Always the wedding planner, never the bride.
My goal in life was to give my brides the weddings of their dreams. Turn their stress into excitement. Stretch every dollar of their budget to its fullest potential and give them the day they had been dreaming of since they were a little girl.
They say, ‘do what you know.’ What I knew was how to throw a tear-jerking, smile-stretching, memory-yielding, one-of-a-kind wedding.
As a child, I’d learned to read flipping through the glossy pages of my favorite bridal magazines. For my birthdays I would ask for craft supplies. With little bits of tulle and strings of plastic pearls, I decorated my dollhouse with a romantic flair that even Barbie envied. My little sister Josie never tired of being marched down my makeshift aisles. Whether they were in the backyard, or down the hallway of our house, time and time again she would happily come to the altar at the end and marry her favorite teddy bear, Mr. Sparkles.
I’d watched every wedding movie my mother would allow me to. The only time I remember getting in trouble as a child was when I snuck out with a friend to the theater to see Runaway Bride when I was supposed to be studying for a math test.
I was obsessed.
It all started after my father abruptly left us. He had been an absentee father all along—worked long hours then came home and sat in front of the TV—but having him disappear altogether was devastating. I could still hear his tires crunching over the gravel as he pulled out of our driveway for the last time. My mom tried to hide her tears, but I knew she was lonely.
We never spoke of my dad.
My mom was a beautiful, generous, loving woman and she deserved to have a great guy. In my mind, one day she would meet the real love of her life, a man who would always care for her and never leave her. They would have a big, gorgeous ceremony to celebrate their union. Josie and I would dress up in pink satin dresses and hold Mom’s bouquet for her while she and her groom—our new, loving father—exchanged vows.
It never happened.
By my freshman year of high school, it was obvious my mother was not interested in meeting anyone. I began to wonder why Mom and Dad had come together in the first place. One day after scouring our house for wedding albums, and finding none, I worked up the courage to ask her how she had met my father.
We sat at our four-seater kitchen table, the dim light hanging above us making the lines in her face show how much she aged over the past decade. Placing her hand over mine, her skin feathery soft, she told me. “It was a long time ago—gosh, I was just eighteen, maybe just turned nineteen? I did pageants back in those days—”
“You did? I had no idea,” I said.
A sadness fell over her tired face. “I hid it from you girls. I didn’t want to make it seem glamorous.” Her tone turned cold as she said, “It wasn’t.”
“Okay, well, what happened?” I asked.
“I won the Bluebonnet Miss Teen crown. My small town of Texas went wild. They even threw me a parade.” She gave a disgusted chuckle. “There wasn’t much going on in that town. Having a local girl win such a big crown really gave them something to talk about. After that day I had men coming in and out of the ice cream parlor I worked at, just wanting to catch a glimpse of Miss Bluebonnet in person. Gosh, I sold a lot of double scoops that month.”
She got quiet and I could sense we were getting to the part about her meeting my dad. Not wanting her to stop talking, I prodded her, “Is that how you met Dad? Was he one of the ones who came in to get a glimpse of you?”
Her eyes turned to me. A mixture of happy times washed away by sadness reflected at me. “No. Just the opposite. He was originally from Texas but now lived out of town... Wyoming to be exact. He was in there meeting with the local pharmacy—he sold the machines that count out the pills manually, so the pharmacist didn’t have to. Anyway, he was... sweet, and polite. And so different from the other men who had come into the parlor—he had no idea I was a beauty queen. When he left, he asked if he could take me to dinner that night.”
“And what did you say?” I was on the edge of my seat, hungry for a story of romance, of love.
“I said yes. I was flattered, I suppose. He was a little bit older than the other boyfriends I’d had. And he had a steady, grownup job; that meant something to me. And of course, as you know, he was handsome.”
“Where did he take you?”
“He took me to a little Italian place. I felt so grown up. There was a white cloth on the table, candles, linen napkins, the whole nine yards. I was so nervous, I barely knew how to act—luckily the pageant had required me to take an etiquette course, so I made my way through the three courses just fine. Your father even snuck me my first glass of wine.” A small smile spread across her face as she looked past me, her eyes focusing on nothing as her memories washed over her.
“Well, what happened after that? Did he kiss you when he took you home?” Her gaze came back to me. I couldn’t read the look that rested in her eyes. “What is it, Mom?”
“Louanne, I went back to his hotel room with him.”
“Oh. I... ah...”
Her hand squeezed mine. “And you were born nine months later.”
My breath caught in my throat. I felt like a cold sweat was going to break out over my forehead. I was the only reason my parents were together? Just a one-night stand... an unplanned pregnancy? “Mom, I—”
“Louanne Dixon. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Seeing your little face, the moment after you were born, honey, that was the most magical moment of my life. And the way you reached up and instantly wrapped your tiny little fingers around mine—it was like you already knew me. And then, he gave me Josie. You girls are the most precious thing in my life and I’d take all the pain your dad gave me in exchange for the joy of having you both,” she said.
We cried then, buckets of tears, trying to stay quiet so we didn’t wake Josie.
Instead of marrying, my mom got a nursing degree and spent her days working providing for my sister and me. I took care of Josie, and with no mom available to run me to soccer practices or dance recitals, I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent it developing my passion for creating all things wedding. And now, I got to live out my dream.
I stayed incredibly busy, especially in spring—that’s what I call ‘Wedding Season.’ There are cakes to be ordered, menus to be prepared, staff to hire and train, and my favorite—decorations to be planned, purchased, and carefully laid out. Throw in music, a dance floor, and a few signature Louanne Dixon touches to ‘wow’ each unique bride, and you had yourself a wedding they would (hopefully) be talking about for years to come.
I gave each of my weddings a nickname that reflected its theme. For example, one of my favorites I dubbed Wedding at the Castle. The bride was a princess at heart. For her, I found mock cut-crystal goblets and decanters at the dollar store. I placed translucent glass plates over silver chargers, and voilà! With only four dollars spent per head I had a dinner setting fit for royalty. Each place was set with a tiny, sparkling tiara for the female guests, and a gold crown for the men. (I had begged the manager at the Burger Barn to part with fifty of his cardboard kiddie crowns, then spray painted them gold.)
