Jase Ralston gets hot under his very blue collar just thinking about his friend and neighbor, Miranda Carlucci. Yet she can’t possibly be interested—not when she could have champagne, caviar and her pick of Vegas high rollers.
The bruises change everything. She denies she’s in an abusive relationship, but his cop instincts won’t let him rest until he finds out the truth. When he follows her to a BDSM club and finds her writhing under a flogger’s stinging kiss, his Dom instincts kick in.
Jase takes command of the scene—and Miranda—at Club Creed. This is what she’s always wanted. Pleasure, pain…and rough-around-the-edges Jase. Yet after his domination transports her to a level of subspace she’s never known, he leaves her—unwilling to continue the scene.
Confusion gives way to hurt…then anger. He’s claimed her and Miranda wants more. Even if it means confronting Jase and making demands of her own.
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“What the fuck is going on with you?”
“Nothing. I went out.” She stood in his living room, glancing at his couch, the window, anything but his face. Normally her bubbly personality had him laughing. At the moment, she seemed almost afraid. He had an infuriating idea of why. The thought of someone hurting her… He growled and jammed his hands into his pockets. He had the mounting need to slam his fist into the wall, scour the city for the piece of shit and show him a little payback. Any bastard who could hurt a woman deserved his ass beat.
Jase understood BDSM. Power and dominance went hand in hand with trust and devotion. He understood the high from pain play. He’d been in the scene long enough to know that the glimmer in Miranda’s blue eyes wasn’t from being taken to the brink and pushed over the edge. She’d been broken, and that wasn’t willing submission. “What has he done to you?”
Her head snapped up and her eyes narrowed. “Who?”
“Who? Christ, who do you think?” He stormed across the room and grasped her wrist.
She winced and tried to pull away. “Don’t.”
“Who is doing this to you?” He jerked back her sleeves. Angry red welts banded her delicate wrists. Deep purple and maroon bruises crisscrossed her porcelain flesh. Higher on her arm, four equally spaced marks bore the impression of someone squeezing her, restraining her. “Miranda, I see it all the time. I recognize an abused woman.”
“I’m not being abused!” She jerked her arm, yanking her wrist from his hands.
“That’s more than rough sex.”
“I’m not having sex either,” she snapped.
“And I’m not stupid. Are you going to tell me you did that—” he pointed to her wrists, “—to yourself?”
“Are you crazy?”
“No, I’m ready to go fucking ballistic.” He’d kill the bastard who put his hands on her. “I can help you.” He lowered his voice. “Please, let me take care of this, let me take care of you.” He heard the desperation in his voice but didn’t care. Actually that was the problem. He did care. Cared about her. Friendship? Fuck. Friendship would be easy. She was everything he found attractive in a woman—everything he wanted.
His cock was in a state of flux. Friendship wasn’t what simmered in his chest at night when he dreamed of her. Dreamed of handcuffing her to his headboard, blindfolding her and raining pleasure over her soft flesh. More than his next breath, he wanted to be the man she needed. He was the man she needed. Hell, he was half in love with her and they’d never even kissed.
She straightened, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin. “I don’t really want to talk about this.” She adjusted her sleeves. “Besides, I handled…the situation.”
“I’ve heard that before. Do you like getting the shit beat out of you?”
“You’re overreacting. I have a few bruises but not from what you think. I’m not seeing anyone…not seriously anyway, and I’m not being abused.”
He watched the walls go up as she hid behind the facade of a strong woman. She was strong but not against this. This wasn’t any form of love. Violent abuse caused the physical damage. Miranda needed a dominant man with strong hands, but one who wielded his power with her pleasure in mind.
Tumultuous emotions twisted in his gut like a knife. “Do you know how many women are killed each year by domestic violence?”
“Yes, I watch the news.” She stepped farther into the room. “If we’re having an interrogation, can I have a drink?” She sat on the couch and sagged into the cushion. She held up her wrist. “This is not domestic violence. My, um, purse twisted around my wrist and left a bruise.” She sighed and gave him a soft smile. “Besides, you’re the only man in my life.”
“I’m not the man in your life,” he said as he walked to the kitchen. If he was the man in her life, she wouldn’t be coming home in the middle of the night with another man’s scent clinging to her. She’d smell like sex because he’d be the one making love to her every night. With a growl, he grabbed two beers out of the fridge.
“Yes, you are, Jase. You’re my friend.”
He walked back to the living room and paused at the perimeter. Miranda curled into the couch cushions. Her eyes were closed and her mouth had softened. “You’re right, but I’m just your friend. I worry about you,” he said as he approached.
Her heavy lids parted. “You shouldn’t.” She took the beer from his outstretched hand and tipped the beverage to her lips. “I’m a big girl.”
No, she wasn’t. She had perfect round breasts, a trim tummy and lean thighs he imagined locked to his hips as he braced above her and fucked the hell out of her—no he’d make love to her. Rough and dirty. Wild and fast and slow and deep. Whether she was bound to his bed or sitting astride and riding his cock, Jase would be making love. Heat rushed from cock to balls to buttocks.
Christ, he needed to keep perspective. First he had to get her away from her dickhead boyfriend.
“So you want to tell me about your date?”
She adjusted on the couch and angled her body toward his. With her elbow braced on the back of the couch, she tucked her hair behind her ear then rested her head in her palm. “It wasn’t a date,” she said with a little chuckle. “Just more of an acquaintance.”
Great, she was fucking acquaintances. “Sleeping with strangers is dangerous.”
“Oh hell, Jase. Let it go. You’re making a broad assumption if you think I’m screwing strangers.”
“Come on, Miranda. Remember who you’re trying to bullshit.” She was involved with someone.
“I’m not saying I’m celibate.” She narrowed her eyes. “Neither are you. Don’t forget, I’ve been in Vegas two years. I know the city. I have an amazing job.” She smiled and laughed. “And I have good friends, including a wonderful, caring—” she wagged her brows, “—sexy, yet overprotective neighbor who doesn’t mind his own business.”
She yawned, and he decided to let the subject rest for the night. “Do you want to play pool tomorrow night at Jack’s?” Jack’s was off-Strip, a local’s-only pub with pizza, beer, pool and darts. There were also the usual casino attractions—slots, poker and a focus on blackjack—but small-scale without the glitz and glamour. Plus he’d keep her away from whoever she was seeing socially.
“Can’t.” She stretched and stood. “I need to get some sleep.”
Jase followed her to the door. He put his hand on her arm. Her skin was soft, smooth and tantalizing. A shiver raced up his spine. Wisps of her hair brushed his knuckles as he trailed his fingertips higher. She dropped her ear toward her shoulder and stepped away, but not before he saw the marks. Bruising around her neck. Breath caught in his throat along with the bitter taste of bile. His stomach roiled. Every muscle in his body burned to shake sense into Miranda and kill the fucker who hurt her.
“Are you in trouble?”
“Would you tell me if you were?”
“No,” she said again. “Because it isn’t an issue.”
Her vague response unsettled him further.
“I can’t explain.” She opened the door. “Trust me.” She touched his arm, letting her fingers trail to his hand before falling away. “You wouldn’t understand.” She crossed the hall and he let her go.
As far as she was concerned, he’d let the incident go. But neither the cop in him nor the man that cared for her was going to let the matter rest. Fuck that.
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