ROYAL ROMANCE! LADY ANASTASIA DURAS AND PRINCE REIGN OF VISALIA ANNOUNCE THEIR ENGAGEMENT! Chapter Sixteen- Reign Chapter Seventeen- Everly Chapter Eighteen- Reign Coming soon! | The Billionaire Bodyguard (Ilya and Willow) | Make sure you don’t miss A Bride for a Billionaire and One Night With The Billionaire, both available now! EXCERPT | MATTEO
For Tara, the publicist with the... mostest.
Chapter One- Everly The drink in my hand was icy cold. I, however, was anything but. My hand trembled as I took a sip of my drink, the vodka in the martini burning as it slid down my throat. I’d been sitting on the same stool for the last couple of hours, my back to the crowd that continued to howl in what seemed to me to be mockery. It felt like all eyes were on me, even though rationally I knew that that wasn’t even remotely true. My own nerves were manifesting with enough force to become a tangible part of my existence. My body knew that it wanted to be here. My brain was struggling to catch
up. The air inside the bar was stale with the scents of sweat and artificial fog, and it made it hard to breathe... though to be fair, the shortness of breath might have just been from my skintight, peacock blue leather dress. The unyielding material had looked awesome in the mirror at the store, but now that I’d been sitting in the thing for hours, I was rethinking my choice. Oh, who was I kidding? I wasn’t just rethinking the dress. That’s why I’d been sitting on this bar stool nursing my drink for so damn long... I was trying to get up the nerve to follow through with what had seemed like such a good idea a few weeks ago.
Restraint. The hottest new club in Miami, it had piqued my interest from the first time I’d heard about it. Why? Restraint wasn’t just any old nightclub. Well, the main floor was, a haven for the singles scene where they could drink and get a little wild. The upper floors? That’s where you could get a lot wild. Like, kinky wild. And that was why I was here. To explore that little streak of need that had kept me from fully enjoying any relationship since... well, since He Who Shall Not Be Named. I was sick of searching, when I knew damn well what it was that would fill the void.
I hadn’t counted on my boss being so damn nosy. Note to self: don’t do computer searches for kink clubs on work computers. Especially when your boss is rumored to be the partial owner of one. Needless to say, he’d taken note of that one particular search. Then he’d cornered me in my office. If I’d had any doubts about who I was and what I needed, they would have vanished when he’d pinned me with that don’t-eventhink-of-lying stare and asked me if I was searching for an experience with a dominant man. For a moment, I’d thought he was hitting on me, and even though we weren’t any more than buddies, I’d
responded briefly. Sexy as sin billionaire—who wouldn’t? Should have known he was just trying to get a truthful answer out of me. Rat bastard. And now here I was, sitting in the bar at Restraint, wild birds flocking through my veins. Tonight was the night. Ilya had arranged a newbie scene for me —in essence, he’d sorted through club members until he’d found one he thought might be a good fuck, from my point of view. And when I looked at it that way... Jesus. My fingers slipped on my glass as I sipped—okay, chugged—my martini— my hands were sweaty as hell. The
sweet/tart apple taste did nothing to wash away the acrid flavor of my nerves. The fiery burn, though—that helped. It helped so much, I thought I’d order another. Maybe two. Hell, the bartender could just slide the bottles of vodka and mix my way and I’d have a party in my mouth. Party in my mouth. Being the dirtyminded biznatch that I was, that led my thoughts straight to... well. Hmm. Let’s just say it involved a sexy-assin dominant man, me on my knees, and my aforementioned mouth. If that sexy-as-sin fantasy partner happened to resemble someone who wasn’t allowed in my thoughts anymore,
it didn’t mean a damn thing. I’d be replacing that phantom dream in a few more minutes, anyway. Lifting my glass to my lips, I slugged back the last inch of virulently green apple martini. The alcohol warmed the icy nerves that had crystallized in my belly. I signaled the bartender that I wanted another drink by waving my empty glass in the air, scowling when it was plucked out my hand. “I think you’ve had quite enough to drink, Miss Allen.” The velvety voice, punctuated by a thick layer of Russian accent, was one I’d know anywhere. And while at work it was a sound that
usually commanded respect, here it brought out very different feelings. “I wouldn’t need another drink if you were the one walking me through this tonight.” I arched an eyebrow, reaching for my empty glass. He held it out of reach and narrowed his eyes at me. “You know very well why that’s a bad idea.” His voice was steel, and I knew—I’d always known—there was no changing his mind on this. And I got it. Boss and employee fucking equaled bad news. But this experience was a whole new world for me. A familiar face leading me through would have been nice. “One more?” I smiled in what I thought was a winning manner. Ilya
simply shook his head, and I felt acceptance in every cell of my body. Yes, Ilya was dominant. And sexy. But apart from responding to his big bad alpha-ness? There was no heat. No sizzle. If anything, the notion of getting down and dirty with a boss that I also considered a good friend? Yeah. Didn’t do much for me at all. But that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy pulling his strings a little bit. “It’s okay, I get it.” Summoning my courage, I grinned up at him cheekily, sliding off my bar stool. “Now let’s go meet the lucky man you’ve chosen to see me naked.”
“Everly.” Ilya winced, and I couldn’t help but snicker. Yep, the big Russian security mogul was definitely more like a brother to me than anything else. And the thought of me having naked sexytimes quite clearly made him uncomfortable. This, of course, just gave me more ammunition to poke at him. Anything to distract me from my own nerves. “Is that a prudish side that I detect?” I smirked up at him. “How can you be part owner of a kink club and blush at the word naked?” Ilya glowered down at me. “Watch your tone, kitten.” “Kitten?” My mouth fell open. “Oh, I don’t think so.”
Ilya caught me by the elbow, preventing me from stomping away in a temper. I eyed him warily as his eyes hardened. “If you walk up those stairs to meet the man I’ve chosen for you, he’ll call you whatever he wants. He’ll do whatever he wants.” He tilted his head just the slightest bit, studying me. “Are you sure this is what you want?” When he said it like that, I wasn’t sure at all. Not even a little bit. But I’d thought about this, fantasized about it for years. Ever since he had come into my life. And that was it in a nutshell, wasn’t it? I’d shoved aside my own needs and desires because they were so heavily
colored with my memories of him. Just being here was a triumph over my past. I would see this through, because it was what I wanted. The boy from my past had taken enough from me when he’d left—I wouldn’t let him take this as well. “I’m ready.” The music in the club, the throbbing pulse of it, was so loud that it covered the quiver in my voice. That, or Ilya chose to ignore it. Nodding at my words, he tugged me toward him. Standing, even in my spike heeled silver pumps, I didn’t even come up to his shoulder. Rather than stooping to yell into my ear over the noise, he gestured for me to follow him up the flight of plexiglass stairs glowing from
lights that striped the sides. His large frame blocked my view until we reached the top of the stairs and he stepped to the side. The scene in front of me stopped me short. My mouth went dry, and my pulse quickened, sizzling through my veins before settling between my legs. Decadent. Hedonistic. Eden. None of these words seemed to be enough to describe what I was seeing. The second floor was cavernous, its basic lines rough and raw like an unfinished warehouse. Every surface was picked out in shades of red— crimson, scarlet, vermillion, cherry. Even the lighting was tinted rose.
Leather couches the exact shade of ripe summer strawberries were grouped throughout the space—strategically, I realized, as I noted that most of them were placed adjacent to various pieces of equipment. Viewing areas, places for people to curl up and watch the different scenes taking place. And though part of me, the nervous part, was still tempted to flee, most of me was entranced by what was playing out in front of me. The spectrum of naked skin, the breathy sighs combined with cries of bliss and screams of pleasure/ pain are intoxicating, rapidly filling a well inside of me that I hadn’t fully realized was dry.
“You don’t have to jump right into this, you know.” I spared a quick glance for the man who was both friend and employer and now, I supposed, a mentor of sorts. His face was painted with concern as he looked down at me. “You can just watch tonight, if that’s what makes you more comfortable.” He gestured to one of the couches, an empty one set by what I recognized as a spanking bench. “I can get you set up there. Make sure no one bothers you if you just want to observe.” I couldn’t deny that it was tempting to do just that, to take the passive road. I liked to watch, and I knew that observing someone else’s pleasure
would amp up my own excitement and scratch a little bit of the itch that had moved from irritating to a full-on plague. Pausing before I answered, I let my stare drift over the couple using the spanking bench. The classic piece of BDSM equipment was shaped a bit like a sawhorse, but instead of raw wood, it was covered in padded leather—red, of course. A very slender woman was draped over its back, a knee pressing into the rest on either side. Her wrists and ankles were bound to the legs of the piece with rope, and her cheek rested against the leather, her long, silvery blonde hair trailing down the other side.
Behind her, a massive man with skin that shone ebony in the low light breathed heavily as he worked a short black crop over the fragile skin of the woman’s backside. She cried out with every blow, her shrieks of pain at odds with the wetness that I could see even from this distance, spilling between her thighs. Part of me wondered if she could possibly be enjoying herself, with the noises she was making. The rest of me? It knew. The heated core between my legs softened with need as I watched the man finally toss the crop to the side and slide his fingers through the woman’s wetness.
Once upon a time, I’d let someone place me on hands and knees, let someone strike the tender skin of my bottom until it flamed red and the slightest breath was excruciating. My breath caught in my throat and I struggled to breathe as the memory washed over me. Yes, I wanted that again. I wanted him again. Wait. What? No, I didn’t. I was just confused, past and present melting together. I huffed out a breath, exasperated with myself. Shaking my head, I turned my stare back to Ilya, who was watching me with the slightest hint of amusement playing over his lips.
He waited. Finally giving in, I spoke first. “I want to be here.” I made my words as firm as I could. “For real.” “I know you’ve done your research, but let me just tell you again.” Ilya nodded to acknowledge my words. “The universally acknowledged safe word is red. You may set your own safe word with your dominant as well. And if you forget either, just spit out any word you can think of that doesn’t fit the circumstance. Chicken wings. Bumper cars. He will recognize what you are trying to say and stop. Understood?” I nodded past the sudden lump in my throat. He. This suddenly made everything more real.
I was really going to do this. I was going to do this with someone besides the prince who’d once ruled over me. I shook that thought right out of my head. Reign Bishop was royalty, yes. Real, honest-to-God royalty, the spare to the heir in the tiny European country of Visalia. But he didn’t rule me or my heart anymore. He never would again. “I’ve booked you into private room seven.” Ilya’s voice brought me out of me out of my reverie once more. I nodded, my breath quickening. Ilya cocked his head, questioning with the gesture. I shook mine in response to reassure him.
“I’m okay. I’m ready.” I smiled up at him, twin flickers of excitement and fear sparking to life inside of me. “Thank you.” The corner of Ilya’s lips quirked up as he turned on his heel and strode away. I watched him go, my final lifeline, wishing yet again that there was some kind of spark between us. That would have been so much easier. Over the years I’d learned that the things worth having were hard. I counted off the doors as I walked down the hallway that Ilya had indicated. One. Two. In front of the seventh, butterflies settled in the depths of my stomach.
The heavy wooden surface was cool to the touch, and I closed my eyes against that first hint of sensual pleasure, the chill against the heat of my palm. Yes, this was what I wanted. The door closed quickly behind me, sealing me off from the noise of the rest of the second floor. Entranced, I moved forward toward the king-sized bed that dominated the large room. Candlelight flickered, the warming wax scenting the air with something sweet, and a large wooden chest lay at the foot of the bed, covered with an intriguing display of silks and feathers. I left it alone, instead rounding the bed and perching on its edge. My back was to the door, and I faced a large glass
window. Through it I could see the lacetipped waves of the ocean. I let their rhythmic crashing wash over me. In just a moment, a man would enter this room. He would demand things of me, would push me, and would ultimately make me come apart in his arms. At least, I hoped he would. Seconds ticked into minutes, or it might have even been hours. Without a timepiece, it was impossible to keep track. Every passing moment heightened the anticipation, until my breath was coming in shallow pants and I was ready to jump out of my skin. I heard the knob of the door turn, then felt the shift in the air as it opened.
Two heavy steps told me that someone had entered the room. He was here.
Chapter Two- Reign Sheets of water sluiced down the glass as I stared outside the car window. The tapping of the water droplets on the roof overhead echoed at the base of my skull, each a pinch to the headache that was already brewing. Trips home tended to do that to me. The idea of my life containing any kind of stress was laughable to most. If I wasn’t a member of the royal family myself, I might have agreed with those who found the notion entertaining. Maybe to be royal in a family other than my own was easier. Being spare to the heir in Visalia? Not so much.
Reaching up, I scrubbed my hands over my face, trying to force myself to wake up. Exhaustion washed over me as I leaned my head against the cool glass of the window. I’d worked my ass off for the entirety of my flight—worked on solving my family’s latest emergency—and right now all I could think about was the icy bite of a glass of vodka and the warm welcome of a sweet submissive. Preferably one who knew what to expect from an encounter at Restraint—that is, a good time and nothing more. Instead, the text that had cemented my headache had confirmed plans that I couldn’t back out of. As one of the owners of Restraint, it was often my
responsibility to help break in new members. And I clearly hadn’t been looking at my planner when I’d promised Ilya to work with a member he’d matched me with tonight. I really wasn’t in the mood for lessons about limits and safe words. No, what I wanted—what I needed—was a woman who knew the ropes and wanted the same thing I did tonight. The sweet oblivion of release with a submissive who wouldn’t dare challenge me. The kind of woman I always chose, if only for a night. There were plenty of women at Restraint who would have fit that description. A growl of frustration escaped my lips when, as always, the
mental image of the one who was completely different swam through my mind instead. If I was completely honest with myself, I knew why I gravitated toward more pliable submissives. It was because the bratty ones, the ones who challenged me at every step of the way, reminded me of the one who had started it all. Everly. Bright tattoos, shiny golden hair. A lot of opinions and a lot of brains. A body and a soul that called to every fiber of my being. She hated me. Rightfully so, too. And since there was no point in living in the painful past, I wrenched myself free of
the eight-year-old memory of the one who’d gotten away. The sleek black hired car stopped moving. My driver exited and went open my door for me, but after the week of formalities back in Visalia, the thought of being waited upon made me cringe. I flung the door open myself and didn’t look back as I strode past the long line that waited for admission, though I still felt my muscles tense, waiting for people to recognize me. “Is that Prince Reign?” “Oh my God. Do you think it’s true? That he’s into... that kind of stuff?” “Quick, my camera. I need a selfie!”
Usually I would just roll my eyes at the inevitable frenzy that my appearance caused in public, maybe even stop and pose for some photos. The commotion had nothing to do with me, after all, and everything to do with my family. But there was something strange in the air tonight, an electric current that had me on edge. I wanted the comfort of the darkness, not the harshness of light. Just stepping inside the club was soothing. Here, here was something that I hadn’t just been given—I’d helped make this. Helped to build it. No matter what the family threw my way, they could never take this away.
The club was busy tonight—and when the main floor was packed, the upper ones usually were as well. My presence here would only drive more people to the line outside. Good for business. And good for the soul. For a moment I considered bucking my commitment, cancelling my appointment and instead getting that icy glass of vodka I was craving and losing myself in the rhythm of Restraint’s pulse. I pushed away the thought as soon as it occurred to me. Not only did that undermine a new submissive’s trust right from the start, but the action just wasn’t in me. From the cradle I’d had responsibility shoved down my throat. So much so that when it came time to
choose between family and love, I’d let go of the one I should have kept. Why was Everly weighing so heavily on my mind tonight? Stopping behind the bar to pour myself that drink, I checked the time before heading for the stairs, then deliberately slowed my steps. Showing up late would set the tone that I wanted for the scene, and more than that, it would piss Ilya off. Petty, yes, but the thought boosted my spirits immeasurably. As if he could read my thoughts, my phone buzzed with a text from him. Stop dragging your ass. Your sub is waiting in room seven.
Narrowing my eyes, I considered replying, then ultimately figured that ignoring him would have a better effect. I continued to take my time, pausing to watch a scene between Nolan, one of the other owners, and the woman that he had chosen for his evening’s play. My phone buzzed again, and I knew that I’d pushed it long enough. I ignored the message, drained my vodka, and forced my thoughts away from the day I’d had, away from Ilya, away from the fact that I didn’t want to be here. The woman inside room seven had trusted Ilya to find her a good match for her first scene, and that meant that, by extension, she had placed her trust in me. She deserved my full attention.
Gripping the doorknob, I softly opened the door. My gaze flickered around the room first, taking in the scene that Ilya had set—soft shadows cast in the glow of candles, scenting the room heavily with vanilla, an intricate display of silk scarves and feathers and blindfolds laid out on an antique trunk that I myself had purchased for the club. Lilting music danced softly in the air. Altogether a far more romantic scene than I would have set, and my need for control grumbled for a moment, protesting that I’d walked into someone else’s scene. But then I saw her, and a bright, unexpected flash of pleasure snapped through me, pulling tight in my veins.
She knelt on the bed, facing away from me, knees braced on the silken sheets. Her hair, a long cascade of gold that fell halfway down her back, was streaked through with pink. Her body mimicked the shape of an hourglass, making my hands instantly itch to touch. Best of all? The back of her bright blue dress dipped low enough to show the delicate curve of her spine, which was lavishly adorned with ink. Not the kind of woman I would have chosen for myself at all... and yet the knife edge of pleasure told me that, with the past weighing so heavily on my mind tonight, this—she—was exactly what I needed.
My irritation at Ilya dissipated as I stepped into the room, letting the door shut behind me loudly. Deliberately. I noted the shiver that passed over the woman’s skin as the sound echoed throughout the room, and I savored the reaction. No, this woman definitely wasn’t what I’d wanted. But the anticipation swirling through the room told me that just maybe she was going to be what I’d need. I chose to remain silent, knowing that the anticipation of uncertainty would increase the woman’s potential pleasure. And though I hadn’t expected it, hearing her breath quicken made the dark
pleasure I craved so much gather in my gut. I always enjoyed my time with a woman. The fairer sex was sweet, soft, delicious—what wasn’t to love? But it was rare indeed to find that flicker of true desire. More rare still to experience it at first sight. I owed Ilya a case of the Russian vodka he so greatly prized. All thoughts of following the routine I usually used with neophytes fled my mind as I crossed the room. Still remaining silent, I crawled onto the bed behind where she’d seated herself. Rising to my knees, I took a handful of that rose gold hair and tugged gently. She
gasped, tilting her head automatically to get a look at my face. Remaining silent, I redirected her gaze to the window with another tug. The glass framed a watery reflection, dimmed further by the pale blue hue of twilight—a ghostly version of the potential intimacy playing out in the room. In that image, she could have been anyone, as could I. It was fucking hot. “Oh!” A startled cry escaped the slender column of her throat as I dipped my head. It wasn’t a usual move for me, but I found myself trailing my lips down her neck as my fingers worked at the zipper on the low back of her dress.
I growled when my hands connected with her warm, smooth skin. She gasped as I slowly peeled the leather of her dress down, down, until her torso was bare to my eyes. She wasn’t wearing a bra. This pleased me. Clasping her at the waist, I trailed my hands up her sides, over her ribcage, skimming the sides of generous breasts. They jiggled slightly under my touch, and my cock, which had been at half mast, quickly filled the rest of the way, pressing uncomfortably against the fastening of my pants. Oh, yes. This woman pleased me greatly.
She hummed low in her throat when I slid my hands around to her front, catching those delicious mounds in my hands. I kneaded them, my touch moving quickly from soft and gentle, to demanding, ending with a roll of her nipples that was just this side of rough. The way her body jerked against my own told me that, like me, she liked things just a little bit rough. I’d bet my sizeable erection that she’d come alive under even more pain, and I tucked that information away to explore later in the evening. For now, I satisfied my own urge to toy with those fantastic tits, alternating between massaging the tender flesh and plucking the hardened tips.
She gasped, wiggling against me in a way that tortured my cock in the best possible way, yet she remained silent. This was unusual for a neophyte—I usually had to warn them several times for them to be quiet, when that was what I wanted. Then she shifted, and the scent of warm apricots hit my senses. It was the smell of the shampoo that Everly, the girl who’d gotten away, had once used. I forced thoughts of Everly from my mind—it just wasn’t right to be with one woman while thinking of another. But my body was conditioned, blood pulsing thickly to the shaft between my thighs as the smell teased my nose.
Never mind that I hadn’t wanted to come here tonight. With this warm, delicious submissive in my arms, nothing could have now dragged me away. Sinking my teeth into the curve of her shoulder, I savored both the salt of her skin and the way she jolted against me when she registered the hint of pain. Still relying on instinct, I freed one hand to undo my belt, then the zipper of my pants. I tugged my painfully engorged cock free of my black briefs, rubbing my thumb over the tip to catch the drop of moisture that had already gathered there. Unable to hold back the groan, I fisted my length and worked myself up
and down. Fuck, yes. This was going to be good. More moisture beaded on the head of my erection. Wanting her to understand what she was doing to me—the power that a submissive could have over a dominant—I pressed my length against the small of her back, painting the head over the tight silk of her skin. The light was low, but I could see well enough to watch what I was doing. The sight of my arousal over the swirls of her ink had every cell in my body tighten with the need to push her to the bed and sink my cock into her heat. My arousal dampened her skin, highlighting one of her tattoos in the flicker of the candlelight. The sight made
my body tighten again, but for a completely different reason. A small golden butterfly fluttered over the curve of the woman’s lower spine, so real it looked like it was about to take flight. I knew that tattoo. It was surrounded by ones that were strange to me, but that one mark... There was no mistaking it. “Turn around.” I snapped out the order, and when she heard my voice, the woman stiffened in my arms. Sliding from my embrace, she stood and did as I’d asked, confirming what I’d known the second I saw that tattoo. This woman who called to me so much? She was the girl I’d lived next
door to during the year I had gone to college in America. The girl I had broken with lies. The girl I hadn’t seen for eight years. It was Everly.
Chapter Three- Everly No. No. No. This couldn’t be the same man who had broken my heart eight years ago. Squeezing my eyes shut, I prayed that I was merely dreaming—a nightmare that I could pull myself out of. But when I forced my eyelids back up again, I found myself staring into eyes that I would know anywhere—eyes that could shine with amusement, or that could glow with intensity as he focused his attention on the person he was with. Eyes the color of whiskey, tiny golden specks ringing the pupils.
Those eyes were focused on me, and in them I could see the same shock that reverberated through my body. Reign had been on mind since the moment I’d decided to search out a kink club. The fact that he was inexplicably the man in this room with me, the one who only moments before had been palming my breasts with those long, clever fingers? Fate had one fucked up sense of humor. If, indeed, it was fate at all, which I didn’t believe for a second. “Did you plan this?” The words came out in a rush, drenched in the anger that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for eight years. Now, faced with the man
from my past? There was no holding it back. Reign reared back as though I’d slapped him, sliding from the bed where he’d been kneeling. Getting to his feet on the other side of the wide, silk-covered mattress, he rose to his full height. The way he held himself, the reserve that I could see him trying to pull around himself like a cloak? It all screamed at me, reminding me of just where this man had come from. Of what had torn us apart. Reign Bishop was a prince. And that was literal, not metaphorical. His entire being was saturated in the place he’d come from, in who he was. In who I was not.
