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Authors: Kathleen Brooks

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BOOK: Fashioned for Power
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CHAPTER TWO

 

Finn got out of the cab and stared down the street he’d grown up on. He swayed as he took a step toward his mother’s split-level house. Bright yellow mums were planted by the sidewalk. The nicely kept home was in stark contrast to the run-down rental house next door. Finn’s neighborhood was a mix of low-income families. Some tried to make the best of life. They worked hard, sent their kids to school, went to church every week, and watched out for their neighbors. Others loved their community as well, just in a different way. It was naïve to think all their activities were legal. But they always seemed to support the community and the youngsters who showed promise. They just didn’t care about mowing their yard every week or fixing broken shutters.

Finn saw the group of guys he’d grown up with sitting on their porch drinking beer and laughing. At thirteen, he’d wanted to be them. He’d snuck out of the house one night, sauntered down the street as if he were tough, and sat down with them.

“What the hell are you doing?” Terrell had asked.

“I’m having a beer,” Finn had said nonchalantly as he’d picked one up out of a cooler.

“Don’t you have school tomorrow?”

Finn had just shrugged. Terrell and the guys had shaken their heads at him.

“Put that down and get back to bed. Your ma will tan your hide if she catches you out here. And I might too if you don’t get your ass back to your house.”

Finn had felt crushed. He had been excluded again. The only place he’d felt like himself was the ball field. Now he couldn’t even fit in on his own street. “But, you all don’t go to school.”

“Exactly and look at us. But you, Finn Williams, have a gift. You are meant for more than sitting around drinking beer. If you want to come by after school and shoot some hoops, we’ll be around.” Finn had quickly nodded his head and had left. At least he had still been part of the group.

From that point on, after school he would come home, do his homework, go down to Mrs. Jones’s house for some cookies, and then go to play ball with Terrell and the guys until his mom picked him up for baseball practice. It seemed Terrell and his mother had some kind of unspoken agreement. Terrell helped Finn keep his nose clean and Finn's mom made sure Terrell and the guys always had a home-cooked meal on her day off from work.

But as Finn made his way past his mother’s house and toward Terrell, the last thing he was thinking about was being the good guy his mother had raised him to be. No, good guys finished last. Good guys got their hearts broken. He was done being the good guy.

“Finn? What the hell are you doing here?” Terrell asked as he stood up and came down the steps of his porch. “Are you drunk?”

Finn stopped walking and swayed. “Sure am. And I’m only getting started.” He looked around the street he’d grown up on. It seemed quiet tonight. There should be a party around here somewhere. “Where are those girls? The ones that always strut around here?”

Terrell grabbed his arm to steady him. “Finn, what's going on?”

“It’s all good. I’m just looking for a drink and some friendly company.”

“What happened? You never act like this. You have too much to lose to start down this path now.”

Finn leaned forward and put a finger to his lips. “I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve already lost it all.” He paused and cocked his head. “Can you lose something you never had in the first place?”

“Why can’t you have it?”

“I didn’t go to private school. My family isn't old money. I’m too nice. That’s it, Terrell; I’m too nice.”

Terrell shook his head. “Man, you ain’t too nice. I’ve seen you in a fistfight. So, you went and fell in love with a little rich girl?”

Finn frowned and nodded his head.

“And she doesn’t want you? You’re a good catch. Does she know you run that fancy company?”

Finn grimaced. “She owns part of that fancy company.”

“You fell in love with your boss?”

“Well, not really my boss, but a Simpson. She’s way too good for me, man. I knew she was out of my league. But there were signs, ya know?”

“Come on, Finn. Have a beer and tell us all about her.” Terrell slapped his shoulder and led him up the porch.

 

Allegra’s whole body was shaking. The sun was rising over the ocean. She hadn’t moved from the rock all night. She was damp, cold, and scared. The texts had come all night long—thousands of them. She had taken a screen shot of them, emailed it to herself, and then had thrown the phone into the ocean.

She needed to go to the police. She needed to get a restraining order. She needed to get Finn back. But instead, Allegra just sat there. It was overwhelming. She felt as if she were one of those rocks constantly being smashed by wave after wave. She struggled to breathe as her chest tightened. The panic attack she’d kept at bay all night was hitting her now as the light of a new day dawned.

