Authors: Avery Flynn
Tags: #Ignite, #fashion, #Entangled Publishing, #revenge, #stalking, #romance, #Avery Flynn, #suspense, #secret identity, #undercover agent
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
2014 by Avery Flynn
. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Stephen Morgan and Nina Bruhns
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: Glenlivet XXV Single Malt, Hermes Kelly bag, Dior, Burberry, Louisville slugger, The Muppets, Miss Piggy, Fraggle Rock, Playgirl, The Incredible Hulk, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Jell-O, Harry Winston, Tums, Dr. Seuss, Dodge Charger, Casablanca, Barbasol, Saran Wrap, ComicCon, Firefly, Chuck Taylor, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Lincoln Town Car, Netflix, Downton Abbey, Gone With the Wind, Narcan, Jason Bourne, Sherlock Holmes.
To the fab Mr. Flynn who does not understand why I own so many shoes, but loves me anyway.
“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.”
Harbor City, New York
Sylvie Bissette squeezed her arms tight around her middle in a vain attempt to halt the inevitable. She was going to puke all over her sister’s wedding dress right here in the bride’s dressing room at St. Basil’s. Anya would never forgive her, especially since she was swathed in the ivory gown their fathers had designed.
Too bad it was too late.
Clamping her hand over her mouth, Sylvie twisted away from her baby sister and clenched her jaw tight enough to crack a tooth. She sucked in a deep breath through her teeth until her lungs were the size of the Goodyear blimp, then exhaled slow and controlled. What little stomach lining remained after she’d guzzled whisky like water last night burned and twisted.
God, if you’re listening, let me get through this and I swear I’ll stick to my regular glass of white wine. Two max. Okay, three, but no more, I promise.
Her red eyes itched. She hadn’t passed out with her contacts in and her shoes on since college. All that had changed a mere twelve hours ago at the rehearsal dinner when she’d gotten lost on her way to the bathroom and found her boyfriend of two years going down on a waiter.
The images still played in her head like a movie she couldn’t turn off. Daniel begging her to listen. The other man zipping his black pants closed. Daniel blathering, “…other brokers wouldn’t understand…up for a big promotion…never meant to hurt you…” Weaving through the throngs of rehearsal guests. Swiping the biggest bottle of Glenlivet XXV single malt on the bar and hollering over her shoulder to charge it to her room. The first swig burning its way down her throat. The thirtieth swig barely causing a flinch. Hoisting the bottle high and toasting the scorched carcass of her love life and wondering how a woman raised by two fathers had missed the fact that her long-term boyfriend was gay.
No shit, Sherlock
Blinking away the images as another wave of nausea slammed into her, Sylvie locked her gaze on her sister.
“What is going on with you today?” Annoyance sharpened Anya’s voice as she fluffed her spectacular boobs until they nearly spilled out of the strapless wedding gown. Anya and their fathers, Anton Bissette and Henry Collins, turned their gazes toward her. Anya held up a hand and addressed Henry’s frowning disapproval. “I know, I know. I’m not supposed to say anything about her being weird for some mysterious reason, but come on. She has got to pull it together. It’s my big day.”
Sylvie fought down another attack of bile. Squeezing her eyes shut, she promised to give away her Hermes Kelly Bag if the minister could just hurry up and get here already so they could start the damn wedding.
“First you locked Daniel out of your hotel room last night,” Anya persisted. “You totally clammed up when anyone asked why. And now you look positively green.” Her eyes widened. “You’re not gonna… Oh my God! Get away from me!” With the kind of ninja acrobatics known only to bridezillas and squirmy three-year-olds, Anya flew out of the way just in time.
The indoor Meyer lemon tree wasn’t so lucky.
“Well, no one will be making lemonade for a while.” Henry picked up the three-foot-tall tree in its urn with the same ease he hauled around bolts of fabric and hefted it out to the hall.
“Are you okay, sweetums?” Anton rubbed the small of Sylvie’s back in solid little circles, returning her to the days when eating too many licorice drops caused all her stomach aches.
What she wouldn’t give for that to be the source of her pain at age thirty-two. Looking into her father’s sweet brown eyes, all scrunched up with concern, she almost told him everything. Then an ivory cloud floated down beside her.
“I’m sorry,” Anya said. “I’m acting like a total bitch. How can I help?” She pressed a soft, cool cloth to Sylvie’s clammy forehead.
