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Murder… Despair… Hope.
Quentin Doucet loves three things with a passion: working with leather, vintage motorcycles, and women who have chosen a life of submission. His life was perfect until the day Beth disappeared off the face of the earth. Unable to stay in the vibrant city of New Orleans, where the memories are just too painful and his sense of guilt is just too great, he walks away when darkness threatens to consume him. It is only his sense of duty that has him returning when his best friend and business partner Brody is laid up with a broken leg. Despite Quentin's insistence that he isn't going to stay once Brody is back on his feet, fate has other plans. The night he steps into an art gallery, he feels as if his eyes are opening for the first time in two years. The paintings on the walls stir his soul almost as much as the artist herself.
The moment Grace meets Quentin at her exhibition and looks into his eyes, she feels an irresistible urge to press her lips against the pulsing vein in his neck. When he later steps into the room as the leader of her first class in submission, she knows she wants to be his. He is an enigma that she longs to solve, but she's well aware that until he is free of the pain of his past, he will never be ready to step into the future.
With the help of a detective who refuses to allow a killer to go free, Quentin and Brody attempt to unravel a twisting labyrinth of clues to bring closure to a case long relegated to the cold files. The swamps of Louisiana hide the sins of many, but when Grace disappears, Quentin knows he won't survive if she's not found alive. Will his instincts allow him to find the woman he's come to love in time, or will he lose another to the marsh's embrace? Are the fates that cruel, or will God's grace give him another chance?
Find out in Leather and Grace, a tale of BDSM, murder, suspense, love, hope, lust and exploration, from the pen of USA Today bestselling author Maggie Ryan.
Publisher's Note: This tale contains adult themes, including spanking and flogging, anal play and explicit sexual scenes between consenting adults. If such material offends you, please do not purchase.
"You know, I don't remember any sponge bath I've ever gotten being given with such intimate relish," Quentin said as he let the door shut behind him. His presence caused Brody to chuckle, and what sounded suspiciously like a muffled giggle from the woman who had her hand wrapped around the root of his very impressive erection as her mouth engulfed half of his cock.
"Just ignore him," Brody said, moving a hand to the back of her blonde head. "Eyes to me."
Quentin could see the flush on her cheeks as she lifted her eyes to obey Brody's softly spoken command.
"That's my good girl. God, you are beautiful. Nice and deep, now."
Quentin leaned against the wall, his arms crossed as he unabashedly watched the woman perform fellatio. As her cheeks hollowed and luscious lips spread wider, blue eyes locked onto her patient's, she managed to take almost his entire length into her mouth, very effectively controlling her gag reflex as her throat accepted the invasion of his cockhead. It didn't take much longer before Brody's palms were cupping her face, his murmurs of approval accompanied by her soft mews as she prepared for his release. It came with a stiffening of his body and a bellow of pure bliss as he released his seed down her throat.
Quentin had to admit the woman knew what she was doing, maintaining her position, her cheeks continuing to puff in and out and her hand to gently squeeze and slide up and down his length until Brody relaxed against his pillows, one hand dropping from her face, the other moving to stroke across her top lip.
"Beautiful, simply beautiful, baby. You may release," Brody said, not taking her eyes from her as she slowly allowed his cock to slip free, only to swipe her tongue up, down, and around his shaft as if ensuring she left not a single drop of his essence behind.
"Thank you, sir," she said, sitting up and slipping off the bed. Quentin smiled as she pulled the thin sheet up and arranged it around Brody's body the best she could with his left leg hanging in the air, the cast that ran from his toes to his hip supported by the traction equipment. She moved to the head of the bed, squealing when he pulled her down to kiss her deeply at the same time as he swatted her behind. She was a bit breathless when he released her. "What was that for?" she asked, a hand moving to rub across the seat of her purple scrubs.
"Just because you've got the cutest little ass in the world." She smiled as he leaned forward a bit so she could fluff and rearrange the pillows behind his back.
"Okay, enough fussing. You may greet our guest."
Laurie immediately ran around the bed, and Quentin barely had time to push away from the wall before she launched herself at him.
"Oh my God, it's so great to see you again, Master Quentin."
Quentin stiffened for a moment and then tightened his arms, embracing the pretty blonde. "None of that. It's just Quentin to you. It's good to see you, Laurie. Though why you didn't take the chance to run when this fool busted his leg I'll never know."
