His dark hair fell over his eyes, trailing over the skin of my bare belly. A quiver of anticipation ran through me as his teeth nipped at my bare skin. As he ran the tip of his tongue around my navel, I shivered, a delicious mix of anticipation and desire.
Ice blue eyes locked on mine as he grinned, clearly amused by my propensity for ticklishness. Whenever I was driving, Jake loved to raise his fingertips to me in a threat of an attack to my ribs just to watch me squeal and panic. And he loved the power he held over me in bed.
There was a tug at the button of my high-waisted jeans, my core melting and becoming heavy as he peeled down the denim, revealing the bare shaved skin that hid beneath. Jake insisted on a smooth pussy—and no panties. When I was with Jake, nothing got between me and my Rag & Bones.
Kneeling between my legs at the foot of the bed, Jake flashed me that devilish smile that would have melted my panties off—had I been wearing any—and threw my two-hundred-dollar jeans over his shoulder. Raising one dark brow at me, his fingertips trailed up my leg.
I knew the next words he would ask. Goosebumps rose on my arms, my nipples tightening underneath my thin, silk bra, my body tensed, ready to hear the name of the little game he liked to play with me. A cocky smirk crossed his face as he watched my expression—I’m sure it was practically begging for him to ask the question.
Finally, he said the words I longed to hear. “What’s it going to be, Gigi? Sweet or dirty?”
“Sweet,” I whispered, my entire body humming with tension, begging for his expert touch.
His fingertip made its way up my leg, stopping at the top of my thigh. He began tracing a lazy pattern of figure eights—inches from my sweet spot.
My hips wiggled expectantly.
“I don’t know. You seem a bit… impatient. I think someone deserves a little dirty tonight.”
“But I picked sweet,” I protested, pouting and rubbing my foot against his thigh, my legs falling open. His gaze rest on my exposed pussy, his hand moving toward me. My hips arched in the air, longing for his touch.
Uniting his middle finger and index finger, he brought them to the entrance of my pussy.
I quivered in anticipation as he teased me, pressing his fingers in just a touch, then out again.
“Say please,” he growled.
“Please, please, pretty please,” I begged. My body no longer seemed under my control, my hips gyrated, trying to gain some purchase on his long, perfectly formed fingers.
My breath caught in my throat in a gasp as he savagely pushed within me, the line between pain and pleasure completely blurred. His fingers curling around my sheath and doing that thrusting, hooking thing he did that made me scream.
And scream I did as his dark hair fell over me, his mouth cupping around my sex. With his fingers fucking me, he sucked and licked, hard, around my clit, but never touched it.
“God, please, Jake, please,” I whimpered, my hands twining in his hair, my thighs quivering.
He paused. “You’re such a dirty girl, Gigi. Not a sweet bone in your sexy little body.” My eyes shut tight as his fingers reached up, pinching my nipple hard, until I gasped. He went back to work, whispering, “Let’s see if we can find this little peach’s G-G spot.”
My core tightened as white stars formed behind my lids. My entire body exploded with the orgasm that had been building from within. A final shudder ran through my body.
I opened my eyes.
Alone. The fantasy of my ex-boyfriend’s games dissolved from my mind. Jake wasn’t there and I was alone in bed—as I had been every night for six months. Since the breakup.
Luckily for me I had my pink and purple pearlescent Jackrabbit 2000 vibrator that I had bought to replace Jake. The top drawer of the nightstand gave its usual squeak as I returned the vibrator. I’m sure my roommate didn’t hear it squeak, but to me that tiny protest from the slides of the drawer were declaring to the world, Lonely loser dumped ex-girlfriend just finished a masturbation session with her dildo, everyone! And guess who the pathetic woman is still fantasizing about—that’s right—the man who dumped her in her favorite restaurant.
I cleaned it, hiding it under a stack of magazines and closed the drawer. Tears were burning at the backs of my eyes as the loneliness settled in. My boyfriend, the love of my life—my everything—Jake’s last words to me were ringing in my ears, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Rolling over, I punched my pillow, pressing my tearstained face into the cool sheet.
Jake might have been a terrible boyfriend in the end, but damn, that man knew how to fuck.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…
Those were the last words I remember hearing before blacking out.
