Authors: Sophie Oak
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.
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.
. 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.