She laughed. “This is the only time I’m drinking to that.”
Joely was surprisingly easy to talk to. The woman definitely had opinions. They talked about college and places they’d traveled. Even after they’d finished a cholesterol-laden meal and switched to soda, neither was eager to leave. It’d been a while since she’d spent time with another professional woman she didn’t work with. Or who wasn’t in her circle of married friends.
“So what are you? About thirty-four?” Joely asked.
“Almost thirty-eight, and thanks for that, by the way.”
“No red-hot love affair you left behind in Colorado?”
“I was hoping maybe I’d find one of those here.” Ben’s face swam into her mind’s eye, and she shook her head to erase it.
Joely stared into her soda as she stirred the ice cubes. “There are a few single men. If you don’t mind younger guys. Or cowboys. Not a lot of professional types.”
Ainsley wrinkled her nose. “I’ve had my fill of those types. The problem I discovered with younger guys? They want marriage and a family.”
“No. I’ve never had that burning maternal urge.” She looked up, not knowing how Joely would respond to that. Most women didn’t understand. They always claimed she’d change her mind when she met the right guy. But she knew she wouldn’t. She’d accepted that about herself. Why couldn’t everyone else?
“I hear you. I’ve lived in this area for twelve years. So if I’d taken up with the first yahoo that asked me, I’d probably have kids by now. Probably be divorced again, and a stranger to those kids since I work all the damn time.” Joely gestured to the empty space between them. “This is the first time I’ve been out on a date in months.”
Now that Ainsley thought about it, it was pretty bizarre, Joely just asking her out for…holy crap. Had she said date? Was the doc…gay?
“You stiffened up, Ainsley, did I say something wrong?”
“You called this a date. It isn’t, right? Because you should know I don’t swing that way.”
Amusement danced in her eyes. “No, it’s not a date. Freudian slip, maybe. I’m not a lesbian. If I had to classify my sexuality, I’d say…celibate. And I’m damn tired of it. You know what bites about being the only doctor in a rural area?”
“That I have to at least pretend to have a moral code. If I worked in a suburban hospital or practice, I could get away with having a different man or two in my bed every week. Heck, I could have that every day. But here? I have to be Dr. Sexless and Upstanding.” She cocked her head. “I haven’t heard you chiming in about forced celibacy since moving to the sticks.”
“There’s something to be said for hook-up sex.”
“Now I’m really jealous. You’ve only been here a month and you’ve already got a local hook-up whenever you want?”
They both looked at the dark-haired woman at the end of the booth.
“Libby! What’s up?” Joely said, “Ainsley Hamilton, meet my friend, Libby McKay. Ainsley is the president of the new bank.”
Of course this woman had to be a McKay. “Nice to meet you, Libby.”
“Likewise. Are you the one who’s responsible for Chase’s event this weekend?”
“I sure am. We hammered out the final details today with Settler’s First. How are you related to Chase?”
“He’s my brother-in-law.”
Ainsley went very still. That meant this woman was Ben’s sister-in-law. Why that freaked her out was totally stupid, because chances were very slim Ben was anywhere around.
“Hey, Doc, good to see you.”
Then that deep voice that fueled her fantasies was right behind her.
“Ben. Fancy seeing you here,” Joely said.
“Poor Ben was roped into bringing me into town. Ginger and I haven’t had a chance to catch up with girl talk forever so we’re meeting when she gets off work.”
Ainsley didn’t miss Joely’s wistful smile that she hadn’t been included in Libby’s girl-talk time.
“It was no bother,” Bennett said keeping his eyes on Ainsley. “I had another matter I needed to tend to tonight anyway.”
Her heart raced. She’d probably be tending to her own burning butt cheeks before the night was over, if the hard look in his eye was any indication of his mood.
And didn’t that just thrill her?
“Ben, do you know Ainsley?” Joely asked.
“Yes, Ainsley and I have crossed paths a few times,” Bennett drawled.
“Right, probably about Chase’s event.”
“Speaking of Chase’s event, Ainsley, I’d like to run a couple of ideas past you.”
Her mouth and brain were frozen.
