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Authors: Ann Marie Walker,Amy K. Rogers

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Release Me

BOOK: Release Me
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Titles by Ann Marie Walker & Amy K. Rogers

Chasing Fire Trilogy

Remind Me

Release Me

Release Me

Ann Marie Walker & Amy K. Rogers

InterMix Books, New York

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RELEASE ME

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Ann Marie Walker and Amy K. Rogers.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19477-9

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / July 2015

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

____________________________________

Penguin Random House is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.

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A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

When we started writing this book it had already been sold. Some agents might have felt their work was done, but not Pamela Harty. She not only got the ball rolling, but her support and encouragement throughout the process kept us sane. Pamela, it has been a privilege to call you our agent, but even more so to call you friend.

To our editor, Leis Pederson, we will never stop thanking our lucky stars that something about our writing made you pick up the phone. Without you, Hudson and Allie’s story would exist only on the pages of Google docs, and for that we will be forever grateful. To Erin Galloway and Ryanne Probst, thank you for helping us introduce Hudson Chase. You both are a wealth of knowledge and your mad skills have been invaluable!

To our amazing street team: Jill Cahr, Lori Schricker, Margaret Fahey, Michelle Fields, Megan Schopp, Natalie Shaw, Sarah Blair, Sarah Gutchall, Tracey Wess, Colleen O’Brien, Eunice Jaquez, Julie Stroop, Misty Villanueva, and Michelle Kirn. Thank you for not only agreeing to be our early readers but for cheering us on and making us believe someone might actually like our little story. To Kaylee Simonetti, there is a special place in heaven for someone pimping books while in the ER. You are certifiable and we couldn’t love you more! And for Maggie Roache, thank you for being our grammar guru and for always knowing the perfect Taylor Swift or Beyonce song to pull us through.

To the book bloggers who devoted their time to reading and reviewing our work, you are the reason so many have welcomed Hudson Chase into the ranks of their beloved book boyfriends. We would be nothing without your unwavering support. Forget buying you a cocktail, we need to throw a rager.

And last but not least, to the readers, thank you for taking a chance on us. You spent your hard earned money on a pair of debut authors and we couldn’t be happier to have you along for the ride. The tweets and Facebook messages you have sent literally from around the world never fail to humble and touch us. Thank you for sticking with us . . . we hope to do you and Hudson proud.

To David Gandy, for your continued inspiration and well wishes, we are eternally grateful.

C
ONTENTS

Titles by Ann Marie Walker & Amy K. Rogers

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgements

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

About the Author

Chapter One

Allie tried her best to ignore the blue flashing lights in her parents’ driveway. But from her seat in the living room she had a clear view of the brick-paved courtyard just beyond the front door. And she knew that just beyond the courtyard’s limestone fountain stood a row of uniformed officers forming a human barrier along yellow tape. And beyond that tape stood a crowd of reporters with cameras and microphones, all jockeying for a better position among the curious who had gathered at the gates.

Instead she focused her attention on the detective standing in front of her. The middle-aged woman wore clothes more suited for a man and her hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Yet despite her hard-as-nails appearance, there was an undeniable kindness in her eyes when she told Allie it was time to take her statement.

Allie nodded but didn’t speak. She hadn’t said more than a handful of words since placing the call to 911.

The detective stood and reached inside her jacket for a small notebook. Her movements revealed the badge she wore clipped to her waist and the gun she kept holstered at her side.

Allie’s eyes drifted shut and her mind filled with images of gunshot wounds and blood.

So much blood. . . .

“Alessandra.”

She opened her eyes to find Benjamin Weiss, general counsel for Ingram Media, making his way through the foyer. As always, he was impeccably groomed in a dark suit and tie with a perfectly folded handkerchief peeking out of the breast pocket. Only this time his tie was askew and a thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead.

“My apologies,” he said, out of breath. “I came as soon as I heard, but the roads are clogged with news vans.”

As soon as he heard?
Allie had no idea who had called Mr. Weiss, but she was glad to have him at her side. Benjamin Weiss was more than just the family’s attorney; he had also been her father’s best friend.

A few quiet words were spoken between Mr. Weiss and Detective Green, and then she was ready to begin. She sat on the coffee table across from Allie and uncapped her pen. “Walk me through what happened after you pulled in the driveway,” she instructed. Her tone was all business; just another day at the office for a homicide detective.

Allie tried to speak but her words came out on a strangled sob.

