Unpublished Chapter One of Perfect, erotic domestic discipline story

Do you know how many drafts an author goes through before a book is published? A lot! I’ve heard ranges from three to one hundred drafts. I go through at least fifteen before my publisher sees the book. Even then, it’s often back to the drawing board. Below is the first Chapter One of Perfect, book #3 in the Elite Doms of Washington series, that was ultimately rejected.

Ah, well. It happens.

But perhaps you’d liked to read the “Chapter One That Wasn’t.” Enjoy!

~~~~~

The headlights on Mark Santos’ Range Rover illuminated the brass Bethesda Medical Center sign. He gunned up the driveway marked “Emergency.” In all his years working covert ops, he’d never been as shaken as he was right now.

Sirens screaming, two ambulances pulled up to the emergency entrance and forced Mark into the parking lot. His tires squealed as he lurched into a space. He got out and slammed the car door shut in one motion, activating the lock in a throwaway motion of the key fob. As he sprinted through the doors, he narrowly missed a man on crutches.

“Isabella Santos?” he bared at the woman sitting at the admissions desk.

She sent him a bored expression over her glasses. “And you are?”

“Mark Santos. I’m her brother-in-law…well… I was. She’s a widow. Just…fuck…she listed me as her emergency contact. The paramedics called. Said she’d been injured in a car accident. Where is she?” Patience was beyond him and the woman gave him a sour look.

With glacial pace, she leaned over to a computer screen and tapped a few keys. “Through that set of double doors, the third curtain on the right. You’ll need to fill out some insurance forms for us . . . Mr. Santos . . . Mr. Santos!”

Her voice grew distant as he bolted through the doors. A pungent, antiseptic smell assaulted his senses in the stark hallway. An orderly wheeled an elderly man on a gurney between the first set of curtains. The second emergency bed was empty. He stopped before the third area, drapes pulled closed.

He hesitated for the first time since he’d gotten the paramedic’s call. He’d always had a sixth sense he’d see Isabella again—just not like this. He rubbed his jaw. She could still be angry.

Jesus, Santos. Two years airlifting people out of political uprisings and you’re afraid to part a curtain? He stopped thinking and stepped through the drapes. Blood thundered in his ears as he drank in the sight of the woman he hadn’t seen in the past eleven months, four days and eighteen hours.

“Isabella.” It felt good to say her name out loud, like a release on a pressure valve.

He dropped into a too-small chair beside the gurney and took her hand. Her tiny fingers lay limp in his larger palm. She was out cold. Her thick lashes fanned over dark circles under her eyes, and bruises marked her forehead. She’d easily lost ten pounds she couldn’t afford to lose since he’d last seen her.

God, she was beautiful.

The desire he’d barely kept contained since he’d met her a decade ago rose to the surface once more. Desire, hell. She turned his blood to rocket fuel—always had. But prolonged absences from his job had killed any chance of competing with his charming and ever-present brother, the man who had won her in the end.

He encircled Isabella’s delicate wrist with his hand. She was here. She wasn’t a figment out of his nightly dreams.

Isabella’s other arm lay in a tight sling, her wrist bandaged. She’d suffered a sprain at least. Had she dislocated her shoulder? Without stripping her of the thin sheet draped over her body, he couldn’t tell the full extent of damage.

Where the hell was the doctor?

He laid her hand across her belly and headed out to find a nurse. A young man in a too-large white coat ran into him as he parted the curtain, his nose buried in a tablet. “And you are?”

“Mark Santos.”

“Ah, the husband.”

He swallowed a denial. If the doctor believed he and Isabella were married, so be it. He needed information. “Yes. What’s the damage?”

“Mr. Santos, she’ll be fine. Shaken and a little banged up. Other than her—”

“Sprained wrist? What about the shoulder?”

“You have some medical knowledge.”

“More like injury knowledge.”

“Her shoulder’s fine.” The doctor crossed his arms over his chest, hugging his tablet like treasure. “No internal damage. There’s no reason why she can’t go home tonight. Just keep a close eye on her.”

“Her chart?” He extended his hand.

