At first, there was a cool breeze on her bare bottom, as the pecan trees shielded her from the harsh sun. Birds chirped incessantly; it seemed like all the birds in the world came to Texas in the spring. Trey’s thighs under her belly were warm and hard and there was a growing lump against her left hip where his excited cock lay tucked into his jeans. As his hand passed over her bottom, Trey hummed softly. It was a sound of pleasure, a calm sound, a controlled sound.
Liv’s heart beat faster, knowing what that sound presaged. The humiliation of being bare-assed and over his lap was nothing compared to what was to come.
The sharp retort of the strap on her butt cheeks silenced the birds entirely. Some flew away in fright. And it hurt, but Liv gasped not out of pain but surprise at the sudden smack. Even knowing that it was to come, the exact moment it fell was always one second before it was expected. The first blow was still echoing through her mind when there was a second, third, and fourth. Heat blossomed over her rear and a sharp sting became a bright bloom. She moaned as the count rose above ten, and she couldn’t help but squirm.
“Still, angel.” His free hand pressed down on her back to keep her steady. She couldn’t do it herself. Her body wanted to wriggle away from the pain. Or, parts of it did. Some parts, the parts that sometimes wouldn’t heed her better judgment, got wet and slick and very ready for the reward Trey would share with her.
As the count reached twenty-two, tears began to stream from Liv’s eyes and her moans became sobs. She wanted this spanking, she knew she both needed and deserved it. Tears would cleanse any lingering feelings of guilt over poor behavior and her reward for taking her punishment would be hot, hotter than her flaming ass.
Liv lost count after twenty-five blows from the strap. She knew her bottom would be striped and fiery red. She’d seen it in the mirror after times like this. Perversely, she wore those stripes like a badge for the day or two they lingered. She’d earned her pleasure. She’d paid for her transgressions. Conflict was over and only sweet contentment remained.
Crying freely, she sobbed and sniffled as the spanking stopped. Trey’s big, hot hand glided over her stinging behind reverently, and sometimes a finger would trace one of the welts left by the strap.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice thick and watery.
His fingers slipped between her legs and found her pool of excitement. Her hot face got hotter. “You gonna be a good girl now and mind when I’m tellin’ you to do what you know you should?”
“It’s a habit…”
“A habit we need to get you over or you’ll be miserable, Liv.”
His fingers dipped deeper into her pussy and explored a little. A wave of pure desire washed through Liv’s belly.
“Yeah,” she agreed, though her mind was on those fingers. They retreated slightly and slid toward her swollen clit. “Please. Trey. Please.”
She could hear the smile in his voice as he responded. “Please what?”
The last of her tears dripped onto the leaf-strewn ground. “Please, fuck me.”
He rolled her over on his lap and pressed her face against his broad chest. “You’ll have to wait until after.”
“After! But that’s hours from now!”
She looked up into his face, hoping for a teasing look in his brown eyes. The crinkles at the corners told her that he was smiling, even before she noticed his grin. “You can’t be serious.”
He slid his hand up her torso and cupped a full breast, his thumb flicking over her nipple as it pressed against her bra and thin cotton blouse.
“You’re being mean.”
She growled her frustration and squirmed, her bottom hot and itchy against his denim. One more try. “Please?”
Trey did things in his own time, and in his own way. Liv was usually happy about that; she trusted him after all they’d been through. So she’d wait for her reward. After wasn’t so far away.
* * *
Ten Months Earlier
“We’re almost ready for you, Ms. Aune.”
Liv ate a little fruit and then tossed her paper plate in the trash can, avoiding the yellow-jackets that zipped erratically around the refuse.
About fifty feet away, the photo shoot was ready. The sky overhead was clear blue, a “big Texas sky,” as they said. It was true; the summer sky had never seemed so vast to her before. A little scrub and wild grass, trampled flat by the feet of models, photographers and all their aides, carpeted the clay soil. The group was half a mile away from the ranch house and outbuildings, and out there, in what Liv considered the boonies, the hum of insects and the nattering of birds in the pecan trees was background music for this photo spread. Someone turned on a boom-box and Liv sighed at the modern intrusion on her bucolic musings.
