Alexis Duran is in the spotlight today with her new Order of the Black Knights book, Matthias. Meet Matthias Krall. He’s a spiritual guru and consummate con artist, a sexy bad boy.
From Louisiana swamp rat to revivalist huckster to skilled con artist, Matthias Krall clawed his way out of poverty using his natural gifts of grift and manipulation to become the leader of an exclusive retreat center. Exploiting the guise of spiritual guru, Matthias seduces the rich and powerful into turning over their lives and fortunes to his control. But wealth and a small cadre of loyal followers can’t protect Matthias from the betrayal he knows is imminent. Everyone wants what Matthias has, except for one man who wants to destroy it. Dylan Connelly is a reporter who’s determined to prove the charismatic recluse is not only a fraud but a murderer.
Irresistibly drawn to Dylan despite the warnings in his gut, Matthias lures Dylan to his island retreat, determined to destroy his enemy once and for all.
Order of the Black Knights
Every century has seen its knights, but they are not always seen. Some of them do what must be done—getting their hands dirty when no one else is willing. Assassins and antiheroes who work from the shadows, they are called the Black Knights. From the time of the society’s creation in the 1100s, these men are cursed to repeat their lives of bloodshed. But for each knight, there is one who can bring out the man that waits inside and break the cycle. The question is whether or not the knight will kill his true love before he figures it out.
“DISAPPOINTING,” MATTHIAS said, and clicked off the video feed to his computer that allowed him to observe his guests as they gathered in the lounge for cocktails. So far he’d heard nothing of interest out of the mouths of the movie star, her capitalist husband, the representative eyeing the Senate, or any of the other dozen elites his team had vetted and flown in for his perusal.
Of course his guests didn’t see it that way. They thought they were interviewing Matthias Krall, touring the facility, and judging whether or not they wanted to become members of the exclusive Rising Star Retreat Center. What they didn’t know was everyone Matthias approved of signed up before leaving, and no one who failed to capture his interest was allowed to linger for longer than the ridiculously expensive one-week stay they’d come for.
Archie Hogue, Matthias’s business partner since the beginning, polished off a shot of bourbon and set the glass on the black marble bar in the corner of Matthias’s private living room. “Portella is pretty sharp. She’s dumbing it down for Hollywood.”
“I hope so.”
Matthias fastened the last pearl button on his gray silk shirt and smoothed down his collar. This might be San Juan Island, but none of his guests would ever catch Matthias looking less than immaculate.
After meeting Matthias and spending an hour with a man of impeccable taste, most of them would appear the next day in much sharper attire. It was a subtle but important acknowledgment of his superiority. One of many to come. The process started with something as trivial as style and ended with how they viewed God.
“You’re in a mood,” Arch said. He looked in the mirror above the bar and imitated Matthias’s movements, checking his buttons and adjusting the cuffs of his jacket. Arch was what one might call ruggedly handsome, with dark brown hair he kept short and a scruff of two-day beard on his square jaw. He had the unfortunate tendency to wear too much cologne but otherwise presented well. Tailoring sleek lines to the bulky body of an ex-offensive lineman was no easy task, but with no expense spared, Arch managed to look sophisticated in a casual navy jacket, slacks, and white shirt, even while the expensive fabric strained subtly against his bulging pecs.
Matthias wore a Versace shirt and black slacks that fit him perfectly. Both men had captured the essence of what Matthias called no-nonsense casual. His guests would feel oddly underdressed but not put out by a display of unexpected formality.
Normally Matthias enjoyed the ritual of meeting the marks and feeling them out. He always hoped someone interesting might appear on his horizon. Since the ousting of his last favorite, the volatile rocker Jason Vaughn, his bed had been woefully empty.
“I noticed a disappointing lack of hot young things in tonight’s crowd.”
“Tonight is all about the money. If you wanted a fresh fuck, you should have told me.”
Matthias glowered at Arch, who smiled back at him. No one else at Rising Star would dream of speaking to Matthias so freely, or calling him on his bullshit. This made Arch invaluable to Matthias’s sanity. If not for his childhood friend, Matthias might start falling for his own con.
“Since when do I not want a fresh fuck?” he asked, keeping his tone serious.
“I don’t know. Ever since you gave bad boy the boot you’ve been pulling the gloomy monk routine.”
“I had hopes for that boy,” Matthias sighed.
“We all did. Too bad he turned out to be such a liability.” Arch had fucked Jace too. Matthias was rarely possessive of his recruits, not after the induction period anyway. Some of them resented this lack of exclusiveness, but none were willing to make an issue of it and risk their membership in Rising Star. Not until Jason Vaughn, who thought he deserved all of Matthias’s attention. Just when Matthias was getting bored, Jace had decided he was in love. Damned inconvenient.
“Tell me he’s settled down into quiet obscurity.” A tiny, annoying twinge of guilt pricked at Matthias when he thought of Jason’s wrecked career. Sometimes Matthias’s ego stroking and message of divine privilege took hold too effectively. Jason had come to believe the world—and Matthias—should bow down before his artistic genius.
“Julian is keeping him placated.”
Matthias’s mood continued to darken. “With his experimental drug concoctions?”
“Jace still has too much money to be sensible.”
“He was a better artist when he was hungry.”
“That can be arranged. He sunk everything into a new project. If it tanks, he’ll disappear off everyone’s radar.” Arch leaned against the bar and eyed the bottle of bourbon but didn’t reach for it. He discussed ruining lives as casually as he discussed the Seahawks chances at a playoff berth. Had it always been this way? They were richer than they’d ever dreamed of, but instead of security, more money seemed to breed more threats and harsher responses.
