Read an Excerpt
Kidnapping The Brazilian Tycoon
By Carmen Falcone, Kaleen Harding, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Carmen Falcone
All rights reserved.
Bruno Duarte stopped staring into the amber contents of his glass and turned to face the woman he would marry in less than eight hours. Elegantly clad in a crease-free, designer blue cocktail dress, Erika Lancaster moved toward him and slid onto the bar stool next to his.
"I'm surprised you texted me," he said. "I thought you wanted time to pack and get ready for Vegas."
A nervous smile formed on her pink lips. "I needed to talk to you in person." She ran her manicured hand over her long, smooth brown hair and gestured to the bartender. "Scotch, please."
Scotch? During the three months they had dated, she'd sipped on white wine or anything with a colorful umbrella. The bartender nodded and was about to turn away to get her drink when she blurted, "Make it a double."
He tensed. Could she be having cold feet? Impossible.
Their courtship had been smooth sailing; they shared a mutual attraction that burned the sheets, and, damn it, he needed to marry her. Within a couple of hours, they'd fly to Vegas in his private jet, get hitched, and proceed to Brazil. The place he'd left behind. He lifted his glass of scotch to his lips and let the smoky liquid roll down his throat.
Is Erika really who I want to spend the rest of my life with? A pang of doubt trickled down his spine. He sat up straighter and glanced around the upscale bar. His need for distraction was why he'd gone for a drink in the first place, before Erika had messaged and asked to see him.
No honest woman will ever want to marry you. His father's angry voice echoed in his mind. You're a shame to our family. While Bruno had enjoyed the company of delicious, sinful women the past fourteen years, time had come to prove to his father — damn it, to prove to himself — he was worthy of someone to settle down with.
Erika was perfect on paper. Mild tempered with well-bred mannerisms, she gave him the security he needed to face his father again ... Hell, his entire family. She was just who he needed to bury the past, once and for all. I want to forget the shame. I want my father to forget the shame.
He shoved the useless thoughts away as Erika drummed her fingers on the black granite countertop, her square glass already empty. An intensity he'd never seen before, not even when they were tangled together, was visible in her mocha eyes.
"We shouldn't get married," she said, and her shoulders sagged like she had been released from a death sentence.
The air left his lungs. Not get married? He brought his scotch to his mouth again, hoping the alcohol would shake him out of his surprise. Merda. "Why not?"
"We've only known each other for three months. It doesn't ... feel right."
"And you couldn't have said 'no' when I asked you two weeks ago? Or expressed your doubt when you suggested we elope to Vegas instead of a Brazilian wedding?"
Erika shifted in her seat, both hands curled against the edges of the stool. She offered him an apologetic glance. How the hell was she screwing him like this? He loosened the silk tie around his crisp white shirt.
He tilted his head back and cursed under his breath. He'd chosen Erika to be his wife because of the timing, sure. His dad didn't have long to live, and Bruno couldn't let him die before the old man saw his oldest son settled. His heart contracted to the size of a coffee grain. Even with the billions he'd made during the years of a self-imposed exile from his home country, he was still that boy, naïve and misunderstood, who'd dragged his family's name through the mud. Who had abandoned his dying mother.
Cold sweat slicked his forehead, and he wiped it off with the back of his hand.
Erika chewed her lower lip, as if she both anticipated and dreaded his reaction. "I told my father, and he reluctantly agreed. This won't affect your business with him." Her voice was gentle at the end.
The land. Silas Lancaster, with his flexible morals, couldn't wait to get his greedy hands on the piece of land that was Bruno's last tie to the country he had fled — the country that had offered him nothing but pain.
After his father's imminent death, he'd sell it and close that last creaky door to the darkest part of his past. For years, he had avoided dealing with the land. But since finding out about his father's terminal cancer, he knew the time had come to say good-bye to his father and sell Toca do Tigre, the last reminder of the shame he brought on his family.
"I'm so sorry." Erika reached to touch his hand, but he jerked away.
He raised his glass to the bartender who came to his rescue with another shot. A group of women walked past them, and a few gave him inviting glances. He shifted toward Erika. She was also on her second glass, the most he'd seen her drink in the short months they had been together.
He cleared his throat. "Erika, is there another ... reason?" Another man? His pride prevented him from uttering the words. She folded her arms as if trying to protect herself from a painful truth.
"I was involved with my personal trainer some time ago. Dad never liked him; he was never good enough. When you came along — rich, handsome, and looking for a wife — I thought I could forget him. I wanted you and me to work out." A single tear slipped down her cheek, and she reached for the napkin under her drink.
He clenched his jaw.
