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Authors: Stephanie Rowe

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Chill

BOOK: Chill
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Chill
Stephanie Rowe

LOVE SPELL   
   NEW YORK CITY

Double Identity

It was difficult for Luke to think clearly with that gun aimed at Isabella’s heart. He was afraid to push it until he had her out of range. Too many damn memories. He was getting it right this time. No screwups.

But he also needed to know what he was up against. “Who were you talking to?” he asked their captor.

Who knew Adam Fie had been found? Jesus.
He’d been found.

Instinct told him to kick ass and bolt. To disappear again. But Isabella had to be safe first. He couldn’t leave her behind. Had to get her safe first.

But it wasn’t so easy anymore. Because Adam Fie was a wanted man, and his presence would bring all hell down on anyone associated with him.

For Ariana, my dearest love and greatest joy

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Luke Webber swore as the swollen, angry river fought to grab the wheels of his low-flying bush plane. The liquid fury roared its need to snatch him out of the air and suck him down into a hellish death at the mercy of Black River.

Water sprayed up over his windshield, killing his visibility. The wind buffeted the small plane like paper in a hurricane. Whitecaps lashed out at the wheels. The rapids smashed over rocks.

“Hell, Luke.” His radio crackled with static as his partner, Cort McClaine, made contact. “I’m ten minutes away, and this storm is getting worse by the minute. What does it look like there?”

Through the blinding rain, Luke caught a glimpse of the island he’d been fighting to reach. Three shadowy figures were waving frantically, marooned on the small strip of sand alongside the raging river. Hot damn. He’d dropped off the scientists four days ago so they could research a rare species of plant. Thank God they were still alive.

But his relief faded as he took in the grim reality of the situation. The beach was a third of the size it had been, the island…shit…it was almost underwater.

The woodsy area was often submerged during big
storms, especially in the spring, but the forecast had been clear when he’d dropped them off. However, like many weather fronts in Alaska, this storm had formed in a matter of hours, and she was a raging fury.

Luke had been in the air the minute he’d realized what would be going down at the research site, and it looked like he was still too late.

There wasn’t enough beach left to handle the plane. The island would be underwater within hours. His clients, drowned.

“Luke.” Cort’s voice came over the radio again. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“I might be able to land, but no way I could get back up. There’s not enough beach.”

Cort swore. “What about me?”

Luke knew Cort wasn’t questioning his ability to fly. After eight years as a bush pilot, Luke was as skilled as his business partner, who’d been piloting his own rides since he was seven.

Difference was, Luke was sane and Cort wasn’t. Not when it came to making choices in the air. Yet even Cort wouldn’t touch down now, not in Luke’s plane. But Cort was flying a smaller plane that needed less distance to get aloft. He still had a window to get down and get up.

“I’m over the river now,” Cort said. “How much beach is left?”

“Not enough for my plane.” Luke pulled up, aborting the landing attempt, and panic broke out on the beach. The men jumped up and down and gesticulated wildly. Luke could taste their desperation as they realized he wasn’t going to land. He gritted his teeth as they chased the plane down the beach. Luke knew they
could hear death’s laughter in the howling wind as they watched their only hope to live abandon them.

Luke ground his jaw as he left the island behind. Cort’s plane was too small to carry all three men in one load. And by the time Cort came back for a return trip, the island would be underwater.

Which meant at least one or maybe two scientists would die if Luke didn’t get his ass down there and back up again. For Luke to leave those men to die…it was akin to murder.

And murder was no longer a part of his life.

He’d sworn long ago no one else would die because of him. Leaving those men behind to save his own ass…that was something his dad would do. Fuck that.

With a loud shout, he banked the plane and circled back around toward the island. He narrowed his focus on that small strip of gray beach. He ignored the voice in his head shouting that he would die along with them.

Cort’s voice came back. “Jesus, Luke! What are you doing? I can see you now, and there’s no way you can take off from that beach! Leave it for me!”

Cort was the most daring bush pilot Luke knew, and the smartest. If Cort thought Luke had any chance of making it, he’d never call him off, not when lives were at stake.

Luke rubbed his thumb over the brand his father had burned into his wrist when he was eight. The brand that forever marked him as Marcus Fie’s son.

“I’m not your son,” Luke snarled. Then he sat back, gripped the controls and headed right for that slip of sodden earth.

The plane hit easily, and Luke hauled her to a stop
with room to spare. But entry wasn’t the problem, and he knew it.

He also knew it could be the last landing he’d ever make.

