It was on occasions like these that Eden realized how very little she mattered to her husband. He never failed to remind her of her status in their marriage, whether it was with his remarks, that have only grown nastier over the years, or the reproachful looks, that seemed to carve across her flesh like a whip. Like now for instance, she could feel that piercing stare from across the room, the distinct bite of his scorn putting her instantly on alert. She hadn’t really done anything in the last few minutes to warrant the reaction, but then again, Dominic Armstrong didn’t need much to set him off these days. She sighed resignedly, daring to look away fully knowing that he would discipline her for this unknown reason later. Eden grabbed a champagne flute from the tray of a passing waiter before escaping to the veranda for some much needed air. They were up in the Grafton Highlands, at another dull event that he’d dragged her to, because he wanted to flaunt her to his equally wealthy friends.

He’d made their roles distinctively clear from the beginning, and she’d gone along with it because she’d needed the protection of his name and the money that went along with it. She had been one eviction notice away from homelessness, and he’d done it to, “keep her from ruining his younger brother’s life,” as he’d put it. Lucas Armstrong had been a good customer of Eden’s; coming to Crazy Pussy for a good year before he’d proposed marriage. But then his big, bad brother, the head of the Armstrong family, had gotten wind of his errant brother’s ridiculous idea and had marched in to shut the whole thing down. Once he’d seen to bully his brother back to college where he belonged, threatening his inheritance if he refused to cooperate, Dominic had zeroed in on Eden. He’d stalked the club for a good month after that, always sitting in that wingback chair in the front row, his predatory gaze watching her every night she’d performed. He’d frightened her to the core, big and boorish as he’d been, waiting patiently, artfully manipulating every aspect of Eden’s life until she’d come to him.

Since he’d wanted her badly enough, he’d grudgingly agreed to her one condition: marriage. Mistresses were expendable, wives were a little harder to dispose of, and Eden had been armed with at least that little knowledge. He’d given her a day before finally coming to her with his own terms. It’d been overwhelming; the legalese of the documents he’d presented with his attorney had all been a jumble to her. Logic had warned her not to sign the papers before having a lawyer look them over, but she’d been blinded by the seven-carat diamond ring he’d presented her with. Their wedding had been a quiet affair with little frill, and the honeymoon had been on a private island on the Mediterranean Sea. Twenty-three to his thirty-five, Dominic Armstrong, media mogul and one of Fortune 500’s top five wealthiest people, had paid quite handsomely to possess her, to own every inch of her, a fact he rarely forgot to remind her. He was the bread winner, the Alpha dog with a type A personality, and Eden was tasked to do simply two things: be the arm candy in public and a whore in bed.

He made sure he stirred a response from her each and every time he fucked her, and while he tended to be quite cruel when the mood stuck him, he received a sick fascination from hearing her beg for more. But Eden never protested, never complained in the face of his oftentimes sadistic streaks. She was the dutiful, obedient wife who lived a lavishly luxurious life, and in exchange, he could damn well treat her however he wanted. In comparison to the squalor she’d grown up in and the poverty she and her single mother had faced, Eden would say that her marriage to Dominic was a small price to pay.

She downed the champagne in one go and set the flute on the balustrade. She peered down just below into the nothingness and silently mused whether the darkness would catch her if she plummeted. Giving into a sudden bout of inanity, Eden slipped out of the four inch heels that had cost a small fortune and lifted herself up on the ledge. She bit her bottom lip to keep her smile at bay as she spread out her arms and closed her eyes. Fear was not an emotion she felt here, it was simply the darkness around her and the summer breeze caressing her skin. Exhilaration swept through her, the wind making her feel like she was flying. In that moment she was free. Freedom enveloped her on all sides and took her away from everything. Up here she was nothing and everything all at once. She opened her eyes and looked down into the abyss, facing her mortality. Laughter burbled up from the pits of her stomach and escaped on the wind.

