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Last Call

Eminence Dutton is at a crossroad. At work, she's up for a promotion that's she's not sure she can do. Her love life with her librarian has hit a wall. She gets an invitation from her former best friend to a new night club opening. Each decision has her shaking in her sensible shoes. The only thing that would complicate her life more would be to see her old high school boyfriend.

Keys "Tank" Tanksley can't believe it when he sees Eminence standing in line at Epitome. He takes that moment and his temporary bit of power as the security company owner to give her a very thorough and intimate search that brings up old, familiar feelings–feelings he never stopped having for Eminence but that she must have abandoned a long time ago.

Tank has changed, most notably, his foray into BDSM. No longer an unsure high school boy, this man does not plan on letting this woman go without being heard or without her experiencing the sting of his whip.

When Tank tries to rekindle the relationship with Eminence, one where he asks her to make a huge change, she has to wonder what's important: her dream or her heart.

A Phaze Books Release

Contains sexual language and explicit sexual situations intended for the enjoyment of adult readers.

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Bridget Midway

Born into a loud family of five kids all fighting to be heard, I decided to make myself more noticeable through writing.

My passion for writing sensual, titillating scenes stemmed from my mother who always told me to follow my heart.

I now live on the east coast with my dreams, my close friends and wonderful characters who keep me up at night...and hopefully will do the same to you all, too!

Coming Soon...
Contains sexual language and explicit sexual situations intended for the enjoyment of adult readers.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Touch me. Just touch me.

Eminence Dutton chewed the inside of her cheek to punish herself for reverting to a childhood habit of wishing for something in her head, hoping to change her outcome. She shouldn’t have had to make that prayer. Desperation didn’t suit her.

As she stood next to Les Hill at another one of his library functions, she wondered why she had to even hope for a small morsel of affection. Any relationship had to have compromise. At least Eminence had included that aspect on her list of what she wanted in a man and in a healthy, long-lasting union.

At thirty-two, Eminence had to be practical when it came to all facets of her life. Despite these celebrities having babies well into their forties, she had no desire to be a part of that trend. She had a plan. As she glanced at her date for the evening, she mentally checked off finding a suitable partner from her life plan. She just had to convince this man that they could be the ideal African-American couple.

Eminence held her cup filled with red punch in one hand and lowered her free hand down to her side closest to Les. As he spoke, she allowed her fingers to brush against his hand, hoping he would take the hint and hold it, touch her. She rubbed her thumb over the pads of her fingers, wanting the soothing touch to calm her tightening belly.

She’d styled her hair in soft curls surrounding her face and had sprayed her body with a light, flowery scent, hoping to entice Les. Her mother would have been so proud of her efforts to retain a man, especially with her parents’ rocky breakup and divorce.

So far Les had been a perfect gentleman with her. His mother must have taught him well. Aside from opening doors for her and pulling out her chair, he remained reserved with all types of bodily contact. Her body craved more.

As soon as the back of her fingers brushed against his hand, Les lifted it in the air to fully animate the story he told. Eminence’s heartbeat slowed with his subtle rejection. Her best laid plans had failed. Making herself more appealing to him hadn’t worked in her favor.

Four dates created a great base for a solid relationship. However, Les could hardly qualify as a boyfriend or even a partner. By that definition, she’d been dating her Chinese takeout delivery man for four years. Eminence snickered, which turned to a snort. Les halted his conversation and glared at her through his dead, nearly black eyes.

“Something funny you want to share?” Les addressed her like a scolding school teacher.

The idea of that and the nature of his tone sent a twinge through her head that she knew would start a mammoth headache. She deserved to be treated like an equal and with some respect. She’d been through that heart-wrenching experience to not want to go through that again. Just the thought of it now caused her to shiver.

Les turned his stocky body toward her. He crossed his arms over his chest, covering yet another one of his colorful knit sweater vests. He reminded her so much of that affable morning show weatherman who dropped a lot of weight. Unlike that man, Les kept his smile hidden.

Eminence smiled before taking a sip of the punch she’d retrieved as soon as they had arrived to the afterhours function. Damn. She tasted strawberries, cherries, and grape flavors all swirling around in the red beverage, but not a drop of alcohol. What had she expected with this bunch?

Safe. Eminence sought that in her life and in her man. She couldn’t be upset that she’d caused a kink in their fortress and had to explain her verbal intrusion.

