Authors: Sophie Oak
Texas Sirens 7
Twin detectives Ben and Chase Dawson have been sent to investigate an unusual murder at a resort owned by Julian Lodge. Julian wants them to protect the prime suspect, a young submissive who was the last person to see the victim alive. The job seems simple until Ben and Chase discover that the beautiful submissive they both desire has a dark past.
Natalie Buchanan came to the Willow Fork Tranquility Spa seeking sanctuary after escaping the clutches of a twisted sadist. Working as a massage therapist at the resort has given her a chance to heal as well as access to the spa’s secret dungeon. But when one of her regular clients ends up dead on her table, Natalie fears that the monster she once escaped has come back to claim her.
As Natalie rediscovers the beauty of BDSM with her twin Masters, all three will be forced to confront her past.
Note: There is no sexual relationship or touching for titillation between or among siblings.
Genre:BDSM, Ménage a Trois/Quatre, Western/Cowboys
Length:109,695 wordsSIREN UNLEASHED
Texas Sirens 7
Siren Publishing, Inc.
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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Ménage Everlasting
SIREN UNLEASHEDCopyright © 2012 by Sophie Oak
First E-book Publication: November 2012
Cover design by Les Byerley
All art and logo copyright © 2012 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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In the end this book is about being brave enough to care about someone. Too often in our lives we give up because friendship seems like such a dangerous prospect, but we lose so many good voices when we allow the negative ones to win. So this book is dedicated to new friends – Fiona Archer and Jayne Rylon. I don’t know where it’s going, but I am glad I met you.
Texas Sirens 7
Copyright © 2012
Nat groaned and wondered why her head was so heavy.
“Shhh. Be quiet.” A harsh voice bit through the darkness.
Damn it. She had to open her eyes. Why did it feel like she had weights drawing the lids down? Party. She remembered a party. Right? No. Not really a party. She’d been at the club. Haven. She liked Haven. It was where she’d met Tony. She wasn’t madly in love with Tony, but they had fun.
Until he’d wanted her to sign a contract and take a collar. Why did guys want to move so fast?
And why the fuck was her head swimming?
She forced her eyes open. Well, tried. Her eyes couldn’t be open. It was still so damn dark. Where the hell was she? Through the haze of headache and nausea, she thought back to the last moment she could remember.
Tony, smiling at her, but it was a weird smile. He had her in handcuffs, part of their negotiated scene, but he hadn’t said the words she would have thought he would say. He’d talked about someone.
She didn’t like Master Hawk. She thought he was a douchebag pretender sadist who didn’t give anything back. And his two subs were sheep.
Nat was a sub, but she wasn’t a sheep. She’d never signed a full contract. Doubted she ever would. She enjoyed submitting for play and to relax. Otherwise, she kind of wanted to punch the dude who told her what to do, but after the day was done, yeah, it was a way to unwind.
Why couldn’t Tony see that?
“Keep quiet. Maybe he won’t come in.”
Who the fuck kept talking?
“So who won’t come in? Someone turn the fucking light on.” Was this some weird sort of sensory deprivation scene?
“Shut up. Do you want to get your ass whipped? If you don’t tone it down, you’re going to get all of us in trouble.” The words sounded hissed through angry lips.
She tried to stretch, but her hands met cold metal bars.
Bars? A little bit of panic started to thrum through her system.
“Please try to be nice,” a new voice said. “She’s new here. She doesn’t know the rules yet.”
She sort of kind of recognized that voice. What was her name? Kat? She’d seen her around the club. The kind of sub that made Nat’s skin crawl. She would call herself “i,” never thinking to capitalize because she wasn’t worthy of a capital letter. Kitty? She was with Master Hawk, a pale shadow of an actual woman. She was pretty in a particularly bland way since she never showed an emotion and referred to herself in the third person.
She was a true slave. Nat didn’t want to have anything to do with that. The whole term “slave” was what had forced her hand with Tony. The minute he’d called her slave instead of sub, she’d known the relationship was just about over.
She’d just wanted a little fun, a little stress relief. Why had he tried to force her to be a slave?
“Where am I?” This time she kept her voice low. She wanted to shout and scream and rattle the fucking cage, but she needed to assess the situation first.
“How many times do I have to tell you to shut the fuck up?”
Nat really didn’t like that nasally voice. What was Hawk’s other slave called? She barely registered in Nat’s brain except that the slightly older woman seemed to shoot daggers the younger one’s way every time she thought no one was looking.
The softer voice responded, and a warm hand covered her shoulder. “You’re here. And that’s all that matters.”
Here? “Where is here?”
Miss Nose Breather snorted. “Welcome to Hell. Try not to get the rest of us killed.”
Killed? Nat forced herself to take a long, deep breath. Her head was pounding. She was in the dark. The last thing she could remember was Tony grinning down at her as he held her hand out toward another man.
Oh, god, she’d been drugged. And now she was in a dark, metally place. A cage.Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.She was in a cage.
“Where the fuck am I?” She reached out and grabbed the bars of the cage and pulled. She tried to stand, but her head met hard metal.
“Shhh. It’s our nighttime cage. It’s sleepy time.” Kitten. Her name was Kitten.
“I want out.” She couldn’t be stuck in a cage. She had to work. She had a full client list tomorrow. Her rent was due, and if she didn’t get that check to Lars, he really would pack her shit up and toss it out in the garbage bin.
She couldn’t be stuck in a cage.
Nasally Whine started in again. “There’s no way out. So shut the fuck up or one of us is going to get killed. Probably me. It’s always fucking me. He’s going to kill me now that he has a younger slave.”
A choked sob cut through the silence. The older slave was crying.
The door opened, and Kitten’s hand slid over Nat’s. “Don’t worry. The pain won’t last forever.”
The cage opened and Nat was pulled out.
The other girl was right.
This was Hell.Chapter One
Four years later
Willow Fork, TX
Natalie Buchanan hated dead bodies. Yet they just kept turning up. At least she hadn’t been the direct cause of this one.
“How long until the ambulance is here?” Nat asked. She needed to get out of the small room, but she couldn’t force herself to move. If she moved, even an inch, she just might run, and she couldn’t do that. She was a professional. She could handle this.
Chris Linwood sighed, looking down at the body briefly. “It might be a while. The hospital told me there was a bad traffic accident out on the highway, and living bodies take precedence over corpses.” He turned his green eyes toward her. “Are you all right?”
Her hands were shaking. Her gut was in complete turmoil. Stan Kirkman was lying on her massage table, his eyes wide open and glassy, nothing left to animate his big body. He’d been the self-proclaimed low-priced Furniture King of East Texas, his commercials running on local stations late at night. He’d been coming to her once a week since the Willow Fork Tranquility Spa had opened.
Why, oh why did he have to have a heart attack now? She wasn’t at all surprised that the man had up and died. He looked perfectly fit, but she’d seen how much bacon was in the dude’s diet.
“I called the cops, too. It’s procedure. Melissa is out in the lobby, keeping everyone out.” Melissa was the receptionist. She was also a terrible gossip. She would be on the phone to everyone while she watched the door. Chris took her hand. “Gaby’s on her way. Is there something you want to tell me?”
She felt her eyes widen. “No. Why?”
Chris was the second-in-command to his boss, Gabrielle Reed. One of his main jobs was handling employee relations. He was a good supervisor. Nat was beginning to wonder if he would still be her supervisor in a few minutes. He was looking at her with deep sympathy in his eyes.
“Chris, when I left him, he was perfectly fine. I didn’t do anything unusual. It was exactly the same massage I’ve been giving him for over a year. Deep tissue. He liked it a little rough.” Shit. That sounded bad.
His lips turned down. “Sweetie, I can smell the sex in this room.”
Nat took a deep whiff and sure enough, there it was. “Eww. Damn it. I should have known he wasn’t taking a freaking nap.” She strode out the door and into the tiny hallway. Lit with serene lights, one whole wall was a rock waterfall. Soft, melodic music played. None of it soothed her right now. She forced oxygen into her lungs.
Chris followed her out. “What are you trying to say, Nat?”
“Stan pays for double the time, but the last hour, I lock him in and let him sleep. He claims it’s the only way he can relax.”Claimed. She had to use the past tense because he was dead. Stan could relax forever now.
“Nat, who saw you in the last hour?”
Who saw her? Holy crap. Was he asking for an alibi? “He had a heart attack, Chris. I didn’t magically give him a heart attack.”
“I’m not saying you did. I am saying that a prominent member of this deeply closed-minded society is lying dead on your table, and he seems to have had some form of sex before he died. I’m a little worried about you.”
Gaby Reed rounded the corner, out of breath and slightly disheveled. Gaby was in the latter half of her thirties, a pretty woman with light brown hair and gray-green eyes. Those intelligent eyes were wide as she stopped. “What the hell is going on? I got a 911 page to come here.”
Chris pointed to room number three. Gaby stuck her head in.
“So you think the people around here are going to think I was doing Stan the Furniture Man?” She hated those commercials. They were loud, so much louder than the rest of the shows on at three in the morning. Sadly, Nat watched TV at three in the morning because she didn’t sleep much. She’d cringed every time Stan started yelling about low prices, but the man had tipped well.
And now that she thought about it, he did have like five kids. Maybe this was the only place he could jerk off. But she shouldn’t be punished for it.
Chris sighed. “You’re practically a nun, sweetie. I know that. I also know you’re lonely. Loneliness can cause even smart people to do stupid things.”
Her skin crawled at the thought of climbing on the table with Stan, though Chris was right about the lonely part. “I didn’t sleep with Stan.”
Leaning against the non-watery wall, Chris sighed. “Okay. But there will be rumors. This town runs on them. Of course, I don’t know that it will affect you. It’s not like you spend a ton of time in town.”
She preferred the resort and her little living space. She had nice strong locks on her doors. She’d installed them herself, not trusting the ones the resort had installed.
She didn’t go to bars. Ever. She didn’t hang out with friends. She took the occasional babysitting job out at the Barnes-Fleetwood ranch, but that was the extent of her social life. She spent her free time with a seven-year-old and an overly possessive four-year-old. She did her job and she went home.
What the hell would she do if she got fired?
She would have to move. She would have to find another job. An apartment. Probably a way less safe place. Tears filled her eyes. She didn’t want to move. She was finally starting to find some normalcy.
Pressure started to build. God. She didn’t want to go there again. She’d been so good, so calm for months. She couldn’t go back to that dark place.
“Calm down, sweetie. It’s going to be okay.” Chris gave her a little hug. This, too, was something she’d finally gotten used to again. Touching. Affection. It was easy to take it from Chris. He was gay and happily settled down with a former hockey player and a beautiful little girl they’d adopted. She could handle Chris touching her.
But lately she’d been wondering if she couldn’t handle an actual straight guy.
It certainly wouldn’t have been Stan.
Gaby walked back out, her face a grim mask. She pocketed her phone. “The cops are on their way up. You will not say a word until Cal gets here. He’ll be here in a minute. He had to wait for Nita to come watch the kids. Now, give me a rundown. That’s Stan Kirkman, right?”
Nat went over everything again. She had the feeling she would be telling this completely boring—except for the dead body—story over and over again all day long. When she finished, Gaby nodded.
“I’ll need you to pull his file and any notes you have on him. I’ll call the business office. We have to inform the insurance carrier.”
“But I didn’t do anything.” Chaos. It was what she dreaded. Nat’s deepest fear was being out of control again. She was going to lose her job, and she couldn’t think of a way to fix it.
“I have to tell them, Nat. Even if he just had a heart attack, we’re probably looking at some sort of lawsuit. People love to sue hotels and spas. Calm down. We’ve got great insurance.”
Nat forced herself to chill. She wasn’t thinking straight. Panic was threatening to take over. She’d been a massage therapist for years. She knew what happened. She’d always carried insurance because Gaby was right. Clients liked to sue. It was just the cost of doing business. Would she be placed on leave while they investigated?
“The good news is we don’t have a long list of clients this afternoon. Only you and Gretchen were working,” Gaby said. “I’ve had Melissa cancel the rest of the clients. We can reopen tomorrow. And I’ve got a call in to Julian Lodge.”
There was a long sigh. “You don’t have to call that guy, do you?” A paunchy, middle-aged man strode into the hall. He was dressed in a khaki uniform and looked completely incongruous given the elegant, Asian lines of the spa. He stared at the waterfall wall. “What the hell is this place?”
“It’s a spa, Sheriff,” Gaby replied. “It’s supposed to be soothing.”
He frowned. “I guess. Where’s the stiff? And seriously, we don’t need to call in that Lodge guy. Did this pretty thing here kill the man?”
“No. I didn’t touch him. Well, I touched him. I massaged him. Not like in some weird, kinky way. In a therapeutic way. His traps are always like solid rock. I swear I work his shoulders for most of the time we’re in there.” She sounded like an idiot. She was babbling on about muscles and pressure points and the sheriff just looked more and more confused.
Gaby stared at her. She’d seen that look on Gaby’s face when her toddlers got out of line. Nat closed her mouth.
The sheriff shook his head. “This place gives me the creeps. Who’s the stiff? Tourist?”
“Stanley Kirkman,” Chris replied.
The sheriff’s eyes went wide. “Stan? That crazy guy on TV? He’s the stiff?”
Nat nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, hell, girl, why didn’t you tell me this was a celebrity? I would have put on my clean shirt.” He rolled his eyes a little. “Don’t worry about it. It don’t surprise me at all that Stan would end like that. Everyone knows what a freak that man was. And probably an alcoholic.” He got on his radio. “Lydia, where the hell is my bus? Tell those paramedics to get it in gear.” He winked Nat’s way. “Hope he didn’t try anything on you.”
She shrugged a little. “Only the once. We came to an understanding.” He didn’t touch her ass, and she didn’t break his nose again. She’d been kind of surprised he’d come back.
Callum Reed chose that moment to show up, the lean, handsome lawyer looking immaculate. “Sheriff, I’d like to speak to Natalie for a moment, if you don’t mind? Please let us know if we can do anything to help with your investigation.”
“Investigation? I swear you city folk watch way too much television. Just send the EMTs back when they get here. We’ll get old Stan out of your way as soon as possible. So you don’t need to call that Lodge fella.” He grumbled a little as he pushed into the room. “Never thought I’d meet a man I want to deal with less than Jack Barnes…”
Cal looked down at her. “Are you all right?”
Was she? When she’d realized Stan was dead, just for a moment her sight had morphed and it hadn’t been Stan she was looking at. It had been Hawk’s face, draining of life as his blood stained the floor all around her. She hadn’t screamed. She hadn’t screamed then. Quiet. She’d been quiet. She’d learned that early on. She could keep quiet or Hawk might take her tongue.
“Natalie? Natalie?” Cal’s hard tone brought her out of the past. “Stay with me.”
She shook her head, trying to come back to the now. She had to stay in the game. There would be time enough for her nightmares later. “I’m fine. Sorry. I gave Mr. Kirkman his usual. He books two hours, uses one for deep tissue service, and then he actually pays to have me lock him in. I wake him up after fifty minutes. He claims it’s the only time he gets to be alone. When I knocked to wake him up, he didn’t answer. I unlocked the door, and he was dead.”
Cal sighed, almost reaching out to touch her. It wasn’t unusual. He was a Dom and she was a sub, no matter how badass she tried to be. But that was a problem for her because no matter how much she liked her boss’s husband, she just couldn’t let a Dom touch her. She moved back, almost jumping to avoid the contact.
“Sorry, Natalie.” Cal took a step back, too, as though giving her extra space. Nat couldn’t miss the fact that his wife put her hand into his as though softening the rejection.
Yep, that was her. Natalie Buchanan. Rejecter of affection. Able to blow a Dom’s ego with a single look.
“Can I go now?” She wanted to get back to her room. Four walls. Lots of locks. No expectations.
Fuck, she was lonely. And she didn’t even know how to take a single comforting touch.
Cal shook his head. “I’m sorry. I think you need to stay here until the sheriff sorts everything out. He probably had a heart attack, but you never know. Someone may have questions. Just know that I’ll be right here with you. I’ll protect your interests. And I don’t care what the sheriff says. Someone better call Lodge or heads will roll. Probably mine. Why don’t you go sit down, Natalie? I’ll handle this.”
Julian Lodge. Her…what the fuck was he? Savior? Dude who kept her out of jail? Mentor?
She walked down the hallway in a bit of a daze, her brain playing through the past. Julian Lodge had been the one to come to the jail the night she’d killed Hawk. She could remember it so vividly. One moment she’d been trying to explain that the man they knew as Eric Norris wasn’t the upstanding businessman he’d presented himself to be and that she’d been his victim. The next, a big, elegant man in a designer suit walked in followed by another man with hard eyes and a large briefcase. Julian Lodge and Finn Taylor. Finn had turned out to be a lawyer. She’d been out of jail within hours, remanded to Julian’s custody. She’d been on a private jet to Dallas with Kitten and Gretchen. Finn Taylor turned out to be Kitten’s cousin. He was also Lodge’s submissive and partner. They’d been looking for Kitten for months. They took Nat and Gretchen in, too. When the plane had touched down in Dallas, they’d been greeted by two people. One was a big man named Leo, who couldn’t hide his Dom stature behind all the huggy shrink crap in the world, and a pretty blonde woman. When she’d shrunk back from Leo, he’d nodded and walked away, leaving her with Janine.
She really wanted to talk to Janine, but it was just a crutch.
She sat down in the private waiting room. She liked to call it the green room because even the light was a low, natural color.
The door opened and Gretchen stormed in. “What the fuck is going on? Chris just told me my last two appointments were cancelled. What’s happening?”
Gretchen’s mouth turned down as she slumped into the seat next to Nat. “Are you shitting me?”
Gretchen had a terrible potty mouth, but Nat had gotten used to it. “Nope. He dropped dead on my table.”
“Fuck. That’s terrible. No wonder we’re shut down.” She turned to Nat, her face relaxing a little. “Did you, you know, find him?”
“Yep.” All six foot dead of him.
Gretchen sat there for a moment. “Geez, Nat. I’m sorry about that. I’m sure that was stressful.”
Yep. Stressful. “I’m fine.”
“Can I get you something? Water? Do you need me to work your shoulders? You carry all your stress in your shoulders.” Gretchen frowned, a concerned look. “Your shoulders are up around your ears. Let’s find a room and I’ll start some lavender aromatherapy and we’ll get you relaxed.”
She must be really bad if Gretchen was so concerned.
Before she had a chance to answer, the door opened again, and Cal walked in, a dark look on his face. “Natalie, we’re going to need to go to the station.”
Paperwork? All she wanted to do was go home. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in the Willow Fork Sheriff’s Department “Why?”
“The circumstances of Stan’s death are not natural. They’re bringing you in for questioning. I’ve convinced the sheriff not to handcuff you. I know how you feel about that, Natalie. I’m going to do everything I can to keep you out of a holding cell.”
Holding cell. Cage. Cuffs. Nat took a deep breath, but the oxygen didn’t quite fill her lungs. The room spun and blessed darkness took her.
* * * *
Chase Dawson yawned, forcing himself to a semi-awake state. It had been a late night. Mandy, Sandy, something like that, had been voracious. And the tiniest bit frightening. A twinge went through his lower back. Mandy whatshername believed in a quality of athleticism to sex that just might be past his thirty-five years. He was getting fucking old.
God, he couldn’t believe he missed the days of Kitten. Undemanding Kitten, who had to sign a contract that he couldn’t have sex with her. His nights with Kitten had been filled with petting her head while she kneeled at his feet as he watched a game or worked on his computer. And she’d gotten him beer. Sure, she sometimes got lost between the living room and the kitchen, but she was utterly undemanding.
When the fuck had sex gotten boring?
The door opened, and Julian walked in the room, followed by his wife, Danielle.
Dani was here? What the hell had he done? He searched his memory trying to connect Mandy/Sandy with the twistable spine and way too much strength in her thighs to Danielle, because if he’d fucked with her sister or something, he was about to get his ass kicked.
“Thanks for coming down on short notice, Chase. I was surprised you didn’t go with Ben,” Julian said.
“I don’t do airplanes.”
Julian’s mouth turned down. “You don’t do airplanes?”
He shook his head. “Nope. They crash. Like a lot.” He tried to stay out of small, pressurized metal cans whether they were at thirty thousand feet or under the ocean. He was a human. Not a fish or a bird. Chase believed in Darwinism, and that included not allowing his brilliant mind to be selected out because he put too much faith in technology.
Julian stopped and took a long breath. He did that a lot around Chase. Chase was deeply aware that Julian would rather deal with Ben. Everyone did. It didn’t bother him. “Chase, you were a Navy SEAL.”
“Hey, once a SEAL, always a SEAL.” Except those fuckers who’d tried to kill him a few months ago. Of course, they were trying to kill Ben and had gotten him by mistake.Fuck. Even murdering bastards preferred Ben to him.
“You understand it stands for sea, air, and land. How the hell did you handle that? Don’t you have to make a HALO jump?”
He shuddered. “Ben insisted we get certified. What can I say? I was younger then.” And Ben had pushed him out of the plane. Oh, he hadn’t laid a hand on him, but that invisible tether that connected them had forced Chase to follow his brother when the danger was high.
Luckily making a run to Colorado to help find Kitten a Dom wasn’t a dangerous thing. Though he’d heard stories about that town. And there was that call he’d gotten earlier. He grinned. Yeah, setting that bundle of trouble on Ben had been fun. He had no idea what was coming for him.
Julian let it go. “We’ve had a problem at Danielle’s resort. Come, little one, sit down. Put your feet up. I’ll get you a bottle of water.”
Danielle Lodge-Taylor took her husband’s seat behind the desk without any hesitation. How fucking far she’d come. When Chase had met her she was sweet, but completely mousy, a true submissive who had found great strength in her relationship with Julian Lodge and Finn Taylor. She’d gone back to school, opened a business, and now was pregnant. Really pregnant.
“Spa or club?” Chase asked, relieved that this seemed to be about business and not him fucking the wrong chick. Because he often fucked the wrong chick. He had the scars to prove it.
The Willow Fork resort was two-pronged in Chase’s mind. There was the spa/dude ranch aspect. That was the “daytime” portion of the resort. Horseback riding. Massages. Touristy crap. But there was a section of the resort that came alive at night. The dungeon. Danielle’s resort catered to people in the lifestyle.
If something craptastic had happened, he hoped it was in the dungeon. He was bored. Life had ground to a nasty little circle that left him deeply unfulfilled. He woke up, usually long after the sun had risen. He ate some crap because he didn’t cook and Ben was usually still at someone else’s house doing the “domesticity for a day” thing he did so well. He played around on his computer, pretending he still mattered, and then he got dressed for the dungeon, found another meaningless girl, and started the cycle all over again.
A little excitement was just what the doctor ordered.
“Spa,” Julian replied.
Fuck. The last thing he needed was to deal with Dani’s accounting problems. Still, he wasn’t about to say no to her. “Tell me about it.”
He’d have to go to bum-fuck, back-ass nowhere and figure out who’d taken more than their fair share of tips.
“Do you remember the incident that brought Kitten to us?” Dani accepted the bottle of water Julian handed to her.
How could he forget? Kitten had been held in utter slavery by a psychotic asshole. She’d been held against her will at the beginning and then indoctrinated into a sort of Stockholm syndrome. The mindfuck the bastard had used on her had worked all too well. Her captor had taken her into all sorts of public situations without her running for help. He’d had two women he’d forced into slavery. When he’d tried taking a third, the bastard had finally gotten what he deserved. A nice knife to the gut. Natalie Buchanan. He’d read her file somewhere along the way. He hadn’t actually met her, but he liked a woman who could wield a knife.
He was fucked in the head. He wouldn’t get on a freaking plane, but he was thinking about screwing the girl with the knife.
“Well, the two women who were with Kitten currently work at the spa as massage therapists. She would really like to go see them. It’s been a while. Gretchen was up here a couple of months ago, but getting Natalie to travel is difficult.”
“So whatever I’m doing down there, I would also be responsible for Kitten?” How the hell was he supposed to handle an investigation when he was constantly worried that Kitten would follow something shiny and get lost? “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Kitten likes her leash. I can’t walk around the vanilla side of the resort with a hundred-pound woman on a leash.”
He could. He’d done it before, but it tended to hamper investigations.
There was a brisk knock at the door and then the puppy entered. Oh, the puppy was six foot three inches, pure muscled Colorado boy, but there was something about Logan Green that just reminded Chase of an overgrown puppy.
“Sorry. I just got the text,” Logan said.
Three months into his training with Leo, Logan was more confident. And he hit people less. Chase wasn’t sure that was a good thing. He liked a little tussle every now and then, and all his friends were getting married. It had turned them into whiny, pussy-whipped emo kings who no longer liked a good punch in the face.
“Thanks for joining us,” Julian said, his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “I was going to send Ben and Chase down to check out something for me at the resort. I would go myself, but Danielle is due any day now. She can’t travel.”
“She can barely move. She is bigger than a whale,” Dani grumbled. She gasped just a little. “But baby Chloe can move. That was a nice kick.”
Julian’s face practically lit up, his hand finding her round belly in an instant. “Come on, baby, kick for Papa.”
Dani had a tiny smile on her face as she looked at her husband. “He’ll sit like this for hours.”
Chase was surrounded by baby-minded alien transplants. He was sure of it. He believed in conspiracy, and though this one seemed to be a natural function of the biological imperative to breed that somehow led to every man he knew handing his balls over to some sub on a silver platter, it was still a conspiracy. Especially since it seemed to be catching. Good men were going down all the time.
Even Leo had transformed from good-time guy to someone Chase was a little afraid might break into song. If that happened, it was his duty to put his brother’s old SEAL teammate down.
Chase turned a little and saw Logan had no idea what the fuck was going on, either. They sent each other shrugs and a little grunt, the true communication of real men. It was something that said, “Dude, I do not get that and never will.”
Yeah, he could hang with Logan, maybe better than with Ben these days. Ben seemed on the edge of finally figuring out that he could do way better without Chase around.
The good news was Logan could take months to figure that out.
Julian laughed as his hand jumped. “That’s my girl.”
Chase cleared his throat, his universal sign for “someone better tell me why I’m still here.”
Julian laughed a little as though figuring out he’d really gone over the deep end. “Sorry. We’re getting close to the finish line. I get distracted. Now, I’ll send Ben along, too, when he returns, but I’m afraid this won’t wait. Finn is already in the air. Callum Reed is at the sheriff’s office, but Finn won’t pass this off. He feels he owes those women too much to let someone else handle it.”
One of Kitten’s friends got caught with her hands in the cookie jar? Damn. That was going to suck ass. He hated being the bearer of bad tidings. Scratch that. He hated being the bearer of bad tidings when he liked the person he had to disappoint. When he didn’t care about the person, he was perfectly fine telling them that their wife-husband-business partner was a complete douchebag and their life savings was gone.
He would have made a good Grim Reaper.
“What are we supposed to do?” Logan asked.
Dani leaned forward. “I was hoping you would take Kitten down to Willow Fork for a little visit. She’s worried about her friends. As we haven’t been able to find her a Dom, we really need someone to watch her.”
Kitten had proven to be picky when it came to Doms. And everyone was indulging her because she was finally using personal pronouns.
Logan shrugged. “Sure. I haven’t been out of Dallas in months. It might be nice. Does anyone know where her leash is?”
Julian sighed. “Let’s try to break her of the leash outside of the dungeon, Logan. How about just keeping an eye on her?”
A grimace crossed the puppy’s face. “Yeah, I don’t know about that. She can get away really fast.”
Julian stared him down.
“I will totally keep her safe, Mr. Lodge.” Logan’s face went carefully blank, but Chase would bet he was calculating the odds of this new mission going well.
“Don’t forget I LoJacked her.” Kitten had a tracking device in her collar. It had come in handy more than once, especially a few months back when he’d nearly been horrifically murdered by asshole mercenaries who had mistaken him for his way nicer twin brother. “And we won’t be there long. What’s this case?” He could see it now.The Case of the Quick-Handed Sub.The Case of the Dumb-ass Sub Who Got Caught.
“A prominent member of the community was murdered, and Natalie is being questioned for the crime.”
Chase sat up, his previous ennui evaporating. Dead bodies? Scandal? Chicks who kill? Yeah, there it was. He knew he still had a little adrenaline left in his system.
“How’d he die?” Chase was deeply aware that he practically fucking giggled the question.
Julian stared for a moment, probably remembering all the reasons he preferred to deal with Ben. “Apparently someone shoved a needle into his back during sex.”
Black widow killer. Yeah.
And she was Kitten’s friend.
And she’d probably murdered some dude during sex.
Pros. Cons. It didn’t matter. Finally, he wasn’t bored. Chase stood. “Come on, Watson. Let’s get going. The game is afoot!”
Logan stared at him blankly. “Dude, my name is Logan.”
And he wasn’t terribly literate. It didn’t matter. For the first time in months, Chase wanted to do something. Catch a killer.Chapter Two
Ben Dawson stared across the table in the small diner. “So you’re looking for a submissive?”
Cole Roberts was a big man whose casual clothes couldn’t hide his obvious success. Even if Ben didn’t know Cole’s net worth, he would still guess this was a wealthy man. His alpha male status oozed out of Cole’s pores. “I’ve been looking for a while. I have a membership at The Club. I’m only in Dallas about half the year, but I attend regularly when I’m there. I was a little offended Mr. Lodge didn’t think about me when he was dispensing this sub.”
Mr. Lodge probably hadn’t thought of him because he talked about Julian’s matchmaking as a doling out of human property. Roberts was known to be a bit on the hard side. “He’s being very careful with Kitten. She’s family. You’ve heard about her background?”
Roberts had been sent a complete file including a full psych evaluation on Kitten Taylor. He’d submitted to his own psych evaluation, too. He nodded, a certain gravity in the gesture. “Yes, I read the file. I was very sorry to hear that happened to her. Is Lodge attempting to shift her out of the lifestyle? Because if that’s what he’s trying to do, then I’m not the Dom for her. I’m looking for a full-time submissive. I’m willing to exchange room and board and discuss the possibility of a legal entanglement in exchange for service.”
And that was the only damn reason Ben was sitting here. Roberts was willing to talk long term, and Kitten needed that. He wasn’t much of a romantic, though, if he considered marriage a legal entanglement. “How many full-time submissives have you kept in the past?”
“Only one. Emily Yarborough.” Roberts went still, only his lips moving. “She died. Car accident. She was being driven home by a friend and they took a curve too fast. You don’t take curves fast on the pass, Mr. Dawson.”
Elk Creek Pass, the same mountain passage Roberts’s ski resort was named after, was one of America’s more dangerous passes, but then Roberts lived in one of America’s more dangerous towns. “I’m sorry to hear that.” But he had something else to address. “So you didn’t consider Mason Scott to be a submissive?”
Roberts remained perfectly calm. The only sign that the name had an effect was the tightening of his eyes. “Mason Scott is my partner. We have business interests together. I won’t lie to you. In the past we had a sexual relationship. Mason is a switch. We met at The Club, but that part of my life is over. Miss Taylor doesn’t need to worry that she would be second. I will put her first.”
Ben was pretty sure Kitten would find the idea of bisexual Masters delightful, but Roberts seemed firm. Ben moved on to other problems. “So if you did sign a contract with Katherine Taylor, you would continue to live here in Bliss?”
Roberts took a long drink of his coffee. “I stay here half the year, as I said. If my submissive needed to be in the city in order to find her peace, then I would consider staying in Dallas for longer, but I would always need to come here. This resort doesn’t run itself. I would prefer she come with me. I have no intention of leaving my sub at home.”
Another point in his favor. He was also recommended by Stefan Talbot, a friend of Lodge’s, and he’d passed Leo’s tests.
Ben closed his notebook. “Do you really want another sub? It’s only been a year since Emily’s death. I like Kitten. She’s a whack job, but she’s a truly sweet girl who’s had to overcome some horrific things. I don’t want her to get involved with a man who won’t care about her.”
“How will I know if I don’t try?” The words came out in a flat monotone.
“You could date. You don’t have to sign a six-month contract on an unseen sub.”
