I left everything behind. Every. Thing. My possessions. My career. My friends. My past. My present.
I’ve traded my nursing clogs for rain boots. Shorts and tank tops for jackets and scarves. Sunscreen for an umbrella.
I’ve been calling bonny Scotland home for the last nine months. I spent the first five weeks living in a bubble within my sister’s domain where the criminal world known as The Fellowship didn’t exist. I believed Bleu and Sin were a normal husband and wife expecting not one, but two babies, to go along with the precious baby girl they’d adopted. They were a beautiful family. A living and breathing fairy tale in my mind. He was her rich and handsome Scottish knight in a shining black luxury sedan. She was his beautiful, badass princess who carried a Beretta . . . but still needed saving.
I envied the fuck out of them.
And then the bubble burst.
That was almost eight months ago. Everything changed. I know about the brotherhood’s world of organized crime. Or at least as much as any outsider can know without being clipped. Burned. Marbh. I don’t know what that word means but I’ve heard Sin use it with an angry tone more than once when talking to a brother. I haven’t asked but I’m pretty sure it means somebody fucked up big time and they’re about to get whacked.
Fellowship 101. Lying. Cheating. Stealing. Killing. That’s just the shortlist. I got the CliffsNotes version but it didn’t change my mind about staying in Edinburgh. Nothing will ever separate me from my sister or those precious babies.
Sin’s finally resigned to my choice to become part of the brotherhood. He agreed to let me attend an official Fellowship function tonight for the first time. The babies’ consecration—their official dedication to the brotherhood where Bleu and Sin vow to raise the children in the way of The Fellowship.
Oddly, I didn’t feel surrounded by liars, cheaters, thieves, and murderers when I was at the consecration ceremony earlier tonight. I felt the deep love The Fellowship has for Sin, Bleu, and their three babies. Their affection radiated like a fire emitting both light and warmth. It was a beautiful thing, yet one lone, uncontained spark has the power to burn down everything within its path.
My sister calls those dangerous people family.
And I will as well. Soon.
The normal procedure for someone who isn’t born into The Fellowship, but wishes to become a member, is to participate in endurance. The man wishing to join must prove he is strong enough to endure a beating that will send him so close to the gates of hell, he’ll return with singed eyebrows.
The case is different for a woman. No female has ever undergone endurance. Not even my tough-as-a-muthafucking-former-FBI-agent sister. Sin voluntarily stood in her place so she wouldn’t be hurt. He was beaten to a bloody pulp so his people would accept the woman he loved as one of their own. She was the first of her kind to be adopted into the brotherhood by this method. And that’s what a man, a Fellowship brother, will have to do for me.
Bleu says it’s an act of love in its purest form. Sounds more like an act of stupidity. But apparently, a necessary idiocy if I’m to stay.
It isn’t right that some innocent man—the word innocent being used loosely—should endure that kind of suffering so I can be with my own family. But I don’t think these people really get the gist of what’s right anyway. They aren’t exactly sitting around polishing their halos.
I agree with one thing Bleu says: No man will volunteer to go through something so barbaric unless he loves me madly. Men are horny bastards, but I don’t know a one who would sign on for endurance just to get between my legs. That means he will truly love me. And no one in The Fellowship will ever question it.
I haven’t been allowed to mingle with the brothers with the exception of Jamie, Leith, and Mitch. Sin says I need to be properly introduced before that can happen. He wants the brothers to know and understand exactly who I am and how he expects them to behave toward me. He acts like the big brother I never had. I like it; it’s sweet. But I almost feel inclined to tell him it’s unnecessary. I know how to manage men even when they have no clue how to handle me. Just call me the man whisperer.
Thane and Isobel plan to throw some kind of bash at their house to introduce me to the brotherhood. Sounds very much like a matchmaking party to hook me up with a bro. But it can’t happen until this takeover thing with their enemy, The Order, is finished. That means I’m a good two months from being introduced into the fold and matched with the man who will take responsibility for me. My future husband.
