Sweet Torment Coming June 2
“I need you guys to help me fuck with Claudia’s date when he gets here,” Owen says.
What. The. Hell. Since when does Claudia care anything about guys and going out with them? “You mean she’s going on a real date? One where a boy comes here to pick her up?”
“Well, yeah, dumbass. That’s what most dates involve. Guess you must have forgotten that since it’s been so long since you took a girl out for dinner and a movie.”
“Dinner and a movie are pointless when you can skip it and go straight for the end goal.” My end goal? Getting laid. I’m always clear and honest about what I want so that no one misunderstands or gets hurt. The girls I hook up with are after the same thing—a good time for the night.
There have been a few who think they have what it takes to change my ways. Make me love them. Make me see that all I really want is a committed girlfriend. I wasted no time showing those few the door.
“I hope the little fuck-stain who’s taking my sister out tonight doesn’t think with his dick the way you do.”
Who does Owen think he’s kidding? This kid’s a boy with a dick. Of course, he thinks like me. Like us—Owen, River, and me. “I can’t believe your parents are letting Claudia date.”
“She’s seventeen, going on twenty-five. A high school senior. All her friends started dating last year or the year before. They couldn’t keep telling her no.”
Bullshit. They’re the parents. They can tell her no for as long as they like. “Have you forgotten the shit we pulled with girls when we were in high school?” Two words specifically come to mind. “Hannah. Beales.”
Owen romanced that girl for weeks. Sent her flowers, wrote her love letters, took her out to dinner and the movies. Even got her a damn puppy for Valentine’s. She served him her virginity on a silver platter and he gave her a prompt goodbye. Hell, even I felt bad for the girl when he was finished with her. “What you did to Hannah…? Those little high school dicks want to do the same thing to Claudia.”
“Fuuuck, you’re right.”
I can’t help the way I see Claud. To me, she’s still that little girl pretending to be a boy and tagging along behind Owen, River, and me everywhere we go. Always struggling to keep up with us while I hang back, not giving my all so she won’t feel so far behind. “No way we can let this kid take Claudia out tonight unless we know he has a clear understanding about what he won’t be doing with her.”
“Agreed. Especially with the new look she has going on,” River says.
“I will beat her ass if she’s gone emo or goth.”
I haven’t seen Claud since I left for fall semester five months ago. I’ve rarely gone more than five minutes without her on my heels. It’s been odd not having her around. But what’s odder is how I feel about not seeing her.
I’ve missed my little dove beyond anything considered reasonable. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed away so long. Something is wrong with me for missing that kid so much. It isn’t normal.
I thought separation would help cure me of whatever this thing is.
River chuckles. “When’s the last time you saw her?”
“End of July, right before I went back to Chattanooga.” I took a lot of extra credits. Worst semester of my life but it paid off. I graduated early with a master’s in accounting, got a new job, and I’m stoked about starting my new life.
River laughs again. “This should be fun.”
“What should be fun?”
“Duke!” I turn when I hear Claudia squeal my special nickname. One look is all it takes. I no longer have to wonder what River meant.
Claudia’s thick, dark hair is longer. She’s always worn it in braids or slicked back into a ponytail through the hole in the back of her ball cap, but tonight it’s hanging in loose curls. Long, lush eyelashes surround aquamarine magnets—the same eyes I’ve seen no less than a million times, but I can’t stop staring at them. It’s as though I’m seeing them for the first time.
The red top she’s wearing is sexy as fuck––one of those where it comes up and around the neck, leaving her shoulders and back completely exposed. Damn, damn, daaamn. Her perky tits and protruding nipples look like nothing less than perfection pressing against the thin fabric.
It’s possible I’m drooling a little as my eyes scan her mile-long legs from her ankles all the way up to the curvy hips she’s showing off in tight skinny jeans. I swear to God those tits and curves weren’t there the last time I saw her. I would have noticed.
Her shoes piss me off. Fuck-me pumps. She has no business wearing anything like those.
Who is this hot, beautiful woman who has replaced Claudia Laine Bliss?
I was six when she was born; I’ve known this girl all her life and most of mine. Since the time she could walk, she spent her days chasing Owen, River, and me. Always slower. Always weaker. Always so soft, sweet, and delicate. She’d have chosen death over admitting a single one of those facts back in the day. But we didn’t care. She was Owen’s baby sister.
Our little Claud.
That was then and this is now. And our little Claud isn’t so little anymore.
She rushes toward me and leaps into my arms, same as she has for years, with her legs wrapped around me. But this time feels different. My dick immediately recognizes the changes in her, too. The fucker spasms and comes to full attention when her body collides with mine.
The exposed skin on her neck and shoulders calls out to me like a siren. A seductress. A fucking temptress. Touch me, Bram. Kiss me. Lick me. You know you want to.
What. The. Fuck.
No, no, no. Every thought going through my head about her right now is wrong. So many kinds of wrong. This is our little Claud. My best friend’s baby sister. Not some random chick I’ll bang and abandon before morning.
Still wrapped around me, she holds my shoulders and leans away so we’re face to face. So close I could kiss her. “I’ve missed you so much. I’m very upset with you for staying away so long.”
“You know I was taking extra classes so I could graduate early.”
“I know…but you didn’t come back to see me. Not even once.” Her pouty bottom lip protrudes and it reminds me of the face she used to make as a child when she wanted her way. Except this time, it’s hot as fuck. I want to suck that lip into my mouth. Maybe even bite it.
“I didn’t do much of anything for the last five months except study. But it was worth every weekend I spent with my head in a book; I’m finished for good.”
