Authors: S.E. Gilchrist
S. E. GILCHRIST
DESIRE FOR LOVE
Copyright© 2016 S. E. GILCHRIST
All Rights Reserved
The right of Suzanne Hamilton writing asS. E.Gilchristto be identified as the author has been asserted byher under theCopyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000.
This story is dedicated to:
For my wonderful children, Kerstie, Kyle and Blake–you are always my soul.
For my mother for her courage and strength.
For my father for sharing with me his love of the seaand this great country of ours.
And for my brothers, Michael, Paul & Peter – thankyou for sharing my childhood and giving me such great memories.
For Phil, for all those magic moments.
Last but not least - for my wonderful CP’s &friends – Sandie James, Juanita Kees, Erin Moira O’Hara, and Kerrie Paterson.
Also byS. E. GILCHRIST
SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE
Darkon Warriors series:
Legend Beyond the Stars
Awakening the Warriors
Star Pirate’s Justice
When Stars Collide
Bargain with the Enemy
Touring the Stars
The Slave Trap
Mars Academy Series:
Paying the Forfeit
Storm of Fire
Don’t Look Back (Warders of Earth)
Dance in the Outback
Cowboy under the Mistletoe (A WingarobbaOutback Romance)
Bindarra Creek Makeover (A Bindarra CreekRomance)
The Cowboy’s Gift (A Wingarobba OutbackRomance)
FANTASY/ANCIENT WORLDS EROTIC ROMANCE
Bound by Love
Bound by Lies
Book 1 in the Search for Home series
The Paper Cowboy (A Wingarobba OutbackRomance)
Alsoby S. E. GILCHRIST
Copyright© 2016 S. E. Gilchrist
FROM THE AUTHOR:
From the living room oftheir small rental, the chimes of the antique clock Madeline had been unable toresist buying at a local garage sale rang out the half hour. She came flyingout of her bedroom, a partially packed duffle bag clasped in one hand andattempting to brush her long hair with the other.
“That can’t be the time.Please, Matty, tell me that isn’t the time?” She shoved her brush into theduffle and scooped up her only pair of black-smut-bitch stilettos as she paddedacross the scarred timber floor in her bare feet.
Her brother barelymanaged to lift his eyes from the game he was playing on the television.“Dunno.”
“You are no help.”Madeline squeezed one foot into a strappy stiletto while continuing to hoptoward the front door.
Heaving a heavy sigh asif he’d been asked to dig a trench from Karim, Texas all the way to New Orleanssingle-handedandwith a spoon, Matty pushed aside his game console andchecked his mobile. “Yep. Seven thirty on the dot. You’re gonna be late.”
“Tell me something Idon’t know already.”
“You’ve still got yoursleep pants on.”
Madeline froze and stareddown at where, sure enough, her full-length, candy pink pants patterned withyellow dogs wearing purple sunglasses covered her legs. Why oh why, hadn’t shefinished dressing in her work clothes the minute she’d gotten out of theshower? But no, instead she’d pulled her comfort pants on without a secondthought. That damn meeting at the high school and the consequent announcementthat Karim Academy was increasing its fees. She’d been so rattled she’d totallyforgotten she was on roster for work tonight. “Oh, my God!”
“Chill, sis. They looklike sweat pants.”
“No, they don’t. Theylook like pajamas. Shit! I don’t have time to change.”
Her brother made a bigshow of tapping a finger against his mobile to remind her of the passing oftime.
“I know. I know. Okay.”Madeline pushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Do your homework and don’tforget to take out the trash. And bedtime is strictly nine o’clock.”
“Come on. I’ve got aphysics test tomorrow.”
Madeline made furioushand gestures indicating his game console. “You could be studying now insteadof fooling about on-line.”
“You’re just pissed thatschool meeting ran over-time.”
“Nine-thirty. No later.And you’re right. Your principal wouldn’t stop talking. All that crap aboutrising costs and teachers’ salaries.” She stopped, not wanting to keep ventingand knowing her brother was concerned about their tight finances. Although, heliked to pretend otherwise. She smiled, relieved when he grinned back.
“I’ve gotta go. I’llchange at work.” She reached over and planted a kiss on her brother’s mop ofstraight brown hair. “Make sure the door’s locked.”
“Don’t stress, sis. I’mfifteen, not a baby.”
No, he wasn’t a baby buthe was all the family Madeline had and she didn’t intend to take any chanceswhere he was concerned. Especially as their rental house was situated in afairly rough neighborhood smack bang on the edge of gang territory.
It’s all I can afford andit won’t be forever.“Just do it. Okay?” Sheslipped on her other shoe.
“’Kay.” Matty picked uphis console, no doubt already dismissing his sister from his mind.
Madeline rolled her eyesand hauled her thick, red and green checked overcoat with attached hoodie overher scarlet corset and wrapped a white woolly scarf several times around herneck.
She hustled out the doorand down the three steps onto the cracked cement path to where their rustbucket of a Chevy was parked at the curb. The sedan was thirsty on the gas, butwas built like a tank which gave Madeline some peace of mine with Matty eagerto get his driving license as soon as legally possible.
Night had fallen. Theirroad was poorly lit by the few street lights that remained un-smashed by thestreet gangs. A cold wind picked up, rustling dry leaves from the ancient DrakeElm tree planted in their front yard and she hopped into the car with a sigh ofrelief. There was something eerie about the sound that had sent a quiver overher skin. Shaking off her momentary unease, she cranked the engine and reachedfor her seat belt.
She headed to the centerof town as fast as she dared. The last thing she needed at the moment was aspeeding ticket. Driving with one hand on the steering wheel, she slapped onmakeup with the other. Whenever she stopped at the lights to wait for them toturn green, she peered at her reflection in the mirror.
Every so often, shewriggled her toes to increase circulation. The car’s heater wasn’tworking—again—and Madeline’s feet were rapidly becoming numb. Her breath madesmall clouds of fog inside the cold car as she blew on first one hand and thenthe other, to warm her freezing fingers. With the temperature rapidly droppingto its forecast of thirty-one degrees, just the thought of how cold it wasoutside had her shivering.
One day. One day, I’ll beable to say goodbye to this job forever. Move to a decent neighborhood. Get adecent car.
It wasn’t that shedisliked working at the Club. In fact, she enjoyed her position as a female Domand, she had to admit, she reveled in having a man on his knees in front ofher. But it wasn’t her forever job. On a very basic level, she suspectedremaining at the Club kept her from moving on emotionally from her difficultchildhood.
And there were times whenshe wondered whether her joy in forcing a man to submit was merely her way ofpunishing the guy who’d planted his seed in her teenage mother and never cameback.
Her shoulders slumped andshe huddled deeper into her jacket.Enough of this psychoanalysis bullshit.Who cared what her reasons were? All that mattered was she had a well-payingjob that was funding her plans for the future. And she’d do whatever wasnecessary to keep a roof over their heads and give her younger brother theopportunities she never had. She would keep their little family of twotogether. Matty would get a good education. He would have choices and if allwent according to Madeline’s schedule, they’d both be on their way to a newlife. The outcome all hinged on Madeline finishing her degree and keeping herbrother at the prestigious Karim Academy. And most importantly, away from thepossibility of being sucked into the shadowy world inhabited by the gangs thatprowled this end of town.
