Jennifer Apodaca

Exposing the Heiress

Exposing the Heiress

Once A Marine Series, Book 3
Entangled: Ignite (August 4, 2015)

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This Marine will protect her at all costs…

When wealthy heiress Alyssa Brooks finds out her stepfather has been paying her fiancé to marry her, she’s humiliated and betrayed. She quickly breaks the engagement, only to be blackmailed by her now ex-fiancé, who threatens both Alyssa and the son she gave up for adoption. With nowhere to go, she turns to the one man she can trust.

Former Marine sniper Hunter Reece’s lethal skills could save Alyssa’s life. But his little sister’s best friend has turned into a woman, who is an irresistible mix of secrets and sexiness. And while Hunter can trust himself to protect her, he can’t trust himself to keep his attraction hidden…or even pretend to be the man that Alyssa remembers.

Because the only way to keep the lovely heiress safe is to become the one thing he knows she could never love…a killer.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

“The dressing team is here.”

Alyssa Brooks dragged her gaze from the computer screen to her administrative assistant. “Already? But…” She glanced at the clock on the computer screen. Four p.m.

“Crap.”

“You have drinks with executives from Glitterstone Entertainment at six thirty. The team needs to get started on your hair and makeup. There are four outfits to choose from.”

She took a deep breath, closing the video she’d been working on.

“Alyssa?” Concern shifted Maxine Lord’s voice from efficient assistant to college friend. Shutting the door, the other woman crossed the massive office and perched on her desk. “Spill it. What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do it.” Not another night of playing the role of sophisticated, glamorous, and famous heiress who opened doors and wallets. Her stepfather and fiancé trotted her out as Hollywood royalty, the daughter of the beautiful and talented Jenna Brooks, the actress-turned-screenwriter-turned-business tycoon whose life was tragically cut short.

“Do what?” Maxine asked. “Dinner tonight? Or marry that shark in the designer suit next month?” She leaned on her palm, studying Alyssa. “You’re miserable. Why the hell don’t you put a stop to all this?”

Because her two best friends, Guilt and Remorse, wouldn’t let her. “Don’t start. I’m marrying Nate.”

“Do you love him?”

Her thoughts slid back to her first love. Involuntarily, she looked at one of her many framed photographs on her office wall. This one showed strong male hands sculpting a stunning figure of a soldier sharing his meal with a stray dog. For a second all her unhappiness slid away into the memory of summers spent at her friend Erin’s house, located on a vineyard in Sonoma, California.

The man in that picture was Hunter Reece, her friend’s older brother, home on leave from the Marines. By then, Alyssa had known Hunt for years, but that was the summer she’d fallen head over heels into her inaugural crush. Of course, he’d treated Alyssa like his little sister. Her love had been silent and unrequited. She’d just been his little sister’s friend that spent summers with them, nothing more.

“You’re doing it again. Staring at the damn picture. Girl, why don’t you just look him up?”

“Remind me not to drink with you anymore.” She foolishly had too much to drink one night in college and told Maxine how much she’d loved Hunt. Alyssa had spilled her guts…except for her secret, the one she’d told no one but her fiancé.

“You don’t love Shark-Nate-O, Alyssa. You deserve someone who makes you feel like Hunt did.”

Even Maxine’s nickname for Nate couldn’t make her smile. Instead, she shook her head. Hunt was a memory, but he’d hate what she was now. His family had been the most authentic people she knew, while Alyssa had become a stand-in for her mother. She wanted to escape, but her guilt held her as surely as any chains.

At least marrying Nate would give her a chance to have a child. They had a deal—once she got pregnant, she could cut back on all the appearances, photo shoots, dinners, flying all over the world to be seen…pretending to run a company she had very little actual control of.

“What I felt for Hunt was teenaged fantasy. I’m marrying Nate.” The tension in her head tightened to pain. “But I’m canceling tonight. I have a headache.”

“Are you really sick? Why don’t you go home? I’ll let Nate know you’re not going.”