She slides down my body and her crotch rubs my cock—no, make that my hardening cock. I will it to stop but it’s a dick. It can’t not respond to the touch of a woman. Especially when that woman is this hot.
Shit, I hope she can’t tell that she made me hard.
Even more so, I hope Owen and River can’t tell that she made me hard. They would kill me.
Her pouty lips transform into a broad grin. “You’re back in Lynchburg for good?”
“That’s the plan. Starting my new job next week.”
“Good. This is where you belong.” With me. She doesn’t say the words but I suspect it’s what she’s thinking; she’s always considered Owen, River, and me to be her boys.
“I hear you have a date tonight.” And I don’t like it worth a damn.
She lowers her eyes. “Just a boy from school taking me out. It’s not a big deal.”
“I don’t care how nice you think he is. I don’t care how cute you think he is. Don’t believe a word the little prick says. Trust me when I say he wants one thing and one thing only from you.”
She looks up and our eyes connect: so fucking gorgeous. “Tell me. What one thing and one thing only would a boy—or man—want from me?”
They will want to fuck you. All of them. I can’t bring myself to say those words to her. And it’s not my job.
“Owen. Don’t tell me you haven’t had the guys-are-horny-bastards-and-she-should-avoid-them-all talk with her.” It’s his brotherly duty to give his baby sister fair warning about our ways.
“We had that talk a while ago and then we had it again after all of this happened.”
Claudia’s cheekbones rise as her dimples deepen. “Owen and River say I’ve changed. What do you think?”
I think our girl is fishing for a compliment. “You’ve become a lovely young lady.”
Her smile fades. “A lovely young lady? That’s it?”
I know. It sounds like something her grandfather would say but it’s all I’ve got. I can’t tell her she’s hot and sexy and gave me a hard-on.
Her frown transforms into a one-sided half-smile. “Thanks a lot.”
Damn. I know Claud and that forced expression. I’ve hurt her feelings. And it’s the last thing in this world I’d ever want to do.
The doorbell rings. Worst timing ever. The little shit’s arrival ends any chance I have at redeeming myself with her.
“Go to your room,” Owen says.
Claudia’s voice rises an octave. “Why in the world would I do that?”
“Go to your room and freshen up your lipstick or whatever girls do when they make us wait on them. The three of us need to have a little talk with Connor. Make sure he understands what’s expected of him on this date.”
Good. I’m glad to see Owen is taking his big-brother duties seriously.
“You don’t get to act stupid because Mom and Dad aren’t here. I’m letting Connor in before he leaves because he gave up on anyone coming to the door.”
Owen mentioned something about fucking with her date. I’m all for that but we can’t if Claud doesn’t go to her room.
I step in front of her and block the path to the door. We’re nearly chest to chest when I bring my hand to her mouth and drag my thumb over her pouty bottom lip. “Your lipstick is smeared. You should go fix it… Little dove.”
Her eyes widen and her face softens the instant she hears me say the special pet name reserved only for her. A sigh escapes her mouth when she rubs her index and middle fingers over the lip I just touched. “Okay… Duke.”
Ah. She’s never said my nickname like that before.
The doorbell rings again and River slaps his palms together, rubbing them back and forth. “All right, all right, all right, boys. Time to have a little fun with this punk-ass.”
Owen opens the front door and the kid is standing there with flowers in hand. “Good evening, sir. I’m Connor Bass.”
Flowers? And sir? What a fucking suck-up.
Owen offers his hand for a shake. What is he doing? I thought we were going to fuck with this kid. “I’m Claudia’s brother, Owen. Come in.”
River and I stand straight-faced, chests puffed out, arms crossed. Intimidation. It’s the only way to handle cocky little shits like this guy. “This is Bram and River. Claudia’s other bodyguards.”
The kid laughs. “Okay, I get it.”
“I’m not sure you do. But you will.” Owen puts his arm around Connor’s shoulder and leads him into the living room. “Come. Sit. Let’s talk while my sister finishes getting ready.”
Claudia’s date sits on the sofa and the three of us tower above him. My face is stone but I’m laughing inside as I wonder if he’s ready to piss his pants and run out the door.
“Claudia is a very special girl to all of us. We would be very unhappy if anyone hurt her,” River says.
Connor shakes his head. “I would never hurt her.”
“That’s good. I’m happy to hear that.” Owen walks over to his baseball bag propped against the wall and removes his favorite bat. “Did my sister tell you I play baseball at UT?”
“She didn’t have to; I already knew. I’ve seen you play a lot.” His voice is trembling. I like that.
“Then you already know how hard I can swing a bat?”
Before he replies, Owen takes the stance in the middle of the living room and demonstrates his swing. Doesn’t matter how many times I see it: I’m still amazed by the sheer power behind it. “That swing would crack a skull for sure.”
“This is Priscilla.” Owen wraps his hand around the bat and strokes it lovingly. “You touch my sister or hurt her in any way and you and Priscilla will become very well acquainted. And I don’t mean on the baseball field. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Have Claudia home by eleven. Not. One. Minute. Later. We’ll be here waiting.” River points to his watch. “And we’ll be watching the time.”
I lean down so I’m in his face. “No going parking. No making out. No hands or fingers or any other appendages inside or on top of any article of her clothing. And don’t even think about walking her to the door and trying for a goodnight kiss. I will end you.” The last threat comes out with a bit of growl and I surprise even myself with how angry I feel at the thought of him trying anything with her.
This kid looks ready to piss his pants and run out the door. Goal accomplished. “Yes, sir.”
