Taking the Lead


By Cecilia Tan

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When the rich and famous come out to play, nothing is off-limits . . .

Everyone knows Ricki Hamilton as the icy heiress living in a billion-dollar mansion, high up in the Hollywood Hills. But few realize that behind the gilded gates, Ricki is the mistress of LA’s most exclusive private club. A place where no fantasy is forbidden and no one goes unsatisfied-except for Ricki. If she had her way, she’d leave the business behind . . . until she meets the one man with the power to change her mind.

The hottest rock star in the world, Axel Hawke, has the requisite sexy look and bad-boy reputation. Yet even his biggest fans have no clue just how decadently dangerous he can be. From the moment he meets Ricki, he knows there is no other woman who will satisfy him. He can feel the heat hiding beneath her cool demeanor and he’s determined to stoke her flame.

Together Ricki and Axel indulge their every desire. The deeper they go, the more she craves. Submitting to Axel opens her eyes, and for the first time Ricki knows exactly what she wants. All she has to do is take it . . .



This book wouldn’t exist without the enthusiasm and encouragement of my agent, Lori Perkins, my editor Megha Parekh, and the whole team at Forever/Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, including Marissa, Leah, Elizabeth, Latoya, and everyone. You’re the best!

Thank you to my beta readers Angela, Chris K., Corey, Leela, JaNean, and Melanie, and to all the various cheerleaders, kibbitzers, and innocent bystanders on Twitter who watched me fuss with band names, story locations, and other minutiae. Twitter “co-workers,” you know who you are. See you at the virtual water cooler.

Almost this entire book was written in four coffee shops in a half-mile stretch of Mass. Ave. So thank you to Pedro at Tisan Coffee, the crew at Simon’s and Bourbon Coffee, and the late-night folks at the Shepard Post Starbucks. (The exception was the chapter I wrote at the Epcot Center Starbucks, to take a vacation from my vacation.) Tea-fueled writing binges win.

I would also like to thank everyone at RT Magazine/RT Booklovers, RWA, Georgia Romance Writers, Authors After Dark, and the New England Chapter of RWA for being warm and welcoming.

But as always, longest and loudest praise for my family: corwin, my partner of twenty-four years, and my parents. You’ve always believed in me.



The sex toy catalog was glossy, tasteful, full of subtle typefaces and swaths of cool, corporate gray. If you didn’t look closely you might think it was advertising office furniture, not vibrators and color-coordinated bondage accessories. I flipped it closed on the blotter of my desk and pushed it toward my sister, Gwen.

“Do we have it in the budget?” was my only question to her.

Gwen silently mouthed the word “Jaded!” at me, before actually speaking. “Seriously, Ricki? Could you stop thinking like an MBA for half a second? You didn’t even get past the dildos to the leather section. There’s a whole selection of handmade whips and floggers—”

“I don’t care if they’re made of organically sourced fair trade yak hide,” I said, waving my hand as if dispelling a cloud of smoke. “Sex toys are sex toys. Is it in the budget?”

“Yes, it’s in the budget,” she said sullenly, settling back in her chair. Her eyes darted around my office. I’d tried to neaten up the place since taking it over after my grandfather’s death, but two months later there were still vestiges of his eccentric taste. I hadn’t figured out what to do with the seven-foot-high carved wooden statue of an eagle, for example. And I’d kept his massive oak desk, as big as a dining table.

I liked the desk. I leaned back in my own chair, kicked off my heels, and put my stockinged feet up onto it. “Don’t sulk, Gwen.”

“You know it’s a good idea,” she said defensively. “Kresley Palmer’s daughter almost discovered his vibrator collection in the back of his car. Plus we’ll reduce liability by maintaining and cleaning them ourselves—”

“Didn’t you just say it was in the budget? Buy all the sex toys you want, Gwen. It’s a great idea. Maybe look into installing private lockers, too.” Providing our members with everything they needed on site so they didn’t have to transport incriminating implements made good sense.

