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Liam Chapter 1
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Chapter One

“What the fuck do you mean?” I seethed.

Color draining from his face, Mr. Welsh, my late mother’s attorney, licked his paper-thin lips and tugged uncomfortably on his tie. He opened his mouth, but instead of talking, he took a few greedy gulps of water.

“Well, you see,” he started after half his glass was drained. “There’s a clause in your mother’s will…If you don’t marry before your next birthday, you’ll lose Nouvelle Femme.”

Yeah, I got that part earlier when he arrived at my office without a meeting and stated he had urgent business to discuss with me. I barely had the chance to say hello before he dropped that bomb on me.

What I didn’t get was why the hell I hadn’t known about this before.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, I dragged my hand through my hair. But since I’d twisted the long strands into a bun, my fingers caught on the tie.

I winced, my sigh from earlier morphing into something angrier. “Is there a reason you’re only telling me this now instead of, I don’t know, five years ago when you happily informed me I had to take over as CEO?”

That hadn’t been as big of a shock as this news was. I’d known, even as a young boy not smart enough to understand my mother’s dying words, that there’d come a time for me to sit at the helm of her company.

I’d expected it. Wanted it. But this...This I didn’t fucking need.

Mr. Welsh’s elderly face displayed a blend of sorrow and distress. Even though a pang of regret stabbed me in the chest for putting it there, I couldn’t bring myself to apologize.

Not when my fury burned down to the bone.

Rationally, I knew none of this was his fault. He was nothing more than a messenger who didn’t deserve my anger. Unfortunately for him, I couldn’t use the rational part of my brain.

I turned my gaze toward the busy city beyond my top-floor office window and squeezed the bridge of my nose.

“I don’t know if you know this,” Mr. Welsh said, his voice quiet and careful. “But your great-grandparents on your mother’s side had an arranged marriage, as did your grandparents, and so did your parents.”

I didn’t answer—because what the hell was I supposed to say? Thankfully, he went on, “I saw your mother the day before she died—”

“Murdered,” I corrected him. “You saw her the day before she was murdered.”

Of course, he said nothing. No one ever did. My fucking grandfather, the bastard he was, made sure of it.

Mr. Welsh cleared his throat. “When she came to me to put all of this in place, she still believed in the goodness of marriage.”

I laughed, the sound harsh and bitter. “What a fucking joke.” There’s no goodness in love and marriage or any of that shit. She, of all people, should have known and understood that.

“Your father might’ve been—”

“Just as toxic as the rest of his family?” I interrupted, glaring at him over my shoulder.

His features softened, and he gave me a pitying look. I didn’t appreciate it. I bloody well didn’t want pity. “Well, yes. But your mother also witnessed the wonderful and beautiful side of two strangers finding love when things seemed hopeless. That might not have been her experience, but it didn’t change her belief in love. The true, everlasting kind.”

His voice dropped a few octaves. “She wanted that for you.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Returning my attention to the city beyond the window, I shook my head. “Why would she do this?”

“I don’t know, but maybe this holds the answers you seek.”

I spun around just in time to see him place a small envelope on my desk. My heart immediately slammed two beats too fast against my ribs. It might have been years since I’d seen it, but I’d never forget my mother’s handwriting.

“Liam, I deeply apologize for delivering this news on your birthday. Your mother was a dear friend to me, and I might not understand or even agree with her reasons for doing things this way, but I promised to uphold her wishes.”

What was I supposed to say? I wanted to honor my mother, too. It was why I hadn’t thought twice about taking over as CEO of Nouvelle Femme a day after my thirtieth birthday. It was why I’d been working my ass off to keep the company relevant.

Not that it was easy. I had to learn more about cosmetics than I ever wanted to. But I’d do it all over again if it meant keeping this part of my mother with me.

Somewhere while I’d been lost in my own thoughts, Mr. Welsh had moved closer and when he spoke again, his voice, soft and steady, came from beside me.

“I hate doing this, but there’s more.”

“More?” I ground out. “What else could there possibly be?”

The older man laid a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “It’s not enough to just be married. You’ll have to stay married until your fortieth birthday. Only then will the company be put in your name.”

“You can’t be serious?” I threw my head back and stared at the ceiling. “So, if I, by some fucking miracle, get married now but end up divorced before I turn forty, I still lose Nouvelle Femme?”

“Afraid so.”

Great. Just bloody great.

I pinched my eyes shut and all I saw were my greedy grandfather and good-for-nothing cousin finally getting their filthy hands on my mother’s—my—company.

