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Authors: Alice Raine

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General

Enlightened

Enlightened

Untwisted Book Four

Alice Raine

Passionate, intense, and formidable, the Jackson brothers return in the deeply erotic final instalment of the Untwisted series. Nicholas and Rebecca are together and stronger than ever as they prepare for their upcoming wedding, but a series of misunderstandings threatens to ruin their big day. Meanwhile, Nathan and Stella are drawn into complications as Stella hides a secret from the man she loves, one that could tear them apart forever.

Can Nicholas and Nathan ever truly escape their dark pasts and find the happiness they thought would always be out of reach?

The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.

Albert Einstein

Important note to reader

This concluding instalment of the Untwisted series is written from the perspectives of all four main characters: Nicholas, Rebecca, Nathan, and Stella. To ensure the story reads smoothly for you, please make sure to read the chapter headings so you know whose perspective each section is written from.

Enjoy!

Alice x

Important note to reader

Karen W – seeing as you helped name this book, it seems only right to dedicate it to you and your amazing friendship x x x

Prologue - Nicholas

First week of September

‘To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.’

I read the paper again then narrowed my eyes as Rebecca pulled out a pencil and pad and tentatively pushed it across the coffee table towards me with an eager smile.

‘Don’t look like that, Nicholas!’ she chastised me, with a giggle, but I immediately pushed the paper back towards her and shook my head.

‘The vows are fine as they are, Rebecca, we don’t need to write our own version,’ I said firmly with a shake of my head.

Rebecca’s soft, full lips pursed into a deliciously sexy pout that was usually enough to persuade me to change my mind about almost anything – a fact that she knew all too well and took advantage of frequently – but it wouldn’t work on me today. Seeing my reluctance the playful grin on Becky’s face suddenly disappeared, and she started to fiddle nervously with a strand of her long blonde hair before tucking it behind her ear. ‘Shit … is this all too much? Don’t you want to be involved in the preparations?’ she asked in a small voice, making me feel like a complete bastard as my chest compressed with guilt.

Knowing I needed to work fast to reassure my girl, I quickly stood up and stepped towards her with a smile. ‘I do want to be involved, Rebecca, of course I do.’ I moved closer and cupped her cheek looking down into her stunning green eyes. God, I loved those eyes. ‘It’s the day where I get to finally keep you for myself for the rest of my life, and tell the entire world about it at the same time. But all this girly stuff …’ Scooping up a swatch of material samples for possible chair covers I wafted them in the air, failing to keep the grimace from my face, ‘… is just a bit much.’ I knew those words probably made me sound like an inconsiderate bastard, and perhaps I was one, but I’d been so emotionally detached throughout my life that this was all a bit overwhelming.

I wanted to marry Rebecca more than I wanted to take my next breath, but to be honest I’d be perfectly happy if it were just her, me, and a registrar at the service. I didn’t need the other embellishments that went with it. Lifting a hand to scratch at the back of my neck I licked my lips. ‘Can we compromise? Share out the jobs?’ I suggested hopefully as an idea sprung to my mind.

The concerned expression that rested on Rebecca’s face a minute ago was replaced by an assessing look as she narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, and nodded, ‘I’m not going to be some Bridezilla, Nicholas.’ Lifting a hand she placed it reassuringly on my chest and I felt the same thrilling spark I always did from her touch, ‘I want you to enjoy this day as much as I do. What do you suggest?’

Seeing my opportunity I spoke quickly before she could change her mind. ‘You do the flowers, room decorations, vows, outfits, meals, cake, that sort of thing, and I’ll sort out the venue, music, entertainment, and cars.’ As I said it I realised just how unequal my allocation was and saw Rebecca’s eyebrows rise high in her forehead, so I quickly added, ‘We’ll help each other, of course, and I’ll obviously get your consent before I book a venue or make any final decisions.’ Although where the venue was concerned I did have a little secret up my sleeve that I’d need to share with her fairly soon.

