It could’ve happened that way.
But it hadn’t.
He’d gotten off. She’d gotten off. It wasn’t bad sex; it just wasn’t great sex.
Afterward, she laid beside him, feeling like she used to before, during, and after sex—awkward. Anxious. Self-conscious.
Then his hot body had spooned behind hers, because he’d sensed her retreat and he hadn’t allowed it. “So while that was fun, what the hell has gotten into you, Ainsley?”
“I came here to prove I can seduce you. We can have sex anytime we want without all the kinky accoutrements.”
“And I realized I couldn’t have seduced you if you hadn’t let me.”
He’d laughed. “You accept that I’m a Dom, but you’re still fighting the idea you’re submissive.”
A statement. “Maybe. When I’m with you, when we’re in the moment, I don’t think about anything but how you make me feel or how much my surrender pleases you. But when I’m by myself, or at work, those feelings of…wrongness pop up. Like there’s something wrong with me for loving when you dominate me. There’s something wrong with me for liking that you use cuffs, ropes and handcuffs on me. There’s something wrong with me for wanting to get my butt paddled or to feel the flogger on my skin or the riding crop connecting with my flesh. I wonder why I can’t be satisfied with—”
“Vanilla sex?” he supplied.
“Yes. Then when we have vanilla sex…it’s not as satisfying and I wonder why I want to give up fantastic sex because what we do behind closed bedroom doors isn’t the norm.”
“It’s a vicious circle, angel.”
Then he’d just held her. Stroked her. Let her wrestle with her thoughts, until she’d asked, “Does the level of kink increase the longer a Dom/sub are together?”
“I wouldn’t know.” He’d placed a soft kiss behind her ear. “You’re the first woman who’s tempted me to find out.”
That’s when she’d squirmed away and reminded him she’d only signed on for a month.
That’s when he’d grabbed her, pinned her, tied her up and fucked her twice, reminding her that the month wasn’t up yet.
It hit her then. Ben had been telling her before the loan fiasco, before her disastrous plan to force him into just accepting her friendship, before walking away from the club…that he’d wanted more with her.
And she wanted more with him. She wanted it all.
After all he’d shown her, after all he’d been to her, and now proving—in his typical Dom way—what he wanted to be to her, did she really think she could let him go?
She gathered her things and left the bank early.
Ben’s truck wasn’t in his driveway.
And where were his pesky dogs?
Maybe his truck was in the shop and he’d let the dogs in his haven since it was so cold outside. She shivered as snowflakes whirled around her head and she sought shelter in his woodshop.
Although he’d gotten pissy the one time she’d violated his woodworking sanctuary, she hoped he’d forgive her today.
But what if her making the first move wasn’t enough?
Shoving aside her doubts, Ainsley marched through the door. “Ben? Are you in here? We need to talk.”
She flipped on the lights. No sign of him. She knew he hadn’t been in recently because the woodstove was cold. So Ainsley snooped. Animal skins of different colors and textures hung on the wall. Three barrels filled with a smelly solution lined the back wall and she vaguely remembered him talking about the process of tanning hides.
In the main room, various pieces of finished furniture were lined up, ready for assembly. She ran her hands into the grooves his hands had created. The man was amazingly talented. No wonder she’d believed his loan request; he could easily turn his hobby into a fulltime business, despite his claims of just being a simple rancher.
Several hand-carved pieces were spread on the long workbench that looked like toppers for bedposts and chairs. A few wooden sculptures were in different phases of completion. She recognized a small bird, a thick stem of a flower. Another funky cat. She let her fingers trace the jagged edges, not bothering to hold back her tears when she saw three shelves full of finished pieces. All these beautiful works of art were just lying around, gathering dust, not out in view where they could be admired. Cherished. He’d hidden this part of himself from his family too. Was there anyone who knew all sides of Bennett McKay?
That’s when every doubt vanished. When Ainsley understood she’d do whatever it took to have Ben in her life. To make him understand that she appreciated and celebrated everything about him. Everything he was.
When she exited the building she noticed another car had parked in the drive. Pulling her coat more securely against the Wyoming wind, she hustled toward the house. She looked up when the front door slammed.
Rielle stared back at her. “Ainsley.”
“Ben’s not around.”
