SECRET LOVERS

She’d do anything to experience love in his arms…

Catalina Ramírez never thought that she would ever be referred to as the “other woman”. But men like Maximilian Riddick would inspire a woman to break all moral boundaries in order to have him. Wanting desperately to love and be loved by him, she concealed details of her personal life that could have shattered their relationship even before it began. Despite his insistence that he wanted her as more than just his clandestine lover, she preferred existing in the shadows of his life.

 

He would break every rule to claim her…

Max had a wife he had promised to protect always, and a lover he was determined to keep in his bed. Given his paper marriage and his lover’s determination to conduct their liaison in secret, there was nothing stopping him from fulfilling his obligations to his wife while claiming the woman of his every desire. 

 

But secrets have a way of being revealed…

Their relationship was sexually explosive but Max wanted more from her. He started asking questions and demanding answers. Why was a woman like Catalina willing to settle for so little? What was she hiding? Who was she hiding from? Maybe he’d been a bit hasty in thinking he could have it all…

 

BOOK EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

Clogging tension permeated the room like repugnant fumes. The card game in progress was unlike any other Maximilian Riddick had ever taken part in. Gazing at his prey with concealed abhorrence, he was determined to help remove this evil bastard from society. Henry Jacobs didn’t deserve the freedom he callously denied others.

The pot was worth millions. Jacobs, the intended target, had been dealt a theoretically unbeatable hand. The federal agent and the other player in this high-stakes game of strategy caved as planned. Max knew Jacobs would struggle to match his own obscene wager. 

“Riddick, not all of us have your deep pockets, my friend.” Running thick fingers through his dirty-blond hair, damp with sweat, Jacobs laughed with contrived humor. 

“It’s just money.” Max’s droll reply was deliberate, as he anticipated the asshole needed just a little extra push. “If you’re uncertain, we can stop now. No shame in that. “

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I’ve lost most of my possessions. I’m not leaving here empty-handed!”

“I’m a fair man. I have a penthouse in New York, estimated at about fifty million dollars. With that in the pot, you’ll recover all you’ve lost, plus a nice bonus. The

 

deed is in my office and my assistant will bring it for your review.”

“You’re extremely confident. I wonder if you’re just blowing smoke up my ass.” His eyes squinted in suspicion.

Max shrugged his shoulders, reclining in his chair with lazy disinterest. “Like I said, it’s only money. And I have a lot of it. This isn’t a game for the weak, Jacobs.” He stared into the devil’s dark eyes, knowing that this amount of money would be too tempting for the man to leave on the table. “So stop fucking around. Are you in, or not?”

Jacobs had gambled all of his known properties. They needed him to offer locations they knew nothing about. The lives of innocent children depended on it.

“Oh, I’m in. But the only thing I have left is a property in Tasmania. I would need to clear it out before handing it over, but you’ll not be disappointed by it.”

“You know the drill. I would need to see proof of ownership first.”

“Trust me on this, my papers are in order. If I lose, I will have the papers sent to you. However, I’m not going to lose!”

Max didn’t move from his nonchalant pose. “As the saying goes, ‘trust in God’.”

Jacobs grumbled, but he got up and called his lawyer. The men relaxed with a drink while waiting for the fax to come in. Twenty minutes later, the documents were in Max’s hand and Jacobs was livid.

“I don’t know how you did it, but I’m positive you cheated! No one has that kind of luck! You have my yacht, my investment portfolio, and my houses. I have nothing left!”

“I’m going to let that insult slide, given how upset you are. I have no need for your meager holdings.” Max glared at him coldly. “Ron will escort you out.”

“Wait! You have to let me clear the house in Tasmania.

I didn’t specify the contents.”

“Do as you like. I have no interest in the contents of your house.” Max looked at the agent. They both knew it was the location they had been looking for. As soon as the papers were produced, the address of the house had been sent to the local operatives, and by now the property would be swarming with law enforcement. It wasn’t long before their suspicion was confirmed. The detained children from various parts of Asia had been safely removed, processed, and their respective governments had been alerted.