All because of some screwed-up clause in a will.

“I really am sorry.” Mr. Welsh’s voice intruded on my thoughts.

With a deep breath through my nose, I lowered my gaze to meet his. “You’re just doing what my mother asked of you.” I tried to hide my disappointment, I really did, but failed miserably. “Thanks for stopping by.”

Understanding I needed to be alone, Mr. Welsh nodded once before he spun on his heel and headed toward my office door. Once there, he stopped inside the frame to glance at me over his shoulder.

“Happy birthday, Liam.”

Yeah, I thought as I stared at the closed door where he’d stood moments ago, happy fucking birthday to me.

The bloody irony of it all almost had me laughing out loud.

Finding a wife was as likely as snowfall in the middle of summer.

I never went out. Well, almost never. The few times I had gone somewhere—other than celebrating a birthday—were usually when I got tired of my buddies, Tristan and Rafe, nagging me. And even those times were limited to four, maybe five times a year.

Not only that, I didn’t date.



Not that I didn’t have needs. I just took care of them in…other ways.

“Fuck.” Dropping my chin to my chest, I scraped a heavy palm over the back of my neck.

What the hell was I going to do?

I was no closer to figuring it out when a knock pulled me from my thoughts. Blinking back to the present, I was just in time to see my assistant, Tamara, walking into my office. “Rafe is here. Can I send him in, or do you need a few minutes to fix what’s wrong with your face, boss-man?”

Most people wouldn’t have tolerated an employee speaking to them in such a way.

I wasn’t most people.

Tamara was more than efficient at her job. She didn’t poke her nose where it didn’t belong, and most importantly, she never tried to sleep with me.

That was exactly why I’d put up with her sassy remarks for nearly five years.

I jerked my head toward the door. “Send him in.”

“Okey dokey.”

Letting out a long breath, I lowered myself onto my office chair. My ass had barely hit the plush leather when I saw it. The envelope Mr. Welsh placed there after he sent a wrecking ball through my neatly planned-out future.

The letter from my mother.

As much as I missed her—which was a fucking lot—I didn’t want to know what it said. I didn’t want to read about the bright, beautiful future she’d envisioned for me. Deep down, I knew if she were here, she’d be disappointed in who I’d become.

Heart heavy and fingers trembling, I snatched the envelope off my desk. I’d just stowed it in my pocket when the office door flew open.

“Felice compleanno.” Rafe strode into my office with a way too huge grin for my sour mood on his face. “Ready to festa?”

I most definitely was not ready to party. Not by a long shot. I’d rather go home and forget about this day altogether. Which, to be fair, I usually wanted to do. Considering it was the anniversary of my mother’s death, birthdays weren’t particularly fun for me.

As a kid, pretending it was just another ordinary day was easy. My grandfather never even acknowledged the day, and school friends weren’t really interested. And I was one-hundred-percent okay with it.

It wasn’t until I’d met Rafe and Tristan at Columbia that I’d started celebrating the day of my birth. And it was only because they refused to let it go.

That was why I went along with whatever plans they made. One of those compromises you made for the people who always had your back. Plus, one night of wild partying usually—mostly—got them off my back for the rest of the year.

“Your party face needs a makeover.”

Rafe’s voice cut through my thoughts and brought me back to the moment. I blinked once, twice, four times before he came into focus. He’d sat across from me, staring like I had two heads.

“What’s up with you?” His tone did not hint at amusement this time.

With a rough shake of my head, I scraped my palm over my face. “You want the long version or the CliffsNotes?”

He glared at me. “What do you think?”

“All right then.” I took a deep breath and then filled him in on my lovely visit with my mother’s attorney. By the time I was finally done, Rafe’s mouth was somewhere at his feet, and I’d added hopelessness to the list of emotions swirling through my veins.

“What the fuck?” he finally stuttered.

“Yeah.” I laughed a humorless laugh. “That was my reaction, too.”

Leaning forward, he braced his elbows on his knees. “What are you going to do?”

“There’s nothing I can do, Rafe.”

He pulled a face his Italian ancestors would not be proud of.

“You’re just going to hand over your mother’s company to your grandfather without a fight?”

I didn’t appreciate his tone—not one bit. “What the hell do you suggest I do, then?”

“Go find a fucking wife. Start tonight. And instead of only spending the night with whoever you pick up, try taking her out on a date. You have, what, eleven months at least before you have to be legally married, right?”

