Excerpt: House of Cards by Ainsley St. Claire

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Today we have the blog tour for HOUSE OF CARDS by Ainsley St. Claire! Check out this new contemporary romance and grab your copy today!

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Title: House of Cards

Author: Ainsley St. Claire

Genre: Contemporary Romance

About House of Cards:

She thinks she needs to put her family before herself. He’s determined to prove her wrong.

Maggie is the heiress to the Reinhardt Department Store fortune. Her father died and the board of the company expect Alex to run the company but they’ve never had a nonfamily member run the company. The board has a simple solution—she needs to put the family first and marry Alex. Forget the fact that she isn’t his type and she loves someone else. Jonathan Best has been in love with Maggie Reinhardt since high school. Everything he’s done has been for her including escaping from his family’s clutches and opening a 5-star hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip. He can’t forget their last time together and how after so long it was so right. So, after picking up the pieces he formulates his plan to stop the wedding and that when things get really interesting.

House of Cards is a standalone romantic suspense novel with a happy ending. It’s the first in the Billionaire Tech Series featuring the team members from the Venture Capitalist and Clear Security series.

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Chapter 18

Maggie

 

Late in the afternoon, Marci leaves to go back to her office. We have a plan. Some other men from Jim’s office arrive, and he introduces me to Zack and Thomas. “Zack’s going to be with you a while. He’s from the Twin Cities, so he knows the area if you go home.”

If I go home? Why would I not go home? My pulse picks up, and I feel sweat prickling along my hairline. 

Christopher puts his hand on my leg. “Don’t panic. You’re okay. We just need to be cautious until we understand what’s going on. Are you ready to head back to my place?”

I nod. Thomas gets behind the wheel of the Suburban, and I’m in the back of the car, sandwiched between Zack and Christopher. I rest my head on the back of the seat. “God, I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed early tonight.”

“I actually have a surprise for you,” Christopher says. “I don’t want you to be angry with me. I made these plans before I knew we’d be spending the afternoon with Marci and Jim.”

“What’s the surprise?”

“You’ll see.” He’s silent a few moments. “I’m having a hard time processing everything I learned today, so I know this must be overwhelming for you. But so much more makes sense now that I know the whole story. You can’t marry Alex.”

“It’s the only way to ensure the future of Reinhardt Hudson. And Alex needs the merger, too.” I sigh. 

“This can’t happen,” he says with determination.

“Alex and I are friends. I don’t want to leave him with nothing.” 

“Don’t give up. You deserve better than this, and if anyone can figure a way out, it’s Marci.”

The car pulls up in front of Christopher and Bella’s home. Christopher is out the door before we come to a complete stop. I’m so busy gathering my things and trying not to bump into Zack that I don’t notice someone sitting on the front steps. 

But I snap to attention when a familiar voice says, “It’s about time.”

It’s Jonnie, and my breath hitches in my throat.

“Sorry. We got hung up at the office,” Christopher says.

“Maggie, it’s nice to see you,” he says as I emerge from the car.

My heart is beating triple time. I stare up at Christopher. What was he thinking?

My mind is racing. He can’t be here. Why is he here? 

“Let’s go in,” Christopher offers.

Zack and Thomas walk with us up to the door. Zack goes in first, and we follow with Thomas at the rear.

“You have security now,” Jonnie teases Christopher.

“They’re actually for Mags,”

Jonnie stops short. “What? Why?”

“Let’s get inside. We have a story that might interest you.”

Thomas goes back to remain with the car, and the rest of us make our way into the living room. Zack wanders around with some sort of device in his hands. It takes a few minutes for me to figure out it’s looking for things sending an RF single signal—listening devices.

Christopher busies himself pouring drinks for the three of us, and he and Jonnie talk about the Minnesota Wild hockey game last night. I take a seat next to the fireplace. The room is chilly. I can almost see my breath as I fight to remain calm. Rubbing my arm for heat, I debate grabbing my coat I just left hanging on the rack by the door.

Christopher sees me and stops mid-sentence. “Sorry you’re cold, Mags. These old houses can be drafty.” He flips a switch next to the gas fireplace, and it lights up immediately.

Zack returns, places something in the window, and nods at Christopher. “Okay, now we know there are no listening devices, and the parabolic mic will be on scramble so no one can pick up our conversation. We can talk freely.”

Jonnie’s eyes dart between Christopher and me. “What’s going on?”