But when he taxied around and saw his clients running toward him, stumbling over the rocks and shouting for help, he knew he’d make the same choice again. If he failed, at least he’d die trying to do the right thing.

A claim his father would never be able to make.

Marcus Fie’s sixtieth birthday party reminded Isabella Kopas of the night her mother had been murdered.

The sultry live music. The dark lighting casting shadows over the ornate decor of Marcus’s ballroom. The high-end cigar smoke drifting through the three-hundred-thousand-dollar crystal chandeliers. The clink of the finest champagne glasses.

The muted hum of cultured male voices. They all had refined way of speaking that didn’t quite mask the violence rolling beneath the surface…by intent, Isabella was certain.

Despite the similarities, though, this night wasn’t the same.

Tonight Isabella’s seven-thousand-dollar scarlet gown hadn’t come at the price of her body or her morals…at least, not in the way her mother’s had.

This evening Isabella’s date was a handsome art dealer who had brought her two dozen roses and a matching corsage, not a cash payment up front.

At eleven o’clock, she wouldn’t be cradling her mother’s battered body in her lap, waiting for an ambulance to save the life of the five-hundred-dollar-a-night escort no one cared about.

No one except one seventeen-year-old daughter.

“You can’t possibly give
this
to Marcus.” Roseann Martin held out the platinum-and-diamond bracelet Isabella had just handed her.

Isabella pulled her gaze off the tuxedo-clad orchestra playing muted jazz on the glittery ballroom stage. “Of course I can.” She lifted the bracelet from her best friend’s palm. The diamonds set sparsely in the heavyset links were masculine and tasteful. She draped it over the back of her hand, so it slid across her scarlet fingernails. The light from the chandeliers made the stones glitter, as if they were dancing. “He’ll love it.”

Her friend shook her head. “Isa—”

“Roseann!” One of the kitchen staff leaned out the door and beckoned to her. It was a young man, one of the new hires in the constantly rotating door of Marcus’s household staff.

Roseann turned to go, but Isabella set her hand on Roseann’s shoulder. “She’ll be right there,” Isabella called back.

The youth hesitated, then ducked back inside, clearly not senior enough to realize that the fact that Isabella lived in Marcus’s house and was his most valued professional asset didn’t translate to having any authority whatsoever in the management of his household.

Neither woman bothered to waste the brief respite they’d been given. “It’s not the bracelet that’s the problem,” Roseann said. “It’s the engraving.”

As the orchestra struck up a new tune, Isabella turned the bracelet over. The bass reverberated in her chest and her ears began to ring. The dim lighting made it difficult to read the beautiful script, but she’d spent hours laboring over the right words and knew exactly what it said.

To Marcus, the father I never had. I love you, Isabella.

I love you.

She’d never said those words to Marcus, not even once in the six years since she’d come to work for him, or in the five years she’d been living in his house. He’d moved her into his lair so she’d be available to him 24/7. It was common for him to wake her up at three in the morning to inspect an antiquity that had just arrived under the veil of night. He never accepted an item until he’d gotten her expert take on its value, its history, its origins and most importantly, its authenticity.

In all that time, Marcus Fie had never uttered the words “I love you.” Marcus Fie didn’t believe in love.

But she didn’t buy it.

Everyone needed love.

Isabella closed her hand over the bracelet. “I think it’s perfect. I think it’s exactly what he needs.” She hoped it would finally break through the cold veil he had over his heart, to allow him to finally accept he needed her in his life for more than the value she could add to his already immense coffers. It was time for him to accept that he had become the family she’d yearned for her whole life.

She was nervous about giving it to him. Yes, she loved him, and she was sure he loved her, beneath the icy veneer he carried, but if she were wrong…and he reacted badly…Was she really so entrenched in his life he wouldn’t eject her for trying to get closer than he wanted?

Isabella closed her fist around the bracelet, and a sudden chill reverberated down her arms. Would it be better to simply accept the half-life he’d offered her instead of risking losing it all? But she couldn’t live like that anymore, pretending not to care when he ignored
her, or having to hide her feelings. For her, personal connection to those she cared about was as necessary as breathing, and he was all she had.

“Isa.” Roseann’s blonde hair was coiffed in a tight bun on top of her head, per Marcus’s strict dress code. “Marcus Fie is not a man you love. He’s a man you fear. He—”

“You’re wrong.” Isabella held up her hand to silence her friend. “I know what people say, but they don’t know him like I do—”

“No!” Roseann was the one who interrupted this time. “God, Isa, I’m so worried about you! Don’t you see what you’ve become? He’s drawn you into his spell. You can’t do this to yourself. Ever since that whole thing with Daniel, you’ve retreated into—”

“I don’t want to talk about Daniel.” At the mention of her ex-fiancé’s name, a heavy weight settled in Isabella’s chest.

