Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Romantic, #Romance, #Contemporary
After far too much lackluster sex with her now-ex-boyfriend, Kristen Locke isn’t just ready to try something new, she’s ready to try everything. And as luck would have it, two of her good friends are more than willing to introduce her to the kinkier side of life: Experienced dominant Scott Moore wants to bring out the submissive in her. Neighbor and voyeur Matt Sommers quite literally sees the exhibitionist in her.
Little by little, they open up a whole new world to her, and Kristen’s about to learn that love can be found in the most unusual places…
This book was previously published.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Lauren Gallagher
First Edition published by Carnal Passions (an imprint of Champagne Books) 2010-2013.
Cover Art by Erin Lark
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Lauren Gallagher at
To Steve & Kathleen.
I couldn’t have done this without you.
I knew my relationship was over when I wore the lacy purple lingerie for my neighbor, not my boyfriend.
Pulling a pair of jeans and a plain sweatshirt over the garter, panties, and bra, I knew. Truth and guilt sank deeper into the pit of my stomach with every passing minute. Tonight was the night.
I went into the bathroom to fix my hair and put on a little makeup. Why I bothered, God only knew, but at least it was a way to pass the time before my boyfriend arrived. The antiquated clock radio on the bathroom counter said it was nearly seven thirty. Alec would be here any minute. With any luck and a little courage on my part, he’d
be gone not long after that.
He’d be gone, leaving me with Matt.
Not that I had any intention of touching Matt. I’d entertained a few fantasies of taking him to bed, but I’d been with Alec since before Matt and I met. Whatever problems we had, I wasn’t about to fool around on Alec. No, I wasn’t going to touch Matt tonight. We wouldn’t even be in the same room.
In the two years that we’d been neighbors, Matt and I had never touched beyond the occasional handshake or hug. We’d become fast friends, but everything about our close friendship was strictly platonic.
When light and time cooperated, however, he watched me from his bedroom window, which was across the narrow alley from my own.
He looked at me. Alec didn’t bother anymore.
It had started innocently enough. A window shade carelessly left open. A change of clothes. A well-timed glance.
Eye contact and startled gasps from either side of the alley had ended the moment as quickly as it had begun. For days, we were shy and coy, passing on the sidewalk without looking at each other, the accidental voyeur and unintended exhibitionist who’d both been caught in the act.
Beneath the embarrassment, though, there lurked a part of me that found a delicious thrill in that momentary exposure. Perhaps I’d imagined the look on his face in that fleeting second before we’d both turned away in a panic, but I was sure his eyes had widened and his lips had parted with more than just the startle of seeing a random topless woman. Wishful thinking or not, I let myself believe he’d looked because he liked seeing
like that. It had been too long since someone had done so, and right or wrong, I liked it.
Had he been some stranger, I’d have been creeped out and probably invested in blackout curtains.
He wasn’t a stranger, though. He was Matt, and after a few days, I left the shade open again. It took almost a week for him to take me up on my unspoken invitation. One night, while I got ready for bed, surreptitious glances in the mirror revealed the ghost of a silhouette in his window, a dark profile against a darker background, and I knew he was there. He was there, and I wanted him to be. I wanted him to see.
I didn’t look. I didn’t even acknowledge him. But that night, and a handful of nights afterward, he was there.
Tonight, standing in my bathroom as I got ready to drop a long overdue bomb on Alec, I sighed. My shoulders fell, and when they did, the dark purple strap peeked out from beneath my reflection’s shirt. I tucked it away, meeting my own eyes and averting them when my cheeks turned pink.
If Alec noticed what I’d worn beneath my casual clothes, he’d turn up his nose and call it trashy. He wouldn’t see it, though. Even if I lost my nerve and let him stay like I had so many times in the last year, tonight would be like any other. In the best case scenario, we’d wordlessly undress ourselves in the dark so we could have silent, passionless sex before going to sleep a thousand miles apart.
