From Sanctum with Love, Masters and Mercenaries Book 10, Now Available!


Psychologist Kai Ferguson has had his eye on Kori Williamson for a long time. His assistant is everything he’s ever wanted in a partner—smart, caring, witty, and a bit of a masochist. More than a little, actually, but that’s the problem. Kori won’t admit her own desires. She’s afraid of him and what he has to offer. Luckily for her, helping patients face their fears is one of his specialties.


Kori knows she wants Kai. Her boss is the most amazing man she’s ever met. She’s also smart enough to stay away from him. Having been down this road before, she knows it only leads to heartache. She’s just found a place where she can belong. Another failed relationship is the last thing she needs. It’s better to guard her heart and let Kai think she’s frightened of his dark, dominant nature.


When Kai is recruited for an operation with McKay-Taggart, everything is turned upside down. Kai’s brother, international superstar Jared Johns, is in town and Kai must juggle his family issues along with a desperate hunt for a serial killer. The investigation throws Kori and Kai together, and they quickly discover the chemistry between them is undeniable. But even if their newfound love can survive his secrets and her lies, it may not be enough to save them both from a killer’s twisted obsession.


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Reviews

Another OUTSTANDING installment of one of my all-time favorite series! When I read a Masters and Mercenaries novel, I’m transported to my happy place. Nothing puts a smile on my face fast enough like Lexi Blake release! And with this being Kai’s story…OH MY HELL! I was freaking ecstatic! It seems like I’ve been waiting on Kai Ferguson’s story for a while now and my GOD did Lexi do it justice! It was amazing! It was smoking hot! It was emotional! It was just EVERYTHING I wanted it to be! ~ 5 Stars, Shayna Renee's Spicy Reads, ShaynaReneesSpicyReads.com

I found From Sanctum with Love to be a great relaxing read, especially after the shit storm that Lexi Blake put me through in the previous two books. Seriously, I don’t know about you, but I needed the break. It’s a bit light on the explosions, chases, and shooting, but it’s still a great ride. We get to see some of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on at McKay-Taggart Security, the stuff that goes on in between all the explosions and gunfire. We get to check in on our favorite characters, meet some new ones that will most likely end up becoming new favorites. In her author’s note, Lexi Blake mentions how this series was just going to be five novels, and dear God, what a loss to erotic fiction if that were so! I’m so glad this series has evolved into what it is today, and I’m so looking forward to the next books, as well as the new spinoff series. ~ Paranormalibrarian, Heroes & Heartbreakers, heroesandheartbreakers.com

Lexi Blake’s romances are an addiction I never want a cure from. I don’t care how many books this woman writes in this series because I will read each and every single one of them with the fervor of a kid at a candy store for the very first time. Yes. They’re that good. Her Masters and Mercenaries has been my biggest addiction for years now. And with ten novels into the series, I still hope it never ends. ~ Dirty Girl Romance, DirtyGirlRomance.com

Whew, I’m still catching my breath! This author knows how to blend action and intrigue with love and sex to create a whirlwind story from start to finish. Kai is panty-melting and heart-stopping as he comes out of his shell in the face of family, and love. When these two start to open up about what their true desires are the heat builds and builds to an incredibly, hot climax. No pun intended. ~ Give Me Books, GiveMeBooksBlog.blogspot.com

I am just now experiencing this series (I’ve read five out of ten and a couple of novellas) so I am not as well versed as I should be. However, I highly recommend this book and all of the others even if you are not a “fan” of BDSM because there is so much more than that in all of these stories. The elements are the backdrop rather than the driving force. Instead what you get is a lot of suspense, some action, and a few mysteries to ponder over. ~ Write For Your Life, RaeWritesRomance.com

Lexi knows how to write the perfect suspenseful, erotic story. I have never been so interested and sucked into a story that also gets my heart racing in a total other way. I loved every single page of this book! I loved the intensity of the scenes, both the suspenseful and action scenes, plus the scenes inside and outside of Sanctum between Kai and Kori. HOT DAMN! ~ Courtney, Read-Love-Blog, Read-Love-Blog.com

I enjoyed this book greatly, but it was the first book I've read in this series. I HAVE to go get the others!!!!! Highly Recommend! ~ Gretchen, Engaging Secrets, EngagingSecrets.com

Lexi Blake's fabulous Masters and Mercenaries series continues with another outstanding story with characters you will fall in love with. This series goes from strength to strength, with each book becoming a must read for fans of BDSM romance stories. ~ 5 Stars, JJ's Kinky Books, JJsKinkyBooks.blogspot.co.uk

I would recommend this series for anyone who loves a realistic erotic bdsm story with a solid background. ~ Penny For My Thoughts, Honesty-Virtue.com