Max had agreed to assist Carl Howard the Commissioner of Australia Federal Police after it was suspected that Jacobs was a conduit for trafficking children—as young as five years—throughout Asia and South America. Commissioner Howard was livid at not having detected Jacob’s unconscionable activities until it was almost too late. 

Jacobs’ known vice was his propensity for reckless, high-stakes poker. The commissioner had approached Max to assist in the sting operation, as he owned one of the only hotels in Sydney with a gambling license. As a wealthy businessman, with resorts and other interests all over the world, he’d taken part in numerous covert ventures, providing information to international intelligence agencies. However, this was the first time he had been required to be physically involved. He’d only agreed because there were innocent children to consider.

The commissioner had been alerted to Jacobs’ possible involvement weeks before, when one of his captives had run away. However, the location in question had already been vacated and sterilized by the time law enforcement arrived. There was no evidence that anyone had ever been held there, much less a dozen kidnapped children. However, not wanting to alert Jacobs and his associates of their knowledge, the authorities decided to wait and catch him in the act, with the primary goal of rescuing any other victims he held. They had been determined to bring Jacobs’ operation down, and were well on their way—the Australian Central Bank arranged for the accounts to be frozen with the Cayman regulators, limiting Jacobs’ resources and his ability to remain in hiding. But he’d left Max’s penthouse and since then, there had been no trace of him in Sydney. 

***

Two months later

 

Max strode swiftly through the airport terminal, barking instructions into his mobile without breaking stride. Having just returned to Australia after a week in the Bahamas with his friends, Max was pissed that he had to endure the inconvenience of Sydney’s international airport. Spending time with Jaden and Seth, whom he considered his brothers, should have relaxed him. Like Jaden would say, “we’re brothers from another mother!” But any goodwill he’d felt from his time with them had flown out the window when he’d received an ominous phone call. Not wanting to alarm the other men, he’d simply cut his visit short and borrowed Jaden’s fully staffed jet for a ride back to Sydney. 

Usually his travel path would have been cleared ahead of time by his staff, and he could avoid all of this bullshit. But he was uncertain of where the leak in his organization was and had to tread carefully. Who was supplying this lunatic Jacobs with intel on his whereabouts? 

Now that fucker was vowing to terrorize his wife!

Threats from bullies like Jacobs would not usually gain his attention, given his expertise in Jujitsu and weapons training. After the childhood he’d had, he was determined never to be vulnerable again. Being a minority Asian transplant at his boarding school, he hadn’t gained sufficient muscle and height to avoid being the target of school bullies. That had all changed around the time he’d turned sixteen, and not a moment too soon. 

There was no time to lose. He had to find Samantha before Jacobs did. The bastard was in hiding, having again slipped out of the trap the authorities had set. A chill ran down his spine as he recalled the desperate, angry threats he’d heard. Jacobs blamed Max for his legal problems. And he was out for revenge. 

Max didn’t show his emotions often. In fact, his formidable, icy demeanor was well known. But that was not the case when it came to his wife. His displeasure was immediate whenever a negative remark was voiced about her. It was his job to protect her. 

Max had never introduced Samantha to the social scene of Sydney. Hell, he had yet to present her to his brothers. There were no photographs of her anywhere. Although they’d been married for almost seven years, no one could positively identify her. He kept her from public scrutiny and therefore, from any negative publicity. A few years before, an unflattering picture of a pimply faced, gangly, tall young girl had surfaced in the tabloids, with the implication that this was the elusive Mrs. Samantha Riddick. But the magazine had to quickly print a retraction and apologize for issuing false information after Max had his attorneys slap them with a cease and desist. 

The magazine had had no choice, as they were unable to find anyone to corroborate the story or to substantiate their facts. They had married in secret and no one outside his legal team, Samantha’s parents, and her sister, knew of the nuptials. With the power he wielded over them, not even Samantha’s family dared to cross him. Max had paid her family an obscene amount of money to never speak of her again. Their financial stability depended upon them never breaking that disclosure clause. But he’d had no doubt Sam’s deceitful family had leaked the pictures. There was no love lost between them and Sam.

