably been custom made. Money was all that mattered to a man like Javier Rivera.
For a moment, she considered the computer in front of her, then shook her head, knowing the network would be secure. Sitting on the edge of the soft leather chair, she flashed her light over the desktop. Her fingers tapped the metal drawers, and she tried to pull them open with no luck. Contracts, notes, reports…anything would help.
She leaned over the trash bin.
So was the recycling bin and the paper shredder.
Vivian had never thought this would be easy, but she had counted on finding something. Any piece of information that would lead her to—
Her eyes caught on the edge of a manila folder peeking out from between two finance books. She grabbed it and shone the flashlight on the few pages inside. A report.
She blinked at the numbers, and her breath caught. Could that be…?
Footsteps echoed from outside the door.
Vivian leaped to her feet with a start, her quickened pulse carrying a surge of fear through her and making her painfully alert.
The footsteps came closer. She tucked the folder inside her bag, her gaze riveted to the door.
It could be security. But their rounds weren’t supposed to start for another half hour.
There was no time. Vivian picked up the flashlight with unsteady fingers and panned it around the office, looking for a place to hide.
Her first option was a walk-in closet with gray french doors. As the steps slowed outside the office door, she cut across to the closet, slipped inside, and turned off the flashlight.
Squeezed in among hanging suits and leather shoes, she inhaled the pine scent of floor cleaner. At six feet tall, Vivian had always felt out of place, particularly between her petite mother and short stepfather. Now there was no doubt: she wished she were shorter.
A razor of light stabbed through the gap between the closet doors.
Vivian covered her mouth with her hand, holding her breath. She couldn’t believe this was happening. Her heart drummed in her ears.
“Tell the pilot to wait. I have to pick up my briefcase.” The voice was deep, with a strong Spanish accent.
Vivian blinked, swallowing the lump in her throat. This wasn’t security. This was Javier Rivera.
She’d seen him cross the reception area quite a few times, always talking on his mobile. He’d never greeted her with more than a nod, but she’d heard his commanding voice as he spoke to others. And now he was within feet of her, and she was hiding among his Italian suits.
Vivian stiffened. His footsteps approached her hiding place. She closed her eyes and hoped he would just turn around and go away.
His footfalls faded, and she let her breath out in small gasps, desperation almost turning her into an optimist.
His briefcase could be anywhere in his office, couldn’t it? Nowhere obvious, or she’d have spotted it. The odds were that Javier Rivera would simply leave to get on his private jet, and she’d still have time to resume her search in his office and then vanish before the security team returned.
The doors swung open. Bright light filled her hiding place.
Up close, Javier Rivera looked a lot more intimidating. His rugged face was framed by short, dark-brown hair. He had a slight bump on his otherwise aristocratic nose and a small scar on his chin. He was several inches taller than her, broad-shouldered and powerful.
She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
Javier’s angry black eyes locked with hers, and she stood completely still, frozen like a winter river. Her heart galloped.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” he asked.
Vivian swallowed. “M–Mr. Rivera. I’m so sorry. I came to deliver a fax, and when I heard someone coming in, I got scared and hid in the closet.” Vivian stepped out of her hiding place and tried to push past him, but Javier didn’t give an inch.
He studied her face, his full lips tight and a glint of disbelief in his eyes.
“I was on my way out when these came.” Vivian’s fingers trembled as she opened her messenger bag and handed him a couple of sheets of paper she’d brought along in the event she needed a cover story. “Since Mrs. Wright had already gone home, I wanted to hand-deliver these. They’re marked ‘confidential.’”
Javier’s eyes scanned the pages. “All faxes that come to me say ‘confidential.’ These are only confirmations of dinner reservations and hotel arrangements.”
“Well, sir, there they are.” She managed a smile, holding the strap of her bag so tightly her knuckles whitened.
For a moment, his eyes trailed down her neckline. Was he staring at her chest? Vivian crossed her arms, and Javier pointed to the place where her name tag should have been.
“What’s your name?” he demanded.
“Vivian Foster, sir.” She squared her shoulders.
