Eight months later
Holy fuck! She’s gorgeous!
Lucas McKay stood in his driveway right across the street from the Passion Lake Public Library. He had just lifted his helmet off the handlebars of his Harley, but he stopped completely when he saw her walking down the sidewalk toward the stately, red brick Georgian style building, originally built in 1834. Her skin had that pale, nearly translucent creaminess so often associated with redheads. And she was definitely a redhead, with bright, coppery red hair, gleaming so brilliantly in the sun it almost seemed to be shooting off sparks. He couldn’t make out the color of her eyes behind those sexy little wire-rimmed glasses, but he’d be willing to bet they were green. A deep, clear emerald green, with seductive, fathomless depths a man could drown in.
Fuck, McKay, when did you get to be so poetic? He couldn’t stop looking at her, admiring her rounded curves and her lush, voluptuous breasts. As he watched her climb the steps up the two levels to the front portico, admiring the way her lovely ass moved, he couldn’t help but wish she was wearing a skirt instead of jeans. A skirt would have much better showcased what looked to be very shapely legs.
Christ. So this is the new librarian Pete hired. She’s even more beautiful than he said she was. He’d also said she was submissive to her soul. That during their interview, she’d definitely held her own, coming across as intelligent, funny, and competent. But her inner need to submit had been rolling off of her in waves. The funny thing was, Pete didn’t think she even realized how submissive she truly was, or even THAT she was.
As soon as she entered the library Luc set the helmet back on the padded seat and started across Main Street, keeping up a running dialogue in his head. What the fuck are you doing? You don’t need to meet this woman. If she’s as submissive as Pete says she is, that’s one complication you don’t need right now! You’re not looking for a new sub. You’ve sworn off the lifestyle, remember? You’re done with being a Dom.
It’s just gonna be a quick meet and greet, he argued with himself. You know, just to welcome her to Passion Lake. Just wanna see what she’s like—if she’s as charming as Pete says she is. Never hurts to be hospitable. Although, he berated himself the entire time he was closing in on the library, he didn’t turn around and resume his preparations to go to work. He tested the door, surprised to find out that not only was it unlocked, it was unlatched, swinging inward at his touch. Puzzled, he pushed it open and went inside the dim, cool interior, inhaling the unmistakable scent of ink, paper, leather, and wood polish.
The Thorne Cahill Commemorative Library of Passion Lake, Virginia was a former mansion that had been carefully transported from its original site around nine miles down the highway to this place of pride on Main Street. Teams of contractors and sub-contractors had been working non-stop for the past eighteen months transforming the former gracious home into a public library, without compromising any of its exquisite period details. Wide plank wooden floors, a marble entry foyer, wide central hallway, and crystal chandeliers hanging from elaborate plaster medallions. There were fireplaces in every room with hand carved trims, leaded glass windows in the transoms above every door, deep crown molding, and silk-covered walls.
Entering the large foyer, with its 20-foot cove ceilings, Luc could see the large, ornately carved mahogany Information Desk, centrally located around halfway down the wide central hallway. Rising behind it was a grand staircase that would have looked right at home on the Titanic. It rose to a second-floor landing that spanned the width of the hallway, with stairs leading up to balconies on both sides opening onto what used to be bedrooms, but were now the periodicals room, study carrels, the Young Adult room and the media room. Downstairs, the former parlor had been turned into the children’s room. What used to be the living room, kitchen and dining room were now the fiction section and the grand ballroom now housed the non-fiction and biographies. In keeping with the building’s vintage ambience, the shelving units were not the standard metal library shelves, but were also mahogany with hand-carved endcaps, giving this library an atmosphere appropriate to the age of the house.
No lights were on, although enough sunlight was streaming through all the leaded glass windows that he could see that the woman was nowhere around. He called, “Hello?” But there was no answer. So he went looking and nearly ran into her as she was coming out of the non-fiction stacks, carrying a pile of books. “Oh, there you are,” he said, startling her so badly she shrieked and jumped, dropping the books on the floor. Immediately, she grabbed her left foot and started hopping up and down. “Ow ow ow ow ow!”
Instantly, Luc reached for her shoulders. “Oh, Miss, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right? Do you need to sit down?” Without waiting for an answer, he guided her, still hopping, toward an upholstered chair positioned at the end of a shelving unit. “Here, sit down and let me take a look.”
“No, no, really, I’m fine.”
