Authors: Kathleen Brooks
Allegra shook her head. This was why she didn’t tell them. She would always be the baby of the family they felt needed to be looked after.
“This guy sounds dangerous. I want a list of who it could be. I’ll look into it myself and pass the information to the state police.”
“What if it’s a burner phone?”
“Then it will take longer to get the evidence we need. If he contacts you again, try not to throw the evidence into the drink,” Damien said as he stood up. “Look, Allegra, I’m sorry to get mad. But women seem to think it’s their fault men stalk them so they end up not reporting it. These guys can be dangerous. Sure, sometimes all they want is to grab your panties and sell them online. But most of the time they can be deadly. Especially if they think they have a claim on you. You never know what will set them off. I want you to get some protection—pepper spray or something. Promise.”
Allegra nodded. She’d see Tigo in the morning and ask about self-defense lessons. “I promise, so long as you promise not to tell Mallory or my family. I need to handle this myself.”
“Fine. I’ll call you as soon as I have anything. Stay aware and follow your gut. If something seems wrong, call me.”
Allegra led Damien out the door and made sure to lock it. It was silly to be so scared, but maybe Damien was right. Maybe she did need to protect herself. With determination, Allegra set out her gym clothes for the morning and decided to make a stop to pick up some pepper spray on the way to work tomorrow.
Allegra closed the last suitcase and stood up to survey her closet. Fashion Week was a nightmare. While she enjoyed the fashion, the industry, and the beauty of it all, not everyone else did. Most thought of it as a competition. They bustled around New York City in outrageous clothes, trying to one-up each other. Allegra had gotten the shock of her life the first time she went.
Always the nice girl, it was a huge surprise to her that fashion heads and designers were nothing but fierce competitors with each other. No one cared if she said hello. They were too interested in creating buzz, being with their cliques, and ignoring the new girl in town. And as much as Allegra fought against it, when she went to New York, she now focused on her people, her cliques, and the massive party she threw for her houses.
But this year was going to be different. During the past couple of weeks, she had gained a new outlook on life. She’d been able to sleep better, to think, and to grow as a person. Her talk with Harry had worked. He hadn’t sent any more text messages or emails. She loved her new house and spent nights alone decorating it. In the mornings, she met Tigo for self-defense lessons. She felt her confidence grow with each class. She could stand on her own two feet. She could yell, kick, and punch. Tigo had immediately found her weaknesses and pushed her until she screamed at the top of her lungs for the first time in her life. And now she could say no. She could be strong. She was woman, and everyone would hear her roar.
The knock on her door surprised her. For a moment, she worried Harry had found her. But, no, he was too much of a coward to taunt her face to face. Damien had called every week. The phone that had contacted her was a burner phone from Atlanta. They were trying to track down video footage, but the store didn’t have cameras. The man paid with cash, so no tracking by credit card. Allegra figured Harry had been careful. Since her chat with him, she’d been left alone.
Allegra hauled her suitcase off the bed and wheeled it to join the six others by the front door. Allegra opened the door and smiled at Shirley. “Hey! Are you here to wish me luck?”
Shirley wheeled into the house with her walker and banner reading
PSA - Package Security Agent
on it. “No, I’m here to knock some sense into you.” Shirley hefted her massive purse and swung it against her arm. Allegra fell backward from the hit.
“Jeez, what do you have in there?”
“Oh, a little of this and that. Now, what the heck are you doing screwing up your life?”
“What? I’ve been getting my life in order. I’m confident, powerful, and, for once, would make my sisters proud.”
“Baloney. You’re running scared.” Allegra froze. No one but Nate knew about Harry and his messages. How did Shirley know? “You’re running as fast as you can from love. Have you seen Finn recently? He’s been beating the crap out of everyone at Tigo’s, and there was even a girl in his office when I left just now.”
Allegra felt her heart clench. No matter how much she was finding herself and growing as a woman, she was always dreaming of Finn. Every night he came to her in her dreams. Every night she loved him with her whole heart the way she wanted to. And then morning came and she awoke alone.