Roberts laughed, the first sign that he could look anything but grim. “Have you seen the women around here? They’re beautiful and sexy and they like to shoot people. Seriously, I’ve heard rumors that they have a club.” He sobered a bit. “No. I don’t need to date. Dating is a false thing. It’s two people dancing around the truth. A contract is more effective. We know we’ll be together for six months so we can relax and give the relationship a real go.”
“Kitten can be a handful. I’m not trying to say she isn’t sweet, but she can push some boundaries.”
Roberts pulled out a file of his own. “Here’s my list of rules and punishments. If they fall outside of her hard limits, we can discuss alternatives, but I prefer my way. I can handle a bit of manipulation. She wouldn’t have a brain if she didn’t try. I prefer to use pleasure as a reward, though I admit to sometimes viewing my submissive as stress relief. I would never harm her sexually, but I will use her to my own ends and sometimes without thought to her pleasure.”
And he sounded perfect for Kitten. Kitten wanted to be necessary. Roberts could give her what she wanted. The question was would he be what she needed? “Please come to The Club next month and I’ll introduce you.”
Roberts frowned. “And what will she be doing until then?”
Possessive. Not a bad thing in a Dom, but a little out of bounds with a woman he didn’t know yet. “She’s being cared for by a Dom in training. A young man from these parts. It’s a pure training relationship. No sex involved.”
Roberts cracked a smile. “Logan Green is training my potential sub? Well, that’s something I never thought I would say. Tell Logan hello and he better take care of her. If Lodge doesn’t mind, I would appreciate being able to send her a few things. Just some small gifts.”
Clothing most likely. Ben understood the impulse. When he was involved with a woman, he liked to know she was wearing something he’d bought for her. Of course, Ben usually liked to actually meet the woman first, but hey, he was used to being around eccentrics. Hell, his other half was about as eccentric as a person could be.
Roberts stood and shook his hand, and Ben sat back down, glancing at his watch. He had all night. His plane wasn’t supposed to leave until tomorrow morning. He had a room at something called a Movie Motel and plans to eat dinner with a couple of old clients. Jesse McCann and Cade Sinclair were ready to show off their fiancée, Gemma.
Ben was never going to get married because his other half was a brooding, paranoid, borderline-psychotic weirdo who wouldn’t even get on a plane.
Ben sighed and looked up at the specials. He wasn’t sure he wanted to try escargot in Bliss, Colorado.
He sipped his Coke and wondered what the fuck he was doing. He was thirty-five years old. He’d thought he would still be in the military. Then Ada had been murdered.
He could still see her, but now it was more of a gauzy image than the former sharp picture that assaulted his brain on a nightly basis.
She hadn’t loved him. She’d enjoyed him. She’d loved Leo. It was far past time to let her go.
The trouble was he didn’t have anything to hold on to. Sometimes he thought he held on to Ada because he needed to believe he could have had a relationship. It wouldn’t have been with Ada. Even at the time he’d known it, but she’d been so sweet, so brave. He couldn’t resist the fantasy that she would understand him.
But she’d wanted Leo. Perfectly sane Leo. Leo, who could have a relationship with a woman on his own. Oh, he was marrying a woman and sharing her with his brother, but that was by choice and not because he felt like he had half a soul.
The bell over the door jingled. This town was getting to him. It was weird. Happy trios were everywhere, just taunting him with their families and marriages. A big scarred guy was sitting two tables over with his sweet-looking wife and a dude in law enforcement khakis who didn’t look like a family friend since they both kept kissing the brunette and passing their twins around.
He couldn’t see Chase with a kid.
A cold wind seemed to run through him, and he closed his eyes because just maybe he was dreaming and he could shift the dream into something good and sweet, and his very nice but completely chaotic mess of a little sister hadn’t magically shown up in small-town Colorado because she was still in Los Angeles where he was safe from her curse.
“Benny, you’re doing that thing again. I’m not going away. Do you think the burgers here are good? I’ve been a vegan for the last six months, well, mostly, except for steak. I can’t live without a little steak but other than that, totally veggie.”
He cracked open one eye and there she sat, Georgia Ophelia Dawson.
She gave him a little wave. “Hi, brother. I knew you were in there.” Her face went all puppy dog eyes and toddler pout. “Please feed me. I had to hitchhike in from LA, and the trucker only had jerky and you know how I feel about dehydrated meat.”
His blood pressure pulsed. “You hitchhiked? What happened to the BMW I bought you because Dad wouldn’t splurge past an Accord?”
Her eyes went even wider, and he would swear she managed to squeeze a tear out. “I had to sell it to pay for my acting classes.”
“If you paid for your classes, then why aren’t you in LA going to class?”
“I had to leave acting class because I’m really, really bad at it, Benny. And Daddy wouldn’t pay for my rent either because I decided to become an actress instead of that boring businessy thing.”
It was called a bachelor’s degree. Georgia had a degree in management, for all the good it had done her. “Georgie, why are you here?”
Now the tears started in earnest. “Daddy cut me off.”
No big surprise there. His father had married five times, producing six children with four different women. Georgia was the youngest of his siblings. He and Chase had an older brother and two younger ones, and then there was Georgia. The only female in the group. She’d lasted the longest. The rest of them had been shoved out in the world with nothing at the age of eighteen. Ben often wondered if it was because she was a girl or because she was as beautiful as her mother had been. “Dad cuts everyone off. Chase and I have been cut off since we graduated from high school.”
“But you have a trust fund from your mom. My mom was a stripper. All she left me was a legacy of body glitter and regret.”
He practically growled. It had been inevitable. His father was an asshole. It was only Georgia’s charm that had kept her in his good graces thus far. And she was right. Prudence had been an ill-named stripper and an even worse wife and mother. She’d left Georgie behind when she got her divorce settlement. When Carlton Dawson was the responsible, loving parent, Ben had known Georgie was in trouble. Luckily, she’d had a great nanny and boarding school—like five of them.
“Georgie, I hate to say this, but you have to grow up. You’re twenty-five years old and…how the hell did you find me? Why aren’t you in Dallas up Chase’s ass over this?”
He didn’t have to ask why she hadn’t sought out their other siblings. Win was too busy building an empire. And Mark and Drew were god only knew where. It was freaking classified. But Chase was right where he’d left him, safe in Dallas, where Georgia should have been able to find him and bug him about this.
“I called Chase. He told me to come find you, and I thought he was right. So I hopped on the first plane to Colorado and then found the trucker with the bad jerky. He dropped me off here. I’m glad I listened to him. You’re my favorite brother.”
He was her sanest brother, and the one who was quickest with the checkbook.
Still it didn’t explain everything. “Okay, so he knew I was going to be in Bliss, but how did he know to send you to the diner? I was supposed to go out to the lodge.”
Roberts had changed the plans at the last minute. Ben hadn’t informed Chase.
“Oh, he did that thing on your phone so he can always know where you are.”
Son of a bitch LoJacked him.
Georgie put a hand over his. “Don’t be mad. It’s how Chase says he loves you. Or how he says, ‘Hey you stole my stuff and I’m going to kill you.’ By the way, thanks for not letting him kill me when I took his wallet. I really needed the money, and he was being an ass.”
This was what Georgia did. She took a perfectly nice afternoon and filled it with chaos. There was one surefire way to get her back on a plane for LA. He reached for his checkbook. He wouldn’t miss the money. She was right about that. His mom’s parents had been pure old-school money. They’d set up very large trust funds for their only grandchildren. “How much do you need? Rent, classes, food, everything. I’m only writing one for the next six months.”
She sat back, a startled expression on her face. She bit her bottom lip, tears filling her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m saying this. Oh my god. I don’t like this feeling at all. It’s horrible.”
“What?” How much was this fit going to cost him? He was so glad his mother had been a wretchedly wealthy debutante and not a stripper.
She went the lightest shade of green. “I can’t take your money.”
Was there a doctor in town? “Are you all right?”
She shook her head. “No. Oh, Benny, I think I’m maturing. I think I need to get a job and be with my family.”
Now he was sure he was the one turning green. “You don’t have to do that. Look, I have a lot of checks.”
Those tears started up again, and he was pretty sure everyone was watching. “Come on, Benny. I haven’t been near my brothers in over ten years. Not since you left me all alone with a cold, distant father while you two went off and saw the world.”
“We weren’t seeing the world, Georgie. We were getting our asses shot off because Dad kicked us out and our trust fund didn’t kick in until we were twenty-five. We had to go into the Navy to eat.” There was an idea…
She cut him off at the pass. “I can’t. I’m a pacifist.”
A low hum started throughout the diner. He was well and truly fucked. “Fine. You can come back with me, but Georgie, Chase and I live in a club.”
She nodded, drying her tears with the paper napkins from a dispenser at the end of the table. “I know. Daddy calls it a den of inequality. Who’s the unequal one? It’s Chase, isn’t it?”
“Iniquity. It’s a den of iniquity.”
“Is that like a financial thing? Equity?”
Yep, there were times he wondered how she’d made it through school. “Sure.”
Her face brightened and her whole demeanor changed from “lost and damaged soul” to “life of the party.” “I’m so excited. This is going to be awesome. I need some fries. They’re vegan, right? Oh, and they have bacon. Nice. You can pick up the check, right, brother? I don’t have a job yet. I’m thinking about maybe trying to be a party planner. I can totally do that.”
He’d be picking up the check and all the bodies along the way because Georgia Dawson, while good-natured, was a force of chaos the world hadn’t seen since the last atomic bomb had been dropped. He was pretty sure Georgie had been the thing let out of Pandora’s Box. Bad shit followed her.
As though on perfect cue, a weird sense of joy went through him.
Georgia stopped her chatter long enough to stare. “Oh, you’re having one of those twin moments. I can always tell because you flush a little and look really surprised. Why are you so surprised? It happens all the time.”
His stomach turned. That was him, not Chase. “Chase is happy.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Oh, shit. Who died? Do you think he killed them?”
At least she knew her brother. His cell rang. Fresh hell. That was what Chase would bring. Ben had no doubt. “Just tell me.”
“We got a dead body, bro. We’re going to Hicksville. I already called and had your plane rescheduled. Murder. Awesome.”
Ben let his head hit the table. “Check, please.”
* * * *
“This isn’t over, Natalie.”
Natalie sat in the back of Cal’s SUV. Cal was driving, but her other lawyer had his head turned back, a sympathetic gleam in his eyes. Finn Taylor had blown through the small sheriff’s department with a commanding presence that belied his submissive nature. She’d learned that about Finn long ago. He was deeply submissive until he got his “lawyer” on. The minute Finn started in on the legal crap, he shoved his betaness aside and took over the room. Even Cal, überDom, had stepped aside and allowed Finn to take over.
She was only out because Finn had scared the crap out of the sheriff. And she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. Awesome. Like she had anywhere else to go.
“How long until they get all the DNA stuff back?” Nat asked.
Cal’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “It’s not like TV, Natalie. It can take a very long time.”
“I’ll have Julian push some people around, see if we can get it done faster.” Finn turned back to her. “Unless there’s something you want to tell us. Was he hurting you? Did he try to rape you? Do you remember what happened, sweetie?”
She groaned. Just because she’d killed one asshole in a fit of rage and self-defense didn’t mean she went around doing it for fun. “I happily gave up the DNA, Finn. I didn’t screw the Furniture King. Yuck.”
It was building inside her.Damn it. It had been months and months since she’d felt the need to hurt herself. She didn’t want to go through that again. She didn’t want to fall back into that terribly dark place she’d been in after freeing herself from Hawk.
Finn reached back and touched her knee. “I’m sorry, Nat. I just wouldn’t have blamed you if you had. So, I’ll have Julian apply a little pressure, and we’ll get this cleared up. Whoever had sex with the bastard is probably the one who killed him.”
It didn’t make a lick of sense. “I locked the door.”
“And he unlocked it.” Cal turned up the long drive that would take them to the resort. Normally the gorgeous, tree-lined drive made her calm, but her head wouldn’t stop working. “I made sure they dusted for prints on the inside of the door. He didn’t need a key to get out or to let someone in.”
“But who? I didn’t see anyone.” Of course she’d gone back to her office. She hadn’t sat outside the door.
Finn patted her knee. “Don’t worry about this, Nat. You didn’t do it. I don’t trust the police here so I’m bringing in my own investigator. Two of them, in fact. They’re brilliant. Well, one of them is, and the other one is the, well, human one. You’ll see. When he shows up, just answer their questions and this will all go away soon.”
“Why does she let you do that, but she cringes when I try to comfort her?” Cal asked.
Cal had been good to her. She liked Cal. She hated the fact that he was hurt by her quirks. She clenched her fists. The need to pinch herself or scrape her skin until she drew blood was so close to the surface. “I’m sorry, Cal. It’s nothing against you.”
“She knows I’m not a Dom. She knows damn well I’ve never held a whip or crop, just felt one against my ass.” Finn turned back, facing the front.
“I would never hurt you, Natalie,” Cal said. “My wife loves you. That means you’re practically part of my family. I just wish you would let me help.”
Because Cal was one of the good ones. Cal was an actual Dom and not a sadistic bastard. He wanted to help the subs around him, needed to be needed for the unique protections he could offer. She knew damn well he had zero sexual interest in her, but she was close to his wife so he would want to help her. And she couldn’t let him. “I’m just…sorry.”
She could lock herself in and no one would have to know. Her thigh. Just a little cut and the pain would float away.
“I have to get back to Dallas, Cal. Ben is in Colorado on an errand for Julian, so don’t expect them until maybe midafternoon.” She watched Finn stiffen, his body hardening as though he hated what he was about to do. “Nat, I’m so sorry. I have to tell him. She’s going to lock herself in her room and cut her legs. You can’t let her do that.”
Cal stopped the car, the SUV jerking. “What?”
Tears formed, Finn’s betrayal cutting her deeper than she ever cut herself. She didn’t respond. Didn’t need to. Now Gaby would know what a fucked-up piece of shit she was and her job would be toast. She wouldn’t be allowed around clients because no one wanted a psycho chick rubbing them down.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you do it.” Finn’s eyes were soft as he looked at her through the rearview mirror.
“No biggie.” It was huge, but Nat wouldn’t let him know. He was just one more asshole who watched out for himself. It was the way of the world. She’d kind of thought they were friends, but friends didn’t mean much when weighed against business interests. Maybe Julian had even told Finn to do it. She was trouble, and if it came to her or Julian Lodge’s business interests, well, she knew where she stood—on the outside. And he’d paid his debt to her. Julian and Finn had already gotten her off one murder rap. She couldn’t even be really pissed at them. They were clean.
“She’s a cutter?” Cal sort of breathed out the question. Nat could hear the horror in his voice.
“It’s left over from my time with Hawk.” Nat kept her own voice completely even. No one needed to know she was screaming on the inside. “And I haven’t done it in a long time.”
Six months, three days. Some people used alcohol to numb the pain. Nat used, well, pain to numb the pain.
Finn turned in his seat. “Tell me you aren’t thinking about it right now.”
“Not your problem, Taylor.” She turned her head, looking out over the peaceful grounds. She’d been safe here, but nothing was forever. “So this whole ‘don’t leave town’ thing? Was the sheriff serious about that?”
She would have to find a place in town. And a job. Maybe there was a fast-food place. She’d be qualified for that.
“What is she talking about?” Cal asked.
Finn sighed, scrubbing a hand across his face. “She is pissed at me and pulling back into her shell. She thinks I betrayed her and that you’re going to kick her out because she’s twelve kinds of fucked up. She thinks she just lost her job and her home. She won’t show you her pain. She’ll bottle it up until she just has to pull a knife across her skin because the other thing that would work she cannot allow herself to do.”
Rage boiled in her veins. He’d neatly summed her up in a couple of quick sentences. “Fuck you, Finn.”
“Ah, there’s the anger, Nat,” Finn replied. “I’ll take it, sweetie. It’s better than nothing. I would let you beat on me, but that’s not what you need and you know it. Let Cal find you a Dom.”
“Again with the fuck you.” She couldn’t do it. Except she’d been thinking about it. Thinking about asking one of the attached Doms if he wouldn’t just scene with her. Maybe she could find one she could trust if she trusted his sub enough and if Cal was watching. She’d thought about asking Cal, but it seemed weird to ask her boss’s hubby to beat her ass for a while so maybe she could cry. She’d tossed the idea because it was stupid. She could handle it, and now that she would be alone, she wouldn’t even have to worry about getting caught.
“Natalie, I’m so sorry.” Cal looked back.
Sure he was. He was probably sorry he’d let her watch his kids. He should have known. The pink hair should have told him all he needed to know. Then there was the pierced tongue. “I’ll be gone tonight. Hey, I don’t have a car. Do you think someone can give me a ride into town?”
Cal started driving again, his foot on the accelerator. “No one will give you a ride into town, Natalie. Nor will you be allowed to be alone for the next little bit. I’ll call your therapist, and she can come down for a while.”
Fuck. The last thing she needed was to involve Janine in this shit. “Dude, I can’t afford to haul Janine away from her family.”
“Well, the good news is, I can,” Cal replied. “And you’ll be in the dungeon tonight where I can keep an eye on you. You think I’m kicking you out? I’m doing something worse, Natalie. I’m taking responsibility until such time as your therapist signs off on your being alone or you select a proper Dom. You can take a Dom tonight or Janine will be here in the morning. Everyone else has treated you with kid gloves. I can understand that, but right now what you need is a firm hand.”
She felt her eyes widen. “You asshole.”
Cal’s eyes met hers in the rearview mirror. “Not the worst I’ve been called.”
“You can’t keep me here.”
Finn’s jaw firmed to a stubborn line. “What do you think the sheriff will do if he knows you no longer have a high-priced lawyer, Nat? I think he’ll sell you to the DA as the only possible suspect and try to railroad you.”
He was right. The sheriff just wanted to close the case and get back to fishing. If hauling Nat to jail was his ticket to getting out of real police work, then she would be in an orange jumpsuit lickety-split. “You little fucker.”
Finn flushed. “Yeah, well, if it keeps you alive, then I’ll let you hate me.” His eyes slid back to Cal. “We discovered her penchant for cutting when she went a little too deep and nearly bled out.”
Fucking goddamn, motherfucking, traitor son of a bitch. Why did he have to go there? Gretchen had been the only person at the time who had known, and she’d been Nat’s friend, not giving up the secret. Gretchen had helped make sure the cuts didn’t get infected. Gretchen had understood. But Kitten had walked in that night. It hadn’t been so bad. Everyone overreacted.
She hadn’t stared at her own blood as it drained into the bathtub wondering when she could float again. She hadn’t hoped that she wouldn’t wake up. She hadn’t. That had been just another nightmare.
“Nat, I love you. I would do almost anything for you. I won’t watch you die because of what that fucker did to you. He’s still in your head. He’s still holding you back. And you’re letting him win.” Finn sighed. “Let’s get back to the resort. I’ll call Dani. She’ll understand. Nat doesn’t have to go to the dungeon. I’ll stay with her.”
Cal turned toward the residential section, and Nat wondered how long Hawk would be with her. He’d taken her dignity, raped her body, and left her with scars that never healed because she opened them up again and again.
She hadn’t had sex in years. She hadn’t played. She’d loved to play. Submission had been her outlet, her relaxation. He’d taken it from her.
What if she could take it back?
Cal parked the car. He got out and, like the gentleman he was, opened the door for her. His hand moved to help her out, but he immediately pulled it back.
She wouldn’t even let a man help her out of a car.
“Please.” A simple word, but she had to force it past her throat. Hawk had made her beg, plead. The simplest of polite language felt like ashes in her mouth.
But Cal smiled and a spark hit her. She’d pleased him. It was still there, deep down inside, that nature of hers. It was buried under a mile of abuse and crap, but it was there. It was hers. His hand came out, the briefest of touches to help her safely to the ground, and then he let her go. He didn’t paw her, didn’t force her to his side.
“Thank you.” That was easier.
Finn stood to the side, obviously waiting for her to bash him. It still stung, but she could understand why he’d told Cal. She’d killed to save a friend, to save herself. What if he really did care about her? She might not deserve it, but she wasn’t stupid enough to push it away. And he couldn’t miss his kid’s birth because she was a fucked-up weirdo. “I’ll be fine, Finn. I’ll do what Cal asks me. And you’re right. I was thinking about it. I was planning it out. I was going to go to the kitchens and palm a knife. Julian made me get lasered so I wouldn’t have the excuse of shaving. And Finn took all the knives when I moved here.”
“Because I love you.” Finn had obviously gone past his anger, and now she could see plainly that he was afraid to approach her. He’d gambled. He’d placed her safety above their friendship.
Friendship was an act of bravery. Janine had told her that once. It was seemingly simple, but required an open heart, and that was so much harder than it sounded. It would be easier to tell him to fuck off and hide again, but she wouldn’t have done that before. She would never be the Natalie she’d been before Hawk, but she finally understood what Janine had been telling her for years. Getting back her power would take a conscious act of will. It wasn’t something that would just happen. She had to take it back. She had to decide who she wanted to be.
She walked up to Finn and awkwardly put her arms around him. She hadn’t been that close to another human being in years, and it felt weird, but kind of nice. “Thanks for the save today, buddy.”
He held her, softly at first, and then tight, a nice bear hug. “You bet, Nat. Kitten’s coming down with the Dawson brothers.”
She took a deep breath and let go. “Good. I would love to see her. Kitten is pretty and sweet. Kitten will like to go to breakfast with this one.” She grinned a little. Kitten was so subby, she referred to herself in the third person.
Finn smiled back. “You’re in for a surprise, Nat.”
She hoped so. “Now go back to Dallas and get all daddyfied. That sounds kinkier than it should.”
“Are you sure? I could stay and we can watch movies and just get through the night.”
It was a sweet offer, but one she could no longer accept. “Nope. I’m going to try a little spanking tonight. Not from you, Cal. It would be weird. I’ll pick a Dom.”
Cal’s massive shoulders slumped in relief. “Thank god. It would be like spanking my daughter, and I don’t do that. I would rather give you a time-out.”
But sitting in a corner wouldn’t bring her the relief she needed. She had two options. She could run off and cut herself and disappoint every single person who still cared about her, or she could be brave and ask for what she needed. Her stomach turned at the second idea, but her heart hurt at the thought of the first.
She let Cal lead her inside. Tonight she was taking a Dom. Tomorrow she had to find a killer.
Her week was getting full.Chapter Three
Chase yawned, glancing around the dungeon. Maybe he should have stayed in Dallas until Ben got back, but he’d been brutally excited at the prospect of a mystery that didn’t involve who stole his Xbox controller. He’d been restless for months. This was the first thing that had made his blood pulse and hum, and he’d been impatient.
So now he was here in Nowheresville, Texas, on a Friday night without even Logan to run interference for him. Kitten, apparently, needed to pack. He’d rerouted Ben’s plane so Ben could pick up Logan and Kitten and drive them in from Dallas. He’d considered it a thoughtful thing to do. Ben had cussed him out. It didn’t matter because Chase had wanted to get a look at that body. If he’d waited, something bad could have happened like cremation or burial. He didn’t dig up corpses. Well, not often, and ashes would defeat the purpose of examining the body.
And now that he’d seen his corpse, he was right back to restless.
It looked fairly open and shut. Dude had been locked in. Dude had some sex. Dude got a crazy overdose of heroin shoved into his back. Natalie was the last one to see him alive. There was no way the victim could have gotten the needle in his own back. Logic stated that the simplest answer was usually the truth.
Natalie Buchanan was going to jail.
And he would be the bad guy. He leaned against the wall, staring out over the floor. He was going to investigate. He was going to talk to everyone who had reasonable access to the spa. Tomorrow morning was soon enough to start collecting alibis. Logic told him that Natalie had the only key to that room. A small vial of pure China White had been found in one of the drawers in the room Natalie used exclusively.
When it looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, the duck had usually killed someone.
He owed it to Julian to try. And if the asshole deserved it, maybe he could cover for the girl. Who he had yet to meet. He had a time penciled in to talk to the mysterious Natalie Buchanan in the morning.
“Chase Dawson?” A pretty woman with light brown hair approached.
Sub. But not all the time. Oh, the woman in front of him probably liked to submit in the bedroom, but she was a functioning member of whatever team she was on. He glanced at her from head to toe, taking in every inch, evaluating her in a way that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with curiosity.
She was approaching forty, married, likely for a while now. She’d had breast implants. That didn’t fit because she also had laugh lines and the beginnings of a deep crease between her pretty eyes. She worried. She wasn’t vain, and she’d had a couple of kids. Toddlers most likely. There was a bright little stain on the edge of her professional-looking shirt. Paint. Likely water soluble. Someone liked crafts. The boobs bugged him. She had the faintest curve to her belly. Why would a woman get her boobs done, but not liposuction?
“Did you have cancer?”
She stopped short, a startled look crossing her face. “Breast cancer. Many years ago.”
That explained it. “Bilateral mastectomy?”
“Julian told me you were different. May I ask why you’re asking deeply inappropriate questions?”
“Sorry.” Yeah, that sounded like he meant it. “I was trying to figure you out. The boobs don’t fit.”
She frowned. “And what have you figured out?”
“That you are likely Gabrielle Reed.” She wasn’t wearing a name tag, but he would bet a lot that this was the resort manager Julian and Dani had hired. “And before you accuse me of cheating, my brother ran your background check. Background checks bore me. You have at least one, probably two kids, one in a preschool setting who enjoys painting and showing off his…no, her creations. You have a baby, too. Not walking yet. Your husband is a Dom. Your employees adore you. You don’t like me.”
“You can tell a lot just by looking at me.”
“I know about the kids because of the stain on your shirt. You got the start of a shit-eating grin when I said boy, thereby telling me your oldest child is a girl. Your shirt is slightly wrinkled on the left side. That’s where you carry the baby. If your husband isn’t a Dom, I’ll eat my shoe. I can tell your employees adore you because they’re all staring daggers at me right now.”
“And you can tell I don’t like you, how?”
That was the easiest explanation of all. “No one likes me. It’s a safe bet.”
A little smile curled her lips. “You lose, Dawson. I actually quite like a head case, as you’ll come to see. And the cancer question?”
“You’re not a particularly vain woman. You’re allowing yourself to age naturally. You’re quite lovely and soft. The breasts are out of place. They’re nice by the way. Quite well done.”
Her cheeks flushed. “Uhm, I think I should say thanks. Is your brother around?”
Naturally. Everyone would rather deal with Ben. Ben didn’t comment on a stranger’s breasts. “He’ll be here late tonight. I told the front desk to expect him after midnight.”
She sighed and crossed her arms over that well-done chest of hers. “Julian said you’re both very well trained.”
There was only one thing she could be talking about. “Are you in need of a scene partner?”
Was he wrong about the husband?
She flushed slightly. “No, I’m not, but I have a friend who is. I wouldn’t ask, but it’s kind of important. Uhm, you’re strictly working for Julian on this case, right?”
“I rarely work for outside clients. Occasionally I’ll take a case if it interests me.”
“Let’s say you found something against Natalie in this case.”
Ah. Now he understood. “I would feel absolutely no obligation to law enforcement. I would submit my findings to Julian, but no one else. I took a look at the guy. He was dirty. I don’t have proof, but my instincts aren’t usually wrong about assholes. Even dead he gave off a vibe. So, if I find out Ms. Buchanan killed him and had good reasons, I likely would bury the evidence so deep no one could convict her.”
She took a long breath. “Good. Look, Nat didn’t kill him. She told me what happened and I believe her. But she’s found this whole episode a bit unsettling. She needs some help.”
Revelation dawned. “And she’s a sub.”
She needed to scene. She needed to relax.
Gaby nodded. “My husband is with her. We both agree that it might be easier on her if she scenes with someone who doesn’t work here. Do you know her background?”
Quite well. “She hasn’t taken a Dom since the incident?”
The incident had been months of hell. He knew damn well he was understating it.
“No. This is the first time she’s wanted to try.”
“And she doesn’t want to try with someone she knows.” He could understand that. If it all went to hell, she didn’t want to look at her coworker every day.
“I don’t trust the visiting Doms. I don’t know them except by reputation,” Gaby replied. “Julian trusts you and your brother. She needs this. Can you help her and still work the case? I would honestly tell her to wait for someone who won’t be involved, but I’m afraid she’ll back out. This is a huge step for her.”
She was being brave. He could respect that. He looked across the dungeon. “Is that her? With the pink hair?”
He would bet on it. She was the only woman in the dungeon with a chip on her shoulder that he could probably see from space. She stood talking to a dark-haired man, her shoulders somewhere around her ears. He could feel her anxiety from here. Pink hair. Like cotton candy.
Yeah, that wasn’t boring.
“Yes. That’s Nat. She doesn’t want to know your name, by the way. She just looked over and said you would do. I would be standing here telling you to get lost if Julian hadn’t said you were okay.”
Because Nat meant something to her. And she hadn’t come looking for him. “But you wanted Ben.”
She shrugged. “Julian thought Ben would be gentler.”
Chase felt a little like growling, but it would just reinforce the idea that Ben was the nice one.Fuck. Ben was the nice one, but sweetness over there needed a little tart to go with her sugar. “Sometimes gentle isn’t the way to go. I’ll take care of her. Your husband can watch. We’ll keep it public. Sex?”
Gaby shrugged. “Up to her, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Don’t get me wrong. I would cheer if she took a lover.”
Because little Natalie hadn’t had a lover since her abuse. She turned, her eyes telling him everything. She was so damn scared. She was dressed modestly for the dungeon in a short skirt and a tank top. No shoes. Subs had the choice. Stilettos or nothing. She liked comfort, but those legs would look longer in a pair of nasty fuck-me heels. Louboutins. He would buy her a pair. Black, sleek, modest, but he would see the red soles when he spread her legs wide and propped her ankles on his shoulders so he could drive his cock deep.
Those red soles would be for him and Ben.
“You’ll do, Mr. Dawson.” Gaby Reed had an odd look of approval on her face.
Chase had the feeling that he’d given something away. “Why?”
“Because I know that look. You’re interested. I also know something you don’t yet.”
“And what is that?”
“That once you get a taste of her, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll protect her.”
Which just proved she didn’t know a thing. “I doubt it. I’m going to be brutally honest with you. I’m not the one who keeps a woman. Ben is the better choice if you want a permanent Dom for her. I just like to spank a pretty sub, fuck her senseless, and send her on her way.”
“Only because you haven’t met the right one. I’ve figured out a few things about you, too. You don’t like to be bored. You like a challenge. My Nat will challenge you forever if you’re smart enough to really see her.” She took a long breath. “So will you help us?”
He really did love a challenge. Natalie stood out. Her bristly outward demeanor couldn’t cover her vulnerability. Not from him. She needed. She ached for it.
So did he.
“I’ll do it.” Chase pushed off the wall and started toward her, his blood already thrumming through his veins.
* * * *
Nat had to take one righteous breath as the ungodly gorgeous man started walking toward her. She’d kind of picked him because she was sure he’d take one look at her and run. She wasn’t in his league. She didn’t have great boobs like a lot of the women here. Hers were kind of small, and her ass was really round no matter how much she dieted. She was well aware that her riot of pink hair was something a sixteen-year-old would sport, not someone rapidly approaching thirty, and she wasn’t wearing anywhere close to enough makeup. Her heart started pounding because this was stupid. She shouldn’t be here.
“Calm down right this second, Nat.” Cal’s deep tone was hard edged and struck a chord. He never used that voice with her. He was always careful and calm and quiet, and she found it deeply easy to ignore him. She couldn’t ignore him now.
“This is a terrible idea.” What the hell had she been thinking? The Dom who was prowling toward her—there was no other word for it—why couldn’t the dude just walk, but no, he kind of strode with the grace of a panther stalking his meal—was so far out of her league it was ridiculous. He was at least six foot four with dark hair shot through with a golden color that made him look like all her Ken doll fantasies come to life. He was just as perfect as that legendary doll but with a G.I. Joe masculinity that actually made her pussy clench. What the fuck was up with that?
She wasn’t going there. Nope. She wasn’t sure why Mr. Gorgeous was walking toward her, but she was going to be the one who got away. And hid. And peeked out of her hiding place because oh, holy moly and all kinds of religious imagery, that was a chest to die for.
“Nat.” Cal bit her name, and when she looked up at him, he had an unholy look on his face that just for a minute made her want to sink to her knees.
