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Chapter One

Pilar Pérez Journey tried to relax in the uncomfortable airplane seat. Fortunately, it was just a puddle-jumper from Dallas to Houston. As she sat there with the roar of the small plane's engines muting sounds from the other commuters around her, she thought about her husband, Deuce, and the way they'd parted that morning. She felt bad that they'd had another miscommunication. The pressure she was under with her job was making her irritable and shrewish and she knew it. Deuce had been patient, though he'd arched one of those black eyebrows in warning more than once. Each time, she'd gotten herself under control for a while.

That morning, as she hurried around to get to her seven o'clock flight, tired because they'd stayed up late making love, she'd snapped at him as he was packing up his gym bag.

Deuce was an early riser, enjoying his morning workouts before he went to the children's hospital for early rounds. He did the same thing every morning: rise, groom, pack his gym bag and grab two hard-boiled eggs from the refrigerator as he headed out the door. Each day, same routine. He said it prepared him for the day by giving his brain time to wake up. Pilar said it was too predictable. Well…she said that when she was grumpy. Actually, it was rather soothing to know that everything was right with the world because Deuce was behaving normally. It gave her an anchor to moor her day upon.

But today, she'd snapped at him about his gym shirt. The t-shirt he put in his bag had seen better days, with the sleeves torn off raggedly and the lettering on the front faded and scarred. He looked totally bemused at her rude comment on it. Pilar felt guilty about opening her mouth, but that guilt only made her more irritable so she hadn't apologized, even though she knew she should.

Deuce was so good to her, too. He really didn't deserve her ire. Her boss was the one she should be snapping at, but, of course, that wasn't an option. Claire Williams was a bitch of the first order, but Pilar was stuck with her. To be fair, Claire had given Pilar more responsibility over the last few months, pretty much as soon as Pilar had returned from her honeymoon with Deuce. Today, Claire had made Pilar an offer she was ill-prepared for. She wanted to promote Pilar, make her sales region much bigger, and give her more employees to oversee. Apparently, Dan Cartwright, the fellow who was handling the whole western region, needed a new manager for the southwestern region. It was a big promotion. The problem was, there was a lot of travel involved. Pilar would be away from home several nights each week, and that didn't sit well with her and wouldn't make Deuce happy either. Dan would go with her for a few months, traveling all over the southwestern states while she got her feet under her. He was a nice man, though he was so busy that Pilar hadn't gotten to know him well.

And she wanted—she and Deuce wanted—to start their family. Pilar was almost twenty-nine and her biological clock was screaming for children. Deuce loved children, being a pediatric cardiologist sort of meant you had to, and so did Pilar. But if she was going to be traveling so much, children would have to wait. She wanted to be at home with her children, at least part-time. Her mother, though working as a hotel maid, worked only early morning hours so that she could be home with Pilar and her brothers in the afternoons and evenings. The bond they'd formed was formidable and Pilar wanted that with her own children. She and Deuce had agreed that it was the way they wanted to structure their lives.

The promotion effectively killed that plan. Pilar loved her job. She enjoyed interacting with diverse groups of people, managing the little set of people who also worked in the Houston territory she was responsible for. The products she represented were quality cosmetics and she was proud to be a spokesperson for the company when she met with retailers. The money was rather poor, but it was a job she was good at and was successful with, so that made up for the pay.

Pilar pondered the situation carefully as the plane droned on, and eventually her mind wandered to her intimate life with her husband. Deuce was incredible. He was everything she'd ever wanted in a man and the perfect fit for her. When they were together, there was a lot of laughter and love. He made her feel good about herself, a big change from the time she thought of herself as unworthy of his love. He loved her the way she was, although lately, with the pressure of her job wearing on her, she knew she was a lot harder to love.

Deuce had made allowances for that. Except for the time she stayed late at work and didn't call. He'd come home after a late day at the hospital—which he'd told her would be occurring—and she hadn't been there. She hadn't answered her cellphone, either. It had been in her purse and she'd been away from her desk. He'd been worried about her, and with good reason. She'd been thoughtless and inconsiderate.

