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Authors: Nelle L'Amour

Gloria's Secret

BOOK: Gloria's Secret
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Gloria’s Secret by Nelle L’Amour

“Rien ne pèse tant qu’un secret.”

—Jean de La Fontaine

PROLOGUE

Fifteen years earlier…

Darkness shrouds us. We prowl like two cats, my eyes darting left and right, my ears attuned to even the slightest sound.

I nervously tap my partner in crime’s shoulder. Like me, he’s clad in black sweats and a hoodie, along with black gloves and athletic shoes. Identical black ski masks cover our faces. We blend into the thick opaque air, only the whites of our eyes visible.

“Kev, I’m scared. Maybe we should back out,” I whisper. My heart’s thudding in my ears, and I can feel sweat beads clustering on my flesh.

He squeezes my hand. It’s cold and clammy beneath my gloves. “Glorious, we’ve come this far. There’s no turning back.”

Something scuttles across my shoes. I jump. Kevin beams the flashlight he’s holding onto the floor. Phew! It’s only a mouse.

The seconds feel like hours. The safe, Kevin assures me, is only steps away. It feels like miles. Kevin swings the flashlight until it lands on the huge vault in front of us. All slick, polished steel, it’s bigger than I imagined—a massive, towering fortress.

“Hold this.” Kevin hands me the flashlight. I try hard to calm my trembling hands as I watch Kevin rotate the fist-size combination lock.

Right.
Click
. Right again.
Click
. Left.
Click.
Right.
Click.

“Bingo!”

My thundering heart practically leaps out of my chest when the heavy door springs open. My eyes grow round, filling the apertures of the ski mask. Bundles of one hundred dollar bills are stashed inside, stuffing the safe to the hilt.

Kevin instantly starts shoveling them into his large satchel. I’m paralyzed with shock and fear.

“Glorious, what are you waiting for?”

No matter how much I will them, I can’t get my hands to move. The stacks of green bills beckon me, but this feels wrong. So, so wrong.
What am I doing here?

Kevin continues to recklessly shovel handfuls of the neatly tied up green bundles into his canvas bag.

“C’mon, we’ve gotta work fast.” His voice sounds frantic.

Reluctantly, I crouch down and extend a trembling hand into the safe. The touch of the raw money burns my fingertips.
I can’t do this! I can’t!

An ear-deafening siren sounds. Hot infrared lights flash. The effect is dizzying. An inner panic button goes off inside me as all air leaves my lungs.

“Fuck!” shouts Kevin. “We’ve gotta get of here.”

“Leave the money,” I plead.

“No. It’s ours.
Yours.”

No choice. Each grabbing a handle of the heavy, money-laden satchel, we sprint toward the exit.

Heavy footsteps. Not ours. The glaring ray of a flashlight beams into my eyes, blinding me. “What the fuck are you doing here?” The booming, accented voice echoes in the chamber. We’re doomed!

“Nobody steals from Boris Borofsky.”

“Fuck you,” Kevin shouts back.

A powerful arm grips my neck. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. The other hand rips off my ski mask. My platinum tresses tumble out.

He fists a handful of my hair, yanking my head back. His wretched pink eyes clash with mine, one blue and the other brown.

“You little cunt!” growls the accented voice through clenched teeth. “You’re going to pay for this
, seka!

“And so are you, bitch,” spits Kevin.

Something hard presses into my chest, just above my heart.

Kevin wrenches me free from my assailant but not before a deafening boom explodes in my ear. A scorching white fire shoots through my body.
Oh the pain!

“You mother fucker.” My Kevin.

I feel my body sag as another shot is fired.

“FUUUUUUCK!” A roar like a wounded lion, not mine.

“Oh, Glorious!” cries Kevin as he lifts me in his arms.

The world inside my head fades to black.

