Wed by Deception (The Payback Affairs #3)


by Emilie Rose

Prologue

“‘And last but not least, to my daughter, Nadia…’” Richards, the longtime family attorney paused in reading Everett Kincaid’s will and sought Nadia Kincaid’s gaze across the long dining-room table.

Every muscle of Nadia’s body tugged as taut as a ship’s anchor line in a swift current. She and her overbearing—now dead—father had shared a love-hate relationship, and in her opinion, the terms in his twisted will she’d already heard were going to ruin both her older brothers’ lives for the next year. She dreaded finding out how dear old Daddy planned to mess with her head.

When Richards realized he had her full attention his eyes returned to the thick document. “‘Your work record is commendable and your dedication to Kincaid Cruise Lines can’t be faulted…’”

Nadia stiffened even more.

Not good. When her father started with a compliment he always ended with an insult. He liked to lift you up so you had farther to fall when he took you down.

“But your job and your empty-headed friends are all you have. You surround yourself with people who give no thought to the future, who never consider what they would do without their trust funds and never plan beyond their next party.”

Nadia winced at the accuracy of his assessment. Her father wouldn’t understand that she liked her narcissistic friends because they were too busy worrying about their own neuroses to be interested in hers.

“You’re twenty-nine, Nadia. It’s past time you grew up, took responsibility for your actions and discovered what you want out of life. With that in mind, I’m pushing you from the nest.”

A frisson of alarm crept down her spine. “Pushing me from the nest? What does that mean?”

“‘Effective immediately,’” Richards resumed reading, “‘you are on an unpaid leave of absence from your position as Director of Shared Services at Kincaid Cruise Lines and you are banned from all KCL properties and Kincaid Manor.’”

Confusion swirled inside her like a riptide. What would she do? Where would she go? With the stroke of his pen her father had taken away her job, her home and any sanctuary she might seek elsewhere. Why?

“‘You will reside in my Dallas penthouse for 365 consecutive days.’”

“Daddy owns—owned—a Dallas penthouse?”

Richards held up a silencing hand.

“You are not allowed to seek other paid employment or to host parties in the apartment. I expect you to fill your days with a new class of people. And to make sure you’re not partying with wastrels every night you must be in the penthouse between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m. every night.”

Nadia snapped her gaping mouth shut. “Midnight? What am I? Cinderella?”

“‘If you fail to fulfill my terms to the letter,’” Richards droned on in his usual monotone, “‘then you will lose everything. And so will your brothers.’”

Her brothers. She forced her gaze from the attorney to Mitch beside her then Rand seated farther down the Kincaid Manor dining-room table.

“Can you believe this? He’s grounding me and sending me to ‘my room,’” her fingers marked quotes in the air, “as if I were a child.” She folded her arms and sat back in her chair. “This is ridiculous. I’m not doing it.”

“You have no choice,” Mitch said quietly, calmly. Typical Mitch. Coolheaded in a crisis. She ought to know as many times as she’d dialed his number.

“Come on, Mitch. I can’t give up my job, my home and my friends.”

“Yes, you can.” Rand leaned forward in his high-backed chair and rested his clenched fists on the table. As the oldest he’d been the one Nadia had always gone to with her troubles—before he’d abandoned her and KCL five years ago without a backward glance.

He held her gaze with his serious hazel eyes. “You heard Richards. If you don’t, we lose everything. Mitch and I will help you.”

“How? You’ll both be stuck here in Miami while I’m banished to Dallas.”

“Dallas isn’t exactly the Arctic Ocean. We can get supplies in and out.” Mitch gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. He’d been her rock since Rand took off, the one she could count on…no matter what.

“But this is stupid.”

Richards cleared his throat. “There’s more.”

How much worse could it get? Nadia’s nails bit into her palms. She took a bracing breath and nodded for the attorney to continue.

“You have been pampered for far too long. Unlike your brothers, you have never even attempted to live in the real world outside Kincaid Manor—not even during college. It’s time you learned to take care of yourself, Nadia, because your brothers and I won’t always be around to clean up your messes.”

Shame burned her face. Okay, so she’d asked for help a few times. Big freakin’ deal.

“You will have no maid, no cook and no chauffeur.”

Her lungs constricted and her head started to spin. Forget the fact that she’d probably starve, she hadn’t had a driver’s license before the accident, and she’d had no reason to get one after it. She sprang from the chair before the memories could seize her brain and paced a circuit around the room.

“A car and driving lessons will be provided for you. In addition, you will learn to survive on a monthly stipend of two thousand dollars.”

“He’s giving me an allowance?” she all but shrieked. She spent more on a single outfit.

“Because you’re living rent free, that amount should be more than sufficient to cover your basic needs, pay your utilities, et cetera. A budget should help you understand KCL’s employees and client base better.”

He didn’t think she could live on a budget? Okay, so, no, she’d never had a personal one, but how hard could it be? She was a trained accountant, for pity’s sake, and she handled the multimillion-dollar KCL budget on a daily basis.

“This is crazy. Was Daddy out of his mind? Can he do this?”

