The Whip and the Red by Laura Clarke – Part One

Chapter One

“I’ve heard she’s taken that old lean-to and made it into a cabin that’s worth a fortune. I wish I could see The Whip’s face when he finds out about it.”

Benedict “The Whip” Bishop tightened his grip on the jar of peanut butter and fought the urge to slam it against the grocery store floor. He was crouched down near the bottom shelf, looking at the different prices of peanut butter. They always put the cheaper things at the bottom, and Whip wasn’t the type to pay top dollar for the items they put on the middle shelves.

That’s probably why the women standing not too far from him didn’t see him, and were talking about him as if they had every right. He wanted to stand up to his full six foot two inches and ask them what the devil they were talking about, but he didn’t. The longer he stayed down the more he would learn from their gossip.

It was obvious who the she was in their conversation—Scarlett “Red” Sayles, his onetime lover and longtime neighbor. He knew this sort of garbage would start the moment Red returned to town. Not the gossip—that went on no matter whether Red was at home on her family ranch or in Austin, where she’d gone off to school and stayed until just six months ago.

It was the renovations that would give him fits. He and Red had talked about it just weeks ago, but she’d never let on that she’d already started to put her plan into motion.

“Dude ranch my ass,” he hissed as he put the peanut butter back on the shelf. Then he picked it up again. He was out and needed it, after all.

“Ray down to the hardware store said she’s run up quite a tab there buying supplies and such.”

Ben pinpointed the voice as that of Mrs. Whittle, one of Antium’s longtime residents, and one of its main gossips, too. His mother once told him there was three ways to let the people of Antium know about something, telephone, telegraph and tell Mrs. Whittle.

“I have to ask you, who would want to visit here?” Mrs. Whittle asked. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Perhaps people who want to get away from it all,” the first voice said. Whip frowned as he tried to place the speaker. She didn’t sound familiar to him. “All I know is Whip and his parents are going to be furious. I hear they’ve been fighting the idea of having a dude ranch next to their real ranch since the Sayers brought up the idea a year ago.”

“I realize times are hard, but opening your home to strangers?” Mrs. Whittle sighed in obvious frustration, and Whip imagined her shuddering. “It’s just so unseemly.”

“Of course, Scarlett was never one to care what people thought about her,” the first voice said. “When she dated my Troy he said she was quite fast, and gave him her virginity very easily.”

Her Troy, that meant the first voice was Helen Meeker, mother of one of Whip’s former classmates, Troy Meeker, who was known for trying to get into the pants of every girl in high school. Whip knew Troy hadn’t gotten into Scarlett’s pants in high school, because Whip had taken her virginity during their sophomore year at college.

It was time to nip this conversation in the bud. He grabbed two jars of peanut butter and stood.

“Ladies, what do you say, crunchy or smooth?” He held out the choices, and pasted a smile on his face. Their shocked looks gave him great pleasure, the gossiping old biddies. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Helen Meeker that Troy wasn’t only a horn dog who tried to hump every woman he came across, but he was a liar as well, but he didn’t want to embarrass the old woman. His mother had taught him better than that.

“I didn’t see you there,” Mrs. Whittle said, putting her hand on her chest. “How is your mother these days?”

“Fine, thank you,” he said. “She and Dad are about to take a trip around the world, starting tomorrow. They’re in New York City right now, and going to the theater tonight.”

“How nice for them,” Mrs. Meeker said. “They’re going to miss the snow.”

“There’s not going to be any snow,” Mrs. Whittle said. “The weathermen never get anything right. Besides, it’s March.”

“In the past it has snowed into April,” Mrs. Meeker said. “If you don’t remember it then your memory is failing.”

“It’s sixty outside today,” Mrs. Whittle countered. “If you’re so good at predicting things why don’t you get a job on the TV?”

They continued to argue and Whip put down the smooth peanut butter. He enjoyed the crunchy better; it provided a bit of edge to his sandwiches. He liked a bit of edge to everything.

“Ladies, good day.” He touched the brim of his cowboy hat, added the jar to his basket and wheeled it around them. He had several more things he needed to buy, now that he was on his own at the main house. But all he could think about was Red, and what she’d done with the house at the edge of the property.

The gossiping ladies’ information was off. It wasn’t a lean-to, it was the first house that had been built on the property. When old man Sayles had died, Scarlett’s father had abandoned the house and built a new one nearer the road. He and Scarlett used to go out there and neck quite a bit during their younger days.

After things had turned physical with them he’d hauled a mattress down there, disturbed a few snakes that had taken up residence, and they’d used the house as their own personal love nest. And now she planned on using that place to make money, to rent it out to people she didn’t even know.

Did it mean nothing to her? When they’d parted ways years ago she’d told him she hated him, and never wanted to see him again. She’d never really given him a reason, and he’d wondered all these years what he’d done wrong.

After they’d broken up he’d come to think of her as a cold fish. She ignored his calls and, after a while, he’d even tried writing letters. Once he’d seen her at the grocery store while she was home visiting her parents and she’d turned and gone the other way.

It was a bit ironic that he would learn at the grocery store that she was back in town and redoing their love shack.

Whip made his way to the checkout. After the checker, a woman he’d gone to school with, had rung him up as she tried to flirt, he’d paid and gone to his truck. He would put up his purchases and then go to the Sayles’ place and talk to Scarlett.

She wouldn’t be able to ignore him if he showed up on her doorstep, would she?

***

Scarlett Sayles held a floor sampling near the light, put it down and then picked up another one.

“I like the darker one best,” she said to the salesperson. “Do you think it’s too much for a cabin? It’s two bedrooms downstairs and a loft upstairs. The paneling is dark, so I think this will match.”

“You’re trying to stay with a rustic theme, then?” the salesman asked. He’d given her his name when she’d first entered the shop, but she couldn’t remember exactly what it was. She was terrible at remembering names.

“Yes, we want the western theme,” she said. “It’s our desire to have six cabins,” she said. “At some point we’re thinking of adding a pool and hot tub area, but right now all we’re advertising is horseback riding, hiking and fishing. Of course, they can come into Ruidoso and go gambling, and take a drive up to Lincoln to see the Billy the Kid Scenic Highway and the Courthouse where he escaped and killed several men. You know, it wasn’t really…” Scarlett closed her mouth as she glanced at the salesman, just as she remembered his name was Tim. “Sorry, I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I? You know the history of the area.”

“I’ve been to Lincoln a time or two,” Tim said. “I think what you’re planning is great, for the area and for my store. How much flooring do you want me to order right now?”

They sat down at a desk and did some numbers. “Right now, all we have is one cabin, really my grandfather’s old house.” She tried not to grimace at the thought of the house, where she and Whip had spent so many wonderful hours. “But after it’s done I’m going to use it as a showplace when the bankers come out to, hopefully, inspect it and approve me for my loan so I can build the others.”

“We’ll be happy to help,” Tim said. They looked over more samples and made decisions about what would look best in the spec house. By the time Scarlett left she was questioning her decision. The amount of money to be laid out on flooring alone was more than what she’d thought it would be.

When the cabin was up to date and ready to be shown it would have cost her a small fortune. Her father told her any cabins to be let had to have central heat and air, and he’d done that to his father’s house for her. But she would have to do the rest of the improvements herself.

She sat in her car and sighed. She had money from the job she’d just left in Albuquerque, but with the amount of money she’d need to spend on flooring, that money wouldn’t last for long.

The idea of stopping by a casino and trying to win some cash passed through her mind. She quickly dismissed it. Gambling was for when you had extra cash, not for when you wanted to try and raise more.

Food would be good, though. She drove through a fast food restaurant and was stuffing fries in her mouth as she headed out of town. The tiny village of Atrium was about twenty miles outside of Ruidoso. She’d grown up there, and was happy to be back. She would be even happier when her plan was in motion and she was making money again.

Thinking about what had happened in Albuquerque, what had caused her to lose her job, made her eat her fries even faster, stuffing them into her mouth as if they were a lifeline. She’d been less than honest with her parents, telling them that she’d lost her job as part of the company downsizing. If they knew the real reason they would be furious, and she was sure she wouldn’t be able to stop her father from getting in his car, driving to Albuquerque and punching her former boss in the face.

To keep that from happening she needed to keep the lie going, which wasn’t easy when her mother questioned her about her future plans.

“You worked hard for your degree, dear,” her mother had said one day. “You’re going to have to look for a new job in your field. I understand you want some time off, but you can’t wait too long. People forget about you after a while.”

Scarlett hoped that was true; she didn’t want people to remember the events that had caused her to be unemployed.

