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Hardcore Vanilla by Angel, Golden (1)

 

 

Hardcore Vanilla

Book 8 of the Stronghold Doms Series

By Golden Angel

 

Copyright © 2018 by Golden Angel LLC
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Cover Art by Eris Adderly


Thank Yous!

I have a lot of people to thank for helping me with this book:

A huge thank you to Chelle, one of my former beta readers who actually came up with the name Hardcore Vanilla.

CoraLee June for all the creative euphemisms Sharon uses for her ladyparts.

Lanai Dameron for Sharon’s speech to her cousin.

So many thanks to my current amazing beta readers, who are completely invaluable in helping me catch mistakes, continuity issues, and working through problems with me. Katherine, Nick, Marie, Karen, Marta, Annie, Jessie, and Michelle – you all make these books so much better!

Lee Savino for being my author-sensei.

Miranda and Hannah for your quick editing skills, words of support, and general awesomeness.

Eris Adderly for the absolutely stunning cover.

My husband for his continued loved and support.

And, as always, a big thank you to all of you for buying and reading my work… if you love it, please leave a review!

 

Thank you so much for picking up my book! 

Would you like to receive free romances from me as well?    You'll immediately receive several free stories from me in the welcome message!


Table of Contents


Prologue

“Happy New Year!”

Everyone in the club cheered, raised their glasses, and turned to the person they were standing next to for the first kiss of the new year.

Slightly wobbly in her heels, Sharon turned to look at the man by her side. Tall, dark, and a pain in her ass. She was also a pain in his; something she often reveled in, if she was being honest. Jake Standish. Her friend Lexie’s older brother, former military and the only other single person in their group of friends. Not a Dom although he often hung out at Stronghold, the BDSM club with her and the rest of her friends and sometimes he kind of acted like one.

Tonight they weren’t at Stronghold though, they were at the grand opening of its sister club, Marquis. The new club was a joint venture between Stronghold’s owner and two investors, all three of whom were friends with Jake and Sharon.

The two of them had ended up spending most of the night together by default.

Which had been interesting.

They didn’t exactly get along most of the time. In her opinion he was uptight, judgmental, and kind of prudish. She was a hot mess and attention whore in his. Neither of them had exactly been quiet about their opinions either. They got along like fire and oil. Put them together and whoosh. Everything was burning.

Unfortunately, she was also pretty attracted to him and when she was drunk he started looking better and better… Especially because he loosened up a lot as he kept drinking. They had started to have fun once they’d gotten onto the dance floor, but he wasn’t who she’d intended to end up standing next to at midnight.

Then again, she hadn’t had anyone in mind. A sad state of affairs, really.

“So,” she said, raising her eyebrow as she looked up at him with a hint of challenge. His blue eyes turned down towards her, the color always somewhat shocking against his full, black eyelashes, which were thick and long enough to make just about every woman who saw him envious. With his short-cropped black hair, broad shoulders, and muscular body he was a fine piece of eye candy. “Are we ringing in the new year or what?”

She said it just to goad him, because that was what she did, and because she didn’t have any expectation of him meeting the challenge. Actually, she figured he’d go running, in which case she could maybe still find someone to pair up with for the rest of the night. There were other singles here at the party, celebrating both the new year and the opening of Stronghold’s sister club, Marquis. Sharon was horny as hell after watching the hot scenes in the theater room upstairs and then dancing with Jake.

He was kind of clam-jamming her though. She’d been having such a good time grinding up against him on the dance floor and teasing him that she hadn’t kept track of the time. Then, suddenly, plastic champagne flutes were being passed around and the countdown had begun.

But he didn’t run.

Instead, he did the very last thing she would have ever expected.

She sucked in a shocked breath as one strong arm curved around her waist and he hauled her up against him. Even in heels he was quite a bit taller than her and she found herself up on her tiptoes, her body pressed up against hard male muscle, with a very specific hardness nestled into her stomach, and then she was being kissed.

Very, very thoroughly.

He tasted like champagne and chocolate, and Sharon moaned into his mouth as his free hand curved over her ass, squeezing the soft flesh and sending ripples of sensation through her.

Holy fucking shit.

If she’d thought she’d been horny before, that was nothing compared to right now. Her nipples swelled, pressing against his chest like they were trying to drill through her clothes, and her pussy clenched as his tongue swept against hers, deepening the kiss.

Right in the middle of the main room of Marquis.

Where everyone could see them.

Arousal flashed, but so did a little warning sign in her head. She pushed at his chest and he pulled away, both of them panting slightly. His black pupils nearly obscured the electric blue of his eyes, and he kept his hold on the rest of her body even though he’d relinquished her lips.

“We can’t do this here,” she said, her head snapping back and forth to see if anyone was looking at them.

The last thing she wanted was their nosy group of friends trying to hook them up. Talk about a disaster in the making. She might be drunk, but she knew she and Jake would be a freaking awful match. There was no way she wanted her friends trying to push her together with Captain Grumpy. Other than animal attraction, there was nothing else between them.

They didn’t even like each other.

******

“You’re right.” Jake twisted, pulling her with him. “Let’s get out of here.”

For a second he thought she would argue with him - which would be typical Sharon - but instead she came along willingly. Eagerly. Her short legs easily kept up with his longer stride, even in her heels.

Being taller, Jake cast a quick look around the room. Everyone was pretty much occupied, and he didn’t spot any of their friends. Possibly retired to the private theme rooms upstairs? Good… That was good.

If he was being honest, he wasn’t entirely sure of what he was doing. Even when he was drunk, he usually kept a clear head.

Would he regret taking Sharon home with him tomorrow morning? Probably.

Would he regret it if he didn’t? Definitely.

He wanted her. She wanted him. Simple math, really. As long as they both agreed that this was a one-time thing.

“This is just for tonight,” she said, echoing his thoughts, and filling him with satisfaction.

“Yup,” he said. They grabbed their coats and he ushered her out the door. Fortunately, Marquis had almost an entirely new staff, and those who were moving over from Stronghold were off tonight. Jake didn’t recognize the girl who handed them their coats and she didn’t seem at all interested that they were walking out together.

Lucky for them, the street was pretty busy with cabs. He’d taken public transportation down to Marquis and he didn’t know where her car was, but he did know that neither of them were in any condition to drive. Giving the driver his address, Jake crawled into the backseat with Sharon.

The winter coat she was wearing came down about the same length as her short skirt, leaving her legs bare. Wasn’t she freezing?

He probably shouldn’t complain though, since it allowed for very easy access.

As soon as he’d slid in beside her, he pulled her in for another kiss. She squeaked in surprise, but didn’t protest, and a moment later was kissing him back enthusiastically, neither of them caring about the driver. Jake hadn’t thought he’d be a cab-cliché, but right now he didn’t care either. In fact, the idea that the driver might be taking peeks at them turned him on even more.

He’d always enjoyed watching at Stronghold - as long as his sister and Patrick weren’t playing. He had enjoyed seeing some of the more brazen members of Marquis enjoying the club’s downstairs area in a way they wouldn’t be able to once it was open as a restaurant, but he’d never actually been watched himself. There had always been a touch of envy when he’d been watching others.

Not at all passive, Sharon grabbed onto the collar of his shirt, kissing him back hard and furious, apparently just as unconcerned by their driver as he was.

Or maybe she even liked it too?

The puffy coat was a bit of a hindrance, but he had plenty of access to her lower half. He felt her shudder as he slid his hand up the outside of her thigh. Her skin was cool but not cold; they hadn’t been outside long enough for her to really feel the chill. When his hand moved under her skirt, she spread her legs slightly.

Jake took the invitation.

Fuck.

Her panties were soaked, and he groaned as he shoved his fingers past the sodden material and into the soft, wet folds of her pussy. His cock throbbed in envy as the slick heat wrapped around his fingers. The whimpering noise she made in the back of her throat nearly undid him, and he pushed two fingers inside of her, kissing her even harder as she clenched around him.

The movement of the car rocked them slightly and he ground the heel of his hand against her swollen clit, making her writhe, her thighs tightening around his hand. He kept his arm around her, otherwise she would have been on her back and Jake honestly didn’t know if he would be able to wait until they got to his apartment. He pumped his fingers, making her whimper and squirm delightfully.

It wasn’t until the cabby cleared his throat that Jake realized they’d arrived.

The ride had been too short… or too long. His head was kind of messed up right now. Half of him couldn’t believe he was sliding his fingers out of Sharon while there was another person in the car with them, half of him enjoyed it. Was getting off on it.

“Thanks man,” he said, handing over a twenty and way over-tipping.

“Happy New Year,” the driver said as Sharon scampered out of the car, surreptitiously tugging the hem of her short skirt down.

As soon as Jake was out on the sidewalk beside her, she looked up at him with serious brown eyes.

“This is a fucking terrible idea. You know that, right?”

Immediately he stilled. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t want to. Just that this is a terrible fucking idea.”

******

Serious blue eyes studied her, and then he was grabbing her hand and pulling her to the front of the apartment building. “Any time you want to stop, you just say so. No safe word needed.”

“I don’t want to stop,” she muttered, following him into the warmth of the lobby. “That’s the problem.”

Her insides were clenching, and she was still shocked that Grumpy Captain America had been so fucking brazen. How drunk was he? Then again, she knew the answer to that… not so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing, just like her. Normally he was the sane one, the one who set down limits, who went out of his way to cut off her fun even though she didn’t answer to him. He wasn’t her Dom. He wasn’t her boyfriend. Heck, she didn’t know if she’d even call them friends. They just had the same friends.

But now he decided to go ahead and meet her challenge head on, and quickly surpass it.

Why did she find that so hot?

As soon as they were in the elevator, Jake was on her again, lifting her up and pressing her against the wall. Her legs wrapped around him and she was completely aware that the elevator could stop at any time and someone could walk in. They’d see her skirt practically rolled up to her waist, Jake’s hands cupping the underside of her bare ass since her thong offered absolutely no coverage, and his tongue down her throat.

Which was also fucking hot.

Apparently the judgy, grumpy Captain had a little bit of an exhibitionist in him.

She had no problem with this. Hell, she’d liked it when he got handsy and aggressive in the cab, and not just because she knew if she’d had the whole ride over to think about it, she probably would have chickened out. Then where would she be? Not getting laid and in one of the most awkward situations of her life, that’s where she’d be. This was way better.

The elevator door opened, and he carried her out into the hallway while Sharon shoved her hands into his jacket and started kissing down his neck, sucking slightly on his skin. The stubble on his jawline rasped against her cheek.

Yup, I want to feel that on my pussy, please and thank you…

He groaned, holding her with one arm as he fumbled for his keys.

“Such a fucking terrible idea,” she mumbled against his skin as he got the door open and them inside.

“Stop saying that,” he said irritably. Yeah, that was the tone she was used to hearing from him. Perversely, it just got her hotter in the moment, whereas usually it pissed her off.

“It’s true.”

“But when you say it, I feel like you don’t want this.” His hand palmed her ass and squeezed. If he’d been a Dom she’d probably be setting herself up for a spanking right now, but - as Jake liked to point out - he wasn’t a Dom.

“Oh, I want this,” she said. Still carrying her, he took her through the main room and back into what she assumed was his bedroom. Not that she had a whole lot of interest in looking around. “But it’s still a fucking terrible idea.”

“You’re a lot of work,” he muttered, dumping her onto the bed on her back.

The sudden movement made her dizzy, all of the blood rushing to her head… And then it was all rushing elsewhere as Jake pulled her down towards him. Her skirt slid up, exposing her entire lower half.

It took them less than a minute to get each other naked.

There were no negotiations. No talk of safe words. No discussions of what she did or did not want to happen in the scene. Just one quick question asking if she wanted him to wear a condom, her answering that she was on the pill and clean - as Stronghold required - and agreeing that she’d rather go without, and then Jake’s mouth had been on her again. Her legs draped over his shoulders as he licked her from her lips down to her breasts like he was a starving man and she was manna from heaven.

Holy fuck the man knew what he was doing.

He’d licked, nibbled, and sucked her straight into ecstasy. Sharon arched against his mouth, crying out as her climax hit her hard and fast while he sucked her clit. She’d barely begun to come down from the pleasure high before he was moving back up between her thighs and thrusting his cock into her pussy while it was still quivering from her orgasm. She moaned. Writhed. Shuddered with sensation. It was too much and not enough, all at once. Her nipples rubbed against the hair on his chest, stimulating them as her breasts bounced from the force of his thrusts.

“Fuck… Oh fuck me, please, Jake!”

“Not such a bad idea now, huh?” he asked, smugly.

Sharon raked her nails across his chest, making him grunt.

With a growl, he pulled out of her, flipping her over onto her hands and knees before sliding into her from behind. She moaned again as he slid his hands from her hips up to her breasts, cupping them as they swayed underneath her.

Sharon fucking loved being manhandled.

He pinched her nipples and she gasped, thrusting her ass back at him, taking him deep as he thrust forward. Holy shit that felt fucking amazing. Her upper body lowered, bracing on her elbows and forearms as he began to move harder, faster.

She could already feel another orgasm rising, the delicious slide of his cock in and out of her body driving her pleasure higher and higher. Jake had positioned his legs outside of hers, so that her body was tight around him, her thighs pressing together, her pussy lips rubbing against her swollen clit while his balls slapped against her with every thrust.

Jake pulled his upper body back, his hands sliding away from her breasts, gripping her hips so he could ride her more forcefully. She fisted her hands in the sheets, practically sobbing at the intense sensations rippling through her. This was what she’d wanted, what she’d craved for months. Just good, hard, hot, raw sex with a man who took what he wanted and knew how to pleasure a woman.

When his hand lifted from her hip and swatted her ass, adding a delicious sting of pain to her pleasure, she cried out, clenching down around him.

His hand came down on her other cheek. Not hard. Not a punishment. Not playful either.

It was just right.

She screamed as she came again, her second orgasm much more intense, Jake’s cock driving into her and sending her soaring as the waves rushed over her. The rapture intensified with every thrust as he worked his way to his own climax, and when he finally groaned and buried himself inside of her, pulsing against her spasming walls, she thought she might actually be seeing stars.

Best terrible idea, ever.


Chapter 1

The shifting of a large, muscular body next to her was what woke Sharon up. That was not something she’d had in her bed for a while. 

When she opened her eyes, it became very clear that she wasn't in her bed. 

Well that explains that.

It had been a party-hard kind of New Year’s Eve, so she wasn't exactly surprised. Especially not since she'd gone into the night feeling more than a little sorry for herself. It was kind of hard not to when she was beginning the new year as the only single lady in her group of friends. 

She turned her head to find out exactly whose bed she was waking up in... and froze.

Oh, fuck a duck... What the hell did I do? Fucking mother-of-all-mistakes... How could I have possibly thought this was a good idea?

The thought triggered a memory. 

Hands touching her, her body throbbing, her voice saying 'This is such a bad idea...'

And what did I do? I did it anyway. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

Out. She needed to get out. 

Without waking him up. 

Although, as she looked at his far-too-handsome sleeping expression, she couldn't help but smirk a little. Jake Standish, her friend Lexie's goody-two-shoes older brother, tended to be constantly scowling in disapproval at Sharon. 