Thousands of lights were strung from the rafters above the dance floor. Not only did they give a romantic glow to the room—and add a touch of whimsy—the tiny lights performed a much more important task. As the bride twirled on the floor with her groom, the Swarovski crystals and beads that were embroidered on her ivory gown reflected the light, creating a dazzling, sparkling effect that made her look like a real live princess.
The bride and groom left the reception in a horse-drawn carriage.
Planning weddings was what I lived for. Seeing the bride’s face absolutely light up the first time she walked into the barn for the ceremony made it worth every minute.
From time to time, a client would ask me, “Doesn’t it get old? Always being the wedding planner, but never being the bride?” Did it get lonely at times? Sure. Was I fearful that I would become my mother, hiding my tears and crying myself to sleep in the dark night? Of course. But getting married myself just hadn’t been on my mind. I had too much to do. And so, when people asked if I was lonely, I told them ‘no.’
And that had been true. Until very recently.
Before his return, I was happy. My sister Josie had recently turned twenty-one and we would have a glass of wine together once a week. I took my mom shopping and out for manicures. And, I worked. But then, my lifelong crush came back to work on his family’s ranch—the very ranch at which I was the event planner. And his presence made it difficult for me to put my nonexistent love life aside and focus solely on work.
Hayes was back and his very nearness made my skin feel all tingly. When he would lean over me to see my computer screen, his clean, masculine scent would waft my way. His arm would brush against mine and goosebumps would rise on my skin. Just hearing him say ‘Louanne,’ in that slightly southern accent he had brought back to the ranch with him made my panties damp.
The all-American boy next door I had known since grade school.
I thought about the day he walked into our social studies class. Little Peak was a tiny town, kids bussed in from all around the rural area—some riding for over an hour to get to school. Everyone knew each other, their families all knew one another, so a new kid showing up was a huge deal.
Hayes had stood at the front of the classroom, looking confident beyond his years as the teacher introduced him.
“Class, this is Hayes Jenkins. He and his younger brother Colton are transferring to our school, from Jackson. His family bought the Turner ranch. His older brother, Brody Jenkins will be taking over the Turners’ cattle ranch operation, as well as adding vacation cabins. They have renamed the ranch, CLAS. It stands for ‘clean living and sunshine,’ meaning there will be no drugs or alcohol tolerated on the property—you could all take a page from Brody’s book, we will be discussing the dangers of those substances later this semester. The town is excited for the Jenkinses to bring some wholesome fun to the community. Please make the Jenkinses feel welcomed here in Little Peak.”
Some of the kids had latched on to our teacher’s admiration of what CLAS stood for and tried to tease Hayes about his brother Brody’s ‘clean living.’ Hayes wouldn’t have it and after a few playground scuffles, he had won the respect of the boys. He already had the whispered admiration of the girls.
Our mothers met at Little Peak Baptist church and became good friends. When my mother wasn’t working, her, my sister and I were frequent visitors on the ranch. Hayes and I played tag, rode horses. When we were older, we hung out together, had the same friends. My junior year, his older brother and ranch owner, Brody, hired me as a part-time employee, helping out on the weekend. I was super organized and loved to make things pretty, so I was a no-brainer to be his assistant when he needed help with event planning.
When I graduated high school, Brody asked me to come work at CLAS for the summer. He was busy hosting corporate retreats, family reunions, that sort of thing, but wanted to take on weddings. The business was growing, and he needed help. I quickly obliged.
And never left.
After that summer, I chose a college close to home, returning every weekend to work. I’d stay with my mom in town or if an event had overnight guests (which we almost always did) I would stay in the women’s bunkhouse on the ranch.
Hayes had the most serious disposition of the four Jenkins brothers. Anything he undertook he gave his all. College was no exception. After being offered a full academic scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s business school, he waved goodbye and headed south. The program was intense. Hayes was offered internship after internship and we rarely saw him. After he graduated, he went on to get his MBA, while working full-time as a risk management analyst, ensuring that corporate policies adhere to governmental regulations—the perfect job for a serious guy. He came home for the occasional holiday and roundup days, but over the six years he was gone, we rarely saw one another.
While Hayes was busy slaying the business world in North Carolina, I remained focused on my work in Wyoming. As the event side of things on the ranch continued to grow, so did my responsibilities. My junior year of college, I switched to all online courses and continued to work the ranch, living with my mom in town. I spent nights hunched over my computer, trying to ignore the gorgeous wedding décor on Pinterest and focus on my online classes. That was a busy two years and I had no time for a social life, much less my boyfriend at the time. I loved him, but I loved ranch life and my work more. He eventually dumped me.
I haven’t dated since.
I graduated college with my own degree in business—though my GPA was a full point below Hayes’. On the day of my graduation, Brody gave me a triple chocolate cake (courtesy of Memaw) and a yearly salary plus benefits. I became the full-time event planner for CLAS ranch. I bought myself a cute little house in town. And I worked. The years went by in a pleasant, bustling manner. Georgia moved onto the ranch, she and Brody started dating and eventually married. The second eldest Jenkins brother, Travis, finished up his doctorate program and met and married Bridgette. They had the cutest little girl, Lila Bell.
Since the oldest two brothers had gotten married and the business continued to expand, Brody split the ranch up into co-owners. Brody oversaw business deals and finances. Travis, with his PhD in animal husbandry ran the cattle ranch. Brody’s wife Georgia, a vet tech, became Travis’ assistant. Colton, the youngest brother, was responsible for all things recreation—fishing, boating, day trips to Jackson Hole, horseback riding lessons. Keeping the weekend guests happy. Their grandmother, Memaw, oversaw the onsite restaurant, the Mess Hall. She chased her staff—which often consisted of her grandsons—around with her wooden spoon, bossing and cooking the best food in Wyoming.
