The passionate new romance from E L James, author of the phenomenal number-one best-selling Fifty Shades Trilogy
London, 2019. Life has been easy for Maxim Trevelyan. With his good looks, aristocratic connections, and money, he’s never had to work, and he’s rarely slept alone. But all that changes when tragedy strikes and Maxim inherits his family’s noble title, wealth, and estates, and all the responsibility that entails. It’s a role he’s not prepared for and one that he struggles to face.
But his biggest challenge is fighting his desire for an unexpected, enigmatic young woman who’s recently arrived in England, possessing little more than a dangerous and troublesome past. Reticent, beautiful, and musically gifted, she’s an alluring mystery, and Maxim’s longing for her deepens into a passion that he’s never experienced and dares not name. Just who is Alessia Demachi? Can Maxim protect her from the malevolence that threatens her? And what will she do when she learns that he’s been hiding secrets of his own?
From the heart of London through wild, rural Cornwall to the bleak, forbidding beauty of the Balkans, The Mister is a roller-coaster ride of danger and desire that leaves the listener breathless to the very last moment.
Release date: April 16, 2019
Print pages: 512
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E L James
No. No. No. Not the black. Not the choking dark. Not the plastic bag. Panic overwhelms her, forcing the air from her lungs. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. The metallic taste of fear rises in her throat. I need to do this. It’s the only way. Be still. Be calm. Breathe slow. Breathe shallow. Just like he said. This will be over soon. It will be over, and then I will be free. Free. Free.
Go. Now. Run. Run. Run. Go. She runs hard and fast but doesn’t look back. Fear drives her forward as she dodges a few late-night shoppers in her quest to flee. Luck is with her: the automatic doors are open. She flies under the gaudy holiday decorations and through the entrance into the parking lot. On and on she runs. Between the parked cars and into the woods. She runs for her life, down a small dirt path, through brambles, small branches slapping her face. She runs until her lungs are bursting. Go. Go. Go. Don’t stop.
Cold. Cold. Too cold. Fatigue fogs her brain. Fatigue and the cold. The wind howls through the trees, through her clothes, and into her bones. She huddles beneath a bush and gathers the fallen leaves to build a nest with numb hands. Sleep. She needs sleep. She lies down on the cold, hard ground, too tired to be afraid and too tired to weep. The others. Did they get away? She closes her eyes. Did they escape? Let them be free. Let them be warm . . . How did it come to this?
She wakes. She’s lying between trash cans, wrapped in newspapers and cardboard. She’s shivering. She’s so cold. But she needs to move on. She has an address. She thanks her nana’s God for the address. With shaking fingers she unfurls the paper. This is where she needs to go. Now. Now. Now.
One foot in front of the other. Walk. It’s all she can do. Walk. Walk. Walk. Sleep in a doorway. Wake and walk on. Walk. She drinks water from the sink at the McDonald’s. The food smells enticing.
She’s cold. Hunger claws at her stomach. And she walks and walks, following the map. A stolen map. Stolen from a store. A store with twinkling lights and Christmas music. She holds the scrap of paper with what little strength she has left. It’s worn and torn from so many days hidden in her boot. Tired. So tired. Dirty. So dirty and cold and frightened. This place is her only hope. She raises her trembling hand and presses the doorbell.
Magda is expecting her. Her mother wrote and told her. She welcomes her with open arms. And then backs away quickly. Jesus, child. What’s happened to you? I was expecting you last week!
Mindless sex—there’s a lot to be said for it. No commitments, no expectations, and no disappointments; I just have to remember their names. Who was it last time? Jojo? Jeanne? Jody? Whatever. She was some nameless fuck who moaned a great deal both in and out of bed. I lie staring at the rippling reflections from the Thames on my ceiling, unable to sleep. Too restless to sleep.
Tonight it’s Caroline. She doesn’t fit the nameless-fuck category. She’ll never fit. What the hell was I thinking? Closing my eyes, I try to silence the still, small voice that is questioning the wisdom of bedding my best friend…again. She slumbers beside me, her sleek body bathed in the silver light of the January moon, her long legs entwined with mine, and her head on my chest.