The truth was, none of them could help and she sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to ruin her sister’s wedding day by announcing that Daniel preferred buff waiters to his own busty girlfriend. She managed a shaky smile. “How about a glass of water? I’ll touch up my makeup, pop a mint, and be ready to strut my short self down the aisle.”
Henry, Anton, and Anya all looked skeptical, but acceded without an argument. After twenty years as a family, they knew each other too well by now to waste time beating their heads against a wall. Anya would always be the life of the party and the eternal optimist. Her fathers would forever worry about their little girls and try to fix their problems like they would a torn seam. And as for her, well, she’d ever be Sylvie the Bulldog—and she had the hand-painted coffee mug to prove it.
Anton smoothed her bright yellow chiffon bridesmaid’s dress, his long fingers warming the material. “Honey, if this is about that weirdo who keeps e-mailing, you really should know that Henry and I—”
“Are worried, I know.” She took several cleansing breaths. She’d been practicing yoga breathing a lot the last few months, what with all of Daniel’s late nights at the office. “But the guy is just some Internet troll who gets his kicks from frightening people. Even the cops agreed. They said to be cautious, but that most of the time these creeps needed the anonymity of the Internet and never take action offline.”
“But he sounds so unhinged.” Her father twisted the filmy chiffon of her dress in his hands.
After worshiping at the altar of Dior for decades, Anton would never torment fabric unless he was practically beside himself with worry.
She grasped his nervous fingers and squeezed. “Don’t get caught up in this nut job’s whole ‘shut down your blog or face the consequences’ shtick. He’s probably some guy living in his mom’s basement, eating cereal in his stained underwear.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Her stomach gurgled. “No one knows who the High-Heeled Wonder is. I’ve used countermeasures to hide my identity and protect myself—and you and Henry—from any backlash from people unhappy with the site. We’re all completely safe.”
“But we still worry.”
“I know, and you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t in a tizzy about something, but I changed the locks, got some mace, and promise never to walk down dark alleys alone.” She wrapped her arms around Anton’s narrow shoulders and pulled him close. “The troll will get bored eventually and leave me alone.”
“Still, I think we should talk—”
A sharp rap on the door cut off Anton. “The minister is here,” a muffled voice came through the thick oak. “We can get started whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank God,” Anya huffed. “I’m so nervous, I was ready to start downing champagne.”
Fifteen minutes later, Sylvie stood at the front of St. Basil’s and watched her little sister prepare to glide down the aisle to her groom. Henry linked his arm through one of Anya’s and Anton did the same on the other side. Anya’s olive skin glowed. Her blond hair had been swept into a complicated knot, highlighting the tiny emerald pins woven into her golden tresses. Her fashionable fathers were decked out to perfection, right down to the perma-grin on each of their faces. The three of them were the picture of happiness.
Sylvie hoped with all her heart that Anya’s fairy tale would turn out a whole lot better than hers had been. And if it didn’t, she’d be the first in line to crack her soon-to-be brother-in-law upside the head.
From his post by the French doors leading to the Grand Hibiscus Hotel’s rooftop garden, Tony Falcon kept an eye on the silent battle being fought on the dance floor. The pocket-sized sun-streaked brunette in a canary-yellow dress stood at least a foot shorter than the blond guy she was dancing with, but if this was Fight Club, he’d put his money on the firebrand.
“You watchin’ this, T?” Cam Hardy’s voice crackled through Tony’s earpiece. “So I guess what everyone is saying about the boyfriend is true.”
“Yep.” Tony spotted his second-in-command across the room at his post on the edge of the dance floor. Cam was wearing a tux, just like Tony, so they could better blend in with the fashionistas and their hedge-fund husbands. It wouldn’t do for security to stand out. By blending in, Tony and his team could gather intel about Sylvie Bissette’s stalker…and track down his partner’s killer. One case he had been hired for; the other he was honor-bound to solve. That his new clients were the most viable suspects in his partner’s murder just added another layer to the mystery.
“Man, if she’s looking for a night of nasty rebound sex, I sure would be willing to sacrifice myself.”
As would anyone who wasn’t blind or dead. “Can it, Cam.”
“Maybe instead of saying it, you should be keeping a watch out for threats.”
Anton Bissette and Henry Collins, known in the fashion world as BC Designs, hired Maltese Security two weeks ago to look into some Internet crank threatening their adopted daughter, Sylvie. Or, to be more precise, threatening to harm the High-Heeled Wonder. Who, according to her fathers, were one and the same.
