For years, Carson MacMillan’s family believed she traveled the world visiting exotic places with sporadic communication, and rare unexpected trips home. But, her mysterious lifestyle is more adventuresome, and much closer to home, than they imagined.
While wrestling her own demons, the strong- willed Carson is caught in her quest to right wrongs done to her and others, at the hand of the wealthy entrepreneur, Blaine Montgomery. When a sex scandal exposes the dark secrets that dominate her life, she discovers Montgomery is not the only man obsessed with her. Uber rich and commanding, Grant Sutter reaches back from her past – the past she thought she had long ago buried – and forces his way into her life. He takes her way beyond her limits in pursuit of her ultimate submission.
As she struggles in an internal tug of war between good and evil and keeping everyone she loves safe from harm, Montgomery’s paranoia rages in his attempt to elude the authorities that are intent on pinning a sex-related murder on him. The upheaval leads Carson to discover the shocking targets of his sick games.
The undercurrent of the chauffeured ride to the west side mansion is downright creepy. Withdrawn from the vehicle’s dashboard lights, and hovered in a corner shy of streetlights, I sit alone in my pain. I don’t dare cry out. I can’t let Trevor see me weak. I can’t draw his sympathy. He has to protect Raleigh. Even if it means he thinks I’m the bitch sister who ruined her life.?
I glaze my eyes.?
I rigid my nerves.?
I step into the darkness cold as the night air.?
Inside, shuffled to a room keeping the knowledge of my visit minimal, I sit in dread wait for Raleigh. She is unaware of the devastation I’m about to detonate. I disgust myself. I detest myself. I despise myself. Her innocence is a precious commodity to me. My innocence was but a fleeting moment in time. So very far away. Almost forgotten.
Damn fine mess Satteen has gotten into. She should have kept Davis Covington on a tighter leash. She should have known this could happen. Her fuck up is hurting people I love.?
She doesn’t have the right to do that to them.?
I don’t want to do this.
I don’t want to be here.?????????
I don’t want to hurt my sister.
Tucker opens the door with a Stonehenge expression that deveins the fragile arteries of my slippery resolve.???
Raleigh brushes past with a sweetness on her face and an embrace in her arms. I’m glad to see her. But, I don’t have the energy for a hug.?
She downs her hurt, and withdraws her offer, and steps away in a disappointed acceptance of my bad mood. “You look fabulous, Carson. I love what you’re doing with your hair. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this long. Jealous of mine, huh?”?
Her words seemed picked out of careful and trudged in faulty uncertain, and delivered unsure of their reception. She tries to ease the tension, but I can’t go there.?
“How long have you been in Fort Worth? Did you just get here?” My downcast face that can’t look into her anxious eyes is taking its toll on her patience. “How did you know where I was? How the hell how do you know Blaine and Trevor?”
“Raleigh.” I put my hand on her mouth. “This is hard. I’m in trouble.”
Her eyes dart. Her swallow sticks questions that hang on the strain of her tongue.
I fucking wish I had a bourbon.?
I wish she had a double.?
I wish she wasn’t making this harder by being so sweet, so kind, so? Raleigh.
“I? I’m? in Madame Dominque’s world of erotic pleasure and pain, I’m a skilled Dominatrix in the sensational art of BDSM. Bondage and discipline. Domination and submission. Sadism and masochism. In that world, I’m? I’m known as Satteen.”
When she doesn’t run from the room screaming to be rescued from the evil of me, I continue speaking in slow words. As if speed of delivery somehow lessens significance of message.
“Beneath the streets, I’m in the same building where Blaine Montgomery works and lives right on top of me. Three years in February since I became Satteen, second in command at The Company. Watching all of the men and women coming in and out of the playrooms, living out their deepest, darkest fantasies.”
Listening to the world I’ve embodied, I’ve embraced, I’ve personified is an unforgiveable confession that comes with no pardon.?
Embarrass is a weak excuse.?
Ignorance is not an option.?
Damnation is a hell of a destiny.
“Three years I’ve been entrusted with their secrets. Knowing exactly who they are, who they pretend to be with their wives and husbands and children, their bosses and employees, and their friends and lovers. But, for three years, they haven’t known me as anyone but Satteen.” I pause to see if she can stand any more of me. To see if I can stand to hear my sins spoken out loud.
“Now, they’re going to find out that I’m Carson MacMillan, Raleigh MacMillan’s older sister. The same Raleigh MacMillan who created a media explosion over the launch of BGM Enterprises last Sunday evening?the one they can’t stop talking about. The same Raleigh MacMillan who is opening her own ad agency, Scott MacMillan and Montgomery… the name with an ampersand.”
