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Authors: Susan Johnson

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His lids lowered fractionally, and for a brief moment he considered lying before he decided against it. “Yeah

sometimes.” And then he got back to the subject at hand. “I don’t have Barry and Cole around much—occasionally for outside work. Or for times like this. A litt
l
e extra muscle never hurts.”

“They’re on your payroll, though.” She could tell the men were comfortable with each other.

“I have lots of people on my payroll. Look, I’m sorry they make you nervous, but I’m not exac
tl
y sure where I’m going to find Jordi, or with whom. I’m playing defense and bringing them along. I hope it’s not too much of a problem for you. But you’re perfectly safe; you have my word.”

This probably wasn’t the time to argue about their varying definitions of safety. Bottom line, he had to consider his daughter’s safety. “Sorry I brought it up,” she murmured. “I’m good with the program.” What could she say? Let me out at thirty-five thousand feet?

“With luck, we’ll pick up Jordi within a few hours and head right back. I’m figuring on a short trip.”

But his expression had changed when Jordi came into the conversation; he was clearly distressed. “Here I am being difficult
about your bodyguards and you’re worried sick about your daughter,” Nicky said, feeling guilty as hell. “I’m really sorry.”

“Forget it.” He tried to smile but didn’t quite manage a credible one. “I keep telling myself there should be some crew on board who’ll keep an eye on Jordi—that she’s okay and not frightened. But
I don’t know…”

“I’m sure she’s fine. Jordi’s such a sociable child. She can get along with anyone.” Platitudes all, but gritty reality wasn’t an option.

“Here’s hoping.” His current mood wasn’t upbeat, though. Lisa had screwed up so many times he wasn’t relying on her to act like a grown-up today. “Look,” he said, “I’m going to check our course time with the pilots.” He came to his feet. “Thanks for the conversation,” he said, both polite and oddly detached.

“You’re welcome. I wish I could do more.”

“You can do some fast talking for me once we get to Paris and start looking for Jordi.” He paused at the door. “You know, be diplomatic and pushy at the same time.”

“I’ll do my best.” This wasn’t the time to say she wasn’t sure she was adept at either one.

“Sleep if you can.” He opened the door. “I’ll wake you before we land.”

She hadn’t realized she was tired, but only moments later, she was in bed and sleeping.

Being on show for so long must have been fatiguing.

 

 

M
eanwhile, Johnny checked
on the pilots, chatted briefly with Barry and Cole, and put in a last call to Lisa’s assistant,
grimacing as she gave him the same answer she had the last time he had spoken with her. As far as she knew, Lisa was on her way to Paris. From there, she didn’t have a clue.

He and Mandy Ingram had a strained but working relationship. Her loyalty was to Lisa, of course, but she knew as well as he did who took care of Lisa when she needed help. When the drugs took over or a boyfriend was making unreasonable demands, ex-husband he might be, but he was the one who was always called on to do the heavy lifting, should it be required.

But nothing was required right now.

Because everything was in fucking limbo—including his daughter’s whereabouts.

Swearing softly and then not so softly, he began pacing.

 
Nine

 

 

I
t was midmorning, bright and sunny, when
they landed in Paris. Two black Mercedes sedans were waiting on the tarmac, the uniformed drivers striding toward them as they exited the plane.

Handing their carry-ons to one of the drivers, Johnny said to Nicky, “We’ll take the second car. I’ll be there in a minute.”

After a brief conversation with his bodyguards, Johnny joined Nicky in the backseat. He was assuming—more

hoping— that his ex had booked her usual suite at the Ritz; he’d had his secretary arrange for rooms across the street. “Hotel Castille, Rue de Cambon,” he said to the driver and a moment later the car slowly picked up speed.

*
*
*

T
he low throaty
purr of the engine was oddly soothing, Nicky thought. Or maybe it was the silken luxury of the dark interior and the quiet obsequiousness of those in attendance, she decided. Everything was unruffled and
frictionless in the world of th
e
ü
ber-rich.

Kidnapped daughters aside, of course.

“Did you sleep?” she asked, as though she had the right, as though the dark circles under his eyes weren’t answer enough.