She got home that day, to find him on the phone, calling her parents' house, looking for her. His hair was mussed from running his fingers through it as he did when something upset him. And his pale blue eyes practically shot sparks at her. Deuce's first words to her, after hanging up the phone were, "If you haven't been in a traffic accident, you'd better get ready for a hidin', Pilar."

"No, no accident. I'm sorry. I should have called. We had a last-minute strategy session to talk about tomorrow's meeting with… I guess I really messed up. You were worried?"

"Worried? No. Not me. Why would I worry about my wife, who didn't call, who didn't answer my voice mail or texts, who hadn't been in contact with her parents, who was out God-knows-where alone and unprotected? What a nut I'd be to worry under those circumstances!"

His sarcasm bit deep. Deuce was rarely impatient with her, giving her slack to make up for the stress of her job and her family's continued difficulties with her little brother, Ricky.

"I'm sorry, Deuce. It won't happen again."

"Damned straight it won't. Put down your things and go in the living room." He unfastened his belt, frowning at her, his lips compressed. She'd never seen him so angry before. She knew that belt was for her and her rump got hot thinking about it.

She put down her purse and briefcase, shrugging out of her suit jacket. "I'm awfully sorry. You don't have to punish me. Honest."

"Go. In. The. Living. Room."

His staccato orders made her quail. "Yes, sir."

Deuce followed her into the spacious room and pointed at a tapestry-covered ottoman. "Skirt up, panties down, over the footstool."

"Please, Deuce?"

"No amount of 'please' or 'I'm sorry' is going to make up for the worry you caused me tonight, Pilar. It will not happen again." He thwacked the looped belt against his palm for punctuation.

Feeling like a thoughtless child, she pulled up her black gabardine skirt and didn't meet his eyes as she pulled down her black lace panties. Pilar got on her knees and draped herself over the ottoman. The last time she'd bent over the ottoman with her bottom exposed had been during a vigorous love making session. She'd gotten her butt paddled that time too, but she knew that erotic spanking was going to be nothing compared to this punishment one.

Well, she would take the spanking like a grown up, and would not be so inconsiderate again. She deserved this and she knew it, though she didn't much like how she'd pay for this particular mistake.

Deuce loomed over her and without a preamble, without a warm up, without a single word, he applied that belt to her bottom. The first couple of swats were painful but not too bad. She took them without making anything but a surprised noise. But then it began to get difficult to hold back her cries of pain. He smacked her over and over with the belt, each time making a harsh snapping sound as it hit her beleaguered bottom. Eventually, the lecture started.

"You will call me when you're going to be late. At the very least you will text me. Got that?"

"Ow! Oh, ouch! Yes, sir. I'll call!"

"You will check your voicemail regularly and you will return my calls as soon as you can."

"Yes! Oh, that hurts, Deuce!"

"I hope it hurts, Pilar, because you worried me sick."

He applied the belt until Pilar had lost count. It hurt terribly; her butt was on fire, and her thighs were burning with pain. She sobbed and tears ran from her eyes onto the brown-flecked berber carpet. "I'm s-s-sorry!"

"You put me in a position where I got your mother worried, too. I had to call her to find out if she'd heard from you, but when she found out why, she was upset. Your thoughtlessness has a ripple effect, Pilar. I'm not the only one who cares what happens to you. If you hadn't come home just now, I'm sure your parents would have been worried about you exactly like I was."

She couldn't think. Her aching bottom overwhelmed all conscious thinking except to wonder when the awful spanking would stop. "Please, Deuce! Please stop!"

He did. "Okay. That's enough. You go stand in the corner and think about what you've done."

Pilar knew what he meant. She'd been relegated to the corner before, but not always with a spanking associated with it. She got up painfully and moved to the corner near the bookcases. Deuce's family photos stared at her as she stumbled by, condemning her and her bad behavior. Misery assailed her as her butt throbbed and smarted and tears ran down her face. Her sobs were loud to her ears. Her sniffles would have been pitiful if she hadn't felt so rotten about her behavior.

"I'm sorry," she tried.

"No talking. Skirt up. I want you to put your nose in the corner, too."

"Yes, sir."

Pilar took the position and waited. She could hear him moving around in the room, heard his phone beeping as he checked for messages. She tried to remember if he was on call this week but her throbbing butt was too distracting.

