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Chapter One


 

Fiona O’Reilly looked up from stirring cream into her latte and watched her best friend shift yet another time on her chair. She’d observed Bridget’s squirming ever since they had sat down a half hour ago. Bridget wasn’t normally a fidgety person. Fiona noted they were alone this morning in the outside eating area of their favorite coffee shop in Santa Fe Plaza, yet she still leaned forward to ask, “He did it again, didn’t he?”

A light early May breeze had Bridget’s shoulder-length brown hair dancing across her face.  She swept it back with a hand and raised her chin to say boldly, “Yes. Ted toasted my butt before he left for work this morning.”

“Why?” Bridget had told Fiona one day at lunch not long after they’d been married a few months back that Ted believed in being head of his household. Her friend had attempted to explain what that meant, but Fiona still didn’t fully understand. Except to know Ted spanked Bridget from time to time. An idea that concerned, confused, and oddly intrigued Fiona.

Bridget buttered a croissant. “Because I got home well after midnight last night and didn’t call him that I would be working so late.”

Fiona gaped at her. “He punished you because of your job? You’re a news reporter for the paper. You work when there is something newsworthy going on.” She sipped her coffee and studied her friend. She definitely didn’t understand this whole domestic discipline matter. Or why a woman with a master’s degree and smarter than most people would accept it.

“Ted worries about me.” Bridget picked off a piece of the croissant. “Usually I call him if something comes up and I’ll be late, then there isn’t a problem. But I didn’t.”

Fiona just didn’t get it. “How can you…well, let him do that to you?”

Bridget gave her one of those I’m-goofy-in-love looks. “Because I love him.” She smiled. “You would understand if you ever….”

“I’ve been in love before,” Fiona huffed in annoyance. She saw the pitying look in her friend’s eyes and focused on her barely touched cinnamon roll. Okay, she had recently lived in Denver for a year with a guy she’d thought would be her forever-after man. Wrong. So very wrong. And, truthfully, she hadn’t been all that upset to watch his taut ass walk a final time out the door. She wanted the kind of love Bridget had with Ted. Not the discipline part of it, but the rest of it.

As if Bridget had read some of her thoughts, she shook her head and waved the piece of croissant at her. “Don’t rule something completely out until you’ve at least tried a taste of it.” She flashed an impish grin. “Certain spankings can be a serious turn on.”

Fiona couldn’t imagine that…and yet. Oddly, her heart skipped a merry beat as her naughty mind envisioned being tipped over a stud muffin’s lap with his hand lightly patting—just patting—her bottom. And then his fingers moved….

“…anyway, I think it would be the perfect project for you.”

Fiona clearly realized she must have spaced off while thinking about a subject that had only recently become of curious interest to her. She met Bridget’s eyes. “I missed part of what you said. What would be a good project for me?” Being a want-to-be novelist and a semi-full-time freelance writer, she was always looking for something good. Preferably something that would help her reputation grow.

“Ted told me about this unique specialized therapy service he’d heard about. Very private, very selective, and not too far from here.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Very naughty. Well, okay, sort of.”

Fiona sensed a story and smiled. “Tell me more. You had me at the hint of unique and specialized. Private and naughty are just bonuses.”

*********

Armando sent a final, room-echoing Swat! of the paddle across the middle of his late afternoon appointment’s slightly dimpled bottom. She gave a high-pitched screech and jerked forward on the bench she lie bent over. His head had started throbbing with the first squealer he’d dealt with after lunch. Today all of his women shrieked. He couldn’t take anymore.

He went to hang the wooden paddle on the wall with the other punishment implements. The woman sobbed and gasped, one of his most melodramatic clients. “You can get up now, Mrs. Patterson.”

“But—“

He faced her with thinning patience and his expression had her closing her mouth and heaving her way off the bench. “The note from your husband only stated that you needed a light session with the paddle this time. Evidently your behavior at home has been improving.”

