Tamara Barton has lusted after Connor Dunbar ever since she was old enough to know what those stirrings meant whenever he was near. Connor’s refusal to see her as anything but the young girl he’s befriended and protected for years soon drives them apart, but not before she catches an up-close, personal glimpse of him exerting the dominant control she’s heard rumors about.

Connor regrets the harsh words he spoke to Tamara when he caught her spying on him – as much as his lustful response to the look of need reflected on her face. He’s been looking after the neighbor girl since the moment he saw her falling off her first horse at the age of ten, and doesn’t plan on stopping now that she’s a grown woman who thinks she wants their relationship to go in a different direction. He knows his sexual proclivities are not for the young, sweet kid he’s so fond of, and wouldn’t jeopardize their special bond by giving in to her desires.

But Tamara always did have a way of getting what she wanted, and when he sees she is serious about becoming a member of the private lifestyle club he owns with his brother and best friend, Connor discovers he doesn’t want her submitting to anyone but him. When he learns she’s kept things from him that could have impacted her welfare, will he allow his failure to protect her to drive another wedge between them, or finally embrace a life with her at his side as more than just a cherished friend?

This is book three in the Cowboy Doms series but reads as a standalone.

Publisher’s Note: This steamy contemporary Western romance contains elements of mystery, suspense, and power exchange.

Chapter One

Reaching for the door handle, Connor Dunbar winced at the twinge of pain radiating from front to back in his shoulder. The surgery he had undergone to repair the damaged muscles from a bullet wound left him aching; the weakness frustrated him. Entering The Barn, a private BDSM club he owned with his brother, Caden and Sheriff Grayson Monroe, he admitted the fault for the injury he’d sustained over six weeks ago lay solely on his shoulders. He hadn’t needed the stupidity of chasing after a truck of cattle rustlers alone drilled into him by his brother, as well as others. He’d come to that conclusion all by himself as he’d driven back to his house, injured, in the middle of the night.

From the number of shoes filling the cubbies along one wall of the foyer leading into the renovated barn, it looked like another well-attended Friday night of kinky play was in progress. The coat closet held a few jackets, but as usual, March in Central Montana had roared in like a lion, dumping several feet of snow only to follow a scant week later with temperatures in the low fifties that had encouraged people to come out without their heavy winter gear. Using his good arm, he opened the door leading into the playroom, the snap of leather striking bare skin a welcome sound after his absence the past few weeks.

Pausing, Connor took a moment to breathe in the enticing scent of hay bales stacked along one wall, providing a perch or ledge to position a sub and the subtle odor of sex mingling with leather. Scanning the crowd, he found Caden behind the bar in the center of the room, his fiancée, Sydney seated on a stool next to Avery, Grayson’s new girl. Since the sheriff wasn’t glued to her side, Connor guessed he was monitoring the loft activity where they’d positioned most of the bondage equipment. Looking up, he spotted Sue Ellen bound at a chain station, her sweat-slick body swaying as her husband, Master Brett wielded a crop on her delectable ass. Her shrill cry reverberated down and drew his smile. Damn, but he’d missed this place.

His head had been up his ass for weeks before he’d made the blunder of chasing criminals without even informing anyone of his solo stakeout. The pain and weakness resulting from that idiocy had forced him to get his act together. The problem was, he honestly didn’t know why he’d been out of sorts. His attitude tumble had started last fall, but the reason for it still eluded him. His friends thought it was due to his break-up with Annie, whom he’d been enjoying a six-month, monogamous relationship with until he’d discovered her infidelity. But the truth was, he’d been distracted and irritable before he’d walked in on her and her vanilla lover.

With a sigh, Connor shoved aside unanswered questions and vowed to enjoy himself tonight. Winding his way through the seating area between the doors and bar, he stopped at a table to say hello to Dan Shylock, a long-time friend and popular Dom among the subs. Curled on the lawyer’s lap, the disheveled, red-faced brunette sporting clamped nipples and a G-string appeared glassy-eyed and well-used.

“A little early to have someone already enjoying subspace, isn’t it?” Connor winked at the girl whose name eluded him.

Dan smiled. “Never too early. Good to see you back. How’s the shoulder?” The concern clouding his dark eyes both irritated and warmed Connor.

Shaking his head, he nudged his Stetson back with a thumb, drawling, “Don’t you and Caden ever get tired of playing mother hen? I had to suffer through two weeks of that from my own mother after surgery. Give me a break, will you?”

“Yeah, okay, you’re right. But I can’t speak for your brother.” Dan inclined his blond head toward the bar where Connor saw Caden watching him with a careful eye.