I enjoyed this latest entry in the Masters & Mercenaries world. If you’re a fan of the series, I think you’ll enjoy yourself. If you’re interested in dipping your toes in the BDSM world, I think this is a good series to check out – it gives you that dirty sexy fun without forgetting the romance at the heart of it all. ~ Ivy, After Dark Book Lovers, AfterDarkBookLovers.com

Lexi Blake stands out for her erotic suspense and it’s something I keep coming back to because she does it well. Add in to that the feeling of family that revolves around the Taggart-McKay men and Sanctum and you have the recipe to my heart. I absolutely love when I can care about a group of people and they keep being an important part of a series. I loved those glimpses we get of previous couples and characters, and the insight into the rest of them that are not paired up yet! Can’t wait. ~ Francesca, Under The Covers Book Blog, UnderTheCoverBookBlog.com

This is subtler book than the rest, mostly (I think) because of the Sadist factor, but it is also sweeter, tender and totally keeps you wanting more of S&M plots, but honestly, I have my doubts that any other author could ever write a BDSM romance the way Lexi actually does. I don’t know if you have really read these books till now, but if you haven’t you definitely need – THESE BOOKS ARE ADDICTING, LIKE NEED A REHAB SORT OF ADDICTION – BUT YOU WOULD RATHER HAVE THE NEXT BOOK, BEFORE GOING INTO REHAB! ~ For the Love of Fictional Worlds, IndianBookLoveAffair.wordpress.com

This was not the story I was expecting to be next but it’s the perfect next book. This story is about relationships----within families, between friends, amongst co-workers and so much more. The entire McKay-Taggart family is actively involved in this story and really makes it feel real. The interactions between the characters develops the story. The past definitely influences the present and only learning to deal with the past will the future work out. It didn’t take me long to be totally wrapped up in everything going on and wondering how this story was going to end. ~ Terri, Night Owl Romance NightOwlReviews.com

This is one of my favorite BDSM series ever. Even if this is already the 10th full length novel, the series has not lost its freshness. I don’t mind going back to the previous books anytime I need a fix for books on this genre. Ms. Blake really knows what she’s doing when she created this series. Needless to say, I very much enjoyed this book.~ Sultry, Steamy Reading, Sultry, Steamy Reading.com

A great engaging adventurous story that gives us danger, mystery where Theo is concerned, sexy smexy love that is between two people who when together intimately steam the pages and betrayal that hurts to the core. The book is well paced and character driven. The emotions are felt coming off the page and the story keeps you hanging on as you watch Kai deal with all the balls he has in the air. ~ Books are love, hello-booklover.tumblr.com

I loved this book so hard. From Sanctum With Love was everything I was looking for, and Kai and Kori sucked me right in, demanding I fall in love with their story. Lexi Blake is quickly joining the ranks of my favorite authors, as this is the third of hers I’ve read lately and just loved. I cannot believe I waited so long to discover Lexi Blake! ~ The Book Cellar, TheBookCellarx.com


Excerpt

Kai stared at his patient and wondered if she was planning on spending the entire hour trying to win the quiet game. He had to give it to her. Erin Argent was damn good. She was good at deflecting, great at ignoring, positively magnificent at pretending.

But she couldn’t deflect, ignore, or pretend any longer.

“Erin, you came to me. I have to assume you didn’t come here to sit in silence.”

The woman sitting across from him looked gaunt, far too thin for what was happening to her body, but then she wasn’t concerned about herself physically. That was the problem. Erin had lost the man she loved in a mission a few months ago. Though she claimed she was “fine,” there was no way to mistake her for anything but a woman in pain.

“I came here because Case is an asshole who sticks his nose in everyone else’s business,” Erin said with a shake of her head. “I didn’t feel like eating. Since when was that a crime?”

“Case cares about you.” Kai felt the need to remind her. Again and again. Erin was the type of woman who needed to hear it until she believed it. It was how Theo Taggart had gotten through to her. When they’d left on assignment all those months before, Theo had been chasing her. They’d come back from Africa as a couple trying to find their way through, and Kai thought they could have made it work if Theo had lived. It was hard to believe that had only been a short time before. Sometimes it felt like forever. Case Taggart had lost his twin, Ian and Sean the brother they’d only recently known existed. Kai wasn’t even sure where his own brother was at the moment. How was Jared doing? He hadn’t talked to his brother in years, but that would change very soon. “We all care about you, Erin. And we’re all still hurting. The grieving process takes a long time.”

“I’m not grieving. I’m pissed. I want to get back to work and no one will let me.” She turned in her chair, staring out the window. “I’m starting to think McKay-Taggart isn’t the right place for me anymore. Maybe I should pack it up and start over again somewhere else.”

This wasn’t the first time he’d heard her say that in session. “Where would you go? Home?”

