Ben diverted his mind from old and painful memories and focused on the matchmaker. And the future. Not the past. What she was handing him here was an opportunity not to be missed. The Ford construction company, with its solid black font signage against a dark green background, was a ubiquitous sight on construction hoardings in Britain.
Ben knew what a coup it would be to gain a foothold in Europe by acquiring one of its most respected companies—which was why he’d gone after it once before. Louis Ford had resisted his advances then, in spite of his rumoured ill health, but Ben had been keeping an eye on him ever since, and he realised now that Ford had gone quiet in recent months. Very quiet.
And now the man’s daughter was here. Looking for a date.
Suddenly Ben realised that Julianna Ford represented the solution to all his problems. If he was to take the drastic step of committing to one woman for the sake of his reputation and business, then why not pursue a marriage that came with solid potential for business expansion? If she agreed to marry him Ben’s empire would extend into Europe and he would have reached the very pinnacle of everything he’d set out to achieve. All with a stunningly beautiful wife by his side.
He looked at Elizabeth and a sense of delicious anticipation coiled through his gut. He said, ‘She’s the one I want to meet. You can set up the date.’
* * *
Lia Ford was trying to curb her mounting anger, but it was hard. Her stiletto heels clacked sharply along the wide Manhattan pavement, as if to underscore her volatile mood.
First she was angry with her father for his meddling ways, even if his heart was in the right place. And then she was angry with her father’s secretary, for following her father’s instructions to give all of Lia’s information to Leviathan Solutions. She was even angry about the photo that had been given to the agency—one her father had taken, catching Lia off-guard during a happy sailing trip. A far too personal memento for a dating website!
As the Leviathan agency’s global operations were based in New York, Lia had gone to Elizabeth Young’s Manhattan office earlier that day, as soon as she’d found out—thanks to her father presenting it to her as a fait accompli over the phone. ‘See, my darling? I’ve done it all for you! Now all you have to do is meet some nice young man!’ Lia had been ready to demand that all her details be removed...only to be informed that someone had already signalled his interest in dating her.
And Elizabeth Young had surprised Lia. She’d been expecting... Actually, she hadn’t been sure what she’d been expecting of a billionaire matchmaker, but it hadn’t been a beautiful young woman of around her own age, whose style reflected Lia’s preferred classic relaxed elegance. Elizabeth Young had also personified professional discretion, which Lia had responded to in spite of herself.
And somehow, while acknowledging Lia’s reluctance to accept the date, Elizabeth had somehow skilfully managed to persuade her to give this one date a chance. And then she’d shown Lia a picture of the man in question.
It had taken Lia a few long seconds to look past the piercing blue eyes and the boldly handsome and very masculine features. With his thick dark hair, he oozed sexy confidence and virility. Exactly the kind of man that Lia instinctively shied away from—because a personality like that brought up all her most secret vulnerabilities. And a reminder of another too confident personality who’d had no time for Lia’s innate shyness—her mother, who had walked out on Lia and her father when Lia was just ten years old.
And yet she’d felt a disconcerting flutter of very feminine awareness at the man’s sheer masculinity. It was most unwelcome. She wasn’t interested in dating. She’d tried to please her father before—even going so far as to consider marriage, becoming engaged—but that had ended in abject humiliation when she’d surprised her fiancé in his office one day and found him with his face buried between his secretary’s spread legs as she’d lain back across his desk, moaning loudly, her hands locked in his hair.
‘You’re frigid, Lia,’ he’d hurled at her afterwards. ‘I can’t marry a woman who doesn’t like sex!’
That experience had only reinforced her insecurities, and she’d vowed since then to focus on her career and prove to her father that she could stand on her own two feet. Unfortunately his habitual ill health meant that she’d spent more time shoring up the family business than focusing on her own ambitions...
Elizabeth Young had brought Lia back to the present with a bump, though, when she’d revealed who the mysterious man was and recognition of his name had made Lia’s gaze narrow on the woman on the opposite side of the desk. ‘Benjamin Carter? As in Carter Construction?’
Elizabeth Young had nodded. ‘Yes, he said he knew of you, actually, even though he’s never met you. He had some business with your father a while ago?’
Every protective hackle inside Lia had risen. It had been a couple of years ago when Benjamin Carter had come to the UK and tried to take over Ford Construction. Her family business. Her father had rebuffed Carter and his very generous offer, but his health, which had always been weak, and particularly weakened at that time, thanks to a nasty bout of pneumonia, had worsened.
If she’d met Benjamin Carter then she would have told him where to go and saved her father that relapse. Louis Ford was so proud, though, that he would have died before he’d let anyone see how frail he really was. Especially someone like the American construction mogul whom her father had described as ‘formidable’.
And now Benjamin Carter wanted to meet her for a date? If this was mere coincidence then she was the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Lia stopped at a pedestrian crossing and forced herself to regulate her breath. She knew she could have just called the date off—instructed Elizabeth Young to inform Benjamin Carter that she wasn’t available for any dates while she was in New York as she didn’t live there—but she’d felt the compelling urge to inform the man emphatically and in person that there would be no route for him to get to her father. And certainly not through her.
On the other side of the street the majestic beaux arts Algonquin Hotel soared into the sky. They were due to meet in the darkly seductive Algonquin bar. And now all she could seem to think of was his boldly handsome features and those blue eyes. She found herself feeling slightly breathless, wondering how tall he would be. How big.
The pedestrian lights said Walk and Lia stepped into the road, assuring herself fiercely that Benjamin Carter would undoubtedly prove to be a disappointment in the flesh, as so many public figures did. Not, she hurriedly assured herself, that she was going to be hanging around long enough to check him out. No, she was going to waste no time informing him that—
Lia’s thoughts were scattered to pieces as she ran into a brick wall just outside the hotel. Gasping for air, she looked up to find that this particular brick wall was actually a very tall human. And very male. And very broad. With piercing blue eyes.
So not a wall at all. Dimly she registered that Benjamin Carter wasn’t a disappointment in the flesh. Far from it. He was...more. He smiled, and she noticed the sculpted sensuality of his lips.
‘I’m sorry, I hadn’t planned on a collision as our introduction. I saw you crossing the street and recognised you from your photo, so I thought I’d wait for you. Are you okay?’
His voice was rich and deep enough to impact on her on a physical level. Lia felt a bit stupid, and put it down to the momentary shock and lack of breath. She nodded and managed to get out, ‘Fine...just fine.’
She’d been so preoc
cupied with meeting him that she’d walked right into him. She realised then that her hands were wrapped around his arms to steady herself, obviously having landed there instinctively. She could feel hard biceps, even through the material of his overcoat, and she snatched her hands back as if they were burning.