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Monday, April 15, 2019

Submitting to the Cowboy by B.J. Wane πŸ’• Book Blitz & Gift Card Giveaway πŸ’• (BDSM Romance)



Tamara Barton had lusted after Connor Dunbar ever since she was old enough to know what those stirrings meant whenever he was near. Connor’s refusal to see her as anything but the young girl he’d befriended and protected for years soon drives them apart, but not before she catches an up-close, personal glimpse of him exerting the dominant control she’d heard rumors about.

Connor regretted the harsh words he’d spoken to Tamara when he caught her spying on him as much as his lustful response to the look of need reflected on her face. He’d been looking after the neighbor girl since the moment he saw her falling off her first horse at the age of ten and didn’t plan on stopping now that she was a grown woman who thought she wanted their relationship to go in a different direction. He knew his sexual proclivities were not for the young, sweet kid he was so fond of, and wouldn’t jeopardize their special bond by giving in to her desires.

But Tamara always had a way of getting what she wanted and when he saw she was serious about becoming a member of the private BDSM club he owned with his brother and best friend, Connor discovered he didn’t want her submitting to anyone but him. When he learns she’d kept things from him that could have impacted her welfare, would he allow his failure to protect her to drive another wedge between them or finally embrace a life with her at his side as more than just a cherished friend?

This is book three in the Cowboy Doms series but reads as a standalone.

Publisher’s Note: This contemporary western romance contains elements of mystery, suspense, adult themes, power exchange and sensual scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.


Connor followed his friend and now business partner into the parking lot of The Barn with little enthusiasm for socializing. Working out a deal with Greg on the purchase of several horses for trail rides at his and Devin’s ski resort added to the perk of having Tam back in his life, even if he was unsure about how to define their relationship now. That one uncertainty had a lot to do with his lack of interest in coming out to the club tonight. He’d been itching to see her again, just to spend time with her and catch up on everything she’d been doing the past few years but didn’t want to push his luck since their relationship remained tenuous. She’d always had a way of keeping him tied up in knots, but in the past, he figured those knots were due to the scrapes he’d been around to help her out of. Now, his only explanation for what was causing them was the uncertainty of where he stood with her.

Greg beat him to the front door and pulled it open, raising a brow in inquiry as he said, “That frown is going to keep the subs at bay.”

“No it won’t. They like me no matter what my mood is,” he replied with a wry grin as he entered before Greg. Faint strains of edgy music seeped through the closed doors to the playroom, along with the hum of low voices. His pulse kicked up a notch as the two of them stepped into the cavernous space and he could now catch the high-pitched cries coming from happily tormented subs.

“Christ, I love this place,” Greg murmured on a deep inhale that lifted his wide shoulders. “I think I’ll track down my partner and see who’s willing to turn themselves over to the two of us.”

Connor’s grin widened. Greg and his longtime friend, Devin were new to The Barn but already enjoyed their reputation of preferring mΓ©nages. “Go on,” he encouraged with a nod. “I want to start with a drink.”

With a slap on Connor’s back, Greg sauntered off and Connor headed toward the bar. He spotted Caden bar tending and decided to take over for his brother early instead of waiting for his assigned time slot. He wasn’t in the mood yet to hook up with anyone. But his intended offer slid to the backburner as his roaming gaze landed on a spanking bench at the back of the room and he went rigid in disbelief. Slamming to a stunned halt as he reached the bar, he took a moment to confirm it was Tam’s slender, toned body draped over the apparatus, her long black braid hanging over her shoulder and her smooth limbs bound in leather cuffs.

Disbelief morphed into anger, his defense against the kernel of lust that gripped him, just like when he’d caught her spying on him. Wrong, that’s just plain wrong, he couldn’t help thinking. Tam, his Tam had no business being in his club. This was the young girl he’d taught to ride, the teenager he’d given driving lessons to and stood up for against her randy prom date. The same young woman he had cheered on at jumping competitions and praised for earning a college scholarship. The echo of her laughter reaching his ears from across the fields as she rode with carefree abandonment resonated in his head. That innocent, exuberant girl had no business bending over a spanking bench with her tight black skirt hiked up enough to reveal the sweet under curve of her buttocks.
Connor took two steps forward, intending to lay into both her and Devin and stop them before either could take whatever they were doing one step further, but found his path blocked by his brother’s large frame and scowl. “Get out of my way,” he snapped, his jaw tightening with frustration.
“Take a deep breath and think, Connor. She’s here as Nan’s guest and isn’t complaining. I should know as I’ve been keeping a close eye on her. Devin is just showing her the ropes.” Caden’s gaze turned sympathetic. “She’s not a kid any more. Didn’t you learn that when she took off?”

