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Authors: Kathleen Brooks

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BOOK: Fashioned for Power
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No, she was in love with Finn and wasn’t ashamed of it. They completed each other. They gave each other strength and encouragement to try new things and were there to catch each other if they fell. That was love. They were a couple. Sure, hot sex was a great perk, but hot sex didn’t make a marriage. Hot sex with love, support, and respect—
that
made a marriage.

Allegra listened to the house. It was quiet. She tiptoed to the door. She was tired of hiding what she wanted. She’d always hidden how she really felt and answered questions diplomatically. No more. Finn had wanted no more secrets; well, he was going to get just that.

Allegra turned the handle so slowly the latch didn’t make a sound. She opened the door enough to poke her head out. Willa had her door open an inch, but no light came from her room. She listened, and all she heard was a soft snore. Allegra opened the door a little wider and walked slowly out into the hall. She held her breath as she tiptoed past Willa’s door and down the stairs.

“What’s the matter?” Finn whispered the second her feet touched the bottom of the stairs. He stood with the shotgun in his hands as he looked into the shadows up the stairs.

“I needed to talk to you,” Allegra whispered. She glanced upstairs and hoped they didn’t get busted before she could tell Finn everything.

Finn relaxed and motioned for her to follow him into the kitchen. “What’s going on?”

“I love you, and I want to marry you,” Allegra blurted out. Finn’s eyes widened, and Allegra wanted to bang her head against the refrigerator. That was not how she thought this would go.

Finn smiled so sexily that Allegra forgot to be embarrassed. “Are you proposing to me?”

“Um, I don’t know.” She had never thought about proposing to him. She’d always imagined a really romantic fairy-tale proposal. But if anything, she’d learned recently fairy tales were just that, tales. Real life was a lot more complicated, and a lot more rewarding.

Finn stepped forward and set his hands on her hips. He waited until she looked up at him before he said anything. “I want to marry you, too. However, I have a favor to ask you.”

“Okay.” Allegra felt her heart start beating triple time.

“I’ve been dreaming of asking you to marry me. I want to do the whole romantic gesture, down-on-one-knee thing. Will you let me do that?”

Oh gosh, yes. The feelings rushing through her were so much better than a fairy tale. “That’s so sweet. Yes! I didn’t mean to have it sound like a proposal; it’s just that you said no secrets, and I was afraid I messed up when I mentioned marriage and if it wasn’t something you wanted then . . .”

“Sweetheart, I want it more than I can ever tell you. Do you know how happy you’ve made me? I never dreamed a woman as amazing as you would even give me the time of day. To hear you say you love me and want to marry me—it makes me feel as if I could do anything.”

“We’re lucky, aren’t we?” Allegra asked as she laid her head against his chest.

“Yes, we are. Too many people would just give up, given the hardships we’ve endured. We’ve shared the burden together and grown even closer.”

“Finn, is everything okay down there?” his mother called out. Allegra felt her face turn red. They’d just been busted.

“Everything is fine, Mom,” Finn called back and gave a quick eye roll that had Allegra covering her mouth so Willa couldn’t hear her laughing.

“I just needed something to drink. I’m on my way up now, Willa,” Allegra called out. “Thank you for letting me talk to you tonight,” Allegra whispered to Finn before she placed a gentle kiss on his lips. She lingered there, enjoying the feeling of him close to her.

“You can talk to me about anything. And I’m glad you did, too. Goodnight, Allegra.”

“Goodnight, Finn.” Allegra practically bounded up the stairs. There was no way she’d be able to hide the huge smile on her face tomorrow at work.

 

* * *

 

He slammed his hand against the steering wheel. Allegra hadn’t come home tonight. He started his car to head toward Finn’s place. If she was there, Finn was going to pay for it. He was so close to making Allegra his. That usurper wasn’t going to ruin this now.

The lights to Finn’s place were off. He drove by and parked a couple of streets away. He pulled up his hoodie and stayed in the shadows as he approached the garage. Finn’s car wasn’t there. Where the hell was his wife?

He pulled some tools from his jacket and slid them into the backdoor lock. A minute later, there was a
click
as the lock slid open. He stepped inside Finn’s house and looked around. The bed was made and there were no dirty dishes in the sink. Finn and Allegra weren’t there.

