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Her Rugged Guardian: A Dark Enemies to Lovers Romance by Piper Stone – Sample

Chapter One

“It is amazing how your life changes when you embrace the reality that you’re better than the life you’ve settled for.”

—Steve Maraboli

Cassandra

A blonde floozy with big tits. Isn’t that what all men wanted?

Well, fuck that and fuck all men.

My asshole ex could have the tawdry woman. I was certain she’d help his run for senator. Maybe she could jiggle her tits in front of the male reporters for additional votes.

A single bead of sweat trickled down my cheek at such a slow pace, I was instantly annoyed, wiping it furiously. “I hate men, Moose. Except for you, of course. Dogs are different. That’s why there are several songs written about women preferring their pups. You’re a lot less work and I don’t need to pick up your socks and underwear.” At least I could laugh in the face of a total disruption of my life.

I was firmly convinced that there was a black cloud hanging over my head. The day had gone from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. What was I saying? Now that night had set in, I was able to admit that making several significant changes in the swoop of thirty days was akin to having a root canal done without Novocain. But I was Cassandra Dayne, a once powerful marketing expert, considered a brilliant woman in my field. This wasn’t going to dampen my spirits in the least.

Even if somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the concept that change was good had been the thought of a crazy person or villain determined to take over the world. Maybe I was being a little overdramatic, but at this point, I wanted to dig a hole in the sand and hide for months.

Years.

Woof.

The single harrumph-ing brought me down from whatever cloud I was on, finally able to make the long-awaited turn to my destination called a brand-new life.

As I pulled down the long driveway, my fingers remained clutched around the steering wheel. Well, it was almost dark, and I was certain by morning light things would look brighter. Right?

The moment I pulled in front of the quaint bed and breakfast, my heart sank. “I don’t know, buddy. I think we might have made a mistake.” The fact my mother had purchased a B & B plus a small winery had shocked the entire family. But she’d run it successfully for years. Then Covid had hit and life for her had taken a serious downturn, enough so the winery had been all but closed for over two years.

Who was I to criticize or challenge her choices? I’d just run away from everything I’d ever known.

Not soon enough to help her run the place she’d grown to love or to save her life. The guilt wore like a thick second skin, something I’d have difficulty shedding. That was one reason I was determined to turn the place around, even if the estate attorney and everyone else who’d heard about the business had recommended otherwise.

Fuck them. I would make this work no matter what I had to do.

Tangerine Sunset had been my mother’s dream, the name perfect for the adventure she’d made her own, a woman I’d considered a gypsy. She’d left her high-powered accounting job in Maryland after learning my father had cheated on her. I’d seen pictures of the incredible location but had only visited twice in the last eight years, the second time for her funeral.

The revelation hit me hard. I’d missed so much time with her, embroiled in my own life. Now I felt empty inside, uncertain I’d made the right choice to upend my life, moving thousands of miles away from everything and everyone I knew.

With a population of less than three thousand, Depoe Bay, Oregon had small town vibes written all over it. Granted, the city flanked the Pacific Ocean, its claim to fame being the whale-watching capital of the Oregon Coast. Maybe that’s why I felt like a fish out of water.

Moose lifted his head from the passenger seat, his tail thumping against the door panel, the slight whine affirming his unhappiness at being taken away from everything and everyone he loved. Sighing, I reached over, scratching behind his ears. My big black lab was my constant companion. I wasn’t entirely certain I would have found the courage to do this without his help.

Change was inevitable. That’s what I’d heard my entire life. I was taking a leap of faith. At this moment, all I could think about was that the change I’d insisted on had been a decision I would be thankful for later in my life. Whatever the case, I’d reached my destination, a new beginning, and the changes were exciting.

Then why was I terrified?

Maybe because the trip across country had been horrible with flight delays, Moose almost getting transferred to a plane heading to Ireland, and the fact that all I’d eaten in the last fifteen hours had been peanuts. Stale peanuts to be exact.

I peered out the windshield, issuing a growl that could rival Moose’s.

The dark sky provided an ominous background. I jumped, even yelping audibly when something hit the windshield. “Jesus. Mommy dog is a scaredy cat. Huh?”

This time, my wonderful companion did nothing but crawl forward, placing his head on my thigh. I stopped the car, waiting for a few seconds before shoving the gear into park and cutting off the engine. I stared at the house, hating the shadows in the windows.