Although he’d married Sam to retain control over his hotel and to protect her, Sam had disappeared before the ink had dried on their marriage license. She had insisted he go on with his life.

Max would never admit to anyone that he had not seen Sam since their courthouse wedding seven years before. He had honored her wishes in this regard. She had taken herself off to university in the United States and he hadn’t seen her since. She sent a text message every six months asking if he needed a divorce yet. His answer was always the same—I don’t need a divorce. How are you? Her reply was a very succinct—I’m fine. Over the years, that had been the extent of their communication, because the phone she’d used for the message would be disposed of, severing any further contact from him. Her insistence on not being intrusive in his life was extreme. Max had let her have her way, but now that he needed to talk to her, he was wondering how had he allowed a little slip of a girl dictate their relationship for so long.

However, it still amazed him that of all the females in his life who’d made demands on him, Sam was the only one who’d never asked for anything. And she hadn’t once used her connection to him for any gain. 

She’d never asked him for assistance. Although he’d provided a bank account for her, an account he funded monthly, she never touched it. She hadn’t agreed with how he had been forced into their marriage. Wanting to protect him from the fallout of their ill-fated arrangement, she’d removed herself completely from his life. He hadn’t challenged her on it, simply honored her desire for anonymity. That was Sam, always selfless and honest to a fault. A few days after she’d left, he had tracked her to Las Vegas and received reports on her progress in school. He had no idea why she felt he’d needed protection, but now he needed to protect her. Her last communication to him had come a month ago, so he knew it would be at least five months before he got another text from her. That was an intolerable wait time. Sam was his responsibility. So hell yeah, he would protect her from all threats.

He had only known she’d graduated after the event had occurred, a year earlier than expected. He’d been slightly offended that she’d excluded him from such a significant milestone in her life. She continued to ignore and discourage his presence in her life. He had lost track of her whereabouts afterward, and two and a half years later he was still trying to find her. 

Where the hell is she?

Max was striding past the escalators when he suddenly saw an exquisite, feminine beauty. He froze mid-stride and mid-bark while instructing his assistant. A young woman, tall and curvy with an impossibly tiny waist, wearing tight blue jeans and fitted white tank top, was descending the stairs. Her thick, cinnamon hair fell in a sleek, silky curtain to the middle of her back. The sexy mane swayed against her porcelain face and the rich color accentuated her golden-honey skin. She walked with the fluid grace of a ballet dancer.

Max was surprised by the punch of swift, hot lust to his groin. He had dated many attractive women before, some more beautiful than the girl he was currently transfixed by. But there was something so sweet, refreshing about this female who held him spellbound. 

Was it that smile, so joyous, carefree, unrestrained, that illuminated her face? Or was it her lithe, youthful body?

The firm thrust of her breasts that would generously fill his palm challenged the confines of her T-shirt. Her jeans lovingly hugged the delicious curve of her ass, while showcasing legs that went on for miles. He had no idea which feature intrigued him more. There was only one truth, though: he wanted her. 

Just then, his mystery lady waved at someone waiting for her at the foot of the escalators, her smile directed at the other man. The turn of her head, gestures of hand, and flicks of hair were done with such innate sensuality, spiking his lust further. It was just his luck that she was already taken. The young man who lifted her in a bear hug from the escalator was obviously someone she cared deeply for, as she returned his greeting with equal affection and joy. He had to admit, the guy was model handsome as well. They didn’t look as though they were related. 

His jealousy was instantaneous.

But he was somewhat gratified there was no intimate kiss, only an affectionate hug. Max watched as the beautiful couple exited the terminal. He remained completely motionless for some moments before realizing his PA was still speaking to him through the mobile in his hand. The experience had felt longer than the mere seconds his phone was indicating. He had to take a few deep breaths to eradicate the swift bite of lust, and the bitter taste of disappointment that lingered. 