What didn’t make as much sense, though I tried not to dwell on it, was the fact that the two twenty-something granddaughters of one of Hollywood’s richest moguls were running a secret sex dungeon in the family mansion. But our grandfather Raymond “Cy” Hamilton had left some very odd requirements in his will. Some I could almost understand, like the one that said if I wanted to work for the family corporation—the former Coast to Coast Pictures, now simply known as CTC—I had to work somewhere else for at least three years. I would even have understood if the will had said to destroy all evidence of the dungeon and never speak of it again. But no. The price of our inheritance: keep the tradition alive.

“Your mouth is saying yes but your attitude is no,” Gwen said, her slim blond eyebrows drawn together with concern. “You don’t look thrilled.”

“It’s not my job to be thrilled.” My feet ached and I pulled one toward me to rub it. “Honestly. What’s the point of running a secret BDSM club if I don’t have a slaveboy to give foot rubs?”

Gwen’s thin smile was sly. “That could be arranged, you know—”

“I was joking!” I put my feet down quickly. “Seriously, Gwen. Equipment, employee safety, that’s all you. Administration, membership, that’s me. You do the hands-on stuff; I do the back-office stuff. Isn’t that what we agreed?”

“Yes.” She sighed.

“So quit trying to get me to be more involved in your side of it. I’m not interested.”

“You just seem like you’re not having much fun,” she said.

I wasn’t sure why Gwen thought running a secret sex club should be fun. To me it was a sword hanging over our heads, a PR nightmare waiting to happen. If it was “fun,” Grandpa Cy wouldn’t have felt the need to include it as a requirement for our inheritance. Why should something that was founded to jazz up my grandparents’ marriage be relevant to my life? Our parents had even met at one of the club parties, when our mother had been an aspiring actress and our father had been bent on proving he was a chip off the old block. If only Dad had inherited Grandpa Cy’s business sense instead of his taste in sex.

I’m sure most people didn’t know as much about their parents’ sex lives as we did. Then again, most people’s family legacy wasn’t a secret dungeon in their mansion. Though I supposed in a way that wasn’t any worse than the legacy we already carried—of our mother’s death when we were young. I preferred not to think about that if I could help it.

“Look, Gwen. I have plenty of fun—” I started to assure her, but then the old intercom speaker on the desk buzzed and the voice of my assistant Paul cut me off.

“Grammy time, Ms. Hamilton. Five minutes until the stylist gets here,” he said. “Her car just cleared the main security gate. And Jamison says wardrobe is finished with your friend Sakura.”

I hopped to my feet with a frustrated groan. We’d spent so much time talking about sex toys that I hadn’t had a chance to bring up the issue I’d actually wanted to discuss with Gwen. The rest of the day and night was packed: first the Grammy Awards ceremony, maybe a quick stop at a party at Blue Star Entertainment, and then the after-party here at the mansion. Not that kind of party: a normal Hollywood glitterati affair. Maybe tonight I’d finally buttonhole David Meyers on that proposal about a new division of Blue Star. I wasn’t above waiting until my boss was full of champagne to approach him. Gwen and I would have to talk tomorrow after the staff had cleaned up and we had the house to ourselves again.

“See?” I said. “I get to have fun. Grammy Awards.”

Gwen gave me a skeptical look. “Yep. You look over the moon about it.” She swept up the catalog. “I’ll be watching on TV with a bowl of popcorn and get into my party dress later.”

Her plan sounded like more fun than mine, but I wasn’t about to admit that. The intercom speaker buzzed again.

“Um,” came Paul’s voice, somewhat tentative this time. “Code Blue.”

That was our warning that our father, the titular Hamilton patriarch, was on the premises. Why was everything in my life a ticking time bomb of a PR disaster? Which would be worse, I thought angrily, the press getting a hold of Dad on one of his drunken rants or them finding out about the bondage equipment filling the basement? Worst-case scenario: them finding out about the dungeon during one of his drunken rants…My head started to hurt as Gwen and I looked at each other in slight alarm. “I thought Dad was in St. Maarten.”

“So did I.”

She hopped to her feet. “You go get dressed. I’ll handle him.”

“Are you sure?”

