I should have remained obedient, silently content, and blissfully ignorant in the background. Instead, I stepped boldly forward and entered his world. I should have been afraid… He was “the Andreini,” a name whispered and feared by criminal organizations around the world. I should have run then, or at least been cautious when I found it painfully impossible to resist him. I did none of those perfectly reasonable things because he was my husband…on paper.
I should have sent her back to the bubble I had built specifically for her. I should have ignored the intense chemistry between us. I should have guarded the heart I never knew I had. She would have been safe and my carefully built dual identities wouldn’t be under threat. I did none of those perfectly reasonable things because I wanted her… She became a dangerous compulsion I couldn’t ignore.
“What do you mean the minister said no?!?!” The reverberation my pissed-off question created throughout the room and the eerie tremor of the walls didn’t appease my anger one bit. I rarely lost my cool or raised my voice during meetings with my acquisitions team executives, but when I did, it was never safe for anyone. The last time I’d lost my shit more than one executive also lost their lucrative pay packages. My execs knew not to test me. Everyone knew that the name Simon Andrews was synonymous with success and wealth. I abhorred failure, and I sure as hell didn’t accept mediocrity.
When no one answered immediately, my temper spiked to another level. This was when I was at my most lethal, most likely to fire a bitch. I didn’t move a muscle from my perch at the head of the table and stared at the six executives sitting on either side of the rectangular boardroom table. There were varying degrees of responses.
Helen Grainger, marketing specialist, swallowed audibly and licked her overly painted lips. Kirt Ambrose, an investment banker, wiped his damp face with an already wrinkled handkerchief from his previous mopping of nervous sweat. Charles Wesley, the team legal counsel, lowered his eyes as though if he couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see him. I didn’t need his punk-ass behavior today. Valerie Carmichael, the tax and accounting specialist, started moving around the papers in front of her as though the answer to my question was suddenly going to materialize in the printout from one of her financial reports. John Armitage, process and procurement manager, folded his arms and tried to make his massive body as small as possible from his seat, probably glad that he was farther from me than the others. His usual smirk and confidence from being one of my top performers had suddenly disappeared. He knew that I wasn’t fucking around here. And then there was my IT and systems expert, Gregory Owen, who kept tapping at the screen of his iPad in his fruitless browsing of the information on our network. I ignored their nervous actions, made no allowances for it, and waited for the first one to break.
“After the election, the new government reviewed the purchase,” Kirt started hesitantly.
“I don’t give a damn about the election,” I said. “We contributed an obscene amount to both campaigns and paid those bastards millions direct to their personal accounts. So, tell me again how this deal isn’t signed yet?” I knew that I should rein in my temper. I had lost business deals before, not gotten real estate that had been critical for my legitimate business, only to get it when I unleashed my much darker persona to the task. That was why I rarely lost my shit over anything. Most things I got by fair or foul means. I never lost.
My executives knew how important this deal was. I wanted this island. It was a perfect complement to the exclusive luxury cruise line that I’d bought last year and a perfect transition location for some of my transport operations. The cruise line would cater to the super rich and allow them to sail to places in the world that weren’t the usual tourist destinations. So far, this product had been very lucrative for us. At least that would be the story the world would be told. The transition location was imperative for my more nefarious business as well. My professional world didn’t need to know about that. The purchase of this island was critical all around.
“The prime minister doesn’t sign on his own,” the lawyer, Charles Wesley, said, interrupting my thoughts.
I cut his irrelevant speech off with a swift slice of my hand through the air and a death glare. “I don’t want to hear excuses, Charlie. We knew the protocol, who would be required to sign, who to grease, so how did you guys fuck this up?”
“They named an inexperienced politician as minister of finance, thinking they could control the situation—”
Again, I wasn’t interested. “I’ve been trying to obtain that island for three years! We have already mobilized the teams to begin construction there. Almost ten million dollars has been paid out in incentives to both ruling parties to hedge against this very thing. All that was left was for you to get the sign-off on the purchase!” I glared at John. He knew what this meant for us.
“Simon, all isn’t lost.” John tried talking to me cautiously as though trying to calm a wild animal. “The minister says that, given some time, they can consider a partnership with you and a citizen there on the island. I think—”
I stood. Anyone would have thought that I’d just launched a bomb. Not far from the truth, but that was semantics. “Don’t fuck with me, John. I want that island in my name, and my name alone! They’ve sold those islands before to non-citizens and non-residents. What’s the fuckin’ problem now? I want your asses in the air on the next flight out of Heathrow. Make it happen, or all of you can look for a fucking new job!”
I stalked from the boardroom without a backward glance or an ounce of regret for my harsh words because I meant it. I was getting that island. Failure wasn’t an option. More than the income loss to my company was at stake. Once in my office, I entered my private elevator, which took me to a garage for my use alone.
I arrived at my other headquarters about half an hour later with my Simon Andrews identity replaced for another. The meeting I had there had a slightly different response, although the nature of our discussion was almost the same.
“Want me to—”
“No.” I cut my cousin Leo off. He was a very distant cousin, the son of one of my mother’s cousins. He was the only one from both my parents’ sides involved in my side of the business, as the others had gotten killed from their own stupidity and greed. Leo may have lasted longer, but he was of the same ilk. If he got involved with this now, bodies would go missing. Actually, the involvement of any of these men here would end in a bloody mess. We didn’t need the kind of scrutiny that shit would cause. I told them with succinct clarity to ensure that they understood that any involvement on their part was a bad idea. Some of them only knew Simon Andrews as the real estate magnate that was going to secure the island for our use. Only my Sentinels knew different. “We need this to be as legit as possible.”
“I’ll make sure our guys stand down on this,” Leo grumbled.