The lead make-up artist touched up her makeup and Liv took her place at the center of the photographer’s universe.
From one pose to another, smiles, pouts and grins, Liv did what she always did: charm the cameras. She had the knack, and she was grateful for it. And it was often fun, despite the pressure to be “on” all the time.
“You’re ecstatic about this blouse, Liv! You’re over-the-top crazy about it! Yeah, that’s great.”
She smiled and winked.
“Cute,” he said. “More of that. Be a flirt!”
So she did. Her whole focus was on the camera that was focused on her. Gone was her self-consciousness over being a size twelve; gone were concerns that her blonde hair was too long, or that her eyes were too blue. Looking Nordic was out-of-fashion right now, but it hadn’t put much of a dent in Liv’s career. Another thing to be grateful for the next time she was feeling sorry for herself.
As they paused for a drink of water, a large silver pick-up truck pulled up at the tent over the picnic area. An older man got out. He was a tall man, wearing a worn, buff-colored cowboy hat, a blue work shirt, jeans and tan, pointed-toe cowboy boots. He looked like a rancher, through and through. Or at least, how Liv thought a rancher ought to look.
He extended his hand to the shoot director, and Liv noted how thick his forearms were with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
“Leo Journey,” he said. “You’ve been dealing with my son Ace. He couldn’t be here today.”
“No problem, Mr. Journey. As you can see, we got started without him. Hope you don’t mind.”
Journey waved a hand and smiled. The stern planes of his face were softened by his genial grin. “No, no. I’m glad you weren’t delayed.” He shifted his weight and hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “I’m not here to supervise, anyway. Just wanted to make sure you weren’t needin’ anythin’. I see the water truck made it here.”
Liv found his Texas drawl appealing. All his I’s sounded like “ah.” It was charming.
“Yeah. And it’s been a real help in keeping the dust down. Summer here is so dry!”
The older man nodded. “Can be.” He looked around and spotted Liv watching him.
She smiled. He seemed nice in a rugged sort of way. Leo Journey was a handsome man, no mistake there. He nodded at her and smiled again.
“Well, I ought to let you get back to it. If you need anythin’, buzz my cell. We have a tower on the property, so I’ll get your call pretty much no matter where I am.”
“Great!” The photographer started changing lenses on his camera. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure, son.” He got back into his truck and lit a cigarette before he pulled away slowly.
Someone turned on a generator and a fan began to blow on Liv’s face and hair. It was trite, but there was a wind-blown-hair series in every shoot. The noise of the fan and the boom box was annoying, though, and Liv missed the sound of the little birds.
* * *
Trey drove about five miles per hour over the speed limit as a rule, but he was in no particular hurry as he headed for home. He had a month off from duty, and was glad to get away from the army base for a while. Fortunately, Fort Hood wasn’t too far from the ranch, so the drive was more of an excuse to turn up the radio loud and sing at the top of his lungs. No one was going to hear him singing off-key.
That pretty neatly summed up his dissatisfaction: there was no one to hear, help or holler at him. He wasn’t sure there ever would be.
Since his mother had passed four years prior, only his sister, Queenie, had given him a hard time over anything. His dad cared about Trey and his four brothers and sisters, but he let his displeasures be known in a firm, quiet way. While Mom would shout and smack you with a wooden spoon if you stole the dough for the peanut butter cookies, Dad would give you a frown and you’d immediately feel contrite. Theirs had been a solid, loving marriage.
There was some kind of event happening just off the ranch road on the way to the new house. He pulled over at the site of the big shade tent and watched the people hurry about. It wasn’t one of the Boot Camp corporate bonding events that they’d recently started hosting; it looked more like a film crew or a photo shoot. Only two big trailers, so probably photos rather than film. The noise was unpleasant, but he knew that these big media producers were willing to pay mega bucks for a natural, outdoor location. Journey’s End had one or two of these things a year.
