Contemporary Erotic Romance/60,000 Words
Elite Doms of Washington (Book 3)
Sometimes the perfect man is the one who’s most forbidden.
After her husband’s death, Isabella Santos fled Washington and its bruising memories. But estate matters force her to return and fate gives her a chance to connect with a man she’d always secretly longed to call Master—Mark, the brother of her late husband.Mark, retired from his black ops career, grabs the second chance Isabella’s sudden appearance in D.C. presents. He’s never forgiven his late brother’s neglect of Isabella, a woman he’s loved from afar for ten years. Now reunited, he’s determined to earn her heart and submission.As their forbidden love blooms, they forge a perfect domestic discipline life that provides a feeling of oneness and completion. But her family’s opposition and demons from her late husband’s life intervene. In the end, the only way to have the future they’ve dreamed of, is to come to terms with the past.
Other Books by Elizabeth
Isabella stood on the front porch of her abandoned Arlington, Virginia home and willed herself not to cry. She hadn’t stepped inside in eleven months, twenty-eight days and sixteen hours. She slipped the key in the lock, and her body began to shake like a skeleton in a windstorm. She stepped backward.
Returning was a mistake. She should have obeyed her mother and father and stayed in Miami.
No. Dios mío! Just open the stupid door.
The loud crack of protesting wood followed a screech of hinges left unused for too long. She hitched the mailbag higher on her shoulder and stepped inside before she chickened out.
Bed sheets draping the furniture resembled deflated, mismatched ghosts. The silence in the house
rivaled her husband’s gravesite.
She needed to do something fast before she turned and fled. Coming here alone? Stupid. She whipped the sheet off the couch. Another mistake. Dust clogged the air.
When her coughing subsided, she wiped the tears from her eyes and scanned the abandoned
room. More cautiously, she pulled the sheet off Jorge’s beat-up leather chair. She ran her hand over a small tear on the armrest. He sat here.
Stop it. She reminded herself why she’d returned without telling anyone she was in town. You’re going to get in and get out, remember? No maudlin reminiscence.
Wandering through the hushed rooms, she quickly identified what she’d set aside to take with her. Her grandmother’s antique saltcellars and a small painting by Albrecht Dürer made the “save” list. As for the rest? 1-800-JUNK could haul the rest of the household items away. Who needed the reminders of all she’d lost here? Tomorrow she’d hire a realtor and never, ever come back to this place.
She remained undecided about visiting Jorge’s gravesite.
After dropping to her knees in front of the coffee table, she dumped the bag of mail she’d picked up from the post office. Her eyes rested on her late husband’s Guns & Ammo magazine. She winced at the reminder of one of the many pastimes that had supplanted her, and eyed the mound spilling across the surface and onto the floor. There were bound to be others. She should leave sorting mail to another day when she didn’t feel so fragile.
Little squares of fading daylight on the floor led toward the back porch, as if beckoning her to follow. Rising, she padded through the kitchen, averting her eyes from anything that might spark more memories of her life here. She focused on the simple deadbolt on the back door that led to her garden—what had once been her pride and joy.
Pausing on the back stoop, she scanned the scruffy-looking backyard. She barely recognized the yard she’d designed, planted and cared for all by herself. Years ago, the National Wildlife Federation had certified the small quarter-acre lot as a backyard wildlife habit. Her father had his own certificate made up from his company, Sandoval Landscaping, and shipped it to her pre-framed.
Isabella Sandoval Santos, Ángel de la Tierra. The Earth’s Angel.
Not anymore, Papi.
Rogue grass blades invaded her herb garden. Only a lone rosemary bush remained to fight the interlopers. A neglected hummingbird feeder hung sideways from the Japanese maple.
It looked like she’d felt that last year with Jorge. Forgotten.
When she stepped off the flagstone patio into the thick grass, her kitten heels sank into the moist ground. She kicked off her shoes, scrunched her toes in the cool green, and took in a lungful of the earthy air. Sounds of not-too-distant cars mixed with the peter-peter-peter of a titmouse in the oak trees.
She took slow steps around the perimeter of the small, fenced-in yard and took inventory. A pool, the length of a refrigerator, fed a too-small trickle of water into the larger pool below choked with leaves. Large hydrangea bushes lined the back wall, tiny buds forming on the ends of their rounded mopheads. Had they always bloomed blue?
As she circled around the yard to the side of the house, more signs of neglect showed. Cigarette butts lay in the side yard, likely thrown by the guy who cut her grass.
She turned and a dewy, sticky mass of white strings hit her face. She swatted at the gluey fibers. Gah! She backed up and sticky strings pulled across her skin.
