Tied to the TycoonBy: Chloe Cox
A Club Volare Novel
A quick note…
I can’t seem to stop making my characters do these crazy things. I suppose that’s what fiction is for in a lot of ways, right? I told one of my friends what these two get up to in Chapters 16-17, and she said, “well, my reaction is a combination of ‘OMG lol’ and ‘um that’s really hot,’ so I definitely want to read about it.”
That pretty much sums up my thoughts, too. If you’re interested in ropes and rigging and such, this is maybe not totally realistic. At least if you don’t want to get arrested. Also! This stuff requires a lot of training and such, which I don’t really go into in the book. Jackson’s done that, been there. Ava doesn’t know how good she has it. ;)
About Jackson and Ava: I really, really love this couple. They are both more messed up than I thought they’d be, even though I know that makes little sense coming from the author. I just love that they try so hard for each other, no matter how dysfunctional or damaged or screwed up they are, they just…somehow find it easier to try for each other, and they come through because of it. I love them for that.
I hope you do, too. :)
Jackson Reed hadn’t always been a gambler. Well, maybe he had. But if so, it was just one of many parts of himself that he’d worked hard to hide from the rest of the world. In the past, he’d considered it his responsibility not to play with risk, not to toy with the emotional ups and downs that risk demanded. Not because he was afraid of what the world might do to him if he lost, but because he’d always been afraid of what he might do to the world.
Well, not anymore. And he had one person to thank for that.
He sipped his bourbon, rolling the fire on his tongue and savoring the burn. It helped to focus him. Not that he really needed it; when he got like this, Jackson had the specialized perfection of an apex predator. And he was at the end of a hunt. A long, long hunt. The rest of the world would fall away, and all that would be left would be…her.
He knew he was being antisocial, standing on the fringes of the great room at Volare NY, nursing a bourbon and simply watching. He also knew no one would care. A casino night-themed engagement party at Volare NY, where most of the table stakes were of the carnal variety, meant no one gave a damn what Jackson Reed or anyone not wagering their bodies or their services did. Besides, a casino night in the middle of Christmas party season was like an unexpected oasis of actual fun. So the hanging lanterns sparkled, the champagne flowed, the live orchestra played a few torch songs, and the women laughed while the men watched with hungry eyes.
Jackson smiled, shaking his head. He didn’t know many of these people very well, having cut down on his visits to Volare when his growing company demanded it. Which was why he’d had no idea that Stella Spencer had taken a job as a hostess, or that she’d fallen in love with one of the members and was apparently getting hitched. When he’d finally heard the news—where had he heard it? He didn’t pay much attention to that kind of thing; he guessed it had been Lillian who had told him—he’d recognized the name immediately, and it had meant only one thing to him. He wouldn’t have recognized Stella Spencer’s face, he couldn’t have told you anything about her at all, except for that one thing: she had been friends with her, in college. And so there was a chance that she would be here, at this engagement party, at a legendary sex club.
The woman he thought about every day. The woman he owed everything. The woman he hadn’t seen in the flesh in almost ten years.
That was all he’d needed to know.
He’d called his brand new publicist—the one everyone had insisted he needed ahead of his new product launch—and demanded that she get him an invite. “This is the only thing I’ll ask you to do, Arlene,” he’d said. “And if you can’t do it, find me someone who can.”
It hadn’t been a problem. Jackson Reed, founder and CEO of ArTech, artistic patron and tech wonder boy, now rated in the same social circles as the billionaire sheikh groom. Wasn’t that a scream? The publicist had made one call to Roman Casta at Volare and it was done. Jackson hadn’t told anyone the real reason for his interest, and he was surprised that Roman hadn’t asked—Roman had always been sharp. But fuck it. None of that mattered now. He didn’t give a damn if they threw him out, so long as he found her.
And just as he killed his bourbon, he saw her. Standing there on the other side of the room, silent and unmoving in this swirling, drunken celebration, arms folded up around her like a wounded bird. She was wearing something thin that draped over all the right parts of her beautifully, reflecting shimmering shards of pale blue at him in the dim light, and her hair, piled atop her head in some artistic arrangement, was already starting to come down and frame her face. Her face. Christ, he hadn’t seen…he hadn’t been prepared to see her face again. He felt weak. Looking at her was the only time he could abide feeling weak. He couldn’t help but marvel at her, the perfect symmetry, their connection still unbroken, after all these years—even here, totally ignorant of his presence, she matched him: present, but standing apart. He stood apart because he had a singular purpose. But what kept her apart? What kept her standing on the sidelines, the discomfort evident in every line of her body?
This was something he’d remembered, too, from that one all-important senior year at school, when she’d transferred in. She had this impenetrable mask of cool, of charm, of flirtatious wonder, the beauty who could make anyone who talked to her feel interesting, and important, and like they belonged right there, talking to a woman who looked like that. Sometimes it seemed like he was the only one who could tell it was a mask at all. But he’d lived for the moments when the mask slipped, or those precious few nights when she took it off in his presence and was just herself. All awkward, shy, wounded, thoughtful, funny, and frightening intelligence. And eyes. Those beautiful blue eyes that could see everything, whether she wanted them to or not. She didn’t, for the most part, let people know that she could see most of the things that they tried to hide. On one of those nights, she’d explained it to him: she couldn’t help it, she’d said, she was perceptive, but it was kind of rude in a way. People needed their fictions. They needed their defenses.
She almost never let her defenses slip. And she almost never let them down voluntarily, not all the way. And then, the one night when she did…
Well, he was here to make up for that now, wasn’t he? He was here to repay her for everything she’d given him, whether she knew about it or not.
He put his glass down and tried to think of the best way to approach her. She would be wary, the way she was now, like a hunted animal. And he didn’t like how uncomfortable she looked. It had been ten years; he’d have thought she’d have a different reaction to a place like Club Volare by now. There was something that he hadn’t accounted for.
But then he watched it happen right before his eyes: she assembled herself. The version of herself that most people saw. She stood up straight, held her body like a dancer who’d never known injury and only knew how good it felt to move. Her eyes flashed. Her face became that mask. It was like watching someone put on a beautiful suit of armor, and it both impressed him and made him sad.
And then he watched her walk over to the baccarat table.
The baccarat table with the very unusual stakes and several very interested looking men sitting around it, like a waiting pack of wolves.
He put his glass down and moved out into the crowd.
~ ~ ~
Ava Barnett had just started to find her old, familiar groove, holding court amongst these elite men she didn’t know, holding them all in the palm of her hand and far away from anything that really mattered to her, when the stranger sat down in the darkness across from her and ordered the rest of the table to clear off. Except he wasn’t a stranger, even if she couldn’t see him well enough to place him—she knew she knew him. Yet, on what planet would she forget a man who moved like that?