I’ve been promising that when I finished copyedits and page proofs that I would share some of the opening of Ours To Love (Wicked Lovers 7) with you. I’m finally ready! Usually by this stage, an author has read the book at least 3-5 times within a few months and we’re somewhere between ambivalent and OMG, I hate this now. But as I finished this one, I can say I’m still really happy with the book. It’s the longest Wicked Lovers book so far, and I can’t wait to share it with readers on May 7! Without further ado…
Between two brothers… Xander Santiago spent years living it up as a billionaire playboy. Never given a chance to lead his family business in the boardroom, he became a Master in the bedroom instead. His older brother inherited the company and worked tirelessly to make it an empire. But while the cutthroat corporate espionage took its toll on Javier, nothing was as devastating as the seemingly senseless murder of his wife. It propelled him into a year of punishing rage and guilt…until Xander came to his rescue.
Comes an irresistible woman … Eager to rejuvenate Javier’s life, Xander shanghais him to Louisiana where they meet the beautiful London McLane. After surviving a decade of tragedy and struggle, London is determined to make a fresh start—and these sexy billionaire brothers are more than willing to help. In every way. And London is stunned to find herself open to every heated suggestion…and desperately hoping that her love will heal them.
And inescapable danger … But a killer with a hidden motive is watching, on a single-minded mission to destroy everything the Santiago brothers hold dear, especially London. And as fear and desire collide, every passionate beat of her heart could be her last.
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Club Dominion—Dallas, Texas, late June
After warming up the submissive’s curvy, feminine ass with his hand, Xander Santiago cast her a discerning eye. Nice rosy shade. Graceful, compliant, docile, the woman remained bent and restrained over the spanking bench, her swollen, exposed pussy juicy as a ripe peach.
As the heavy beats of Nine Inch Nails throbbed through the dungeon, he walked a circle around her, smiling faintly at her flushed cheeks and eyes fluttering closed in ecstasy. Whitney had been the right choice for this evening’s session, experienced but so sweet. She trembled with the desire to please. And to fuck.
She was exactly what his brother, Javier, needed.
“See the way she’s trying to lift her ass to you? The way her pussy weeps? It’s slick and swollen, but she wants more. A session with the flogger will send her to subspace,” Xander coached, handing him the implement by the thick handle, the long, braided tails gleaming under the stark lights. “Your turn. Deep breath. You know what to do.”
Javier nodded, but his brows drew together. Sweat trickled from his temple. He didn’t grab the flogger, but plowed a jerky, bronzed hand through the waves of his dark hair, which looked as if he hadn’t bothered to trim it in months. That fit, since his brother seemingly hadn’t given a shit about anything except anger and vodka in far too long.
Damn it, Javier needed to look deep and find some self-control. Xander hoped that teaching him to embrace the inner Dominant so clearly buried under layers of stress, pain, and guilt would stop his full-blown slide into self-destruction. Since neither grief counseling nor time had done a damn bit of good, it was the only way Xander knew to keep his brother together.
If it didn’t work, he’d almost certainly be putting Javier in an early grave.
Xander grabbed his brother’s wrist and shoved the flogger in his hand. Javier gripped it in a white-knuckled fist, his gaze bouncing around the room.
“Breathe.” Xander snapped his fingers. “Focus, man. She’s right there, waiting for you. Get a grip and take control.”
Javier gave a rough nod, then drew in a jagged breath. He swung his arm back in a jerky arc, but his position looked sloppy. He would likely hit the back of Whitney’s thighs, not her luscious ass, and cause her the wrong sort of pain.
“Goddamn it,” Javier cursed softly, shaking his head and blinking rapidly.
Xander clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Focus on Whitney.” He leaned into his brother’s face, forcing Javier’s gaze to his. “Your thoughts should only be on her now. Take in her demeanor, posture, and other nonverbal cues, then decide what’s most likely to give her the sensations she needs.”
Javier lifted his head, staring blankly, his breathing alarmingly rapid.
“Are you seeing her? Are you listening for her safe word?” Xander demanded.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Javier gripped the flogger tighter, the veins of his wrist standing out. His arm shook as he dragged in an uneven breath, nervous energy pinging off his body.
Alarm bells went off in Xander’s head. “Javier?”
“What?” he barked.
Xander got in his face, whispering tersely. “Snap out of it! Tell me her safe word.”
Javier’s nostrils flared. He pinched his eyes shut again, then flashed them wide open with a shake of his head. Fuck, his brother was trying to force himself back to the here and now—and it wasn’t working. Xander scrubbed a hand over his face, frustration eating at him.
“You can do this,” he cajoled. “I’ve given you the knowledge. You have the instinct. You’re totally in control when you’re on your game. Find that now. Use the power she’s giving you, Javier. Feel her trust and get into your Dom space.”
Javier sucked in a sharp breath and squared his shoulders, his whole body taut and hyperfocused. Then he nodded. Xander frowned, watchful, as he leaned away to let his brother wield the flogger on Whitney’s ass. But Javier just stared sightlessly at the firm red globes of her flesh and swallowed. He swayed on his feet. His breathing turned choppier again.
