Book 3 in the Filthy Rich Billionaires Series
Down & Dirty
She’s her own woman…until he takes control!
Rory Morton has thrown away her wealthy parents’ expectations to make her own way in the world as a cleaner—she has no time for societal rules or arrogant rich folk. So when she meets her new billionaire boss, Conrad Vanderburg, nobody is more surprised than her by the irresistible chemistry between them.
Rory is a challenging employee at the best of times — but as soon as she and Conrad give in to the intense attraction between them, she becomes tantalizingly submissive and desperate to please. Try as she might, Rory can’t keep her hands off him, and soon she doesn’t want to.
It doesn’t take long for Rory to realize her wild desire for Conrad is more than just physical. His raw hunger for her makes her yield to him completely, yet their electrifying encounters leave her feeling empowered by her own surrender. But can Rory trust him with her heart as well as her body?
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Rory Morton knew perfectly well she wasn’t supposed to be in this room of the extraordinarily posh Parisian private home she was meant to be cleaning. The many bedrooms, studies, and other public areas were to be dusted and carefully made even more beautiful than they already were. The kitchen was to sparkle, the bathrooms were to be left immaculate, and all the glass, chrome, and marble was to shine. The office—visible behind glass and neat as a pin—was not to be disturbed. The garage was not to be entered. The grounds on this parcel of land in the Golden Triangle, located in Paris’s upscale 8th Arrondissement, were tended to by a different service and should be left alone—unless, of course, Rory noted some cause for concern.
And the locked door on the second floor was to be read as a KEEP OUT sign and obeyed.
It had all been clearly laid out in the pages upon pages of instructions she’d received from the fussy assistant of whoever owned this surprisingly large property set down in the middle of the city that she’d been hired to clean.
Rory had come to Paris because it was Paris, which should have been reason enough. She liked to say it just like that and stare at whoever asked as if there could be no other possible answer.
But another layer to that truth was that she’d become deeply bored with her life, all of which had been lived in and around Nashville. She’d grown up in Nashville. She’d gone to college in Nashville. She loved Nashville—but Rory wanted to see more of the world than Tennessee.
When her two best friends moved to opposite coasts, Natalie to Los Angeles and Blair to New York, it was possible Rory had felt the need to throw down a power move in the shape of Paris. And yes, she now spent most of her life taking clever pictures to plaster all over her social media accounts to indicate, whenever possible, how much more amazing her life was on the Continent. #expatlife
Once in Paris, she’d started a cleaning service because it was the most un-chic thing she could think of to do in the chicest city on earth, and therefore made her seem more authentic. It was a bonus that it also deeply horrified her parents—especially her mother, who liked to point out that she had come all the way to the States from the Philippines so her children could exceed expectations. Not clean up after other people.
Her long-suffering father preferred to drink his horror in the form of Tennessee whiskey, which he liked to say his people had been making in one form or another since they’d found their way to the Tennessee hills from Scotland or Ireland or both in the 1800s. But when he wasn’t drowning his sorrows, he was still Marty Morton, and his contacts through his decades of producing music provided Rory with a roster of wealthy clients who were only too happy to hire her to clean their Parisian second, or third, or fourth homes.
Rory liked to pretend that she was doing this because it was art. Everything is art if it’s done by an artist, she’d captioned one of her last posts, of her in profile near a priceless painting in a client’s flat, on her hands and knees with a sponge to scrub the floor.
She liked to be provocative. She could admit that. And so far it had gotten her hundreds of thousands of followers, so she figured she was doing something right.
And if Rory found she enjoyed the actual act of cleaning more than she’d expected—that it became almost meditative and reminded her in some ways of dancing—she wisely kept that to herself. It was one thing to do important work as a kind of digital performance artist. It would have been something else entirely to actually be nothing but a house cleaner.
Not that Rory was concerned about her art at the moment. Darlin, you can’t tell me cleaning a toilet is anything but cleaning a got-damn toilet, her father had said the one time she’d loftily used that word to describe her work in his hearing. And she didn’t bother rolling her eyes at her father from across the ocean because what she was concerned with was the very private room in this place that had been locked up tighter than a drum for three months now.
Frankly, she thought she deserved a medal for her restraint and respect of her client’s privacy. And for not trying to jimmy the lock. Not even once.
Of course, the reality was that every other time she’d come here the door to the room had been sealed up so tight it didn’t budge. Meaning that Rory didn’t so much practice any kind of restraint as she’d repeatedly tried the dramatic, medieval door handle—every time she cleaned here—and always, always found it locked.
