About the book
A woman’s work
Amy Slaten has devoted her life to Slaten Industries. After ousting her corrupt father and taking over the CEO role, she thought she could relax and enjoy taking her company to the next level. But an old business rivalry rears its ugly head. The only thing that can possibly take her mind off business is the training class at Sanctum…and her training partner, the gorgeous and funny Flynn Adler. If she can just manage to best her mysterious business rival, life might be perfect.
A man’s commitment
Flynn Adler never thought he would fall for the enemy. Business is war, or so his father always claimed. He was raised to be ruthless when it came to the family company, and now he’s raising his brother to one day work with him. The first order of business? The hostile takeover of Slaten Industries. It’s a stressful job so when his brother offers him a spot in Sanctum’s training program, Flynn jumps at the chance.
A lifetime of devotion…
When Flynn realizes the woman he’s falling for is none other than the CEO of the firm he needs to take down, he has to make a choice. Does he take care of the woman he’s falling in love with or the business he’s worked a lifetime to build? And when Amy finally understands the man she’s come to trust is none other than the enemy, will she walk away from him or fight for the love she’s come to depend on?
Amy Slaten hung up the phone and sighed.
She kind of wished her ex-husband wasn’t here to witness her complete and utter humiliation. Unfortunately, her ex-husband also happened to be her best friend and had been her business partner for a very long time. Their firms had been kept separate by an ironclad prenup and they’d handed back each other’s stock after their amicable divorce, but still she turned to him in times of trouble.
And the times they were a troubled now.
“Yes, we lost the Kleinman account. They’re concerned about the lawsuit and how my father could keep us wrapped up in court for a long time. Naturally they went to Glendale.” Glendale Incorporated was the bane of her existence and had been for a long time. She’d heard the company was under new management since John Adler had died. John and her father had been business rivals, and not the friendly kind. They’d gone for each other’s throats and it looked like the son John, Jr. was planning on keeping up the family traditions. He came after every contract Slaten Industries had, competed for every one they went after. Even the ones they shouldn’t. Glendale was so much bigger than Slaten. They shouldn’t play in the same sandbox, but the Adlers seemed determined to wipe out Slaten no matter what the cost to their own company.
Frankie sat back, his perfectly tailored clothes not wrinkling at all. He was wearing a Dolce & Gabbana three-piece suit with a snowy white dress shirt and a peacock blue tie that nearly matched his eyes. He was the most stunning man she’d ever met.
Unfortunately, he was also gay. Their marriage, while loving and friendly, had not been intimate in a physical sense.
“Is there anything I can do?” Frankie asked. “Beyond assassinating your father? Because I could arrange that. I know some interesting people.”
She had to chuckle at that. “Don’t tell me you’re bringing in the gay mafia.”
His lips curled up in a perfectly gorgeous smile. “Don’t underestimate the gay mafia, darling. They will take care of business and with amazing style.” He sobered. “You know I would do anything for you, right?”
He’d proven that when he’d married her in order to help her take Slaten Industries away from her awful father. At the time her father had been planning to sell the company her grandfather had built and take all the profits for himself. He’d been willing to sell out every employee they had for his own gain.
She’d stopped that with Frankie’s help, and she’d used the stock she’d gotten on the day she’d married him to help him wrest power away from Hank Lyndon, Frankie’s father and chief tormentor. They’d bonded over horrible parents.
His company was running brilliantly. Hers not so much. She was dealing with a board filled with relatives waiting to stab her in the back, chaos from moving the main office to Dallas along with her entire staff, multitudinous lawsuits filed by her parents, and a never-ending blood feud she didn’t quite understand.
All in all, her stress levels were reaching maximum capacity and she wasn’t sure she could come back down.
She bit back tears as she looked at him. There was no crying in CEO land. “I do and I thank you for it, babe, but unless you know John Adler, Jr. and can force your will on him, I think I’m screwed.”
“Let me look into it. Will you at least let me look into him?”
She winced. It wasn’t the first time he’d offered. The trouble was she didn’t want to play the way her dad did. Her father had kept dirt on every single business rival he’d had. He’d had files on all his perceived enemies. When she’d taken over the company, she’d inherited all of them and promptly burned them.