With the irrational anger came the unconscious resolve that this amazing creature would be his. To see her in the arms of another man was unacceptable and not something he would long tolerate. Max was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted. He had the money and power to ensure absolute success in most things. In his world, beautiful women were a dime a dozen and he was used to having any of them he wanted. He was a realist; certainly, there were women he would want and couldn’t have—but he had yet to come across one.

He was forced to shrug his shoulders in resignation, common sense reminding him this mysterious woman was not yet his to direct. But she would be, just as soon as he dealt with this problem with Sam. He snapped his mobile shut on his PA, who had still been imparting his schedule for the morning, and went to meet his car at the terminal entrance. Giving in to his sexual urges was not an option at the moment. 

He had to find Sam before Jacobs did.

***

Catalina Ramírez sighed with contentment. She was happy to be back in Sydney, breathing in the Australian air. She’d missed home. After years in New York at the Culinary Institute of America, then another year in San Francisco completing her self-imposed practical training, she was ready to begin a new phase in her life. 

While she was excited to start her own business, she knew it was time to address the unresolved issues in her personal life. Focusing on completing her training and ensuring success in the profession, she had had no time to deal with her personal situation. But now it was time to eradicate all potential threats to her continued happiness and well-being.

Looking at Joel’s beloved face as he maneuvered the car out of airport traffic, she was confident her friend would be there for her when the time came. Finally facing the issues she’d left behind in Sydney would be hard and it would hurt, but it had to be done. She would need all of her friend’s moral support. 

“So how does it feel, Cat to be back home?” Taking his eyes of the road briefly, Joel regarded her worriedly. “Your silence is beginning to worry me. What the hell are you thinking about so hard over there?” 

“I was just thinking of the obstacles before me. This won’t be easy, especially with the amount of work we have in launching our new business.” She should have been excited and happy about their new venture, but Cat couldn’t prevent the despondency she felt about her personal life from leaking into her voice.

Their stint in New York and San Francisco had prepared both of them well for the Sydney social scene. They had a string of successful functions behind them and had already established good contacts in the city.

“Cat, maybe you could work something out. I’m concerned about you, kid. I hate seeing you so worried, especially as we embark on our dream. You’re never melancholy. Hell, you’re the most carefree and cheerful person I know, besides me of course. There has to be a way to fix this,” Joel said. 

“No, that’s not possible,” Cat shook her head and looked out of the window moodily. “You know the situation. I have no more options or time. I have to deal with this once and for all.” 

“Cat, you’re a strong, amazing woman. You’re beautiful inside and out. And if I say you are beautiful, then you have to know you are. I can’t stand ugly!” Joel shuddered dramatically. “Look at how much you’ve

transformed since our stint in the States.”

“You’re my best friend. There are rules saying you have to say nice things to me no matter how hideous I look. Besides, I had a sadistic friend who insisted I go through that torturous process!” She joked, but Joel didn’t laugh as he was meant to. He simply looked at her in silence and shook his head. 

“I know you mean well. But I have to deal with this in my own way and in my own time. Anyway, how is our apartment, and when is our next function?” Cat was desperate to change the subject. She couldn’t allow Joel to encourage her to pursue a path that she knew was impossible.

Joel, obviously seeing the change in subject for what it was, allowed her the reprieve. “We’re catering a dinner party at the Lincoln residence for two hundred tomorrow, the Munroes for fifty the day after, and we have a function on some rich dude’s yacht next. I hope you’re rested, kid, because we have a very busy schedule in the next few weeks.”

“You’ve only been here one week ahead of me. How did you accomplish so much?” she asked in awe, impressed by her friend’s hard work.

“I told you, after our adventure in America, we’re ready to take this town by storm. Do you doubt me?” Joel grinned at her.

“Bring it on, my love. I’ve no idea what I would do without you!” Meeting Joel at CIA four years ago was a godsend. They had been best friends ever since, two foreigners in another country.

“You’ll never have to find out, honey. You’re stuck with me, like an old married couple!”

“Bad Aussies for life!” they said in unison.

 

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