Stolen kisses, p.1
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       Stolen Kisses, p.1

         Part #2 of The Barrington Billionaires series by Ruth Cardello
 
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Stolen Kisses


  Stolen Kisses

  The Barrington Billionaires

  Book Two

  Ruth Cardello

  Author Contact

  website: RuthCardello.com

  email: [email protected]

  Facebook: Author Ruth Cardello

  Twitter: RuthieCardello

  Dax Marshall isn’t the type of man a woman takes home to meet her parents. He’s a business shark who has never let anything as insignificant as caring stop him from taking over a company. Some call him heartless, but he doesn’t see the value of caring about anyone or anything until he meets Kenzi.

  Her happiness becomes his obsession.

  Kenzi Barrington has tried to be the person her family needed her to be, but she doesn’t want to lie anymore. When she can’t hold a dark secret in another day, she turns to the one man she knows is strong enough to hear the truth.

  What starts as a simple attraction becomes a friendship that changes how they both define love.

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  COPYRIGHT

  An original work of Ruth Cardello, 2015.

  All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to survivors and those who stand with them.

  A Note to My Readers

  There are no easy fixes when it comes to surviving a trauma. There is no magical way to erase the past or guarantee that people will respond well when we need them to. All we can do is stay strong and loving and fill our lives with people who enrich it. As you read Stolen Kisses, I hope you see love through my eyes. Not simply as the romantic love that the story revolves around, but also as the complex relationships we all have with our friends, our family and ourselves. It’s said so often that it’s easy to dismiss as trite, but: To truly love anyone, you must first love yourself. That’s the journey Kenzi and Dax are on.

  Table of Contents

  Copyright

  Dedication

  A Note to My Readers

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Acknowledgements

  Other Books by Ruth

  Author Biography

  Excerpt from Maid for the Billionaire, Book 1 of the Legacy Collection

  Excerpt from Come Away with Me, Book 1 of the Andrades

  Excerpt from The Billionaire’s Secret, by Jeannette Winters

  Chapter One

  With her high heels swinging from one hand and a half empty bottle of rum from the other, Kenzi Barrington walked along an empty stretch of her favorite Bahamian island beach. The warm sand was a familiar comfort. Music blared from the nearby hotel pool area, but that wasn’t what stopped Kenzi from finding peace that night.

  She raised the bottle to her lips and took another long gulp. She sought numbness. Distance. Denial. The fruity drinks the bar served had no kick so she’d bribed the bartender for a bottle of her own and left.

  Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man in a dark suit, watching her from a path beside the beach. His face was darkened in shadow, but the breadth of his shoulders and his impressive height left little question about why he was following her: Her family had sent a bodyguard, even though she’d told them she didn’t want one. As the youngest of seven, six of whom were unfortunately brothers, she was used to no one respecting her wishes.

  How did I ever think they would let me do a reality show? They’ve never let me do anything. Disappointment sucker-punched her as she remembered the final conversation she’d had with the Hollywood producer. He’d been interested in the idea she’d pitched, interested enough to draw up the contracts for her to read over. Then, at their last meeting, he’d announced he wasn’t moving forward with the project. Suddenly, just like every other opportunity or idea she’d ever had, it had been shut down.

  Why did I let myself believe this time would be different? Although being followed around by cameras and letting the world see her day-to-day life should have been scary, Kenzi thought it could free her. Force me to face what I can no longer deny.

  Does it matter? It’s not happening.

  When the producer slipped up and said he couldn’t meet with her again, Kenzi had instantly been suspicious. Couldn’t? As in, been warned not to?

  Although the producer had denied it, the truth had been there in his cautious eyes. He’d been scared. She’d seen the look before. Her brothers plowed over people, silenced those who opposed them, and crushed scandals before they went public. Maybe stopping me is for the best, too.

  But my silence should be my choice.

  She knew she wasn’t making sense anymore, but the alcohol fueled her anger toward her brothers. Kenzi raised the bottle in salute to the bodyguard then dropped her shoes into the sand. After one final swig, she dropped the bottle beside her shoes and glared at the man who hadn’t moved. She could feel his eyes on her, and her hands clenched at her sides. Like thoughts of her family, his presence held her back from enjoying the novelty of a strong buzz. Instead of the giddy oblivion she’d sought, she felt raw, cornered. Watched. Always watched, but never heard. She wanted to sink to her knees in the sand and cry. Instead, she called out, “Tell my family you couldn’t find me, or say you saw me go into my hotel room. Go away. I want to be alone.”

  His rigid outline stood in quiet judgment of her, and she hated him for it. Hated feeling like, even here at her island escape, she was being controlled. An impulse to defy him made her turn toward the waves. She would disappear into the darkness and lose herself in her exercise of choice. She shed her dress in one swift move, without embarrassment; her navy-blue bra and panties covered more than many bikinis anyway. She was ankle-deep in the water when a strong hand closed over her arm and hauled her back two steps then swung her around.