“How did you get in, Ms. Foster?”
“I used the master key.”
He frowned. “You shouldn’t have access to it.”
“Look, Mr. Rivera, I’m sorry about this misunderstanding. I wanted to drop these off because I thought they were important.” Vivian shook her head. “I didn’t even know what they were about. I’m new here…”
She glanced around the office. It had a cool sophistication that unsettled her. Or perhaps it was the man who did that. The black leather sofas, contemporary standing lamps, and Surrealist art had nothing on Javier’s inquisitive posture, his eyes piercing through hers, and his mocking smile.
“How convenient for you to be at my office after hours,” Javier said drily. “Are you looking for a shortcut up the corporate ladder, Ms. Foster? Since you are new?”
“A shortcut?” Vivian’s eyes narrowed. “I’m offended you would think I need to cheat to move up any ladder.” She raised her chin and tried again to move past him. “I’ll go, and I’ll pretend you didn’t say that, Mr. Rivera.”
“Not so fast, Ms. Foster.” He seized her wrist, his unwelcome touch sending a shiver through her body.
He was so massive, his nearness almost made her feel delicate, which she knew she was not. “But sir…” She tried to twist from his grasp. He carefully turned her to face him, reducing the gap between them and holding her captive with those dark eyes.
A murderer’s eyes. She’d had six months since Molly’s death to learn to hate him.
Javier leaned over her, his hot breath fanning her earlobe. “Ms. Foster, I will ask you one more time. What were you doing in here?”
She breathed in deeply, trying to regain control, but succeeded only in inhaling the minty scent of his aftershave.
“Mr. Rivera, I already…” She gasped when he patted her shoulders, then ran his hands down and around to brush the sides of her breasts.
“How dare you—” Vivian choked on her words, angry that he would touch her so blatantly.
“I’m making sure you don’t have any weapons,” Javier said casually, as if touching a woman he barely knew was the most natural thing in the world.
Well, for him it probably is.
He brushed his hands over her stomach and hips. His brief touch was neither sexual nor aggressive, yet the weight of his long fingers on her black polyester suit made her blood pound hotly through her veins. His hands moved down her long legs, and she avoided looking directly at him when he knelt down, touching the hem of her pants and sliding his fingers softly along the inside of her ankles.
“No weapons.” Vivian raised her voice, yanking away from his touch. Javier Rivera had no right to—
He slid her bag off her shoulder and abruptly upended it over his desk.
“You can’t do that!” Vivian said, feeling a wave of heat rising to stain her cheeks. He had just played her for a fool. She should have known. Nothing Javier did was pointless.
“You aren’t looking for a promotion,” he said calmly. He picked up the folder she’d found, a pack of gum, her mobile, a small wallet, and a makeup case. Stray coins rolled along the desk and fell to the floor.
Vivian took a deep breath as she bent to collect the coins, picking them off the hardwood to escape the inquisition of his eyes. “Of course I’m not.”
When she rose to her feet, smoothing her ponytail with one hand and clenching the cold coins with the other, he glared at her, his arms folded.
“What was my folder doing in your bag?”
“Your folder?” She frowned. “I was about to place your fax on your desk when I heard a noise, and I pushed them into my bag. I must have picked up the folder at the same time.” Vivian wondered how much longer she’d have to lie. It was new to her, and dodging his questions made her feel like a circus juggler. A first-day-on-the-job circus juggler. All the balls could drop at any time.
“Ms. Foster, I am not patient or stupid. You came in when I wasn’t supposed to be here. When no one was supposed to be here. And you have in your possession confidential information of a business transaction which I had left on my desk.”
“I didn’t even know what that was,” Vivian said innocently.
He opened the side zipper of her messenger bag and rummaged around with long, tanned fingers. “Planning on going somewhere?” Javier held her passport up.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Ms. Foster, do you really want to make things harder for yourself?”
“I’m going to South America with friends in a few months. I brought my passport to make copies of it. I’m applying for a visa, though it’s really none of your business.”