Fuck. He felt his brother slipping through his fingers, little by little. Day by day. One step forward, three steps back. Xander cursed Francesca all over again. She’d taken the strong, commanding older brother he’d worshipped as a kid and turned him inside out with lies and guilt. The last year had eaten away his indomitable will, leaving behind an empty shell. Even from the grave, the beautiful, terrible bitch had her teeth in him.
His brother’s blue eyes cut over to him, dilated, not quite focused. Damn it, he was shaking again. Xander bit back a frustrated scream.
“Focus. Either tell me her safe word or give me the flogger,” he growled.
“I-I . . .” Javier’s fingers curled into a fist, and he hung his head. “Fuck. I have to get out of here.”
“Get your shit together and tell me what’s going on,” he growled in low tones, hoping no one around them would hear.
Javier jerked his gaze back to Whitney’s ass. The pleasure Xander had given her during the warm-up had begun to dissipate. She tensed, coming back to her body, back to reality. Xander leaned around the spanking bench to peer into the sub’s pretty face. Her heavy green eyes surveyed the bits of the room she could see, her platinum hair moving as she now swung her head from side to side.
With a curse, he made his way over to her and laid a firm hand on her back. “Easy, Whitney.”
“Permission to speak, Sir?”
Well, hell. Xander didn’t want to hear it, but she’d earned it. “Yes, little sub.”
“Have I done something wrong?” She sounded anxious.
“It’s not you,” he assured quickly, petting her soft skin.
Xander hesitated. What else could he say? Certainly not that his workaholic brother’s wife had cheated on him with another man who’d murdered her, and a year later Javier was still guilt-ridden and broken. He continued to experience episodes of mental vacancy and uncontrollable rage. Sometimes—like now—he’d turn into a fullblown train wreck almost without warning.
“He’s had some difficulties lately.” Thank God no one in Dallas paid attention to the Who’s Who of Los Angeles’ wealthy unless they were movie stars. If they did, Whitney would know all about Javier’s fucking tragic crap. “He just needs some time to get himself back in the right frame of mind. I’ll keep you safe. Are you doing all right? Do you need water or anything?”
Sympathy crossed Whitney’s soft face. “I’m sorry to hear that. No, Sir. I’m fine. I’ll be patient if it pleases you both.”
Xander kissed the girl’s cheek. “Brave little sub. I’ll reward you later.”
That made her grin, and he let his lips curl up in a reassuring smile.
Until the flogger slammed into his chest. He caught it reflexively, then turned to see Javier storming toward the exit.
Shit! He couldn’t leave his brother to his own devices, not when he seemed to be in the middle of another meltdown. Twice in the last year, Xander had rushed him to the emergency room to have his stomach pumped before he died of alcohol poisoning. But Xander also couldn’t leave Whitney restrained without protection in the middle of a kink club on a Saturday night. There were predators everywhere, and even though the club owner, Mitchell Thorpe, inspected every member with a magnifying glass, no system was perfect.
He looked around the dungeon and spotted a familiar figure. Grabbing the woman’s slender arm, he pulled her close. Her blue eyes flared, then danced with mischief when she recognized him.
She grinned as she flipped her black hair over the pale skin of her shoulder. “Last I heard, you still have to have my consent to manhandle me. Not that I’m objecting.”
That was Callie. A sub with a brattier mouth he’d never met.
“Emergency,” he growled. “Free Whitney for me and take care of her.”
Her face turned immediately serious. “Of course. Go. Call me if you need anything else.”
Bratty . . . but deeply loyal and reliable. Callie would do exactly as she promised.
“Thanks,” Xander murmured, then ran after Javier, catching his brother by the arm as he pushed his way into the cramped dressing room. It was empty now, as most people were actively playing this time of the evening, like he and his brother would have been if Javier could get his head screwed on straight.
“What is your problem?” Xander demanded as he spun Javier around. Silence. “Talk to me.”
“Back the fuck off.” Javier jerked his arm away with a snarl.
God, more anger. Javier had oceans of it, an infinite mass of seething, burning rage that he didn’t really understand. His brother had never explained his abrupt change in behavior over the last year. Was his guilt for being unable to save Francesca from a terrible death? Was it the anger step of his grieving process? Maybe they needed to get all this shit out in the open.
“Listen to me.” He gripped Javier’s shoulders. “I’m sorry you lost Francesca. But she was a vapid, cheating parasite. You didn’t love her. I’d bet both my balls that you wanted to divorce her but didn’t seek one because it would have cost a fucking fortune. Instead, you worked ridiculous hours to avoid her, didn’t you? And rather than facing the problem head-on, she chose to run off with her lover, and he killed her. Not you. That wasn’t your fault.”
“Not entirely.” Javier pinned him with seething blue eyes, wrenching free and slamming his fist into the locker. “It was yours, too.”
