I am so excited to share with readers a sneak peek from my upcoming book release, Mad Love. If you have read Beautiful Defiance and Give You Up, you’ll recognize the hero, Maddox Stassis, and the heroine, Blaise Stassi. With further adieu, here is the first chapter from Mad Love.
There’s a line my grandfather is fond of saying when we’re surrounded by people more interested in his wealth and our family’s name than in us as people with dreams and fears.
“The world doesn’t give a crap what you are on the inside. It’s the lasting impression of what you leave behind that counts worth a damn.”
The impression I’m leaving as I stand next to my grandfather and flanked by my bodyguards is I am to be seen but not touched.
As the guests come up to us, dressed in their best evening wear, I acknowledge them with a slight nod. They nod back but don’t say a word, turning their attention next to my grandfather. He politely accepts his guests’ birthday wishes and makes small talk. Grandfather keeps it short. The line stretches out the door of his beachfront estate in the Hamptons.
When I visit Grandfather, I open the windows of my bedroom, lie in bed, and listen to the ocean waves. I fall asleep to the comforting lull and wake up to them in the morning, as well as catch a whiff of salt-laden air. I love Grandfather’s beach place. What I don’t like is the attention I garner as Devlin Lexington’s strange but fascinating granddaughter, the one who will inherit his billions with his death.
My grandfather dead . . . God, my chest aches at the thought, and I return my thoughts to his eighty-fifth birthday extravaganza. Next in line is a guy. He didn’t bring a plus-one or a plus-five. Why not? Each of my grandfather’s guests can bring five additional people. It’s the reason the line is so long.
The guest is dressed from head to toe in black. Already he is defying my grandfather’s one of two requests for this party. No one shall wear his granddaughter’s least favorite color. Guess what it is?
Black is death. Black is complete darkness. Black is being buried alive inside a wooden casket with a corpse. A wave of nausea threatens to overcome me, and I do what calms me. I tip my chin and give the fear in my head my best cold stare. I refuse to let my fear win a battle I’ve struggled with since I was taken out of that coffin by my rescuers.
Looking beyond the color of his suit, I assess the fit. How clothes fit a person or why a person chooses a certain color or fabric fascinates me. What someone wears can make or break them when they’re trying to make a first impression.
I’m not impressed with this guest’s attempt at getting mine and my grandfather’s attention by disregarding his request. What I am impressed with is he knows a great tailor. His suit molds to him like a second skin, and I am reminded of how nicely superheroes’ clothes fit them, leaving little to the imagination.
The man is built like Granger, my most senior bodyguard. Granger is six foot one and looks lean, but strip him of his clothing and he is lined with muscles.
I have to give the guest credit for wearing the suit well. I find the larger the man, the more difficult it is for him to pull off the muscle-hugging look. Tight clothing shows rather than hides the obvious. For example, how thick his thighs are. How tapered his waist is. The bulge under his pants.
And my, he is large.
Hot from my cheeks to my hairline, I trail my eyes upward and stare into the most gorgeous blue-green eyes I have come across, and I’ve come across a lot of men with drop-dead gorgeous eyes.
His eyes sparkle and shine like the marrying of the sea and the sky. Or a unique piece of jewelry made from the combination of sapphire and jade.
I’ve stared for too long. The corners of his mouth lift, and his smile isn’t friendly. I see his kind of smile a lot at parties. He’s confident that he’ll win me over with his charm, smoking hot body, and swoon-worthy face. There’s no need to win me over with how big his bank account is. I have more than enough money, though the majority of it is in my grandfather’s name.
Except under this man’s cockiness is mirth. He’s silently laughing at me for staring at his handsomeness. It’s obvious women ogling him is nothing new, and I dislike him more. Similar to my dislike for the color black, I’m not a fan of men who think they are God’s gift to women.
Not looking away from the mirth and knowing gleam in his eyes, I give the infamous bachelor Maddox Stassi a slight dip of my head. He nods back.
“Blaise, darling, how are you?”
Darling? An undercurrent of irritation hums along my skin. The endearment is reserved for his lover, which I’m not. Or should be said by someone older, which he isn’t. Maddox is twenty-four. I move my hands from my sides and clasp them behind my back.
