“I didn’t realize you were so buddy-buddy with my mom.”
Rielle shrugged. “Vi’s a damn sight more interesting than Joan McKay, who was the only other woman close by besides Libby.”
As Ainsley shifted her stance, feeling woefully out of place, three dogs came bounding out of the treeline. Ace and Deuce made a beeline for her, barking happily, no doubt remembering her last doggie bribe. There went this brand new pair of pantyhose.
“Ace! Deuce! Sit. Stay,” Ben commanded.
The dogs obeyed. Heck, she had the urge to obey.
Rielle’s dog cowered by her feet and stared balefully at the man with the obey now voice.
Ben smiled at Ainsley. “Kept them at bay this time.”
“That you did.”
“Not a fan of dogs?” Rielle asked.
“They’re fine. I’m just more of a cat person. Cats are more self-sufficient and easier to leave at home alone for a few days.”
“But not more forgiving,” Rielle said dryly. “Rory had an ornery cat that would shred every roll of toilet paper in the house if she was gone for more than a day. Which is why all our kitties are outside cats.”
“Rory is your…”
“Daughter. She’s getting her master’s at the UWYO.”
Rielle did not look old enough to have a daughter that age.
Ben tapped the side of the wheelbarrow. “You got bags for these someplace, Ree?”
“In the mudroom. I’ll grab them.”
Ainsley watched her duck around the corner. Then she focused on Ben. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Just seems…coincidental you’re here exactly the same time I am.”
“I swing by and help Rielle occasionally.”
“You have a standing date with her on Tuesdays at five thirty-five?”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “If you’ve got something to say, spit it out.”
“Are you trying to hide something about her? Maybe your feelings? Because you’re awful abrupt whenever she’s around. Always trying to get rid of her.”
“You’re imagining things.”
“Like the first time we saw each other at the bank? You shooed her away pretty fast. Then at lunch today, you were uncomfortable when she approached us. And now, you’re here, running interference again. Why?”
He dusted the dirt from his hands as he closed the distance between them. “Because your bank turned her down for a loan. She’s a little sensitive about it and I thought she might try to corner you when you stopped to get produce. So yeah, I’m running interference. Not for her. For you.”
Ainsley got in his face. “Back off, Ben. I don’t need you playing mediator. I’m perfectly capable of dealing with customers who’ve been denied financing. And I resent you riding in here to rescue me, acting like I can’t handle myself in a professional capacity. I can handle myself just fine.”
“Or you’re just snippy because you’re jealous.”
“I am not jealous.” I’m pissed because you said you wouldn’t use me again. So far today you’ve used me to help you get a loan and now you plan on using my body one last time before moving on to the next sub.
An amused smile quirked his lips. “Sure you are.”
She wanted to slide that smarmy look right off his face, because this was about so much more than her female jealousy and he refused to see it. “Don’t flatter yourself. Don’t you think if Rielle wanted to burn up the sheets with you, she’d been tied to your bed years ago, wearing a custom collar? Since you’ve been such close neighbors and you know each other’s secrets?”
Silence. “Angel, you are gonna regret that smart comment.”
“Stop looming over me like the beastly Dom. We’re not in those roles right now.”
“It’s not a role for me. And it looks like you need a reminder that I am always the beastly Dom.”
“You trying to scare me, cowboy?” She purposely taunted him with a label that meant nothing to him. To show him she could turn off her connection to him any time—just like he could.
He put his mouth next to her ear. “The name is Bennett, sub, and your night just got a lot more…interesting.”
Ainsley swallowed hard. The heat of him, the scent of him, the overwhelming power and masculinity made her head spin. Made her want to plaster her body to his and lose herself in him. Beg him to take his loan business elsewhere so they could continue this. Beg him to understand she’d never had—maybe she’d never find—another man who knew what she needed like he did. And that pissed her off. Stupid traitorous body. Stupid sex-addled brain. “You can’t just—”
“I can, I will, and I did. I want you nekkid and sitting on my bar when I get home.”
“This is unfair.” Why was she pushing him? Because he pushed her into a corner first? Or because she wanted their last night together to be memorable?
