Authors: CC MacKenzie
A LUDLOW CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
By CC MacKenzie
AT CHRISTMAS, THERE'S NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN FAMILY
Charismatic Marc Atelier, head of security of the Ferranti Group, has arrived at Ludlow Hall hot on the trail of a corporate spy.
Yet, from the moment he focused his intense blue eyes on head receptionist, Elena Kennedy, neither of them can deny the heat of an attraction that's about to burn out of control.
But there's more to Elena than meets the eye... and Marc likes what he sees...a lot.
By CC MacKenzie
Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014
Published by More Press
The right of C C MacKenzie to be
identified as the author of this
work has been asserted by her
under the Copyright Amendment
(Morals Rights) Act 2000
This work is copyright.
Apart from any use as permitted under
the Copyright Act 1968, no part
may be reproduced, copied, scanned,
stored in a retrieval system,
recorded or transmitted,
in any form or by any means,
without the prior permission
of the publisher.
This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and
incidents are either a product of
the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual people
living or dead, events or locales is
Cover Design by
C C MacKenzie is a wife, and mother of three, based in South Cheshire, U.K.
Since childhood, she dreamt of writing stories that readers would love, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her careers in finance, fitness, interior design and construction.
'Reckless Nights in Rome' is her first novel in The Ludlow Hall series, followed by book two 'A Stormy Spring' in July 2012, and book three 'Run Rosie Run' published in December 2012. 'The Trouble With Coco Monroe' the fourth in the series was released at the end of May 2013 and a Christmas Story, ‘A Film Star, A Baby, And A Proposal' in December 2013. ‘Desert Orchid’ the first book in The Desert Princes series was released in May 2014.
C C MacKenzie is currently finishing two more contemporary romances due for release in 2015.
Keep in Touch with CC MacKenzie on:
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Available Now - Ludlow Hall Series
Reckless Nights in Rome - Book 1
A Stormy Spring - Book 2
Run Rosie Run - Book 3
The Trouble with Coco Monroe - Book 4
The Fall of Jacob Del Garda – Book 5
A Film Star, A Baby. and a Proposal – Book 6
(A Ludlow Hall Christmas)
Delicious and Deadly: Invitation to Eden – Book 8
Coming in 2015
A Daddy for Daisy – Book 7
At the ripe old age of fourteen, for three long minutes, Marc Atelier died.
Lucky for him, a crack accident and emergency team at the London and Westminster hospital, some of whom had honed the skill of bringing back the dead in Afghanistan, kick-started his heart.
Twenty years later Marc donated his hefty bonus, Nico Ferranti was a very generous boss, to the hospital's outreach scheme, a scheme set up to help tackle gun and knife crime in the city's mean streets. The knife that had nearly killed him had been recovered, but the coward who'd stabbed him disappeared.
All Marc remembered of that night was a pain so hideous, like blades dipped in the fires of hell itself, piercing his lungs with every gasp of breath. He'd found himself sprawled face-down, unable to move, in a gutter awash with the worst human filth imaginable. Police sirens shrieked too loud in his ears as cars screeched to a halt. Then the sound of feet running, his own scream in his head as he was lifted by rough hands. And then darkness.
And all because he'd tried to put a halt to a gang initiation ceremony. The boy, Eddie, had been too young, ten, and the apple of his sixty-two year old Nan's eye. A woman who'd more than once filled Marc's empty belly and bought him second-hand sneakers that fit. When things were bat-shit crazy at home, the old woman had given him the battered couch he'd shared with a flatulent mongrel. On the night he'd been stabbed, Marc had managed to get Eddie away with strict instructions to run for home. Then he'd turned his attention to the trash who'd use a child to do his dirty work. The ensuing
had ended with a knife in Marc's chest. He shouldn't have tried to reason with a sixteen-year-old high on a cocktail of vodka and crack. Stupid. He'd been stupid even to try.
