By Sunniva Dee
***This is an edgy New Adult novel—with soul and meaning. It is 18+ because of the uncensored language and the explicit love.***
Stunning club owner Leon keeps his world on a tight leash. He subdues his past by means of deviant sex, his martial arts, and his motorcycle. But when destiny throws him curveballs at the hands of a beautiful employee and a dying tormentor, he loses his precious control.
I’m Leon, number one object of Deepsilver’s rumor mill. Owner of student hotspot, Smother.
Since I was sixteen, the world has been mine. I do everything—
Every co-ed in town clenches her thighs over me, but most don’t fit the bill. See, I like my girls broken . Once I detect my shade of don’t-give-a-shit damaged, I fight hard, I fight dirty, and I don’t give up until—
Drunk fathers and frequent beatings don’t merit attention, but when my despicable dad starts the process of croaking, I’m forced to remember. Thus, the downward spiral begins: my latest broken-girl turns the tables on me and splits. My hot-as-hell employee, Arriane, throws me the curve ball of a lifetime. And suddenly—
I’m out of control.
But at the center of my chaos, she exists. Always close, always sweet, and so beautifully fu*king… wholesome. She represents everything I’ve shied from in a woman. Still—
I crave her.
I’m Leon, and I don’t deny my cravings. Just—this girl is not surrendering. So here I am, fighting harder. Fighting dirtier. And goddammit all, I will—
1) This is my bar. My party.
And she’s mine.
My girlfriend’s eyes shine with happiness and relief. Only she isn’t beaming at me. She brushes my hand off her thigh and stands up on her barstool, waving. Smiling a beautiful smile she has never graced me with.
I look past the partiers on my club’s terrace, following her focus. I ignore the colors of the sky, the explosions from the New-Year’s fireworks, and detect him as easily as she did.
Dominic stands at the top of the stairs like some chick-flick hero.
He wrestles to get past Jason, one of my bouncers. Dominic’s eyes are trained on my—my—Pandora with so much fucking emotion I want to jab them out.
“Oh no, you don’t,” I grind to Pandora when she hops down to meet him. I’ve fought too hard to let this happen. In a few minutes, a new year starts, and she’s in it, goddammit, with me; she’s not taking off with another man.
How the hell did he get into Smother in the first place? My bouncers are useless! One simple task I laid on them tonight: don’t let Dominic in.
Pandora started out as a challenge to me. I knew I’d snagged her late, that she had a history with the pretty-boy. But he’s labeled “Perfect Dominic” on her cell, which is the very reason why she’s with me and not him.
Yeah, Pandora and I, we are the same. We’re each other’s brand of screwed-up, and guess fucking what? I’m not about to let her forget. I never lose, and I control my world with the precision of a puppeteer, but—
The strings are fraying.
My dolls aren’t obeying.
Behind me, my second-in-charge, Christian, calls my name. He doesn’t recognize me, not now that I shove my girlfriend past the counter and use her body to crash through the door to the storage room.
I barely register Pandora’s eyes going huge with terror. Her fear…. it’s beyond the kind I get off on. She’s panicking—but so am I.
Because she can’t. Fucking. Choose. Him.
My mind blurs. Then, it checks out. The glittering rainbow of colors in the sky means squat when a sole shade of red tinges my vision.
“Leon! What the hell are you doing?” Pandora shrieks.
I am primal. A warrior. A caveman. I thrust her hard against the shelves. I am a wolf biting down on her neck, silencing her.
“I’ll fix this, Pandora—I’ll be right back,” I growl. Then I close the door behind me. Lock, lock her in and pocket the key. She’s going crazy in there, wailing for me to open—pleading—
Soon, I can’t hear her because I have charged past Jason, and I’m at Dominic’s throat. “You!” I shout. “You little shit. I will destroy you!”
2) The man I’ve loved for years is going ballistic. Books, glasses, and candles ricochet off the walls and crash to the floor. The low growl contained in his throat unleashes as he hurls his stereo at the window, making the glass panes shatter on impact.
“She fucking left me for him!”
He spins and locks on me. When Leon stares at you, he consumes you. He traps you in a small, flustered vacuum where he’s all that matters. “Leon… you’ll be okay,” I begin, but my voice trembles.
I can’t wrap my mind around this meltdown. Nothing ruffles him, nothing surprises him; in all my years at the club, I’ve never seen fissures in the marble of my boss’ beautiful façade. With the exception of his girlfriends, everything he touches remains orderly, and yet he’s losing it so completely right now.
