Read an Excerpt
Walking away from Delaine Talbot was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do in my life. And that was saying a lot considering I’d been responsible for the death of my parents and had subsequently inherited a multibillion-dollar corporation, Scarlet Lotus, which I ran alongside my mortal enemy, David Stone.
David had once been my best friend until I’d come home from a business trip to find him fucking my girl, Julie, in my bathtub. Needless to say, Julie was no longer my girl. A pariah, yes, but my girl, no. All of those events had inadvertently led me to Lanie. I still wasn’t sure if I should be bitter or happy about that fact.
I’d heard about an underground organization that procured women to auction off to the highest bidder. It was all very illegal, of course, as human trafficking—voluntary or not—should be. However, these women agreed to become the property of the winner in whatever manner they required. I might not have trusted women after the Julie/David debacle, but I was a man, and I had needs like every other man. So when I’d heard about the auction, it seemed the best route to take.
Scott Christopher was the proprietor of Foreplay, a club that on its face catered to the shenanigans of college students, while hosting the auction underground. I didn’t like Christopher in the least, but I hadn’t gone there to make friends. I’d had a single purpose in mind, and I’d always gotten what I wanted.
Delaine Talbot was a twenty-four-year-old virgin. Unsullied, untamed. Perfect. The two million dollars I paid to own her for two years was a very fine investment indeed. Two years for me to have my wicked way with her whenever and however I wanted. And I did. Although I hadn’t expected her to have zero experience with sex, I was pleased that I was the one who got to teach her. She was a star pupil, accelerating in her lessons to the point that I thought she might actually be the death of me. An added bonus, she came equipped with an attitude. You’d think that would be a turnoff. Quite the opposite, it had only made my cock even harder for her.
We went round and round, butted heads like nobody’s business, but in the end, it always landed with my cock buried deep inside her exquisite pussy while she moaned my name. I was a sex god and she was every bit the goddess—until I found out she was actually an angel and I was the devil in disguise.
Had I been half as smart as I’d thought I was, I would’ve hired someone to do a background check on her in the beginning. But no. I was a horny fucker without morals, hence the purchase of a human being in the first goddamn place.
It turned out Lanie Talbot had made the ultimate sacrifice. She’d sold herself to save her dying mother’s life.
Faye Talbot was in need of a heart transplant. The problem was that the Talbot family couldn’t afford the transplant, nor did they have health insurance. Mack, Lanie’s father, had lost his job after having missed so much work tending to his wife. Corporate America could be a cold bastard at times, caring more about the bottom line than about the people who were the reason for their success in the first place. But what was done was done. All they could do was trudge forward and hold out hope.
That hope came in the two million dollars that I’d paid for Lanie.
How very altruistic of me. I don’t think that had been what my dearly departed mother, Elizabeth, had in mind when she’d first started the charity campaign at Scarlet Lotus. Noah senior would’ve disapproved greatly as well.
Once I’d found out what I’d done to Lanie, I knew I couldn’t do it to her anymore. I’d fallen for her. Big-time. And although it nearly killed me to admit it, I knew I had to let her go. She belonged at her mother’s side, not in my bed.
I’ll admit I hadn’t thought I could actually follow through on it, so I’d hedged. It was the night of the annual Scarlet Lotus Ball that the dam had finally broken. First of all, Julie had shown up and shown out. She had been all over me like a second skin, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it at the time because of the board members and potential clients who were in attendance. Add to that the fact that Lanie had been openly flirting with David Stone, and you have a catastrophe in the making. So I’d been forced to drag Lanie out of there before I lost all composure and made a horrific scene from which I’d never be able to recover. It was what David had been hoping for, I was sure.
Lanie and I had argued on the ride home. Well, she had argued. I’d ignored her. Which had only pissed her off more. She wanted me to fuck her, expected it, because that was what we’d always done. Only I hadn’t wanted to fuck her anymore. I couldn’t. Not after everything I’d learned. Don’t get me wrong; I wanted her. Goddamn, did I ever. But I couldn’t do that to her anymore.
She wouldn’t leave well enough alone, though. Nope. Not Lanie. When I’d spurned her advances, she’d bolted from the limousine and into the rain toward the house. I’d followed after her, of course, but she was crazed, spewing anything at all to get a rise out of me.
She hit the proverbial jackpot when she told me if I wouldn’t fuck her, someone else back at the ball would, and one person in particular sprang to mind. David Stone.
My possessive nature kicked in. Admittedly, I was angry, but it was no excuse for what I’d done. None too gently, I’d grabbed her and fucked her right there on the staircase. I hadn’t cared if it felt good to her. I hadn’t cared if she was uncomfortable. I hadn’t cared about anything other than claiming what I’d considered mine.
Only she wasn’t mine. Sure, maybe I owned her body, but I didn’t own her soul or her heart, and those were the parts I’d wanted the most. Those were the parts of me I’d given her without even realizing it. And they hadn’t cost her one red penny.
After fucking her like a goddamn animal, I’d finally forced myself to confess everything I’d been keeping from her. I told her that I knew about her mother, about why she had to auction herself off to the highest bidder. And as fucked up as I knew it was, I told her that I’d fallen in love with her. And then I left her there without another word.
To my utter amazement, Lanie had come to find me in the shower. Imagine my surprise when instead of cutting my balls off, she asked me to make love to her, to let her know what it felt like to be loved by me. Just once. That was all she’d wanted. And I would’ve given her anything she asked for, so of course I gave her my heart on a silver platter. Cliché, but true.