Raising my hands, I cupped Becky’s face with my palms, enjoying the warmth that flowed into me and soaking up her small sigh of pleasure. She was so small and fragile compared to me, but as I remembered just how strong she’d been since we’d been back together I felt my chest puff with pride. ‘I’m not the most emotionally open of men, Becky, I know that … but I’d feel comfortable sorting those things out and that way I’d still be involved.’

After chewing on the inside of her lip for a few seconds Rebecca finally nodded and swivelled her head so she could place a kiss on my palm. ‘OK. But part of the deal is that you at least think about the vows while I’m out,’ she said, reaching up to drop a swift kiss on my jaw. I tried to turn to capture her lips with mine but she stepped back with a cheeky smile. ‘For me?’ she asked, with a flutter of her eyelashes. ‘Maybe you could ask your best man to help you? If you’ve chosen one yet,’ she added, blowing me a kiss, licking her lips, and breezing from the lounge while deliberately swaying her delectable arse and humming happily to herself.

Shaking my head I smiled ruefully. That goddamn little minx was using every one of her seduction skills today, wasn’t she? Watching her departure I flopped back down onto the sofa with a moan and adjusted my excitable groin within the suddenly tight confines of my trousers.

My head fell back onto the sofa cushions and I stared at the ceiling as I contemplated our conversation again. Rubbing a hand over my face I rolled my eyes. Bloody wedding. We’d left it all a bit last minute; there were less than seven months left until our proposed wedding date and we’d only started properly planning it two days ago. In just forty-eight hours I’d already had it up to my eyes with flowers, colour schemes, and guest lists. This girly shite just wasn’t for me, I just wanted Rebecca. Officially. None of the other details mattered to me. A ring on her finger and piece of paper to tell the world that she was mine was literally all I cared about. Unfortunately for me, Rebecca had a few more specifics in mind for our big day. Grimacing, I looked at the notepad on the table again and let out a long, slow breath between my teeth. Now she wanted us to write our own vows as well? It wasn’t happening, not in this lifetime. My suggestion of splitting the jobs had seemed to go down rather well, though, so perhaps that would make it all a bit easier.

There was one thing I didn’t need to worry about – I had already decided on my best man. There really was no other choice for me; it had to be Nathan. I just hadn’t asked him yet. To be honest I wasn’t sure how thrilled he’d be, he’d never exactly been the most emotionally open of men either.

A grin split my lips as I imagined asking Nathan to help me write my wedding vows. I knew he was making a good go of things with his girlfriend, Stella, but I also knew that they still chose to live a percentage of their life as Dom and sub. I actually laughed out loud as I thought about what Nathan’s version of wedding vows might be: ‘To submit and service, for paddling or for flogging, for fucking and for spanking, in sickness and in health; from this day forward, until sexual exhaustion do us part.’ Maybe I should write

those

vows and see what Becky made of them.

One –Nathan

Two weeks later

Sitting back on one of my comfy dining room chairs I smiled to myself at how completely bizarre my life now was. Bizarre in that it was so fucking startlingly normal, and believe me, ‘normal’ was not a word I would ever have used to describe myself before I met Stella Marsden. Pig-headed, arrogant, sexually driven, and narcissistic perhaps, but
normal
? No way, and yet here I was sat having a nice ‘normal’ family gathering with Stella, my brother Nicholas, and his fiancée Rebecca. To top it all off, I was actually enjoying myself.

Who would have thought that a little blonde-haired beauty could walk in and wreak such havoc in my ordered life? I'd never felt this way about any woman I’d been with before, and believe me when I say I’d been with plenty in my time. For whatever inexplicable reasons, Stella was different. I wanted to protect her, spend time with her, and keep her by my side one minute, then pounce on her and fuck her senseless the next. For someone who had kept themselves as emotionally distant in life as I had – and wasn't that just the fucking understatement of the year – I now felt like a whirlwind of emotions was blowing through my life on a daily basis.