She kept telling herself to resist. But for some strange reason she allowed him to maneuver her into the waiting chair. She sat and he went down on one knee, lifting her foot onto his other knee, slipping off her sandal.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he chided gently, inspecting the strappy sandal before putting it on the floor. “You really should wear sturdier shoes to work. Helps prevent accidents.” Holding her arch firmly in his warm grip, he stroked his long, lean fingers over the top of her foot, manipulating her toes, his touch firm but gentle.
Her senses were going haywire and she bit her lip furiously, hoping the pain from that would release her from the spell she seemed to be in.
“I don’t think any bones are broken,” Luc said in that deep, baritone voice that seemed to wrap itself around her nerve endings, tugging at her senses. “You probably won’t even get bruises.” He bent her toes upward gently. “Does that hurt?”
She just shook her head, unable to force her mind to formulate even the simplest of words.
He smiled at her. “I did holler,” he offered with a sheepish grin.
Her belly folded over, sending hot juice gushing out onto her panties. Holy crap! This man was positively lethal! She bit her lip, trying to hide her reaction.
“Guess you didn’t hear me.” He looked down, watching his hands as they massaged her foot. It was small and slender with the high arch of a dancer. And her pale peach nail polish was so slick and shiny, he was swept with an almost overwhelming desire to lift her foot, close his mouth around her toes and suck on them, licking those slick, shiny nails with his tongue. Holy fuck! Where had that thought come from? His cock hardened so fast he thought he’d fall over.
Lily just stared at him wide-eyed, engulfed by the heat emanating from his body, ravished by his woodsy, masculine scent. Mesmerized by the heat from his hands on her skin. Oh, my God, he is soooo gorgeous! And, no, she hadn’t heard him. She’d been lost in a daydream about the sexy alpha-hero she was creating for her next book. Only to turn and find him standing right in front of her, as if she had somehow conjured him up! The sudden merging of fantasy and reality was wreaking havoc with her ability to think.
He arched one black eyebrow and she finally managed to untie her tongue enough to stammer, “N-no. I didn’t hear you. Sorry.” She tried to pull her foot out of his hand, but his fingers tightened, keeping her in place. “Thank you for your help,” she added, striving for a brisk, dismissive tone. “But I’m fine. Really.”
“Not at all,” he replied with a smile that melted her bones. His eyes made a slow, languid journey up and down her body before finally coming to rest on her mouth, shiny with a peachy-bronze lip gloss that matched her nail polish. She stopped breathing, trying her best not to fidget. After all, she was fully aware of what he saw when he looked at her. The same thing she saw every time she looked in the mirror. A curvy, voluptuous young woman who, as her mother constantly delighted in pointing out, would be almost pretty if she weren’t so damned heavy.
Galvanized by the unwanted intrusion of her mother’s voice in her head, Lily snatched her foot out of Lucas’s hands, bending to reach for her sandal. Unfortunately he leaned forward at the exact same time, bumping his head against hers with a resounding thunk!
“Owww!” Lily’s hand flew to her head, rubbing it to relieve the pain. She shot him an aggrieved look. To her astonishment, his lips were twitching and all of a sudden he was laughing, a sound so infectious, she started laughing too. Slipping her shoe back on, she stood and held out her hand. “Hi. I’m Lily Prescott. The new library director. I just started work today.”
The gorgeous, hunky man stood, too, way too close for comfort as he gave her another devastating smile. He took her proffered hand in both of his, turning her blood to molten lava pumping sluggishly through her veins. Her belly did a slow roll. Her heart went skittering around in her breast, like a captured bird frantically seeking a way to escape, and she suddenly had trouble breathing. Instinctively she lowered her eyes. Good Lord! This man was off-the-charts HOT! She’d never met anyone like him! Who would have thought someone like him would be living in a sleepy little town like Passion Lake?
“Pleased to meet you, Lily Prescott. I’m Lucas McKay.” He studied her closely, noting her heightened color, the labored rasp of her breathing, her inability to look him in the eyes, diagnosing it correctly as arousal. And deference. Pete was right about her. She IS a submissive. And she was calling to every Dominant instinct he had. Wishing he had a book—something—anything—to hold in front of his crotch to hide his erection, he gave himself a mental shake. It is what it is, he thought grimly. He nodded his head toward the front entrance. “I live right across the street in that green Victorian.”