Erika sniffed, and he reached for his inside pocket to retrieve a linen handkerchief with his initials embroidered on the corner. He gave it to her, and when their fingers brushed, he noticed the dampness on her skin.
A need to offer her a hug poked at him, but he suffocated the urge. How could he show sympathy to a woman who had ruined his plans for a long-awaited comeback? He hadn't confirmed the rumors, but he knew his family imagined they were true — that he'd return married.
He let his eyes trail over her one last time. Her expression was a net of sorrow, sympathy, and uneasiness. She didn't know about his true reasons for wanting to marry her so quickly or the darkness of his past. If she had ... she never would have said yes.
He gave a long sigh, and with it went any lasting grudge he might have held onto. Life was already too complicated to add more to his tortured memories. But now, on the eve of his return to Brazil, he would be brideless. He faced his now ex-fiancée and said, "Erika, it's okay. Maybe you should just go."
Shit. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
* * *
Addie shifted in her seat at the small round table several feet from the man she'd been watching for the past five minutes. She brought the overpriced lemonade to her lips, the bitterness from the lemon prickling her senses. Lowering the glass to the table, she stared at the man who had more power than he knew what to do with. Bruno Duarte.
He looked lost in thought. She wiped her clammy palms on the napkin. It was a good time to size up the enemy when he wasn't paying attention, wasn't it? He had his tie loosened, and the top button of his shirt was open. He was taller and broader shouldered than he appeared in pictures. Addie's stomach muscles clenched, and she folded her arms tight against her chest, eyes skimming over the body that filled the well-cut designer suit. He was so ... strong and large. Tucked under that cool, blasé huskiness of a young Marlon Brando lay a man hard to persuade. This isn't going to be easy.
Well, she didn't do easy, did she? Two years ago, she'd left the familiarity of her life as a history teacher in Houston for an opportunity to teach at an English-speaking private school in São Paulo. Then, she'd met Michael during a weekend trip to the northeast of Brazil, and her life was changed forever. He introduced her to the Kwanis, a primitive tribe of Brazilian Indians. Their self-sufficient, nature-based lifestyle won her over, and a calling she hadn't realized she had filled her with purpose, with life, and with color.
She reached into her hemp messenger bag and grabbed the manila envelope containing the agreement she was going to have Bruno sign, along with the pictures of the Kwanis. Biting back a smile, she flipped through the images, and determination jolted through her. With the tips of her trembling fingers, she stroked the black-and-white photos Michael had taken. Emotion welled inside her.
One hundred twenty-four Kwanis — men and women, children, and elderly — depended on her to ensure they could keep living the only way they knew, without being forced to integrate into modern-day society. All they wanted was to continue to live self-sufficiently, the way they had for decades.
After Michael's death a year and a half ago, the Kwanis had helped her pick up the pieces and keep on living. Their generosity and warmth had been paramount in overcoming her grief, and she owed them everything. Michael would be proud of her for fighting for them.
If she failed them ... I can't fail them.
She shoved the pictures back in her bag and straightened her shoulders. A thrill of anticipation and panic rippled through her.
Bruno Duarte owned the land the Kwanis occupied, but from what she researched, he had never given a thought to Toca do Tigre during the past decade. At least, he hadn't until a month ago. What had started out as rumors that he wanted to sell the land to the unscrupulous real estate giant, Silas Lancaster, had turned into a heartbreaking reality.
Addie had sent Bruno countless emails and letters, and she had even stalked his personal assistant with phone calls in hopes of talking to her boss. Making him understand the need to grant the Kwanis more time for relocation was crucial. Without the proper planning, they could face violence, diseases, and starvation.
Taking him somewhere quiet where she could drill some common sense into him was critical — something she was unable to do with her letters and phone calls. He couldn't ignore her this time. She would have him sign the agreement to grant them more time to relocate. There was no other way. She'd already lost her job in the nonprofit organization where she worked because she'd contacted Bruno without the group's consent. Crap, what else was she supposed to do? Their feeble attempts to handle the situation hadn't worked, after all, and she wasn't going to let the Kwanis lose their home, not when she knew firsthand what losing a home entailed.
Her gaze returned to Bruno. The hostess called the guy sitting next to him to a table, and Addie rose to her feet, her toes curling inside her tennis shoes. It's time. Taking a deep breath, she jammed her fingers into the front pocket of her jeans and palmed the vial she'd brought all the way from Pernambuco.
Apprehension darted through her mind, but she shook her head and willed her nagging doubts away. Bruno was a cold-hearted man to whom Toca do Tigre was nothing but a business transaction. Why else would he adamantly refuse to discuss the sale of a land and crush the lives of hundreds of people?