“What are you doing, girl? You’re out of your mind.”

Woof!

At least I could still laugh given my baby’s exclamation point placed next to my terrified statement.

“I know. I promised you excitement. Maybe everything will look brighter in the morning. Right, buddy?”

His silence meant he doubted my promise. I doubted myself as well. As I opened the driver’s door to my rental car, memories and fleeting images of my mother drifted into the back of my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should have taken almost everyone’s advice and sold the place, even if that’s not what my mother had wanted. Still, I was in way over my head. I’d been in Depoe Bay, Oregon all of two hours and I’d come to that conclusion.

Time to seize the day.

Right. Maybe what I needed to do was to seize my sanity. I was a big city girl used to condo living. The thought of living in a bed and breakfast had seemed like the perfect step in a journey, a way of leaving my past behind. Now I suspected I’d gone cuckoo.

At least the air was fresh, the hint of salt from the ocean and the greenery of the dense forest surrounding the property a pleasant respite from living in the heart of DC. Just driving through town on my way here was a reminder of how small the town really was. Tomorrow I’d go exploring.

“Come on, bud. Time to go inside.”

Moose was reluctant to scamper onto the gravel drive. When he did, he immediately started sniffing. I grabbed a couple of bags before closing the door. The rest could wait until later. I’d sold a significant portion of my belongings including every piece of my beloved furniture. A fresh start. That’s what I’d told myself. The majority of what I’d brought with me had arrived the day before; the few boxes I’d paid a hefty fee to cart with me on the plane were the items I’d been terrified to lose.

As I headed to the porch, a strange, foreboding sense remained. I could swear I was being watched.

Now you’re being ridiculous.

I jerked my jacket around me as I headed for the porch, gazing up at the dark windows for a second time. They weren’t brighter. I could almost swear the devil was winking at me. “Come on, baby boy. It’s time to make this our home.”

At least his single bark held more enthusiasm.

Wind whipped through the trees, the chill in the air unexpected. I took a deep breath as I headed up the six stairs, trying to prepare myself for walking inside. After counting to five, I opened the storm door, trying to snag the keys from my purse. My entire body was chilled to the bone from the light jacket I’d worn.

“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath, dropping them three times before managing to slide the correct one into the lock. When I twisted the key, it acted as if it wasn’t the right one.

With no light on outside, the sliver of moon hidden behind thick clouds, I could barely see a thing and I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight with me. I was lucky I’d remembered my brain at this point, the entire last four weeks a huge blur of activity and finalizing paperwork.

And sadness.

“Please don’t do this to me. Please.” I tried it again and groaned. The damn thing appeared to be stuck.

Moose whined as he nuzzled my leg, as eager to crawl into bed as I was. I prayed the cleaning company I’d hired had already been here. As soon as the lock clicked, I almost squealed in delight. I grabbed one of the bags, the door sticking after a few inches. Of course it would. The slight creak gave me the willies. My mother had never said anything about the place being haunted, but at this point I wasn’t certain it wasn’t. My trepidation had to be all about the darkness.

If only the plane hadn’t been late. Then I’d been forced to wait until Moose was unloaded. The poor pup had drooled all over his cage. I couldn’t blame him. He was far too large to fit into a medium-size crate. He was a happy-go-lucky pup normally, but he’d used his big dog growl, terrifying the airport personnel, which thankfully had helped in getting him released quickly.

When he woofed a single time, I scratched him behind the ears. “Yes, I remembered the dog biscuits, buddy. That will be first on the agenda.”

Thankfully, I’d gotten a text that the few boxes I’d sent ahead had arrived earlier in the day. My mother’s attorney had charged me a fortune to handle the delivery, but I was thankful that I’d gone to the expense. I had a feeling I needed all the creature comforts around me I could have.

I tried to be careful with the door, but finally kicked it with my foot, lumbering inside. A light was on in the back of the house, the warm glow creating more foreboding shadows. Maybe the cleaning people had left it on for me. What a nice touch.

Hell, they should have left roses and a bottle of champagne for what they charged me. Still, it would be worth every penny if they’d tackled everything promised from their list. I lowered the bags to the floor, taking a deep breath.

Then I heard a noise.

A clang.