He made it sound so simple. So damn simple.

But it wasn’t.

And I could not explain it to him without opening the door on skeletons I’d much rather leave in the closet.

I gritted my teeth and ground out, “Fine.”

I regretted it the moment I’d said it, and four hours and too many bourbons to count later, I still did.

I didn’t want to be there. At that club. Doing whatever it was my friends wanted me to do. I wanted to go home. And maybe, possibly, read the letter my mother had left.

Decision made, I slowly pushed to my feet. Sure, slipping out while Tristan and Rafe were busy on the dance floor was a dick move, but I was all partied out.

They’d get over it.


Touching the cool glass of the tumbler against my lips, I drained the last of my bourbon before grabbing my jacket. Just as I headed out of the booth, Rafe and Tristan sauntered inside.

And they weren’t alone.

Three starry-eyed women stood behind them.

“We brought company,” Tristan happily announced.

My gaze flitted over said company. “So I see.” The words came out through clenched teeth. Not that anyone noticed.

Rafe was too busy chatting with his new blond friend while Tristan motioned for his companion to sit.

Which left me and the redhead.

And the fucking uncomfortable way her gaze tracked over my body.

I groaned. Not subtly either.

I’d been through this dance too many times to know exactly how it would play out.

Suddenly, the music was too loud, the beat too thundering. My lungs were filled with air, yet I was out of breath. I was hot. I was cold.

I needed to fucking leave.

Shoving my forefinger into my shirt collar, I took three steps backward.

Rafe noticed my discomfort and immediately followed. Or tried to, but I held up my hand, warning him to stay back.

Thankfully, he did.

The redhead, however, had other plans.

She was in front of me faster than I could blink. Licking her way-too-pink lips, she inched even closer. My nostrils flared as the cloying scent of her perfume invaded my senses.


I almost ground my molars to dust at her high-pitched voice.

“You must be the birthday boy.”

“Not interested,” I grumbled.

The redhead must not have heard me, or she had fewer brain cells than I thought. Because the woman stepped even closer. She placed her hands on my chest and slowly dragged her palms up and over my shoulders.

“Ohhhh, wow. Are you from England? You must be. With an accent like that, you can read me the phonebook, and I’d still swoon. You’re like Tom Hardy but with long hair.” Pushing onto her toes, she tried to bring her mouth to my ear.

Since I was much taller, I would’ve needed to bend down for her to reach.

I didn’t.

Take the damn hint, I silently begged. I don’t want to be an asshole tonight.

She didn’t.

Pressing her breasts against my chest, she trailed a long-nailed finger along the scruff covering my jaw. “He’s my celebrity crush, you know. There’s nothing I wouldn’t let that man do to me.”

Every cell in my body recoiled. My fingers itched to grip her wrists and rip her off me.

Which was precisely what I did.

“You need to see a bloody ear doctor. I told you I wasn’t interested.”

If I hadn’t been so damn pissed off, I would have barked out a laugh at the offended expression on her face.

But as it stood, my annoyance grew into a wild, untamed beast I had no hope of containing. I had words for this woman. Strong words. No means no, went both fucking ways. I opened my mouth to tell her as much when Rafe’s face suddenly appeared before me.

“Don’t do it.”

Over his shoulder, I noticed Tristan ushering all three women back to the dance floor. Good.

Meeting my friend’s concerned gaze, I lifted my shoulders in a shrug. “What?”

“You’re not even trying.”

The bass bouncing off the walls had nothing on the thumping behind my breastbone. “Don’t give me that. Little Miss I’m-looking-for-someone-to-fund-my-out-of-control-shopping-habit is definitely not the type of person I want to marry.”

He made a noise, could have been a groan or a heavy sigh. I didn’t know. Didn’t care.

“Look, man,” I started. “I appreciate your concern, and trust me, I know I have a lot of shit to figure out in a really short time. Just…not tonight.”

Without waiting for a response, I pushed past him and hurried out of the stifling club. The moment I set foot on the sidewalk, I braced my hands on my hips and took a deep, deep breath.

Unfortunately, the fresh air didn’t do a damn thing to calm the storm inside me. In fact, by the time I reached my car, my feelings and thoughts were even more scattered than before.

All my life, I’d kept my distance from love. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t need a distraction as I refused to be my father’s son.

What a cold, cruel irony that I now had to do the one thing I swore I’d never do to keep my mother’s legacy alive.

Tilting my head back, I looked at the night sky.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

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