For days he'd hovered in a drug-induced fog on the sharp edge of the increasingly monotonic suck and beep of machines. Dimly aware of cool, gentle fingers taking the pulse at his wrist, a voice telling him he was going to live, that he'd been lucky, blessed.
When his eyes opened, could finally focus, he found a young Asian nurse with dark, kind eyes staring down at him, and a doctor with exhausted eyes who didn't look old enough to hold a razor.
He had tubes in his throat, up his nose, while bags of God-knew-what were pumping a cocktail of fluids and drugs into his system and he was so weak he couldn't lift his head.
Deep down inside him lived the real fear that he'd end up in a wheelchair, or worse, for the rest of his life.
"You're very fortunate to be alive," the doctor said.
Yeah, right. What the hell was the point of being alive?
How could he trust them when they told him he'd make a full recovery, when he didn't have the strength to lift a fucking finger, never mind take a take a leak on his own.
Two days later he was off the ventilator but not off the heart monitor.
The man who for days had sat like a ghost in the corner of Marc's room now rose from his chair. As he crossed the floor with a lazy stride, his police issue black boots squeaked on shiny linoleum the colour of a battle ship. The face of a grizzled warrior stared down at Marc. He heard the gruff-voiced police sergeant with penetrating eyes - eyes that seemed to easily read the terror in his - tell him he
lucky to be alive. Luckier still to have an A-one team of medics who'd brought him back from the dead. Those eyes and the don't-give-me-any-bullshit glare, seemed to cut right through Marc.
Then the sound of a disturbance in the hallway outside his room caused Marc's eyes to go wide and the machine that monitored his heart-rate bleeped faster. The shriek of a voice he knew too well made him squeeze his eyes tightly shut.
Shitting fucking hell.
Her shrill voice echoed down the corridor, sounded more than pissed and not the angry kind.
The door was thrown open and a too skinny woman teetered into the room on too skinny heels made of eye wateringly pink plastic. Her hair, at least a week past the need for a wash, was the colour of musty straw. She was dressed head to toe in leopard skin lycra that did nothing for bony hips, a flat ass and an empty push-up bra. She looked like a woman who'd been on the game too long. She looked like a woman who'd fallen on hard times. She looked like a child's worst nightmare, which was nothing but the truth since the woman was Marc's mother. Kohl rimmed eyes, bloodshot, settled on the sight of her son laying on his back on the hospital bed. Those eyes slid over the tubes attached to every orifice including his dick and showed no emotion. Lulu Atelier (good name for a stripper) didn't even attempt to put on a show of motherly love or affection for the policeman now sitting at attention in the corner. Instead, she launched into a foul-mouthed rant. A rant Marc had heard every single day of his life.
"I've had the police at my door. Effing social services bitch has taken away my baby girl. See what you've done? You're a loser, just like the tosser who fekked me."
"Good for the effing social worker," Marc said, his voice hoarse and hurting. "Maybe the poor kid will have a chance."
Lulu's face was in his.
And Marc's nose wrinkled as he turned his head away from the breath-holding scent of fags, soiled clothes and old sex.
"You're out of my house, hear me? Out!"
"Whoopeefuckingdoo," Marc said to his mother's back as she attempted to walk in a straight line to the door.
And then there was silence.
A silence that was too loud in a room filled with the bleep of machines.
"So." The cop, dressed in black combats and a vest of a thousand pockets, folded his beefy arms and stretched out long legs. "You saved the boy, Eddie?"
Marc's response was to stare hard at the ceiling with burning eyes. "Maybe."
"My name's John Jones. Sergeant Jones to you. How about a brand-new start?"
From his state-of-the-art office in Ludlow Hall, Marc Atelier toggled an electronic mouse, checked the eighteen flat screens on the wall. It was a foul night, bitterly cold and wet. Even though the car parks were packed with everything from Ferraris, Porsches and Bentleys, Ludlow Hall was nice and quiet.