It had been just another night at Freddy’s Western Tavern. Me, having flung my head back, pouring the gold liquid down my burning throat one too many times. I had partaken in a clumsy game of pool, an hour of drunken line dancing, and flirted with my fair share of men who probably didn’t look as cute in the daylight as they did in that dimly lit, stale-smelling bar.
Laughing and smiling and flirting the night away.
Numbing the constant pain that pulsed within me like a heartbeat. Pushing down the feeling that had ruled the last half a year of my life—that I was dying inside.
It hadn’t always been this way. But six months ago, my boyfriend of four years—Jake—had up and left me. I was sure that we were soulmates, destined to be together forever. Sure, he could be an arrogant jerk at times, but over the past four years I had built my entire life around him. And now that life I had so painstakingly built had come crashing down around me.
The tequila couldn’t mend the pieces of my broken heart, but it could dull the pain. Letting me pretend—for a few hours every night at least—that I was whole. Giving me a tiny respite from the constant realization that we were over.
But then the morning came.
Between the pounding in my temples, the dry taste in my mouth, and the sudden terrifying realization that I could not remember anything past that last shot of alcohol, my stomach roiled. Springing from my disheveled bed, I flew to the bathroom.
After emptying the contents of my stomach into the toilet, I lay on the floor, pathetically groaning and pressing my face against the cool white tiles.
“Knock, knock!” There was a loud banging on the door to accompany the angry yelling. I managed to scoot away from the bottom edge of the door just seconds before it came flying open, stopping right where my face had been lying on the floor.
I groaned again. I couldn’t face her. Not after last night.
“What the heck, Georgia? Why is Freddy calling me one more time to pick your drunk ass up from the Tavern? I told you last week it was the last time. What has gotten into you?”
Peeking up from underneath the shield of dark hair that had fallen over my eyes, I took in Regina’s stormy face. Her cheeks were as red as her hair. She was furious—livid.
Humiliation made the words impossible to form, but I had to know. “What happened last night?” I asked, my voice raspy.
Rolling her eyes, she crossed her arms over her chest, exhaling huffily. “Same thing as always, Georgia. You promise me you are only going to have one drink, you go to the Tavern, get randoms to buy you shots, black out on the floor of the bar, and Freddy calls me—the only person in the state of Idaho who feels sorry enough for you—to come pick you up. It was disgusting, Georgia. And by the way, Freddy says you can’t come back. So, congratulations. You are officially the first person I’ve ever known to actually be banned from a bar.”
I said the words that seemed to be coming out of my mouth the most frequently over the last few months. “I’m sorry.”
Tears stung at the backs of my eyes and my throat burned.
Her gray eyes darkened as she stared down at me. Her words came out in a whisper as she spoke. “It’s not enough, Georgia. I can’t be responsible for you anymore. I have my own life to live. Look—I hate to say this, and I’ve put a lot of thought into it, but you have to move out. You have until the end of next month.” Her face disappeared from my view on the floor as she stood to go.
My eyes squeezed shut tightly as the door closed with a soft click. One tear rolled down my cheek, dripping onto the tile floor.
How can it possibly be Friday? Last night was too busy at Freddy’s to be a Thursday, wasn’t it? After throwing up my guts and receiving my verbal eviction notice, I thought I could flop back in bed for a lazy Saturday. Wanting to wallow in my sorrows, I lay on the bed, staring at my phone. And saw that the screen said it was Friday, not Saturday, and I had fifteen minutes before I had to be at work.
“I’m never going to make it in time,” I mumbled to myself as I downed a glass of water with two headache pills. The cold water hit my empty stomach and the nausea returned. “Ugh—I’m disgusting.” I brushed my teeth ten times trying to get the taste of last night out of my mouth. I dug through piles of dirty clothes, hoping for a clean shirt. Holding up a dusty rose-colored one that wasn’t too wrinkled, I tugged it over my head. Pulling my long hair up into a high ponytail, I assessed my face in the mirror.
The circles under my hazel eyes were dark, almost as dark as my hair and even darker from yesterday’s makeup that had run all around my eyes. I scrubbed at my face with a hot washcloth. Opening the medicine cabinet behind the mirror, I grabbed a tube of concealer and mascara. Focused on my reflection, I tried to brighten my eyes and paint away the traces of the night before.