Stifling the urge to roll his eyes, Connor glanced back down at Dan’s play partner and suddenly recalled her name. “Stacy, right?” At her slow nod and gleam of interest in her blue eyes, he smiled. “When you’ve recovered and are ready to move on from this brute, come look me up, sweetie. I’m much nicer than he is.”

Dan’s rude snort followed him as he strode to the bar and slid onto a stool next to Sydney. Tugging on her long red hair, he winked at the girl who had snagged his brother in just a few short weeks of hiring on at their ranch as the new cook. “I’m here. Happy now?” Out of all his well-meaning friends, her nagging concern had touched him the most. The assistance he’d given her in getting Caden to open his eyes to a relationship with an employee had forged a special bond between the two of them.

A beaming smile lit up her green eyes. “Yes, and you look good. Better than you have in weeks.”

“Gee, thanks,” he returned dryly, quirking one brow.

“And now that you do, she can return to giving me her undivided attention,” Caden said, setting a draft in front of Connor. “Do you want to spell Grayson upstairs for an hour now or do you have plans?”

It was just like his brother to hide his relief and pleasure at Connor’s presence after the weeks of convalescing by getting right down to business. “I’m good with now.” Leaning around Sydney, he smiled at Avery. “I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting, sweetie. Not after you set up the new laptop you recommended for me. I would have gone bonkers if I hadn’t been able to play my games while I was being good obeying doctor’s orders.”

This time, the rude, disbelieving snorts came from all three of them before Avery giggled. “You’re so full of it, Master Connor.”

Rising, he took a long pull on the beer before saying, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Best remember that, girl, or I’ll ask Master Grayson’s permission to put you over my knee.”

Heading for the stairs, Connor heard Caden say, “Damn, it’s good to see him smiling again.”

Shit, was I that bad? Climbing the stairs to the second-floor loft, he regretted worrying his only sibling and hoped his poor attitude continued to improve even though he still couldn’t pinpoint the initial reason for it. He paused halfway up to enjoy the creative dance moves of two bare-breasted subs gyrating to the sultry voice of Rhianna as Greg and Devin stepped in with stern looks. Yanking them away from each other, the two Doms who were new members but long-time friends each delivered a resounding swat to their girl’s ass before pressing them close to finish the dance. Damn, I’ve really missed this place, Connor mused, giving them a thumbs-up in approval as he continued upstairs.

They kept the lighting dimmer in the lofts, but he had no trouble making out each apparatus and the people enjoying them. Voices were more hushed but sharp cries of both pain and pleasure echoed from one end of the second level to the other. He spotted Grayson leaning against the back wall, hat tipped low, gaze intent on a sub bound facing their new A-frame and the man wielding a long, single leather strap standing behind her. Making his way toward the sheriff, Connor noticed a few new faces and knew he would have to catch up on the membership list soon.

“It appears to be a good addition.” Connor nodded toward the frame, positioning himself next to Grayson.

“It’s popular. Good to see you back. How’s the shoulder?” Grayson’s gray-green eyes swiveled his way with concern.

Connor huffed a sigh at the standard greeting he was getting from everyone. “Sore and stiff. Relax, will you? I’m fine and yes, before you start nagging me like Caden, I’ll be starting physical therapy on Monday. Hell, it can’t be worse than what I’ve been through and I’m more than ready to pull my full weight around the ranch again.”

Pushing away from the wall, Grayson reached out and squeezed his good shoulder. “Just don’t overdo. I took a hit in the military while overseas, a through and through along my side. Hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, even more so when I pushed too hard too soon.”

“I’ll remember that. Go on. I’m sure Avery wants some attention. She looks like she’s held up well from your trip back to Chicago. Finally nailed the bastards, huh?” Grayson’s girl had shown admirable guts in getting evidence against two crooked cops who had plotted to set her up for the fall if their evidence thefts were discovered.

“They’re going up for a long time,” Grayson returned, his tone laced with the simmering anger he always exhibited when someone mentioned the threat to Avery’s life that he’d helped her overcome. “And you’re right, she needs some loving attention from her Master.” A wicked gleam replaced the banked fury in his eyes.

“I’ve got this covered. Go have fun.”

“I intend to. Later, Con.”

Connor shook his head, wondering how both his brother and their friend and co-owner in the club had ended up tied down and happy about it within such a short time of each other. Not me. Nope, no way, no how. He was perfectly content playing the field, pausing to indulge in a monogamous relationship for a few months every so often, and when the novelty wore off, moving on without regrets. He’d made the mistake of allowing his relationship with Annie to go on too long, hadn’t heeded the signs of her growing fonder of him than he was comfortable with or wanted. Her deflection had hurt, and pissed him off, but when he’d gotten over his ire, he’d known the blame lay on his shoulders, that it was him turning a blind eye to her feelings that had driven her to such extreme measures to get his attention.

