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Illusion

Part of Swept Away

Indie sensation and New York Times bestselling author of the Ex Games series and the Private Club series, J.S. Cooper introduces the Swept Away series—three new, dark and sexy romances about a woman marooned on a desert island with a mysterious stranger—but is he friend or foe?

The day started like every other day...

Bianca finds herself kidnapped and locked up in a van with a strange man. Ten hours later, they’re dumped on a deserted island. Bianca has no idea what’s going on and her attraction to this stranger is the only thing keeping her fear at bay.

Jakob wants only to figure out why they’ve been left on the island and how they can get off. But as the days go by, he can’t ignore his growing fascination with Bianca.

In order to survive, Bianca and Jakob must figure out how they’re connected, but as they grow closer, secrets are revealed that may destroy everything they thought they knew about each other.

Illusion one One Week Earlier
“Can I have this seat?” A deep voice interrupted my typing, and I stifled a sigh.

“Uh, sure,” I replied, without looking up. I had to finish my latest movie review in the next ten minutes and e-mail it to my editor if I wanted to get paid for the article.

“Can I have some space on the table?” His voice was dry as he spoke again, and I pulled my laptop toward me quickly, my eyes never leaving my screen. “I don’t mean to disturb you.” He continued, and this time I ignored him completely. I didn’t have time for chitchat. Not when I had to finish an article on Adam Sandler’s latest movie and persuade viewers to go and watch it without completely lying about my feelings toward the acting and the poor jokes.

I typed away as quickly as I could, but I could feel that the man was staring at me. I bit down on my lower lip to stop myself from looking up at him and asking what his problem was. It wasn’t his fault that I was on high alert and anxious. I knew that I couldn’t have an expectation of privacy if I was working at a coffee shop, but I didn’t normally have to worry about a stranger talking to me. People in New York never talked to strangers, not unless they were tourists.

I sighed and looked up. “Did you need help with something?” My breath caught as I stared at the man’s face. He was handsome, or appeared to be under the Yankees cap that covered half of his forehead. His blue eyes looked into mine with a bright light, and I could see a hint of a smile on his full pink lips. I licked my lips unconsciously as I stared at the man across from me and attempted to brush my messy hair back. “I can move onto my back if you want. I mean, move back.” I stuttered as he stared at me with his lips twitching slightly. “I don’t mean I’ll go on my back or anything, I mean I can move farther back, if you need more space.” My face burned red as I tried to explain myself.

“No, you’ve done enough. Thank you.” He nodded and looked down at his book in a dismissive fashion. Served me right, I suppose. I hadn’t really given him the time of day, and it would be way too obvious if I tried to start up a conversation now. I looked at my watch and then back at my article; I had five minutes to sum up a lackluster review of a movie I’d thought was inane. If I didn’t send it over, I wouldn’t get paid. And now that this was my only form of income, I needed to get paid. I went back to typing, though my mind was partially on the man I was sharing the table with. His knee was rubbing against mine, and I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for the slight thrill his touch was giving me.

“Loser,” I whispered to myself under my breath as I wrapped up the article and attached it in an e-mail. I knew that I was sending the e-mail without rereading the article one more time so that I could try to chat with the man. Though, I really had no business trying to flirt with a strange man in a coffee shop. I was about to ask him what he was reading, when I got the strangest sensation that someone was watching me again. And this time I knew it wasn’t the man sharing the table with me. I looked around the coffee shop and saw an older-looking man sipping his coffee and staring at me over a newspaper. As soon as our eyes made contact, he looked away and back down at his paper. I felt my heart racing as I stared at his coffee cup on the table. It wasn’t from this coffee shop. I pressed Send on my e-mail and grabbed my bag up from the floor in a panic, spilling half of its contents on the ground.

“You need some help?” The man looked up from his book and then stared at the ground. He leaned down and picked up my lipstick and some mints and handed them to me. Our fingers brushed each other’s as I took my belongings from him, and I felt a dart of electricity running through me at his touch.

“Thanks.” I stared into his deep blue eyes and nodded quickly.

“Is everything okay?” His eyes crinkled in concern, and I was about to answer, when I felt the man in the corner staring at me again.

“I’m fine.” I looked back down at my computer screen and stifled a groan. I’d received another message from Matt, a guy I’d spoken to a couple of times on the computer, yet had decided I didn’t want to meet. I opened the e-mail slowly, not really wanting to read what he had to say. I’d much rather be talking to the hunk in front of me. I read the e-mail from Matt quickly and then deleted it without responding. He just wouldn’t leave me alone. “Stalker,” I muttered under my breath, and looked up again to see the hunk staring at me.

