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.” However, men like Maximilian Riddick would inspire a woman to break her moral compass to have him. Wanting desperately to love and be loved by him, she conceals details of her personal life that could shatter their relationship even before it begins. Despite his insistence that he wants her as more than just his clandestine lover, she prefers to exist in the shadows of his life.
He would break every rule to claim her…
Max has a wife he promised to protect always, and a lover he is determined to keep in his bed. Given his paper marriage and his lover’s determination to conduct their liaison in secret, there is 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 is pure sexual bliss, but Max wants more from her. He is now asking questions and demanding answers. Why is a woman like Catalina willing to settle for so little? What is she hiding? Who is she hiding from? Perhaps he has been a bit hasty in thinking he could have it all…
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.
Unfortunately, Jacobs left Max’s penthouse before sufficient evidence to detain him was in custody. The agents had anticipated that and had put law enforcement in place to follow him.
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 Jacobs’ 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, Max had taken part in numerous covert ventures and provided 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 gotten away. However, the location where the child had escaped from 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 dozens of 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 Jacobs’ bank accounts to be frozen with the Cayman regulators, limiting Jacobs’ resources, and thus limiting his ability to remain in hiding.
The officers assigned to handle Jacobs’ surveillance had turned up dead hours after Jacobs left Max’s penthouse. The authorities have yet to find a trace of him in Australia or from any of their international contacts.
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!” 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 transport 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. Since he was uncertain of where the leak in his organization was, Max 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 had sufficient muscle and height to avoid being the target of school bullies. That had all changed when he was about sixteen years old and had gained the skill and muscle to protect himself.
There was no time to lose. He had to find Samantha before Jacobs did. The bastard was in hiding, having again slipped the trap the authorities had set. With concern for his defenseless wife at the forefront of his mind, Max couldn’t help the chill that ran down his spine as he recalled the desperate, angry threats Jacobs had levied toward him. 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. Although, 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 girl had surfaced in the tabloids, with the implication that this was the elusive Mrs. Samantha Riddick. But the magazine had been quick to 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.
Max and Samantha had married in secret and no one outside his legal team, Samantha’s parents, and her sister, had witnessed 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 had had no doubt Sam’s deceitful family had leaked the pictures. There was no love lost between them and Sam.
Although he 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 without her being underfoot.
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, preventing 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 to dictate their relationship for so long.
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. Absolutely, he would try protecting 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. Since 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 was still trying to find her.
Where the hell is she?
Max was striding past the escalators in the airport 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, some more beautiful than the girl he was currently transfixed by. However, there was something so sweet and refreshing about this female.
What the hell had him so captivated? Max tried to will himself to move but he couldn’t. Her smile shined with undiluted enchantment and joy. It illuminated her face and held him spellbound. 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, and he was somewhat mollified by the fact that 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 throbbing burst of lust, and the bitter taste of disappointment that lingered.
With the irrational anger came the unconscious resolve that that 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.
Giving in to his sexual urges was not an option at the moment. 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. He proceeded to his chauffeur-driven car at the terminal entrance.
Given the threat that Jacobs issued, 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 Joel’s moral support to get through this next phase.
“So how does it feel, Cat to be back home?” Taking his eyes off 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 thinking of my to do list and the obstacles in achieving them. 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.” He grinned mischievously. “There has to be a way to fix this.”
“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 adventure 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.” She sighed, exhausted even thinking about her situation. “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.”
“Wow! 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.
After preparing a successful, but exhausting meal for the dinner party on the yacht, Cat found herself being persuaded by Joel to accompany him to the swanky new nightclub at the El Palacio Hotel and Casino. She’d been in Australia for almost a week already, but she had yet to decide how to resolve her personal issues. Being out in public could force her to deal with the situation before she was ready. Now that the time had come, she wasn’t certain what to do.
Emotionally, she wasn’t ready.
“What are the chances of you running into anyone you knew? It’s late on a Friday night, happy hour is over. All we’re likely to encounter are college students and tourists,” Joel said, coaxingly.
