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Madison Grant leaned over the sink, careful not to get her jeans wet as she applied another coat of gloss. She rubbed her lips together, smacked them once, then dabbed the excess with her fingertip. She examined the resulting pink sheen critically—perfect. Stepping back, she tossed the wand into her purse. It was actually her sister's knockoff Fendi. Bree would totally flip when she realized it was gone. Hopefully that would distract her from checking for other things that had gone missing, like her driver's license and social security card. Of course by that time the shit would have hit the fan anyway. Their mom would be so freaked out that Bree's complaints about a stolen purse would fall on deaf ears. At least that's what Madison was hoping.
She shrugged on the purse and grabbed the handle of her carry-on. It was their fault for basically ignoring her. Ever since the divorce, Dad was only a voice on the phone, and Mom spent most of the day in her room, shades drawn. And Bree was so busy with her friends, she barely bothered to talk to Madison. No, the only person who really cared about her now was Shane.
Madison flushed at the thought of him. They'd only known each other a few weeks, but she could already tell this was it, her one true love. They'd met online and instantly hit it off. She lived for the sweet texts he sent while she sat in class, bored out of her skull. They had these long, intense IM sessions where they talked about everything: what they wanted to be when they grew up, what their families were like. He was the only person Madison had confided in about how shitty things had gotten since the divorce, how awful it was to be dumped in a new city across the country, how she hated school and everyone in it.
Shane was older, nineteen, in his first year of college at San Francisco State. But he said the age difference didn't matter since girls were more mature, and he was totally right. Madison was a lot older than sixteen in her mind. And with Bree's license and social security card, she could get a job. Shane had offered to let her crash with him for as long as she needed to. He hinted that since they'd be spending the rest of their lives together anyway, they might as well get started. When he sent the plane ticket she got so excited, dancing around her bedroom. Then she swiped some of the cash her mom hid around the house and lied about staying with a friend for the weekend. That gave her a few days before they'd realize she was missing. And now she had finally arrived.
It was hard to believe she was about to meet Shane in person. It was going to be perfect, just like in the movies. They'd kiss, he'd look into her eyes and tell her he loved her. She'd work at a cool café in the city while he finished school. Maybe she'd take some classes herself, then eventually they'd get married. They'd have two kids, a boy named Max and a girl named Penelope. Someday she might even call her parents to tell them what a great job she'd done with her life. They'd forgive her for leaving, and everything would turn out the way it should have been all along.
On the other side of the security gate, a guy wearing a cap held a sign that read GRANT. Madison's jaw almost dropped. Shane must have some serious cash—first the plane ticket, now a limo? Maybe his family was rich. He was probably keeping it a secret to see if she liked him for who he was, like in that movie where the prince pretended to be a normal guy. Which was silly, she'd love Shane even if he was totally poor. But she had to admit, the thought of living in a huge house was definitely appealing. Better yet she might not have to get a job, she could just hang out all day. Madison repressed a giggle, trying to look serious and adult as she approached the driver.
"Hi. Are you here for me?"
The chauffeur eyed her, and she drew herself up to her full five-seven. "Madison Grant?"
"Yeah. I mean, yes, that's me."
The chauffeur motioned for her bag. She followed him to a Lincoln Town Car. He popped the trunk, tucked the suitcase inside, then opened the passenger door. Madison climbed in, impressed by the plush surroundings. There was even a bottle of sparkling water in the cup caddy. She unscrewed the cap and took a swig, then belted herself in. The car eased into the steady stream of traffic leaving the terminal, and Madison settled back against the seat.
"You know where we're going, right?" she asked after a minute.
The driver didn't turn his head, just nodded.
Madison was self-conscious. She'd never been in a limo before, but thought there was supposed to be one of those panels between them. Without one, she felt obligated to make small talk.
"So where are you from?" She asked after a short pause.
The driver didn't respond, and she figured his English wasn't very good. He looked Russian, at least around the eyes. Madison sipped more of the water. It had a funny metallic aftertaste, probably because it was from France. Her eyelids drooped. The flight had only been six hours, but she'd spent the whole time amped up in what Dad called her "condensed matter" state. It wouldn't hurt to take a little nap, she decided. After all, she didn't want to be sleepy the first time she met Shane.
When she awoke it was dark. Madison felt drowsy, disoriented. She wasn't in the car anymore, and wondered if they'd arrived and the driver hadn't bothered waking her. If she had been asleep when Shane first saw her that would be totally embarrassing, she realized, mortification jolting her from a stupor. She was on some sort of bed, there was a rough blanket beneath her. Was she in his dorm room? She stood and felt her way across. It was pitch-black, cold, and she shivered in her light sweater. Shane had warned her to pack layers, but she'd wanted to look cute so she'd kept her fleece jacket in her suitcase. She groped until she reached the wall. It was freezing and felt like metal. She rapped on it once, tentatively, then worked her way along it to a door. There was a handle but it was huge, also metal, and didn't respond to her tugs. Madison bit her lower lip, experiencing a tremor of fear. Something was seriously wrong.
"Shane?" She called out hesitantly. Her voice sounded squeaky. She tried to inject more assurance as she repeated, "Hey, Shane, are you out there? I think I'm stuck!"
There was no response. Madison felt a tear trickle down her face, followed quickly by another. As she slid to the floor and clasped her knees to her chest, she began sobbing in earnest. She was all alone, and no one even knew she was missing.
Jake Riley leaned back in his chair, crossing his feet on top of his new desk. It was solid oak, and according to the antiques dealer had once belonged to George Stein-brenner. Even if that was bullshit, it was a nice desk, he decided. And the Steinbrenner story would probably impress potential clients.
His office was still filled with boxes. It had taken longer than expected to find a suitable space, commercial rents in New York were through the roof. Even with the exorbitant severance package from Jake's previous employer, the new company would have to secure some contracts soon. But they'd made the right choice, he thought, gazing through the floor to ceiling windows. After searching the entire borough for an office with room to expand, they'd finally settled in one of the new skyscrapers jutting up around Columbus Circle. Central Park was across the street, and Jake was looking forward to eating lunch there, maybe strapping on his running shoes for a jog on slow days. Although hopefully there wouldn't be many of those.
He ignored the needling voice that questioned the decision to branch out on his own. Sure, Dmitri Christou had paid him well, but for the first time in his life he was his own boss. And hell, they'd be doing good work along the way. They'd decided to name the company The Longhorn Group, a nod to the fact that both he and his partner originally hailed from Texas. If Jake had his say, The Longhorn Group would quickly become the go-to company for K&R insurers.
K&R was shorthand for "Kidnap and Ransom." In recent years there had been a sharp uptick in the number of kidnappings of American executives abroad, some figures estimated as high as twenty percent. To secure the release of abducted employees, many companies hired private firms to either negotiate with kidnappers or, failing that, attempt a rescue. South American countries, particularly Colombia, were the most notorious for kidnappings, but plenty took place stateside. They just weren't widely publicized, since no corporation wanted to put ideas in someone's head. And despite the increased number of companies signing on for K&R insurance, most operatives trained in negotiation and recovery were busy working security details in the Middle East. Jake was hoping The Longhorn Group would fill that void.
Eventually Kelly might come on board, and they'd be able to work together again. It was a nice thought. Jake picked up the sole item on his desk, a framed photo of her, and gazed at it. It showed her in profile, sitting on a beach, red hair reflecting the setting sun. She always griped about the angle, but then she hated every photo of herself. He thought it captured a side of her that was usually hidden—there was a vulnerability in the way she held her knees that always got him. He set the picture back on the desk. They were officially engaged now, had been for months, but hadn't set a date.