“Don’t jump.” The unexpected sound of that voice shattered through Eden’s introspection, startling her completely. She wavered, her body teetering towards the precipice and her heart racing, now for a completely different reason as real fear poured like ice water into her veins. She was going to fall, she thought inanely, but then… she wasn’t. Instead, she was forcefully yanked backwards by an unyielding manacle of flesh around her waist. Eden landed unceremoniously on top of her rescuer in complete disarray, stunned at what had almost been her death.

“I do sincerely hope this isn’t what it looks like, Eden?”

Her senses returned just then, and her husband’s drawl had Eden closing her own eyes for a brief second, attempting to regroup herself before she had to face him. She came to her feet unsteadily, unconsciously leaning on the guy who’d not only caused this mess, but had also rescued her from impending death. When she found her footing, Eden turned to him with a tentative smile before meeting her husband’s gaze. There was nothing on Dominic’s classically handsome features that indicated his fury; he looked unperturbed, bored even with this scene, but Eden knew the truth. She’d become a veteran in reading his moods and nothing foretold it more than those cold green eyes.

“Well, I’m not sure what it looks like to you, sweetheart, but this man just saved my life.”

“Did he?” he retorted, sizing up the other man and quickly dismissing him as someone of no consequence. “And what exactly was it that he saved you from, pet?”

Caught once more beneath that cold green stare, Eden attempted another tactic knowing that she was only making it worse for herself. “I was being silly,” she said with a small laugh, raking a hand through her hair to act every bit the airhead he believed her to be. “I was sitting on the ledge, not realizing how much I’ve had to drink. This man…” She stopped suddenly looking at the man with the blue eyes. “I’m sorry…I didn’t catch your name.”


“Matt came along and pulled me down just before I tipped over.”

“Well then, we should commend Bruce on hiring such agile employees.” He smoothly took off his dinner jacket and swept it over Eden’s shoulders. “And you, dear wife,” he tugged on the lapels of the jacket to bring her closer to him, “need to be a lot more careful.” The kiss was not only meant to exhibit ownership, but it was precursor to the punishment that was to come. “Now, let’s go home.” When he made to lead them away, Eden set a gentle hand on his chest to halt his progress.

“What about the man who rescued the woman you love?” Dominic looked down at her and Eden knew she’d pushed too far, but she wanted him to acknowledge the man—Matt—for what he’d done. Eden wanted to watch her husband lower himself for a moment to the man he’d dismissed as nothing more than something he found under his shoe.

“Very well.” He disengaged himself from her and slipped a hand inside his pocket. “What’s the going rate for rescuing damsels these days? Two…three hundred?”

“A thousand dollars should do it, I think,” Eden said with a touch of spite, meeting those blue eyes that peered at her curiously.

“A thousand dollars,” Dominic chuckled drily, “I seem to recall paying a lot more for you, my sweet.”

Eden blanched and her heart slammed painfully against her breastbone at the backhanded comment. He was so much better at playing this game of malice than she was. To think that she’d set out to humiliate him just now, but he’d volleyed so effortlessly, hitting her exactly where he knew it would hurt the most. She felt so sick all of sudden, and the air outside wasn’t enough to ease the tightening in her chest.

“I’m good,” she heard Matt say, “I was just doing my job, sir.”

“Then we’ll let you get back to it.” He turned away from Matt, a sure dismissal as any, before setting a hand at the small of Eden’s back, leading her away.



Many would think that being adopted into the one of the world’s wealthiest families would have made things easier for Sophie Grayson. But wealth and privilege cannot erase the deep-seated scars etched on her soul. Haunted by the horrifying events of her childhood, Sophie’s life begins to spiral out of control leading her down a path of self-destruction that she doesn’t know how to escape from. When she meets Roan Westport again—her one time almost step brother her world comes a screeching halt and she is startled to realize how attracted she is to him. Sophie proposes sex, but Roan wants something far more valuable.

Roan Westport didn’t even realize he was going through the motions, barely living until he met Sophie again. The chemistry between them is undeniably intense, but there are far deeper issues at play then Sophie lets on and the closer he gets to her the further away she pushes him. When Roan finally sees the extent of Sophie’s scars, will he be strong enough to stay and help her or is Sophie far too gone to ever be loved?