All of this worry and uncertainty would be unnecessary if the beautiful man driving me home from the consecration would open his eyes and see what’s right in front of him: me, standing before him with my heart in my hands. Silent but wanting so, so, so badly to give him everything I have to offer.
Jamie Breckenridge. The blind bastard just won’t see me. But how can he when he rarely even looks my way? I’m as unnoticed as the air around him. I exist. I’m right next to him. And I’m invisible.
I’m standing on the corner of Screw This and Keep Pursuing and it’s time to choose which route I’ll take. I’m leaning toward giving up but it’s killing me. I’m Ellison MacAllister. A white flag isn’t part of my repertoire. Normally.
This is my life and there are no do-overs. I can’t accept any man who falls into my lap. Or between my legs. “I’m supposed to be introduced to the brothers soon. I’m nervous about being claimed.”
Jamie stares ahead as he drives, saying nothing. Zero response. Unless his lack of reaction actually is a response?
“I’m curious. What will happen after a brother declares me as his?”
“This is something you should discuss with your sister.” Does he believe he’s going to evade my question so easily?
“Bleu isn’t a man with inside knowledge about what a brother will want to do when he lays claim on a woman. You are.”
“I’ve never laid claim on a woman.” And thank God for that.
“True, but you will one day so you must have thought about what it’ll be like.” The stick I’m using to jab Jamie through his cage isn’t long enough. I’ll have to stretch harder if I’m going to poke him in the ass. “Unless you like men instead.”
“Of course I’ve thought about what it’ll be like. With. A. Woman.”
I battle the giggle in my throat working its way upward to make its getaway. A small chuckle squeezes out during the struggle, and I attempt to disguise it with a cough.
“Do you think about it a lot? With a woman, I mean.”
He hesitates before answering, and I want to climb inside his head and spy on all the secret thoughts whirling around in there. Could images and thoughts of me possibly be bouncing around behind those striking amber eyes?
“Tell me about it—what you anticipate—so I can form my own expectation for when I’m claimed.”
Jamie looks straight ahead and says nothing although I’m certain he heard me. “Jamie?”
“I want to know everything about the woman you see yourself claiming.”
More hesitation. Why is he so tight-lipped about this?
“She’s kind. Intelligent. Interesting. We’d have a lot in common.”
“Do you think you’ll love her?”
“Of course, I’ll love her.”
“Is she beautiful?”
“Beauty is subjective, but yes. To me, she’s breathtaking.”
Beauty is subjective. Well, clearly in his eyes, I’m no beauty. All I see when he looks at me is indifference.
“Would she be marriage material?”
“I wouldn’t claim a woman unless I intended on marrying her.”
I like the way Jamie didn’t hesitate. He’s given this enough thought to have already made the decision to be fully committed.
“What will you do with her after you claim her?”
I can only see half of Jamie’s smile, but I don’t mistake the naughty smirk beneath his lips. “What do you think I’ll do with her, Ellison?”
He believes he can turn the tables on me? That’s cute, but he’ll have to do better than that. “Let me rephrase. Will you gently make love to her as though she’s a delicate china doll? Or fuck her hard until she shatters into a million pieces?”
Jamie clears his throat and adjusts in his seat. “I guess that would depend on what she wants.”
What she wants? “I would expect a badass Fellowship member to tell me he’d fuck her hard until she explodes like dynamite. That’s what I’d hope for. An alpha who takes what he wants and is unapologetic about it.”
At least I believe that’s what I crave. I’ve yet to experience it but I think it would be hot as hell. Better than being asked by your boyfriend to do a three-way where you strongly suspect he’s more interested in the other man than in you.
There’s a pause in the conversation and it’s impossible not to notice the way Jamie is gripping the steering wheel. “An alpha, aye? I’ll need to remember that one.”
Sex would be great but it isn’t my ultimate goal. “You said you’d never claim someone you didn’t intend to marry. Would that be the mindset of most brothers?”