“I’m gonna snag that table in the back,” Libby said. “Nice seeing you, Joely. Nice to meet you, Ainsley.”
Bennett said, “Either of you ladies need a drink while I grab a beer?”
“No. I’m good. Ainsley?”
She shook her head.
“I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
Damn man, bossing her in public.
As soon as Bennett left, Joely leaned across the table. “Bad poker face. You are totally banging him. The elusive, sexy Ben McKay is your local hook-up, isn’t he?”
“Don’t deny it. Up top.” Joely held her hand up for a high-five. “Kudos to you for getting some of that hot cowboy ass while the getting is good.”
Ainsley slapped Joely’s hand. “This is so far under the radar it’s underground.”
“No worries. I live my life under the radar.” She slipped out of the booth. “Thanks for an entertaining evening. I hope we can do it again soon.”
She said, “Me too,” and meant it.
“I’ve got your number, you’ve got mine. Let’s set up something fun once the bank business is out of the way.”
Ainsley waited for Ben to return, feeling resentful about his command. In public. Then she thought, screw it, and started to leave.
But he blocked her in. “I wondered how long you’d sit there before showing your insubordination.” He swigged from his beer. “Or should I say more insubordination.”
“We didn’t have plans tonight.”
“You sure? Did you call me to double-check?”
She refused to back down. “I wasn’t aware I needed your approval to have a business dinner with a bank client.”
“Which is true. So your bank business with the doc is done?”
Bennett leaned close enough to get her attention. “You really gonna lie to me?”
“We just finished. I’m going home.”
He shook his head.
“You were serious about discussing Chase’s event?”
He shook his head.
He shook his head. “Know why I came to town?”
Ainsley tapped her finger on the table. “Hmm. Does it involve handing me a paddle since I’m up shit creek? Or are you just going to paddle me?”
“You’re not getting off that easy this time.” He kept that smoldering Dom stare on her. “I’m still ticked off at you for the way you compared yourself to my saddle.”
“If the stirrup fits…”
He growled. “You tryin’ to piss me off?”
“No. But this is your pissed-off face? Because it looks the same as when you’re happy—or when you’re turned on—to me.”
Wrong taunt, Ainsley.
“Do you really feel I use you?”
“Yeah. Sometimes I do.”
An emotion she’d never seen flitted through those beautiful dark eyes. “Get your stuff and plan on spending the night at my house.”
“If I say I don’t want to?”
“Then say your safe word. You won’t see me again.”
She stared at him. He stared back. No surprise she dropped their mind-fuck connection first. “I don’t want to say my safe word.”
“Then you’d better do as you’re told, hadn’t you?”
Ainsley looked up but he was already walking away.
She wasn’t prepared for this side of Bennett.
He had no time for pleasantries or conversation when she showed up at his house. He simply asked her to repeat her safe word. Twice.
When he told her to strip, kneel at his bedroom door and wait for him, she had her first real feeling of trepidation since she’d agreed to be his submissive. Sometime in the last week, she’d even wondered if Bennett was acting. Playing the part of being a dominant man. That when she really got to know him, he’d drop that aggressive role and just be a demanding lover.
But this man wasn’t acting. This man was pure, full on dominant male about to mete out punishment to his sub. Why was she kneeling, waiting for his return? He knew she hated the subservience aspect of Dom/sub relationships. Another thought made her stomach roil. What would she do if he slipped a collar on her? Bennett had only allowed her one hard line. He’d told her anything else he wanted to do to her was fair game. The idea of being collared like one of his dogs had her head screaming her safe word and urging her to run.
No. Stay put, stay calm. You can do this. There’s a lesson in here in here for you. Bennett isn’t a cruel Dom, you know that.
Immediately upon his return to his bedroom, after making her wait for twenty minutes, he’d secured her, naked, and stretched her out, face down, spread-eagle on his mattress. He used a riding crop on her butt, letting it glance across her thighs. Twice he’d stopped to see if she needed to use her safe word. Asking in that firm, gentle voice that somehow offered her reassurance, even as it kept her clinging to the edge.