After four swipes of concealer under my eyes and three coats of mascara, I assessed the mirror. “Good, not great,” I murmured. Unable to achieve the wide-eyed—I remember crawling in bed and going to sleep last night—look, I finally sighed and gave up. “It is what it is,” I told my reflection. “Now you better get going. You don’t want to add jobless to the impressive list of titles you’ve managed to accrue in the last twenty-four hours—banned from a bar, and homeless.”
Applying a generous dose of perfume, I grabbed my bag and tripped out the door.
The five-block walk through downtown Boise was exactly what I needed to sober up. Thank goodness it was overcast this morning. If the sun had been beating down on me I probably would have had to stop and throw up in the bushes. Classy lady that I was.
I reached the pink and white awnings of the Vet and Pet Day Spa. My place of employment and Boise, Idaho’s premier pet care facility. We offered any and every service your furry friend may need. Except vacation boarding. My boss, Darlene insisted on being closed over the weekends.
“Not too bad,” I mumbled, looking up at the poufy tail of the poodle clock to see I was only twenty minutes late. In the past months I had come rolling in much later—on several occasions.
Grabbing a clean set of blue scrubs in a size medium, I ducked into the bathroom to change. For once I was glad about Darlene’s type A personality and the fact she kept the scrubs at work to be professionally cleaned.
I desperately needed to hit a laundromat. Suds ‘n Duds was my favorite. You could have a beer—or three—while your clothes tumbled around in fluffy white bubbles.
As I changed clothes, Regina’s words rang in my mind, I can’t be responsible for you anymore. Remembering the disappointed look on her face, and the fact that I had nowhere to live in six short weeks, my stomach tied up in knots.
Shoving the thought from my mind, I made my way to check in with our perfect and perky receptionist, Janice.
“You’re late, again, Georgia,” she hissed through her blindingly white teeth while clicking a long pink manicured nail against the screen of her phone. “Your first appointment is waiting for you in room one.” Shooting me a look of utter disdain, she handed me a green file marked, ‘Fluffy Barker.’
“Thanks for covering, Janice. I promise it won’t happen again,” I muttered, taking the file and hurrying away from her desk.
“Doubtful,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Janice could be kind of a pain, but she hadn’t yet ratted me out to Darlene over my many tardy arrivals.
I think she felt sorry for me—she had met Jake and was crushed when he broke it off. She had called him eye candy and perked up whenever he came in to work to see me, which I think was a total of two times. Once to borrow a twenty and the other to get my house keys.
Reaching room one, my hand rested on the doorknob. The world still a little dizzy, I took a deep breath, steadying myself. Pasting a bright Vet and Pet Spa smile on my face, I opened the door.
“Welcome, Mrs. Barker and Fluffy,” I said as brightly as I could muster. “I’m Georgia, the vet tech who will be working with you today.”
A woman with freshly done highlights and a round pregnant belly looked up at me, her eyes roving over me suspiciously. In her lap she held a white, long-haired Persian with bright blue eyes that must be Fluffy. Her arms were wound so protectively around the cat I couldn’t help but wonder if she was going to be one of those moms that would let people look at her newborn, but never hold it.
Her own matching azure eyes widened at my words. “A vet tech? No offense, but I thought I was going to see a real veterinarian. Like a doctor.”
“Well, as a vet tech I have a bachelor’s degree in the program. I assure you, Boise State’s pre-veterinary medicine—”
“But pre-veterinarian means you aren’t a vet, right?”
“Um, no, not a veterinarian. A vet tech. I haven’t enrolled in that program—yet. It’s more intensive, takes up to an additional four years, there are board exams to pass. But I assure you between my own four years of college, many summer internships, and past year working for the Vet and Pet Day Spa, I am more than qualified to care for Fluffy here. May I hold her? Such beautiful fur.” I moved in closer, hoping to earn her trust.
As I neared, her perfect nose abruptly scrunched up in distaste. With a look of disgust, she turned her head away from me, muttering, “I want to talk to the owner.”
