Book VI of the Knights of the Board Room Series
Originally released May 2013; Re-released with different cover/publisher Jan 2016
Janet Albright prefers her men submissive, her relationships confined to a club environment. Which is why her attraction to former Navy SEAL Maxwell Ackerman doesn't make a lot of sense. There isn't a submissive bone in his honed, muscular body, suggesting that her interest in Kensington & Associate's head limo driver is best indulged as a private fantasy. The problem is, after a crisis situation reveals a different side of them both, the attraction becomes mutual and undeniable.
They take the plunge, willing to see if the give-and-take of their unexpected relationship can satisfy their deepest desires. Unfortunately, ghosts from their past might take the reins from them both, destroying the balance of power before their love can find a way to tip the scales.
© Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved
“Randall, is Max in yet?”
“Yes and no, ma’am.”
She paused by the security desk, arching a brow. The head of K&A security pressed a button on his console, calling up the needed camera angle on the top covered level of the parking deck. “He’s not on until noon, but most mornings, this is where you’ll find him. He won’t mind doing anything you need, as long as you don’t mind he’s not in uniform. Want me to buzz him? He’s wearing his pager.”
“No. I need to stretch my legs. I’ll go to him.”
Randall nodded, waited until she was a safe distance down the hall, then murmured, “And fucking fantastic legs they are. Ma’am.”
Janet paused at the elevator, a good fifty feet away, and glanced back at him, a glint in her eye. Randall cleared his throat, paid close attention to his monitors, and didn’t let out a breath until he heard the elevators close. Jim, the desk guard, gave him a grin. “You’re a brave man. Mr. Kensington says she can hear through concrete walls.”
“Why do you think I added the ‘ma’am’?” Randall responded wryly.
“Should we give Max a heads up she’s coming?”
Randall shook his head. “The moment she steps into the parking-deck elevator, he’ll hear it engage. He’ll be tracking where it stops.”
Jim studied the video dubiously. “He looks like he’s asleep.”
“Trust me. He can tell you how many bugs have scurried across the parking deck in the past half hour, and give you their current coordinates.”
“Since she can hear through walls, sounds like they’re made for each other.”
Randall pursed his lips. Imagining Janet Albright, Matt Kensington’s terrifying admin, and Max Ackerman, his head limo driver, as a couple, wasn’t as unlikely a vision as he’d expected. In fact, it might be a mighty interesting combination. Course, an explosion was interesting—if you were outside the blast zone.
* * * * *
Janet stepped off the parking elevator, careful not to snag her heels on its metal threshold, and headed toward the back corner of the parking deck. Her glossy brown pumps made a crisp echo on the concrete. Glancing over the wall at the New Orleans business district, she drew in the faintly smoky air, pleased to detect the cool scent of fall beneath the city smells. But as she made the turn toward that back corner, other scenery captured her attention.
Randall had said Max wouldn’t mind running her errand, as long as she didn’t mind he wasn’t in uniform. She wasn’t sure there was a red-blooded woman alive who would mind that. He looked handsome in his various uniforms, everything from the traditional chauffeur’s suit to the more informal black dress jeans and crisp black placket shirt with the embroidered K&A insignia. However, in the blue jeans and dark-blue T-shirt he wore now, he was pure sex.
He had his muscled arms crossed over his broad chest, his back braced against his windshield in his reclined position on the hood of his battered Ford Ranger pickup. The jeans were classic Wranglers, worn down to that soft cling that drew the female eye to all the right points of groin, thighs and ass. Despite the covered parking deck, he wore sunglasses, which made it impossible to determine if his eyes were open, but she knew they were. She suspected they’d opened as soon as she stepped off the elevator.
Max had been working for K&A for over six years, but had taken over management of the fleet after less than two years with the company. He oversaw maintenance of the vehicles and management of the rotating staff of eight drivers. One of his important secondary duties was being Dana’s driver, taking her to and from her job as assistant pastor at one of the local churches. Peter and Max looked enough alike that the other men teased Peter, telling him he’d provided his wife a surrogate for the frequent times he had to be out of the country, dealing with their Central American plant operations.