It seemed like she stood there for an hour, but objectively, she knew it wasn't that long.

"Okay," Deuce finally said. "Come sit in my lap."

Straightening up, Pilar dropped her skirt back in place and crawled into his lap. her wool-blend skirt was a little scratchy on her behind and she fretted as she tried to find a comfortable way to sit. Eventually, she settled in place and Deuce wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head.

"You have no idea how worried I was for you, sugar."

Her butt had an idea alright. "I'm sorry. I was thoughtless."

"Scared the bejeezus out of me, Pilar. Don't do that again."

"No, sir. I won't."

"I love you, sugar." He thumbed a tear off her cheek and kissed her forehead.

Pilar snuggled up against him, enjoying his hand stroking her hair. Deuce was warm, his cologne spicy and soothing. It had been a gift from her for their one month anniversary and he'd worn it every day since.

"I love you, too, Deuce."

The plane landed and taxied down the runway, and Pilar's wandering thoughts were brought back to the present moment. Her day had been long, but she had to be on her good behavior. Deuce would be unhappy about her job situation, but she knew he'd listen and help her with managing it.

* * *

They had a quiet dinner at home. Deuce was pensive. His partner had lost an infant patient and that affected the whole staff. Pilar knew it was about the worst time to tell him about the promotion and the travel it entailed. But he asked about her day as they moved the dishes to the kitchen at the end of the meal.

"I…I'm up for a promotion."

"Congratulations! Tell me about it." He was smiling gently as he rinsed off the plates, while Pilar emptied the dishwasher.

"You're not going to like it. I'm not sure I like it."

Deuce paused, but after a moment, continued. "Tell me, sugar."

"Claire said she wants me to have more responsibility. She wants to make me a regional manager rather than an area manager. I'd cover the whole southwestern region, not just south Texas."

"That sounds like something you'd enjoy. Why aren't you hopping up and down with happiness?"

"That's the part you're not going to like."

"I'll try to keep an open mind," he said, smiling at her again.

"I'd have to travel a lot. It would entail being away from home several days a week."

"Hmm."

"Overnight."

He finished and dried his hands. Pilar waited on pins and needles, wondering what he was going to say. What was he thinking? Deuce was silent for a minute, then two. He hung up the kitchen towel and wiped off the counters. He worked so deliberately that she knew he wasn't ignoring her, though he didn't say anything.

It looked like the situation was worse than she'd anticipated.

"That's quite a promotion. How do you feel about it?"

Pilar let out a sigh of relief. Her husband was coping with the news. "I'm excited about the promotion, of course. It is good to know your work is being noticed. But I don't know about the travel."

"Yeah, that might be an issue."

An issue. That made it sound so unimportant. Maybe Deuce wouldn't actually miss her. Maybe he'd enjoy the alone time, with her out from under his feet. Once they'd decided to get married, they'd made their preparations as quickly as they could. They'd been interrupted by a medical emergency at Deuce's family home, the Journey's End ranch near Sonora, but that hadn't stopped them for long. They'd had their wedding at the church Deuce belonged to and went off to their honeymoon in Jamaica in a whirlwind. His days as a bachelor were over, and maybe he missed some of that. He'd been alone for a while before Pilar came along, and surely having her here in his home, his space, was a little disconcerting at times. He had such a demanding job that quiet time at home was important. Maybe, though she'd tried to give him his space, she hadn't given him enough.

"I'll be okay," she told him. "Dan Cartwright is going to go along for a while."

Deuce's shoulders tensed, but his voice was calm. "You and Cartwright and your assistant Becky?"

"No…Becky has to hold down the fort while I'm away."

"I see." Deuce took her hand and guided her into the family room, where he had a leather-covered recliner and the décor was more comfortable and homey. Silently, he led her to the chair and pulled her down into his lap. "Let's talk about this."

She settled into his lap. It was a comfortable place for her. She'd spent a lot of time there, cuddling, being caressed, spilling a few tears.

Deuce slid his fingers along her face to tuck a loose lock of hair behind her ear, pulling her in closer. "When do you have to give Claire an answer?"

"Next time I'm in Dallas – so about ten days."

"I'm not going to tell you no, Pilar."

"Thank you."