She made a token effort to pull her hand away, but his grip was too firm. She could feel flames licking up her arm from the heat of his touch, spreading fire through her entire body.
“I didn’t mean to trespass,” he went on, “but I saw you come in and wanted to say hello. You accidentally left the front door opened.” He smiled. “Not that Passion Lake is being swept by any sort of crime wave that I know of,” he assured her hastily, his smile deepening, sending another gush of hot cream out onto her panties.
Good Lord! At this rate, when she went home for lunch, she’d have to change her underwear. “I left it open on purpose,” she explained. “I’m expecting several people to be interviewed for other positions in the library.”
Finally he released her hand and it took all her effort not to whimper at the loss of heat and contact. “Then I will leave you to do your work,” he said. “Welcome to Passion Lake, Lily. I think you’re going to enjoy living here. If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
“Th-thank you,” she stammered, watching him as he strode toward the door. “Don’t forget the Open House on Sunday night two weeks from now!” she called after his retreating figure. “I hear there’ll be cake.”
“Well, in that case…” He half-turned and gave her a roguish grin. “I’d have to be certifiable to miss that,” he teased.
She was still smiling when he walked out the door.
She stared into the empty space he’d left behind long after the distinctive rumble of his Harley had receded down the road until she could no longer hear it. As her mind mulled over their brief encounter, she whacked herself on the forehead, her cheeks heating in humiliation. Lucas McKay’s utterly raw, masculine sex appeal had made her so tongue-tied and nervous, she’d come off as a blithering idiot! She wanted to kick herself.
Okay. Being attracted to the hunky, Dominant heroes she loved reading and writing about was one thing. It was…safe. But nothing had prepared her for Lucas McKay. He was REAL! Oh, my God, was he ever real! He was exactly the sort of hunky, Dominant hero she’d been dreaming about all her life. The sort of man with muscles out to there, with smoldering eyes and a smile that lit up his whole face The sort of man she’d always known that she would instinctively respond to with every cell in her body. Exactly as she had responded to Lucas McKay.
Well, get over it, she scolded herself. You have no business being attracted to him! You’re still a virgin, for God’s sake! Even if you do write steamy romance novels at night! She shook herself. Okay, sister, enough daydreaming. Get to work. And stop thinking about hunky heroes. You’ve had enough excitement for one day.
Although, she was forced to admit, it had been a much better kind of excitement than being picketed and stalked by Horace Willoughby and his merry band of hypocritical, judgmental, Bible-thumping, self-righteous bigots. Somehow they had found out that she was Sophia Vierra, author of eight BDSM romance books. They had singled her out and made her a target of their crusade against smut. Not to be mistaken for their crusade against Muslims, their crusade against blacks, and their crusade against Jews. They had picketed her house, harassed her, stalked her, and followed her everywhere with bullhorns, inflammatory rhetoric, and signs calling her a she-devil and the Whore of Babylon. They had, ultimately, gotten her fired from her last job at the public library in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Her boss had called her into his office and had told her that the constant ruckus outside the library was alienating their patrons. Besides, they simply could not have an employee who brought that sort of negative attention. It simply could not be tolerated!
So when her great great Aunt, Grace Porter had suggested she apply for the position of Director at the new library in Passion Lake, she had leaped at the chance. It was a place where she could escape. A place where she could find peace and quiet. A place to write her steamy books about alpha, bad-ass Doms without fear of being discovered or distracted. She certainly hadn’t expected to find the living embodiment of one of her heroes living here. But Lucas McKay was definitely that, a dominant, arrogant man who exuded power and confidence. And she had responded to that as she had never responded before to any man. Everything about him—the way he moved, the way he spoke, the way he had focused on her with laser-like intensity—had been extremely seductive, melting her panties and making her want to fall to her knees and do anything he demanded.
And he would demand, not ask. He would demand her total subjugation and she would gladly give it. She longed to feel the power of the emotional connection between Dom and sub, the sort of emotional connection that she wrote so movingly about despite never having experienced it first-hand. That raw sensuality was what had drawn her to BDSM in the first place, what continued to draw her.
Her first effort at writing a book had been a sweet romance. Not a hunky alpha-male in sight. She’d been surprised when the first publisher she’d sent it to offered to publish it. In the meantime, she had discovered a particular author whose dominant Alpha heroes had called to a part of her she’d never known existed. A part that had been hidden so deep inside her she was shocked to realize her panties were soaked by the time she’d finished the first scorching scene in that particular book. She had immediately purchased all the rest of that author’s books and searched for others in the genre, instantly recognizing herself in those submissive heroines. She was a submissive! And all of a sudden, the whole rest of her life had begun to make sense.
