Strip You Bare_Yates

Loveswept
January 5, 2016


Strip You Bare

#4

Sparks fly when a society belle and a biker with a troubled past get down and dirty in the Big Easy. Maisey Yates turns up the heat in the sizzling finale of a series co-written with Megan Crane, Rachael Johns, and Jackie Ashenden.
 
Micah Carpenter hates New Orleans. Hell, after ten years he no longer has much affection for the Deacons of Bourbon Street motorcycle club, either. But when the brotherhood calls, Micah answers. Joining the hunt for their mentor’s killer, he crosses paths with a Southern belle who exudes class—and sex appeal. Micah knows better than to mess with ice princesses: No matter how hot things get, they never melt. And yet he can’t stop himself from offering her a taste of the wrong side of the tracks.

Sarah Delacroix understands that reputation is everything. The daughter of a prominent family rocked by scandal, she’s desperate to restore their good name. Micah’s exactly the kind of man she should be avoiding. Behind his sleek and sophisticated exterior beats the heart of a predator—and she knows it. But, like the tattoos beneath his tailored suit, his rough edges are irresistible. And all too soon Sarah finds him getting under her skin . . . and living out every one of her hottest fantasies.

Includes a special message from the editor, as well as an excerpt from another Loveswept title.

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Excerpt

There was a feeling of homecoming that people often waxed lyrical about. It was immortalized in songs, in literature and in film. Peace, belonging, and all other manner of bullshit.

Micah “Prince” Carpenter didn’t feel any of those things.

No, since his return to New Orleans a few weeks back even walking around felt like he’d taken a bullet to the chest. Lead twisting itself around his heart, interfering with every beat, every breath. Or, that could just be godawful humidity.

But he had a feeling it was to do with the city itself. Like an aging matron trying to coat every imperfection with more and more makeup, the French Quarter clung to its former glory, claiming cracks in the sidewalk and corroded metal on the curling wrought iron balconies as part of its charm.

The Delacroix House, which Micah found himself in now, was no exception to the air of haughty, tarnished glamor. Even now the old building thought far too highly of itself for a place that had been all-but abandoned for more than ten years. Heavy brocade drapes hung in the window, at the center of the room a settee, and two wingback chairs, flanked by solid wood tables still there inviting guests to come and sit down. To enjoy a little bit of Southern hospitality, even if the only residents were ghosts.

There was something oppressive about this place, where even the air was heavy. But he was stuck here for the foreseeable future.

Fuck Ajax and his fucking brotherhood. His fucking honor.

And fuck himself for his inability to walk away.

Micah walked deeper into the sitting room, stirring up a cloud of dust with each step. The old house would seem remarkable to some, but nothing about these stately Southern homes appealed to him. He preferred things sleek, modern. And in his new life, far away from here, he surrounded himself with those things.

The humidity, the heat, was oppressive, in spite of the time of year. Sometimes he thought this city was sitting right on the mouth of hell. He stripped his suit jacket off, reached up and loosened the knot on his tie, then draped his jacket over the back of one of the chairs. Then he turned and sat, looking around the darkened room. At the golden sconces on the wall, their shine diminished from years of neglect. At the wallpaper, dust clinging to the textured flowers that covered the deep blue surface.

It was opulent, that was for sure. Even the dirt couldn’t hide that.

Still, whether or not he was impressed by the house was irrelevant. Because this wasn’t about the house. It was about the woman who was still under the impression that she owned it. Or more specifically, it was about her family.

The Deacons connection to the Delacroix family apparently ran deeper than simply claiming their infamous prodigal son Leon as a member.

That much had become clear when they were sorting through all of Priest’s holdings after his death. Not only were there the assorted properties on Bourbon Street, but there was this house that had — as far as anyone else knew — belonged exclusively to the Delacroixes since it was first built.

Not anymore. The Deacons had possession of it now.

And given that they were sure now Priest had been murdered any connections that seemed out of the ordinary were worth exploring.

Which was a damn shame because it meant his ass was parked here for the foreseeable future.