I’d known while I was making love to her, while I was bearing my fucking soul to her, that it was the last time. I’d known it, and still I managed to push all of that to the side and revere her the way she should’ve been from day one. I loved her freely and completely, with all of my might and all of my being. There had been no room to doubt how I had felt about her, how I still felt about her.
I loved her. God help me, I fucking loved her.
Afterward, she made a point to state the obvious, that we needed to talk. But I’d known everything she was going to say already, so I claimed the night and just held her. I knew it would be the last time I’d ever be able to do so.
The next morning, it had taken every ounce of strength I had to leave the measured serenity of that bed. It had to be done. So I’d nuzzled her neck and softly kissed the bare skin of her shoulder before whispering one last “I love you” into her ear. She’d stirred and smiled in her sleep, which made it even harder to leave her side, but somehow I did.
The shower was quick, my dressing time even quicker. And when I’d come out, there she was, my million-dollar baby, looking even more beautiful than I’d ever thought her to be before. She’d wanted to talk, but again, I knew the score, and I just didn’t think I could handle hearing her say the words. So I did the right thing.
I ripped up the contract and told her to go be with her family. And then I willed my shaky legs to take me away from her. She didn’t follow or try to stop me, which was just as it should’ve been. The fantasy I’d tried to buy was over, and it was time for me to get back to the real world.
As the limousine pulled away, I refused to let myself look back at the front door. I didn’t want to see that she wasn’t there. It was hard enough knowing she wouldn’t be when I got home. Maybe the day would eventually come that she’d think about me and not hate my guts. Maybe she’d even smile warmly. Maybe, but I wasn’t counting on it. As long as she was happy, that was all that mattered to me.
And so I found myself in my limousine, alone and fucking dying on the inside. I’d turn to the only thing that had gotten me through every other tragedy in my life: Scarlet Lotus.
As I watched the limousine disappear from sight, something came over me. I expected it to be defeat, agony, betrayal, or heartache, but it wasn’t.
Rage. Rage and more rage.
How dare he? Stupid man with his stupid big house, his stupid big ego, and his stupid big head, thinking he knew what was best for me. He said it wouldn’t work, but I didn’t believe he meant it. I saw that look in his eyes. It was killing him. So why do it? Why go through all he had the night before to prove how he felt for me, only to turn me loose the second he had a chance to make a clean getaway? Because he had control issues—that was the reason. Well, he couldn’t tell me what to do. I wasn’t one of his employees anymore. The shredded piece of paper he had discarded on the bed was the end of that contract.
Discarded . . . just like me.
I was going to tell him I loved him, too, to put an end to his ridiculousness, but no such luck. Before letting me get out of my mouth the words that were sure to prove him wrong, the control freak told me to get lost.
How was it fair that he got to say all he wanted when I didn’t? I mean, sure, I could’ve echoed his declaration while in the throes of passion, but that passion had been pretty epic and I’d had a hard enough time remembering to breathe, let alone being able to say anything that would have sounded in the least bit coherent or endearing. Besides, I really thought I had all kinds of time to tell him how I felt. I mean, hello? I’d told him to call me Lanie, for Christ’s sake. Plus I didn’t want him to think I was saying those three little words just because he had. I wanted a separate moment to do the whole shout-it-from-the-highest-mountaintop-for-the-whole-world-to-hear thing so that there’d be no doubting my sincerity, because a declaration of that magnitude was a pretty serious thing. But I was all kinds of prepared to make that leap. For him, for me . . . for us.
And then he just had to go and ruin it with his caveman crap.
Men are jackasses.
But at least I could do something about my jackass, because I really had nothing to lose by confronting him. I was going to make him listen to me, whether he wanted to or not. He was going to know that I loved him, and he was going to feel like a total jerk for dismissing me the way he had. Because I was going down to that posh little office of his to demand his attention. He was going to see how wrong he was to make the assumptions he had, and he would never jump to conclusions again. I was a woman who had given up everything to save her dying mother’s life, and I had a voice that was screaming to be heard. I’d be damned if everything I’d been through since I entered Noah Crawford’s world was going to be for nothing.
Resigned to that plan, I turned on my heel and stalked back into the house with my shoulders back and my head held high. After a quick shower and a tour through Polly’s wonderland of inappropriate clothing, I dressed and grabbed my cell phone from the table before leaving.
I was really quite impressed with myself as I scurried down the stairs, again avoiding a neck-breaking, skull-crushing fall. When I reached the first floor, I heard a car pull up. It had to be Samuel returning from dropping Noah off, and I gave myself a healthy dose of see-this-was-meant-to-be because how perfect was that timing?
And then there was an insistent pounding on the door, followed by “Lanie Marie Talbot, I know you’re in there! Get your fat ass out of bed and open the door!”
That was my bestie, Dez.
I sprinted for the door and yanked it open just as Dez was about to pound her fist against it again. For a girl, she was pretty strong, and I was lucky that she narrowly missed cold-cocking me in the forehead. Like I needed to look like a unicorn when I went to confront Noah.
“Dez!” I shrieked as I ducked her fist. We both took a step back and looked each other over.
“What the hell are you wearing?” we asked simultaneously.
“Jinx! You owe me a Coke!” I yelled at the same time Dez yelled, “Jinx! You owe me a cock!”
Every time we played this game, I never got my Coke. Dez, however, always got her cock—without my help.