The physical features of the two men were remarkably similar, dark-blond hair and gray eyes, both over six feet and possessing a large-boned build wrapped in a lot of military-trained muscle. However, to Janet’s way of thinking, their respective personalities gave each man a unique stamp. They both had the discipline and strong moral code of many servicemen, but there was a silent core to Max, seemingly impenetrable. When he met her gaze, she felt pulled into that silence, and it wasn’t a bad place to be. A gray, overcast day, no break in the cloud cover, somber but comforting, like a blanket being wrapped around the earth.
She’d dreamed a lot about those eyes in the past six months. They’d gotten in the pleasant habit of interrupting her occasional nightmares, driving them away with their tails tucked between their legs.
The limo he usually drove was parked in its spot along the back wall, pristine and gleaming, the way he made sure all vehicles in the fleet were kept by the team he supervised. Though his older model pickup truck had seen some fender benders, it was equally clean and polished. His sturdy, thick-tread work shoes were crossed at the ankle but projected over the edge of the hood, not making contact with the paint. He not only took good care of what he was paid to maintain, but his own belongings as well, no matter their age or condition. A woman noticed such things.
Music was wafting out of the truck window, and the selection surprised her. I’ll Never Find Another You by the Seekers. The poignant, innocent sound of it made her think of waltzing across the concrete with him, her hand curled on his neck, a faint smile in her heart.
Ever since Savannah had given birth to sweet Angelica, the idle fascination Janet had with the limo driver had grown far stronger. The man had been positively heroic, getting Savannah to the hospital under trying circumstances. It would have made any woman’s heart trip faster. But Janet knew he’d intrigued her for quite a while before that. That day, as now, she reminded herself she’d kept her distance for several intelligent reasons.
Yet here she was, seeking him out for something any of the other on-duty drivers would be happy to do for her. It told her she’d reached some kind of decision in her mind. It was an intuitive thing, not fully formed, which wasn’t the same as being impulsive or rash. She’d mulled it over for well beyond those six months, yet recently realized the reason she couldn’t get a clear sense of her intent with Max was because she needed more information to sift. So this was a planned direction, even if the road ahead was murky.
Matt had told her Max was a former Navy SEAL. After looking up considerably more specific information on it, she’d learned that meant he’d left the SEALs before reaching the twenty-year retirement mark. Even so, she wasn’t sure if the term “former” or “retired” truly applied to a SEAL. The quick reflexes and cool nerve he’d demonstrated the day they had to get Savannah to the hospital had underscored it. It was also why she knew his eyes were open behind those glasses, though he hadn’t yet moved. Not until she turned with purpose in his direction. Then he slid off the hood in one powerful motion, taking off the glasses and hooking them in his shirt. She waved at him with the folder she carried.
“No, don’t come to me. I’m coming to you.”
She issued it as a command, and he simply nodded. “Ma’am.” But he still took a couple steps toward her, showing he wasn’t entirely comfortable waiting for her to do all the work to get to him. She really needed to sit in on hiring interviews one of these days. She was fairly certain Matt Kensington had the HR department subject all male applicants to a super-secret chivalry test handed down since Lancelot’s days.
“Were you sleeping?”
“Just a short nap, ma’am.” He nodded at the folder. “Do you need me to take that somewhere?”
“No.” Though it had been her excuse for coming to him, she decided then and there she would send the documents to the bank with Wade later today, when he took Matt to his lunch meeting. She didn’t dissemble when it suited no purpose. “Max, do you dance?”
He wasn’t expecting that. She experienced a small spurt of satisfaction at the flicker of surprise, and amusement when it turned to wariness. “Not really, no.”
“I’m on a break. May I join you?” She nodded to the hood of the truck. “You made that look very comfortable.”
Actually, she visualized using his body the way he’d used that truck, leaning back against his chest, her body ensconced in the cradle of his thighs, her hand caressing one as she put her head back on his shoulder and they gazed at the rectangular panorama of the city. He’d be warm, she was sure, a good contrast to the touch of cool air wafting over the business district. She wouldn’t miss the sweater she’d left on her chair.
