Authors: Caris Roane
Savage Chains: Part 1
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Angelica stood in front of Briggs’s Ocean Club in Newport Beach, staring up at two well-lit palm trees that flanked the entrance. Her heart hammered out a few unsteady beats, since her reasons for being here involved a certain walk of shame she hoped to make sometime the next morning.
But now that she was here, her knees felt watery and the butterflies in her stomach had staged a massive riot. She hadn’t been with a man for a good long stretch of road. So why was she aiming for dark and dangerous when any number of hardworking males around her office would scratch this itch just fine? She might even fall in love, make some babies, have a life.
Except she didn’t want that kind of life.
Putting a hand to her stomach, she drew a deep breath.
She’d finally admitted to herself that only one man would do: Brogan Reyes, a six-five god who looked like he ran black ops missions in his spare time. Piercing blue eyes, massive shoulders, and a scruff that made her tongue tingle just thinking about licking a line straight up his jaw.
Despite her self-confessed need, she remained outside the club, knowing he could be inside. For whatever reason, she couldn’t make her feet move.
She didn’t really have time for a man in her life anyway. She had a demanding job as an accountant in a big firm that kept her insanely busy. She should just show some sense, head back to her apartment, pay some bills, drink a tumbler of Patrón Silver, and get some rest. Besides, her stilettos pinched like hell. She wasn’t used to dressing up like this, showing a ridiculous amount of come-and-get-me cleavage. And she was way out of flirting practice.
Yet her feet wouldn’t move backward, either.
Her life had become a serious rut, and if she didn’t do something to shake things up she thought she might go mad.
A sudden offshore breeze gave her a small push and she finally set her feet in motion, straight for the doors. She wanted this for herself, if only for one night.
And Reyes was the man she wanted.
Taking a deep breath, she lowered her chin and crossed the foyer threshold, her black sequin clutch held tight to her side.
The hostess smiled. “Welcome to Briggs’s Ocean Club. Can I help you with your reservation this evening?”
The club had a variety of venues, including an upscale restaurant, a huge bar and lounge, and an outdoor patio, as well as live music and dancing.
Angelica waved a hand to the left, indicating the lounge, and the hostess smiled and nodded. She made her way to the short staircase that descended to the large, noisiest part of the club: the bar.
As she walked down the five steps, she quickly scanned the tables and long, polished oak bar, but Reyes wasn’t there.
She picked a stool at the end nearest the stairs, and perched.
The bartender made his way over. “Angelica, great to see you again.”
“You haven’t been here in a while.” A concerned frown followed. “How’s your mom?”
“She’s doing much better, but thanks for asking. My aunt’s in town to look after her, so I have a reprieve, at least for a couple of weeks.”
“Well, that’s great.”
And it was. Angelica could breathe a little and tonight, she could indulge.
“You’re one of my favorite people, you know. Lot of spoiled rich kids in this joint. So what can I get you?”
“Gin and tonic, please.”
“You got it.” He moved away to prepare her order, then returned swiftly, drink in hand, laying down a silver coaster first. But he was off almost as fast, greeting a new group and taking orders.
Marcus had worked at the Ocean Club for years and knew everyone who frequented the upscale, sexy nightspot that served the young and wealthy of Southern California. A gem-like array of bottles ran floor-to-ceiling behind the bar in every color imaginable, a beautiful mosaic against a mirrored wall. Low lights and deep maroon glossy walls gave an intimate feel to what was a large space full of linen-covered tables, comfortable chairs, and chattering guests.
When several customers got called to their restaurant reservation, a lull allowed Marcus to come back to her. He had shoulder-length black hair, dark eyes, and a warm smile. “You look good in red.” His gaze fell to the low cut of her neckline, and he waggled his brows. “Hot. Very hot.”
She felt a blush climb her cheeks, but she smiled. “Thank you.” She lifted her drink to him. “I needed that.”
She’d dressed for the occasion in red silk, sleeveless and cut low. She wore more makeup than usual and had dressed her thick dark-brown hair to flow away from her face.
“So can I help you out tonight? Anyone you want to meet?”
Marcus had a sixth sense where people were concerned, and he had never steered her wrong. She trusted him.
Squaring her shoulders, she jumped in. “I’m wondering what you know about Brogan Reyes.” Just mentioning his name caused the ever-present butterflies to make a few dive-bombing runs.
His brows rose. “One tough hombre, but I have to say I don’t know much more than that. Not sure anyone does. He comes from European money or maybe South American—even that’s unclear. But he must have been educated somewhere in the States because he has no accent to speak of. He’s usually in the lounge on Fridays so I would expect to see him and I have asked around, but he keeps his cards close. All I know is that he’s wealthy, doesn’t make a show of it, and meets business associates here. And no, I don’t know what kind of business. My only concern, but it’s a mild one, is that some of the people he meets give off the wrong vibe.”
She knew what Marcus meant—more than one person he’d had drinks with, though well dressed, had a predatory look. “You know what it is? Some of the people I’ve seen him with do a kind of strip search with their eyes. The last time I was here, I felt like I was being visually weighed and measured, summed up. Make any sense?”
He nodded. “That’s a good way of putting it, but I’ve never seen Reyes pull that kind of shit. I’ll give him that.”
“I agree. He’s definitely a cut above the company he keeps.”
He leaned his forearms on the bar. “So is he the one?”
