Bound by the Past

Clandestine, Book 1

Mari Carr

Chapter 1

I’m retired.”

“I know that, Jon, and believe me, I wouldn’t be here if there was any other way.”

Jon Walker sighed, turning his back on his former boss, Reilly—his mentor, his conscience and the bane of his existence the last fifteen years.

Walking around his desk, he glanced out the window of his classroom at the beautiful autumn afternoon. The students had gone home for the day, yet reminders of their presence could be still be seen as he stood amidst the skewed rows of desks, forgotten books and scattered love notes left behind. He tried to rekindle the feeling of contentment he’d felt an hour earlier, before Reilly crash-landed back into his life. Since being hired a year ago as a senior English teacher, he’d never stopped relishing the idea that he had finally found his niche in life.

And now, five years after his retirement from the Covert Alliance Agency, he was being dragged back into the hell he’d barely escaped with his life and sanity intact. Jon had given ten years of his life to the CAA, a government-sanctioned organization known only to those in Washington with the highest level of security clearance. The CAA—unlike its sister agencies—operated on both home and foreign soil, gathering information and diffusing difficult situations by any means necessary. By any means.

“No.” He could already feel the invisible bonds he thought he’d severed, tightening around his chest like a vise.

“Jon,” Reilly said softly, “just hear me out.”

“Dammit Reilly!” He turned quickly, striding back to his ex-boss to point an angry finger in his face. “There is nothing you can say that would change my mind. I’m done with that life. Done! Do you hear me? This is where I belong now. This is where I want to be.”

“The cult is back,” Reilly whispered.

And with those four words, Jon felt his blood run cold. “That’s impossible. Rex is dead. He’s been dead for three years and he was rotting in a prison cell a dozen years prior to that. There’s no one left who would—”

“No one?” Reilly posed his statement as a question, though he knew it was merely rhetorical. They both knew there was another.

“Cassandra?” Jon read Reilly’s chagrined expression and shook his head in denial. “My mother? You’re crazy. Cassandra barely escaped with her freedom last time. She would never, I mean… Christ Reilly, what could she possibly hope to gain?”

“What did Cassie ever hope to gain? Money, power, sex.”

He felt a cold laugh pass his lips. “You better hope she never hears you calling her ‘Cassie’. Sort of like uttering Voldemort in Hogwarts.”

Reilly didn’t share his laughter, but Jon continued anyway. “Only thing she hates worse than being called ‘Cassie’ is ‘Mother’.” Jon shook his head and walked back to the windows. “Find someone else.”

“I have,” Reilly answered coolly. “Unfortunately, this mission calls for a team.”

“Night? You’ve signed Night up for this?”

His mentor smirked. “Actually, he signed himself up.”

“Fuck that!” Jon exploded with a pent-up anger he’d spent years struggling to keep under control. “Un-sign him, Reilly. He’s my best friend. You can’t send him back to that.”

“Night was no fan of Cassie. You know that, Jon.”

Jon knew the man’s words were true. He was hard-pressed not to admit to the same disdain. If a more egocentric and cold-hearted woman than Cassandra Walker existed, he hoped to hell he never met her. Simply knowing Cassandra still lived as a free woman, rather than locked up behind bars, was enough to drive him insane. God help her if they ever met on the street because he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep himself from committing matricide.

Reilly remained quiet for a few moments, obviously attempting to give him a chance to digest the unsavory news he’d just delivered. He studied his mentor’s face and discovered the stress of Reilly’s job was finally catching up to him, noting the deep-set lines around his mouth and eyes that had not been so pronounced when he left the agency. A deep crease between his worried eyes told Jon his former boss spoke the truth. Reilly felt no pleasure in dragging him back into the cesspool of his younger life.

“It doesn’t make any sense.” Jon crossed the room and sat in one of the student desks, resting his head in his hands.

“None of the sick shit Cassie ever pulled made sense.” Reilly stood behind the podium at the front of the room. If Jon hadn’t been so angry, he would have been amused by how easily they reverted back to their natural states. For nearly half his life, the man standing before him had been his teacher. Whether the lessons involved how to fire an AK-47, how to break into an impenetrable fortress or even how to control his hot-blooded temper, Reilly never stopped instructing him.

“Why now?” He was genuinely perplexed by Reilly’s news. “Rex has been dead for years. Cassandra made a clean break from the Commitment Church and if your sources are correct, she managed to abscond with more than a lion’s share of the money. She’s an incredibly wealthy woman. Besides which, you and I both know she never bought into Rex’s religious mumbo jumbo.”

“I can’t tell you why, Jon. Only that she has moved back up on the mountain and she’s reorganizing. Night’s doing a bit of reconnaissance up there already. He could probably tell you more about the specifics of what’s happening.”

“Take him off the case.”

“No. And he wouldn’t thank you for asking me to. He’s still one of my top operatives and this case is priority one. No one at the bureau wants a repeat of the last time.”

“Dammit. Night may seem cool on the outside, but I know what this case will do to him. He can’t go back there.”

“Are you sure it’s Night who can’t go back, Jon? It sounds to me like it’s you who can’t face it all again.”

“I didn’t drag him out of that godforsaken place only to have you drag him back in!”

“You dragged him out?” Reilly’s usually calm voice rose slightly. “That’s funny. I remember it a slightly different way. I seem to recall Night dragging you out.”

Any response he could have given to Reilly’s astute comment became lodged in the ever-growing lump in his throat. He was saved from having to acknowledge the truth in Reilly’s words when his mentor spoke again.

“Why did you come back here?” Reilly shocked him with the abrupt change in topic.

“What?”