He didn't disapprove of anything we did last night. Boo-yah!

But she didn't really want to stick around and rub his face in it. Partly because... well, if he was mean to her, she might cry. The idea of watching his expression change from sleepy satisfaction to horror if he woke up and saw her in his bed... yeah, not at the top of her to-do list. 

It sucked that he could hurt her feelings, because she'd gotten pretty good at not caring what people thought about her, but for some reason his disapproval tended to sting. Maybe because he hung out with all of her friends, so she couldn't get away from him.  Maybe because he was the only other single person in their group of friends and so they should have been natural allies. 

Maybe because he was hot as fuck and she had been attracted to him from the moment she'd met him, but he treated her like an obnoxious brat that wasn't worth even minimal politeness. 

Not that she'd ever let his Judgy-Mcjudgerson attitude change how she behaved, but there was still some small part of her that shriveled a little whenever he directed that bright blue gaze of disapproval her way. 

So get moving before he wakes up, dumbass.

Right. Moving. She could do that. 

She rolled away and then had to stifle a moan as she pushed herself up in bed. Her lady bits had gotten a serious workout last night. Like, “a multiple times and multiple orgasms with a big cock”-level workout. Jake had been very generous with fingers, mouth, and dick. Her inner thighs ached. Her swollen lower lips ached. Her insides ached. All in a good way. 

It figured he'd be the best one-night stand of her life so far. 

Jerk.

As quietly and quickly as she could, she pulled on her dress, found her underwear and snuck out of his bedroom. Okay, she did take one last look at him... But who could blame her? The man was hot. He hadn't lost any muscle definition since leaving the army, although his black hair had grown out a little over an inch. The sheet was pulled down to his waist. It was a good look for him. 

Her purse and shoes were in his living room, and she quickly grabbed them, putting in a request for an Uber before she started doing up the straps on her shoes. Four minutes. Perfect. Just enough time for her to make sure she had everything, close the front door quietly, and get down to the curb. 

The second she closed the car door behind her, she blew out a sigh of relief. 

Why she was so relieved she couldn't exactly say. It wasn't like she expected Jake to come chasing after her just to be mean to her... Or chasing after her to be nice to her either, for that matter. 

"Happy New Year," the woman in the front seat said cheerfully. 

"Happy New Year," Sharon replied, giving her the best smile she could under the circumstances. 

At least her driver didn't seem judgmental about the fact that Sharon was obviously doing a walk of shame. 

Not that she felt ashamed. Mostly she felt deliciously sore and maybe just a little regretful that there was no way it would ever happen again. Also, she was definitely not looking forward to seeing him again. At least there was no big group thing coming up soon.

The next time she'd see him would probably be at Stronghold. Maybe he'd skip the next few weekends. Lexie and Patrick had gotten engaged last night, so Sharon knew they'd be extra amorous for the next few weeks - maybe even months. Jake tended to make himself scarce when he thought the two of them were going to be doing anything super publicly. 

He'd even missed the actual proposal last night, since Patrick had done it after tying Lexie up and suspending her on stage as part of one of the 'acts' celebrating the opening of his new club, Marquis. Sharon could understand why Jake didn't want to see his sister naked. Maybe that would be enough to keep him away from Stronghold for a while. And if it wasn't, maybe she could see more of what Marquis had to offer. 

She'd already bought a membership there... But she didn't want to go alone all the time, and the rest of their friends preferred Stronghold. 

Whatever. She'd figure it out. 

The awkwardness had to wear off after a few weeks anyway, right?

******

Reaching out, Jake opened his eyes when he realized the soft curves that should have been snuggled up against him were missing. 

He frowned. 

Yeah, he had definitely not come home alone last night. With a slight groan, he rolled onto his back, covering his eyes with his hands as a headache started to pulse behind his eyes in response to the sunlight. He'd had way too much to drink. 

Enough that he'd thought indulging in his inexplicable attraction to Sharon was a good idea. 

Let's just get it out of our systems. That's what he'd said to her. It had made sense at the time. And she'd agreed. Pretty enthusiastically. Although she had also reiterated multiple times that it was a fucking terrible idea, from the moment she'd gotten into his apartment right through her first orgasm on his tongue and until he'd finally gotten his cock in her. 

Then she had stopped thinking it was such a bad idea. 

He smirked, but it faded quickly. 

It hadn't been the great idea he'd thought it was last night. 

Whether or not it was a bad one remained to be seen. 

Before he could really start thinking through the ramifications, his phone started buzzing and loudly beeping. Not his alarm. 

With a groan, he rolled towards it and grabbed it up, blinking at the screen through bleary eyes. Five new text messages from Lexie? All at once? 

Adrenaline shot through him, the stimulant clearing his system of any sleepiness. Time in the army had taught him how to go from groggy to fully awake and battle ready in a matter of seconds. Not that he needed to be battle ready for whatever his sister wanted - at least, he'd better not be. 

He relaxed slightly as soon as he saw the first message - a photo of her new engagement ring sparkling from her dainty finger. She wouldn't be sending that if something were wrong. 

Following the ring picture was a series of messages from Lexie - 

ENGAGED! You rat, you didn't stick around last night to see!

AND GUESS WHAT?!

ANGEL'S HAVING HER BABY! She went into labor a little before midnight!

Sunny Banks hospital - we're headed there now!

Crap. Looked like he was getting up and going to the hospital with a hangover. Unless he wanted another barrage of text messages, likely not just from his sister but from the rest of their friends. 

They wanted to include him in everything now that he was home and he appreciated it. He tried to make it out for the big events - and the first kid entering their group was a big event. On the upside, it was probably going to be funny seeing how Adam handled being a new father. And all of them were dying to find out whether the baby was a boy or girl. 

Jake had twenty dollars on a girl. Might as well go find out whether or not he was taking Patrick's money today. 

"Shower," he muttered, because he needed to clean off if he was going to go face his friends after a night of fucking amazing sex with Sharon. He was pretty sure he still smelled like her perfume. "Then coffee. Then hospital."

Maybe he'd grab some donuts on the way too. Babies took a while to come right? People would probably be hungry. And he wanted a donut. 

Plus, having something to hold would keep him from trying to touch Sharon again... 

There were a lot of uncertainties after last night, but one thing he knew for sure was that she was definitely not out of his system. As if to concur, his damned cock twitched.

******

So much for avoiding Jake. 

But there had been no way she was going to miss seeing Angel and Adam's new arrival. Babies trump awkward morning afters. 

At least she got some entertainment from the fact that he didn't quite seem to know how to deal with her presence either. His blue eyes kept flitting over in her direction, and when she had first arrived he'd practically used the box of donuts he was holding as a shield. Sharon had smirked at him as she'd picked up a pink one with sprinkles, both to hide her own awkwardness and just to get under his skin.

Jumping into their usual routine was not only familiar, it made her feel less awkward. 

He'd scowled at her, but there was a little something extra in his eyes that had sent a shiver up her spine. Doing her best to ignore him, she took her donut with her and settled down into a chair next to her bestie, Kate. All of her friends were already there, in varying degrees of sleepiness and hungover - even Lexie and Patrick who were wrapped up in one chair and practically cooing at each other. Lexie had her left hand outstretched and both of them kept looking at the ring on it with expressions of loving awe. 

They were so cute she almost wanted to vomit.

But her donut was too delicious to throw it right back up again.

She happened to catch Jake's eye where he was sitting next to Luke and Olivia. Deliberately she licked a swipe of icing off the top of the donut. Even from across the room she could feel the heat of his gaze as his eyes flashed at her. 

So much for trying not to be awkward. 

But if she was being honest with herself, ducking her head and keeping a low profile had never really been her style anyway. It was his though, and he looked both annoyed and turned on.  

Smug, she turned away to try and pay attention to what Hilary and Jessica were saying. The two besties were sitting across from Kate and Andrew, with Liam on one side of them and Justin and Chris on the other, talking about Jessica's commitment ceremony to her two men. Yup, Jessica was engaged to both Chris and Justin, the brave, brave woman. Two Doms! They were best friends and looked enough alike to be brothers – dark hair, dark eyes, and super sexy. Sometimes Sharon envied her a little bit, but twice the bossiness? No thanks. They suited sweet, curvy Jessica perfectly though.

Hilary was tucked into her husband’s side as usual, even with the arm of the hospital chair between them. Sharon was almost surprised to see that Hilary wasn’t on Liam’s lap. He was a pretty easy-going Dom in a lot of ways, but they did tend to be attached at the hip. The shortest of the men, his stature and boyish face didn’t get in the way of his authority when he decided to exercise it. Not that he needed to much; Hilary liked being a good girl.

"Angel and Adam have already agreed to let their kid be either ring bearer or flower girl," Jessica said, her hazel eyes sparkling. Beside her, Justin and Chris exchanged amused glances, obviously willing to indulge whatever whim their soon-to-be-wife wanted. Well, legally she wouldn’t actually be their wife, but close enough.

Sharon had recommended them an excellent lawyer to help them figure out all the legal and financial stuff that would bind them together even though they wouldn't be technically married. They didn't know it, but she was also paying a portion of the lawyers' fee. Hey, what was the point of being the rich trust fund friend if she couldn't use it? They deserved a happily-ever-after and she was perfectly happy to make sure they could afford everything they ever wanted. 

It made her feel a little bit like a fairy godmother. 

Kate squealed, clapping her hands together. A shiny ring sparkled from her left finger as well. "That's amazing! Oh, my goodness, can you imagine if their kid was in all of our weddings?" 

"Ugh, we got married too soon," Hilary said, pouting at her husband, Liam. 

Chuckling, he lifted her hand to his lips and gave it a kiss. "I think we got married at just the right time. Besides, we really didn't need another flower girl or ring bearer." 

Theirs had been an extravagant society wedding, thanks to Hilary's parents, who ran with the same kinds of circles Sharon's did. If she remembered correctly, there had been three adorable little flower girls and two chubby-cheeked ring-bearers. 

"That's just what happens when you do things first," Jessica said, poking Hilary in the side and beginning a small poking war between the two of them. Sharon grinned at their antics, sharing her amusement with Kate. 

She really loved her friends. They were fun, funny, genuinely some of the nicest people she'd ever met, supportive as all hell, and none of them cared about her money. All things which could be frustratingly hard to find, especially in that particular combination. 

Although she hadn't been sure it would be a good idea for Kate to get back together with her ex, Andrew, it had turned out to be great for all of them. He was Antonio Banderas level hot, and Sharon counted her blessings that she hadn't hooked up with him before Kate had moved back here. Sharon had arrived about a month earlier than Kate and started going to Stronghold, where she had met a lot of people but hadn’t started hanging out with them till after Kate arrived and been welcomed back into the fold.  

She’d had no idea that Andrew was Kate’s ex at the time and she was just thankful she’d never slept with him. Talk about awkward. Before Kate's return Andrew been a total manwhore - to the point where Sharon dubbed him 'Crusty Cock' - and so she'd never been tempted no matter how sexy he was. Plus, she tended to avoid the serious sadists, unlike her bestie. Now they were together, happily engaged, and everything was awesome. Well, other than the fact that Sharon now needed a new roommate and was still struggling to find one. She really hated living alone. 

Unfortunately, all her friends were now paired up and living with each other, which meant she was stuck interviewing random people in hopes of finding one she could happily live with. So far, no luck, which meant she was left alone with her thoughts far too often.

Blech. So much alone time wasn’t good for her mental health.

Deciding she'd had more than enough of her own melancholy, she poked her bestie in the side. Kate squealed, shrinking away from the finger digging into her side.

"So, when are we going to sit down and talk about your wedding?" Sharon asked, grinning. "I've got big plans for your bachelorette party."

******

It was like the woman was incapable of sitting still for more than five minutes, Jake thought grumpily, eyeing her from across the room. Considering that she was pretty much the opposite of his 'type' personality-wise, he still didn't understand why he'd always been so attracted to her. Of course, it was even worse now that he knew what she tasted like, what she sounded like when she was orgasming, and what she felt like as she writhed underneath him. 

She was now having some kind of tickle war with Kate. In a freaking hospital waiting room. Uncaring about everyone else in the room and whether or not they were watching or listening. Drawing every eye to her, as usual, including several admiring eyes from the other men in the room, thanks to the low-cut shirt she was wearing. There was an awful lot of cleavage on display. Who wore a shirt like that to come see a newborn baby? He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his memories of exactly how much he'd enjoyed laving attention on that particular area of her body last night were still very clear. 

A hard elbow in his side drew his gaze away from her. 

"Ow," he complained to Olivia. She had sharp elbows. The Domme gave him a look that was guaranteed to shrivel any man’s balls. Jake didn’t take it too hard that he was intimidated by her – so was everyone else.

"Leave her alone," she said firmly, in a low voice that only he could hear. On the other side of her, her boyfriend and submissive, Luke Evans, was chatting away with Rick and Maria, not paying attention to Olivia's conversation with Jake. "You're way too hard on that girl."

"I wasn't doing anything," he protested. Hell, he hadn't said a word aloud about how gauche she was being. 

"You're glaring at her," Olivia accused, as her grey eyes turned flinty. She could be a little bit of a mother-hen about submissives, especially those in their group of friends, and since Sharon was the only one currently unattached Jake supposed he shouldn't be surprised that Olivia was feeling protective. Still, he was a little irked that Olivia thought Sharon needed protecting from him.

As far as he could tell, Sharon didn't need protecting from anyone. Other people's stares and occasional mutters bounced off of her like she had some kind of impenetrable shield. She sure as hell hadn't ever been influenced by Jake's disapproval in the past, and he'd occasionally been pretty vocal about it. 

The only times they'd gotten along were when they weren't talking. Like when they'd danced at Adam and Angel's wedding, or when they'd danced last night, which had led to... Well yeah. So, they got along well physically but that was about it. 

"She's being really loud," he muttered. It bothered him that he was still attracted to her, that he couldn't stop thinking about how he hadn't minded when she'd been really loud in his bed last night, even when she was currently grating on his nerves. 

Jake liked calm, quiet women. Soothing women. Women who didn't constantly need to be the center of attention. Women who smiled in understanding when he was too blunt or rude, women who were accepting of a few rough edges. Women who, in other words, weren't anything like Sharon. 

"And yet somehow hurting no one," Olivia said gently but firmly. "Let it go, Jake."

Right. Not terrible advice. 

If only he could let his attraction go that easily. 


Chapter 2

"Oh my goodness, she's gorgeous," Ellie crooned as Adam and Angel's new baby girl yawned in her daddy's arms. The sentiment was echoed by every single person who was standing in a wide semi-circle around Adam, trying not to crowd him while simultaneously trying to get a look at the tiny new addition to their group. 

They'd all cheered and gone out to lunch after Leigh came out with the news that Angel had delivered a baby girl - but that they wouldn't be able to see them until later. After eating, they'd all returned to the hospital in hopes of an introduction, and Adam had brought the snugly wrapped Miss Melody Ginevra Rawn out to meet them. Angel was asleep, as she should be after such a long night. Her parents had stayed in the room with her in case she woke up and needed anything, allowing Adam to show off the baby.

