An unlocked door was all Ace needed. He reached past Frida, pushed open the door and did what he’d longed to…introduce his fist to Maxwell’s face.
By the time December and the Her for the Holidays show rolled around, New York City and Maxwell Tata’s abduction were a painful but distant memory. London owed her life to Ace. Everything he’d suspected was true. While Carly denied any involvement in the gift sending or kidnapping, she couldn’t deny that she knew Max.
London now knew what Ace had believed from the beginning—Maxwell Tata was a very dangerous man. Had Ace not outfitted her phone with a special, high-level tracking system shortly after they’d returned from Europe, a fact that in her terror London had completely forgotten, there was no way he would have found her in the city that never slept. London pressed charges. Max pleaded no contest to unlawful imprisonment. He paid a hefty fine but because of a high-powered attorney with major connections, he didn’t spend one night in jail. The best thing that came out of the horrible incident was the $5 million punitive damage judgment that funded the assault-awareness campaign that she, Charli and a couple cousins who’d also been abused oversaw. She was now not only the face of OTB Her, but the representative of millions of sexually assaulted victims who remained silent. She was their face and their voice.
Ace came up and wrapped his arms around her. They were just behind a sheer curtain in a tent that had been constructed around Drake Lake, which had been transformed into a winter wonderland. An industrious engineering firm had used thick slabs of Plexiglas, steel beams and concrete blocks to bring to life the frozen lake that Ace had imagined when planning the show. In keeping with the signature moves for which OTB Her was now famous, this man-made lake was part of the show’s finale.
She turned, straightening the lapels of his OTB tux. “Did anyone ever tell you that you could be a model? You’re really handsome. It’s a career you should consider.”
He squeezed her tighter. “No, I kind of like my position behind the scenes. I’m in love with a beautiful woman who happens to be a model herself. I like to help her career. She shines brighter in the spotlight then I ever could.”
London looked over her shoulder. Her heart swelled at the scene behind her. Eight of the finest men in not just Paradise Cove but the world walked toward her, all wearing OTB: Julian, Terrell, Warren, Reginald, Niko, Ike Jr., Ike Sr. and Teresa’s husband, Atka Sinclair.
“Look, baby, our escorts!”
Ace turned and nodded slowly. “Look at the Drake men representing.”
“And a Sinclair,” London said.
Atka shook his head. “Naw, I’m an honorary Drake tonight.”
Frida walked over. “We need you guys backstage to help line up the models. The show starts in ten.”
Ace looked at the group. “All right, fellas. I’ll spare you the backstage zoo and line you guys up just outside the door. As a model comes out, you’ll offer her your arm and basically follow her lead. She’ll walk to the middle of the runway, pose, to the end, pose and come back.”
Ike Sr. looked worried. “Ace, I think we should have rehearsed this.”
London walked up to her father, their relationship better than ever. “Just walk when they walk, stop when they stop and leave the stage with them. You’ll be fine.” She kissed his cheek. “I never thought I’d say this, Dad, but… See you on the runway!”
London peeked around a curtain as her mom addressed the crowd. There’d been no plan to stop and listen but hearing the woman who’d named her Clarisse call her by the name she’d chosen stopped her cold.
“Good evening. Most if not all of you know about my daughter London. You’ve seen her in magazines, on television and online. She was born and for a while raised right here in Paradise Cove. She’s our golden child, with an it factor for as far back as I can remember. She was rambunctious, curious, fearless. Not much has changed. During her teen years, Ike and I sent her to a boarding school, to instill discipline, and smooth her rough edges.” Ripples of laughter rolled across the audience. “But what does she do? One-up us by becoming an international supermodel.” The audience applauded. “That’s our golden child. We couldn’t be more proud.”