The fifty-something woman gave him a smile of pride, even as she stood before him half-dressed and red-bottomed. “Yes, it has. I suppose these little weekly maintenance sessions have helped my disposition. At least Henry thinks so. He has even….”

Armando put up a hand to stop her. From his original meeting with the couple, he knew the kind of marital problems they’d had, ones that were very private. If they were improving, that was good. “That’s more than I need to know.”

She blushed and wiped at the tears on her red-splotched face. Walking gingerly to the cabinet where her clothing was stored, she said, “Henry says this has been one of the best investments he’s ever made. Although I’m more than a bit sore when I leave here, I guess I agree with him. It’s saving our marriage.”

He’d heard similar words before. His was a strange career; at least as far as “normal” society saw it, which was why he and his partner kept it mainly on a need-to-know-about basis. He and Pamela had turned their behavioral therapy practice into quite a unique business. Their “resort” outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico had really taken off. Word of mouth from happy customers—particularly husbands—now brought in more business than they could handle. Pamela wanted to bring in another Dom or two or at least another disciplinary matron. But he wasn’t sure.  Actually, he was getting a little burned out.

“Same time next week?” Mrs. Patterson asked. He noticed she’d already gotten dressed while he’d been letting his thoughts wander.

“Your session might have to be with Ms. Carrino. I’m thinking about taking some time off.” Now that he said it out loud, the idea held a great deal of appeal.

But not to Mrs. Patterson, who looked horrified. “I prefer you, Sir,” she protested warily. “Maybe I’ll just wait until you come back.”

He’d run into this problem with other clients of his. Maybe because he tended to visit a bit with them when they first arrived for a session. He knew Pamela kept a definite distance from her clients. If he decided to sell her his half of the business and leave, this could be an issue.

Armando studied her worried expression and sighed. “Never mind, Mrs. Patterson. I’ll be here.” He straightened his shoulders. “At some point in the future, though, I will be leaving.”

She gave him a wobbly grin before heading for the door. “Have a good night, Sir.”

He reached to rub at his headache and glanced around just one of their five punishment rooms in the main building. The implements hanging on the tan stucco walls were of fine quality. They hadn’t cut costs on anything when he and Pamela had designed the facility with its two large, spread-out buildings or purchased the equipment to be used in their business. Still, it hadn’t been a business he’d planned to stay with for nearly ten years. He’d had no idea there would be such demand for their services. But the demands were wearing on him. He was ready to do something else…or maybe expand on the similar business he owned back in Italy and work there instead. His parents had never stopped pressing him about coming home to live permanently or about working in the family wine business.

Tightening his jaw, he blew out a frustrated breath. What was he going to do? Stay here and become more disenchanted with his work? Move to Italy and become the main Dom in his business there? For sure he wasn’t going into the wine business. He could be in the same country as his family, but not live and work with them on a daily basis. It had been fortunate that his mother was American and he had dual citizenship because of that and because he’d been born here. That had allowed him to leave the stifling life of being too close to his extensive family. And yet he missed them. More than his family, though, he missed having a woman to go home to each night. A woman to snuggle with, to share his body with. His last relationship had ended over a year ago and he’d not looked forward to getting into the dating scene again. But he ached for….

Armando heard the main door opening and closing. Mrs. Patterson was going home to the man who cared enough about her and their troubled marriage to send her here for “physical” therapy. He envied her. But did he want to look for another lover while he was considering moving back to Italy?

The familiar tapping of high heels on the tiled hallway drew his attention. Pamela stepped into the doorway and sent him a relieved-looking smile. “Another day over.” She studied him and frowned. “Are you all right?”

He wasn’t ready to talk to her yet about the changes he was considering. “Just a headache.”

“How about we—“

“No,” Armando cut her off. They had been eating together a lot lately, instead of her leaving to go home right after the day ended. He lived here and he knew she had been trying to get him to ask her to stay overnight with him. Actually, he knew she had hoped for a relationship with him for a while now. He just wasn’t interested. “I’m going into the city. A friend called earlier.” No one had called, but he needed to get away from here anyway.

