Arianne Messier managed to get away from her abusive husband, settling with her young daughter in a small town in Tennessee at the base of the Smoky Mountains.

There, she meets a man who is even bigger than her husband was, and she keeps ending up having to deal with him when she’d really rather not.

Hoyt Chandler is a war hero who bears the scars, literally, to prove it. He’s a bit crotchety at first and doesn’t think he’ll ever find a woman who will be able to look past how ruined he is.

But could Arianne be that woman? Could it be that they were meant to heal each other?

Publisher’s Note: This contemporary romance contains a theme of power exchange.

Excerpt

He could still feel her trembling beneath his touch, but Hoyt resolved to be patient. As much as he’d promised her that she was going to be spanked if she did what she’d done, he wasn’t about to do so while she was so obviously terrified.

So, he set about acquainting her with his touch as she would experience it if he was going to be able to have an actual relationship with her. And as much as he was quite sure that he would adore disciplining her, he didn’t intend that that would be the majority of how he spent his time with her, in this fantasy relationship in his head.

Before he’d been injured, he’d been a very tactile man with a few select women. He liked holding hands, he loved walking with his woman on his arm, and he enjoyed being the “big spoon”. On lazy Sunday mornings, he just liked to know that he could reach out and touch the woman he was with, whether that be sexually or not.

So, he simply touched her in a very undemanding, affectionate, non-sexual way—massaging here, rubbing there, brushing his good hand over her hair, and doing all of it very slowly and carefully rather than in an abrupt or grabby manner.

And she responded well to it—better than he had thought she would, frankly. Her shaking stopped first, and then, eventually, she even began to press herself against his hand, like a cat, moaning softly or dragging her breath in through her teeth when something felt good.

“Feel better? More relaxed?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. I haven’t been this relaxed in longer than I want to think.”

“I’m truly sorry about that, Arianne. You deserve to feel like this all the time.”

Because it was feeling so good to the both of them, he allowed it to go on for a while longer, until she actually leaned back against him, and he did a mental fist pump.

Then he kissed the top of her head tenderly and said what he knew he had to, even though he knew it was probably going to make her try to jump off his lap.

“But you know what I have to do now, don’t you?” he asked, and before she could get away from him, he had carefully maneuvered her over his lap.

“What—what are you doing?” she asked, regretting the terminally stupid question the moment it was out of her mouth.

“What do you think I’m doing, Arianne? I’m proving to you that I don’t make idle threats and that you’re ultimately very safe with me.”

Oh, holy crap—he was really going to go through with it!

“I don’t feel very safe at the moment! Hoyt, you have to let me up!” She arched her back, pushing herself up with a hand on either leg, and she heard him groan slightly—the breath hissing violently into his lungs. Ari lay back down immediately, horrified at the idea that she might have hurt him.

And she had—his leg was in the exact wrong position for her to have been pushing down on his knee, and he wasn’t fast enough to suppress the vocalizations of his pain.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you!” She redoubled her efforts to get off his lap, but handlessly, so it was very inefficient and easy for him to curtail.

But then he realized that he had another arrow in his quiver, if he wanted to use it. Just as he would be with her or Emmy, she’d do anything to keep from causing him pain.

She was still apologizing when he said calmly, “I’m fine. It’s nothing to worry about. You just kind of caught me by surprise there.”

“I’m so, so sorry!” Her voice sounded as if she was inches from actual tears.

“I know you are, honey, and I appreciate that,” he replied calmly. “But it’s not my leg that you should be concerned about—it’s your beautiful behind.”

Arianne felt his heavy arm—however deformed it was, it still weighed a tremendous amount—being placed across her back, while he curved his fingers lightly around her hip. And suddenly, she’d been completely relieved of the ability to get off his lap, in just that easy of a move.

“I’m not going to hold your hands this time, because I don’t want to frighten you any more than you already are, but if you reach back to block a swat, I’ll have to rethink that strategy.”

He used his hold at her hip to pull the fabric tight across the globes of her behind, and then, seconds later, he brought his palm down sharply onto them.

Her surprised “Ow!” was full throated, but thereafter, she was surprisingly quiet.

