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Elena Slater grew up on the streets of New York City as the baby sister of Alexander ‘Slay’ Slater. She knows how to hold her own, and she’s anything but submissive. Sure, all her closest friends are members of The Club, Boston’s most well-respected BDSM playground, and she can’t help but see the appeal of power exchange, especially when it comes to the sexy, ultra-dominant, and much older Blake Coleman. But that could never be more than a fantasy for a girl like her… could it?
Blake Coleman, grieving the loss of his wife and long-term submissive, spent the past year retreating from the world. But he’s slowly recognized it’s time to reconnect with his friends, and reassert himself as Master Blake, the founder of The Club. It’s a full-time job, especially when Alexander Slater’s little sister is determined to keep pushing his buttons. He’s all too tempted to teach her a lesson, but he refuses to give in to the rampant arousal she awakens in him with her sass. She’s far too young and mouthy for the likes of him.
But when Blake and Elena find themselves caught up in a nasty smear campaign motivated by revenge, the two adversaries must form an alliance, and they can no longer deny the magnetic attraction between them. What will happen when the sassy spitfire collides with Boston’s most well-known and respected Dominant?
DISCLAIMER: His Lady, book five in the Boston Doms series, is a standalone novel. It contains elements of BDSM, including bondage and the discipline of adult women.
“Blake! Yes, baby. God, yes! Just like that. I’m so close!”
This information was not a surprise. Blake had every ounce of his considerable focus trained on the woman who was currently riding him. He’d seen how her eyes, potent and dark as black coffee, had widened, and how her creamy skin had flushed a deep pink, all the way from the graceful arch of her cheekbones down to the rosy-tipped breasts that brushed his chest each time she took him deep inside her. And it was not a minute too soon—he could feel his own orgasm ready to overtake him, his balls tightening in a way that said this one was going to be bigger than anything he’d ever felt before. The taste of her on his tongue was like a fucking aphrodisiac, and he couldn’t hold out for long. Patience was not one of his virtues.
But first he had to take her over one more time.
“Find it, angel,” he ordered, his fingers digging into her lush backside to hold her in place as he pistoned his hips up beneath her. “I want you to use your fingers and take yourself there.”
She braced one hand against his shoulder, levering herself up, while the other trailed over his chest, across the hard, chiseled plane of his abs, and down to the place where they were joined. Her beautiful eyes went unfocused.
“That’s it, gorgeous. Touch yourself. I want to watch,” he growled. “I want to hear you when you come apart and scream my name.”
Her eyes cleared for a moment and met his.
“You want an awful lot of things,” she teased breathlessly, even as her fingers found her clit and began to circle in perfect counterpoint to the rhythm he’d set. Her eyes stayed locked on his, and her lips—those fucking pillowy lips that he’d been picturing wrapped around his dick for-fucking- ever—clamped shut as she fought to stay quiet, to stay in control, to deny his command, to defy him.
That would never do.
“You’re gonna give it to me,” he told her, his voice sounding like sandpaper even to his own ears. “I own your screams, just like I own this sweet pussy. Just like I own the rest of you.”
Her eyes met his—hot with challenge and begging him to prove his dominance, just the way he liked it—and she rode him harder, her even white teeth sinking into her bottom lip as she stayed stubbornly silent.
Blake smiled. God, but this woman—his woman—was perfect for him.
“Tell me,” he demanded. “Tell me that you belong to me.”
He lifted his hand to one bobbing breast and cupped it, his fingers toying with her. She whimpered and clenched her eyes shut, while the fingers at her core moved faster and faster.
“If you wanna come, you’re gonna do what I tell you, young lady.”
Her pussy clenched around him as his words drove her higher, just as he’d known they would. Young lady. Old enough to be legal, but young enough to turn heads. Young enough that if the world ever saw his hands on her body, the way his callused fingers tweaked her nipple, they’d be appalled. They’d call him a lecher, an old man who’d knowingly corrupted a sweet young thing.
And they’d be right.