“Sorry, were you talking to me?” His lips were twitching again, and I shook my head.

“No, sorry. I just had an e-mail from this guy. If it was from you, I wouldn’t be pressing Delete, trust me.” I groaned out loud as I realized what I’d said. “I mean, because you seem like a really nice guy.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Let me know if I can be of any help.” He went back to his book, and I was about to ask him a question about what he was reading, when I felt the man in the corner staring at me again.

“Shit.” I jumped up and grabbed my bag, hitting the hunk in the shoulder as I moved.

“You okay?”

“I think I’m being followed.” I said as I shook my head and nodded toward the corner where the man watching me sat. “Sorry, I have to go.” I grabbed my laptop and pushed it into my bag. “It was nice meeting you.” I gave him a quick smile and ran out of the coffee shop. “This was our serendipity moment. I hope we meet again,” I muttered as I gave the hunk one last look before darting down the street. I continued running down the street until I could no longer run anymore. I stopped outside a donut shop and leaned back against the wall, breathing deeply. I looked left and right to make sure I didn’t see the man who I was pretty sure had been following me and then rubbed my forehead.

“You’re going crazy, Bianca,” I said to myself as I straightened up and started walking at a normal pace. I started laughing as I reached the subway station and went down to catch my train. Not one person had looked at me like I was crazy as I’d run down the street. Even though I’d been running like I was in the 100m sprint finals at the Olympics. That was part of the beauty of living in New York City. You could be who you wanted, and you weren’t judged. The other side of the coin, the side of the equation that made me stop smiling, was the wonder of what would have happened if the man had been following me. Would anyone have come to my aid? I walked on to the subway and held on to the pole without looking at anyone. As I stood there I thought about both men in the coffee shop, one I’d wanted to get to know better, and the other, I hoped I never saw again. I shook my head as I realized how different I was now. My life had changed completely in the last year and so had I.



I never thought I was particularly brave until recently. I don’t enjoy watching horror movies. I sleep with all my doors double-locked, and I go through and check that all my windows are closed tight every night before I go to bed—and I live on the eighth floor of my apartment building. No, I’m not someone that anyone would call brave and definitely not an amateur sleuth. I’ve always been someone who likes to keep to herself. Some people would call me quiet, but those are the ones who don’t know me well. Inside, I’m a dynamo of activity and fun.

I used to be the sort of person who froze when she heard a creak in the floorboards or heard a sudden scream. My father always used to call me his frightened little rabbit when I was growing up. I heard the term a lot, as there were always sudden and unexplainable noises in New York City. I don’t think he realized that it was his overprotectiveness that led to my lack of trust of most people. However, my whole demeanor changed when my father died. The first twenty-five years of my life faded into obscurity when my father died.

My father died of a broken heart. Or rather I should say he died with a broken heart. I don’t think he ever got over my mother’s death. I’m not sure that I ever got over it either, even though I was a young girl when she was killed in a car accident. Her English ancestry was the reason I studied British history in college, and my love of her memory was the reason why when I was given my father’s secret box, I knew I had to do something about its contents. My mother’s death changed my father’s life, and my father’s death changed mine. The moment I read his letter to me was the moment I felt steel implanted in my backbone. It was the moment I knew that I wouldn’t allow anything to frighten me until I found out what really had happened to my mother.



I wasn’t surprised when the letter arrived. It was only after I read the note that I looked back at the envelope for clues. Only then did I realize there was no postage stamp. Whoever had left the note for me didn’t want any clues leading back to them. I stared at the letter in my hands and shivered slightly. It read simply:

Beauty and Charm. One survives. One is destroyed. What are your odds?

I read it again, trying to make sense of the note. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take from it. I picked up the envelope again to see if there was anything inside that I’d missed. While I hadn’t been surprised to receive the letter, I had been surprised by its contents. I hadn’t expected such a blatant threat, though it shouldn’t have surprised me. My father had warned me, in the letter I’d found in his box, that there were people willing to do anything to keep their secrets safe. His letter had stated that he suspected that my mother’s car accident hadn’t really been an accident. However, his suspicions had come too late. It was only on his deathbed that he had started to remember conversations and actions that had happened prior to her death. His letter spoke of his sadness and regret at having shut down after my mother’s death. He felt that if he’d not been in such a deep state of depression he would have made the connections earlier. His letter didn’t directly ask me to find out the truth, but I could read between the lines. He wanted justice for my mother. It was the reason why he’d written the letter in the first place. The only problem was, my father didn’t say whom he suspected. All he had left me was a one-page letter talking of his suspicions and two boxes full of paperwork from the corporation he’d used to work for, Bradley Inc.