Hoyt was nothing if not methodical, cracking his hand up one side of her bottom and down the other, until every bit of it had been covered, twice. Rounds three and four were delivered more quickly, and with more “oomph”, and he could hear that she was panting from them, and he even caught the occasional slight moan. But besides the first exclamation, she didn’t say anything.

She did reach back though, only once, near the end, when he was smacking down hard in the same exact place twice before moving on, but that was enough for him to capture her hand.

“That’s naughty, Arianne,” he scolded. He didn’t cuff his fingers around her wrist as he might have if she was more comfortable with him. Instead, he held her hand with his.

As far as she was concerned, though, that gesture was very nearly as intimate as the spanking itself.

And he didn’t go easy on her, as much as a part of him wanted to. He didn’t want to drive her away by doing this, but then, if there was any hope at all of them getting together, he didn’t want to give her a false impression of what being spanked by him was like, either. It went against his grain to mitigate the consequences of an act of disobedience anyway, so she got a full, thorough tanning. What he did when he was finished, though, surprised her to no end.

She was prepared for him to ignore her, or continue to verbally chastise her, or even to push her to the floor.

Instead, though, he gathered her to him, holding her against him with the utmost gentleness, literally cradling her in his arms. At that wasn’t all. As he had when she was so nervous when she’d first sat on his lap, he rubbed her back and stroked her hair and whispered soft nothings to her, telling her she was all right and he was proud of her and that it was all over, occasionally pressing his mouth to her forehead or the top of her head.

The thing that got to her the most, though, was that he kept repeating what he’d said before the spanking—that she was safe.

He didn’t ask for anything from her; he didn’t demand anything. Hoyt simply provided her a warm, safe place to be, with plenty of verbal and physical reassurances after he’d disciplined her.

Her eyes hadn’t so much as gotten wet through the entire spanking.

Instead, it was his warm kindness that broke her, and she lost it entirely.

She hadn’t cried like that since before she’d met Matt—she’d learned quickly that tears only annoyed him further and had learned to suppress them. But for some unknown reason, with Hoyt, like this, she couldn’t seem to stop.

Not that he minded in the least, except for the fact that she wasn’t turning to him for comfort as she sobbed her heart out. Instead, she had crumpled in on herself while trying to lean away from him, as if she thought he was going to be angry that she was crying, which was—of course—the furthest thing from the truth.

As he tried to encourage her to cling to him, he closed his arms a bit tighter around her than they had been, held her a bit closer, but she remained maddeningly removed from him, in her own little world of misery.

Still, he was patient and just continued to do very much what he had been doing all along, until her sobs began to abate and she began to unwind just a little.

But as she did so, her shirt rode up quite a bit in the back. Hoyt had been scrupulously careful about where he touched her. The only places he’d come in contact with her skin were her arms and her head.

One long, sweeping stroke down that slight, slender back, though—that was meant to be nothing but quieting to her—became extremely disquieting to him when his hand came back up and ended up beneath her shirt. His fingers came in contact with that which he was all too familiar in his own skin—scar tissue.

Excerpt # 2

“Hoyt! Stop that!” She wiggled around some, as if she was going to try to get down, but he merely kept his arms around her to keep her in place.

“Sorry—not at all sorry. I like teasing you, and I love it even better when you blush so prettily.”

She responded scornfully, “I’m not pretty. Don’t say—”

Before she could finish her sentence, she found herself over his lap, with his big hand covering nearly all of her behind at once.

“What did you just say?”

Ari wasn’t an idiot. “I said I’m extremely good looking.”

Hoyt laughed and tipped her back up. “Good girl.”

“So?”

She wasn’t sitting nearly close enough to him, so he simply contracted his arms a bit, and she ended up lying against him, with her head on his shoulder.

“This is a novel position from which to conduct an interview,” she pointed out.

He frowned. “It’s not an interview. You have the job if you want it.”

“I do?”

“Yes. I was just going to tell you about it to see if you thought you might want it.”

“Okaayy.”

She sounded skeptical, but he guessed he couldn’t blame her for that.