Reilly lifted his hand, gesturing toward the view outside the window. “I’ve never understood why you returned here. You could have settled anywhere in the world. Why here? You never considered this place your home and after all that happened on that mountain, I would think this would be the last place on earth you’d set up housekeeping.”

Jon had asked himself the same question every day since returning to this sleepy southern town. He wasn’t sure there was an answer. When he’d retired from the agency and returned to college to get his degree in English education—always in the back of his mind—he knew this was where he would settle down to teach.

Penance, perhaps? For a decade, he and Night had dedicated themselves to the agency, to ridding the world of villains like Rex Thomas. When he’d felt too tired to continue to do that job to the best of his ability, he’d turned to teaching. But the cult of his childhood had played a role in every decision of his adult life and coming back here was no different.

Apparently deciding he wasn’t going to answer his question, Reilly changed the subject again. “Regardless of your feelings on the matter, the fact remains your mother is operating some sort of underground organization again. Back on that mountain.” Reilly pointed and Jon’s eyes followed the line to the colorful mountain range that served as the backdrop to his lessons every school day.

“Christ.” Jon ran his hands through his shaggy black hair. He needed to get it trimmed but hadn’t found the time. His nights were spent planning lessons and grading writing assignments—a pastime others would consider dull in the extreme, but which appealed to him greatly. He was tired of a life lived on the razor-sharp edge of a blade, every minute spent in the struggle to kill or be killed. He couldn’t go back to that—regardless of the fact this case wasn’t simply a case, but his past coming back to haunt him once again. “I can’t help you.”

“Jon—”

Jon’s temper got the best of him and he felt his grip on calmness slip away. “No, don’t. Don’t say another damn word. I’ve said no and I won’t change my mind.”

“Do you think I wanted to come back here? To disturb this life you’ve created? I’ve never wanted you to have anything else, but how can you close your eyes to what’s happening? What will happen? The seventeen-year-old boy I pulled out of that rubble would never turn his back—”

“Enough! I’m not him! Not anymore.” He rose, stalked to his teacher’s desk and pounded his hand on the hard surface in frustration as the door to his classroom opened.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” a soft voice said from the hallway. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Carly.” Jon crossed the room to where she hovered just outside the door.

Carly James, the school secretary, was the first friend he’d made after returning to Westchester to teach at Lowell High School. The cute brunette had caught his eye on his first day at his new job. She simply walked up to him, introduced herself and in twenty mind-boggling minutes, gave him such a thorough and accurate overview of his new place of employment he was surprised she wasn’t working for the CAA.

“I wanted to see if you were going to the football game tonight, but I can see you’re busy,” she said.

“No, I’m not busy at all.” Jon felt as if his two worlds were colliding and he was helpless to stop it. “Carly James, this is Mr. Reilly, my, uh, my…” As far as Carly was concerned, he’d spent the first decade of his adult life working in advertising. After growing bored with that, he’d decided to become a teacher. His personnel file confirmed that lie.

“Old colleague from his advertising days,” Reilly finished as Jon watched him produce the charming grin that came easily to the old man when in the presence of beautiful women. Reilly—whose age was a mystery to Jon—could still turn the ladies’ heads. At six foot five, the man was a towering presence with salt and pepper hair and piercing blue eyes that seemed to laser straight through anyone who stood in his way. In the past, Jon had emulated that same cocky smile, but seeing it flashed for Carly’s benefit left him feeling like smashing a fist into his mentor’s face.

Shocked by his response, Jon cleared his throat. “Carly is the secretary here.”

“Secretary?” Reilly reached over to take her outstretched hand. Rather than return her intended handshake, he raised her hand and placed a light kiss on the knuckles. Jon could see his romance-reading friend was entranced by the gesture. “Any chance I could steal you away? I’m looking for a new secretary.”

Carly smiled. “Are you really?”

“No, but I could be,” Reilly teasingly answered.

She laughed at his corny joke and again, Jon felt an irrational streak of jealousy attack. “Careful, old man, she’s young enough to be your daughter. Wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack.”

“Jon!” Carly chastised, clearly surprised by his sudden rudeness.

“Oh, don’t mind him, Ms. James. Or is it Mrs. James?” Reilly’s interest in Carly was now fully engaged thanks to Jon’s revealing, if foolish, comment.

“Ms. I’m divorced.”

“I see.”

Jon sensed the undertones in his mentor’s short response. The old guy saw way too much. Clearly, the only person in the room unaware of Jon’s less-than-platonic interest in Carly was Carly herself.

Her divorce became final the summer he was hired. When he had first arrived, he’d wanted a simple life devoid of complications, and she’d offered that. Over the past year, they’d filled a void in each other’s lives. He was her handyman, spending a couple Saturdays a month helping with the repairs that never seemed to run out in her old house. When he needed help typing up a test—a skill he’d never mastered—she would do it for him. However, lately he’d found his feelings for her moving beyond simple friendship, despite the fact she seemed content with their “best friends” status.

“I can see you have plans for the evening.” Reilly interrupted his thoughts. “I’ll give you time to consider my proposal and touch base with you later.”

“Proposal?” Carly asked.

“Property he’s selling,” Jon lied smoothly. “He has some land he thought I might be interested in buying. He invited me to drive out and take a look at it.”

Carly’s eyes widened. “I had no idea you were looking to buy property. How exciting. Where is this land?”

Before he could reply, Reilly answered for him. “Up on Olson Mountain, just past Lindsey Lane.”