After I’d read my father’s letter and gone through the paperwork he’d left for me, I had started investigating. Well, I’d done my best to get on the inside of Bradley Inc. so I could find clues that might help me figure out what my father had found out and if my mother had been murdered. I hadn’t been careful enough with my investigation, and so I wasn’t surprised I had been contacted. But I was taken aback by the letter. Frankly, it wasn’t what I’d expected to receive.

I stared at the letter in my hands again and frowned. There was a veiled threat and a challenge in the note: “One survives and one is destroyed.” Destroyed was a pretty powerful word. Destroyed was sending a message. I could feel my fingers trembling as they held the letter. I knew that I was getting close to the truth, close to the answers that would prove my father’s suspicions had been correct. I was about to take out a pen and paper and write down the words I thought were most telling in the note, when I heard a loud banging on the apartment door.

“Open up!” a masculine voice shouted as he banged. “Police.”

Police? I walked to the door with a perplexed expression. “I’m coming!” I called out as I opened the door. I immediately felt something was not right—someone had made it into the building without calling up. How had he gotten into the building without someone buzzing him in? I dismissed my thoughts as I realized the police must have master keys to every building in the city, though I still felt some discomfort as I looked at him.

“Are you okay?” The policeman had his hand on his gun in its holster, and I swallowed.

“I’m fine. What’s going on?”

“There was a nine-one-one call from your apartment.” He pushed past me. “And then a hang-up.”

“I didn’t make a nine-one-one call.” I shook my head and pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. “Look, you can check my calls. There is no call to nine-one-one.”

“It was made from your landline, ma’am.”

“I don’t have a landline.” I frowned and followed him around my apartment. My voice rose as I wondered who had called nine-one-one on me. “There must have been a mistake. I can assure you that I didn’t call nine-one-one and hang up.”

“I’m still going to check through your apartment, if that’s okay?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

“I already told you that I didn’t call the police, and I’m the only one who lives here.” I called after him and watched as he walked down the hallways and into my bedroom. I stood still, unable to move as I thought back to the letter that had just arrived. Had the writer of the letter sent the police to my house? And if so, why? Why would the people who killed my mother want the police involved in the matter? It didn’t make sense. I chewed on my lower lip, deep in thought, when I heard a slamming. “What’s going on?” I walked to my bedroom quickly, my heart pounding. “What are you doing in my room?” My voice was jittery, and I tried not to look in the one place I was scared he would find.

“I was just making sure that no one was in your closets, ma’am. It doesn’t hurt for me to make sure everything is okay.” He walked out of my room with a slight frown. “All looks clear.”

“I already told you that.”

“You have any issues, you call us.” His eyes searched mine as he spoke and then he handed me a card. “You can’t be too careful these days.”

“I’m very careful.” I walked him to the door and wondered if I should tell him about the note I’d just received. I was about to, when I remembered what my father had always told me when I was growing up: “The pockets of the rich are deep. Bianca, only trust someone if they give you reason to trust them. Even the police aren’t above being bribed.” “Thank you for your concern, Officer.” I nodded at him and waited for him to leave. My heart was pounding, and I needed to think.

“No worries. Stay safe, Ms. London.” He nodded his head, and I closed the door. It was only after he left that I realized he knew my name. How did he know my name?

I leaned against the door and closed my eyes. What was going on here? Today was turning into one mysterious day. First the note, and then the police showing up. I didn’t know: who sent the note, why they sent the note, who called the police, how he had gotten into my building, and how he knew my name. I chewed my bottom lip as I tried to figure out what was going on. I stared around my apartment, and suddenly the coziness of the room felt claustrophobic. I’d always loved living in New York City, but today my small one-bedroom felt like a cell. That the building had seemed so safe when I moved in suddenly felt like a fallacy. I didn’t know my neighbors, and I had no one to talk to about how the policeman had gotten into the building or the mysterious letter that had arrived.