“I can’t believe you’d think that.” His voice—God, his voice. It sent me hurtling back, back to a time when I’d believed in love. I snorted, and Reign arched an eyebrow. I barely refrained from rolling my eyes. “Why would me thinking the worst of you be a surprise?” Bitterness was heavy in my voice, so heavy that I could taste it on my tongue. “Everly—” I cut him off with a wave of my hand and a shake of my head. I didn’t want to hear it. “Are you going to tell me that this is a coincidence?” I gestured with a sweep of my arm, indicating the room and its
sumptuous, sensual offerings. The intricate array of silk that still rested on the wooden trunk caught my eye, and I felt my stomach do a slow roll. I’d come here tonight planning on letting my body be taken over. That it was Reign who had appeared brought it home that I’d been prepared to have sex with a stranger—with a man who could have turned out to be anyone. “Everly. I didn’t plan this.” Reign narrowed his eyes at me. I didn’t respond, instead letting myself look him over, drinking in every detail. If my vision hadn’t been clouded with the somber blue haze of past hurt, I could have admitted that he was still breathtaking. Eight years ago, all it had
taken was one look and I’d been head over heels—I hadn’t known or cared that he was royalty. If I’d met him for the first time tonight, it’s likely I would have done the same thing. His thick hair had always reminded me of a fox, a rich golden brown tinged with red. I remembered lying in bed, running my fingers through it repeatedly, savoring the softness of it against my skin. He’d always had the ghost of a smile on those sinful lips when I did it, the angular lines of his fine-boned face relaxing in a way they never did at any other time. A couple of inches over six feet, he’d always been leanly muscled. Now,
though, the slimness of early adulthood had thickened, matured, his muscles flexing against the expensive fabric of his clothing. Though I cursed myself, I found my gaze drawn to his biceps, outlined in the black shirt. Memory merged with fantasy as, unbidden, I was accosted with an image of him on top of me, braced on those arms, biceps flexing as he worked his way inside of me. Blood rushed to my cheeks, flushing my skin. A self-satisfied smirk worked over his lips as he noted the blush. “Damn you. You did.” Swearing, I shifted back on the impossibly high heels of my silver sandals. I felt the globes of
my breasts jiggle as I did, reminding me that I was still naked on top. The flicker in Reign’s eyes told me that he’d noticed the movement, too. His jaw clenched, and my hands fluttered at my sides, wanting to cover my nakedness. But that knowing smile, the way he leaned toward me ever so slightly? Hell no. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of chasing me. Standing tall, I planted my hands on my hips. Defiantly, I met Reign’s stare, knowing that the challenge would irritate him on every level. He didn’t look away. As we stood, frozen in a battle of wills, long suppressed memories circled my mind—
memories of the way Reign had crashed into my life and then just as abruptly left it. A computer science student with thick plastic glasses, lace-up black combat boots, and an obsession with tattoos. A lanky, sexy foreign student with a crisp accent and alpha-ness seeping out of every pore. We never would have connected if he hadn’t moved in next door, but he did, and we did too. Obsession was a mild word for the flames that had flared between us, the fire white hot. We’d spent an entire year immersed in one another, living, breathing, absorbing everything about each other.
We’d complemented each other in ways I’d never dreamt. Never even imagined until I’d met him. And then one day he’d just disappeared. His cell phone had been cut off, and big men in black suits had emptied his apartment. Frantic, terrified, I’d spent a week trying to contact him— e-mailing, hunting down his professors, haunting his Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’d found out along with the rest of the world that I’d been duped. A week after he’d disappeared, Reign—the boy I’d loved—had been the subject of every tabloid headline across the globe. Prince Reign of Visalia had announced his engagement to his
longtime love, Lady Anastasia Duras. He’d never loved me. He hadn’t even cared enough about me to break it off in person. I’d been his American fling, his last scattering of wild oats before he returned to his family and his royal duties. And studying the pictures of his fiancée—and oh, I’d studied them in excruciating detail—the point had only been hammered home. His future lay with a lady of the nobility, a delicate brunette with centuries of impeccable breeding behind her. He’d never planned on a future with me. I’d been a crazy, convenient fuck. “I didn’t,” Reign replied, drawing me back to the present. If I hadn’t known
better, I would have thought that his eyes looked sad. “I didn’t plan this. But is it so hard to believe that it could happen? You used to believe in fate.” “I used to believe in love, too.” A bright, mean streak of satisfaction flared inside of me when emotion flickered through his eyes. Good. Let him feel even a fraction of what I had when he’d left me and crushed my very soul. That he was here now? Here, where I’d finally made a conscious decision to claim what I wanted? Not cool. He might have awakened these desires inside of me, but he didn’t get to control them. Not anymore. “If you didn’t set this up, then we’re both missing something.” I narrowed my
eyes at him, noting the way he was struggling to keep his gaze on my face. I couldn’t keep a satisfied smile from curving my lips. Let him look. He’d never be able to touch again. “What are you doing here? In Florida?” Reign cocked his head to the side, just slightly, and even after all these years, I knew that I was annoying him. Demands, questions—they’d always annoyed him, had always poked at his need to be in control. In the past, we’d always managed to trade one kind of friction for another. Now? Not a chance in hell.
“I live here,” he answered slowly, his brow furrowed. “I’m one of the owners of Restraint. A silent partner.” The answer hit me like two puzzle pieces snapping into place after a long, frustrating search. I covered my face with my hands and groaned. “You’re a partner. With Ilya.” Damn it, damn this man. When I uncovered my face, Reign looked just the slightest bit ill at ease. It should have made me feel triumphant, but all it did was give me a headache. “Ilya, who head-hunted me straight out of college.” Fuck, fuck, fuck. One of the few things that had kept me going after Reign had left was my job, the belief that I’d been good enough for
someone to want me for something. “He’s an old buddy of yours, I’m assuming? And I’m guessing you recommended he hire me?” Reign’s silence was all the evidence I needed. “And when I applied for the club, either you decided to have another go at your American hussy, or Ilya thought our shared history made you the perfect person to introduce me to kink.” My laugh was mirthless. “Clearly he doesn’t know that you already did that.” Still he said nothing, and I was suddenly gripped by the urge to get a reaction out of him, now that he was here. To make him show anger, or affection, or lust—something, anything to
show that he’d once had even a whisper of feeling for me. “Uncomfortable thinking about that?” Voice mocking, I climbed onto the bed on my hands and knees. Adding a deliberate sway to my hips, I crawled across the width of the bed, stopping only when my lips were level with his cock. His very obviously aroused cock. “Stop it.” His voice was strained. Looking up at him through my lashes, I ran my tongue over my lower lip. “What’s wrong? Don’t want to remember what we did together?” I smiled, feeling mean. This was what I wanted—I wanted him to hurt. “Don’t want to remember the way that you used
to position me just like this before fisting a hand in my hair and making me swallow you whole?” I gasped when he actually did it, threading his fingers through my hair and tugging, just enough to awaken the nerves in my scalp. Arousal flared, twining with the emotional pain of memory at the familiar touch. Instead of unzipping himself, running his cock against my lips, he pulled me up onto my knees, urging me closer. His eyes met mine, their rich toffee swallowing my green gems. I could feel his warm breath, fanning out over my face. His grip on my hair forced me to stay in place, the tips of my naked
breasts brushing against the hardness of his fully clothed chest. The erotic sensation spilled over me like warm oil. Liquid heat pooled between my thighs, and I barely held back a moan. It had been eight years since we’d seen each other. I’d wondered at times if I’d colored our time together with a rosy hue, the way memory sometimes does. But the connection pulsing between us, the feral need, told another story. He was going to kiss me. I wanted him to. I wanted to push him until he drew my anger, my frustration, my tears out of my very soul in the most intent, hate-fuelled fuck I could imagine.
“Everly.” His fingertips glanced over my hips, and I rocked into him, his steel erection pressing into the softness of my belly. Yes. I wanted this. No, I fucking craved it. He toyed with the leather of my dress, still caught around my waist. I wriggled to help him peel the garment down my hips. Instead, he tugged it back up, settling the firm fabric back over my breasts before urging the zipper back into place. I couldn’t choke back my gasp of shock. “Enough.” His voice was quiet but firm, the way it had always been when he’d issued an order. My brain rebelled
even as my body melted, recognizing its master. “We’re not going to fuck again. Not like this.” “I—” His words were a blow to the stomach. Shame was rich and oily, oozing over me in a film that I’d never be able to rinse away. I’d thrown myself at him, and worse, I’d tried to turn him on because I wanted to show him how much I hated him. And more than that, he’d turned me down. I wasn’t the woman he wanted, not then and certainly not now. Swallowing hard, I fought against the huge, hot lump in my throat that signaled an impending bout of hardcore ugly crying. I scrambled off the bed, tugging
at the hem of my dress as I searched for shreds of my pride. He watched me, face impassive. “Why are you here?” I didn’t answer. I didn’t trust myself to. Why? Because if I was completely honest with myself, I’d come here looking for a ghost. His ghost. “Everly,” Reign warned. If this had happened in the past, I would have responded to the control in his tone, would have measured the pros and cons of obeying. Of disobeying. Of punishment. I was a different woman now, and no matter how my body reacted, responding
instantly, my mind was busy having its circuits fried in the fire. His leaving had forged a core of steel. And though I was struggling to pull the real me out of the quicksand of need for him, I would do what was best for me, not what he commanded. “I’m talking to you, Everly.” I pressed my lips together, making my decision. I wasn’t interested in talking to him. Instead, I started for the door. “Everly—” I whirled, clenching my jaw. Hearing my name on his lips yet again was the last straw. My anger was spiraling out of control, and I couldn’t help myself from
spitting out the first question that came to my mind. “I get it. You don’t want me.” I pointed at the door. “So stop talking and let me leave. You’ll never have to see me again.” His eyes darkened, a desert storm whirling through the depths. He straightened, then slowly started to close the space between us. Against every shred of my better judgment, a terrible excitement whipped through me as I backed away. I knew the look that he wore only too well. The predator was stalking his prey. And it shouldn’t have thrilled me to the core, but having his undivided attention
focused solely on me had my neurons firing out of control. “You couldn’t be more wrong, butterfly.” The endearment rolled off his tongue as though eight days stood between us instead of eight years, but then my back hit the cool wood of the door, and all I could see was him. He stopped a foot away from me, his hands moving to his waistband. My stare was drawn to the movement, and if you’d given me a million dollars to look away, I couldn’t have. When he’d realized who I was tonight, he’d tugged his pants back up his hips, but he hadn’t fastened them. Now he shoved them back down, taking his briefs with them. His engorged cock
sprang free, and my mouth watered as it sprung forth from its nest of chestnut curls. “Does this look like I don’t want you? That I’m unaffected by being around you again?” A mocking smile on his lips, he wrapped his erection in his palm and began to slowly stroke. A deep growl of satisfaction emanated from his chest as he noted me staring at the slow drag of his hand on his dick. “That’s not fair.” God, God, but I wanted to replace his hand with my own. To drag the orgasm out of him, just to show that I could. And the look in his eyes told me that he knew it.
“We’re not fucking like this, Everly.” He repeated what he’d said minutes before, a heartrending groan issuing from his lips as he released his cock. With a muttered curse, he tucked the engorged flesh back into his briefs, then pulled his pants up, buckling his belt with a metallic clang. “You want a hate fuck. And I won’t allow it because I still care.” I won’t allow it because I still care. After everything he’d done do long ago, he was mocking me? I cried out, a choked sound that blocked the scream that wanted to escape. I swallowed it down, someone managing to find actions and words.
“You lost all right to any kind of care for me, Reign.” Placing my hands squarely on his chest, I shoved him away. He huffed out a startled breath. “You lost your chance when you forgot to tell me that you loved someone else. So do me a favor and take your wanting and your caring and shove them where the sun don’t shine.” Shoving open the door, making sure that our bodies didn’t touch as I did, I ran. If I so much as brushed against his skin, I might explode. The words that Reign didn’t say rang in my ears as I ran blindly down the hall. At the top of the stairs, a thick pair of arms reached out to steady me, and I
shrieked with frustration when I saw they belonged to Ilya. “What happened?” he demanded, holding me at arm’s length, looking me up and down with narrowed eyes. “Are you hurt?” “Did you know?” Here, with someone I was comfortable with, the tears threatened. I needed to get the hell out of here, out of this club, but his fingers dug into my arms. “Know what?” Confusion was not something I saw on Ilya’s face very often, but its very presence was enough to tell me that he hadn’t done this on purpose. Someone, knowing that fate had in fact slammed Reign back into my life
made it all the worse. This was no mystical reconnecting of lost love. This was a scar being torn open to bleed all over again. “Reign recommended me for your company.” I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to. Ilya cocked his head, still not understanding. “Yes.” His accent thickened with confusion. “I don’t understand why that upsets you.” “Didn’t that tell you that I knew him? Why would you pair me with him tonight?” I was hyper-conscious of the room behind me, waiting for the prickles of awareness that told me Reign was approaching.
They didn’t come. For some reason, that crushed me. “When I started my company, I asked all of my business acquaintances for recommendations for employees.” Ilya spoke slowly, as though piecing it all together in his head. “Reign recommended you. I didn’t question how he knew you—I trust each of these men with my life.” This had the ring of truth. But... “Why set us up tonight?” The pain was as fresh as if he’d never left. “For the love of God, why?” A flicker of uncertainty moved through his eyes. “The owners of the club take turns guiding neophytes through their
introductions to the club.” He thrust his hands into the pockets of his snug leather pants. “I couldn’t do it. It would have been a conflict of interest. And your interests matched up the best with his. That is the simple truth. The whole truth. That he’d once recommended you for a job did not factor into it.” I struggled to absorb this. My name had been brought forward for the job that meant so much to me, but if I knew Ilya, I’d still gotten it based on my own merit. This eased the weight crushing my chest. But that just doubled the one-two sucker punch of fate. I could have been in that room with any of the sexy billionaires who owned this club.
Instead, it had been Reign. It had always been Reign. Pushing away from Ilya before he could ask any more questions, I clacked down the stairs as quickly as I could in my heels. Knowing that Ilya wouldn’t accept me just bolting, I picked up my pace and headed out to my car, gulping at the crisp ocean air as I stepped out of the club, leaving it behind. I didn’t start to shake until I was behind the wheel of my car, the door locked behind me. Letting out a giant breath, I closed my eyes and rested my clammy forehead against the steering wheel. Reign was right. I had once believed in fate. I’d believed in fate, in master
plans, in things being written in the stars. And this whole night? It wasn’t telling me that I needed to be with Reign again. No, it was telling me that I wouldn’t be going back to Restraint again, even if it killed me. If that made me ache inside, then too fucking bad for me.
Chapter Four- Reign I stood immobile in the doorway that Everly had left open. Never in a million years had I expected to see her again. I hadn’t even known she was in Florida. I’d wondered, but I hadn’t allowed myself to investigate. This, what had just happened between us, was why. It had taken everything in me to leave her behind once, to do the duty that my family and my country demanded of me. That didn’t mean that I’d wanted to. It didn’t mean that I hadn’t loved her with every shred of my being. I’d never allowed myself to search for her, because my feelings for her had never died. What I hadn’t anticipated
was that she might still have feelings, too. Long-lost memories and feelings came rushing back at me, crushing me under their weight. Never till the day I died would I forget the horror that had flashed in those glass green eyes when she’d turned and we’d gotten a look at each other’s faces. I also wouldn’t forget the heat that had seeped from her very skin when I’d confronted her and taken myself in hand. She might hate me, but that electric connection between us had snapped into place as though it had never disappeared. And just like that, the fire for her, the one that I’d done my best to bank over
the years, had roared back to life. I wanted her back. She hated me. But she didn’t know the real story. The ice that had encased me since Everly had sprinted out the door shattered as I realized that I didn’t just want her to know the truth—I needed her to. With the frozen shards crashing around me, I moved, only to find Ilya blocking my way out of the room. His dark eyes glinted with irritation. My mouth started moving without my knowing. “You have some fucking explaining to do.” I didn’t enjoy cursing unless I was in the bedroom—it wouldn’t be proper, after all, for a prince to be heard
using such vulgar language. Right now? I just didn’t give a shit. “What did you do to her?” He didn’t flinch, instead getting right up in my face, making my hackles shoot to the sky. “You are questioning me?” If I could have exhaled fire, I would have. All the anger and hurt and uncertainty that churned around inside of me needed to exit, and Ilya was a handy target. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t take you down right now.” “Like you could.” Ilya rolled his eyes, infuriating me further. “And not that it’s any of your business, but Everly is special to me. And I want to know what you did to upset her so badly.
Damn it, Reign, this was her first scene. You know better than that!” My jaw clenched so tightly I thought it might shatter. I felt enough rage at myself, with memories of my past actions appearing in Technicolor in my memory, without Ilya heaping guilt on top of it all. “I would never, repeat never, abuse the trust of a submissive in my care. You know me better than that.” It was all I could do to control my tone. “The error is yours, my friend. Why on earth would you put me in a scene with her?” A muscle under Ilya’s eye twitched. I knew him, and he knew something had gone astray here. But I wanted to hear him say it.
“How was I to know that the two of you had a sexual history?” He ground out the words. “Neither of you said a thing. And out of all of us, you were the best match for her.” Oh, if he only knew. “You recommended her for a job in my company, several years ago.” Warning was written all over his face. “As far as I knew, you were acquaintances. That’s all I was given to believe.” “Well, you should have looked deeper.” God, never mind that Everly had landed with me in the first place. She could have been paired with anyone. The thought made every muscle in my body clench. “In fact, if she’s so special
to you, why the hell did you let her come here in the first place? You fucked up, Ilya. Now fix it.” “I did not fuck up, nor do I plan on doing so in the future.” Danger dripped from his words. “None of this is your business, but it’s clear you’ve gone around the bend, so listen up, and listen well, because I’m not going to repeat myself.” I bristled; he continued. “Everly is a grown woman. If she wants to pursue this kind of activity, that is her decision. And it’s safer for her to do so in an environment in which I can monitor her.” In which he could monitor her? A clawing sensation that I didn’t entirely
care for began in my gut. No, no one else should have that kind of claim over her. I didn’t like it. “Neither you nor she vetoed any particular partners in your paperwork. A neophyte is guided through her first few sessions by one of the owners. You were the best match for her on paper, and in my own opinion. You know all of this.” Sucking in a deep breath, my longtime friend narrowed his eyes at me. “And you already know that whatever went down in that room is on you, my friend. Now you don’t have to give me details, but I have to know—did you hurt her? I need to go to her, so I need to know.” I need to go to her. Oh, like hell he would.
“And you know that I’d sooner stick a knife through my own heart than hurt a sub.” I grimaced. “Unless they wanted it, I mean.” Ilya inclined his head. “Yes, I know. I... sorry, man.” He huffed out a breath before offering me a hand, which I reluctantly took as he gave me one of those man slap hug things that, having been raised in a very formal setting, always puzzled me. “Just give me an idea what to expect before I call her. And don’t worry, I won’t put you in this position again. I wouldn’t have in the first place if I’d had any idea. I’ll set her up with Chase, maybe Penn next time.” Oh, fuck no.
“You better fucking not.” The words came out as growl. I stepped closer to Ilya, letting him feel the dangerous heat that rolled off of my body. I loved this man like a brother, but something about seeing Everly had every dominant, caveman instinct that I possessed flaring to life inside of me. “You fucking do that, Ilya, and I’ll tear off their hands and shove them down their throats. I lost her once; I won’t do so again.” A surprising bark of laughter came from him, taking me by surprise. Ilya’s face twisted with amusement before he shook his head, clapping me on the shoulder. “I’ll wish you luck.” Ilya shook his head with a smirk. “I don’t know what
the hell you did, but I’m putting money on Everly eating you whole.” “Nice. Good to know I have the support of my friends.” Asshole. He rolled his eyes. “Go. Or I swear I’ll text Penn right now.” “No one touches her but me,” I repeated, wanting myself to be clear. Ilya laughed as I flexed my hands, wishing I could just smack him and get it over with. Jesus, where was this violence coming from? This wasn’t me. No, I was Reign Bishop, Prince Reign of Visalia. The second child, the good child, the one who always performed impeccably and who solved everyone’s problems. A perfect little automaton.
Except when I was with Everly. I’d blocked it out, but I remembered that now. With Everly, the world had been brighter, the good things better, the bad more painful. With her I’d felt... I’d felt everything. Including what I was feeling right now. That woman belonged to me. I’d had to give her up, against every shred of sense that I had. I’d done in the way I’d thought best, the one that would let her hate me, killing hope because there was none. But now? She might not believe in fate anymore, but I sure as hell did. It had dumped the only woman I’d ever loved back into my life, and I’d be
damned if I’d let her walk away without a fight. And from the way she’d reacted tonight, I knew that fight would be to the death. Her mind, her body, and soul belonged to me. I just had to remind her of that. My thoughts were interrupted when Ilya thumped me on the shoulder once again. I glared up at the big Russian bastard. “Are you going to go after her or not?” He arched an eyebrow. “Maybe I really should text Penn.” “The only thing you’d better be texting is her address. To me.”
Ilya nodded brusquely. Not much of a reply, but I’d take it. Nodding shortly in return, I turned away, already heading for the stairs when I heard the dark chuckle he let out. Bastard was enjoying my pain, I knew he was. We all got a perverse pleasure out of each other’s suffering—but hey, we were all slightly sadistic dominants, so I suppose that shouldn’t have been surprising. Still, I was seething over the entire situation by the time I reached the bottom step. I scanned the bottom floor of the club quickly, searching for that head of gorgeous golden hair streaked with rose.
I didn’t see her anywhere, but I hadn’t expected to. People changed, I knew that... but they didn’t change that much. I knew Everly, and after a big explosion, she would retreat to a space where she felt comfortable to assess the situation. It had been eight years, but I would have bet my sizeable fortune that she’d hightailed it straight out of the club and home. All the better to guard herself from things she didn’t want to see or hear—namely, me and the reason that I left her so long ago. From the corner of my eye I noticed a crowd gathering at the side of the dance floor—a crowd of mostly women. Sexy, scantily-clad women, all them
eyeing me and chattering with excitement. It wasn’t ego to say that I knew I could have any one of them—hell, I could probably have a handful at once. It wasn’t me that they wanted, after all, but rather the picture of me that they held in their minds’ eyes. The bad boy prince, out for a good time. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’s rich. Instead of feeling a thrill at the ripe pickings, I felt my lips twist a bit with disgust. Standing there in the low lights of the club, they reminded me of nothing so much as bright, exotic birds of prey, ready to latch on and never let go. I knew the type.
Instead of searching for someone who might really care for them, they were attracted to fame, to power, to prestige. Well, they weren’t going to find it here. I’d always been selective in my partners, but now that I’d felt the hot silk of Everly’s skin under my fingertips again? I wouldn’t settle for anything less. The stares and murmurs grew as I strode out the front door of Restraint. Miguel, one of our bouncers, caught my eye and gestured toward the parking lot, where I saw my hired car already moving toward me—Miguel had done this for me before, calling my driver to
meet me at the door before things got out of hand. The crowd thickened as Joe pulled to a silent stop in front of the club and hopped out, rounding the car. He shielded me with his body as the wall of people pressed forward, holding them back with his sheer size. “Give the man some room!” he barked this as he all but shoved me into the car. I heard the excited questions as he slammed the door shut behind me. “Who are you to Prince Reign? Are you his lover?” “Will you comment on the prince’s presence at a kink club?” “Have you ever seen the prince tie anyone up?”
Joe snarled as he fought his way back to the driver’s side door and forced himself into his own seat. He uttered a string of curses that turned the air blue as he shifted the car into drive. “Motherfucking leeches.” He caught my eyes in the rearview mirror. I’d known Joe a long time. Uttering words of sympathy was way too sappy for my giant driver, but I knew that this, this one little look in the rearview mirror, was his way of communicating how much he thought this part of my life sucked. I nodded, giving him the address that Ilya had texted me rather than commenting further. As I slumped back against the cool leather of the seat, my
thoughts turned back toward the woman I was chasing after. What would she think of the media circus that was my life? I hadn’t been nearly as well known back when we’d been together—I was the second son, after all, and most of the paparazzi had been focused on my older brother, Prince Gerald. My family hadn’t announced where I was attending school —probably because I’d gone against their wishes when deciding to do a year in America. They’d hardly even spoken to me that year, so furious they were that anyone would dare to defy them. That had been a blessing, because it had allowed me to have one of the most anonymous, commitment-free years of
my life. I’d met the girl of my dreams. We’d fallen in love, and I’d started dreaming of forever. And then reality had yanked the magic carpet out from beneath me, and I’d had to abandon everything— everyone—that I loved. And there was no point in ruminating on that now. The past was past. I could only hope that the woman Everly had become might open up to me in the future. Joe reached the address Ilya had provided within ten minutes. He slowed as he passed the front door, assessing the situation, then drove the car slowly around back.
