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Authors: Annabel Joseph

Trust Me (Rough Love #3) (7 page)

BOOK: Trust Me (Rough Love #3)
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When I keyed into the room, Vinod didn’t even react to the grandeur of the furnishings and the breathtaking view. He exuded wealthy privilege. He must be so rich. I took out the small case of samples I’d brought just in case an opportunity like this arose. Jino lingered a few feet away, but Vinod leaned over the array of delicate pieces and took them in with an avid gaze.

“Yes, I see what you mean,” he said in his clipped accent. “These are simple but beautiful. Elegance defined.”

“I’ve always believed less is more.” I dug for a tie pin half the size of his, made of smooth polished silver with one dark pearl set into the tip. “Try this. It’ll look great with the color of your coat.”

Vinod took off his pin and handed it to Jino, and slid my pin into the smooth black silk of his tie. It wasn’t an everyday look. It looked fancy, even regal, but it fit Vinod’s style.

“There are matching cuff links,” I said, fishing them out. “And a ring.”

“How beautiful these are. You made them?”

“I make everything.”

“Why haven’t you been snapped up by some big fashion house?” he asked, his brows coming together in a dark line. “This is inspired design. So novel, so simple, and yet so striking.” He fiddled with the cuff links and finally held out his wrists so I could help him. That was when the door beeped and clicked, and Price walked in.

He stopped just inside, taking in Jino first, and then Vinod. I saw a flash of anger, then a rueful scowl as he crossed his arms over his chest. I was putting together the words to explain how I’d met them and why they were here, when Vinod walked to Price and greeted him by name.

“Ah, Mr. Eriksen. Of course this little visionary belongs to you.”

“Yes, that one’s mine,” he said. “What a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Sushil.”

“The pleasure is mine. Are you in town for the architecture conference?”

Price nodded, looking between the two of us. Jino had gone to sit on the couch. “I have to admit,” said Price, “you’re the last person I expected to find in my hotel room. What are you doing here? How do you know Chere?”

“I found her in the Modern Impressionists wing.” Vinod looked at me fondly. “She was in tears over something she’d encountered there, so I couldn’t fault her for barging into me, even if she almost knocked me down.”

Price’s gaze met mine. Maybe I looked guilty, or maybe he just
. He wasn’t an idiot. He knew Simon’s painting was in the Louvre, and that he was a modern impressionist. It was all I could do not to flinch under his prolonged regard. Meanwhile, Vinod continued relating the story of our collision in the museum, and his travails with his tie pin, and how I’d come to the rescue with my “ground breaking designs.”

Come to his rescue? Ground breaking designs?

I stood like someone lost in a dream as he showed Price the cuff links he’d tried on, and the ring. Price showed Vinod his cuff links, also of my design. The Indian man clapped a hand against his heart and said, “She is so raw. So fresh. We need an eye like this. We need designs like this.”

“You need them for whom?” I asked.

“For whom?” Vinod made an expansive gesture. “For everyone, my dear. For the entire world.”

“Vinod,” said Price. “Would you and Jino care to join us for dinner? I’d love to catch up.”


Only Chere could
go to a cavernous French museum, bewitch an eccentric multi-billionaire by almost knocking him over, and then invite him back to our room without even knowing who the fuck he was.

Vinod Sushil was an Indian fashion magnate, overseeing hundreds of brands and boutiques throughout central Asia and the Far East. I knew him from my time in Mumbai, from years of contact within the Indian design community. We’d spoken together at decadent parties and glittering charity events. He’d been there when they’d opened my bridge, congratulating me on the culmination of a three-year project.

I’d told her to pick up a client, one client, to avoid further punishment. Instead she’d tapped into half the world’s fashion market by charming an old man at the Louvre. In the
Modern Impressionists wing
, damn her. Vinod believed she was sensitive and artistic because he’d found her in tears, but I was pretty sure I knew the real reason she’d been in tears.

