Authors: Raine Miller
For my parents,
Who still see into each other’s soul
♦ ♦ ♦
The eye sees a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination awake.
—Leonardo da Vinci
here are so many I have to thank, and the first goes out to my family, my prince of a husband, and my boys, who accepted the lack of a proper wife and mom for weeks while I was deep in my writing cave and not coming out much. Thank you for your patience, guys. I could not be more blessed and I never forget it.
To the most wonderful agent on earth, Jane Dystel, THANK YOU for all you do and have done for me. Again, I am blessed to have found you on that Friday in October when I needed the guiding hand of somebody much wiser than me. To Atria Books, for taking on the Blackstone Affair and helping me achieve something I never dreamed would be a reality. To my lovely and charming editor, Johanna Castillo, for guiding me through this process every step of the way, and in the kindest way possible.
Behind the scenes there are so many people I am indebted to for their unwavering support and sharing of the books on Facebook and Twitter, but mostly just in their conversations with me; the simple sharing of daily events and the trials and tribulations of life. That’s true friendship, and it means the world to me. Becca, Jena, Franzi, Muna, Karen, and Martha, you are angels sent down from heaven I am sure, and I hardly have words to express how appreciative I am of each of you.
To my peers who are some of the most amazing and creative people I will ever know, thank you for the friendship and the inspiration of your hard work and dedication to keep on writing the stuff that people today want to read. Katie Ashley, you were a blessing from our very first meeting, and I knew I’d found a lifelong friend that day. Thank you for all the late-night chats about this crazy writers’ world we now find ourselves in. To the other writers who blow me away with their talents and just for being my friend—Rebecca, Jasinda, Tara, CC, Jenn, Belinda, Tina, Georgia, Amy, and a ton more—you make my job the best one in the world.
And finally to the fans and bloggers who read my books. I say it all the time and I mean it every time. I have the best fans on the planet. Thank you for loving Ethan and Brynne and embracing these stories with all of your heart. I am forever in your debt for that.
My very best,
watch. I remember what she felt like. How she moved and sounded. All of it—everything about her.
She doesn’t see me, though. It bothered me at first, but now I know it doesn’t matter because she will. Soon enough she will see me.
Fate came along and put her in my path all those years ago and fate made another appearance when that plane went down. I never forgot about sweet Brynne Bennett. Never. I’ve thought about her for years, I just never imagined we’d meet again. I knew she left the States and moved to London, but it wasn’t until I saw her modeling photographs that I realized just how much I wanted to find her again.
Now I have.
The fates have aligned. Everything has come together. I can get my due and have her in the process. Brynne deserves this. She’s a treasure. A rare jewel in the crown. Something to savor and enjoy for as long as I want.
We are all pawns. She as much as I. Pawns in a game I did not invent, but one I can certainly play. I’m fighting for equity. This is my opportunity of a lifetime and I won’t let it, or her, slip through my hands. Brynne just comes as a value added, and I look forward to the time when I can show her just how much I’ve missed her and our time together.
In my defense, I did try to get her to help me directly. I would have wooed her and been nice. She would have been happy to see me again. I know she would have been. Those assholes didn’t deserve her, and they certainly earned what they got. Doesn’t matter now, though. They’re out of the equation and that makes it better for me. In the end I’ll be the sole beneficiary anyway.
Now, Blackstone is another story. That bastard came along and swooped her up and into his life. I know he turned her head with his good looks and money, and it’s a damn shame too, because without him it all would have gone off without a hitch.
Blackstone ruined my initial plans, but not everything. He’s got good instincts, though, I’ll give him that. I thought I had her in the bag when he went out to have a smoke behind the building at that charity gala. I couldn’t believe my luck. He was outside. She was inside. Alarm goes off like clockwork. My only mistake was that I didn’t expect him to have her cell phone. That was a definite surprise. But still, I wanted him to know about me. He should know. I had her years before he did.