At the next corner, shetook a hard right then the third turn to the left onto Gerome Street, slowingas she searched for a parking lot not too far from the Club’s entrance. Sheparked several doors down, locked the Chevy, and pulled on a pair of glovesover her stiff fingers. Duffle in hand, she strode past two bars that thumpedwith hard rock and the roar of noisy crowds.
At least the street waswell lit, with old fashioned wrought iron lamp posts. Although situated in theold section of the city, the area was reasonably affluent with its darkarchitecture and narrow windows.
Madeline smirked. Nodoubt from all the business the Club threw to the other bars and cafes nearby.
Her heels clattered onthe stone pavement as she approached the Club. Situated on the corner and threelevels high with no windows on the ground level, it dominated its smallerneighbors with its aura of danger. Or was it the forbidden? There were severalbalconies on the upper levels, but all the doors were closed, and the upperwindows curtained.
Madeline eyed the blackdoor, wondering over the unusual reluctance that suddenly gripped her.Justanother work day.She wiped her clammy hand over the side of her coat beforeplacing it on the scanner.
There was a click and thedoor swung silently open to reveal a large marble-tiled foyer manned by one ofthe regular security guys, Ezekiel Harding. Black shades covered his eyes, andhis face remained expressionless as he stared Madeline up and down as shewalked inside.
“Nice outfit, Frosty.What is it, a twisted take on a new BDSM role-play?” A grin split his face ashe rocked back on his Italian, hand-made boots and took another long look ather.
“You’ll never know.”Madeline deliberately refrained from making a big deal over the name she’dearned for herself amongst both the staff and the clientele of the Club. Sheknew it stemmed from her continued aloof attitude. This was work, which in hereyes meant maintaining a professional façade at all times.
Besides, her feelings hadbeen well and truly locked away the day she discovered her prostitute motherdead from an overdose on the floor of their trailer.
Orphaned at sixteen,destitute, and with the role of mother to her four-year old half-brother thrustupon her, she’d been desperate to avoid social services and the possibility ofbeing separated from her brother. They’d stayed off the radar with Madelinetaking any work she could get—washing dishes, working at truck stops, waitingtables. They’d lived in squats at first, then graduated into a tiny bed-sitterthat remained their home for a couple of years until she’d landed the job atthe Club, thanks to Jet Mak. He’d taken a chance on employing a girl withlittle experience, but Madeline hoped she’d made it up to him by working hardand abiding by the Club’s rules.
With the irregular hoursand often late nights working at the Club and with her family commitments, shehad little time to spare for making friends. And certainly hadn’t activelysought a long term relationship for herself. She’d learnt early on that guyswho professed an interest in her, were only after one thing; a quick fuck,another notch on their bedpost. Just like all the men who’d walked so casuallyand so damned callously in and out of her fragile mother’s life.
Just like all those otherguys, they certainly weren’t interested in anything more long term. Not whenthey realized Madeline came with a brother.
Never, never would shegive her brother up and lose him in the system.
When the Club initiallyopened its doors, she was one of the first to apply for employment. Fantasticwages, tight security, and hours with a bit of wiggle room that allowed her toplay an active part in Matty’s life.
She took a firmer grip onher duffle bag and went to brush past Harding.
“Hold on a sec, Frosty.You’re to report to Roberta the moment you arrive.” He hesitated a beat beforeadding, “Be careful, she’s up to something.”
“Thanks, Ezekiel. Iappreciate the warning.” She passed through the first door on the right thathoused the evening security office and climbed the stairs to the next floor,thereby avoiding having to walk through the Club and maybe scare off any earlypatrons with her manner of dress.
She kept going to thethird floor, where the room she normally used was located and where hersupervisor, Roberta Sangrini, had her office next to one of the owner’s suites.Taking a deep breath, she knocked once on the door and without waiting for aresponse entered.
Roberta sat behind a deskworking on what looked like the roster for the coming month. She didn’t look upand pointed at a chair facing the desk.
Repressing her sigh,Madeline sat as indicated, placing her duffle on her lap and hoping by doingso, an argument about her clothes could be averted.
Apparently, not a chance.
“I saw you arrive on thesecurity screens.” Roberta leaned back and eyed Madeline coldly. “What the helldo you think you’re doing coming to work dressed like some homeless whore.”
This woman was a totalbitch.Remember Matty’s school fees. Remember the rent. Remember the plan.“Iwas running late. Anyway, it’s early. There shouldn’t be too many puntershere.”
“That’s beside the point.You know the rules. The second you walk in the Club’s door, you become theClub. You are a walking, talking advertisement for us. This is your finalwarning, Marigold.”
By using super humaneffort, Madeline managed not to roll her eyes. What was with Roberta’sinsistence on all the girls who worked in her section using flower names? Itwas dumb. And so was Roberta’s chosen persona;Honeysuckle.
“Are you smiling?”Roberta said in a voice that could have frozen hell.
“No, it’s a nervoushabit,” Madeline quickly improvised.
“Mmmm.” Roberta picked upa pen and tapped it on the desk. Nowshesmiled one of her saccharinsmiles and all Madeline’s senses went on high alert. It was never a good thing,when her supervisor was amused. It meant trouble for someone.
“I have a specialappointment for you tonight.”
Madeline frowned. “Whatabout my regular?”
“She cancelled. Somethingabout her mother in the nursing home.”
“Oh no. I hope it’snothing serious. I know how close she is to her mom.”
“Who cares? How about weconcentrate on your job? Now.” Roberta steepled her fingers together. “There’sbeen a bet placed in the Club and it concerns you. It’s a very impressive scoreand the Club’s managers are keen that the house wins. I hope you understand.”
Madeline’s heartbeatkicked up a beat. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Listen and stopinterrupting. Several high-rollers have a bet going amongst themselves that oneof them can claim your cherry. Full sexual penetration with a partner chosen bythem.”
“My contract does notstipulate that necessity,” Madeline said quickly. Her specialty was sexualrelease through total domination and she rarely had to worry about a lack ofclients.
“Of course it doesn’t,”Roberta responded smoothly. “That’s the beauty of the bet. You do your job asusual and the Club wins the bet.”
“No way. I don’t want anypart of this demeaning idea.”
“You don’t have a choice.I’ve been reviewing the roster. Club attendance has been down the past fewweeks, which means your hours will be cut by half. If you do as you’re askedtonight and the Club wins, there’ll be a nice bonus for you.”
“Does Jet know aboutthis?” Madeline asked, referring to the Club’s owner.
“Who do you thinkorganized it?” Roberta pushed her chair back and rose to her feet, her face ashard as set concrete. “Let me be completely clear about this, Marigold. You doyour job and you get paid. If you don’t? There are plenty of girls out therewho’d jump at the chance at working here.”
Madeline set her jawfirmly. “I want to speak to Jet. He’s the one who hired me.”
“That’s out of thequestion. He’s not at the Club tonight as he’s taken personal leave.”
“Then I want his privatemobile number.”
Roberta stared down hertoo perfect nose. “You are already fifteen minutes late. Your client has had tobe placated with two free drinks already. How much more money do you expect theClub to lay out just to satisfy your trust issues? If you can’t do the job,then there is the door. And don’t expect to be allowed back.”
Madeline fiddled with hercoat zipper.How hard could it be?There’d been plenty of times when she’dbeen tempted in the past by a handsome face or a charming smile, but she’dalways held back. The trauma of witnessing first-hand the life of a woman who’dgone down the path of selling her body to anyone with a dollar in their pocketremained carved bone deep.