She was more than that, of course. Not just a young lady, but his lady, his lover and partner. But it was also no less than the truth, and the taboo of it sent a shudder through her body that made his dick impossibly harder.
“What if I don’t wanna say it?” she moaned, testing him… testing them both.
The fingers tugging her nipple tightened to the point of pain and he stilled beneath her.
Her mouth and eyes flew open with a startled “Ah!” She glimpsed his face, and whatever she saw there made her shake her head desperately. “Oh, no! No fair! You can’t just stop!”
She moved both hands to his stomach and pushed against him, trying to gain leverage, to slide herself more firmly down his cock, but he easily captured one of her wrists in each of his hands, and clamped them against her hips, holding her immobile.
“Seriously, Blake! You can’t just stop like this!” she cried. “It’ll hurt you as much as me!”
He snorted, but didn’t bother to reply. It would very likely hurt him more and they both recognized it. Nevertheless, she knew very well that he could and would stop, even though it would take every particle of the self-control that he’d honed over decades as a soldier and as a dominant to keep him from thrusting up into her wet heat.
Their eyes held, kindled—her will battling against his—until finally, inevitably, she swallowed, and the tension bled from her body. One side of her mouth kicked up in the lopsided smile that he loved, and she gave him the words he craved.
“You own me,” she said, low and serious like a vow. “You own me, Blake.”
“Fuck yes, I do,” he snarled. “You’re mine.”
His hands released hers, only to clamp her hips tighter, holding her at just the right angle for his thrusts while their eyes remained locked. One pump, then two… that was all it took. She threw back her head and her long black hair tumbled behind her, the feathery ends brushing the tops of his thighs as she came and came and came… screaming his name the entire time.
He eased her through it, though his heart was thundering in his chest, until her last tremors had subsided. Then he planted himself firmly inside her, wrapped his arms tight around her, and flipped them so that she was on her back beneath him. He lifted her leg higher, planting her knee against her chest, and began to stroke, faster and faster, lost to the sensation of being inside the woman he loved and the soft clench of her body as he moved against her.
“Mine,” he repeated. “Mine. Mine. Mine.”
Motherfucker. Not again.
Blake threw himself from the bed as though it were on fire. His mind was a haze of lust and confusion, his chest was tight, his dick was hard enough to break rock, and his balls ached like he’d just been practicing his kickboxing without his fucking cup.
Jesus. A dream. Another goddamned dream, and he’d woken himself up with the sound of his own voice calling out. Disgust settled like a lead weight in his gut, cooling the worst of his arousal… but not taking it away completely. Nothing seemed to do that anymore.
He braced a hand on the tall chest of drawers near the bed and breathed deep. In-two-three-four. Hold-two-three-four. Out-two-three-four. Hold-two-three-four. He imagined what the recruits he’d trained back in the day would say if they could see their Master Gunny using the combat breathing techniques he’d taught them to keep his shit together after a stupid sex dream.
He clenched the hand he’d braced on the dresser into a fist and felt a reluctant tug of amusement. He was in combat, in a way. A battle of the wills. Master Gunnery Sergeant-turned club owner Blake Coleman versus… his own damn self.
His eyes lifted to meet his own reflection in the mirror. God, but he looked tired. Tired and old, with every one of his nearly fifty-five years showing plainly on his face. There were dark smudges beneath his eyes, and the silver-streaked brown hair he usually kept ruthlessly tidy was now tousled and wild. Out of his control, like so many things in his life had been from the moment he’d learned that his wife, Josie, had cancer a year and a half ago, through her death three months later, and every damn day since. But no longer.
This is the end, he promised his reflection. No. More.
Grief was a part of life. He wasn’t fool enough to believe a man could escape it through strength of will, and he hadn’t tried. He’d railed, he’d cried, he’d bargained. He’d stepped back from his friends. He’d loosened the reins at The Club, the BDSM mecca he owned and operated just a stone’s throw from Fenway Park, and allowed his trusted friends and employees to take on more responsibility. But he’d be damned if he would allow his own mind to turn traitor on him, to make him dream in glorious fucking detail about shit that he should never be contemplating, about a woman who was wrong for him on every level.
