At Home In Corbin’s Bend

“See, here’s the thing. I was more than willing to take a break. Aside from your temper, I’ve never had to worry much about you, and I figured I could trust you enough to keep yourself under control, and remember the heart of why we do this. But now, now you’re disobedient, you’re not living up to your responsibilities, you’re rude and belligerent, and you seem to enjoy throwing it in my face that I can’t spank you for it. The way I see it, you’ve been begging me to do just that.”

Ginger bit her lip, chewing it absently as she pondered his words. Is that what she had been doing? Shame rose up in her cheeks as she remembered her harsh words and defiant actions. It was just yesterday, but it seemed so long ago now. Nothing to put things in perspective like a first thing in the morning trip over your husband’s knee, she mused.

“Is that what you’ve been doing Ginger? Have you been begging for a spanking?”

She didn’t reply, still wrapped up in her own thoughts, she didn’t even realize he was asking her a question, until his hand stopped rubbing and came cracking down on her backside with all the force of a paddle. Damn, she had forgotten how hard his hands could be.

“Answer me, woman.” His hand went back, poised for impact, and she squeaked out her answer, bracing herself for the blow.

“No, I wasn’t, I wasn’t!” It didn’t seem to be the answer he was looking for, as his hand connected with her aching backside.

“Okay, okay, maybe I was! But, it wasn’t conscious!”

At her admission, his hand stilled, coming down softly to rest on her back. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me, whose idea was it do domestic discipline?”

Ginger sighed. “Mine, Sir”

“And, whose idea was it to move to Corbin’s Bend?”

She could see where this was going, and it didn’t bode well for her. “Mine, Sir”

“Mmm-hmm” His finger pumped inside her, in and out of her tight hole. She clenched around it, hoping for relief, but he just pumped harder. “Whose idea was it to take a break, from any and all punishments, against the advice of our friends and mentors?”

“It was my idea.” Her voice sounded empty, even to her.

The pumping stopped, but the spanking began in earnest. His hand flattened against her bottom, again and again, peppering both cheeks with sharp swats, one after another, with no pause between. Dd may have been her idea, but damn, the man could spank.

“It seems to me,” he began, concentrating on reddening the crease between her thighs and bottom cheeks, “that we’ve been doing things your way for much too long. I’ve let you be in charge of everything, even this.”

He paused, letting his words sink in. Ginger fought back tears against the pain of the spanking and the truthfulness of his lecture. She had even controlled the way he took control. Shame filled her and the tears fell hot against her cheeks.

“I think,” he continued, his tone decisive, “that it’s time we started doing things my way.”

Return to Corbin’s Bend

“Oh bollocks,” Jim exclaimed as he read the screen in front of him.

“What’s up?” Ange asked. Jim rarely swore anymore and never in front of the children, so she knew it had to be something pretty bad. He had scrunched his eyes in that deeply contemplative way he had, revealing a deep ridge, evidence of his age and life experience. His once black hair was getting more and more peppered with grey, although the spring sunshine had his skin glowing with healthfulness.

“Kieran’s just split up with Maura. He’s due some leave and he wants to come here.”

“Sure that’s hardly the end of the world, is it?”

“For three bloody months! I don’t know how Brent would take to that. It’s a long time and it would be hard to hide what Corbin’s Bend is.”

Ange understood his anxiety. Although Kieran wasn’t the worst of them, neither Jim’s nor Ange’s family were too impressed when their spanking kink had come to light, very publicly. And if they couldn’t handle the kink, then full domestic discipline would definitely not go down well. There wasn’t a hope in hell of Kieran understanding it, or the community they lived in.

“You’ll have to put him off, simple as that. Tell him it’s a closed community and we are only allowed visitors for a week or so. Anyway, it’s not really lying; we aren’t supposed to have long term visitors without the board’s approval,” Ange said.

“Yeah! You’re right, that’s what I’ll do. I doubt Brent would like it. Perfect. Thanks, love.” Ange listened to the rapid click, click, click of the tablet’s keyboard. She was amazed at how computer literate Jim had become since working with Hank Methon. In Ireland, everything was thrown in a shoebox and handed to the accountant. He always said that stuff was beyond him, and yet off the top of his head he could tell you the profit on any job, the cost of any material and what he had in his bank account to the penny, with nothing more than pen and paper and a good memory. He was just too run ragged to set it down formally in a spreadsheet or to get to grips with changing technology.

“Feck it!” Jim exclaimed loudly a few minutes later. Ange looked over. His face was red with anger.

“Bugger had only gone and booked his ticket earlier, it wasn’t a bloody request; he was merely informing us he’s coming.”

“Nice of him to let us know in advance of landing here! So when is he arriving?” Ange asked.

“Next week. Bang goes my study for three months. Brent did say I could have an office, but I always preferred doing the paper work from here. I like having my coffee breaks with you.”

The loss of the office was the least of Ange’s worries. She was concerned about the interference in their private life. She and Jim were closer than ever before, and their sex life was amazing. She wasn’t happy at the idea of another adult staying with them. It would mean they would have to keep the noise down. And the domestic discipline she had fought so hard to avoid was almost like a drug to her, a sedative when she was stressed, a pick me up when she was down. She didn’t want that curtailed. Not to mention another person to feed, clean up after and have under her feet.

“I don’t want him to know what this place is, Jim. Please don’t tell him. He won’t understand.”

“It’ll be hard to hide it, love. Anyway, I thought we left the shame behind in Ireland.”

“Yeah well, it seems Ireland just followed us here. Please. For me?”

* * * * *

At nine pm the flight touched down in Denver International Airport. Kieran cleared customs and immigration much more speedily than he had anticipated. Too quickly in fact; the several beers he had consumed on the flight were still fresh in his system. He needed coffee. Kieran was hoping his niece and nephew were not waiting in arrivals, or Ange would be gunning for him. Kieran had liked Ange a lot when she and Jim started dating, and after they were married and Ava was born. But after little Jack was born, she seemed to change. She lost her sense of humor and got as uptight as bejaysus. She wouldn’t appreciate his landing half cut. But he had needed those few drinks. It had been a tough few weeks. It was bad enough that Maura ditched him, but to hear she was getting married in a couple of months had gutted him. They had been living together for a year. Kieran had been on about getting married for longer than that, but Maura had always insisted she was not the marrying kind, and he had accepted it. Kieran had figured that in time they would have had children and then she would either change her mind about marriage, or at least agree to a civil partnership to give the children a sense of security. To hear she was half way down the aisle already was just devastating. When Kieran boarded that plane, he made a resolution to leave it all behind him. Not normally much of a drinker, he toasted his freedom with far too many beers.

A wave of relief washed over Kieran when he saw Jim standing behind the barriers alone. Kieran was struck by how amazingly fit and trim his brother looked. He had become positively porky before they left Ireland, and no wonder; Ange was an incredible cook. The thought of being fed by her for the next three months was making his mouth water in anticipation. Looking at Jim made him wonder if she had given up on the cooking elaborate dishes for the family, now that she was running a bakery business.

“Is the missus not feeding you right, now that she’s back working?” he asked once Jim released him from the bear hug.

“Don’t you dare say that to Ange, or she’ll serve you your goolies for breakfast in the morning,” Jim replied with a laugh. “It’s living here. The facilities are great and there’s no going to the pub every weekend. You smell like you could do with a dry out too!”

“Christ, I didn’t expect you to have a pop at me. Ange maybe. I haven’t turned into a lush. It’s a once off, I swear. But I could seriously use a coffee before we go any further. How long is the drive?”

“Over an hour. We’ll get coffee to go.”

“I suppose you heard Maura’s getting married,” Kieran said as they started out on the journey.

“Fuck, no! I’m sorry, man.”

“Ach, I suppose it’s better off happening now than when we had kids. At least that’s what I try to tell myself. She’d have left me sooner or later. You’re lucky you found Ange. She’s so dependable.”

“We’ve had our share of ups and downs, every couple does. But yeah, she’s pretty great. And coming here was a brilliant decision. We’ve become a team.”

“Oh my God, that sounds so American. We’ll have to get you back home to sort you out.”

“Scoff away, but you’ll see. Things are different here. Once Corbin’s Bend gets under your skin, you won’t want to leave. And no, before you ask! You can’t extend your stay. Three months is definitely your limit. I had to do all sorts of begging and pleading to get permission for you to stay this long.”

“Why, what’s the big deal with visitors?”

“It’s a housing co-operative, none of us own our houses, but we own shares in the co-op. New residents go through a screening process. And a three month stay is a long time. The board may well want to meet with you, I don’t know yet.”

“What sort of screening? Like work ethic, clean living and that kind of thing?”

“Um, yeah?something like that,” Jim replied. Kieran got the feeling that Jim was holding back, something he wasn’t saying, and his curiosity was piqued. But he knew Jim of old, nothing would convince him to spit it out if he didn’t want to, so Kieran let it pass.

“That’s a great idea, we should have those co-ops in Ireland. Hey, maybe I can look into it when I get back. Could be a business proposition.”

“You’d have to get the right legislation first. And as far as I can see, they’re not profitable. But Brent, the man who started the whole thing, he had a vision and he doesn’t seem to mind helping to fund his dreams.”

“Nice,” Kieran said as they pulled into the community.

“Wait ‘til you see it in daylight. It’s beautiful, especially with the mountains as a backdrop. This is our street now. That house is Brandon Delt’s, he’s a great mate. You’ll like him.”

Kieran couldn’t help but envy the enthusiasm in Jim’s voice as he spoke of his new community and life. He was a different man to the spent force that had almost been hounded out of Ireland almost three years earlier. Kieran, while saddened by the contrast with his own circumstances, could only be thrilled for him. He’d had a rough few years. He wondered if Ange was as happy or if she was here because of Jim. They entered through the front door and headed straight through the hall to the living room where his sister-in-law was waiting their arrival.

“Kieran, great to see you. How was your flight?” He had to stoop pretty low to accept the kiss the diminutive Ange was offering. She was radiating health. Positively glowing. His guess was she was just as happy as her husband.

“Good to see you too, Ange. You look mighty. Thanks for having me.”

“It’s not like you gave us a lot of choice,” Ange retorted, punching him playfully. “You get more like Jim every year, you’d want to be careful I don’t mix you up and snuggle into the wrong brother.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Kieran said.

“Well I certainly would, hands off ? this is mine, all mine,” Jim cut in, grabbing a fistful of his wife’s shapely bottom as she giggled and playfully slapped his hands away.

Yes, things had certainly improved between them, Kieran surmised. He hadn’t seen them so at ease together in years. He suddenly felt better about Maura’s departure. He’d never had that easiness with her. Maybe she hadn’t been the one for him.

The heat and the bright sunshine were the first things that struck Kieran when he woke up in Jim’s study, the room that was to be his bedroom for the coming months. Kieran felt kind of guilty about that ? he hadn’t considered the inconvenience he might have been putting Jim and Ange to when he booked his flight ? all he had been concerned about was getting away. Their house in Ireland, while a similar size, had been much more compartmented. More rooms of a smaller size. The open plan on the ground floor was wonderful, opening the whole area to suit family needs. But throw a third party into the mix and Kieran could see it was tricky. He would either have to stick to his bedroom, or get under their feet.

The aroma of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup soon made lying in impossible. The scents ascended the stairs, with one purpose in mind ? to tempt him from his bed! He checked his watch. At first he was embarrassed at the lateness of the hour, then he remembered he hadn’t yet switched to Colorado time. A bit of speedy mental arithmetic convinced him it was only seven a.m. What in the hell was wrong with these people? Sure it was almost the middle of the night! He raced through his shower, washing away the after effects of his in flight indulgences. There was nothing like a good feed to get you right after a night’s drinking.

When he went into the kitchen, Ange had already gone to work. Jim had apparently whipped up the pancakes himself. Even that was astounding to Kieran. For years, Kieran had watched Ange keep the home fires burning. Even when other things were bad. There were times he had wanted to whap his brother for being so bloody obtuse. He should have seen she was cracking under the strain, but he kept working ridiculously long hours and burying his head in the sand. After little Jack was born, Kieran could see Ange was losing it, and tried to point it out to Jim in as nice a way he could, but Jim kept saying everything was grand. Grand my arse, he thought. How could all that crap in the newspapers be grand? She must have died a new death with each headline. Still, Jim was master of his own castle. It was his business how he ran his life.

“Nice grub. Very American,” Kieran commented as he surveyed the plates on the table.

“Kids like it,” Jim explained. “Didn’t expect to see you for another few hours.”

“Damn, I thought I was missing Ange’s cooking. If I’d known it was only yours, I would have stayed in bed,” he said helping himself to a heaped plate of pancakes, bacon and smothering it in syrup.

“Cheeky bugger! Eat it and be thankful. Now, no offense to the company, but I have to drop the kids off and get to work. Here’s a key. I’ll pop in on you in a few hours. I’ve taken the next few days off, but I thought you would sleep late with the jet-lag, so I figured today should be a work day. Seems like I was wrong. Sorry.”

“That’s grand. Sure I need a bit of time to sleep off this head. I’ll look around later,” Kieran replied through a mouthful of pancake. “These are good, the missus must have taught you a thing or two since you got here.”

“Keep that chat up and I’ll forbid Ange to feed you for the full three months! Oh, I nearly forgot, a neighbor has a key, and she often pops in and out looking for paperwork and stuff. Long, lanky lass by the name of Carla. Don’t piss her off, her father is my business partner. And watch out for her, she eats men for breakfast. She’s a great girl, apart from that.” With that, he exited leaving Kieran no chance to ask any questions.

 

 

The One She Loves by Constance Masters

Chapter One

“Did you see Catherine? She looks like she’s about to burst!” Erin said.

“Seriously?” Sienna asked, topping off everyone’s coffee before sitting down at the table. “She only has one in there. Imagine having two children inside you wrestling for the prime evacuation position. I felt like a beached whale! All I did that last few weeks was lay on the couch and beg them to get out of my body.”

“I liked being pregnant,” Jen said. “My favorite thing was laying down and watching the lumps in my belly move. One side would go up and the other down. I’d touch the lump and try to guess what I was touching; an elbow, a heel.”

“What about that last bit when you’re getting really close to going into labor and you can feel them grinding their head into your bladder,” Erin added.

“Oh God yes. You almost have to eat in the bathroom, you spend so much time in there.” Jen winced at the memory.

“It takes you half the day to get yourself comfortable on the couch only to have to struggle back up to rush to the bathroom. Then most of the time the effort is wasted because when you get there, you realize that you don’t need to go at all.”

Carol sat back munching her cookies, listening and feeling just a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t that her friend’s stories weren’t entertaining. They were, and she could kind of relate. She had seen pregnancy close-up while her girlfriend, Crystal, was carrying their daughter. It wasn’t like Crystal hadn’t tried to include her, she had, but she was twenty and it was hard to put herself in Crystal’s position. She was more into preparing the room and buying the things they needed.

“How long were all your labors?” Sienna asked. “Mine was surprisingly short, considering they were twins. I guess they were competitive even then.”

“Twelve hours with Avery and six with Jordan,” Erin said. “Funnily enough though, I don’t think Avery’s was as painful as Jordan’s was.”

Carol blinked. Going home and doing the laundry would be fun at this point. “Anyone fancy a game of cards?” she asked to kill the baby conversation.

“Oh sorry, hon, because you have Brianna, I forget that you haven’t actually had a baby,” Sienna said, her mouth dropping open when she realized what she’d just said. “Okay, that came out wrong.”

“No, it’s fine,” Carol said. The birth stories get a little old though.

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. What I meant was, that of course Brianna is yours in every sense of the word.”

“But I didn’t actually give birth to her, I get it. I was there though, right next to Crystal spurring her on and holding her hand.”

“Of course you were,” Jen, her best friend, said, putting her arm around the smaller girl. “I bet you were the best support person that there ever was.”

“Of course I was!” Carol scoffed, giving Jen a nudge. Suddenly the penny dropped. “I was the support person, who didn’t feel any of the pain, who didn’t actually experience that moment when the baby slid from my body.”

“I’m sure you felt joy though as you watched your daughter being born,” Erin said.

“Of course she did! I love my kids but I would have felt just as much joy if I could have watched Toby give birth. More actually,” Sienna said with a giggle.

“There’s no joy in watching the one you love go through all that, believe me,” Carol said. “But the birth itself was amazing.”

“Are you sorry?” Jen asked. “I mean, do you wish you had been the one to get pregnant and give birth to Brianna?”

“No. How could I? I love Brianna. If I was her biological mother, then she wouldn’t be her. Besides, at the time, Crystal was more ready than I was. No, I wouldn’t change anything.”

“You wouldn’t change anything then,” Sienna said. “But what about another baby now that you’re older.”

“I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it. I know that Crystal doesn’t feel the need to go through another pregnancy. It took her a while to regain her fitness last time.”

“Is that your nice way of saying she put on weight?” Jen giggled.

“She may have gained a few extra pounds.” Carol smiled. “I liked her that way. Not always pushing vegetables under my nose.”

“I get it. I put on weight after Jack, and Brock was always pushing the vegetables at me. Not to mention all the spankings I earned for not sticking to my diet. He couldn’t stand me whining about how fat I was.”

“Geez, if I was thinking about having a baby, you people aren’t making pregnancy look too appealing.”

“Maybe it isn’t just about the great bits, and there are plenty, or the terrible bits where morning sickness goes all day, and your skin gets bad and your hair goes all limp. Maybe it’s about the ups and downs and that spectacular moment at the end when you look into that little face. Instant love,” Erin said.

“I felt instant love when Brianna was born.” She tried to keep the defensiveness out of her voice but it was hard. It grated on her when people assumed that she wasn’t just as much of a mother to Bri as Crystal. There had been some resentment. Such a tiny bit that she’d been able to push it away when it surfaced. She had felt joy, but it had been Crystal’s tummy the baby had been placed on the minute her daughter was born. It was Crystal’s breast that she had suckled. When Crystal went back to work, she became the Mommy, but it was still Crystal’s expressed milk that gave their daughter sustenance.

“And maybe that will be enough for you,” Sienna said.

“Hmm,” Carol said. “You know what? I don’t think it will. I think I would like to give birth.”

“That’s so exciting!” Jen said. “Are you sure?”

“Do you think that Crystal will be up for having another baby?” Sienna asked. “Brianna is nine, you’re kind of out of the diaper and strained food age.”

“Crystal loves babies,” Carol said. “Besides, what I want matters too doesn’t it?”

“All you can do is put it to her,” Jen said. “I’m sure she’ll be over the moon. She loves you.”

“Yeah she does,” Carol said.

* * * * *

“Carol honey? Bri?” Crystal called. “I’m home!” She placed the boots that she’d stomped off on the welcome mat outside on the shoe rack neatly. They were the only shoes there.

“Momma!” Bri yelled, running to wrap her arms around her mom’s waist. “We’re having spaghetti and meatballs and Mommy’s cooking it from scratch!”

“Well aren’t we lucky.” She hung her cap on the back of the door hook and picked two off the floor, hanging them up beside her own. “Let’s go taste.” She followed her skipping daughter through to the kitchen.

“Hi!” Carol said happily. “We’re having spaghetti. I’m even making the sauce.”

“I can see that,” Crystal said with a giggle at the disaster area that was once the kitchen. In the middle of the counter, on the only space left, was an army of homemade meat balls that were ready to be dropped into the fragrant sauce. “Thank you for going to this much trouble.” She wrapped her arms around her girlfriend from behind and nuzzled her neck.

“You’re welcome,” Carol said, turning to press a sweet kiss on her lips. “Nothing is too much trouble for my girls.”

Crystal couldn’t help but remember the evening before when dinner was a frozen macaroni dinner on a tray in front of the TV because Carol’s favorite show was on. “Honey, I love your special sauce. I have to ask though, is something wrong? No bills that you forgot about, no trouble, nothing you want to tell me?”

Carol shrugged. “Nothing bad.”

“Okay, but there’s something right?” Crystal persisted.

Carol’s eyes flicked over towards Brianna. “I’ll tell you later,” she said.

Taking the hint that whatever she wanted to tell her couldn’t be said in front of their daughter, Crystal dropped it. She tried to push it out of her mind, although that wasn’t easy. She loved Carol to death, but the girl got some interesting ideas sometimes, like the time she went on a hippy fantasy and managed to get herself into all kinds of trouble and her friends along with her. Although she suspected they hadn’t taken a lot of convincing. “How’s your math homework going?” she asked Brianna.

“It’s fine, Mommy helped me with that.”

“That’s great,” Crystal said, relieved. There was nothing more humiliating than being shown up by your grade four daughter. She’d hated math when she was at school, and she wasn’t too keen on it now. Thankfully she didn’t need to do long division anymore. “Well, what are you doing now, spelling?”

“Uh huh.”

“Why don’t I test you?”

“Okay,” Brianna said, handing her the book. “But we don’t have to do that. All we have to do is copy them.”

“I know but if I test you, then you’ll really know how to spell them.”

“I do know how to spell them.”

“I guess we’ll see won’t we.”

Crystal called out each word, impressed when Brianna only stumbled over one rather large word. “Good girl, all done. You can go and watch some TV if you like.”

“Thanks, Momma!” Brianna said, running off to her room to dump her school things before heading back to the living room.

“You’re welcome.”

“I’ll set the table if you like,” Crystal said, collecting an empty jar and rinsing it before placing it in the recycling. She gathered a few other items and dropped them in the trash, including a bunch of onion peels and garlic remains.

“Thanks, that’d be a big help. You don’t have to clean up you know, I’ll do it. I’m just not finished yet.”

“You’re cooking. I don’t mind helping out.” She washed her hands and gathered some plates from the cabinet and placed them on the table along with silverware. “Water or wine?” she asked, pausing at the glasses.

“I thought we might share a bottle of wine.”

“So we’re celebrating,” Crystal said with a grin. “I’m intrigued.”

“Momma, can Avery stay over this weekend?” Brianna called out from the living room.

“What did Mommy say?” Crystal spoke to the child but looked at Carol who shrugged.

“She said to check with you,” Brianna called back.

“I don’t mind,” she mouthed.

“I don’t see why not,” Crystal said. “More the merrier.”

Carol blew out a sigh.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

* * * * *

“Dinner was fun,” Carol said after Bri had left to get ready for bed. It had been nice to sit at the table and hear all about the school news. She usually heard what was going on, either on the way home or while they were at the grocery store or on their way to soccer practice, but it was Crystal that often missed out when she was on shift at the fire station. Brianna had usually gone on to the next piece of news by the time her momma was home.

“Yes it was,” Crystal said. “I never would have found out that Jeremy Spinks liked Amelia who’s never going to love him in a million years because she hates red heads.”

“I know right? Remind me not to invite that little witch to Bri’s birthday party.”

“You can’t do that,” Crystal said. “They’re just kids.”

“I can.”

“You won’t,” Crystal said. “Anyway, when did we decide that Bri was having a birthday party, it isn’t for months?”

“When Amelia decided she hated red heads.”

“You can’t get upset with a nine-year old. Anyway, I’ve waited long enough. I want to hear your news.”

“Okay,” Carol said. “Here’s the thing. I was thinking today that I’m almost thirty and I have a few things that I’d like to experience in my life that I haven’t got to yet. I’ve decided?”

“Yes?” Crystal said when she paused. “Just say it.”

“I want to have a baby.” Her eyes were shut tight and she couldn’t bring herself to open them to see the look on Crystal’s face.

“Open them, Carol. I’m still here.”

“You don’t want to, I can tell,” she said when she did finally open her eyes to her girlfriend’s blank face. She wasn’t giving much away.

“It’s a big thing, Carol, having a baby.” Crystal put her hand over Carol’s, her thumb tracing delicate circles on the soft skin.

“I know. I was there with Bri.” Carol could feel hurt bubbling. She wanted to say that she had been the one raising Bri but she didn’t want to be petty or to lessen the love she had for their first child by making it sound like raising her was a chore. She’d loved every minute of being a Mommy. Well maybe not the temper tantrums and the homework was hit and miss, but nothing in life was perfect was it?

“I know that, honey, you were there then, you have been there ever since.”

“Then why don’t you want to have a baby with

Welcome to Corbin’s Bend

Welcome to Corbin's Bend

Sarah’s Tutoral by Emily Tilton

Chapter One

Professor John Dunn could hardly believe he got the job offer from Sandy Ridge College. True, he had been confident his credentials would prove satisfactory to the search committee and the administration of the college (how could they not, seeing as he was coming from an Ivy League university?), but when he thought of the reason why he had applied to such a small?though well-respected?institution as Sandy Ridge in the first place, the realization of his fantasies in this job offer still seemed incredible. Indeed, his job application had seemed almost a joke in comparison to the approval process for Corbin’s Bend.

He was going to live in Corbin’s Bend. Goodness help him, he started to become tumescent even as he read the letter from Brent Carmichael, the president of the town’s residents’ organization.

He didn’t have much to pack. Dunn, a widower with no children (he and his late vanilla wife, a colleague in the classics department, had decided early in their courtship, twenty years before, that having children would distract them from making the mark on the academic world they?she, really?so desperately wanted to make), had only his library and an old desk he wanted to take along; he didn’t even have many clothes to pack.

It helped that Sandy Ridge, an affluent institution, to suit its clientele coming mostly from the wealthiest suburbs of Denver, offered him a generous housing subvention and even a signing bonus to buy a few new things. Dunn’s sizable personal fortune, inherited from his banking forbearers, would also come in very handy?together with the subvention, it had permitted him to buy into Corbin’s Bend with enough equity to secure a sizable two-bedroom house.

Dunn surveyed the sum total of the property the moving company was about to load onto the truck. Then he looked down at a certain special duffel bag that lay at his feet, which would not go with the movers. He had already begun to think of that bag as his “Corbin’s Bend Bag.” In it he stored various things he felt sure he would soon find more consistent use for, at last. Looking at the bag, he could see one of those things?maybe the most important of them? outlined by the black fabric of the duffel: a long, thin, and flexible rattan cane. The thought of employing it on a deserving, bare female backside, in far off Colorado, made him smile.

Still smiling, he met the movers, signed their paperwork, and climbed into his car for the long drive west.

On his journey, Dunn had a good deal of time for reflection. He supposed he should consider the grave task of preparing to educate the undergraduates of Colorado, but after fifteen years at the job in a much more august sort of a place than Sandy Ridge, he judged himself up to the task. Thus, he excused himself for spending most of his mental energy thinking about his spanking-related pursuits, lost in a reverie of planning the scenes he might now have the leisure to enact, and?more importantly?the partners with whom to enact them.

Dunn’s interest in spanking, and in some of the more advanced (as Dunn thought of them) areas of dominance-and-submission, was lifelong, but only in the final two years of his marriage. Desperate for relief from caring for a dying wife with whom he had never been sexually compatible, he made his first fumbling attempts to pursue it outside the physical bounds of his hand and computer screen. Outwardly, his demeanor did not appear dominant in any sense, really, and this softness of affect made his initial forays?meetings with women who listed themselves on one or another website as submissive?even more difficult. He was not an alpha male, at least to the subs who seemed to pant after alpha males thought of those herd-leading stallions of men. That had meant his first tentative steps into “the lifestyle”?a way of thinking about it that still seemed strange to him four years later?had been even more tentative than Dunn thought they must be for most new dominants.

* * * * *

He’d had two BDSM liaisons in the four years since he started practicing. (Dunn thought of “practicing BDSM” both as doing it in the real world and as working to improve his skills.) Over the course of the three months during which Dunn and Miriam had played frequently, it became clear that she didn’t take it as seriously as he did, and she didn’t think deeply about it at all.

Dunn and Miriam had never formally broken off their relationship. That relationship had consisted of Dunn coming to Miriam’s apartment (once a week, in the beginning) to discipline her and then to enjoy her submissive erotic favors. The last time, which had occurred after a gap of two months during which they hadn’t communicated at all, for no other reason than that they both claimed to be busy, had occurred several months before he received the offer from Sandy Ridge. When the letter arrived, Dunn had taken Miriam out to dinner to tell her that he planned to leave, and to tell her about Corbin’s Bend. Miriam had professed happiness for him very convincingly, and said (more perceptively, really, than Dunn had thought her capable of), “I think that’s probably what you need, John.”

Although it they had spelled it out as a rule in her “Affidavit of Submission”, she had never called him “sir” consistently. He was happy enough to spank her for it during their sessions, but this failure had always irritated him. As far as he could tell, Miriam did it without intending to provoke discipline, but simply because she couldn’t be bothered to remember. Certainly now, though, he thought, wasn’t a time to insist, let alone to start a disciplinary scenario. That was probably a good bit of the problem. He needed a partner whom he felt compelled to pull out of a restaurant and take to the car for a spanking. Miriam had continued, “I mean, you’re not a leather guy, or anything, but you really do need to live it. I like to pretend, but it doesn’t go as deep for me as it does for you, I’m pretty sure.”

It did go deep for him. Somewhere around Iowa, he began to go over, in his mind’s eye, all the scenes he had played with Joanna and Miriam, critiquing his performance as a Dominant and thinking about the new possibilities about to open for him in Corbin’s Bend. He remembered what it felt like to have Joanna’s bottom under his hand for the very first time, after he had said, in a voice that sounded strange in his ears then?soft, but not tentative despite the slight quaver in it (he had no quaver now), “I think you’d better get over my lap, you naughty girl.”

Joanna had started to pull down her jeans then, but he had had the presence of mind to stop her and to say, “I’ll tell you when to do that.” In a certain sense, his life had begun at that moment, when he saw the look in her eyes that made him think that he probably was, after all, as he had thought since he could remember thinking about anything, a natural at this.

Thrilled and a little light-headed, he had spanked Joanna progressively harder. A guilty voice spoke in his head, to be sure. He had left his wife’s hospital bedside only an hour before, and would return there after this transformation, thanking God for his ability to compartmentalize. But at the moment he told her to take down her jeans and panties. Watching her obey, reach under her hips to unfasten her jeans and pull them down, exposing lacy pink panties then lowering them to her knees, after thirty-eight years of fantasizing to orgasm about that very command, certain he would never say it aloud, and if he ever did, no woman would ever comply, made him even more light-headed, but also sent the thought through his brain like a lightning-bolt: this is who I am.

Joanna had submitted, if he remembered correctly, to four men before him. Her experience helped him immeasurably. He had said, cuddling her guiltily afterward, learning about the Daddy-dom side of his nature even as he learned aftercare, with her help, “It’s not like vanilla sex at all, is it?” Joann had nodded, sagely, with a broad smile on her face. Dunn had felt then that he had begun well.

He thought about one of his last sessions with Miriam, when he had unexpectedly brought her to “Yellow” with the cane, punishing her for writing something naughty on a social media site that suggested she might be available. He contrasted the lecture he had given Miriam then about his rules for her conduct with the telegraphic instructions he had given Joanna at that first spanking session. The voice was the same: he never raised it. But in the intervening four years he had learned to act the part in a larger way, for his own and his sub’s erotic benefit. Hearing Miriam gasp “Yes, sir!” in response to each time he said “Do you understand that rule, young lady?”‘ was not really fundamentally different from hearing Joanna say, “Yes, sir,” the very first time he had said?hardly believing he was saying it?”I think it’s time for you to pleasure me with your mouth.” But it was definitely hotter?for him, and, he thought, for the young lady.

“Young lady” was his particular term for a submissive who, whether in reality or in fantasy, belonged to him. He didn’t use it exclusively: “pet”, “slut”, “little whore”, and, above all, “girl” also had power over him, but when he spanked, whether with his physical paddle or the paddle of his imagination, his instructions and admonitions were almost invariably directed to a “young lady”.

