Sydney finds more than she bargained for when she gets lost on her way to report for a new job and finds herself at a lifestyle club. Peering in through the window, her attention – and libido – are both snagged by a man delivering some old-fashioned discipline to a young blonde. After he runs Sydney off, both are surprised to discover she is the new chef he’s hired for his ranch.
Caden wanted to turn away the cheeky woman he’d caught spying on his club without remorse, but desperation for a chef forced his hand. Sydney proves to be a definite asset to his employees, and a royal pain in his butt. Somehow, her penchant for getting lost and landing in trouble, along with her determination to return to the club as a guest, soon slide past his resistance.
It takes a threat to Sydney and unearthing the truth about what made her flee her home in Missouri to force them both to admit their feelings and get her to stay as more than his chef.
Publisher’s Note: This contemporary Western romance contains themes of mystery, suspense, power exchange, and ménage elements.
Why now and, more importantly, why me? The headlights of Sydney Baker’s Mustang offered just enough illumination driving down the tree-lined road to cut through the pitch darkness of late evening. Her tires crunched over gravel and dirt, the narrow lane a vast difference from the smooth, four-lane highway she exited five minutes ago. Gripping the steering wheel, she squinted her eyes, peering ahead when she spotted a small glow of light. “Thank God,” she muttered. Wasn’t it bad enough she’d taken a wrong turn out of Billings that had resulted in her missing the three-o’clock report time for her new job by three hours? By then, hunger had forced her to take the time to eat something. Then she had to get a different set of directions to the Dunbar Ranch than her GPS spewed out and pray her poor sense of direction wouldn’t steer her wrong before it became too late to meet her new boss, and that he wouldn’t fire her on the spot for being tardy. She possessed two vices her family despaired of her ever getting under control: a penchant for always getting lost and getting herself into difficult situations.
Okay, in her defense, she’d tried to learn the art of following maps and directions from her phone or the GPS coordinates, of acquainting herself with the directions of east, west, north and south no matter where she was, but finally had to admit defeat by the time she’d hit her mid-twenties and still hadn’t mastered the skill others found so easy. “So I can’t find my way around sometimes. Sue me,” she grumbled to no one. The worst part of being alone and away from her family the past six weeks was having no one around to gripe to. If nothing else, her beloved grandmother and sympathetic cousins were always available to lend an ear.
Sydney breathed a sigh of relief when the road ended at a gravel parking lot filled with vehicles parked in front of a lit-up barn. The large window set above the wide double doors was too high to see inside, but from the number of trucks and cars, there had to be a substantial crowd inside the well-kept barn. Maybe it was a barn dance, or some kind of fund-raising ho-down. What the heck did she know about what went on in the boonies of Big Sky Country? Cutting the engine, she pondered what to do now because it was obvious this was not the sprawling ranch house where she’d accepted a job as the new chef for a crew of twenty cowhands. Checking the time, she swore. If she didn’t find her new employer soon, it would be too late tonight to show up, jeopardizing her position that much more. After working the last five years as the star chef in St. Louis’ top restaurant, throwing together a pot of chili or batch of spaghetti to appease a group of hungry cowboys wasn’t a position she craved to jump into. But, as the saying went, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and since she was down to her last hundred bucks, she couldn’t give up on the position yet, and didn’t dare attempt to access her savings.
Getting out of the car, Sydney hugged her light jacket against the cold breeze. Early October in Montana blew as brisk as January in Missouri, just another reason to bemoan the circumstances that forced her to flee her home and family a few weeks ago. With any luck, someone inside would tell her she was only a ten-minute drive from the ranch and would give her detailed directions. Grabbing the front door’s frigid metal handle, she pulled and damn near fell backward when it didn’t budge.
- Stomping around the side, looking for another entrance, she came across a lower, wide window first. Feeling like a Peeping Tom, or Thomasina, she stood to the side and peeked around to see what she might be dealing with. Shaking her head, Sydney blinked, the scene inside catching her completely off guard and unlike anything near what she’d expected.
Oh, wow, just… wow. Crouching under the window, she hugged her jacket around her and tried to get a better view of the cavernous room that resembled nothing like the inside of a normal barn. It wasn’t the circular bar centered in the middle of the wood-planked floor that left her agape, but the naked woman sitting on top of it. Leaning back on her hands, the woman’s eyes widened, along with Sydney’s, when the man standing at her side poured his beer between her bent, splayed legs and then dipped his head to lap up the spilled, tangy brew.
Swallowing past her suddenly dry throat, Sydney shifted her gaze, taking in the round tables and chairs then the gyrating bodies on a dance floor, the women wearing little to nothing. A staircase in the far corner caught her eye and she looked up into the loft to see another woman bound on a padded, wooden X, her sweat-glistening body pink-striped from the wicked looking flogger dangling from a tall man’s hand. Damn, did they make all the men in this state that big?
