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Authors: Ruth Cardello

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Maximum Risk

BOOK: Maximum Risk
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Maximum Risk

The Andrades

 

 

Ruth Cardello

 

Author Contact

website:
RuthCardello.com

email:
[email protected]

Facebook:
Author Ruth Cardello

Twitter:
RuthieCardello

 

Max Andrade: 

Rich, bold, unapologetic. He is a man who doesn’t hear the word no—until he meets Tara. In his obsession to have her, he’ll offer her anything—except his heart. 

 

Tara Holmes: 

Outspoken, hardworking, levelheaded. She makes her living by exposing unfaithful spouses. She doesn’t believe in love, especially not with a man who sees her as nothing more than a challenge.

 

When Madison D’Argenson hires Tara to uncover the truth about Aunt Patrice, Tara is pulled into Max’s world. 

 

How far would you go to help a man who doesn’t want to be helped? 

 

And how long would you give yourself over to the pleasure of his touch if you knew it would end as soon as he discovered your lie? 

 

 

 

COPYRIGHT

 

Maximum Risk
copyright 2015 by Ruth Cardello

ISBN 978-0-9909146-0-0

 

An original work of Ruth Cardello.

 

 

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

Cover art provided by Trevino Creative

http://www.trevinocreative.com

 

 

Dedication

To my youngest daughter, Serenity. I'm grateful every day that God sent you to us and us to you.

 

 

Chapter One

 

Tara Holmes folded her arms across her chest and leaned back against the front of her desk as Madison D’Argenson introduced herself. The woman couldn’t have looked more out of place in the downtown detective agency office, New Holmes. As Tara did with all potential clients, she’d performed a basic background check on the woman who sat before her. Madison was the daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, currently married to a well-known French chef, and had strong affiliations to the infamous Corisi family. There was only one reason a rich little princess like her would venture downtown to hire a private investigator:
She suspects her husband is cheating.

In Tara’s experience, women who doubted their spouses enough to seek her services were correct ninety-nine percent of the time. Investigating matrimonial infidelity was what Tara did, and she was good at it. Not that it was difficult. Most men did very little to conceal their girlfriends when they were out of town. Proof was often as simple as a weekend of surveillance, a moderate amount of patience, and a telescopic photo lens.

Madison D’Argenson was, by far, the richest potential client Tara had ever met with. Evidence of her wealth was in the quality of the tailoring in the suit worn by the enormous bodyguard who stood behind her, physically blocking the door. The job might require traveling, but Tara was accustomed to adding that cost to her normal fees.

Madison sat on the well-worn chair in her Chanel suit with a smile on her face and clapped her hands. “I’ve never hired a private investigator before. This is kind of exciting.”

Tara frowned.
Oh, honey, don’t look so happy. This almost never ends well.
Hopefully the bubbly brunette had been smart enough to have her French husband sign a prenuptial, because she wouldn’t be so chipper when he tried to run off with her money and whoever he was screwing.
Not that he’ll succeed, because I’ll bring her enough dirt on the bastard to stop him from getting her cash. People lie, photos don’t.
Tara leaned forward, placing her hands on her knees. “Let’s get to why you’re here. What makes you think your husband has been cheating on you?”

Madison’s eyes rounded, then she burst out laughing. “Richard?” She looked over her shoulder at her bodyguard. “Can you imagine Richard cheating on me?”

The bodyguard’s expression didn’t change. He stared straight ahead, but said roughly, “Not and living.”

When Madison turned back to Tara, her smile faded. “I’m not here about my husband. I’m here about my aunt.”

“Is she missing?”

“No.”

“Is it her husband you’re concerned about?”

Madison shook her head. “No, her husband died more than ten years ago. I’m here because she’s not doing well health-wise, and she’s in a huge feud with her sons.”

“You do realize I’m not a family therapist?” Tara asked dryly.

Madison’s eye’s narrowed. “I know exactly what you do. I chose you because no one knows you. You’re perfect for what I have in mind.”

The hair on the back of Tara’s neck stood up.

Madison continued. “My family is—complicated. Aunt Patrice has four sons. They’ve had issues with each other in the past, but were on their way toward moving past them when something happened. No one will tell me what. They’re accusing my aunt of all sorts of things. She denies everything. I tried to sort it out, but my father forbade me to see my aunt again. Imagine that?
Forbade
me. He knows what’s going on, but he won’t tell me. That’s why I want to hire you. I need you to get in there, talk to people, and figure out what everyone is hiding. My cousin Gio is about to set a wedding date, but his family is in shambles. They didn’t even get together for the holidays. I need to do something fast or this is going to be the worst Andrade wedding ever.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ve wasted your time coming here, Mrs. D’Argenson. I work exclusively on infidelity cases.”