Unacceptable. It was time to get a handle on this.
He scrubbed his forehead with his free hand, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
When he opened them a moment later, he caught sight of the framed pictures which had been arranged just-so on the top of the dresser, first by Josie, and then by their cleaning lady, Consuela, who had started coming once a week when Josie got too sick to keep the house as pristine as she liked it.
“Keep Consuela on after I’m gone,” Josie had begged. “You’ll need someone to take care of you, at least for a while.”
Her concern was baseless, if you considered that he’d enlisted in the Marines the day he’d turned eighteen and had spent years doing his own cooking, cleaning, and laundry. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself.
But Josie hadn’t wanted him to have to. Blake had learned early on in their marriage that Josie delighted in taking care of him, both as his wife and as his submissive.
So when her tired eyes had grown round and alarmed at the idea of him managing the place on his own—maybe picturing him suffocating under the weight of a decade’s worth of dust—he’d agreed to keep Consuela on, and he hadn’t had the heart to change his mind in the months that had passed since Josie’s death.
Without conscious thought, his hand snagged the picture frame and dragged it closer, so that he could inspect it in the milky, pre-dawn light.
It was an image he’d seen a thousand times before—him in his uniform, hair high and tight, fresh back from a stint in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, not even thirty years old and cocky as hell. Josie in her puffy dress, all white satin and lace, with her blonde curls fluffed out to the nth degree and looking for all the world like the twenty-year-old virgin she was. He was looking straight at the camera, ready to take on whatever life threw at them. She was looking at him, awestruck, like he’d hung the moon.
A familiar pang twisted his stomach.
Their marriage had been a good one. They’d never been able to have kids, but that hadn’t seemed to bother Josie much once the initial disappointment faded. She’d instead found her calling in studying and researching dominance and submission, and mentoring others in the D/s community through her blog, SubHaven. And Blake… well, he’d opened The Club.
He ran his thumb over the smooth wood of the picture frame. A quarter of a century had passed since that day. Sometimes it felt like yesterday. Sometimes he could barely remember who he’d been back then.
His mind tripped to Slay and Matteo, Diego, Paul, Donnie, Dom and Tony, the younger men—all dominants, like him—who he considered the core members of The Club. He considered all of them friends, despite the fact that all of them were currently around the age he’d been when the picture was taken.
He snorted. In a lot of ways, those guys were further along than he’d been at their ages, not that he’d ever admit it out loud. But back then he hadn’t even known what BDSM was. He’d thought he’d have to subdue the protective, dominant qualities that had served him so well in the military for the sake of his marriage.
If it hadn’t been for Josie, he might never have known better.
She’d been the one who’d read the romance novels, the one who’d gotten the idea that his natural leadership and her natural submissiveness could become something more. She was the one who’d approached him, encouraged him to talk with other dominants, introduced him to the concept of chat rooms back when the internet was in its infancy. It had opened his eyes to what their marriage could be, what he could be, and allowed him to fulfill his potential in so many ways.
He owed Josie, huge. And he always would.
He straightened, and the brush of his soft flannel pajama pants against his still-hard cock made him shudder.
He owed Josie, and this was how he repaid her? Humping the bed like a teenager with a wet dream? Having completely inappropriate fantasies about a woman who was decidedly not his wife, and who was… who was…
He slammed the flat of his hand on the dresser top, then spun around and stalked down the hall to the kitchen, ignoring the way his cock tented his pants. The whole situation was intolerable, and it was up to him to fix it.
He reached the kitchen and went through the motions of fixing himself a cup of coffee, while his mind turned over the problem.