Mr. Weiss placed his hand on her shoulder. “Would you like some water?” he asked, glancing toward the kitchen and paling as his gaze fell on the scene unfolding in the dining room.

Don’t look.

Allie kept her stare trained on the detective’s pen as she answered Mr. Weiss. “I’m fine.” There wasn’t a person in Chicago who would’ve believed that statement, but a bottle of water wasn’t going to make things any better. And with the way her stomach felt, she doubted she’d be able to keep it down anyway.

“Just take it slow,” Detective Green said.

Allie drew a shaky breath and began to retell the events of the past few hours. “I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I opened the front door.”

“How so?” the detective asked.

“The alarm didn’t make any noise.”

“You mean it wasn’t armed?”

Allie shook her head. “No, I mean it wasn’t working. Even if it’s unarmed, the system still chimes to announce when a door or window has been opened.”

Detective Green scribbled a few notes on the small pad of paper in her hand. “What happened after you came in the house?”

“I could see the light was on in my dad’s study, so I headed that way first.”

Tears clouded Allie’s eyes as she looked across the expanse of the paneled living room to the hallway just to the right of the front door. Her throat tightened as she thought back to how confident she’d felt striding down that hall. For as long as Allie could remember, every aspect of her life had been dictated by what was best for the family legacy. But this time her parents had taken it too far. Going behind her back to arrange a marriage that was nothing more than a business transaction was the last straw. She was done playing the role of the dutiful daughter and she’d planned to tell them so in no uncertain terms.

But when she’d reached the door . . .

“And that’s when you discovered the body?”

“Yes,” she whispered, recalling the image of her father’s lifeless body slumped over his desk. Her gaze shifted to the Kleenex she held clutched in her hand. It had been twisted into something more closely resembling twine than tissue.

“Is your father normally home during the day?”

A few months ago Allie could have answered without a doubt. Her father would have never been home in the middle of the day. But lately he’d been scaling back, letting Julian lead some of the day-to-day meetings as he prepared to take the helm after their wedding.

Julian.

Just thinking about her former fiancé sent a chill down her spine. Her finger touched the remnants of the black eye he’d given her the week before. She’d done her best to cover the shadow of a bruise with concealer, but the makeup had surely been washed away with tears by now.

“Miss Sinclair?” Detective Green prodded.

“Oh, um, no. Usually it’s just my mother and the housekeeper.” Allie gasped.

“She’s fine,” Detective Green assured her. “She was out running errands until just a short while ago.”

“I assume you’re taking her statement as well?” Mr. Weiss asked.

The detective nodded. “We’ll need confirmation from the medical examiner, but it looks like this all took place shortly after she left. If that’s the case, the perpetrators may have waited for her to leave, assuming no one else was in the house.”

A flash came from the dining room, and without thinking, Allie turned toward it.
Flash
. A photographer stood with his back to her, his camera pointed at the mirrored wall. Allie watched his reflection as he focused his lens on the blood splattered across the wall right behind the spot where her mother had last stood.
Flash
. He stepped closer, his lens telescoping, and she knew he was capturing details of the images she’d seen when she’d first stumbled into the room—blood and gray matter mixed with shards of mirror and bone.
Flash
. A moment later he squatted beside the blood that had pooled on the Aubusson rug, photographing her mother’s face, her eyes open and frozen in fear.

Allie tasted bile in the back of her throat, and for a moment she thought she might throw up. This was not her life. This was some horrible dream, the result of watching one too many police procedural shows. It had to be.

“Why are they doing that?” she whispered, not really meaning to say the words out loud.

Detective Green looked up from her notebook. “Doing what?”

“Why are they bagging her hands?”

The detective’s eyes darted to Mr. Weiss, then back to Allie. She hesitated for a moment, but when she answered her voice was level. “To preserve any physical evidence that may have resulted from a struggle.”

A commotion by the front door drew Allie’s attention. Two men in black jackets wheeled a gurney across the marble floor.
CORONER
was printed in white lettering across their backs, and when they turned toward the library she could see a long black bag stretched the length of the bed.

Oh, God
 . . .

An involuntary sob escaped her lips at the thought of her father being zipped into a vinyl bag.

Mr. Weiss offered her his handkerchief and she took it.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to get Miss Sinclair home,” he said, his voice tight. “She’s been through quite an ordeal.”

