Excerpt: Girl Behind the Scandalous Reputation

Excerpt: Girl Behind the Scandalous Reputation

Contemporary Romance

‘Is this your idea of a joke, Jordana?’ Tristan Garrett turned away from the view of the Thames outside his tenth-story office window to stare incredulously at his baby sister. She sat in one of the navy tub chairs on the visitor’s side of his desk; legs crossed, immaculately groomed, and not at all like the crazy person sailing three sheets to the wind as she sounded.

‘As if I would joke about something so serious!’ Jordana exclaimed gazing at him; jade green eyes, the exact shade as his own, wide and etched with worry. ‘I know it sounds unbelievable but it’s true and we have to help her.’

Actually, her story didn’t sound unbelievable at all but Tristan knew his sanguine sister had a tendency to see goodness in people when there was none to see at all.

He turned back to stare at the pedestrians lining the Thames and better able to enjoy the September sunshine than he was. He couldn’t stand seeing his sister so upset and he cursed the so-called friend who was responsible for putting these fresh tears in her eyes.

When she came to stand beside him he slung his arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. What could he say to placate her? That the friend she wanted to help wasn’t worth it? That anyone stupid enough to try and smuggle drugs out of Thailand deserved to get caught?

Normally, he would help his sister in a heartbeat, but no way was he getting involved in this fiasco – and nor was she. He gave her an affectionate squeeze, but he didn’t try to contain the edge of steel in his voice when he spoke. ‘Jo, this is not your problem and you are not getting involved.’

‘I-’ Tristan held up his hand to cut off her immediate objection, his solid gold cufflinks glinting in the down lights. ‘If what you say is true then the girl made her bed and she’ll have to lie in it.

‘And, may I remind you that you’re eight days away from the wedding of the bloody year and not only will Oliver not want you getting involved, but I doubt the Prince of Greece will want to be sat beside a known drug user no matter how beautiful.’

Jordana’s mouth tightened. ‘Oliver would want me to do what was right,’ she objected, ‘and I don’t care what my wedding guests think. I’m going to help Lily and that’s that.’

Tristan shook his head. ‘Why would you risk it?’

‘She’s my best friend and I promised I would.’

That surprised him. He’d thought their friendship had died down years ago. But if that was the case then why was Lily to be maid of honour at Jo’s wedding? Maid of honour to his best man! And why hadn’t he thought to ask that question two weeks earlier when he’d found out she was coming to the wedding?

That surprised him. He’d thought their friendship had died down years ago. But if that was the case then why was Lily to be maid of honour at Jo’s wedding? Maid of honour to his best man! And why hadn’t he thought to ask that question two weeks earlier when he’d found out she was coming to the wedding?

He frowned, but decided to push that issue aside for the more pressing problem at hand. ‘When did you speak to her?’

‘I didn’t. The customs officer called on her behalf. Lily wanted to let me know why she couldn’t meet me and oh, Tristan if we don’t help her she’ll probably go to jail.’

Tristan pushed back the thick lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead and made a mental note to book a hair cut.

Much as he didn’t want to, he could see that he was going to need to get tough with his sister. ‘Which is probably the best place for her,’ he scowled. ‘She’ll be able to get help there.’

‘You don’t mean that!’

Didn’t he? He didn’t know. But what he did know was that his morning had been a lot better before Jordana had rushed into his office bringing to mind a girl he’d rather strip from it altogether.

Honey Blossom Lily Wild.

Currently voted one of the sexiest women on the planet and a talented actress to boot. He didn’t follow films but he’d seen her first one – some art-house twaddle made by a precocious upstart of a director about the end of the world. Tristan couldn’t remember the plot. What man could? It had Lily naked, save for a white oversized singlet and a pair of cotton panties masquerading as shorts in almost every scene. The movie had signified to him that as a culture they were heading backwards and people like Lily Wild were half the reason for that.