In frustration he picked up a picture of Finn and an older woman who looked to be his mother and threw it against the wall. The glass shattered, and he let out a deep breath. Finn would pay for this. He looked back at the picture lying among the broken glass. Would Finn take Allegra to meet his mother? Of course he would if he thought he had a right to Allegra.

He pulled out his phone and started searching. In less than a minute he was armed with directions to Mrs. Willa Williams’s address.

 

He drove into the neighborhood and pulled up his hoodie. There were too many eyes looking at him. It was three in morning, yet people were walking down the street and standing in groups. Lights in houses were on, and it seemed as if everyone was staring at him.

He went to turn down the street Allegra was most likely on, but a man in a similar hoodie stepped out into the street. He slammed on the brakes, and the man ambled over to his window. He couldn’t be seen here. He couldn’t be identified. He put his car in reverse and slammed on the gas. He’d just have to find another way to get to Allegra.

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

Finn waited for Allegra to finish getting dressed. He hadn’t slept all night. His mind had been racing from their conversation. It took two hours for him to even admit to himself that marrying Allegra Simpson was a possibility. Then he spent another two hours debating if he should wait a while, or if he should just drop to one knee the second he had a ring in hand. Once he decided he needed to at least get a ring, he turned to thinking of romantic ways to propose.

A knock at the door had his mother hurrying through the kitchen. He was glad to have a moment to himself. Ever since his mother came downstairs an hour ago, she’d been shooting him funny looks and smiling at him. It was like she knew the debate going on in his head.

“Finn, it’s for you,” his mother called out.

Finn slid the chair back. It was probably Terrell with his end-of-the-night report. The sun was just coming up, and Terrell would be headed to bed. Finn walked to the door and was half-right. Terrell stood with a look of utter amazement as he stared at Mallory Westin in all of her full Southern-belle glory.

“You are a goddess,” Terrell murmured. Finn and his mother shot a surprised look at each other and tried to hide their grins as Terrell actually blushed.

Mallory smiled at him, and he blushed deeper. “Aren’t you sweet? You’re just saying that because I took out two of your men.”

“Hell yeah, I am. That and you look like an angel.” Finn laughed at Terrell that time. His friend was a complete mess.

“Why did you take out two of Terrell’s men? Are they all right?” his mother asked.

“Just seeing how safe Allegra was here,” Mallory said with a shrug of a shoulder.

“She was a vision. I’m glad I didn’t shoot her,” Terrell said with reverence. He had it bad.

“I’m glad, too. Thank you for keeping my friends safe. One of the men I took down did mention that an unknown car with a man in a hoodie came into the neighborhood around three in the morning. When he asked the man’s business, the driver took off.”

“Was it Harry?” Allegra asked as she came down the stairs.

“We don’t know. My guy didn’t get a good look at him. But I have a car make and model. Plus he snagged part of a plate. I’ll see what I can find out after I drop Allegra off at work.”

“That’s encouraging, right?” Finn’s mom asked.

“Right. But now I’m taking Allegra to Tigo’s.”

“I can take her to work,” Finn said. He didn’t want to be separated from her for one minute.

“Sorry, but you have meetings all day out of office. Good thing you gave me your schedule, huh?” Mallory teased.

“Let me just get my things, and I’ll be ready.” Allegra smiled at them and turned to run upstairs.

“She might need help,” Finn managed to say before racing upstairs for a couple minutes alone with her before heading to work.

 

Mallory grinned as Finn hurried upstairs. There was something more comfortable between them now. It was as if their relationship was more solid. Strange, considering all the stress they were both under. But it was something the whole Simpson family had been hoping would happen for months. Margaret would be beside herself. Mallory just hoped Allegra wouldn’t let Shirley plan the bachelorette party.

“So, you’re in security, huh?”

Mallory turned her attention back to the man standing next to her. He was handsome in an unconventional way—built and tatted up to his neck, literally. “That’s right.”

“So you’re like a bodyguard?”

“Sometimes. We also do security for companies and certain individuals. That’s everything from evaluations of security systems, to installations of new ones, to protecting certain materials when they need to be transported. Basically a little of everything.”