“So, as I mentioned to you before, I’m writing a book—or trying to, anyway. And I could use someone who can actually type to help me. You said that you could type and that you even enjoyed doing it.”

“I do.”

“Have you ever done any editing or anything like that?” 

“No, but I was in Honors English classes all through school, and I have a reasonably good grasp of grammar. Better than most, probably, if you judge by the fact that my friends used to call me a grammar Nazi.”

“Good. So, you have all of the qualifications, as far as I’m concerned. I really just want to kind of dictate to you—or into a recorder I bought to carry around—and then have you write it up for me.”

“I could do that!” Hell, she’d love to do that! She’d also be able to get to know a heck of a lot more about him in the process. She hadn’t wanted to pry, but she was very curious about him and what had happened to him. She assumed the accident that had resulted in his injuries happened while he was stationed in a war zone, but she wanted details. This was probably her opportunity to get them!

“Great! And it won’t be nights or weekends.”

“But you sleep all day. I assumed you would work all night.”

“I will. But you’ll be able to come into the house and start transcribing while I’m sleeping. Then I’ll disgorge more, either in writing or onto the recorder, until I’m done. You can bring Emmy with you, and I’ll pay you more if you take care of Luci, too.”

She’d sounded enthusiastic about doing this until just now, but her face had clouded over and he could feel her tensing in his arms.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” he answered astutely. “Tell me, Arianne.”

She drew a deep breath. “It’s just that, well, I feel a bit uncomfortable taking money from you, for some reason.”

“Well, it’s just paying you for providing a service that I need. I figured fifteen bucks an hour?”

“Really?” She’d get over her discomfort about taking money from him really quickly for that amount.

“Yeah.”

Then she asked, “You’re not overpaying me, are you?”

It was a strange question, as if she was going to try to talk him out of paying her well. “I don’t think so. Do you want me to pay you less?”

“No. I just don’t want to feel obligated to you.”

Hoyt understood what she meant. “Good, because neither do I. If anything should develop between us, beyond a fast friendship, it will be based on us liking each other very much and not on your paycheck, I promise.”

“Good. You have an employee, then!”

“Wonderful!” He produced a key from his chain and handed it to her. “You can come and go as you please, eat what you please, take time out for doctor’s appointments, etcetera. I’d just like to see what I dictated from the night before typed up the next day, if you can. If you can’t, just let me know.”

This sounded too good to be true, which she knew probably meant that it would be, but she was going to give it a shot anyway.

When she’d put the new key onto her own ring and tucked her keys into her pocket, a crooked finger appeared beneath her chin and he tipped it up so that he could look into those baby blues of hers.

“What do you say we seal the deal with a kiss, Miss Arianne?” he asked huskily.

She gave him an impish look out of the corner of her eye. “Now, wouldn’t that be considered blatant sexual harassment, Mr. Chandler?”

“If it’s not, then I’m not doing it correctly,” he whispered.

And for the first time since she’d become involved with Matt over four years ago, she shoved aside the inevitable guilty feelings it was going to inspire within her and allowed another man to kiss her.

And it felt more right than it ought to, by far.

He kissed her the same way he’d treated her after he’d spanked her—with infinite care and gentleness, cupping one cheek and holding her eyes as he brought his lips to hers very slowly, as if he was waiting for her to object.

But that was literally the last thing on her mind.

Ari felt as giddy as a schoolgirl having her first kiss ever, although there was still a bit of trepidation around the fringes of her awareness, and it was as if he knew that that remained for her as his kiss was feather light at first.

When she kissed him back, seconds later—however tentatively—he was the one who sighed all of his breath out at one time, as if he’d been holding it, and she felt a certain tenseness leave him. But he didn’t become greedy or grabby, even at that point. She felt as if every inch she gave him meant something to him, as if he actually understood her apprehension and hesitation and didn’t think any less of her for it—maybe even thought a little more of her, instead.

Nothing like that would ever begin to occur to Matt. It was all about him, even when he was trying to make things up to her.

Because he was so undemanding, she felt more comfortable than she might have, and thus, he was able to coax her into opening her mouth to him merely by nibbling a bit at her lips and occasionally flicking his tongue out to glide across them, inviting rather than requiring a response from her.