Issue number one: he had gone too long without sex. He waited for guilt or shame to rear its head as he acknowledged this fact, but neither did. He had a sex drive, a strong one, and always had. Sex was a biological need for him, a simple fact of life. He’d done the deed exactly six times since Josie had passed, and each time he’d been slightly less uncomfortable, feeling less like he was cheating. Every other time he’d gotten off, which was to say, every morning and most evenings, he’d relied on his own damn hand, and that was because of…
Issue number two. Ironic as it might seem given that he spent nearly all his waking hours in a club that catered to many people who were willing and eager for no-strings sexual gratification, those offers didn’t apply to him. He wasn’t just a member of The Club, or even an employee of The Club. He was the owner. The man who sat behind the video monitors and ensured that everyone stayed safe, sane, and consensual. A father figure to some, a mentor to others, Big Brother to the rest. Essential, but… apart. He needed a partner who understood his need for dominance, but wasn’t in awe of him. And that brought him to…
Issue number three, which was thornier. Because ultimately, he didn’t only need sex. No-strings sex and spankings were like cotton candy to a starving man. They were tasty, and they temporarily took the edge off, but they completely lacked substance. Blake wasn’t a boy, and hadn’t been for a long time. He was a man, and he knew exactly what he wanted and needed—a woman who would submit to him, a woman he could nurture and protect. He didn’t need a new wife, he didn’t need a life-long commitment, but he needed permanence. That was what his mind and soul craved. And it was that lack that was sending his mind off the rails right now.
It was the only explanation he could fathom for why he was fantasizing about the least-submissive, least-appropriate, most-annoying woman in the Greater Boston area, Elena Slater.
There was a time, shortly after they first met, when he’d found her charming. Cute, even. Her confidence, her bright humor, and her unquenchable curiosity had been a welcome distraction during Josie’s illness, and Elena’s experience as a nurse had given her the rare ability to express sympathy without pity, even during the hardest days.
But over the past few months, he’d ceased to look at her as a potential submissive who needed mentoring, and the confidence and curiosity he’d once found adorable had become infuriating.
“It’s just a simple question,” she’d complain defiantly, after asking her thousandth question about Shibari, or spanking implements, or consensual non-consent. With each progressive question, his explanations became briefer, less comprehensive, until he’d finally glared at her in frustration and reminded her of something she’d once told him—that she was a twenty-something woman with an Internet connection. If she wanted information, for the love of fuck, she could look it up. That way, when her big brother, Alexander “Slay” Slater, Blake’s right-hand man at The Club and trusted friend, got pissed off that his baby sister was becoming a walking, talking kink encyclopedia, he could blame the folks at Google and not invite Blake’s ass to the mat to settle his beef UFC-style.
He ran a hand over the hard ridges of his abs, feeling the muscles he’d honed through years of intense, dedicated workouts, and took a cautious sip of the scalding hot coffee.
Not that he couldn’t hold his own against Slay, of course. Slay was taller and younger, but didn’t have a fraction of Blake’s experience. The issue was that you could hardly fight a man when you felt like he had a point, and Blake didn’t want Elena discussing that shit with him any more than Slay did. She was nearly thirty years younger than he was, for God’s sake. His friend’s baby sister.
Or maybe you want to discuss it too much?
His mind helpfully called up an image of Elena as she’d been in his dream, her hair a black halo around her gorgeous face, her dark eyes on him as she took his cock. He definitely hadn’t been thinking of her age when she…
Blake took another deep gulp of the coffee, grateful for the way it scorched his mouth and pulled his thoughts back to the present. His hand tightened around the mug until he worried that it might crack.
She’s too young. She’s Slay’s sister. She’s not the type of submissive you need.
His cock twitched in his pants, calling him a liar, and he growled as he dumped the remainder of the coffee down the drain.
He needed to find himself a new sub. But first, he needed to get reacquainted with his fucking hand in the shower.
Thirty minutes later, Blake was clean and in a clearer frame of mind. He shoved his feet into his sneakers, and grabbed his phone from the charger, ready to head out to his favorite Crossfit box and all-out attack the workout of the day. Despite the momentary relief he’d felt in the shower, frustrated arousal still thrummed within him, and he was going to burn it off in the easiest outlet available to him—the gym.
But one quick glance at his phone screen had him stopping in his tracks, sinking down onto the worn leather couch in his living room as he cradled the device in his hands.