“If I hadn’t seen you take two men out with my own eyes, I’d never believe it. What does it take to be a bodyguard?”

“Why, are you interested in applying for a job?” she asked. She doubted he would be qualified, but it was always good to keep friends in a variety of places.

“If I could work with you, then I would be.”

Mallory pulled out her card and handed it to him. “Ethan is in charge of hiring. Email him your contact info and skill sets. We may not have a full-time opening, but we do hire outside help as needed.”

“Thanks.” Terrell took the card and stepped back as Allegra hurried out the door. Her lips were swollen, and Mallory noticed her shirt was on backward. Mrs. Williams smacked Finn’s head, so apparently she noticed, too.

“It was nice meeting y’all,” Mallory told them before ushering Allegra to the car. She had a gut feeling her lead was going to pan out. She couldn’t wait to track it down, but getting Allegra safely tucked into her office was priority number one.

 

* * *

 

“Allegra and Finn, K-I-S-S . . .”

“Really, Elle?” Allegra cut her older sister off.

“I-N-G. And probably doing it while they were N-A-K . . .”

“Bree!” Allegra shouted, cutting her other sister off. “Oh my gosh, you two. How old are you?”

“I distinctly remember you doing this to me. Payback is fair game, dear sister.” Elle grinned, not looking the slightest bit sorry.

“Can you blame her? I mean, we’ve all seen him naked,” Shirley said, wheeling in from the hallway.
I twerk for a living
was hanging on her walker as she came in.

Allegra turned bright red. “You all need to forget that ever happened.”

“Not a chance. I tried to snap a picture, but I couldn’t find my phone fast enough,” Shirley said as she took a seat.

“So, I take it you all have worked out any issues? You seemed pretty upset at the other family dinner,” Bree asked nosily. They were her sisters so Allegra didn’t expect anything less. She’d already received a phone call from her mother so, if anything, they were behind the game.

“Yes. It was silly. We talked about it, and we’re fine.”

Elle nodded seriously. “That’s so important. Too many silly things can be blown out of proportion. But if you just communicate, then the hardest part of a relationship is handled. It takes guts to bare your feelings. Look at our little sister all grown up,” Elle teased Bree.

“What are your plans tonight? If he gets naked again, see if you can snap me a picture.”

“Shirley, I am not sending you naked pictures of Finn.”

“Fine, but when you get engaged I’m throwing the bachelorette party.”

All three sisters looked at each other in terror. They all remembered the escorts Shirley had gotten for the last bachelorette party. Bree had been smart to get married so quickly that the sisters just had a slumber party to celebrate the night before the wedding.

“I don’t know what we’re doing tonight. Mallory is hunting down a lead and Mr. No Neck is babysitting me.” Allegra gestured to the man sitting out in the hall.

“I wouldn’t mind a picture of him naked,” Shirley said as she checked him out.

“Have you signed up for one of those cougar dating sites?” Bree asked with mischief in her eyes.

“They have those? Hot diggity. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take some sexy selfies before signing up.”

The sisters watched as Shirley sprang up from her seat and hurried out the door. Then she stopped in front of Mr. No Neck and dropped something. The girls all giggled as Mr. No Neck stood up and bent over to pick it up. He didn’t see Shirley pulling out her phone and taking a picture.

“Oh my gosh, I feel sorry for any site she signs up on,” Elle said as they watched her roll down the hall.

Bree looked at her phone and groaned. “I have to go. We have a new site ready to start, and I need to go do my ground-breaking thing. Do they have any idea how hard it is to shovel in high heels and a skirt?”

“Aw, but you look totally hot doing it,” Allegra teased.

“That’s because I’m wearing my sister’s new line,” Bree winked. “And hey, I’m really happy for you and Finn. He’s a super-great guy, and I can see he makes you happy.”

“Me too,” Elle added. “It’s great to see you in love. Keep us updated on how things are going.”

“I will. Thank you, both.” Allegra stood up and hugged her sisters. Sometimes she wanted to slam a pillow in their faces, but they were her sisters, and she knew they would be by her side through thick and thin.

“And if you do get married to Finn, please, please elope. I don’t think Mom would survive another of Shirley’s bachelorette parties,” Elle said earnestly.