“Says you. I think I’m bein’ more than fair.”
“I won’t do it.”
Bennett eased back, fire dancing in his eyes. “Gonna run rather than face the consequences?”
“No. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You insulted me.”
“Maybe I was insulting Rielle.”
He half-snarled, “That earned you another ten.”
She backed up a step. Then another. And he stalked her.
“I thought I heard you sneer that you weren’t scared,” he said in that low, dangerous voice.
“I’m not.” Such a liar. “But I’ve done nothing to warrant punishment.”
“Guilty until proven innocent in my world. So you’d better have a convincing argument against punishment to present to me when I get home.”
“Why should I bother? You’re going to make it hurt anyway. Hurt worse than it already does.” Stupid move, Ainsley, you aren’t supposed to tell him that. You’re supposed to be the cool-headed professional and the obedient sub who won’t let him see your disappointment on any level.
Ben gave her a look she’d never seen before. “Ainsley. I never meant—”
“Found them.” Rielle waved a stack of paper bags. “I also grabbed the herbs. They should be refrigerated.”
Grateful for the interruption, she practically ran to Rielle. “Thanks. How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty bucks oughta cover it.”
Ainsley figured that was a low amount after she loaded the four heavy bags into her trunk. She ignored Bennett’s hard, hot stare that seemed to liquefy her bones as she chatted with Rielle.
She didn’t look his way when she climbed in her car. She hesitated at the end of the driveway.
A right turn led back into town. A left turn led to Ben’s house.
She knew his eyes were on her vehicle as she turned left.
Ainsley wasn’t naked when Ben walked in the door. Something smelled good, and while the thought of a homemade meal awaiting him stirred a weird longing, she hadn’t followed his instructions.
And she didn’t seem particularly perplexed about that.
She sliced cubed potatoes and dropped them in a pot of boiling liquid. She tossed in a handful of herbs and nestled the lid over the steam. Then she looked up at him. “Now that I’ve got that started, we can talk about your—”
“But you always want to talk about this stuff.”
“Not today.” Ben’s gaze swept over her fully clothed body. “Strip. Now.”
“You said I could convince—”
“Huh-uh.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m waitin’.”
“I’m supposed to strip right here in the kitchen?”
“You can strip over by the bar, which you’re supposed to be on, nekkid, if memory serves. Every time you open that pretty mouth to argue I’m takin’ note.”
“You are surely tryin’ my patience today, woman, and that will reflect in your punishment.”
“Fine.” Ainsley stomped across the room, throwing clothes over her head like confetti as she peeled them off her body.
Ben would find it funny if he wasn’t so damn annoyed with her.
Oh hell, there was a fine sight, her luscious butt shaking as she climbed atop the bar. She faced him, arms crossed, legs crossed, wearing a very cross look.
“I don’t like your attitude. And I think maybe I’ve been too lenient on you. Or maybe in the two days we’ve been apart, you’ve forgotten who’s holding the reins.”
The woman actually rolled her eyes.
“Stretch out on your belly.”
Then Bennett was in front of her, his hands curled around her face, pulling her forward until they were nose-to-nose. “Do you want me to get a gag?”
Her eyes went wide and she shook her head.
“Then do what I tell you.”
Her flesh squeaked against the bartop she obeyed so fast.
“Hands clasped above your head.” After she complied, he ran his hand across her body, from her ankle up to her shoulder. “Stay put.”
Ben retreated to his bedroom and set his bag of toys on the bed. He transferred the riding crop, the ping-pong paddle, the medium-sized curved vibrator, the vibrating butt plug, the leg and arm restraints, and the small bottle of lube to a smaller bag. Just for shits and giggles, he grabbed the ball gag and his single tail whip.
Ainsley wasn’t meekly stretched out on the bar like a good sub, awaiting his return. She was in the kitchen messing with the stove.
“Are you still defying me?” he roared.
She yelped, dropping the metal lid. The loud clank after it hit the floor made her jump again. She bent down to retrieve it, then slammed it on the counter. “I can explain. I didn’t want the soup to boil over while you were playing with me so I got up and turned it off.” She aimed her gaze at the floor. “I’m sorry.”