    





Sydney finds more than she bargained for when she gets lost on her way to report for a new job and finds herself at a lifestyle club. Peering in through the window, her attention – and libido – are both snagged by a man delivering some old-fashioned discipline to a young blonde. After he runs Sydney off, both are surprised to discover she is the new chef he’s hired for his ranch.

Caden wanted to turn away the cheeky woman he’d caught spying on his club without remorse, but desperation for a chef forced his hand. Sydney proves to be a definite asset to his employees, and a royal pain in his butt. Somehow, her penchant for getting lost and landing in trouble, along with her determination to return to the club as a guest, soon slide past his resistance.

It takes a threat to Sydney and unearthing the truth about what made her flee her home in Missouri to force them both to admit their feelings and get her to stay as more than his chef.

Publisher’s Note: This contemporary Western romance contains themes of mystery, suspense, power exchange, and mΓ©nage elements.
Chapter One


Why now and, more importantly, why me? The headlights of Sydney Baker’s Mustang offered just enough illumination driving down the tree-lined road to cut through the pitch darkness of late evening. Her tires crunched over gravel and dirt, the narrow lane a vast difference from the smooth, four-lane highway she exited five minutes ago. Gripping the steering wheel, she squinted her eyes, peering ahead when she spotted a small glow of light. “Thank God,” she muttered. Wasn’t it bad enough she’d taken a wrong turn out of Billings that had resulted in her missing the three-o’clock report time for her new job by three hours? By then, hunger had forced her to take the time to eat something. Then she had to get a different set of directions to the Dunbar Ranch than her GPS spewed out and pray her poor sense of direction wouldn’t steer her wrong before it became too late to meet her new boss, and that he wouldn’t fire her on the spot for being tardy. She possessed two vices her family despaired of her ever getting under control: a penchant for always getting lost and getting herself into difficult situations.

Okay, in her defense, she’d tried to learn the art of following maps and directions from her phone or the GPS coordinates, of acquainting herself with the directions of east, west, north and south no matter where she was, but finally had to admit defeat by the time she’d hit her mid-twenties and still hadn’t mastered the skill others found so easy. “So I can’t find my way around sometimes. Sue me,” she grumbled to no one. The worst part of being alone and away from her family the past six weeks was having no one around to gripe to. If nothing else, her beloved grandmother and sympathetic cousins were always available to lend an ear.

Sydney breathed a sigh of relief when the road ended at a gravel parking lot filled with vehicles parked in front of a lit-up barn. The large window set above the wide double doors was too high to see inside, but from the number of trucks and cars, there had to be a substantial crowd inside the well-kept barn. Maybe it was a barn dance, or some kind of fund-raising ho-down. What the heck did she know about what went on in the boonies of Big Sky Country? Cutting the engine, she pondered what to do now because it was obvious this was not the sprawling ranch house where she’d accepted a job as the new chef for a crew of twenty cowhands. Checking the time, she swore. If she didn’t find her new employer soon, it would be too late tonight to show up, jeopardizing her position that much more. After working the last five years as the star chef in St. Louis’ top restaurant, throwing together a pot of chili or batch of spaghetti to appease a group of hungry cowboys wasn’t a position she craved to jump into. But, as the saying went, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and since she was down to her last hundred bucks, she couldn’t give up on the position yet, and didn’t dare attempt to access her savings.

Getting out of the car, Sydney hugged her light jacket against the cold breeze. Early October in Montana blew as brisk as January in Missouri, just another reason to bemoan the circumstances that forced her to flee her home and family a few weeks ago. With any luck, someone inside would tell her she was only a ten-minute drive from the ranch and would give her detailed directions. Grabbing the front door’s frigid metal handle, she pulled and damn near fell backward when it didn’t budge.

