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An Excerpt From: His Rules: Taken by Surprise

Copyright © LYLA SINCLAIR, 2011

 

Chapter One

I couldn’t believe what I was doing, as my Mazda crept forward, looking for the address printed on a gold-leaf invitation in my lap. Although it was completely out of character for me, I—Lauren Hughes—was on my way to a night of unknown revelry with a group of strangers.

But when I turned right and found myself driving up a long private lane to what appeared to be a mansion ahead, I began having second thoughts. Who were these people? They seemed way out of my league, financially, and it was hard to imagine that anyone living in a house shaped like a castle was putting on some kind of rave. So why would they invite Marissa?

I pulled up onto the cobblestone drive in front of the house and stopped. Had Marissa done this to humiliate me? My car door popped open suddenly and I jumped.

“Sorry to startle you, Miss,” a valet, decked out in an elegant black uniform, said as he pulled my door open and put out his hand for me.

I let him help me out of the car. “Am I at the right place?” I asked, noting how quiet it seemed from the outside.

He glanced down at my golden “ticket.” “Yes, Miss. The cars are around back. The others are already here.” He motioned toward the front door. Before I could change my mind, he jumped into my car and drove away, leaving me to shiver with nerves in the cool night air.

I thought again about who’d sent me here, and this little outing seemed even more ill advised.

Marissa, who my co-workers and I call the Mistress of Darkness, had been giving me a hard time again. She’s the boss’s assistant, which she thinks gives her the right to have an opinion on everything.

All the CPA’s were in the coffee room, celebrating the end of tax season and talking about how we were going to spend our first weekend off in a month when Marissa walked in.

“Tell us what you’re going to do Lauren,” she said cattily.

Bitch.

But she was right. Not only did I not have any plans, I couldn’t even imagine any to lie about. Yes, in a room full of accountants, I was the one strangers could immediately pick out as the stereotypical accountant. The problem was, knowing this didn’t help me change it.

I wasn’t comfortable wearing anything but a suit to work and even on days when I thought my strawberry blonde hair looked presentable hanging down on my shoulders, I couldn’t leave the house without pulling it back into something more efficient-looking. I’m sure it was like walking around with “Go Away Men!” written across my forehead.

Since I had no answer for Marissa, I didn’t reply. I just got my mug out of the microwave and dropped my teabag into it. She stared at me combatively. My four co-workers had finished pouring their coffee. As Marissa continued to watch me, every one of those cowards grabbed a donut and slinked out, leaving me alone with her.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to answer,” she said in a softer tone.  I guess the bully act was only fun with an audience. “I know you have no life.”

My angry gaze met hers as I tried to come up with some sort of snappy retort. Then I realized she was looking at me with sympathy. Oh, damn, that was worse! I was up for partner next year, damn it! I should not be an object of pity to the firm’s office assistants.

“Did you ever think that it’s not that I have no life?” I hedged. “Maybe I just don’t think it’s professional to go around broadcasting the details of my private escapades to my co-workers, like some people do.” “Some people” meaning her, of course.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said, not the least bit deterred. Then her face changed suddenly, and she looked like she’d just invented the light bulb. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I have an idea!”

“Did I say I was worr—” I tried to argue, but she’d already sprinted back to her cube.

She returned seconds later, slightly winded. “I got this invitation, but I can’t go—other plans.” She batted her long black lashes to indicate that her company was in great demand. “But you should go. It’ll change your life.”

“But I don’t want to chan—”

She looked at me doubtfully and my voice dwindled away because we both knew I was lying.

“Won’t they realize that you’re missing and some stranger is there instead?” I asked.

“No, it’s not that kind of party. This is a wild party,” Marissa said. Her eyes grew wide at the word “wild.” “There’ll be a lot of strangers there. You can be anyone you want. They won’t ask any questions. All you need is that invitation.”

You can be anyone you want. That’s the part that got me. I’d felt boxed-in for so long. Maybe if I went to a wild, drunken party, I could at least have a normal conversation that wasn’t about tax shelters or audits. I wasn’t bad looking. Maybe I could even hook up with a guy and get laid.

Knowing Marissa, I would probably be getting laid by a guy with tattoos covering his entire body and piercings in bizarre places…

But, I decided I couldn’t afford to be so picky. I took the invitation from her hand and thanked her.

But standing alone in front of this quiet estate, I began second-guessing everything from my decision to go there, to my wardrobe choices. Since I’d thought this was some sort of rave, I’d tried to come as close as possible to edgy, in a black leather skirt that hit above the knee, a lavender silk blouse—I didn’t own a T-shirt—and my highest black heels, no hose. This place looked more like I should be in cocktail attire, at the very least.

But I was already here and my car was gone. Besides, I didn’t know these people. I could turn around and leave and probably never see them again.

