Siren Beloved

Texas Sirens - 4

Sophie Oak

тSpecial thanks to the people who make my writing life happen – Chloe Vale, the best assistant a writer could have, Shayla Black, my cohort and partner in crime, Kris Cook, the person most likely to hold my hand as I jump off the ledge, my kids, and my mom. I love you all.

Chapter One

“I’m waiting.” Julian Lodge leaned back in his chair. Though he was perfectly still, he gave off an air of irritation that Lexi Moore couldn’t miss. “And you know I don’t like to wait.”

Lexi’s head was pounding as Julian Lodge stared at her across his ridiculously expensive desk. He was giving her the stare. She was sure he’d trademarked and maybe put a patent on it, because nothing in the world could be as intimidating as those silver eyes staring holes through her body. Julian Lodge knew exactly how to intimidate a person. The only person who was worse was her stepfather, Jack Barnes. Unfortunately, he was attending this little meeting, too.

“Lexi, do you have something to say for yourself?” Jack asked, disapproval dripping from every word.

She had lots of things to say for herself and to herself, but in the harsh light of day, she could only manage a weak, “I’m really sorry.”

Julian’s fingers drummed along the surface of the mahogany desk where he kept a lovely picture of himself and his two lovers. Julian and Finn Taylor were resplendent in tuxedoes, and Danielle Lodge-Taylor was a vision in her white wedding dress. Lexi hadn’t been there. She’d given a pitiful excuse to not go to her friends’ wedding. God, she was running out of excuses.

“I don’t know if an apology is going to work this time, Alexis.” Julian’s words felt like a hammer coming down.

Lexi’s stomach dropped. Was he really going to kick her out of The Club? How was she going to explain it to Lucas? Would Lucas even listen to her? Tears pooled in her eyes even as her head pounded. “I don’t know what else to say, Julian. The truth is I don’t remember much about last night.”

She remembered starting in on the bottle of chardonnay and then switching to tequila. She didn’t recall much after a couple of hours of that. She’d woken up in a suite above The Club to find her stepfather sitting in the living area waiting to give her the lecture of a lifetime.

“Would you like to see the tapes? I have them. Your father has seen them.”

Yep, she was going to throw up. She didn’t argue with Julian about Jack’s title in her life. He really had been her father the last couple of years. Her biological dad had died before she’d been born. Her first stepfather had been great, but most of the time he’d been in her life he’d been sick. Jack Barnes was the first male in her life who had expended an enormous amount of his energy to protect her.

Lucas did, too. But she didn’t have anything close to fatherly feelings for him, and she never had. “I’ll pass on the entertainment. Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”

“Well, you showed up drunk at my club for starters.”

Damn, she was in trouble when Julian used that voice. He had a strict policy of never allowing anyone more than two drinks in his bar. Julian Lodge ran the most infamous BDSM club in the south, and he ruled it with an iron fist. She remembered a story from her mother about a man who decided that uncollared subs were fair game. Julian had made sure the man never walked into his club again. Of course, her mother also spoke of the spanking she’d gotten from the incident with great fondness, and now her mother was never without her wedding ring or her collar. Her mother’s infraction had come from ignorance. Lexi’s had not. Consensual was Julian’s first rule, and consent couldn’t happen in his brain if the participants were drunk.

“How did I get past the bouncer?” Lexi asked.

Jack’s eyebrows rose over his stern face. “You mean Martin?”

Damn it. Martin was always nice to her. He was the front desk guy. “Yes. Why did he let me in? Lucas wasn’t with me.”

Lucas acted as her Dom when they were in The Club. They had started coming in roughly a year and a half before, when Lexi’s curiosity overrode her heartache over the subject. Lucas had been the one to introduce her to the lifestyle. He was happy in The Club. Lucas was a true switch. He was happy playing the Dom and gained a great deal of satisfaction from submitting when the partner was right. Lucas hadn’t bottomed in years, and that was her fault.

“You talked him into it,” Julian explained flatly. “And you talked him out of a job. I fired him this morning.”

“Julian, you can’t do that.” Lexi leaned forward, pleading.

He simply frowned. “Of course I can. It’s already done. I gave him a nice severance package, but he proved he can’t handle working here. He should have immediately informed me or Leo that you were causing trouble. As it was, you interrupted several scenes, and Leo was forced to pull you out of the Red Room.”

Lexi gasped. The Red Room was an orgy room. What the hell had she done?

Jack shook his head. “You didn’t have sex, Lexi. You were just trying to talk the women in the room out of having sex. I believe they found you highly annoying.”

Lexi let her head find her hands. She rarely drank, but she’d been talked into Happy Hour the night before. Who was she kidding? She’d been drinking a bit too much lately. Lucas was out of town, and she’d been at loose ends. It had been a year since she’d been kidnapped, and she was having horrible dreams again. She’d just wanted to find a bit of oblivion, but she’d found a ton of trouble. “Tell me I didn’t drive.”

Lucas would kill her if she’d gotten behind the wheel.

“You took a cab. I tracked down your car and had it brought to The Club,” Jack said.

“Thank you.” Her hands were shaking. Jack sighed and walked out of the room for a moment.

“These people pay enormous amounts of money to belong to this club, Alexis.” Julian’s dark hair was pulled back in a severe queue. He looked like a man who could deal with mobsters and win, which, according to her mother’s stories, Julian had. Lexi felt like a small, fluffy bunny in the presence of a leopard. “They do not expect to have to deal with my family issues.”

