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Thorns of Malice (Paperback)

Thorns of Malice (Paperback)

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Synopsis

From International bestselling author Maggie Cole comes the mind-blowing conclusion of the Wilted Kingdom dark romance duet.

For ten years she’s been under my skin and out of my grasp.

The last time I saw her, I decimated her and everything she valued.

Not a day passes that I don’t crave one more dose of her.

And Ivy Ford’s everything I remember.

Beautiful. Graceful. Seemingly innocent.

I wish that were the case.

There’s only one reason she’s reinserted herself into my life.

Revenge.

It’s nothing new in my world except for one thing.

Ivy learned from the best.

Me.

It’s clear there’s no longer anything naive about her.

She’s an uncontrollable stalk of poison spreading all over me.

Thorns of Malice-Chapter One

Ivy Ford

Ten Years Later

Jaxon Savoia presses me closer against the dirty, white, peeling wall, his hot breath against my ear, ordering, "Come now, Ivy." He thrusts harder, over and over, until adrenaline finally releases throughout me.

It's a teaser, giving me only a moment of relief. The high I'm desperate to experience—the one that should have faded into a mere memory by now but is stronger than ever—stays buried deep.

"That's my girl," he grits, pumping everything he has into me until he's spent.

His ragged breathing is fiercer than mine. He stays planted, his chest filling with air against my spine until it's almost back to normal. "We have to stop doing this," he reminds me, spinning me to face him and stepping back to pull up his pants.

"Spoken to the choir," I mumble, grabbing wet wipes from my purse and cleaning myself up. I tug the hem of my dress down over my hips.

He secures his belt and reaches into his sports coat. He takes a swig of whiskey from a flask and then hands it to me.

I take a sip, barely grimacing as the hot liquid warms my throat.

"You wore that dress on purpose today, didn't you?" he accuses, his eyes narrowing in a bizarre ironic state of disapproval and approval.

My insides quiver, my pussy throbbing once again in need. Jaxon's expression briefly reminds me of the only man I ever loved.

I'd do anything to forget Dax Carrington, yet nothing will let me. And every time I see that look in Jaxon's eyes, no matter how quickly it comes and goes, Dax's face lights up all the memories I crave to relive and hate to remember, torturing me further.

Jaxon steps closer, tilting my face toward the ceiling, demanding, "Admit it. You planned on derailing me again."

"Did you expect any different?" I question.

His lips twist, and it's probably another reason I allowed myself to get into this situation with him. There's something sadistic about his mouth, reminding me again of Dax.

I have to stop thinking about him.

He destroyed me.

Jaxon's phone buzzes, and he releases me. He pulls it out of his pocket, taps the screen, and motions for me to go first.

"You're such a party killer," I whine.

He grunts. "Last week, you were the one who insisted we attend the meeting."

I begrudgingly open the door, carefully step out into the alley, and get slapped with a gust of wind. I hustle around the building and up the steps of the church, brushing past the smokers and hating myself even more.

"Ivy," Ben greets me, giving me his welcoming smile.

"Hi, Ben," I say, then sit on the cold metal chair.

Several of the smokers come inside, and Jaxon follows. He plops in a chair across from me, avoiding my gaze, and makes small talk with the woman beside him.

"Welcome to Sex Addicts Anonymous. It's good to see all of you. It looks like we don't have anyone new today, so let's get started," Ben states, then sips his coffee and sits inside the small circle. As if he knows what I've been up to, he directs, "Ivy, why don't you start today."

Guilt fills me like it does at every meeting. Most of the time, I wonder why I allow Jaxon to force me to attend. I've never abstained for more than four days, and I confess my last encounter in every meeting. No matter how I attempt to do better, I can't. And over time, my addiction has only gotten worse.

Jaxon nods in encouragement, and I want to slap him. We met in this room years ago, the first day I attempted to rid myself of my impulsive behavior. We sat side by side. I quickly learned he was the CEO of Blooming Gardens, a national wholesale floral corporation, and it led to a long conversation about botany. By the end of the month, we had not only formed a friendship, but he offered me a job and a scholarship to finish my schooling.

It felt too good to be true, like when my father told me the Carringtons would put me through Clifton University. So I resisted at first, but Jaxon finally won.

My father was barely making ends meet, and we needed extra income. It was my fault he lost his high-paying job with the Carringtons. What Jaxon offered for my monthly wage was more than Dad made in six months, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help out.