  “Whatever you’re running from, killing yourself isn’t the answer,” the bodyguard said impatiently, with a hint of an English accent.

  Kenzi tried to yank her arm free, but he held her easily. She turned angry eyes toward his face, and her next words died on her lips. He was an attractive man but not in a male-model way. His features were harsh; his nose was slightly crooked as if it had been broken once or twice. He wasn’t at all what Kenzi would have said was her taste. The men she dated took as long styling their hair as she did. This was a man. Her heart beat wildly in her chest. Nothing about his expression hinted he might be attracted to her, yet her stomach quivered with excitement. She dismissed the temporary insanity of her libido as a result of too much rum. She hoped she sounded angry instead of breathless when she said, “I am an excellent swimmer. And I don’t appreciate being manhandled.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded s
lurred.

  He dropped his hand from her arm. “You’re drunk, and I don’t have time for the police investigation that will follow your body being washed up on the shore tomorrow morning.” He gave her a slow once-over then bent to pick up her dress. He threw it at her. “Get dressed. I’m walking you back to the hotel.”

  Kenzi clenched her dress in front her. “No.” It was hard to deny her level of inebriation as she swayed. Okay, so swimming might have been a bad idea, but did he have to speak to her like she was a child?

  A hint of a smile stretched one side of his amazing lips. “Don’t test me on this.”

  It was surprisingly exciting to defy him, and that feeling was preferable to the many dark emotions swirling through her. She let herself imagine how his mouth would feel on hers and licked her bottom lip as she stared at his. “I’m not testing you. I’m telling you I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t care who hired you or how much they’re paying you. I don’t need you.” Well, not in any way I can say. Would a night in his arms achieve what neither the beach nor the rum had? Would it free her, if only for a short time? Stupid. Stupid idea. One-night stands hadn’t helped her feel better in the past, adding another to her list wouldn’t now. Maybe this is exactly what I deserve. No. Stop thinking like that. I am not the person I almost became. “Please, go find someone else to protect.”

  She backed up a step and turned away, but tripped over her shoes and face-planted in the sand. She raised herself onto her hands and spat out the sand that had flown into her mouth.

  He hauled her back to her feet. “Are you—?”

  In her impaired state, that’s all it took for an old memory, one she’d tried so many times to wipe away, to blur the present with the past. He was no longer the alluring bodyguard ruining her attempt to find peace. There was no longer anything sexy about teasing him. He was another man in another time, who was holding her, and she couldn’t get away. Shame. Rage. Adrenaline rushed in as it had so many times she’d tried to be intimate with a man. Alcohol wasn’t as effective at numbing her as the drugs she’d used in the past. It only gave more life to her panic when it came. When she struggled to free herself, he clamped another hand on her other arm, and she lost all control. She started to flail wildly, kicking at him with desperation. “Don’t touch me!” she cried out, but her warning was garbled as the rum took full effect.

  He held her against him and said, “What the bloody hell is wrong with you? I’m not going to hurt you. I’m trying to help.”

  It might have been the authoritative tone he used, or maybe the way he was calm despite her hysteria, that brought her back to the present. The shame she’d spent half her life running from followed. She shook her head back and forth, and his face blurred behind tears she only let herself shed here on this island or on stage when the emotion could be passed off as someone else’s. “Just leave me alone. Walk away.”

  “Trust me, if I could, I would.” His voice was harsh, but his hold on her gentled. He was still holding her against him, but suddenly it was different. There was protectiveness in his embrace that hadn’t been there a moment before. “Who are you?”

  Her eyes flew to his. She impatiently wiped away her tears. “I don’t understand. You know who I am.”

  His hold on her loosened, and he searched her face. “No, I don’t.”

  She sniffed. Why would he lie? “Asher didn’t send you? Or Ian?” He shook his head once, abruptly. She looked at him and a horrifying thought came to her. For security, he was wearing a very expensive suit. “You’re not a bodyguard, are you?”

  His silence was answer enough.

  She covered her face with one hand, even though it made her head spin. “I’m sorry. I thought my brothers had hired you.” She opened her eyes and stepped back from him. This time he let her go. She stumbled then righted herself, avoiding the hand he held out to steady her. “I should have stuck with the fruity drinks.”

  Somehow he had her dress over her head and on her before she could protest. He picked up her shoes and took her elbow in one hand. “I’ll walk you back.”

  She almost said she was fine, but she had the feeling he would do exactly as he pleased, regardless of what she said. As they walked together, she said, “I don’t drink anymore.” Her voice caught in her throat as the emotion from earlier threatened to resurface. She didn’t lose control, didn’t put herself in dangerous situations—not anymore.

  In the harsh tone he’d used earlier, he said, “I don’t care, so you don’t have to lie to me.”