Christ, and the sex was just
incredible
. Shaking my head I blinked several times as a secret smile slipped to my lips; any time, any place, anywhere, Stella was up for it, and just as insatiably as me – if not more so – which with my raging libido was a goddamn heaven-sent miracle. With her stubborn streak there was no doubt that she kept me on my toes too, that was for sure. And as for me being in control? I might still act like the dominant male I once was, but with all the compromises we’d made recently my feelings and emotions were so churned that I barely knew which way was up any more. All I knew for sure was that I was happy. Genuinely happy, possibly for the first time in my fucked-up life, and all because of this one woman. Apparently wonders would never cease.

Compromise.
It had never been a word that featured much in my vocabulary, I didn’t make concessions, I simply stated what I wanted and damn well got it. Well, at least that had been the case until Stella landed in my life over a year and a half ago and wreaked her own delicious version of chaos. My lips quirked as I remembered that night in the hot, sweaty, sex-saturated confines of Club Twist, the night I had met Stella Marsden for the first time. She had instantly blown me away with her natural beauty, shy, tentative replies, and endearing blushes. I’d immediately sensed that something about her was different from other women I’d been with, but unbeknownst to me that first meeting had signalled the start of a whole new chapter in my life; a life now full of compromises, but oddly satisfying ones.

I ran the word around my mind again with a smirk:
compromise.
The compromises I’d made were fairly simple – our lives when we were together were shared as equals; we would shop, cook, socialise, and relax together, but she would still assume her ready position at any given time if I gave her the signal. Stella didn’t call me ‘Sir’ on a daily basis, but she still occasionally used the title when we were having sex. Regardless of titles, I still controlled all of our bedroom time. The collar I had given her, which showed she was mine, was a necklace instead of a formal collar, but as per my wishes it never left her neck. In simple terms – my needs were met and so were hers. Perhaps they should put that in dictionary under the word ‘compromise’.

I suppose domination and submission meant different things to different people, and the happy balance we’d come to amazingly suited both of us down to the ground. After years of living my life as a strict ‘no-emotions-involved’ Dominant I had been terrified that I was going to fuck things up with Stella and push her too far, but she’d turned out to be a natural. Just as there was a part of me that needed to dominate and control, Stella obviously had a submissive tendency which moulded with mine to perfection. Much to my own surprise, here I was after a year and a half with the same woman and I’d never felt more content, satisfied, or happy in my life.

If you had told me a few years ago that having sex with only one person and no one else could be satisfying, I’d have laughed in your face and probably called you several insulting names, but it really was true, I hadn’t been even slightly tempted to stray. To be honest, I’d almost go as far as to say that sex with Stella seemed to be getting better as time passed and we learnt each other’s nuances in depth.

All in all my life was pretty fucking awesome at the moment. Stella really was amazing to put up with me and my shitty baggage, and I made a mental note to tell her later, when my brother had gone. Smiling, I let my gaze drift across to the sofas where Stella and Rebecca were pouring over bridal magazines and deep in discussion about the size of the bouquet Rebecca should have at the wedding.

‘A year ago you would have ribbed me no end for having that look on my face.’ Nicholas’ voice broke me from my thoughts and I turned to look across the table at my brother. Schooling my features into a bland expression I mentally kicked myself for getting caught fawning over Stella, then frowned and pretended not to know what he was talking about. ‘What look?’ I asked cautiously, ninety-nine per cent sure that I'd been caught red handed in my wistful gazing at Stella.

Nicholas dipped his head to suppress his smirk, causing a chunk of his dark hair to fall over his forehead and almost cover his eyes, ‘The lovesick puppy dog look,’ he said with a grin, confirming my suspicion. ‘Admit it, bro, you've got it as bad a as I have.’