She shooed me out of the office with brisk motions of her hands. “Go, go, go. He’s probably half-pickled already anyway. With any luck he’ll be unconscious before the first guest gets here. Don’t worry, Ricki.”

Don’t worry, don’t worry. Why were people always telling me not to worry? All it did was make me worry more. What were the chances Dad even realized it was Grammy night? The staff was adept at handling him. Gwen was right. They’d either find him a bottle or a woman to keep him busy—or both. That had been the usual state of affairs for most of our lives and was a large part of the reason Grandpa Cy had passed the managing of the estate directly into Gwen’s and my hands instead of our father’s. How many years would I have to walk this tightrope before I could start living the life I really wanted to, running a film division of CTC? Right then I wanted to go upstairs and curl up with a good book, but it was my job to go out and put on a good public face, to make myself into a player in this industry, so that when they looked at me they didn’t see poor Cy Hamilton’s half-orphaned granddaughter or the mistress of the most notorious kinky secret in Hollywood.

I’d have to worry about Dad later. Right now at the top of my to-do list was fitting into a designer ball gown. Deep breath, Ricki. You can do this.




Grammy night. I suppose I should have paused to reflect what a significant moment in my career was happening, but I was too busy arguing with my manager. Nothing like having a snitty row with your manager while your stylist is trying to work on you. I put my phone on speaker and laid it down next to the huge, lit mirror facing me so that I wouldn’t be holding the thing to my ear while Tashonda worked on my hair.

“Christina,” I told her, “you’re on speaker phone now.”

“Axel, if you think that’s going to keep me from cursing in front of Tashonda you are so wrong.” Her voice was tinny but perfectly understandable. “Hey, Tashonda—how’s it going?”

“It’s going fine.” Tashonda worked the spray bottle and teased my hair with her fingers, trying to achieve the perfect “messily tousled” look. She had already streaked me with blond highlights. I sighed. I didn’t get into the rock-and-roll business because I liked to be primped and fussed over. “I’m thinking of putting rhinestones on the ends of his eyebrows, though; what do you think?”

“Fuck no,” I said, but Christina practically screamed, “Ah! That’s fantastic! Axel, you’ll have the diamond stud in your ear, right? And the cuff links?”

Ugh. These women. “Yes, ma’am,” I said in my best “good boy” voice. I already felt like a poodle in a rhinestone collar and I guess I was going to look like one, too. But as Christina had pointed out many times, my fans were women, the ones who bought the front row seats and the VIP packages and had made the album go platinum: women. And as she constantly reminded me: she was a woman and knew what women went crazy for. I was pretty sure I had a good handle on what drove women crazy myself, but, well, she hadn’t steered me wrong yet. “I’m not sure the diamonds say ‘edgy-sexy,’ you know.”

“But they do say posh. And I think we need more posh if we’re going to get that UK record company bidding on the rights to the next record. Tashonda, you’re making him look cream-in-your-pants stunning but just a touch disreputable, right? We’re so done with the ragamuffin look.”

“Yep. I’m cleaning him up nice—you’re going to love the blond—but I’m leaving a little beard stubble,” the stylist said. “That’s what you want, right? Your memo said to upscale his usual ‘bad boy’ look.”

Christina didn’t wait to hear any more before she barreled on. “Exactly. This is edgy-sexy phase two, from bad boy to playboy, okay? Back to what I was saying. Axel, I don’t like this date you’re bringing tonight. This is a big spotlight.”

“And I told you, it’s too late to change it. You know how fussy they are at these awards ceremonies? Security on Buckingham Palace isn’t half as tight. Plus I think Sakura spent her entire month’s income on a dress. Chris, I’m not jilting her even if you’ve got Scarlett Johansson lined up.”

“But Axel—”

“No buts, Chris. I know this is all about image—”

“It’s the Grammy Awards! There will be a billion photos of you and her! There are rumors about her, you know.”

I closed my eyes while Tashonda held her palm against my forehead and hairsprayed my forelock. I guess the “wet look” was back. When I could breathe again, I said, “Come on, Chris, those rumors should just go along with the whole edgy-sexy image to begin with, right?” If she only knew…

“Not that kind of bad, though! Are you paying her to go to this?”