So he’d spent the past fourteen days learning everything he could about Sylvie, the five-foot-three-inch lemon drop who’d just fumbled a dance step, her stiletto grinding into her partner’s toes. After reading her High-Heeled Wonder fashion blog on a daily basis since taking the case, intercepting her e-mail, and acting as her secret protector, Tony knew three important things about Sylvie. One, she had a biting sense of humor. Two, she wasn’t afraid to use a bazooka on the fashion industry’s sacred cows. Three, there was no way her misstep on the dance floor was any kind of accident. Nope, the sexy dynamo wrapped in a filmy yellow dress that hugged every one of her luscious curves wasn’t the kind to back down from trouble. An admirable trait, but one that made his job of keeping her safe while sticking to the shadows that much harder.
Complicating things even further, he couldn’t let anyone beyond his team know he was working the case—especially not the spitfire at the eye of the shit storm. Anton and Henry had been explicit on that point. It seemed their eldest daughter was dead set against a formal investigation. She figured the shithead behind the e-mails was all bark and no bite. The cops her fathers had insisted she talk to had agreed with her assessment. Rather than beat their heads against a wall, her fathers had turned to him behind her back.
The sneaking around was something he hated, but he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to find out more about BC Design’s inner workings and locate the drug source who’d put a hit out on the partner who’d practically been his brother. Tony would lie to the Pope himself to avenge Keith’s death.
Tony scanned the crowd for signs of trouble, but the only danger he saw was the distinct possibility of Sylvie clocking her dance partner. Hell, he’d met rabid pit bulls with more love in their eyes than she had at that moment.
No one around the couple even pretended to watch the bride or the other bridal party members during the first dance. Gossip about Sylvie catching her boyfriend on his knees had run like wildfire through the who’s who of fashion royalty at the wedding. Clacking fingers texting on cell phones had nearly drowned out the minister when he’d said, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”
The violin’s last strains faded away and the wedding party strolled off the fishbowl of a dance floor. Everyone except Sylvie. She strutted off, her saint-tempting hips swaying. Right toward Tony.
. His shoulder muscles tightened and something that felt too much like anticipation tugged his spine straighter.
But without even a glance his way, she brushed past him and hightailed it out the French doors and into the garden. Daniel, the ill-fated boyfriend, followed, fury burning in his beady eyes.
Time to nip this in the bud before the gossips really got an eyeful and his clients’ daughter ended up in the tabloids for starting a brawl at the fashion world’s wedding of the year. Or worse, before whoever was behind the escalating threats decided the ensuing commotion of a full-on screaming match would be the perfect opportunity to strike.
Tony stepped forward to block Daniel’s path. “I don’t think so.”
A film of sweat coated the peach fuzz on Daniel’s upper lip. “That’s my girlfriend.”
“She doesn’t look like she wants to talk to you right now.” Tony crossed his arms and dusted off his most intimidating don’t-fuck-with-me cop face, one of the few things he had taken with him when he left the force.
“Look, I’m not moving, and if you try to get past me, you’ll end up on your ass. Give the lady some space.”
Anger, dark and intense, flashed across Daniel’s face. Then he smoothed it away with a deep exhale. His gaze zoomed in on the earbud in Tony’s ear. “Fine. I have to go anyway, to let Anton and Henry know the hired help is getting mouthy.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they can’t wait to talk to you,” he shot back at the man’s fast retreating form.
Giving his second-in-command a quick nod, Tony stepped outside into the late-spring evening.
Sylvie stood alone by the ledge with her back to him. Wisps of honey-brown hair had escaped her clips, the strands cascading across her dark olive skin in waves. Her stick-straight spine and pointed chin, daring the world to take its best shot, were gone. Daniel and the gossiping glitterati had sucked the fight right out of her. He hated them for that.
He should let her be, so she could put herself back to rights. Hadn’t he invaded her privacy enough already? But he just couldn’t do the right thing. Now, wasn’t
the story of his life?
He strode over to her, pocketing the earpiece connecting him with Cam and the rest of the team. That idiot Daniel had spotted it and he couldn’t take the chance Sylvie would, too.
Clearing his throat, he stopped an arm’s length away so he wouldn’t spook her. “Are you going to jump or are you thinking of tossing someone over?”
“Definitely the latter.” She sighed and turned toward him. “I suppose it was too much to hope the world wouldn’t find out about Daniel right away.”