Her father kept files on everyone, including her and her sister, Bridget. She could still remember looking through her own file.
Amy is weak. All it would take to deal with her would be to send in a man who could make her feel pretty. With the right man in place, she will be completely controllable.
Lucky for her the “right man” in her father’s words had been the one who could make him money. He’d made a deal with Frankie’s father that would benefit the both of them, and neither gave a damn that their kids had plans of their own. It had worked out for her and Frankie in the end.
But she’d learned to never trust a man like her father.
Frankie was different, but he could be just as ruthless when it came to someone he loved. She was determined to never behave like that. If she won, she would do it fairly.
“I don’t want to come at him personally,” she said. “He’s done nothing like that to me.”
“You don’t think he’s playing dirty?”
“I don’t think he’s coming after me on a personal level,” she clarified. “This is business, babe. You know as well as I do that it can be cutthroat and nasty and not personal.”
“So if you met this asshole, you wouldn’t slap him?”
She had to laugh at that. “I would buy him a drink and ask him what the hell my father had done to his. Seriously, I would do that in a heartbeat. And I would flirt shamelessly with him.”
Of course, he was very likely thirty years older than she was and probably married with kids or even grandkids. His father had been eighty when he died. If he’d been like her parents, he’d had kids in his twenties and that would make them in their fifties or sixties, so her flirtation likely would be for naught.
Frankie grinned. “And he would fall madly in love with you and all of this would be over.”
He could also be an optimist at times. “I doubt that, but I would ask. Unfortunately, I’m not likely to sit across a table from him. He won’t meet with me and I’m not flying back to California to force a meeting. We’ve got another shot in a month. If we can get the Clannahan account, we’ll be in the black for another six months. And I can flirt with those men.”
They were an Irish company looking for an American company to make a deal with. They had all the access to European markets that Slaten needed to grow. In exchange, Slaten could give them a position in the States. It would be a win-win for both companies.
If she could only convince them. Everything was on the line. Everything she’d worked for. All the jobs she’d tried to save. They would be gone if she didn’t manage to make this work
“You know I want to help you in any way I can. I love you, honey,” Frankie said quietly.
Tears misted her eyes. After her sister had left home, she’d thought she would never find another person she could count on, but she’d met Frankie in college. She’d had boyfriends and lovers and a couple of wild nights she didn’t wholly remember, but she’d only loved one man. Unfortunately, he was attracted to men. She’d accepted that a long time ago.
“I love you, too, but you can’t force my father to drop the lawsuit. We sincerely pissed him off and he won’t give up easily.”
“How about the other issue?” Frankie asked, his eyes trained on her as though attempting to detect any untruth she might give him.
He had good reason for that. She’d been trying not to worry him. It was her problem after all, and she was a big girl. “Are you talking about Ray Paulsen? I’ve got lawyers working on that, too.”
Frankie leaned forward. “He’s unstable, Amy.”
“Which is one of the reasons I had him fired.” Ray had been her father’s head of security. Amy had considered him little more than the asshole who intimidated everyone so that her father got his way. She’d been more than happy to show him the door the minute she’d taken over the company.
“He swore he’d get you back for that,” Frankie pointed out.
“And he’s suing me, too,” she said. She was so tired of lawsuits.
Frankie didn’t seem convinced. “I’m going to look into that asshole. He’s not the type of man who would be content with simply suing you. I want you to be careful. The minute anything feels wrong, you call me.”
And have a bodyguard put on her ass? “I promise. But he’s not an idiot. He knows if he harasses me and I catch him it won’t help his case. Besides, the last time I checked, he was still in California, half a continent away. Aside from Ray and my father, the good news is we’re truly the best fit for Clannahan. I think after we meet next month they’ll understand it, too. Then I’ll be in a better position to deal with all of dear old Dad’s crap.”
She was going to be positive. Change wasn’t easy. It was difficult but everything that was meaningful in life was hard to achieve. She’d managed to break away from her father. She’d moved her company and her life across the country to be closer to her sister. She’d made deals with the city that ensured she could bring her people with her. Tax incentives had given her the cash to offer any employee who wanted to move the wherewithal to do it. Slaten would be stronger here in Dallas. She’d lowered their costs across the board for years to come with this move and she’d offered good compensation to the few employees who’d chosen to stay behind. They would build a company that served its employees and not the other way around.