She looked around. It was like little splashes of color were coming back when her world had been black and white forever. “Sorry.”
She didn’t want to let go of that hint of color. Yes, she was scared and, yes, she’d made a dumb mistake targeting Mr. Perfect, but she could start over. She remembered how to manipulate a Dom. It was all there. Her mom had been the master. It was all in the eyes, she would say.Make them big and round and soft and then match your words, sweetie.
She hadn’t thought about that for years now. Her mom had sat her down before she’d gone to her first club and given her a whole list of ways to manipulate big bad Doms.
She looked up at Cal, allowing her lower lip to quiver just the tiniest bit. “I think this is a bad idea, Sir.”
His eyes narrowed. “God, I always knew you would be a righteous brat if you just let it out. Use that pout on Dawson here and see where it gets you.” He softened slightly. “You have a safe word, Nat. Do you want to use it now?”
And Callum Reed seemed to have taken the Dom’s course on manipulating bratastic subs. She knew exactly what he was doing, and her back still came up to meet the challenge.
“They’ve been coddling you too long, Natalie. This is what you respond to. This is what you need.” Cal put a tentative hand on her shoulder. “You’re still in control, probably much more so than if you’d been left alone tonight.”
Because if she’d been alone, her fear, her issues would have been in control. She would have done it. She would have cut herself. She wouldn’t have been able to resist. She would have been right back in that frying pan.
“Hello, Cotton Candy.”
She looked up. And up. And up. Gosh, he was big. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. “Hello.”
He didn’t smile at all. His face was hard and perfect, with high cheekbones and perfectly sculpted lips. His eyes were blue, but there was a bit of coldness there. “You can call me Sir.”
“Your boss tells me you require discipline.”
He was a hard-ass Dom. Just the edge to his voice made her want to back away. There was no emotion there, no connection. When she’d looked across the room, she’d felt a spark at the sight of him, a tiny connection that she could stoke into something warm. But he was an illusion, a beautiful version of the Doms she’d known before. Cold. Hard. Unyielding.
Nat shook her head, revelation overtaking her. She didn’t require discipline. She required connection, even if only for a night.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I made a mistake.” She turned to Cal. “I’ll do whatever you feel is best to get through the night. If you want to find me a babysitter, I’ll do it.”
Cal’s whole face turned down, his mouth frowning, eyes steady but sad. “All right, Natalie.”
Gorgeous Dom didn’t change at all. The same blank expression stayed on his face. He simply stood and waited.
“I’ll go tell Gaby. I’ll hand over the dungeon to Kevin for the night.” He gave her an encouraging smile. “It’s going to be okay. Dawson, we’ll see you tomorrow.” Cal nodded her way and then went off to find his wife.
And she was left alone with the most gloriously beautiful, coldest man she’d ever stared up at. Not the coldest. Hawk took that prize, but only because she knew what he looked like when he held a knife to a woman’s throat and started to slice into her with all the emotion of a man slicing a piece of cheese.
“Hey, are you all right? You just went pale.”
Because she was thinking about it again. Because standing in the dungeon brought back her worst memories. Tears pricked at her eyes.
“Hey, Cotton Candy. Don’t cry. I won’t touch you. I promise.” The first crack appeared in that perfect face. “I won’t let anyone else touch you, either.”
The last bit was said with a little growl that did hot things to her girl parts. Frustration welled. She wanted and she couldn’t seem to let herself have.
His face was a careful blank as he turned and leaned against the wall. “I’ll just stay here until they come back for you. Unless you don’t want me to stand next to you.”
He didn’t look at her, his arctic eyes on the dungeon. He stared at a skinny Domme enthusiastically whipping her big male sub. The male howled, a shockingly high sound coming out of that masculine mouth.
And the Dom smiled, his lips curling up and showing the promise of dimples.
She stepped in front of him, that weird connection she’d felt flaring back to life. “Smile for me.”
A single eyebrow arched over his frosty eyes.
Once a Dom… She softened her request. “Please, Sir.”
“You’re afraid of me.” It wasn’t a question. It was a flat statement of fact.
She knew Cal and Gaby well enough that there was no way this guy didn’t know a bit of her history. Dawson. She wondered if that was his first name or his last name. She’d told Gaby she wanted to know as little as possible about this guy, but now she wondered. And she remembered the first rule of any D/s play. Honesty. “I was abused by a man who never smiled.”
His eyes warmed, but his lips didn’t move. “Then say something smart and bratty because you can’t expect me to smile after hearing that. I’ll be honest, Cotton Candy, I’m not a big smiler. My brother is the one who smiles.”
“Why don’t you smile?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just how I was born. So where’s the dragon tattoo?”
Now she was the one smiling. Smart-mouthed bastard. Yeah, that was kind of sexy. “Hey, I was fucked up before it was cool. This is my fourth hair color this year. I was bright yellow two months ago, but someone called me Big Bird.”
His hand came up, just barely touching her hair. “I like Cotton Candy better.”
“Yeah, don’t expect sweet.”
There it was, that hint of a smile that made her want more. “I think you could be very sweet if someone handled you the right way.”
“What if I don’t want to be handled?” The question came out on a flirty huff. God, was that really her voice? Was she really flirting with this Dom like she could handle him?
The smile deepened, bringing out ridiculously sexy dimples. “Oh, you want to be handled, sweets.”
She kind of did. But she was still a little afraid. “I don’t think I could stand to be tied down.”
“How about a male hand on your body? Could you handle that? No ropes. No cuffs. But I would have to put hands on you, and not in that ‘I’m your dad’ way the other guy did.”
Honesty. Lots of honesty. “I don’t know how I would handle it. I know I didn’t like the thought of you servicing me. When you walked up, it felt like I was hiring you or something. I didn’t like that.”
He very softly brought the pad of his index finger to brush her nose. “Picky sub.”
“I know what it feels like to be used. I don’t want to use you.”
“We all use people. It comes down to how we use them and whether or not they’re okay with being used. How are you going to get what you need if you don’t use someone?”
“It feels wrong.”
“Are you being honest with me about what you want? Is this a plot to trick me into marrying you?”
She rolled her eyes. “No.”
“Then we’re good, sub. You want to play a little in a safe environment with someone who’ll give you some space. I’m cool with that.”
“What do you get out of it?”
“Ah, you’re a clean slate girl. Well, sweetness, what I get out of it is the sight of what I think is going to be a spectacular ass. And when I turn in later, I’ll have something to masturbate to.”
She felt her eyes flare. Well, there was honesty for her. “I somehow think you could find someone for the night.”
He grimaced. “It would be harder than you think. Not a lot of women appreciate my sparkling personality. And besides, I think I’m going to be faithful for the night. I doubt you’ll let me have you, so I’ll pretend.”
The idea of him lying in bed, his hand on his cock while he thought about her, made her breath catch. And still she had to push. “Why me?”
He was silent for a moment as though deciding just how honest he should be. “Because you’re vibrant and different and you’ve muted your glow, but I think you could light up this room if you let go. So I would be using you a little, too. I don’t do many good things. I’m basically selfish. Maybe I want to feel good about myself for once.”
She wasn’t giving him credit. She was judging him the way she expected to be judged, on the outside without a single thought to what was happening inside. She’d looked at his gorgeous body and expected him to not have a soul, much less one as screwed over as hers.
“We could try. You could try to touch me.” She could handle that surely.
“Why don’t you touch me instead?”
He was wearing black leathers, pants and a vest over his bare chest. The leathers rode low on sculpted hips. How long had it been since she touched a man for her pleasure? He stood there, his hands at his sides, but she hesitated.
“He screwed you up, sweetness. What you had with him wasn’t D/s, it was assault. D/s is always consensual. If it isn’t, then it’s a crime being perpetrated on someone. What’s a Dom to your mind? Just give me the first three words you think of. Don’t hesitate.”
“Fuckwad, asshole, my dad.” God, she was so fucked up. It was all a horrible jumble in her brain. “I love my dad. That sounded weird. My dad and mom are lifestylers. They’re a happy D/s couple. I used to think it was horrible because other moms baked cookies and mine made chainmail corsets, but she’s the sweetest woman in the world and my dad is so great.” And she hadn’t been home in forever because it hurt to watch them.
“You need some retraining,” he murmured. “A Dom gives. Touch me. I won’t bite unless you ask me to. But really, my bite is quite nice. Be brave. Touch me. If you want to enjoy the lifestyle again, you have to take the step to trust someone. You’re not trusting me in this case. You don’t know me. But Julian Lodge does. And your bosses are watching right now. Trust them.”
Her eyes slid to where Cal and Gaby stood like nervous parents waiting for their toddler to walk but afraid to help.
Nothing could happen to her here. She was safe in the dungeon. Cal and Gaby watched. Gretchen sat nearby with one of the Doms, a very nice man named Tate. There were three dungeon monitors who checked everyone coming in and going out.
She let her fingers skim the warm flesh of his chest. He might look like he was sculpted from marble, but that skin was soft and hot. She watched as his muscles rippled under her palm. Arousal hummed through her. She wouldn’t do anything about it, but it felt good to know her parts still worked. She leaned in just a little and let his scent wash over her. Masculine and spicy, with just the slightest hint of his own arousal.
Power. This was what she’d missed all these long and lonely years. She’d missed the power of submission, to lose herself in the moment, to watch the big bad Dom’s muscles quiver because he was trying to maintain control.
She placed a palm flat on his chest. His heart beat right under her hand, an intimate rhythm she hadn’t felt in forever.
His eyes stayed on her. They weren’t arctic any longer. They mellowed to a sky blue and held her own. She knew what he was doing. He was taking in every aspect of her, watching for signs of arousal or fear or pain. Measuring her breathing and the way her hands trembled.
“Will you play with me, Sir?”
“Yes. I would love to play with you, sweetness.” He reached up slowly, giving her every chance to move away, but she’d decided she was safe for the moment. She let his fingers trace the curve of her jaw. “I can take care of you.”
It seemed almost a revelation, as though he was surprised he’d made the statement, but his jaw firmed, obviously waiting for her to deny him.
He needed her, too. She had no idea why this man was so scarred, but she felt it.
“Will you spank me? I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. I don’t want to get onstage or have a big scene. Just stop right here and spank me.”
His hand moved from her jaw to her throat, just barely touching her, so soft it was almost like he wasn’t there, just a whisper, a promise of things to come. “I’ll want your skirt up. I want to touch you. Not your pussy. I don’t have the right yet, but I want to caress your ass before I start.”
Her skin felt like it was on fire, but in a good way. And she had a confession to make. “I’m wearing underwear.”
He growled, a low, sexy sound. “Not if I’m going to spank you, you’re not. Give them up.”
Doms. They never took into account a girl’s tender sensibilities because in their world there wasn’t a place for embarrassment. It got in the way of more important things like pleasure and joy and self-acceptance.
If she’d really thought she would actually do this tonight, she would have worn nicer underwear, but no, she was completely out of practice and was wearing cotton panties with Scottish terriers on them. Sir stared at her, his blue eyes watching every move she made. His face was blank, but the coldness in him had evaporated, replaced with something that felt like anticipation and affection.
He liked her.
It made it much easier to push her skirt up and awkwardly step out of her undies. “Sorry.” She handed the slightly faded pair to him.
“You are never wearing these again. I might only play with you once, but this is my edict. No more underwear with dogs on them.”
He looked so horrified. He would be fun to tease, to pull out of his obviously dark spaces and force him to laugh from time to time. “You should see the ones with flamingos.”
He reached for a chair, shoving her sad little Scottie dogs into the pocket of his leathers. Even seated he was intimidating. He patted his lap. “Green, yellow, or red. Where are you right now?”
Ah, the stoplight system of safe words. “I’m green on the cusp of yellow.”
She wasn’t as panicked as she thought she would be, but then all she had to do was look around to see no one was going to let her get hurt. And Sir moved her. He was odd, sexy, slightly lost.
He was like her.
“We don’t start until you’re green, sweetness. I’m not going to scare you away.”
“Because you feel sorry for me?” She wasn’t going to be offended. After everything that had happened to her, she often felt sorry for herself, but she wanted to know where she stood with him.
“Because I really want to feel your ass.”
How could she possibly turn down such a charming man? She found herself smiling, freaking smiling. If he had been charming, she wouldn’t have trusted it, but this Sir didn’t hide behind a mask. “I’m green.”
“I bet you are. I bet you’re green as grass.”
She frowned. “You know I’m not. If you’re looking for innocence, you need another girl.”
“You’re innocent, sweetness. Don’t think because bad shit happened to you that you lost your innocence. It’s still there, but what I hope you learned is that you should surround yourself with people who will protect it, cherish it, not who gain pleasure from trying to wrest it from you. Your innocence has nothing to do with your hymen or how many times you’ve had a dick in your mouth. Innocence has more to do with who you are as a person. Answer me one question, Natalie, and I’ll tell you if you’re innocent or not. If you could go back in time, spare yourself every moment of the pain he caused you, erase it all, but leave the other two there with him, would you do it?”
Leave Gretchen and Kitten? “No. I would do it the same way. He was going to kill Gretchen. He would have done the same to Kitten eventually.”
His hand brushed hers. “Innocent. No one can take that from you, Natalie. Now let me help you. Let me show you that you can have this piece of your life back.”
She draped herself across his lap. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done this willingly. His muscles were rock hard under her belly, and it wasn’t just his thigh.
“Ignore that. Where are we?”
“Green. We’re green, Sir.” Better than green actually. She was tense, but in that happy way because any minute his hand was going to smack her ass.
She felt him push her skirt up, the cool air hitting her skin. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, her hands beginning to shake just a bit. What was she doing? Why the hell was she doing it?
His hand cupped her ass. “You’re beautiful.”
She couldn’t see him. Couldn’t see his face. Couldn’t see what he was going to do.
She heard the smack before she felt it. The hot, hard slap landed on her ass sending a harsh shock through her system. Pain. Tears flashed across her pupils, and just for a second, she wasn’t over this man’s lap but tied down and forced to take whatever Hawk dished out, praying for it to stop, one way or another.
“Do it again.” She wasn’t there. Hawk was dead. He couldn’t hurt her anymore, but she could damn straight hurt herself. She wanted to scream red and run and hide in her room, but she knew what would happen. She would find a way to cut herself because she couldn’t cry.
No hesitation. He smacked her ass again, twice and then three times, that huge hand covering whole sections of her skin in fiery pain. He didn’t hold back. This wasn’t erotic or sexy. It hurt like fuck.
She gritted her teeth, enduring. Each time he slapped her, his hand soothed, fingers tracing her skin as though she was fragile and he was trying to make sure he didn’t leave a mark. But she wanted the mark. She wanted to feel it tomorrow and remember that she’d gotten through it, that she’d taken it.
“Where are we, sweetness?”
“Natalie,” he started, the hesitation in his voice causing her to grasp his ankles.
“Please. I hate fucking begging.”
The slap to her ass was worse than all the others combined. “I’m not making you fucking beg but I will also not hurt you in a permanent fashion.”Smack. “If you want a real sadist, you need to find another sucker, sweetness.”Smack. Smack. Smack. “I am not some asshole who kidnaps women because I can’t keep my dick up without some sadistic shit.”Smack.
Her skin was so sensitive even the smallest slap made her bite back a cry.
This was what she’d missed. Not just the spanking. Not just the magnificent, horrible, amazing heat that flushed through her.
Connection. She was connected to Sir, emotion flowing between them in a way she wasn’t sure she could handle, but she knew she couldn’t say the words that stopped it.
Tears dripped from her eyes. It wasn’t a deluge, but it was enough. A nice floaty sensation started as the tears fell. She needed to scream, but this was enough. Years had passed with nothing but tension. Even when she’d hurt herself, she couldn’t cry, but they squeezed out now. No sobbing, but some relief flowed as Sir smacked her over and over again.
She relaxed, her muscles giving up the fight. Tears fell, silent but there.
He stopped, his hands lifting her, shifting her so she slumped in his arms.
“Cry for me, sweetness. You need it.”
She needed to get away from him. She had zero interest in getting cuddles from the big bad Dom. But he felt so good. His arms encircled her, his hand pressing her close, tucking her head under his chin as she sniffled.
“Hey, sweetie.” Gaby’s voice broke through the relative quiet. “You did great. Come on. We can go and sit and talk. I’m really happy for you.”
“Be happy somewhere else. She’s mine. Until she gets off my lap, she’s mine and I don’t want to share right now.” His arms tightened around her.
Such a bossy Sir. And warm. She was tired and weak and the day had been past shitty. She sighed and relaxed against him.
It was a while before she got off his lap.Chapter Four
Ben thought about hanging himself from the nearest well-pruned tree. The resort was gorgeous and tranquil. He could see that even in the dead of night. But there was no peace for him here. There might not be peace for him anywhere.
“Oh. My. God. This is so cool. I’ve never been to Texas before. Are there cowboys here? Do you think they have horses?”
Georgia wouldn’t stop. Her mouth had been running at three hundred miles an hour since the moment—the terrible moment—he’d agreed to let her come along. He’d started thinking of that moment as his own personal Armageddon. The bible had left out a fifth horseman. Sure, Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death were all scary, but Ben was starting to think they had nothing on Petulance.
“Ewww.” She pushed a few buttons on her phone. Yeah, she loved that phone. “Ashton? OMG. I am. You are? Really. No, like horses and cowboys and shit. Seriously?”
Ben turned up the final drive hoping he knew where the hell he was going.
Georgia screeched, the sound threatening to split his skull in two. “No kidding? She did not do that. What is wrong with that girl?”
Ben sighed. Not only did he have to deal with Georgia’s backseat ramblings to her West Coast friends, he’d been forced to stop in Dallas and pick up Kitten and the kid. Logan Green was the only one who seemed comfortable. He snored lightly from the passenger seat. “What is it, Kitten?”
“Do you know if Nat has been arrested?”
Ben softened. Kitten’s obvious worry for her friend trumped his irritation with everything else in the whole world. “I talked to Chase a couple of hours ago. She was brought in for questioning, but she hasn’t been arrested yet.”
Heavy emphasis on the yet. Chase had seemed fairly sure Kitten’s friend had done the deed. Of course with Chase that didn’t mean a damn thing. If he decided it would be more fun to cover for the chick, he would do it. Ben had gotten every bit of morality between them. Chase often viewed life as one big game, and the people around them were simply chess pieces for his amusement.
“Kitten—I don’t believe Nat killed this man.”
It was sweet, but he had to look at the evidence. “I hope not.”
“Nat would have just gutted the man and called the police.” Kitten sat back. Through the rearview mirror, he could see the stubborn set of her jaw. Kitten still struggled with being assertive, but she held her own much better than she had a month ago. “I’ve seen Nat kill a man. She wouldn’t hide it.”
Kitten had been through a lot, but she hadn’t seen the things Ben had. Natalie Buchanan could have snapped. He wouldn’t blame her if she had, but he had a job to do. “We’ll see, Kitten.”
“Yes, murder,” Georgia continued. “I’m totally working a freaking murder case. Can you believe it? I’m totally an investigator now.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck. He should have left her behind in Dallas. The last thing he needed was Georgia trying to help.
“I’m not sure allowing your sister to investigate Nat’s case is a good idea, Sir.”
Yes, Kitten was showing marked signs of improvement. Ben turned down the long circular drive. He needed to find Chase and figure out what they were going to do with the brat. Chase was better at running people off than Ben was.
A high-pitched giggle came out of Georgia’s mouth, and she slapped at her knee. “You’re so totally right. I’m like one of thoseCharlie’s Angels. I’m totally the blonde one.”
Ben stopped the car and a staff of valets descended. Logan opened his eyes, stretching his lanky body. “You’ve been a huge help, Logan.”
The kid frowned. “Do you want me to help?”
“Well, I didn’t bring you along for my health.”
Logan got out of the car and stopped the valet who was trying to open Georgia’s door. “Please, allow me.”
Ben got out of the car, helping Kitten. The night was utterly peaceful with the singular exception of Georgia’s ongoing, never-ending recitation of everything that happened to her from the airplane to the diner to the SUV not having satellite radio. Ben looked out over the grounds. A large lake with a lighted fountain was to his left. It was the kind of thing that would be nice to walk around with a sweet woman, talking and enjoying the night. That wasn’t going to happen.
Georgia didn’t even look at Logan as he reached in to help her out. “Yeah, there’s another guy. Uhm, no, not with a ten-foot pole. No, he’s from that little town in Colorado. I know. I kind of thought it was a myth, too. Like who lives in Colorado?”
Logan smiled at her, helped her down, and took her phone and launched it in a perfect spiral throw straight into the lake.
Georgia’s eyes got wide, her mouth dropped open, but for once absolutely nothing came out.
Logan yawned again before giving Ben a little pat on the back. “There. I helped.”
Kitten grinned up at Logan, threading her arm through his. “Sir is very good at throwing phones.”
Logan winked down at her. “Sir is very sick of listening to idiocy. Sir wanted to sleep, but he got to listen to California girl over there prove you really can waste money on a college education. Now, it’s time for Kitten’s feeding. Let’s get you something to eat, sweetheart, and then we’ll check out the dungeon in this place.”
Georgia sputtered behind Logan. “How could you do that?”
Logan never looked back. “It was easy, darlin’. I put my arm back and threw. That’s what they teach us boys in Colorado. You can swim and get it if you like, but I’ll just throw it again. Learn some manners, little girl.”
Okay. He liked the kid.
“You have to fire him, Benny. He’s horrible.” She crossed her arms over her chest before turning her face up and giving him puppy dog eyes. “Benny, I need a little money so I can replace my phone.”
And ruin all of Logan’s good work? “Not a chance. You want a phone? Get a job, Georgie. And you’re bunking with Logan and Kitten. I hope you like the couch. Welcome to my world.”
He walked into the lobby, a rich confection of elegance and Western design. A well-dressed young man waited on him.
“Mr. Dawson, my name is Chris. Here’s the key to your room. Your brother assures me the Internet connection is fine. It’s all he really cared about. Hopefully you’ll appreciate the thousand-thread-count sheets, designer décor, and in-room hot tub.”
That was Chase. He’d already pissed off the staff. Ben gave Chris his smoothest smile. “The resort is gorgeous. I can’t thank you enough for accommodating us on such short notice. Could you tell me where my brother is?”
“Of course. He’s in the dungeon.”
Well that didn’t take long. “I don’t suppose I can just walk down there like this?”
“Fet wear only, Mr. Dawson. I had a set of leathers placed in your locker. Feel free to change.”
Ben sighed. He was dead tired, but he needed to talk to Chase. “Thank you. Please have the luggage sent up to our room. And any minute now a ball of chaos and tears is going to walk through that door. It’s my sister. Feel free to put her in a closet if she misbehaves.”
He followed the signs to the dungeon. His long night wasn’t over yet.
* * * *
She’d made a horrible mistake. She knew it the minute she left the dungeon and walked into the women’s dressing room.
“Are you all right?” Gaby asked. She didn’t need to change. She ran the place, but she pulled off her daywear in exchange for a leather bustier. It looked like she and Cal would get in some play tonight.
“I wanted to sleep with him.” There. She’d said it. She’d just put it out there. She’d wanted to have sex with a guy she’d just met. She never did that. She didn’t even scene with a guy until she’d known him a couple of months and had him checked out.
But she wanted Sir. Dawson. Whatever his name was. She’d sat there cuddling with him and there was nothing she’d wanted more than to tilt her head up and hope he would kiss her.
Gaby’s eyes got wide. “Really? He’s so…weird.”
Yes, he’d been weird. He’d been awkward at times. After he’d held her for the longest time, he’d been right back to that cold, distant Dom he’d been in the first place, but she saw through that now. It was his mask. She wore one, too, but he’d let her in by sitting there and holding her, his big, strong hands smoothing back her hair. “I like him.”
“Okay. You know I’ve really heard his brother is nicer.”
Nat didn’t want nice. She wanted awkward. And she wanted to know what his tattoo meant. He’d had one on his chest, just under his vest. An eagle and some other stuff. She hadn’t gotten to really look at it. She’d been too busy nuzzling him and feeling safer than she had in forever.
It didn’t make a lick of sense, but it was true. And she wanted to touch him, to kiss him, and to see if she could do this thing. Sex. Damn it. She wanted sex, and she’d been too afraid to ask for it.
“I want him. But I don’t think I should want him.” Misery washed over her. He could be gone tomorrow. “Do you think he’s here with a sub?”
“I can assure you he doesn’t have a submissive. I don’t know much about him, but Julian told me he’s incredibly intelligent and well trained as a Dom. He takes it seriously. I don’t know that he takes sex very seriously. Julian did say he hasn’t been in a real relationship the whole time he’s known him.”
So he was available and not that into commitment. That wasn’t such a bad thing. It wasn’t like she wanted to marry him or anything. She just wanted to experiment a little.
She wanted to forget a lot. She wanted to erase the whole day. She knew she couldn’t do that, but she could forget for the night. She could lie down beside him and revel in that big body because Gaby was right. He was safe.
Julian Lodge was sort of like Satan. No one fucked with him. Julian didn’t care if a person hadn’t known they were fucking with him. He didn’t give passes or listen to logic. Tony hadn’t realized when he sold her to Hawk that he would come under Julian Lodge’s special brand of justice. After Julian had discovered Tony’s involvement in her slave stint, Tony had lost his job, found he no longer had a credit rating, and got his ass put on the no-fly list. He’d committed suicide rather than going to jail, and Nat didn’t feel bad about it. Certainly not after she’d learned she hadn’t been the only woman Tony had sold.
But Sir Dawson was Julian Lodge approved.
And he was so lickable it hurt. Her girl parts, which had seemed to be in a deep freeze, had come roaring back to life. Yes, Sir Dawson was a weirdo, but so was she. His awkward growl was practically a fucking mating call.
She had pink hair and a tongue piercing, and another little jewel in a place that might shock her tattooed hottie. They were a good, casual match.
She’d just never really done casual before. Despite her previous lifestyle, she’d only had sex with two guys, a high school boyfriend and a Dom she’d seen for a few months after college. What happened with Hawk didn’t count. She’d only chosen to sleep with two men.
Sir Dawson would make three.
But more importantly, he would mean she’d survived. But she still worried. “What if he doesn’t want me?”
Gaby sat down beside her, rubbing her shoulders in a way Nat wouldn’t have accepted a few hours before. “He wants you. He sat there holding you for half an hour. He wants you bad. He didn’t find another sub. He went to the bar. As far as I know, he’s still there. Nat, if you want him, you should take him, but there’s something you should know first.”
“He’s the investigator Julian sent.” She wasn’t stupid. A Julian-approved Dom showed up just as she was being investigated for murder.Duh.
Gaby slumped a little. “You’re not mad?”
That Julian gave a shit? “No. Gaby, I didn’t do this. I didn’t know that Stan had a drug problem. I didn’t really know anything. He won’t find bad stuff on me.”
So it was okay to play around with him. Right? It was okay to lose herself in him, just for a night or for however long he stuck around.
Gaby put a hand over hers. “I know that, sweetie. I just don’t want you to ever think I would betray you.”
Nat understood the meaning of betrayal. Gaby hadn’t even come close. “I knew it when I pointed him out. Just tell me I don’t seem slutty.”
Gaby’s smile broke over her face. “Sweetie, you’re the least slutty girl I know. Go for it. Have fun. Live. I don’t know a single person who deserves a little happiness more than you. If Dawson moves you, if you feel a connection to him, then you should follow it. He’s not a dating kind of guy. He’s a D/s guy. I met Cal one night, slept with him because I knew he was the one for me, and then it all went to hell. And we still got married, and we still had kids, and we still have an amazing life. I wouldn’t take back the ‘mistake’ of sleeping with him for anything.”
It was a mistake. But it was one she was willing to make.
It was just a little pleasure. Just a little sex. She hadn’t had a male hand on her body for years until tonight, and she felt a little drugged by it.
She felt more like herself than she had in years. She leaned over and kissed Gaby on the cheek. “Are you having breakfast?”
“You know Saturday morning breakfast is sacred.” Gaby winked her way.
“Well, maybe I will be there this time and maybe I will be having breakfast in bed so don’t wait for me.” She stood up. A giddy joy rushed through her. It was stupid but it was her mistake to make. Hers. Not something forced on her by someone else or by her own fear. This was a stupid-ass mistake she would make because her pussy was attuned to Sir Dawson.
She walked out of the locker room and turned toward the bar, hoping he was still there and hadn’t left for his room where he’d assured her he would be masturbating to thoughts of her. And he’d taken her panties. They’d been in his pocket when she’d walked away from him. The thought of him pulling out her dumb-ass printed panties and playing with them should have creeped her out, but it was all a part of Sir Dawson’s weirdness.
And then she saw him. Big, strong, seemingly cold. He stepped out from the men’s locker room and put his hands on his lean hips as if he was looking for something—or someone. Her? She stopped, giving him a soft smile. He was a Dom. He deserved her softness since he’d given her his gentleness when she’d needed it most.
Sir Dawson stopped, a curious look coming over his face.
She took the initiative. He knew her background. He likely wouldn’t make the first move. “Hey.”
His lips curled up in the hottest smile. “Hi. Your hair reminds me of cotton candy. I like it.”
Yeah, he’d made that clear. It was one of the things she liked about him. He didn’t judge her on her not-so-normal hair choices. “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything, sweetheart.” He seemed more relaxed, his whole body moving from tension to an anticipatory stance. “I’m looking for my brother, but he can wait. What can I do for you?”
“Let me make love to you.” That was as boldly as she could put it.
He shook his head as though to clear it, but then a sunny smile came over him. She’d brought that out in him. He’d been so closed off, but now he was grinning at her like he’d hit the lottery. It made it ridiculously easy to walk straight up to him and put her hands on his chest the way she had before, though she didn’t hesitate this time. She ran her hands up his abs, every single cut muscle a pleasure to her fingers. She pushed the vest back, looking at that sexy tat.
“What does it mean?” It was an eagle clutching a rifle, an anchor, and a trident. It looked very patriotic.
He leaned back just a bit, allowing her to see it fully. “It means I got my ass shot off in Afghanistan and various other foreign countries. It’s a SEAL tat. We get them when we leave active duty.”
She could buy that. A Navy SEAL. He’d fought for his country. A warrior. Maybe that was why she felt safe with him.
“Sweetheart, are you sure you want to play with me?” His hands came up, tracing the line of her jaw. “You should be careful.”
“Are you going to hurt me?” He hadn’t before. He’d given her exactly what she needed.
“No.” His thumb found her lower lip, his eyes catching there. “Not at all. Actually I’ve had a horrible day. I’ll be honest with you, I normally wouldn’t do this, but I’ll take it today.” He crowded her, leaning over. “Come up to my room. But not before you tell a friend where you’re going.”
She looked back at Gaby. “Gaby knows. She runs the place.”
He shot Gaby a smile. “Yeah, that’s good, sweetheart. Let’s go upstairs and hope my brother’s not hanging around. I heard he’s in the dungeon. He’s probably playing with a sub, but he can manage on his own for a night.”
She wondered about his brother, the nice one. But he was all she needed. “Can you kiss me, Sir?”
“How do you like to be kissed, sweetheart? I don’t know how your relationships work. Do you want it soft or rough?”
“I want it every way.” She wanted to lose herself. That was all.
He leaned over and pressed his beautiful mouth on hers. Men’s lips shouldn’t be so full and sensual. He was softer than she’d expected, but it was a revelation all the same. He didn’t pull her to him, rather let her cuddle up, her body molding to his. He had to lean over to kiss her, making her feel petite and delicate and feminine, a state she thought she’d left long ago.
He kissed her, his tongue tracing the seam of her lips, asking for entry. He was tentative, not at all the strong dominating presence of before, but she was okay with that. He knew her story. He was treating her with caution. One more reason to like the man.
“You’re awfully sweet.”
She felt sweet. “I’m in a mood, Sir. Take me to your room.”
He took her hand and led her away. Nat followed, her heart pounding. She was ready to find out just how far she’d come.Chapter Five
Ben hit the button for the tenth floor and wondered briefly what the hell the sweet-faced girl with the pink hair was doing, but then he saw the swell of her breasts and the way her eyes heated up and he didn’t give a shit.