"I will say that I'd be more comfortable if you took Becky along with you on your trips. I don't know this Cartwright fellow and I don't cotton to his being alone with you for all of this travel."

Pilar's stomach churned. He wasn't saying no, but he wasn't agreeing easily either. "It'll be okay. He's a married man with kids and everything. And he's twenty years older than me."

Deuce chuckled, but the sound was hollow. "That isn't convincing me that he won't make moves on my wife."

"I'll tell him that he's out of line, if he does that."

"Hmm. Yeah. I trust you, Pilar. But I don't trust him. I know how special and attractive you are. I couldn't resist you. Why would he?"

"That was mutual, Deuce. Dan and I would not be."

He nodded, his breath warm on her temple. "No, of course not. What about our family?"

That was something she wanted to skirt. She hadn't come to grips with the conflict. Deterrence seemed like a good option. "Aren't you proud of me?"

"Yeah, sugar. I surely am."

"Thank you."

"Thank you for what?"

"For agreeing to this."

"It's your career, Pilar. I won't interfere unless something untenable transpires. You give me the same courtesy. But you think about it before you accept the offer. There's more than you and me to consider."

Apparently, the family issue hadn't been forgotten. But he was so good to her. Pilar turned up her face and kissed his chin. "Okay."

* * *

Pilar was tired, so Deuce wasn't going to press her to make love, though he wanted to claim his territory. Especially in the face of this new development. He truly didn't like the idea of her traveling all over and being away from him for so much of the time. He'd miss her in a big way. Pilar had become such a focal point in his life. She was his mate in every way he'd ever imagined a woman could be.

Snuggling up next to him, she put a hand on his bare chest, sliding it down his abdomen after a moment. The tips of her fingers teased his cock through his pajama bottoms and she practically purred against his shoulder. He put his hand over hers. "I thought you were tired, sugar."

"Not that tired."

He pulled her hand down to his rapidly hardening dick and gave it a squeeze. Pilar didn't need any further encouragement. She kneaded his flesh for a moment, then pushed her hand down into his pajama bottoms and grasped him firmly. She rose up on her side and began to kiss his chest, pausing to suck on one of his hard nipples for a moment.

"Mmm."

"You like that, spank-man?"

"You know I do, sugar."

"Then I'll do it again."

"I reckon that would suit me fine."

"I love it when you talk Texan to me."

"Well, ma'am, it is purely my pleasure," he said, putting on his deepest drawl.

Her lips traveled down his torso and Deuce drank up the attention like fine wine. She invigorated him, made him feel like he was her whole world when they were together. But, of course, he was not her whole world. There was her family, which was as it should be, and her job. Her demanding job. He accepted that she wanted to work, that she enjoyed her career, and that she had an upward trajectory with it. But some aspects, especially in light of this promotion, were troubling. He didn't like the idea of her traveling all over the place with another man and no chaperone. He trusted Pilar, but situations happened if two people were thrust together night after night. And, he was in no way consoled with the fact that Cartwright was an older married man. A woman like Pilar would be impossible to resist, even if she didn't encourage that kind of attention.

And, he wasn't fooled for a minute about her changing the subject off the topic of their family as they'd talked about it. Before the promotion was offered, they'd agreed that they'd make starting a family a priority. They'd thrown out their half-empty box of condoms as a celebratory gesture. But now he wasn't so sure it had been wise. Maybe they needed to continue being cautious for a time, until Pilar came to grips with things and wrapped her mind around the sacrifices they'd have to make.

Deuce wanted children, but he didn't want to raise them alone, and he wouldn't want his pregnant wife to be gallivanting around the southwest.

Her tongue touched the tip of his cock and Deuce put troubling thoughts away for a time. He wanted to focus on her warm breath on his hot flesh, her small hand holding his cock steady while she licked it like a lollypop.

As Pilar slid his pajama bottoms down his legs and off, she planted gentle kisses and a few nips down the pathway and back up again. Back at the apex of his thighs, she licked him again and slid his rampant cock into her mouth and gave it a gentle but firm suck. The sensation was magnificent. She tongued him, took him in deep and released him again. But Deuce wanted more from her. He wanted her submission in the form of a mindless orgasm. He wanted to feel her release under his hands, his tongue. Deuce needed to experience her response to his intimate caresses.