This is wrong, so wrong. I rub my face, trying to erase my self-loathing, and she stirs and shifts, waking from her doze. One manicured fingernail skims down my stomach and over my abdominal muscles, then circles my navel. I sense her sleepy smile as her fingers slip toward my pubic hair. Catching her hand, I bring it to my lips. “Haven’t we done enough damage for one night, Caro?” I kiss each finger in turn to take the sting out of the rejection. I’m tired and disheartened by the nagging, unwelcome guilt that gnaws at my gut. This is Caroline, for heaven’s sake, my best friend and my brother’s wife. Ex-wife.
No. Not ex-wife. His widow.
It’s a sad, lonely word for a sad, lonely circumstance.
“Oh, Maxim, please. Make me forget,” she whispers, and plants a warm, wet kiss on my chest. Tossing her fair hair away from her face, she gazes up at me through long lashes, her eyes shining with need and grief.
I cup her lovely face and shake my head. “We shouldn’t.”
“Don’t.” She places her fingers on my lips, silencing me. “Please. I need it.”
I groan. I’m going to hell.
“Please,” she begs.
Shit, this is hell.
And because I’m hurting, too—because I miss him, too—and Caroline is my connection to him, my lips find hers and I ease her onto her back.
When I wake, the room is flooded with bright winter sunshine that makes me squint. Turning over, I’m relieved to see that Caroline has gone, leaving behind a lingering trace of regret—and a note on my pillow:
Dinner Tonight with Daddy & the Stepsow?
They are mourning, too.
This is not what I want. I close my eyes, grateful to be alone in my own bed and glad, despite our nocturnal activities, that we decided to come back to London two days after the funeral.
How the hell did this get so out of hand?
Just a nightcap, she’d said, and I’d gazed into her big blue eyes, brimming with sorrow, and known what she wanted. It was the same look she’d given me the night we learned of Kit’s accident and untimely death. A look I couldn’t resist then. We’d almost danced the dance so many times, but that night I resigned myself to fate, and with an unerring inevitability I fucked my brother’s wife.
And now we’d done it again, with Kit laid to rest only two days ago.
I scowl at the ceiling. I am, without doubt, a pathetic excuse for a human. But then so is Caroline. At least she has an excuse: she’s in mourning, scared for her future, and I’m her best friend. Who else could she turn to in her hour of need? I’d just pushed the envelope on comforting the grieving widow.
Frowning, I crumple her note and toss it to the wooden floor, where it skitters to a stop under the sofa that’s piled with my clothes. The watery shadows float above me, the light and dark seeming to taunt me. I close my eyes to shut them out.
Kit was a good man.
Kit. Dear Kit. Everyone’s favorite—even Caroline’s; she did choose him, after all. A vision of Kit’s desolate, broken body lying beneath a sheet at the hospital mortuary appears unbidden in my mind. I take a deep breath, trying to dispel the memory, as a knot forms in my throat. He deserved better than dear Caro and me—his wastrel brother. He didn’t deserve this…betrayal.
Who am I kidding?
Caroline and I deserve each other. She scratched my itch, and I scratched hers. We’re both consenting and technically free adults. She likes it. I like it, and it’s what I do best, fucking some eager, attractive woman into the small hours of the morning. It’s my favorite recreational activity and gives me something to do—someone to do. Fucking keeps me fit, and in the throes of passion I learn all I need to know about a woman—how to make her sweat and if she screams or cries when she comes.
Caroline is a crier.
Caroline has just lost her husband.
And I’ve lost my big brother, my only guiding light for the last few years.
Closing my eyes, I see Kit’s pale, dead face once more, and his loss is a yawning space within me.
An irreplaceable loss.
Why the hell was he riding his motorcycle on that bleak and icy night? It’s beyond comprehension. Kit is—was—the sane one, the safe pair of hands, Lord Reliable himself. Between the two of us, it was Kit who brought honor to our family name, upheld its reputation, and behaved responsibly. He held down a job in the City and managed the substantial family business as well. He didn’t make rash decisions, he didn’t drive like a madman. He was the sensible brother. He stepped up, not down. He was not the prodigal mess that I am. No, I’m the other side of Kit’s coin. My specialty is being the black sheep of the family. No one has any expectations of me, I make sure of that. Always.