Chapter 1

I was running late. I was never late. “Late” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Damn that breakfast meeting. My guest, the stiff-lipped, balding head of a major Madison Avenue ad agency, showed up forty-five minutes late. There’d been a cab accident on Madison Avenue that had caused a traffic jam. The unexpected had no place in my life. To make matters worse, I had to run back up to my hotel room because I’d carelessly left my cell phone in a different handbag. As the CEO of Gloria’s Secret, one of the largest retail emporiums in the world, I couldn’t be without my lifeline for the rest of the day.

Clutching my Chanel briefcase in my right hand, I anxiously pressed the elevator “Down” button several times with the other. I was staying in New York City at The Walden, a recently renovated five-star, twenty-story Park Avenue hotel that dated back to the fifties. Unfortunately, my favorite hotel, The Ritz Carlton, was booked up, so I had decided to give this new, highly-rated venue a chance. So far, I hadn’t been disappointed. The accommodations were outstanding as was the service.

The elevator, to my relief, arrived quickly. I dashed inside the sleek car, which still retained some of its mid-century charm, and hit the “L” button for the lobby. The polished metal doors slid closed. Just before they met in the middle, a manicured masculine hand flashed between them, preventing them from closing.

In a panic, I fumbled to press the "Open” button, fearing that the doors would slam shut on the hand and crush it. I’d seen this uncanny thing happen once before as a child and had never forgotten the gory scene. Flustered, I lost grip of my stuffed briefcase, and it tumbled onto the floor. In my haste to make it to my next meeting on time, I’d forgotten to zip it. This was just not my day. The contents—dozens of photos of gorgeous supermodels clad in skimpy underwear—scattered around my black Louboutin stilettos. Damn it! I just didn’t need this right now. I crouched down to gather up the spillage—no easy task in my tight pencil skirt and six-inch heels. As I began to frantically collect the photos, two loafer-clad feet appeared before my eyes.

“Let me help you.” The voice was virile, velvety, and deep.

Before I could blink an eye, I was facing the intruder who had caused me to drop my briefcase. He had bent down to help me gather the loose photos. Our eyes stayed locked onto one another. Mine shooting daggers his way. His deflecting every one of my visual assaults. Just a palm’s width apart, I felt his warm breath heat my cheeks and could smell a hint of his deliciously spicy cologne. I recognized it immediately.
Homme,
which means “man” in French. It was part of our newly launched men’s line of fragrances. The perfect gift for a woman to give to her man this coming Valentine’s Day.

I studied his face and what I could glean of his body. Let’s put it this way: I had seen a lot of male models, but this guy was something else. Manly. Built. Mid to late thirties. He was one hundred percent pure gorgeousness with his broad shoulders, intense denim blue eyes, mop of silky chestnut hair, and strong dimpled chin. A fine layer of stubble laced his olive complexion. Along with sockless suede loafers, he was wearing a battered leather bomber jacket over a white cotton tee that showed off his taut chest, and faded designer jeans that revealed a ridge of muscles along his thighs. I assumed his legs were long, but it was hard to tell in his squatting position. What I could tell for sure was that there was a sizeable package between them. My gaze shifted quickly back to the floor.

“Interesting photos,” my companion mused, his eyes lingering on a particularly sexy one of a D-cup model fondling her lace-encased breasts. A wry smile twisted on his lips. “Hmm. I think I fucked her once.” He picked up another. “She looks familiar too.”

“Give me those!” I snatched the photos from him and slipped them into my briefcase.

“Are you a photographer?” he asked, not the least bit intimidated by me.

“Hardly.”

“So, you’re some kind of pervert who collects photos of beautiful semi-naked women with big tits.”

“And you’re some kind of pervert who sleeps with them.” I shot him my dirtiest look and continued collecting the scattered photos. We both reached for the last one, and my hand brushed up against his. God, his hand was beautiful! Large, long-fingered, and so, so soft. Even the violet veins that splayed across them were works of art.

Caught in the moment, I suddenly realized we weren’t moving. The elevator doors were still open. In my flustered state, I’d forgotten to hit the “Close” button.

“Would you mind hitting the “Close” button?” My voice was edgy.

“Good idea. Places to go; people to meet.” He rose to his feet. My eyes roamed up his long, athletic legs. He was easily six foot three. A magnificent pillar of leanness and muscle.