He thought, fondly and, truth to tell, with a growing erection, of the sounds Miriam made when he took her bottom with his cock, and of the way he said “Do you like that, young lady? Do you like getting what you deserve?” He wished that she had responded, even once, to these questions, but the whimpers certainly rewarded him enough.

From there, around the end of Nebraska, his mind turned to thoughts of what might await him in Corbin’s Bend. What impressed him most about the marketing materials he had requested from the web, and then read, with some disbelief, ripping open the envelope while still standing in the doorway of his house, was the way the development’s founders designed it so as to permit the whole gamut of spanking lifestyles while still maintaining a baseline of community practice, above all in the permission, and the apparent normality, of public spanking.

But what would that mean to him, with his well-formed BDSM habits, exactly? One clause in a brochure had caught his eye: “Married couples and singles of both sexes are explicitly welcome to enjoy themselves in private in whatever way they choose, according to community standards of safe, sane, and consensual sexuality.” So, no anal in the streets, but also no judgment from the neighbors if you should forget to draw the blinds one night.

He couldn’t lie to himself?and didn’t want to lie to anyone else?about one thing: he was looking for a playmate who might also become a taken-in-hand partner: so taken-in-hand that “slave” wouldn’t be an inappropriate term for her, whoever she turned out to be. She must be truly submissive. She must indeed want to be his slave.

Maybe it was nothing more than a fantasy. Joanna and Miriam had been wonderful presences in his life despite the lack of that submission bond of which he had always dreamt. Whether or not he found what he always thought of as his own true young lady in Corbin’s Bend, he felt sure he would find happiness there, if only because he would live with other people sharing a similar lifestyle.

Three weeks later, he gave his first lecture in the Introduction to Western Civilization course he’d been hired to teach. That was when he first saw Sarah Harshaw, before he knew her name. It was not love at first sight, for either of them. In later years, though, he always remembered the blonde girl in the front row had caught his eye, and that he had wondered whether she might be from Corbin’s Bend.

Leading the Way by Constance Masters

Chapter One

“Are those earrings part of your uniform, Avery?” Zach asked, peering at his daughter in the rear mirror as they drove home at the end of the school day.

“They’re just tiny, Daddy.”

“That’s not the question I asked you.”

“No, Daddy, but I hate this uniform. There’s not a pretty thing on it. It’s so? dark blue.”

“It’s a uniform, Avvy, not a fashion statement. Rules are rules and they apply to you, the same as everybody else. I don’t think Momma would have let you wear them.”

“She didn’t,” Jordan piped in. “She hid them in her pocket and then put them?”

“I hate you, Jordan!” Avvy cut Jordan off.

“Hey!” Zach called out as he pulled the car into the driveway. “Both of you be quiet this minute. Avery? That was very naughty of you to break the school uniform rule and to sneak things past your Momma, we’ll talk about that later.”

Jordan gave her sister a smug smile.

“Jordan, you can lose that look, too. What Avery did was none of your business and gloating because someone else is going to get into trouble may just get you in trouble as well.”

“That’s so not fair. Bimbo,” she mouthed behind her hand.

Zach shook his head. Jordan had to have the last word. “Change that may get in trouble to a will get in trouble.”

“This isn’t fair, Daddy,” Avery whined. “You only found out because you’re a teacher at the school. No one else has to take their parents with them every day.”

“Diddems. You’re such a baby sometimes and you’re supposed to be the oldest,” Jordan said. “I love that you teach at our school, Daddy.”

“I do, too, but you’re still in trouble, Jordan.”

Finally deciding to cut her losses, Jordan jumped out of the car and slammed the door, letting the final bang satisfy her need for power.

Zach locked the car and lowered the garage door. He smiled to himself. Little hiccups like that little argument were about as bad as it got these days. A far cry from the way it was before they moved to Corbin’s Bend. That had been a nightmare. He’d worked all day in a school where it was hard to decide what was worse about the students: their inappropriate dress, their filthy mouths or their total lack of respect for their free education. There was the odd little treasure that made it all worthwhile, but mostly, it had depressed him. Home hadn’t been any better. Luckily they’d moved to this place and it saved them. They had a lovely home in an ordered neighborhood and most of all, the one thing he wanted for his family, peace.

* * * * *

Erin was pleased to see her girls as they flounced into the house obviously carrying with them some argument that had started in the car. She envied their childish self-centered personas. As the mother, she held her shit together so to speak, to think of the greater good of the family. She kept a clean house, well mostly. She could throw together a decent meal.

“Mom! Are you even listening?” Avery whined.

“Of course I am,” Erin said, touching her daughter’s cheek softly. “If you took the risk of sneaking your earrings to school when you knew it was against the rules then you have to accept the consequences.”

“If you wrote a letter and told them I needed to wear them then they’d give them back.”

“You are such a dummy, Avvy,” Jordan said. “Have you forgotten that Dad works at that school? He has lunch with your teacher!”

“Mom! Tell her to mind her own business!”

“Well, he does!”

“Shut up!”

“You shut up!”

Avery closed her eyes and took a big breath but when she opened them the argument about nothing really was still continuing. “That’s it! Go to your rooms and do your homework. You can come out for a snack in half an hour.”

“No way!” Jordan said. “Isn’t starving your children against the law or something?”

“Jordan, you heard me. Stop arguing and just go! Both of you, go!” Erin didn’t like it when she raised her voice. It meant she’d let them get the better of her.

The door creaked open and Zach appeared. “Girls, you heard your mom, move,” he said, and just like that they scuttled away to their rooms.

“How do you do that?” she asked, turning to face the kitchen cabinets to finish putting away the clean dishes. That and to hide the tears that were welling in her eyes. Things had gotten to her that day and the girls’ petty argument had finished her off.

“You okay?”

Zach wasn’t saying anything and that meant one thing, that he’d already made up his mind that something was wrong. “I’m fine.” Well the silence and the fact that he was moving closer to her.

“You don’t sound fine.”

Erin wanted to run but there was nowhere to run to, even if she did get past the large man that was waiting for an answer. “It’s just the girls bickering…”

Great one Erin, throw your children under the bus, she thought bitterly. “No, that’s not it.”

“Shh, it’s okay.” Zach wrapped himself around her, holding her to him tightly while she melted into a puddle of tears. “Hey, this isn’t like you. What’s brought this on?” he asked finally when her breathing settled and she started to pull away.

Embarrassment was now added to the list of Erin’s overflowing emotions and she just wanted everything to be normal. “I guess I’m just hormonal,” she said hoping the words would scare her husband off the track.

“Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Don’t try to put me off. You’re my wife and I love you and I know when you’re upset. I just need to know why.”

“Just for once, can’t I just be upset because I am?” She knew her voice was rising, but she couldn’t help it. She didn’t even know why she was being so stubborn.

“Did something happen today that was out of the ordinary?”

Erin rolled her eyes dramatically. She should have known she couldn’t put anything over her on husband. He was a sixth grade teacher that used to teach in the city. Interrogation and intimidation were part of his list of life skills. “I went to school for the fundraising meeting and the moms froze me out.”

“What do you mean they froze you out?”

“They didn’t talk to me, Zach. I just sat there in the back and they pretended I wasn’t there.”

“Are you sure? I mean I’m not saying that I disbelieve you. I’m just saying that I’m surprised. Did you try to talk to them?”

“You think it’s my fault.”

“I didn’t say that. I asked you if you’d tried to start a conversation.”

“How could I when they were all talking about their shared lives, lives that I have no part of? They were talking about stuff they’ve done together and stuff they have coming up. They didn’t even see me. It’s always like that.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t see.”

“Look, I’m glad you’re talking to me about what’s worrying you, but I’m warning you, your attitude is slipping, you need to watch your tone.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just frustrating. You have friends and work colleagues, even the girls have friends. I have nobody. Okay, that sounded mean. You know how much I love my family, but I miss my old life. I miss my friends.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier, honey? I could have done something to help you. Tea?” he said holding up a cup.

Erin shrugged, a cup of tea would be nice, but it usually came with a complimentary lecture.

Zach passed his wife her steaming cup and sat opposite her at the kitchen counter. “You told me you were happy, Erin.” He waited a second but she didn’t respond so he kept going. “You should make more of an effort to see Diana. That’s why we were given the mentors when we moved here, to make settling in easier.”

“When she’s called I always seem to have something on.”

“Oh. Like what exactly?”

“I don’t know, stuff.”

“You have to make time for important things and you would have done if you’d wanted to.”

Erin sipped her tea.

“You didn’t want to Erin, why?”

“I didn’t like it.”

“You didn’t like what exactly?”

“Having someone else to answer to.”

“It wasn’t like that. It was someone to talk over your concerns with.”

“I don’t have any concerns. I’m happy with the way things are with us. I don’t have to talk about the intimate details of our marriage with a perfect stranger in order to make us work. What I need is some fun, some friends.”

“Okay, I hear you and I feel terrible that I’ve been happy while you’ve been miserable. I feel even worse that I didn’t notice. You need help to fit into Corbin’s Bend I can see that now, but in order to make that happen I think we need to talk to our mentors. We can do it together if you like.”

“I don’t like. So all three of you can gang up on me? No thanks.” Erin didn’t get why Zach thought it was necessary to ask other people how to fix everything. It was one thing to ask Brent to come and help with something that needed fixing in the house, but to go to a perfect stranger and explain that your wife was a loser that no one liked was embarrassing. To sit in a group of three all discussing how they could make you less of a loser was worse.

Zach didn’t raise his voice but he gave her the look. “Well we can’t leave things like this. I’ll make arrangements for us all to meet.”

“You can make arrangements for yourself, but don’t bother for me, I’m not going.” Erin knew she was getting herself into trouble, but at that very moment she didn’t care.

“You know very well that is not your decision to make.” Zach’s eyes didn’t leave hers.

“That’s not fair! I’m upset! Now’s not the time to throw around your head of house crap!”

Zach was around to her side of the counter in a second. He lifted her from the stool and stood her before him as easily as he would have a child, despite the fact that she was a grown woman. “Take your little butt into that bedroom and stand in the corner and think about what you just said.”

“I have to make dinner.” That last statement was both lame and clutching at straws she knew, but it was all she could come up with on the spur of the moment.

“Dinner will wait. Now go.” He set her moving with a smack to the back of her jeans.

* * * * *

Zach could have kicked himself as he watched his wife disappear into their room. How could he have let this happen? Talk about sleeping on the job. He should have insisted that she didn’t put Diana off when she tried to contact her. His own mentor, Diana’s husband Rick, had tried to warn him that it was too soon for Erin to break out on her own but things had seemed fine. They had hadn’t they? He racked his brain for proof or for clues, something that he should have noticed. Things that were not as they should have been, but he came up empty, Erin had hidden her unhappiness well and he’d let her. He could have headed this off at the pass if he’d been paying attention, he was sure of it. It was time he stepped up.

Zach closed the door gently behind him. After checking on the children and making sure they knew they were to stay in their rooms until they called, he had come in search of his wife. He stood with his back to the door admiring the sight of Erin while he judged her mood. Not repentant, that was for sure. Her back was stiff, her arms were folded and although she had stripped down to her panties as she was supposed to when in trouble, that and the fact that she was actually in the corner, were the only things that were submissive about her stance. That was his Erin, prideful for as long as she could get away with it.

“Can we just get on with it please?” Erin said from the corner.

“Oh, we most certainly can.” Zach took up a spot on the end of the bed. “Seeing as how you’re so eager, you can pick up your hairbrush from the dresser on your way over.” She did so but he could tell that it took everything she had to make her feet move without stomping.

“I’m sorry,” she tried once she was standing before him hairbrush in hand.

“Really? You don’t look very sorry. You look like you’re angry with me.

“I don’t want to talk to Diana. If you loved me you wouldn’t make me.”

“Oh, you’re pulling out all the stops today. First you try stubbornly telling me no. Then you give me attitude and your last-ditch effort is emotional blackmail. I do love you and that’s precisely why I want to help you, which I’m going to whether you want me to or not.” Zach pulled her panties down and waited for her to step out of them, noticing that she was getting sorrier by the second.

“What if the girls come in?” she tried as he took her arm.

“The lock’s on and you know they wouldn’t open a door without knocking, after being told to stay in their rooms. Now stop stalling, bend over my knee.” He knew she would rather he just bent her over his knee but her attitude had made this a lesson in submitting as well. He ignored the pleading eyes. “Don’t make me count, you’ll get extras.”

“Please I’ll be happy,” she almost whimpered.

“One.”

“That’s not fair! I was just talking to you.”

“You were bargaining with me, two.”

“Stop counting, please, Zach!”

“Three.”

“Okay, okay.” She practically threw herself over his knee.

He brought his hand down hard on her right cheek, waiting a few seconds for the color to rise to the surface in shape of his handprint. Another followed on the other cheek.

“Ow! Zach!” she whined, trying to wriggle away from his hand.

“Erin, I don’t want you to act happy,” he said as he found a steady rhythm, punctuating each word with a smack. His hand clapped noisily off her rapidly coloring bottom.

“Please, Zach, you’re doing it too hard!” She kicked her legs wildly, trying to dodge his punishing hand.

“You know how this family works,” he said with another round of spanks to both cheeks. “You wanted to live in a DD marriage.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry!” she wailed.

“You don’t get to decide when or if you are going to so as your told.” Her bottom was getting very hot and quite pink so he stopped for a second to let her get her breath. “You don’t ever tell me no.” He started the spanking again, but slower and slightly softer. It was enough on an already burning bottom, Erin’s face crumpled.

“I was angry. I’m sorry.”

“I know, but what you said was very disrespectful and you hurt me. I don’t flaunt the fact that I’m head of house, it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously and something that I thought we were in agreement about.”

“We are!” Erin was crying hard now.

Zach was sure her tears had more to do with true repentance than pain now. She’d taken harder spankings than this one plenty of times. He stopped, helped her to stand and pulled her into his arms.

“I’m so..rry.” She sobbed into his shoulder.

&ldquo

Ravaged

Ravaged

When the final draft of erotic thriller author Carrington Winters’ latest book turns up in the wrong hands, the mistake sets off a chain of events, some involving a complete stranger. Her manuscript details her darkest desires, as well as mirroring a series of real-life murders, and she finds herself drawn to the mystery man, throwing her inhibitions aside.

Architect Jackson Devereaux finds Carrington’s manuscript in his email inbox and he can’t help but read it. Surprisingly, he finds her hidden needs too tempting to ignore. As they learn to trust and explore their growing desires, they begin a cat and mouse game of guarded rendezvous until a murderer seeks revenge, targeting their budding love.

As new and heinous murders rock Chicago, Carrington is forced to face a past she was determined to shelve in an ugly black box. Jackson is forced to face a tragedy from his past that he hoped to forget, but secrets and lies refuse to be denied. What secrets do they both hold that could tear them apart? Is their new romance strong enough to survive a murderer intent upon destroying their lives?

Publisher’s Note: This dark tale is not your typical chocolate and flowers romance, but is a romance with a spicier side. It contains elements of danger, suspense, power exchange, adult language, and explicit scenes. If any of these elements offend you, please do not purchase.

*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ravaged-Cassandre-Dayne-ebook/dp/B0758H6X77/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=digital-text

Sample Chapter

 

Chapter One

Do you hunger like I do?

Do you crave what only I can give you?

Come… be with me forever…

Hiding in the shadows, he stood watching her. It would be impossible for her to detect his presence. He was always very careful. Cocking his head, he scrutinized every aspect of her appearance and nodded in approval. There was something beautiful about her and the way she handled herself. He’d watched on more than one occasion, studying her every move and aspects of her daily routine, but tonight was somehow more special. Every cell in his body ached to touch her but he was strong in his convictions. Never would he allow himself to interfere. Instead, he remained a voyeur simply indulging in a fantasy. Inhaling, he followed closely behind as she moved through the darkened streets toward her car.

Given the light breeze, he garnered a whiff of her perfume and the musky scent filled him with hunger. Licking his dry lips, he was forced to adjust his aching bulge. He longed to taste her, fuck her then kill her. This was his way and she was interfering, but he wasn’t ready yet for the end to come—for forever. No, he wanted more time to play. Resisting a dark chuckle bubbling to the surface, he placed his hands in his pockets and glanced up at the star filled sky. After the bars and restaurants were closed for the night was the only time he was comfortable, tempting his fantasies and stalking his prey. Here he was out before curfew. Smiling, he knew he was risking his entire plan but she was too desirable to resist. She’d called to him unknowingly and he had to see her. There was something so delicious about knowing her schedule.

The thought gave him a deep-seated desire. If only he had the courage to reach out and take her here and now. No. It simply wasn’t time yet and he had to mask his true identity from her powers. They’d be growing soon enough and when they did he’d be forced to end the game completely. There was much to be done. The sounds of the city filtered into the dark area and while she was cautious, hugging her purse to her body, she was confident in her manners, her steps. Merely going about her business, she was unaware a monster lurked in the shadowed light.

As she turned what he knew to be the final corner, he heard the blipping sound as she unlocked her car door. He continued to watch her, from the way she brushed her hair back from her face to the moment she scanned the perimeter of the parking lot before she climbed inside. She was perhaps the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on. Too bad she was going to die. At least in her death would be redemption.

He took a stride back further into a dark alcove as the engine roared to life. Headlights flashed in his direction and she took off, heading straight for his hidden location but he wasn’t afraid she’d see him. He was nothing more than a ghost. When the car roared past, he stepped out into the hazy light and emitted a strangled sigh. Standing still for several minutes, he cocked his head and attempted to calm his desires. He was in too much need. Perhaps it was time for a snack to squelch the growing rage.

As he moved up the street he kept his head down until a noise caught his attention. The scent of a woman was difficult for him to resist. Hearing feminine laughter coming in his direction, he could see what appeared to be a young woman talking on a cellphone. Perhaps this was karma. He kept his stride even as he walked toward her. There was no reason for her to be afraid. This was a fashionable part of the city near some of the most eloquent clubs in town, many of them catering to the darker side of sex for the wealthy and privileged. The closer he came to her the more he hungered. Not only was she a beautiful creature but she also reminded him of the one he really wanted. From the girl’s long hair and creamy white skin to her very sensual manner of dressing, she was almost breathtaking and very innocent. Or was she? Homing in on her call, he grew incensed.

“No, Kiki. Seriously. That’s not what he was talking about. I tried to tell you this before,” she said as she brushed her hand down her skirt. “I know. He’s an asshole. There’s no doubt about it. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt but he was just trying to get me into bed. Not that I would mind, but on my terms period. He thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips. Hell, he just pretended to be rich but I Googled him and know better. The man’s almost broke. Can you believe the nerve of him?”

Clenching his fist, he emitted a low hiss. Why were they all the fucking same? He slowed his gait, allowing him to hear more of her conversation as he eyed the darkened storefronts. They were closed for the evening. Stepping into the shadows, he waited for the perfect moment. There was no doubt in his mind he was right in doing this, saving the bitch from herself.

“Like I said, I’m going home to slide into a tub with a glass of wine, then I’m going to read a romance novel about men in shining armor. You know, real men instead of these cheap bastards. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” The second she closed the phone shut she started walking faster, the clip of her heels echoing into the dense air.

When she passed he stepped out behind her, inhaling a scent of not only her perfume but sex. The woman had engaged in some manner of carnal activity only recently. Sighing, he pushed up his sleeves and closed the distance. All women were alike—bitches. Ridding the world of their kind was his good deed for mankind. Sighing, he smiled at the thought. If only the little people knew how much he was really helping them.

The second he wrapped his arm around her neck she issued a strangled gasp that was immediately cut short by the brute strength of his muscles. “Oh…” She struggled, kicking out and catching him in the shins only causing him to clamp down harder.

Squeezing with a practiced force, the sharp crack of her neck breaking was a delicious reward for all the hours he’d suffered. “So beautiful and so damn stupid.” Chuckling softly, he dragged her lifeless body into the shadows. As he turned her around to face him, her vacant eyes held the moment of shock and instant death. He shivered from the utter beauty of the kill. “My. You’ll be a perfect addition.” He grazed the tips of his fingers down the side of her face before lowering his head and brushing his lips across hers. Her body sagging in his arms, he pulled back and allowed a low growl to erupt from his lips. He dragged out the knife and gazed at the serrated edges, licking his lips. As he held the sharp point to her throat he thought about the love of his life.

“Soon, my beloved. Soon.”

* * *

Do you hunger like I do?

Do you crave what only I can give you?

Come… be with me forever…

Carrington Winters snapped her head up and sighed before catching a glimpse of her notepad. She’d been doodling again. As she read the words twice she grimaced and looked down at the small trashcan nestled against the corner of her desk. She’d written the same passage at least six times in the last two nights. And every time in red ink. Hell, she didn’t even know she owned a red pen. “What’s wrong with me?” The answer was far too damning to think about. Push away the ugly thought. Yeah, that’ll do it. Growling, she shook her head. She was simply exhausted from her self-imposed brutal schedule. That’s all. Time to get back to business.

Brushing a damp strand of hair from her face, Carrington fingered her teacup and sighed. “It’s almost done. Almost?” Blurry eyed, she gazed at the screen and realized all the letters were starting to melt together. Groaning, she sat back in her chair and took a sip of the lukewarm tea. What she really wanted was a tall glass of merlot, but if she didn’t hit send on her manuscript tonight there would be hell to pay. Her editor had been patient. The wine could wait until she was absolutely done. The damn errand had cost her nearly two hours. She hated traffic and traffic jams and assholes that acted like the road belonged to them.

Chuckling, she knew she would probably kill off the bastards in her next book. Probably? She was in the business of killing creatively. The thought gave her a smile. Mixing erotic and mass murder was an interesting twist but one she loved. There was no doubt she was enjoying being able to murder some of her characters and not simply have them romp in bed. Brushing the tip of her finger back and forth across the seam of her mouth, she reread the last two pages then read them again. Dear God, she was bone tired but she had to finish. “You can do it.” Giving her computer the finger, she moaned. Sleep was highly overrated. Still, she loved the book and was thrilled with the outcome.

Her Hidden Desires , Carrington’s highly anticipated second in her gritty erotic crime thriller novels, was already pre-sold to the tune of thousands at every major e-book shelf internet store and failure to deliver wasn’t an option. The remaining brick and mortar stores had surprised her with the quantity of their orders—or shocked her editor anyway. The story was headline material. Centered around an incredible real-life event in her hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio almost three years before, Carrington knew this one could be a best seller.

Climbing to her feet, she walked to the bulletin board nestled in the back corner of her office and fingered the copious newspaper clippings pinned across the four by six corkboard. She’d read every article, every internet piece to garner the feel of the dark story. The murders had shut down the small town for two months and the killer had escaped. Shivering, she held her arms and wasn’t able to go down the road of wretched memories. She’d come too far to fall into the trap again. Her story was simply a way of giving a voice to the mutilated women and to allow them retribution within the pages of her novel. While completely fictional, with every scenario totally different than the actual chain of events, the haunting piece was certain to ruffle a few feathers. Carrington only hoped the publication wouldn’t drag her into hell.

In truth, changing from being what some called a fluffy erotic romance author to an erotic crime storyteller was a calculated risk and one she welcomed with open arms, hence the name change to C.W. Wynters for the planned series. Exhausted, Carrington sauntered toward the bank of windows, allowing her a spectacular view of the great lakes, and sighed as she palmed the glass. There was no doubt she loved Chicago but she remained homesick for her small town nestled at the banks of the Ohio River. Shaking her head, she gazed out at the star filled sky and smiled.

There was something so peaceful about working from home in the wee hours of the morning. More committed than ever, she headed back to her desk determined to finish the book, grab a glass of wine and ease into a sudsy bath. Then maybe when she finally fell into bed she could sleep without the vicious nightmares jolting her every other hour or so. Shivering, she exhaled and pushed the ugly thoughts away as she glanced at her watch. Thank God, she didn’t have any early appointments.

Staring at the last paragraph for what had to be a full five minutes, she rubbed her eyes then repeated the passage out loud, unsure if anything she’d typed for the last hour made any sense. “And as Sheila glared down at the killer, knife nestled in her bloody hand, she smiled. His vacant eyes shimmering in the moonlight remained mesmerizing. After all, she’d seen his domineering expression every time they’d made love. Her body shaking, she remembered all the lies and the promises. Hell, she’d been such a fool but no longer. She was different now and one who would never allow a man to take advantage of her again. Hearing the subtle plop, plop sound she finally tilted her head, enabling her to look directly at the slickened tile floor. She brushed the back of her hand over her swollen lips and caught a glimpse of the knife, glistening in the dim lighting and couldn’t help but smile. The pool of red blood reminded her she was very much alive and the monster, her monster was dead. Dropping the knife, Sheila held her hand in front of her face and began laughing as the realization hit her hard. She’d become the monster she’d so feared.”

“Not bad.” Rubbing her arms as a cold shiver trickled down her back, Carrington nodded in respect to her work. The ending was much grittier than the one before, her editor gave her some great advice. Then again, this was a far different ending than the real story. Finally satisfied, she saved the piece and opened up her email. As she searched for her editor’s email address she laughed. A new computer, a new operating system and a new email account meant no saved email addresses. Sadly, the switch had been a necessary evil since her entire life had been hacked and certain files corrupted while she’d taken a few days off.

Hissing, she grabbed her notebook full of her contacts and flipped to the page listing her editor. Blinking furiously, she chastised herself for wearing her contacts for so many long hours. Hell, she could barely see a damn thing. Jennifer Devereau had more than one email and only the favored authors had her private one. It seemed Carrington had come up in the world. The thought giving her a mischievous grin, she typed in the address, added the attachment and couldn’t help but tease. Here you go. As requested and I think you’ll find the haunting ending much more to your liking. And no more teasing about the kinky moments being what I want.

Carrington nodded in satisfaction and hit send. The sad thing was Jennifer had no idea just how much she craved every single one of the acts portrayed in the book. From bondage and the kinky clubs to acts of domination as explored by her heroine turned killer, Carrington had always enjoyed the kinkier sides of sex—if no other place than in her dark fantasies. The few experimentations had left her breathless and hungering for more but she wasn’t sure she could ever trust anyone that much again. Then again, with one call she could have exactly what she craved. No, she wasn’t going there. Period. Sighing, she turned off the large monitor and padded into the kitchen. Now she could relax and celebrate. What a shame no one was up at almost three in the morning.

Pouring a hefty glass of wine, she stood gazing at nothing but her mind was already reeling around book number three. Halfway done, she needed to put herself in the middle of the victim’s world and that might mean a trip to the location where the horrific crimes happened. She loved doing research and this one was centered around the seediest kink clubs patronized by the upper crust of society. Murder and sex knew no age or money brackets. Even Jennifer was excited about the additional aspects of the series. If she could keep up the pace putting out four of these a year, along with her other erotic pieces, she might make a name for herself by the end of 2018. Nibbling her bottom lip, she walked past the bulletin board and stood staring at the ugly pictures, bloody photographs of the real victims. How could the woman have endured so much pain? Swallowing hard, understanding wasn’t difficult.

Do you hunger like I do?

Do you crave what only I can give you?

Come… be with me forever…

The words haunted and terrified her as well. The sad aspect was Carrington knew where they came from and wanted no part of the situation. As she turned her head and eyed the scribbled and almost unrecognizable passage on the scrap of paper, she hissed and snatched it from the desk. Balling the paper in a tight wad, she pitched it into the trashcan. “No. You won’t do this. It’s gone. You don’t have to think about the past any longer.” Unfortunately, the wretched details were all she could think about. The ugly memories filled her nightmares. Get out of my head.

As she turned off the desk lamp and headed for her bedroom, she thought about Preston and cringed. Damn it! The nightmares were easing into her daylight hours and she didn’t have the control to stop them from happening. Somehow, she knew nothing would ever ease the painful memories and the ugly visions and thoughts haunting her every night. Too many years. Too much horror. And now she didn’t even know herself any longer. Turning on the radio on her nightstand, she found a light jazz station and moved into the bathroom to start the water, adding her favorite scent of bath beads. Something had to soothe her nerves.

When she finally slipped into the tub, she leaned her head against the back and slid all the way into the warm water, dreaming. She could see Preston’s face as they walked hand in hand along the beach, thinking and planning for the future. They’d always dreamed of owning a beach house and while her writing career hadn’t taken off they knew one day she’d be rich and famous. Grabbing her glass of wine, Carrington chuckled hearing his words echoing from nowhere and everywhere  . You’re already famous. You just don’t know it yet. And that had been almost two full years before. Before… Before her entire world had been turned upside down. Well, for the second time in her life. How much could one woman endure?

“Oh, Preston. Why?” Taking a gulp of her wine Carrington knew this wasn’t going to do any good. Pining away for a dead man only continued the horrendous dreams. Maybe her best friends were right—time to get out and mingle. Snorting, she wasn’t certain she was ready for the benign party crowd but playing the lonely bump on a log wasn’t becoming either.

Minutes later she eased out of the tub and slipped into fresh panties and a silk robe. Her heart was heavy but finishing the book did give her a sense of accomplishment and yet she couldn’t get Preston out of her mind. But she’d made a promise to herself when she completed this book she was going to buy herself a treat and it was high time she remembered to put herself first.

Carrington moved into the kitchen and refilled her wine. She walked the entire perimeter of her living room before padding back into her office, glancing first at the bulletin board. The photographs were horrific reminders yet beautiful to her. There were days she studied every one of them almost to the point she had the articles and the positions of the bodies memorized. Sighing, she sat down at her desk and contemplated her next level of research. She’d been avoiding heading feet first into the gritty portions of the next book but now she had no excuses. A contract was a contract and Jennifer had proven to be a tough taskmaster.

She licked the rim of her wine glass before taking a sip. Preston’s death had been the final reason she’d allowed herself to finally start writing, a childhood dream. Holding up the glass, she saluted him in her mind. He was her lover and dominator but never really her friend. In truth, they hadn’t built a relationship on friendship and nights in front of a comedy or romantic dinners out. No, her rather curious side about all things erotic had led to a chance meeting and one thing had led slowly to another. Preston was all consuming and very narcissistic and both hated and feared by his peers. Neither of them had many friends at the time so he became her whole world. His terrifying words continued to reverberate in the back of her mind.

You don’t know what you need but I do. Give in to your dark desires. Allow me to take you to where you hunger to visit. Only I can give you the level of ecstasy you truly need. Only I can train you to become the woman you not only want to become but have to be in order to enjoy—in order to come. Submit to me completely and I’ll take you into ecstasy.

Every time Carrington thought about the words she trembled. The first time the man had said them to her they were on his boat drinking champagne in the moonlight. The evening had been so damn special and while he’d hinted at tying her up and spanking her before, Preston had never acted on his needs. Then again, she didn’t know he was deadly serious.

The memory of him handcuffing her near the bow of the ship, using a strap across her naked ass for the first time, had been both exhilarating and terrifying and yet when he’d finished she’d begged for more. Licking her lips, the images remained, burning in the back of her mind like an electrified haze of lust.

The dazzling event had given her the courage to try more and to allow Preston to begin the slow path into domination. When he’d died, she refused to think about returning to the lifestyle. But she craved it. The passion for her writing began in earnest, giving her a much-needed outlet. Dear God, if she wasn’t almost desperate to have relief. How long since she’d been with a man? Living out her fantasies vicariously in her books was getting old and her collection of sex toys more extensive.

Pushing her wine across the desk, she sat back in her seat and slid her hand into her robe. As she opened a desk drawer she pulled out a folder she kept for her private moments. Opening the thick file slowly, she fingered the colorful clippings she’d collected over the last two years. Flicking her finger back and forth across her nipple, she allowed a single moan to escape past her lips. Rock hard and aching, she could almost feel Preston’s mouth wrapped around first one, then the other nipple sucking and biting down until he drew a stream of blood.

