A Ring for Vincenzo's Heir

By: Jennie Lucas

CHAPTER ONE



“YOU HAVE TWO CHOICES, Scarlett.” Her ex-boss’s greedy eyes slowly traveled from her pregnant belly to the full breasts straining the fabric of her black maternity dress. “Either you sign this paperwork to give your baby away when it’s born, and become my wife immediately, or...”

“Or what?” Scarlett Ravenwood tried to move away from the papers he was pushing toward her. But the man’s overmuscled bulk took up most of the backseat of the limousine.

“Or...I’ll have Dr. Marston declare you insane. And have you committed.” His fleshy lips curved into a pleasant smile. “For your own safety, of course. Because any sane woman would obviously wish to marry me. And then you’ll lose your baby anyway, won’t you?”

Scarlett stared at him, barely seeing the gleaming buildings of Manhattan passing behind him as they drove down Fifth Avenue. Blaise Falkner was handsome, rich. And a monster.

“You’re joking, right?” She gave an awkward laugh. “Come on, Blaise. What century do you think we’re living in?”

“The century a rich man can do whatever he wants. To whomever he wants.” Reaching out, he twisted a tendril of her long red hair around a thick finger. “Who’s going to stop me? You?”

Scarlett’s mouth went dry. For the last two years, she’d lived in his Upper East Side mansion as nursing assistant for his dying mother, and over that time Blaise had made increasingly forceful advances. Only his imperious mother, horrified at the thought of her precious heir lowering himself to the household help, had kept him at bay.

But now Mrs. Falkner was dead, and Blaise was rich beyond imagination. While Scarlett was nothing more than an orphan who’d come to New York desperate for a job. Ever since she’d arrived, she’d been isolated in the sickroom, obeying the sharp orders of nurses and doing the worst tasks caring for a fretful, mean-spirited invalid. She had no friends in New York. No one to take her side against him.

Except...

No, she told herself desperately. Not him.

She couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

But what if Blaise was right? What if she escaped him and went to the police, and they didn’t believe her? Could he and his pet psychiatrist find a way to carry through with his threat?

When he’d crassly propositioned her at the funeral that morning—literally over his mother’s grave!—she’d tried to laugh it off, telling him she was leaving New York. To her surprise, he’d courteously offered a ride to the bus station. Ignoring her intuition’s buzz of warning, she’d accepted.

She should have known he wouldn’t give up so easily. But she’d never imagined he’d go this far. Threatening her into marriage? Trying to force her to give her baby away?

She’d made a mistake thinking of Blaise as a selfish, petulant playboy who wanted her like a spoiled child demanded a toy he couldn’t have. He was actually insane.

“Well?” Blaise demanded. “What is your answer?”

“Why would you want to marry me?” Scarlett said weakly. With a deep breath, she tried to appeal to his vanity. “You’re good-looking, charming, rich. Any woman would be happy to marry you.” Any woman who didn’t know you, she added silently.

“But I want you.” He gripped her wrist tightly enough to make her flinch. “All this time, you’ve refused me. Then you get yourself knocked up by some other man and won’t tell me who.” He ground his teeth. “Once we’re wed, I’ll be the only man who can touch you. As soon as that brat is born and sent away, you’ll be mine. Forever.”

Scarlett tried to squelch her rising panic. As the limo moved down Fifth Avenue, she saw a famous cathedral at the end of the block. A desperate idea formed in her mind. Could she...?

Yes. She could and she would.

It hadn’t been her plan. She’d intended to buy a bus ticket south, use her small savings to start a new life somewhere sunny where flowers grew year-round and raise her baby alone. But as her own father often said when she was growing up, new challenges called for new plans.

Her new plan scared her, though. Because if Blaise Falkner was a frying pan, Vincenzo Borgia was the fire.

Vin Borgia. She pictured the dark eyes of her unborn baby’s father, so hot one moment, so cold the next. Pictured the ruthless edge of his jaw. The strength of his body. The force of his will.

A shiver went through her. What if he...

Don’t think about it, she told herself firmly. One impossible thing at a time. Another maxim she’d learned from her father.

As the chauffeur slowed down at a red light, she knew it was now or never. She took a deep breath, then opened her eyes with a brittle smile.

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