She was going to self-combust. She
was sure of it.
Downing a gulp of strawberry
spritzer from the chilled glass in her hand, Madison Tremaine resisted the urge
to fan her face to cool the heat rising there. It was bad enough she was the
only woman at the bar in this glitzy nightclub without a date, the last thing
she needed to do was draw more attention to herself.
Against her volition, her gaze
drifted back to the stranger who was responsible for setting her aflame. Those
piercing blue eyes, though! And the man’s perfection didn’t end at those
show-stealing, mesmerizing windows into his soul. From the top of his head of
stylishly-tamed curls to the tips of his Ferragamo shod toes and every
millimeter of chiseled muscle in between, the dark-haired guy standing alone at
the far end of the bar was the epitome of scrumptious.
Too bad she was on a strict
yumminess-free diet, courtesy of her ex-fiancé’s betrayal. She’d adored Eric,
but he’d thrown her love for him back in her face and turned her heart into a
She was over him, now. Her days of
treading the serious relationship path were over, too. But if there was ever a
man worth breaking her love embargo over it was this one. Thankfully, common
sense roadblocked her driving inclination to get to know the sexy stranger. She
couldn’t afford that indulgence. She was here for business tonight, not
pleasure, and Mr. Dreamy Eyes would only splinter her focus.
Actually, ‘splinter’ was putting
it mildly. She was quite certain the handsome stranger was capable of blowing
said focus to smithereens.
As though he knew exactly what she
was thinking, the owner of those deliciously sexy peepers raised his glass in
salute, shooting her a grin that had her hormones whimpering in eager
Reluctantly tearing her gaze away
from the intriguing planes and angles that made up his sculpture-worthy face, Madison shoved aside the driving compulsion to explore where the
blatant interest his body language was telegraphing might lead. There was no
way she could go there. Both professionally and personally, there was too much
riding on the assignment she was here to carry out.
A reporter for the Daily
Commentator, she was here tonight to secure an interview that could very well
be career defining. Her shot at landing the promotion she so desperately needed
hinged on convincing one of the state of New York’s most speculated about billionaires to share the story of
his rise from abject poverty to rolling-in-it riches. She was here to track
that billionaire down, but Mr. Dreamy Eyes made her want to back-burner the
task at hand and skip directly to playtime.
She promptly stamped down the urge
to take him up on the invitation simmering in his gaze. No one on her paper’s
payroll—or any other paper’s for that matter—had managed to garner a sit-down
with media-shy business mogul Alan Sonetti. She had every intention of
succeeding where they hadn’t.
For her brother’s sake, she had
Alan Sonetti had ignored her
fellow reporters’ attempts to connect with him via phone calls and e-mails, so
she was employing a different tactic to try and secure an interview with the
elusive playboy billionaire. If the mountain wouldn’t come to her, then she
would go to the mountain.
The only downside to her plan was
that this particular mountain happened to reside in a mansion that was more
secure than most fortresses, and his corporate headquarters was a stronghold,
as well. With zero chance of getting face-time with him at either location, she
decided to seek him out at the flagship of his chain of clubs where it was
rumored he surfaced on rare occasion.
After getting a tip that tonight
might be one of those rare occasions, Madison had shared her plan with her editor, Felicia, who had
given her stratagem her wholehearted backing.
More than just her boss, Felicia
was also a good friend. Earlier today, Felicia had called her into her office
and handed her a shopping bag emblazoned with the logo of a high-end retailer.
“A little something for you to
wear tonight when you visit the club,” she’d announced, looking immensely
pleased with herself.
A peek in the bag had revealed a
slip of black silk nestled in a bed of tissue paper. “A scarf?”
“Very funny. It’s a dress.”
“There’s not enough yardage here
to qualify as a dress.”
“You can dispense with the eye
rolling. Trust me on this. Senetti’s caters to the silver spoon set, and
designer micro-minis are de rigueur there. Besides, if you want a face-to-face
with the man himself you need to get his attention. I guarantee he won’t be
able to take his eyes off you in that outfit.”
“There is no but. Just wear the
dress. That is unless you don’t want the promotion?”
Oh, she wanted it. She’d never
wanted something so badly in her entire life. The new position would super-size
her paycheck, which meant she’d be able to help Matt. Since she was the reason
her brother was in a bind in the first place, failure wasn’t an option.
It was that drive to succeed that
had her shimmying into the wispy garment that was the polar opposite of her
usual office armor of tailored slacks and blouses, and joining the crowd queued
up to gain entry into the nightlife hotspot that carried Senetti’s surname as
well as his personal stamp of posh.
It wasn’t until the doorman
ushered her inside that it struck her just how far out of her element she truly
was. Felicia’s gift served as terrific camouflage, but it didn’t prevent her
from suffering from one mega case of fish-out-of-water-itis. Sonetti’s catered
to the rich and famous, a demographic she was light years away from meshing
It was some consolation that she
wasn’t the only square peg trying to fit into this round hole of a nightclub.