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you, Ms. Foster?” Javier examined her driver’s license, his eyes narrowing over the picture.
“Give me back my things.” She reached for her bag, then scooped her makeup case, wallet, and other personal items inside. “Mr. Rivera, I need my passport and my mobile. If you don’t give them to me right now—” She stretched her open hand toward him, but he pocketed both items.
“Yes, go on. What will you do, Ms. Foster?” His lips curved into a cynical smile. “Call the police?”
Vivian clenched her fists, her short fingernails digging hard into her palms. “I should, shouldn’t I? After being harassed as if I’m some lowlife burglar by the CEO.”
“Yes, I can make that call myself. But I guarantee you the outcome won’t be favorable to you. What were you looking for?” There it was, that predatory look again, assessing her from top to bottom.
“But I already said—”
“Whoever is paying you, I can pay you double if you cooperate.”
“It’s all about money to you, isn’t it?” Vivian looked deep into his black eyes, where pure challenge flickered. She held his gaze, refusing to back down.
She was here to be the instrument of Molly’s revenge. All the money in the world couldn’t turn her away from that goal.
To her relief, Javier’s phone rang. He gestured to her to stay put and took his call just outside his office, leaving the heavy door open.
Vivian watched him at first, unable to hear, then gave up and began pacing the floor. After a while, the sound of her shoes scraping over the hardwood irritated her, and she sat down to pray for a miracle.
“She stole the Webb proposal,” his solicitor repeated on the other end of the line.
“Yes.” Javier paced the floor of the waiting area adjoining his office.
“You may call the police, although they won’t hold her for long. The publicity won’t be good for the Broussard merger, either.”
“Infierno! This is the worst timing.” Javier ran his hand through his hair.
“Yes, Monsieur Broussard is known for being volatile. If you take her to the police, the press will know, and he will know. It was hard enough hiding what happened to that other woman.”
Molly. He’d made a mistake there, broken one of his cardinal rules, and he’d paid for it many times over. How foolish of him to think the matter had ended with the woman’s death. “Molly Richardson was irrational. I wonder if Vivian works for the same people?”
“If she goes to jail, we may never know. Whoever hired her may back off or think of a different approach.”
“I’ve worked the last year nonstop for this merger to happen. I can’t lose it now.”
I’ve waited for this moment my whole life.
Javier stopped pacing and looked across at the woman who had disrupted his evening in more ways than one. She was sitting elegantly, her legs crossed at the ankles. Collected and goal-oriented, she appeared nothing like the irrational, impulsive Molly Richardson.
“I won’t lose it,” he continued firmly. “Call Matt Smith, the private investigator, and have him find out what he can about Vivian Foster.”
“And what will you do in the meantime?”
“I will take Ms. Foster out of commission while we check her credentials. Whoever hired her won’t find her until I sign my contract.”
“But you have to go to Paris tonight.”
Javier knew that. If he made big changes to his plans, his opponent might seize the opportunity to destroy the merger. Broussard was in Paris, which meant Javier had to be there as well. If he stuck to his plans and made sure Vivian was unreachable, perhaps he could throw his opponent off.
Until his investigator told him everything he needed to know about Vivian Foster, he would keep her close.
“I’ll just have some excess luggage.” Javier hung up the phone.
What a night. He’d thought stopping by the office to get his briefcase before heading to Paris was enough of an inconvenience, especially for a man like him, who hated when things went out of control. But then he’d found the new receptionist in his closet, her deep blue eyes startled and her cheeks flushed.
A different kind of inconvenience altogether.
Javier had noticed her a few times, but he would never have imagined the stern receptionist as a threat to his company. While the other women at the front desk smiled in welcome as he passed them, Vivian would simply nod an acknowledgment and return to answering the phones or checking something on her computer screen.
He slid the phone into his pocket and returned to his office silently, observing the beautiful woman sitting before him. There was a veneer of vulnerability about her when she didn’t know she was being watched. When she wasn’t trying so hard to clash with him.
