Their virgin secretary, p.9
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       Their Virgin Secretary, p.9
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         Part #6 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black

  sure she understood that her virginity wasn’t the problem, just his scarred heart. He would swear to her that if he was half the man he should be, he would give her everything he owned, share every day and night with her. He would love her.

  But that was a stupid-ass pipe dream. So even if it killed him, he would leave and let her find the love she deserved.

  Chapter Five

  Belle looked through the peephole of her hotel room door, praying that she wouldn’t see Tate or Eric standing in the hall. Even an hour after she’d been utterly humiliated, she was still shaking a little. A shower had soothed her, but she couldn’t seem to stop crying.

  She sighed in relief when she saw a blonde with a puppy in her arms, grinning like a loon and waving at the peephole.

  It was Kinley’s big day. Belle couldn’t bring herself to ruin the closest thing her friend would have to a wedding. Wincing, she stepped back. Maybe Kinley would think she wasn’t in.

  Another knock. “Belle? Belle, I know you’re in there. Open up or I’ll convince the desk manager that I think you’re dead in there and I need to collect your body.”

  Annabelle groaned and reached for the bolt because Kinley would do it. The woman would march right back here with the manager and persuade him to open the door.

  With a sigh, Belle saved her friend the trouble.

  Kinley’s grin faded as she took in Belle’s appearance. “Oh, honey. Who do I kill?”

  Belle sniffled as the door shut, but she let Kinley hug her tight as the puppy in her arm used the proximity to lick her cheek. Belle was just about to scold the dog when she really looked at the little thing. Okay, so it wasn’t the most attractive canine, but there was a well of sympathy in its dark eyes that had her tears welling again. The puppy stared at her, then rubbed its face against her cheek as though it knew she needed comfort.

  Reaching out, Belle gathered the pup into her arms. It looked to be the runt of the litter, possibly the ugliest of the three, but in that moment, the dog seemed so sweet, she couldn’t help but cuddle the wiggly little thing against her robe.

  “I’m serious, Annabelle.” Kinley locked the bolt and followed her into the room. “I want to know who to murder horribly. Well, I want to know who to get Law to murder horribly. He used to be Special Forces. He told me he misses killing rat bastards sometimes, so you would be helping him out.”

  Annabelle shook her head and sank onto the edge of the bed. Her room wasn’t anywhere near as opulent as Eric and Tate’s, but it was comfortable. “No murder, Kinley. I’m fine.”

  She just had to be tough. So, it hadn’t worked out. Kell had wanted nothing to do with her. And in the end, Eric hadn’t seemed much more enthusiastic. Tate had been kinder, but he’d let her go, too. It was all right—or it would be once she figured out how to mend her broken heart. That might take a long while, but she’d bounce back. Somehow, she always did.

  Belle scratched the puppy behind its ears and it immediately settled onto her lap, as if it belonged there.

  Kinley sat down beside her. “I saw you leave the ballroom. All three of those lawyers stalked after you. I expected you to stay the night with them, but Jessa Lennox saw you fleeing their suite. I don’t guess you’re running back here to find some sexy lingerie, huh?”

  How did she explain this to her best friend without sounding pathetic? “No. We tried. It didn’t work out.”

  Kinley’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”

  She let her fingers sink into the puppy’s scraggly fur. “It means that we came to the conclusion that a sexual relationship between us wouldn’t work.”

  Kinley’s delicate bow mouth dropped open. “That’s impossible, sweetie. No guy decides something can’t work sexually. Not if they’re attracted to you, and those three definitely are. Guys will usually just keep trying to please you so they can coax their way into your panties. Or they buy a ton of little blue pills.” She gasped. “Are you saying they…struggled?”

  Not in any way, shape, or form. No, those were not men who needed any help—chemical or otherwise—to get hard. They’d all had massive erections…that had deflated the minute they found out she was a virgin. “Kinley, it doesn’t matter.”

  Her bestie was like a dog with a bone. “It does. You’re hurt. You’ve been crying. Do you think I can’t tell? I want to know what happened.”

  Kinley would twist her arm until she confessed. “They wanted someone with more experience.”

  “More experience doing what exactly? Sex isn’t rocket science or brain surgery.”

  “They just didn’t like that I was a virgin.” There. She couldn’t be freaking plainer.

  The puppy’s tail thumped along her leg in time to the stroke of her hand petting its back. She found the rhythm soothing, enjoyed her connection to the little furry creature. Besides Kinley, she had no one else anymore.

  “Unbelievable.” Kinley heaved a deep sigh. “God, sweetie. I’m so sorry. It’s inconceivable to me that they would be such assholes. But they’re men.”

  A deep sense of weariness invaded her veins. They weren’t assholes, really. They were just men looking for something she didn’t have. “It’s fine. It was a mistake to think it could work anyway. The problem now is, what to do about the fact that I almost slept with my bosses.”

  Almost, but not quite. God, she could still feel the heat of their bodies as they’d surrounded her. The pleasure of their touch had almost been too much to take. She’d been a different person when she’d lain across Kellan’s lap, offering herself up to all three of them, to their vision, their sensuality, their desire.

