Beauty & the beast vende.., p.1
Beauty & the Beast: Vendetta,
Also Available from Titan Books
About the Author
ALSO AVAILABLE FROM TITAN BOOKS
Beauty & the Beast: Vendetta by Nancy Holder
Beauty & the Beast: Some Gave All by Nancy Holder
Beauty & the Beast: Fire at Sea
Print edition ISBN: 9781783292219
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783292226
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark St, London SE1 0UP
First edition: May 2016
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Copyright © & ™ 2016 CBS Studios Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
From the moment we met
we knew our lives would never be the same.
He saved my life
and she saved mine.
We are destined.
but we know it won’t be easy.
Even though we have every reason to stay apart
we’ll risk it all to be together.
I wrote in blood…
Despite the horrendous din of Manhattan traffic on a Saturday night, Ravi Suresh was sure he detected the echo of approaching footsteps. Furtive. Quick. After him. Way too close.
And moving closer.
His chest tightened. He balled his hands in his suit pockets, centering the plastic box containing the tiny dot in his left palm. Tiny, yes, but lethal: What he had stolen from the lab was his masterpiece. He had put the finishing touches on Chip 262b, a super-weapon capable of reprogramming the launch codes of several kinds of nuclear weapons. And Anatoly Vodanyov was crazy if he thought Ravi was going to hand it over for a measly five million dollars. There was another player in town, someone who went by “Mr. Q,” and he had offered fifty million.
That would buy Ravi a rajah’s palace back in India. Hell, that would buy him half of Mumbai. He just had to get it to his new contact before Anatoly figured out that their deal was off. But someone was following him.
I have to find a place to park it until everything’s arranged.
He craned his neck, peering upward at his destination— the Penzler Building, a towering edifice of glass, steel, and brick. Down below in the crush of nighttime humanity, he was too far away to see the guests, but he assumed the balmy May weather would have lured them onto the rooftop to admire the stupendous view. He remembered the first time he had walked into the rooftop garden of Chrysalis, his employer— and for now, the legal owner of the chip. The city of New York and all its riches had lain at his feet. “Welcome to the big leagues,” his new boss Steven Lawrence had told him. “Succeed with the chip, and you can write your own ticket.”
It had taken him a very short time to realize that that was a lie. He was an employee. The best “ticket” he could ever hope for was an enormous salary. But he would never share in the real value of the powerful technology he and others like him— the brains of these high-tech companies—would create for their masters. He had been hired, and he could be fired. Praised like some lap dog, criticized like a child. If he displeased one of them, a single phone call could ruin his career: Suresh is a maverick; he’s hard to deal with; he’s a bad risk.
Of course Chrysalis was going to sell it for an unbelievable sum. To the US government, so it was said. Was America any better than Vodanyov? Or than Mr. Q, his new buyer? And what about the next generation of the chip, and the one after that? All that money, and only a tiny fraction of it would trickle down into his pockets.
Mr. Q was getting an incredible deal at fifty million.
He squinted, imagining he could see the hot girl who waited for him up there. Heather Chandler was a babe. A charity gathering with her family—dinner, an open bar. Safe harbor? Probably not. But for now, this was his best bet. There were security guards, and his name was on a list. Whoever it was who was following him would not be on that list.
Barely able to breathe, he hurried toward the building.
‘Well, here we go,” Vincent said softly, giving Cat’s hand a warm, reassuring squeeze as they exited the burnished metal elevator and faced the open double doors. “You sure you’re up for this?”
“Mother’s Day will never be my favorite day, but for once it’s about something else,” Cat replied, then added, “almost.”
Vincent studied her face. She wondered if he was listening to her heartbeat, assessing her true mood. Both of them had lived with secrets for years, and they were still learning to share their deepest selves with each other. It was such a gift to be able to let someone in, and yet, still so new. What may have once felt like an invasion of privacy was now her new normal. Someone who cared about her was using his senses to see if she was all right, just as a fully human companion would attempt to read her body language. In the time they had spent together, they had already learned a lot about how they reacted to dozens of situations, triggers. And Mother’s Day was definitely a trigger.
“Mother’s Day is tough. I miss my mom too,” he confided. “But I gotta say, my relationship with her was a lot less complicated than your relationship with your mom.”
She felt a pang, as she always did, but it stung a little less than usual. She missed the mom she’d thought she had, as well as the “real” Dr. Vanessa Chandler. Like daughter, like mother: Secrets had forced her mother to keep her true self hidden. “My mother’s relationship with you was complicated, too.”