Even though this realm of the mega-rich might as well be the planet Mars in her
book, she’d bet her last dollar the real-life Artemision bronze at the bar was
as much of an outsider here as she was.
It wasn’t that Mr. Dreamy Eyes
didn’t fit in with the clientele here when it came to net wealth. His clothing
and demeanor were the epitome of refined and urbane, and he carried himself
with an easy grace and sophistication that spoke of a bank balance that matched
or exceeded those of the affluent partiers in this exclusive hot spot. His
smoldering gaze, however, telegraphed something altogether different. Something
primal, dangerous, and untamed—something that made it clear he wasn’t cut from
the same cloth as the others.
She found that something
Shaking her head, she reminded
herself that she wasn’t here to get this sexy stranger’s story. It was Alan
Sonetti she was after. Unfortunately, she wasn’t making any progress towards
that end. If Alan was here tonight, she’d yet to spot him.
Curling a strand of her hair
around her pinkie, she tried to ignore the bitter disappointment burning a hole
in the pit of her stomach. Her deadline was looming. If she didn’t land this
story soon, she could kiss any chance she might have of earning that promotion
Resuming her search with renewed
determination, she scanned the club for her quarry. Moments later, her gaze
inadvertently tangled with the sexy stranger’s again.
The accidental eye contact sent a
bolt of impossible-to-ignore chemistry zipping between them, and a wave of heat
rushed to her cheeks. As the sensual pull of attraction wove through her, it
struck her that tonight wasn’t the first time she’d seen this man.
Drinking in the details of his
perfect features, she only grew more certain she’d seen those high cheekbones
and that classically aquiline nose before. But where?
She’d discounted half a dozen
possible reasons why he seemed so familiar when her cell phone chimed,
announcing an incoming text from Felicia.
“Find him?” the text read.
“Not yet, but I will.” she texted
back in reply.
“That’s the spirit. R U behaving?”
Madison’s mouth curved in a cat-caught-the-canary smile as she
keyed her response. “Sort of. Might be guilty of indulging in an eye candy
fest.” Discretely using her cell phone to snap a photo of the visual treat in
question, she sent the picture off to her friend.
“OMG,” Felicia texted back.
“I know, right?” she typed in
Felicia’s response pinged back
immediately. “Do you know who that is?”
“He looks familiar, but…?”
“He’s a billionaire, just not the
one you’re chasing down. He made headlines two years ago. Plane crash.”
Felicia’s prompt was all it took
for the ‘ah ha’ moment to dawn. Small plane crashes rarely became the focus of
national news, but when the disaster involved a private jet piloted by one of
the inamoratos of the rich and famous the story definitely merited prime
billing. The newsworthy-factor doubled when word leaked that the only other
person on board the plane was a popular young Hollywood
actress, Vanessa Ashcroft.
Madison’s fingers quivered with excitement as she keyed her reply.
Her editor’s enthusiastic
confirmation flashed across the phone’s screen. “Yes!”
Madison couldn’t believe her luck. She’d come here in
pursuit of one story and another one had quite possibly just fallen into her
lap. Donovan White hadn’t been spotted in New York since shortly after his accident two years ago. When his
aircraft had gone down over the ocean near a remote Brazilian jungle, rescue
crews hadn’t been able to locate the wreckage. It had been assumed there were
no survivors, but a last-ditch search effort had led to the billionaire’s
discovery on an uninhabited island miles from the presumed crash site.
Donovan White had miraculously
beaten the odds. Vanessa Ashcroft hadn’t been so fortunate.
After attending Vanessa’s funeral,
Donovan had retreated from the social scene he’d held court over and left New York. From that point on, the billionaire playboy who’d once
featured regularly on almost every society page had pulled a vanishing act.
Rumor had it he’d joined in the operation of his family’s California vineyard.
Then why, after withdrawing into
utter seclusion, had he suddenly surfaced here at the apex of the social
spotlight he’d abandoned? Madison had a feeling if she could answer that question, she would
have the makings of a scintillating headline.
Donovan White rubbed at eyes that
were gritty from too much caffeine and too little sleep. Two years ago,
clubbing had been one of his go-to pastimes. He’d reveled in the throbbing beat
of the music and fed off the energy of the crowd.
He wasn’t that man any longer.
Now the strobing lights,
ear-drum-busting din of the band, and the obnoxious clashing of a myriad of
warring designer perfumes only grated on his nerves—nerves that were already
stretched thin by the dire nature of the mission he was here to carry out.
A covert operative for the
Sentinels Agency, he’d invested countless hours over the past few months
knitting together a tenuous bridge to Alan Sonetti. It was believed that
Sonetti was doing business with master mobster Lawrence Mendacci, and the
bridge he’d cobbled together just might bring the agency one step closer to
putting an end to Mendacci’s reign of terror.