“Mierda!” She brushed at the gummy strands. Her fingers touched a squishy little mass, and a crawl across her forearm crushed her in fear.
“Ay, Dios! Quítamela!”
Something moved on her neck. There’s more than one. She could feel their hairy legs. Get off! Get off!
More stickiness tangled in her fingers. She had to get away before she was covered in long- legged, furry spiders. They might bite. Get into her hair, her eyes, her mouth… She kicked and the earth pitched sideways as she lost her footing in the wet grass.
“Isabella!” A male voice boomed in her ear.
Marcos? What was he doing here?
His shirt pressed into her face as he pinned her to his hard, male body with incredible strength. With her arms and hands immobilized against his solid abdomen, his hands swept over her back. “Pare, pare, stop,” she cried into his chest.
He released his grip. She pushed him off and ran to the middle of the yard. She couldn’t catch her breath. The ground crashed into her knees. A sharp pain radiated up her arm as she landed on her wrist.
“Calm down.” His body covered hers from behind, his hold gentle as if she was made of glass. His heartbeat drummed against her shoulder blades.
“Jesus, I thought someone was attacking you.”
She turned her face to look up into a pair of familiar, steel-grey eyes. Her heart climbed into her throat. “Marcos.”
Dios. She wasn’t strong enough to see him yet. The temptation he presented was too much. It wasn’t fair, damn it! She hadn’t seen Mark since Jorge’s funeral—on purpose.
A lazy smile stretched across her brother-in-law’s face. “Ella.” His chuckle rumbled against her back.
Her breath hitched at hearing his nickname for her.
He lifted her to standing and twisted her to face him. “For someone who likes to play in the dirt, you’ve always had quite the overreaction to spiders.”
She backed up a little to make space between their bodies. “Why are you here?”
“Are you okay?” His gentle hand descended on her shoulder. She peered up at him, not quite sure what to say.
“Let’s get you inside and cleaned up.” Mark’s muscles glided under his T-shirt as he led her toward her back stoop. She tried hard not to stare.
She stopped at the steps. “You have a gun tucked into the back of your jeans.” “Thought someone was hurting you.”
“Well, spiders can bite, you know.”
His warm chuckle shook some of her tension away and the tightness in her stomach released. “How did you know I was here?”
“The security firm called and told me someone had entered the house.” He gestured her inside. Oh, wow, her mind resembled a sieve these days. She’d forgotten about the security cameras.
Mark had arranged for them while the house sat empty. At the funeral, he’d offered to watch over the place while she was gone. Of course, since his work frequently took him out of the country, it made sense he would hire a security company.
She paused and eyed the back screen door. It hung on one hinge as if a wild lion had crashed through.
“Your screams... well, the door was in my way.” He grimaced, yanked the door off its final hinge and leaned it against the siding. “I’ll fix it.”
“Don’t bother. I’m calling a realtor in the morning. They’ll likely have a long list of things to fix.”
As soon as she entered the kitchen, he pointed to a stool. “Here, sit for a minute. Let me look at that wrist.”
She gratefully sat her butt down.
Mark’s muscles strained the capacity of his T-shirt as he wet a cloth with cold water. His well- defined forearms flexed as he wrung it out. Mother Mary, he had glorious muscles. She ripped her gaze away. She shouldn’t notice Mark in that way.
As he wrapped the cloth around her wrist, she tried not to think about his strong fingers. “There. So when did you get into town?” He sat down on the stool next to her.
“I, uh, arrived yesterday. I was going to call. But, well… I wasn’t sure you’d be in town.” It was a lie, and lame. Mark deserved better. “Thanks for this.” She lifted her wrist a little. “Does it hurt?”
He studied her face as if he almost didn’t recognize her.
“The house is dusty,” she said. What a moronic thing to say. As usual, around Marcos her intelligence deserted her. Her hormones took over.
“I’m sure. I haven’t stopped by much. And, well, I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me.”
Shame colored her insides, and heat crossed her face. “I’m sorry about not returning your calls after his…” She couldn’t bring herself to say Jorge’s funeral. She didn’t know what to say to Mark at all. How could she talk about what happened after the burial services? Even if she’d never stopped thinking about how his lips felt when he suddenly kissed her. Nice. Too nice.
“I was calling to apologize. My behavior was…well, I wasn’t me that evening. I should never have kissed you… and I shouldn’t have brought this up now. Timing never was my strong suit.” He scrubbed his chin. “It’s good to see you, Isabella.”
Her heart hitched a little when his lips pulled back, showing perfect white teeth in his perfect face. Okay, so what if he turned her insides to mush? No woman could be unaffected by a smile in such a package. Was Mark still single? Perhaps he had a girlfriend now.