Trey got out of his truck and tried to make himself inconspicuous as he watched. There were two women dressed in fancy evening gowns, looking for all the world like flamingos in the desert. The producer was obviously going for that “looks perfect no matter the setting” sort of feel. Trey thought it was goofy, but to each his own.
“They were thinking about putting them on horseback, but decided it was over the top.”
Trey looked behind him and caught a teasing smile from a tall, blonde woman dressed in a gold-sequined designer dress. Her hair was up in a weird sort of arrangement of spikes and curls, but her face was…well…angelic was the only word he could think of to describe her. She was curvy, with a narrow waist but generous breasts and hips.
He grinned back at her, admiring the twinkle in her pale blue eyes. She could have been so cold-looking in that Nordic ice-queen way, but, instead, she kind of glowed with warmth and vitality.
“I don’t think the horses have much of an appreciation for high-fashion anyway,” he quipped.
“I’m Trey Journey, by the way.” He offered his hand and she took it.
“I take it you’re one of the models for this photo spread?”
She nodded. “Are you any relation to Leo Journey? He was here earlier.”
“Yeah. He’s my father.”
“You look a little alike,” she told him, looking up into his face.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He wondered if she was the kind of woman who went for much older men. She looked to be about twenty-three or –four. His dad was nearly sixty-seven. Maybe she thought that because Journey’s End was so big that the family had lots of money. If she knew how expensive a large ranch was to run, she’d nix that idea quick as a coyote snatches a rabbit.
“Are you enjoyin’ the ranch so far?”
“It’s beautiful out here in the open, but I haven’t seen much else. What else is there to see?”
“Oh, quarter horses, some cattle. The Terrett river runs along the southeast of the property.”
“Is it a big river?”
“Big enough for some decent fishin’.”
She bit her lower lip, and Trey’s eyes were drawn to her mouth. Her lips were lightly shaded pink and glossy as though she’d just been kissed. It was a very kissable mouth. “I’ve never been fishing.”
“Never? Why Miss Aune, you don’t know what you’ve been missin’!”
“Call me Liv, please. And, I’ve managed to live this long without handling a rod and reel, so I think I’ll manage a while longer.”
He couldn’t resist. “Never handled a rod and reel, huh?”
She blushed. “You know what I meant.”
Trey chuckled. “Yeah, I know.” Her light brown eyebrows tried to meet at the middle. He ran a finger over her soft cheek. “I could show you.”
“Your rod and reel?” Her frown didn’t stick, replaced by that twinkle in her eyes again.
“You have a thirst to see my rod and reel, Liv?”
She laughed and gently pushed his hand away. “No, thanks.”
“Your loss,” he said with a grin, enjoying the warmth of her hand on his wrist until she let go. “How long will y’all be here?”
“A week or so. Depends on the weather, but if today is an example, a week ought to be enough.”
He was enjoying their flirtation, and thought maybe it would be a particularly pleasant week if they could build on it. Maybe he’d wish for some rain so their stay would be extended. “Do you like ridin’?”
Her eyebrows rose. “I presume you mean horses.”
“Naturally.” He tilted his well-worn Cavender’s cowboy hat back a little on his head. “Have you ever been in the saddle?”
She groaned, then giggled. “It’s an innuendo-fest.”
“I can introduce you to a real stud.”
Her laugh was full enough to make a passing make-up artist turn to look. “You, Mr. Journey, are a card.”
“Why, yes, I am. I’m the Trey of hearts, ma’am. My brothers are Ace and Deuce. My sisters, Queenie and Jackie. It runs in the family.”
“Wow, a deck of cards.”
“My mother was a professional gambler.”
“That’s unusual.” Liv waved away a passing fly and Trey got a whiff of her perfume—orange blossoms.
“We’re an unusual family. You should get to know us.”
“Get to know you, you mean.”
He put a hand to his heart. “I’m a fine, upstandin’ example of the Journeys.”
She chuckled. “I’m sure you are.”
“Do you get a lunch break?”