“No, I’m not paying her! We’re friends, Chris. I’m allowed to have friends. And I’m allowed to choose my friends. The day I’m not is the day I’m walking away.” Right. Like I could walk away from a platinum-selling rock band and musical career. I was bluffing, but one had to draw the line somewhere.

Christina let loose a string of Catholic curses that showed her Filipino upbringing. I didn’t even know some of the saints she invoked to express herself. But she relented. “Don’t make me sorry about this.”

“I won’t. Besides, it’s a double date with Sakura’s former college roommate. Someone you might have heard of. Ricki Hamilton?”

“What? The Hamilton heiress?” Christina shrieked with glee. “She and her sister are worth billions! Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“I just did.”

“And who’s her date—who who who?”

“I have no idea, Chris. The limo will be here in—?”

“Twenty minutes,” Tashonda said firmly. She looked at me critically with a rhinestone poised on the tip of her index finger.

I gave her a smoldering look and mouthed almost silently, so Christina couldn’t hear: “Bad boys don’t wear rhinestones. Come on.”

“Hm,” she said, tilting her face toward the phone. “Christina, not sure this rhinestone idea is going to work.”

“No? Are you sure?”

“Don’t want to overdo it, you know? With the close-ups on high-def TV, it might actually be too much sparkle. There will be glare.”

“Oh.” Christina sounded deflated. “Well, see you at the after-parties. Later, Axel.”

“Later, Christina.” I clicked off the phone and hopped out of the chair, catching Tashonda around the waist and twirling her as if we were on ice. Then I dipped her and planted a kiss right on her sternum where her shirt’s neckline plunged. “Thanks,” I said, as I righted her. “For everything.”

She said nothing but fanned herself with an open hand as I sauntered away.

Chapter One



“Ms. Hamilton. The car is ready.”

I turned toward Jamison, who was standing in the doorway with his usual impeccably bland demeanor, his hands folded. “Do I look all right?” I asked him.

“Stunning as always, Ms. Hamilton,” he said, his voice low and smooth.

“You didn’t even look,” I complained. I gave myself one last glance in the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the two-story foyer. If I’d had my way, I would have had one of Sakura’s designer friends make me something artsy and avant-garde to wear. But if image is everything, then an expensive, big-name designer’s dress was required wear. It was off-white, beaded, classic. If that wasn’t good enough for the paparazzi, then there wasn’t much else I could do. “Where’s Sakura?” Last time I checked, the stylist had been affixing some glass beads in her hair.

“She is already in the car,” Jamison said with a slight bow. That was as close to telling me to hurry as he would ever get. When he’d first taken the butler job with my grandfather he’d gone to finishing school. I wondered if that was where he learned to be so…polite-pushy? pushy-polite? Maybe it was a Cuban thing. He had come to the States when his family fled Castro and at first my grandfather had hired his older brother. Jamison wasn’t his real name: it was the name he’d picked for himself. It suited him. His wavy black hair was slicked close to his scalp and I felt he was a thousand times more polished than I was. He gestured toward the door.

“Fine, fine.” I hurried across the entryway toward the front door, reminding myself not to do anything to dislodge the dress or my coiffure. Members of the staff were bustling about, readying the mansion for tonight. We didn’t host this kind of soiree that often anymore, only a few times a year, not like in my grandfather’s heyday, when the “Governor’s Mansion” was host to a steady stream of Hollywood’s elite. Cy Hamilton, the man they called the “Governor of Hollywood,” had liked to party.

Sarah—Sakura, I mean—was waiting in the limo, looking as perfect as always. Somehow she managed to rock an Asian style without ever coming off like a parody of a geisha or kung-fu movie courtesan. She was half-Japanese and all business when it came to finding the right clothes. Mine just had to look expensive or people would talk. Sakura’s had to look unique and yet tasteful and powerful and creatively artistic all at the same time. I took the seat across from her in the stretch and off we went to pick up her date, then mine.