“Fine, but the point is, you’re emotionally unhealthy right now. You have to get out. Start dating.”

“I am dating. Zack brought me flowers tonight—”

“Zack is using you to get to Marcus.” Roseann pointed behind Isabella. “Look at him.”

Isabella turned to see Zack in deep conversation in a shadowed corner. He wasn’t talking to Marcus, but his head was bent next to the grayed coif of Simon Fuentes, one of Marcus’s clients, a man who had a long list of rare and difficult-to-obtain antiquities he wanted for his personal collection. He didn’t care how he got them, and he paid well.

There was something about Simon that made Isabella uncomfortable, and she made a point of never being in the same room with him unless there was someone else present. Why was Zack talking to him? It
wasn’t as if he could do business with Simon, who bought only from Marcus. Simon’s paranoid nature didn’t allow him to trust anyone but the world-renowned Marcus Fie to provide him with the real deal and not a fake.

And the reason the world trusted Marcus Fie to get only the real thing?

Because of the talents of his Harvard PhD antiquities expert, Isabella Kopas, who had never, ever made a mistake in the six years she’d been working for him. Marcus knew it, and so did everyone in his line of business.

The job offers came in regularly, but she’d never considered accepting.

She didn’t want more money.

She wanted roots, and Marcus had given her the chance to plant some.

“Zack doesn’t love you,” Roseann said. “And neither does Marcus. They aren’t the type of men who can love or give you a home—”

“This place is my home.” Isabella picked up the jewelry box she’d set on a nearby marble table.

Roseann sighed. “Oh, Isa, you feel like this place is home only because you don’t know what a real home is like. If your mom was still alive—”

“She’s not.” Isabella laid the bracelet across the velvet interior and snapped the box shut. Her index finger pinched in the hinge, and she winced. “But you are, and you’re a part of this place, too.”

“Isa.” Roseann slipped her arm around Isabella’s shoulders. “I need to tell you something.”

God, it felt good to have an arm wrapped around her in comfort. Marcus never touched, and Daniel had been aloof as well. But her mom had been so touchy,
and Isabella missed being held so much. She leaned her head on her friend’s shoulder. “What?”

“Tonight is my last night working for Marcus.”

Isabella whirled around, her chest tightening in panic. “What? You’re leaving? You can’t!” Tears stung at her eyes, and she blinked hard to get them back. “Why?”

“Because I’m pregnant.”

Isabella stared at her friend in shock, and her throat was suddenly so clogged she could barely talk. “You are? You’re going to have a real family?” The words were a whisper, all she could manage.

Roseann nodded, and set her hand on her slightly curved stomach. “Irving and I agreed we have to cut our connection to Marcus, now that we’re going to have a baby. It’s too dangerous to have a child this close to Marcus Fie.”

Isabella fought against tears, the desperation, the anguish ripping at her heart. The loss. “What are you talking about? He’d never hurt your baby.”

“Oh, come on, Isa. You’ve heard the stories about Marcus and his son.”

Isabella pressed her lips together. “Those have to be exaggerated—”

“Do they? What else would prompt a man to walk away from his own father, from all this money and privilege? You’ve heard about the hate between them before his son took off. You think that kind of hatred can happen in vacuum?”

Isabella winced at the sudden roiling in her stomach. “It can’t be true.” Yes, she knew Marcus had a side he hid from her. She knew there were aspects to his business that were a little sordid, and she was well aware of the undercurrent of violence that pervaded
Marcus’s life. But he’d also given her a golden ring to grasp when she’d had nothing else. He’d saved her life, and given her a future. He was her friend, her savior and her only roots, regardless of everything else that went on around them.

“And even if only a few of the rumors about his son are true?” Roseann shook her head. “Still awful. You think I’d risk my child?” Roseann grasped Isabella’s shoulders, her dark eyes vibrant with health and joy Isabella had never seen in her friend’s face. A happiness Isabella had never felt, despite all her efforts to find it. “Come with us. We’re going to move back to Florida to be near my family. You can stay with us until you get a job. This is your chance to start over, Isa, to leave this world behind and start fresh. New life, new love, a chance at all the things you want—”

BOOK: Chill
10.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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