Her breath came in short pants as she lay down in a small ball on the rock. “Breathe, it’ll pass,” Allegra repeated in her mind over and over again. Her mother had taught her to be nice, and nice girls don’t need restraining orders. Allegra Simpson, head of a major fashion empire, couldn’t be so weak as to need help against a single man. What would her investors think? What would her designers think? But the overwhelming factor that stopped her from getting up was knowing her sisters would look at her with sympathy.

No, she had to handle it herself. She’d caused the problem. She would have to fix it alone.

 

* * *

 

Allegra wiped her nose with the tissue and sniffled. She tried to hide her nerves as she took a shaky sip of her hot tea and waited. It had been three days since she spent the night on the rock watching Finn drive out of her life. When the sun came up that morning, she knew she had to make the first move. Allegra had sent an email and set up a time to set things straight. She almost screamed when a hand grabbed her shoulder from behind.

She whipped around and looked into the slightly droopy eyes of her ex-boyfriend, Harry Daniels. They had met online. His profile picture was of a six-foot man with chiseled features and a bright smile. When they met up, she found a man of average height with below-average looks. He was an accountant. But he had a sense of humor, so she allowed the date to continue despite the deception.

“Allegra. Golly, it’s good to see you again. I knew you would come back to me.” Allegra shivered. Of course he knew. He’d been sending her texts from an unlisted number since they broke up. He’d been terrorizing her daily.

“Are you all right? You look sick. Let me take care of you. You never could take care of yourself,” Harry clucked.

Allegra felt the familiar defeat. He’d always pointed out what she couldn’t do. He used it to beat her down and make her think she couldn’t do anything without him. He’d exploded when she’d finally had enough strength to break up with him.

“It’s just a cold, Harry. Please sit down. We need to talk.”

“Of course, dumplin’.” Harry shook his head as he looked her over. “You sure haven’t been keeping yourself up. Look at you, all pale and puffy.”

Allegra ground her teeth together and looked at the man she had thought was harmless. “Harry, you need to leave me alone, or I’ll call the police.”

Harry’s eyes showed concern as his brow knitted together. “Leave you alone? I haven’t seen you since we broke up. You’re the one who called me here today.”

“I’m talking about the emails and the text messages. You’re harassing me and it has to stop—now,” Allegra said as forcefully as she could.

“Dumplin’, those were forever ago. And then I was only trying to find out why you broke up with me. I thought you called me here today to get back together.”

“That will
never
happen. Do you understand?” Allegra growled.

“Then why did you call me here?”

“To tell you to leave me alone. I don’t buy for one second that it’s not you sending me those messages to threaten Finn and me.”

“Finn?” Harry asked with an edge to his voice. “So, you’re already dating someone new?”

“As if you don’t know that. We broke up almost a year ago. You know I’ve dated a couple of guys since then. You’ve spent that time trying to win me back, and then you started threatening me . . . harassing me. Move on, Harry. I have. Now, I’m going to say this once. Leave me the hell alone.” Allegra stood so forcefully her chair tipped over. Everyone in the coffee shop turned and stared as she stormed away.

She had done it. She had stood up for herself. Allegra let out a deep breath as she made her way to get a new phone with a new number. Right now, a moving company was loading boxes into a van and moving her across town. She’d found a house in the warehouse district close to Bree and a couple of the small clothing boutiques she owned. No one knew her new number or address, and it was going to stay that way. Taking a deep breath, Allegra felt free for the first time in a year.

 

* * *

 

Finn’s office door slammed, causing him to grab his head and groan. He’d gone on a two-day bender trying to numb the pain in his heart. It hadn’t helped. In fact, it had just made it worse.

He cracked an eye and saw a shiny walker with
Original Sex Goddess
hanging on it. Original was right. The owner of the walker probably knew Aphrodite.

Shirley, the ancient office manager for Simpson Global, stopped her walker in front of Finn’s desk and took a seat. “What are you doing?”

“Go away, Shirley,” Finn muttered as he closed his eyes. The next second, a loud honking noise shot him up from his chair in surprise. Shirley smiled devilishly and threatened to honk the huge horn she had on her walker again.

“Stop! How can you stand that awful noise?”

Shirley looked at him strangely, put her finger in her ear, and turned on her hearing aid. “I’m sorry, dear. What did you say?”

Finn let out a long-suffering breath and flopped back into his chair.

“Are you trying to mess up the best thing you could ever have?”

“Not you too,” Finn groaned. “First Terrell and now you. Where’s Mrs. Simpson? I’m sure she’ll be in here soon to tell me what I failure I am.”