It took her only seconds to realize she was being followed, the steady footfalls of her pursuer kept in perfect rhythm with her hurried ones. With the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end, Sophie knew it had nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with instinct telling her to run. Fight or flight. Sophie chose to flee. Her lengthened strides became a full sprint, arms and legs maddeningly pumped to push her to freedom which was an only yards away.

If she made it out to The Strip, someone was bound to help her. But hope died a terrible death the very second she was tackled to the ground. The side of her face scraped the snow covered asphalt.

The pain and cold that jarred her senses were inconsequential in her furious struggles to get away. With limbs flailing, Sophie quickly exerted herself but could not stop her attempt to buck her assailant off. She made a few satisfying hits before her arms were brutally wrenched backwards, bringing them to the knee digging painfully into her back. Her agonized screams echoed off the walls and were immediately carried off by the whistling wind.

No one came to help.

The pain was so excruciating that Sophie felt her vision blurring, but the harsh breath at her ear kept her from losing consciousness. “Do you have any fucking idea how long I watched you dance with that fucking dyke? Great show you put on.” Oh God, Roman. Sophie’s heart stuttered in her chest, her breath quickened.

“Rom…Roman…?” There was a noncommittal grunt before her assailant, who Sophie knew without the slightest bit of doubt to be the overgrown bouncer, jerked her to her feet. She was brusquely shoved to the nearest wall, her face practically kissing the ice cold bricks.

“I should’ve known you were nothing but a cock tease. You’re all the same—pretty fucking sluts good for nothing but eye candy.” His considerable weight bore down on Sophie, flattening her against the wet bricks. The hard-on he sported pressed uncomfortably against the small of her back. She shifted, attempting to push away, but only managed to arouse Roman even more. “Yeah, baby, that’s it. You want this big cock, don’t you?”

“Fuck you!” Sophie growled.

“My fucking pleasure, baby.” Sophie eyes widened as she felt Roman’s hand in front of her jeans. He popped open the button, then the zipper followed suit and too soon she was standing with her ass exposed to the elements and Roman’s roving hand.

“Get off me, you sick fuck! Someone help! Please help!”

“Yeah, baby, that’s it, scream for it. You have no idea how much I’m going to enjoy fucking your little tight pussy. God, I bet you’re going to be so tight with my fat dick…” Roman did not have a chance to finish his lascivious comment and Sophie found out why seconds later as she turned around and saw two guys pummeling the rapist out of Roman. The blows raining down on him were so hard that Sophie swore she heard bones breaking.

“Are you all right?” Sophie nearly jumped out of her skin at the hand that settled on her shoulder. She nervously shied away then crumpled to the ground in a boneless heap. Shock, pain and relief meshed together to a form a giant lump that would not leave her throat no matter how many times she swallowed. “It’s OK now. You’re safe.” The one who’d touched her shoulder crouched down with a sympathetic smile on her face.

Sophie gaped. She was beautiful in ways that the moon was beautiful. Ethereal and silvery. Wisps of platinum hair escaped the long braid she had over her shoulder and danced in front of them like plumes of white smoke. Her big cornflower eyes peered at her with a sort of concern she was used to getting from her mom.

“Hey man, stop it.  He’s out! You’re going to kill him! ROAN!” Sophie’s head whipped sideways where a man knelt over Roman’s body. The maddening blows he sent to the unmoving body were sickeningly fascinating. He would’ve continued his efforts, Sophie was sure, had it not been for the other guy yanking him off the unconscious body. “Dude, enough!” He shook sense into him, then stepped away only when he knew it was safe to do so.

