Authors: Kristina Blake
THE TROUBLE WITH BILLIONAIRES
Published by: Rascal Hearts
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
For questions and comments about this book, please contact us at
What do they want with me?
I shook as I lay on my side in the back of a moving vehicle. A black van. Some guy approached me while I was shopping and asked about the 3-D telescope my company, Cepheus Scientific, just launched a week ago. But I wasn’t sure that’s what this was all about. The only competition Cepheus had over the telescope was a German company, but they’d seen the design and were about to launch one of their own.
What was this about? Why were they doing this?
The only thing that I knew was that they mistook me for Mellissa.
But what could they want with sweet, kind Mellissa?
She was a receptionist, less in the know at Cepheus than I was.
I curled up into the tightest ball possible in the back of the dark van and closed my eyes under the blindfold they just tied to my face—ironically like the blindfold Rawn tied over my eyes the first time we were together—and prayed Annie was safe. I saw her just seconds before the man—the kidnapper—grabbed me and pulled me into the van. The taste of his hand pressed against my mouth was still so…
I wanted to spit and scream and get as far away from this place as possible. But there was a gag in my mouth and a plastic tie around my wrists.
Please, God, please tell me that Rawn knows what’s happening and he’s looking for me.
If anyone could figure this out, I knew it was Rawn.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
I burst into the ladies’ room on the executive floor of Cepheus Scientific and paced the length of the room, tears threatening to flow from my eyes. This couldn’t be happening! Who could want to hurt Madison? And the look on Rawn’s face when I brought the phone to him?
I hoped to never see anything like that again.
My hands were shaking. I’d had a bad feeling from the moment I climbed out of bed this morning. It was a gray day. I could feel something bad hanging over everyone. And now this…
I rushed to the door and yanked it open. Rawn stood there, his face a mask of indifference that I knew hid all the fear and panic that was just barely controlled underneath. I knew because I saw it when the word kidnapped came out of my mouth less than ten minutes ago.
“Annie’s on her way here with one of Cepheus’ security guards. I want you to sit in while I talk to her. It might help her feel more secure if someone she knows is there.”
“What about the police?”
“They’ve been called. But I need to speak to Annie first, while her memory is still clear.”
His mask slipped as he spoke, revealing once again the panic that was just barely under control beneath it.
I nodded. “Okay.”
He stepped back and gestured for me to follow. I did, staying a little behind. Rawn was a little intimidating, between his size and the fact that he was my boss’s boss. I loved that Madison always glowed after spending a few hours with him, but he still intimidated the heck out of me.
We walked into his office, a large, dark office that screamed ‘gentlemen’s club.’ I felt inconspicuous in this room, like I was supposed to be dressed in a short skirt, serving brandy that cost more than my monthly salary to privileged men.
“You want a drink?” Rawn asked, almost like he was reading my mind.
“Well, I think I’ll have one.”
He walked over to the small bar in the corner and poured himself something dark—whiskey, maybe—drinking it down in one, long gulp. Then he poured another.
I felt like I should be doing something. I turned in something of a circle, looking for something to do with my hands. My grandmother always said a woman’s hands were meant to be kept busy. If I was busy, my thoughts wouldn’t be going to the places they were. I couldn’t stop thinking about Madison, alone and frightened somewhere, strange men doing God only knew what to her. Madison was the first real friend I’d made here. And now I had to face the reality that I might never see her again.
Hadn’t I already lost enough?
Before my thoughts could go there, a tall, brusque man shoved his way into the room with Annie stumbling along in front of him.
“Here she is, Mr. Jackman,” the man announced, his voice so filled with pride that I imagined him as a cat, dropping a freshly caught mouse on the carpet in front of his master.
“Thank you, Phil,” Rawn said.
Annie spotted me and immediately stumbled in my direction, tears rushing down her face.
“They took her,” she mumbled as she fell into my arms.
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling the words and the slow caress of my hand on her back, were far too inadequate for the situation.
Annie didn’t respond. She just kept crying.
Rawn watched from his position by the bar, downing that second—or was it a third?—glass of booze. His expression was unreadable, but it wasn’t hard to read the tension in his shoulders. It was as if he was hoping it was all some sort of joke until Annie came into the room.
I have to admit, I was sort of hoping the same thing.
“Annie,” he said as he approached us, his tone gentler than I had ever heard it. In that one syllable, I could almost imagine how he was with Madison…why she cared so deeply for him.
Annie pulled herself away from me and wiped at her eyes with the backs of both hands. I searched around for a tissue, but Rawn beat me to it, handing Annie a white, linen handkerchief he must have pulled from one of his suit pockets. Annie accepted it without a word, silently allowing Rawn to lead her to a chair. I took one next to her that Rawn indicated, slipping my hand into Annie’s to offer what little comfort I could.
