I have a new release with Mari Carr!! Elemental Pleasure is the first book in the Trinity Masters series.
Mari Carr and I had a menage! Wait…I mean we WROTE a menage. It’s my first time co-writing, but luckily Mari knew what to do and it was a crazy good time, which we hope comes across in the story.
The book, Elemental Pleasure, focuses on Carly, Preston and Lance, who are members of the super secret society the Trinity Masters.
When Carly Kenan joined the secretive Trinity Masters in college, she knew that one day she’d have to pay the piper. That day has come. Returning to Boston, Carly meets former Marine Lance Glassco, a mathematician for DARPA, and Preston Kim, a celebrated chemist. Though on the surface they have nothing in common, it’s clear the Grand Master thinks that together the three of them can do something amazing. And that’s why he’s declared that Carly, Lance and Preston must unite. In a ménage.
Tempers flare as they struggle to understand each other, but their physical attraction is explosive, and the sex leaves all of them begging for more. Pushed beyond her limits, Carly runs from Lance and Preston. What she doesn’t understand is that she now belongs to them, body and soul…and they belong to her, too. When Lance uncovers a dangerous crime in Preston’s firm, Carly is caught in the crossfire and the struggling lovers are forced to move beyond desire…to trust.
The Trinity Masters have the power to make careers and change lives, but there’s a price. All members know that the day will come when the Grand Master will select them, and pair them with two others. For the Trinity Masters the strongest bond isn’t a pair, but a threesome.
This book has sex, mystery, sex, adventure, sex, and two men who are alpha males in completely different ways.
Below are the first three chapters of Elemental Pleasure
The Grand Master sat at his desk and studied the files. Three people. Three lives. Their destinies lay in his hands.
Leaning back in his leather chair, he let his gaze travel over the portraits on the walls—paintings of the men who’d served in this position before him. Men who had been called to lead one of the most powerful organizations in the world. They had taken their position seriously, understood the gravity of their choices. His decisions, like theirs, could influence the future and bring fate to its knees.
The Trinity Masters were a secret society, as old as the U.S. sect of the Masons, but unlike them, the Trinity Masters were still a secret. It had been started by some of America’s founding fathers as they sought to replicate the networks and relationships that drove European society in America, a country that was wild and new. Hundreds of years later, the Trinity Masters counted some of the most powerful people in politics, science, the arts and even religion among its members. It was credited, though only in secret, for developing the relationships that had driven much of America’s success.
Being a member meant access to people, money and power.
In exchange, you gave them your future. And that future was the Grand Master’s to decide.
He looked at the pictures again. A pretty, dark-haired woman. Brilliant, creative. An attractive, serious-looking scientist. Driven, powerful. And the final one, a soldier. Strong and courageous.
Yes, he decided. All the pieces were there. He sealed the letters and prepared them for the messenger. It was time. Together, they would make a powerful bond.
A perfect trinity.
She’d made a deal with the Devil, and now the Devil had called to collect.
Carly Kenan pulled her scarf up around her neck. At home in California, it was a sunny seventy degrees, but in Boston, early March still meant winter. The wind whipped down Boylston Street as she stood outside the imposing Boston Public Library.
Carly rubbed her cheek against the baby soft cashmere of her scarf. It cost more than her parents had made in a month when she was growing up. Those days were long gone, thanks to a deal she’d made nearly ten years ago. With her dark hair pulled up in an elegant chignon, a black wool coat, cream scarf and knee-high black boots, she looked exactly like what she was: a beautiful, successful woman.
Had it been worth it? Her success had surpassed even her wildest dreams, but it had come at a price. Now it was time to pay up. She wouldn’t know if it had been worth it until she walked inside.
The city moved around her, everyone with somewhere to go, something to do. Another minute ticked by, but Carly couldn’t bring herself to mount the steps and face the consequences of her achievements. Someone bumped her, forcing her forward a step, and she hitched her designer bag higher. The man who bumped her, chatting away on his phone, turned to glare. When he caught sight of her, he stopped mid-word, managed a smile, then slunk away.
She mounted the steps. It was something she’d done a hundred times before while a student at Harvard. A computer science major, the public library had always been a chance for her to get away from her electronics, and to honor the lineage of the scholars and inventors who had been trailblazers to the world she knew.
And in her junior year, the library had started to play a new, secret role in her life.
The grand hallway with its arched, illustrated roof was bustling with people, though the noise was muted. It was the hush of a library. The heels of her boots clicked against the stone floor as she made her way to the elevator. She rode it to the top level where there were fewer people. By the time she reached the rare book room, she was alone in the quiet hallway that smelled of books and secrets. There was a keypad on the door. She paused, realizing the Grand Master’s instructions hadn’t included a code. Surely it wasn’t the same one the society had used when she was in college.
Pulling off her leather glove, she folded and tucked it into her pocket. As she reached out, she noticed her fingers were trembling. She curled her hand into a fist, willed herself to be calm, then pressed the numbers.
There was a click as the door unlocked. Carly turned the handle and let herself in, careful to close the door behind her. The code was the same. She wondered what else would be unchanged.
The rare book room was small, with each rack dedicated to a subject. There were a few tables, each with a box of cotton gloves placed precisely in the center, so the rare books could be handled without picking up corrosive oils. Behind a section containing maps and diaries said to belong to members of the semi-secret Masonic Temple was a section of wall with a triangle inscribed into the plaster. She touched her scarf, which hid the chain she wore with the same symbol hanging from it. Below the triangle were three words. “Mitimur in Vetitum.”
“We strive for the forbidden,” she whispered, tracing the words.
Her stomach clenched. She was terrified of what she’d find beyond that door, of what she’d discover in the temple of the Trinity Masters.
With their help, Carly’s company was now one of the fastest growing in the industry, and at only thirty-two, she was well on the way to becoming very, very wealthy.
Taking a deep breath, she placed both hands on the triangle relief and pushed. A section of wall popped in and then slid to the side, disappearing into a pocket. She passed through and waited in the darkness on the other side as it shut, sealing her inside.
Once the door was fully closed, the lights clicked on.
