The Real Deal
Holly McGregor shouldn't be attracted to someone on the board of directors at her company. But she can't avoid his unforgiving stare, deny their electric chemistry, or resist his touch, his mouth, the dangerous invitation she sees in his eyes.
Her family hates him, and the city fears him, but she knows there's another side to Sebastian Renaud because he slipped--he let her witness the light beneath the dark. And now that she's had a taste, she only wants to discover more.
When Sebastian first laid eyes on Holly, all he saw was a woman he could never have. But when Holly gets caught in the crosshairs of a sick game of vengeance, he has no choice but to step into her life, and resisting her will seriously test his resolve.
He'll do anything to keep her safe . . . but protecting her means facing his demons--consequences be damned.
The Real Deal, a sizzling and suspenseful romance, can be read as a standalone.
Release date: November 7, 2019
Publisher: EmKo Media, LLC
Print pages: 366
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The Real Deal
“You okay?” he asked when I stilled, my heels becoming rooted in place.
A rush of unease traveled up my spine and goose bumps scattered across my skin.
It was insane, but I could feel him there.
HIM, as in Sebastian Renaud.
I shifted out of Harrison’s arms and turned to confirm the truth of what I’d felt.
Sebastian advanced through the room, long strides carrying him my way in his fitted, black tuxedo trousers. The black leather mask on his face was perfect for a man whose very presence screamed danger, authority, and sex. He sure as hell looked like he belonged in a high-class BDSM club, in the role of a Master, of course.
“Holly?” Harrison placed his hand on my elbow, seeking my attention, but I remained frozen in place.
Right now, I was that young girl with dreams of her prince stalking toward her to claim her as his in a room full of whispering onlookers.
But my prince wasn’t the hero. He was the villain.
And yet, I couldn’t help but want the bad guy.
“You came,” I whispered, surprised by my ability to speak with Sebastian now at arm’s length, his brown eyes cutting straight through me as if he were capable of peeling back my layers and exposing every grain of truth about me. The little pulses of need, the desire to do naughty, erotic things with him.
“I was invited,” was all he said before setting his focus on Harrison. “Reed,” he greeted.
Harrison offered his hand. “Renaud?” A touch of surprise graced the tone of his voice, and my heart leapt off the proverbial cliff of oh-shit at the fact Harrison knew him. Well, maybe of him. The man’s reputation probably crossed oceans. “I was hoping to meet you while I was in town.” Harrison folded his arms in a defensive stance, confirming he knew Sebastian was trouble.
“And you’re in Dublin early,” Sebastian noted.
“I couldn’t miss Holly’s birthday.”
“Same,” Sebastian responded tightly, his eyes locked on mine. “I’d like to dance with you.”
It wasn’t a request. It was an order that slid across my skin and penetrated my bones. I had to stop myself from lifting my arms like a marionette willing my puppet master to guide my next move.
“I need to catch up with your brother Sean,” Harrison said, offering a polite withdrawal from an increasingly awkward situation. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to thank him or beg him not to leave me alone.
Sebastian didn’t waste a beat. Hell, he didn’t even wait for Harrison to part ways before he pulled me into his arms as if I belonged to him. No formality or delicate grace. A possessive hold with my body tight against his, his hands skirting closely to my arse.
I looped my arms around the back of his neck, no other place to go aside from his back, which felt too intimate, even though he was holding me in just such a way, and I hated to admit how much I enjoyed it.
“The mask suits you,” I whispered without thinking.
“I’m used to them.” His brows remained straight, giving nothing away. No indication of a joke, but I had a feeling he was referring to the more metaphorical type of mask than literal, and even I felt the same every once in a while.
We were barely moving. Right left. Right left. About as simple as we could get. But it didn’t seem to matter.
“You own anything aside from Brioni?”
His custom tux was timeless and sophisticated. The black, single-breasted jacket enhanced his broad frame. But it was too elegant for him, for a man who had rough edges. It was as if the fabric could barely contain his raw strength and power.
“You know your designers.”
“Once upon a time, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I probably can’t even sketch a stick figure now, let alone draw clothes.”
His Adam’s apple moved with a hard swallow, drawing my eyes to the sun-kissed, tan skin of his throat.
How was he tan this time of year? I was so pale compared to him. Maybe he spent his weekends on tropical islands having orgies?
“What happened, why aren’t you following your dreams?” His eyes, once again, snatched my focus, and his mouth became a white slash.
“Forced to grow up,” I admitted, a bit too easily. But it was also true. “But hey, I also wanted to be a backup dancer for Madonna. And headline my own Vegas magic show.”
When his lips actually quirked into a smile—a real one, not the I-make-you-wet-and-I-like-it one—I matched the smile with one of my own.
“Silly childhood dreams. That’s all they ever were.”
“And now? What are your dreams now? You must have some.” A simple sincerity glided through his tone so effortlessly I didn’t even question whether or not he had a hidden agenda.
“I have a tendency to look at only what I can see right in front of me,” I said softly.
“Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.” He held me a little tighter, and I considered asking about his dreams, but I was growing lightheaded in his arms.