I gave him a hard glare. His arrogance was starting to piss me off. Leo often assumed a seniority and responsibility I’d never given him. The four Sentinels looked on, waiting my instructions. One word from me and they would put an end to Leo’s miserable life.
“Leo, meet me on the island by tomorrow.” I needed Leo where I could keep an eye on him for now. The intel I’d ordered on him hadn’t come in yet. I would take my private jet. I never travelled with anyone other than my bodyguards or my Sentinels. I would arrive on the island not as Simon Andrews but as my other identity. No government or authority in the world would ever question his entry through their border. They wouldn’t dare. Simon Andrews would be assumed to be on the island already, having come in on one of his yachts.
Two days later, I was no closer to gaining the island than I had been in the three years Simon’s team had been negotiating for it. It was imperative I obtain the island as Simon. This needed to be clean and legit. I stood in front of a large glass-panel wall overlooking the brilliant green lawn of the backyard of the home I’d rented for my use while in Hamilton. The rest of the team was in a local hotel getting their asses pampered on my dime. The scene before me should have been soothing, but nothing about this situation was going to soothe me until that island was signed over to me.
“We’ve had several meetings with the premier, but it seems that even he can’t get through to the minister of finance about this. We expected the premier to retain the minister of finance position for himself, but he didn’t. Their government wanted to be different and gave it to a different, younger, elected official,” Kirt murmured with defeat, even as they sat behind me watching the latest parliamentary meeting that was being broadcast on the local TV station.
“You’re stating the obvious,” I muttered, not bothering to turn to look at them and not at all amused by the team’s lack of success in getting an appointment with the minister of finance. Pacing with agitated energy, I stared at the parliamentary meeting dispassionately as minister after minister droned on and on about the latest budget. We were waiting for the minister of finance’s contribution to the budget. I wanted to get a measure on this guy who dared to ignore my requests for a meeting. I was going to use any and everything within Simon’s arsenal to go after the fucker.
However, the minister didn’t appear. Instead a consultant to the government was introduced with a name that made me think that I hadn’t heard correctly. When the consultant appeared on screen, I stopped pacing. Clearly someone wanted to die. This had to be a fucking mirage. A loud silent noise filled my mind, rendering me a useless shell. When my brain finally came back online, it became more obvious why the prime minister seemed inept. The consultant, to my shock, was a woman I hadn’t seen in years. She was just as magnificent. Not because she was beautiful, even though she had that in spades. It was because of her charismatic presence.
It seemed that everything stilled. No one spoke, no one moved, as all focus was on her. She had a beauty that even the prim conservative suit she wore couldn’t diminish. The absolute authority and conviction in her voice held her audience spellbound. I was no different. Her crisp, cultured speech was ten minutes, or was it an hour long? I wasn’t sure which, as I was rapt with every word she spoke. Even as a teenager she’d been able to do that to me. Now, as an adult, she was lethal.
There was something else I wanted now, and the magnitude of that need stunned me. “What do we have on her?” I refused to acknowledge the hoarse hesitation in my voice. I knew what I was like around her. Unpredictable, untamed, even for me. I didn’t fuckin’ like it. It was the reason that I had not seen her in three years, but that was about to change.
“Sir, we emailed the file to you last week.”
I tried recalling the file. I was positive if I had seen her name, she would not have been making a speech today. My team had fucked up again. I tried to remember the brief outline of educational background, her Ph.D.s, her age, but none of that was in any of the files they would have sent me. I knew her better than I knew any other woman, and those details were not in any file they provided. “You sent me some generic bullshit about how the people elected this government and their usual campaign spiel to get elected. What do you have on the consultant?” The word consultant when referring to her tasted bitter on my tongue. Someone was going to be in a whole lot of pain in the next few hours for this cockup. No one was going to pretend that they didn’t know the rules when it came to her.
“We didn’t focus our intel on her, sir. Our focus was on the ministers, the government,” John started.
I growled in frustration, unable to look away from her image on the screen. This whole situation was getting out of hand. Where was the cool I was usually able to rely on? This shit had to stop. “You would know that she’s the key to us not getting that island this time around if you’d done your damn homework.” I wasn’t pissed anymore. No, that emotion was too tame for what I was feeling. What surprised me was that I hadn’t fired anyone yet. This team needed new blood; that much was apparent.
I couldn’t remove my eyes from her. My need to reconnect buzzed through me, alive, potent. To hear that accented voice, that sexy, sultry voice giving me a dressing-down that no one had ever dared in my adult life. Just the thought of it made me respond in ways that I shouldn’t, especially not in front of my entire team. How would she react to me? I forced myself to turn away and focus on the usually competent men and women before me.
“I want everything on her, her family, her friends… Fuck, I want to know who her high school boyfriend was, Leave nothing out. I want to know everything, and this time don’t disappoint me.” Their ability would also tell me how good we had been in hiding who she was. Simon Andrews’ acquisitions team may not know her, but I did.
She didn’t know it yet, but her life was about to drastically change, again.
As they scurried away to wherever they usually worked in the mansion, I grabbed my platinum-plated phone and called Giorgio. “Meet me at my hotel within the hour,” I told him as soon as he picked up and then disconnected again without giving him a chance to respond. My teeth were clenched so tight my lips were barely moving.
I slipped away from the mansion and entered the hotel as Santo Andreini. My men usually addressed me as “The Andreini.” I called Leo, along with my security team, to my suite. Giorgio would expect to see my men, and he would immediately know that this was no social call. Leo was also under scrutiny. No way did he not know she was on the island.
Leo and Giorgio arrived before the hour deadline was up. Giorgio had to be surprised to see me but didn’t show it with even a flicker of movement. Fucker looked cool, as though he had no idea that I could easily end him for this.