Wed By Deception(4)

By: Emilie Rose



She nodded with a whole lot more confidence than she felt and selected a kickboxing workout video. If she did the routine twice, the exercise ought to tire her out.

Trying to work up some enthusiasm, she headed for the DVD player. A muffled thump stopped her. Had it come from the hall? If so, it was far too late for the neighbor’s twice-weekly maid, and since security in the building was tighter than the Pentagon, it wasn’t likely to be a prowler.

So what was it? Grumpy, aka Gary, the night security guy? He usually covered the Monday night shifts. The guy really didn’t like her much. None of the security team did.

But this wasn’t Grumpy’s usual time. She headed for the foyer and squinted through the peephole.

Across the wide hall a tall, blond guy had his back to her as he shoved a key into the apartment door. His tailored dove-gray suit encased broad shoulders, slim hips and long legs. He carried an ostrich attaché case in his left hand and a Louis Vuitton garment bag sat to the right of his feet.

Her absentee neighbor? Hallelujah. Someone new to talk to. She yanked open the door. The man spun around swiftly as if she’d startled him.

No. It couldn’t be. Nadia recoiled, stumbling backward. The doorjamb banged her spine. The pain barely registered. Her heart slammed. Her head spun.

No.

Not Lucas.

Lucas is dead.

But the man in front of her was a dead ringer for her dead husband.

“Nadia?” said an oh, so familiar voice.

Black spots danced in front of her eyes. A cold sweat coated her skin. She gasped for air and clung to the door frame.

“Nadia, are you all right?”

She couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t blink. Transfixed, she stared at the apparition wavering in front of her.

“Put your head down.”

The briefcase thumped to the floor. A strong hand cupped the back of her neck and forced her chin toward her chest. Her legs folded. She went down hard on her knees. Her forehead pressed the Aubusson rug while her thoughts tumbled out of control.

You’ve done it. You’ve finally cracked up. Just like your father expected you to.

When you open your eyes, you’ll see a stranger. Not your dead husband. Or maybe nobody at all.

But the firm, warm hand on her nape felt very, very real.

And very familiar.

When the hall around her no longer tilted and whirled she batted that big hand away and eased upright.

Blinking didn’t change a thing. The man kneeling beside her still looked like Lucas Stone. His tawny hair was shorter, expensively razor cut instead of the basic barbershop job she remembered. His face was leaner and scored by a few more lines, but those were Lucas’s silvery-blue eyes. That was his slightly canted-to-the-right nose and his stubborn square chin.

“Y-you’re dead.”

The corners of the mouth she’d once loved to kiss turned downward and his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Not the last time I checked.”

“Daddy told me—I missed the memorial service. I—He said you died. From injuries sustained in the wr-wreck.”

Scowl deepening, the Lucas look-alike sat back on his haunches. “Kincaid told you I was dead?”

Her tongue was as dry as driftwood and about as lifeless. She swallowed and nodded.

“Son of a bitch.” He shot to his feet and offered her a hand.

She hesitated, staring at those long fingers, one of which had worn a shiny new gold band the last time she’d seen him—a ring she still kept in her jewelry box at home. Reaching for that imaginary hand would be like buying into this delusion. She rose slowly without assistance and scanned the hall for the guys in white coats. But she saw only the empty private penthouse elevator through its gaping doors.

“This isn’t real. You’re not real. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and—”

The blond illusion followed her into the apartment.

Oh, God. She needed to call her shrink.

You fired him last week, remember?

Oh, yeah. Oops. Big mistake.

“I can’t believe your father told you I was dead. What else did he tell you?”

She grappled to make sense of her delirium. “N-nothing.”

He stopped a yard away and she caught a whiff of…Kenneth Cole Black?

Did hallucinations have a scent?

Tentatively, she reached out. Her trembling fingertips didn’t sink into nothingness. They encountered a firm chest encased in a pale blue silk shirt. She flattened her hand on that make-believe chest beside the navy-and-pewter striped silk tie. The steady thud of a heart bumped against her palm.

Real.

He’s not dead.

Lucas isn’t dead.

Joy burst through her, warming her, whipping her already racing heart into a wild thrashing rhythm. She was halfway to leaping into his arms and wrapping her legs around him the way she used to but her euphoria sputtered then crashed and burned like a spent firework.

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