Available for pre-order: Nov 21, 2017
She was not losing this one.
Chloe Russo fixed her gaze on the bright yellow taxi that had appeared like an apparition from heaven in the ferociously snarled First Avenue traffic, its lit number her only chance at salvation in the monsoon that had descended over Manhattan.
Shielding her eyes from the driving rain, she stepped a foot deeper into the layers of honking, snarling traffic and jammed her hand high in the air. The driver of a Bentley sounded his horn furiously as he swerved to avoid her, but Chloe, heart pounding, kept her eyes glued to the taxi driver’s face, willing him to stop.
The taxi slid to a halt in front of her in a cacophony of screeching horns and spraying water. Heart soaring, she waded through the giant puddle that stood between her and victory, flung the door of the taxi open and slid inside, reeling off Evolution’s Fifth Avenue address with a request to step on it that made the cabbie roll his eyes.
“Lady,” he muttered caustically, “have you looked outside?”
She’d been standing in it for half-an-hour, she wanted to scream. While thirty-five of his co-workers had passed her by—she knew because she’d counted every damn one of them. But picking a fight with the last remaining cab driver in Manhattan seemed unwise given her present situation.
She was late for her first board meeting as the director of Evolution’s fragrance division. An inauspicious start.
Her teeth chattered amidst a chill that seemed to reach bone-deep. She pushed off the hood of her raincoat and mopped her face with a tissue, thankful for her waterproof mascara. Let out a defeated sigh. She should have left earlier. Had forgotten taxis on a rainy day in Manhattan were akin to spotting a western lowland gorilla in the wild. But in truth, she’d been dreading today and everything about it.
Her cell phone vibrated in her bag. She rooted around to find it as a loud pop song joined the symphony of honking horns. Fingers curling around the sleek metal, she pulled it out and answered it before her grumpy driver deposited her back into the downpour.
“I just landed,” her sister, Mireille, announced. “How are you? How was your flight? Did you get settled in okay? It’s so amazing to have you back in New York.”
The verbal torrent pulled a smile from her lips. “Good, good and yes. Although it just took me a half-an-hour to get a taxi. I’m soaked to the bone.”
“You’ve been living in Europe too long.” Her sister’s voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. “Of course I’m really calling to see how your dinner with Nico went. I’ve been dying to know. Uncle Giorgio has himself all in a dither with this campaign of his to unseat him.”
Chloe bit her lip. Nico Di Fiore, the new CEO of Evolution, her family cosmetic company, was a loaded subject of late. Her late father’s godson, Nico had been appointed CEO upon her parents’ death last spring according to the terms of her father’s will, assuming a position that should have been her uncle Giorgio’s. He had also been appointed financial regent for Chloe and Mireille until they reached the age of thirty, an unexpected and unacceptable development that had been the last straw for Chloe, because it meant four years of him in her life.
“I didn’t have dinner with him.” Her off-hand tone hid the apprehension dampening her palms. “I wanted to keep things professional. I suggested we meet tomorrow instead—on my first day back.”
Mireille drew in a breath. “You blew Nico off for dinner?”
“It wasn’t like that.” Except it had been exactly like that.
There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line. “That really wasn’t wise, Chloe.”
“He summoned me to have dinner with him,” she came back defensively. Just like he’d summoned her home from Paris where she’d been perfectly happy. “This is our company, not his. Isn’t it driving you crazy having him in charge?”
“It was what father wanted.” Mireille sighed. “I know Evolution’s your baby—far more than it is mine. That Uncle Giorgio has you all wound up, but you need to face reality. Nico is leading the company. I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but you’re going to have to come to terms with it.”
“There’s nothing going on between us.” Hadn’t been since Nico had broken her heart far too many years ago to remember now. And she had been attempting to do exactly that—to process this new reality that had seen Nico take over Evolution when her parents had been killed in a car crash in Tuscany six months ago, turning her life upside down in the process. But she couldn’t quite seem to get there.
Evolution’s stately, soaring, gold-tinted headquarters rose majestically in front of her as the taxi turned onto Fifth Avenue. A fist formed in her chest, making it hard to breathe.
