Authors: Ann Marie Walker,Amy K. Rogers
Tags: #Romance, #Adult
Titles by Ann Marie Walker & Amy K. Rogers
Chasing Fire Trilogy
Ann Marie Walker and Amy K. Rogers
InterMix Books, New York
AN IMPRINT OF PENGUIN RAND
OM HOUSE LLC
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An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2015 by Ann Marie Walker and Amy K. Rogers.
copyright © 2015 by Ann Marie Walker and Amy K. Rogers.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19478-6
InterMix eBook edition / October 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Penguin Random House is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however, the story, the experiences, and the words
are the author’s alone.
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a shot of David Gandy is worth an entire novel. Or three. Thank you, David. You will always be our favorite distraction.
Happy goddamn New Year, Hudson thought as the slick, black Mercedes S65 took the corner at slingshot speed. With Max piloting the luxury rental, he was free to flip through page after page of the dossier his head of security had put together in less than an hour. The only thing he didn’t have was Madame Bernadette Beauchene’s medical records. Those would’ve probably taken Max the two hours he’d originally been given, and knowing her cholesterol level wasn’t going to alter the current set of circumstances. Hudson wasn’t even certain Beauchene was going to lead him anywhere besides a dead end, but it was the only thread he had, and damn straight he was going to yank on the son of a bitch.
Back at the train station he’d paced nearly the full length of the platform, checked his watch, turned on his heel and strode back, then checked his watch again. The more time that passed, the faster his heart had pounded, and when he’d realized Allie was going to be a no-show, he’d felt like his skin was being ripped off. He’d taken his cell phone out and dialed the George V to question the hotel staff on the whereabouts of their driver, then Max to hit the information highway. Based on the current intel, the only logical conclusion was that Allie had left him. What he didn’t know was why. Now he was on full-blown autopilot with a single mission, and with every tick of the second hand he was losing ground.
Hudson swallowed his impatience, then tossed yet another press photo onto the leather seat. By all accounts the woman Allie had referred to as one of her mother’s closest friends was nothing more than a wealthy European with a gift for graceful social maneuvering. And the copious events she was photographed at were giving him nothing but a crash course on the difference between Valentino and Chanel. The entire dossier was full of useless information, from the details of her marital marathon to her extended family tree, yet he continued to pore over it, trying to find something, anything, that might explain what the fuck was going on.
Was visiting Beauchene just an excuse? Had the past few days been an act, waiting for the perfect out? Or had it been a final good-bye, fucking each other senseless just to purge it out of her system? Had she realized that no matter what his zip code, he still wasn’t good enough? Hudson gripped the document in his hand to avoid punching his fist through the tinted glass. He hadn’t even had a fighting fucking chance to talk her out of it.
“Mr. Chase.” Max’s voice cut through the rhetoricals and Hudson’s laser-sharp eyes darted to the rearview mirror. “The plane is on standby and the crew is ready to depart as soon as we arrive. ETA, eight minutes.”
Hudson checked his watch. “Thank you.” He took a deep breath in an attempt to downshift his nervous energy into focused calm, but his need to find Allie overrode all logic. If she thought she was walking without hearing him out. . . . Well, news flash, she was wrong. So fucking wrong.
After going through the airport’s private security entrance, the Mercedes shot down the tarmac and around the fat turn that lead to the hanger housing the Chase Industries plane. The car came to an abrupt stop inside, its tires squeaking against the highly polished concrete floor. Hudson exploded out of the vehicle. He didn’t give a shit if he had to fly halfway around the world to do it; he was going after her. Winning Allie back was a necessity, and if this was the way she wanted to play it, he was all fucking in.
* * *
Allie paced the Aubusson rug in front of the hearth in Julian’s study. Her eyes were glued to the clock resting atop the intricately carved mantel. The ticking of the hands seemed to grow louder the longer she watched it, and her heart raced to keep time. Ten more strokes and it would chime, just as it had the past four hours, in yet another shrill reminder that she’d stood up the man she loved.
Her chest tightened at the thought of him waiting for her at the Paris train station. At first he might have assumed she was merely running late. It wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. But Hudson knew she would have called or texted if that had been the case. Eventually he would have realized something was wrong.
When she closed her eyes she could picture him standing on the platform, running a hand through his hair when he wasn’t checking his watch, his brow furrowed and his jaw tight. How long had he waited? Had he called the police? They probably wouldn’t consider her officially missing after only a few hours. Either way she was sure he’d interrogated the hotel about the limo they’d provided. Knowing firsthand what it was like to face a determined Hudson Chase, Allie had no doubt they’d given him whatever information they had. Which meant he knew the driver didn’t take her to tea with an old family friend but rather to de Gaulle airport.
. Did he assume she’d left him? Was he already on his way back to Chicago?
The clock chimed, and Allie’s eyes flew open. She had to get out of there. She needed to find Hudson, to tell him she loved him and that she would never leave him. Ever.
