Falling for the Secret Millionaire

BOOK: Falling for the Secret Millionaire
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Learning to love again...

Nicole Thomas would much rather be working than dating! Nursing a bruised heart after her ex's betrayal, she's focusing all her energy on making her dream of running an independent cinema come true. Her only distraction is the man she's been chatting with online...

When reformed rebel and business rival Gabriel meets Nicole, he's taken aback by the strength of their chemistry... It doesn't take him long to realize they've met before—online! For the first time he doesn't feel as if his professional goals are his top priority...Nicole is!

“I'm just not good at relationships. It feels like a risk,” Nicole told him.

“You took risks all the time at the bank. You're taking a risk now on the Electric Palace.”

“Those were all calculated risks,” she pointed out. “This isn't something I can calculate.”

“Me, neither. But I like you, Nicole. I like you a lot. And I think if we're both brave we might just have the chance to have something really special.”

“I'm not sure how brave I am,” she admitted.

“It's harder to be brave on your own. But you're not on your own, Nicole. We're in this together.”

Dear Reader,

I've always loved the film
You've Got Mail
, and I'm intrigued by the idea of two people being friends in one part of their lives but rivals/enemies in another. And that led me to think... Suppose my hero and heroine had become really close to each other online, but when they met in real life, not knowing that they were friends, they clashed really badly and thought they were enemies?

I had a lot of fun resolving that tension—and getting them both to open up to each other in “real” life and change. And because my hero and heroine both like films, I threw a run-down cinema into the mix—something that keeps them apart in the beginning and brings them together in the end. You might also enjoy spotting the film references hidden in the book!

I hope you enjoy Nicole and Gabriel's journey.

With love,

Kate Hardy

FALLING FOR THE SECRET MILLIONAIRE

Kate Hardy

Kate Hardy
has always loved books and could read before she went to school. She discovered Harlequin books when she was twelve and decided this was what she wanted to do. When she isn't writing, Kate enjoys reading, cinema, ballroom dancing and the gym. You can contact her via her website,
katehardy.com
.

Books by Kate Hardy

Harlequin Romance

Behind the Film Star's Smile
Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride
A New Year Marriage Proposal
It Started at a Wedding...
Falling for Mr. December
Billionaire, Boss...Bridegroom?

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

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For my friend Sherry Lane, with love (and thanks for not minding me sneaking research stuff into our trips out with the girls!) xxx

CHAPTER ONE

‘A
RE
YOU
ALL
RIGHT
, Miss Thomas?' the lawyer asked.

‘Fine, thank you,' Nicole fibbed. She was still trying to get her head round the news. The grandfather she'd never met—the man who'd thrown her mother out on the street when he'd discovered that she was pregnant with Nicole and the father had no intention of marrying her—had died and left Nicole a cinema in his will.

A run-down cinema, from the sounds of it; the solicitor had told her that the place had been closed for the last five years. But, instead of leaving the place to benefit a charity or someone in the family he was still speaking to, Brian Thomas had left the cinema to her: to the grandchild he'd rejected before she'd even been born.

Why?

Guilt, because he knew he'd behaved badly and should've been much more supportive to his only daughter? But, if he'd wanted to make amends, surely he would've left the cinema to Nicole's mother? Or was this his way to try to drive a wedge between Susan and Nicole?

Nicole shook herself. Clearly she'd been working in banking for too long, to be this cynical about a stranger's motivations.

‘It's actually not that far from where you live,' the solicitor continued. ‘It's in Surrey Quays.'

Suddenly Nicole knew exactly what and where the cinema was. ‘You mean the old Electric Palace on Mortimer Gardens?'

‘You know it?' He looked surprised.

‘I walk past it every day on my way to work,' she said. In the three years she'd been living in Surrey Quays, she'd always thought the old cinema a gorgeous building, and it was a shame that the place was neglected and boarded up. She hadn't had a clue that the cinema had any connection with her at all. Though there was a local history thread in the Surrey Quays forum—the local community website she'd joined when she'd first moved to her flat in Docklands—which included several posts about the Electric Palace's past. Someone had suggested setting up a volunteer group to get the cinema back up and running again, except nobody knew who owned it.

Nicole had the answer to that now. She was the new owner of the Electric Palace. And it was the last thing she'd ever expected.

‘So you know what you're taking on, then,' the solicitor said brightly.

Taking on? She hadn't even decided whether to accept the bequest yet, let alone what she was going to do with it.

‘Or,' the solicitor continued, ‘if you don't want to take it on, there is another option. A local development company has been in touch with us, expressing interest in buying the site, should you wish to sell. It's a fair offer.'