"Isn't she?" Adam asked, staring down at his daughter with an expression of mingled awe and trepidation. He was utterly enraptured by her, and seeing the normally stoic man turned all soft and melty was freaking adorable. 

Still, Sharon couldn't help but lean into Kate, tilting her head so her bestie would know she wanted to say something privately. Her much taller friend bent slightly to hear whatever it was. 

"Did Angel seriously manage to work in both a Doctor Who and a Harry Potter reference into her daughter's name without Adam noticing?" she murmured.

Kate snorted, her hand coming up to cover her mouth as her blue eyes went wide. Fortunately, everyone was too busy cooing at the baby to take notice of what she and Kate were doing. Well, almost everyone. Sharon saw Jake's eyes slant her way, narrowing slightly. Deciding to be mature, she didn't stick her tongue out at him. It wasn't any of his business what she said to Kate. 

"Oh my God, she totally did," Kate whispered back. "When do you think he'll figure it out?" 

"At least a week... he's pretty shell-shocked right now," Sharon guessed. 

Andrew leaned forward around Kate so he could look at both of them, his dark eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What are you two whispering about?" 

"Nothing," Sharon said immediately, at the exact same time that Kate said, "I'll tell you later." 

Just then, little Melody began to make unhappy noises and Adam immediately whisked her back to Angel's room, leaving the group to disperse. 

Sharon cursed her bad luck when it turned out she and Jake were parked on the same side of the hospital and no one else was. Figured. She kept her smile pasted on her face as she exchanged hugs with the rest of her friends and they went down one hall... and she and Jake turned down the other. 

The silence between them wasn't tense exactly, but it wasn't comfortable either. She was trying to figure out how to break it when he did, and with the last question she’d ever expected from him. 

"Why'd you sneak out this morning?" 

Giving him a sidelong look, Sharon couldn't help but raise her eyebrow. He wasn't looking down at her, so she couldn't tell if he could see her expression. Since he about six feet tall and she was closer to five, he might not be able to. 

"Uh, cuz awkward morning afters don't really appeal to me?" she responded, letting the obvious ‘duh’ leak into her voice. 

Now he did look at her, a slight frown on his face. It occurred to Sharon that he'd slowed his normal walking pace slightly so that her short legs could keep up. She didn't know whether or not to feel grateful for that. "You don't know that it would have been awkward."

That was just crazy talk. 

"You think it wouldn't have been?" she asked dubiously. He couldn't possibly be serious; exactly how did he think this morning would have gone? 

Jake shrugged. "We could have fucked again, at least."

She stopped in her tracks, mouth hanging open. Not because she was offended or because she found his actual words shocking, but because she was shocked he was the one who said them. Her nickname for him was Grumpy Cap, because he reminded her of Captain America but way more, well, grumpy. He didn't curse much, if ever, and he was rarely crude that she’d ever heard. That was her tactic, and one she often used for getting under his skin. 

Turning, he took in her expression as his blue eyes sparkled with amusement. 

Putting her hands on her hips, Sharon narrowed her eyes at him. "Who are you and what have you done with Grumpy Cap?" 

He laughed. Sharon couldn't help but stare. Maybe he was always grumpy because he just hadn't gotten laid in a while and now he could stop being such a stick in the mud? In that case, he definitely needed to get laid more often. 

I volunteer as tribute.

Cocking his head to the side, he stepped forward and Sharon's breath caught in her throat. Jake wasn't a Dom and he insisted he wasn't a dominant at all, but he was pure alpha-male. After last night she could confirm that he liked to be bossy in the bedroom. She really liked take-charge, bossy men in in the bedroom, which was how she'd ended up in a BDSM club in the first place. 

He reached out to a tendril of hair that was curled over her shoulder, but instead of brushing it back, he started winding it around his fingers. Why that was so sexy she had no idea, but her whole body felt like it pulsed in response. Her stupid, sore vagina perked up in interest - as if that area could even take another pounding right now. 

"I thought we were working our attraction out of our systems," she said, a little breathlessly. 

"Mine's not worked out yet," he murmured, his blue eyes meeting hers with a hot, intense look that made her insides twist and clench. "How about yours?"

"No, not yet." Her lips quirked. "Are you suggesting Round 2?" 

Jake shifted his big body closer, crowding her in a way that she really liked. Her eyes darted back and forth, but the only people moving through the hallways were nurses and doctors, none of whom were paying the least bit of attention to her and Jake. She didn't back up and she could practically feel the heat of his body as he was less than an inch away from her. Her nipples stiffened, as if trying to rub themselves against him. If she swayed just a little bit, they would. 

"What are you doing today?" he asked. 

The side of her lip curled up in a slightly disappointed smile. "I'm heading over to Kate and Andrew's. I'm probably going to be there the rest of today. Tomorrow evening?"

"I'm free." The corners of his lips tipped up, heat flaring in his eyes. Damn it. He really was sexy when he wasn’t a grumpy, judgmental jerk. That crooked little smile did all sorts of things to her insides, none of which were going to lead to good decisions and she knew it.

She pointed her finger at the center of his chest. “We’re not telling anyone, got it?” She wrinkled her nose. “We’re the last two singles in our group and I don’t want any of them getting expectations.”

“So, we’re just… What? ‘Netflix and chill’ buddies?” he asked, sounding amused.

Sharon rolled her eyes. “I would just call it ‘fuck buddies,’ but sure. Whatever you want to call it as long as we keep it between us.”

That was really the only way this was going to work. It wasn’t a bad deal either. She could scratch her itch, have phenomenal sex, and… Well, a more relaxed Jake didn’t seem like a bad thing to her. Hell, he’d just said ‘fuck’ and didn’t even wince when she said it now.

“All right, short stuff,” he said, turning away so they could keep walking. “It’s a deal.”

Since he couldn’t see her expression, she stuck out her tongue at his muscular back. If he thought he was going to bother her by giving her a nickname based on her small stature, he was going to be super disappointed. That was really kind of a sad effort when it came right down to it. The nicknames she came up with were so much better.

“Sounds good, Captain.”

She smiled innocently as he shot her a look.

******

Since Sharon hadn’t been free, Jake said yes when his mom texted to see if he wanted to come over for dinner that night. His dad had a yearly tradition of making Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day and, even though Jake followed the exact same recipe when he tried to recreate it, it never tasted quite the same as his dad’s. Plus, his mom wanted the family together to celebrate Lexie and Patrick’s engagement.

So maybe it was for the best that Sharon couldn’t come over tonight.

It would also give him a day to try and get his head on straight when it came to her.

He didn’t think he’d ever had a ‘fuck buddy’ before. One night stands here and there, sure, they happened. Especially when he’d been deployed. But a non-relationship relationship with someone he saw on a regular basis? That was new and different. He didn’t think it would be too much of a problem though.

While he might lust after her, she was not the kind of woman he saw himself ending up with. He wouldn’t want to bring her to a family dinner. Just the thought of her being her usual blunt self or even dropping an ‘f’ bomb in front of his mom made him want to cringe. It wasn’t that he was a good-two-shoes as Sharon liked to say, but he did feel there was a time and a place for everything.

Still, he couldn’t pretend this wouldn’t be a little strange for him, especially since she was part of his group of friends. He was used to being pretty affectionate with the women he dated.

It was going to be weird to be regularly sleeping with a woman he wasn’t dating.

Maybe he could be kind of traditional and even a little rigid… but he didn’t see that as a bad thing either. The army had instilled a lot of discipline in him and he’d thrived in the regimented lifestyle. Being out had him at a bit of a loss. Life was messier now, and Sharon was the messiest person he'd ever met in a lot of ways. He didn't understand why he was so drawn to her, but he was willing to enjoy it while it lasted. 

Fighting his attraction had gotten pretty old, if he was being honest. Sure, they wouldn't work as a couple, but she seemed down for enjoying the chemistry between them while it lasted. And it was a hell of a lot more fun than constantly bickering with her.

Seeing his parents just confirmed that Sharon wasn't the right type of woman for him. Maybe it was weird, but he wanted a woman who was just as classy, calming, and put together as his mom (not that he'd ever say so out loud, it sounded a little too Oedipal). His mom was awesome and he was just like his dad in a lot of ways. His parents were old-school and Jake knew he wanted a relationship like theirs. 

Although, he could do without his mom's obsession with getting him married off. 

"So, are you seeing anyone?" she asked. It was the second thing she'd said to him after hello and kissing him on the cheek. 

Behind her, his father chuckled. "At least let the boy in the door before you start the inquisition, Wendy."

Sighing, his mother stepped aside so Jake could give his dad a hug and greeting. Unfortunately, she was only delayed, not deterred. 

"So?" she asked, putting her hands on her hips and peering up at him. The blue eyes that both he and Lexie had inherited were piercing, demanding an answer from him.  

Jake groaned as his father laughed again and then abandoned Jake, making his way back to his chair and whatever show he was currently watching. Okay, so Jake's mother wasn't perfect. 

"No, I'm not seeing anyone," he said, deliberately pushing the memory of raven hair and luscious curves out of his mind. There was no way his mom would understand the idea of 'fuck buddies,' and even if she did, it wasn't an appropriate topic to talk about with his mother. "Isn't the fact that one of us is getting married enough for you?"

She harrumphed, giving him one of her patented motherly looks as she turned away, heading back toward the kitchen. Whatever she was making smelled amazing. Any other time Jake would join her in there, because he found cooking to be relaxing, but considering her current line of inquiry... He made his way over to sit in the armchair opposite his dad instead. 

"Doing all right?" his dad asked as Jake sat down.

"Yeah. I'm good."

"Like your new job?" 

Jake had started working with Olivia's boyfriend a few weeks ago. Luke owned LD Construction and Remodeling. It was hands-on and keeping him physically active, which he appreciated. He liked his co-workers and the teamwork, as well as the fact that the job was at least a little bit different every day. Initially, Jake had been trying to find an office job through Adam’s temp company, but this suited him better.

"Definitely," he said, and he could hear the satisfaction lacing his voice. He'd felt pretty aimless his first few weeks of civilian life but having a regular schedule and responsibilities had grounded him. 

“Good, good.”

Having apparently exhausted his interest in conversation, Jake’s dad settled back in his chair and they watched the golf game in companionable silence until Patrick and Lexie arrived.

******

“Oh, hell no,” Sharon said, shaking her head emphatically. She yanked the bridal magazine away from Kate. “You are absolutely not putting me in that.”

Kate cackled, looking across the coffee table at Andrew, who was watching both of them with amusement. Even though he had no opinion on the bridesmaid dresses, he seemed to like just being around for all the aspects of wedding planning. Sharon thought it was adorable.

“I told you she’d hate it,” Kate said, still laughing.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked patiently. The man had an abundance of patience, which was a real virtue among their group of friends. Especially since when Sharon and Kate got together they were loud. Andrew always took it in stride.

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Look, I get that this might be hard to understand when you’re marrying real-life-Barbie, but not all women look good in all clothes.”

“Hey, I don’t look good in everything,” Kate protested. Sharon raised an eyebrow at her bestie, who really did look like a Barbie doll. She was tall, slim with big boobs and rounded hips, and had long white-blonde hair and bright blue eyes. The California tan had faded since they’d moved to Maryland, but it would be back in the summer.

By contrast, Sharon looked like the Italian princessa that she sometimes liked to pretend she was. Short, curvy, thick black hair, black eyes, and olive-toned skin. Although she’d paled quite a bit since they’d moved to the East Coast too. She was Snow White to Kate’s Cinderella… At least she didn’t usually feel like one of the dwarves.

She might if she had to wear the dress Kate had just shown her though.

“Ruffles – especially tiers of ruffles – do not work on short, curvy ladies,” Sharon informed Andrew, ignoring Kate’s ridiculous statement. If there was something Kate didn’t look good in, they hadn’t found it yet. The closest it ever came was that she didn’t look as good in some things as she did in others. Lucky bitch. “I would look like a cupcake.”

“Huh.” Apparently, Andrew didn’t have an answer for that – which was just as well.

“I wasn’t really going to put you in that,” Kate said, giggling and tugging the magazine away from Sharon’s fingers. “I just wanted to see your expression.”

"Bitch."

"Ho."

"Ladies," Andrew said firmly, cutting into what could have easily descended into an insult war. He'd been around them often enough to know exactly how fast they could get going. Sometimes it amused him, sometimes it exasperated him. Today it looked like it was going to be the latter. 

Sharon stuck her tongue out at Kate. 

"I saw that," Andrew said sternly, wagging his finger at her. 

"And if I actually thought you'd do something about it, I would be worried," she bratted back at him.  

"You need a play session," Kate said, laughing as Andrew narrowed his dark eyes threateningly. 'When are you at Stronghold next?" 

"I don't know... Probably this weekend," Sharon said, although she had to admit to herself that a play session didn't sound nearly as interesting now that she had a seriously hot fuck buddy.

"Ooo, who are you thinking about?" Kate asked, leaning forward. The woman could be like a bloodhound on a scent. 

"Brian," Sharon lied immediately, naming the Dom she'd dated for several months last year. She knew better than to claim 'no one.' Lying was an art, and one she was damn good at. She'd gotten lots of practice when she was younger. "I still need to ask if he'll be my date to my cousin's wedding."

The wedding was coming up in a couple of weeks, as her parents had reminded her at Christmas. Melinda didn't care if Sharon didn't give her a name ahead of time, or if Sharon even showed up alone despite RSVPing as bringing a date, but Sharon's parents would. Her choices had been to either find a date or deal with her parents on her own all weekend. 

She'd figured finding a date would be better. Then they could cast their disapproval on her and whoever she brought, instead of just focusing on her. Plus, as long as she brought a date they'd refrain from trying to hook her up with their friends' sons for the evening. Last time she'd attended a gathering with them, there had been a mortifying moment when she'd realized her mom was trying to hook her up with a friend's daughter. While she'd appreciated that her mom would have been supportive if she was gay, trying to explain that she wasn't to the woman she'd just been paired up with without insulting her had been embarrassing. 

Fortunately, the woman in question had been very understanding and they'd had a great night together being each other's wingman.

"I still think that's a terrible idea," Andrew grumped. Sharon couldn't help but smile at him. Ever since he and Kate had gotten back together she'd gotten to spend a lot of time with both of them, and Andrew had started acting like the protective big brother she'd never had. In return, she freaking adored him and did her best to get on his nerves as often as possible. 

"What? You should know better than anyone that exes can still work out," she teased. 

"Not you two," Andrew said immediately. "That man is a Daddy Dom, and no matter how bratty you are, you're not a babygirl."

"Too true," she said with a sigh. That, in essence, had been exactly why she and Brian had broken up. Sharon liked to be a brat and she liked to be coddled, but when it came down to it, she and Brian just didn't click on all the levels they needed to for them both to be satisfied. He would have always felt like there was something more that he needed, and she would have been unhappy if she'd tried to provide it. 

Heck, she had tried and found that it wasn't for her. Even calling him 'Daddy' had given her the willies. She had enough real Daddy issues, having another man acting as a 'daddy' hadn't been sexy to her even though she'd wanted it to be. It had sounded great on paper, but just hadn't worked for her. 

