Allister Marshall is no stranger to saving the down on their luck staff at the club he runs. But the day he walks into a locked basement dungeon and his eyes rest on the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, this white knight is nearly brought to his knees. He’s a man’s man, but he’s kept his v-card waiting for ‘the one’, and now that he’s found her nothing will ever come between them.
Leah Morgan grew up cloaked in riches. Only she and her sister were kept locked away until a turn of events thrusts Leah out into the world where she’s a lamb primed for lions to pounce. When Allister saves her from the clutches of those sworn to care for her, she finds herself swept away by this monster of a man who is obsessed with making sure the rest of her life is filled with happiness and a few million orgasms.
Can this brute of a virgin man manage to overcome sweet Leah’s distrust of nearly everyone? When Leah once again disappears, Allister comes to grips with just how far he will go to bring home what is his. Only, will the forces at work to tear Leah from her first glimpse of true happiness be more than Allister can overcome?
Authors Note: The Forever Collection is all virgins, love-at-first-sight, indulgent fantasy. Each book a standalone. It’s fall hard, fall fast and get right to the sticky bits. If you want to lose yourself for a while with a happily ever after, no cheating and all wrapped up with an obsessed, alpha hero who will stop at nothing to make babies with his woman, then step inside, it’s steamy.
Read Chapter One Below!!
Well, let’s go with ambivalent.
You know what else I am?
I can’t believe I just used that word. I’ve never felt that before and I’m not sure I know how I feel about feeling it now.
But, my God. The man that’s about to sit in the back of the limo with me is causing all these new sensations. They are confusing to say the least.
And a little wet.
I mean…the sensations are making me wet. Gah. This is uncomfortable.
That’s his name. That’s a great name.
He’s Decker’s best man and best friend. I do my best not to stare as he lowers himself into the back of the limo, leaving the door still open behind him. I hear the rustling of leaves, the shrill call and response of birds, the scuff of shoes on gravel as my driver approaches.
Allister Marshall fills the available space: side to side, roof to floor. His massive hands come to rest on his thighs, just above his knees, and I notice him squeeze gently. I’m mesmerized by the veins that stand out, shifting against the tendons on the back of hands that look as though they could crush bone.
My gaze drifts a bit upward as a deep breath fills his chest. His lungs fill and the starched white shirt he wears under his perfected fitted charcoal gray suit stretches across his the flat of his chest.
He looks directly at me, and I do my best to swallow the golf ball lodged in my throat. The look in his eyes… the hunger… it’s as though he’s afraid I will disappear.
The girl with braces on her legs. The girl that gives in to the wheelchair at night because she can’t stand the pain anymore.
This man wants me in some way.
Maybe in ways I’ve only read about in my stacks of books with wispy, corseted women on the covers.
Ways I’ve never known in real life.
I feel it in the dampness between my legs and the hairs standing up at the nape of my neck.
It’s a fight to try to make eye contact. My eyes flit and fly around, alighting briefly on pieces and parts of him. Not staying anywhere long enough for him to notice, then landing on some incredibly compelling fleck of dust on the floor.
I’m fairly sure there is some secret Zeus clone factory that spat him out. Where every single specimen is checked, double and triple checked to assure its gritty, masculine perfection before it is unleashed on the women of the world for them to swoon and drool over. This mythical factory that must have created Allister made him with a heartbeat so fierce it resonates in the very air that fills the space in the back of the car.
And his heartbeat must be setting the pace for my own, because mine is threatening to burst out of my chest. He looks so comfortable sitting here in this deafening silence. His cut features look intensely relaxed.
One of his golden brown eyes is slightly more closed than the other. A short growth of dark hair covers his formerly slick bald head and I wonder what made him start to grow it out.
Wilson, my driver, closes the limo door behind Allister with a soft click. I feel the slight movement of the car as he sets himself in the driver’s seat and shuts his own door.
Allister is older than me by more than a bit; I see it in the lines around his eyes. The three horizontal lines that accent his forehead make me think the years between us are slightly less than ten. That only flutters my heart more. He’s other things besides just older.
The limo moves with barely any noise down the expressway. The Bentley insulated and made for luxury.
Why doesn’t he say something? God, this is so uncomfortable. How can he sit there looking so calm?
The silence throws me over the edge into my suffocating anxiety. The growing heat and tingling that is forcing me to press my legs tightly together also forces me to break the silence.
“I can’t believe my little sister is married.” It’s impossible to hide the quiver in my voice. The words tumble out in a single, long stream.
My face is flaming hot as Allister swallows and shifts his hips, then the limo gives a slight jerk as Wilson maneuvers through traffic heading for Decker’s guest house. I’ve been staying there ever since the police found me locked and bound in a room in the basement of my family’s mansion.
Well, the police were there, anyway. Really, the person who found me was him.
Why do I love that name so much?