“I was just thinking how strange it is that here we’re eating and drinking in a library, and I remember as a kid being told to never bring any food or beverages in here.” Eminence smiled to sell her story. She even attempted a little giggle, which didn’t suit her personality.

A couple of people standing around her smiled. She thought she had even heard one person give her a polite chuckle. Les, on the other hand, smirked. Eminence figured the only way to sell her story would be by keeping her stare directly on Les. She did, almost daring him to look away first, and for him to back down and let her have her due.

The rotund man wouldn’t have been her normal dating option. She’d been out with tall, gorgeous men of all different shades who ended up breaking her heart. She decided that looks couldn’t drive her decision. She had to think about the total package. A safe man with a stable job would ensure she would have a secure future.

“We can only eat and drink in this area.” Les swung his stubby arms around their space. “We can’t go near the books.” He pointed to the shelves of colorful books as though he had to show Eminence.

Eminence slid her foot over the carpeted floor. She’d worn the flats to make Les more comfortable so that she didn’t tower over him. Compromise. She recognized that her obliging attitude would only take her so far. Right now, she would use it to give Les his space.

“I think I’ll get some of those cookies I see over there.” Just like Les, she pointed to a platter full of the sweets near the door.

Eminence didn’t think it could be possible that Les’s dark skin darkened even more as he watched her walk away. Then he gleamed the million-dollar smile that attracted her to him in the first place. Of course, he reserved that pleasant expression to the group around him.

Les turned away from her and faced the other librarians. He continued his dull tale of the eBook wave and catching teenagers making out in the reference section.

Of course, as a teenager, Eminence had never done that. Too afraid of the possible repercussions had she gotten caught, she stayed away from risky behaviors. What could she gain from taking a chance on the unknown? The query had her thinking about her old high school flame who had never left her thoughts, even after fifteen years.

Just thinking about Keys Tanksley had her skin tingling. Thanks to his love of all kinds of sports, Keys had a massive body, tall and full of muscles. Keys certainly hadn’t been the only white man she’d dated. Eminence had been with other white boys and guys of all other races before Keys. Keys, with his blue eyes, had kept her body humming. Her flesh warmed every time she thought about him, then and now.

His hands. No matter how long she lived, Eminence would always remember the large hands that gave her both pleasure and a bit of pain.

The pain had her insides quivering. A simple kiss and taking his large hand and coasting it down her body would turn into something more.

He would stop his hand on her breast and circle his thumb around her nipple. As soon as he got it hard, Keys would pinch her sensitive flesh, increasing the hardness until she screamed. She hadn’t reacted from being hurt, but pleasure, a strange response considering it made her question what romance and satisfaction should be.

Other times, Keys would simply hold her hand and do this thing that drove her crazy. In the union of their joined hands, he would curve his middle finger and stroke her palm, away from nosey stares. No one knew about him brushing his fingertip over her hand except for the two of them. The sensation tickled her at first, making Eminence smile. The more he dragged his thick middle digit over her sensitive flesh, the more she imagined him doing a similar stroke with his cock inside her.

Keys would take his time moving his finger over her skin. As though he knew what Eminence would want, would like, he’d press his fingertip using different pressures with each pass. Hard on some. Soft and easy on others. Each time he flicked his tip over the soft ridge underneath her fingers, she imagined Keys using his tongue on her and not his finger. With the way her clitoris throbbed on each flip, Eminence couldn’t help but see Keys nestled between her thighs and using the tip of his tongue over her sensitive nub. She felt her clitoris twinge now just thinking about his skilled hands.

Stroke. Tickle. Twinge.

Stroke. Tickle. Twinge.

Keys had played with her body like an expert. His strange expertise had her running away from him and her home. Why not? Her father had done the same thing, ran when he couldn’t handle the pressure.

As much as she loved the way Keys had brought her to ecstasy, she couldn’t forget how he messed with her mind. He had been her first true heartbreak. The other relationships she’d had after Keys hadn’t reached that level of seriousness. Then again, could she really call a high school relationship serious? With a man like Keys Tanksley, yes, she could.

Eminence parked herself next to the refreshments area. She picked up a cookie and took a small nibble. She allowed the sugary peanut butter taste to roll around on her tongue, tempting her taste buds while allowing herself a small breather. When she brought her gaze up, she caught her reflection in the shaded glass door.

