Something about the woman was off. She claimed to be an experienced event planner yet every time someone asked her for instruction, she was like a deer caught in the headlights. He’d been watching her for the last couple of hours, since he arrived back from an extended vacation to find preparations for this fiasco in full swing. If she’d ever organized a party on this scale before, he would eat his shirt. There was a nervous energy rolling off her in waves. She kept glancing around like someone who expected to be caught out at any moment. If her twitchiness wasn’t suspicious enough, he was also pretty sure he’d seen her taking sneaky photographs of the house and gardens on her cellphone. That was a big no-no.
Cameron had been in this game long enough to be able to read people well. This woman was up to something. He’d followed her about for a bit this afternoon as she’d spoken to the florists, caterers, and whoever else was involved in setting up this three-ring circus. To get some sense of who she really was, he’d tried to draw her into conversation. Where did she come from, did she like her job, how long had she been doing it? They were simple questions, easy to answer, but her responses had been hesitant. Within seconds, it had become obvious to him that Hannah MacRae was not who she claimed to be.
For a start, there was no way she was the Scots lassie she pretended to be. Cameron came from the part of the Highlands she claimed to be from, so he knew she was lying. It was her bad luck that he was here, because most people wouldn’t notice she was overdoing the accent. Her rolling r-sounds were exaggerated, and she elongated her vowels a touch too much, the way people did when they were doing a piss-poor job of imitating a Scottish accent. Listening to her mangling his native dialect irritated Cameron intensely. For that alone, he would happily redden her cute wee arse.
Her appearance wasn’t quite right either. She was trying to project the air of a confident, professional woman but she seemed to be at odds with the clothing she wore. From the way she was tottering about, it was obvious she wasn’t used to walking in heels. More than once, she almost went over her ankle. The dress she wore seemed to be causing problems too. Constantly trying to drag the hem down over her knees, she unwittingly revealed her self-consciousness. Jeans and casual shirts were probably more her style. Or, perhaps, she was into long, flowing skirts and floral patterns. He couldn’t decide if she was the girly type or not.
The next clue that she’d altered her look was in her eyes. She was screwing them up a lot and blinking incessantly, suggesting that she was wearing contact lenses and they didn’t work for her. Add to that the fact that she wasn’t a genuine redhead, and she was starting to seem decidedly dodgy. Whoever had colored her hair had missed a clump here and there, letting her natural brown peek through. The effect was so sloppy, it had to be a do-it-yourself job.
Others might not spot the signs but, to Cameron’s trained eye, it was glaringly obvious the woman was an imposter. Clearly, she’d gone to a great deal of trouble to appear to be something she was not. The reasons why a person might do that worried Cameron. One consolation was that she was so nervous, it was unlikely she was a career criminal or, for that matter, a seasoned journalist, which was another troubling possibility. Whoever she was, she was an amateur when it came to deception.
“Got your eye on the party planner?”
His friend and business partner, Jackson Davies, was the one to speak. Cameron turned to the other man who was, for once, casually attired in blue jeans and a white button-down shirt. They sat alongside their friend, the billionaire Marcus Donovan, at a table reserved for the few men who were attending this overwhelmingly feminine party.
Jackson’s wife, Lindy, had really gone to town with this gender reveal nonsense. She’d been egged on, no doubt, by her cousin Abby Donovan, and the event planner with whom both women now appeared to be sharing a joke. They were probably laughing at how ridiculously over the top they’d gone with this whole thing. For the occasion, a huge marquee had been erected in the grounds of the Davies’ country mansion. Flowers decorated every table and hundreds of balloons had been arranged in clusters around the columns that held the enormous tent structure up. All manner of fluffy shit had been brought in for the party. It was impossible to turn around without coming face to face with a cutesy bunny rabbit or, for reasons Cameron couldn’t fathom, a stuffed pink flamingo. Surely it should be storks for a party celebrating a baby?
Cameron scrubbed a hand over his face. Why the hell was he thinking about things like that? He had no idea how he’d got roped into being here. He hated social gatherings, couldn’t let his guard down enough to enjoy them. It was risky to have so many strangers on the property at one time. Considering the threats that had been made against Lindy in recent months, he was surprised Jackson had gone along with this gender reveal shindig in the first place. It seemed like a pointless exercise when the baby itself would be arriving in only six weeks.