But then she’d had an idea, one that involved the cabin that had sat empty for so many years. It was more than a cabin, really. Two bedrooms downstairs and a loft upstairs. One bathroom. Part of the master plan was a second bathroom upstairs. To do that she would need to add on, take down a wall and put up a new structure. Her father had been less than enthusiastic about the building, until she’d shown him the drawings she’d done.

After all, she was an architect, or at least she had been in another life.

“Stop dwelling on the past,” she said, right before she dug into the fast food bag and pulled out the burger. She unwrapped it as best she could while keeping one hand on the wheel. Big bites filled her mouth as she drove and ate. By the time she got to the turnoff for her parents’ house the burger and fries were gone, and she was wishing she’d bought a second bag of food.

She needed both hands to take the sharp turn off the highway and to the right onto the dirt road that led to her parents’ house. If she’d gone to the left she would end up at Bishop’s Way, where Whip lived with his parents.

Thinking about him didn’t improve her mood, but then again it never did. Not anymore. It used to be that just the thought of him made her nipples hard. But now she went out of her way not to run into him. That was a hard thing to do when the roads to their homes were connected.

It also didn’t help that she thought of him every time she stepped over the threshold of their little love nest down by the creek. Things had been so perfect between them in school, and then when they had both gone to the University of New Mexico, her in architecture and him in equine science.

He had used his degree to help his father in their horse breeding business. She’d heard from her mother that he’d been living in his parents’ house, but was supposedly looking for a place in town. She wondered why he wasn’t living with Darleen Purdy; after all, she was the reason why Ben and Scarlett, once known as The Whip and The Red, were no longer together.

Scarlett shook off the thought as she navigated her car down the dirt road toward her parents’ house. She planned on stopping there to discuss what she’d learned about the flooring with her parents. Then she would make a big salad, fix a huge jug of tea and throw that and some croissants in a bag and go down to the house, where she planned to spend the night. There was a whole room of wallpaper that needed to be destroyed—not the room, the paper.

Although at one point she’d thought about destroying the room, taking down the wall and making the two bedrooms downstairs into one large master type suite. That way if a family rented the cabin the parents could stay downstairs and the kids could stay upstairs in the loft.

She’d thought about proposing the idea to her folks, but she knew that mentioning the word kids would set her mother off. She’d never understood why Ben and Scarlett had broken up, and whenever his name came up when Scarlett was around, Margaret would tear up and say, “The two of you would have made such beautiful babies.”

It didn’t help that she’d never had a relationship that had lasted more than several months since then. Maybe if she had her mother might have forgiven her for the breakup. She rounded the bend in the road just as she thought the only way she would be able to make things up to her mother was by finding a man and popping out a few kids when she saw an unfamiliar truck sitting near her father’s SUV.

She parked her small car on the other side of her dad’s vehicle and took a long, deep swig from her soft drink. The drink seemed to stick in her throat, and she swallowed harder, past the pain that seemed to settle in her chest. She knew who was in her parents’ house right now, waiting on her.

During the month she’d been home she’d managed not to run into Ben, but it looked like that luck had run out. She didn’t know the truck, but the logo on it of Bishop’s Way, Horse Breeders, was not hard to miss.

Of course it could be Ben’s father, Ben Sr., or his mother, Eliza, but Scarlett sort of doubted that. For one thing Ben Sr. never came over to the house, and Eliza hated Scarlett with a passion and would never do anything that would make them cross paths.

That left only one person—Ben—aka the Whip. The man whom she’d loved all through high school. The man she’d given her virginity to when she was a sophomore in college. The man she’d sworn to love for all her life. The man whom she’d told to, well, to fuck off several years ago.

Why was he here? There was no real reason for him to be in her parents’ house. Was he waiting on her? Did he want to talk to her? Why?

“There’s only one way to find out,” she said to herself as she opened the door. She left the remnants of her meal in the car. She also left her purse and the things she’d bought to make a salad. That meant, if she wanted to, she could leave as fast as she could and go down to the cabin.

The side door was open and she went inside, taking off her shoes as her mother expected of everyone. There were three other pairs there, one pair of sneakers that she knew belonged to her mother and two pairs of cowboy boots, one her father’s the other, she supposed, belonging to Ben.

Laughter drifted out from the kitchen and Scarlett took a deep breath to steel herself against any feelings that might rise inside her. She needed to keep from telling Whip to get the hell out of her house and not come back.

But it wasn’t her house, was it? It was her parents’ house, and he was their guest. That meant she had to be on her best behavior. She straightened her shoulders and headed toward the kitchen, preparing herself to behave like her mother taught her to—like a good little girl.

***

Whip knew the moment Scarlett came home. He heard the back door open and close, and because there was only one other person in the household that was not already here, there was only one person it could be—Scarlett, his Red.

More than just the door opening, though, he could feel her presence. It was as if she radiated heat that moved through the house and centered in his chest, made him feel warm inside just like a teenage boy with his first crush. He swallowed hard to push that feeling away. She was no long his first love. She was a stranger to him. He didn’t know anything about her now.

“Would you like some more tea?” Margaret asked.

“No thanks,” he said. He didn’t want to tell her that he was afraid holding the delicate cup in his big hand would prove disastrous if he squeezed too hard and it broke.

“I’m sure she won’t be much longer,” Margaret said.

“You’re right.”

The sound of Scarlett’s voice made his cock harden, and Ben swore to himself. He’d told himself that wouldn’t happen yet here he sat, with a hard on that would be plain for all to see if he stood up. So he stayed in his chair.

“Scarlett,” he said.

“Ben.”

“Well, that’s nice and cold,” Margaret said. “There’s tea in the pot, darling. I’m going to go in the other room so you two can have a nice chat. Be civil to each other, please.”

When her mother was gone, Scarlett said, “What are you doing here?”

“I want to talk to you about this cockamamie idea you have,” he said.

“Excuse me?” She huffed and put her hands on her hips. “It’s none of your business.”

“Oh but it is,” he said. His cock deflated as the tension between them grew. “The last thing my horses need is people running around over here, riding four wheelers and making a lot of noise.”

“Who said anything about four wheelers?” she asked.

“Don’t dude ranches have things like that?” He flattened his palm against the table. “And they have horses, too. Where do you plan on getting horses? If I remember correctly you know nothing about horses.”

“I know how to ride, and I can hire someone to take care of horses.”

She hadn’t moved into the room, and she had her arms crossed over her chest in the classic keep away from me stance.

“Listen, Red—”

“Don’t call me that,” she said. “You lost that right.”

It was as if she had punched him in the gut. He swallowed hard and hoped she didn’t notice how hard her words hit him.

“Fine, Scarlett, I would like you to think about what you’re doing.”

“What I’m doing is none of your business,” she said. “Now, get out.”

“Our lands are right next to each other,” he said. “It concerns me a lot. I don’t want your guests thinking they can tramp all over my land.”

“Your land?” she said with a snort. “I believe it’s your father’s land. You have no land, Ben. You have nothing. Now, get out. I won’t say it again.”

He stood and glared at her. “I guess I need to talk to your dad about this, huh?”

“You jerk,” she said. “My father deeded that house to me. It’s mine, and I can do anything I want with it.”

Hers? There was another sucker punch. “At one time it was ours.” He licked his lips and ran his fingers through his hair. “Do you remember that, Scarlett? Do you remember going down there and necking and feeling each other up? Do you remember the night we made love? It was the first time for both of us. Do you remember that?”

“Is there some other way for me to say get out? I don’t think you quite understand that I want you to leave! Now!”

She was screaming at him, and he worried that her mother would come in and things would get nastier than they already were.

“Scarlett,” he said.

There were tears on her cheeks now.

Ben shook his head and said, “I’m so sorry, Scarlett. I didn’t want to hurt you. I just don’t think your idea is a good one. It will increase the traffic in our little village, and cause problems.”

“It will help the café, and the souvenir shops,” she said. “I’ve already talked to them about it. Besides, the Walkers have guest houses, remember? They take in people who want to explore this area because of its connection to Billy the Kid. They make money. I want to make money.”

“Does that mean you’re staying here?” he asked. “You’re not going back to Albuquerque?”

“That’s none of your business,” she said. Her tears had died up, and he could hear the resignation in her voice. “Why do you keep making me say it? I want you to leave.”

“Fine, but this isn’t over,” he said. “I’m sure there’s some way I can stop you.”

“Screw you, and the horse you rode in on,” she said, and then she pointed at the door.

Once he was in his truck, Ben slammed his fists against the steering wheel. He could have handled it better, could have kept his temper. He needed to talk to her again, but not in her parents’ house. The next time they spoke they would be alone. And instead of giving in to her demands to leave he would talk to her, and not just about the house.

There were things they needed to discuss, things that needed to be said to clear the air. Because if he kept it bottled up inside him much longer he would lose it.

He wondered if she felt the same way.


