Series: The Bang Shift #4
Author: Mandy Harbin
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Cover Design: Najla Qamber
Release Date: June 23, 2020
Cover Design: Najla Qamber
Release Date: June 23, 2020
No one likes being played…
FBI agent Shelby Landry knows what it means to be a team player. She reluctantly investigated the Bang Shift out of duty, but the government now needs her in a way that doesn’t involve torque wrenches or transmissions. The fed’s mark? Mason Showalter, a newly promoted executive who is the key to unlocking this case. The FBI knows this businessman’s dark side extends beyond the boardroom into the bedroom, and it’s his sexual appetite that’ll be used to their advantage…at Shelby’s expense.
Mason Showalter is the type to always chase the thrill, no matter the cost. He’s a new senior vice president of capital management and part owner of an exclusive club, yet he still isn’t satisfied. When he meets Shelby, he’s immediately drawn to her, curious if the beautiful woman will present the real challenge he craves. He’ll play with her and put her to the test, but he isn’t prepared when she rocks his world in more ways than one.
What starts out as an assignment becomes a shocking path of self-discovery rooted in unbridled passion and deceit so deep that no one is prepared when secrets come out.
It’s easy to forget who’s playing by the rules, and who’s being played.
Mason stood inside his plush new office and grabbed his tablet off his custom walnut desk. The leather of his executive chair still had that new luxurious smell, one he would never tire of. When he’d been promoted to senior vice president of capital management a couple of weeks ago, he knew all his hard work over the years had finally paid off. Being in his mid-thirties, Mason was the youngest VP at the company, but he was also the only one who didn’t have a wife and children at home who demanded some of his time. He’d climbed each rung of the corporate ladder with eighty-hour workweeks, new clients, and the appropriate amount of ass-kissing—though he loathed to look at it that way. He knew when to stand strong and when to schmooze. It was the nature of the business. He didn’t make the rules, but he knew how to play by them.
Especially when they got him something he wanted.
He deserved to be where he was at today. He’d earned his position the blood-sweat-and-tears way, unlike his boss, who could only claim blood as his method. Not because he’d spilled any of his own. William Baxter was one of the founding members’ great-nephew. He’d coasted into his position simply because of what coursed through his veins. The man was senior executive director of private clients and managed the funds of some of the wealthiest people in the world—a position Mason would do anything to get.
He would probably never become the CEO of Fieldstein and Baxter since he hadn’t been born into the family like William, but Mason was content with his track to one day take over his new boss’s position. Even if that meant he’d have to ruin the man’s career in the process. It wasn’t personal. Mason would never indulge in something as weak as emotion in his career. It was business, plain and simple.
He took the elevator up to the floor where the executive staff primarily worked since he was scheduled to meet with his new direct boss in five minutes for a conference call with some brokers. He knew how to play the game—come too early and William would think he wasn’t busy enough, but come too late and William would be insulted by Mason wasting his precious time. It was a tune he’d danced to way too many times, and he never missed a step.
He was a shark when it came to business and knew the game so well he could go through the motions of his job, saying all the right things without even really having to think much about it. But that also afforded him the opportunity to be someplace else mentally…whether it was intentional or not.
As he walked into William’s office, took the seat offered, and began to listen in on the call, his mind strayed to the place it had often sought since meeting the beautiful Shelby. On the outside, he listened to the execution of securities transactions, but in his mind, he was undressing Shelby, touching every inch of her body, kissing every exposed part of her, and bringing her to orgasm over and over while the voices of his colleagues droned on in the background. He’d envisioned paddling her bottom until it was rosy and hot to the touch, hearing her cry out as the confusion of pain as pleasure set in, and picturing her reaching subspace as euphoria took over her body and mind.
“That’s an interesting point, Carl, but not why we’re meeting. Mason will look into the hedge fund issue,” William said toward the speakerphone.
“Sure thing,” Mason replied easily. This wasn’t the first time he’d mentally played out the scenes he’d planned for Shelby, but that didn’t mean he liked her controlling his thoughts. He’d fantasized to the point of obsession, and that bothered him. He was a master at domination, yet could easily detach himself emotionally when it came to harmless play. For some reason, this one woman had perplexed him. He didn’t know her, had never met her before that night, but he was already attached to her on a primal level. He’d found himself dreaming about her at night, moaning her name when he took himself in hand in the mornings, and getting lost in the pools of emeralds that graced her lovely face whenever he blinked longer than a second.
