Charade, p.1
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       Charade, p.1

           Lisa Marie Rice
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Charade


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Other Books by Lisa Marie Rice

  Copyright

  About The Author

  The Ritz

  Paris

  “More wine?” Mark Redmond asked, hand around the neck of a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Beneath his stylish and very expensive suit, he was at heart a barbarian, but even he knew it was an excellent wine.

  He watched as Harper Kendall, the most enticing woman he’d ever met, pondered his question.

  He could almost see the wheels turning in her beautiful head. It really was a good wine and she’d only had one glass to his three. But—was he trying to get her drunk? Trying to seduce her?

  No. And yes.

  God yes, he was trying to seduce her. He’d been thinking about getting her into his bed since he’d first set eyes on her on the business-class trip from Boston to Paris.

  His company had two corporate jets but he had two teams he was sending into failed states and harm’s way. He wanted them to get there rested and refreshed, so he had them use the Falcon 8X and the Gulfstream G3.

  Going to Paris for a few days before his meeting with the head of a big bank had been a last-minute decision; he hadn’t had time off since forever. First class had been fully booked and he’d been amused when he’d caught himself thinking that he’d have to ‘settle’ for business class. Especially considering how, in his military days, he’d crisscrossed the world in noisy, cold C-130s strapped to the bulkhead, pissing in a bottle.

  In the end, going business class was the best thing to happen to him in a long, long time, when he’d seen the beauty sitting in the seat next to his.

  “Sure,” she said and nudged her glass closer to him. Mark filled the big balloon glass one third full, the canonical amount. Any less and it would have seemed stingy. Any more and she would have reason to suspect he was trying to get her drunk.

  He didn’t want her drunk, but he did want her happy.

  Being with a woman like Harper was challenging, full of hidden pitfalls. Good thing he was a man who relished challenges.

  She sipped, watched him a bit warily over the rim of her crystal goblet. “So, do you know Paris well?”

  “Been here a few times but always briefly, for work. In and out.”

  Her lips curled in a smile. “Plumbing supply imports.”

  “That’s right.” Mark leaned back and watched her. He always chose the most boring jobs possible for cover. Plumbing supply importer, accountant, tax software salesman. “Fly in, make a deal, fly out. This time I wanted to take a day or two to sightsee. Do you know Paris well?”

  “Yes, I do.” She took another sip. “I studied French here for a summer, just out of high school, then came for a semester during my master’s. I love this city.”

  There. An opening. Mark waited for her to offer to show him around Paris. But…crickets. He stifled a sigh. Still, he was a man who knew how to make his own opportunities.

  “Maybe some other evening you’d have dinner with me. After work. You’re here for research, right?”

  “Mmm.” She smiled. “Some business and some research.”

  “For that book?” His gorgeous princess had written and published one book and was writing her second, which he really admired. Mark couldn’t write a book to save his life. He could kill a man at a thousand yards, but he couldn’t write a book.

  The smile grew. “That’s right. Linking historical political movements to architectural styles. I’m keeping it accessible though, not a cultural tract. Are you interested in architecture, Mark?”

  He sat back. “I can’t say I’m particularly knowledgeable about architecture and its history. I’ll happily read your first book, though. It sounds really interesting.”

  “Well, that’s kind. You don’t have to do that.”

  “I want to.” And he did.

  “I’ll write down the title for you.”

  He deliberately didn’t smile. “The title has three words in it. I think can remember them. So—how about dinner tomorrow evening?”

  She didn’t answer, just looked at him. Mark understood exactly what was happening. She was consulting her internal self on whether she wanted a second date and the only intel she had on him was what he was giving her. He couldn’t tell her who he really was, but he could give her his essence.

  He was a good guy. He wasn’t going to hurt her. He wanted sex with her badly, more than any woman he could ever remember, but it had to be mutual and he’d treat her well.

  He couldn’t say that in words but he could show her via his body language. So he sat very, very still, and watched her face. He was probably emitting pheromones by the ton because she was just so goddamn luscious, and he’d had a semi hard-on all through dinner, but that was okay. She had to know he desired her. They’d been in constant contact since they’d first boarded that flight and though he’d been respectful, he’d also made it clear that he was attracted.

  Putting it mildly.

  She was, too. This was a strong-minded woman and she wouldn’t be sitting here having dinner with him at the Ritz if she didn’t want to be.

  She sighed. “Dinner tomorrow evening? I don’t know when I’ll finish up with my work.”

  “Doesn’t make any difference,” he answered. “I don’t have a timetable. I came in early to rest and to sightsee a little.” He shrugged. “I’ve been working really hard lately, and I decided to just relax for a day or two. So I can work around your schedule, no problem.”

  Harper made a little humming sound, as if thinking over reasons to say no. But she really wanted to say yes. She was a real beauty, so she’d probably spent half her life saying no to men, decisively. She wouldn’t be humming if it was a decisive “no”.

  She looked at their table, at the remains of an excellent meal, at the elegant room. Everyone dressed up, the waiters the most elegant of all, low voices, the gleaming crystal glasses, the chandeliers like crystal clouds, everyone smiling in their comfortable upholstered settees.