Roan finally glanced her way; their gaze met, held and locked. For an impossible eternity there was only the two of them. He looked just as good as the last time she’d seen him. If anything, he looked even better. He wore navy blue jeans well…a little too well in Sophie’s opinion; her surreptitious gaze trailing effortlessly higher taking further stock of what else Roan Westport wore well. The black polo sweater he donned beneath the knitted scarf did nothing in hiding the broadness of his shoulders or the bulging muscles Sophie could only assume laid beneath.

Mindlessly, she wondered why he wasn’t wearing a jacket in such frigid weather, but that thought quickly evaporated as he approached. The snow crunched beneath his booted feet and when he stood close enough for Sophie to touch his pant leg, he came down to his haunches, reached out a bloodied hand and cradled Sophie’s bruised face.

“You still have a knack for getting yourself into trouble, don’t you, brat?” he asked gently, the slight upturn of his lips turned the insult into an endearment.

“And I see you’ve developed a hero-complex, Roan.”

He shrugged even as his beautiful mouth quirked. “What can I say? I take my Good Samaritan duties seriously. Come on.” He helped Sophie to her feet, lightening quick reflexes caught her when she made to topple right back down. “Easy there, just lean on me.” Holding Sophie against him, in his tight, warm embrace, he turned his attention to his friends. “I got it from here, guys. I’ll take her home.”

“You two know each other?” inquired the pale haired woman, her curious gaze jumping first from Sophie and then to Roan.

“Yeah…she used to be family.”


After so many years of heartbreak, Ellie Holbrook is finally happy. And she has good reason to be, she’s getting married! But fate quickly intervenes in the form of Nicholas Grayson who is set to strike a business deal with Ellie’s fiancé. But the worse of it comes when Nicholas finally discovers the two little secrets Ellie kept from him after so many years. All hell breaks loose and it’s all Ellie can do to safeguard her heart against heart break once again.

Ruthless business magnate Nicholas Grayson has sacrificed everything to amass his global empire. Seated at the very top, poised at the helm of his corporation nothing can possibly touch him. That is until he learns the truth about the twin children Ellie kept from him. But just when he shakes off the astonishment and works on integrating himself into their lives, an enemy from both Ellie and Nicholas’s past brutally rips his children away from them.

A race against time will yield devastating events and Nicholas and Ellie must rely on each other to save their children.

So the four horsemen weren’t galloping at her side, inauspiciously awaiting her demise. Ellie had to admit she did carry with her the nagging propensity to exaggerate things. But to be fair, it only happened when it came to things she had no control over, like this party for one. Despite how it began, she was having a great time. The guests were a bit much to handle but Ellie handled them just fine. She found herself laughing and genuinely enjoying the company around her.

One person in particular she found absolutely charming went by the name of Theodore Yates. He was around Ellie’s age, had a love for animals and he was quite handsome underneath the mop of shaggy chestnut hair. In a way, he reminded Ellie of Maddie, with his easy smiles and open friendliness. The gears in Ellie’s head began to spin and vaguely she wondered whether Theodore would be interested in her recluse of a friend. Sure, Maddie was overseas right now, going crazy over some newly discovered fossils and couldn’t be bothered to leave her site, but Ellie figured that was why they invented cell phones. She would give Maddie’s number to Theodore, Theodore would call and voila! Match made in Ellie heaven. They were perfect for each other and it was about time Maddie found someone to settle down with.

Six years ago, they’d reacquainted, settled past feuds and agreed to always be mindful of the other. Friends had to trust each other, no matter how jealous, angry or upset they got, and if the situation ever proved to be particularly disastrous, talking was always the best way to go. They’d been children, they’d made mistakes and as adults they’d been big enough to realize it, and so Ellie and Maddie forgave and moved on, never once looking back. That had been years ago and though Maddie spent the majority of her time out of the country, they always kept in contact. Maddie hadn’t been able to make it to the engagement party, but she had promised to come back for the week long wedding celebration they were having on Ellie’s behalf.

“So, Theodore, are you seeing anyone?” He’d be a perfect wedding date for Maddie.

Taking a sip of his drink to hide his blush, Theodore responded with. “I don’t think you’re my type.”