On the rare occasionswhen Madeline sought male company, she’d done it on her own private time byhitting one of the nightclubs and taking a guy to a hotel room. It might havesounded sleazy to others, but keeping it casual was how she wanted it.
At the Club, Madeline hadresisted men—and women—before. And there certainly had been plenty of themeager to fuck her completely, but she’d perfected her role playing down to afine art. The client received their sexual satisfaction in other ways without theneed for actual screwing. There was no reason tonight could be any harder thanany other night.
This bet didn’t soundlike something Jet would be involved in, but the lure of extra money wastempting. Even if this was some set-up of Roberta’s, then Madeline wouldn’tlose out of it. The bonus would come in very handy. Now that there was lesswork hours available and with Karim Academy’s higher school fees, she’d need todip into her savings in order to eat and pay this month’s power bill. Thatmeant her plans would be pushed further out of her reach.
She lifted her chin.“I’ll get ready. Five minutes is all I need. What room am I in tonight?”
“Check the board. I’vealready organized the rooms.”
“Fine.” Madeline ignoredthe triumph blazing from the other woman’s eyes.Focus on the money andMatty. All I have to do is my usual job for two hours. Piece of cake.Chapter Two
Inside the blood-redroom, Harrison checked out the security cameras. There was no attempt to hidetheir presence from customers, which told him the Club took the welfare oftheir staff and customers seriously. From what he could discern, every squareinch of the room was covered.
But it did give him a bitof the willies, knowing there were eyes evaluating his every move.
He gulped down anothermouthful of the Tequila Sunrise he’d been handed by a very pretty brunettewho’d entered five minutes ago to apologize for the delay.
Harrison didn’t mind. Thewait gave him more time to think, to plan his strategy. Doubt hit him suddenly.What in blue blazes am I doing here? I must have rocks in my head to thinkthis will work.He took another swallow, the bite of the alcohol hit hisstomach, and he decided he’d had enough.I need to have my wits about me ifI’m to succeed.The two free drinks could be a ploy to get him drunk so hissession would be over before he knew it.I’ll probably need every secondI’ve got, he thought wryly and set the glass down on the coffee table.Going by her reputation, Madeline is no push-over.
His gaze traveled the richcrimson brocade-papered room to linger for a few heady minutes on the massivebed with its red satin sheets, covered with a simulated bear rug, and piles ofsoft. squishy-looking cushions. Ornate mirrors adorned the walls, apart fromone wall where an interesting array of sex toys were displayed in prominentview. Ball gags, whips, paddles, cuffs, restraints, collars, and what hethought were spiked pin wheels. A spanking bench with padded arm and knee restssat to one side of the room. He’d visited one or two similar establishments inSydney before he took this current job offer over here in the States. No bonesabout it, this place beat the others hands down, for its promise ofsophisticated and sensual gratification of all the senses. Strewth, just lookingaround him had him hardening as stiff as a four-be-two plank of timber. Aboutto walk over and inspect the props more carefully, he paused when he heard therattle of the door handle.
The door opened and inshe walked.
It was if all the air wassucked out of Harrison’s lungs. He stood stock still, knowing he probablylooked like a prize galah with his tongue hanging out, but for the life of him,he couldn’t seem to pull himself together.
She was everything he’dimagined.
Everything he’d dreamtabout.
Everything he’d everwanted.
And all he had to do wasturn her around to his way of thinking and Bob was his uncle, as they said inhis part of the world
Clad in a bright redcorset, black lace G-string panties that barely covered her femininity, and withher blonde hair pulled back into a thick braid, she walked to the center of theroom and paused. She placed her hands on her hips in a way that thrust herpelvis forward and sent the blood rushing feverishly to his balls.
He took his time,examining every inch of her. She was tall, maybe two inches shorter than he,built along the lines of an Amazon with full, high breasts, small waist, flatstomach, and long, long shapely legs. Her face was more square than oval withlarge, green eyes outlined by black makeup, a small roman nose, and wide fulllips glistening with red lip gloss curved into a practiced smile that was morechallenge than amusement. He imagined sinking into her lush body, feeling herarms and legs wrapped strongly around him, her face, flushed with pleasure, hereyes glowing with more than desire as she gasped his name.
He blinked and tucked thefantasy—no, his secret longing—securely into the back recesses of his mind.
There was no warmth inher clear eyes. Rather she swept her gaze over him in a disconcerting fashion,more like a science professor than a would-be lover. If he thought she’d be adumb blonde, he was dead wrong. Her demeanor screamed cool, remote rather thancome-hither. Despite all he had riding on the outcome, he relished theseaspects of her personality.
Bless her little cottonsocks.
He grinned and rubbed hishands together, and watched her frown as if he wasn’t the person she’d expectedto see.
“Problems, love?” Hereleased one button on his shirt.
“Not wasting any time, Isee.” Her voice came out dry.
Harrison laughed. Thiswas going to be fun. “I intend to get to know you intimately, Marigold.”
A shadow crossed her faceand he bet pounds to peanuts it was because of his use of her work name. Hedidn’t blame her.
“What is?” Her hands fellfrom her hips and she stared at him.
Ahh, a tiny crack in thatfrozen armor.He’d aroused curiosity and heintended to arouse a hell of a lot more. “This crap about you having to use aflower name; it’s so corny.”
She shrugged and theflesh of her breasts above the tight corset jiggled. “It’s only a name. Icouldn’t care less.”
Liar.But Harrison had learned something else about her. She didn’t lie with ease. Ahint of pink heightened her cheekbones.
He undid another twobuttons, watching with interest as her gazed flicked to his chest then back upto his face. “So what’s your real name?” He’d already made it his business tofind out but wanted to see whether she’d tell him.
“It’s company policy notto give out that information.” She stared him down as coolly as a queen and hispulse quickened.
Strewth,she was gorgeous. He debated whether to admit he already knew it but before hecame to a decision, she turned her back and his tongue just about cleaved tothe roof of his mouth at the sight of her tight, rounded, backside nicelyrevealed by her high-cut corset and the miniscule G-string of lace that slippedsnug between her buttocks.
She strolled over to thewall and inspected the array of whips hanging from the pegs. “Any particularpreference? Hard or soft?”
“I can take whatever youcare to dish out, babe.”
The next moment she wasin his face, staring him down out of eyes that reminded him of the clear,blue-green waters of the sandy lagoon on Fitzroy Island off the coast ofQueensland and where he’d done his thesis for university. “There are rules thatyou will obey. First up, you only speak when I give you permission. Second, youwill address me as Mistress.”
“Is this your first timeat BDSM?” Frowning, she cast him another swift glance as she ran her forefingerlightly over the top of her corset. “Have you undergone training?”
“First time. But I wantedto learn from the best.” He grinned, his mouth watering as he imagined rippingat the toggles and scooping his hand inside to cup her breast. “Mistress,” headded.
“Damnit.” She raised hereyes to the ceiling and sighed. “You have no idea at all, do you?”
“I’m a quick study,Mistress.”
Triumph flashed acrossher face.
She thinks I’ll be a pushover. Hah! I have news for her.“I’m lookingforward to a long ride, Mistress.”
No trace of amusementnow. Instead, she scowled at him again and he had to resist leaning forward torub the tiny crease in her forehead away.
Her jaw tensed and shegritted out, “Let’s decide on your safe word.”
He rocked back on hisheels and smirked. “I won’t need one.”
