Authors: Elizabeth Finn
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Contemporary
Published by Liquid Silver Books. Copyright © 2016, Elizabeth Finn.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
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Reputation is everything, a fact Keegan Lauri knows all too well. A political PR strategist by trade, he makes his living creating and protecting the image of men, protecting them from women like Gabrielle Kitrick. She’s a threat to every man who falls for her. Beautiful, innocent, young, and available…for a price… Gabe is the shiny little trophy men of power seem to desire. But possessing her is a risk, a risk Keegan is responsible for removing from his client’s life.
He’s not above manipulating her for his own professional gain. He’s not even above seducing her and enjoying every second of it. But he finds out quickly her looks are a façade, and the more he comes to know Gabe, the more difficult it becomes to ignore her humanity. Because behind her beauty and crimson-lipped smile lies a young woman fighting for a better future, a future his very involvement with her jeopardizes.
When Keegan’s professional responsibilities threaten to expose her, will Keegan choose to do his job or protect the young woman he’s become so attached to?
just don’t understand what he was thinking with that hair piece,” I commented to the woman beside me as she laughed quietly.
I was leaning back against the bar, resting my elbows on the countertop as we killed time waiting for her drink by people watching.
“Is it a toupee or a dead cat?” I asked.
She laughed louder that time. “Dead cat. Pretty sure I can see the tail sticking out.”
It was my turn to laugh, and it was easy and genuine when I did. When our laughter finally trailed off, I looked down at her. “So you live in Chicago?”
I’d been making idle chitchat with her for the past five minutes. She wasn’t overtly flirting with me; hell, she wasn’t even
-vertly flirting with me. But I’d very intentionally caught her eye earlier as she’d moved through the crowd of people, and if nothing else, she found me attractive. Striking up a conversation with her hadn’t been easy, though. She carried a subtle amount of suspicion with her, and though she hid it well with a beautiful smile, I’d had to work to engage her fully. But she had a good sense of humor, and within a few minutes, I’d managed to spark her interest enough that she’d humored me and let me perpetuate the conversation, which disintegrated quickly into people mocking.
She glanced away. “Yes,” she lied.
Her body language gave her away, but I couldn’t say there was any real surprise to that given who she was—
“And you?” She did her best to change the subject to something other than herself and her dishonesty.
“At the moment, yes.” I smiled.
She cocked her head to the side in curiosity but didn’t ask more.
“Keegan.” David clapped a hand on my shoulder as he approached, squeezing just a hair too hard. “I see you’ve met my date, Gabrielle.” He wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her into his body. Her expression remained impassive until David looked down at her beside him. Then she smiled broadly, playing the part she was required to play with the man.
I’d had a vested interest in meeting David’s date from the moment I’d watched her walk in on his arm. But beyond even that, she was simply hard not to notice—for a number of reasons.
She was stunning, for starters.
Her hair was a dark auburn brown, pulled back loosely and knotted in a bun—something of an intentionally messy look. Wisps of hair had been blowing across her face in the light breeze for the entirety of my conversation with her, leaving me wanting to reach out and brush them away from her mouth. Her hair kept catching on her glossy crimson lips, which boldly set her mouth apart from the rest of her features. That mouth had pulled my focus from her eyes the entire time I’d spoken to her. But there was more to notice than just that. Her body was lithe with very subtle curves, and she was dressed shockingly appropriately for the event. Her evening gown was sterling silver, perfectly cut for her figure and swaying around her legs from the breeze on the terrace. Yes, there was indeed plenty of reason to notice her.
Sadly, her beauty was only reason number one for me.
David’s eyes were creased around the edges, and his temples were showing a fair amount of salt mixed in with his pepper-black hair. He was a handsome man whose power and prestige showed in everything from the suit he wore, to his gait, to his damn confident posture. But…he was too old for her—too old by a long shot. And powerful or no, there was no getting around the fact that he was pushing fifty and she was pushing…mid to late twenties at most, I was guessing. She might as well have LIABILITY stamped on her forehead.
And that was reason number two.
The problem with reason number two was that David was known far too well socially and politically to go unnoticed. This all meant I had the unenviable task of stalking every last newspaper and online article that mentioned him on a daily basis, just waiting for some tawdry photograph of him and the lovely Gabrielle to surface. Unfortunately, David didn’t seem to understand the risk she imposed on his reputation, or perhaps he simply didn’t care. Perhaps, and this was my suspicion, he craved what she was blessed with between her legs just a little too much—too much to allow himself to understand or care about the liability.
