Carmen Dane was a self-assured Domme who always maintained control . . . until she submitted to sinfully sexy Master Thomas Regala. She gave him her trust and vulnerability, and he betrayed her. She's avoided him for months, but now he knows the truth and refuses to let her hide. Her all-consuming hunger for Thomas has only grown stronger during their time apart. But Carmen will never submit to him-or anyone-ever again.
Thomas isn't about to give up that easily. Carmen is his Mistress and his submissive. He'll do almost anything for a second chance-even if it means giving up some of his power for her pleasure. Now they've embarked on a game of desire and dark, greedy need that breaks both their rules. But can Thomas ever wholly submit to Carmen when he wants to claim her as his own?
Rules of Engagement series
Book 1 - Rule Breaker (Arya and Max)
Book 2 - Rule Master (Milla and Lex)
Book 3 - Rule Changer (Carmen and Thomas)
Release date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 354
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Carmen, you have to tell him.”
I shifted my phone on my ear and snipped a dying flower from a rosebush in the garden of my family estate in the Water Mill area of Long Island.
For the past fifteen minutes, I’d avoided this conversation. Arya and I had talked about anything and everything inconsequential, but now it looked like she was tired of me dodging her subtle hints.
“I will. I plan to.”
“When? After the boys turn ten?”
“Arya, this isn’t as easy as you think. I made the right call for my babies and me at the time.”
“At least you aren’t across an ocean anymore. Now the next step is to return to New York, and not stay stowed away in the Hamptons.”
I’d never intended to go into hiding. Well, maybe that wasn’t true. Once I couldn’t conceal my pregnancy anymore, I decided to escape to Italy, regroup, and regain my footing before I had to face life in New York with two young boys.
Only a few people knew about my condition at the time; among them were my two best friends, Arya and Milla, and their husbands, one being my brother, Max.
“Thomas deserves to know. The minute you landed in New York, the reporters were on you. He’s going to find out, if he hasn’t already.”
I’d done my best to keep a low profile since returning to the states, but somehow a few pictures had made their way to some minor tabloids.
Finding out about fatherhood through the media wasn’t how I wanted to tell him. Despite what Ari believed. I wasn’t going to keep my sons away from their father. I hoped that the news wouldn’t go public until I had a chance to meet with him.
I closed my eyes for a second, inhaling deep. I wasn’t ready for the inevitable confrontation. The pain of our breakup still hadn’t fully healed, and I wasn’t sure it ever would.
At least I learned a valuable lesson from my relationship with Thomas.
I’ll never allow another man to put me second ever again.
“Don’t ignore me.”
“I’m not. I need a few more days. I left Italy less than two weeks ago. Give me a break.”
“No. You’ve had long enough. He’s their father. It doesn’t matter what happened between the two of you. You have to tell him.”
“Arya.” I allowed my voice to grow cool. It was that or start to cry. “Let it go.”
“Don’t you dare take that Domme tone with me. I’m not one of your subs. I’m your best friend and sister.”
“Then let me handle this.” I pushed back the tears and cocked a hand on my hip. “I have it under control.”
It wasn’t as if I had a choice in the matter. It was either stay calm and stand by my decisions or fall apart, as I’d done for months after my delivery.
“Liar. This is the one thing you can’t control. It’s only going to get worse the longer you wait.”
“I know.” I sighed and threw my shears in the box of garden tools, shutting the lid hard, trying to push back the anxiety Arya’s words brought forth.
Get it together, Carmen. You are a Mistress who’s always in control, not a weakling. What you gave Thomas will never happen again.
“Ari, can we please talk about something else.”
“Sure. So, when are you coming to see your nephews and me?”
I cringed. I’d walked right into that. I hadn’t seen Ari, Max, or my twin nephews since they visited me in Italy for the birth of my boys. I missed them so much. My family, who’d support me through everything.
“I promise. I’ll be there soon. I have to talk to you about something anyway.”
A momentary dread swept over me. Once I told her what I’d discovered, she’d think keeping the boys from Thomas was small on the level of turmoil in my life.
“What’s going on, Carm? Something changed in your voice.”
“I can’t talk to you about it here. I need to make sure I’m on a secure line.”
“Shit, are you in trouble?”
I pulled off my gardening gloves, threw them over the shears, and paced. “I’m not sure. Ari, don’t say anything to Max. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
“Well, I can’t say anything to him when I don’t know what’s going on. I need to talk to you about something I discovered, too.”
My gut told me whatever Arya knew was related to the conversation I needed to have with her.
“Hold on. Nat’s here.” I turned toward Natalie, my assistant.
“We have word from security that your brother is requesting permission to land.”
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “When did he radio?”
Natalie continued to scrutinize me and then seemed to let her concern go. “He contacted us about fifteen minutes ago. Should I approve the request?”