The small foyer was exactly as she remembered. The room was small enough to be mistaken for a closet if anyone who was not a member found their way in. The walls were paneled wood, the floor covered with the same carpet as the outer room. An empty book cart took up a third of the space. Turning to her right, she examined the panels. Numbers were etched into the wood, seemingly at random.
The Grand Master’s instructions said she was to open box thirty-one. Pressing her finger against the number, she felt a click. When she pulled her hand back, a small tray popped out of the wall. Reaching in, she retrieved a key and a piece of paper.
You’ll find garments in Room C. Right hand corridor.
Wait until you hear the bell.
The note was written by hand. Carly shivered a little. The Grand Master was the head of the Trinity Masters and a man of unspeakable power and influence. No one knew who he was, though there were plenty of rumors. At the Trinity Masters annual gatherings, meetings hidden inside library benefit galas, Carly had done her share of gossiping about who he might be.
Now she wasn’t curious, she was afraid.
Note and key in hand, she moved the cart out of the way and—with another push—opened the door hidden in the back wall. It revealed a narrow elevator. When she pressed the button, the door opened and Carly stepped in. She took a moment to gather herself as the small elevator took her down to the sub-basement. When it stopped and the door slid to the side, she bit the inside of her cheek to center herself.
A long marble hallway stretched out in front of her. Columns supported the double-high arched ceiling, which was a smaller replica of the grand hallway above. Her footsteps rang as she made her way along the hall, the sound bouncing off the walls to echo down to the grand double doors at the far end. There were no books here to muffle the sound. At the midway point, there were openings in the walls, one to the right, another to the left. She’d been down the left hallway before. There were changing rooms there, elegant as the locker rooms in a fancy spa. For ceremonies, all members wore robes to protect their identities, and those with the most need for secrecy had private dressing rooms.
As she turned right, she wondered if that was where she was going—to a private dressing room. Now that she had been called to the altar by the Grand Master, she supposed she’d earned a private dressing room.
After all, she was about to meet her husbands.
Or maybe it would be husband and wife.
Her hands shook, and it took her a few tries to get the key into the lock on Room C. Once in, she found a small, but well-appointed room. A white robe waited on a hook. Normally they wore gray.
Setting her purse on the vanity, she touched the robe. “It’s like a wedding dress,” she whispered to herself.
It would be the only wedding dress she’d ever wear.
In exchange for the Trinity Masters’ help, she’d given up her future, specifically her choice of whom she would marry.
Throughout history, the world had been secretly controlled by relationships that defied societal standards. Some of those relationships had come to light, the most famous of which had been Vice-Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who’d been in a relationship with Lady Emma Hamilton and Sir William Hamilton. The gossip papers of the nineteenth century had called it an affair between Lady Emma and Lord Nelson, but it had been so much more. The three-way union between them had helped end the Napoleonic Wars, and both Emma and William had mourned Lord Nelson after his death.
The Trinity Masters believed that when three people were united, it created a bond far stronger than the pedestrian two-person marriage, and that these triads—if made between those with power and intellect—had the capability to change the world.
Carly slid out of her clothes, leaving on the corset-bra, panties and garter set she’d bought especially for today. She closed her eyes, trying to still her nerves.
She’d joined the Trinity Masters at nineteen, when the idea of some crazy secret ménage marriage had seemed exciting, elicit. In her twenties, she’d enjoyed herself, knowing there was no need for her to worry about falling in love or getting married. By the time she was twenty-eight and her friends were married, some expecting children, she finally understood what she’d really given up in her quest for success.
However, the consequences of crossing the Trinity Masters were too dire to contemplate, and so here she was, waiting to meet the people she’d share the rest of her life with. That thought sent another shard of panic through her before she beat it down.
She checked her hair and makeup in the mirror, then raised the hood and tugged the chain out from under the robe so it lay on her chest in plain sight, the triangle glinting in the low light. Carly had never shirked from a challenge…or a commitment. She wouldn’t begin now.
Taking a seat on a velvet chair, she breathed deeply, trying to calm herself.
A bell rang, the deep sound vibrating through her. She looked up as a door in the wall opposite where she sat opened.
Rising to her feet, Carly threw back her shoulders, lifted her head and walked through.
Preston Kim stretched, and then slowly sat up as the bell rang. He was in one of the Trinity Masters’ private dressing rooms. It wasn’t the first time he’d merited the honor of one of the private rooms, but it was the most important.
Preston smiled and rose to his feet. He pulled the black hood over his head, hiding his dark hair and eyes.
It felt like Christmas morning. Anticipation hummed through him, and yet he didn’t want to rush. He wanted to savor it, wanted to remember every detail so one day he’d be able to tell his children how Dad met Mom and Mom, or Mom and other Dad.
The same way his parents had told him.
Preston was a legacy to the Trinity Masters. His parents—Dad and both Moms—were members. His biological mother had married his father in a traditional ceremony several years after the three had been married by the Grand Master. All three parents raised him and his sister. He’d grown up knowing he was the child of something special, powerful and secret. His dad, mother and Imo—the name he and his sister used for their other mother, which was a bastardization for the Korean word for aunt—were now all immensely powerful in the world of education. They’d been joined together by the Trinity Masters at a time in their lives when it seemed they had nothing in common—an electrical engineer, a junior political aide and a mathematician. Many years and two children later, his father, the engineer, and Imo, the mathematician, owned an educational company that developed much of the technology and curriculum used by the country’s leading science magnet schools. His biological mother was a lobbyist, who worked to keep the money flowing to education no matter what happened to the national budget.
And now it was Preston’s turn to meet his partners.
The call from the Grand Master had been both welcome and poorly timed. Though he’d been waiting for years to be called to the altar, his company was having financial trouble, with lower profits than projected in the last quarter. He’d walked away from a lengthy financial report—far from his favorite reading material—to fly to Boston. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to put work concerns away. Today was too important.
The door opened and he stepped through.
The room on the other side was intimate, unlike the massive gathering room with its stone altar. The floor and walls were marble. Three high-backed wing chairs sat in a semi-circle, facing a large metal medallion in the center of the floor. A rectangle of lighter colored stone led him to the chair farthest to the right. A soft sound made him look to his left, and he saw two other robed figures, one in black and one in white, emerging. Turning his attention to the center, he followed the path in the floor and took a seat in his chair. There was the rustle of fabric and the pad of feet as the others took their places. In the shadow of his hood, Preston grinned.