Still, she liked Brian. He'd be a great date and he would be understanding about her parents. Even if they weren't together, he would coddle her, and she could use that during family functions. But she was pretty sure he was interested in the submissive he'd been talking to last night, Rae, and if that was the case she didn't want to mess that up for him. 

If she asked him, he'd say yes, as a friend... But would a potential girlfriend understand that? That was what had kept her from approaching him last night, she figured she still had some time. Maybe she could find someone else. 

Jake could go...

Terrible idea, party of one. Talk about a disaster in the making. 

"Why don't you see if Jake could go with you?" Andrew asked. "He's single."

"Seriously?" Sharon gave him a look, a little unnerved that he’d just echoed her thought. "He'd probably spend the entire time agreeing with my parents about all my faults. Even if he did say yes and didn't just laugh in my face. I don't just want a body there to divert their attention, I also want some support."

Plus, there was no faster way to ruin something casual or kill the chemistry than spending an entire weekend together with her family. Although, maybe if she was getting sick of him in a few weeks that would be a good way to end it... 

"We'll find you someone," Kate said firmly. "I'll go with you if I need to. You are not going alone." Although Kate had only met Sharon's parents once, she had not been left with a good impression of them. Or, that is to say, she'd gotten the exact right impression of who they were, and she had not been impressed. 

It was part of why Sharon liked her so much. Still though...

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," she muttered. "I'm pretty sure you're the reason my parents thought I was a lesbian."

"Well, we do have good chemistry," Kate said blowing her a kiss. "Now let's look at some more dresses."

"No ruffles. And nothing that's going to make me look like a sausage squeezed into a casing," Sharon admonished. 

Rolling her eyes, Kate flipped open the magazine. "Like I would do that to you."


Chapter 3

Downing half a bottle of water in one gulp, Jake wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he looked up at the tiling he'd just finished. The office building he and his crew were remodeling had a penthouse apartment above the office spaces and would be fully outfitted for someone to live there. Honestly, Jake couldn't imagine. 

He'd been pretty miserable at his desk job and the idea of sleeping at the office just made him want to run screaming. 

On the other hand, it was a really nice apartment. He'd just finished up tiling the walk-in shower; it was now a soft grey color set in a herringbone pattern with white trim. The shower had jets that would shoot water out of the wall, about which Jake was admittedly curious. He'd never been in any shower like that. 

Considering where some of those jets could be directed...

The image of Sharon, naked, standing in front of one as water cascaded over her clit while he pounded into her from behind filled his mind. 

Fuck yeah.

Maybe that's why the apartment was so nice. A really nice apartment could add a little motivation for staying late and staying overnight at work. It was a sexy apartment. Or maybe that's just where his head was at because of Sharon. 

Walking out of the bathroom and over to the bedroom windows, he looked out into the city. The windows were tinted so that no one could see in, but he could see everyone out there. It didn't feel like he was completely invisible to all of them, even though he knew it intellectually. 

Sharon up against these windows would be pretty great too...

Yeah, he was not going to be able to get his mind out of the gutter until he finally saw her again tonight. Then he'd be able to wallow in the gutter to his heart's content. 

Well, 'heart' might be the wrong organ... 

His mouth quirked into a smile and he pulled his phone out of his pocket to send a text. 

Jake: What are you wearing?

It took less than a minute for his phone to beep with a return text, he hadn't even finished packing up his tools. 

Sharon: Leggings and a t-shirt. What are you wearing? 

Jake: Jeans and a t-shirt. I'm on a job site. Got any underwear on?

Sharon: I guess you'll find out later... are you all hot and sweaty?

He couldn't help but chuckle at how quickly she'd turned the text around on him. She was what Patrick and the others called a 'brat.' Although he hadn't done a ton of sexy texting before, he couldn't remember any other woman ever jumping right into wanting to know what he had on and asking him more questions than she answered. 

There was something fun about it. 

Jake: Definitely. Just finished tiling a bathroom.

Sharon: Ooo, let me see!

Jake: Me or the bathroom?

Sharon: I was talking about you, but I'm not opposed to looking at a good bathroom reno either. 

He laughed out loud. 

Okay, so she was crude sometimes, too attention-needy, and way too chaotic... but she could also be entertaining as hell. 

Jake: Send me a picture of what you're wearing tonight and I'll send you a pic of both.

Sharon: Can't right now, other people around ;) But I can tell you that I'm planning to wear a slutty red dress and some high heels.

Usually, the fact that she would call her own wardrobe slutty would grate on Jake's nerves, but right now... He'd seen her at Stronghold a few times wearing a red dress that had given him a few fantasies peeling it off of her. 

Jake: The one you wore last month?

Packing up the last of his stuff, he walked out into the main room of the suite where several other members of his team were working on the kitchen. 

"Aren't you slackers done yet?" he asked, teasing. 

"Quality work takes time," Gustavo shot back at him, carefully lining up the backsplash tile with the previous pieces that had been taken down. He chuckled. "Not that you'd know anything about that." 

"Nah, Gustavo's just slow," Vinnie said as he finished laying the last of the floor tile. Standing to his feet, he dusted off his hands, a look of satisfaction on his swarthy face. He was the head of the team, about fifty years old, and thoroughly enjoyed his job. Jake liked working under him a lot. "I'm done."

"It's not a race, fuckers," Gustavo muttered as Vinnie held up his hand for Jake to high-five, making both of them laugh. 

Jake's phone buzzed again. Since he knew they were about to break for lunch - and neither Vinnie nor Gustavo needed help - he didn't feel bad about checking it in front of his supervisor while Vinnie packed up his tools. 

Sharon: Yeah that one. 

Jake: Wear it with black strappy shoes and stockings and garters.

Sharon: Bossy. I thought you weren't a Dom =P 

Jake: I'm not. I just know what I like. 

Sharon: Well I guess we'll find out whether or not I'm a good girl or a bad girl tonight ;) 

"Oooo, look at that smile. Who are you texting Jake?" asked Gustavo, laughing. 

"Must be a new lady," Vinnie said, joining in the teasing. 

"Wouldn't you like to know." Still, he couldn't stop grinning as he shoved his phone back into his pocket. 

Predictably, as soon as the rest of the team gathered for lunch, Gustavo and Vinnie immediately told them about Jake's hypothetical new woman, which meant he spent most of the meal dodging questions and trying to change the subject. He didn't mind at all. The entire time he had a picture in his head of Sharon dressed exactly how he'd requested. 

Heck, if she didn't... Well, she was a submissive. Maybe he'd experiment a little with administering a spanking. He didn't object to smacking her luscious ass a little, even if he couldn't see himself putting her over his knee to do it. There were plenty of other options.

******

The decision to meet potential new roommates at a coffee shop near her work rather than at the apartment itself had d been the right one. Kate had insisted, and Sharon had agreed. She'd been pretty lucky in LA when Kate had been the second person to apply, and Sharon had taken to her right away, but having people come directly to the apartment was not super safe or smart. So, she was doing what Kate had told her to do and conducting the interviews in public spaces. 

After two in a row this afternoon, she was glad she'd decided to do so. Applicant number one had been nice enough; a young newly divorced woman, although Sharon didn't think she'd be accepting the woman's application. While she had been nice, they hadn't really clicked. 

Since Sharon could afford to be choosy, she wanted to click with whomever she found. Actually, she would have wanted that regardless, but she was lucky enough to be able to hold out until she got what she wanted. 

Number two had been an absolute hell to the no.

‘Drama queen’ didn't even begin to cover it. And not in the fun drama queen kind of way that Sharon lived her life, but an actual drama queen who was sure the entire world was against her. Sharon appreciated a person's need for attention, she even appreciated that sometimes negative attention could be more satisfying than positive attention, but she couldn't have a roommate who thrived on being miserable. 

Nope. Debbie downers not allowed. Just drinking one coffee with the woman had been enough to make Sharon feel drained. 

Fortunately, Grumpy Captain America had come to the rescue when he decided to be Flirty Captain America via text message, so her day was starting to look up a bit. 

As if on cue, her phone buzzed.

Jake: Wear it with black strappy shoes and stockings and garters.

She couldn't help but raise her eyebrows at the order - because it was definitely phrased as an order and not a request. Which, of course, got her engine going. There was a reason she kept going back to Stronghold even though she hadn't found a Dom that she meshed with yet. 

A little smile played on her lips as her fingers swiped over the phone screen.

Sharon: Bossy. I thought you weren't a Dom =P 

That was one of Jake's big things. He hung out at Stronghold, he watched scenes at Stronghold, and she now knew he was pretty bossy in the bedroom, but he was also adamant that he wasn't into BDSM. Why he was such a stickler on that point she had no idea, but he was.

Her phone buzzed again.

Jake: I'm not. I just know what I like. 

Sharon: Well I guess we'll find out whether or not I'm a good girl or a bad girl tonight ;) 

Smirking, she dropped her phone back into her purse and drank the last dregs of her coffee. She needed to get back to work. 

Unsurprisingly, Jake didn't text again. No threats about what he would do if she was a bad girl... or what rewards he would give her for being a good one. None of the responses she would expect if he were a Dom. She didn't know if that was disappointing or refreshing. 

Then again, it wasn't like they were trying to build a real relationship here. 

Fuck buddies. It was going to be a little weird being fuck buddies with someone she hung out with on occasion, but it wasn't like they hung out to see each other. They were just hanging out with mutual friends. 

Which was also why she wasn't going to invite him to her cousin's wedding, like Andrew had suggested. It would just be too weird. 

As she walked up the street, Sharon mused which would be harder... finding a roommate or finding a date for the wedding. 

******

Hello, beautiful.

She'd worn the shoes. They went really nicely with the very short, very tight, very low-cut, very red dress she was wearing. Jake grinned as he stepped back, opening the door wider so she could saunter into his apartment. She was eyeballing him as well. 

Unlike her, he hadn't dressed up. He was comfortably dressed in his favorite pair of jeans, which were well-worn to the point of being soft and hung low on his hips. He'd been told by more than one woman that they looked hot on him. 

"Really?" Sharon asked, her dark eyes lingering on his chest even as she shook her head at him. "I got all dressed up and you're not even half dressed."

Grinning, he ran his hand down his front, right where she was looking. "I'm pretty sure you like looking at me half-dressed. I know I like looking at you all dressed up like that."

Her black hair was like an ebony cloud around her shoulders, brushing over her bare skin. The way she was standing, one hip popped, her legs slightly spread apart, was both confrontational and sexy. Her purse hung down by her side, her other hand on her hip as she pursed bright red lips at him. The color matched her dress. 

Jake couldn't wait to find out if she was wearing matching panties... Or, better yet, no panties at all. 

"Can I get you something to drink?" he asked. 

She rolled her eyes at him. "Not why I'm here, Jakie-poo."

Immediately he scowled. "Don't call me that."

Only his sister called him that, and only when she wasn't within arm's reach or when she had Patrick to hide behind. And his mom, when she was feeling particularly nostalgic. Sharon just smirked at him, completely unthreatened. 

"Brat," he said, his voice a low growl. Jake stepped forward. Not threateningly exactly, but even when she was in heels he was so much taller than her that he couldn't help but loom when he was close. Her eyes widened. Not with fear - with excitement. Interest. Anticipation. 

His eyes dropped down to her breasts. The dress plumped them up and pressed them together; otherwise, he'd probably have a view straight down to her navel. The tightly fitted fabric did nothing to hide her nipples, which were now visibly hard. Sharon backed up slightly, tilting her chin up at him almost defiantly even as her sharp intake of breath made her breasts heave, and almost immediately ran into the wall behind her. 

Her gaze darted to either side of them and her tongue flicked out to lick her lower lip nervously as Jake grinned down at her. Trapped. But in a good way. A sexy way. A way she was obviously enjoying greatly if the way her pupils immediately dilated was any indication. 

Moving even closer, so that there was less than an inch of space between them, Jake dipped down like he was going to kiss her. Her lips parted. Her head tilted back, resting against the wall. 

Instead, he took her purse from her fingers and stepped back. 

"We can leave this here," he said, moving into his apartment so he could set it down on the couch.

"You..." Sharon sputtered behind him, making his grin widen. "You tease!" 

Smack!

The swat to his ass didn't hurt - at all - and probably wouldn't have even if he hadn't been wearing jeans, but it shocked the hell out of him. He dropped her purse on the couch as he whirled around to face her. Now she was standing with both hands on her hips, her dark eyes narrowed at him. 

"Did you just spank me?" It wasn't so much a question as an outraged demand for confirmation that that had really just happened. 

"Yup." She drawled out the word, ending with a little popping noise on the 'p,' looking supremely satisfied with herself. "Whatcha gonna do about it?"

******

Sharon squealed as six feet of hard muscle moved faster than she could have imagined and tossed her over his shoulder like she weighed nothing. Granted, she was pretty petite, but she was also pretty curvy, so it wasn't like all men could pull off such a maneuver so easily.

Well hello, Captain Caveman!

It wasn't a comfortable position, exactly, but it was sexy as hell. At least, to her.

Jake didn't bother to stop and lay out the consequences of her actions. He didn't remind her of the 'rules' they'd agreed to (since they hadn't agreed to any). He didn't call her an unmanageable brat and storm out. Or tell her she wasn't a real sub and look at her with disgust. Or...

Can you get the fuck out of your own head and just enjoy the moment, fuckwit?

Hashtag priorities.

"This is more like it," she said to his bare back, running her hands over the flexing muscles as he moved down the hallway toward his bedroom. She shoved her hands into his jeans. Just to check if he was wearing any boxers or briefs or if he was going commando. 

Commando it was. 

So, they had that in common. 

He bounced her on his shoulder and she made a small 'oof' noise. 

"Do you have to be such a pain in the ass?" he asked, shouldering his door open and sounding a little exasperated. Not that his exasperation made him any less interested in banging her brains out that she could tell. He hadn't even told her to get her hands off his ass. She gave the firm cheeks a good squeeze while she was down there. 

"Are you telling me this hurts?" she asked innocently, pretending to take his words literally. 

Jake made that sexy growling noise again and then her hands were yanked away from his butt as she flew through the air, landing with a bounce on the bed. Her skirt wasn't flowy, but it was very tight, and all the movement and her slightly spread legs had it riding up far enough to show off her garters and stockings. Like a homing beacon, his eyes dropped down to enjoy the view, and she swore they turned even brighter blue. 

Smiling wickedly, Sharon spread her legs even more so that he could see straight up between her thighs to her freshly shaven pussy. 

"Fucking hell, Sharon!" He looked almost shell-shocked as his eyes raked over her. Talk about being good for a lady's ego. Especially since he'd been hell on her ego so many times since they'd met. 

She preened under the positive attention, feeling more than a little smug. 

Arching, she pressed her legs back together and stretched out, thrusting her breasts upwards as she let out a long, sensual sigh. Man, it was fun to tease. Flirt. Entice. Come on, you know you want me.

Captain Caveman pounced.

Hard body against hers, pushing her legs back open, hands coming down on either side of her head and caging her in, his eyes glittered above hers for a moment before his lips descended. Sharon slid her hands over his bare skin as she kissed him enthusiastically. 

Oh man... her drunken memories did not do justice to what a good kisser he was. His tongue swept against hers as his body rocked, pushing her skirt up much higher so that the crotch of his jeans rubbed against her pussy. Sharon moaned against his lips as a hot shudder went through her. 