Maybe no medals, then.
But today, at last, the secret room was open.
Rory had finished up her normal rounds, leaving everything sparkling and bright and lifted, because that was what actually made her happy. Then she’d taken a few artsy photos and posted them, because that was her brand. With all identifying details concealed, naturally, because her clients certainly didn’t want the masses showing up at their homes. Then, on her way out, she’d gone ahead and tried the extraordinarily over-the-top door, fitted as it was in a stone arch, complete with iron studs and scrollwork bands across the sturdy oak planks.
When everything else in this home was sleek and modern, as if to play off the old church’s gothic architecture.
She expected it to be as immovable as it always was, but instead, when she tugged on the iron handle, it opened.
A thrill shot through her, a wild tingling thing that was hot and cold at once—
“It’s just a door,” she muttered at herself, trying to tamp down all that absurd sensation.
It didn’t work.
She pulled her mobile out of her back pocket and hooked her spray bottle—filled with the noninvasive, nonchemical, nonharmful green cleaner she preferred, because she wasn’t a Boomer, hell-bent on destroying the world on her way out, thank you very much—on the waistband of her jeans. Then she took a few snaps of herself trying the handle of the secret door she’d posted about before, making faces upon finding it open and then pushing the door in as she went inside.
The first thing she noticed were the stained glass windows. She assumed this must have been the nave of the church, where the altar would have been, and the glass seemed warm and remote at once as the summer afternoon light streamed in. She ran her fingers over the wall beside the door, trying to blink her eyes into focus, and found what seemed like a particularly involved panel of light switches. Dimmers and another line of switches and who even knew what.
She flicked on the light switches, blinked, and then paused. Because she’d expected…a wine cellar, or something. A recording studio, like her father’s back home that he liked to treat like it was the Pentagon.
It was a large room with warm hardwood floors. There were area rugs that looked soft and inviting. The ceilings were high and airy, with whitewashed walls wherever the stained glass windows weren’t, and loads of exposed beams and brick.
It was nicer than her current flat in the Latin Quarter, if she was honest.
But it was also outfitted with a great many things she’d never seen in person before. There was a bed with four very high and sturdy-looking posters, all fitted with bolts and things that clearly indicated it was used for bondage. There was a chair nearby that looked like a throne but…wasn’t. There was a huge X-shaped cross against one brick wall. On either side of where she stood, stretching down the walls, were…tools. Of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. Whips and actual chains. Obvious sex toys she could identify and a great many she’d never seen before in her life.
Her heart thudded at her. Her pulse felt too hot and weighted, somehow, in her veins.
The rest of the room featured a giant mirror on the wall across from the X that she imagined could also take in the bed. There were a variety of different benches, many with interesting-looking additions, or better still, subtractions, that made her head spin. There was what looked like a padded massage table, if she ignored that the space beneath it was an actual cage. There was a hammock sort of thing slung from one of the beams, what looked like a hanging pull-up bar, and incongruously, high above, one of the biggest and most beautiful chandeliers she’d ever seen.
And for some reason, the sight of all these things made her breath go shallow.
If Rory wasn’t mistaken—and how could she be in the face of all this clear evidence?—this was a literal den of iniquity. A red room of pain, as such places were sometimes known. Though this room was not red.
On the contrary, it didn’t scream out sexual deviant at all. If she squinted and pretended she couldn’t recognize the fetish equipment all over the place—all of which she and her high school friends had tittered over when they’d stolen their mother’s Fifty Shades books—it could have been an upscale, hipster coffeehouse.
And she told herself it was surprise and astonishment that was making her heart beat double time in her chest. While an unfamiliar sensation seemed to sink down into her belly, then deep between her legs. It was…warm.
Very, very warm.
Rory didn’t know what that was, since she’d concluded at some point in college that she was incapable of feeling such things. So intensely, anyway. In that area.
She rubbed a bit absently at her chest, where her heart was going mad. And sure, this place was a converted church, when she had always been a secular person—except here, now, she could have sworn she could hear a choir singing hosannas in the distance.
Maybe it had something to do with the way the light came into the stained glass, sending beams of color this way and that, like an invitation.
Rory drifted farther into the room, skirting the fascinating furniture as she went. All of which, she was happy to note on a purely professional level, looked even cleaner than the house. She stopped at the foot of the huge bed, swallowed hard at all the metalwork she could see in the four posters—not to mention the bolts in the floor—and decided to take a few pictures of the windows. The stained glass glory of it all.