Though he didn’t say it, his meaning was plain to Lexi. She wasn’t allowed into The Club because of who she was, but rather who she knew. Julian considered her family because she was Jack Barnes’s daughter and Lucas Cameron’s…whatever the hell she was to Lucas. She hadn’t bought a membership, and now he was regretting it. Julian carefully vetted the members of his club, but not so much the people he considered family. Well, she’d shown him…

“Julian, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. If I’d been in my right mind, I would never have done anything like that.”

“Yes,” Julian said with an air of finality, as though she’d just sealed her own fate. “I realize that, and I’m glad you realize it, too.”

Jack strode back in the room. He had a mug in hand. He set it in front of Lexi. “Coffee. It will help with the headache.”

She reached out for it. It was warm against her hands. Frustration poured over her. She was stuck, and she wasn’t sure how to get out. “Thanks.”

It was right there on the tip of her tongue. She wanted to say, “Thanks, Dad.” She wanted to, but she couldn’t. Just like she wanted to say, “I love you, Lucas,” and she couldn’t force the words from her lips. All the men she’d ever said it to died or walked away, because in the end, they didn’t want her love. She was trouble. So much fucking trouble.

“You’re welcome.” Jack took up his prior position behind Julian. He loomed over her like a really big hawk staring down at something he wanted to protect. She always felt so damn safe with Jack Barnes. It was precisely the reason she felt bad about letting the man down. When would she get her shit straight? She was twenty-six. It was way past time to know what she was doing in life. Most of her old friends were getting married and settling down. Lexi was just adrift.

“I’m terminating your rights in this club, Alexis.” Julian pronounced her sentence with what almost seemed like sympathy coming from him. His voice was softer than she ever remembered it sounding.

She’d expected it, but the decision hit her squarely in the gut. This was the place Lucas felt most at home, and now she couldn’t come here anymore. Fuck. She was going to lose Lucas. Her heart seized. She set the coffee back down on the desk untouched. She welcomed the physical pain her headache brought because it took her mind off the devastation Julian’s pronouncement brought her. And yet she knew begging wouldn’t work with Julian.

“All right. I understand.” She managed to stand, though her legs were a bit wobbly. She had one thought in her brain at this point. Get out with some semblance of dignity. “I appreciate it, Julian. Jack, please say hello to my mother. Tell her I can’t come down this weekend. I…I just can’t.”

“Lexi,” her stepfather said with a frown that told her just how tired he was. He must have driven here in the middle of the night. “Sit down. I don’t think Julian is done yet.”

“Oh, I think he’s done.” Lucas’s voice rang out through the room.

Lexi turned back, and he was standing there in the doorway looking tired and unkempt. His normally perfect clothes were wrinkled, and his handsome face was marred with worry and no small amount of indignation. She’d seen this look on Lucas’s face when he felt justice wasn’t being served. She wanted more than anything to run to him and fling herself against his strong body. She wanted to bury her head in Lucas’s shoulder and cry her eyes out. Lucas was her protector, her best friend, her whole stinking world, and now, as she sat looking at him, she wondered if she even deserved him.

“Lucas,” Julian said, that single eyebrow arching. “I was told you and Finn would be at least another day in Chicago.”

“Yeah, I bet you were,” Lucas said, stalking into the office. He made a direct line for her. “You want to explain to me why you have my sub in your office without the courtesy of a fucking phone call? I had to find out from Finn who found out from Dani.”

“Both of whom will get a stern talking to from me.” Julian had gone positively glacial. “I did not call you, Lucas, because she is not wearing your collar. I called her closest male relative. It’s what I do. Call me what you like, but I believe in the traditional ways. Jackson is her father. As she has no permanently contracted Dom, I called him in because she’s in trouble. Would you prefer I simply shoved her on the street? I don’t do that with family. Alexis, would you have preferred I called in your mother?”

Dear god, no. That would be so much worse. “I don’t suppose you could simply consider me an adult and just talk to me?”

“Heavens no, dear. After last night, I don’t consider you a functional adult at all.”

Well, she’d brought that one on herself.

Lucas’s hand reached down to grasp her own. “Come on, Lexi. We’re leaving. If Julian can’t honor my rights, we’ll find someplace else.”

Jack stepped forward. “You are not taking my daughter to another club, is that understood?”

Lucas’s jaw settled in a firm, stubborn line. “She’s mine, and I’ll do what I think is best with her. I’ve taken care of her for years, Jack. Fucking years. So you will back off. She belongs to me. And I quit. You can find another goddamn lawyer, brother.”

Whoa. Lexi pulled away from Lucas. What was wrong with him? He loved Jack. He practically worshipped the ground the man walked on, and he was willing to walk away from him? Lexi shook her head. She couldn’t allow that to happen. She’d already cost a man his job. She couldn’t cost Lucas his relationship with Jack.

She looked at Julian, well aware that she was practically begging. “Please, let me make this up to you. I’ll do anything. Don’t let this happen.”

Jack and Lucas were staring each other down. They looked like the same damn man, just at different stages of life. Jack had ten plus years on Lucas, but they had the same eyes and face, and the same stubborn glare.

“Well, I wasn’t allowed to finish,” Julian said with a sigh. The testosterone flowing around the room didn’t seem to bother him at all. “I was about to map out a plan that would give you access to The Club again.”

“She doesn’t need access to a place that doesn’t appreciate her,” Lucas snarled Julian’s way.