Then, after six years of being gone, out of nowhere, with no real explanation, Hayes had returned to the ranch.
Brody cut him into the business. With Hayes’ MBA, no-nonsense personality and perfect organizational skills—that were only second to my own—he was a perfect match to oversee events. I implemented the planning and carrying out of the parties while Hayes saw to all of the scheduling, budgeting, vendor relations, and repair and maintenance of the buildings we used. Recently, he was taking on developing relationships with small businesses in order to create a gift shop for visitors by selling products from local entrepreneurs.
Hayes managed one full-time employee. And that was me.
Though Hayes and I had never been more than friends, during our teen years there was the inevitable tug and pull of sexual tension running between us. Beyond a little harmless flirting, nothing ever came of it. The closest thing that had approached crossing that line of friendship had happened one night when Hayes was home for the holidays, the two of us laid in the bed of his truck after a long day of work on the ranch. The stars stretched over us like a dotted blanket. The full moon glowed so brightly, we could see one another’s faces clearly. We laughed and chatted, attempting to name the constellations we saw. That night, Hayes had given me the nickname, Luna the moon goddess, because of how beautiful he thought I looked under the moonlight. I still remember how his compliment made my cheeks burn with shyness and pleasure. I thought he was going to kiss me that night, but he didn’t. He still calls me Luna, and it makes me blush.
Now that we were both single, grown adults working together, I felt that same hormonal teen attraction. If he was walking by and accidently brushed against me, delicious shivers ran down my spine. Once in a while, we would disagree about something. His brow would rise sternly, and he would take ‘that tone’ with me—the one that made my pussy tingly and melty.
Hayes was back. Forever. And that’s how my crush became my boss.
But none of that mattered. I was a professional woman and I would not date my boss. Also, I was going to have to remind him who was in charge of events on the ranch. A few times we had gone head to head over safety concerns—him having the mind of a risk analysist. He had nixed the fire dancers I ordered for Luau under the Stars—too dangerous. Killed the gymnast hanging on silk threads from the false beams—‘false beams mean false, Luna... they can’t hold weight.’ And most recently, he had asked me to stop using real candles—‘total fire hazard, not worth the risk involved when there are perfectly good LED lights on the market these days.’
Can you imagine? Tacky battery-operated lights at one of my weddings? Please.
That was the final straw. I simply ignored his request and went on with my decorating. After all, I’m a professional, experienced wedding planner. And these brides would not have tears in their eyes over their big day without things going my way. I don’t mean to sound rude, but I know what I’m doing, and Hayes needed to back up and let me do it.
He would just have to remember that even though he oversees the events department, I do the weddings—and what I say goes.
* * *
“Hayes Jenkins, you put that wooden spoon down, right this instant!” I narrowed my brows, throwing my hands on my hips for good measure. I hoped my tone sounded angry enough to hide the fear I felt inside. I trembled at the sight of the implement in the broad hand of the six-foot two-inch cowboy who stood before me.
A slow grin spread across Hayes’ face, his white teeth sparkling at me from underneath his full lips. Running his free hand through his sandy hair, his blue-gray eyes focused on mine. The determination that flashed within his gaze sent a shiver down my spine as I inched away.
“I’ll put this spoon down when I’m finished with it. And not a moment sooner.” Like a predator stalking its prey, Hayes slid toward me. His long, lean muscles rippled underneath his shirt as he casually swung the spoon in his hand.
Feigning confidence, I expertly flipped my hair over my shoulder. “And what exactly do you mean to do with it, may I-I ask?” I stuttered, knowing full well what a Jenkins man used a wooden spoon for. My bottom bumped into the countertop behind me. My hands gripped the ledge. I was trapped, facing my stalker.
Hayes took another stride toward me. His left palm rose in the air, opening and lying flat before him. His right hand lifted the spoon, tapping his empty, outstretched palm with the smooth, round end. A light ‘smack’ filled the room each time it landed. “I think... Louanne... you of all people know exactly what I intend to do with this spoon. After all, you have worked on the ranch longer than any other employee. Flip that beautiful golden-brown hair at me all day—it doesn’t change a thing.”
My buttocks clenched beneath my skirt. I pressed my backside further into the counter behind me, as if to protect my asset. “Hayes Jenkins, I will say it one more time. You put that spoon down, right now.”
“Or what?” he asked, cockily raising a brow at me.
“Or, or... I’ll scream!” I shouted.
He chuckled. “Go ahead. No one will hear you. And if they did, they all know better than to interrupt a man correcting his woman.”
I gasped. “I am not your woman. I am your employee and you have no right to lay a finger on me. It’s... it’s... illegal! Not to mention distasteful—”
The grin dropped from his lips. “Let me tell you what I find distasteful, Louanne. Little girls that mouth off to their bosses with a disrespectful tone.”
He had me there. Just moments ago we’d been in a heated argument in front of the other staff. Okay—I had been in a heated argument. Hayes had just stood there, his jaw getting more and more tense with every nasty word I threw out, his blue eyes turning a stormy gray.
I had been shocked when he’d taken my upper arm in his firm grip and guided me to the kitchen off the Mess Hall, where I now found myself stuttering my way through my defense. “I-I was just telling you that you were doing everything... wrong. I have a certain way I do things. And that way is the right way. And when some big... brute comes in and messes everything up, then yes, I get angry.”
He took a long-suffering breath. “The way you had the gauze set up around candles was a fire hazard. And as your boss, I am not going to watch this ranch burn down just to appease you. I know you’ve done things your way on the ranch for a long time. And bless my brother’s soul—you seem to be the only woman in the world Brody lets have their way with everything. But I’m your boss for a reason. And that reason is that sometimes you require a little direction. Which I am more than happy to give to you. Now, would you like to apologize for that sassy tone you took with me? Or maybe for questioning my judgement? Disrespecting me in front of the staff?” He gave me a long stare.
I crossed my arms over my chest. I was still fuming. “Every good decorator knows that battery-powered LED lights are for people that don’t have enough class to light a real candle. They are tacky, and I will have no part in it.” I turned my nose up at him.