Xander cursed under his breath. This again? “I couldn’t have saved her, Javi.”
“You could have at least tried!” He shoved his way into Xander’s face, grinding his teeth so hard, the tendons in his neck stood out. An angry flush colored his cheeks. “For over three decades, I handled our parents, was the model student, and assumed the reins of the family businesses—all so you could continue to do what you excel at: play. I asked you for one favor in return. One. And you refused.”
Javier hadn’t done all of that exclusively for him. He’d done it mostly because he couldn’t stand not being best at everything, and because that billion dollar conglomerate of companies had been his birthright. Javier had been the heir. Xander knew well that his parents had designated him the spare. Educated and pampered, but not really valued for any contribution he might make. After all, with a brother so capable, his contribution hadn’t been necessary.
“You asked for something impossible,” Xander insisted.
“Nearly every damn night you find a woman or two to bend to your will. Francesca needed your guidance and discipline. I was up to my eyeballs in the acquisition of Reptor, working eighteen hours a day. All you had to do was give her your firm hand.”
Just like the day Javier had asked him to be Francesca’s Dom, Xander thought his brother was out of his mind. He silently counted to ten, trying to hold on to his temper. “There were so many problems with your request, I don’t even know where to start! First, I’ve never collared a sub of my own, and I wasn’t about to take twenty-four/seven responsibility for your pampered wife. The absolute cornerstone of the lifestyle is safe, sane, and consensual. I didn’t see how that arrangement would have been safe when I wanted to throttle her every waking moment. I don’t think she was remotely sane. Even if none of that had been a problem, she wasn’t submissive. She would have never consented to give me her power. If I’d taken it, I would have been nothing more than an abusive bully, because I know damn well that ass would have required beating daily. Hell, probably every hour on the hour.”
Javier’s eyes narrowed. “She might have been submissive for you, but you wouldn’t even try. And I know why. You wanted to fuck her. You only refused my request because I excluded sex in the proposed contract.”
“I also want to ride a wild bull someday for the rush of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid enough to do it.” Xander scowled at his brother. “Yeah, I wanted to fuck her once upon a time. I admit it. She was beautiful. But she was a viper who damn near sucked the life out of you, brother. I told you she would before you married her. But you haven’t listened to a fucking word I’ve said since we were kids. You wanted her. Instead of banging her once, you convinced yourself that, being an executive’s daughter, she would make a model executive’s wife, so you put a ring on her finger.”
“It was one of the terms of a delicate merger. It made sense at the time.”
“It was a bad deal.”
“And you love to say ‘I told you so.’”
“Francesca’s father dangled her out there like a carrot when she was really the stick. You were dumb enough to take the bait. She beat you down mentally for years. Hell, she’s still doing it!”
His brother bristled. “Revenue has grown a great deal since that merger.”
“At the cost of your sanity?”
Javier looked away with a curse, and Xander knew his brother was about to walk out on him again, probably to find another bottle and finish himself for good. He’d intentionally removed every gun from the Dallas house they’d been staying in for the last few weeks, and the L.A. mansion before that. No sense tempting fate.
Knowing this tactic wasn’t working, Xander tried another. “The business is suffering, Javier. Going downhill fast. You’re unfocused and floundering. Your episodes are more common than you’ve let on, aren’t they? The sharks are circling. Goddamn it, let me help.”
“No.” Javier’s refusal rolled around the quiet room like a shout.
“Why? I’ve got a fucking MBA I’ve never used because you’ve never needed or wanted me.”
“So . . . would you squeeze in research and development somewhere between your daily dose of spanking and fucking? I can’t have you demanding that your executive assistant strip the minute she walks in the door. It’s called sexual harassment. We’d be sued blind.”
Javier’s sarcasm cut him like an ax to the chest. “You have no idea what I’m capable of, but you’re never going to find out because you refuse to share our family business. And despite the guilt you’re trying to shove down my throat, you would never have shared your wife in any way, either.”
He’d lived in his big brother’s shadow for nearly thirty years, wishing he could please his parents. Finally, he’d realized that was impossible and gave up, pursuing pleasure instead. He’d decided very early in life that he didn’t want Javier’s grudging seconds, either.
“Bullshit. I asked for your help. I fucking begged you,” his brother snapped.
“When Francesca got beyond your desire or ability to handle her, you looked to me like some BDSM Band-Aid. You’ve been training in the lifestyle for months now. You know why passing her off to me would have never worked, even if the issue of fucking her never came up. She wasn’t going to recognize you as her husband, me as her Master, and suddenly be happy.”
“Maybe not happy, but at least she wouldn’t have been in Aruba being murdered by her lover.”
Xander shook his head, wondering if Javier could even see reality at this point. “If it hadn’t been that guy, it would have been someone else. And in the meantime, all she would have done was play us against one another to get her way. She would have torn us apart.”
“Well, then she won because she’s still doing it.” Javier stalked off , turning back only long enough to growl at him. “Fuck off, Xander. For good.”
* * *
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