Chapter Two

It was snowing by the time Scarlett left her parents’ house and started toward the cabin. It was almost a thirty minute drive from the main house to the cabin, and if the snow made the dirt road too wet it would be difficult in her small car.

Her mother had packed up enough food to feed a small army, worried that the storm would be worse than predicted.

“If you get stuck at least you won’t starve to death,” Margaret had said as she put two bags of food in the front seat of Scarlett’s car.

Now, as she rattled along the road and the snow seemed to get worse, Scarlett was happy about the extra eats. But she wasn’t too sure about spending time at the cabin, not after seeing Ben.

Her hands tightened on the wheel as she remembered their times together, how they’d laid out under the stars and talked about how their life would be together. She would build houses for local residents and he would breed horses. They would have at least five children, because both of them wanted a big family.

Now here it was twelve years later and they were both single, and not even being civil to each other.

As she bounced along the road she couldn’t help but think of the first time their kissing and petting had turned to actual sex. They’d talked about it so often, and both of them had decided it would be at the cabin.

She wondered if that memory, of him taking her in the loft, was one of the reasons why she was redoing the cabin, because she didn’t want to think of him every time she stepped through the door. She had thought about moving into the cabin and building the other ones a little to the west.

But the first time she’d visited the cabin after her disaster in Albuquerque she’d burst into tears and had sat in the middle of the dusty room and cried until she was sure her body would shrivel up from lack of moisture.

The second time had been easier, and by the third she still felt a twinge in her breast, but the tears had not streamed down her face. She wondered what would happen now, after seeing Ben today.

Had he really just come to object to her project? He obviously didn’t want her around anymore. She wondered if, despite what her parents had said, he had taken up with Darlene. She’d heard from two of her high school friends that Darlene was managing one of the larger chain motels in town. She made lots of trips to exotic locals, and, from the sounds of it, had almost no contact with Ben.

Serves him right, she said to herself as she pulled up in front of the cabin. Or did it? She shook her head to dislodge the idea before it took hold. He’d sent his mother to do his dirty work so yes, he deserved it.

She put the car in park and opened the door, but it was yanked out of her hand before she could step a foot outside. She looked up, shocked to see Ben staring down at her.

“What do you think you’re doing here?”

“I want to talk to you,” he said. “I was going to wait inside the cabin, but it’s locked up tighter than a drum.”

“I’m going to tell you the same thing I told you earlier,” she said. “Get away from me.”

He shrugged. “I’ll help you carry in your things. And some firewood. The temperature is dropping pretty fast.”

She wondered if she could yank the door out of his hands, or slam it with his fingers in between the door and the car.

“How did you get here?” she asked.

“I walked,” he said, as if he were describing something as simple as the sun coming up every day. “Actually, I drove the four-wheeler to the fence, hopped it and walked the rest of the way. It’s only about half a mile.”

“So you’re trespassing,” she said, just as a shiver raked her body.

“Are we going to stand out here and freeze, or are we going to go into the cabin and talk?”

It was obvious to her that he wasn’t going away. She looked out the windshield and saw that it was almost totally covered with snow now. Trying to make it back to the house right now would be a dumb move on her part.

“You are an ass,” she said. She pushed him as she got out of the car, but to her consternation he didn’t fall. “If you want to talk you have to work for it, which means you have to bring in all the food, all the equipment I’m going to use to take down wallpaper, and you have to bring in a stack of firewood and start a fire. Only then will I say another word to you.”

“Deal.” He held out his hand for a shake but she ignored it and stomped toward the house. The sooner they talked the sooner he could leave, and she could be alone and get going with her plans for the evening.

***

Ben finished with his prescribed chores fairly quickly, and he knew that, despite Scarlett’s insistence that she would talk to him, she wouldn’t. The moment she’d come into the house she’d gone into the second bedroom. When he’d looked in there earlier she’d been ripping wallpaper off the wall. The effort she’d put into it made him smile.

Was she thinking of him while she worked? The amount of angry effort she put into it made him think she was, as if she were tearing him out of her life. Of course, maybe he was thinking too much of himself. She could just hate taking down wallpaper. It wasn’t a fun task, that was for certain.

He needed to think of a way to get her to talk to him, something that would keep her from getting into her car and leaving when she was tired of facing the issues at hand.

Scarlett had always been hard headed, and if she didn’t want to face an issue she would find a way around it. But not this time. This time he would make sure she stayed and they talked, about things that had been left to fester way too long.

He looked at the roaring fire and fought back memories of how they’d made love down here so many times. Except for the first time, which had been in the loft. But in the winter they’d always built a fire.

His cock stirred as he thought about spreading out a blanket and taking her here tonight. Of course she wouldn’t be too happy about it, but as he remembered she had a proclivity for being tied. If he secured her arms behind her back and took her that way she would scream so loud it would shake the beams.

He always loved it when she was making enough noise to wake the neighbors, so to speak. They never worried about that when they were here, in their love nest, but when they were in Albuquerque she had to be quiet. Truthfully it was just as much fun watching her try and control her urge to scream as it was to watch her scream.

Oh who was he kidding? It was fun to fuck her, no matter where they were. But they had different things to do at different places. He’d tie her in Albuquerque and spank her here, where making noise was not a problem.

Ben picked up his gloves and went outside. He knew she hadn’t locked the car, which would make this so much easier. It didn’t take long to make sure she wouldn’t be able to leave the area, then he went back inside, stoked the fire and went into the second bedroom.

“I’ve done my chores, milady,” he said. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms across his chest. “Time for us to talk.”

“Since we’re going British with the milady stuff, bugger off,” she said. She pointed toward the east. “Your land is that way. Better hurry because from the looks of things the snow is coming down pretty hard. Of course if it’s cold enough you can skate across your part of the creek. Did you bring your ice skates?”

“We’re going to talk, Scarlett.”

“You always were pig headed,” she said. “You can make a sandwich before you go. Mom sent lots of food.”

“I carried it all in, remember?” He didn’t move from his spot.

“Listen, either you leave, or I will,” Scarlett said. “I won’t stay here with you.”

“We fucked in this room more than once, didn’t we?”

“Head east,” she said. “That’s the area where the sun rises, remember?”

“It was a role play time, if I remember correctly,” he said. “You were the naughty housewife who didn’t do the shopping, or the cooking, and I spanked your bottom with a spatula. It left some beautiful marks. Of course the belt left the best welts, and brought about the best response from you.”

Man he loved the look of desire that flashed across her face, however briefly.

“It’s very ungentlemanly of you to bring up bad memories.”

Her voice was low, and her words lacked conviction. He nodded ever so slowly. “Good memories for me.”

“I have no respect for you, Ben, which means I have no good memories of you.” Before he could ask exactly what she meant by that she said, “Either you leave, or I will. It really doesn’t matter to me. But, I will go, and you know it.”

“I want to know why you have no respect for me,” he said. “What did I do?”

She huffed and said, “Typical. A man who sends his mother to do his dirty work can’t remember breaking a woman’s heart.”

Was it his imagination or was she about to cry?

“What does my mother have to do with this?” he asked.

He could tell she was using every bit of her willpower to keep from picking something up and flinging it across the room. She always had a temper, but she was usually able to control it, as she did now.

“Scarlett?” he said when she didn’t answer. When that didn’t work he said, “Red, please talk to me.”

She’d been facing the wall but now she turned to him. “Fine, I’ll leave.” She stalked past him and he stayed in the room, waiting for the inevitable scream of anger that would come when she realized what he’d done.

It didn’t take long. He heard the front door open, and waited for it to close. When it didn’t he figured that was his cue. She was leaving it open for him to follow her out.

When he heard her scream in anger he wondered if his earlier idea had been such a good one after all.

***

“You took the tires off my car!” Scarlett turned to see him standing at the door. “You bastard! You… you… you… aggggg! Put them back on, right now!”

“I’m sorry, but no.” He went back into the house and closed the door behind him. Scarlett stared after him, her mouth hanging open in shock. This was beyond the pale, even for him. Well, she wasn’t going to stand out here and freeze. She followed him back inside and said, “You are an ass.”

“I told you I wanted to talk to you and I meant it,” he said. “Now, swallow your anger, sit down and let’s air things out. We’ll start with the idea you have that I sent my mother to you? What are you talking about?”

She wanted to believe him, so very much. But there were two things that were not in his favor.

“If I don’t talk to you, you’re going to keep coming at me, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“If I do talk to you will you put the tires back on my car?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Good.” She sat down on an old chair and indicated he should sit opposite her. When he did, Scarlett took a deep breath.

“You remember the night I caught Darlene sucking your dick?”

He shuddered. “I was drunk.”

“You had a hard-on, so you must not have been that drunk.”