Cat’s mother had been one of the lead doctors working on the Muirfield Project, a military operation created in order to turn Vincent and the other volunteers in his unit into super-soldiers. Believing that she was protecting innocent lives including Vincent’s own, Vanessa and her team had injected everyone in his company with a serum that had transformed them into mindless predators whenever their adrenaline levels increased above a certain threshold. Beasts. Her experimental subjects had m
A life that included his medical career… and their marriage. Sometimes Cat could hardly believe that they’d actually managed to have the wedding that had eluded them for months. And it was the fairytale ceremony they should have had all along, shared only with the people who mattered most to them—their best friends Tess and JT, and Cat’s sister, Heather—in their own magical world of the rooftop of Cat’s building.
Now their building.
“Dr. Keller! Mrs. Keller,” a voice called. “We’re so glad you could make it.” A dark-haired woman seated at a black-draped table in front of the ballroom offered up two nametags. “Let me give you a lanyard, Mrs. Keller,” she added, indicating the raw silk black jacket Vincent had bought her for Valentine’s Day. “There’s no way you should stick a pin through that gorgeous fabric.”
Cat was wearing a sleek black pantsuit paired with the jacket. Steely gray pearl earrings, a gray and silver cuff bracelet, and gray silk kitten heels finished off her ensemble. Beside her, Vincent was model-handsome in a beautifully cut ebony suit and gray silk shirt open at the collar. Dark brows above his deep brown eyes matched his hair, which he had grown out a little, the way it had been when they had first met. It made him look younger. He would age slowly, so much more slowly than she.
Her heart skipped a beat at the thought.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine. Thanks,” Cat said to the woman, as she took the tags with a smile. VINCENT KELLER, MD. CATHERINE KELLER. Call her a throwback, but she loved claiming his name, at least when she was acting as a private citizen. Tonight she was a doctor’s wife, not a cop.
“May I do the honors, Dr. Keller?” Cat pinned the tag on his lapel.
“If you’ll allow me, Mrs. Keller.” His eyes gleamed and the dimples on either side of his mouth deepened as he draped the lanyard over her head like a Hawaiian flower lei. Then he brushed his mouth against her parted lips. A tingle worked its way up from the small of her back. Later, she promised herself, imagining themselves at home, in their bed, wrapped in each other’s arms.
Hand in hand, they swept into the glittering ballroom located on the twenty-fourth floor of the Penzler Building. This was the New York General Hospital’s Mother’s Day dinner dance to benefit the planned expansion of the obstetrics wing. A slowly revolving mobile of golden cupids filled the enormous space above their heads. Gold and white banners proclaimed “HEALTHY HAPPY BABIES” and cherub-and- white-orchid centerpieces topped circular ivory tablecloths dressed with gold place settings. It was a spectacular effect.
Beyond the panorama windows, Central Park gleamed in miniature and the bright lights of the big city twinkled like stars that had landed on the earth. Below, a hundred dramas were playing out. Crimes were being committed.
I’m off duty, she reminded herself. I am not a police force of one.
“Vincent! Cat!” Cat’s sister Heather called. Dressed in a scarlet satin mermaid gown, she approached with her arms crossed awkwardly over her chest, capping her shoulders. Halting, she gave Cat a once-over. “Wow, marriage certainly agrees with you, Cat. You look fantastic.”
“And may I say the same,” Cat replied. “I mean, about the fantastic part.”
Last year Heather’s ex-fiancé, Matthew, had dumped her via a text message, and Heather had only recently waded back into the dating pool. Cat was a little worried that she and her new boyfriend Ravi were moving too fast. Heather didn’t know very much about him and she didn’t understand most of what he said because he usually talked about his highly scientific work. Cat had to admit that he was super good-looking, and pleasant enough. So maybe if Heather took things lightly and just enjoyed his company, things would be okay. But Heather was already making comments that it took him forever to get back to her when she texted him. Also, he had forgotten one of their dates and Heather had wound up at the movies alone. Cat kept hoping for a heart-to-heart at Il Cantuccio about him, and she wondered if Heather kept putting her off because in her own heart, she knew Ravi wasn’t a good prospect.
“Vincent, glad you and your lovely wife could make it,” another voice said. Dr. Grillo, head of the ER, and Dr. Adams, the director of the hospital, paused en route to the other side of the room. “The more physicians in attendance, the better.”
“Attending physicians, that’s a good one, sir,” Vincent said, and the three doctors shared a smile. The two bigwigs moved on, and Heather grimaced like a madwoman.
“Oh, my God, look,” she whispered, lowering her arms. Streaks of tiny red bumps washed her collarbones and upper chest.