Jon jerked at his response. The Commitment Church had owned and operated a fair amount of land on Olson Mountain. Because of poor roads and steep inclines, the area was nearly inaccessible to anyone the cult wished to keep out. Clearly, Reilly hadn’t given up hope that he would take the case and was dangling more information in front of him despite his refusal.

“Oh it’s beautiful out there. I think the school library has several house-plan books, Jon. You should check them out.”

“I haven’t bought the land yet and I didn’t say anything about building a house.” The idea of lying to Carly didn’t sit easily on Jon’s shoulders.

“I have to be going.” Reilly picked up his jacket. “I’ll be in touch with you later. Perhaps we can drive out to look at the property together—and Ms. James, it was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we run into one another again before I return home.”

“So do I.” She smiled as Reilly made his way to the door of the classroom.

Once Reilly left, Jon took a deep breath and braced himself for the onslaught. He wasn’t disappointed.

“Jon, you sneaky Pete! Why didn’t you tell me you were planning to buy land? I thought you were happy in your townhouse. Living up on a mountain would be amazing. I bet it has a beautiful view. Can we drive out and look at it sometime?”

Grinning, he shook his head. Not only was Carly friendly and vivacious, she had more energy than a four-year-old. “I haven’t bought the land. I wasn’t even thinking about such a purchase until Reilly came by with the offer. To tell you the truth, I’m perfectly happy in my townhouse and the stress of building my own home isn’t something I need right now.”

“Jon—” she started to protest.

“I’m not going to buy it.”

“Oh.” She was clearly disappointed. No doubt she’d already envisioned helping him pick out carpet and appliances. “Well, I suppose it would be stressful. Joyce and her husband split up right in the midst of building their dream home. She said they would still be married today if it weren’t for their inept contractor and the strain of it all.”

Jon smiled. Carly knew everyone’s story because in addition to her role as secretary, she also served—in an unofficial capacity—as counselor to the entire faculty. Anything told to her in confidence was kept in confidence and she never betrayed a trust. After living so much of his life pretending to be someone other than himself, he found her straightforward, no-nonsense approach to life enlightening. She was exactly what she appeared to be.

“Well, what about the football game?” She returned to her reason for seeking him out.

“I’m in. Wanna go grab a burger beforehand?”

“Sounds great. We can hit that new place next to Lee’s Pizza in the mini-mall. I’ve heard good things about their bacon cheeseburgers.” She paused, groaning. “Oh shit.”

“What?”

“I forgot. I’m on a diet.”

“Carly,” he said in a tone he hoped would warn her he didn’t want to go down this road again. Why she thought she needed to lose weight was beyond him. Mercifully, she wasn’t pencil-thin. Give him a girl with curves any day—and she had her curves in all the right places. Although she complained endlessly about what she referred to as her “bubble butt”, Jon simply didn’t see it. She was the perfect hourglass and he’d pointed out to her on more than one occasion that most women would kill for her Marilyn Monroe figure.

Unfortunately, his compliments were continually rebuffed. He tried not to be annoyed that the woman simply could not accept any favorable comments about herself. If there was one thing about her that drove him crazy, it was her low self-esteem.

“Of course, I’ve been on a diet for ten years, so I don’t see what difference a lousy burger is going to make. My metabolism seems to have died a painful death years ago and there’s simply no reviving it. It’s hell getting old.”

“You aren’t old.” His voice sounded gruff, but he was tired of hearing her put herself down. “And you aren’t fat. You’re just right.”

At her eye-rolling dismissal of his words, Jon felt his anger building.

“I’m a practical girl with eyes and mirrors, Jon, and besides, I figure I have something much better than good looks.”

“What’s that?” He tried to calm the fury Reilly had set loose inside him.

“Common sense. That’s much better than brilliance or beauty.”

“Well,” he answered through gritted teeth, “it seems to me, you have all three.”

“You are such a sweet friend.” She turned as if to leave. That was the other thing that drove him crazy. Whenever faced with a compliment, she became embarrassed and left the room. Unwilling to allow her to retreat this time, he grabbed her arm before she’d taken two steps.

“You are beautiful.” He forced her to look him in the eye with a firm finger under her chin.

“Jon—”

“Say it,” he demanded harshly.

“Say what?” She was clearly shocked by his domineering manner. He’d only ever treated her with kid gloves, but Reilly’s visit upset him more than he cared to admit. He felt shades of his former personality breaking through the cool exterior he’d worked hard to construct. Listening to his gorgeous friend’s ridiculous self-recriminations drove him over the edge.

“I’m beautiful,” he repeated, refusing to back down.

“You’re beautiful.” She gave him an impish smile—however, her joke was wasted on him. He could feel himself slipping into the old Jon.

“I’ve got all night.” His grip on her arm tightened. “Are you going to say it or not?”

“I don’t understand…”

He watched the smallest glimmer of fear creep into her confused eyes but he refused to give her an inch.

“I mean it, Carly. I’ve had it with your comments. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met and if you try to tell me one more time that you’re not, I’ll lose it.”

Carly smiled at his words. He watched as the fear and confusion were replaced by what appeared to be amazement. “That is absolutely, positively the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Clearly that’s the problem, but that doesn’t stop it from being the truth. Now are you going to say it or am I going to take you over my knee?”

He watched her cheeks flush at his comment. It appeared she was struggling to take a deep breath and the pupils in her lovely blue eyes dilated. Could it be she wouldn’t mind such an occurrence? He felt a serious stirring in his pants that would cause her to blush even more if she spotted it. Usually he was able to keep his one-eyed friend under control around her, careful not to frighten her with his interest.

