Charlotte stepped from behind the black lacquer accordion divider. She took two steps and paused. Richard’s heart cycled through its usual pattern upon seeing her. Like an internal storm surge, an overwhelming swell started low in his belly, then radiated outward until it threatened to break out of his chest. Love did that to a man.
His mind, however, sharpened as if he needed to stay alert to anything she needed. He grew hyper-conscious of every muscle twitch in her body, every shift in her energy.
A rough, male voice interrupted his awe of her. “She’s beautiful.”
Marcos Santos may be the only man alive who could say that to him and get away with it. The guy had known Charlotte longer than Richard had. Then there was the not-so-small-thing of taking care of her after her late husband died. For that, Richard would always be grateful. The thought that she’d been out in the world alone, with her past? A shudder threatened to shake him from the mere thought.
But she was better now. His ego swelled at the thought he had something to do with it. The truth is, she was stronger than she knew, and she was about to prove it.
He sucked in a deep breath to still his over-reactive heart. “The color is stunning on her.”
“Is she nervous?” Mark turned to him with worry in his eyes.
Richard had to remind himself the man was ex-special ops and Master and husband to Isabella who was also in the show. Marcos was not competition. He was honestly worried for Charlotte. Not to mention the man was consequential in getting them together. Richard wasn’t jealous. Rather, the fact Marcos would question her state of mind did worry him. “Why do you ask?”
“Just a feeling.” The man’s gaze then shot forward. “There’s something strange in the air. It’s probably nothing. Crowds and I don’t … mix.”
Now Richard was nervous. Marcos’ sixth sense about these things had always proven correct. Richard glanced around very quickly but like a homing beacon, his gaze was pulled back to Charlotte.
She stood tall, shoulders back. No fear emanated from her glazed blue eyes, and a slight smile played on her lips. She began to advance, her lips parting, her fingers slightly twitching. Ah, feeling the balls inside her shift, move, remind her of who she belongs to?
Their gazes caught. She was far away but there was no mistaking they locked eyes.
He reached into his breast pocket, touched her panties that he’d tucked away just for this moment. When he pulled his fingers out, he touched them to his lips, sent the kiss her way.
Her smile spread wider. She then let her gaze go soft as she made her way past the crowded tables. Her steps were measured and confident. Stiff silk rustled and the long veil affixed to her hair floated behind her as she moved as graceful as a deer tiptoeing through the woods.
Everything about her was gentle and kind. Soft. He, however, grew harder with every inch that she got closer.
For a man approaching 40, he’d known many women. He’d never wanted anyone like he wanted Charlotte.
Fragile women didn’t usually interest him. Yet from the first night they’d met two years ago, a frantic longing to know her, shelter her became his mission.
It took him the better part of six months to convince Marcos—self-assigned as her temporary Master—to let him even speak to her. Marcos’ fierce protectiveness had spoken volumes. Richard could grow angry all over again if he let himself think too long about what caused her emotional scars. Stories first shared by Marcos once over beers at a seedy little Irish pub on Columbia, and then later by Charlotte herself.
From a distance, she looked as if she could break. But she never did, contrary to the fact her mind played tricks on her. He learned fast that Charlotte’s vulnerabilities were not weaknesses. She was quite formidable in her own way. Only the strongest can still love after they suffer wounds such as hers.
And, God he loved her. So there was no question she could be okay.
Charlotte was now a mere ten feet away and she hesitated, broke his gaze to look at the table behind him. Her smile froze, her breath hitched. Then, she continued forward. Anyone else would think she lost her footing for one brief second. Richard glanced over his shoulder at whatever made her pause.
Son of a bitch.
Richard had never told Charlotte how thoroughly he’d investigated her past. Marcos and she may have filled in, but Richard’s gut told him he had more to learn. One very good private investigator later and he’d learned the truth. If he could, he’d have bleached his brain to get the disgusting images out of his head. He’d have done far more to rid Charlotte of them.
And the person responsible for the worst of it? He now casually sat in an expensive gray suit, legs crossed, five feet behind him.