The sound of footsteps on the marble floor made him turn. Just in time to see a petite dark-haired woman freezing her tracks.

Upper class. She reeked of it. From the perfectly smooth waves of rich dark hair cascading down her back, to the pale pink dress that flowed over her curves like water. The kind of woman that was off-limits to a guy like him. Or at least the man he had been. The kind of woman who was way more trouble than she was worth. At least, that had been his take on them when he’d lived down here. There were a hell of a lot of easier ways to hook up.

When he’d ridden down Bourbon on a Friday night on a motherfucking Harley, he’d had his pick. And if he hadn’t been in the mood to pick, he’d just take them all back to the clubhouse for a little bit of fun.

These days he liked a higher class of ass. And there were plenty of women dying to get down and dirty with a tattooed bad boy. Gave them a little thrill. And he lived to please.

There was no point messing around with ice princesses. No matter how hot it got, they never seemed to melt. And he did not have time for that shit.

But, if this was Sarah Delacroix — and he had a feeling this was her —  he had to make time for her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, tilting her head to the side. He wasn’t at all surprised that the first words out of her mouth were an apology. That was the way women like her operated. All bless your heart and sweet smiles. Till you crossed the line and they shanked your ass with their high heel. “Did we have an appointment that I forgot about? Are you with Lance Construction?”

“No, baby,” he said, that backwater accent that he’d done so much to diminish over the years flowing out like honey. “I’m with the Deacons. And I own this place.”

“Interesting,” she said, her tone losing a little bit of its warmth now.

“Not particularly. It’s pretty straightforward. Your family doesn’t own this property anymore, Ms. Delacroix.” She couldn’t be anyone else.

“I would need to see documentation of that,” she said, her tone unfailingly smooth. “And I would appreciate an introduction, as well. You seem to know my name, but I couldn’t begin to guess yours.”

She said the words politely enough, but he could sense the underlying insult. He knew who she was because Sarah Delacroix mattered. And she had no clue who the tattooed, suit wearing, guy sitting in her house was. Which meant he couldn’t be all that important.

From experience he knew that Southern belles could dish out insults with unrivaled precision. They could flay your skin from your bones and you would barely feel it until after the fact.

That was not how he operated. Subtlety wasn’t a part of his lexicon.

“I have documentation.” He reached into the interior pocket of his jacket, producing the deed to the property.

He didn’t make a move to rise from his seat, neither did he extend his hand, rather he rested his forearm on the brocade covered arm of the chair, letting the paper dangle  between his fingers. Sarah waited for a moment before walking across the room and holding out her hand.

“May I?” In response he flexed his wrist, bringing the document up a fraction of an inch. She forced a smile. “Thank you.” She took the deed from him, skimming it quickly. “This is signed over to the Deacons of Bourbon Street.”

“That’s right. And the responsibility of dealing with this particular property has fallen to me.”

“And, may I ask, what you intend to do with that responsibility?”

The thought sent a sharp pang of lust straight to his gut and he felt his dick starting to wake up and take notice.

Shit. Now was not the time to be cracking wood over some random chick. He had a whole night ahead for that, and there would be satisfaction in it besides. This was business.

“Haven’t decided yet. Or rather, the club hasn’t decided. I was just going to sell it.”

“That might put a slight damper on my Christmas party,” she said, patting her hair, not a lock shifting out of place.

“I can see how it might. The Deacons are known for a lot of things. Their rousing rendition of Silent Night is not one of them.”

“You will have to forgive me as I’m not overly familiar with the organization to which you’re referring. I’m not certain what you are or aren’t known for.”

“Well, it isn’t Christmas fucking cheer.”

“If you say so. You will have to fill me in just a bit,” she said, her voice clear, cutting.

He had not expected that. He had expected her to scurry out of here as soon as she’d spoken two words to him, kicking up clouds of dust with her five inch heels as she went. Instead, she was standing her ground, arms crossed beneath her damn fine breasts, her hip cocked out to the side.

“You don’t know who the Deacons are, sweetheart?”