One brow lowered over his now steel gray eyes. His arms crossed over his chest—spoon still in hand—his forearms pushing up his bulging biceps until they looked enormous. When he spoke, his voice was laced with danger. “Are you saying you aren’t going to work this wedding?”
“I’m saying that if there is anything in this wedding powered by a battery, then I’m not going to be there to witness it,” I sniffed.
His chiseled jaw tightened. “Are you sure you want to give your boss an ultimatum, Luna?”
How dare he use his special nickname for me at time like this! Luna, my foot. I took a deep breath, steadying my nerves and steeling my trembling voice. “I’m saying I do things my way, or not at all.”
His eyes narrowed at me, his head shaking in frustration. “And that, little missy, is exactly why I am holding this spoon. You are one little girl that is in dire need of a severe attitude adjustment. Brody has gone on too long letting you have your way at every turn. I’m your boss now and boss you I must. And it starts with a good old-fashioned spanking, young lady.”
My heart stopped beating in my chest. My jaw dropped wide open. A white-hot heat spread across my face. A ball of ice formed in my stomach.
“You wouldn’t dare,” I whispered, knowing full well he would.
“Being back the past few weeks made me realize I was the only one who would dare,” he said.
“Dare to what?” I gasped.
He said, “Put you in your place, Louanne. Take control of your out of control, over-controlling manner. There is no doubt you excel at your job and you bring in a healthy income for the ranch. But the way you do it—it’s abrasive. It’s been your way or the highway for too long around here. And that changes, now.”
I threw my hands in the air, protesting, “But the way I run things is how I get the job done! Brody says that my personal style is the reason the event side of the ranch is making so much money. We have people coming from all over the country to experience my country chic weddings. Not to brag but—”
“You are bragging. And the one thing you seem to be forgetting is that the only way you got to where you are is with the assistance of other members of this team answering each and every beck and call of yours and never questioning a single one of your decisions. It stops now. The only way to help you see your bratty behavior is by treating you as any cowboy gentleman would when a brat comes along his path—redden her bottom and spank the sass right out of her,” he said.
Was he being serious? I answered my own question with another question—was Hayes ever not serious? He was really going to spank me! Right here in the kitchen where anyone in the Mess Hall could hear.
My hands went to my bottom, grabbing it as if I could protect it. My eyes slid to the exit that was just to Hayes’ left. I wasn’t the high school track team sprint champ for nothing—I could make it... if I just slid past him and made a break for it, I could outrun him. Sure, he had his brute strength. But I was slight and quick. Sophomore year there wasn’t a boy at Little Peak High that could out run me.
Taking a big gulp of air, I look up at Hayes from underneath my mascaraed lashes, feigning sincerity. “Hayes, you’re right. I’ve been... a bit... extra. What do you say we—” looking toward the exit, I brought my arms up by my sides and lunged past him, flinging myself toward the bright red ‘exit’ sign, calling over my shoulder as I fled, “—finish this conversation some other time!”
Adrenaline rushed through my veins, my heart thumping against my ribs as I made my escape. A smile started to stretch its way across my face as I neared the door. I was going to make it!
“Oomphf!” A sharp tug on the waist of my skirt made me momentarily lurch forward, then, like when you hit the brakes too hard in your car, I was pulled back, straight into the rock-hard arms of Hayes. My back pressed against his chest, his arms locked around me. If I wasn’t so terrified of what was to come—and panting to catch my breath—I might have relaxed into his arms. The hold felt... nice. His body heat wrapped around me like a blanket. My shoulder blades pressed against his strong muscles.
He whispered in my ear, “That was cute. Reminded me of watching you run the high school track in those tiny little burgundy shorts, years ago. Where did you think you were going exactly?”
Clearing my throat, I focused on getting myself out of trouble. If I couldn’t avoid this punishment by running, maybe I could talk my way out of it. I squeaked, “I-I’m sorry, Hayes. You’re right. It won’t happen again, I promise.” Strong hands moved to my shoulders. Slowly, he turned me to face him. His gaze was only inches from me.
“It most certainly will happen again, Louanne. I’m sure of it. And when it does, I will do then, what I am going to do now. Spank your ass.” With that, he grabbed hold of my hand with one of his, and with his other hand, snatched the abandoned spoon from the top of the big kitchen island. Before I had time to protest, Hayes had me bent over the island. My stomach dug into the ledge as my chest pressed against the cool metal of the stainless-steel top. The hand he held was suddenly wrenched behind me and attached to my lower back. My free hand pressed into the island, steadying my upper half.
This was really happening. After all the years of working with Jenkins men—men who were notorious for running a tight ship and disciplining sassy woman—I was going to be spanked by one. And spanked by not just any one of the four drop dead gorgeous muscle-laden brothers—it would be the one I had practically had a lifelong crush on.
My mouth was dry, my tongue like sandpaper. I had no words. My body tightened into one frozen Louanne Popsicle. The ice that was forming in my stomach grew into baseball-size hail. Funnily enough in my arctic state, underneath my skirt, my pussy was a hot, melty mess.
My cheeks burned as Hayes tightened his grip on the hand he held behind my back. His other hand went to the hem of my skirt.
“Hayes, no! Please... don’t!” I protested as the material went up and over my waist. Cool air rushed over my panty-clad bottom. Goosebumps rose up and down the backs of my bare thighs. I squeezed my eyes shut tight. This was not happening.
Then, the first whack of the wooden spoon landed on my panty-covered rear end. “Ouch!” I cried. A burning sensation immediately danced over my skin, the heat growing as it traveled. “That hurt!”
“Spankings hurt,” he said.
No shit, Sherlock, I screamed in my mind. I could sense him raising the spoon again. My face tightened, my buttocks clenched as I braced for the impact. This spank landed on the curve of my bottom—not protected by my thin undergarments. The sting was twice as bad on bare skin. I sucked air in between my teeth. I hissed under my breath, “Mother Mary!”