She laughed. “Trust me.You will. For the next sixty minutes you belong to me. You will be totallydominated by me. You will submit to my every request, without a protest. If youspeak before I give you leave, you will be gagged. You will not touch me unlessI say you can and then only where I allow. You will not come, until or unless Igive you permission. If you disobey me in any way, you will be punished. And Iknow a lot of different ways to punish naughty boys.”
Geez, just hearing thosewords pour from her sweet lips gave him a hard-on. She hadn’t laid a finger onhim. Bloody hell, he hadn’t even touched her, and yet he was ready to spill hisload right here and now. Her gaze dropped to the bulge in his jeans and shegave a tiny smile.
“There will be nospanking the bacon until I’m through with you. If you attempt to do so, youwill be punished.” She walked back to him, dipped her hand low in between hislegs, and ran a finger forward towards his swollen balls.
His heart slammed againsthis ribcage. She dragged that bloody finger up and over his stiffy and damnedif he didn’t have to swallow his moan of pleasure.
Stepping back, her handdropping to her side, she said, “Take your pants, shoes, and socks off. Now.”
Hell, yeah.“Yes, Mistress.” Moving faster than he’d ever moved before, he undid his belt,unzipped his jeans, toed off his shoes, and all but threw his lower clothingoff his body. His cock poked out from under his shirt, proud, swollen,throbbing with his pulsing blood, and already dripping from his raging lust.
“I’ve seen bigger,” shesaid and sniffed.
Cheeky little witch.Harrison held his grin inside.
He rapidly undid theremaining buttons and flung the garment over his head. Breathing heavily, hebegan to mentally recite the alphabet backwards. Anything to slow down hisanimalistic need to leap upon her and take what he wanted so desperately. Shewas good at this—arousing a man with the merest of glances, a few lewdsuggestions, the slow wipe of her tongue over her lips. She was carnal heavenpersonified.
“Mmmm.” Finger tappingher mouth, she strolled in a casual manner around to stop behind him.
She must have leaned orstepped closer because he suddenly felt her blowing warm air down the length ofhis spine. Then lower over the crack of his backside. His hands fisted and hesqueezed his eyes shut. Man that felt good.
He could even hear herbreathing, she was so close.
Her hands cupped hisbackside, spreading his cheeks wide. She blew one long breath over hissensitized flesh.
He just about jumpedclean out of his skin.
Her hand connected hardagainst his bum. “I did not give you permission to move.”
Shit.Sweat broke out along his hairline.
She slapped him again.
Bloody hell. I think Ineed that safe word. “Love!” The word burstfrom him.
“My safe word. It’slove.” She must have leaned away from him because her breath no longer teasedhis skin. He thanked heaven for the brief reprieve.
“Seriously? That’s yoursafe word?” She sounded skeptical.
“Oh. Well, whatever.”
He visualized her rollingher eyes and allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction.
“Spread your legs apart.”
Eagerly, he obeyed.Whatnow?
Her hand slipped betweenhis parted legs to fondle his right ball. “Ahhhhhummpph,” he groaned.
A shudder wracked throughhim.
“Do.” Squeeze, release.
“Not.” Squeeze, release.
Gasping, his eyeswatering, his blood roaring like thunder in his ears, he nodded.Strewth, Idon’t know if I’m going to make the distance!
“Good, boy. Now, down onyour hands and knees.”
Madeline looked herclient over carefully. His position was erotic with his heavy balls and thick cockhanging down, his nicely packed buttocks displayed to perfection, the musclesin his forearms and shoulders bulging. Rather wonderingly, she touched herselfthrough her G-string, surprised to feel betraying dampness on her fingertip.
This guy was nothing likeshe’d expected. She’d assumed whoever had organized the bet would have gone fora Hollywood looker maybe a surfer blond or a Latino guy. Either way, one withsmooth features, a practiced smile, and a gym perfected body. Instead, she’dbeen handed a man with short, tree-bark brown hair who’d sent her sensesreeling the moment she laid eyes on him.
Sure, he was good-lookingbut more in an ordinary, everyday guy kind of way. Like someone you’d see outmowing his lawn or tinkering over the engine of his car, sleeves rolled up,grease on his hands. There was strength in the line of his jaw and the firmnessof his mouth. That twinkle in his amazingly bright, blue eyes was downrightdisconcerting.
Energy and a zest forlife rolled off him in waves.
For some strange, stupidreason she’d wanted to cry.
Would he have given her asecond glance if they’d met on the street? In the supermarket? A bar? Or wouldhe have walked on by, not noticing that she lived and breathed? That she’dliked the way his smile slammed straight towards her heart with the impact of apunch.
She stepped up to himagain and rubbed her aching mons against his hard backside, his barely caughtmoan delighting her. One thing was sure obvious, the guy had the hots for her,big time.
And oh Lordy, did shehave the hots for him, too.
Damn that bet.
Who would have thought,the one man who pulled at all her senses would wander into the Club and intoher BDSM room?
Her eyes flutteredhalf-closed as pleasure tingled through her from where she brushed against hishot skin. She wanted desperately to pull open her corset and feel her breastspress against his hardness. She wanted skin on skin.
He inhaled deeply, themotion arching his back, and Madeline gave into her desire. Not wanting tothink twice about it, she slipped off her G-string and laid down on top of him.
A delicious shiverpebbled over her skin as she rubbed her bare mons against him.
Her heartbeat thumpinglike mad, she slid her splayed hands over his sides and explored his chest.When her fingers found his nipples, she tugged hard. Three times before she lether hands drift over his flat stomach to where she teased the hair covering hisgroin.
He flung his head back.
His breathing was littlemore than guttural pants that triggered a primeval response deep inside her.
Startled, she slid offhim. Chest heaving and with a tiny flicker of fear trickling through her mind,she hurried over to the props table.I need to focus on my job, not someguy’s fine ass and blue eyes.
Almost blindly, shepicked up a thinly cushioned paddle and a leather whip.Make him beg for it.Make him lose it. Then I can get out of here and away from him.
She said, “You need to betaught who is in control.”Me. It has to be me. Then I’ll be safe.
Confidence restored, if atrifle shaky, she turned around and caught him staring with glazed eyes at herbare bottom. She walked toward him. His eyes never left her shaven mons. Helicked his lips. His shoulder line was taut and there was a lean, hungry castto his features that thrilled her deep to her bones.
“Do you want this?” Shetapped the shaft of the whip gently against her skin. Watching him closely, shestopped a few inches from him and slid the whip between her legs. Back andforth, ensuring the shaft was slick from her juices. Heart racing, she offeredit to him.
His tongue flicked outand licked furiously along the shaft.
She took a tiny stepcloser and whispered, “Do you want more?”
When he nodded, sheadded, “Then you may taste me.”
A savage groan split fromhis lips and before she could move, he reached out, grabbing her by thebuttocks and smashing her against his face. His mouth and nose movedfrantically over her skin. His tongue delved between her legs and lapped overher swollen labia. His breath was hot, branding her. The props fell from hernerveless fingers. He gulped, like he was drinking her juices and she graspedhis hair, urging him closer.
Her legs were turning tojelly.
Lust burned like firethrough her veins and throbbed like war-drums inside her head.OMG! I’mgoing to come.She trembled. Poised on the edge.
But his mouth left her.
She swayed as he surgedlike a powerful god to his feet. Dazed and consumed with a mind-numbing desirefor this man, her body demanding he feed her sexual needs, she offered noresistance when he swept her into his arms and carried her to bed.
He dropped her.