Stomping around the side, looking for another entrance, she came across a lower, wide window first. Feeling like a Peeping Tom, or Thomasina, she stood to the side and peeked around to see what she might be dealing with. Shaking her head, Sydney blinked, the scene inside catching her completely off guard and unlike anything near what she’d expected.
Oh, wow, just… wow. Crouching under the window, she hugged her jacket around her and tried to get a better view of the cavernous room that resembled nothing like the inside of a normal barn. It wasn’t the circular bar centered in the middle of the wood-planked floor that left her agape, but the naked woman sitting on top of it. Leaning back on her hands, the woman’s eyes widened, along with Sydney’s, when the man standing at her side poured his beer between her bent, splayed legs and then dipped his head to lap up the spilled, tangy brew.

Swallowing past her suddenly dry throat, Sydney shifted her gaze, taking in the round tables and chairs then the gyrating bodies on a dance floor, the women wearing little to nothing. A staircase in the far corner caught her eye and she looked up into the loft to see another woman bound on a padded, wooden X, her sweat-glistening body pink-striped from the wicked looking flogger dangling from a tall man’s hand. Damn, did they make all the men in this state that big?

Sydney wasn’t a prude by any means. She’d read her share of smutty romances and drooled over every explicit, erotic word. She enjoyed sex as much as anyone, and since she’d tipped the scales over thirty three months ago, she’d discovered the truth to women reaching their sexual prime in this decade of their lives. Heck, she’d even asked a few of her lovers to slap her butt during sex. Only one granted her request, just a light tap that didn’t even sting. But she could still recall how the slight burn that lingered afterward spread, surprising her by fueling her lust.

It never entered her mind she might be into voyeurism, but the longer she crouched at that window and the more she saw, the longer she wanted to stay and the more she wanted to take in. Suddenly, the night air didn’t feel as cold. From what she could tell, the upper level held all the bondage equipment, and from her limited viewing position, those apparatus were being put to good use by willing women and some of the sexiest men Sydney had ever set eyes on. Then her breath lodged in her throat when she clapped eyes on a tall man whose scowl at something his attractive partner said drew Sydney’s nipples into tight puckers. And that was before he yanked the short blonde over a bar stool, shoved down her shorts and peppered her upturned buttocks with a volley of ass reddening swats.

A shiver racked Sydney’s body, one that had nothing to do with the cool temperature. Would she lie there and take such a punishment, and respond with a wiggle of her hips for more as the other woman just did, or would she blast the son-of-a bitch and stomp off in a fit of pique? God help her, she believed her response would be a hell of a lot closer to the former than the latter, if the warm gush between her legs was any indication. Then her heart rolled over as the stern cowboy lifted the blonde with large, gentle hands, sat on the stool and pulled her onto his lap. Cuddling her to his massive chest, he ran his hand up and down her quivering back in a soothing caress, his head bent to whisper in her ear. Whatever he said calmed the woman, and she shifted on his lap before slowly spreading her thighs as far as her lowered shorts allowed.

The pleased, tender look on the man’s sun-leathered face as he drove two fingers inside the blonde cut Sydney to the quick. No one, not one man who had come and gone from her bed ever gazed at her like that, not even the few she’d grown closest to and most fond of. Is that what had been lacking in her relationships that kept her from responding with the blatant enthusiasm the young woman exhibited as he drove her toward climax? She blew out the breath she’d been holding as the woman climaxed, and then the man patted her labia, the proud look crossing his rough-hewn face setting off a series of butterfly flutters that tickled her lower abdomen. What Sydney would give to have him gaze upon her like that after being driven mad with lust through pain induced pleasure. His tall frame had to top her own five-foot-six height by at least eight or nine inches, which she loved, and his thick, wavy mahogany hair curled around his nape in the most enticing, finger-itching way. She couldn’t detect the color of his much lighter eyes, but the way his rugged face and previously stern mouth softened spoke volumes.