She smiles at the word ampersand, so I smile, too.
“The same Raleigh MacMillan who has three other sisters. Sweet, innocent, unsuspecting sisters who are going to have their lives dragged through the headlines. And, they’re all going to hate their sister, Carson. All of you. Even you, Raleigh. Even you. My dearest. My sweetest. My favorite sister.”
I stare into the nothingness of my life in the open air.
I breathe from the stench of my depravity in the exposed light.
I shudder for the loss of my virtue in the unspeakable chasm.
She leans forward.?
She smiles sweet.?
She speaks soft. “I know. I don’t hate you. They won’t hate you either. Well, Brooklyn will, but she always has.”?
I shrug. It’s true. “Promise me something?”
“You won’t tell them you’re my favorite.”
Raleigh chuckles. “I promise. I won’t burst that bubble.”
“Some bubble, huh?”
“The best kind. The one where we’re all sweet and innocent little girls with parents who adore us. Just happy because daddy had the sense to not say he was in Oshkosh or Tecumseh or Schenectady with mother’s where-in-the-world-are-you-when-this-baby-popped naming system. And, our biggest worry is whether or not Savannah’s freckles will grow together, and she’ll be tanner than the rest of us.”
“I had forgotten that. I trust they haven’t turned into that marvelous tan?”
“No. She has about a million. And, baby Gigi is the spitting image of her mama, red hair and freckles. So cute.”
I have missed my family. I have missed so much. So much. Too much. “I’ve only seen pictures of the baby. She looks adorable. Savannah is such the happy little mama.” Brief smile over pleasantries fades into voice trail reality. “Oh, Raleigh, what have I done?”
Our eyes lock hold and leap off the ledge into waterfalls.
I let Raleigh hug me.?
I need her to hug me.
I need to hug her.
“Carson, you are just being you. The adventurer we all love and adore. That’s not going to change. We’re not going to change. Sure, we’ll yell and cuss and rant and rave and cry and hug and make up. Just like we always do. That’s just us being us. We’re sisters. We can get through anything.”
Her words are bittersweet on my lips that I bite to almost bleed. I wish it were that simple. But, it’s not.
“It doesn’t matter what they say about you, Carson. Doesn’t matter what they say about me, or anything, or anybody. We’re the MacMillan sisters. We have that blood running through our veins. There’s nothing thicker, or stronger, or better than MacMillan blood. Hell. I don’t have a problem with spilling some of mine, if that’s what it takes, to protect my big sister.”
“Oh, Raleigh. You really don’t have to say that. You already have the favorite sister thing wrapped up. But, I have another favor to ask.”
“I know you must have a million questions. I’ll answer them all? in time. But, right now, you have to trust me. I can’t tell you anymore. I have to protect you. I have to protect the family. I can’t endanger you with that type of knowledge. Do you trust me?”
“With all my heart.”
“Don’t tell anyone you’ve seen me. Don’t tell them we’ve talked. Don’t tell them….”
“I won’t. But, where are you going?”
“No questions. No answers. Remember?”
“Sorry. I just wanted to ask you to stay. I wish we could have a sleepover and act like little girls again giggling all night.”
“I would love to, Raleigh. But, I can’t.”
“I know. But, I need one more hug before you go.”?
We hug tight, like sisters in a reunion, pretending their worlds didn’t just collide in a fucked-up adult version of hide and seek with serious consequences behind the next tree of life, covered in twisted knots and perverted bumps and warped nubs.?
“I need to know that you really do look great? and? I’m really, really happy to see you… and, I love you, Carson. Always and forever.”
“Always and forever.”
The walk away is brisk, lighter than the labored trudge in. Raleigh has that effect on people. She has that effect on me. She’s that good.
Except for the Joss Stone CD, the ride back to downtown is silent. I like it, but am surprised Trevor didn’t do his usual ask for my preference. Regardless, I like the ease of distraction.
It’s not until I’m secured, scrubbed and snuggled, that I think about Raleigh again.?
I’m not ashamed of my choices.?
I did what I had to do.
I am deeply sorry for what my family will have to endure. And, the embarrassment it will cause them.?
That’s what upsets me.?
Hurting my family.
But, I’m glad I talked with Raleigh. I’m relieved she was kind enough to tell me that she didn’t hate me. And, I do believe her. She’s a straight shooter. No bullshit. That’s one of the things I love about my little sister.?