Where the hell was Julian? He’d had her on a race against time since the moment he’d called, demanding she personally deliver his ring before an unreasonably short deadline. But she’d no sooner walked through the door when a rather imposing gentleman approached him with a message. Allie had seen enough over the past few weeks to recognize a bodyguard when she saw one. Ex-military, if she had to guess. After reading the note, Julian had excused himself, asking the man to escort Allie to his study. She didn’t think much of it until he confiscated her cell phone and locked the door behind him.
She’d been pacing the rug ever since.
Her impatience was its own cruel irony since she’d hoped to never lay eyes on Julian Laurent again. She would have hung up on him when he called—scratch that, she would have told him to go to hell,
hung up on him—but he’d played the one card that guaranteed her cooperation. Hudson. Allie had no idea what had happened to the man whose lifeless body lay at Nick’s feet in the surveillance video Julian sent her, or what Hudson’s involvement had been. But it didn’t matter. She trusted Hudson completely and would do anything to protect him. Which is why she’d had no choice but to follow Julian’s instructions to the letter. She’d done everything he’d asked, and in return he’d trapped her in his study for hours. Enough was enough. Julian couldn’t hold her hostage.
Allie crossed the cavernous room and tried the handles of the double doors, only to find them still locked. And when she pounded on the wood she once again heard nothing but an echoing silence in return. Why the hell was he doing this? A shiver of awareness trickled down Allie’s spine. He was playing mind games with her, breaking down her defenses. But why? She had no intention of sticking around long enough to find out. She needed to get out of there, to find Hudson and tell him everything. Together they could figure out a way to deal with Julian.
Her eyes darted around the room, coming to rest on the arched casement window on the opposite wall. She hurried around Julian’s desk and frantically cranked the handle on the stone sill. The drop wasn’t too bad, if she lowered herself carefully . . .
A hinge squeaked behind her and then a door slammed shut. “Have a seat, Alessandra,” Julian said, his accent thick and his voice low. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Hudson hit the stairs two at a time, eating up the distance in a matter of seconds. As he stepped inside his private jet he heard the captain radio the tower. The flight attendant greeted him almost immediately.
“Good evening, Mr. Chase.” The woman looked over Hudson’s shoulder. “Will Miss Sinclair be joining us?”
“There’s been a change to the manifest.” Hudson unbuttoned his wool coat and dropped it onto the cream couch opposite twin leather seats. “Only one passenger.” He didn’t need to elaborate and he wasn’t going to.
Without missing a beat the flight attendant simply responded, “Yes, sir.”
Hudson parked his ass in the chair that faced the door and ran a hand through his hair. Call it wishful thinking, but with his eyes focused on the door, he hoped—hell, he fucking prayed—that Allie would suddenly appear in the archway. But instead, a guy on the ground crew bounded up the stairs to close the hatch.
Hudson dipped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose as if that would stave off the pounder threatening to take over his frontal lobe.
“Sir.” A soft voice pushed through the sound of the jet’s engines warming up. “Might I offer you ibuprofen or aspirin, perhaps?”
“I’m fine, thank you. Just a glass of wat—”
His phone rang in his hand.
“Mr. Chase, we’re preparing for takeoff, you will need to turn your phone off or set it to airplane mode.”
Hudson held up a single finger as he glanced at the screen. His stomach took a nosedive when he realized it wasn’t Allie, but rather an unknown number. “Chase,” he clipped into the phone.
“Bonsoir, Monsieur Chase. C’est Claudette de la George V.”
Hudson took the chilled glass of water from his flight attendant. “Procéder,” he responded in near-perfect French. Outside the window, landscape began to pass by.
“Bien sûr, monsieur. Mlle Sinclair a rencontré un passager de Chicago, une jeune femme rousse selon le pilote. Il l’a emmenée à l’hôtel Ritz Carlton.”
Sweet hell, she was rapid-firing at him. “Ralentissez, Anglais, s’il vous plaît.”
“Désolé . . . uh, my apologies, Mr. Chase. You are a valued client of the George V, and as a courtesy we wanted to follow up on your inquiry regarding Miss Sinclair.” The casual tone of her voice grated against his nerve endings. And for fuck’s sake, the pause just about pitched him into thermonuclear status. “Miss Sinclair was taken to the arrivals terminal.”
“Arrivals? You’re certain?”
“Oui. She met a flight arriving from the United States.”
“The US has fifty states, narrow it down.” The aircraft eased over a bump on its way to the runway, and the water in the glass in front of him rippled.
“Chicago, sir. The driver said he picked up a redhead with . . . uh . . . colorful luggage, then proceeded to take her to the Ritz Carlton.”
“Did Miss Sinclair go with her to the hotel?” And why the hell wasn’t she taking her to a different one?
Christ, this was like pulling teeth. “Did the driver take Miss Sinclair to another location?”
“No, Mr. Chase, he returned alone.”
“Merci.” Hudson ended the call. Why would Allie fly back to the states while her self-proclaimed B-fucking-F was in Paris? The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to shake out of different boxes with none of them matching. He shifted back into his seat, and at the same time the pilot throttled the engine. The engines roared and the plane began to pick up speed.
Hudson yanked back on his seat belt, the metal clanking against the armrests, and ordered the plane to stop.