Swallowing hard, I grabbed Moose’s collar to keep him from reacting. Maybe it was nothing. Possibly the old pipes. No, my mother had told me all the plumbing had been redone. Okay, breathe. Just breathe. I took another step, convinced whatever I’d heard were normal house sounds when I heard an entirely different sound. I yanked out my phone, my fingers shaking. No reception. Shit. Maybe I should just drive away, heading toward the police station. It would be helpful if I knew where it was.

Wait a minute. I was taking the coward’s way out. Either what I’d heard was nothing or maybe the wind outside had loosened a board and it was hitting against the gutters. That made more sense than some intruder being inside the house. There were no vehicles, no other indication anyone was here.

Then Moose growled and I jumped, sucking in my breath as I slipped the phone into my pocket. Okay, you can do this.

“Stay, buddy. Right here. Be a good boy,” I whispered. His low growl was more terrifying than I’d heard in a long time. I had no implement of protection, not even mace. God, why had the plane been late? I eased toward the sound, constantly throwing Moose looks. I would unleash the beast if necessary, but not until I knew what I was dealing with. Granted, my big slobbering pup would do nothing more but lick the intruder to death unless the person was intent on hurting me. At least since he topped the scales at one hundred five pounds and was all black, he looked menacing, which terrified the majority of people he came in contact with.

When I heard a third sound, I bit my inner cheek to keep from yelping. That’s when I knew I had to grab something to protect myself with. I couldn’t become a victim in the first hour of being in a new city. Only a hint of light filtered into the kitchen, but I could easily make out all the wonderful small appliances positioned on the counters. I snagged a toaster, holding my breath as I headed through a huge dining room toward the source of light.

I waited just outside the entrance, gathering my courage.

Then all hell seemed to break loose as Moose came charging in my direction, flying by me, growling as if several bears had crossed his path.

Bang.

The loud noise was jarring, unrecognizable.

“Fuck!” The exclamation came from a deep male voice. That was my cue to protect what now belonged to me.

I rushed into the room, lifting the toaster and without paying attention to anything around me, I smashed the stainless-steel appliance down on the perpetrator’s head. The hard cracking sound was empowering.

“What the hell?” The intruder’s exclamation was laced with pain.

Good. I’d hit my mark. I held onto the toaster with white-knuckled fingers as Moose straddled the bastard. What I found odd was that the pup stopped growling almost instantly. My slobbering buddy was even wagging his tail. Of course. Now he was licking the man as if they were best buddies. Perfect.

“Moose! Come here, boy.” My command was unheeded, Moose far too interested in loving on the stranger.

“Okay, buddy,” the intruder said, his husky voice sending a strange set of tingling vibes into my system like a rush of gasoline.

“If you hurt my dog, I will kill you.”

While Moose kept licking, the asshole stopped talking. Then the criminal managed to peer around the lump of fur, staring at me with the most incredible pair of blue eyes I’d ever seen. I took a deep breath, tingles trickling down both my arms. Only when his expression turned hard and cold did I manage to look away.

“I’m not going to touch your dog, lady. But it seems like he likes me a bit too much.”

“He likes everyone, including unscrupulous assholes who break into a person’s house. I’m calling the police.”

“You do that, sweetheart. I can’t wait to see if you get any reception.” As soon as he struggled to get from under Moose’s hefty weight, I noticed two things.

One—the criminal’s forehead was bleeding.

Even worse—the intruder was without a doubt one of the most gorgeous men I’d ever seen. Models and actors weren’t as handsome and muscular. While he was older by at least ten years, that didn’t diminish his rugged good looks or his extreme sex appeal. My eyes followed a trail from his chiseled cheeks to his full lips and square jaw to… Whoa. The side of the man’s neck was scarred badly, his arm as well.

When he struggled to stand, I refused to take a step back, lifting the appliance, prepared to strike the man again.

What if he has a gun?

Maybe he had one hidden in the… carpenter’s bag hung around his waist. What? I took a few seconds to scan the room, realizing he’d fallen from a ladder. Then I looked up at the ceiling, groaning quietly. He’d been in the middle of installing a ceiling fan. Shit. Shit. Shit. Who was this man?

