The Billion Dollar Bachelor

By: Jackie Ashenden

Chapter 1

“Stay in the car.”

Pandora Garret didn’t even bother protesting. There wasn’t any point. Thing One—aka Jimmy, one of her bodyguards—was already getting out of the armored limo to investigate the crowd clustered outside her Manhattan apartment, and besides, even if she had protested, he never listened to her anyway.

Normally she’d also have Thing Two—Dan, her other bodyguard—with her. But tonight her father had some big deal going down and he’d needed Dan with him. Pandora hadn’t asked what kind of big deal it was. She never did. It paid not to know these things since most of what Nick Garret did—what his whole empire was based on, in fact—was illegal.

“Fire alarm,” Pandora said to no one in particular. Pretty obvious given the wail coming from the building and the people assembling around outside.

The limo’s chauffeur let out a sigh and bent his head, his attention on something he held in his hands. A phone probably.

Pandora leaned back against the soft leather of the seats, stretching her toes inside the hideous stilettos she wore. Her feet hurt after hours of standing around at the gallery opening her father had insisted she attend with him, ostensibly to show her some “culture.”

But it hadn’t been “culture” her father had been interested in.

As soon as she’d been introduced to one of Nick’s “colleagues” and the conversation had turned to “closer ties” and a more solid “business relationship,” she’d known: her father had finally decided to marry her off and this was her introduction to her new husband-to-be.

A small dart of panic slipped through her but she swallowed it down. Just as there was no point protesting the order to stay in the car, there was no point panicking about being married off to some stranger. She couldn’t do anything about it.

Nick Garret was one of New York’s biggest crime lords, ruling his patch of the city like a medieval king, and she was his princess daughter, the one he kept locked up in a tower. And if he wanted to marry her off to anyone whom he thought might increase his power base, then he would.

Lucky fucking her.

The crowd outside the window was growing restive. More sirens had joined the cry of the fire alarm: fire engines at last.

Thing One still hadn’t returned to the car.

And Pandora slowly became aware of something.

She was alone. Oh, there was the chauffeur, but he wasn’t paying attention, busy texting his girlfriend or whoever. Thing One was somewhere in the crowd. For once in her life she wasn’t being tailed. Or watched. Or “kept safe” as her father liked to term it.

Maybe you can do something about it after all …

It would be so easy to open the door of the limo and slip out into the night. Let the crowd and the confusion of the fire alarms hide her. Get lost in the streets. Escape.

Her mouth dried. She looked down at her hands curled in her lap, her fingers clutching the stupid little purse that went with the slinky red silk dress she wore. No wonder her father had made her wear it. Sergei, his Russian “colleague” and her likely fiancé, preferred red and she’d been beautifully displayed like a jewel in a setting. But it meant she had nothing with her, only a lipstick and a wallet with the credit card her father had given her when she was eighteen. Financial independence, he’d told her with a smile.

Another of her father’s excellent pieces of bullshit. Because how could it be financial independence when he controlled the money?

Pandora gripped the purse. Over the years there had been other opportunities like this one. Rare opportunities where she could have slipped away, finally getting out from under Nick Garret’s thumb. But she’d never taken them. Mainly because she had no money and nowhere to go. She didn’t have any friends except her online buddies and they didn’t even know who she was. And she couldn’t ask them for help. Even if she escaped her father’s tower, anyone helping her would be taken down.

Yeah, she’d pretty much come to terms with the fact that she’d probably never escape her father permanently, but that was before she’d been introduced to Sergei. A man twice her age, with eyes just as cold as her father’s. Just as hard.

If you don’t leave now, that’ll be your future. You’ll go from one cage to another …

Her heart began to race. It was her birthday tomorrow. She’d be twenty-five. Nick had a party planned and had told her he had a very special announcement to make. No prizes for guessing what that was. Her engagement no doubt. And once that was in place, there would definitely be no more opportunities like this one. Not ever again.

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