“This is safer.” His Boston accent was thick as he slid out of the car, scowling when I got out myself, rather than waiting for him to open my door too. “You take too many risks.” Pulling a tarnished silver multi-tool from the pocket of his black cargo pants, he moved his massive frame in front of the door. When he stepped back again, the heavy metal door was open. Legal? No. Safer for me than strolling through the front door? Absolutely. I pulled on the baseball cap that I kept in the car and slid through the door. Joe moved to follow me, and I shook my head.
“Not for this.” I smiled wryly. “Though I can’t promise there won’t be any shouting or threats.” Joe cast a disapproving look down his nose, but he knew better than to argue when I had my mind set on something. “I’ll park nearby. Just text when you need me.” And then he was gone, and I was standing in what looked like the mailroom of a clean but slightly worn down apartment building. Rolling my shoulders, I pushed through the door on the other side of the room, and found myself in a lobby. A listing of residents was on a board under a buzzer panel. Allen, E. was in apartment 102—just down the hall.
She wasn’t going to be pleased to see me. I knew it, and even after all of these years, it still hurt. Knowing why she hated me didn’t ease the fact that she did. The fury in those green glass eyes of hers when she’d recognized me earlier would stay with me for a very long time. And I knew, somehow, that hearing the truth of what had happened wouldn’t sit any better with her than what she thought to be reality. Even to my own ears, it sounded better to be the asshole who’d left her without a backwards glance than to be a man under the rigid control of my family. They hadn’t demanded such a big sacrifice from me since the Lady
Anastasia fiasco, and I liked to think that I’d paid my dues. Everly had walked back into my life in a sexy blue leather dress, and I wasn’t about to let her walk out again. I would have known that I had the right door, even if I hadn’t had the number—the outside of the door had a picture frame glued around it, a vivid purple with glitter. It made me ache, remembering how she’d always marched just a bit off the beaten path—and how appealing that had been to me, the man who was expected to march along like a little tin soldier. Fisting my hand, I banged on the wooden surface of her door, standing to
the side so she wouldn’t be able to see me and therefore refuse to open the door. I heard the soft shuffle of footsteps before the door cracked open, revealing a sliver of the woman behind it. Her soft gasp told me that she hadn’t expected me to follow her. “What are you doing here?” she whispered, finally. Leaning against the doorframe, I watched her silently as she shifted her weight from one appealing bare foot onto the other. She’d always kept her toenails painted with bright colors. Tonight they were sparkly and blue. “Reign,” Everly repeated. “You should go.”
It wasn’t her words that caught my attention so much as her tone. She no longer sounded angry—no, she was tired. Seeing me had made her weary. It hurt my heart. “I’ll go, if you’ll tell me one thing.” Placing my palm flat against the door, I pushed until it caught against the security chain. The wider stripe of her that I could now see almost stopped my heart. Those sparkly toenails led to long, curvy legs. Legs that I’d once loved best wrapped around my neck. An oversized T-shirt cut off my view at her hips, but the pink cotton was wellworn, and I could see the shadow of her pussy beneath. I knew she was wearing
nothing underneath it—not panties, and certainly not a bra, her nipples clearly pressing against the soft fabric. Her face was flushed, her expression unreadable. She’d drawn that rose gold hair back in a messy tail, and it just begged for me to grab it and tug. The desire to do just that had my gaze darkening, intent plain on my face. I knew the second that she noted it, those large eyes widening, her lips parting on a warm inhalation. “All right,” she said after a long pause, cocking her head to the side. “I’ll bite. But I have a question of my own. How did you get my address?” My brilliant little computer hacker likely already knew that, but I knew she
wanted to hear it from me. I nodded, sealing the deal. She waited. So did I, until she huffed out an exasperated breath. “I suppose you’re going to make me go first?” I smirked at her. “How did you guess?” She muttered something under her breath that sounded like domineering asshole before spitting it out. “How did you get my address?” I shrugged, relieved that she hadn’t asked anything deeper. “I’ve got connections.” Her jaw tightened just as her eyes hardened. “That means Ilya. He’s dead.” She nodded curtly, then stepped away
and began to close the door on me. I reached out and stopped her from closing it. My eyes found hers as she tried in vain to keep me out. Now that we had found each other, I knew I couldn’t let her go again this time. Years had passed, and the passion that ignited between us was still there. I just had to make her admit it. “My turn.” I grinned down at her, as though the turmoil sweeping through my insides didn’t exist. Heaping too much onto her this soon couldn’t be a good idea. “Tell me that you didn’t feel anything when we were in that room. When I had your breasts in my hands, and you were
moaning against me. When I pressed my cock against your back and showed you just what you did to me.” “Reign.” Her skin had always reddened when I’d talked dirty, and tonight was no different. Watching the pink suffuse that pale skin had my cock rapidly filling with my need. “I answered your question. Now answer mine.” I found myself slipping into that place, that headspace where I was in control. Where someone giving me what I wanted was a beautiful thing, not a means to an end. Everly sputtered, her fingers tugging at the hem of her shirt. She reddened further, glaring, before finally spitting out her answer.
“Of course I felt something, you royal asshat. Chemistry doesn’t fade. But that was never our problem.” She released the hem of her shirt, and in the split second before I forced my gaze up to her face I was certain that I’d seen a small glimpse of heaven. As always, this woman would be the death of me. “Damn straight. What we had between us hasn’t faded. It never will.” She snarled, actually snarled, a wild cat ready to spring at me. “Get out. Get out right now!” The pain and fury rolled off of her in scarlet-tipped waves, slamming into me with the force of a tsunami.
I swallowed back the guilt that threatened to consume me, instead allowing a cold smirk to curve my lips. I leaned toward her. My breath fanned her face. “I remember once you told me that everything happens for a reason. That while we might not be right for each other, we are also not done. So, don’t hold your breath, Everly. I’ll be here for a very long time.”
Chapter Five- Everly I stood still, Reign’s words sinking into me as need poured over my body like a warm shower. I should have been furious, outraged. Instead the dark promise of his words sent anticipation sizzling along my skin. Damn it, damn it, but he was so right. That scorching connection between us hadn’t faded even a whisper. I wanted what he could do to me. But I didn’t want what he could do to my heart. “You couldn’t be more wrong, Reign. We are very done. There’s nothing left here.”
I saw a muscle clench in his jaw as he replied. “You just admitted that there was.” Fury gripped me as I planted my hands on my hips. “Sex, Reign! Sexual attraction. But that’s it. I don’t know why you’re even here. Isn’t Lady Anastasia any good in bed?” Disgust painted his features. Directed at me. “You know what?” The fury inside of me grew. I was going to explode, a human time bomb. “Get out. If you ever cared for me, just get out of here, Reign.” “You know damn well that I cared for you. And didn’t I just tell you that you won’t get rid of me so soon?”
I hadn’t seen him naked in eight years, but I remembered lean, corded muscle, and from what I saw through his clothing, he’d only increased that mass. Much as I’d like to literally kick his ass out the door, it just wasn’t going to happen. “You’re just going around in circles.” The weariness hung from my every word. “And I really don’t know what you hope to accomplish by being here.” For a long moment he simply studied me, those whiskey eyes looking me over, letting me feel the burn. “What I want is a second chance with you.” He reached out, twirled a strand of my ponytail through his fingers.
When he tugged, just gently, I felt a surge of heat between my thighs. “No.” The words were knee-jerk, armor to protect me. “Never.” If I hadn’t known better, I would have said that the emotion flashing through his eyes was hurt. But I did. I’d only bruised his ego. “Very well, then.” He pulled his hand back, slid it into his pocket. And damn it, I wish he’d play with my hair some more. “You want membership at Restraint. You can’t have that unless one of the owners guides you through.” His face set in fierce lines. “Understand me when I say that none of the other owners will
touch you. Nolan, Chase, Penn, especially Ilya.” “I—what?” Loss was a sucker punch to the stomach. “Why would you take that away from me? What did I do to you?” He smiled, and it was a cold expression, one that looked foreign on his fine-boned face. “You misunderstand.” He rocked back on his heels. “I’ll be the one to guide you through. Me. No one else.” A jolt of pleasure shot through me at the rough promise in his words. “That’s not a good idea. You know it.” A shiver skated over my skin, teasing the senses. I shouldn’t even consider this. It was the stupidest idea ever.
But he was giving me an excuse to grab something that I really wanted—a way to show him that I was really, truly over him. To show myself. And really, going through my first few scenes at Restraint with someone I knew? It would be a huge relief. And I was nothing if not practical. Familiarity during something that could be awkward and embarrassing? Check. Sex I already knew would be great? Check. No way whatsoever that my feelings would get involved? Check. Too much had passed between us for that to happen. So really... He thought he was coercing me. Manipulating me into a situation in
which he could assuage his guilt over what he’d done so long ago. But I could make this work for me. “All right.” I savored his flicker of surprise. “Let’s negotiate.” For a moment he gaped, and then smooth satisfaction spread over his face. “All right.” I scowled; I hated how in control he seemed, when I felt the exact opposite. “My limits are the same.” I ran my tongue over my lips, wondering how he’d take that. There hadn’t been much that I wouldn’t have tried when we were first together and, dammit, if we were going to do this, there were still so many things that I wanted to try.
His pupils dilated, and I knew he remembered. “Second, this is for my introduction to Restraint only.” My stomach twisted uncomfortably. “This...arrangement... is only for as long as that lasts. You will give me no more and no less attention than you would give any other neophyte. I want your word on this.” He hissed out a breath, and I knew I’d been smart to include that. Finally he nodded, but I could tell that he wasn’t happy about it. “And one last thing.” I swallowed. I wasn’t sure how he was going to take this, but it was a deal breaker for me. “No one else. We’re both monogamous while we’re together.”
He furrowed his brow. I held up a hand. “It’s non-negotiable.” I spat out the words, disgusted at the thought of him with someone else. “If you can’t do that, then this is all off.” His smile was tinged with a bit of cruelty, and it sent cold fingers dancing down my spine. “If you think I’d be with someone else while I’m with you, you don’t know me at all.” He rocked against me again, effectively distracting me from the thought that rushed to the forefront of my mind—that he’d done just that before. Except that time, while he was with Lady Anastasia, I was the other woman.
“And now my terms.” He leaned in, his breath misting over my face, that expensive cologne teasing my senses. “Do tell.” I placed a palm flat on his chest, intending to push him back. Instead I found my fingers curling into the fabric of his shirt. “You think you’ve got this all figured out. That you’ll get taught by someone familiar, will have some good sex, and will feel nothing.” Embarrassment heated my skin. Was I that transparent? “I’m going to take you, Everly. I’m going to take you in every way you can imagine, and some that you can’t.” He smiled slowly, wickedly, and my legs trembled.
Something about hearing filthy words in that crisp accent made me so very, very wet. “The first time? I’m going to wrap your legs around my neck, and I’m going to lick that pretty little clit of yours until every bit of fight in you turns into the best release of your life.” I might have squeaked; it was hard to hear over the sound of my skin sizzling. “And then I’m going to flip you onto your hands and knees. I’ll take hold of your hair so you can’t go anywhere, and then I’m going to work every last inch of me inside that tight little pussy of yours. You remember how big I am, don’t you, Butterfly?” My eyes widened, my lips parted.
“I see that you do.” He smirked, then in a lightning quick move, grabbed my hips and tugged me toward him. He thrust against me, just once, but the lewd move was enough to remind me of how big he was, indeed. “And while I’m working in and out of you, my cock dragging over every inch of your wetness, you’re going to come, Butterfly. You’re going to come so hard that I’m the only thing anchoring you to the world.” I whimpered. My nipples beaded into aching points, and when I shifted, I could feel the slickness between my thighs. The movement brought the scent of my arousal into the air, and the slight
flare of Reign’s nostrils told me that he smelled it, too. Oh, God. Was it possible to come just from dirty talk? “Know what will happen then, Butterfly?” He smirked again, and I shuddered out a breath, shaking my head. “That’s when you’re going to submit to me. And you’re going to feel something. You’re going to feel something for me.” The words were a splash of ice water to the face. I sputtered, shocked out of the erotic dream that his words had woven around us. “Fuck you.” My voice shook with sudden, instant anger. Reaching out, I shoved him away, clamoring for some
space, some air to breathe. “Leave. Leave now.” He laughed wickedly, but to my intense relief he did step away. Lifting a hand to his forehead, he gave me a saucy salute. “Think about what I said.” And then he was gone. I slammed the door shut behind him, reattaching the chain and throwing the deadbolt. I sagged against the cool wood, trying to catch my breath, but there was too much emotion rioting around inside of me. Fisting my hands and squeezing my eyes shut, I screamed. The faint laughter in the hall was infuriating.
Not knowing what else to do, I stormed down the hall to my bedroom, I punched the hell out of my pile of pillows. I was pretty sure I had a bottle of vodka in the freezer. I was going to need it to get to sleep tonight. There was no other way. The sound of my phone buzzing brought me out of my tantrum. I sat up, reaching for my phone to check my texts. The moment I entered my passcode, an unfamiliar number popped up on my screen. Curious, I opened the message and read the short line. Dinner tomorrow night. Wear a short dress. Do not wear underwear.
Failure to comply will result in punishment. My sex clenched, then softened. Going to dinner as he’d ordered, or disobeying in order to obtain punishment... they were equally appealing options. But the last shred of sanity in my mind told me that I would be doing neither. I’d spoken to Ilya enough about the club to know that the neophyte scenes were conducted inside Restraint’s walls. Dinner dates were not included. But here was a chance to show him that while I’d agreed to his proposal, I wouldn’t be letting him into any other part of my life.
I wouldn’t text him. I wouldn’t go at all. *** Needing to relax, I decided to try to go to sleep—I’d been trying to doze off when he rang my doorbell. I closed my eyes, willing for my thoughts to go away so that I could have some peace and quiet. After an hour of lying on my sheets, sweaty from the naughty thoughts tumbling through my head and still unable to sleep, I sat up and pulled my laptop into the bed with me. I’d buried the folder well enough that I didn’t come across it on a daily
basis, but computer science was my spirit animal. If I’d wanted to erase these pictures so that they were gone for good, irretrievable to anyone ever, I could have done so without even breaking a sweat. And yet here they were, and that told me volumes about my real feelings for Reign Bishop, aka Prince Reign of Visalia. As in, I could pretend all I wanted that I was long over him, but the hidden folder I accessed told a different story entirely. With my heart tapping a staccato beat against my ribcage, I double-clicked on the folder and waited. Rows and rows of pictures appeared, neat little squares that I knew held our story—the story of us.
Blinking rapidly, I skimmed through the thumbnails, not sure if I trusted myself to flip through them and stay hardened to Reign. Not with the specter of our agreement hanging over my head. In spite of the warning swirling through my mind, I chose a picture at random and clicked to enlarge it. The shiny image quickly filled the screen. Reign sat on a roughly hewn wooden bench, a wide swath of verdant green filling the space behind him. A beam of sunlight had broken through the trees moments before I’d snapped the picture. It had caught in the reddish strands of his hair, making them glint, gracing him with a virtual crown in lieu of his real one.
He’d been looking to the side, and I’d caught the lean planes of his face in one of his rare relaxed moments. My stomach did a slow roll as the memory of the day the picture had been taken washed over me. We’d gone for a hike in the forest near campus—his idea, not mine. I was far more comfortable indoors. Still, we’d had fun—we’d been opposites, but we’d always brought out the best in one another. Minutes after I’d taken this shot, I’d twisted my ankle— probably because I’d worn little beaded sandals rather than the sturdy hiking boots that I couldn’t afford to purchase for a one-off hike.
Rather than getting pissed at me, which most other people would have done—anyone could have seen that injury coming from a mile away—he’d done something that made me swoon. My feminist sensibilities hadn’t wanted to, but when he’d simply hefted me in his arms, carrying me like the damsel in distress that I so stupidly was... That was the moment I’d moved from extreme liking to being head over heels in love. I swallowed past a lump in my throat as I studied the picture, the face of the boy who’d crushed me when he’d left. We’d been so young, but the feelings had been real—at least, they had on my side.
It was still almost impossible for me to believe that they hadn’t been real for him, too, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Blinking against the dampness in my eyes that I most certainly wasn’t going to allow, I closed the image and powered off my computer, decidedly unsettled. Looking at the rest of the pictures would just upset me more. And I didn’t need to see them, anyway—every moment of my time with Reign was seared into my memory forever. Sliding under the covers, I pulled my quilt up to my chin. Whether it was because of how I was feeling or because of the actual temperature I, a chill had settled in my room. I cocooned myself in
my thick blanket, wishing for the first time in a long time that I was with someone else. I wasn’t much of a cuddler, but snuggling into a strong pair of arms right about now, drawing from someone else’s strength, would be welcome. Wasn’t going to happen, and the sooner I wrapped my head around that, the better. Where Reign was concerned, my shit-kicker boots were not made for walking. Opening myself to emotion of any kind while he was in my life was asking for trouble. I wouldn’t go through that kind of pain again. I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure I’d survive.
*** Dragging my ass to work the next day was challenging.. I’d finally drifted off just before dawn, and my alarm had screeched the Metallica album I’d set it to for a full half hour before it had permeated my consciousness. Hours later, I was still slumped behind the glass desk in my office, staring blearily at the security schematics in front of me, trying to make sense of why Ilya had asked me to look over them, while simultaneously slurping a late-afternoon Americano from Starbucks. The caffeine helped to wake me up, but it also somehow set my memory on a
continuous loop, going over the events of the night before again and again. Reign was going to be the one to introduce me to Restraint. I was going to be physically intimate with the man who’d put my heart in a blender and set it to pulverize. Clearly, he’d hypnotized me with royal woo-woo powers, because now, in the light of day, I could see clearly. And what I could see was that agreeing to any of this was crazy. Britney circa 2007 crazy. I’d already decided that I wouldn’t be attending Reign’s little dinner date this evening. Freedom from his spell solidified that decision.
“Everly.” Before I could return my attention to the specs that Ilya had forwarded that morning, the boss man himself stepped through the door. Ahead of him he ushered a young woman with massive white sunglasses bearing the Chanel logo perched on her nose. I couldn’t help but let my jaw drop. The woman was, in one word, stunning. Dressed in skintight black leather pants and a skimpy red halter top that revealed a lot of creamy almond skin, and she had long, glossy dark hair that fell in perfect waves down to the small of her back. When she took her sunglasses off, she revealed cute, perfect features that made her look like a sexy little doll. I
found myself drawn to her even as I realized who she was. “Everly, this is Willow Hart.” Yeah, I’d figured that out. Willow Hart was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. And she was now seating herself in a chair across my desk. It was enough to both wake me up and drive thoughts of Reign from my head. At least for now. “Um... hello?” I smiled widely at Ilya, but narrowed my eyes at the same time, conveying that a little warning might have been nice. He rolled his eyes in response, then seated himself in the only remaining chair, stretching out his long legs in a posture that appeared relaxed.
I knew him well enough to know that he was anything but. In fact... in fact, he seemed to be a little more aware of Ms. Hart than he was of other women, casting her sidelong glances that others might not have noticed, but that I certainly did. Hmm. Interesting. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” I cleared my throat, sitting back in my chair. That morning I’d pulled on a lightweight, flowered romper with long sleeves and my favorite ankle booties, an outfit that was hard to screw up and that usually made me feel like I could take on the world. Next to the insanely gorgeous pop star, I could feel every moment of my
sleepless night weighing on me, pulling me down. “This morning I sent you the preliminary design for a new security system and asked you to review it.” Ilya inclined his head to my computer, and I tapped my fingers over the keyboard, waking the screen that had been fading out. “Yes.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Which I did, though I think we both know that you hardly need a second opinion on your work.” Ilya opened his mouth to reply, but Willow held up a hand, cutting him off. Something flared in Ilya’s eyes, and I watched him struggle to rein it back in.
Ilya was every bit as alpha as Reign. Being silently bossed around by a little scrap of a china doll probably made him want to tie her to the nearest spanking bench until she learned her lesson. Yes, very interesting. “I hired Worldwide Securities because you have the best safety statistics in the business.” She sat up straight, and even though she was so small, I could see why she was famous —charisma radiated out from her, making it impossible to look away. “But more than that, because Mr. Romanov has women in his employ—a massive minority in this industry, I’m sad to report.”
I cocked my head, waiting for her to continue. She wasn’t wrong. And even here at Worldwide, there were more male designers than female. “So while I appreciate that Mr. Romanov himself took the time to design my security system, despite the fact that I requested a female, I want a woman’s eyes on it before I approve it.” Something that looked very like fear flashed through the star’s topaz eyes, and she shifted in her seat. “I’m afraid this is non-negotiable if Worldwide is to keep my account.” I glanced at Ilya for guidance, but he was staring at Willow and was no help at all.
“Well...” Swallowing thickly, I looked down at my touch screen, using my index finger to scroll over the design, underlain with the floor plan of Willow’s house. The design was state of the art, used our most recent—and most expensive—technology. I looked from the computer to Willow, and noted that flicker in her eyes again. It was just my gut speaking, but something told me that this wasn’t just a regular system for a celebrity. She was scared. “Give me a minute.” Taking a large chug of my coffee, I rolled my shoulders to relieve the tension, then started over with the file. Usually I worked without
thinking in either a male or female point of view, specifically. This time I tried to look at it as a woman. A woman who was terrified of something. Something niggled at the back of my mind as I looked it over again, then again. Finally Ilya cleared his throat, catching my attention. “You don’t need to find a problem if there isn’t one—” “Let her work.” Willow held up a hand imperiously. The choked sound that came from Ilya’s throat had me struggling to hold back a chuckle. “I think I have something,” I finally said, turning the computer around so that Willow and Ilya could see it. Ilya looked
at me with surprise, Willow with satisfaction. Shooting my boss an apologetic smile, I pressed keys and zoomed in on the front half of Willow’s estate. “You’ve recommended hiring guards to be stationed at the front gate, as well as at the front door.” I swallowed, wishing I had a glass of water. Ilya was a friend as well as a boss, but I was not at all comfortable telling him how to do his job, no matter how good I was at mine. “I see the point of this—two checkpoints, both for an intruder to get past, and for Willow to reassure herself with on her way into the estate. And if they’re guards from Worldwide, then their reputations are beyond reproach.”
“Of course.” Ilya scowled. “Each employee of Worldwide is vetted so thoroughly that they don’t take a piss without my knowing about it.” I huffed out a sigh; Willow simply nodded. “Continue.” “However, while this is a perfectly valid method of security, I would imagine that someone who is living in a state of fear might be wary of trusting anyone, even trained security guards. Especially if that person is scared because they’ve had their trust betrayed by someone they know.” I spoke lightly, making sure not to look directly at Willow as I did. Still, in my peripheral vision I saw her stiffen, her fingers digging into the arms of the leather chair.
It had been a hunch, but as a teen, one of my high school friends had been in an abusive relationship. To this day I was sensitive to the signs. “If that were the case, I think a simple modification, putting Ms. Hart in the driver’s seat would be enough.” Now I made sure to turn, to smile reassuringly right at Willow. She smiled back, the expression shaky but relieved. “What would you recommend?” Her voice was eager. At her side, Ilya said nothing, instead sitting back in his chair, appearing to absorb the entire discussion. I pointed out a few ways that the checkpoints could be automated, with systems designed in-house—technology
that would eliminate the need for Willow to rely on actual people. I made sure to point out that the guards themselves would be my first choice, just like Ilya, but it was clear that these measures would keep her safe and calm her nerves. “This is perfect. This is exactly what I was looking for.” Willow shot a triumphant smile at Ilya. A challenging one. “Draw up the papers. Worldwide has a new client.” “Done.” He rose, nodding in my direction. “Nice work, Everly.” Warmth suffused me... I knew I’d done a good job. Standing, I stretched, idly listening to the pair as they attempted to exit my office.
