It was a mistake to let Andy leave Mystic Spring for Los Angeles, and I’d known it the moment he told me he’d be going.
“Better job prospects there,” he’d said. “Friends of mine promised to find me a good one.”
A good one to Andy meant a job that would offer very good pay and didn’t require any university qualifications, since he didn’t have any. I wasn’t one to argue though, since I didn’t have any either, and working as a kitchen hand in a restaurant at minimum wage wasn’t something both of us planned for the rest of our lives. Andy wanted to study business and, one day, own his own big corporation with hundreds of employees and a very cool office with an outstanding view, high in the building. Me, I wanted to teach.
“You won’t have to work those shitty long hours anymore, Mia. We won’t have to worry about money. You can quit that pathetic job and say good-bye to that asshole boss of yours.”
“Pathetic job,” I murmured under my breath as I stared out the small window to my right. “Asshole boss.” I hugged myself tight as I gazed at the view.
It was beautiful, with bright golds and blues, and just below the plane, there were thick white clouds all along the endless horizon.
During the next few painstakingly slow hours, I remained paralyzed, seized by fear of the unknown. Fear of what would happen to Andy if I couldn’t help him.
“Andy,” I murmured. “Why?”
He’d been such a good little brother. I understood it had been hard for him since the deaths of our parents, as it had been for me. Understood shit happened in everyone’s life, though it seemed to happen a lot more for us. But we had to carry on living, didn’t we? And Andy? He was just that gullible, more than the most gullible person on the planet. I’d known that, yet I’d let him go. Allowed the wolves to have a taste of him, to play and dance with him. And now he was stuck, and I didn’t know how I could save him.
At the moment, I knew I was charging forward blindly. The wolves, those billionaire underground businessmen who didn’t hesitate to play dirty, were whom I would be dealing with.
“Maxwell.” I said the name softly under my breath, a shiver passing down my spine. Even the name itself radiated power, and it scared the hell out of me.
All I’d gotten was a phone call from Andy and then an e-mail from a man simply called J. Maxwell. That e-mail was short and to the point. Even now I felt a little dizzy thinking about it.
I would like to inform you that your brother, Andy Donovan, has done a very unwise thing. He and his friends have swindled and lost two million dollars of mine in a gamble. He is currently under our protection. Negotiation between us is needed, and I advise you to make an appointment to meet me.
The bastard had made it sound like he was the police with the words protection and negotiate. But then again, Andy and his so-called friends had swindled millions from the billionaire, and now it was my job to replace them. Once again the number of zeros following that two made my head spin. How the heck was I supposed to supply two million dollars?
The plane landed, and I found myself shuffling through thousands of people I didn’t know. I tried to pass them as quickly as I could, clutching my backpack close to me.
I sighed with some small relief once I was outside where there were less people to encounter. I knew I had to take the bus into town because a taxi was way too expensive, and I couldn’t afford that, what with only three hundred bucks cash in my wallet.
I jumped onto the bus a few minutes later, and after paying my fare, I settled in a lone seat, placing my backpack on my lap in front of me. I kept to myself throughout the whole journey. When the bus stopped in town, I took another up to Beverly Hills and then another one farther out. This took me another hour, and by the time it stopped at the end of the route, I was exhausted and thirsty.
Out on the rather deserted street lined with big mansions that both terrified and amazed me, I took out the Google map I’d printed out and peered at it. The glare was getting to my eyes, so I moved around, trying to find a bit of shade. My finger followed the line of roads on the map as I muttered to myself, “Where am I? Where am I?”
An angry, loud beep blared from the distance. Tires screeched against asphalt. I lifted my head, and my eyes rounded with dread. Panic seized me the moment I saw the car heading toward me. I reacted by staggering back, just in time, as the vehicle came to a sudden halt inches from me.
I fell on my backside, my heart pumping loud and fast. I was still paralyzed with fright when the door of that expensive car opened. Shiny black shoes landed on the pavement, followed by clean black trousers.
I watched, suddenly fascinated as that pair of shoes came my way. They stopped right in front of me, as if waiting patiently for me to lift my head. And I did. My eyes slowly drifted up the long legs and then to the slim waist and expensive-looking pale blue shirt and dark jacket, and then… My breath was taken away the moment my eyes met his.
Strong, aquiline nose, deep-set eyes, prominent jawline, and dark hair—this was the type of face found in fashion magazines. The male models in ads for perfume and expensive suits.
He was the type that scared the shit out of me, and he was doing so right now. My breathing became shorter and faster. At that moment, I just wanted to run. My legs, however, seemed to have become numb, and I couldn’t command them to move.
The handsome stranger made my condition worse by coming down to one knee. I was surprised he actually allowed those expensive, clean trousers to touch the dirt.
When he faced me, I swallowed.
Prussian blue. The color of his eyes. Dark yet bright, with an ominous feel to them. A shade of blue that had fascinated me since I was a child. It was the shade of the sky I’d seen when I opened my eyes that day many years ago, my body aching in agony and my bones broken. The sound of sirens and people shouting, asking me if I was all right. I’d never been all right. I was dying from a car accident. And they asked me, a child of twelve, if I was all right.
I flicked my mind back to the present, to the man in front of me, and bit my dry lip. I subconsciously licked them—a mistake. His Prussian-blue eyes drifted to my lips, and suddenly my body reacted in a way it had never reacted before.
It flared with heat, and delicious sensation coursed through me, making me almost breathless. I was trembling more fiercely than I had when I’d thought the car was going to hit me. My body quivered beneath his stare, at the sudden, electrical sparks that charged and pulsated between us.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice timbre deep.
A thrill rushed down my spine. I tentatively nodded and wished he’d just up and go.
He didn’t, which both angered and pleased me at the same time. I didn’t understand my own feelings. Yes, I wanted him to leave me alone, but I didn’t want him to go either.
He surprised me by wrapping one hand over my arm. I jolted at the touch, and my body went into a frenzy of sensation, a whirlwind of heat.
He pulled me along as he stood, and I mindlessly followed. My head barely reached his broad shoulders.
“Don’t walk into the road without looking if you don’t want to get hit,” he said.
I nodded. “Thanks,” I said, stepping back. I felt his hand releasing me, his warmth leaving me.
I turned, picked up my backpack, and gave him a small smile. I saw him cocking his head to one side before turning away. I was still trembling when a few moments later I watched his car speed by.