“A little,” he lied. “You?”

It was such an obvious effort at politeness, she felt an immediate surge of sympathy. “Have you heard from your daughter?”

“I had a message from her nanny, but the transmission was garbled. It sounded as though they’d landed. Thankfully Vernie’s with Jordi; she’ll look out for her. Or as much as she can with my twisted ex in charge.”

“You like the nanny. That’s a plus.”

“Yeah—she’s a rock. But those men with Lisa”—his jaw clenched—“that’s another story.” He blew out a breath. “We’ll check out the Ritz first. My ex usually stays there.”

“Maybe it won’t be long then till Jordi is back with you,” Nicky said, soothingly, hoping she was right. The man slouched low in the seat beside her didn’t in the least resemble the public sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll icon.

He just looked weary and disheartened.

And incredibly worried.

 

 

F
i
fty minutes later,
as the car pulled up outside a discreet hotel entrance on a quiet Parisian street, Johnny turned to her, his hand on the door latch. “If Lisa is at the Ritz, we shouldn’t have
much trouble. The staff there knows how to kiss ass.” He nodded at the Castille entrance. “Do you want to go to your room first, or are you okay with going to the Ritz right now?”

He was unbelievably polite, considering
th
e state of his nerves.

“Let’s do the Ritz first,” she said.

He was out of the car and helping her from the backseat when his bodyguards, who’d jumped from the lead car before it had come to a complete stop, reached them. Then
,
flanked by muscle, they crossed the street and entered the back door of the Ritz.

The one Princess Diana walked out of that fateful night,
Nicky couldn’t help but think.

She sent up a small prayer that their excursion would end more fortuitously.

 
Ten

 

 

T
heir initial reception went well.

The staff at the front desk greeted Johnny like the celebrity he was, showering him with smiles and affability like he was a long lost friend. He’d racked up considerable time there during his marriage, and seven thousand bucks a night for the Coco Chanel suite his ex favo
red, got you that kind of toady
ing.

“Would you tell Miss Jordan I’m on my way up,” he said first chance he had in the midst of the effusive hospitality, playing his spurious she’s-expecting-me card.

Everyone’s expression froze.

He immediately turned to Nicky, knowing a degree of tact and sublety was called for now. “At least Lisa’s here,” he said in an undertone, feeling a great wave of relief wash over him. “Explain to
th
em—very politely—that I just want to talk to her. She may have
told them not to let me up, or maybe they’re remembering the screaming matches Lisa and I have had here in the past. Make sure they understand I have no intention of making trouble. They’ll understand it better in French.”

Feeling like a mediator at
the UN, Nicky
chose her words carefully, apologizing up front for her antiquated accent. She presented Johnny’s case with great tact, promising them that Mr. Patrick would only speak to Miss Jordan if she wished to see him. She suggested they call Miss Jordan to clear the visit.

As she quickly recapped her comments for Johnny, he added a bargaining chip he’d been holding in reserve. “Have them tell Lisa I brought her a present from Uncle Yogi. She’ll know what that means.”

After Nick
y
relayed the added message, the manager stepped into a back room to make the call. He was smiling a few moments later when he reappeared. “Miss Jordan will see you, Monsieur Patrick,” he said, a collective relief evident on every staff member’s face.

“Thank you,” Johnny said, pleasan
tly. “The Chanel suite
?”

Numerous heads bobbed in reply.

“Merci,” Johnny said, employing one of the few
French words he knew, and lightl
y touching Nicky’s arm, he guided her away.

As the desk staff watched Johnny walk off, the manager understood a potentially contentious scene had been averted. Fortunately Miss Jordan had greeted the news of her ex-husband’s appearance with cordiality. Not that the staff weren’t trained to diffuse volatile situations and smooth feathers. But it wasn’t always easy with those in the flamboyant world of entertainment.

The last time Mr. and Mrs. Patrick had been in residence, the hot-tempered Miss Jordan had attacked her husband in the lobby.

The tempestuous scene had been impossible to ignore.

Like watching a train wreck.