Initially frowning at his use of the ‘L’ word – one I was pointedly avoiding thinking about – I then sighed and rubbed at my chin while glancing across at Stella one last time. As if she knew I was looking at her, Stella’s gaze suddenly shifted and locked with mine as she flashed me a soft smile. My chest did that strange compression thing that it often did when she looked at me. It was an almost suffocatingly warm sensation that flooded my lungs, but was somehow pleasant too, and certainly a feeling I had never experienced before Stella.

As she gave me a tiny wink and returned to her conversation with Rebecca I shook my head slightly and looked back at my brother’s expectant face. ‘Perhaps,’ I conceded gruffly. I might be making some small inroads on my ability to express my emotions to Stella, but discussing this with Nicholas was a whole different issue.

‘Avoid it all you like, Nathan, but it's clear in your face. I think you'll be following me up the aisle before you know it,’ Nicholas joked softly, but his words brought me up short. The pleasant warmth in my chest instantly evaporated as my blood suddenly felt liked chilled ice in my veins, and my heart accelerated almost painfully. Flicking my gaze from my brother back to Stella my jaw clenched until my teeth squeaked.
No
. He had that wrong. There was no way I was marrying Stella, or anyone for that matter.

Chewing on the inside of my lip I acknowledged the background rumble of my thoughts. The reason I would never marry Stella was simple – I could never be fully sure that I wasn't going to end up a bully like my father. I'd worshipped him as a kid, believed his beatings were for my benefit, and with every grain of my being I'd wanted to be just like him. It might be over a year since I’d last seen him – thankfully there’d been no sign of him since that awful day where he’d turned up at Nicholas’s house – but seeing him so bitter and twisted was when I'd finally realised what a complete fuck-up he was. Since that day I'd been terrified that my boyhood wish would come true – that I would eventually become just like him. There was no way I'd risk trapping Stella with someone like that. Never. It was definitely better that I stay unmarried and besides, why did you need a piece of paper to be happy with someone? Stella and I were doing just fine without one.

Shifting uncomfortably in my seat I pointedly avoided my brother’s gaze. I’d never told Nicholas about my lack of faith in myself or my objection to marriage, but both were hugely sensitive topics for me. If he wanted to marry Rebecca that was fine for him, but not for
me
. Completely unaware of my inner turmoil, Nicholas glanced over his shoulder at where the girls were cooing over some floral samples, then looked back at me.

‘Stella looks hooked. I reckon she'll secretly be making a list of her own choices.’

Breathing suddenly became quite difficult, and I felt a sudden, powerful urge to be sick. Fuck, how could I have been so stupid? I hadn't even considered it … what if Stella
wanted
to get married? Christ, I was almost hyperventilating. I couldn't do it, I just couldn't. Would she leave me if I told her I never wanted to take it to that level? Panic made me increasingly fidgety in my seat and I found myself gripping the edge of the table with sweaty palms as I struggled to regain my usual composure. Trying one of my tested calm down routines I counted down from five to zero in my head. Once I was finished I swallowed, firmly pushed the thoughts of marriage from my mind to consider at a later date, and poured another glass of wine for myself and my brother. I'd found in the past that situations like this could be easily dealt with by using a firm dose of avoidance mixed with a good shot of alcohol, so there was no reason it shouldn’t work just as well tonight.

At least an hour and nearly two bottles of very decent wine later, Nicholas and I were now sat on the balcony while the girls continued to look through bridal magazines inside. It was a beautiful September evening, so we had decided to make the most the seasonable weather and soak up the last warming rays of the day’s sunshine. This was my favourite place in my apartment. London looked stunning and from up here, the view over Docklands and the glittering water of the Thames really couldn't get any better. An added bonus was that it was high enough to be quiet, because we were nicely separated from the chaos and noise of the city below.

‘So I have a theory about you and Stella.’ We’d been sat in companionable silence for quite a while so Nicholas’ slurred statement took a few seconds to sink in. Perhaps my little brother had had enough wine for one day, and was about to make uncharacteristic speculations about my relationship with Stella.

