Authors: Penelope Douglas
‘I read this book in one sitting.
was as gripping as it was sexy!’ #1
New York Times
bestselling author Colleen Hoover
‘Full of feeling and intensity that will appeal to the reader seeking an emotional rush’
‘This smoking-hot, action-packed story is a powerful addition to the edgy side of the genre, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment’
‘I was really craving a book that would make me stop everything I was supposed to be doing and devour every word… and that’s exactly what
Smitten Book Blog
‘A unique twist on the bad boy meets good girl tale. I could not put it down!’
Aestas Book Blog
‘She did something seasoned writers haven’t been able to do – take a hero who was a complete ass and make me fall in love with him’
Scandalicious Book Reviews
is the author of the
New York Times
bestselling Fall Away series. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and then a master’s of education at Loyola University in New Orleans before becoming a teacher. She now writes full-time and lives in Las Vegas with her husband and their daughter.
Visit Penelope Douglas online:
Published by Piatkus
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Penelope Douglas, 2015
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Random House, LLC, 2015
copyright © Penelope Douglas, 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DZ
Table of Contents
For our teachers…
Love is a game that two can play and both win.
All of my books come with Pinterest boards to enhance your reading experience. Please enjoy Misconduct’s board at
as you read.
You will also find discussion questions at the end of this book.
“Home” by Three Days Grace
“Dangerous” by Shaman’s Harvest
“Always” by Saliva
“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles
“Because I Got High” by Afroman
“Only Girl” by Rihanna
“You Know You Like It” by DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge
“Room to Breathe” by You Me at Six
“Untraveled Road” by Thousand Foot Krutch
“Drown” by Theory of a Deadman
“When the Saints Go Marching In” by Louis Armstrong
“To the Hills” by Laurel
“Failure” by Breaking Benjamin
“Paralyzed” by In Flames
“Glycerine” by Bush
“No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the Wailers
hile most Mardi Gras balls were lively, with performers from their parades that day in attendance to entertain the guests, this particular party overflowed with a very different vibe.
I looked around me at the rich and powerful who made up the guest list, sizing everyone up, their connections and names more of a résumé than their educations or careers.
And while everyone around me appeared relaxed – due to the heavy flow of champagne, I was sure – it was just a mask on top of their masks.
They weren’t calm. They were working. Deals were being made and relationships bought, and the politicians were always on the job.
But still… there was a charge in the air. It was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, after all.
It was the time of year when many locals escaped the city, with the tsunami of tourists clogging the streets and the traffic turning what was normally a fifteen-minute drive into three hours as constant parades blocked your route.
The city and its surrounding areas hosted between forty and fifty parades every Mardi Gras season, and each parade had a krewe – a not-for-profit organization that donated money to build the floats, some costing as much as eighty thousand dollars, while the krewe members enjoyed the privilege of donning masks as they tossed beads and other trinkets into a bedlam of outstretched hands and screaming crowds.
This particular krewe was exclusive, almost aristocratic with its money and political connections. Lawyers, CEOs, judges, you name it… Anyone who was anyone in this city was here tonight. Hence why my brother accepted an invitation.
Jack knew that New Orleans society was like a candy-covered chocolate. You had to break through the shell to get to the good stuff.
Deals and relationships weren’t made at conference tables or offices. They were settled over glasses of Chivas at a cigar bar or around ten pounds of crawfish at a filthy seafood dive in the Quarter with calliope music from the
steamboat drifting in through the open French doors. People didn’t trust signatures so much as they trusted your ability to bullshit while you were drunk.
All reasons I loved this city.
It held the history of weathered storms – of blood, sweat, music, agony, and death by people who expected to fall but knew how to get back up.
I offered the waiter a modest smile as I plucked another glass of champagne off his tray and turned back around, regarding the imitation Degas hanging before me.
Oil on canvas would burn quickly
I mused, inching closer as the chill from the champagne flute seeped through my manicured fingers.
God, I was bored. When I started fantasizing about inanimate objects going up in flames, it was time to call it a night.
But then I felt my phone vibrate against my thigh, and I straightened, pulling away from the painting again.
“Jack,” I whispered under my breath as I set down my glass on a high, round table and clawed my dress up my leg to get at my phone strapped around my thigh. I hated carrying purses, and since my brother was here with me and had the credit cards, all I needed was a place to secure my cell.
Swiping the screen, I clicked on the text notification.
If you say anything rude, my future is ruined.
