Sneak Peek at Chapter One of Damasked (New Rules Trilogy Book 3)

Hope everyone's having an awesome weekend! Damasked is coming soon, so here's a little taste for those who've been waiting for so long! Happy reading!

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Chapter One

 

Scraps of leather covered the worktable like a miniature war had gone down between the fabric and all the tools, small droplets of blood adding to the realism. Shaking my head, I crossed the room, snatching up the medkit I’d left on a shelf the other day for this very purpose. Why it surprised me that the new project had quickly become an obsession, I had no idea, but I hadn’t expected casualties.

Head bent over a spread of diagrams, Xavier Ashburne’s expression held a hint of betrayal, as though all those lines and numbers were intentionally trying to make a fool of him. One elbow on the edge of the table, he held his bloody finger away from his work like it was nothing but an inconvenience to be dealt with later.

Over the past few months, Xavier had mellowed out in so many ways, which pleased me. His sleek, black hair, held back from his face with a loose leather cord, softened his features, and he was wearing dark blue jeans and a snug, faded blue T-shirt—clothing he hadn’t even owned for years. And damn it, it suited him.

This ‘remembering I’m human’ thing is sexy as hell.

But the driven perfectionist hadn’t gone far. This new passion project was threatening to put him in the same volatile mood that still had his employees scrambling for cover at the office.

Thankfully, I’d never let that mood chase me away.

And I’m not about to start now.

Pulling one of the padded leather chairs shoved against the wall close, I sat and set the medkit on Xavier’s desk. Wrapped my hand around his wrist, tightening my grip when he made an irritated sound and tried to pull away. “I’m taking care of this, my man.” To keep things a bit light, I shot him a slanted smile when he glowered at me. “Don’t make me call Alec in here to hold you down.”

That got a laugh, though it was a bit strained. Xavier relaxed, turning his chair so face me as I tended to the cut on his finger. “Luther, unless our boy deserves a punishment, you should keep him far far away from me.” He cast a miserable look at whatever it was he was trying to put together. “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t stop until I get this vision out of my head. My staff has attempted a few prototypes, but… Damn it, they’re all dull as fuck. This new line needs…”

“Perfection.” I lifted my gaze from where I’d finished cleaning off the blood. “I can’t fault you for that, you’re putting your name on it. But you’ve only started learning how to work with leather. Did you really think you’d pull off runway-ready shoes overnight?”

The question only had Xavier looking more dejected. He rubbed his uninjured hand over his face. “It’s a purse. Damn it, I need to go back to the drawing board. There’s no way I can make it to brunch in the morning. You’d make a better date for Alec anyway.”

All right, this was not like Xavier at all. The relentless drive? Yes, that was familiar after all these years. But the hopelessness wasn’t something I could tease out of him.

I pressed some gauze against the length of his elegant finger, routine manicures the only thing keeping the calluses at bay with how much he used his hands. Let the silence stretch between us until he shifted and stared at me, as though to force the words out of me by will alone.

A strand of black hair slipped from its leather tie, trailing down his cheek. I reached up to tuck it behind his ear. “What’s really bothering you, Xavier? The company is doing well. Your designs are more popular than ever. The new junior line is a success and—”

“And it could be more!” Xavier clamped his lips shut, shaking his head when he tried to pull away again and I kept a firm hold on him. For the most part, Xavier was a Dom, but in times like this he needed to give that control to me before it swallowed him whole.

Of course, he always had to resist a bit, just on principle. A game I was used to, and enjoyed more now that the lines were clear.

My steady gaze was met with challenge for a few beats before Xavier lowered his eyes, huffing out a laugh. “Are you going to beat my ass for raising my voice at you?”

He was changing the subject, but I’d allow it. For the moment. “Do you need me to? I’ll have to finish with your finger so you don’t get blood all over your desk when I bend you over it…” A slow smile curved my lips at the flash of heat in his eyes. Yes, this was much better. I touched my engagement ring on his left hand, loving how the gold looked against his lightly tanned flesh. “This means you are mine. Every part of you, which means I will care for you when you can’t or won’t care for yourself.”

“It was an unwanted distraction, but I won’t fight you on this.” Xavier held still as I got out the skin glue and used it to repair the damage he’d done before bandaging the wound. “I would appreciate it if you’d go with Alec, though. He’ll enjoy himself with you and I’d simply be distracted by what I’m hoping to accomplish.”

“Hm.” Rising from my seat, I went over to study the purse he’d been working on. The lines, the stitches, were more complicated than the skill level he’d reached with his private lessons. From the sketches on the pad nearby, I could see what he was going for. Something sleek, streamlined, with intricate details and the elegance of one of his favourite luxury vehicles. Like all of his designs, he wouldn’t be able to relax until he was finished.

Except he needed to hand over more control than he could to anyone besides me to accomplish that. It had taken him years to trust other designers and seamstresses to make dresses and suits for his lines. That had expanded to the junior line, with Alec assisting at the helm, but this new project seemed to have brought them right back where they’d started.

Not a great place to be.