Light illuminated the bronze medallion with the Trinity Master’s symbol and logo, as well as the chairs, but the corners of the room were cast in darkness. Less than a minute passed before a patch of shadow detached from the wall and came forward to stand in the center of the medallion. He wore a black robe trimmed in gold and a heavy chain draped his shoulders.
The Grand Master.
Preston sucked in a breath. He’d been introduced to the Grand Master as a child, had seen him at the galas and initiation events, and yet he still scared Preston. He knew, from hearing his parents’ whispered conversations, that if crossed, the Grand Master was ruthless. It was said that he’d not only ruined members who disobeyed their laws and ignored their vows, but had them imprisoned, sometimes even killed.
“Welcome.” The Grand Master’s voice was deep, commanding. His hood moved from side to side as he looked at each of them. Preston thought he caught a glimpse of a nose or chin in the darkness of the hood, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Grand Master,” he murmured in greeting. He heard the others do the same.
If the robe colors hadn’t given them away, the voices would have. There was one man and one woman. He felt a small moment of disappointment. Secretly he’d hoped for two women—he’d always thought his father’s life seemed more than agreeable—but growing up as he had made him more open-minded than most. He would accept the other man into his life—and into his bed—if they were attracted to each other.
Preston had never been with another man, but there was a first time for everything.
“When you joined the Trinity Masters, you made a vow. You pledged your lives to our cause and our traditions. The time has come for you to meet your partners, your lovers, your spouses.”
The words rang, echoing off the walls. He thought he heard a small sound of distress from the woman, hidden in her virginal white robe.
“When I call your name, stand and remove your robe.”
Preston’s belly lurched. This was it.
Lance Glassco’s fingers tightened on the arms of the chair. The wood groaned as his knuckles turned white. He wanted to jump up and pull down everyone’s hoods. He hated the secrecy, hated not knowing what was going on.
Hated not having control.
Joining the Trinity Masters had been a blessing when he was younger. Without them stepping in at several key points during his career, he would probably be dead, another fallen Marine in some desert. As it was, he was a proud United States Marine Corps Reserve Officer, and a mathematician for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, research and development arm of the United States Armed Forces.
Personal relationships weren’t his strong suit. He needed rules and guidelines, and relationships—or more accurately women—didn’t come with either. Knowing the Trinity Masters would someday step in and tell him whom to marry had relieved him of the burden of worrying about it.
It wasn’t until he’d gotten the letter from the Grand Master he realized exactly how much control he’d given up. He had no say about what was happening right now. He hadn’t even gotten to pick if his partners would be men or women. Seeing another man in the circle left him feeling more than a little uneasy.
Since receiving his letter, his frustration had grown to the point that he could now feel it boiling under his skin.
“When I call your name, stand and remove your robe.”
Lance froze, his shoulders cramping from the tension in his arms and back.
The figure in the white robe rose from her chair. Her hands were slim with painted nails.
He was glad at least one of them was a woman.
She threw back her hood and Lance jerked in his seat. She was beautiful with creamy pale skin and dark hair. Reaching back, she did something so her hair fell down around her shoulders in pretty waves. He wanted to bury his hands in those long tresses, taste those pink lips. Her gaze met his, though he doubted she could see his face under the hood. Then she looked at the other man before facing at the Grand Master once more.
The Grand Master raised a hand, and Lance noticed he wore gray gloves. The Grand Master motioned to her, the twitch of his fingers impatient.
The woman…what was her name? Carlene, that was it.
Her fingers moved down the front of her robe, undoing the small hook and eye catches that held it closed. As she did, the robe fell apart a bit, giving him teasing glimpses of flesh.
When the robe was open, she grasped the edges. There was an expression on her face Lance couldn’t read.
He sat forward, anxious to see what she hid under the enveloping material. Her gaze focused on him, as she raised her chin and dropped the robe.
Lance was sure he’d break the chair, he gripped it so hard. She had long legs and full breasts. She wore some lacy corset thing and a tiny pair of panties covered her sex. Garters held up dark stockings. Her face was beautiful in a way that made him think of the porcelain dolls his mother collected, but her body was lush and soft, made to be touched and stroked.
Lance sat back, his frustration gone, replaced by a need to have her. He’d never felt an attraction this strong, this instantaneous.
She was his.
Lance had been so wrapped up in imagining what he’d do to Carlene he’d forgotten this wasn’t just about the two of them. He looked where the other figure in black now stood. The hood fell back to reveal a tall man with a lean, handsome face. He had dark hair and slanted eyes that probably meant he was at least part Asian.
Preston’s gaze focused on him, and Lance felt the challenge.
Black velvet dropped to the floor. The man wore a pair of dark boxers. He was trim and muscled. Lance was sure he could take him in a fight, but it wouldn’t be easy. Preston reminded him of some jungle cat, maybe a black panther.
Finally, it was his turn to stand. Lance rose to his feet. Impatient, he stripped off his robe, tossing it to the floor. He looked at Carlene, saw her brows go up as she caught sight of him. He’d kept up with his physical training while in the reserves. He wasn’t vain, but he knew that physically he was a good specimen. And his mama always said he was handsome.
“You now belong to one another. Come forward.”
Barefoot, they approached the Grand Master, stopping when they stood on the medallion. He grasped each of their right hands, bringing them into the center. Taking the chain from around his shoulders, he bound their wrists with it. Lance saw Carlene shiver as the cold metal touched her.
Lance’s hand was on top of hers. He squeezed her fingers. She looked at him, and Lance smiled. She tentatively returned the friendly gesture.
“Preston,” the Grand Master said.
The other man stepped closer and his hand, which lay atop Lance’s, tightened. Lance tensed. Reaching out with his free hand, Preston cupped Carlene’s face. Her eyes widened as Preston pulled her to him.
He kissed her long and deep, their cheeks only inches from Lance’s face. Desire warred with jealousy. Lance wanted to be the one kissing her, and yet he liked seeing Preston touch her. It didn’t make any sense to him.