There was a reason she connected so well with the K&A men. She herself was a sexual Dominant, one who regularly enjoyed playing Mistress to willing submissives at Club Progeny. As such, she was direct with men, in or outside of a club. Her senses were tuned to evaluate how they responded to the unexpected. Max glanced at the hood of his truck, then at her pale-pink silk suit, his gaze lingering on her stocking-clad legs revealed by the just-above-the-knee hem. The short slit in the back offered a glimpse of her thigh, which she knew was what had caught Randall’s eye. She dressed for business, but she also thoroughly enjoyed being an attractive middle-aged woman. She had no problem highlighting her better features within the tasteful boundaries of professionalism.
“I’ll need a boost,” she said. “And you’ll need to take off my shoes once I’m there so they don’t scratch your truck. Of course, you still haven’t said whether you mind ten minutes of company.”
“I’m just trying to keep up, ma’am.” He had a little bit of a Texas drawl, just like Matt. It was entrancing. “Why did you want to know if I dance?”
“I teach a ballet class for teenagers at the community center. We don’t have any male dancers at the moment, and the girls want to learn some basic lifts. When a dancer first starts learning lifts, confidence in the strength of your lifter helps you focus on your form. You seem more than capable of lifting teenage girls. But it does require some grace and agility, which is why I asked about the dancing.”
She gave him a critical look. “You move well, though, so even if you don’t have any dance training, I think it will still work. If you’re willing, it pays nothing, and it will take up a night of your time. Given your looks, I’m sure it will also gain you the slavish adoration of a dozen underage girls. While I promise not to give them your social networking links, I can’t guarantee they won’t find them anyhow. A fourteen year old has ways of ferreting out information the CIA only wishes they knew.”
Putting the folder on the hood, she held out her hands. “Want to prove you can lift something heavier than a teenager?”
“If I see something that is, I’ll do that, ma’am.”
She chuckled. “Charm serves a man well, Max.” She kept her arms out. She knew he couldn’t let her stand that way for long without it becoming awkward or embarrassing for her, at least to his way of thinking. Sure enough, within a blink, he stepped forward to close the distance between them. When his hands settled on her waist, he met her gaze. If he’d wanted to keep it more impersonal, he wouldn’t have done that, so that alone gave her another intriguing piece of information about where this might go.
First intentional physical contact was a critical sensation, where she logged her own reaction as much as his. Heat swept out from where his hands closed over her waist. She felt the strength in his restrained power, saw the biceps flex as he tightened the grip and prepared to lift her. Then he stopped himself. “Hold on a moment.” Releasing her to open the truck’s door, he twisted his upper torso to reach behind the front seat. He came back with a rolled-up quilt in a brown-and-green camouflage pattern. He untied the straps, folded it into a rectangular cushion and put it on the hood where he’d been about to place her.
“It’s clean enough for me, but not that.” He nodded to the pastel color of her suit. “I don’t want you to get anything on it.”
She didn’t think there was a speck of dust on the truck, but she appreciated the consideration. Now he lifted her. She’d expected his display of easy strength, but her reaction when it swept through all her nerve endings startled her. During that effortless suspension, short as it was, she was catapulted to a memory of lights, a crowd’s breathless attention as she bounded lightly across the stage, leaping into the capable hands of her partner, who lifted her high above his head.
Jorge had given her that moment. She couldn’t deny that gift. He’d also been the one to take it all away.
She opened her eyes, realized she’d simply gone away, too much like that night in the hospital bathroom. Her hands were gripping his on her waist, nails digging into his skin. He’d put her on the truck hood, on the quilt. His hard abdomen was pressed against her knees as he held on to her, obviously not wanting to let her go until he was sure she was all right. Maybe for other reasons too, but it was a little too soon for that. She wasn’t given to fanciful romanticizing. Then she thought about how she’d imagined lying inside his embrace on top of the truck and realized he’d already taken her down that road. Men didn’t usually do that to her. Not anymore.
“Yes. You did that very well. In fact, now I’m not sure the girls will be able to focus on their form at all. You’ll make them think they’re swans, about to give flight. Which is actually what it feels like, when it’s done right.”