Such a simple thing—a new email reminding him to renew the domain name for the SubHaven website—and just like that, a pang of grief and remorse caught him square in the chest.
SubHaven, the blog Josie had started years and years ago, had been more than his late wife’s hobby, it had been Josie’s passion, creative outlet, and social connection. He’d stayed out of it, beyond knowing the basics and occasionally reading posts when she asked him to, since his involvement seemed to make her self-conscious, but she’d always made sure he knew her passwords, just in case. And in the fifteen months since Josie had died… and the months of illness before that… had he thought about using them? No. Not even once. Not even to write a quick post to let the regulars know what had happened. Not even to wish them all farewell.
He stuck the phone in his pocket, made his way to the back bedroom that Josie had used as an office, and fired up her computer. The machine began to purr almost immediately, the monitor blinking to life in a flood of white light, and Blake smiled even as he shook his head. His own damn computer at The Club started up with a noise like a fucking lawnmower, as cranky and slow as his grandma when her arthritis had flared, but Josie had had a way with technology. Taught herself everything she needed to know and then some—enough to help Slay and Matteo when they needed help with their off-books security gigs, and enough to build her own system from the ground up. He wished he’d taken the time to learn more about it from her before…
He sucked in a breath and shut the thought down.
The system booted with her blog front and center, opened to the last thing she’d posted. Without thought, he sat his ass in Josie’s rolling chair and scooted it closer to the screen, reading the words she’d written.
It was an open reply to a letter, something Josie did fairly often when she got a communication from a dom or sub and thought the answer would benefit the entire community. He knew that she worked hard to craft those posts, thinking about them for days and sometimes weeks, wordsmithing and fine-tuning until her message was clear. She knew that her words impacted her readers, and she felt an overwhelming responsibility to get things “right.”
In this case, the letter was from a newbie submissive with the screen name LanieLove. He found his lips curving up in a reluctant smile as he read her letter.
Hi, LadyHaven - I’m a twenty-six-year-old woman who’s a professional and part-time student. I’ve been fascinated by D/s for the longest time, and every word I read on your blog convinces me more and more that this is something I’d like to try… but I haven’t the foggiest idea how to turn the fantasy into reality! How does your average girl find herself a dominant? Billionaire control-freaks and obsessive vampires are pretty thin on the ground around here. Do I coat myself in liquid latex and march into a club? Play Russian roulette in the online chat rooms and hope I don’t wind up with a serial killer? And even if I do find a guy who wants that kind of a relationship, how do you submit to a person you barely know? How do you know when it’s safe to give another person control?
Josie’s reply had been straightforward and informative, recommending some groups that might have local chapters while stressing the standard safe, sane, consensual motto, but the last paragraph caught his attention…
If there is one other piece of advice that I could give you, LanieLove, one that I wish I’d had when I was at your stage of the journey, it’s to remember that the dominants you’ve met on the pages of your latest romance or on the big screen—the millionaire, mind-reading, super-hero doms that make us drool and sigh—do not exist. No pre-packaged “perfect” dominant lies waiting for you to find him. And LanieLove, you shouldn’t want there to be! A true D/s relationship is a bond that grows and deepens over time as you develop trust and understanding until you get to the place where you need to be. And it doesn’t matter how much experience each partner has had in the lifestyle, because D/s has as many incarnations as there are dominants and submissives, and every partnership will find the balance that works for them. And Lanie, when you and your partner find the one that works for you, it’s more beautiful than anything you’ve ever seen or read about. Beware of anyone who expects you to change yourself to fit their ideals without taking your needs and goals into account. D/s is not one-size-fits-all. Educate yourself (I’m always happy to answer your questions!). Communicate with your partner or potential partner. Keep an open mind, but be safe.
He sucked in a deep breath and ran his hand over his jaw, feeling a weight he hadn’t known he was carrying break free. She’d been happy in their marriage, his Josie had. It was right there in the words she’d written.
He’d known it on a certain level, of course, because he’d worked to make it so. Submission had seemed to come as easy as breathing to Josie, and their relationship had been calm and comfortable. He’d never had reason to question it.