Lance hated things he couldn’t understand.
The instant Preston pulled back, Lance jerked Carlene to him. Burying his hand in her hair, he nipped her lower lip, demanding she let him in. When she took a breath, he pressed his tongue into her mouth, tasting her sweet flavor.
Preston touched his bare back, his hand sliding over skin and muscle. Startled, Lance ended the kiss when Preston reached for him.
Lance knocked his hand away. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Dark eyes examined him. “The same thing we just did with Carlene.”
They stared at each other, right arms held awkwardly, their hands still bound together by the chain.
“Don’t touch me,” Lance snarled. It wasn’t that he had a problem with men touching each other, but he’d never had one try to kiss him. He hadn’t signed on for that. Had he?
Preston raised one brow. “You must have known there was a chance you’d be placed with another man.”
“I did, but we have a woman.”
“Oh, you must be fucking kidding.”
They both jerked, then looked at Carlene. Her lip was curled. Lance wasn’t good at reading people, but he was pretty sure the look on her face was one of disgust and anger.
“You have a woman? I really hope you don’t mean me.”
Lance frowned. “You are our woman.”
“I’m not your fuck toy or some baton you’re going to pass back and forth.” She jerked her wrist free of the chain and took a step back, rubbing the marks it left.
“Carlene.” The Grand Master’s voice was menacing and dark, dripping with warning.
She stopped in her tracks.
“You are incorrect. You are theirs…and they are yours.”
The Grand Master reached out and undid the chain from their wrists. Preston and Lance both stepped away.
“Your relationship is yours. You will choose how to live your lives, but there are rules. No one must know about the trinity and you may never stray outside your marriage.”
The Grand Master focused on Lance. “You have one month. At that time you will return here and be formally bound in the marriage of the Trinity Masters.”
The words echoed in the suddenly hushed space.
Carly let herself into the hotel room, braced to find one or both of the men there. Instead, she found fairly standard accommodations, empty except for her.
When she’d returned to her dressing room, she’d discovered the keycard to her room at a luxury boutique hotel gone, replaced by a key to this one, in a larger, more elegant hotel. She was on the top floor and only mildly surprised to see her bags waiting for her.
Bone-tired, she dropped into a chair, tossing her scarf and purse on the bed.
Lance Glassco and Preston Kim.
What in the hell had she gotten herself into?
Separately both men were gorgeous. Preston had a bit of an Asian James Bond thing going, while Lance was rock hard muscle with melting brown eyes. Their kisses had been different, unique. The whole thing had been a little surreal—the ceremony, the robes, the chain and then the kisses.
What were they going to do? Preston and Lance had jumped on each other and, in the process, acted like she was some bone they were fighting over. Of all the things she’d imagined for her ménage, this wasn’t one of them. She might not exactly be thrilled, but she’d been prepared to follow through and be with whomever the Grand Master matched her. Apparently the gentlemen didn’t feel the same. One thing she had not signed on for was a life as a referee or buffer.
She heard something and lifted her head. There was a connecting door in the side wall. Rising, she stripped off her jacket and tiptoed over, listening for the sound that had roused her. She heard a clink, like glasses touching.
She bit her lower lip, considering her next move. Cowardice would get her nowhere.
Reaching out, she opened the connecting door. Stepping through, she realized her bedroom was part of a larger suite. This must be the living room. There was a sunken sitting area, a baby grand piano and a bar.
Preston stood behind the bar, putting ice into a glass. He held up a bottle of whiskey. “Would you like some?”
Smoothing her skirt against her hips, Carly made her way over and perched on a stool. “No, thank you, but if you have some wine or champagne, I wouldn’t say no.”
He ducked down, then straightened to present the half bottle of bubbly. “For the lady.” He popped the cork and poured it into a glass.
They raised their glasses and toasted. Preston’s gaze remained focused on her as he sipped. When he lowered the drink, he smiled. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m Dr. Preston Kim.”
“Carlene Kenan. Call me Carly.”
“Carly.” He raised his glass to her again.
“Dr. Kim.” She took a sip, feeling more like herself than she had since receiving the summons. After the craziness of the rest of the day, she was grateful for normal, polite conversation.
“That doctorate is in Chemistry, so I don’t use the title too often. Call me Preston. Wouldn’t want someone expecting me to deliver a baby in an airplane or something like that.”
Carly nodded, though her lips twitched. “Of course, that makes total sense. So you’re a chemist?”
“Specializing in nanotechnology. I live in San Francisco.”
“Then we’re neighbors. I live in Menlo Park.”
“Silicon Valley? Do you work in the industry?”
“The video game company? Very cool.”
“Do you play?”
“I do. Their games are off the chart, very cutting edge. I’d love to know how they’re running the living gameplay. It’s closer to artificial intelligence than any designated A.I. technology.”
She laughed. “Thank you. That’s great to hear. People thought I was crazy focusing on game play, but it allows for the greatest data input. It’s basically human experimentation. Plus, I love to game.”
His eyebrows rose. “Carly Kenan. You’re the owner of Nexus Six.”
She nodded and giggled when he pretended to stagger.
“Well, holy shit. I never would have guessed from looking at you, but then again, didn’t GeekWire do some sexy photo shoot with you?”
“They did. It was fun, though it didn’t exactly help change the way the world sees women and games. But it’s getting there.”
They lapsed into silence for a moment. As Carly looked Preston up and down, the thought that she should take him home, enjoy his kisses and his touch, flashed across her brain. She enjoyed sex, recognized the definite chemistry sparking between them.
Then reality intruded.
He was, for all intents and purposes, her husband. She would be taking this stranger home. Forever.
’Til death do them part.
She set her glass down harder than she meant to.
Preston must have read her anxious expression because he came around the bar and took her elbow. “Why don’t we sit?”
He led her to the sunken couch, seating himself next to her.
“This is all so bizarre.” She glanced out the window. It was still only afternoon. The sun was going strong, providing copious amounts of bright light in the room. How was that possible? It felt like it had been days since her plane landed rather than just this morning. Surely it should be midnight by now.
Preston took another sip of his drink. “How did you become a member of the Trinity Masters?”
