Cruel Fortune

Dive back into the sexy side of the Upper East Side with the second billionaire romance from USA Today bestselling author K.A. Linde.

I finally have everything I ever wanted—fame and fortune and literary success.

Only one problem: I lost my muse.

He was tall, dark, and handsome. Broody, enigmatic, alluring, and right for me in every way.

Until he wasn’t. Until I lost everything.

And I can’t lose it all again. I’ll do anything to keep it.

Even seeing him again…

Prologue

Penn
One Year Earlier

I rushed out of the small Charleston airport and straight to the empty taxi line. I jerked open the door to the first cab, tossed my bag inside, and then followed in a hurry.

“Where to?” the cab driver leisurely asked. As if he had all day.

But I didn’t.

“Montgomery Gallery on King Street.”

“Oh, you know the Montgomerys?” he asked with a cheery smile as he slowly merged into the nonexistent traffic. “They’re good people.”

“We’re acquainted,” I told him.

Though I wanted to tell him to put his foot through the pedal. I’d just flown almost a thousand miles, I hadn’t slept in three days, and I was in an almost-manic state of urgency. I didn’t want to wait another half hour to get into the city and finally see Natalie.

It was bad enough that I’d let her walk out of my life after she found out about the bet. Three days had been long enough for her to go on thinking that I didn’t care for her. That she was only a bet. That I wasn’t going to man up and make this right.

She was probably face-first into a container of icing. And I hated—hated—being the one who had brought her that pain. I should have told her about the bet long ago. Long before she had to eavesdrop on the information and come to her own conclusions about the whole thing.

Because none of this had been a lie for me. I’d only entered the bet as a joke. I wanted to spend time with Natalie, and I wanted my friends to stay out of it. Then, when Katherine had gotten serious about the whole thing, it was too late. It never should have gotten this far.

Now, here I was, in her quaint, seaside Southern town, desperate to make amends. I couldn’t let Natalie slip through my fingers. And I wouldn’t go down without a fight.

I tapped my foot impatiently as we drove down King Street. It was beautiful in a completely different way than New York, but I could hardly appreciate it. Not now. Not like this.

“All right,” the cabbie finally said, pulling over. “That’s Montgomery Gallery right there.”

“Thank you.” I handed him money for the fare with a generous tip and all but vaulted out of the car.

I saw the Open sign in the large floor-to-ceiling window to the gallery and burst through the white door. The space had a generous display of artwork on large pillars and lining the room. Thankfully, it was empty of people. Only one woman stood at the back. She turned to greet me and then stopped.

“Penn?” Amy Montgomery, Natalie’s best friend, asked in surprise.

“Where is she?”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to win her back.”

“Penn…no,” she said with a shake of her head. “You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t do this.”

“Where is she, Amy?”

Her body went rigid, and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you even listening to what I’m saying? Natalie doesn’t want to see you. You should go home and live a life of abject misery, like you deserve.”

“You’re right. I should, but I can’t. She has to know how I feel.”

“Does she?” Amy asked. “Or do you just want to force your feelings on her? Have you even thought about what she’s going through right now?”

“Of course I have. That’s why I’m here. We need to talk. We need to clear the air. I can’t let her go on like this, thinking that she means nothing to me. When she means everything to me.”

Amy’s eyes were like fire. “You bet on her, Penn. I told her to have some fun with you and not let her heart get broken. And, now, she’s back here because you did exactly that. I warned her from day one that you were trouble. I know exactly the kind of guy that you are, Penn Kensington. I’m not going to stand back and let you fuck with her heart some more. Get the fuck out of my gallery and stay away from her.”

“Amy, that’s enough,” a soft voice said from a back door that I hadn’t even noticed. “I’ll talk to him.”

“Nat, no. Let me handle this,” Amy said.

“It’s okay.” Natalie patted Amy’s arm. “He came all this way. I can at least hear what he has to say.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” Amy hissed low.

She stepped past Amy and finally moved into my line of vision. She was dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt. Her feet were bare, and her hair was tucked back into a slick ponytail. I’d never seen her dressed like this before. Normally, she was completely boho or dressed to the nines. This was…subdued. She wore no makeup, not that she needed it. But I could tell there were circles under her eyes, and they looked puffy, like she’d been crying recently.

“I’ll be in the back,” Amy said with a sigh and then disappeared through the back door.

Natalie crossed her arms. “What do you want, Penn?”

“I want you back, Natalie.”

“Well, that’s not going to happen.”

I took a step forward. “I know I made a mistake. I know I should have never made that bet. But I have never felt this way about anyone in my entire life.”

“But you did make that bet,” she said tightly.

“I know. And I can apologize until I’m blue in the face if that will make it right with you. I just can’t envision a world in which this ruins us. In which you walk away and don’t see that we’re perfect for each other.”