I shot my head up, a smile spreading across my face as I scanned the ballroom. I spotted my brother standing in a circle of people but facing me with a warning eyebrow raised and a smirk on his face.
I texted back, looking at him like I was affronted.
He read the text and shook his head, grinning.
I know your vibes, Easton.
I rolled my eyes at him, amusement tilting my lips up into a smile.
Jack most certainly did know my vibes.
But he should’ve known better. I would never let my brother down. I might have inherited our father’s quick temper and our mother’s inability not to say things that shouldn’t be said, but I was loyal. When my brother called, I came. When he needed me, I didn’t ask questions. For him, I would tolerate just about anything.
I shall endure,
I replied, my usual sarcasm evident as I met his mischievous hazel eyes.
Jack was three years older and about to finish his third year of law school at Tulane. Time and again, he dragged me to benefits, luncheons, and galas as he schmoozed his way through the New Orleans elite, making his connections and building relationships. All so he could secure the right job offers when he graduated a little more than a year from now.
I hated wasting time on things that didn’t interest me, but Jack didn’t have a girlfriend to bore with these functions, so I often stepped in as the dutiful “plus one.”
Find something to play with,
And don’t get dirty.
I cocked an eyebrow across the room at him, hoping he saw the dare in my expression. Even through my black metal half mask.
If you say so
I taunted with my eyes.
I’d hung in there with Jack as he had made the rounds when we arrived, conversing and networking, until they started talking mistrials and mitigating circumstances. That was when I made my escape, choosing to wander and ponder in silence rather than be forced to smile and nod as if I had any interest in what they were talking about.
But now, glancing around the crowd and trying to take Jack’s suggestion to find something – or someone – to occupy my time, I had to admit I wouldn’t even know where to start.
My brother could work the room like a fine instrument – laughing and shaking hands just like a good ole boy – but I muddled around the edges.
In but not quite
There was a time when those roles were reversed.
And there was a time when I cared.
Leaning down, I inched up the sheer red layers of my gown to tuck my phone away in a concealed carry strap secured around my leg. Not that I was concealing a weapon, but it served a purpose nonetheless.
I let the hems of my gown fall back down to my feet, loving the weightlessness of the fabric as it brushed across my legs. Since it was February, it was still fairly cold outside, but I had been unable to resist the indulgence of the flowing, lightweight fluidity of the fabric though it was probably meant for spring.
For a girl who’d spent most of her upbringing in sneakers and tennis skirts, the gown earned me looks from men meant for the woman I sometimes had trouble believing I’d become.
Falling to the tops of my feet, the gown hugged my torso in a crisscross pattern on the front and back, but flared out only slightly below the waist in an A-line fit. It was bright red, and looked perfect with my black metal half mask, which curved over the top of my left eye, down the right side of my nose, and covered half of my right cheek in a lace pattern.
My only other accessory was a pair of diamond stud earrings given to me by my parents when I’d won the US Open junior tournament ten years ago.
Bending over, I slipped my heel off, the only part of the outfit I hated.
I arched my foot and then pointed my toes, rolling my ankle. Everything ached from the pressure of being packed together, and I didn’t understand how other women lived in these every day.
Balancing myself on one leg, I grabbed my champagne glass and slid the other foot back into the shoe, but it stumbled out of my hand and fell to the ground.
Sighing, I leaned down to snatch up the heel.
But I stopped midbend, jerking back when someone grabbed my wrist and snatched the glass out of my hand.
“Careful,” a low, deep voice warned.
I blinked, my eyes shooting between the hand on my wrist and the floor, where I had spilled half of my drink when I’d bent over.
I moved to straighten, but then I paused, seeing a man set the glass down and immediately kneel in front of me on one knee, avoiding the spot on the carpeting where my drink had spilled.
“Allow me,” he suggested.
Ignoring the flutter in my chest, I watched as he took my ankle and slid my foot effortlessly back into my heel, his sure hands setting me right again.
The heat of his fingers spread up my leg, and I narrowed my eyes, a little annoyed that my heart was beating so fast.
He wasn’t wearing a mask like most of the other guests. According to my father’s general wisdom, it probably meant that he didn’t play games or feel the need to be a part of the crowd. He wanted everyone to know who he was. Fearless, bold, a rule breaker…
But my inner cynic would say he’d probably just forgotten his mask at home.
He glanced up at me, a pert tilt to his lips and his hooded eyes taking me in with interest. I knew right away that he was older.
Probably midthirties, judging by the faint lines around his eyes.