Sydney wasn’t a prude by any means. She’d read her share of smutty romances and drooled over every explicit, erotic word. She enjoyed sex as much as anyone, and since she’d tipped the scales over thirty three months ago, she’d discovered the truth to women reaching their sexual prime in this decade of their lives. Heck, she’d even asked a few of her lovers to slap her butt during sex. Only one granted her request, just a light tap that didn’t even sting. But she could still recall how the slight burn that lingered afterward spread, surprising her by fueling her lust.
It never entered her mind she might be into voyeurism, but the longer she crouched at that window and the more she saw, the longer she wanted to stay and the more she wanted to take in. Suddenly, the night air didn’t feel as cold. From what she could tell, the upper level held all the bondage equipment, and from her limited viewing position, those apparatus were being put to good use by willing women and some of the sexiest men Sydney had ever set eyes on. Then her breath lodged in her throat when she clapped eyes on a tall man whose scowl at something his attractive partner said drew Sydney’s nipples into tight puckers. And that was before he yanked the short blonde over a bar stool, shoved down her shorts and peppered her upturned buttocks with a volley of ass reddening swats.
A shiver racked Sydney’s body, one that had nothing to do with the cool temperature. Would she lie there and take such a punishment, and respond with a wiggle of her hips for more as the other woman just did, or would she blast the son-of-a bitch and stomp off in a fit of pique? God help her, she believed her response would be a hell of a lot closer to the former than the latter, if the warm gush between her legs was any indication. Then her heart rolled over as the stern cowboy lifted the blonde with large, gentle hands, sat on the stool and pulled her onto his lap. Cuddling her to his massive chest, he ran his hand up and down her quivering back in a soothing caress, his head bent to whisper in her ear. Whatever he said calmed the woman, and she shifted on his lap before slowly spreading her thighs as far as her lowered shorts allowed.
The pleased, tender look on the man’s sun-leathered face as he drove two fingers inside the blonde cut Sydney to the quick. No one, not one man who had come and gone from her bed ever gazed at her like that, not even the few she’d grown closest to and most fond of. Is that what had been lacking in her relationships that kept her from responding with the blatant enthusiasm the young woman exhibited as he drove her toward climax? She blew out the breath she’d been holding as the woman climaxed, and then the man patted her labia, the proud look crossing his rough-hewn face setting off a series of butterfly flutters that tickled her lower abdomen. What Sydney would give to have him gaze upon her like that after being driven mad with lust through pain induced pleasure. His tall frame had to top her own five-foot-six height by at least eight or nine inches, which she loved, and his thick, wavy mahogany hair curled around his nape in the most enticing, finger-itching way. She couldn’t detect the color of his much lighter eyes, but the way his rugged face and previously stern mouth softened spoke volumes.
Sydney knew she needed to get going and at least find the closest town to book a room for the night since it’d become too late to arrive at her destination. But this was the most fun she’d indulged in since fleeing St. Louis, and the first time she’d been able to relax and shove aside her worries long enough to enjoy herself. With effort, she tore her eyes away from the compelling man who got her fired up on all cylinders just from eying him and took a few moments to spy on the other goings on. By the time she worked her way around the room and back to the bar where she’d left her jaw-dropping, panty-dampening hunk, he was nowhere to be seen.
With a sigh, she started to stand but the deep, irritated voice coming from behind her wiped away Sydney’s disappointment and sent a frisson of heated awareness down her spine. Before she even turned around and looked up, she knew who stood there.
“You’re trespassing on private property and snooping where you don’t belong.”
Caden did not appreciate having the first hours of relaxation away from the grueling task of running his thirty-thousand-acre ranch all week interrupted by an encroaching Peeping Tom. Mindy had been a soft lapful of teary-eyed submission he’d been looking forward to relieving his lust with when his brother, Connor had pointed toward the pale face peering in the window with wide eyes that didn’t shy away from the BDSM activities going on in their private club.
Those big eyes rounded even more when she stood to face him, her red head tilting back to gaze up without flinching. Hell, he had to admire her for that.
“Sorry.” Her small shrug signaled she wasn’t too sorry, and he found himself fighting back an urge to smile. “I’m lost, and this is the first place I came to. Your front door is locked.”
The accusation in her tone erased the brief flare of humor. “For good reason. Like I said, this is private property, and this,” he waved toward the barn, “is a private club.”
In the dim, outdoor lighting, he barely caught the quirk of her soft lips. “I noticed,” she drawled.
“Most people,” he stated, clasping her elbow and steering her toward the front, “would be shocked and apologize, and wouldn’t take the time to stare in the window.”
“I don’t know what you’re so peeved about,” she returned calmly. “From what I saw, nobody inside minded an audience, including you.”
