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The Forbidden Man
By Elle Wright
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- Mass Market $6.00 $8.00 CAD
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Known as a player, Morgan Smith has secretly spent years fighting his feelings for Sydney. When Den’s latest dirty deed leaves Sydney devastated, Morgan can’t stop himself from coming to her rescue. What begins as friendship quickly escalates into all-consuming passion. Despite their intense connection, Sydney would rather deny her desire than come between brothers. But as Morgan is determined to make Sydney his, Den won’t give her up without a fight . . .
Table of Contents
A Preview of His All Night
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Sydney Williams glanced at her watch. "Allina, I have to go. I'm meeting Den in thirty minutes." In a few short months, Syd was finally going to marry her longtime love, Caden Smith, affectionately known as Den.
Sydney flinched when she received a playful whack on the behind.
"I told you to be still. I'm almost finished. There. You can turn around."
Sydney sucked in a deep breath then turned and looked at her reflection. The white silk, floor-length gown fit her perfectly. Smoothing a hand over her hip, she eyed the tiny crystals adorning the plunging neckline. It was simple, understated—exactly how she wanted it.
"What do you think?" Allina said, biting her thumbnail as she stepped back. "I think it looks much better with your hair up."
"It's beautiful. Den's going to love it." Sydney ignored the look her friend gave her and the quick rolling of her eyes. Sighing, she took one last glance at herself, turned around, and raised her arms. Allina unzipped her and she rushed into the fitting room. "I appreciate this, girlfriend. You're truly gifted," she told her from behind the curtain.
Tossing the gown over the door for her friend, she dressed. When she was finished, she slipped into her sandals and pulled the curtain open. Allina was zipping up the garment bag.
"I'm ready to invest when you're ready to go out on your own," Sydney said, rummaging through her purse. "It's time."
"It'll be ready for you Friday after five o'clock," Allina said, changing the subject. She tucked a stray braid that had fallen out into her neat bun.
Before Sydney could go into the countless reasons it was better for Allina to venture out and open her own boutique, her cell phone vibrated. Muttering a curse, she shook her bag and felt around for the cell phone. Sighing heavily, she grabbed a hold of it and pulled it out. After a quick glance at the anonymous number, she was tempted to ignore the call—except she was planning a wedding and it could be someone calling to confirm something.
Grumbling a curse, she answered, "This is Sydney."
"I wasn't sure you'd answer." The nasal-toned voice of her fiancé's ex–booty call, Laney, immediately put Sydney in a bad mood.
"Can't make the right choice all the time. Why the hell are you calling me?" Syd snapped.
"I just thought you'd want to know—"
"And how did you get my number?" She dropped her purse on the chair.
Curiosity prevented her from hanging up on the other woman. It was no secret she couldn't stand Laney, but she couldn't help but wonder why she was calling her. "Look, I'm doing you a favor," Laney said. "The least you can do is treat me with some respect."
Syd's interest turned to dread at Laney's snide tone. The last "favor" from Laney had almost destroyed her relationship with Den. It took months to get over the fact that he'd cheated on her while she was away at graduate school. She gripped her phone. "Laney, what the hell do you want?"
Allina, who'd just returned from the back, stopped in her tracks at the mention of that name.
Placing a hand over the receiver, Syd mouthed to her friend, "I'm fine. Go ahead and finish what you were doing."
Allina didn't look convinced, but walked away anyway, glancing back as she headed toward the counter.
"I'll just cut to the chase," Laney sneered.
"Please do." Something told Syd to have a seat, but she remained on her feet. Although the other woman couldn't see her, she didn't want to give even the slightest impression that she was affected by anything Laney had to say. "I don't have all day."
"If you think you're going to be happy with Den, you're fooling yourself."
"What do you know about it?" Sydney asked with a snicker.
"Everything. I know that Den has been lying to you for months. He told you that you could trust him. That he'd never hurt you again. That he wanted to start fresh, confess everything… the random woman at a bar story… then he realized that he couldn't live without you… couldn't wait to make you his wife."