I need Jamie to consider the future and what it might look like with me. “Guess that means I’ll be getting married soon. Maybe even getting pregnant with my first Fellowship baby.” I turn away to look out the window, giving him time to think about that for a minute before I continue my seduction stratagem. “Arranged marriages can be successful, right?”
“Aye. They’re common among our people. I know many happy couples who didn’t choose one another.”
“This isn’t how I pictured my life, but I plan to make the most of it.” And I’m going to start by choosing my own destiny. I think I could be happy if Jamie were my husband. “I hope I get someone who treats me well. And I hope I’m able to love him one day. It would be a tragedy to be married to someone I didn’t like.”
“I grew up with parents who hated one another and it was exactly that: a tragedy. Especially for my sisters and me.”
I turn to Jamie and he briefly glances away from the road to look at me. The contact of his eyes on mine in this pivotal moment leaves me breathless. “What is it?”
Dad told me to not settle for less than what I deserved: the best.
Jamie is the one for me. I know he is.
“It was the opposite for me. My parents had a love so deep the ocean would envy it. The only thing powerful enough to part them was death. I don’t think I could bear being in a marriage where I didn’t know that kind of love. It won’t work for me.”
“Sin won’t let that happen to you.”
Sin won’t let that happen to you. Jamie’s words are a reminder that my brother-in-law has more say about the man I’ll marry than I do. No brother will get to me unless it’s through him first.
Not at all romantic.
Not at all the kind of marriage I’ve dreamt about.
Not at all the kind of life I imagined for myself.
This conversation has suddenly taken a turn I wasn’t anticipating. This game I started is one I no longer want to play, so I’m happy when we arrive at my apartment.
“Did you leave the lights on when you left?”
“Probably. I was running late and in a rush to get out the door.”
Jamie turns off the engine of his Range Rover and my heart thuh-thonks, thuh-thonks, thuh-thonks against the inside of my chest wall. That means he’s coming inside, right? Why else would he turn off the motor?
“I have to come in to sweep the flat.” He has to. My brief flicker of hope dies like a covered flame starving for oxygen. “Just a precaution since you attended a Fellowship event tonight. Don’t be frightened.”
It isn’t fear on my face. It’s disappointment. “I’m not.”
Jamie gets out, but I don’t make a move to open my door. He was very clear when we got into the SUV that he would be the only one opening and closing the passenger door. I thought it was him being a gentleman until he explained it was for my safety . . . per Sin’s order. I admit it stung a little to be told he wasn’t doing it to impress me. To please me.
I unlock the front door, and he reaches into his jacket to take out a handgun from the holster at his side. “Disarm the alarm and wait in the hallway. Don’t come inside the flat until I tell you it’s clear.”
I enter the passcode into the security keypad. “Yes, sir.”
With a gun.
Risking his safety to ensure mine.
Hot. Hot. Hot.
I push aside my thoughts of Jamie with a gun and consider the serious side of this scenario. This is what being part of The Fellowship will be like. Always on guard. Always looking out for the enemy to strike at any moment. Always depending on a man to keep me safe.
My sister tells me The Order has a nasty habit of lashing out against The Fellowship through the women. Kidnappings. Beatings. Rapes. A few women—teen girls, actually—have needed surgery to repair the damage The Order caused. Some haven’t survived. Many who do, wish they hadn’t.
I’m going to become one of those at-risk women soon. I’ll be like Hester Prynne except I’ll wear a red and white bullseye in place of a scarlet letter. I’m the sister-in-law of a Fellowship leader. I won’t be able to walk down the street without being in danger.
The Fellowship has had enough of The Order. They’re ready for an all-out war—a battle for dominance—if it means bringing safety to their women.
I must be out of my damn mind for choosing this life.
Maybe I shouldn’t do this.
Maybe I’m not cut out for a mafia world.
Maybe I should leave Edinburgh and go back to the States.
Jamie opens and holds the door for me. “All clear.”
