A front-row seat at Paris Fashion Week is the perfect pick-me-up for Brianna Hamilton, eldest daughter of New York's most successful clothing dynasty. The once-burned designer has had it with men who care only about the bottom line. Until she meets a guy who's impossible to resist. Here, in the world's most romantic city, Brianna's giving in to desire with a sensual stranger she'll never see again.
As CEO of an international hotel chain, Collin Childs has everything except the one thing money can't buy. So when fate reunites him with the woman who gave him the most unforgettable week of his life, he vows to overcome every obstacle standing in their way. From Paris to New York to a tropical St. Thomas paradisein the face of danger and sabotageCollin is slowly winning Brianna over. But can he convince her to take a chance on a love of their own passionate design?
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Brianna Hamilton had a love-hate relationship with the paparazzi. Always had, likely always would. And because today her feelings for the aggressive, money-hungry jerks verged on the latter, she strode briskly past the legions of photographers jockeying for position in front of the red carpet outside the world-famous Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. Her hands were so slick with sweat she struggled to hold on to her satin evening bag, and each step she took increased her fear, her anxiety. Keep smiling and no one will ever know that you're an emotional wreck. Or that you cried yourself to sleep last night.
The brisk, early October breeze whipped her lush, shoulder-length curls around her face, and the hem of her strapless burgundy dress flapped so high in the air Brianna feared she'd just flashed the French paparazzi an eyeful of her booty. The scene on Rue de Rivoli was insane, more frenzied than a Twilight premiere and twice as loud. Cameras flashed, screaming fans waved signs, helicopters buzzed overhead and paramedics were on hand in case someone went into cardiac arrest after seeing their favorite globe-trotting star.
"Brianna, where's your sister?"
"What rehab clinic is Bailey hiding in?"
"Do you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, too?"
Questions swirled around her, fast and furious. They came from every direction, every angle. The voices taunted her, teased her, conjured up painful, gut-wrenching memories Brianna couldn't escape. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, but she waved at the crowd and then rushed inside the lobby as fast as her six-inch high heels could take her.
Sucking in a quick breathwhich did little to calm her nervesBrianna touched a hand to her stomach, terrified she was going to hurl. But she wouldn't.
Inside the auditorium, the lights were low, the atmosphere was festive and the air was filled with the heady scent of wine, perfume and fresh flowers. Everyone who was anyone was in Paris for Fashion Week, and the room was full of entertainers, socialites and A-list stars from around the globe.
Studly male waiters sporting bow ties marched briskly around the room offering champagne, hors d'oeuvres and toothy smiles. Everywhere Brianna looked people were mingling, schmoozing and posing for pictures. High-pitched laughter bounced off the ceilings and ricocheted around the room, but the loud, cheerful sound didn't brighten her mood.
Sitting down in her satin-draped front row seat, she crossed her legs and waited impatiently for the Fendi fashion show to begin. Brianna loved the sights and sounds of Paris and had been to the city dozens of times over the years, but this year her heart just wasn't in Fashion Week. She wanted to be with her sister, Bailey, somewhere far away from the crowds, the pushy photographers and the prying eyes of the media.
But her parents, Roger and Lila Hamilton, wouldn't hear of her going to St. Thomas, where they'd sent Bailey for some much-needed rest. Not even to comfort her kid sister, the person she loved more than anything. They didn't want anyone to tip off the press about Bailey's location, so Brianna had no choice but to stay away. After much prodding from her mother, Brianna reluctantly packed her bags for Paris and boarded the family jet first thing Monday morning. The week had been a blur of last-minute fittings, tension-filled meetings and mistake-riddled rehearsals that dragged on for hours, but now that the Roger Hamilton Designs fashion show was over, Brianna realized all the stress and drama had been worth it. The fashion show had been an enormous success, and now she could finally sit back and relax.
Her gaze swept through the fashionably dressed crowd. Women in fitted designer dresses with perfectly coiffed hair snapped pictures with bejeweled cell phones, while the steely-eyed editor of Vogue spoke quietly to her assistant, who jotted notes in a leather-bound notebook. The excitement in the auditorium was palpable, almost suffocating. Brianna wished someone would crack open a window or jack up the air-conditioning.
But not everyone was watching the show.
A burly photographer in dark sunglasses was leering at her as he swung his high-powered camera lens in her direction.