“I don’t know, Joel. Maybe we should try some other form of entertainment? Why can’t we just go home and have a quiet night?” She was desperate to avoid anywhere that increased the chance of her crossing paths with her demons.
“No way. Chad and I had another fight and I need some cheering up. I want to dance until my feet hurt and flirt until I feel better. Besides, I heard this place has the best salsa dance club in the country. You love Latin dance. It’s what we do to unwind, to let loose! Come on Cat, be my arm candy tonight.”
She sighed in resignation. “You’re supposed to be my best friend, Joel. You know damn well I can’t resist the chance to go dancing! Anything goes wrong, you’re to blame.”
“What could possibly go wrong?” Joel grinned, happy to get his way.
Max entered the security booth a little after midnight, as he usually did when he was in town, finding it the best way to assess the activities of the hotel. All four men and two women on duty surrounded one monitor, their eyes glued to the screen, despite the many other consoles that littered the walls in the room.
“What’s going on?” Max asked quietly as he approached the group. Only one person looked up and gave him a brief glance before looking back at the screen.
“A couple is in the club, putting on a spectacular exhibition.” Ron, the head of security, grinned at his boss.
“So?” Max asked, confused by their rapt attention to the screen.
“Come and see this. They’re amazing!” Ron nudged others out of the way to make room for their boss.
Momentarily questioning his sanity, Max stared in disbelief at the monitor. The club was packed to capacity with spectators and dancers, many spilling into the casino. The couple on the dance floor seemed to be oblivious to the attention their sensual dance was generating. Their twists, turns, and footwork were so well timed and in sync that it was obvious they had been dancing together for years.
“Zoom the camera in closer,” Max stated quietly, his gaze never wavering from the monitor. In a surreal state, he was afraid to believe who he was watching. He’d been thinking of the breathtaking woman day and night for the past five days, ever since seeing her at the airport. As the camera focused and her image became sharper, he couldn’t mistake that flawless figure and tresses of silky dark hair.
She was wearing a burgundy dress with a plunging neckline. The sleek fit of the fabric completely delineated her exquisite curves and fell to just above her knees. It had a convenient slit up her toned thigh to allow her amazing legs to move fluidly, unrestricted in the erotic dance. He was not surprised by the rush of prickling sensation that flooded his groin.
She was fast becoming an obsession. He had wanted to wait to pursue her, given the need to focus on finding his wife, but this was an attraction he couldn’t ignore.
He watched her erotic, lithe movements for a few seconds more before striding purposefully to the exit. If he’d stood there any longer, he would’ve given his employees an eyeful.
“Tell me immediately if she leaves the club before I get there. And for God’s sake, don’t take your eyes off her!” Max barked over his shoulder as he exited the room and turned on his microphone earpiece, leaving behind a stunned audience.
Walking quickly through the crowded casino, Max spoke into his headphone, “Ron, are they still in the club?”
“Yes, boss, but the song is coming to an end.”
“Thanks!” Max cut the connection and swiftly made his way to the club. He had no idea what drove him. He simply knew he had to meet her and speak with her. He felt compelled to know her, to touch her.
Hopefully, then he would get over his fascination and get a decent night’s sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes, his dreams were filled with a kaleidoscope of images of him with her, engaged in various explicit sexual encounters. In the past few nights, he’d had her in the shower, against the wall, in an elevator, on the floor, in the pool, and on every surface of his office.
Fuck, I’m getting harder just thinking about it!
Every time, he would wake up heavily aroused, amid a shattering disappointment from unfulfilled desire. He’d thought of visiting his current mistress, but his cock nixed the idea each time, deflating in distaste.
What the hell is the matter with me? No woman has ever occupied my thoughts to this extent. He was extremely annoyed with himself and at this woman’s ability to infringe upon his concentration and occupy his every thought. The hunger invading his body was completely foreign to him, and had to be fed.
Now she is here in my hotel, in my club, and with her boyfriend in tow.
The gods are really having a good laugh at my expense!