The Heart to Lead by P. Stormcrow
General Release Date: 14th June 2022
Word Count: 70,896
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
BONDAGE AND BDSM
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE
Three years ago, Lani McMillan lost her submissive, and she has been running from her heart ever since. She may rely on the occasional scene to scratch the itch, but no other has come close to arousing her dominant instincts to claim them as her own.
That is, until she meets The Playgrounds’ latest security contractor, Nathan Pelletier.
He is everything she didn’t expect—ex-military, ex-cop, a fighter, a leader and very much confused by why submitting to her fulfills his deepest desires. So why does she want nothing more than to wrap her hands around his tie and pull him closer?
But time is running out for them to explore their new, tenuous bond, as the demons of both, real and imagined, emerge from the shadows and threaten to consume them. Now they must decide what they are to each other if they are to survive their pasts and their own desires.
Because it takes more than the will of a Dominant to lead.
Reaser advisory: This book contains kidnapping and scenes of violence and torture. It is best read as book three in a series.
Lani McMillan curled her lips into a smile of amusement when the town car the hosts had hired for her pulled up to her destination. A masquerade party to celebrate a renewal of vows… She had been to enough weddings and celebrations in her lifetime, but this was a new twist. As she emerged from the vehicle, she smoothed the long black dress with a thigh-high slit and adjusted the teardrop diamond pendant hanging on a white gold chain just below her collarbone.
Her stilettos clicked against the stone steps of the venue as she walked. The happy couple had rented a sprawling heritage estate thirty minutes out from the city. Laughter spilled out from the opened windows, lights illuminating the entire place against the setting sun. As she approached the door, she settled the Colombina mask over her face, covering her eyes and cheeks. She brushed her fingers over the midnight lace, trailing over a row of black and silver beads before she tilted her chin up. With a last check to ensure that her red curls remained pinned in a loose knot above her head, she readied herself. Showtime.
“Good evening, Ms.”
“Evening.” With inherent grace, Lani presented the invitation to the suited gentleman at the door who was sporting a much plainer version of her own mask. In fact, most staff seemed to wear the same face covering, like it was part of the uniform.
“Excellent. Welcome to the party, Ms. McMillan.”
Lani gave him a polite smile and dipped her head before entering. The hosts, prominent members of society, had spared no expense in celebrating their renewed love for each other in the most public way possible. A large crystal chandelier dominated the expansive foyer. Below it, water gurgled from a fountain.
To both her left and right were smaller reception areas, each lit by their own rows of mini chandeliers. Music from a string quartet drifted from the distance, and it was what helped Lani decide which direction to go.
An abstract ice sculpture stood as a centerpiece, hinting at two figures embracing. Lani’s lips curved into a bittersweet smile. When the couple had arrived at her office all those months ago, they could barely tolerate sitting next to each other, with nothing but betrayal and hurt wedged between them. They had come a long way, and it made her happy to have had a hand in that as their relationship counselor. Since the accident three years past, she had dedicated herself to helping people find second chances, something she herself had never gotten. Death was the cruelest Mistress of them all.
Lani tore her gaze away from the sculpture to flash the waitstaff a small smile and took the glass in hand. Most other guests were already in masks, enjoying the additional air of mystique the costume pieces provided. As she sipped her bubbles, savoring the sweetness, she scanned the room then stopped as she beheld a particularly delicious specimen. He wasn’t towering tall, perhaps half a head or so more than her and her four-inch heels. Powerful muscles strained against the black suit he wore. Although the plain staff mask covered a part of his face, it only brought out his square jaw and chiseled features further. With dirty blond hair spiked up and faded down on the sides and back, he could almost pass as a male model.
Their eyes met, her hazel to his steel gray, and Lani inhaled. Something sparked between them, and though he dressed like any other security staff at the party, Lani knew she would have no problem picking him out of a crowd anywhere. He held her gaze, neither of them willing to look away first until he reached for the wire and earbud in his right ear. With a polite nod of acknowledgment toward her, he moved aside. Duty called.
Lani suppressed the urge to seek him out so that she could twine his tie around her fingers and pull him close. She shook her head. If only this was that type of party instead.
“Oh my, is that you, Lani?”
She turned to the older woman, readying her professional smile. “Diane,” she greeted and accepted the hug that followed. Another one of her clients. This social circle had made her business very lucrative over the years and funded the move to the new office she adored, not to mention her growing shoe collection. Soon, she had amassed a small group of men and women around her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you will, the ceremony is about to begin.” Another staff member ushered them deeper inside the house, where they had set up the hall similar to a more traditional wedding venue. Lani had to admire the bouquets of flowers that lined the aisle. Although lavish decorations adorned the room, nothing was over the top. If she had to design her wedding, though, she would have it more subdued, smaller. That chance, however, had long passed. Commitment was not for her anymore.
The couple exchanged their vows with beautiful heartfelt speeches, and soon all the staff herded the guests upstairs once more to another banquet hall. Out of the corner of her eye, Lani glimpsed that same security guard from before. When he stayed within her field of vision, she realized with a start that he was hovering.