Syd felt sick to her stomach as Laney droned on. The fact that this woman knew all of her business wasn't the worst part. It was what she feared was coming next that was giving her fits.
"Sydney, did you hear me?" Laney called through the receiver.
She swallowed, then cleared her throat. "Just say what you need to say and stop wasting my time with this shit, Laney."
"And I'll bet you believed him, too." Laney laughed, and the sound made Syd's skin crawl. "The thing is, he may be ready to make you his wife, but he surely can't keep that promise of never hurting you again, because I was the woman at the bar and it definitely wasn't a random hookup. We've been seeing each other for months now—at your house, in your bed."
Closing her eyes, Syd barely flinched when the phone landed on her toes, then the carpeted floor, with a thump.
Allina rushed over to her. "What's going on?"
"Oh God," Syd cried. "This can't be happening."
She vaguely felt Allina nudging her, heard her begging her to say something, anything. It seemed like everything was happening in slow motion. Over the last eight months, she'd spent thousands on the details, the plans, the invitations… Oh God, her family was coming. They'd purchased tickets and paid for hotel rooms. What would they think of her? How would she face them?
"Sydney!" Allina yelled, shaking her out of her thoughts. "What's wrong?"
Syd wouldn't bother calling Den to confirm Laney's story. In her heart, she knew the other woman was telling the truth. She was sure it had happened just the way Laney described. And it wasn't because Laney was such a truth teller. It was only because Den had lied to her more times than she cared to admit, more times than she ever told anyone. He'd promised her he was a changed man, but she knew change didn't come easily to Den. She wanted to drive to his job and embarrass him in front of his employees, demand that he explain himself, order him to do something—anything—to make this seem less real, less devastating. Would there be anything he could say to justify this? Wasn't it her fault for believing the lies, taking him back, and choosing to never hold him accountable every single time he'd hurt her? Yet, even as her heart seemed to split open and the pain crept into her bones, she couldn't muster up any blame for the man she loved. No, there was no one to blame but herself.
Blinking, Sydney zeroed in on her phone lying on the floor and picked it up. She didn't bother checking to see if Laney was still on the line. She turned it off and tossed it into her purse.
What the hell am I going to do now?
"Do me a favor?" she asked Allina, grabbing her keys and heading toward the door. "Call Calisa. Tell her to cancel… everything."
"Wait," Allina called to her before she opened the door. "Don't just leave like this. Something happened. You're upset and crying. You can't drive like this." She walked over and took Sydney's purse from her hand. "Come on. I'm closing up. Keep me company?"
Sydney wiped her eyes angrily then plopped down on an empty chair. "Allina, I know you have an event this evening. You don't have to stay with me."
"I have a few hours." Allina sat down next to her and squeezed her hand. "I'm here for whatever you need, okay?"
"I need a drink." She pulled some tissue from a dispenser and blew her nose.
"I have some wine in the back," Allina offered. "We keep it for bridal parties."
"Bring it out and let me wallow."
"Syd, what happened?" her friend asked again, concern in her brown eyes. She ran her hand over Syd's back.
"He cheated on me," Syd said on a sigh. "Again. With her. Again."
Allina shook her head, disgust playing on her features. "That fucking… piece of shit."
Syd knew that her friend didn't care for Den. It'd been painfully obvious for months. Hell, it'd been years since she'd heard Allina curse, and she'd said "fucking" and "shit" in the same sentence. But Lina wasn't the type to voice her opinion about someone else's relationship. Never had been. She'd always supported Sydney's decisions even if she didn't agree with them.
"You don't have to say it, Lina. I already know you hate him."
Allina sighed heavily, but continued to focus on the end-of-the-night receipts.
The silence from her friend did nothing but heighten her anxiety, and she realized she wanted—no, needed—to hear her thoughts. Exasperated, she told her, "Fine. Say it."
"What's there to say?" Allina shrugged. "He's an ass, but you already knew that."