The man was the dead opposite of everything he–and his circle–stood for. The men and women in his community did not harm and then took further–they didn’t rest until there was peace, love and compassion in every corner of life for each other.
In that regard, Richard had come to this community fortunate. He’d learned to love women early. His mother, Italian, beautiful, and a “handful” as his father called her, ruffled his hair and pulled him in for warm hugs. Aunts, cousins, they all showered him with nothing but love. He’d inhaled their unique scents of Arpege, flour and fabric softener from their cotton dresses, and it never, ever occurred to him that anyone would raise their hands or voices to these women. In his family, they never did.
But Charlotte had a very different childhood. To this day, he’d never understood how men could toy with women—and Charlotte had been a spinning top in a game she’d never agreed to play for far too many years.
But then her luck changed. Her late husband had rescued her in a way. And then he’d died but not before sealing a promise with Marcos to care for her.
Now Richard was dedicated to her never needing luck again. Certainly not to have to hope or wish the arrogant bastard sitting behind him would ever show his face again.
The guy had the audacity to adjust his suit jacket and nod at Richard. Then he returned his smirk toward Charlotte whose eyes now darted around the room. Wayne usually travelled in a pack; she thought more of them were here. Perhaps Marcos’ instincts weren’t so far off.
Richard’s jaw would shatter in his head if he allowed that bastard—or anyone he came with—to stay in this building. Hell, in this entire city.
Marcos rose. Ah, so he’d recognized the son of a bitch, too.
Choices ran through Richard’s head. Stay seated for Charlotte—let her see that he was here for her. If he rose now, it might throw her off, making her mind spin about what he was going to do to the smug interloper.
And truth? Every fiber of his being screamed to rise and take charge.
He stayed seated. For her.
Marcos was behind Wayne in seconds. His hand descended on the fucker’s shoulder. With an offended air, Wayne rose and let Marcos lead him away.
As soon as Charlotte was out of eye sight, walking away from Richard to head back down the hall, he shot to standing. No way in hell would Marcos deal with this for him.
The men were easy to find, around the corner halfway down the East Hall. For one, Marcos was a large man with close-cropped hair, shoulders as wide as a mountain. Three more of Club Accendos Dominants hovered near by—as they would given their bond went far beyond needing words like “I need back-up.”. A simple nod across a room would suffice. Seeing Marcos lay a hand on another man they didn’t know was all the signal they’d need to stand with him.
Wayne didn’t seem to notice he was surrounded. Or rather, didn’t seem to care. He should have.
Derek, whose wife Samantha was also in the show, lazily leaned against the wall with his permanent smirk that one could mistake for peacekeeping—which would be a big mistake. Richard had seen the guy box.
Carson, as tall and broad as Marcos, was the closest to Wayne after Marcos. Carson’s temper could ignite the walls if the guy made a wrong move. His wife London had her share of past abuse and was probably here. She likely handled the public relations for Laurent’s fashion debut.
Then, there was Alexander, who of course wouldn’t have missed Sarah or Laurent’s fashion show, even if his own two loves weren’t in attendance. He and Sarah had a special bond. He was the furthest away, yet somehow his energy filled the hall. It wasn’t because he was a full six foot five inches tall. His commanding air would make a Head of State pause and notice.
All in all, the men were a pack and as dangerous as they needed to be, especially if their women–or men–who they protected were on the premises.
Richard marched forward. “Marcos.”
The man lazily turned his head to glance at him. A quick purse of the lips and a nod, and he and Carson wisely stepped backward.
“Your show,” Marcos said.
Richard got within inches of the guy. “Get out.”
As usual, the bastard chuffed followed by a smug quirk of the lips topping off his arrogant repertoire. “As her husband, I’d say I have every right to be here.”
Want to learn more about the other Dominants’ stories?
Book #1: Elite – Jonathan and Christiana’s Story
Book #2: Untouchable – Carson and London’s story
Book #3: Perfect – Marcos and Isabella’s story
Book #4: Lucky – Derek and Samantha’s story
Book #5: Fearless – Sarah, Steffan and Laurent’s story
Book #6: Invincible – Alexander, Rebecca and Erik’s story