Laura Turner stumbled through the door of the laundromat. Thank heavens the air-conditioning was on full blast. It was the thirty-first of July, and outside, it was a typical melting hot summer day. Her hands were full of bags from Hy-Vee grocery. Her laundry was stuffed in her backpack and her shirt was plastered to her body with sweat and pressure. Gross! She scanned the place. Oh, good—only one machine in use. She didn’t have to choose the crappy machine by the door. She headed for a machine about halfway down the row. It was newer than most of the others. The machine next to it was in use, but there was no one to be seen in the row of chairs in front of it.
Laura wasn’t up for small talk. Her father had been crankier than usual. What was wrong with the man? He was only sixty-three, but most of the time, he seemed as if he were ten or twenty years older. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him. He was her dad, but at forty-two, she had her own life. She worked fulltime, volunteered at the church, and watched her niece and nephew every Saturday. Visiting her dad twice a week and bringing him home cooked meals he only needed to microwave were all she could squeeze in. Her sister visited him twice a week, too. As a single mom, Suzie didn’t have time—or money, for that matter—to bring him meals, but she did her duty as a daughter. Poor Suzie, after her husband died, all she had left were hospital bills on top of hospital bills. Laura was glad she could help her out by taking the kids once a week. It gave Suzie a bit of time on her own and the kids could have some fun at the zoo or the movies or the playground. Laura loved the little rascals. Her nephew, Tim, was eleven, and sweet Abby, who soon would be eight, brought a lot of happiness into her life. Laura missed not having any children of her own, but three years after her loveless marriage had ended, she didn’t expect that to change.
Laura sighed and put her groceries on one of the plastic chairs. She shrugged off her backpack and knelt in front of the big industrial washing machine. It would be so much easier if she had her own machine. If she at least had a car, she wouldn’t have to struggle with laundry and groceries every week. But between taking care of her father, paying off debts her useless ex had left, and helping her sister with the kids, it wasn’t on the agenda in the foreseeable future. She’d manage. Only a year and a half and she’d be free and clear of the debt and maybe she could afford a decent used car or a washer and dryer. The duplex where she lived now was nice enough, but it was missing some of the creature comforts. Laura put her laundry in the machine, added detergent and coins and switched it on. Now, all she had to do was wait.
Laura settled into the seat next to the grocery bags. It was impossible to get comfortable in these plastic chairs. Luckily, she had lost more than thirty pounds, otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to fit in the round molded contraptions at all. Who designed these things? Laura dug into her bag and pulled out her novel. The pages of her well-worn paperback were wrinkled and curled from multiple readings and the cover was cracked. She opened the book at her marker and immersed herself in a fantasy world of Alpha men and the strong women they loved.
The row of chairs creaked and Laura became aware of a big figure on the other side of her grocery bags. It was appealing to keep reading, but that would be rude. Laura looked up from her book and made eye contact with the tall man she had seen once or twice before. Okay, she had seen him exactly four times. He wasn’t someone you overlooked or forgot. Probably five to ten years older than she, he had dark hair with a sprinkling of gray and a body that showed he worked hard for a living. He was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt that showed off his forearms and a simple but masculine watch. What was it about a watch on a man’s arm that made him so sexy? Oh, girl, stop it! OMG, she was checking him out. Shyly, she looked up at his eyes. The crinkles beside them told her two things—he laughed frequently and he was totally aware of what she’d been thinking. Oh, hell, busted! Laura managed a weak apologetic smile and, in her haste to return to her book, she dropped the blasted thing on the floor in front of his feet. Before she could grab it, he picked it up for her.
His gaze fell on the cover. He assessed the picture of a kneeling woman in front of a muscled man. Laura wished there was a hole in the ground to swallow her. His eyes skimmed over the title and author. Then he held out the book to her. “Cherise Sinclair,” he said in a low rumble, “interesting choice.”
Laura didn’t know where to look. How on earth did he know this author? Did men read this sort of book? “Thank you,” she mumbled and accepted the book. Before she could say or do anything else, a loud clap of thunder was followed by a big crash. Laura froze in place and turned pale. The man shot to his feet, and with three purposeful strides, he reached the door and cursed.
Laura came out of her daze. “What? What is it? What happened?” she stammered. He turned around and stepped in front of her.
“Don’t panic,” he said.
“Don’t panic? Don’t panic? Why do people say such a thing? It’s the guaranteed thing to say to make people panic. What’s wrong? Why won’t you let me near the door?” Okay, now she sounded like a gibbering idiot, but she couldn’t help herself.
“Girl.” He leveled Laura with an even stare. “Calm down and sit.”
Laura sank back in her chair.
“Good girl.” He knelt to lean over her and braced his hands on the armrests of her chair, boxing her in. “We have to stay in here for a while.”
* * *
James Black assessed the pretty woman in front of him. Not young, maybe late thirties or early forties, she had long legs and appealing curves. She wasn’t beautiful in a classic way, but James liked what he saw. Her face had character, and her hair was a gorgeous dark mane with a skunk streak of silver at one temple. She was such a contradiction. Confident in her stride and posture but shy with attention. Definitely a submissive, he thought. The book had been a dead giveaway, but her prompt acquiescence to his command to sit confirmed his suspicions. She was submissive and on the verge of panic. Well, now, wasn’t it nice he was just the Dom to take care of that?
“It’s raining cats and dogs, and I think lightning hit one of the trees. The wind is picking up.” James scanned her face; it was too pale for his liking. “For now, we can’t go outside. With luck, the storm will pass soon.”