As he watched her stammering, Jon wondered why he’d started this conversation. What the hell was he thinking? It was that damn Reilly. He’d left him in a state of turmoil, opening a Pandora’s box. The old, dangerous Jon was beginning to reemerge from the wreckage of his earlier life. He felt the new calm, cool and collected Jon quickly losing the ground he’d gained in the last few years.

“I—I’m b-beautiful.” The sincerity of her words was questionable enough, but she sealed her fate when she rolled her eyes and giggled with exasperation at the end of her statement.

“That’s it!” He dragged her toward the chair behind his desk.

“Jon!” She began to struggle.

“Don’t fight me.” He pulled harder as she dug her heels in. “I gave you a chance.”

“Fine. Have it your way. I’m beautiful. I’m the most gorgeous woman on earth. I should be a supermodel or a movie star, I’m so fucking hot. Happy?”

He turned to face her and felt his anger melt away at the humor written on her lovely face. He’d behaved like a brute but rather than run away in fear, she continued to tease him.

Grimacing at his foul behavior, he barked out a brief “sorry” before turning to load his briefcase. He needed to put some distance between them before he did something they’d both regret.

“Wanna tell me what the hell that was all about?” she asked after a few moments of uneasy silence.

He shook his head.

“Jon.” She paused, waiting until he looked at her before finishing her comment. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Still want that burger?”

“Heck yeah. I’m beautiful and hungry.”

Grabbing his briefcase and leather jacket in one hand, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder in a friendly gesture. “You’re beautiful and crazy.”

They’d nearly reached the classroom door when she pulled away. “You wouldn’t really have…” She gestured back to the desk chair. “You know.”

“Spanked you?” He grinned with the lightheartedness she seemed to bring out in him.

She blushed and nodded.

“Oh yeah—and I would have loved every minute of it.” He watched her cheeks grow even redder. “Don’t worry, Blue Eyes, knowing you and that mouth of yours, I have no doubt I’ll get to carry through on the threat eventually. And trust me, you’ll love every minute of it too.”

Ignoring her speechlessness, he winked and continued to guide her out into the hallway before turning off the lights and locking the door.

Chapter 2

Jon was starving by the time they finally made it to the burger joint. They’d separated at the front door of the school with his promise to swing by her place an hour later to pick her up. They’d both needed time to change into more comfortable clothes and Jon had needed time to regroup, regain control of emotions.

Tonight’s football game promised to be an exciting one, with Lowell taking on a crosstown rival. The stands would be packed. He looked forward to being forced into cramped conditions with Carly, soaking up the scent of strawberries left in her hair from the shampoo she used. God, he loved the way she smelled.

He wasn’t sure exactly when his attitude toward her had changed, but he suddenly wanted Carly James with a need so powerful it frightened him. There were two big things holding him back from changing their status quo. First of all, if the truth about his past ever came out, she would never forgive him.

Secondly, normal girls like Carly would never understand the needs that lived inside him—and the fact that Night was back in town only exacerbated the problem. That knowledge stopped him dead in his tracks every time his desire threatened to overwhelm him. She deserved much better than him and he knew it. Night’s return—in light of his growing feelings for Carly—was going to test him. He felt certain he’d fail.

Night would take one look at her and want her every bit as much as Jon did, and he could never hope to explain—even to himself—why he was overwhelmed by the desire to share her with his best friend.

His upbringing had definitely shaped and fueled that need. He’d been introduced to the Commitment Church the year he’d turned eleven. His father had died unexpectedly of a heart attack and his mother, Cassandra, had discovered Reverend Rex Thomas’ cult. Actually, Rex discovered Cassandra. As was his practice, he’d preyed on young widows and divorcees. However, instead of finding a distraught woman in desperate need of rescuing, Rex had found a kindred spirit in Cassandra. Renouncing his harem, he proclaimed her his high priestess within months of their arrival at the farm. As Cassandra ascended the ranks of the cult, Jon followed. Rex took him under his wing and Jon—enthralled by no longer being forced to go to school—embraced cult life.

At fourteen, Jon and Night, Rex’s son by one of his numerous wives, were initiated into the world of sex. Most women in the cult were trained and cultivated to serve the male members’ every sexual fantasy. BDSM was widely practiced and by sixteen, Jon and Night were accomplished masters. They’d always shared the women and for several years after the cult fell, Jon had found it impossible to enjoy sex without the presence of his friend. One night—after too much whiskey—he’d discovered Night suffered the same feeling of loss. After that, they’d begun to seek out women willing to take on both of them in bed.

Rubbing his weary eyes, he thrust the unhappy memories from his mind. The Commitment Church was something he purposely hadn’t thought of in fifteen years, despite the fact he still suffered nightmares about his time there.

Sitting at the table with Carly, he again considered Reilly’s suspicions. Cassandra wasn’t a fool. There was no way she would resurrect the Commitment Church. If she was on the mountain, she clearly had a different plan this time. And there was no force in nature that would compel him to go anywhere near Olson Mountain again. The normal life he’d craved since leaving the cult and the CAA was within his grasp.

Glancing across the table, he watched Carly dig into her French fries with vigor.

Normal.

He was going to be normal and if anyone could show him the way, it was the lively sprite before him.

“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” she said.

As their friendship grew, Jon had become concerned, worried about the day she would ask him questions about himself and his past that he couldn’t answer. She’d never met Night as he’d been out of the country the last eighteen months.

“Earth to Jon.” She waved her hands in front of his face. “Anybody home?”

“I’m here.”

“Could have fooled me. You’ve been zoning out since you picked me up. Do you feel all right?”

“I feel fine.”

“If you’re too tired, we don’t have to go to the football game. I know it’s been a long week. I’m sure someone snuck at least three Tuesdays in there.”