Ellie had to stop herself from coughing out her laughter. “As smooth as you may be Casanova, I wasn’t asking for myself. I have a friend—”

“Hello soon to be wife.” Devlin greeted, wrapping an arm around Ellie’s waist. “Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?” With a passing guest stealing Theodore away, Ellie didn’t feel terribly guilty when she favored Devlin with her attention.

“It bears repeating, soon to be husband.”

“Well then, you are by far the most amazingly beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

Ellie laughed softly, stepping into his arms. “And you are a very bad liar.” Wrapping her arms around his neck she smiled brightly. “But I love you for being so sweet.” He made her feel cherished, especially tonight when his attention had been solely on her, never leaving her side unless absolutely necessary. He’d been the perfect gentlemen, the adoring, attentive fiancé, introducing her to family, friends and co-workers alike as if she was the most precious thing in the world to him.

He was unabashed in his love for her, showing all in attendance how much he adored her and continued to do so now as he lowered his head and kissed her, his full mouth upon hers, a sweet seduction that had Ellie’s body responding instantly.

Stopping before they got carried away, Ellie pulled back and smiled, swiping her lipstick from his mouth. “This is a great shade on you.” He laughed and leaned forward to kiss her again when the clearing of someone’s throat put an instant halt to his action.

Ellie’s heart stopped, quite literally ceased to beat in her chest. Breath squeezed painfully in her stilled lungs as her stomach muscles contracted with dread at the sight of him.

Oh hell. Her eyes closed, feeling faint, she held onto Devlin for dear life, refusing to contemplate letting go. Fate was cruel.



They created the game but eighteen year old Nicholas Grayson mastered the rules.

They are young and entitled and utterly bored with their lives, so they play games to entertain themselves. They call it the “bet” and new girl Ellie Holbrook is their latest target. Ellie is not the kind of girl Nicholas dates, but she is pretty enough to be his next conquest and so he sets out to seduce her and claim a nice little prize at the end. But her seduction proves difficult when she openly rejects his advances. In his dogged pursuit of her he slowly finds himself in her small circle of trusted friends and meets her two year old daughter, Sophie.

Life takes a startling turn for Nicholas when he realizes his happiness now lies with the young mother and her daughter. Falling in love with Ellie isn’t something Nicholas ever thought could happen to him and he’s completely frightened at how fiercely she makes him feel. But before he can further examine those emotions and clearly process them, enemies from Nicholas’s personal circle of friends conspire to tear them apart and he must now decide whether their love is worth saving or allow his friends to take away the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

Nicholas Grayson wasn’t a nice person. In fact one could call him an asshole and he wouldn’t dispute it. He was as jaded as they come, eighteen years old, with a moral compass fixed permanently on diabolical. He was an emotional cripple with the personality of a cactus. He understood his faults and embraced each one with gusto.

His goals in life were to piss off his parents, break a few laws and generally screw his way through life. He was a good looking kid, born with movie star looks, a little James Dean with Brando’s swagger thrown into the mix to make the female populace of John Edgar High swoon.

He was fully aware of his power over the fairer sex and he used that knowledge for his own selfish end.

It was a game his group of friends played and Nicholas excelled at it. He’d slept with nearly every girl on campus, seduced each and every one with practiced ease that had become second nature, like breathing.

The sex was initially meant to stave off the boredom; another vice to add to the growing list of evils he’d accumulated over the years. But then, like all things in his life, sex had become nauseatingly easy to obtain.

“Nicky.” The breathy call of his name had Nicholas peering over his shoulder where Maddie Tate, “Fatty Maddie”, as she was known by many in his circle, looked at him with sickening adoration.

Lounging across his king sized mattress in post-coital bliss, she looked every bit the sated lover with her tousled cinnamon red hair, flushed face, and gleaming azure eyes. It would be so simple, he thought, returning his gaze to the tripod in front of him. She was in love with him. Had been for quite some time now and would undoubtedly do anything he asked of her.