Claudia comes into the living room and I’m both pleased and relieved to see her wearing a jacket over her sexy red top. Hell, that shirt and her exposed skin made me have inappropriate thoughts about her. This boy wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Hey.” His voice is deadpan and he doesn’t even look in her direction.
Claudia studies the four of us. “What’s going on here?”
“Nothing much.” Owen chuckles. “Connor mentioned that he’s seen me play ball, so I thought he might want to have a look at Priscilla.”
“What did you do, Owen?”
He chuckles a second time. “I didn’t do a thing.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Ask our boy Connor if you don’t believe me.”
He shrugs. “Just showed me Priscilla. And his swing.”
“Pfft… like I believe that.” Claudia’s stiff expression softens when she sees the bouquet. “What beautiful flowers. Let me put those in some water before we go.”
I hate watching her go out the door with anything that has a cock. It pisses me off, which is a ridiculous notion. Not only has she been like a little sister to me since the day she was born, she’s only seventeen. I’m twenty-three. That kind of shit doesn’t go over well with people. Or with the state of Tennessee.
I have no business having these kinds of thoughts about her. Owen and River would kill me. Hell, Owen would castrate me.
Claudia Laine Bliss has grown up. Everything I’ve ever felt about her suddenly feels new and different.
And it scares the shit out of me.
I hope you guys love the cover for Sweet Torment, coming June 2!
Special Release price will be $.99
(Price will increase to $2.99.)
No pre-order on this one, guys.
OR it can be read for FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
My best friend’s little sister—that’s all Claudia Bliss is to me.
My head keeps trying to convince my heart, but both know it’s a damn lie.
It’s her face I see every time I close my eyes.
It’s her lips I long to kiss.
It’s her touch I crave in the dark.
She’s the one I love … but wanting Claudia is wrong.
She’s been like a little sister to me since the day she was born. Now, everything between us is changing—including the special bond we’ve always shared. It’s stronger than ever … and becoming something so different. Something so hot. Something so forbidden.
My little dove is growing up.
Doesn’t matter how wrong it is, I can’t stop wanting her.
I will have her.
Bram Windsor. I have loved him my entire life.
For years, I was nothing more than one of the boys to him. Owen’s little sister. The pest who tagged along everywhere the boys went. But now, everything has changed.
I’ve grown up and it’s time Bram sees me for what I am. A woman. A sexual being who wants him. A virgin more than ready to give herself to him.
I don’t care what our friends or family say. I love him and everything about being together feels right.
I will have him.
She’s here again. The woman who always dresses in black. The woman with perfectly applied cosmetics and long silky, ebony hair. The woman who sits with crossed legs on a nearby bench and watches me for hours each day.
The woman who’s after something from me.
She puzzles me. And pisses me off.
What could a well-put-together lady like her want with a girl like me? I have nothing. It’s impossible for her to think otherwise.
Look at me. I’m on Jackson Square in New Orleans wearing a ridiculous Mardi Gras getup I found in a dumpster. I stand motionless, imitating a mannequin, and holding a pose on the steps of St. Louis Cathedral. I’ve spent the last two hours praying for kindness and mercy in the form of a few clinks in my tin bucket.
A trio of guys around my age stops in front of me. The tallest one in the bunch steps close and waves a ten-dollar bill back and forth in front of my face. My mouth floods as I consider how much food that would buy. “All you have to do is move. Grab it and it’s all yours, honey.”
I hate when men call me pet names. Just another way of degrading me. I’m no one’s honey or baby or sweetheart or kitten.
And I never will be.
I consider abandoning my pose and snatching the money. Ten bucks would cover my supper tonight plus breakfast in the morning. Maybe lunch tomorrow if I’m frugal.
The guy’s friend punches him in the shoulder. “Make her work for it, dumbass.”
“Right.” He shoves the bill down the front of his jeans. “All you gotta do is go after it, sweetheart.”
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that going after it isn’t all I have to do. No one gives you something for nothing in New Orleans.
Maybe I should do as he asks . . . and give his balls a twist while I’m in there. That would show this dick I’m not his honey or sweetheart.
The runt of the group slaps his friend on the back. “Look at her face, dude. She’s thinking it over.”
The jerk is totally right. I am considering diving into his pants to go fishing for that money. That’s how hungry I am.
I’m a millisecond away from breaking pose . . . until I remember she’s here. Watching me. And something beyond my empty stomach won’t allow me to cave to these pricks in front of her.
I’ve always been stubborn. It’s gotten me in trouble more times than I care to admit. And it will this time too, ultimately costing me meals I so desperately need. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Not while she’s watching. And judging.
Don’t know why I care.
“Come on, Mark. Don’t waste your money on this chick. She’s ugly anyway.”
She’s ugly. Pff . . . like that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. Like I’m not immune to hearing those words.
Let it go, Rose. Let it roll off your back. Just like you always do. These idiots don’t define you.
The triad of ass monkeys leave, and I’m relieved. Grateful they didn’t stick around to sling more insults in my direction.
I never let jackasses like those guys get to me. I learned to wear my skin like armor a long time ago but this incident is different. She heard them taunt me. This gorgeous woman, with the straightest spine I’ve ever seen, heard them call me ugly.
A tingle in my nose stings, and I will it to stop. But it doesn’t. My stare becomes blurred and I fight the urge to blink, afraid she’ll see my tears and mistake them for something they are not.
I’m not hurt. Emotional pain isn’t possible when there’s only emptiness in the place where you once had a heart.
I. Am. Pissed.
Pissed this woman is here again. Pissed I don’t know why. Pissed she witnessed my humiliation.