“Of course. He owns half this estate. Let me clean up, and I’ll meet him at the helipad.”
Natalie nodded and walked toward the house as she spoke into the portable communicator.
“Hey. Why didn’t you tell me Max was coming?” I asked into the phone.
“I didn’t know. He said he had a few meetings and had to take care of a few things before he got home.”
“Well. I guess I’m part of the things to take care of. Let me call you back later on the secure line.”
“Okay. Love you. Bye.”
“Love you, too.” I ended the call and tucked the phone into the back pocket of my jeans.
I glanced at my watch. Hopefully, Max would stay long enough to help entertain the two hellions about to wake from their naps so I could take a nice hot shower. I rushed inside, washed my hands, and headed out the front door and across the lawn.
The hum of the propellers echoed in the distance, and a giddiness coursed through me. I hadn’t seen my older brother, by three minutes, in more than five months.
Whose fault is that? He couldn’t stay in Italy forever.
I ignored the thought and continued toward the landing pad.
After the boys’ births, I needed to keep a low profile and avoid all speculation, questions, and media scrutiny about the missing daddy, so I decided to extend my time in Europe. If not for my two best friends, I would have lost all of my sanity. They helped me survive the high-risk delivery and the intense postpartum I suffered.
I wasn’t going to fool myself into thinking my life would be easier by returning. In fact, I was expecting it to become much more complicated. All I could hope for was an amicable relationship with my ex for the sake of the boys.
I approached my head of security, Richard, who met me halfway. “Ms. Dane.” He inclined his head. “Mr. Dane is approaching.”
I nodded as he guided me to the waiting area. I covered my eyes from the sun’s glare and stared into the sky. As the helicopter came into view, my happiness to see my brother vanished. It wasn’t MCD’s corporate copter, but one belonging to Regala Enterprises.
No, he wouldn’t. How could Max bring him here without warning me? I clenched my fists as my stomach knotted. Oh God, what was I going to do? The last time we were near each other, he couldn’t even look at me.
Get your act together. You knew this day would come.
Max was my brother; he wouldn’t blindside me. I pulled my phone from the back pocket of my jeans.
“Shit,” I exclaimed. I’d missed six messages saying he was on his way and it was an extreme emergency.
I should have known better than to ignore the text beeps coming in while I talked to Ari.
My only excuse was that I’d worked all morning on upcoming projects and wanted a few minutes to enjoy my garden and have a conversation with my best friend.
Now I regretted setting my phone to do not disturb.
I inhaled deep and steadied my mind.
The helicopter landed moments later, and the door opened.
My breath hitched as the man I’d mistaken for the love of my life, Thomas Regala, stepped out of the passenger side, followed by my pissed-off-looking brother.
Thomas adjusted his sunglasses and fixed his gaze on me. He strode straight in my direction, ignoring something Max called out to him.
The last year and a half had done nothing to decrease his devil-may-care appeal. He wore his jet-black hair cut short, a remnant of his special operations days, and the tailored gray suit hugged his well-honed form, giving him an I’m a predator, and you are my prey aura. The only thing marring the perfection of his face was the shadow of a slight bruise on the left side of his jaw.
I squared my shoulders and waited for his approach.
Thomas stopped barely a foot from me. Without thinking, I swallowed and licked my parched lips, but thankfully, I kept my eyes directed at him. “What…what are you doing here?”
He took off his sunglasses and peered at me.
“I came for my sons.”
What did you say?” My hand shook as I tucked a stray hair behind my ear.
“You heard me. I want to see my boys.”
The intensity of his golden eyes peering at me reminded me of the times we’d made love and he’d seen deep into the parts of me I kept hidden from the world.
That is the past, remember? He didn’t want you.
“Who told you?”
His eyes glanced at my lips for a brief moment, making my heartbeat accelerate, before his amber gaze held mine again. “No one told me. I learned this on my own.”
A wave of sadness washed over me. This wasn’t my lover standing before me but the father of my children and the man who’d thrown me away like so much garbage.
Max approached from the side and took my hand. “Let’s go inside. This conversation should take place in private.”
I snatched my hand out of his and glared toward Thomas. “He isn’t welcome in my home.” I stepped backward. “Why would he want to talk to a slut whose father embezzled from his family and caused his aunt’s death?”
I tried to move further, but Thomas grasped my upper arm, stopping my retreat. “I have a right to see my sons.”
I jerked my arm free and tried to hold back the tears clouding my vision.
You will not cry, Carmen. Keep it together.
He wasn’t here for me. No matter how much I’d wished for him to choose me, it never happened and it wouldn’t today, either. I had to remember that love was no longer an option, and the boys were the priority.