She shivered as though the idea was distasteful. “No. I wouldn’t go back there. I don’t know. Maybe I should get in my car and drive. There’s nothing left for me here.”

“Nothing except a whole family of people who love you. Ian doesn’t have you on desk duty because he’s punishing you. That’s not his point at all.”

“He thinks I can’t handle it anymore.” She turned around, warming to her subject. “And you know what? He’s gotten soft himself. He’s the one who can’t hack it. If he doesn’t want to handle business anymore, he shouldn’t put that on me. Li and I should be the ones out in LA dealing with the Bachman case. That’s our client. Ian sent Jesse and Simon. And I’m royally pissed that Big Tag decided to let Li go on that op alone two weeks ago. He wouldn’t have been in the position he’d been in if I’d been with him. He gave me some bullshit about how I wasn’t ready to go back to Africa. What? Does he think I’m going to cry because that was where Theo kissed me for the first time? Who the fuck does he think I am? He almost got Li killed and now my partner’s taken off on a vacation when we should be in LA. ”

That was overstating the situation. Way overstating what had been a minor hiccup on a short operation. Yes, she was determined to deflect. He couldn’t allow her to now. They were out of time. “Erin, why didn’t you eat the sandwich today?”

Apparently this particular session had been brought on by Erin refusing to eat. Case had ordered lunch for her. She’d taken one look at the pulled pork sandwich that had once been her favorite and walked right out of the conference room.

“I wasn’t hungry.” Her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest.

“Eve heard you throwing up in the bathroom.”

Erin’s eyes slid away. “Eve’s got a big mouth.”

He sat forward because this whole subject was so touchy. Though unlike Big Tag, he didn’t think she would run. Erin came across as brash and cold, but she wasn’t inside. The walls were there because she’d been hurt so terribly before. She might try to build them higher this time, might never open herself up again, but she wouldn’t leave Dallas. She would stay in the house Theo had bought for her. She would quietly mourn him to her dying day.

She didn’t have to do it alone.

This part had been left up to Kai’s discretion. He’d allowed her to avoid it the last few weeks because she needed time, but her family was starting to get nervous and with good reason. It was time to get the situation out in the open. Kai leaned in.

“Erin, we can’t not talk about what’s happening.”

Her face went mulish, lips flattening out. “Nothing’s happening. That’s the problem. I need to work and Big Tag seems to think that I should be chained to a desk like a good girl. Fuck him. Fuck all of you if you can’t see that I need to get out in the field and kick some ass.”

“And what about the baby, Erin?”

The room seemed to still as though everything had stopped with his words. Erin herself became motionless, her eyes widening. She shook her head. “I’m not. I’ve just been sick.”

Shit. How could she not know? Of all the scenarios, they hadn’t come up with this one. “Have you taken a pregnancy test?”

“I don’t have to because I’m not pregnant.” She stood up and squared her shoulders. “You can all go to hell.”

She strode out of the office, slamming the door on her way out.

Shit. He’d fucked that up royally.

The door opened again and he turned, grateful she’d come back, except it wasn’t Erin standing in the doorway. It was his office manager. Kori Williamson stood there, a frown on her pretty face. She was wearing a skirt, V-necked blouse, and some Boho sandals, her normally wild hair pulled back in a messy bun. She wasn’t neat and professionally perfect like some of the women he’d known, but the minute she walked in a room his dick noticed.

“What did you do?” Her husky voice sent a wave through him. He wasn’t sure if it was pleasure or irritation. All he knew was the woman made him feel, and that was enough for him.

Unfortunately, she was his employee and he’d learned long ago not to play where he worked. Not that she seemed interested in him at all. In fact, he was almost certain he scared her a little. He put down his notebook and took off his glasses. He was getting a headache. “You know I can’t talk about what happens in session.”

“Erin took off and she looked ready to kill someone.”

“I’m sure she would tell you that’s just her face.” What the hell was he going to tell Ian? Ian Taggart ran McKay-Taggart Security Services along with his best friend, Alex McKay. They were a tight-knit family. Kai had fallen in with them after he’d met Ian, and the big guy had offered Kai a place to set up his practice.

The fact that it was attached to one of the most exclusive BDSM clubs in the country didn’t hurt one bit. And now, thanks to an anonymous donor—yeah, like he wasn’t fairly certain that was the Taggart brothers, too—he had enough money in the bank to continue his work helping soldiers returning from war cope with PTSD for a while. He charged his patients what they could afford, which was often nothing.

But at least he could pay Kori well now. She deserved it. He wouldn’t be here without her.

“Look, I know the woman has resting bitch face, and trust me I’ve seen her active bitch face as well,” Kori shot back. “That was not anger. She was afraid.”