Even when she was angry with him she couldn’t help but think about how handsome he was. But then she remembered him in that chair, his pants open and Darlene between his legs.

“You’d just broken up with me,” he said. “I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. But that was before you found me at the party, slapped me and told me you never wanted to see me again. And here it is twelve years later and you won’t explain what happened.”

She took a deep breath. She’d been so angry when Eliza had confronted her, had told her she was not the type of woman she wanted one of her sons to marry. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them.

“She did what?” The shock in his voice told her he didn’t know what had happened. He wasn’t that good of an actor.

“Your mother told me you had sent her, that you didn’t have the nerve to tell me,” she said. “You were angry, she said, that I’d given my virginity to Troy Meeker. She said you’d just found out. She also said that Darlene had told her. I came to confront you about it and low and behold, Darlene was sucking your dick. What was I supposed to think?”

“I hate to admit this, but I don’t remember it very well,” he said. “I was really drunk. I was pissed at you.”

“And I was pissed at you.”

A long silence passed between them. “Stubborn old fools like ourselves cause our own problems,” he said. “But I never thought my mother would be capable of something like this.”

“She never did like me,” Scarlett said. “Even when we were kids she would treat me different than everyone else.”

“I always thought she’d grow out of it, once we were married,” he said. “I mean, once we had children.”

“Children.” She looked away from him. “My mother blames me for not making her a grandmother yet.”

“Yeah, I have the same problem,” he said.

“Only your mother is a grandmother, from Steve, right?”

“Yes,” he said. “And, to tell you the truth, she’s still pushing Darlene on me. I see her around town every once in a while.”

“Your mother?” she asked, and then she laughed.

“Hardy, har, har,” he said. “Your sarcasm is not becoming.”

“I’ve always thought it was one of my finer qualities,” she said.

There was another pregnant silence before she said, “If you say something like it’s my tits you’re in danger of spending the night out in the snow.”

He held up his hands as if in surrender. “My lips are sealed.”

“Don’t think this makes us friends. I have to think about things.” She stood and stretched. “I’m going to take a hot shower, and I’m going to lock the door.”

“That’s disappointing,” he said. “You used to like it when I scrubbed your back.”

“Your use of the past tense there is quite appropriate,” she said as she headed for the bathroom. “If you want to make yourself useful make us dinner out of the items Mom sent down. When it comes time to sleep, you can take up a pallet on the floor.”

“Come on, aren’t you even going to offer me the sofa?”

“It’s new, and I don’t want your cooties on it,” she said with a laugh.

“I got over the cooties in sixth grade,” he said.

She went into the bathroom and closed the door, but she didn’t lock it behind her as she’d said she would. She stared at the mirror and wondered what was happening. Was he telling her the truth? It was true that his mother had never liked her, and probably would have done anything to make sure that Scarlett and Ben were not together anymore. But taking it so far as to tell her Ben didn’t want to see her anymore? That he was in love with Darlene?

Then there was the scene she’d walked in on. She closed her eyes and thought about that night. It had been October 31st, Halloween. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the exact events.

The village always had a Halloween party, where people were expected to dress up. That year the two of them had chosen a western theme. She was dressed as a saloon girl, and Ben had been dressed as Billy the Kid in the iconic photo that was so well know. She smiled when she remembered them shopping for the outfits.

They had tried on many different ones, from Anthony and Cleopatra to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. But they’d finally settled on the western theme. Her nipples tightened as she thought about that day, and how they’d found time to have sex in his car just after the sun went down.

But then they’d gone to their separate houses to get ready, and—and— She paused as she thought about what happened next. His mother had called her, which had seemed odd at the time, and said Ben had decided to take a little nap before the party. She’d told Scarlett to come by the house to pick him up, instead of him coming to her house.

When Scarlett had arrived that’s when she’d told her Ben wanted to break up with her, and he’d already gone to the party with Darlene. When she’d arrived she’d tried to find him, and someone, she couldn’t remember who, pointed her in the direction of the Fisher house, where a group of college kids had gathered. That’s where she’d found them in one of the bedrooms.

As much as she hated the idea she closed her eyes and remembered the scene. Ben had been in a chair, his head lolled back, his eyes closed. Darlene was kneeling in front of him. His pants were not pulled down, but they were open. Was it possible that Darlene had somehow staged the scene? Was it possible that, like Ben said, he was so drunk that he couldn’t get it up? She wasn’t sure how that was possible, because they’d only been gone from each other for a little more than an hour.

“Why isn’t the water running?”

She jumped at the sound of Ben’s voice. “Don’t open the door. I want to know how you got drunk in an hour.”

“First, it was a little more than an hour,” he said. “Someone I know, who shall remain nameless, has a habit of being late. I was ready to go and I decided to go ahead. I called your house but you didn’t answer. I told Mom to tell you that I’d be at the Fishers, and for you to meet me there.”

It was certainly plausible. “How many shots did you do?”

“Quite a few,” he said. “And, if you remember, we hadn’t had anything to eat.”

“We were waiting for the party,” she said, her mind drifting back.

“Can I come in?”

She wanted to say yes, but it was too dangerous. The attraction between the two of them had always been intense, and she hated to admit that with them being in such close quarters she wanted to rip his clothes off and ride him like an unbroken bronco.

But it was much too soon for something like that, wasn’t it? Having sex with him would be wrong. She needed to think, needed to decide. Her life was too upside down at the moment. If she went into his arms it could just be that she was running from events in Albuquerque.

“Can I come in?” he repeated.

“No.” She kept her voice low so he wouldn’t think she was angry. “I’m going to take my shower, and I expect food when I come out.” She said the last words on a lilt, as if she were telling a joke.

“I think I remember what you like, in more ways than one,” he said. “Should I take off my belt before I cook?”

A wash of need spread through her, one that she really wanted to ignore.

“Not tonight,” she said.

“Great, I’ll leave it on the counter for use in the morning.”

She heard him walking down the hallway.

Scarlett wasn’t sure she liked this turn of events. She’d always had trouble resisting Ben, and after years of not being with him it would be even tougher. She thought about taking a shower, skipping dinner and going to bed.

But that would be the chicken way out. She really needed to face the music, so to speak. She straightened her shoulders and told herself not to be such a chicken. She shrugged off her clothes and took a hot shower, taking far longer than she should have. When she got out she realized she hadn’t brought any clothes to change into; she wrapped herself in a towel and went into the hallway. Her clothes were in the first bedroom, along with the only bed in the house.

She changed into a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. It was late enough that she usually left her bra off at this time, and she thought about it, but decided to put it back on, just so he didn’t get any ideas. She had quite a bit of clothing down here, but she didn’t want to wear anything that would suggest she was wearing her best for him. It was best that he think she didn’t give a fig about how she looked for him. Before she left the room, though, she checked her hair and even thought about going back into the bathroom and putting on a little makeup. But she decided against it and went to the other end of the cabin, which contained the living area, the kitchen and the dining area. But Ben had not set the table for them to eat. He’d taken the tablecloth and spread it in front of the fire.

He’d loaded it with enough food to feed a small army. There was fried chicken, sliced cheese and crackers, potato salad, cole slaw, a bowl of fresh fruit and a loaf of bread.

“Hungry?” she asked.

“All of this was in the sacks,” he said.

“Yes, Mom was afraid I would get snowed in.” She waved her hand at the food. “But I don’t think she meant for us to eat it all at once.”

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty more in the fridge.” He sat down and wiggled a deck of cards at her.

“Are you going to make me play for my food?”

“This is dinner entertainment,” he said. “I thought we’d play a game of truth or dare, using poker as the catalyst to see who goes first. He separated the deck and shuffled. “You always liked to play cards, didn’t you?”

“Still do,” she said. “I can beat you any day, which means you’ll be the only one answering questions.”

“In your dreams, Red,” he said. He picked up a fried chicken leg and waved it in her direction. Now, sit down, eat and let’s get going. I want to hear what you’ve been up to in your life since you left our little village.”

That wasn’t a subject she wanted to discuss, which meant she had to win every hand, which wouldn’t be hard because she’d always been a better poker player than Whip.

She sat down opposite from him, savoring the heat from the fire. Or was the heat coming from the man sitting opposite her.

“Deal me in, Whip, and prepare to lose and bare your soul to me.”


Chapter Three

“A dead man’s hand of aces and eights.” Scarlett fanned her cards out in front of her and then picked up a piece of cheese and put it in her mouth. “You should have known better than to challenge me to cards. I always beat you.”

Ben tossed his cards up in the air and laughed. “You’re right, I should have known better.” He picked up a piece of chicken and bit into it.

“If you think having your mouth full is going to keep me from asking you the tough questions you’re wrong.” Scarlett pointed her finger at him. “Have you ever slept with Darlene?”