Matthias didn’t know why he was worrying about Jace. They’d had a good time together, but then Jace’s emotions had spiraled into irrational behavior and rebellion. He represented one of Matthias’s very few failures. A mark he couldn’t control. That Julian was now controlling Jace with drugs set Matthias’s teeth on edge.
“Leave him be. Maybe a little success will help him move on.”
Arch frowned, obviously disagreeing, but he nodded. His walkie-talkie chirped, and he removed it from his belt as he moved to the door, leaving behind a trail of manly pine scent, intent on some minutia about making the newcomers content and compliant.
Matthias watched Arch’s back, suspicion nagging at him. The castle he and Arch had built only had room for one king. Tensions and power struggles were bound to flare up, but Matthias needed to know his inner circle was secure. He relied on them to protect, manage, and organize daily operations. The con at the heart of the operation—manipulating and winning over the marks—took most of his energy and attention.
Whatever else might come up for debate, Matthias had final say over what happened to his recruits. Most of them became loyal followers for life, happy for whatever scraps of attention Matthias gave them. They went out into the world, followed orders, and sent money, if that was their role. That was the con, and it worked. Until it didn’t.
A typical con relied on one thing: greed. Rising Star mostly targeted people who already had money, and so setting the bait in the trap was trickier. What do people with power and wealth want? Status. Assurances they’re successful because they deserve it, because it’s their destiny. Because God wills it. Like a title bestowing nobility or a knighthood, membership in Rising Star assured elites they were at the pinnacle of society, or soon would be, because of the divine fire within them.
Matthias’s role was to convince them of this and to convince them the road to paradise went through him. A few of his most devoted followers called him their archangel.
If they’d known him back when he was a scrawny Louisiana swamp rat, they might reevaluate their devotion. He’d ruthlessly removed all traces of the wild misfit he’d once been, expunging any evidence of his upbringing except for the faintest hint of a Southern accent. Most people couldn’t guess his creole background and were content to consider him exotic.
He’d been blessed with thick, black hair that always looked good no matter what he did or didn’t do to it. Mostly he didn’t. A certain rakish lack of styling took the edge off the perfection he’d mastered in every other area. Boyish charm, his mother once told him, was a better weapon of manipulation than overly intimidating beauty. Matthias knew his looks could be intimidating to some—he’d had enough people tell him so—but he didn’t rely on it. Outward appearance was only one step in becoming the kind of leader people were eager to follow.
His compact, muscular body was made for designer clothing, and when he wanted, he found it easy to disguise his innate strength to appear elegant and nonthreatening. But his most powerful tool was his eyes. Blue eyes were always surprising in someone with a dark complexion. He’d received this gift from a mix of Spanish, French, and Senegalese ancestors—pirates all, according to his mother.
Matthias had learned to put this unique feature to his advantage, catching and never letting go of his prey once he held them in his gaze. He’d formally studied hypnotism, but he was a natural. He’d faced down a snarling pit bull at the age of nine, reducing the trained man-killer to a submissive pet in the matter of a few tense minutes.
That’s when his mother, a conjure woman and revivalist huckster who understood the power of manipulation, had decided to take Matthias to Doc Moliere in New Orleans for formal schooling.
Matthias wondered what his guests would think if they knew he compared them to a pit bull when assessing how much of a challenge they might present. Most of them would be far easier to subdue than a dog, whose instinct was unclouded by the need for prestige, wealth, or privilege.
Arch pocketed his walkie-talkie and turned back to him. “Ready to make your entrance?”
Matthias tweaked his already perfect cuffs. “I don’t want Jace hurt.”
“Too late for that,” Arch groused.
A hint of jealousy tinged his attitude. He’d protected Matthias since their tent show days, and sometimes he didn’t know when to back down. Matthias didn’t mind a little jealousy, usually. Even Archie shouldn’t be allowed to get too comfortable in his role at Matthias’s side.
Matthias glanced up at him. “You know what I mean. He’s weak and stupid but not dangerous.”
“I’m not sure I do. Weak and stupid equals dangerous. You taught me that. That’s why the herd culls the injured.”
“My relationship with him became too public. You know we can’t risk being connected to any violence. Ask Alexandra to pay Jace another visit, and let him know his comeback will go more smoothly if he keeps his mouth shut about Rising Star.”
“He knows that already, but like you said, stupid.” Archie sighed. “This is when a drunken car wreck would come in handy.”
Matthias flashed him a dark look. Archie chuckled, then sighed again. He wouldn’t take extreme measures without Matthias’s permission. Jason would have to screw up even more phenomenally before he crossed that line.
“You took care of that reporter who was egging him on?”
“We’ve got a member on the board of the paper, so killing the story was no problem.”
Matthias shook his head. He’d been in the paper much more than he liked lately, which had motivated Arch and the others to make inroads into as many media outlets as possible. Matthias left the publicity to his celebrity followers. All he wanted was the money and connections celebrity fostered. Jace Vaughn had generated too much publicity, too little money.
Still, Matthias missed the little spitfire in bed. His sexual liaisons of late tended to leave him dissatisfied and hollow. Many people would be surprised to know that adoration could quickly grow tiresome. He knew from experience boredom made him reckless and just a tiny bit stupid himself, on the hunt for the challenge he longed for but never encountered. Well, almost never.
Alexis Duran was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. At the University of Oregon, her fascination with people and relationships led her to major in Sociology, but her main love has always been creative writing. She’s worked in museums, fashion, finance and film production. Her favorite job so far was inventorying the collection of a haunted Victorian Mansion. She is the author of the Masters and Mages and Edge of Night erotic m/m fantasy series. Her fiction has won several awards including the Rupert Hughes Award from the Maui Writers Conference. She lives with one dog and four and a half cats. She is currently working on the next Edge of Night novel and several other erotic novellas.
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