Everything could wait. He’d known it the minute he saw her. A connection had sparked as if he already knew her. Sweetness. The word had played along his head, a little whisper he couldn’t ignore. She would be sweet once he got past her armor.
He could still feel Chase, but he ignored his brother’s pull. Chase was brooding. What was different about that? Chase was bemoaning his existence or drinking because he was bored. Ben wasn’t sure what had happened earlier. He’d felt an odd sense of contentment rush through his system, blanketing him in peace. It had to be Chase since at the time Ben himself had simply been pissed off because Georgia wouldn’t stop complaining about her broken nail. Now Chase was right back to his brooding self. It was a regular old Dawson Friday night. Being weirdly connected to his brother was the bane of his life.
But the girl with the pink hair was different.
He’d looked at her across the dungeon and his dick had leapt at the sight. She was different, and the way she looked at him made him feel ten fucking feet tall. She looked like she could eat him alive, and he would love the process of feeding her.
He needed this, and she’d shown up like freaking manna from heaven. He pulled her close, his hands sliding over the curve of her ass, and she winced slightly.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m still a little sore from earlier.”
Ah, now he understood what she was doing. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to help out a poor little submissive who’d been horribly treated by a Dom. It could happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes the Dom wasn’t available sexually. Sometimes the Dom was just a nasty asshole who believed in withholding orgasms. Ben did not agree with withholding orgasms. Orgasms made the world a happier place. And he really wanted an orgasm. “Did some mean old Dom get you all hot and bothered and then leave you aching, sweetheart?”
She smiled, shy sensuality coming off her in waves. She was tentative, but she wanted this. He could tell. He wondered just how much experience she had. “He did. He was actually really amazing, but I need more. But I was so grateful for the discipline.”
And he was grateful that dumb-ass Dom hadn’t taken her up on all that sweetness she promised. He thought briefly about texting Chase. He would be crazy about the girl with the cotton candy hair and doe eyes. She was exactly Chase’s type, but he didn’t want to scare her off.Hey, I want to share you with my twin brother. By the way, what’s your name, seemed to be just asking for trouble.
Chase could wait. Ben wanted to forget his craptastic day and the fact that he was working a murder case that might hurt his boss, and all the shit with Georgie. He didn’t need the pink-haired girl’s name. He just needed to get inside her, to remind himself that he was fucking good at something. He could satisfy her and take a little something for himself.
“No playing, okay, sweetheart? I just want to fuck for a good long while. Can you just let me make you feel good?” He was too fucking tired to tie her up and play all the games Chase insisted on.
Her bottom lip trembled just a little. “Good. I don’t know how I would handle it. I might need to be on top, if that’s all right. Actually I don’t want to be under you. I need to be on top, okay?”
Girl on top was perfect. She could do most of the work. “I’m fine with that. I’d like to kiss you again.”
She nodded, and he didn’t wait for more. He pulled her close, reveling in the feel of her against him. It was an oddly comfortable feeling, as though he’d held her before. Even her scent seemed familiar and soothing. Everything about her calmed him. Well, the parts of him that weren’t standing at rigid attention and begging to dip inside what promised to be a tight pussy.
He kissed her, his tongue tangling and finding the hard metal nub of her tongue piercing. That would feel like heaven on his cock. He could hold that pink hair of hers and let her run that little stud across his dick until he was just about ready to blow. Then he could pull her off and mount her, fucking her until she cried out.
Her nipples rubbed against his chest, her hands exploring.
The elevator door opened. They were on ten. His room. He hoped the bellman had done his job and brought his luggage up already. That bag had his condoms. He’d tossed them in because he was going to a sex club, and despite the crappy job he had to do, there was sex to be had at sex clubs. He’d spent the last year or so of his damn life watching after Kitten and being forced to stare as his friends all settled into relationships where they got regular, happy sex.
Ben wasn’t about to feel bad about his hookup, no-name quickie.
He took her hand and led her down the hall, his heart thudding in his chest because this freaking no-name quickie was making him feel more alive than he had in forever.
She pulled back just a little. He turned and softened. She looked so vulnerable. His hands covered hers, surrounding her because he wasn’t about to let her go. He would coax her, make her feel safe because he just knew he had to have her.
“What’s your name?” It came out of her mouth so softly he almost didn’t hear it.
He smiled, bringing her hand to his lips. Her skin was so soft, her scent feminine and, fuck, citrusy. God, he loved that smell. “Benjamin. It’s Ben Dawson. How about you, sweetheart?”
That spark of spunk was back in her eyes, making his cock jump. “Ah, the formal introduction. Nat. Though I do answer to Cotton Candy.”
Nat. He liked it. It fit her. “Well, you are definitely as sweet as cotton candy.” He pulled his key card with one hand and tugged her close with the other. “Are you still sure? We don’t have to do this. We can go downstairs and talk. I can buy you a drink.”
He didn’t want that. The need to fuck her was riding him hard. He wasn’t even sure what it was about her that had him so fucking on edge, but he was going with it. The emotion felt so good. He’d been dead inside for a while, the world around him bland and black and white, and when he looked at her he saw colors.
Fuck. Was he feeling something Chase was feeling? Was Chase flirting with some pretty woman and Ben was getting the edge of his arousal?
“I don’t want a drink. I want this.” The door closed behind Nat and it didn’t matter who was feeling what. All that mattered was getting her out of those clothes and onto his cock. He could deal with the rest of it later. For right now a gorgeous woman wanted him, and that felt really fucking good.
He tossed the leather vest aside, puffing up with male pride as her eyes got wide. He was pushing thirty-six, but he kept himself in shape, the rigors of his past military life never quite leaving him. “Come here.”
He was done playing. He wanted his hands on her.
She took a deep breath, stepping forward. He could feel her nerves. He put a hand on her hair, smoothing it back. His other hand cupped her hip, running over her curves. He let her hips bump against him. She was so petite. He wanted her to feel the length of his erection, wanted to rub it against her pussy, but he caught the gentle curve of her belly. If he wanted to kiss her, he would nearly have to bend in half. Groaning with frustration, he reached down and picked her up. “Wrap your legs around my waist.”
She gasped, but did as he asked. “You picked me up.”
Her mouth was slack like she couldn’t believe it. He liked this position. If her clothes were off, he could sink right in and control the penetration by moving her up and down on his cock. As it was, he could feel her heat against his crotch, and fuck, he loved the way her ass felt in his hands. He grinned at her. “You don’t weigh a thing, sweetheart. And this way, you can kiss me.”
She bit into that hot-as-fuck, bee-stung bottom lip but seemed to come to a decision. Her hands sunk into his hair, and she tugged back a little. Yeah, that got him hot, too. Chase was the one who wanted to be in control all the time. Ben liked a little push back. Ben liked the give-and-take of a really strong woman. He wanted to argue and fight and fuck like animals afterward.
He allowed her to lead, her tongue tentative at first and then demanding. Her hands pulled at his hair, and he sank his fingers against the flesh of her ass. No panties. Good girl. He didn’t want to have to deal with underwear. He wanted to shove that skirt up and fuck into her. There would be plenty of time later for a longer, leisurely fuck. Hell, if he got her off well enough, she might still be around when Chase got back, and they could show her the joys of a little double penetration.
He walked to the bed, bypassing the living area and heading for the bedroom portion of the suite, hoping she wouldn’t notice that his brother was staying here, too, and Chase was a slob from hell. Of course it would be way better if she didn’t figure out that he and Chase had shared quarters most of their lives because they had some freaky fucking twin thing where they could feel each other’s emotions, so it felt stupid to have separate apartments when they couldn’t have separate lives.
His knees hit the bed, and he turned until he could fall back on it. She wanted to be on top. Said she needed it. He meant to give it to her. He loved the weight of her on his cock. Which was wretchedly hard and practically banging out of his leathers.
She pulled up, her torso coming over him. “Dawson, I need this. Can you make me forget everything just for a little while?”
Oh, yeah. He could do that for her. Her every word dripped like honey. “Grab a condom out of that leather bag at the end of the bed and you can do whatever you like to me. Consider me your slave tonight, sweetheart.”
A shudder passed through her. “Just be my lover.”
He nodded. He wasn’t going to argue semantics. “Your lover.”
She nodded, breathless, and rolled off him. She was lithe, her body as sensuous as a cat. He heard the sound of a zipper, and then she was back, a little foil wrapper in her hand.
“You come prepared, Dawson.” She stood over him.
“I’m a freaking Boy Scout.” He could feel the judgment coming off her in waves. “I was coming to a sex club.” He sat up. “People usually come here for sex. You’re here. What’s your excuse?”
He hated judgment. He’d had enough of it when he was a kid dealing with his dad.Why can’t you be normal? What the fuck is wrong with you and your brother that you can’t just like a girl on your own?
He’d gotten the first question when he and Chase always, always, always got the same grades and answered the same questions the same way in school. No matter how they tried to separate them, they always answered the same until they’d learned to adapt. And the second accusation came from their father right before he’d dropped them out into the world without money or help or security.
Yeah. He didn’t do judgment. Not even when he wanted a little pussy.
“I was joking.” Cotton Candy put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down. “Don’t be so serious. I was just a little intimidated. It’s been a while for me.”
She ripped open the condom. “Four years, one month, and three days, though I don’t count a bunch of those months so really more like four and a half years. It’s been a while and I’m way more bitter than I was then.”
Four and a half years. Something had happened to her because she was a bundle of sensuality. He let his hands drift up her thighs. “I can do this as fast or slow as you need me to. I’m adaptable.”
Her lips curved up in a grin. “I think you are, Dawson. You might be just what I need.” Her hands traced the curve of his tat. “I admit, when I saw you I thought you were a big bad Dom who wouldn’t ever let a sub have her way no matter what.”
So fucking gorgeous. She tried to hide it, but she couldn’t. Sure, she would be more traditionally beautiful without the pink hair and three earrings, but he liked her mileage. She was lived in, comfortable in her skin. And it wasn’t like he didn’t have a little ink. “I want to give you what you need.”
“I need this.” She played at the ties on his leathers, releasing them and pushing theVback. His cock sprang right out, like a puppy just released to play. She sighed, a happy, satisfied sound, and took him into one hand. “I definitely need a little of this.”
“Take it, baby.” He closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of that small hand grasping his cock. “Take everything you need.”
He let his head rest back and forgot about everything.
* * * *
Chase stared into his rum and wondered what his little piece of sugar was doing.
His. Damn. He was already possessive. This was bad. Really bad. His brain worked at a rapid-fire pace. There were a million and one reasons a relationship with her was bad. She was one of Julian’s little pet projects. Julian would very likely cut his cock off with a rusty razor blade if he hurt her. She was also potentially going to jail for murder. That didn’t bother him so much. If she did it and he decided it was justified, he could get her off.
God, he wished he’d gotten her off. He’d thought about it, thought about just spreading her legs and playing with her pussy. He could have made her come. She’d been boneless after her spanking, her whole body slumped over his knee. Her bare ass had been right there, just waiting to be played with.
But she’d been crying. He hadn’t been able to think straight. He’d followed his instincts and pulled her up, wrapping his arms around her and cuddling her close.
He didn’t fucking cuddle. He left that to Ben. Ben was the cuddler. Ben was the pussy ass who needed to hold a chick after sex. He hadn’t even had sex with her, but he’d enjoyed the feel of her against his skin. He’d nuzzled his face against that bright pink hair, and his mind had gone to a hundred different places.
He’d thought about taking her back to Dallas with him. He was losing it.
“Chase, dude, where did Ben go?” Logan walked up, his broad body in leathers. Kitten walked beside him, her head held high, so unlike the damaged girl who’d come to him four years ago begging for a beating. She’d been with that fucking monster for so long she equated a beating with love and acceptance. He could still remember the time she’d tried to climb in bed with him, offering him her body, her mind, anything so he would let her call him Master.
She’d come to Chase. Not Ben. It always bothered him. She’d come to him because she’d thought he would be cruel.
Cotton Candy hadn’t thought he was cruel.
“Haven’t seen him.” Chase’s eyes caught on something straight out of his own personal horror film. His baby sister stood ten yards away, her blonde hair swinging as she talked to the bartender who simply shook his head and pointed Chase’s way. “Holy fuck. What the hell is that? Logan, you better tell me I’m dreaming right this fucking second.”
Georgia caught sight of him. His pain-in-the-ass baby sister was wearing a leather miniskirt and bustier he recognized as Kitten’s. It looked like she’d stuffed herself in and was in deep danger of falling out. It was not a sight he wanted to remember. She turned, her blue eyes widening and her mouth opening in what he was damn sure would be a screech. Chase braced himself.
Logan turned, his deep voice resounding. “Don’t do it, Georgia. This is a dungeon. If you’re going to scream, you better have a damn good reason. If you don’t have one, I’ll give you one.”
Georgia’s nose wrinkled, but she closed her mouth. She ran to Chase anyway, throwing herself in his arms before he could run away. Her voice was at a smart-ass whisper. “OMG, Chasey! I’m so happy to see you. My big brother. I’ve missed you.” She frowned Logan’s way. “This is my big brother, and he’s the mean one. Ben might put up with your crap, but he won’t. Chase, this man threw my phone away and insulted my intelligence. Chase, kill.”
So Logan had been giving Georgia hell? His estimation of the Bliss kid went up. “I can’t kill him. I’m mentoring him. Well, Leo is, but Leo can’t leave Dallas because Shelley has his balls tethered to her Manolos.”
Georgia’s Jimmy Choos tapped against the floor. “What is this place anyway? I thought we were investigating a murder.”
How bad had this gotten? “You aren’t investigating anything except the flight schedule for how to get home. And this is a sex club.”
Her mouth dropped. “OMG. I have to call my girlfriends. I just landed in the middle ofFifty Shades.” She frowned Logan’s way. “I would call them, but he threw away my phone.”
Logan growled a little. “Your ass is going to be fifty shades of red if you don’t tone it down. Does she have volume control?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s giving me a headache.” He slumped back in his chair. Where was the waitress with the big cans? He’d noticed them earlier and then all he’d been able to think about was Nat’s boobs. They weren’t as big, but they’d looked perky and firm and they would probably fit right into the palm of his hand.
Logan sighed, pulling out a chair for Kitten. He slid a menu her way. “You hungry, darlin’?”
“Yes, Master Logan.” She smiled contentedly, giving Chase a little wink he never would have seen a couple of years ago. “I thank you for allowing me to come along, Master Chase. I’m very much looking forward to spending time with my friends.”
Logan grimaced. Chase bet Logan had never thought he would be the monitor for a girl’s slumber party and it wouldn’t sound sexy. “I already met Gretchen. Not so much with the friendly.”
Kitten shook her head. “Gretchen has a surly demeanor. You just have to look past it. I tried calling Natalie, but she didn’t answer.”
Because she’d been draped over Chase’s lap, her round ass taking every swing of his hand, the flesh pinkening beautifully. She was a rosy red by the time he was done with her. “I’m sure your friend is all right. Kitten, I intend to make sure Natalie doesn’t ever get arrested for this.”
A broad smile crossed her face. “I know you will, Master Chase. You will take care of her. I trust you.”
Trust meant something to Chase. He nodded at Kitten and then turned to his sister. Who shouldn’t be here. No way. No fucking how. “Why aren’t you in Los Angeles? Did Ben forget his checkbook?”
He’d laughed earlier in the day as he’d sicced Hurricane Georgia on Ben. But Ben was supposed to survive the storm and send her on her way with a nice-sized check from the account they shared. What he absolutely wasn’t supposed to do was to come back to Texas dragging chaos with him. Chase loved his sister. Just from afar.
Georgia perked up as though finally happy to be the center of attention, no matter how bad the attention actually was. “Benny’s going to help me find a job.”
Chase growled a little. His sister was not a fixer-upper. His sister was a mess who needed a husband with a ton of cash so he could deal with her instead of Chase. “Aren’t you supposed to be an actress?”
She shrugged. “It’s boring.” Her eyes narrowed as she stared at Logan. “There are only three seats. Shouldn’t you be a gentleman and give up yours? Don’t they teach you how to treat a lady in Colorado? And while you’re at it, call the waiter because I really need some food. The plane food was icky.”
Logan never looked up from perusing the menu. He simply pointed to the floor beside his chair.
Chase had to bite back a laugh. Logan wanted to play Georgia like that? Oh, he would buy tickets to that show. His mind shifted. Actually, it wasn’t such a bad idea. Georgia was a brutal mess. She had a soft heart, but she covered it up with brattiness and sarcasm. She was just another Dawson train wreck. Chase and his brothers had dealt with it through a combination of military service, liquor, overwork, and finally BDSM.
“Is he slow? Why didn’t he answer me?” Georgia asked.
Chase looked back up at his sister. The thought of walking into a club and seeing his sister on a spanking bench made him vomit a little in his mouth, but it was becoming obvious that something had to change for her. College hadn’t fixed her. Their dad was done with her. Unless he wanted Georgia dependent on her brothers for the rest of her life, he might have to take a gamble. It looked like Logan was just in the worst place at the worst possible time. Poor guy. “He did, Georgie. He told you where you could sit.”
Her voice lowered. “Does he know there’s no chair there?”
“I think so. This is a BDSM club. He’s a Dom. You are so not a Domme. If you aren’t a Domme, then you’re a sub, and apparently Ben left you to Logan’s care. So you can sit on the floor next to him or you can go back to your room.”
Her nose wrinkled in distaste. “Or I can find another table.”
Logan’s eyes came up, narrowing on Chase’s sister. “You can try. You don’t have a collar on. Any Dom in the place with a taste for a massive brat with nice tits will be all over you. You’ll find yourself tethered and walking toward a spanking chair pretty damn quick. So if you want to avoid a spanking, you can sit down where I told you to and you can start thinking about what comes out of that mouth of yours.”
Chase waited for Georgia to erupt, but she smiled. “Oh, my god. You think my tits are nice?”
Logan sighed. “Yep. Doesn’t even come close to making up for that mouth, though.” He leaned over and started talking to Kitten as the waitress walked up to take their orders.
Georgia pouted. “I really don’t like him. I think you should fire him. I tried to get Ben to, but he wasn’t listening to me.”
Chase sucked down the last of rum number one. He needed to work on number two and three and four because it would take a whole bunch of liquor to get through tonight. Eventually Ben would show up and demand to know everything that had happened because there was absolutely no way his way-too-empathic brother had not gotten a blast of what Chase had felt for the girl with the pink hair and that fucking tongue piercing that got his dick hard. And then Chase was going to have to explain that he’d spanked the hell out of their prime suspect. Even if Chase managed to avoid his brother all night and all morning, Ben might notice when he tugged Natalie in his lap for the interrogation.
What the hell was wrong with him? He hadn’t been this freaked out over a girl since Kelly McSimmons had taught him that a blow job didn’t have anything to do with drying his hair.
“And then he threw my phone away.” Georgia huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “So you should kill him.”
Chase looked up. Logan’s eyes had closed. “Dude, she’s been going on for five minutes. How do you block that shit out?”
“Years of practice.” It was better to just get it over with. Hell, maybe Ben was the reason he’d felt so much for Cotton Candy. Maybe Ben had been talking with some superhot chick at the time and Chase got caught up in his overemotional crap. Ben was always feeling too much. He looked up at the waitress. “Have you seen my brother? Looks just like me.”
The waitress shook her head.
Georgia huffed a little. “I saw Benny. He went back up in the elevator with some pink-haired chick. You know Ben. He can get busy faster than anyone I know. Seriously, you need to talk to him. He’s kind of turning into a man-whore. Do you remember a couple of months back when you both came out to see me starring in the stage version ofFull House? I was the ironic Mary-Kate Olsen? Yeah, I totally caught him doing the female Uncle Jesse in the dressing room.”
“That was me.” And female Uncle Jesse had been the Michael Phelps of deep-throating. She’d never taken a breath. Yeah, he still thought about her. He tried to forget about her mullet. What did she mean by pink-haired girl? Maybe there were a bunch of pink-haired girls. Maybe it was a thing at this place. Fuck no.
Kitten’s eyes lit up. “Natalie is dating Ben?”
Chase felt every muscle in his body tense. “I wouldn’t call it dating.”
He hoped Ben didn’t fuck this up. He stopped. Ben wouldn’t fuck it up. If Natalie needed to talk, Ben was probably the better choice. He wondered if she’d been surprised to find out Ben wasn’t her Sir Dawson. That would be funny.
What if she liked Ben better? He was probably doing a whole fuckload of mushy talking stuff and telling her shit about how the world wasn’t all bad. Chase would just have told her yeah it was crap, let’s fuck.
Georgia frowned, her lips still pouting down in impatience. “Chase, I don’t know how he met the Goth chick. I think he could do better, though. She’s way too short for him. And I doubt she’s got great manners, if you know what I mean. I just know that he totally ignored me when I tried to get his attention. He had his tongue down her throat.”
Chase stopped and let everything slip away, reaching out for his brother with the mental connection he tried to ignore most of the time because Ben was so shiny and Captain America-like that he often got nauseous when Ben was thinking about saving fucking kittens or shit.
But his brother wasn’t thinking about saving shit now. He was thinking about his freaking cock and sugar. The word actually floated through Chase’s mind. Sugar. Sweetness. Cotton Candy.Goddamn it.
He stood, his heart thudding in his chest. He looked at Logan. “Watch them. You’re responsible for both of them.”
Logan shook his head. “Dude, you cannot just dump your unwanted females on me. Do I look like a babysitting service?”
Chase didn’t bother to reply. He barely heard Logan over the anger pounding through his system. Ben got fucking everything. Everyone loved Ben and put up with Chase. That was his goddamn Cotton Candy. For the first time in his life, he thought about not sharing with his brother.
“Chase, where are you going?” Georgia yelled as he started out of the bar. Her eyes were wide as she looked at him. “Are you really leaving?”
“Stay with Logan. Ben’s enjoying a little dessert, but he stole my sugar. I’m going to kick baby brother’s ass.”Chapter Six
Nat had to catch her breath as Ben’s cock sprang up out of his leathers.Wow. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen man parts before. She’d been going to clubs since she turned twenty and decided to try the lifestyle. Man parts were often on display. They just, oh holy hell, didn’t look like this. If cocks were cars, she’d seen Hondas and Toyotas and the occasional hot sports car, but this was like a freaking Maserati.
“Touch it, sweetheart.” Ben’s voice sounded a little drugged. He was looking up at her with lazy, sexy eyes and he didn’t seem to mind that she was in control. She’d been so worried that he would be offended by the unnatural position. Most Doms wouldn’t give up control, but Ben was perfect. He’d been hard when she needed him to be and now he was offering himself up to her on a platter. She relaxed. She wanted this, and it felt so good to want something.
She let her fingers barely skim his cock, taking in every glorious inch of him. Ben’s cock was long and thick, straining up toward her. His balls were tight against his body, round and heavy. He obviously believed in careful grooming.
Power. She’d forgotten just how much power there could be in sex. Just a little touch of her hand had this big, strong man tensing, his rock-hard abs tightening even further.
“Hey, sweetheart.” He brought his hand up, cupping her cheek. “What’s wrong?”
He brushed away a tear. God, she hadn’t realized she was crying.
“I just forgot how nice this can be. I forgot that I can have some control.”
A brilliant smile broke across his face. He had so many facets she found fascinating. “You have all the control. You can say yes or no. This is all about you. Well, I hope I get something out of it, but you’re in control.”
“I haven’t always been.” But here with him, the images that always seemed to find their way into her brain seemed hazy, more like a memory than a vivid marauder threatening to take over. That time was still there, but she’d rather concentrate on Ben.
His hands teased up her thighs, skimming over the scars there. She tensed, praying he didn’t notice them. He went right past them, pushing the skirt up and exposing her pussy. How sad was it that she was more comfortable showing him her pussy than having him ask about her scars?
“You’re safe with me.” His eyes widened slightly as he took her in. There was no way he could miss the piercing that sat against her clit. His finger came out to touch it. “I love this. This is amazingly hot.”
“I’m glad you like it, Sir.” Her whole body threatened to shake as he explored the hood piercing.
“Baby, I’m going to take such good care of you,” he said, almost reverently.
She wasn’t sure why she believed him, but she did. “I need this.”
“Then take it.” His fingers played with her labial lips, parting them and sliding inside.
She shivered, feeling her whole pussy soften for him. She wasn’t thinking about anything except the orgasm he could give her. The cares of the day floated away. This had been the absolute right move. She could play with Sir Dawson while he was here. She could try to reclaim this huge piece of herself.
Starting now. She didn’t need a ton of foreplay. The spanking he’d given her was still a sweet ache in her skin. The cuddling they’d done hadn’t lessened the need he’d sparked in her. It had just enhanced it. She wanted him. She fucking needed him.
She grabbed the condom and ripped it open. Ben didn’t let up on the slow circles his thumb made around her clit. He knew just the right amount of pressure to have her nearly quaking. Yet he now avoided the piercing there as though he knew she would go off like a rocket. She wanted so badly to feel his mouth there, tugging at the little nub, but she wanted him inside her even more.
She gripped his cock, gently but with firm intent. That gorgeous monster was all hers for the night.
Ben growled a little, a sexy sound that rumbled out of his throat. “You’re killing me. You know I’m not going to be satisfied with just one go. The second time is going to be for me. I’ll want you naked. You can still be on top, but you’re going to sit on my face first because I bet that pussy tastes as sweet as you look.”
Yep, dirty talk still worked when there was affection behind it. He didn’t tell her she was nasty. He didn’t call her a whore or a slut. He went right for the sweet stuff, and it got her hot in a way she’d never been before. He wanted her to ride his tongue. She could do that.
But not until she’d had his cock. She let her hand run up and down the length. So much strength wrapped in silky, hot flesh. She swiped at the little drop of pearly fluid that beaded on the bulbous head. Just running on instinct, she brought her thumb to her lips and tasted him.
Ben groaned, his head falling back. “Please, sweetheart. Have mercy on a man.”
Yes, she loved this power. She carefully rolled the condom over his cock. She was so wet she didn’t want to wait. She rose up, pushing her skirt around her waist. She settled over his sheathed cock and started to work her way down.
He was so big, and it had been so long. Even as wet as she was, she had to go slow, but Ben just gritted his teeth and let her have her way. His breath sawed in and out of his chest. She felt like a freaking virgin again.
“Take it slow, sweetheart. Take as long as you need. I can handle it.” His fingers went right back to playing with her piercing. Every long swipe of his thumb against her clit softened her further, allowing her to take more and more of him until she was finally seated to the root, his cock filling her. “You feel so fucking good. Do you have any idea how much I needed this? You’re an angel, honey. I might have known you for all of five minutes, but I can promise I won’t ever forget this.”
She snorted a little, dragging her hips back up. “It’s been a little longer than five minutes. More like a couple of hours.” She couldn’t believe how close she was. His thumb pressed the piercing against her clit and the orgasm raced across her. She fucked against that finger, working the cock inside her, desperate to keep the pleasure flowing.
Ben’s hips bucked up and his handsome face flushed as he gritted his teeth and came. The low groan that came out of his mouth hit her squarely in the chest.
Blood pounded through her system, a long-forgotten dance. Peace. She was peaceful for once in a very long time.
Maybe, just maybe, she could sleep with him.
He grinned, but there was a quizzical expression on his face. “Honey, that was spectacular, and now we need to get you out of your clothes. But you have an odd sense of time. I hope it doesn’t really feel like you’ve known me for a few hours. I hope I’m not that boring.”
She shook her head. He was still inside her. She loved that intimacy. The impulse was there to sink down on him and rest on his chest, but she needed to thank him first. “You are the least boring man I’ve ever met. I have to thank you. The spanking, it really helped. And the way you held me afterward. No one’s held me like that since I was a kid. I know it sounds stupid, but it meant a lot to me.”
“Spanking? What are you talking about?” His face tightened. “Sweetheart, I’ve only been in the hotel for an hour. I certainly didn’t…oh, fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Fuck is right, Benjamin.” A dark voice came from the doorway, and Nat nearly screamed. She rolled off Ben, her body almost hitting the floor, but Ben was fast. He was up and had her in his arms before she could fall.
Still, she pushed away from him because something was so fucking wrong. “There are two of you.”
The other Ben frowned as he stalked toward her. “Yeah, I did mention I had a brother. He didn’t mention me though, did he?”
Ben put his hands up as though he was dealing with a dangerous lion. “Now, Chase, I did not do this on purpose.”
Chase? His name was Chase? She really looked between the twins. They were perfectly alike, from their golden-brown hair to their square jaws to the way their abs rippled. But suddenly she could tell the difference. Ben was open, his emotions playing over his gorgeous face. Chase was a wolf stalking its prey. That was the man she’d first seen across the dungeon. This man had the same darkness about him. “Sir Dawson?”
His ruthlessly hard face softened marginally. “Sweetness, I am not mad at you. My brother, on the other hand, is a complete asswipe sugar thief.” His hand came down, gripping hers and hauling her up before she could protest. He just lifted her up like she didn’t weigh a thing, shoving a big arm under her knees and cradling her against his chest. He growled his brother’s way. “My sugar.”
Ben had flushed a nice shade of red. His hands worked the ties of his leathers after shoving his cock back in. “Back the fuck off, Chase. I didn’t steal a goddamn thing. She came on to me.”
“She thought you were me. You’re so fucking arrogant. You really thought that a strange woman saw you across the room and wanted you so badly she took you straight to your room and fucked you?”
What the hell had she gotten into? She squirmed in Chase’s arms. “You need to put me down.”
They weren’t paying a bit of attention to her. Ben got up, rolling gracefully off the bed where she’d just fucked a stranger. “It wouldn’t be the first time, brother, and you know it.”
She’d made some sort of horrible mistake. Oh, god. She’d slept with the wrong brother.
Chase snarled in his brother’s direction. “She’s not like that. She made a connection with me.”
She still didn’t know either one of these men. What the hell had she been doing? “Hey, you need to put me down. I need to go.”
She needed to get the hell out of here. Her tiny apartment was across the resort in the employees’ lodging. She could hole up and wait them out. She never had to see them again.
Ben frowned. “A connection? You made a connection with her? You don’t make connections, Chase. You fuck and then you leave them to me to take care of. I just skipped a step. Now she doesn’t have to feel like you used her.”
“I feel like everyone’s used me. Put me down.” She was starting to get pissed.
Chase’s arms actually tightened around her body. “I wasn’t using her, asshole. I was helping her. And if you’d taken two minutes to figure out who she was, you would never have touched her.”
Ben stopped. “Who is she?”
Now she started to fight. The last thing she needed was a recitation of all the reasons she wouldn’t be good for Ben. “Put me the fuck down, Dawson.”
“Why are you mad at me?” Chase stared down at her, looking genuinely confused. And a little hurt. Like a little boy whose favorite toy had turned on him.
“Put me down. I don’t like to be manhandled. And I don’t like to be tricked.” She pushed at him, her heart thudding in her chest but for a completely different reason than five minutes ago. Five minutes ago she’d been in charge and happy and…she’d thought she was sleeping with Chase. But she’d slept with Ben and now Chase was acting like a possessive caveman asshole.
“I didn’t trick you,” Chase said. “Nat, calm down. I’m not putting you down until you’re calm.”
She couldn’t breathe. He was holding her so tight. Like a cage.
“Put her down, Chase.” Ben crossed the space between them. “You’re scaring her.”
Chase went back to glowering at his brother. “Yeah, well, what did you do to her then? Do you know how long it’s been for her? Do you know what she went through? And now she’s blown that first time with a guy she just met. Except she didn’t meet him because she doesn’t even know your name.”
“She knows my name, asswipe.” Ben eyed his twin with a shit-eating grin on his face. “Which just proves you can’t know her too well since she didn’t know my name wasn’t yours.”
Chase looked down at her, his eyes accusing. “You said you didn’t want to know my name.”
She finally knew what it felt like to be that bone two dogs were fighting over. “I know your name now, Chase, and I am going to rip your balls off if you don’t put me down.”
Those lips she loved grew faintly cruel. “I would love to see you try.”
“Nice, Chase. Threaten the girl,” Ben said.
Chase stopped and set her on her feet. “I wasn’t going to hurt her. I just can’t let her go.”
What the hell did she do now? She straightened her way-too-short skirt and saw something peeking out of Chase’s pocket. “You kept my underwear?”
