Rielle didn’t utter a word. She drove off.
Ainsley would make it right with Ben, no matter what she had to do.
She called Layla on her way home. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said today. Yes. I agree.” She laughed. “Well, funny you should ask…I need a huge favor.”
Dead tired after four days of loading cattle, taking them to market, and making the drive back, all Ben wanted was a shot of whiskey, a hot shower and a solid night’s sleep.
And his soft Ainsley curled beside him.
Might as well wish for a million bucks.
Ben trudged to his front door and shoved his key in the lock. Ace and Deuce saw something by the barn and raced off. After being cooped up in the truck for the past few days, the dogs needed to lose their rowdiness before the impending blizzard restricted their antics indoors.
He knew he’d loaded enough wood in the outside stack by the backdoor to last through the storm. Absentmindedly he shucked his outerwear and piled it by the chair. He’d expected the house to be cold, so the fire burning in the woodstove shocked him. As did the stack of split logs filling the woodbin. He noticed a flash of red out of the corner of his eye and whipped his head toward the kitchen.
Ben had never understood the phrase gob smacked until he saw Ainsley perched on his kitchen counter. In the same clothes she’d worn at the club the first night he’d met her.
Then he had the overwhelming fear this was a fantasy playing out in his mind as he snoozed in the truck.
His breath stalled. His heart raced, every beat a two-part recitation of her name. Nothing existed in that blur of space known as the universe except for her.
A primal voice inside his head roared mine.
Ben erased the distance separating them. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t take the kiss he craved. He simply grabbed her by the hips and threw her over his shoulder.
She shrieked, “Oh my God, Bennett, what are you doing?”
“Hush.” He swatted her ass as he marched to his bedroom. “We’re gonna have this out right now. But since you showed up on my turf, my rules apply.”
“Your rules always apply, no matter where we are.”
“True.” He tossed her on the bed. Before she could scramble away, he pounced on her, pinning her flat to the mattress. Her arms above her head, his knees by her hips to keep her from bucking.
“I cannot believe you just dumped me on the bed—”
“Yes, you can.” He inhaled a deep breath, bringing her scent inside him, allowing it to calm him. “You’re here.” Brilliant observation. “How did you get in?”
“Rielle gave up her key. For good.”
“Why are you here?”
Ainsley tried to act put out, but she couldn’t quite pull it off. “I came to grovel, but I figured the beastly Dom would take it the wrong way if he came home and found me naked on my knees.”
Ben smiled. “You know me so well.” He watched as her eyes turned somber. “I know you too, angel. Talk to me. Start from that night when everything went to hell between us.”
“I’m sorry. I was damn near hysterical at the thought of losing my job when you came to see me.”
“You blamed me.” Not a question.
She nodded. “Made it worse when you admitted you lied to me.”
“I know, baby. I’m sorry too. I never should’ve applied for the loan through National West. It all turned to shit anyway, but I regret putting you through that. Regret putting us both through that.”
“I wanted to hurt you back. So I stupidly made a couple of horrible accusations, and I am so, so sorry.”
He’d felt like he’d been gut shot that night. Knowing he loved her and he’d probably lost her for opening up to her. For hoping she’d accept him, everything about him and having her reject him.
“Yet, you tried to make it right. You tried to tell me you attempted to fix it by withdrawing the loan request. But I was too incensed.” She swallowed hard. “Too…hurt and too busy lashing out at you to listen to what you were saying.”
“You do seem to pay better attention when you’re tied up,” he murmured.
Ainsley’s full lips curved slightly. “You like that far too much, Bennett.”
“No lie.” He grinned without shame.
“I missed that smile of yours. I missed you in the last week.”
“Did you miss Ben? Or Bennett?”
“I’ve figured out they’re one in the same. I can’t have one without the other. I don’t want one without the other.”
Hope nearly blindsided him and he fought to retain control. Ben released her arms so he could touch her. “I gathered from my mom that you didn’t get fired.”
Ainsley blinked at him. “Vi? How would she know about my job at the bank?”