“How are… things?” She hoped she sounded casual and not prying.
“Good. Not travelling as much. Went to work for Congressman Brond. He’s off the taxpayer’s payroll now, and he’s getting married.”
“I’d read about that. So, you’re not doing that… other job?”
She hoped not. She knew his former career had involved danger, given the number of times he’d disappear only to reappear with bruises and stitches. Yet over the years he’d dodged all questions about his secret work and ignored Jorge’s ribbing about his silence, calling him James Bond and Rambo.
“No. I stopped altogether. Was too distracted. Put others at risk.”
“I’m sorry, Mark. You lost Jorge, too. It must have been hard.” She touched his forearm. Her fingers met human concrete.
Before she could withdraw her touch, his hand covered hers. “Death I can handle. It’s worrying about the living that’s hard.”
A slight chill travelled up the back of her neck. In a way, she understood his words.
Jorge’s death had brought emptiness but also a strange peace. At some point, she’d given up fearing for Jorge. His drug addiction was pointless, and later, his extreme sports addiction seemed such a waste of his sobriety. She never stopped fearing for Mark. His risks, although unknown to her, seemed commendable.
“You back working for your father?” he asked.
“Yes. Lots of new construction in Miami. He needed landscaping help.”
Mark unwrapped her wrist, as if to check for bruising. “Did your father tell you I came to see you in Miami?”
“No.” A sliver of anger flared at the thought she’d been cloistered by her family. “But that sounds like Papi. Overprotective.” She’d have to confront her father later. Not telling her Marcos had visited? She couldn’t let that slip. It was rude. Like not calling him back wasn’t?
“You also changed your cell phone number.” His shrewd grey eyes cut into her heart. God, he had beautiful eyes. She couldn’t lie to those eyes. So, tell him the truth.
“That cell phone’s at the bottom of Biscayne Bay, the victim of a rough day on Papi’s boat. Since I was living in Florida, it seemed better to change to a local number.” Plus, no amount of blocking had stopped the disturbing calls she got for weeks after Jorge’s funeral. Changing her number was easier, and she had needed easy.
His eyes didn’t seem to buy the story. Okay, so it wasn’t the whole truth. He gave her a look she’d seen before—a look sported by her husband when he wasn’t pleased. It made her insides go soft.
Marcos and Jorge… so alike, yet not at all.
She’d met the brothers at the same time. She’d been pulled more strongly to Mark, but his mysterious disappearances scared her. Jorge had seemed safer, and almost as attractive, and he’d understood her—sort of. He’d turned out to be not safe at all.
Dios! She reached out to grasp the edge of the counter. She’d grown dizzy. She always did whenever she thought about how opposite life had turned out from what she’d expected when she married Jorge.
“Ella, do you want to rest upstairs?” Mark’s hand moved to her arm to steady her.
Warmth spread across her whole body at his obvious concern. Right. She loved the feel of his hand on her.
“I’m not staying here,” she blurted. Besides, no way in hell was she entering her old bedroom. “Today’s just been…“
“Overwhelming. Just take a minute.”
Seeing Marcos, as strong and indomitable as ever, she realized how much she’d missed him. “Thanks for being here, and I’m sorry, Mark.”
“Nothing to apologize for.”
“Yes, there is. My father shouldn’t have dismissed you. But, more importantly, I should have returned your calls. I should have done a lot of things before now.”
Sold the house. Handled her estate. Could her to-do list grow any longer?
“If you need help sorting through anything, I’m here. Not planning on going anywhere.”
Her to-do list suddenly seemed petty. Because of Mark’s secret occupation, her heart lightened whenever he reappeared—alive.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
“A hotel?” His brow furrowed.
A long groan from the basement captured their attention. Mark pushed off the sink with a start. “The furnace,” she said quickly. “It’s always done that.”
“I’ll go check on it. Will you be alright?”
As Mark pounded down the basement steps, memories pounded on her brain.
She hated that basement. Hairy-legged spiders lived down there, their webs guarding climbing harnesses, grappling ropes, motorcycle helmets—all remnants of Jorge’s life that didn’t include her.
As if his disappearance into cocaine wasn’t enough, once clean, he’d escaped into base jumping, rock climbing, moto-cross—anything that offered a new kind of high. She’d lost herself in the stillness his absence left behind. With no role to play in his life, her world diminished to nothing. She diminished to nothing.
Another loud moan sounded from downstairs, and that familiar ache she’d harbored for too long welled up hard and fast.
She clutched the edge of the island and held on. She’d badly miscalculated the impact visiting her old house would have. Yes, returning was an epic mistake.