“You dance too?”
“I did. Now I teach.” She gave his hands a functional pat, a signal to let her go. They reflexively tightened, a brief squeeze, then slipped away, leaving her tingling. “Thank you. Please remove my shoes. You take very good care of this truck. I don’t want to cause any scratches.”
“It’s had its share of those.” He paused. Wondering if he would kneel to take off her shoes, she played with that fantasy, but of course the truck was too high to make that necessary, and he wasn’t that type of man. She already knew that much about him, one of the intelligent reasons she hadn’t pursued anything with him. She liked her men submissive, and limited to a club setting. At least, she had, until Max started visiting her waking thoughts as much as he did her dreams.
He slipped off one of her pumps, his fingers sliding along her arch. She quelled her visible reaction to the arrow of sensation that went right up her inner thigh, but she savored it behind a neutral expression. When he touched the other arch the same way, she was sure he was testing her reaction, because he looked up at her, meeting her gaze once again. Setting the shoes carefully by the front tire, he leaned on the hood next to her, propping his elbow by her hip. He laced his fingers together, but his knuckles were a tempting distance from the modest section of thigh her seated position revealed.
When she glanced down at that small space, a weighted pause drew out between them, inundated with sexual awareness. She’d introduced it by requesting a personal favor, suggesting physical contact, both of which encouraged a new level of intimacy between them. Now she waited to see what he would do with those signals. Studying her leg, his head bent so she could gaze upon the dark blond strands across his crown, Max loosened his fingers. He allowed one to slide along her stocking, to the hem of the skirt and just under it, encountering the lace top of her thigh high. He stayed within that short range, his finger going still as he lifted his head to meet her gaze.
Nothing so sexy as a man who didn’t doubt himself. She thought of the cameras, but where he was, his broad shoulders were blocking the lens. To Randall or anyone watching, Max was leaning against the truck, talking to her. Perhaps they were closer than the usual personal space boundary, but he’d just lifted her on to the hood.
She had no doubt he’d shifted into this position to ensure their privacy. It made her ache for more contact than just that casual fingertip. As a general rule, she wasn’t impulsive when it came to desires. She might be guided by intuition, but it was disciplined and directed to enhance her own pleasure and that of the man she was controlling. However, this time her intuition was taking her down a path where things were far less calculated. “You always call me ‘ma'am’,” she said. His finger might be motionless, but since it was still beneath her skirt, resting on the lace top of her stocking, her leg was in danger of catching on fire. “Whenever I tell you to call me Janet, you just nod and say, ‘Yes, ma'am. Janet’.”
His expression was somber. Though his attention returned to her leg, it wasn’t as if he’d lowered his gaze, not the way she was used to a man doing around her in a sexual situation. It was as if he was absorbing everything happening beneath and around his touch, sensing the simmer of her blood, the delicate ruffled shape of her clit swelling to ripe reaction. She thought of his mouth there and nearly shuddered.
“Just the other day,” she continued, “I overheard you leaving Ben’s office. Alice asked you something and you said, ‘No problem. See you later, Alice’. You call Alice by her name, Max. Yet you call me ma'am.”
“You prefer ma’am. You like it when men call you that.” His gaze lifted then, and there was a heat in those gray irises. “Your eyes get more focused, like now. It reminds me of a hawk. I like it. I think that’s why you and Matt get along so well. You’re both birds of prey.”
She blinked. “Will you join me for the ballet class?”
“When is it?”
“Next Thursday, seven to nine.”
He nodded. “I’ll drive you, if you like.”
“We’ll see.” She should meet him there, keep things on a controlled footing. Letting him drive might be relinquishing too much, sending the wrong message, but it took more than one detail to upset her balance of power. “I’d also like you to consider coming to Club Progeny one night, as my guest.”
He straightened, taking his hand away to hook his thumb in his jeans pocket. He braced his other palm on the truck hood. A polite withdrawal. “I don't know much about that world.”