"Even though he can't manage but a few swats now, I'm afraid my poor butt wouldn't like the price required when he heals," she said with a smile. Quentin grinned, remembering that the girl was not only dedicated to his best friend, she'd definitely enjoy whatever Brody deemed a proper price for any disobedience. The two had been inseparable since they'd met, and from the looks of it, they would remain so. Quentin felt a rare spark of jealousy, and yet wouldn't truly wish for them to be anything but happy together.
"I promise I'll make it up to you, baby," Brody said, pulling her down for another kiss.
"I'll hold you to that," Laurie said, brushing his hair back from his forehead to plant another kiss. "I'll let you two catch up while I run get your dinner." Turning to Quentin, she said, "I'm going to be bringing Brody's dinner and I'd be happy to pick you up some as well."
"Better take her up on the offer," Brody suggested. "I can't promise what you'll find in the fridge."
"We're not talking hospital food, are we?"
"No, Sammy's catfish special is on the menu for tonight. Of course, if you can't handle real Cajun food anymore, I suppose I can drop by the cafeteria…" She squealed when Quentin's hand connected with her backside.
"Still as saucy as ever, I see," he said, a bit amazed his hand seemed to have reacted without direction from his brain. Acting as if it hadn't been out of the norm, he continued. "I cut my teeth on Cajun food and no one can beat Sammy's."
"Good, then I'll be back in about an hour."
"Thanks, babe, and remind him that I'll need at least a double order of red beans and rice and extra gator balls. I have to keep my strength up," Brody said, giving an exaggerated sigh as he pushed up a bit, as if attempting to find a more comfortable position.
Quentin saw Laurie roll her eyes but she nodded. "I'll be sure to tell him you are withering away."
"Don't think I didn't see that," Brody said. "Add rolling eyes to your list."
"Yes, sir," Laurie said with yet another smile. "I'll be back soon. Try not to blow away until then."
"Speaking of blowing…"
"Lord, you are the most demanding patient I've ever had," Laurie said with a dismissive wave. Opening the door, she turned back. "It's good to have you home, Quentin. It's been too long."
Quentin just shook his head as he approached the hospital bed. "Still managing to deceive her into thinking you're a great guy, I see."
Brody shook his hand and grinned. "I know, it's rather amazing, isn't it?"
Quentin nodded and pulled the chair a bit closer and took a seat. He gestured toward the equipment hanging over the bed, "How's the leg?"
"Hurts like a son of a bitch," Brody admitted, "but it's the feeling of helplessness that's the real pain. Not only can't I give my girl a proper spanking, but with Dave on his honeymoon, I'm really short handed. That's where you come in. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're back—"
"I'm not back," Quentin interrupted. "I can give you a few weeks, but that's it."
Brody took a moment then shrugged. "Well, that'll help. I've got a new class starting on Monday. You'll have the weekend to meet the staff and reacquaint yourself with the club. You know, the one you partially own?"
Quentin again ignored the dig. "What's the class?"
"Introduction into submission."
"Ah, fuck, Brody…"
"Before you say anything, you know it takes some women a long time to gather the courage to take that first step and, well, frankly, I don't have the heart to cancel. Look, I know this is a huge favor but I honestly can't think of a better man for the job." When Quentin didn't speak, he continued. "Besides, it's been almost two years. I've let it slide but, man, this was your dream as well as mine."
"I offered to let you buy me out…"
"I'm not interested, and you can't sell unless I agree."
"That was a stupid clause…"
"And yet it is in our contract. Besides, Quent, you can't hide forever. What happened—"
"Don't." The one word was snapped out in a tone that would have silenced almost anyone. But Brody just shook his head.
"You know I'm right. If Beth were here…"
"She's not!" Quentin snarled.
"But you are, damn it," Brody said, his own voice rising. "It's past time for you to pull your head out of your ass and rejoin the world. You can't keep blaming yourself. It was a tragedy, but you know that Beth wouldn't want to see you this way." Grimacing as he pushed himself back against the pillows, he spoke again. "Quent, life is too damn short, and you aren't made out to be a hermit." When Quentin remained silent, his hand running across his face, Brody sighed. "Listen, forget it. I'll call the women and…"
"No." After a long pause, Quentin continued. "You're right. If you cancel, some of the girls will see it as some sort of divine intervention that they shouldn't explore their needs. Society puts out enough of that crap. When is Dave back?"
"A month from now."
"A month? Fuck, that's some honeymoon!"
