The Dom’s Bride
Emma Beckett finished adjusting her veil, checked her makeup, and gave in to girlish giddiness. Giggling, she danced and twirled her way across the room, holding her full, white skirt out to the sides to avoid tripping. A glance at the bedside clock confirmed it was nearly time to leave for the church, conveniently located next to the hotel.
She sighed, pressed her palms to her heart. One hour, five minutes, and she’d be Emma Sanders. She smiled and laughed, happy beyond measure. She and Brad had been an item forever—since their junior year in high school. On their tenth anniversary, they decided it was past time to get married. Although they’d lived together for the last six years, marriage somehow made everything feel new and fresh. Things would be different once they were truly committed instead of just drifting.
She glanced out the window, her gaze seeking and finding the house on the cliff. Lover’s Leap, the inn where she’d spend the first two nights of her honeymoon before flying to Hawaii for three glorious weeks with her new husband. According to local lore, the place was haunted by a love-crossed bride who’d jumped to her death on the rocks below. Emma shook her head. “No guy is worth dying over,” she mused.
Putting the romantic evening ahead from her mind, she focused on the here and now. Mentally, she checked off the items on her list: something blue. She lifted her gown, adjusted the baby-blue garter around her thigh. Something old. Her fingers stroked the pearl pendant that had belonged to her mother.
Something borrowed. Shoot! Where was the bracelet Gina had loaned her? She searched her room. Not there. A quick search of her small, white, beaded bag revealed tissues, makeup, and car keys. “Oh yeah. Need to give them to Gina.”
Emma had arranged for her best friend since third grade to drive her car back to San Francisco after the reception. Frowning when she didn’t find the bracelet, she smacked her forehead.
“Ugh. It’s in Brad’s room.” She’d spent the night with him, as she had every night since they’d moved in together. But she had her own room to allow her to dress for her special day. The next time Brad saw her, she’d be walking down the aisle.
Hands on hips, she considered her options. Was he still in his room? If so, he could drop it off. And risk him seeing her? No, better to call Gina on her cell. Her matron of honor had been called away to deal with a last minute issue with the reception. Emma dismissed that idea. It seemed silly to ask her friend to run back to the hotel for something so minor.
Emma checked her cellphone, noted the time of Brad’s text message letting her know he was heading to the church. Fifteen minutes ago. Heaving a sigh, she used the phone beside the bed to call his room. It rang and rang. Relieved when it an automated voicemail asked her to leave a message, she hung up. “Good. Coast is clear.”
She shoved her keycard into her clutch, snagged Brad’s room key off the dresser, and hurried out into the hall. “Okay, nip in, fetch Gina’s bracelet, and make sure he’s packed.” Then she’d head to the church. An older couple strolled hand in hand toward her. She grinned and wondered if they’d been married for forty years, or were embarking on new love.
Cupid’s Cove was the perfect romantic getaway, and according to the hotel staff and stack of touristy brochures she’d collected, the small, coastal town was a honeymoon destination. She giggled. How could it not with names like Cupid’s Cove, Lover’s Leap, Lover’s Lookout, and a bar name Lucky ‘N Love? Another giddy rush soared through her, tempting her to dance her way down the hall. But with four inch heels, she’d probably trip, rip her gown or break an ankle, so she walked quickly, holding her skirt up off the worn carpeted hall.
Frowning, she hoped Gina wasn’t encountering any serious complications with the catering. With her mind on the reception, she dipped the card key into the slot on the door. A flash of green, a click, and she dashed inside.
And froze at the sight of Brad fucking Gina in the bed Emma had left hours before. The pair of cheaters were so engrossed in their game of tonsil hockey, mattress bouncing and a contest to see who was the loudest, neither heard her enter.
Emma staggered back as their voices rose, the air filled with grunts and moans that morphed into low, male shouts, and higher pitched female screams. “What the hell?” Emma’s shocked and horrified cry, as shrill as shattering glass, broke through the haze surrounding the lovers nearing their peaks.
Brad, with Gina’s legs gripping his hips, whipped his head around. “Emma!” He disentangled himself, flopped over onto his back with his dick waving like a flagless pole. Gina cried out, grabbed the sheet, and pulled it across her naked body.
