Publication date: July 19th 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
“No man ever made me so curious. Or reckless.”
Poppy lives a charmed life. From the outside she’s the wife of a wealthy senator, wearing jewels and designer clothes. Other people don’t know she lives in the dark. Her husband is a monster in a bespoke suit.
Then Ronan Byrne shows up on their marble doorstep, armed and dangerous. He sees through her calm, cultured facade to the fear underneath.
He’s determined to help her, whether she wants it or not.
“M. O’Keefe brings her A-game in this sexy, complicated romance where you’re left questioning if everything you thought was true!” – New York Times bestselling author K. Bromberg
DARK HEARTS is a boxed set that contains three full-length novels: Ruined, Broken, and Untamed by bestselling and award-winning author M. O’Keefe.
Welcome to the Midnight Dynasty… The warring Morelli and Constantine families have enough bad blood to fill an ocean, and their brand new stories will be told by your favorite dangerous romance authors.
WARNING: This book is intended for readers eighteen years old and over. It contains material that some readers could find disturbing. Enter at your own risk…
You want to know what the rich and powerful do? They go to parties like this one. And on little plates they carry food around that they don’t actually eat. In heavy crystal glasses they drink champagne and scotch. Rivers of it. They laugh and whisper and watch each other out of the corners of their eyes.
But really what they do is pretend. That’s all. They play pretend in their four-thousand-dollar tuxes and ten-thousand-dollar dresses.
They pretend to care what the person they’re talking to is actually saying. They pretend to give a shit about whatever cause to which they’re donating money. Or in the case of tonight’s party—the marriage of a 20-year-old girl to a 48-year-old man.
They pretend that it’s not gross.
My sister Zilla and I played a version of this exact same game that hot summer under the willow tree at the back of our estate. Wearing our mother’s nightgowns with thin little straps and lace that fell past our little girl knees, Zilla would hold out a leaf with a worm on it.
“It’s a delicacy where I come from,” she’d say in a ridiculous accent.
“After you,” I’d say, trying to sound like the Queen of England but getting tangled up somewhere in the deep south. And then, because she was fearless, Zilla would pick up that worm, bite it in half, and swallow it down.
“Show me,” I’d say, and she’d open her mouth to reveal nothing but her molars poking through the tender pink of her gums. And then she’d dab the corners of her mouth with the leaf, and we’d tip our heads back and fake laugh.
But the fake laughs always turned to real ones. Ones that shook our bellies and made us collapse onto the ground.
That was not going to happen at this party.
“Are you all right?” asked Mrs. . . . oh, god, what was her name? She was important, I’d been told that earlier. I’d been told not to forget that this woman in the vast sea of important women at this party, was important.
“I’m fine,” I said, but there was sweat pooling between my breasts. The sweat had nothing to do with the heat of summer in Upstate New York and everything to do with my life ending while people ate shrimp cocktail.
The harpist in the corner struck up what sounded like the exact same song she’d been playing for the last hour. It was. It was the same song. The harpist was playing a joke on all the assholes at this party.
Oh god, the thought just occurred to me—she thinks I am one of the assholes.
“As I was saying,” the important woman said. The diamonds in her ears were the size of pea gravel and could keep Zilla in Belhaven for a month. “The senator has done excellent work for the state in Washington. Everyone here fully supports his tax relief bill.”
“I’m sure he appreciates that.”
“Tell him, won’t you?” she asked, leaning in closer. “I have a nephew graduating Harvard and he’s hoping to intern with the senator next year.”
Little did Important Woman know, I had no power. Everything about me—from the dress I was wearing to the seven million thread count pillowcase I would lay my head upon tonight—was a loan I was in the process of paying back.
“Sure,” I said.
“You must be so excited,” Important Woman said. “How that man has managed to stay single is a mystery to me.”
“I think I just need to get a breath of fresh air,” I said and then rudely, really rudely, just walked away from that important woman.
I was really starting to unravel. Despite being in this house roughly a million times, I couldn’t seem to find a door leading to a room I wanted to be in.
There was like . . . a hysterical giggle in my chest. Or a scream? Maybe it was a scream. Or a sob.
Was that even possible?
I’d wished a million times since all this started that I was more like my sister. Tougher. Stronger. Angrier.
Strong was never a word anyone had applied to me.
I had to get out of the Constantine compound. Now. Three seconds ago.
The champagne glass in my hand was empty, and I handed it to a waiter, not waiting to answer his polite question about having more of the expensive bubbly. If I opened my mouth too wide I was afraid, well, not afraid as much as I was sure, absolutely sure that I would ruin not just this night. But everything—the whole spider web keeping my sister and me safe would be torn apart. So I kept my mouth shut as I pushed past Tinsley Constantine.
“Are you all right, Poppy?” Tinsley asked. We weren’t close, me and Tinsley. The Constantine children breathed rarified air, and when I was around them, I felt all the arrows of my circumstances. We’d been raised as cousins of a sort, but we all knew that was a lie. Now, since leaving college, I was staying in their pool house. And they never intentionally made me feel bad, but I could tell they didn’t like how much their mother cared about me.
