(Chapter 1 Excerpt Below)
The plan was to ruin a man’s life. Not seduce the man’s daughter. But sometimes, the unlikeliest of people becomes the target. And sometimes revenge can make a man vulnerable in ways he didn’t know existed…
I’m bored. Tired of my meaningless life. The garden parties, the white sundresses, and politely saying “no” to the sliver of cake—it’s the life my mother and father wanted for me, worked tirelessly for me to have. And the monotony makes me reckless.
But when I go to Blake Vandershall’s party, his dark, menacing eyes and his hard, unyielding stare make me want things that have never been offered to me before. He’s the type who would ravish you in your father’s law office. The kind who would lie without blinking an eye in order to get what he wants.
And the repressed bad girl in me wants to give him what he needs.
Daisy Nowell is nothing to me.
I don’t care that underneath that blue-blood lifestyle, she’s burning to be unleashed. My victim is her father—the one man who had the chance to save my mother from a brutal fate. The coward did nothing, and it’s my turn to make his life a living hell.
He’s about to lose his precious daughter to me, a man whose sole mission is to destroy him. I’ll do anything, say anything, in order to tear this woman from her safe life as I hurtle down my path towards destruction. But I didn’t count on her seeing through me. I didn’t count on her tapping into my weaknesses, pushing my dark heart in ways I don’t want. Ways I hate.
I need to find a way to exact my vengeance and leave this all behind. Before this woman ruins me for good.
Chapter One Excerpt:
Should I do it . . .
My finger hovers over the button that will rain chaos over everything. It will ruin the hors d’oeuvres, the women’s couture, the men’s linen suits. But most importantly, it will ruin his party.
He’s been staring at me all night, those coal dark eyes saturated with ambition and disturbingly wicked ideas. They follow me around his gardens like I’m some model on display for his visual pleasure.
It pisses me off. Enough to want to make him sorry for it. Enough to make sure he knows staring at me is not okay. And most important, enough to ensure this party will end and I can get out of here.
His sprinkler system is my new partner in crime.
I didn’t used to have this itch to cause trouble, but my perpetual boredom has bred a recklessness that’s banished all caution. It’s forced me into childish pranks like provoking the anger of potentially dangerous man in an attempt to entertain myself.
“You could do it.”
His voice behind me sends a shock of exhilaration down my back followed by a rush of something molten. My heart starts to flutter like a panicked butterfly.
Which is ridiculous. No man scares me.
I turn on my heel to face him, the bachelor of stunning proportions. From his cheekbones to his family name, from his property to his hips—I should be leaping for joy that he’s singled me out.
Except I’m not, and won’t. I’ve worked hard to stop attracting men like him—the rich Southern gentleman. Dyeing my hair a darker color, wearing extra eyeliner, dressing with more flair than is appropriate—it should be repelling him, not drawing him in. But perhaps it’s because he seems as unlike those other men as flowers are to thorns.
“Blake Vandershall,” I quip, trying not to be intimidated by him sneaking up on me in a secluded corner of his estate.
I cannot see his eyes, his gaze cast in shadow, but his voice resonates like a low bell, tolling out someone’s fate. My fate. “Daisy Nowell.”
I try not to flinch—he knows my name, even though we’ve never met. Which would be scary. If I was the scaring type. It doesn’t stop shivers from going down my back, though. “Do you always sneak up on women in the dark?”
“When they’ve malicious intentions toward my property, yes.” The severity of his words almost makes me want to run. But there’s a party right around the corner. I’m in no danger. “You can put your hand down, Ms. Nowell.”
“And why would I do that? I have no reason to stop now.”
“You have every reason to stop now. Unless of course, you want me to stop you.”
I swallow hard. I shouldn’t want that. It should appall me, but . . . And here it is again. The excitement. The thrill. The thought of him doing just that makes my blood sing. Not knowing how he would stop me, how he would touch me, sends salacious ideas zinging through my mind.
Damn, it’s been too long since I got laid. It has me imagining doing things with a near-stranger behind his pool house that should not be in my visual vocabulary. But there it is. His mouth, those curving lips, what they would feel like . . .
“You aren’t really going to do it.” He steps closer. Too close.
If I back away, I’ll have to let go of the button. I can still press it before he could stop me. I think.
Oh, I like this game of chicken. “I’m making you nervous.”
His mouth hardens into a line. “You’re making me frustrated. Now let go of the button, Daisy.”
“I think I like you frustrated, Mr. Vandershall, about as much as I dislike you staring at me.”
“Maybe if you’d let me talk to you instead of disappearing every time I got near you, you’d find I stared less.”
“What could we possibly have to talk about?”
“Ah, now she comes to it. But are you ready for the answer? I’m not sure you are.” He steps nearer. And now I start to sweat. He’s so much taller than me in my ballet flats, I have to tilt my head to look up at him.