Horror skittered up and down Emma’s spine. She shivered as an icy coldness left her feeling numb and unable to move. This wasn’t happening! Not on her wedding day. Not with her two best friends. Shock gave way to despair and pain so deep, her knees nearly buckled. “How could you?” She whispered the words, her gaze flitting from one to the other.
Brad stumbled out of bed and grabbed his trousers. His erect cock slapped against his belly, the condom he’d used slick. Running his hands through his sandy-blond hair, he hobbled forward, wincing as he tried to zip his pants. “Emma—baby—wait. I can explain.”
She blinked her tears away and shook her head in denial. “Explain what?” Her throat closed, leaving her unable to speak. Her chest ached, and her heart shattered into a million shards. Yet she squared her shoulders, even though she wanted nothing more than to crumple into a heap of white lace and satin on the carpet at his feet and bawl her eyes out.
“There’s no explanation for this.” To her relief, her voice sounded whip-hard. “How long have you been fucking her?”
“Emma,” Gina began, swinging her legs over the edge of the mattress. “I’m so sorry. It just—happened. We fell in love.”
Fell in love? The words were an angry buzz. “You’re married,” she shouted.
Gina’s gaze met hers. “You know how it is with me and Jake, Em. He’s always working and never has time for me. I don’t love him anymore.”
Emma gaped at the other woman who didn’t appear the least bit sorry. Or guilty. “There is something called a divorce,” she said.
“It’s complicated.” Gina’s voice turned sulky.
Unable to believe her ears, Emma advanced, hands clenched in fists. Her best friend was actually trying to justify her actions. “So fucking what? That makes it okay steal my fiancé?” She crossed her arms across her chest and glared at Brad. “If you didn’t love me anymore, you should have told me.” She tried to keep her voice from breaking.
Brad reached out to touch her. “I do love you, Emma,” he began. “This was the last time.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. She held out a hand and backed away. “The last time?” She shrieked the words. “How long have the two of you been fucking behind my back?”
He didn’t meet her accusing gaze. “I would have been faithful once we married,” he muttered. He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I promise, it won’t happen again.”
A bark of disbelieving laughter escaped. Emma shook her head. “You got that right, you bastard. It took ten years for you to finally commit to the next sixty, yet you couldn’t even hold out for sixty minutes on our wedding day? One fucking hour to tie that forever knot! Well guess what? You’re welcome to Gina or anyone else you decide to fuck. As far as I’m concerned, the two of you deserve each other. You’re both fucking cheaters, and I never want to see either of you again.”
She picked up her skirts, ran from the room, ignoring Brad’s frantic shouts behind her.
Erotic photographer Mack Brown strode up and down the aisles of Cupid’s Market, his mood as foul as the gray clouds creeping across the sky. Grocery shopping normally fell to his assistant, but as she’d taken off on him, if he wanted to eat, he had to shop.
Dealing with food wasn’t the weight bearing down on his broad shoulders. Everything had changed, and he felt as though he were drowning in details that refused to be resolved. He had a big show coming up, no assistant, no models, and not enough material to put on a decent street show at the local Farmer’s Market, let alone one hosted by an exclusive gallery in San Francisco.
Damn Angie! She’d worked for him for nearly two years. Everything had been smooth sailing. His business booming, his personal life peaceful, and his sexual life? Well, there was Angie, or one of the subs at the local club. Until Angie demanded that she be the only woman he fucked. She also complained whenever he photographed another model.
Where had her jealous streak come from? In his business, he used other models. And yeah, there were times he and his models enjoyed a bit more than a working relationship. He’d never promised Angie, or any other woman, more than a good time.
No strings. No commitments. He’d learned his lesson well with Felicity, the only woman he’d ever lived with, the only sub he used exclusively, and the only woman he’d ever loved. He tossed a can of soup into his cart. Felicity had been the only woman he’d wanted to marry and he’d thought she wanted that as well. How wrong he’d been.
But that was over, ancient history. He’d never committed to another woman. Or sub. Angie knew the score. As his assistant, she was paid well, and she earned bonus pay when she modeled. And they’d enjoyed, at least he thought they’d enjoyed, a casual sexual relationship, both free to see others.