He shoved them down further as though trying to hide them. “They’re a memento.”
“He has a collection, sweetheart,” Ben added.
“I just bet he does.” She clenched her fists. She couldn’t really get mad at them. Well, she could, but mostly because they were gorgeous and she felt like such a mess. And speaking of messes, she needed a shower. It had seemed all hot and sexy before the Dawson brothers turned out to be doppelgangers, and pissy ones at that. Now the sweaty state of her body just seemed like one more shitty thing in a never-ending, shitty day. “I’m leaving.”
“Sit down, Natalie. We have things to talk about after I rearrange my brother’s face.” Chase took a step toward Ben.
Ben didn’t back down, but he did seem calmer than Chase. “What the fuck is up with you? It was a mistake. No. I take that back. It wasn’t a mistake. Not for me. She’s beautiful and I wanted her, and I sure as hell didn’t know you’d like hiked your leg up, peed on her, and marked her as your own. You don’t do that. And since when do you have sex when I’m not around? I don’t get this at all. I like her. Let’s share.”
Share? Chase didn’t have sex without his brother around? God, she was a freak magnet. There was no other way to explain it. Somehow she found the weirdos of the world. She tried to walk out because it didn’t seem like they really needed her at all, but she was met with a solid wall of Dawson flesh.
“Sit down, Natalie.” Chase pointed to the chair in the corner of the room.
“I want to leave now.” She carefully pronounced each and every word because he seemed slow to understand them.
Ben stopped, his face falling. “Natalie? As in Natalie Buchanan?” He turned to her, taking her in as though seeing her for the first time.
Her hackles rose, that core of pride rushing in to protect her because he’d said her name like it was a curse. Obviously, he knew who she was. “That’s me, buddy. Bet you didn’t know you were fucking a certified killer.”
He shook his head. “I never sleep with clients.”
She turned to Chase, who had damn straight always known exactly who she was.
He just gave her that nonchalant, “the world bores me” shrug of his. “I have no problem sleeping with a client.”
She closed her eyes. “This is stupid. I knew it when I started it. I knew you were the private detective who’s supposed to get me off and I still pursued you.”
“Ben was the only one who had a chance to get you off. I can get you off, too,” Chase added helpfully.
Why had she thought his awkwardness was charming? “Shut up, Dawson.” She turned to Ben. “So I understand that Julian sent you.”
Ben nodded. “Yes. We’re licensed and everything. We investigate incidents for Mr. Lodge.”
Incidents. A nice way of saying corpses and potential employees who might or might not be homicidal maniacs. They were Julian’s security team, and she’d just screwed one of them and let the other spank her ass until she couldn’t see straight. Yep. She made smart choices.
And she’d let him hold her while she cried. She’d taken comfort from both in their different ways. It was their job to discern her guilt or innocence and work with the police to mete justice or mercy accordingly.
The very man she’d taken comfort from might be the one who handed her over to the police if he wasn’t very good at his job. She really should have thought this through. She’d known all the information, yet she hadn’t laid it all out to see what a horrible mess she would make. “I need to leave.”
Ben took a long breath and nodded. “All right. I’ll walk you to your room.”
Yeah, she wanted that escort. “I know my way.”
“Come on, Nat. Please. I know this was a mistake, but you can’t be mad at me. I didn’t know. I just knew you were gorgeous, and you seemed to want me.”
“Me. She wanted me.” Chase kept singing that tune like a stubborn parrot.
Ben gave his brother the finger. “Just let me walk you back. I know this wasn’t much of a date, but I can’t just shove you out and let you walk back by yourself. My mother would turn over in her grave.”
Chase made a gagging sound. “Our mother would never roll over in that Prada-lined coffin she forced us to buy.” Chase turned slightly. “And don’t call me insensitive. She’s not dead. Ben just likes to pretend she’s dead because she’s shacked up in Monaco with some guy named Frederici. She did pick out her coffin, though. She had a mole. She wanted to be prepared.”
“Frederici is barely nineteen. I refuse to call him Dad. Why do I even try with you?” Ben took a long breath. “Nat, I am so sorry about how this whole thing went down, but I meant what I said before. I like you. I want to see you again. You know, after.”
“He means after he figures out if he’s going to send you to prison,” Chase pointed out.
“Don’t you mean both of you? Aren’t you both working the case?” She’d have to deal with them both for weeks, months maybe. Every time she saw them, she would be reminded of just how much she’d fucked up. And they really needed to freaking let her go. She was rapidly becoming a well of emotion, and she didn’t want to blow up in front of them.
Chase’s face was that careful blank that had almost caused her to reject him. “We’re both working the case, but I assure you, you’re going to be fine. I’ll make sure of it. I’ll take care of you, Nat.”
“Damn it, Chase.” Ben frowned Chase’s direction.
Chase ignored his brother. “Now, why don’t you go take a shower, Natalie? It’s late. We should go to bed. We have a lot to do in the morning.”
Finally. She nearly sobbed at the idea of getting away from them. She started to walk past Chase, but he put a hand out. “What?”
He pointed behind her. “The shower is that way.” His face finally cracked, a sad little look coming over it. “I can’t let you go, sweetness. And you know why.”
He held her eyes, the sympathy there nearly bringing Nat to her knees from the humiliation. He briefly looked down at her thighs now covered with her skirt. He knew. “Gaby told you?”
His voice was a mere whisper. “I’m very observant. I noticed it when I spanked you. Just a couple of little lines and that one deep scar. You’re lucky to be alive. I want that story, sweetness.”
She shook her head. “I need to leave.”
“Then call your boss. I’m not leaving you alone tonight. You sought me out the first time for a reason. You needed something to get your mind off what you want to do. You’re an addict who was about to fall off the wagon and you were so, so smart to find a way to stay on it. You came looking for me again for the same reason. You would have stayed here with me. You would have clung to me and let me get you through this. Little brother over there fucked that very fine plan up. Let me help you. I know where you are, Nat. I’ve sat in your place and prayed to any fucking deity who would listen to just get me through the night. I won’t touch you. And I won’t let you hurt yourself. Consider me a really grumpy guardian angel.”
“I’ll be fine.” He was getting to her again. So was Ben with his kind eyes. Two men, mirror images. Angels. Ben was from heaven and Chase had fallen long before. She had to get out of here. She was getting horrifyingly maudlin. But he was right because she was on the edge again. And the last thing she wanted to do was to call Gaby and Cal. Chris would be with Mike and their baby by now. Everyone had a family. They didn’t need to babysit a fucked-up adult who should know better.
Chase shook his head. “No, sweetness. I don’t want to cage you, but it’s very apparent to me that you’ve been coddled enough. Go take your shower. We’ll be waiting for you when you get out.”
She opened her mouth to protest.
“Or I’ll call her now and Cal can watch over you. Those are your only options.”
Asshole. She turned and walked into the shower, her hands shaking as she locked the door.
“You have fifteen minutes.” Chase’s voice was as loud as if there was no door between them. “If you aren’t out by then, I’ll break in.”
She walked to the shower, turning it to the hottest setting she possibly could. She turned and looked at herself in the mirror and decided to be honest. She’d decided long ago that she would always try to be honest with herself. It was the only way to stay sane. She might lie to everyone else, but when she was alone and everything was quiet, she could acknowledge truths better left unspoken.
She was grateful to him for not allowing her to leave because if she’d fallen off the wagon tonight, she was really sure the wagon would have stopped, put itself in reverse, and rolled right back over her again and again until she didn’t get up. She could spew bile at him until Tuesday, but here in her alone space, she could say what she wanted to say.
She would get through tonight. Tomorrow was another hell altogether.
* * * *
Ben watched Nat close the door and wondered if he shouldn’t be kicking it in already. He didn’t like that closed door between them, and he sure as fuck didn’t like the fact that he had no idea what Chase and Nat’s little conversation had meant. He was on the outside, and it made him edgy. “What were you talking about?”
Chase stared at the door, his face in that stubborn frown that let Ben know he was going to be difficult. He had that frown a lot. It was practically his fucking default expression. “Don’t worry about it.”
Ben was the reasonable half. He actually reminded himself of that quite a bit. It was like a mantra that ran through his head. It had since Ben had been old enough to realize that he couldn’t go wild because one of them had to be sensible, and it wasn’t going to be Chase. “I didn’t sleep with her to hurt you.”
But he kind of wanted to hurt him now. He kind of wanted to plow his fist through his brother’s face, but sometimes that went wrong. He’d punched Chase once because he was being a dickwad douchebag, and Ben had ended up with a migraine for two days.
He was cursed.
Chase just watched the door.
Ben decided to chance the freaking headache. He slapped at Chase’s arm. “Start talking or we’re going to throw down.”
Chase’s chest moved up and down in a long sigh. “I don’t think that will help her.”
“As far as I can tell, you’re not interested in helping her. You just want to fucking keep her away from me.” And that burned. “Do you even listen to yourself?”
“Don’t have to. You’ll always tell me when I say something stupid.”
“What is happening with Natalie? What did you mean about her not being alone tonight? I have every right to know.”
Chase turned, his features going mulish. “Because you fucked her when she thought you were me?”
“Again, didn’t know. And I’m really offended that you would get pissed off about this. It makes me think you had zero intention of sharing her when I always share with you. There have been years when you wouldn’t have gotten laid without me. You find someone as amazing as that woman and you decide to be a possessive asshole? Fine. You want to toss out thirty-five years of brotherhood, fine. But I’m still a part of this business, and you need to tell me what you know about the client.”
Chase strode to the bed and sat down as the shower came on.
Ben put a hand on the door to the bathroom where Natalie was.Fuck. The first woman he’d ever really felt a crackling connection to and she was not only an off-limits clients, but his brother was crazy about her and wanted her to himself. Hadn’t he given up enough for Chase? Why did he have to sacrifice this, too?
“If she has you, why would she need me?” Chase asked quietly.
Ben turned back. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Chase shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Did you not notice the scars on her thighs?”
He’d felt them, raised lines on her legs, but at the time he’d been more interested in getting his fingers inside her pussy than anything else. “So she was in an accident? I know a little about her history. Is it something that happened to her when she was held captive?”
Natalie, along with Kitten and the other woman, Gretchen, had been kidnapped by a man who used BDSM as assault and battery and rape. Kitten had been held for months, Gretchen for over a year. Natalie had only been with the man for a matter of a few months before she’d managed to maneuver him into a place where she’d used a knife and killed him. And good for Natalie. He’d read that file and even before he’d met her, he’d known she was a survivor. She’d been caught, held, tortured, and she hadn’t broken. She’d fought. She’d done what she had to.
Damn it. Knowing who she was didn’t make him like her less. It made him want her more, and he’d kind of craved her before. Two seconds after he’d come, he’d been getting hard again just thinking about her riding his face, his tongue deep inside that sugar of hers.
Sugar. He hadn’t missed what Chase had called her. Sweetness. The word had played through his brain the whole time he’d been with Nat. Even before she’d walked his way, he’d looked at her and thought about how sweet she would be. Now he had to wonder how much of that had been his reaction and how much had been remnants of Chase.
And he had to wonder if it even fucking mattered since she’d made him feel so damn much.
“I don’t think she got those scars from him,” Chase explained. “She did that to herself.”
Ben stopped, the knowledge hitting him hard. He couldn’t imagine her sitting there hurting herself. “She’s a cutter?”
Chase’s eyes came up, flaring briefly. “She thinks she can get rid of the emotional pain by taking a little physical pain. Know anyone like that? Because I walk through a dungeon full of them every fucking night. We’re all fucked up, Ben. Well, most of us are.”
Yeah, he just might punch his brother. “Screw you, Chase. You think sharing an emotional state with you is easy? I assure you I’m totally fucked up. Constantly feeling what you feel is a goddamn curse. The best thing that’s happened to me lately is hooking up with that pink-haired slice of heaven, and now I get to spend the night wondering what was real and what was you, and I already decided that I don’t give a shit. I just want her.”
And if she was totally fucked up, then maybe he was the one who could help her. Chase was right about that. Ben had started his BDSM training long before Chase had gotten into the lifestyle.
He’d started on Ada.
Chase softened, his shoulders slumping. “God, don’t go there. Please.”
“It’s hard not to.”
“You didn’t really love her,” Chase said, leaning forward. “I think you fooled yourself into thinking you did. It was the first time we’d really been separated, and I think you kind of fell in love with that, too.”
The shower was going, steam seeping from under the door. Natalie liked it hot, it would appear. Ben leaned against the wall, the whole crapalicious day weighing him down. Chase was right. The Navy was the first time they’d been forced apart for more than a few hours. After BUD/S training, they were placed on two separate SEAL teams, and Chase had gone to Iraq and Ben to the ass end of Asia where he’d met his fellow team member, Leo Meyer. Leo had been the team’s sniper. Hanging out with Leo, learning from him, had been a huge turning point in Ben’s life.
“You can’t know that.” The last thing Ben wanted to do was think about Ada because thinking about the gorgeous translator always led to him thinking about her death. And the fact that he’d been in love with her and she’d been in love with Leo.
“I can. Look, I know you hate this whole freaky link thing between us, but it comes in handy from time to time. I know you didn’t love Ada because I never loved her.”
“You never freaking met her.” Ben felt an odd need to defend her.
Chase shrugged. “I didn’t have to. I felt that fucking bullet hit your shoulder during that raid in Kabul. I nearly passed out when you took that knife to your back. I would be asleep in Baghdad and wake up because I could feel how happy you were sitting around a campfire with your buddies, and I knew damn well one of the reasons you were so fucking happy was that you didn’t have to share them with me. I wasn’t around to screw everything up. Tell me I’m wrong.”
He wanted to tell his brother he was full of shit, but he wasn’t. There had been a deep freedom to those years with the SEALs that he hadn’t felt before or since. Just for a little while, he’d felt almost whole, like he didn’t need Chase to complete him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
But he had. Even while Chase had felt his joy, Ben had caught the edges of Chase’s misery. Chase had hated everything about Iraq. He’d hated the death and the poverty he saw. He’d shrunk back into himself until his whole squad had given him the nickname “Wraith” because he almost never talked. Silent death. The Grim Reaper. Yeah, he knew how much Chase hated that shit.
“Doesn’t matter,” Chase said, blowing it all off. “But, Ben, in all that emotion, I never once heard her name whispering across my brain. Not once. You didn’t love her. You were in love with the idea of not having to share her with me.”
“That’s not true.” It couldn’t be because he’d wasted long passages of his life if it was.
“You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to me. Ashley Donaldson. Eleventh grade. You met her in math class. By the time I walked out of chemistry, I was crazy about her and I hadn’t met her.”
Ashley. Pretty. Tall. Blonde. And very flexible. Yeah, they’d done her in the back of an SUV. Thank god for high school gymnastics. She’d been their girlfriend for two years before she’d left for college.
“Laura Evans from college. I felt that shit from three miles away. Damn, that was a kinky girl. She didn’t even ask who I was when I showed up. She just looked me over, said, ‘Yes, twins,’ and pulled me inside. I think about her a lot, actually.” Chase got a little smile on his face.
Ben got caught up. “Hey, I wasn’t the only one who could find a hot perv. Do I need to mention Sheri?”
Chase’s eyes rolled back. “That was an open-minded girl. And the things she could do with whipped cream.” He looked back at his brother. “I never even knew when you were having sex with Ada. But you knew that I called that little piece of heaven in there sweetness.”
The shower shut off. Her fifteen minutes were almost up, and it sounded like she was taking Chase’s threat seriously.
“She’s the client.” He wished he’d known that before he’d gotten inside her. Would it really make a difference? He was careful. He believed in separating business from pleasure. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to in this case.
“No.” Chase’s words were very precise. “Julian is the client. I’m not fucking Julian so everything is okay.”
His brother was maddening at times. Most of the time. “We’re investigating her.”
“Yes. So it’s up to us to keep track of her. I think the best way to do that is to be on top of her most of the time.”
“She likes to be on top. She needs it.” And he was talking about this why?
Chase growled a little. “Yeah, you would know.”
“I like her.” He wasn’t just going to step out of the way because his brother had decided to be a possessive, idiot asshole. And he wasn’t going to step out of the way because of his moral code. If Chase didn’t see a problem with it, then Ben could handle it, too.
The door opened, and Natalie stood there looking younger than she had before, her pink hair slicked back. She was slender but with nice curves. She needed someone who would make sure she ate three meals a day and indulged in dessert. Natalie looked like a woman who rarely indulged in anything.
He could take care of her in ways Chase wouldn’t even think of.
“I don’t have anything to wear. I should go back to my place.”
Ben quickly crossed and picked up a T-shirt out of Chase’s open bag. “You can wear this. Don’t argue, sweetheart. Just dry your hair and come to bed.”
Her eyes widened. “I can’t sleep with you.”
Chase snorted. “Natalie, you’ve done more than sleep with him.”
She shook her head. “I’m not sleeping with him.”
“Well you wouldn’t be alone. I would be there, too. I’ll make damn sure he doesn’t lay another hand on you.” Chase sent him his patented evil eye.
Ben flipped him off. “Fuck you. Come on, Natalie. You can have the bed. Chase and I will find couches or something.”
Chase frowned. “Nice. First you bring Georgia home and now I get to sleep on a couch. I fucking hate couches.”
Turnabout was fair play. “Well, you were the one who set Georgie on me in the first place. And she’s got it in her head that she’s going to get a job or something. And I’m taking the big couch.”
“No, you fucking aren’t. Damn it. I’m one quarter of an inch taller than you.”
“You might be when you don’t slouch, asshole.”
Natalie’s lips turned up for the first time in an hour. “You’re both seriously deranged, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Chase said with pride.
“No,” Ben countered. “I’m just like this because of him.”
“What he means is he’s interesting because of me,” Chase explained. “Otherwise he’d be just another bland himbo with an eight-pack and very little going on between his ears.”
Yep. He was risking it. He hauled back and punched his brother firmly in his eight-pack. And then groaned because fuck, that hurt.
Natalie simply watched, obviously completely unfazed by their idiocy. “I’m feeling better about myself every minute I watch you two. I’ll sleep here tonight, but don’t think that means anything.”
The door closed.
“Look what you did.” Chase’s voice went low, the same way it had when they were kids and they were trying to keep something from their nanny. “Now she thinks we’re freaks. And that fucking hurt.”
Ben held his gut, because it still hurt. But he watched the door.
Natalie looked like a girl who just might be able to handle a couple of freaks.Chapter Seven
Natalie turned, wanting to keep hold of the sweet dream she’d been having. She’d been riding Ben, his cock sliding deep inside, but this time, instead of Chase’s sarcasm interrupting them, she felt him at her back, gently pressing her down. His hands played with the cheeks of her ass, trying to make a place for himself. Twins. She was caught between them and there was no jealousy now, just an overwhelming drive to pleasure.
And she wanted to give. Her need to submit roared back, and in the haze of the dream she didn’t need her armor. They wouldn’t hurt her. They’d been sent to protect her. It was good and right to submit to them. Her guardian angels, one grumpy and the other so sweet he took her breath away.
The gorgeous grump was behind her now, his cock pressing against her asshole.
“Take me. Please, Sir.” She could ask him for this. She needed to be filled with them, trapped, with no way out, but this time the cage of their arms would lead her to heaven.
Nat opened her eyes with a smile on her face.
And then she sat up and screamed.
Chase, because there was no way that sarcastic grin belonged to Ben, merely propped his head in his hand and patted the bed beside him. “Don’t freak out on me, sweetness. Rest. It’s too early for recriminations.”
“It’s also too early for all that…god, Dawson, where the hell are your clothes?”
He was just lying there, his gorgeous body in a centerfold-like pose. “You’re wearing my shirt. I didn’t have anything else.”
“Bullshit. And I’m not wearing your underwear.”
He winked her way. “I’m not that big into underwear. I feel better with my junk free to move around. It helps me concentrate. Tell me about Stanley.”
“You’re kidding. You want to interrogate me while you’re naked and I’m wearing nothing but a shirt?” And she should have known he didn’t wear underwear. He’d taken hers the night before.
And god, he was heart-meltingly handsome.
He sighed a little. “Sweetness, we need to get this shit out of the way. The quicker I make sure you don’t go to jail, the quicker we can get to the good stuff. Although I’m perfectly willing to do all that good stuff while I’m investigating. Seriously, it might actually help. I often do some of my best thinking while fucking. I’m a multitasker.”
She closed her eyes, trying to figure out exactly how she felt about the situation. Just days before she would have told anyone that she would be fighting and running out the door, but she felt safe with him. He hadn’t done anything she hadn’t asked him to do except fight with her to keep her safe. Even then he’d sacrificed. And his brother wasn’t any different. They were flip sides of the same gorgeous, completely fucked-up coin. And yes, she admitted, the fucked-up part intrigued her. She peered down at him, taking in everything. Yep. They were totally and completely twins right down to that monster dick that kind of made her mouth water.
“How can you think like that? All your blood has to be in your…you know.”
He grinned, looking younger than he had before. His face was always layered with a worldly, almost pained sophistication, but now he looked lighter. “Don’t mind him. He does this every morning. He’s used to being patient and lying in wait for his prey. Now, tell me about Stanley, gorgeous girl. Did he try to get into your panties?”
She rolled her eyes. “Why does everyone ask that?”
“I ask it because I would try. I even made it easier on myself by getting rid of your panties. All I have to do is get under that T-shirt. Now answer my question.”
She frowned. “It’s hard to take you seriously.”
His hand came out, pushing her hair back. “Try. Tell me about Stanley.”
“Fine. He was a client. He came on to me once. The first time he made an appointment with me, I sat down and took all his information. And he asked me about happy endings.” She remembered that she pretty much wanted to punch the asshole. It hadn’t been so long since she’d been cleared for work. They’d needed to make sure she wouldn’t kill anyone. She’d totally thought about killing Stanley.
“Why didn’t you walk out?” Chase was looking at her boobs. Sure, they were covered, but he was looking at the place where her boobs would be. And her nipples hardened. Because she was a freak.
“He was the third client who’d asked about it. I told him if he touched me I would take his balls off, and he nodded and said he understood.” He’d been a creep, but he’d tipped well. “Look, Dawson, massage therapy was all I knew. I went to college, but I didn’t come out of it with a degree I could use.”
He smiled slightly, his big hand reaching for hers. He touched the middle finger of her right hand where it was well callused. “Arts?”
Years she’d spent with a paintbrush in her hand only to learn no one gave a damn that she could mimic the moderns. “Yep. Four years of undergrad work and I was ready for a job in the fast-food industry. So I went to massage therapist school. My mom suggested it. My dad was friends with the man who ran the school.”
“You mentioned your parents were in the lifestyle.” Chase had the sweetest smile on his face. God, he was gorgeous.
“My mom was Dad’s sub. Was? Still is. They’re very active. Mom still gets her ass whipped in all kinds of classes. Mom and Dad founded their club in San Antonio. They still have a munch every third Saturday.” She hated to think about how close her tragedy had come to breaking them.
Chase traced a hand across her cheek. “It must have hurt them terribly when they learned what happened to you.”
She nodded, but didn’t move away. “Yes.”
“Natalie, sweetness, you understand that what happened to you wasn’t BDSM, right? It was assault. It was rape. I’ve heard the term nonconsensual BDSM and it’s flat-out dumb. It’s an oxymoron. There’s no such thing as nonconsensual BDSM. Nonconsensual BDSM is a crime. BDSM is a choice. It’s like telling someone they had nonconsensual sex. Baby, there’s sex and then there’s rape.”
She knew the difference intellectually. Emotionally was a whole new challenge.
The door opened and Ben walked in. He didn’t seem to have his brother’s problems with underwear. He was in a pair of boxers that hung low on his perfectly muscled hips and showed off that shouldn’t-be-allowed-in-real-life eight-pack of his. He rolled in a tray that promised all manner of breakfast delights. He stopped, his jaw dropping open just a bit.
“Dude, seriously? Where the fuck are your pants?”
Chase rolled onto his back, his cock thrusting up. God, Ben had sort of looked like that last night when she rode him to her first orgasm in years. Of course she’d thought he was Chase. So in a way she’d already slept with Chase. In her head at least. And she’d totally slept with Ben.
God, what would it be like if this little domestic scene was real? She had a choice. She could run and they probably wouldn’t stop her. She could get dressed, and the next time she saw them everything would be back on a professional footing and she could go right back to her comfortable shell.
Except her shell had cracked all to hell last night, and she kind of liked the freedom. Old Nat would have reveled in this. Old Nat would be joking and laughing and holding it all in as a crazy experience she could remember in her golden years.
That Nat was dead, but she didn’t have to retreat into her shell again.
She relaxed, her back against the headboard. She’d worked here for almost two years and she’d never been in one of the suites. It was decadent and plush and all those other words she used to associate with pleasure.
“You were supposed to be calling the sheriff so we could take a look at the files.” Ben stopped pushing the tray and frowned his brother’s way.
Chase stretched and yawned. “The file is on its way as we speak. Logan is picking it up.”
“Logan was here? Tell me you put some clothes on before you talked to Logan.”
“Why would I do that? Logan’s from Bliss. We’re lucky the dude ever wears clothes at all. God, Ben, when did you get to be such a prude?” He sat up, his lean body in a graceful pose. “Benjamin, let’s talk about the human body. It’s natural. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Ben fastballed an orange, hitting his brother square in the forehead, and then both men winced. “Fucker. Nat, baby, come over here and sit down with the civilized folks. I ordered you breakfast. I didn’t know what you liked so I just got a little of everything. And I have someone picking up clothes from your room.”
“Spoilsport,” Chase groused, rolling off the bed. “And like you look so civilized in your freaking boxers. Geez, next you’re going to be in a thong shaking your ass in front of her. At least I was blunt and honest.”
Ben shot him the finger.
If she didn’t take control, they would be punching each other like five-year-olds on a playground. And Chase was a little right. Those boxers were strategically placed to show off just about everything Ben had. There was zero chance the man had gotten up and they just happened to sit in the precisely right place to show off the notches on his hips.
“Both of you behave.” She took the seat Ben pulled out for her. He was definitely the gentleman. Chase was the one who sat down to breakfast with his dick hanging out. Crap. She kind of liked them both.
Chase poured her a cup of coffee. “I will if he does.”
Ben took the seat next to her. She was perfectly flanked by Dawson brothers. “I’m the good one. Eggs?”
She looked at the plate in front of her. She didn’t normally eat breakfast because she didn’t sleep much and then after she’d finally managed to go to bed, she let herself sleep way too late and had to hurry to get to work. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually forced herself to sit down to a meal because it always brought back bad memories. God, even food caused her grief.
“Sweetness? The eggs won’t bite back. I made sure they’re dead. They’re defeated eggs.” Chase stared at her with too-assessing eyes. She felt like he was prying back all her defenses to get to the woman inside, but she wasn’t sure who was left in there. “Are you a vegan?”
She shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”
Her stomach chose that moment to growl.
Ben leaned forward. “You’re obviously hungry. Is it us? We can get dressed. Natalie, if you’re uncomfortable, we can take you down to the dining room. We can conduct this interview there if you like.”
She didn’t want them to feel bad. They’d been ridiculously sweet and even though Chase was showing off his cock like a peacock preening, he hadn’t tried to touch her or make a move on her.
“Ben, do you remember how Kitten was when we met her?” Chase’s face was grave. A moment passed between the brothers. They knew her friend. They knew practically everything.
“I’m not going to eat until you do,” Ben said, pushing his plate away.
“That’s not fair.” If he’d ordered her to eat she could have thrown a biscuit in his face and walked out.
“Nothing about what happened to you was fair,” Chase said. “Food deprivation was part of the bastard’s training, wasn’t it? I never got the story from Kitten. She never talks about it, but I can certainly put two and two together. Did he simply refuse to feed you? I don’t think so. If he refused to feed you, you would likely gorge yourself when you had the chance. I think it was worse than that.”
Ben sighed, seemingly following his brother’s line of thinking. “He put the food out and when she tried to eat without permission, he hurt her.”
God, why was she so ashamed? She got up to go, but stopped herself.Damn it. This wasn’t her fault. This wasn’t something to be ashamed of. She’d survived him. She’d won. She’d taken his ass down, but she still ate standing up as though she needed to fucking run. She took a deep breath. “He kept us in the dark most of the time. He would place food in the cage and then when we would try to eat it, he had one of his servants hit us with a cattle prod. I don’t like cattle prods. Not at all. Or Tasers. But I used to like Danishes. The cheese kind. Could I please have one of those?”
“You can have anything, baby.” Ben had that Danish on her plate before she could blink.
And she had stupid tears in her eyes. She hadn’t cried in years. Not when she’d killed Hawk. Not when the police had taken her in. Not when her parents came. But since Chase had spanked her, it seemed to always be right there.
Chase leaned over, a lazy look on his face. He touched her nose.
“What?” she asked. Was there something wrong?
“I like your nose. It’s cute. Like a little button on your face.”
God, he was so weird. How could anyone that hot be so weird? But it worked. She laughed and took that stupid Danish and had a bite. Warm, buttery, sugary, and rich. The taste spread over her tongue like a wave of pleasure. “It’s really good.”
“I would love to try some.” Chase scooted his chair toward her.
“Me, too.” Ben got even closer.
“Seriously?” But she felt the smile cross her face. This was stupid. They would leave. They would go back to their obviously wealthy world in a few days after her fate was decided and she would be alone again. She would have to leave the penthouse suite and go back to the employee quarters and deal with her lonely life. If she wasn’t in jail. So it wasn’t smart to think about feeding them. It was stupid. They were grown, naked men, who should get their own damn Danishes.
She tore off two pieces. If she fed one first, the other would grouse. She had to treat them equally or she would have one grumpalicious hottie on her hands. She held out the equally large pieces of Danish, and they moved as one, both gorgeous heads leaning in to snatch the treat from her hands. Ben’s mouth closed over her fingers, his tongue coming out and licking to get all the sweetness from her hand. And Chase was a sexy bastard. He nipped her, the little bite going straight to her pussy.
Fuck. She was in so much trouble.
“What else do you want to try?” Ben asked.
“I bet she likes cinnamon,” Chase said, picking up a heavenly-looking roll.
“Or muffins.” Ben winked her way.
It didn’t matter that they would leave. It mattered that they were here, and she suddenly felt lighter than she had in years. “Both. Definitely.”
“That’s what we want to hear.” Stereo. They said it at the same time.
The door came open, and Nat heard a little sigh.
“My Nat is with my Masters. Oh, and we’re having a party!” Kitten flew across the room, launching herself at Natalie.
Natalie found herself in possession of a hundred pounds of Kitten. “Hey. It’s so good to see you.”
Kitten threw her arms around Natalie’s neck, squeezing her tight. “I’m so happy to see you, too. I missed you, Nat.”
Kitten. Subby, victimized Kitten who had held Nat’s hand and stroked her hair the night when Hawk had nearly killed her. Kitten had held her together even in the gloom. When she was sure she would die, Kitten had begged her to live. Now the tears really pooled in her eyes. Fuck. Kitten was just a girl in the same cage. That was all she was supposed to be. Goddamn it. Nat loved Kitten. Four years later and it hit her squarely in the chest. She loved Kitten.
Her arms tightened. This wasn’t just someone who’d survived the same thing. This was her friend. “I missed you, too, sweetie.” She pulled back. “Holy shit. Say it again, Kitten.”
Kitten sat in her lap, not a self-conscious thing about her. She grinned. “I’ve missed you, Nat.”
“You used pronouns.” Holy hell. The last time she’d seen Kitten, Kitten was still referring to herself in the third person. And when she would write, she never capitalized her name.
“I am getting better.” Kitten sat up, a smile on her gamine face. “Masters Ben and Chase helped me so much.”
Ben and Chase? Masters? Fuck. “They’re your Masters?”
Kitten nodded. “And now we’re one big family. And everyone is naked. I love naked.”
Kitten hopped off and started tossing her clothes to the ground.
“You’re my best friend’s Doms and you still slept with me?” She hissed the question their directions.
“No,” Ben said, his eyes going wide.
Chase pointed toward his lap. “No sex with the Kitten. None. Little Chase never touched her.”
“And yet she seems so comfortable,” Nat observed. Kitten was down to her undies and she happily chucked them.