He and his father had tolerated the girls’ teenage friendship because it made Jordana happy – and neither man would ever jeopardize that – but Tristan had disliked Lily on sight when he’d first come across her as a gangly fourteen year old hiding drugs under his sister’s dormitory mattress. She’d been haughty beyond her years that day and if he had his time again he’d suggest his sister be relocated to another boarding school quick smart.

Tristan heaved a sigh and returned to the smooth curve of his walnut desk, stroking his computer mouse to get rid of the screensaver. ‘Jo, I’m busy. I have an important meeting in half an hour and I’m sorry but I can’t help.’

‘Tristan, I know you have a thing about drug users but Lily is innocent.’

‘And you know this how exactly?’ he queried, deciding that humoring his sister might expedite her leaving.

‘Because I know Lily and I know she doesn’t take drugs. She hates them.’

Tristan raised an eyebrow. Was his sister for real?

‘Have you conveniently forgotten the fallout from your eighteenth birthday party? And how I caught her hiding a joint when she was fourteen? Not to mention the various press photos of her completely wasted in between.’

Jordana frowned and shook her head. ‘Most of those photos were fakes. Lily’s been hounded by the press her whole life because of who her parent’s were, and anyway, she’s far too sensible and level-headed to get involved in something as destructive as drugs.’

‘And that would be why the scandal at your eighteenth occurred? Because Lily is so level-headed?’

Jordana glanced at the ceiling before returning resigned eyes to his. ‘Tristan that night was so not what it seemed. One dodgy photo-’

‘One dodgy photo?’ He all but shouted. ‘One dodgy photo that could have destroyed your reputation if I hadn’t intervened!’

‘You mean if you hadn’t made Lily take the blame!’

‘Lily was to blame!’ Tristan could feel the old anger of six years ago welling up inside of him. But it wasn’t like him to let his temper override common sense and he controlled it with effort. ‘Maybe if I had contacted her stepfather when I caught her with drugs the first time she wouldn’t be in the colossal mess she is now.’

Jordana briefly lowered her eyes before meeting his again. ‘Tristan, you’ve never let me properly explain about any of this, and… what if the marijuana you found Lily hiding when we were fourteen wasn’t hers? Would you be so disappointed if it was mine?’

Tristan expelled a breath. He really didn’t have time for this. He got up and rounded his desk to enfold Jordana in his arms. He knew what she was trying to do and he loved her for it; even if the little bimbo she was trying to protect didn’t deserve her loyalty.

‘I know you’re trying to take the blame for her, Jo. You always protected her. But the fact still remains that she’s trouble. She always has been. Surely her stepfather or stepsisters can help her.’

Jordana sniffed against his chest and pushed a little away. ‘They’ve never been very close and anyway I think they’re holidaying in France. Please Tristan! The officer I spoke to this morning said she might be deported back to Thailand. And no matter what you think, I can’t let that happen.’

Tristan swore under his breath. He had to admit he didn’t want to imagine the gorgeous Lily Wild wasting away in a Thai prison cell either. ‘Jo, my specialty is corporate law and this will fall under the criminal jurisdiction.’

‘But surely you can do something!’ She implored.

Tristan released his sister and stalked over to the floor to ceiling windows again.

Unwelcome images of Lily as he’d last seen her crowded in and he forcibly held them back. She had been intruding on his thoughts and dreams for years now, but more so of late. Ever since Jordana had mentioned she was coming to the wedding in fact, and to say that he resented her for it was putting it mildly.

He closed his eyes to better control the physical reaction he always seemed to have when he pictured her, but that only made it worse. Now he could not only visualize her, he could almost scent her as well.

Jordana touched his arm and for a split second he imagined it was Lily.

Tristan muttered another curse under his breath. ‘Jo, forget Lily Wild and concentrate on your wedding,’ he growled. Feeling like a heel when his sister flinched back from him.

‘If Lily’s not going to be there I might not even have a wedding.’