She was strong. She could do this.
Frankie reached across her desk to put a hand over hers. “I know they will. Are you really going through with tonight?”
The question made her grin because she was totally going through with tonight. “Does the thought scare you?”
He frowned. “The thought makes me kind of want to go and get my own membership at Sanctum so I can be your training Dom.”
That was absolutely the last thing she wanted. For the last couple of years she’d used Frankie as a protective wall, a reason to not put herself out there. She was done with that. She loved him so much, but she needed more. First and foremost, she wanted a damn orgasm that wasn’t battery operated. “You would never be assigned to me because they pay attention to what a sub needs. I had to fill out a freaking book on what I need. Do you know one of the things I need? A penis that might want to slip inside me and rub one out.”
His eyes closed, a grimace coming over his perfect face. “Do you have to be so forthright?”
She kind of loved it when he got all prudish. He was not a man who ever should take that attitude since she knew damn well he’d had some wild nights himself. “Mama is stressed. Mama needs a little something something, if you know what I mean.”
He put a hand out. “I do. Please don’t tell me about it in detail.”
Where was the fun in that? “I’m not planning on jumping the poor man or anything, but if it comes up, I’m ready and willing to get three kinds of kinky.”
It had been a rough eighteen months. Between the takeover and her pre-planned divorce, it had been hard. There hadn’t been a ton of time for dating. She’d focused entirely on Slaten Industries, and she was ready to have a few hours a week to relax and work on herself. And to be around a man who might want to put his penis inside her.
That was a definite goal.
Frankie stared at her for a moment. “Sweetheart, how much have you dated since we got married?”
She smiled on the outside. Inside she was punching something. This was a conversation she’d been trying to avoid. “I’ve been busy.”
Frankie leaned in. “When was the last time you had sex?”
She felt herself flush. “Before we got married.”
She wasn’t a prude. Far from it. She liked sex, but she took the marriage thing seriously. Even when he hadn’t. Frankie had spent their wedding night with his boy toy of the moment.
No honeymoon for Amy.
So she should have a post-divorce bacchanal complete with tons of wine and a super hot Dom. Not necessarily at the same time.
“I thought we talked about that.” Frankie had his concerned face on.
Yep, this was why she wanted to avoid this conversation. “We did. I made a decision to honor my vows. You know what my parents are like.”
His father screwed anyone with a skirt—and that did not necessarily mean a vagina—and her mother regularly made love to her bottle of Chardonnay and the pool boy. She’d grown up with constant cheating. She couldn’t stand it. Her marriage might have been a sham, but she respected it.
“I do, sweetheart. I’m so sorry. I should have been better.”
One of the reasons she’d avoided this talk was because the last thing she wanted was to make him feel guilty. “I made that choice, Frankie, and it had next to nothing to do with you. It was something I needed to do. Now that I’m single I intend to be as skanky as possible. I’m serious. I want to tear through some dicks.”
Frankie turned a nice shade of pale. “Again, not something I needed to hear from you.”
“So you want me to take notes? We could have a sleepover and talk about our sex lives.”
He stood and straightened his suit. “I shudder at the thought. I have to be at the airport in an hour. Unless you change your mind. I could talk to Taggart and have a membership very quickly. I wouldn’t have to be your training Dom. I would merely ensure that the one selected for you understands how he should treat you.”
She shook her head as she rose to hug him. Nope. She didn’t need her ex-husband giving her potential fuck buddy a lecture. No how. No way. She was letting her hair down and forgetting about work and having fun for once in her life. “There’s a very careful vetting process to ensure we’re compatible and not psychotic. I’m fine. Now go. Have fun in San Francisco.”
He held her close. “I’ll call. Be careful, Amy. I know you want to have fun, but be careful around those men. They can be rough but you need to remember that you’re the one in control. And listen to your sister. She knows this world better than you do.”
Her sister wrote about the world of D/s. Bridget was a romance author and had quite a career. Of course, she also wrote what she liked to call mega ménages, where one woman ended up with five or six men all desperate to service her. Bridget lived in a fantasy world and didn’t pay a lot of attention to the one outside of it. She was also super pregnant with her first kid and not playing a ton these days. Still, if it made Frankie happy to think Bridget was watching over her, she would go with it.