‘I need a little time to think this through before I make any decisions,' Nicole said.

‘Of course, Miss Thomas. That's very sensible.'

Nicole smiled politely, though she itched to remind the solicitor that she was twenty-eight years old, not eight. She wasn't a naive schoolgirl, either: she'd worked her way up from the bottom rung of the ladder to become a manager in an investment bank. Sensible was her default setting. Was it not obvious from her tailored business suit and low-heeled shoes, and in the way she wore her hair pinned back for work?

‘Now, the keys.' He handed her a bunch of ancient-looking keys. ‘We will of course need time to alter the deeds, should you decide to keep it. Otherwise we can handle the conveyancing of the property, should you decide to sell to the developer or to someone else. We'll wait for your instructions.'

‘Thank you,' Nicole said, sliding the keys into her handbag. She still couldn't quite believe she owned the Electric Palace.

‘Thank you for coming in to see us,' the solicitor continued. ‘We'll be in touch with the paperwork.'

She nodded. ‘Thank you. I'll call you if there's anything I'm unsure about when I get it.'

‘Good, good.' He gave her another of those avuncular smiles.

As soon as Nicole had left the office, she grabbed her phone from her bag and called her mother—the one person she really needed to talk to about the bequest. But the call went straight through to Susan's voicemail. Then again, at this time of day her mother would be in a meeting or with one of her probationers. Nicole's best friend Jessie, an English teacher, was knee-deep in exam revision sessions with her students, so she wouldn't be free to talk to Nicole about the situation until the end of the day. And Nicole definitely didn't want to discuss this with anyone from work; she knew they'd all tell her to sell the place to the company who wanted to buy it, for the highest price she could get, and to keep the money.

Her head was spinning. Maybe she would sell the cinema—after all, what did she know about running a cinema, let alone one that hadn't been in operation for the last five years and looked as if it needed an awful lot of work doing to it before it could open its doors again? But, if she did sell the Electric Palace, she had no intention of keeping the money. As far as she was concerned, any money from Brian Thomas ought to go to his daughter, not skip a generation. Susan Thomas had spent years struggling as a single mother, working three jobs to pay the rent when Nicole was tiny. If the developer really was offering a fair price, it could give Susan the money to pay off her mortgage, go on a good holiday and buy a new car. Though Nicole knew she'd have to work hard to convince her mother that she deserved the money; plus Susan might be even more loath to accept anything from her father on the grounds that it was way too late.

Or Nicole could refuse the bequest on principle. Brian Thomas had never been part of her life or shown any interest in her. Why should she be interested in his money now?

She sighed. What she really needed right now was some decent caffeine and the space to talk this through with someone. There was only one person other than her mother and Jessie whose advice she trusted. Would he be around? She found the nearest coffee shop, ordered her usual double espresso, then settled down at a quiet table and flicked into the messaging program on her phone. Clarence was probably busy, but then again if she'd caught him on his lunch break he might have time to talk.

In the six months since they'd first met on the Surrey Quays forum, they'd become close and they talked online every day. They'd never actually met in person; and, right from the first time he'd sent her a private message, they'd agreed that they wouldn't share personal details that identified them, so they'd stuck to their forum names of Georgygirl and Clarence. She had no idea what he even looked like—she could have passed him in the street at any time during the three years she'd been living at Surrey Quays. In some ways it was a kind of coded, secret relationship, but at the same time Nicole felt that Clarence knew the real her. Not the corporate ghost who spent way too many hours in the office, or the much-loved daughter and best friend who was always nagged about working too hard, but the
real
Nicole. He knew the one who wondered about the universe and dreamed of the stars. Late at night, she'd told him things she'd never told anyone else, even her mother or Jessie.

Maybe Clarence could help her work out the right thing to do.

She typed a message and mentally crossed her fingers as she sent it.

Hey, Clarence, you around?

* * *

Gabriel Hunter closed his father's office door behind him and walked down the corridor as if he didn't have a care in the world.

What he really wanted to do was to beat his fists against the walls in sheer frustration. When, when,
when
was he going to stop paying for his teenage mistake?

OK, so it had been an awful lot worse than the usual teenage mistakes—he'd crashed his car into a shop front one night on the way home from a party and done a lot of damage. But nobody had been physically hurt and he'd learned his lesson immediately. He'd stopped going round with the crowd who'd thought it would be fun to spike his drink when he was their designated driver. He'd knuckled down to his studies instead of spending most of his time partying, and at the end of his final exams he'd got one of the highest Firsts the university had ever awarded. Since then, he'd proved his worth over and over again in the family business. Time after time he'd bitten his tongue so he didn't get into a row with his father. He'd toed the party line. Done what was expected of him, constantly repented for his sins to atone in his father's eyes.