My face burned from the shock of her obvious revulsion to me. Willing the blush to leave my cheeks, I smiled tightly. “Of course. I’ll get Darlene right away.”
Giving me a dismissive grimace, she turned her attention to Fluffy, cooing at and petting her cat.
I hurried from the room, forgetting to close the door. I bumped into Darlene in the hall as she was on her way into surgery for Dolly—a Dalmatian who had swallowed a sock. I whispered, “A high maintenance in room one for you. Can you settle her down before you go in there with Dolly?”
“Let me guess, the whole ‘a vet tech is not a real vet’ song and dance?” Darlene asked, her words muffled by the medical mask she wore in preparation for the surgery.
Pulling down her mask, she said, “I’m on it.” Darlene left me, moving down the hall toward Fluffy.
I leaned against the wall, catching my breath and trying to calm my nerves, my head still sore. I could overhear Darlene as she chatted with Mrs. Barker.
Entering the exam room, Darlene said, “Hello, Mrs. Barker, love the last name. You must be a real fan of dogs.”
“I’m actually more of a cat person. In fact, I adore cats, especially my Fluffy here, which is why I insist on receiving the very best of care for her. She is a Persian after all.”
“I assure you, Mrs. Barker, Georgia may not have completed the program to become a certified veterinarian, but her combined degree and years of experience make her more than qualified—”
Darlene’s vouching for me was cut short by Mrs. Barker’s nasal tone.
“Look—it’s probably just my crazy pregnancy nose, but your employee reeks of booze. I’m sorry but it’s making me nauseous. Could I get someone else in here to help me with Fluffy? It’s just such a small room and I’m so sensitive to smells right now. I’m already struggling through the stinky dog funk in here. I really can’t handle getting a constant whiff of last night’s binge drinking too.”
My face burned hotter than the time Regina and I had laid out all day slathered in coconut oil instead of sunscreen and had ended up like lobsters on the beach.
“Yes, right away, ma’am. I’m so sorry about this,” I heard Darlene say. The hall was quiet with the exceptions of the click of the exam room doorknob shutting and the soft thud of my boss’ clogs heading out of the exam room.
I turned toward Darlene but the look on her face told me what she was going to say before she said it. My stomach was a ball of ice. Blood was rushing to my face. The headache medicine I had taken that morning seemed to wear off all at once and there was a dull thudding between my temples as she said the words I’d been dreading the past six months when I knew my work habits had fallen to below subpar.
She took one long sniff, then uttered the dreaded words, “You’re fired.”
Twenty minutes later, Ted found me crying in the breakroom. Janice must have gotten a hold of him to come and take me away from Vet and Pet for good. She wasn’t going to miss me.
Handing me a tissue from the patterned box on the counter, he said, “Chin up, G.”
Wiping at the tears, hoping to salvage the three layers of mascara I had put on, I sniffled. “Did Janice tell you what happened?” I blew my nose in a long embarrassing honk, not even caring—I couldn’t possibly be more embarrassed than I already was.
He gave me a smile, but his nose wrinkled the same as Mrs. Barker’s had. “Yes. She figured since you and I get lunch together almost every single day that I wouldn’t mind coming a bit early to—her words, not mine—escort you off the premises. Luckily, I call here so much my number was stored in the front desk’s caller ID. Whew, you do reek. How much did you have to drink last night?”
I moaned, “Want to know the sad truth? I don’t even remember.”
Wrapping his arm around my shoulders, he said, “I’m worried about you. You just haven’t been the same since… Jake left. You go out every night. Sometimes when we go to lunch you look like you slept in your clothes. And you seem so sad. You’ve got to get over Jake and get your life together.”
“But Jake was my life!” I wailed, a fresh flow of tears starting. “We were together four years. Four years! The only guy I ever dated! All those wasted years in college, then moving to the city with Regina, to be closer to him after graduation—”
“What about me? After all we’ve been through together,” he said, elbowing me with a grin.
“Of course, Ted. To be closer to you too. It’s just that I invested so much into that relationship, and for what? And the night he broke up with me, I thought he was going to propose. Can you believe that? What an idiot I was. I bought a dress, had my hair done. It was so humiliating. I mean, who takes a girl to out to eat to break up with her. And to Georgia’s—the fanciest restaurant in town, my favorite—no less. It was humiliating.”