She tried not to let her disappointment show, but it did. “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Weariness weighed heavily on him while she walked away. What was he going to do about his life?

*********

Fiona sat back against the headboard, her legs stretched out on the bed, and felt restless. Lonely, too. It wasn’t that she missed Darrel the Dumb—as she continued to bitterly refer to him. She actually wasn’t sure what she’d ever seen in him. A man who spent more time getting ready in the morning than she did, a man who needed more closet space than she did, a man who religiously had his Mercedes washed and waxed weekly…well, they really had had little in common. Except they both enjoyed sex. And she definitely missed those good times.

She glanced around the decent-sized bedroom of the condo she’d rented furnished. All of this ultra-modern furniture wasn’t her style. Maybe she should get her stuff out of storage in Denver and move it here. But first she would need to find somewhere to put it and her lease here ran another five months. How depressing. She should have gone ahead and rented a normal apartment or a small house, but she’d been uncertain if she really wanted to stay here in Santa Fe. Bridget had talked her into coming home again. Fiona had grown up here and then moved to LA to make her fame and fortune after graduating college. That had so not worked out. After that she’d moved to Phoenix, then to Las Vegas, and finally to Denver with You-know-who.

Yawning, she felt disgusted at how sad her life was at the moment. She had a degree in Journalism and had started working on her masters, which was not going well. She hadn’t found a job that held her interest for more than a few months and so her track record concerning work stunk. At least she had finally started making pretty good money writing magazine articles and her reputation for finding the unusual to write about had earned her a lot of specific requests. With that sporadic income, a nice life insurance settlement she’d received when her parents died a couple of years ago, and the trust fund her grandparents had left her, she didn’t have to work. But what else would she do with her time? She wasn’t a volunteer kind of person.

Her gaze landed on the folder of information Bridget had given her from Ted. Talk about something unusual to write about! Rossi & Carrino, Behavioral Therapists. Being the managing editor of the Santa Fe Times, Ted had a lot of interesting connections in the newspaper and magazine businesses. He thought a couple of the magazines would be seriously interested in an investigative piece on the therapists and their specialized services. She doubted, though, that the owners would be thrilled to have her stroll in and ask for an interview. Especially since she’d already learned how hush-hush their business was, how far under the radar they were in the area’s businesses. Still, the story intrigued her. She would find a way to get it. Maybe she’d go undercover somehow.

She climbed off the bed and went to grab the folder, leaned against the dresser and flipped through some of the papers. The one highlighting their services snagged her attention. Services: Old-fashioned domestic discipline; strict corporal discipline; discipline for couples; sessions tailored to your specific needs.

Her vulva pulsed and strange tingles threaded through her. Good grief! She’d been spanked for misbehavior as a child, but not often. She’d never thought the idea of adult discipline appealing. Okay, she hadn’t really given it much thought at all until Bridget had married a very alpha man who believed in domestic discipline. It still shocked her that her friend went over her husband’s knee. Yet other than being uncomfortable after she’d been punished, Bridget didn’t seem upset with what he’d done. Would I? If some man bent me over his lap and spanked me, would I be angry with him? But then she couldn’t even imagine letting a man do that to her.

Fiona tried to ignore the buzzing awareness, anticipation that continued to tingle between her legs. Again she glanced at the information sheet. Clients: One-time only; weekly; monthly; boarders for a special week session; boarders for a specially arranged session. Boarders? Really? People would actually go there for a week or more at a time? She just couldn’t imagine this or anyone who would want such an experience.

Corporal Disciplinary Implements: cane, strap, birch, belt, martinet, paddle, riding crop, switch, otk hand spanking by specific request. Those tingles had moved higher, making her stomach flutter. Her pulse raced. Never would she have guessed that she would react this way to such as this. Yet she had a brief vision of bending over a bench, naked from the waist down, of a man standing behind her preparing to lash her bottom with a strap.