 I forced myself to walk up the stone steps and use the golden knocker, since I didn’t see a bell. A butler answered the door and glanced at my invitation. “So glad to have you, Miss. The others are in the rumpus room. Have you been here before?”

“Um, no,” I said uneasily.

“The rules are there for you to read, then.” He motioned to a sheet of paper on a small table. “They are not allowed to leave the premises, though.”

I walked over and pretended to skim over them since I’d been too vain to wear my glasses. What kind of party had rules? Not that it mattered. Whatever they were, I wasn’t likely to break any of them.

“You can join the others at the games, now,” said the butler as he ushered me through the hallway.

Games. Of course! Gambling! That explained everything. I hoped I had enough cash on me not to look like a complete fool.

When I stepped into the rumpus room, I was surprised at the lack of black jack tables and poker chips. The place was decorated in deep burgundy and the walls seemed to be made of velvet. Situated throughout the room were large, flat sofas, like double-wide divans. The one in the middle was especially beautiful with four posts around it—almost like a four-poster bed, but lower to the floor. I wondered why the people in the room weren’t sitting on any of the furniture. Instead, they were in groups on floor pillows, nearby.

“Come in. We’re just getting started,” a deep voice called to me. A handsome man with dark hair and black eyes motioned to me authoritatively with his index finger. Join us. We’re short on women tonight.”

“Yeah, we could use a you over here,” said a fifty-ish man with gray hair and a matching gray moustache. I noticed that the blonde woman sitting with them didn’t seem pleased to see me, but the balding, heavy-set man to her left appeared thrilled.

I walked over and sat down on the floor, trying to arrange my legs so that no one could see up my skirt. It had been almost knee length standing, but in this position it rode up to mid-thigh. The handsome stranger who’d invited me over saw me tugging on it and smiled. “That’s not necessary,” he said. His voice was firm and masterful. His confident tone was a definite turn-on. My cheeks felt warm and I hoped I wasn’t blushing. Thirty-four was way too old for that to be attractive.

I glanced around the room and counted six other groups. When my gaze returned to our area, I suddenly realized there was a Monopoly board on the floor in front of us. Very funny, Marissa! She’d sent me straight from tax season to a Monopoly party! I made a mental note to murder her bright and early Monday morning.

“What’s your name?” The man said.

“Lauren,” I answered, feeling a bit shy in his awesome presence.  He was dressed casually, in a black turtleneck and slacks, but everything about him reeked of high quality from his clothing fabric to his hair cut.

“I’m Richard. Welcome to my home,” he said. “And this is Lenore.” He motioned to the blonde, a lovely woman in her late forties with a really nice chest, which she was showing off in a draping, low-cut blouse. She nodded at me with a smirk, making it crystal clear she was not happy to meet me.

Richard gestured toward the two men at the table. “This is George and that’s Martin.” George was the portly one. Martin had the moustache. Neither of them was nearly as striking as my host. “I’m glad you came,” he said, as though he knew me and I was an invited guest. I could feel his eyes boring right through mine. I stopped breathing for a moment.

“Um…nice to meet you…” I suddenly remembered the others were there, “you all, I mean.” How bad could a night of Monopoly be in the company of a man as hot as Richard?

“Have you read the rules?” Richard asked.

“Yes,” I lied. I hoped they were just the standard Monopoly rules. I could probably remember most of those.

We proceeded to choose our markers and roll. Richard was designated as the banker. After thirty minutes of play and friendly banter, including quite a bit of innuendo between Lenore and the men, several properties had been purchased, mostly by Richard and George. Lenore rolled the dice and landed on Park Place.

“That’s mine,” Richard said.

“And the rent is…” Lenore shuffled her money around.

“Oh, you know your money’s no good with me, darling,” Richard said.

Lenore flashed her green eyes at him. “Oh, no?” She pouted. “Then how shall I pay?”

“By showing us those lovely breasts of yours…the blouse comes off.”

I thought their joking had gone a bit overboard, until Lenore took the bottom of her blouse in both hands and pulled it slowly over her head. I tried to keep my jaw from dropping, first from the realization of what kind of game we were playing, then from admiration of Lenore’s gorgeous cleavage. I wasn’t sure if they were implants or not, but I could see why the men didn’t want to take their eyes off her. Her lacy demi-bra barely covered her nipples and her lovely breasts heaved with each breath she took.

“Even you can’t help staring at them, huh Lauren?” George said. I could feel my face turning pink.

Richard stepped in and saved me by reminding George it was his roll. I began dreading every turn, afraid I would be expected to strip. A part of me wanted to get up and leave, yet another part—the part I hadn’t known existed until that moment—needed to stay and see what happened. After several minutes, I landed on Reading Railroad.