The Purchased Wife

By: Michelle Reid

CHAPTER ONE

GETTING from flight arrivals to the airport's main exit was like taking a long walk through hell. The whole route was lined with baying reporters, flashing light bulbs and a cacophony of questions aimed to provoke an impulsive response.

Xander kept his mouth clamped tightly shut and ignored provocations like, 'Did you have anything to do with your wife's accident, Mr Pascalis?' - 'Did she know about your mistress, - 'Did she run her car off the road to kill herself?'-'Is there a good reason why you withdrew her bodyguard last week?'

With his eyes fixed directly ahead Xander just kept on going, six feet two inches of mean muscle power driving long legs towards the airport exit with no less than three personal security men grouped around him like protective wolves guarding the king of the pack.

Through it all the questions kept on coming and the camera bulbs flashed, catching his severely handsome dark features locked in an expression of blistering contempt. Inside, his fury was simmering on the point of eruption. He was used to being the centre of media interest, speculation-scandal if they thought they could make it stick. But nothing-nothing they'd said about him before had been as bad or as potentially damaging as this.

He hit the outside and crossed the pavement to the waiting limousine where Rico, his chauffeur, stood with the rear door open at the ready. Dipping into the car, the door shut even before he'd folded his long frame into the seat, while outside his security people dispersed in a prowling circle that kept the reporters back until Rico had safely stashed himself back behind the wheel. Ten seconds later the car moved away from the kerb and another car was pulling into its place to receive his men. 'How is she?' he lanced, rough toned, at the man sitting beside him.

'Still in surgery,' Luke Morrell replied.

The granite set of Xander's jaw clenched violently on a sudden vision of the beautiful Helen stretched out on an operating table, the object of a surgeon's knife. It was almost as bad as the vision he'd had of her slumped behind the wheel of her twisted wreck of a car with her Titian-bright hair and heart shaped face smeared with blood.

His jaw unclenched. 'Who is with her at the hospital?' There was a short hesitation before, 'No one,' Luke Morell answered. 'She refused to allow anyone to stay.'

Turning his dark head, Xander fixed his narrowed gaze on the very wary face of his UK-based personal assistant. 'What the hell happened to Hugo Vance?'

'Nell dismissed him a week ago.'

The simmering silence which followed that tasty piece of information began to burn up the oxygen inside the luxury car. 'And you knew about this?'

Luke Morrell swallowed and nodded. 'Hugo Vance rang to let me know what she'd done.'

'Then why the hell was I not told-?'

'You were busy.'

Busy. Xander's lips snapped together. He was always busy. Busy was a damned bloody way of life! 'Keep something like that from me again and you're out,' he seared at the other man with teeth-gritting intent.

Luke Morrell shifted tensely, wishing to hell that the beautiful Helen had remained locked away behind the gates of their private country estate instead of deciding it was time to venture out and take a look at life.

'It was an accident, Xander. She was driving too fast-'

A pair of wide shoulders shifted inside impeccable dark suiting. 'The point is-why was she driving so fast?'

Luke didn't answer. In truth he didn't need to. Xander could put two and two together and come up with four for himself. Yesterday his name had been splashed all over the tabloids alongside a photograph of him standing outside a supposedly discreet New York restaurant with the beautiful Vanessa DeFriess plastered to his front. His skin contracted against tightly honed face muscles when he thought of the incident. Protecting Nell from embarrassing scenes like that was a duty from which he never shirked. But his bodyguard of the evening had been distracted by a drunk trying to muscle in on them, and by the time the drunk had been hustled away and the frightened Vanessa had been peeled off Xander's front, a convenient reporter had already got his sleaze-grabbing photograph and slunk away.

Nell would have been upset, angry-who the hell knew what went on inside her beautiful head? He'd stopped trying to find out a year ago when she'd married him to a fanfare of 'Romance of the New Century' then promptly refused to share his bed. By the time she'd finished calling him filthy names ranging from power-driven fiend to sex-obsessed moron, he no longer wanted her anywhere near him. Liar, jeered a voice inside his head. You just had no defence ready when you were hit with too many ugly truths, so you backed off to hide behind your pride and arrogance. Photographs of his relationship with Vanessa had been the catalyst then, he remembered. Tasty snippets of truth printed in with the lies that had made it impossible for him to defend himself. He had been with Vanessa the week before his marriage. He had wined and dined her at a very fashionable restaurant then taken her back to her apartment and gone in with her. The fact that he'd been doing it on the other side of the Atlantic made him stupidly-naively believe he was safe.

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