Billionaire's Secret (The Chatsfield)

ISBN 13: 9780263246247

Billionaire's Secret (The Chatsfield)

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9780263246247: Billionaire's Secret (The Chatsfield)
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When the secrets of the past won't stay buried... 

Once the heartthrob of London's elite, gorgeous Nicolo Chatsfield now lives alone in his family's crumbling estate. No one dares reach out to his tormented soul.... Until a glimmer of hope enters Nicolo's lonely world, bringing light to the shadows.... 

Sophie Ashdown knows about painful pasts and has no intention of redeeming Nicolo—she just needs him to attend the Chatsfield shareholders' meeting! But she's not prepared for this darkly compelling Chatsfield, and soon Sophie is under Nicolo's spell, easing his pain in the most pleasurable way! 

Welcome to Chatsfield House!

Collect all 8 titles in The Chatsfield miniseries:

Sheikh's Scandal, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Lucy Monroe
Playboy's Lesson, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Melaine Milburne
Socialite's Gamble, by Michelle Conder
Billionaire's Secret, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Chantelle Shaw
Tycoon's Temptation, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Trish Morey
Rival's Challenge
, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Abby Green
Rebel's Bargain
, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Annie West
Heiress's Defiance, by USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR Lynn Raye Harris

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Chantelle Shaw enjoyed a happy childhood making up stories in her head. Always an avid reader, Chantelle discovered Mills & Boon as a teenager and during the times when her children refused to sleep, she would pace the floor with a baby in one hand and a book in the other! Twenty years later she decided to write one of her own. Writing takes up most of Chantelle’s spare time, but she also enjoys gardening and walking. She doesn't find domestic chores so pleasurable!

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

So much for modern technology, Sophie thought as she pulled over to the side of the road and switched off the engine. Despite following the satellite navigation system's directions she was hopelessly lost. The rolling landscape of the Chiltern Hills was spread out before her, but there was not a farmhouse or even a barn in sight, let alone an enormous stately home.

The country lane she had been sent down was so narrow that she shuddered to think what would happen if she met a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. Sighing, she reached for the map on the seat beside her and climbed out of the car. At any other time she would have enjoyed the view of the English countryside in midsummer. The fields were lush and green beneath a cornflower-blue sky and the hedgerow on either side of the lane blazed with a colourful profusion of wildflowers. But Sophie was not on a sightseeing trip. Christos had sent her to Buckinghamshire to carry out a specific task and she was impatient to get on with it.

When she had set out from London two hours ago the weather had been beautiful. But now, although the sun was still shining, the air was strangely oppressive. Glancing over her shoulder, her heart sank when she saw ominous dark clouds on the horizon. Terrific! A storm was all she needed when she was stuck in the middle of nowhere. For a moment she thought the rumbling sound she could hear was thunder, but to her relief she saw a tractor trundling up the lane towards her.

'I'm looking for Chatsfield House,' she spoke to the tractor driver as he was about to turn into a field. 'I think I must have gone wrong somewhere.'

'Keep on going along the lane for another half mile or so and you'll come to Chatsfield, miss.'

'Along this track?' Sophie looked doubtfully at the road that disappeared into dense woodland.

'The road stops being a public highway from here and is privately owned by the Chatsfield family. But they don't bother to maintain it.' The man looked up at the darkening sky. 'There's rain on the way, and the potholes in the lane are deep. Be careful you don't get a tyre stuck down one, or you'll be stranded.'

'Thanks,' Sophie said drily as she slid back into the car.

The farmer gave her a curious look. 'You've got business up at the house, have you? Not many visitors go to Chatsfield. The family left a long time ago.'

'But Nicolo Chatsfield still lives there, doesn't he?'

'Aye, he moved back some years ago, but he's rarely seen in the village. My wife's sister works as a cleaner-up at the house and she says he spends all his time on his computer, doing some sort of financial stuff that has made him a fortune. It's a pity he doesn't spend a bit of his cash in the village pub. The King's Head is in danger of closing down because of this here recession.'

The man stared at Sophie. 'Don't expect a warm welcome from Nicolo. And mind his dog, it's the size of a bloody great wolf.'

Things were getting better and better! Sophie grimaced as she restarted the engine. She was tempted to turn the car around and drive straight back to London, but the idea of admitting failure to her boss was unacceptable.

Christos Giatrakos was the new CEO of the Chats-field Hotel chain and had been appointed by the head of the family, Gene Chatsfield, to restore the once-famous brand name to its former glory. When Sophie had become Christos's personal assistant she had realised that the only way to deal with his formidable personality was to stand up to him and show him that he did not scare her. The rest of his staff might treat him with kid gloves, but not her. Few things scared Sophie. Facing her own mortality when she had been a teenager had given her a different perspective on life. She was proud that Christos had picked her from hundreds of other candidates who had applied for the position of his PA, and her pride refused to admit defeat.

