Torn:A Billionaire Bachelors Club Novel

By: Monica Murphy

Dedication

To all the readers out there who demanded Gage’s story immediately. This one’s for you.

Chapter One* * *

Marina

“TELL ME YOUR name.”

A shiver runs down my spine at the commanding, deep voice that sounds in my ear. I keep myself still, trying my best not to react considering we’re surrounded by at least a hundred people, but oh, how I want to.

If I could, I’d throw myself into the arms of the man who’s standing far too close to me. He’s demanding to know my name as if I owe him some sort of favor, which I can’t help but find hot.

Irritating, but hot.

“Tell me yours first,” I murmur in return, turning my head in the opposite direction, so it appears I’m not even talking to him. He stands behind me, tall and broad, imposing in his immaculate black suit and crisp white shirt—the silvery tie he wears perfectly knotted at his throat.

I might not be looking at this very moment, but I’d memorized everything about him the moment I first saw him not an hour ago. He’d drawn plenty of attention without saying a word, striding into the room as if he owned it, casting that calculating gaze upon everyone in attendance. Looking very much like the mighty king observing his lowly subjects—until his eyes lit upon me.

He watched me for long, agonizing minutes. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I felt his hungry eyes rake over my body, and for a terrifying moment I wondered if he could see right through me. I shifted the slightest bit, inwardly cursing myself for coming tonight, but I held firm. I refused to react.

I still refuse to react.

“You don’t know who I am?” He sounds amused at the notion, and I’m tempted to walk away without a word. My earlier nerves evaporate, replaced by a steely spine and an even steelier attitude. He’s so confident, so arrogant, I’m sure he believes he has me.

He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with then, does he?

We’re at a local wine- and brewery-tasting, and I’m here representing the bakery my family owns. The one I was recently allowed to take over and run since I’d graduated college. The business they all believe is going to fail. So why not give it to Marina? She can’t screw it up too badly.

That’s what I overheard my father telling my uncle. The memory of his words still cuts straight to the bone.

Finally I chance a glance at the man behind me, drinking in his thick brown hair tinged with gold, the way it tumbles across his forehead, his twinkling green eyes, the faint smile that curves his full lips. The combination gives him a boyish appearance. It’s a complete illusion because there is nothing boyish about this virile man before me.

“Perhaps you can enlighten me.” I offer a carefree smile and turn to face him, the nerves returning tenfold when he takes a step toward me, invading my personal space. His scent hits me first: clean and subtle, a mixture of soap and just . . . him. No cologne that I can detect.

Rather unusual. Most of the men I know slather themselves in expensive scents all with the purpose of drawing us silly women in. Instead, they end up choking us.

With the exception of this man. I find the uniqueness refreshing.

A slow smile appears, revealing perfectly straight white teeth. “Gage Emerson.” He thrusts his hand toward me. “And you are . . .?”

He’s not very subtle. And he’s exactly who I suspected, not that I had any real doubt. The very man who recently bought up what feels like half of the Napa Valley, all in the hopes of turning it around and selling it to God knows who just to earn a hefty profit.

Not caring in the least that he’s forever changing the landscape of the very place I’ve grown up in. And devastating my family in the process.

“Marina Knight,” I say. God, I sound breathless, and I want to smack myself. I’m not here tonight because of him. I came for other reasons. To promote the family bakery, to mix and mingle with local business owners, many I consider friends. My life in the Napa Valley is all I know.

And this gorgeous man standing in front of me is trying to take what I know away from me for good.

His smile grows and a slow, burning anger—combined with hunger, which makes me angrier—threads its way through my veins. I inhale sharply, desperate to control the unwanted emotion. I knew he was handsome, charming, well spoken. I’d recently done my research; Googled him for a solid hour, trying to find any sort of weakness—since he certainly knows my family’s—but it appears he has none. Like he’s some sort of untouchable superhero.

I didn’t expect my reaction to him, though. My body is humming in all the right places at his closeness. My skin literally tingles, and when he clasps my hand in his to shake it, my knees threaten to buckle.

“A pleasure to meet you, Marina Knight.” His voice rumbles from somewhere deep in his chest and he draws his thumb across the top of my hand in the quickest caress before releasing it.

He’s just a man, I remind myself. A dreamy, sexy man, in that polished, overtly masculine, deliciously commanding way that I don’t normally find myself drawn to, but . . . hmm.

A girl is always allowed to change her mind.

“Lovely to meet you too,” I say automatically, sounding just like my mother. Wincing, I look away, feeling foolish. I’m twenty-three years old. I’ve moved amongst the revered social circles in the Napa Valley all my life. My family is one of the most well known in the area. You’d think I’d know how to handle myself around charming, ruthless men.

But I don’t know how to handle myself—at least around this one. Gage Emerson is intimidating. Gorgeous. Captivating.

I should run. Right now. Just turn tail and run. I don’t know what I was thinking, hoping to talk to him. He’s after my family’s extensive property holdings throughout the valley. And I want something from him too.

The venue is small, at one of the many local wineries in the area. I’d found out Gage was coming so I planned to attend as well. I’d already talked to the winery owner, giving him my card in the hopes he would discuss the offer I made him earlier tonight, right before the party started.

The artisan breads my aunt bakes every morning would go perfectly with his wines. I’ve been trying this tactic for a while, approaching local businesses the bakery could pair with for promotional purposes, but so far, no luck. I’m starting to believe the word “failure” is tattooed on my forehead, and the only one who can’t see it is me.

“Would you like a drink?” Gage asks. When I look at him once more he inclines his head to the side. “I’m headed to the bar. Care to join me?”

I follow him wordlessly through the crowd, murmuring hellos to the people I know as we pass, which is most of them. I’ve spent my entire life here. The towns that make up Napa Valley may be large, but the community is small, and everyone seems to know each other.

The gossip will probably be rampant with the fact that I spent time in the company of the calculating, interloping real estate shark Gage Emerson, but I don’t mind. Ultimately I’ll get what I want.

Though he probably won’t.

He settles his hand at the base of my spine, steering me toward the bar, and I feel his touch in the very depths of my soul. My knees weaken as we come to a stop, standing in a short line to order our drinks.

“So what brings you here this evening, Marina Knight?” he asks, making idle conversation. He doesn’t sound overly flirtatious, but I can never be too sure. At least he’s not touching me any longer. I don’t know if I’d be able to form words with his hands on me. My brain seems to go into temporary lockdown just having him close.

“My family,” I say, not wishing to give too much information away. If he can’t figure out who I am after my introduction, then I really don’t want to give him any more hints.

He lifts a dark brow. “Your family?”

“We own a few businesses in Napa Valley,” I finally answer vaguely, stepping forward as the line moves.

He keeps pace with me, his gaze roving over my face, as if he’s trying to figure out if we know each other. “Family businesses? Have we met before?”

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