She loved a man with a good throw down. 

His hands moved down to her breasts, squeezing them roughly enough to satisfy the little bit of masochist that she was. Her nipples ached for the same treatment and she arched her back, thrusting them up into his palms. The fabric of her dress somewhat muffled the sweep of his thumbs over the sensitive buds, and the contact wasn't nearly enough. 

Please, sir, may I have some more...

Sharon nipped at his lower lip, loving the growling noise he made deep in his throat in response. She moaned again as he rocked his hips. The material of his jeans was rough against her sensitive folds and clit and she could feel the bulge of his erection rock hard against that. 

Then he pulled his mouth away from hers and started kissing down her chest, his fingers coming up to pull down the front of her dress and baring her breasts to him. The roll of tight fabric pushed them up to practically porn star heights; something Sharon wasn't going to complain about, not when he was latching his mouth onto her nipple and sucking the sensitive nub hard while his fingers gently pinched the other one. 

"Harder," she begged, sliding her hands into his hair and bucking slightly beneath him. "Please, Jake, harder... oh fuck yes..."

His teeth scraped over her nipple, biting down gently as his fingers tightened, and Sharon writhed. When he switched sides, she tugged on his hair slightly and he growled under his breath. 

Not a dom, he said, but a second later she had both of her wrists pinned above her head, held down by one strong hand, so that he could do as he pleased without her interfering. And Sharon fucking loved it. 

"Fuck me, Jake, I want to feel you inside me... I want your cock to stretch me open and-" 

He groaned, lifting his head from her breast with a slightly dazed look in his eyes. "Now I understand why Stronghold has gags."

"What, you don't like dirty talk?" she asked, pouting at him. 

"I like it too much," he admitted, rising over her. Sharon whimpered a little as he removed the delicious weight of his body from between her legs. There was a wet spot on the front of his jeans from where she'd been rubbing herself against him, and he quickly stripped them off. She wondered if she should take off her dress, but he was already crawling back onto the bed again – this time in the reverse direction so that they were in classic sixty-nine position. 

******

If she wanted to use her mouth, she could do something useful with it. 

Jake pried her thighs wide open with his hands as he lowered his cock to her lips, groaning slightly as he felt her tongue flick out and lick along the sensitive crown. One of her hands wrapped around the base, her fingers squeezing tightly enough to feel fucking fantastic as the tip slid between her lips into the wet heat of her mouth. 

He dipped his head down to her bare pussy, swiping his tongue down the center of her slick folds and enjoying the vibrations along his cock as she moaned around it. 

For a supposed submissive, Sharon could be a bossy little thing. On the other hand, she liked being manhandled too. That was something Jake could definitely do. He moved his hips, thrusting into her mouth a little deeper, trusting that she would let him know if he went too far - and the hand she had gripping his shaft should help that too. 

It wasn't that Jake didn't like her dirty talk, but he did like being in charge, and she had been on the verge of making him lose control with just a few words. Maybe because he'd been fantasizing about her all day, maybe because this time he was totally sober, maybe just because he really fucking liked a dirty girl in bed... but he wasn't going to let her get her way that easily. 

He kept his hands on her thighs, holding them wide so he had full access to her sweet pussy, allowing him to lick, tease, and nibble at his pleasure. The muffled noises she made around his cock felt fantastic, but that was nothing compared to when she moved her hand away as his cock was moving down into her mouth, and suddenly he was sliding all the way down her throat. 

Jake's knees buckled, and he shoved two of his fingers into her pussy as he struggled for control over his wayward body. The muscles of her throat worked around his cock, enticing him to stay, before he managed to pull back up, worried about choking her or cutting off her airway for too long. It took a supreme effort of will but he rolled off of her, although he kept his fingers inside of her, pumping them slightly as he looked down at her. 

Her dress was bunched around her waist now, the rest of her body on display with her stockings, garters, and heels making her look supremely sexy. The garters framed her pink pussy where his fingers were buried currently, the mounds of her breasts were tipped with the hard buds of her nipples, her cheeks were flushed, and her lips were swollen from sucking his cock. She arched as he twisted his fingers inside of her, thrusting her breasts up even more as she pressed her pussy against his hand. 

Need coursed through him and he pulled his hand from her pussy so he could completely remove her dress leaving her wearing nothing but the garter belt, stockings and heels. With her hair already tousled, her pussy glossy with arousal, and her expression filled with anticipation, she looked like a verifiable sex goddess. 

Jake hooked her knees with his arms, spreading her wide and bending her body nearly in half as he lined his cock up with her pussy. 

"First time is gonna be hard and fast," he warned her. She was wet enough to take it and he didn't have it in him to hold back for this round. 

Next round, he’d go slower. Probably.

"I'd like a little less talk and a lot more action," she shot back at him, practically singing the words to the tune of the song. 

Then she cried out as he thrust in, hard and fast, burying himself inside of her as he leaned down to take her mouth in a rough kiss.

******

The delicious burn of Jake's cock sliding inside of her had Sharon tilting her hips upwards to meet his thrust, her hands coming up to wrap around his neck as he kissed her. The kiss was hot, deep, and almost primal as his hips began to move. 

Despite his warning, he didn't just start pounding away. Nope, he used long, slow strokes, taking the time to grind against her sensitive pussy lips every time he sheathed himself inside of her. Sharon moaned, lifting her ass as best she could in this position - which wasn't much. He grunted as he lifted his head slightly, giving him better leverage to thrust in deep. 

"Oh, fuck yes..." 

Her nails dug into his shoulders as she squirmed underneath him, pinned by his weight. Jake's hands slid under her ass, lifting her so that he could surge even deeper inside of her and Sharon cried out at how freaking good it felt. 

That was when he started to really fuck her, hard and fast, just like he'd said. Sharon was already primed for orgasm. The whole day had felt like one long tease and she hadn't needed nearly as much foreplay as he'd given her. She clung onto him for dear life as her body clamped down around him, waves of ecstasy rising as her clit began to throb with each thrust of his cock. 

"Jake! Oh fuck... Fuck me, Jake, I'm coming!" 

His low groan felt like it reverberated through her body as she screamed her climax, tumbling through the rapture of his cock still moving inside of her. A few moments later he followed, burying himself inside of her and holding himself in place as he shuddered, emptying himself into her. Her muscles clenched around him, extending the pleasure for both of them, and leaving them both panting. 

Resting his forehead against hers, Jake let her legs slide down into place, and Sharon let out a little sigh of relief. She was pretty flexible, but it still felt better to be able to just go limp like this than when she was folded in half. 

"Give me a second to get cleaned up and then we can have a drink and a snack," Jake said, pressing a kiss to her temple. 

"A drink and a snack?" she echoed questioningly, blinking at him in slight confusion as he pushed himself up and off of her, heading to the bathroom to dispose of the condom. 

"Yeah," he said, looking over his shoulder. He winked. "We're going to need it before round two."


Chapter 4

Sharon woke up in the middle of the night with the urge to pee. 

Unfortunately, she realized, she also needed to get out of Jake's apartment. Quietly, she groaned as she made herself get up. The man knew how to give her pussy a workout. 

Round two had been a lot of fun. They'd had water, cheese, and crackers, and then Jake had pulled her ass to the edge of the couch so he could eat her pussy to his heart's content. Then he'd bent her over the arm of the couch and brought her to yet another screaming orgasm... She'd tried to dirty talk him then too and earned herself an impromptu spanking (not a hard one, just enough for her to thoroughly enjoy it) and a long, slow screw that had her begging by the end of it. 

Then they'd retired to his bed for round number three and a little experimenting with bondage. Jake had tied her hands to the bed and then enjoyed having her at his mercy before finally fucking her into oblivion. She hadn't meant to fall asleep. Fuck buddies weren't really supposed to do overnights - at least, not the way she'd ever done them - but she'd been exhausted by the time he was done with her. And supremely satisfied. And totally limp. 

He was going to ruin her for all future fuck-buddy experiences, damn him. Normally guys who wanted to do the casual thing just wanted a quick fuck, a booty call, both parties get off and then a goodbye. With Jake... Either he had a lot of pent-up sexual frustration to work off or she'd finally found a guy whose libido rivaled hers. 

It was a little unnerving that tonight had been just as good as New Year's Eve, even without the alcohol giving the evening a nice haze. In the back of her head, she'd kind of believed that he couldn't possibly be as good as she remembered. But stone cold sober... He might be even better. 

Like, addictively good. 

Tip-toeing around, she managed to get dressed and out the door. There was a part of her that wanted to slip back into bed and pretend she'd never woken up but... 

That wouldn't be keeping things casual. 

Even if she tried to excuse it by saying she just wanted to see if he was into morning sex, she'd know the real reason was that she liked sleeping all cuddled up to him. Definitely not something she should want from Jake Standish of all people. He might be a good cuddler, but that was too close to the romance-y side of things. 

It would be one thing if she'd done it on accident, but she couldn't let herself get back into bed with him once she'd woken up. Besides, she honestly didn't know if she could take a morning round - her pussy was liable to scream for mercy. 

But in a good way or a bad way....

Get your skank ass home, dummy, your va-jay-jay has had enough for tonight. Hell, enough for a week. He's not a sex god and you will be just fine not getting laid tomorrow morning.

Well, at least now she had a good reason to be kind of glad she was no longer living with Kate, she mused, as she walked out to her car. Trying to sneak in this late at night, in this outfit, when Kate was her roommate would have ended in an inquisition. So there were some silver linings to her bestie moving out... Sharon missed her, but she wasn't sad about missing out on an interrogation.

******

Waking up alone again rather than next to the petite, curvy body he expected to be curled around did not put Jake in the best mood. He was up early enough that the sun was just rising, thanks to the short days of winter, which meant she'd left when it was still dark. Growling under his breath, he snatched up his cell phone. 

Nothing. 

Dammit. Did the woman not have an ounce of self-preservation? 

He quickly typed out a message. 

Jake: Did you get home okay? What time did you leave?

Maybe questions he shouldn't ask a fuck buddy, but ones that he would ask a friend. Especially a female friend who had left his house in the middle of the night without waking him up to walk her out, and who hadn't bothered to text him to let him know she'd arrived home safely. That should just be common courtesy. 

Fortunately, she didn't make him wait too long for an answer.

Sharon: I got home fine, thanks, left when I woke up.

This time he really did growl. And curse. Now he understood why so many of his friends liked spanking their women. Or man, in Olivia's case. Not in the fun, sexy way he'd done last night either. The urge to go hunt Sharon down and slap her ass for being so blasé about her safety was nearly overwhelming. 

Not that he should be surprised. After all, this was the woman who was advertising for a roommate she didn't need on the internet. Something else he didn't understand, or think was particularly safe. She'd lucked out in California when she’d gotten Kate as a roommate. She might not be so lucky again. 

Unfortunately, he didn't really have the right to say anything about that. At the very least, he could do something about her leaving so abruptly and on her own. 

Jake: Next time wake me up so I can walk you out to your car and text me when you get home so that I know you're safe, please.

The wait for her return text was much longer than before and he grinned, sure that she was huffing to herself. He wasn't asking for anything crazy. In fact, he wasn't asking for anything that she and her friends didn't already do for each other when they were out late. Still, he was sure she was fighting the urge to tell him to stick his request up his ass. Just because it was him. 

Eventually his phone buzzed with her answer.

Sharon: k.

The single letter might as well have been accompanied by her sticking her tongue out at him. Little brat. That's what the Doms at Stronghold called her, and Jake whole-heartedly agreed. Heck, even Sharon agreed. She reveled in it. 

Yup, he was starting to see the appeal of actual spankings and not just little fun-time taps. 

Shit, were his kinky friends starting to rub off on him? Or was that just the effect Sharon had on him? 

Either way... He sent her another text. 

When am I seeing you again?

Since he was fully awake, he made himself get up while he waited for her answer, which came before he'd finished making the bed.

I'll be at Stronghold on Friday - after? 

A small smile curved his lips.

Works for me.

It worked for him. He could hit up Stronghold, enjoy some erotic people watching, and then take out his pent-up arousal on Sharon... which would simultaneously fulfill one of the fantasies he'd been having for months. 

Feeling a lot more energized than he had a few minutes ago, he finished making his bed and went to get ready for the day. 

******

There was a certain swing Sharon got to her walk when she was feeling good about how she looked.

And tonight, she was feeling really good about how she looked. Granted, she felt pretty good any time she went to Stronghold. It was a great reason to dress as sexy as she wanted, knowing she wouldn't be judged or harassed even if she didn't want to play with anyone while she was there - and right now she felt especially fantastic. 

It had been a while since she'd anticipated a night at Stronghold so much, and she knew it was because she was going over to Jake's afterwards. She probably could have gone over any night this week but... 

They were just fuck buddies, which meant she shouldn't see him every night anyway.

Plus, after the pussy-pounding she'd gotten earlier this week, she shouldn't have needed sex again until Friday.

So, she was fighting her new dick-addiction. Especially since not just any dick would do. She specifically wanted Jake's. Definitely not a good thing when they weren’t serious, so she hadn't suggested they get together before tonight.

Neither had he.

They had been texting every day though. Mostly teasing each other. Sexy pics. The man had a thing for her heels and her boobs. 

Tonight, she was showing off both. The red corset she was wearing pushed her breasts up so high they practically formed a tray and she'd paired it with her shortest, tightest black PVC skirt, and a new pair of fire engine red, seven-inch high heels. The kind of heels that not all women could walk confidently in, the kind that took practice to move in and look graceful and not just like she was shuffling along. 

The kind that made her swing her hips because she knew she looked damn good, and also because it was the only way to walk in them without looking like an idiot. They also made her short legs look longer than they were, something Sharon always appreciated. She wasn't insecure about being petite, but sometimes she envied her taller friends' their long, slim legs. Then again, they envied her being petite and stacked. 

The grass was always greener.

Sauntering down the hallway, Sharon stopped to peer into the Classroom. Will and Gina had left the shades on the window open, inviting spectators. Sharon always liked watching, and she had gotten too antsy sitting around the bar waiting for Jake to show up so she'd announced to her friends who were there that she was going to do a walk around. See the sights. Enjoy the exhibitionists. 

All the private rooms, upstairs and down in the Dungeon, had the option to close the shades... Or leave them open for an audience like Will had, so that anyone passing by could peek in and see them playing.

Eek! Will was a sadist and tonight he was using a whip on Gina's hot ass. Literally hot because by its bright pink color, he'd already spanked her to warm her up. 

"Ow..." Sharon breathed the word out as she watched him laying down red welts over the pink skin. 

It so wasn't something she ever wanted to be done to her, but she did have a fascination with watching it happen to someone else. Especially because Gina was so obviously enjoying it, her cries filtering through the window holding as much pleasure as they did pain. 

Yeah, Sharon did not envy her.

At least, not until Will moved around to the front of the desk that Gina was bent over, leaning down to check in on her, and Sharon saw the expression of complete and total adoration on his face. Then Sharon's heart clenched in envy. Had anyone ever looked at her like that? Or with an expression even close to that? 