Stunned by what she’d imagined, she blinked the vision away. But that didn’t stop her heart from pounding. And now she felt moisture beading between her legs. This was crazy!

Distressed by what she had experienced, by the way her mind had played tricks on her, she closed the folder and placed it on the far side of the dresser. No. This project was not for her! Bridget and Ted were so wrong. She might be a bit flighty when it came to holding down a steady job, but she was pretty much a straight arrow otherwise. Sure, she had a ton of bad habits but she didn’t need someone whacking her bottom to encourage her to correct them. Something else Bridget had told her Ted was doing: helping her stop smoking and stop binging on Oreos when she was stressed by spanking her when he caught her doing either one.

Fiona went back to the bed and slid between the sheets, distracted by her troubled thoughts. Then she crawled back out and tugged off her pajama lounging pants and t-shirt. She liked to sleep in the buff and she’d forgotten that for a second. Weird. But as she again slid between the cool sheets, her body quivered. This time when her thoughts wandered, she felt the powerful longing to make love that had been growing stronger lately. She needed a man to satisfy her desires. She needed a man that she could pleasure in return. A man who….

Her cell phone rang on the nightstand beside her. She jerked in surprise and annoyance, even more surprised when she realized her hand had started easing between her legs. Sucking in a calming breath, she reached for the phone. “Fiona.”

“I know how you can go undercover at Rossi & Carrino’s,” Bridget stated, excitement ringing in her voice.

“I’m not going to take on this project.” Why did the refusal make her feel depressed?

“Don’t be silly. This is perfect for you.” Fiona could almost see Bridget rolling her eyes. “Ted heard from a friend of a friend that they lost their maid. They’re interviewing possible maids starting tomorrow.”

Fiona shoved up to a sitting position and the sheet slid down to her waist. “A maid? Me? You’re kidding right?” She had no cleaning skills at all. She’d never had to do chores growing up and hadn’t even had to clean her own room. In LA, she’d helped her apartment neighbor’s son with his English homework in exchange for the woman’s cleaning weekly for her. In Las Vegas, she’d lived in a hotel with maid service. Daniel had been one of those odd men who preferred to do the cleaning and all household stuff himself. And she’d hired a maid to take care of this place.

“You can do this, Fi. Anyone can do it,” Bridget pressed firmly. “Besides, I’ve already called and left a message that you will be there tomorrow for an interview.”

“I still don’t think—“

Bridget wasn’t going to give up. “You told me how you’ve been looking for a challenge. How the last few assignments you took on were so boring that you could barely finish them.” There was a smile in her voice as she added, “This one will definitely not be boring.”

Fiona was about to attempt to refuse again when Bridget threw out her most convincing argument. “I looked Armando Rossi up on the Internet. Oh. My. God! Italian. Absolutely H.O.T. If I weren’t happily married, I would go after him.”

That was hitting far below the belt. Her friend knew how much she adored Italian men. And tossing in “hot”…. “Okay, okay. I’ll give it a shot. They would have to be crazy to hire me, but I’ll try.”

Bridget did her happy squeal and then demanded, “Call me with details ASAP. I mean it.” Then she hung up.

Fiona flopped back on the bed and tried to think of a reason not to follow through. Except she couldn’t seem to forget that whole Italian and “hot” thing. What was she thinking? This was to be a possible story. She wasn’t going there to make a play for Rossi. Think work. Think good money sale. Forget everything else. Yeah right.

*********

Armando flicked the switch across the already multi-lined bare bottom in front of him. The shy, farm-raised librarian hissed and arched her back. Maryann Cravens had become one of his semi-regular clients. She felt guilty for not staying on the family farm and helping her parents and for not attending church as regularly as she’d been raised to do. When the guilt weighed too heavily on her, she came to see him.

