“If y’all were going to fuck me like that, you could’ve at least pulled my hair.”
The words fire sharply from my lips as I stand outside under the canopy of a sweltering Georgia night while camera lights flash like fireworks. I’m not certain that anyone heard me. Voices battle for dominance over the merciless beat of rap music as security usher VIP guests inside the centuries-old Greek Revival plantation manor. The Herst Plantation, once a place of slavery and domination, was boarded up and deserted before Granddaddy Bishop purchased the estate and converted it into the home of the Devil’s Music record label. He founded the company in an age when rock ’n’ roll was seen as wicked and black artists feared as dangerous in these parts. For every racist asshole friend he lost, Granddaddy seemed to sign a surefire hit singer. His clients were on the country’s most elite DJs’ lists, and their music blared from jukeboxes and car radios across America. He died rich, and Daddy, who got even richer with a roster of Madonna wannabes and pop sensations but was stubborn as a stupid mule and on the brink of fucking up the jewel Granddaddy left him, died a millionaire.
A millionaire with respectability. Dignity.
The music industry was in transition when Daddy passed away, but he would’ve had to either adapt to keep our company viable or kill the Bishop legacy. Not that I want to think ill of the dead, but even he’d be pleased that the company outlived him, that I had the balls he lacked, and I reinvented Devil’s Music as a chart-dominating hip-hop label worth billions.
You’re welcome, Daddy.
I’ve never spoken those words before. Daddy never thanked me for anything.
The funny detail is that while the estate’s changed hands, its composition hasn’t changed all that much. It still carries the stench of oppression—but Daddy sometimes got so caught up in his ideals that he didn’t see what was plain in front of him.
God bless his naive, tyrannical soul.
The people I shouted to aren’t so far away, and it’s Emma Toledo who registers my voice first. She’s gold and diamonds, from the gilded strands of her blond curls to the expensive glitter of the stones sewn into her tight white dress. You can expect nothing less from a Toledo. Old money, old traditions, old treachery.
When we were kids, playing with Barbies and sharing homework and scouring the swamp for frogs, it didn’t matter that she’s a Toledo and I’m a Bishop—that her family was born into money and mine had to work for ours. She was Emma . . . my best friend.
A bodyguard assists her up the grand staircase to the eight-columned portico, but she leans to the right to whisper something in her husband’s ear. Joshua Drake’s reaction is predictable. He places a hand on the small of Emma’s back and glances over his shoulder through the high rollers and paparazzi to me.
Dressed in a well-cut suit, with a wedding band around his finger, Joshua appears untouchable. But the ink on his skin peeks out beneath his chronograph watch, and I’m reminded of who he really is. Strip him of his clothes, kick his wallet aside, and you’ll see a savage.
For a moment the threat in his gray eyes gives me pause, but I’m strong enough to resist even blinking.
Take away my clothes, and if you care to look closely enough you’ll see three identical knife wounds carved into my back. One from Emma. One from Joshua. And the other from— I swing my gaze to the dark-haired woman pressed to Joshua’s other side. Chelsea Coin.
By now she knows I’m here, but she deliberately ignores my presence. After my brother fucked her and gave her walking papers, I stayed in her corner. I made her COO of my family’s record label. Now she won’t give me the respect of acknowledgment. I’m surprised, a touch offended, and it startles me that seeing Chelsea for the first time since she gutted me renders any effect. I considered her a friend—family, even— and she pissed on my trust. I watch her ascend the stairs with Emma and Joshua. Some intangible part of me starts to hurt. Not my soul. I sold that long ago, for the very thing my friends took from me: the Devil’s Music. I traded my soul for a company, bartered my body for corporate favors and industry alliances, and they voted me out.
They claimed my legacy.
I move toward the manor with the flow of the crowd.
They say turn the other cheek, let go of the past, forgiveness is a virtue. To hell with that. To hell with them—forgiving won’t undo what happened. It won’t erase scars or replace what was stolen from me. It won’t change why I’m here.