“I know. It is a sad story… no matter how many times you tell it, G. I practically have it memorized at this point. You do remember the dude was on my baseball team and I introduced you?” he asked.
“You’re just so easy to talk to. It’s your own fault you keep having to hear about it.”
He laughed. “I’ll always be there for you, G. Repeated sob stories and all.”
“You’ve been by my side for pretty much my whole life. And after my parents…” we communicated our shared experience of ‘that time’ with a single glance, “you were there for me like no other. And been like a big brother ever since. I’m sorry about the last few months.”
“Seriously, G, it’s time to move on from Jake. And stop drowning your sorrows in liquor. This drinking habit of yours is dangerous, gross, and not to mention… expensive.”
I groaned. “Don’t remind me. One too many times I’ve ordered the entire bar a round. With so little spending money, I haven’t gotten to buy a single item from this year’s Rag & Bone denim collection—I drank all my denim money away. And did I tell you the best part about where all this drinking has gotten me? Gina kicked me out this morning.”
Ted gave a low whistle. “Regina kicked you out? That’s serious. She’s a patient lady. Why’d she kick you out?”
“Oh, she got tired of Freddy calling her to come and pick me up from his bar, pitch black drunk. I’m too embarrassed to even ask her how she managed to get me into the house.”
Ted’s voice filled with concern. “I didn’t know the drinking had gotten this bad. No offense, but you let this breakup totally destroy your life.”
“I know!” I whined. “Now, I’m homeless, jobless, and the place I go to drown my sorrows had even kicked me out for good. Freddy told Gina I’m not welcome at the Tavern anymore.”
“Um… I think that might be a good thing. Freddy did you a favor.”
“What am I going to do, Ted? I have to be out of Gina’s by the end of next month, my bank account balance is a three-digit number, and I’m not even a real vet according to Pregnant Pammy. I’m—” I wrinkled up my nose and did my best imitation of Mrs. Barker, “—just a homeless, unemployed vet tech.”
There was no smile on Ted’s face as he looked me over, but at least there was no disgust either. Just pure honest sympathy for me. His pathetic friend Georgia who had let a boy destroy her life.
“I had no idea you were this far gone, G. I’m so sorry. I mean—I knew the breakup was hard on you and all, but I’ve been so busy with Kaley I feel like you flew under my radar and I wasn’t aware of how bad it was. And I feel guilty—I was the one who introduced you to Jake in the first place.”
“It’s not your fault, Ted. I’d been begging you to introduce me to him after going to your baseball games. And I know I shouldn’t be relying on you anymore. You and Kaley have your own lives to live.”
Putting his arm around me, Ted said, “Kaley loves you and knows you’re like a little sister to me. We’d do anything to help you. Why don’t you move in with us?”
I shook my head. “No way. Not after all you’ve done for me. I am not going to cramp you and your fiancée’s relationship any more than I already have.” I couldn’t add that spending time with two people who were so in love only made me more heartsick.
Despite himself, Ted looked relieved that I hadn’t taken him up on the offer to move in. “I might have something for you.”
“What do you mean?” I doubted there was anything Ted could do to move my life up a peg from the bottom of the barrel where I was now residing.
“Do you remember when I told you my dad’s side of the family is cowboys? Like, real ones?”
“Vaguely,” I shrugged.
“My dad’s brother, Uncle Ray passed away seven years ago, but he has four sons. The oldest son runs a cattle ranch slash vacation getaway slash destination wedding place near Little Peak, Wyoming. It’s practically in the Grand Teton National Forest, about an eight-hour drive from here—a real out in the middle of nowhere place. The nearest city is an hour away. It’s so remote that almost all his employees live there, on the ranch.”
“Sounds like a wonderful place to shoot a murder mystery.”
Ted laughed. “It is isolated, I’ll give you that, but it’s also gorgeous. They do weddings, getaway packages, horseback riding lessons. Vacationers can fish, hike, canoe, boat, take tours of Jackson Hole. There’s a working cattle ranch up and there’s an onsite restaurant called the Mess Hall. His grandma cooks all the food—everyone calls her Memaw, and her home cooking is the best I’ve had. I don’t get to see them too often since the ranch is so far from Boise, but I try to call and check in about once a month. Last I talked to Brody, he mentioned he was looking for a good tech for the livestock, but I hadn’t thought of you until now.”