“Why can’t you believe she’s married?” Allister’s voice matches his physical presence perfectly, like a sonic boom, so powerful it nearly throws my head into the headrest, as if Wilson had just slammed on the brakes.
It’s a reasonable question, and I turn away, looking out of the window, trying to think of an answer that doesn’t make me sound like a selfish brat.
I was afraid of Allister when he came in that room to rescue me. That day a couple weeks ago when he walked into the locked, dark room at the estate where I’d been hidden away still plays over and over in my dreams.
The next moment I felt relieved, surrounded by people, light streaming in from the doorway. I remember my first thought.
Then there was Allister, nearly blocking out the light again, and I screamed at him. I pounded him with my fists as soon as he cut the bindings. Not one of my blows drew a wince from him. But they did hurt.
Not him. My little, cotton candy fists banging against the solid lead under his clothes.
Now I’m lost in my feelings, the contradiction of them. Just being this close has my breath coming short… teetering between fear and awe.
I sense the undertone of his kind nature, the golden heart glowing straight through his perfectly tailored suit. And yet, on the other hand, he represents everything that I’ve lost. He is Decker’s best friend.
Decker, who’s taken May away from me.
Right when I need her the most.
I shake away the selfish thought. May is happy. Decker is amazing. I’m being a petulant child.
“I don’t know.” I consider his question about May and try to pluck up an honest answer. “I should be the one taking care of her, not some stranger she only just met.”
His eyes rest on me and I shrink back into the seat. They remind me of a tiger’s eyes, gold and deep brown. They’re fascinating but in an almost unnatural way. I can’t tell where the gold ends and the brown begins.
I look out the window before adding, “She just doesn’t seem grown up to me.”
Ugh, I wish my heart would stop fluttering.
“I can see that.” A low chuckle catches in his throat in agreement. “Bet you had your hands full with her since your mom and dad passed, right? I can’t tell you how sorry I am for your loss.”
He looks down, his enormous hands rasping back and forth over the gray wool, working their way from knee to mid-thigh and back. I’m mesmerized by the movement.
“I know it was years ago you lost your parents, but God.” His gaze moves from the floor to the ceiling and then back to me. “You’ve been hurt so much.”
Something about his voice hits me in my belly. A flock of butterflies batting their wings flick and tickle me from the inside.
They are the same ones that are tip-toeing all over the skin on my arms and neck. I’m fidgeting. Shifting from hip to hip, my hands finding it impossible to light anywhere for more than a second or two.
I know I’m avoiding Allister’s eyes, but I can’t stop myself. My mind is filled with thoughts of how Victor would never meet your eye when he’d speak, like he didn’t really want to acknowledge that you were there.
He was Simon our conservator’s son and May’s former fiancé. I hope I don’t have to see him or Simon ever again. Never. They should be out of my life for good. No more overlords.
Now they are convicts.
Although Victor is out on bond. And that thought turns the happy butterfly parade to a cold chill.
But while Victor would never look you in the eye, Allister is the polar opposite. Although right now I’d welcome a break from his fastidious gaze, dissecting parts of me from across the back of the car.
Power ripples off him like silent thunder, making it hard to breathe and harder to try to hide the contraptions on my legs that I wear as a constant reminder of what one person’s careless, selfish decisions can do.
A four-pound bouquet of white roses and pink and purple peonies sits on the supple, caramel-colored leather next to me. The bouquet I just held for my sister’s wedding.
She doesn’t need me anymore.
The scent of the flowers is suddenly overpowering. I didn’t carry them as I walked up the aisle, though. No, I sat with them in my lap, because the thought of limping up the aisle on my metal crutches, the thought of the clink, clink, clink of the braces that hold my legs in place… well, it wasn’t a humiliation I chose to endure so I took a seat at May’s side while the rest of them walked up the aisle until it was time for their vows.
I struggled to stand there, doing my best to not sway and grimace through the ceremony, but it took a lot out of me.
There were no other attendees besides May, Decker, myself and Allister. Just us and the Justice of the Peace. But still. I wish I didn’t have to always be ‘considered.’ The car accident crushed both my femurs into confetti and left my lower legs decorated with titanium pins and bolts.
But May looked so happy today, I have to admit. Even though the selfish part of me worries about what I’ll do with my life now, I can’t deny the joy I feel seeing her so much in love.
And oh my god, Decker cried during their vows. Which made me cry. There is something about a strong, tough man showing true emotion that gets me every time.
Their relationship might have been a whirlwind, but I’ve never been able to deny the love I see between them. Not only see it, I can feel it too.
The way Deck looks at May is something I wish for myself someday. He worships the ground she walks on and I’m so happy she’s found her Prince Charming, I really am. They remind me of Mom and Dad, and that’s something special.
My parents started out differently, of course. In our world, arranged marriages are as common as dandelions in spring. But they ended up falling deeply in love and we grew up watching a perfect example of how a husband honored and loved his wife.