Her attention is unwanted. Being noticed by people has never ended well for me. And I’m sure it won’t this time either.
I’ve stayed below the radar of many in my life. I actually became skillful and cunning about it. Until that night. The night I let my guard down.
The night I can’t remember.
The night I can’t forget.
I’ve had enough of this—of her—and whatever it is she’s trying to pull. She needs to leave me alone and go away. Now.
I break pose, hold out my hands, and shout at the woman. “Whaaat?”
I fume when I see the amusement spread across her flawless face and red-stained lips. “Do you really have so little going on in your life that you get a kick out of coming here day after day just to have a laugh at my expense?”
She gets up from the bench and approaches, her hips swaying with each long stride she takes in her skyscraper pumps. I don’t know how women walk in shoes like those.
She flashes a business card and several one hundred dollar bills. “Use this money to buy some decent clothes. Rent a room for the night and get cleaned up. You stink. And then meet me at The Court of Two Sisters. We have reservations for seven thirty tomorrow night.”
One. Two. Three. Four. This woman’s seriously handing over four hundred dollars? For nothing?
Nobody gives you something for nothing. And they definitely don’t give you four hundred dollars for nothing. “I’m not a hooker.”
I’m calling her out on her MO. She needs to know I’m onto her and this little game she’s playing. “You’ve been watching me. I’ve seen you every day this week.”
She laughs, making me feel like I’m not privy to some kind of joke. “I’ve been watching you much longer than a week, Rose.”
Shit. She knows my name? “Who are you? What do you want from me?”
“That’s a conversation for us to have over dinner after you’ve made yourself presentable. Not while we stand in front of St. Louis Cathedral with you looking like . . . that.”
I’m further humiliated when this elegant woman points out the fact that I look like a fool. “You think I like dressing this way? You think I really need you to tell me I look stupid?” I’m homeless—and maybe I am a nobody in everyone’s eyes—but she doesn’t have to be so unkind.
“I think you’re dressed like that because you’re surviving the only way you know how. But I want to show you a different way. If you want to hear what I have to say, be at The Court of Two Sisters tomorrow night.” She drops the card and bills in my bucket. “If you’re not interested, at least spend this money wisely.”
I quickly retrieve the money from my bucket, stuff it into the wrap around my chest acting as a bra, and flip over the card.
Specializing in Mutually Beneficial Relationships
I’m not into girls, but I can’t resist watching her swagger and listening to her heels click away on the pavement until she disappears around the corner. So elegant and graceful and classy.
“Specializing in mutually beneficial relationships.” I have no idea what that means and I don’t care. I’ll worry about Vale of Duets Foundation after my belly is full, I’m freshly showered, and I’m snuggling in a real bed with a roof over my head.
Or maybe I won’t. I made her no promises.
Agony, please don’t allow this hope to grow if nothing will come of it. I’m barely hanging on. Barely hanging on.
I’m in disguise tonight. The cosmetics, the dress, the shoes. All are a mask, covering the filth beneath my surface. They’re a veil hiding my dirty past. And present. I wear them like a bandage over a wound incapable of healing.
I catch a glimpse of the petite brunette’s reflection in the restaurant’s glass window. I don’t typically like looking at her but tonight she passes for something she isn’t. Elegant and graceful and classy.
The girl looking back at me can pretend all she likes but she’s only different on the outside. Embarrassment. Shame. Agony. Those things fill her to the brim, yet leave her feeling empty inside.
I tug on the bottom of my black dress to smooth the fabric before entering the restaurant. Sure, my attire is a cheap knockoff of an outfit the beneficial relationship specialist wore a few days ago. It’s an absurd notion—and for the life of me I can’t explain why—but I want this woman to approve of my appearance. I want her to see that I used the few beauty skills I have, even if unsuccessful, to make an attempt at looking presentable. I don’t want her to be ashamed to be seen with me in public.
Instinct forces me to lower my head and step aside when I notice I’m standing in the doorway blocking a well-dressed man from exiting the restaurant. “So sorry.”
“Oh, no. Pardon me,” he says as he holds the door open.
I look over my shoulder to see who the kind gesture is intended for but find no one there. Me? This handsome man in a suit is holding the door for me?
This doesn’t happen.
Men don’t behave like gentlemen in my presence.
They taunt me with unkind words. Proposition me with money in exchange for filthy acts. Take what pleasures them without any regard for the pain remaining in its aftermath.
“Thank you.” I smile at the man as I walk through the opened door—and then something else that never happens, does. Eye contact. His eyes meet mine. And despite the kindness I see there, I’m overwhelmed by the urge to look away.
I want to glance back after I pass through the doorway to see if the handsome man is still looking at me. But I’m afraid.
Afraid he is.
Afraid he isn’t.
“Welcome to The Court of Two Sisters. How may I help you?”
“I’m meeting someone for dinner at seven thirty.”
“What name is on the reservation?”
The woman never told me her name. I only know what the card said. “Vale?”
“Yes. Your party has already arrived. Right this way, Madame.” Madame? I don’t think anyone has called me that in my entire life.
I’m led to a courtyard where strings of clear lighting are draped throughout the limbs of the trees. Looks like some kind of glimmering wonderland. Magical. Beautiful.
The woman, Vale, smiles when she sees me being escorted to her table. Has there ever been a time when someone seemed so glad to see me?
The host pulls out my chair and pushes it under me when I lower myself to sit. Surreal. “Your server will be with you shortly.”
The nearly black hair. The red-stained lips. Pale skin. All she needs to do is replace her black dress with a red, blue, and yellow one to pull off being Snow White. I hope she doesn’t turn out to be the wicked witch with a poison apple.
