COMING THIS SUMMER
From New York Times bestselling author Kim Karr comes a brand new powerful standalone in the Connections Series.
We each had a plan.
We knew what we were doing.
Until love got in our way.
The first time I laid eyes on Gemma Ross, she belonged to another man. He literally owned her. I hated the very thought.
I wanted her to be mine.
Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help but watch the way she swayed her hips when she walked in my direction, raise a brow when she pretended not to notice me, get excited over the way her skin prickled whenever she got close.
I turned her on.
Thinking about her like that wasn’t part of the plan. Getting addicted to the way she arched beneath me wasn’t part of the plan. Caring about what happened to her was definitely not part of the plan.
Now my plan has to be altered. I can’t allow her to get caught in the crossfire. She has to leave, but she insists on staying. She has a secret—a reason she allows herself to belong to that obnoxious prick. She won’t tell me what she’s hiding unless I tell her why I need to know.
I can’t do that.
There’s another way to get what I want—a little game of cat and mouse. And I’m a really good hunter. Her being gone is for the best. This isn’t love. It can’t be.
Or that's what I keep telling myself.
The first time Caleb Holt strode into the room I was certain I knew his type. A man too gorgeous for his own good, he was sexy, brooding, and so full of himself, I thought he could easily be fooled.
I was wrong.
Those brilliant green eyes followed me everywhere. I swore he could see into my soul, read my determination, uncover my secrets with just one glance.
It worried me.
I should have stayed away from him, but I couldn’t fight the searing desire that flowed through my veins and the burning passion that coated my skin.
I didn’t really want to.
Before him, I had a plan to get back what was taken from me. The cost was irrelevant. Now I’m not sure I can sell my soul to the devil because I fear it belongs to him. The problem is he has a plan of his own, and I can’t risk his plan taking priority over mine.
Not even for him.
Not even for love.
So game on
Art School Girl
My blood sugar starts to spike as I take another sip from my second can of soda and anxiously await the unloading of a very famous art collection.
The minutes are ticking by so slowly I can barely stand it.
I’ve drained the can, and I’m about to reach for a third when my phone finally beeps. I have so much nervous energy; I practically jump out of my seat.
Reading the message, I breathe a sigh of relief. The text confirms it, “Everything is back on schedule.”
After a day of maddening, inexcusable delays, the driver must have received the same alert because the armed truck’s locked door finally rolls up.
Restricted to the confines of my car, I open my window and watch as the brown-paper wrapped paintings are carefully handed one-by-one to the six-man team standing on the ground.
With white knuckles, I clench the steering wheel and practically hold my breath until the very last painting is removed from the dark confines of the truck.
They are all there.
When the heavy metal door slams closed, I start to feel a little giddy—like I actually accomplished something that for quite a while seemed nearly impossible.
I lurch forward in my seat as the last six works of art are carried into the makeshift secure holding area.
When the final painting is no longer in my sight, I’m a bit crazed.
All I can say is what happens next is completely out of my control. I arranged and organized the transportation of the works. Nowhe’lleither allow the event or hewon’t. I can’t do anything more than I have.
I put my palms together and pray.
It’s not that I’m religious, but who knows, maybe it will help.
Okay, so sometimes I can be a bit dramatic. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. After all, it’s that very quality that drew me to art to begin with. The intrigue. The chase. The wait. The discovery. I love it all.
However, tonight isn’t about drama. It’s real. I’m not exaggerating the chaos that has ensued up to this point.
Not one bit.
The status of this event has been back and forth more times than a Ping-Pong ball in a professional tournament.
The event is on.
The event is off.
The event is absolutely on.
The event is positively off.
The event is back on—maybe.
I have to take it.
It’s not like I have a choice.
As long as there is a sliver of hope, I’m not giving up. Successfully displaying these works of art has the potential to catapult my career. At the same time, defeat could very well result in total professional failure.
As the Assistant Director for Exhibition and Program Funding at the San Diego Museum of Art, I am responsible for the planning and coordinating of all of the museum’s fundraisers.
Yes, it’s true—my art history degree earned me a glorified party-planner position. And yes, tonight my job includes babysitting the safe passage of the Andrés Blaisten collection of 20th-century Mexican art while it makes its trek from the museum to this very location and then back.
Not that I mind. When it comes to art, no job is too small or menial. Besides, putting this prized collection on display for the richest of the rich to admire is going to help raise an obscene amount of money.
It’s kind of a big deal.
The portfolio normally resides at its permanent home in the Centro Universitario in Mexico. However, this evening the handsome exhibition is not only on loan to the museum, but at Mr. Enrique Cruz’s request, has been relocated from the museum to his estate in La Jolla, more specifically right here on the private grounds of his beach compound.
Mr. Enrique Cruz is a man you never say no to. So, when asked to change the venue, the answer was, of course, yes.
A member of The Power of the Higher Mind, he is a man of wealth and power and prestige. Many of the businesses catering to the mega-rich in this city are here solely because of the approval of this one man.
His power is boundless.
He can also be ruthless, so you never want to misstep anywhere near him.
The best way to put it is—San Diego looks like San Diego and San Diego is San Diego—because of him.
He decides what businesses stay open and which close. His influence is widespread. To say everything of importance in this city bears Cruz’s imprint would be an understatement. He’s the richest man in California—worth an estimated ten billion dollars, and he rules his empire with an iron fist.
Much to my chagrin, he has a soft spot for art, which is why I’m here, hoping beyond hope for success.
Attracting his attention is my goal.
I glance around. It’s quiet. The truck has gone dark. The security team is nowhere to be seen. At least I know the collection is safe behind locked gates. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief and wait—some more.