“Oh, Louanne, we are just getting started,” he chuckled.
“What?” I gasped. The two smacks of the spoon were the most physical discipline I had ever received in my life—and I had had enough. “Please, Hayes. I’ll be good. I promise! What do you want me to do? I’ll do it! I’ll apologize in front of the—damn it, Hayes, that hurt!” The fire spread as the spoon came down two more times in quick succession. The spanks were getting harder. I could feel my bottom jiggling under the wooden implement. The fiery pain spread. I danced from tiptoe to tiptoe. I longed to rub the sting out with the hand he held behind my back.
“Am I getting through to you? Do you understand where an attitude gets you?” he asked.
“Bent over an island having my rear end beat like a meringue?” I cried.
“Ah. Still sassy, I see. The spoon isn’t working for you. Let’s get these panties down and I’ll handle that beautiful bare ass with my hand,” he said.
This could not happen. The man I had known all my life and who had recently become my boss could not see my bare bottom, much less spank it like a daddy spanking his little girl. “Hayes, let’s talk this through—”
“The time for talking is over,” he said. His fingertips hooked into the elastic waist of my cotton panties. I could feel them being pulled down as my bottom was slowly exposed to him. My cheeks burned furiously—though not as bad as the lower set of cheeks currently were. Again, I squeezed my eyes shut tight as if to block out the humiliation of what was happening.
Hayes continued to lower my panties until they were just under the curve of my bottom, resting around the tops of my thighs. “Now I’m going to spank your bare bottom with my hand until you are one very sorry little girl.”
“But I am sorry!” I protested. I tried to peek at him over my shoulder, showing him my earnest face. Surely he would see how remorseful I was and pull those panties right back up into place! No such luck. All I got was a glimpse of his clenched jaw and the determination flashing in his eyes. His huge, paddle-like hand rose in the air.
His hand came down on my bare skin. A warm, tingly sensation spread over my bottom. Shockingly, it was a pleasurable sort of pain that danced over my jiggling ass cheek. To my surprise, my pussy clenched, leaking juices of excitement. Hayes’ husky voice demanded, “Spread your legs a little further.”
But I was a good girl. And good girls didn’t do that sort of thing. My mind pictured myself from an aerial view. If I were to spread my legs, what would he be able to see? My wondering ended quickly as a sharp, stinging swat landed on the center of my left cheek.
“That’s going to leave a mark,” I hissed between my teeth. It was a warning smack—I had no doubt—and left me aching for the sexier, lighter spank he had first given me with his bare hand. Gulping, I obeyed his demands. Inching my feet apart, I spread my legs against the constraint of the elastic panty band around my thighs. The cool air now rose between the cheeks of my ass, traveling up my cleft. And no doubt making the shiny wetness of my arousal visible to Hayes. To my intense shame, I could smell the musky scent of my wet pussy filling the air.
Could Hayes? Did he know how much this punishment was turning me on? Did he know that for years I had been curious what it would be like to be taken in hand by him? The questions left my mind as his hand began coming down in earnest. I was getting the spanking I had earned by mouthing off to my boss in the Mess Hall. Sexy feelings melted into panic as my ass was lit up by the fiery spanks. I was shocked by how quickly the pleasure turned to pain. And how much it was making my pussy pulse to have him control me like this.
His fingers tightened around my wrist. When he spoke, his firm tone made my pussy quiver. “As your boss I will now oversee your ass as well as your work. If your attitude is snappy, sassy, too bossy, your bottom is going to pay.”
“Isn’t that something I should have to agree to?” I asked between clenched teeth, tears springing in the backs of my eyes at the pain.
“You already did.” His hand landed twice more in the same exact spot.
“How so?” I asked, dancing on my tiptoes and trying to keep the sass, and the tears, from my voice.
“By coming into the kitchen with me. You knew that you had earned a spanking. You knew that I was going to give you one. And you wanted it,” he stated.
“You dragged me in here by my arm! I tried to run away the second you made your intentions clear!” I protested.
His hand paused in the air. “So, you are telling me, you’ve never wondered what it would be like to be spanked by a Jenkins man?”
“Err... that’s not what we’re talking about. You were saying I agreed to being spanked—which I did not. Wondering... that’s different.” The pause in the spanking gave me a moment to catch my breath. But now, the stinging was turning to a pulsing, throbbing feeling. How I longed to rub my poor bottom!
“But you did come with me. And you don’t deny you deserved a spanking, do you?” he asked.
I had been over the top defiant with him earlier. But admit I needed a spanking? Never. “Um... does a grown woman ever need a spanking?” I squeaked.
“In my humble opinion, almost every day. Especially a woman like you,” he said.
My bottom ached. What could I do to end this? I didn’t think I would be able to make it much longer without crying. He had already seen my bare bottom—he didn’t need to see me cry, too. “I’m really sorry. You were right about the candles. And I shouldn’t have sassed you like that—especially in front of the staff. I-I’ve learned my lesson and I’d like to get back to work. Are you... finished?”
“You tell me. I think you need a few more spanks.” His mouth moved to my ear, his hot whispered words tickled my earlobe, melting my core. “I think you need a daddy to tell you you’re a naughty girl. Bend you over his knee and properly spank your bare bottom till you are crying and begging to be let up. What do you think?”
Heat crawled up my neck, flooding my face. More moisture pooled between my legs as my knees turned to jelly. “I- I... uh...”
“That’s what I thought,” he said. I could hear the grin in his voice.
My panties were put in place. My skirt neatly situated back over my burning bottom. Hayes released my hand, pulling me gently to an upright position.
I fought through my freshly spanked shame and forced my gaze to meet his. Our eyes locked. My heart fluttered at what I could sense within his eyes.
Things between us had shifted.
Despite my punished bottom and utter humiliation at my sexual response to Hayes correction, I smiled up at him.
Smiling back, he gathered me into his arms. “There’s a good girl.”