Annie had followed her lover back to Bozeman without a word to Connor and he hoped she was happy. As for him, he was working his way back, both from the slump that had hit him with unexpected suddenness last fall and from the painful consequences of his ill-advised chase a few weeks ago. The only thing still sticking in his craw about that debacle was their failure to catch the rustlers, and he knew he wouldn’t rest until the thieves were stopped. Ranchers around here were possessive of their livestock and their land; each head and every acre considered a valuable asset. They would get them, he didn’t doubt that, but fuck, the waiting pissed him off.

Connor scanned the loft again, a slow, thorough sweep of each scene to ensure nothing was amiss. It was rare for a member to break a rule, but everyone here was only human, and mistakes were inevitable. He could remember a time, not so long ago, when he had enjoyed watching others so much the voyeurism had left him primed and ready to indulge himself by the time his duty as monitor ended. But as the hour dragged on, and he made several slow walk-throughs of the loft that circled around to encompass both sides of the lower space, he couldn’t seem to drum up much enthusiasm to pick a play partner to end the evening with.

Frustrated with his continued lack of willingness to indulge himself despite his upbeat mood, he thought about slipping out and heading home as he spotted Dan climbing the stairs to relieve him as monitor. And then his gaze landed on a spanking bench where Master Brett now had Sue Ellen strapped facedown. Without pausing a beat in caressing his wife’s reddened, tormented ass with one hand while thrusting between her spread legs with the other, Brett whipped his head around, caught Connor’s look and beckoned him over.

The devoted married couple often invited a third to join them, and the thought of a ménage stirred Connor’s interest in a way that had been lacking for far too long. With a welcome surge of anticipation and small sigh of relief, he nodded to Dan, who waved him on.

“Good to see you here, Master Connor,” Brett greeted Connor as he reached them.

“It’s good to be feeling up to coming back,” he returned, meaning it. His blasé mental state might still linger but for the first time in weeks, his body roused in pleasure at the delectable feast before him. With her cheeks clenching, her pussy dripping and her dangling breasts tipped with tight, turgid nipples, Sue Ellen’s body appeared ripe for fucking. “Has your lovely wife been acting up again?”

“Always.” Brett’s sigh indicated disappointment but the twinkle in his eyes as he tapped one puffy buttock belied his displeasure with his wife’s attitude. “But she’s taken her punishment like a good girl, so now she’s earned a reward.” Pulling his fingers from her swollen pussy, he bent over and asked her loud enough for Connor to hear, “You would enjoy sucking Master Connor’s cock, wouldn’t you, love?”

“Oh, yes, Master,” Sue Ellen breathed, her excitement evident in her whispered reply.

Connor didn’t need more of a verbal invitation than that and strode to the head of the bench as Brett shifted between her splayed knees. Both men released their cocks, sheathing themselves as Brett continued to fondle Sue Ellen’s ass and Connor brushed his fingers over her trembling lips as she lifted her face. Her tongue darted out, licking the calloused pads of his fingers, the gesture sending a streak of heat up his arm. Pinching her chin, she opened for him, those lush lips wrapping around his girth like a warm glove as he pushed past them. He much preferred going bareback for oral, but respected Brett’s insistence on a condom from anyone invited to pleasure his wife. Lucky for him, Sue Ellen was so talented at fellatio he could feel every stroke of her tongue, every nip along his shaft and each hard suck through the thin latex.

Grasping her head, he tunneled his fingers into her hair and held tight to her scalp as Brett surged into her from behind. Her low moan vibrated around his cock, the sensation drawing his own groan. Pulling back, he returned with a throat-bumping surge that she accepted by swirling her tongue in a teasing glide under his crown. He shook from the caress against that sensitive area, her mouth tightening as she took him deep again.

Whether it was the long abstinence or Brett’s sudden, increasing strokes that were powerful enough to creak the apparatus and shift Sue Ellen’s bound body that was responsible for the quick release of sperm from his balls, Connor didn’t know. But as Sue Ellen worked him over good and pleasure ripped up his jerking cock, spewing into the condom, he really didn’t care what the reason for his lack of control was.

Fuck,” he swore, ripples of heat spreading through his long-deprived body, his senses wallowing in the pleasure even as he was withdrawing from her hot mouth. The sudden need to walk away, end this before he was forced to say something nice in appreciation, clawed at him. Drawing on his years as a considerate Dom, he refrained from giving in to that urge as he disposed of the condom in a corner bin and returned to the couple that had been so generous with him.