Shivering, Carrington pinched and twisted her nipple between her fingers until the slice of pain coursing through her system became a powerful thirst. Swallowing hard, she moved her hand to the other nipple, repeating her almost savage actions until both were swollen. When she flipped to a glossy, she smiled and fingered the transparent edges of the photograph. My God, there was something so amazing about watching people engaging in acts of BDSM. Carrington tried to tell herself the file was for research purposes only but the lie was wearing thin. For a few months after Preston’s death she’d gotten close to a man who’d become her drug. Tripp was the reason she left Los Angeles in a hurry and mostly because she almost lost her entire identity to the man. But Preston was her true and only Master and sadly she knew Tripp was merely a slip toward damnation.

“Mmm…” Memories of Preston’s domination were sweet and forced her pussy to ache with need. Every move practiced, she opened her legs wide and eased her fingers under the thin lace of her panties, swirling the tip of her finger around the tender tissue as she allowed a hot breath to skate across her skin. She growled and stole a glance over her shoulder toward the open window blinds. As if remembering her husband’s commanding tone, she rose to her feet and untied the sash on her robe. Carrington remained quiet as she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a set of nipple clamps. Holding them into the dim light, she trembled and nipped her bottom lip.

“I can almost see you smiling.” As she moved out of her office and further into the adjoining living room, she turned on a torch lamp, illuminating the area in front of the back wall. Walking toward the bank of windows, she pushed the soft material down from her shoulders and allowed gravity to take the robe to the floor. Easing her fingers under the elastic of her thong, she stopped long enough to push the thin slip of lace down her legs and kicked out of them.

Exhaling slowly, she closed the distance to the windows and stood gazing at the surroundings. While no one could see her directly without a telescope or set of binoculars, the thrill remained inside. What if someone could see her? What if they knew she wasn’t the woman they thought she was? Glancing down at the steel clamps, she opened and closed one of the pinchers. As the sound of metal scraping against metal filtered around her, Carrington issued a slow hiss.

Every part of her body shaking, she slid her hand down between her legs and opened them wide as she continued scanning the adjacent buildings. Fingering her clit, she sighed then moved her hand back up to her breasts, cupping and squeezing first one then the other. She was wet and horny. Plucking one of her nipples, she opened the clamp and carefully placed the vice like grip around her hard bud. When she released the tension, she tossed her head back and gasped. “Ooh!” Biting pain coursed through her body.

Panting, she placed the second pincher around her other nipple and allowed the clamp to bite in. “Oh, yes.” Jolts of current pulsed up and down her legs until she was breathless. Carrington stood as close to the window as she could stand, as she eased her fingers down to her pussy, swirling the tips around her clit until her heart was racing. As she tugged on the chain, forcing her nipples to stand at attention, she grazed her fingers up and down the length of her pussy, darting the tips just inside.

Blinking furiously, she teased her tender skin dipping her fingers just inside and pulling them back out. Carrington leaned her head on the cool glass and continued her actions, finally driving her fingers as deeply inside as she could. Flexing them open, she thrust harder and faster as her cunt muscles wrapped around the tight invasion, clamping and milking. “Oh! Oh, oh.” When she opened her eyes, she remained stoic as she emitted a series of husky pants and continued yanking on the chain.

“God.” Every move brought her closer to a moment of sheer joy and yet she refused to come, refused to allow herself the blissful moment of joy. As flashes of light swirled around her field of vision Carrington tossed her head from side to side as her legs shook almost violently.

Afraid she was going to fall to the floor, she palmed the glass and stopped her actions. There was no command telling her to come. “Fuck!” Staring out into the night sky, the series of lights turning on and off were more thrilling than the action itself. Suddenly unsure, she stepped away from the window and growled before releasing her aching nipples. She tossed the clamps onto the sofa and rubbed her tender breasts. Carrington turned off the light before grabbing her robe. This wasn’t nearly as good as the real thing. As she slid into the silky material and walked slowly back into her office to retrieve her wine, she realized Preston continued to usurp his brand of domination over her even from beyond the grave.

She gulped several sips of wine and gripped the edge of the desk as she eased back into the chair.

The deal made with her personal devil, she set the glass down, leaned back and closed her eyes. As an overwhelming moment of sadness enveloped her entire system she threw her hand over her mouth and allowed the tears to flow. When was it ever going to get any easier? A dark chuckle seemed to float across her from nowhere. Startled, she opened her eyes and hissed. The haunting note was back on her desk.

A shiver of terror raced down her spine.

* * *

“You have me at a disadvantage,” she purred as she gave him a heated look.

“How’s that?” Jackson Devereaux asked as he glanced down the length of her. He’d been seeing Betsy Michaels on and off for the last six months and while they certainly weren’t exclusive, she knew how to push all his buttons. They’d started out as friends in a support group for widows and after months of late night coffees that turned into dinners, they’d finally succumbed to fleeting moments of shared passion.

“Well, you’ve been to my work and you’ve met my employees and I’ve never been to yours. I only know you’re an architect building some of the finest locations in the city.” Her look nothing but playful, Betsy swayed her hips back and forth.

“You mean all the really big buildings I design, not build?” Wagging his finger, he had to admit he loved their camaraderie and he wished he could feel more than just admiration, friendship and lust, but they both knew the score. Still, there was no doubt it was wonderful to curl up next to a warm body every once in a while. “Besides, I barely go into the office. You know that. Mark handles almost everything.” He was grateful he had an employee he trusted and who looked beyond the naysayers.

“Very funny, big man and still, I’d love to know more about what you do. How about a cognac?”

Glancing at his watch, Jackson sighed. The time was already after two and while he worked from home and certainly didn’t have to be very presentable for any clients, he was exhausted from a long week and a very long project. Just a few finishing touches and he would be done. “Sure, why not.”

“Ugh. You make my request sound so terrible. Why don’t you go sit by the fire and I’ll join you?”

He could tell by the way Betsy gazed down the length of his body very slowly what she had in mind. His cock twitching, Jackson had to admit he wouldn’t refuse her advances. “Sounds good.” Heading into the living room, he walked to the window and gazed out at the buildings still bright with activity. There was no doubt Jackson loved being close to friends and family. Sadly, the day to day grind of trying to make his business grow after so much disruption was more than difficult.

Fleeting thoughts about the past swept through the back of his mind. Sighing, Jackson leaned his head against the glass and couldn’t help but see her face in his mind. Stasia. As he closed his eyes, he envisioned the last time he’d seen her laughing and could almost hear the sound. Inhaling deeply, he held his breath as he reminded himself she’d always be with him.

“Quarter for your thoughts.”

“Big spender.”

“You know me,” Betsy purred.

Jackson turned and smiled. “You’re such a good friend.” Instantly he regretted the way he said the words. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jax. You and I know the score and it’s okay. I still think about Tom, too. I don’t care what they say. Time does not heal all wounds.” Betsy edged closer, her eyes never leaving his. “All we can try and do is remember how important they were in our lives. You know?” Handing him a glass, she allowed her finger to brush back and forth across to top of his hand.

Instantly a series of electric jolts coursed through his system. “You’re right,” he muttered as he lifted the glass to his lips and took a gulp.

Betsy licked the rim of her glass, gave him a look full of mystery and nodded toward the fire. “Allow me to keep you warm for a little while.”

“Just warm?”

“We’ll see.” Her look full of mischief, she sat down slowly and held her knees with one arm as she turned her head toward the fire.

“Something’s been bothering you all night long.”

“You know me too well,” Betsy whispered.

Crouching down behind her, Jackson wrapped his legs around her and pulled her into the heat of his chest. “You wear your love and your emotions on your sleeve, which is one of the things I adore about you. You know you can tell me anything, right?”

“I know. It’s just that…” Her words trailing off, she took a sip of her cognac and exhaled slowly. “Do you remember the big promotion I’ve been going for?”

“You mean the one you talk about constantly?” Jackson bantered.

Groaning, Betsy elbowed his stomach and moved far enough away she was able to cock her head and allow her eyes to dart back and forth across his. “Very funny. Yes, that one.”

“Does that mean you were offered the position?” He knew making partner was something she’d longed for. In the engineering world, where men continued to garner the majority of the higher-paying jobs and positions, Betsy was considered an anomaly.

“I was and I… I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? That’s fantastic! Why didn’t you tell me at dinner?” Jackson kissed the top of her head and grinned. Then he saw a shadow cross her face. “What’s wrong?”

Tilting her head, she gazed into his eyes. “Accepting the position means a transfer to San Francisco.”

“Oh.” Swirling his drink, Jackson took another gulp before setting his glass down on the hearth. “This is what you want and I know that. You have to take the promotion. This is your life.”

“But what about us?” Absently rimming the glass with her finger, she stole quick glances into his eyes before turning to face him as she crossed her legs. “I mean we’re not exclusive and I didn’t think this was about forever but I care about you.”

“The last time I checked planes crossed the country still.” Seeing her continued look of worry, he took the glass out of her hand, set the dense crystal on the hearth and took both of her hands into his. As he caressed her fingers he sighed. “Look. You’re right in that it’s too soon for either of us to consider anything serious. What we have is wonderful but I just don’t…”

“You don’t see a future in it, in us. Do you?” she interrupted as she studied his eyes.

He realized she was looking for any sign of hope. Lifting her hands, he kissed both before shaking his head. “Not right now. You know I’m not your knight in shining armor. I’m a man who has understood all the pain you’ve been going through and someone you can trust. However, I refuse to hold you back based on some fairy tale notion we might be able to be more than we are.”

“You mean you don’t want to rescue me?” Her playful stance returning, she finally shook her head. “I know and I’m not making light of what you said. I guess I just enjoy what we have and know that two thousand miles between us will probably mean the end of this… What are we doing again?”

Jackson burst into laughter. “Having wild sex?”

“Oh yeah.” Brushing the tip of her finger down the bridge of his nose, she leaned forward and traced around his lips with the tip of her tongue. “You always smell so wonderful.”

“And you’re always a flirt.” Capturing her mouth, he tipped her head back as he pressed his tongue past her lips, savoring the flavor of her. Their tongues entwining, he eased his hand around her neck, holding her tightly. As she moaned into the kiss he could feel her body trembling.

Betsy eased up onto her knees and slid both arms around his shoulders as the moment of intimacy became a roar of passion. Breaking the kiss, she palmed his chest, kneading the soft material of his shirt, and panted. “I want you. Right here. Right now.”

There was something almost savage about the timbre of her voice. Nipping her lower lip, he drew the soft flesh between his teeth as he rose onto his knees, easing the flat of both hands down the length of her back. Cupping her buttocks, he allowed his fingers to crawl the hem of her dress up the back of her thighs. “I love when you wear a thong.”

“How about when I don’t?” Her voice barely more than a series of scattered pants, she shifted backwards and tugged the dress up her body slowly. Easing the thin material off her shoulders, she swung the slip of a dress into the air before tossing it toward the couch and giving him a brazen look of desire. “Or perhaps nothing at all.” Wearing only a slip of crimson lace between her legs, the tiny thong barely covered her mound. “You like?”

“Fuck me.” Jackson shook his head and brushed a hand through his hair. “Where did this woman come from?”

“This woman just wants to make sure you don’t forget about her.”

Betsy was always the soft and romantic type and to see her trying to usurp a level of control was more than just a powerful aphrodisiac, her behavior was driving the savage beast from his inner depths. Jackson grunted and yanked the shirt off his shoulders without unbuttoning and as he pitched the unwanted material away, he gave her a feral look. She’d never seen this side of him and in truth no woman should. There were times he was afraid of losing control, something he’d promised himself he’d never allow happen again.

Instead of being frightened by his reaction of lust filled bravado, Betsy stood slowly, swaying her hips back and forth in a provocative manner as she cupped and squeezed her naked breasts. Twirling in a full circle, she fanned her fingers over her breasts as she pursed her lips. “Do you like this side of me?”

“What’s not to like? You turn me the hell on.” Slowly standing, Jackson kicked off his shoes and fumbled with his belt.

“No, no. That’s my job.” Shaking her finger, she pinched her nipples between her fingers with enough force she tipped her head back and groaned. “Ooh.”

Jackson couldn’t take his eyes off her. His heart racing, he hadn’t been this turned on in years. There was no doubt he needed an uninhibited woman in the bedroom and one who was willing to try anything at least once. While Betsy was slightly adventurous, he knew she couldn’t handle his brand of dark hunger. Still, this side of her was more than enticing. “Don’t tease me too long.”

“Or whatever will you do?” Betsy repeated the move before gliding her hands down the side of her chest to her waist, all the while undulating her hips back and forth. Slipping her fingers under the thin wisp of lace, she shimmied the thong past her hips, her eyes never leaving his. Giggling, she stepped out of them and held them up for Jackson to see.

Snatching the thong from her hand he issued a dark hiss before bringing the panties to his face, breathing in her feminine scent.

“Oh my. You’re in need tonight.”

“You have no idea.” As Jackson tossed the panties on the floor, his eyes blazed a trail down the length of her body, admiring every inch of her feminine form. Betsy was one beautiful woman. He beckoned her with a single finger. “If it’s your job then come suck me.”

“With pleasure.” Every move dramatic and deliberate, she sunk to her knees onto all fours, crawling toward him slowly. She stopped and purred, swaying her hips back and forth as she pressed her long curls over her shoulders. “Hungry?”

“Famished. Get over here.” Jackson was aware of the hint of dangerous husk in his voice and to his delight, she simply smiled and obeyed.

Closing the distance, Betsy rose to her knees and palmed his chest before easing the flat of her hands down to his belt and pants. While she licked her lips and made soft cooing sounds, she finally freed his cock. “So delicious.”

The second she wrapped her hand around the base of his shaft, Jackson had to fight the strong urge to thrust her head down, forcing the entire length of his dick into her mouth. Clenching his eyes shut, he inhaled deeply and held his breath as the first swipe of her tongue across his sensitive slit gave him a series of electric jolts.

“Mmm. So good.” Betsy slid her hand down his chest until she cupped and squeezed his balls, rolling the tender sac between her fingers as she swirled her tongue around the blood-engorged tip. Easing back, she grinned. “I see I didn’t even need to touch you and you were already hard.” Opening her mouth wide, she took his shaft down halfway, using her strong jaw muscles to clamp around him.

“Jesus!” There was something so incredible about her actions tonight and for several minutes Jackson was lost to the heat of her mouth, sucking and licking. He jutted his hips forward, tossing his head back and growling as he wrapped one hand in her tight curls.

Easing him all the way out, she purred as she raked her nails up and down the length of his shaft before following with the tips of her teeth. Every move deliberate, Betsy moved down until she swirled her tongue around his balls in a lazy circle. Keeping her hand around the back of his cock, she began pumping up and down as she took first one, then the other ball into her mouth. Moaning, she sucked with enough pressure Jackson’s legs shook.

“God!” His blood sizzling, Jackson panted as he fought back every dark urge. Clenching his eyes shut, the second she had his cockhead back into her mouth he thrust his hips forward with a hard enough move the tip hit the back of her throat. Hearing her strangled sound, he opened his eyes and pulled back.

Betsy had other things in mind. Placing her hands on his hips, she jerked him forward until his dick was all the way inside her mouth. The sound of his balls slapping against her chin mixed with her hungry mewls.

“Dear God!” He began fucking her mouth and the action forced his pants to the floor. Harder and faster he plunged into her mouth until every part of his body was on fire. But he wanted more. He had to be inside of her, filling her. Fucking her. “Stop!” Pushing her shoulders hard, she toppled to the floor. His entire body shaking, he stared down at her and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I want more.”

“More? You can have what you want.” Giving him a mischievous grin, she rose to her knees.

“Turn around. On all fours.” As he jerked off his pants he could tell she was taken aback but didn’t hesitate. This was without a doubt his favorite way to take a woman.

Betsy purred and opened her legs wide, as if offering her sex in no unconditional terms.

Of which Jackson completely accepted. Easing between her legs, he grazed two fingers down the length of her spine to the crack of her ass, going up and down until he parted her ass cheeks and teased her dark hole.

“Oh…” Panting, Betsy dropped her head. “Yes!”

They’d never engaged in anal sex and while he wasn’t sure why, Jackson simply didn’t think she’d enjoy something so carnal. The moment he saw her excited reaction he grunted and repeated the move before slipping his hand between her legs and darting two fingers into her pussy. “So hot!” Instantly her pussy muscles gripped around his thrusts and for a second he remained still, enjoying the way her muscles pulsed.

Betsy wiggled and tossed her head back as she opened her legs even wider. “God. Fuck me.”

Jackson slid the tip of his cock up and down her crack, teasing until he couldn’t hold back his ravished needs any longer. Impaling her pussy with the entire length of his shaft, the power of his strong thigh muscles drove her face into the soft pelt.

Grunting, she clawed the rug trying to regain control as she issued a series of ragged squeals. “Oh…oh, oh, oh!”

He tossed his head back and forth and repeated the move, holding her hips in place. How he loved the moments of being completely in control of her body and her wants. Easing his shaft out until just the tip was inside, he repeated the move again and again, his guttural sounds filling the air. As she squealed and groaned beneath him he wanted—no, he had to have all of her. “I want to fuck you. In. The. Ass.” His voice barely a raspy hiss, he withdrew his cock as he slipped two fingers into his mouth, sucking until they were dripping with his saliva.

“Yes! God, yes.” Betsy arched her back as her entire body quivered.

Grazing his soaked fingers down to her dark entrance, he rimmed the hole before pressing just the tips inside. “Tight.”

“Yes.”

“It’s going to hurt.”

“Yes!” This time her voice was more insistent as if begging him to take her hard.

Jackson pressed his fingers in further, flexing them open until they hit the tight ring of muscle.

Moaning, Betsy dropped her head and issued a long hiss.

There was something so enrapturing about her ass muscles clenching around his fingers, drawing them in deeper. Issuing a keening growl, Jackson thrust the rest of his fingers into her tight ass until she issued a single sharp cry.

“Ah!” Panting and writhing, she wiggled her ass back and forth.

He pulled his fingers out and impaled her again as stars floated across his field of vision. Unable to wait any longer, he slipped the tip of his cock to her puckered hole and eased it inside. “You sure?”

“God, yes! Fuck me hard.”

Needing no further encouragement, he thrust the entire length of his cock into her ass as both of them roared from the intensity of his actions. “Fuck!”

“Ooh!” Betsy lowered her face to the rug and moaned softly.

“I know it hurts.”

“Yes. I more… harder…”

Every blatant word only fueled his savage beast. He repeated the move again and again until he slowly drove in and out of her as he clenched his eyes shut. A series of vibrant visions flashed through the back of his mind and suddenly he was no longer in the room with her. Instead he was in the dark place, the place he told himself he would never go again and in those terrifying moments where he wasn’t certain who or where he was, Jackson Devereaux lost his humanity.

Making the Wright Connections

Making the Wright Connections

Jeanne St. Amant returned to her home town ready to regroup after a failed musical career. Officer Daniel Wright welcomed her home with a lecture about speeding. Suddenly her boring home town does not seem so awful after all. After a rocky start, the couple start a committed relationship. Jeanne learns the hard way that Daniel does not have a problem putting a stop to any behavior he finds irresponsible or dangerous.

Trouble from her past follows her, threatening more than her budding relationship with her hot police officer. Jeanne’s life is on the line as a serial killer shadows her every move. Can her Mr. Wright keep her safe? Will she ever be able to sit comfortably again?

Publishers note: This book contains elements of spanking of adult women and sexual scenes. If any of these themes offend you, please do not purchase.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Making-Wright-Connections-Ruby-Caine-ebook/dp/B01M32EIVV/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8
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Ibooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/making-the-wright-connections/id1169670146?mt=11
Audible: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/making-the-wright-connections-unabridged/id1217934879

Sample Chapter

One

 

“Perfect,” Jeanne St. Amant muttered as the blue and red lights flashed behind her car. “Just what I need. My life just keeps getting better and better.” First, she lost the starring role of a lifetime. Then she was forced to return to her small town beginnings and beg to live off the kindness of family. Now it looked like she was going to get a ticket.

Merging to the right, she looked for a safe place to pull over. This stretch of Airline Highway was nearly deserted at this time of afternoon. The canal lining this particular portion of the road was twenty feet deep in some places. Jeanne hated being this close to it, having heard awful stories of drivers accidently entering the body of water.

“Please step out of the car with your license, registration and proof of insurance.” The officer’s deep voice ordered over his loud speaker startling Jeanne, and she jerked back, hitting the back of her head on the headrest. The ponytail holding her hair back loosened, and some of the rich brown hair pulled free. Used to always looking put together, she would have been quick to right the mess, but she was so preoccupied with her current situation she did not even notice the disarray.

Muttering under her breath, she unhooked her seatbelt and started rummaging through her purse for her license. Her wallet was hard to find because her hands were shaking. Worried the police officer might get annoyed, she dumped the contents of her purse onto the seat beside her. Pushing aside the old candy wrappers, receipts, make up, and tampons, she finally located her wallet and fumbled to pulled her license free.

“Miss, I need you to step out of the car with your license, registration and proof of insurance.” The officer announced via his loud speaker again, and she almost dropped her license back into the mess on her seat.

Great, now the cop sounded aggravated. Well, he needed to chill out, Jeanne thought. She was doing her best to comply, but it took time to locate everything he demanded for her to gather. Those flashing lights were making it hard to concentrate, too. What the heck was he stopping her for anyway? She was only going ten miles over the speed limit. Everyone knows a person can go up to ten miles above the posted speed.

Her glove compartment would not open when she tried to find her registration and insurance card. Worried the impatient cop might yell at her again, Jeanne started slamming her fist into the compartment. She finally managed to claw it open when a knock at her window caused her to scream and slam the compartment shut again. Seeing the tall police officer bending down, eyeing her sternly, Jeanne shrieked. Her license went flying as she raised her hands in the air.

One of the cop’s dark eyebrows raised. He indicated toward her locked door. “Step out of the car, miss.” Even though the window was up, he did not need to raise his voice. His no nonsense tone did suggest it was not wise to disobey. But it had been a long day, and Jeanne was already edgy.

Putting down her window, she took a few calming breaths. “If you would give me enough time, I can find all my information.” There was just a bit of censor in her blue eyes. This was the perfect welcome back to her home parish in Louisiana.

He reached inside the open window to unlock her door. Opening it, he ordered her to step out of the car again. “Have you been drinking today, miss?”

“Drinking?” Jeanne stepped out of the car, and glared up at the policemen. He towered over her by several inches. “No, I have not been drinking, unless you count water. I’ve got three empty bottles in the back seat. I know Louisiana has a standing law against open containers being in the car when driving, but I assumed it only involved alcohol.”

“Was that supposed to be a joke, miss?” He did not look amused.

Blowing out a frustrated sigh, she tried again. “Don’t I have the right to know why you are pulling me over, officer?”

An adorable dimple appeared when one corner of his mouth inched up at her attitude. “You were going twelve miles over the posted speed limit, miss.”

“No way,” she insisted adamantly. “It was ten over at best.”

Now the attractive officer gave her a full grin. If he was not being a pain in the ass, Jeanne knew she would find herself quite attracted to the blonde man. His square jaw was clean shaven and his brown eyes were rather nice-looking. “So you admit you were speeding?”

“I was within the ten-mile grace zone,” she offered, staring up at him confidently.

“Miss, there is no grace zone. The speed limit is posted clearly; it’s not a range of speeds, but a specific number established to insure the safety of drivers. Lots of things go into establishing the speed limit.” Taking in the sight of the mess in her car, he raised his eyebrow again. “Did you ever manage to find your license?”

Frowning at his judgmental attitude, she turned and saw her license laying near the gas pedal. With her back to the officer, she bent over to retrieve it. Her unexpected movement to grab something out of sight put the officer on alert. He was prepared to react with force if she came up with a weapon. Braced for action or not, Officer Daniel Wright could not help but notice the lady’s impressive, round ass. The urge to slap it was hard to deny, especially recalling her sassy little attitude.

Jeanne stood up and turned to give the officer her identification. He took it and tried to keep his expression neutral. Part of him had enjoyed eyeing her hot ass and wished it had taken her a bit longer to locate her license. “Jeannie St. Amant? This is a Tennessee license. Your plates are from out of state, too. Are you visiting family in the area?”

She had heard rumors cops ticketed outsiders at a higher rate than locals. “I’m visiting my brothers.” Maybe having a few relatives in the region would help get her out of this small spot of trouble.

“Would you happen to be related to Matthew St. Amant?” the officer asked. He appeared to be searching her face, comparing it to her picture.

Something about the way he said her brother’s name made Jeanne suspicious. Did his tone indicate he had a past relationship with her brother? Were they good friends or enemies? “Possibly.” Jeanne decided to play it safe.

“Possibly? Either you are related to Matthew St. Amant or you aren’t?”

“Well, if you like Matthew, I am his sister Jeanne.”

A huge smile reached his brown eyes now. “And if I don’t like him?

“Then I don’t know the son of a bitch.”

They shared a laugh before Officer Daniel Wright got all stern again. “Jeannie…” he pronounced her name wrong again, and she rushed to correct him.

“It’s pronounced John. My parents were very religious. My three older brothers’ names are Matthew, Mark and Luke. You know… like in the authors of the gospels. I messed up their theme when I turned out to be a girl, but they just got creative with the spelling of John.”

“My name is Daniel Wright. Jeanne, this section of road is very dangerous. Speeding has caused many drivers to lose control of their vehicles around this curve and end up in the canal. It amounts to a death sentence when that happens. Most people panic when their vehicle goes into the water because they don’t know how to get out of their cars quickly enough.”

“I have a special tool to knock out the glass if I ever end up going in the water.” Jeanne felt the need to explain. She did not want Officer Hottie, as she thought of him, to think she was careless or anything. Looking at his hand, she saw no ring. If she would be staying in this area for a while, it would be nice to know some single men. Maybe moving back to LaPlace would not be so boring after all. Of course, she would only be hanging around until she saved enough cash to move out west. Her singing career had not panned out, but maybe she could try her hand at acting.

Officer Hottie seemed to question if she really was prepared in the unlikely event she ended up in the canal. “Where is it located, miss?”

Did he really just question her honesty? Jeanne’s back stiffened. Here she was, thinking he was all handsome and hot, and he thought she was lying about being prepared. Jeanne started to look for the device, wanting to make him regret his assumption. “It’s right here in the middle console…” Her bad luck was still holding up because the stupid tool was not there. “I mean I stashed it in my glove department so it would be easier to reach.” The conviction in her voice would have come off so much better if Jeanne did not have to resort to attacking the now closed compartment with her small fist again.

Her sexy ass wiggled all around as she moved in the front seat searching, making the officer groan. He grabbed her hips and pulled her out of the vehicle so he could concentrate on his job. Nice hips, he had to admit to himself. They were full and easy to get a good grip on. The image of making love to her as she was on all fours, popped into his head. Those full hips would be perfect for holding on to as he moved inside her… Shaking his head, he forced himself to get back to his job. “If it took you as long to find that tool as it did to try to locate your papers, you’d drown for sure. You should place the tool someplace you can reach it quickly in an emergency situation. Mount it on the dash, if you have to, but keep it within arm’s length.”

Why did he have to sound so testy with her? He was the one who asked where she kept her ‘window breaking thingee’. She was just trying to show him. Jeanne gave him a nasty glare, but forced herself not to snap back at him. She really could not afford to pay for a speeding ticket right now. As it was, she would be begging her brother to let her hang out in his guest house for a few months. “You are right, of course. It was stupid to speed through this patch of the highway. I promise to be more careful in the future, Officer Wright.”

“If you will give me your word that’s true, I’ll let you off with a warning this time.”

Relief showed on her face, and Jeanne had the urge to reach up and kiss the stern looking officer on the cheek. Hell, he was so hot, she would not mind kissing him on his lips. But given her current lack of luck, he would probably make the wrong assumption and try to arrest her for prostitution.

“I assume you are friends with my brother, Matthew.” Maybe she could get her brother to invite the hot man over sometime so they could meet in a better setting.

“Matthew and I served together in Afghanistan about ten years back.” He seemed to start to say something more, but changed his mind. For a second, Jeanne was sure he was going to ask her out. Instead he gave her back her license and held her door open so she could get back inside. “Watch your speeding, Jeanne. I’ve pulled a few people from this section of the canal. I prefer never having to do so ever again.”

*****

Jeanne’s brother seemed less than thrilled when his baby sister showed up at his doorstep unannounced. Against his better judgment, and with his wife Jan’s encouragement, Matthew opened up the small mother-in-law cottage in back of his home for her. Matthew loved his sister, but he was not blind to her wild side.

He still remembered her packing up and leaving home shortly after her high school graduation. She was hell bent on becoming the hottest new country star in Nashville. Their parents had been heartbroken, hoping Jeanne would grow out of her childish dreams and go to college and settle down like their other children.

Apparently making it big in Nashville never happened, and Jeanne had ended up working various tourist attractions all along the Tennessee area. The closest she got to celebrity was a starring role in one of the attractions near Pigeon Forge. For a couple years, she enjoyed being a big star in the little town.

Jeanne had only returned home to St. John parish once in the five years she had been gone, and that was for their parents’ funeral. Matthew remembered trying to get his baby sister to move back home at the time. He had promised his parents he would watch out for her. But Jeanne was sure her big break was coming, and she left right after the funerals. It was anyone’s guess how long she planned to stay this time.

She really was a good kid, Matthew knew in his heart. Being the only daughter and youngest member of the family, Jeanne had been used to getting lots of attention her whole life. She thrived on it, especially after discovering she had a singing voice people liked to praise. Jeanne had loved entertaining family members and visitors alike with her soulful singing and outrageous antics. Everyone spoiled her. Nobody imagined she would leave home to try to find the same adoration on a larger scale. While family and friends tended to overlook her stubborn behavior and hot headed temper, they were not so sure outsiders would do the same.

Yet, she managed to find her own little niche for the past few years. Something had happened recently, though, sending her running home to her family where she appeared to be trying to regroup. Matthew had not managed to get her to open up about what was going on yet. By the looks of how comfortably she was settling into his guest home, he would have a lot of time to get it out of her, though.

In the meantime, he just hoped she did not get involved in any of the mischief she was famous for in her younger days. Certainly, now that she was close to twenty-four, Jeanne had matured some. He was not sure how he would handle matters if she had not grown up all that much.

With five daughters of his own, all who looked up to Aunt Jeanne as their hero, Matthew would not be able to indulge in allowing his sister to set a poor role model. He would have to find a way to address any issues which arose. If she was his daughter, he would discipline her just like he did his own children. Somehow taking a belt to the backside of his grown sister just did not seem right.

12 Naughty Days of Christmas 2016

12 Naughty Days of Christmas 2016

Excerpts from the 12 Naughty Days of Christmas – 2016

 

Twenty-Four Days

By Jenny Plumb

 

Cora reread the letter for the twentieth time, changing a word here and a phrase there while her knee nervously bounced up and down. Her nails were bitten down to nothing, her stomach continued to roll unpleasantly, and her lower lip was going to be bruised if she continued to gnaw on it while typing. But this had to be exactly right. For the thousandth time she imagined all the possible outcomes of this letter.

Her cell phone buzzed, startling her out of her reverie. The name Jay flashed on the screen, and her eyes opened wide when she realized what time it was. Had she really been sitting here for three hours contemplating this letter?

“Crap.” She picked up the phone, brushed her long brown hair away from her ear, and forced a smile on her face. “Hi, honey.”