It took her a few moments to figure out how to take a reasonable breath, and to start thinking of something clever she could post as a caption to hint at what this room was without actually giving anything away. She told herself it was because she didn’t want to risk getting in trouble with the mysterious owner, but deep down, there was a part of her that wanted to keep this private anyway.
And not because she was afraid of getting in trouble, but because there was something about that warmth and the way she felt like she might be glowing like the stained glass up above. Or that the choir she almost heard was singing inside her.
Breathing too hard still, she turned, wanting to see the rest of the room—
And Rory forgot about the room.
Because there was a man standing in the doorway.
“What, exactly, do you think you’re doing?” he asked in crisp French.
His voice was precise and something like polite, though it was also so chilly it made her flinch. Especially when she noticed that chill was matched by the frigid navy blue gaze leveled on her.
She could feel the thrust of it, everywhere.
She knew, even though she’d never met him before, that this was the mysterious owner of this place. The man who was too busy to ever interact with his cleaning service, which was fair enough. But he was also so unknowable that even after three months of cleaning his bedroom and bathroom, she knew absolutely nothing about him. Not even his name.
Not even what side of the bed he slept on.
She wanted to launch into a passionate defense of herself and how she happened to be here in this room, clearly breaking all the rules. Rory considered herself pretty fluent in excuses, after the past few years of what her father liked to call unfortunate aimlessness.
But when she opened her mouth, nothing came out.
It was him.
He was tall and built like none of the men Rory tended to date. He was not willowy and slim, with tousled hair. He did not look at if he could wear a smaller size of trousers than she could. He looked like he was intimately acquainted with his own body and decidedly physical. There were lean muscles everywhere, and it was obvious that if he were to strip naked, he would look like the sort of glorious male sculpture that belonged in one of the museums here.
He looked as strict as he did beautiful. It was those eyes of his, so decidedly dark blue and cold, like the Atlantic in winter. And his mouth, set in a hard, firm line. His dark blond hair was close-cropped and only made him seem that much more masculine. That much more. There was obvious power and authority in him that he wore as easily as he did the dark trousers he had on and that leather jacket that whispered of near incalculable amounts of money, particularly because it did marvelous things for his wide shoulders.
Or maybe that was just his shoulders.
If asked, Rory could have given a dissertation on the kind of man she liked. A boyish-faced, agreeable poet sort. Wispy, nonthreatening men who wanted to sing her songs and tell her about their dreams.
That was not this man. At all.
He looked as if he might have been fashioned out of a hatchet or sword, all planes and angles, all solid. Not only deeply, inarguably male, but very much as if he might at a moment’s notice turn himself into a weapon.
Or already was one.
Rory had no idea why looking at him made her knees feel weak.
“Do I need to call the police?” he asked in the same cut-steel voice.
Rory told herself that his voice was getting to her because he was speaking French. That was all. It was flawless French, though she could hear the hint of an accent, and she always had to play catchup when people were speaking French. Even though she’d imagined herself fluent after all her years of studying the language in high school and college.
“I understand French,” she told him. Maybe a little hopefully. “But I’m much better in English.”
“Forgive me,” the man said with exaggerated patience. He still stood there, taking up the entirety of the arched stone doorway and all of the oxygen in the room, and he didn’t look as if he was all that interested in forgiveness. “I cannot think of a single reason why an American should be in my home at all. Much less in this room.”
He said all of that in English. So that she could be certain to hear the derision in his voice when he said American, Rory assumed. But that made this interaction feel something like normal, so she beamed at him.
“I’m happy to clear that up,” she said brightly. “I’m your cleaning service.”
“You do not look like a service. You look like a single person. And one who is not where she ought to be.”
Everything about his voice and that cool, assessing way he looked at her made her heart kick around inside her chest. It made that warm thing expand, hot and unwieldy and barbed, almost.
As if he was electric. And inside her, somehow.
“I’ve been cleaning this property for months,” she told him, as if that should make him feel better about her invasion of his privacy.
“Have you indeed.”
It didn’t sound like a question, but she took it as one anyway. “I have. I hope you’ve noticed the care I’ve taken with your things. That’s part of what we promise at CleanWorks.”
“And were my instructions unclear in all this time?”
There was something about the way he continued to stand there that should have scared her, she thought. He was so still. So focused.
