The Ultimate Proposition
~ Chapter 1 ~
This is my life. You and your child have no place in it.
Sabine Gold's chest burned as if the words had been seared into her heart. She watched the man who'd labeled himself Lord Luck, the man whose DNA and unforgettable words flowed through her veins, dance by with a beautiful Petit Q hostess in his arms.
Her fists clenched as she stood on the edge of the dance floor in the opulent golden ballroom of the Romanian fortress, just one of the many exquisite, jaw-dropping rooms hosting this Q Virtus caucus—the quarterly ultra-exclusive gentlemen's club whose members included the world's most influential and powerful men and women.
The world her father had chosen instead of the woman he'd seduced and the resulting unborn child, twenty-five years ago.
She watched him smile down at the young hostess, his carnal intent making Sabine's lips curl.
Deep breaths. Keep calm.
So far every effort she'd made to corner her father had been stymied and the forty-eight-hour event was quickly coming to an end.
Soon he would be gone and she wanted…no, needed to say her piece before the bitterness and sorrow riding through her destroyed her.
Although Zeus, the mysterious head of Q Virtus had hired Sabine as head hostess based on her impeccable event organizing skills, she doubted she would be welcomed back once her true motives became apparent.
But risking her reputation would be worth confronting the man who'd heartlessly used and discarded her mother.
She took another breath and scrolled through the remaining events on her planner.
The Ultra-Violet Tequila Mixer was starting in ten minutes and Lord Luck had entered his name on the guest list. Perfect.
She watched him dance by again, her eyes drawn to the star-shaped mark on his hand, the same mark she bore on her skin. That stark evidence that she and this man shared blood made anger boil in her veins.
Abruptly she whirled away. And stumbled to a halt.
For a moment she wished for a mask like the one each of the Q Virtus members wore. Because she had a visceral, undeniable feeling the tall, imposing man staring straight at her could see right into her heart, to the anguish and bitterness she couldn't hide.
"Have you found a way to plot his demise yet?" he drawled as he swirled the amber liquid in his crystal glass.
His eyes, the only part of his face she could see besides his square, chiseled jaw, narrowed as he looked from her to Lord Luck.
Casually, he tossed back his drink and discarded the glass. He came closer, his movement predator-like as eyes dark with emotions she couldn't name raked her from head to toe.
"You've been staring daggers at him for the last twenty minutes. And it's not because you desire him, so what is it?"
"It's none of your—what are you doing?" she demanded as her tablet was plucked from her hand and her waist grasped in a firm hold.
"We are dancing. And you are about to tell me what the man means to you."
"Why? What is it to you?" she asked, a bewildering heat starting in her belly and drifting through her body as he pulled her closer.
Her hand settled over one broad shoulder in time to feel the power of his shrug. "Because I understand driving emotion. Especially ones that threaten to eat you alive."
His big body swayed against hers and she fought to focus. "Are you calling us kindred spirits?"
"If you like." A tic at his temple drew her attention to the right hand corner of his black velvet and jade mask.
Her breath caught as she read his gold-inscribed monogram.
Even in a roomful of extremely powerful and influential men, there were those who were revered even more, who resided in a rare stratum of their own. The brief she'd received before this Q Virtus event had included five members to watch out for.
El Halcon—the Falcon—the man who held her imprisoned against his body, topped that list.
Lord Luck danced past again, roaring with laughter at his companion's joke. Seeing him enjoying his life, not caring that her mother had gone to her grave a broken woman because of his treatment of her, made rage burn fiercer.
"So, who is he?"
She refocused on the man holding her captive. "He's…my father. Can you get me five minutes with him?"
"What's in it for me?" he asked lazily.
She stared into deep, watchful eyes. "Get me five minutes alone with him and I'll give you whatever you want."
The masked stranger tensed. His eyes dropped to her mouth and his nostrils flared. "Careful, querida. Such a broad invitation could get you into trouble."
She lifted her chin as pain scythed through her. "I'd give my life to spit in that man's face. Give me what I want and you can name your price."
Half an hour later, Sabine walked into a large, luxurious great room that would shortly be turned into an ultra-violet spectacle. Its single occupant turned.
"Who are you?" Lord Luck glared at her with green eyes she would've given everything not to acknowledge were similar to her own. "I'm supposed to be meeting El Halcon."
Heart in her throat she confronted her father. "He arranged for you to meet me. I'm…your daughter."
He froze for several seconds before he laughed. "I'm afraid someone's fed you a load of lies, darling. I don't have a daughter." His accent was American…Texan from what her mother had told her. Ted Whitley hailed from a long line of excess-loving oil barons and years of decadent indulgence showed in his thickset body.
"Trust me, I'd give anything for that not to be true. But it is." She stepped forward and held out her hand. He looked down and saw her birthmark. Surprise registered in his eyes before he shrugged.
"You have a mark that vaguely resembles mine. So what? You think I'm going to fall on my knees and welcome you with open arms?"
Sabine willed her pain away. "No, I know exactly how you feel about me, and how you felt about Maxine Gold, my mother."
The spark of knowledge gleamed in his eyes before he blinked it away. His mouth curled. "She should've taken my advice. Of course she was always a no-good, useless bit of—"
"Say another derogatory word about my mother and I'll make sure you regret it." Her cold tone stopped him dead. "I wanted to meet you, find out if you're really as despicable as that little note you wrote my mother. I see that you are."
He glared at her. "You be careful who you threaten and insult, darling. I can have you thrown out like that." He snapped his fingers.
"No, you won't."
Sabine whirled and faced the man who'd silently entered the room. El Halcon's eyes flicked to her before they speared her father. "You breathe a word of this meeting to anyone, least of all Zeus, and I'll personally make sure you're thrown out of this club. Understood?"
Lord Luck bristled. "Now look here—"
"I believe the lady has said her piece?" El Halcon raised an eyebrow at her.
Sabine took a shaky breath and willed the anguish shredding her heart not to show. She'd never had a father worth the name. She needed to remind herself of that. "Yes. He can go to hell for all I care."
"Leave. Now," El Halcon suggested, his tone deceptively mild.
Several minutes later, Sabine lifted her head from where it'd been resting on his shoulder. She didn't even remember him pulling her close after her father had left. Or plastering herself into his embrace.
Firm fingers lifted her chin before he passed a thumb over her lower lip.
"I've given you your wish. It's time to give me mine."