Lisa Jordan’s ethereal slenderness had been barely concealed by a flim
sy red chiffon dress so short th
e color of her thong wasn’t in question. Screaming at the top of her lungs, swearing at her husband for apparently being ill-mannered enough to drag her back to the hotel before she was ready to leave the club, she had pummeled him mercilessly, her long blond hair swirling around her bare shoulders with each wild swinging blow.

Johnny Patrick had kept backing up toward the elevators, warding her off with gentlemanly grace, only grabbing her wrist once when she tried to rake his face with her nails.

On reaching the elevators, he’d dragged her inside and had been heard to say before the doors shut, “You’re taking the fucking fun out of life, babe.”

Unaware of the special memories of those at the front desk, Johnny was calculating whether or not to go up alone. Did he need Nicky for any more translation? Would bringing bodyguards send the wrong signal? How stupid would it be to go up alone?

“I’ll go first,” Barry said, interrupting Johnny’s reflections.

“You think so? I’m not sure.” They were nearing the elevators.

“I’ll be sure for both of us. Cole”—Barry nodded at his companion—“take the lady.”

Nicky found herself inches away from a man who represented either protection or danger—with the scales definitely tipping toward danger in her estimation.

Johnny blew out a breath. He’d never quite accepted the idea that he needed bodyguards. “Crap,” he muttered.

“Everything will go a whole lot smoother,” Barry said, holding the elevator door open. “You can go back to your small-town
persona once we’re out of here.” They’d had this argument before. Many times.

“So I should listen to the professionals,” Johnny muttered.

“That’s what you pay me for, boss.” He smiled. “When are you gonna get with the program?”

“Never. How about that?”

“In the meantime

” Grinning, Barry waved Johnny into the elevator.

Barry knew a helluva lot more than Johnny did about Lisa’s companions. He’d filled Johnny in on some of the sordid details over and above the dossier information. Fortunately, Yuri and Raf were essentially rich losers, their fathers’ illegal activities run by men more clever than they. Yuri and Raf only played at being tough.

“Okay, I’m listening,” Johnny muttered, acceding to his bodyguard. He ushered Nicky into the elevator, and they were joined by Cole and Barry, who waved off a man trying to get on. “Just a word of warning,” Johnny said to Nick
y
as the elevator began to rise. “Ignore Lisa. She’s into drama—not a surprise considering her line of work, but you know what I mean. She can have a mouth on her. Don’t take it personally.”

“Got it,” Nicky said, although she’d take it real personally if she got caught up in a gunfight. A shame there was no way to say that tactfully.

When the elevator doors opened with a soft whoosh, the four passengers exited and moved down a sumptuous corridor papered in gold silk damask, carpeted with museum-quality carpets, lit by gilt and crystal sconces.

Even the luxurious surroundings couldn’t mitigate Nicky’s fear.

Her Cowardly Lion psyche was unimpressed by damask and gold.

And it didn’t help that two very large bodyguards, sitting on chairs on either side of a door she was guessing was the Chanel suite, came to their feet and glowered at them as they approached.

Johnny seemed not to notice their menacing posture.
Maybe
I’
ve seen too many kungfu films,
Nicky thought. Men like those at the door scared the shit out of her.

Johnny, however, only smiled as he reached them. “Would you let Miss Jordan know Uncle Yogi’s present has arrived,” he said, smooth as silk. “I believe she’s waiting for it.”

Nothing.

“Try French,” he said to Nicky.

Half of nothing. One man replied
in extremely rough French, “Nam
e—give me.”

Nicky spoke very slowly, giving Johnny’s full name, pointing to Johnny, then saying Miss Jordan wanted to see him and pointing at the suite door.

The man who knew the rudimentary French spoke rapidly to his companion in his native language. Nicky guessed it was one of the guttural -stan dialects although she’d never heard them—or was it Chechen? Twenty-four-hour global news definitely made the outbacks of the world a lit
tl
e more recognizable.

The man turned back and growled,
“Attendre—
Wait.”

As he disappeared inside, the other guard stood before the door in one of those you’ll-have-to-go-through-me poses.