“Have you had enough, Ms. Cravens?” Normally he didn’t ask a client that. Arrangements were made in advance and everyone understood exactly what would happen. But she was different. He didn’t like causing her more pain than necessary.

It took her a minute to deal with the last lash, but then she bent over once more. Her voice wobbled as she said, “A couple more, Sir.”

He glanced at his watch, knowing he was supposed to meet with the next applicant for the maid position. Pamela had handled the three interviews this morning and had found one older woman she liked. But there was still another woman they had agreed to interview.

Ready to end this session, he spoke the words his clients expected. “Stay in position.”

Ms. Cravens tensed and nodded. He flicked the switch over her striped bottom two more times, quickly, giving her no chance even to draw in a ragged breath. With the final strike, she cried out. She’d reached the point she needed to get to.

Relieved that he was through with his sessions for the day, Armando went to put the switch in the cabinet with the other implements. He headed for the door. “Let me know when you need to come here again.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Ms. Cravens agreed on a trembling sob.

When he walked into his office, Armando found a young woman already seated in one of the chairs in front of his desk. Obviously Pamela had let her in. He hesitated behind her for a second, trying to get a sense of her. Then as he moved by her, he knew something was off here. He could feel it to his bones.

“You are here about the maid position?” he asked, thinking she didn’t look anything like any maids he had ever known. Her chin-length blonde hair had the look of an expensive cut and she wore a perfume he recognized, not a cheap one.

She blinked in surprise, as if she’d been deep in thought and hadn’t heard him come into the room. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

He noticed how she studied him, looking more curious and analytical than most potential employees did when he’d interviewed others in the past. Sitting in the other chair next to her instead of his desk chair, he studied her in return.  He liked everything he saw: the blue eyes widening a bit in surprise, the spattering of freckles that dotted her nose, her pink-tinged lips that captured his attention far more than he was comfortable with. Then she re-crossed her legs, which drew his focus to a pair of tan, shapely limbs that stretched from beneath an interview-inappropriate, too short skirt. Not that he minded the tantalizing view.

“I am Armando Rossi,” he said, enjoying the way her eyes warmed in obvious appreciation of his slight accent.

She appeared to realize she’d been staring at him and glanced away, then warily back. “Fiona O’Reilly.”

“And where have you worked before, Ms. O’Reilly? Or is it Mrs. O’Reilly?” He noted she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and oddly that pleased him.

“A number of places, none around here that you would know of.” She met his eyes, almost as if daring him to challenge her. “I really need this job, Mr. Rossi.” She evidently remembered what else he’d asked and added, “No, I’m not married.”

He wasn’t sure what about her called to him, but he found himself more interested in a woman than he’d been in a long time. She wasn’t his type. He normally preferred redheads with lots of hair that he could thread his fingers through when they kissed. He liked slender women with plump breasts. No, this woman with her fluffy short hair and adequate breasts was not his type. Yet he wanted her.

“I could start tomorrow,” she prompted him back to the moment.

“You would need to live here on our compound.” They had a small suite in the twin house to this one that had sometimes been the maid’s rooms, but the last couple of maids had lived in town. He wasn’t sure why he was adding this as a requirement now and he waited for her response.

She worried her lower lip for an instant and her brow furrowed as if annoyed. Then she jutted out her chin and nodded. “That would be good. Convenient.”

He hesitated before going on, knowing there really wasn’t any point in doing so. Pamela had basically already hired another woman. “Our business is…very unique. The people who use our services expect and deserve respect as to their privacy.”

“Of course.” She fidgeted with the small purse in her lap.

“You would be expected to do whatever is asked of you, when it is asked. Sometimes you might see or hear things that you would be expected to ignore.” Why was he continuing on with this? Why wasn’t he just telling her they had already hired someone else?

She met his gaze and nodded again. “Not a problem. As I said, I really want this job.”

