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He offered me a choice: be his, or suffer.

The Marked Blooms Syndicate is filled with elite, powerful men who select their wives—rescuing women from troubled pasts, then molding us to their exact desires. Like me.

My new life seems perfect, but everyone has secrets. The rich. The dangerous. Even the helpless.

My secret? I committed a crime punishable by death.


And Desmond Callen saw everything.


Like a devil in a black suit, Desmond makes me a deal:
Pretend to be his lover by sacrificing myself to the Marked Blooms Syndicate, and my secret will disappear.
Refuse? I will pay for my crime with my life.


I despise Desmond, but I find myself craving his dark urges, his sadistic training, his degrading punishments.


I may have to agree to his deal, but I will never give him my heart.


Author’s Note: Broken Surrender is the first standalone book in the secret society series, The Marked Blooms Syndicate. It contains dark, steamy, and disturbing content. Reader discretion is advised.

Content Warnings

Triggers: blackmail, sexual assault (minor, adult, both by secondary characters), murder, drugging, dubious consent

Kinks: backdoor action, degradation, dubious consent, impact play, knife play (mild), sharing (touching), toys (plugs)

Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the secret society plot continues throughout the series.

Chapter 1

A small black jewelry box rested beside my breakfast plate. But I focused on the orange jar filled with black and yellow capsules, like bees trapped in a glass hive. My husband, John, glanced up from his smartphone. He sipped his orange juice, then nodded, encouraging me. He even smiled, as if to say, This is just another pill. What harm could it be?


I itched my nose, wincing at the pain. Makeup smudged my fingers. I stared at the jar.


“What is it?” I asked.


“You will take one every morning with your breakfast,” he said, his tone measured and emotionless. “Don’t skip your meal with this one. It will make you sick.”


With all the pills he had me taking, I didn’t see how one more could make me vomit.


“But I didn’t complain about anything,” I said.


“It’s not about that.”


I wrinkled my nose. “Then, what is it?” 


His smile tightened across his lips. My eyes fell to the jar. “It’s not your concern.” 


“What do you mean?” I laughed. “It’s my body.”


He leaned forward, moving his empty plate out of the way, then finally put his phone on the blackwood table. My favorite housekeeper took it away, escaping out of sight before he opened his mouth again.


“I suppose you’re right,” he said, his gaze locked on my nose and eye, like he wanted to make sure that I remembered last night. “It’s a fertility drug.” I blinked my eyes. A fertility drug? As in pregnancy? “It’s been two years, darling. And I need an heir.”


A shiver crawled down my spine. “What if I don’t want to have a child?” 


Not your child, I thought.


He reclined in his chair and picked up his phone, resuming his work. “Then I suppose I can request different arrangements with the Board of the Marked Blooms Syndicate.” 


Every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. He hadn’t spoken to me like that in over a year. A ‘different arrangement’ meant that I was discarded; either I’d be taken back to Oakmont, or I’d be killed.


It’s easier if you let it go, I thought.


I was supposed to be grateful. After all, the Marked Blooms Syndicate had given me a life where we had house staff, too many rooms to keep track of, and the ability to buy anything that I wanted. There was an expensive piece of jewelry next to my breakfast, my husband’s latest apology gift. But John, and even my ex back in Oakmont, didn’t care whether or not I was breathing when I opened my legs—only that I politely did as I was told. 


And right then, despite everything in my grasp, I felt nothing.


I lifted my orange juice, throwing the pill back. It was better not to escalate. He just wanted a baby. I crossed my fingers, hoping that cleaning myself of him after every time he screwed me was enough to fight against anything this new pill would do.


Shifting focus, I rubbed my fingers on the black box. For a second, I considered pretending like it wasn’t there, to see exactly what John did when I was so blatantly ungrateful. But those kinds of games never worked out in my favor.


I opened it: diamond earrings. Goodie.


“They’re beautiful,” I said. 


“Wear them with the black dress,” he instructed. Though I had no plans to wear that dress any time soon, if ever again, I nodded, playing the role of the obedient wife. 


“What I did was uncalled for,” John said, lowering his head. Now he was playing his role: the groveling husband. I might have been numb, but I wasn’t stupid. He said that to make me feel better. “I shouldn’t have done that to you.”


Be quiet, I thought. Don’t let him think you care.


“Thanks,” I lied back. 


He nodded at the pill. “How are you holding up?” 


It had been minutes since I had taken it, but he was obsessed with checking how the different medications affected me. It was part of being married to the owner and CEO of a pharmaceutical company.