I sit up, my mood grim in the harsh morning light. It’s time to hit the basement gym. Running, fucking, and fencing, they all keep me in shape.
With dance music hammering in my ears and sweat rolling down my back, I drag air into my lungs. The pounding of my feet on the treadmill clears my mind as I concentrate on pushing my body to its limits. Usually when I run, I’m focused and grateful that at last I feel something—even if it’s just the pain of bursting lungs and limbs. Today I don’t want to feel anything, not after this fuck-awful week. All I want is the physical pain of exertion and endurance. Not the pain of loss.
Run. Breathe. Run. Breathe.
Don’t think about Kit. Don’t think about Caroline.
Run. Run. Run.
As I cool down, the treadmill slows, and I jog through the final stretch of my five-mile sprint, allowing my feverish thoughts to return. For the first time in a long time, I have a great deal to do.
Before Kit’s demise my days were spent recovering from the night before and planning the next night’s entertainment. And that was about it. That was my life. I don’t like to shine a light on the vacuity of my existence. But deep down I know how bloody useless I am. Access to a healthy trust fund since I turned twenty-one means I’ve never done a serious day’s work in my life. Unlike my older brother. He worked hard, but then again he had no choice.
Today, however, will be different. I’m the executor of Kit’s will, which is a joke. Choosing me was his last laugh, I’m sure—but now that he’s interred in the family vault, the will has to be read and…well, executed.
And Kit died leaving no heirs.
I shudder as the treadmill comes to a stop. I don’t want to think about the implications. I’m not ready.
Grabbing my iPhone, I swing a towel around my neck and jog back upstairs to my flat on the sixth floor.
Stripping off my clothes, I discard them in the bedroom and head into the en suite bathroom. Beneath the shower, as I wash my hair, I consider how to deal with Caroline. We’ve known each other since our early schooldays. We each recognized a kindred spirit, and it drew us together, two thirteen-year-old boarders with divorced parents. I was the new boy and she took me under her wing. We became inseparable. She is and always will be my first love, my first fuck…my disastrous first fuck. And years later she’d chosen my brother, not me. But in spite of all that, we managed to remain good friends and keep our hands off each other—until Kit’s death.
Shit. It has to stop. I don’t want or need the complication. As I shave, solemn green eyes blaze back at me. Don’t fuck it up with Caroline. She’s one of your few friends. She’s your best friend. Talk to her. Reason with her. She knows we’re incompatible. I nod at my reflection, feeling more resolved about her, and wipe my face free of foam. Tossing the towel onto the floor, I head into the dressing room. There I gather up my black jeans, which are embedded in a pile on one of the shelves, and I’m relieved to find hanging a newly pressed white shirt and a dry-cleaned black blazer. Today I have lunch with the family solicitors. I slip on my boots and grab a coat to defend myself from the cold outside.
Shit, it’s Monday.
I remember that Krystyna, my ancient Polish daily, is due later this morning to clean. Taking out my wallet, I deposit some cash on the console table in the hall, set the alarm, then stroll out the front door. Locking up behind me, I forgo the lift and take the stairs.
Once I’m outside on Chelsea Embankment, the air is clear and crisp, marred only by the vapor of my frozen breath. I stare beyond the gloomy, gray Thames on the other side of the street to the Peace Pagoda on the opposite bank. That’s what I want, some peace, but that may be a long time coming. I hope to have some questions answered over lunch. Raising an arm, I hail a cab and order the driver to take me to Mayfair.
Housed in the Georgian splendor of Brook Street, the firm of Pavel, Marmont and Hoffman has been the family’s solicitors since 1775. “Time to be a grown-up,” I mutter to myself as I push open the ornate wooden door.
“Good afternoon, sir.” The young receptionist beams, a flush staining her olive skin. She’s pretty, in an understated way. If these were normal circumstances I’d have her number within five minutes of conversation, but that’s not why I’m here.
“I have an appointment to see Mr. Rajah.”
Her eyes scan her computer screen, and she shakes her head and frowns. “Please take a seat.” She waves toward two brown leather chesterfields that are situated in the paneled hall, and I slump into the nearer one picking up that morning’s edition of the Financial Times. The receptionist is talking on the phone with some urgency while I peruse the front page of the paper but take nothing in. When I glance up, Rajah is coming to greet me himself, striding through the double doors with an outstretched hand.