“In college, at Harvard. An older girl in my sorority introduced me to people. I thought it was so they could hear my business pitch. Even at nineteen I knew what I wanted; all I needed was the money.”
“But you agreed to join, once you understood what would be expected of you.”
“I suppose.” She rubbed her palms on her thighs. “They offered me what I needed, but until today I didn’t really understand what they were asking.”
There was a moment of silence before Preston put his drink on the coffee table. “You don’t want this.”
She got only a glimpse of his face as he rose, but it was enough to see that she’d hurt him. She stood too. “Preston.”
He didn’t turn.
“Preston, I’m sorry. It has nothing to do with you.”
“It seems I am the only one who truly embraced what this is, what we are meant to be.”
When he did turn, his face was a hard mask. ”You’ll excuse me?”
Without waiting for an answer, he walked away, disappearing into one of the connecting bedrooms. The door closed with a snap.
“Carly, you dumbass,” she muttered to herself. Preston seemed genuinely hurt that she wasn’t enthusiastic about their new relationship. But how could she be after that interlude between him and Lance?
As if her thought summoned him, another door opened. Lance emerged, looking around. His gaze swept the room before settling on her. Carly went back to the bar and picked up her glass of champagne, draining it, then reaching for the bottle to refill it.
His voice was warm and low, carrying a note of command that had her turning before she knew what she was doing.
Lance literally marched across the room. The word warrior drifted through her mind. Lance Glassco had to be military. She’d created enough soldiers for her games that she recognized the posture, the self-assurance, the take no prisoners look.
“Carly, call me Carly.” She sat on the barstool, feeling safer that way, though she realized her error when he boxed her in, one hand on the back of her chair, the other on the counter.
“Carly.” His gaze moved over her face. “It suits you.”
“You’re gorgeous. I was angry about all of this until I saw you.”
“Angry about what? Aren’t you a part of the Trinity Masters?”
“I am. I have been since the Academy.”
“Then why were you angry?” She ignored the fact that she wasn’t exactly gung-ho about the whole thing either.
“I don’t like losing control.”
“And that’s what this is?”
“Isn’t it? We had no say in who we were going to be partnered with.”
“That’s the way it works. You knew that going in.”
Lance shrugged. “I’m not as young and impressionable as I was when I joined the Trinity Masters. Years of experience have taught me to ask questions rather than follow blindly.”
“It sounds like you’re not happy about your vow.”
He shook his head. “I told you. I wasn’t. Past tense.”
“Oh, that’s right. That changed when you met me.” Carly stood, her breasts brushing his chest. She expected him to move, but he didn’t. Instead he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her tight to him. It was a power play, pure and simple. And as much as Carly hated to admit it, the strength of his hold was the equivalent of throwing gasoline on smoldering embers. She’d felt an instant physical attraction to Lance the second he removed his hood in the ceremony room. Now…in his arms…that attraction was turning into an ache, a desire for more.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She wished her words sounded more insulted. Instead, her voice had gone husky and even she couldn’t mistake the flirty dare she’d just issued.
Lance studied her face, looking far too pleased. Damn, she was clearly failing to hide the lust being in his arms inspired. “Right now? I’m going to take advantage of my favorite part of the situation.”
His eyes were like warm chocolate, and his chest and arms seemed to radiate heat.
She licked her lips in blatant invitation, loving the way his deep voice seemed to vibrate along her skin, stroking her without touch. “Let me guess, the part you want to take advantage of is…me.”
He grinned, showing off straight, white teeth. Lance obviously treated his body like a temple. No coffee in his mornings, no late night runs for fast food while the game was on pause. She’d bet her majority ownership of Nexus Six that he started his day with one of those vile protein shakes and a seven-hundred mile run.
One of Lance’s hands moved down to her ass, as the other moved up until he cupped the back of her head. Carly took a breath, waiting, wondering what he’d do next. And wishing he’d hurry up.
Lance savored the feel of Carly’s curves pressed against him. In the cab on the way to the hotel, he’d focused on the image of her standing in her lingerie, rather than on that Preston guy’s attempt to kiss him. He had to focus on something he could recognize. While emotional things confused him, he never had any problem with the physical. Carly was giving off sexy signals a blind man couldn’t miss. Her breathing had accelerated the second he pulled her into his arms and her body had softened.
He’d been lying on the bed debating whether he should jack off when he’d heard a noise. Lance had been delighted when he opened the door to find the object of his desire waiting on the other side, looking sexy in her black dress and boots. There was precious little about this whole fucking situation he could control, but by God, he could take charge of Carly’s body, give her an orgasm she’d never forget. He’d handed over too much of the power today. It was time to get some back.
He silenced her with his lips. She tasted like champagne and woman. He craved it, wanted more. Pulling her away from the bar, he scooped her up and carried her to the next closest thing—the piano. He set her on the bench and heard her gasp.
He bent over as he kissed his way down her neck and her fingers twisted in his hair. He needed so much more of her—her breasts in his hands, her legs wrapped around his waist, her lips on his cock. Tugging at her dress got him nowhere, so he set her on her feet once more. His patience was in tatters.
“Take it off.”
“Lance, wait. We should…” She motioned to a door.
He didn’t understand her sudden hesitance. It was obvious she still wanted him. “You should take off that dress before I rip it off.”
“We shouldn’t do this without Preston.”
Lance struggled to remain calm, but he was quickly passing a point of no return. Carly’s mention of the other man’s name went through him like a bullet to the gut.
“I don’t feel like sharing right now.” He spun her around, pressed her against the piano and held her in place with one leg while he unzipped her dress, yanking it down so it pooled at her waist.
She whirled, her wrists caught in the sleeves.
“Better.” He took her breasts in his hands.
She shuddered and her head fell back. Carly’s hair spilled over her shoulders in dark ropes. He rubbed her nipples through the lace. When they pebbled, he pinched them, twisting a little. Carly moaned, the sound one of sheer desire. Mercifully, she stopped trying to fight him. “Oh god,” she whispered.
Dropping to one knee, he jerked her dress off. He could see she was wet, the silk fabric at the seam of her sex dark with moisture. He rubbed two fingers along her slit, forcing the fabric into the folds of her sex. Finding the nub of her clit, he pressed it, rolling it between his finger and the hard plate of her pelvic bone.