“Master Logan is coming in soon. He has your police report.” Kitten frowned. “The police here are very rude, and I don’t think they are tolerant of alternative lifestyles.”
But Kitten was tolerant of everything. She simply smiled and asked for a muffin, which Ben handed her.
“Seriously, Natalie, we were her therapy,” Ben explained. “Neither one of us fucked her.”
Kitten pouted. “Master Julian wrote it into my contracts. Not even Master Logan can have sex with me. But he gave me the most delicious spanking this morning. It was a wonderful way to wake up.” She frowned, looking to Ben. “Your sister is very unreasonable. First she argued with the Master over where to sleep. She seemed to think that the Master should be on the floor. Is she defective?”
Only Kitten would think that way. But neither Ben nor Chase seemed aware of her in anything but a passing fashion. They weren’t acting like lovers who had gotten caught with a piece on the side.
“She is a brat of the highest order and good luck to Logan with her.” Ben got up and pulled out a chair for Kitten.
And Nat really watched them. They were Doms. Like real Doms. The ones she’d grown up around. The ones who rarely gave up control. The night before had been an aberration. With Ben, not Chase. Chase had been exactly what he purported himself to be. He’d been dark and brooding, and he’d given her what she needed.
But Ben had been another side of the man. Giving and tolerant. He’d allowed her the dominant position, but he wouldn’t forever. He was a Dom and he would want a sub, and she couldn’t really be a sub again. She could think about it. Get her ass spanked from time to time.
But she couldn’t be a submissive again. That part of her had been burned away, never to really return again.
“Kitten, sit down.” Chase pointed at the fourth chair, and Kitten immediately sat, her satisfaction evident.
She did love Kitten, but it was obvious Kitten could handle things Nat couldn’t.
“Got the police report. Kitten, clothes?” A tall, broadly built young man strode in the room like he owned it. How many keys had Ben and Chase given out?
Kitten sat up straight. “Please, Master? Everyone else is practically naked. Master Chase is altogether naked.”
A little smile crossed his face. “Sure. Reminds me of home. Now, here’s the report, but it’s damn sloppy. If I turned this in, Nate would have my ass in a sling. And there’s nothing back on the prints. There was a full ounce of China White found in one of the drawers, though that’s surprisingly inexpensive these days. I need to see what they cut it with. It would tell me a lot about where it came from. When I asked him about splitting the drug and giving me a breakdown percentage, he looked at me like I was an idiot. This police force doesn’t understand a thing.”
Did no one care that people kept walking in and Chase was naked and Kitten was naked and she only had a shirt on and Ben was in his undies?
“Thanks, Logan.” Ben pointed at Nat. “Logan, Natalie. Natalie, Logan. He was a deputy in his small town before he got his ass kicked by the Russian mob and needed an attitude adjustment.”
Logan nodded her way. “Bliss, Colorado. Home of nudists, aliens, and the murder capital of the USA. There are two towns in Colombia that beat us per capita or we would hold the world title. Someday.”
A blonde woman walked in wearing the most ridiculous pair of heels. “Benny, I need to talk to you. Logan is an asshole. He needs to go.”
Chase actually jumped, his big body careening toward the side of the bed where he pulled the sheet down, covering his nudity. “Fuck, Georgie, give a man a goddamn chance.”
Ben hid behind Nat, using her as a shield. “Georgia, go away. For god’s sake. This is our freaking bedroom. We have a girl in here.”
The blonde rolled her eyes. “Surprise. Surprise. And what’s up with all the naked people? Chase, you need some clothes. You have enough money for clothes, right? Ben, put on a shirt. What’s wrong with you guys? And Logan is a beyotch. He thinks I’m going to stay in the room and like clean shit. I don’t know what’s up with him.”
Chase practically crawled under the bed. Ben tried to disappear under the table.
It was obvious their little interrogation was over.
Maybe they weren’t so scary after all.
* * * *
Chase was ready to kill his siblings. Ben. Georgia. It didn’t matter. Ben had brought Georgia along, and Georgia was killing his soul by walking in when he was perfectly comfortable with his own nakedness.
“Go away, Georgie.”
He heard a long sigh. “Fine, but you’re all weird. And you should wear clothes. Why is the Kitten chick naked? She was like all dressed when we went to the hick-cop place. Fine, I’ll go, but there’s another chick waiting out in the living area and she’s all kinds of freaked out.”
Damn it. He should have put on pants. He’d just kind of hoped that Nat would end up falling on his erection and then he would have a hold on her. It still rankled that Ben had slept with her and he hadn’t. And dear god, the last thing he needed was another freaked-out chick.
“Ben? Could you handle the freaked-out chick, please? I need to put on pants. Kitten, clothes. Now.”
Kitten sighed and started putting her clothes back on. “It’s a lifestyle resort. I don’t understand what’s with all the restrictions.”
Nat started picking up Kitten’s clothes. “So that was your sister. Wow. She’s so not in the lifestyle. Are you and Ben the black sheep of the family?”
Ben had jeans on and tugged a T-shirt out of his suitcase. “Nope. We have three other brothers. Who do you think took us to our first club? I’ll be back. And I’ll take a look at this while I’m at it.”
Ben walked out, carrying the police report.
And he needed to move this little investigation along so he could settle Georgia down somewhere and perhaps take a nice long vacation right here. Stanley. The victim. He’d come on to her almost immediately and he’d backed down. “How long ago did Stanley first become a client?”
There was a long pause and then an almost incredulous answer. “Over a year. I don’t know. I would have to look at my records.”
An asshole like Stanley should have sought out more intriguing prey. Surely not everyone on staff was so unwilling to make some extra cash. “What did he offer you? For the happy ending.”
It was a first. It was the absolute first time he’d ever questioned a witness, much less a prime suspect, while trying to hide his junk from his sister.
“He said he tipped generously. I said I would generously take off his balls along with his dick if he touched me in a sexual way.”
So he was willing to pony up some cash. “But he still came to you?”
The door slammed. Georgia, he hoped. She tended to run whenever the conversation wasn’t about lip gloss or handbags or shit.
“You can come out, now. The big dude shoved your sister out and took Kitten with him.” Nat sat on the bed, her expression bleak. He wanted to go back to that moment when she first decided to try the damn Danish. She’d been so scared, and then her face had softened.
That was what he could give her. Freedom.
He couldn’t afford freedom right now. Georgia could be back any minute. He rolled to his knees and started looking for his jeans. “So, he came back to you even though you wouldn’t love him a long time?”
She snorted. “Not at first. But six weeks later, he gave me a shot. I think he went through all of us. There are five therapists. At the time he started there were only three, but we grew fast and not as a spa. We offer therapeutic massage. And some physical therapy, though only me and Helen are certified. He came back to me when he slipped a couple of discs and needed therapy. I took pity on him and by the time we were done with the therapy, we’d settled into a nice business relationship. He never asked for extras again. Well, nothing sexual.”
That perked his ears right up. “What did he ask for?”
She sighed. “This is so stupid. I could probably get fired for it, but it seemed innocuous at the time. About six months ago he asked if I wouldn’t mind locking him in and letting him sleep after the first sixty-minute massage. He claimed it was the only time he got to really rest. He booked and paid for a two-hour session, but I didn’t actually work on him the last hour. Gaby knows about it now, but technically it’s against regulations.”
“Don’t worry about your job. If Gaby fires you, I’ll get you a new one.” Actually that might be the best thing that could happen to him. If she needed a job, she needed him. He could move her right into The Club and begin herding her into the relationship he wanted. Yes. He would like that. Julian had a personal massage therapist, but there was always room for more. He’d pay her salary himself if he had to. Not that he would tell her that.
She sighed. “I like this job. I like this place. I don’t really want to move. I have some great clients. I’ve finally made a little home for myself, and I fuck it up.”
He was losing her. “Natalie. Focus. This isn’t your fault.” He reached out and tilted her chin up, forcing her to look him in the eyes. “You look at me right now and tell me if you killed this man. I don’t give a shit if you did. If you did, he probably deserved it, and I’ll help you out. If you didn’t, I’ll help you out. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
A little light came into her formerly hollow eyes. “You’re going to help me out?”
At least she had one thing right. And it was way past time to start staking a claim. His brother already knew what it felt like to slide inside her, and Chase hadn’t even gotten a kiss. He’d been the one to break through her walls, but did he get her sugar? No. He had to take it. Story of his life.
He crowded her, bumping against her body, his skin starting to hum because something about this woman just flat did it for him. His cock, previously wilted from being in Georgia’s line of sight, perked right back up.
Nat took a step back. “I don’t know that this is a good idea.”
A little spark of anger sizzled through him. “So you’ve had Ben and decided you don’t want me?”
Those gorgeous eyes rolled and her body lost the tension, slacking in a way he could only describe as sarcastic. “Yes, I had a little Ben and now no other man will do. No, Chase. I don’t really know either one of you. It occurs to me that maybe I should take some time to figure out what I want.”
He didn’t like the sound of that. If he gave her too much time, she might decide she could do better than him. “I think you at least owe me the courtesy of a kiss.”
Her eyebrows rose, arching in question. “Owe?”
“Well, sweetness, you were looking for me last night. That pussy of yours should have been mine. Little brother got it. Don’t you think I should get a little something?”
She crossed her arms over those breasts that she couldn’t quite hide in the voluminous T-shirt. “Just a kiss. Because I learned my lesson last night. You don’t have a triplet, do you?”
God, she would be so much fun to spank, but she wasn’t wearing his collar. “No, Cotton Candy. I don’t have another clone. Just a couple of distant brothers and one sister who is way too close. Now are you going to give me my kiss or not?”
She sighed. “It’s a bad idea.”
“Most things are.” And he couldn’t think of a single worse idea than letting her walk out the door without putting something of a brand on her. He had so little time here. He needed to make sure he got to spend some of it with her. And he didn’t intend to spend every second he had interrogating her. He wanted to get her in bed. When he had her there, he would prove she could trust him.
He waited, his eyes steady on hers, unwilling to allow her a single moment to herself. If he wanted her, and he fucking did, he needed to start getting her used to just how intense he could be.
Her eyes were clear and wide as she looked up at him. “You aren’t going to stay around here.”
Him? Stay in a small town? “No, I won’t.”
She sighed. “Well, I guess that was honest.”
“I won’t be anything less than honest with you. Ever.” It was a gift he could give her. “I’m not cut out for small-town life. But I’m also not willing to limit this little thing. Dallas isn’t so far away.”
He wouldn’t lie to her, but that didn’t mean he had to tell her what he really meant. He would let her think he was talking about seeing her every now and then. He was really thinking that he could easily move her into his world.
And then what the fuck would he do about Ben? Was he really going to try to cut Ben out because he was terrified she would prefer him? He couldn’t stand the thought of being the distant third with her.
But nothing mattered if she wouldn’t even kiss him.
She nodded and, just for a moment, he was worried she would walk away. “Okay then.”
Chase took a deep breath and prayed he survived without completely terrifying her because all he wanted to do was get her under him. And she wasn’t ready for that.
* * * *
She wasn’t ready for this. It was stupid. She’d screwed his brother the night before, thinking it was him. She’d kissed Ben, but Chase was so much more intense. And she knew if she turned him away, he’d be hurt.
And she didn’t want to turn him away. Not at all.
She took a single step forward, her face turning up toward his. He loomed over her, but in a good, sexy, protective way. She went up on her toes, pressing her body up to reach toward his. His hands came out, cupping her arms. He leaned down just a little, his lips a hard, unforgiving line. It should have made her run, but instead she just wanted to soften him, to see if she could make him smile. She wanted those lips curving up because he was happy with her.
She pressed her mouth to his, a slow melding of flesh. She’d sort of meant to make it a quick buss, but the minute her lips met his, she stopped, unwilling to break the connection.
His hands skimmed up her arms, cupping her shoulders and then finding their way into her hair.
“So fucking sweet.” He groaned against her lips and then took over.
His tongue traced her bottom lip, his hands winding in her hair, pulling her back so her face was lifted to his. His mouth opened over hers and every nerve in her body lit up like a match on the first strike as he devoured her.
So hungry. She could feel how hungry he was. For dominance, yes. But he needed affection more. It was easy to submit. He would stop if she gave him any indication that she wasn’t happy. He’d proven his control. He’d slept in a chair across the room from her though the bed was certainly big enough for all three. Ben had taken the couch as though neither brother was willing to concede the guardian role to the other.
He’d lain beside her in bed this morning, offering up everything he had, but not taking.
She was safe with him. His tongue danced and played against hers, his body crowding her. Her breasts rubbed against his chest and suddenly she wanted to be against him, nothing but skin touching skin.
She let go, allowing her instincts to lead her. What had Gaby said? Sometimes the worst mistakes led to the best future. She wouldn’t have a future with them, but she could have a hell of a present. She broke away.
“Natalie.” Chase growled her name, his hands tightening as though he wouldn’t let her go. “I’m not going to do anything. Just let me kiss you for a while, sweetness. I promise it won’t go anywhere.”
But she wanted it to go somewhere. She pulled her shirt over her head. She was naked. God, she hadn’t been naked in front of Chase. He’d only seen her backside. Ben had seen even less. She hadn’t been naked except for a shower in forever. She’d forgotten how good it felt to have air on her skin and warm, appreciative eyes.
Not cold, assessing ones. Funny how it came back in little bursts. Things she’d thought she’d forgotten. Little moments she’d buried down.
You’re getting fat, Bunny. Do you think I want a fat slave? Who will buy you when I’ve used you up? Daisy in there is going to have to go because she’s too old. No one will buy her. If you keep getting fat, you’ll end up where I’m going to put her. Where useless slaves go.
“Don’t leave me.”
Chase’s rough voice pulled her out of that terrible moment when she’d known Gretchen was going to die. Bunny. Kitten. Daisy. He hadn’t let them keep their names.
Chase’s voice was gravelly, but the words behind it were so vulnerable.
Tears, sweet piercing tears, filled her eyes. God, it felt so fucking good to be here, on the verge of crying. She wouldn’t. Not yet, but it would happen. “I’m so sorry, Sir.”
“What did he do?” His hands came up, but he hesitated, not taking what he so obviously wanted.
She moved in close, again, those instincts she’d buried rising to the surface. The need to please, to be comforted. Instincts she’d simply followed before were coming back in spurts almost as though balancing the bad memories. They had done this for her. Where there had been only the bad shit before, Chase and Ben were reminding her that there had been good in life, too.
She wrapped her arms around his waist. She didn’t like talking about it, but her therapist claimed it was the best remedy. There was poison in her system, injected by a snake of a man. She had to get it out. “He would inspect me, all of us really. He never said anything good.”
There was no pulling away, no treating her like she was damaged. In fact, he rubbed that big cock against her belly as though it needed a little comfort, too. “Sweetness, I don’t need to say it again, but he was a psychotic asshole and he obviously had horrible taste in women because you’re so fucking gorgeous, I can’t stand it.”
“Really gorgeous,” a second voice said.
Chase growled again. It seemed to be his default mode of communication. “My brother is back. And he’s looking at your ass. Can I tell him to go away?”
She tilted her chin up. “I thought you two shared.”
His face was blank. “Usually. What if I want you to myself?”
She didn’t want to choose. The thought actively made her stomach ache. She pulled away and reached for her shirt.
Ben frowned at his brother, his hair falling over his forehead in a perfect wave. “You really should get dressed, Natalie. Your friend is here, and she’s got some important news.”
She forced the T-shirt over her head, trying to forget about the horrible position Chase was putting her in. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to start some war between brothers. She’d thought she could keep them for a little while, but this wasn’t worth the heartache.
Chase’s jaw hardened stubbornly. “Natalie, we need to talk about this.”
She shook her head. “There’s nothing to talk about. Thank you for listening, Sir.” He was just a Dom, nothing more. If she opened up to the other Doms, she might discover that this kindness had been waiting for her all along. She couldn’t cuddle with Cal. He was married, but there were unattached Doms. It would be like therapy. She would just ask them to spank her and then hug her afterward. Chase was right. She needed to be trained all over again, like a computer rebooting.
Ben was holding a pair of jeans and a T-shirt that didn’t belong to her.
“Where are my clothes? You said Gretchen was here.” Had Gretchen not had a chance to go to her place? She was anxious to get back into her own things. Wearing Chase’s T-shirt made her think about them too much.
Ben handed her the clothes. “I took these from Georgia’s suitcase. Sweetheart, Gretchen got into your room, but someone had gotten there first. Everything was ruined. Someone destroyed the place.”
Her little apartment? The only place where she felt really safe? A sob nearly escaped her lips as she ran out the door toward Gretchen.Chapter Eight
“You’re such an asshole.” Ben pushed past Chase, starting toward the lobby. Chris Linwood was meeting them at Nat’s apartment and had promised to leave a golf cart in the parking lot for them. If he hurried, he could leave his asswipe, selfish-beyond-all-compare brother behind.
Ben let the door swing behind him, kind of hoping it would hit his brother in the face. Chase hadn’t said a damn word, preferring to allow Ben to deal with all the fallout, including forcing Nat to stay behind until they decided it was safe.
Yeah, he’d let Ben be the bad guy on that one. He’d just fucking stood there watching everyone.
Now he simply walked behind Ben like nothing had happened. Like he hadn’t tried to cut him out. Like he hadn’t nearly broken Natalie.
Ben located the golf cart and everything was exactly as Chris had described it. The little key was in the ignition. He could see the employee quarters in the distance. Natalie’s tiny apartment was on the second floor with a view of the pool.
The cart shifted as Chase sat down in the passenger seat.
As much as he wanted to leave him, this really was Chase’s strong suit. He was an amazing investigator. He just didn’t have a functioning heart.
“I want to leave.” Ben forced the words out. It had been building for weeks, months, a good portion of his life really. Maybe it would be better to have half a life than nothing at all. He turned the key and the little cart sparked to life. He put it in reverse. “After this is done, I’m going to move. Without you.”
He’d only lived without his brother during those years in the Navy. And despite what Chase thought, those fleeting moments of joy had been punctuated with a deep sense that he was hollow on the inside without his brother. But after today, he couldn’t forgive him.
“I understand.” Chase’s eyes never left the road. “I’ll leave if you would prefer. You have more friends in Dallas than I do.”
This was what he got? He wanted a fight, and Chase gave him logic. Well, it was true. “Good. I’ll expect you out by the end of the month. And we’ll just split the accounts.”
Goddamn him. “That’s all you have to say?”
Chase shrugged. “I deserve it.”
Somehow his honesty didn’t ease Ben’s anger. “Damn straight you do. You hurt her.”
The fucking golf cart puttered on. He wanted to drive recklessly. He needed some speed. He needed to take a curve at ninety miles an hour just to prove he could do it. But no. He got five miles an hour and shitty shocks. His head nearly brushed the top of the vehicle as he hit a speed bump.
“Well, I’m glad you know.”
Chase sighed. “Stop the cart. This is stupid. We could walk faster.”
Ben stopped the cart, slamming on the squealing brakes. “Feel free.”
He just sat there. “She’ll prefer you and I don’t want her to. I want her to like me.”
Ben’s head whirled around way faster than the golf cart could move. Chase sounded almost human. Vulnerable. “I think she likes you. She went looking for you.”
He just stared forward. “She won’t like me once she’s been around you for a while. She needed a Dom. She needed a hard-ass to spank her and get her to cry. I make little girls with pink hair cry. How long do you think that fascination is going to last? Not long, brother. She’ll want to take her perfectly nice boyfriend out with her. She’ll find friends and they’ll all hate me. I’ll end up being the second dick.”
Ben felt his anxiety. Fuck all, Chase was falling for her. Really falling for her. A spark of hope lit inside Ben. Natalie was a little ray of sunshine. Oh, sure, she had a black cloud over her head and might be headed to prison, but he would take the chance. “I don’t think she’s like other women we’ve dated.”
Chase had very precisely summed up their dating lives. At first the women they dated found Chase’s broody intensity fascinating and, in the end, they wanted Ben’s charm and ability to maintain a conversation that didn’t end in a fistfight. More than once Chase had been relegated to the bedroom.
But Natalie was different.
Chase’s head shook. “She’s just hurt right now. She’s broken, but she won’t always be. She’ll get better and she’ll want what everyone wants, a normal boyfriend. I don’t do normal.”
“Have you tried?”
Chase finally turned. “I can’t, man. I know it annoys you, but this is who I am. Does it make a difference that I want to be better for her? I didn’t tell that Gretchen chick to shut up even though I wanted to.”
Ben was surprised. Chase almost always said what went through his head. He prided himself on it.
And Ben understood. Gretchen had been viciously obnoxious. She’d been crying when he’d entered the room, tears coursing down her face. She’d seemed almost haunted by what she’d seen. Nat had been forced to stop her own panic and emotion to try to calm her friend down. Gretchen annoyed Ben. “It makes a difference, man. Do you really think it will all work out if you keep her for yourself?”
Chase laughed, a humorless sound. “No. But she might want me for a little while.”
“Or we might be able to figure out how to work together. Did you ever think of that, Mr. Genius?”
“My IQ is only a few points higher than yours. Well, twenty. Who am I kidding?” He finally slid Ben a long look, his lips curving up slightly. “You really think she could care about me as much as you?”
He was so frustrating, but Ben did understand his fear. “I think she’s completely different from anyone we’ve met. I’m crazy about her, Chase.”
“Then we go after her together. And not that lackadaisical way we usually do. This is a serious girl.”
“I’ve already thought about taking her to Dallas. Before I was moving.”
Ben felt the world shift, and he sort of liked where he landed. Chase never thought long term. Never. When it came to a woman, Chase never thought past the next spanking, plugging, whatever his devious mind could come up with. The very idea that he could think about moving a woman to be closer to him was monumental progress. “You’re not moving, Chase. But you do have some damage control to do.”
Chase nodded. “I know. She was very upset. She’s already deeply interested in you.”
And progress came at a cost. Now he got to deal with Chase’s wounded ego. He wasn’t sure he was going to like emo Chase. “I think she’s interested in both of us. Can’t you see she needs us both? I don’t know that I’ve met a woman who needs two men the way Nat does.”
Ben groaned. “Dude, be serious. Mia was a nymphomaniac. Nat actually has problems.” In his mind a nymphomaniac was a good thing to be. “She needs a combination of tender and tough.”
“She needs to submit.” Chase sat back, his eyes thoughtful. “She wouldn’t take her clothes off for you last night, would she? When I got there, she was still dressed and she was on top.”
At least he was talking about the night before in a rational fashion. “She said she had to be on top. I suppose it makes her feel like she’s in control.”
“But she doesn’t want to be in control. Not really. At least not all the time. I started looking into her background last night. She used to be a regular at a Houston club. I called the owner last night and got in touch with some people who knew her.”
“You called people after midnight?”
He shrugged. “They’re club people. They were awake. Mostly.”
And if they weren’t awake, Chase got them up. His brother was an impatient bastard. “What did they say?”
“She was a happy sub. She’d only dated Doms. She played with them, but she wouldn’t take a collar because she hadn’t found the right man. Her parents are the mom and pop of the scene down there. Her dad founded one of the clubs, but she moved to Houston for college so she never went to the San Antonio club.”
Ben could understand that. The idea of walking into a club and seeing his father in fet wear made him a little nauseous.
“Yeah, me, too,” Chase said, obviously picking up on Ben’s line of thought. “But the point is, she was looking for a Dom. Maybe not seriously since she was so young, but all of her relationships prior to the kidnapping were based in D/s.”
Chase was right. “She won’t be really happy until she can truly submit again.”
“She needs it so badly. Ben, I don’t think she’s really cried yet. I think cutting herself was her way of crying.”
“You spanked her last night, right?”
“A little. And she cried. A little. Not what she needed. She did let me hold her though. She sat in my lap. And I got her clothes off earlier. Then I fucked everything up. Why am I being so fucking possessive? I’ve never been possessive. I don’t know that I like the feeling.” Chase frowned, turning to Ben. “It’s fucking with my head. I need to be thinking about this case and all I can think about is Natalie. We shouldn’t have left her with Logan. One of us should have stayed behind.”
Beyond monumental progress. Ben had to stop himself from actually tearing up. This was it. They both cared about the same woman. This was his shot. Chase would fall once and then never again. “I think you need me on this one. I know you’re the brains here, Chase, but I’ve been doing this for a while, too. Natalie is fine. Logan is used to being in charge of a large group of crying females.”
Logan had actually sent him a pitiful look as he and Chase had left him behind with a frantic Gretchen, a weepy Kitten, a somber Natalie, and a surprisingly selfless Georgia. Georgia had been calling for room service, ordering tea and coffee, and asking what she could do to help. For once, she hadn’t been forcing her way to the center of attention.
“Still. Something about this whole thing doesn’t feel right,” Chase said. “Hurry it up. I want to get back to her.”
Ben started the cart again, making quick work of the little road that ran from the main resort to the employee quarters. Chris Linwood was waiting for them. “Try not to piss this guy off again.”
“He’s way too invested in thread count. I don’t get that.” Chase hopped out as soon as Ben stopped the cart. “Where are the CCTV cameras?”
Linwood stopped. He’d been walking toward them, a hand out, but now he pulled back. Yep, Chase had that effect on people. “We don’t tape our employees.”
Chase looked around. “Do you have any security at all?”
Ben nearly groaned. This was why he hadn’t sent Logan with Chase. Someone had to make sure his brother didn’t get them thrown out of the resort. “What my brother is trying to ask is what is the security like? We both understand that this is a place that prides itself on discretion.”
It was a freaking sex resort. Did Chase honestly think they routinely taped the powerful people who came here?
Chris turned to Ben, ignoring the way Chase was studying the building. “We have several well-trained dungeon monitors. Michael is our veteran. He’s been working as a Dom for fifteen years. Tate is our newest addition. The staff includes a bunch of former Special Forces and some ex-cops. They know what they’re doing.”
“How do people get in and out of the resort? Do you use key cards?” Ben asked. The night before he’d had to show ID to get past the front gates.
“Yes. We have one road coming into the resort and it’s guarded twenty-four-seven. New guests are on a list and must show picture identification to get in. However, we have some members of the club who are local, and they have tags on their cars that open the gates.”
“I’ll need a list of those members,” Chase said, pacing up and down the front walk, taking everything in. “And I want the whereabouts of everyone with one of those tags on their cars.”
Chris went a little pale. “Yeah, it should be interesting to see you interrogate Jack Barnes.”
Jack Barnes. The king of Willow Fork. The only man in the world who gave Julian Lodge a run for his money in sheer ruthlessness. “I think we can all agree that Barnes didn’t do this.”
The last thing Ben planned to do was sit Jack Barnes down and force him to answer questions. Ben liked to keep his balls attached to his body.
Chase just kept on. “Barnes wouldn’t trash a girl’s place. He would just kill her. No. But Abigail might. What if sweet Abigail was having an affair with Stan the Furniture King and took exception to losing her lover?”
The look on Linwood’s face was priceless. He actually turned a little green. “You can’t accuse Abby Barnes of having an affair.”
Ben stared at Chase while the grin crossed his face. His brother loved to make people squirm. “He’s joking.”
“I am about Abby,” Chase admitted. “But this smacks of jealous woman. Stan was married, right?”
“Oh, yes. And Juliet didn’t like what went on here. She’s threatened to protest the resort a couple of times. She calls it a whorehouse.”
Ah, the uninformed and intolerant. “Is there any way she could have gotten in here?”
Chris started to lead them into the complex. The staff quarters were as lovely as the resort itself. Though set away from the resort, it boasted the same elegant lines. Chris led them through the Spanish-style arches and onto the patio. A swimming pool dominated the courtyard. “We decided that it might be hard to attract really good staff since we’re so isolated. So Danielle and Julian decided to make the staff quarters seriously posh. There are twenty-five apartments. Most of our staff lives around the area. These are the people we had to import. Our massage therapists, the Doms, the subs who work the dungeon. The specialized workers. Gaby and I both live out here. We have two of the family suites. There’s a pool, a huge media center, a gym, basketball court, everything else you would need to live out here. The parking facilities are in the back. Nat’s apartment is on the second floor.”
Chris pushed the button for the elevator and they got in.
“You don’t need a card to access the elevator?” Chase asked.
“We have ten kids living out here. They range from six months to sixteen years old. If we required key cards, they would never leave their rooms. Seriously, those kids can’t keep up with them. This is a family facility. A ‘no kink’ zone. The third floor is a school. We brought in private teachers and just got our accreditation. Barnes paid for that. Seems his daughter had some trouble with the local kids so he just built a school for her. There’s another entrance for the third floor and that is accessible only by the school employees and students.”
The elevator doors opened and there was no way to miss the yellow police tape that draped Nat’s doorway. The door stood open and the khaki-suited form of the sheriff walked by. Chase immediately ducked under the tape.
Ben followed, his heart seizing just a bit. Natalie’s place was in complete ruins. Her little couch had been torn to pieces, the stuffing pulled out and scattered across the room. It was easy to see that Natalie didn’t have much. A small TV, a couch built maybe for two, no more. A round dining room table with two chairs had deep, jagged scratches covering the surface. Both chairs were broken as were all her dishes.
“How the hell did no one call this in?” Ben couldn’t imagine that whoever had done this hadn’t made a ton of noise. This kind of destruction would have taken a single person a long time and created a ruckus.
The sheriff turned, a tired look in his eyes. “Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. It looks like someone doesn’t like this girl. We’re sure she didn’t do this herself? You know some women might try to throw suspicion off themselves.”
Chase’s eyes narrowed. “She didn’t do this.”
Ben stepped in real damn fast so Chase didn’t give away the fact that they were personally involved and potentially get kicked off the case. Right now the sheriff was cooperating, but if he thought there was something funny going on, he might deny them access to information. “What my brother is trying to say, poorly as usual, is that Natalie’s time has been accounted for from the time she stepped out of your police station to a few minutes ago. Mr. Lodge hired us to check into this case and to keep an eye on her.”
He let that dangle out there, his voice a professional monotone. His words could be taken any number of ways, but the sheriff was a suspicious man himself. Ben would bet a lot that he would think Lodge wanted to monitor her to cover his own ass.
The sheriff tipped his hat back. “Well, that makes things more difficult. And as to one of the other residents hearing something, well, Mr. Linwood informs me there was a little party going on last night.”
Chris rolled his eyes, his mouth flattening. “This section of the building houses the single employees. Most of them work at night. It’s when the tips are the greatest.”
It was also when the dungeon was open, but Ben wasn’t about to mention that. The less the sheriff knew, the better.
The sheriff sighed, his belly heaving up and then sagging back down. “Well, I’m just calling this an act of vandalism. She needs to contact her insurance company. There’s not much I can do here.”
Ben felt himself flush, his indignation a wave that threatened to overtake him. But Chase put a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re probably right, Sheriff,” Chase said, sounding more reasonable and charming than usual. “This seems more like an internal matter to me.”
The sheriff couldn’t get out of there fast enough. All three men remained quiet until they heard the elevator ding. Then Ben rounded on his brother.
“You can’t think this has nothing to do with the case.” Ben was sure of that. Even he could plainly see everything was connected.
Chase’s blue eyes rolled. “Of course not. It has everything to do with the case. The question becomes what about the case set this bitch off.”
“What makes you think a female did this?” Chris asked. “And thank you for getting rid of the sheriff.”
Chase shrugged, staring down at the rug. “He was going to start asking questions. He’s curious about this place. He’s more than likely had pressure on him to close the resort down. It was a race to see which side of the sheriff’s nature would win. His conservative, shut-the-freaks-down side? Or the lazy side that’s two years away from retiring and just wants to take a nap? I simply gave the lazy side a distinct advantage.” He pointed down to the plush carpet. “As to why I believe this is a female perpetrator, there are several reasons. The first being this carpet and the pattern of shoe impressions left here. See how thick the carpet is? It holds the impression of the shoe quite valiantly. That very deep, cloddish print is the sheriff’s. He didn’t even go past the kitchen.”
Ben looked down, picking up on what Chase saw. There was a pattern of small, deep impressions all over the carpet. “Are those stilettos?”
“Yes.” Chase got to one knee, his hand skimming across the carpet. “Unfortunately, they’re not like tire tracks. There’s nothing unique about them.” He glanced up at Chris. “The rules of the dungeon are stilettos or nothing for submissives.”