Sue Ellen fell against her husband as soon as he released her and helped her off the bench. Connor’s chest tightened at the look on Brett’s face as he stroked her trembling, glistening body. Did everyone have to be so blissfully content with their significant others lately? Why that should bother him, he had no answer for. Reaching out, he stroked the back of Sue Ellen’s head and bent to kiss her cheek.

“Thank you, sweetie. It was a pleasure.” With a nod to Brett, he pivoted and returned downstairs, opting for a much-needed drink before heading home.

Nan, a leggy brunette with pretty, gold eyes smiled at him as he took a seat next to her at the bar. “Hello, Master Connor. You look good,” she purred. Known and appreciated for her penchant for rough sex and an occasional bout of pain play, she’d been a favorite in the club for years and was well liked by both Doms and subs.

“Thank you, Nan, and right back at you.” He appreciated her love of lingerie, like the siren red teddy hugging the fullness of her breasts with the lace-trimmed cutouts provided for protruding nipples. “Caden, get me my second beer, would you?”

“That was fast,” his brother commented, handing over the cold bottle. “Couldn’t find anyone to linger with upstairs?”

Connor turned away from his shrewd gaze and caught the gleam of interest reflected on Nan’s face. She was a preference of his, both to hook up with for a few hours and as a friend and experienced sub he could trust not to develop an emotional attachment, but again, the interest to go there seemed to elude him.

“On the contrary,” he answered. “Brett was in the mood to indulge Sue Ellen.”

Before either Caden or Nan could comment, Sydney sidled up to the bar, smiling at Nan. “There you are. You’re late tonight.”

“I got tied up chatting before closing the tea shop.” Nan looked at Caden and Connor, adding, “Tamara Barton has returned to town and we were catching up.”

An unexpected jolt went through Connor at hearing Tam’s name again. Other than the few words she allowed him at her father’s funeral last year, he hadn’t seen much of the heir of the neighboring ranch in the last five years, having only caught a glimpse of her from afar the times she’d returned for a visit. He still harbored a fringe of guilt from their last encounter. Frowning, he asked Nan, “Last I heard, she was getting married. Are the two of them planning on settling at the Barton ranch?” An uncomfortable tightness filled his chest at the thought.

Nan shrugged. “She refused to say anything about her engagement or fiancé, only that she planned to stay for now. She mentioned needing to address some personal issues and see to the ranch.”

“You mean there’s someone in Willow Springs I haven’t met yet?” Sydney wanted to know.

“I’ll introduce you when she has time,” Nan offered. “I’ve known Tamara since grade school. We were close even though she was a year behind me. You and Avery will like her.”

Connor didn’t doubt that. The girl he remembered, despite the regrettable circumstances of the last time they’d spoken, was a sweet-natured dare-devil he used to enjoy watching from across the fields as she rode her powerful, sleek Arabian stallion with fearless abandon. Tam had just finished earning a master’s degree and had returned home for a visit before taking a job in Boise when they’d last spoken. He still winced whenever the image of her pale, stricken face popped into his head unbidden, the hurt in her smoky eyes cutting him to the quick. Telling himself her impetuousness had left him with no choice but to go off on her hadn’t eased his conscience then and still didn’t now.

“Her foreman’s been running the ranch since her father’s death and seems to be doing a good job. Jason was the one who got a close enough look he could pass on a vague description of one of our rustlers after he spotted them hightailing it off his land a few weeks ago. He was smart enough not to go chasing after them,” Caden reminded Connor.

“Yeah, yeah.” Sliding off the stool, he tipped his hat. “I think I’ve heard enough about that. I’m out of here.”

“Drive safe,” Sydney said, giving him a quick hug.

“Yes, Mom,” he drawled, tugging on her hair before turning his back on their chuckles. Good-natured teasing aside, he’d gown tired of the molly-coddling, concerned glances and lectures. The sooner he got his strength back and resumed his regular duties around the ranch, the better all around.

Connor returned to his sprawling ranch home situated five miles from Caden’s house, an itchiness having settled between his shoulder blades he couldn’t seem to scratch. He usually left the club satisfied and ready to turn in, but as he padded into his bedroom and stripped, he couldn’t shove aside the mention of their neighbor’s return and the regret hearing Tam’s name always stirred up. He fell face first into bed wishing they could go back to being friends who shared a special bond instead of the angry, hurt adversaries they’d ended up as when she’d left town. He hadn’t let himself think about their last encounter and the harsh words he’d spoken to her in a long time, but as he fell asleep, the memory of that morning slid past his guard to disturb his dreams again.