She lifted a brow. Matt, Lucas, Jon, Ben and Peter regularly took their women to Club Progeny, as well as Club Surreal in Baton Rouge. Despite her religious vocation, Dana was the most hardcore submissive of all the wives, and would be until Ben and Marcie decided to marry, since Marcie even eclipsed Dana in that department. Rachel was a close runner up to Dana. Savannah and Cassandra were softer in that regard, but still very much in tune with their respective husbands’ Dominant sides.
“Given the places you’ve taken Matt and the others after hours, it doesn't say much about your eye for detail.”
A smile tugged at his firm mouth. “There's seeing a world and knowing it.”
“Are you interested in an inside look?”
“Not so much. Except when you talk about it.” His gaze slid over her, then back up to her face. “I might like to see how you see it. But I don't do so well with getting more personal with people.”
“Neither do I.”
“We could start with coffee,” he suggested.
“There's a nice coffee shop on Progeny’s viewing deck. It even has a separate entrance and exit for those who want to observe but not participate. Street clothes only allowed. It's like being outside an aquarium, where you get to watch all the exotic life swim around.” She cocked her head. “But you already know that. Lucas says you’ve hung out there some nights, watching the public sessions, until they’re ready to go home.”
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t ask the obvious, if she’d been checking up on him by fishing for information from Lucas. He just waited her out, probably to see what other information she’d volunteer. He wasn’t a nervous talker. That silent core, she reminded herself. It impressed her. As a result, she was willing to give him an idea of where her interest in him had been taking her.
“I’ve been reading about Navy SEALs. One thing that caught my interest was a description of what it was like to be down range, on a mission, in enemy territory. The SEAL who wrote the article said it was like being on a different plane, everything high intensity, hyper alert, every detail mattering.” She glanced down at her leg, recalling for them both that single touch, his close attention to it.
“It made me wonder if you like watching the public sessions because a Dom and sub are exploring that intense immersion in detail. Their mission is this one focused goal, a goal the Dom always has to keep in sight, yet the journey to that goal is indescribable. The immersion itself is a drug, something you miss when you no longer have it. No matter how brutal or bloody it can be, how it tears you open or pushes you past your boundaries, you always want to go back for more.”
She had his full attention now. Interestingly, that was all she had. Everything else had closed up, reminding her of a coiled snake, so close his fangs could reach her if he chose to strike. She could vividly imagine what it would be like if Max struck. Passion was a form of controlled violence, and she expected Max did controlled violence very well, if the quick shift from gray cloud to molten steel in his piercing gaze was any indication. Though he hadn’t moved, he felt much closer, the way something did when it became far more dangerous.
“Why haven’t you tried it, since you like watching?” she asked.
He lifted a hand toward her face. She intercepted it, a simple lift of her hand. When she pressed her knuckles against his palm, her long nails gleaming, she didn’t push it away, just held enough pressure against it to keep him from touching her face. He let the hand stay there, though, hovering near her lips, her lifted chin.
“You want to play it out this way?” His voice was a rumble.
He closed his hand, put it back down on the truck hood next to her leg. “I'm not the Master type. I'm protective enough, but I couldn’t tie up a woman or strike her. Even spanking. It’s not how I roll.”
“Yet I’ll bet you’ve psychologically dominated every woman you’ve been with. Just taken her over with that alpha vibe and made her surrender. You’ve got the conqueror in you. Of course, sometimes you find that in a sub as well.”
He chuckled at that. “I definitely couldn't be on the other side, ma’am.”
“Most of us could be on either side. And you’d be infinitely fascinating, either way.” She closed her hand over his thick wrist, the one attached to his braced hand. “Notice when I touch you like this, everything between us gets still, focused, intent. What am I about to do? What are you reading from me, and me from you? There's an intensity to it. You’re trusting me to care for you, watch your back, no matter what. And I’m trusting you to do the same for me. Because whichever one is holding the reins, we both hold one another’s souls, even if it’s just for a short space of time.”
He lifted his gaze, locked with hers. It recalled the night at the hospital, when he was holding Matt, yet the two of them couldn’t look away from each other. That was really what she’d been unable to forget or dismiss, wasn’t it?