Again her cheeks warmed up. “I’m not sure, but I’m determined to find out.”
“Good for you and for what it’s worth, despite his I-can-beat-the-shit-out-of-anyone look, I like him. He doesn’t play games and he treats women decently, which says a lot.”
Another throng of customers arrived, and Marcus moved away to take more orders.
Angelica swiveled in her seat. The dimly lit room was full of laughter and lots of flirting. Windows lined the lounge, with a pair of double doors that led to a crowded patio beyond. Outside, tables and chairs surrounded a massive tree covered in white mini lights.
Music filtered through from the dance club, sometimes with a strong rhythmic beat and other times a slow, sexy groove.
As the band moved into the latter, the erotic rhythm of the bass guitar and drums sent another shiver through her.
Marcus called her name, and when she turned toward him, he winked, then jerked his chin toward the stairs. “He’s here.”
For a second she couldn’t breathe, as though all the air had been sucked from her lungs. She let her gaze move slowly toward the entrance. There he was, standing at the top of the short staircase, looking sexy as hell dressed in a black leather coat, blue silk shirt, and tailored slacks.
Awed as she was by his physical presence, she reminded herself that he was the reason she’d come here tonight. She sat up a little straighter, drink in hand.
He scanned the lounge, just as she had, his gaze moving slowly, then landing on her. She smiled and lifted her glass to him. She’d hoped for an answering curve of his lips, some indication he might be interested. Instead he frowned, though holding her gaze steadily.
Not the most encouraging note.
But the moment of truth had arrived. Was there a chance in hell she could persuade a frowning man to at least have a drink with her?
She felt in her gut that her life was poised right on the head of a pin, and what she did next would either catapult her forward or send her back to her apartment and a sad bottle of tequila for comfort.
Despite his frowns, she made a quick decision.
Grabbing her clutch, and setting her drink down, she slid off the bar stool and headed in his direction. She’d come here to talk to him and talk to him she would, even if all he did was tell her to get lost.
As she mounted the stairs, he turned back in the direction of the foyer with a slight jerk of his head. With that small movement, hope soared.
She found him in the foyer, standing near the tall water feature. As she drew closer, his gaze fell to her cleavage. She watched desire spark in his eyes, and an answering response raced through her body.
Still very nervous, she pushed her hair away from her throat, and his gaze followed, his nostrils flaring. He blinked and his lips parted. She hadn’t been wrong about him; he was interested in her. Yep, he was the one.
“I was hoping to talk to you tonight. I’ve seen you here before, of course.”
He searched her eyes. “What do you want?”
Angelica’s turn to frown. She’d hoped for a little ice-breaking chitchat, maybe the promise of a smile. Instead his jaw stiffened as once again he held her gaze, frowning.
But she wasn’t about to give up, at least not yet. “Can I buy you a drink?”
He shook his head slowly. “Not interested.”
Well, that was a lie, so she pressed on. “Let me buy you one anyway.”
His eyes narrowed. “What’s your game, Angelica?”
Her heart skipped a couple of beats. He knew her name. That meant something.
Swallowing hard, she drew in a deep breath. “I don’t have a game. I just wanted to talk to you, maybe get to know you.”
“I never took you for a fortune hunter. Guess I was wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why else would you be talking to me like this?”
She didn’t understand why he suddenly sounded so hostile. It made no sense. “You think I’m after your money?”
“Sure. Why not?”
He was being incredibly rude. “How do I know you even have a nickel?”
He snorted. “Women like you always know.”
“Women like me?” She shook her head. This was not how she’d imagined her first conversation with him going. “You know, I asked around and no one knows much about you except that you have ties to Europe and maybe South America. Your last name sounds Spanish enough. And you dress well, but even a monkey could put on a fine suit and Cartier watch, and look well shod.”
Something passed through his eyes—amusement maybe, she couldn’t tell. But for a second he seemed almost human.
His steely expression returned fast enough, however, and he squared his shoulders. “Let me speak plainly.”
“Oh, you haven’t been?”
“All right, let me speak more specifically. You don’t belong here in this club and when I saw that you’d stopped coming, I thought,
Good, one less gold digger to worry about
She compressed her lips but lowered her voice. “I’m not a gold digger. You’ve got me wrong.”
“Then how about you just stick to your own kind?”
“My own kind? You mean people who work hard, take care of their families, that kind?”
He snorted. “Go home, Angelica, to your little apartment and to the numbers you crunch all day long.” So he knew the details of her life. That meant something, too, but it also made her a little nervous. Had he been checking up on her?
He leaned close, though his voice sounded a little softer, not quite so mean. “Go home and live your life. Find some guy who can set you up in a suburb and make babies with you. Isn’t that what you really want?”
The question brought her up short, maybe even going to the heart of why she’d come to the club tonight. She decided to be honest with him. “I could have had that, I suppose. Yet somehow, you were what I wanted. I came here for you.”
He seemed taken aback, surprised even. He huffed an exasperated sigh and took her arm in his hand. “For fuck’s sake, just go home.”
But the sudden physical contact had a strange effect on her as she met his gaze once more. Desire for him flowed all over again, an unstoppable wave of need that brought tears to her eyes. She couldn’t explain it as anything other than a bone-deep inner knowing. She knew the man’s cruel words weren’t truthful. He was merely trying to drive her away.