Actually, when he thought about it, he wasn’t surprised that Jackson had rolled over and allowed this explosion of pastels and fluff to happen. Since he married Lindy, a softer side of his personality had emerged. It didn’t rear its head too often, thank fuck, but when it did, it turned the man into a twenty-four-carat sap. If he wasn’t still one of the most effective operators in the security industry, Cameron might have lost all respect for him.
“There’s something not right about her,” Cameron said.
“I know,” Jackson agreed. “She’s not who she pretends to be. I mean, that accent, even I can tell it’s a fake.”
Cameron looked at his friend, amazed by how casual he sounded. Normally, having an imposter in his home would have put Jackson on high alert. Cameron wondered what had gone around here in his absence. He’d only been away a couple of months, overseeing some construction work at his ancestral home in the Highlands, but it seemed he’d come back to a world where relaxed attitudes reigned supreme.
“There’s an unknown woman in your home, close to your heavily pregnant wife and you’re not worried?” Cameron said in disbelief. “How can you be so calm about it?”
“I’m not,” Jackson assured him. “I’ve had eyes on her every second she’s been on the property and I’ve got Matthew digging into her background.”
“Okay.” Cameron felt a wave of relief that his friend had not suddenly gone soft. “Has he found anything?”
“Well, her name is Hannah, but it’s not MacRae, it’s Carson. As you’ve no doubt worked out, she’s not from your neck of the woods, she’s from Oxford. She has no criminal record, no parking tickets, no debt. She’s single and she’s studying history.”
“She’s a student?” Cameron would have put her in her late twenties.
“Mature student,” Jackson qualified, “just finished her first year.”
That was interesting. Cameron wondered how she’d kept herself occupied before that, what it was that had stopped her from going to university straight after high school like most people did.
“That’s all you’ve got on her?” he checked.
“So far, but we’ve only just started.”
“Right, so what’s she doing here?”
“That, my friend, is what you’ll be finding out for me.” Jackson patted him on the shoulder as he rose to his feet in response to his wife beckoning to him from across the room. “Matthew’s still gathering information, but I need you to determine whether or not this woman’s a threat.”
“And if she is?” Cameron’s eyes drifted back to Hannah and his cock twitched in response to her luscious curves.
“Neutralize the threat.”
“Understood,” Cameron confirmed, his tone dispassionate. Even if his dick did respond to this woman, if there was a risk to Lindy and her unborn child, then he had a job to do. He couldn’t allow himself to get caught up in worrying about what he might have to do to get information from Hannah, what he might be forced to do if he didn’t like what she had to say. Despite her fakery, he was drawn to her. It would be a shame if he had to do something unpleasant.
Jackson started to walk away, but then he paused and turned back. His expression betrayed an uncharacteristic lack of certainty that made Cameron uneasy.
“You’ll need to tread carefully.” Jackson sounded almost apologetic. “Belinda’s really taken a liking to her.”
“Abigail, too.” Marcus Donovan joined the conversation. “She wants to organize the party for Jack’s christening.”
Cameron bit back a curse. Did these women not realize that being married to powerful men meant that they had to be careful who they made friends with? They were targets for all kinds of criminals and opportunists, yet they brought people into their homes without asking any questions about who they were. They showed no concern for what secrets might lurk in their friends’ backgrounds.
“Don’t look so worried, Cameron,” Jackson said, “you can handle it.”
Cameron exhaled long and slow as he watched the other man striding off to join his wife. Yes, he could handle it, because that’s what he always did. He dealt with problems swiftly and ruthlessly. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to get down to business and find out what the hell was going on. But tempted as he was to grab Hannah and whisk her off for a very intense, private chat, he knew that this was not the time or place to snatch the woman.
Aware that Abby Donovan had come to sit on her husband’s lap and the couple were both staring intently at him as he brooded, he turned to them.
“Enjoying the party?” Abby asked.
“No.” There was no point lying about it.
“I think Cameron’s aching to get back to work,” Marcus told his wife as he wrapped his arms tight around her and pulled her close to his chest.
He was right. Cameron wanted nothing more than to get on with what he did best, taking care of problems.
“That’s right,” Abby said in her singsong voice, “you’ve just come back from Scotland, haven’t you?”