“Delilah Bishop, top brass says you’re not on the guest list.” A security specialist slices through the crush, eclipsing my view of the raunchy elegance through the open doors. The place must be infested with rivals, media personnel, promoters, and talent. Devil’s Music puts on one fucking incredible party when there are appearances to keep and lies to tell. The company’s just been hit with an intellectual property lawsuit. Soon
it’ll hemorrhage clients and sponsors—die a slow, embarrassing death.
I can save this entity. But I can’t do it from the outside.
I want to walk through the doors and touch the walls to see if the building’s nothing more than a shell now, same as I am. But I can’t seem to make progress with the security bastard matching my every maneuver.
“Move the fuck out of my way. Please, sir.” A bit of southern manners never hurt anybody.
“I said you’re not on the guest list, Ms. Bishop.”
“I’m not here as a guest. I’m here for business. I’ve got a private invitation.” The “invitation” part is a goddamn lie, but the rest is true. He puts his hands on me, tightening his clutch until I gasp in pain. His barrel chest is
eye level to me and I have to tilt my face up to get a look at his face. The asshole is smirking.
He doesn’t know I’m carrying. Or maybe he does and he’s getting off on the challenge that presents. He draws me further away. I could fight, but there’s so much effort involved and the thought of losing even one of the diamonds adorning my stilettos lacks appeal.
“I don’t believe in favors,” I say carefully, my tone calm though he’s gripping me too tightly. “I believe in tit for tat. What I want is to walk inside this house without being hassled.”
“How’s that going to happen?”
“You’re going to escort me in.”
“Get the fuck out of here,” he says, chuckling, and already we’re so far from the manor that I think that perhaps this won’t be as simple as I originally suspected. Uncertainty presents itself as microscopic beads of sweat along my temples and cleavage.
Damn Atlanta and its cruel heat.
My picture is missing from the foyer. Last year when my friends axed me with a majority-vote force-out and Atlanta PD pigs escorted my attorneys and me from the premises after I attempted to set the boardroom ablaze with an eighteen-karat gold lighter, I paused in this foyer and stared a moment at my gilt-framed image. There were four, and from left to right I was second.
A trio of supersize images stare upon the guests flooding the foyer. Emma, Joshua, Chelsea—three sexy, unsmiling music execs at the top of their game. As though I never held a place on the wall, between Emma and Joshua.
I make up my mind to wedge between them again . . . somehow. But I can’t linger over the symbolism of my photo’s absence from the grand stone-façade front wall. I have limited time to conduct business. Luckily that guard was taken care of quickly—a little bit of drugs, a lot of cash, and he escorted me in. Just like I said. Easy.
The Devil’s Music’s Atlanta base is more of a home than the mansion where my brother and I grew up. I still live there—when I’m not tearing through any given city on a self-destructive bender—kept company by a host of staff who detest me yet depend upon the generous salary I provide them.
I remember the recording wing fondly. When I was a little girl, I’d slip into the studio and watch artists in the booth. When I was older, I began putting my ear to closed doors and peeping through windows. Once upon a time I thought Daddy was rich and famous by magic. Eventually I learned it wasn’t magic—it was force. Coercion. Threats. Violence.
I confronted him once. I took an open hand across the mouth and a pint glass of bourbon to the head, and he told me to never question the necessary means of survival.
Good and bad walk together. You can’t be good if you don’t deal with the bad. You can’t beat the devil if you don’t play his game. I remember this lesson every day. It wakes me up in the morning and whispers me to
sleep. My feet have decided their own path, and suddenly I realize I’m headed up the spiral grand staircase toward the parlor where Daddy hit me for speaking out of turn—but I stop, shake my head, and revise my route.
Servers in black attire offer appetizers and drinks, and I take two martinis. I drink both before I hit the bottom of the stairs and set the glasses on the floor, then keep moving to absorb information that might be of use at a more appropriate time. This is a party and not a corporate meeting, but in this world the deals that matter are made when hard substances are coursing through your blood.