Sydney knew she needed to get going and at least find the closest town to book a room for the night since it’d become too late to arrive at her destination. But this was the most fun she’d indulged in since fleeing St. Louis, and the first time she’d been able to relax and shove aside her worries long enough to enjoy herself. With effort, she tore her eyes away from the compelling man who got her fired up on all cylinders just from eying him and took a few moments to spy on the other goings on. By the time she worked her way around the room and back to the bar where she’d left her jaw-dropping, panty-dampening hunk, he was nowhere to be seen.

With a sigh, she started to stand but the deep, irritated voice coming from behind her wiped away Sydney’s disappointment and sent a frisson of heated awareness down her spine. Before she even turned around and looked up, she knew who stood there.

“You’re trespassing on private property and snooping where you don’t belong.”

***

Caden did not appreciate having the first hours of relaxation away from the grueling task of running his thirty-thousand-acre ranch all week interrupted by an encroaching Peeping Tom. Mindy had been a soft lapful of teary-eyed submission he’d been looking forward to relieving his lust with when his brother, Connor had pointed toward the pale face peering in the window with wide eyes that didn’t shy away from the BDSM activities going on in their private club.

Those big eyes rounded even more when she stood to face him, her red head tilting back to gaze up without flinching. Hell, he had to admire her for that.

“Sorry.” Her small shrug signaled she wasn’t too sorry, and he found himself fighting back an urge to smile. “I’m lost, and this is the first place I came to. Your front door is locked.”

The accusation in her tone erased the brief flare of humor. “For good reason. Like I said, this is private property, and this,” he waved toward the barn, “is a private club.”

In the dim, outdoor lighting, he barely caught the quirk of her soft lips. “I noticed,” she drawled.

“Most people,” he stated, clasping her elbow and steering her toward the front, “would be shocked and apologize, and wouldn’t take the time to stare in the window.”

“I don’t know what you’re so peeved about,” she returned calmly. “From what I saw, nobody inside minded an audience, including you.”

Caden blew out a frustrated breath. There was no talking to the woman. “Where’s your car?”

She pointed to a small sporty vehicle that must’ve given her a bumpy ride from the highway. “Right there, but I need directions.” He opened the driver’s side door and the interior light lit up her long, bright red hair as she folded her lean frame behind the steering wheel. Bracing his arm above the door, he looked down when she gazed up at him with vivid, moss green eyes and added, “Explicit instructions.”

“Get lost a lot, do you?” He nodded toward the only road that led to the club, the one she had to come in on. “Just follow the same road back to the highway. A left will take you into Willow Springs, the closest town. Turn right if you’re headed to Billings, but that will be a much longer drive, close to an hour at night.”

Those pretty eyes lingered on his face for a moment, as if memorizing every detail, the look filled with interest he appreciated but refused to acknowledge. The girl had trouble written all over her attractive face with its smattering of freckles across her small nose, and he possessed neither the time nor the patience to deal with her further. He’d had a hell of a week and the weekend looked to be just as busy and aggravating.

“Thank you… Sir.”

Shutting the door on her cheeky grin, Caden shook his head as he watched her turn around and disappear down the road. The hint of sarcasm she attached to sir had carried a thread of humor with it, telling him she didn’t take him, or the activities she’d stumbled upon inside seriously. Too bad. If she were a member, he would’ve enjoyed spanking that insolent smirk off her face.

Heading back inside, he saw Connor manning the bar and strode over looking for Mindy. He spotted her climbing the stairs, already hooked up with someone else, but that didn’t bother him other than now he’d have to spend time seeking another willing partner to join him for the rest of the evening. Sliding a tall, foamy brew across the sleek bar top toward him, his brother eyed him with a raised brow.

“What did our interloper have to say for herself?”

“How do you know her gender?” He hadn’t been sure from the quick glimpse he’d gotten at the window before tromping outside.

Connor’s blue eyes, identical to Caden’s own, twinkled with humor. “Too pretty to be otherwise. At least, I’d hoped so. Why didn’t you invite her in? She didn’t appear shy about what she was seeing.”