I drew in a deep breath to ground myself. But his cologne, the dark notes, so smooth and rich, teased my senses.
He was getting to me. Under my skin like always. Being this close to him, with his hands on my body, it was confusing.
I was supposed to be mad at him, especially after he pulled that shit about the Limerick sale in the office earlier. I shouldn’t be smiling, thinking about my dreams. Thinking about how this fairy tale night now felt complete with him there, even if it didn’t make any sense.
“My parents had a masquerade party here every year when I was a kid,” I admitted as if I needed to explain the sudden pull of my lips into the smile I shouldn’t wear around him.
His eyes moved to the side, and I tracked his gaze to find my parents dancing. My heart jumped in my chest, and I nearly bowed my head to his chest as liquid gathered in my eyes at the sight. When I’d seen my parents dancing at Adam and Anna’s wedding in the summer, I’d assumed it was for Adam’s benefit, a bit of a peace treaty on a sacred night. But there was something different in the way Da held Ma in his arms tonight. Love anew, maybe. Well, a girl could dream.
“They’ll be okay,” he whispered into my ear. For the life of me, I couldn’t fathom how he knew the right words to say, or why he’d care to make the effort.
Something about the sincerity in his tone, in his words, had me locking up. Was he trying to play on my emotions? Manipulate me?
I couldn’t let him hurt my family. We’d already been through far too much this year for more damage. I needed a break, a moment to breathe.
“I know what you want,” I whispered, forcing the words to the surface. The truth had to exist between us. If I buried it, I’d lose myself in his eyes and his embrace.
“And what is it that I want?” He tipped his head just a hair and gave me a familiar look, one that only he could pull off. Casual and commanding at the same time. A predator, like a venomous snake, luring an unsuspecting prey.
I stepped back, removing myself from his hold. His arms hung at his sides for a moment before he slowly deposited his hands into his trouser pockets.
“You want our company. And I think”—I wet my lips, the taste of cranberry-flavored gloss on my tongue—“you also want me.”
He was quiet for a moment. “I did come with a date,” was all he said, his expression blank.
I followed his eyes to a leggy blonde in a tight silver dress near the bar, her hand on Ethan’s chest. My brother was leaving on Monday to work out of our New York office for a few weeks. Da thought it might motivate him to finally get involved in the business by giving him a change of scenery. I highly doubted the trip would encourage Ethan to get serious about his life, though. Women and having fun were his main priorities.
“She looks really invested in your relationship,” I said when resetting my focus back on him.
“She’s not my girlfriend.” A raw bite of need traveled through his tone, emphasized by the flare of his nostrils and a stormy look directed right at me. I could feel it between my legs.
“I, um, I can’t do this.” I hated the crack in my voice—the obvious earth-shattering effect he had on me.
I felt beautiful and sexy in this gorgeous gown and fairy tale mask, and with him looking at me like he already owned me—I might give in. It was very possible I’d let him claim me as his, at least for one night. And regret would fill every crevice of my being afterward.
“I . . .” Suddenly, it was as if someone had wrapped a hand around my throat and squeezed. “I need air.” I grabbed the hem of my dress and started for the exit as if I had to escape before the clock struck twelve and my chariot turned into a pumpkin.
I had to get far away from The Deal Maker, or I might be tempted to trade my integrity for an orgasm.
Sean stepped in front of me, bringing my escape to a halt. “You okay? He say something to you?”
“We danced. That’s all. I was being polite since we have so many eyes on us.”
So many lies.
Honestly, I’d wanted to dance with Sebastian, to have an excuse for him to touch me.
I’d wanted to savor the moment and keep it for later tonight when I’d imagine his hands dragging slowly over the curves of my body.
I’m going to hell, and great, Sebastian’s the devil, so we’ll be together for eternity. Twenty-six years of being rational and calm flew out the door when this man came into my life.
“Huh?” I blinked my focus back to Sean’s face.
“Want me to kick him out of here? You look ghostly. You sure he didn’t upset you?”
“No, please.” I shook my head. “It wouldn’t look good with Harrison here. I think he already suspects something is off with Sebastian, and I’m worried that could cause issues.”
His mouth tightened momentarily. “I wasn’t expecting Reed in Dublin today, let alone at your party. You said you’d been chatting with him these last few months, but are you two—”
“No,” I said a bit too loudly.
“I know his reputation. You should be careful.”
“He’s like you.” Dislike of my brother’s playboy attitude burned through my words.
He looked heavenward for a moment. “This is your birthday, Sweets.”
Sweets, his nickname for me because of my childhood sweet tooth. Wasn’t I too old for that name now? And was I all that sweet anymore given the inappropriate thoughts racing through me lately?
He squeezed my arm. “I just want you to be happy.”
“And I am.” I pulled him in for a hug, hoping he’d let this go. I didn’t need him stressing about me. I was doing a damn fine job of stressing about myself already.
“If you change your mind about Sebastian, let me know.”
“I won’t, but thank you.” I patted him twice on the chest, then cut through the crowd to get out of the room.
I set my mask back on the table outside the ballroom, then grabbed my jacket from the coat check and exited the hotel. The chilled air nipped at my face, and it was exactly what I needed to reduce the heat inside of me.