It's another thing that torments me. My father's never gotten a decent job since Dax fired him. He won't even apply for one. It's as if his spirit was broken the day Dax demanded we leave the estate.

The only thing I could do to help my father was accept Jaxon's job and be grateful. I knew it didn't change anything. It's my fault Dad was in the position he was in. Yet it gave me a small amount of relief to contribute to the household.

Over the years, Jaxon's been a great mentor, boss, and friend. But our weaknesses run deep.

Maybe it's because we know the other's demons, but it didn't take long until we were feeding each other's addictions. No matter how much we try to stop, we can't.

At first, I thought he needed it more than I did. He constantly tempted me until I caved, which didn't take a lot of persuasion.

Lately, I can't stop pulling him down the rabbit hole with me. Every move I make centers around getting my next fix. And the fact I keep coming back to this church tosses my hypocrisy in my face once a week.

I wouldn't have come today if it weren't for Jaxon's one rule. I have to show up to every meeting or I lose my job. It's his nonnegotiable.

The one time I didn't take his threat seriously and skipped, he suspended me for a week with a final warning. Then he sat me down, and we had a long discussion about the importance of beating our addictions.

After I signed a form promising to attend future meetings, I batted my eyes how Avery Carrington used to, seduced Jaxon, and he pinned me down on his desk and fucked me hard. When we finished, we once again said it was the last time and went off to our meeting.

"Ivy," Ben repeats.

Anxiety floods me as it always does, mixing with my shame. I'm a twenty-eight-year-old woman who can't let go of the past. I pay for it daily, as does my father, who never forgets. He may not speak about what happened, but anytime he looks at me, it's always with pity. He tries to hide it, but I see it.

Jaxon nods at me again.

I swallow hard, then admit, "I'm Ivy, and I'm a sex addict. It's been..." I glance at my watch and cringe internally, continuing, "...six, maybe seven minutes since I've indulged in my addiction."

"Hi, Ivy," the room offers in unison, with no judgment.

Ben asks, "How did it make you feel?"

I bite my lip, fidgeting with my fingers, trying to think of something more creative than my typical answer, especially with Jaxon, who's been so good to me, sitting across from me.

I can't think of anything but the blinding truth. So I take a deep breath, lock eyes with Jaxon, and admit, "Empty. Disappointed."

He gives me the same look he always does. It's full of compassion and understanding, which somehow makes me feel worse today.

"What else?" Ben asks.

Without thinking, I keep my gaze on Jaxon and blurt out, "Unable to attain the high I crave but ready to try again."

His eyes turn to fire. He licks his lips, his chest slowly rising higher, and his fingers dig into his knees.

"Ivy, look at me," Ben orders.

I wait a calculated moment, knowing what it does to Jaxon, pretending I'm Avery and hating myself for it. She's another person I want to forget but can't. The fact that I replicate so much of what she does makes zero sense. Yet I can't help myself.

Jaxon shifts in his seat, and I finally turn toward Ben. He questions, "Do you believe you'll find what you desperately want if you indulge in your addiction?"

I shake my head, knowing I won't. It doesn't matter who I fuck, where, or how. There's no recreating what I felt with Dax. Or that night...

I squeeze my eyes shut as a flashback torments me. Bobby's pushing my head into Lilly's pussy while Dax's and Bobby's cocks thrust in and out of me in tandem, my body violently convulsing with pleasure. Then Dax is pushing everyone off me, caging his warm, hard body over me and creating another hit of adrenaline so intense I blackout for a brief moment.

"Ivy, come back to us," Ben firmly orders, tearing me out of my flashback.

I blink hard and swipe at my cheek, realizing I'm crying. I sniffle. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Everything you're feeling is okay," he reassures.

But it's not. It never will be, and I know it.

I stay silent for several moments, and Ben finally says, "Carrie, why don't you go next."

I barely hear her or any of the others. When the meeting ends, I rush out of the building with Jaxon on my heels.

"Ivy," he calls out, grabbing my arm at the bottom of the steps.

"Not now," I warn, not looking at him.

"Ivy—"

"I said not now," I shriek, spinning to face him, full of another emotion I never escape—raging anger.

He slowly lifts his hands in the air. "I'm here if you need me."

I say nothing, hightail it down the street, and jump on the bus before it pulls away. I find a seat toward the back and get lost in my self-loathing.

It's dark by the time the bus driver stops in my neighborhood. I keep alert, rushing past anyone I encounter, relieved when I enter my front door. I lock it and call over the TV, "Dad, I'm home."