Brianna snatched the program off her lap and shielded her face. Take that, stupid! What she really wanted to do was whack the photographer upside the head with it, but she inhaled a deep, calming breath instead.
He was supposed to be taking pictures of the glamorous models gliding down the runway, and the rows upon rows of celebrities seated along the stage, not of hera quiet, low-key fashion designer who preferred being behind the scenes. But ever since her sister's disappearance at Lincoln Center in New York last month, the paparazzi had been chomping at the bit for pictures of her family. And the constant scrutiny was getting to her. For as long as Brianna could remember, the media had always had a rabid fascination with her family, but these days the public's curiosity was insatiable and completely out of control.
Brianna told herself not to go there, not to think about what had happened to Bailey weeks earlier, but she couldn't stop the questions that rose in her mind. Why would someone kidnap Bailey, knock her out and plant drugs on her? Someone was out to destroy her sister's flourishing modeling career and ruin the Hamilton family namebut why? What had Bailey ever done to deserve being attacked?
Brianna blinked back the tears in her eyes. It had been almost a month since the frightening, horrific attack, and she still couldn't make sense of why it had happened. Bailey was the life-of-the-party, a beauty who lit up every room she entered and, although the modeling industry was as cutthroat as the Mafia, her sister didn't have any enemies. Not one.
Bailey was the face of Roger Hamilton Designs and a statuesque, exotic-looking beauty who was outgoing, passionate about life and outrageously funny. Or at least she used to be. Every time Brianna spoke to Bailey at the resort her parents had shipped her off to in St. Thomas, her sister sounded stressed, on edge. She refused to leave her hotel suite and spent hours on end lying in bed, reliving every second of her brutal attack.
Lights flashed in Brianna's face, causing her to return to the present. Dropping the catalog on her lap, she cheered along with the audience. Putting all thoughts of the attack out of her mind, she watched as the models commanded the stage Brianna sat in her chair, marveling at the response of the crowd, at how everyone in the room seemed to be on the edge of their seat. It shouldn't have surprised her. The vibrant, cutting-edge gowns were eye-catching, the models were stunning and the techno music was so lively Brianna temporarily forgot all about the drama surrounding her familyand the devastating secret that kept her up at night. She loved this world, loved how fashion united people from different cultures and backgrounds, and was aware how fortunate she was to be a Hamilton.
Brianna heard the buzz in the crowd and knew another A-list star had just entered the auditorium. Curious to see who the new arrival was, she tore her gaze away from the stage and searched the international crowd for the fashionably late celebrity.
That's when Brianna saw him.
A man so fine she felt her eyes widen and her mouth fall open.
The drop-dead sexy heartthrob was a full head taller than every other man in the room and moved with pride and confidence. Sporting a camel-brown coat, a white turtleneck sweater and black dress pants, he radiated a cool, casual vibe. Brianna gave him the once-over, and she liked what she saw so much that she did it again. The second time, her heartbeat pounded in her ears as she undressed him with her eyes. Her body was suddenly humming with need, so inflamed with desire that R-rated thoughts filled her mind. Brianna hadn't been intimate with anyone since her divorce and, up until now, hadn't given much thought to ending her twelve-month sexual drought.
Why would I? she thought, her eyes crawling down the stranger's slim, toned physique. It's not like I've met anyone I'm remotely interested in sleeping with.
The truth was, Brianna thought sex was overrated. Her orgasms had always been few and far between, so she'd often chosen working in her home office over making love to her husband. But there was something about the stranger with the dark, smoldering gaze and thick lips that gave her butterflies. Hot flashes. A dizzying, intoxicating rush.
His stylish designer eyeglasses, blinding white smile and perfect posture gave him a studious, mature look, but Brianna suspected he was in his early thirties. He carried himself with importance, like someone who lunched with Trump, golfed with Tiger and partied with Kanye. And as he made his way through the auditorium, the buzz grew to a fevered pitch. One by one, jaws dropped and lips curled into dreamy smiles.
The stranger sat down in the front row beside a French pop star who had a penchant for dating bad boys, wearing see-through clothes and making sex tapes. He greeted his date with a kiss on each cheek, then cast a glance around the packed auditorium. That's when he caught Brianna staring at him. Their eyes met across the runway, and for one nerve-wracking minute they gazed intently at each other.
Brianna felt faint, spent, as if she were in a Zumba class.