He would love to talk to her about it, but there was the little problem of patient therapist confidentiality. He took it seriously. “I can’t talk about it.”

Kori’s eyes went wide. “Shit. You told her about the baby, didn’t you? Damn it. I knew she didn’t know. What is wrong with you?”

“Hey, that is supposed to be confidential information.”

Those pretty blue eyes rolled in a way that made him ache to spank her round ass. “Nothing is confidential around here. Not about the club crew. The subs have been talking about it for the last couple of weeks. We overheard Eve talking to Charlotte about the fact that Erin’s been throwing up every day around ten. She tries to hide it, but that sound is distinctive. Also, she was complaining in the locker room the other day that her boobs were sore. She said she thought her period was coming, but with the throwing up and stuff it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that girl is four kinds of knocked up.”

“How can she not know she’s pregnant?” He was going to have to have a long talk with Big Tag and his wife, Charlotte, about the club submissives running amuck. They’d recently brought in a new training class and apparently they were being taught to gossip.

Kori stepped back, glancing out the door. “I’m sure she does know on some level, but there’s no question she’s in denial. Did you treat her like she’s a delicate flower who might wilt at the news?”

“I treated her like a woman who recently lost her lover.”

She shook her head. “That’s where you went wrong, boss. I’ll go talk to her. She headed straight for the bathroom. You have a four o’clock with someone named Squirrel. Are we taking in the furries now?”

That made him groan. His brother’s best friend from high school was now a member of his entourage. The fact that the kid was at least thirty and still called himself Squirrel did not bode well. “He’s one of the guys from the film crew. I had to promise to show him around Sanctum.”

“Film crew?” Her eyes widened.

Had he not told her? It had only been a few days since Alex had explained what the FBI needed from him, but that was going to have to wait. He had other problems. “Can you go and see if you can coax her back in here? I would go myself, but…”

“You’re scared of the women’s bathroom,” Kori surmised. “You know it’s actually very nice in there. I made sure of it. The guys’ bathroom is a pit of despair.”

“It’s clean.” He wasn’t sure why women needed the place where they answered nature’s call to be some soothing spa, but Kori had insisted on it. “It’s got a toilet and a place to pee and a place to wash your hands. It doesn’t need anything else.”

“Then why do all the guys who know about it use mine?” She’d insisted on a budget to redo the ladies’ lounge, as she called it. Kori shook her head and strode out. “Hey, McKay. Boss, Alex is here.”

It seemed to be his day for fucking up. Damn it. He hoped Kori knew what she was doing with Erin because another problem strode into his office with the confidence of a man who knew his place in the world.

“Have you ever been in the ladies’? That is one tricked out bathroom.” Alex glanced back. “I saw Erin running for it as I came in. Is everything all right?”

Kai sighed and slid his glasses on before moving back to his desk. McKay wasn’t here for a therapy session. Kai would be the one who needed the couch if anything. No. He needed the sturdy feel of his desk under his hands to get through this conversation. And the beer he’d bought and put in the fridge upstairs to get through the next few weeks. “Apparently she didn’t know she was pregnant. I can’t say she believes it.”

Alex nodded as though his suspicions had been confirmed. “Eve was worried about that.”

Kai didn’t understand. “If I had lady bits I would track that shit. I would know the minute I missed a visit from Mother Nature.”

Alex grinned as he sank his big body into the chair opposite Kai’s desk. “I can imagine. But then Erin’s not likely to live the life of a manwhore.”

“Yeah, I’m living it up,” Kai complained. “Don’t take every rumor you hear as truth, Alex. I haven’t actually had a girlfriend since I came to Dallas and I’ll be honest, sleeping with my play partners has gotten boring.”

He wanted something more. He wanted the connection that came when a Dom and a sub truly fit together, when their needs dovetailed and they could give to each other.

“I thought you were humping Kori’s sister.”

Not for all the money in the world. Shawna was a hot mess with a tendency to addiction and a severe narcissistic bent. How they were even siblings he had no idea. “She’s a patient. I don’t fuck patients.”

Or employees. Even when he really, really wanted to. He had to wonder if Kori wasn’t the real reason he’d lost interest in Sanctum’s pretty subs.

The ones who weren’t scared of him anyway. He was known for being a bit more hardcore in his play than the other Doms. Hell, some of the subs called him Dexter—the undercover sadist.

He wasn’t undercover, damn it. He put that shit right out there. It was probably why he didn’t date much. Hello, my name is Kai and I would really like to hurt you. But only if you enjoy getting hurt. How about some coffee? We could talk about the proper use of exotic anal plugs.

Yeah, that sent the ladies running and not into his arms.

“Is Erin all right?” Alex asked, his tone turning serious.