“Would you like some cheese with that whine?”

Finn glared at the old woman sitting happily across from him, but it didn’t scare her. Actually, he had a feeling Shirley would tell the devil himself to mind his manners.

“If you’re done pouting, we need to talk.”

“About what? Allegra made it perfectly clear she didn’t want to be with me.”

Shirley slid her dentures around absently and then slammed her mouth shut in a thin line. “I heard all about it from Elle. Something is not right. Allegra told Elle she was protecting you. I’ve seen the two of you together, and there’s something there. Trust me.”

Shirley’s words slowly penetrated the fog in his mind. “Wait, she said she was protecting me?”

“Yes. Something is going on. Something she’s not telling anyone. But the only reason she’d say something harsh like that just to protect you means she cares about you.”

Finn thought about it for a minute. That was what had been bothering him ever since that night. Her reaction was so un-Allegra . . . so desperate. “I think you’re right. Excuse me, Shirley, I have to see someone right away.”

 

* * *

 

He dialed the phone and smiled. He had her just where he wanted her. His wife would be in his arms and under him in his bed whether she liked it or not. Even if she had spread her legs for that scum, Finn, he’d purify his Allegra and teach her the proper way for his wife to act. She was destined to be his and his alone. The feeling was so strong, and he knew she felt it, too. She was just scared of those feelings. She was a part of his heart and soon would be more than that.

“I’m sorry, the number you are trying to reach is not in service,” a woman’s automated voice said over the phone.

“That bitch!” He slammed the prepaid phone down on his desk. If she thought she could shut him out of her life just like that, she had another think coming. She was
his
. He grew excited as he thought about how he was going to punish her. Oh yes, he was going to enjoy teaching her a lesson. He was going to woo his wife into his life and his bed before showing her who was really in control.

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Allegra smiled to her driver as she stepped out of her car and onto the sidewalk in front of Simpson Global. Her line was complete for Fashion Week. She’d just met with the last of her designers and the casting directors who were heading off to New York soon to start interviewing the models. Things were falling in place. And since she moved and changed her phone number, she hadn’t received a single threatening text. Finally, she slept all night long.

“Allegra?”

Allegra looked to the deep voice calling her name and smiled. “Asher! What a pleasant surprise. I haven’t seen you since Blythe’s Valentine’s dinner party. How are you?”

The handsome man in a tailor-made suit stopped and smiled down at her. He was sinfully attractive with his black hair and emerald green eyes. He was old Atlanta money, the Southern version of the Rockefellers. His job was to be the heir of the empire. Empire of what, Allegra wasn’t sure. It was why she and Asher had never dated. He’d asked, but she’d declined politely. They just cared about different things. He cared about having his face all over the society pages, traveling the world, and wasting his huge trust fund. But, they’d managed to strike a friendship. Probably because he was so easygoing it was hard not to like him.

“I’m good. Just been traveling. I was in Monaco the other week with the Princess of Denmark. I’m surprised I didn’t see Reid there.”

“He’s busy starting a resort here in Atlanta. It’s almost done from what he’s said. You’ll have to come to the grand opening.”

“As your date?” Asher grinned.

Allegra rolled her eyes playfully. “Ha! I saw the picture of you in
Page Six
. I’d need to grow another five inches, lose twenty pounds, and perfect the indifferent stare to be one of your dates.”

Asher laughed, and Allegra felt good. The past year had been hard on her, and now she finally felt as if she could put them behind her.

“You know, Jasper has been asking about you. I think you’ve made an impression on him.”

“Jasper?” Allegra felt her eyes widen. There was nothing wrong with Jasper. He was just anti-social. She couldn’t imagine sitting through a date with him. “He barely said three words to me at Blythe’s.”

“Then those three words must have left quite the impression.” Asher licked his bottom lip and smirked. Allegra rolled her eyes and playfully smacked his arm.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need a moment, Allegra.”

Allegra stiffened at the voice behind her and the hand that cupped her elbow. Finn. She flushed with shame at the way she’d treated him. She just didn’t know how she was going to say she was sorry. What she had done was unforgivable.

“You are interrupting,” Asher said coldly in her defense.

Allegra put her hand on Asher’s arm. “It’s okay, Asher. I need to talk to him as well. It was so good seeing you. Will I see you at Fashion Week?”

“Models, parties, you . . . nothing would keep me away.” He winked.

