Ben had been to Anne’s house before—chauffeuring her and her friends to a bachelorette party last winter. As he walked around his car, he could see past her cottage-style house to the ocean beyond. How the fuck did she manage a beach house on a bounty hunter’s salary?
When he opened the passenger door, the interior light showed she was still asleep in the tipped-back seat. She’d miscalculated the effect of alcohol on pain pills, Z had said.
Her dark brown hair which she’d worn braided back in a severe style had come undone. The loose tendrils softened her aristocratic face. She wasn’t a small woman—maybe five-eight—but beautifully formed with small breasts, a tight rounded ass. A darkening bruise marred the sculptured beauty of her right cheekbone.
God fucking dammit, he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.
“Mistress Anne.” He unfastened her seatbelt. Hell, she wasn’t budging. With a grunt of exasperation, he opened the purse that Z had retrieved from her locker. Her house keys were clipped to the strap. “I hope you don’t have a dog, woman, or you’ll have a real short ride.” He set the purse in her lap and plucked her off the seat.
She was heavier than he expected. Undoubtedly had more muscles than the last lass he’d carried. He kicked the car door shut and carried her up to the cottage.
No dog. He walked through the foyer, took a guess, and headed up the stairs. An opened door showed the master bedroom—or would that be called the mistress bedroom? Using his elbow, he flipped on the overhead chandelier light.
Icy blue walls. A glass-fronted fireplace with an ornate mirror over the mantel. A canopied bed with a ruffled floral bedspread. A white couch with fancy legs in front of a wall of windows. All blue and white, like an airy summer garden, it was the most feminine room he’d ever seen.
She roused when he laid her on the bed, and damned if Ms. Feminine didn’t try to punch him.
The candle-shaped lights overhead provided crappy illumination—and hell, she probably only saw a hulking monster over her. He caught her delicate fist in his oversized palm. “Easy, Ma’am.”
Her finely arched brows drew together as she tried to sit up. He didn’t miss the way her hand grabbed her ribs. Damn foolish woman.
“It’s Ben. From the Shadowlands. I brought you home.”
“Ah, Ben.” She gingerly relaxed back on the mattress. “Thanks for the ride. Please tell Z I said so.”
“You’re welcome, Mistress Anne.” He shifted his weight, uncomfortable as hell. But the garment she wore seemed to be some combination of a corset and a dress. It had obvious ribbing and was way too tight. She couldn’t sleep in it. “Uh…you need to get out of that contraption.”
He was standing over her—one big ugly guy. She was flat on her back and totally unconcerned. “Do I now?”
The edge of warning in her voice made his cock stir.
“Yes, Ma’am.” The honorific came easily to his lips. She reminded him of the elegant captain of Marines in his first deployment. Always in control, and even when covered with blood and filth, still refined.
He smiled at her. “How about you order me to give you some help?”
Her snort of exasperation sounded like a kitten’s sneeze. “Benjamin, if a subbie tells me to order him to do something, then who’s in charge?”
“Got me there.” And damned if he was going to leave without getting her comfortable. “You going to punch me if I help you strip down?”
She eyed him. Her pupils were still smaller than normal, making her eyes even bluer. “I never realized how stubborn you were.”
Her sigh held a note of exasperation. “Help me out of this, then.”
He reached for the front and realized her ribbed long dress had no buttons. Stalling, he moved down to unlace her thigh-high boots. When he pulled them off, he heard a sigh of relief.
Damn, her pretty legs had a sexy golden tan. High-arched feet. Her toenails were a pale pink with white stripes. Amazing what women did for fun. Her mutant black dress was next. Thinking to salvage her modesty, he picked up the frilly knitted throw from the foot of the bed and draped it over her lower legs.
Next. He’d have been more comfortable walking into a firefight.
Her fucking dress had toothpick-sized metal studs down the front that poked through metal grommets. Only way to get it off would be to stick his fingers inside and draw the edges together to release each fucking stud. Her breasts were in there. Jesus, he couldn’t do this.