“Lord Trevethick, may I offer you my sincere condolences for your loss,” Rajah says as we shake hands.
“Trevethick, please,” I reply. “I’ve yet to get used to my brother’s title.”
“Of course.” Mr. Rajah nods with a polite deference that I find irritating. “Would you like to come with me? We’re having lunch in the partners’ dining room, and I must say we have one of the finest cellars in London.”
Mesmerized, I stare at the dancing flames of the fire at my club in Mayfair.
Earl of Trevethick.
That’s me. Now.
It’s inconceivable. It’s devastating.
How I envied my brother’s title and his position in the family when I was younger. Kit had been the favored child since birth, especially with my mother, but then he was the heir, not the spare. Known as Viscount Porthtowan since he was born, Kit had become the twelfth Earl of Trevethick at the age of twenty upon our father’s sudden death. At twenty-eight I’m lucky number thirteen. And though I’ve coveted the title and all that goes with it, now that it’s mine, I feel like I’m intruding on my brother’s domain.
You fucked his countess last night. That’s more than intruding.
I take a slug of the Glenrothes I’m drinking and raise my glass. “A toast to the Ghost,” I whisper, and smile at the irony. The Glenrothes was my father’s whisky of choice, and my brother’s—and from today this 1992 vintage will be mine.
I can’t pinpoint the moment I made peace with Kit’s inheritance and with Kit himself, but it happened sometime in my late teens. He had the title, he’d won the girl, and I had to accept that. But now everything is mine. Everything.
Even your wife. Well, for last night at least.
But the irony is that Kit has made no provision for Caroline in his will.
This is what she feared.
How could he have been so remiss? He’d drawn a new will four months ago but he hadn’t made provisions for her. They’d only been married for two years…
What was he thinking?
Of course, she may challenge it. And who would blame her?
I rub my face.
What am I going to do?
My phone buzzes.
WHERE ARE YOU?
It’s a text from Caroline.
I switch off my phone and order another drink. I don’t want to see her tonight. I want to lose myself in someone else. Someone new. Someone with no strings attached, and I think I’ll score some blow, too. I pull out my phone and open Tinder.
“Maxim, this is a stunning flat.” She gazes out over the murky water of the Thames that glimmers with light from the Peace Pagoda. I take her jacket and drape it over the back of the sofa.
“Drink or something stronger?” I offer. We are not going to be in the drawing room for long. On cue she flicks her shining black hair over her shoulder. Her hazel eyes, framed with kohl, are intent on me.
Licking painted lips, she arches a brow and asks, “Something stronger?” Her tone is seductive. “What are you drinking?”
Ah…she’s not taking the hint, so no coke, then, but she’s way ahead of me. I step closer so that she has to angle her head to look up at me. I’m careful not to touch her.
“I’m not thirsty, Heather.” I pitch my voice low, pleased that I’ve remembered her name. She swallows, and her lips part.
“Me neither,” she whispers, and her provocative smile reaches her eyes.
“What do you want?” I watch as her gaze moves to my mouth. It’s an invitation. I pause for a moment, just to make sure I’m reading her correctly, then lean down and kiss her. It’s the briefest touch: lips on lips, then nothing.
“I think you know what I want.” She reaches up to run her fingers through my hair and pull me back to her warm and willing mouth. She tastes of brandy with a faint hint of cigarettes. The taste is distracting. I don’t remember seeing her smoke at the club. I pull her hard against me, one hand at her waist while the other travels down over her lush curves. She has a small waist and large, firm breasts, which she presses enticingly against me. I wonder if they’ll taste as good as they feel. My hand skims down to her backside as I deepen the kiss, exploring her eager mouth.
“What do you want?” I whisper against her lips.
“You.” Her voice is breathy and urgent. She’s turned on. Big time. She begins to unbutton my shirt. I hold still as she eases it off my shoulders and lets it fall to the floor.
Do I take her here or in my bed? Comfort wins and I grab her hand. “Come with me.” I tug her gently, and she follows me out of the drawing room and down the hall, into the bedroom.