“Christ, sweetie, you’re so fucking wet and hot as a firecracker,” Connor panted, tightening his hands on Darby’s hips as he pounded into her. It was rare for him to invite a sub from the club home with him, but something had driven him to issue an invitation to Darby after he’d finished a scene with her at The Barn. She was one of the members who only visited their private BDSM venue a few times a year, but when she did, she was primed and ready to indulge whoever was lucky enough to get her attention. Last night it had been him.

The rustle of the hay bale he had her bent over and their harsh breathing were the only sounds in his small stable. The early morning sun streaking through the open doors behind him splashed a swath of yellow light across their sweat-slick bodies. Her bound hands clenched into fists above her pink buttocks as he ground into her quivering pussy from behind, her small mewls of pleasure accompanying the spasms rippling along his cock.

“Sir, please… I need to come,” she pled before burying small white teeth into her lower lip.

“Now, Darby.” Connor damn near saw stars as she convulsed around his pistoning shaft and soaked him with her climax. By the time the overhead beams came back into focus, he was pulling from her clutching grips. “Hold on, sweetie,” he instructed the still panting woman who lay with her cheek pressed against the hay, her eyes closed as she shuddered with lingering pleasure.

He disposed of the condom in a trashcan, adjusted his jeans and helped her stand. When he had awoken that morning, he’d slipped out of bed, hoping she would just take off while he was feeding the horses, but she had both irritated and surprised him when she’d walked into the stable naked, the look on her face revealing her desire for one more fuck before she left. Unable to resist such a tempting package, he’d shoved aside the annoyance at her delayed departure and gave her what she wanted. He hated disappointing subs.

Removing the leather tie around her wrists, he turned her in his arms, noting the redness covering her breasts and belly from the way his powerful thrusts had pushed her torso back and forth on the scratchy straw. The sated look in her eyes and contented sigh as he traced a finger over the marred skin drew his slow smile and mellowed his initial pique from her lingering presence.

“Thank you, Master Connor.” Reaching behind his head, she drew his mouth to hers and initiated a kiss of gratitude he finished with a hard possession of her lips and mouth.

“You’re welcome.” Swatting her ass, he ordered in a light tone, “Now scram. I have things to do.”

Scampering toward the doors with a giggle and small finger wave, Darby stopped short and uttered a soft, “Oh,” that sent Connor’s gaze flying to the doorway.

Shock held him immobile and mute for several seconds as he stared in disbelief at young Tam, the neighbor girl he possessed a special fondness for, peeking around the corner, her eyes wide with disbelief and interest, her face glowing bright red from embarrassment. Fury unlike anything he’d experienced before spread through him like a tsunami, dousing what lingering pleasure he still felt from his and Darby’s morning coupling.

“Uh, I’ll just get going,” Darby mumbled, sidling past Tam and dashing up to the house as Connor ate up the distance between him and the wide-eyed intruder.

Grasping her arm, he demanded in a furious voice, still shaken by what she’d witnessed, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I… I’m sorry. I… was just… I came by to see… Gee, Con, I guess the rumors are true…”

A hint of lust entered her eyes, a look that shook him and added to his unaccustomed anger. “You have no business dropping in on me, Tamara, and sure as hell shouldn’t be spying on a private tryst. When are you going to grow up?” Needing to wipe away the physical longing etched on her face, he yanked her over to her tethered horse and all but tossed her up into the saddle. “Damn it, girl, go home and quit being a fucking nuisance! I have better things to do than to constantly deal with your adolescent antics.”

Shock wiped away the desire he found so uncomfortable. She spun her horse around on a tortured sob, her tear-filled eyes and pale face cutting through his ire. “Ah, shit, what have I done?” Shaking his head at his uncharacteristic display of temper, he swore he’d track her down later and apologize, his off-the-charts reaction baffling him as much as he had hurt her.

* * *

Connor awoke, promising himself he’d look up Tam as soon as he got a chance. He’d been caught so unaware by her presence and the interest she’d shown, he hadn’t thought straight and didn’t mean what he’d said. She’d moved away within weeks of that incident, refusing to talk to him or see him before accepting a job in Boise, and had avoided all opportunities to be alone with him whenever she returned for a visit. He finally managed to corner her in front of others at Richard’s funeral, but she’d only paused for a moment, long enough for him to convey his condolences before walking away, leaving their previous parting unresolved. Now she was back, maybe for good, and the yearning to resume their friendship that had plagued him all this time tugged even harder at him.