“So I gathered.” She glanced at the keys dangling from Rielle’s hand. “What are you doing here?”
“Bein’ neighborly.” Rielle smirked. “Oh, it gets your panties in a twist that I have a key to his house and you don’t, doesn’t it?”
Ainsley bit back a retort.
“I see the venom in your eyes. So why don’t you ask me if there’s anything going on between me and Ben.”
“Fine. What the hell is going on between you and Ben?”
“Not a damn thing.” Rielle paused. “Because the man is in love with you.”
Ainsley couldn’t breathe.
“I see you’re surprised to hear that.”
“You’re both idiots,” Rielle muttered. “That makes me marginally less pissed off at you.”
“Why would you be pissed off at me? Because you’ve had your eye on him?”
Rielle rolled her eyes. “Are you kidding me? Ben is a great guy but I’ve never had any interest in him.”
“Still not understanding why you would be mad at me.”
“Because I knew you two were sneaking around. I recognized something was going on between you two the first day at the bank. I watched you two having lunch at Fields. Ben couldn’t take his eyes off you. When he held your hand? And you shook him off when I approached? I figured you didn’t want the Sundance townsfolk to know the new bank president was getting down and dirty with a local rancher. So yeah, I blamed you.”
“Our reasons for keeping our relationship quiet are private. And since you don’t know me, maybe I understand why you’d jump to the worst conclusion first. But you are wrong.”
“Ben is a very private guy. He rarely has female overnight guests. So the fact you were here all the damn time?” Rielle shook her head, sending her baby-fine blonde hair flying against the bitterly cold wind. “I knew it wasn’t casual. And I like Ben. He’s a good guy. I don’t want to see him get hurt. He deserves a woman who isn’t embarrassed to be seen with him.”
“Well, I am that woman.” Ainsley didn’t need to prove it to Rielle; she needed to prove it to Ben.
They measured one another.
“So where is he?”
Rielle’s eyes narrowed. “Why don’t you know where he is?”
“Because Ben and I had a…fight and I haven’t talked to him since last week.”
“You’re here to kiss and make up?”
Snoopy thing, aren’t you Mrs. Kravitz?
Rielle laughed. “Mrs. Kravitz? Did you really just compare me to the nosy, annoying neighbor from Bewitched?”
Ainsley notched her chin higher, because she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Yes.”
“Seeing how protective you are of Ben might make me change my mind about you.”
Oh, goodie. That’s what she needed. Rielle’s approval.
“The McKays are taking cattle to market. He’s supposed to be home Friday night.”
So much for getting this all straightened out today.
“Did your fight with Ben have anything to do with the land issues coming to a head?”
“Land issues?” Ainsley repeated.
“Him and his cousins made a fair play for my land by offering to catch up my payments at Settler’s First. I appreciated Ben’s offer. But Gavin’s was better.”
Ainsley squinted at her. “Wait a second. I’m confused.”
Rielle explained and Ainsley felt guiltier and guiltier. Ben been dealing with such a shit storm in his life the last night they’d seen each other and she hadn’t noticed. She’d just added to it.
“But it was the best way for me to save face, keep out of bankruptcy and not be beholden to a McKay.”
Her gaze snapped up. Had she said that to Ben? Impugned his family name? “You are talking about Ben’s brother Gavin, right?”
“Yes. But he isn’t anything like the rest of them.”
“Didn’t your decision cause problems between you and Ben?”
She tossed her head. “Yes, Ben is pissy with me. Which is why I came over and checked on his place. It’s a neighborly thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Ainsley wasn’t about to back down. “I understand perfectly. You’re expecting the betrayal of your friendship with him will just go away if you show up with a pan of homemade muffins? Wrong.” She held her hand out. “Give me the damn key.”
“Right now.” Surprisingly, Rielle slapped it in her hand. Then Ainsley got in her face. “Go home. Your relationship with Ben will never be the same.”
“Because of you? Now that you’re in the picture you’re warning me off?”
“I’m telling you that I know Ben on a level you never will. You were his friend. And now you’re just another person in a long line of people who have used and hurt him. Well, guess what, Rielle? I’ll never be that person. Ever. And yes, I plan on being in the picture for a long, damn time. So get used to it.”