Ouch. Allina always did have a way of making things very plain. So plain it irked the hell out of her.
"He hurt you again," Allina continued. "I can't say I'm surprised, but I do think it's better that you found out now instead of after you married him."
Syd grabbed hold of Allina's wrist. "Please don't say anything, not even to Kent," Syd begged.
Syd had tried to play matchmaker for Allina and Den's brother Kent for years. But the stubborn duo had refused to see the potential in each other that she had. Instead of dating, they were firmly in the "we're just good friends" camp.
"I never do." Allina smiled slightly and patted her hand.
Releasing her hold, Syd stood up and pulled on her shirt. "Where the hell is that wine?"
Allina disappeared into the back of the store and emerged a few minutes later with a bottle of Red Moscato, Syd's favorite. Pouring it into a cup, she held it out to her.
Instead of taking the cup, Syd grabbed the bottle and put it to her lips.
"Allina?" Syd belched and muttered, "Excuse me."
"What am I going to do?" Syd felt like she was going to choke on her tears. It was hard to even think straight. She had no clue where to start. "How am I going to tell everyone? My dad, Red…" Gulping down more of the wine, she covered her mouth when another burp escaped. "Oh God, Red is going to kill him."
Syd knew her twin brother, Jared, or Red as they called him, wasn't Den's biggest fan. He'd always felt that Den didn't appreciate her and took her for granted. Every chance he got, he told her that Den didn't deserve her loyalty.
"Red is going to be fine, Syd. He's an attorney. He knows how to keep his cool."
"It's really my fault," she confessed. "I shouldn't have taken him back again. I knew he wasn't ready. When he proposed, I knew it wasn't right. He did it during my lunch hour, for Christ's sake. Who does that?"
The quick, unromantic proposal had been the talk for weeks within their small circle of friends. Even Den's brothers thought the approach was rather trifling and had told him so countless times. Syd, on the other hand, made excuses for Den: it was romantic to her, they hadn't been able to schedule a dinner, or it was always her dream to get proposed to in an ordinary way. That last excuse was kind of true. She did envision a proposal during a random weeknight dinner or during their favorite television show. Sitting in the drive-thru at Mickey D's? Yeah, somehow that didn't make the cut, but she was happy and couldn't wait to become Den's wife.
Allina scratched her head and peered up at the ceiling.
"Allina, I know you have something to say. You always hold back. It's the reason you never told Kent that you have feelings for him that go beyond just friends, or why you don't have your own shop. You're a kick-ass seamstress, with a good business sense. But you never speak your mind, say how you really feel about stuff."
"Maybe it's not my place," Allina said, her pale cheeks now a dark shade of crimson. "And you promised never to say anything out loud about Kent and my true feelings for him."
Syd smiled. "I'm sorry. I did promise, didn't I? Kent would be lucky to have your tall ass on his arm. You're so beautiful. Just wish you'd realize it." When Allina didn't respond, Syd finished off the bottle and set it on a table nearby. Her friend was modest as this day from hell was long, so it was no use ever paying her a compliment. "You have another one of these?" she asked after a few minutes of silence.
Allina glanced at her before heading to the back. Syd couldn't be sure, but she swore she saw it on Allina's face… pity. Her friend thought she was pitiful. Maybe she was.
When Allina returned, Syd reached out to grab the bottle. But Allina held it back. "Syd, maybe you should slow down. You still have to drive."
"I'll slow down when you tell me what you're really thinking."
Sighing heavily, Allina sat down. "Okay. I just think you deserve better. Den is okay—charming, funny, and attentive when he wants to be. I don't think any of us doubts that he loves you. But love and respect are two different things and one or the other isn't enough to sustain a relationship on its own. He's hurt you so much… Sometimes it's better to let it go than to keep trying when a relationship isn't working."
"I love him." Her words sounded hollow even to Syd's own ears. Allina hadn't told her anything that she hadn't already thought herself over the past few months.