“Aye, just this morning,” Cameron confirmed.
The question Abby was about to ask him was obvious before she opened her mouth. Everyone always wanted to know about his background but, until now, he’d manage to avoid giving the inquisitive Mrs. Donovan an opening to launch an interrogation.
“Is it true you have a castle up there?” she asked.
Cameron nodded. Kildarrich Castle had been in his family since the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t something he liked to talk about. He preferred to keep that part of his life private.
“And you’re a lord, or something?” she probed.
“Or something.” He was not about to get into all that. He forced a polite smile onto his face for Abby, who was giving him a searching look, and immediately changed the subject. “Does he really not know the sex?”
Cameron gestured toward Jackson. Knowing his friend disliked surprises, he couldn’t believe he would allow the sex of his first child to be sprung on him at a public gathering.
“No,” Marcus replied. “Lindy wanted it to be a surprise and she wouldn’t let him find out on his own.”
“She wouldn’t let him?” Cameron scoffed. He couldn’t imagine Jackson allowing anyone to stop him from getting the information if he’d really wanted to know.
“He’s such a big softie where Lindy’s concerned,” Abby cooed. She snuggled into the chest of the powerful man who seemed to turn to marshmallow around her. “He’d do anything to make her happy.”
“And to keep her safe,” Marcus added pointedly. Cameron hardly needed to be reminded of that. He was the one who’d done questionable things to ensure her safety up until now and he would continue to do so in the future.
He was about to make some flippant comment to alleviate the sudden tension that fell over the table, when a timid female voice drifted across the room.
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?”
Cameron looked up as the party planner waved her arms frantically to get everyone to stop talking. She might not have silenced the crowd, but she had his full attention. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Although she was a bit jittery for his tastes, there was something about her. She had an appealing face. Pretty, rather than classically beautiful, she had wide eyes and slightly reddened cheeks. Her figure was nice, not too skinny like a lot of the stick-thin ice queens who paraded themselves in front of him. No, this woman was one he could happily sink his cock into.
The more he studied her, the more he wondered what it would be like to bend her over a table and take her hard and fast. He imagined fisting a hand in her long, tousled hair and fucking her until she begged for release. He could almost hear her frantic moans as he pounded into her relentlessly, taking what he wanted, punishing her transgressions. His fingers itched to pinch her nipples until she gasped in pleasure and pain. A smile crossed his face. Suddenly, he was looking forward to stripping away her lies and getting to the truth of who this woman really was. More than that, he was going to relish every moment of being the man who made sure she never dared step out of line again.
Nothing about her present situation sat well with Hannah. It wasn’t in her nature to lie to people yet here she was pretending to be someone else. She would never have entered this charade to get information on Lindy Davies if she’d realized what a genuinely nice person she was. She’d been told that Lindy was the spoiled, bitchy wife of a wealthy man, who had clawed her way to the top by using and abusing everyone she met along the way. Hannah hadn’t spent more than ten minutes with Lindy before she knew the picture that had been painted of her was false. The woman was sweet-natured, loving, and generous to a fault. Hannah hated deceiving her.
Of course, she didn’t really have a choice. The man who pushed her into this deception was seriously scary. No was not a word he liked to hear and his threats to do her and her sister harm had become increasingly frightening. When Hannah had tried going to the police for help, she’d discovered just how deep his influence ran. The officer who’d spoke to her had pretty much told her to put up and shut up. Being turned away by the authorities had left her with no other option. So, although she hated the thought of betraying the trust Lindy had placed on her, she had to see this through. She didn’t have the guts to cross a ruthless criminal like Thomas Phelan. Not when he was threatening to harm her younger sister.
Standing next to Lindy and Jackson, who were entwined in each other’s arms, Hannah’s nerves threatened to shatter completely. She wasn’t usually such a wreck but, then again, it wasn’t exactly part of her daily routine to spy on the wife of a rich and influential man. Being in the presence of Jackson Davies was unsettling. He was incredibly intimidating, even without trying, and it was clear that he was protective of the people closest to him. There were hundreds of ways he could make her life an absolute misery if he found out she was gathering information about his beloved wife’s movements, the security arrangements put in place to protect her.