  It was a feast for all the senses.

  “Okay, but not at the Ritz. And it’s on me next time.”

  “Not a chance, but nice try,” Mark said. “And we can go anywhere you want. I’m not fussy.”

  He wasn’t. He’d once lived for three weeks on MREs—gummy tubes of nutrients that tasted like cardboard, no matter what the label said. He hadn’t liked it but he’d done it.

  “We’ll see then. Do you want to enter my cell number in your cell?”

  “No need.” He rattled off her ten-digit number. “You gave me your card on the plane, remember?”

  She blinked. “Wow. You have quite a memory if you remember it from my business card.”

  He shrugged. “I’m good with numbers. My business is figures on spreadsheets. A little less interesting than your business.”

  She smiled. “I love what I do. So, what do you know about architecture?”

  “Not much.” He knew nothing about architecture, but he did know a lot about buildings. Particularly how to blow them up. “But I’d love to learn.”

  She looked around. “This building, for example. The façade dates back to the early eighteenth century and it’s part of the seamless Place Vendôme. It’s said that this hotel was the first in the world to offer en-suite bathrooms.”

  He shook his head. “About the only thing I know about its history is that Hemingway ‘liberated’ the Ritz bar in 1944, gulping down its best wine that they’d hidden from the Nazis, while
snipers were still shooting on the outskirts of Paris.”

  Harper put back her head and laughed, and all Mark could do was stare at her.

  In the fanciest restaurant in Paris, possibly in the world, Harper Kendall was the classiest, most beautiful woman there. He watched as she tipped her head back slightly, exposing that long, slim neck, and gave a genuine laugh. It wasn’t meant to entice him, she was genuinely amused. But God, she enticed him.

  Tilting her head made that shiny mass cascade over her shoulders. Those light gray cat’s eyes narrowed as she laughed and she simply took his breathe away.

  Though Mark was used to hiding his feelings, something of what was going on inside of him—maybe a sudden surge of testosterone—made her still and look at him, startled and then wary.

  One of the many waiters started walking toward them with the dessert menu in his hand. Mark caught his eye and made a subtle gesture with his hand.

  Not now.

  You didn’t get to be a waiter at the Ritz by being a fool. A simple nod of the head and the waiter faded away.

  Mark had other plans for dessert.

  He leaned forward slowly. “I know it sounds pedestrian, but I’d really like a Crêpe Suzette for dessert. How about you?”

  He kept his voice even, trying to keep himself under control.

  “Crêpes Suzette wasn’t on the dessert menu. There was pineapple ravioli with wasabi yogurt sauce and Bresse cheese with red onion marmalade.” She smiled at him. “I have a good memory too, just not for numbers.”

  “No, I meant Crêpes Suzette somewhere else. My room, here at the Ritz.” Mark covered her slender hand with his. She was acting cool, but her hand was trembling slightly. “It’s on the room service menu. And we could pair it with some more champagne or some Grand Marnier.”

  She looked at him, her luscious mouth slightly open. Silvery-gray eyes wary.

  He waited.

  She wasn’t saying no.

  She wasn’t saying yes, either.

  He kept his hand over hers. It was warm and soft, fingers long and elegant.

  Mark’s voice was low, without urgency, though desire prickled through his veins. “I have a suite. We could sit and talk in private.” He looked around the beautiful room, full of customers. “Where no one could bother us.”

  He tightened his hold on her hand, but just slightly. He had big strong hands and he didn’t want to hurt her or make her feel coerced. She watched him silently, hand still slightly trembling under his.

  “I promise you that nothing will happen that you don’t want to happen. If all you want is a Crêpe Suzette and a glass of champagne or Grand Marnier and a chat, that’s fine. I’ll take it and I’ll be happy. But I won’t hide from you that I’d like more.”

  She still didn’t say anything. Just sat there, eyes looking into his, darting back and forth, making little silver flashes like lightning.

  “Your call.” Then Mark shut up.

  Maybe more words would convince her. She was a writer, eloquent words probably mattered to her. But he didn’t have eloquence in him. He was a straightforward kind of guy. He’d said what he needed to say. He’d told her he wanted her. If he elaborated on that, said that he was burning up with desire, that he wanted her like he wanted his next breath, he might scare her away.

  Also, he’d made it clear that she could trust him. And she could, even if it killed him.

  He waited to see what she would say. He couldn’t remember wanting anything more than he wanted her. Like the song said, every move she made fascinated him. His entire body was tense, waiting for her response. He was tense between his legs, too. He had to will the hard-on down by thinking of Afghanistan, thinking of the men who died or were maimed there.

  It was hard though. Afghanistan was now seven thousand miles and years away but Harper was right here, right now. She was a stunner with light brown hair that turned silver in the light, matching her silvery-gray eyes with a dark blue rim. They nearly glowed in the dark. She had a heart-shaped face with silky-smooth pale skin and a mouth that was made for kissing. All this paired with small, perfect breasts, a tiny waist and long legs.

  But more than that she was smart, with a dry sense of humor and a bottomless fund of knowledge of the world. He’d never met anyone quite like her, and he wanted her so much it made his hands itch and his dick twitch.

