Peering through his binoculars from across the lake, he adjusted the focus and the two blurry images blended into one cohesive picture. The object of his search. The unknowing catalyst and focus of his plan. The woman whose life he was about to change.
The early morning light filtering through the trees gave him a perfect view of his quarry. Mid-thirties, long brown curls tied into a messy ponytail, a thin frame that accentuated her height and the curve of her hips. Striking in a natural, girl-next-door kind of way. He’d observed her before and had done his research, still astounded at how much he was able to find out via the internet. He knew that behind her intelligent, bookish, brown-eyed gaze ran a deep vein of humor and warmth. Without any family or significant other to speak of, she was the proverbial introvert and kept to herself unless it couldn’t be avoided. According to various author sites and social networks—when she bothered to chime in—she enjoyed reading, roaring fires, and bacon. She loathed exercise, small talk, and clowns. Although they’d never spoken and he’d never attempted to reach out to her, he felt like he already knew her. Especially when it came down to what really mattered.
At this time of year—spring had only just arrived and there was still a noticeable chill in the air—she was the only person staying at the campgrounds. It was her annual pilgrimage and he could almost set his watch by her. Each year, she came to these woods to recharge her creative batteries, escape the cacophony of modern life, and conceive new plotlines for her subversive, sexy brand of fiction. He’d been an ardent fan of her dominant/submissive erotica since Amy had introduced him to her work so many years ago. But for the past few years, and her subsequent book releases, it had become clear to him that Kit’s steam had run out. Her characters bordered on insipid, her dialogue inane, and the sexual charge that used to flow from her pages had all but evaporated. With her career slumping and his ability to devote all his time and energy to whatever pursuits he deemed noble, he’d hatched his plan.
He had a suspicion about what her trouble might be and knew it was time to intervene. This was the precarious first step of his project and he could taste the metallic tang of adrenaline in the back of his throat, reminding him of his combat days. With eagle-eyed precision, he watched as she got her rustic campsite up and running. Pitching her tent. Unrolling her sleeping bag. Starting a fire. Tying up her provisions and tugging them into the treetops to dissuade any curious bears. Putting her beat-to-hell kettle of coffee on the fire. It wasn’t the first time he’d surveilled her, but he was always amazed at how her routine never varied. And it was precisely this routine that would make it so easy to snatch her up and indoctrinate her in his own special brand of creative inspiration.
Yes, indeed. Kit Alexander was about to get the wake-up call of a lifetime. And he was just the man to deliver it.
Okay, majesty of the forest, inspire me!
Fill my senses!
Restore my spirit!
Rescue my frickin’ career!
Resting in her camp chair by the fireside, Kit threw out a prayer to the inspiration gods in the hopes that they were listening. She’d been coming to these woods—to the exact same campsite—for years now. At first, it was her attempt to ‘get off the grid’ and reconnect with her craft on a more primitive, fundamental level, and her self-imposed exile had netted her a collection of bestsellers along with accolades galore from respected authors and critics. But for the past few years, despite adhering to the same formula of quiet reflection, Kit couldn’t seem to get the spark back. Her publishing house knew it. Her readers knew it. Her critics knew it. But most important, she knew it. And she didn’t know how to fix it.
She fully recognized that she was an inherently solitary creature and that her annual excursion was a way for her to be alone in the woods as opposed to being alone in her condo. But she also thought that perhaps her stifled creativity was her psyche’s way of encouraging her to branch out a bit, to go beyond her comfort zone, to invite somebody in. But having struck out countless times in the love department, she didn’t know if she could give it another go. She’d spent years with thoughtful, sensitive men—all kind and caring—yet completely incapable of unleashing her sexuality beyond boring vanilla. And unfortunately, the one time she’d found somebody sexually off-center—someone who seemed like he might be into some of the kinkiness that swirled around the deepest recesses of her soul—he’d turned out to be a mooching creep, more interested in punishing her bank account than in disciplining her.
Maybe I’m just better off leaving the fantasies on paper, she mused in a half-hearted attempt to convince herself of something she’d never be able to believe. The guilt of self-delusion and hidden truths niggled at the corners of her lightning-quick brain. Shaking her head and sighing, she poured herself a cup of strong percolated coffee into her favorite tin mug, taking a moment to survey her surroundings as she shook the chill from her bones and cleared the negativity from her mind. With her lanky frame, Kit didn’t have much extra padding to keep her warm in the forest shadows, so she depended on her multiple layers of flannel and denim for comfort. She scooted her chair a little closer to the fire and cradled the mug in her hands, taking a sip to brace herself against winter’s lingering nippiness.