He spit out a mouthful of chicken and started coughing. Scarlett laughed. “Remember, you have to tell the truth or you have to do a dare.”

He coughed one last time before he picked up his soft drink and took a big swig. “Wow, I didn’t expect that one right off the bat. Things would go a lot easier if your mother had packed us some beer, too.”

“Why is that? Are you afraid to tell me you screwed Darlene? Do you think I’ll throw you out in the snow?” She stared at him, evil thoughts running through her mind. Snow wouldn’t do it. Something worse had to be used. She wondered if there was a knife in the kitchen. That would get him for lying to her about Darlene.

“No, I’m just saying beer would be good here,” he said. He picked up the chicken he’d spit out and took it to the trash. When he’d sat back down he said, “No, I didn’t sleep with Darlene. I remember kissing her a few times, at parties were we played Spin the Bottle, but I never touched her any other way.”

“She was sucking your dick,” Scarlett said.

“You didn’t ask if she’d touched me, you’d asked if I’d slept with her, and the answer is no, absolutely not,” she said.

“You told me you were drunk.” Before she could say anything else he held up a finger.

“One question at a time, and I answered it, truthfully.”

“Promise?” she asked.

“That’s another question, but I will answer it and say cross my heart and hope to die.” He made an X over his heart before he gathered up the cards. “And you can’t ding me for kissing Darlene while playing Spin the Bottle. I know for a fact you had to kiss Charlie Heckle one time.”

Scarlett shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”

“Did he use his tongue?” Ben asked, and then he laughed. “Is that why the memory stuck with you?”

“Shuffle and deal,” she said. “You don’t deserve answers because you haven’t won a hand yet.”

“Yeah, he definitely used tongue,” Ben said with a laugh. He shuffled and then dealt the cards.

Scarlett picked up her cards and grinned. She had three jacks, a deuce and a seven. “It’s a good thing you’re not a dealer at one of the casinos. It would go broke before the end of the week.”

She watched as he examined his cards. His eyebrows shot up, and then he frowned. “I fold.”

“Good, I win again.” She tossed her cards toward him. “Whom have you slept with since we’ve broken up?”

“You’re kidding me, right? That was twelve years ago.”

“So you’ve been celibate for twelve years?” She twisted her lips into a frown. “Is the expression blue balls truth, or is it just an expression? I mean do they stay the same color, or are they, well, blue?” She leaned toward him. “Do they clash with our jeans?”

“You are just a riot tonight,” he said. “For your information, I’m not going to discuss my lovers with you. If you were providing me with the same information it would be different. But since you’re not, I don’t consider this a fair question.”

“Ha!” Scarlett pointed a finger at him. “That means you have to do a dare.”

“Something sexual, I hope, like daring me to lick your pussy.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Scarlett hated to admit that the idea appealed to her. She hadn’t been a saint since they’d broken up, either. She hated to admit that the question she’d asked was just another push to question his relationship with Darlene.

But since he wasn’t going to answer, what sort of dare could she make him do? It couldn’t be anything sexual, because that would leave her frustrated, and there was no way she was sleeping with him tonight. That was too fast. Besides, she wasn’t even sure she believed him about the whole mother/Darlene thing.

Was there some dare she could propose that would prove him truthful? Or prove he was a liar? Thoughts passed through her mind, but none of them would prove provide her with the absolute truth.

“I dare you to run around the cabin with your shirt off.”

He stood quickly and started to unbutton his shirt. “You just want to see my magnificent pecs.”

She had to admit that was the truth. But she really couldn’t think of anything else.

He stripped off his shirt and tossed it on the sofa. His chest was as smooth as it had been when they were in college. She wanted to ask him if he shaved it, or if he’d just never grown any chest hair.

“Be right back,” he said. A cold gust of air filled the room when he opened the door and ran out. She stayed in place, trusting him to do his assigned task. She shivered and crossed her arms over her chest.

Was it possible that she was sitting here with him as if she’d forgiven him for the scene with Darlene? She’d sworn to herself it was something she’d never forget, that she’d never talk to him again, and she hadn’t, until now.

She tried not to listen to the inner voice that told her he’d had twelve years to think up an excuse, to make her believe it was two other people who had broken them up all those years ago. But there was no reason for him to do that, was there? If he didn’t want her in his life, why was he trying to get her back into it?

If she believed him was she giving in, or was she allowing what had once been love to come back into her life and grow?

“Earth to Scarlett.” He sounded winded and she looked up to see him standing above her, shirtless. She couldn’t help but laugh.

“Your nipples are hard,” she said.

“Are yours?”

Oh yes they were, but she didn’t want him to know that. “Ready to lose another hand? Maybe next time I’ll make you streak around the cabin.”

“If you want to get me naked, all you gotta do is ask,” he said. “But I expect tit for tat.”

“What exactly are you saying?” she asked as he settled down across from her. “Are you going to put your shirt back on?”

“Nope,” he said. “And you know what tit for tat means. If I have to get naked, so do you.”

“If you think that then you don’t know the rules of the game,” she said. “Shuffle.”

He picked up the cards and did just that. Scarlett wished he would put his shirt back on, because seeing his chest was a huge distraction. She imagined him holding her against it, feeling his heart beat, savoring the heat that came off him as he wrapped his arms around her.

They played more hands, which he lost and took the questions. He admitted that he’d had a relationship with Monica Stratta, but it hadn’t lasted long because she was, in his terms, high-maintenance.

“I didn’t make enough money for her liking,” he said. “Plus I’m not the check in every hour type of guy.”

She remembered that about him, and she was the same way. If a man she was involved with wanted to spend every hour of every day with her she felt smothered.

“How was the sex?” she asked.

“What happened to one question per losing hand?” he asked, and then he winked. “It was boring. I tried to spank her once and she screamed about me hitting her. It was only one little slap against her ass.”

“While you were taking her from behind?” The words almost stuck in Scarlett’s throat. She hated the thought of his screwing Monica Stratta, or anyone else for that matter.

“What about you?” He picked up a handful of olives. “Who is your main squeeze?”

She decided to give him a pass on the fact that he hadn’t won any hands, so he really shouldn’t be able to ask a question. “His name was Tom Benedict. He was a nice enough guy, but he wanted to take care of me. I don’t need someone to take care of me. I want a partner, someone I can share with, someone who is…”

She let her words trail off.

“Like we had?” he asked, his voice soft. “I don’t like high-maintenance and you don’t like someone hanging over your shoulder. That’s why we were good together.”

“We were,” she said. “But that was twelve years ago.”

“Something tells me it would be the same way,” he said.

Scarlett didn’t answer. She ate an olive and said, “Deal the cards.”

“We were close enough that I can still remember the spot you like kissed,” he said. “And I’m talking about with your clothes on, so don’t get all defensive with me about not getting sexual.”

It had been a little late for that, ever since he’d taken his shirt off. “Are you going to deal the cards?”

“It’s that little spot where the tip of your ear meets your jaw,” he said. “You always shivered and moaned ever so softly when I kissed you there.”

“Are you going to deal, or what?” she asked. She didn’t want to talk about kissing, at her earlobe or anywhere else. It had been far too long since she’d had sex, and if she wasn’t careful she would cave in to her desires. Right now those desires included tackling him and riding him until she exploded.

She glared at him, or at least she hoped that’s how it was coming across. With her luck he would see it for what it was—lust.

“One more hand,” he said. “And I’m thinking my luck is going to turn.”

“Double or nothing,” Scarlett said.

“How does that work in truth or dare?” he asked. “Is it two questions? Or is it double the dare? If streaking is a regular dare I’m not sure I want to know what the double one is.”

Damn she wanted alcohol, either wine or beer. Why hadn’t her mother packed any along with the food?

“Did you and Mom set this up?” she cocked her head. “Is that why she packed so much?”

“I don’t need to lose a hand to say no, we didn’t,” he said. “Over the years I’d ask about you and she was always close-lipped. She wouldn’t let your secrets slip.”

“I have no secrets.” She crossed her feet at the ankles because technically, that wasn’t true. She did have secrets, but she wasn’t about to let him know what they were, or how they affected her. She hoped—no, prayed—it was all in the past.

“Everybody has secrets,” he said.

“What’s yours?” she asked.

“Win another hand and I might tell you.” He dealt the cards and Scarlett picked hers up. For the first time that evening she had lousy cards. A pair of threes, a seven, an eight and an ace. She tossed the seven and eight and asked for two cards. In return she got a five and a four. She was always fairly good at bluffing. Hopefully it would work this time, too.

She ran her fingers along the top of her cards.

Ben laughed, and she said, “What?”

“You’ve got a tell,” he said. “Which means you have nothing in your hand.”