“She’s fucked up in numerous ways.” And ways he couldn’t talk about with Alex because no matter what or who paid the bills, she was his patient and he took that seriously. He wouldn’t tell Alex that Erin’s issues hadn’t started with Theo. No. Theo’s death was merely the latest in a long line of deep disappointments and scarring episodes that made up Erin’s life.

How was she going to handle being a mother?

“You don’t think she’s a danger to herself?”

Kai shook his head. “No. And now that the pregnancy issue can be dealt with, I actually think she’ll be careful. The question is going to be what happens once the child is born. I don’t honestly know that Erin will feel like she deserves a child.”

“Deserves?” Alex sounded horrified, but then Alex hadn’t grown up the way Erin had. Kai happened to know that Alex had been his parents’ darling child, beloved and sheltered. Not that a sheltered existence couldn’t lead to heartache, as Alex and Eve discovered, but how a person grew up, the love and support they got from their parents, could make the difference in how they handled tragedy.

“This is something I’ll try to work through with Erin.” To say any more would be to break Erin’s trust, and he refused to be one more man to do that. “Since you’re here, I suppose the mission is still on.”

“Don’t sound so excited,” Alex said with a shake of his head. “Yes, I talked to my FBI contacts this morning and the op is a go. The advance production team flew in last night. They’ll be scouting locations in the area including Sanctum and the McKay-Taggart building.”

“Is Ian sure he wants to do this? I don’t think he understands the kind of disruption something like filming a movie can bring.” A production company was filming the adaptation of a book titled Love After Death. It happened to be a book written by a woman named Serena Dean-Miles, a close friend of Kai’s. Her husbands—yeah, she was a traditional kind of girl—Jake and Adam, worked for McKay-Taggart. As far as Kai could tell, the romantic series Soldiers and Doms that Serena wrote under the pen name Amber Rose was pretty much fictional retellings of the lives of McKay-Taggart operatives.

He was totally hoping Ian figured out Love After Death was all about him.

“Ian is working with the feds on more than one op right now,” Alex admitted. “Let’s just say he’s in a quid pro quo situation with them.”

He was scratching their backs so they would scratch his. “What does Big Tag need the feds for?”

Alex sat back, his expression going stony. “You have your secrets and we have ours. I need to know if you’re ready. If you don’t think you can handle this, I’ll try to convince them to let me run point on this op.”

The production team was coming to Sanctum for more than realism. They were coming because the star of Love After Death needed a mentor. The lead actor had requested a Dom to mentor him through the role of the crop-wielding ex-spy whose dead wife returned from the grave.

Him. The actor had requested Kai. Jared Johns had been plain in his contract. He wanted Kai to be the expert on this film. Baby brother was putting him in a corner, but then his dipshit actor brother likely also had no idea the FBI was following him because they suspected he was a serial killer.

His brother wasn’t smart enough to be a serial killer.

“I told you I’ll do it and I will.” It was actually good to get to focus on the professional stuff for a bit. “I’ve got a meeting set up with his…I don’t know what the hell he is. From what I can tell, my brother has an entourage around him at all times. I’m meeting with one of them in a bit.”

“Good. Do you think you can come in this evening and brief the rest of the team?”

“I thought we were keeping the real motives quiet.”

“We are, but Ian and I both think it would be good to have a few people around you,” Alex explained. “Case is going to stay close. You’ll be mentoring him as you mentor Jared. Case will also be helping Jared with the military aspects of the role.”

“Ah, so his cover is a baby Dom.” It wasn’t a bad play. It meant that Kai had backup, which was good because while he’d served his country, it had been a long time since he’d actively fought. It would also give Case something to concentrate on.

“Yes,” Alex agreed. “Case is going to be involved, and Charlotte and Eve will be watching over the subs. No one else knows about this being an investigation. If Erin wasn’t pregnant, I would send her in, but I can’t expose her to a serial.”

“She’s not this particular serial killer’s type, but I understand.” He’d spent the last couple of days pouring over everything the feds knew. “I’ll brief you all this evening and then we’ll hit the club tonight. I don’t suppose there’s any way I could force my brother to take the training class. There’s one going on right now. Actually, he missed the Dom pre-training. I think he should have to take that.”

The first class for all Doms and Dommes centered around understanding what it was like for their subs. They couldn’t be okayed to use any equipment they hadn’t tried out. He would love to force his brother to take a spanking from Mistress Jackie. She wouldn’t go easy on him no matter how good he looked. And she enjoyed a good plugging.

Alex stood and chuckled. “I think he’s going to require more personal attention, but feel free to put him through anything you think will be helpful. Thank you for doing this, Kai. You can’t know how much this helps.”