She fell onto the furrycover, the lush fibers tickling her skin. One slick move and he’d rolled herover onto her stomach and spread her legs. She heard the crackle of plastic andknew he was unwrapping a condom.
Wait.The word trembled on her lips only to die when he inserted his finger deep intoher vagina. Her hands clenched over the fur. He pushed further inside beforewithdrawing and rubbing his finger over and over her wet folds. His hand lefther and she began to push herself up onto her elbows. “Fun stuff is over. Youneed to get back into your role as a sub,” she mumbled.
“The fun is onlybeginning, babe. Feel me. Feel me while I fuck us both senseless.” He growled,bit her right bottom, then he reached around underneath her.
She heard him scrabblingabout the bedclothes and the next instant, he lifted her lower torso up withone hand while he placed a fetish position master covered with a thick, rough,hairy material under her. With her bum now higher than her head, he snapped thebuckle over her back, locking her in place. His hands grasped her thighs,pulling her legs further apart.
Breathing harshly, hemoved. His cock poked at her entrance. His hand brushed against her as he slidhis knob over her aching flesh. He sucked in a loud breath. Thrust. Madelinemoaned as he drove deeper and deeper, filling her emptiness with all his heat,hardness, and hungry need.
He thrust. Faster andfaster.
She could barely breathe.The air became rich with his musky scent and the ripe smell of sex thattantalized her senses. Her fingers clawed at the fur.
With each thrust, hernaked mons dragged up and down the position master. The roughness scraped overher skin. The combination of mild pain and the intense pleasure from hisfucking were mind blowing.
“Come with me, babe. Letme take you to our special place.”
He pounded into her, sofast he barely eased his cock out before he thrust again.
“Harder,” she pleaded,her eyes squeezed shut.
Groaning, he obliged andsent her plummeting into the most intense orgasm of her life. Ecstasy shotthrough her, blackening her vision even as bright light exploded in thedarkness. Her whole body pulsated in one mass of pure pleasure.
He grunted, stiffened,and shot his seed into the condom.
Panting, his body slickwith sweat, he rested on top of her while she fought to regain her senses.
“Not bad,” she managed.
“My hour’s not up.” Herolled over and undid the buckles before pulling her upright.
Breathless, still reelingfrom the pleasure that continued to ripple through her, she helped him flingback the fur cover to reveal the slinky silk sheets.
He lifted the top sheetand invited her to slip between them where he quickly joined her. Pulling thesheet up over until they were hidden from the eyes behind the security cameras,his mouth claimed hers.Chapter Three
Madeline sat on the edgeof the bed, wrapped in a red, satin sheet and stared at the business cardHarrison had pressed into her hand before he left. Talk about rocking herworld. She felt different, uncertain, like she’d been suddenly presented with abeautifully gift-wrapped box. If she unwrapped it, what would she find? Hope?Love? A different life to what she’d mapped out for herself? Or a bomb thatwould explode in her face and destroy everything she’d worked so hard to makehappen?
Of course, she couldsimply pretend nothing momentous had occurred; that the cage she’d built aroundherself hadn’t been thoroughly shaken.
Damn his ocean-deep blueeyes that gave the impression they glowed with more than desire for her. Withtenderness.
And damn his mighty finebody that had lured her into making what could end up being the biggest mistakeof her life.
Her gaze shot to thesecurity camera nestled in the closest corner of the room.
By now, Roberta wouldknow Madeline had lost the Club the bet.
Under cover of the sheet,Madeline pulled her clothes back on. Her fingers shook as she slid the thincardboard into the top of her corset. She shoved aside the sheet and, kneestrembling, pushed to her feet.
The door flung open withsuch force it slammed into the side wall and bounced back. If Roberta hadn’tbeen moving so fast, it would have whacked her in the face.
“What a major fuck up.What the hell were you thinking?” Roberta’s eyes blazed with fury, her face ashard as granite.
Had she been in thesecurity room the entire time watching? Madeline’s skin crawled at the thought.The top sheet had covered them, but only an idiot wouldn’t recognize themovements beneath.
There was nothingMadeline could say in her defense. And there was no way she’d indicate any ofthe confused emotions whirling inside her heart.
“And what the fuck areyou doing in this room? You’re supposed to be in the green one tonight.”
“The board saidTheRed Room.”
“You just cost m…I meanthe Club, a shitload of money. Nothing to say for yourself?” Roberta plantedherself in front of Madeline and leaned into her personal space. She squinted.“Oh.My. God,”she said, spacing out the words. “You fell for him. That’s rich.”Roberta laughed harshly. Leaning forward she spat, “You fool. He knew about thebet. He was working you the entire time. And you fell for it.”
I knew there was the possibilityhe was in on the bet.But there’d been no smugsatisfaction in his face and Madeline prided herself on her ability to readpeople. In her job, it was imperative to know how hard to push the dominance,when to ease off, when to give her clients a break.Surely I didn’t imaginethat expression of dazed awe?I must have if he was in on the bet. I’vebeen conned.Sick to her stomach, Madeline hugged her waist and went towalk out of the room.
“Don’t you dare turn yourback on me.” Roberta grabbed Madeline by the arm, pulling her to a stop. “Clearout your locker. You’re fired. Do you hear?”
Madeline raised her chin,while everything she possessed shook inside. “My contract is with Jet.”
“Consider it null andvoid. As your supervisor and…” Roberta paused and lifted a finger with a nailfiled to knife sharpness into the air “...since you have refused to performyour duty as requested by management, you are out of here.”
“I need to speak withJet.”
“That will get younowhere.”
“That bet…that bet wasdownright disgusting. I can’t believe Jet would have had anything to do withit.”
Roberta’s face turnedpurple.
Shit, she looks likeshe’s about to have a stroke.“I need this job.I’m sure if I could just speak with Jet, we could work something out.”
“Oh! Like how you canrepay half a million dollars? I don’t think so! You’re nothing but trailertrash and I want you out of here this minute. Or do I have to call security?”
Madeline repressed ashudder at the humiliation of being strong-armed out of the building. WhatRoberta was doing was probably illegal, but considering the rage the woman wasin, now wasn’t the time to debate the point.I’m not going to let this liethough.
Madeline said, “Thatwon’t be necessary. I expect to be paid for this week’s wages.”
“You’ll be paid for thehours you’ve worked and not a dollar more.”
“Let go of me before Isue you for assault.” Madeline shook her arm, dislodging the other woman’s handand stalked to the door, head high.I’m not going to cry. And certainly notin front of this bitch.
She’d hoped to have aquiet word with the other staff before she left, but Roberta walked behind herevery step of the way.I have Sasha’s address and I know she’s a friend ofBrittany’s. I’ll go over tomorrow and see if Sasha can give me Jet’s privateemail address or his mobile number.If that doesn’t work, I’ll seeklegal advice.
The following morning,Madeline dragged herself out of bed, showered, dressed in a flannel shirt overa T-shirt and sweat pants before staggering out to the kitchen to where herbrother was wolfing down a bowl of hot oatmeal.
“Wow. You look likeshit.”
She wasn’t surprised,having spent what was left of the night tossing and turning, worrying overtheir future. What was worse were the tears she spilled whenever her waywardthoughts turned to Harrison.You would have thought I’d learned my lesson bynow. I’m better off alone. Just me and Matty.Her vision blurred as shestared at her younger brother. “Tone down the language, Matty, please.”
“I left you some breakfast.Check the pot on the stove.” Matty turned his attention back to the textbook hewas reading as he ate.