On cue, Granger steps between us, shielding me from Maddox’s open perusal of my body.
“Sir, please respect Sir Lexington’s request as stated on the invitation and the signage throughout the estate. His granddaughter is not to be spoken to unless she speaks to you first.”
“She did. With her eyes.”
The warning in Granger’s voice should strike fear in Maddox. Usually, Granger doesn’t have to say a word for men to leave me alone. All he has to do is stay near my side and they don’t dare approach me.
He believes it has to do with the rumors that he is my lover. I politely disagreed and put in my own theory.
Granger has a deep scar transecting his face. No one knows how he got it, and he will be the last to give up that information. Doing so will injure his pride, and Granger is a proud man. The unknown can scare people off. I felt the same when Granger and I met for the first time. Then he spared my life when he had every right to take it, and we have been friends since.
Not heeding Granger’s warning, Maddox steps off to the side and addresses me. I’m not surprised, considering his reputation for going to extremes when he wants something badly enough.
“My apologies, Blaise. I wanted to hear your voice. It’s been what, six months since we last spoke?”
“Three, Mr. Stassi,” Granger answers for me.
We’ve been together long enough that he can finish my sentences. I also finish his, which he finds annoying but doesn’t think the same when he does it.
“Six months. Three months. It’s all the same when the outcome is the same, is it not, Blaise?”
Maddox chuckles, and the deep sound elicits a strange and foreign response from my neck down. My nipples ache, and the place between my legs throbs. I move my hands from behind my back and clasp them in front of my body, but that doesn’t take away the ache or the throbbing.
“The answer will be a firm no every time, sir.” To selling him my sports car. “Now, please, move along. Otherwise, I will escort you out.”
Maddox has the good sense and the common decency not to make a scene, and moves along in line. I exhale the breath I was holding.
“Interesting chap,” Grandfather says for my ears only.
As soon as Maddox handed off to one of my bodyguards a slip of paper offering to buy my arctic white X-R 85 for a ridiculous sum of money, Granger went digging for everything he could find, including the women Maddox is involved with, in case we need to use the information as leverage.
The leverage thing is Granger’s philosophy on dealing with “unpleasantries.” Granger grew up in the foster care system, and lucky him, the homes he was placed in were a dog-eat-dog living situation. He had to get creative as well as ruthless if he wanted to eat or survive the backstabbing happening with his other foster brothers.
Granger takes his place behind me, and I give this leverage philosophy some thought, acknowledging my guests with a small smile or a nod. I don’t encourage them by smiling too brightly. Otherwise, they’ll approach my more approachable bodyguards and strike up a conversation that we as a group are not interested in having. Not tonight, anyway.
Marco’s sister is in the hospital, and he wants me there when he becomes an uncle for the first time. My presence is also expected because my best friend, Sylvia, from boarding school, chose me as her baby girl’s godmother.
I glance off to the side the same time Maddox looks over his shoulder. Our gazes meet, and for some reason, the thought of a baby doesn’t leave my brain. I tear my gaze from the coldness in his gorgeous eyes. He’s a man used to getting what he wants, and he’s been wanting my sports car “Betty” for a year now.
Men like Maddox are the reason my team spread the rumor that Granger is my lover. When rebuffed, the men can get nasty. They send me distasteful messages through snail mail. Some are so godawful, Granger puts the letters through the shredder. Or the men will leer if I so much as smile their way in an attempt to be friendly rather than the “ice queen” they’ve labeled me as.
Whether I smile or give them a slight dip of my head, acknowledging but not encouraging them, I’m in a lose-lose situation. Granger thinks the best way to deal with the men’s advances and their glares is to marry.
Ha! This girl doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage, though my parents were role models for love, happiness, and commitment. I might only be twenty going on twenty-one, but marriage requires touching as well as conversation. I’m not good at either, and that’s the reason Granger and I get along so well. We rarely talk, but boy, when we do, watch out, world: we have a lot to say.
And touching? Yep, out of the question, and that means marriage isn’t in my foreseeable future. I would rather lose my billions than get married.
Famous last words.