“No!” That was all she needed, another forty-five-minute rant from Nate on how she should fire Maxine, that she didn’t know her place, that an employee should not be Alyssa’s maid of honor. Then he’d get started on the birthday party Alyssa was hosting for Maxine…

Just thinking about it made her headache worse. “I’ll talk to him on my way out.” She gathered her purse and she
quickly made her way across the hall.

You don’t love Nate.

They would grow to love each other, it was just all the stress of the wedding gnawing at both of them. After entering Nate’s outer office, she paused by the empty desk of his administrative assistant to compose herself.

Stop stalling, go in there and talk to Nate. Her stomach tensed, knowing she’d get that disappointed look and the speech about so many people depending on her to do her part. They employed hundreds, and keeping a company this size running in the entertainment industry took networking. That meant keeping the face of Dragon Wing—Alyssa—in all the right places.

Was she being selfish? The spoiled, entitled rich girl? She lifted her chin. Missing one drinks-and-dinner event was not selfish. Determined, she started toward the door when voices from inside Nate’s office caught her attention.

“Everything is set for the wedding. When will the money be in my account?”

Alyssa paused, unsure if she should intrude. Who was Nate talking to?

“One million will be there the day of the wedding.”

That was her stepfather Parker Dean’s voice. What money were they talking about? What did it have to do with the wedding? Unease gripped her muscles. Alyssa was paying for everything, so what was this about?

“You’ll get an additional million each year until we sell the company,” Parker said. “Once we pull this off, we’ll secure a deal that will make us wealthy enough to shut up any doubters in this town.”

Confusion fogged her brain. What was this? Sell Dragon Wing? What did all this have to do with her and Nate marrying? Alyssa backed up a step and dropped a hand down on the desk to steady herself. She had to be misunderstanding this.

“I told you when I approached you to hire me two years ago I could make this work. Between all the reality TV programming and turning Alyssa and me into Hollywood’s newest power couple, the company is raking in the money. The big production companies like Glitterstone are taking notice. Another year, maybe two, and we’ll sell Dragon Wing for more money than anyone thought possible.”

“Just don’t get her pregnant for at least a few years. Alyssa is the key and she has to stay visible. But if she gets knocked up, she’ll bail on the company, and no amount of guilt or threats will change her mind.”

What? The whole point of marrying Nate was so Alyssa could have a family. The one thing she wanted, craved. This
couldn’t be happening. Nate wouldn’t do that. He knew. Nate knew how much this meant to her, and why, more than anyone else in the world.

“Not a chance of that.”

Nate’s cultured voice held the barest trace of a sneer. Sick dread stacked up in her stomach. This wasn’t the man she knew, the one who made plans with her for their children. Alyssa would become a silent partner in Dragon Wing, making an occasional appearance as Nate’s wife, but her focus would be on their children and developing her little website, Streets of Valor, to showcase her pictures and videos.

“Be sure, an accident—”

“Won’t happen,” Nate said. “I had a vasectomy years ago.”

Buzzing filled her ears and her heart pounded viciously as the word vasectomy screamed in her head. Betrayal burned in her throat. She’d thought she’d known her fiancé, a hard-working, ambitious man who’d put himself through law school and climbed the corporate ladder. Parker had noticed his work and hired him as the vice president of business and legal affairs…and apparently to marry and control Alyssa.

“You did what?” Parker’s voice went up a notch. “You never told me that. Does Alyssa know?”

“No and she doesn’t need to know. I’ve worked too hard getting Alyssa to care about me and building our profile to rival Will and Kate and Brad and Angelina. The wedding frenzy is lighting up the internet. I haven’t invested this much time and effort to let some kid get in the way.”

“If she finds out, this will screw us all. What the hell, Madden? That wasn’t part of the deal. She wants kids. I just meant later, not now when we have so much at stake.”

A horrible ache spread in her chest. All these years, she’d thought Parker cared about her. Her stepfather was all she had left after her mother died. He was paying Nate to marry her in some deal so the two of them could get rich. And Nate… She’d trusted him, thought he’d cared too, that they both wanted the same thing—a family.

All he wanted was her fame and power.

Fool. She was a fool.