The dirty peeling walls directly opposite seemed to be closing in on me as I stood there hoping for clarity to hit and questions to be answered miraculously. I walked to my tan leather couch and sat down, leaning back into the plushness of the cushions. It was the only nice piece of furniture I owned. And even then it had been a gift from my best friend, Rosie. I could barely afford the rent in my apartment as it was, and I wasn’t living in Trump Tower either.

I picked up the bright red-and-orange-patterned cushions that my father had gotten me in India when I was a teenager and then froze as my cell phone rang. The noise was jarring in my eerily quiet living room. I normally always had the TV on or music playing; I didn’t like being in quiet spaces for too long. It reminded me of how alone I was. I grabbed my cell phone and dropped it when I saw the screen. My father’s phone number flashed on the screen. My dead father’s phone number. I stared at it before reaching down and picking it up again.

“Hello?” I answered softly, my voice cracking as I wondered who was calling me from my dad’s phone. I was pretty sure I still had it in a box in my bedroom. I took a deep breath to stop myself from freaking out and jumped off the couch. “Hello,” I spoke into the phone again with my voice trembling, this time unable to hide how freaked out I was by the call.

“You should be more careful, Bianca,” a deep male voice spoke into the phone. I couldn’t make his voice out clearly, as the phone had a lot of static.

My voice rose. “Who is this?”

“You shouldn’t let strangers into your apartment.”

“I haven’t let any strangers into my apartment.”

“Anyone can be anyone. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“What are you talking about?” My face started to feel hot as I sat there in fear.

“Be careful of those who seek to help you. They may do more harm than good.” Then he hung up.

I stared at the phone in my hand and ran to my bedroom to find my dad’s phone. The box of my father’s things was on the bed, and the lid was off. I ran over to it and saw that the phone was gone. Who could have taken it? No one had been in my apartment in weeks. No one except the policeman, but why would a policeman go through my things? Unless he hadn’t been there to help protect me from an intruder—perhaps he was there to find something to protect someone else.

I looked down at the business card he had given me and froze. It was blank. All he had given me was a piece of white card stock. It was then that I knew this was the next step in whatever was going on. I knew then that the policeman had been looking for my father’s papers. The papers that he’d left me were full of clues. It didn’t matter that I didn’t fully understand them yet. Obviously someone else wanted them.

I walked to the window in my living room and looked down to the street. I stared at the homeless woman who’d settled into the block directly across the street a couple of weeks ago. The woman I gave a couple of dollars to once a week as I passed by her. The woman who quoted a different Bible verse to me every time she saw me. The woman who shivered even when the days were warm. The woman who wore a Cartier watch and had freshly dyed highlights. The woman who knew exactly when I left and entered the building. I didn’t know who she was, friend or foe, but I knew that she was watching me.

I walked back to my bedroom and stared at my father’s box for a few minutes before closing it carefully and placing it back in my closet. I was grateful that I had removed my father’s papers from the box several weeks ago. I hadn’t known why at the time, but I’m someone who always listens to her first instincts. I then went to my dirty-clothes basket, pulled out my clothes, and threw them onto the floor. I instinctively looked around the room again to make sure it was empty, even though I knew there was no one in there with me. I pulled out my mother’s old cedar jewelry box that I’d hidden under the clothes and slowly opened it. I let out a huge sigh of relief when I saw the stack of papers hidden under the cheap costume necklaces I had bought at Goodwill. I carefully closed it again, carried it with me to the kitchen, and placed it in a plastic bag. Then I pulled my cell phone out again and made a call.



It had been four days since the note arrived. Four days that I’d been on tenterhooks wondering what was going to happen next. I’d never felt this anxious before. Or scared. However, I tried to continue living my life as I normally did. There was nothing I could do but wait and see what was going to happen next. I also knew what the next step of the plan was. I could do nothing but wait for my ex-boyfriend David to come through for me. He was my only access to more information. I hadn’t wanted to trust him, but I knew that in a game of cat and mouse the one who got the cheese was the one who took the most risks. I just had to be patient. Though, it was hard. Even watching shows on the History Channel didn’t capture my attention for long.

“I’m not dating online again,” I muttered as I deleted another rude message from a man known as Matt, or as his profile said, KnightInShiningArmani.