Back in school, her classmates had called her gangly. In college, she’d been given the “statuesque” label. With Les, her height had been an issue. He had gone so far as to ask her to hunch down, hang her head low. Eminence could be accommodating, but she wouldn’t walk with her head down for anyone. She had conceded by wearing flat-soled shoes.  

Eminence continued staring at her reflection. For this summer night, she chose to wear a long maxi dress. When she moved, the flowers on the dress floated like they had been thrown in a lake. If only she could be that free, that careless.

She could if she would allow herself to be that way. Eminence reached into her purse and retrieved a piece of mail she’d gotten two weeks ago. The all-black, glossy invitation to a club opening called Reign seemed to come out of the blue and possibly to the wrong person.

Eminence stuck to the same routine. Same grits and toast for breakfast. Same spinach salad and tangerine for lunch. Same protein-plus-vegetable combination dinner every night. The only change she’d made to her routine came when she bought a tablet to read her books. Instead of going to a bookstore on Friday, she would go straight home and buy a book on her device. The fact that she’d stuck to this schedule for years and still managed to meet Les amazed her.

Eminence stared at the invitation again. It had come from her former best friend, Jordyna Hampton. She hadn’t spoken to her in years, not after what Eminence saw between Jordyna and Keys, her man. The fact that Eminence hadn’t torn up the invite and forgotten about that time in her past had her scratching her head.

Eminence Dutton, account associate at Pyle Enterprises, didn’t do nightclub openings. She didn’t stay out at all hours of the night. Doing the expected would keep her employed, doing the same job at the same company. Although she could be a supervisor, she didn’t want to take that leap.   

Supervisor jobs at Pyle Enterprises didn’t come by that often. When one opened, she wondered about the possibilities. Eminence had certainly worked hard to get a plum position like that. She loved working at Pyle. Each time she would look at the job posting, she imagined doing the interview, getting the job, pulling up stakes in Virginia Beach, and moving alone to Maryland.

“Having fun?” A matronly woman touched Eminence on her arm.

Eminence snapped out of her thoughts enough to shove the invite back into her purse and offer the kind woman a smile. “Having a great time.”

“Oh, don’t lie on my account.” She shook her head. “I know these things are as dry as toast. My name is Margo. I work with Les.” She held out her hand to Eminence.

Eminence moved her cookie to the hand holding her cup of punch in order to shake hands. “Nice to meet you.” 

She scanned the stranger. She looked like a typical librarian. The older woman allowed her light brown hair to carry several graying strands. She kept her well-worn, light blue cardigan buttoned at the top and the bottom opened to show off her loose-fitting dress with small purple flowers. Her glasses hung off a chain that she had looped around her neck. Down to her black orthopedic shoes, Margo reminded Eminence of her grandmother. The small butterfly tattoo on her hand between her thumb and index finger appeared out of character. This woman had a wild side.

The woman glanced back at Les. “He sure knows this library inside and out.”

Eminence nodded, but kept her lips shut tight. She certainly wouldn’t want anyone putting down her dream job. She wouldn’t say anything negative about Les’s library gig.

“And you came here with Les?” the woman asked as she scanned Eminence from her hair down to her toes.

“This is only my fourth date with Les.” Eminence shrugged, but quickly smiled to cover her initial reaction.

She glanced at him. Although he fit in her plan, Eminence had to account for attraction. Security or not, she didn’t feel a romantic pull to Les. Maybe more time would change that. Like the old saying went, Rome hadn’t been built in a day. She could be patient. Eminence had certainly held a grudge longer than she thought she would.

“Really?” The woman tilted her head like a confused puppy. “You don’t look like Les’s type.”

“Oh, and what type is that?” Eminence wanted to know how people saw her more than what they assumed Les wanted in a woman.

Before the woman could answer, Les approached the duo. This time Eminence didn’t cover her disappointment with a smile. As she watched the affable man approach her, Eminence fought the urge to drop her cookie and punch and run out the door like escaping a bad high school prom date.

“Margo, don’t keep—” Les hesitated before he said what Eminence meant to him. “—Eminence away from the rest of the party.”

Eminence’s scowl deepened. Les hadn’t called her his girlfriend. He hadn’t even labeled her as a friend. The word “lover” would never come from his lips. She had a plan for when she got intimate with a man. It would take at least fifteen dates or three months, whichever came last, before she would open herself up intimately with a man. Sex ruined burgeoning relationships. She wanted to get to know a man first before any physical connection like that happened.

“I won’t keep you two away from the action.” Margo winked at Les and smiled at Eminence.