And although that wasn’t old, it was almost outside of my generation at twenty-three.
I liked that, too. If his hands were sure, maybe his tongue would be, too. Conversation-wise, I meant.
His black hair was cut close to the scalp on the sides and in the back, with the longer hair on top styled neatly. He was clean-shaven, and his tailored wool tux was a black deep enough to make everyone else’s here look faded. His shoes outshined his Rolex, and thank goodness for that. Men with bling were high maintenance.
And he was handsome. The narrow jaw and high cheekbones accentuated his sharp black eyebrows over stone blue eyes.
He was more than handsome. He was seductive.
I felt a small smile tug at the corners of my lips.
“Thank you,” I said softly, moving my foot back to the floor.
His fingers grazed an inch higher on my calf before letting me go, and I had to fight the chills that spread over my skin.
He was bold, too.
I held his eyes – the color of a cloud heavy with unfallen rain – as he rose, standing tall and not making any move to back off.
“Losing shoes, spilling drinks… Are you normally such a hot mess?” he teased, the confident mischief in his eyes turning everything below my waist warm.
I raised my eyebrows, shooting him a cocky smirk. “Feeling up strange women, condescending remarks… Are you normally so rude?” I asked.
His eyes held a smile, but I didn’t wait for him to answer.
I plucked my champagne flute off the table and glided around him, back to the painting.
If he was the kind of man I’d hoped he was, he’d follow. He was attractive, and I was intrigued, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have to work for it.
I tilted the glass to my mouth, taking in the chilled bitterness of the bubbles on my tongue as I felt him watching me.
“You don’t appear to be having a very good time,” he observed, stepping up to my side.
His subtle cologne drifted through my nostrils, and my eyelids fluttered for a moment.
“On the contrary…” I gestured to the imitation Degas with my champagne. “I was just contemplating how some gasoline and a match would improve this painting.”
He laughed under his breath, and I loved how his eyes shimmered in the dim light of the ballroom. “That bad, huh?”
I nodded, sighing. “That bad.”
Standing next to him, I felt the full measure of his size. I was no shorty at five seven, but even in heels, I still came only to his shoulder. His chest was wide but lean, and I loved that I could make out the muscles in his upper arms when he crossed them over it. Even through his tux.
He looked down at me with the stern expression of a superior. “Do you often have pyrotechnic fantasies?” he asked, looking amused.
I turned back to the painting, absently staring at it as I thought about his question.
I had lots of fantasies, pyrotechnic and not, but how obvious would I be to tell him that? It was a cheap response to a leading question. I wouldn’t be so obvious.
“I don’t want to start fires,” I assured him, staring at the Degas with the flute against my lips. “I just like standing in the middle of burning rooms.”
Tipping back the glass, I finished off the champagne and turned to set it down, but he took the base of the flute, stopping me.
“How long would you stay?” he inquired, his eyes thoughtful as he took the glass from my hand and set it down on the table. “Before you tried to escape, that is.”
“Longer than anyone else.”
He looked at me quizzically.
“How about you?” I questioned. “Would you join the mayhem in the mad rush for the exit?”
He turned back to the painting, smirking. “No,” he answered. “I’d already be outside, of course.”
I narrowed my eyes, confused.
He grinned at me and leaned in to whisper, “I set the fire, after all.”
My jaw ached with a smile I refused to bestow on him. I didn’t like surprises, but he was interesting, and he looked me in the eye when he spoke to me.
Of course, I wasn’t as interested in his answers as I was in his ability to keep the conversation going. I could indulge in small talk, but this was more fun.
I let my eyes drift away from him.
“I’m sorry you don’t like the artwork,” he said, regarding the piece on the wall.
My thigh quivered with the vibration from my phone, but I ignored it.
I cleared my throat. “Degas is a wonderful artist,” I went on. “I like him. He aimed to depict movement rather than stationary figures in many of his works.”
“Except this one.” He nodded to the piece of the lonely woman sitting in a bar.
“Yes, except this one,” I agreed, gesturing to
. “He also tried to show humans in isolation. This one was called ugly and disgusting by critics when it was unveiled.”
“But you love it,” he deduced.
I turned, slowly moving along the wall, knowing he’d follow.
“Yes, even when he is copied by bad artists,” I joked. “But luckily no one here will know the difference.”
I heard his quiet laugh at my audacity, and he was probably wondering whether or not to be insulted. Either way, he struck me as the type of man who didn’t really care. My respect probably wasn’t what he was after.