She grinned. “This is like prom night, only better.”

I shrugged. “The prom night I never had.” Being a Hamilton heiress, I didn’t exactly have the standard American upbringing. “It’s just an awards ceremony, Sarah.”

“Sakura,” she corrected.

“Don’t worry; I’ll get it right when it counts.”

“And don’t rain on my parade. Maybe this is dull and boring for you, but it’s my first time at the Grammy Awards.”

“You went to the Oscars last year,” I pointed out.

“As official arm candy to a total bore. And he wasn’t even a nominee. Axel’s band is up for Best New Artist.” She drummed her toes excitedly on the carpeted floor of the limousine. “Plus I really like him.”

Like him-like him?” I asked pointedly. This wasn’t the first time Sakura had mentioned this guy. I admit I only knew him from the entertainment trade magazines where he was, admittedly, one of the only rock stars I thought was cute. It might be really good for Sakura’s career to date a rock star.

But she dashed that idea. “Not like that. As a friend, I mean.” She glanced out the window, not that she could see much through the tinting. “He’s really great. A really great guy.”

“Didn’t he start out a client of yours, though?” I was trying not to sound judgmental about it, really I was.

She sighed. “I’m not doing the professional dominatrix thing anymore, Ricki.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“I met him at a photo shoot if you must know,” she said with a sniff.

“The photo shoot where you’re in a latex catsuit with a whip and he’s in a cage?” Of course I’d seen it. After we learned the terms of the will, I found out that the staff regularly scanned all the tabloids looking for anything about BDSM to make sure our family wasn’t being implicated. They regularly showed me anything remotely having to do with kink and pop culture.

She sighed. “Yes, that one. But he is sooooo not a submissive.”


“Definitely not. In fact, I’d say he’s a dom but you wouldn’t necessarily guess that from the vanilla supermodel arm candy he’s been seen with.”

“You don’t think he shows his kinky side to the press?”

She clucked her tongue. “You of all people should know most people don’t.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The whole reason my grandfather had built the secret dungeon in our basement had been to give A-list kinksters a private place to meet and spank. Well, and so he could spank them himself, honestly. These days the members were mostly A-list because of their money, though, not their celebrity. We had a lot of presidents and vice presidents of major film studios and entertainment corporations. I know Grandpa Cy had meant well, but I couldn’t help but think my main job was to ensure that these entitled executives could get their knobs polished in the most exotic fashion possible. “Hey, wait a second. Is this all a setup so I’ll consider him for membership?”

Sakura held up her perfectly manicured hands in surrender. “I swear, I didn’t plan it that way. He really has become a good friend, and he asked me to go to the awards, and since I knew you were going, too, I thought it would be a good idea to double date.”

“You haven’t said anything—?”

“Of course I haven’t. Ricki, your secrets are always safe with me. All he knows about you is you’re the Bitch Queen of Hollywood.”

“I am not!”

“You have the worst case of resting bitch face in the state of California.” Sakura framed me between her thumbs and index fingers. “Just sayin’.”

I resisted the urge to fold my arms across my chest, which I knew would only make me bitchier looking. Sakura really didn’t understand how important it was that I not come off as a frivolous airhead or a flirt. Unfortunately the only other stereotype left for women in the popular media seemed to be “ice queen.”

Ice queen had worked for me so far. I had secured a nice job in development at Blue Star that would be a good stepping-stone to eventually running CTC. And other than a few “society” photos here and there I had mostly stayed out of the media, because ice queens weren’t actually all that interesting to them. They much preferred the party girls and the fuck-ups, the Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans.

She tried to change the subject. “So tell me about your date. You never told me who you’re taking.”

“You know Milford Randolph?”

“The president of Blue Star Entertainment? Of course I know him! But he’s more than twice your age!”

“Not him. His nephew, Grant.”

“Oh,” she said, much less energetically. I guess she was less impressed with a mere executive at Blue Star Pictures. Or less upset. I had quit trying to figure out Sarah’s moods back when we were college roommates.