As soon as Margo got out of earshot, Eminence wasted no time in talking to Les. “We need to—”

Les halted her with a speech of his own. “Thank you for coming to this event with me. I know a library function can be boring.”

Eminence managed a small smile worthy of Mona Lisa. “Look, Les, I—”

He interrupted her again. “And you look so pretty tonight.” Les brought his hand up like he wanted to brush a curl away from her face.

All night she’d been waiting to be touched in any way. Sparks danced over her body in anticipation of the connection. It wouldn’t be like Keys’ touch on the palm of her hand, but she would take it.

Les disappointed her. He lowered his hand and took a step back. Maybe he had his own standards as far as when he got intimate with a woman. Maybe keeping them waiting for his touch ranked high on his list.

“Were you going to ask me something?” Les nodded toward the party area with his colleagues.

“Yes.” Eminence finished off her cookie and punch, still wishing it held a bit of alcohol. She wiped her mouth. “I have this invite to a club launch.”

“Book club?” Les cocked his head.

Eminence tried holding back the laughter, but it escaped her mouth before she could arrest it. “No. A nightclub. An old high school friend is opening up a club and she invited me to it. Me plus one. Care to be my plus one?”

Les looked like he wanted to reject her. His lips curved down into a frown, and lines etched in his forehead. “When is it?”

Eminence smiled. At least Les entertained the thought. “Next Friday night, about the same time as this event.” She made sure to mention the timing so that Les wouldn’t offer a reason not to go.

If Eminence planned on going to see her former friend, she would need support. A fifth date that would test their bond would let Eminence know if Les could be the one for her.

“Let me think about it and get back to you.” Les offered a solid nod to support his noncommittal answer.

Eminence crossed her arms over her chest. With any business deal, she would have to do some negotiating. She would have a week to convince him to go or she could just stay at home. Going to a club opening had her nervous. Like many things that pushed her boundaries, she wanted to back away from it.

She would never go to a club solo. She hadn’t when she and Jordie snuck into one as teenagers. She wouldn’t be starting anything new now. Jordyna had been the only person to get her to do something out of her comfort zone. If it hadn’t been for her and that one rebellious act, Eminence probably wouldn’t have done something else risky that same night.

Eminence brushed her hand against Les as they walked back to the group. Les pulled his hand away and instead pointed to his coworkers.

Yes, she would need to decide what to do in all aspects of her life. If she wanted to make this work, Eminence would have to put in some work to get it to be what she wanted. Unlike her parents, she would make sure not to give up so easily. She would put off applying for the supervisor job located in Maryland. She had a great job, and Les could be good for her if they both worked at the relationship. No need to rock the boat.   

 

****

 

Keys Tanksley, or Tank as he liked to think of himself now, sat across from potential clients inside their office. Meetings like this, when he started his business five years ago, used to knot up his stomach. Back then he attributed the feeling to being a novice and not because an ex-girlfriend’s words about him being a slacker had infiltrated his mind.

Starting his own business had been a difficult decision, but one he had to make. Besides, getting fired from every job he’d had for being too opinionated proved that only he could be his best boss. Tank took a deep breath before he did his presentation.

“Not only would my company cover your physical protection, but we can also protect your assets in the cyber world.” Tank placed folders with his company’s information in them on the table and shoved them to the man and woman sitting across from him.

The man slammed his hand on top of the sliding folder before it reached him. The woman, who reminded him of his fifth-grade teacher, allowed the folder to bounce off her protruding belly before she caught it.

As they reviewed his information, Tank filled the silence. “In this day and age, you can never be too careful in dealing with the general public.”

“We’re just a small clinic,” the woman, who had introduced herself as Gracie when Tank arrived at the office, said as she broke her concentration from his paperwork to address him. “Why would we need any kind of protection?”

“Do you offer birth control information or services?” Tank peered at the woman. When she didn’t respond, he brought his attention to the older man across from him. “Do you perform abortions? What about HIV and AIDS screenings?”

“Mr. Tanksley, this is not the eighties or nineties. No one bombs abortion clinics anymore.” The man closed his folder.

Tank took another deep breath and counted to ten in his head before his spoke. Sometimes the first thing that came from his mouth tended to be a bit abrasive. He had to learn to curb that, although he would have thought any potential client would like a confident security owner.