Her teeth worried her lower lip again and Trey’s body reacted with a pulse in his pants. “Usually.”
“How about I take you to meet some of the quarter horses? My dad tells me we have a pair of new foals.”
“You haven’t seen them? Don’t you live here?”
“No, and no. I’m an army major. I live at Fort Hood, and occasionally Afghanistan.”
Her eyes went wide. “Dangerous stuff.”
He shrugged. “It’s what I do. Like you do your modelin’.”
“Modeling is only dangerous if you count falling off high heels.”
“I’ll remember that in case I ever get a hankerin’ to get high heeled duty boots.”
Her smile was sweet. “I’d love to see the foals.”
Trey was pleased that the baby animals got her attention. “What time are you free?”
“l’ll be here. Don’t eat. I’ll bring some lunch. Do you like fried chicken?”
Her eyes dimmed. “Whatever you bring will be fine.”
Trey wondered what he’d said to quash that twinkle. “Great. I’ll see you then.” He thought he ought to get away before he said something to dissuade her. And he needed to get home and settle in. Her face was irresistible, though, and he touched her cheek again. So soft.
Her fingers went to his palm and she moved his hand aside. “See you later, Trey.”
* * *
Consuelo handed Trey the picnic basket. It was redolent with the smell of fragrant apples, and fresh bread wrapped around roast beef. He tucked a bottle of Prairie Rotie wine into the basket.
“You work fast, Trey.” Her wrinkled cheeks curved with a smile.
“Home only a couple of hours and already you have a date!”
“I knew you’d be too busy to picnic with me, Consuelo, so I had to find another girl.”
The family’s long-time cook hooted her laughter. “Get out of my kitchen, mocoso. I can still whip your butt like I did when you were a bratty little boy.”
He headed for the door. “I run faster now. See ya later!”
A hot pad hit the screen door as it slammed behind him, and Trey chuckled. She’d been with the family for maybe forty years, but she was still the queen of the kitchen and the Journeys were her loyal subjects.
The photo shoot wasn’t far away, and it appeared they’d already broken for lunch when he got there.
Liv was sitting on a bench near a scruffy-looking fellow with a three-day beard. Trey remembered him as the photographer working earlier in the day. The two seemed rapt in conversation. She smiled as she saw Trey, and stood to greet him.
He smiled and nodded toward the photographer. “Sorry to interrupt.”
The fellow frowned, but didn’t glower. “Have her back by three. We can’t finish today’s shoot without our star model.”
Liv’s cheeks colored as she reached for the straw hat that sat on the table.
Trey took the comment in good grace. “No problem.” He gestured toward Liv and grinned, and she returned his expression and followed him toward the truck.
The foals were pretty quiet in the hot sun, but Liv seemed delighted to stand at the fence and look at them.
The hat cast a shadow on her face, but her eyes glowed with pleasure.
“So, how long have you been a model?”
“For about twelve years.”
“You don’t look old enough to have done anythin’ for twelve years.”
She laughed. “Oh, I’m old enough. I started when I was twelve.”
He nodded. “That’s young. You were a child star?”
Liv shrugged. “How long have you been in the army?”
“Ten years or so.”
Her eyes stayed on the horses, and he wished she would turn her pretty face toward him again.
They chatted amiably for a while, until the hot sun got to be a little too much, and then they headed toward the shade of the magnolia and box elder trees. A dark red blanket softened the ground for them as they ate their lunch.
The quiet was pleasant. He was comfortable with her. They talked about movies for a little while, finding they had similar taste in film.
She ate very little. Her stiff posture suggested that she was uncomfortable, and Trey couldn’t help but wonder if he’d said something wrong.
He tried changing the subject. “So what do you do for fun?”
“Nothing much.” She sipped at the wine.
“Liv is all work, no play?”
She smiled. “I’m dull. I have a lot of work functions.”
“Do you like what you do?”
He watched her face as she spoke. There was something more to this woman. Something unseen, but screaming to get out.