If the circumstances were different…
He could think of a pleasurable way to make her talk, and moan. He would take that silly ponytail apart and run his fingers through her dark auburn hair. He’d kiss those rosy lips until they swelled, slide his mouth down her neck as he inhaled the fresh lavender fragrance she wore. The same fragrance that had caught his attention and prompted him to open his closet doors.
And he would outline her curves with his bare hands, a much more intimate exploration than his impersonal frisking.
His eyes moved to the outline of her full breasts, the indentation of her waist…and those long, long legs lost inside a shapeless pair of pants.
Basta! He cleared his throat. A few months without sex could really compromise a man’s common sense.
Vivian Foster was an industrial spy. She was the last woman he ought to be wasting his time fantasizing about.
In a few days, he would make his imprint on the global market forever and not only surpass his stepfather’s wealth but prove that he’d made it all on his own.
Nobody would stop him. Certainly not Ms. Foster, with her sparkling blue eyes.
Discovering the identity of his real enemy was paramount. Vivian Foster was not the one who was trying to ruin him, but if he played his cards right, she could take him to the man who was—whether she wanted to or not.
“Mr. Rivera, can I please go now?” Vivian got to her feet the moment her eyes found his. He smiled inside, recognizing that her defenses were on full alert.
“How did you get the master key?”
“There was an old copy in the manager’s box. This is the first time I’ve used it, and believe me, it will be the last. I went out of my way to please you, and yet you have completely misread me.”
Javier took a deep breath, desperate to remove from his mind the image of the guarded woman in front of him going out of her way to please him. “Today is Friday. It didn’t occur to you to drop the faxes in Mrs. Wright’s box?”
“No, Mr. Rivera. You work on weekends, and I thought it might have been urgent.”
“Why did you hide when I walked in?”
“Because I was a woman alone in an empty office building at night.”
“Ms. Foster, I have no time to waste. My private jet is waiting for me, and I’m expected in Paris for the weekend.”
“Well, sir, you should go.” Vivian gave him a dismissive shrug and tried to brush past him.
“I intend to. But having to call the police to question you would delay me.” He reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her from leaving. “You are not authorized to be in my office. You had something of mine in your bag, and you had your passport with you as though you were planning to leave the country.”
“My solicitors can give you quite a headache if I want them to. We will talk to security, look through the security tapes, dig into your background, and look for witnesses to your trespassing and theft. But I prefer to avoid that fuss. That’s why you are coming with me.”
“What? What kind of crazy idea is that?” She widened her eyes. “No.”
“Yes. We are leaving for Paris in an hour. I have important business to attend, and you will accompany me.”
“But I’m a receptionist. Traveling with the CEO isn’t part of my job.” Her cheeks flushed again as she protested.
Damn. This woman is good. She can even summon a blush on command.
“Neither is snooping around my office. Yet here we are.”
“But Mr. Rivera, I already explained—”
“No, you have not explained. Not the part that matters. But you will.” Javier glanced at his watch. They had to leave soon. He took his briefcase from the file drawer in the credenza located behind the black leather sofa. “Either you come with me so I can ask you a few questions in private, or I call the police and my solicitors, and they take care of you.”
“You wouldn’t.” Panic flared in her enormous blue eyes.
“Try me.” He waved his phone. “No time. Yes or no?” Javier flipped the lights off.
“For how long?”
“Only enough time for me to make sure you are who you say you are, Ms. Foster.”
“I can’t believe this,” she muttered under her breath.
“And I can’t believe you. But if you are innocent, you shouldn’t be afraid.” Javier looked at the shadow of uncertainty in her eyes, the one she was obviously trying so hard to hide.
Who was she working for? And why? Was it only money that motivated her, or was she helping a lover?
Yes, that made sense… Only a woman blinded by passion would put her freedom, job, and dignity at risk.
That was why he stayed away from emotional relationships. He was a passionate man—in his work life, in the bedroom with a beautiful woman in his arms. But he was also a strategist who made sure never to confuse lust with love. He had no time for love, no patience for passion that overpowered common sense.
“Can I have a few minutes to think about this?” Vivian cleared her throat nervously.