And yes, I felt sorry for her. She’d survived a hell of a depressing relationship with Simon, a ten-year slide into codependence and self-loathing. But if that was the case, why had she gone to see his painting? Why had she gotten emotional over it? Did she still feel something for Simon? Had she forgotten how terrible things had been while they were together?

I watched her during dinner, trying to gauge her thoughts. My own thoughts cycled between disappointment, suspicion, and unbridled fury. Simon Baldwin was an asshole, and I…

Well, I was better than him. I knew I was better than him, that I treated her with more kindness and respect. Didn’t I?

Maybe she didn’t see it that way. Maybe my level of control was too much. But I’d warned her. Maybe she was tired of the sex. We had so much sex, until I thought I probably exhausted her. She and Simon never had sex at the end. Maybe she’d prefer that.

Ugh, I had to get out of my head. I took another sip of wine and tried to follow Chere and Vinod’s animated conversation. Jino sat to Vinod’s side, a stone-faced gargoyle whose partnership with his employer was a much-discussed controversy. The two of them denied their relationship was anything but professional, but there was something in the way Jino watched over him that went beyond dutiful vigilance.

That’s how I felt toward Chere. It went beyond dutiful vigilance to possession and proprietary demands. I reluctantly agreed that Chere could spend more time with Vinod while we were in Paris, to talk about design and collaboration. I’d had other plans for her time here, carefully considered plans that she would now have to break. It felt like a loss of control.

But you can’t harm her. You can’t suffocate her. You have to let her grow.

I feared that she’d grow so much she’d drift away from me. I had so many fears. I was a ridiculous, fear-riddled man, and dinner was hard as fuck for me to cope with, and Vinod’s effusive estimation of her talent was hard for me to cope with, and her smiles for him were hard to cope with even if he was seventy fucking years old and reputed to be gay, and why the hell had she cried over Simon’s painting? Why had she visited it at all?

By the time we parted with Vinod and Jino and returned to our hotel room, everything seemed alarmingly unstable and fucked up. I felt confused about what to do, and Chere was nervous and overexcited, and we had to have a discussion that was going to get pretty brutal by the end, because it was about Simon and her, and her checkered past, and our past, which wasn’t exactly a fairy tale either. Fuck.

“Take off your clothes and sit on the bed,” I said, pointing to the spot where I wanted her to plant her ass.

She murmured something. Maybe
Yes, Sir
. She was immediately on guard, which only underlined the fact that we had tough shit to talk about. I watched her undress and fold her clothes with shaking fingers. When she was done, and sitting where I’d told her, I stood in front of her and buckled her collar around her neck.

“How was the Louvre today?” I asked. “Aside from meeting Vinod Sushil?”

“It was good. Nice.”

“Nice?” I grimaced and stepped back from her, crossing my arms over my chest. “What did you see while you were there?”

She let out a soft, slow breath and looked up at me. “I saw a lot of things. I did what you asked. I spent the day there looking for inspiration.”

“Did you find it?”

“I found a customer. Vinod’s interested in producing some of my designs for his spring lines.” Her chin lifted a little. Her fingers glanced over her collar before returning to her lap. “That’s what you told me to do. I did everything you told me to do.”

“And something you knew you weren’t allowed to do.” She paled at my sharp voice. Her lips tightened. If I’d had any lingering doubt of what she’d done, or why Vinod found her in tears in the Modern Impressionist area, her guilty expression washed those doubts away. “Confess it,” I said. “Don’t play games with me.”

Tears rose in her eyes. “Today of all days, I thought you’d be happy.”

“I’m happy about some things. Not so happy about others. Say it. Tell me what you did.”

“I went to see Simon’s painting,” she said in a rebellious tone. “I don’t get to Paris that often, and it was right there—”

“I don’t care to hear your excuses. Who do you belong to?”

“You.” Her voice trembled on the word. Maybe I was being too scary. I felt a scary intense love for her, even though she’d disappointed me.

“You belong to me,” I agreed after a heavy silence. “And what is my rule about Simon?”

“I hate when you do this.”