Her lips curved up in a wicked smile. “Don’t stop now, Benjamin.”
“Having fun are we, Mistress?” he muttered and slid his big fingers inside the top.
She was warm, her skin silky on the backs of his knuckles. And he was harder than a rock. The corset part of the dress came undone, catch by catch. But the tightness increased over her ribs, and when he pulled the edges together, she made a sound of pain.
He stopped. How the fuck could he do this if he hurt her? “Anne?”
“Go on.” Her hands were fisted, her fingernails digging into her palms. But her gaze was clear and level. “You’re right—I’d have had a hard time getting out of this. I’m not moving as well as I was earlier.”
“What kind of damage are we looking at?” His jaw was tight as he continued as ordered.
Prong after prong.
Although she controlled her face, she couldn’t control the involuntary flinches and tightening of her belly.
“Bruised ribs; nothing broken.” Her voice sounded strained, but finally he was past that section.
He undid the looser part over her lower stomach and worked his way…down. As he flipped the dress open, he tried not to look.
Bullshit, he totally looked. His gaze traveled from her thong-covered pussy, up a softly rounded belly, to her sweet, high breasts. Rosy-brown nipples perked up in the cool night air. Her scent was almost edible—like tangerines accompanied by the light musk of a female.
Act like the gentleman you weren’t raised as, Haugen. He drew the blanket over her.
Turning his gaze away—so he wouldn’t see how he hurt her—he slid an arm under her lower back. Shit, her skin there was soft as well. Carefully, he lifted her far enough to slide her dress out.
Now she wore only a thong and a blanket. The room was far too fucking warm. “Thank you, Ben. That feels much better.”
“I bet.” He dared greatly and moved the lower blanket to one side. Her right thigh had a bruise almost the width of his fist. He glanced at her, eyebrows raised. “Boot?” “The bail fugitive had an overly protective, big brother.”
What a fucking job. No wonder she came into the Shadowlands with bruises and gashes.
“Wouldn’t you rather do something…safer?”
Her blue gaze turned chill as the arctic north. “No.” “Sorry, Ma’am.”
“You do say that rather well, you know,” she murmured. She had a dimple in her cheek, one he hadn’t noticed until he’d seen her at Gabi’s bachelorette party.
“I do what?” He needed to leave or he was going to strip that blanket off her again. Find every bruise and kiss them all better.
“Ma’am. I thought you were vanilla, Ben.”
“I am.” And if he’d been daydreaming about her setting a sharp stiletto on his chest, he’d keep those thoughts to himself. “Did a bit of military, is all.”
“Ah.” She eyed him slowly, still not quite returned to her usual frightening brilliance. “Can I pay you for the time and gas to bring me all the way out here?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He paused a second with a hope that Z never heard. He’d get his ass fired on the spot. “I think I deserve a kiss from the Mistress.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “You are just full of surprises tonight.”
Her husky voice always sounded like a morning after raw sex, but when it dropped to that throaty tone, he could see why men crawled on their knees in her wake.
He waited while she thought. He’d wait all night—fuck knew, looking at her wasn’t a chore.
Rather than answering, she held her arms up.
God loved him. He sat beside her hip, leaned down as she put her hands behind his neck.
More. He carefully slid a hand behind her shoulders. Her satin skin stretched over her smooth feminine muscles. He opened his other hand behind her head to enjoy the thick mass of silky fine hair. He was used to visual delights—she was a tactile symphony.
He lifted slightly, just enough to draw her against his chest, so he could enjoy the feel of her breasts against him.
When he gazed down into her face, he could read her surprise at his daring, and then her eyes started to narrow. If he didn’t move, he’d lose his treat. So he bent his head and brushed his lips against hers.
Softness. Damned if he’d hurry. He settled his mouth over hers and walked empty-handed into the fire zone.
Cherise currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her beloved husband and writes full-time under the supervision of a merciless feline.