But recently, watching as the men around him found their soulmates—each couple enduring their own trials by fire and working their way through them, he’d started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he and Josie had been missing something. Had he lost his focus? Taken his eye off the ball? Could he have amped things up a bit further, taken things a bit higher, knocked them out of their comfort zone and into something even deeper, even better?
Reading her reply reassured him that, whatever questions he might have on that score, Josie hadn’t had any.
He absentmindedly scrolled down the page and saw a private reply from LanieLove, and another from Josie, who suggested switching their conversation to email instead. Curious, he opened Josie’s email program.
Jesus. There were over two thousand unread messages in her inbox, some of them from as recently as this week, asking for her help or advice.
Another deep breath had him closing the program and beginning to type his first—and last—post on SubHaven. A post he titled simply, “An Update.”
With a sigh, he hit Publish a few minutes later, and rolled himself back from the desk. Sometime—like next week or next month or next year—maybe he’d come back and wade through that email backlog, but he wasn’t in a hurry. They wanted Josie’s advice, after all, not his. For now, he had a date with an assault bike at the gym.
But just as he reached over to touch the power button on the monitor, the system dinged an alert and a chat screen opened—someone trying to chat with Josie.
He tamped down a flare of annoyance—hadn’t he just explained that SubHaven would be shutting down?—and went to close the screen, when he saw that the sender was LanieLove. Curiosity had him reading her message.
LanieLove: I’m not sure if anyone will get this. I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry to hear this news. LadyHaven was a treasure and she’s been missed.
His hands hovered over the keys, debating how to reply, or whether he should even bother, but something compelled him to type.
LadyHaven: Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. I know my wife gained as much from the blog as her readers did. She considered you friends.
The sight of his reply under his wife’s username startled him, but before he could debate switching, he received a reply.
LanieLove: I felt the same. I didn’t know her for very long—we only messaged back and forth for a few months—but I felt like she was my partner in crime.
The notion of sweet, sensible Josie being anyone’s partner in crime made his eyebrow lift, though there was no one there to see it.
LadyHaven: Crime? Really?
LanieLove: Er. Not crime, exactly.
LadyHaven: Relieved to hear it.
LanieLove: Ha! More like matchmaking. She was helping me find a dominant.
LadyHaven: Ah, yes. One who wasn’t a billionaire or a vampire?
A long pause followed, so long that he wondered whether she was going to reply, but then she did.
LanieLove: You read that?
LadyHaven: Of course. LadyHaven posted your letter, along with her reply. Surely she got your permission first?
LanieLove: Oh. Yes, she did. It’s just… I guess I didn’t expect that any DOMINANTS would read it.
He laughed out loud.
LadyHaven: You didn’t know that at least a third of the readers of the blog are dominants?
LanieLove: Crap. I guess I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe I should have been a little less sassy, huh? Guess this solves the mystery of why I haven’t found a dom, even after a year of looking?
LadyHaven: Well, as a dominant, I can tell you that having a sense of humor is a point in your favor. Your letter made me smile, and I didn’t think that was possible this morning.
LanieLove: Bad day?
LadyHaven: Considering the sun hasn’t fully risen in this time zone, it’s too early to tell, but it was shaping up that way.
LanieLove: I can imagine. I have a friend who lost his wife recently and… well, it’s changed him. I guess it’s to be expected, but…
LadyHaven: But you’re worried about him?
LanieLove: Kinda, yeah. He doesn’t talk anymore, never jokes around. He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever met, but he’s gotta be hurting. I wish he’d let someone in.
Blake stared at the flashing cursor on the screen for a long moment, then finally typed words he’d only recently discovered to be true.
LadyHaven: Give him some time. Sometimes it’s easier to just retreat from the world. He’ll know when it’s time for him to start living again. You can’t rush it.
LanieLove: That’s good advice. How about you? Have you started living again?
Blake sucked in a breath. Had he? Honesty compelled him to reply.
LadyHaven: I’m getting there, Lanie.
LanieLove: I am so glad. I know LadyHaven would want that for you.