The trees lining the track were so overgrown that they formed a dark tunnel, and the faint light filtering through the leaves cast eerie green shadows. Any second now she would find herself in Narnia! Impatient with her overactive imagination, she carried on along the lane and drew a sharp breath when she rounded a bend and Chatsfield House came into view.

Her first impression of the huge, rambling building was that it looked like a nineteenth-century mental asylum. Built of dull red-brick, the architecture was decidedly Gothic, and the leaded-light windows gave the appearance of bars across the glass. Even the purple wisteria growing around the front door failed to soften the house's grim facade. Sophie sensed that once it must have been a charming family home, but now the general air of neglect seemed intent on repelling any visitors.

Presumably that suited the only member of the Chats-field family who lived here, she mused as she drove up the gravel driveway and passed an ornamental fountain that must have stopped working long ago. The pool had a couple of inches of muddy brown water at the bottom, and the stone statue of a water nymph had lost its head.

She recalled her conversation with Christos when she had arrived at the office at eight-thirty that morning. As usual, he had already been at his desk. He had ignored her breezy greeting and scowled when she placed a cup of coffee in front of him.

'Hell and damnation! Sometimes I am seriously tempted to dump every one of the Chatsfield offspring on a deserted island and leave them there to rot.'

'Ah.' Sophie had immediately understood. 'Which one of Gene's children has annoyed you today?'

'Nicolo,' Christos snapped.

'I take it he's still refusing to attend the shareholders' meeting in August?' 'He's as stubborn as...'

As you, Sophie was tempted to point out, but Christos's glowering expression made her bite back the comment.

'I've just spoken to him, and he informed me that he has no interest in the family's hotel chain or his stake in the business, and therefore sees no point in coming to the meeting. He then advised me not to waste his time or mine by calling again, and hung up.'

Sophie winced as Christos growled a curse. People did not hang up on Christos Giatrakos—not if they knew what was good for them.

'So what are you going to do?'

'There's only one thing for it,' Christos announced. 'I don't have time to deal with Nicolo, so you'll have to go to Chatsfield House and persuade him to come to London. I can't implement the changes needed to turn the Chatsfield brand name around without his agreement on certain matters. If he is as uninterested as he says, he might be willing to sell his shares, but I need him to be at the meeting.'

'What makes you think he'll listen to me?' Sophie argued. 'You've already told me he's lived as a recluse for years and avoids any kind of social contact.'

Christos ignored her protest. 'I don't care how you do it. Drag him by his ears if you have to. Just make sure you get Nicolo to the shareholders' meeting! Incidentally, I'll find it useful for you to be in Buckinghamshire. I want you to sort through some of the paperwork relating to a property owned by the Chatsfield estate in Italy. Gene worked from an office at the house in the early years and only started spending his time in London after the twins were born and his marriage to Liliana ran into problems.'

He smiled persuasively at Sophie. 'It'll be a nice break for you to get away from the city for a while and stay at an English country house. The grounds of the Chats-field estate are extensive, and apparently there's even a swimming pool, which should be lovely to use at this time of year.'

Sophie looked doubtful. 'That's supposing Nicolo invites me to stay, which seems unlikely.'

'You don't need an invitation from him. He lives at the house, but he doesn't own it, and you have permission from Gene Chatsfield to stay as long as you like.'

Lucky me! Sophie thought now as she stared up at the imposing house. The huge front door was painted black and had an ugly brass knocker in the form of a ram's head hanging in the centre. Taking a deep breath, she struck the knocker against the door and waited for a couple of minutes before knocking again. Presumably Nicolo employed some staff to run a house of this size, and she was sure her loud knock must have been audible to whoever was inside.

A sudden gust of wind sent a pile of dead leaves scurrying across the drive, and at the same time a dark cloud swallowed up the sun and Sophie felt a little frisson of unease run down her spine.

Get a grip, she told herself impatiently. She peered through a window, but saw no signs of life inside the house. Damn it! Where was Nicolo Chatsfield? Christos had only spoken to him on the phone a few hours ago.

She had a perfectly legitimate excuse to drive back to London and tell Christos that she had been unable to find Nicolo, but giving up wasn't in Sophie's vocabulary. Ten years ago she had needed every ounce of determination and tenacity while she had fought for her life. Being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer when she was sixteen had been a shattering blow. One minute she had been a happy, carefree teenager, and the next she had been facing the very real possibility that she might die.