Allegra watched her sisters leave as they joked about Elle’s bachelorette party. She waited until they were out of sight and went back to work. Some of her brands were in Italy for its Fashion Week. She read reports that were sent from her Italian staff and got lost in watching online videos of the shows.

 

* * *

 

Finn wrapped up his meeting at Atlanta’s premier country club and headed through the bar on his way out. The place was all dark, rich wood with plush carpet. Men clustered at the bar, bragging about their golf scores or their latest business deals. This was the side of business he was having trouble getting used to. He was a no-BS kind of guy but took Elle’s advice and learned how to play golf. He couldn’t believe the number of deals he got over eighteen holes. It was also fascinating that the better he got at golf, the more seriously people took him.

As darkness fell over the greens, Finn found his mind finally able to concentrate on Allegra. He wanted to do something romantic for her. He wasn’t ready to ask her to marry him quite yet. He still needed to get a ring and plan a proposal. But he wanted to show her he could romance her. She deserved that—to feel loved and cherished. And hopefully, she would spill something about what kind of ring she’d want.

He felt like a new man with the decision to marry her being made. But before he asked he was going to do some serious wooing. He was even considering calling Nate to discuss some ideas for after Harry was caught.

Finn smiled as he unlocked his car. If he hurried, he could call for a reservation at Allegra’s favorite restaurant and pick her up at the office. His mind drifted to other romantic things he wanted to do as he picked up the phone. He couldn’t wait to begin surprising her and showing her how much she meant to him.

 

The knock on the door surprised Allegra, but when she saw Mr. No Neck holding one of Finn’s huge white boxes, she could hardly contain her excitement. Looking up, she saw the city lights brightening the Atlanta skyline, and most of the people in her office had gone home for the night.

“Do I need to check this? It was delivered to security at the front desk,” Mr. No Neck told her.

“No. I know who it’s from. Thank you. I won’t be too much longer.”

“My replacement will be here shortly so take your time. Call if you need anything.” The hulk of a man headed back out to his spot overlooking the office.

Allegra couldn’t wait. She tore into the box and pulled out the note.
I can’t wait any longer to make you mine. Wear the dress if you love me so we can say I Do
.

Allegra’s breath caught as she read the card and then pulled out a beautiful white column wedding dress from the box. It was made of satin with pearl beading along the sweetheart neckline and under the bust. Under the dress were matching high heels. When Finn said he wanted to make a statement, boy, did he know how to do it!

A low whistle caused Allegra to jerk her head up from looking at the dress. “Shirley, you scared me to death.”

“Is that what I think it is?” she asked as she scooted forward to get a closer look at the dress.

“Yes.” Allegra’s smile covered her whole face. “Finn wants me to elope with him right now.”

“But, I wanted to throw you a bachelorette party. I had even called our friend Aiden to see what his schedule was like. I guess being a witness to the wedding will have to do.”

Allegra’s smile fell. “Witness?” Finn hadn’t said anything about a witness in his note.

“Sure, you should have someone there, you know. Otherwise it’s the judge and a couple of people of no importance to you. You should have someone there who loves you.”

Allegra looked at Shirley’s eyes filled with such love that she couldn’t say no. Her mother would be madder than a hornet, but she loved Finn, and if that’s what he wanted, then she would happily go. They could always have a big family reception. Or, knowing Finn, she was pretty sure this was a setup. She was sure when she arrived at the location, all her family would already be there. After all, they all made a point to call her today and tell her how much they loved Finn and how happy they were for her. They all talked as if marriage were inevitable. Oh, Finn! She couldn’t wait to marry him.

“Sure, Shirley. I’d love for you to escort me,” Allegra said with a wink. She wouldn’t let on she’d figured out Finn’s plan. If her family wanted to help him with the surprise, so be it. “Give me just a minute to get ready.”

 

Mallory stood in the shadows of the woods outside Atlanta with Agent Hectoria. The forensic crews carefully dug dirt away from the detection site illuminated by portable lights. A hand wrapped in plastic was already exposed where Axe, the golden retriever, had started digging while on a hike with his owners.

BOOK: Fashioned for Power
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