She kissed his cheek and watched him walk away. The man was fine either way he went. Coming or going.
“Ms. Slaten, you have a call on line two,” her assistant said, poking her head in the door.
Amy sighed. “Thank you, Val.”
Tonight she wouldn’t be Ms. Slaten. She would be Amy or pet or whatever her training Dom wanted to call her.
Only hours to go before she could spend some time in another world. Hopefully it would be better than this one.
* * * *
John Flynn Adler, Jr. stared at his brother from across the bar that separated Mitch’s kitchen from his living room. Perhaps he hadn’t understood. Maybe having a child had turned Mitchell’s brain soft. “What do you mean?”
Mitchell Bradford was his half brother. For much of his life, Mitch had been a complete mystery to Flynn. It had only been when their father was dying that he’d connected with his brother. Getting close to Mitch and his wife, Laurel, had been exactly what Flynn had needed at the time.
At the time? He needed it now. He might always need it. Mitch was a taciturn son of a bitch, but he was a great brother. Chase, their youngest brother, was now in college and doing better than Flynn would have imagined and it was all because Mitch had stepped up. Chase lived in Mitch’s guesthouse and was treated like a member of the family by Laurel, who ensured the kid ate something other than mac and cheese.
Sometimes Flynn envied his kid brother. His Victory Park condo had amazing views and he’d discovered it meant nothing if he had no one to share it with.
“Amy Slaten is the partner Kai and Wade selected for you to work with. I peeked at the list when I was reviewing some of Sanctum’s business contracts.” Mitch patted his son on his back in a rhythm only he could hear. He carried Johnny around a lot as the boy seemed determined to only sleep on top of other human beings. “I swear if I’d known she was going to be in that class, I would have moved you to another one. I only figured it out this morning. In their defense, they don’t know about the corporate war the two of you are involved in. Both companies have been very careful about keeping it out of the press. So should I talk to Wade or do you want to do it?”
Amy Slaten. His nemesis, according to the man who ran his company. Amy Slaten was following in her father’s very ruthless footsteps by sending spies into his company and hacking in to steal their data.
Oh, she looked all soft and sweet. She was a gorgeous woman. He’d seen her at a few functions but had chosen not to be introduced. Since he’d handed over the reins of the company to a hired CEO and changed his personal focus to R&D and raising Chase, he tried to stay out of that particular war.
He was still listed as the president of the company, still the figurehead, but he preferred to work on the creative side. When he’d left California behind, he’d tried to start over. The new software he was developing would change the way his clients did business.
The last thing he needed was to get involved in a D/s relationship with his business rival.
And yet, they’d had so many security breaches he had to wonder if he wasn’t passing up an opportunity.
“You don’t think I should go through with it? Maybe it would be a good way to get to know my enemy.” And to see if she’d planned it this way. It was too coincidental to think they would be in the same club at the same time and get partnered up in an intimate pairing.
Slaten was known for dirty dealings. Maybe this was her next play. He would never know if he backed off.
Besides, she really was a beautiful woman.
Mitch stared at him in a way that let him know big brother thought he was a dumbass. Flynn wasn’t sure how Mitch had perfected that particular stare. It might have come to him naturally when he’d become a dad. “Are you serious?”
It would be better to back off. The trouble with Amy Slaten was her connection to Laurel. Laurel’s brother, Will, was married to Bridget, Amy’s sister. God, sometimes he was fairly certain any Sanctum family tree would be the weirdest tree, with branches that wound around each other in a stranglehold. He’d managed to stay away from that side of the family. From what he understood, Bridget Slaten, now Daley, took next to no interest in her family company, though she had taken on a voting share when her sister had commandeered Slaten. She would be nothing but a guaranteed vote at a board of directors meeting. He would actually be surprised if Bridget knew who he was and how he was connected to her sister.
“I think it might be interesting to see what happens.” And if she’d done all of this so she could play Mata Hari. How far would she go?
Mitch was silent for a moment. A little too silent.
“What aren’t you telling me?” Flynn knew when his brother was holding back. Mitch had an incredible poker face, but he rarely used it around his family.