“I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t pick up, because that would mean you were on your way here.”

“I’m sorry, I got caught up in something here at home, but I’m all dressed and ready. I’ll head your way right now.” She hit the print button on her computer before she lost her nerve, and got up to slip her heels on. She could hear him sigh on the other end of the line.

“Cora, we’ve talked about this.”

She cringed. Considering the letter she just wrote to him, maybe being late to Thanksgiving dinner at his parent’s house wasn’t the best idea. “I know, and I truly am sorry. I didn’t mean to lose track of the time.”

“I know you didn’t. You never do. Just… don’t speed on your way over here, okay? My mom said dinner will be ready in about half an hour, so you should make it here right on time. There are all kinds of drunk drivers out there, so I want you to focus on driving safe, not on rushing.”

She got the papers off the printer and pouted while he lectured. She folded them in half without glancing at the words again, and wrote his name on the back. “I promise not to speed, and I’ll watch out for all the crazies on the road.”

“Okay babe, I’ll see you soon.”

“Bye.”

Once she hung up, she stuck her phone in her purse, and slipped her jacket on. She hastily slapped the papers down on the kitchen table. The white paper starkly contrasted with the brown tablecloth. She turned to leave, but then hesitated for a moment, looking back at the letter. “Stop being such a pussy,” she muttered to herself. That seemed to do the trick, because she was able to force her feet towards the door, and soon she was in her car, driving to her in-laws’ house.

* * *

An hour and a half later when everyone was full, Jay pulled Cora into the hallway to have a private conversation while his parents cleared the table. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asked with genuine concern.

She’d tried to behave normally during dinner, but apparently her fake smile hadn’t fooled him. She’d changed her mind about giving him the confessional letter she’d spent the morning writing, but she couldn’t exactly tell him that. Instead she put a hand on her stomach and said, “I’m not feeling well. I think maybe I need to go home.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. She did feel sick because of her nerves.

“Aw, babe, I’m sorry. You should have said something earlier. Were you feeling sick before? Is that why you were late?”

“That might have been part of it.”

“We’ll go home right now.”

He turned to walk back to the dining room, but she put a hand on his arm to stop him. “No! I mean, you shouldn’t have to leave, just because I’m not feeling well. You haven’t even had dessert yet, and your mom made pecan pie just for you.”

He put a hand on the side of her face. “I’m not going to send you home alone when you’re feeling ill. I’ll get a couple of slices to go.”

“But your parents will be so disappointed if you leave early.”

“My parents love you, Cora. They wouldn’t want you pretending to be okay when you’re feeling sick, and they wouldn’t want you going home alone.”

“But we took two cars, so I’ll have to drive anyway. There’s no reason—”

“No.” He cut her off firmly.

“No?”

“I don’t want you driving if you’re feeling sick. We’ll leave your car here and pick it up tomorrow.”

She put a hand on her stomach, feeling worse by the second. If he drove her home, there was no way to hide the letter before he saw it.

He rubbed her back gently. “Come on, babe, I’ve decided. I’m driving you home.”

She wanted to protest, cause a scene, and rush home to rip up the letter, but that kind of behavior wasn’t in her nature. Instead, she let him take her to the kitchen to say goodbye to his folks, and much too soon she was in her husband’s car going home. She leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and prayed that she’d be able to run in and grab the letter before he saw it. Then she prayed that if he did end up seeing it, that it wouldn’t be the end of their marriage.

They’d only been married for five months, but they’d been in a relationship for two years, and they’d known each other since high school.

Her parents had moved into the house next to his parents’ house in her junior year. She’d been awestruck by him at the time. He was a senior, captain of the swim team, and class president, while she was in the band and the chess club, and too shy to talk to the more popular kids. He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, with an athletic build, while she had brown hair, brown eyes, and a curvy figure. They weren’t exactly an obvious match, and back then he never gave her a second glance.

They’d both gone away to college, and didn’t see each other much over the next few years. As luck would have it, they both graduated from college the same year.

A week after graduation, Jay’s parents threw him a huge party, and invited everyone on the block to prevent noise complaints. Cora had no plans to go, but her mother cajoled her into checking it out once the music started.

As she was walking along the sidewalk, she heard loud yelling coming from Jay’s house, and stood still. A few seconds later she saw a woman rushing out of Jay’s house and down the stairs. Jay ran out after her and yelled, “Bess! Bess, don’t leave like this! Come back and talk to me!”

The woman flipped him off, got in her car, and drove off.

“Fuck!” Jay kicked the railing of the porch. He stormed back into his house without noticing Cora, and Cora quickly turned back around and hurried home.

Later that night, as she was getting ready for bed, she heard an odd sound coming from outside. She went to the window and saw Jay sitting in her backyard drinking a bottle of tequila and quietly crying. She went out to comfort him, and they ended up talking the whole night. They watched the sun come up together on his front porch swing, and had been inseparable ever since.

Cora heard the car shut off, bringing her out of her memories. She didn’t even look in Jay’s direction. She immediately got out of the car, and rushed towards the door to their little townhouse apartment. She heard him call her name, but she ignored that in favor of unlocking the door and running to the kitchen table. She snatched up the letter, crumpled it, and shoved it in her purse.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jay’s voice asked, directly behind her.

Startled, she gasped and spun around. “What? Nothing! I’m not doing anything.”

His eyes narrowed, and he pointed to her purse. “What are you hiding from me?”

A tiny whimper escaped her throat. “It’s nothing. It’s just… I… I…”

“Cora Ann,” he said, clearly displeased. “We don’t keep secrets from each other. Hand it over. Right now.”

There was no way she could keep it hidden now. Her pulse raced, and her hand shook as she reached in to pull out the wadded up sheets of paper. She handed it over, and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Before he had a chance to even look at the papers, she burst into tears, and ran up to their bedroom. She tossed her purse on the floor, kicked her heels off, and climbed under the covers of their bed with her jacket still on. Covered up in the dark, she let herself cry while all kinds of horrible thoughts circled in her head. What if he laughed at her? What if he ridiculed her and called her names? What if he thought she needed therapy? What if he decided he didn’t want to be married to her anymore?

Five minutes later, she had just barely gotten her tears under control when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. Her entire body tensed, and she pulled the covers up over her head and held tight, not caring if it was a childish move. She heard him flick on the light, and then felt the bed dip beside her as he sat down.

“I never told you the full story about Bess and why we broke up,” Jay said softly.

Surprised by those words, she pulled the covers down to peek at her husband, but his eyes were on her letter.

“She didn’t flip out about me being a controlling asshole because I told her she’d had enough to drink.” He swallowed hard, and then made eye contact. “It was because of what I said after that. I told her I was going to spank her as soon as we were alone.”

Cora’s eyes opened wide.

“She called me abusive for even saying it, and never spoke to me again. That rejection… well it hit me hard, and I was so afraid that you’d leave me if I even suggested spanking for anything other than a light slap during sex.”

He held up her letter and said, “Everything you describe in here is something I want to do with you.” He pointed to the first paragraph and said, “Spanking as foreplay. Yes.” He pointed to the next section. “Spanking for fun when roleplaying. Yes.” He flipped the page and said, “Spanking as punishment.” He looked her in the eye. “Absolutely yes.”

“Really?” she whispered, not quiet believing it could be true.

He nodded. “Really, and to prove I’m serious about it…” He set the papers down by the foot of the bed, scooted himself back a little and patted his thigh. “We’re going to have the rest of this conversation with you over my lap.”

She quickly shook her head. “What, like right now?”

“Yes, right now.”

“But… shouldn’t we talk about it first?”

“We’re going to talk about it a lot over the next few days, but for right now, just a little taste of what’s to come.” He leaned over, and kissed her forehead. “Trust me.”

“Okay, but my clothes need to stay on.”

“Why?”

Unable to make eye contact she said softly, “It’s that time of month, and anyway the lights are on and you’ll be looking right at my fat—”

“Hey!” He cut her off sharply.

She amended her statement. “Well, you know how I feel about my ass and thighs.”

“Yeah I do, and you know that I disagree. I don’t want an anorexic looking woman with no ass. You’re not fat by any stretch of the imagination, and it pisses me off when you put yourself down, so knock it off.”

His scolding made her blush. She didn’t agree with his assessment, but she knew from experience that arguing wouldn’t do any good. Logically she knew she was thinner than a lot of women, but thanks to her mother’s assessment of what it meant to be thin while growing up, she only felt shame when she looked in a mirror.

“Look at me.” His tone was gentle again. When she made eye contact, he said, “We can talk about that later. Tonight I want you to feel comfortable for your first time, so I’ll leave your clothes on. Okay?”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Over my lap.”

With her stomach full of butterflies, she sat up, shed her jacket, and slowly moved to kneel beside him on the bed. Then his hand was on her lower back guiding her down across his thighs, with her body supported on the bed. She shuddered at the feeling of finally being in this position when she’d imagined it more times than she could count. She closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation of his hand rubbing her behind over her skirt.

The first smack caught her slightly off guard, and she gasped at the light sting. A soft ‘Oh’ came out of her when the second spank landed on the other side. With each successive swat, the tension and nerves of the day started to slowly melt away, and by the time he paused, around swat number forty, she was completely relaxed and pliant.

“I think this is going to be amazing for both of us.” He rubbed out the sting. “I always knew you were on the submissive side, I just didn’t realize you also had a spanking fetish that went with it. I wish I’d been man enough to say something earlier.”

She looked back at him. “The same is true for me. I always knew you were dominant, that’s a big part of what I love about you, but I didn’t know you’d be okay with spanking. There was this guy in college… I told him about it, but he said I was messed up, so that made me reluctant to ever tell someone about it again. I mean, I knew you’d be okay with something light, because you slap my butt playfully all the time, but punishment… that’s different.”

“Speaking of punishment, you lied to me today. You said you were sick, but you weren’t sick, you were nervous.”

She was utterly still and held her breath. Was he actually going to do it? Was she actually going to get the thing she’d desperately wanted for so long?

He wrapped his arm around her waist. “I think six hard spanks for that, and then you can be forgiven. Do you agree?”

Her head dipped down twice in a tiny nod.

The loud clap of hand smacking cloth-covered behind filled her ears while the sharp sensation of a much harder slap to her left ass cheek shot up to her brain. She gasped and her muscles tensed up. Another slap landed on the right, and a small grunt came out of her before she could hold it back. The third smack landed dead center catching some of both cheeks at once, and her right foot came up off the bed a few inches. The next swat hit lower on her left side, right at the point where her ass and thigh met. “Oh!” A matching smack on the right elicited an actual, “Ow!” from her, and the last swat that was up in the center of her butt again, made her wiggle and whine, “Ow, Jay. That really hurt.”

“Yeah, it was supposed to.” He rubbed her behind again. “The question is, how do you feel about it hurting?”

“I… I’m not sure. I’ll need to think about it.”

“Fair enough, I need to think it over too. Sit up so I can give you a hug.”

She pushed herself off his lap, and sat next to him on the bed. He wrapped his arm around her waist, and kissed the top of her head.

“I was so nervous before,” she said, “but now… now I’m just relieved.”

He patted her back. “Let’s go have some pie, and watch a movie, something to help us relax before bed. We can talk about this all day tomorrow since we both have the day off.”

She tilted her head up, and gave him a kiss. “That sounds perfect.”

 

***

Grandma Got Run Over by Raina, Dear

By Katherine Deane

 

Raina Michaels shifted in the corner, glancing around quickly to see if John was there. Nope, he had probably gone to get a drink, or, she shuddered and clenched her poor, already pink bottom, an implement from the kitchen drawer. He had only spanked her with his hand so far, but holy cow, it felt like a paddle. The sheriff of Saukville, Wisconsin wasn’t just a pencil pusher behind a desk. He also ran his family’s small farm, giving him that extra paddle-ability strength and hardness. Her bottom agreed. She winced and rubbed out of some of the soreness.

The door behind her eased open, and she hurried to get back into position, hearing a low chuckle as he entered.

“Naughty girl.” He tsked and massaged her shoulders. “What did I tell you would happen if you rubbed?”

Oh God. She moaned as he ran his fingers down her back, over her curves, squeezing her cheeks. He continued between her legs, and flicked her swollen clit. She couldn’t help it. As much as she hated the pain of being disciplined by this man, she also yearned for it. Her body ached for it. Her pussy clenched and leaked arousal, begging for more of him.

“What happens, little girl?” he growled and smacked her pussy, making her breathless.

“No, please.”

“You don’t get to come, do you?” he said as he started expertly tickling her most sensitive area, scorching her already overheated body.

“Please, John. I’m sorry I rubbed. I’ll get back into position. I won’t move. You can spank me with that horrible brush,” she begged and tried to close her legs around his wrist to alleviate some of the ache.

He gave her a series of hard swats and removed his hand. “You are absolutely right. You aren’t going to move. I am going to use the hairbrush. I’m going to punish your naughty little bottom, and you’re going to be a good girl and take it, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir!” She yelped when he smacked her sit spots.

“I still haven’t decided if I’ll let you have your release or not. But we only have two more hours before Granny gets back with Eli. So we’d better get going.” He pulled her out of the corner and gave her a warm hug, his chest and arms so strong and firm. She felt safe in them. “Why don’t you bend over the bed while I get the rest of your punishment ready?”

She complied quickly, racing to place her hips over the stacked pillows and her feet on the floor.

“We’re going to try something different this time, since you seem to need a little extra incentive when dealing with Grace.”

She turned her head to the side and watched as he pulled a long, pale object out of the glass of water.

“This is ginger root,” he explained, showing it to her. “It goes inside your bottom.”

It was peeled and cut into a shape that made it wider on one end. She shivered and felt her whole body tense. “Will it hurt?” Her voice sounded so little and young.

“You know I would never hurt you, sweet girl.” He wrapped his body around hers, engulfing her in a hug, then patted her bottom gently. “But this will create a nice little heat inside your bottom to remind you to behave around that woman, and to let me do my job. Are you ready?”

“Y-yes, sir.” She was nervous about this heat he had mentioned, but she knew John wouldn’t harm her.

“So, before we begin, why are you in this position, about to have your bottom filled with ginger root, and then paddled?” His clear blue eyes were kind, but held a firm gaze of authoritativeness in them, just like when he’d stopped her the first time, for parking on the wrong side of the road.

“I should have left Grace alone, and let you do your job.”

“Just like I told you the first time.”

She nodded.

* * *

Three weeks earlier:

 

Sheriff John Tate left his pew in the back row, and followed the rest of the congregation out the doors, stopping to shake hands and acknowledge greetings from others. The only person he had eyes for at the moment was the gorgeous strawberry blonde in the red and green dress and elf hat. Her six year old son had placed it on her head right before they walked out, and she had just hugged him and kept it on. John already liked the woman, her keen intelligence, the sweet way she talked to all children, the way she actually listened to Mr. Harper’s old war stories, but this – wearing a silly elf hat amongst a congregation full of people, just to make her son happy –spoke the most to his heart.

Raina Michaels and her son continued out toward the parking lot, and he looked at her old beat-up Ford Escort, remembering their first meeting several months earlier when he had let her off with a warning. Being new to the town, a single mother, and completely alone, he would have felt bad for giving her a ticket just for not knowing not to park on Main Street before seven PM. The way her face had gone from apprehension and fear to gratefulness, then followed by her appraisal of him, made him want to take her in his arms and do delightfully sinful things to her body, just to see what other emotions she showed so easily on her expressive face.

They had connected really well on a coffee date, and John thought they could become a couple after their dinner date right before Thanksgiving. But then she had stopped returning his calls, seeming to shut him down. She looked tired and a bit thinner. Being a single mother must be hard work, but she had seemed to be holding it together when she first moved in. Everyone liked her. She was a godsend to Mrs. Nichols’ kindergarten class. And her weekly visits to the Saukville nursing home kept everyone in smiles.

Everyone except her.

Now that she was almost to her car, a sad, tired look of despondency had affixed to her features, and had probably been there for a few weeks. Damn, he should have called her earlier, visited her at the nursing home, made her tell him what was going on. He hadn’t felt this way about a woman in a long time – too long.

Today, he was going to talk to Raina Michaels. One way or another, she would tell him what was going on. He pasted a smile on his face and jogged over to the tan car.

“Ms. Michaels, good to see you. Let’s have a chat.”

Her eyes went wide, and she swallowed a few times before turning to her son, Eli. “Would you like to go play with your friends for a few minutes while I talk to Sheriff Tate?”

“Yeah! Hey, Sheriff Tate. Bye!” The six and a half year old boy, gave them both a wide front teeth gapped smile, before racing back to the other kids playing in the big meadow in front of the church.

“Am I in trouble, Sheriff?” She smiled, but nervous energy radiated off her.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

***

 

Christmas with Callie

By Amelia Smarts

California, 1871

 

Jude Johnson slotted his foot into the saddle’s stirrup and hoisted himself to the mare’s back. It had been a successful day at his new ranch. With the help of his friend Billy, he’d been able to brand half his herd with the ranch’s unique identifier.

Now the workday was done and he looked forward to getting home to his bride. He nudged the mare into a trot and headed for their log cabin, eager to see Callie’s grin and mischievous dancing eyes. He couldn’t help but smile whenever he thought of her. Before he purchased the ranch, he’d been a stagecoach driver. It was during his journey from Missouri to California that he’d experienced the pleasure and frustration of having Callie as a passenger. When she hadn’t been stirring up trouble and telling tall tales, she’d been weaving her way into his heart.

Jude slowed to a walk to allow the mare to pick her feet at her leisure through the rocky riverbed. He sighed. Callie was just about as loveable as a woman could be, but she was also naughty and, for that reason, she’d been at the receiving end of Jude’s displeasure on more than one occasion. Having grown up an orphan, she hadn’t been exposed to much love or discipline, and she’d been desperately in need of both when Jude came into her life. He’d seen to it that she got what she needed, whether it was a shoulder to cry on or a firm swat to her backside.

He hadn’t spanked Callie for some time, but he feared that spell was coming to an end. She had a penchant for lying and bragging, using it as a way to make herself sound important. She’d gotten better since he married her, but those particular character traits hadn’t fully disappeared.

She’d been lying to Jude every evening since they’d settled at the ranch, pretending she was cooking the meals she clearly was buying from the restaurant on Main Street in Sacramento. Jude had allowed her to continue with the ruse for a couple weeks, hoping she would eventually fess up. A confession still hadn’t happened, though, and enough was enough.

After Jude fed and rubbed down the horse, he entered the cabin to find Callie pouring sautéed onions over restaurant-purchased roast beef. He knew this was another of his wife’s tricks – sautéing spices to fill the cabin with smells that added to the illusion of cooking.

Shaking his head, he removed his Stetson and placed it on the rack while stomping his boots on the rug. Callie turned, uttered a squeal of glee upon seeing him, and launched herself into his arms. He tried to remain strong in his resolve to give her a seeing-to, but he struggled to focus when her young body, which was firm yet soft in all the right places, pressed so enticingly into the planes of his chest and abs.

He wrapped his arms around her. “Hello, little hellion.”

She tilted her head up and smiled the sweetest smile at him, which prompted him to bend and give her a sound kiss. He squeezed her tighter to him.

When their lips unlocked, she said, “I’m glad you’re home. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, I am,” he responded. He brushed some flour off her cheek with his thumb.

She rubbed off the rest with her palm. “I got that flour on my face while baking a peach pie,” she informed him.

He closed his eyes. Billy had just mentioned to him that Eva was serving peach pie all week at her restaurant. She and a couple of her friends in town had some kind of preserving party, and the result was fresh pies for Eva’s customers – and for Callie’s continued deception, it seemed.

Jude walked toward the kitchen with one arm draped around the little liar’s shoulders. That’s a new trick, he muttered to himself. She was creative, he’d give her that, although she could have done a little better with the flour. She gave away that she’d purposely dusted it on her cheek by knowing right away what he was brushing off of her, without him saying. His wife deserved a darned good licking, but first he would eat the supper from Eva’s Restaurant and give her one more chance to come clean.

He sat at the head of the table and watched Callie spoon Eva’s green beans onto his plate.

“How did branding go today?” she asked.

“Just fine. Billy helped me with the design to use for the brand, and we were able to mark about half the herd. I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to make something like that. It takes some fancy blacksmithing.” He gave her a pointed look. “It’s good to ask people for help when you don’t know how to do something.”

Callie nodded, oblivious to his thinly veiled suggestion. “Yes, I agree, it’s good you asked Billy for help with that.” She placed two of Eva’s rolls onto his plate.

“I hope you know you can ask for help if you need it,” he pressed. “Lots of folks would be willing to help you get settled in here, Billy’s wife Annie, for one. I know she took a shine to you on our journey west, and Billy has mentioned to me how much she enjoys your company.”

Callie waved her hand dismissively. “I don’t need help. I reckon anything done at home is easier than cutting cattle.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Cooking seems a mite tricky.” Jude studied her, willing her to come clean.

Callie avoided his eyes and concentrated hard on spooning mashed potatoes onto his plate. Jude watched her silently. After the mashed potatoes, she delivered three slabs of roast beef to his plate and one to her own. He knew that any cut of meat available at Harry’s meatpacking shop would come in a much larger portion. They would have beef for days if she were spending her money on bulk goods, as opposed to spending an arm and a leg on individual meals each day.

Jude set down his water glass with a thud and cleared his throat to give her a good scolding, but then he noticed her flushed cheeks and the worried lines etched along her forehead. His stern words got stuck somewhere in his throat. He knew his wife. He understood how difficult it was for her to admit weakness of any kind. When she was living at the orphans’ home, showing weakness would get her mocked, or worse, abused. Instead of taking the time to teach her, Bentley would have berated her or thrown her in the closet. Growing up without a mother had left Callie lacking in the skills typically imparted from mother to daughter, like cooking, mending, and other such womanly ventures.

He wished he knew how to help her feel better about not being typical. She was different, and that was one of the reasons he loved her. She could shoot a gun about as good as any gunslinger west of the Mississippi, and she had a headful of knowledge about herbs and medicines. He admired that. She was smart and plucky, and that was how she’d survived her terrible childhood. He wanted to give her a much happier future, and he didn’t like seeing worry on her face. He also didn’t like that she felt she needed to lie to him.

“How was your day, darlin’?” he asked, gentling his voice. “Tell me what you did today.”

Callie sat down and sawed into her roast beef as Jude did the same to his. “I was awful busy today. I started baking just right after you left this morning. It takes time for bread to rise.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I had to get the dough and roll it around, you know? And press my fists into it, then lift it and turn it over and do that again.”

“You mean you had to knead it,” Jude supplied.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, snapping her fingers. “That’s it. I had to knead it something fierce.”

Jude groaned and ate a bite of his roll. He couldn’t allow this to continue, and he needed to make very sure that he punished her firmly enough that she stopped lying to him altogether.

 

***

 

His Christmas Brat

By Kelly Dawson

“No! I won’t go!” Virginia Stiles was nothing if not spoilt, and with the extra screechy inflection she’d added into her voice, she was certain she’d eventually get her way. But as she stood there, in her father’s office, her hands on her hips, it appeared that her wishes weren’t going to be honoured this time. Her father’s face was set like flint, his lips thin in a grim line of determination. She watched as he leaned back in his chair, his legs stretched out in front of him, his feet crossed at the ankles.

“Yes, you are,” he insisted.

It was time to take a different tack.

“But Daddy!” she wheedled, changing her outraged, screechy tone to a more civilised, begging one. “I’ll miss you so much! I’ve never spent Christmas away from you before, not in the whole time I’ve been living with you! Besides, there’s that party…”

“No.” It was a word she rarely heard pass Tom Stiles’ lips, and it was spoken in a tone that was so harsh, so final. She flinched. “Everything is arranged. Your grandparents haven’t seen you in ten years – not since your mother passed. Every year, they’ve been asking me to send you home for Christmas, and I keep meaning to do it, but never do. So you’re going now, before they get too old.”

“I want to see them, Daddy, I really do, but can’t I go later in the year? It’s the Bachelor Party, Daddy. It’s the biggest one of the year!” A lone tear trickled down her cheek, but she made no effort to wipe it away. If the tears didn’t work to manipulate her famous father into changing his mind, nothing would.

“You’re not going to that party, Gin. Even if you stay here, you’re not going.”

“What do you mean? Of course I’m going, I’ve got everything all organised!”

Her father shook his head. “No. You’re definitely not going to that party.”

“I’m twenty years old! You can’t stop me from going!” she protested, her voice shrill.

Her father sighed in that same tired way she’d been hearing for years. Tom was one of Hollywood’s most respected movie producers and had been dealing with divas for decades; that sigh meant he knew he’d lost that particular argument, but hadn’t lost the fight. She watched as he leaned back in his chair and frowned. “Maybe not. But you know what happened last time. I may not be able to keep you out of jail, this time round.”

Virginia shuddered. Yes, she remembered full well what had happened at the last huge rage she’d been to – her face had been plastered over the tabloids for weeks. The paparazzi had had a field day, zooming in on her face with mascara running down her cheeks, showing her stumbling over the kerb on the arm of a man she barely knew, the man who’d been responsible for her almost-demise. Despite not yet being of legal drinking age in California, alcohol was easy to come by in the circles she moved in, and so were drugs. Although she’d never been a user, the man she’d met at the party had changed that. When the tabloids had run the picture of her snorting cocaine through a rolled up twenty dollar bill, it had almost ruined her father. He’d been making a movie at the time, and had fluctuated between spending 24 hours a day on set to avoid both her and the media frenzy, and putting filming on hold completely, hiring Hollywood’s heaviest hitting lawyers to save not only her criminal record, but also her reputation.

Virginia pouted and stamped her foot in frustration. “It’s not fair!”

She watched as her father leaned back even further in his chair, and glowered at her over the rim of wired-framed glasses. “I’ve spoilt you, girl,” he admitted sadly. “You’ve got none of the values that I wanted you to have.” Leaning forward to place both palms on the edge of his desk, Tom rose to his feet. “A laid-back Kiwi Christmas will be good for you – away from the nightclubs and parties of Hollywood, and hopefully away from the paparazzi too. And I will also be introducing a spending limit on your credit cards.”

Virginia gasped. “Daddy! No! I like shopping!”

“You will still be able to go shopping, you’ll just have to start being sensible about it. I said I’m introducing a limit, not cutting it off altogether.”

“Do you want me to be miserable?” Virginia snapped, all pretence of tears gone.

“I want you to stay out of jail. I want you to be safe. And this is the best way I know of doing that. Besides, your Nan and Pop are looking forward to this visit – don’t ruin it for them. You can at least pretend to be happy.” Frowning again at Virginia, her father picked up the phone on his desk and dialled his secretary. “Send him in please,” he ordered into the receiver.

Instantly, there was a knock at the door, just three short, sharp raps, before it swung open.

Spinning around, Virginia watched, her mouth open in surprise, as Tom strode across the room to shake hands with the tall, dark, handsome stranger who stood just inside the doorway. Standing well over six feet tall, his sculpted muscles were visible even through his suit. Stubble darkened his chiselled jaw, and the edge of a tattoo on the side of his neck peeked above the collar of his shirt. Another tattoo covered the back of one hand, disappearing up inside the sleeve of his shirt and ending at the base of his fingers. His dark eyes were smouldering. Virginia licked her lips as her father made the introductions.

“Virginia, this is Shane. He will be your chaperone for your trip. Shane, meet Virginia, my daughter.”

Virginia swallowed hard and stared, wide-eyed, at the impressive specimen of manhood standing before her. “Ch-chaperone?” she stammered, confused. “Why do I need a chaperone?”

“I want to know you’re safe, my love,” her father told her. “Shane is ex-SAS. He’s trained in close combat and in martial arts – he will be your protection. He will also be your chauffeur and tour guide. And he will be responsible for keeping you out of trouble. He’s well versed in—”

“Handling spoilt brats.” Shane finished the sentence and stepped forward, his deep voice a rich baritone, sounding so loud in the small room. His accent nearly made her swoon. What was it? It sounded so familiar, yet so foreign.

“Excuse me? I am not a spoilt brat!” Virginia protested in outrage. But even as she said the words, she knew they weren’t true. Her father had spoiled her. She looked down at her hands that she was wringing in front of her nervously. The tiniest chip on her pinky nail marred the perfect French manicure – a luxury she maintained every week. Hopefully her now-limited budget would extend to regular beauty salon visits. Looking after her appearance was an essential for a socialite of her calibre. She never knew when she would be surrounded by photographers, and every week, she featured in a different magazine. Having her spending reined in was so unfair! It wasn’t like her father couldn’t afford it! Didn’t he know how important it was that she look good?

“We’ll see.” There was that deep voice again, sounding so sexy, spoken in barely more than a whisper. His accent rung in her ears, and it clicked. Aha! He was from New Zealand!

She looked across at him furiously, a death glare plastered to her face. The man was so rude! Shane met her eyes and smirked.

Rummaging around in one of the drawers of his big mahogany desk, her father retrieved a small plastic folder, from which he extracted a slip of shiny cardboard. He held it out to her. “Your ticket,” he told her. “You leave in the morning.”

Virginia gasped again. “In the morning?” she echoed his words, expressing her horror at the news she was travelling so soon. Picking up the ticket, she scanned it quickly. “And you’re flying me commercially?” Looking at the ground, she perfected her pout, before willing herself to cry again, wanting her father to see just how miserable he was making her. “What about your private jet?”

Her father shook his head firmly. “No.” He delved into the little plastic folder again, withdrawing another small slip of glossy cardboard, which he handed to Shane.

Looking at the ticket again, Virginia was too shocked even to cry. Economy. The word jumped off the page at her, mocking her. “You’re not even flying me business class?” she whispered, unable to even find her full voice.

Her father shook his head. “I think treating you like a normal person instead of a celebrity will be good for you.”

Virginia felt all the colour drain from her face as she balled the ticket up in her fists, forming the crinkly cardboard into a tight wad. “I will never forgive you for this!” she screamed. “I hate you! I’m going to ruin Christmas for everyone!” Throwing the balled up ticket at her father, she turned and ran from the room.

* * *

Shane watched Tom run his hands through his hair in exasperation, as the fast, furious click of Virginia’s heels on the tile floor echoed down the corridor. He’d been working as personal security in Hollywood for three years now and come across some real divas, but she was right up there with the worst of them.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Tom asked wearily. The famous movie producer’s face looked haggard and worn, as though he hadn’t slept a wink in days, and the pain his daughter’s parting words had caused him was evident in his grey eyes.

Nothing a good spanking won’t fix. He thought better of voicing his opinion, though, and instead, tried for the encouraging, positive approach. Rubbing his hands together, Shane forced a smile to his face. “We’ll be fine. I like challenges.”

***

 

Spending Christmas with Jessica

By Paige Mallory

December 22, 1873

 

Victor Bodey was relieved that his sweet little mother was out of town for the holidays. She was visiting with his Aunt Laurie. He would join them in Bigsby for Christmas dinner, but for now he was keeping the peace in Guthrie. Christmas was supposed to be a blessed time of year, honoring Jesus’ birth, but the Ames Gang was more interested in stealing the town blind, and snatching two or three girls to warm their beds while they took refuge from the winter in their hideout. Victor wasn’t going to allow that to happen. When he pinned on his badge two years earlier, he’d promised to keep the town and its people safe. He’d been doing pretty darn well at that so far, and he intended to continue in the same vein, keeping his town safe for all its residents.

Just before midnight on December 22, 1873, the Ames Gang rode into town and Susie Baker’s screams reached Victor’s ears. He ran to help her, and realized too late that it was a trap. Mortimer Ames was waiting to gun him down and Victor Bodey died that night.