Then something happened that must have worked in his favor. I’m not sure why, but Brynne wasn’t where she should have been and she didn’t come out like she was supposed to. If she’d had her cell when my message came through I’m certain we’d be together right now, picking up where we left off seven years ago.
I lost her in the mayhem . . . and in the process, my golden opportunity. This is very displeasing to me. Some punishment will have to be delivered in order to restore the balance of things to their rightful place in the world. It’s not a problem, though. Everything will all come around to my way in time.
Blackstone has her well protected now, but I’m working on him too. He doesn’t have all the answers, and I’ll be sure to throw a few more tidbits his way to confuse him. My specialty.
No, I’m not giving up. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve yet, and I can be very patient. There is still plenty of time to make my move, and I’m getting closer all the time.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when those fools chose that song they were dead on. It
perfect. Just perfect.
than’s eyes held on to me as he mastered my body, his grip firm on my hips, his thick flesh filling me up and moving inside me, his mouth all over me, his teeth on my skin.
All of this from the man who had broken though the walls I’d built and captured me. They were demonstrations of touch and pleasure, a means of cementing the connection between us, of keeping me close to him. It was his way. He didn’t need to worry, though.
Ethan had me.
Despite the whole mess tonight, he had me in his arms and underneath him, his commanding strength taking charge in the way it’d been from the beginning. Holding me safe. That night on the street when he’d coaxed me into his car and the later phone calls demanding I acknowledge him were just the start of my understanding of Ethan Blackstone. There was so much more to the man than I ever imagined back then.
I wasn’t going anywhere. I was in love with him.
“I want my cock in you all night long,” he rasped, his blue eyes flashing against the moonlight as he moved. Looming over me, he plied my body in every which way as the light shone on our naked flesh through the balcony window. Hands, mouth, cock, tongue, teeth, fingers—he used them all.
Ethan said things to me like that during sex. Shocking stuff that made me hotter than hell, nourishing my confidence, and showing me how much he wanted me. It was precisely what I needed. Ethan was my answer, and he knew exactly what I craved. I don’t know how he understood me so well, but he did without a doubt. Tonight had confirmed that message loud and clear. I guess I could finally admit that I was in need of another person in order to be happy.
That other person was Ethan.
I’d let someone in. The hard shell around my heart had been compromised, and very thoroughly too. Ethan had done it. He’d worked on me, and pushed me and demanded my attention. He never gave up on me and loved me in spite of my cavern of emotional issues. Ethan did all that for me. And now I could revel in the fact that I was loved by a man whom I loved in return.
“Eyes on me, baby,” he commanded on a harsh breath. “You know I have to have your eyes when I take you!” His hand had moved up to grip my hair and he tugged. He never hurt me when he pulled it, though. Ethan knew just how much pressure to exert and was fully aware it sent me over the edge. I did know about his need for my eyes being on him and I held onto his fiery blues with everything I had.
But Ethan knew more about me than I knew about him.
“You’re going to come first!” he gritted out, thrusting deep and hard, finding the sensitive spot within me needed to accomplish his directive.
As I felt the pressure build I let myself go to that perfect place of ecstasy, pinned beneath Ethan’s body, which was burrowed in mine, his blue eyes just inches above me. He took my mouth as the orgasm ripped into me, filling another part of me, making me accept more of him, binding us together more deeply.
His orgasm followed mine within seconds. I could always tell he was close from how he tightened to inhuman hardness right as he was about to come. The feeling was out of this world and intensely empowering. That I could pull such a reaction from him and elicit such feeling in another person did something to me. Something that healed me a little bit each time it happened—I kept getting better inside my head because of Ethan and the ways he showed his love for me. I had some hope about myself that I could be happy and live a normal life.
Ethan had given me that.
“Tell me, baby,” he exhaled in a harsh whisper, but I could hear the vulnerability that accompanied the boldness. Ethan wasn’t without his own insecurities, he was just a mortal like the rest of us.
“Always yours!” I truly meant my words as I felt him let go inside me.