“No nausea,” I said.


“Don’t forget to take it every day. It requires your commitment.”


“Thank you for reminding me.” You piece of shit.


I didn’t touch the rest of the meal. John put a large wad of hundred-dollar bills under his plate for me, and I stuffed three bills in my pocket, bringing the rest to the kitchen, hiding the money under my arms as I headed toward the washroom. 


“Mrs. Dalton,” my favorite housekeeper, Gillian, said. I lifted my eyes for a moment, smiling at her, then carried on my way. “Was the bathroom acceptable?”


I furrowed my brows, then I remembered. I had asked her to decorate it with tea light candles and luxury soaps for a hot bath. Gillian always wanted more work, and if we didn’t have any tasks for her or the rest of the staff, they were dismissed early, and they weren’t paid. I never took the bath.


“Wonderful. Thank you,” I said. I went past her into the washroom, made sure the door was locked behind me, then went to her cubby above the dryer. I opened up her wallet, stuffing the money inside. She was always kind and polite, even with John. She reminded me of the smoothie shop, how I had to be nice to customers, even when some of them took out their anger on me. 


So I wanted to help her. To show that I appreciated her, even if John didn’t. 


But maybe that was selfish of me. Maybe the money made her believe she was obligated to stick around. 


But at least she had the freedom to leave whenever she wanted. 


I kept my head bowed as I went to the bathroom and filled a cup with tap water. My morning pill bottles sat nestled in the top row of the medicine cabinet. Half of the second row to be taken at lunch, the rest of the bottles to be taken with dinner. Each bottle was an army of commanders telling me what to do, how to behave, as I choked them down with a large glass of water. 


I closed the cabinet, the plastic bodies in my hand. In the mirror, a light purple half-circle tainted the bottom of my eye, like target practice, beckoning for another punch. 


I had sworn I would never let this happen again. It was one of the reasons I had agreed to an arranged marriage through the Marked Blooms Syndicate in the first place.


The pills clattered to the floor. No. I wasn’t going to do this anymore.


I shoved my finger into my mouth, jabbing at the wet tissue until finally, the compulsions twisted through me. The toilet seat banged open and I wretched, the back of my throat burning, but nothing came out. Again, I stabbed myself, until I grabbed a sealed toothbrush from the back of the cabinet, penetrating until all of it came up, the bees drowning in yellow bile. 


I flushed the toilet and rinsed my mouth, then stood up, staring at the shelves full of those orange and white bottles. Any need or complaint or worry that I had, John had a pill for that. I had been on antidepressants for a while before I left Oakmont, and they had helped me, but this? My husband kept finding new and better pills until I shut up. And for so long, it had been easier to say ‘yes.’ To endure. To let it wash over me. To let the vacancy become my reality. 


But I couldn’t take it anymore. I wouldn’t.


I swung a hand across the top shelf, the bottles rattling in the sink in a satisfying crash. Then the second shelf. The third. I ripped off the cap of one and sprinkled the pills in the toilet. One by one, the shimmering colors like smoothed sea glass at the bottom of a tide pool. I used to think the pills resembled gems, but now, they were shards of glass: smooth and pretty, making you forget how they could rip you apart.


“Mrs. Dalton?” Gillian called. “Are you all right in there?”


My skin heated at the intrusion. But she hadn’t seen me do anything. And if anyone would keep my secret, it was Gillian. 


“I’m fine, thank you,” I said. 


I flushed the pills until they were all gone. Until there were empty bottles, and nothing more. Power surged through me. After months of dreaming about it. I had finally rebelled.


Then those empty bottles glared back at me. My heart stopped.


John would notice, wouldn’t he?


What had I done? 


I flexed my fingers, letting them pulse at my sides. John would notice. I had to figure something out. Had to cover it up, so that he still thought I was being good. That I deserved this life.


Making up an excuse for my driver about why I wanted to go alone, I drove myself through Opulent Gates. Despite the name of the community, there were no gates, but hidden security amongst sprawling houses that stretched out over lush green fields. The landscapers constantly roamed to make sure that every stray blade of grass was accounted for. Even the community manager never let a light bulb in a lamppost stay dark for more than a few minutes. The occasional mother walked her child in an elegant pram along the sidewalk, wiping her forehead with a white handkerchief, surveying her surroundings to make sure no one had seen her sweat. I was never going to be like them. I rarely went outside. It was safer indoors, where I knew what to expect. 