“Thanks. Maybe later.”Madeline eyed her brother’s down bent head.Do I tell him I’ve been fired?Maybe I should wait until after I’ve spoken with Jet.She did some mentalarithmetic and calculated if they were careful, her savings would last five anda bit weeks. Plenty of time to sort out this mess. “I’ll drive you to school.It looks horribly cold outside.”
“Thanks, sis. Give meten.” He shoved to his feet and carted his empty bowl to the sink to rinse itout and place it on the drying rack. He shot her a quick grin as he grabbed hisbook in passing.
Alone, Madeline pushedaside the curtain and stared at the rain running down the pane. Looked like todaywas going to be miserable weather wise.Exactly how I feel.But I’mnot going down without a fight. If Roberta thinks she is going to get away withwhatever shady scheme she’s involved in, she is dead wrong.
She swiped up her handbagand car keys, and marched to the door where she pulled on a pair of flat-heeledboots and her overcoat.
“Okay, okay. Geez, giveme a break.” Her brother trundled down the hallway, grumbling while Madelineopened the front door.
The roads were slippery.The light drizzle falling from the sky wasn’t sufficient to wash away theresidue oil and grease left by the traffic. It took them longer than normal todrive to where Karim Academy was located in a more affluent section of town.
Madeline double-parked,leaving the engine running while her brother opened the passenger door.
He hopped out, then aboutto shut the door, ducked his head back inside to say, “I should have asked atbreakfast, but are you alright, sis?”
“I’m fine.” She smiled.“I didn’t sleep, that’s all.”
The driver in the carbehind leaned on the horn.
Matty frowned. “If someguy is giving you grief, let me know.”
Tears pricked Madeline’seyes. “I will. Now, shoo. The first bell’s sounded. You want me to pick youup?”
“That’ll be great but I’mstaying back to do some work in the lab. Later suits me better, sayfive-thirty?”
“It’s a date. Be good.”Smiling, Madeline waved him on his way and drove off. Out of sight, she pulledover to the curb to dry her cheeks and blow her nose. Fifteen but already showingsigns of the man he’d become. Looking out for his older sister.
She wiped away the lastof her tears.It’s not like me to be so emotional. Must be hormonal. Itcertainly has nothing to do with being suckered by a guy with an engaging grinand warm blue eyes.
After digging her mobileout of her handbag, she checked for messages, in particular looking for aresponse to the text she’d sent Jet’s business mobile last night.
Next she scrolled throughher list of contacts until she found Sasha Childs, who had been rostered on towork in the main bar last night. Madeline brought up the details and address.Of all the other staff in the Club, Sasha had always been the friendliest.She’d even sent Madeline a Christmas card with her address on it and aninvitation to come over any time. To date, Madeline had managed to come up withplausible excuses and as their working hours rarely aligned, she’d been able toavoid alienating Sasha with her reluctance to be friends.
She checked the time.Nine o’clock. Probably a bit early for a visit for a woman who’d worked most ofthe night before but Madeline didn’t want to waste any time. She needed thisjob issue sorted, fast.
She tossed her mobileonto the seat and pulled out into the traffic. Sasha lived in a new apartmentbuilding situated in the old quarter of town. Some enterprising developer hadpulled down the gloomy Victorian structure that originally stood on theallotment and built an imposing building of glass and pre-cast cement paintedblack. Madeline had to cruise around two blocks to find a parking spot and thenslog her way back to the apartment, huddled deep in her overcoat.
After pressing the buzzerto Sasha’s apartment, Madeline stamped her feet and shivered as a blast of icywind buffeted her. When Sasha tinny voice asked who was there, Madeline spokeher name. The lock released and she hurried inside to take the elevator to thefourth floor. Sasha answered on her third knock, only opening the door a crackrevealing her swollen, red-rimmed eyes and a white woolly dressing gown sheclutched at her chest.
“Madeline. You shouldn’tbe here,” she said in a flat tone.
Madeline frowned. Therewas a hard-edged note in her work colleague’s voice she’d never heard before.“Is everything okay with you?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Um, I don’t know, youlook…. My mistake. I’m sorry for barging in on you like this, but you’re theonly one who can help me. I need Jet’s private mobile number or email address.Or even Brittany in accounts. I’ve tried their business ones and haven’t hadany luck.”
“Not gonna happen.” Sashamade to close the door.
Madeline pushed againstit with her full body weight. “Wait. Please. I don’t know what you’ve heard butI need this info.”
“Shit, Madeline, it’s allaround the Club. Probably all around Karim by now, too. I can’t help you. Noway do I want a police record as an accessory.”
“What?” Madeline’s heartthundered in her ears. “What are you talking about?”
“You stole money from oneof your clients. Took it from his wallet while he was showering. Roberta saysthe client intends to sue the Club and its owners personally and report you tothe cops. We’ve all been told not to speak to you in case we come undersuspicion too and investigated as accessories or worse, that we’re involved ina bigger scam. Roberta hinted there’s money missing from the bar till lastnight before you left.”
Madeline squeezed hereyes shut for a moment, remembering how she’d helped herself to a small glassof white wine. And how the bar crew had been busy retrieving dirty glasses froma party in another room. There’d been no one around at the time.Shit.She’dopened the till and placed a five-dollar bill inside as payment—that meant herfingerprints would be all over it.
Her stomach knotted ascold sweat formed along her spine. “None of that’s true,” whispered Madeline.Whatthe hell is happening? What money? And what client?She’d only had the onelast night and look what a disaster that turned out to be.
“Honey, all I know isthat security has been beefed up, there’s talk of warrants for the cops to pokethrough our lockers, and all the vid feeds for the past month are beingscrutinized by the suits. You, Madeline, are a strictly no go zone.”
The police?“Sasha,you have to help me. It’s imperative that I speak to Jet. Or Brittany, ifpossible.” She dragged in a deep breath to steady her racing pulse and tried tothink logically. “You let me into your building. You didn’t have to do that andthat tells me you want to help.”
The other girl sighed. “Iguess I’m finding it hard to believe it’s true. I wanted to hear what you hadto say about it.”
“I appreciate that,Sasha. I swear none of it is true. I don’t know what’s going on but I need achance to clear my name before things get out of control.”
“Honey, they are way outof control. Look, best I can do is give you Jet’s email. I don’t know if it’sgoing to be of any help though because last I heard he was incommunicable. He’sout of the state, in vacation mode. Wait here.”
The door closed.
Madeline stood in the passagewayand waited until Sasha re-opened the door, slipping a piece of paper throughthe crack.
“If it’s of anyconsolation, Beebee, who works the bar with me some nights, reckons she’s goingto look into it, although what she thinks she can do is anyone’s guess. Goodluck and remember, you didn’t get this address from me.”
The door slammed shut andthis time Madeline heard the lock engage. She was on her own.
All the way home, shekept expecting a cop car to sweep up to her at any moment and order her to pullover. Panicky thoughts chased themselves inside her mind like squirrels onspeed. Matty. His future. Their mother lying dead on the floor in a pool ofvomit, her eyes staring at eternity. Harrison. Roberta and that shitty bet. Theimpossibility of achieving her goal as a paralegal if she was charged withtheft. Even the whiff of being under investigation would be sufficient to tainther chances of employment in that area.
And she was so close.
She’d been working on heronline degree so hard, paying down the fees as and when she could over the pastfour years while working at the Club. With only one final exam to pass, thenext step would be applying for work in a law firm for a year while shecontinued with fifteen hours a week legal education. Then, if all wentaccording to plan, she could apply to the State Bar of Texas for membership.God, if she could never break away into a new career, how much would thatjeopardize her brother’s future?