With his long forefinger, he pushed the button, and the doors glided together. The elevator descended, but before I could stand up, it came to a jolting halt. I felt the onset of a mini panic attack. My heart raced and sweat pooled behind my knees. I hated being out of control.

“Are you okay?” asked the mysterious stranger, crouching down again.

I gulped. Unable to find my voice, I nodded like one of those bobble head dolls. The truth: I was losing it, and I wasn’t sure if it was the effect his gorgeousness was having on me or that of the erratic elevator.

He brushed my chin with the edge of my long platinum braid. “Don’t worry. This happens all the time with this elevator.”

Without warning, the elevator jerked and began to free fall. I gasped while the breathtaking man beside me contently grinned.

“Hey, we’re moving again. This is an express elevator, so we’ll be down in no time.”

My heart dropped to my stomach even faster. This man was having a very uncomfortable effect on me. I felt my cheeks heat and my heart tick like a metronome.

In no time, the elevator reached our destination, and the doors opened wide. My companion lifted me to my feet. His firm grip around my shoulders made me tingle. We stood face-to-face. My five foot seven inch frame in six-inch heels confirmed his estimated height. Standing erect, his body was even more imposing than I’d imagined. His shoulders were square, his hips narrow, and his legs long and solid.

“Ladies, first,” he said with a sexy wink.

With my briefcase in hand, I shot out of the elevator and walked briskly through the bustling mid-century themed lobby to the entrance of the hotel. The clickety-clack of my heels across the marble floor echoed in my ears. Mr. Infuriating strode next to me, keeping up with my pace with ease.

Outside the tall, early steel and glass building, we stood side by side. The early morning rush of New York pedestrians and cabs passed us by. The weather was picture-postcard perfect and surprisingly mild for a mid-February day. I was glad that I didn’t wear a coat

“Can I give you a ride?” he asked. “My driver will be here any minute.”

“I have my own driver,” I replied without looking his way.

“Impressive.” I didn’t miss the playful sarcasm in his voice.

His driver, in a sleek black Ranger Rover, pulled up first. A hotel valet raced to open the back door for my companion.

“See ya.” He winked at me again.

Bastard!

With a roguish smirk, he slid into the Rover. His eyes lingered on mine before the passenger door closed. My deadpan face didn’t move a muscle as the car pulled away.

Two minutes later, my black town car pulled up. My driver stepped out and escorted me into the back seat.

“Good morning, Miss Long.”

“Good morning, Nigel,” I said brightly as I sidled gracefully into the car. Trusty Nigel was always my driver when I came to New York for business. I could always count on the jovial, silver-haired Brit to get me anywhere. And there on time.

“Where to this morning?”

I gave him the address of ZAP! It was located in the heart of Soho.

I leaned back into the comfy leather seat and let out a sigh. This was the tenth—-and last advertising agency—I was visiting. Since the beginning of the week, I had met with all of the top Madison Avenue ad agencies. It had been a draining, whirlwind tour.

Truthfully, none of them had impressed me. As CEO of Gloria’s Secret, the largest lingerie retail chain in the world, I was looking for a creative team to help me bring my empire to a new level of sensuality and sales. With the insane popularity of books like
Fifty Shades of Grey,
I was convinced women were looking for a new way to express themselves. A way that communicated:
Take me—I’m yours.
If we were going to stay ahead of the competition, then I had to be the first to tap into this hot, new erotic trend. We were already developing a line of provocative products.

The car cruised down Fifth Avenue, Nigel expertly weaving in and out of the maddening mid-town traffic. In the back seat, I mused about my upcoming meeting.

Unlike the other ad agencies I’d visited, ZAP! was a relatively new kid on the block. What was called a “boutique agency.”

Several things I’d read online about it had impressed me. First, they had created a campaign for a new Japanese minivan that made the word “minivan” sexy. The campaign’s tagline:
“And the mommy goes “mmmmmmm.”
Anyone who could turn an oppressive minivan into a sexy beast scored points with me.

BOOK: Gloria's Secret
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