At least, if that happened, there would be just enough light spilling in from outside for Matt to see.
I sighed and looked myself in the eye again. This had to stop. Though Matt and I never touched, nor did we ever speak about this in our friendly, unassuming conversations, the guilt was getting to me. This window-to-window affair of glances wasn’t right.
Holding my own gaze, I took and released a deep breath. Yes, I was going to do this. Tonight. Swallowing hard, I touched up a phantom smudge in my smoky eye shadow and fixed a strand of hair that was perfectly in place.
From down the hall, the crunch of a key and click of a deadbolt broke the silence. The front door opened.
I took another breath, shut off the bathroom light, and went out to meet Alec.
He was just shrugging his jacket off when I rounded the corner. With a quick, expressionless glance, he acknowledged my presence, then hung his jacket in the hall closet. “Sorry I’m late. Got held up at the office.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just gave me a little more time to get ready.”
The next look he shot me was a quick down-up sweep, followed by a lifted eyebrow that said nothing if not “
is what you call ‘ready?’”
I shifted my weight, gritting my teeth.
Keep it up, sweetheart. You’re making this easy for me
He put his hand on my waist and kissed me lightly. “So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Another down-up glance scrutinized my appearance before he added, “I assume you want to stay in?”
I pursed my lips, resisting the urge to fold my arms across my chest. “Yes, actually.”
“Sounds good.” He smiled. “I think we still have a few DVDs to watch, don’t we?”
“We do.” I hesitated. “But first, I’d like to… talk.”
His eyebrows jumped. “About?”
“Us?” He shrugged with one shoulder. “Well, okay. Let’s talk, then.” He didn’t sound alarmed.
“How about in the living room?” I gestured down the hall and started in that direction without giving him a chance to object. “Do you want something to drink?”
“I think I’m okay, thanks.” He took a seat on the couch with his arm across the back of it, his usual invitation for me to sit beside him. The thought of that arm curling around my shoulders made my skin crawl.
Instead, I sat toward the middle, creating just enough distance to keep him from wrapping his arm around me. Turning to him, I pulled my knee up onto the cushion between us. His eyes darted to my knee, then met mine.
He cleared his throat. “So, um, what’s going on?”
Wringing my hands, I avoided his eyes. “Just, I…”
Come on, Kristen, come on. You can do this
He put his hand on my thigh, dangerously close to the telltale edge of the hidden garter. “Is this about moving in together?”
“Well, no. I mean, not exactly. It’s…” I wanted to scream with frustration. This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to have this conversation with him, and it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten tongue-tied.
Squeezing my leg gently, he said, “Look, if its too much for you, it’s okay. We don’t have to do it right now.” His tone teetered between empathizing and patronizing, and I could never tell which way it was intended.
Instead of looking at him, I stared at the subtle ridge my garter made beneath my jeans. “Listen, I don’t think we should move in together. At all.”
“You don’t?” At last, a hint of alarm crept into his voice. “But, why not? I mean, after all this time, wouldn’t it make sense?”
“It would, yes.” I swallowed hard and forced myself to meet his eyes. “If we were planning to get married, or—”
He laughed. “Is that what this is about? Well, if you want to start thinking about getting married instead—”
“No, no, it’s not that.”
He cocked his head. “Then, what?”
I hesitated, wetting my lips. “I don’t think we should move in together because I—”
Come on, come on, just do it. Get it out there
. “I don’t think we should stay together.” Before he even had a chance to react, the weight of the world slipped off my secretly lace-covered shoulders.
Alec blinked. “You, what?”
“I don’t think this is working.”
“You,” he paused. “You want to end this?” He gestured at me, then at himself.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Well, I guess I can see now why you never wanted to move in together.”
I couldn’t blame him for the bitterness in his tone. We’d been discussing it for over a year, and I’d been sidestepping the issue because I’d been trying to work up the courage to tell him I wanted out. Without meeting his eyes, I nodded.