I’m happy that we had that, an example of how it should be, but the lump in my throat reminds me that for myself, as much as I might not want to admit it, being a wife and mother is my dream. And yet, with what the accident took from me, it is the one thing I may never have. I still have my writing and my books, and that comes in as a close second. Oh, and blueberry Poptarts.
Always blueberry Poptarts.
And that will have to do for this life.
The limo makes a sharp right turn and I shoot my arm out to brace myself from falling over. It’s not like Wilson to make such an abrupt move. And suddenly, the scent of the flowers doesn’t mask Allister’s own earthy, manly cologne. Combine that with our close proximity and the one glass of champagne I drank feels more like six. Thinking of Mom and Dad, May and Decker, only makes sitting here with Allister that much more humiliating.
I’ve never reacted like this to a man. My life has always been about protecting May and trying to keep us safe. But right now, when I take a breath or even blink my eyes, all I see is him. The way he looks at me hurts because I know I’ll never have the kind of love I dream of.
No one will want me like this let alone a man like him. How could they?
Where May is naturally captivating, energetic and beautiful, chirpy and nearly dancing through each day, I’m broken and crooked. Serious and a bit distrustful.
May used to always tell me how beautiful I was. How she thought of me as Cinderella at the ball. Or how she would do her best runway model walk in my bedroom. Strutting her stuff while saying I was the one that should be walking the runway in Paris or Milan.
I never saw it before the accident and well after, I can barely look in the mirror.
My mind is warped, half wanting to snatch May back from her happiness so that I can keep her for myself. I’m sure I’m mistaking what I see in Allister’s eyes. It must be pity, not want, because how could it be anything else?
The Bentley limo we are in is one of our family cars, so it’s just a standard, hearse black classic limousine. Not one of the bachelorette-party-super-stretch kinds with an interior adorned with disco ball and moon roof.
Which sets Allister and I closer than I would like. A yard stick wouldn’t fit between us.
I catch myself shaking my head again, trying to shake off the feeling, but it just keeps coming right back.
I clear my throat before I look at his hands again and do my best to keep my voice steady. “You didn’t need to come, you know. I can manage on my own.” Each word is snappy and I’m immediately sorry. Instead of apologizing, I turn to look out the window instead of acknowledging my defensive coping mechanism.
I glance back to see Allister tip his head to the side an inch. His lips tighten a bit as he tries to stay the smile that is threatening to erupt. For a second, anger bubbles up inside me, thinking the expression is condescending, but then I see the deep kindness in his intense eyes and I melt back into my seat.
“I’ve seen how well you manage on your own.” His return tone is nothing but kind. “I just wanted to escort you home, that’s all. Every lady should have an escort, be treated with reverence and respect. It has nothing to do with what you can or can’t do, Leah.”
My name on his lips sends adrenaline racing through me.
“Sorry.” I attempt to meet his eyes but I can only bear it for a couple heartbeats before my gaze drops and lands squarely at his crotch. That only ignites new fire in my cheeks and forces me to bite back the little moan that comes from my throat. “I’m not sure why I’m being so rude to you.”
It’s the first honest thing I’ve said to him and relief swims through me.
“It’s okay, Leah.”
We ride in silence for the last few miles. I don’t look back at him but there is no mistaking that he’s keeping his eyes on me the entire time.
By the time the limo pulls into the driveway of Decker’s house, I’m ready to leap out of my skin. Instead of looking at him, I study the house like I’ve never seen it before. Its sleek, modern lines and lush, manicured gardens. A guesthouse typical of Decker’s way of life, I suppose, but such a contrast with the opulent mansion where I’ve lived until two weeks ago.
Decker told May he’d designed both the main house and guest house himself. He’s a fan of architecture, with Frank Lloyd Wright being one of his favorites, and he even has one of the famous architect’s quotes chiseled into an enormous boulder that accents the garden at the entryway of the main house. It reads, ‘If you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.’
“Well, thank you for escorting me.” That snarky tone seeps back in and I don’t know why I’m such a brat to Allister. I adjust my attitude before finishing. “Wilson will take you wherever you need to go. I’ll get myself to the door.” I lean forward, my body tense, ready for the onslaught of humiliation that will accompany me as I get out of the car.
“Do you know there is a code?” Allister smiles and my belly again does things that remind me of a cheap romance novel.
God, how does he do that?
“Code?” I raise an eyebrow and note the twinkle in his eyes.
“Yes. The real-man code.”
“What are you talking about?” My words are clipped, tipped with feigned annoyance, but in reality I’m desperate to keep him here. I want to be with him, just for a few more moments, indulging in my fantasy.