* * *
Weeks went by, a thin band of tension running between Hayes and me. To my surprise, the spanking had changed my attitude. I hadn’t realized that I had fallen into a habit of barking commands to my colleagues and snipping at them if things weren’t done perfectly to my liking. The memory of Hayes pulling down my panties and baring my bottom forced me to bite my tongue on more than one occasion.
But the spanking had done more than tame my words. It showed me my feeling for Hayes had grown to more than a crush. He’d been back on the ranch for a few months now, and I had to admit the best part of my day was whenever he walked into a room.
Our relationship remained professional, if not a tad more flirty than usual after the spanking. But things had been so busy on the ranch—it was spring, wedding season—I didn’t have much time to process my feelings.
Brody was taking the staff out to dinner to celebrate a job well done and give us a much-needed break after five event weekends in a row. He had recently discovered a little Italian place that had just opened one town over and wanted to treat the crew. We all piled up into the CLAS ranch minibus—the sides proudly proclaiming in blue paint, Clean Living And Sunshine. Hayes squeezed into the empty seat next to me at the last moment. The heat from his arm as it brushed against mine sent electric tingles over my skin.
The polite chatter was enjoyable, but I was too wrapped up in how close the proximity of Hayes’ body was to mine to participate. My eyes kept fluttering to his large, tan hands. Hands that had pinned me in place and spanked me.
When we arrived, a thrill ran though me as Hayes again took the seat next to mine. A move that was not missed by my friends Georgia and Bridgette. Georgia gave me a curious eyebrow raise, and Bridgette flashed a brazen wink in my direction.
Food and drinks whirled around the table in a seemingly never-ending feast. Halfway into the meal, Bridgette filled my wineglass to the top from the chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio for a third time. My hand fluttered to my mouth as I giggled. My cheeks were already warmed from the wine.
Bridgette shrugged, her blonde curls bouncing around her shoulders. A naughty smile played on her lips, “You may as well finish it off, Louanne. Otherwise Georgia’s going to go for it and get herself in trouble.”
Georgia flipped her long shiny mane of dark hair over her shoulder, her hazel eyes flashing. “Give me a break, Bridgette—I can handle my alcohol.”
Georgia’s husband, Brody, gave her a sidelong glance from the corner of his eyes, his chiseled jaw tightening. “I’m going to side with Bridgette on this one, honey.”
With a sigh, Georgia looked wistfully at her empty wineglass. “Well, then I call dibs on the last cannoli.” She pierced the creamy concoction with her fork, stuffing a bite into her mouth. A smug smile crossed her lips as she indulged in the delicacy. “Sorry, Louanne. It’s only fair.”
“Fine with me, I’m quite happy with the wine,” I said, taking another sip of the cool, tangy drink. It was delicious. Hayes had ordered it, knowing it was my favorite—and at the hefty price tag of thirty dollars a bottle, I was going to enjoy every last drop.
“I’m just surprised Bridgette’s sharing so well,” Travis said, a teasing glint in his dark eyes.
“Hey, I’m a generous person,” Bridgette teased back, elbowing her husband in the ribs. “Plus, I’m a beer girl.” Her nose wrinkled as she sniffed at her wineglass.
“An example of true generosity,” Travis laughed.
Brody stood from his chair and tapped the side of his water glass with his fork. “And on the topic of generosity, I’d like to propose a toast.” He lifted his glass in his hand, ice cubes clinking as he did. “To the staff of CLAS ranch. You all consistently give the best of yourselves to the ranch—your time, your talents, your energy. Without you all, there is no CLAS, just a few fields and buildings.” His tanned, handsome face turned to me. He was a spitting image of country music star Luke Bryan, only with lighter, wavier hair. Georgia was a lucky woman and she knew it.
I smiled back at Brody, the man who had hired me years ago and was now more like a brother than a boss. My smile fell, my brow knitting in confusion as his attention remained on me.
“Louanne, this evening was, as I told you all back at the ranch, an evening to relax and show my appreciation to the staff for a job well done—and to eat a meal we didn’t have to cook for ourselves with Memaw hollering at us.” Everyone at the table gave a chuckle, Memaw laughing the loudest. “Cheers, Memaw!”
The laughter died down and his attention turned back to me, “But it’s also an occasion to celebrate your hard work. You have been with CLAS since before you could drive a car. I’ve watched you grow both as a professional and a woman. Your creativity and attention to detail have helped to make our special events department what it is today. We wanted to take the time to thank you for the impact you have made. And now, Hayes would like to add a few words.”
Brody gave me a nod. Feeling humbled by his kind words, I replied with a smile and lifted my glass with a quiet, “Thank you.”
Beside me, Hayes stood from his chair. His blue-gray eyes looked over our team, flashing with emotion. Everyone quieted down, their attention focused on him. “Living and working off the ranch for these past six years, I learned a lot. But the most important lesson I’ve brought home with me, is just how lucky we all are to be a part of this. CLAS started as just a dream Brody had. But with the love, support, and hard work of family—and those of you that have become family—CLAS has become a place that turns others’ dreams into realities. And one dream in particular—the most important day of a couple’s life—a dream wedding.” His gaze locked on mine, the corners of his mouth crinkling up into one of his rare, heart-melting smiles. “Luna, you create and implement those amazing weddings. You truly give people the gift of having one perfect day in their lives to celebrate their love. Coming back to the ranch and getting to work with you has been a pleasure. I may be your boss now, but every day I learn something new from you. You are a rare gem.”
I gave a gulp. His words made tears sting at the backs of my eyes. But the way his gaze focused on my face—it took my breath away. This was Hayes—the boy I had known almost my whole life. When had he become the man who stood before me and made my heart pound against my ribs?
Hayes looked proud as his eyes rested on me again. “Tonight, we wanted to announce that thanks to Louanne’s direction and the entire team’s dedication, CLAS ranch has made it to Travel and Dining magazine’s Top Ten resorts for destination weddings.”