“I have no tell,” she said. “I play cards at the casino all the time, and nobody’s ever mentioned that I have a tell.”

He moved his cards around. “Aren’t you going to trade anything?” she asked.

“Nope,” he looked at her above the top of his cards. “So are you going to risk losing, or just give and fold?”

“Since when have you ever known me to fold?” The thought of losing a hand to him was scary, because there was no telling what he was going to ask, or what he would have her do if she chose a dare instead of the truth. “Show me what you got, Whip.”

The minute his nickname was out of her mouth she gasped. She hadn’t called him that in twelve years, not since she’d found Darlene on her knees in front of him.

“First, truth or dare?”

Scarlett looked at her hand. She couldn’t risk him asking her any questions she didn’t want to answer. Plus, if he dared her to do something it took the responsibility out of her hands, and she rather liked that idea.

Or part of her liked it. The other part was scared to death that she would open up to him and it would turn out bad—again.

“Dare,” she said.

He fanned his cards down on top of the tablecloth. “Three kings.”

Scarlett tossed her cards down.

“Told you that you had a tell,” he said. He picked up the cards. “Two threes. What a shame. I guess it’s my turn to make you do something.”

“Are you going to make me run around the building without my shirt on?” she asked.

“Nope.” He stood up and pointed to the sofa. “I’m going to sit, and you’re going to come across my lap for fifteen swats, on your bare bottom.”

“Nope. I do believe we said no sexual contact.”

“I’m not talking about having sex,” he said. “I’m talking about spanking you. I know how much you love it.” He waited a beat before he said, “Or has that changed? Do you not like being spanked anymore?”

“I’ll switch to truth,” she said. “And I’ll take the question you just asked. The answer is no one has spanked me since you did twelve years ago.”

“Well, I appreciate that you’re trying to change the rules and switch from dare to truth, which is not fair, but that is not the question I asked. I asked if you still enjoyed being spanked.”

“How can I enjoy something I don’t do anymore?” She ate a piece of cheese. “Deal,” she said after she swallowed.

“We’re not done with the last hand,” he said. “You can’t change the rules in the middle of a hand. You choose the dare and I proposed the event.” He stood up and glared down at her. Instead of cowing under his stare she narrowed her eyes at him. He’d told her once that he always loved the fact that she was strong, that she didn’t play what he called female games, pretending she needed someone to take care of her.

“You have to follow through.” He put his hands on his hips. “Now, I’m going to sit on the sofa and you’re going to come and stand to my right. You’ll take down your jeans and panties and come across my lap.”

“No,” she said. Her voice shook and she was sure he could hear it. It wasn’t that she feared a spanking. Truthfully she loved the sensations a good, hard spanking produced. What she feared was what usually came afterward—sex.

She wasn’t ready to go that far with Ben. She knew it might happen again in the future, but right now she wasn’t ready. She still had too much to think about.

“No,” she repeated.

“Oh, I see, it’s all right for me to do my dares, but you refuse,” he said. “Don’t you think that’s, well, to put it quite frankly, a load of crap?”

“Excuse me?”

“If you’re afraid to do your part just say so,” he said. “If not, get up off your ass and come to the sofa.”

“That was charming,” she said as she stood. “Were you always so romantic?”

“I thought one of the rules of the game was no sex,” he said. “I’m not asking to fuck. I’m going to redden that pretty bottom of yours.”

“Which leads to sex,” she said. “It always has for us.”

He took a step toward her, and Scarlett’s heart quickened.

“Do you remember the first time I spanked you?” he asked.

“I remember you slapping my ass while you were taking me from behind,” she said.

“No, that was just play.” He reached out and stroked her cheek, and to her amazement she didn’t push him away. His touch felt wonderful and it took all her self-control not to lean into his hand, to deepen his touch.

“I want to know if you remember the first time I took you over my knee,” he said.

“That was a game, too.” Now she did move away. If she had allowed him to continue caressing her she would jump his bones. And if she allowed him to spank her she was sure the same thing would happen.

“If you don’t want to do the dare, answer the question,” he said. He put his hands in his pockets, and she looked down. She could see the outline of his cock pressing against his jeans. He was hard and ready for her. That was a great deal of the problem with spanking. She liked the hard stimulation, and he liked playing with her bottom. It was sort of strange since he’d never taken her that way. She wondered if it had ever occurred to him, and it was on the tip of her tongue to ask him, but she didn’t.

“Tell me about the first time, and not just a few swats,” he said.

“Do you want to see if our stories match?”

“Not stories, memories.”

Scarlett shivered. “Don’t do this.”

“Why? Because it will make you think about things you’d rather forget? Or it will make you think of things you want to repeat?”

“The latter,” she said. “I’ve hated you for twelve years, Ben.”

“And you’re afraid if you open up you’ll want me in your life again?” He crossed the room and sat down on the sofa. “Either come across my lap with your bare ass in the air, or tell me about the first time I spanked your firm little bottom.”

She laughed. “My bottom is neither firm, nor little.” Oh she wanted to touch herself, to put her hands on her breasts and between her legs as she remembered the first time he’d spanked her.

“It was a game.” She took a deep breath. “For my birthday. We’d been watching some movie, I can’t remember which one, and there was a scene where a guy swatted his wife’s ass for her birthday. You said it was my birthday. We argued that you couldn’t spank me because I wasn’t your wife. You said for that night I was.”

Sharp tears stung her eyes and she turned her face away from his. The night brought back the best of memories that she had of him.

“Answer me this, do you get off sometimes thinking about it?” She looked back to see that he’d leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs. He was still bare chested and it deepened the need she already felt.

“I can’t do this,” she said.

“I bet you do,” he said. “I remember that first time, how you squirmed and laughed and how your ass turned red. I also remember you putting your hands between your legs and getting yourself off while I swatted your ass.”

His deep, commanding voice made wetness flow inside her. “Don’t.”

“You came hard,” he said. “Your body shook, and I swatted your ass over and over. Afterward I remember thinking that we shouldn’t have known how to do it, that it was off the mark for us. But then I fucked you. I got up, turned you around and pounded into you.

“Whip, please stop.”

“You came then, too, but not from your fingers.”

She wheeled on him. “I hate you.”

“You came because my cock was hitting the right spot.” He spread his legs and ran his hands up his thighs. “I remember how tight you got when that happened.”

Scarlett knew she should leave, run into the other room and shut the door so she didn’t have to listen to his memories, which were making her hornier than she’d been in years. She had the urge to scream at him to leave, to trek back to his house and get the hell away from her.

“I get off on that,” he said. “Sometimes when I have my cock in my hand and I’m stroking it I can hear you asking me to spank you harder, to give it to you good.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“I remember the first time you asked me to use the belt on you,” he said. “It was more than a year after the first time I took you over my knee. It was obvious to me that you weren’t getting the amount of stimulation you wanted with just my hand. So we switched to the belt, and you came so fucking fast.”

She turned her back on him, and wondered why she didn’t run to the other room. She screamed at herself to do it, to leave before she gave into him, which was what he wanted. If she admitted it to herself it was what she wanted, too.

But it would open them up to something she really didn’t want to go through again.

“What happens if we don’t stay together?” She turned to him. “When we broke up before it about killed me. I had nightmares about what I saw, about you and Darlene.”

“I told you that wasn’t me,” he said. “I’d call Darlene right now to have her back me up, but you know as well as I do that she’s a royal witch and she wouldn’t do it.”

“She and I never did get along,” she said. She felt calmer now that he wasn’t talking about sex, about them being together, about how he jacked off thinking about spanking her.

“Come across my knee, Red,” he said. “But remember to take down your pants and panties. I want to see them around your knees. I want to feel your ass under my hand.

“Don’t call me that,” she said.

“Do as I say.” He put his knees back together and she swallowed hard. When she didn’t move he said, “Are you going to do what I say, or do I need to take off my belt?”

“I hate you!”

“Get over here.”

She wanted to tell him to make her, but his words were doing just that. Well, the words and the look on his face. And the way he was rubbing his hands up and down his thighs. She thought about those hands, and the way they’d brought her so much pleasure through the years.

If she denied herself, Scarlett knew she would regret it. She wasn’t sure they could do this one night and be done with it, but she would deal with that later. She moved slowly and when she was standing beside him she put her hands on the jeans button and popped it open. She pulled down the zipper and then lowered her pants and panties in one fell swoop.

It took her a few moments to get up the nerve to lower herself over his lap. When she did, and he caressed her bottom ever so gently, she was pretty sure she was going to come.

And then he slapped her ass, and she did.


Chapter Four

Scarlett was pretty sure it wasn’t the swat that pushed her over the edge. Or maybe that was part of it. She’d clenched her thighs as he hit her behind and the friction, mixed with the desire caused by his bringing up events that had caused orgasms in the past, was probably what did it.

