Untrue Colors (Entangled Select Suspense) by Veronica Forand
For Deb Wiseley
The sister I never had,
the friend who always has my back,
and my sanity in this insane world.
Alex grieved as she looked toward the Louvre for possibly the last time. She wrapped her arms across her chest and tried to steady her breath. Overhearing Luc’s plan to celebrate their four-month anniversary by murdering her had set off her own plan of running as far away from him as possible—not an effective plan, considering the monster sat within six inches of her in a car on the way to her death.
What began as a fairy-tale romance had morphed into a traumatic descent into hell. A glamorous job, a handsome client, a little romance, a perfect life, until she uncovered his deception. Luc was a crook.
And I was the gullible appraiser used to dupe art collectors and even small countries out of their valuable assets. What an idiot I was to believe his lies.
While his main henchman, Pascal, drove them through Paris, Luc held her hand in the back of the Mercedes like they were still lovers. They appeared perfect for each other, a rich art collector and the young art appraiser who had fallen head over heels for him. Rugged good looks combined with an enormous amount of wealth made him an ideal catch for a woman who didn’t mind being beaten into submission.
Not me. I objected to every broken bone and every bruise on my body.
Luc, dressed in a thousand-dollar suit and wearing a sophisticated five-o’clock shadow across his chiseled features, seemed headed out for a night at the theater, not on the way to eliminate his girlfriend. Alex leaned away from him. She needed to get away. His free hand caressed her arm, rubbed her shoulder, and pulled her back toward him. Moving slowly, seductively, he wrapped his fingers around her neck and started to squeeze. He stared at her, observing her reaction.
“I promise I won’t tell anyone. I swear it.” She pleaded for her life, speaking French, the only language they’d ever used with each other. As his hand tightened, she gasped and struggled for breath.
Luc drew her face closer to his. His lips pinched together, causing the muscles in his neck to tense. “Liar.”
She struggled to pull away; his grip tightened. No longer able to inhale, her eyes watered and her vision faded. With nothing left to lose, she struck out at his face. He released her, but slapped her ear so hard, her head flew into the door. The pain ricocheted through her skull, leaving her numb for a moment.
She glanced out the window and saw salvation. As Pascal slowed for a turn, she opened the door and jumped. Her Chanel suit acted as her only protection when she hit the ground and bounced onto the road. Asphalt scraped her skin with each rotation until she slammed into the curb. Pain rebelled in ribs not yet healed from her fall down Luc’s marble stairway. Car brakes screeched nearby. In seconds, they would be on her. She hobbled to her feet, sucking in huge breaths. Bystanders pressed around her, trying to assist, but she twisted away, her hands poised to fight anything that touched her.
She merged into the manic crowd entering the Gare du Nord at rush hour. Men and women in suits, groups of schoolchildren, and what felt like hundreds of tourists slowed her escape. With her passports tucked in a travel belt under her skirt and several hundred euros in her possession, she boarded the high-speed train for London and prayed he wouldn’t follow her.
Two months later
Alex sat in her favorite booth in the back corner of the Yellow Dog Pub with a Coke and a cup of pumpkin-and-Gruyère soup and pulled out the book Matisse, Father & Son from her backpack. One of the students she’d met offered to check out books for her from the library, and she devoured every one she could lay her hands on. She’d created a comfortable yet temporary life in Oxford. She dressed as one of the students at the university, lived at a youth hostel, and earned money by helping a pub owner clean up after closing. Still, she felt far from safe.
“Gabe, how’s the soup?” Matt, the owner, asked.
She’d become used to being called Gabe West. Gabrielle, her mother’s name, had been the only name she could think of when she’d arrived in Oxford. West reminded her that her family was across the ocean in Boston. Since moving to Europe eight years ago, Alex had kept in sporadic contact with her family. Since meeting Luc, she’d had zero. They didn’t need to become mixed up in her problems. Luc was too dangerous.
She took a spoonful and savored the first taste of her main meal for the day. “You outdid yourself.”
“Glad to hear it.” He sat across from her, his wise blue eyes framed by laugh lines. “Listen, love, some bloke has been poking around the local pubs asking about an undocumented French art lover with a pert little nose and an air of desperation. Never did hear you speak anything but English, but thought I’d give you a heads-up.”
Her spoon dropped into the bowl, splashing some soup on the table. She clasped it again as though it was an accident and raised her eyebrows to appear interested in Matthew’s statement, but not too interested. Her body tensed, ready to run away from this sanctuary. Had they found her? She scanned the room. The crowd contained familiar faces, students and locals. Most of them had welcomed her without any questions.
“French?” She laughed. “I can barely understand your brand of English, never mind an entirely different language.”