“We have never been a couple.”
“Well, this tramp certainly thought she was. What was her name?” Shirley looked up at the ceiling, and then her eyes dropped to look right at Allegra. “Oh yeah, Raven Eddie.”
“What?” Allegra yelled.
Shirley couldn’t hide her satisfied smile. “Oh, you know her?”
“Don’t play innocent. You’re no good at it.” Shirley just shrugged and grinned. Allegra grabbed her purse. “Tell the driver to grab my bags. I’ll meet him at the airport. And don’t you dare think this means I’m going after Finn.”
Allegra slammed the door on Shirley’s laughter.
Finn looked at his watch and sighed quietly. Raven Eddie’s father had threatened him within an inch of his life if he didn’t have a meeting with her. Finally Finn had agreed to the meeting with the socialite. Why she needed an agent, he didn’t know. She had been too busy hitting on him to tell him why she wanted to meet.
“Miss Eddie, please hop off my desk and tell me what you need.”
Raven arched her back and pouted. Maybe she was here to be a porn star? That could be interesting. Instead of hopping off the desk, Raven spun around so she faced him. She crossed her legs slowly and Finn almost rolled his eyes. He didn’t need to look to know she wasn’t wearing panties. Yep, porn star.
“I need an agent who can handle me. I was with Smithe Group, but they just didn’t know what to do with me.”
“Look, Miss Eddie, I’m late for my plane. We’ll have to pick this up next week.”
One leg arched over his head and caged him in. Finn confirmed the fact she wasn’t wearing panties whether he wanted to or not.
“I want my own reality show.”
Finn almost laughed, but when Raven ran her hands up his chest, the laughter turned into anger.
“As I live and breathe, is that you, Raven?”
Raven whipped around so fast she almost fell into Finn’s lap. He leapt up and looked in wonder at Allegra. She was stunning in a tight, fitted pantsuit. Her legs looked a mile long in the red stilettos that matched the silk blouse. Her blond hair fell in soft curls around her shoulders and her makeup was flawless.
“Ah, there you are, sweetheart.” Finn pleaded with his eyes for her to play along.
“Darling,” Allegra cooed excitedly, “you didn’t tell me you knew Raven. Did I ever tell you we went to high school together?”
Finn shook his head. So that was why she was here. Someone told her Raven was here. But, then why was she playing along? Finn kept his mouth shut as Allegra slowly walked behind the desk, lifted his chin with one perfectly manicured finger, and licked her red lips.
“I’m sorry I’m late. How will I ever make it up to you?” Finn felt his pulse quicken in response to her sultry question.
“You’re dating Allegra Simpson?” Raven squeaked.
Finn looked down into Allegra’s face and brushed back a piece of hair. “She’s always had my heart and always will. I’ll call you if anything comes up, Raven, but Allegra and I have some unfinished business.”
His heart wasn’t the only thing pounding as his hand ran down Allegra’s back. He heard Raven huff and then the door to the office slam. He didn’t care. Right now Allegra was looking at him in a way he’d only dreamt of.
“What are you doing here, Allegra?”
“I heard Raven was here and thought you might need me.”
“I always need you. Even when I try not to, I find myself needing you,” Finn whispered. He felt her delicate hand tighten around his waist.
“Oh, Finn. What have I done? Am I too late? There’s so much I need to tell you.”
“Hey man, we need to go . . . Oh, sorry,” Kane stopped as he walked into the room with his girlfriend and another model.
Finn cleared his throat. “Um, Allegra, you know Kane and Kelly, and this is Steffi.”
Allegra took a step back. “Yes, I know. She’s walked for me before.”
“Hello, Miss Simpson,” Steffi said in her German accent.
“I take it you’ll be at Fashion Week. I’ll see you there. I’m sorry, but my plane is waiting.”
Allegra hurried from the room. “Allegra, wait!” Finn called, but she was already out the door. “Dammit!”
