If only the ground would open up and swallow her whole. Lauren Vaughn stared morosely at the waxed pine floor. She must have done something horrid, something unspeakable in a past life to deserve torture like this. She sighed heavily. How long did bad karma last anyway?
“Pierce!” Her baby sister, Crystal’s, shriek of laughter sliced through the thrum of the bass and the jumble of conversation around them and drew Lauren’s attention back to the object of her torture.
Pierce’s hand disappeared under Crystal’s shirt and Crystal flushed. Her high voice turned to a husky whisper. “Oh my.”
Lauren barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes. If those two didn’t knock it off soon… Who was she kidding? They’d done this ever since she’d introduced them. Worst. Mistake. Of. Her. Life.
Someone cleared his throat and the couple sprang apart.
“Geez, Pierce, you guys have a room. Give it a break already.” The shortish guy sitting next to Lauren cut in. Tom? Or maybe it was John…
“Sorry, guys. We just can’t help ourselves,” Pierce McDougall retorted. “In two short weeks we’ll be newlyweds.” His grin accompanying the proclamation could have lit a football field.
“And in two short months your sex life will disappear,” Tom/John chuckled and high-fived the schmuck on his other side.
He was getting less attractive by the minute.
“Not us. We have a special love you can’t find just anywhere.” Crystal gazed into Pierce’s eyes. “I thank God every day for letting the two of us find each other.”
The churning in Lauren’s stomach grew worse with every word her sister spoke. Bad enough she had to watch the two of them make out. Did she have to listen to their heartfelt speeches too? Their upcoming wedding would be sheer torture. Why had she ever introduced her work crush to her bombshell of a sister?
“And we have Lauren to thank for it.” Pierce raised his beer mug. “To Lauren.”
“To Lauren,” echoed all around her. She felt the telltale burning in her cheeks and her scalp began to itch as all the attention at their table turned toward her. Crap. This day just couldn’t get any worse.
And then it did. That little voice in her head really needed to shut up. At this rate she was going to jinx herself into an avalanche or worse by the end of the weekend.
“I-I…uh…I mean…um…” Biting the inside of her lip, she stood and her legs trembled as if they were independent from her body. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “No speech necessary. I think the love these two share—” The acidic burning in her stomach deepened and she coughed. “Their obviouslove speaks for itself.”
“Ah, come on, you guys. Stop making Lauren nervous. She’s not used to being the center of attention.” Crystal preened as she cuddled with her fiancé. “Where is that waiter? Didn’t we order refills like an hour ago?”
Lauren collapsed back onto the bench with a sigh.
“Babe, this is the only decent ski resort within driving distance of Vegas and it’s the height of the season. To say they’re a little busy is an understatement.”
“I don’t care. I’m thirsty and I’ve been staring at my empty cup for hours!” Crystal pouted and blinked up at Pierce.
“I’ll go.” Lauren scrambled across Tom/John. Anything was better than sitting there watching the loooove fest. She weaved between bodies and packed tables, hardly noticing the antler chandeliers or the heavy wooden beams overhead. She debated finding a seat near the gigantic stone fireplace and hiding from the “party” but headed toward the crowded bar anyway. Without a doubt, word would get back to her mother that she had ditched her sister on her big night. She’d rather this misery than the kind her mother would unleash on her.
She wedged in sideways and tried in vain to hail a bartender. With the crowd in here tonight, she’d have an easier time winning a jackpot on her first pull than getting her drink order filled in the next five minutes. She put her foot on the brass foot rest, slumped onto the bar and settled in for a long wait.
There was something seriously wrong with her life. How had she come to this? Watching the man she’d lusted after for so long marry her sister was seriously fucked up. She wished she didn’t have to attend the wedding, let alone be the freaking maid of honor. God, she was pathetic. She should have at least come up with some excuse to get her out of the combined bachelor-bachelorette parties. Unfortunately she didn’t have a choice. Her mother wouldn’t stand for any whisper of discord. So Lauren had grudgingly attended, but she had expected nekkid strippers and lots of booze to ease her misery. Who the hell goes skiing for a bachelorette party anyway?
She needed lots and lots of booze.
Rolling her eyes as yet another blonde, stacked snowbunny, that she was fairly certain came after her, was served before her, Lauren gave up any attempt to wave down the bartender. He’d get to her once all the pretty people were served and not a minute sooner. Spying an empty barstool, she sprang into action, snagging it while narrowly avoiding an elbow to her head in the process. She bared her teeth in an approximation of a smile and shrugged her shoulders at the skinny tart glaring back at her.
“Sorry, this one’s taken.” Lauren couldn’t resist the snide little smirk accompanying her thin apology.