“I’m very happy you came. I didn’t know if you would.”
“I’m not in a position to forego a free meal. Especially in a restaurant like this.” I’ve walked past this place a thousand times and there’s always a delicious aroma in the air. I’ve wondered what it would be like to dine here because from the outside, everything looks so fancy.
She smiles and I can’t help but admire her white, perfect teeth. No gaps or overlapping. No discoloration. No weird underbite like mine. I’d love to have teeth like those. I’d smile all the time if I did. Maybe.
“You like this restaurant, huh?”
“Of course. It’s so nice. Who wouldn’t like it?”
She chuckles below her breath. “You are very easily impressed.”
A girl like me doesn’t get to dine in restaurants with cloth napkins and real utensils. I’m more of a fast-food/convenience store/street vendor kind of foodie. Unless I’ve made no money for the day and I’m forced to dumpster dive. That’s something I strongly suspect this woman already knows about me. And the burning question is why? Why me?
As much as I appreciate the money and free meal, I need to know what she wants. “Watching me. Giving me money. Inviting me to dinner. Knowing my name. What is this about?”
“That discussion is coming. But let’s enjoy our meal and some drinks first.”
A server appears, as if on cue to interrupt the debate I’m about to begin, and places a glass of wine in front of each of us. “Your dinner will be out soon.”
“But I haven’t ordered.” No way I’m leaving this place without a meal. That would be the ultimate disappointment.
“I took the liberty of ordering for you.”
The server looks at me. “Is that satisfactory, Madame?” Again with Madame.
Disappointment rushes over me like a cold shower. I don’t get to order food in restaurants like this. I really wanted to choose my own meal but I guess I don’t get to since I’m not the one paying. “It’s fine.”
“I promise you’ll enjoy the Chicken Oscar very much.”
I like chicken but I don’t know about the Oscar part. “Oscar isn’t in the escargot family, is it?” I’ll be so disappointed—and disgusted—if they bring me snails.
“Oscar refers to the topping on the chicken. It’s crabmeat and hollandaise, not escargot.”
“Thank God.” Doesn’t matter if I’m homeless or not. No way I’m putting something snotty like that in my mouth.
Vale nods toward my glass. “This wine goes very well with the Chicken Oscar.”
I shrug. “I don’t want to get in trouble for underage drinking.” A problem with the authorities is the last thing I need in my life right now, but I’m more concerned with keeping my wits about me.
“It’s fine, Rose. A nineteen-year-old having a glass of wine with dinner isn’t the worst thing that ever happened in New Orleans. It actually falls pretty low on the police list of concerns.”
Shit. She knows my name and age?
I get the distinct feeling this woman knows more about me than just my name and age. And it’s a total violation of my privacy. Why has she made it her business to know anything about me at all?
“I’m sorry. I can’t sit here and pretend this is a casual dinner being shared between old friends. You want something from me, and I’d really like to know what it is.” So I can run like hell if I need to.
“You’re a no-nonsense kind of girl. I like that about you. And it’s one of the reasons I chose you.”
Something about that frightens me. “Chose me for what?”
“I’m a business woman, Rose. A very savvy one who has made a career out of connecting people—very successful men and success-driven women—for mutually beneficial relationships.”
Ahh . . . the pieces are coming together now. “Your card says you specialize in mutually beneficial relationships. Is that a fancy way to say you’re a madam?”
I may be young and not well educated, but I can add two and two. “All signs are pointing in that direction.”
“The connections I make between men and women aren’t about sex. That’s not to say that the relationships never progress down an intimate path. They do sometimes, but sex is never the purpose behind the introductions I make.”
“What do you mean when you say connections? And introductions?”
“Successful men thrive because they work hard. Hard work requires time, which means they don’t often have the luxury of going out for pleasure. That makes it difficult for them to meet women.”
Oh. Duets Foundation must be some kind of matchmaking service or something. “I’m not interested in a boyfriend.”
This lady is dumb if she thinks dating is anywhere on my radar. Even if I hadn’t written men off completely, my biggest concern right now is survival.
“My clients aren’t on a mission to find a girlfriend or wife. They want clever, talented, engaging, readily available women for the evening or the week or the month. Whatever fits into their schedule. And they’re willing to pay top dollar for that woman’s time and company.”
She isn’t doing this out of the kindness of her heart. “You mean you get paid top dollar.”
“Every woman brought on board is a huge upfront expense for me. I employ full-time professionals to transform my duet girls from head-to-toe. Of course, that consists of the typical things like hair and cosmetics and a designer wardrobe, but it doesn’t stop there. Each woman who represents Duets Foundation must be articulate, have the ability to go head-to-head in an intelligent conversation about a wide range of topics, and demonstrate proper etiquette always. Plus, it’s imperative she’s able to defend herself in the event of an assault. I invest my time, my effort, and my money in every woman while training her. So yes, I am paid top dollar by these men. But my girls are nicely compensated as well. They stick around. The only women who have ever left Duets did so to either further their education or to marry a client after falling in love.”
Falling in love doesn’t interest me in the least but the part about furthering an education definitely catches my attention.
“How much does a Duets girl earn doing something like this?”
“I require each girl to earn back the initial investment I make in her. Once she does that, I give her a fifteen percent royalty fee from what I’m paid. I know that sounds low but she keeps one hundred percent of any earnings made from her client. That could be in the form of gifts, cash, a predetermined allowance, even college tuition. Anything given to her directly from the client is hers to keep free and clear.”