"I know you do, sweetie. But Den has issues. You said yourself that sometimes you feel like you can't even leave him alone because you're so worried he won't take his meds, or he won't make it without you. In the meantime, it's like you're willing to accept everything he throws at you."
Den's bipolar disorder had wreaked havoc in the lives of those closest to him, especially her and his other brother, Morgan. He had a habit of not taking his meds when he was busy. A part of him always wanted to test the limits, see if he could do without the Lithium.
"You don't understand," Syd told her. "He needs me. And I owe him."
"You don't, Syd." Tears gathered in Allina's eyes and she turned away to wipe them. "I just wish you'd realize that and maybe take this as an opportunity to start fresh."
"Start where?" Syd dropped her gaze to the floor. "I've been with him so long I don't even remember life without him."
"But you've also sacrificed so much for him and the relationship. You've made excuses for his behavior, blamed everything on his disease. What if he's just being himself? Ask yourself why he cheated on you with her in the first place."
Syd had asked herself that question so many times. "I wasn't here. I moved out of the state. How could I expect him to be faithful when I wasn't sure I was coming back?" It was the blanket answer she'd repeated to herself so often she believed it.
"You moved to go to graduate school," Allina said, obviously not accepting the bland excuse. "You went to help your sick father."
"Still, we didn't make any promises when I left," she insisted, even as she realized her defense of Den was more out of habit. The fact was, Den hadn't proven himself worthy of her loyalty in a long time. Just like her brother said.
"Well, you're back now." Allina picked up a safety pin off the floor and tossed a used tissue into a small waste bin. "It's been years and it seems that you're in this perpetual state of cleaning up behind him."
There it was again. The cold, hard truth. And she couldn't deny it any longer.
"He made a promise when he proposed to you, Syd," Allina continued. "He broke it. You have to decide if you're going to keep accepting that, because you know he's not going to take responsibility for his actions. It's always someone else's fault."
Allina was right. She had given Den more than enough chances and she was tired. The relationship was beyond repair at this point. And even if it wasn't, she wasn't sure she'd want to fix it. As much as she loved him, she had to face the fact that it just wasn't going to work, and he wasn't healthy for her. The wedding was off.
* * *
Morgan tapped on the door to the small storefront, then pressed the bell. He'd rushed over when he'd received Allina's call begging him to come and pick Syd up. She'd spouted something about heartbreak, wine, and weddings, so he dropped everything and raced there. As he waited, he wondered what he'd find when the door opened.
Allina opened the door. "I'm so glad you came."
"What's going on?" he asked, ducking under the low-hanging bell and stepping into the shop. He heard the radio blasting Destiny's Child and what sounded like… singing, loud and off-key.
"I tried to take the bottle away from her, but she's in a mood," Allina told him. "I would stay but I have an event. I tried to call Red, but he's not answering. Calisa didn't pick up either. I even tried Kent. So you're it."
"Where the hell is Den?" Morgan muttered, shaking his head and running a hand over his face. He cringed when Syd hit an awkward high note. "You still haven't told me what's going on, Allina."
She sighed. "That's… not an option. I'm sorry if I interrupted your evening, but I didn't know who else to call. I'd tell you what happened, but I promised I wouldn't."
He muttered a curse under his breath. "Where is she?"
"Back there," she answered, pointing to one of the private bridal rooms in the rear of the store.
Morgan followed her toward the music. Although Allina hadn't technically spilled the beans, he'd already guessed that his brother was the reason Syd was belting out through-with-love songs at the top of her lungs. Obviously, Syd was in no condition to drive. And he wanted to throttle his older brother for undoubtedly breaking her heart. Again.
Rounding the corner, he stopped at the sight of Syd sprawled out on the couch singing Dru Hill's "In My Bed."
"Oh, shit," Morgan grumbled.
"Tell me about it," Allina mumbled under her breath. She stood over Syd and nudged her. "Hey. Morgan's here."
Syd's eyes widened. "Morgan? What is he…?" She pointed at him accusingly. "What are you doing here?"