"Yeah, well, nothing is too good for his bride." Brody chuckled. "Jen's a teacher so has the summer off. She even offered to forego the trip if Dave was needed here but…"
"I know, you didn't have the heart to cancel their honeymoon. Who's left if both you and Dave are out of commission?"
"Hand me that water, would you?" Brody asked, pointing to the insulated mug on the side table. After Quentin did and he took a sip, he answered the question. "Conner is a good man but he's not yet ready to fly solo, so he'll be your second. Adam is still manning the bar, Trent and Sloan are monitors and can handle the club. All three will be available to help with the training sessions, but they can't be expected to work 24/7. Membership has picked up considerably, which you'll know if you've been paying any attention."
"I have," Quentin reluctantly admitted. "You've done a great job, Brody. You could well afford to buy my share…"
"Again, I'm not interested," Brody said firmly. "I'm happy with the way things are even if we're short-handed. I'm expecting you to cover for me at least until Dave gets back." He paused and then said, "Look, if you still want to give it all up, we'll discuss it later." When Quentin opened his mouth, Brody quickly added, "But only if you give it your all while you are here. Our clients expect the best and won't be happy with you just going through the motions. I'd rather cancel the class if you can't promise…"
"I already said I'd do it," Quentin said, a little pissed at the inference that he would do some half-assed job. "A month for a honeymoon? You know, for a Dom, you are really a pushover."
"Let's keep that fact between us, okay?" Brody said, taking a sip of water. "And, as long as I'm being such a pussy, I've got one more favor to ask, but this is not really for me. It's for Laurie. She's got this friend…"
"I said I'd help at the club, but I didn't agree to being set up…"
"It's not like that," Brody said. "I'm not asking you to date her. Her friend has her first art show tomorrow night. I'd promised to take Laurie but that's obviously out of the question, and I don't want her going alone. I'd really owe you if you'd be her escort."
"Gee, I'd love to but I seem to have forgotten to pack my tux," Quentin said.
"No problem, it's not that kind of show. You might even enjoy it. Grace is a damn good artist. Speaking of art, you did bring my order with you, right?"
"Yes, but I haven't calculated your bill yet."
Brody chuckled and shook his head. "Don't tell me, the price of leather just skyrocketed?"
Quentin shrugged and then nodded. "Fine, I'll take Laurie and show her a good time."
"Not too good," Brody warned, "it's been a while since I've shared."
"I'll remember that," Quentin said, the memory of the sweet blonde kneeling at his feet, her mouth wrapped around his cock, flooding his mind. It was just another pleasure he'd walked away from, and once again found he was very glad she'd had been there to help Brody when he'd simply been unable to stay.
"Thanks, Quent," Brody said, "I owe you one. Hell, I owe you more than one."
Quentin knew that was a lie. It was he who owed this man a great deal. Still, it was just like Brody to attempt to alleviate any sense of guilt Quent felt over leaving his business partner to explain his walking away from a life they'd worked hard so hard to build.
The two spent the next hour catching up and Quentin was more than ready to eat when Laurie pushed through the door. He stood and relieved her of the bags of food, his mouth watering at the aroma. The special included crisp, fried catfish, and fat, crunchy hushpuppies. The red beans and rice were every bit as good as he remembered, and he and Brody managed to put away a dozen gator balls, which were a mixture of alligator, rice and boudin sausage in a cornmeal breading, deep fried to golden perfection. As Brody popped another jalapeno pepper into his mouth, Quentin grinned. The meal was definitely not the bland, healthier fare offered by the hospital but he didn't doubt it would go much further in keeping a patient's spirits up.
"Thanks, Laurie," Quentin said, gathering his trash and tossing it into the wastebasket.
"You're welcome," Laurie said, "oh, and Sammy said to tell you that you better stop in to say hello."
"I'll do that."
Brody thanked her as well as she threw his trash away before filling his water glass. "Quentin has a nice surprise for you, babe," Brody said. When her eyes widened as she looked between the men, he chuckled. "Not that kind of surprise. He would love to escort you to Grace's show tomorrow night."
"Really? Oh, that's fantastic!" Laurie kissed him and then jumped off the bed to hug Quentin and kiss his cheek. "You'll love it, I promise. Grace is fantastic!"
"I'm sure she is," Quentin said. "What time do I need to pick you up?"
"Eight sounds good, but you won't have to walk far," she said, lifting her left hand and wiggling her fingers. "Just down the hall, in fact."