“Because you wouldn’t have taken it. Ranch life isn’t exactly your thing, you know. But now, you seem desperate and considering your current life circumstances, I feel like you might be more willing to make some concessions.”
“What do you mean, not my thing? I’m tough,” I protested weakly.
“Well, first off, the nearest bar is fifty miles away.” He flashed me a teasing grin.
“I don’t know, nature, fresh air… exercise? Have you even ever stepped foot in a national park? I know people who aren’t from here think Boise is a Podunk little city, but two hundred thousand people is a lot more than the seven hundred year-round inhabitants of Little Peak. There is no mall. You would certainly have to give up your overpriced celebrity denim fetish—”
“Shut up, Ted,” I said, playfully punching him in the arm. He was the only one who could put a smile on my face at a time like this.
“Alright, alright,” he said, laughing. “But there are some things—other than the wilderness and isolation—that may be harder for you to swallow. My cousin… how should I put this… he’s kind of hardcore straightedge. And he doesn’t put up with any crap on his ranch.”
“Straightedge, like he’s a punk? I had a couple of friends like that in high school. No alcohol, no caffeine, I think they may have even been vegan. Does he have like a Mohawk and everything?”
Ted laughed. “Punk? No. Far from it. And as for vegan—no way—he’s a cattle rancher after all. Straightedge as in he doesn’t drink, smoke, do any substances, nothing like that. The strongest drug he partakes in is my aunt’s sweet tea. And he won’t allow any substances on his property. He says he thrives on clean living and sunshine, and his employees have to abide by it too.”
“I respect that,” I said, nodding my head as I planned ways I could sneak vodka into emptied water bottles.
“And another thing, Georgia. The men on the ranch have a bunkhouse, and the woman have a separate one. They are on opposite ends of the ranch. When I brought Kaley there to visit, even though we were already engaged, Brody made us stay in different buildings. No coed sleepovers.”
“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem for me. I’ve been running a little dry on the man front lately.” I gave a halfhearted laugh. The truth was, I would never, ever love another man like I loved Jake. I just knew it. Sneaking strange men into the bunk was not going to be an issue.
“One more thing, Georgia, and this might be a deal breaker for you, but keep an open mind. My cousin, he’s kind of religious. If you take the job, you’d have to go to church on Sunday.”
“He requires his employees to attend church? Is that even legal?”
“I have no idea. But he’s one of those ‘what I say goes’ kind of guys and no one really questions him too much.”
I pictured Ted’s cousin as a short little severe man wearing a shirt buttoned up to his chin and a mustache. Or maybe dressed like an Amish farmer with a wide-brimmed hat and full facial hair. Or just old and crotchety. “So, what’s this straightedge, clean-living, religious nut cousin of yours named, anyway?”
“Brody. But most people call him Boss Man.”
“Brody.” I mulled over the name. It didn’t go with my stuffy, elderly mental picture of Ted’s clean-living cousin. “And are there any other ‘one more thing’s’ I ought to know about this crazy cousin of yours?”
I choked on my laughter as Ted’s face changed. A crimson blush had risen to his cheeks. Rubbing his forehead worriedly with his hand, he spoke softly. “You’re really not going to like this next part, G.” His green eyes locked on mine.
Goosebumps covered my arms. “What?”
Ted looked down at the table, no longer willing to hold my gaze.
“Spit it out, Ted. I’m sure I can handle it.”
“It’s just, you’re such a feminist and your ideals—beyond buying thousand-dollar jeans, drinking enough liquor to float a ship, and avoiding churches like the plague—may not match up with Brody’s.”
“So? My ideals don’t… didn’t,” I corrected myself, remembering I was no longer employed, “always match up with Darlene’s but she’s the boss and I’m the employee. Until this last crazy bender with me showing up breathing fumes, I was a good tech—” my voice cracked, tears burning the backs of my eyes, “—now, I’m just a fired drunk.”
A tear escaped, rolling down my cheek.