‘Now you’re being melodramatic.’

‘And you’re being horrible. Lily’s been unfairly targeted…’

‘Jordana, the woman wasn’t targeted, she was caught red-handed!’

Jordana looked at him with the kind of pain he hadn’t seen in her eyes since the day they had buried their mother. He’d vowed then that he’d do anything to protect her in the future and safeguard her happiness and wasn’t what he was doing now the opposite?

But what she was asking was impossible…

‘Tristan, I know you hate drugs because of mum, but Lily isn’t like that. And you usually jump at the chance to help a worthy cause.’

Tristan stared at Jordana. Her words brought back memories of the past he’d much rather leave dead and buried. And maybe it was somewhat illogical, but he blamed Lily for that as well, because without her latest antics he wouldn’t be having this conversation with his sister at all!

He turned back to face Jo and unclenched his jaw. ‘Jordana the key aspect in this situation is “worthy”. And as far as I’m concerned a drug-addicted actress who has hit the skids does not a worthy cause make.’

Jordana stared at him as if he’d just kicked a dog and in that instant Tristan knew he was defeated. No way could he let his sister think so badly of him, and on top of that an image of Lily in a Thai prison cell kept swimming into his consciousness and twisting his gut.

He shook his head. ‘This is a big mistake,’ he warned, ignoring the little glow of relief he felt when Jordana’s face lit up with unconcealed gratitude. ‘And don’t look at me like that. I might not be able to do anything yet. It’s not like she shoplifted a bar of soap from the local Boots.’

‘Oh, Tristan you are the best brother in the world. Shall I wait and come with you?’ Jordana was so happy she was practically singing. Tristan looked up blankly, his mind already turning as to how he would approach the problem. When her words sank in his eyebrows shot skywards. ‘Absolutely not.’ The last thing he needed was his interfering sister getting in the way. ‘I’ll call you when I know something. Now go. Do wedding stuff or something, and leave me to sort through this mess you’re so determined to get us in the middle of.’

He barely registered when she kissed his cheek and let herself out of his office, already issuing orders down the phone to his secretary. ‘Kate, reschedule all my meetings for the afternoon and tell Stuart Macintyre I want him in my office five minutes ago.’

He eased back in his chair and blew out a breath.

Was he completely crazy to get involved with this?

Lily Wild was trouble and if seeing her bent over his father’s prized 19th century Dickens desk snorting cocaine at Jo’s eighteenth party wasn’t proof enough of that, then surely her attempt to smuggle drugs through Heathrow today was.

Not that Lily had ever admitted to taking drugs the night of his sister’s party. She’d just given him a phony, imperious smile that had incited his temper to boiling and after that he hadn’t wanted to hear any excuses. Why bother? In his experience all users were supposedly as innocent as Carmelite nuns.

And what had made him even more irate was that earlier that night Lily had looked at him with those violet-coloured doe eyes of hers as if he was the only man in the world for her and, fool that he was, he’d very nearly bought it!

Up until that point she had been nothing more than an irritation. Occasionally taking his sister to her stepfather’s industry parties when they were too young, and running away from him whenever he had come across her at the family estate during school holidays.

But she hadn’t run away from him at the party. Quite the opposite in fact.

Forget it, he told himself severely as his mind zeroed in on the potent memory of how he had danced with her that night. Touched her, kissed her.

The realization that he’d very nearly lost control with her still rankled. But she had tasted pure and sweet and so hot and…

Tristan shook his head and swore violently. Instead of reliving a moment that should never have happened in the first place, he should be remembering how he had come upon her in his father’s private study with a group of social misfits, his beloved sister and about half a kilo of cocaine.

It had taken ten minutes to have security dispense with everyone but his sister, and twenty four hours to shut down the internet photos of Jordana that had been taken on a guest’s mobile phone.

The taste of Lily, unfortunately, had taken a little longer to shift.