Caden snorted. “She wasn’t.” Taking a hefty swallow, he relished the tingling, cold glide down his throat as his mind filled with the image of laughing green eyes and a smart mouth. “Said she was lost, and I didn’t see any reason not to believe her. She’s not from around here or we would’ve either seen or heard about her. Where’s Annie tonight?” His brother and Annie had been together long enough to make him wonder if his younger sibling would be the first to settle down until Connor’s jaw went rigid and he looked away before uttering an evasive reply.

“She’s busy tonight. I’ll see her tomorrow, if I have time after we bring the herd down from the north pasture.” Connor busied himself wiping non-existent dampness off the counter but Caden wasn’t fooled.

“She was busy last weekend, both Friday and Saturday night as well,” Caden pointed out. “Anything you want to talk about?” The two of them were close, but when it came to personal issues, they took after their father and tended to hold things in.

“No.” Connor looked back at him with a shrug. “Not yet anyway.”

Caden nodded, sipped his beer and then offered, “I’m here whenever.”

“Good to know. Since Mindy has ditched you, maybe you should give sweet Nan some attention.”

Swiveling his head, Caden spotted the nicely curved brunette who enjoyed long sessions with a flogger or cane followed by rough fucking. “You know, I think she would be perfect to end the night with. Later.”

Connor’s low chuckle followed him as he walked over to the table where the experienced sub and long-time member sat nursing an Amaretto Sour, her favorite drink. “You interested in accompanying me up to the loft tonight, darlin’?” No sense beating around the bush, not with her. They’d played together often enough to know what the other wanted.

“Yes, sir, I would.” Her brown eyes lit with excitement when she took his hand, but it was a pair of twinkling green eyes he thought about as Nan followed him toward the stairs.

***

Sydney pulled into the one motel in the town of Willow Springs thirty minutes later, grateful it was right there on the outskirts where her GPS said it would be. She ached with exhaustion, her nerves frazzled over missing the arrival time for her new job. The only thing keeping her going now was the adrenaline high that started the second she stood so close to the hunky cowboy Dom. He’d been just as tall and big as he’d looked from the window, his massive body emitting enough heat to defuse the chill of the cold night air. His chiseled jaw and cobalt blue gaze had drawn shivers of awareness that had nothing to do with the temperature outside and everything to do with the growing warmth inside her body.

“I just miss sex, that’s all this is,” she mumbled, opening the car door and sliding out. “Orgasm deprivation and stress would make anyone react in such a way to that deep, commanding voice.” She figured a quick finger job ought to do the trick in getting both the man and the activities he liked to indulge in out of her mind so she could concentrate on a job and making it through another week or two while she struggled with her dilemma.

But when she slid naked between the cool, clean sheets on the motel’s double bed twenty minutes later and ran her hands over her breasts, all she could think about was how a pair of larger hands, likely with calluses, would feel kneading her small plumpness, and imagining rough fingers plucking at the sensitive tips of her nipples. With a groan of frustration, she slid one palm over her abdomen, recalling the little flutters that tickled her insides as she’d watched him spank the other woman and the way her own buttocks clenched in response, as they did now just thinking about him tossing her over those hard thighs. Hell, she didn’t even know the man’s name and still couldn’t quit thinking about him, fantasizing about him.

Tracing over the thin line of hair on her mons pubis, the only strip she opted to leave from her last wax job, she wondered if he preferred a bare mound and labia. It had been her last boyfriend who had talked her into waxing, and she loved it as much as he professed to, but when she ran her fingers over the damp, bare flesh now, the sensations weren’t as strong as usual. Swearing in frustration, she spread her legs and plunged two fingers knuckle deep between her slick folds, aiming for her clit and a quick release.

A few strokes over the swollen bud sent her hips bucking against her pumping hand, the pinch to her nipple an extra boost just as her climax erupted with strong grips around her fingers. Breathing heavy, she rode through the pleasurable sensations, but it wasn’t until she pictured a dark, rugged face with bright blue eyes watching her every thrust and jerk that the pleasure skyrocketed her into orgasmic orbit.

“Holy shit, what a look can do,” Sydney whispered in the dark, waiting for her body to cease trembling. A coyote howled, and she shuddered from the lonely sound that reminded her of her circumstances. Sitting up, she snatched her nightshirt and panties from the foot of the bed and donned them, wishing she had someone to hold her, to tell her everything would be all right, that she could return home soon without fear. She drifted asleep thinking with regret of a man she would never see again, and a tucked away barn filled with all kinds of naughty indulgences she’d never get to try with him.