I lightly brush against him as I pass. “So gentlemanly. Are all the brothers so well mannered?”
His chuckle is enough to answer my question. “Definitely not, but they will be when it comes to you. Sin will have their balls if they don’t treat you well.”
“I suppose that should be reassuring, but I tend to be attracted to naughty bad boys. Nice guys bore the shit out of me.” True story. I’ve always gone after the guy who was all wrong for me. Guess that’s why I’ve never been in love.
Jamie laughs again. “Trust me. You won’t have a boredom problem with a Fellowship brother. We aren’t . . . nice.”
“Sin is nice.”
“Bleu would kill him if he weren’t. Never mistake him for anything other than what he truly is: a ruthless motherfucker.”
“I assumed as much.” I’ve heard him on the phone and walked in on a few conversations with the brothers. They weren’t discussing world peace.
“Sin has to be a beast. Weak leaders don’t survive this kind of life for long.” Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. King of the jungle. Sin doesn’t have a choice.
“I knew he must be tough for my sister to find him attractive. She’s not exactly a delicate flower.”
“Bleu’s a total badass. They’re a perfect match for one another.”
“She’s always been that way, even when she wore a tutu. And now she’s someone’s mom. Three little someones.”
I drop my purse on the table in the foyer and hold on to it for balance as I kick out of my heels. “I’m glad to get those off. They were killing my feet.”
I’m a good four inches shorter now, so Jamie towers over me nearly a foot. I love tall men. Especially when they look and smell like him.
“Want to come in for a whisky? I have Johnnie Walker Black Label.” The bottle was left behind when Sin and Bleu moved. I’m never going to sit around drinking it alone. Might as well use it as a way to get Jamie to stick around for a while.
“I appreciate the offer, but I have somewhere to be.”
He has somewhere to be. With someone who isn’t me. More proof the guy’s really not into me.
I’ve been sending all the right signals for months and Jamie hasn’t shown any interest. What I did tonight in the car borders on pathetic. It’s time to take no for an answer. I’m done trying. Adios, amigo.
“Sure.” I step around him to open the door. “I appreciate the ride. And the sweep of the flat. Makes me feel a little better about being here alone tonight.”
He stands unmoving while looking at me. There’s the open door, pal. Your escape route. Bolt for freedom.
“Lock the door behind me and set the alarm.”
He continues standing there, his expression unreadable, and I feel the need to fill the silence with something. “Will do.”
“The windows. Didn’t secure them.”
“It’s fine, Jamie. I know you’re ready to get going. I can check them.” There’s only eight. Not like it’s that big of a deal.
“No. I have to do it.”
Jamie inspects the four across the kitchen and living room, and then I follow him into my bedroom. There’s no telling what he may see in there. I was slinging shit everywhere in my mad dash to get out the door on time for my first Fellowship event.
My cheeks heat when I see my black lace panties next to my bed. Shit. I never leave stuff like that on the floor but I took them off at the last minute because of a visible panty line. And that’s where they landed when I kicked out of them.
He stills when he spots them on the floor. “Geez. Sorry ’bout that. Wasn’t expecting anyone in my bedroom tonight.” Or any other night, unfortunately.
I quickly bend down, fetch the pile of lace, and ball them in my fist behind my back.
His eyes meet mine and my body tingles. I’m pretty sure my temperature just spiked, judging by the heat in my cheeks.
We stand in the center of my bedroom, eyes locked, the awkwardness growing with every passing second. I hate awkward silence.
“Last-minute decision to go commando so I wouldn’t have a panty line.” Fuck, Ellison. That was such a dumb thing to say.
The words are barely out of my mouth when Jamie stalks toward me, shoving me against the wall, his mouth coming down hard against mine. He pins me with his hips and I’m trapped. There’s no escape—not that I would try.
My lips immediately pulsate from the sudden assault as I moan against his mouth. Nothing about his kiss is gentle. It’s fierce. Frantic. Frenzied. He went from nothing to all-consuming in a split second. Holy shit, the man can kiss.