Nicky shot a nervous glance at Johnny.

He smiled. “Everything’s copacetic. Relax.”

This wasn’t the time to explain to him that she wasn’t about to relax no matter how he much he smiled. The man in front of the door was carrying, and the bulge under his arm was a real deterrent to relaxing.

As they waited, the silence in the corridor was humming with tension, Nicky thought, although no one else appeared to be disturbed.

Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her palms were sweaty. She could hear Cole breathing beside her. Any moment she expected someone to pull out a gun and start shooting.

When the door suddenly opened, Nicky choked back a shriek. Just barely.

Although the glamorous woman in the doorway was no doubt used to shrieking fans. Maybe Nicky could have passed herself off as a fan.

“Well, well, if it isn’t my favorite messenger of good cheer,” Lisa Jordan murmured in a low, throaty contralto, pushing the kung fu/Chechen/Kazakstan guard aside with a brush of her finger, her gaze focused exclusively on Johnny. “You brought something for me all the way from your old stomping grounds.” She smiled her movie-star smile—the one with all the perfect white teeth. “How sweet.”

“That’s me, babe,” Johnny said, smiling. “Sweet as hell.”

“And who do we have here?” Lisa pointed at Nicky, her perfect brows arched high, velvety malice in every syllable.

“My translator. Nicky Lesdaux, my ex, Lisa Jordan.”

“So you’re his translator.” Lisa’s smile was snide. “Is that what you call them now?” she said, turning back to Johnny.

“Don’t start,” Johnny warned, “or your candy man might go home.” His ex had always viewed every woman he knew as a rival. There was no point in dragging Nicky into
that
conversation.

“You can’t fault a girl for being curious,” Lisa purred, offering Johnny her sexy kitten look, all violet eyes and pouting mouth.

Johnny’s gaze narrowed. “Play that game with someone else, sweetheart. I’m immune. Now,” he said, “are you going to invite us in, or what?”

“Uh-uh, darling—there’s no
us.
But since you come bearing gifts,
you’
re
more than welcome.”

Turning to his small entourage, Johnny said, “I’ll catch you later. Say in the lobby?”

“You sure?” Cole said.

“Might not be a good idea,” Barry agreed.

“Give me an hour,” Johnny murmured so low the sound barely left his mouth.

Nicky knew what that meant.
Come and get me if I don’t return.
The lobby was sounding better by the second.

“I won’t be long,” Johnny said in a normal tone of voice, nodding to his bodyguards.

“What a shame,” Lisa murmured in a sexy undertone. “When you used to take such a nice
lo
ng
time…”

“Sounds as though you have company,” Johnny said, acknowledging audible conversation from inside the suite. “And you know me. I never perform well in front of a crowd.”

“Liar.”

He wasn’t going there no matter what. “Do you want this present from Yogi, or don’t you?” he said, patting his jeans pocket.

Lisa made a small moue. “You’re being troublesome, darling,” she pouted, tossing back her platinum hair with a practiced gesture. “But of course I want it. I wouldn’t have invited you up if I didn’t.”

Turning, she entered th
e suite, and Johnny followed without a backward glance.

The door shut behind them.

The two kung fu look-alikes took up their respective positions.

Barry looked at Cole, Cole looked at Barry.

“I’m going downstair
s,” Nicky said, feeling as though she’d just escaped some nameless danger.

By the time she reached the elevators, Barry was there to push the button.

As they entered the elevator, Nicky said, “Johnny was married to her for quite a while, wasn’t he?” Was she fishing, or simply making an observation? Or wondering out loud how anyone could have been married to Lisa Jordan for more than a day.

“Longer than he wanted,” Barry muttered.

“He stayed for Jordi,” Cole said.

“Have you been with Johnny long?”

“Yeah,” they grunted in unison.

Definitely not the chatty types Nicky decided, as the silence lengthened.

But certainly polite. They escorted her to a chair in the lobby, asked her if she wanted anything. When she shook her head, Barry said, “We’re going back up. You’ll be safe here.”

She didn’t argue.

She was happy as a clam to wait downstairs.

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