And that’s when she saw him. Or, more precisely, she heard him. About fifty feet away, traipsing through the woods with a gigantic backpack, a man approached the campsite adjacent to hers. Never in all her years of coming to this spot had she encountered another soul. She wasn’t sure how to feel about the intruder, but her instincts registered mild irritation. Her escape to the woods was in pursuit of complete and total solitude. A man, no matter how succulent he might be—and even at a distance, this one looked positively mouth-watering—was going to be a distraction.
Watching as he sauntered through the woods, each step strong, precise, and calculated, Kit knew that this was a man at ease in nature. At ease with himself. She found herself hypnotized by the stranger. He appeared to be in his mid-forties with short russet hair and a full, trimmed beard to match. As he was clad in black utility pants and a dark gray thick knit sweater, it was difficult to gauge the specifics of his build, but she didn’t need x-ray vision to get a handle on the situation. He was, quite plainly, a true specimen of man, taller than her 5′8″ frame, and substantially thicker too. Though reserved and shy by nature, Kit’s imagination had already conjured up a half-dozen scenarios in which Mr. Hottie McRugged would take her novel’s heroine over his knee and give her the spanking she was spoiling for, begging him to stop while secretly hoping for more. As she felt her nipples stir to hardened peaks in her lacy bra, she conceded that sometimes her overactive writer’s imagination wasn’t such a bad thing.
It wasn’t until her hand had slipped down to the crotch of her jeans that she realized he was staring back at her. Nearly tumbling backward out of her camp chair and splashing coffee across her denim-clad thighs, she did her best to pretend that she hadn’t been staring in the first place. And that she hadn’t been on the verge of pleasuring herself. But Mr. McRugged, never diverting his gaze, wouldn’t let her off the hook. He crossed through the dense brush separating their campsites and walked right up to her, filling the entire space with his gigantic, commanding presence. Kit quickly realized he was even larger up close, although strangely, she didn’t feel scared or even intimidated by him.
With a big smile and an even bigger warm hand extended her way, he introduced himself. “Sorry if I startled you. I’m Vaughn. Thought I’d have the place to myself this time of year, but I guess some company would be all right, yeah?” His rich, velvety voice matched his stature perfectly, and Kit thanked the inspiration gods she had prayed to for sending Vaughn her way.
She shook his hand, noting the slightly rough calluses built up on his palm, and returned his greeting. “Hi there. I’m Katherine, but, um, everyone calls me Kit.” She quickly cleared her throat before continuing, “And, uh, yeah, I thought I’d be alone too—I usually am—but here we are. Stuck together, huh?” Cursing her awkwardness, she returned his smile and invited him to take a seat on the log across the fire from her. There was something about him that put her at ease—maybe it was his smile or the way that he didn’t crowd her with his size—and she let down her guard almost immediately.
“So, forgive me for intruding,” he shrugged sheepishly, running his fingers along his bearded jaw. “I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve got the makings for s’mores over there. I haven’t had one in years and they’re my favorite. Think I could convince you to break the rules and have dessert for breakfast?” His playful wink melted her heart. “Oh, and I’ve got some granola bars back in my pack, if you wanna trade.”
His smile was so endearing—his eyes crinkled at the corners and his entire face lit up—that any initial irritation she’d felt at his intrusion had been scattered to the wind. “Of course we can have some s’mores! And you don’t need to trade me for them either.”
“Ah, Kit, I insist.” He smiled, holding up his hand to gently halt her protest. “After all, courtesy isn’t completely dead yet, is it? I’ll be right back.” He popped up from the log and made his way back toward his campsite, with Kit surreptitiously checking out his firm backside and confident gait the entire way. She watched as he riffled through his pack, pulled out a couple of bars and a few other items from a side pouch, and pocketed them all before rejoining her by the fire.
While she got the marshmallows and graham crackers ready, Vaughn dropped back into the woods, presumably in search of a couple of roasting sticks. “Hey! What’s taking you so long?” she teased him, yelling over her shoulder as she stoked the fire and added a log. “Don’t make me start without you!”
She never saw him coming. One minute she was lining up a small campfire buffet, the next he had her wrapped in his left arm, with his hand secured tightly around her throat. The last thing she heard—right before he slammed the needle into her arm and pushed the plunger on the syringe—was his voice, breathing into the shell of her ear. “Shh, Kit. Everything’s gonna be okay. I’ve got you now.”
