About the Author
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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
One Week Earlier
“Bianca, open up!” I could hear Jakob’s voice through the open window. My heart broke at the sound of worry in his tone. At one time, I would have believed that the concern was for me and my well-being. Now I knew better. Now I knew all Jakob cared about was finding out what I knew and scaring me into trusting him. My body shivered as the cool ocean breeze washed over my trembling skin. I held on to the railing of the balcony and said a quick prayer before I prepared to jump to the next one. It was only a couple of yards away, but I just knew that those couple of yards of space were waiting to pull me down like a dead weight. I looked down at the drop between the two balconies and sank to the floor in fear, unable to take the leap.
“Bianca!” Jakob’s voice was louder as I heard a loud crack coming from inside the bathroom. Adrenaline kicked in—I forced myself to my feet and over the rail at last. “Bianca, stop,” he shouted at me as he poked his head out of the bathroom window.
“One, two, three. You got this.” I took a deep breath and jumped. My ankle caught the railing and I screamed as I landed with a thud on the balcony of the next room.
“Bianca, are you okay?” His silky tone almost deceived me as I struggled to get up. I heard him walking onto the balcony I’d just left, and I scrambled to open the sliding door that led to the bedroom. The lights were off and my heart was beating fast as I tried to open the door.
“Open, please, open.” I bit my lower lip as I tugged frantically on the handle.
“Bianca, please, don’t make me come over there.”
“Don’t even think about it!” I shouted as I turned to look at him.
His blue eyes were focused on my face as he stood a mere couple of yards away. “You can’t get in there.” He shook his head. “The door’s locked and the room is vacant.”
“How do you know that?”
“I made sure of that fact when we arrived.” He shrugged. “I didn’t want us to have any distractions.”
“You mean you didn’t want me to find out the truth!” I shouted, anger making me brave. I stared at his profile as he looked at something in the distance. His face looked so familiar, so ruggedly handsome, so much like that of the Jakob I’d come to have feelings for that my heart broke when he turned to look back at me.
“Why are you running from me, Bianca?”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” I shook my head and tightened the bathrobe belt around my waist. “Do you think I’d stay with you after what I heard?”
“What do you think you heard, Bianca?”
“What do I think I heard?” I repeated. “Help me, somebody help me!” I screamed into the night air, hoping a passing stranger or another hotel guest might hear my cries.
“Bianca, calm down.” He grimaced as he stared at me. “Take some deep breaths and stop panicking. Let your common sense control the situation, not your fear.”
“What?” My eyes narrowed as I stared at him, my heart racing fast.
“I was on a deserted island with you, Bianca. I know how your mind works.”
“It’s a pity I don’t know how your mind works, Jakob,” I said sarcastically, my fear dissipating as I stared at him. He wouldn’t hurt me, would he? He hadn’t hurt me on the island. He hadn’t done anything to make me scared of him. I had to believe that he wasn’t looking to hurt me now. But I couldn’t fathom how I’d given myself to this man. I’d made love to him. I’d trusted him. I could feel hysteria bubbling to the surface as I stared at his naked chest, muscular and toned in the moonlight. Laughter erupted, flowing out of me with abandon, sounding manic and crazy in the still night.
“Bianca?” His eyes narrowed and his face looked worried as I continued laughing.
“That’s my name, Jakob,” I said eventually, after my laughter had subsided and all that was left was a dry throat and a heavy heart.
“What is it you think you know?” He leaned over and I stepped back.
“I don’t think I know. I know that I know.” I glared at him, the anger in me giving me the strength to face him. “I heard you speaking to that man. You told him that Steve deviated from the plan. What plan is that, huh? We were on an island with a crazy man that both of us didn’t know. Now I know that’s not the truth. Now I know that we weren’t both kidnapped. You weren’t there as an innocent bystander with me, were you?” My voice caught as the depths of his deviousness hit me fully. “You could have killed me. I don’t even know you. I don’t know what you’re capable of . . . if you could kidnap me and lie to my face, what else could you do?”
“I would never hurt you, Bianca. You have to believe that. That’s not who I am.” His voice was filled with emotion as he gazed at me, a calm look on his face. How could he be so cool, when everything was crumbling around him? All his lies were coming out now.
“Why did you lie to me?” My voice trembled as I stared at the man I’d just spent a week with, believing that he’d been kidnapped as well. “You knew Steve.” I bit my lower lip as the enormity of that statement hit me. “You knew he didn’t just happen to be lost on the same island. You sent him there to be with us. You planned this.”