“Yes, subs can wear stilettos or go barefoot.” Chris sighed. “And we provide stilettos should the sub need them so that could be anyone. Anyone except Natalie.”
“Who was adorably barefoot last night,” Chase pointed out. “We need to order some shoes for her. I get a crick in my neck when I kiss her for too long.”
Ben grinned. By “we” Chase had just told him to go online and buy Natalie some shoes, the first real proof he was willing to work together. “I just picked her up and ordered her to wrap her legs around my waist.”
Chris’s head moved like he was watching a tennis match. “You’re both involved with her?”
And so started the freak show. “Our relationships work differently.”
Chase simply smiled. “Welcome to Texas. Guess your kink doesn’t include sharing.”
Chris held his hands up. “Hey, my kink includes so much I can’t say a damn thing. I’m married to an ex-hockey player. We have a baby girl we adopted from China. We’re practically the face of normality. If Nat is happy, I’m totally cool with it, but keep it on the down low or the sheriff will freak. And no, I’ve never seen Nat wearing anything but comfortable shoes.”
Ben chuckled a little. “Looks like you’re going to have to convince her to indulge your shoe fetish.”
“Well, it’s not like she’ll be walking in them. They’ll be around my neck,” Chase shot back. “So crazy stiletto girl manages to get into Nat’s place. How? Natalie would never forget to lock her door. She would be very careful about it.” He stood, walking to the door and pointing out certain changes. “I take it this isn’t standard.”
There were three chains on the door to go along with the heavy deadbolt and the keyed lock.
Chris shook his head. “No. But I knew how important it was for Nat and Gretchen to feel safe.”
Ben looked down at the floor, catching sight of something interesting. It was a deep groove in the carpet. It wasn’t something that could have been made in a short period of time. This was from something she did over and over again. Two square grooves that went all the way to the bottom of the carpet. “She put a chair against the door.”
Chase frowned. “Yes. And that bitch broke her chair.”
Sure enough, there were splinters of wood splattered all over. Nat’s little chair had been decimated, the symbolism hitting him square in the chest. He could see her placing the chair under the doorknob, gaining comfort from knowing she’d done all she could to keep out the bad guys.
Now her peace of mind was shattered.
“I want to know where Stanley Kirkman’s wife was last night.” If everyone else wondered if Natalie had been sleeping with Stanley, perhaps his wife had wondered, too.
Had Nat been sleeping with him? He didn’t think so. He’d seen her face the night before when he’d asked her how long it had been. Years. She hadn’t been lying. Unless she’d known he’d been sent by Julian and was playing them both perfectly.
“Do you think she knew who we were before you spanked her?” Ben asked, the question causing his heart to twist a little.
Chase stood, leaving his perusal of the locks on the door. “I don’t think she knew at first, but I know she went off with her boss. She knew when we talked to her last night.”
“Gaby told her. She wouldn’t let her go into anything ignorant. If Nat talked to her about having a…relationship with the two of you, she would have told her why you were here,” Chris explained.
Chase’s lips curved up. “And she still came after me. Brave little sub.”
Years she’d gone with no comfort. Years with no pleasure. That hollowness he’d sensed in her, the one making love to him had filled, wasn’t a lie. Maybe he was the fucking naïve one, but he believed her. She’d known and she’d disregarded it. The little minx had meant to take her comfort and pleasure and probably flee, but they’d caught her and they weren’t stupid enough to doubt her or let her go. Chase, the most cynical person ever to walk the face of the earth, knew Natalie wasn’t the type. He let go of any thought of doubting her. He was in. “Someone hates her.”
“Yes.” Chase stood up and walked across the room. “Someone hates her. And this isn’t the end.”
It wasn’t anywhere close to the end.
* * * *
Nat tried to take a deep breath, but the air wouldn’t quite sink into her lungs.
“Here, try some tea.” The woman with the golden hair who just happened to be Chase and Ben’s sister handed her a small cup.
Nat took it because it was better than dealing with Gretchen. “Thank you.” She took a long sip, remembering the lovely scene that had been interrupted. She’d enjoyed feeding the Dawsons. She’d pretty much loved everything about the morning with the singular exception of Chase telling her she had to choose.
Why was that so hard to take? Why had she shut down? It wasn’t like she knew Ben. Hell, she didn’t really know Chase, but the thought of choosing had frozen her.
She sniffled a little and took a long sip of the tea. And nearly coughed it back up. “What the hell?”
Georgia smiled down at her. “Oh, I had them put a bunch of vodka in the tea.”
“Georgia!” The man named Logan tried to pin Georgia with that Dom stare of his.
Georgia didn’t seem very pinnable. She waved him off. “Alcohol always helps.”
“Give me some of that.” Gretchen grabbed the cup and downed the rest as Kitten stroked her hair. She sniffled, her face still a brilliant red. “I was so sure someone was going to kill me.”
Kitten moved closer. “You’re safe now.”
Nat needed to breathe. She got up and moved toward the balcony. God, at least she might find some freaking peace there. All Gretchen had managed to do was tell her that everything she owned was ruined and since she lived beside her they would never be safe again.
Gretchen was a drama queen.
Nat pushed the curtains aside and walked onto the balcony. The rich seemed to have a completely different lifestyle. Her window looked out over the little pool. Ben and Chase’s enormous balcony had a spectacular view of the grounds.
She didn’t belong here. She belonged in her little place. But now how would she ever feel safe there again? Gretchen was right about that.
“Hey.” Georgia stepped through the doors, glass in her hand. Orange juice. “That hysterical freaky woman took your tea. Gosh, you would think she’d never like gotten her place broken into. That’s what insurance is for and then you get to meet hunky cops.”
“There are no hunky cops out here. The sheriff is a reject fromRedneck Island.”
The gorgeous girl wrinkled her nose. “Okay, ewww. Are you still thirsty?”
She could use something cool. Too bad Gretchen had taken the vodka. She gratefully took the glass of juice. “Thanks so much. Gretchen can be a little overwrought.”
Gretchen knew what it meant to be violated. She simply didn’t know what it meant to keep a cool head about her. It was odd because at first, she’d thought Gretchen would be the one she could count on to help her. Gretchen had been bitchy, but she’d seemed strong. Kitten had been so quiet, but it had been Kitten who snuck the knife out of the kitchen, Kitten who held Natalie while she cried because she’d had to kill a man, Kitten who had found a phone and called her cousin.
Finn will help us. Finn won’t let us down. Kitten loves you, Natalie.
Georgia’s hand came up, brushing away tears Nat didn’t realize she was shedding. “Are you all right?”
Nat took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”
Georgia gave her a grin. “I doubt that. It’s why I snuck vodka into the juice. Logan told me not to, but he’s totally fun to disobey.”
“Oh, thank god.” Nat took a long drink. She kind of loved Georgia in that moment.
Ben and Chase’s sister shrugged. “I put vodka in lots of things. It’s the language of love where I grew up. So you’re involved with my brothers?”
She slipped it in, but there was no way to ignore the protective tone. She might be a little sister, but she cared about her brothers. “Not really. I thought I might be, but I don’t think I could choose.”
Cool blue eyes assessed her. “Most women can. Most women choose Ben in a heartbeat.”
“I thought I was choosing Chase. I didn’t know Ben existed. I made a connection with Chase and then I made one with Ben.”
“Okay, I don’t see the problem. They always share.”
“Chase wants me to choose.”
Georgia practically seethed. “That ass. Ben has shared for years.” Her mouth dropped open. “OMG, Chase is totally into you. Is it the BDPTSD stuff?”
“You know the leather and whips and stuff.”
“Uhm, it’s BDSM, though I’m mostly on the D/s side. And I’m not anymore.” Except she kind of had been last night. And if Chase hadn’t said what he had, she would have let him have her. Even knowing everyone was in the next room. She would have followed his instructions. At least she would have tried.
Georgia smiled, a little uptick of her lips as she leaned on the railing of the balcony. “I was joking a little. I’m not as naïve as everyone thinks. I grew up in a houseful of dudes. And all of my brothers are into this stuff. Winter is even harder core than Chase. I was staying with him one time and I actually walked in on him with a woman suspended from the ceiling. Weird. And then he yelled at me like I was the one who suspended her. Anyway, the point is I know more than I like to tell them. And I know that Chase is into you. That means something.”
Maybe, but it didn’t mean anything but heartache if she couldn’t choose between them. “I’m not going to come between two brothers over what would only be a short-term affair.”
“Not so sure about that.” Georgia stared out over the grounds. “I’ve never seen Chase look at a woman the way he looks at you. Ben is the easy one. Ben wants to be happy. Chase thinks he does. Chase won’t ever be truly happy without Ben because Ben completes him. They’re like these weird halves of a whole. Think about it. I have for a long time. Of all my brothers, Ben and Chase are the ones I feel closest to. Ben is the happy one. It’s almost like his natural state, but he would accept far less than he deserves without Chase. Chase thinks too much. Chase wants too much. If you’re the woman who can give him what he needs, then I think he will give you the world. If you want Ben, then just refuse to back down.”
She made it sound so simple. “I don’t know. He seemed certain.”
“Chase thinks he’s certain about everything. You have to make him understand that you need Chase for Chase and Ben for Ben. Do you understand?”
“You want me to play a game?” The idea appalled her.
Georgia sighed. “Wow. I thought I was naïve. Everything is a game, Natalie. It doesn’t mean we’re cruel to play. You can play a game with the deepest desire to win and to love that thing you can win. Just be sure why you’re playing. I have friends who play strictly because they can’t stand the thought of not winning. Play the game because you love the prize. Because you can’t live without it. God, I want to play that game. I’m ready to play, but I can’t find the prize.”
Nat felt a deep connection to Georgia. She laughed a little. She seemed to feel for all the Dawsons. She held out the glass and Georgia took a drink.
“See,” Georgia said, her grin making her practically glow, “vodka makes everything better.”
It kind of did. The warmth filled her belly, and she was well aware that it had been a long time since she’d let herself go. It was what D/s had afforded her. She remembered her only Dom. He’d been a truly nice man she’d played with. She hadn’t taken his collar, but she’d trusted him implicitly. She could drink at a party and he would take care of her. He would never let her down.
He’d actually turned out to be gay and in the closest, and she hadn’t called him in the longest time. He’d left a million messages. Why hadn’t she called her friend?
“You’re so sad. What happened? Was it my brothers?” Georgia’s blue eyes glistened with tears.
She shook her head vigorously. If there was one thing she knew, it was that Ben and Chase Dawson wouldn’t hurt her. God. How did she know that? Why did she know she was safe with them? Because Julian said so? Because Gaby did? Because she’d slept like a baby for the first time in years knowing they were watching over her? “No.” She should tell Georgia it wasn’t her business. “I was kidnapped. I was, uhm, hurt.”
Georgia flushed. “I’m so sorry. But Chase will help you. Chase can find him. Chase can take him down.”
Odd. She should want to run, but she simply smiled because those two men wouldn’t flinch from what she’d done. They would just wish she’d made Hawk hurt more. “I took care of him. He’s dead.”
A ruthless smile crossed Georgia’s face. “Good. Look, if you handled that shit, you can handle my brothers. Keep them happy and we’ll be cool. Fuck with them and you’ll find out that I’m way more nasty than I seem to be. I’m going to get us some more ‘orange juice.’” She used air quotes. “I’ll have to get around Logan. He’s superhot but so obnoxious he makes me want to die.”
Georgia walked to the door and into the suite.
Nat looked over the grounds. She needed to get out of here. She needed to see what she had left. Ben had told her to stay put. Chase had remained silent, but she’d felt the weight of his stare. But neither Dawson was her Dom and no matter what Georgia said, they weren’t going to be. Chase had put her in a terrible position and one he’d apparently never forced another woman into.
She peeked into the room. The dude named Logan was following Georgia into the kitchen, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
She wanted to see her place. It was her apartment. They were her things. Her books. Her clothes. Her life. What right did they really have to keep her out?
The minute the door swung closed behind Logan’s massive form, she slid inside.
She caught Kitten’s eye. Gretchen looked up, too. Gretchen’s eyes were red from crying, her face blotchy. Gretchen seemed to take everything hard lately. She’d just reached her thirty-fifth birthday, the oldest of any of them, but she still seemed so lost at times.
“I’m going to my place,” Nat said quietly.
“Hey, that’s mine!” Georgia’s voice wasn’t quiet at all. It threatened to shake the walls.
Logan said something, but it came out in a low rumble that had Georgia threatening the Dom with what she called a “de-balling” if he didn’t give her back her vodka.
“They told you to stay here,” Gretchen said, sniffling a little. She sat up. “Natalie, why do you always have to disobey?”
Nat just managed to not roll her eyes. “They aren’t my Doms.”
“But you slept with them, Nat.” Kitten stood up, crossing the space between them. “I know the Masters. They want to protect you.”
“I don’t want to be protected.” Not when she would have to choose. It was time to make her stand with them. Whatever she’d had with them had been blown out of the water by Chase’s demand. “Are you going to tell Logan?”
Logan seemed like the kind of Dom who took his shit seriously. If Chase and Ben had told him to keep her here, he might tie her up if he caught her sneaking out, and she couldn’t risk that.
A loud crash blasted out, and Georgia proved she knew a lot of cuss words.
“I believe Master Logan has enough to deal with.” Kitten’s lips curled up. “Besides, he has a truly devious mind. I enjoy his punishments.”
Gretchen nodded. “I won’t say anything. But, Nat, you need to be careful. I don’t know what you did, but you really pissed someone off. I’m afraid for you.”
Nat slipped out the door. It was time to figure out exactly what was going on.Chapter Nine
Chase didn’t like the looks of the place. Not a single inch of it. And it wasn’t just the overwrought destruction that bugged him. He almost understood that. The woman who’d taken apart Natalie’s home was bat-shit crazy. And she hated Natalie. No. It wasn’t the debris that had his heart twisting.
It was the complete lack of joy in the place.
In his mind’s eyes he pulled the chaos back, placing the items where they would have gone. The chaos righted itself in his head and he was left with a view of Natalie’s private world. Her books. No fiction. Just texts about massage therapy and history books and therapeutic tomes about posttraumatic stress. No frilly romances or high-tech thrillers. Her TV was old. Well, it had been, so she wasn’t crazy about movies.
She did seem to love sporting goods. There were three different baseball bats. And he knew they were hers because he saw the grooves in the floor from where she kept them by the front door, the door to her bedroom, and one had been left in her bathroom, tucked away beside the sink. She was pretty much ready to clock the shit out of anyone in any room of her very small house.
Her house was neat, well organized, and utterly devoid of passion. So unlike the woman he’d held in his arms that morning.
“How long has she lived here?” Ben asked.
“She’s been here for almost two years,” Chris replied. “I’m going to step out for a minute and call maintenance. I’ll get them up here and see what they can fix. I don’t know how fast I can have it livable again.”
“Don’t worry about it. She’s staying with us,” Chase replied. He wasn’t about to allow her to stay here again, alone with her baseball bats. He wondered what Mrs. Stanley Furniture King had been doing last night.
Chris’s eyebrows rose. “Does Nat know she’s moving?”
“She should.” If she didn’t, she would soon. He didn’t actually intend to ask her. She’d requested his services as a Dom the night before. He was going to take her seriously. Likely far too seriously.
Ben stepped up. “I think we can all agree that someone isn’t happy with Natalie. She needs protection. First her client was murdered, and in a way almost certain to bring suspicions on her, then this happens? She can’t be foolish enough to think she should be alone.”
Foolish? No. Stubborn was another story entirely. Her apartment told the story. Two years here and she hadn’t personalized anything. Even her now-broken dishes were a plain white ceramic he would bet she’d bought at a big box store. “She didn’t bring anything from her old life with her, did she?”
Chris stopped, his phone in hand. “Excuse me?”
Ben’s face fell. “Damn. What my brother is asking is how much stuff did Natalie bring with her when she moved in here? Like the pictures on the walls. Did she bring those?”
Chase could answer that. “No. She either got them from storage or they were already here. I noticed they come from the same artist who did the prints in the hallways to the guest rooms.”
The paintings were bland, the kind of thing that wouldn’t put anyone off and seemed rather soothing if emotionless. It wasn’t the kind of thing an artist would choose for herself.
“Uhm, Gaby brought them up. We had a few left over and Gaby couldn’t stand how Nat didn’t have anything on the walls. Come to think of it, Gaby took both her and Gretchen out to shop for stuff. They just had their suitcases. No furniture or kitchenware. All the books and the TV were bought after she got here. And that TV was secondhand. I think she got it at a garage sale.” He nodded grimly and stepped outside, putting the phone to his ear.
“I read through her file again last night. And I called Finn.” Ben sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “She was missing for a while. Her parents were forced to pack up her apartment. Why wouldn’t she get her stuff out of storage?”
“She left it all behind. I wonder if it’s still in storage or if she got rid of it all.” She hadn’t been ready to face her old life. She’d gotten a degree in art and the fact that there wasn’t a single sketch pad or canvas in the whole place made Chase ache in a way he would never have thought he could. He frowned. “I don’t know that I like having feelings.”
Ben gave him an odd little smile. “Welcome to my world, buddy. It’s going to be fun to watch you deal with this shit for once.” He sobered a bit. “Seriously, Chase, I want you to be sure about her.”
Because she was fragile. She was delicate. She was on the cusp of reemerging into the world. It scared the shit out of him. He’d chosen his lovers with care before, for their ease and lack of long-term need. Natalie was different. He’d known it the minute he’d looked across the dungeon. He’d seen that pink hair and his world had shifted from a flat vision of black and white to a vivid 3-D Technicolor that he didn’t completely understand. He could walk away now and live the rest of his life in the meager comfort of knowing that his heart was meant to pump blood through his body and nothing else. Or he could finally try to figure out why Julian looked at Dani and Finn, that odd light in his eyes. Julian had changed, becoming more than he had been before he’d found Finn and Dani.
Natalie could make him into something more.
“I’m serious, Ben.” He looked at his brother, hoping his will shone through.
“Be sure because this girl needs some help. She might be better at hiding it, but she’s just as damaged as Kitten.”
Chase didn’t like the way Ben was talking. “She’s more than a mental disorder.”
Ben’s face went the red he got when he was really pissed off. “I never fucking said that. I said we have to be careful with her.”
“I think everyone has been very careful with her. I think she’s been treated like she’s made of glass and maybe she needs a firm hand again. There was a reason she was interested in D/s in the first place.”
Ben softened a little and sighed. He scrubbed a hand across his face. “I don’t know.”
“You didn’t have a problem with her until you knew who she was.”
“Finding out that the girl I just slept with had been kidnapped and forced into slavery does affect me, Chase.”
And it affected him, too. “But she wasn’t a little victim when she was riding your cock. She was a woman who knew what she wanted.”
Ben smiled a little. “Yeah.”
“Me.” Chase had to admit it was fun to dig that particular knife in.
Ben shoved up his happy middle finger. “Look, I get it. She’s trying, but she’s also fragile. Are we in this together or not?”
He was still worried that Ben would come out on top. Natalie had been through a lot. She needed Chase now, but what would happen when she inevitably moved on? Would she love Ben’s easy affection and put up with Chase because they were a team?
He turned and looked out the window. Yep. He fucking hated feelings because now he was well aware that he didn’t really want a life that didn’t include his brother. He’d never really thought about it, the future a hazy thing he didn’t need to worry about, but he was thirty-five. If this wasn’t the future, then maybe he didn’t have one. And when he really thought about it, he couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t include Ben.
He needed Ben in ways he wasn’t sure Ben needed him.
“I hope you don’t shut me out, man. Because you’re right. She made the connection with you,” Ben said quietly. “I really like this girl. Maybe that’s coming from you. Maybe I’m just picking up on your emotion, but I don’t give a shit. This feels good, Chase. This feels right.”
“I want to go after her.” He turned to his brother. “I want her. I don’t intend to leave this place without her.”
Ben smiled, a broad show of even teeth. “Excellent. Then we’re in agreement. We need to figure out a way to take that little piece of sugar down.”
“First we need to figure out who wants to ruin her life.” He’d walked every inch of the tiny apartment and hadn’t come up with anything other than the shoes. Even if the sheriff had given a damn, he doubted the perpetrator would kindly show up in the AFIS database. A career criminal would likely have been smarter than this chick. “I want to put some surveillance around the building.”
“Gaby might not like that,” Ben pointed out. “According to Chris, the employees here value their privacy.”
Chase shrugged. “I didn’t intend to tell them, so they’ll still think they have privacy.” Ben needlessly complicated things with morality. “I’m not intending on spying on them. I just want to see who keeps watch on Natalie’s door. I’ll have Logan do it. He would probably enjoy the time away from watching Georgia.”
He turned back to the window. She had a decent view of the courtyard. Even this early, a few families were out by the pool, including Callum Reed and his two kids. The big bad Dom didn’t look so nasty today. It was hard to look truly intimidating with a small toddler girl clinging to his back and shouting, “Give me a ride, Daddy.”
A vision of a little pink-haired girl running with her arms outstretched assaulted him.
Good god, he was really going soft.
“We’re not letting our daughter get pink hair,” Ben said, his voice choking up a little before he laughed. “You really are in deep, aren’t you?”
He was. And he was right about Natalie. She wasn’t a little victim cowering in her room because she hadn’t stayed where they’d put her. He frowned as he watched Natalie stride through the courtyard, her head down like a charging bull. She glanced up briefly, seeing Cal and then hurrying along.
“Little brat. Logan is in so much trouble. Do you think the girls tied him up so Natalie could get away?”
Ben grinned a little, looking down at her. “Georgia might have tried, but Kitten would never tie him up. I’ve heard he gives the best spankings.”
Kitten tended to think whoever was her current Master gave the best everythings.
Nat stopped, her whole body halting and nearly pulling back as another form walked in from behind one of the retaining walls. Big and well built, the man’s arms came up as though in greeting. Chase couldn’t see the man’s back, but he could tell the fucker worked out because asshole wasn’t wearing a shirt. Just a pair of board shorts that sat far too low on his hips.
Why bother wearing shorts at all? The fucker’s ass cheeks were nearly showing off. And he was interested in Natalie. Every muscle in the man’s body screamed “hey, fuck me.” Chase wasn’t an idiot. He knew when a peacock was showing off, hoping to get a little action.
Nat smiled, her face beaming at the man. She freaking lit up the world when she smiled. Chase found his stupid ass smiling along with her when he should be ready to kill.
“Who the fuck is that?” Ben asked, puffing up like he was about to start a fight.
At least he wasn’t alone. Ben pulled him right back into assassin mode. “He’s the asshole we kill next. I think we should make an introduction.”
Ben’s face went fierce. “Yeah. I don’t like to kill people when I don’t know their names.”
Yeah, he liked having his brother at his side. Maybe this could work. He turned and walked out, knowing Ben had his back.
* * * *
“Hey.” Nat stopped in her tracks as Tate walked from behind the hallway that led to the single-male portion of the building.
Tate grinned, his all-American hotness rolling off him. He was wearing a pair of swimming trunks that showed off his ridiculously toned body. Tate Evans had a six-pack and pecs that would make an athlete blush, but all Nat could see was the Dawson brothers’ bodies. There were two of them. It kind of kicked Tate’s ass. Tate might be hot, but he didn’t have a superhot clone of himself.
“Nat. I was just thinking about you. Hey, Gretchen was saying something happened at the spa. What’s going on? Do you need some help?”
Yeah, Tate wasn’t the most aware of the Doms. “Uh, I had a client murdered on my table, so yeah, it’s been a shitty couple of days.”
Tate’s gorgeous green eyes went wide. “Seriously? That sucks, dude.”
And he called her dude. “Yep. It sucked. For me and him. Probably more for him.” Especially since Stan’s death led her to an awesome spanking and the first orgasm of the last several years. Though it had led her to inevitable heartache as well. And two Doms who would be pissed that she’d snuck out. “Hey, have you seen a set of twins hanging around?”
Hopefully they had moved on to something past her apartment. Now that she was standing here, she was wondering if she hadn’t made a bad choice.
Tate stopped, his sensual mouth hanging open. “Uh, no. But really, some dude died? God, the way Gretchen was talking I thought you were freaking out over a hangnail or something. Are you okay? Hey, if you need to talk, I’m here. And what was up with you and the tourist last night? Damn, Nat. I really thought you would come to me.”
His whole body had gone into sad-puppy mode. Tate was that Dom who only went into Dom mode when he had a pair of leathers on. In the past, he was exactly what she would have wanted in a Dom partner. He was the dude who wanted to slap an ass on a Saturday night and on Sunday have his girlfriend tell him what they were doing.
He was a little like Ben. Well, not totally. Ben would never be happy giving up control, but he could handle it. Chase would be a challenge. Why the hell did she suddenly need both? “Tate, we’re friends.”
His lower lip came out in a sexy little pout. He put a hand on her shoulder. “I want to be more.”
She’d been avoiding this for months. “I thought you were working with Gretchen.”
Gretchen was crazy about Tate. Gretchen had been subbing for him since the first night he’d started work a couple of months back. She wasn’t wearing his collar, but that didn’t matter to Gretchen. She was head over heels, and Nat wasn’t about to screw that up even if she had been interested in the Dom. Tate was gorgeous in an all-American surfer way. He didn’t have anything on Chase and Ben. Chase with his insanely hot geek intelligence and Ben’s soulfulness. Why would she look at Tate when she couldn’t get them out of her head? Even when they were really pissed at her in her head.
“Gretchen is a nice girl, but I’ve made it plain that we’re not really compatible. I’ve tried, but the chemistry isn’t there, you know. I talked to Gaby the other day about trying to find her a permanent Dom. I like play, you know that, but I need a real partner.”
She felt a sudden need to defend her friend. “Gretchen could be a partner.”
Tate shook his head. “She can’t. She wants to be a slave, Nat.”
Nat nearly shuddered at the word. The whole idea of being a slave, turning over her power now seemed foreign to her. She’d never been a slave. A sub, yes. It was in her nature to submit in some aspects of her life. But she knew what true slavery was, and the thought sickened her. “Gretchen isn’t like that.”
Gretchen knew what it meant, too. She’d been with Hawk the longest. She’d been with him before he’d decided to go butt-fuck crazy and steal women to serve him.
Tate’s hand trailed along her arm. “I don’t know that she tells you everything, honey. Gretchen has some secrets. And I can’t help it. She’s not my type. You are. Nat, come on. Let me help you. You need a man. I can make your life easier. That guy from last night was just a tourist.”
“Tourist?” A sarcastic voice broke through the quiet afternoon. Nat grimaced because she knew that voice. Chase. “I assure you I’m a citizen of this particular country. You’re the fucking tourist, little boy. Get a green card. Fucking baby Dom.”
Maybe she hadn’t exactly thought this whole plan of action out. Ben followed his brother and they both had identical pissed-off expressions—furrowed brows, dark eyes, sensual mouths that turned down and might grow fangs at any moment. They weren’t slightly annoyed with her little show of rebellion. There was a volcano underneath those men just waiting to go off.
And she could stop the explosion. Sure, she’d been caught sneaking out of the last place they’d put her, and they’d found her talking to another Dom. It wasn’t logical because she didn’t really belong to them so she shouldn’t have to follow their rules, and they shouldn’t care if another Dom horned in on her.
But there was absolutely nothing logical about any of this.
Tate proved he could do the alpha male thing without the aid of leathers. He puffed up, pushing Nat behind him as she tried to come up with the best way to soothe the savage Dawson beasts. Tate seemed intent on taunting them. “I don’t think you two belong here. This is the private employee quarters. You can get the fuck out or I can take you out myself.”
Ben was the reasonable one. He stepped forward, and Nat nearly sighed with relief. Ben would calm everyone down. “Yeah, you and what fucking army, asshole?”
Nat rolled her eyes. So much for Ben’s reason.
Chase smiled, obviously enjoying the skirmish. “I don’t think the baby Dom can add. One plus one is going to equal you getting your ass kicked. I don’t think baby brother here has killed anyone in a while.”
“A couple weeks,” Ben replied, his grin turning predatory. “But I shot that asshole. It’s been a long time since I killed anyone with my bare hands.”
“Far too long,” Chase sighed as though they were discussing Ben missing his favorite TV show.
“You two stop trying to scare him.” Nat tried to move out from behind Tate.
“Your input isn’t welcome, sweetness,” Chase said, turning that frown on her. “Would you like to explain to me why you’re not where I left you? I believe my instructions were specific.”
“You aren’t her Dom.” Tate moved in front of her again, keeping himself between her and the twins. “You don’t talk to her that way.”
Ben’s face flushed. He took a step toward Tate. “Natalie, if you want to avoid me putting my fist through this asshole’s face, you’ll stop cowering behind him.”
“Cowering?” Nat was well aware she sounded completely shrill.
“If you aren’t cowering, then he’s keeping you from us,” Chase mused. “I don’t think I like that. Do you, Benjamin?”
Fuck, this was going to go really bad really fast. She looked around and sure enough, everyone was watching the current episode ofAs the Dungeon Turnsplay out right there in the courtyard. Cal was watching, his eyes narrowed, and any minute he was going to get involved and then everything would go straight to hell.
“I’m protecting her,” Tate declared.
“I don’t need protecting.” They were useless words because none of the alpha boys were going to listen to a damn thing she had to say, and Ben and Chase looked ready to kill. It was up to her. In her experience, it was always the sub who had to be the reasonable one.
And this sub knew that reason wouldn’t win the day.
She forced her way around Tate and walked straight to Chase Dawson. Georgia was right. He was the one she had to handle. Ben would fall in line. His eyes widened as she approached, surprise flaring briefly before he mastered himself and went back to his normal blank expression.
“Like I said, Tate, I don’t need protection. Not from them,” she finished as she wound her arms around Chase’s ridiculously well-defined torso.
She felt Chase’s sigh of relief as his arms came around her. A big hand cupped her hair, holding her to him.
“Natalie, think this through for two seconds,” Tate began. “You don’t know them. You know me. I’ve spent months and months getting to know you. I’ve been very careful with you.”
“Tate, she’s made her choice. Back off.” Cal had come in after all. Nat tried to look up, but Chase held her close. She was sure he still had that blasé, the-world-is-so-boring expression on his face, but his heart told a different story. It was beating against his chest.
He wasn’t nearly as calm as he wanted the world to think, and that made her want to soothe him. He hid so much of himself. What would he be like with the woman he finally opened up to?
“I was unaware that Natalie had a boyfriend, much less a Dom,” Ben said.
Chase finally let her look up. “Baby brother needs some affection, too, sweetness.” He dropped the sweetest little kiss on her upturned nose.
Fuck, she was in such trouble. Chase released her and she turned to Ben, giving him the same bear hug she’d given Chase. Ben didn’t hesitate. He immediately wrapped his arms around her and then did his brother one better. He leaned over and picked her up.
Chase frowned his way. “Show-off.”
Ben shrugged. “She might call us barbarians from time to time, but she likes to be picked up. And since she doesn’t stay where we told her to, I will simply have to manhandle her when she disobeys.”
When had she thought he was the sweet one?
Before she had a chance to say a thing, though, Tate was making trouble again. “Cal, what the hell is going on? Are you going to let two asshole guests come in and treat Nat like a toy?”
“I haven’t gotten to play with her yet,” Chase drawled. “If you’re going to get mad at someone, look at Ben. He didn’t even fully unwrap our toy before he was playing with her.”
Heat flashed through Nat. “Chase Dawson!”
“Well, it’s true. When I play with you, sweetness, you’ll be fully out of your packaging. I promise you.”
Cal bit back a smile as he put a hand on Tate’s shoulder. “Calm down. We’ve talked about this. And they aren’t exactly guests. Julian Lodge sent them to help Natalie out.”
Tate’s face was red with anger, his fists at his side. “They aren’t helping her. They’re fucking with her.”
Chase couldn’t let it go. “Again, baby brother got there first.”
Nat was satisfied that she and Ben turned at the same moment, both barking out Chase’s name.
Chase’s lips turned up. “Stereo. I like it.”
Ben just frowned his brother’s way. “Can you be serious for two seconds?”
“I am very serious about getting my turn, Ben. I should have gotten it this morning. Now my brain won’t work because I’m thinking about Nat’s boobs and her other parts. I felt a piercing.”