Before he could formulate a response, let alone type one, another message followed.
LanieLove: Listen, I know we don’t know each other at all, but… If you’re having a bad day, please reach out. I can’t help my friend, but I’d like to know that I could be there for SOMEONE, you know? And sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger, I think. Or if it’s weird to talk to me, talk to your friends. Humans are herd animals, after all.
LadyHaven: Herd animals?
LanieLove: Seriously! I read it in a psychology magazine at my dentist’s office.
LadyHaven: Well, then it must be true.
LanieLove: LOL. It just means we’re not meant to go it alone!
He read her message and felt his lips curve, then without allowing himself to think too deeply about it, he typed.
LadyHaven: I’ll keep in touch.
LanieLove: You will?
LadyHaven: Yes. Because LadyHaven would want me to make sure you found yourself a dominant who’ll treat you right.
LanieLove: Aw. That’s sweet. I haven’t found anyone I think she’d approve of yet. LadyH had VERY high standards for a dominant.
LadyHaven: Well, thank you. That’s quite a compliment.
LanieLove: Oh, my gosh! I hadn’t meant YOU!! I meant for ME.
LanieLove: I mean, not that she didn’t have high standards for herself, too.
Her messages flashed on the screen in quick succession and her embarrassment had him chuckling.
LadyHaven: I know what you meant.
LanieLove: Okay, good!
LanieLove: Hey, I’ve gotta go in a minute, but I’ll send you my phone number in case you want to message me when I’m not logged in to chat.
Blake’s eyes widened, even as her phone number appeared on his screen. He felt his shoulders tense with shock and displeasure.
LadyHaven: Please tell me you did not just do that.
LanieLove: Do what?
LadyHaven: Share your phone number with a TOTAL STRANGER online!
LanieLove: Oh. You’re not a stranger, though. You’re MisterHaven.
Blake felt his teeth grinding together and didn’t stop to consider why he felt so unreasonably concerned with the welfare of a person he’d only exchanged a few words with.
LadyHaven: You seem like an intelligent woman, Lanie, so think about this... How the hell do you know who I am? I could be an ax murderer. I could be planning to scam you out of money, trace your phone to find your location, anything!
LanieLove: That’s crazy. You’re not the CIA, and it’s just my phone number!
LadyHaven: And what happens when I reverse-search your phone number, LanieLove? What if I spend $20 and run an identity check? Then what?
Frankly, Blake wasn’t exactly sure what information a search like that would net for him—this was much more in Josie’s wheelhouse than his own. But he was confident there was a wealth of information out there for someone more knowledgeable and less honest than him, and this girl, whoever she was, needed to be careful.
Blake snorted. Oh? That was her response?
LadyHaven: Be smart, Lanie.
Her reply was a long time coming, and when it did, it was two simple words.
LanieLove: Okay. Sorry.
Blake waited for more, noting that the green light next to her name was still lit, showing that she was still online, but nothing else came.
He regretted that their easy back-and-forth had ended that way—it had been a long time since he’d smiled as much as he had in this one random conversation, and he’d honestly planned to check in with her and mentor her if he could—but it was worth the sacrifice if she learned her lesson and stayed safe. He reached out to flip off the monitor again.
Once again, her message chimed through just before he hit the button.
LanieLove: I’ve gotta say, if you’re an ax murderer, you’re a pretty shitty one. LOL. Next time, don’t give away the whole plan, MisterH! Gotta get back to work, but text me if you want to.
And then the green light next to her name went out.
He sat for a moment staring at the screen and shaking his head. Part of him wanted to end this here and now, but another part of him recognized that this—a sweet, uncomplicated, mentoring relationship—might be exactly what he needed. If nothing else, it would distract him from the woman who’d been haunting his dreams.
He grabbed his phone, and plugged in Lanie’s number, then sent her a simple one-word message:
He found himself looking forward to her reply in a way he hadn’t looked forward to anything recently. He shoved himself to his feet, stuck the phone in his pocket, and headed out to the gym, only vaguely aware that he was whistling while he did it.