She gasped and jerked. Lance looked her over, his cock rigid in his pants. She looked like sin and sex in her black lace, wearing those hot fuck-me boots. She was his. The thought caught him unaware.
No one had ever been his before.
He rose, still working her clit as he cradled the back of her head. Previous lovers had called him aggressive in bed. Some women had enjoyed his rough touch, while it had driven others away. Carly liked it. He could see in her flushed face, in her heavy-lidded eyes. She wanted more. And he wanted to give it to her.
He kissed her hard and deep. Her hands fumbled with his shirt, undoing enough buttons that she was able to slide her fingers inside, digging her nails into his skin. There was fire and passion within her. For the first time today, something made sense. They fit.
Lance used both of his hands to yank down the lace covering her breasts. She gasped, her hands coming up to hide herself.
Carly shook her head. “Wait. We can’t do this, not like this.”
“Yes, we can. We have to.”
Taking her wrists, he forced her hands down, bent his head, and took the tip of one breast in his mouth.
She tried to free her hands and he bit her nipple gently. A warning. He switched to the dry nipple, flicking it with his tongue before taking it in his mouth.
“Stop, Lance. We should…should…oh…”
He sucked harder, grinning in savage satisfaction as her objections trailed away. He pressed his leg between hers, forcing them open.
He took one of her hands and brought it to his fly. Her fingers curled around the hard length of him through the fabric of his pants.
“I’m going to fuck you,” he whispered against her breast, raising his knee until he felt the wet heat of her sex against his thigh.
Her hand jerked away from his cock. “We can’t do this, not without Preston.”
Lance’s teeth ground together. That name. Jesus. He struggled to calm down, to understand. “You want him, not me?”
“What? No, but we’re supposed to be together, the three of us.”
Years of military training reared its ugly head. Lance only knew one way. Kill or be killed. “If he wants you, he’ll have to come and take you.”
Grasping her by the hips, Lance turned her and bent her over the piano. Her ass rubbed against his cock, driving him wild. Grabbing one of her wrists, he forced it to the small of her back, using it to hold her in place as he opened his fly. She shuddered at his bondage, moaning quietly. God, she was a wildcat.
“We shouldn’t,” she whispered, even as her hips rocked back against him, enticing, inviting.
He jerked her panties down. He couldn’t get them off because of the garters, but it was enough. He slid his finger into her sex, rubbing her clit and then pressing two thick fingers inside her. She shivered in pleasure, her tepid protests gone. “God. Lance. I—”
“What are you doing?”
Preston stood in the open doorway of a bedroom. His black gaze swept over the tableau before him. Lance pressed his fingers deeper into Carly and rubbed her clit, wringing another moan of pleasure from her.
“Carly and I are getting to know each other.”
“I heard her tell you to stop.”
“She thinks you need to be involved. I think otherwise.”
“You…you ass.” The words were muffled until Carly tossed her hair back and said it again. “You ass. Let me go.”
Lance frowned. She sounded angry, no longer aroused. Lance wanted to howl in frustration. The moment had clearly passed, but he wished someone would explain that fact to his throbbing cock.
Lance refused to give up. It was his biggest fault—and the thing that had earned him more commendations than any other Marine on his team. “Carly, I know you want this.”
“I believe the lady asked you to let her go.”
Carly braced her free hand on the piano and pushed. Acting on pure instinct, Lance leaned into her, holding her more securely. Control was slipping from his grasp again. For a split second, he’d held the reins, but now they were being stolen from him again.
Preston darted across the space and knocked Lance’s hand off her back. “Let. Her. Go.”
“So you can have her? I don’t think so.” Lance curled his fingers inside her, felt her body react. “She wants me.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Preston grabbed the wrist of the hand that was still buried in Carly’s warm sex.
“Move that hand or you’ll lose it.” Lance tensed, ready to fight.
“Stop!” Carly pushed herself up. Lance’s hand slid from her body and, as she stumbled back a step, she forced them apart. Preston caught her around the waist. Lance’s hands curled into fists. She was so fucking sexy with her hair mussed, breasts spilling out, panties around her thighs, showing off the trim line of hair on her sex.
Preston released her and Carly ran from the room after shooting an angry glare Lance’s direction.
Preston retrieved her dress from the floor. For a moment, Lance braced himself, expecting the other man to throw a punch. Hell, he almost hoped he would. Lance deserved the pain.
Instead, Preston simply followed Carly.
Lance ran his hand through his hair. Well, he’d fucked that up royally.
The worst part was she was right. It was a mistake for two of them to enjoy each other without the third present. But that seemed complicated and messy. He didn’t like either of those things, spent a majority of his life cleaning up shit like that.
However, he did like sex, and he knew he and Carly would be so hot together they’d probably set the bed on fire.
Preston Kim. He was the unknown, a complication. Lance didn’t have a choice about letting Preston into his life, but he still didn’t know if the other man was a friend or a threat.
Grabbing the bottle of whiskey off the bar, he took it back to his room. The day was already fucked up beyond repair; he might as well end it drunk as fuck.
“Carly, are you all right?”
Carly lifted her head and nodded. Her blood was humming with anger, embarrassment and unsatisfied desire. The way Lance had held and touched her had been terrifyingly arousing. It had taken all the strength in her body to walk away from him.
Preston followed her into her room, her dress in his hand. Her breasts were back in her bra, her wet underwear in place, but she still took the dress, holding it on her lap.
“Why don’t we go get some dinner? I think we need to get out for a few minutes, see some normal people.”
Carly laughed. “That’s a good idea. Give me a moment to change.”
Preston nodded, and then touched her cheek with one finger before leaving.
Carly let out a breath and flopped back on the bed. Her skin was alive and tingling. She’d never been aroused so quickly before. Lance had handled her with a skill and complete assurance she’d never encountered, but which she certainly found exciting.