A slow smile slid across Ben’s face. “Yeah, brother, she has a piercing all right. A sweet little diamond.”
Chase rolled his baby blues. “You are so unobservant, Benjamin. Her tongue piercing is a silver stud.”
“Yes, Chase, she has a tongue piercing,” Ben shot back. “And no, I haven’t had a chance to be on the receiving end of that sweet thing yet, so you can stop being jealous. Now the other piercing is more interesting.”
God, he was not talking about her tongue piercing. And there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. And it was kind of funny. She was completely trapped in Ben’s arms and they were being utter douchebags intent on embarrassing her, and she couldn’t stop laughing.
This was what a relationship with them would be like. She would often be embarrassed, and she would never ever be bored.
If they really wanted her.
Chase looked down at her, his eyebrow arching. “Seriously? You have more than one piercing?”
“I went through a phase. I didn’t do the tattoo thing so I pierced a couple of places.” And no one had ever actually played with it before Ben. She’d had the tongue piercing before the incident. She’d pierced her hood after Kitten dared her.
“I’m surprised you didn’t notice it when you got her naked. I guess you got stuck on her tits. I didn’t get a really good look at those, but I definitely saw the other.” Ben winked at her. “That little gem I saw wasn’t on her nipples, but we can schedule those. I know a master body modifier in Dallas.”
“Holy shit, Nat. You pierced your clit?” Chase nearly shouted the question. “I’m getting fucking old. My eyes should have gone directly there, but I did get stuck on your tits, baby. They’re so pretty.”
She was still stuck in Ben’s arms. They tightened around her so she just gave up and laughed.
“Are you going to let them talk about her that way?” Tate asked Cal, his voice tight with anger.
Cal was smiling at her. “I don’t think Nat is having a problem with it. Nat, you know you’re kind of accepting them, right?”
Nat needed to make one thing plain before she made a single decision. “Them? I thought Chase wasn’t sharing.”
“Chase rethought his position,” Ben replied. His eyes turned up toward Tate, darkening in an instant. “So tell whoever has a problem with our sub, that they’ll have two Doms to deal with.”
And just like that she froze.
They would want that. They would need it. Submissive. Slave. They could allow her a bit of power, but in the end they would need dominance, and she couldn’t give it. Not for the long term.
“Natalie?” Ben’s voice went serious.
“Please let me down. I need to see my apartment.” She should concentrate on the future. The future wasn’t going to include two hot überDoms. She would brutally disappoint them in the end because she couldn’t submit again.
Ben set her on her feet, his sadness visible.
Tate, on the other hand, looked deeply satisfied.
She turned and walked toward her place without saying another word.Chapter Ten
Ben turned, looking at Natalie who sat beside him and wished he could take back the last three hours. There had been a great moment when Nat had laughed and completely accepted them and then she’d shut down. She hadn’t laughed or smiled since he’d set her on her feet.
He’d been trying to figure out what he’d done. Because it had been him. Chase hadn’t said a damn thing. Ben had been the one talking when her body had gone stiff and the day had gone to shit.
“What do you know about Juliet Kirkman?” Chase might not have been talking then, but he was controlling the conversation now.
Nat looked up from studying the menu. She hadn’t been happy about being forced to come into town, but they didn’t want to leave her behind. Not when she’d proven she could easily get away from Logan. Ben had been the one to sit with her while Chase had interviewed employees from the spa. He’d sat there while rerunning background checks, watching her while she pretended to flip through a magazine. “I know she married Stan about ten years ago, and she’s been spitting out kids ever since.”
Chase chuckled, but the last damn thing Ben needed was two Chases to deal with. If this was going to work, he needed to be able to take her places without others wanting to kill her. He frowned Nat’s way. Why was he always playing the bad guy with her? “That’s a bit rude.”
She flushed. “I’m sorry. You’re right. Honestly, I’ve met the oldest two and they’re actually really sweet kids. Juliet is a pain in my ass. Everyone’s really. She seems to think that a massage therapist is really just a whore with a fancy name. She told me I slept with all my clients.”
Chase’s brow furrowed, a sure sign he was getting pissed. “She said that to you?”
Nat shrugged. “She told the paper. I didn’t really know about it because I don’t read theWillow Fork Gazette, but one of the maids brought it into the locker room. Juliet wrote an editorial about how the spa was going to kill traditional marriage and we would all end up married to gays. I don’t think she understands much about the lifestyle. Or what gay marriage means. She literally thinks she’ll be forced to give up her husband and marry a lesbian. I think she might have been talking about Jack Barnes and Sam Fleetwood. She called her future wife her lesbian overlord. But she managed to mention me specifically. I’m a whore who’s attempting to lure all humans with muscular pain into my web. The muscular pain comes from Satan. And so do I, according to Juliet.”
“So she’s a scholar,” Chase mused. He looked up and smiled as his quarry walked out of the kitchens, an apron over her jeans and tight white T-shirt. Christa Wade looked damn good for a woman approaching fifty. She was Abigail Barnes’s best friend, and she owned the café they currently occupied.
She was also the epicenter of gossip in Willow Fork. It had been Chase’s idea to casually interview her. It was Ben’s job to make sure Christa Wade didn’t kill Chase because sometimes his version of casual was just plain rude.
“Hello, welcome to Christa’s Café. You’re Natalie, right? You work out at the spa?” Christa smiled down at Nat. There was nothing in her demeanor that made Ben worry, but the rest of the café he wasn’t so sure about. The minute they had walked in, murmurs started and several of the patrons had openly stared at Nat. Ben had made sure to take the booth in the back and to sit Nat where she couldn’t see that she was the center of attention. But she hadn’t let him herd her against the wall. She’d waited stubbornly until Ben had scooted in.
Nat flushed. “Yeah. I work out there.”
Christa’s smile widened. “Well, I knew it by the hair. You’re the only one in these parts with pink hair. I think it’s cute. You look like Katy Perry. I just love her. I thought about going blue, but my hairdresser shut that right down. Apparently eclectic hair colors are one of the signs of the apocalypse. Like that bright yellow she has on her head is natural looking. I don’t think so.” She stopped herself, her voice slowing down. “I was actually going to call you sometime next week. I have a horrible pain in my lower back. Abby says you’ve really helped Jack out. That man can be a real bear when he’s in pain. Apparently he twisted a couple of vertebrae trying to get Olivia out of a tree. She was rebelling against carrots. She doesn’t like carrots. Sorry. I tend to ramble.”
Ben was counting on her rambling. He needed some information the sheriff didn’t seem capable of giving them. “I’m sure Natalie would love another client.”
“Uhm, I think I’m on leave or something since the last dude died,” Nat whispered his way.
And then Christa just pulled up a chair and sat down, her eyes wide. Ben caught Chase’s self-satisfied smile. He hadn’t been forced to say a word, and the woman didn’t realize she was being interrogated.
“I heard about Stan. I always knew he would come to a bad end.” Her voice was just above a whisper.
“Why a bad end?” Ben asked. It was his job to be the innocent tourist, interested in a little gossip.
Christa took the time to look around. She seemed satisfied no one could hear her. “Well, you know there are rumors about old Stan.”
Ah, rumors. The lifeblood of the private investigator. “No. What kind of rumors?”
Even Nat seemed interested now. She put her menu down and turned toward Christa. “Are you talking about the rumor that he jacks up the prices of his sofas or the one where he’s actually selling stolen goods? Because I’ve heard both.”
So she listened to gossip. She didn’t just sit in her sad little apartment. She was still somewhat interested in what went on around her.
Christa shook her head. “No, hon. Stan put out the rumor about the stolen goods himself. He thought that if people around here believed they were really buying cheap, fell-off-a-truck designer furniture, then they would come in droves. No. His stuff came from just over the border, and let me tell you, he did charge too much for it. I bought a dining room set from him. It lasted two days before it started to wobble. How can a table be perfectly stable one day and then slightly wobbly the next? I don’t understand it. Now it takes two and a halfPeoplemagazines to get it level.”
Chase growled a little, a sure sign that he was going to take over in a minute and then the whole interview thing would go straight to hell. Chase didn’t do bad cop. He was more like evil cop.
Christa looked at Chase, her brows rising. “Is there something wrong with him?”
Nat took a sip of her water. “I think that’s how he communicates.”
Eyes narrowed, Chase leaned toward Natalie. “I’ll show you how I communicate later, sweetness. Your backside will appreciate my version of Morse code. Benjamin?”
Yep. That was code for get this moving or the big bad wolf would take over. “So what are the rumors about Mr. Kirkman?”
Christa leaned back. “You’re from Julian Lodge, aren’t you?”
Well, she wasn’t a dummy. “Yes, ma’am. Julian prefers to investigate these things on his own rather than relying on local law enforcement entirely. We’re not trying to take over, simply enhance what I’m sure will be a thorough investigation of the matter.”
A booming laugh filled the café. “Well, aren’t you the politic one?” She turned to Chase. “I bet you aren’t. Tell me what you think of our sheriff, handsome.”
Chase didn’t hesitate. “I think he’s a lazy motherfucker who couldn’t find that enormous hat of his even if I shoved it straight up his ass.”
Christa smiled at Nat. “I like him. You should keep him, hon. Wait. Is this one of those crazy threesome things? It happens more often than you would think.”
“Ms. Wade,” Ben said, desperate to get this whole thing back on track. “The rumors?”
She flushed just a bit, and Ben knew this was going to be good. Maybe not true, but damn good. “You know how the spa has certain levels? Like anyone can go to the lobby or the restaurant but you can’t get to level three without the right credentials?”
Level three was the dungeon and the playroom. A guest had to have the right access codes to get in. They had to be vetted carefully before Julian allowed them a membership to his club. “I understand what you’re saying.”
“Well, there are some locals who tried to get in at the resort and couldn’t, so the rumor is they started their own club.”
Now that was very interesting. He’d heard Chris Linwood had vetted some potential members from the community and turned down almost every single one for one reason or another. Most because they offended Julian’s sensibilities. “There’s a private dungeon in Willow Fork?”
Christa nodded. “A couple, really. Jack and Abby and Sam have a whole guesthouse with the craziest stuff in it, but they are very, very private. This isn’t so private from what I hear. They don’t just let anyone in, but there’s a whole bunch of them. I don’t know if it’s the whips and chains stuff, but I think there’s a lot of swinging going on, if you know what I mean.”
Chase huffed, his nose turning up slightly. Ben nodded. They were on the same page. They didn’t swing unless it involved putting a sweet little sub in suspension for some play. They were both far, far too possessive to share their subs, and Chase was deeply picky. “No, we wouldn’t consider those types for club membership. The Club and its subsidiaries tend to encourage relationships between Doms and subs.”
“Well, I don’t think they’re real interested in relationships at this place,” Christa replied. “And it’s maybe not the cleanest place. I heard from Genna Sue who works for Doc Bob that they’ve had three cases of the Hep in the last year.”
Hepatitis. Easily caught from unprotected sex or needles. And Stan, it seemed, had been into both. Ben would really like to get an invite to that little club. “Do you have any idea where this not-so-private club might be found?”
“Out on the interstate, a couple miles past the old Haverford place. But I don’t know exactly what place they’re at. There’s a whole bunch of trailers and buildings out there that no one uses anymore. That’s unincorporated territory, so naturally that’s where the bars are and the triple-X stores, if you know what I mean.”
Oh, yes, Ben knew what she meant. He bet the sheriff never got out that far. It would be a strain on his system to drive out there. Ben cast a look at his brother who seemed to be lost in thought himself.
If Stan was into underground sex clubs and drugs, then Nat might be in deeper than they thought. He couldn’t see Nat being involved in either, but someone wanted to drag her down. The question was, who?
Those drugs had been planted. Even the sad-sack sheriff’s office had done its job and dusted for prints. There had been absolutely nothing on the small bag of pure China White heroin. Nat’s prints had been everywhere else along with the other two techs, but the needle that stuck out of Stan’s back and the drug paraphernalia had been mysteriously wiped clean. It was the only reason Nat wasn’t in jail on drug charges. The sheriff couldn’t prove she was the owner of the drugs.
The bell over the door to the café chimed, and Ben heard a restless murmur go through the crowd.
Christa turned, her face flushing. “Damnation. Sweetheart, maybe you should head out the back.”
Ben turned from his place beside Nat and saw a petite woman dressed in a perfectly pressed business suit. She was polished from head to toe, not a thread of her platinum-blonde hair out of place, but her eyes were red and there was a distinct downturn to her artfully painted mouth.
“Christa Wade? Since when did you start serving whores in this café?”
Fuck a duck. Stan’s wife. No doubt about it. Nat had gone pale, her fair skin turning a chalky white. It was obvious she was scared, but she didn’t reach for him or Chase. She simply sat there, her eyes staring down at the water in front of her, her hands in her lap.
Christa stood. “Don’t you start with that kind of mouth in my house, Juliet. I understand you’ve had a shock, but I won’t put up with it.”
“This place has always been where the trash of the town comes, anyway.” Juliet stalked across the floor, her heels clacking. It was easy to hear her move because there wasn’t another sound in the entire place. Everyone had stopped, not a single person moving a muscle.
“Sweetness, I think it’s probably time we left,” Chase said, his voice a laconic roll. “I think I’ve lost my appetite anyway.”
Nat nodded and started to scoot out of the booth.
Before anyone could move, Juliet bolted across the diner toward Nat. Before Ben could pull her back, Juliet’s hand flashed out, the smack across Nat’s cheek ringing through the café.
“You fucking whore. You got him into that shit. You think I don’t know what goes on there? You think I don’t know about that disgusting club? You ruined him, you piece of filth.”
Nat shrank back, Ben finally able to get her in his arms, but he didn’t have much of a place to go. He put his arms around her, ready to block whatever the insane chick decided to throw next.
Chase stood, his six-foot-four-inch frame seeming larger as he stood over the petite blonde, and Ben prayed he didn’t actually kill the bitch.
“Chase,” a deep voice called out. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t get yourself thrown in jail.”
The whole café seemed to stop at the sound of Jack Barnes’s voice. He stood in the doorway, all six foot four inches of pure muscle blocking out the sun. A well-worn Stetson sat atop his dark hair, and there was a toddler version of himself clinging to his side. Ben searched his mind. Josh. The kid had a hand on his dad’s jeans, but his eyes stared out of his small face, dark like his father’s.
“Why is that lady hurting my Nat?” Josh asked.
Nat sniffled a little, wiping her eyes as she shoved herself out of the booth. “I’m fine, sweetie. Don’t you worry about me.”
Ben followed Nat out because he didn’t give a flying fuck if that woman had just lost her husband. Juliet didn’t get to lay a hand on his sub. He knew he shouldn’t think of her that way. It was too soon, but he couldn’t help it. She was theirs, and they wouldn’t let anyone lay a hand on her. Nat raced around the petite blonde, and Josh let go of his father and actually put his little body between her and Juliet Kirkman.
Yeah, that was Jack Barnes’s kid.
“You okay, Nat?” Barnes asked, his voice low.
She nodded, her hand reaching for Josh’s. “I’m just fine. It was an accident.”
“It wasn’t an accident,” Chase said. His eyes didn’t leave the blonde, and she’d started to get the idea that this was serious.
Juliet’s shoulders squared. “I’m not going to apologize to that piece of…”
“You finish that sentence in front of my son and we’re going to have a serious problem, Mrs. Kirkman,” Jack Barnes swore. “You watch what comes out of that mouth in front of children.”
Juliet turned, her face beet red. “You’re a good one to talk about children, Jack Barnes. You flaunt your perversions in front of everyone. You think you’re such a big man, but you’re going to hell. You just think you can take the rest of us with you, and I won’t allow it. I’ll take you down if it’s the last thing I do.”
The little bell over the café door jingled as she stomped out.
Josh looked back at his dad. “Daddy, I don’t like that girl. She’s mean. We should take Nat home with us.”
Barnes ruffled his kid’s hair. “I think you might be right, buddy, but we’ll have to take those two with us, too. Christa, could you get my to-go order ready? I think we need to take this conversation out to the ranch.”
Nat picked up Josh, letting him hug her. She looked sweet and frail and deeply maternal, the last bit pulling at Ben’s heart, an odd longing taking over.
Chase stared at the door, his voice going low. “Did you notice her shoes?”
Hell yeah he’d noticed. Juliet Kirkman liked stilettos. And she definitely seemed to have a problem with Nat.
“I’ll have Logan dig up everything he can on her.”
Whatever happened, he wanted to keep an eye on Juliet.
* * * *
Nat sniffled a little as she walked into the ranch house owned by Jack Barnes, his partner, Sam Fleetwood, and their shared wife, Abigail.
It was a place she knew well. She often stayed out here with their two kids, Olivia and Josh, when they travelled or needed a night out. She also made house calls.
Sam Fleetwood’s eyes widened and a big grin crossed his face as he walked in from the kitchen. “Nat! Damn, it’s good to see you. You’re an angel from heaven, darlin’. Did Jack tell you what I did to my shoulder?”
Ranchers, Nat had discovered, were a veritable goldmine for the massage therapist profession. They were always pulling muscles.
“She’s not here to work.” Chase stalked in. He’d been brooding since the moment Juliet had walked into the café.
Nat swallowed down bile. God, how was she going to stay here in this town? Even with all the amenities at the spa, she had to go into town sometime. She couldn’t just stay out there. She wasn’t dumb. She knew how this town worked. Juliet had money and power. If she wanted to, and it seemed like she did, she could make Nat’s life unbearable. Nat had heard the rumors about Abby Barnes’s childhood in this very town. She’d been run out of Willow Fork. She hadn’t been allowed to shop or buy gas because she’d pissed off a powerful family.
“Natalie, sit down.” Chase’s low rumble brought her out of her thoughts. She looked up and he was pointing to a chair, a plush little sofa she’d sat in many times before reading a story to Josh or Olivia. She really did feel a little light-headed. She started to move toward it, but both Ben and Chase took places on the couch. They were really big men, gorgeous bookends with broad shoulders leaving no real room for her. She stopped.
“Sit down, Natalie,” Ben commanded. He patted the seat beside him. “Jack, I think she could use some lunch. We didn’t even get to order.”
Natalie looked around, but then thought better of it. She was a little worried that they would simply pick her up and place her where they wanted her. They seemed to enjoy lifting her up and proving just how freaking strong they were. She wasn’t exactly overweight, but she wasn’t tiny either. But when Ben picked her up and hauled her to his chest, his arms surrounding her, she felt delicate and fragile and more than that, it felt all right to be both because he would take care of her.
It wasn’t a good idea to think like that. Those types of dreams would just get her in trouble. And she didn’t want to get involved with a damn Dom, much less two. She sat between them, attempting to hold herself apart, but their hips touched hers, her legs sliding against theirs, making her wonder what it would be like to be tangled with them.
A big hand reached around, sliding under her hair and cupping the back of her neck. Chase. Heat flashed through her. Another hand, this time Ben’s, found her right knee, settling possessively there.
“Daddy, why are those men touching my Nat like you touch my momma?” Josh asked, his little mouth a firm, stubborn line. Josh had trouble with boundaries. He didn’t have a single issue sharing his toys or his treats. He would give those up in a heartbeat. People were another matter entirely. Josh was deeply possessive and protective of anyone he loved. She’d once watched a three-year-old Josh slug a five-year-old who had thirty pounds and a half a foot on him because the other boy had said something nasty to his sister, Olivia.
Josh had a little crush on Nat. He liked to hold her hand, and once he’d asked if he could marry her when he grew up. Of course, given his family life, she hadn’t been surprised when he’d promised to find them a third, too. Given how her life had been going up until yesterday, she might still be single by the time Josh was old enough to get married and settle on a friend to share a woman with.
She tried to pull away because the last thing she wanted to do was to upset Josh. Two big hands tightened on her.
“Josh, son, I think we should go and have a talk. Why don’t you help me find Benita?” Sam put a hand on Josh’s shoulder and they walked into the kitchen.
Nat turned to her two crazy cavemen while Jack Barnes settled into the seat across from them. “You didn’t have to do that. He’s just a kid.”
Barnes chuckled a little. “I don’t know about that, Nat. Josh is a little precocious to say the least. And he’s sure he’s going to marry you. He’s even talking to little Jared in his preschool class about potentially sharing you one day. Yeah, that was a parent-teacher conference I never expected to have.”
“The kid needs to understand that you’re taken,” Chase said as though he was talking about an actual real adult rival and not a kid who had trouble with tying his shoes. “He needs to learn not to horn in on other men’s women.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Nat shot back. “He’s four.”
Chase shrugged. It seemed to be his go-to move to indicate he didn’t give a shit. Chase shrugged a lot. “He needs a woman closer to his own age. Like a fetus, perhaps.”
Ben smiled, a little uptick of those gorgeous lips. “We’ll give him the number to Dani’s womb.”
“How about you two tell me what kind of trouble Nat’s in? We just got back into town this morning from visiting my daughter. Why the hell was Juliet screaming at Nat?”
Before Nat could reply, Ben was talking. “Her husband was found dead in Nat’s massage room out at the spa.”
Jack leaned back, a thoughtful look in his eyes. He didn’t seem particularly surprised that Stan had met a bad end, but then Jack didn’t put his emotions out there for all to see. The only time she really saw the man get soft was with his wife and kids and Sam Fleetwood. “And now everyone thinks Nat was having an affair with him and potentially killed him. Were drugs involved?”
“Interesting that’s your first question,” Chase said, his hand stroking her neck. He needed to stop doing that. She kind of wanted to lean against him and purr. “What exactly do you know about Stan Kirkman and drugs?”
“I know the rumors, Chase,” Jack replied. “We stay pretty much to ourselves out here. We’re isolated and we like it that way, but I had to fire a ranch hand a few months back because I caught him doing drugs. Word was he’d gotten it out at Kirkman’s warehouse. I didn’t really investigate. Just called Stan to let him know he had some trouble.”
Yeah, Nat could hear that conversation. It would have been a deeply unsubtle threat to clean his shit up or have Jack on his ass. “Was it heroin?”
The thought of all those drugs sitting there just waiting to be pinned on her made her nervous. Someone had tried to frame her for murder. It was unreal.
A slight shake of his dark head indicated a no. “Meth. It’s easily made right here in the sticks. It’s the redneck drug of choice.”
“Do you think Stan was dealing?” Ben asked.
“I think if he wasn’t, he knew what was happening and probably took a kickback. I don’t buy that his furniture store is doing that well. Juliet is driving a new BMW and Stan had just ordered a Porsche, but I’ve heard that sales were down. They’re either leveraged to the hilt or Stan has some other form of income.”
“Possibly a little of both. I think Juliet wants people to believe she’s doing better than she is. The tag was still attached to her designer suit and the $12,000 Chanel watch she was wearing was a fake,” Chase said.
“How on earth could you tell?” The whole event had occurred so fast she didn’t even remember what color Juliet’s suit had been much less that she’d been wearing an expensive watch.
“I noticed the watch when she smacked you, sweetness,” Chase answered in a grave monotone. “Trust me, that sight is burned into my brain.”
“And you know a lot about designer watches?” Jack asked.
Ben took that one. “Chase has a photographic memory. We worked a smuggling case for a designer a few years back. He studied designer clothes, shoes, and jewelry. Trust me. He can spot a fake from a hundred yards away.”
“Christa was talking about an underground club. Have you heard anything?” Chase asked, obviously dismissing the whole photographic memory thing.
A fierce frown crossed Jack’s face. “Yes, I have. It’s one of the reasons we just got back from Deer Run. I wanted to talk to my brother about how to shut that shit down. He actually told me to call you two in. Lucas knows how our sheriff works. If we don’t have a ton of evidence, I don’t think the sheriff will even investigate. I was going to call Julian to see if he would loan you two out.”
Ben’s hand moved on her leg as he sat up. “Why are you so worried about this, Jack? Aren’t you being a little hypocritical? The Club, for all its elegance, is really nothing but a more opulent underground sex club.”
“The Club doesn’t have missing girls,” Jack stated flatly.
Oh, crap. She’d heard some rumors. There was a young college girl who had supposedly gone out to meet friends and never returned. “You’re talking about Michelle Nelson.”
Jack scrubbed a hand over his face, a weary gesture. “Her uncle is one of my hands. He says she’s gotten involved in some nasty stuff these last few months, but he doesn’t think she would run off. That’s the explanation the sheriff is pushing. Another girl named Hannah Wells is missing, too. Now it was well known that Hannah was into meth. I think that little club is running drugs and Stan was involved. I can’t get into the club. No one will even talk to me about it. I’ve managed to figure out that to get an invitation you need to see a man at a bar, but they shut down the minute I walk in the door. I don’t even know if I’ve found the right one. They’ve started popping up all over the unincorporated parts of the county in the last couple of years.”
“You are a little intimidating,” Chase said. “You’re kind of worse than the law around these parts. It’s not so surprising that they don’t want you around. The question is just how secret is this club?”
“No one will talk about it. If it’s anything like other clubs, it’s likely easier to get in if you bring a submissive female with you,” Jack said.
Nat went cold. She knew where this was going. She’d been around long enough to know that submissive females were prized in the BDSM world. Ben or Chase would have to go into that club and they would need a female with them. They would need an experienced submissive.
Ben stood, pacing. “I’ll call Julian. He can send someone down.”
Chase’s hand stroked the back of her neck, a soothing sensation. She could feel him trying to settle her down because she just knew he’d already accepted what Ben had not. “And who will he send, brother? Tara? Darin won’t let her go. Marcy has a new Dom. She won’t leave him. Those are the only two I would even dare to take undercover with me.”
Ben’s face fell. “Kitten?”
That wasn’t going to happen. “Kitten would just as likely walk off with the drug dealer if he promised her spankings. That would be a disaster. Someone at the spa likely killed Stan. With all the locks and protocols, I would be very surprised if someone just happened to walk in off the street and managed to find the right room and killed Stan with no one seeing him or her. If there’s a connection between the underground club and the spa, then you need someone from the spa to go in with you, but she would have to be in disguise. And you have to keep it perfectly quiet or you’ll tip someone off.”
“But Ben and Chase have been seen around the resort,” Jack pointed out.
“I barely put in an appearance last night before my little sweetness here sent me straight to the back of the bar. I only talked to Logan, Kitten, and the brat, besides the waitress,” Chase said.
“How did I send you to the bar?” Nat asked.
His hand slid down her spine, causing her to shiver. “You drove me to drink because you’re all damaged and shit, and I couldn’t just do what I wanted with you.”
He never prevaricated. She knew she shouldn’t ask, but it just came out. She was so much more impulsive around him. “What did you want to do?”
“I wanted to put you on your back and fuck you so hard everyone in that damn dungeon would know that you’re my little bit of sugar.” He frowned. “It wouldn’t have helped me. Ben wasn’t in the dungeon at the time. He would still have tried to take my treat.”
He was back on that again? God, she couldn’t take another fight. She needed to talk to them, to tell them she wasn’t going to choose.
Ben winked her way. “I didn’t try, brother. I got that treat. I’ll get it again.”
“Not until I’ve had a taste. I demand equal time.”
Nat felt her mouth drop open. That didn’t sound like fighting. It sounded like negotiations.
“Can you two figure out who gets fun time with your girlfriend later? Has anyone thought about the fact that Nat hasn’t bottomed in years?” Jack asked. “She might not be able to.”
“I can do it.” The words came out on a whisper. Yeah, that wasn’t going to make anyone believe her. But someone had tried to frame her, and she wasn’t going to sit idly by. Gretchen was too weak. She would never send Gretchen or Kitten in. The other subs were either from the area or knew a lot of people. She didn’t get to town often, and she doubted if anyone would recognize her the minute she put on a wig and covered up her hair. She was perfect.
And she wouldn’t let Ben and Chase go in without her. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t going to stay with them, that she couldn’t stay with them long term. She couldn’t stand the thought of them being in danger.
“I can do it.” She sounded stronger this time. “But we might need to practice a little.”Chapter Eleven
Three days later, Chase opened the door, impatience in his every move. Three long days of taking it slowly was making him utterly insane.
Damn it.What was that woman doing to him? He was never impatient. Bored. He was bored almost all the time, but never impatient. Now he was anxious and definitely not bored.
He’d spent his days behind a two-way glass watching as Chris Linwood and Callum Reed interviewed employees. He would have preferred doing it himself, but he had a cover to try to maintain, so he’d given the job over. He’d checked the IDs on every car that had been allowed in the gates of the resort. He’d run checks on everyone who’d had an appointment at the spa for the last two weeks.
Nothing. Just a hysterical Gretchen, who couldn’t seem to get through a simple interview, and two other therapists who had perfectly good alibis.
And that fucker Tate, who was starting to annoy him. Tate had answered every question with a question of his own, all of them about Natalie.
The only fun he’d had was watching Cal scare the holy hell out of Juliet Kirkman. And even that had ended in misery when he’d discovered she’d been at the funeral home and surrounded by relatives the night that Natalie’s apartment had been ransacked. She was a bitch, but she hadn’t broken in.
And then there was Natalie.
For three days, he’d been a gentleman. He’d followed Ben’s lead and gotten Nat comfortable with them. He’d talked about his expectations of a sub. Ben had asked her about her former D/s play that hadn’t involved hardened criminals. Even her therapist had come down and had a long talk with Nat while Ben and Chase spent their days at the resort getting their cover down. As far anyone knew, they were businessmen looking to make some investments and have a little fun in the dungeon.
Jack Barnes had been busy, too, allowing Natalie to watch him and his submissives while he studied her reactions. Jack wasn’t sure about taking her in, and Chase was worried, too.
And he was so horny he just might die. Three days of getting Natalie used to his touch while keeping his dick out of her was making him crazy, but today they were moving into the playroom. Today, they were going to play.
Logan frowned as he walked in, carrying the bag Chase had requested he retrieve from Dallas. Logan had been fine having Kitten along for the drive, but he’d promised revenge for forcing him to spend time in a small enclosed space with Georgia. Chase rather thought the dude protested way too much. And he’d also kind of hoped that Georgia would stay behind in Dallas, but no, she sulked into the ranch house following Kitten. Kitten smiled brightly.
“Chase, if you don’t tell that backwoods idiot that he isn’t the boss of me, then I’m going to scream. He’s horrible. He’s constantly in my business.” Georgia rounded on the deputy, barely coming to the middle of his chest, but that didn’t slow her down. “You’re an asshole. CapitalA. Littles. Another littles.”
Logan growled a little, causing Georgia to back up. She nearly tripped on her ridiculously high heels. “I’m getting a little tired of the bratty attitude, little girl. I think you might need a time-out. You won’t like it. I promise you.”
Fucking hell, the sexual tension between those two was heavy. Logan wanted his bratastic sister? Chase stared for a moment, trying to come up with what he felt. Nausea. That was what he felt because he was fucking thinking about his feelings. Nat had done this to him.
“Chase, kill him now.” Georgia had backed up but her heels dug into Jack Barnes’s beautiful hardwood floor, and she seemed unwilling to give the deputy another inch.
The deputy. Who had a job. And was coming out of his fucked-up period. Everyone had a fucked-up period. It was just a matter of time before life really messed up a person’s head. Logan had already faced it. Logan had been smart enough to reach out for help. Logan was almost on the other side.
He could totally pawn Georgia off on Logan. Damn straight. It was the perfect freaking plan. Logan wanted to fuck his sister? Well, Logan was the type who took his responsibilities seriously. Fucking a friend’s sister would be serious to Logan. Chase stared at Georgia with a critical eye. She was actually quite pretty. She had some nice curves on her.
“You make a lovely couple.”
Logan’s eyes went wide, and he shoved the bag at him. “Dude, don’t you even start that shit.”
“I said the same thing.” Kitten grinned up at him. “Sir is a good matchmaker.”
Kitten was quite liberal with the praise.
Logan glared down at Georgia. “If you pull one stunt here, I swear, I’ll have that ass over my knee. I don’t care what your brothers do. They left you in my care. You’re going to follow my rules, and if you ever lock me in a room again, your ass is going to be red.”
Georgia growled right back. It was kind of cute. “I locked you in the bathroom because you were an unreasonable prick. And what is your fascination with my backside? It’s a perfectly fine color. If you lay a hand on it, I will call the police.”