And he hadn’t even seen her naked, had only held her and very briefly kissed her. That was all. And apparently, that was all it had taken to hook him.
He’d told himself it was just because he’d been bored lately and she was a new distraction, but even that felt false. He couldn’t explain his reaction to her, but one thing was becoming painfully clear—he needed to get a handle on this sudden fascination. He didn’t like it when he wasn’t in control of anything, and that included his own emotions. He preferred things tightly tethered in all matters of his life, and when he thought of that woman, he felt frayed at the ends.
No, he didn’t like that at all.
She’d come to him for guidance, and his sense of duty had swelled. With any sub he’d have had a hard time rejecting such a request, but with Shelby, he could not have turned her away even if he tried. It was that connection he did not understand but couldn’t deny.
As a Dom, he’d easily put her needs before his. There was no doubt about that. However, as the man he was, he needed a dose of self-preservation. Hell, he’d wanted her to wait to be sure she was ready to submit, but instead, he was giving himself the time he apparently needed to control whatever connection he’d felt toward her. He could not let normal male weaknesses deter him.
As a powerful businessman, however, he really didn’t need the distraction of Shelby right now. His plan for William had already been put into play, things already in motion, and he couldn’t stop the momentum even if he wanted, which he didn’t. He’d worked too fucking hard on his plan. It wasn’t a good time to get involved with a woman on any emotional level. He glanced over at William and watched as the man continued with the meeting. Yes, bad fucking timing.
Something was going to have to change.
He clenched his jaw. He’d made an agreement with Shelby, so he couldn’t back out. It wasn’t that he was a man of his word. It was his role within the community that solidified his resolve to help once he’d agreed to. Only now, he’d have to switch gears. He would still guide her on her discovery as he’d promised, but there really was only one option for him now.
And he couldn’t fucking stand the idea that had formed. It did not sit will with him. At. All. But he saw no other choice.
Mason would be in control, but he was going to have to let another Dom experience what he’d been dreaming about for almost a week. It wasn’t something he and Shelby had talked about specifically, but he couldn’t see this working out any other way. If she wanted him as her Dom, even temporarily, she’d do as he instructed. This would be her first lesson—and a test for himself he hadn’t expected. He’d never let another Dom top his sub before he got the privilege of doing so himself. He would have to watch as another man showed her the pleasure of the lifestyle.
That thought sickened him, which only strengthened his resolve. He could not, would not, allow himself to become attached to Shelby any more than he’d already become. This sudden bond wasn’t healthy, and he was too powerful of a man to fall victim to it. Shelby was just another woman who wanted to experience submission. Period.
He was taking control of this situation, so it would not get out of hand. As soon as the meeting was over, he’d call Rafe before he had a chance to change his mind, not that he would. He knew what he had to do, and he was going to do it.
There really was no other option.
* * *
“We have new information from a source within Fieldstein and Baxter,” Rick announced in the impromptu meeting scheduled late Friday afternoon.
Shelby was too nervous to focus on facts that were peripheral to the night’s upcoming events. She’d entered Mason’s phone number into her cell a hundred different times since she’d met him with the intention of canceling their plans. No way could she do that. She’d be in serious trouble if she did anything to jeopardize this assignment. She was a nervous wreck who knew the score. She had to find a way to remain focused on her task and work her mark for information…somehow. One step at a time. If she concentrated on the immediate responsibility of the night, then maybe she’d be able to get through it. This was, after all, her mission.
And her job was important, even if she was picked for this assignment because of her looks. She had to be successful, so next time she’d be chosen because of her track record, not her bra size. Shelby had a lot to prove if she wanted to come out from under the protective shadow of her mentor, Darrell, and make a name for herself.
“Who’s the source?” Darrell asked as he folded his arms and stared at their boss. “I hope the SEC isn’t running around shouting to all the employees of F and B that they’re looking for info. Kinda makes our job to help not necessary, don’t cha think?”
Carson chuckled. “Yeah, not to mention flashing neon signs for the executives. If they get wind of this investigation, they’d lock themselves up tighter than a hooker with a poor man.”
“You’re such a sleaze,” Viola said.
“Tighter than Fort Knox. Is that better?” he asked with a wink.
“Too little too late.” Viola rolled her eyes at Carson. The man never missed an opportunity to flirt. “Anyway, his name is Carl O’Brian. He called his contact with the SEC to discuss some discrepancies he’d found within a hedge fund. He couldn’t get the returns paid out to calculate based on the figures they were reporting. Since F and B is flagged in the computer, the contact reported this to our liaison, Jerome Parker, who then spent the last couple of days running the numbers. He couldn’t make heads or tails on just how F and B reached the reported amounts either. Jerome called with the info a couple of hours ago.”