“I do know several of the deacons at my church. However, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you there on a Sunday.” There was something in her tone that he found amusing. Something that hinted at whole ocean’s worth of depth beneath that smooth, seemingly shallow surface.

He laughed, shifting position in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. “My version of religion is best practiced outside the sanctuary.”

“I don’t feel any more informed than I did a second ago.”

“You weren’t meant to. I don’t have anywhere else to be. Scoping out the Delacroix mansion was the only thing on my list for the day. Lucky you, baby.”

“So lucky I’m thinking of buying a lottery ticket after this.”

She smiled, lips a perfect, matching pink to her dress, nothing in the expression ringing false at all. She was good. Damn good.

He laughed again. He had the feeling that she wanted to either run away in a panic, or slap him across the face and tell him to get the hell out. But her training prevented her from doing either of those things.

Instead she remained standing there, stiff, still. Perfect posture, perfect everything. It was like she had invisible ropes wrapped tight around her, binding her, keeping her restrained.

If there was one thing he missed about being a part of the MC it was that he’d never had to give a fuck what anybody thought. He’d had to modify that a little bit in the business world.

After he’d been banished by Priest, he’d had two options. Jail, or another MC. He’d had no interest in either. So he’d spent his time carving out a third option while he’d made his way to the West Coast. Eventually landing in San Francisco where he’d gotten involved in real estate development. Right place, right time and a willingness to cut throats — metaphorically — had built his personal empire into an impenetrable fortress.

He owned several hotels in San Francisco —- a city where hotels were scarce and rooms were priced at a premium. But he hadn’t stopped there. He’d been expanding, moving into different cities, different countries.

He was a man in a high-powered position, and his version of well behaved was very different from Sarah Delacroix’s. He could still call a spade a spade. She had to wrap it up in a pink ribbon and call it something fancy.

Though, she was doing a decent job of getting some verbal nettles beneath his skin.

“You may want to hold off on choosing your lottery numbers,” he said.

Her lips twitched, almost imperceptibly. He couldn’t tell if he’d successfully amused her or if she was pondering bludgeoning him to death with her handbag.

He had no issue with her knowing who the Deacons were. He could just tell her. But this is just so damn entertaining to string her along. And he had been short on entertainment since his return to New Orleans. What he’d had instead was a lot of verbal barbs from the men who had once considered themselves his brothers, and a whole lot of alcohol.

This was a hell of a lot more invigorating.

“I won’t be rushing out anytime soon. I had one thing on my list today too. And it was to begin taking inventory of the more minor things that needed to be done to the house. I am restoring it for a Christmas party in a couple of months.”

“As it is now, you could open up the doors and have a Halloween party.”

She looked up over head, and his gaze followed hers, to the cobweb laden chandelier that hung in the center of the ceiling like a big tree ornament wrapped in ghostly tinsel. “Yes, perhaps.” She looked back at him, her expression expectant.

“You still hoping for story time?”

“Unless the option of you signing the property back over to me and vacating the premises is on the table.”

For the first time, she flashed a bit of the true depth of her annoyance. “Sorry, not on the table.”

She moved closer to him, high heels clicking on the floor, dust moving around her, a little bit ethereal. A little bit dirty. A whole lot sexy. She took a seat in the armchair that sat slightly angled toward his, and crossed her legs at the ankles. “Story time it is, then.”

*******************************

Sarah Delacroix was not easily ruffled. She was a New Orleans debutante, one time princess of the Mardi Gras parade, consummate hostess and perfect daughter. The responsibility involved in being each one of those things was weighty indeed, and she had never once bowed beneath it.

She was, however, feeling a little bit ruffled now.

The last thing she had expected this morning when she had walked into her family’s old French Quarter mansion was to find a very large, very dangerous looking man sitting in one of the wingback chairs as though he were master of the manor.

It had crossed her mind upon entry that he might be a ghost. Considering the house had been left vacant since Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city, it was entirely possible that her welcoming committee would be someone from the beyond.