Not that she could remember. She'd had a few boyfriends who told her they loved her, and they'd seemed sincere, but they hadn't looked at her like Will was looking at Gina... like she was his entire world. 

Suddenly the scene in front of her was less sexy and more intimate, and Sharon felt more like an intruder than a voyeur. 

Moving away, she decided she might as well go back downstairs. Maybe step outside for a moment just to cool herself off. Patrick, the owner of Stronghold, kept the heat on high during the winter since so many people were running around either totally or nearly naked. When she got down to the main floor, she glanced over at the table where Kate and Andrew were talking with Olivia, Luke, Justin, Chris and Jessica. Still no Jake. 

Fanning herself, she turned the corner to the hallway leading outside rather than head over to them. With what she was wearing, she'd need less than a minute in the frigid outdoor air of the garden before she'd feel nice and toasty in the club again, rather than overheated. 

Plus, it would give her a minute to control her envy, not just of Will and Gina, but of the rest of her friends. She didn't begrudge them a moment of happiness, she just wished she could find it too. At least banging Jake on the down-low was an extremely enjoyable distraction while it lasted. 

Pushing out the backdoor, a shadowy figure off to the right on the edge of the patio caught her eye and she turned to see who else was out here in the freaking freezing cold. 

The sight that met her eyes was one of the last things she'd ever expected to see. 

Kincaid, in all his confident Domly glory, had another man pressed up against the wall of the club and was now lifting his head from what looked like an extremely hot lip-lock. That wasn't the surprising part - Kincaid wasn't exactly shy about the fact that he was bisexual - nope, the surprising part was who he had pressed up against the wall, chest to chest and groin to groin. 

But... but... Zach's straight... and a Dom... What the ever-loving fuck...?

As both of their heads snapped to look to where she was standing, the door to the club still open as she gaped at them, Sharon let out a squeaking noise. Even though they were clinging to the shadows of the patio, both of them had the Dom stare - which really made the whole situation more confusing. 

She bolted. 

Or, well, tried to. 

So much for elegance in heels. 

She made it about two steps into the back hallway before she tripped and went sprawling. Behind her, she heard the door open and close and felt the cool draft of air all the way up her short skirt to her bare pussy. 

"Pimp… Down..."

Kincaid's low chuckle made her wince.

“Never change, Sharon,” he said from behind her.

“Roger that,” she said with a low groan, feeling both a little bruised and totally embarrassed. She sighed, resting her forehead on the back of her right hand. At least she remained entertaining even when life literally knocked her down.

"And here I thought I was going to have to chase you down," Kincaid said, his voice an amused drawl touched with a hint of concern. Strong hands lifted her up from her waist like she weighed nothing. Too bad he was too scary of a Dom for her because that was damn sexy. "You okay, sweetheart?"

"Nothing hurt but my pride," she grumbled. 

Not that it stopped him from giving her a look over. She really was okay though. With all the practice she had walking in these heels, she'd gotten a lot of practice falling in them too. Her hands were a little sore where she'd smacked her palms against the floor, but her knees weren't even scraped or bruised. 

Slinging his arm around her shoulder, Kincaid started walking her towards the main club floor. Behind them, she heard the door open and close again, but Kincaid obviously didn't want her to look back, so she didn't. 

She was still trying to work out in her head what she'd just witnessed. There had been no mistaking that he'd been kissing Zach of all people. The two of them had been in Olivia's new Dom class - the Domme still referred to the four men who graduated from that class as her Baby Doms - but she hadn't seen any sign of Zach being anything other than straight or dominant before. She had spent some time with both of them while she was dating Brian, one of the other four Doms who had come in at the same time. 

"I'm going to have to ask you not to talk about what you just saw," Kincaid said, his voice light but firm. Sharon looked up at him. Even in her heels, it was a long way up. His blue eyes, which contrasted nicely with his brown hair that had just a bit of a curl to it, were serious. 

"Yes, Sir," she said as they stepped into the main room. She got the impression Zach was still lingering in the back hall, staying out of sight. 

Whatever was going on between the two men, they obviously didn't want anyone to know. 

"I'm serious, Shar," Kincaid said, stopping walking and turning her to face him, both of his hands on her shoulders. "No one, not even Kate. Zach's... struggling with some things. I don't want him to be subject to any gossip."

"Pinky promise," she said, holding up her right hand with the pinky extended. "Not a word to anyone."

Kincaid's lips pressed together in amusement, but he lifted his pinky and curled it around hers. They hadn't exactly become friends while she was dating Brian, but he knew her well enough to know that she took her pinky promises deadly seriously. "You're trouble, you know that?" 

"It wasn't intentional this time," she said honestly as their hands dropped away. "I swear." 

"It never is with you." Leaning down, he gave her a kiss on the cheek before turning her towards the bar and swatting her ass hard enough to sting. "Go have fun, sweetheart."

"Ouch," she muttered under her breath, rubbing her ass. She glanced over her shoulder to see him heading down into the Dungeon. As far as she could tell, Zach was still lingering by the door to the outside. She felt a moment of sympathy for Zach - he must be confused as hell about what he really wanted. Kincaid wasn't exactly easy to say no to. She did not envy him the big Dom's attention, especially since Zach was supposed to be a Dom himself. 

Turning back to the bar, she immediately located her friends again. Jake had arrived... and he was staring straight at her with a scowl. Looked like Grumpy Cap was back in action. 

******

What the hell?

That was the first thought that ran through Jake's mind when he saw Sharon walking into the main room with Kincaid, snugly tucked into the man's side with his arm around her shoulder. She looked fucking incredible... and she was under another man's arm. 

The question didn't go away as Kincaid turned her to face him, holding onto both of her shoulders as he said something to her. Jake could feel his teeth grinding together, his jaw clenching while he watched them. It looked like an intimate little tableau and a sick feeling wormed through his stomach. 

A second later they were doing what looked like a pinky-swear before Kincaid kissed her cheek... and smacked her ass. 

Jake's hand tightened around the beer bottle he was holding as Sharon finally looked up and saw him. 

Saw him, saw his expression, and rolled her eyes at him.

It sent his already bubbling temper higher. 

He'd literally had just enough time to get here, order a beer, and casually ask where everyone was, when she'd come out of the hallway with Kincaid. Apparently not just walking around the club watching the scenes like Kate had told him. 

Although he'd been a little disappointed she hadn't been at the table with the rest of their friends, he hadn't minded her looking around either. Hell, he'd be even happier to go and look for her, so they could watch people together, but he'd held himself back from doing that since it would have been incredibly suspicious to their friends. But if she'd been off playing with someone else...

It would just be play, right? She knew she didn't need another man for sex when they'd set up seeing each other tonight... 

Not that he liked the idea of another man getting her all hot and bothered before she went home with Jake either. Which was stupid. This was just casual. Just fuck buddies. But that didn't help the ugly jealousy that had started burning in his chest. Which pissed him off nearly as much as her rolling her eyes at him; he shouldn't be jealous. What the hell did he care who she played with? 

Except he did. And he didn't like it. 

"Hey Little Italy," Kate said as Sharon joined them, sliding in between her and Lexie. "How are the scenes?" 

"Will and Gina are doing a hot one in the Classroom," Sharon said, smiling at her friend and ignoring Jake's glare completely.

Which was what she should be doing in front of their friends, just like he should be ignoring her, but for some reason he had the insane urge to force her to look at him. Damn it, he was totally losing it. 

Dragging his gaze away from her, he looked out to the dance floor, where there was plenty to look at. 

"Justin, Chris, and Jessica headed down to the Dungeon," Lexie told her. His little sister was engulfed in one of Patrick's shirts, the way she always was when Jake was at the club. Thankfully. 

"Have you seen Brian around?" Sharon asked, drawing Jake's attention back to her. Why the hell was she asking about her ex? His scowl deepened. 

Kate was shaking her head. "Sorry hun, still haven't seen him tonight." 

"Why do you need him? Didn't you just get what you need from his friend?" The words were out of Jake's mouth before he really had time to think about them. Not that he'd take them back. Like, seriously, come on. He knew they weren't telling their friends that they were fucking, but now Sharon was bordering on rude. Of course, not knowing that they were fuck buddies, all of their friends now thought he was being a dick. 

Patrick elbowed him in the side and Kate was actually gaping at him. 

"I'm pretty sure that's none of your business," Sharon snapped back at him, her dark eyes blazing as her chin lifted. Her breasts lifted too, heaving against the tightness of the corset, and the more Jake tried not to notice the more he couldn't help but notice. 

Dammit. He'd come in horny, gotten pissed, and now he was both at the same time. It was not a comfortable combination. 

"Just saying," he said with a nonchalant air that he didn't feel, lifting his beer to take a long swig. The crisp, hoppy flavor helped center him a little. 

"Which friend?" Lexie asked curiously. 

"I was just talking to Kincaid," Sharon said irritably. She glared at Jake. He smirked back at her. Funny, now that she was getting pissed at him, he found himself less angry. Of course, it helped that he was pretty sure she was being truthful about talking to Kincaid. The jealous monster that had taken up residence inside of his chest subsided a little. 

Although he still didn't know why she wanted to talk to her ex. 

"Oh," Kate said, her face lighting up. "Are you going to ask him-"

"No," Sharon said immediately, cutting Kate off and stirring Jake's curiosity. Although, he didn't know how to find out what Kate thought Sharon might ask Kincaid without giving away that he was way more interested in Sharon and what was going on in her life than he should be. 

This not telling their friends thing was for the best, but it was more inconvenient than he’d thought it would be. Especially right now when they were all hanging out together and he really needed to talk to Sharon about what they were doing – what she was doing. 

"Actually, I'm feeling kind of tired, I'm going to get out of here," Sharon said, smiling at Kate and completely ignoring Jake. 

Shit. He had a feeling he'd royally fucked things up for tonight. That or she was still pretending like nothing was going on between them. It was kind of hard to tell, but his gut told him it was the former. 

The feeling in his gut proved itself right when she did a round of goodbyes but didn't even glance at him. Usually they were at least civil to each other. Jake finished off his beer as she pranced way, head held high. How she managed to prance in those shoes, he didn't know, but now he was turned on and worried that his night was not going the way he'd planned. 

Dammit, why did he have to be such an ass?

"Why are you such a dick?" his sister asked, echoing his thoughts. She glared at him, hands on her hips. Everyone else was giving him dirty looks too. Well, everyone except Patrick. At least he could count on his best friend having his back. 

About to argue, he realized he'd just been given a golden opportunity and quickly reversed what he was about to say. 

"You're right," he said simply, making Lexie's jaw drop as she jerked back in surprise. Apparently, she hadn't been expecting that. Even Kate blinked and lost the pissy look on her face. "I had some shit happen today and I just took it out on Sharon. I'm going to go apologize."

"Oh... well... Good." Lexie seemed at a bit of a loss for words as Jake turned away, which was just fine with him. In fact, it was kind of amusing, although he had no impulse to smile as he hurried after Sharon. 

Fortunately, she had just reached her car when he came barreling out of the club. The long, puffy coat she had on completely covered up her sexy outfit except for the shoes peeking out of the bottom. Jake was starting to wonder if he had a foot fetish, because he immediately noticed her shoes again and his cock twitched, rather than shying from the cold. Jeans didn't provide much protection against the bitter winter air and his leather jacket ended at his hips.

“Sharon! Wait!” Jake shoved his hands into his jacket as he lengthened his stride.

She was already turning around, a dark scowl on her face. “What do you want?”

“I want to say I’m sorry for being a dick,” he said, coming to a halt in front of her, shoving his hands into his pockets to keep them warm since he hadn’t taken the time to put on his gloves. She blinked in surprise, her dark expression softening before her jaw clenched and she looked suspiciously up at him.

“Are you just saying that so you can get laid?”

Jake barked a laugh. It figured Sharon would be the type to go for the jugular in the crudest way possible when he was trying to offer an honest apology. Why it didn’t make her any less attractive to him was a mystery he still had yet to solve.

“No, I’m saying that because I really am sorry for being a dick.” He raised his eyebrow at her, daring her to question his sincerity again. “I got pissed thinking that you were playing with Kincaid to get yourself revved up to go home with me.”

Her lips pressed together like she was trying to keep herself from smiling. She didn’t look so annoyed anymore – if anything she looked a little smug.

“Well I’m not going home with you,” she said, almost primly. A sharp pang of disappointment hit him right in the chest, only to be relieved with her next words. “You’re coming home with me.”

“Oh yeah?” he asked as she turned around and yanked her car door open.

“Yeah,” she said, climbing into the driver’s seat. The saccharine smile she gave him was almost deadly. “That way I can have the pleasure of kicking your ass out when I’m done with you.”

The door slammed shut as her car came to life.

Grinning, Jake turned and made his way over to his own car. Well, at least he hadn’t fucked up entirely. Maybe he could make it up to her with multiple orgasms.


Chapter 5

Was fucking Jake tonight rewarding his bad behavior? 

He had apologized. Plus, she kind of liked knowing that he’d been jealous about seeing her with Kincaid. She kind of liked it a lot. She was only bringing him home because he’d apologized though; if he hadn’t done that, there was no way she’d be putting out tonight. 

When he came through her door a few steps behind her, she decided not to second guess herself. She felt even more confident in her decision when she saw his blue eyes were hot with desire as he watched her take off her coat, shrugging his own off at the same time. He looked like he wanted to lick her from head to toe – and she was so down with that.

Maybe she should think of this as rewarding good behavior. Some guys were too proud to ever apologize, no matter how much in the wrong they were.  

Besides, she had taken the time to shave her legs today. It would be a shame to let that go to waste.

Dropping to her knees, Sharon enjoyed seeing his eyes go wide with shock. Her hands were already at work on his belt before he even opened his mouth. 

"What are you doing?" 

"What does it look like I'm doing?" she sassed back, unzipping his jeans. While he wasn't all the way hard yet, he was getting there quickly. His dick swelled even more as she swiped her tongue over the semi-soft tip, making him groan. 

The carpet of her apartment was plush, nice and cushy for her knees as she wrapped her fingers around the base of his cock and started taking long, teasing licks up the shaft. Her tongue curled around the base of the head, rubbing the underside of the mushroom, before flicking around the tip to tease him even more. Jake's hands slid into her hair, pushing the strands back so his view of her orally teasing his cock was completely unobscured. 

Sharon loved having her hair played with and she always liked it when a guy would do so in order to watch her work. Practically humming with pleasure, she ran her tongue along the underside of his cock before opening her lips wide to take him in. Jake groaned, his fingers moving in her hair and pulling it into a kind of pony-tail that he could hold with one hand as his hips thrust forward, shoving himself deeper into her mouth. 

Wickedly, Sharon released her hold on his cock and braced both of her hands on his thighs, letting him push all the way in. 

She loved giving head and she was damned good at it. 

There was something both powerful and humbling about being on her knees. She luxuriated in the scent of man filling her nose as his cock filled her mouth, servicing him even as she truly held all the power. Plus, she loved looking up and seeing him watching his slick cock sliding between her lips, seeing the expression on his face as she took him all the way down her throat. 

Being watched like this, being the center of a man's intense focus like this, turned her on. Her thighs pressed together, the slick lips of her pussy rubbing against her clit, making her feel even more needy. She sucked harder, her tongue working the underside of his cock, tracing little patterns as she bobbed her head up and down.