* * *

December 22, 2016

 

It was late and Jessica Cosgrove was tired as she reached home. She wanted to lock up her weapons, take off her uniform and unpin her hair. Tomorrow would be another long day because the holidays tended to bring out the crazies. Their police force was short-handed due to all the budget cuts the town council thought it prudent to make, but the taxpayers still expected the same protection as always. The Chief of Police was caught between a rock and a hard place. He was working his police officers long hours, and paying more overtime. It was the holidays, and the mayor wanted Guthrie to be the perfect picture of peace and goodwill to all. Jess needed her paycheck, so she didn’t protest the overtime. It wasn’t like she had a husband, or even a boyfriend to care about her. What she did have was parents, nine siblings – some of whom were married or had significant others – and twenty-seven nieces and nephews to buy fabulous Christmas presents for. The extra money for overtime would help – unless she was too darn tired to go shopping in the next couple of days.

Jess was ready to climb the steps to her front porch when she heard a loud moan coming from the side yard. Alert as could be, she drew her gun to go and investigate. She had managed to make a couple of enemies since becoming a police officer, and she was going to proceed with caution. She made her way as quietly as possible around the corner of the house, thankful she could see well in the dark. She heard another groan of pain and to her surprise, she found a very large man lying there on the ground. “Sir, are you all right?” she asked, assuming he was drunk.

“No. I was shot. Get Doc Prentiss.”

“I’ll call for a bus to take you to the hospital.”

“No! I don’t want to die!”

“Who are you? Do you have some ID?”

“I’m the sheriff of Guthrie, Wyoming.”

“I happen to know the sheriff of Guthrie, and you are not him. Can you stand?” The man had to be drunk.

“I am the sheriff; I was shot, ma’am. Please get Doc.” The man’s speech was too clear for him to be a drunk.

“Who shot you? Did you get a look at them?”

“It was the Ames Gang. They abducted Susie Baker. I tried to save her, but they were waiting for me.”

Jess knew the history of Guthrie as well as any other citizen who was raised in the town. Everyone knew that the Ames Gang took Susie Baker, and the sheriff was nowhere to be found in the town. Some people thought he was murdered and his body disposed of. Others said the Ames Gang gave him money to leave town.

Jess’s first thought was that her buddies on the force were playing a practical joke on her. She decided to go along with the joke until she could think of a way to turn it around on the others. “Okay, Sheriff. Let’s get you inside so I can tend your wounds.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Are you new here? I don’t recognize your voice.”

“I have lived here my whole and entire life.” She helped him up, surprised at the size of the man! Next to him, she looked fragile and petite, neither of which were true. Jess was wary of taking a stranger inside her home, but she had her gun, and she knew how to use it if this were anything other than a practical joke. “Here we are. Have a seat.”

She watched him move toward a chair, and then he stopped and looked at her in confusion. “What place is this? Nothing is familiar to me.” His eyes widened as he looked at her. “Why are you dressed in men’s clothing?”

“I am wearing my uniform. I am a police officer, and I think a few of the boys are playing a gag on me. You can tell me; I won’t arrest you for silliness.”

“I am not playing a prank on you.” He was looking around him with eyes full of mistrust. “What is this place? Nothing looks right.”

“What’s wrong? You don’t like the shade of paint I picked?” she asked in good humor. “My sister absolutely hates it. I told her she could repaint it for me as a Christmas present. Why are you wearing a costume? Surely the guys didn’t think I would believe your story that you are a sheriff from 1873?”

“I am the sheriff of Guthrie. My wounds are gone!” he declared. “Mort Ames shot me at least three times, and yet, there is no pain at all.” He looked her quite funny, then asked, “I think I am beginning to understand; I am dead and in Heaven?”

“No!”

“This is Hell?” His dark eyes expressed genuine fright then.

“No! This is not Heaven and it isn’t Hell. This is simply 2016, and I think you must have fallen and hit your head. I am going to call an ambulance and take you to the Emergency Room to be seen by a doctor.”

“No. This cannot be. I am from 1873; why would I be here in your world?”

“I have to give you credit, buddy, you never give up. The gag is over, finished. I am extremely tired. I need a bath and my bed. I have to be on duty again at eight hundred hours. Please go home.”

“I have nowhere to go. I am in a strange situation. I know I am dead to my time and place, but why was I sent here? Do you need protection?” he asked, perfectly serious.

“I can take care of myself. I told you, I am a police officer. I carry a gun and I know how to use it.”

“Do you just shoot men who brawl? Or teens that are rowdy? What of gossiping women? Do you shoot them also?”

“I don’t shoot anyone! I use my brains to handle most situations. If I must arrest someone, I try to do it respectfully.”

“You should not be doing a man’s job. What is wrong with your husband that he permits you to be threatened and pushed about?”

“I have no husband.”

“Why is that? You are pretty enough to be married.”

“I haven’t met the right man,” she answered softly, flattered by his comment. “Please, now, I have had enough of your teasing. Tell the guys they got me good. Tell them also that they should tip you well because you have stayed in character the entire time. Good night now.” She walked over to open the door.

He didn’t budge. “I need answers. How is it you know of the Ames Gang? Are you related to them in some way?”

“Look— What is your name, mister?”

“Victor Bodey, ma’am. If you’ve lived in Guthrie your whole life, then you should know that. You must be telling me the truth about this being in the future.”

“You surely don’t expect me to buy into the lie that you are from 1873?”

“I do not lie. If you accuse me wrongly again, I’ll take you over my knee for a spanking.” Victor meant the words.

“You try manhandling me, and I’ll have you behind bars so fast you won’t know how it happened!”

“It is not manhandling to discipline a sassy redhead.”

“You get out of my house right now!”

“I would not know where to go. Things are very different here. Your lamps have long black whips attached to them.”

“Those are electrical cords,” she answered, then caught herself doing so. “You stop it now! I don’t want to play your game. I am exhausted and I need to sleep.”

“Explain how I came to be here. This is not heard of where I am from.” His dark eyes were compelling her to believe him, even though she knew he was acting.

“No more or I am going to arrest you and let you try to explain yourself to the judge.”

“You cannot arrest me; I am the sheriff!”

“You are not the sheriff; I know the sheriff, and believe me when I tell you that he would not be amused by this entire prank.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” he demanded, his dark eyes full of outrage.

“Yes, if it comes down to it, I am calling you a liar! You are no more the sheriff than I am! I know for a fact that someone is attempting to put one over on me, and it was damn funny at first, but now I am getting pissed off. I want you out of my house, now!”

To her surprise he moved with the swiftness of a rattlesnake and snagged her wrist in his left hand. His right found the buckle on her gun belt, and off it went. Then he sat down on the ottoman and pulled her over his left thigh and used his right leg to pin her calves so she couldn’t kick. Then his powerful right hand slapped against her left cheek and Jess cried out in shock and pain.

“Damn you! Let me go before I hurt you!”

“You should not dare a man, little girl, especially a man who is my size. I warned you not to call me a liar, and now you will pay the price.” He spanked her again and she hollered. “You can yell all you want; it won’t change a thing. You earned a tanned hide.” He spanked her in earnest then.

Jess couldn’t believe this was happening. It was certainly no joke! Not one of the other officers would dare do this to her, especially with her brothers Tim and Mike on the force. They wouldn’t stand for it! No, this guy seemed serious as could be, and it was certain he meant every stinging spank he dealt her poor backside. The spanking hurt like hell! “Stop, please! We need to talk. Please? I am confused as can be. I know— Ouch! Ouch! I know you are serious! Please stop! I didn’t mean to anger you!”

“You called me a liar – after I warned you what to expect.” He spanked her sit spots twice more.

“I’m sorry! I am so sorry!” Jess wasn’t stupid. She needed to apologize or he just might keep right on spanking her. She needed to bring the painful lesson to an end. “Please listen to me; I’ve never had anyone claim to be from another time before! It is hard to believe, but I believe you now! Please stop spanking me and talk to me.”

The sheriff released her and stood her on her feet and the first thing she did was reach back to try and rub the sting out of her cheeks. “You hurt me!” she whispered, tears leaking from her green eyes.

“You should never call a man who is larger than you a liar, Miss— I do not know your name,” he said, suddenly realizing he’d spanked a strange female. Her pa might just take a horsewhip to him!

“I am Jess Cosgrove,” she answered, holding out her hand to shake his. He looked at her strangely. “Women shake hands now? That is so different. Your name, Jess – that is a man’s name.” He gave her another look that said he didn’t approve.

“My name is actually Jessica, but my family all call me Jess. Almost all of us have nicknames.” She cocked her head to one side. “I need to hear your story, beginning to end. Something strange is happening here, and I am at a loss as to how to deal with it. Please talk to me, Sheriff.”

“Sit down,” he invited.

“I cannot sit down right now,” she told him, trying to hide the anger and humiliation she was feeling. “My bottom is bruised and burning.”

“That is why a spanking works. You will feel it for several days and you will remember the lesson, and you will watch your words. You should not be cursing, either.”

“I am frustrated, but that isn’t a good excuse for bad language. I apologize.”

“Would your ma permit that?”

“She doesn’t like it, but she picks her battles. Please tell me what happened to you from the beginning.” She listened as the sheriff told her his story, and she found herself believing him. The details he shared were not available in any of the books she’d studied. Either he was a terrific actor, or she was truly meeting a man from 1873. “Do you think God made a mistake?” she asked.

“God doesn’t make mistakes, unless you know something I don’t?”

“I was taught that God knows everything. He is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. He put you here for some reason.”

“That’s what I figure, and I figure I am here to protect you. Jesus probably doesn’t like little girls trying to do a man’s job.”

“Are you hungry, Sheriff Bodey?” she asked politely.

“I am, and please call me Victor, Jessica. I have spanked you and that makes us friends, I hope?”

“No one has ever spanked me before, although a couple of my brothers have threatened me with a spanking. Just a warning, don’t mention spanking me in front of them. They’ll stomp you. It’s okay if they pick on me, but no one else is allowed to touch me in that manner.”

The sheriff grinned at her. “If they’d done their job, I wouldn’t have had to spank you.”

His words convinced her that he was serious. “That isn’t done these days. You can’t just grab a woman and spank her, Victor. You will get shot or arrested. Another thing, women can do anything a man can do. You might not like it, but that is how it is done.”

“Do you still celebrate the birth of our Lord?” Victor asked.

“We do, but it has become very commercial. People go overboard buying gifts for each other, and most children are quite spoiled on Christmas. I have twenty-seven nieces and nephews to buy presents for, and they expect something really nice from Aunty Jess.”

“What about church?” Victor asked with a worried look.

“My entire family is Catholic; we try to go to Midnight Mass together if we can, but with three of us on the police force, usually one or two of us have to work. My sister Amy is a nurse; she often works Christmas Eve so she can take off Christmas Day. We all try to go to Mom and Dad’s house sometime during Christmas day. My sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law all want to spend time with their families too. It’s crazy.”

“How can everyone leave their animals and be gone so much?” Victor asked, confused.

“You are thinking of animals as in horses, cows, chickens, right?”

He nodded.

“Some of my family and friends have pets, but they find someone to come in and take care of them, or they bring them along. Victor, stay calm now. We don’t use horses. Transportation today is much easier. We drive cars. Or we fly in airplanes. We also have trains. There are buses and taxis too. We can drive to my mom’s from here in less than ten minutes. Would you like to take a ride?”

“No! It sounds dangerous.”

“It can be. There are a lot of idiot drivers out there.”

Victor jumped when her telephone started ringing. She took it out of her pocket, pushed a button and answered, “Hello.” She paused and listened. “I am home, Mama. Planning to take a bath and go to bed, but I need to make some dinner first.” She listened again, and shook her head before saying, “No, Mama, I haven’t finished shopping. I am tired when I get off my shift.” Jess listened some more, and then said firmly, “No, Mother! You do not say anything to either Tim or Mike. They are working longer hours right now too, and I don’t want anyone to think I am complaining. Please let me fight my own battles. I am capable of sticking up for myself when I feel it necessary. I don’t want special consideration just because I am a female. That is the whole point of equality. It means equal. It means I have to work long hours when asked. It is my own fault I don’t have my shopping done. Perhaps I will just stay up all night and go and get it all done.” She listened. “Mama, you have enough on your plate. You aren’t going to do my shopping for me. That just doesn’t cut it, especially when you have a job and work too.” She listened, and finally said, “I love you, Mommy. You have a good night.” She waited, smiled, and said, “I am always careful, darling. I love you.” She ended the call to find Victor staring at her in shock. “This is a cell phone. You talk to other people on it. You can call someone, or they can call you.”

* * *

 

A Very Georgian Christmas

By Vanessa Brooks

 

Yorkshire, England.

Mr. and Mrs. Weston….

Glancing out through the mullion windows of his solid Yorkshire stone house, Oliver Weston watched the softly swirling snow as it settled over the moor. He absentmindedly broke the wax seal upon the letter he held. His gaze withdrew from the mesmerising flakes as he scanned the note. Picking up his unfinished toast whilst he read, his hand froze halfway to his mouth, his fingers still clutching the half eaten slice. He was completely absorbed by his letter and did not appear to notice the butter melting; it dripped down his wrist, staining the edge of his white ruffled cuff.

His wife Harriett glanced up from her own correspondence, her husband’s sudden stillness alerted her to the fact something serious had gained his attention. “Pray, is it bad news, Mr. Weston?” she asked anxiously.

“Hmm?” her husband responded absently.

“Oliver, you are causing me concern, what is in your missive that intrigues you so?”

This time her husband lifted his gaze and seeing her consternation, smiled at her reassuringly. “I am surprised is all,” he answered. “We have been included in an invitation, along with the rest of my family, to Merriton Hall for New Year. I thought Benedict Mortimer would never forgive me for my foolish behaviour with regard to his sister Imogene, but it seems that he has done so.”

“Our sister too, now that she is married to your twin, Charles,” Harriet pointed out.

“Mmm, yes quite so,” Oliver muttered as he reread the letter just to ascertain the facts. It was signed The Right Honourable Rose Countess of Stradock and Rose’s own unmistakably flourishing signature was at the bottom of the letter. He looked at his hand, still clutching his half eaten toast, with surprise; taking a bite, he chewed thoughtfully.

“Well, well,” he said, shaking his head bemusedly. “I confess that I am astonished but singularly gratified by this invitation.” He noticed the melted butter staining his cuff and dropped the toast onto the plate with an irritated “tsk.” Picking up a serviette he dabbed at the yellow stain. “The invitation also includes your sister Helen and her husband Richard.”

Harriett clapped her hands. “Oh Mr. Weston, what a gay Christmastide we shall have to be sure! Could I perhaps have an advance on my dress allowance so that I may look my best amongst such high society?”

Oliver smiled indulgently, nodding affably. “I see no reason why not, Mrs. Weston, but I shall demand a forfeit from you.”

Harriet made a pretty moue.

“Fear not, nothing too strenuous m’dear, merely some kisses from your pretty lips.”

Harriet jumped up from the table and ran around to where her husband sat and planted a kiss upon his cheek. Oliver pulled her in close, whispering against her ear. “No, I will exact payment later, when we are alone and I can put those plump lips of yours to good use.”

“Mr. Weston!” she squealed, scandalised. Oliver chuckled and patted his wife’s well covered rear. For a farmer’s daughter she was easily shocked; it delighted him to tease her and watch as blushes suffused her pretty cheeks.

* * *

Merriton Hall Sussex, England.

The Earl and Countess of Stradock…

 

Breakfast at Merriton Hall was, by the standard of the day, casual. The breakfast fare was served in silver covered tureens set upon a polished wooden sideboard. No servants or butler were present to wait upon the family, who enjoyed the privacy of simply being en famille. They ate with gusto, discussing anything left unsaid when a servant was present. The older two children joined their parents for breakfast, staying until Nanny came to fetch them, then Rose would take baby George and keep him for an hour or two, while the nanny gathered the older children taking them outside for their daily constitution about the grounds of Merriton.

Rose had decided that it would be best to share the news of their New Year visitors with her husband during the general hubbub of breakfast, a time of day she thought her husband would be less likely to overreact.

Rose glanced through her post and noted an invitation that had arrived solely in her name. Sliding it into her reticule she intended studying it later, when she was alone. Thankfully, her husband was distracted by his pamphlet, while the children were too absorbed in their own bickering to even notice her furtive deed.

The moment the words had left her mouth, Rose knew she had been mistaken in her supposition that Benedict would take the news of their impending guests better in front of the children.

“WHAT? No. Absolutely NOT!” Lord Mortimer bellowed, leaping to his feet, startling the squabbling children into shocked silence. The dogs leapt to their feet, sensing their master’s sudden change in mood, they assumed danger approached, but their warning barks frightened the children who burst into tears. Benedict ignored the cacophony and focused his narrow-eyed attentions on his petite blonde wife; she gazed back at him contriving innocence.

“Don’t think that wide-eyed look will save you,” he intoned sonorously, narrowing his eyes just as Rose rolled hers.

“Ah, that is more like the Rose I know and love.” He wagged an admonishing finger at her. “You went behind my back to arrange this visit, knowing full well what my answer would be had you asked my permission and you jolly well should have asked!” He slammed the flat of his hand down upon the table and the entire breakfast porcelain jumped, whilst the silverware rattled, the children wailed, and the dogs bayed. The door opened and a nervous nanny appeared with baby George cradled in her arms. She took in the master’s stormy countenance and called the children over to her. They dashed to her side and clung to her skirts, fearful of their father’s ire. Nanny glanced over at Rose for instruction and Rose waved her away, instructing her to take the children from the room. As the children left, the dogs took their opportunity to escape the overcharged atmosphere, rushing out. They very nearly toppled Nanny over.

Benedict seemed not to notice that everyone had left, so intent was he on his argument.

You know, he knows, just about everyone knows, why I will not have Oliver Weston under my roof!” he bellowed at Rose.

“But he is Charles and Claudia’s brother and now Imogene’s brother-in-law. We cannot invite them here without asking Oliver and Harriett! Surely you see that! After all, you are the English Lord, always so full of what is correct, regarding English etiquette, etcetera, etcetera!” she replied crossly, her American accent coming to the fore in her distress.

“Oliver Weston married my sister as an imposter and—”

“Yes, but now your sister is married to your friend, our brother-in-law, Charles! Imogene accepts Oliver into her household. It was she that he deceived, not you and yet she accepts him, as you need to do without all this blustering. Lawks a mercy, give me strength!” Rose spun away from the table and flung up her hands in frustration.

Benedict moved with surprising agility for such a large man. Rose barely had time to blink before her husband was around the table, her wrist secured within his grasp.

“You will accompany me to my study.”

“Benedict, I am the mother of three children, a matron now, in fact. Your behaviour is not at all appropriate. Release me this instant!” she hissed vehemently.

Her husband snorted. “You don’t look a day over the eighteen years you were when I married you. I wouldn’t care if you were a grandmother of three, you deserve to be soundly spanked, and so you shall be!”

Rose squealed, although secretly she was thoroughly enjoying her husband’s masterful reaction to her underhandedness. He hadn’t shown any inclination to spank her in quite a while, but then, she hadn’t given him any cause to do so. Even now, this unexpected treatment of her person was a surprise. She quite genuinely believed that this kind of husbandly discipline was a thing of the past. After all, she was an established matriarch and, as such, it was refreshingly exciting to rediscover Benedict’s dominion.

“I have a meeting with Cook to go over Christmas and New Year menus, I cannot simply dispense with my duty and disappear into your lair,” she protested weakly.

Benedict tightened his hold on his wife. “I beg to differ, you can and you will.” He tugged open the door. Roberts, their butler, stood aside bowing his head in deference to their sudden appearance. His eyes widened as the master strode past with the mistress in his inexorable grip.

“Roberts, inform Cook that Lady Mortimer will be delayed, she will ring for her when she is ready.” He carried on in the direction of his study, his wife securely in hand.

“Certainly, milord.” The butler watched solemnly as his employer towed his diminutive wife along the polished hallway, her silken slippers sliding in an attempt to keep up with her husband’s stride. Roberts remained stationary until they disappeared around the bend in the passage, then he entered the dining room, snapping his fingers at the footman standing either side of the doorway. The liveried servants cleared away the breakfast debris accompanied by the faint but distinguishable song of a female wailing in distress.

 

* * *

 

The Santa Wrangler

By Megan McCoy

Did Ben know who she was? He didn’t act like it. Nope, he sat there, cool and calm, and if he remembered baring her butt and blistering it as red as the berries on that holly branch decorating his desk, he was an excellent actor. Heather Ryan knew she needed to focus on the interview. It didn’t matter who he was, how hot he was or how her cheeks burned in mortification, she needed this job. Getting fired right before Christmas sucked. Well, it sucked anytime of year, but this was a really bad time. She desperately needed this job, even if it was only a temp job. It was easier to get a job when you had a job, and once she got this one, she could start looking for something long term.

“So I’d basically be wrangling Santa?” she asked carefully, trying not to look into those steel gray eyes, staring at his mouth instead. No, that didn’t work. His kiss had been memorable, just like the spanking he’d given her.

“Santas, multiple. I have a chain of ten stores in this area and I’m having Santas in all of them for the first time. My store personnel are all busy with the holiday season and the extra work that involves and I need someone to make sure the Santas all show up for work, the photographers are there, the elves to pass out candy, the backdrops are set up and,” he continued to talk about the job duties while she kept trying to focus. How soon could she leave? Her head swam and her ears buzzed as she remembered that day.

The day he’d bared her bottom and spanked her until she sobbed like a baby. Then he’d refused to let her pull her pants up; but instead sat her on his lap, and held her there until she finally fell asleep. When she woke up, he’d been asleep too, and she’d slipped off his lap, run out of the room, holding her pants up with one hand and hadn’t seen him again till now.

“Heather, are you paying attention?” he asked sternly.

She nodded, too emphatically. “I am. This is a temp job, then, right?” She stood up. “I really am looking for something permanent.”

“Sit,” he commanded.

She looked at him and didn’t know why she sat. What? She wasn’t a puppy. Yet, she sat there quietly and waited.

“Yes, obviously because of the season, this is a temp position, but I’m always looking for good people for management and I hire from within, if at all possible. If you do a good job with this, there are a lot of opportunities in my company.”

Heather crossed her legs. Okay. She understood that. Plus, it would be a paycheck until she found something else – if it didn’t work out.

“I can wrangle Santas,” she said, looked him right in the eye, ignoring the butterflies in her belly. Did he have to be so darn handsome? Steel gray eyes, dark hair and eyebrows, tall, well muscled, geeze. He should have everyone in the world wanting to work for him.

“You do have a lot of managerial experience,” he said, scanning her resume again.

“I’ve run a small real estate company since I was eighteen,” she said. “I worked for two bosses, and unfortunately, they closed the company when he had a stroke and her mother died in the same week. They sold it to someone else who apparently didn’t need me.”

He made a note on her resume, which made her nervous for some reason, more nervous, extra nervous.

“Are you afraid of snakes?” he asked, turning those eyes on her again. Obviously, he had a direct line to the butterflies in her stomach.

“No?”

“Was that a question?” he asked. “What is your opinion on dog poop?”

“I have none?” What? Had she ever handled dog poop in real life?

“Okay, for one night we’re doing pet pictures with Santa at a couple stores, and I need to make sure that my wrangler won’t run screaming.”

“I rarely run screaming,” she said. That was true. She couldn’t think of one instance where she had. She must have had a charmed life.

“That sounds like a challenge.” He smiled at her and she felt her stomach flip, shivered, and didn’t know what to say.

Heather’s heart raced. Did she even want this job? Did it matter? She needed the money. Her last job had been interesting and quiet, and this one would be fun, challenging and paid well. Something different was always good. Really, though, she just wanted to work for Ben. Even if she thought this job would suck, she wanted to work with and for him. She might as well admit it. She’d figured out that you could lie, if you wanted to, but it never worked out when you lied to yourself. She’d had a crush on him since college.

“Good. Then meet me here tomorrow at eight and we will go visit all the stores. Bring a notebook or tablet so you can take notes. I’ll introduce you to all the managers and show you where the Santas will be set up. Then after that, we’ll meet with the set staging company, and you’ll be overseeing all that, and also the woman sending out the photographers. Wear your walking shoes. Now, go down to HR and get your paperwork done. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, right here, and don’t be late.”

He got up, gave her a little wink, and walked out of the room as she realized that more than likely he did know who she was, he remembered what she did, and also, that she had a job and would be able to pay her rent. Heather had no idea if she was happy or mortified. Both, she could be both.

***

 

A Very Jackson Christmas

By Delia Grace

 

“They’re here! They’re here! They’re here!” Amelia bounced on the couch looking out the front window of her grandparents’ house. She had been waiting “forever” for her Aunt Bernie and Uncle Levi to arrive. Well, since breakfast, and that’s a very long time when you’re four. She threw open the front door and bounded down the steps to leap into her uncle’s arms. “You finally showed up!” She giggled when he kissed her face all over.

“Yes, we did, little girl, but why on earth are you out here in the snow with no shoes on? Your feet are like ice cubes,” he chided gently.

“I was just too ‘cited to put shoes on! But I took my socks off, so they wouldn’t get wet,” she explained with the logic that only a preschooler has. Well, a preschooler, or her mother when she was feeling “little.” “I made a good choice.”

“I’m not sure we would categorize that as a good choice, little girl.” She heard the gentle tone of her father, Judah, and looked over her shoulder guiltily. “I seem to recall that the instructions were, ‘Wait until they come inside to greet them. You’ve had a cold and we want you to heal so you can go sledding tomorrow.’ It doesn’t look to me like you were making very obedient choices, were you?”

She pouted, but shook her head honestly.

“Give your auntie a kiss, and then I think it’s time for you to go have some rest time.”

She started to fuss, but with one quirk of his eyebrow, she settled down. “Okay, Papa.”

Judah smiled happily at this name. When Amelia had started asking, a couple weeks after she moved in, whether Judah was her daddy now, he and Toni had been unsure what to say. Daddy was a name that they felt was special to them for Nettie to use; so when Amelia said she wanted “Papa” like in Little House on the Prairie one night during family reading, everyone had thought that was a perfect idea.

Amelia threw her arms around her Aunt Bernie and blew a raspberry on her cheek. “I love you the bestest, Auntie B. Is it time for the babies to come out so I can hold them yet?”

Bernie kissed her back, blowing her own raspberry. “No, monkey, not yet. You have to wait until your birthday and then your cousin will come out to play with you. Do you think it’s a boy or girl today?”

“Both!” Amelia stubbornly declared.

Everyone laughed. She had been maintaining that there were twins in there since the day Bernie announced. And no matter how many times they told her that the doctors said there was only one, she continued to insist on two.

“All right, well we’ll see who is right when it’s time for them to come out. For now, go obey your papa, and go rest. After rest time I’ll play a game with you, okay?”

Amelia grinned. “Yes! Hi-ho Cherry O!” She hopped out of Bernie’s arms and sung loudly all the way up the stairs to her room here. “Hi-ho Cherry O! Hi-ho Cherry O!”

Judah chuckled and followed her up to tuck her in.

Levi held the door as Bernie walked in with a small bag. He had a suitcase, a computer bag, and a guitar case. Jacob was sitting on the couch in the living room and jumped up to help him. “Wow son, it looks like you could use some assistance.”

Bernie made a face. “I’d be happy to ‘assist’ him, but he won’t let me carry a damn thing. I keep explaining to him I’m pregnant, not an invalid. People have been doing this for thousands of years, and I highly doubt they went nine months without lifting anything heavier than a purse or exerting themselves more than climbing a flight of stairs. But he won’t budge. He’s driving me crazy.”

Jacob laughed. “I was like that when Maggie was carrying Judah, but by the time this one came around I had mellowed out a lot. I think she was mucking stalls the day she went into labor.”

Everyone laughed at that one.

“Let me help you get situated. Y’all will obviously be in Levi’s old room. Maggie set up all the rooms with fresh linens, and snack baskets, and other frou-frou. You’d think that her children lived on the other side of the country and she only saw them once a year the way she has been preparing for this weekend.”

His sons gave each other knowing looks. “Sure, Mom has been excited at having all of her chicks in one place for the weekend. Dad, I think you’ve put more into this weekend than Mom ever could. You called me three times just this morning to see when we were coming and what our favorite beverages were,” Levi said teasingly.

Jacob’s face reddened a little, but he laughed heartily. “Okay, I might be a bit excited as well. We haven’t had everyone spend the night in a long time, and we’ve never had the wives and a granddaughter for Christmas before. What can I say? I’m a sucker for family gatherings!”

Everyone agreed, but they didn’t mind. It was fun to have the whole family together, and four full days off of work to just enjoy each other’s company did sound delightful.

Levi led Bernie upstairs. “Whoa, your parents replaced the bed in here. Wasn’t it bunk beds last time we were over?” she asked.

Levi grinned. “Yeah. I guess they decided that adult married sons needed something more intimate. I didn’t expect a king, though. This is sweet. And a TV? We never had TVs in our rooms as kids. We weren’t even allowed to have computers or laptops. My parents thought it was better, and safer, to have all media and electronics in the main areas of the house.”

“Oh my god, Levi! There are even chocolates on the pillows and mini toiletries in the bathroom! Your mom is the cutest!”

He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing her head softly. “Not the cutest, because that’s saved for you, my love. But she is pretty intense with her welcoming stuff. Speaking of welcoming, let’s check out this basket. God, it’s like we opened our stockings early. There are Cheez-Its, olives, and cans of Dr. Pepper in here. She even put in Twinkies. Where did that woman even find Twinkies?”

Bernie came up behind him and gasped. “Oh Levi! She even thought of me, look at all that hot cocoa and decaf flavored coffee! I just told her that you banned me from caffeine and it was killing me. God, she is seriously the best! Is that Godiva? I am going to love your mom for life!” She popped a piece in her mouth and closed her eyes, moaning.

He pulled her onto the bed and started nuzzling her neck. “I don’t know how I feel about anyone except me getting that sound, Mrs. Jackson – even ‘divine chocolate perfection.’ I think I’d better see if I can outshine the chocolate.” He kissed her chocolate-filled mouth, and then grunted himself. “Okay, that is pretty amazing chocolate.”

Bernie giggled and started kissing him harder, sticking her tongue in his mouth, making sure he could enjoy every drop like she was.

Across the hall…

(Did you really think I was going to let you into their most intimate moments? What do you take me for – an erotica author? *evil grin*)

“But, I don’t need a rest, Judah! I’m not in Lil’ Nettie mode, and I promised Maggie I’d help her with dinner prep.”

Judah swatted her bottom. “You don’t get to use my name right now, little miss. You might not be in Lil’ Nettie mode, but you’re definitely in Nettie mindset and you know it. You’ve been throwing sass and attitude at me since I walked in here from putting Amelia down. I know you didn’t sleep well last night because you were excited about this weekend, and I know that the adults are going to marathon movies tonight, so unless you want to miss out on that fun, you’ll go lie down and get some rest. Besides, I happen to know that Mom is doing lasagna tonight. She and Ginny already have them in the fridge ready to go into the oven. All they will need help with is bread and salad and they do that right before. So, there is no reason you cannot take a little nap.”

She pouted at him for a moment, and then her face changed and she grinned coquettishly. “Will you lie down with me? I might need some snuggles to get good sleep.”

Benevolently, he kissed her cheek. “Of course, baby. I’m always happy to give you snuggles.” He laid down on the bed and gestured for her to come into his arms.

She crawled onto the bed, but not into his arms, she leaned her face over his belt and started undoing it with her teeth.

“Antoinette! What are you doing?”

“I want your cock. In my mouth. Now.”