"Syd," he said softly, approaching her. "What are you doing?"
"Singing," she said simply. "And drinking."
He bent down to Syd's level. Pushing a few stray curls out of her face, he took a good look at her, noting that her hazel eyes were bloodshot and her mocha skin had a pink flush to it. Sure signs that she was drunk. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"
"I don't know." Syd shrugged. "Can I trust you?"
He chuckled, amused by the question. "You know you can."
"I don't know." She traced his cheek with her fingers. "You're his brother. Do you know you have dimples just like him?"
He squeezed her hand and gently removed it from his face. "You can trust me."
"But you don't look like him," she said, her voice low and hoarse. "You have nice facial hair. And you're much taller and thinner. Between me and you," she whispered. "I think Den is going to get fat in a couple of years. He eats too much pizza."
"Tell me what happened," he said, trying to get her back on track.
"He cheated on me with that whore, Laney. Again," she slurred, picking at the mound of curls on the top of her head, pulled into what she often referred to as a bitchy bun. "He fucked me over. I mean, the first time I was away. I gave him that one because I lived in another state at the time. And even though she ended up pregnant… I still forgave his ass." She sobbed and dropped her empty paper cup on the floor.
Morgan remembered the drama surrounding Den's first affair with Laney. The woman had gotten pregnant and couldn't wait to tell the world. Den had refused to 'fess up even though they all told him to tell Syd before she found out from someone else, namely Laney. Eventually, Syd found out the truth when Laney followed her through the mall, taunting her with the sordid details of their ongoing relationship. Shortly after, though, Laney suffered a miscarriage.
Syd squeezed his arm, jarring him from his thoughts. "I forgave him again a week ago when he confessed that he'd slept with some random woman he met in a bar," she cried, her tears falling unchecked down her cheeks. "He said it happened months ago, before he proposed, when we were having that rough patch. But it was really last week. And then I find out it's her. He played me. And I let him. Again. She called me, ya know," she babbled on. "She wanted me to know that he fucked her in my bed. He couldn't even take her somewhere else."
"Son of…" Allina groaned. "You didn't tell me that earlier."
"I didn't want to say it out loud," Syd admitted quietly. "Allina already thinks I'm stupid for taking him back in the first place. You probably pity me, too."
"I don't, Syd," Allina said, her voice cracking. She dropped to her knees next to Morgan. "I'm here for you."
"You do," Syd told Allina. "You probably think I'm going to take him back again."
Morgan looked at Allina, who stared down at the floor. He guessed she really did believe Syd would take his cheating brother back. Probably because she always did. Sometimes it would take a few days, a few months, but she always took him back. He'd spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. In the end, he figured her reasons for making excuses for Den's behavior matched his own. He'd spent most of his life doing the same thing, years of ignoring the bad and concentrating on the good. In spite of all Den's flaws, they'd seen the man who protected those he loved with everything he had; the man who could make anyone laugh no matter the circumstance; the smart, talented businessman… a man worth saving.
Glancing back at Syd, anger coursed through him. The Den he wanted to save seemed lost to him. It had been a long time since he felt the need to make excuses for his brother, and that was partly because of Syd. Mostly it was because Morgan resented Den. He'd given up a lot for his brother, but ultimately had made the decision to pull away because he was tired of being pulled into Den's hell. This latest debacle was simply Den being Den—selfish, careless, and impulsive. And he hoped Syd was finished with him for good this time.
"Come on, babe," he said, picking Syd up and cradling her in his arms.
"Are you going to take her home?" Allina asked, her eyes filled with unshed tears. "I mean, are you taking her home with you?"
He nodded as he made his way through the store with Allina right on his heels. "I'll keep trying to reach Red," he told Allina. "In the meantime, I'll make sure she's taken care of. Thanks for calling me."
"Morgan? Her purse," Allina called. She hooked Syd's tote on his arm. "I was going to say tell Den to go screw himself, but just take care of my friend. I parked her car in the garage. It'll be good there overnight."