As I drift off to sleep, my mind is unsettled. My soul is snarled in a corner with no room to escape from the confines. My heart is burdened with the weight of only-ifs. Rest is a fitful mockery of fidgety taunt and jittery tease…
Just out of reach. Aching muscles in a tiptoe stretch, almost falling, walls closing, reach for the light, walls crushing in. Bleeding fingers clawing, climbing, touching the cold flat surface. Struggling a grasp. A hand pull up as the ground swallows air beneath me. Running, trying to get far away from the prison hole, fearing it will open again and devour me. The light I struggled so hard to reach blinding me now, putting my hand in front of my face, blocking glare, running now half-blind. My hand touches something that terrifies me, and a shrill sound pierces the air…
I fumble the nightstand retrieve of my iPhone.?
Anne-Marie sputters like a jalopy backfiring. “Get here right away. She’s mad, mad, mad. Never seen her so mad. Hurry. Hurry, hurry.”
Scrambling button-up, hop-along, between coffee mug slurps, I follow ever-ready Trevor.
“Ms. MacMillan! Carson! Satteen!” A camera-rolling reporter intrudes her microphone into my pissed-off-face hand shield until Trevor safeguards the elevator door closing.
I didn’t expect them to get to me this quick.
I overpaid for this condo because of the tight security, and some little piss ant let a two-bit reporter honey-drip her way in. I flare my management-will-get-an-effing-bomb launch attack and the tight-lipped Trevor is in silent pissed-off partnership.
My fury steams right through The Company’s careful-hidden-from-the-paparazzi executive entrance, where Noah puts two steamy cups of Twining’s tea in my hands.?
“She’s a bitchy one this morning, Carson. I put extra honey in hers. Play nice.”
He heaves me in, all but spilling the stain of tea on the white silk rug before I steady one of the cups and successfully score a landing on the glass desktop in front of her.?
She’s on the phone and hand motions for me to go to the seating area.
Textured white linen sofas flanking her blue-glow gas fireplace have been the site of many a meeting. Those slow-swirling, shit-soothing candles that float silently under the thick glass of the white Carrera coffee table distract even the most soul-stripping confrontations.
But, I’m too antsy to sit.?
I pace the backlit floor-to-ceiling shelving of priceless art, expensive artifacts, and trade tools. The medieval torture mask almost looks inviting? almost.
I eavesdrop with discreet eyes trained on reaction.?
Her voice is strained.?
Whoever is on the other end is doing most of the talking, which is cause for alarm. She usually commands the attention.?
Katarina Jade Montgomery Beaumont can melt macho and devalue diva with those cat-stealth emerald eyes. Madame Dominque cunning. Katja kind.
“Yes. Of course.” She ends the inquisition, and brings her tea. “Carson. Sit. Please sit.” A distracted sip scowls her flawless face. “Noah keeps pushing that damned tea at me this morning. He thinks the more honey he adds, the sweeter it will make me. I swear. That boy has no brains. I don’t know why I put up with him.”
“You know why you put up with him.”
“Well. Yes. There is that.”
“We all have our strengths. Our talents. Our quirks.”
“Yes. Yes. We do. We all do. And, thank heaven for yours, Carson. What would I do without you?”
I silently thank providence.?
She’s not mad at me. She needs my help.?
My favorite part of our partnership.
“That was Blaine. He’s pissed. He was here half the night, lunatic livid. It took two bottles of Scotch to calm him down. Then, he’s at me again already this morning with a bear of a hangover, and even more pissed. Hell, I’m pissed. That was a waste of good Scotch. Speaking of… would you care to join me?” She’s at the bar pouring herself a stiff one.
I shake a decline, and raise my tea cup. “This is my poison of choice.”
“Good girl. Good for you. I’ll shoot a double in your honor.” She tosses it back without a shiver before returning to the sofa, sitting near and still. “We’re in a hell of a mess.”
“We’ve been through a lot together, you and me. Two peas in the same claustrophobic pod, cultivating our roses out of shit. But, this time. This time, it’s different. The game has changed. It’s dangerous.”
In her black leather skirt and red silk blouse, she is as beautiful as ever. How she manages to wear six-inch heels so early in the morning, I’ll never know. I don’t want to know.
But, it’s the severe ponytail that surprises me. Her sapphire black hair is usually loose and flowing down her back.?
Plus, her china-fragile hands with trademark blood-red nails hint a tremble.
I offer a reassure pat.
“It’s going to be okay, Katja. We haven’t done anything wrong. There’s nothing they can charge us with. It will all work out. Things will die down. You’ll see.”
“Always the optimist.” Her reddened cheeks dimple in then puff out. “But, it will never go back to business as usual. This little goldmine is derailing underneath our steel-toed stilettos.”