She watched with some amount of amusement as the fluffy blonde retreated. Okay, okay. She might have taken out all her pent-up aggression on a total stranger. Better there than making the situation with her sister any more awkward.
Awkward for her anyway. Crystal was oblivious unless she wasn’t getting the attention she assumed she deserved. Then she was hell on wheels. And Pierce… She sighed. Apparently Pierce was never meant to be. She was too old for crushes. She needed to stop living in her fantasy land and getting pissed off that no one else was playing along. That’s what she’d do this weekend. She’d use this torturous vacation to find some hot random guy and start living for a change. Lord knew she wasn’t going to spend it skiing. Or hanging out with Crystal and Pierce.
“What can I do for you, pretty lady?”
Lauren blinked at the handsome man standing in front of her. Had some unknown genie answered her pathetic cry for help?
“Hello?” He waved his hand in front of her face. “What do you want to drink?”
Apparently not. Story of her life—Prince Charming shows up but he only wants to take her drink order. She tossed a look over her shoulder at the group’s table. While she’d schlepped all the way over here to get their drinks, they’d been served. And no one thought to come get her? What the hell?
“I’ll have an Irish whiskey. Neat.”
He raised an eyebrow at her drink order. She glared back. What? Women weren’t allowed to drink whiskey? Had she been transported back to 1810?
“Coming right up.”
There was no way in hell she was going back to that table tonight. Screw them.
Her drink appeared in front of her. Without a thought, she picked up her glass and downed it in one slug. Her eyes watered and she gasped at the harsh sting accompanying her bit of Irish courage. She signaled for another round then sat back to contemplate her empty glass and her options for tonight.
The selection was plentiful—unfortunately so was the competition. Everywhere she looked, men crowded around packed tables and svelte women jockeyed for their attention. She sighed as the bartender plopped her second drink down in front of her.
“That’ll be twenty-six even.”
Her jaw hung open in amazement. “Twenty-six dollars? For two drinks?”
“For two Irish whiskeys. Come on, sugar. Pay up. I don’t have all night.”
Lauren dug into the front pocket of her jeans and came up with a ten and a twenty. All the cash she had on hand for the night. She shoved it at the impatient bartender. “Keep the change.”
He took the money without a word and moved on to the next customer.
“You’re welcome,” she muttered at his back.
Slumping into the high back of the barstool, Lauren surveyed the crowd. Surfer-type guys with shaggy hair, tanned faces and built bodies leaned against the high tabletops with their snowboarder buddies. This was so not her crowd. She’d never been one to go for the shaggy-haired pseudo-hippy type. And built bodies? They were great for fantasizing but no way in hell she’d get naked in front of someone like that. She looked down at her curvy, plump self and sighed. To say she didn’t fit in here was an understatement.
She cursed Crystal again for wanting a ski bachelorette-party weekend.
And herself for agreeing to come. She was a schmuck. But she never could say no to family. Pity party, table for one? She picked up her drink and took a sip. At almost fifteen bucks a pop, she’d have to make this one last.
A bark of laughter drew her attention across the room. Her breath stalled in her chest at the sight of perfection. Standing in profile to her, and wearing a loose black T-shirt, baggy jeans and Doc Martens, was her fantasy man come to life. His dark brown hair teasingly hung over his forehead and moved as he gestured, waving his arms in the air while he talked to his friends. Lauren bit back a groan at the sight of his toned but not overly muscular arms. He was probably like that all over, too, judging by the way his clothes hung. She focused in on his ass and wished she could tell if the lower half matched the upper half.Damn baggy jeans.
Then she spotted the black handkerchief hanging from his left back pocket. Was he… He couldn’t be… Her eyes widened as she thought about the implications of that little addition. She knew about the hanky code, just never saw or noticed anyone flagging before. She tried to remember if there was a tell for straight or gay. She knew the left pocket meant top and the black color meant S&M, but was there a code for straight or gay?
With her luck it was the latter. Who was she kidding anyway? He wouldn’t choose her out of the bevy of blonde bimbo snowbunnies out tonight. She eyed his black hanky in longing. What delightful, wicked things would a man like that want to do?
Her gaze continued to rove his hard body as she dreamed about the possibilities. When she returned to his face, she discovered he was staring back at her. A slow cocky grin curved his lips. Oh God. He was every bit as gorgeous as she thought.
And he’d just caught her checking out his ass.
She ducked her head and focused on swirling her drink. The telltale burning in her cheeks meant she was bright red for the second time that night. Maybe she should take the hint and go up to her room and sleep. If she kept this up, she might actually die of mortification by the end of the night.
“Is this seat taken?” A smooth masculine voice spoke above her head.
Lauren looked up and right into the eyes of her Mr. Fantasy Man. How did he…? Why was he…? She looked between him and the magically empty barstool next to her. “I—I…uh… No, no one’s sitting there.”