The doctor ignored his demand. “I’ll send in an aide. Everything’s on a computer these days.” The doctor exited as quickly as he entered. He would have followed the man to wrest her records free if it weren’t for a slight rustling behind him.

“Mark?” Isabella’s whisper hit him like an armored tank. Every part of his body seized at the pain in her voice. When he turned, his attention immediately went to her dark eyes, wet with unshed tears and round with worry.

“You still crack your knuckles.”

He dropped his hands to his side. “Old habit.”

She tried to sit up but winced and fell backward.

“Don’t get up. You’re in pain.”

“Not much. They gave me that perc stuff.”

“Percocet if you’re just banged up. If you’re lucky, you got the good stuff, Percodan.” He forced a smile.

She nervously picked at the sheet’s edge. They darted unsure glances at each other for a few minutes, unspeaking. Where should he begin?

Mark returned to the chair. “You had me as your ‘in case of emergency contact’.”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been back in town?”

“A few days. I-I’m glad to see you. I didn’t plan on it being like this.” She lowered her gaze. “I meant to call. I didn’t know what to say.”

“How about, ‘Hey, I’m returning your call?’ I left a dozen messages after Jorge’s funeral.” He shook his head. “You have reached a nonworking number sent a definite message.”

Of course, he’d tracked down her new number in hours. He never used it. Message received.

“I can’t imagine what you must think of me. I haven’t spoken to you in a year and all of a sudden, you’re called to the hospital. I-I’m sorry.” She clutched the sheet and her lashes fluttered over her bruised cheeks.

“No, I’m sorry. God, I’ve wanted to say this for so long.” He scrubbed his chin. “I was calling to apologize. My behavior was. . .well, I wasn’t me that night. I deserved that slap. I should never have kissed you… and I shouldn’t have brought this up now.” He swallowed, hard, an attempt to push down a rising sentimentality. “Timing never was my strong suit.”

The too-small chair groaned under his weight as he shifted. Try again, he told himself. “It’s good to see you.” The words tasted ineffectual.

“I must look terrible.” A tear slipped down her cheek.

“Not possible. You’ve never had an unbeautiful day in your life.”

She tried to smile, and then leaned her head back. “God, I hate hospitals,” she said to the ceiling. “Can you take me home?”

“Of course.”

They both hated hospitals. To him, they meant one of his teammates had been hurt. To her, hospitals meant her on-again, off-again addict of a husband had relapsed. Losing a cleaned-up Jorge to a stupid mountain climbing accident was the final tragedy.

They’d shipped Jorge’s body back from Alaska. The brilliant lights of the D.C. morgue illuminated every catastrophic injury he’d endured. Mark would have spared Isabella that vision, if he could have. He, too, could have done without seeing Jorge’s shattered body on a stainless steel gurney. He was no stranger to viewing dead bodies, but they’d never been his little brother.

The curtains surrounding Isabella’s bed flapped open and a woman with frizzy hair wheeled in a laptop on a tall cart. “Well, I see you’re looking much better, Mrs. Santos. Ready to go home?” Within minutes the woman had produced insurance forms and discharge papers from a mobile printer. He signed where she indicated. An orderly arrived with a wheelchair before Frizzy Hair could snap her laptop shut. Just like in the military, in and out. Irritation bubbled up. Of all people, this woman deserved some tender care, not maximum efficiency.

“Are you sure she’s ready?” He flipped through the silly instructions to aid healing the woman had given him.

“The doctor seems to think so. Be well, Mrs. Santos.” She nodded at him. “Mr. Santos.”

After the curtain whispered shut behind the woman, his mouth went into overdrive. “I told them I’m your husband.” He waited for Isabella to look shocked, or worse, laugh.

“Marcos.” Surprising warmth reached him that was oh, so, welcome. She only used his given name in moments of intimacy.

“Let’s get you home.” He pulled the wheelchair to the side of her bed.

She placed her soft hand on his arm. “Thank you. For coming to get me.”

“Anytime.”

Her face reflected his stupid response—something you said to be polite, and not at all how he felt. How he felt? He’d walk through hell if she’d asked.