“Dr. Bakker, I hate to sell my business by using scare tactics. Unfortunately, as a security company owner, I have to share some hard facts with you that can be frightening.” He cleared his throat. Damn summer colds. It dipped his voice down a lot lower than normal. He probably sounded like Batman without trying. “If you look at the third flyer in the folder I gave you, you’ll see an article about a clinic much like your own that received regular death threats. Once my company took over their security, the threats stopped. You’ll find testimonies from their employees.”

Tank sat up taller. He pulled his shirt sleeve cuffs from under his jacket to lessen the tightening. Thank goodness he had this suit custom made. With his muscular frame, he couldn’t fit most off-the-rack clothing. Ordinarily he would have worn a t-shirt and jeans. He found that his body proved to be the best billboard for his business. He wanted to look like he could keep a person or a workplace secure, but he wanted to be seen as a serious business owner. Appearances meant everything.

“Do you come out and do the actual security?” Gracie put her hand to the front of her neck like she wanted to hide her extra folds of skin.

Tank noticed the older woman unfastening the top button of her blouse. He gritted his teeth. He wanted her to look at him like a peer. He didn’t want to be viewed as some object to drool at or ogle.

As a BDSM dominant, he could demand that a submissive or slave under his control avert her stare from him. He didn’t like anyone looking at him, not since Eminence. Her brown-eyed gaze always managed to bore right through him. Since she left—no, when she ran—he had no interest in resuming another intimate relationship. The play he did at his local dungeon provided him with enough sensual contact that he almost forgot about Eminence...almost.

“I have a capable, bonded staff who I will assign to your clinic.” Tank put his fist to his lips before releasing a quick cough. As soon as he finished this meeting, he would have to take care of himself. “Plus, my company can offer you cyber security to keep your patients’ information private.”

After a couple of retail stores had their banking information compromised, Tank saw the natural extension to expand his business into that arena. He recognized that people would want overall security. He’d hired a great team to take care of that side of his business.

“I’d be more interested in hearing about that, Mr. Tanksley. What methods do you use to ensure a company’s security electronically?”

This time when Tank took a beat before he answered, he had good reason. He hadn’t been as well-versed in the cyber security side as he wanted. He could almost hear his employee, Rosalie, saying, “I told you so” when she offered to accompany him to this meeting.

Tank knew his business. Hell, he epitomized his business. No one could represent it better than him.

“I’ve hired the best of the best to cover cyber security. My team has worked for the government and has helped develop software needed to protect online systems. You’ll find their credentials inside your folder as well.” Tank wanted his word to hold more weight than anything else.

Gracie placed her hand on the paperwork. “That’s nice, but how do they plan on building up our firewalls? How can you help block cyber intrusions?”

Tank remained quiet. He felt heat creeping up the back of his neck. He swallowed but kept his face still to prevent the clients from seeing him looking flustered. His throat tightened, scratched and burned, and his head throbbed. He couldn’t attribute the feeling to the sickness this time.

“How can you protect against data breach, especially with our patients’ banking information?” Dr. Bakker asked.

Tank cleared his throat. “I can’t give you specifics on how my department handles that. But if you give me a chance, I can—”

“We’ll look over your information and give you a call if we’re interested.” The older man ran his hand over his thinning gray hair before he stood.

Tank recognized a brush off when he heard one. He stood and held out his hand. “I sincerely hope you consider my company. We can protect all of your assets.”

Dr. Bakker shook Tank’s hand. “It sounds good, but without knowing what every department can really do, I don’t feel comfortable in paying for your services. Your company might be better suited for covering security at a mall or a nightclub.”

The last statement caused Tank to wince. How did this guy know that his company had been hired to do security for his friend Jordyna’s new nightclub?

Tank wanted to earn clients on his own rather than through his friends and family. Call it the dominant side coming out of him, or just him being stubborn. Either way, he would do things the way he wanted.

“Thank you again for your time.” Tank shook the two people’s hands before gathering his items and leaving.

As he walked toward his sport utility vehicle, his booted footfalls became heavier and heavier until his easy gait became a marching stomp by the time he reached the driver’s side door. A good workout would calm his overheated state. For now, he would go back to his office with his tail firmly tucked between his legs, a very foreign feeling for him.

Tank loosened his noose of a necktie as he drove his SUV back to his temporary home/office. He’d set up shop in a townhouse apartment to help Jordie get her business going, otherwise he wouldn’t have come home to Virginia Beach. Except for his family, everything he would have wanted there abandoned him a long time ago.