He looked at her like she had grown three heads. “Wh-what?” The bipolar change from sassy to sexy was throwing him for a loop.

“I need sex, Judah. I need it now. I need it so bad it’s like I can taste it. If we don’t have sex, I am going to curl up into a little ball and die. Seriously, die.”

He shook his head, speechless. “Okay… I mean I’m not going to deny you sex or ever turn down a blow job.” He wondered what had gotten into her though. She had been increasingly erratic lately. Super happy and then crying, really irritable and then begging for sex, completely irrational and then apologizing for being that way. He had no idea what to make of it. They had only been married for a couple of months, but had lived together since July and this was completely out of character for his little wife. He wondered if she was getting sick.

She undid his belt and then unzipped his pants, pleased to see that he was already mostly erect for her. Sliding his boxers down to his knees she turned so that her butt was in his face and her mouth wrapped around his penis. She began to suck eagerly and moaned as she did so.

He reached up and lowered her panties as well, then stuck his fingers inside of her pussy. She was sopping wet! And had a different aroma than usual. He couldn’t place it. It wasn’t bad, just tangier. He placed his fingers in his mouth and as he tasted her sweet nectar, let out a primal groan. This was heaven to him. His baby’s mouth around his manhood, while he gave her pleasure in her perfect little pussy. He began to rub her just the way she liked it; her ministrations on his cock became harder and more pointed. He felt her teeth a little as she verbally showed her appreciation of his attention to her clit and little hole.

“Don’t bite me, little girl, or I might have to bite you back.”

She slowly and carefully closed her teeth around his cock until it just passed from pleasure into pain and then let up on the pressure.

“Oh you little minx.” He sat up a little and pulled her towards his face. He began lapping at her juices like a starving man, sucking at her cunt until she let out a squeal, then he quickly flipped her over and bit her ass – hard.

She moaned audibly, shrieking, but obviously reveling in it as well.

Then, when she seemed on the edge of completion, he withdrew his mouth and pointed to his bulging manhood. “Finish what you started, please.”

She gaped at him, breathing heavily in and out, but melted at his look and lowered her face back onto his cock, sucking up and down his velvety manhood as if her life depended on it. She gave him a dirty come hither smile as she sucked the tip over and over just the way he liked; her eyes rolled back in her head as he came hard, and she shoved his penis down her throat so she wouldn’t miss a single drop.

Then, once he had spent every ounce of cum he had, he flipped her onto her belly and stuck one finger into her asshole and two fingers into her pussy and began to pump. Using his thumb to rub her swollen clit, he verbally encouraged her. “Come on, baby. Let it all out for me. Let the whole house know that you’re mine and you just gave me all you had and now I’m begging for more.”

Her body shook with the exertion of holding it in, trying to let it build. She wanted to be quiet. She wanted to be silent, but she knew that was not going to be possible. With a deep breath, she allowed the pleasure to flood over her. Screaming at the top of her lungs, she let the orgasm take over her whole body. She let out scream after scream as wave after wave overtook her. She began to cry from pleasure, then sobbed harder and harder as the orgasm took over every fiber of her being. He held her tightly as she wept into his chest until she fell into a deep sleep. He wrapped her up with the blanket and fell asleep with her in his arms.

(Okay, maybe I do like to let you into intimate moments. But it’s on my terms, not yours. Author = Dominant. I’m the boss. I’m in charge. You’ll take what I give you.

***

 

A Merry Exmas

By Sheri Lynn

 

Running around like a mad woman, Jana knew this would happen. It’s not like she could tell her best friend, Macy, vacationing in Greece with her new boyfriend, that she wouldn’t lend a helping hand with her two-year-old daughter over the holidays. If she didn’t have her first Christmas season at the local theater, her stress level wouldn’t be off the charts.

She put the dog’s food out, filled her to-go coffee mug, now if she could just find her stupid boot. Pulling bin after bin out of her closet, she doesn’t understand how her boots didn’t get stored in pairs. She found most of her black ones, but only one gray ankle boot. She must have overlooked it. Taking a seat on the floor, she shoves the items she emptied on the closet floor out the door. No surprise, it magically appears in the last swipe.

Slipping it on, she zips it and makes a beeline for the door, not without grabbing her purse and mug on the way out. Driving over the speed limit, she drives up to the colonel’s house at 7:30 AM. Macy’s father served in the army, a decorated soldier, hence his title. Twenty minutes late has her feeling like a teenager again as she rings the bell.

The door opens to a scowling colonel holding Josie in his arms. In an over-exaggerated motion, he looks at his watch. “I see some things never change, Jana. I certainly hope you are managing the theater better than you are your personal obligations.”

“Yes, sir, of course,” She manages to squeak out. “Been working some real late hours over there.”

Stepping inside the house, he bellows her instructions. “Just inside the door to the study, you will find her diaper bag and suitcase. Go put them in the car. I’ll meet you out there and install the car seat.”

Scurrying past him, she retrieves Josie’s things. “Thank you, sir.”

He blows out a breath as she passes. “No problem, Jana. You look good by the way.”

Not wasting any more time, she has the bags loaded in the trunk and the baby in her arms. The colonel gets the car seat buckled and leans in kissing Josie and Jana both on their cheeks. “Drive carefully.”

She decides to respect the speed limits with Josie in the car. As if seeing the colonel wasn’t enough for one morning, now she gets to see Macy’s ex, Matt. She can’t blame Matt for not wanting to deal with the colonel. He isn’t obligated any longer. He and Macy divorced over a year ago, and Macy never discusses it.

Stuck in traffic, she picks up her phone and texts her stage assistant that she will be late. It’s annoying that she totally bypasses the theater to get to Matt’s on the other side of town. She always loved this part of town though. It’s older renovated homes. Macy hated it. She and Matt bought it together, but they divorced before she ever lived in it.

It’s a craftsman style, not Macy’s style at all. As Jana pulls in the driveway, she’s shocked at the amazing transformation. It’s lovely. He has done a lot of work, excellent work, on it. Opening the car door, she sees him bounding down the front steps. One thing hasn’t changed; he is still hot as hell.

“Hey, you’re late. I was getting worried, but I didn’t have your number to check on you. I had to call the colonel.” He rolls his eyes as he sprints over and opens the door where Josie is.

“She fell asleep. Why don’t I carry her inside and you disengage that contraption from my backseat?” she states, making her way around the vehicle. He kisses Josie’s forehead as he unstraps her and places her in Jana’s waiting arms. Standing this close to him, she smells his cologne, and looking up at his face, notices his hair is longer and he has a close shaven full beard. Without thinking, she asks, knowing he’s a police officer, or was, “Did you lose your job or something?”

Throwing his head back, he laughs. “No, I did not. Her room is up the stairs, a direct right.”

Entering his house, she’s surprised. She doesn’t know why. She never spent much time with him, but it’s immaculate. The wood floors are original she’s sure, and they shine throughout the house, even the stairs. The furnishings aren’t over the top, but appropriate for this style of home.

Her heels click as she walks up the stairs. She finds an upholstered bench on the landing, along with a beautiful rug. Stepping to her right, she finds Josie’s room. It’s perfect. The colors are pink and lavender, and it has everything a baby needs. Laying her in the plush crib, she wonders if he has a woman in his life. She can’t imagine any man decorating a place like this one without help.

Clicking back down the steps, she is greeted by Matt before she takes the last step. Meeting him eye to eye, he informs her, “I hope you don’t think I was looking to steal anything from you, but I got Josie’s bags out of your trunk.”

Stiffening, her chin juts out. “Why would you say that? Of course I wouldn’t think that.”

Crossing his arms across his chest, he smirks at her. “Well, you know… me not having a job and all.”

Moving away from the banister, she attempts to move around him, but he moves too. “I only said that because I’ve never seen any police officers with long hair and facial hair.”

Tilting his head to the side, he raises one eyebrow. “Yeah. Well, not too many upstanding citizens interact with vice cops while undercover. Might be a little hard for me to blend in with the shady sorts looking like a boy scout.”

Feeling uncomfortable, she decides to make amends of sorts and get out of there. “Well, if that’s a promotion of some kind, congrats.”

Striding under the archway to the dining room, he holds out his arm towards the door, indicating she can leave. She feels dismissed, and it aggravates her.

Clearing his throat, his words stop her just as she reaches the door. “Good luck to you on your latest endeavor with the theater.” She hears his steps, then feels his warm breath on the back of her neck. “In case no one has been kind enough to inform you, this isn’t New York, or D.C., or London. It’s certainly acceptable to dress down… maybe a little.”

Not only has he dismissed her, now he’s insulted her. Somehow. In a way. She can’t think straight. She snaps her head around and glares at him. “Quite possibly all the time you are spending with the lowlifes, dealing drugs, selling their bodies, you forgot how a decent person, in a position such as mine should dress. I need to portray an image of an individual that people can trust and respect. I meet with potential investors every day.”

Chuckling, he backs away scrutinizing her from her head to her feet. “Baby, the Showstopper is a community theater. You don’t have to endanger yourself with those stilettos.”

“Don’t call me baby. I’m not your baby.” Huffing, she reaches for the door handle. “You better take care of the little girl up there. I can’t believe Macy didn’t file for full custody. I would never…” Before she finishes her sentence, her feet leave the ground as Matt’s arm snakes around her middle, jerking her hard into his torso. “Wha…aa…tttt are you doing? Put me down! Now!” Beating her fists on his arm and kicking her legs generates no reaction from him.

“I expected more from you, Jana, I really did. If that is how you talk to others in this community, you’d be best off to pack your shit up and go back to the big city.” Stomping to the couch inside the archway across from the dining room, he keeps her legs pinned against the back of it and pushes her chest down over the cushions holding her there with a hand against the back of her neck. She resists until she grows breathless. “You done now? If you think I won’t stand here all day and enjoy watching you wear yourself out, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Standing still, she pants her words, “Okay, you win. Is that what you want to hear? Of course, being close to a foot taller than me and double my weight is to your advantage.”

She should have kept her mouth shut, because she notices his eyes narrow and his jaw twitch. Sliding to her left, he raises his arm and slams his hand across her pencil-skirted ass.

What the fuck was that? Lurching forward with the impact, she shrieks. Her legs lift off the floor, rendering them useless to aid in any escape. Another smack echoes through the room as his large hand slams into the cloth of her skirt in the same spot as the first. She squawks, louder than the first time.

Close to her ear, he whispers in a no-nonsense tone, “Unless you want to wake my daughter, I suggest you keep it down and take your punishment.”

Gritting her teeth, she growls at him, “My punishment? Who the hell—”

Swats rain down on her backside. She bites her lip to keep from yelling out. It hurts more than she wants him to know, and tears form in the corner of her eyes.

He begins to alternate his swats on each of her cheeks, in a very methodical rhythm. Thinking it’s her pride that hurts more than her butt, she starts to feel something else, and it scares the crap out of her. Wiggling side to side to avoid his palm only intensifies the feeling. She’s turned on, and it mortifies her.

“And one more to remind you to not make assumptions about others without at least getting to know them a little first.” He administers the last smack and the only sound in the otherwise silent room is her sobs. Removing his hand from her neck, he flips her over, sitting her on the back of the sofa. Wrapping his fingers around each of her shoulders, he leans in and peers into her face. “Damn, Jana. It’s supposed to hurt, but not that much.”

As she sucks in a breath between each sob, he steps back without releasing her shoulders and assesses her. She’s fighting for control over her emotions, and he makes it all too easy when he releases her and crosses his arms across his chest, scratching his chin with his right hand. This change in action has her look at his face. His eyes are pinned to her chest. Redirecting her focus downward, she sees her bigger than average nipples are enormous and poking straight out under her silk blouse.

Jumping off the couch, she underestimates the height and her left heel twists. Matt catches her and puts her on her feet. Flapping her arms to break any contact with him, she groans, “You are a true barbarian.”

He laughs so hard, with his head thrown back for exaggeration, that without thinking, she slaps him – across the face. Her hand stings like crazy, and vibrations start to run up her arm. They hear Josie’s cries, and both turn their heads in that direction. Jana has never slapped anyone before, and he doesn’t look all too happy to have been the recipient.

Dashing around him, she makes it to the door, but not out of it, before she hears his retort. “Well baby, I may be a barbarian, but you, my dear, are a pain slut.”

She gasps. Without turning back, she runs to her car.

* * *

 

The Aussie and the Irish Christmas

Constance Masters

 

Candace couldn’t explain her confused feelings even to herself. All she knew was the thought of turning up to another family Christmas reunion by herself was making her sick to her stomach. Honestly, there must be something really wrong with her. She just couldn’t find the right man, or any man, that was both attractive to her and the type of person she wanted to be with even a lot of the time, let alone forever. The fact that people were able to find someone they wanted to be with for the rest of their lives amazed her. The fact that it might happen to her one day seemed beyond her imagination.

Marriage and waking up to the same person and being happy about it seemed like a pipe dream that would never happen to her. She just didn’t seem to be able to pinpoint a type to look for. Men that were too nice were boring, really boring. Not that she lived to argue, but everyone liked a bit of challenge didn’t they? Being with a man without any kind of special flavour would be like reading the same book over and over and knowing what was going to happen before you turned each page. Now, bad men, they might give you a thrill or two, but she wasn’t stupid, there would be enough heartache that the thrill would eventually disappear beneath the drama. So what was left? Someone she hadn’t met yet, but someone she would recognize the minute they met, hopefully, or soon after. What was she supposed to do, go on one of those online dating services in the hope that this perfect person would just appear? She wouldn’t even know how to fill out the form; writing what she didn’t want was easy, translating that into what she did want was hard.

All she needed for now was a decent bloke that opened doors and treated her like a lady, even if it was only for show over Christmas, so she didn’t look like such a loser in front of her family – a paid escort maybe? Nah, she couldn’t afford it. Why was she the only sister of five that was perpetually single? What was wrong with her?

* * *

The last few days before Christmas couldn’t go fast enough for Candy. Soon she would be on holidays. She hadn’t made her mind up yet what she was going to do about going home, but at least she didn’t have to come into work.

Phones rang all around her in the busy call centre, signalling the start of business hours. Luckily for her, not to mention the customers, she was doing the night shift and would finish in an hour. Her mind was simply not where it should be. “Damn it,” she muttered. The stupid switch girl had put a call through to her when she was supposed to be off air, finishing up her paperwork. Not only was her own desk phone ringing and a light flashing, but also an angry looking man was storming towards her with a look of thunder crumpling his otherwise handsome face. She was distracted for a minute by the look of this man, until she realized that he was after her and not in a good way. Oh shit, the only reason she could think of that someone would want to speak to her was because they were mad at her. She picked up the phone and began talking to the caller; dealing with a customer seemed like a better option than facing the man who had made his way to her desk and was now tapping his fingers impatiently and prattling under his breath in a distinctive Irish brogue. She did what she could to drag the call out, but eventually she had to hang up and face her angry visitor. The accent was a dead giveaway to her and she knew exactly who he was and what he wanted.

“Miss Bell? Candace?” he asked, his Irish accent making her name roll off his tongue with a lilt that seemed happier than the look on his face.

“Um, yes? Can I help you?” If this was indeed the road side mechanic she had hung up on in the middle of the night then no, she probably couldn’t help him.

“That would be debatable. You weren’t able to help me when I called in the night. All I wanted to do was remind you to be a little more careful when seeing to directions to call-outs and you hung up me – that was rude.”

“I didn’t mean to hang up, I, um, I got confused.” That wasn’t a lie. She had gotten confused. When the man told her she’d sent him in the completely wrong direction from where he was supposed to be, Candy had panicked. She tried to switch him to hold while she got her thoughts together and opened the file, aka found an excuse, and then bam, she accidentally pressed disconnect and he was gone. It wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened, but it was the first time a mobile mechanic had actually come looking for her.

“That’s just not good enough, now is it?” He pointed a finger at her and continued to berate her like a child. “I wasn’t only concerned for myself and the waste of time and fuel, you know. What about the woman who was waiting in a car? For all we know she could have had babbies in the car or her phone could have run dead. What if she had her weekly groceries in the car and they had all perished? She would have blamed us.”

“Babbies? You mean babies?”

“Don’t try and deflect the attention from you to me by being a smart ass.”

“I wasn’t! I was asking you a genuine question and then the penny dropped what you meant.”

“I’m sure. Listen to me, little miss off with the fairies, maybe when you’re taking a call you could make the time to listen to people and write down what’s being said. Then you might not keep making the same mistakes.”

Her mouth dropped open. She had done this before to him?

“That’s right, this is not the first time you’ve booked me for a job and then sent me on a goose chase! I cannot fathom what would make you so careless.”

“Geez, it was only a little mistake. How did you know where to find me anyway?”

“It wasn’t hard. I rang and gave your call number and asked for your name and location.”

“Oh okay, I guess.” Surely there was some procedure in place to protect her from a crazy Irishman that went out of his way out to come and yell at her in person. “Look, I’m sorry I gave you the wrong address and I’m sorry that I pressed the wrong button and hung up on you. It wasn’t intentional.”

The irate man ran a hand through his hair. “Are you the full shilling?”

“Huh?” She knew what he was getting at, but she was flabbergasted that he would be so rude as to actually call her stupid.

“It means, are you thick? Really, I can’t even make up my mind if you’re pulling my leg on purpose or if you really are struggling to catch on.”

“Are you finished or are you searching your small Irish mind for yet another way to insult me? I am not a computer, I’m a normal everyday person. I’m sorry if you had to drive a little further than was necessary.” Their argument was drawing interest, so she lowered her voice to a hiss. “Yes, I sometimes make the odd mistake but in case you hadn’t noticed, I work all night. I get tired and it’s easier to get distracted than you think. As for your argument about the poor lady with the babbies in the car and her ice cream melting… have a think, you idiot. People don’t shop with their children for ice cream in the middle of the night.”

“Do the words ‘customer service’ mean anything to you?”

“Do the words, ‘road service mechanic’ mean anything to you? Perhaps you should keep yourself out on the road.”

“You know, someone ought to slap your ass and remind you to use your manners.”

Heat crept up Candy’s neck as a heady cocktail of embarrassment and attraction heated her blood. As annoying as this bossy boots was, there was something about that accent and the muscular forearms at the end of his rolled up shirtsleeves that she found very attractive. Not to mention what he’d just said… yeah, that about the arse smacking, it was hot. “I think that might be against the law.”

“I didn’t say it should be me, although the idea definitely has merit.”

His eyes scanned her and flickered towards her rear, which, luckily, was firmly cemented to her seat. He was checking her out! Her heart stopped for a split second and when it started beating, it just about thumped through her chest. His continued lecture didn’t help matters at all.

“As for the woman shopping with her babbies, you know full well I was using that for an example. She could have been in real trouble.”

Candy sighed. She would have to concede that one. She would have to pay more attention but she didn’t need to be told over and over like she was some kind of imbecile. “I get the point – what did you say your name was?”

“Rowan, my name is Rowan.”

“Well, you’ve delivered your message now, Rowan; so why don’t you toddle off and get on with saving any damsels in distress that are waiting for your impeccable mechanical skills? I’m sure somebody somewhere is waiting for their superman to show up.” As attractive as this man was, his arrogance overshadowed the appeal.

“Don’t you worry about what I have to do, miss. You’re the one that needs to pull their socks up. That being said, I will happily leave you, I need to sleep.”

“Off you go then. I’m sure you have a little woman waiting at home for you…” Oh my God! Did she just pose that as an open-ended question? The last thing she wanted to do was let this egotistical prat think she was interested in him. Yet she was staring at him, as if she was waiting for an answer. Look away, look away!

“No, as it happens, still single.” He actually chuckled smugly as he turned to walk away.

She searched for the perfect come back that would leave her having the last word. Nothing, she had nothing. Why did she feel kind of empty when he swung through the door and disappeared?

* * *

 

A Merry Little Christmas

By Bethany Leigh

 

Lucinda stepped onto the scales, half hopeful, half fearful. She’d stuck to her fruit and crispbread diet all week, hadn’t slept well most nights due to hunger; surely all that virtue would garner a reward? The scales hesitated for a few seconds before announcing her new weight. Lucinda punched the air like she was a champion gymnast or ice skater and the glowing red numbers had declared her winning score. Eight pounds lost! Huzzah! Take that, body. FINALLY you are being owned!

Lighter in spirit as well as weight, Lucinda dressed quickly for work. She could hear Broderick moving around in the neighbouring bedroom and she didn’t want to end up stuck on the tube with him. Already her skirt was less tight around the tummy. A few more weeks of crispbread and fruit and her clothes would be hanging off her. She’d buy really cool new ones, show off her new figure at Aurora’s New Year’s Eve party.

New Year, new figure, new start. New Lucinda.

Except she had to get through Christmas first.

She eyed herself sternly in the elderly dressing-table mirror, brandishing mascara. “Don’t think about Christmas. It’s still two weeks away.”

She put on make-up, cursing the freckles that covered her nose even in winter, and twisted her dark brown hair into a ponytail. She packed her bag ready for work. Banana – check. Apple – check. Crispbreads – check. Phone – check. Oyster card – check.

She tucked her wallet into her knickers drawer. No money, no credit card, no food.

She pulled on her coat, hurried downstairs and opened the front door. A blast of icy cold hit her. The front lawn and pavement glistened with frost. She turned right towards the main road that led to the Turnpike Lane tube station.

“Hey, Lucinda! Wait up!”

Damn. She hadn’t been quick enough. Reluctantly, she waited for Broderick to catch up. Several people walked past on their way to the tube, rugged up in heavy coats, scarves, beanies, gloves.

“Good morning.” Broderick’s breath plumed like steam in the frosty air. He wore an elegant dark grey coat, leather gloves and a stripy scarf, but his head was bare. Lucinda was struck again by how good-looking he was with his wavy auburn hair, fashionable lumbersexual beard and friendly grin. Most of the women at Clarkson’s had been smitten when he’d snared the job of acting creative manager.

The job she’d wanted.

“Hey,” she replied, disgruntled. She started walking again.

“Cold morning,” he remarked, falling into step beside her.

“You should go on Mastermind,” she answered. “Name: Broderick Jameson. Specialist subject: the bleeding obvious.”

Careful, she warned herself. He is your boss. You don’t want to get him offside and have him fire you on top of all the other crap things that have happened this year.

But Broderick didn’t appear to have taken offence. He chuckled. “I thought you Poms liked talking about the weather.”

“We like complaining about it.”

“There’s plenty to complain about, that’s for sure. I’ve only been here a few weeks and mostly it’s rained.”

“I don’t understand why you wanted to move over here to our rubbish weather when you have all that sunshine in Australia.” Taking the job that should have been mine, she added silently.

When Lisa had gone on maternity leave and Lucinda had applied for the acting manager role, she’d been confident of getting it. She’d worked for Clarkson’s for almost two years now, since she’d first moved to London. Before that, she’d spent four years working for a marketing agency in Manchester, where she’d grown up. Six years working in graphic design, including on two award-winning campaigns. Her latest award had come only six weeks before Lisa’s maternity leave. Lucinda had been flavour of the month at Clarkson’s. Lisa loved her work. There were rumours human resources wanted to appoint an internal candidate. Lucinda’s interview had gone well, she was sure the position was a given.

But Broderick, who’d worked as a creative team leader for Clarkson’s head office in Melbourne, had applied and gotten the job instead.

Not getting the job had capped what had been a year from hell for Lucinda.

She’d thrown herself into work after Matt had dumped her back in July, when they’d been island hopping in Greece. Her whole life had changed that night on Ios. Forced to move out of his north London flat, she’d ended up in a house-share with two strangers. She’d worked long hours, won the award, set her sights on promotion. The acting manager’s job had given her hope, even if it was only a six-month position. She’d even started looking on real estate websites, because promotion meant more money, and she’d be able to put a deposit on a flat.

Broderick’s appointment had scuppered that.

Even worse, his arrival had coincided with the departure of one of her housemates, and he’d moved into the Turnpike Lane house, saying it wasn’t worth buying a place when he was only in England for six months. He said he didn’t want to live over here on his own, he wanted people around him.

The only good thing Broderick’s arrival had done for Lucinda was to galvanise her into action. She’d started looking for a new job; after all, Lisa was coming back to work and there’d be no more possibilities for promotion at Clarkson’s for a very long time. She’d gone on a diet, determined to get back to her old weight after all the comfort eating she’d done when Matt dumped her. If this year had been rubbish, next year was going to be awesome. She’d make sure of that.

Now, Broderick said, “Oh, the sun doesn’t shine all the time in Melbourne, I can tell you that!” before changing the subject. “I was thinking we might have a house meal tonight and then put up the decorations for Christmas. I spoke to Morag and she’s at home, she doesn’t have a concert or anything.”

Morag was their other housemate, a classical flautist, much in demand in the run-up to Christmas.

Lucinda lied swiftly. “I can’t, I’m having dinner with a friend after work. It’s been arranged for ages.”

“Oh.” Lucinda glanced up at Broderick in time to spot of flicker of disappointment.  “That’s a shame. I’m not a bad cook, you know.”

“I know that,” she said. “I’ve smelt your cooking.” Delicious smells wafted up from the kitchen most evenings since Broderick had moved in. He seemed to enjoy cooking. His shelf in the pantry was filled with jars of spices and herbs, whereas Morag’s contained staples like soup and beans, easy to prepare when on the run between work and concert. And Lucinda’s right now contained… nothing.

They’d reached the tube station. A huge Christmas tree stood in a corner of the concourse area, and tinny Christmas carols blared from speakers as the escalators whisked commuters down to the tube platforms. Lucinda was hit by a wave of nostalgia. As a child she’d decorated two trees every Christmas – their big one at home, and then her gran’s small one, which had stood on a table in the bay window. Lucinda had loved doing it, had her favourite baubles and bells that had always been placed on the tree first.

“I won’t be too late tonight,” she said. They walked onto the platform, hit instantaneously by the familiar blast of wind, smell of dust and rumble of train on tracks that signalled an approaching tube. “I’ll probably be back in time to help with the decorations.”

Broderick smiled. “Great,” he said. He was making a huge effort to be friends with her – Lucinda had to give him credit for that. But she didn’t want to be pals with someone who’d taken the job she’d so badly wanted – even if he was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen.

The tube arrived, already crammed with commuters. As they joined the crush, and Lucinda manoeuvred herself into a position where she could hold on to a strap handle, she and Broderick were separated. She forgot about Christmas decorations and started thinking about her diet plans. Another ten pounds to go and she’d be her ideal weight.

* * *

 

A MidWinter Marriage

By Bryony Kildare

 

It was cold. The Danish ambassador to Bohemia had joked that they would bring Scandinavian winter with them as part of Margrethe’s dowry, and it was beginning to seem more truth than joke. The horses’ breath steamed in the icy air, and Margrethe was entirely wrapped from head to toe in furs, only able to put her head out the carriage to peer at the snow-frosted pines as they approached the castle. She imagined that if she could stretch out her hand far enough to break a sprig of the evergreen tree, it would snap in her fingers, frozen solid. It was Christmas Eve, but cold even for that wintry season.

“Your Highness, you must mind us,” came a gentle voice at her elbow. “What will you do if King Rupert sneaks into your chambers in disguise and you do not recognize him? We will certainly reach Prague Castle today, and he might visit you this very evening!”

Starting from her quiet reverie, Margrethe pulled her head back in and tried to pay attention to Lady Birgitta, who had spoken to her from out of the quiet chatter of her attendants. “Why should he wear a disguise?”

“So that you will fall in love with him without knowing who he is!”

Margrethe’s brow furrowed as she tried to process the logic. “And he will sneak in?”

“Yes, he will come like a paramour from the old romances of chivalry, to steal your heart.”

“So I shall believe a masked scoundrel has come to seduce me on the eve of my marriage to the king, but I am to fall in love with this masked scoundrel, thus jeopardizing the harmonious relations between our countries by betraying King Rupert?”

“But he is King Rupert,” Lady Anneka, one of her youngest ladies, explained, her big blue eyes alight with the excitement. “Only you must pretend not to know him.”

“So I must know him – so that I may properly bestow my affections, but pretend not to know him so I may pretend my heart has been stolen by this masked scoundrel? And then, I suppose, show great surprise and pleasure when I learn who he is?”

“Yes, just that!” Anneka exclaimed.

“That sounds very complicated. Should I give him a favor, or just smile and blush? How do I pretend to love him?”

“Give him a favor,” Birgitta said judiciously, “but make sure he knows you know, or else he may think you light in your affections.”

“Yes, you might say, ‘Oh, Anneka, this gentleman has such a regal form. If this is the type of the Bohemian man, how much more handsome surely will my husband the king be,’” Anneka piped up.

Margrethe rubbed her forehead, exasperated in this new, ridiculous entry to the long list of protocols she was expected to remember and abide by. “He does not speak Danish, Anneka. He will not know what I say if I speak to you.”

“Then say it in Bohemian – it doesn’t matter if we really know what you say,” Lady Cristina, Margrethe’s best friend, suggested. “It is only a sort of game.”

“Anyway, this sort of comedy hardly accords with what Lord Hevelsheim has told us about the king,” Margrethe reminded them gently. “He said King Rupert was discreet and solemn beyond his years. There is nothing discreet or solemn about coming to bother your bride only a night or so before you will be able to properly enjoy her.”

There was a good deal of giggling at this delicate description of the marriage bed, and Margrethe let her attention wander again. Already the spires of Prague Castle were just within sight, snow-tipped like the sharp pines, and she squinted at them, trying to guess what kind of rooms – and what kind of people – they might house.

Within a few hours, though, the castle loomed hugely before them, and, after a last, frantic effort among the ladies over Margrethe’s hairpins, which had not been disturbed by the journey at all, the princess descended from the coach, laying her hand in Ambassador Hevelsheim’s to accept his assistance. Margrethe looked around and saw a line of liveried servants, both men and maids, waiting for her, but there seemed no personage of importance, and she looked up at the ambassador curiously. “My lord?”

Hevelsheim was frowning, just a little bit – Margrethe could only see the frown in his usually placid eyes; his face was calm. “I am sure you will be properly greeted within, Your Highness.”

Margrethe nodded, for there was no good at all in finding slights in her new home as soon as she set foot on the ground. The people of Bohemia would, naturally, not know what to make of her as a stranger coming to marry their king. It was her duty to make sure they found no fault to complain of in her, not to complain of faults in them. “Of course.”

They were escorted into the enormous hall at the castle’s entrance, and Margrethe’s ladies took her fur wraps and handed them off to some of the Bohemian maids that were in attendance. The young princess straightened herself as tall as she could, but there was no disguising the tight, pale worry on her face. Cristina dared whisper, very quickly, “Your Highness has every perfection of form, education and character that might be desired – surely you know there is nothing to fear.”

Margrethe only had time to give her a smile, but it was hard to do. What Cristina said was, she certainly hoped, true. As the King of Denmark’s eldest daughter, Margrethe had been betrothed to King Rupert – Prince Rupert then – since she was in the cradle, and her father had made sure she had tutors in Bohemian to make her fluent in the language of her future husband. But she knew herself very well; she was not gay, or quick with repartee in company, nor had she the charm that would make a fault seem like a daring innovation. Whenever she made a mistake, Margrethe blushed heavily and could scarcely find her voice. In her own person, although she possessed the smooth, golden hair of her countrymen and intelligent sea-green eyes, Margrethe’s face was very pale and had more than once earned such dubious compliments as “seeming to belong to a statue rather than a living maid” and “the perfection of a master artificer.”