Ever the controlling Blaine. Always working the angles. Trying to keep us off balance.
“Is that what Blaine’s saying? Because you know, at heart, he’s really just a drama queen. He’s always trying to tear the two of us apart, putting us on opposite sides, so he can manipulate things to his advantage. He’s just?”
“He’s right. I hate to admit it. But, this time. I think he’s right.”
I toss weak tea resolve into the bar sink and pour two straight tequila buck-ups in elegant martini glasses. We need all the high-class fortitude we can fake-ass. I was enjoying the smooth Silver Patron throat slide when Noah sends it into the bar ditch.
“Sorry to interrupt, ladies. So, sorry. Really. Sorry. I am.”
“Okay, Noah. You’re sorry … about what?” Katja stabs closed-eye daggers.
“I couldn’t stop them. I’ve been fielding calls all morning. Anne-Marie and I have been fighting them off like little Ninjas. Swatting and?”
“Get to the point, Noah.” I hook-snatch his way-far-off-Broadway performance. “Who?”
He points at two men.?
This is the sanctuary of the goddess.?
A place only Katja invites people of her choosing.?
She unleashes the hellcat.?
“No one barges in here! Where the hell is security?”
“Mr. Montgomery called off your pit bulls.” The snarl on Carter’s face is pure shit bull.
I recognize the two BGM Enterprises henchmen. Greg Carter, Vice President of Legal. David Stevenson, Executive Vice President of Finance.?
Gloom and Doom.
Skipping pretentious formalities and social protocol, well-worn briefcases plop on the pristine glass coffee table and reams of paper pile out.
“We have a lot of work to do today. So, it’s good you’re here, Ms. MacMillan.” Stevenson puts on reading glasses and looks over the frame at me. “We can’t afford to waste even a minute.”
Carter shuffles the stacks of legal paper, not looking up. “We’ve been working around the clock. Filing writs, anything, and everything, to stall. But, the reality is… most likely, they’ll come after you, Ms. Beaumont, and you, Ms. MacMillan. They’ll do whatever they can to get at Mr. Montgomery. He’s who they’re after. But, they don’t care who they destroy in the process.”
“We’re here to discuss the possibilities. The options. The probabilities. The inevitabilities.” Stevenson spits spiel like he’s running his calculator without having to look at the keys. “And, the next steps.”
“Gentlemen, let’s get some coffee first.” Katja stands, somehow managing to take hands off hips without putting them around throats.
Noah tootles off.?
The henchman start a verbal outlay, but Katja stops them. “Gentleman, we will wait until we get our coffee, and the door is closed, before we discuss this business.”
They exchange annoyed but conceding nods.?
Noah returns in record time, and flits around, arranging the service and straightening the pieces, and Katja coats his dismissal with all the honey he’s shoved down her throat. “Thank you, Noah, dear. This is lovely. That’s all we’ll need. Thank you so much.”
Noah makes sure we all see and feel and understand his departing sneer.
I follow him to secure the door.
Katja puts on music.?
When the henchmen arch displeasure at her frivolity, she enlightens their scorn. “From here, I control the music out there. No one who walks through the executive office area can hear anything going on in here. Ke$ha will preoccupy Noah’s nosy little mind.”?
She switches us back to the smooth of Norah Jones.
“Ladies. Let’s get to work.”?
Carter launches a legal dump of document overload, tossing dishevel that I methodically gather on the table with edge-aligning accuracy, and a you’ve-got-to-be-fucking-stupid glare that draws a throat-clear warning from Stevenson, and halts the waste of bullshit intimidation.
“Yes, well. All of that means we’re anticipating the inevitable. We’ve drafted a counter-suit. We have to stay ten steps ahead by preparing answers to charges we anticipate they’ll file. But, we need your help in filling in some blanks and checking our facts.”
“Of course.” Katja nods agreement to my popsicle retort.
“They’ll accuse you of running a whorehouse?in more legal terms, of course. But, that’s going to be the gist of their claims. They can’t charge either of you in the murder of Alison Conner, or the attempted murder of Michael Lane. Unless? there’s something you need to disclose….”
Holy fuck! I didn’t expect my own lawyer to hurl accusations.?
So, I straighten his misguide. “Katja and I have nothing to do with the murder, or the attempted murder the night of the charity ball. The only involvement, if you can call it that, is letting Davis Covington in here that afternoon when he didn’t have an appointment. We have addressed that faux pas with staff, and, until this morning, we thought intruders would be handled long before they got to us.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend. We can’t assume anything. We have to ask. We expect both of you to be totally honest. No secrets. If you hide something from us, we can’t help you.”