Alec abruptly stood. While I was relieved to have some breathing room, I was afraid he was going to storm out. As much as I wanted him to be gone, we needed to settle this here and now, not set ourselves up for a period of cooling down, followed by another conversation.
He didn’t leave, though. Instead, he paced between the coffee table and the television, running his fingertips back and forth across his stubbled jaw. “I don’t get it.” He shook his head. “After four years, you just want to up and quit?”
“It’s not exactly a conclusion I came to overnight.”
“Oh really? So when were you planning to enlighten me?”
I sighed. “That’s what I’m doing now. This isn’t something I went into lightly.”
“So what the hell is the problem?” he asked.
“I just don’t think we’re…” I trailed off, searching for the word. “Compatible.”
“Of course we are. We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we weren’t.”
And we shouldn’t have lasted this long
. “Look, Alec, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you, but I’m not happy with things. I’m not happy—”
I sighed again. “Yes. I’m not happy with the way things are with us, and I’m ready to move on.”
“I don’t see how you can be unhappy.”
Of course you don’t. You would have to had to pay attention to pick up on that
. “I am.” I struggled to keep my voice gentle and calm. “We want different things out of life. Half the time when we’re talking, we’re fighting.”
“We wouldn’t fight if you didn’t pick fights all the time.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t pick fights because I enjoy it. If something’s bothering me, I tell you.”
He exhaled hard. “Yeah, and every damned thing bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“No. Not everything. But enough.” I wrung my hands. “I mean, look at our sex life.”
“What? What about it? We have sex more than most couples that have been together this long.”
“Yes, we do,” I said. “But we never try anything new. There’s no variety. It’s just the same thing, over and over and over.”
He set his jaw. “After this long, I think we’ve tried everything, don’t you?”
“No, I absolutely don’t think we have.”
“What else is there?”
“Haven’t you ever wanted to spice things up? Try something unusual? I’ve suggested a few things over the years, but you haven’t wanted to try a damned thing.”
He shrugged. “I’m perfectly happy with things the way they are.”
“To put it bluntly, I’m not.”
Alec shifted his weight. “So you’re bored with me.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m bored with our sex life.”
“And that’s enough to make you want to call things off?”
“There’s plenty more to it than that, but that was my first clue that things weren’t going so great. I want to try new things. You don’t. So I’m bored to the point of being miserable.”
“I can’t believe you’d end a relationship like this because of sex.” Alec shook his head. “Am I supposed to be some kinky porn star to keep you entertained?”
“Not at all.” I fought to keep my temper in check. “But it would be nice if you at least looked at me once in a while in the bedroom.”
“In the dark?”
“You could turn on the light,” I snapped. “And maybe when you’re done with that, try doing the same to me.” It was only when he stopped pacing that I realized I’d said the words out loud. My heart pounded. I hadn’t intended to go there, but there was no taking it back now.
“You’re unbelievable.” He threw his hands up. “If there was something wrong with us in the bedroom, why didn’t you bring it up a long time ago?”
“I’ve tried. Time and again. And quite frankly, I’m tired of it.”
“Oh, you have?” He folded his arms and cocked his head. “When? How?”
“Maybe all the times I’ve told you I’d like to try new things? I haven’t exactly kept a list of dates and times, but I’ve brought it up more than once.” I pulled a pillow onto my lap so I wouldn’t defensively fold my arms. “You either don’t want to talk about it, think I’m concerned about nothing, or turn up your nose at whatever I suggest.”
“Well, how about when we went to Cabo last year? I suggested fooling around on the beach, on our balcony, on—”
“I’m not going to fuck you in
.” His lips contorted with disgust. “Jesus, Kristen.”
I rolled my eyes. “And what about the handcuffs we bought two years ago, but have never used?”
“We don’t need to use handcuffs,” he said with a dismissive gesture.
“We don’t need to do a lot of things, but I think it would be fun.” I thumbed the edge of the pillow seam as I held Alec’s gaze. “That’s the kind of stuff I want to try.”