But I steel my spine. “Tell me. What is it I’m ‘not ready’ for?”
“The real reason why I threw this party.”
“Everyone knows it’s because your father died and you’re reopening his estate.”
He jerks back like I’ve shocked him. Good. For as much as he’s intimidating me on purpose, he deserves to be shocked. “No. That is not the reason.”
“Ooh, the suspense,” I mock. “Better tell me quick. Or I might get annoyed and press this button that you so obviously don’t want me to. A point you probably shouldn’t have given away so easily. It leaves you at a decided disadvantage.”
“Hardly.” He leans his head down. “Ask me.”
“Ask you what?”
“Why I threw this party.”
“Not if you’re telling me to, I won’t.”
He lets out a heavy sigh, then lowers his mouth to my ear. His breath brushes warm along my neck, and he’s frighteningly close. Close enough to stop me now. I won’t admit how much my heart accelerates at the thought.
The silence around us thickens, and I become too aware of how easily I could encourage him and how easily he could make a move on me. He could press me against the wall of the pool house. He could lead me down the unlit garden path. How hot would his mouth be, how desperate his hands—please say they’d be as intense as the look in those dark eyes.
“Ask me,” he whispers.
“Why did you throw this party?” My voices wavers, exposing my weakness.
“What?” I jerk away, nearer to the button.
“I threw this party to meet you.”
Creepy. Flattering—but creepy. I move away from him, but he follows and the lights from the terrace catch on his stark face.
Danger. Alarms blare in my head and scream, Look away!
But I don’t. I can’t. His black-as-pitch irises are a bottomless well of darkness. If I could climb in there and learn everything inside them, I’d never be bored again in my life.
His gaze is full of hunger, infinite secrets, unspeakable things and . . . triumph.
Wait, triumph? Has he won something?
It’s certainly not me.
No matter how much I wonder why he’s thrown this party for me—and if he even has, if it’s true or just a pickup line—it’s not enough for me to stand here and let him win.
So I press the button, activating his state of the art watering equipment with a pleasant whoosh followed by a chorus of feminine squeals.
The outrage that sweeps over his face is worth every minute of this awkward conversation. The triumph that was in his gaze is erased by fury, the darkness eclipsed with disbelief. The darling Daisy Nowell he thought he threw this party for is not me.
It’s my turn to smile in triumph.
I ignore the threat lurking in his eyes. “Enjoy your party.” I duck beneath his arm and stroll over to appreciate the spectacle I created.
This is not how this was supposed to go.
She sashays away, accentuating all the perfectly distracting things about her. I expected a demure, passive, giggling debutante, not a woman lusting for trouble.
I squelch the anger broiling in my stomach—staving off the need to hit something. The anger in me is getting worse and harder to contain by the day.
She’s going to make this job I’ve set for myself—the revenge I’m seeking and won’t sleep till I find—difficult. If she makes it too difficult, she’ll become a casualty on my path of destruction, not just a bystander.
But her well-being is not my problem.
I’m as affronted by her as I am to find that I recognize her—and that she doesn’t recognize me. She’s the same woman I watched four years ago when I was in law school and have fantasized about since. She’s changed her hair, her makeup, clothes, but she can’t change those mischievous eyes or that take-no-prisoners defiance. Which is infuriatingly dangerous—for her.
Only an idiot provokes me the way she’s just done. Most people know better. Though somehow I don’t think it’s a lack of intelligence on her part.
Her attempts to fight me will be in vain. Allowing her to go free now is just part of the game. She has no idea her freedom is already lost.
I type a number into the sprinkler system’s keypad and blanch at the red light that flashes. My code doesn’t work.
I try again. This time it beeps and talks to me: “Code insufficient.”
I can’t suppress a growl of frustration. How did she change the passcode?
The waitstaff are shepherding the guests into the house—the one place I never go.
The only way to stop the sprinklers now is to shut the water off. I scramble through the bushes to the door of the pool house and turn the spigot to close the pipes.
Except the water is still rushing. She set off the entire sprinkler system. Not just the section from the pool house, but the one pumped from the main house.
The groundskeeper, old Mr. Tanner, went to bed hours ago. No one else awake knows where the water shutoff is—except me.
I stare at the massive structure: three stories of eerie gray stonework. I stay in the guesthouse on the other side of the drive. Some demons are better left sleeping.
But to stop the water Daisy has sent pouring onto my lawn, I have to go in.
I find her standing on the sidewalk, water pouring over her feet, soaking her legs.
“You’ve got a problem on your hands,” she says.
Seething, I bite out, “How did you change the code?”
Her smile morphs to a cocky grin. “Like I’d tell you that.”
“Change it back.” My words are bitter barbs. I can’t believe she isn’t cowering from me.
“Ooh, giving orders? Nope. Run along and fix it yourself, big boy.”