***

“There’s nothing for it, I have to give it a shot,” Sydney told her reflection in the bathroom mirror the next morning. Odds were, the cook’s job on the Dunbar ranch was no longer hers, but maybe they were desperate enough to give her a second chance, if she could find the damn place. She’d come across the job opening when she stopped in a computer cafΓ© on her way through Boise, Idaho last week and filled out the application using her grandmother’s maiden name instead of Greenbriar. She’d traveled a long way from the Midwest where her family name was synonymous with their chain of all-natural grocery stores but wouldn’t take the chance of her Uncle Mike finding her, not until she found a way to defuse his intentions without letting her beloved grandmother know just how low her youngest child had sunk.

Thirty minutes after sending the application, she’d gotten a call from Jase Wiggins, the ranch manager, who told her she was hired, and they needed her to arrive Friday by three p.m. The salary was more than she’d imagined and included room and board. It would be the perfect place to lie low until she figured out a way to keep her uncle’s greedy hands off her shares of the company and her grandmother, as well as her other two uncles, in the dark about Mike’s nefarious deeds that would break their hearts.

Sydney checked out of the motel thinking with optimism and followed the clerk’s directions back down the highway. “Everyone knows where the Dunbar Ranch is. You can’t miss it,” he said, rubbing salt into the wound from yesterday’s mishap. Only, it turned out he was correct. She came upon the turnoff just a mile past the one she was sure she’d taken the night before. This road was wider and a little smoother, although not by much. There weren’t as many trees lining the way, and the glimpses of wide-open range she caught in between them spread as far as she could see. Dotted with cattle and a few horses, the vastness of the ranch stunned her until she rounded a bend and the house came into view.

Pulling into the circular drive and stopping in front of the sprawling ranch home, she took a moment to admire the wrap around porch, cute rocking chairs facing several barns surrounded by neat, white-fenced corrals and a garden that made her hands itch to explore. Just as she slid out of the car, the front door swung open and a tall man wearing a Stetson pulled low over his eyes stepped outside. It took only a second to recognize the imposing height and broad shoulders, the curl of dark brown hair around the collar of a blue, long-sleeved work shirt tucked into a pair of snug, thigh molding jeans and a voice that haunted her dreams last night.

“Don’t tell me. You’re lost again,” he drawled, coming down the steps toward her with a swagger that spiked Sydney’s pulse into racing. Stopping in front of her, he tipped back his hat, those enigmatic blue eyes holding a hint of pleasure even though he frowned down at her.

Running sweaty palms down her thighs, Sydney sucked in a fortifying breath to calm her rapidly thudding heart, the open car door between them doing little to block the heat generated from his nearness. “Nope, not this time.” Holding out her hand over the door, she introduced herself for the first time. “I’m Sydney Baker and I apologize for being so late, but as you know, I got a little turned around last night, and then,” she flipped him a sassy grin, “I got a little distracted.”





After overhearing two crooked Chicago cops plotting against her, Avery Pierce goes on the run, not knowing who she can trust. When her low finances force her to take a job as a sex phone operator, she struggles with her inexperience. When a caller senses her desperation and inexperience and offers assistance, she’s tempted to agree.



As soon as Sheriff Grayson Monroe meets the new waitress at his favorite diner, something about her strikes a familiar chord. When he sees her enter The Barn, his BDSM club, the desire to get to the bottom of her evasive eyes and answers to his probing questions takes hold. He’s determined to find out who she really is and what is troubling her.



After an icy mishap, Master Grayson has finally run out of patience. One way or another, Avery will tell him the truth. But is it too late? Has danger already found her? Can Grayson come to her rescue or will she lose everything she has just gained?



Publisher’s Note: This is book two in the Cowboy Doms series but can be read as a standalone. This contemporary western romance is intended for adults only and contains elements of power exchange, adult language, sensual scenes, danger, mystery and suspense. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.