* * *
Allie startled at the sound of the slamming door. She turned to find Julian standing in the doorway. His green eyes were glassy as they cast a leering glance over her body, causing alarm bells to ring loud and strong in her head. The last time she’d been in the same room with Julian, he’d tried to rape her. The cuts and bruises she’d suffered at his hands that night had healed, but the mere sight of him awakened a panic that lingered just below the surface.
“I believe I told you to sit.” He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.
“You can’t keep me here,” she said, her mouth suddenly dry. “This is kidnapping.”
His lips twitched into a mocking smile. “You came here of your own free will, Alessandra.”
It took every ounce of strength to hold her ground. “You blackmailed me into coming here.”
“I simply provided an incentive for you to pay me a visit.” He smirked. “As my guest.” He sauntered toward the fireplace, stopping in front of a small table that held an arrangement of crystal decanters. “Drink?”
Allie shook her head. “Do you lock all your guests in the study?”
“You would have preferred the tower?”
To her horror Allie realized he might not have been joking. Either way he didn’t wait for an answer to the absurd question. Instead he continued on as if the past few hours had been nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
“I had matters to attend to.” Julian filled a squat glass with ice, then lifted the top from one of the decanters and poured himself a hefty glass of vodka. “But I’m here now, so let’s, as you Americans are so fond of saying, get down to it, shall we?” His expression darkened when she didn’t comply. “Sit, Alessandra. Don’t make me say it again.”
Allie sank into one of the chairs in front of Julian’s desk. He passed by her in a cloud of sweet cologne mixed with the lingering stench of cigarette smoke. The combination made her stomach roll. When he reached his desk he fixed her with a hard stare. “I believe you have something of mine?”
She dug the leather ring box out of her purse and set it on the desk between them. He regarded her a moment, watching her over the rim of his glass as he sipped the vodka. Refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing how he affected her, Allie fought the urge to look away.
After what seemed like an eternity, Julian finally reached for the box, holding it in one hand and pressing the lid open with his thumb. The late afternoon sun streaming in from the window behind him caught the facets of the stone, reflecting a brilliant white and blue. Despite what that ring had come to represent, Allie had to admit it was stunning. Twelve flawless carats, the diamond was truly one of a kind. A gift from Louis XIV to the first Marquis Laurent, the ring had been in Julian’s family for centuries and was one of his most prized possessions. Yet as he stared at his precious heirloom nestled in black satin, he remained impassive and quiet. Too quiet.
For several excruciating moments, the ticking from the clock on the mantel was the only sound in the room. Allie stole a glance at it, but Julian either didn’t notice or didn’t care. He sat motionless, his gaze trained on the box in his hand, focused but somehow unseeing at the same time. It was like he was a million miles away.
When he finally spoke, Allie let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “America’s royal wedding,” he mumbled before taking another sip from his glass. His voice was so low she wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.
“That’s what the press was calling it.” Julian snapped the box closed and set it back on the desk. The distant look in his eyes was gone, and in its place was a venom so tangible Allie could almost feel it crawl across her skin. “You were too busy spreading your legs all over Chicago to notice, but our impending merger made headlines.”
Allie couldn’t help but cringe at his word choice. Merger, not marriage. And certainly not love. To him their entire relationship had been nothing more than a business transaction, one her parents had shrewdly and callously negotiated to save Ingram Media from bankruptcy. Julian was chosen because he was the most desirable bidder in her father’s eyes, not because he loved her. All of it had been a fraud. From the day they first met until the night he proposed, everything about their courtship had been a carefully orchestrated charade.
“I should be at the helm of Ingram right now. Not you and that stray who followed you home from the beach ten years later.” He took another sip of vodka and slowly licked his lower lip. “You must have been quite the fuck back then, because I certainly never experienced anything quite so . . . inspiring.”
Allie had heard enough. “You’ve got what you wanted, Julian. I brought the ring back. Just give me the memory card and we never have to see each other again.”
“Promises were made, Alessandra. Contracts signed. Money exchanged.”
“I had my lawyer return everything you paid my father.” Her voice was small. The fact that her father had taken money from Julian made her feel like the whore he’d once called her, bought and paid for.
Allie flinched at the sound of Julian’s fist pounding the desk.
“You think that makes this right?” he shouted. His face was red and a muscle ticked in his jaw.
A beat of tense silence passed between them.
“Look around you,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “I don’t need your money. What I need is a high-level entry into the American market. A conglomerate to add to the Laurent holdings. What I need,” he snarled, “is Ingram Media.”
Allie took deep breaths through her nose in an effort to slow her racing heart. Julian’s hair-trigger temper was amplified by the alcohol he was slugging back like water. She needed to remain calm, sympathize with him if that’s what it took. Anything to get the hell out of there. “I understand your frustration, Julian. But I don’t know what you expect me to do about any of this.”
Julian composed himself almost as quickly as he’d lost it. With a final gulp he finished off the vodka. Slowly and methodically, he set the glass on the desk and leaned back in the chair, resting his elbows on the arms and steepling his fingers in front of his mouth. “It’s quite simple, Alessandra. You’re going to become my wife.”