It would take nothing to manipulate her and bend her to his will. Nicholas was sure that she would follow him. Fortunately for her, he wasn’t in a position to acquire a sycophant, although undying adoration did have its perks.

Her seduction hadn’t presented much of a challenge, just as he knew it wouldn’t. She was just another notch in this game he’s come to master. Another pawn to use and discard when he was finished.

He wasn’t attracted to her in the least and the fact that she practically panted after him made her less appealing. The fact is Nicholas had been feeling charitable at the time. Therefore the seduction of Maddie Tate hadn’t taken much doing. He’d made a video of all their sordid acts just as he always had done and stood to win five hundred dollars for his troubles. Chump change as far as he was concerned, but a win nevertheless.

“N–Nicholas…”, the voice was little hesitant this time. he heard the rustling of sheets as she rose.

“Get out.” This was the part he relished the most. Sadist that he was, he caught the hitch of her breath and reveled in it.

“I—um—did I do something wrong?”

He took a moment tinkering with the camera before turning to give her his undivided attention, mouth curling into a bastardized version of a smile. “Well,” he moved with effortless grace, swagger unmatched, open and welcoming in contrast to the calculated, almost predatory look in his diamond grey eyes. “You didn’t bore me completely.”

Her face crumpled.  The ensuing expression nearly heartbreaking as tears welled. If he cared he would’ve felt something other than this deep rooted annoyance and sudden need to see her out of his bedroom. “Now, please get your shit and get out.” It didn’t take long after that. Shoving him aside with surprising strength she gathered her things and was out like a shot.

Now, Nicholas figured, she’d grow to hate him like so many of the others who’d come before her.

It was what he did best. Fuck ‘em and leave ‘em. He lived by those words, using a slightly different variation out of the bedroom.

He was his father’s child after all; he had learned about screwing people from the master himself. A deprecating smile tugged at his lips and Nicholas knew his demons were not far. He could hear the menacing gait of their hooved feet making a steady trek to the forefront of his mind, carrying with them memories he would sooner forget.

Grabbing the half emptied bottle of whiskey from his dresser Nicholas made his way to the balcony in his bedroom. He took a mouthful, and then another, feeling decidedly better as each swig burned a warm path down his throat. Maneuvering himself over the balcony’s ledge he sat precariously over the edge, legs dangling four stories over the gleaming pool below.

Shit, he was feeling maudlin. Why? He hadn’t the slightest idea. Only that the memories refused to be quelled, refused to be inundated by the liquor as per usual. The sudden image of his father fleeted across his vision and Nicholas gave a humorless laugh. Well wasn’t that just a kick in the teeth? Even at his lowest he continued to be haunted by the immoral bastard.

Charles Grayson, CEO and founder of one of the nation’s largest real estate firms was the devil incarnate and Nicholas could attest to that. He’d been ten years old when the first lesson had been imparted. There’d been an incident in school involving him and another student. Nicholas couldn’t remember exactly what it was he’d done, but he remembered he’d been mean and had been fittingly reprimanded for it by his teacher. Charles had somehow gotten word of it and swiftly rectified the situation. The teacher was terminated, credentials ruined and she’d been unable to find work in the states again. This action was quite extreme and cruel for something so little, but then Charles had never been the sentimental sort.

He was a ruthless man whose underhanded business tactics had gained him his empire. Therefore when it came to his son, Charles was merciless. He’d taken the ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ ideology quite seriously and the scars of those lessons were now imprinted on Nicholas’s soul.

Nicholas took another swig from the bottle while raking a hand through his overlong hair. He was agitated and dear old Jack wasn’t doing it for him tonight. Needing a distraction that was something quite possibly stronger, he headed back to his bedroom and finished off the last of the amber liquid before tossing it aside.

He needed out and having just the place, he threw on some clothes and hastened out the bedroom. Somewhere in the vast cavernous mansion a clock tolled midnight but there would be no one to stop him from trekking out the front door. No parental guidance. He found his sport bike in the driveway and jumped on the leather seat. Nicholas revved the engine and gunned down the silent streets.