Ilya, ever the gentleman, waved Willow through in front of him. “After you.” She shook her head, waiting for him to go ahead of her. He remained where he was, locked in place with manners— and probably a healthy dose of dominant stubbornness, though Willow wouldn’t know that. Finally she crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall, grinning up at him saucily. “You might as well go. We could stand here all day, but in the end, I assure you, I’d win.” I’d never seen Ilya in his sexy dominant mode before, but Willow’s words seemed to trigger something in him, and I watched as he straightened, seemed to grow bigger, more wicked.
It reminded me of the first conversation we’d had about Restraint, except with a healthy dose of sexy. And even though it wasn’t aimed at me, I wanted to fan my face over it. “I’m not the kind of man you should play games with, Willow.” He arched an eyebrow, and a hot flash rocketed through me. Willow, though? She looked as cool as a fresh spring breeze. “Haven’t you heard, Mr. Romanov?” She finally moved into the door frame, but shot a saucy look back over her shoulder. “The more you try to control something, the more it controls you.” She winked at me before disappearing down the hall. Ilya’s
muttered curse followed, and I couldn’t help but bark out a startled laugh. Wow. Whatever that had been, I wanted to be there with popcorn when it ended. But as the light in my office faded, and I remembered my supposed plans for the evening, I found that I felt very empty and alone. The sexy tension between Ilya and the tiny pop powerhouse had gotten me more than a little hot and bothered. And I knew damn well that if I went to dinner with Reign, he’d turn that low burn into a wildfire, one that could swallow me whole if I let it. I couldn’t. I’d been there before and I’d barely survived.
Inside the walls of the club... that was one thing. I felt as though I wouldn’t lose control there. But handing myself over to the only man who’d ever had a claim on my heart? It would be incredibly stupid. And while I’d been called a lot of things in my lifetime, that wasn’t one of them. I would let Reign guide me through my first few scenes at Restraint, just as he would another submissive. Any other submissive. At the end of that time, maybe I’d even have let go of much of my anger toward him. But tonight? I’d go home, have a glass of wine in a hot bubble bath, maybe rock out to a bit of Godsmack.
I would stay in control.
Chapter Six- Reign I raked my fingers through my hair, tugging at the strands as I stood up from my swivel chair. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of my head, slowly making it ways down to my chin. In spite of the air conditioning in my office, the thick humidity had still managed to sneak inside, perspiration gluing the thin fabric of my shirt to my back. I enjoyed life in Florida for many reasons, but air so thick it could be eaten with a spoon year-round was not one of them. Shrugging my jacket off, I reached for a fresh shirt from the small closet in
the corner of my office. I’d have preferred to head home and have a long, cool shower before my dinner with Everly, but time had gotten away from me as I’d worked through the backlog that was my share of Restraint’s paperwork. Arriving late would set entirely the wrong tone for the evening—it would tell her that I wasn’t entirely in control. When it came to Everly Allen, this was absolutely the truth. But there was no way she was going to get to know that. Shrugging into the fresh shortsleeved button-down, I left my office. I paused for a split second to admire the neat crisscrossing stripes on the back of
the man strapped to a St. Andrew’s cross in the middle of the second floor before continuing across the warehouse-like space, intent on my goal. Any time at all with Everly was a prize to be cherished. And she might be of the opinion that she was to be just another submissive-in-training at Restraint, but I had other plans. What my end game was, I wasn’t entirely sure. The word marriage made me decidedly uncomfortable—after all, I’d had a hell of an example with my parents, my older brother and his wife— the latter being the knife in the delicate fabric that was once my relationship with Everly.
But since the night before, I had been a man obsessed, unable to focus on work and needing to take control back. Since the moment I’d realized that the alluring submissive in room seven was Everly, everything had spun out of control. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about her. Every second of the day, every minute, and even every hour... my entire being was permeated with her. Her. Her. And her. Everly. I descended the long flight of stairs, enjoying the stretch in my muscles after the lengthy day sitting still. Of course, stretching made me think of Everly and
the way the slim column of her back had stretched and arched when I’d filled my hands with her breasts. She’d had fantastic tits when we’d first met, but over the years she’d filled out a bit, and now... They could easily become an obsession. I shoved the image of Everly and her fantastic breasts out of my mind, not only for my sanity, but in order for me to concentrate. But with my orders for us to dine together hanging in the air between us, I didn’t see the point of pushing her away from my head. I had set up a meticulous evening designed to seduce her, including a sleek car, flowers and her favorite drink... all the little details
that I remembered about her from the past. I hadn’t lied when I’d told her that I cared. The thought of another man with his hands on her, training her—I couldn’t handle it. No, I would take on that responsibility. I’d charm and seduce her while reintroducing her to the games that we’d only just dipped our toes into when we were young—the games of dominance and submission. And then? I’d fuck her so hard that she’d feel me for days. So hard that she’d never forget who it was that owned her. Who had always owned her. I knew that there was something more to my plan than I was admitting to
myself. One glimpse of her was all it had taken to reignite my feelings, ones that bordered on obsession and always had. But I was struggling hard to hold at least a sliver of myself in reserve. Circumstances beyond my control had torn us apart once before. It could most certainly happen again. *** I stared at the glittery frame on Everly’s door as I knocked, unable to keep from smiling at the decoration. The smile quickly wilted when only silence met my knock. With my brows furrowed into a frown, I stepped closer
to her door and knocked again, this time louder. Nothing. Not even a whisper of movement to suggest that someone was inside. In a rush I understood. Everly wasn’t home. She was exerting her own power in the situation —a not-so-subtle fuck you designed to show me that I didn’t have control over her, at least not anymore. Irritation raked a thousand tiny nails over my skin. It hadn’t occurred to me that she wouldn’t play along, and my anger was directed at myself. She was going to make me work for it. Well, then. Game on. I turned away from the door, seething as I pulled out my phone, jabbing at
Ilya’s contact information. His phone rang four times before he picked up. I didn’t bother with a greeting. “I need a favor.” I grimaced. In my family, where every action was a commodity, favors were not my favorite thing. But desperate times and all that. “Use those fancy security systems of yours to track Everly.” I hung up before he could ask why I needed to know. He might be pissed, but he’d do it—all of the owners of Restraint were like brothers. We drove each other nuts, but we’d always come through. Feeling slightly more in control of my emotions, I prowled down the
hallway, stepped out of the building and into the fresh air, trying to stave off the hint of panic. I couldn’t panic. I wouldn’t. Everly clearly had an idea of how our little arrangement was going to go down. One that was very different from my own. Too bad for her that I always got my way.
Chapter Seven- Everly The only thing that I wanted to do after my absurdly long day was Netflix and chill. In fact, that was my entire plan until I found myself checking my phone repeatedly on the way home for a new text from Reign. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wanted to see him. Left to my own devices, I didn’t trust myself to stay away. So I’d knocked on my neighbor Nicola’s door and invited her to a movie. “The stripper movie. Please say you want to watch the stripper movie.” Nicola grinned as we both looked up at the ‘now playing’ board. I rolled my
eyes in return, though I couldn’t quite hold back a smirk. When I’d first met Nicola, she’d been shy and reserved as hell—still was, but she loosened up around people that she considered friends. I knew her well enough that if she was asking me to watch some men grinding around on a movie screen with her, she considered me to be one of those friends. The past two days had left me so unsettled that, small as it was, knowing this restored some of my confidence. I’d scored a win at work today. I had a friend. I didn’t need a man. Specifically, I didn’t need a European prince with entitlement issues.
Clinging to my newfound, ra-ra girl power, I ordered a massive tub of popcorn with extra butter and a giant root beer. It wasn’t like anyone was going to be seeing me naked, anyway. This thought, of course, tried to stomp on the stiletto heels of that girl power. A shiver of nerves settled in my gut as I thought of Reign’s text from the night before. He wasn’t going to pleased to discover that I wasn’t home. Hell, that was the whole reason that I’d left. I’d have been lying if I said that I didn’t wonder what he was going to do about it. The theatre was packed, with only one male in the bunch, an unlucky soul
whose unhappy expression said that he’d been dragged there by the blonde clutching his hand like he’d make a mad dash if she let him go. Nicola slid into the first empty seats we saw, in the back row, settling into the creaky chairs as the previews started. The oily scent of theatre popcorn and the sticky sweetness of fountain soda hung heavily in the air, such a contrast from the quiet sophistication of Reign’s cologne that I sighed with relief—going out had been a good idea, after all. And when the movie started and I was treated to the yummy image of a horde of wellmuscled, incredibly good-looking actors thrusting their hips every which way on
the screen, I smirked to myself, noting that it had been a very good idea indeed. Settling back in the chair, I crossed my arms over my chest and let myself sink into the story. It worked... at least, it worked until about halfway through, when a casual reference to one of the strippers as Prince of the One Dollar Bills forced Reign back to centre stage in my mind. The memory of the heat in Reign’s eyes the night before flashed through my mind. I blinked, once, and twice more as I tried to shake the picture away. My mind didn’t listen—the mental picture held on and grew more intense. I couldn’t believe that I felt guilty for running away from Reign. I had every
reason to, and we both knew it. Seeing him had awakened that old dominant/ submissive dynamic between us, as naturally as breathing. My instinct was to please him, even though I knew it wasn’t something that I should want. A wave of bitterness washed over me as I cursed Prince Reign of Visalia. Inhaling deeply, I did my best to sink back into the movie. I experienced a prickle of irritation when, just two minutes later, Nicola jabbed her elbow into my side. “Everly!” “Ssh. What?” I turned to cast her an exasperated glance. Her sky blue eyes were wide, and I opened my mouth to
ask her what her problem was when I noticed the figure standing behind her. Expensive black trousers, a shortsleeved blue shirt that managed to look tidy despite the ever-present heat that was summer in Florida. And a very familiar face set with displeasure. “Enjoying the movie?” That accent, crisp as cool cider, managed to convey every ounce of his disdain without his expression altering at all. “Everly.” Nicola sounded faint. She quivered with excitement in her seat as she whispered. I didn’t know why she bothered—she was still pretty loud. “That’s Prince Reign. Of Visalia. The prince. A prince. You know him?”
From somewhere in the middle of the theatre, someone hushed us. Someone else gasped, probably having recognized Reign. I wanted to roll my eyes at the entire situation, but Nicola was actually kinda cute all starstruck. So instead I smiled tightly at her as adrenaline pumped through my veins at the sight of Reign. “Uh, yes. We... ahh... went to college together.” I swallowed thickly as Reign’s eyes turned to amber ice. “That’s one way to put it.” He smiled down at Nicola, who actually squeaked. I huffed out an exasperated sigh. We were shushed again, and a handful of people stood up and made
their way to the exit, glaring at us while clutching their popcorn buckets to their chests like shields. Reign didn’t seem to care. I, however, was not impressed that he’d interrupted my girls’ night. More than that, he was embarrassing me. “What are you doing here?” I whispered, frowning up at him. Though his overall demeanor seemed casual, his jaw clenched at my question, and he didn’t look impressed. “We had plans.” “Like hell we did.” My whisper grew louder and my spine stiffened. “Plans means that both parties agree. I did not.”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Butterfly.” His smile was so wicked, so hot, that I felt a rush of dampness surge straight between my thighs. “Remember the kind of plans that we both find pleasure in? Only one person has to agree to those.” Not strictly true, since the submissive could stop a scene at any time, but that was irrelevant at the moment. He was trying to get me to think about all the deliciously dirty things we’d once done together. It worked. “The only dates I plan to have with you are at a very specific location.” I smiled, the expression far more calm
than I felt. “Text me when you’re ready for that.” This finally elicited a reaction—his eyes narrowed with warning. His lips parted to speak, but Nicola stood at that moment, interrupting whatever he was about to say. “I think this is my cue to leave.” Looking down at me, she mouthed holy shit. “Call me later, Everly. I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about.” And then the little traitor up and left, leaving me alone with the one person I was both dying to see and simultaneously avoiding. Another group of people left with her. I cringed.
I squeaked with indignation, opening my mouth to give Reign a piece of my mind. Instead I felt my jaw dropping as he pulled out his expensive-looking leather wallet, removing a thick stack of bills. Leaning over me—and damn it if just the slight whisper of his cologne as he did so didn’t make me weak in the knees —he tapped the shoulder of the woman on my other side. She glanced over, then did a doubletake. “Excuse me, miss.” Reign smiled his most charming grin, the one he’d used on me the day we’d met. The woman he’d approached was eighty if she was a day,
but preened under his use of the word like a peacock. “Well, you’re that young prince, aren’t you?” She beamed with pleasure. “I’ve always wanted to meet a royal!” I snorted and Reign pursed his lips at me. The woman wasn’t quite so polite. “Young lady, if I were twenty years younger, I’d know exactly what to do with a man like this who came chasing me into a movie theatre.” She nodded to emphasize her point. “The least you can do is hear him out.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Reign spoke right over of me. “I’m glad you see it that way, miss.” The woman giggled this time—actually giggled.
“Aren’t you the one!” She elbowed her companion, a woman who looked even older than herself. “Mabel, look! It’s that prince. You know, from that country!” “Eh?” Mabel blinked, her glasses magnifying her eyes to owl-like proportions. I ignored his remark, and glared at him. “How did you find me, anyway?” He shrugged, annoying me even more. “You’re the security expert.” That meant Ilya. I’d always suspected that he’d placed trackers in our company cell phones. Damn him. Peeling a bill off the top of the pile in his hand, he held it out to the woman he’d tapped on the shoulder. I blinked
with shock when it passed under my nose—it was a hundred. “I’m wondering if you could be convinced to let me have a private talk with this obstinate young woman here.” He smiled again, and I’m sure every female in a twenty-mile radius heard the angels sing. “Just a token for your trouble.” The woman nipped the bill from his hands and tucked it into her purse without blinking. “I’d be happy to. Mabel here might need a bit of convincing, though.” I started to protest, but Reign smoothly slipped the cash to the other woman as well, who sniffed it before tucking it into her bra. Before I knew
what was happening, the request and the stack of cash travelled all down the row I was sitting in, and back up the row in front of us. A herd of people stood as one and filed out of the theatre, all smiling flirtatiously at Reign as they left. As the last one passed, he grinned down at me, then slid into Nicola’s empty seat. I gaped. Assuming every one of those people had taken a hundred dollar bill, he’d just blown fourteen hundred dollars to get me alone. Not that he couldn’t afford it. But holy hell. That was not okay on so many levels. Between the cash and annoying the hell out of the other people who’d come here to watch sexy men do a little bump and grind, the theatre was...
Oh, God. The theatre was empty. “What the hell was that?” I threw my hands up in the air, thoroughly exasperated. “How many times do I have to tell you? This—whatever this is—is not happening!” I stood up from my chair, but his hand shot up and gripped my wrist. “Sit down, Everly,” he warned, his voice low and wickedly dangerous. “We have a date.” I glared down at him, but... oh hell. I sank back down into my chair as all of the fight drained out of me. I knew this man, and I knew that he wasn’t going to give up. What’s more, his continual assault on my barriers had succeeded in making a dent.
“You win.” Hopelessness colored my voice with pain. “Just please... please don’t...” I couldn’t finish, choking on a sob. Damn it, I would not cry in front of him. He didn’t have that kind of power over me anymore. “Everly.” Reign had said my name a thousand times before, but the way he said it this time had my head snapping up. There was such emotion in it at that moment that I could have believed, maybe, that... No. No, I wasn’t going to go there. I inhaled deeply, trying to force myself to shut down again, but he caught my chin in his hand, forcing me to look at him.
“I’ve never wanted to hurt you.” The rawness of his voice took me aback, but my entire self rejected his words. A strangled sound emitted from my throat, and I started to say something, what I didn’t know, but my words were cut off by his lips. Weakly, I tried to push him away from me, but his arms came around my waist, kneading the skin revealed under the hem of my cotton tank top. The touch was just this side of innocent, but sent a lightning bolt of need searing through me. I tried to speak, but the words were muffled by his hungry mouth. He forced my lips open with his tongue, furiously
licking at me as he tugged me into his lap. He’d planned this. Even through the haze of lust, I knew that. He’d purposefully cleared out the two rows to give us some semblance of privacy, cleared the rest of the theatre sccidentally, but he’d known that he would have to use the heat that still existed between us to overcome my defenses. I should have protested, but as his hands started to roam my body, I couldn’t think why I’d want to. Grabbing me by my hips, he pressed me down against him. Even through the thick fabric of my denim cutoffs, I could feel his arousal, the solid ridge of his cock firm against my ass.
Without thinking, my hips made a rolling gesture that had our sexes meeting. We both let out a sharp gasp. My eyes flew open and as I craned my neck to look back, I found the fierceness that I felt reflected in Reign’s eyes. His lips were parted, his expression determined as he gripped me more tightly, pushing against me once again. Painfully aware of where we were, I swallowed a cry, throwing my head back as one of his hands stroked from my hip up and over my ribcage, finally cupping my breast. My nipples pebbled and I arched into his touch. He pinched my nipple once sharply before continuing his exploration, his hand stroking back down.
I couldn’t hold back the whimper as he slid his fingers between my legs. Without thinking, I parted my thighs wider, leaning back against his chest for support. “Don’t you make a sound.” He stroked over the denim seam, setting me to writhing. I exhaled sharply, and the sound was as loud as a scream to my own ears. “I don’t know if I can help it.” This was said under my breath, and when he heard me, he stopped the slow stroke of his fingers. I thrust down onto his lap sharply, making him chuckle into my ear. “You make noise, an employee will come see what’s going on, and we’re going to get kicked out of here.” He held
those wicked fingers still, despite my desperate wiggles. “In fact, one will probably come in anyway, since all those people are asking for their money back. Whatever shall we do if they catch us like this?” “You could always pay them off.” My retort was sharp. “You’ve had practice.” I could feel his lips curving into a smile against my ear. “Ah, but I won’t.” He placed a kiss just under my earlobe, and an unexpected thread of tenderness had me sinking my teeth into my lower lip. “In fact, I might just let them watch.” The sharp words on the tip of my tongue disappeared when he slipped his
fingers beneath the hem of my loose shorts. Stroking upwards with light feathering touches, his fingers found my hipbone, slowly, dangerously coming closer to my moist heat. I opened my legs further still, granting him access. My back arched when he growled, then forced his hand roughly inside my panties. I heard the ripping of a seam as he slid through my slickness, zeroing straight in on my clit. I held onto him tightly, my fingernails digging into his thighs as he began to firmly and repeatedly circle the swollen nub. He remembered exactly how to play my body, and within moments my thighs were tensing, my breath panting out of me as I rocked on his lap, reaching for
the sweet release that I knew lurked just around the corner. He pushed me to the edge, but didn’t let me fall, instead working one thick long finger to my entrance. By that point I was so wet that he met no resistance, his finger completely buried inside my tight sheath, where he began to move in and out with relentless strokes. I choked back another cry, desperate for more more more. Reading the signs of my body, Reign traced his tongue down the length of my neck, then worked a second finger inside. This time he parted my heat with a scissoring motion, and then I could hold out no longer. My inner walls tightened and trembled around his fingers. Fire started in the pit
of my belly, and I knew that when I came, the fire would swallow me whole. Sensation after sensation washed over me, slowly drowning me as the last thread of control snapped. I pushed myself closer to him, my back to his front. I held onto him, my lips parted in a silent gasp as the storm broke. I rode his fingers as he whispered filthy things under his breath. “That’s it, Butterfly. Ride my fingers like they’re my cock. Use me. I want you to.” I closed my eyes, crying out loudly as the sound of his dirty words, and his thrusts had me coming so hard I saw stars. My head fell backward, landing on
his shoulder as I panted through my release. “Everly.” He kissed my hair, stroked the fingers of one hand through it repeatedly as I struggled to come down from the high, weak and soft in his arms. My legs were shaking, my entire body trembling. What had just happened? What had I done? Reign was full of charm. It was just a part of who he was. But even though my body was sated, I couldn’t believe that I’d cracked under his battle plan. “Everly?” His voice held a note of confusion, and I realized that my body was tightening against his. Swallowing thickly, I pulled away from him slowly,
gradually. Shifting my weight into the seat beside him, my mind whirled with the implications of what I’d just done. I wanted to scream at myself for giving in, for dropping the barriers that had been built brick by painful, bloody brick. The fight in me had weakened with the orgasm, and I didn’t know if I had the strength to argue with him anymore. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked, taking my chin with the crook of his finger. I shook my head. Nothing and everything. There was no good answer. His voice hardened when he spoke my name again. “Everly.”
“Let me go, Reign,” I protested, and pulled away from him. His hand left my underwear and I wasn’t quick enough not to notice his glistening fingers. The evidence of my own desire for Reign, visible to anyone’s eyes, made me wince. I needed to get the hell out of there. I moved around him, straightening my clothing as I stood. The soft sound of someone clearing their throat had my head whipping around—just inside the doors to the theatre stood two young men, maybe nineteen or twenty, dressed in maroon employee uniforms. They stared with mouths wide open. A strangled cry escaped my throat and I bolted for the door. One of the
young men stuttered as I rushed past. The other cast me a thumbs-up. Christ. Blood flooded my cheeks as I slammed out of the theatre itself, then headed straight for the front doors of the building. Normally I actually enjoyed a bit of exhibitionism, but that wasn’t why I was upset. I’d set rules for myself regarding Reign, and he’d made me completely forget them, despite my best intentions. He’d made me forget where I was, and who was or was not watching. It terrified the hell out of me. “Everly!” Reign called out behind me, breathless. I picked up the pace,
needing to get away, out of his sphere of influence. I’d already proven that I likely wasn’t capable enough of controlling myself if he followed me back home. “Everly, wait!” Reign’s footsteps were growing louder by the minute. I knew he was going to catch up to me, but still I couldn’t rid myself of the need to flee. “Go home, Reign!” I pushed through the outside doors, gulping at the fresh air, hoping that it would clear my head. Instead, I was assaulted with yet another reminder of Reign’s presence. I stopped in my tracks as I took in the shiny limousine parked right outside the movie theater.
In an instant, guilt piled on, into the mass of emotions swirling through me. He’d hired a limo service? That likely meant he’d planned out the rest of the evening in meticulous detail as well. I don’t know why I was surprised. I shouldn’t have been. Reign might have demanded that I have dinner with him, but he wasn’t the type to drag me to some all-night diner. No, he would have planned the entire evening around my preferences, would have plotted a lengthy seduction. And I hadn’t bothered to call to tell him in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t show up. No, I’d run away... just like he had all those years ago.
I was no better than he was. Maybe I never had been. Tears welled in my eyes. Why did everything have to be so fucked up? I muttered a string of swear words under my breath as Reign’s footsteps reached me. I felt his presence from behind, and I didn’t have to turn around to know he was there. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” His voice was low, had that commanding thread that I’d never been able to resist. I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak. We stood there for a long moment, the silence so loud it hurt my ears. I didn’t want to leave it like this—I had so many things to say.
I simply had no way to spit them out. “Excuse me?” We turned at the sound of the new voice. A college-age woman, dressed in a tube top and skintight jeans so low that the entire back of her thong was visible, had approached us. Her waist-length sable hair was teased into careful waves, her makeup expertly—if heavily —applied. The woman looked at me curiously, starting with my feet and working up and over me slowly. She clearly wasn’t too worried about what she saw, because she smirked and turned her entire attention to Reign. “You’re that prince.” Her face lit up like she’d just answered the winning
question on Jeopardy. I expected Reign to simply nod in that charming manner that he had, to maybe sign an autograph and turn his attention back to me—the woman didn’t even seem to know his name, after all. Instead he gave her the same onceover that she’d just given me, then, to my astonishment, smiled sexily, clearly liking what he’d seen. “I’m Prince Reign, yes. And what is your name, gorgeous?” What. The. Fuck. “I’m Diane.” The woman cast me a quick glance, her eyes shooting little darts of triumph meant to pierce my skin and wound my soul. Her voice had that
breathy cadence that was natural to no one yet used by so many. “That’s a lovely name.” There was that smile again, the one that had panties dropping throughout the entire state. “Lovely name for a lovely woman.” And I was pretty sure that I just threw up in my mouth a little. “Well, I’m going out to an awesome club now.” The woman thrust her chest forward and batted her eyelashes. Every fiber of my body wanted to call her a whore, but how could I? She was making a play for an attractive man who had given no indication that he was otherwise attached. Never mind that women used that word far too often to tear one another down.