Kit didn’t know whether to panic or to be comforted by his words, although she didn’t have much opportunity for cogent thought. A sickly churning flooded her head and, for a fleeting moment, she made an attempt to stay alert, to keep her wits about her. But her efforts were in vain. Within seconds, she had passed out in his arms.
As it turned out, the inspiration gods had indeed answered her prayers. Just not in the way she’d expected.
After hiding her car in the woods, clearing up her campsite, and getting her back to his secluded cabin about an hour away from the campgrounds, Vaughn set up his unconscious ward in what was to be her new home for the foreseeable future. He tossed her over his shoulder—she barely weighed anything—and carried her into the house, gently laying her down on the queen bed in the main living area. Removing her multiple layers of clothing, he left her in her matching bra and panty set. Probably not the best choice for a camping trip, Kit, he mentally chided her. It was sheer purple lace that gave him a generous peek at her tiny pink nipples and her dark, trimmed pubic hair. When she came to, he wanted her to feel exposed and vulnerable, but not entirely naked. It was part of the dynamic he needed to establish with her from the very beginning.
Covering her with a thick fleece blanket so she wouldn’t get cold, he grabbed the leather restraints he’d left out and secured them around her wrists, ankles, and neck. Fastening them in place with tiny padlocks, he’d decided that she’d be wearing these the entire time she was with him. Yet another aspect of the dynamic he sought with her. She now belonged to him. Conversely, he was responsible for her. The restraints made this abundantly clear. Grabbing four sets of handcuffs, he attached one end to the D-rings in her wrist and ankle cuffs and latched her, spread-eagle, to the four corners of the bed. Even if she were to wake up and he were away, she’d be going nowhere.
After a quick snack—I never did get that s’more, he mused—he checked in on Kit. She was still out cold, but was starting to show signs of rousing. The sedative he’d used was a mild one and based on his medical experience and his best guess assessment of her weight, he’d estimated that she’d be out for another fifteen minutes or so. Looking down upon her—so vulnerable and so kind—his thoughts inevitably strayed to Amy. He missed her in such a profoundly visceral way that the deep ache refused to settle in his heart, opting to spread throughout his entire body, racking him with a lightning bolt of agonizing loss. She’d been gone for nearly ten years now, and although the pain was nowhere near as severe as it once was, he still felt her absence. Forcing himself to calm down and settle his slightly ragged breathing, Vaughn knew that Amy would approve of what he had planned for Kit. She always understood what drove him, what made him who he was, and how he was unable to deny his dominant nature. It was simple enough to understand for someone in his position. Kit needed what he had to offer. And she was going to accept it whether she wanted to or not.
Vaughn wasn’t sure what the day would bring, let alone the next hour, but he was quite positive that the next few months were going to be unlike anything he’d ever known before. As the piercing morning sunshine poured into the cabin, warming up the wooden structure like a timbered greenhouse, he busied himself with cooking a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs, hopeful that the smell of food would stir Kit from her drug-induced slumber. She’d been out for nearly two hours by this point and he didn’t like the idea of her sleeping for much longer. Partially, this was because the thought of giving her a sedation hangover didn’t sit well with him. But mainly, he’d been waiting so long to have her with him, he was eager to begin.
He pulled up a chair next to her, his plate full of food, and watched her sleep. Still covered by the blanket, her coloring had improved since they’d arrived and her eyes fluttered beneath her lids. She was on the verge of waking. Even with the rest of her body tucked away, the sight of the collar fastened around her slender neck was more erotic than Vaughn thought possible and he felt his cock stir.
After months of planning, he could hardly believe she was actually here. Looking down upon her, he realized that it was the first opportunity he’d given himself to study her up close. Even after all the time he’d spent studying her and preparing for this moment—for this experience—he was struck by how connected to her he already felt. She was just as kind in person as he had imagined her to be, and her natural beauty—high cheekbones, flawless silken skin, and plump pink lips—tempted him far more than he’d anticipated.
But it wasn’t just her girl-next-door appeal that had drawn him in, that had compelled him to move forward with his plan. This morning, next to the fire, he’d picked up on her scent—cool and lightly floral—and it had seeped into his pores and drawn him to her, like a tracker dog zeroing in on the object of its search. And when he’d seen her hand furtively trace along the crotch of her jeans as he’d approached, he’d known that she found him just as attractive and enticing as he found her. Yes, she was truly here. This was definitely happening. His project was officially in motion. And Vaughn couldn’t wait to see her response to the plans he had for her.
With a deep moan and a bodily twist under the blanket, Kit announced her return to sentience.
And then all hell broke loose.