Looking up to see Jake's blue eyes practically burning a hole through her as he stared at her mouth... Well, that was even more rewarding. For once, she had made the man speechless. 

She hummed again, watching the change in his expression as the vibrations hit him, her throat working around the tip of his cock as he pushed all the way in. There was slight concern in his eyes as her mouth slid all the way to the base of his cock, but that cleared up the moment he realized how easily she was taking him. If she could have smirked with her mouth totally full, she would have. 

"Holy fuck..." he said hoarsely, with something close to reverence in his voice. 

Damn right. 

Drawing back, Sharon began to bob her head, smoothly taking him all the way between her lips with every stroke. His muscled thighs were rock hard beneath her hands and she pressed her own thighs together as his guttural groans made her arousal climb even higher. 

The fingers tightening in her hair urged her on as his thrusts became rougher, more urgent. There were a few moments of hesitation, but they disappeared quickly as Sharon easily took everything he had to give her. She sucked harder, her cheeks hollowing. 

"I'm gonna come," he said, his voice a gasp as he started to pull away. It was an almost gentlemanly move, in case she didn’t want to swallow.

Fuck that!

Sharon's hands slid around to the backs of his thighs, pulling him towards her. She knew he went through the same barrage of tests everyone who was a member of Stronghold went through on a regular basis - he was clean, and Sharon liked to swallow. She liked the feeling of a cock pulsing against her tongue while a man groaned his pleasure, the way he looked as his back would arch and his head would fall back in ecstasy. 

"Sharon, I'm gonna come!" 

She sucked harder. 

"Fuck..." 

His fingers dug into her scalp as she took him deep again, her tongue rubbing the underside of his cock just as the first jet of fluid shot down her throat. She swallowed automatically, watching his body shudder as she pulled each shot of cum from him, her fingers digging into the backs of his thighs. 

When his body finally started to relax, she pulled back, panting slightly for breath and immensely pleased with herself. The salty-sweet taste of him lingered on her tongue as she blinked up at him coquettishly and deliberately licked her lips. 

"Yummy."

******

The woman was a menace. 

An enthralling, sexual siren whom he was already pretty sure he was becoming addicted to. 

She'd taken his entire cock down her throat like it was no problem and looked like she wanted to ask for more. The flush of her cheeks and slightly glassy look to her eyes made it seem like she was even aroused by it. 

She's the freaking perfect woman, a little voice in his brain whispered. 

Jake ignored it. She wasn't perfect all around but... hell, in bed she might damn well be. 

How the hell had her ex given her up? Any of her exes? Jake held out his hand to help her to her feet.

"Okay, Grumpy Cap, your turn," she said, more than a little smugly as she rose. "Think you can get it up again?" The pink splotches on her knees just made her look even sexier to him, but her words made him want to swat her ass and reminded him exactly why she wasn't perfect - she was bratty, crude, and constantly needed to be the center of everyone’s attention. AKA, not his type, and that was why they were keeping this casual. 

Although, he had to admit, he found her a lot less annoying now that they were working off the constant tension between them in other ways. Her crudeness was almost cute. It just went to show how crazed she was making him, that he could even think that. 

Rather than answering her mocking question, he took his first look around her apartment. 

It was huge. Expensive looking. And the floor to ceiling windows that made up one entire wall of her living room had him flashing back to one of the fantasies he'd had about her. 

"Are those tinted?" he asked, walking towards them. He didn't bother to do up his pants, since they were clinging to his hips comfortably enough, and he didn't relinquish her hand either, so she had to walk with him. "Can people see in here?"

The notion gave him a little thrill. There was an office building across the way, nearly as high as Sharon's apartment. If someone was over there, could they see in? Had they watched Sharon going down on him in the entrance to her apartment? Why that turned him on instead of off, he had no idea. Maybe all the public sex at Stronghold really was rubbing off on him. 

"Tinted," Sharon said. Then her voice lilted a bit. "Although, since it's nighttime, we'd better turn off the lights in here if you don't want to chance anyone being able to see in. But we're probably safe enough; it doesn't look like anyone's working late over there." 

Jake grinned as he spun her around and pressed her back up against the cold glass. It was damn good glass - the frigid air outside made it nice and cool but not freezing. 

"You like that, don't you, princess?" He dipped his head to brush his lips against hers, her eyes already widening with pleasure at being manhandled and then trapped between him and the glass. Jake had definitely noticed how much she liked both of those things. So did he. Even though he'd literally just gotten off, his cock was already hardening again. "Do you walk around naked in here sometimes, just for the thrill of knowing someone might be able to see you?" 

Her breath hitched, breasts heaving slightly in the corset under his appreciative gaze. 

That was a yes. 

"Maybe," she answered breathlessly, tilting her chin up a little defiantly. "So what?" 

He chuckled. "Well if anyone's watching, let's give them a show." 

Spinning her around quickly, he caught her hips so she was facing outside. The glass showed their reflections; not perfectly like a mirror, but it was dark enough outside that depending on how he focused he could see them or the building across the way. It didn’t look like there was anyone over there, but one never knew.

"What are you doing?" Sharon's expression was one of both confusion and anticipation. 

"Put your hands on the glass and keep them there," he said, ignoring her question. Immediately, her hands went up to brace herself against the glass; she was watching him in the reflection as she did as he asked. "Good girl, now don't move."

Although he'd never seriously called anyone a 'good girl' before, somehow it seemed right in the moment. He'd heard the term used around the club often enough and seen the effect it had on the submissives there. It had the same effect on Sharon now. 

She shivered and stilled, her legs slightly spread, hands against the glass, eyes tracking his every move in the reflection. Being behind her but also able to see her expression was turning him on. He'd always enjoyed having sex in front of mirrors, where he could watch, but somehow this was even hotter... more taboo... because they had no idea who else might be watching. 

Who else might be able to see them. 

Jake trailed his hands over her bare shoulders and down her back to where her bare skin ended and the corset began. It was tied in the back, but the front of it was just held together by a series of clasps. He slid his hands around to her front and started undoing them. 

She sucked in a breath of surprise as she watched the reflection of him stripping her, her curves coming into view. As the corset dropped to the floor, she let out a little moan of relief and Jake chuckled. He rubbed his hands gently over her sensitized skin where it was marked red from the tight hold of the corset, and she let out a little moan of relief and pleasure. 

"Feels good?" he asked, rubbing a little harder. 

"You have no idea," she answered fervently. Then moaned again as his hands moved up to cup her breasts. He watched over her shoulder as his fingers closed around her hard nipples, pinching the little buds while he squeezed the soft mounds with his palms. "Corsets look so good, and they feel fine until you take them off and realize how uncomfortable you were."

"I'll have to take your word for it." 

He gave her nipples a sharp pinch again, twisting slightly and enjoying the way she arched back, her ass rubbing against his cock, which was slowly thickening. 

Running his hands down her stomach, Jake slid his fingers into the waistband of her skirt and started to roll it over her hips and down her legs. 

She was commando again. 

With her delicious ass right in his face, he couldn't help himself. He gave her left cheek a little nip, making her squeal and dance a little with surprise. Chuckling, he quickly shucked off his own pants and shirt, grabbing a condom from his pocket before standing back up again, caressing her legs and ass as he did so. 

"Are you going to fuck me in front of the window?" Sharon practically purred the question, thrusting her ass back at him, obviously not at all unhappy with the idea. She also sounded a little disbelieving, like she didn't really expect him to say yes.

Jake pressed his body against hers from behind, pushing her forward. She gasped and then squealed, squirming as her bare front pressed against the glass. His hard cock nestled happily between her cheeks as he kissed the back of her neck. 

"Hell yeah I am, princess."

******

Being smushed between a rock (more like a cock…) and a hard place shouldn’t be so fucking sexy, but the contrast of the cool glass against her front and Jake’s hot body against her back was driving her wild. Her nipples felt like little diamonds and she pushed back against him, deliberately clenching her cheeks to squeeze his hard cock between them, as she moaned. Between the blowjob, being in front of the window, wondering how much anyone outside might be able to see, and Jake going all Captain Caveman, she was so fucking horny she could barely think straight.

While she already knew Jake wasn't quite as prim and prudish as he liked to put off, she still hadn't expected a total exhibitionist side from him. 

She was not mad about it. 

The thrill of not knowing who could see them added extra spice to an already hot scenario. Too bad Stronghold was off limits; Sharon would have liked to see how he reacted to being in front of a close, appreciative audience. 

"Have you ever had sex in front of this window?" he asked, his hands sliding over her sides and down to her hips, pulling them back a little so that she was at the right height for his cock. 

The new angle meant her breasts were no longer in contact with the glass, but her forearms braced against it. 

"No." 

But it had been a fantasy. One which had gone unfulfilled since she didn't usually bring guys home with her unless she was dating them - and her most recent ex had preferred the bedroom or the club. Fulfilling it with Jake was unexpected, but she was so on board. 

His hips moved away and then the tip of his cock slid between her pussy lips. Gently thrusting, he moved his dick back and forth between the swollen, sensitive folds, making her moan as she canted her hips backward. As good as he felt rubbing against her, the head of his cock bumping against her clit, she wanted him inside of her.

When he pulled away completely, she started to straighten up and turn, only to end up squealing as he swatted her ass, hard enough to sting.

"Ow!"

"I didn't say you could move," he said in a tone that was totally Dom-worthy. Sharon shifted back into position immediately, even more turned on by his bossiness and the slight burn left behind from the sharp slap. 

Her body blocked the sight of exactly what he was doing, but she could see enough to guess that he was putting on a condom. 

Hell yes. Give it to me, baby.

A moment later, his hands were back on her hips, his cock pressing against her wet opening. At last he thrust forward, impaling her in one sure, hard stroke. Sharon cried out as his weight pushed at her, her arm muscles tightening as she braced herself against the thrust, her breasts bouncing heavily. The position made her tight, despite how wet she was, and his thick length stretching her open felt so fucking good. 

Immediately he started moving, thrusting roughly. Sharon looked into the reflection to see him watching her there as well, his eyes on her breasts as they jiggled and swayed with every thrust. His fingers were digging into her hips, holding her in place for him as he moved powerfully behind her, making her feel utterly helpless even though she wasn't bound, because she couldn't shift her position without risking falling over. And all the while, she could see his fierce expression as he filled her over and over again. 

It was way better than any porn. 

Whimpering, she pushed back against him, her muscles clenching around him with every thrust. His fingers moved over her hip, dipping down between her legs, his gaze dropping to watch as he pressed the pads of his fingers against her swollen clit. Sharon moaned, arching her back and sliding to bend forward even more. It made watching harder, but it felt so good that she didn't care. 

"Just think, princess, if anyone is in that building over there... if anyone on the street looks up... they'll be able to see you... naked and being fucked from behind, your tits bouncing, totally exposed to them..." Holy shit, Jake had a dirty mouth when he wanted to. "They'll see my hand between your legs, pinching your clit while I fuck you..."

His actions matched his words, and Sharon shuddered as her orgasm began to explode inside of her in response to the direct stimulation and his dirty talk. She cried out, her head dropping down as the waves of pleasure surged through her, her body clamping down around him. 

But he was nowhere near his own climax, especially not after already having come once, and he kept moving, kept thrusting. She writhed with the intense sensations as he fucked her right through her orgasm. Tears sparked in the back of her eyes as her legs trembled, and Jake's hand moved away from her clit, giving her a bit of a reprieve from the overwhelming stimulation, so that he could help hold her up. 

"Oh fuck... oh fuck..." The words bubbled up and out as her ecstasy swirled around her. They were the only words she could form, as if the pleasure had short-circuited her brain entirely. 

As Jake surged inside of her, moving even harder and faster, she felt her muscles crumbling under the erotic assault. She was hanging from his hands now, shuddering with every thrust, her arms barely able to hold her up against the window. "Oh fuck... oh fuck..." 

His low groan coincided with his hardest thrust yet, filling her completely, his grip like iron as he held her ass flush against his groin. Sharon clenched around him, gasping as her orgasm finally began to die down while he throbbed inside of her. 

"Oh fuck..." she muttered. 

Behind her, Jake chuckled as his fingers relaxed and began to caress her skin. "Yes, I believe you said that already."

She closed her eyes, practically humming with pleasure as he stroked her sides. Leaning forward slightly, she rested her head against her arm, panting a bit for breath. Damn that had been hot. Surprising in some ways too. Jake was way more perverted than she'd given him credit for, and in just the right ways.

Lips pressed against the top of her spine as he slipped his softening cock from the grip of her body. "Want to take this party to the bedroom for round two?" 

Sharon groaned as her knees wobbled. Her muscles all felt like Jell-O. "I'm not sure I can walk yet. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can't feel anything below my waist right now."

He laughed, and she squeaked as she found herself hauled up into his arms. 

Swoon. 

Not quite Captain Caveman, but just as nice. Maybe nicer since she could cuddle up against his bare chest rather than having his shoulder digging into her stomach. 

When she looked up at him, Jake was eyeing her shoes while he carried her down the hall. Seeing her looking at him, he grinned. 

"You're going to keep those on for round two."

Bossy man. 

Sharon pinched his nipple and he growled at her, picking up his pace as he carried her to the bedroom. 

Maybe not having a roommate right now isn't so bad, she thought, a bit hazily. Tonight definitely would not have gone down this way if she lived with someone. 


Chapter 6

It was early morning when Jake left Sharon's apartment, reluctantly pulling himself from her ridiculously comfortable bed with her ridiculously soft sheets. Why the hell had she ever wanted to sleep over at his place when she had a bed like this waiting for her at home? Getting up hurt him both physically and emotionally. He couldn’t understand how she’d been just as happy to sleep in his bed – he’d choose hers every time.

Although, some of his sore muscles might also be from the 'epic fuckfest' they'd indulged in last night. Her words, not his, but he couldn't deny their accuracy. Hell, he felt dehydrated this morning. He wasn't even sure his last orgasm had included any liquid. Sharon was completely passed out still, snoring softly. The urge to roll her onto her side so that she would stop, and he could fall back asleep, curled up around her, had been strong. 

Which was why he'd made himself get up. 

That was not the kind of relationship they had. Plus, denying her the pleasure of kicking him out was a small triumph in and of itself. Although, after the many orgasms he'd given her last night, he wasn't entirely sure she would have kicked him out... But he wouldn't put it past her. If only because she'd said she would and had seemed like she was looking forward to it. 

Walking through her apartment and picking up his clothes had made him feel strangely insecure. Yeah, he knew that she was independently wealthy, but knowing it and seeing where she actually lived were two different things. The view from her windows in the morning light was just as spectacular than it had been the night before, if not more so. The kitchen was a chef's dream, the living areas elegant but homey, and everything looked like it was state-of-the-art. 

Put all together, it was more than a little intimidating. He glanced at the coffee maker, but it looked like he'd need a manual to figure out how to work it, so he just passed it by. 

He could get coffee at his apartment... which was half the size of her place. Maybe less than half the size. 

Cut it out, don't be an ass.

Intellectually he knew there was nothing wrong with a woman having more money than a man. Heck, his mom had made more than his dad before she’d retired. It still felt odd to realize exactly how much wealthier Sharon was than him. 