“You think I planned your kidnapping and my own?” The surprise in the way he said the words made me feel ridiculous, but I knew what I’d heard.
“And I spoke to David and—well, you’re Mattias, aren’t you?” My voice dropped and I looked out at the night sky. I could see the waves of the ocean crashing against the rocks from where I was standing. The blackness of the sky was illuminated by a million radiant white stars. The setting was as romantic as it could be, yet I felt no appreciation for its beauty.
“You think I’m Mattias?” he asked simply.
I looked into his eyes, seeking out an answer in his dark pupils. “Well, aren’t you? Mattias went to such lengths to avoid me when I was dating his brother—obviously you wanted to keep your identity a secret since you were planning to abduct me.”
“You think Mattias is bad?” He took a small step forward on his balcony.
“I think you’re bad, yes.”
His eyes crinkled then and I saw them narrow for a second before he looked away and mumbled something to himself.
“What did you say?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
“You make this so goddamn hard, Bianca,” he growled. I swallowed nervously. I could see his nostrils flaring as the breeze sent another chill down my spine. My eyes involuntarily fell to his crotch, and when I looked back up, a half smile was on his face. “I didn’t say me.”
“What?” I blushed, looking away from him, an inner heat warming me involuntarily. I stared at some palm trees a couple hundred yards away. They were swaying back and forth and I watched as a coconut fell to the ground.
“I said this situation was hard, not me.” His voice was soft and provocative, trying to lure me back to him.
“I never said you were hard.” I looked back at him, my nerve almost failing when I looked into his eyes and saw the gentle, teasing Jakob I had gotten to know on the island.
“But you were hoping I was, weren’t you?” he teased me again and stepped forward. My heart stopped as he grabbed a hold of the railing in front of him.
“Don’t come over here,” I whispered, my voice cracking. “Please.”
“Why are you scared of me, Bianca? You know I would never hurt you.” His eyes looked sad and I wondered at his being such a great actor. It was almost ironic, with me being a movie critic. I’d witnessed the greatest performance live and in person, but I hadn’t even known I was being played.
“How could you make love to me?” My voice dropped and my legs tingled as I thought about the way he had kissed and caressed me just minutes before. My skin felt warm as I remembered the things he had done with his tongue, and I sighed as my body betrayed me. Trust him, it said. Let him hold you and keep you warm. I closed my eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. I needed to focus. I was like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy. I needed to be on high alert. I couldn’t allow him to twist the truth and turn me against myself.
“I made love to you because you’re beautiful. I made love to you because I couldn’t not make love to you. In fact, I want to make love to you right now.” He smiled and then looked at my chest suggestively. “Come, dear Bianca, let’s just go back to bed.”
“Just tell me two things.” I spoke confidently and felt a surge of pride running through my veins as I hid my fear. “Did you know Steve before he showed up on the island with us? And were you really kidnapped?” I waited for his answers, the events of the last week flashing through my mind like a movie on fast-forward.
It felt as if just yesterday I was sitting in the bar with my best friend, Rosie, having a glass of wine. She’d gone to the bathroom and I’d blacked out. The next thing I’d known I was in the back of a car tied up with a strange man. A man who’d turned out to be Jakob. I hadn’t trusted him at first, but he had slowly proven himself to me, and I hadn’t been able to resist my attraction to him. Together we’d worked to figure out why we’d been kidnapped. That was what I’d believed in my heart. We’d both talked about our personal histories. I’d told him about my dad’s death and how I’d thought the rich Bradley family had had something to do with my mother’s death. He’d told me about his mother and her heartache when the man she’d loved hadn’t committed to her. And when Steve had showed up—nefarious, deceitful, smarmy Steve—I’d seen the surprise, shock, and distaste on Jakob’s face.
I thought we’d connected on a deeper level. I’d given myself to him, mind, body, and heart. I’d put my trust and faith in him. Could he have been fooling me all of this time? Could he have done this to me in the first place?
“Bianca, it’s complicated.” He bit his lower lip and his eyes narrowed again. I could see his tension in the way his shoulders were hunched up. His fists were clenched and I could see a vein throbbing in his forehead.
I took a step toward him, feeling brave in pursuit of the truth. “Why so worried? Angry that I know the truth?”
“What truth do you think you know?” He threw his hands up, and I could see his palms were still roughened from his time on the island cracking coconuts and carrying wood. “You need to trust me,” he pleaded.