Seated with the same group she had been speaking with at the reception, Lani made polite conversation but, to be frank, she was growing tired. From the beginning, she’d had no illusion that this was anything but a work function, an opportunity to network. These people with their yachts and mansions were not her kind. She worked for a living, for one thing. Still, what she wanted was to curl up at home with a mug of tea and process the melancholy mounting within her, to stare at the photos of the last man she’d ever seen a future with—a man who had passed away three years before.
Perhaps coming here was a mistake.
At least dinner was delectable. From the appetizer of crab and shrimp cakes molded into heart shapes to the aromatic lobster bisque then to the main course of miso-based black cod, the seafood option she chose took her on a journey of oral delight. Then there was the chocolate mousse… Lani had to refrain from retrieving her phone so that she could take photos. Her close friend, Luna, would have wanted pictures.
Soon, dinner gave way to more festivities as the doors opened to a dance hall with a band set up on stage. Lani’s eyes lit up before she remembered she had brought no date with her. Had she known, she might have cajoled Darryl or Jacob to come with her. A small sigh of regret escaped her lips as the music began.
Others at her table had already excused themselves to join the growing company of dancers on the floor as the band struck up their first song, a stately number. Left alone with her thoughts, she cast a longing glance at the door.
Great. With another smile plastered on her face, she rose from her seat to find the hosts approaching. She allowed Sharon to pull her into a hug.
“Oh, don’t you look fabulous!”
Lani smiled. “Thank you. Nothing compared to you, though. Just like a beautiful blushing bride.”
“Isn’t she?” Eric wrapped an arm around his wife and pulled her to him. “We’re glad you could make it tonight.”
“Of course. I’m so happy for you both.” Lani wasn’t sure if it was a shot of envy that twisted her gut.
“We wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you.”
Pride came with swiftness to replace that envy—pride in her work, pride in having been able to help.
“I may have guided, but you two put in all the effort.”
The couple turned and beamed at each other before another woman approached Eric. It was the perfect opportunity. Lani smiled and inclined her head. “If you’ll excuse me.” With the soft murmur, she made a quick escape.
Five steps. That was as far as she got.
The deep baritone came from her left, and she spun on her heels to face its owner full on.
He kept a respectful distance, but up close, his gaze held an intensity much more than the one they had shared earlier across the crowd. The impulse to pull him to her, to fist his hair this time, returned, and she had to clamp down on her dominant instincts. This was not the place for the Domme in her to come out and play.
“Perhaps,” she replied instead, accompanied by an enigmatic smile.
He stepped closer, and she quirked a brow in response. This one was bold. She liked it.
“A dance before you go?” He offered her a calloused palm. As far as pick-up lines went, he lacked sophistication, and Lani wondered if it was something that the man may not be used to. Still, she had been lamenting the lack of a partner earlier.
“Sure, why not?” She gifted him with a brilliant smile, placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the floor.
It was the kind of dance that had him place his hand on the small of her back, and for her to put hers on his shoulder. They held each other’s gaze, neither willing to back down again, as if resuming their earlier interrupted contest of wills. Lani registered the subtle tension in the muscles rippling under the suit.
“So, how much time have you bought yourself, sneaking off duty?” She could not help but tease. He seemed so very serious.
A slight rise and fall of shoulders. “My shift for the night ended fifteen minutes ago. If they need me, they’ll call.”
“I see. And yet you’re still here.” Lani found her smile growing wider.
“So are you, despite not being in the mood.”
At that, she raised a brow in question but allowed the silence to stretch on.
Her mysterious partner sighed before turning them around in a spin in time to the music. He was a skilled dancer and led well enough. Lani had not expected that for a man of his size and demeanor. And that she let him lead at all was a bit of a miracle in itself.
“You smile and play their games, but there’s something you’re sad about…like you’re in mourning.”
Her heart skipped a beat, but neither her steps nor her smile faltered. Instead, she followed his lead, allowing him to twirl her again. Only when he caught her in his arms once more did she give a small laugh in response. “Very perceptive, Mr.…?”
“Nathan.” He nodded at her praise. “It’s my business to be.”
“If I may, since both of us have a lack of reason to stay, would you like to get out of here?”
Lani thought she heard a tinge of hope in his tone, but the desire she saw smoldering in his eyes overshadowed any hints of it.
Bold indeed. But the prospect of spending the night sulking alone did seem rather bleak. Lani knew what Nathan was offering and found it to be palatable—maybe beyond just palatable. It had been a while since she had scratched that itch, even if it wasn’t to play as a Domme. Besides, she was curious about all those lovely warm curves she felt beneath his suit.
“Mm-m, I believe I can be persuaded.”
“This way then,” he whispered in her ear, then stepped back to lead her out of the party into the darkening night.
About the Author
P. Stormcrow has always been an avid reader across the fantasy and sci fi genres but early on, found herself always looking for the love story in each book. Coming to terms with her love for love later in life, she now writes steamy romances that examine social norms and challenge conventional tropes of the genre, usually on her phone. And yes, she has walked into walls and poles doing so.
When she’s not reading or writing (or even when she is), she enjoys copious amounts of tea, way too much sugary treats, one too many sci fi / fantasy / paranormal TV shows (team Dean all the way) and every otome game she can possibly find.
You can find out more at P. Stormcrow’s website.
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