Still, I had to go out if I wanted to lie to John. I drove downtown to The Vitamin Boutique. It killed me to shop in a place like this. Growing up in Oakmont, I had always dreamed of living in a city like Fairview, where everything happened and the rich people lived in exclusive communities where everyone was wealthy and kind, like Opulent Gates. But who pays hundreds of dollars for a vial of vitamins that claims to help your health, but isn’t actually scientifically proven?


People like me.


All the pills in the first row were in white bottles. I’d have to open up the packaging to see if they were good substitutes for my medications. How much would John detect? I went further back into the store, wrapping the wool cardigan around me. They kept these places as cold as a freezer.


I collected little bundles of jars in my arms that looked close enough to the prescriptions. Sweat beaded my forehead. I kept searching. A drop trailed down my neck; my stomach churned. Maybe if I was docile enough, complacent enough, bobbed my head like a doll, maybe then John wouldn’t notice. As long as I could keep these withdrawal symptoms down. But John never paid attention to me, unless I was disagreeable. So I had to be obedient. I grabbed a blue-tinted vial for melatonin. Without my sleeping drugs, I would probably need something, at least for now. I grabbed three of them, stacking them on top of the others.


A warm hand landed on my arm. “Your nights must be rough,” a smooth male voice asked. 


I jumped, dropping the bottles. I scrambled to pick them up, and the man stood there, watching me. His smirk lit me on fire. He was mocking me. I stood up intending to glare at him for judging me, but he handed me a plastic shopping basket. I shrunk down, then added the pills to the container. His black hair was styled, his trimmed facial hair scratching over his face, his black eyes boring into me. His tailored suit was fit to his body and he towered over the shelves. I stepped back, clutching the handles of the baskets. Spice permeated the air. Was that the essential oils in the next aisle, or him? 


“Excuse me?” I asked. 


He tilted his head toward the blue vials. “That’s a lot of melatonin.”


I flushed, the heat boiling inside of me. “It’s nothing like that.”


A beat of silence passed. The front door chimed, another customer entering. 


“You live in Opulent Gates,” the man said. 


I lifted a brow, squinting my eyes at him. I didn’t recognize him from anywhere, and I always watched the streets. 


“Do I know you?” I asked. 


“I moved in last week. But I’ve seen you.”


My heart raced. I rarely left the house. How had he seen me? 


“How do you like it?” I asked, feigning politeness. Why was I like this? Obligated into these stupid rituals of kindness. I made my way toward the cash register. 


“I like it better now,” he said. “Now that I’ve met you.” 


My skin crawled. His eyes studied me, washing over my body, even though I was wearing a cardigan that hid my shape. Why was he looking at me like that?


“I’ve got to get going,” I said. “My husband is waiting for me.”


“Dalton doesn’t have time for you,” a smile spread across his lips, “but I do.”


I ignored his comment. How did he know my husband’s name? I shook my head; John was a known name and face; it didn’t take much to know who lived in Opulent Gates. I paid for the vitamins and supplements with cash and left the store without another word. I hated going out. I hated talking to people. You never knew what people were capable of, what they were hiding. 


But why did he make me feel hot all over?


By the time the evening came, the medicine cabinet was stocked like it had always been, and I had spent a small fortune covering up my lie.


But at least I wouldn’t be putting that poison in my body.


And I had poison. 


Once most of the staff was occupied in the kitchen, I went to the linen closet and lifted a panel in the back, finding the stockpile of medications I had kept over the years. A pill here or there, in case I needed them. And in the very back, an old bottle of rat poison I had recently found in the garden shed. I put the extra vitamins and supplements in there to stock the bottles once I ran out. 


When John returned, I had his whiskey ready on the nightstand. A headache pounded through me, but as long as I smiled and avoided moving, I would be okay. John slid into bed beside me, the aftershave still strong on his skin. He pawed my breasts through the silk nightgown. I closed my eyes, trying to remind myself that this was the life I had wanted. My ex had been addicted to pornography, and all I had wanted was for him to notice me.


Now, I had that with John, and I hated it. My drive to do anything like that had been non existent for a long time. 


I let out a deep sigh. “I’m tired,” I said. “Maybe tomorrow.”


“I’m done waiting, Lena.”


I stiffened at my name. “I don’t want to do that tonight.”


“Take off your clothes.”