I refused to let him see me fall apart. The days of trusting him were over. “What makes you think they’re yours? Especially since I’m not who I pretend to be. I’m a liar like my father, right?”
He jaw clenched, but before he could respond, Max stepped between us.
“We need to go inside, Carm. Please listen to what he has to say.”
“The hell I will. He”—I gestured to Thomas—“made his opinion of me clear when he accused me of using him.” I turned, ready to leave, but then paused midstep. “Thomas, you have ten minutes to get off of my property, or I will have you escorted out. And my dear brother can leave, too.”
I strode toward the house, keeping my shoulders from drooping and my tears at bay until I crossed the front door.
* * *
I made it inside and turned the lock before the first drops fell from my eyes. I wiped my face with the back of my hand, closed my eyes, and released a deep breath.
At least no one saw me falling apart.
I’d submitted to that man. Trusted him with the deepest part of me, a part I’d never shared before. A secret he’d made me believe wasn’t a weakness, but a gift. Then he took what I’d given him and threw it away, telling me my desires didn’t match his.
I will never let myself fall into that position again.
“Carmen, is everything okay? Is there anything I can do?”
I opened my eyes to find Natalie’s worried face studying me. I stood up from against the door. “Give me a moment…I’m…”
She placed a gentle hand on my arm. Even if she didn’t voice her opinion, one look from her spoke volumes. “Your wee ones are waking.” She handed me the baby monitor, and sweet chatter sounded through the speaker. “They prefer their mama after their naps over me.”
I inclined my head and went to the nursery. Natalie knew me better than most people. She had been my primary caretaker after my mother’s death, and she never stopped watching out for me. She knew all of my family’s sordid secrets and remained loyal.
Through her guidance, I learned all the methods and pretenses needed to navigate the ramifications of Dad’s embezzlement disaster and resulting murder. She taught me the most important lesson that helped me survive the fallout from the scandal.
“Never let them see you sweat, Carmen. Stay calm, no matter what’s thrown your way. That is the best way to overcome your father’s careless actions. Women are judged harsher than men.”
Natalie was the closest person I had to a mother.
As I walked through the boys’ playroom and approached their nursery, I smiled. Their coos warmed my heart. The love I discovered for them was more than I ever imagined.
I turned the knob to their bedroom. The moment I entered, Simon and Leo stopped their chatter and pulled themselves up against the crib rails.
Two sets of almond-shaped eyes greeted me.
“Hello, my handsome men. Did you have a nice nap?”
Everything about the boys resembled their father, from the shape of their eyes and olive hue of their skin to their wicked devil-may-care smiles. Well, with one exception: They inherited my green eyes, but on them, they almost looked emerald.
“Come here, big guy.” I picked up Simon, the bigger of my boys and nuzzled his neck, resulting in a squeal and laughter.
“Maaa…” cried Leo, reaching his arms up in the air.
“I didn’t forget you. Come to mama.” I gathered my verbose child and cuddled him, too.
Taking them both to the floor, I sat down on the soft rug in the center of the room. For the next ten minutes, we played and giggled, letting the tension from moments earlier fade.
“I will love you boys no matter what happens in life.”
Tears prickled my eyes again. There was a time before the scandals and Mama’s death when joy and love were the center of my family. Back then, money never came before Max or me. I didn’t have to be in control all the time or project an image that deep down I knew was a lie.
Everything came crashing down the day Mama lost her life in a car accident. Dad, so lost in grief, turned to a bottle instead of his children, then to every woman willing to spread her legs, and finally to making money. Which eventually led to his downfall. I still couldn’t believe he’d managed to steal over forty billion dollars in assets before anyone noticed and then manage to make it disappear.
Unlike Dad, I will sacrifice my happiness to make sure my babies never know a day without love.
I shook the melancholy thoughts from my mind as a knock rapped on the door.
Natalie entered with two bottles and immediately closed the door.
I frowned. She never closed the door.
“Someone wishes to speak to you in the other room.”
“Tell Max I’ll call him later when I’m not angry enough to punch him in the face.”
“It isn’t Max.”
My skin prickled.
I’m going to kick Max’s ass!
I stood up and let the boys continue their play.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to tell Arya she is a widow because her husband is dead. I don’t care if he is my brother.”
“I think she will agree that it was just cause.” Natalie winked.
I bit my lip, inhaled deep, and opened the door, connecting the nursery to the playroom.
“I thought I told you to leave.”
He ignored my statement and stared at the pictures of the boys on the wall. He traced their faces with the tips of his fingers.
“They look like me.” His voice filled with awe.
I closed my eyes for a moment at the ache fisting my heart.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” Thomas asked as he continued to stare at the pictures.
“Natalie arranged a meeting at your Manhattan office in a few days.”