Intrigued enough to indulge him I raised an eyebrow and sunk lower in my seat so I could stretch my long legs onto the footrest in front of me. ‘Really? Do tell,’ I asked in a sarcastic tone that my drunken sibling totally missed.

‘Well, it started when I was trying to work out why Rebecca was sticking with me and not leaving, but I think the same theory could be true for you and Stella.’ Taking a sip of wine he sat up straighter on the lounger. ‘You still like to be dominant, don't you?’

Christ, was that really his start? It didn’t exactly take a genius to work that out, so I rolled my eyes and sighed. ‘Well done for noticing, Nicholas.’ I replied dryly.

‘Hear me out, brother,’ he said, turning on his seat so he could stare at me with slightly unfocused eyes. ‘What I meant was just like me, you like to dominate, but you've never kept a relationship going until you met Stella.’ Once again he was stating the obvious facts, but deciding it was easier to stay quiet I simply looked at him so he could continue. ‘So it got me thinking, why Rebecca? Why is she the one for me? And why Stella for you? And I've worked it out!’ he stated proudly with a flap of his arms that resulted in him sloshing wine over the balcony. Suppressing my smirk at my brother’s complete loss of his usual composure I gestured with a waft of my hand for him to continue.

‘The women we've been with before were all experienced submissives, they wanted to submit to us and we wanted to dominate them, but really, where's the challenge in that? If they want to submit, it’s not us that was making them, was it? But with Rebecca and Stella, they're independent career women, they’re strong willed, they know their own minds, and by the looks of it they are both just as stubborn as each other,’ he said with a dry laugh. ‘I think we've become so attached to them because of their independence, the challenge of dominating them excites us.’ Blinking at my brother I couldn’t help but nod my head. Just the thought of Stella willingly submitting to me had my cock twitching and a flush rising to my cheeks.

Nicholas gave a jerky shrug. ‘It's certainly the case for me anyway, not that we do as much of that any more. We’re pretty vanilla nowadays, but Rebecca keeps me in line and interested better than anyone else has ever managed. I'd place money on the fact that it's the same for you and Stella.’

Topping up his wine, which clearly wasn't necessary as he'd had way too much already, Nicholas seemed intent on continuing his speculation. ‘And the best bit is, I think it’s the same for them; they’re so used to being in charge during their everyday life that being with us and giving up control for a while excites them. I think letting you overpower her is probably a huge turn-on for Stella.’ Cutting him off with a sharp look I swiftly sat up and frowned at my brother’s boundary pushing conversation.

‘Enough talk about what turns Stella on,’ I growled. ‘That's not something you need to worry about, I have it in hand.’ But as I dismissed his conversation I realised that even in his drunken state, my little brother had probably managed to hit the nail exactly on the head.

Rebecca

Stella’s enthusiasm for my pile of bridal magazines made me grin. Since I’d started buying them a few months ago they’d been driving Nicholas mad, but Stella was just as keen to trawl through them as me, which was turning out to be fantastic fun.

‘More fizz?’ I asked, indicating to her almost empty glass as I topped mine up with the Cava we were drinking.

Lifting her glass in my direction she beamed at me. ‘Yes please!’ Her cheeks were a little pink, and I decided to ask my important question now before I got tipsy and forgot. ‘Actually I have something we might be able to toast to,’ I said speculatively. Putting the empty bottle down I turned to Stella with an expectant smile. ‘I was really hoping you’d agree to be one of my bridesmaids?’

Stella’s eyes flew wide open as she spluttered on her champagne and nodded furiously. ‘Wow! Gosh, yes!’ Putting her glass down she grinned at me. ‘I’d be honoured, Rebecca! Thank you so much for asking me!’ I couldn’t help sharing Stella’s excitement – we might only have known each other for the last year, but we’d grown incredibly close in that time and I now considered her to be one of my closest and most trusted friends.

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