If he knew Rosalie, she would hit him with a barrage of questions about his meeting. As soon as he pulled up to his rented home, he took a deep breath before exiting his vehicle and going into the place that should have been his sanctuary.

As soon as he opened his door, Rosalie, with her colorful headband and her Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers bounded up to him. She pushed her square, black-framed glasses up her thin nose then crossed her feet and wrapped her arms around her body, standing like she needed to keep herself contained.

“Well?” Rosalie smiled, showing off her straight, white teeth.

Tank imagined that as a youth, Rosalie probably had to wear braces. He also assumed that her penchant for oversized glasses had more to do with necessity than fashion. The rest of her colorful ensemble, he’d allowed for her to express herself because she knew her damn job.

She released one of her hands in order for her to twirl her black, curly hair around her finger. He couldn’t keep her in suspense for long. If he did, Rosalie might tug chunks out in anticipation.

“I got the standard ‘Don’t call us. We’ll call you’ sendoff.” Tank threw his tie on top of a stack of packed boxes. Then he shed his jacket.

Rosalie groaned and spun around, allowing her skirt to whirl up. She marched toward his dining room area before turning back to him. “Why didn’t they want to do business with us?” Her tanned cheeks flushed a rosy shade.

Tank feared nothing. In high school, when his coach told him to take out the opposing team’s biggest player, he’d done it. When he decided to start his own business, he’d accomplished that. Admitting to Rosalie that he should have had her in the meeting with him gave him a tiny twinge of apprehension. The way he felt right now, he didn’t want to hear an “I told you so.”

“They wanted to know about all aspects of our business.” Tank unfastened the top two buttons of his shirt as he headed to the kitchen. He needed to drink something to soothe his throat.

“What do you mean? You couldn’t answer them?” Rosalie followed him and leaned on the counter by the doorway as she watched him. “You do sound bad. You taking anything for that cold?”

“I’m not sick.” Tank filled a mug with water and threw it into the microwave.

“Sure. You just sound like Batman’s grittier older brother because you think it’s cool.” Rosalie nodded.

As usual, Rosalie had him pegged. His stubbornness kept him from admitting that he’d caught something as soon as they’d gotten to town a couple of months ago. Now the cold affected his throat.

Damn Virginia. Just being in the state made him sick in every way. He couldn’t wait to leave after Jordie’s launch next week. He’d only come back home to help Jordie and to secure more businesses.

As soon as his mug of water heated to the right temperature, he dunked in a tea bag. He heard Rosalie snickering behind him. Tank ignored her as he poured in honey, lemon, and threw in a shot of whiskey for good measure. His grandmother would have been proud of him recreating her home remedy. He took a sip. The hot liquid soothed his throat thanks to the honey, then burned it courtesy of the whiskey.  

Rosalie leaned on the counter but kept her stare on Tank. “Anyway, so what gave the would-be clients cause to pause?”

Tank took another sip of his tea before he answered. “They wanted to know about the other services we offer.”

“What do you mean? Why are you being so vague?” Rosalie stared at him before her eyebrows went up. “You needed me there.”

Tank moved past Rosalie to go upstairs to his bedroom. He thought he heard the pint-sized woman growling. “I went there in a suit so I didn’t look like a thug.”

“Yeah, my suggestion.”

“I gave them printed information on what we offer. I explained as much as I could. They should have just taken my word that we’re the best company for them.” Tank stomped up the stairs.

“You should have brought me. I could have explained our cyber suite of products. We could have had this customer.”

Tank continued toward his room when his employee’s words stopped him in his tracks.

“Damn it, Tank! Look at me!”

Tank turned around. He took one step back down toward her, which caused her to back up. “Let’s get some things straight. Don’t you ever curse at me again.”

Rosalie’s face transformed into a deep red hue all over. She took another step back as he glared at her.

“You’re my employee. Don’t you ever forget that.” In between his speech, he gritted his teeth, afraid he’d spout something venomous to his most loyal employee.

“Yes, sir.” Rosalie dropped her gaze.

Had Tank been at a dungeon, he would have been excited to see a reaction like this. Seeing it from his employee fanned the fires of anger in his gut. “I know what’s best for my company. I dressed in a suit. I’ve calmed my demeanor.”

Rosalie peered up at him. His expression must have been in conflict with his statement. She dropped her gaze again until he finished speaking.