He brooded at the meat counter, not the least bit hungry. Why did women have to be so difficult? Why had she fallen in love with him? And why the hell had she even believed she could suddenly make demands. She wanted to live with him, eventually marry him. She’d even laid down the law: no other models. In fact, no more photographing women in erotic poses.
He swallowed an oath as he strolled up and down the produce aisle. Angie wanted him to photograph weddings in Cupid’s Cove, or photograph the ocean, or other local landscapes. Hell, she’d suggested they open a shop downtown and take photos of babies and spoiled pets. Anything and everything except sexy women in erotic poses, art he was world famous for producing.
Mack refused to even consider any of her suggestions. And that started the fight of the century and ended with her issuing an ultimatum: his art or her. No contest there. He’d fired her as his assistant and model. She’d left in a flurry of angry words. He picked up a jar of spaghetti sauce, his knuckles white as he clenched the jar. Part of him yearned to throw it across the store. He sighed, grateful that remaining in control was as vital to him as water to a fish. He added it to his cart.
As he strode up and down the aisles, he couldn’t help but wonder why now? He shrugged, as though shrugging away his problems. It did no good to ask himself that or dwell on what had been. What was done, was done. His priority right now was to find another assistant, and model. So far, he’d come up empty. Judging he had enough foodstuff for a few days, he headed for the checkout and placed his groceries onto the conveyer belt. He handed a canvas tote to the teen.
“Nice to see you, Mack.” Her smile was shy.
He nodded. “How are you, Jenny?” He didn’t feel sociable or even gracious at the moment, but knew the value of manners. Glancing around, he prayed for the girl to scan and bag fast so he could get gone before the owner discovered one of Cupid’s Cove’s celebrities had wandered into her business. Hearing his name squealed clear from the back of the store, he sighed. Fate was not on his side. Harriet Cupid bustled up to the register, her ample bosom bouncing like two basketballs racing down the court.
Breathless, she waved Jenny aside. “I’ll take care of Mr. Brown.” Her chest swelled with importance.
Mack eyed the matronly queen of gossip. As usual, she wore purple. Today, it was dark royal sweatpants, a pale lilac tee-shirt that featured a trio of tumbling kittens that looked as though they’d rolled down the hillside of her ample chest. Her zip-up sweatshirt matched her pants. Even the rims of her glasses were a translucent purple.
The polish on her manicured nails matched her pants and even her steel-gray hair, worn in tight curls close to her skull, had a purplish tinge. At least she didn’t go for purple lipstick, although the vixen-red was just as frightening, especially as she painted her lips larger than they actually were. Her penciled-in eyebrows arched high over her slightly bulging eyes, giving her a slightly clownish appearance.
“How are you, Mack? Haven’t seen you in ages.” Her breathy voice reminded him of an overly excited school girl with a crush. She grabbed an apron and quickly put it on.
“Busy.” Conversations with Harriet were a trial to be endured.
She let out a hearty bark of laughter. “I bet. Heard you’re getting ready for another show.” She sent him a sly glance as she scanned a jar of marinara sauce. “The last one was pretty—revealing.” She giggled and blushed.
Mack resisted the urge to roll his eyes. His chosen subject matter—erotica—was something few of the town’s residents understood. Or accepted. While many left him in no doubt as to their views and opinions of his art, others, like Harriet, found it titillating as it provided an endless wealth of gossip to be shared—liberally. “Yes.” He hoped his short answer would stem further conversation but experience warned that Harriet would do as Harriet did, and say whatever was on her mind.
“That’ll be twenty-three dollars and nineteen cents. Also heard Angie quit.” She bagged his purchases, her slightly bulging eyes wide behind thick lenses.
Mack pulled thirty bucks out of his wallet. The rumor mill was alive and well in Cupid’s Cove. “Yeah.”
“Seems rather inconsiderate of her with a show in the works. What are you going to do?”
“Have interviews lined up.” Liar. He’d just come from San Francisco where he’d endured two full days of interviews. Finding models willing to work for him wasn’t a problem. Finding an assistant comfortable being around his art, was much harder.