And they really didn’t love me staying in the pool house.
“I’m fine,” I said with what I hoped was a smile. I could see across the room Winston and Perry, Caroline’s sons, tracking this conversation. And more eyes were not what I needed. “I just need some air.”
They were one hundred percent pitying me and barely hiding it.
I was one hundred percent freaking out and barely hiding it.
The front doors were still open, people walking in and out, and the big veranda would be just as crowded as this ballroom, so I followed a server out the door and through a wood-panelled study full of men in tuxedos.
I didn’t look at their faces. In this world, this place, they all looked the same. White, slightly saggy, watery-eyes behind glasses that assessed my worth as I went running past.
In my desperation, I got turned around inside the sprawling mansion and found myself in the small sitting room being used as a bar for the catering staff. The same room where Caroline had changed my life forever—god, was that . . . Christmas? How had my life changed so dramatically in a few months?
“You have to listen to me,” Caroline said, sitting next to me on the little settee facing the icy window. The white twinkle lights reflected in her eyes. “This is serious. And this is hard. But you’re not a little girl anymore.”
“I know,” I said. I’d turned 20 in the spring. And now that Dad was dead, I was Zilla’s legal guardian. Frankly, I hadn’t been a little girl since Mom died. I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt like a little girl.
“Your father . . .” Caroline took a deep breath. “There’s no money, Poppy.”
“For what?” I asked.
“There’s no money for you. For school. For Zilla. You need to sell the house to pay off what he owed.”
“Okay,” I felt the ground shifting under my feet. “The life insurance—”
“He cashed it out a year ago.”
“My college fund?”
“Gone. The money from your mother’s estate. All gone. There’s nothing, Poppy.”
“How will I pay for Zilla—”
“You’re going to need to drop out of school, and we need to figure something out.”
“You all right, miss?” a server asked while trying to get by me with a tray of empty glasses from the kitchen.
“Bad place to stop,” a guy said, lifting his tray of full glasses over my head as he went by.
“I just need . . . fresh air.”
The server nodded once, her no-nonsense ponytail swishing over her dark vest. “Follow me,” she said.
Maybe I could get a job as a server with this catering company. She probably made good money. I didn’t have any experience serving appetizers on trays, and probably way too much experience eating them. But I could learn. Probably.
We were through the kitchen and down another hall, and finally she pushed open a door to a small brick patio with a few chairs around what looked like a fire pit. I could see the swimming pool beyond. The pool house where I’d been staying since Christmas like some very unwanted guest. The gazebo. Tennis courts. The manicured lawns slipped down over the hills to the shadowed tree line. Fresh air abounded. The sounds of the party were muffled.
I could almost pretend I was far away from it all.
“You should be okay out here,” the server said in her neat vest and bow tie. I loved bow ties. Honestly, I was made to be a catering server.
“Thank you so much!” I said, showing way too much enthusiasm for the kindness she’d shown me, but there’d been a real lack of kindness—big or small, in my life in the last year so I always got a little messy around it.
“It’s just where the servers smoke, nothing to get excited about,” she said with lots of side eye.
The server vanished through the open doorway, and I walked out into the grass, past the edge of the light thrown from the lantern fixture over the door. In the distance was the thick tree line that separated the Constantine land from my parent’s old house. When Zilla found out what Dad had done, she burned the house down. That’s when we knew the medication wasn’t enough. That’s when Belhaven happened. When everything changed. What was left of the house after the fire and the willow tree had been bulldozed, the pond filled, the land sold to the Constantine’s.
I could run around to the front of the house and get a key from the valet. Any key. Any car. And I could drive away.
Except, you idiot, you don’t know how to drive.
I could run. Just . . . run. Even as I thought it, I was slipping out of my shoes. The grass cold and damp and real beneath my feet. That was how bad I wanted to escape—my body was committed to action before I’d fully finished the thought. God. I wanted to RUN.
Run and do what? Go where? What about Zilla?
The thoughts were chains erupting out of the grass and wrapping around my feet.
Hands in fists, tears in my eyes, I opened my mouth ready to scream. Ready to let all the poison out, no matter who heard me. Let all of them hear me—Important Woman with the earrings, the Constantine children, the server who in another life might be my best friend—I’d go back in there in a minute and smile and thank them. Show them the stupid rock on my finger and blush and laugh, but now, let them stand in those rooms and know they were robbing me. Killing me. Let them—
“Jesus Christ, you okay?” a thick Irish accent asked from the darkness in the corner of the patio, and instead of screaming I kind of squeaked.
Which, honestly, was about right.
M. O’Keefe is the darker, more dangerous pen name of bestselling author Molly O’Keefe. She is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Everything I Left Unsaid series and the upcoming Stolen Hearts. To find out more visit http://www.molly-okeefe.com