  “I’m not lying.” She stumbled again as she walked. A glance at him revealed he clearly didn’t believe her. She wanted to tell him his opinion of her didn’t matter, but her mouth suddenly went dry and her stomach churned in warning. She paused and wrapped an arm around a palm tree.

  His hand tightened on her elbow. “No stopping now. We’re almost there.”

  “I feel a little—”

  “You’ll be fine tomorrow. I’ll have someone make sure you get a glass of water and some aspirin. Which part of the hotel are you staying in? Do you have your key with you?”

  Kenzi felt at her side. “Shit, I left my purse at the bar.” She sank to her knees on one side of the path. The man beside her and the fate of her purse were of little consequence as she fought back the urge to retch. She heard him greet someone; they sounded so far away, even though they were beside her.

  A man said, “Is everything all right?”

  “Does it look all right?”

  “How can I help?”

  “Call a doctor and help me get her to her room.”

  “She’s probably staying in the Presidential Suite. We can go through the side entrance.”

  “You know her?”

  “Not personally, but I recognize her from photos. Kenzi Barrington. Her brother is Asher Barrington, from Boston. I met them through the Hendersons once.”

  “What the hell is she doing here?”

  “Right now? Throwing up on your shoe.”

  “Fuck.”

  A moment later, Kenzi felt a cold, wet towel pressed into her hands. She stood shakily and gave herself over to the strong arms that supported her as she walked into the hotel. Once inside, she felt like she was floating when he picked her up and carried her into the elevator. She laid her head on the strong shoulder beneath the expensive suit. The storm had passed, and she was coasting on the lovely numbness she’d sought.

  This. This is good enough to make me forget.

  After a moment (or was it several?), she heard a woman instruct her to lift her arms, and she did so obediently. She slid into the most heavenly bed and closed her eyes. A quick annoyance of a pill and a glass of water followed, then she fell back against the pillows again.

  “Does she need a hospital?”

  The woman answered, “In my opinion, no. She’ll have quite a hangover, though.”

  “Call me when she wakes up.”

  “Absolutely, Mr. Marshall.”

  “And your discretion with this matter will be rewarded.”

  “I understand, Mr. Marshall.”

  Kenzi’s eyes fluttered open. She sought the eyes of the man she’d briefly fancied earlier. If there had ever been a spark between them, she’d certainly extinguished it. The thought made her sad, even though she had no idea who he was. One more opportunity gone before being explored. She croaked, “I’m sorry about your shoes.”

  He stood next to the bed, his expression unreadable. “Why are you here?”

  She answered honestly. “Islands make me happy. The waves wash everything away.”

  He frowned but didn’t say anything.

  Kenzi shrugged beneath the blankets. “Usually. But not this time. That’s why I tried the rum.”

  An angry expression twisted his features. “What do you need to forget?”

  “Everything,” Kenzi said and closed her eyes, letting herself slip into the deep sleep the alcohol had been pulling her toward.

  Morning coffee didn
t help Dax’s sour mood. The long, early-morning run he’d taken on the beach hadn’t either. After his shower, he checked his phone to see if he’d missed a message, but he hadn’t. He made several business calls then checked his messages again.

  Kenzi Barrington.

  If she were dead, someone would have called.

  He picked up his cell phone to call Clay Landon, who had helped him get Kenzi back to her room. Clay was one of the few people he trusted. They had been friends for a long time, and he’d brought him along to the Bahamas because resorts were not Dax’s usual acquisition. He’d offered Clay a slice of the profit, but, as usual, Clay had refused to accept it. Dax had a hard time understanding what motivated Clay at times. He was insanely rich but lived a relatively modest lifestyle. He was brilliant but hadn’t applied that intelligence to any substantial project. He dabbled in real estate and the stock market, pretty much anything that promised to hold his attention for more than five minutes. There were times Dax had wondered if Clay considered him a good friend merely because he found Dax interesting.

  The bane of a poor man is starvation.

  The bane of a rich man—boredom.

  Clay could probably afford to feed a nation and would if someone convinced him it wouldn’t be a tediously boring prospect.

  So when a rumor had surfaced that one of the largest family-owned resorts in the Caribbean was teetering financially, it had been irresistible blood in the water to a shark like Dax and a tempting distraction for Clay. Dax had closed the deal the night before, but optimizing the profit by reselling to developers was Clay’s area of expertise. He looked at this acquisition as he did all of his others: a means to an end. Unlike Clay, Dax stayed to one course. Life was about knowing what one wanted, taking pleasure or profit where it presented itself, then moving on.

  He didn’t get bored nor did he get excited about much. Wealth was the only sustainable constant he believed in. People were fickle. Companies rose and fell. Trends changed. Wealth was power, and power was all that mattered. He surrounded himself with people who understood how little tolerance he had for sentimentality. More than once, his friends had told him he was too honest, brutally honest was what they called him, but lies required a person to care about what others thought, and Dax didn’t care.

 
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