My eyes widened as I gasped. No ranch had ever made the T & D’s Top Ten. Those places were always faraway destination wedding resorts—white sand beaches in tropical paradise with the price tag to match. My hands flew up to my mouth in shock. A huge smile spread across my face, stretching my cheeks till they hurt. “No, way. Their Top Ten list? I had no idea! What an honor.”
Hayes put a hand on my shoulder. “The magazine is coming out to interview Louanne and the staff. They are going to photograph the ranch and do a two-page spread on our weddings. This is really going to put CLAS on the map.”
My friends looked toward me expectantly. I was not one for speeches. I managed to squeak out another meek, “Thank you.” Hayes, knowing my dislike for public attention and making speeches, saved me by holding a glass up and calling, “Three cheers for Louanne.”
He sat back down, his arm casually sliding along the back of my chair, brushing against my shoulders as it did. The skin beneath my shirt tingled at his nearness. My cheeks burned, my eyes cast downward as Hayes leaned over, whispering in my ear, “Great job, Louanne. You earned it.”
“Not without yours and everyone else’s help,” I murmured.
He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, leaning in closer. His husky voice whispered, “You’re beautiful. You know that?”
I had no idea if it was the magic of the evening, or the Pinot Grigio running through my veins, but against my reserved nature, I brazenly slipped my hand underneath the crisp white tablecloth, and onto Hayes’ muscular thigh. His eyes widened in surprise, a slow grin spreading across his face. His hand wrapped around mine, his arm tightening around my shoulders. “May I drive you home?” he asked.
“Yes.” The word was out of my mouth before I could overthink it. Nervous butterflies tickled my tummy. Where would this lead?
* * *
Riding in the passenger seat of the car, I couldn’t help but keep peeking over at Hayes. His gaze remained trained on the road before him. One of his large, perfectly formed hands held the wheel. His other hand held mine. His thumb brushed back and forth over my skin. My mind could barely process what was going on between us.
This was Hayes. The boy next door—if your next door is hundreds of acres of rolling cattle ranch. My friend, my boss, my innocent crush.
When I was being completely honest with myself, I could admit that I had always harbored feelings for him. He was so serious, so steady. Always calm and collected. Balanced with just the right amount of softness. And he was sexy. With that tanned, tight body and those gorgeous eyes, he was quite a catch.
And now, he was pulling into the driveway of my house.
Cutting the engine, he turned to me, giving me another one of those smiles. They seemed to be becoming less rare as the evening went on.
“May I walk you to your door?” he asked, giving my hand a gentle squeeze.
“Of course,” I answered.
His eyes lingered on my face for a moment. His hand slipped from mine. With the grace of a panther, he slid from his seat, exiting the car and shutting his door behind him.
It had been so long since I’d been alone with a man like this. What was the proper protocol? Should I sit and wait for him to open my door in a chivalrous display of manhood? Or throw the door open myself, proving my independence? Before I could make up my mind, my door was swung open. Hayes was by my side, offering me his hand.
I slipped my hand into his. Tingles danced across my palm. I stepped out of the car, letting Hayes lead me up the path. We reached the front door of my little cottage. Facing one another, Hayes took my other hand in his as well. Standing underneath the soft glow of the porch light, the magic of the evening seemed to weave its way around us, binding us in its spell.
Hayes looked down at our joined hands. His thumbs brushed over the backs of mine. An uncertainty flashed within his eyes. He hesitated before he spoke. “Louanne, I have a question I’ve wanted to ask you since fifth grade.”
My heart leaped from my chest. What could it possibly be? I’d never seen the look that rested on Hayes’ face as he spoke. Nerves danced in my stomach as I replied, “What is it?”
“May I kiss you?” he asked.
Nerves turned to butterfly wings fluttering through my middle. My breath caught in my throat. I whispered, “Yes.”
Hayes slipped his hand from mine. He slid it behind my head, tangling it in my hair and pulling my face toward his. Our eyes closed as I stretched up on tiptoe. My mouth met his. His arm wrapped around my lower back as his hand pulled me in closer. My lips parted, my tongue slipping into his mouth. My nipples tightened against my bra. My core melted, my entire body turned to jelly. Tingles vibrated over my lips as the kiss deepened.
Too soon, Hayes pulled away. He held my face in his hands, his soft eyes looked over me. He leaned in, placing one soft, parting kiss on my lips. “Good night, Louanne.”
“Good night, Hayes.”
He watched me as I let myself into the house. I waved from the window as he made his way down the steps to his car.
My fingertips brushed my lips. They still tingled.
* * *
Morning came and with it came the shock of what had happened. Hayes had kissed me.
Lying in my bed, I couldn’t remove the permeant smile that had been attached to my face ever since Hayes had kissed me. I pulled back the mounds of feather comforters I couldn’t sleep without. Tiptoeing over my plush white carpet, I hurried to the shower.
Stripping off my pink cotton nightgown, I blushed with shame. My nipples were still peaked, hardened from the memory of the arousing evening. Sighing, I stepped out of my still damp panties. I turned the shower on as hot as I could stand, stepping in and pulling the curtain behind me.
The hot water ran down my back, relaxing my muscles. I closed my eyes, leaning my head under the steady stream of water. Carefully, I squeezed Argan oil moisturizing shampoo into my palm—the stuff cost a fortune and I didn’t want to spill a drop. Using my long, manicured fingernails, I scrubbed the shampoo into my scalp. Suds gathered, cleaning my hair as well as my soul. I rinsed the bubbles from my hair, then combed in a detangling rinse that smelled like strawberry.
Facing the showerhead, I tilted my head to the side. The water ran over my neck, my shoulders, my breasts, my stomach. The pelting of the water further awoke my nipples as they tightened. Thinking of last night’s kiss sent a delicious shiver through me.
As the water cascaded over my skin, my mind wandered to the day ahead. How should I act around Hayes? Where did we stand after the kiss?
