Baby By Accident

By: Caro LaFever

International Billionaires III: The Italians




Chapter 1





Drunk. Quite, quite drunk.

Not ever having had the experience before, Lise Helton couldn't be absolutely sure, but she'd sat down on this barstool with the intention of getting drunk and she always achieved her goals.

She looked down at the remnants of her third…or was it her fourth?…drink. A screaming something. A screaming…she tried to focus on the last part of the drink’s name except the fuzzy, floating edge of her brain now seemed to have fuzzily floated everywhere, clouding everything. A screaming…

“Well, well, well.” The deep, accented voice slid straight through her fuzzy, floating brain. “What do we have here?”

A shot of iced horror straightened her spine and cut through the fog in her brain. Her blurry gaze swept over the dark oak paneling of the fashionable London pub, over the small crowd of laughing, talking customers, over the bartender who eyed her with annoyance. Looking anywhere other than at him..

No, it couldn't be. Not him. Not here. Her luck could not possibly be this awful.

“I am all astonishment.” A wicked lick of tease lined his tone. As usual. “Who would have thought the cool, collected Ms. Helton had a secret life?”

Her brain refused to clear. Closing her eyes, she tried to pull back out of the haze.

“As a—drunk?” The question whispered in the words, barely there. A tool to poke her, push her. Prick at her pride.

“No,” she muttered under her breath.

“Si.” His voice lowered, the accent rich. “As you know, I call them as I see them.”

If she kept her eyes closed, perhaps he’d disappear. He was a figment of her drunken imagination. Every morning she awoke and banished him from her dreams. She’d do it again now.

“Trying to ignore me?” he said. “Ignoring your boss is never a good idea, Princesse.”

“Don't call me that.” He’d only called her princesse once before, in a meeting. He’d muttered the word under his breath, still she’d caught it. And caught his meaning. The word had been a slur, a put-down. The lilt of his accent hadn’t hid the bite of contempt underneath.

He chuckled and sat down. She sensed his bulk, the solidness, smelled the whiff of his disturbing cologne right beside her. ”I suppose you wish me to call you the usual Ms. Helton.”

“I wish…” Her thoughts and emotions tangled around her words. What did she wish for anymore? A sharp grief, effectively doused by alcohol mere moments ago, rose once more to clutch at her throat.

“Si? What would a woman like you wish for, I wonder?”

“Nothing.” Every one of her dreams of happily-ever-after was gone. “Absolutely nothing.”

He stilled.

Why had she said those words? Why had she given him an insight into her pain? The last thing she wanted to do was give anything away to this man, of all men.

Too late.

Lise squeezed her eyes shut until they hurt. She’d done something very stupid. She’d opened her mouth and given him another weapon to use in their ongoing war. Until he left, she needed to open her mouth and put something in it, and not let anything else out. She opened her eyes, took her drink in a shaky hand, and drank every last drop.

“Interesting,” he murmured.

She needed another drink.

“I cannot reconcile the woman I see before me with the cool creature who is my oh-so-professional CFO.”

“Bugger off.” She managed to form the words and push them from her numb mouth.

“I believe this is a public pub.” He waved at the bartender. Ordering a bottled beer, he glanced over. “I hesitate to order you another. I think you've had enough.”

“No.” She pushed her empty glass forward. “Another.”

The bartender grimaced. “Are you sure—”

“Another.”

Her nemesis cleared his throat. “Perhaps it is time to stop. After all, you wouldn’t want to ruin your ladylike reputation.”

The ever-present mockery laced his words. Again, misery slammed around inside her. A lady. A Princesse. A woman without a heart. Could it be true? Could this man be right about her? Even more importantly, could Robert be right about her?

What had he called her mere hours ago?

The memory came back like a kick in the gut.

Ice Queen.

Not a woman. Not someone who needed love. No, someone to put on a pedestal like a stone statue. Or in Robert’s case, dismiss as someone as cold as marble.

A nauseous wave of hurt swept through her.

Now, to top it off, as if she hadn’t suffered enough today, the Italian jerk beside her insinuated the same thing. A lady with a reputation, not a heart. A Princesse who couldn’t be hurt by nasty nicknames or spiteful scorn. An Ice Queen, completely frozen inside.

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