He laughed. “I’m not too tired. Besides, there’s no way I could miss this game and show my face in school on Monday. I have three starters on the team in my third period and they’d be pissed off if I missed it.”

“The kids love you. No one can teach the struggling students like you can.”

“Careful there, Blue Eyes. Unlike you, I have no problem accepting a compliment and yours is feeding my already overweening sense of self.”

“Ha ha. I don’t have problems with compliments. Just ones that aren’t necessarily true.” At her words, his eyes narrowed and she quickly raised her hands in surrender.

“Oh no. We are not going there again.”

“Didn’t your ex-husband ever tell you how pretty you are?” He felt a bit curious about her unsuccessful marriage. It was the one subject about which she didn’t speak often.

“We didn’t have that kind of marriage.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Adam and I were—actually are—better friends than lovers. Our relationship was never based on passion, just companionship.”

“Excuse me for saying so, but that doesn’t sound like much of a marriage.”

“You’re right. Our marriage was probably a mistake from the beginning, but the fact is we were really great friends. I suppose in a lot of ways it was easier to just hang in there. I mean, we got along fine. Why mess with something that wasn’t terrible? We rarely fought and we had a good time together even if we weren’t ripping each other’s clothes off every night.”

“So what happened?”

“He met someone whose clothes he wanted to rip off.”

“Ah.” He was unsure how to respond to her carefree response.

“Shelby is Adam’s soul mate. She completes him in a way I never could. She’s wonderful for him. Truth is, as much as I know I should be devastated, I’m not. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m several eggs short of a dozen.”

“Sorry, but that’s not what I’m thinking.”

“You aren’t?” Her face showed her disbelief at his statement.

“Nope.”

“Then what were are you thinking?”

“That you are too good to be true.” Before he could think about his actions, he leaned across the table and kissed her.

Night watched Jon lean forward to kiss the gorgeous brunette. Making a quick adjustment to his pants, he imagined what it would be like to put his mouth on those oh-so-kissable lips as well.

He hadn’t seen his best friend in well over a year, since before Jon had started his new life as an English teacher. Night knew it was foolish to be nervous about seeing Jon again, yet for some reason he couldn’t shake the feeling.

Things had changed between them in the last few years. A wall had been erected and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how or why. Jon was struggling to overcome and forget the past. He could respect that even if he couldn’t quite understand. For him, the past would never go away as long as Cassandra Walker was a free woman. Now—for the first time in nearly a decade and a half—he saw his chance for retribution.

Night ran a hand through his dirty hair, shaking loose clumps of soil and dried leaves. Damn Reilly wanted him up on that godforsaken mountain twenty-four-seven. After days without a shower, hot food or a decent night’s sleep, he’d had enough. On top of his discomfort, he was tired of wondering how Jon would respond to the fact that Mommie Dearest was back in town.

He’d just been pulling into the parking lot of Jon’s townhouse complex when he saw his friend pulling out. Jon hadn’t seen him and, as Night didn’t have a key, he’d decided to follow. He’d been surprised to see his friend pull up in front of a small house on the edge of town and pick up the pretty little brunette. Grinning at the prospect of having a bit of fun at Jon’s expense, he’d followed the couple to this restaurant.

He could just imagine the look on the woman’s face when he walked up to Jon and hugged him. He looked like a homeless person and his smell was potent. The problem was, he could see from here that something was bothering his friend and he wasn’t sure this was the right time to approach him.

So instead he’d simply sat in his truck and watched Jon and his date throughout most of their meal. He knew his friend better than anyone on earth. He could only assume Reilly had finally made contact and Jon hadn’t taken the news of Cassandra’s reappearance well.

As he watched, Jon ended the kiss with a smile and his date blushed.

“Christ.” The entire thing reminded him of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, it was so innocent and sweet. Nausea swam through him. So it looked like his best friend had finally gotten his heart’s desire. He’d achieved what they’d both assumed was impossible—a normal life.

The couple rose to leave the restaurant. Night bent down in the front seat of his truck while Jon opened the passenger door for his date, then circled the car and climbed in. As he watched them drive away, Night decided tonight clearly wasn’t a good time for a reunion. He groaned at the prospect of another night spent sleeping on the cold, hard ground, then started his truck and headed back toward the mountain.

Chapter 3

Carly was quiet as he drove her home from the football game. In fact, she’d been rather subdued ever since his impetuous kiss in the restaurant. He’d wanted to talk to her about it, but at the football game she had carved them out a place in the midst of the faculty section. Surrounded by colleagues didn’t allow much opportunity for intimate conversation. Unfortunately, the long game—Lowell won in overtime—gave him too much time to worry about her response. He’d sensed she was confused and he didn’t blame her. In the course of a few hours, he’d told her she was beautiful, threatened to spank her and kissed her in public.

She lived close to the school and they were pulling up in front of her house before he’d had a chance to speak a word to her.

“Carly.” He turned toward her as she reached for the door handle of the car.

“Jon, you don’t have to say anything. I mean it was just a little kiss. Don’t worry about it.”

“‘Worry about it’?”

“Yeah. I mean, you’ve been so sweet to me today, but you really didn’t have to kiss me just to make me feel better about myself.”

“What?” He was perplexed by her comments.

“I know I’m not exactly what you would call the most self-confident woman in the world, but I meant what I said about Adam. I’m not hurt by his decision, so you don’t have to worry that I’m in denial or pining away or lonely or anything.”

She thought the kiss was simply to cheer her up? A pity kiss?

She was still talking so he forced himself to tune back in to her rambling conversation. “…suppose I’m just not the kind of woman to evoke that kind of passion in a man.”