I step closer, intending to intimidate her, flummoxed I’m not. “You and I are not finished.”
“You’re a bit creepy, you know? Why would I want to see you again?” Despite her indignation, there’s curiosity there. She wants to know why I threw this party for her.
I’ll never tell her the real reason—the reason why my revenge includes her and has become my obsession. That time will come. Soon.
As for right now, making sure she’s intrigued enough to see me again is more immediate than saving my lawn from pooling into a swamp.
I lower my voice. “When I’m done, you’re going to want me more than you’ve ever wanted anything in your life.”
Her pretty smile fades. “You know nothing about what I want.”
“The real truth is—” I take the advantage and step closer, close enough to kiss. True to her stubbornness, she doesn’t back away. “—you don’t know what you want.”
Her speechlessness gives me a small piece of satisfaction.
I accept her invitation to explain. “In college, you were an undeclared major until senior year.”
“How do you know that?” she whispers.
“You stayed in town to work at your daddy’s law office.”
She fumbles for a response, betraying that she’s as insecure about getting a job through nepotism as I’d suspected. “I’m there to help him be less stressed.”
“Because you can’t figure out what else to do. There’s no man in your life. You’ve never kept one around for more than three months at a time. You’re still living in your old apartment, even though your roommates all moved out last year.” I pause, letting the words sink in. “You have no idea what you want in life. Or in a man.”
Her breathing accelerates. “Maybe I like women.”
“Then where are they?”
“You’ve never even met me.”
“Haven’t I?” I remember her, all right. She has the same contagious delight, the same addictive enthusiasm that makes me want her, despite my plans to merely use her.
A female voice calls to her over the noise of the sprinklers. “Daisy! We’re leaving.”
Daisy glances at her friend, her ear turning toward my mouth. I whisper in it, “I can help.”
Her in-drawn breath is ragged, and in the eyes she turns to me, her defensiveness wanes. For a moment, she’s vulnerable.
But she notches her chin higher. “And you know exactly what you want. Which is me. Am I right?”
Her one eyebrow lifts in the most condescending, cutest affectation. “Which makes you no different from every other man I’ve ever met.” A gloating smile lifts her cheeks and lightens her amber eyes. “So whatever I want, it’s definitely not you. Good evening, Mr. Vandershall.” She tiptoes away through the puddles.
Her short skirt flounces as she goes, tantalizing, though not revealing the pretty little ass the dress hints at. My jaw grinds and my hands fist.
This is not how this was supposed to go.
Her lightness mixed with her tenacity are a rainbow compared with the ruthlessness that defines my existence. But I don’t give a shit about rainbows.
The keystone of my plan is laid. She knows me. She’ll spend the night thinking about me. Tomorrow, I will confront her father.
But right now I have another problem.
I go through the kitchen door and sneak down the basement stairs. I move quick, I don’t look at anything, I don’t turn on the lights. I find the correct pipe and shut the valve.
Moonlight filters through the basement’s half windows and lights on the chair in the corner. The silence inside the concrete walls after the noise of the party pounds in my head like thunder—booming and ripping through my rational mind, shattering any sense of what I’m doing or who I am.
I know the size of the space behind that chair to the inch. I have the patterns in the floor as memorized, as well the cracks in the wall. They’re the same as when I was a child, before I decided hiding was a luxury I couldn’t afford.
Before my sister. When my mother was still alive. Before not even she could protect me.
A scream floods my hearing and I turn, almost expecting to see her. My heart slams against my ribs, my breathing faster than if I’d run a mile.
The scream changes to laughter, and I remember, I’m not small. I couldn’t fit behind that chair anymore. I didn’t just hear my mother in terror. No. It’s my guests upstairs having a jolly time while I’m down here surrounded by brutal flashbacks of things I’ve worked my life to forget.
Anger, the kind that has become my best friend and greatest weapon, storms through my blood and sears off my old fear. Revenge—for the ending of the life of the woman who raised me, a woman who loved me the way no one ever will again—that’s the reason for the party, the reason for Daisy. The reason to enact the sweetest retribution my fractured mind can conjure.
I race up the stairs clinging to the anger, using it for a shield as I walk through the rooms, the places where it happened, the things that left no mark. Dozens of people laugh and mill through the foyer, not knowing the horrors that went on here.
They should’ve left a mark, but there’s no evidence anything wrong ever occurred. Except in my mind. I push the flashes of violence to the back of my head, praying it’s not evident on my face that being in this house puts me in a state of fight-or-flight panic.
I break through the front door, out into the night air, and my helplessness vanishes.
Down on the gravel drive, I get a glimpse of Daisy winding her way through the cars.
It’s my fuel—my motivation. I’m not helpless anymore. It took me too long, but I’m finally here to take back the control I was robbed of and will never lose again.