But instead, the warmth in her turned into a blast of heat. And it made her pussy ache.
“There were six pages of instructions for this property,” she said, trying not to stammer as unfamiliar sensations flowed through her. Her breasts felt heavy. She could feel her nipples harden. She thought she might even be sweating. “Single-spaced. To be honest, I skimmed them.”
An expression moved over his face that she thought might have been laughter, if he’d been someone else. On him it looked like a storm.
“You skimmed. And you feel comfortable telling me this as you stand here in the middle of the room I expressly forbade you to enter.”
“The door was open.” She shrugged casually, as if she felt in any way relaxed or at her ease while her lungs stopped working and her whole body was…freaking out. “I thought maybe that meant you wanted it cleaned this time.”
“No,” he said. With quiet conviction. “You did not think that.”
His words seemed to fill the room. Or maybe it was the way he looked at her, those dark blue eyes so intent that she nearly collapsed to the floor and started blurting out confessions. Anything to make him stop looking at her like that.
But he didn’t stop. And to her astonishment, she felt herself flush. She felt her cheeks get hot, and somewhere in her belly, she felt a little curl of shame.
Which was even more unusual than the heat everywhere else.
She opened her mouth to protest, but he stopped her. He did something with his head, barely shaking it at all. He just looked as if he might shake his head, and whatever she’d been about to say died unsaid.
“I will ask you not lie to me,” he said.
In that same quiet voice that was all steel. Steel that didn’t have to flash or carry on—it was just steel.
And it was bizarre, then, how she suddenly wanted to impress him with the force of her honesty.
“Maybe…” Again, that almost shake of his head, and she pulled in a shaky breath. And dropped the maybe. “I wanted to see what was in this room.”
“Don’t guess. Tell me.”
It occurred to Rory to wonder why she was still standing there, trying to impress a man who looked as if nothing could ever impress him. Or worse, as if she was desperate to keep talking to him when she didn’t even know his name.
When he obviously—and rightly, something in her piped up, straight from that flush of shame inside her—thought the worst of her.
“I guess I’m the curious type.”
“You guess? Or you are?”
She had no idea why she felt chastened. Or why she, who could talk to anyone about anything and usually did, stood there. Silenced.
“Not only curious,” he continued. “You thought you should document your findings. What do you plan to do with those pictures you took?”
Rory had completely forgotten that her mobile was in her hand. She stared down at it, as if it was a scarlet A branded on her palm. “I… I don’t know.”
Her cheeks felt even hotter than before. “I take a lot of pictures. And okay, I post some of them online. All of my friends are back in the States, and I like to make it clear that I made good choices in coming to Paris. Plus, you know, I have followers.”
“Followers,” he repeated, as if the word felt foreign and unpleasant on his tongue. “Are you a student?”
“Um, no. I graduated from college almost four years ago.”
“A tourist, then. Cleaning houses for fun as you travel? Or perhaps to raise money for the next leg?”
“It’s actually my company,” she said, and she felt as if she was back on even ground again. Or more even ground, anyway. “CleanWorks is more than just a housecleaning service. I like to call it an artisan experience that results in housecleaning.”
“Does this experience normally include an invasion of your clients’ privacy, or is that a bonus?”
He didn’t move when he said that, and still, she felt it like a shock to her system. A literal electric shock. As if he’d leaped across the space and done something with his hands—
Though she almost staggered back a step when she realized that no small part of her wished he had. What was happening to her?
“I really did think the door was left open because you wanted this room as part of your clean this time,” she said loftily, because it was better to double down on something that he couldn’t prove was untrue. “My bad. I’ll just pack up—”
“No,” he said in the same mildly reproving way, all steel and disappointment, shaming her all over again, “you did not think that. And I believe I’ve already told you that I dislike lies.”
She took a breath and realized she couldn’t remember if she’d done that in a while. And once she did, she could again feel the wild racket her heart was making.
Meanwhile, that ache in her pussy was bordering on astonishing. She felt…slippery.
And something like needy.
“Do you know what I use this room for?” he asked.
“Unless it’s an art installation, I imagine you use it for sex,” Rory replied, matter-of-factly.
She had always taken particular pleasure in being provocative. In talking about sex as if she’d done it all a thousand times over, for example, to people who expected her to stammer or blush. She liked to give them a direct stare, a faintly superior sort of smile, and a frankness they never saw coming.
But none of that worked here. With him.