Two weeks before Christmas the hotel was full of yo-ho-ho cheer. The restaurants and bars crowded with guests. No sign of trouble. Movement on the fourth floor of the Tower Suites caught his attention. He let intelligent blue eyes linger on a young couple dressed for a party having a quick fumble as they waited for the elevator. The blonde had her hand on her date's groin just as the doors pinged open. Marc kept a weather eye on them in the elevator as the guy backed the blonde against the wall, his tongue titillating her tonsils while searching hands raced under her dress.
Marc had no idea what it was about elevators and lust, maybe it had something to do with a confined space and pheromones, but his security team always had elevator sex mentioned somewhere on the nightly reports.
Then his gaze dropped to movement in the up-market restaurant.
Marc's grin was wide as he kicked back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head and blew out a low whistle at the wondrous sight of one Elena Kennedy, head receptionist at Ludlow Hall, being led to an intimate nook. Elena was a stunning brunette, tall with legs up to her armpits. She had bumps and curves in all the right places. By the way her gorgeous hips were swaying in a black dress that could have been sprayed on, Elena was on a hot date and looking for action, baby. He wondered who the lucky bastard was. Marc eyed her escort and his dark brow rose in surprise. The one word he'd use to describe the guy was... boring. Everything about him was medium. Medium height. Medium build. Mousy hair. Nice enough face. Then he frowned because her date looked... nervous. The guy's eyes were darting all over the place, refusing to land on Elena. An Elena who was adjusting the top of a dress with skinny straps. A dress that showcased fabulous breasts, not too big and not too small. Her tongue swiped over cherry red lips as she eyed her date as if he was going to be dessert with whipped cream and all the trimmings. Now the guy's fingers were running around the neck of his shirt. Marc didn't blame him, he was a little hot under the collar himself. The jolt in his groin made his mouth twist. He always had that reaction to Elena. She was outstanding at her job, ran her team with discipline but also a light touch. She was great with guests. And she was funny and completely irreverent to the senior staff, and that included Marc himself. Grinning at the way Elena was now flirting shamelessly with the head waiter and making him laugh, Marc got back to business.
These days Marc Atelier was head of Ferranti Security. A role that encompassed all of Nico Ferranti's interests. At the moment he was located at Ludlow Hall. Tonight he was doing a surprise inspection, camera angles, blind spots and on the eight night staff, hand picked by him.
Nico Ferranti had called him into Ludlow Hall from the Ferranti Hotel and Spa at Lake Como where Marc was based. Someone, a nasty little snitch, employed at Ludlow Hall was selling stories to the press. For the last six months little drips of information about Nico and Bronte Ferranti had appeared in the Tabitha Crew column in a down-market tabloid. Unpleasant, petty pieces sprinkled with a hint of the truth and then twisted. Little drips that could only have come from people who were close to the couple and their family.
So Marc was looking very closely at the staff, especially administration, housekeeping, reception and Nico's trusted personal assistant. The task might feel filthy but it had to be done. He'd found two bugs in Nico's office. One under his desk and one behind a picture frame. (Someone, Marc decided, had been watching too many Bond movies.) The bugs were still in situ. Meanwhile, three of Marc's best forensic techies were trawling through personal computers, analysing email traffic, including all personal data. Amazing the things people said on the Net and social media. But after four weeks, nothing had dinged.
But Marc Atelier was a patient man.
He'd fine the mole.
On a personal note, being back in the United Kingdom at Christmas couldn't have come at a better time. Because John Jones, the man he'd called Dad, the man who'd turned Marc inside out and made a real man out of a street kid, had died suddenly four short months ago. And the woman he now called Mum and Marc's twenty-year-old half-sister were still numb with grief. Hell, he was still numb with grief himself.