The room is tidy, as I knew it would be.
God bless Krystyna.
I switch the bedside lights on from the wall and walk her to the bed. “Turn around.”
Heather does as she’s told but sways a little in her high heels. “Steady.” I clasp her shoulders and pull her tight against me, then turn her head toward me so I can see her eyes. They’re intent on my lips, but she looks up at me. Eyes bright. Clear. Focused. Sober enough. I nuzzle her neck, tasting her soft, fragrant skin with my tongue. “I think it’s time to lie down.” I unzip her short red dress and peel it over her shoulders, pausing as I expose the tops of her breasts concealed by a red bra. I skim my thumbs across the surface of the lacy fabric. She groans and arches her back, pushing her breasts into my hands.
My thumbs dip beneath the delicate material and circle her hardening nipples as she gropes behind her for the button on my jeans. “We have all night,” I murmur, and release her before stepping back so that her dress slides down her body and pools at her feet.
A red thong reveals her shapely behind.
“Turn around. I want to see you.”
Heather tosses her hair over her shoulder as she turns and gives me a searing look from beneath her lashes. She has the most magnificent breasts.
I smile. She smiles.
This is going to be fun.
Reaching forward, she grabs the waistband of my jeans and tugs sharply so her glorious tits are once more pressed against my chest. “Kiss me,” she growls, her voice low and demanding. She runs her tongue over her top teeth, and my body responds, my groin tightening.
“Only too happy to oblige, madam.”
I clasp her head, my fingers in her silky hair, and kiss her more roughly this time. She responds, her hands grabbing fistfuls of my hair as our tongues lock. She stops and looks up at me with a salacious glint in her eyes, as if finally seeing me and liking what she sees. Then her lips are once more feverish against mine.
Man, she really wants this.
Nimble fingers find the top button of my jeans, and she pulls. Laughing, I grab her hands and push her gently so we both fall onto the bed.
Heather. Her name is Heather, and she’s fast asleep beside me. I glance at my bedside clock; it’s 5:15 a.m. She’s a good fuck, no doubt about it. But now I want her gone. How long will I have to lie here listening to the soft sound of her breathing? Perhaps I should have gone to her flat instead, so then I could leave. But my place was nearer—and we were both impatient. As I stare at the ceiling, I mentally run through our evening, trying to remember what, if any, details I’ve learned about her. She works in television—or “telly,” as she calls it—and she has to be at work in the morning, which means she has to leave soon, surely? She lives in Putney. She’s hot. And willing. Yes, very willing. She likes to be on her front during intercourse, she’s quiet when she comes, and she has a talented mouth that knows exactly how to revive a spent man. My cock stirs at the memory, and I contemplate waking her up for more. Her dark hair is fanned out on the pillow, and her expression is serene in sleep. I ignore the pang of envy that her serenity inspires and wonder if I got to know her better, would I find the same peace?
Oh, for fuck’s sake. I want her gone.
You have intimacy issues. Caroline’s nagging voice reverberates through my mind.
Three whining texts and several missed calls from Caroline have pissed me off. My jeans lie on the floor in a crumpled heap. From the back pocket, I retrieve my phone. Checking on the sleeping form beside me—no, she hasn’t stirred—I read my messages from Caroline.
What is her problem?
She knows the deal; she’s known me long enough. A quick tumble between the sheets isn’t going to change how I feel about her. I love her…in my own way, but as a friend, a good friend.
I scowl. I haven’t called her. I don’t want to. I don’t know what to say.
Coward. The voice of my conscience whispers. I need to put this right. Above me the shimmers from the Thames bob and weave, free and easy. Taunting me. Reminding me of what I’ve lost.
And what I have now.
Guilt overwhelms me. It’s an unfamiliar and unwelcome feeling—Kit has bequeathed everything to me. Everything. And Caroline has nothing from his estate. She’s my brother’s wife. And we fucked. No wonder I feel guilty. And deep down I know she feels it, too. That’s why she left in the middle of the night without waking me, without saying good-bye. If only the girl beside me would do the same.
I quickly type out a text to Caro.
Busy today. You OK?
It’s five in the morning. Caroline will be asleep. I’m safe. I’ll deal with her later today…or tomorrow.