Sadly, it was becoming clear that he was flesh and blood, and it would take a lot more than a séance to get his behind out of her house.

Yes, he had a deed saying it belonged to ‘The Deacons’ or whatever, but that didn’t make it a legal document. It didn’t make it real.

The Delacroixes had all-but abandoned this portion of their empire after Katrina, leaving their old, beautiful family mansion here in the Quarter to rot. As though it had died in the storm with her father.

But when she’d told her grandfather last week that she intended to revitalize it, to bring the family’s storied Christmas party back to life, he had said nothing that indicated there might be an issue of ownership.

Over the past few months she’d felt like she’d lost everything all over again. Her mother’s death from a long illness, the end of her engagement, her grandfather’s failing health.

This house had become her fixation. To bring something of her family back to life. To make it glitter again for what might be her grandfather’s last Christmas.

When he died, what would she have? This house. This house that had her family’s blood in the woodwork.

But now…this. A very serious wrench in her works. She wanted to scream at him. Wanted to yell and stamp and ask him what the hell he was doing messing with her plans.

She wouldn’t. She wasn’t even sure she knew how to throw a fit like that if she tried. She was too used to keeping it all in. It was what you were expected to do.

She had been taught to rise above, while handing down insults that were barely detectable. It made them harder to deflect.

The Deacons. Something about that was familiar. There were a lot of things like that when you were a part of the family as old as hers, in a city with a history that was nothing short of macabre. Things you learned about that you were then immediately told to let slip back out of your mind.

This was one of those things, she was almost completely certain.

“Should I start with once upon a time?” he asked.

“Only if it ends with ‘and you lived happily ever after.’”

“I don’t really believe in happy endings,” he said, lifting his arms and putting his hands behind his head, “I figure the best any of us can hope for is making it out alive.” He straightened again. “But in the end, I guess no one does.”

“Well, that’s a charming thought.”

“I’m not known for my charm.”

Not classic, southern charm, certainly. There was nothing smooth or practiced about him. Yes, he was wearing a suit, but dark ink bled out from beneath the sleeves of his shirt, evidence of tattoos beneath the perfectly tailored façade. And more than that, there was something about him that simply seemed wild. You could put a collar on a tiger, but it was still a tiger.

Suit or not, Micah was a tiger.

And much like a tiger, the sleek beauty he possessed almost enticed an observer to try and touch him. There was something about that kind of strength, that kind of leashed danger, that was terrifying and irresistible all at the same time.

You know, to other people. Not so much to her.

“Well, your charm isn’t that great a concern of mine. I just want some facts.”

“If you don’t know who the Deacons are I’m assuming we were from before your time, little girl.”

“If so, you look very good for your age.” She dealt out the two-sided statement with ease.

“You think I look good?” He smiled at her, and it felt very much like the predator showing his teeth. A little shiver worked its way down through her body, and it wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Which was concerning.

She cleared her throat. “I think you look like a stranger in my house, Mr. Carpenter.”

“Then let’s get to know one another a little bit better, shall we?” His accent had taken on a slightly more upper crust drawl, a mockery of her own, she had a feeling. “I suppose I’m not really that surprised you don’t know about the Deacons. Nice girls like you should not associate with men like us.”

“I would be more impressed if I had any idea what sort of man you were.”

He said nothing for a moment, half smile curling his lips, as he unbuttoned the cuffs on his shirt and pushed one sleeve up to his elbow. He then focused his attention to the other cuff, unbuttoning it with a maddening slowness that made her stomach turnover. Then he pushed that sleep up to his elbow.

Exposing his forearms exposed the ink he’d been hiding. Dark, twisting shapes that ran from his wrist up past the rolled up sleeves of the shirt. And beneath the ink, there were some very well-defined muscles that were worthy of note.

“My brothers and I are the Deacons of Bourbon Street, just your friendly local motorcycle club. We’re the ones who own your property. The ones who used to own the whole fucking quarter.” He leaned forward, hands planted on his thighs, dark eyes burning into hers. “And we’re home now.”

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