He turned with an angry glare. “You planned on handling this as a business transaction?”
“I thought it best, considering our history.”
If I kept the discussion formal, then I could keep the anger and emotion of his betrayal out of his relationship with the boys. No matter what I felt, Thomas had a right to his children. Plus, anywhere else, I’d remember everything we’d been to each other and the pain left in its wake.
“This isn’t about a contract, it’s about our boys. When it comes to them, I don’t care what you want. I won’t negotiate.”
I bit the inside of my cheek as my temper flared, pushing all the heartache away. “I would never use them to get anything from you. You’ve accused me of too many things to make me believe you’d entertain anything but business from me. I wanted to meet to discuss our sharing custody.”
“You make it sound so cold.”
“What did you expect from me? I’m exactly what you accused me of. A cold, heartless, calculating Dane.”
“I should never have said that. You aren’t cold.” He took a step toward me, then stopped when I retreated.
Dammit, this was my house, and no matter how he made me feel, I had to stand my ground.
“You don’t know me anymore. You never really knew me.”
“I know you better than anyone else. Better than Andrew or your father or even Max.”
Hearing Andrew, the name of my long-deceased fiancé, made me cringe inside. Although I’d loved him, he never understood who I was. He was happy in his role as my submissive, never knowing he couldn’t meet my needs.
“Carm, you’re anything but cold.” He gazed at me in the way he’d done that weekend long ago, when we’d conceived our sons.
For a brief second, I believed him.
Thomas was the only person who’d ever seen past the image I projected to the vulnerable girl deep inside. To the woman who wanted someone else to hold the reins for a change.
Then the memory of him tearing out my heart resurfaces, and I resign myself to the fact that it was all an illusion I’d created. The desire of someone who’d spent her life rejected by the men she loved.
First Father, then Andrew, and ending with Thomas.
“Look. I don’t want to fight.” I turned away from him and stared out the window overlooking my gardens. “I can admit now that keeping my pregnancy a secret was wrong, but at the time it was the best decision for me.”
“Is there any way we can work this out?”
I rubbed my arm. “I’m not going to keep them from you.”
“That’s not what I meant. I want this to work.”
I sighed. What did he want from me? My emotions were at war with my composure, and I was too exhausted to argue with him. I refused to cry in front of him and demand to know what made him believe I was such a horrible person.
“Thomas, I don’t have time for riddles. Please. Can we just talk in a few days?”
“Answer a question for me first.”
“Why haven’t you been to the club?”
I jerked and faced him. That was not the question I expected. The stark change of subject surprised me but also helped recompose my shields. He was the only man who ever shook my defenses.
“Thomas. I don’t have time for this.”
“I tried to find you.” He stepped toward me, but I raised a hand to keep him away.
This made no sense. Why would he look for me? I wasn’t his submissive, and he wasn’t mine.
“As you can see, I’ve been too busy to visit the club.”
“That isn’t what I meant.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You disappeared. I looked for you everywhere. After we rescued you and Milla, you all but vanished. I tried to use the tracking system Arya and I designed to trace operatives, but she changed the programming. She told me to get lost and not to bother calling Max.”
I smiled. Ari would protect me even though she’d known Thomas longer. I guessed I could forgive her for marrying my shithead of a brother.
Last year, I stupidly agreed to help my other best friend Milla Duncan stop a human trafficking ring, masterminded by Vladimir Christof, an international terrorist who’d plagued Arya, Milla, and me for the past ten years.
The original plan was to find the building where the sales for the women and children took place, attach software to their server, and be home before evening. As with all great plans, ours went to hell in a handbasket. We were recognized and then held hostage. Thomas along with a group of federal agents rescued us.
“Well, what did you expect? If I’m a liar and slut, what would that make her husband?” I folded my arms and leaned against the wall. “We Danes stick together, you know,” I said with as much coldness as I could muster. It was better to pretend I didn’t feel anything than let him see how much he hurt me.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since that dreadful day almost a year ago. Arya had told me about Thomas’s attempts to contact me, but I was determined to move on with a life that didn’t include him.
“Stop freezing me out, and listen to me for a second. I made a mistake. I…know I hurt you. Carm, I’m so sor…”
The doorknob turned, and Max entered the room. “Regala, you’ve had your five minutes. I think the rest can wait.”
“No. I have to say this.” He stared at me. “I’m sorry, Carmen. More than you can ever know. I want to try again. Not because of the boys, but for us.”
I shook my head, refusing to listen. The patch I’d placed on my heart was tearing open, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust him again.
“I don’t believe you. I’m not foolish enough to delude myself a second time. All I can offer you is a chance to get to know the boys, but nothing more.”
He released a resigned sigh. “I’m not going to give up. I want the boys, but I . . .
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