“What club is that?” Reign cocked his head to the side, his stare fixed on the woman. Holy hell, he actually looked interested. Surely he wasn’t going to go somewhere with this girl? Well, why wouldn’t he, Everly? The little voice in my mind was in full-on snark mode. You’ve certainly done everything you can to tell him that there’s no hope here. “It’s called Restraint.” Diane shimmied a little closer to Reign, and I found myself grinding my teeth together. “It’s supposed to be kind of... naughty. Want to come?” Jealousy had my blood turning from a simmer to a rolling boil in the blink of an eye. Before I could overthink it, I
closed the space between us, slamming my hand on the roof of the limo to grab Reign’s attention. He didn’t even flinch, telling me that he’d been aware of me the entire time. “Prince Reign has a previous engagement.” I glared up at him; he smirked down at me, as if he’d known all along what I would do. I wanted to wipe that look right off his face, so I used the best tool in my arsenal—I threaded my hands through those deliciously thick waves of his hair and claimed his lips with my own. I thought I heard him chuckle, but within seconds it disintegrated into a moan as he traced his tongue over the seam of my lips. I heard the other
woman gasp, then the click of her heels as she stomped away, but I couldn’t have cared less. I gasped when Reign broke the kiss, lifting me into his arms. The door to the limo was suddenly open, and then we were inside, my thighs splayed wide over his own as I straddled him on the leather seat. “Come home with me.” His voice was husky, his eyes bright as he thrust up against me. I could feel his erection, so swollen by that point that it had to be painful. But... He met my gaze, letting me look deep into his eyes as he traced a finger over my lips.
“I want this. You want this. Why do you keep saying no?” “It’s not that easy.” I shivered. I wanted to give in, so badly. It was like sitting in front of a plate of chocolate cake. I knew it would be rich, delicious, decadent while it lasted. But after? After, I wouldn’t feel so good. “Give me the truth, Reign. What do you want from me?”
Chapter Eight- Reign I stared at Everly, unsure of how to answer her question. I wanted sex. I could get it anytime, anywhere, from anyone, but the physical connection between Everly and I made me crave her touch, specifically. But it wasn’t just sex. And I wasn’t ready to say it was... love. After what I’d once done for my family, leaving my woman and my life in America to shoulder the blame for my older brother’s massive error in judgment, they’d repaid me by allowing me a life outside of our country. I didn’t need them. I had my own fortune. But they still needed me to
handle their finances, to manage their public personas, to make sure the small country of Visalia didn’t discover their true natures—which left much to be desired—and revolt. And with that tie to my country, my family, my obligations? No matter what I felt, Everly and I could never be. The woman was tough, but also sweet. Wild, but also wanted traditional things out of life—stability and romantic love. She’d hate that part of my life. I hated it, yet familial guilt kept me tethered. No, it would never work. But now that she’d danced back into my life, I
couldn’t fathom letting her waltz back out without... something. “What do you want from me, Reign?” Everly repeated, staring at me with her wide, pale as glass eyes that still haunted my dreams. I could have used that moment to talk dirty to her, to distract her with the lust that I knew we were both feeling, my cock pressed against her wet heat. I owed her more than that. So I replied as honestly as I knew how. “I want you.” “I want you, too.” Her words sent me soaring to the sky, just as quickly as her next ones threw me to the ground and left me shattered. “But we both know that anything more than sex will never
work. Not with your family, not with our history.” If she’d sliced into me with a knife, it couldn’t have hurt more. Her voice had gone soft and whispery by the time she spoke again. Silence fell between us the moment her words left her mouth, leaving us both in shock and surprise. “So I suppose the question is, can we go ahead with our plan? Can you train me as a submissive at Restraint, let us scratch this itch, and then go our own separate ways?” “You still want that?” I was shocked. For some reason, I’d thought... I don’t know what I’d thought. That we’d ride off into the sunset together and she
would forget all about getting down and kinky with some other guy? Jealousy was bitter on my tongue. “I’m willing to try,” Everly started, and my heart leapt. She held up a hand to fend me off. “The sex, I mean. The training. At Restraint.” The training. Right. The stupid fucking training. The barrier that she insisted on keeping erected, because of how badly I’d hurt her so long ago. As if following my train of thought, she cocked her head to the side, rising onto her knees, momentarily separating our hardness and heat. “Any long-lost fiancées I should know about this time?” To her credit, she
kept all accusation out of her voice, asking the question with no inflection. Oh God, how I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t. If the real story got out, my family would be ruined. So I simply shook my head, my jaw clenched. I hated, hated, hated that she thought I was the kind of person to use her as the other woman. I hadn’t. I wasn’t that kind of man. I wasn’t blameless either, though. I’d still left, still chosen my family over her. She had every right to hate me. I was lucky that she was offering me anything at all. Still... “I don’t like the idea of being a sex toy, Everly.” I gritted my teeth.
She shrugged. “It’s all up to you, Reign. You’re either willing to take my offer, or you aren’t.” The limo pulled to a stop in front of my building, and a beam of moonlight streamed through the tinted window, its icy glow washing over us like watercolor paint. It made her eyes glitter like shards of glass, contoured her pale skin. She was a witch, a siren, drawn here to lure me to my fate. I knew I’d go willingly. I’d take whatever she would give me. “We’re here.” This was my acquiescence. She nodded, then slid from my lap.
I caught my fingers in her hair before she could reach the door. She gasped slightly as I tugged her face back in my direction. Her pupils dilated slightly when she noted the lust that I knew was broadcast from every line of my body. “I’ve agreed to your terms.” My voice was rough, husky with need. I wanted—no, needed—to reassert myself in this relationship. Whatever this relationship was. “Now you’ll agree to mine.” She swallowed, and I was pleased to hear the contentment in her breathy little sigh. Yeah, she wanted this. She craved it every bit as much as I did. For tonight at
least, we’d forget about everything else and just focus on that. “What are your terms?” She traced the tip of her tongue over the curve of her lower lip, and I tightened my grip, tugging a little harder. She gasped, the prickles of pleasure and pain flushing her cheeks the most delicious shade of pink. I dipped my head to brush my lips over one of those cheeks, then the other, and then her lips, not speaking until I’d drawn back and was able to look into her eyes once again. “My terms?” I grinned, savoring the way that she shivered. “My terms are simple.”
“This is your last chance to change your mind. Once you step out of this car... you’re mine.”
Chapter Nine- Everly As soon as we stepped inside the glasswalled elevator, Reign grabbed me by the shoulders, pressing me hard against the wall. Before I could even gasp, his head descended and his mouth claimed my own. He parted my lips with his tongue, seeking entrance as his hands roamed down my body. Without warning, he swatted the bare skin beneath the hem of my shorts with his open palm. I yelped, startled, then moaned as the stinging heat spread straight to my sex. “You’re drenched already,” Reign murmured in my ear, sliding that hand up into my shorts, beneath the thin fabric of
my panties and right inside of me. My knees buckled when he crooked that finger, bringing all of those delicious nerves to bright, sparkling life. “Tell me, has anyone spanked you since we were together?” With the hand not inside of me, he delivered a series of swats to my other thigh, light little smacks that made me gasp. I shook my head, my attention still caught on the fact that we were in an elevator—a see-through one. “Reign!” I melted against him as he crooked that finger inside of me again, rubbing over that bundle of nerves that made my thighs clench. “Stop it! Someone could see!”
“Did you just tell me to stop?” He did, for a moment, pulling back to look into my eyes. “Stop... or red?” My mouth went dry. I’d forgotten, forgotten the way a man like Reign would challenge what you thought you wanted, would push, would ultimately demand everything. I shook my head, licked my lips. “Just... stop.” The curve of his lips was full of wicked intention. “Oh, I don’t think so.” The buttons indicating the number of floors we had risen were lit up almost all the way to the top. The final chime signaled that we’d reached the penthouse of the high-rise—not a surprise. The guy was a prince, after all.
But rather than allowing the elevator door to slide open, he slammed his palm onto the red emergency button, locking the elevatorin place. My pulse hammered against the tender skin of my throat. “Strip.” He stepped away from me, placed himself in front of the metal doors. The other three walls of the elevator were made of thick, clear glass. The night sky surrounded us, deep blue sky and golden stars weaving in and out of the other large buildings that surrounded us. We were high in the sky, lending the impression that we were simply balanced on a platform in the evening air.
It wasn’t likely that anyone could see us, and yet I felt so very exposed. It was terrifying. It was thrilling. Another smack on the back of my leg made me jolt. “I said strip.” I looked back over my shoulder and found... oh my. There was Reign, my sexy lover, a man attractiveenough to attract any woman in existence. But while I’d stared out at the night sky, he’d unbuttoned his shirt, unbuckled his belt, undone his pants. I could see every ripple of his abdomen, those lickable lines that made up his hips, the russet vee of hair leading down into his briefs.
The swollen head of his cock had escaped the elastic waist, and it was already damp, making my mouth water. “Strip.” His eyes were nearly black as he looked me over, and I knew that he was contemplating what to do to me. My knees trembled as I crossed my arms at the waist and clutched the cotton hem of my T-shirt, quickly pulling it up and over my head. “Interesting.” Raking over me with his stare, I felt as though his fingers were already on my flesh as he eyed the red satin of my bra. When I undid my shorts and let them drop to the floor, revealing the matching panties, those sinful lips quirked into a smile. “That’s the kind of
underwear you put on for a night at the movies with a friend?” “I... I wore it because I wanted to feel good.” I raised my chin, staring at him defiantly. The sparks in his eyes lit me on fire. “And do you?” “Yes.” “I’m going to make you feel even better.” His words held dark promise. “Take them off.” Trembling, I reached behind me and unsnapped the clasp of the bra. I held it to my breasts, noted the warning on his face, and let it fall. His growl of approval was all the encouragement I needed to hook my
fingers in the sides of the panties and send them fluttering to the floor as well. He took his time looking me over, lingering on my exposed breasts, my centre. I shifted restlessly under the inspection, squeezing my thighs together as the ache between them grew. It had been so long since we’d been together, and I remembered just how good it was. I didn’t know how long I could wait. “Still haven’t learned patience, hmm?” Reign gestured with a twirl of his finger for me to turn around. I did, then gasped as, lightning fast, he took me by the shoulders and pressed me against the glass wall of the elevator. This high, it was icy cold, even in the Florida heat,
and my nipples contracted painfully at the chill. “Later, we’ll work on that patience.” I heard the jingle of the loosened belt buckle, then the crinkle of foil. My pulse ratcheted up. “Later, I’m going to tie you to my bed and rediscover every inch of you. Relearn all of your secrets.” Reaching between my legs, he swiped his fingers through my folds. I was so wet that I would have been embarrassed, if my entire being wasn’t focused on the exquisite sensations wrought by his touch. When he trailed that touch from my damp heat up, up the cleft that divided my buttocks, tracing delicately over the delicate pucker hidden there, my entire
body clenched with need, and I moaned out loud. “Oh yes, later I’ll take my time. I’ll make you come until you beg me to stop.” Hands on my waist, he urged me to my tiptoes. I did, bracing myself against the glass, then gasping when I felt him line up the head of his swollen shaft against my entrance. “But right now I’m going to take you fast. Fast and hard and deep.” Without another word, he pulled me down onto his engorged shaft. I shrieked as he filled me in one hard thrust that had my fingers scrabbling against the glass. This position, this angle... remembering how big he was and experiencing it again were entirely
different things. I felt as though I was being split in two as my swollen tissues sucked at him, trying to pull him deeper, into space that I just didn’t have. Behind me he chuckled, his hands landing on my hips. “I’d forgotten what a sweet, tight little cunt you have, Butterfly.” He wiggled me around a bit, adjusting our fit, before working another fraction of his shaft inside of me. I moaned, shaking my head. That wasn’t going to fit. I was full. “Don’t you tell me no.” Wiggle, small thrust. Wiggle, small thrust. “You fit me once before. You’re going to do it again. You’re going to take me so deep
that you feel me in your throat, Butterfly. And it’s going to be so fucking good.” That accent. Those filthy, filthy words. I could have come from that alone. But then he wiggled me on his cock yet again, and I felt something deep inside of me give way. He gave a triumphant shout as my body finally granted him access, and he slid the rest of the way home, the heavy weight of his balls tapping against the curves of my ass. “Good girl.” He stilled, letting me adjust to his entry. I was panting, fingers scrabbling at the glass. His hands slid from my hips to work their way between that glass and my breasts, and he started
to squeeze and massage the heavy globes. It was too much. Too much stimulation. Too much pleasure. I shook my head back and forth against the glass, unable to do more than moan and give myself over to him. “Later tonight I’m going to put my cock between these beautiful tits.” He gave them one last squeeze before sliding his hands back down to my waist. “I’m going to oil them up, I’m going to fuck them, and then I’m going to paint them with my release. Going to mark you. Show you you’re mine.” Oh God, oh God. The image that made. I clenched around his shaft, and he growled deep in his throat.
“Can’t wait any longer.” His fingers dug into my waist, and I arched into the touch. “Hang on, baby. This is going to be rough.” I looked down just as he lifted me up an inch, then slammed me back down onto his cock. The floor of the elevator was glass as well, something I had just noticed, and between the weightlessness the glass suggested and the drag of that massive erection over my swollen inner tissues, I couldn’t hold on. “Reign!” I screamed his name, I know I did, and I didn’t care who might have heard. He lifted me, slammed me down, again and again, all while I stared out into the night with wide eyes.
Then the head of his cock pushed against exactly the right spot inside of me, and I was flying. I screamed again as I shuddered around him, clamping down on him like a vise. He thrust once, then twice more, burying himself to the root on the second push and groaning long and deep as he emptied himself inside of me. In the years since Reign had left me, I’d always felt as though I was searching for something. I’d never been able to fill that hole, whatever it was. But right in that moment, filled from within, surrounded by the beauty of the velvety darkness outside? I was more content than I’d ever been.
*** I was surprised that Reign’s home was decorated in white. Everywhere I looked, it was shades of cream on eggshell on snow. It gave the house a glow and brightness that made it...lively, and alluring. This was notably strange because the décor was the exact opposite of its owner. The dominant prince. Broody, mysterious, and sexy as hell. Still naked—Reign hadn’t allowed me to dress again—I wandered, taking in the massive sectional sofa. Its length and width nearly overtook the living room. In the middle, there was a glass coffee
table with a pale driftwood sculpture resting on its surface. Framed white fabric hung on the walls, different woven textures that made me want to reach out and touch. “I’ve never brought anyone here before,” Reign said, speaking from behind me. “No women. No family. Not even Ilya.” I trailed my fingers over the back of the sofa, finding the fabric soft. “Why are you telling me this, Reign?” “Because I wanted you to know.” He moved into my line of sight. He had refastened his pants, but his shirt still hung open. Despite the fact that my knees still trembled from the force of the
release I’d had only moments earlier, I found myself wanting him all over again. He sauntered over to me, framing my face with his hands before pressing a short, sweet kiss on my forehead. I closed my eyes, afraid to let him know that that sweet gesture had me panicking silently. After all my talk about this being just sex, I had to make sure to hold myself to my own words. Butterflies matching the one on my back fluttered through my belly as Reign continued to trail his lips over my skin, intoxicating kisses that had my head reeling, making me reach out to grip his upper arms. He let me steady myself, then buried his face into the crook of my
neck, his tongue tracing the planes of my skin. A moan left my lips as he rubbed the evidence of a new erection against my belly. Jesus. He was hard all over again, and despite the lingering soreness between my thighs, I found myself eager to feel him inside me again. Lifting one leg, I draped it around his hip, giving him access to my heat. A groan left us both when I stood on my toes, perching my hips against the back of the couch. He pressed against my softness, and I melted all over again. My inner walls convulsed as his fingers probed gently, sliding in before finding that sweet spot that had my eyes rolling back in my head.
“You’re still so tight,” Reign murmured in my ear after he had worked two fingers inside of me. I clutched at his arm, my nails sinking into his skin as he moved in and out of my sheath. The gesture had my toes curling, my knees weakening as he captured the cries that left my lips. Needing more friction, I moved my hips to match the rhythm of his hand. He pulled in and out, the sucking sound of my flesh pulling on his fingers echoing around us. I knew that I was a mess, makeup smeared, hair in tangles, but all I could care about was the tightening in the pit of my belly, slowly blossoming into pure pleasure.
Without a word, the storm broke and I came. I didn’t scream this time; my sounds were muffled when I bit down on my lower lip, then hid my face against Reign’s neck as my inner muscles tightened around his fingers. My chest heaved as he pulled back slightly. Drawing his hand back, and without breaking eye contact, he placed the fingers he had buried in my pussy to his mouth. And to my shock, he opened his lips and sucked them dry. He gave a groan, licking my juices from his hand like he’d never tasted anything so good. The sight brought out soft mewling sounds from me, and I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
I was so engrossed with what he was doing that by the time he finished licking his fingers, I was panting already for more. It was like I was in heat. I’d had a taste, and all I could think about was getting more. Reign pulled me roughly to him, eliciting a gasp from me. Lifting me, he carried us around to the front of the massive couch, then placed me gently on the soft cushions. He pulled away from me, staring into my eyes before he let me go. “Stay here. Don’t move. I need to go cool off in the shower. Get enough control to do all those things I promised to you.” Oh, I didn’t like that idea. Well, I liked the doing things part. But I didn’t
want him to go. I grabbed his hand. “Stay.” “No.” His stare raked over my naked frame, and then he rubbed a hand over his erection, making me moan. If I did nothing but get fucked by this man for the rest of my life, I would die a happy woman. “I’ll let you get your control back.” I smirked, not thinking that this was such a great idea personally, but willing to humor the dominant. I reached for a massive woolly blanket that hung over the back of the couch and wrapped it around myself, covering every bit of my skin. “Just stay. We can watch a movie or something.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt my pulse trip. Bad idea, Everly. Spending non-sexy time together opened a door for feelings. Feelings bad. But I didn’t want to break the connection we’d just forged. If he went off by himself, he’d regain that iron-clad control. Then we’d have sex— phenomenal sex, to be sure—but it would be tightly controlled. I liked the Reign that had been with me in the elevator—the one who had been driven crazy just because of me. “You want to watch a movie?” he repeated, blinking, looking bemused. I nodded, arching an eyebrow. “They do have movies in the great country of
Visalia, right? You know? Stories? On a screen?” “Smart-ass.” Reign playfully swatted my blanket-covered ass before reaching for a remote. One press of a button opened a panel in the wall that had hidden a massive flat screen behind a large painting. Another press brought up some kind of service, something that appeared far more expansive than the Netflix I was so addicted to. Without a sound, he selected a film, scrolling through so quickly that I didn’t catch the title. Then he settled in beside me, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I stiffened in surprise. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, though if I didn’t think it to death, I
supposed it was actually pretty nice. I actually felt the urge to tell him just that, but thank God my sense of selfpreservation caught up with me before the words came out. Tell him that snuggling with him was nice? I might as well just profess my undying love and hand him my bleeding heart on a silver platter. “Is something wrong?” Reign looked down at me, concern playing over his face, and I realized that I’d stiffened against him. I forced myself to relax, muscle by muscle, and swallowed against the panic my unspoken words had cost me. “Nothing at all.” I smiled brightly before directing my attention to the
massive screen, effectively ending the conversation. I needed to guard myself more closely if I didn’t want to open myself up to a world of pain all over again. Opening credits started to roll over the screen. I liked the music, which was slow and seductive with a decided Spanish influence, but then, I’d always had eclectic taste, loading my iPod with everything from Sinatra to Radiohead and Lamb of God. Definitely not Reign’s style though. With his upbringing, he had a decided taste for classical and opera. His taste in movies had always run more toward artsy foreign films as well, while I preferred watching things blow up.
So what had he chosen for us to watch? “Your cock is bigger than I’d imagined.” “What the hell?” My mouth fell open in shock. I craned my neck to glare up at Reign, smacking him in the arm after extricating a hand from the blanket. “You put on a porno? Dude. Ask first.” He arched an eyebrow, and that was all it took to remind me that given the parameters of our relationship, he didn’t have to ask anything at all. But what the hell did he need a porno for? I was right here. I wanted to ask, but the lesson I’d just schooled myself with was still fresh.
Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t get too involved. Keep it light, and maybe I would keep my heart. On the massive screen, the very first scene of the movie dissolved very quickly into sex. I wasn’t entirely sure where to look—watching this kind of movie with my ex-boyfriend and current lover was freaking weird. But even with my eyes on my lap, I couldn’t ignore the unmistakable sounds that the actors were making. I should be sated, sore even, and yet I found myself clenching my thighs together against a sudden ache. Hormones. It had to be hormones. It certainly couldn’t be because of the company I was keeping, specifically.
The movie played on. Settling back on the stupidly soft cushions, I glanced at Reign from the corner of my eye. I was curious to see if he was actually paying attention to the movie, which to my surprise seemed to have some storyline and a bit more class than the porn films I’d caught snippets of before. It seemed that he was. And after a few more minutes, I was too, drawn into the highly erotic scene playing out in front of us. I was also squirming in my seat, and beside me, Reign was smirking, clearly pleased with himself. He knew what the movie was doing to me. The sounds of the couple’s groans and moans had dampness pooling between my sore thighs. My clit
throbbed and ached immediately, needing relief as I squirmed once more. It was too much. I wanted to look away, but I was captivated. “Do you, ah, watch this kind of thing often?” I dragged my stare from the television to Reign’s face—anything to gain some semblance of control over my raging hormones. The hormones that had been very much in control until Reign had come back into my life. He grinned down at me. “It’s not porn. Not exactly. It’s more... erotica for women.” I turned to look at him. “Are they actually having sex?” Reign smirked and nodded, and I arched an eyebrow. “Call it what you
want, your highness, but porn is porn.” I received a quiet chuckle from Reign, and then a nip on the earlobe. “It’s not, but I think it’s having the desired result.” As we both turned our attention back to the screen, I had to agree. I ached with need. “Reign.” No response. Frustrating bastard. “Ahem.” He didn’t even bat an eyelash. Instead, the jerk kept on watching like he didn’t hear me. “Reign,” I emphasized his name even more. I needed him to look at me, to see what I needed without me having
to speak. I was too embarrassed to admit that I was so aroused from what we were watching. “What is it, Everly?” He still wasn’t looking at me. I sighed in frustration. He was going to make me say it. He wanted me to make the first move, to show him what I really needed at this moment. Fine. I would. Without another word, I pressed myself against him. My breasts brushed against his arm, my nipples hardening. Not only did this make my situation worse, but it also didn’t get Reign’s attention. “You’re killing me here.” Frustration laced my voice. “Sadistic bastard.”
“Yes, but you knew that already.” He offered me a smug smile, then looked like he was about to turn back to the movie. Oh, hell no. Whipping off the blanket, I tossed it to the side. As I’d hoped, his full attention was on me instantly, intently, watching me without sound. Sliding off the couch, I positioned myself at his feet, reaching for his belt. His stare locked on mine with an intensity that made me shiver before he placed his fingers over my own. He helped me to unbuckle it, then to pull his pants down around his hips. Watching his long cock spring free, knowing that it had already been inside
me tonight? He’d talked about wanting to mark me. Now I wanted to mark him. I cupped him eagerly, savoring his answering groan. I tugged once, then slid my hand to his shaft, wrapping my fingers around his impressive girth. At this angle, I wasn’t sure how I’d ever fit him inside my body. Still, I knew that I wanted nothing more than to have him inside me again. Tightening my hold on him, I began to pump my fist up and down. Every stroke had his hips lifting up from the sofa and harsh breaths escaping from his lips. I revelled in the power I felt, having this beautiful man, this prince, so utterly
at my mercy. Silently, he twined his fingers with mine, tightening my hold, urging me to be rougher than I ever would have been on my own. I watched as a bead of pre-cum appeared at the tip of his cock, dipping my head to catch it on my tongue. “Butterfly.” He groaned, throwing his head back against the couch. He tried to pull my fingers off of his length. I let him pull my hands away, but instantly replaced them with my mouth, running my tongue along the underside of the crown before swallowing him down. “Everly.” His voice was a growl. “If you don’t want to swallow everything I’ve got, then remove your mouth. Now.”