Madison shrugged. “So, stretch a little. This job will be easy. Start calling me Maddy. I’ll introduce you as my friend. All you have to do is work your PI magic. Find out what’s going on. And do it fast so I have time to fix it before the wedding.”

Tara hated to pass up the money, but she decided to follow her gut and turn this job down. Her specialty was surveillance, not undercover work. She pushed off the edge of her desk and stood. “You’re looking for a different kind of PI. If you want someone followed, I can do that. I can compile a file of photos documenting exactly where someone has been and who they’ve met with, but I don’t do the kind of investigative work you’re looking for.”

Madison stood and held Tara’s eyes. All lightheartedness fell away. “Name your price.”

Tara shook her head. Money was tempting, but it never ruled her decisions. She believed in what she did and how she did it. She’d seen too many in her line of work lose their way for a fee. The truth could be twisted. Details could be forgotten. All for a price. Tara made enough money to pay her bills and save a little each month for her future. She didn’t need to sell her soul to get ahead. She was doing just fine. “Sorry.”

“How much is your normal rate? Fifteen thousand? I’ll triple it. I’ll also pay all of your expenses. Whatever you need.”

Tara moved behind her desk and sat back down, an act meant as a dismissal. She hated lies, and what Madison was asking her to do would involve a whole lot of that. “I hope you find your answers, Mrs. D’Argenson, but I can’t help you.”

“I’ll pay you a hundred thousand dollars. Fifty thousand as a retainer and fifty thousand when you bring me the information I’m looking for.”

Shit, that’s a lot of money. I dodged a bullet by saying no. No one pays that much for something legal.
Considering her family and her social circle, getting involved in what sounded like a possibly emotionally explosive situation could easily end the career of a small-time PI.
It could even get her killed.
“Goodbye, Mrs. D’Argenson.”

Instead of leaving, as Tara expected, Madison opened her purse, riffled through it for a moment, and pulled out a photo. She laid it down on the desk in front of Tara and pointed to the people in it. “My name is Maddy. When you say no to me, you’re saying no to them. These are my cousins: Gio, Luke, Nick, and Max. They had it rough for a while and were lost to us for a long time. Look how happy they are in this photo. It’s because they were all together and back with the family. I am this close,” Madison used her fingers to measure an inch, “to figuring out why they left us in the first place and what keeps tearing them away from each other. I don’t care what it costs or what I need to do to make that happen. This is about family, and I won’t give up on them.”

Tara looked past Madison and met the eyes of her bodyguard. With a wry twist of her lips, Tara said, “She has a hard time hearing the word no.” He inclined his head in a subtle acknowledgement of Tara’s observation. Tara picked up the photo and studied it. Four drop-dead gorgeous men in outrageously expensive tuxedos—hard to feel pity for any of them. However, she spent her life behind the lens of a camera and every photo told a story. Tara could feel the pain their family had gone through. It was there in the awkward way the four men stood next to each other. Together, but not quite. Cautiously happy.

One man in particular stood out more than the others. He had the same dark good looks and impressive build as the others, but the expression in his eyes pulled Tara in. A yearning? He stood a foot away from the others, detached, as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. Tara’s heart beat wildly in her chest as she continued to study him. She couldn’t label the emotion sweeping over her, nor could she deny it. She turned the photo around and pointed to him. “Who is he?”

Madison leaned closer. “Max Andrade. He’s the youngest of the four brothers and the one I’m most worried about. Gio, the one on the far left, is getting married, and Max is presently saying he’s not sure if he’ll come to the wedding. He has to come. It will break Gio’s heart if he doesn’t. I need to know what has made him so angry. I can’t help any of them if I don’t know what’s going on. Will you help me?”

Tara looked at the photo again, losing herself for a moment in Max’s eyes.
This is a bad, bad idea.
“Tell me again what you want me to do, Maddy.”

 

***

 

Max Andrade looked out over the ocean, both hands in the pockets of his peacoat. As far as investment property went, Slater Island, just off the coast of Rhode Island, wasn’t ideal. He preferred warmer climates for his resorts, but his team had stumbled upon a family who was looking to sell three side-by-side oceanfront lots. The urgency of their situation meant he’d get the land for a good deal. If he could talk the homeowners on either side to sell, he’d have a sizable portion of the island. The project would change the location from a quiet place of seasonal owners to a bustling resort island. Some would thank him. Some would curse him. He never spent much time worrying about what anyone thought of him. This was business, pure and simple. Maxwell Enterprises had proven it could weather publicity storms without faltering.