She had never forgotten the sickening lurch of terror in the pit of her stomach when the consultant had given her the news, the fearful expression on her mother's face. At that devastating moment Sophie had vowed to herself that if she survived her illness and the high doses of chemotherapy that were her only hope of a cure, she would live her life to the fullest, seize every opportunity and never be deterred by any problem, however insurmountable it might seem.

After everything she had been through, a solid door barring her entry to Chatsfield House was simply a minor inconvenience, she thought wryly.

Following a gravel path, she eventually came to the back of the house and found a huge, overgrown garden. She imagined the lawn must once have been trimmed regularly, but now it had turned into a wild meadow, and the roses in the flower beds were being strangled by weeds.

The air of abandonment was tangible. She tried the back door and found it was unlocked, which suggested that Nicolo could not be far away. After a moment's hesitation she stepped into the kitchen and her attention was immediately drawn to the cast-iron range that looked as though it was an original feature.

'Hello, is anyone home?'

As she continued her exploration of the house her voice echoed hollowly around the wood-panelled hall. Various reception rooms led off the hall, all filled with exquisite antique furniture, including a grand piano in one of the rooms. She walked over to the piano and lifted the lid. Running her fingers over the smooth keys she was reminded of her father playing the piano at the house in Oxford where she had grown up.

She had loved to listen to him. They had been happy times, Sophie thought wistfully. Her early childhood had been idyllic, and as far as she knew her parents had shared a loving relationship. But her cancer had spread a dark cloud over all their lives and ultimately had destroyed their once-happy family. Her father's betrayal had been the hardest thing to cope with, even worse than her illness. He had abandoned Sophie when she had needed him most, and the hurt still lingered deep in her heart.

Abruptly she closed the piano lid and shut a mental door on painful memories. A sixth sense warned her that she was no longer alone seconds before she heard a low growl that caused the hairs on the back of her neck to prickle. She spun round and snatched a startled breath at the sight of the man and dog blocking the doorway. Both were big, dark and menacing—although on balance the dog looked slightly less terrifying than its master, Sophie decided.

The only photograph she had seen of Nicolo Chatsfield was an old press cutting from a decade ago that Christos kept on file. At the time the picture had been taken Nicolo had been a reprobate playboy who had seemed intent on blowing his sizeable trust fund on fast cars, vintage champagne and glamorous women. In his early twenties he had possessed the stunning looks of a male model from one of the glossy magazines where he often featured in the gossip columns. There had been no sign in the picture of the terrible scars he was reputed to have been left with after he had been burned in a fire.

Like his brothers and sisters, Nicolo's behaviour had attracted the sort of scandalous headlines that had helped ruin the Chatsfield brand name. But a few years ago he had suddenly dropped out of the media spotlight.

The man in front of Sophie bore little resemblance to the old photograph. His handsome features had hardened, and his slashing cheekbones and square jaw were as uncompromising as granite. He looked older than his thirty-two years and his unsmiling mouth spoke of a world-weary cynicism that was reflected in his curiously expressionless eyes. His thick, dark brown hair fell to his shoulders, and the black stubble shading of his jaw gave the impression of a man who did not give a damn what others thought of him.

Sophie swallowed. She was not afraid, but for a moment she felt overawed by Nicolo's formidable masculinity. He had not spoken and his silence was unnerving. With an effort she regained her composure and smiled at him.

'I expect you're wondering what I'm doing in your house?'

'I know what you're doing.' Despite the curtness of his tone, Nicolo's deep voice was laced with a sensual huskiness that sent a tingle down Sophie's spine. 'You're trespassing.'

'I'm not exactly.' Sophie took a step forward and hesitated when the dog gave a warning growl. She eyed the animal warily. She recognised the breed as an Irish wolfhound—with emphasis on the wolf side of its personality, she thought ruefully. The dog was so enormous that if it stood on its hind legs it would easily be taller than her five-foot-four frame. Deciding not to provide the hound with an early supper, she remained perfectly still as she spoke to Nicolo.

'Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sophie Ashdown, and I am Christos Giatrakos's personal assistant. Christos sent me here to ask you—'

'I know what Christos wants,' Nicolo interrupted. 'My answer is the same as I told him on the phone earlier. You've had a wasted journey, Miss Ashdown. Shut the door on your way out.'

Wait...' Sophie cried as he swung round and strode out of the room with his hound following faithfully at his heels. 'Mr Chatsfield...' She hurried across the hallway after him but he took no notice of her as he walked into another room and shut the door firmly behind him.

'Well, of all the...' Sophie stared at the door and her temper simmered. She had never experienced such rudeness before and without pausing to consider her actions she grabbed the door handle and turned it.

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