Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #hollywood, #Organized Crime, #contemporary romance, #glamour, #hitman, #movie star, #Kidnapping, #hero
They climbed the staircase and instead of turning left to the long hallway, which had a dozen doors on either side, they turned right. Remi pressed his finger to the pad on the wall and leaned forward, a scan of his eye, and the door clicked open.
Another home within a home. Down the long corridor filled with sunlight toward a door at the end of the hall.
“Does she . . . did she . . .” The words he needed weren’t coming.
“She rarely receives visitors, but she always has time for her agents. She’s aware of your service record and your background.” Remi turned to the door and then turned back. His eyes held a sadness. His lips thinned. “She’s permanently scarred from the trauma, so don’t be surprised.”
Beck’s chest tightened. One of the most beautiful women in the world . . . Estrella hadn’t been seen in public for over a decade.
Remi pushed open the door but remained in the hall. “Don’t worry about Pearl. She won’t kill you, unless you get too close.”
Beck nodded and swallowed. For fuck’s sake, he’d infiltrated terrorist cells and been less on edge. Why was he nervous about meeting a former actress and socialite?
Because if the rumors were true, Estrella Leone was much more than just an actress and a socialite. She was the linchpin in numerous foreign operations known and unknown.
The heels of Beck’s shoes sounded hard on the caramel-colored-wood floors. The room was flooded with sunlight. Cathedral ceilings and long windows cast patterns on the wide-planked floor. At the end of the room was a desk, facing away from the door and out the window. Gorgeous black hair, long and luxurious, that Beck remembered from the fashion magazines his sister always had around the house when they were growing up. Hadn’t every girl wanted to be Estrella Leone?
“Beck, come in, please.” She tilted her head to the side. The dog beside Estrella sat up at attention and turned her amber eyes on Beck.
Dog? That wasn’t a fucking dog, that was a wolf. Giant and white-furred, the beast sat at Estrella’s knee, her hand on its head.
“Don’t mind Pearl; she’s harmless.”
Right, the way a loaded Glock in the hands of a Seal was harmless.
Beck moved to the edge of the carpet and assumed the position. Her profile was just as he remembered. She sat in a way that was very similar to the photo that had been on the cover of
magazine when they named her Person of the Year. That was before . . . just before . . . Estrella Leone had disappeared.
Estrella remained in her chair but swiveled. The right side of her face, still in profile, in front of him, with her luminous blue eyes and the honey-colored skin and not a line of age.
How old was Estrella? Not more than forty . . . couldn’t be. Hadn’t she been only twenty-something, nearly thirty, when the worldwide hunt for her began? A hunt that captured the minds and hearts of an entire world.
She wore sky blue, a shirt, light and flowing, that came to her wrists. Her lips curled up into a smile. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am you’ve accepted this assignment.” She tilted her head toward him. “Natalie reminds me a bit of myself when I was young.”
He stood at attention, his feet wide and his hands clasped behind him. She was his boss and in some ways his leader. At the very least she deserved respect because from where he stood she’d spent a ton of dough to build a world-class security firm.
Even if she was taking risks hiring someone like him.
She was smart. Part of him was thankful for the opportunity and part of him . . . well, part of him wondered if she was making a huge mistake.
“I know who you are, Beck Tatum.” She tilted her head. “And I know what you’re after.” Estrella’s voice was cool and crisp.
His chest tightened. Was he this transparent? This obvious? He hadn’t been at Greystone long and almost every moment he’d been engaged in prep for his assignment.
“I understand the desire for revenge.”
A cold trickle filtered through his body. He didn’t react, he didn’t move, he didn’t flinch. The memories were still gone . . . aside from Marisol. The screams. The silence. She was gone.
Estrella turned her chair, and her entire face was visible to Beck.
Bile climbed the back of his throat and revulsion turned his stomach. Beck held position and didn’t react. That face, the right side of Estrella’s face could cause a man to weep from its beauty, but the left side . . .
The skin on the left side was discolored and decorated with a crisscross of scars. Like melted wax, Estrella’s face drooped and didn’t move. One half perfection and one half destruction. The juxtaposition nearly too tragic to bear.