“I think I represent my business well. There are more companies out there who could use what I offer. They’re not the only ones out there.” He took another sip of his hot tea after making his impassioned speech.

The heat and soothing sweet, yet bitter taste eased some of the pain in his throat. After a day like today, he really could have used a good play session. Too bad he added the whiskey to his hot toddy. He never played while under the influence.

As soon as he started back to his bedroom to change, Rosalie broke the silence with her words. “I didn’t mean to step on your toes, boss.”

Tank turned back to her. He allowed her to speak before he changed out of his constricting clothes.

She scanned his home. “You decided that you wanted to move your company back to D.C. I’m giving up my apartment, my family, and friends because I believe in you. I believe in this company. I don’t want my decision to be the biggest regret I’ve ever made. Let me help you.”

Tank listened to Rosalie. He had to stare into his mug of tea to keep from looking at the only trustworthy person who’d been in his life over the past year. He shouldn’t have snapped at her, but challenging him, his position, and his decisions didn’t rest well with him.

Count to ten, buddy. She’s not your enemy.

He shook his head. “We’ll be fine. I’ll protect us.” When she lowered her head, he concluded with, “I promise.”

Rosalie lifted her face and offered a slight smile. “I’ll get back to work.”

“I’ll be down in a minute after I change. I have some cold calls I need to make.”

Tank took another sip of his tea before placing the mug on the nightstand in his nearly empty room. With each clothing item he removed from his body, the more he thought about everything—his life, his dreams, his career.

He had no problem venturing out into his own business. Now that he involved other people in his dream, he had to think about more than just himself.

Tank loved his role as a Dom. He could read a bottom’s body language as he played with her to know how to continue. He couldn’t power through every situation outside of a dungeon. He certainly hadn’t in his love life. Since Eminence, he hadn’t truly dated anyone else.

When Tank finished his job in Virginia Beach and moved to Washington, D.C., he planned on fully immersing himself into the BDSM community there. As a Dominant, he knew what he could offer, and he knew how to extract pain and pleasure from a woman. The cries of ecstasy and hearing them calling out his name, even as Master Tank, would have to do for now.

Now changed into track pants, a t-shirt, and sneakers, Tank trotted back downstairs. He navigated around the stacks of full boxes to get to Rosalie. She sat in his makeshift office set up in the dining room. When he entered, she brought her gaze up over her laptop screen before resuming her work. She had been an exceptional employee. He couldn’t find a better person to help build his business.

Tank sat down across from her. As soon as he did, Rosalie stood and walked away. Damn. She couldn’t be that angry with him.

Before he could say anything to her, he heard her coming up behind him. She placed a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup in front of him.

“You can let someone help you.” She patted his shoulder before she resumed her spot.

Tank struggled not to smile at the small act. He couldn’t weaken. He had to be the one to take care of people.

“Thanks.” He lifted a cut triangle half of the sandwich and took a bite, crunching through the crispy, toasted shell. The melted cheese and creamy taste of butter brought him back to his childhood when his mother used to give him the same meal whenever he didn’t feel well. He stared at Rosalie. “You’re going to make some woman in D.C. very happy.”

She smirked. “Thanks, boss. No offense, but I’ve made women here just as happy.” Her impish grin belied her salacious admission. “What about you? Tasted any local talent while you’ve been here?”

Tank glared at her. Rosalie meant well, but the topic of his love life had to be off the table. It had nothing to do with their boss-employee relationship. It pained him too much to think about Eminence and what could have been.

“I know your appetite tends to lean on the spicier side.” Rosalie screwed up her lips.

“I should have never shared that with you.” Tank took a sip of his thick, creamy red soup.

“Kind of hard to hide it from me when you leave your toys out.”

Tank remembered Rosalie finding his flogger and nipple clamps when he asked her to go through his suitcase to find a client’s paperwork. That happened the second day of her employment. She stuck with him.

“I’m all about work.” Tank brushed his hands together to get rid of the excess crumbs. “That should make you happy.”

She sighed. “I’d be happier if you were happy.” She shook her head. “Now eat your lunch.” Rosalie must have noticed his scowl again. “Please.”

Once he got his business truly going, he would have to give Rosalie a substantial raise. Until then, he would work his ass off to save them both. If he had been honest with Rosalie, he barely broke even. Hiring a cyber team helped him gain some more clients that he wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten, but it also hurt him due to the added expense. He couldn’t get distracted from his goals, not when so many people relied on him.