He eyed me scornfully as he rubbed his hands on his jeans. I allowed my gaze to follow his actions, a lump forming in my throat. At least it was no longer from fear or apprehension. Oh, no. I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off his muscular thighs and the huge bulge between his legs. His jeans were well-worn, but the fit was perfect, allowing more than a few torrid fantasies.

And the man was huge. At least six foot five. I couldn’t help but fantasize about the size of his cock.

What are you thinking?

I forced myself to look away, but not before seeing a smirk on his face. He’d noticed my heated stare. Damn it.

“Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?” I demanded without looking in his direction.

“I could ask the same damn thing about you, lady.”

“My name isn’t lady.”

“Then what is it? Princess? Vixen?”

The dude was grumpy as shit. Okay, I didn’t blame him given I’d attacked him with a toaster. Wait a minute. What had he just called me?

“Maybe I’ll just call you Mr. Grinch.”

He snorted, his glare intensifying. “I guess I’ll just call you Cinnamon Girl.”

“Excuse me?”

“You smell like a fucking bakery.”

“How dare you!” I snapped and without thinking, I took a giant stride toward him. That’s the moment his musky aftershave filtered into my system, jetting straight into my core. Within seconds, my panties were damp, the scent as intoxicating as any I’d ever had the privilege of savoring.

He swaggered even closer, a wry smile on his face. “I have every right to be here.”

“Right. Who says so?”

“Margaret Dayne, a client of mine.”

“She’s dead. That’s a horrible thing to do, using a dead woman to try and explain yourself.”

“Well, nothing will explain your improper use of a toaster,” he snarked then pressed his fingers against his forehead. “I’m the one who should be calling the police.”

I kept my hard glare on him even though my mouth was watering. “Who are you?”

“Jake Spencer. Who are you?”

I wasn’t certain I wanted to give him my real name, but at this point, what did it matter? “Cassandra Dayne. I’m Margaret’s daughter.”

“She never mentioned you or that she even had a daughter, and you certainly never visited her. For all I know, you’re a scam artist.”

“Ha! My mother had next to nothing when she died. And I was busy. I was…” Swallowing hard, I looked away, the guilt over never visiting her returning in full force.

His cold expression softened for about thirty seconds. “I’m sorry about your mom, Ms. Dayne, but that doesn’t give you an excuse or the right to assault me.”

“And my mother never mentioned you or the work you were doing on the place. I didn’t see a truck outside. For all I know, you’re some homeless dude looking for a warm bed to crawl in.”

“That’s why I’m hanging a ceiling fan she ordered a couple weeks before she died. Right?”

Okay, so he had a point. I lowered the toaster, wrinkling my nose as I watched Moose dance around him like the man was his new play toy. There were so many nasty words forming in my mind that it was all I could do to keep them to myself. I’d heard from the attorney the place did need a lot of work. Maybe what he was telling me was true.

“She hired you?” I demanded once again.

“No, my fairy godmother did. Of course she hired me, sweetheart.”

“I’m not your sweetheart, buster. I don’t know you.”

“And I don’t want to know you.”

Even the two-day stubble on his chiseled jaw was sexy, but I refused to think about him as anything other than a man who’d broken into my mother’s beloved bed and breakfast. “There’s no vehicle outside and from what I can tell, you’re a long way from home.”

“I guess you didn’t open your eyes when you drove in. I live just next door. The truck is around the side.”

“It was dark.”

“You have headlights.”

The man was infuriating. I was ready to toss the toaster in his direction. “Fine, you live next door. Great. Maybe I’ll sell the place just because of that.”

He laughed, the gruff, throaty sound sending a wave of shivers through every muscle. “Yeah, you do that. That would suit me just fine.”

A line had been drawn in the sand. God, I hated this man.

“I need some ID.” At least I had conviction in my voice as I threw out my hand.

“Not until I see yours. That will be helpful when I contact the sheriff. He’ll be mighty interested in the reason you attacked me.”

I opened my mouth to issue a sundry list of hateful words but sucked in my breath instead. “What else do you think a woman will do when confronted with a dangerous man?”

It took a few seconds, but he grinned, and I could swear the sun was shining down through the popcorn ceiling. Why were my nipples hard, pressing against the thin material of my blouse? When he slowly lowered his gaze, I knew without a doubt he had a general idea of my body’s reaction to him. Shit. This was not the way I wanted the evening to go.