She had never dated. Never been particularly interested in or attracted to any of the men she’d known. Because she had never met a man to whom she felt she could entrust her life and well-being. A man who would love her unconditionally. A man to whom she could completely surrender her will, knowing he would keep her safe. As far as she knew, that sort of man existed only in books. Until she had looked up BDSM on the internet, opening up a whole new world. A world the dynamics of which she felt she instinctively understood. A world that beckoned to her, even as it terrified her, because once she embraced that world, there would be no going back.
That’s when she’d started research into this intriguing way of living, visiting websites and chatrooms, interacting with people in the lifestyle. She had begun to write her own BDSM romance books, Raw, sensual, emotional stories, with plucky heroines and dominant heroes. Stories that enabled her to live out her innermost, secret fantasies through her words. And even though she’d never even been out on a date and was realistic enough to know she never would be out on a date since men seemed to want skinny, sophisticated model types, not curvy, full-figured girls who wore glasses, she had begun to yearn for a Dom of her own. But he would have to be a special Dom. A loving Dom. A Dom who truly cherished her and cared first and foremost for her happiness and well-being. Like her fictional heroines, she would settle for nothing less. And like her fictional heroines, the hero she craved existed only in books.
She had basically given up on finding such a paragon in real life and had resigned herself to living vicariously through her characters. It appeared very likely that she was going to wind up being “that crazy old lady,” growing old and fat. And alone.
All through school she’d been teased, bullied, and shamed about her weight. Starting with her mother, Lorraine. Lorraine had been a highly-sought-after runway model for one of the top Paris designers—until she’d gotten pregnant with Lily. Looking back on it now, Lily realized that her mother had never bonded with her. In fact, she’d always blamed Lily, not only for ruining her figure and, thus, her career, but also for the fact that Lily’s father had deserted them before Lily was even born. She had always been openly ashamed that her daughter wasn’t tall and model-thin, like her. Her mother’s attitude had gotten so bad, Lily had not seen her for six years, although Lorraine still called her periodically. Usually to tell her that she was getting married. Again.
And always, the first question out of her mouth was “Have you lost any weight, dear?” followed by a mini-lecture about how pretty her face was and how much more popular she would be if she had a figure to match her face. Like she was still in high school and the only measure of her worth was how appealing she was to a gawky, pimply-faced boy. Lily had ultimately learned to steer the course of the conversation back to Lorraine’s favorite topic. Herself. After all, her mother had no earthly idea of the effect her words and actions had on others. Or if she did, she didn’t care. She had focused all her negativity on Lily ever since Lily was eight years old, constantly pointing out how she needed to lose weight, mentioning it in front of both Lily’s and her own friends, trying to shame her into yet another diet in an endless line of diets. And the more Lorraine had pressed, the more Lily had rebelled.
Lily pressed her lips between her teeth as she thought about her mother. Lorraine Johnson Prescott Simpson Cunningham Garrison Warburton was gorgeous. Model-thin, charming, flighty, the life of any party. Who, after her lucrative modeling career had ended, had found a new career just as lucrative—marrying wealthy older men. And who, if the latest rumors were to be believed, was now engaged to a man destined to become Lily’s stepfather number five. Not that Lily had kept close track of them. After all, she’d never even met Robert Garrison, stepfather number three. He had died of a heart attack while honeymooning with Lorraine in Thailand.
After a lifetime of being told that she was the one with the problem, Lily had only recently become aware of her mother’s true nature. Two weeks ago, shortly after being fired from her job in Tupelo and drowning in depression, two things had freed Lily from her unhappy past. First, she had received an email from Paul Simpson, Lorraine’s second husband, stepfather number one, a man who had genuinely seemed to care for the beleaguered Lily, offering her a sympathetic ear whenever one of her mother’s endless tirades ended with Lily in tears. The email had contained nothing but a link to an article in a psychiatric journal. Puzzled as to why Paul would be sending her an article about sociopaths, Lily had read it. At the end of the article, the author, an eminent psychiatrist, listed the ten traits most commonly exhibited by sociopaths. As Lily had read down the list, she’d sat there reeling, astonished to realize that Lorraine ticked every single one of the boxes.