“Good. I’ll send you an invitation to my party. See you then.” Allegra watched Asher shoot Finn a warning glare and then walk off down the sidewalk.

 

“Who was that prick?” Finn asked with barely controlled anger.

“That’s none of your business,” Allegra shot back. Finn felt her anger and knew he’d messed up. He had come to convince her to trust him enough to tell him what was going on, then he came in here and ruined it. But, when he saw that man looking at her like that . . .

“He wants to sleep with you.”

“Of course he does. Asher wants to sleep with everyone. Well, maybe not you.”

“And yet you invite him to your fashion party? I don’t like him.”

“I don’t care what you like, Finn. Actually, he was telling me about someone else interested in me. The more important question is why are you being like this?” Allegra asked.

It was a good question. He’d spent the whole weekend trying to forget her—trying to get her out of his mind. But she wasn’t going anywhere. He knew the second he looked at her he should run and protect his heart. But when her eyes met his, he knew there was no way he could walk away.

“Because I care about you, Allegra. I’m sorry, but I want what is best for you. And he’s not it.”

“And what’s best for me?” Allegra asked. He thought he heard the hope in the question. Could she care?

“Leggy!”

Dear God, not another guy. Finn saw a tall man with gelled brown hair rush up to Allegra and wrap her in a huge hug. Allegra’s face lit with joy as she clung to him. Finn felt his heart drop. This man was different from Asher. This was a man she cared about. This was why she was trying to warn him off. She was taken.

“We’ll talk later, Allegra. Just remember, I’ll always be a friend to you if you need me,” Finn said quietly once the man finally put Allegra down.

“Wait—” Allegra started to say, but Finn couldn’t take the pain of seeing her in this man’s arms.

“I have a meeting with Kane Royale. I have some deals lined up for him. I’ll talk to you later.” Finn left the happy couple embracing on the sidewalk and headed for his office. He would have to work to wipe her from his memory, but he didn’t think he would be able to. Her name was already engraved on his soul. She was happy, and that was the most important thing. He just wished she were happy with him.

 

Allegra watched Finn walk into Simpson Global. His back was stiff, and she felt the pain from the argument. She desperately wanted to run to him—tell him she loved him. But her emotions were all over the place. She felt free from her tormentor, but was she really? And what was with Finn’s attitude?

“Did I interrupt something there?”

“Oh, Nate! I’m so glad you’re here. I have so much to tell you.”

Her best friend smiled at her and gave her a wink. “I do, too. Guess who landed the lead in the next summer blockbuster action movie?”

“The one I helped you learn lines for?”

“The very one. I got the part.”

Allegra jumped into Nate’s arms and gave him a squeeze. “Congratulations!”

“And you will never believe whose daddy called me to see if I needed a date to the red carpet.”

“Whose?’

“Raven Eddie’s.”
Allegra’s eyes grew round, and then she doubled over laughing. “No way!”

“Yes, way. Can you believe it?”

“Did you tell him you’re gay?”

“Hell no. That is a closely guarded secret.”

“I still don’t understand why.”

“Come on, we have a lot to talk about. First, I want to hear all about that hunk who stormed off, and then I’ll tell you all about having to hide that I’m gay in order to be an action star.”

 

“Dumbass.” Finn banged his head on his desk.

“I’d say you are if you keep doing that.” Kane Royale laughed from the doorway.

“Shut up. You found love with your model.”

“And I thought you found love with my lady’s boss. But I guess not, hence the head banging.”

Finn just groaned. He’d known Kane for years. It didn’t matter that he was the star wide receiver for the Atlanta Golden Eagles. He was the most down-to-earth guy Finn had ever known. He came from a similar background as Finn. They'd been friends ever since they met at Tigo’s gym. In fact, it was Kane who had planted the seed in Finn’s mind to start his own sports agency. Finn took the idea and ran with it. He turned the sports agency into an entertainment agency and now represented actors, athletes, recording artists, and models.

“She runs hot and cold. Right now it’s so cold I’ve been frozen out.”

“Want to have our business meeting at Tigo’s?”

Finn looked up at Kane and smiled. Going to the gym and talking business during a round of boxing sounded perfect to him. One way or another, he would forget about Allegra Simpson.

 

“So, you love him,” Nate said as he sipped the champagne Allegra had uncorked.

“I do, but with those threats . . .”

“You need to tell him. And you need to report those. I had a stalker once and it was scary. She broke into my house. Thank goodness I was away on location.”