“I’m so sorry, man. I thought it was over,” Kane said apologetically.
“I did, too. But if it wasn’t before, it is now.”
“Why don’t you take my invitation to Simpson Fashion’s party?” Kelly opened her purse and pulled out an embossed envelope. “I think you still have a chance. Only someone who cares would look that devastated. Fight for her, Finn.”
“Won’t you need this?”
Kelly laughed. “I’m a model, I can get in anywhere I want.”
Finn grabbed the invitation like a lifeline. “Thank you. Now, let’s get to New York. I have a woman to win back.”
* * *
Allegra stepped into her family’s condo in New York City and dropped her bag with relief. She had made it from the airport to her condo without anyone seeing the tears in her puffy, bloodshot eyes. She had to get over him. She had to forget him.
She wheeled her carry-on bag to her room where her suitcases waited to be unpacked. With a sigh, Allegra fell back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling. She had messed up by not telling Finn the truth from the beginning, but she had been too scared to admit her weakness, too afraid to be lectured, too afraid to admit it was a problem, and too afraid to not be the perfect, nice one. Allegra felt as if she had just run a marathon. She was exhausted with grief and knowing it was all her fault that she pushed Finn away.
She shut her eyes, and before she knew it, she was asleep. Dark dreams filled her mind. Dreams of being watched, being judged, and being scolded in harsh whispers. Dreams of a touch she didn’t want—a hand trailing down her arm before disappearing into the mist of her dream, leaving behind a smell of cologne that wasn’t Finn’s. Knowing it would never be Finn’s, her heart broke all over again.
Allegra’s eyes shot open. Tears had filled them, and as she took a deep breath to calm herself in the room gone dark with night, she breathed in the cologne from her dreams.
“Great, now I’m really going crazy.” Allegra shook her head to clear the fog and looked at the clock. Eight-thirty. Crap! She bolted from the bed and ripped open her suitcases.
She hurried to hang her clothes in the closet and stripped naked. She had to meet David and Josh from Bellerose in thirty minutes. Grabbing some perfume, she spritzed herself in lieu of a shower. She struggled to get on a pair of the tightest skinny jeans she owned. Jumping to the bed with the pants stuck at her knees, she fell onto the bed and started wiggling her hips. She contemplated calling the maintenance man to bring some pliers when she finally got them over her hips. Sucking in her tummy for all she was worth, she managed to get the damn jeans buttoned.
Struggling to sit up, she opted to roll off the bed and onto the floor where she crawled to the closet, pulled herself up, and breathed for the first time. God, she couldn’t wait for these jeans to go out of fashion. She grabbed a loose caramel-colored sweater and brown leather knee-high boots. Her perfectly blown-out hair was smashed on one side and sticking out the other. Opting for casual elegance, she whipped it into a loose bun and swiped on some clear lip gloss before doing lunges out her door in hopes of loosening her jeans.
Finn sat at dinner with the head of the advertising department for a deodorant company. He was going on and on about Kane starring in the commercial tomorrow. Finn should be excited; it was a great opportunity for Kane and for Simpson Entertainment Agency. But all he could think about was Allegra’s face full of pain as she ran from his office earlier that day.
Finn set his napkin down and pulled out his phone. Nine o’clock. This meeting was lasting forever. A sudden feeling akin to panic filled his body. He needed to get to her. He needed to get to her now to explain how he felt. He needed to beg her to take a chance on a washed-up ballplayer from the wrong side of the tracks.
“I’m sorry, I’m being called away on more business. Kane can take it from here. I’ll see you on set in the morning.”
Finn pushed his long legs back and stood up. He reached over the table and shook the hand of the advertising exec before shooting Kane a look of pure determination. Kane smiled back, and Finn knew he understood.
He strode from the restaurant with more determination than a player at the bottom of the ninth, needing a home run to win the game. He was not a quitter, and he was going to fight for the woman he loved.