“Do what? Hold you accountable for the rules you agreed to follow?” I hooked a finger through her collar’s O-ring and gave her a shake. “Do you want to take this off? Are you done with me?”

The tears that swam in her eyes welled over and fell as she shook her head. “No, Sir. Of course not. It’s just…he made that painting for me.”

She looked very sorry, and very guilty. “Sit up straight,” I said, not willing to let her cry her way out of this.

“I’m sorry I went to see it. I should have asked your permission first.”

“I would have said no. Did you enjoy seeing it?” I looked at her hard. “Was it worth getting punished over? You’re to have no contact with Simon Baldwin. None. Zero.”

“I know. It was just…the history of it.”

“What history? The history when he abused you? When he used you and pimped you out so he could get high?”

“He’s sober now.”

“I know he’s fucking sober.”
Wrong thing to say, Chere. Wrong thing to do, defending your bastard ex.

“I made that rule for a reason,” I said out loud. “How long were you in a relationship with Simon?”

“Ten years.”

“How many times did you try to convince yourself you had to leave him?”

She put her head in her hands. I yanked her face back up and glared at her until she squeaked out an answer.

“Hundreds of times. More times than I can count.”

“You are
not to have anything to do with him.
” I drew out each word in icy emphasis. “Nothing to do with him ever. No thoughts, no memories, no fucking contact whatsoever. Is that or is that not the rule?”

“It’s the rule, Sir.”

“I made that rule for you, Chere. For your well-being. Your sanity. Now I’m pissed off for three fucking reasons, and I’m going to tell you what they are before I bend you over and punish your ass. One: You disobeyed me. That’s the first thing, that you allowed it to happen in the first place. Two: I had to drag it out of you, when you should have admitted what you did right away, as soon as we were alone together. Three…”

I paused, honing my own fearsome pain. She held my gaze, and I let her have it. “Three, Chere: You cried for him. You cried for that motherfucking asshole who brought you nothing but misery.
You cried for him.

“I cried for the painting,” she burst out, interrupting me, challenging my authority. “I cried because I remembered when he painted it, and who I was then.”

“You cried for what you had with him,” I accused. “You should be happy he’s out of your life.”

“I am!”

“I did that, damn you. I helped you get away from him. If I hadn’t, you’d probably still be in that loft, going out to turn tricks so he could shoot your dirty money through his veins or snort it up his nose.”

“Dirty money?” she sobbed. “Some of that was your money. A lot of it!”

“Don’t fucking remind me.”

I walked away from her, preserving an adequate distance between us. I wasn’t going to punish her in anger. Hurt, yes. Anger, no. I looked out the window, collecting my thoughts. Remembering
, as she sat very still on the bed.
It’s because I love you. Because I only ever wanted to protect you.

“I make these rules for a reason,” I said, when I felt calmer. “Simon is out of your life for a reason.”

“I know, Sir.” She’d calmed too. Her voice sounded steadier. “I knew you’d be angry. I did it anyway. I don’t have any excuse except that I wanted to do it.”

“You have to listen to me,” I said, turning back to her. “You have to obey my rules or none of this works.”

“Yes, Sir. I know.”

“You’re going to be punished for what you did.”

“Yes, Sir,” she repeated, clenching her hands in her lap. “I know.”



prayed for
the belt. I could deal with his belt, but belts were so loud and this was a hotel room. Instead he went to his luggage and took out a whip, a long, thin, braided implement that whistled when it moved through the air, but was nearly silent on impact.

I already hurt. Oh shit, that whip was torture, and he was in a really bad mood.
This is your fault, Chere. You knew he would punish you.
Yes, I knew, but now it was happening and I was fucking terrified.

It wasn’t just the terror making me shake. It was the crazy jumble of emotions from this crazy jumble of a day. Sadness over my past, guilt over the painting, joy over my new business prospects with Vinod. I literally had so many feelings I couldn’t process them, and now there was this terror and regret, and the agony of seeing Price’s displeasure in his hard features and ice blue eyes.

BOOK: Trust Me (Rough Love #3)
9.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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