He put his other hand over hers, fingers sliding over her knuckles, a lingering caress. Then he squeezed it, stepped back, taking both his hands away. “Maybe I’ll come in sometime when I’m bringing Matt or one of the others. Just see if you’re there and go from that point. It feels like it needs to be that way. More unplanned.”
“Is that a problem?” She detected a hint of challenge in his tone, and met it with a cool gaze.
“Not for me.” She glanced at her shoes, bemused when he immediately understood her desire. He retrieved them, sliding them back on her feet, his fingers once again sending those lovely ribbons of sensation spiraling around her calves and inner thighs.
When she put her hands on his shoulders, she indulged the desire to slide her fingertips from the broad span up closer to his neck. His grip on her waist increased, his thumbs caressing her hip bones beneath the skirt, which sent a definite arrow of reaction between her legs. Her nipples tightened beneath the lacy bra. This man would be a thorough, overwhelming lover. That wasn’t usually what she was seeking, but maybe her tastes were evolving.
“I still have your shoes,” he said, as he put her on her feet. “From that night at the hospital.”
There were only a few inches between them, and he hadn’t let her go. With the truck behind her, she was pleasantly enclosed between two very masculine, large objects. Lifting a brow, she slipped out of that narrow crevice, and tapped him with the folder she retrieved from the truck hood. She wondered what he’d do if she swatted him on his very fine ass with it, and expected he might swat her back. It almost made her laugh. Then she registered his words.
She pivoted to face him again. The intensity of his expression made her feel like she was flush against him. “And you haven’t had the opportunity to get them back to me in six months?” she asked lightly.
“You haven’t asked me for them.”
They studied one another. “Max, I want my shoes.”
He cocked his head. “There it is. That female hawk look.”
She understood what he meant. She knew the feeling when it took her over, that sense of command, exercised over a male eager to experience her power. She didn’t feel that eagerness from Max. More like intrigued curiosity, another type of raptor perched on a different branch, watching her with abiding interest.
He moved to the limo, opening the front door. Oblivious to what viewing the stretch and bend of that powerful body could do to her, he leaned across the seat, withdrew her shoes from a side compartment. She noticed he’d wrapped them in a towel to protect them, and he took that off now, bringing her the dainty pumps, the sheen of the white-gold insoles a contrast to the polished outside walnut color. The shoes had ankle straps, but he carried them under the arches, rather than letting them dangle.
When he brought them to her, she closed her hands over the straps, pinching the back of the shoes between forefinger and thumb. As his hand slid away from the soles, her arches tingled, remarkably. What did the man wear? He had a scent like sea water and cotton, plus that musky heat that was distinctly male. Looking up at him, she saw he was staying put, less than a foot between the rise and fall of her breasts and his chest.
He lifted his hand, but this time she didn’t stop him. He didn’t reach toward her face. He slid beneath her bent arm, and pressed his palm against her back, just below her shoulder blade. As if he was about to begin a proper ballroom waltz. She was always aware of her body’s movements, particularly in relation to the give and take of a man’s, and the way he eased them together was like clouds, a drift that seemed effortless.
As he bent toward her, he kept his eyes open. So did she. When he put his mouth on hers, she saw the flicker in the gray, a reaction to how her lips parted, releasing a soft sigh into his mouth. He held the contact there, a bare touch, then he drew back, pressing his lips together.
“I was wondering if that gloss tastes the way it smells. Like honeysuckle. It does. There was a honeysuckle bush behind the house where I grew up.”
She imagined him plucking a blossom, drawing out the threadlike inner stem, bringing that single drop of honey to his lips. Her body responded in the same manner. She felt the tiny blot of cream dampening her panties.
“I have other flavors as well. But honeysuckle is my favorite.” Turning, she moved back toward the elevators, making sure she kept her steps efficient and even as always, the sound of the heels against the concrete just as crisp. She’d had twelve-hour rehearsals that required less effort than such nonchalance took.
She lifted the shoes out to her side, not turning. “You better not have stretched them out. And I hope you wore them with proper stockings.”
At the elevators, she looked over her shoulder to see him leaning against the truck, watching her, one foot hooked around his ankle. The position made the most of every inch of his hard, powerful body.
His gaze sparked with humor. “Yes, ma’am.”