Caden blew out a frustrated breath. There was no talking to the woman. “Where’s your car?”
She pointed to a small sporty vehicle that must’ve given her a bumpy ride from the highway. “Right there, but I need directions.” He opened the driver’s side door and the interior light lit up her long, bright red hair as she folded her lean frame behind the steering wheel. Bracing his arm above the door, he looked down when she gazed up at him with vivid, moss green eyes and added, “Explicit instructions.”
“Get lost a lot, do you?” He nodded toward the only road that led to the club, the one she had to come in on. “Just follow the same road back to the highway. A left will take you into Willow Springs, the closest town. Turn right if you’re headed to Billings, but that will be a much longer drive, close to an hour at night.”
Those pretty eyes lingered on his face for a moment, as if memorizing every detail, the look filled with interest he appreciated but refused to acknowledge. The girl had trouble written all over her attractive face with its smattering of freckles across her small nose, and he possessed neither the time nor the patience to deal with her further. He’d had a hell of a week and the weekend looked to be just as busy and aggravating.
“Thank you… Sir.”
Shutting the door on her cheeky grin, Caden shook his head as he watched her turn around and disappear down the road. The hint of sarcasm she attached to sir had carried a thread of humor with it, telling him she didn’t take him, or the activities she’d stumbled upon inside seriously. Too bad. If she were a member, he would’ve enjoyed spanking that insolent smirk off her face.
Heading back inside, he saw Connor manning the bar and strode over looking for Mindy. He spotted her climbing the stairs, already hooked up with someone else, but that didn’t bother him other than now he’d have to spend time seeking another willing partner to join him for the rest of the evening. Sliding a tall, foamy brew across the sleek bar top toward him, his brother eyed him with a raised brow.
“What did our interloper have to say for herself?”
“How do you know her gender?” He hadn’t been sure from the quick glimpse he’d gotten at the window before tromping outside.
Connor’s blue eyes, identical to Caden’s own, twinkled with humor. “Too pretty to be otherwise. At least, I’d hoped so. Why didn’t you invite her in? She didn’t appear shy about what she was seeing.”
Caden snorted. “She wasn’t.” Taking a hefty swallow, he relished the tingling, cold glide down his throat as his mind filled with the image of laughing green eyes and a smart mouth. “Said she was lost, and I didn’t see any reason not to believe her. She’s not from around here or we would’ve either seen or heard about her. Where’s Annie tonight?” His brother and Annie had been together long enough to make him wonder if his younger sibling would be the first to settle down until Connor’s jaw went rigid and he looked away before uttering an evasive reply.
“She’s busy tonight. I’ll see her tomorrow, if I have time after we bring the herd down from the north pasture.” Connor busied himself wiping non-existent dampness off the counter but Caden wasn’t fooled.
“She was busy last weekend, both Friday and Saturday night as well,” Caden pointed out. “Anything you want to talk about?” The two of them were close, but when it came to personal issues, they took after their father and tended to hold things in.
“No.” Connor looked back at him with a shrug. “Not yet anyway.”
Caden nodded, sipped his beer and then offered, “I’m here whenever.”
“Good to know. Since Mindy has ditched you, maybe you should give sweet Nan some attention.”
Swiveling his head, Caden spotted the nicely curved brunette who enjoyed long sessions with a flogger or cane followed by rough fucking. “You know, I think she would be perfect to end the night with. Later.”
Connor’s low chuckle followed him as he walked over to the table where the experienced sub and long-time member sat nursing an Amaretto Sour, her favorite drink. “You interested in accompanying me up to the loft tonight, darlin’?” No sense beating around the bush, not with her. They’d played together often enough to know what the other wanted.
“Yes, sir, I would.” Her brown eyes lit with excitement when she took his hand, but it was a pair of twinkling green eyes he thought about as Nan followed him toward the stairs.
Sydney pulled into the one motel in the town of Willow Springs thirty minutes later, grateful it was right there on the outskirts where her GPS said it would be. She ached with exhaustion, her nerves frazzled over missing the arrival time for her new job. The only thing keeping her going now was the adrenaline high that started the second she stood so close to the hunky cowboy Dom. He’d been just as tall and big as he’d looked from the window, his massive body emitting enough heat to defuse the chill of the cold night air. His chiseled jaw and cobalt blue gaze had drawn shivers of awareness that had nothing to do with the temperature outside and everything to do with the growing warmth inside her body.
“I just miss sex, that’s all this is,” she mumbled, opening the car door and sliding out. “Orgasm deprivation and stress would make anyone react in such a way to that deep, commanding voice.” She figured a quick finger job ought to do the trick in getting both the man and the activities he liked to indulge in out of her mind so she could concentrate on a job and making it through another week or two while she struggled with her dilemma.