Getting out of my car, I try not to pace. I’m not allowed up near the tent or inside the secured area until Mr. Cruz has given the green light for the event to go on as scheduled.
As I already said, it’s not on, but it’s not off. I’m not really quite sure what the status is, and it’s not like I can call him and ask him or even send him a quick text.
Typically, he’s elusive and unreachable, publicity-shy and enigmatic, maybe even paranoid. Mr. Cruz never invites anyone outside his small circle into his house, never gives out his phone number, and rarely allows people on his grounds.
However, tonight is one of those rare exceptions to the golden rule and he still might cancel everything at the last minute due to some kind of security breach.
Perhaps it was just a false alarm since he allowed the art to be unloaded? I hope so. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed.
I breathe in the salty air and exhale, feeling thankful my one shot at making an impression hasn’t been shattered.
I have yet to meet the big boss man, and I feel slightly nervous about it. One person with so much power is a little intimidating. But I am more than qualified for the career path I hope to pursue and am sure he’ll be able to see that.
Having received my degree in History and Art at the University College London, I spent over a year unsuccessfully trying to secure a job at Christie’s Auction House. Penniless, I came back home to San Diego to work at the museum I grew up visiting, and they were more than happy to have me.
It wasn’t my first choice.
Or my second.
Or my third, for that matter.
Still, this is where I ended up, and I’m going to make the best of it. I have aspirations of becoming managing director. Once armed with experience under my belt, I plan to move back to London and broker fine art, either at Christie’s or any other prestigious firm.
As luck has it, Cruz is just the man I need to back me. He’s chairman of the museum’s board, and he has the power to make things happen. So, when Isaac, my boss, dropped this new project in my lap—I jumped on it.
I stop my pacing and sag, feeling like a weight of a thousand pounds is on my shoulders.
My fugue state must be receding, or maybe the soda-high is wearing off, and I begin to feel a little sleepy.
A noise has me jerking my head up and what I see in the distance makes my heart swell with pride. The site for Cruz’s wife’s benefit to raise money for the construction of the county’s Art and Humanities Center is a bustle of brimming activity.
Strings of twinkling lights have been turned on, one of the biggest up and coming bands is setting up on stage, and the best gourmet food in the city has just arrived.
I clap my hands together—this is so on.
As soon as the art pieces are moved to the easels awaiting them, everything will be in place and ready for the gala to begin. Albeit under a large peaked tent heavily surrounded by guards and not in the museum as originally intended, but still, I can’t complain.
To be honest, even with all the work it took to pull off, this new venue couldn’t be more perfect. With its sprawling lawns and cool ocean air, Enrique Cruz’s La Jolla estate is an idyllic setting.
The secluded grounds afford the security needed to raise money by allowing these most prized, rarely seen pieces of art to be securely showcased all in one place for the wealthiest of the wealthy to view. These members of The Power of the Higher Mind are very private and despise the press or disruption of any kind.
Pacing once again, I can barely contain my excitement for the night to begin. Unable to stand still, I start to pace around the grounds.
Anytime now, I should be allowed in.
Somehow, I end up a good distance away from where the fundraiser will take place and even further away from where the estate sits.
In my silver strapless gown and heels, I try to avoid any missteps. I’d hate to land on my ass and get grass stained before I even say a single hello.
I look down and smile.
The dress I’m wearing belongs to my mother, along with her one-of-a-kind necklace—the one I mimicked the small pink heart tattoo inked on my shoulder after.
My mother is half Latino and grew up in Columbia among the privileged few. This dress was one she wore to social obligations where she mingled among aristocrats and government officials. Haute Couture.That was the kind of life she lived before she moved to the States. In fact, before she met my father, high society was her life. However, after she met him, she gave it all up and chose love over money.
She’s such a romantic.
I stare at the dress and smile.
When she pulled it out of her closet, zipped away in its special plastic case, I rolled my eyes at how over the top it was.
“Mom, I don’t need to be that fancy,” I told her.
In turn, she took me by the hand and said, “Gemma, a Latino woman should always walk into a party feeling like a million dollars. You’re sexy, and you’re not doing anything wrong by wearing this. Just try it on.”
At the time, I tried not to laugh because of all the things I think I am—Latino isn’t one of them. But I slipped into it for her, and as soon as I did, I felt like Cinderella on her way to the ball.
I giggle a little now just thinking about it, and the look of pride on my gorgeous mother’s face when I twirled around.
My hands glide down the smooth fabric as I walk. When I get a little too close to the cliff for my liking, I stop. With at least a three hundred foot drop below me, I enjoy the moonlit ocean view from a safe distance.
I can hear the waves crashing against the rocks and the tide going in and out. The mesmerizing sound draws me closer, closer than I should dare step, but I’m not afraid.
Staring down below, I can’t help but think about how this night is going to change my life—just like the night of the masked ball changed Cinderella’s.
I’m standing not too far from the edge of the cliff when I hear the quiet thunder of someone running in my direction. The pace slows as the sound nears the drop off, nears me.
Annoyed at the lack of congeniality Mr. Cruz’s staff seems to be showing me, I whirl around on my heels to address them face-to-face but lose my footing in the process.
My heart leaps in my throat at the danger I’m in, and at the same time hot lava melts in my lower belly when I take in the shape of my hero.
Strong muscular arms are grasping me tight, saving me from what could have very well been a fatal fall.
A fall this stranger nearly caused,I remind myself.
He’s no hero,I tell myself.
Look away,I warn myself.
I open my mouth to lash out…but the words fall to the ground when I meet his strong, bottomless emerald gaze, and I’m stunned into silence.
Is this my Prince Charming?
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