Harriet handed him his change. “Debra’s daughter graduated a few weeks ago. She’s home for the summer. Sarah’s a pretty little thing, well-mannered and a hard worker. Used to work summers here at the market. She finally wised up and broke things off with that worthless boyfriend of hers. She might be available….”
Speculation was ripe in the owner’s voice, and a gleam shone in her eyes. Mack sighed and reminded himself that he’d chosen to make a small, coastal town his home. There were a lot of advantages, like magnificent views, salty air, cooler weather, but living in Cupid’s Cove also meant dealing with people like the store owner. Harriet wasn’t just the town’s leading gossip diva. She was also a pain-in-the-ass matchmaker. Saddled with the surname of Cupid, with her family among those who’d founded the coastal town along the Californian coastline, he supposed she couldn’t help herself.
“Thanks, but I have a few possibilities already.” Taking his change, he snagged the bag, and nodded. “Hope to see you and Sam at the show.” The couple never missed one of his showings.
She rubbed her hands, her eyes bright as a shiny new penny. “We’ll be there. You let me know if we can be of any help. In fact—”
She hurried around the check stand, waving the next customer in line to Jenny’s lane.
To distract her, and keep her from launching into another topic, he smiled widely, pouring on the charm. “Did you know I dropped off some new prints at Roxanne’s gallery?”
She stopped short. “Did you? When?” Her eyes nearly bugged out of their eye sockets.
“Two days ago.”
“Two days?” Hands on her hips, she narrowed her eyes. “Well, how do you like that? Roxanne didn’t bother to let me know,” she huffed, looking extremely put out.
Mack hid his grin. “Probably got busy,” he consoled. Harriet, who loved to have an ‘in’ with the rich and famous of their little town, backed away.
“You drive safe, Mack.” She tore off her green apron with the logo of her shop, a pair of cupids with arrows aimed at a large read heart, and tossed it onto the conveyer belt.
Mack made good his escape. The queen of gossip might be a PITA, but she was good for business as she inform residents and visitors alike about both his work for sale at the local art gallery, and his upcoming show.
Just before the door swished closed at his back, he heard Harriet telling Jenny that she was going out. He shook his head, stowed his purchases, and climbed on his Harley. Poor Roxanne. He should feel guilty, but hell, sometimes a person had to look to their own survival.
Emma hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. Today should have been the happiest day in her life. Instead, it was the worst day ever, right up there with the day her mother lost her fight with ovarian cancer less than six months ago. Grief, from both the loss of her mother, and the betrayal of her two best friends, rose from deep inside her, threatening to swamp her like a wave at high tide gleefully smashing a child’s sandcastle on the beach.
The road curved, taking her away from the hotel, the church and heartache. She rounded a curve. Cupid’s Cove, a small, secluded beach, mocked her. She and Brad had walked along the shoreline last night, taking advantage of moonlight and romance. Ahead, she spotted another house on a cliff. Heartbreaker’s Seafood, a fancy restaurant where they had reservations for dinner tomorrow.
A glance at the clock on the dash revealed it was just past four. Time for her to walk down the aisle, her starry-eyed gaze held by the man she’d loved since high school.
“That rat-faced bastard,” she muttered, swiping away a fresh onslaught of tears. And Gina wasn’t any better. Her foot pressed hard on the gas pedal and she ended up taking a curve in the winding, coastal road too fast. She hit the brakes, cringed as tires squealed. Her heart pounded, and she gripped the wheel, her knuckles white. Emma tried to concentrate on driving, but couldn’t stop seeing the image of Brad and Gina in bed together.
How could Gina do this to her? To their friendship? Emma was supposed to be the one to do the borrowing, yet her pal had borrowed her fiancé, and obviously had been borrowing him for some time! Betrayal sat like an ugly, warty toad in her belly. It never crossed her mind that after all the years of knowing each other, supporting and loving one another that her two best friends weren’t to be trusted.
Obviously she’d been wrong. Or naïve. Or both. They were welcome to each other. They were cheaters, and would probably cheat on each other. “Good! Serves them right.” Although Brad seemed sorry, he’d actually tried to put the blame on her.
He’d followed her out of the hotel, begging her to give him another chance. As she got into her car, he’d begged her to listen to his side. He was sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt her. He loved only her. Gina didn’t matter.