Christopher looks at me, waiting for me to unload the afternoon’s news. I take a deep breath. “We’ve uncovered some unsavory things. I’m being followed by someone who’s associated with the Kryetar.”

“Who are the Kryetar?”

“Albanian organized crime.”

“From Minnesota or here?”

“Minnesota.”

He tilts his head up and takes a deep breath. “Are you okay? Has anyone threatened you?”

I shake my head and then laugh. “Well, mostly just my mother. She’s forged some documents to make extra sure I marry Alex.”

“How’s that even possible?” Jonnie asks.

I’m not sure how much Christopher wants shared with Jonnie. He raises his eyebrows and gives me a small nod—confirmation to continue. So I walk Jonnie through the whole saga—from the slimy meeting with Patrick Moreau to the Albanian mob-affiliated PI.

“The lawyer said he was there when you signed the paperwork and warned you of the repercussions, but you signed anyway?” Jonnie asks.

I nod. “Yes.”

“That’s ridiculous. You would never do that.” He turns to Zack and Christopher. “So what’s the plan?” 

“I’ve hired a lawyer here in San Francisco and a security company,” I explain.

“Clear Security,” Christopher adds.

Jonnie nods. “I use them at the resort. They’re the best in the business. And what else?” 

“The lawyer is going to do some research over the next day or so, and Clear is going to do some investigating into Elite Electronics and Reinhardt Corporation, looking for connections to the Kryetar. Meanwhile, I’ll go on with my meetings in hopes of not raising too much suspicion,” I say.

Jim steps into the room. Where did he come from?

“Is she safe?” Jonnie asks him immediately.

He’s talking about me like I’m not in the room, and my blood pressure begins to rise. “I’ll be fine,” I stress.

Christopher looks at me. “I thought I heard something a little different earlier—not to go to your meetings, and to keep a low profile.”

“Do you have cameras and a strong security system—motion detectors, window alarms, video camera surveillance, and night vision coverage?” Jonnie asks.

Christopher shakes his head. “No cameras, but I have a strong security system, and we’ll have two men with her at all times.”

I shut my eyes and take a few deep breaths as I put a death grip on the arms of my chair. Don’t they understand I’m alarmed, too? One bodyguard is too many. How is this going to fly at home in Minneapolis? 

“What’s the big-picture plan here?” Jonnie asks, finally looking at me.

“The wedding has been reduced to a courthouse affair suitable for the business arrangement it is, and I’ve made it clear to my mother that it will be on my terms. It won’t be the giant society event she’s trying to have. Although I’m not sure she’s notified anyone of that change, because I’m still getting emails from the wedding planner and some of the vendors.”

“But why are you going through with the wedding at all?” Jonnie asks. “I know you feel it’s what’s needed for the business, but it sounds like your mother isn’t arguing in good faith. There’s something shady here.” 

I shake my head. “I just don’t know what else to do. The wedding is still a few weeks away. Maybe one of these attorneys will see something workable—and also a way to invalidate those fake documents and keep Alex and me out of trouble.”

Jonnie doesn’t look thrilled, but he nods, squeezes my hand, and stays silent for now.

A little while later, Christopher says, “You and Jonnie have a dinner reservation at Bix in about an hour. You’re going to need to get a move on if you don’t want to be late.”

“That doesn’t sound like keeping a low profile,” I point out.

“It’s a small restaurant, and you’ll go with a team. I was just there getting it all taken care of,” Jim says.

I gasp. This is really happening? “What? I’m not dressed for a fancy dinner.”

“You look beautiful, and frankly, if you were wearing a potato sack, I wouldn’t care as long as you join me,” Jonnie says with a smile.

“At least let me freshen up,” I implore.

Christopher turns his wrist to look at his watch. “You have ten minutes.”

I jump up. “I’ll need everyone.” I begin to search for my suitcase. The car service dropped it off this morning while I was at my breakfast with Kate.

“Your bag is already upstairs in your room,” Christopher informs me.

Dashing up the stairs, my excitement pushes past all the fear and uncertainty of today—and the past months. A date with Jonnie. We’ve never had a real date. I quickly change into something other than dark pants and a peasant blouse.

“Time’s ticking!” Christopher yells upstairs to me.