  In the end, they hadn’t wanted what little she had to offer, so now she had to figure out where to go and what to do next.

  Kinley stood and paced the room. “I just don’t understand.”

  Of course she didn’t. She had three men who were crazy about her, who didn’t give a crap about anything except that she loved them. “It doesn’t matter. Just…please have my back when I say I can’t work there anymore.”

  Her friend froze, her brows forming a confused V. “Of course you can’t work there anymore.” Her eyes narrowed, and Belle knew from experience that meant her friend was plotting something evil. “Unless you intend to very cleverly kill all three of them off. Again, I—with Law’s assistance—will totally help you.”

  Annabelle couldn’t not laugh, and something deep inside her eased. Her best friend wouldn’t abandon her, no matter what. “I’ll be fine, hon. I’ll figure everything out. Shouldn’t you be with your husbands for your big ‘wedding’ night?”

  “Not when you need me. They remember how you helped me.” Kinley glided across the room and dropped a gentle touch on her shoulder, her face soft with understanding. “Belle, you’re part of our family. We love you.”

  Stupid tears. They were right there on the edge of her eyes again. “I love you all, too.”

  They had been smart enough to love Kinley, to save her from a potentially murderous marriage. Belle had loathed Greg, Kinley’s fiancé. Dominic, Law, and Riley had stepped up to protect Kinley. So when Kellan, Eric, and Tate had formed a shield around Belle at the same time during all the danger, it had given her hope. They hadn’t allowed her to see or even talk to her friend while the threat was imminent. Kellan had put his whole career at risk to save Kinley, and it couldn’t be because he was such good friends with the Anders brothers and Dominic Anthony. So why had he gone out on such a limb?

  God, she was so confused. She only knew one thing: Whatever his reasons, whatever his feelings, she couldn’t face those three in the morning. Despite her parting words to them, she just couldn’t sit down at that meeting beside them and pretend nothing had changed. Or return to Chicago and watch them work—or date—without her anywhere in the picture. She definitely couldn’t stay and see them fight again. They were closer than brothers, and she’d ruined that. No matter how she tried to block the vision, every time she closed her eyes, she could still see Kellan str
addling Tate, pummeling his face with punches. She’d caused that, and the guilt was eating her alive.

  Kinley took a deep breath and wagged a finger at her. “You’re going to stay here in Dallas with me.”

  Oh, she was so not going to do that. That finger usually said that Kinley meant business, but the only thing worse than going back to Chicago would be staying here with her newlywed friend and becoming the pathetic, can’t-get-a-man houseguest. Not happening. “I’m going to New Orleans.”

  “What? Why would you do that? Mardi Gras is months away.”

  She snorted. “Like I’d be in the mood to show off my boobs in exchange for some beads? No. Remember, I told you about six weeks ago that my grandma died?”

  Kinley nodded. “Yes, I was sorry to hear about it, but I don’t remember you being close to her. This was your dad’s mom, right?”

  “Right. And I barely knew her. Even when Dad was alive, he wasn’t close to her—at least from what I recall. I remember Mom and Dad arguing about her once.” It was one of her earliest memories. Her mom thought her dad should forgive the woman in New Orleans. She’d said something about her grandmother doing the best she could, but her dad had just shaken his head implacably and vowed that he wouldn’t let that life taint his little girl. To this day, Belle had no idea what her father meant. And now that both he and his mother were gone, she’d probably never know.

  Funny. She hadn’t thought about that day in forever.

  “Did you ever meet her?”

  “Only once. She came to Dad’s funeral.” The petite woman had worn beautiful clothes and a heartbreakingly sad smile.

  Belle had been a child then—confused and angry that her father was suddenly gone forever. The grandmother she’d never met had hugged her for one brief, mournful moment, exchanged a few words with her daughter-in-law, then she’d been gone again. But not before she’d stood over her son’s casket and whispered, “I’m sorry, baby boy.”

  Belle knew almost nothing about her grandmother. The woman and her past were mysteries. Belle could use some of those to get her mind off her own problems now.

  “I remember her. She was the beautiful older lady in the tweed Chanel suit.” Only Kinley would remember what someone had worn fifteen years before.

  Belle had no idea what the stranger had worn, but she did know the woman had bequeathed her something. “She left me her house in the Quarter.”

  The package from her grandmother’s attorney had been very light on information. When she’d talked to the man on the phone, he’d assumed she would wait until the will finished probate, then he would handle selling the house. Apparently the place needed some repairs before it realized its true market potential, but he’d assured her he could find a buyer.

  The will had been finalized two days ago. And Belle realized that she didn’t want a buyer; she wanted a challenge.

  The plan crystalized in an instant. She needed time to heal and figure out where she was going. She needed a place to stay that was far away from everyone she knew. New Orleans would be perfect.

  The puppy in her lap looked up at her, complete adoration in its dark eyes. Oh, she was such a sucker. “Kinley, I’m taking the dog.”