Armando liked the way she appeared determined, yet his gut told him there was more to getting this menial job that she wanted. It intrigued him. A puzzle to decipher. How far would she be willing to go to get this position?

“If you fail to do part of your job as requested, there will be consequences. If you show disrespect to any of the clients, there will be consequences.”

Her eyes widened and she pulled in a breath. “Consequences?”

“We are a behavioral therapy business, Ms. O’Reilly. Our clients come here for very specific types of therapy…physically applied therapy.” He watched her reaction, noticed how she nibbled on her lip again, how her breaths became quicker, deeper. “Consequences for misbehavior or doing your job poorly would be…well, physically applied. Can you accept that?”

He was making this up as he went along, not about their business services, but about consequences for a job poorly done. In the past they had just fired someone. But he couldn’t seem to keep from pushing this obviously secretive young woman. When she sat there for a couple of minutes weighing what he’d said, he was certain she would refuse.

But she surprised him. She locked gazes with him and boldly said, “I accept. So when do I start?”

*********

Fiona’s hands trembled as she gripped the steering wheel of her Jeep. Had she really just agreed to accept physical punishment if she failed at her job as a maid? A maid! What had she gotten herself into this time? And this was all Bridget’s fault.

She turned on the engine and pulled out of the driveway of the first of the identical, other than reversed, spread-out stucco houses that served as the business compound of Rossi & Carrino, Therapists. Yes, she’d wanted this story, but what she’d agreed to was crazy. She would simply not show up tomorrow, forget the job. Tempting. Really tempting.

But as she turned onto the road leading back toward Santa Fe, she thought about Armando Rossi. Bridget had been right about him. He was definitely Italian and most definitely H.O.T. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected of a professional therapist—even with his bizarre kind of specialty—but it wasn’t anything like him. Instead of carefully trimmed hair, his had been a rich dark brown, shaggy, brushing his shoulders, and thick. She had wanted to touch it, to smooth back one particular part that had kept slipping from behind his ear and over one of his chiseled cheeks. And those eyes! Chocolate brown and so warm. Then there was his mouth…. Don’t even go there!

Her cell phone rang and she dug it out of her purse. Bridget, of course.

“Well?” Bridget immediately demanded when Fiona answered the phone.

“I start tomorrow. Unless I change my mind tonight.”

As expected, her friend gave a happy squeal. “Stop by before you go home. I want details. All of them.”

*********

“You can’t be serious! You hired her?” Pamela stood in front of Armando’s desk and glared down at him. “I already hired Martha Simmons. She’s got a lot of experience, maturity, and I know she’ll be very discreet.”

Armando sat back in his chair and watched his partner as she looked at him in utter disbelief. He had to agree that the other woman was probably the best choice for the job, but sometimes he just had to pull rank. He was the senior partner. “We’ll have two maids…for a while. I doubt whether Ms. O’Reilly sticks around very long.” And that thought depressed him.

“Fiona O’Reilly is not a maid. I don’t know how I know this, but I do. She’s trouble.”

He shrugged, although he suspected she could be, if he allowed it…which he wouldn’t. “She starts tomorrow. And she will be living here, in the maid’s quarters.”

Pamela gaped at him. “Have you gone completely mad?”

He raised an eyebrow and darkened his expression, which had her tamping down her temper. Their clients knew better than to argue with him, as did his partner. She understood all too well the consequences of pressing him when he’d made a firm decision. He relaxed back in his chair. “The matter is closed.”

“I don’t trust her.”

In truth, he knew Ms. O’Reilly wasn’t trustworthy. She’d lied to him. Actually, she hadn’t. She hadn’t told him where she’d last worked; other maid jobs had simply been implied. But he knew she had some kind of secret agenda. A maid, she wasn’t. So why did she want to work here? Clearly she wanted to work here bad enough to agree to possible punishment if she screwed up on her job. Interesting.

“I’ll watch her.”

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