“He did this so I’d always remember the beauty I’d lost.”
Beck had seen bad things, he’d done bad things, he was a warrior, but his missions . . . his missions had always carried a righteousness, a need to serve a cause bigger than himself. Not this . . . not destroying a woman for no other reason but to inflict pain.
“Revenge fixes nothing, Mr. Tatum. Revenge only consumes you from the inside out.” She peered at him. “I’ve given up my need for revenge and replaced it with a need to serve, to protect, to make certain that the person who harmed me can never harm anyone again. If I can give up on revenge, you most certainly can too.”
Beck nodded. He understood her need to be part of a greater good.
“Thank you for being a part of my team. I know you’ll serve Natalie and Greystone well.”
Her lips on the right side of her face curled into a smile, but the gash where her mouth had been repaired on the left side of her face didn’t move.
Heat barreled through Beck’s chest. Whoever did this to Estrella had never been found, never been brought to justice, never—
“Mr. Tatum, you’re so obvious. I can practically read your thoughts. Someday we’ll find him. He can’t hide forever.”
“Do you even know—”
She lifted one hand and closed her eyes. A long breath. “My reach is only so far. There are still sanctuaries in the world for even the most depraved of men. But he will return one day. Of that I’m certain. I don’t believe he can stay away.”
Questions leapt through Beck’s mind, who, why, where . . . how? But these weren’t questions for him to ask.
“Please know that every resource at Greystone is at your disposal. You need only to call any one of your colleagues or Remi for assistance.”
“Thank you, Mr. Tatum. I’ll see you when you return.”
“Thank you, Ms. Leone.”
“Estrella—please, always call me Estrella.”
Beck turned and walked to the far end of Estrella’s office. He paused at the door and turned back. Again that profile . . . a beautiful woman, she could make angels weep. What kind of monster would destroy something so perfectly made?
He closed his eyes, took a breath. God, please let them find the person who’d harmed Estrella and never let that sociopath hurt another person again.
“Miss Warner refuses security.” Remi parked on the lower level of the Beverly Hills garage.
“How’s that going to work?”
“The studio is requiring her to have a bodyguard to remain the star in the sequel to
. She wants the role, so she’ll take you.”
“We’re meeting here?”
“That’s her car.” Remi nodded toward a convertible Mercedes with plates that read WARNER.
“Not exactly. She’s in complete denial about the situation. Trying to pretend it’s photogs or an ex-boyfriend. You’ve read the file—what do you think?”
“I think she’s got somebody that wants to do her real harm.”
“That’s what I think too, and Estrella agrees with us.” Remi adjusted the rearview mirror. “And in my time working with Estrella, I’ve discovered that her instincts are almost always spot on.” Remi turned and looked at Beck. “Natalie refuses to involve the police because of her father and her ex-boyfriend. You read about them.”
Beck nodded. The men in Natalie’s life had been less than ideal. “Scumbag” was the word that rushed to mind.
“She’s at Villa Blanco. I want you to get eyes on so you have an opportunity to assess her before she assesses you. We’ll get one shot. She won’t be easy and she won’t be nice, but she’ll take you on because she is motivated by money and career success, and the
franchise is her ticket to both.”
“And then I told that little shit to keep his hands where I could see them because stylists don’t do love scenes. Just because I was working for him doesn’t mean he gets to touch the ta-tas.” Stacia waved her hand in front of her breasts. Her laugh bubbled from her mouth and her pink-for-today curls bounced about her heart-shaped face. She lifted her glass and took a gulp of wine.
Natalie finished her glass and settled her cheek in her palm. How many glasses was that? Two? Three? Lunch with Stacia had turned into booze-fest.
“Oh my God.” Stacia’s eyes widened. Her gaze slid to the right as though tracking big game. “Look over there.” She threw out her hand. “But don’t be obvious.”
Natalie slid her gaze without moving her head.
“Hello, baby,” Stacia continued. “You see that tall wonderful man? Hot chocolate come to Mama. And the guy he’s with? Those two are proof positive that there is a God and that She does want women to be pleased.”