College tuition? It’s unreal that an opportunity to further my education would fall into my lap like this. Why? “I want to know how you know my name and age. And anything else you’ve dug up about me.”
“I have a liaison at the homeless shelter. I pay her to notify me anytime a potential Duet comes through.”
“Your liaison told you personal information about me?” No way that’s not illegal.
“She tells me enough so I can decide if I think the girl is worth pursuing.”
All the pieces suddenly click. “Oh my God. You’re the one the girls at the shelter call Fairy Godmother.” The woman who takes girls off the street and teaches them to be classy ladies. I thought she was an urban legend.
“Are you asking me to become a Duets girl?”
“I’m asking you to become something different. Something more. Something so much better. A special project I’ve been strategizing for two years. My prodigy.”
“What makes your prodigy different from the other Duets girls?”
“Your training would be much more in-depth. Two years minimum instead of the usual six months.”
Two years training? Aside from the time she’d spend on me, that’s a huge financial investment. How can she place so much faith in me?
“The end goal would be to secure a long-term companionship agreement with a single man. You’d never have sporadic arrangements with multiple men like the other girls. You’d live with your companion.”
Long-term companionship where I’d live with him. My mind immediately skims over that part and considers what living with a companion means.
A roof over my head. A bed to sleep in. Food in my stomach.
If I agree to do this, I wouldn’t mind the stability to go along with it. No more living on the streets. No more hand to mouth. No more constant fear.
Although I like the idea of safety and security, I need to know how long I’d be locked into this agreement. “What is considered long-term for something like this?”
“Six months? A year? Two years? The timeframe would be negotiable between you and the client.”
“I assume something like this would be expensive for the client.” She said I’d earn a fifteen percent royalty once her investment was earned back.
“Two years of training would be costly. The only way to recoup my investment would be to charge one million dollars for your first assignment.”
One. Million. Dollars.
This is crazy talk.
“Are you serious?”
“Why would any man fork over that kind of money for a woman who won’t have sex with him when he could get a prostitute?” I’m certain that would be a much cheaper route.
“When men want sex, they get a prostitute. When they want companionship with a wholesome girl they’re proud to take out in public, they come to me.”
I don’t know what makes her think I’m wholesome.
And this sounds way too good to be true.
“Let’s say that there’s a man who’s looking for a wholesome companion. Why would he pay a million dollars to spend time with a homeless street performer?”
“You wouldn’t be a homeless street performer when your training ended. You’ll be beautiful. Elegant. Charming. Men will crave your company and be willing to pay big money for it.”
It’s hard for me to believe this woman possesses the skills to make me pretty, much less beautiful and desirable.
I’m not sure I want to be made beautiful.
And I’m really not sure I want to be made desirable.
I’m not completely sure I could be made beautiful or desirable. Ever.
Every time I look at you, all I see is him.
You ruined my life.
I wish you were never born.
It’s hard to comprehend why someone would see value in you when your own mother didn’t. “Why me?”
“This is about so much more than a pretty face and sexy body. It’s going to require strength. Resilience. Loyalty. I think you possess all of those qualities.”
No doubt about it. This year has made me stronger and more resilient. But loyal, I’m not so sure. I hold everyone at a distance. I’ve never gotten close enough to know if I’m capable of being devoted.
“Being homeless and having no idea when I’ll eat again is scary but it’s nothing compared to the prospect of saying yes to this.” It feels like selling my soul.
“Would you feel better if I said you won’t be matched with a man unless you approve of him and the terms of his companionship agreement?”
I’d have a little control. “That would help.”
"You’ll have your own terms as well, and he must abide by them or the deal is off. You won’t have to do anything you don’t agree to.”
I inhale deeply and blow out slowly. “I don’t know about this.”
“Let me train you for a month. If you don’t like the way things go, we’ll part ways. No hard feelings.”
A trial period seems like a logical idea. “You do understand that if I decide to leave, I’ll have no way of reimbursing you for the expenses you’ll incur during my training?”
Vale points to her face. “Do you see this? It’s called lack of concern.”
She wants me. Not a prettier or smarter girl. Me. I still don’t understand why, but I’m using it as a bargaining chip to secure my future.
“I want to go to college.” I have no idea what I want to do or become, but I know college is the only way to get where I aspire to be one day.
“That can be arranged.”
She’s saying yes? Just like that? No hesitation? “Then I guess you and I have an arrangement.”
“Perfect. We start first thing in the morning.”
“Let’s toast.” Vale lifts her glass and I mimic her because I don’t know what else to do. “Your new life. It begins now.”
Pre-Order Now at Amazon.
I'm celebrating the release of Endurance, the first spinoff book from The Sin Trilogy—Jamie and Ellison's story.
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.
I knock against the open door of Sin’s home office when he doesn’t take notice of me standing in the entryway. “Working on the weekend, aye?”
“Hell, yeah. Henderson’s case goes to court Monday and the prick has worked me into a corner with his fuck-ups. Evidence is solid. It’s going to be impossible to get him out of this shite. He’ll do time.”
“That’s too bad.” Douglas Henderson has a wife and two young children at home, one a bairn less than a year old.
“Fucking hardhead. He was told exactly what to do and how to do it, but he thought his way would be better. When are these wankers going to learn there’s a reason they’re given specific instructions?”
Sin motions with his hand for me to enter. “I need some good news. Come in and tell me about this epiphany.”
I’m not sure it’s fair to call it an epiphany. A scheme is probably a more fitting label.
“The siege has been on my mind a lot lately.” Almost constantly the last six weeks. But not for the reason it should be. I can’t stop thinking about the event that’s going to take place when it’s over.