Shit.There was more than her new career at stake here.
There was her freedom.
The knowledge that she’dlet Matty down.
That he could lose hisplace at the Academy, be sucked into one of the local gangs. Drugs. Violence. Asordid death.
With a start, sherealized she was driving down her street and coming up to her house. Her heartraced, slamming against her rib cage. Her head pounded. The palms of her handswere sweaty. She was on the verge of panic attack. Gasping for air, she pulledover and turned off the engine and windshield wipers. The street was quiet, therain and cold wind keeping people inside their homes. Her hands clenched on thesteering wheel as a car turned into the street. She squeezed her eyes shut fora second. When she opened them, the car turned into her neighbor’s driveway twodoors down and disappeared from sight. It wasn’t a cop car.
I need to focus. Get ahold of myself. Think!
She locked the Chevy andhurried inside the house where she kicked off her boots. Still in her overcoat,she perched on the edge of the sofa and reached for Matty’s old laptop. Areconditioned model, several years old, and Madeline’s now after she’d givenher brother an iPad for Christmas.
After staring at thescreen for several minutes, she composed an email explaining everything thathad happened from the moment she’d stepped into the Club last night andincluded what Sasha had told her this morning. She ended by saying that she’dnever stolen from either the Club or its patrons and asking Jet to phone hermobile as soon as possible. She hit the send button and wasted another hourwaiting for a response of some kind to no avail.
What if Jet was unable toget back to her for hours? Days even? Anything could happen during that time.She could be charged with theft, Matty hauled off to Social Services. Theirwhole lives down the toilet because of someone’s lies. Could it be a client wasunhappy with their session? But who? There’d certainly never been anyindication any of her clients had been left unsatisfied. Unless it was Roberta,but surely she wouldn’t go this far out of spite?
She pressed her hand toher throbbing forehead, barely able to think clearly.
None of this would havehappened if I had won that bet.
He’s behind this; he hasto be. That slimy toad.
She raced into herbedroom and rummaged through a pile of clothes she’d tossed onto a chair. Herhand closed over a small card and she dialed the number printed in black,embossed ink.
The mobile on the otherend rang and rang. About to end the call, the ring tone finally stopped.
He’s quiet, even tonessomehow settled the queasiness churning in her gut. Even her fury at hisduplicity for some inexplicable reason began to lessen but it did nothing tosoothe her throbbing headache.
“Hello?” he said when shefailed to respond.
Madeline swallowed. “Um,hi, it’s Madeline, I mean Marigold. You know, from last night at the Club.” Shesqueezed her eyes shut briefly, at how croaky her voice sounded.This isn’ta social call. You’re not asking him out for a date. The guy’s lodged liesabout you. Grow up, Madeline.
“Madeline. Hey. Are youokay? You sound…upset.”
Her anger erupted. “Youknow what, you slim ball? Hell yeah, I’m upset. How could you. How could youlie like that? You’re ruining my life.”
“Hey! What’s wrong? Idon’t know what you’re talking about. If it’s to do with that little matter ofchanging the rooms around, then I’m sorry. When I saw the names on the board inthe foyer, I did a little switch. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.I’m not a fan of green walls. But I do like green eyes.”
His words hardly impactedon Madeline.
Her headache was rapidlydeveloping migraine status and she wanted to put her head through the wall. Shecould barely think. Nausea was burning in her belly, darkness shrinking hervision. It was if screws were tightening either side of her forehead. Painsliced over the top of her head. “It was you.You.You got me fired andnow I’m going to lose everything. Matty. Oh, Matty. I’m sorry, baby.”
Her voice trailed off.Gasping she clutched her head, only vaguely aware she’d dropped her mobile andthat Harrison was yelling something from the other end.I’m gonna be sick.Where are my tablets?
She stumbled to thebathroom, where she fumbled open the medicine cabinet and sank down onto thecold tiles.Chapter Four
Harrison gunned hispickup truck and took another corner far too wide. Luckily no one was coming inthe opposite direction. Ahead was another intersection. The lights turnedorange. He pressed down on the accelerator and roared through, slowing back tothe speed limit once on the other side.
Despite repeated attemptsto reach Madeline by phone, no one picked up on the other end. He’d beentempted to dial 911 but the thought he could be sending emergency services on awild goose chase stilled his hand. There was no reason to believe she neededmedical attention. The odds were she was simply furious with him for hisduplicity.
Not that he blamed her.When Aaron had told him about the bet being whispered around the club, Harrisonhad known immediately he had to either stop it from taking place or failingthat, be the one to seduce Madeline.
A little voice hadsuggested perhaps this was the chance he’d been waiting for; a way to snag theinterest of the woman who he’d fallen in love with the moment he’d set eyes onher. Not that she’d noticed. She’d been oblivious or determined on ignoring theguys sending her meaningful glances. Instead, she’d been totally focused on ahigh school baseball game and watching the young boy holding the position ofcenter fielder.
One look on Harrison’spart—that was all it had taken and he was a goner.
He’d been instantlyattracted to her shapely body, but it had been the expression of pride mingledwith love on her face that had stolen his heart.
Harrison had made it hisbusiness to learn all he could about both of them which wasn’t much. His mate,Aaron who’d been with him at the ballgame that day, had noticed Harrison’sinterest and had offered the information that he knew she worked at the Club.Aaron had also volunteered that the woman’s brother was on the same team as hisson and that there were no parents in the picture. When Harrison realized shesupported and was bringing up a younger brother, his fate was sealed. This wasthe woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, the woman he wanted toraise a family with—the only problem being she hadn’t even looked in hisdirection at that ballgame. As far as she was concerned, he could have beeninvisible.
That soul-rocking momenthad been his alone.
And now she was totallypissed off with him.
He had a lot of fences tomend if he was to achieve his heart’s desire.
First off, was anapology. Hence his mad dash to her home when he should have been knee-deep inmarsh mud and continuing his research on the migratory habits of snow geese.Luckily, he’d only been half-way to the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge whenher phone call had come through.
All it took was searchingonline for her address using her mobile number and he was on his way. He rolledhis shoulders, telling himself that looking her up like this wasn’t the actionsof a sleazy stalker. She sounded like she was in trouble and he needed to makedamn certain it wasn’t through any stupid thing he’d done. He flicked on hismobile and tried her number again. No answer. Sighing, he tossed the phone ontothe passenger seat.
He took the next left,slowed down, and checked the house numbers as he cruised down the street.Number one hundred and ninety-six. He pulled up behind her Chevy and parked,taking a couple of minutes to calm his nerves and organize his thoughts. Thiswas it and it wasn’t much. A small clap-board house on a narrow allotment andpainted a dingy grey. But the grass was mown, sunshine yellow curtains coveredthe windows, and there were several hanging pot-plants dancing in the wind onthe porch.
How am I going to dothis? How do I explain turning up on her doorstep, uninvited?
A sudden downpour rousedhim from his ruminations.Damnit. Now he’d get soaked before he got toher door.I’m going to look like a shipwreck survivor. Maybe, she’ll takepity on me.
Harrison tucked hismobile into his top shirt pocket and pulled on the oilskin coat he used on hisjob. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out into the rain. He ran for the doorand arrived on her front porch, dripping and with slick dread like bouldersweighing him down.I’ve got one go at making this right.