He was beginning to suspect there was something going on at McKay-Taggart he didn’t fully understand, but he wasn’t a stupid man. “The feds are going to help you find Hope McDonald, aren’t they?”

Hope McDonald had managed to flee after Theo’s death. She’d been involved in her father’s business and that had led straight to the deaths of two McKay-Taggart operatives. There was no way Big Tag simply allowed her to get away.

Alex’s face became a polite mask. “Something like that. They’ve got resources we can use. That’s all I can say.”

Why wouldn’t he talk about it? There was something about the way Alex looked away that told Kai he was withholding some serious information. It wasn’t his place to pry. “I’ll make sure things run smoothly, but I don’t like the fact that we’re basically opening up Sanctum to a potential killer.”

“We’ll talk about it at the meeting. Be at the office at seven tonight. If anyone asks, you’re there on a routine briefing,” Alex said. He made it to the door before turning around. “And Kai?”

“Yes?”

“I know how hard this is for you. Thank you. We need this. We need the feds.”

Kai nodded. “I can handle it.”

The door closed and Kai hoped Kori was able to persuade Erin to come back in. He thought about going into the ladies’ room, but eased back. Women could be a mystery. If Kori thought she could get through to Erin, then he would give her a shot.

Losing Theo Taggart had left a hole in everyone. It had even made him think about his own brother. Years had passed. Was he ready to deal with Jared again? The anger was still there, but was it doing anything for him at this point?

Why had his brother insisted on coming here? There was really only one reason. Jared wanted to confront him and there was no way he could walk away from this.

There was a knock on his door. Ah, yes. He got to deal with that idiot Squirrel.

Before he could make it to the door, it opened.

“Hey, brother.” Jared stood there, blocking the way out.

Like it or not his past had caught up with him.

* * * *

Kori pushed through the door and into the bathroom. When they’d taken over this building, she’d made certain there was one feminine space. Kai liked the whole Asian, super-sleek tranquility look. Everything was in natural colors with very soothing sounds.

Sometimes a girl needed some pink, a bit of bling.

Which was why Erin was currently sitting in the lounge section of the bathroom looking perfectly incongruous on the hot pink velvet settee.

“Hey, you done puking?” She held up a frosty green can she’d found in the fridge. “Because I thought you might need one of these.”

Erin looked up and her lips curled the tiniest bit. “I would kiss you but I really did puke so that wouldn’t be such a great payment.” She held out a hand and

Kori pressed the drink in her palm. Erin immediately sat back and ran the cold can over her forehead. “Thanks. It got a little real in there. Your boss is an asshole.”

He wasn’t really. Kai was kind of the nicest man in the world, but if calling him an ass made Erin feel better, she would go with it. “He’s a dude, but he means well. He doesn’t get that you’re knocked up, not dying.”

Erin stopped for a moment, her body going still, and Kori wondered if she was about to deny it. “Yeah, they definitely don’t get that.”

“So how far along do you think you are?” The key with a chick like Erin was to ask direct questions. Erin didn’t need to be treated like an invalid. She did, however, need to talk.

“I don’t know. I think it probably happened after we got back from Africa. Sometime before Theo got shot to shit.” Erin looked straight ahead. “It’s his. That’s all I was trying to say. Do you think everyone knows?”

“That it’s Theo’s? Yeah. I don’t think anyone believes you’ve been trolling, E.”

Erin groaned, but her lips had curled up slightly. “I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about the pregnancy. I really…I guess I didn’t want to think about it. I knew deep down. I haven’t been drinking or anything. I did right after I got home from the Caymans.” She turned quickly, her face white. “Oh, god. Do you think that hurt the baby?”

And there it was. There was the instinct. It might get buried again. Erin might shove it under a mile of pain and bravado, but her first impulse was to protect her child. Kori reached out and put a hand over Erin’s shaking one. Of all the women she’d met since she’s started playing at Sanctum and working for Kai, Erin was the one she understood the best. There was a soft heart under all that tough skin. “The baby’s fine.”

“It was only two beers but it helped me sleep, and then the next night I threw them out because I wanted them. I wanted them so fucking bad, but I didn’t dream. They made me not dream and that’s where I saw him.” She seemed to realize she was on the edge emotionally and pulled back. “This is so stupid.”

“It’s not,” Kori replied. “Nothing you feel now is stupid and two beers won’t hurt the baby, but not seeing an obstetrician might.”

“You sound like Kai.”

“Don’t tell him I said this but Kai is very often right.” It wouldn’t do to make the man more self-confident. He was already gorgeous and smart and sexy as sin. And a sadist. She was not going there again. Not for anything. “And he’s right about this. You can’t hide from it. You have a decision to make.”

She shook her head. “Seems like the decision’s been made for me. I guess I can’t quit now. I need the health insurance.”