“You’re right. I am a dangerous man. I’d keep that in mind if I were you. However, that doesn’t change the fact you accosted me.” He yanked his cell phone from his back pocket, immediately pressing his fingers on the screen.

“What are you doing?”

“Contacting my buddy at the sheriff’s office. We’re close friends and he won’t take kindly to a stranger beating the shit out of me.”

“Let me tell you something. If I’d wanted to beat the shit out of you then you wouldn’t be standing.” He ignored my comment, pulling his hand away and staring at me as he waited for the call to connect.

“Hey, Bart,” he stated, his deep baritone still able to send shivers down my spine. “I need to report a crime.”

“Don’t you do it.” He ignored me. Without thinking, I reacted, moving toward him and ripping the phone from his hand. When it slipped through my fingers, smashing against the hardwood floor, I gasped, the hard thud and cracking sound not what I’d wanted to hear. This had gone from really bad to insufferable in a heartbeat.

There was a moment of quiet calm, but within seconds I realized he was livid. I expected him to lash out, possibly striking me, but his only reaction was to take a full ten seconds to shift his enraged gaze to the shattered phone.

The bile in my throat remained and swallowing several times had no effect. A strange need to say ‘uh-oh’ coasted through my brain.

He took an equal amount of agonizing time to hunker down, retrieving his demolished phone. When he finally tilted his head in my direction, I could see a firestorm building.

I should tell him I was sorry, but what good would that do? We weren’t destined to be friends.

For some reason I thought he would fondle his Apple product. Instead, he crushed what was left between his massive fingers, taking a deep breath before depositing the handful of metal and plastic into the suede satchel secured to his side. The entire time Moose whined, turning his head from the stranger back to his Mommy dog. The pup was smart enough to know I’d fucked up. Royally. At least he had the good graces to remain on his haunches, although his thick tail thwapped back and forth, keeping time like a metronome.

Jake finally lifted his head in my direction, narrowing his eyes as he studied me. In the next few seconds, there was no doubt he was undressing me with his eyes. I’d never felt so uncomfortable in my life. In my mind I was naked, my nipples hard as rocks, red from anticipation of his mouth sucking them. Blinking, I tried to look away, but it was impossible to yank myself from his powerful stare.

The man had a dangerous aura, rough and tumble as if he could wrestle with a den of bears and win with no issue.

“Here’s the way I see it,” he stated, utter domination in his voice. “I can either head over to my place, and make another call to my buddy from my landline, waiting until he arrives and enjoying the moment he slaps handcuffs on you, or…”

The asshole purposely allowed his statement to die off. The son of a bitch was playing me, enjoying every moment. “Or what, Mr. Spencer?” I’d backed away by several feet, loathing the concept of being close to him. He purposely closed the distance, his chest heaving as he took several deep breaths. Oh, this wasn’t good in any language or on any level.

“Or we can handle this the old-fashioned way.”

Chapter Two

Cassandra

The old-fashioned way? What in God’s name was Mr. Grinch trying to say? I glared at him, now almost happy I’d nearly bashed his head in. Even his grin was evil. He was the epitome of a grumpy jerk, the name suiting him perfectly. But Cinnamon Girl? Okay, so my shower gel of choice had hints of vanilla and cinnamon, but that didn’t give him any right to call me names.

You mean like you called him.

Great, now even my inner voice was taking the rugged man’s side.

But I was justified.

Maybe.

“Excuse me? What are you talking about? Fine. I’ll pay for your phone if that’s what you want.”

The bastard grinned. “Not enough. However, I can dole out punishment right here, right now. That will do the trick. For now.”

Punishment? The man had a screw loose. “I’m not accepting anything from you but an apology.”

He took a deep breath, slowly blowing it across my face. His scent was enriched by the hint of peppermint candy. My panties were soaked, my pussy throbbing. This wasn’t good at all.

“Then I’ll visit you in jail while you’re awaiting trial. I hear the judge is on an extended vacation. And so you know, he’s the only one who can reside over your case.”

The fucker was now threatening me. I tossed the toaster onto the dining room table, fisting one hand, ready to throw a hard punch. He disarmed me by lifting a single eyebrow, as if a woman could never best him. “What punishment?”

“Let me think.” Jake dared to take the time to rub his fingers across his stubbled chin. “Ah, yes. I know exactly what’s perfect for you. A hard spanking.”