“Not now. Maybe—”


He yanked back the sheets, but when I raised my fists to block him, he pummeled my eye again, the bruise searing. Then he mounted me. Everything inside of me shut down, my eyes vacant. The bedroom ceiling was adorned in gold, red, and blue hues, a renaissance-styled fairytale painting that came to life, full of women in long maroon robes draped around them, like princesses and fairies chained down by expensive fabrics. Every night, they peered at each other with questions in their eyes. I imagined myself among them, painted in yellow, a fairy spirit of my own. I blinked, pretending I was up there now, ignoring the pains in my body, pretending John was simply an enormous robe wrapping tighter around me.


Stay silent, I thought. Stay still. Do as you’re told.


The blue and yellow strokes of paint danced over the ceiling, swirling into a vortex. The bed jerked back and forth, and I let him impale me. I didn’t make a sound when he dug his fingernails into my thighs. I didn’t groan when he hit my cervix. I didn’t care when he threw his head back, howling like an animal.


He retreated, his eyes watering and tired, and I blinked until everything washed away. I waited for him to move to his side of the bed and give me peace. But this time, he sat up.


“Close your eyes,” he said, “and give me your arm.”


I flinched, squinting at him in the dim light. “What? Why?”


He leaned in closer, grabbing my wrist. I shrunk back, pulling the comforter around me.


“We can do this my way,” he pulled the blanket off of my shoulders, “or your way.”


I opened my mouth to speak, but he put a finger to my lips, then lifted his fist.


“Your way it is.”



The painting on the ceiling was blurry, a mix of blue and gold, like the sun over an ocean. I blinked, letting it come into focus. I was in bed. It was still dark. My nightgown was bunched around my hips, and there was a damp spot between my legs. I stared up at the women on the ceiling, trying to get myself to think straight. My arms were heavy, full of lead. The women in the painting shook their heads at me, creeping back and forth as if they were alive.


John stood in the corner, straightening his tie. The balcony doors were open, letting in the night air, but he was dressed, ready to go to work. My entire world was going in reverse. I tried pushing myself up on my hands, but pain shot through my arm, circling around my neck. A small red mark dotted my bicep.


“What did you do to my arm?” I asked. 


“It’s a low dose of a new injection.” He put his arms into his suit jacket. “My employees have been working on a side project for me.” 


Why did I care? It was already in my body. But I asked anyway: “What side project?”


“It will help you be a better wife.”


Finally, I pushed myself up, but when I tried to clench my fist, my fingers were too weak. What kind of injection was this?


“I added a muscle relaxant as well,” he said. “We can always up the dosage.”


I curled my fingers—or tried to—but my fingers flinched in my lap. My head was light and dizzy, an ache crawling between my legs.


John stepped closer, his eyes pinned on me. “Do you want to question me again, darling?” he asked. Each tap of his shoes made my heart beat faster. My skin still stung with his touch. Pain pounded through my nose.


“No,” I said. 


“No, what?


“No, I don’t want to challenge you, darling.” I lowered my eyes to the ground, hating myself. But I couldn’t escalate. It was better to play along. To say whatever he wanted me to say.


“Good.” He faced the door. “I’ve got a report to finish. I’ll be home in a few hours.”


“Goodnight,” I said. I bit the inside of my lip, taking in a quick breath. The door closed behind him, and a shudder escaped me. I wailed into a pillow. 


Using my better hand, I splashed cool water over my eye in the bathroom, then let the water run over my legs. I scrubbed everything out, trying to get him off of me. Then I gingerly pulled on my silk robe, one of the many John had imported from me. I walked to the balcony, overlooking the backyard, vibrant with a botanical garden and a pond. But I didn’t see any of that anymore. I stared up at the empty sky. How was I going to get out of this? Was that even a real possibility?


In the distance of my neighbor’s property, a figure shifted in the shadows, coming into the light. It was a man with dark hair and eyes. My heart raced as I recognized him; it was the same man who had cornered me in the shop. Dalton doesn’t have time for you, he had said, but I do.


He was watching me, and he wasn’t trying to hide it. 


I wiped my eyes, then angled away. I must have looked like a wreck. But I refused to leave, simply because he was there. I tried to find the strength inside of me to do anything else. Part of being selected for an arranged marriage through the Marked Blooms Syndicate was that my life wasn’t my own anymore. I could have any material item I dreamed of, and yet, if I stepped out of line, the Marked Blooms Syndicate would eliminate me, if my husband didn’t get rid of me first.


But I couldn’t keep staring at the painting on the wall anymore. I had to do something.


That night, when John finally came to bed, I focused on the painting above our bed, imagining the pink and gold sunset hues were John’s blood washing in a basin of oil. His life vanishing from his lips, his eyes, everything pink and red. I lost myself in that painting.


But I had to do something.


I had to kill my husband.

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