I roll my eyes. He gave me ten minutes, and I intend to use them. “Be right there!” I wish I had time to curl my hair, but at least I can wash my face and apply fresh makeup. After a lighting-fast transformation, I rejoin the guys downstairs a little winded. 

“Okay, Zack and Thomas will be seated at an adjacent table,” Jim tells me. “You’ll be at a corner table on the second floor. If at any time you see something strange or someone you don’t know attempts speak to you or join you—or you just don’t feel comfortable—you need to use your safe word.”

“Safe word?”

“You’ll say a unique word only your security detail will know. And they’ll only allow the staff at Bix to approach your table. We need to choose a safe word you won’t forget.”

“Having a safe word makes it sound like Bix is an S&M club,” I quip. 

My brother’s eyes bulge. He isn’t appreciating my sense of humor.

Jim smirks. At least I entertain someone. “It’s just a word that will put the team on alert. We don’t want to be a distraction to your dinner.”

“I understand. My word is glasswing,” I tell him.

“Glasswing?” Christopher gives me a strange look.

“Yes. It’s a butterfly from South America. They’re rare.” I shrug.

My brother expels a breath of frustration. Despite our ages, I still take extreme pleasure in irritating him. 

I wrap a pashmina around my shoulders to keep the cold away. “All conversations about rare butterflies are off the table during dinner,” I tell Jonnie.

He salutes me. “No problem. Perhaps next time.”

We pile into the Suburban with me in the middle of the back again, between Zack and Jonnie. Thomas drives, and Jim sits next to him in the front seat.

“I feel quite important,” I announce. I’m nervous-talking. Whenever I do this, I think I’m funny, but no one else seems to.

“Do you know a lot about rare butterflies?” Jonnie leans in, and his warm breath on my neck sends jolts to my core.

I laugh. “No, and before you ask, I don’t know much about S&M either.”

“That’s too bad.” He grins and reaches for my hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

The restaurant becomes a circus when we arrive. People turn to gawk at the three absolutely gorgeous men with me. I chuckle. If they only knew. We sit down at a private booth upstairs in the corner. Light jazz drifts up from the quartet downstairs. I really like this place. The Art Deco ambiance makes me think this restaurant—which is hidden down an alley, away from the busy downtown streets—must’ve been a speakeasy in a previous life.

Jonnie puts his arm around me and pulls me in close. His touch sizzles my skin with electricity. It feels so right to be here with him. Despite everything else going on, I somehow know I’m just where I want to be. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this way before. 

He leans in and asks, “What was so funny downstairs when we arrived?” 

“I’m sorry?” 

“When we walked in, you laughed. How come?”

I shrug. “Everyone turned to stare at us. I’m the envy of every woman and gay man in here.”

His brows furrow. “What makes you say that?”

“I have three hot guys with me.”

He grins. “So you think I’m hot?”

I can’t help but smile. This is the guy who had every girl in school chasing him, and he’s here with me. I’m going to have fun tonight and pretend I don’t have an arranged marriage looming and people—possibly led by my mother—tracking my every move. I can deal with all the crap tomorrow. Fuck ‘em.

I lean in and put my hand on Jonnie’s upper thigh. “I think you’re hot with clothes on, and definitely when you’re naked.” 

“Outstanding, because my flight doesn’t leave until morning, and I plan to refresh your memory tonight.”

I shake my head. “Sorry, I’m staying at my brother’s.”

“I’m well aware, and it doesn’t change my plans,” he says with surprising confidence.

“Well, for your safety, I don’t think you’d want to risk Christopher hearing us,” I reason.

“It’s only a sign of two people having fun.” He shrugs.

“I’m not sure my brother would see it that way.”

A man approaches the table. “Jonathan Best,” he exclaims.

“Doug? I didn’t know you were working tonight.” Jonnie stands and extends his hand.

“This is my restaurant. I’m always working. The real question is what brings you to San Francisco and my humble restaurant.”

Jonnie lets out a loud laugh. “Doug, let me introduce you to my girlfriend. This is Margaret Reinhardt.”

Girlfriend? I put on the best smile I can and extend my hand. 

Doug grasps it, turns it, and brings it to his mouth for a soft kiss. “Welcome to Bix, Margaret. You’re in for a treat.” He winks at me, and I watch Jonnie bristle.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” I tell him.

“I know you have menus, but Bruce and I thought we’d do a tasting menu, special just for you. You know, we were very disappointed we weren’t invited to be a part of The Boardwalk at the Shangri-la.”

