Standing motionless as pedestrians rushed by him on Madison Avenue, Vin narrowed his eyes.
Either way, he had to know.
Either way, he’d find her.
And this time, she wouldn’t trick him so easily. Nothing would stop him from getting what he wanted. He wouldn’t listen to her excuses. Next time, he’d bend her to his will.
Barefoot, if necessary.
THERE WAS ONLY one thing that mattered in life, Scarlett’s father had always told her as a child. Freedom.
Freedom. It was Harry Ravenwood’s rallying cry every time their family had to flee in the night, tossing their belongings into black trash bags and heading blindly to a new city. At seven years old, when Scarlett accidentally left her teddy bear—her only friend—behind, she’d cried until her father comforted her with stories of Mr. Teddy backpacking around the world, climbing the Pyramids and the Pyrenees. His funny stories of her bear’s adventures finally made her smile through her tears. On cold winter nights in Upstate New York, as their family shivered in unheated rooms and icy wind rattled the windows, Harry sang jaunty songs about freedom.
Freedom. Even on the bleak night when Scarlett was twelve, when her mother died in the emergency room of a hospital in a faded factory town in Pennsylvania, her father kissed Scarlett as tears streamed down his weathered face. “At least now your beautiful mother is free of pain.”
Scarlett had her freedom now. From Blaise Falkner. From Vin Borgia. She and her unborn baby were free.
But it had come at a cost.
To start with, her flight two weeks ago, from Boston to London, had had a little trouble over the Atlantic.
A small fire in the cargo hold caused the plane to divert to a small airport on the west coast of Ireland. As the plane descended, she saw dark clusters of birds through her porthole window, flying rapidly past the plane. “Bird strike!” a passenger cried out, and as one flight attendant rushed toward the cockpit, another tried to murmur reassuring, unconvincing words to the passengers. Wide-eyed, Scarlett gripped her armrests as she felt the plane ominously vibrate and groan in midair.
All she’d been able to think was, she shouldn’t be on this plane. Pregnant women weren’t supposed to fly after their seventh month. She was nearly at eight. She’d fled from New York, with a quick stop in Boston, because she thought it was her only way to escape Vin. But now that danger seemed small when she and her child were both going to die. Just like her own father had died in that wintry plane crash a year and a half ago. She never should have gotten on a plane.
“Prepare for crash landing,” came the pilot’s terse voice over the intercom. “Brace for impact.” The flight attendants repeated the words as the nose of the plane started to plummet and they rushed to buckle themselves in. “Heads down! Brace for impact! Stay down!”
Scarlett had braced herself, hugging her belly, thinking, please don’t let my baby die.
Like a miracle, the plane had finally steadied on one engine and limped hard, landing with a heavy bang on the edge of the runway. No one was hurt, and passengers and crew alike cheered and cried and hugged each other.
Sliding off the plane on the inflatable yellow slide, Scarlett had fallen to her knees on the tarmac and burst into noisy, ugly sobs.
She never should have gotten on a plane. Any plane. After her father’s death, she should have known better.
But just like when she’d accepted that limo ride from Blaise Falkner, she’d ignored her intuition and convinced herself that her fears were silly. And both she and her baby had nearly died as a result.
She’d never ignore her intuition again. From now on, she’d listen seriously to her fears, even when they didn’t make rational sense.
And above all: she would never, ever get on any plane again.
But why would Scarlett need to? She had no family in New York. No reason to ever go back. Vin Borgia had done her a huge favor, warning her in advance that he intended to rule her life and their child’s with an iron fist and separate her from her baby if she ever objected or tried to leave him. She didn’t feel guilty about leaving him, not at all.
She did feel guilty about stealing his wallet. Stealing was never all right, and her mother must be turning over in her grave. Scarlett told herself she’d had no choice. She’d had to cover her tracks. Vin was not only a ruthless billionaire, he owned an airline and had ridiculous connections. If she’d stepped one toe on a flight under her own name, he would have known about it.