He doesn't reply, which is unusual.

The hairs on my neck rise, and I call out again, turning the corner into the family room.

A choking sound fills the air. Dad's in his armchair, holding his chest.

I rush over to him, fretting, "Dad!"

Sweat covers his purple cheeks. His widened blue eyes glisten.

"Dad!" I cry out, grabbing his cold hand.

His eyes roll, and foam spills past his lips.

My insides quiver. "Dad!" I pull my phone out of my purse and try to turn it on, but my gut dives when I realize the battery's dead.

"No, no, no!" I sob, glancing at the table and patting Dad's empty pockets.

The purple deepens, more foam falls, and I tug him into me, weeping.

He freezes, his eyes wide open.

"Dad," I shriek, my hands on his cheeks. "Dad! Breathe!"

He doesn't take in any more oxygen. The warmth leaves his body, and his face goes slack.

I tug him into me, sobbing until I have no more tears. Feeling numb, it takes a few moments for the sound of loud music to register.

I slowly turn, and then paralysis hits me.

The TV shows Avery Carrington, sitting with her legs crossed and perfectly manicured hands in her lap, beaming at talk show host Winter Sophia.

"Welcome back. If you're just joining us, we've been discussing the newest scent developed by Avery Carrington. Tell us more about how you created Seducing Ivy," Winters asks, holding up a bottle of perfume in the shape of the letter I. It has whore-red garnets and diamonds encrusted on it. A vine of gold ivy leaves wraps around the pendant with more garnets etching the vine.

Whore red.

My stomach churns. It's the same design as the necklace she gave me the night of my demise. The color of the I matches the nail polish and lipstick Dax used to insist I wear.

Avery chirps, "Well—"

"I think it's best if I explain, don't you, dear sister?" a voice calls out, and my insides tremble harder.

The camera turns, and an older, sexier, more filled-out Dax Carrington appears. He leans down, kisses a surprised Winter on the cheek, then does the same to his sister and sits on the sofa beside her.

Avery quickly gets over her surprise, and her smile reappears. "Dax."

"Well, isn't this a treat! If you don't already know, this is Dax Carrington, CEO of Carrington Enterprises and Avery's oldest brother," Winter gushes.

Dax grins, and my world continues to fall apart. That grin has haunted me for ten years, never fading from my memory. He states, "I wanted to support my sister's latest venture. I hope it's okay to join you."

"Of course!" Winter exclaims.

Avery's expression never changes, and I can feel her seething underneath, but it's something the rest of the world wouldn't pick up on.

Dax nods. "Great. I think you asked how we created Seducing Ivy?"

"She meant how Avery Carrington Scents created it," Avery corrects.

Dax nods at her and grins wider. "That's right." He repositions his gaze on Winter, stating, "As a subsidiary of Carrington Enterprises, we allowed Avery Carrington Scents to incorporate in their latest perfume our newest, and soon-to-be highly-sought-after, hybrid flower."

Winter arches her eyebrows. "Love your confidence for your new flower."

Dax grins confidently. "Yes, well, I don't ever make statements I can't back up."

"Fair enough. So tell me, what's so important about this new flower?" Winter questions.

Dax continues, "A lot, Winter."

"Like?"

"The—" Avery starts to answer.

"For starters, the new hybrid creates a vibrant red blooming flower. The scent is incredible and the blooms stay alive 80% longer once they're unattached from the plant. I anticipate it'll cut the demand for roses in half before the end of the year," Dax interjects, speaking over her.

Winter gapes.

"What my brother means—" Avery tries say but is once again interrupted by Dax.

"I mean, every floral shop in the world will want the new hybrid," he declares.

"So you have a new million-dollar product," Winter gushes.

Dax chuckles. "Try over a billion dollars."

Winter's shocked expression appears again, but she recovers faster this time, stating, "Sounds like we should show our viewers what this newest craze-to-be looks like!"

The sound of applause floats from the TV.

A pop-up screen shows ivy crawling up a wall with gorgeous red flowers dancing around it.

"How did you create this new hybrid?" Winters asks.

"I—" Dax starts.

"He's always had a knack for knowing how to take the winners to the patent table, haven't you, Dax?" Avery interjects.

Something passes over Dax's expression, but it fades almost as soon as it appears. He nods, claiming, "It's why my grandfather chose me to run Carrington Enterprises. He knew I'd continue to grow it."