“Yes. Real men finish what they start. Real men walk ladies to the door. Real men have a code. You’ll be more familiar with it as time goes on. But for now, just understand, I will be walking you to that door.” There’s no question or room for negotiation in his voice. All I can do is sit mute, swallow, and try to keep the drool from dripping off my chin.
The limo comes to a stop in front of the guesthouse. It’s a smaller version of the main house: very open and clean on the inside, minimal, but still warm and comforting.
The back wall of the living room looks out over a ravine that leads down to a river. At night, when I’m staring at the ceiling and wondering what’s next for me and my life, I can hear the water rushing and bubbling over the stones and silt. My life has turned upside down in the last few weeks. I hope that’s the end of it, but I suspect the future is not yet settled.
Because it never really is, is it?
The car door clicks open and Wilson greets me with his usual warm smile. I see a glint of the gold-capped tooth he’s always had. He’s been with the family since my parents were alive, so he knows me as well as anyone besides May. I know that he stayed on after the accident just for us, as did all the staff who didn’t beat a hasty retreat after we were orphaned and Simon-the-Hell-Hound took over the house.
And our lives.
The staff that stayed didn’t hang around because Simon and Victor were pleasant employers, that’s for sure. Wilson, Miss Henrietta and Mr. Fredby have circled the wagons around me, so to speak, since the incident where Simon locked me downstairs trying to force May to marry Victor. Then, when it was clear that might not happen, they started prepping me for the replacement position.
What a mess. All because my father trusted someone close to him rather than trusting his daughters to make their own decisions. His backward view of women wasn’t his fault, I suppose, he was a product of the community in which he was raised. But it was still the cause of all this.
Wilson extends his hand toward me in the back seat, but Allister’s comes out to replace his.
“I’ll take it from here. Thank you.” He moves swiftly and silently for someone so large. He’s out the car door and inching Wilson backward with his body.
My driver steps back with a grimace. His eyes dart from me to Allister, then back again with a tip of his head. He is staff, sure, only we formed a different sort of bond. He’s not as old as Miss Henrietta and Mr. Fredby, and he’s a friend to me in his own way, as much as an employee.
“I’ll be here to take you back to the house later——” Wilson starts, but Allister cuts him off.
“We’ll be fine. I’ll take her where she needs to go.”
The tension turns my stomach. Both men look like frothing lions and I’m trapped in the middle, not really sure what’s going on. The urge to cut the tension pushes my voice from my throat.
“I’ll text you when I need the car, Wilson. Thank you.” I meet his eyes and smile as Allister steps my way. Whatever dynamic is ruffling their man feathers, it seems that it’s my job to try to sooth it.
Wilson hesitates for a moment, then nods. “Yes, miss, of course.” He takes a step back before adding, “You have my number.”
The two of them exchange another tense glance. I shouldn’t care, shouldn’t let it bother me, but for some reason it does. Whatever is going on between them, it involves me.
I’m still puzzling over it as Allister’s frame fills the open door.
It takes me a moment to decide my next move. I don’t know Allister at all really. I mean, sure, he’s Decker’s best friend, I get that, but that doesn’t make him anything to me.
Honestly, I don’t remember the last person I could trust that wasn’t one of the staff. Well, obviously there’s May, but that’s different. She’s more like a part of me. Seems everyone else has an agenda, and usually it involves our money. That seems to be a motivator for most people I’ve noticed. Wilson has never said one word about needing anything in his life. He’s always been a perfect gentleman. Gone above and beyond the call of duty with the family, and especially for me.
“Leah.” Allister leans down so his face is in the open doorway. “I’m here to escort you, nothing more. Just take my hand, let me help you inside. My gentleman card will be revoked if you don’t let me return you safe and sound.”
That wry smile curves his full lips. It looks somewhat out of place, and yet perfect.
I gulp the lump in my throat and shift my body over toward the door. Thank goodness my dress is a gauzy silk and it slips easily across the soft leather seat. I can’t push off with my legs, so I have to use my arms to maneuver into position and reach down to lift and reposition my feet so they sit just outside the open door and will fall square under me when I stand.
Hopefully I stand. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve toppled over. Face down and ass up.
Pretty picture for a porn star, but not for me.
Part of me wants to trade Allister for Wilson right now. Only because, at least he’s been around me, seen me at my worst…
He doesn’t bring out feelings the way Allister is doing.
Or give me the urge to kiss him.
The way Allister is doing.
The stainless steel that supports my legs inside and outside of my calves, upward, with a black strap that tightens just below my knee are part of the flat, black loafers I wore today. The bars disappear under the hem of my ruffled skirt where they are secured to two more Velcro straps which are currently digging into my upper thighs.
Needless to say, Jimmy Choo’s these are not.
Just as my cheeks flash flaming fuschia, Allister leans in the open doorway, both his enormous hands scooping up my own. And all the while, those golden eyes stay locked onto mine.
“I’ve got you, Leah. I’ll never let you fall.”