If Preston hadn’t followed her and invited her to dinner, she would be lying on her bed with her hand between her legs finishing what Lance had started. However, with Preston waiting she didn’t have time, so she slipped into the bathroom and cleaned up, then swapped out her lingerie for a much less complicated matching bra and panty set. She pulled on a gray, wool fifties-style dress with a full skirt and fitted bodice. She hadn’t brought many of her regular, far more casual, clothes, so this would have to do. Adding her boots, she pulled her hair back in a simple bun and headed out the door.
Preston tasted the wine and nodded to the server, who poured two glasses. It was early, and the restaurant down the street from the hotel had just opened for dinner. They were the only diners, which was fine with Preston as he hoped this would be a private conversation. They were at a prime corner table, seated so they could look out the windows on either side, watching as the city wrapped up work for the day.
When the server left, Carly raised her glass to take a sip. He was both surprised and pleased by who she was. Because of his family, he understood that being partnered to someone with so much power and potential was a sign that the Grand Master thought highly of him and what he could do. Carly’s company had developed a console and game that was a living, changing thing. No cheat codes or walk-throughs worked in the world she’d created. The game watched how people played and learned from it, adapting to their skills. That meant the game was thinking, not just randomizing. It was a brilliant bit of computer science, the brainchild of a beautiful woman.
Preston would be lying if he said the sight of her with Lance hadn’t excited him. He’d been standing there longer than they knew, watching them, his own cock hard in his pants. He’d been thrilled and aroused to hear his name on Carly’s lips as she rode the wave of passion. He’d only stepped in when he thought Lance was in danger of doing something that might ruin their ménage before it even got started, and potentially damaging Lance’s relationship with Carly. The other man might not know it, but Preston’s interference benefited all of them.
He and Lance would have to make their peace, but right now his main focus was Carly.
“Tell me about yourself,” Carly said. “We talked about me, but not you. What do you do?” She gestured to his hand. “How did you get involved with the Trinity Masters?”
Preston looked at the signet ring he wore, stamped with the Trinity Masters’ emblem. “Like you, I officially joined in college. I went to Boston College for my undergrad, Harvard for my PhD, and then did my post doc at Cal, which is how I ended up in San Francisco.”
The server came again and there was a pause while they ordered.
“I’m a partner in a small nano-tech firm. I started it with several friends from my PhD program.”
“I thought you were a chemist.”
“I am. Nanotechnology is chemistry.”
“I thought it was tiny machines.”
Preston laughed, and then used breadsticks to diagram what he was talking about. Carly was smart, almost scarily so, and within minutes she was asking questions that could qualify as chemistry dissertation topics.
It reminded him that what was between them, all of them, was about far more than just sex or attraction. They were the building blocks of the future.
“I wonder what Lance does,” Preston said, as much to himself as to her.
“That’s a good question.” Carly turned to look out the window. “My money is on military.”
Preston thought that was a fair guess. “Carly, are you really okay, after what happened, after what he did?”
“Are you?” Her gaze searched his face.
He nodded, then smiled to show he was sincere. She seemed relieved, her shoulders relaxing.
“I shouldn’t have let it get that far. I didn’t mean to. It just happened.”
“It’s fine. If you want to be alone with Lance you’re welcome to do so, as long as you’re not hiding it from me.”
“You’re really okay with this?”
“I am.” He’d been raised by a trinity. To him, the idea of Carly and Lance together was both arousing and comforting because it felt right. He knew it wouldn’t always be possible, or practical, for all three of them to be together, and he wanted his partners to have a strong, solid relationship.
Her gaze narrowed. “You never answered my question about how you got involved in…this.” She kept her voice down. Around them, the restaurant was filling with early diners.
“I’m a legacy.”
“My parents, and by parents I mean both mothers and my father, were members of the Trinity Masters.”
Carly’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You…have two mothers.”
She licked her lips, frowning. “That’s why you were upset when I wasn’t excited. You understand this, and I’m guessing you’ve been looking forward to it your whole life.”
“Wow.” She sat back, wineglass in hand. “So people do have children?”
“Of course. You assumed they didn’t?”
“Actually, I did. I mean, isn’t it hard to work out? One person is always going to be left out. It’s biology.”
“My other mother, who I call Imo, was always a part of our lives. We lived next door to each other, and when I was young my father and Imo started a company together. My parents have done more to improve science education in the U.S. in the past ten years than in the fifty proceeding.”
“Wait, do they own Eduvation?”
“I went to an Eduvation magnet high school. That’s how I got interested in computer science.”
“Two of my parents had the knowledge to make the company, to create the product, and my mother, my biological mother, who is civilly married to my father for legal reasons, made sure their dream could become a reality.”
“What does she do?”
“She’s a lobbyist.”
“So when they say the Trinity Masters create relationships that build the future…they’re not kidding.”
“Still,” Carly picked up one of his nano-breadsticks and toyed with it, “that’s an awful lot riding on a very tricky relationship. The three of us didn’t even get through the ceremony without trouble.”
“We’ll work it out, but that brings up something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. Since you had some time with Lance, I think it’s only fair that I get the same time with you.”
“What do you mean?” Carly asked, suddenly on alert.
“I mean that we should even the playing field.”
“This isn’t a race to the finish.”
“You’re right, it’s not, and life isn’t fair, but I’d like to start out on some semblance of equal footing.”
“What happened between Lance and me doesn’t affect the two of us. If anything, we’re on better terms because we’ve talked. I don’t even know what Lance does for a living or where he lives.”
“And that’s something we need to rectify. I’d like to have a conversation with him, but you’re underestimating the power of physical attraction and connection. You and I are starting to form a relationship, a bond, but what we’re doing right now is no different than getting to know a new friend. What you did with Lance formalized in your mind the idea that he and you are now connected on an intimate level.”
Carly pushed a piece of fish around her plate, no longer hungry. “I understand, but I won’t be a pawn in some competition between you and Lance, both of you trying to see whose dick is bigger. That’s a precedent I’m not willing to set.”
“Fair enough.” Preston took a sip of wine and she watched his throat as he swallowed. He looked trim and dapper in his navy suit, blue-and-white striped shirt and narrow pale blue tie. His hair, parted at the side, was just long enough so one lock fell out of place, lying on his forehead. Without that, he would have been too polished, too put together.