“Max, you have two visitors,” Dale, his assistant, said behind him. Although Dale was young, he was top-notch. Only in his late twenties himself, Max didn’t choose his employees based on experience. He chose people who were as hungry for success as he was. Dale would one day leave and likely start his own company, and Max wouldn’t begrudge the move. Nothing was forever and loyalty was a myth. Max didn’t care who came or went in his company as long as when they worked for him, they gave him one hundred fifty percent.

His independent business practices had cost him several friendships, but as much as he didn’t expect loyalty, he also didn’t give it. He hadn’t grown his trust fund into a hotel and casino empire by wasting time worrying about how anyone felt about anything. He chose projects and made them happen. Period. No second-guessing. No regrets.

Bold. Straightforward. Unapologetic. That’s how he lived his life.

Max continued looking out over the ocean. Who would intrude on a site evaluation without as much as a phone call to clear the visit?
Only family.

He hadn’t told them he was in New England, but that wouldn’t stop them. Of his three brothers, he knew it wasn’t Gio. Gio wore his role as head of the family like a crown and guarded the family company, Cogent, as if it were his kingdom—rarely leaving, unless business required it. It could be Luke or Nick. For a successful surgeon, Luke had an annoying amount of energy and time left over to mother-hen his brothers. He hadn’t been happy when Max had announced he might not attend Gio’s wedding.
Please, don’t let it be Luke who is here. I hate that disappointed look he gives me when I tell him what is and isn’t his business.

If it’s Nick, I hope he’s sober.
Luke claimed Nick was doing well working with Gio; Max couldn’t imagine that lasting long.

He used to believe his family could work out their problems, but he used to believe in Santa Claus, too.
Life is better performed as a solo act.
Thinking anyone else actually gives a shit about you is setting yourself up for a huge letdown.

Want to know why anyone does anything?

Figure out what they are getting out of it.

People can say what they want, but at the end of the day, they choose what’s best for themselves—every time.
Even Luke. He could talk a good game, but when it came to anything ugly, he was remarkably blind and deaf. He didn’t like confrontation, so he always tried to smooth things over. Dr. Denial.

“Who is it?” Max demanded, still not turning away from the view he could no longer enjoy.

“One says she’s your cousin. She said she brought a friend by to meet you. You have to see the other woman. She’s smoking hot. I wish my cousins had friends like that.”

Max groaned. Luke had warned him Madison D’Argenson was playing some matchmaking game that involved the four of them. Honestly, Max hadn’t cared enough to pay attention to the details. Since childhood, he’d only seen Madison on a handful of occasions, so until that moment he hadn’t expected her foolishness to extend to him. “Tell Madison I’m in a meeting.”

“I tried, but she said she’d wait. I believe she saw you out here on the lawn anyway. I let them into the main house to wait for you. I wouldn’t have done that normally, but since she’s your family, I figured you’d want her to be comfortable.”

“That’s fine,” Max said impatiently, and turned to walk toward the main house. He was irritated, but not with Dale. “I’ll handle this.”

He strode up the steps and into the stately mansion. Normally he would have closed the door firmly to announce his entry, but what he overheard one of the women say intrigued him enough to shut it quietly and listen.

“I feel like a streetwalker in this dress.”

“You look fine.”

“You are two sizes smaller than I am and shorter. The dress might fit you, but it doesn’t fit me.”

“Then you shouldn’t have said no when I offered to buy you an outfit for today.”

“I thought you’d let me choose from my closet if I refused your offer.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve seen your wardrobe.”

“Is there a right way to take that?”

Max heard his cousin sigh impatiently. “I didn’t mean it that way. Besides, this is Max. He’s not going to be shocked by a little cleavage. I’ve seen some of his staff wear a sliver of that dress as a uniform. It’s important that he like you.”

“If this dress is any indication of his taste, I’m sure we won’t have much in common.”

Max stepped into the open. He was prepared to be amused by a woman overflowing an undersized dress. He didn’t expect to momentarily lose his ability to speak or breathe at the sight of her. In his line of work, he was surrounded by beautiful women. He’d slept with his fair share along the way, and, until that moment, he would have said he was hard to impress.

BOOK: Maximum Risk
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