Gaining Sonetti’s trust hadn’t
been easy, but he’d managed to convince the man he was every bit his match when
it came to treading in the gray. He was here to rendezvous with the club owner
after being granted his first face-to-face meeting with him.
So far he’d been left cooling his
He despised waiting. It gave him
too much time to think about things he wanted to keep tucked away in the ‘do
not disturb’ section of his mind—too much time to dwell on the way lives had
been irrevocably changed in the aftermath of the crash he’d been unable to
He was determined to do everything
in his power to prevent future tragedies. Tonight’s meeting would open the door
to doing just that. Liz Meyers, the dynamo at the helm of Sentinels who’d
recruited and trained him, had tasked him with entrenching himself within
Sonetti’s organization. He wasn’t about to let her down.
And so he would wait. He could be
patient if this temporary inconvenience brought the Sentinels Agency one step
closer to quashing Lawrence Mendacci’s blood trail and bringing an end to the
mobster’s reign of terror.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that his
wait came with an unexpected reward—an enticing distraction from the tedium of
being on Sonetti’s stand-by list in the form of a blue-eyed, ebony haired angel
at the bar. The pulse-stutteringly beautiful woman practically vibrated with
barely suppressed energy. She’d captured his attention the instant she’d swept
into the club.
He wasn’t the only one who’d taken
notice of her. Despite the fact that he and the bartender were the only men in
the establishment without a woman hanging on their arm, that didn’t stop the
other male patrons from checking the sexy siren out.
And who could blame them? The
beauty wore a flashy designer mini dress that highlighted her curves, paired
with sky-high stilettos that accentuated her long, shapely legs. Her stunning
face was framed by a cascade of dark hair that glinted with burgundy
The urge to thread his fingers
through those seductive strands of ebony silk flared hot and insistent,
surprising in its intensity. He chalked the craving up to not having had a
woman in his life since Vanessa, but he knew it was more than that. There was
something about this woman that called to him. She looked like she was here on
a mission, and he couldn’t help but wonder what her quest might be.
Noticing his interested perusal of
the beauty, the bartender quirked an eyebrow in masculine solidarity. “Not hard
on the eyes, is she?”
“That she’s not.”
“Why don’t you do yourself a favor
and buy her a drink?”
It was a shame he didn’t have time
for such a pleasant distraction at the moment. If he did, he wouldn’t need the
bartender’s urgings to connect with the woman.
“I would if I wasn’t here on
business,” he replied. “I’m waiting to meet with Alan Sonetti.”
“Business, huh? Too bad.” Rubbing
the teak countertop with his polishing cloth, the bartender paused mid-swipe
and regarded him intently.
Donovan saw the exact moment
“Say, you’re Donovan White, aren’t
Nodding, Donovan took a swallow of
his drink in preparation for the volley of questions he knew would inevitably
“It was a miracle you made it off
that jungle island alive. I imagine it couldn’t have been easy being stranded
in the middle of nowhere, not knowing if or when you’d be rescued.”
“It wasn’t. It’s an experience I
don’t like to rehash.” A half-hearted smile took the bite out of his response.
Not at all dissuaded, the
bartender ploughed on. “A shame about that actress you were dating. Tragic that
she didn’t survive the plane crash.”
“Yes,” he agreed, taking another
drink in hopes of anesthetizing the sharp sting of guilt. But the bite of the
brandy couldn’t dispel the painful memories, and the world’s supply of alcohol
wouldn’t ease his crushing despair over what had happened in the aftermath of
the accident. Nothing could.
Leaving the bartender’s curiosity
unquenched, he steered the conversation back to the topic at hand. “The
woman…is she a regular?”
“First time I’ve seen her. A lot
of purebred peacocks gather here, but this one is a ray of sunshine. I just
wish she wasn’t here poking around looking for trouble.”
“She was asking about Mr. Sonetti,
earlier. Not to disrespect the boss, but nothing good ever comes of that.
Beautiful women are in here all the time, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
He’s got that RHS factor, you know? Rich. Handsome. Single. On the rare
occasions one of them is lucky enough to find him, they inevitably throw
themselves at him hoping he’ll fall for them. He doesn’t throw them back—just
uses them until he tires of them. The relationships all end the same, and it’s
not with him putting a ring on their finger.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow at the
man’s candor. “I see. Well, I’ll be keeping your boss tied up with business for
a bit. Maybe she’ll get tired of waiting.”
For her sake, he hoped she did.
Alan Sonetti was into shady up to his neck, and he’d hate to see her get mixed
up with the man. If the bartender was right, and the dark-haired beauty was on
a hunting expedition to bag Sonetti, odds were good she had no idea she was
tracking dangerous game.