There’s not enough money in the world to run away from family secrets, especially those buried in the deep, deep south. I should know. I’ve got that kind of money and power.

As a billionaire playboy seemingly without a care in the world, I’ve done all I can to keep the truth hidden, and I’m almost home free. 

Then danger strikes again. A beautiful stranger is determined to break a century-old curse of a family whose history is wrapped up way too tightly with my own. If I don’t stop her, she’ll unravel all my careful defenses—and destroy everything that matters to me…including my heart.

Not gonna happen.


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Chapter one

Marguerite Saleri pasted on her best smile, then strode confidently across the sun-dappled deck of the Cypress Resort’s most exclusive brunch restaurant. Her steady gaze took in the glistening crystal stemware, the gleaming silver, and the gorgeous china laid out for Sea Haven Island’s trendiest and spendiest clientele. She most assuredly did not look anywhere close to the fern-shaded alcove at the far right of the space, where Wyndham Masters III and his ice pick of a fiancée were perched poolside.

She didn’t have to look. She could feel the man’s gorgeousness as if he were standing next to her, the way she always did anytime he was nearby. When she’d realized Win Masters was dining in this morning, Marguerite had briefly considered faking a hernia to get out of her brunch shift. Never mind that the gossip was always the best with the late-morning tennis crowd.

As a visiting tourist from the kingdom of Garronia, she couldn’t get paid for her internship at the posh resort. Fortunately, the back-biting, ruthless but ever so genteel chatter of the high society matrons and their beaux was payment enough, and the best training Marguerite could hope for if she wanted to work in international hospitality. Beyond that, she could learn anything new she needed to know about Charleston society in two passes through the dining room. 

“Oh, really,” the disdainfully elegant drawl of one of the matriarchs caught her attention, and she focused on the older woman, resplendent in her tennis whites and diamonds. Real estate diva Constance Gibbs was holding court with her usual gaggle of gilded doyennes, but normally she reserved this level of hauteur for tales of lookie-loos from the Midwest, the ones who came to dream about buying a home on the shore, but who weren’t prepared for the stiff price tag. “I’d hoped we’d avoid him the rest of the season. He should stay boarded up in his ugly old albatross of a home.”

Marguerite’s brows lifted, but she knew better than to peer around the room, trying to pick out whoever had drawn the prim lady’s ire. Instead she changed trajectory, angling closer. In her role as social hostess for the Cypress Resort, she no longer had to serve tables, but the constant monitoring of their guests kept her every bit as busy.

“Holt? I thought he’d put that house up on the market long since,” a second woman said, blotting her lips with a white linen napkin. “I’ve always felt a little sorry for him.”

Constance pinched her mouth tightly, appearing even more put out. In truth, Marguerite had never seen her react so strongly. The real estate agent was always on the prowl for new clients, and as a result, maintained an almost preternatural expression of good cheer whenever she was at the resort. Not this morning however. “Don’t waste your pity on him,” she sniffed. “He’s spent the last fifty years mooning over his ruined estate, when it should be bulldozed and built over.”

“You simply don’t have a sentimental bone in your body, do you?” chortled another woman, this one well into her third mimosa of the morning. “He thinks it can be saved, poor old dear. That’s why he can’t part with it. I think it’s charming.”

“That’s because you haven’t seen it,” Constance shot back. “It’s gone to seed almost as much as he has, and it’s becoming an eyesore. He should be begging me to help him sell the old heap.”

“Ladies, good morning,” Marguerite said brightly, breaking in on their conversation. “I see none of you have tried the peach torte this morning. That does seem a shame, as the chef was so eager to try the new recipe.”

“Torte! For breakfast?” The genteelly outraged exclamation from the woman to Constance’s right had the propulsive force of a gunshot, but Marguerite was already waving over a server who carried samples of the dessert out from the kitchen.

“Surely you could try a piece and let us know what you think?” she asked, noting the still-dark glances Constance was leveling at the far end of the restaurant. “Perhaps I can bring a sample to—” she made a show of turning her head casually. “Why, I don’t think I know him.”

Constance immediately scoffed. “Don’t bother. He’s as tight as a tick.”

“Constance!” giggled another of the women, while prim titters drifted up from behind more starched napkins.

Marguerite took one of the plates from the server while Constance leveled a baleful glance at her. “If Dawson Holt ever actually pays for something so sweet, I declare I’ll faint,” Constance said. “Don’t say you weren’t warned.”

“Well, hopefully this will cheer him up.” Marguerite turned away, her mood unexpectedly lighter despite the sure-to-be gloomy guest she was about to encounter. This was why she enjoyed hospitality so much after all—helping others. Not truly getting involved, of course, not in any real way, but…

Marguerite bit her lip as she caught sight of the man that Constance had so disdained, picking him out easily from his fellow diners. He sat at the far end of the brunch patio, staring out to sea, his plate of eggs and sliced potatoes ignored before him. Something about him looked so desperately lonely that Marguerite quickened her step. Perhaps…perhaps he was someone she could help, in some way. She certainly couldn’t hurt, not when he looked so sad. She should at least—

A dulcet, champagne-saturated voice grated across her nerves.

“You can’t seriously have ordered that for us, Win. It’s ridiculous-looking.”

Marguerite’s hospitality-trained reflexes took over well before her outraged lizard brain could react, and she swung to the right so sharply she thought for a split second she’d slide the peach torte off its plate and into the lap of the blonde socialite eyeing her so coldly. Win Masters’ fiancée was everything Marguerite was not—blonde, blue-eyed and curvaceous, never mind that she was about as charming as a pitchfork.

Marguerite usually had no self-doubts about her own looks, with her long dark hair and dark eyes, her more or less fit physique…but in front of this woman she might as well be a jar of paste.    

Nevertheless, as the youngest sister of the semi-royal Saleri family, Marguerite had spent the past decade and more navigating prickly political ballrooms from the shores of the Aegean to the banks of the Thames. She could certainly handle the delivery of one harmless breakfast pastry to the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Miss Graham, Mr. Masters,” she said smoothly, setting down the plate in front of the blonde. She could feel Win’s sharp gaze on her like a physical touch, but Marguerite focused on the witc—ah, on his bride-to-be. “I do hope you enjoy it. Forgive me, but I’ve brought only one fork.”

“Oh, we share everything,” the mouth-breather—erm, the future Mrs. Masters—said meaningfully, with an arch to her brow.

“I suspect you were heading for another lucky diner.” Win’s voice was low and quiet, tuned to its usual sultry drawl, but Marguerite was already stepping away. Fortunately, her highly efficient server, noticing her pause at a table for two, not one, now headed their way.

“Not at all,” Marguerite said. She didn’t look at Win, she wouldn’t look at him. Unlike the chef’s newest confection, Wyndham Masters wasn’t on the menu—even if he was undoubtedly every bit as sinfully sweet as this torte and far, far more satisfying. She didn’t have to look at the man to conjure up his features—tall, slender and breathtakingly handsome, with raven-dark hair and piercing grey eyes, his skin incongruously fair despite the southern heat and sunshine baking everyone around her to a deep, ruddy bronze. Even Miss South Carolina opposite him was sporting a tan, though Marguerite had no idea if it was from the sun or a spray machine. 

“Another piece of cake, Countess Saleri?”



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