The hustle and bustle in the bar faded out, and the people sitting on the trendy chairs or gathering near the bar turned into shadows. She narrowed her vision to focus only on Bruno, who proceeded to drink his scotch. She slid onto the stool next to him.
She caught a whiff of his cologne. The freshness of mint notes blended with wood, and another plant she couldn't discern finished the seductive scent. She rubbed the back of her hand over her nose, trying to wipe the intoxicating smell away. Nope. Still there.
What was the other plant? She sniffed again, for the sake of curiosity, and, this time, her stomach dropped all the way down to her shoes. Fancy, bottled fragrances didn't offer the tantalizing aroma swirling around her like an invisible dance. Her nipples hardened against her white cotton bra, and she straightened her shoulders. The scent of raw, unrestricted maleness.
Keep it together, Addison.
Kidnapping him before he eloped with Erika, Silas Lancaster's daughter, was Addie's last chance to get Bruno to change his mind. The brief amateur detective work she'd done since her arrival in New York had revealed his plan to marry Erika. And if she took that opportunity away from him, or threatened to take it away, she was sure he'd agree to just about anything. A man like Bruno wouldn't want to jeopardize the relationship with his future father-in-law by standing his daughter up at the altar.
One of the bartenders, who would give Abercrombie models a run for their money, handed Bruno a glass and grabbed the empty one next to it. A large group entered the bar area, and the loud laughter from a couple of men triggered Bruno to turn his head in their direction.
She toyed with the sleek menu and cleared her throat. After a deep breath, she crossed and uncrossed her legs. "Tough day?" she said in his direction and hoped to God he'd turn his head and respond.
"Tough evening," he said, staring at his square glass, half filled with a cinnamon-colored liquid she guessed was some fancy scotch. "Women ..." he mumbled.
The bastard. Did marriage really mean nothing to him? Was that why he was drinking his sorrows away by himself and belittling the vows he would say later on? Unbelievable.
"A Green Temptation, please," she told the bartender, whose nametag read Roy. With a nod, Roy moved away to prepare her drink.
She wished she already had alcohol in her system as she peered at Bruno. Damn it. If this was going to work, people needed to see them talking and flirting. How else would she get away with —
"Green Temptation?" His voice yanked her from her thoughts. A deep, accented drawl that rolled down smooth and dangerous. The Brazilian accent still lingered even after many years of living in the US, according to what she had been able to find about him online. "Sounds promising."
She touched the back of her neck, her fingers pressing into her skin. "They say what you drink says a lot about you."
At least he turned to face her, his eyes brown like rich soil. He flashed a deliberately sexy smile, but she refused to be distracted by his charm or handsome face. And boy, was it handsome ... Long, straight nose, lips that curled in shameless invitation, day-old stubble on his strong, square jaw.
"Who are they?"
Shit. She blinked and let out a nervous sound that could never pass for a graceful laugh. "I'm sure some sassy writer from Cosmopolitan magazine." She circled her hands on her lap and hoped to regain composure. When she'd thought this through in her head, it had been easier. More sterile.
Sitting next to the man whose ambitions could crush her goal, in reality, differed.
Bruno gave her a once-over and leaned closer. She lifted her hand to touch her heated cheeks, but self-awareness prevented her from acting like a teenager on her first date, and she tucked her unruly hair behind her ear. "I wouldn't peg you for a Cosmopolitan reader."
"Is that a compliment or an insult?"
"A little bit of both." The bartender brought her drink, and, before she reached for her bag, and with a simple nod, Bruno instructed Roy to add it to his tab.
Mumbling a thanks, she lifted the glass to her lips. The plan to just pretend she was drinking to not let alcohol distract her flew out the window. She savored the exquisite liquid soothing her, the notes of mint and vodka coating her dry throat.
"Can I try it?" he asked.
"I don't know ..." She sat the drink on the counter and twirled a curl around her finger. "Just because you bought me a drink, that doesn't mean I'll let you have a sip."
He gave both sides a glance, then dipped his head lower, and she froze. The man wasn't just eye candy, he was the whole freaking candy shop. "I'll let you drink mine if you let me drink yours," he whispered, and a path of goose bumps rose on her arms.
How bad could a little scotch be? She reached to his drink and, grabbing her straw from hers, stuck it inside the smoky amber liquid, pretty sure he'd be appalled as to why someone would sip whiskey with a straw. A scorching ball of smoke invaded her throat, and she clamped her lips shut and swallowed it hard.
Excerpted from Kidnapping The Brazilian Tycoon by Carmen Falcone, Kaleen Harding, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2014 Carmen Falcone. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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