Holy crap! Her mother was a sociopath! A person who basically stepped all over everyone else to get what she wanted and did whatever was necessary to make herself look good while doing it. God! This explained so many things about her mother! Her charm, her charisma, her complete lack of empathy, her constant lying, her pathological need to be the center of attention.
All her life Lily had been desperate to prove that she was worthy of her mother’s love, only to be rebuffed or ignored at every turn. Now, for the first time she realized that she WAS worthy of love. She’d always been worthy of love. The fault hadn’t been with any deficiencies in herself or her intentions or her efforts. The fault had been with Lorraine. Nothing Lily did would ever have mattered because Lorraine was incapable of love. She was incapable of remorse over the way she had treated not only Lily, but everyone else as well. She was incapable of admitting that she could ever be wrong, much less of apologizing for it.
And that realization had liberated something inside Lily, freeing her spirit and sending it soaring. She could finally release the burden of guilt and inadequacy she had been carrying all her life over what she’d been told again and again were her failures. Failures she knew now had not been hers, but Lorraine’s. So powerful had been that absolution that she had cried for nearly two whole days after receiving that email. Cried for what might have been and, she now knew, never could be.
The second thing that had happened was the phone call from Aunt Grace telling her about the job of Library Director in Passion Lake. The salary she’d quoted had seemed like a small fortune to Lily, so at her aunt’s urging, she had applied. She’d fallen in love with the quaint little resort town at first sight and when Pete Schaeffer, the man who’d interviewed her, offered her the job, she’d accepted.
At that point she had resolved to make positive changes in her life, building up her self-esteem, doing things just because she wanted to without feeling she had to please a mother who could never be pleased. She’d started shutting out her mother’s constant, sniping voice in her head, although that was proving to be a bit more difficult than she’d expected. Lorraine’s strident voice still made itself heard way too often for Lily’s peace of mind. She was still very much a work in progress in that regard.
She had quit wearing those dumpy and boxy outfits that she’d bought to conceal her size, but that only succeeded in making her look matronly and twenty years older than she was. She’d bought new, very fashionable and attractive clothes in bright colors that enhanced both her complexion and her figure. She’d discovered that she actually did have a figure, albeit one a little fuller than her mother would have liked, and now, with Aunt Grace’s help, she had clothes that flattered her, accentuated her waist and showed it off. And with her first official paycheck from her new job she was going to buy some pretty lingerie for herself. Aunt Grace’s store had just the sorts of things she was looking for and she could hardly wait to try them on. And she was going to burn her white, cotton knit panties and industrial-strength bras.
A sudden vision of herself dancing naked around her backyard grill while her old underwear went up in flames nearly had her bursting out laughing.
* * * *
Four hours later what burst from her wasn’t laughter, but instead, a sigh of relief. She’d filled all four of the positions she’d interviewed for today—two library associates, a reference librarian and the head reference librarian. The last of the four—Molly Duncan, the new head of reference—had just left. They would all be starting next Monday. Now all she needed was a children’s librarian, someone to run the computer lab, three circulation clerks and some part-time pages. Hopefully the applicants for those positions would prove every bit as qualified as the ones she’d interviewed today.
Pushing her chair back from her desk, Lily stood and stretched. Since it was such a gorgeous day, she decided to walk into town to the Toy Emporium and see what her Aunt Grace had set aside for her to try on. When she got there, Aunt Grace was talking to three women, a petite blond with green eyes and voluptuous curves, a curvy brunette, and an absolutely stunning Amazon with straight black hair and cinnamon colored eyes. Seriously, she had to be at least six feet tall. All three women appeared to be around Lily’s age. And they were all drop-dead gorgeous.
“Lily Rose,” Aunt Grace said warmly. She was the only person who had ever called Lily by both her first and middle names. “Perfect timing, dear, we’ve just been talking about you. Come meet some dear friends of mine. Ladies, this is my great grandniece, Lily Prescott, our new library director. Lily, dear, this is Leah Nighthorse.” She indicated the blond, who nodded and smiled at her. “Kylie Rafferty.” Kylie was the beautiful brunette. “And Charlotte Rostov.” She indicated the tall woman who said, “Please, call me Charlie. It’s lovely to meet you, Lily. Welcome to Passion Lake.” She paused. “You know, you look really familiar. Have we met somewhere before?”
“Oh, I doubt it. I think I’d remember someone as beautiful as you,” Lily responded with a laugh.