When I opened my eyes sometime later, I realized I must have dozed a bit. Ethan had rearranged us halfway on our sides, but we were still joined together. He liked to stay buried inside me for a while afterward. I didn’t mind, because it was something he desired and I loved making him happy.
I just wish he’d tell me more about his dark place. He was afraid to share and while it bothered me, I mostly understood his fear. I often wondered if his reasons for needing to touch me all the time and possess me so thoroughly during sex, and afterward too, had something to do with his time as a prisoner.
They tortured him and scarred him and hurt him
. It pained me just remembering how he’d been that night when his dreams woke him up in a panic.
I trailed my fingers over his shoulder and back. I imagined the angel wings of his tattoo and the words below them. And I felt the scars too. Ethan flicked his eyes open and pegged me hard. “Why wings? They’re beautiful, you know.”
“The wings reminded me of my mum,” he said after a moment or two of silence, “and they covered over many of the scars.”
I leaned forward, kissing his lips with a soft touch. I cupped his jaw and decided to take the plunge. I didn’t want to scare Ethan away from talking to me if he was in a mood, but figured I had to try again at some point. “And the quote? Why that one?”
He shrugged and whispered, “I think I died a little tonight.”
So much for him opening up and sharing. He wasn’t up for any more delving into his past. I could tell. “What do you mean you died a little?”
“When I couldn’t find you after that message came in on your mobile.” He traced my cheek and then my lips with his finger—just the lightest touch, and I felt a shiver roll through me.
“Well, you did find me eventually, and no dying allowed, mister. That would be a real major buzzkill.” I tried to tease him into a lighter mood, but it didn’t seem to be working. When Ethan was in a serious frame of mind, he didn’t just switch out of it easily.
“I’m glad you feel better,” he paused and thrust his hips with a renewed erection, sinking in deep, “because I needed this with you, badly.”
“I’m here and you have me,” I murmured against his lips as he draped my legs over his shoulders and took charge of another round of pleasure. Once was rarely enough for him.
Ethan made me feel desirable. He made me feel beautiful and sexy, from the words that came out of his mouth to the touch of his body in mine when he made love to me. And afterward, when he held me against him like I was precious.
Somebody wanted me, despite all that had gone down in my past. Someone was willing to fight for me. I was important to another person. To Ethan I was. The power in that knowledge was life-changing.
Ethan’s particular brand of attention was intense and a lot to accept at first, but it worked for me. Ethan worked for me. He could show me how much he wanted me, and for the first time I had some hope that we could really make this relationship work. The “let’s go slow” part hadn’t happened at all like we’d agreed when we first met. But if we had gone slowly, I very much doubt I’d be naked in bed with him at the Somerset coast, in an English manor fit for a king, which happened to be owned by his sister, and being fucked to the brink of another magnificent orgasm right now. A girl has to take things as they come.
It took a bit for me to rouse myself after the second round of sheet-clawing sex, but I managed to wriggle out of his hold to head for the bathroom so I could clean up and prepare for sleep. I loved how he touched me all the time. I needed it, plain and simple, and Ethan knew that. It was just another way in which we were emotionally compatible.
I filled a glass of water and took the pill Dr. Roswell had prescribed for my night terrors. I had a routine. Birth control and vitamins in the morning, sleeping pill at night, once I was ready to actually sleep. I smirked into the elegant bathroom mirror that looked like something out of Buckingham Palace, realizing that bed and sleep were never synonymous when sharing with Ethan. We spent a great deal of time together in bed
sleeping, but I wasn’t complaining.
I didn’t expect to find him awake when I came out of the bathroom, but his eyes were open, tracking my every movement as I settled back into bed. He reached for me and held my face, something he did often when we were close like this.
“How come you’re still awake? You must be exhausted after that long drive,” I paused for emphasis, “and all that superb shagging—”
“I love you and I never want to let you go,” he interrupted.
“So don’t.” I looked into his blue eyes, which seared me in the dim light.
“I never will.” He said it with some hardness and I felt that he really meant it.