Like she was going to quit in the first place. Kori happened to know that Erin loved McKay-Taggart. She’d found a home here. A lot like Kori had. She’d ended up in Texas because it had seemed about as different from LA as possible. A producer friend of hers, Sullivan Roarke, had called his old buddy Ian Taggart and gotten her a job at Sanctum, which had led to taking the job as Kai’s assistant.

It was far from Hollywood, but she’d made a real place for herself.

“I can make an appointment for you,” she offered. “I’ve heard Charlotte’s OB is very lifestyle friendly.”

Erin took a deep breath. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll need her understanding about the bumps and bruises that come from playing. I won’t be doing that, but if you don’t mind making the call.”

“I’ll make the call and I’ll go with you.”

Erin shook her head. “Nah. It’s cool. I can handle it. It’s only a baby. I suppose it’s going to get worse around the office now. No one will treat me like they used to. No one jokes with me or fucks around.”

“You want to be normal. I get it.”

Erin flipped the top of the soda open and took a sip. “Yeah, well, I doubt that.”

She wanted to throw down a “my pain is greater than your pain”? Kori could play that game. “My father had a heart attack in front of me when I was twelve. I was in the car with him. One minute he was talking and the next we were driving off a bridge. You’re not the first person in the world to lose someone and you won’t be the last. I won’t treat you any differently than I did before because I remember so vividly the one thing I craved. Normalcy. I couldn’t have it. Not really. He was there one minute and not the next. He was a constant in my life and then he was gone, so the world couldn’t truly be normal again, but I wanted them to stop looking at me like I was a victim.”

“A widow.” Erin stared straight ahead. “They look at me like I’m a widow, but we weren’t married. It wasn’t that serious. Now I’ve got a decision to make.”

This was where Kai would gently ask her leading questions. He would use that soft voice of his and ease her into a discussion. Kori wasn’t that girl. “Are you high? You were in love with him. Now you’re pregnant. What decision is there to make?”

“I didn’t have a mother,” she said quietly. “She took off and my dad was a shit. I don’t think I’m ready to be someone’s mother.”

“No one is. The good news is you’ve got like seven months or so to start to deal with it.”

“I’m so mad at him.”

“I would be, too.”

Erin turned slightly, giving Kori a disbelieving stare. “You would be pissed off at the angel of McKay-Taggart?”

“That’s what death will do. We take all the annoying things about a person and forget them immediately. And yes, I would be pissed. He died. He wasn’t supposed to do that. He wasn’t supposed to leave you alone and aching, and now he left you to deal with a baby.”

Erin stood, pacing. “Yes, exactly. He’s the reason I’m here. I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want to buy what he was selling. He was too young for me. What the fuck was I thinking? And it was his big dick that broke the fucking condom.” Erin stopped and laughed. “He had a really big dick.” Tears started to leak from her eyes. “I miss him. I don’t want to miss him so much.”

This was what Kai couldn’t do with Erin. He couldn’t push her until she broke. Kori stood and walked to her, wrapping her arms around Erin. “I know you do. I’m so sorry, but I’m also here for you.”

This was what she’d missed those last few years in LA. She’d missed real people. Somehow her whole world at that point had become about the “business,” with everyone concerned about themselves and their careers. It wasn’t all of LA that was bad, but she’d found herself stuck in a group of overly ambitious, greedy people.

She’d been surprised by how much she’d felt when she’d gotten to Dallas. Within a few weeks, she’d started to feel empathy and compassion, and not only for characters she wrote. Somehow, she’d lost her way, and being in this place and with these people helped her get it back.

Just not all the way back. She still didn’t write a damn word.

“Maybe it would be good if you did go with me,” Erin said, moving back. She turned and faced the mirror, grimacing slightly at the way her mascara had run. “Stupid makeup. Why do I bother?”

Kori could handle that. “There’s a box of makeup removing wipes and some little samplers in the drawer.”

Erin chuckled as she found them. “You’re very prepared, K.”

“I’m lost on this place. Most of the patients are men,” Kori admitted. “Some of them still sneak in here. I think they heard I keep a stash of granola bars and snacks in the other drawer. Not to mention the fact that some of those dudes believe in a skin care regime, and I say good for them. I go to department stores and ask for samples. Most of the time I get turned away, but every now and then someone will stock a sister up. Especially when they hear what we do.”

Erin opened the second drawer and pulled out a protein bar. “Thank god. I’m starving. How can I throw up one minute and want to eat my own arm the next?”

“I think that’s the fun part of pregnancy,” Kori admitted.

“What’s the shitty part?”

“When you have to push a baby head through your lady bits. I’ve heard that sucks.”

Erin laughed and ran one of the towelettes over her face. “Yeah, it sounds that way. You know you’re the only one who treats me like I’m still Erin.”