“They’re doing a bit of shopping before going next door to the Tea Shoppe for lunch,” Grace explained. “We were just talking about Sophia Vierra’s new book.” Grace waved her hand to indicate the little display of books on the sales counter. They were all by Sophia Vierra and Lily knew that inside the back cover of each and every one there was a picture of her wearing a purple and black-lace corset, black lace stockings, and black stilettos. Her hair was a riot of thick, coppery waves around her head. She was wearing heavy make-up and was standing in a provocative pose, wielding a crop. That had to have been where Charlie had seen her.
She looked completely different now. Jeans, knit top, sandals, no make-up, her hair somewhat tamed in a messy pony tail by a purple scrunchy. There was no way Charlie could connect the sexy, sensual woman in the book photo to the woman standing before her right now. Even so…sooner or later, she was bound to figure it out. Lily just hoped it was later.
Lily swallowed, unsure what to say next. Surely Aunt Grace hadn’t told them—“What about her new book?”
“Have you read it yet, Lily?” Leah asked.
Lily nodded. “Yeah, I—”
“Don’t you just love her?” Kylie gushed. “Her characters are so real! You feel everything they’re feeling right along with them.” She gave a tinkly little laugh. “Don’t mind us. Just think of us as the local chapter of the Sophia Vierra Fan Club. We’ve read all her books and consider her one of our favorite authors.”
“I love that her Doms are so loving,” Leah added. “Like my Raven. He’s all Dom, and he can be really strict sometimes, but he’s so damn sweet.”
“Have you had lunch yet, Lily?” Charlie asked. “If not, why don’t you join us? Our treat. We’re dying to get to know you better. We gals are outnumbered here in Passion Lake. Besides, that’ll give me a chance to figure out where I’ve seen you before.”
‘Thanks, Charlie, I’d love to,” Lily heard herself saying as, giggling and talking non-stop, they swept her, along with all their packages, out of the Toy Emporium and walked next door to the Tea Shoppe. As they were getting settled at their table and ordering their beverages, Leah tapped her knife lightly against her crystal water glass, making a sweet, bell-like sound.
“Okay, girls, we’re going to go around the table and tell Lily a little bit about ourselves, then she can return the favor. I’ll go first.” She touched her fingertips to her chest. “I’m originally from San Francisco. I’ve lived in Passion Lake for a little over three years now. My husband, Raven, breeds thoroughbred race horses and I am a fabric artist. I own the Windsong Gallery a couple of blocks down the street, where I sell not only my work, but the work of other fabric artists as well.” She gave Lily a broad smile. “I hope you stop by for a visit. I have some exquisite things that would go beautifully with your gorgeous red hair.” She looked at Charlie.
“I’m the new kid on the block,” Charlotte Rostov said, squeezing a wedge of lemon into her iced tea. “I moved here from Richmond just a little over a year ago. I sing with The Midnight Riders at the Passion Lake Lodge.”
“Oh, Lily, you have GOT to hear her sing!” Leah exclaimed. “The whole band is fantastic, but Charlie is a phenomenon. They’ve made two albums, which they sell in every store and restaurant in town. Including here and at the Toy Emporium. All the proceeds go to The Wounded Warrior Project, so yours are on me. And I’m sure Charlie will even autograph them for you.”
“Of course I will,” Charlie responded. “We do rock and roll on Fridays and country/pop on Saturdays, so I’d love for you to come on both nights.”
Lily smiled. “Of course I’ll be there. Where is the Lodge?”
“It’s down by the lake. It’s the largest log cabin structure in the state of Virginia and it’s gorgeous. Of course,” she smirked, “I would think that, since it just happens to be owned by my husbands.”
Lily just stared at her. Husbands? As in more than one? She didn’t realize she’d said it aloud until they all laughed. “Yes, I have two of them,” Charlie said with a laugh. “Nik and Jay, although Nik is more like my Daddy than my husband. He’s my biggest fan. But Kylie here has us all beat. She has three! Identical triplets, no less! And gorgeous as hell.”
Lily turned to look at the lovely brunette, who blew on her clenched knuckles and polished them on her blouse, a smug smile on her face. “Yeah, I have to admit I belong to three of the handsomest men on the planet and if anyone had told me that two years ago, I would have thought they were insane,” she added with a giggle.
“Why would you have thought that?” Lily asked, her own weight problems instantly springing to mind. “You’re gorgeous.”