I take a random glass from a tray and drain it before I register it’s whiskey. Pushing through a cluster of people grinding to a chart-shattering club hit—Marquis Redd’s “Lick It Wet”—I feel the pulse of fury. It’s as hot as the flame that snapped from the lighter I tried to use to set a sheaf of papers alight in the boardroom. Redd was Devil’s Music’s first hip-hop client—the artist I acquired behind Daddy’s back just before his passing. I conspired with my friends, screwed Daddy over, to get Redd on our roster. I used lies to convince my brother to co-write the debut album. I’m featured on Redd’s top-grossing track—my glory barely more than sex moans in the background and my whistle register accessorizing the hook.
There are so many rooms, corridors, and hidden nooks. The person I seek could be anywhere on this twelve-acre estate . . .
Or sneaking off to board a private jet with his wife.
I wouldn’t put it past Joshua and Emma to leave Chelsea to defend herself against spies such as myself. All three betrayed me. Who’s to say they won’t turn against one another?
Counting on their disloyalty and how it might benefit me, I continue to glide from one room to the next. The main floor turns up nothing more than curious gossip; cataloging it, I take the elevator to the top-floor executive suites. Approaching the frosted French doors that open to reception and then lead to the CEO, CFO, and COO offices, I swallow past the constriction of emotion that takes me by surprise.
Nostalgia’s my weakness. Mentally flying to happier moments is a defense mechanism. So when I grip the door handles, I see myself as I was five years ago, mourning my daddy’s death and brother’s desertion, yet excited that this company was mine. Mine to share with my closest friends, who shared my vision and would help me introduce Devil’s Music to unrealized heights.
We made it happen, celebrated our BET and Grammy Award success with champagne and angel dust . . . but eventually we all changed. Or they changed and I stayed the same woman I’ve always been.
Delilah Bishop, Jude “Cutthroat” Bishop’s daughter in every way.
It confuses me that I’m Cutthroat’s daughter yet I’m the one exiled from this place.
I’m rattled now, just a bit, and open my bag to make sure my revolver is still with me. In times of confusion, the delicate piece offers clarity.
I touch it, slide it from its hiding place, just to be certain it’s real, because now I feel weightless and it’s either because of the three drinks I tossed back or because I’m nervous.
“Give me the gun, Delilah. Or I can slap it out of your goddamn hand.”
My heart squeezes in panic and I fumble the revolver. It’s snatched from me before I can regain control, focus, or even reestablish a normal pulse rate.
Pointing the gun, directing me to open the double doors, Joshua looks pissed off enough to do some real damage with it.
He and the others stole my company, what matters most to me—so of course he’s capable of finishing me with a well-aimed shot.
I’m unsteady, but cover it with false confidence. There’s sway in my walk, determination in my steps, as I march across the parquet floor past reception straight to the CEO’s office.
Follow this STEAMY excerpt as it continues:
Fans of Empire will love Lisa Marie Perry’s stylish, addictive novels of passion, drama, and seduction. The high-powered men and women behind Devil’s Music have made their fortunes building the hottest label in hip hop, but it’s the action behind the scenes that’s seriously steamy.
For Dante Bishop, music died the night he found his father’s body next to a syringe of lithium. Ditching Atlanta, Dante jumped on his Harley and left the family business to his sister. She became the heart and soul of Devil’s Music—until the board, including Dante’s ex, masterminded a takeover. Years later, Dante’s doing something he never thought he’d do: returning to Georgia to put his songwriting skills to good use. Reuniting with Chelsea Coin only sweetens the deal.
As the perfectionist COO of Devil’s Music, Chelsea doesn’t dwell on the past. If she did, she’d never forgive herself for betraying the Bishops in a corporate power grab. Now Chelsea needs help to save the company, and Dante’s a nonnegotiable part of the arrangement. Still brooding and hot as hell, Dante wastes no time stirring up unfinished business—and carnal memories Chelsea would rather keep buried. She’s come too far to risk everything on a man. But for desire this intense, she might just enjoy the sexiest mistake of her life.
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Release February 21st
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