This state he’s in… It doesn’t rock my need to be there for him. I—
Am always close.
He’s my love. My unreciprocated love, because I am just Arriane, his left hand, the favorite bartender. Not one of the dolls he breaks.
Leon’s chest lifts and sinks with his turmoil. “I’ve never worked to keep someone the way I did with her. Fuck, I did everything I could while all he needed to do was barge into Smother. He fucking stole her from under my nose!” Angry tears glitter, drifting over surreally blue irises.
“Stole?” He’s delusional.
3) I am the devil. What did she ever do to deserve this? She’s my employee and an innocent bystander who’s nothing like my usual contenders.
Still, I prowl up over Arriane on the mattress, the way I’ve done with countless women before. Straddling her, I’m on all fours, dipping down just enough to blow lightly on her mouth, making her gasp.
I have no excuse for acting like this. I can’t claim to be drunk on this aftermath of a New Year’s Eve. No, I just can’t deal with what happened earlier tonight. I want to forget how I lost my shit, the way I rebuffed Pandora’s lack of commitment to me.
Arriane’s hair is midnight-black like mine. It’s long and so silky it shines even in the dim lighting of my bedroom. First, I slide the simple black hairband out of her ponytail. Next, I fan her mane out over my pillow.
“You should wear your hair down more,” I tell her, and the small hump on her throat lifts in an anxious swallow. I draw back for an instant, studying her.
“You like it?” she murmurs. She seems surprised.
I slide a glossy lock between two fingers and watch it spill back to the pillow. “Of course I do. It’s fucking beautiful.”
Three years ago, I was running low on employees, and in walked this girl, this sweet twenty-year-old who needed money. Like most people in the college town of Deepsilver, Arriane came here for her degree. Only she doesn’t come from an affluent family, and tuition is expensive. Since then, she’s worked more at Smother than she has studied. Whenever I need someone, I turn, and Arriane is there, ready to pick up the slack. Beautiful, loyal Arriane.
“Your eyes are violet,” I state, because I hadn’t noticed before; she works for me, and I don’t get involved with my employees.
“Yeah,” she whispers. “No one else in my family—” she starts, but then I lick her lips and she gives off a quiet moan. I like that sound.
4) Curiosity kills cats I hear, and I’ve died a million deaths over the years. Now, I’m ready for the slaughterhouse—for a new sort of death, a tougher, harder death.
I should not have come upstairs.
Should not have been with him.
Should not have insisted on going all the way.
My heart skips. I dress quickly and slink into the living room. Leon has cleaned everything up. The room is as tidy as it was before his breakdown hours ago. A blanket covers the broken window, and I’m sure he’s already called the installers.
In the kitchen, fresh coffee steams from the coffeemaker. A plate covered with cling wrap waits on the table. It has my name on it.
“I’m sorry,” the note begins.
“I’m sorry I took advantage of you, Arriane.” I blink over treacherous, stupid tears, because the words hurt and I’m the one who should apologize. I took advantage of him—his desperation. I start reading again.
“I’m sorry I took advantage of you, Arriane. It will never happen again.”
I finish the breakfast spread he’s made for me. Pour coffee into a mug. My heart’s still alive when I walk down the stairs and into the bar with my cup in hand. I don’t consider the damage the New Year’s crowd did to my decorations. Spilled beer and half-dried cocktails glue me to the floor, trying to keep me from his office. My shoes stick and rip free from the floor, alerting Leon of my proximity. I lose courage. I want to go home and postpone this.
“Arriane?” Leon’s voice sieves out so softly. Like we’re different now.
I inhale. Riip to the office slowly. Hurry with the last steps before I can change my mind. Then I peek in through the half-open door.
“You called?” I say, swallowing. I haven’t showered yet and smell of us. I have the early shift at work today, and I forgot to tie my hair back into a ponytail. Lord knows where the hairband is—I don’t. Slowly, I edge my face behind the thick sheet of my hair. His scent on me teases, causing a jab to my heart. Woodsy cologne, sex, and wrongness.
5) No one yells as loudly as Ingela. No one. I puff out a breath and start getting dressed. A single wall divides the kitchen from my bathroom, and seriously, if she whispered my name, I’d hear her.
“Still here,” I breathe out as a test.
“Well, you’re taking forever, and Cam has a question for you! Come out!” she screams.