Hatred fills Avery's expression, but she quickly recovers, and her sugar-laced voice adds, "And my grandfather saw how my enterprising ideas would take the assets Carrington Enterprises have and expand them into billions of dollars' worth of profits."

Winter beams. "Such brains between you two."

Avery leans closer to the camera and lowers her voice, as if she's letting me in on a secret, keeping my trance fixated on her, claiming, "Seducing Ivy is the most important project we've ever worked on, isn't it, Dax?" She slowly glances at him.

A look of disgust briefly flashes on his face and then it morphs into agreement. He pulls me in just as Avery did, answering, "If I'm telling the truth, Ivy's the only thing that's ever mattered to me."

My insides crumble. A new wave of heartache, rage, and grief hits. I grab the rose paperweight on the table and hurl it at the TV.

Glass shards land several feet in front of me. I wrap my arms around my father's cooling corpse, wailing.

I don't know how much time passes before I calm down. I take my phone to my bedroom, put it on my charger, and look around the house for my father's cell so I can call 9-1-1, unsure what I'm supposed to do with his body.

I can't find it anywhere. I grab my charger and phone, return to the living room, and plug it into the outlet. I set my cell on the table and sit beside Dad, still in shock.

Several moments pass. I turn to see if I can make a call, then I freeze.

Dad's worn, tattered, leather-bound notebook sits next to my phone. He's used it for as long as I can remember to write down all his ideas. I pick it up, stroking the leather, tearing up again.

I wipe my face, open it, and cry harder at seeing his handwriting. After a few moments pass, I calm down. I review each page, remembering how excited he'd get when he thought he was on to something new.

Halfway through the notebook, I turn the page and discover a white, folded piece of paper. I open it, muttering, "What is this, Dad?"

It's a printed page from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. As I read it, four words cause bile to creep up my throat.

Seducing Ivy.

Patent granted to Daxton Everett Carrington V.

My pulse skyrockets.

Why is this in my father's notebook?

In a new state of shock, I read the paper again, then stare at Dad's notes, focusing on several words.

Red blooming ivy.

$10,000 patent attorney.

My eyes dart between the printout and my father's handwriting of a date from fifteen years ago, until the truth becomes clear.

How did Dax get Dad's notebook?

This is my fault.

Dad knew what he did.

I stare at the broken TV, an onslaught of new guilt soaking my entire being until I'm drowning in grief and self-hatred.

There are no tears this time. A snowball of something new rolls at lightning speed, growing bigger until I can't see straight.

It's the need for revenge.

I put my head on Dad's chest, squeezing his freezing hands, muttering over and over, "I'm sorry. I'll make him pay. I'll make all of them pay."

How?

There's no room to be weak or feel sorry for yourself, Ivy.

I straighten up, squeeze Dad's hand, and pick up my phone. I take several deep breaths and dial 9-1-1.

A woman answers. "911. What's your emergency?"

My voice cracks. New tears fall. I state, "My father's dead."

"Where's my money, Dax?" Avery seethes, glaring daggers at me.

"Your money? Don't you mean Carrington Enterprises', money?" I taunt.

Her eyes light with more fire. She demands, "Give it back!"

I try to hold in my glee, but I can't. I grin. "There are seven figures in your account."

"You know I can't run my company off a million dollars. The operating costs alone—"

"I don't care, Avery. Put your own money in if you've mismanaged the funds," I interject.

"You know I haven't mismanaged the funds. You stole my money," she accuses.

I chuckle. "It's not your money. Or did you forget that you wanted your company to be part of the family business?"

"That wasn't your money to take," Avery snarls.

"It's the company's money."

"It's money to be paid back into my trust fund, and you know it!"

I cross my arms and sit back in my chair. "I'm the CEO of Carrington Enterprises. You signed a contract for your company to become a subsidiary. You begged me to allow it. I did. Now you want to dictate where the funds will go? Sorry, but the money isn't yours to take. It's the corporation's."

"You bastard! If you don't give me my money—"

"What are you going to do about it, Avery? Cry?" I mock.

More anger fills her expression. She lowers her voice, asserting, "Transfer my money back."

I scoff. "Once again, it's not your money. Now, get the fuck out of my office before I have you thrown out."

She stays planted, her rage only growing stronger.

"I mean it, Avery. Get out, or you'll be sorry," I warn.

Find out what happens next in Thorns of Malice

Read Thorns of Malice if you love:

  • Revenge
  • Second Chances
  • Dark Romance
  • Billionaire Romance

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