“She might have come in on an assumed name. Not exactly assumed, but she’s not using Slaten. She’s got her membership under Amy Lyndon. It was her married name, but legally she’s gone back to Slaten.”
“So she’s trying to hide her last name,” he mused. “I find that interesting.”
“I do too, Flynn.” Mitch used his name with a pointed stare. “It’s not like you’re going in as John, Jr.”
Flynn waved that off. “I only went by that at the office. I’ve always used my middle name since I discovered that chicks dig Irish sounding names. Also, might I point out if I was still using my legal first name, the baby and I would get very confused.”
Johnny’s head came up at that moment and he yawned as though telling his uncle he didn’t have to be confused. He was the center of the universe and he knew it.
Sometimes Flynn kind of envied the kid. He’d never had that kind of attention lavished on him. Not even when he was a baby. He’d had a succession of nannies who came and went. His parents were all right, but they’d led very busy lives and hadn’t had time for their children. His father had mellowed over the years and he’d been a much better dad later in life.
Flynn had to face the fact that he was lonely. He’d changed up his life and it had been for the better. He enjoyed his job more now. Chase was happy and healthy. But he’d also isolated himself.
It had been an easy thing to do after how his engagement had ended. He never talked about it. Only Chase knew how he’d screwed up. He hadn’t even told Mitch. That was how ashamed he was of not seeing through her lies. After he’d figured out how bad it was, he’d taken a step back and devoted himself to work.
Gaining Master rights at Sanctum had been his way of getting back out there. His brother had introduced him to the lifestyle and he’d realized very quickly it suited him.
That was when he’d started to think about taking a submissive.
It was a logical thing to do. He would look for a woman who wanted the same things he did. They would discuss their relationship up front and work out a contract between them. No more of that shitty go-with-the-flow dating that inevitably ended in him getting his ass kicked. This time he would do it right.
“I thought you were going into this because you were serious about finding a sub.” Mitch didn’t seem to notice the fact that his son suddenly found his father’s nose deeply fascinating. Johnny giggled and he poked at it. “Now you want to play spy?”
“I’m not the one who likes to send in the spies. That’s her MO.”
“That was her father’s MO,” Mitch corrected, gently shifting his son so tiny fingers didn’t go up his nose. “He and your dad apparently liked to go at it hard. Our dad. Sorry, it’s still hard sometimes.”
“It’s okay.” He’d gotten used to Mitch distancing from their father. In some ways, it was a miracle they were so close. Mitch was hard to get to know, but he was loyal once a man was in his circle.
Flynn had earned that. He’d changed his nephew’s diapers on occasion. That had to buy him loyalty. Johnny was a cute thing, but he was squirmy and did not skimp on the poop. He was also going to drive his father crazy. Flynn stood and held his hands out. Johnny gleefully went to him.
“I hate that it bothers you,” Mitch said, turning back to the dishes and finally making some headway with them. Laurel was working late and Mitch had planned a nice evening for them that included his wife not having to clean the kitchen. “You know I consider you and Chase family. Not consider. You are my family. It’s just weird to have gone from having no family to kind of being surrounded by it twenty-four seven.”
“Is Daddy feeling suffocated?” Flynn asked Johnny, who drooled and looked ridiculously adorable.
“No,” Mitch said with a sigh. “I’m not very good at the advice stuff.”
Flynn kept his eyes on the bundle in his hand and shook his head. “But Uncle Flynn didn’t ask for advice.”
Except he kind of needed it.
“Oh, you asked for it by being a dumbass. I know that much. I’ve been around enough brothers to know that the first rule of brotherhood is to not let your brother make an ass of himself,” Mitch explained.
He had to admit, when Mitch used that tone of voice, he really did feel like the little brother. Sometimes it made him feel oddly welcome. Today it put him on edge. “If she’s so innocent, why did we catch a Slaten employee trying to hack into our system?”
Mitch stopped and turned, drying his hands on a towel. “You can prove it?”
Beyond being his brother, Mitch was also a hawk of an attorney. He liked to fly around, looking for places he could swoop in and sue.
“My CEO says he believes it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but you know I can’t sue them. I can’t even bring the cops into it.” The weight of the baby in his arms was soothing. He found himself bouncing on the balls of his feet as Johnny yawned and laid his head on his shoulder.