I glanced at David and smirked. “Of course I would make a point of meeting
date.” I enunciated the word slightly, and I caught Gabrielle’s eyes narrowing in my periphery. She was only just realizing our chance meeting at the bar might not have been that
I turned my attention to Gabrielle then, studying her eyes for a moment. “I have to say you seem a little young for this crowd—a little young for David.” My words were pointed, my expression cool, and I held my focus on her for entirely too long as she stared back with parted lips and confusion etched on her brow. I glanced at David just to see his jaw clench tight in anger, but I ignored it and looked back at Gabrielle. “Are you even old enough to be out on a school night? It is only Wednesday after all.”
I watched as Gabrielle’s lips parted even more in shock, but she recovered quickly, closing her mouth and clenching her jaw. Her chin lifted ever so slightly in a show of defiance, her body remaining studiously erect and confident, even though her cheeks were blushing. David was less subtle in his reaction to my offensive remark, and as he cleared his throat uncomfortably, I looked back to him.
“I’ve known Gabrielle for a while now.” David’s brows shot up smugly as though he could sell the validity of the near child on his arm with that fact.
“She must be very”—I glanced at her once more, letting my attention drift down to her mouth again—“engaging,” I finished saying as her lips pursed.
Neither David nor Gabrielle responded to that.
“We’ll talk later, Chairman,” I finally said as I nodded at David. When I did the same to Gabrielle, she refused to meet my eyes altogether.
I didn’t look back at them as I wandered off through the crowd of wealthy Chicagoans milling around haughtily in their best couture. It was a glamorous affair—one of those spend-a-lot-of-money-to-make-a-little-money fundraisers for some random charity that would do little good to anyone but the rich men and women surrounding me who would use it as a nice little tax write-off. But worrying about the senseless spending habits of the wealthy wasn’t why I was here. Actually, that wasn’t quite true. Worrying about the senseless spending habits of one man was exactly why I was here.
David Edgerton. CEO and Chairman of the Board at Trion Technologies, as well as the alderman for Chicago’s forty-third district. My life was all about
life at the moment.
I wandered to the edge of the terrace, leaning my elbows on the balustrade. I let my attention be pulled away by the twinkling lights of the downtown Chicago skyline that surrounded me and towered over the terrace at The Peninsula. The hotel was stunning, the view from the terrace even more so.
“Don’t you find these things so tedious and boring?”
It was the most cliché question I’d ever been asked, and as I turned to look at the woman who’d uttered that disastrously predictable line, I smiled and feigned interest.
“I suppose,” I said quietly. “But you can’t beat this view.” I started to turn back toward my view of Michigan Avenue below but caught sight of Gabrielle standing alongside David no more than thirty feet from me. She was watching me with a blank expression on her face, but her attention flitted away quickly when we made eye contact. I had a very good idea what was behind that expression. Confusion. Offense. There was no denying I’d hurt her feelings.
“I’m Megan Wallace.”
“Hmm?” I mumbled, hearing little of what the woman was saying to me as I studied Gabrielle.
I glanced at the woman in front of me, but I looked back at Gabrielle quickly. She was now smiling graciously at the man David was introducing her to as she offered the man her hand to shake. I cringed inwardly. She didn’t belong here, and yet she was being introduced to and shaking hands with the people who did. Not that she wasn’t impressive. There was nothing at all—not in her dress, her manner, her posture—that gave away what she really was. And were she draped on the arm of a man twenty or so years younger than David, there would also be nothing visually alarming about her presence here.
“I said I’m Megan Wallace,” the woman whose shoulder I was looking over repeated in a rather annoyed tone. She was likely not used to being ignored.
“My apologies. I’m Keegan Lauri.”
I managed to simultaneously carry on a brainless conversation with Megan and keep Gabrielle in my line of sight for the next ten minutes. Gabrielle kept glancing at me, but she never smiled, and the moment I made eye contact, her focus would shift away. When she finally excused herself from the small group she and David were standing in, I cut Megan off abruptly and followed Gabrielle from the terrace into the hotel.
The doorman standing by the set of tall double doors nodded at me as I passed through. Gabrielle’s silver beaded slingbacks clicked on the hard floor as she walked, and when she entered the nearby restroom, I hung back in the hallway, checking a couple of nearby doors until I found one that was unlocked. I peeked inside. A small meeting room of some sort. It would work.
I returned to the hall and waited for her to reappear. The moment she did, she stopped still in her tracks, the final click of her heel hitting the floor and echoing through the hallway.
I held my focus on her startled and wide eyes as I pushed off the wall I’d leaned against. “I’d like a word in private if you don’t mind,” I said quietly.
She struggled to swallow for a moment. She surely knew at this point that I was not just some random guest.
“I told David I wouldn’t be long.”
I looked down at my watch as though it mattered what time it was. “This won’t take long.” I cocked my head toward the nearby door, and she followed me. I held the door open for her as she leered at me suspiciously.