"Turn around, sugar. Bring that pretty pussy up to me."

Not needing to be told twice, Pilar rotated her lower half until she was kneeling on each side of his head. Deuce took hold of her hips and pressed her down toward his face. She was so wet, she was almost dripping, so he tickled her pussy with his tongue, lapping up the sweetness she was offering.

"Don't stop, amante," he reminded her in her native Spanish.

"Mmm. Sorry," she murmured, as she slid him into her mouth again. This position sometimes distracted her, but Deuce knew that she'd still bring him great pleasure. He held her hips steady, her secrets poised close to his face, while she took him in deep and laved him thoroughly. His cock was super-hard, throbbing, but now it was her turn to get as good as she was giving.

Deuce stroked his tongue over her folds and let go of her hips so he could spread her pussy lips and get access to her entrance. He circled it then entered her with his tongue, fucking her with it slowly while she mewled around his dick.

He knew her clit would be practically sparking with eagerness for his attentions, but he gave it the lightest of touches as he continued his attentions elsewhere.

Pilar hummed and squirmed, and the sensation of her vocalizations around his dick was exquisite. He tilted his hips to encourage her to deep throat him, and she did.

Her reward was immediate. Deuce sucked at her swollen clit and flicked it with his tongue until she was dripping on his face and moaning continuously around his cock. He didn't think he could make them both come at once, he was too distracted by the incredible sensations she was giving him, but he did think he could hold back just long enough to make her come first.

Trying to ignore the bumping of the head of his prick against the back of Pilar's throat, he sucked and licked at her pussy, pressing a thumb into her opening while he concentrated on her clit. His efforts were not unrewarded. Her sounds rose, she squirmed and pressed herself down onto his face to encourage him. She was hot and wet, engorged with blood as he brought her to the edge and beyond. When she came, she took her mouth off his cock for a moment, moaning and grinding her pussy on his face. He laved her juices up, flicking his tongue on her clit as she orgasmed.

"That's my girl," he said softly as he paused. "You're so sweet, Pilar."

She panted for a few moments. "Thank you, Deuce."

"You're welcome, sugar."

Pilar didn't wait, she took the head of his throbbing dick in her mouth and ran her tongue around the sensitive flesh. Within moments, she was deep-throating him vigorously and the delicious sensations were building up again. The smell of her, poised over his face, was exciting, her curvy hips fit in his hands as he held her steady. He ran his hands up the curves of her waist and back down to her hips, but it was a sensual afterthought. His concentration was on the heat of her mouth on his cock and the tightening of his balls.

As she sucked him deeply, the moment was upon him and Deuce arched his hips up to push himself firmly into her mouth. She moaned and he was undone. He came hard, spurting his soul into her welcoming mouth, reveling in the undulations of her throat as she swallowed. Deuce let out a primal grunt of satisfaction, and then slowly lowered his hips back to the bed.

Pilar raised her head and licked the last drops of his spend off the tip of his penis, making a shiver of residual pleasure curl up his torso.

Replete and tired, he gave her a playful swat on the bottom and encouraged her to turn around into his arms and snuggle. She fit so naturally there, curled up against his side, and normally they'd have fallen asleep together like that, but once his body had come down from its orgasmic high, he couldn't sleep. His mind kept playing the same tune over and over again. What would it be like without his Pilar next to him each night? How could he return to the loneliness of his pre-marriage days, even for a few nights each week? She was part of him now, and it was going to be like losing a limb to have her gone.

Although he would never tell her while she was making her decision about the promotion, he secretly hoped she'd turn it down and stay at his side, having his children and making his house a home. He wanted what his parents had, even though this was a different generation with different values. But he couldn't help his conflicting thoughts: Pilar has a career she loves; Pilar is my partner in life and should be by my side. They spun around in his head until he was practically dizzy. He knew his desires were selfish, but he'd thought she wanted the same things, that they had the same values. Now he wasn't so sure.

It took him a long time to fall asleep, holding Pilar close to his side, her warm breath against his chest, her beautiful dark hair falling softly against his hand. He loved her with all of his heart, and he'd stick with her through thick and thin.

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