Heading for the park, I crossed the street, doing my best to avoid twisting an ankle by keeping my heels from getting caught between the cracks of the cobblestone.
I passed under the Fusilier’s Arch and started for the ornamental lake. The park had been well maintained, with walls of trees and other greenery. It was a perfect escape from urban life while still being in the city.
A place to reset my focus.
I had to figure out why the hell I was so attracted to Sebastian aside from his gorgeous looks. Handsome men didn’t routinely turn me into a timid and shy girl with stars in her eyes.
Was his effect a result of sex deprivation? It’d been a year, so maybe. The last time had been with my brother’s best friend, Les. Och, what a horrible mistake. And it could best be described as trying to play naked Twister. Les had been hitting on me for years, and I’d finally given in after too much to drink. But nope, we’d never work at all.
Before him . . . I couldn’t remember. I was too young to be having such a dry spell.
Maybe I worked too much. More likely, I was just too picky. And as luck would have it, I seemed to have a thing for dangerous men. Well, one dangerous man.
Surely Sebastian would have sex tonight. Probably rip that woman’s dress off in one fast swoop. Provide her with so many orgasms she wouldn’t be able to see straight.
And good for her. I didn’t need his mouth between my legs. I didn’t want that sexy scruff scraping inside my thighs as his tongue teased my clit.
Nope. Not at all.
I stopped walking once I reached the lake, my shoulders sagging from the weight of the jealousy flowing through me.
There was a time I probably wouldn’t have roamed the park at night alone, but the city had been safer lately. Crime at a minimum.
One of the reasons was probably the death of Donovan Hannigan. The local crime boss had been the cause for so many problems in our family, not just for the city. It’d been a relief he was gone, but his murder had dragged our family’s name into the spotlight with the Garda wondering if we were behind his death given our grudge against him. Either way, the man who’d once had a firm grip on Adam was dead. I should say God rest his soul, but I hoped he was rotting in bloody hell.
I buried my face in my palms, trying to get a grip, but at the awareness of someone behind me, I began to turn, expecting it to be Sean. I was wrong—because Don’t move was whispered into my ear, followed by, Give me your purse.
Was this really happening? This wasn’t how a fairy tale masquerade ball was supposed to end. Swept away by a prince, yes. Not robbed by some punk.
I lifted my hands in the air and faced him anyway. “I don’t have a purse, as you can see.”
He wore a black hoodie, but the hood around his face did nothing to disguise the fact he was probably only a teenager.
I didn’t see a weapon, so I started to lower my hands, but he lunged my way, and I stumbled back and fell.
“I said don’t move.” He cursed as he crouched next to me and began going through my coat pockets.
He won’t hurt me, I told myself.
I carefully placed my palms on the ground on each side of me and sucked in a breath, holding still as he searched me, hoping if I didn’t move he’d just leave me the hell alone.
“That coat. It looks expensive,” he said. “Take it off.”
I stood, my hands trembling as I fumbled with the buttons.
“Now,” he barked out.
I quickly finished, but as I moved to shrug the coat from my shoulders, I caught sight of someone closing in on us.
It all happened so fast.
Quick movements. Almost like a dark shadow had come out of nowhere.
The boy flew to the ground and landed hard on his back, groaning. Sebastian knelt over him and punched him across the jaw, then fisted his hoodie, lifting him up a little, before his fist connected with his face again, sending him flat on his back.
“Do you know who I am?” Sebastian seethed, leaning in.
“Stop,” I begged when he pulled the boy to his feet as if weightless.
He clutched the material of his hoodie with both hands, bringing his face closer, and I rested a palm on Sebastian’s back. His body steel beneath my touch.
“Sebastian. Let him go,” I urged. “He’s only a kid.”
“You ever touch another woman again, and I’ll . . .” He dropped his words as if now realizing there were people in the park watching the scene unfold. He released his grip on the boy, and the kid stumbled and fell before getting back up again to take off.
“Are you okay?” He turned to face me, the harsh intensity of anger written on his face and in every taut line of his body. Mask gone as well, although he didn’t need it to intimidate because the anger he’d been wearing was far scarier than black leather.
“What were you thinking? You could’ve killed him.” My attention flitted to his hands still bunched at his sides.
He stepped closer, the nearby lamppost dragging a shadow across his face, hiding his eyes. “Why were you alone in the park at night? Don’t you know any better?”
“I thought I’d be safe.” Dublin really had been better since Donovan turned up dead, plus one of the other leaders of a gang had wound up behind bars this year.
The few people around us began to disperse, and honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be left alone with him.
Less shaken up now, I managed out, “He probably needed money for food.”
“Or drugs.” Sebastian turned, swiping a hand over the back of his dark head. “And he should never have touched you.”
“I fell. It was an accident.”
He looked in the direction the boy had run and said something under his breath. A curse in French, maybe. “I shouldn’t have let him go. If he hurts someone else because I set him free . . .”
“Thanks for the assist, but he wouldn’t have hurt me.”
“You can’t know that.” He whirled to face me.
“You’re much scarier than him,” I murmured, my throat dry. “I promise.”
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