  He wanted to make love to her, but it had to be mutual. She had to want it too. He’d rather tear out his own throat than hurt her or force her.

  She still didn’t say anything, but he could see her rolling the idea around in that beautiful head of hers. That was okay. He was a patient man. He could wait. And for her? For her, he’d wait a long, long time.

  Now that she was in his head, he couldn’t even imagine desiring someone else. She was everything he could possibly want in a woman. Smart, classy, gorgeous.

  She waited for a beat. Two.

  Then she twisted her hand under his.

  For a horrific moment, Mark thought she was going to pull her hand away, get up and walk out.

  But no.

  Her palm came to rest against his palm and her fingers clasped his.

  His heart gave a sharp thump in his chest.

  It was a yes.

  Yes.

  Harper Kendall sighed.

  It looked like she was going to say yes to this guy she’d met on a plane not twenty-four hours ago.

  She’d splurged on a business-class ticket hoping that a middle-of-the-week flight might actually allow her to travel alone. But along had come this guy in the pod right next to hers, looking sharply at her, and she’d sighed to herself. Not only had she spent all that money to not travel alone but she’d have to fend off some guy.

  But it turned out he had perfect manners, had helped her with her luggage both on departure and arrival, and had insisted on giving her a lift into town with his car and driver.

  Harper wasn’t born yesterday and the offer of a lift…well. But it turned out that there was a taxi strike, his driver looked legitimate and normal, and Mark Redmond looked legitimate and normal, and she’d accepted.

  It had been like having some tall, good-looking butler. He’d taken care of the luggage, asked the name of her hotel and had her taken directly there.

  Then at the very last moment, he’d asked her out to dinner. At the Ritz. To her surprise, she’d accepted. And now he was asking her up to his room. And to her surprise, she was thinking of accepting. Actually had accepted.

  That was so not her. Harper was amazingly picky, always had been. So picky she hadn’t had a partner in, what? Two years? And she was going to break her dry spell with a man she didn’t know at all.

  Well, she knew he had an amazingly boring job. Plumbing supplies importer. He hadn’t even tried to impress her with his job like most men did. Though he was clearly doing well with plumbing supplies if he could afford business class to Paris, a private car meeting him at the airport and a room at the Ritz. Most men making that kind of money would have bragged about it, at least a little. But Mark hadn’t, not at all.

  He wasn’t much of a talker, either. Though what he did say was smart.

  He gave a gentle smile and rose, lifting her up by the hand. Another couple of points in his favor. He did not give a smug male smile, the smile of the guy who’d scored a hot one and was really pleased with himself. No, he wasn’t giving those vibes off at all. He was calm and pleasant. So much so that Harper was absolutely positive that if she said no at the last minute, he’d be okay with it and not go ballistic.

  She wouldn’t do it, she wasn’t a tease. But still, it was nice to know that if she did get cold feet at the last minute, there wouldn’t be a tussle.

  Some instinct told her that there would never be a tussle with Mark Redmond, which was a huge plus in his favor.

  A year ago, she’d met someone at a fundsraiser for her museum and he’d been superficially charming. They had friends in common and he had a great job in Washington, DC, which he
’d repeatedly told her. Over and over, actually. It didn’t take long to realize that he was a real jerk. The unredeemable kind. The kind whose molecules were jerks. He’d cornered her outside, pushed her against the wall and kissed her, hard. Hard enough to hurt.

  She’d pushed at his shoulders, run out into the street, hailed a taxi and watched him gesticulate angrily in the middle of the street as the taxi pulled away. His handsome face had become ugly as he’d spewed obscenities she couldn’t hear.

  That wouldn’t happen with Mark. Liam had given off bad vibes almost immediately. Mark hadn’t once made her uneasy.

  They walked out of the restaurant together. Les Jardins de L’Espadon. One of the most famous restaurants in the world and she’d wanted to eat here since her first trip to Paris when she was eighteen.

  The food had been fabulous. But, of course. The Ritz.

  The whole experience was exquisite. They were walking on the most magnificent pink and cream carpet she’d ever seen. Heading for the exit, they passed the huge circular console that marked the center of the room. On it was an enormous Chinese vase—Ming, unless she was mistaken—with a floral arrangement as big as Mark, the flowers of the season cascading from it. Calla lilies, tulips, camellias, hyacinths, irises, tightly packed white roses. The smell was heady as they walked past.

  He’d taken her hand and was guiding her out, not too fast and not too slow, looking ahead of them but seeming to have 360° awareness of the space around them. There was a knot of people waiting for the second sitting and Harper braced herself, but he guided them through the small crowd like a dream. She wasn’t jostled, she wasn’t even touched.

  She’d noticed that before, when they’d stood up on landing after the long flight. Usually she was jostled and bumped around and often some clueless passenger would step on her feet. Instead, Mark had quietly reached up to grab her wheelie and raincoat and somehow formed a barrier around her as they’d shuffled out of business class onto the jetway.

  Being with Mark was like being in a bubble of protection.

  He guided them across the elaborate lobby and before she knew it they were in the elevator. She caught glimpses of herself in the brass columns framing the wooden panels. She looked pale and worried.

 
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