“Because your stock would tank and we would be viewed as soft.” Mitch hung up the towel. “I’m surprised she would do that. You know I advised her on the takeover. I can’t talk about it, but I liked her. She seemed very stable and unlike her father. Are we certain this isn’t her father still trying to cause trouble? He would likely have people on the inside at Slaten.”
Flynn knew well enough that a woman wasn’t always as she seemed. “All I know is in the last year, Slaten has come after us and hard, so I find it interesting that a woman who, according to rumors, hates me and my company would end up as my training partner. Oh, but she’s not using her real name and she doesn’t know I know what she looks like. Does she know I’m your brother?”
“I don’t think it’s been brought up,” Mitch replied. “She only recently moved here and she hasn’t done much socializing. Laurel met her briefly at her wedding, but I don’t believe they’ve talked since. Laurel isn’t particularly close to Bridget, though they’re friendly. We see her at holidays. I assume we’ll see Amy with her this year. We’ll certainly invite her, but I doubt she’s been told anything about you by Laurel.”
But Amy knew something. It was the only explanation. “I think this is all one big plan by Slaten. They haven’t gotten what they want and now they’re sending in the big guns.”
“You think they want the code you’ve been working on?”
Of course they did. “I think they’ve figured out that I’m working on it remotely so their hackers can’t touch it. I’ve got it on a system with no Internet connection.”
He couldn’t be too safe. He kept two hard backups, but otherwise he had the only copy of his work.
“As your brother, I’m going to advise you to step back.” Mitch walked up and put a hand on his shoulder. “No matter why she’s doing it, this isn’t business. You can’t go into this training relationship without honesty.”
That seemed unfair. “I’m not the one who hasn’t been honest.”
“But you make the choices and decisions when it comes to who you are and what you do to other people. You joined this group to find yourself. Don’t turn this into something ugly. Go to the club tonight and explain the situation to Wade. He’ll get you into another class and you’ll have done the right thing. You can find the relationship you really want. You do the training right and put your heart and soul into it, and I can assure you you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll take your time and find the right sub for you. I meant what I said, Flynn. You’ll find a lot of peace in the lifestyle if you let it work for you. Laurel and I have.”
Yes, Laurel was so submissive. Laurel had actually softened his brother and turned him from a hard-core, full-time Dom into an indulgent husband. He wasn’t so sure he was looking for that. The whole marriage ship might have sailed for him. He couldn’t trust a woman enough to make that kind of commitment to her, but a contract might do. A well thought out and executed contract with rules and guidelines might bring him some peace.
Was he willing to risk that so he could bring Slaten Industries to…what exactly was his end game with them? They shouldn’t compete for clients. Slaten was big, but his firm was gargantuan.
“I’ll talk to Wade tonight.” He ran his hand over his nephew’s back and sighed. Something about a baby…
Maybe it was all about the future. He wanted one. He couldn’t have one if he kept getting swept up in the past.
“And I’ll set up a meeting with Amy Slaten next week and we’ll sit down and hash this out. Like adults. I can go into the next training class and start looking for a sub,” Flynn said. “I don’t want to play around too much, Mitch. I want something settled.”
He wanted a woman who suited him and some peace. That was all. He had his family. It was time to find some happiness and that meant putting the past behind him.
Mitch smiled his way. “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”
“Say what?” Laurel walked in the door, followed by Chase.
“Probably something silly.” His younger brother was carrying his backpack and some groceries. “Or about code. Flynn loves to talk about code.”
Laurel beamed as she kissed Mitch and then turned to her other man. She picked up her son and cuddled him. “Hey, baby boy.”
“Flynn was talking sense for once,” Mitch said with a smile. “Now I have a lasagna from Top in the fridge. Who wants dinner?”
“I thought you were having quiet time with Laurel.” Lasagna sounded ridiculously good and hey, it wasn’t like he was going to have a fun night. He got to go into Sanctum and give up his spot and wait another two months for another one.
Two months before his life could start.
He kind of hated Amy Slaten in that moment.
“That’s for later,” Laurel said with a wink. “Let’s have a nice family dinner.”
That sounded perfect to Flynn.
Copyright 2016 Lexi Blake