Chapter One:
Something was wrong but Lia could not put a finger on it as she glanced around the long dining table at her in-laws. Her ever-silent father-in-law, Jonathan was nursing his third brandy since their arrival. Nothing new there.
The residual smells of Grace’s famous matzo ball soup, with its swirling rainbow of grease reflecting the chandelier lights, intermingled with the fresh yeasty challa rolls her mother-in-law had baked, as she did every Friday night for Sabbath.
What I wouldn’t give for a bowl of curry at this moment. Maybe tomorrow she would order it with her girlfriends at their bi-weekly lunch date. But tonight routine and tradition ruled this ritual Friday night dinner in London’s suburban Oakwood.
Watching her two silent children Lia concentrated on being in the moment. The only sounds in the slightly oppressive, antique furnished dining room were the delicate clatter of cutlery against the plates and her husband’s response to his mother’s probing questions about his latest problems with his business partner. As usual, mother and son were the two centre stage entertainers, while the rest of them were their audience.
Lia observed Howard. Tonight he seemed even more distracted, obsessed, as always searching for bigger ways to promote his cosmetic-surgery practice, and still waiting to be recognized for his genius.
Nothing new here, either.
Studying his roast chicken breast through his designer glasses, Howard said, “Of course I want him out, mother. My solicitors agree that Tom’s got too unrealistic expectations of me, but I have a busy clinic to run.”
Grace expelled one of her loaded sighs. More questions and reluctant answers ping-ponged between them.
Lia was tired of these conversations, but at least no one expected her to contribute. Most of the time she felt invisible, but that freed her to observe everyone.
She had a busy, uncomplicated life, with a beautiful home and great friends. Her parents-in-law tolerated her well enough. Her children were healthy and for the most part happy.
If she had not pursued her art, it was her own choice, and she had made peace with it.
She swallowed the sudden lump in her throat and reminded herself to be more grateful.
Her husband of nineteen years may not be the perfect mate, but he was a good provider and, mostly, an indulgent father to their children.
Swaying her attention back to their children, Lia glanced at her ever silent thirteen-year-old son, Gabriel—nicknamed Gabe and sometimes Gaby—sat slouching beside her. Then Lia regarded Danielle who sat across from her.
Lia’s spine went rigid.
This was where something was definitely wrong.
Her eighteen-year-old had hardly eaten much in the past few weeks. Tonight Danielle seemed extra moody and withdrawn. What was going through the med student’s mind, sitting with her head downcast?
Medicine seemed to be her passion, but she was not the talkative type if she did have any issues with her studies.
At least Danielle had not gone through with the tattoo or belly-piercing rebellion, Lia thanked God. Where was her funny, vivacious little girl who could not wait to spill her every adventure the moment she burst through the doors after school?
And would she ever resurface?
How could she help her daughter’s sombre demeanor, while the teen appeared to act like a caged animal, yet again wearing those dark, tight fitting clothes Howard disliked?
Lia realized she was again twisting her tight engagement and wedding bands around her ring finger as if they were a double noose. She picked up her fork.
Guilt seeped through her. Were her children noticing her growing discontentment? The English spring weather always brought it on, along with the memories of a lost love.
Danielle broke the momentary silence between her grandmother and father. “Daddy, I have something to tell you.” Those wide shining eyes were a warmer shade of her father’s blue eyes.
Electricity seemed to crackle in the air around Danielle.
“What, sugar-plum?” Howard asked just as Gabe reached across the table for another roll.
“Where are your manners, Gabe?” Howard did not raise his voice, but just glared through arctic-blue eyes. “Ask if you want something.”
“S-s-sorry, D-dad.”
Lia’s heart squeezed hard. Gabe’s stutter never bothered him when mother and son were alone. These days he spent almost all his hours in his room with his books and computer.
Picking up the basket, she held it out to him.
He shook his head. Putting down the basket, she discreetly patted his knee.
He did not pull away, but his expression made her question why she never stood up for him, or took his father to task. Oh, she had, after both children had gone to bed—or in the privacy of their bedroom when they had still shared one—arguing, reasoning with Howard, until she was emotionally exhausted talking to a human equivalent of a brick wall.