Whoa. Hold on. What? What did the Neanderthal just say? “I beg your pardon?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your hearing. One solid spanking with my belt across your bottom. Yep. That’s the only thing that will keep you from spending your first few months in my hometown behind bars.”

It took every ounce of control not to punch him several times. “Your hometown? I don’t think so.”

Mr. Grinch swaggered closer, a sly smile crossing his face. “Sweetheart, I’ve been here my entire life. What about you? If I had to guess, I’d say you were from New York.”

“Why would you say that?”

“You have that stuck-up look about you.”

I couldn’t believe the conversation had gone so far downhill it was circling quicksand. “To hell with you.” I slapped my hand on my hip, offering him the same rebellious, nasty look.

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Yeah, you’re dead wrong.” I glanced away, cringing inside. “I’m from DC.”

“Ah. The land of corrupt politicians. Perfect. We don’t need your kind here.”

“My kind. Well, your kind is even worse. The world doesn’t need a card-carrying, foul-mouthed jerk.”

He puffed up as if he was going to explode. “What’s it going to be, Cinnamon Girl? Prison or a date with my belt?” The way he fingered the thick leather strap around his waist drew my attention.

Unfortunately, I could tell the jerk was serious. I glanced down at Moose, who was watching the action as if enjoying an action and adventure movie, his tail swishing back and forth, my goodest boy drooling in anticipation. “What are you looking at, buddy?”

Woof.

“Even your dog knows you deserve punishment. I’m waiting and the clock is ticking. You should know I’m not a patient man.”

There were at least a dozen nasty things I wanted to say. I’d always had a sharp tongue, something my mother had told me would eventually get me in the kind of trouble my beauty couldn’t get me out of. I raked my hand through my hair, hating the fact it was shaking.

“Tick tock,” he pushed, tapping his watch.

“Fine but I never want to see you again.”

“That’s going to be tough since I live next door.”

“Like I said. I might sell the place.”

“You won’t get any buyers.”

“And why is that?”

Jake grinned as if he held a deep, dark secret. “The place is haunted.”

Stiffening, I couldn’t tell whether he was joking or not, but a wave of butterflies formed in my stomach. My mother had been into all things haunted, her love of the paranormal something my father had hated. “Stop that. Just get on with it.”

“Good girl.”

Was he joking? No one called me a good girl. That’s probably because I wasn’t. I’d been a shark in my formal job, tougher than most men inside the Fortune 500 firm. Maybe that’s because I’d been required to be.

The devious grin remained on Mr. Grinch’s face as he reached for his belt buckle, nodding toward the kitchen.

“What?”

“We’ll do this in there. Lower your jeans and lie across the kitchen table.”

His deep, commanding voice sent a series of vibrations into every muscle, which I hated almost as much as the man. What disturbed me almost as much as the wretched situation was that the thoughts thumping in the back of my mind were all about being grateful I’d worn decent panties. I couldn’t believe I was even considering something so… blasphemous. However, the last thing I needed was trouble at this point. I’d done everything to keep my move as private as possible. My nerves and the continuing grief wouldn’t be able to take it. I’d been through far too much in the last few weeks.

I turned away sharply, pressing my hand across my mouth to keep the ugly, strangled sobs from exposing my sadness. I’d never felt so all alone in my life. All the bravado I’d had before faded, my mind still trying to process and accept that I was allowing some crazed stranger to spank me as if I was a bad little girl. For all I knew, he could be a serial killer or some stalker. Okay, so the attorney handling my mother’s estate had mentioned my mother had hired a couple of contractors to help with some renovations, but I’d thought that meant in the past.

And God knows from what little I’d seen of the place, it could use some TLC, but there had to be other contractors in town. Hiring someone different would top the list. Right after I purchased a decent vehicle.

Embarrassment tore through me as I fumbled with the button on my jeans, finally managing to shove the dense material past my hips. He had five minutes to finish and get the hell out of my house before I contacted the sheriff.

Yeah, and tell him what exactly?

Remaining stiff as a board, I bent over the table, fisting my hands as soon as I did. I couldn’t believe Moose was obviously thrilled he had someone new to play with, woofing every few seconds.

“That’s a good boy,” Mr. Grinch told him. Wait a minute. Was the asshole whistling as if he was enjoying this entire thing?