“What?”

“I’m the girl next door, not the fantasy. Plus I’m a tomboy—always have been. Guys see me as a friend, not a conquest, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, I think fellas are cool to hang out with. Much better than women who only ever want to shop and talk on the phone.”

He shook his head, certain he hadn’t heard her right. She thought that he wasn’t attracted to her. That she didn’t ooze passion and sex out of every pore of her delectable body.

“So thanks for the nice words and kiss, but you don’t have to worry, I don’t expect anything more. Nothing’s changed. We’re still friends.”

“The hell we are!” he shouted, speaking with more heat than he’d intended. She flinched as if he’d hit her. “Don’t say another word.” He opened his door and circled the car to open hers. “Get out.”

She got out of the car stiffly, clearly unsure how to react to his angry response. Grabbing her hand, he half led, half dragged her to her front door, barely keeping himself in check.

“Where’s your key?” He grabbed it from her when she attempted to hand it over. Her hands were shaking now but he was too far gone to care. Reilly had lured the bear out of its den this afternoon and her comments had poked it into a fury.

Once he had the front door open, he followed her in, latching it behind them.

Warily, she turned to him. “Jon?”

He didn’t reply to the question in her voice. “Upstairs.”

He was slightly surprised when she followed his command without refusal. Having been in her home numerous times, he knew exactly where her bedroom was. When they reached the top of the stairs, she paused until he placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her toward her room.

Upon reaching his destination, he stood in the doorway as she moved away from him to the center of the room. Obviously she’d had enough time to gather her wits and she rounded on him, fury evident in her face.

“What the hell is wrong with you today?” She yanked off her jacket and threw it across the room.

Still angry, he was itching for a fight. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me. You!” He pointed a finger at her before divesting himself of his own leather coat. “You’re what’s wrong with me, but you know what, Blue Eyes? I’m about to correct that.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She backed away slowly but he matched her step for step.

“I’m talking about the fact that you are so fucking blind to your own beauty you can’t see when a man is attracted to you. That was no goddamn pity kiss. If you can’t tell the difference, then it’s obvious you need to be taught a lesson about kissing.”

“Lesson?”

He halted her retreat by grabbing her upper arms and pulling her toward his chest.

“Lesson.” His lips descended on hers in a kiss that her insecure mind could never mistake for pity or friendship. It was an outright possession, an unreserved claiming. His tongue explored her mouth and his teeth nipped lightly at her lips as his hands moved up to cup her face, holding her still for his amorous assault. And an assault is exactly what it was. He gave her no quarter, no reprieve, no opportunity to misunderstand his meaning this time. She was not going to be his friend or his girl next door.

She was going to be his.

When he lifted his lips from hers, he saw such a mixture of emotion in her eyes that he didn’t know what to respond to first—the confusion, the fear or the desire. Both of them were breathing heavily so he allowed her to take one step back. He needed to give her time to consider his actions, his intentions, his longings. He was finished fighting the past. Tired of being bound to that endless hell. He wanted a future. Clearly she read his objective without words, because he saw her eyes widen with the realization.

“Come here.” He deliberately softened his tone, not wanting to frighten her any more.

“Why?”

“Come here, Carly.”

“Jon…” She was obviously stalling for time, but his patience was in tatters. Refusing to listen to any more of her rambling diatribes, he grabbed her roughly, pushing her back against the nearest wall. His lips cut off her protest, taking hers as if his life depended on stealing all the breath in her body.

She was stunned motionless for several moments before he felt something give way. She succumbed to his intense kiss. Her hands slid slowly up his chest, continuing until his grip on her upper arms loosened enough that she could wrap her arms around his neck, her hands pulling his hair, keeping his lips on hers.

Unwilling to give up control of the kiss, his own hands traveled down her back until he reached her buttocks, firmly gripping each cheek and pulling her toward him until he was able to grind his hard erection into her soft stomach.

She seemed shocked by the intimacy of his actions. Pulling back from him, she looked at him with blue eyes clouded with confusion…and lust. “Jon?”

“No. No more talking.” Taking her lips against his own again, he effectively halted anything she might have said. She’d had her say in the car—now he was going to prove her words false. Lightly nipping her lower lip, he thrust his tongue into her mouth, moving it in time with the thrusting of his hips against hers, leaving her no question where tonight would lead them.

Slowly, he moved his kiss away from her now-swollen lips, dragging them over her soft cheek to her ear, uncaring if his rough five o’clock shadow was scraping her. He felt an overwhelming desire to mark her. He tickled her ear with his tongue before biting the lobe gently. Ignoring her gasp, he moved farther down, pressing moist kisses and sharp nips along her throat until he reached the opening of her blouse. She was whimpering in his arms now, her hips thrusting out toward him, unconsciously trying to find something to fill her. The thought undid him.

Without a word, he stepped away and gripped both sides of her shirt. He ripped it open in one fast movement. The sound of buttons bouncing on the floor and the rending of material filled the air, drowned out their harsh breathing.

“God, Jon!” Her chest rose and fell rapidly as he watched her struggle to catch her breath. Her large, white breasts were perfectly framed by a lacy bra.

“Jesus.” He stepped back as he got his first real look at the luscious body she kept hidden beneath her conservative work clothing.

She blushed under his intense study and attempted to cover herself with the remains of her blouse, but his strong hands on her wrists stilled her motions. Holding her hands away from her body, he continued to worship her with his gaze. She had the kind of tits a man could suck on for a lifetime and never get his fill.

“What did you expect?” Her voice shook with nervous laughter as she once again mistook his silence. “I’m nearly forty.”

She was trying to cover up her anxiety with humor, but he simply couldn’t let her escape this moment in that way. “You’re only thirty-two and I didn’t expect a goddess.”

She snorted with disbelief. Heat rose in Jon’s cheeks. He was surprised she didn’t hear the final nail being driven into her coffin.

“That does it!” His anger returned full force. Reaching behind her, he unclasped her bra and, in one smooth motion, pulled it and her torn blouse from her body before she realized his intentions. For the first time in a lifetime, he felt like the Jon he used to be. The master lover resurfaced and threatened to overtake him. For fifteen years he’d kept the beast at bay, burying his dominant desires deep inside. He hadn’t been a monk, but he hadn’t been his true self either. When he’d needed, he and Night found a willing bed partner but the sex was always light—merely a means to an end. When they couldn’t find a willing partner they’d bought one, but even then, he’d refused to let the demons out.

Now his control was shattered. He stood in front of Carly—his friend, his fantasy, his future—and her denial drove him over the edge. It was his last finger hold on sanity that finally prompted him to speak.

“Carly.” His voice was thick with his desire. “Say no now. I won’t ask again.”

“I-I…” He watched the gravity of his words sink in.

“Now Carly. Say it now!” He leaned closer, his hands running through her lovely chestnut-brown hair. If she asked him to leave, somehow he would, but she needed to ask right now. Another minute in her presence and he couldn’t make the same guarantee.

“Jon, please…I want you.” His inner beast felt like howling as she reached out to him.

He forced the words “trust me” out before pulling her into his embrace. No longer willing to hold anything back, he touched her everywhere, exploring, roaming, learning her secrets. Bending down, he took her rose-colored nipple into his mouth, sucking gently before biting the tip. At her gasp of pain, he soothed her with a gentle rasp of his tongue. He moved to her other breast, repeating his motions. This time when he bit down, she moaned.

“Beautiful.”

She tugged roughly at his hair, obviously torn between pushing him away and pulling him closer. After several moments worshipping her breasts, his hands moved to the button of her jeans. She shuddered leaving Jon to wonder if it was due to fear or excitement. As he looked up at her face, he decided perhaps a little of both. He’d never shown her this side of himself. To her, he was sweet, affable, easygoing Jon. This man and the intensity he’d kept hidden for so many years had her reeling, struggling to adjust and keep up.

Smiling to himself, he refused to make it easy on her. She’d driven him crazy tonight and he was ready to get back some of his own. “You’ve been a naughty girl, Carly.” He grasped the zipper tab to her jeans and pulled it down. “I think it’s time for another lesson.”

She was gasping as she gripped his wrists. “Wait, Jon. Too fast. This is all too fast.”

“No, Blue Eyes. I gave you your out. You didn’t take it. It’s too late for that now.” He pulled her jeans and panties down in one sweep. “Step up. Let’s get rid of these pants.”

Obeying without question, she toed off her tennis shoes before kicking the jeans away. Again she tried to cover herself but he grabbed her hands and roughly placed them at her sides. “Leave them there.” His voice was hard, firm, and he felt his dominant nature continue to drive him on.

“That hardly seems fair.” Her playful voice reemerged. He rejoiced at her easy capitulation to his controlling disposition. One look at her face convinced him she was more than ready for the ride he was about to take her on. “Here I am naked and you’re still fully dressed.”

“I’ll take my clothes off soon enough. First, I want to look at you.”

She protested and her hands rose to cover herself.

“If you move your hands again, Blue Eyes, I’ll tie them behind your back.”

He wanted to crow when he watched her squeeze her thighs together at his threat. It was just as he suspected. His lively little secretary was a closet submissive and not at all opposed to a bit of kinky bed play. Twice now she’d responded to his threats. It was clear she wouldn’t resist light bondage or a sensual spanking.

Groaning inwardly, his already too-tight jeans constricted around his rock-hard erection even more. He couldn’t remember ever wanting a woman more than Carly in his entire life. Desires he’d refused to set loose in years were suddenly chomping at the bit, ready to be given free rein.

For a split second he wished Night were here with them. Jolted by the thought, he tried to cast it aside but in his mind’s eye he could see Night standing behind her, holding her lovely large breasts up to his mouth, feeding her tight, hard nipples to him. He shook the thought away.

Sitting down on her bed, he patted his lap, beckoning her to him. “Come here, sweetheart. I think I promised you a lesson.”

She moved slowly forward before stopping in front of him, looking uncertain. He offered her no reprieve as he surprised her by quickly pulling her down on his lap, her soft buttocks cradled between his hard thighs. He captured her head in his hands and kissed her once more, lighter this time, slower, more thoroughly.

When he sensed her acquiescence to his gentle kisses, he changed the pace, tumbling her roughly facedown over his lap.

Before she could respond, he lightly smacked her bare bottom.

“Hey!” she squeaked in protest, but he merely struck her again. Three quick slaps followed as she squirmed.

“This will go a lot easier if you don’t fight me.” His calloused hand rubbed lightly on her now-reddened cheeks. “I told you earlier you would earn a punishment with your self-deprecating comments. You didn’t disappoint me.” With that, he spanked her twice more.

“God, Jon, yes!” His actions were turning her on as she started to anticipate his slaps and move into them. Slowly he moved his hand to the slit between her legs, sliding a finger through the undeniable proof.

“You’re so hot and wet, baby. A man could swim in there.” Her entire body shivered at his touch.

“Please…” Her hips moved toward his touch, silently begging for more.

“Not yet.” He planted another light pat on her rear end. “Does this feel like friendship, Carly?” His fingers moved back to her drenched passage, teasing her with light touches.

“No.”

“Do you still think you’re undesirable?”

“No.” She whimpered as he ran a light finger over he clit, stroking it.

“Is this passion?” He refused to let her continue to think of herself as a woman who couldn’t drive a man to lust. Driving a finger into her hot, wet warmth, he repeated the question. “Is this passion?”

“Yes!” She hissed the word at him as an orgasm ripped through her quivering body. He felt her inner muscles grip his finger and he was amazed at her intense reaction. She’d come from no more than a spanking, his words and a single touch.

“Sweet Jesus.” He felt mystified and gratified to have found her. Once her body stilled, he picked her up and placed her on the bed. He lay down beside her and smiled when she curled into him easily, resting her head on his chest. Glancing down, he realized he was still fully dressed and fully aroused. She seemed to come to the same realization.

Smiling shyly, she looked up into his face. “Sorry.”

He chuckled at her apology. “Oh, so you noticed I was here.”

“That was amazing.” Her voice was filled with awe.

“Yes, it was.”

“But you didn’t…I mean, you never…you know.”

“The night is still young.”

“Oh, right. But…” She grinned at him and Jon felt his heart stop for a moment. “You’re still dressed.”

“I suppose we should take care of that small fact since it seems to be such a sticking point for you.”

He rose from the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. He heard her sigh as she looked at his chest. He found himself feeling foolishly relieved she found him attractive. He quickly divested himself of his shoes, pants and boxers. Once he was totally naked, he glanced down to look at her face.

She was completely still. Jon noted she’d begun biting her lower lip, a sure sign she was nervous.

“That bad?”

“You’re huge.”

He grinned at her praise and teasingly flexed his arm muscles. “You think so?”

He laughed until he realized she wasn’t smiling. She was never without a smile and he moved quickly to grab her trembling hands in his own. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“Jon, you’re huge,” she repeated as she turned away from him, hastily covering herself with the comforter on the bed.

“Whoa.” Now that he had her where he wanted her, he refused to allow her retreat. “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”

“God, look at you. I’m not really sure…”

While he was probably on the large side of average, he’d never had any complaints about his size physically hurting anyone. He struggled not to smile and hoped he never ran into her ex-husband. Apparently Adam was lacking somewhat in the cock department. “It’ll be fine, Blue Eyes. I promise.”

She looked at him suspiciously before blushing furiously. “Shit, I’ve really killed the moment here, haven’t I?”

He grinned at her question but Carly didn’t smile back.

“Jon, this is a mistake. Surely you realize that?”

“Back up, sweetheart. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Um, hello Jon. Take a look at us. We’re too different. I’m at least twenty pounds overweight, my breasts sag and my thighs are thick as tree trunks. Meanwhile, you’ve got honest-to-God washboard abs. I mean, you could be the next James Bond.”

“And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

“I’m about as sexy as a toothbrush. Surely you’re used to women who actually know what to do in the bedroom. I think I just let it slip that my past experiences don’t even come close to measuring up to your expectations.”

“That’s funny. I don’t remember discussing my expectations but since you’ve brought it up, let’s talk about them. I expect you to believe me when I say you’re gorgeous. I expect you to be brave enough to take a chance on what could be the best thing that’s ever happened to either of us. I expect you to trust me when I say you are a fucking wet dream come true and if you really believe all that bullshit you said in the car about guys looking at you as nothing more than a buddy, you’re a damn fool. Why don’t you tell me the real reason you’re backing away from this, Carly? Why can’t you believe me when I tell you you’re beautiful and that I want you?”

Shaking her head, she seemed to be fighting tears. He should feel remorse for his harsh words, but he couldn’t regret them. If she sent him away now, he’d fall apart. Something he’d never done. Not even during the darkest days of his life with the cult. Overcome with panic, he halted any response she might make. Not when there was the slightest chance she’d refuse him.

Reaching out, he pulled her under him in one smooth move. Without thought to his actions, he quickly touched her clit. Discovering her wet and ready, he slowly but steadily thrust into her. She was small and tight and his conscience screamed at him for his impulsive action. He paused briefly to make sure he hadn’t hurt her and felt the dark clouds lift when her hips rose, urging him to further movement. With her silent surrender, he gave up his hard-earned control and gave in to the devils driving him.

Pounding into her with all the passion in his body, he gave her no respite. Twice he heard her screams, felt her coming around him, but he couldn’t stop, couldn’t give up the heaven that was her body gripping and pulsing around him. At last, released his hold on his own orgasm as he poured his seed deep inside her as she came with him a final time.

He wasn’t sure how many minutes he lay fully atop her before he regained enough strength to pull himself out of her body. Shame suffused him as he considered his actions. He wouldn’t treat a prostitute as roughly as he’d just treated his friend.

“Jon.” Her voice was hoarse from her screams. “Can I tell you something?”

“Anything, Blue Eyes.” He struggled to keep his voice light despite the panic rising in his gut.

“That was the most incredible sex of my life. I’ve never had one orgasm like that, let alone four. Is it possible to die from coming? Because I honestly thought I was dying there. I thought my heart was going to burst.”

He chuckled at her endearing rambling, relief pouring through him.

“Jon.”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“I know I acted rather flippant about my divorce, but the truth is—it hurt. I mean, I know Adam and I were wrong for each other, but I still couldn’t stop wondering what was wrong with me. Guess my self-confidence took a bigger nosedive than I thought. I’m going to fall in love with you and if you ever decide to leave, well, I’m not sure I could—”

“Blue Eyes.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t be afraid. If you fall, I’ll be right here. I’ll catch you. Always.”

~

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