“You are and you aren’t. You’re never going to be the same. I should know.” It was time to impart a little truth since Erin had opened up. “I wasn’t after what happened with my dad. I started living in this fantasy world in my head and I didn’t come out of it for a very long time.”

Erin turned, leaning on the vanity. “Fantasy world?”

She’d never told anyone with the singular exception of her best friend, Sarah. Sarah was the only person who knew who Kori had been. “I wrote a lot. I wrote in a journal, but I would make up stories. I didn’t write down feelings, but they came out anyway. I had my first play produced when I was sixteen. It was about teen suicide.”

“Wow. I bet that got your mom nervous.”

“Oh, yes. She had to figure out that writing that dumb play was my way of not killing myself. It felt good. It’s still used in a couple of school systems as an educational tool to prevent suicide. From there I wrote some plays and screenplays and some seriously kinky Doctor Who fan fiction. I think it was a lot easier to live in the world in my head than it was to face the fact that my dad was gone.”

“Why did you stop? Writing, I mean.” Erin frowned when she didn’t answer. “Don’t hold out on me, K. You’re the one who initiated this session. Or did Kai send you in here for vagina talk?”

“Of course he sent me in here and I won’t tell him shit if you don’t want me to. Also, I wanted to come and talk to you. I know Faith is your bestie and all, but she’s not here right now so you can count on me. As to why I stopped writing. Ugh, I don’t even like talking about it.”

“Well, I live to talk about Theo’s murder and my pop-up pregnancy.”

The woman had a point. If she was going to dish it out, she better be able to take it. “Okay. Sanctum wasn’t my first club.”

Erin snorted a little. “No shit. Sorry, but if you were trying to play the newbie sub, you shouldn’t jump into suspension every time there’s a training session. Most newbs are afraid of being suspended ten feet off the ground and having their nipples tortured.”

She liked what she liked. She actually forced herself to pull back from most of what she truly craved. Submission, she’d found, was like her drug. She tended to make poor choices when she fully invested in it. And yet she couldn’t completely stay away. “I got into the lifestyle young. My boyfriend became my Master and then he turned into a total prick who stole my every idea, turned it into his own, and shut me out. He took other subs and I stayed. He cheated on me and I told myself it was all right. He gave my best screenplay to another woman, who ripped it apart and turned it into dreck, and that was when I finally left.”

“Wow. Should I kill him? Because that might actually make me feel better. Don’t worry about the baby. I can totally snipe him from afar. No danger to the fetus.”

Kori had to smile because Erin might not be joking. “It was years ago. I’m good. I made my choices and I walked away. All I’m trying to tell you is that you might never be normal again, but you find a new normal. You find a…what should I call it? Peace. I’m at peace.”

“What am I going to do?” Erin asked, her voice so quiet.

It didn’t matter. Kori could still hear her. “The best you can. It’s all you can do.”

It was all any of them could do in the end.

Ten minutes later, she promised Erin she would send her all the information on Dr. Melinda Bates, including her first appointment time. She gave Erin a hug and turned to go into Kai’s office. She wasn’t going to tell him what Erin had said, merely that Erin was going to the doctor and she had everything well in hand.

A vision of Kai smiling and telling her she deserved a treat for a well-done job floated across her brain. He would thrust his hands in her hair and force her to her knees. He would offer her a choice. The cane or the whip. She loved the way the man held a whip. Once he’d warmed her up, ensured she would feel those stripes he would leave on her ass for days, then he would lay her out on his desk and shove his face in her…

Damn it. She couldn’t think of him that way. She couldn’t. He was her boss, and he was a fucking gloriously beautiful sadist.

Not again. Never again. She wasn’t going back into that particular part of the D/s world. No more serious sadists for her. She’d promised herself.

So why was it getting harder and harder to not think about Kai? To watch him with other subs?

She hated the thought, but it might be time to move on. He was too tempting. Maybe she was hormonal or something. She couldn’t leave now. Erin needed her.

She was about to walk into Kai’s office when she saw the door was open. Kai was talking to someone.

Her heart nearly stopped as she recognized Jared Johns. Flipping Jared Johns was standing in Kai’s office. He was older than she remembered, but time had done nothing to dilute that man’s hotness. He was roughly six three and had the body of a tank that had been designed by Michelangelo. When she’d met him he’d been a kid starting out in the television world. He’d been working on some Canadian soap when she’d told Morgan he would be perfect for Dart.

She might have sworn off going back into that world, but apparently she couldn’t stop it from invading.

Kai looked up. “Hey, Kori. Come on in. I’d like you to meet my brother.”

Brother? Jared Johns was her boss’s brother? She turned and walked away as fast as she could.

Copyright 2016 Lexi Blake