“Are you planning on making the army your career? Or is it a sojourn for you?”
She had deftly turned the conversation. Apparently, she didn’t care to talk about modeling. Trey wondered at that. Liv was a “star” performer, at least according to her photographer, and yet she didn’t want to talk about her work. Why? He didn’t want to pry…yet.
“It’s my career. I thought about bein’ a rancher as I grew up, but I had too much fun playin’ soldier. I went to college for a year, but soldierin’ still called to me, so I signed up. It took me another three years of online programs before I finished my degree, but eventually I made it to officer trainin’ school, and here I am.”
“It must be nice to do something you love.”
“You know, it must be getting late. I ought to get back to the shoot.”
He caught her eyes, but she looked away. Yeah, definitely hidden depths there.
“Sure.” They packed up the basket and blanket and he drove her back to work.
He reached out and caught her arm as she was opening the truck door from the inside. “I had a good time getting to know you, Liv. Are you free tonight?”
She looked at the hand on her forearm and put her warm palm over it. “I think there’s a planning session tonight over dinner, but I’d be free after that.”
“How about I drive you out away from the ranch lights, and we can study the stars for a while?”
“Isn’t that going a little fast?”
Maybe it was. He was eager to kiss her, there was no getting around that. And a romantic night under the stars had the potential to lead to something hot. But mostly he wanted to spend quiet time with her, getting to know her better.
“Maybe you’d rather go cow tippin’?”
“Cow tippin’. You wait until the cows are asleep—they sleep standin’ up—and then you sneak up on them and topple them over. Of course, you have to run like hell to get away.”
“You must be joking.”
He chuckled. “Gotcha.”
She laughed. “You snot.”
Trey turned toward her more fully and cupped her cheeks in his hands. “You are so beautiful, Liv.”
She stiffened. “I used to be beautiful, maybe.” Both of her hands covered his. “Anyway, I have an early morning tomorrow. Tonight’s not such a good idea.”
Whoops. He’d made a mess of it somehow. He dropped his hands slowly. “Mind if I come by tomorrow? I have to help my brother Ace with our side business, but I’ll have some free time in the afternoon.”
“Side business? Now you have my curiosity.” She turned toward the sound of her name being called from outside. “I have to go. Tomorrow would be okay. Thanks for lunch, Trey.”
“My pleasure,” he said as she hurried out of the truck. Her perfume lingered, leaving a sweet and subtle reminder of her behind.
* * *
The small cabins that accommodated ranch guests were well-appointed, despite their rustic looks. Liv’s was spacious, but not fancy, consisting of one large room and a bathroom. Everything was clean and fresh-smelling. She found the pale blue walls relaxing, and she needed to relax. She considered having a shot of vodka from the mini bar, but then habit kicked in and she turned away from the impulse—too many calories.
She thought over her time with Trey and the things she’d discovered about him. He was a nice guy; maybe he was too nice. Liv had a tendency to fall for men who treated her badly. She was attracted to men with confidence and surety, even forceful personalities, but she didn’t like being treated like a doormat. It was hard to find a person who was capable and ambitious as well as concerned for her happiness.
Trey might be one.
Or he might not.
Contemplating the following day and anticipating meeting him again was exciting, but she tried to keep it in perspective. It was obvious that he was attracted to her—asking for a second date was an indicator—but, truth be told, a lot of men were attracted to her because of her looks. She could dress down and go without makeup, but something about her appearance still got attention. Since she’d gained weight, she couldn’t understand it. But it was undeniable.
She hated to think that Trey was focused on bedding a supermodel rather than knowing the Liv inside the body. That made her want to halt the relationship before it got much of a start. Being disappointed by people was depleting, and in many ways, she’d rather keep a good-guy impression of Trey, even if their friendship had to end, rather than find out he was the usual kind of schmuck.
But, like him, she’d soldier on. The prize, if it even existed, would be worth the potential disappointment.
She had a five a.m. call the next morning, so Liv bathed and went to bed. Her last thoughts before sleep were of Trey’s callused hands on her face.