“I’ll handle Alyssa. She’ll do what I want her to.”

Rage burst up from her belly, a geyser that spewed for long seconds, as if the top had blown off. And beneath that something else. Something…freeing.

Relief.

The truth was she’d had serious doubts for a couple months, but ignored them. Now she was done. Turning, she started for the door.

Her purse hit the desk, knocking files to the floor.

Crap. She froze, her hands going icy. She didn’t want a confrontation, she just wanted to leave and get her head together.

Nate strode out of his office, spotted her, and pulled the door closed. When he turned, his dark eyes met hers. “Why
aren’t you getting ready for tonight?”

Did he know she’d overheard? Alyssa could confront him now, but her head throbbed too much. She just wanted to get away and think. “I was coming in to tell you I have a headache and won’t be going tonight.” She crouched down and scooped up the folders.

Handcrafted Italian loafers filled her vision. Nate gripped her elbow, and helped her up. He took the folders and tossed them on the desk. “That’s unfortunate.”

It took all her will to resist shaking off his hand and stepping back.

“I’ll have the limo take you home.”

“I drove my car today.”

His eyes narrowed. “Why would you do that when we had the dinner this evening?”

Anger exploded. Jerking her arm from his hold, she narrowed her eyes. “Why would you lie to me about wanting children when you’ve had a vasectomy?” Agony branded her chest. “We made plans together for a family.”

His eyes hardened. “I’ll have it reversed.”

Was he serious? After he’d lied all this time, and had some secret deal with her stepfather to use her? “You think
I’d have children with you now? That I’d let you touch me?”

Outrage unleashed so much adrenaline her hands trembled.

His long fingers closed around her arm. “You will marry me and continue doing everything I tell you to do.”

The hiss in his voice chilled her. Maxine called him a shark, and in this moment, she got it. She pulled her arm from his grasp, she slid off her engagement ring and set it on the desk. “No.” She rushed out the door, her heels clicking on the marble. Reaching the elevators in the plush reception area, she fumbled out her card and swiped it. The doors parted silently, in contrast to the fury screaming in her head.

She had to calm down before she drove. Inside the elevator, she took a deep breath just as Nate stormed in, hit
the close button, and sealed them inside together.

Alyssa couldn’t believe his audacity. “I don’t want to see or talk to you.”

“Tough.” He hit another button and the elevator jerked to a halt. Sudden unease ignited a need to escape. The elevator was too small, and Nate appeared taller. Bigger.

Menacing.

Alyssa lunged toward the control panel.

He caught her hair and shoved her face-first into the mirrored wall. “Listen up, rich girl. I crawled my way out of nothing to real power and a chance at significant wealth. We’re marrying and you’ll do your part until I say otherwise.”

The mirror was cold against her face, but it was his voice against her ear that sent chills down her spine. Nate had never hurt her. Not like this. “You can’t—”

“Oh I can and I have. I eliminate problems. Don’t be a problem, Alyssa.”

“This isn’t like you.” She tried to get her head around this version of Nate. “You’ve never threatened me.”

Spinning her, he wrapped his hand around her throat. “You never made me. I was perfectly willing to be good to you, even putting up with your no more sex until the wedding nonsense.” He leaned in, his dark eyes like onyx stones. “I give you what you want when you give me what I want. Otherwise…you’ll pay.”

Frantically, she considered her options. She couldn’t win a physical battle against him in the elevator. Be smart. Pacify him until you can get out. “I see that now.”

He released her hair, then hooked an arm around her waist and yanked her against his chest. “Let’s make sure you do.”

His arm banded her beneath her ribs, making it hard to breathe. Fear pounded in her head. God, he was pushing her around, hurting her.

“You try anything, and I’ll start extracting payment here.” He held up his phone, the screen filled with a photograph.

Recognition gut-punched her. “You wouldn’t. He’s just a kid.”

“I know exactly where he is, every minute of every day. Play your part, and I’ll leave him alone. Fuck me over, and I’ll hurt him. Then you.”

Bile shot up in her throat. There on the screen was a picture of her son.

The boy she’d given up for adoption seven years ago.