But when she slid naked between the cool, clean sheets on the motel’s double bed twenty minutes later and ran her hands over her breasts, all she could think about was how a pair of larger hands, likely with calluses, would feel kneading her small plumpness, and imagining rough fingers plucking at the sensitive tips of her nipples. With a groan of frustration, she slid one palm over her abdomen, recalling the little flutters that tickled her insides as she’d watched him spank the other woman and the way her own buttocks clenched in response, as they did now just thinking about him tossing her over those hard thighs. Hell, she didn’t even know the man’s name and still couldn’t quit thinking about him, fantasizing about him.
Tracing over the thin line of hair on her mons pubis, the only strip she opted to leave from her last wax job, she wondered if he preferred a bare mound and labia. It had been her last boyfriend who had talked her into waxing, and she loved it as much as he professed to, but when she ran her fingers over the damp, bare flesh now, the sensations weren’t as strong as usual. Swearing in frustration, she spread her legs and plunged two fingers knuckle deep between her slick folds, aiming for her clit and a quick release.
A few strokes over the swollen bud sent her hips bucking against her pumping hand, the pinch to her nipple an extra boost just as her climax erupted with strong grips around her fingers. Breathing heavy, she rode through the pleasurable sensations, but it wasn’t until she pictured a dark, rugged face with bright blue eyes watching her every thrust and jerk that the pleasure skyrocketed her into orgasmic orbit.
“Holy shit, what a look can do,” Sydney whispered in the dark, waiting for her body to cease trembling. A coyote howled, and she shuddered from the lonely sound that reminded her of her circumstances. Sitting up, she snatched her nightshirt and panties from the foot of the bed and donned them, wishing she had someone to hold her, to tell her everything would be all right, that she could return home soon without fear. She drifted asleep thinking with regret of a man she would never see again, and a tucked away barn filled with all kinds of naughty indulgences she’d never get to try with him.
“There’s nothing for it, I have to give it a shot,” Sydney told her reflection in the bathroom mirror the next morning. Odds were, the cook’s job on the Dunbar ranch was no longer hers, but maybe they were desperate enough to give her a second chance, if she could find the damn place. She’d come across the job opening when she stopped in a computer café on her way through Boise, Idaho last week and filled out the application using her grandmother’s maiden name instead of Greenbriar. She’d traveled a long way from the Midwest where her family name was synonymous with their chain of all-natural grocery stores but wouldn’t take the chance of her Uncle Mike finding her, not until she found a way to defuse his intentions without letting her beloved grandmother know just how low her youngest child had sunk.
Thirty minutes after sending the application, she’d gotten a call from Jase Wiggins, the ranch manager, who told her she was hired, and they needed her to arrive Friday by three p.m. The salary was more than she’d imagined and included room and board. It would be the perfect place to lie low until she figured out a way to keep her uncle’s greedy hands off her shares of the company and her grandmother, as well as her other two uncles, in the dark about Mike’s nefarious deeds that would break their hearts.
Sydney checked out of the motel thinking with optimism and followed the clerk’s directions back down the highway. “Everyone knows where the Dunbar Ranch is. You can’t miss it,” he said, rubbing salt into the wound from yesterday’s mishap. Only, it turned out he was correct. She came upon the turnoff just a mile past the one she was sure she’d taken the night before. This road was wider and a little smoother, although not by much. There weren’t as many trees lining the way, and the glimpses of wide-open range she caught in between them spread as far as she could see. Dotted with cattle and a few horses, the vastness of the ranch stunned her until she rounded a bend and the house came into view.
Pulling into the circular drive and stopping in front of the sprawling ranch home, she took a moment to admire the wrap around porch, cute rocking chairs facing several barns surrounded by neat, white-fenced corrals and a garden that made her hands itch to explore. Just as she slid out of the car, the front door swung open and a tall man wearing a Stetson pulled low over his eyes stepped outside. It took only a second to recognize the imposing height and broad shoulders, the curl of dark brown hair around the collar of a blue, long-sleeved work shirt tucked into a pair of snug, thigh molding jeans and a voice that haunted her dreams last night.
“Don’t tell me. You’re lost again,” he drawled, coming down the steps toward her with a swagger that spiked Sydney’s pulse into racing. Stopping in front of her, he tipped back his hat, those enigmatic blue eyes holding a hint of pleasure even though he frowned down at her.
Running sweaty palms down her thighs, Sydney sucked in a fortifying breath to calm her rapidly thudding heart, the open car door between them doing little to block the heat generated from his nearness. “Nope, not this time.” Holding out her hand over the door, she introduced herself for the first time. “I’m Sydney Baker and I apologize for being so late, but as you know, I got a little turned around last night, and then,” she flipped him a sassy grin, “I got a little distracted.”