He only gazed back at her, one dark brow raised higher than the other, and she felt herself…quiver.
“Yes,” he said in that voice of his, with that accent she couldn’t quite place. “Sex. But not just any kind of sex, obviously. I like tools. And props. And all kinds of games. It’s a very particular kind of sex that I don’t care if you understand or not. But I prefer, all the same, to do the deciding about who I share that with.”
“I get it,” Rory said, nodding maybe a little too vigorously. As if that would make all the dark, wicked images his words had stirred up dissipate. It didn’t work, but she kept going. “I grew up on Fifty Shades, so…”
The man did not sigh. He did not roll his eyes. Yet somehow he gave the impression of doing both.
Without moving an inch or lifting that navy blue, winter sea gaze of his from her.
“There are normally consequences for lying to me in this room,” he told her. Very calmly. “Consequences I have no doubt you would not wish to pay, for all your posturing.”
“I’m not posturing—”
“What you are is fired.” This time his voice was all steel, and though he didn’t change his volume, it wasn’t quiet. “But before you leave here, never to return, I would like you to give me your mobile.”
Rory blinked. She would do nothing of the kind.
But before she knew she meant to move—or even breathe—she found herself crossing back to the door, her hand outstretched toward him, so caught up in that stare of his she thought she might have leaped off a cliff—
She only caught herself at the last moment, rocking to a halt and frowning at him in a flush of confusion.
But he reached over and tugged her phone from her grip, managing to do it without touching her at all.
Something that shouldn’t have made her feel so…raw.
“You really can’t go around taking people’s phones,” she protested. “Right out of their hands.”
He tapped a few buttons, deleting the photos she’d taken, and then raised that cool gaze to hers again. “It is such an invasion of privacy, isn’t it? I understand.”
And she felt that rawness inside her turn into something else, too quickly, as if he’d flayed her open with such a mild reproach.
The shame inside her seemed to swallow her whole. It was hot and awful, and she couldn’t seem to feel anything but the press of it.
And the way he looked at her, as if he knew.
“I’m sorry,” she heard herself say, as if from a very great distance.
In a voice that didn’t sound like hers at all.
The man handed her phone back to her in a peremptory way that nearly had her thanking him. And then he studied her, something about that slow, intense perusal making her fight to keep from shivering.
She wanted to back away from him, but she didn’t.
“I think that’s the most honest thing you’ve said to me so far,” he said. And she had the strangest notion that he approved.
A kind of glow lit her up, washing through all the places she’d felt shame, like a changing of the tide.
She didn’t know what the hell that was.
“Look, Mr.—” but she stopped. Because she realized she had no idea what his name was.
His eyebrows rose even higher, and for a dizzying sort of moment she was sure he looked as amused as he did astonished. “Vanderburg. Conrad Vanderburg.”
And it wouldn’t occur to her until much later that he paused after he said that, clearly anticipating that she would recognize his name. She didn’t.
She plowed on. “Okay, Conrad. I think this is a terrible misunderstanding. I should never have come in here and I’ve apologized for that. I probably shouldn’t have taken pictures, either, but really, I was just…doing what I do. I didn’t think about it.”
“Do you make a habit of thoughtlessness?” Conrad asked in that same low, steel-infused way. It shouldn’t have bothered her. It shouldn’t have registered with her at all.
But there was something about the way he asked those calm little questions that made her think her entire body might shake itself apart.
Right here and now, with her spray bottle hanging off her jeans, her hair in the work braids she preferred, and all this shame she couldn’t seem to jettison.
And shame wasn’t what was coursing through her, making everything ache.
“I don’t think you should fire me,” she threw at him, desperately. Or maybe she imagined she needed to challenge him? You want to challenge him, something in her whispered. You want to see what he’ll do. “I feel like that’s a pretty over-the-top response, all things considered.”
He studied her. It wasn’t as simple as holding her gaze. He saw too much, too deep.
And for the first time since Rory had looked up and seen him standing there, it dawned on her—really dawned on her—that she hadn’t thought any of this through. For one thing, she didn’t know anything about this man. Except that he was nothing like any man she knew. That was obvious at a glance. He was too…intense.
Too controlled, in a way that sent alarms ringing through her whole body, straight down into her toes.
Dangerous, that same something in her whispered.
Even though, in the very next moment, she felt the strangest certainty that, dangerous though he clearly was, she was perfectly safe.
It felt like whiplash.
And then Conrad made it worse.
End of excerpt
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