It didn’t help matters that she was being watched by that hulking brute of a Scotsman. His probing blue eyes seemed to have been trained on her all afternoon. Only a fool would fail to realize they’d aroused his suspicions. Hannah silently cursed her own stupidity. If she’d known that Jackson’s right-hand man was a Highlander, she wouldn’t have pretended to be Scottish when she first befriended Lindy. It had been a silly idea to begin with, but she’d gotten away with it until now. Cameron had seen through her story straight away. The wry arching of his eyebrow as he interrogated her about her life told her he didn’t believe a word she was saying. Adopting a different persona had been intended as a means of covering her tracks. It had seemed like a smart move but now she realized it had just left her open to unwanted scrutiny. She really wasn’t cut out for this game. All she wanted was to get this over with and return to her rather dull, but safe, life as a student.
Clearing her throat, she tried to focus on the task Lindy had employed her to do. She might be a phony, but she still wanted this party to go well. Her heart and soul had gone into making today special.
“Everyone, please.” She tried again to get the crowd to quiet down, but she just wasn’t assertive enough.
“Allow me,” Jackson Davies rumbled in that deep voice of his as he brushed past her. “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please.”
Almost immediately, the hundred or more guests fell silent. How nice it must be to wield that sort of authority. Hannah flashed Jackson a grateful smile that he didn’t return. The stern expression on his face made her shudder. Disapproval rolled off him in waves. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward, still trying to work out exactly what she was going to say.
“Thank you, everyone,” she said, her voice quivering. People must be able to tell from a mile away that she wasn’t used to doing this sort of thing. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Our parents-to-be will now cut the cake.”
It wasn’t perhaps the most unique way to reveal the baby’s gender, but Hannah was grateful Lindy hadn’t wanted to do anything too flashy. She wouldn’t have coped with organizing hand-painted doves being released from a box, or having a plane fly overhead with a particular color of smoke streaming from its tail. But even a woman of her limited resources had been able to source a baker to fulfil Lindy’s requirements.
Hannah moved off to the side and watched as Lindy picked up the large, ceremonial knife. Jackson placed his hand lovingly over his wife’s and they positioned the knife to cut into the two-tier cake. When Lindy looked up at her husband and smiled, Hannah blinked back a tear. Something intimate had passed between the couple, one of those subtle glances that held a wealth of meaning. Witnessing it had made her feel even more like an intruder. Why did they have to be so in love? It made what she was going to do all the harder. The last thing she wanted was to see them hurt. Okay, so she didn’t know what was going to happen with the information she passed to Mr. Phelan, but she wasn’t naïve enough to think it would be anything good. She could only hope that nobody would come to any real harm.
She was pulled, suddenly, from her thoughts, by a triumphant shout from Jackson.
“It’s a girl!”
Immediately, people rose to their feet. Cheering and enthusiastic applause filled the air and Hannah automatically joined in.
“Hope she gives you hell!” Marcus Donovan shouted jokingly from across the room.
His voice drew Hannah’s eye to his table and she couldn’t prevent her gaze from drifting to Cameron. For a moment, she looked at the handsome Scot and he stared back at her. There was an intensity in his gaze that made her pulse race. A frisson of awareness prickled across her skin and her breath caught at the back of her throat. She had never felt anything like it. The man carried more than a hint of danger and yet she wondered what it would be like to get close to him.
Suddenly he leaned forward to pick his cellphone up off the table in front of him. Their connection was abruptly broken when he glanced at the screen. An unwelcome chill slithered down Hannah’s eyes as he shot her a dark glance before turning and walking away. Should she read something into that look? Did the message he just received have something to do with her? She would almost welcome it if he did discover she was here gathering information for a dangerous criminal. He might be able to help her. Hannah scoffed at the thought. There were no white knights to rescue her from his mess.
Cameron disappeared, and Hannah became aware of movement next to her. Jackson pulled Lindy into his arms, kissing his wife with such intense passion it almost made her glow. Tears stung Hannah’s eyes. Now that the baby’s gender had been revealed, everything was a bit more real to her. The Davieses were going to have a beautiful baby girl and she was about to betray them. An involuntary sob escaped her as her mind raced with terrible thoughts of what might happen to this amazing couple. She had never felt so low and, the worst of it was, she had nobody she could turn to.