Heather stirs, and her eyelids flitter open.
“Hi.” She gives me a tentative smile. I reciprocate, but her smile fades. “I should go,” she says.
“Go?” Hope swells in my chest. “You don’t have to go.” I manage not to sound disingenuous.
“I do. I have to work, and I don’t think my red dress will cut it in the office.” She sits up, clutching the silk quilt to conceal her curves. “That was…good, Maxim. If I leave my number, will you call me? I’d rather speak on the phone than message on Tinder.”
“Of course,” I lie smoothly. I pull her face to mine and kiss her tenderly. Her smile is bashful. Rising, she wraps the quilt securely around her body and starts to gather her clothes from the floor.
“Shall I call you a cab?” I ask.
“I can Uber.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Okay, thank you. I’m going to Putney.”
She tells me her address, I get up, slip on my discarded jeans, and taking my phone, leave the bedroom to give her some privacy. It’s strange how some women behave the morning after: shy and quiet. She’s no longer the lascivious, demanding siren of the night before.
Once I’ve ordered a car I wait, staring out across the dark Thames. When she finally appears, she hands me a scrap of paper. “My number.”
“Thanks.” I slip it into the back pocket of my jeans. “Your car will be here in five minutes.”
She stands awkwardly, her postcoital shyness taking hold. As the silence stretches between us, she surveys the room, looking anywhere but at me.
“This is a lovely flat. Airy,” she says, and I know that we’ve resorted to chitchat to fill the awkwardness. She spots my guitar and the piano. “You play?” She walks over to the baby grand.
“That’s why you’re so good with your hands,” she says. Then frowns as if she’s realized that she’s spoken aloud, and her cheeks flush a fetching pink.
“Do you play?” I ask, ignoring her comment.
“No—I never made it further than recorder group in year two.” Relief softens her features, probably because I ignored her comment about my hands. “And all that?” She points to my decks and the iMac on a desk in the corner of the room.
“Yes. Couple of times a month at a club in Hoxton.”
“Hence all the vinyl.” She glances at the shelved wall housing my record collection.
“And the photography?” She waves a hand at the black-and-white landscapes that hang on large canvases in the drawing room.
“Yes. And occasionally on the other side of the camera.”
She looks confused.
“Modeling. Editorial, mainly.”
“Oh, that makes sense. You really are a man of many parts.” She grins, feeling a little more confident. She should. She’s a goddess.
“Jack of all trades,” I reply with a self-deprecating smile, and her grin vanishes, replaced by a puzzled frown.
“Is something wrong?” she asks.
Wrong? What the hell is she talking about? “No. Nothing.” My phone buzzes, and it’s a text to let me know her car has arrived. “I’ll call you,” I say as I pick up her jacket and hold it open for her to shrug on.
“No you won’t. But don’t worry. That’s Tinder for you. I had fun.”
“Me, too.” I’m not about to contradict her.
I follow her to the front door. “Do you want me to walk you down?”
“No thanks. I’m a big girl. Good-bye, Maxim. It was nice knowing you.”
“Well done.” She beams, pleased that I’ve remembered her name, and it’s impossible not to return her smile. “That’s better,” she says. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” Reaching up, she gives me a chaste kiss on the cheek. She turns and teeters on her high heels toward the lifts. I frown at her departing figure, watching her fine arse move beneath her red dress.
Find what I’m looking for? What the hell does that mean?
I’ve got all this. I’ve just had you. It will be someone else tomorrow. What more do I need?
For some unknown reason, her words irritate me, but I shake them off and head back to bed, relieved that she’s gone. As I strip off my jeans and slip between the sheets, her challenging parting words echo through my mind.
I hope you find what you’re looking for.
Where the fuck did that come from?
I’ve just inherited a vast estate in Cornwall, an estate in Oxfordshire, another in Northumberland, and a small portion of London—but at what cost?
Kit’s pale, lifeless face surfaces in my imagination.
So many people are now relying on me, too many, far too many: tenant farmers, estate workers, household staff in four houses, the developers in Mayfair…
Fuck you, Kit. Fuck you for dying.
I close my eyes as I fight back unshed tears, and with Heather’s parting words ringing in my head I fall into a stupor.
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