Online dating was something I’d been doing since David and I had broken up. At first, it had taken my mind off everything that had gone down with David. Now, it helped me to occupy my thoughts when my mind drifted to dark areas. Generally, I enjoyed my online conversations, but there was something about Matt that had really turned me off. He just wasn’t getting the hint. I’d made the mistake of talking to him twice on the phone before deciding that I wasn’t interested in going on a date with him. He definitely looked handsome in his photos, but he’d been arrogant and demanding on the phone, and his e-mails had gotten creepier and creepier. I stifled a sigh as I saw another e-mail come through from Matt and picked up my phone to call my best friend, Rosie.

“This is Rosie speaking.” Rosie’s voice sounded tired as she answered the phone.

“Hey, it’s Bianca,” I said lightly, and walked over to my vanity. “What are you up to?”

“Just a little something called work,” she responded with a sigh. I could tell she was tired from the lack of excitement in her tone. “What’s up?”

“Want to grab a drink tonight?” I checked my reflection in the mirror and sighed. Months of facial exercises hadn’t helped to define my cheekbones at all. “Not that I need any alcohol. My face looks puffy. However, I haven’t seen you in over a month, and we need to catch up. There’s some stuff I need to tell you about.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t look puffy, and yes, we need to catch up.” Her tone changed. “I want to hear what you’ve been up to.”

“Trust me, it does,” I muttered, frowning at the bags under my eyes. “I’m going to make myself a face mask and put some cucumbers on my eyes.”

“Must be nice to be self-employed,” Rosie said jealously.

“Must be nice to have a steady income,” I responded back tartly. I’d been freelancing, writing entertainment articles for a couple of online newspapers, for about a year, and I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision. As much as I loved movies, my true love was for the kings and queens of England, and I really wanted to become a history professor. However, freelancing gave me the opportunity to play Sherlock Holmes, or, realistically, more like Stephanie Plum. I needed the flexibility in my schedule to allow me to investigate what had happened to my mother more freely.

“Touché.” She giggled. “And yes. I’m down for a drink. It’s been a long month and an even longer day.”

“Boss back?” I made small talk even though I didn’t want to. I really just wanted to tell her about the note and the fake policeman. I wanted to tell her about the woman who watched me from across the street and the feeling I had that someone was following me. I knew this wasn’t the time though. I’d have time to tell her everything tonight.

“Yes, he’s back from Shanghai, and he’s acting like a bigger douche than ever,” she moaned. “He’s treating me like his assistant again. It’s not like I’ve been running the department for the last month or anything.”

“Drinks are on me, then,” I offered. “Maybe he’s treating you like that because he knows you can take over his job and do a better one in a heartbeat.”

“Bianca, you think very highly of me,” she said appreciatively. “However, you can’t afford to buy me all the drinks I’m going to need tonight.” She laughed and then paused. “Ooh, you also have to tell me how your date went with that guy you met online.”

“Oh, I told you about that?” I frowned into the phone, confused. I couldn’t remember mentioning that I was going to meet Matt, but ever since I’d started doing detective work on the side, I couldn’t really remember who I was telling what. I really needed to keep a journal of the information I was giving to different people. Rosie had been my best friend for years, but I knew that she wouldn’t approve of my investigations, so I hadn’t really told her much. But I was starting to think I needed to confide in her when I saw her later.

“Yeah, you told me you were going to meet that guy online, to help get over David, remember?”

“Oh, that was weeks ago, and I canceled it.” I groaned. “I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to work out.” I stared into my eyes in the mirror as I spoke. I felt bad about keeping secrets from Rosie.

“Bianca, you can’t cancel the date before you meet him. Plus, he looked hot in those photos you showed me online. All masculine and sexy.”

“Yeah, he was hot.” I nodded as I walked back to my computer. I shook my head as I sat down. I’d obviously told her about Matt if I’d shown her photos. “He just seemed like a bit of a creep.”

“They’re all creeps.” She sounded annoyed. “Anyway, he looked cute.”

“I don’t want to date a guy who’s creepy before we even meet.”

“How was he being creepy?”

“Listen to this e-mail he sent me last night.” I sat on the bed and put my laptop on my knees. “Hold on a sec. I’m going through my trash, since I deleted the e-mails.”

“No worries.” She paused. “Hey, I wanted to tell you that I saw David a couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh?” My heart stopped for a second, and I took a deep breath. “How did he look?”

“Handsome as ever.” She paused again. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” I said stiffly as an image of David crossed my mind.