“Yes.” I decided not to try to describe him to her. She’d be meeting him in a few minutes, anyway. “He’s a nice enough guy.”

“If you say so,” she said, sounding skeptical, but she didn’t outright contradict me. The only real reason I was going with him was politics, but neither of us was going to say that out loud.

We pulled up to Axel’s hotel. I settled back into my seat and took my phone out of my clutch, expecting we’d be waiting for a while until he came downstairs. But to my surprise, Riggs, my chauffeur, opened the door right away.

Axel Hawke alighted on the seat across from me like a cat hopping onto his favorite perch—lithe, sleekly groomed, and self-possessed. He kissed Sakura on the cheek. He had a diamond-stud earring, a barely tamed coif of blond-streaked hair, and a tuxedo tailored to make it look like his arm and chest muscles were barely contained by the fabric. What looked cute on the magazine page was downright devastatingly good-looking up close. He even smelled good. I found myself suddenly wishing I had worn something more interesting, more of a statement, something that might seem worth his notice, instead of the classic-but-boring dress I was in.

Sakura smiled coyly, as if holding in a gleeful grin at seeing him. He took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Good to see you.”

“You, too, sweetie,” Sakura said. “So this is the ‘playboy’ makeover you were telling me your image consultant wanted?”

“Yeah. Bad boy isn’t good enough anymore, she says. So now I’m a good-bad boy. Or maybe that was a bad-good boy? I don’t know.”


  • "Everyone knows Cecilia Tan is the queen of hot, but she's also the queen of wit and angst and voice. Taking the Lead is a book that grabs you by the collar and gives you flirty-eyes. It will tell you, 'Go sit, over there in the corner chair, and don't get up until you're done.' You will do it-absolutely and happily-because Cecilia knows exactly what you want."—Christina Lauren, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Bastard and Sweet Filthy Boy
  • "Cecilia Tan writes erotic romance the way it was meant to be written: full of emotion, intensity, and chemistry that's so hot it burns the page. Taking the Lead is no exception; it's deliciously sexy and utterly satisfying."—Tara Sue Me, New York Times bestselling author
  • "Veteran Tan kicks her Secrets of a Rock Star series off with a sultry start. With a satisfying plot and an engaging cast of characters, the only thing slowing readers down will be their refractory period."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "An emotional whirlwind romance. Axel is as strong and sexy as readers expect in a rock-star hero without being an overly brooding jerk. The length he goes in order to win over emotionally closed-off Ricki will melt your heart."—RT Book Reviews
  • "The sex scenes here are once again as hot as they are imaginative."—RT Book Reviews on SLOW SEDUCTION
  • "Seductive fun not to be missed! Cecilia Tan will make all your sexy wishes come true!"—Lisa Renee Jones, bestselling author of If I Were You on SLOW SURRENDER
  • "Loved, loved Slow Surrender and am waiting on pins and needles for book two, Slow Seduction to come out...another brilliant outing from Cecelia Tan...her characters are full of life and emotion, and so believable. Definitely a keeper!"—Night Owl Reviews on SLOW SURRENDER
  • "If you are a fan of the Billionaire Dom, you should not miss Slow Surrender. Cecilia Tan weaves a compelling and red-hot tale that will have readers eager for more."—http://www.romancenovelnews.com/ on SLOW SURRENDER
  • "Move over EL James. Cecilia Tan's Slow Surrender is sinfully sweet and sublimely erotic. As with sipping a superb single-malt scotch served neat, you'll savor the slow burn as it builds to a deliciously unanticipated ... climax."—Hope Tarr, award-winning author on SLOW SURRENDER

On Sale
Jan 26, 2016
Page Count
336 pages

Cecilia Tan

About the Author

Cecilia Tan writes about her many passions, from erotic fantasy to baseball. Not only is she an author, but she has also edited more than fifty erotic anthologies and founded her own publishing house, Circlet Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and her nonfiction on baseball has been in Baseball Ink, Gotham Baseball magazine, Yankees magazine, Yankees Annual, and elsewhere. Cecilia currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

You can learn more at:
Twitter @ceciliatan

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