“How can I trust you? You lied to me and even now you’re not telling me anything.”
“What you think you know about Mattias—well, it’s complicated.”
“You mean what I think I know about you?”
“It’s complicated, Bianca. You need to just trust me for now, please.”
“Did you have any involvement with my kidnapping?” I asked softly, and stared at him, our chests rising in unison as we stood mere yards away from one another.
“Give me your hand,” he said softly, and stretched his arms as forward as they could go.
“Why?” I shook my head, but didn’t step back. I suppose I was waiting for an answer that would make everything clearer. Something that would show me Jakob wasn’t involved in this whole mess.
I found myself reaching my hand forward slowly. I regretted my decision about a second later.
His fingers squeezed mine tightly and I gasped at the dart of pain that surged through me at his tight grip. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he stared at me from the other balcony. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Bianca.”
“Then let go of me.” I tried to pull it away from him again, but he wouldn’t release me. “Please.”
“Bianca.” His voice was hoarse. “I can’t let you go.”
“Why did you lie to me?” I shook my head and stared into his eyes. For a few seconds we were back on the island. For a few seconds it was just us against the world. For a few seconds my heart stopped beating and I was caught up in the magnetism that attracted us to each other. As I stared into his deep blue eyes, I felt a gamut of emotions: pain, anger, sadness, and something akin to love. My heart broke as I saw the same emotions reflected back at me.
“My name is not an answer,” I grated out.
“Just trust me.” His eyes bore into mine as our fingers held on to each other. My body wanted to believe him with everything that I had, but my brain was being smarter this time.
“That’s not an answer either.”
“What do I need to do for you to trust me?”
“Let me go,” I pleaded.
“That’s not safe.” He shook his head.
“I don’t feel safe being here with you.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” His fingers dug into my skin. “I didn’t count on this, Bianca.”
“You didn’t answer my questions. Did you know Steve and were you kidnapped?”
“You know the answers,” he said simply, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Is David your brother?” I asked softly, not even allowing myself to breathe as I waited for his answer. Please say no, please say no, please say no. Even as I expected the answer, I prayed he wasn’t my ex-boyfriend’s reclusive brother, Mattias.
“Yes.” He nodded. “Yes, David is my brother.”
I was distracted then by a sudden movement on the ground below us. A group of people walked toward the hotel down a narrow pathway.
“Help!” I screamed. “Help me!” I yanked my hand away and tumbled to the floor. “Help!” I screamed again, needing them to hear me, but as they looked around in confusion, a bird flew past them and distracted them, and my faint cry was forgotten.
“Bianca, stop it!”
“Leave me alone!” I wanted him to know that I wouldn’t be silenced.
“Bianca, we had something special. Please, give me the chance to explain.”
“We had nothing,” I spat. “It means nothing. You ruined it all with your lies.” Tears ran down my face as in shock I made the transition from anger to complete and utter devastation.
“I’m coming over.” Jakob stood on the top of the balcony railing, balancing like an acrobat before getting ready to jump over, and I felt myself stilling as he stood there.
“Get down.” My heart was in my throat as he balanced without moving. “You could fall.”
“So you still care.” He gave me a satisfied smile as he stepped back onto his balcony.
“Why didn’t you come over here?” I was confused. He could easily have grabbed me if he wanted to. All he had to do was make one small jump. Why hadn’t he?
“Have you ever seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, Bianca?”
“The movie with Matt Damon and Jude Law?” I frowned at his randomness. Why was he bringing up movies? That was my thing. “Yes, a long time ago. Why?”
“I want you to trust me, Bianca. Everything isn’t as it seems.”
“Yeah, you’re not as you seem, Jakob.” I paused. “Jakob Bradley, right?”
“My last name is Bradley.” He nodded solemnly. “It’s not a name I carry with pride.”
“I wonder why.” I glared at him. “I assume you hate it as much as you hate your first name.”
“Life is complicated, Bianca. Sometimes we have to make decisions we don’t want to make. It’s just what life brings us.”
“Like when Ripley kills Peter at the end of the movie?”
“Ripley loved Peter.” Jakob sighed. “But he had to do what he had to do.”
“Are you telling me you have to kill me?”
“I would never harm you.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want the same thing you want, Bianca.” His face changed and he looked away. “We’ve both come so far.”
“Do you want me to cede my father’s patents to Bradley Inc.? Is that what this is about?” I asked bitterly. “Is this what everything has been a...
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