Hissing, I knew neither my mind nor my ears were playing tricks on me. I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see the grumpy bastard swagger into the room. The fact my pussy was throbbing brought a single word into the forefront of my mind.

Betrayal with a capital B.

The mystery man studied me, his expression one of disdain. In his hand was his belt folded in the center. The ridiculousness of the situation hit me hard, but I was determined to get through the moment. I’d find a way never to see him again. Somehow.

As soon as he made his approach, I closed my eyes.

“I think twenty-five will be adequate.”

I refused to give him the satisfaction of making a single comment. Mr. Grinch wasted no time on niceties or preparing me, bringing the thick strap down four times right across my sit spot.

“Jesus Christ. That fucking hurts!” I jerked up, panting more than Moose normally did on a hot summer day.

“Didn’t you know ladies shouldn’t curse?”

He brought the belt down again and I bit back a series of whimpers and other curse words. The pain was horrible, so much so I was blinded by stars floating in front of my eyes. Yet when he issued three or four more, one hitting the tops of my thighs, I felt a dull ache develop in my stomach. That was nothing like the throbbing sensations in my pussy. “Just stop. I take back my agreement.”

“Nope. Not gonna happen.” Jake’s voice was gruffer than before and when he yanked down my panties, I was mortified.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Disciplining you the way women are supposed to be spanked.” He had the nerve to caress my aching bottom for a few seconds.

His words shocked me. Had I slipped through some time warp into another generation? I pushed up from the table again, throwing him a hateful look over my shoulder, my mouth going slack.

“You’re a terrible person,” I challenged.

“You got that right, Cinnamon Girl. I suggest you remember it next time.”

“There won’t be a next time even if I need to get a restraining order.”

The look on his face changed to one of amusement, his blue eyes twinkling. When I almost bucked off the table, he pressed his hand against the small of my back. “Don’t or I’ll start again.”

“Fu… Fine,” I said through clenched teeth, tingling all over just from studying his impressive muscles, the thick cords in his neck. I turned my head, determined to hate him, frowning as I noticed the happy expression on Moose’s face. He was enjoying this as much as the Grinch.

There was something strange about being so attracted to a man who obviously enjoying taking out his bad day on women. I almost snorted given my thoughts, but admitting it was my fault I’d been plunked into this position wasn’t going to happen. I eased my arms over my head, gripping the edge of the table as the spanking continued.

It wasn’t too much longer before I could hear Mr. Grinch’s labored breathing. When he took a break, daring to caress my aching bottom a second time, I sucked in and held my breath. The last thing I wanted was for him to know he’d broken through a layer of my armor, forcing tears to form in my eyes.

Granted, they’d flowed easily for weeks, my weepiness more than annoying. It was time to suck it up and move forward. Maybe the spanking was a good test of whether or not I had the resolve to make it in a strange city all by myself.

Moose barked once as if able to read my mind. Okay, so I wasn’t alone. I had my furball who did keep me warm and cozy at night. And I had my handy-dandy selection of vibrators. One was never enough.

The mystery man hesitated. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed he still had his arm lifted, his fingers curled tightly around the belt as if holding on for dear life. It was as if the man was frozen in time, staring down at, his mouth twisting in either frustration or anger. That lasted only a few seconds, his eyes turning darker.

Another volley of savage strikes brought me down off the rafters or maybe shot me toward the ceiling. I kicked out involuntarily, catching him somewhere painful, his sharp groan almost pushing a laugh up from my throat, but I thought better of it.

While I wasn’t certain of how many more lashes were left, I realized very quickly that the spanking had stopped. Mr. Grinch took purposeful steps toward the dining room, his breathing still labored. Moose trotted after him and I heard other noise.

I shifted on the table, almost falling on my face as I jumped off, fighting to jerk my panties and jeans into position. I half hopped toward the dining room, ready to remind the intruder he wasn’t welcome in my home any longer.

He stormed out of the room through the second oversized entryway and barely two seconds later, the front door slammed with enough force it seemed the entire house was shaking.

Sighing, I slowly glanced down at Moose, who harrumphed before sneezing.

“That’s exactly what I have to say, little buddy. Why don’t we get settled. Mr. Grinch is out of my life for good.”

Why did I have the distinct feeling that wasn’t going to hold true?

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