“You have a rash,” Vincent said.
Heather rolled her eyes. “Thank you for that diagnosis. It’s my new moisturizer, Cat. I washed it off but it was too late. Ravi’s due any second and I look like I have leprosy!”
“Actually, you don’t,” Vincent offered. “Leprosy presents more like a dark brown—”
“Didn’t you bring a wrap?” Cat asked.
“No.” Heather’s voice rose. “I was going to be late and I just jumped into a cab and…” She trailed off. “I can’t let him see me like this!”
“Here.” Cat snaked off her beloved new jacket and held it out to Heather. Then she grabbed it back and held it against her chest. “I won’t catch her rash, will I?” she asked Vincent.
“Well, it depends,” Vincent began, as Heather yanked it away from Cat and slipped it on.
“Hey,” Cat protested.
“Thanks,” Heather said. It shouldn’t go with the dress, but on Heather, the combination was spectacular.
“Ravi at three o’clock,” Vincent announced.
Heather turned her head. Her eyes widened. “Wow, just in time.”
Ravi Suresh, PhD, was a lanky twenty-something from India, with lush blue-black hair that he wore in a topknot, deep-set hazel eyes, a sharp, angled jaw, and an accent that made women swoon. He saw Heather and gave her what was at best a half-hearted wave. Heather returned it with a bright, anxious smile, which was on no level reciprocated. Cat took note. Ravi was usually very warm and open, but tonight he trudged toward Heather with zero enthusiasm, his mouth set in a line and his brow furrowed. Maybe he’d had a rough day at work. He worked for Chrysalis, a high-tech firm, and even though he was one of their irreplaceable geniuses—according to Heather—Cat knew the pressure on him to produce results was enormous.
“Oh, hi, Ravi,” Heather said shrilly, smoothing the black jacket in place.
“Good evening, Heather.” His smile almost made it to his eyes as he pecked her on the cheek.
Heather shifted her weight. “This is my sister, Cat, and my brother-in-law Vincent Keller. Vincent is a doctor and Cat is a police detective.”
Ravi’s blossoming smile faded. He blinked. “Oh, really?”
“Yes. Really,” Heather said.
Cat reminded herself that a lot of people were uncomfortable around cops. It was one of the drawbacks of the job. Still, it didn’t endear him any more to her. She looked around. “Shall we find some seats? It looks like they’re going to start serving dinner.”
“Oh, boy, speeches,” Vincent murmured.
“There’s a nice table.” Heather took Ravi’s hand. Her sister was almost as nervous as Ravi, but in Heather’s case, Cat knew why. For the Chandler women, Mother’s Day was nearly as emotionally trying as their mother’s birthday. Cat had been their mom’s person, yes, but Vanessa had never seemed to have enough time for Heather. Cat had tried to fill that void, often crossing the line between big sister and surrogate mother during their growing-up years. Special days like this unleashed so many emotions in both the sisters that they rarely celebrated them. But in support
The four sat near a floor-to-ceiling window. There were other place settings at the table, but those seats had yet to be filled. Ravi lifted his water glass and gulped down the contents. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead.
“Are you feeling all right?” Vincent asked him, and Ravi jerked as if he’d been shot.
“Fine. Very,” he replied. “Just a hard day at work.” He glanced around the room again. “I could use a drink.”
“Oh, the bar’s outside,” Heather piped up. “I could—”
“Yes.” Ravi pushed back his chair and stood. “Would you like something, Heather?”
“I’ll go with you.” Carefully holding the jacket shut, Heather rose. “Cat? Vincent?”
“I’m fine.” Cat smiled at her sister.
“Me too,” Vincent said.
With Heather leading the way, the younger couple disappeared into the crush. Cat turned to Vincent, who was frowning.
“Something’s up with that guy,” he said.
“I think so too.”
“Great minds think alike. His heartbeat doubled when he heard that you’re a cop.”
“It freaked him out,” she agreed. “But it freaks a lot of people out.”
“Yeah, I get that.” He shrugged. “Still…”
They both picked up their water glasses at the same time. Sipped at the same time. Put them back down in unison.
“Nothing came up on him on my background check,” Cat reminded him. If Heather ever found out that Cat had vetted her date, she’d be furious.
“Just because you didn’t find anything doesn’t mean that there’s nothing there.”
“Yeah.” But she was good at uncovering information others missed. Look at Vincent—she’d been the one to figure out that he wasn’t dead, despite every official record under the sun asserting otherwise. “Let’s keep an eye on him.”
She sighed. “Heather left a bride magazine on the breakfast bar this morning when she came over to get the keys.”