The infamous Matthew Bates and his revels of depravity were in full swing when Nicholas pulled into the graveled driveway a half hour later. Located in the cloistered parts of Belmont Heights, the Bates mansion stood among the rest of the Georgian houses in all its grand glory. The surrounding of trees gave each home the illusion of privacy and none was needed more than around the Bates mansion.

With purposeful strides Nicholas waded through the milling throng of inebriated teens, the dark expression on his face curtailing anyone from halting his progress. The further he went into the house, the louder the music became. It rumbled in his bones, a throbbing dark seduction of African drums and ripping electric guitars.

Beneath the canopy of multihued disco balls and freakish psychedelic laser shows, the masses danced, their sweat stained bodies gyrating to the cultish beats rumbling through the floor. This was a Matthew Bates party. This was a world within a world where the young and prurient youths of Cedar Falls escaped to play, mingled and danced to their hearts’ content. They overlooked social mores and class and instead enemies danced with mutual abandon, friends became lovers, and a kiss or a hug, was as natural as breathing air.

Under the spell, beneath the wicked, shadowed web of the potent atmosphere, everyone was sexy and beautiful. The alcohol and drugs flowed in abundance and with the scent of marijuana weighing heavily in the air, Nicholas knew he’d found his best friend.

Seated at a poker table with a gaggle of people he didn’t recognize, Nicholas watched from the kitchen threshold as his friend took a hit from the blunt he held between his fingers before passing it along to someone on his left.

“Read ‘em and weep, bitches, straight flush!” The group of guys at the table groaned as Matt stood to collect his winnings. It didn’t take long for him to spot Nicholas; the toothy grin on his lips was far too contagious. “Well, if it isn’t the devil himself! Where the hell have you been all summer, Grayson?” He grabbed two beer bottles from the cooler on the floor, tossing one to Nicholas as he approached him. They came together in embrace, Matt clapping Nicholas on the back before pulling away.

“I could ask you the same.” Nicholas said with grin. “Keepin’ it busy I see.”

Matt returned the grin as he lead Nicholas out of the dining room they headed up the spiral staircase, dodging more than a few drunken advances. “What can I say, Nicky, I aim to please. Who am I to deny our peers one last hurrah before school starts?”

“Been doing this all summer?”

“Mostly.” Matt said.  He pushed his bedroom door open and allowed Nicholas entrance. “I had to pay Gregory and the golden child a visit to Boston for a few weeks; it seems Alex got a job at some prestigious law firm.”

‘The Golden child’, also known as Alexander Bates, was Matt’s bane of existence and had been since Nicholas could remember. There had always been competition between the brothers spurred on by the Bates’ patriarch. Gregory Bates did not hide the fact that he preferred Alexander to Matt.

Matt discovered the reason of his father’s bias a few years ago at his mother’s funeral. She’d been unfaithful, his father had said, his face as grim as ever. Matt was told that he was the result of an affair his mother had many years ago. It was understood that Gregory would adopt the illegitimate child as his own and provide all the Bates opportunities, if his wife kept the sordid little secrets she’d discovered about her own husband out of the press.

It’d been a nice little deal that had kept Matt ignorant and his mother in the lap of luxury until she’d passed. So now Matt was the eternal screw up. It was a role he played well, had perfected it quite nicely after meeting Nicholas. They were as close as brothers, their dysfunctions unifying that bond.

Matt walked over to the antique dresser by his bedside and removed a small black box. “I was sent back to exile once the old man found I was up to my old ways again. But, I did manage to pick up a little something before leaving.” The mischievous glint in his dark blue eyes hinted at something with which Nicholas was all too familiar with.

Drugs, alcohol and sex. They were the masters of vice.

“Care for a taste?” Matt shook the small pewter box he held in his hand and the tantalizing rattle of Nicholas’s escape beckoned him. Temporary bliss would come in the form of a little blue pill. This was the distraction he was counting on. Matt could always be counted on for that.

“Break out the whiskey.”


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