“Great.” The stool screeched across the floor as he pulled it back to sit down next to her. Right next to her.
So close she could feel his body heat on her side.
She closed her eyes and tried to calm the dancing, swirling butterflies in her stomach. “Uh, do you come here often?” Great. Just great. Mr. Hotness sits next to me and I do my lounge-lizard impersonation.
“No, not really. I can’t ski worth a damn. I’m Jamie by the way.” He held his hand out to her.
“Nice to meet you, Jamie.” She shook his hand and enjoyed its firm, work-roughened feel. She could easily imagine it spanking her bare bottom as she lay bent over his knees. Her thighs clenched at the thought.
“And your name is…”
She flinched, torn out of her naughty daydream. “L-Lauren Vaughn.”
“Nice to meet you, Lauren.”
She nodded and looked down at her drink. God, she was such a spaz.
“Can I have my hand back now?”
She jerked her hand away as if she had been burned. Lord knew her cheeks were. “Sorry.”
His lips quirked. “No problem. So do you come here often?” His eyes danced with mischief.
She snorted then covered her face with her hands in abject embarrassment. Lord, take me now. She did not just snort in front of him.
“Is that a no?”
She nodded then shook her head. Her fantasy man was hitting on her and she couldn’t form a coherent sentence. She concentrated on taking deep breaths and tried to get her pounding heartbeat under control. She could do this. She wanted to do this.
Her voice came out as a croak. “Uh, no. I’m a local but I don’t ski. At all really.”
“So what brings you to Mount Charleston then? It is the ski getaway for Vegas after all.”
“I—uh, I’m here for a bachelorette party.”
His gaze shot to her left hand. “But not yours.”
She snorted a second time. “Hardly.”
“That’s good news.”
A giddiness swept over her. If she’d had any doubt about his interest, she didn’t any longer. He liked her! She took a bracing sip of her drink and tried to keep her excitement from showing all over her face.
“A local, huh? I haven’t seen you around the Cave.”
She tried not to choke on her whiskey. The Cave was the hottest BDSM club in Vegas. But it was a locals-only underground club. Attendance was by invitation only. And Lord knew she didn’t hang out in those circles.
She just dreamt and fantasized about them.
“I—I…um…I’ve never been.”
“Oh.” Jamie braced his palms on the bar top, his arms tense like he was going to push away.
“But I’ve heard of it,” she threw in as a last-ditch attempt. “I’ve driven by a few times.” Shit. Now she sounded like a deranged loony. Her cheeks burned anew and she quickly threw back the rest of her drink.
She looked up at the interested tone in his voice. Maybe she hadn’t freaked him out after all.
“What do you know about the scene?”
“I’ve read quite a lot about BDSM. I know about safe words and limits. I know that you’re flagging.” She paused to nod at his back pocket. “The black means S&M and the left side means top. You’re the kind of man who likes to be in control.”
“So you weren’t just checking out my ass.” A wide smile spread across his face.
“Well, that too.” She ducked her head in embarrassment. She couldn’t believe she just said that. Where are you when I need you, brain?
“Sounds like you’ve read a lot about BDSM. But what have you done?” The smile in his voice had her own lips curling in response.
“Uh, not much. I convinced a few boyfriends to try some moderately kinky stuff. I’ve never done anything that would require a safe word.”
“Because you always had control of the scene.”
Lauren had never thought of it that way before. He was right. She had been the instigator, the one encouraging her boyfriends to spank her harder, the one who supplied the handcuffs. She’d never really been satisfied with their level of play.
“How would you like to give up control tonight? To submit and let someone else design the scene of your seduction.”
Her mind whirled in a jumble of thoughts, desires and fears. She couldn’t believe she was having this discussion with such a hunk. If this was a dream, she didn’t want to wake up. Oh God, don’t let me wake up yet!
“B-but…aren’t we supposed to negotiate first?”
“That’s what this is, kitten. Ask away.”
She took a steadying breath and tried to remember what she had read about negotiations.
“Do you respect safe words?” She didn’t know where the question came from but the approving look on Jamie’s face told her he thought it was a good one.
“Absolutely. We’ll have a safe word and if you use it, the action will stop. No questions, no cajoling.”
She nodded at his answer. A little bit of the tension eased out of her shoulders.
“I have a question for you.” He leaned toward her and his voice dropped to a husky whisper. “What are you interested in? What things would you want to explore?”
“Spankings.” The word came out before she even had a second to think. And judging by the snicker on her other side, it might have come out a little too loud. She felt her cheeks warming again as she hung her head.
“Come on.” Jamie took her hand and pulled her away from the bar. “Let’s go someplace a little less crowded.”Return to Wicked Weekend