Ted brushed it away. “You just made a mistake. That’s all. A broken-hearted, tequila-infused mistake. Life will continue and ranch or no ranch, you’ll find another job.” Ted reached across the table, patting my hand with his. “You’re going to be okay, G.”
Sniffling, I said, “You see how pathetic I am. I don’t have a lot of options right now. What are you trying to tell me? Your cousin is old-fashioned?”
With a snort and an eye roll, Ted barked, “Old-fashioned? I guess you could say that. Some might prefer to use the term archaic.” Ted took a deep sigh. When his eyes met mine, his blush reddened to crimson. “Some of the men in my family, myself excluded of course, believe that the man should be in charge in the relationship.”
“I can handle that. It’s not like I’m going to be dating him. What he does in his personal life shouldn’t affect the job.”
“Brody is… very headstrong. He may say or do some things that make you… uncomfortable.”
My brow crumpled in frustration. Why wouldn’t Ted just come out with it already? What was it about this man that had Ted scared I would be hightailing it out of that ranch without any notice? “Uncomfortable how?”
Throwing his elbows onto the break table, Ted buried his face in his hands as he murmured something unintelligible.
My curiosity piqued, I had to know what had him so embarrassed. Lifting a hand away from his face, I demanded, “What did you say?”
Ted groaned but saw I had him trapped. His face crumpled in a grimace. I could tell whatever it was, it made Ted incredibly uncomfortable to talk about it.
“I said—Brody is a spanking man.”
Silence filled the breakroom. The hum of the vending machine was, all of a sudden, very loud.
“You mean, ‘a spanking man,’ as in he’s, like, spanking clean, squeaky clean? Something like that?”
Those green eyes locked on mine once again. “I mean, spanking man as in—he spanks women.”
A heat rushed through me. As Ted’s words processed in my brain, to my shock—and dismay—there was a dampening in my panties. A feeling of heaviness swelled in my core. Cheeks burning, my eyes dropped to the tabletop, my breath caught in my throat.
A spanking man. How had three little words affected me so deeply, so intensely? Could Ted read my face? Sense the desire emitting from my body? Get yourself under control, Georgia. Breathe.
Taking a huge gulp of air, words rushed from me. I knew I was speaking too fast to play it cool, but I couldn’t slow down. “Spanks women? That’s crazy. How 1950s desperate housewife. What kind of egomaniac spanks a grown ass woman? Who made him the boss anyway?”
“He did, G. He is the boss. Boss man, in fact.” A smirk rested on Ted’s face. I hoped that smirk didn’t mean Ted had read right through my feminist rant. Right down to my core where I was melting into a puddle ever since he declared his cousin was a ‘spanking man.’
“He can’t spank his employees. That’s illegal.”
“He doesn’t. Just threatens them, I think. That part of the story is all rumor-based. But I do know for sure that he does spank his girlfriends.”
Finally, my feminist roots woke up—I still couldn’t believe my body had betrayed me with its horny reaction. “A, if it’s an employee that would be sexual harassment and lead to a substantial lawsuit. And B, who on earth would date him? What woman would subject herself to such a demeaning lifestyle?”
Leaning back, Ted stretched his long arms behind him. Scratching the back of his head, he shrugged apologetically. “I’m just the messenger, G. And I’m his cousin, not his keeper. I can’t tell you why he does what he does. Or how his girlfriends put up with it. Though I’m sure the fact that he hit six feet by the ninth grade—and is the spitting image of Luke Bryan—might have something to do with it.” Ted leaned in, lowering his voice even though it was just the two of us in the breakroom. “I will tell you this,” he whispered conspiratorially. “It runs in the family. Brody is the oldest of my cousins—there are four brothers in total. Travis, Hayes, and the youngest one, Colton.”
“Oh, my gosh, all cowboy’s names. All spanking men, huh?”
“Yes. That side of the family is very involved in ranching, or horse riding or some crazy Wild West activity. And they are ‘men’s men.’ Very into camping, fishing, rugged outdoor activities—”
“And spanking their girlfriends?”
“Um… yes. They tried to explain it to me in the past. But the bottom line is—no pun intended—the spanking comes with other traits in the relationship. These men are incredibly devoted to their woman. Protective, possessive, and treat the ladies in their lives like queens.”