Rawn pulled a chair up in front of Annie, sitting almost knee to knee with her. He waited a moment, watching as Annie struggled to pull herself together. When she seemed calmer, he touched her knee, drawing her attention to his face.
“You and Madison were going shopping this morning, right?”
“Yes.” Her bottom lip trembled as she looked up. “At Woodburn Premium Outlet.”
Rawn tilted his head slightly, the shadow of a frown touching his lips. “That’s outside the city, isn’t it?”
Annie nodded again. “It’s a favorite of Madison’s.” She choked a little when she said the name, then cleared her throat. “It’s affordable.”
Rawn clearly wasn’t pleased. A dark cloud seemed to settle in his eyes.
“How long were you there before…?”
Annie shook her head. “Not long. We had lunch, and then she wanted to go to Zumiez to get her brother a birthday present. I can’t stand that store…” Annie again shook her head as fresh tears began to fall.
“It’s okay,” Rawn said, covering her knee with his heavy hand. “Take a deep breath and tell me exactly what happened.”
Annie nodded, pressing the handkerchief to her eyes. “I wanted to go to Converse, so we separated and agreed to meet at the coffee shop in twenty minutes. But it took me a little longer…I couldn’t find the shoes…”
Annie’s voice broke into a million pieces, as she tried to control the tears. I squeezed her hand and she leaned toward me, pressing her head against my shoulder. There was impatience in Rawn’s expression, but he didn’t move, didn’t speak, and didn’t try to push her any harder. I could see what it cost him to hold on to his emotions. His eyes seemed to have sunk deeper into his skull in just the few minutes since this whole nightmare began.
“You couldn’t have known,” I said, sliding a hand slowly down the back of Annie’s head. “This isn’t your fault.”
“I saw them,” she said, her voice rising to a harsh squeak. “I saw her talking to him, and I thought she was just…” She hesitated again. “I don’t know. It’s not like Madison to talk to strangers, but she’s been doing a lot of weird things lately.” Annie cast a long look at Rawn. He looked down at his hands, as though Annie had just reminded him of something he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to remember.
“Did you hear what they were saying?” I asked.
Annie sat up again, shaking her head as she did. “I was too far away. It just seemed like a normal conversation, like they were talking about the window display inside the store they were standing outside of. But then she spotted me and started to wave.”
“Wave, how?” Rawn demanded.
Annie seemed startled, almost as though she had forgotten he was there. She chewed at her lip for a second, thinking about it.
“Kind of like, hurry up. That’s what I thought she was doing, rushing me because she wanted to get away from the guy. So I started walking faster. But as I did, the guy grabbed her arm and this black van—”
She nodded. “A black van pulled up to the curb. I remembered seeing that the back door was open, and I didn’t understand why it would be open while the van was moving.”
“He put her in the van?”
“Did you see a license plate, or anything that might help us identify it?”
Annie looked down at the floor as she twisted the handkerchief in her hands, clearly struggling to remember. Rawn leaned forward, but he didn’t touch her. He just stared at her until her hands began to shake.
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Are you sure? There wasn’t a bumper sticker or a parking placard or something that would distinguish it from every other black van in the city?”
“No.” Annie looked up, meeting his intense stare with wide, expressive eyes. “It was just a black van, one of those boxy ones with no windows, like a delivery van.”
Rawn’s hands folded into fists for a long second, but then relaxed. He touched Annie’s knee again. “That’s good,” he said. “That helps.”
“It doesn’t. I know it doesn’t. I wish I could remember more.”
Rawn patted her knee and then stood, making his way back to the corner bar. The tension in his shoulders seemed to have increased tenfold, turning them into slabs of concrete. He poured himself another glass of whiskey…or whatever it was, but he never lifted the glass to his lips. He just stood there and stared into its depths, as though there was some answer hidden there.
Silence fell heavy in the room, like a thick carpet. I reached over to comfort Annie, but the moment my hand brushed her shoulder, she reared up and stared at me with something like triumph in her eyes.
“I just remembered something,” she hissed, the words meant to be a fine whisper, but came out more like something bellowed from a megaphone.
“What?” Rawn demanded, marching back over to where they sat. “What did you remember?”
Annie stared at me. A tickle began low on my spine that slowly moved up, tightening as it went. Gray. It was a gray day. I knew this couldn’t be good.
“He said your name,” Annie said, raising a finger to point—to accuse—at me.
“What do you mean?” Rawn asked.
Annie glanced at him, but then both their gazes fell to my face.
“I heard him. He said, ‘Sorry, Mellissa. It’s nothing personal.’”
Cold fingers wrapped around my heart.
No. No. No.
I knew who it was. I knew now what they wanted. And it wasn’t good.