She made a visible effort to pull herself together. Her eyes blinked a couple of times. She gave a slow shake of her head.
“Are you okay, miss?” he asked.
It had been a long time since anyone had called Laura “miss.” Although she was in good shape for her years, the gray in her hair clearly identified her as “ma’am” to most people. “Yes,” she said. “I’m a bit startled. I didn’t think it was supposed to storm tonight.”
“I got an alert on my phone a little while ago—there is both a tornado watch and a severe thunderstorm watch in effect for the next couple of hours. Good thing we’re in here where it’s safe. And by the looks of it,” he glanced over his shoulder to both machines, “we both have at least an hour before we can get out of here. Don’t forget, once the clothes are washed, they still have to be dried.” He stood up and stepped back from Laura.
* * *
She exhaled the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. What was it about this man that threw her off balance? She couldn’t identify how she was feeling. What was going on? She was an educated woman with a master’s degree in computer science. It wasn’t often she was at a loss for words. Somehow, he reminded her of those wonderful mythical men from her books. Yeah right, like that type of man really existed. Those characters were figments of the imagination. Was it possible there were real men who weren’t demanding assholes like her ex-husband? Her sister’s late husband had been a sweetheart, but he hadn’t been the one in control. Never.
As more loud thunder sounded, Laura jumped up and went toward the big windows up front.
James quickly came up beside her and said, “Why don’t you move closer to the back? Those windows don’t look very strong to me. I think they may crack or break.”
Laura eyed him suspiciously; she wasn’t used to a man paying attention to her safety. Jake hadn’t cared where she was or what might be happening to her. “Why do you care?” she asked.
“I care because we’re stuck here together, and the way I was raised, a man protects a woman. James Black.” He held out his hand.
Before her mind had caught up with her body, she’d laid her hand in his and said, “Laura, I’m Laura Turner.”
He smiled. “Laura, nice to meet you, even if the circumstances could be better.” He pictured her in his favorite club, tied to a—stop, not now! “Laura, I want you to step away from the windows. It’s not safe. Why don’t we sit down in the chairs?”
Laura took a step in the direction of the chairs and then stopped. Oh, no! No, no, no! When she got divorced, she had promised herself she wasn’t going to let another man tell her what to do. She straightened her spine, lifted her chin up and said, “I’ll stand where I please.”
He didn’t say a word, but cocked one eyebrow.
“These windows will hold just fine,” she said. “It’s only a storm. Besides, they’re probably made of safety glass, so quit acting like you’re in charge.”
“I may not be your boss,” his tone was level, “but I don’t tolerate stubborn behavior. You’re being willful and not thinking about potential consequences.”
She scoffed, “I told you. I think the windows are made of safety glass. Why would they break? They’ve been through storms before.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and muttered something under his breath. It sounded a lot like “spanking” to her.
She quickly followed him to the chairs. “What did you say?”
Two dark brown eyes zeroed in on her. “I said you could do with a spanking.”
“Oh, really, and who’s going to spank me?” Laura put her hands on her hips. What did he think she was, a toddler?
“I am, Laura. Don’t tempt me. I don’t make idle threats.”
She was once again at a loss for words. Did people really do such things? How would it feel? No, oh no, bad Laura, don’t go there. Time to show him some backbone. “I will not stand here and listen to you threatening me,” she hissed.
He smirked, “Girl, I can see a flush on your cheeks, and your nipples hardened.” He stared at her breasts before making eye contact again. “You may protest all you want, but you want a man to control you.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, hiding the traitorous peaks and fumed, “I most certainly do not. I don’t like being told what to do, and I most certainly don’t want to be hit by a coward who thinks because he’s bigger and stronger he can…” She choked on the words and couldn’t finish her sentence.
His eyes softened immediately and he stepped back, holding up his hands in surrender. “That’s not what I was talking about. From your taste in reading, surely, you know a bit about the lifestyle by now?”
Lifestyle? Laura’s mouth fell open, “B-but…wh-what…wh-why…you do?”
He smiled widely. “Yes, I do. The next time you endanger yourself, I will put you over my knee, flip up your skirt, and spank your beautiful ass.” He came up to her and invaded her personal space. With his hand under her chin, he tipped her head back, so their gazes met. “I know we don’t know each other and we’re not at a party, but we’re stuck here for a while. Clearly, this is something that interests you. So, from now until we leave this place, I am your Dom, and you are my submissive. Safeword is red, yellow if you want to slow down.” With that statement and a devastating smile, he stepped back again with a swift stroke over her cheek.
Laura sank back on the chair, her legs not able to hold her up.
Outside, the rain became less, but the wind picked up. Trees were shaking and groaning under the stress of it. Papers and some debris she couldn’t identify flew by. Curious and a bit anxious, she walked up to the window once again. She peered through the water stained glass trying to see what was out there. Laura looked over her shoulder. James was watching her, his mouth set in an unyielding line. He looked positively grim. Whoops.
Laura hurried back to the chairs and picked up her novel again. She couldn’t concentrate on the story any more. The guy had threatened to spank her! He was a complete stranger. Because she had been looking out of a window? When she had gone to the front for the second time, he had looked like he would deliver on his threat. She looked down at the book she was still holding in her hands. There had been a lot of spankings and whippings in her books, but there were also great relationships and awesome sex. Her bedroom experiences with Jake had been bad. It had all been about his pleasure. What she wanted or needed wasn’t on the agenda as long as he had gotten off. Sometimes, she was so dry, it actually hurt to have sex with him. Sex was something to be endured, not enjoyed. She peeked through her lashes at James. He was watching her with laser focus.