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    Prologue

    Kia Rutherford-Stanton opened the door to her penthouse suite and stared at the man on the other side. Dressed in dark slacks and a gray dress shirt, he appeared far more dangerous than the clothing and the handsome, quiet features would suggest.

    Thick black hair was pulled back from the honed, strong features of his face and secured at his nape. He looked wicked, forbidden, and dangerous. And, unfortunately, he was the very man she had hoped wouldn't be knocking at her door despite the fantasies she'd often had of him in the past.

    She knew him. Everyone knew who Chase Falladay was, and those who didn't soon learned. According to her bastard husband, he was also the one man she didn't want standing on her doorstep.

    As though she should be frightened of him. Perhaps that was her mistake. It was never fear that filled her whenever she was around Chase. Wariness at times. Uncertainty. And since her marriage, an awareness that she shouldn't be anywhere near him.

    But fear had never been one of those emotions.

    "What do you want?" She wondered if the bruises on her face were still apparent. She didn't think so. She'd spent forever on her makeup that morning.

    It seemed her husband, Carl "Drew" Stanton, hadn't been pleased when he found out that his wife had no intentions of taking him back, or of retracting the information spilling through their social set that he had not only attempted to rape her along with another man, but that he and that man were part of a club created for just such morally questionable acts.

    As though she wanted that to get out. As though it didn't humiliate her as much as it did him. That didn't mean she had to do anything to help him. And the backhanded blow he had given her in response had strengthened her resolve that she didn't care if he fried in society. She could weather any gossip because, frankly, she didn't give a damn.

    But, as her husband had warned her, Chase Falladay had a reason to care, and here he was. Her husband had also warned her that if Chase did show up, then they all needed to be very frightened.

    "I'd just like to talk to you a moment, Kia." His voice was like smooth, rich brandy. It curled over the senses and reminded her, no matter how much she wished otherwise, that she was still a woman, and a voice like his was guaranteed to get a response.

    "As if I'm not perfectly aware of what you want to talk about." She stepped aside as he moved into the apartment, his tall, hard body somehow at odds with the stark atmosphere that surrounded him now.

    She turned and led the way from the wide foyer to the living room, tossing him a glare over her shoulder. Drew, her soon-to-be ex-husband, had called her the day before, warning her to expect a visit from the goon squad.

    The son of a bitch. Fury rose inside her like a vicious flood; it filled her with betrayal and anger, it stamped a trembling sneer on her face as Chase Falladay stepped into the room.

    "Kia, I don't want to battle with you." He turned to her, staring back at her, as though he understood, as though he were compassionate. "It seems to me that you've been through enough."

    "Then why are you here?" Her lips trembled as she let herself meet his cool, light green eyes. They pierced her, had her throat thickening with the gentleness in them.

    "Can we sit down?" He motioned to the chairs.

    Kia sat down warily, watching as he took the chair across from her, their knees nearly touching, his gaze brooding and heavy as he watched her.

    "Drew told you about the club," he finally stated softly.

    Kia flinched and looked away. Like the bastard had a choice.

    She licked her lips nervously and turned back to him.

    "Did he tell you what he did, too?"

    "He didn't, but others have. I'll tell you, his membership is being investigated. He's facing losing it, as well as a hefty deposit he paid. But there's more at risk here than the deposit he could lose, or his membership. The risk, Kia, is in the gossip, which came from you, which is now spreading through Alexandria."

    She tightened her lips. "Do you think I wanted that damned gossip?" She came to her feet in a rush of anger. "It seems I can't trust my husband, nor the few friends I believed I had. And now, you're here?" She waved her hand at the room. His presence was the ultimate betrayal. "What are you going to do, Chase? Kill me for it?"

    According to Drew the secret of the club had been maintained for more than a century. Until she told a friend what he had told her the night he and his friend tried to rape her.

    She pushed her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair before shaking her head wearily at his patient look. Chase was never ruffled. He was always calm.

    "You're not denying the gossip," he pointed out.

    Hell no she hadn't. She had thought she could let her husband strangle beneath the weight of it, hoping he twisted in agony as all eyes turned to him. She had thought she could. How wrong she had been.

    "Two of your members tried to rape me, in my own home, Chase," she informed him bitterly. "And you're here to what? Berate me because I told a friend and she spread the rumor of all those little perverts you protect?"

    He sat back in his chair, his arms lying comfortably on the heavily cushioned arms as he stared back at her. Those eyes, they seemed to sink into a woman, made her soften, made her want to please him. What a dangerous talent for a man's eyes to possess.

    "You're not denying the rumor," he stated again.

    "Neither am I upholding it," she argued.

    He watched her carefully, silence stretching between them as she paced back to her chair and sat down wearily.

    Her father was pacing at home, she knew. He had called that morning, torn between loyalty to his daughter and the knowledge he had just learned, that his entire life, the holdings four generations of Rutherfords had possessed, could come crashing to his feet. All because of Drew. Because he had dared to threaten her with that club, and when she had spilled all her hurt and anger to the person she believed was a friend, it had begun to spread.

    "My father called," she finally said. "He's received phone calls from major stockholders." She knew this game. She had been born and raised within the dirty little social set that thrived on power and threats. "Drew was right, wasn't he? You have enough power to destroy all of us."

    "Kia, I'm here to help you," he promised her.

    "Yes, of course you are, how could I have ever believed otherwise?" she stated tearfully, mockingly. "What do you want me to do, Chase, take out an ad in the newspapers that I lied? That Drew never brought in a third from your damned club and tried to rape me?" Her voice rose in humiliation and pain. "Tell them he never threatened to destroy me with the power that club wields? Did you bring a list of the papers? Should I stand on the street corner and proclaim it to the world?"

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