Hell no. I wanted everything that he would give. I ran my tongue across the small slit on the head of his cock, then sucked as hard as I could. Inside the moist cavern of my mouth he swelled, liquid heat exploding down my throat. “Yes.” His voice was a hiss. “Feel that. That’s me, marking you. Remember it.” I swallowed hard, and then again, savoring the knowledge that I was the one who had unraveled him. A satisfied smile crossed my lips, and he saw it. Breathing hard, he reached for me and cupped my chin. He kissed me softly, sweetly, then rose and lifted me up in his arms. I clung to him, by now
coming to appreciate the sensation of being cradled against that rock solid chest, as he began to walk us toward his room. Neither of us spoke as he carried me to his room, kicked the door open and walked toward his bed. Like the living room, it was decorated completely in white, but something was... off. I reclined on the soft mattress as I realized what it was. When we’d been together before, his home, his room, had been decorated with personal touches. Pictures of his family. Knick knacks. The little things that made a home. In this room, in this entire penthouse so far? There was nothing.
I wanted to ask. I wanted to know far more about the life he’d led since we’d gone our separate ways than I should have. In fact, I parted my lips to do just that, but before I could get the words out, the endlessly long day caught up with me. On a murmur and a sigh, I fell asleep.
Chapter Ten- Everly Golden sunlight streamed in through the window. Lifting a hand, I covered my eyes, batting away the blinding rays of morning light. Disorientation rocketed through me as I looked around the unfamiliar room. Right. I was still in Reign’s penthouse. My head fell back against the pillow with a soft thud as I exhaled deeply, staring up at the ceiling. A familiar ache between my legs caught my attention. With just a slight movement, the ache deepened. I’d woken in the middle of the night to find Reign inside of me. He’d been absolutely insatiable, and as he’d
promised—or threatened—he’d worked me over until I hadn’t been able to take any more. It had almost seemed like... Like each stroke would be the last. Like I’d disappear from his grasp as soon as we both came down from the high. A small movement beside me drew my attention. I stilled. I grew rigid as I realized that Reign was nestled right up against me, his arm banded around my waist, caging me in the wall of his embrace. Holding my breath, I slid out from the tightness of his grip and slipped from beneath the tangled sheets. Indulging myself, I turned around and stared down at Reign’s sleeping form. He’d always
slept like the dead, and it looked like that hadn’t changed, his left cheek buried in his pillow, muffled snores grating in the silent morning air. Unconscious, Reign looked achingly young. The frown lines that surrounded his lips while awake melted away, and the crinkles in the corners of his eyes faded to nothing, as though the deepness of his sleep lifted a heavy burden that weighed on his shoulders during his waking hours. I knew it would lead to nothing good, but I couldn’t stop myself from twining my fingers in the thick hair that had fallen over his forehead. I thought I saw the corners of his lips curving up in a ghost of a smile, but the expression
was gone so quickly that I knew I likely imagined it. It was hard to tear myself away. I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into that bed, to tuck myself up under his arm again and to bask in his warmth. The notion terrified me. With a surge of nervous adrenaline, I picked up my clothing, which was folded neatly on a chair by the massive window—Reign must have collected the items after I’d fallen asleep, because I certainly hadn’t. Grimacing, I pulled the shorts and top I’d been wearing the night before back on, hoping I’d have time to run home and change before work. I’d only taken one step into the hallway when I indulged myself and
looked back over my shoulder. Reign hadn’t moved an inch, the elegant prince snoring, his face smushed into his pillow so deeply he’d likely have creases on his cheeks when he woke. This, more than anything else, had my heart doing a little flippy-flop in my chest. I had to go. *** Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was that I was running entirely on the buzz from the espresso-laden coffee in my hand instead of sleep, but the longer the day went on, the crankier I got.
By the time I’d left Reign’s penthouse that morning, I’d found that my anger towards him had softened, oh and how. But now it was late afternoon, and he hadn’t called. Hadn’t texted. Hadn’t sent any bloody smoke signals. This, of course, had left me with a lot of time to think, a bad thing for an emotional woman. I’d come to the uncomfortable realization that Reign, while delivering some stellar sex, had had one very strong theme running through the night before. It had all been about him—him leaving his mark on me, him ruining me for other men.
He hadn’t shown me any of the gushiness that he’d coaxed out of me. And seeing that in the clear light of day had a prickly shell encasing my entire being. “Feel that. That’s me, marking you. Remember it.” I shoved the memory of that crisp accent from my mind and forced myself to stop grinding my teeth in irritation. The staccato knock at my door was a welcome distraction. I grunted and Ilya entered, arching an eyebrow at my cranky expression. “Got a sec?” “You’re the boss.” Shrugging, I gestured to the empty chair across from my desk. He regarded me closely as he
folded his long frame into the leather seat, and I shifted uncomfortably in my own, knowing that my boss had an uncanny knack for reading people. I didn’t want to talk to him about Reign. Hell, I didn’t want to talk about Reign at all. “I wanted to run over the design for those checkpoints for Willow Hart.” His voice tightened a bit as he said her name, but his face showed no change in emotion. “Not that I don’t trust you, but she’s turned out to be, ah, how do you say it? A little more high-maintenance than I’d expected.” “I’m not surprised.” A wave of sympathy for the gorgeous pop star
temporarily overrode my pity party for myself. Ilya nodded, and I knew he’d picked up on it as well. This was not just a paranoid celebrity. This was someone with real fear. I pulled up the coding for the programs I’d been writing, as well as the accompanying hardware that I’d designed. I went through them line by line with Ilya, and when he grinned with satisfaction, I felt a surge of pride. That pride deflated a bit when I remembered that I only got this job because of a recommendation from Reign. “What’s wrong?” Ilya was standing, tapping something on the screen of the
tablet he was carrying, but he looked up in time to catch my frown. “Nothing.” The lie tripped off my tongue with ease, but I knew that my face didn’t display the same breeziness. Ilya looked me up and down before speaking, and as always, I felt as though he could read my mind. “You should be proud of that system, you know.” He tapped his fingers on the tablet once more before turning it off. “You’ve always been a genius with code, but you’ve outdone yourself here. And I know you struggled a bit with the hardware design in the beginning, but this is flawless. Ms. Hart is going to have great peace of mind, and that’s because of you.”
“I just feel like you would have hired someone good at both of those things if Reign hadn’t told you to hire me.” The words burst from my throat and I found myself on my feet. “Is that really what you believe?” Ilya blinked, his face impassive. I nodded. “Next time you’re at Restraint, I’ll have to arrange for someone to spank you over that low self esteem.” His words were mild, but ridiculous enough that I couldn’t help barking out a laugh. “I’m quite serious. I thought we’d covered this. I asked my brothers for recommendations, but I should think that after all these years, you’d know that I only hire the very best. People’s lives
are at stake in this business, Everly. If you assume that I hired you because you were once warming Reign’s bed, should I assume that you think I’m immoral enough to think of profit over the safety of our clients?” “What?” My mouth fell open in shock. “No!” Ilya shook his head, and for the first time since I met him, he appeared disappointed in me. The contrast between that and the pride he’d had only moments before had my heart sinking. I was so ready for this day to be over. Ilya wasn’t done. “You are not a coward. You were nervous when Willow insisted that you
take on this project, but you came through. You thrived.” He narrowed his eyes, and I couldn’t help the thickness of unshed tears that formed in my throat. Tired. I was so tired. Ilya headed for the doorway, pausing to throw one last sentence back over his shoulder. “I hope you’ll remember what you’re worth in other aspects of your life right now too, Everly. Just because something doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having.”
Chapter Eleven- Reign I hopped out of the car, slamming the door behind me before my driver could even exit as I headed toward the entrance of Worldwide Securities. It was just after closing time, and I was counting on the building being mostly empty—empty except for a certain sassy blonde who’d snuck out of bed that morning. It had been hell not to contact her all day, but I was... well, truthfully, I pissed that she’d just left without saying goodbye. Last night had meant something to me. I was pretty sure it had meant something to her too. After what had
gone down between us so long ago, I wasn’t surprised that she wanted to run away from it. But this time I was staying put. And I wasn’t afraid to play dirty to get her to stay, too. Max, Ilya’s assistant, was still sitting at his desk in the large lobby of the twostory building. He was simultaneously rubbing his temples and typing onehanded as he clearly struggled to finish his work. I glanced at my watch, and saw that it was ten past seven in the evening already. “Headache?” I glanced at the office directory mounted on the wall behind him. Everly was on the second floor, and
a text to Ilya ten minutes ago had told me she was still there. Max nodded, huffing out a breath of frustration as he adjusted his headset. “I have to finish sending out these invoices before I go, and the phone was ringing off the hook all afternoon.” As if to demonstrate, the phone rang again, the shrill sound making Max wince and press both hands to his forehead. “It’s just that I get these migraines. I have a prescription that I can take when I feel one coming on, and it usually heads it off at the pass, but I’m all out right now.” “Have you told Ilya?” I tucked my hands into my pockets, rocking back on my heels. Ilya was a strict employer—as if a dominant could be anything else—
but he wasn’t a monster. “Surely he’d let you go.” “No.” Max shook his head vehemently and I saw the slightly goofy smile flicker over his face at the mention of Ilya, before another wave of pain took him over. “No. I want to do a good job. I’ll be fine.” Aah. Taking a step back, I quickly studied Max. A young, attractive man in his early twenties, eager to please and the first to jump in if someone needed help. I’d bet my royal crown that he’d thrive at Restraint as a submissive. I didn’t know if he was into guys or girls or both, and it wasn’t my business, though that little smile at the mention of
Ilya’s name was a pretty good hint. But it wasn’t a surprise, to me at least, that someone with that kind of disposition would want to please—and maybe even have a little crush on—a dominant boss. Even when it hurt himself. Stubborn freaking submissives. With a sigh, I pulled my phone from my pocket and texted my driver, who was still sitting in the parking lot. Then I placed both hands on Max’s desk, and gave him the look that made the submissives at Restraint pay attention. “If you push it when you’re not feeling well, you might get the short term job done, but you’ll be down for the count for the long term.” I shook my head. “Go home. And don’t drive with
that headache. My driver is in the parking lot. He’ll take you.” Relief flashed over the young man’s fine features, then regret. “That’s really sweet of you. Seriously. But I can’t. I told Ilya I’d get this done. He opened her mouth to protest, but I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll talk to Ilya right now when I get upstairs.”“I’ll handle Ilya.” I rolled my eyes heavenward, then slammed a hand on the desk lightly to emphasize my point. I glared down at Max. “Now go. You’re getting in that car even if I have to carry you there myself.” I watched as interest sparked in his pale violet eyes, the young man responding to my order.
Yeah. The kid needed a membership at Restraint, stat. I headed for the stairs—no point in taking the elevator one flight—pointing at the front door as I went. The light sound of Max’s laughter followed me into the stairwell. My thoughts quickly turned to Everly, and need thickened with every stair that I climbed. When I entered the large common room ringed by offices, it took everything I had not to head straight for my woman, to clasp her face in my hands and remind her that she was mine, but I had something I had to do first. Ilya was seated at his massive glass desk in the big corner office, typing something into a shiny black tablet. He
nodded as I entered, attention focused on his task. “She’s still in her office.” A slight frown wrinkled his brow as he looked up at me. “Something off about her today. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” “None of your business.” I closed the door behind me with a slight bang and crossed my arms over my chest. “But I’ll tell you something that is. I sent Max home. He had a massive migraine but he wouldn’t budge. Wanted to finish his work to make you happy.” “What?” Ilya’s rough features formed a frown. “If he was that sick, why didn’t he just tell me?”
“Probably for the same reason I figure you should hook the kid up with a guest pass to Restraint.” I watched with amusement as Ilya puzzled that out, the light finally dawning. “Ah, the light bulb goes on.” “Don’t be an asshole.” His dark eyes narrowed as he glared at me. “Or I won’t indulge your nonsense.” “Sure you will.” I grinned easily. “You’re that sure, are you?”“Yup.” Leaving Ilya at his desk, I gestured to his laptop, which I knew had a security feed that monitored every inch of the building. It was mostly for show, since a client coming to Worldwide would expect to see it. All of the security
experts had access to the feed, so that they could show it off during meetings. Right now though, I needed one office shut down. “Maybe I have more loyalty to my employees than to my business partners.” His tone was light, but I could hear a core of steel behind it. “Maybe I should ask her if she even wants her camera shut down.” I didn’t like his implication—that Everly might not want to see me. I stopped in his doorway, bristling. “All I want is to make her happy.” My words were simple. He paused for a long moment, then pressed some keys on his keyboard. I
knew he was shutting off the camera in Everly’s office. “Just make sure that making her happy right now doesn’t make her miserable in the future.” His words rang in my head as I headed down the hall to Everly’s office. I knew he was just looking out for the woman he thought of as a little sister, but the words unsettled me. I’d always shunned commitment, and the way it had ended with Everly was the reason why. Still, I couldn’t explain the craving that I still had for this woman. I hesitated before entering her office, wondering if what Ilya had said had some bearing—was pursuing Everly
now just going to make her miserable in the long run? But then I saw the tousled mess of her silky rose gold hair. Her cheek was pressed against her desk, her breathing deep and slow. She was sound asleep, bent over her workspace—that was why she was still at work, even after the long night we’d had. I couldn’t take my eyes from her. Quietly closing the door behind me, I closed the space between us. She didn’t move, and I took the time to study her blatantly. In sleep, her face was one of the prettiest I’d ever seen, and I’d seen a lot. Fact was, she was one of the most
classically beautiful women I’d ever seen, in the way of a fairytale princess— a comparison she would not appreciate, were I to voice it out loud. But it was when she was awake that I found her the most attractive, when her sarcasm and attitude and sass added some life to that face. I loved that rather than trying to be a classic beauty like so many of the socialites I was constantly surrounded with back home, Everly chose unconventional ways to stand out. I loved the pink streaks in her hair, which, if I guessed correctly, would probably be a different color within a week. I loved the tattoos that made bright colors dance across her skin, and
I loved the dark eye makeup that she used to emphasize her wide blue eyes. Ever since I’d first laid eyes on her, other woman had seemed pale in comparison. Washed out. They still did. Careful to stay quiet, I set the bag of Styrofoam containers on her desk. Despite my silence, she stirred, a small moan leaving her mouth when I gave in to the temptation and pushed locks of fuchsia hair from her face. The touch made her start—she’d never been a heavy sleeper. Those heavy lids lifted, and then she bolted upward. I took advantage of her confused drowsiness to start unloading the bag of food that I’d brought with me. I felt her
studying me as I lined up Styrofoam containers in front of her. “What are you doing here?” Her voice was husky from sleep, and the velvet rasp of it shot straight to my cock. Then her words sank in, and irritation grated at my skin. I knew damn well why she kept expecting me to leave, but it didn’t mean I had to like it. Scowling, I continued to open containers. The heady aromas of Kao Pad and Pla Tod Ma-Muang spiced the air as I scooped large portions onto a plate with a plastic spoon before shoving it across the desk. Normally I loved Thai food, but her one simple question had killed my appetite.
“Why did you leave so early this morning?” I answered with one of my own. I seated myself in one of the chairs on the far side of her desk, not bothering to fix myself a plate. I stabbed a plastic fork into the cardboard container that held the fried fish with mango, but couldn’t bring myself to put any into my mouth. Irritability flickered over her features, and she threw her own fork onto her untouched plate. “Answer my question, Reign.” “Eat.” This wasn’t how I’d planned on our evening playing out, but damn it, she was pissing me off. I had to answer to quite enough people on my day-to-day business—my wealth had never been
able to protect me from that—and Everly’s insistence when I was just trying to do something nice was getting me fired up. “Why are you here?” This time she slammed her palms onto her desk as she spoke, making the untouched cartons of food shake. Before I could think it through, I was on my feet, my own palms planted face down on the desk, leaning in so close that our noses almost brushed. Her impromptu nap had loosened strands of her hair, and stripes of pink framed her heart-shaped face. The bright color made her eyes darker, more vivid, and I couldn’t help but answer the challenge in them.
“I don’t answer to you, Butterfly.” I smiled, and I made sure that the expression was cruel. Her lids shuttered halfway when she noted it, and a hot knife sliced through my heart, slowing its rapid beats. I didn’t want to hurt her. I never had. But damn it, she was hurting me. Every time she looked at me with disappointment, demonstrating that she expected me to walk back out of her life, it was like a physical blow. Was she never going to forgive me? Would I ever forgive myself? Frustrated with my line of thought, furious with her, I did the only thing I could think of, cupping her face roughly in both hands and claiming her mouth
with my own. There was nothing romantic in the kiss, nothing gentle. As I swiped my tongue over her lips and demanded entry to her mouth, I channeled every frustration, all the anger, directly into the embrace. Every dream I’d had of her over the years, every moment I’d laid in bed and ached for her warmth next to me. Her lips tasted of rage, and resentment, and fear. She was back in my arms, but I didn’t know if she’d ever let me back into her heart. So I’d take what I could, and would hope that it was enough.
Chapter TwelveEverly I knew that he was just trying to shut me up. Did I care in that particular moment? No, I did not. Clasping the back of his neck, I held him in place, his lips bruising my own. I channeled my years of anger and hurt into that embrace, and was startled to hear a growl emanate from my throat. “Pissy little thing, hmm?” Reign pulled back just enough to grin at me ferociously. My eyes widened with rage at the comment, and I sank my teeth into his lower lip.
He muttered a curse, then grabbed me by the front of my shirt, hauling me around the desk. The edge of the glass dug into my hip, and I knew it would leave a bruise later, but I didn’t care. I was feeling too much, swollen until my skin felt too tight for my body. If I didn’t find a way to channel the swirling mass of feelings, I would implode. I gasped when he tugged me against his body. I had just a moment to absorb the sensation of all that hardness against the contrasting softness of my own frame, and then he sank down into one of the leather chairs, pulling me close to straddle his thighs. “Well, you’re making it pretty clear why you’re here.” I sneered down at
him, trying to catch my breath. “But then, sex has never been my problem.” “Quiet, Butterfly.” There was no mistaking the emotion on his face as he grabbed my hips, digging his fingers in. “You don’t talk. You don’t make a sound.” Oh, shit. His words were a torch, melting me from the inside out. We hadn’t done more than brush against the dark desires that we both had, and his order, combined with that edge of cruelty in his voice? It did it for me. Oh, but it did it for me. I wrestled for a moment, contemplating whether I would obey, or if I would speak and earn a punishment
—one that I would no doubt enjoy. Ilya had been insistent that I be guided through my new membership at Restraint, but I wasn’t actually new to any of it. I eyed Reign, and he smirked up at me, tapping those fingers along my hips. I wanted him too badly to disobey. “Good girl.” He noted my body language as I made my decision, leaning into him while keeping my mouth shut. He took a moment to look me up and down, his stare lingering on my breasts and heated centre. Placing one hand on my leg, just above my knee, he slowly slid it up my inner thigh, stopping just when he reached the crease that divided leg from
abdomen. I almost moaned in complaint, but his warning look stopped the sound before it escaped. “I’m tempted to make you use that mouth of yours for something other than yelling at me.” He stroked a finger absently over my skin, and dampness surged between my legs. I started to drop to my knees, eager to let his taste spread out over my tongue, but then he slid his hand between my legs, cupping my sex, and I froze in place, unable to hold back the groan. “Ssh.” I couldn’t see his hand, hidden as it was beneath my loose navy and white tie-dyed skirt, so I didn’t see it coming when he tucked a finger
beneath the soft silk of my panties and slid it through my wetness. “I said, I’m tempted to.” Zeroing in on my clit, he circled it, just a light tease, but a touch that still made my legs tremble as blood rushed straight to my sex. “We’ll save that for later. Right now I want you hard and fast.” I nodded shakily, in full agreement. When he pulled his hand from between my legs I had to sink my teeth into my lower lip to keep from crying out in protest. “Eyes on me.” As if they’d be anywhere else. I watched intently as he quickly unbuckled his belt, then undid his pants. Shoving them down to his hips, he pulled his cock out from beneath
the elastic of his briefs, and I’m pretty sure I whimpered when I saw that the head was already wet with his excitement. “Like what you see?” This wasn’t actually a question. He knew exactly how excited he was making me—I stared unabashedly as he pulled a condom from his pocket, tore it open with a metallic rip, then smoothed the ring of latex down his length. Without another word, he grabbed me by the hip, tugging me onto his lap. My knees settled on the wide seat on the outside of each thigh, my heated centre brushing against the silken steel of his erection.
He was silent, but then, he’d never needed words to give me an order. With that hand on my hip, he guided his cock to my entrance. I was so slippery by that point that when he pushed me down, he was able to work his way in with far more ease than usual. It was almost impossible to stay silent as he hit that point inside of me where I had to work to take him further. I swallowed a gasp when he finally hit home. “That’s my kitten.” His grin was a bit strained, and I was pleased to hear the breathlessness in his own voice. He wasn’t the only one affected by our play. “Now move.”
Bracing my hands on the solid muscles of his chest, I worked my way back up. I planned to slam back down, to set a fast and furious pace that would give me the release I so badly needed, but he grabbed my other hip as well, forcing me to move at the pace he set instead of my own. It was steady, but it was slow, forcing me to feel every last spark ignited as his engorged cock dragged over my arousal. His message was clear. I may have been on top, but he was in control. “Look at me.” I’d looked down at my hands, the fingers digging into his pecs, but snapped my stare back to his at his command.
What I saw in those eyes made me shudder with need. It was too much, too intense, and I would have given anything to look away, but if I did I knew that he would pull me right off of his lap, remove the thing I so badly wanted. Our gazes remained locked as he forced me to ride him at his pace. His order, his command, made me impossibly wetter, and I heard my own arousal as he urged me down onto him again and again. That and the rasp of our combined breaths, the soft sounds of fabric and skin brushing against one another, were the only noises breaking through the silence of the empty office. Knowing that I couldn’t speak added another layer to
my excitement, and pressure built, hot and fast, in my tightened core. “That’s it.” His voice was rusted steel. “Come on me. And say my name when you do. Tell me who it is making you feel this way.” I sucked in air through my nose, glaring down at him. That was too much, just a bit too intimate. I wouldn’t do it. Noting the stubbornness on my face, he quickened the pace, slamming me down onto his cock again and again, working me with his cock until I could no longer stay quiet, driven past the point of rational thought. A low moan started to build as my muscles clenched around the part of him that was buried inside of me. I felt my
legs tremble, that familiar sensation of catching a wave about to crest washing over me. “Say it, Everly.” His words were raw, a bit desperate, instead of arrogant as I’d imagined they would be. I gasped as that wave started to crash, thoroughly undone by that one small thing. “Say my name.” “Reign.” I choked out his name without another thought as I drowned in sensation. “Reign!” Beneath me, he thrust up again, hard, burying his length inside of me and shouting. He came hard, his fingers digging into my hips as though he thought I might run away if he didn’t hold me in place.