“I love you too, and I’m not going anywhere.” I leaned in to kiss his lips, the rasp of his beard stubble well familiar to me now. He kissed me back, but I could tell he had more to say and could feel the edge in him, which was surprising considering the orgasms he’d just pounded into me.
“The thing is I—I need something more permanent with us. I need you with me all the time so I can protect you and we can be together every day . . . and night.”
I felt my heart begin to thud rapidly, whispers of panic taking hold. Just when I got comfortable with one aspect of us, Ethan pushed for more.
He’s always been that way . . .
“But we are together every day now,” I told him.
He furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes a fraction. “It’s not enough, Brynne. Not after what happened tonight and that fucked-up message from God knows whom. I have Neil working on your mobile trace right now and we’ll get to the bottom of it, but I need something more formal that tells the world you are off limits and untouchable by whatever designs they might have on you.”
I swallowed hard, feeling his thumbs start to move over my jaw as I tried to imagine where he was going with this. “What do you mean when you say ‘
’? How formal are we talking?” Man, my voice was thready, and my heart felt like it would leap out of my chest the next moment.
He smiled at me and leaned in for a soft, slow kiss that calmed me some. Ethan had always calmed me, though. If I was unsettled or scared, he had a way of comforting me and easing the stress of the moment. “Ethan?” I asked when he finally pulled back.
“It’s okay, baby,” he said soothingly, “everything will be all right and I’ll take care of you, but I know what we need to do—what needs to happen.”
“Mmm-hmm.” He rolled us over and held my face again, propped on his elbows and trapping me beneath his sculpted limbs, hard and smooth against my softer parts. “I’m sure of it, in fact.” His lips dropped to my neck and kissed up to my ear and then down my jaw, over my throat, and back to the other ear. “Very, very sure,” he whispered between gentle kisses. “I realized it tonight as soon as we got here and I saw that you were wearing this.” He kissed the spot where the amethyst pendant he’d given me lay in the hollow of my throat.
“What are you so sure about?” My voice was faint, but every word rang out clear as a bell in the short distance between us, as if I’d shouted my question.
“Do you trust me, Brynne?”
“And you love me?”
“Yes, of course. You know that I do.”
He smiled down at me again. “Then it’s settled.”
“What is settled?” I implored against his gorgeous face, which had mesmerized me from the first, one side of his beautiful mouth turned up confidently, holding me firmly beneath him in a possessive hold so typical of my Ethan.
“We’ll get married.”
I stared at him, sure the words that just came out of his mouth were out of a scene from a romance novel. Maybe I was having a dream. I hoped.
Ethan shifted on top of me and shot that idea to hell.
Holy fucking shit!
“It makes perfect sense,” he said with a slow grin, “we make an announcement that goes out big, have you move in with me officially, and let everyone know your fiancé is in the security business—”
“Are you insane?” I cut him off and saw his eyes moving over my face, studying my reaction to his words. “Ethan, I can’t get married. I don’t want to. I’m just getting used to being in a relationship. It’s way, way too soon to even consider something like that for us . . .”
He grinned down at me, utterly calm and confident. “I know, baby. It is far too soon, but the world doesn’t have to know that. To them it looks like you’re about to be the wife of the former-SF, high-profile CEO of Blackstone Inc. To whoever is out there with an agenda, they get a message loud and clear. That they need to keep the hell away from you; that they won’t be able to touch you in any way, shape or form, and that they won’t get close enough to even blink at you, let alone deliver threats like that fucked-up shit from last night.” He kissed me softly, looking very proud of himself. “It’s a brilliant plan.”
I just kept staring at him, sure he was a figment of some fantastical dream I was having. “It’s also dishonest, Ethan. Have you even considered what you are asking me to do? To lie? To mislead our families and friends into believing some fiction that we met two months ago and now we’re getting married?”
He stiffened above me, and his jaw got that stubborn set to it. “When it comes to protecting you, I’ll do whatever I need to do. I’m not taking the risk with you—it’s too late for that. I told you I was all in, and that’s not changed in the last hours.”