I didn’t want to talk about David. Not over the phone. Not now. He was the most handsome guy I’d ever dated, with his dark brown locks and bright green eyes. He was tall and buff, and he looked like every woman’s dream. Rosie had been shocked when he’d asked me out and we’d started dating. She hadn’t known the lengths I’d gone through to get his attention. Though, to be honest, I’d never felt secure in the relationship, and when he’d cheated on me, I hadn’t been that surprised. Our relationship had been complex, and no one else knew exactly how complex it still was.

“Have you spoken to him recently?”

“Not since we broke up.” I bit my lower lip, hating to lie again. “I’ve started several e-mails though.”

“Does he still call you?”

“He called me a few times, but nothing in over a month.” I sighed. “Maybe he’s moved on.”

“He’s a dick, and you know what he was thinking with.” Rosie sounded hesitant. “I mean, I know guys have needs, but shit, he should have told you that he couldn’t wait anymore.”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to sleep with him.” I sighed. “It just never felt right. I wanted it to be special.” And it would never have been special with David, no matter how handsome I thought he was.

“I know. He’s an asshole.” Rosie went back to being supportive. “It’s his loss.”

“Exactly.” I sighed as I thought back to David. “Did he say anything to you when you saw him?” I asked casually.

“He said hi.” Rosie’s voice sounded awkward. “And something else, but it didn’t make sense.”

“Oh?” My fingers froze on the keyboard. “What else did he say?”

“He said that there was more than one way to skin a cat.”

“What?” I frowned. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think he’s trying to woo you.” Rosie’s voice became thoughtful. “I guess he figured out that just apologizing and calling wasn’t going to cut it. I bet he’s going to try to step it up a notch and really try harder to win you back.”

“You think so?” I stared around my bedroom and thought for a second. This was the one room in my apartment that David and I had never really spent much time in. I lay back on my bed and sighed. “I was an idiot, wasn’t I. I should have just had sex with him. I’m sure it would have been amazing. Maybe we’d still be together now.” I felt odd saying the words, as if I were playing a part in a play. You’ve been watching too many movies, Bianca, I thought to myself.

“Don’t blame yourself, Bianca. It’s not your fault. Maybe this is what he needed, to see how much you mean to him. Maybe he’ll be all romantic now. What if he takes you on a surprise trip to Paris or something? Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“You think he’d really do that?”

“Who knows?” Rosie laughed. “Hey, hold on. I just got a package from a new and very cute delivery guy.”

“Okay.” I laughed and sat back up, still looking through my e-mails for the deleted messages from Matt. I wanted to get away from the conversation about David.

I should have known from his screen name that he was going to be an asshole. I mean, Knight in Shining Armani? Only a pompous asshole would choose such a name.

“Thank you, Billy.” I heard Rosie speaking to the delivery guy and ripping open her new package.

I smiled to myself as I imagined her decimating the package so she could find out what was inside as quickly as possible. She’d always been impatient when opening packages and presents. I only hoped she treated any packages she received from me with more care. I stared at the plastic bag on my night desk and wondered if I was making the right decision to entrust my papers with her.

“Oh my God, are you there, Bianca?” Rosie’s voice was jittery and excited.

“Yeah, why?”

“Someone just sent me a present.”

“Ooh, what did they send?”

“A Tiffany’s bracelet and a note.” Her voice was growing louder with excitement.

“What does it say?” I asked casually as my stomach flip-flopped.

“It says ‘My dearest Rosie, you don’t know me yet, but I very much want to know you. Accept this gift as a token of my friendship.’?” She paused. “And that’s it.”

“Who’s it from?”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was low. “I wonder if it’s Joe from accounting. I’ve seen him giving me a few rather obvious admiring stares recently, ever since I got those blond highlights.”

“But you know Joe. Wouldn’t it say ‘You don’t know my intentions yet’ as opposed to ‘You don’t know me yet’?”

“Who knows? Maybe he’s slow or didn’t think it through properly.” She laughed. “Who cares? I just got a bracelet from Tiffany’s.”

“I can’t wait to see it tonight.” I was slightly envious. No one was sending me gifts from Tiffany’s. Not even David, who might or might not be trying to woo me back. I thought back to my own, more ominous note and wondered if there was a connection.

“I can’t wait to show it off.” Rosie’s squeal interrupted my thoughts.

“Okay, I have the e-mails open. Are you ready to hear the craziness?”

“Yes, let me hear.”