Realizing water wassloughing off his oilskin and puddling around his feet, he shrugged out of thecoat and draped it over the back of a wicker chair. He eyed the door, thenstared about the porch. The wicker chair was one of a pair, arranged around aredwood coffee table with a mosaic countertop. Harrison knocked again thenstepped over to admire the image made from broken tiles of a lake with threeswans skimming across the surface. Clever and attractive.
The rain drummed on thehouse’s iron roof and the wind howled through the branches of the tree outfront. He walked back to the door. It was possible she hadn’t heard his knock.
He thumped harder.
The unlocked door swungopen under his onslaught.
“Hey, Madeline? It’s me,Harrison. Okay if I come inside?” He pushed the door wider and peered into theshadowy house. Although going onto mid-day, the overcast sky and sleeting rainmade it appear much later than it really was. Outside the street lightsflickered on.
From what he could seethe front of the house was made up of a combined living and dining room to theleft with a breakfast bar dividing what was probably the kitchen. A hallway ledfrom the center of the room into the back of the house where he guessed thebedrooms and bathroom would be located.
There was no sign of her.
Cautiously, Harrisonstepped inside, then stumbled over a pair of boots left near the doorway. Therestill was a tiny puddle of rain surrounding them, which hopefully meantMadeline was home. He sure hoped so. He didn’t want to be done for breaking andentering if some nosy neighbor decided to call the police.
“Madeline, I just wantedto check up on you. Are you here?” He crossed the room, feeling more and morelike a stalker. His heartbeat kicked up a gear. What if she was sick? The doorhadn’t been latched properly. What if some gangbanger was prowling through herhouse?
His hands fisted and hecrept slowly along the hallway.
The sound was faint,barely more than a sigh, but it galvanized him into action. Stuff whoever elsewas in the house. Harrison hurried forward, ears straining for any other noise.He heard the scuffing of cloth over tiles and pushed open the bathroom door.
“Blood hell! Madeline,what’s the matter?” He rushed toward the figure huddled in the corner, herhands holding her head, intermittent shivers racking her body.
“Migraine,” she gritted.
“Come on. Let’s get youout of here and into bed.” He crouched, gripped her under the armpits, andhelped her upright. Once he’d shuffled her out of the cramped bathroom, helifted her into his arms and by kicking open the other two doors, found herbedroom. With infinite care, he laid her on the bed, covering her with theblanket that was folded up at the end. “Have you taken anything?”
“Let’s get you warmed up,then. Your skin is like ice.” Harrison tucked the blanked in more closely. “Mymum suffers from migraines. One of my sister’s is a massage therapist. She doesthis amazing stuff with mum’s feet and the back of her neck and it helps withthe intensity of her attacks. Okay for me to give it a go on you? Bron showedme what to do last time I was home.”
Madeline nodded, her eyessqueezed tight. “Home?”
“A town called Dubbo, inoutback Australia. My parents have a vineyard there and also run a mob ofmerino sheep.” He walked to the end of the bed and gently pushed aside theblanket. “Ready?”
Starting with her rightfoot, he rubbed and tugged her big toe with fluid movements, then graduallymoved onto her other toes before massaging the bottom of her foot and her heel.After he finished her left foot, he toed off his shoes and knelt on the bedbeside her.
“Starting to relax?” hesaid.
“Yeah, the pain iseasing.”
He scanned her face,noting how she no longer had her eyes crunched up and her jawline appeared lesstense. “I need you to roll over onto your stomach and I’ll work on the back ofher neck and head.”
Obediently, Madelinerolled over.
Harrison began to knead,pushing his thumbs deep into the pressure points.
“Ooooh, that is so good,”whispered Madeline.
“Last one.” He leaneddown and whispered near her ear. “I need you to sit up now.”
When she was sittingupright, he shifted about until she was facing him where he spent severalminutes massaging her temple and around her eyes.
“I can keep going, if youlike.”
Madeline opened her eyesand smiled. “It’s only a headache now. Thank you so much. Now, how about youtell what you’re doing in my house.”
This close to her,Harrison had to exert all his will power and not pull her into his arms andblab about how much she meant to him. But this wasn’t the right moment. Hergreen eyes were shadowed, reserve was already stealing back into her, and hecould feel her pulling emotionally away from him.
Putting up her barriers.
Determined to keep himwell and truly out of her life.
But he had news for her.He wasn’t going anywhere until he’d fought with every breath he had to win herheart. He grinned, pleased when her eyelashes flickered and her gaze dipped fora moment to stare at his mouth.
She made a big deal outof wrapping the blanket around her shoulders and using her movements to putsome space between them. Her hair was tousled, a few strands had fallen intoher eyes, and Harrison’s fingers twitched, wanting badly to feel the that silkysoftness falling over his hands.
Clearing his throat, heslid off the bed and picked up his shoes. “Your phone call scared the livingdaylights out of me.”
She stared at him forthirty long seconds before saying, “You’ve got a nerve. How you feel is not theissue here. Let’s talk about that call. And about your low, disgusting actionslast night.”
Fire had returned to hereyes. Chin lifted, Madeline flung off the blanket and scrambled off the bed.“Not only did you get me fired, you’ve lied and accused me of stealing fromyou. Money is missing from the till and my supervisor has apparently called thecops. Get out of my house!”
Harrison back away, handsheld out as if to staystop. “Listen, I don’t know what you’re going onabout.”
She frowned, her eyessearching his face. “How did you know where I lived?”
“I’ve got more than oneskill, babe.”
Her lips quirked, as ifshe was repressing a smile. The brief flash of amusement died from her eyes.She said, flatly, “Did you know about the bet?”
Holding her gaze, hesaid, “Yes.”
“And that’s it? Just,‘yes’?” Her voice shook. “I got fired last night because we lost.”
“You didn’t have to agreeto take part,” he pointed out coldly, remembering the wild explosion ofjealousy and desperation that had gripped him when he’d first heard she wasinvolved.
“I wasn’t given a lot ofchoice. My hours have been cut. I need the money.” Her gaze left his and fellon the photo frame sitting on the bedside table.
Harrisonpicked it up. “Is this your brother?” He already knew that but he figuredkeeping her talking might ease a little of the wary suspicion in her eyes.
“Looks like a good kid.I’ve got three brothers and two sisters myself, plus a bunch of cousins.”
“Bully for you.” Shefolded her arms. “Do you mind putting that photo back where you found it?”
“Sure thing.” He replacedthe photo. “Listen, about that bet. I want to explain—”
“Don’t bother. I’mfeeling a lot better now. You can leave.” Her eyes glittered as sharp as greenglass.
“Hey, but I want to talkabout why I agreed to being part of the bet.” Cold sweat formed on his upperlip.
“Forget it. I’m notinterested in your narcissistic excuses. There’s the door.” She pointed acrossthe room.
Crap, this wasn’t goinganywhere near how he imagined it might turn out. “Listen, babe…”
A mobile phone trilledwith the ring tone of the songI will survive.
“Yours, I take it?” Harrison grinned.
Madeline dropped theblanket and stalked out of the bedroom. Harrison followed her to the livingarea where she snatched up the phone lying on the breakfast bar.
“Hello?” She fell quiet,obviously listening to whoever was on the other end.
Harrisoncould tell by the way she clenched her hands over the phone the news wasn'tgood. Her face bleached of all color, causing the tiny scattering of frecklesover the bridge of her nose to stand out like brown dots. Definitely not good.