Whatever question our fellow bartending colleague has, we both know it has to do with hairy triangles and that the answer is, and should always be, “no.” I’m also pretty sure he doesn’t want her to ask me because they all think I’m the runner-up boss at the bar. Even Ingela, only she has no respect for authority. The staff as a whole has decided it must be a cultural thing. We’re starting to believe everyone in Northern Europe has this as a birth defect.
I’m impressed with how well Leon handles Ingela. A month ago, she appeared at Smother with blue eyes shining and a wide smile lighting her face. “I’m Ingela, I’m an international exchange student, and I like your bar, so I shall work here,” she had explained. “I need a job because I’m totally, totally broke.”
I don’t ask, but my guess is she’s in the country on a student visa. Leon must be taking his chances with the IRS by paying her under the table.
Thankfully, Ingela’s little phone chat is over by the time I’m out of the bathroom.
“You missed out.” She nods, her signature broad grin in place. Short honey-blond bangs hop over her perfect eyebrows as she speaks. “Cameron is…” she frowns, thinking. “Heell—hellar—” Then, she cops out and goes, “Funny.”
“Hilarious?” I suggest, and she smacks her hands together.
“So, not ‘rude as hell’ or ‘gross?’”
Ingela cups her mouth with a palm, laughing. “Oh yes, uh-huh! He called just to be gross with me.”
I’m not surprised—at either of them. Ingela grabs the last piece of whole-wheat toast with liver pate and shoves it into her mouth. With the other hand, she ruffles the short layers of hair brushing her neck. “I have class first, but I’ll be at work in…” she checks her watch, “bah, when I get bored. Or soon anyway. I’ll take the campus bus—the Silver Line. It drops me off by Smother.”
“Okay, so you won’t be late?” I ask.
Ingela dons washed-out jeans peppered with holes. Tall and skinny, the stereotype of a Scandinavian girl hikes her odd little backpack up on a shoulder and strides to the door. “Never.” She bats her lashes.
6) Leon is a private man, and I shouldn’t pry. Still, sometimes when you don’t think, you jump in. And I?
I can’t let him hurt alone.
I take the steps over to the tall table he sits at with his accounting. I don’t stop until my hand touches his cheek.
“Leon?” I ask, my heart slowing with worry.
He sucks in a breath at my touch, thick lashes dropping. Lightly, he bends into my palm and I feel it, the stubble I dream of. It pricks like kitten-paw-soft cacti against my skin.
I expect him to brush me off, get up. Become his business-self. Give me a low, clear order I can carry out for him.
But Leon’s knees slide apart, making room for my body. His hands scoot around me, pulling me into him, and something shifts in my womb even though it’s probably too early.
His sigh is so heavy. Arms spread over my back, fingers pressing into flesh, fanning upward until a fist curls around my neck. The pinch is painful as he nudges me closer, bending so he can delve in against my throat.
“Just family stuff scrambling my brain,” he whispers. Can he hear my heartbeat? It’s fast, insistent. Hopeful. When I dare to move my arms from their frozen, low-slung sides, it’s to link them into his embrace. He turns my face to him and kisses me, first chastely on the mouth, until I open and he deepens the kiss.
He finds bare skin under my shirt, and as we make out, he forces a hand into the crack at the top of my jeans.
I let him.
I want him happy.
Not thinking, I lift a foot up on the railing of his barstool as he scoots out on his seat enough to leave only fabric between us. He puffs a grunt into my ear. “Wait, let me…” he begins but trails off in favor of action. Deft fingers undo my jeans button and unzip my fly. “Much better. I couldn’t get to you.”
I gasp when his fingers find my entrance from behind, easing in, showing both of us how quickly I heat for him.
“Sweetie, the guys will be down any minute—”
Leon cuts me off with a stinging slap on my ass, ending his violent caress with a firm grasp on the butt cheek he spanked. “Trust me.”
I do. I—
He holds me while he fingers me.
The boys laugh at the top of the stairs. “Nah, I’m good,” Christian rumbles. “Got my Shannon—she keeps me busy. But go for it. They say once you go threesome, you’ll never want to go back.”
Cameron howls with laughter, their high-five ringing down to us. “Damn, that’d be awesome. Gotta find me some chicks who’ll be into it more than once. I mean how ’bout forever, am I right?”
If I hadn’t been drowning in Leon’s world, I’d roll my eyes again at Cameron.
“Sure, and marry both of them. In different states before you all move to a third one,” Christian helps.
“You. Are. A. Genius,” Funny-Cam bursts out. “Or in a different country! Sweden.”
“Ingela, huh?” Christian asks.
“Yeah, I might’ve suggested it to her. She said I was, and I quote, ‘gross.’”