And his father still didn't trust him. All Gabriel ever saw in his father's eyes was ‘I saved you from yourself'. Was Evan Hunter only capable of seeing his son as the stupid teenager who got in with a bad crowd? Would he ever see Gabriel for who he was now, all these years later? Would he ever respect his son?

Days like today, Gabriel felt as if he couldn't breathe. Maybe it was time to give up trying to change his family's view of him and to walk away. To take a different direction in his career—though, right at that moment, Gabriel didn't have a clue what that would be, either. He'd spent the last seven years since graduation working hard in the family business and making sure he knew every single detail of Hunter Hotels Ltd. He'd tried so hard to do the right thing. The reckless teenager he'd once been was well and truly squashed—which he knew was a good thing, but part of him wondered what would have happened if he hadn't had the crash. Would he have grown out of the recklessness but kept his freedom? Would he have felt as if he was really worth something, not having to pay over and over for past mistakes? Would he be settled down now, maybe with a family of his own?

All the women he'd dated over the last five years saw him as Gabriel-the-hotel-chain-heir, the rich guy who could show them a good time and splash his cash about, and he hated that superficiality. Yet the less superficial, nicer women were wary of him, because his reputation got in the way; everyone knew that Gabriel Hunter was a former wild child and was now a ruthless company man, so he'd never commit emotionally and there was no point in dating him because there wasn't a future in the relationship. And his family all saw him as Gabe-who-made-the-big-mistake.

How ironic that the only person who really saw him for himself was a stranger. Someone whose real name he didn't even know, let alone what she did or what she looked like, because they'd been careful not to exchange those kinds of details. But over the last six months he'd grown close to Georgygirl from the Surrey Quays forum.

Which made it even more ironic that he'd only joined the website because he was following his father's request to keep an eye out for local disgruntled residents who might oppose the new Hunter Hotel they were developing from a run-down former spice warehouse in Surrey Quays, and charm them into seeing things the Hunter way. Gabriel had discovered that he liked the anonymity of an online persona—he could actually meet people and get to know them, the way he couldn't in real life. The people on the forum didn't know he was Gabriel Hunter, so they had no preconceptions and they accepted him for who he was.

He'd found himself posting on a lot of the same topics as someone called Georgygirl. The more he'd read her posts, the more he'd realised that she was on his wavelength. They'd flirted a bit—because an internet forum was a pretty safe place to flirt—and he hadn't been able to resist contacting her in a private message. Then they'd started chatting to each other away from the forum. They'd agreed to stick to the forum rules of not sharing personal details that would identify themselves, so Gabriel had no idea of Georgygirl's real name or her personal situation; but in their late-night private chats he felt that he could talk to her about anything and everything. Be his real self. Just as he was pretty sure that she was her real self with him.

Right now, it was practically lunchtime. Maybe Georgygirl would be around? He hoped so, because talking to her would make him feel human again. Right now he really needed a dose of her teasing sarcasm to jolt him out of his dark mood.

He informed his PA that he was unavailable for the next hour, then headed out to Surrey Quays. He ordered a double espresso in his favourite café, then grabbed his phone and flicked into the direct messaging section of the Surrey Quays forum.

And then he saw the message waiting for him.

Hey, Clarence, you around?

It was timed fifteen minutes ago. Just about when he'd walked out of that meeting and wanted to punch a wall. Hopefully she hadn't given up waiting for him and was still there. He smiled.

Yeah. I'm here,
he typed back.

He sipped his coffee while he waited for her to respond. Just as he thought it was too late and she'd already gone, a message from her popped up on his screen.

Hello, there. How's your day?

I've had better,
he admitted
.
You?

Weird.

Why?

Then he remembered she'd told him that she'd had a letter out of the blue from a solicitor she'd never heard of, asking her to make an appointment because they needed to discuss something with her.

What happened at the solicitor's?

I've been left something in a will.

That's good, isn't it?

Unless it was a really odd bequest, or one with strings.

It's property.

Ah. It was beginning to sound as if there were strings attached. And Gabriel knew without Georgygirl having to tell him that she was upset about it.

Don't tell me—it's a desert island or a ruined castle, but you have to live there for a year all on your own with a massive nest of scary spiders before you can inherit?

Not quite. But thank you for making me laugh.

Meaning that right now she wanted to cry?

What's so bad about it? Is it a total wreck that needs gutting, or it has a roof that eats money?

There was a long pause.

It needs work, but that isn't the bad thing. The bequest is from my grandfather.

BOOK: Falling for the Secret Millionaire
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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