Richards’s bushy eyebrows hiked like thatched cabana roofs above his half-glasses. “One can do whatever one wishes with his or her assets. Your father is not asking you to do anything illegal or immoral. Need I repeat that if you fail, you and your brothers will forfeit your shares of Everett’s estate and all of your father’s holdings? Kincaid Cruise Lines, Kincaid Manor, each of the properties Everett owned around the globe, as well as his substantial investment portfolio will be sold to Mardi Gras Cruising, KCL’s strongest competitor, for one dollar. And you will be left with only your personal funds.”

Of which she had none. Thanks to her frenetic attempts to keep her mind and body occupied until she crashed into bed each night from sheer exhaustion, she lived pretty much from paycheck to paycheck.

“No. You don’t need to repeat yourself. Dad has made it very clear that if any of us fails, we all lose. Everything. But why Mardi Gras? Dad hated that company with a passion. So do I. Their devious, underhanded, cutthroat tactics have cost us a substantial market share.”

Richards shrugged. “Everett didn’t share his reasoning on that issue with me.”

Rand’s fingers drummed the table. “Nadia, as much as I love the idea of Dad rolling over in his grave when Mardi Gras paints its logo on each of KCL’s ships, I don’t want the bastard to win this time.”

Beside her Mitch nodded. “Agreed. We have to fight. It’s too big a prize to hand off by default.”

She knew very well there were billions at stake. She studied her brothers. Rand might have moved on and made a life for himself elsewhere, but Mitch lived and breathed KCL. Like her, he’d never worked a day for any other company. KCL was his universe, and she couldn’t be responsible for taking that from him.

She could see by the resignation on their faces that Rand and Mitch expected her to botch this. That stung. But then what had she ever done for her brothers? They were always doing for her with nothing in return.

She knew what her father was up to. This was another test. Everett Kincaid excelled at testing his children—especially her because she reminded him of his dead wife. He’d always believed Nadia would crack eventually—like her mother had. Why else would he have forced her to endure more than a decade of therapy and now a year of solitary confinement?

But she’d prove him wrong. She’d prove them all wrong.

She would survive a year without her job, her friends and the safety net of her family. What choice did she have? Her brothers had been there for her when her life went so terribly wrong eleven years ago. She owed it to Rand and Mitch to come through for them now.

Her father obviously expected her to be the weakest link. But he’d be disappointed. She wasn’t going to fail. She’d show Everett Kincaid his only daughter was made of sterner stuff. Because she hadn’t just inherited her daddy’s head for business, she’d also inherited his stubborn streak.

She could do this.

No. She would do this.

She would simply have to find a way other than submersing herself in work and partying to keep the haunting memories at bay.

Squaring her shoulders, she lifted her chin and locked her quaking knees. “When do I leave?”

One

A s silent as a tomb. And after eight weeks of playing Suzy Homemaker, Nadia Kincaid felt as if she’d been buried alive in the luxurious penthouse.

Nice crypt, but still…a crypt.

She didn’t even have neighbors as a distraction. The only other apartment in the downtown high-rise had been unoccupied since she’d moved in and the floors below were filled with businesses that didn’t appreciate her popping in to visit. Not even when she brought the results of the new cookie recipes she’d tried.

She folded her dust cloth, parked her hands on her h*ps and stared at the shelves filled with books and videos Rand had sent. She’d promised herself she’d stand on her own two feet in Dallas, and she hadn’t wanted to accept her brothers’ help, but she also hadn’t wanted to starve. So she’d caved and accepted his gifts. With the aid of the tapes and books and cable TV, she’d taught herself to cook. And since cooking was messy, she’d also learned to clean. She’d even managed to master laundry and all those other little things that had always been done for her as a Kincaid heiress. She was proud that she’d only had a few minor mishaps.

So there, Daddy. Two months and I’m still standing. Bet you didn’t expect that.

She’d caught up on practically every movie and bestseller released in the past decade and even found a grocery store that delivered to downtown Dallas. Delivery, she’d discovered, was cheaper than taking a taxi to and from the store.

The only challenge she hadn’t yet met was the driving lessons. She wasn’t ready to get behind the wheel of a car.

Look how much damage she’d done from the passenger seat.

The memory sent her scrambling for a distraction the way it always did when the past slipped from its sealed vault. Whipping her rag back out, she dragged it across the polished granite mantle and focused on her anger toward her father.

He’d underestimated her again by giving her this stupid penthouse-sitting, find-herself, real-world job while giving her brothers more meaningful tasks.

Rand had been forced to return to Kincaid Cruise Lines and step into their father’s shoes as CEO after a five-year self-imposed exile. Mitch would be playing daddy to their father’s illegitimate toddler. But Mitch hadn’t been forced to give up his job as the CFO.

She got to watch her nails grow.

But grief underlay her anger like silt at the bottom of a river waiting to be stirred up by a change in current. And her thoughts, like river water, turned murky at the oddest of times. Such as now.

Yes, she was furious with her father for treating her like an inept child, but she also ached with the knowledge that there would be no more head-butting arguments with him, no more irate confrontations because he’d gone over her head or behind her back and undermined or overridden her decisions at work. There’d be no more fighting over the business section of the paper during breakfasts at Kincaid Manor, no more appropriate-behavior lectures and no more looking up at work or at a society event and knowing he was watching her every move. Watching and waiting for her to screw up and need bailing out.