Here she was, though. The whey-faced, fearful Danish princess, ready to be wedded to a strange king. There was no time left to promise herself that tomorrow she would be braver or bolder. Tomorrow was today, and if she was ever to be brave, it must be now. A gray-bearded man in dark, fur-trimmed velvets came down the grand staircase, taking them at a very precise pace. Ambassador Hevelsheim stepped forward. “Lord Gottwald.” Though he was imperturbable as ever, there was unusual coldness in his address, and Margrethe could read the quarter inch he reserved in his bow: he was deeply offended, probably on her behalf. When Gottwald had bowed in return, the ambassador turned to her ostentatiously. “Your Highness, I beg leave to present Lord Gregor Gottwald, Chamberlain to His Majesty King Rupert.”

Margrethe nodded her permission and the thickset Bohemian chamberlain stepped forward and bowed before her. In his bow, there was a good half-inch of insult. Things were going from bad to worse. “Your Highness. It is my privilege to welcome you to your new home. King Rupert is occupied with matters of state, but he will sup with you this evening, and,” he continued, narrowing his eyes a little, “the Dowager Queen Carlotta offers her salutations and asks that you join her for tea this afternoon.”

Everyone was angry now – including Margrethe. To have her betrothed husband too busy to meet her upon arrival was excusable, if unpleasant. But for him to have sent no message, nor any word except that he would sup with her – it was unbearable. The Dowager Queen… that was Margrethe’s future mother-in-law, the notorious Carlotta. She had come from Spain thirty years ago in the state befitting the Infanta and proceeded to gain a reputation as one of the most frightening women in Europe. They said she had ruled her husband, King Ladislaus, absolutely – and some even whispered she had plotted his death, although Carlotta had been on pilgrimage for two months when King Ladislaus fell suddenly ill. There were whispers of poison – there were always whispers of poison. If the king had been poisoned, there was no proof who had arranged it. Nobody benefited, and everyone stood to lose, from open inquiry into the matter. But nothing could stop talk flitting from court to court like a strange butterfly, fertilizing the air with rumor along the way.

But if Margrethe responded to Gottwald’s rudeness with rudeness, things would only deteriorate further. He was obviously predisposed not to like her; that meant his rudeness was impersonal, like a man kicking a stone on the road in frustration. She drew in a deep breath and tried to smile. “Lord Gottwald, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please convey my best regards to Their Majesties.” She beckoned slightly with her left hand, and Anneka stepped forward, carrying a medium-sized rosewood casket from the luggage. “And, if you will, convey to His Majesty this gift from my father.”

The casket was filled with eighteen rubies as large as hawks’ eggs, and a note reading, I send you one ruby for each year of my daughter’s life, that you may know her far more precious than these. Her father had shown her the note before he put it in the casket, and kissed her very tenderly. Margrethe felt her throat tighten when she thought of it, but she hoped she did not betray her sudden swell of homesickness.

Gottwald flipped open the top of the rosewood box with two fingers, and at that, a spasm of annoyance did pass over her face, but fortunately he only poked at the darkly lustrous gems and grunted. He certainly was not looking at her. He closed the box again and said, “I shall certainly convey them to His Majesty.” A manservant came forward to take the carved jewel coffer. Gottwald gestured to a well-dressed man wearing a heavy steward’s chain. “The steward will convey you to your chambers. If Your Highness will excuse me.” His parting bow was still an insult, but less than the first, and Margrethe chose to understand that as progress.

She followed the steward through the enormous castle, looking around her in quiet wonder at the cavernous halls through which they passed, where dark wood gleamed richly underfoot and the warm fragrance of beeswax filled the air from the prodigal use of candles, lighting the ornately fan-vaulted ceilings. The chambers, when at last they reached them, were warm – that was a relief anyway, and once Cristina and her other ladies had managed to shoo away the Bohemian servants, she gratefully allowed herself to sink into a low chair by the fire. Birgitta, who was a good deal older than Margrethe and so tended to mother her, took her gloves and began making the princess more comfortable.

“That could have gone better,” Margrethe said flatly as soon as they were alone.

“They were so rude,” Anneka burst out, as though Margrethe’s words had removed a cork from between her lips. “That chamberlain didn’t even behave like a gentleman. He was pawing the rubies like…”

“Sweetmeats,” Cristina proclaimed, but she didn’t expand on the point. Her eyes were worriedly fixed on Margrethe, who was staring into the fire, looking very blank. “Princess, are you all right?”

“I am well,” Margrethe answered, but without sounding very convinced. “Somebody had better find out what time tea is served here – and what I must wear,” she added, rubbing her forehead with a sense of nervous fatigue. She had asked Lord Hevelsheim a great many questions about Bohemia, but while he had done his best to answer them, he had not noticed the kind of details that she would be expected to master, including points of fashion.

There was, as it turned out, only about an hour before Margrethe had to be ready to meet her new mother-in-law. There was barely time to press a blue velvet gown and hurry Margrethe into it before she was entering the Dowager Queen’s rooms. Carlotta was a small woman, with dark, intense eyes, which fixed searchingly on Margrethe’s face, though she was all smiles and her voice was very warm.

“My dear Princess,” she said, squeezing Margrethe’s hands, “I have been so looking forward to your arrival. You must forgive my son for seeming so rude. He is just like his father – all work and no sentiment, but I am sure he will be charmed by you. Your portrait hardly did you justice.” Carlotta was heavily perfumed, and the reek of it in the warm room made Margrethe giddy.

Still, she managed a smile of her own and murmured her thanks. She felt an instant dislike toward the older woman, though perhaps she was only prejudiced by all the gossip she had heard. In any case, she could hardly be rude to the one person in the Bohemian court who seemed kindly disposed towards her. “I hope His Majesty will share your opinion. You must tell me all about King Rupert, for I really know little about him.”

Carlotta’s smile broadened. “Poor child, you must be so nervous. And ambassadors are never any help in these matters. My son is very reserved, but he likes being fussed over. I suppose it is my fault – I have always spoiled him. He may have a hundred servants, waiting on his commands, but he had rather be served by his mother – or his wife. But he would never admit it, of course.”

A spoiled young man who wanted to be doted on by his women didn’t sound like the grave, reserved young king the ambassadors had described to her, but then perhaps Rupert gave a different face to his family than he did to his courtiers? That wasn’t unreasonable, and certainly his own mother ought to know him better than an ambassador who, after all, spent most of his time abroad. Margrethe listened intently as Carlotta talked on, serving tea and rich, dense cake which Margrethe only picked at a little, for she was much more interested in what she was hearing than what she ate. Carlotta, with her low compelling voice and quick-moving hands, painted what the princess considered a very strange picture of her future husband.

When the meal was at last done and Margrethe was again with her ladies, she was finally able to pick at the thing that had really bothered her. “Cristina,” she said softly, as she was being bathed. Her best friend was always by her in such quiet moments so that the young princess could speak in confidence. The court in Denmark, being so far north and thus considered scarcely civilized, was a good deal less formal than this place. But Margrethe had still been raised to understand the importance of her duties, so she was very docile while her fair, soft body was washed and perfumed with very little regard for the young woman within. “Cristina, why did he not come to greet me? If he is so eager for women’s love, as the Dowager Queen says?” It was the chief fault in the account Margrethe had been told. For while a man might well behave differently with his family than his ministers, he had already ignored her and sent his chamberlain to greet his betrothed in what was not quite an insult, but neither was it a good beginning to the marriage.

***

 

 

Grading Garnet

Grading Garnet

She’d finally arrived.

Dropping her valise on the floor just inside the closed door, Gloria Owens drew a deep breath, ignoring the pungent smells of horse manure, sawdust and dirt that wafted through the dingy gray lace curtains surrounding the open window of her second floor room. With what she considered rather exorbitant rates, it was the only one she could afford. Despite the fact that the room was just a tad bit bigger than her closet back home, she threw herself down on the tiny, creaky bed on her back in a rare moment of pure joy.

She’d done it. Not only had she earned her teaching certificate despite the obstacles—mostly male and set on matrimony—that her father constantly saw fit to strew in her path, but she’d made it all the way here to the wilds of Culpepper Cove—California—from the civilization of the most well appointed drawing rooms on the Eastern seaboard. And, she was still in one piece, very little the worse for the wear, overall, considering how arduous the journey had been. If she had the money to spare, which she didn’t, she would have sent her doubting Thomas father and over-eager, erstwhile gentleman caller, Theodore Giles, each a telegram just to brag that she’d done what they’d said she was too spoiled and pampered to ever accomplish.

Eventually, Gloria sat up, surveying her meager surroundings with a jaundiced eye, realizing with a start as the garish, black and gold striped wallpaper drew her eyes up, that it was further distance up to the ceiling than it was to reach across to the nearest wall. Into this tiny room was packed an old, beat up wash stand, an even more ancient chest of drawers with a single, tallow candle atop it, and one meager straight backed chair serving no earthly purpose she could come up with, as it possessed a supposedly cane seat that was more hole than actual seat.

The entire depressing scene before her eyes brought memories of the expansive bedroom she’d—she could admit now—somewhat blithely left behind, with its big, canopied bed, floor length velvet curtains, and Aubusson carpet. While most females of her age and station would have had an enormous vanity piled high with lotions, potions and perfumes guaranteed to catch them a rich husband, she, instead, had a large writing desk. Much to her father’s disgust, she’d spent many a night when she should have been attending the many balls and fetes to which her invitations had rapidly been declining—reading, writing, and studying.

Despite her present rather spare surroundings, Gloria felt true happiness for the first time in a very long time, perhaps even since her mother had died when she was barely eleven. They had been very close, and unlike her father, her mother had been nothing but encouraging and supportive of the idea of her daughter getting as extensive an education as she could manage. Her mother had taught her herself and even went so far as to hire tutors in subjects at which she wasn’t the strongest.

Although she was young at the time, Gloria had a strong feeling that her mother wasn’t happy with her marital situation—not that she ever saw or heard anything uncomfortable between her parents. In fact, she thought her father was quite infatuated with her mother. But, she also knew that her mother’s parents, who had been fabulously wealthy, were not in such a good financial situation when it came time for their only daughter to marry. As her mother had described it one evening when she had had a bit too much to drink and was kissing Gloria goodnight, she felt as if she had been sold to the highest bidder, who ended up being Gloria’s father.

Thus she impressed on her daughter the idea that she should strive to be an independent woman, not necessarily wealthy, even, but happy and not dependent on a man to bring her that happiness. She encouraged her daughter to be able to take care of herself, without having to rely on a man to do so.

Having lost her mother early on, though, and with her father’s tendency to compensate for that loss—not with emotional support, as would betray his staunch New England upbringing, but with things instead—Gloria grew up to be not only quite independent and outspoken, but also rather spoiled if she was truthful with herself. Although she hated to be because it confirmed her father’s negative opinion of her, which formed rather quickly once she let him know when she came of age that she wasn’t going to be corralled into marriage, by him or anyone else.

Despairing for his only child’s future, Sterling Owens tried to put his foot down, especially when she stopped being even superficially polite to the eligible bachelors he tried to introduce her to. She’d developed a ball shriveling, withering stare with those deep blue eyes of hers that she must’ve inherited directly from her mother, that sent many a perfectly good potential suitor running for the door when they came to call.

Those who stayed did so out of pure desperation for the truly enormous amount of money he had set as her dowry, to say nothing of what she was sure to inherit as Sterling’s only heir. Even then, few lasted longer than an hour in her company, for if the stare didn’t work, she resorted to either blatantly ignoring them in favor of a book or boldly insulting them, using terms that would make a sailor blush—and sometimes both.

It didn’t take long for interest in her to die on the vine, as she apparently intended, except in the case of Theodore, but then, not only did he not need her father’s money, but they’d known each other since they were children. He was immune from anything she could throw at him, and was quite happy to pull his own book from his pocket when she did hers.

Still, she showed no interest in him and turned his embarrassingly frequent proposals down flat, even when he finally, boldly promised that, once she gave him a son, he’d leave her alone to do as she pleased, as his more prurient interests lay elsewhere.

Thus they formed a friendship that allowed her father to think was perhaps going to end in matrimony, so he never objected to them spending time together. In fact, he was quite happy at the idea, believing that eventually he would achieve his goal and have grandchildren from the two.

But even Theodore was against her plans to become a truly independent woman and use her teaching certificate as a way to get away from what she considered to be the stifling environment in which she’d been raised and was now living, like a caged bird.

“But you have no idea of the perils that await you!” Theodore argued. “Why do you have to go all the way to California? Couldn’t you teach somewhere closer to home?”

Gloria had snorted indelicately at that idea. “And how do you think Father would react to the idea of his daughter taking a lowly position as a teacher right under his nose?” She flounced over to the sofa and dropped down next to where Theodore was sitting. “I don’t really like my father, but I don’t hate him, either. I don’t want to hurt him, and that would definitely embarrass him. If I go far away, he can make something up that would be socially acceptable about me—that I eloped with an English lord and moved abroad or something—I don’t really care. Besides, the idea of California appeals to me for some reason I can’t explain.”

Theodore looked down at her, his head resting on his hand. “Perhaps you’ll meet your match out there. A cowboy or a gunslinger or a rich miner…”

“I don’t want to meet my match, Teddy,” she answered primly, but firmly. “I don’t intend to get married. I just want to be left alone to teach.”

Teddy reached out absently and adjusted the collar of her dress. He’d never met a woman who cared so little for appearances. “Why are you so against getting married? You’re too young to resign yourself to spending your life alone.”

“Why not? You have!”

He looked indignant. “I have not!”

“No, you’re going to marry a woman and do what you told me you’d do with me—get an heir and then leave her alone to pursue your own… interests. That doesn’t sound very loving to me.”

His pout rivaled her own. “It’s the best I can come up with, considering my unconventional tastes. But you—you could get married and be happy and have children if you’d just stop deliberately driving men away.”

As the subject matter had gotten a bit too close for Gloria’s comfort, she avoided Teddy’s eyes, remarking self-deprecatingly, “Yes, I’m so gorgeous that European princes flock to the door, having heard of my devastating beauty. I’m well aware that my only point of attractiveness to the male of the species is in the healthiness of my father’s bank accounts.”

“Well, you might realize that it could be more—much more—than that, if you’d just make an attempt at looking nice instead of wearing those same three frocks over and over again and cramming your hair into that horrid bun at the back of your head. With a little rouge on your cheeks, color on your lips, a different hairstyle and a dress that was new before the thirties, I bet you’d be a knockout. They’d be falling at your feet.”

Instead of being insulted by what he’d said, Gloria laughed heartily at that idea. She knew what she looked like. She was a plain Jane, and nothing was going to fix that, and it was fine with her. Her looks didn’t matter. It was what was in her mind that counted towards being a good teacher, and that’s what she’d concentrated on. She’d ignored Teddy’s and her father’s dire predictions of her fate and forged on to California on her own after reading an advertisement in the paper about the small, enticing sounding town of Culpepper Cove needing a new schoolmarm.

To her great surprise and delight, she’d applied for and been accepted as a teacher for the new school year, to be paid the generous amount of twelve dollars a month, with a small raise possible if she had performed up to standards, not all of which had anything to do with teaching. She would be expected to attend church services, to light and tend the fire in the stove when necessary, and, if she ever got married, she would be expected to quit.

Of all of the morality clauses listed, she knew that she would find that last one to be the easiest to conform to.

And now that she was here, she was realizing that she was as tired as if she’d pulled the wagon herself!

Donning a plain cotton nightgown, she crossed the room to douse the candle when something caught her attention out the window.

When booking a room at the recently built Grand Central Hotel—as she had arrived earlier than was expected because she’d been so eager to begin her new life, but also because she had wanted to take a day or so to get to know the town a bit before she was expected to teach in it—she hadn’t realized its proximity to something called The Red Petticoat Saloon. The saloon did not look like a proper establishment from which a schoolmarm should live across. Nor had she noticed upon entering her hotel room that the window, although small, was more than close enough to a corresponding, larger one on an upper level of the saloon, such that she could see directly into it, as well as hear with distressing clarity, exactly what was transpiring between its two occupants.

Gloria squatted down immediately, not wanting to be seen peeping, but as she literally crawled towards her bed on her hands and knees, she couldn’t keep her fingers in her ears to block out the voices that were saying things she very much wished she didn’t want to hear.

“What do naughty little girls deserve when they forget an appointment I made with them three months ago?” she heard a deep, stern voice ask.

And it stopped her in her tracks—despite how much she didn’t want it to, despite how hard she tried to ignore it, how virulently she tried to convince herself that she should not eavesdrop on a conversation that was so excruciatingly intimate—however intriguing she found the subject matter.

“No, please, sir! I’ll be good. I won’t forget next time. I’m so sorry you had to wait!”

“You may think that you’re sorry now, lovely, but I can promise you you’ll be much more so by the time I’m through roasting those beautiful cheeks of yours. Now come out of the corner. You know where I want you to be.”

Knowing she shouldn’t, and cursing her weak will under her breath the entire time, she reluctantly changed the direction she was heading from the safety of her bed to the corner of the window. She just couldn’t help it, so she peeped over the windowsill, just barely, her heart pounding, her body actually quivering at the uncontrollable feelings that were surging through her. It was just enough to get a real eyeful of the situation she refused to admit to herself that she was secretly picturing herself in.

Across the alley from her was a very large, powerfully built man who was helping a very small, delicate, shockingly naked, and distinctly reluctant, woman to lie over his lap. Gloria shivered. She’d be reluctant, too, considering the sheer size of the man, and the fact that he appeared to have muscles on his muscles. She could see them straining at his shirt every time they flexed.

Still, he didn’t yank her over or even really force her at all. When she did finally surrender and settle herself there, he actually patted her bottom familiarly.

“Good girl,” he praised softly, as the very naughty area between Gloria’s legs clenched and ached, which emboldened her to raise her head a bit above the sill so that she could get a better view of the proceedings as well as allowing her to hear what was being said between the two just that much better.

Using one of those big hands, she watched him arrange the young woman in what looked like a very gentle manner, tipping her a bit further forward than how she had landed over his lap originally. He was careful to hold her safe so that she didn’t end up on her head, although she could also see that he still made sure that the tips of her toes were still in contact with the floor, while insuring that the pretty miscreant’s ample, rounded bottom was lifted and presented as quite an enticing target.

“You know what to do,” he scolded just a bit. “Give me your wrists, darlin’ Peridot.”

Gloria was surprised when the woman hesitated, holding her hands away from him instead. “Please, Se—sir, no! Please don’t spank me. You know how much I hate it!”

Still, he didn’t fly into a rage or even sound in the least angry at her vehement protests. Instead, he said almost regretfully, “Little girl, you know that the longer you delay obeying me, the worse it’s going to be for you.”

Gloria found herself mimicking the girl’s deep inhale and then giving a rather exaggerated, resigned sigh as she exhaled. What sort of name was Peridot anyway? Tossing that inconsequential question aside, Gloria watched as Peridot did finally lay her own wrists across the small of her back, watching as the man’s hand easily engulfed both of them at once to hold them there, saying encouragingly, “That’s it. But I’m afraid I’m going to have to give you extra hard swats at the end, on top of what you were already due, honey.”

That pronouncement prompted a loud, heartfelt wail of pure remorse from the young woman.

“Ten for taking so long to obey me about your hands, and twenty for fibbing.”

“What? When did I fib to you?” Gloria heard her ask, much more forcefully than Gloria would have in that vulnerable position, laid across the giant’s lap like that.

“You most certainly did, just a few seconds ago, when you said you hated being spanked. We both know how far from the truth that is.” His tone lowered considerably, although Gloria was still able to hear him threaten huskily, “And I shall make you lick the undeniable evidence of how your own body concurs with me from two of my fingers once I’ve finished thrashing your bottom, my naughty Dottie.”

Then he raised his huge hand and brought it down onto the poor girl’s bare behind in a move so lightning quick and forceful that the contact of a hard, male palm to a soft female cheek sounded horribly loud and painful. So much so that it startled Gloria into yelping just slightly after the girl did.

Just enough to call the big man’s attention, although not the girl’s, to the fact that someone was watching what they were doing.

And Gloria was so startled by what she’d done that, before she could duck down, she was mortified to find his eyes lock onto hers.

Then she watched a truly evil, terribly intimate smile spread over the handsome man’s face, as if he knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it.

He even had the audacity to reach up the very hand he’d just delivered the first swat with and make the motion of tipping a hat he wasn’t wearing to her, then, with an audacious wink, he returned to his task.

Gloria collapsed onto the floor, her muscles entirely unable to support her any longer through what she’d seen and then, humiliatingly, been discovered watching. And she’d been so shocked to have been caught that, at first, she couldn’t even get herself to move away from the window! She’d just sat there and watched him mock her!

What was worse was that, even now, in the midst of the purest mortification she’d ever experienced in her life, she could hear that the spanking was still in progress, only now it didn’t seem quite as titillating as it had before. So she forced herself to sit up, making sure that no part of her was showing above the window sill as she did so, and reach for the sash.

Unfortunately for her, whoever had built this hotel, didn’t manage to get the windows quite square. It took an inordinate amount of time, as well as all her strength, such that she ended up having to hang her whole weight off the sash, exposing herself to him again with her efforts to get it closed.

And she could hear his deep, rich laugh throughout the entire process as she stood next to the window, again avoiding any possible exposure beyond just her arm, and pulled the curtains closed. Not that they were going to be much help, being made of lace. Still, she dropped to crawl beneath the window so as not to be seen to get to the other side to do the same, all while his low chortling rang in her ears.

When she finally got back to bed, sleep eluded her entirely. Having closed the window did nothing to abate the sounds, not that she tried very hard to do so, of what proved to be an eye opening spanking. That incessant crack! crack! crack! never let up or paused in any way. It seemed to go on forever, as well as the noisy, but nowhere near as unpleasant as she would have preferred them to be, sounds of what she surmised to be their lovemaking afterwards.

At least she couldn’t hear him proving to her the reality of just how she felt about him spanking her—which was apparently very close to how Gloria felt about the mere idea of him doing that to her!

But even when they were finally quiet, Gloria was still flaming with such embarrassment that she could find no solace in Morpheus’ arms.

Almost without thinking, her hands went to the hem of her nightgown with at least as much reluctance as that painted lady had displayed when she’d placed herself over that enormous man’s lap. But her body knew what she wanted, what she needed, better than she did, and with much less guilt. Her delicate fingers continued to gather material until the split crotch of her bloomers was exposed—but going no further.

Slowly, as her mind warred with her lustful needs and lost, as usual, they made their way to the opening of the split that was positioned just above the thatch of soft yellow hair, pulling them and her legs apart with them, so that the two halves lay well open before they sought the space between the plump, throbbing lips she’d just exposed.

Cheeks now flaming for another reason other than having been caught looking, Gloria’s eyes drifted shut as she used the fingers of one hand to spread herself open even further, while she found the source of her own slickness with the others, dipping them delicately into that shamefully flowing liquid to move them back up to slip easily over the barest tip of that hidden, throbbing button of flesh with a barely stifled moan of forbidden pleasure.

It was a sin. She was quite sure of that, not that she’d ever admitted to anyone that she’d done it. It had to be. It felt too unbelievably good not to be!

But the feelings were too new to her. She didn’t have the experience, or even the will, to be able to extend the experience. Her flesh was too eager to find the fulfillment she sought, and soon she was writhing and moaning to the tune that her own fingers called until that torturously building ecstasy finally burst within her, and she had to turn her head to scream into her own pillow, lest she give the man across the street an earful of her own secret bliss.

Seconds later, almost before she pulled her gown down and rolled onto her side, she had slipped into the deep, dreamless sleep that had previously eluded her.

 

The Blackhouse Bride

The Blackhouse Bride

Bridie knew she had made a mistake even before he reached around her waist and pushed the door closed with a soft but definite click.

“Ah now,” said Lord John Dunwoodie, younger brother of the present Marquess of Crieff, fifth son of the late Marquess, and author of Songs of Innocence and Despair – a slim volume of sonnets, printed in quarto at his own expense – “we are quite alone at last.”

It was late afternoon, and the small dressing room – an ante-chamber to the bedroom beyond – was filled with early summer sunshine. Even in her panic, as she backed against the door and tried to grope for the handle behind her, Bridie could see that she was in a comfortable, masculine room, equipped with a mirror and a wardrobe and a rack for hanging ties and a stand below the window for shaving. And there was a small leather couch, the kind she thought was called a chaise longue.

There were no books that she could see at first glance. An interior door stood open, and beyond that she glimpsed a much larger room, and the outer post of a bed.

“My lord,” she managed to gasp. “Please, I must return to my mistress – ”

“Not yet. Not for a little while yet. Ah, Bridie – have you any idea how fervently I’ve longed for this moment?”

He made a grab for her, and she found herself clasped in his arms before she could make any decisive move to escape. His mouth was hot and hard and urgent on hers.

It was not the first time she had been kissed. The first time had been Robbie Johnson, the baker’s apprentice, who had persuaded her the previous summer to walk with him down the lane to the oldest tree in the village and there, under its ancient spreading branches, clumsily and wetly planted his lips to hers. She remembered how he had trembled, and how his whole face had glowed as red as an apple, and how he had stammered out his declaration of love and offered her his damp, yeasty hand in marriage.

She had been taken off guard that first time, but she had also been conscious of a certain intellectual curiosity. She had wanted to know for herself what it was that had inspired the great poets, the dramatists, even the authors of novels. She found it hard to believe that the sublime transports of passion, the love of Romeo for Juliet, of Dante for Laura, could begin with this sweaty squashing of mouths. She had soon removed herself from the danger of any repeated importunity from Robbie Johnson, and declined his suit perhaps a little too sharply.

Lord John was as far away from poor Robbie Johnson as Milton’s poetry was from the pedestrian verse in the Kirk hymnal. It was as if he were another species of animal entirely, cut from different stuff. She smelled spices, an exotic scent, as he trapped her in his arms and held her commandingly against his whole body.

Just for a moment, she weakened. She had struggled and held herself rigid, but as he would not let her go, and as he would not stop the bruising kiss, she felt herself begin to melt in the heat of his embrace. She relaxed against him, she parted her lips and let his tongue slide between them.

His hand went to her bosom, and squeezed.

No!”

With all her strength, with all her fading sense, she threw him off.

He was not a particularly big man, and she was a well-grown girl, as tall as him. She had felt the strength in his imprisoning arms, and truthfully had found it just a little thrilling, but if she struggled she had the power to throw him off. Or perhaps, he was letting her escape for the moment. Certainly, he grinned as he staggered back from her, then made another lunge.

But she had given herself the moment she needed. Her fumbling fingers found the handle, and she was gone through the door before he could trap her in the room again.

“Bridie! I say, come back here, young lady! Bridie! I haven’t given you that book!”

She ran full pelt along the corridor, fearful that he would give actual pursuit. The appearance at the top of the connecting staircase of Marchbanks, one of the senior footmen, made her skid to a guilty halt.

“What is the meaning of this?” Marchbanks demanded, glaring at her.

“I’m sorry,” Bridie mumbled.

“Bridie, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And what do you think you’re about, girl, being in this part of the house at this time of the day, all on your own and running around like a wild thing?”

Bridie was just trying to work out whether it was worth attempting a lie, to say that her ladyship had sent her on an errand, when Lord John strode down the corridor towards them and laid a hand on her shoulder.

Marchbanks immediately stood back and bowed.

“Don’t row the girl, my good man,” said Lord John easily. “She’s with me.”

“Yes, my lord,” said Marchbanks, keeping his gaze respectfully lowered.

“I invited her to my rooms, to lend her a book. Bridie here is a great scholar. Are not you, my dear?”

Bridie could form no reply. Her heart had begun to hammer, her throat squeezed. But momentarily paralysed as she was, she did not miss the quick upward glance of Marchbank’s eyes. She saw the footman take in his lordship’s hand pressing into the exposed flesh of her shoulder, she saw the sly twitch of his lips before he composed his features to blank servility once more.

A hot wave of shame flooded up through her, making her face – her very ears – burn as red as flame. By nightfall, or sooner, the whole servants’ hall would think that Bridie MacFarlane had surrendered her virtue to Lord John. His lordship had not been back at home long enough to make any new conquests that Bridie knew of, and she had only been at Dunwoodie herself for six months before his return from Italy, but even in her own home in the village of Bridge of Auchtie she had heard tales of how the old Marquess’s fifth son regularly despoiled housemaids and other serving-girls. It would be believed, she had no doubt, and her reputation would be in danger.

“Come then,” Lord John added, with a warm grin. He really was a very handsome man, and his smile – like a cheeky boy’s – was perhaps his most attractive feature. “I believe I’ve found the volume now.” He squeezed her collarbone gently.

“Excuse me, my lord,” she said, mustering all her resolve and breaking free. “I must return to my mistress.”

She dropped a clumsy curtsy and stumbled away, down the stairs, towards the east wing upper hall and the safety of the Marchioness’s sitting room.

This time, he did not pursue.

 

 

#

The small upper east sitting room, known to the servants simply as ‘her ladyship’s room’, was pretty and airy and filled with light. It had been newly furnished the year before, when the Marquess – then, merely Lord Atholl – had brought his beautiful and highly eligible bride home to Dunwoodie House.

Bridie slipped in quietly, her heart still thumping hard in her breast. She was sure that her face, too, must still be flushed.

The Marchioness of Crieff was dozing on the sofa near the open window, which let in soft summer air and the sweet sound of birdsong. A book was lying open in one senseless hand, her other was resting on the great swell beneath her white muslin gown. Bridie moved quickly to catch the book, which was just about to slip to the floor, and her mistress stirred and blinked sleepily.

“Oh! Bridie. I must have fallen asleep. What is the time?”

“Not much past four o’clock by the clock in the hallway, my lady.”

“Oh good, there is still plenty of time before dressing. Would you read the rest of this chapter to me? I cannot seem to concentrate on it. Then perhaps we might take a turn around the terrace.”

“Yes, my lady,” Bridie mumbled, and got back to her customary seat before Lady Crieff could notice anything amiss about her demeanour.

But it was too late. A tear had escaped one eye, and she could feel it rolling treacherously down her hot cheek. The Marchioness noticed, as she noticed everything.

“Why, my dear, you are distressed! What is the matter, Bridie?” She shifted upwards on the sofa, awkward with the bulk of the child, and held out her hand to her.

Bridie went to her and let her take it, and curtseyed. “Please, my lady, it is nothing. Nothing of import. I am – a little homesick, perhaps. I was thinking of my father.”

She blushed anew at being obliged to lie so shamelessly. The last thing she wanted to do was to return to live under her father’s roof, to the house by the forge where she had been dutiful but unhappy mistress since the age of eight. She respected her father, of course; he was a virtuous and pious, if not very kind man, and she asked every night in her prayers that the Almighty might make her a better daughter in her heart, but she could never be anything other than miserable at home.

Her mistress’s lovely face softened further. “Of course. Of course you must miss him very much. Now listen, my dear. This Sunday you must go and visit him. I will have Ritchie take you in the cart.”

“Oh! No, my lady, it is not so far, I can walk there quite easily.”

“No doubt.” She smiled. “But if I send you in the cart, I may fetch you back again as I will. I cannot do without you for long.”

“Yes, my lady. I do not need to go at all, if you need me here.”

“It is settled. Now, please, the end of the chapter. I must find out whether Lord Waverley is deceiving Clarabelle, though I expect he is. Why do I enjoy this trash? It would be excellent if for once, the aristocratic gentleman turned out not to be a vile seducer. Some of my dearest friends are aristocratic gentlemen, and I cannot say that any of them have ever attempted to ruin me.” She smiled at her own pleasantry, stretched out luxuriantly, and closed her eyes.

