SHE'S MARRIED TO A MONSTER.
BUT HER SAVIOR IS NO SAINT.
Months. I'd been looking for her for months.
Nina Astor gave me one red-hot night and disappeared into the city.
The woman was a phantom, and I was obsessed.
Now she is back in my life, as real as ever.
And completely unattainable.
Because Nina Astor is beyond off-limits.
Daughter of a dynasty.
Cousin of New York’s most notorious billionaire.
Married to the scum of the earth—the subject of my next investigation.
As a criminal prosecutor, I’m supposed to be on the right side of the law.
But when it comes to Nina Astor,
I’m a very bad man.
I’ll do anything to claim this woman as my own.
And to save her from this monster, I’d sell my soul to the devil himself.
Truth be told…
Maybe I already have.
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"Months, Nina. I’ve been looking for you for months.”
“I told you not to do that.”
Her tone was bitter. But not as much as mine.
“I don’t remember that part. I remember telling you I’d walk you down after a shower, but when I got out, you had disappear—”
“You couldn’t have possibly believed I would stay,” she cut in. “I said one—”
“And just when I’m thinking about giving up, the door opens in some random person’s apartment—”
“Jane and Eric are not random, and—”
“And like the Mother Mary herself just answered every one of my damn prayers, you walk in out of nowhere, so—”
“I was there for my own reas—”
“I wasn't just going to let you walk out again without a word. I have some questions, Nina, and I’m not leaving until you answer them!”
By the time we had finished cutting off each other’s sentences, both of us were seething—me in a more obvious, chest-thumping way with my favorite hat now crumpled in my hands, Nina with that ice queen glare of hers.
She crossed her arms. “You have questions. Like what, pray tell, Mr. Zola?”
I hated the crisp formality. It reminded me of a judge on her last case of the day. Or the headmistress at the parish school where I had lasted exactly two years before being kicked out. The only time I ever wanted to hear Nina address me that way was on her knees before I taught her some respect. Right before she begged for more...discipline.
“Like…your name,” I gritted out. “Your real name.”
Like so many people who grew up in this city, I understood the con of New York. Everyone had an angle. Everyone had a story. I knew you couldn’t always trust people to tell you the truth because I didn’t always do it either.
How many times had I given women wrong numbers when I didn’t want them to call? Made up excuses so I wouldn’t have to see them again? I sugarcoated the worst parts of my character, brushed off my excesses like they were nothing. And I told these stories, lived these falsehoods because everyone in this city did. Putting on an act was as natural to New Yorkers as catching a cab.
But for one night, with one woman, I’d dropped it all. At that bar, in that restaurant, in that hotel room—Zola disappeared. Mattie was gone. All the things I’d ever said and done ceased to exist.
With her, I was only Matthew. The Americanized name given for my grandfather, per old Italian custom. I’d split open my chest, my heart, everything I was for this beautiful woman I had only just met, for one critical reason:
I believed she had done it too.
“I said I wasn’t a de Vries,” Nina cut back in a voice that shook. “And I’m not. Or have you forgotten the rest of that conversation too?”
Her emotion made her tremble, like a string that had just been plucked. I took a step forward so there was less than a foot between us.
“Baby, I didn’t forget a second of the night I spent with you.”
Nina shivered even more in the brisk night air, but her face was flushed. Her lips parted, and for a moment, I considered stealing a kiss. Her chest rose and fell with each breath, and by the way her eyes kept drifting down to my mouth, I was pretty sure she wanted it too. It would have been so easy...
I was no gentleman. Not then. Not now. Maybe not ever. But even standing here in the middle of Central Park and in no mood for generosity, something about Nina still made me want to be better.