“Viola then told me, which is why I called this meeting.” Rick looked at Shelby, and she forced her knee to stop bouncing erratically under the table. “According to O’Brian, Mason has been assigned to work on the fund.”
Shelby swallowed. “So Mason just went from someone who might know something to someone who does know something.” Her heart pounded at this turn of events. She’d have to be extra careful. If it had been confirmed he was in on the crime, then being alone with him would make her extremely vulnerable. Under normal circumstances, she’d have major backup, but they already knew she couldn’t wear a wire, and it wasn’t open to the public tonight, which meant there would be no eyes inside the place besides hers.
“I think that’s still iffy,” Rick said, dragging Shelby out of her thoughts. “We only know he has a link to a fund that could be fraudulent. He might not even realize he knows anything yet.”
It seemed too convenient to Shelby, though. She got the vibe he was very methodical, as if nothing got past him.
“What’s the fund?” Carson asked as he clasped his hands on top of the table.
“It’s the Culpeper Hedge Fund, named for founding member Edward Baxter’s mother-in-law, Margaret Culpeper.”
“That’s one of the firm’s elite funds. Mrs. Culpeper spent the last years of her life giving all kinds of money to charities. Society loved her, and F and B has been offering that fund in her honor for decades,” Darrell said. “Always giving a percent of profits to her favorite charities.”
“Correct. So the damage could go way back. When O’Brian made contact with Mason, our new mark was vague enough not to answer any questions outright while managing to sound as if O’Brian’s concerns were overstated. According to O’Brian, Mason wasn’t even fazed by the conflicts he’d found.”
“He must be in on it,” Carson said, sitting up. “He’s trying to sweep the con under the rug.”
Shelby agreed, but she kept her mouth shut. She knew that look in their boss’s eyes. He wasn’t going to make any assumptions. He would want concrete proof one way or the other before making an assessment. Normally, she’d concur with going that route, but normally, her ass wasn’t the one on the line. An ass that might end up naked tonight.
“It’s still too early to jump to that conclusion, Carson,” Rick said, just as Shelby had predicted. Then he turned toward her. “But you’re right. Before, Mason was just a possible way to get information since he was recently promoted, but now he’s a link to busting this case wide open. We need to know what he knows. If he’s innocent, we need to secure his help quickly. If he’s guilty, we need to gather as much evidence on him and F and B as we can just as fast. There’s going to be a lag time between the info you get and when we can analyze it. You’ll have to make judgment calls as you learn things from him. Be smart about it.”
As if there wasn’t enough pressure already.
Shelby couldn’t afford to be nervous about this anymore. She needed to pull up her big-girl panties and do her job. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t used to being in a testosterone-ridden room. She’d heard dirty jokes going up at her dad’s car shop before she even understood them. She worked in a male-heavy career. Hell, her last assignment was working at the Bang Shift garage with mercenaries who had no clue why she’d really been put there. She could do this. She had to. This case meant F and B had swindled people out of hundreds of millions of dollars, but until now, she hadn’t fully grasped how important it was for her to get Mason to talk. Shelby looked at her watch and stood. She was wasting precious time.
“I’ll text Viola when I leave the club and report back on Monday. Right now, I have a date to get ready for.”
She had every eye in the room on her. Some displayed hope while others sympathy, except for Darrell. He looked pissed, and if she didn’t know the man was seriously dedicated to his career, she was pretty sure he would toss her over his shoulder and make a run for it to keep her from having to go through with this.
But none of that mattered. It was time for her to do the job she’d been selected for and see just what she could get out of Mason.
And hope Mason wouldn’t take too much of her in return.
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Mandy Harbin is a USA Today Bestselling author who loves creating stories that explore the complexities of everyday relationships…with some kissing thrown in. She is a Superstar Award recipient, Reader’s Crown and Passionate Plume finalist, and has achieved Night Owl Reviews Top Pick distinction many times. She also writes young adult romance as M.W. Muse because teens like kissing, too.
After graduating college and working many years in technology, she threw caution to the wind and began studying writing at the UALR. Years of trashed manuscripts and rejections eventually led to contracts and representation. With over thirty books published, she now serves on the board of her local writing chapter.
Mandy lives in a small, Arkansas town with her husband and their bossy dog, enjoying her own happily ever after…with some kissing thrown in.