Jackson Merritt's first night in London has concluded with an unexpected bang. Acting on instinct, he steps into the midst of an attempted theft that leads him into the life, and heart of Vanessa Colby.
A personal shopper at the world-famous Harrods, Vanessa wants only to savor the start of the Christmas season. She's not looking for love, but after being rescued from harm by Jackson, she finds herself falling fast and hard for the handsome American who heads North American operations for her family's IT firm.
But a woman from Jackson’s past shows up in London as well—and if she can’t win him back, she’s bent on destroying his career, and any future happiness with Vanessa.
As truths play out, as emotions are faced and reconciled, Jackson and Vanessa must confront the ideas of reformation, forgiveness, and finding a way to love…even in the darkest circumstances.
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. Dear Lord, help me. I don’t want to die.
The cold steel tip of a gun pressed into Vanessa Colby’s ribcage, masked perfectly by the black clad, indistinguishable body of a thief. All about her hummed the bustle and verve of a snow-kissed London night. Shoppers pushed to and fro, oblivious as the Christmas season launched into high gear. She was trapped with her front side thrust against the open doorway of what she now realized was a getaway car.
“I’ve been watching you, duchess.”
“I’m not royalty; I’m simply a personal shopper who—”
“Shut up!” Hot, damp breath hissed against her ear, prompting a roll of nausea. “I know what you are. You’re a looker. You’re quite the sexy shaker and mover with all your well-endowed clients.” He emphasized the words well-endowed just hard enough to make them sound lascivious. Growing implications curdled Vanessa’s blood. “Make one more sound and your pretty little face won’t be so pretty anymore.” The words were a whispered warning that invaded her nervous system and slipped a cube of ice-cold dread through her body. “Move so much as a muscle and you’re going to take a nice long ride with us to a spot where we can dump your delicious body wherever we wish. Someplace you’ll never be found.” He hummed—a dark, sick sound. “Once we’re finished with you, that is.”
The man’s free hand slithered against her waist, sliding the silk and cashmere of her blouse and shawl upward into a messy wad. Vanessa gagged.
His wide, rough hand reached her neck.
His breath skated against her cheek.
Her world went into a tailspin, and she wobbled, but he tightened his hold.
“You smell so good, duchess. Maybe we’ll have some fun with you anyway, no matter what you do.”
Cold air curved against her exposed midsection. The business end of the revolver dug deeper.
“What would you think of that, huh?” He shoved her against the open doorway.
Vanessa almost fell to her knees. She whimpered—and Vanessa Elizabeth Colby never whimpered. Expertly blocked from public view, her gaze darted left and right, seeking any means of escape from this nightmare.
The thief seemed to sense her fear, and feed off it, because he began to snicker. “I just love it when a woman sweats despite the cold. Throw those bags you’re hauling onto the back seat. All of them. Now!”
For the first time, his voice rose, but apparently not loud enough. No discernible reaction came from those who passed by; any onlooker would likely figure she was just a holiday shopper standing before the entrance of Harrods, loading merchandise into a car. Vanessa licked her lips; she grabbed for air in shallow, desperate sips.
So, this hoodlum wanted the stash of designer clothes she carried—and the jewelry that accompanied. What Vanessa held was nearly fifty-thousand pounds worth of extravagant purchases just made by the Countess of Willembaech. Fine. He could have them. Vanessa tossed the bags into the car and squeezed her eyes shut, prayed in earnest.
Jesus, I know I’m fairly new to Your Kingdom of believers, but please hear my prayer. Please let me live.
Be still, precious child. I am your help and your strength.
The assurance of God’s presence somewhat soothed her. Vanessa swallowed and attempted calm. “I don’t know who or what you are. You can get away right now. You’ve got what you’re after. Please just leave me—”
A sickening thud accompanied by a loud, pained groan echoed through the airway, and suddenly Vanessa was released from the gunman’s grip. He toppled into a heap. His weapon clattered to the ground, bounced against the curb before it disappeared beneath the car.
Confusion ruled Vanessa’s mind as a squad of security personnel rushed forward through the doorway of the store behind her, efficiently interrupting the escape of the gunman’s accomplice and driver.
“Are you all right, miss?”
Vanessa didn’t bother to turn; she wasn’t ready to face or acknowledge her benefactor yet. Instead, she sagged against the car while police lights sent blue strobes pulsing against the stately buildings and shops of Brompton Road. Her back remained trained to the famed green awnings of her store—normally her comfort and haven. She continued to gasp for air, swaying heavily as the world blurred. Black spots danced through her vision. Dizziness formed a haze that overwhelmed. Her legs buckled at the same instant a pair of strong arms captured her at the waist and behind the knees.
Just as Vanessa was lifted off her feet—in no more than a heartbeat of time—her world faded to black.
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