His face showed nothing but adoration as he shuddered through his release. And, recognizing it, I was floored. We held each other after, my face buried in his shoulder, his length still inside of me. As I came back to myself, I struggled to make sense of the emotions rioting around inside of me. Being with Reign felt good. It felt right. What was so bad about that? Why was I fighting it so hard? “I should take care of this.” His voice was apologetic, sounding like it was coming from another world as he pulled back, sliding his hands between us. For a moment I thought he meant he
needed to take care of me, and my pulse stuttered. Then I realized that he was referring to the condom, and hurried to climb off of him, a blush of embarrassment coloring my cheeks. “Sorry.” Awkwardly, I tugged my panties back into place, grimacing when I realized that they were both soaked and stretched to the point of no return. I smoothed my skirt over top, then rounded my desk to shuffle papers, not sure what to say after the intensity of what we’d just shared. From the corner of my eye, I watched as Reign tugged off the condom, then pulled his pants back up and
fastened them. As he did, a silvery glint caught my eye. My stomach sank when he shifted and I saw that it was a ring—one I was all too familiar with. A thick platinum band, it was inset with onyx and ivory, a family crest. The monogram of the royal family of Visalia. “What’s wrong?” Reign frowned, following my stare. He dropped all expression when he saw what I was looking at, and for once, he seemed at a loss for words. “It’s nothing.” I smiled brightly, but the fakeness of it stretched my face uncomfortably. I didn’t know what to think. But...
Something niggled at my mind. Something that had been there, a splinter covered by flesh, ever since he’d left me. Leaving without a word had been the height of cruelty. Yet the majority of my rage had come from the fact that I couldn’t quite believe that he’d done it. The past few days, he’d charmed me again, not because I was so pathetic that I had no other options, but because I genuinely liked him. Liked him... cared for him, even after all this time. It was still hard for me to believe that he’d done what he’d done. That he’d never cared. And with that in my mind, I decided to take a step, to stop living in the past. I
tore my eyes away from his ring, away from thoughts of the family he’d run to after leaving me, and gestured to the food he’d brought. “Think it’s still any good?” I sucked in a deep breath, focusing on letting go as I exhaled. This time when I smiled, it was genuine. “I’m sure it’s fine.” Though he seemed puzzled by my abrupt change in demeanor, he also looked relieved. And apparently ready to share. Holding up the hand with the ring, he met my gaze. “You’ve never asked why I left. I want you to know.” I held up my hand, palm out, stopping him. “I don’t want to know.”
He cocked his head, studying me, then finally nodded. He seemed to be forcing himself to push past the need to tell me, the struggle visible on his face, but then that struggle melted into the devastatingly sexy smile I knew so well, and my heart skipped a beat. “Worked up an appetite, did you?” Without warning, he closed the space between us, tugging me to him. I squealed as he sat down in the chair we’d just vacated, pulling me onto his lap. Reaching for a container that—yum —contained fried fish with mango, he took up one of the plastic forks and speared a bite on the tines. My mouth
watered, as instead of putting it in his own mouth, he lifted it to my lips. Yes. This was a man who fed me, demanded that I look at him as I came. The man who refused to let anyone else touch me, who showed up at my work bearing food. His actions in the past told me one thing. But the fact of the matter was... He was here.
Chapter ThirteenReign I hummed along to the music blasting from the second floor of Restraint as I scoured the papers that had just arrived from the head of the charity I’d set up for my family. They had little to do with it, of course, beyond showing up for appearances that helped their image. Normally this, and the music that was far from my own favorite classical, would have made me irritable as hell. Right now? I was on top of the world.
After I’d fed Everly her dinner while I cocooned her on my lap, I’d followed her back to her apartment in my hired car, making sure that she got home safely, but not inviting myself in. This had puzzled her, but I’d needed some space to think. I’d been caught off guard when Everly had come back into my life, and I’d warred simultaneously with the need to have her and the knowledge that my family would forever be a giant mountain that stood between us, a peak neither of us could scale. But... after last night, after she’d let me in just that little bit further, I’d understood.
I was starting to understand that sometimes love required sacrifice. That a happily ever after had to be earned. And this time? I was willing to make that sacrifice. Slowly I drew the ring with my family crest off of my finger. I expected to feel guilt, but as I laid the thing on my desk, there was only the cool bath of relief. And maybe it wouldn’t come to that, anyway. My family hadn’t asked me for anything so major since they’d ordered me to pack up my life in America, to sever all ties and to sacrifice my future for the good of their image. Maybe they never would again.
On the desk beside the ring, my phone vibrated with an incoming call. When I looked at the call display, I felt as though a bucket of ice water had been dumped on my head. This was either stellar timing on my brother’s part, or fate had one fucked up sense of humor. “What?” My voice was monotone as I placed the phone against my ear. My heart clenched with anxiety as I did. My brother only called me when he needed something. Usually it was money, which was easy enough—I considered the transfers that I sent him as payment for keeping him out of my life as much as possible. He clearly didn’t have a clue as to the vastness of my wealth, or he
would have called more often and demanded more. This time? I knew, somehow I knew, that he wanted something money couldn’t provide. “I’ve had Mother’s assistant arrange for your plane to be ready for flight.” No hello, no how are you doing. No, not from the entitled asshole on the other end of the line. Prince Gerald, the crown prince of Visalia, had never been much concerned with anything beyond himself. “I find that hard to believe, since my employees only respond to orders from me.” I gritted my teeth, something I only did when I let my emotions boil over.
Eight years later, I still couldn’t speak to my brother without feeling traces of the bitter rage that had consumed me over what I’d had to give up for him. “Well then, organize it.” His voice was snappish, but I’d been raised with him. I could hear a thread of something I couldn’t quite identify in his voice in underneath his bravado. “You’re needed back in the country immediately.” “It’s lovely that you think so.” I couldn’t stop from rolling my eyes at his theatrics. “If you’ve forgotten, I have a schedule of my own.” “Get on that plane of yours, brother.” Gerald might have been mean as a snake, but this time I could all but hear him hiss
through the line. I’d never heard that kind of intensity in his voice, that much nastiness. “You might be useless most of the time, but you’re needed now. You should be honored.” “Hanging up now.” I started to do just that, but the quiet laugh on the other end made me pause. “You can’t hide from it anymore, Reign. You’re royal. You have duties.” Smugness colored Gerald’s tone. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing you haven’t agreed to before.” The bottom fell out of my world. “You’d better not be saying what I think you are.” My voice was calm, deathly calm, and my hands flexed into
fists, clenching so tightly that the skin went white. Gerald laughed. “You always were clever. Got it in one.” This wasn’t happening. “Anastasia’s knocked up again. Just like last time, she won’t get rid of it. Got to calm those nosy paps down, and all that.” The intensity in his tone had dissipated, leaving entitled laziness in its stead. “Mother thinks we’ll just have a small ceremony in the chapel on the grounds, since we want to get it done fast.” I had no words. “Mother and Father don’t want the bastard in the line of succession. And you know Anastasia; she’ll fight for that.
The only reason she’s ever hovered around was that love for all things shiny.” There was no room in his tone for argument; in his experience, what he said was law. “But I wouldn’t say she’s particularly attached to me. You’ll do just as well. Well enough to keep her quiet about the bastard’s parentage.” There were so many things wrong with this—the assumption that I’d marry someone because my family ordered me to do so, the casual way my brother talked about it all, the way he referred to his unborn child as a bastard. But then, this was nothing new. “Does Victoria know?” Crown Princess Victoria was Gerald’s wife. The poor fool.
“Does it matter?” I could hear his smirk through the phone. “Anyway, cheer up, bro. It’s not like you have to be faithful. Just marry her. Fuck whoever you want on the side. The ladies love a prince.” “What is wrong with you?” My voice was strangled, but Jesus, how had this idiot come from the same gene pool that I had? “You’re still carrying on with Anastasia? Why don’t you just divorce Victoria and marry her yourself?” “Don’t be foolish.” And just like that, the cruel edge was back. “Victoria was carefully selected to be my future queen. She makes my life easier. And she knew what she was getting into.”
“Are you... in love with Anastasia?” Maybe, just maybe, I could drum up an ounce of sympathy for star-crossed lovers. A divorce in the royal family was a royal mess, after all. I don’t know why I bothered to ask, since I already knew the answer. “Maybe you’re not that smart after all.” Disgust dripped from his voice. “I fuck Anastasia when I feel like it. I fuck who I want, when I want. I don’t know why I’m even explaining this to you. Just do as you’re told.” “Fuck that.” I snorted into the phone, and there was that hiss again. My brother, the snake. “You’ll be in Visalia by tomorrow afternoon. And you’ll marry Lady
Anastasia Duras with a smile on your face.” The beep in my ear told me he’d hung up, no doubt certain that he’d be obeyed. He always was, after all. Not this time. The phone rang in my ear. Its insistent buzz dragged me from a deep sleep, the kind only a night of collegeage partying can bring. Beside me, Everly muttered a curse, pulling the pillow over her head to shut out the noise. Something that felt a little more than affection washed over me as the blue streaks in her golden hair disappeared beneath the white cotton.
Yeah, definitely a little more than affection. I was pretty sure I loved this girl. I just hadn’t found the right way to tell her yet. Stabbing my finger at my cell, I lifted it to my ear and slid out of bed. No sense in both of us being awake, after all. “Reign.” It was my father. Even though he wasn’t there, I found myself standing up straight. “Sir.” I was instantly on alert. My father wasn’t the type to call for a little chat. “There will be a car downstairs at seven tomorrow morning. It will take you to the airport.” He spoke briskly; no doubt this was just another of the
calls on his morning agenda. “I shall see you tomorrow evening.” “I don’t understand.” I cleared my throat, unscrewing a two litre of cola that sat on the counter. Maybe the caffeine and sugar could jolt me awake. “Why do I need to come home? And so fast?” There was a pause. “Your brother’s gotten himself into a spot of trouble.” The king of Visalia cleared his throat. “You’re needed.” He hung up. That was all I was told until I landed back in Visalia. Rage filled me as past and present merged. Yeah, Gerald had gotten himself into trouble then—the same damn trouble he’d gotten himself in again. I’d
been ushered to Visalia, my life in America uprooted before I knew what was happening. At first I hadn’t called Everly because I didn’t know how to explain that I was expected to marry another woman. And oh, I was expected to— everything from guilt to threats had been laid on my young, naïve head. I’d truly believed I had no choice. And then, the day before our false as hell engagement was to be announced, Anastasia had miscarried the baby. I’d been saved. But by that point, I’d lost Everly. And with questions of what, exactly, would be expected of me by my family in the future, I'd thought that maybe it was for the best.
Not now. Never again. Picking up my phone, I tapped out a quick text to my brother. NO. The entire interaction with Gerald washed away the sweetness of my night with Everly, leaving only bitterness on my tongue. I shifted restlessly in my chair as I looked down at the one-word text I’d just sent. I’d said no, and I’d meant it, but the way that the past and present had merged... I felt like ants were crawling over my skin. The more I tried to shake them off, the tighter they clung, biting into my skin.
I knew what would make it go away. I’d been deliberate in only dipping into the world of dominance and submission this time around with Everly, because intense scenes like the ones I enjoyed could create bonds where there otherwise wouldn’t be any. And while I was willing to play dirty to get her back in my life, there were some lines that I just wouldn’t cross. At first, I hadn’t been ready to acknowledge that I wanted her all the way back in my life. I’d thought that I’d successfully pushed her out of my life, the better for her. Now I knew. I wasn’t going to let her go without a fight. I wanted her to feel that bond.
And right now, I needed to lose myself in her. Picking up my phone, I tapped out another text. Tonight. Restraint. 7:00. I’ll meet you on the second floor. I watched the three little dots that indicated she was typing a response impatiently. Maybe I have plans. Do you? I do. Attached to the last text was a picture that nearly made me swallow my tongue. Everly had taken a photo of herself in the mirror, leaning over with her shirt unbuttoned so that I got a full view of her ample cleavage spilling out
of her top. Smart girl had left her head out of the shot, but I enjoyed the way the tendrils of loose pink hair teased the softness of her skin. Fierce posessiveness stabbed through me. They’d better be with me. Her simple reply set me on fire, gave me something to focus on besides the family that I’d never let tear me apart from her again. See you there.
Chapter FourteenEverly The main floor of Restraint was humid, sweaty bodies packed tightly together in every possible space. The energy in the club was high, and I inhaled deeply, soaking it in as I pushed my way through the crowd to the second floor. Nervous energy had buzzed through my veins ever since my text exchange with Reign earlier. I’d hovered my finger over his contact information almost a dozen times throughout the day. I wanted to force him to have that talk with me, the one all men dreaded—the where is this going chat.
Ninety percent of me was certain that telling him I wanted to put aside the past was a great idea. The other ten was still scared out of my mind. If he was taking me to Restraint... was that his way of saying that he’d honor his commitment to walk me through my new membership? Or was he just taking our light BDSM play to a new level? Swallowing thickly as I circled the second floor, I guessed I’d find out soon enough. I didn’t see Reign anywhere. As I found an empty spot and perched on the edge of one of the red leather couches, I felt my phone buzz in the small purse I wore crossbody. Adrenaline lurched
through me, the way it always does when a relationship is new and every little thing is amplified, even something as simple as a potential text message. Just finishing up upstairs. Down soon. Then... Remember what I promised to do with your breasts? Think about that while you wait. Sweet Jesus. Oh, I remembered, all right. He’d promised to oil them up and fuck them, is what he’d promised. My stomach clenched as I imagined him doing just that. Would he take me into one of the private rooms again? Or would he do it
right here, right in the main room where anyone could see? What did I want? I looked around the room, my stare flitting from scene to scene. The colored lights playing over wide expanses of naked skin was nice to look at. I tried to imagine myself in one of those public scenes, letting people watch my most intimate moments. Letting them join in. The notion felt... flat. I wanted Reign. Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission... it was what I craved. But it seemed that I only wanted it with him.
Chapter FifteenReign I sat across the desk from my publicist, tapping my fingers on the polished surface with impatience. She’d appeared on the third floor of Restraint just as I’d turned my thoughts to Everly, waiting below. Needless to say, I was not pleased to find myself in the middle of a meeting that he’d been entirely insistent upon. “We have a problem.” Tara tucked a strand of her bright purple hair behind her ear and adjusted the fit of her glasses on her nose. She seated herself on the edge of my desk and swiped her fingers
over the screen of her tablet before looking up at me and grimacing. “It better be.” I scowled in return. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was busy.” “Unfortunately, this can’t wait.” Worry lines creased her forward as she turned the tablet around so that I could see it. A brightly colored magazine cover was displayed on the screen, one of the celebrity gossip rags that were displayed prominently anywhere magazines were sold. The cover featured a photoshopped image, a delicate woman with elegantly coiffed hair, tasteful yet expensive jewelry and a designer gown mashed up with a photograph of myself in a tuxedo,
leaving the charity gala that I’d attended in Visalia last week. The headline screamed its message in red capital letters, and all I could do was blink.
ROYAL ROMANCE! LADY ANASTASIA DURAS AND PRINCE REIGN OF VISALIA ANNOUNCE THEIR ENGAGEMENT! “If this is true, now is the time to tell me.” Tara arched an eyebrow at me, and I couldn’t stop myself from baring my teeth. “That’s a lame fucking joke.” My breath started to come faster as
adrenaline shot into my veins— adrenaline from rage. Tara knew what had gone down with my family so many years earlier. She knew every last detail about me, including the fact that I was a silent partner in a BDSM club. It was the only way she could do her job properly. The pinch of her lips told me that she’d already known that this was fake. “I need you to take a deep breath.” She slid off my desk and pulled her phone from her pocket, checking a text and firing off an e-mail without putting down the tablet. “I know why this upsets you so much. That’s why I wanted you to hear it from me and not from anyone else. But it’s just a tabloid. As always,
the best course of action is to stay silent. It will blow over.” “It won’t.” A sour taste in my mouth, I quickly filled her in on my conversation with my brother earlier that day. “He must have planted this story last week, as a fail-safe to make me comply.” Normally I’d take her advice. I didn’t give a shit what the tabloids said about me anymore, not that I ever gave them much fodder. But now... now there was Everly. Oh, fuck. Everly. The clench of Tara’s jaw told me that she wasn’t any more pleased with my family than I was.
“I still think the best course of action is silence.” She paced, her red shoes clicking on the hardwood floor. Suddenly she whirled, pinning me with a piercing stare. “You’re not complying with them, are you? Not that I’d pass judgment. I just need to know how to deal with this.” “I...” For once I was at a loss for words. Everly still hadn’t let me tell her what had happened when I’d left her before. I wished I’d pushed the point. This wasn’t going to go well. “Call the magazine. Tell them I expect a retraction or I’ll be making their lives very difficult.” I shoved away from my desk.
“That might just lend credence to the story—” she started, but I cut her off. “I need you do it. I need to prove a point.” I picked up my phone and shoved it in my pocket. My mind raced as I tried to figure out what to do. Getting the retraction in motion should help prove to Everly that this was made up. But a nagging feeling in my gut told me that I’d missed something. I wanted to think that everything was going to be all right, that we’d come far enough that we could weather this. If it had just been the magazine cover, we probably could—she wasn’t the kind of woman to see problems where there weren’t any.
But I had to be honest with her. Had to make her listen to what had happened so many years ago. And that combined with the cover? I’d never been overly religious, even though back home the royal family was expected to make an appearance at church every Sunday. No, I tended to just believe in a greater good. Yet all I could do right then was pray. *** I saw Everly before she saw me. I paused for a moment, regarding her profile as she sat on one of the red
couches and tugged at the edge of her skirt. My family could do whatever they wanted. I wasn’t going to leave her again. Her face lit up when she noticed me, and I found myself amused when her gaze flicked down to my cock, then back up, her cheeks flushing. She’d been doing as I’d told her to in that last text, then. Just another reason to curse my family. “Reign!” She smiled prettily, the expression fading as she took in the set of my face. “What’s wrong?” I hesitated, not sure what to say. In the end, I had nothing to offer but the
truth. I handed her my phone, which now contained the magazine cover. Her stare landed on it, and she hissed in a breath, then frowned. “I... I...” Worry lines appeared between her eyebrows. “Is this true? This can’t be true.” “It’s not,” I assured her rapidly. I was surprised to find sweat beading my forehead. The entire world could think whatever they wanted. I didn’t care. What Everly thought, though? That was important. “There’s more.” I grimaced as I spoke, cutting her off before she could say any more.
She grimaced. “I need you to understand why I left you back in college.” She started to protest; I held up a hand. “You have to hear it.” Keeping my words as succinct as possible, I laid it out, every detail. Her expression didn’t change, though she become more still—still as a stone, barely even breathing. “That’s why you left?” She cocked her head, and as if a dam had broken, every emotion imaginable flooded through her expressive eyes. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” “I—” I didn’t know how to explain. “I was young... and caught off guard... I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I see.” What I could see was that busy brain of hers working, and it made me nervous. “Are we... okay?” I swallowed. I hated sounding so uncertain. It went against every part of who I was— dominant, assertive, in control. I had no idea how to tread this unchartered territory. She was silent for a long moment before she spoke again. “Just tell me something.” She swallowed, and I watched her cheeks hollow out. “Did your family arrange this story? Or is this just a coincidence?” Oh, fuck. I knew where she was going with this. It was nowhere good.
“They did,” I admitted, and watched her eyes flare with anger. Shit. “It happened again. They want me to take the fall.” “I see.” She closed her eyes; I stared at the shimmery gold that she’d smeared over her eyelids. I knew what she was thinking. And knowing that she did was a punch to the gut. “Everly, I’m not—” She cut me off. “I know you think you’re not.” She smiled up at me, but the expression was tired. Tired and sad. “But I think maybe this is a sign. You’re the one who reminded me that I believe in fate, right? Well, here it is. History is repeating itself. Einstein once said that the
definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And I’m not insane.” I felt as though she’d slapped me in the face. “Everly. I’m not going to be their scapegoat this time.” I grabbed her shoulder; she shook me off. “Don’t you trust me?” The look on her face showed me her answer, and it wasn’t the one I wanted. “I believe that you think you’re not going to let that happen.” She looked down at where her fingers were twined with the strap of her purse. “But at the end of the day, that’s always going to be a problem, isn’t it?”
My temper started to flare, licking fire along my skin. “I just told you I’m not going to do it. What’s the problem?” She narrowed her eyes; she’d never responded well to anger in others. “You left me because they told you to once before. Why would you do any differently now?” “When I get back from Visalia I’m going to spank your ass so hard you won’t sit down for a week.” I hissed this out from between my teeth, but damn it, her lack of faith rankled. “And I will come back.” “No, Reign.” She twisted her lips into a cross between a smile and a scowl. To my horror, tears sheened her eyes. “You won’t.”
Turning on her heel, she started to walk away, the curtain of her long hair swaying as she walked. What the fuck had just happened? Closing the space between us in several quick strides, I caught her by the shoulder. She paused, but didn’t turn around. “This isn’t over.” I tried to ignore the thread of panic in my words. “We’re not done.” She looked over her shoulder, temper etched on her face. She shrugged away from me, hurt and sadness and anger swirling together in her eyes. “Goodbye.”
Chapter SixteenReign I’d planned to use the flight to catch up on some sleep, knowing that I’d need to be alert to navigate the twisted labyrinth that was communication in my family. But as I reclined in the sleek leather lounger on the plane that I kept at a small local airstrip, I found that all I could do was stare out the window. The clouds outside my window were thick, forming a stalwart white city. Though I knew they were just made of water and air, they looked sturdy, resilient.
Kind of like my relationship with Everly. I’d thought we were moving past what had happened before—I’d thought, I’d really thought, that she’d finally let me in. Apparently I was wrong. And though I knew that time might have dimmed the pain that I felt when torn away from Everly eight years ago, it seemed now that that was just a pale echo of what was tearing through me now. The glass of vodka was icy against my palm, the condensation dripping down onto my slacks. I didn’t care about the mess; I just needed the relief that the alcohol would bring. I’d made my choice. It hadn’t taken long—I knew it was the right thing to do
in the end. Still, it had torn me apart to inform my family of my decision. In the end, it was Everly’s lack of faith in me that had sealed the deal. And with every minute that passed, I drew closer to Visalia. Closer to my fate. It was time to let go.
Chapter SeventeenEverly I’d never found it easy to make friends— people were often put off by hair and tattoos, and if they didn’t care about that, then they couldn’t handle that I could be, well, a bit of a bitch. I’d never minded. Right now I wished that I had a good group of girlfriends that I could call. We’d eat ice cream and claim our exboyfriends had small penises . When inevitably ugly cried, they’d hug me and give me booze. All I had tonight was the booze and a neighbor who was a friend, but still wasn’t quite in the ugly cry zone with
me. Still, I figured that Nicola would be up for the booze portion of the evening, so when I knocked on her door I carried a bottle of vodka in one hand and a container of martini mix in the other. Looking down at the ratty sweatpants and camisole that I’d pulled on after making it home from Restraint, I figured that I was about to push us into that ugly cry zone, whether she liked it or not. “Hey,” Nicola started as she answered the door, sweaty and dressed in tight athletic pants and a crop top. Behind her a workout routine blasted on her television. I tried not to hate her for the abs that the shirt showed off.
She looked at me and my sweats, then at the vodka. Eyes widening, she reached for the remote and turned off the TV, gesturing for me to come on in. “Drink or talk first?” She led me right into the tiny galley-style kitchen that our apartments boasted, pulling two tumblers out of the cupboard over the sink. She smiled apologetically as she set them onto the counter. “Sorry, I don’t have the right glasses. Or a martini shaker.” “It’s fine.” I eyed the glasses dully, feeling numb. “I’m sorry. Is this okay? I just didn’t feel like being alone right now.” She shot me a mock glare, then grabbed the vodka. Pouring a healthy
measure into each glass, she then topped it up with the neon green appletini mix. She handed me one, then picked up her own. She gestured for me to drink. “Have a few sips of that first. Then talk.” She was right. The words stuck in my throat until I lubricated them up with the martini. Then they started spilling right out, like I’d punctured a dam and couldn’t keep them in. I told her everything—past and present. I’d expected her to gasp alongside me, to tell me that I was absolutely right to assume that things were going to go to crash and burn again. But when I
finished my story, she looked at me as though I’d grown two heads. “Let me get this straight.” She shook her head and set her glass down with a loud clink. The flush in her cheeks told me that she was as tipsy as I was, which was probably why my normally shy neighbor was able to spit this out. “He cares for you. You care for him. You truly don’t believe that anything happened between him and this Anastasia chick. So what’s the problem?” She seemed truly puzzled, and I felt a flicker of irritation. Wasn’t it obvious? She waited, silent. Apparently it was not.