Bridie’s answering smile was fleeting. She hung her head over the pages of the novel, for a moment seeing no words through a blur of fresh tears. She could not tell the Marchioness, whom she adored, about her brother-in-law’s importunities. It would be disrespectful towards Lord John to carry tales of his private conduct to the mistress of the house, and she did not want to trouble or distress Lady Crieff in any way when she was so near to her confinement.

Nor could she bear her mistress to think ill of her. Bridie knew it was scarcely rational, but she found that she was ashamed; ashamed of the way her body had responded with a flush of excitement when he had pressed his own so insistently against it, ashamed of the very fact of having drawn his lordship’s notoriously lascivious eye.

How could she continue to say no to his advances, when he might summon her on a pretext at any time? How would she continue to have the strength to say no, when his mouth tasted of fire and his touch set her heart hammering?

Only fleeing Dunwoodie House could keep her virtue safe, but she had nowhere else to go but her father’s house. And she had a very particular reason for not wanting to end up back there.

What was she going to do?

 

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Sunny’s Safe Haven

Sunny's Safe Haven

Tey rode into town at mid-day, the unseasonable warmth of the October sun was beating down, his horse’s head hung low. Tey knew Mustang was in dire need of water. He was exhausted, they both were. He spotted the saloon sign and guided the horse slowly across the dusty street. As they moved in the direction of The Red Petticoat saloon, Tey noticed a burly man arguing with a slim blonde woman on the boardwalk. The woman half turned at his approach, catching his attention. Tey stared into the brightest pair of eyes he’d ever seen. Two things registered; she was young and pretty with compelling yellow green eyes that reminded him strongly of a mountain cat.

Just as Tey assimilated her good looks and trim figure, the older man standing beside her lifted his arm and backhanded her. She spun off the wooden boardwalk out into the dirt, landing at Mustang’s front legs. The shocked horse reared up in alarm and Tey had his work cut out bringing the horse under control and back down to earth, safely away from the recumbent girl.

After the man had lashed out at the fallen girl, he hurled curses down upon where she lay, spittle spraying from his mouth with the accompanying abuse. Tey dismounted and hitched Mustang to the rail outside the saloon where a water trough stood full; the water instantly gained the horse’s attention and he calmly began drinking, ignoring the human drama unfolding behind him. A small brown and white dog sat atop the horse on Tey’s blanket roll. He watched his master with intelligent brown eyes, staying safely up where he was, well out of the fray.

Tey quickly reached the girl and was about to help her up, when a tall dark haired man appeared from inside the saloon and jumped down into the sandy dust beside her.

“Are you all right, chiquita?” he asked, obviously concerned. Tey surmised the man to be of Spanish or more likely, Mexican descent.

“She yorn?” he asked the man who was hunkered down on one knee beside the prone girl. He glanced up at Tey and stretched out his hand.

“I’m Gabriel Vasquez. Nope, she is not mine. This is Stephanie Kendrick, she is the daughter of that sonofabitch there,” he said, nodding at the irate man still bellowing obscenities from the sidewalk.

“Tey.” He held out his hand and shook Gabe’s hand. “Hell of a way to treat your daughter.”

“I agree. Come chiquita, let’s get you up, all right?” Gabriel placed his arm under the girl’s shoulders and lifted her up.

Dios mío, she is bleeding… Kendrick!” he bellowed, “fetch Doc Norwood… fast!”

Tey saw that the back of the girl’s dress was crimson with blood. He looked over to where the girl’s father stood, his mouth gaping wide, lips flapping wordlessly at the sight of his daughter’s blood-stained dress.

“Godamnit,” Tey muttered, disgusted by the man’s inaction. “The doc, where does he live?” he called to him urgently.

Kendrick pointed down the street, his bulbous eyes fixed upon his daughter, who was by now swooning in Gabe’s arms. “I will take her inside, you fetch the doc,” Gabriel stated, nodding at Tey whilst scooping the girl up into his arms.

Tey gave a brief nod and was about to set off in the direction the man had indicated, when Kendrick suddenly yelled, “That’s right, take her into the bawdy house, that’s where she belongs, the little slut. She ain’t no daughter of mine… she can stay there and good riddance!” The man cussed some more before turning and stomping off in the opposite direction to where he had signaled the doctor’s house to be.

Tey swore under his breath, turned and ran down the street until he spotted a doctor’s plate set upon a door. He hammered hard, until he heard a man within shout, “All right, I hear you. I’m fetching my bag… Be right with you!” The door was flung wide and a pretty smiling woman greeted him.

“I’m Mrs. Della Norwood, my husband Anson is the doctor. He’ll be right with you, cowboy.” At that moment a man side stepped around her, stopping briefly to drop a kiss on her cheek as he passed. Tey heard him say, “Be good,” as he hefted his black leather doctor’s bag. “Where to?” he asked.

“Saloon,” Tey replied briefly before setting off at a lope, leading the way.

“Man of few words I see,” muttered the doctor, drawing alongside Tey.

“Yup, name’s Tey, just arrived in town.”

“So, do you know who my patient might be?”

“Pretty girl, amazing green, yellow eyes like a mountain cat.” Tey frowned. “I think they said her name’s Stephanie Kendrick. She fell off the walk outside the saloon. She’s bleeding heavily all over her skirts. A man called Vasquez took her inside the saloon.”

“Stephanie Kendrick… really?”

They reached the saloon and Tey followed Doc Norwood inside. A large aproned woman waved the doctor over to the back of the room where they both left through a door.

Tey turned toward the bar and slid onto a stool. “A shot of the good stuff, and a bowl of water,” he told the pretty girl who was serving behind the bar, wearing a fetching smile and a pretty dress. He gave a high pitched whistle and the small dog who had sat atop his horse outside, scooted under the swinging doors, skidding to a halt beside him. A bowl of water appeared on the bar but no whiskey.

“You have to check the hardware in before you get a drink in this establishment, Mister.” A woman’s pleasantly accented voice came from behind him. English, Tey surmised, but part with his guns? No way!

He swung around and studied the woman, a beautiful blue eyed blonde. Her gaze met his steadily without fear. Tey liked that. “Ma’am,” he said quietly and touched the brim of his hat to her.

“I am Madam Jewel, part owner of this establishment. I believe you met my partner Gabe earlier, out in the street. Thank you for fetching Doctor Norwood.”

“You’re welcome. How’s the girl doing?”

“I am sorry to say that Stephanie has lost the baby she was carrying but the doctor is with her now and seems confident that he can stop the bleeding.”

“An’ her husband?” Tey asked.

Jewel shook her head. “She has none that I know of and apparently her father has disowned her. We will care for her here and try to help reconcile Stephanie with her father.”

Tey nodded. His heart contracted at the familiar but pitiful tale of a girl taken advantage of before she had a ring on her finger. Still it was none of his business, he was here to do a job and that’s what he was gonna do. In his line of work, it didn’t pay to get attached to female folk, they always wanted more than he could offer them. Nope, he’d stick to sweet whores and good rye whiskey. Speaking of which…

“Sorry, ma’am, I don’t part with my guns, no time, no how.”

“Then we can’t serve you Mr…”

“The name’s Tey.”

“Well, good day to you then, Mr. Tey.” She turned and walked away and Tey watched the sway of her hips appreciatively until she was out of sight.

Tey turned back to the bar. “There another saloon in this town?” he asked the pretty bar woman who was polishing glasses with a surprisingly clean looking bar cloth.

“Sorry, only the Red Petticoat and you won’t get a better run saloon than this one. Our gems are sweet and clean, food is great and the roulette wheel isn’t fixed but if you want whiskey, you’re going to have check in those pistols, cowpoke.”

What was it with the women around here, all of them assuming he was a cowboy? Still, wouldn’t hurt for them to assume that for a while, it sounded better than the truth.

Tey sighed. He hated to be parted from his guns. He felt undressed without them but by God he wanted that drink. He’d been out on the trail for just over a couple of weeks, traveling on horseback across Arizona to California in one of the hottest Octobers that he could recall. A hand on his shoulder shook him out of his reverie and he looked down into the pretty smiling face of a girl dressed in a white laced bodice and a bright red flounced petticoat.

“Well, howdy, cowboy. I’m Peridot, I work here. You lookin’ for company maybe?”

He tilted back his hat and grinned at her. “Surely shall be later on, baby girl, just as soon as I get me a glass of rye and a hot bath.” He ran his eye speculatively over her body. He liked what he saw; a good pair of creamy pillowing breasts swelled out of her pretty camisole top and her small waist flared out over shapely hips and a curvy ass. His shaft instantly hardened, it had been a while.

Tey stuck to whores but only the young and the clean. Frankly the fresh variety was few and far between out west and he had to make do with his trusty old right hand more often than not. Both his cock and his hand were sick of the sight of one another. According to his eyes and his manhood, things were looking up. Tey saw the woman look down at his hardened crotch with a small knowing smile.

“We have a bathing room in-house, buster, so how’s about you leave the hardware here and come with me for a real hot, hot bath, hmm?”

“Tell you what, I gotta take Mustang to the livery, so you fill that tub and I’ll be right back.” He trailed the back of one finger down the sloping cleavage of Peridot’s breasts. “Oh an’ honey, when I say fill the tub, I mean I want you in it, with these babies floating free where I can see ‘em welcoming me on my return.” She giggled, agreeing with a nod. Tey pulled out a wedge of notes and peeled off a couple of greenbacks, handing them to her. “Bring a bottle of the good stuff with you. I assume I get to keep my guns inside the bathing room?”

“Yes, sir,” Peridot replied. Tey gave her a look of approval. He did like a woman who knew how to address a man. Once he’d gone, his small dog trotting beside him, Peridot fanned her face. It had been a long time since a client had such an effect on her. “Phew!” she muttered, she was slicker than maple syrup just at the thought of bedding the man. Pulling herself together, she bought the bottle of rye from Amy behind the bar and headed off to the bathing room to fill a tub designed for two.

Tey left Dog with Mustang, curled up in the hay next to the horse, happy now that he had some strips of beef jerky digesting inside him.

When Tey finally entered the bathing room, he heard a sultry voice calling to him. Pushing the door wide he stopped and leaned against the doorjamb to admire the view. The woman named Peridot was laid back in the widest tub he’d ever seen, her tits floating free in white foamy bubbles, they looked just as he’d imagined them. Full and magenta tipped, they beckoned him to join them.

“Howdy, cowboy, planning on coming in?” she asked, her voice low and sexy. She held his gaze as she parted her legs in open invitation. Tey needed no further solicitation. He began to strip, his eyes never once leaving those buoyant pleasure globes of hers. He watched her eyes widen when he unbuttoned his trousers and his impressive cockstand sprung free.

“Now that’s just the kind of welcome I like,” she purred, licking her lips unconsciously. Tey stood by the side of the tub, his hands slipping over and around the silken, slippery balloons of her breasts, enjoying the sensation of kneading her soft flesh.

“Hurry up and wash my cock, woman. Then wrap that naughty mouth of yours around it and show me what a good little girl you are. If you can prove you are a good girl, well then, I might not tan that delectable ass of yours… but then again, what else is a man supposed to do with such a delectable rounded rump?”

“A cowpoke’s poke maybe?” Peridot suggested naughtily, batting her eyelashes.

“You’re a real sassy minx. Yup, you’ll be getting that wicked little ass whapped tonight, and if you’re really bad, I’ll certainly give it a cowpoke or two!” Peridot sniggered delightedly. If she was any judge of men and she surely was, then this was going to be a very good night! After her hands soaped and rinsed his goodly sized shaft, she slowly lowered her open mouth over the blunt head, loving the way he filled her mouth as she sucked him down slowly, accustoming her throat to his size. Her action was accompanied by his resonating groan of pleasure.

Yup, tonight sure was gonna be a very good night indeed.

 

Chapter Two

 

Stephanie Kendrick opened her eyes and looked about her. A washstand stood in one corner, a chair that she saw held her clothing, was placed in the other.  A bedside cupboard stood next to her single bed with a jug of water and glass set on top.

If her clothes were over on the chair, then what was she wearing? Lifting her arm, she looked at the white lace edged sleeve of a nightgown. Where on earth was she? She felt so weak and achy. Shutting her eyes, she pieced together the events of the past few hours. The fresh realization that she had lost her baby swept over her and tears slipped silently down her cheeks. The further loss of her own father today and Kelly, the father of her child, almost overwhelmed her.

Kelly. She couldn’t bear the despair that thinking about him caused her. It was far worse than the drawing pain deep in her womb, or the throbbing of her face where her father had hit her. Kelly’s final words to her had torn out her soul and destroyed any belief she had about their future.

“You are what? I have lain with many girls and none of them got pregnant, because, I draw out! So I know that you have lain with another man, if not other men. Get out of my sight! We are over, finished, d’you hear me, you slut!”

She whimpered at the recollection of his harsh words and tried to turn on her side wanting to curl up and protect herself from the bitter memory but the pain in her womb halted her movement and she gasped, the agony keeping her flat on her back.

A cool hand settled on her forehead, soothing her, as she wept harrowing tears of loss.

A gentle voice shushed her. “You are safe and cared for here, I promise that no one shall hurt you, Stephanie, and your father will only be allowed to visit at your behest. Doctor Norwood ordered you to rest. You have lost a great deal of blood, my dear.”

Stephanie turned her head on the pillow and recognized Madam Jewel from the Red Petticoat. Is that where she was? Well, it was appropriate at any rate. She tried to speak and thank the beautiful blonde but a dry croak was all she could manage. Instantly a glass of cool water was pressed to her lips and she drank thirstily before flopping back onto the pillows. A cool cloth gently swiped her face then rested across her forehead. Once again she attempted to talk, this time with a little more success.

“Thank you. Where am I?” she asked weakly.

“The Red Petticoat, you will be staying until you are well enough to leave but I want you to stay as long as you need to, you are very welcome here, Stephanie.”

Tears welled in Stephanie’s eyes at the kind and softly spoken words of her hostess. It had been a long time since she had experienced such care from another woman, not since her mama had passed several years ago in fact.

“Thank you, I-I don’t deserve such generosity,” she whispered, choking back an anguished sob.

Jewel gazed down at the young woman, her heart twisted with pity. She knew how this girl was suffering, because she had gone through much the same experience herself, although she had been lucky enough not to fall pregnant. She ran the wet muslin cloth over the girl’s pale face once more before settling herself down upon the bed side. She placed her palm over the girl’s small hand. As Stephanie followed her movements, Jewel marveled at the girl’s rather startling eyes, a clear yellow-green. So bright that they reminded her of a mountain cat she had once briefly spotted whilst out riding in the Sierras with Gabe. They sometimes took off together with a picnic, spending the day together in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. These mountains housed so many of the gold mines where their customers toiled all week before flooding into the saloon at weekends to spend their hard earned gold and cash.

“I am going to tell you a story and then I want you to sleep, child.” Jewel smiled at her and squeezed her hand as Stephanie nodded once, her gaze fixed upon Jewel’s sapphire colored eyes.

“Once upon a time there was a very young and innocent English girl who grew up surrounded by luxury. She lived in a castle with her father who was a hard task master and expected his daughter to be a perfect little princess. The girl was so protected that she had no idea that duplicity and unkindness existed in the world. She grew into womanhood naive and far too trusting. One day she met a handsome fellow who stole her heart and offered her love the like of which the pretty girl had never known before and she worshiped this man, giving all that he asked of her, believing his promise of a future together.” Jewel fell silent a moment, lost in her own thoughts and memories.

“Is that the end of the tale?”  Stephanie’s voice brought her back to the present. She smiled sadly down at the ashen faced invalid.

“No, child. One day there was a grand ball, everyone who was important in the area was invited and while the party was in full swing the girl’s gentleman drew her aside into a private room where he ravaged her and she, adoring him as she did, allowed him, enjoying his skilled attention. The girl fully expected this party to be the moment of her engagement announcement.”

“Ball?” Stephanie frowned at the term.

“That is what a grand dance is called in England.  Suddenly the guests entered the room and the girl was discovered in a compromising situation. There was shock and condemnation from everyone, including the girl’s father who was furious with her. The girl waited expectantly for her lover to explain everything and claim her as his future wife, but alas, he denied her and instead took the hand of another young lady, leaving the girl to face the shame and ridicule all alone.”

“Oh!” Tears of empathy leaked down Stephanie’s temples into her hair line making her beautiful eyes glitter with liquid sheen. Jewel smiled and squeezed her hand in reassurance.

“The girl was miserable for a very long time and kept herself hidden away from the world, avoiding her angry papa, but then one day a kind lady came, her grandmother, a lady who made her see that she was not in the wrong, that she had broken no promises, her only crime had been to trust a man whom she loved. Her grandmother built up the girl’s self-esteem and taught her to love again and to be brave. Eventually the girl met an honorable man, one who loved her as she loved him, with heart and soul and I believe that they will live happily ever after.  Stephanie, you will eventually heal and you will become strong and capable once more but in the meantime please let those of us at the Red Petticoat befriend you and help you through this difficult time.”

Stephanie’s tears flowed faster. She nodded her head, too moved to reply. Jewel leaned forward, pressing her lips against the girl’s damp temple. “Sleep now, child. I will ask Nettie to make you some reviving soup for later.”

Gabe swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as he eavesdropped outside the door, listening as Jewel recounted her own tale of heartbreak and woe, his hands clenching and unclenching. Every time he heard her story, he wanted to crush that cowardly Englishman under his heel. Yet, without her past misfortune, she would not have come to America and he would never had met and loved her.  He heard the rustle of her skirts as she moved across the room to the doorway. As she swept into the hallway he stretched out his arm and scooped her into his embrace. His lips crushed hers and she molded against the length of his hard, lean body, acquiescing to him physically as she always did, wherever and whenever he demanded. He adored that about her. His Jewel had grown into a strong independent woman yet her submission to him as her man was something he would always treasure and never take advantage of. His one thought as her sweet mouth opened to receive his tongue, was how much he loved and adored her. His querida, the Jewel of his heart.

Breaking the kiss, he held her at arm’s length, his concerned gaze assessing her emotional state.

“I am fine, Gabe, but I ache for that poor child. At least I was lucky enough to escape becoming pregnant.”

Gabe held her face between his hands, gazing down into her gorgeous face. “Your past brought you here to me mi amor and for that I can only be grateful. Fear not, for together we shall help this niña to find her place within the world.”

“Thank you, Gabe, you always know just the right thing to say.”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “Come, mi corazon, we have at least an hour to ourselves. I want to hold you in my arms and hear those cries of yours that speed up my heart and spur on mi falo, querida.”

Jewel gave a low chuckle and allowed her man to tug her towards their room. Gabe never failed to turn her knees to jelly and her pussy to molten lust. He was her rock and salvation, always knowing when she needed his strength and support. Very soon the last thing on her mind was her past as her virile man brought her very much into the present with his searing looks and commanding touch.

Sapphire’s Surrender

Sapphire's Surrender

“Thief!”

Sapphire stared at the man, her fists clenching on her hips. She could feel the familiar bubble of anger begin to develop deep in her belly. “What did you call me?”

“A thief. You stole my daddy’s watch. I had it right here in my waistcoat before you started that fancy dance of yours, and now it’s gone. Give it back to me right now, or I’m sending for the sheriff!”

There was both scorn and fury in the man’s tone, and an ugly rash was beginning to spread from his collar, a livid purple against the wrinkled, tanned skin of his neck.

You should never have taken him upstairs, Sapphire scolded herself. She had been at The Red Petticoat for long enough to develop a sixth sense, an instinct about the men who approached her. And when Eyebrows, as the gems had dubbed him on account of his thick, beetling brows, had sidled up and asked for one of her “special dances,” that instinct had been in full swing.

Unfortunately, not for the first time, Sapphire had refused to heed it. “I never took your darn watch!”

Now he was scowling at her with all the self-righteous anger he could muster. “I’m countin’ to five, young missy, and that pocket watch had better be back in my possession by then, or else I’m sending for the sheriff, like I said, and having you arrested.”

“I don’t have your damn watch! I don’t know what you did with it, but I have no reason to steal—from anyone, and that includes you.” Taking a deep breath, battling to stay calm, she tried to reason with him. “Now, you had your dance, please pay me and then leave my room.”

Reason didn’t work. Eyebrows leapt from his chair and advanced upon her, the furry bushes of hair almost knitting together above his small, blazing eyes. “You want me to pay you?” he snarled, his breath sour with whiskey.

“Five dollars. Going rate for my special dance.” Sapphire forced herself to lift her chin and meet his gaze head-on. She really didn’t want him involving the sheriff, but she didn’t want to back down, either.

“That watch is worth a heck of a lot more than five lousy dollars! So if you won’t give it back to me, consider yourself paid!” He punctuated his statement with a contemptuous spit; the disgusting, chewing tobacco-filled glob of which landed with a splat far too close to Sapphire’s boot.

The gesture broke the dam on her rising temper, and she exploded. “And you have the audacity to call me a thief,” she yelled, marching to the bell pull all the girls had in their rooms to summon help if it was required.

Eyebrows watched her for a moment. The ugly rash was now all over his neck. “Aw-daa-see-tee. That’s a mighty long word for some two-bit whore,” he drawled at length. “Why’s a little slut like you need such long words when your pretty mouth is occupied with other things all day?”

Without pausing to consider the consequences, Sapphire launched herself at him; landing on his back with enough force to wind the man before pummeling him with abandon, her blows landing wherever she could reach as he twisted and bucked beneath her.

“What in the blazes is going on here?” Gabe’s Spanish-accented voice startled them both. “Sapphire! Stop that right now!”

Ignoring Gabriel—her boss and the co-owner of the saloon—Sapphire continued to throw punches until Gabe marched over and dragged her off the spluttering miner. Even with his thickly muscled arm clamped firmly around her midsection, she kicked the air, trying in vain to still punish Eyebrows for his evil words.

“Calm down!” Gabe ordered, in the voice he used whenever things got out of hand. “Sapphire! Stop kicking right now or by God you will regret disobeying me!”

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she willed herself to stop fighting and allowed her feet to slowly touch the floor.

Gabe’s arm continued to grip her waist like a vise.

“She’s a thief,” Eyebrows said, slowly. “A thief and a little hellion. She stole my daddy’s watch!”

“I am not, and I did not!” Sapphire howled, once again beginning to struggle within Gabe’s arms. “He’s a liar, Mr. Gabe! Let me at him!”

“Sapphire!” Gabriel barked. “For the last time, calm down. I will handle this.”

“Send for the sheriff,” Eyebrows said. “I’d like to report a robbery.”

“Yes, get Sheriff Justice!” Sapphire knew she was only making things worse for herself but that despicable little man was infuriating and her frustration was getting the better of her, as it so often did. “Tell him that this sonofabitch called me a whore!”

“That’s not illegal. You are a whore. But you’re also a thief. And, as far as I know, that is a crime.” Eyebrows stared Gabriel down, obviously willing the man to side with him.

“What on earth is going on here?”

Sapphire was unable to suppress a groan. Madame Jewel had appeared in the doorway, her blue eyes dark with concern.

“Gabe?”

“Please send for the sheriff or one of the deputies, chiquita,” Mr. Gabe addressed his partner. “There’s been an accusation of theft.”

“I didn’t steal his watch!” Sapphire pleaded. It took every ounce of her self-control to grow still but she managed it, eventually standing rigid in Gabriel’s hold. “He says I took it, Madame Jewel, but I’m not a thief! I swear it! And then he refused to pay me and called me a whore—”

“And then she decided to beat on him,” Gabriel interjected drily. “Go and get a lawman over here now, Jewel.”

The tall, elegant blonde turned on her heel and disappeared, leaving the three of them alone in Sapphire’s room once more.

“Can I let go of you now, or are you going to launch yourself at Mr.– I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Gabriel addressed Eyebrows as if they were at a tea party.

“Clark.”

“Are you going to attack Mr. Clark again?”

Sapphire wanted to claw the man’s eyes out but she was well aware of the methods Mr. Gabe used to discipline unruly gems, and didn’t really fancy finding herself on the receiving end ever again. Although it might be too late for that already. “No, sir,” she said quietly. “I’ll be good.”

She hadn’t realized how comforting Gabriel’s arm had been until he slid it from around her waist.

“Good? Her? That thievin’ little harlot belongs in jail,” Eyebrows huffed.

“That’s enough,” Gabe snapped, his handsome face hard as he glared at the man standing opposite them. “I won’t have you disrespecting any of my girls.”

Your girls? How’s that? You break ’em in before they start whoring here, is that it? Ride ’em nice and hard to get ’em ready for the paying customers?”

Knowing Mr. Gabe, knowing how deeply and paternally he cared for all the gems under his roof and how absolutely besotted he was with Madame Jewel, Sapphire held her breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion.

But nothing happened. Gabriel stood still, the only sign of his anger a slight twitching of the muscle in his jaw. “Once a lawman has arrived and set this matter straight,” he said slowly, “you will leave this saloon and you will never, ever set foot in this establishment again. Otherwise you’ll be leaving again—on your back.”

Eyebrows didn’t have time to reply as a breathless Jewel reappeared in the doorway. “Jeb wasn’t available,” she said apologetically. “But I brought Deputy Slade instead.”

Sapphire had heard about Culpepper Cove’s new deputy—her friend and fellow gem Coral had had an unpleasant encounter with him when she’d gone to spring Bo out of jail—but nothing had prepared her for the sheer presence of the man when he stalked into her room. Tall, impossibly broad shouldered, with long, shaggy dark hair which curled over his collar and a piercing glare, he loomed over her and made her bedroom, which she’d always found spacious, suddenly seem small and poky.

“What’s the problem?” he said curtly, addressing Gabe straight over Sapphire’s head.

“She’s the problem!” Eyebrows yelled, pointing at Sapphire. “That no good little wh—”

“That’s enough, Mr. Clark!” Gabriel cut him off mid-insult. Taking a deep breath, he put a restraining hand on Sapphire’s arm, almost as if he could read her thoughts. “Mr. Clark here seems to be under the impression that Sapphire has taken his watch. She has denied it and, to be honest, I don’t think she would ever steal; not from anyone.”

Deputy Slade’s slate-grey eyes traveled the length of Sapphire’s body, from the toes of her boots to the top of her head. She was suddenly acutely aware of her state of undress and felt herself grow hot.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” the deputy said, once more turning to address Gabriel.

“She also attacked me!” Eyebrows drew himself up to his full height, although even then he barely reached the deputy’s shoulders. “I asked for my watch back and she just jumped me like some savage squaw!” He narrowed his eyes at Sapphire. “You got injun blood in you?”

Before she could reply, Gabriel held up a hand. “I said, that’s enough, Mr. Clark!”

“You need to arrest her. She attacked me.” The man was not to be cowed.

“You already said that,” Deputy Slade told him. “Young lady, you’ll need to come with me.”

“What?” A trickle of panic began to slide down Sapphire’s spine. “What for?”

“Theft and assault.”

“Now look here,” Madame Jewel began, “I really don’t think that will be necessary. We can search for Mr. Clark’s watch right now, and any other disciplinary measures can be handled here if need be. These are our girls and we take responsibility for them.”

“You sent for me,” the deputy said. “This matter is my responsibility now. And so this young lady is coming with me.”

As his big, warm hand clamped around Sapphire’s upper arm, she felt such a tingle in the pit of her belly that the breath almost left her body. She was barely even aware of Eyebrows’s snort of satisfaction.

“Good riddance. You throw her in a cell and lock that little thief up, Deputy.”

“Please,” Sapphire whispered. “He still owes me five dollars. He got his dance and he never paid. If anyone’s a thief, it’s him!”

The deputy raised an eyebrow. “His dance?”

“Yes!”

“I’ve heard it called a lot of things in my time, but never that,” Slade said.

“What? No! No, I swear, it really was just a dance! Do you really think I would… with that—”

“Sapphire!” Gabe’s voice easily carried above hers. “It seems as though you have no choice but to accompany Deputy Slade to the jailhouse. However, Jewel will go with you—”

“No she won’t,” Slade cut in. His lip curled up in a mocking smile. “Why? You think Sapphire needs a chaperone?”

“That jail cell is full of drunks and real criminals!” Jewel protested hotly. “Of course she needs to take someone with her. If not me, then Mr. Vasquez can surely—”

“No-one is going with her. And there’s no need to worry. She won’t be harmed. It’s a quiet night and she’ll get her own cell. I’ll send for you when she’s permitted visitors.”

“Visitors?” Sapphire was unable to stop herself from squeaking. “How long will I be there for?”

“As long as it takes,” the deputy said.

“I hope you rot in there,” Eyebrows spat. Only the searing iron grip Mr. Slade had on her arm stopped Sapphire from trying to land another punch to his smug, ugly face.

“Well, I hope you rot in hell!” she snarled back at him.

The deputy seemed amused. “She’s got a temper, this one, huh?”

“Only when I’m accused of things I didn’t do!”

“Are you absolutely sure we can’t simply settle the matter here?” Madame Jewel tried again, her exquisite features drawn into an expression of almost motherly concern.

“Ma’am, I can assure you that the girl will be quite safe. Like I said, I will send for you when it’s time. Mr. Clark, I’d appreciate it if you could please come to the sheriff’s office tomorrow at your leisure and give a statement.”

Once more the despicable little critter drew himself up to his full diminutive height. “I will, sir, you can count on it.”

As the huge, inscrutable man began to drag her away, Sapphire turned to Gabriel. “Please, Mr. Gabe, make sure he doesn’t leave without paying.”

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I have everything under control,” Gabe said, although the tension was still visible in his jaw. “We’ll have you back home in no time, and I’ll make sure Mr. Clark here settles his accounts. Deputy?”

Slade paused just outside the door, his hand still clamped around Sapphire’s upper arm. His fingertips are actually touching his thumb, his hand is so big, she realized in wonder.

“Yes?”

“If we don’t hear from you within two hours, either Madame Jewel or myself will be visiting the sheriff’s office to see what the delay is. Please don’t forget that Sheriff Justice is a good friend of ours.” His eyes flicked to Sapphire. “And a good friend to all the girls.”

“Understood.” Slade tipped his hat and set off at a brisk pace, with Sapphire trotting along beside him to keep up with his long stride.

The sick, churning excitement in her belly turned to sheer mortification when the pair descended the stairs. She’d been so focused on being unjustly accused and having to go to jail and deal with the law that she hadn’t even thought about the fact that they’d be leaving through the saloon itself, in full view of all the guests and, even worse, the other gems.

Once again, a prickling heat suffused her face as countless pairs of eyes swiveled to take in the sight of the big deputy escorting her through the room, his grip on her arm seeming to grow tighter by the second.

“Saph! Are you all right? What’s going on?” Opal’s beautiful dark eyes were wide with concern as she rushed up to her friend. Emerald and Dottie were right behind her.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” Sapphire said between gritted teeth. “I’ll be back soon.”

Opal looked her over. “They didn’t even let you put on a shawl?”

Following her friend’s gaze, Sapphire looked down and grimaced as she realized her black corset was loose and only half-laced, exposing far more of her bosom than she usually did when she was downstairs, working the room. “Anyone you catch looking at these owes me a dollar,” she said, trying to make light of her complete humiliation.

Opal grinned. “Split the proceeds fifty-fifty and we have ourselves a deal,” she shot back.

The deputy’s deep, gravelly voice was loud enough to carry above the general clinking of glasses, murmured conversation and barks of laughter always prevalent in the saloon. “Come along now, miss, I don’t have all night.”

“Can’t afford it!” someone shouted, to bellows of mirth.

“Ouch!” Sapphire squealed as Slade’s hand tightened yet further on her arm and he steered her swiftly out into the night, leaving Opal, Emerald and Dottie huddled together, staring after them.