“Oh, it’s not that,” Kylie added with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I had a very strict religious upbringing and had no idea what a Dom was. I’d never heard of BDSM. When I met Caleb, Ash, and Simon, I’d only had one boyfriend in my entire life. I’d never even had an orgasm.” A flush spread across her cheeks. “The instant they found that out, they carried me upstairs and, well, suffice it to say they took care of that pesky little problem. Very satisfactorily, I might add.” She giggled and looked down at herself, a wry smile on her face. “And, as amazing as the orgasms were, the thing that astonished me the most was the fact that a man actually carried me. I mean, I know I’m heavy, but for some reason that has never seemed to faze them. And if I dare mention it, they express their displeasure in no uncertain terms.”
“They spank you.” Lily said, grateful that she knew enough about BDSM from her research to be able to keep up with these women who actually lived it.
“Or worse,” Kylie said.
“There’s something worse than spanking?”
They all groaned. “Orgasm denial. It’s sheer torture. And they can keep it up for hours! But I digress. Sorry, ladies, I know that’s TMI—”
“Not at all,” Leah and Charlie piped up, flapping their hands in a dismissive gesture. “We’ve all experienced it. We can totally commiserate.”
Kylie smiled. “They’ve told me so many times that I’m beautiful, I finally believe it. It’s just easier all the way around.”
“So,” Lily mused, astonished at how similar her story was to Kylie’s, especially the lack of personal experience. “You’re saying that there are men out there who actually appreciate a full-figured woman? Who don’t want a skinny model with protruding hipbones?”
“Oh, honey,” Charlie said, flapping her hand. “You don’t have to worry about that here. These men want women with meat on their bones. Women they can wrap their arms around and hold onto in the night. Women they can sink their cocks into and fuck without worrying about breaking a hip bone.” Her eyes widened and she sucked in a gasp as her fingers flew to cover her lips. “Oops.” Her shoulders hunched as a look of pure, childlike guilt crossed her face. “Don’t you dare tell Daddy I said the f-word. He only wants me to say it when I’m begging him and Jay to do it to me—or to each other. He’ll blister my little bottom for sure if he finds out.”
“Not. One. Word.” In unison, Lily, Kylie, and Leah crossed their hearts and raised their hands solemnly, then, just for good measure, they pantomimed zipping their lips and throwing away the key. Then all four women burst into a fit of giggles.
“We have no shame,” Kylie observed to no one in particular. She turned back to Lily. “So if you’re worried about being a bit overweight, don’t be. You’re so gorgeous, you’ll soon be leading the men in this town around by their noses. Once they see you, they’ll be goners. I guarantee it.”
A brief memory of Lucas McKay flashed through Lily’s mind, but she pushed it away firmly. She had no business thinking about Lucas McKay. “So where are you from, Kylie?” she asked, to get the focus off of herself and back onto the vivacious brunette. “And what do you do?”
“I’m originally from Philadelphia, where I was a bookkeeper for a mobster.” She laughed at Lily’s shocked look. “But that’s a story for another day. Now I do the books for several of the businesses in town, including Leah’s gallery, Katie’s Barbecue, Clay’s horse breeding business, the Toy Emporium, and the Tea Shoppe. Oh, and the Marshall’s Hill Bed and Breakfast over in Marshall’s Creek, around thirty miles up the road.”
When the waitress arrived to take their orders, Leah said, “Lily, this is Anne. She’s a friend of ours who always takes good care of us. Anne, Lily is the new library director.”
Anne was also about their age and was dressed in the Tea Shoppe uniform of black trousers, black apron, white, pleated-front tuxedo shirt, and black bowtie. “So pleased to meet you, Lily. Welcome to Passion Lake. And if they haven’t already told you about it, I recommend the chicken almond salad on our homemade sunflower bread. It’s to die for.”
“Thanks,” Lily laughed, closing her menu. “You must be psychic. That’s exactly what I was thinking of ordering.”
“It comes with fresh fruit, a dill pickle slice, and our own homemade potato chips.”
Anne took three more orders for the exact same thing and left to turn in their tickets.
“Okay, Lily.” Kylie put her elbow on the table and leaned in, her chin resting on her hand. “Your turn to be in the hot seat. We want to know everything. Don’t leave out one single juicy detail.”