“When he left without a word eight years ago, it... well, it crushed me.” I drain my glass, setting it beside Nicola’s on the counter. I cross my arms over my chest against a sudden chill. “I... I know he’s never sneaked around on me with this other woman. That’s not the issue.” “So what is?” I cocked my head to the side, not understanding why she wasn’t getting it. “He didn’t leave me for another woman. He left because his family beckoned. He’s a prince, Nicola. I’m not fishing for compliments or anything here, but Jesus. He’s never going to choose me over them.” To my utter horror, I felt tears spill over to scald my cheeks.
Nicola made a rude sound, then handed me the bottle of vodka. “So he listened to them when he was a kid. We all did stupid shit back then.” She pursed her lips, and for a brief moment I wondered what stupid shit she was remembering. Then she continued. “Has he done anything this time around to indicate that he’s going anywhere?” “I—” This stopped me in my tracks. No, actually, he hadn’t. In fact, he’d done his best to convince my ornery ass to forgive him. To make me believe that he was going to stay. I’d had blinders on, letting the past overshadow the present. Oh, was I ever an idiot.
“There you go.” Nicola gave me an encouraging thump on the back. Wordlessly, I unscrewed the cap from the vodka bottle and took a large chug. After the burn in my throat faded, I handed it back to her, and straightened my spine. “So what’s the plan, chica?” I cast her a slightly terrified smile. God, I hoped she was right. “I’m going to get my man.”
Chapter EighteenReign I looked around the white marble of the throne room, wondering if I’d ever see it again. “I wish you’d reconsider.” My mother’s voice was full of sadness. I blanched as I looked down at her, seated at a large mahogany desk that had been brought into the room for the occasion. She looked as though she’d aged twenty years since I’d called them the night before and informed them of my decision. Guilt was a dull knife making a jagged cut through my insides.
“My hand has been forced.” My words were stilted as I looked over at my brother. He refused to look back. They were all there in the massive room, and the tension in the air was as thick as syrup. My mother and father. Gerald and his wife Victoria, and their two daughters, my nieces Amelia and Adelaide. The royal family’s lawyer, Thomas. And of course, Lady Anastasia Duras, who was weeping into a lacetrimmed handkerchief. I shook my head as I looked at her. The fact that my brother had brought her here, into the same room as his wife and child, told me that he truly didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.
I was no longer going to have any part of it. “This has never been done. Never, in all the history of Visalia.” My father wasn’t overly pleased with me at the moment, either. That hurt, too, knowing that I’d let him down. But this was also the man who’d agreed to let me sacrifice my own happiness for the sake of the family’s reputation. Yes, I was making the right decision. “If you’ll just sign here, Your Majesty.” Thomas slid the document over to my father. My own signature was already there, scrawled in black ink. It was almost done.
“Are you absolutely certain, Reign?” My father was looking at me, but it was my mother who spoke. “This can’t be undone.” I nodded, then placed the pen in my father’s hand. “I’ll always be your son.” I smiled at my mother, feeling my heart break a little as a single tear slipped down her cheek. “I just no longer wish to be a prince.” At that my father made a loud, blustery sound of frustration, scribbling his own name as he did. Thomas cleared his throat as he took the document back, adding his own signature. “It’s done.” The lawyer had been around for my entire life, and as he
looked up at me, I was fairly certain there was a twinkle of pride in his eyes. It lifted my spirits. “Prince Reign Arthur Philip of Visalia, you are no longer second in line to the throne. You have voluntarily given up any claim to the country of Visalia, and will henceforth be known legally as Reign Bishop.” I’d known I would feel relief, but the sudden leeching of tension from every cell in my body left me dizzy. I could have shouted with the relief. It was done. I was free. Rounding the desk, I held my arms out for my mother. Tears were streaming down her face now, but she smiled as I
folded her into a hug. Her familiar scents of lavender and Earl Grey tea soothed me as they had when I was a child. “Be well, my son. Text. E-mail. Call. Visit.” She patted me on the cheek, then stepped aside for me to approach my father. When he simply stood still, staring stonily ahead, she elbowed him sharply until he held out a hand. I took it. He said nothing, but I knew that was all I could expect for now. Next was my brother. He sneered as I approached him, the expression contorting his handsome face into a twisted mask. “Don’t touch me.” Beside him, Victoria winced, but he plowed on.
“Commoners don’t touch the crown prince.” I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I had so much that I wanted to say to him, so many wishes that he would be a better man. I knew they’d just fall on deaf ears, so I simply shook my head and turned to my nieces. Adelaide’s lower lip was quivering. “Don’t you love us anymore?” Fat little girl tears spilled out of her large green eyes, and I knew that I couldn’t have felt more pain if I’d been punched in the jaw. “Of course I do.” I scooped her up in my arms, bouncing her before giving her
a tight squeeze. “Why on earth would you think I don’t?” “Father said that you don’t love us anymore. That’s why you’re divorcing the family.” Amelia, two years older than Adelaide, was too big to cry, but I saw the potential for it in her own eyes, which were the same color as Adelaide’s. I closed my eyes. Jesus. My brother was a worm. I opened them again in time to see Victoria, the prim, proper crown princess of Visalia slapping her husband across the face. He roared and lunged at her; my father caught him around the waist.
“That’s the last straw, Gerald.” I’d never seen my icy sister in law in such a rage. Her cheeks were flushed with anger, and her eyes shot sparks. She turned to Thomas, who was watching the scene stoically, and gestured for him to sit down. “Don’t you be going anywhere. I have papers for you to draw up.” She nodded at me regally as she gathered her daughters close to her. I couldn’t hold back the grin. If the world was fair, there would be a way for Victoria to rule the country after my father in my brother’s stead. The last person in the room was Anastasia. I wasn’t sure what to say to her, so I said nothing. In truth, my wouldbe bride was almost a stranger to me.
She said nothing, either, just hanging her head as she pressed a hand to her belly, which was only barely swollen. I had no idea how that was going to turn out, but she had to be better off than she would have been in a false marriage with a man she didn’t know. As I finished saying my goodbyes, I realized that I couldn’t wait to get home. And home to me was wherever Everly was. *** The car I’d hired was waiting right outside the front door of the palace, waiting to take me back to the airport.
The driver help open the door for me to slide inside. I shouted when I saw that I wasn’t alone. “Jesus, Reign. Nobody looks great after flying all day, but I don’t think I’m quite that bad.” Frowning in mock irritation, Everly tugged on the length of her pink and blonde ponytail. I stared, incredulous, wondering if perhaps I’d dreamt the entire day. “What—” I didn’t even know what I was going to say, but my words were cut off when she launched herself across the back seat of the car and crawled right into my lap. My hands grasped at flesh that was very real and very warm as she
cupped my face in her palms and attacked my mouth. With a groan I sank right into the kiss. I let her lead for a moment, simply enjoying the warm apricot scent of her hair, but before long I couldn’t help tugging at the long tail of her hair and turning the kiss into a demand rather than an acquiescence. After long minutes, we both pulled back, gasping, sealed together with the heat generated by our bodies. I looked up into those clear blue eyes, still wondering if I could possibly be fully awake. She grabbed my shoulders and squeezed as though she’d never let go.
“Tell me I wasn’t an idiot to come here.” Nerves tightened her frame. “Tell me you’re happy to see me.” “I’ll be happy to see you until the day I die.” My voice was hoarse with emotion. Her lower lip began to quiver, and I reached up to run my thumb over it. “Hey now, I thought that was a good thing.” “I just... I’m so sorry.” She clenched her jaw, uncertainty dancing over her face. “I should have... I just...” “It’s okay.” I didn’t need her to explain why she’d reacted the way she had. I understood. Wrapping my arms around her waist, I held her against me tightly as the car started to move. “Though you didn’t have to fly all the
way across the ocean. I was coming right back.” “Why did you come here at all?” She blushed as she spoke. “Sorry, maybe that’s none of my business. I—” “Everything about me is your business.” I readjusted her so that I could look up into her eyes. I wanted to see every nuance of her reaction when I told her. “I’ve given up my claim to the throne.” “What?” She shrieked so loudly that I thought my ear drum might shatter. “Reign, no. No! Why? Why would you do that?” I could all but see her busy mind spinning right out of control, and I knew
exactly where those thoughts were headed. Catching her firmly by the chin, I forced her to still. “I want no part of a tradition that would have a son give up his happiness with another woman for the sake of reputation.” Truer words were never spoken. For the first time in my entire life, I felt completely free from the shackles of my lineage. “I want to live my own life.” “I see.” I hadn’t let go of her. She didn’t try to free herself, but her expression was solemn. “Well, I hope you remember that you have an obligation to fulfill before you’re completely free.”
I couldn’t tell by her tone if she was teasing or serious. I arched a brow up at her. “And that would be...?” Running her tongue over her lower lip, slid her hands from my shoulders. Positioning her arms behind her, the sudden thrust forward of her chest told me that she’d laced her fingers together in a classic submissive posture. “You said you’d guide me through my orientation at Restraint.” Smiling innocently, she heaved a great sigh, which made her breasts in their low-cut top jiggle. My cock was already at half mast from the way she’d been wiggling around on my lap; now it thickened, lengthened, desperate to be home.
“I suppose I did agree to that.” I smirked up at her, slipping one hand down the neck of her shirt to palm a breast. Her low moan shot straight to my erection. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have Nolan? Maybe Penn?” “Sorry, but I’m afraid the deal was with Reign.” She arched an eyebrow. “And someone should probably warn him. I’m a terrible student. I may not get through this orientation... like, ever.” “Hold that thought.” Releasing her breast—and chuckling when she whimpered with disappointment—I dug into my pants pocket for the small box that I’d stopped to purchase on my way to the palace. Everly sucked in a breath when I dangled it in front of her face.
“That’s perfect.” Sucking in a deep breath of my own, I cracked open the box one-handed, revealing the oval ruby that glittered from a platinum band—I’d wanted something unique, like she was. “Because if you put this on, then that ever will be official.” I’d expected her to hesitate, to ask for time to think about it. Instead she shrieked again and grabbed at the box. Shoving the ring down onto her finger, she did a little shimmy of joy that both lightened my heart and tightened my cock. “It’s probably not good etiquette to grab at it like that.” She grinned down at me, waggling the fingers of her left hand
in front of my face. “But I don’t care. It’s on. I’m never taking it off. Got it?” We cocooned together in the back of the sleek limo as my driver wound through both city and country, allowing me to show Everly some of the land I came from. We stooped for lunch, eating a traditional lamb stew, and she told me how Ilya had arranged her trip for her, right down to coordinating the rendezvous with my driver. Hours later, on the way back to the airport, she rested her cheek on my chest and I asked her what she was thinking. She smiled up at me sleepily, and I realized with a start that this was what I had someone won—sleepy Everly
looking at me every single day for the rest of our lives. I was content. And when she spoke, it made me even more so. “I’m so glad that you once moved in next door.”
Coming soon! The Billionaire Bodyguard (Ilya and Willow)
Make sure you don’t miss A Bride for a Billionaire and One Night With The Billionaire, both available now!
EXCERPT MATTEO “Why are you here again?” Stretching my legs out in front of me, I lean back in the large recliner that I’m slouched in as I speak. No matter how luxurious the VIP lounge at the Palermo International Airport intended these seats to be, I can’t get comfortable. Shifting again, I lace my fingers behind my head and crack open my eyes. Emilia is posing on the edge of my chair, all long legs and glossy hair and plump lips. Leaning forward enough to give me a good view down the front of her slinky
dress, she trails a scarlet tipped fingernail over my bicep, sending a sting of pain through my skin. I like it. I also like the view down her dress, even though I know that the move was calculated. Not willing to remain passive, I place my hand on the warm, soft skin of her bare thigh and squeeze once, just enough to make my point. Her eyes flash with heat, and my cock responds, swelling to half-mast. The teasing between us is a game, perhaps a dangerous one, but one that we’ve played since my dad married her mom over a decade ago. “You’re going to make me think you don’t love me.” Those perfect lips of
hers, painted with man-killer red, turn down in a pout that makes me picture them wrapped around my erection. “I don’t.” I’m satisfied by the flicker of pain in her eyes, pain that she smooth’s over effortlessly. The cruel streak in me, the one I got from my father, enjoys hurting her feelings. The rest of me just doesn’t care. Truth is, I don’t have a lot of feelings for my step-sister. The ones that I do have mostly center on her tits and the heated space between her legs. Not that I’ve ever sampled the latter, of course. There are some lines that even I won’t cross.
“What a thing to say, when I came to see you off properly.” Her lips find the taut muscle at the base of my throat, and her teeth sink in, making me shudder. The basest part of me wants to drag her astride my lap. I want to unzip my pants and shove inside of her without any foreplay at all, I want to find my release in a soulless fuck between the legs that have taunted me since I was fifteen, never mind that we’re in the VIP lounge at an airport, and that there are at least a dozen other people around us. Only the thin sliver of humanity that remains inside of me, the tiny shard that my father wasn’t able to extract, keeps me from doing it. That, and the fact that if I do the dynamics between us will
change irrevocably, in ways that I don’t want. So, though my body wants to let her keep nibbling on my neck—wants her mouth to move lower—I shove her away irritably, the recliner rocking forward with a jolt. She frowns. Still, undeterred, she reaches out, runs a hand through my hair. “The meeting just won’t be the same without you.” She flicks her tongue over those glossy red lips. “You know how I love it when you lead board meetings. All that raw power.” “You’ll handle it just fine.” Smirking, I meet her eyes. I’m not stupid. Though she pretends that all she wants is to get her hands on me, we both know
that it’s Benenati Enterprises that she really loves... the company, and the billions of dollars that it generates. She would probably make a far better CEO than me, if I were feeling honest, which I rarely am. I have the same hunger for power that Emilia does, but there are days when the baggage my father left behind in the empire that he built feels too heavy for me to carry. Which is why I’m waiting to board our family’s private plane, which will take me to one of our vacation homes, the one on the Amalfi Coast. I do everything I can to avoid these meetings in person, instead attending by phone whenever possible.
I hate the way the board—all people who were been handpicked by my father —stare at me, their expectations weighing me down. I’m not Carmine Benenati, and I’m thankful for that fact every day. But I’m still his blood, a fact inescapable even six months after his death. The man—this company—can still mold me in his image. The very thought haunts my every waking moment, and sometimes my dreams, as well. Shuddering inwardly, I slam my empty scotch glass on the side table, hard enough to shatter. Catching the eye of the very attractive, very scantily clad waitress, I contemplate a second drink. Possibly a quickie with her in the executive washroom.
Anything to take the edge off. But from the corner of my eye I see Emilia taking note of my intentions toward the pretty redhead, and of the scotch that I drained too quickly. I can’t show weakness in front of her, or it will cost me. “What the hell is taking so long?” Scowling, I shove away thoughts of another drink, of the mind numbing emptiness of release, and push my way to my feet. Emilia’s fuck-me lips turn down sullenly as I stride to the glassed in door of the lounge, wanting—needing —some distraction. I barely have time to blink before a skinny teenager dressed in black sprints
by, a large straw purse clutched tightly in his emaciated arms. “My purse! That man took my purse!” The voice wavers, clearly belonging to an elderly woman. Still, it filters through the thick glass door that separates the VIP lounge from the rest of those striding through the airport with scowls on their faces just fine. Sucking in a breath, I push the glass door open. It slams against the wall with such force it could break, but I don’t care—if it does, I’ll buy them another. Adrenaline rushes through me as I bounce on the balls of my feet, looking from the rapidly shrinking figure clutching the handbag, to the older
woman with clouds of white hair, who is trying to rise from the floor. My instinct is to sprint after the young man who just callously preyed on the weak. But a small voice inside my head whispers, holding me back. It’s not your problem, Matteo. These people are beneath you. Let them solve their own problems. That voice is Carmine’s, not mine. But does it really matter? “You’re not seriously thinking of playing the superhero, are you?” Behind me I hear Emilia laugh, the sound rich with amusement and condescension. “Who are you and what have you done with my step-brother?” That decides it.
“You could go help that old woman up,” I snap over my shoulder as I break into a run. She won’t, I know she won’t, but someone will. I barely make it three steps before I’m overtaken by a woman. A girl, really, younger than me, with long chestnut hair streaming out behind her. “I’ve got it!” She shouts as she pushes past me, picking up speed. Dio, but she’s fast, the movements of her legs highlighted by the spandex legging style pants that girls like to wear. I race after her, my course of action decided. This girl is maybe five foot four to my six three. She’s so small... what is she going to do when she catches up to a
man mean enough to steal from an old woman? No matter how rotten I am on the inside, I can’t let that slide. So I sprint after her, after the thief.I’m fast, but she’s faster. She’s gaining on the mugger, who casts a panicked look over his shoulder. Even from this distance I can see that his eyes are wide, crazed. He’s high on something... he would have to be, to try a stunt like this in an international airport. And this pazzo woman, this crazy girl, is two strides away from being in a lot of trouble. “Stop!” I shout, but it’s too late. She jumps, lands on the unkempt man, wraps her arms around the purse as they struggle to stay upright. Horror joins the
adrenaline pulsing through me as I see a flash of silver, the whites of the man’s eyes. The girl screams, a sound full of anger more than pain, as she twists, the knife sinking into her upper arm rather than her chest. The scene plays out in slow motion before my eyes as she falls to the floor, a viscous stream of crimson staining the front of her white T-shirt. My instinct is to drop to my knees beside her, to put pressure on her wound. But her eyes—beautiful blue eyes, brilliant as the Mediterranean— meet my own. “I’m fine!” She wheezes at me, despite the very obvious fact that she is not. Her arms wrap ever tighter around
the purse, and with one foot she kicks the knife out of range. “Go!” I don’t usually take orders, especially from women, but I understand the fire in her stare. The mugger has already scrambled to his feet, is poised to run. The girl managed to get the purse, but justice must be served. I appreciate this desire of hers. So without breaking my stride, I leap, wrapping my arms around the man. My muscles are burning from the sprint, but I hold tight as we crash to the floor. “Off! Off!” The thief’s voice is highpitched, hysterical. He thrashes beneath me, and I grunt as his knee connects with
my gut. “I need that money! I need the fucking money!” “There’s probably nothing more than pocket change and stale mints in that purse, you idiot.” My muscles strain as I grab hold of his wrists, secure them behind his back—I’m by far the bigger of us two, but he has mania on his side. He doesn’t respond, his gaze fixed on something over my shoulder as he struggles. His skin is pale and clammy, eyes bloodshot and glassy. His muscles are tight with tension and pressed against him like I am, I can feel the hammering of his pulse, unnaturally fast. I lift my head, try to crane my neck back to get a glimpse of the girl, but she’s out of my line of sight. Instead I
see a man and a woman, both dressed in the blue uniforms of aeroporti security, running toward us. “We need you to let go of him now,” the male says, but I don’t let go until they have a good grip on the thief, who now has saliva dribbling down his chin. It disgusts me, as so many things do, and I swivel, trying to get a good look at the girl. The female security guard catches a full glimpse of my face, and her mouth falls open. I sigh as she emits a small squeak, leaving her partner to do their job by himself. “Signore Benenati,” she whispers, a bright flush staining her cheeks. I shake
my head in warning as I scramble to my feet. “Not now.” My voice is harsh, and I begin to push my way through the crowd of people who have gathered. “Call an ambulanza. Now!” She says something behind me; I don’t care. Other whispers from the crowd tell me that I’ve been recognized, not an unusual occurrence here in Palermo. While normally I enjoy the benefits that come with being one of the country’s most eligible bachelors, right now I’m focused on the girl. There she is, propped up on her elbows, a hand held to her own wound, her fingers painted in blood. Several well-meaning citizens flutter around her,
but no one has truly touched her—afraid of getting their hands dirty. Just like you were. If you hadn’t hesitated, she wouldn’t have been stabbed. It should have been you. “Signorina.” I am never at a loss for words, nor do I ever feel guilty. But it seems that today is a day for firsts as I fall to my knees at the side of this strange, brave girl. I shrug out of my light cotton sweater and press it to the wound. It soaks through, wetting my hands as well. Her blood is sticky and warm. Full of life. “The ambulance will be here shortly.” I’m pressing down gently on the
gap in her flesh, the place where the knife sliced through her, but she winces anyway. “No! No ambulance!” She struggles to sit up, but since she is clearly going into shock—her skin is paper white and her eyes glassy—she winds up falling back with her head in my lap. Is she insane? Wait—I already know the answer to that. “You need medical attention.” Frowning, I brush an errant lock of her hair away from her forehead, scowling at both the impulsive gesture and the smudges of blood that I leave behind on her white skin.
She shakes her head—maybe she doesn’t understand. “Ssh,” I try to soothe, but I have never soothed anyone in my life. “They’ll stitch you up, give you some pain medication. You’ll feel better.” “No!” With surprising strength, born of adrenaline, I would guess, she wrenches herself from my grasp, rolls to her side, starts trying to get to her feet. “No ambulance. I can’t afford it.” Aah. “I will pay.” Maybe this will assuage some of the guilt that was building inside of me, the sensation strange and unpleasant. I hesitated. If I hadn’t, I would have been the one to tackle the thief. To be stabbed. And this
strange girl would have gone on her way. “Like hell you will.” Managing to pull herself to a sitting position, she glares at me. I can feel my mouth fall open a bit, with shock. I can’t recall meeting a woman— ever—who refused my money. It is just a fact that has come along with the privilege of my family name. “You’re not paying. So, no ambulance.” With that damned purse still in hand—where is the owner, anyway? —the girl rises to her knees and wobbles. I ignore her, catching the eye of the female security guard that I shouted at. She nods to signal that she has in fact
called the ambulance, then blushes again. I will pay the costs. It is the least that I can do, since this situation is my fault. Besides, I have money—a lot of money. The ambulance ride, the medical expenses—they will cost less than the sweater that the girl has discarded. It lies in a bloody, deep blue heap on the floor. “Where’s the woman this was stolen from?” I rise to my feet along with the stubborn signorina, arms around her, ready to catch her if she should fall. Instead of thanking me, she pushes at my touch irritably—and weakly. “Really, Matteo?” The sharp clack of a shoe tapping on marble tile has my teeth grinding together. I spare a glance
in the direction of Emilia, who is standing to the side of the crowd, nose wrinkled with distaste. “You can’t get on the plane until you’ve cleaned up. I’m taking it to Milan next week, and I don’t want to wait for blood to be cleaned from the upholstery.” I’m not surprised by Emilia’s response—for the ten years I’ve known her, she’s been inclined to lash out first, ask questions later. But while normally I would simply roll my eyes and ignore her, this time I find anger heating my veins. The girl in my arms was stabbed trying to help someone, does Emilia have no feelings at all? “Not now, Emilia.” I tighten my hold as the girl tries to pull away from me.
“I can’t miss my flight!” Her voice is full of panic. “I’ve been waiting for this seat sale forever. It’s non-refundable. All of my things are already on the plane!” Emilia laughs, probably at the idea that all of one’s possessions could possibly fit on a plane at all, let alone in the bag or two that I suspect are all that this girl has. Ignoring my step-sister, I try to gather the girl in my arms. Though she still fights it, when her hot, smooth skin presses against mine, something electric jolts through me, taking me by surprise. Emilia isn’t one to be ignored. “Guess you’ll be at the board meeting after all.” Grinding my teeth together, I
give in, turning to glare at her. She smirks, making even that look sexy, and in that moment I hate her. Damn it, she’s right. I groan, as I realize that now I’m stuck. All for a stubborn scrap of a girl who’s eyeing the paramedics like they’re the spawn of Satan. “I’m telling you, I can’t afford it.” Pushing out of my arms, she staggers a few feet, then lurches to a stop. “I’m perfectly fine.” Turning back to me, she holds out one of her hands, which is tacky with congealing red. “Hey, look.” Her face is full of amazement, as if she has no idea why
she is bleeding, and she sways back and forth. “Blood.” I have no choice but to catch her as she falls.