John and Mary Jones had changed his life twenty years ago, and the life of Marc's baby half-sister, Nina. The couple had walked into his hospital room and offered the choice of two paths to take, the right one or the wrong one. Marc had chosen the right path because he was clever enough to realise Sergeant John Jones might be better as a friend rather than an enemy. Going
was no longer an option. Thank God. Being a street-wise punk held no appeal after he'd been stabbed. Social Services agreed, if he ended up in the system, prison shone brightly in his future. A social worker with tired eyes had told him to grab the chance for a better future. With some mighty fine medications swimming through his blood, Marc found himself listening to a voice whispering in his ear to take the chance of a fresh start. He'd given the Jones' a narrow-eyed look and laughed them off as a couple of touchy feely do-gooders who wanted to do their bit for a better society. Fair enough. He'd chill until he was back on his feet and fighting fit. Apparently they had a home in Devon, a place which for a boy who was used to the bright lights of the big city, sounded like 'Middle Earth'. But a spell of the quiet life was just what he needed, for now.
The couple also told him they had... rules.
Education, they stressed the point, was crucial.
When he could be arsed turning up for school, Marc breezed through the work.
Not a problem.
"No drugs," Mary said, in a steely voice that made Marc blink.
Maybe she wasn't as daft as she looked.
He gave her an angelic and deeply charismatic smile.
He could turn on a charm offensive when he felt like it.
"Never touch them," he'd said.
Which wasn't quite true. It was perfectly true he didn't take drugs himself. But he had handled them and been cautioned by the police for possession. And he was absolutely certain that if he needed some cash he'd be able to find a pusher to deal, even in a sleepy little hollow like Devon.
John Jones had been watching him like a steely-eyed hawk.
Then Mary sent Marc a thin smile that didn't reach her grey eyes, eyes as sharp as the blade that had slid between his ribs.
"You're a very pretty boy, Marc," she said now, her gaze penetrating through his skull to see right through to the bullshit. "You're also a thief, a chancer, a dealer and a clever liar. We're prepared to do our best to help you, you little twerp. So do not mess with us."
The corner of John's mouth jerked as if trying hard not to laugh.
He rose, placed a heavy hand on Marc's shoulder and squeezed.
"If I were you, I'd take her advice. Take it from me, son, she's not a woman to tussle with."
Three weeks later Marc found himself in the Jones' large family home on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. And instead of taking off when he was healed, he'd found himself staying. Then, when six months later John and Mary had taken in his baby half-sister, too, Marc Atelier had found himself a family.
Now his father was dead, and at thirty-four Marc grieved deeply for the man who'd relentlessly pushed him through school, university, the marines and then in the police force as a senior SWAT officer. And John had celebrated when Marc had accepted a career boost from Nico Ferranti. A man who'd immediately recognised a reformed bad-boy just like himself. No one from Marc's old world would recognise the boy in the smooth, sophisticated man who wore designer threads, silk tie, smart shoes of the finest Italian leather. A boy who'd been a gang member, opportunistic thief and drug dealer.
Marc knew John Jones had been fiercely proud of him. A fist of grief rose up into his throat as he remembered the day his father died. John had been sitting in a chair after walking the dog. He'd fallen asleep and never woken up. And just to compound the tragedy, the dog had died in its sleep two days later. Together the family had wept, at times they still did. Nina had told her brother in words of one syllable that she would not return to university until her mother was back on her feet. Pride rose through the grief. His sister was a beautiful looking girl, but more importantly, she had a great big heart. Family, she said, came first.
Now Marc was the man of the house. He'd come back to England for his mother. He'd come back for his sister, and he'd come back for Nico Ferranti, another man who'd changed his life.
Marc narrowed his eyes as he left grief behind. He focused now on the wall screens and the job at hand.
Someone was trying to cause mischief for the Ferranti's. And they'd gone to a great deal of trouble to set things up. Marc was good at his job. He had the skills, but more importantly the way to get inside the head of a criminal and to ask the right questions. And the first question to which he needed the answer was
? Why would a trusted member of staff betray a man like Nico? Money was the biggie. Next came revenge. So now Marc's fingers danced across the keyboard as he dug deep into the financial circumstances of the people closest to Nico Ferranti and then the people closest to them, moving out into a wider and more complex circle. It would take time. Something would turn up. It always did.
And all the while, Marc kept one eye on the wall screens.