“I’ll go with him, but on one condition.” I motioned for Xavier to stand so I could hold his gaze as I spoke. Hopefully make the decision easier by taking the choice away. There was no guarantee it would work, the man could be stubborn as hell, but damn it, I had to do something. “Bring in one of the leatherworkers to help you with this. You said a few showed potential. I don’t care if you hover over their shoulder the whole time. Pick one who won’t care either. You will stop torturing yourself.” I brushed my fingers over his lips to smooth away the dark frown. “That pleasure belongs to me.”

A small shudder, one I could feel with my fingertips as Xavier closed his eyes and nodded. He inhaled roughly, his voice barely audible on his exhale. “I need this, Luther. I can’t...let all I’ve built become stale. Stop growing. I’ve become too comfortable, too...tame.” His throat worked. “I need to know the changes in my life won’t leave me with barely a memory of that passion I used to have.”

That word, ‘tame’, told me everything I needed to know. As much as Xavier was enjoying our home more now that it actually looked like a home, as much as he soaked in the affection he shared with me and Alec, it was taking him away from that single-mindedness of always being the best at what he did. The first to start a new trend among the socialites, the one who earned a spot on the front page of every fashion magazine so often it was practically reserved for him.

He didn’t see how he could have both.

And maybe he was right. Maybe one would have to give, in some ways.

I wouldn’t force him to choose, but there was a small voice in my mind whispering.

Please choose me. Choose us.

It would never be that simple. He’d been erased by his family and those scars were too deep for him to ignore. I understood. I supported his need to scream out to the world ‘I’m here and I’m not going anywhere!’

The problem was, it put us right back where we’d been for too damn long. Me standing back while he tried to prove himself, over and over again. Waiting for the moment when he needed more. When he realized he didn’t have to prove himself to me.

There was one change that seemed to have brought back those old feelings more than anything, though. Our relationship.

So I cupped his cheek, keeping my voice level to avoid any misunderstandings. This wasn’t an accusation. It wasn’t going to make me love him any less. But I needed to know. “Do you still want to marry me?”

Xavier blinked like the words didn’t quite make sense to him. He lifted his hand to the back of mine. “God, yes, Luther. More than anything. And we’ll continue with the planning as soon as…” He blew out a breath. “I can see why you would have your doubts, but I will take your advice. I’ll bring on someone with adequate skills and stop being such a control-freak.”

My brow lifted at that. “This I have to see.”

“And you will. But don’t gloat, or I’m not bending over that goddamn desk.” The edge of his lips quirked. “Take your win, my man. The next one won’t be so easy.”

The next big win would be standing at the end of the aisle, with Alec by my side, watching Xavier walk toward me. And I didn’t expect it to be easy. But it would be worth it. Worth whatever I had to do to show Xavier he didn’t have to sacrifice who he was, all his goals, to have me standing by his side, promising forever.

Tonight, I’d focus on the ground we’d gained. Patting his cheek, I jutted my chin toward the desk. “Get yourself comfortable. I want to make sure this lesson sticks.”

A bit of tightness along his jaw, a flash of defiance in his eyes, but Xavier simply nodded before turning away from me. The moments of submission he gave me were often like this. Grudgingly accepting what he needed until we got started and he finally surrendered.

It was beautiful to watch, so I took my time going to him as he braced his hands on the edge of the antique desk he’d gotten at a little shop in one of the beachside towns we’d visited with Alec last summer. Our boy was exploring his tastes in everything from clothes to furniture, and he loved things that were a bit different. Handcrafted pieces with a history, a contrast from the sharp modern style Xavier had leaned toward for the longest time.

I wasn’t sure what made this desk appeal to Xavier more. That it was solid enough to fuck our boy on, or that he could picture the look on Alec’s face the moment he’d seen it every time he came into this room.

Probably the latter, but the thing had gotten a lot of use.

Spine straight, toned muscles tight along his arms and back, visible even under the T-shirt, feet a precise shoulder-width apart, Xavier had the look of a man who’d lay his head on the chopping block without losing an ounce of dignity. The only thing that really ruined the image was that nice round ass, sticking out, ready for me to enjoy in every way.

Moving up behind him, I reached around him to unbuckle his belt, speaking low, close to his ear. “I’ll use this. And when I’m done beating you, I’m going to fuck you. Make sure you feel me when I’m gone and don’t forget to care for my property again.”

When I pressed my already hard length against him, Xavier hissed. His arms shook as he visibly struggled to maintain his perfect position. “Would you like that included in the prenup?”

“Yes.” I wouldn’t take the bait. He was still trying to cling to control, push me off balance—likely unsure why he was doing it, just knowing he couldn’t give in just yet. I’d broken through all his walls before and I had no problem doing it again as I bared his ass and warmed the flesh with the palms of my hands. “I want it all in writing. That you’ll belong to me. That you’ll take my name. That I can have you, like this, whenever the fuck I want.”

Another shutter, followed by a moan. “You’re going to traumatize my lawyer.”

“Probably.” Laughing, I undid the tie holding Xavier’s hair, letting it flow loose. The sleek length spilled over his shoulders and I gathered it to lay it over one so it wouldn’t hide his face. Made sure there was nowhere for him to hide from me. “Would you like me to amend any of my demands?”

There was a brief pause. Then the moment I’d been waiting for came. A small smile curved his lips as he shook his head. The tension left his body and he shifted, like he was impatient for what came next.

“No. Not a single fucking one.”

**** 

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