“This isn’t a stalker. Just an unhappy man.”

Nate raised his perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “Honey, this is a stalker, and he’s dangerous. Promise me you’ll call the police, or I’ll tell your sisters.”

Allegra almost dropped her glass. “You wouldn’t?”

“In this case I would. You’re my best friend, and I can’t sit by and do nothing. Either you call the police or I’ll call Elle.”

“But then they’ll all know I can’t take care of myself. They’ll all tell me how I should have listened to them.”

“So what? What’s a little sisterly nose-rubbing when your life is at risk?”

“Fine. I’ll call the police,” Allegra said through gritted teeth.

“Now.” Nate held out his cell phone, and Allegra called the one person she knew would help her without saying anything.

“Hello, Damien. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind stopping by my house when you get off.” Allegra gave Agent Damien Wallace of the Secret Service her new address. He’d helped her family a couple of times before, and she felt comfortable enough with him to ask his advice. After saying goodbye, Allegra turned back to Nate.

“Now, tell me why you want me to get you a date with one of the models,” Allegra said after hanging up the phone.

Nate rolled his eyes. “My agent says if I want action hero roles I have to be straight. Sex still sells. You should know that. And the man they want saving the world can’t be gay. So, please, don’t out me.”

“I would never out you. But that’s not fair to ask you to change who you are.”

“Please, as if it would change who I was. I’ll just be quiet about it.”

“Well, I know a model from a tiny Eastern European country who doesn’t even speak English. You all can just smile at each other for the cameras, and it will be perfect. I’ll arrange pictures with lots of models at my after-party. It shouldn’t be a problem when you’re the hottest star in Hollywood.”

“Thank you. Now, I think you should call Finn.”

Allegra took another sip of her drink. “I don’t think I’m ready. Is that strange? I love him, yet I know I’m not ready to love him. I feel as if I’m not me yet.”

“I went through that when I was trying to come to grips with my sexuality. Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?” Nate teased.

“I’m sure.” Allegra laughed. “Here I’ve done so much on my own, but I’m scared. I never let myself think of a future with Finn. I fell in love and closed my heart to him to protect him. Until I feel comfortable that this whole thing with Harry is over, I’m scared to even think about a happily-ever-after. That is, if he’ll even talk to me after the way I’ve treated him.”

 

Finn threw a jab followed by a left hook on Kane’s jaw. Sweat dripped down his bare chest and the ridges of his abdomen as he and Kane circled each other in Tigo’s boxing ring.

“Ouch.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard,” Finn told Kane.

“No, not the punch . . . the part about Allegra in another guy’s arms. I only met her a couple times here at the gym, but I didn’t take her for that kind of girl.”

“The kind who makes a guy think he’s the only man for her and then leaps into the arms of someone else?”

“Yeah, exactly. Hey, we have that commercial to film during Fashion Week, right?”

“For the sports drink,” Finn told him as he ducked a punch.

“So, you’ll be in New York with me. Why don’t you hit some of the parties with me? I’m sure my girl has some single friends.”

Finn thought of Allegra’s smile as that man twirled her around. He didn’t even feel the punch Kane landed. Maybe that was the way to get her out of his mind—find someone new. “Sure. Let’s do it. I can stand a couple more weeks here. It’s not like Allegra and I run in the same circles.”

“Are you sure about that? I mean, you brought her here, and now she comes every morning.”

“Dammit. It looks like I’ll be moving my workouts to the evening.”

“You’re such a wimp. Scared of a little slip of a girl.”

“You would be, too, if you loved her as much as I do. She has the power to hurt me more than anyone else ever could.”

 

Allegra printed off the screen shot of the texts Harry had sent her and handed them to Damien.

“Where’s the phone?”

“In the Long Island Sound.”

“It would have helped to have it.”

“I can see if the gardener can find it. I know where I threw it, but with the waves . . ."

“No, I just want you to sign this so I can get the records from your phone company.” Damien Wallace shoved a form in front of her to sign. He’d been ticked off since he arrived, and his stiff posture showed her he was still angry.

“Are you mad at me?” Allegra asked as she signed the form.

“Hell yeah, I am. I know Mallory and I broke up, but I thought we were friends. You should have told me about this when you got the first text message. Did you at least tell Mallory?” Damien asked, referring to Elle’s best friend who ran security for Simpson Global.

BOOK: Fashioned for Power
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