“Tomorrow I’ll call the police, find out where they towed your car. I know someone who can assess the damage.”

“I probably totaled it.” Her eyes searched his face.

“You’d be amazed at what can be fixed, Ella.” Voicing her nickname felt even better than hearing her use Marcos. Every fiber of his being wanted to pull her closer until he obliterated any space—or time—between them. The mere thought of getting a chance to do so made his cock stiffen.

As he eased her into the wheelchair, he ran his thumb over the soft skin of her wrist. Yeah, rocket fuel. Who cared if his ability to get back into her good graces was a Hail Mary pass? So what if she needed nothing more than a ride? Where Isabella was concerned, he’d take what he could get.

He dropped his grip on her slender fingers. Isabella needed help, not a damn love-sick puppy. “I’ll get the car.”

“I’m kind of far. Dupont.”

“Dupont Circle?” Had she already sold the house she and Jorge had lived in? No, he would have known. He was responsible for hiring the security company, and monitoring the feeds into the small Arlington, Virginia home. He’d stopped checking the footage himself after she changed her cell number. Scrolling through images of nothing but the changing light from morning to night was too depressing, and he wasn’t a masochist.

“How’s the house? Everything okay?” He could fix whatever she needed.  If she required house repairs, something, anything . . .

She shook her head tightly, as if rejecting an unwelcome thought. “I’m staying at Yvette’s condo. It was between renters.”

That meant Yvette’s fiancé, Ryan, also knew Ella was in town. Mark and he weren’t close, but they belonged to the same club and were part of a tight-knit community—one that didn’t keep secrets like Isabella being back in town. He understood why Yvette didn’t breach the two women’s obvious secret. But, Ryan? There was time to clock him in the jaw later.

“You can stay at my place,” he said. “You shouldn’t be alone.”

She turned her head sharply. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Was she afraid he’d try to make a move on her—again? “You’ll take my bed. I won’t. Understand?”

His cell phone buzzed with an incoming text. Charlotte. He was supposed to meet her at Club Accendos tonight. He’d promised his friend he’d look after her if anything happened to him. When he died, Charlotte had become an obligation of honor. Mark hadn’t minded in the slightest. Now that Ella was back in town? He couldn’t split himself in two.

He looked at Isabella’s injured form. Her eyes had slipped closed again and she swayed a little in the wheelchair under the drug’s effects. He tapped out a message to Charlotte, promising to reschedule their meeting. Charlotte would have to understand. Right now, Ella needed him more.

He edged the orderly away from her wheelchair. “I’ll get it.”

“I need to come with you, sir. Hospital policy.” The younger man fell behind him as he wheeled her out into the hallway.

“Keep an eye on her while I go get the car,” he said at the exit.

After pulling up to the emergency room door, he dismissed the orderly and poured Isabella into the front seat of his car, securing the seatbelt as tight as he dared.

As soon as he pulled out, she began her familiar, polite protests. “It’s really, okay, Mark. I should go back to Yvette’s and—“

“No.”

She winced at his tight bark. “I don’t want to put you out.”

“Isabella, there’s nothing you can do to inconvenience me.”

As he slowly pulled his car away from the hospital, Isabella slipped into drug-induced sleep. He fought the urge to touch her. She’s here. Isabella Santos Sandoval sat in his front seat, the greatest gift he’d received since surviving his last mission. She designated me as her emergency contact. That had to mean something. She at least trusted him. He’d make that enough, so long as she didn’t run away again. Earning Isabella’s forgiveness—and whatever place in her life she’d allow—was priority one.

After that?

He didn’t believe in miracles, but, well, a man could dream.

He held on to the steering wheel a little tighter, as if mentally grabbing hold of the opportunity before him with both hands—a chance to glue back together all that lay broken between them.

~~~~~

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Perfect is an erotic romance featuring domestic discipline, demons from the past and a second chance between an ex-black ops specialist and a grieving submissive.