  Kinley’s eyes widened with delight. “Are you serious?”

  She pulled the puppy up and checked to see if she was getting a boy or a girl. Fate, she sighed. He was her man now, and he wriggled with excitement as though he knew his little doggie life was changing.

  “Yes, I’m taking him with me. And I know just what to call him. Sir.” He would be the last man on whom she bestowed that title.

  “Oh, honey, you can’t call him that. You’ll get your ass spanked.”

  By whom? “Nope. His name is now Sir.” She giggled. “I’m going to build this puppy’s self-esteem. He’s going to be an alpha dog.”

  Sir wagged his tail.

  “I don’t think he’ll ever be an alpha, but he’s lucky to have you.” Kinley reached out and grabbed her hand. “How can I help? What do you need?”

  Sometimes it was good to have a best friend who had an indulgent, rich husband. “A car.”

  “Oh, you’re plotting. You know I love a good plot.” Kinley hopped to her feet and dashed to the desk. “We need to make a list.”

  Kinley and her lists. There was something soothing about letting Kinley take over. She really did like to plan. Kinley started jotting notes and making calls.

  Belle settled back, the sadness of the night washing over her. She would leave notes for her bosses about the meeting, then another that explained why she was leaving. Maybe. Or maybe they wouldn’t care. Most likely, they would be relieved not to have to deal with her again.

  But Belle feared she would miss them forever.

  Chapter Six

  Eric straightened his tie and kept his eyes on the hostess station. He checked his phone again. Eight thirty-five. Belle was late. She was never late. In fact, she always arrived early, just in case something went wrong. But he’d walked into the café about twenty minutes ago, hoping for a chance to talk to her alone. He’d scanned the place, fully expecting to find her waiting at a table surrounded by all her notes. Instead, he’d seen no trace of her.

  Concern niggled at him—not that she’d fallen victim to foul play. It wasn’t impossible, but the odds of Belle being attacked in her hotel room, especially one this nice and full of guests from the wedding, seemed slim. She was much too smart to let a stranger in her room. Operating on the premise that she hadn’t been hurt left Eric one major worry: What if she just decided not to show? And what did that mean?

  He had to track her down.

  He pulled up his contact list on his phone. Belle’s number was easy to spot. She was the only one of his hundreds of contacts with a photo attached to her profile. His heart did a weird flip-flop as he stared at her picture. In the still, she sat at her desk, the morning sun illuminating her from behind, making her glow angelically…but she wore a devilish little grin. That was his Belle. God, he hoped she was still his Belle. The alternative was too horrific to contemplate.

  His call went straight to voice mail. Damn it. He thought about hanging up, but as her greeting played, he considered that maybe keeping interaction about business on a professional footing would relax her. That would seem normal to her, right? And hopefully, if he played along, she would realize that none of them would pounce on her in front of clients. Then maybe she’d be comfortable enough to join them.

  “Belle, the Hughes brothers should be here soon. We need you for the meeting. We’re in the hotel café. I snagged us a table in the back. See you in a few. Thanks.”

  Frowning, he touched the button to end the call.

  “She’s not here?” Tate scowled as he wandered into the room and searched it as he sat. The lack of sleep showed on his face, just like Eric knew it was reflected in his own.

  “Maybe I should go to her room and talk to her.” Kellan pulled out a chair, but hovered over it, seemingly perplexed and less confident than Eric could ever remember. “We might have to clear the air before she’ll feel comfortable working with me again.”

  Eric shook his head and gestured for them to sit. “If you go to her room, Tate and I should come along. We all need to talk to her at once and get on the same page. But Oliver and his brothers are due any minute. Damn it!”

  “Maybe she’ll show up first.” Tate sounded hopeful, then he glanced at his phone. “Except…she sent me all her notes about their business dealings at two this morning.”

  “Well, they’re your clients. Belle always sends notes about a meeting to the lead.” Eric tried to encourage him—and maybe himself a bit.

  Tate scanned her message, his finger brushing up the screen of his phone. Then he frowned. “They’re very thorough, far more than normal—everything we could possibly need to conduct the meeting.”

  “She’s not coming.” Kell gritted his teeth and gripped the back of the chair, looking ready to lose it. “Shit.”

  Er
ic scrubbed a hand down his face, worried like hell that Kell was right. Still, he looked for any reason to refute his friend. With a cold chill of dread spreading through his body, Eric looked over Kell’s shoulder as he took the phone and quickly skimmed the notes.

  “I’m right.” Kell looked so damn bleak. “Her notes are way more than we’ll need for this meeting. Goddamn it, she’s left.”

  Tate frowned. “Belle doesn’t have a car, and she’s booked on the same flight we are. She can’t have gone far, right?”

  “Right,” Eric assured absently. “Maybe she’s just with Kinley.”

  She’d had a rough evening. Maybe she’d needed some girl time. Or maybe she’d overslept. He wouldn’t blame her if she showed up at the very last minute to avoid any chance for personal talk,
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