Jonnie grimaces. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d want a restaurant outside of San Francisco.”

“So many of our customers go and stay with you. I hope you’ll consider us if something opens up or you expand.”

Jonnie nods as he sits down and reaches for my hand. “We look forward to the tasting menu.”

“May we add the drink pairing?”

Jonnie glances at me, and I nod.

“Sounds wonderful,” he tells Doug.

“Then I’ll leave you to it. If you need anything, do not hesitate to have your server come find me.”

“Excellent. And I’d love to see Bruce before we go,” Jonnie says.

Doug grins. “I’ll make sure that happens.”

After he retreats, I ask, “Who’s Bruce?”

“Doug owns four restaurants here in San Francisco, and Bruce is his partner with Bix. Bruce also owns another restaurant. They’re a real business power couple.”

Over the next two hours, we enjoy an amazing five-course meal, and Jonnie has me laughing all the way through. I swear I even snorted, and I normally avoid that at all costs. He’s kind and considerate, always asking for my opinion and letting me talk. Each time my wine glass gets low, he fills it. And thankfully he never brings up Alex, my mother, our last meeting in Minneapolis, or our current situation. This is more fun out than I think I’ve ever had, and I don’t want it to end.

When I take my last bite of the chocolate soufflé, I moan my appreciation.

Jonnie picks up my hand and places it firmly on his crotch. His hardness is prominent through his pants. “This is what you’re doing to me,” he rasps.

I smile and stroke him. Thoughts of our previous time together run through my head. I bite my lip, and he watches me intently. “You’re very naughty,” I whisper.

“I can be extra naughty, and we can break out your safe word,” he growls.

I stare down at my plate, and I’m sure I turn a nice shade of crimson. He kisses the most sensitive part of my neck and whispers, “There’s nothing wrong with doing something that feels good.”

A flood of wetness dampens my panties. I’m grateful for my padded bra because my nipples are so erect, they hurt. But I put my excitement on hold when Doug returns with a man dressed in the kitchen chef’s shirt and matching pants. 

“So what did you think?” he asks.

“Absolutely outstanding, Bruce,” Jonathan confirms.

Doug and Bruce turn their attention to me. 

“Perfection” I assure them.

They talk about the dinner, and then the conversation moves to the Shangri-la. I feel like I’m intruding on their proposal. I excuse myself and head to the ladies’ room with Zack at my heels.

When I return to the table, Doug and Bruce make their apologies for running me off.

I shake my head. “Please don’t worry about me.”

“We’re sorry to intrude on your evening,” Bruce says.

“You’d fit in well on The Boardwalk at the Shangri-la,” Jonnie assures them, and they light up.

After a little additional small talk, they make tentative plans for a trip out to Las Vegas, and then leave us to finish up.

“I’m really sorry about that.” Jonnie pushes a wisp of hair behind my ear, and his hand on my leg moves closer to my center. “You look absolutely amazing tonight.”

“I wasn’t kidding about my brother’s house. I can’t have sex with him one floor below me.”

Jonnie stands and reaches for my hand. “Your brother already told me he won’t be home tonight. We have the house to ourselves.”

My breath hitches.

“You’ll be needing that safe word.” He grins and my nipples pebble all over again.

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About Ainsley St. Claire:

Ainsley St Claire is a Romantic Suspense Author and Adventurer on a lifelong mission to craft sultry storylines and steamy love scenes that captivate her readers. To date, she is best known for her series Venture Capitalists.

An avid reader since the age of four, Ainsley’s love of books knew no genre. After reading, came her love of writing, fully immersing herself in the colorful, impassioned world of contemporary romance.

Ainsley’s passion immediately shifted to a vocation when during a night of terrible insomnia, her first book came to her. Ultimately, this is what inspired her to take that next big step. The moment she wrote her first story, the rest was history.

Currently, Ainsley is in the midst of writing a nine-book series called “Venture Capitalist.”

When she isn’t being a bookworm or typing away her next story on her computer, Ainsley enjoys spending quality family time with her loved ones. She is happily married to her amazing soulmate and is a proud mother of two rambunctious boys. She is also a scotch aficionada and lover of good food (especially melt-in-your-mouth, velvety chocolate). Outside of books, family, and food, Ainsley is a professional sports spectator and an equally as terrible golfer and tennis player.

Connect with Ainsley:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

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