HARD TO HANDLE by Desiree Holt
The chemistry between horse wranglers Bailey French and Hondo Labar was hot enough to singe the air even before their unexpected meeting at Rawhide, a private bondage club.
Their extreme edge play at the club feeds their sexual needs, but Hondo wants a relationship outside the club and Bailey refuses to acknowledge him as more than a fellow wrangler. When a riding accident puts her in his care, can she finally trust her heart as well as her body to a man who would Master her forever?
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Bailey shredded the hunk of bread in her fingers. “You heard me turn down Hondo and Dan today, right?”
Liz nodded. “That’s why I thought it would be a good idea for us to have dinner and discuss the situation.”
Bailey frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“This isn’t an easy life you’ve chosen. You work hard. You need time to play. If not here, then someplace where you feel comfortable. It took me a long time to figure that out.”
Bailey fiddled with her wine glass, trying to decide exactly how much she could tell this woman. Liz was easy to talk to but she was, after all, the boss. And she didn’t feel comfortable just blurting out that she was a hard-core sub looking for a Dom who didn’t abuse the privilege. Or run away from it.
“I hear you,” she finally said. “But finding the right people isn’t always that easy.”
The other woman studied her. “I know you came here from Phoenix, but I guess I thought you had friends in the area. Something that drew you here. I probably should have asked at the time.”
“Why would you?” Bailey took a fortifying sip of her wine. “My personal circumstances aren’t your worry.”
Something dark flared in Liz’s eyes for a moment. But it was gone so fast Bailey wondered if she’d imagined it. Did Liz come here to get away from a problem, too?
“Maybe I sense a kindred spirit.” Liz said the words quietly, almost tentatively.
Bailey lifted an eyebrow. “In what way? Were you—I mean—“
“Running from something? In a way.”
The waiter appeared with their salads, momentarily interrupting their conversation. Bailey forked up a piece of lettuce and chewed it slowly, waiting for Liz to continue. They chewed in silence for a few seconds before Liz spoke again.
“There were—are—things in my life that I had a hard time handling. Even understanding. Needs that I had.” She paused, took a moment to chew another bite of salad. “It made my life…complicated.” The direct look she gave Bailey was honest and assessing. “I sense you might be dealing with the same thing, Bailey. If I’m wrong, I apologize, and we can pretend this conversation never happened.”
“You mean in isolating myself?”
“I mean,” Liz said, “in the things that enrich your life. Not just friendships but sex. People talk about men’s needs all the time, but they never think that could apply to women.”
Bailey stared at her, stunned that Liz brought the subject up.
Sex? She’s talking to me about sex? What do I say to that? How do I answer her?
All she could do was repeat the word. “Sex. You think I need sex.”
Liz Wright burst out laughing, a friendly sound, not a belittling one. “Bailey, almost everyone needs sex of one kind or another. It’s part of the human psyche.” She leaned forward again. “Unless you have a problem of some kind, it’s really not healthy to go without it for a long time. And I don’t see you as the kind of woman who doesn’t enjoy it.”
Bailey’s eyes widened. “Do I have some kind of sign on my back? You think I’ll do something to embarrass the ranch? And you?”
Liz shook her head. “No. That’s not it at all. I’m doing this very badly.” She sighed. “I went without for a long time after I was hired at the Lucky L. Not because the opportunities didn’t present themselves. As with you, every one of the hands eyed me with a lot of speculation. And I think the single men in town were making bets who would be the first one to break the ice.”
“Holy crap!” She shook her head, as much at the bluntness of the conversation as at the realization that the so-in-control Liz Wright had suffered the same things she did. “I guess I never…” She stopped, not wanting to be discourteous.
“Thought I was in that situation?” Liz smiled. “Or that I had sex?”
Bailey’s face heated. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—’
“It’s okay. Let yourself off the hook, Bailey. I understand what you’re saying.” She took a swallow of her wine. “Sometimes,” she said slowly, “it isn’t just the sex but the kind of sex that keeps you isolated.”
Bailey froze. Was it possible… “Kind of sex?”
Liz nodded. “I’m not sharing this with you lightly, Bailey. I’m doing it only because I sense a similar spirit here. I hope I won’t regret this.” She paused. “Some people might say my sexual needs are dark. Off the beaten path. Even unacceptable. For me and many others with the same desires, the elements of the BDSM lifestyle are as normal as breathing. But in a conservative community like this, one can’t exactly go out and ask where the nearest dungeon is or who’s into bondage.”
Bailey almost swallowed her tongue. Liz Wright was into BDSM?