Quentin didn't know how he could have missed the diamond on her finger. "Well, hell, when did that happen?"
"Just a few days ago," Laurie said, reaching down to entwine her fingers with Brody's. "If I'd known all it took was some rather spectacular drugs…"
"Hey, I proposed when in my right mind," Brody said. "Seeing my life flash before my eyes as I fell off that cliff, well, I realized that it wasn't worth…" he paused and then continued, "I knew that if I wanted the best medical care, I'd get it from my loving fiancée."
Quentin knew that hadn't been what Brody was about to say, but didn't call him on it. "Congratulations, I couldn't be happier for you both." When he saw her snuggle closer, he stood. "I'll leave you to tuck the big boy into bed."
"Wait. Honey, grab my keys, would you?" Brody asked, motioning to the rolling bed tray. She had it open when Quentin spoke.
"No need, unless you've changed the locks?"
Brody grinned and shook his head. "Nope. And, a man who keeps keys on his key ring isn't ready to shut those doors, my friend."
Quentin lifted his hand in a dismissive wave. "I'll talk to you tomorrow." Right before he stepped through the door, he turned back with a grin. "And, while I rarely can say this, you'd better be a good boy and do whatever Nurse Laurie commands." His words drew laughter from them both, and he managed to keep the smile on his face until he was out in the hall. He'd prepared himself for returning to the club but had not once considered that he'd have to be more involved than a simple overseer.
In the parking lot, he climbed into his truck and then sat without starting the ignition. He'd agreed to help and yet wasn't sure how much of a help he would be. Finding no answers, he turned the key and pulled away from the curb with a deep sigh. As much as he wanted to turn around and head back down I-10 to disappear into the Atchafalaya swamp, he had given his word. Weaving his way from the hospital through the labyrinth of streets, he couldn't help but admit that he could practically feel the blood in his veins begin to rush.
It had been a long time since he'd visited New Orleans proper and yet the scene remained the same. Tourists who had no idea which streets took them into the heart of the action clogged the roads, and horns blared, adding to the din of sound rolling through his window. Turning down a narrow side street, he maneuvered his way towards one of the oldest parts of the city. He left the truck in idle as he got out and unlocked the wrought iron gate that spanned the back driveway. He pulled through, jumped down once more to lock it behind him, and then drove to what had once been a carriage house but was now a garage. After parking, he climbed out of the truck for the last time, giving a whistle as he looked at the silver Jaguar that took up the other half of the garage. He grinned as he lowered the tailgate of his truck to maneuver the motorcycle down. Just as he loved vintage bikes, Brody loved vintage sports cars. The refurbished Indian Sport was his favored method of transportation where traffic was often congested and parking spaces scarce.
Looking towards the house, he decided to leave the duffel bags for the time being. Now was as good a time as any to start paying back the debt he owed his friend. Returning to the truck's cab, he opened the glove compartment and retrieved a small jeweler's box. Opening it, he looked down at the ring that would gain him unlimited entrance even more so than his keys. Sliding it onto his finger, it felt both foreign and familiar. He unlocked the small gate and stepped through. If he were going to do this, he'd do it one step at a time.
Walking around the corner, he shook his head. It still amazed him that no one strolling outside the fence or eating in the restaurant would suspect what really happened above their heads. The house was located on a corner and took up more acreage than most of its counterparts. His first grin came as he imagined the tour bus narrator spouting how southern belles were once escorted around the grounds by the elite of New Orleans society and served mint juleps on any one of the large verandas that encircled the house. He and Brody had spent a great deal of money restoring every brick and stone after purchasing the house a decade earlier. Massive magnolia trees filled the courtyard, their blossoms sweetening the humid air and competing with the rich spices that wafted out when the door opened to allow an older couple to exit. Their smiles and the gift bag clutched in the woman's hand guaranteed they'd enjoyed their visit. He again had to smile at the irony. He'd been a bit unsure of Brody's plan to run more than one business and yet he couldn't deny the man's genius. Doing so allowed anyone who visited the city to enjoy great food in the front restaurant, and shop in the adjoining souvenir shop to purchase anything from t-shirts and Mardi Gras beads to bottles of Sammy's special hot-sauce and packets of his spices to try to replicate the dishes they'd enjoyed. The address might well be one of the great old homes to see, the restaurant touted as one of the best for authentic Cajun cuisine, but only those who had been carefully vetted and who could afford the high price of privacy for their chosen play would ever make it above the first floor.