His hand grasps my lower back and he pulls me against his body, ensuring I remain a prisoner within his embrace. He presses himself against me and I can easily feel how hard he is. For me.
Jamie’s hand grips my hip tightly as his mouth leaves mine and drags across my face to cover my ear. “An alpha who takes what he wants and is unapologetic about it? Sure that’s what you really want, Ellison?”
There’s an obvious catch in my breath as the reaction of his words—pure liquid seduction—pools between my thighs. He has the ability to weaken my knees, and my body is no longer mine to control. It belongs to him, to do with as he wishes.
“Yesss.” I don’t know whose voice I hear, but it sounds nothing like mine—it’s that of a desperate woman.
I sense what’s coming next. I feel it in my bones. And my groin. I’m engulfed from the inside out. He’s going to touch me there.
I want it.
I will it.
I silently beg for it.
Jamie’s hand abandons my hip and glides down the front of my thighs, inching toward the spot where I crave his touch most. Yes. Please. There. Don’t stop.
“Jamie.” The whispered word escapes my mouth softly. Faintly. Delicately. But his reaction to hearing his name on my lips isn’t.
His hands go for the backs of my thighs, and he lifts me so my legs wrap around him. I squeeze his shoulders tightly as he carries me across the room toward the bed.
“So fucking sexy.” His voice is gravelly. Masculine. Aroused.
He lowers me to the bed and together we fall with my legs locked around him. He pushes my hair off one shoulder, presses his lips to the exposed skin on my neck, and trails warm, wet kisses down my shoulder. “I can’t hold back. I’ve tried so fucking hard, but I can’t do it anymore.”
Can’t do it anymore? Does that mean he’s been fighting an attraction for me? Feelings? Maybe the same ones I’ve been having for him?
I want to say that I never wanted him to hold back. That I’ve been wanting this—him—so much. But I’m afraid to take that leap.
Jamie fists the hem of my dress and yanks it up so I’m exposed from the waist down. “Fuck, Ellison. I’d have lost my damn mind had I known you weren’t wearing knickers tonight.”
His palm glides over one of my cheeks and the tips of his fingers dig into my flesh. “Fuck. I shouldn’t be here. Shouldn’t be doing this.”
I’ve been fantasizing about Jamie and me—together this way—for months. Now that I’ve had a taste, there’s no way in hell I’ll let him talk himself out of it.
I grasp him tightly and hold on as though I’m on the edge of a cliff and could tumble off at any second. “You should one hundred percent be doing this.”
He presses our foreheads together. “I don’t have the right to touch you. You aren’t mine.”
He rolls away from me and I move with him. “Maybe not, but I can be.” I want to be.
He pries my arms off his shoulders and moves to sit on the edge of the bed. “No, Ellison, you can’t.”
What the fuck? “I don’t understand.”
“Putting my hands on you is wrong. It could hurt your chances for a good match if I taint you.”
Sin took Bleu’s virginity. I’m certain he gloated to his best friends about being the first and only man to ever have her. I hope that didn’t put unrealistic expectations about me in Jamie’s head. He will be sadly disappointed if he believes my purity remains intact.
“Jamie . . . I’m not a virgin and I haven’t been for a long time.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
His head drops and he laces his fingers together in a clasp over the back of his head. “You’re going to belong to one of my brothers.”
No. That’s not what I want.
“Fellowship men are possessive fuckers when it comes to their women. And females fall into three categories: fuck-worthy, claim-worthy, marriage-worthy. If we’re together—and anyone finds out—you’ll be tainted in his eyes.”
So the men can fuck around as much as they like but the women must remain pure? “That’s completely sexist.”
“It may be but it’s how things work. No one will come forward and make an offer for you if they know I’ve had you. I won’t seal your fate that way.” If only he understood how much I want my fate sealed that way. With him.
“Then make an offer for me.” I swallow hard before reaching for the hem of my dress and pulling it over my head. “Claim me, Jamie. Do it right now. Make me yours.”