He caressed her bottom. “You naughty girl,” he said. He caressed her bottom again. “I believe I said fifteen swats, right? Tell me, Red, do you want me to use my hand or shall I make you get up and go search for a spatula in the kitchen?”

“You said hand,” she managed to say, her voice breathy.

“You’re right, I did.” He smacked her bottom again, and again, and by the time he got to the fourth one she was once again soaring, although she didn’t climax. But her body was on fire, the need to be with him growing with each smack.

It was amazing to her that, after twelve years, she still felt the same things with him that she had in the past. No man had ever made her feel this way. Of course no man but Whip had ever spanked her.

She moaned softly as he slapped her bottom. She counted the strikes in her head, and when he got to fifteen he stopped and rubbed her bottom ever so gently.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. She turned to look back at him. “What about you?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “But then again nobody’s been smacking my butt.”

Laughter bubbled forth and she grinned at him. “Does that mean you want me to spank you? We could use the spatula, if you like.”

“Don’t make me take off my belt, Red.”

She didn’t object to him using her nickname. Somehow it felt right now. But then again she wasn’t exactly sure where they were going from here. Could they just drop back into a relationship after being apart for twelve years?

“You don’t look okay,” he said. “Your expression tells me that you’re worried about something. Tell me what.”

“I’m tired,” she said.

“Are you really going to make me sleep on the sofa?” He caressed her bottom. “You know it’s not quite big enough for me. My legs are far too long.”

“There’s only one bed,” she said. “You realize if we share a bed we’ll probably have sex.”

“You say it so matter of factly, like there’s no emotion involved, only physical need.” She could tell by the tone of his voice that didn’t make him happy.

“That’s not what I meant.” She sat up and curled up against his bare chest. The swats had not been hard enough to cause any pain. In fact she could take more. Much more. But she wouldn’t tell him that now. “I just don’t know what to feel.”

“Really? I do. I love you, Red. I’ve loved you since I was fifteen years old.” He held her close, stroking her shoulders. He leaned his cheek against the top of her head as she cuddled him. “At one point you loved me, too.”

“I still love you, Whip,” she said. “It’s just… I’ve had so many emotions about past events, things that it took me a long time to deal with. I know it’s not your fault, but I’m not sure how easily I will get over it.”

“I’m willing to wait,” he said. “Now, let’s either go into the bedroom and use the bed, or clean up the food, make a space out here in front of the fire and make love.”

“That’s too much work,” she said. “Now that we’ve passed the threshold I want you inside me.”

“Then go to the bedroom and I’ll take care of the fire and be in there as quick as a flash.”

She did as he asked, taking her clothes off as she walked, letting them drop to the floor. By the time she got to the hallway her top was as bare as his. She turned and wiggled her breasts at him.

“Hurry up.” As she walked down the hall she said a silent word of thanks to her father who had paid to install central heating and air. It would have been nice to make love in front of the fire, but she also wanted to be in bed with him, sleep next to him. That was one of the things she’d missed the most, cuddling with him after they’d made love, feeling his body heat during the night.

After she’d finished stripping she fell into bed, settling in the middle. She could hear him taking care of the fire in the other room. It didn’t take long before the light went out in the main room and she heard him coming down the hall.

He was naked when he stepped into the bedroom and his cock was hard, pointing at the ceiling. He was on her in seconds, and there was no foreplay. That had taken place in the living room. She spread her legs and gasped as he slowly slid inside her.

“I’ve wanted to do that for the past twelve years,” he said.

Scarlett wrapped her legs around him as settled inside her. He didn’t move at first. He put his head next to hers and she couldn’t see his face, but she could swear his chest was moving. Was he crying? She wanted to ask, but she didn’t really want to break the bond that was between them right now.

She moaned softly and rubbed her head against his, and then he started to move, thrusting slowly at first, and picking up steam as she clasped him closer to her, tightening her arms and legs, trapping their bodies together.

How many times had they made love in this very room, in this bed? It was one of the reasons she’d never gotten rid of it, because of the many memories that it held.

He thrust into her and she accepted him, wanting it to last forever. But it ended much too quickly, and, truthfully, she wasn’t surprised. She’d come so quickly from the spanking that it didn’t surprise her when he climaxed so fast. It was probably why he hadn’t moved at first, because he was trying to get control of himself.

When he crumbled on top of her he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she said. He lifted up slightly and looked down at her. There were indeed tears on his cheeks. She ran her finger over them and he did the same to her.

“You must think I’ve turned into a complete wimp,” he said.

“On the contrary, it proves to me that you’re telling the truth,” she said. “You love me, and you didn’t want us to be apart. I’m just so sorry it’s taken twelve years for me to realize it. You tried so many times and I rebuffed you. I’m sorry.”

“Stop saying that,” he said. “We’re together now, and that’s all that matters.”

“You’re right.” He stood and she reached out for him.

“I’m going to wash up,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “I’ll wait for you here as long as necessary.”

***

Whip reached for the bottle of water on the nightstand, taking care not to move too fast or too much so he didn’t wake Red. She slept on her side, her breathing steady and regular. He drank most of the bottle then settled in on his side, watching her as she slept.

It was a dream come true that she was back in his arms. He’d tried so many times to get her to reconsider. But she’d ignored everything, and now that he knew what his mother had told her, how could he blame Scarlett?

He wanted to call his mother, even if it was the middle of the night, and scream at her for what she’d done. How could she have taken away the one thing that meant the most to him?

She’d pushed Darlene at him for years, until it became obvious that he was having none of it. When he’d mentioned Scarlett his mother had said she’d shown her true colors by leaving him after ‘one little tiff’. Now that he knew his mother had started the whole thing it made him angry.

But he wasn’t going to call her now. He would wait until she and his father were back from their trip, then he would confront her, ask her why she’d decided she had the right to interfere in his love life.

Scarlett stirred slightly and Whip ran his fingers over her hair, taking care not to wake her.

“What are you thinking?” Her words shocked him, because he hadn’t even known she was awake.

“That never in my wildest dreams had I thought we would be here again,” he said. “I gave up hope years ago, but here we are.”

“Yes.” She snuggled against him. “Do you think this means we’re together forever?”

“Well, I can hope so,” he said. “If I asked you to marry me what would you say?”

“I’d say we hardly know each other,” she said. “We grew up together but people change.”

“I think we still know each other,” he said. “We can recite information about each other’s past in seconds flat.”

“But what about our present?” she asked. “For instance, what sort of truck do you drive? A new one? What color? What year? What make?”

“You think we don’t know each other because we don’t know about each other’s vehicles? What the hell does that have to do with anything?”

“It goes to knowing someone,” she said. “If I saw a truck driving down the street I might have to wonder if it was yours, or if it belonged to someone else.”

“It’s a gray Ford, this year’s model,” he said. “I buy a new one every two years.”

“Do you have a new lover every two years, too?”

“No.” He kissed her nose. “And you?”

“I don’t buy a new car every year,” she said, and then she laughed.

“You’re cruising for another spanking,” he said.

“Promise?”

“I’ll have to start withholding swats,” he said. “Answer the question, and don’t pretend you don’t know the question.”

“A four-year-old green sedan,” she said. “I don’t upgrade every two years. I’m not making a ton of money breeding horses.”

“Neither am I,” he said. “The truck is a lease.”

“I see.” She traced her finger down his chest.

“You feel good in my arms,” he said. “I’d like to stay here for the next month or two, maybe three.”

“Mom sent enough food to last that long,” she said.

“You’re right, she did.” He couldn’t help but yawn. It was the middle of the night and he was used to being up by six in the morning, which wasn’t that far away from where they were now.

“Am I boring you?” she asked.

“I want to go to sleep with you in my arms,” he said. “And I want to wake up with you in the same place.”

He didn’t want to bring up the fact that he wanted to talk about what this night meant for their relationship. He didn’t want to push her. He would wait for her to broach the subject.

He put his hands on either side of her face and looked into her eyes. Then he kissed her, gently, savoring the feel of her soft skin beneath his fingers.

“Are you going to wake up with a chubbie?” she asked, and then she laughed.

“With you in my bed, guaranteed.”

“I hate to bring this up, but this is my bed, not yours,” she said.

“Are you kicking me out?” He stared at her, praying he wasn’t about to have to sleep on the sofa.

“Not on your life,” she said. “It’s been years since I’ve spooned with someone, and you’re on deck.”

She turned so that her back was to him. He wrapped his arms around her and sniffed her hair. He smelled smoke from the fire, and an underlying hint of strawberries. He wondered if that was the smell of the lotion that kept her skin so soft. He wanted to ask, but he also didn’t want to disrupt things and risk her moving away from him.