Thane hasn’t been well, so our takeover of The Order has been postponed. Can’t go to war when your leader isn’t in top shape. I’m not happy my uncle has been ill but I’m grateful for the delay. The siege brings us closer to a final victory over our enemy, which is excellent for The Fellowship, but not good for the thing I want most in this world.
Time to set my plan into motion.
“No matter how well The Fellowship prepares, there are going to be gunshot wounds and lacerations to treat during the siege. It’s crucial I have a safe and suitable location away from the public eye to triage and treat our brothers. I’m going to need plenty of supplies, medication, and equipment. I think it’s time we consider setting up a place for me to practice. Not just for the takeover. A permanent location where I can treat the brothers. A Fellowship infirmary.”
Sin chuckles. “Already tired of suturing and digging for bullets by flashlight? I thought you liked the challenge, mate.”
I’ve stitched more patients on my sofa than any doctor should have to. Even a Fellowship physician. “It’s been a real joy but I’ve had my fair share. It would be good to perform medical procedures like I’m living in the twenty-first century.”
“Fair enough. Do you have a place in mind?” He didn’t shoot me down. So far, so good.
“I was thinking a detached house would be ideal. I could live there full-time, so I’d be available when needed.” I hope Sin doesn’t suggest a warehouse or commercial building.
“Makes sense. I like it.” Sin fetches his phone from his pocket. “Can you look at properties in the morning if Ani can work you in?”
Thank fuck he’s going along with my idea. “The morning will be fine as long as you make it after ten. I have plans.”
“Like sneaking out the door before some Fellowship lass wakes and wants you to stay and spoon?”
I wish. Except the woman I’d love to hold all morning isn’t a Fellowship lass. At least not yet. “I bet you do your fair share of spooning.”
“Believe me. I try. But one of the bairns puts an end to it every time. Never fails.”
Sinclair Breckenridge is getting cockblocked. Fucking hilarious. “What do you expect out of a six-month-old and three-month-old twins?”
I still can’t believe Sin let Bleu talk him into adopting an orphaned newborn when she was only a couple months away from giving birth to their twins. Three babies. Their life is crazy but I guess they somehow make it work.
“I knew it was going to be hard with three wee ones, but I thought the gods of shagging might have mercy on me from time to time.” Sin smiles as he points to the photo of his children on the desk. “See those three? They’re cute little buggers, but damn, they don’t sleep. At least not at the same time.”
“The gods of shagging aren’t treating me any better. My plans don’t include spooning with a lass in the morning. I’m having breakfast with Mum, Evanna, and Westlyn.”
“Not the kind of female company you prefer in the morning, aye?”
“Hell, no. Mum is driving me insane.”
My mum has been clingy since Dad died. I knew he was dictator of the family, but I had no idea how much he controlled my mother’s behavior until he was no longer around to bark orders.
“Torrie needs a diversion.”
“Agreed.” Mum’s growing more difficult to tolerate every day. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“A grandchild would do wonders for her.”
A grandchild? “You’d better be finding husbands for my sisters.”
“I wasn’t talking about them. It’s time you find your Mrs. Breckenridge and start working on a family.” Sin chuckles as he thumbs the screen of his phone and then brings it up to his ear. “Good mornin’, Ani. This is Sinclair Breckenridge.”
Fuck. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the girl I want. Without her, I’m not sure there will ever be a Mrs. Breckenridge or babies for me.
The next few minutes consist of listening to my leader work his magic with the real estate agent to secure an appointment, which she clearly didn’t have available when Sin initially phoned. I don’t think there’s a woman he can’t charm.
“Done. She’s working you in at eleven o’clock tomorrow.”
“Does your wife know how you use your wiles on other women?”
I hear a feminine giggle behind me before Bleu comes into the office. “His wife certainly does know. What poor woman has he charmed with his cunning craft this time?”
“Ani, our real estate agent. Dr. Breckenridge needs a place he can convert into an emergency room for treating the brothers. He has already tired of treating patients on a sofa.”
“A place to treat the injured after the siege.” Bleu sighs as she sits on the corner of Sin’s desk. “As much as I hate the thought, it’s a realistic and wise one. There’s going to be a need for such a place. It’s a clever suggestion. The Fellowship is lucky to have you anticipating these kinds of needs.”
I’m actually really happy Bleu came to the office when she did. My leader’s wife may be more help than she realizes. “I’m anticipating other needs as well. A converted and stocked ER will be worthless to me if I don’t have extra hands to help. I learned that all too well the last time we had a shootout with The Order.”
It was a damn mess. I was completely unprepared for the catastrophe of treating the injured in my flat with minimal supplies and equipment.
“It’s a good argument. Jamie’s only one person. No matter how skilled he is, he can’t be expected to do it alone. There will be multiple cases to treat at the same time so he’s going to need help.” Looks like I have the boss’s wife on my side. That can’t hurt.
“What about Lowry’s daughter? Dad granted her permission to go to nursing school last year as her contribution.”
She’s not the one I want. “Adaira volunteered to become a nurse so she could get close to me. It’s all about being claimed. The lass has zero interest in working.”
I’m a bastard for throwing Adaira under the bus, but Sin will ruin my plan if he chooses her to help me.
“Then I guess she’ll be no help.” The tightness in my chest relaxes.
“The Fellowship has a very capable nurse with an extensive background in emergency and trauma. She even has some OR skills. A much better option than an inexperienced nursing student.”
Thank you, Bleu Breckenridge. Sin’s incredibly clever wife is making this too damn easy for me.