Detective Green regarded Allie for a moment, then stood and smoothed the wrinkles from her wool pants. “I’ll need to take a more detailed statement in the morning.” She held out her business card. “But in the meantime, if you think of anything else.”

Mr. Weiss took the card. “Thank you, Detective.” Before she walked away, he assured her his office would call to set up an appointment.

“I’ve arranged for a car to drive you home,” he told Allie once they were alone. “And for private security to be stationed at your brownstone tonight.”

Her eyes grew wide.

“Just as a precaution,” he quickly added. “Right now the police think this was nothing more than a home invasion gone wrong, but I’m not taking any chances with your safety.”

Allie nodded.

“Is there someone I can call for you?”

Hudson
.

His was the first name that came to mind, just as it had repeatedly for the past few hours. She needed him now more than ever. Needed the strength of his arms around her, holding her up when she felt too weak to stand.

But she wouldn’t let herself call him. She couldn’t. Not after the way he’d deceived her. She had to keep moving forward. No looking back.

Hudson Chase was out of her life. For good this time.

“I’ll call my friend Harper,” Allie said.

“She’s not a redhead by any chance, is she?”

“Yes, why?”

“She saved you the trouble of a call.” He smiled weakly. “She’s been raising hell at the barricades for the past hour.”

Yep, that would be Harper
. “Would you mind bringing her around back to the garage and having the car meet us there? I really don’t want to deal with the crowds out front.”

“Of course. And I’ll see that both your cars are returned to the city in the morning.”

Allie stood. “Thank you for . . .” Her voice trailed off. She knew she’d never get through the rest of that sentence.

His eyes crinkled and he gave a quick nod. “There is one more item we need to discuss before you go.”

“Can it wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m afraid not. Although I imagine some of the press corps will leave once they realize you’re no longer in the house, a few will remain until a statement is released. I can have the PR department draft something from the company as a whole, or you can certainly write your own if you’d prefer. There’s also the matter of an internal memo to your employees, but we can address that tomorrow.”

“My employees?”
What in the world is he talking about?

He met her confused expression with one of his own. After a moment the crease in his brow relaxed. “Forgive me, I thought you realized.” His voice was soothing yet firm. “As you know, your mother and father were both heavily invested in Ingram.”

This wasn’t news. In fact, for decades the company her maternal grandfather built from the ground up had been privately owned. It wasn’t until a rough patch in the late seventies that her father had been forced to take the company public, but even then the family had retained controlling interest.

“As the sole heir to their estate, those shares are now yours. Alessandra, you are the new majority shareholder of Ingram Media.”

Allie rubbed her forehead. She hadn’t even considered the effect her parents’ death would have on the family business, let alone what role she’d play. Hundreds of questions raced through her mind, but the pounding in her head was making it hard to focus.

“I’m sorry. I know you’re tired. We can hold off on everything else until tomorrow and just release a statement from the company tonight. I’ll have the PR team draft something, and if you prefer I can run it by Mr. Chase.”

Allie’s head snapped up.
Hudson? Why in the hell would he run it past him?
She realized the answer just as Mr. Weiss began to explain.

“Over the past few months there have been various investment groups quietly purchasing shares of Ingram. It wasn’t until recently that we realized these purchases were on behalf of one individual.

“How this will impact day-to-day operations remains to be seen. A fair amount of shares are still held in smaller quantities by numerous individuals, but Mr. Chase’s most recent acquisitions make him the second largest shareholder outside of the Sinclair/Ingram estate.” He exhaled a heavy sigh. “We can discuss this more at length after we get through the next few days. I don’t want to overwhelm you right now.”

Too late.
“Okay.”

“I’ll go find your friend.” He gave her arm an awkward pat before turning toward the door. A question popped into her mind as she watched him walk away. It seemed ridiculous in light of what was happening all around her, but for some inexplicable reason, she needed to know.

“Mr. Weiss?” she called out before he reached the foyer.

He turned to face her. “Yes?”

Allie took a deep breath. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. Maybe she could limit their interaction. “What’s the margin?”

“Pardon me?”

“The difference in stock percentages, between me and . . .” Her voice caught on his name. She cleared her throat and tried again. “What’s the difference in stock percentages between . . .”

Damn it. Why couldn’t she get the words to come out of her mouth?

“Between you and Mr. Chase?”

She nodded.

“One percent.”

The weight of the day crashed down around her and Allie sank to the couch. On top of everything else, it seemed Hudson Chase was her new business partner.

BOOK: Release Me
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