“We have nothing to hide.”
“Good. Then, let’s proceed.”
“Yes.” Katja’s annoyance flares her nostrils. “Let’s.”
“So, what are they going to claim we do here?”
“Sell sex. The sick kind, with rampant drug use, and probably something involving minors, in some way. They’re going to try to nail you to a cross with any and every illegal activity they can imagine.” Carter says matter of flatly.?
He has the charm of an ice pick.
“We don’t sell sex. But, sick is a matter of perspective. Absolutely, no drugs allowed. Of any kind. No minors. No animals. Nothing illegal.” Katja’s fume drips between coffee sips and glare daggers.
“That’s a matter of perspective?yours. To the outside world, everything you do here is illegal. It’s against the law to sell sex.”
“Again, we don’t sell sex.” I explode my own any-idiot-can-tell-I’m-telling-the-truth story.?
Hands folded in lap.?
Normal pitch of voice.?
I know a thing or two about body language and the tells of a liar.?
I am not lying.?
I am pissed.?
I lean forward, and direct my speech and my stare straight into his eyes.?
“It’s the illusion of sex. It’s the technique of sex. The toys and tools for consenting adults. Immoral? Yes. Twisted? Absolutely. Something that would make a confessional priest blush? I certainly hope so. But, if bedrooms were healthy and fulfilling, we’d be out of work. So, in essence, we’re marriage counselors delivering high-quality, high-priced, high-demand customer service.”
Carter squares legal-trained stone eyes on my look-down-the-nose sneer of indignation.?
“Are you going to say that when you get on the witness stand?”?
“What would you have me say?”?
“It’s not what you said, but how you said it. You can’t sound so defensive. The biggest mistake of witnesses, the mistake prosecuting attorneys push them to make, is giving long explanations. Whenever a statement is made within the context of an explanation, it opens the door to more lines of questioning. But, a simple yes, or no, or not that I recall, or even pleading the fifth puts the burden of proof back on the prosecuting attorney, who must then carefully structure each question within the context of the law while staying inside the limits of what the judge has allowed up to that point.”
“Yes. I understand.”
“But. Do you sell sex?”
“No, you won’t tell me? Or, the answer is no.”
I lean forward to ensure there is no mistaking my intent, “The answer is no.”
Carter launches a prosecutable-worthy attack in machine gun rapid fire, “Do you conduct sick sex on the premises with your clients?”
“Do you take money from your clients in exchange for sex on the premises?”
“Do you have employees who take money in exchange for sex on the premises?”
“Do you have a little black book of client names?”
“Do you file tax returns based on the money you collect from your clients for sex provided by your employees on the premises?”
“Do your tax returns reflect all of the money you collect from your clients?”
“Do your tax returns reflect all of the money you collect for sex that your clients purchase from your establishment or your employees?”
“So, you admit that you file false tax returns?”
“So, you admit that you collect money from your clients for sex they purchase from your establishment, or your employees, and you don’t report that income to the government?”
“So, you deny that you collect money from your clients for sex they purchase from your establishment or your employees?”
“So, what do you admit to?”
“Is there a yes or no question in there?”
“Yes.” He downs a grin disguised in fake cough. “Do you hire employees to perform sex acts with clients who pay for those sex acts?”
“Are those sex acts legal in the State of Texas?”
“Do you understand that selling sex in the State of Texas is illegal?”
“Do you think the sex you sell in the State of Texas is above the law?”
“Do you think the sex you sell in the State of Texas is within the law?”
“Are the sex acts taking place in your establishment between consenting adults?”
“Is that not the definition of the illegal sale of sex in the State of Texas?”
That pistol-loaded question gives opportunity for a redirect of the power from the attorney to the client, and I take full advantage of it.
“If you are asking if I agree that the sale of sex between two consenting adults is illegal in the State of Texas, my answer is yes.” I tilt my head and pause for a smile. “If you are asking if I agree that I am selling sex, between two consenting adults, that is illegal in the State of Texas, my answer is no.”
“So,” Katja uncrosses her arms and does piano run fingers that flare palms up like a push-away of the bad air. “It’s semantics? Splitting hairs?”
“And, it’s a matter of listening and remembering every word the prosecuting attorney uses in the line of questioning?”
“So, if it’s not crystal clear or the question is a rambling one that could be answered different ways by answering different parts of it, then it’s acceptable to ask for clarification?”
“Yes.” Carter endorses Katja’s surmise.
“And, it would be acceptable to give a yes or no answer with an explanation, albeit brief, when the answer <