Authors: Camilla Monk
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Camilla Monk
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by M.S. Corley
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014958511
This book is dedicated to B. who wasn’t even allowed to read it, M., M.J. & M.S. who know a thing or two about cleaning, P., whose trips to Africa certainly inspired me, and A. who knows just how special she is to me.
All quotes introducing this book’s chapters are—thank God—fictional.
Well, except for chapter 31: I give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
“The icy professional they called ‘the Nazi’ was the cruelest, most dangerous assassin in the world, a heartless madman whose sadistic fantasies could only be fulfilled by the darkest hobbies.”
From Russia with Lust
I could start by explaining why my parents called me Island, or even dissert on the many reasons why being the daughter of a Frenchwoman and an American curmudgeon can traumatize a child for life . . . but I suspect no one really cares. So let’s start with the day my apartment got cleaned—I promise this is more interesting than it sounds.
It was a Friday in late October, and much like the rest of my colleagues in EM Tech’s R&D department, I had spent the entire day looking for a way to fix a major bug in our latest banking app. Around 5:20, I finished the floor’s last Dr Pepper, pressed Enter, and announced to my colleagues that our software was back on track. I then proceeded to call them losers—in a common display of virile superiority over fellow engineers—and, for once, left early.
I can still see myself walking up Amsterdam Avenue that evening. I kept combing my auburn bob with my fingers and checking my reflection in store windows because I was particularly proud of my new duffle coat. Joy said it was too long, though, that it didn’t flatter a petite figure like mine, and that I needed to show some leg if I ever wanted to get laid. As my roommate and best friend, she had grown to feel it was her responsibility to ensure that I would lose my virginity before my lady-bits crumbled to dust, thus she spared me no amount of encouragement to update both my wardrobe and my profile on Yaycupid.
I mostly ignored her advice, because at twenty-five, all I had ever accomplished with men was some silent stalking and a few awkward dates. I blamed it on the combination of round hazel eyes and a childish gap-toothed grin that still occasionally got me carded for cocktails, but in truth, I feared it had more to do with . . . well,
. I wish I had been a blonde and blue-eyed hurricane like Joy. Surely that would have helped a little.
To be fair, this was a nonissue, since I had tons of romance books to occupy my Saturday nights with, whose heroes were much more exciting than any of my dates had ever been. Billionaires, vampires, werewolves, cowboys . . . you name it. And they all came wrapped up in super-passionate love stories where the heroine is not only smart but also beautiful, and no one ever tells her that real adults don’t use the Japanese restaurant’s chopsticks to pretend they possess antennae—this particular piece of advice is from my stepmom, Janice, by the way. She keeps a pic of Jimmy Kimmel in her wallet all the time, so you bet she knows what it means to be a real adult.
It wasn’t long before I entered our old building on West Eighty-First Street. I liked that place: the paint in the hallway was chipping something awful, but I’ve always had a thing for early prewar, and the neighborhood
was pretty quiet. Joy and I had moved into a comfy little two-bedroom nest on the second floor after her epic breakup with Clown-dick—aka David-the-senior-accountant, who had publicly threatened to marry her and put babies in her vagina; dreadful stuff. I could tell Joy was grateful for the change of air after eleven months spent with an overly demonstrative creep, and I, on the other hand, enjoyed her joyful presence—no pun intended—as well as the privilege of more space for less money.
I climbed the stairs because the elevator was broken, as usual—kept telling myself I’d bitch to the super about it, never got around to doing so. It was only six fifteen; I rarely left my desk before seven thirty, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make the most of this evening and, at long last, do some cleaning in our grotto.
Okay, I was probably lying to myself. Joy and I shared rather liberal views on housekeeping, making the jungle of poorly assembled Ikea furniture we called home a complete war zone. Heaps of clothes and books littered our respective bedrooms, three days’ worth of dishes snoozed in the sink, and a delicate sheen of dust covered our vacuum cleaner, which I believe speaks eloquently of just how many shits were given in this house.
At any rate, when I turned the key in the lock, I was confident that tonight was going to be different and that those Oreo crumbs between our couch’s cushions were going to meet their match. I was right about that specific point, by the way, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I closed the door behind me, entered the living room, and . . . nearly had a heart attack.
A huge, dark figure stood there, back turned to me.
Maybe I’m overdoing it a bit because of the initial shock. I suppose it wasn’t unlike those times when you wake up in the middle of the night and you mistake that coat hanging from the wall for a ghost. Past that second when I felt the blood thrum in my ears, I realized that while the creature before me was indeed tall—likely topping my regal
five-foot-three stature by a foot—and broad shouldered, the rest of him suggested a regular male rather than a Nazgûl.
Short chestnut hair, a well-cut navy-blue jacket . . . I allowed air to escape my lungs in a long sigh: I had obviously just run into one of Joy’s conquests. She didn’t give them keys that often, but when she did, I could be sure that I’d eventually come home to some hunky asswipe helping himself to my granola bars.
In this particular case, the latest addition to her ever growing collection of “Joy toys” didn’t seem to have registered my presence yet. And I was more than a little pissed that she had once again failed to issue a proper notice regarding the arrival of a new model. Wasn’t she supposed to still be dating her Pilates instructor? That being said, I wasn’t going to bite the poor guy’s head off just because she had forgotten to warn me of his presence.
I examined the faint movement of his shoulders as he stood in front of the long black sideboard resting between the living room’s windows. In his hands I caught sight of a few papers.
Change of plan. I
going to bite his head off.
, those are my tax returns. Can I ask you not to touch anything here? And maybe to introduce yourself?” I had meant to sound collected, but I ended up snapping at him.
My guest didn’t bother to turn around, and kept reading my tax returns as if he hadn’t heard me.
He had, though.
“Good evening, Miss Chaptal. Please make yourself comfortable while I finish this.”
The nerve of that guy . . . Concise, precise, courteous.
. I registered a faint accent. Been here for quite a while, but not American. British, maybe? I didn’t like his little game. “I’m glad Joy warned you that I live here too. Care to explain why you’re snooping into my papers?”
That jerk just ignored me.
Now fully pissed, I crossed the room and tried to pull at his arm to stop him. “Hey, I’m talking to you!”
When he finally turned to look at me, I registered just how thick his arm was: my grip loosened and I felt my pulse quicken a little. I was no longer merely irked by the guy’s blatant disrespect; he was starting to scare me.
A cold blue gaze met mine, and the smile he gave me didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I believe I just asked you to wait until I’m finished. Why don’t you take a seat?”
My throat went dry. I let go of his arm and took a step back. “A-Are you Joy’s . . . Is she the one who gave you the keys?”
“No. I’m here for you, Island.”
My heart rate sped up brutally, and I registered a heaving sensation in my stomach, like the room around us was spinning. I think my legs moved before I even made the conscious decision to escape: I bolted and tried to make a break for the apartment’s door, shrieking at the top of my lungs in hopes that Mrs. Josefsky, our neighbor, would have turned on her hearing aids for once. “Stay away, don’t come near me! I’m calling the police!”