He nodded. "For what it's worth, I want to kick his ass, too."
Sydney's eyes popped open and she immediately closed them again. Pressing a hand against her forehead, she groaned and rolled over. Swallowing, she pushed herself upright.
Once the spinning stopped, she opened one eye and tried to focus. Scanning the room, relief washed over her when she realized she was in Morgan's guest room. On the nightstand, she spotted a glass of water and a tiny bottle of Advil.
"Take two and drink the whole glass of water."
She spun toward the door. Morgan stood there, arms crossed. He was dressed in a white tank top and dark sweatpants. His brown skin was damp and she guessed he'd just hopped out of the shower.
"How did I get here?" Syd moaned, rubbing her temples.
"Allina called me last night," he said. He walked over to the window and closed the blinds. "She couldn't lift you up and didn't want you to sleep in the store. I figured you didn't want to go home, so I brought you here."
Grabbing the water, she downed the contents after swallowing three pills. She rubbed her forehead and leaned back against the headboard. She felt the bed bow under his weight and peered at him out of the corner of her eye. Flashes of the night before replayed in her mind. Wine had seemed like a good idea at the time, but apparently she didn't know when to quit. She remembered Morgan carrying her out of the store and placing her in his truck. They'd shared small talk about weather and… onion rings? "I'm so embarrassed. And I guess I owe you a thank-you for not stopping at White Castle and getting me an order of onion rings. My stomach is in knots. I must have looked like a hot mess."
He chuckled softly, giving her a quick glimpse of his dimples peeking out of his five o'clock shadow.
Covering her face with her hands, she grumbled, "When was the last time you had to take care of my drunk ass?" He opened his mouth to speak, but she forged ahead, "Oh, I know. It was the last time I…" The first time she'd found out about Den and Laney, Morgan had nursed her broken heart and her broken toe when she kicked a wall after leaving a bar. "Den—"
"You don't have to talk about this."
"I know," she told him, meeting his concerned gaze. "And I don't want to."
"Syd, you probably should talk to him." Morgan dropped his gaze and cleared his throat. His normally strong, even voice sounded so foreign to her. Almost like he didn't believe his own words, like he was unsure. "He's been calling around looking for you."
"Are you serious?" she asked, quizzically.
"Laney could be lying. It's not like she's never done that before."
She snorted. "Yeah, right. She was telling the truth. Don't make excuses for him. Don't you get tired of doing that?"
"I could ask you the same question," he retorted.
Ouch. She kicked the heavy comforter off, and frowned at her lack of clothing. Struggling to remember how she'd ended up in one of his shirts, she asked, "Did you…?"
He shook his head. "No. I gave you a T-shirt and you put it on yourself, after you threw up all over my bathroom floor."
She gasped. "I'm so sorry. I'll clean it up."
"Don't worry about it. You're good." He picked up the empty glass and walked out of the room without another word.
She followed him and found him at the kitchen sink.
- What an emotional journey! Elle Wright's debut release, The Forbidden Man, will hit the right chord for romance readers. From the first few pages, drama unfolds and maintains a steady pace that keeps any sagging bits out of sight. The launch of this new series - Edge of Scandal - starts with a strong, compelling introduction of family and friends. Through Wright's craft, we see the characters at their best and at their worst. As a result, tension and conflict intertwine to test the boundaries and stamina of the hero and heroine, providing us with rich content to devour. So now that Wright has us hooked, we eagerly await the next installment, His All Night.—USA Today
- "Scandal never read so good! Elle Wright wraps passion, desire and taboo into a delicious read."—Cheris Hodges
--- Lutishia Lovely, National bestselling authors
- "This gripping debut is packed with drama and a love triangle that will certainly tug at the old heartstrings. Ms. Wright's entry into the world of romance is a memorable one that I'm sure readers will enjoy from the first page to the last."—J.D. Mason, Bestselling Author of the Beautiful, Dirty, Rich series
- On Sale
- Jul 28, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages