Authors: Ann Jacobs
Karen shuddered. Drunk or sober, her pop always had an itchy finger with his guns. Besides, on the rare occasions he crawled out of his whiskey bottles, he still wouldn’t listen to reason. “Then I’ll have to make sure Pop doesn’t find out. He shouldn’t, should he? After all, all the members here are sworn to secrecy. Remember your motto, ‘What goes on at the Neon Lasso stays at the Neon Lasso’?”
“Yeah, I remember.” Buck looked at her, a concerned look on his usually jovial face. “Can I count on you to stay away from him in here, from now on?”
“I don’t think so.” Oakleys might consider all Cadens lower than coyotes and vice versa, but Karen wasn’t ready to give up the delicious sensations that were still coursing through her body thanks to her hot masked Dom. Thanks to her family’s worst enemy. “What Pop doesn’t know won’t harm anybody, will it?”
“I suppose not. And I pride myself on not admitting any members I can’t trust to keep what happens here strictly within these four walls. You’d better be damn careful, though, and don’t even think about doing anything with the man besides scratching the occasional itch here in the club. You might want to take up wearing a mask, just in case he didn’t recognize you tonight.”
“He probably recognized me. When we were in high school, I had a crush on him. I was in his face enough back then that I doubt he’s forgotten me. In any case, I don’t do masks. I’m not ashamed of what I’m doing in here. See you later, Buck.”
* * * * *
The next afternoon Bye drove into town to meet his friend and lawyer Jack Duval. It bugged the hell out of Bye that he couldn’t get the woman he’d played with off his mind, because he’d always been a fuck ’em and forget ’em sort of guy, particularly when he played at Buck Oakley’s Neon Lasso or the other BDSM clubs where he’d played in Dallas and San Antonio. Not this time, though.
He hadn’t recognized Karen Oakley right away. Of course he never would have thought she might be playing in her cousin’s sex club. Old Buck ought to be beaten to a pulp for letting the fledgling lawyer—the only Oakley without a rap sheet as far as Bye knew—play BDSM games in his club. Part of Bye wished Karen was anybody else but who she was so he could sample more of her charms—maybe even get to know more about her than just the fact she had an incredibly hot body and knew how to use it.
Too feisty to take up with just any Dom who crooked his finger at her, she’d zeroed in on him when he’d walked into the playroom, almost as though she’d been the Domme. But then she’d given in to him as sweetly as any sub he’d ever played with and put her pleasure in his hands. Big brown eyes and long, silky hair he’d tangled between his fingers stayed in his memory, as much as her arousing little moans when she’d come at his command not once but several times before he’d let go and exploded with the climax she’d begged for.
Bye should have recognized her right away. He was glad he hadn’t, though, because if he had, he’d have steered clear of her out of lifelong habit. Of course it had been ten years since he’d seen her nearly every day at the rural high school they’d both attended. He remembered her being the hottest girl in school back then and wishing her last name hadn’t been Oakley. He’d have hit on her in a hurry. As it was, he’d stayed away from her rather than risking a confrontation with Four. A couple of times in the past month or so, he’d seen Karen here in town, but she looked different in her lawyer suits and sensible shoes, with her gorgeous hair put up in a prissy-looking bun.
He glanced up the stairs to the law office where she shared space with Jack, wondering if she was half as good in court as she was in the sack. Then he went inside The Corral where Jack had said he’d be waiting.
“Hey, Bye.” Jack moved from the bar to a corner table and motioned for Bye to join him.
Bye ordered a draft beer and walked it over to the table. “What’s up?”
“Not much. I’m afraid I haven’t come across anything in the statutes that would help you force your dad to give you an ownership interest in your wind farm as payment for your work.” Jack shot him an apologetic look, as if he cared that he hadn’t been able to deliver better news.
“That’s what I was afraid of. I guess I should be grateful that Four shelled out the startup capital and lets me use the wind above the high pasture, but it pisses me off big-time that he refuses to pay me a salary for the other work I do on the ranch. Since I got home from college I don’t even get an allowance.”
Jack shook his head. “You never seem to be hurting for cash, but I see your point in wanting to translate work into money.”
“Yeah. It makes me feel like a ten-year-old kid, having to beg the old man or ask Mom for handouts. I’ll be twenty-eight years old next month.”
“I understand, but I did find one piece of good news for you. You’re the sole heir to the Bar C, according to the will your father has on file at the courthouse. Your mom and sister are granted life estates and money but no part of the ranch. Seems sort of draconian, if you ask me.”
Though Bye hadn’t known that for sure, he wasn’t surprised at Jack’s revelation. “All my Caden ancestors have left the Bar C lock, stock and barrel to their oldest sons. It’s sort of as though the place were a medieval fiefdom subject to entail. Of course, none of my ancestors that I know of had more than one son. If they had, maybe the ranch would have been split among them all.” He laughed, even though the idea seemed hopelessly out of date in these times when most folks were being careful of women’s rights and mindful of giving to each kid equally.
Jack took a long swig of beer. “Then why did you ask me to find out if you already knew?”
“I may have guessed what that will would say, but I didn’t
. You can never be too sure of anything when you’re dealing with Four.” Bye shrugged then lifted his mug and finished off the beer.
“I guess not. Sometimes when you talk about your relationship with your father, I think I’m better off for having been brought up by a single mom. Not that I’d turn down the promise of inheriting a spread like the Bar C and everything that goes with it.”
“You could always marry Deidre.” It was no secret that Bye’s little sister had her sights set on Jack.
“Not likely. I know you like to play at the Neon Lasso, but for me it’s a 24/7 lifestyle. Deidre’s practically an innocent and I’d scare her to death with what I need from my woman. Besides, your sister is too used to crooking her little finger and getting anything or anybody she fancies that she wants. I doubt she could be persuaded to become my 24/7 slave. I also doubt I could afford to keep her in the style to which she’s accustomed.” The corners of Jack’s mouth turned up in a wry grin. “Not to mention she has relatives who could get me disbarred, probably even run clear out of Texas if they took a notion.”
Bye laughed. “You’ve got a point there.”
“Speaking of crazy fathers who like to play with guns, I hear you played with my office mate last night.” Jack shot a knowing grin Bye’s way.
“Where’d you hear that?”
“At the club. I got there not long after you left. It seems you and Karen put on quite an exhibition. That’s a big turn-on for her, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Bye wasn’t particularly comfortable discussing Karen with her office mate. He also didn’t like hearing they’d been talked about at the club after he’d left, but he guessed that wasn’t a violation of the rules, strictly speaking, since Jack was also a member.
Jack leaned toward him and lowered his voice almost to a whisper. “She likes being watched. Or watching. Funny, she didn’t stay and play voyeur last night after she played with you. Buck commented about that because that’s usually the way she gets off. Want to set up a threesome one of these days?”
“Do you play with her too?” Bye tried to fight down the green envy monster that threatened to claim him. Exclusivity wouldn’t do at the exclusive BDSM club that provided pretty much the only venue for sex play within a couple hundred miles. All the uncommitted members were expected to share more or less freely.
“Not yet. I’ve never gotten lucky. You do ménages, don’t you?”
Bye nodded. “Sometimes.” Once, at an upscale dungeon in Dallas, if he wanted to be totally honest.
“Then let’s set one up sometime soon.” That came out like a distinct challenge.
“Good with me.” Bye didn’t need to ask who’d be the Dom in charge. He’d seen Jack in action a couple times, including once where he and the other guy had played with each other as well as the female sub. “I’m game as long as we both pleasure her. To each his own, but I’m only attracted to women.”
“Fine with me. I’d rather play with her than you, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, that’s how I feel too.” Relieved, Bye felt his tension drain away. “Want another beer?”
“I’d like one, but I’d better get back to work. I’ve got court in the morning, and I have a couple motions to finish before I go home.” Jack stood and dropped a ten on the table. “I got the tab today.”
Bye watched Jack down his beer and set the bottle back on the table. “Thanks. See you next Saturday.” He needed to get home anyhow, because he was supposed to fly his mom to Houston in the morning for some medical tests.
* * * * *
At noon the following day, Bye found himself sitting in the copilot’s seat of the Bar C’s six-seater Bombardier, ten thousand feet over central Texas. Mike Elliot, a crusty ex-military pilot who oversaw all three of the ranch’s planes, had just switched the plane onto autopilot and started to eat the sandwich he’d bought at Houston’s Hobby Airport while Bye had handed his mom off to her sister. Aunt Cathy was going to take her to the hospital for her tests and stay with her for the day.
“Nice day for flying.” Mike glanced at the instrument panel then turned to Bye. “I was surprised the boss didn’t come along.”
“He said he had business to take care of in Lubbock.” Bye didn’t feel much like making excuses for Four, because he’d seen how disappointed his mom had been when she’d realized his dad wasn’t coming with her. “Want me to take the controls?”
“Sure. No reason you shouldn’t log a few more hours in the jet—not that the boss is likely to let you use it for a weekend jaunt any time soon.” Mike laughed out loud. “You fly this baby as well as I do. Don’t let him make you feel bad.”
Bye disengaged the autopilot and took over flying the plane. “Thanks. I feel more comfortable with one of the Cessnas, anyhow, when I have to go get parts for the windmills or talk to the energy regulators in Austin. This is one hell of a plane—way more than the ranch needs if you want the truth.”
“I think the boss wanted it because it’s bigger and fancier than the Wolfes’ Gulfstream. Anyhow, go ahead and get some practice flying it. You may have to, someday, if I’m on vacation or tied up in the hangar. The boss won’t let anybody take it up without a copilot.”
Bye sighed. He’d enjoyed flying, ever since Mike had taught him how in an old single-engine crop duster when he’d been about ten years old. He hadn’t particularly appreciated being sent to get an upgraded license so he could qualify to fly this jet. To him it seemed more like a commercial airliner than the fun, easily maneuverable toy where he’d first earned his wings. Besides, he wasn’t especially anxious to spend time locked up in the air with his hypercritical father, where he’d have no means of escape. “I guess we’ll be going back down to Houston to pick up Mom, later on this week.”
“Not likely. The boss said her tests are gonna take at least a week, maybe longer if they decide she needs surgery. Your mom’s a sweet lady. I’m worried about her.”
So was Bye, more now than he’d been before he’d looked at her standing next to Aunt Cathy. She’d seemed unreasonably tired after the short flight, and he thought she’d looked terribly pale and thin compared with her younger sister. “Me too. I don’t think Mom has been feeling well for quite a while, but Doc Baines hasn’t been able to put a finger on what may be wrong with her.”
“Well, I hope it’s not real serious. Ms. Mae’s the one who keeps the Bar C runnin’ smooth.”
“Yeah.” While Four ruled the place with an iron hand, Bye’s mom smoothed over the resentment the old man regularly caused among the ranch employees. She spoke softly, but nobody doubted her genuine love for all the people who kept the Bar C running smoothly. The old man treated all of them, his own kids included, with about the same degree of concern he showed for his prize bull and award-winning quarter horses. Bye didn’t like dwelling on the nagging fear that he might lose his mother, so he cleared his throat and deliberately changed the subject. “It’s a nice day for flying. Hardly any wind at all.”
“A good thing. This plane’s a bitch to land at the Bar C airstrip when the wind’s a-blowin’.”
“You gonna let me land her?” Bye was used to hearing Mike gripe about the airstrip that had been reinforced and lengthened barely enough to meet the minimum recommended standards for the Learjet Bombardier 75, before two sales representatives from Houston had delivered Four’s new toy to the ranch a few months ago. “I know how you worry about scratching her up.”
Mike laughed. “You can set her down when we get there. Don’t mind me. I’m glad the boss bought this, because it gave Ms. Mae a lot more comfortable a ride than the Cessna would have—not to mention a quicker one.”
“Yeah.” His mom had dozed fitfully almost all the way to Houston, and she couldn’t have lain back with her feet up in the cramped cabin of the smaller plane. Not to mention that if they’d used the Cessna, she’d still be bouncing around in the air instead of checking in at a VIP suite in the world-renowned Houston hospital. Bye wished he didn’t have a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach when he thought about how shaky and worn she’d looked when he’d helped her down the plane’s metal steps and across the tarmac to Aunt Cathy’s SUV.
As they approached the landing strip at the Bar C, Bye banished his worries and concentrated on bringing the plane down smoothly. A few minutes later he got in his car and drove back to the ranch house, deliberately noticing some of the small details along the ranch road that set the ranch apart from other nearby spreads—a feathery-looking windbreak of Afghanistan pines his mom had planted the year he was born, bright grass rippling in a pasture where quarter horses grazed among brilliantly colored wildflowers that dotted the scene. In the yard surrounding the main house, Bye noticed the riot of colors in rock-edged flower beds where Mom must have planted at least a hundred kinds of native plants she’d collected over the years. Evidence of the beauty she brought to the sometimes harsh northwest Texas setting was everywhere.