“?‘Dear CreativeGirlNYC, Have you ever been to Rome? It’s such a romantic city that I would love to fly you there in my private jet. I’d like to take you to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Then we can share pasta and drink wine as we gaze into each other’s eyes. KnightInShiningArmani.’?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“It’s weird. He knows my name is Bianca, and I know his name is Matt, so why doesn’t he use our real names? And, well, we’ve never met. It’s too much too soon.”

“He’s trying to sweep you off your feet.” Rosie sounded matter-of-fact.

“Well, listen to the e-mail he sent me last night. ‘Dear CreativeGirlNYC, I was very disappointed that you canceled our date and now won’t accept my calls. I’ve been waiting for us to meet for a long time. In fact, I’ve been counting down the days until I can make you mine. I feel that you are playing games with me, and I don’t appreciate it. If you are willing to meet me tonight, let me know.’?”

“Wow, he’s persistent.”

“Then today, he just sent me another e-mail. ‘Answer me, Bianca. If you would like to meet for lunch we can still make it work. If not, it’s your loss.’?”

“Wow. He does sound like a winner, doesn’t he?” Rosie exclaimed, and I nodded, though she couldn’t see me.

“Now you know why I won’t be dating online anymore.” I closed my laptop.

“We’ll find two hotties tonight and flirt the night away.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“You might finally get laid,” she said, and then giggled.

“Rosie!”

“Hey, I’m just being honest. A vibrator can only do so much.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” I groaned.



“Hey,” Rosie whispered into the phone as I picked it up.

“Hey back at ya.”

“Meet me at this new bar on the Upper West Side tonight. I’ve heard good things and want to check it out.”

“What’s it called?”

“Orange.”

“Okay. I’ll see you around six?”

“Yeah.” She paused. “Six sounds good.” Then she giggled; the noise sounded quite nervous, and I frowned into the phone.

“What’s so funny? Is there a reason why you chose this bar, Rosie?” My brain started ticking, and I took a gulp of water.

“I’ll tell you later,” she said hurriedly, and then hung up.



I checked my watch for the tenth time. It was now six forty-five, and I was starting to get impatient. I looked at the menu again, and my stomach rumbled as I read the different entrée descriptions. I was so hungry, and I could already feel the glass of wine I was sipping going to my head.

I texted Rosie a photo of the cute bartender and then rubbed my temple softly. Hopefully the surreptitious photo I’d taken would make her hurry up.

“Hey.” Rosie walked into the bar as if she owned it, oblivious to the stares of the men in the bar as she sauntered toward me. Her blond hair was perfectly coiffed and her Escada suit clung to her body perfectly.

“Hey!” I jumped up and gave her a quick hug and continental kiss—left cheek, right cheek, left cheek. “I just texted you, by the way!” I looked at her expensive suit enviously. “You’re lucky I work from home, or I’d be borrowing your clothes.” I laughed as we sat down. I instinctively grabbed to the right of me to make sure the plastic bag was still at my side. I was going to give Rosie a copy of my father’s papers to hold for safekeeping. I’d taken the originals and put them in my safety deposit box at the bank, but I wanted to make sure that I had multiple copies out there just in case.

“How goes the writing? Seen any good movies lately?” She smiled at me briefly before turning to call the waiter over.

“Depends on what you mean by good.” I shrugged. “I’ve been watching box office movies mainly, those are the reviews that get the hits. Not the art pieces we used to watch in college.”

“Good old action movies, huh?”

“Action and cheesy romance.” I smiled and picked up my glass of wine. “They all start to seem the same, but they pay well. I had an article on Channing Tatum get ten thousand views last week.”

“Well, I’d pay to see him swinging those hips.” Rosie frowned as she waited for someone to come over and take her order. “The service here sucks. I should have remembered from last time.”

“Oh, you’ve been here before?” I asked her curiously. I was pretty sure she had said this was her first time.

“Yeah, once.” She ran her hands through her hair and then leaned toward me and grinned. “I’ve missed you, Bianca. I feel like we haven’t seen each other in ages.”

“That’s because we haven’t.”

“I bought you something the other day.” She studied my face and grinned. “A book on Richard the Third and the lost princes or whatever.”

“Oh awesome.” I leaned back in my chair. “You know that some men at the Tower of London recently found . . .”

She interrupted me and said, “So you have to tell me all about that guy online.” Then she paused and turned around. “Waiter!” she called out loudly. “Can you come over here when you have a chance? I’d like a drink sometime this year.” She turned back to me with a glint in her eyes and a small smile. “Let’s see how long he takes now.”