“Didn’t you have lunch with her on Monday?”
“No. I was in Denver Friday night through Monday. That’s why I didn’t swing by this weekend and talk about what’d happened. The district manager got pissy after the phone call and forced me and Turton to attend a weekend seminar in Denver about interpersonal team management.”
Ben tugged Ainsley upright and took her mouth in a savage kiss. He owned each breath, each exhalation, each tongue tangling thrust. And when he thought his head might explode, he broke his lips free from hers. “That little taste isn’t enough.”
“God, woman, I’m dyin’ for you, but not until we talk this through. All of it.”
“You and that blasted talking.” She nuzzled his cheek. “Okay. But let’s talk fast. Rielle told me what happened. You should know…I had words with her.”
“What kind of words?”
“Words that made it plain I wouldn’t stand for her hurting you.” Ainsley’s fingers were gently scraping against three days worth of beard growth on his face. “I know you, Ben. Her betrayal of your friendship hurt worse than Gavin buying the land.”
This woman saw so much, she knew him so much better than he’d imagined.
“Been a rough week for you. I cut you loose. You were let down by your brother and your friend.” She paused. “And you resigned from the Rawhide Club.”
“News travels fast. Layla must’ve told you?”
“Told me? No. She confronted me, accused me, and threatened me…so it’d be redundant if I asked why you quit. But I want to know if you’re sure you want to quit?”
Ben turned his head and kissed her palm. “I’m positive.” When she didn’t say anything else, he prompted. “And?”
“And now will you ask me if I’d be here if you hadn’t resigned from the club?”
“No. When you told me that we couldn’t be together because of what I was—it pissed me off. You knew I was a Dom, you knew that I belonged to a club when we met. It chapped my ass you were using that as an excuse to break it off with me—because you were scared of embracing your submissive nature permanently.”
“While that is partially true—”
Ben stopped her protest with his fingers. “But once my anger and pride cleared, I understood it wasn’t me bein’ a Dom that was the issue. Or you not accepting being submissive. It was the Rawhide Club itself. You weren’t passing judgment on it or on people who belong to it. Not on me either. And to some extent, not on yourself.”
Her eyes lit up. “You do understand.”
“Took me a couple days, and a bad night at the club, but I finally got it.”
“A bad night at the club? You went to the club last weekend?” she said sharply.
“Don’t look at me like that, angel. I wasn’t there for a hookup. After everything came to a head with us, the Rawhide has always been my go-to place for support, consolation, acceptance, whatever. Long story short, my cousin Dalton showed up and his accusations brought out some questions I’d not dealt with for quite a while.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Why I needed the club. Why I needed certain aspects of it and not others, which really made me think.”
“Are you okay?” Her eyes narrowed. “What accusations did your cousin make? Because you shouldn’t have to explain who you are to anyone.” She snapped, “Did he threaten to tell your family that you’re a Dom? Is that why you resigned from the club?”
He loved how she jumped to his defense. “He told my brothers. Which got Chase and Gavin here right away.” Ben still couldn’t believe they’d shown up. “We had a talk about that part of my life and they didn’t pass judgment.”
“I’m glad, Ben. I’m really, really glad for you. That’s got to be a huge relief.”
“Dalton promised to keep my…proclivities under his hat. But in some ways his questions were good for me. A big reason I kept going to the Rawhide, aside from my friendships with the guys, is I found acceptance. I’d never had that before.”
“Now?” His eyes searched hers and his heart rate spiked. “You tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“Why you’re here. What you want from me.”
Ainsley didn’t hold back. “I want it all. More time with you and me together. With you as my Dom. With every part, each facet, all sides of yourself that you want to share with me.”
Everything in him that’d been wound tight…loosened. “I hoped you’d want that. “
“I do. More than anything.”
“I knew I’d have to choose.”
“Choose between the club and you.”
She went utterly still.
“And I chose you. I’ve got your acceptance and I don’t need to go anywhere else. I’m not giving anything up by leaving the club, Ainsley, I feel like I’m gaining so much more than I’d ever hoped for.”