Is she purposely helping me? She and her sister are close. I can’t imagine Ellison not telling her what happened between us the night I drove her home from the babies’ consecration.
“All true. Ellison has a lot of hands-on experience. More than me, actually. The lass knows her gunshot wounds and how to care for them. She practically stood over my shoulder and told me how to treat Leith. Her knowledge and experience would be a true asset to the brotherhood.”
“Helping Jamie at the infirmary could be Elli’s contribution,” Bleu suggests.
“Ellison’s help at the infirmary would be short-lived. I have no doubt her mate will want her to stop working once he makes his claim on her official.”
I’m so fucking tired of hearing—and thinking—about Ellison’s claiming.
“True. Her husband won’t like her working there, but she isn’t married yet. Until that time comes, my sister can put her skills to good use for the brotherhood. She misses nursing. I’m sure she’d love to get back in on some excitement and gore.”
“Working so closely with The Fellowship is going to put Ellison in danger. She won’t be flying under the radar anymore. She’ll need immediate protection if she agrees to do this.”
Sin isn’t talking about assigning a guard to watch over her. Fuck. Everything will be ruined if a brother claims her now.
“Ellison can move into the infirmary as well. She’ll be safe there with me. It makes sense for her to live there anyway since I’ll need her to be available at all times.”
Sin is my best mate and leader. He’s highly intelligent and has a sixth sense for sniffing out bullshit. Can he see I’m on edge? Detect my deceit? Smell my fear?
“Ellison living with you could make for a problem with someone coming forward to claim her.” Sin’s right.
As long as Ellison is unclaimed, she’ll remain under Sin’s protection—the safest place for her. And out of the bed of one of my brother’s. I can’t say I’m sorry about that.
“Ellison will be doing her job—the one her leader assigned her. No brother can hold that against her.”
I know the words are untrue as they come out of my mouth. The brothers respect Sin’s orders, but each of them will want a marriage-worthy woman untouched by another brother as his wife. Fact. It’s how we are.
“I don’t see anything wrong with this arrangement. It’s an honorable job to hold regardless of the living arrangements. Any nitwit can see that, and if he can’t, I don’t want him married to my sister.” I swear I think FBI-Bleu is onto me, and what I have planned. I think she’s helping me.
“My wife approves. Looks like you’re getting the house and the help you’ll need to make this happen. Anything else I can do for you?”
“I don’t think so. I appreciate everything.” Sin has no idea that this means everything to me.
Bleu’s brow lifts and she’s grinning in a way that suggests she knows about Ellison and me. “I for one think you and Ellison will make a great team.”
She and I will be great together, period. “I think so too.”
“Maybe Sin should call and tell her you’ll be coming by to discuss it tonight?”
Not a bad idea. My visit would likely be more welcome if announced as a professional call by her leader. “Aye.”
Talking Sin and Bleu into going along with my plan was half the battle. Getting Ellison to agree may not be so easy after our last encounter. She was so hurt when I told her I couldn’t claim her. She’ll never know how badly I wish I would make her mine forever.
I haven’t seen her in six weeks. I have no idea how she’ll react to being thrown together like this.
My plan may leave her feeling ambushed. Or she could be as desperate to see me as I am to see her.
Ambushed versus desperation? Neither are ideal.
But I swear—if she’ll let me—I’ll erase any trace of anger, unhappiness, and pain.
She will know she’s been loved.
I always do some kind of giveaway when I release a book. This time I'm going with signed paperbacks and swag since that seems to be what people like best.
Lawrence Broussard isn’t alone. He’s here too. Her brother. My good-looking neighbor. Oliver Thorn.
I am not disappointed.
Oliver and I spoke the day he moved in next door but there hasn’t been another word since. Not even a wave in passing. It’s unfortunate our paths haven’t crossed.
I’ve been mildly naughty this week where Oliver is concerned. Peeking out my upstairs window to see what’s going on over at his place. Watching him work on his motorcycle. Shirtless. Studying the tattoos on his chest and arms. Spending a little more time in my backyard around the pool. Wearing a new, skimpier-than-usual bikini I bought to entice him into looking my way.
I wonder if he peeked out his window to steal a glimpse of me.
I wonder if he worked outside shirtless to catch my attention.
I wonder if he came here today so he could see me.
The house surrounded by a white picket fence. The house sitting in the middle of a perfectly manicured lawn. The house with the inviting brick steps leading up to the front door. This is a home where every member of the family living under the roof wears a true smile. Says please. Says thank you. Says I love you. Not shut your bratty mouth before I give you something to cry about.
This is the kind of house my childlike mind envisioned when I dreamed of the place where happy people lived. This is the home every kid deserves. From the beginning. Not after six years of torment.
Now this house is mine.
Lawry and I stand side by side looking at what I repeatedly refer to as a sound financial investment. But it’s more. So much more even if I don’t admit it.
“I hope you’re not having buyer’s remorse.”
“No buyer’s remorse today. At least not until I have to fork over the payments.”
“Your first home, Ollie.” My first home. I like the idea and sound of those words a little more than I thought I would
I want to spread the love.
It's time for my traditional rafflecopter giveaway to celebrate the release of Tap. I'm doing things a little differently this time. I typically offer a single larger gift but that limits me to one winner. I want to spread the love this time so I'm offering 24 prizes for 24 winners.
10 Winners will receive a signed paperback of Tap with swag.
10 winners will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
4 Winners will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card.
Enter to win a complete set of
The Sin Trilogy audiobooks
by completing the tasks listed on the rafflecopter options.
The more you share, you more entries you get.
A winner will be chosen on December 3, 2015.
New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author