“He’s most probably busy, Rosie.” I shook my head at her impatience. “You’ve only been here for a few minutes.”

“Exactly, I’ve been here for a few minutes, and I’m still sober.” She shuddered. “Something is wrong with this picture.”

“You can have some of my wine if you want.” I pointed to the bottle on the table, and she shook her head.

“No, I think I’m going to get a cocktail,” she said quickly. “I need liquor tonight.”

“So how’s work?” I changed the subject and inquired about her job. I really wanted to talk about myself, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“Challenging.” She shrugged. “We’re attempting to get the account of one of the top financial companies in the States. I can’t tell you the name for legal reasons, but let’s just say if we get it, we will be one of the top advisement companies in the world.”

“Do you think you’ll get it?”

“If I have anything to say about it, yes.” She pursed her lips. “Of course, I’m not working on that deal. I’m helping James with the Bradley Inc. deal. If we get that, I think I’ll get promoted. That’s why I’ve been so busy.”

“Oh.” I looked down into my glass of wine; my heart was racing at her words. I hadn’t known she was trying to do business with the Bradley Corporation. “That’s David’s dad’s company,” I said casually, pretending that that fact was unimportant.

“Oh yeah, that’s where I saw him a couple of weeks ago. In the offices.” She made a face, and I knew that she was worried that I was still upset that we had broken up. Rosie didn’t know that I had never really had legitimate feelings for David, so his cheating hadn’t really hurt me.

“I need to tell you something.” I took a deep breath and lowered my voice. “It’s about David and, well, the Bradley Company.”

“Oh?” Her eyes narrowed, and she looked at me in interest. “What about them?”

“I think that the Bradley Company had something to do with what happened to my mother.”

“What are you talking about?” She looked confused. “What happened to your mom? She died in a car crash, didn’t she?”

“That’s the thing.” I took a deep breath, hoping Rosie wasn’t going to think I was crazy. “I don’t think she did.”

“What?”

“Remember how my dad used to work as an inventor?” I rushed out. “Well, he used to work for the Bradley Company. In fact when the company was started it was called Bradley, London, and Maxwell. I think—”

“Hold on a second.” She jumped up quickly. “I just need to go to the restroom, okay?”

I noticed someone in the corner of the bar staring at me. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I nodded at Rosie slowly as my head started to feel heavy. I was being watched. I was certain of it. I took a deep breath and looked around me. Was I being listened to as well? Part of me was glad that Rosie had jumped up when she had. Then it hit me; it was the man who’d been staring at me from behind the newspaper at the coffee shop.

“That’s fine.” I mumbled back, the words tripping out of mouth in an existential fashion. I wanted to jump up and run, but I knew that wouldn’t help. I’d ask Rosie for her advice when she came back from the restroom. I’d tell her everything that was going on and then hope she wasn’t angry at me for keeping it all from her for so long.

“Watch my bag for me.” She handed me her large black Balenciaga bag and walked away quickly. I put her bag in my lap and quickly unzipped it and placed the plastic bag with the copies of my father’s papers in it and did it back up again.

“More wine, ma’am?” I heard the voice in front of me and I felt a prick in my arm as I looked up. I didn’t see the face of the person as I looked up, because my vision became dotted. All of a sudden, I felt terribly drowsy, like I wanted to sleep. I closed my eyes for a second, and then the world went black.

The first time I regained consciousness, I could feel someone lifting me up. I tried to open my eyes to see what was going on, but my eyelids wouldn’t open, because they were too weak. The second time I regained consciousness, I could hear two men frantically whispering something. It sounded like “The plan’s changed. The plan’s changed.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I allowed the dark void to suck me back in as my brain realized that the inevitable had happened. I knew that I’d rather be unconscious than frozen in fear while being blind and speechless. The void was good for now. The void would allow me to conserve my energy and stop the panic that was currently running through my body.

I drifted back into oblivion, and all I could think about were David’s words the last time we’d spoken: You’re strong, Bianca. You can handle anything. I promise that you’ll get over this. I only hoped that I was as strong as he thought I was.
J.S. Cooper

J.S. Cooper is the New York Times bestselling author of multiple indie-published books, including the Ex Games series, the Private Club series, and the Martelli Brothers series. Born in London, she now lives in the US, where she is currently working on the next book in the Swept Away series.

More books from this author: J.S. Cooper

More books in this series: Swept Away