Both men were beyond handsome. They weren’t actors—too confident, too assured, not sliding their gaze about the restaurant and checking out if they were being seen. Something about them was strong and yet dangerous, but not in a way that made Natalie afraid. No, dangerous in a way that made her feel . . .
The blonde’s gaze shifted to her.
Natalie’s breath stalled in her chest. Those eyes. Sharp blue pierced through the restaurant and stole her breath. He didn’t drop his gaze. Most men, the moment they realized that she was
Natalie Warner, grew uncomfortable in their own skin or became bravado-machismo, as though they were suddenly hunting big game and she was the trophy.
Not this guy. His gaze remained locked to hers. He didn’t caress her body with his eyes, he didn’t wink or smile, he didn’t even acknowledge her celebrity. He simply looked at her.
Heat flew through her. Well-worn feelings of fear and loneliness dissipated beneath his stare. That man, a man she didn’t even know, was built to protect.
She flashed her gaze back to Stacia. What the hell? They’d drunk waaaay too much wine. Natalie didn’t know who those guys were. They dressed well, their clothes said banker or lawyer (definitely not movie agents because they weren’t smarmy enough), but their bodies . . . those bodies said cop or firefighter or military, not office jobs. She’d yet to see a man who rode a desk every day look and walk like these two. Beneath the sharply pressed suit shirt was the outline of hard pecs.
Her hands fanned across the top of the table and she closed her eyes. Mmhmmm, hard planes of muscle beneath her palm. How long had it been since she touched a man or felt his touch? Since what seemed like forever.
“Girl, those men are smoking hot and bad news in all the right ways. Think I’m going to—”
Natalie opened her eyes and reached out her hand and halted Stacia. “No.” She shook her head. “Please, not now.”
Natalie didn’t ask for favors. She was self-reliant and had taken care of herself since sixteen years old. Stacia’s smile slipped from her face. She knew, because Stacia was the one person, other than Ari, that Natalie called on the horrible nights like when she’d been followed, or when she discovered her parents’ ugly secrets, and when she cried after discovering Rico’s betrayal. Stacia knew everything and understood why Natalie didn’t want to speak to these men, hit on these men, maybe even get to know these men.
She was tired of being
Natalie Warner. Her career had devoured everything normal in her life. She was grateful for her success. Most people would kill to do what she did for a living, but still . . . God, she had no relationship with her parents and she couldn’t take a pee without someone shoving a picture under the stall for her to sign. Plus there had been the “lost time” when she’d thought Rico was in love only to discover she was being used for her lover’s personal gain.
Stacia waved at their server. “Bring us another bottle.”
“That’ll be our third one.”
“What? Like you have someplace to be? The press junket is over, the movie doesn’t start shooting until after the premiere. Ari is at your house right this minute wiring the whole damn place for cameras. Hell, you ought to just come and live at my house.”
Tempting, but Natalie loved her space, and according to everyone who’d ever lived with her, she could be a super-bitch at home.
“Maybe you should get a dog?” Stacia held out her glass as the server poured her another glass of wine. “A big dog that barks.”
“Too much travel.” Natalie sipped her wine. “Not fair to the dog.”
“If you actually hired some people to work for you—”
“I don’t want people in my personal space.”
“You have your housekeeper.”
“Same woman for five years and she comes twice a month.”
“Damn, girl, you’re big-time and you don’t have anyone doing anything for you.”
And that was how Natalie liked it. Been one of the reasons she’d gotten emancipated from her parents.
She took a deep breath. Subject change. This whole line of conversation was too heavy. “When do you leave for London?”
“Three weeks. Wish you’d go too.”
Natalie nodded. Time off from work would be fantastic, but like a lot of actresses, she was terrified that if she took any kind of break from working, she’d never work again. Today was her first day without some sort of work commitment in three months.
For the first time in her career, work wasn’t enough. Her big house in the hills felt empty and cold. Her gaze slid back toward the two gorgeous men, now with iced teas in front of them. She needed some fun, deserved some fun . . . the guy who was big, bold, and beautiful with blue eyes might be fun. So serious—what would she have to do to bring a smile to that face?