He had needs she didn’t fulfill—
He needed to test other waters, get it out of his system before he was tied down—
It was her fault for not being sexier, hotter, and more imaginative—
Her eyes narrowed. “The bastard is just sorry he’d been caught. “Fuck him!” No way was she going to fall for any of his pathetic excuses, nor could she tolerate the whine in his voice. Unable to face him, or her traitorous friend, or the rest of the wedding party and guests, she’d squealed out of the parking lot, nearly running over Brad’s foot.
Too bad he’d jumped out of her way.
Now she was headed nowhere. She had no idea where she was going, and frankly, she didn’t give a fuck. She just wanted to get gone, and get far away. Tears continued to roll down her cheeks. Unfortunately, she’d have to turn around pretty soon. She still had to check out, something Gina was supposed to do, along with seeing that their luggage was delivered to Lover’s Leap Inn.
The one thing she regretted was not being able to spend the two nights there. It was tempting to turn around, grab her luggage, and stay one night as she’d paid for the rooms but she immediately dismissed the idea. She’d just end up crying all night. It made more sense to go home and deal with her broken heart and shattered dreams.
Shit! Her home was Brad’s home. Nope. Not going there tonight. Tomorrow, she’d see about finding a new place to live and make arrangements with Brad not to be there while she moved out. At least she had savings, and the money from selling her mother’s house. And thank god she hadn’t put his name on her account—any of her accounts.
She grimaced when she remembered she didn’t have a job either. Yesterday had been her last day. She and Brad worked at the same company, and there was a firm rule about no married couples. They’d decided she would take some time off after their marriage to find a modern condo to purchase, using her money for a down payment.
Thank god they hadn’t taken that step before the wedding. Maybe she’d just buy her own house and pursue her own dreams. Trouble was, Brad, and making a new life with him, had been her dream.
The road ahead curved. And blurred. She swiped the tears from her eyes, told herself to get over it. “You should be grateful. Would have been worse to find out later that Brad was a cheating dick.” While true, her words didn’t ease the pain, so she ordered herself to remember what her mother suffered.
Her father hadn’t been able to keep his pants zipped either. Only now did she realized the two men were two peas in the same rotten pod. Both were good-looking, charming; both were cheats. She still remembered her shock after she’d graduated high school when her mother announced her intention to divorce.
Not once had Emma suspected her father, a cop, of being unfaithful. Or that he’d had affairs since before she’d been born, or that her parent’s marriage had been anything but a good and solid marriage. So yeah, Gina was welcome to Brad. Good luck, good riddance, and damn the cheating pair to hell!
Telling herself they’d spared her from future heartache didn’t ease the pain, or stop the tears from cascading down her cheeks to plop onto her white, satin wedding gown. “So glad you weren’t here to see this, mom.” Earlier, while dressing with No-Good Gina helping, Emma had been sad that her mother hadn’t lived to share in her joyous day. Now she was relieved.
She followed the curving coastal road, unable to appreciate the glittering blue of the ocean stretching out to her right. So much for a romantic stroll on the beach tonight. So much for romance. So much for commitments. Nope, no thanks, done with that whole can of worms.
The car climbed; the beach and crashing waves dropping below her as the road took her away from Brad and his wayward dick. She by-passed another vista point that offered visitors to the area an incredible view of the ocean. Blinded by tears and fury, she put her foot to the pedal and kept going, oblivious to the stretch of forested mountainous landscape on the other side of the road. In her mind, all she saw were her two best friends in bed. Naked. At least she’d interrupted their little ‘quickie’ just as Gina’s voice began that long, low, wail of ecstasy.
She grinned evilly. Neither got their happy ending! The shock and horror, along with the pain from coitus interruptus gave Emma some sense of revenge, but not enough to ease the hard, ball of hurt deep inside. Approaching another curve, she slowed. Then realized the turn was much sharper. She stomped her foot down onto the brake.
The car skidded. Her heart pounded, and her mouth went dry as the rear fishtailed. She tried to straighten the wheels, over corrected, and sent the auto swerving across the double yellow line. She screamed as she slid into a ditch between road and forest.