“I have to go,” she murmured. “It’s the board meeting tonight.”
“Right.” A wealth of meaning in her sister’s tone. “Better you than me.” As a junior executive in Evolution’s PR department, Chloe’s younger sister was not a member of the board. “Promise me you won’t fight with him, Chloe.”
“That,” she said grimly, “is impossible. I love you and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She handed the taxi driver the fare as he pulled to a halt in front of the building. Slid out of the car and stepped onto the sidewalk, teeming with its usual wall-to-wall pedestrian traffic huddled under brightly-coloured umbrellas.
A frozen feeling descended over her as she stood staring up at the giant gold letters that spelled out Evolution on the front of the building. Her parents—Martino and Juliette Russo had spent two decades building Evolution into a legendary cosmetics brand. They had been the heart and soul of the company. Of her.
She hadn’t been in the building since she’d lost them, buried in work in the Paris lab. The thought of going in there now without them present seemed like the final admission they were gone and she couldn’t quite seem to do it.
The crowd parted like a river around her as she stood there, heart in her mouth, feet glued to the concrete. A woman in a Gucci raincoat finally jolted her out of her suspended state, crankily advising her to “move on”. Her fingers clutched tight around her bag, she made her way through the glass doors, presented the security guard with her credentials and rode the elevator to the fiftieth floor where Evolution’s executive offices overlooked Central Park.
A slim, blonde-haired woman with trendy glasses pounced on her as she emerged into the elegant cream marble reception area. “Clara Jones, your new PA,” the blonde introduced herself, relieving Chloe of her dripping raincoat in the same breath. “You’re the last to arrive. Nico is—well you know—” she said, giving Chloe a meaningful look, “he likes to start on time.”
Her heart crawled into her throat. “I couldn’t get a cab.”
“It is awful out there.”
Clara led Chloe down the hall toward the large, plush conference room with its expansive view of a wintry, lamp lit Central Park. “Nico gave me your presentation. It’s ready to go.”
Now if only she was. Memories deluged her as she stood surveying the crowded, warmly-lit room full of Evolution board members and directors enjoying a glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres before the meeting began. Of her father manning the seat at the head of the table that Nico now would as the Chairman of the Board. Of her mother swanning around, captivating the executives with her sparkling wit and charm.
Her stomach swam with nerves. She was a scientist. Her mother had been a self-made genius with a larger-than-life personality who’d created a multi-billion-dollar empire out of a tiny bath products company she’d founded to serve her husband’s financial clientele. Chloe was far more comfortable in the lab creating beautiful things than presenting to a stiff-suited board like her mother had been. But this was her job now. A necessary evil.
Any nerves about her presentation, however, faded to the background as Nico spotted her. Clad in a sleek, dark grey, Tom Ford suit, the white shirt and silver tie he wore beneath it making the most of his dark good looks and olive skin, he was faultlessly elegant. It was when she lifted her gaze to his that she realized just how much trouble she was in.
His lips set in a flat line, jaw locked, smoky grey gaze full of thunderclouds, he was furious. Fingers of ice crept up her spine as he murmured something to the board member he was speaking with, then set his tall, impressive frame into motion, eating up the distance between them. Clara took one look at his face, muttered something about checking the AV equipment and disappeared.
Chloe heart ricocheted in a hard drumbeat against her ribs as Nico came to a halt in front of her. She tipped her head back to look up at him, refusing to reveal how much he intimidated her. With his leonine dark head, cold, slate-blue eyes and cheekbones at forty-five degrees, he couldn’t quite be called handsome in the traditional sense because he was far too hard for that.
His wide, full mouth made up for that lack of softness, however—lush and almost pouty when he wanted to seduce a response out of the person in question. Which was not now.
Her heart battered up against her chest in another wave of nerves at the dark fire in his eyes. At the realization that any hope she’d had that she’d developed an immunity to him after seven years in Europe had been utter self-delusion. That the man she’d once thought had been the one had hardened into a ruthless, sapphire-edged version of himself she couldn’t hope to know.
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