“But—” He set his glass down. “Will you accept that I want to touch you, want to know, and want you to know, that we’re not new friends, not business acquaintances?”
He picked up her hand, and there was nothing she could do to stop her fingers from trembling. “We’re lovers, husband and wife, bound by a law and a tradition stronger than any other in this country.” He raised her fingers to his lips, kissing the back of her hand, then turning her wrist to tease her palm with the light brush of his tongue.
Carly took a deep breath, then let it out. The desire and arousal Lance had ignited was still there, waiting, hoping for a way to find satisfaction.
This wasn’t the flash-fire and heat of Lance’s touch, but a slow, cool burn like ice melting against skin. In a way, it was more intense as Preston was forcing her to acknowledge what they were to each other. With Lance, she’d been lost to everything, but his touch. She knew, though she couldn’t say why, Preston wouldn’t let her do that.
“Preston, this is just…it’s a little too much. Too sudden. We just met a few hours ago.”
He nodded and set her hand down. “Then let’s not take it so seriously.” He smiled and there was hint of devilry in his dark gaze. “Let’s play a game.”
“Yes. I love games. You must too. After all, you created the game of the future.”
“I’m assuming you mean a sex game, not dominoes or RPG.”
“A sex game, yes.”
There was something about the way he was looking at her that had Carly pausing, trying to fit together what she knew about him, to look beyond what he was saying and doing to what was underneath. What code was driving that smile, that touch.
“If I had to guess,” she said, watching his face for his reaction, “I’d say that to you normal sex is what others would call sex games.”
One eyebrow went up.
“But to you they aren’t games or actually, they’re more than games.”
“Forgive me for saying this, and it’s terribly sexist, but you’re so pretty, it’s easy to forget how smart you are.”
Carly nearly snorted. The joke would be on him once he knew her better. She knew how to dress up when she needed to, but most of the time she rolled into work in jeans, a gamer tee, wearing no make-up, her only accessory the headphones that hung around her neck. There would be time for him to meet that version of Carly, but for now, she was glad she was dressed up. It made her feel powerful.
“So what do you say, Carly? Will you play?”
“I want to know the rules beforehand.”
“That’s fair. It’s very simple. You’ll do what I say, when I say it.”
“This sounds like a very stupid game.” The little flickers of desire died. Do what he said? How Neanderthal and uninspiring. “I expected something better from you, Preston.”
“You don’t know what I’ll ask.”
“I can guess.”
Carly propped her chin on her hand and considered. “I’m guessing you’re into dominance and submission play.” He jerked at her words and Carly thought gotcha. “I wouldn’t have guessed it if I’d met you in passing, but now that I’m talking to you, I see it. Maybe it’s more than that, maybe you’re in to full-on BDSM.”
“I enjoy administering a spanking now and then,” he admitted with a nod.
Carly pressed her knees together as the image of her turned over Preston’s knee drifted through her mind. She really should have taken the time to masturbate before coming to dinner. If she had, her hormones wouldn’t be screaming at her, demanding that she throw herself at Preston and beg him to fuck her.
“And what about you? You seem to know more than a little about it.”
“I’ve experimented sexually, though not extensively. D/s seemed to always end up as one person doing all the work, the other having all the fun. Besides that, the majority of RPGs have some elements of D/s built in to them, either in the dress, mannerisms or rules. We did a lot of research as we built some of the early games because we didn’t want to alienate players. We wanted them to feel at home. Home meaning with women dressed as a cross between warriors and sex slaves.”
“People with only a surface understanding of D/s can sometimes fall into the lazy lover trap.” He planted an elbow on the table and leaned forward. “I’m not one of them.”
I bet you’re not. Carly tried to seem cool and collected, but it was hard. Her heart was racing, and she was so aroused she was almost lightheaded. The sexy banter, the almost casual conversation about such forbidden things, was completely different from Lance’s direct, aggressive seduction, but she found it equally arousing.
“So, Carly, will you be my submissive?”
Carly took a deep breath. “I will.” She held up her hand. “But with conditions.”
“Topping from the bottom already?” He grinned. “Go on.”
“No sex. If we’re supposed to be in this ménage a trois, I think all three of us should be there the first time we have real sex.”
“Secondly, I want a time limit.”
Preston checked his watch. “It’s nearly six. We’ll play until ten. How does that sound?”
Four hours wasn’t long, but she was betting he could pack a lot into that time.
Preston leaned back and raised his hand for the waiter. She expected him to ask for the check, but instead he requested the dessert menu. He ordered cake, while she ordered the fruit tart. When their espresso arrived, she sipped as she watched him, considering what his strategy might be. He had a limited amount of time during which she’d agreed to do what he said. He should have dragged her off someplace private to have his way with her. Instead, he was continuing as if nothing was different.
“Yes, master?” She fluttered her lashes at him.
Preston laughed. “I doubt any man could master you, but I’d like you to do something for me.”
“Of course. I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“Of course you have a choice, but if you don’t do it, you’ll pay the price.”
Her pussy went damp as she wondered how he’d punish her. “And what is that?”
He smiled. “I won’t tell you.” He took her hand and kissed it. “I want you to go to the bathroom, remove your underwear and bring it to me.”
She nodded and stood, setting her napkin on her chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to use the ladies’ room.”
Once in the bathroom, she leaned against the door and blew out a breath. She was so aroused, walking had nearly brought her to orgasm. Stripping off her panties, she winced when she saw how wet they were. Folding them in on themselves, she hid them in her fist and made her way back to the table.
When she sat, Preston raised one eyebrow. Carly raised her chin then held her hand out, uncurling her fingers to show him what she held. If anyone looked over at their table they would clearly see she held something satiny. Preston made her wait, panties out in plain sight before he took them from her, tucking them into his pocket.
“If you’re finished, we can leave. I paid the check while you were…taking care of things.”
Her bravery faltered. Carly considered holding on to her chair and refusing to go anywhere.
He must have sensed her nervousness because he picked up her hand and squeezed it. His eyes sparkled when their gazes met. “Won’t you come with me, lovely Carly? I think you’ll enjoy the games I want to play.”
Nodding, Carly waited for him to stand and pull out her chair. He tucked her arm through his and led her from the restaurant.