“All I see is someone who flew out here, thinking a grand gesture would fix everything,” she said crisply.

“You know that’s not true. I’m not just telling you what I want you to hear. If it were all a lie, why would I even be here, Natalie?”

“Because you get everything you want in your life, and I’m the only thing that walked away of my own volition.”

“I’m standing here because I want to make this work. I want us to work. You might delude yourself into thinking this was all a bet, but it was real. Every night we spent together in that house was real. How I feel for you is real. We have perfect chemistry. We work so well together.” I took another step forward and grasped her hand. “Natalie, I’ve fallen in love with you.”

She wrenched her hand back and glared at me. I could see the emotions warring through her. “How can you even say that to me?”

“Because it’s the truth.”

“What is the truth?” she snapped at me. “The truth means nothing to you. All you ever do is lie and manipulate to get your way. You have no idea what is true, and you have no idea what love is.”

“You know that’s not true. You feel it, too.”

“Maybe I did,” she said, her voice cracking. “Maybe I fell in love with you. But what does that matter now after what you did to me? How can you ever make that right?”

“I’ll do anything to make it right, Natalie. Just give me the opportunity.”

Her face crumpled, and she sniffled. “God, I can’t believe you’re really here.”

“Of course I’m here. I couldn’t let you walk away, thinking that I didn’t feel the same way. We can make this work. We can.”

“How?” she asked, brushing away a stray tear. “Tell me how this works. In what reality does an Upper East Side playboy and the help work out? Because I don’t see it.”

“Because none of that matters. The only thing that matters is how you and I feel.”

“But it does matter.” Her brilliant blue eyes lifted to mine. “Love isn’t enough.”

“Natalie…”

“If it were just us—right here, right now—maybe it would be different,” she said. “Maybe it would be happily ever after. But it’s not like that. It’s not that at all. How we feel is not the only issue here.”

“I know it’s not, but we can conquer anything together. I know we can.”

She paced away from me, shaking her head. She was clearly conflicted, but I knew that I could get through to her. I could reach her. Have her see that we could work because I knew we could. I’d never been more certain about anything.

“The first time we met, you said that your deepest, darkest secret was that you hated your family and their expectations. You said you wanted to live a different life. Well, it’s six years later, Penn, and as much as you think you’ve gotten out, you’re still living that life. You still live on the Upper East Side. You still hang out with the same crew. You’re still making bets, seducing women, and ruining lives. There is nothing different about your life.”

“You’re different.”

She laughed hollowly. “But, if we were together, I’d have to live that life, too.”

I paused, hearing what she was saying. I was a full package. I didn’t just come with me and my puppy, Totle. It was so much more. And she was finally seeing how horrible it was. Something I’d known for so long.

“So, if it were just me and you,” she whispered, “then…maybe. But it’s not. And it never will be. You will always have to deal with your mother and friends and the Upper East Side. You’ll always be in the public eye. You’ll always have to deal with secrets and drama and skeletons in the closet and all of this stuff that I can’t even comprehend.”

“We don’t have to deal with any of that,” I tried to assure her.

“You’re right. We don’t. But you do.”

“Natalie, please, listen to me. I don’t need any of that. I only need you.”

“I wish I could believe you,” she said, taking a step backward. “But I don’t. You can’t escape the Upper East Side, Penn. You tried and failed. So, how the hell would I be able to get away?”

I froze in place and stared at this beautiful woman who I had completely fallen for. And I realized…she was right.

I hated my life. I hated the obligations and drama and expectations. I wanted out. I’d wanted out for a very long time. But I hadn’t gotten away.

“We both know the answer,” she said softly.

“But I love you,” I said one more time in desperation.

She nodded as a tear trickled down her cheek. “That’s not enough. Not after what we went through and what you did. There’s no future in which I come back to New York with you. Your mother hates me. Your friends hate me. I don’t belong in that world…and you do.”

I opened my mouth to contradict her, but I couldn’t seem to do it. I wanted her in my world. I wanted her there desperately. But, if I hated my life and didn’t want to live in it, then how could I blame her?

“So, please, just go.” She brushed more tears from her cheeks. “Don’t call or write or try to see me again. I can’t handle being near you.”

Gallantly, I swept her hand into my own and placed a tender kiss on it. Just as I had done the very first time we met. “I wish it were different.”

She choked back tears. “Just…go.”

I didn’t want to go. I wanted to wrap her up in my arms and shut the rest of the world out. To make her see that this was all that mattered.

But never once in my entire life had love mattered. Not with my drill-sergeant mother or alcoholic father or train-wreck brother. Not with any women in my life or even the crew. We were bound by loyalty and secrets, not love. Not really. Why had I thought Natalie would be any different?