I could try to keep a comfortable distance from him. Be professional. But it was kind of hard now that he was directly over me. Yikes. If Travis’ wife Bridgette had heard that, she would have chimed in with a giggle and her favorite joke, that’s what she said. Cue a daydream; Hayes, hard as a rock and directly over me. The muscles of his shoulders tense as he hovered ready to slide that magnificent cock—
Back to daylight and working with Hayes. He was a great boss; firm but laced with just the right amount of softness—he even made everyone on the ranch homemade ice cream whenever they asked. And he was sexy. With that tanned, tight body and those gorgeous eyes, he was easy to look at during a long day of work. The way my pussy had responded to him when he had spanked me—it sent such a carnal longing running through me—it was going to be hard to stay focused at work.
Even before the kiss, I knew he was interested. According to Memaw, he had been since grade school. More than once, I had overheard her saying, “Hayes is as sweet on that Louanne as a black bear is on honey.”
So, why—after a multiyear dry spell in the dating department—wasn’t I jumping right on top of the opportunity to date Hayes? Or, as Bridgette would say, ‘jumping right on top of Hayes.’
There were two itty-bitty issues that stood in the way of me taking a chance on love with the handsome cowboy.
Number one, Hayes was my boss. I prided myself on my professionalism and the fact that I grew my career from such a young age through hard work and maintaining a mature demeanor. Dating your boss did not fall under the category of things a professional woman did.
Issue number two; Hayes is a daddy.
As in, his women call him daddy, he calls them baby girl, and he spanks his women.
Someone who was more comfortable with her sexuality might say to me, “Louanne, what’s the problem? Sounds amazing. Who wouldn’t want that hot cowboy smacking their ass? Go for it, girl.” And after last night, why not enter that kind of relationship?
But I just couldn’t.
I’m not that girl.
Even if I could get past the fact that Hayes was my boss—I loved my job and would not do anything to put it in jeopardy—I had serious hang-ups about being with him.
I was the good girl. I had always been the good girl.
I took my mom out for lunch and manicures every Saturday. I still sent birthday cards—paper ones, through the mail. Not the ones you can make and send over email. I cleaned my house every week. I cooked fresh, healthy food for myself whenever I wasn’t eating on the ranch. I donated to every charity that was requested of me, even the one where you had to buy wrapping paper from the little kids in town—I had a closet full of the stuff. I went to church every Sunday. I even taught the eight-year-olds’ Sunday school.
When all my friends were making out behind the bleachers in high school, I was tutoring struggling freshman in the library. I was the girl who had saved her first kiss for her long-term college boyfriend—the one who turned out to be my last, and only, boyfriend.
I just wasn’t the woman who entered a taboo, daddy/baby girl relationship. I was a strong, independent woman who liked doing things my way and not answering to a man—especially a spanking man.
But damn, that kiss.
Heaving a sigh, I shut off the water.
Hanging up the towel over the bar to dry, I hurried through my routine—there was a wedding to prepare for. I needed to forget about last night and focus on my very last to-do list. Still, nervous excitement danced through my belly as I dressed, knowing I was only an hour away from seeing Hayes.
Shoving thoughts of his lips against mine aside, I sat down at my desk, pulling my notebook from my bag. For every wedding I planned, I gave that wedding a nickname. The nickname always revolved around the theme, or something that had happened during the planning process. My notebook was full of lists of ideas, to-dos, as well as notes of what worked well—or didn’t. My pen made scratching sounds as I furiously wrote the final list for the wedding that would take place this evening. This list was meant for my sister, Josie, who was currently working on the ranch part-time to help with events.
Josie’s Final Checklist for Friday Night Shoestring Budget Wedding
◻ Make sure Colton is the one to help Lady DJ unload her equipment. (Since the couple couldn’t afford a DJ, she offered to do it for free in exchange for lessons with Colton. I think if she gets a little eye candy before the ceremony she won’t be upset when the wedding party inevitably does not tip her.)
◻ Call the bakery this morning to confirm, for the second time, that they will deliver the sheet cake at two p.m. (Do not, I repeat, do not do that thing where you say you are ‘just taste testing the icing,’ taking a little sweep from the bottom with your finger. I saw your trademark swipe at Overprotective Father of the Bride’s wedding.
◻ Make sure the mother of the bride gives you the heirloom cake knife and server. Wear the white gloves (I’ll know if you don’t) and wipe any fingerprints from the silver. Put the servers and the gloves into the plastic bin marked ‘Cake Server.’ Please put the box in my office.
◻ I already have the hall decorated but we need to get the heart ornament favors from the bride’s aunt and place those on the table. Remember—spread the red. Do not lump them together.
◻ Brody does not like to be bothered on wedding days unless it is a true emergency. He has enough on his plate as it is. He will need to sign off on the purchase orders, but that is it! As soon as you get his signature, leave him alone. Do not tell him about how cute the delivery boy was or good the cake smells.
◻ Do not, I repeat, do not talk to Memaw when you go into the kitchen to start bringing the food out. And do not taste-test any of the food, Josie. I’m serious. Memaw is only to be spoken to after all foods are displayed. Remember, it will be buffet style as we cut costs on staffing.
◻ Be sure to have Lady DJ announce the tables one at a time to go to the buffet. This is a wedding, not a Black Friday Sale at Macy’s. We do not want a stampede of hungry guests.
◻ Be sure to mingle as the guests eat and ask if they are enjoying the meal. I know they didn’t pay for service but if you have time, fill a few glasses of tea to make them feel special. (Be friendly but not flirty. I know you can’t help it because you’re so dang cute, but I do not want to see a guest running his finger over the outline of your Mickey Mouse tattoo like I did at the Navy Seal Marries a Prom Queen wedding.)
◻ Just a reminder: Dim the lighting when Lady DJ switches over from the elevator dining music to the dance songs. Last time, you didn’t hit the lights until we were two verses into ‘We are Family.’
◻ Brush your hair. Though your messy bun is adorbs, it is not professional. Thank you.
I could picture my sister rolling her eyes as she read my list. I knew she thought I was extra. A little overkill. But, in the end, when it came to weddings, I was always right. I placed my notebook in my bag and threw my bag over my shoulder. It was time to go.