A tingly sensation spread through her body. The man had to be an actor, someone iiber famous who partied with the royals and smiled down from billboards in the heart of the city. He had that look, that vibe, an aura that instantly drew people in. All around the room, women were making eyes at him, but he seemed oblivious to the stir he caused. His gaze was on her, slowly moving from her eyes to her lips.
Brianna felt her cheeks flush and knew her face was bright red. The color of her passion, the shade of her desire. The stranger watched her in a way that aroused her. Instead of glancing away, Brianna appraised him right back, from head to toe. There was something magnetic about him, something so compelling, she felt an instant and immediate connection to him. Brianna knew the notion was outrageous, so far out in left field that even her single, man-hungry girlfriends would call her crazy, but she couldn't change the way she felt.
"The Hamiltons have money and wealth and fame, but they're still a hot mess!"
Brianna sat up ramrod straight. Squinting, her head inclined to the right, she listened to what the women seated behind her were saying. They sounded young, like a couple of Valley girls straight out of San Fernando, California, and their vocabulary was so limited Brianna wondered if they'd finished elementary school.
"My boyfriend's brother hooked up with Bailey Hamilton at Diddy's White Party last year, and he said they spent hours doing coke and each other."
"Yuck," another woman said, her tone loud and nasally. "I've met your boyfriend's brother and I wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole."
"It doesn't surprise me. Models are so screwed up in the head."
"4nd she's a Hamilton."
The women giggled like tween girls watching Nickelodeon.
"Authentic fashions my ass." More high-pitched laughter. "Roger Hamilton needs to change his company slogan because there's nothing real or authentic about his family. They're all a bunch of fakes, and their relatives in Philadelphia are, like, ten times worse."
For a moment, Brianna forgot who and where she was. Whipping around, she shot the blonde women an evil glare. But instead of looking ashamed or bolting from their plush second-row seats, the twosome rolled their eyes to the ceiling.
"Look who it is," quipped the woman with the short, curly hair. "It's Brianna Hamilton, the only one left in her family who isn't strung out on drugs or in rehab."
"Everything you just said about my sister is a lie," Brianna said, raising her voice above the music. "Bailey's never, ever done drugs."
"Then why did the police find her stoned out of her mind at Lincoln Center?"
Brianna ignored the question. She didn't have the time or the energy to argue with dumb and dumber, but she refused to sit back and let them bash her kid sister. "You don't know anything about me or my family"
"Oh, yes, I do," snapped the blonde with the hazel eyes. "I'm a gossip blogger for Celebrity Scoop, so I know what happens to the rich and famous even before it happens." Wearing a smug smile, she propped her hands on her hips. "Face it, Bri-Bri, your family's so dysfunctional they make the Jacksons look normal!"
Brianna wanted to grab her purse and leave the Carrousel du Louvre, but how would it look if she stormed out of the Fendi fashion show before it ended? No, she'd just have to stick it out for the rest of the night. She was in Paris to represent her family businessnot to get into a screaming match with a pair of gossips.
"How is Bailey doing in rehab?" A big fat smirk sat on the woman's thin peach lips as she flipped her hair over her shoulder for the umpteenth time. "Is she finally getting the help she so desperately deserves, or is she so doped up on meds she has no idea where she is?"
Rage consumed Brianna. She imagined herselfjumping over her satin-draped seat and punching Malibu Barbie and her ditzy sidekick in the face. Brianna wanted to defend Bailey and her family name but knew that acting a fool inside the Carrousel du Louvre with the whole world watching would only create more bad press, and that was the last thing her family needed. So Brianna turned back around in her seat. I could use a drink, she thought, signaling to an approaching waiter and then snatching a flute off his silver tray.
Brianna hoped the champagne would help calm the fire raging within her. The stranger, sitting directly across from her on the opposite side of the runway, raised his flute in greeting, but Brianna couldn't even muster a smile. She felt defeated, beaten down, and her heart ached for Bailey.
People were cruel and seemed to derive great pleasure from kicking her family while they were down, but something told Brianna things were going to get a hell of a lot worse before they got better.
Behind her, the blondes continued their verbal assault. I wish I could give them a New York beat down, but since I don't want to see my mug shot on TMZ, I'm going to keep my butt in this seat even if it kills me.
And when one of the women called Brianna a pampered princess with no talent, Brianna began to think that it just might.