“Daddy, will you please listen?” Danielle’s voice broke through her thoughts.
Ever patient with his daughter, Howard glanced at her, resuming cutting his chicken with the precision of a perfectionist surgeon.
“I’ve met my Mr. Right. I’ve been seeing him for a year and I love him. I’d like you to meet him.” Danielle’s honey-gold bob framed her pale face. She sat reed-straight as if expecting an explosion or at least a rare shouting match. “Sanjay is of a different culture—”
At the mention of this familiar name, Lia’s airways seemed stuffed with hardening cement, choking the breath out of her.
Someone’s cutlery clanged loudly against a plate.
“Sanjay?” Both Grace and Howard pronounced the name as if smelling something disgusting.
A warped sense of dΓ©jΓ  vu settled over Lia, heat prickling under her arms, neck and up her face.
Danielle stared back at her father. “He’s of Indian background, but—”
“Danielle, are you out of your mind?” Grace demanded in her haughty over-British voice.
“Let me handle this, mother.” Howard continued glaring at their daughter. Wiping his mouth on his damask napkin, he stood up to his full height of five feet seven inches.
Lia could not move.
“You’ve been seeing him for a whole year.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Why now? I thought we talked about everything.” Lia heard the tinge of betrayal.
“We do, but at first we were just friends, then it became more important and . . . I didn’t think you’d accept him because he’s not Jewish—”
“Glad you know your father so well.” He looked at Grace. “That was tasty, mother.” He thanked her as he thanked Lia after every meal.
He squinted back at Danielle through his glasses, his thinning oatmeal hair shone on his pinkish scalp under the chandelier lights. “This was in very poor taste, to come out with this nonsense at your grandmother’s Friday night table. Now you’ve ruined everyone’s dessert with this rubbish. I won’t get angry, but you’ll never see this person again. Or mention him. It stops now! End of conversation.” Although his voice was firm, he gave Danielle one of the smiles he reserved for his female patients, their best friend and beauty god promising to make them look younger, more beautiful or desirable again.
But as Danielle stared up at him with that brave expression, Lia knew it was far from the end. “No, Daddy. If you won’t meet him, we’ll elope.”
Lia needed water to help her constricting throat, but she could not trust her fingers to pick up the crystal water goblet. Had she not said almost the same words to her grandfather nearly two decades ago, about an intense yet fun loving—Indian—young man?
“If you promise to see Sanjay then I’ll continue my studies after—”
“Like your mother did after I married her?” He sneered. “At least that was only art, no loss to the world. But medicine’s not to be taken lightly, young lady.”
“I don’t care about medicine, never have, and I don’t want a marriage like yours.” Danielle almost shuddered. “I want a real marriage, real love, and I will get it.”
Fists by his sides, lips even thinner, Howard turned to Lia.
For the first time in years, he glared right at her, not through her. “Do you know anything about this, considering the background of this . . . this . . . ?”
“No, but the boy may be—” She started.
“He’s nearly twenty-one, Mom. He’s hardly a boy.” Without glancing at her, daughter and father dueled with each other with the same challenging eyes. “Sanjay’s smart and kind and such a hard worker, Daddy. He’s doing his MBA, and then plans to join his uncle’s business—”
Howard’s hand shot up in front of him. “Spare me the details.”
Watching, Lia’s sense of dΓ©jΓ  vu grew stronger and her chest felt overtaxed from ineffective, too-shallow breathing. Devraj had also been subtly groomed for his family business empire. Her memories were torture enough, almost distracting her from the crisis at hand.
“Why have you let this go on, Lia?” Grace asked, blinking profusely while holding her hand against her pearl-clad neck and cream cashmere sweater.


I live in the Midwest with my husband and our dog, a lovable Great Pyrenees/Standard Poodle. I love dogs, enjoy spending time with my daughter, babysitting dogs and kids, reading and working puzzles. We have traveled extensively throughout the states, Canada and just once overseas, but I now prefer being a homebody. I worked for a while writing articles for a local magazine but soon found my interest in writing for myself peaking. My first book was strictly spanking erotica, but I slowly evolved to writing erotic spanking romance with a touch of suspense. My favorite genre to read is suspense.


   


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