He’d waited a long time for this moment, and he wanted to savor every second of it.

***

When Scarlett woke up the next morning she was alone in bed, an all too familiar feeling for her. It occurred to her that Ben had trekked back to his house, and the thought saddened her. She had hoped, in both mind and body, for early morning lovemaking. But it looked like that was not to be.

But then she heard noise in the other end of the cabin, the clanking of spoons and the running of water.

Ben was cooking. She giggled and snuggled down into the warm bed. Would he bring her food here, or would he call her and tell her when it was ready? Twelve years before he never would have cooked for her the morning after. He would have been in bed, rubbing his hard on against her and suggesting that she be on top. He’d always been a rather lazy lover in the mornings, even if he did wake up with a hard-on.

So she supposed that meant things had changed. That wasn’t surprising since it had been so long since they’d been together. But this was a nice change, or at least it would be if he came in carrying a tray with food and coffee. Was there a tray in the cabin? Well if he didn’t find one he could call her out to the other room.

She closed her eyes and smiled. She could definitely get used to this. After the disaster that had been Albuquerque being in the mountains with a handsome man cooking her breakfast was perfect.

“It’s a good thing your mother packed a lot of food,” he called out. “I’ve made coffee, and there’s all the trappings. There’s some egg thing that I think should be warmed up. I know you’re awake, I can hear you moving around. I’m hungry.”

“So am I,” she said. “I was promised you’d have a hard-on. Shame that you didn’t follow through.” She got up and went to the bathroom, then padded into the main part of the cabin, stark naked.

“It’s a good thing I built a fire,” he said. “But from the looks of those hard nipples you’re chilly.”

“I’m disappointed that you’re dressed,” she said.

“I don’t know about your job, but I’m always up early,” he said. He pointed to the counter. “What is this?”

“It’s a quiche,” she said as she drew closer. “It looks like spinach, mushroom and cheese. It’s been cooked already so all we need to do is heat it up. Have you turned on the oven?”

He nodded and Scarlett poked her finger into his chest. “You knew what this was because it was obvious. If you’ve eaten any breakfasts at my mother’s house, and I know you have, you’ve had this. It was just a ruse to get me out of bed.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, innocently. “But if I’d known you were going to come out naked I would have called long before now.”

“I was naked in the bed, so you could have come back to bed.”

After checking the oven she put the quiche in and set a timer on her phone.

“We have about thirty minutes,” she said.

“What to do, what to do,” he said, his tone seductive. “Maybe an appetizer.”

“I’m not sure appetizers come before breakfast,” she said. But he didn’t give her the chance to say anything else. He picked her up and put her on the kitchen table, positioning her so that she was sitting right on the edge. He dropped to his knees in front of her, pushed her legs open and buried his face in her pussy.

Scarlett gasped and tried to grab for the end of the table to keep from falling over. It had been years—twelve of them to be exact—since a man had gone down on her, and she loved the feel of his tongue on her clit, and running down her folds to her opening. He pushed his tongue in and out, in and out, as if it were a small penis.

He pulled back suddenly, stood and stepped back. She was gasping for air, right on the edge of an orgasm. “Go back,” she said.

“Turn around and bend over the table,” he said. He was undoing his jeans, and she hurried to follow his orders. She spread her legs and gasped as he pushed inside her. He grabbed her hip with one hand and slapped her ass with the other as he thrust in and out.

Slap, thrust, slap, thrust—Scarlett thought she would go over the edge. When the hand on her hip moved to her clit it didn’t take long. She squeezed his cock as she came and his muttered, “Fucking hell,” made her smile.

Seconds later they were both quivering and panting, his weight pressing her into the table. It occurred to her that he’d come inside her twice now, and since she didn’t have any sort of relationship she wasn’t on birth control. She should worry about it, but right now all she could think about was Whip’s half-clad body on top of her.

“You okay?” he asked as he stood.

“I think I died and went to heaven,” she said. She stood and stretched. “I’m going to get cleaned up and dress.”

“Do you have to?” He kissed her shoulder. “I rather like the idea of you eating naked. I could join you.”

“I think clothes are good for breakfast,” she said. “But when it’s warmer we can have a naked picnic down by the creek.”

“I like that idea, both naked and later,” he said. “That means you’re not going to kick me out the door.”

“No, I’m not,” she said. “Watch the quiche.”

She went and cleaned up and got dressed. When she was back he’d set the table where they’d just made love. He’d made toast and the quiche was cut up and put onto two places.

After she poured herself a cup of coffee she sat down next to him.

They ate in silence for a few moments before he said, “I’ve been thinking about your statement that we don’t really know each other.” He drank from his cup before he continued, “Tell me about your life in Albuquerque. I mean my life here has been pretty much the same, horses, a little gambling at night, putting up with my brothers.”

She ate and drank and considered her answer.

“You’re reluctance to answer tells me something happened,” he said. “Wanna share?”

It wasn’t something she would be able to keep to herself, not if they planned on having a relationship.

“I was fired,” she said.

“What?” He had his coffee cup halfway to his mouth and he put it down. “Why?”

“Well, I suppose fired is not the right word. I was given the choice of leaving or being fired. Since fired looks so bad on a resume I decided to leave of my own accord.”

“Why?”

Scarlett put down her fork. “They claimed I was stealing from petty cash. They said I padded the numbers on lunches and other things I would ask to be reimbursed for.”

“And?”

“Well, it’s not true,” she said. “But they had forms with my signature on it. The signatures matched. I had my own copies and I showed them, and they claimed that I was still in the wrong. I asked why I would keep real forms and turn in false ones, but they had no answer.”

“That sucks,” he said.

“Tell me about it.” She took a drink and then cleared her throat. “I haven’t told my parents. My father would throw a fit and want to go punch someone’s lights out. I just want it all to go away.”

They ate in silence for a few moments. Then he put down his fork and said, “Nope, that’s not going to work.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, where do you think they got these forms with your name on them?”

Scarlett chuckled. “I’m not sure. Obviously someone forged my name, but I don’t know who.”

She also couldn’t figure out why she was telling him this when she hadn’t mentioned a word of it to anyone since it happened. She’d just slunk home with her tail between her legs, ready to forget about it and try to forget anything had even happened.

“You’re not the type to turn tail and run,” he said.

“I was just thinking that’s exactly what I did.” She pushed away her plate, even though she’d only taken a few bites. “There’s nothing I can do about it, though. I’ve already signed the paperwork and left. I’m using what little bit I have in savings to make my house payments until it can be sold.”

“It’s on the market?”

“Yes,” she said. “I had a big garage sale and got rid of most of my furniture.”

“What have you told your parents?” he asked. “They couldn’t have just taken the ‘I don’t want to do my job anymore’ excuse. You worked so hard on your degree, and to get a job.”

“I tried several places in town to get another job,” she said. “They all turned me down. Despite it being a big town, word gets around and people think I’m a thief.”

“I say we protest,” he said. “We go up to Albuquerque and tell them you’ve decided not to look guilty when you’re not. We want an investigation, and we want it done as soon as possible.”

Tears stung the back of her eyes. She looked away from him, and then picked up the fork and ran it through the quiche on her plate. “It won’t work.”

“We have to try,” he said. He put his hand on her knee. “I love you, Red. I’ve loved you half my life. I won’t allow them to tear you down this way.”

She wanted to object, but his desire to defend her was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for her.

“It’s only a three hour drive up there,” he said. “Call them today and set it up. If they refuse to set a meeting we’ll just show up and tell them they can’t just dismiss us.”

She wasn’t sure exactly what to say or do at first, and then she leaned over and kissed him, letting her tongue sneak into his mouth. She wanted to tell him she loved him, but the words stuck in her throat. She wasn’t exactly sure why, possibly because, despite last night, she still had residual feelings about the last twelve years.

“Let’s do it,” she said. She crossed the room and found her phone. She dialed, put in the extension number of the human resources director at her firm, and left a message. Then she looked outside.

“We got more snow than I thought we would,” she said. “We may be here for a while. I’m not sure my little car will handle a trip back to the house, and you can’t walk back to the fence.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll think of something to do,” he said. She turned to see him sitting in the chair, his pants open and his cock in his hand. “Want to be on top? As I remember you always liked that.”

“Sounds like a great way to spend the day,” she said. Then, after a beat she said, “Thank you.”

“You can thank me by getting your butt over here,” he said. “Or I might have to give you another spanking.”

Scarlett thought about it for a moment, and then she turned toward the bedroom and ran. She could hear him running after her seconds later.

They would enjoy their time in the snow, and then they would deal with her problem later. Hopefully, after it was all said and done, she’d be able to decide if she wanted to stay with Whip. Something told her the answer was yes. The Whip and the Red were back.

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