Christian’s reply is dry. “Go figure.”
7) Jason is being particularly dense tonight. I’ve shown him three times how I want the new ropes to work outside the entrance to Smother, but he keeps opening them so the line becomes shorter and less organized. I show him again.
I move on to Tom, Jason’s gym rat friend, whom I hired as a bouncer over a month ago. The man still hasn’t gotten the part where my exes need to stay clear of the club. I cross my arms and tip my chin up so I can stare down at him despite his hulk-sized stature.
“Tom. I realize there are a few to remember, but when they ask for me—and in particular when they claim to be my girlfriend—there’s no way in hell it’s not one of them, okay? Even if Jason isn’t nearby and can verify your suspicion, just send them off.”
Tom crinkles a freckled brow, thinking. “But what if they’re not lying? I wouldn’t want to send the lady off if she really is your girlfriend, Boss.” His worry lines smoothen, indicating that he’s satisfied with his reply, and I remind myself that I didn’t hire him for his ability to flex brain muscle.
One of the new bartenders, Jen, waves from the dance floor. Once she has my attention, she points at two guys shoving at each other while dancing couples give room around them. I nod once. “Jason. Fight inside.”
“On it, sir.” He plods off, on a mission.
I pull in a breath, getting ready to explain the self-explanatory in regard to girlfriends. “Tom, did any of the girls you let in last night look like Arriane?”
“Here’s the deal. Unless I tell you otherwise, Arria is my only girlfriend. Anyone else is fucking lying. Understood?”
Tom blinks. “Yes sir.”
“Good. Now, assist Jason with the jerk-offs inside, and I’ll keep an eye out here in the meantime.”
Tonight’s sad as hell. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad Arria obeyed and stayed at her apartment with Ingela after yesterday’s scare with the ER visit, but I’m not digging her absence. There’s no happy hips wiggling and tempting me behind the bar counter, no sweet smile whenever I zoom in and catch her attention, and no stolen squeezes.
8) I change immediately, even bind my hands. At the moment, gloves defeat the purpose for me, but a little tape never hurts. I’ve got my system. I know what works. Besides having kinky-ass sex, this and my bike are the only things that calm me down. Bare-chested and in black dojo pants, I rage into the heavy bag.
The music from the club thunders through the floor, but I need more, so I shove in a CD before I continue. The collision between the tunes downstairs and my own death metal make me want to break into a crazy laugh.
I don’t, though, because I’m spending my energy on this. For every punch, I visualize my father’s face when I took him down at sixteen. The shock, the bruises, the blood I left him with. The fucking cracked collarbone.
Something surges in me at the thought—I force everything else away.
I tear into the medium bag. Tear at it, tear at it—killing the damn thing like I wish I’d done to him. The mirror tosses back my glistening shape.
What evil god let him survive the stroke?
I snarl out my disappointment, joining the chorus of ugly roars from the stereo, and I don’t stop, don’t stop killing him until a hand touches my shoulder. I freeze, because not even here, in my sanctuary, am I less than one step from control.
My chest rasps with need for oxygen. I realize I have none left, and my lungs can’t pull it in fast enough. In the mirror, I see her, small, scared, watching me gulp down air. She’s smothered in this music that’s straight from hell, the opposite of anything she represents, and the baby—
Shit, the baby can’t be hearing this!
I bound to the stereo and power it off. From below, a ballad slinks into our bubble, and I stare at her, wordless.
Enormous eyes flicker with compassion. With slow, tentative steps, she narrows in cautiously, like I’m the frightened one. I cover my face with my hands. Shut her out. Move back into the corner I’m in.
“Sweetie,” she whispers.
I write New Adult fiction with a paranormal twist and don’t shy away from romance and heart-wrenching passion when necessary.
I moved from Norway to the United States in 2001, and the first awesome five years I spent in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. Then I read “The Book,” aka Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which spurred my husband and me to move cross country to beautiful Savannah, Georgia.
I’m currently on my seventh year in the Deep South, where I enjoy the heat and the humidity. Besides writing, I spend my time with our “petting zoo” as in an opinionated parrot, a herd of cats that are experts on keyboard shortcuts, and puppies that…uh, bark.
I hold a Master’s degree in languages, with concentrations within literature and linguistics. I taught at college level for a decade before settling in as a graduate adviser at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Writing is my passion, my joy, and my addiction. When I’m not writing, I read.
Shattering Halos is my debut novel, and its standalone sequel, Stargazer, is due out later this year.
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