“I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, got my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Mississippi Southern University. My last job was in Tupelo, but when Aunt Grace told me about this job, I jumped at the chance to apply for it.” She decided to leave out the part about being fired because of the ruckus caused by Pastor Willoughby and his followers. “Mr. Schaeffer interviewed me and’…she shrugged…”here I am.”
“We noticed that you’re not wearing a collar,” Leah said hesitantly. “Does that mean your Dom hasn’t claimed you yet?”
Lily’s hand went to her unadorned throat as she looked at the other three women. Oh, my God, why hadn’t she noticed that before? They were all wearing what to the uneducated eye would appear to be necklaces. But, thanks to her research into the BDSM lifestyle, Lily knew that they were collars, visible signs that they were owned. Leah’s was a wide silver torque with Native American geometric and squash blossom designs. Charlie wore a large gold chain with a padlock dangling against her throat. And Kylie wore a silver chain with three interwoven diamond hearts.
“I-I’m not collared,” she finally said.
“Did your Dom move here with you?” Charlie asked.
Lily blushed. “I-my—I’m…ummm…between Doms right now,” she stammered. There was no way she was telling these women that she’d never had a Dom.
Leah gave her a broad smile and a conspiratorial wink. “Well, if you’re in the market for a new one, have you ever come to the right place!”
When Lily just stared at her, a puzzled frown on her face, the three women looked at each other, then back at Lily. Charlie reached across the table and covered Lily’s hand with hers. “Honey, didn’t your Aunt Grace tell you what kind of a town this is? Or just who all lives here?”
Biting her lip, Lily shook her head.
Charlie leaned in and lowered her voice. “Passion Lake was founded by a group of former SEAL teammates, all Doms. They bought the bankrupt town of Porterfield, along with thirteen square miles of the surrounding countryside and turned it into this lovely resort. They wanted a place to live where they could practice their kinky lifestyles without recrimination, judgment, or fear of running afoul of the law. A place where they could live with their subs and keep us safe, protected from predators and ignorant people.
“How could they afford to buy a town?” Lily asked.
“Uncle Joe,” they all said at once.
At Lily’s puzzled look, Leah smiled. “Adam Sinclair’s Uncle Joe. Adam was the team’s XO—Executive Officer. Since these guys were busy doing two tours in Afghanistan, they didn’t have many places to spend their money, so Uncle Joe invested it for them. Made a killing in the stock market. They’re all filthy rich.”
Kylie leaned forward. “But the BDSM community is small and over the past four years, word about the nature of this town has spread. The original group of twelve has since been augmented by brothers, friends, women, and other special ops military men,” Kylie added.
“Soooo.” Lily’s mind was reeling. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. All the men who live here are…?”
“Doms,” Charlie supplied. “Plus a few subs and some switches.”
“But they’re all hot and hunky,” Kylie added.
“Bad-ass alpha males,” Leah concluded. “And you’re a submissive, looking for a Dom.” She regarded Lily quizzically. “So how did you say you found out about this place?”
“Aunt Grace. I had just lost my job in Tupelo and called her and was crying on her shoulder over the phone and she told me to apply for the job here and…” Lily’s voice slowed, her eyes widening as realization dawned.
Charlie let out a bark of laughter. “Oh, honey, you have been Set. Up.”
They all started laughing, including Lily.
‘I mean, it all fits,” Charlie continued, ticking off each item on her fingers. “You’re a submissive, you’re between Doms, you lost your job—”
“Oh, God.” Lily groaned. “Damn it, I should have known she was up to something.”
“You can’t blame yourself,” Kylie said. “There’s no shame in admitting that you have been out-manipulated by the master manipulator herself,” Smiling, she gave Lily’s hand a pat and flopped back in her chair, shaking her head admiringly. “Wow. I can see why that woman is legendary in these parts.”
“That woman,” Lily declared, “is about to get a royal ass reaming.”
Everyone laughed and they spent the rest of the meal exchanging stories and promising to meet again the following Monday for lunch. Leah insisted on paying for everyone’s lunch and when Anne brought the check, she asked her to bring a copy of each of The Midnight Riders’ cd’s back to the table and put them on her card. When Anne returned with the cd’s, Leah slid them across the table toward Charlie, who signed them with a flourish worthy of a diva.
Lily put them in her purse. They all stood and hugged each other.
“We’re all going to Leah’s gallery,” Charlie said. “Want to come with?”
“Maybe next time. Right now I’m going to go have it out with Aunt Grace.”