“Except when they misbehave.”
I groaned, rolling my eyes back into my head. “Tell me you’re joking. This conversation can’t be real.” But why did I feel a ray of hope welling up inside that it was real? That there were men like Ted had described out there in the world? Me and my pulsing pussy were currently betraying my entire gender.
“Look, G. That’s all I want to say on the subject. But I didn’t want to tell you about Brody and not be up front about his lifestyle. The fact is, he’s a real stand-up guy, and you’d be a good fit for the work on the ranch. And maybe a fresh start after Jake is exactly what you need. Do you want me to ask him if the job is still available or not?”
My stomach sank as I realized the gravity of my situation. If I took the job on the ranch, I’d be leaving my city and all my friends behind. And be working for a man who threw women over his knee for a good sound spanking when they were naughty—I was infuriated with myself that the idea didn’t anger me as it should.
But what was the alternative? Right now, I had no plan.
Sighing, I confessed, “I don’t have a choice at this point, do I, Ted?”
He gave a sad shake of his head. “No, you don’t, Georgia. Tell you what, go home and think about it. I’ll call Brody and see if the position is still available. You have my number if you want to hear the answer. But if you take it, you have to make me a promise.”
“You can’t back out. Brody is tough as nails, but he’s a good guy and he’s family. He requires a one-year commitment. I don’t want to recommend a friend for the job, just to have them let him down. You are the best at what you do, Georgia. You just need a fresh start.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it. Thanks, Ted.”
“Sure. Anytime. You’re going to get through this, Georgia. And come out stronger on the other side. I just know it.”
“What’s the name of Brody’s ranch? So, I can look it up on the web, get some more information to think things over with.”
A smile tugged at Ted’s lips, like he didn’t want to tell me what his cousin’s ranch was called.
“What is it? Come on, Ted. You want me to work there but you won’t tell me the name of the place?”
“Okay, okay. It’s CLAS, with one ‘s’ and it stands for—”
“Let me guess. Chicks Loving Ass Spankers?”
When Ted had recovered from his laughter, he said, “No. But that was a good one. Clean Living and Sunshine.”
“Ugh,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Serves me right that I screw up my life so badly the only option I have is to move off to someplace in the middle of nowhere without a drop of alcohol in sight and—no offense—a crazy religious, bossy, straightedge sadist running the show.”
“I guess you could say the punishment fits the crime,” Ted said, rising from his chair with a wink. “Let’s get you home. Get some shut-eye. I’ll give Brody a call. Put in a good word for you, and double check to be sure he hasn’t found someone yet. Think about it. Let me know.”
“I will, Ted. And… thanks for being a good friend to me.” Stupid tears pooled in my eyes, threatening to spill down my cheeks.
Pushing his chair behind him, Ted held out his arms to me. “Of course. Come here, G.” I rushed into the arms of my best guy friend, laying my head on his chest. “You’re going to be okay, ladybug. I promise.”
“Things really can only look up from here, right?”
“Right. That’s the spirit.” Ted gave me a final squeeze. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll take you home.”
Together, we headed out of the breakroom.
Darlene stopped us on the way out, grabbing my arm. “Hang on, Georgia.”
“I’ll go pull up the car,” Ted said flashing me a reassuring smile as he left me with Darlene.
A sick feeling hit me in the stomach. “I’m sorry I let you down, Darlene.”
“I’m sorry things had to end this way, Georgia. But you know I couldn’t keep you on after the way you showed up here this morning. I’m going to miss you. And not just because you’re the best vet assistant I’ve ever had.”
“I’m sorry.” I had no other words.
“That ex-boyfriend really had a hold on you, didn’t he?”
I gave a small nod, wiping a tear from my eyes.
“Take care of yourself, kid. Get your life cleaned up. Come back and see me in six months. We’ll talk.”
“No promises, but yes. Maybe by then Mrs. Fluffy Barker will be calmed down,” Darlene said with a roll of her eyes.
“Thanks, Darlene. For everything.”
“You got it, kid.”
With that, I turned my back on my ex-boss, and left the Vet and Pet Spa.