I can’t. I’m stunned by how much those two words sting.
I scoot away and use my dress to cover my near-naked body.
He twists and reaches for my arm but I jerk away from him as though I’ve been burned. Because I have been.
“I’m not saying no because I don’t want you.”
He knew he wasn’t going to claim me when he walked into my bedroom. He knew when he pushed me against the wall and kissed me the way every woman dreams of being kissed. He knew when he carried me to the bed.
He. Already. Knew.
“I don’t want to hear it. Just get out.”
“Please, Ellison. Don’t be that way.”
Is he kidding me? Don’t be what way? Pissed off? Damn right, I’m pissed off. “You knew you had no intention of claiming me, yet you kissed and touched me as if you did. I guess I should say thanks for not fucking me and then breaking the news.”
“At least let me explain.”
“What’s the point in explaining? Don’t want me? Can’t have me? No matter the reason, the outcome is still the same. I end up with someone who isn’t you.”
“You think it’s not going to kill me to see you with someone else? One of my own Fellowship brothers? To know he’s touching you . . . and more? Agony, Ellison. It’s going to be agony.”
Nothing is etched in stone. Not yet. “Do something about it before it’s too late.”
“You don’t understand how The Fellowship works. It isn’t that simple. You’re the sister-in-law of the Fellowship leader. You’re going to be new to the brotherhood and also high profile, making you a huge target. That means you have to be claimed by someone who can protect you.”
“You can protect me.” I have complete faith in his ability. A man who handled a gun like he was born with it in his hand raised me. I see that same second nature in Jamie.
“Medical school takes me away from home a lot. I wouldn’t be there to keep you safe.”
Temporary problem. He’s almost finished with his training. He could claim me now, and we could get married after he graduates.
I know it’s crazy to want to marry a man I’ve only known for nine months, and not even dated during that time, but I feel I know him. I’ve seen his kind heart. His gentle hands. The love he has for friends and family. He is a good man. I’ve never known anyone like him, except for my dad.
I’m in love with him. I would want him even if the circumstances were different.
“Once I take my place as the full-time Fellowship physician, I’m going to be called away in the middle of the night for hours at a time. I won’t always be home to protect you. You need someone who will be around to make sure you’re safe.” Does this mean he has thought about us?
This can’t be happening. He finally admits he wants this—us—after all this time and then immediately pulls away from me.
“I can protect myself when you’re called out on emergency. My dad was an FBI agent. He taught me well how to use a gun.” Maybe I can’t wrestle someone to the ground and choke the life out of them like Bleu, but I can handle any gun you put in my hand. Bleu’s not the only badass in the family.
“You’re going to need a man who will be with you at all times.”
It isn’t possible for any man to be with me constantly, especially a man in The Fellowship. “Sin doesn’t stay by Bleu’s side all the time.”
“Sin is our superior. Bleu and the babies have round-the-clock armed guards willing to give up their lives in place of their leader’s family.”
“It’s a firm no? You won’t even consider the possibility of being together?”
“I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you . . . so it’s a firm no.”
A dagger to the heart would be less painful that hearing him tell me we’ll never be together.
I understand Jamie wanting to keep me safe, but it doesn’t stop the ache in my chest.
Or this feeling of rejection.
The tears pooling in my eyes threaten to spill down my cheeks so I turn my head. I don’t want him to see me cry.
“Shite. Don’t do that, Ellison. I can’t bear it.”
“Then you should probably leave.” Because there’s about to be some ugly-cry face.
He moves toward me—to do what, I’m not sure—but I’m the one pushing him away this time. “Don’t.”
“I wouldn’t hurt you for anything in the world. I swear I’m doing this for your own good.”
“You’ll never convince me anything about this is good.”
Five minutes ago I thought I was getting everything I wanted. I thought my future was no longer bleak. I thought I was finally going to be happy. And now . . . my heart is breaking in two.
I know because the ache in my chest is excruciating.