At least he knew she was using him for his body and not for anything else he could give her. His mouth twitched. If anything, she was probably the one on that side of the equation most of the time. A second later, he frowned, not liking the idea of a guy using Sharon for her money. There was a lot more to her than that. 

Like how cute she was when she was sassy, the way she made him laugh, the adorably teasing expression she got on her face when she wanted to be naughty, the surprising sweetness that she tried to keep hidden...

Running his hand over his face, he groaned as he went down the elevator and headed out to his car. 

He didn't need to dwell on what Sharon had to offer in a relationship. 

It was already hard enough keeping his emotions separate.

******

"Come on in, it's safe," Leigh said, opening the door wide and speaking in a normal voice. "Melody is awake and feeding right now."

"Oh good," Sharon said with relief as she stepped into Adam and Angel's house. She'd texted Leigh and gone through the garage rather than ringing the doorbell. Waking up a sleeping newborn was a big no-no. Holding a whole chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pie that she'd picked up on her way over, she headed into the kitchen. "I've got dinner and dessert for them here, and there should be plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow too. What else do we have going on today?" 

Everyone was chipping in to help Angel and Adam with their new delivery. This week Leigh and Angel's mom were taking turns staying overnight to help the couple with day-to-day things - Adam's mom and stepfather would be in town next week for the same reason and his father and stepmom the week after that - but the rest of the Stronghold gang had signed up to stop by and help as well. That way Angel and Adam had constant food coming in as well as extra hands on deck for whatever they needed. 

This was Sharon's first time over since they'd brought Melody home and she was eager to do whatever she could to help out. Plus, it was a good distraction from how deliciously sore she was, and it would keep her from giving in to her impulse to text Jake. Waking up without him this morning had been a bit disappointing - which was not good as far as keeping things casual was concerned.

"Not much other than sleep," Leigh said, laughing softly as she followed Sharon into the kitchen. "The house is clean, I've got a load of laundry in the machine, and Adam is currently napping so that he can take over baby care for a few hours when Melody is done feeding." 

"Do they need anything from the store?" Sharon asked in a low voice. "The bassinet is working out okay? Do they need more diapers? Nipple balm?"

She was pretty sure Angel was well equipped after the shower, but she wanted to make sure. One of the nice things about having money was being able to make sure that the people she cared about were well provided for. Sharon liked to spoil her friends. Especially because these friends didn't expect to be spoiled and frequently tried to dissuade her from doing so. It was kind of fun to be sneaky about it. 

"They've got everything," Leigh said, looking amused as she opened the fridge door so Sharon could put the food she'd brought in there. Not that there was a ton of room. Leigh smirked. "We could use some help eating some of the food." 

"Apparently. I already ate today, but maybe later." That was, if she stayed long enough to get hungry. If they didn't need her, she didn't want to intrude. 

"Come on." Leigh headed toward the hallway, waving her hand over her shoulder. "What Angel says she really wants is social interaction."

"Yes please!" Angel called from the front room, responding to Leigh's statement. As Sharon got closer, she could hear the sound of the television as well. "I demand adult conversation so I don't feel so much like my only purpose in life is as a milk machine."

"But you're so good at it," Leigh said teasingly. 

"See why I need someone else to talk to?" Angel joked as Sharon stepped into the room. "She's so mean to me."

Sitting in the cushy armchair by the unlit fireplace, Angel looked both tired and content with Melody in her arms. The tiny baby was completely oblivious to everything going on around her as she fed. Looking down at her, Angel smiled, and then yawned. Both she and Leigh were still dressed in pajamas - Sharon was assuming pajama pants for Angel. A throw blanket covered her lower half, but since Leigh was wearing pajama pants, it only made sense that Angel was too. 

"What do you want to talk about?" Sharon asked, grinning as she sat down. 

"What's going on with you? I feel like when I'm awake I've been stuck either in this chair or on the couch ever since we brought Melody home. There must be something good going on. I need to live vicariously, woman." Even as she spoke, she yawned again. 

"Uh... not much really." Sharon shrugged. "Same old, same old. Work, Stronghold, trying to figure out who I'm going to bring as a date to my cousin's wedding." 

"I heard you were at Stronghold last night and Jake was a dick but ran out after you to apologize... and then never came back," Leigh said, her tone innocent. 

Sharon narrowed her eyes at her as Angel sat up a little bit straighter, hazel eyes alight with interest. 

"Oh yeah? What's going on with you and Jake?" 

"The usual," Sharon insisted, sticking her tongue out at Leigh. "He was a dick and took it too far, so he came out to apologize. I went home. I don't know why he didn't go back inside; you'd have to ask him."

"Uh huh." Angel gave her a look. "You know he's totally got a thing for you, right?" 

This was not a conversation she should be having. 

Rolling her eyes, Sharon shrugged. "Then he's got a shitty way of showing it."

Total lie. She got why he'd been a dick last night. If she'd thought he was fooling around with another woman before going home with her... Yeah, she wouldn't have reacted well either. But it wasn't like either of these two knew anything about that. 

They were just fishing for information. 

"The Stronghold gossip train is already up and running this morning, huh?" she asked, making a face. The whole group could be worse than a bunch of old ladies sometimes, men included. Heck, sometimes the men were worse gossips than the women. Before she’d become a part of this group, Sharon hadn't realized exactly how gossip-y men could be. The Stronghold Doms were tightly knit and it showed in how fast news spread among them.

"Just people making sure I'm in the know," Angel said, blinking sleepily as she grinned at Sharon. 

Uh huh. Sharon saw a lot of future competition for being the first to update Angel and Adam on any juicy gossip. She and Jake were going to have to conduct themselves more carefully if they didn't want their friends butting in. 

******

Planning Lexie and Patrick's engagement party wasn't really something Jake was interested in, but he found himself sitting through a planning session anyway - mostly because once the topic started over dinner, his mom wasn't about to let it go. He was absolutely willing to help out, but he'd rather just be told what to do, rather than involved in figuring out what they were going to do. His dad was the same way, and tended to grunt when asked for an opinion. 

Not surprisingly, Patrick - control freak that he was - jumped right into being involved. Lexie was interested but not particularly picky about any of it. Watching their dynamic always made his lips twitch, especially because right now Patrick was trying very hard to make sure Lexie had everything the way she liked it, while Lexie didn't care as much as Patrick did about the gritty details. 

"I don't really care if we have it here or if we go out somewhere," she told him, obviously exasperated. She looked at her mom. "Although I'm a little worried about clean up and imposing on you and dad if we did it here."

"Oh, don't worry about that." Mom waved her hands, as if she were shooing Lexie's concerns away. "We'll get it catered and they'll do all the work."

Lexie and Jake exchanged a glance. Their mom might say that, but they knew she'd be right in the thick of things. On the other hand, that would be true regardless. She loved events, and the fact that this one was for her daughter's upcoming wedding... 

The nice thing about Lexie getting married before him was that, hopefully, his mom would have most of this out of her system by the time Jake was ready to settle down. He wasn’t ready to settle down yet. 

Sharon's face flitted through his mind, and he dropped his head down to focus on his food so that no one could see his smile. They weren't seeing each other again tonight, but he'd texted her earlier to say that he'd enjoyed last night... And she'd texted back saying that he better have, because it was going to take a few days before her love tunnel was open for business again. Since she hadn't been there to hear him, he'd laughed his ass off. 

He was pretty sure she'd been trying to annoy him with the unsexy euphemism, but he'd just found it very entertaining, and very Sharon. 

"What about you, Jake?" His mom asked, dragging his attention back to the conversation. "Will you be bringing a date?" 

"Ah, no," he said, immediately pushing aside any thoughts of Sharon. 

For one, she would be at the party anyway, as one of Lexie's friends - hell, possibly as a bridesmaid for all he knew – second of all, he was not going to be introducing her to his parents as a date. Just trying to imagine her being her usual blunt, occasionally foul-mouthed self in front of his mom made him feel twitchy. It was going to be a big party though, so hopefully his parents wouldn't spend much time with her, although if she were there as his date his mom would have laser-like focus on her. 

Big nope there. 

Plus, it seemed like bad form to introduce his fuck buddy to his parents as a date. This was also why having a fuck buddy within his circle of friends wasn't the best idea, although he still didn't regret it. 

Jake averted his eyes away from Patrick, who was suddenly looking at him a little too closely. His best friend was uncomfortably observant and knew Jake far too well. Trying to hide anything from him was always a crap shoot, but Jake was going to try. 

Their friendship really hadn't changed that much... Except that Jake wasn't sure Patrick would be able to keep something like him hooking up with Sharon from Lexie. And if Patrick told Lexie, she would probably tell Angel or Leigh, whom she was especially close with, and then things would just snowball from there. That was how it worked in their group of friends. Everyone had just that one person they would tell, and within a day they all knew.

Fortunately, Patrick couldn't exactly question him at the dinner table, and he was quickly distracted by talking about themes, food, and decoration possibilities. 

It looked like Jake was going to make a clean getaway after dinner, until Patrick followed him outside to his car. Bracing himself for the inquisition, Jake's put on his poker face. 

"Hey, so ah... I've been wanting to ask you..." Patrick looked a little uncomfortable which was surprising. Normally he didn't hesitate with questions, even if they were invasive. "Will you be my best man?"

Jake blinked. 

His thoughts took a hard turn away from where he'd thought the conversation was going to go and he floundered for a second. 

"What? I mean yes! Yes, of course, man!" His face split open in a grin, followed a second later by Patrick's broad smile. Patrick opened his arms and Jake stepped in, hugging the shit out of the man who had been his best friend since childhood and was soon going to be his brother. 

Granted, in the back of his head, considering his relationship to Patrick and Lexie, he'd pretty much been expecting that that would be his position, but hearing Patrick actually ask him... Well, it had a surprising emotional impact. He blinked back a few tears as they hugged each other hard, patting each other's backs before pulling apart again. 

"I was going to ask you last night, but you disappeared on me," Patrick said, raising one dark eyebrow at Jake. His deep voice sounded a little funny, like he was holding back some of his emotions too, hiding them behind his teasing. 

"Ah... yeah, well." Jake coughed. He shrugged. "I didn't really feel like going back in after apologizing to Sharon."

"Uh huh." Patrick sounded more amused than disbelieving. He knew Jake was lying and Jake knew he knew. But he wasn't going to come right out and confirm. "Well, this should be interesting."

Jake scowled at him. "It's nothing."

"Uh huh," Patrick said again, smirking at him before turning around and heading back to the house. "If it was nothing, you wouldn't care about telling me."

Damn him for being right. 

******

Last week Sharon had managed to keep away from Jake until the weekend... this week, not so much. Now her hungry beaver was now more like an exhausted beaver from wood overload. Sex with him was like a drug.

Worse, she was enjoying just spending some time with him in between the sex. 

That wasn't supposed to be happening. 

Sitting on her couch, she glared down at her yoga-pants-covered crotch. "You insatiable bitch. You're getting me into trouble."

Maybe it wasn't entirely her poor puff pillow's fault. Jake was the one who'd started sending the sexy text messages to tempt her into coming over on Sunday afternoon. She had managed not to spend the night at least, but they'd ended up ordering pizza and watching a movie together afterwards, because he'd heard her stomach grumbling and had felt it was only polite to feed her after fucking her brains out. 

They'd ended up getting together Monday too after she'd sent him a pic of the sexy shoes she'd worn to work that day. 

Then it had just kind of become a pattern. 

One of them would text, the texts would turn sexy, then he'd come over to her place or she'd go to his and suddenly she’d realized that they'd spent every night together. Heck, on Thursday morning she'd even tried to gross him out, asking him if he wanted to try the Breakfast of Champions... and instead of being turned off by her crudeness, he'd made them both late to work by diving into her muff tongue first. 

Which still hadn't stopped them from getting together Thursday night where they'd ended up having a quickie in a restroom at a bar, which really shouldn't have been as hot as it was. In fact, they'd gone to the bar just because Sharon had gone there for happy hour with some people from work and then Jake had texted her. She'd told him where she was, and then the next thing she knew she was skirt up, panties down, and getting pounded from behind while they could hear all the noise from the bar. 

Jake was a dirty fucker, he just hid it better than the rest of their friends. And she was loving it.

They didn’t have epic fuck fests every time though. That she really wouldn't have been able to handle. There was only so much chasm spasming a woman's body could physically tolerate. 

Tonight, though, she was going to Stronghold and she figured he would be there. Hopefully he would be less of a dick than last weekend. There had to be less sexual tension between them at this point, right? Although, being somewhere that they could watch everyone else have sex but couldn't even touch each other wasn't going to help. 

Maybe the real thrill was the taboo of the forbidden... and the occasional public places... and the fact that Jake liked to do her in front of windows and mirrors... and the multiple orgasms... 

Sharon's phone started to buzz as the Imperial March from Star Wars began to play. She groaned. Well, that was one way to kill her libido fast. 

Reluctantly, she picked up the phone and answered. 

"Hello."

"Sharon, why haven't you given Melinda a name for your date yet? Are you not bringing one?" Her mother's sharp tone sliced at her and Sharon leaned back against the sofa, dropping her head back and closing her eyes as she prepared to deal with her parental unit. Hello to you too, mom, I'm doing well, how are you?

"I'm going to bring someone."

"Well she needs to be able to make out the name cards for the seating arrangements. Lorraine says you still haven't given them a name for your plus one."

Of course Aunt Lorraine would insist on having a name. Leaving it blank or having to write it in last minute would horrify her. Melinda wouldn't give a crap, but she was probably letting her mom handle most of the wedding details. It was just easier to let Aunt Lorraine have her way. Sharon could sympathize. If she ever got married, she would probably elope just so she wouldn't have to deal with her parents. 

"I'll call her this weekend," Sharon said, neatly sidestepping the need to give her mom a name now. The last thing she wanted was for her mom to call up Aunt Lorraine with Brian's name and then have him not be able to go. For her mother and aunt, trying to switch names on them last minute would be even worse than being late with one. 

"Be sure that you do." The order in her mother's brisk voice was clear. "It's rude to keep them waiting."

"I will, mother. Oh, oops, look at the time, I have to go, I'll talk to you later, bye." Sharon hung up the phone before her mom could respond and scrunched up her face, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Dammit. 

She sighed and picked up her phone again, pulling up Brian's number and swiping to call. A feeling of guilt niggled at her, which was stupid. It wasn't like she and Jake were actually dating. They haven't even talked about being exclusive fuck buddies, despite his little show of jealousy over Kincaid last weekend. And she wasn't going to be doing anything romantic or sexual with Brian even if he was her date to her cousin's wedding.

Hell, her pleasure box could use a break. They were approaching 'too much of a good thing' territory. 

Unfortunately, Brian’s phone sent her to voicemail.

“Hey Brian, it’s Sharon – give me a call back when you get the chance? I’ll be at Stronghold tonight too, so I’ll look for you there. Bye.”

She supposed she could have left a voicemail asking him to the wedding, but she wanted to give him a heads up on exactly what he’d be walking into if he said yes. She’d told him a little bit about her family while they were dating, but she hadn’t gone into detail because there hadn’t been any need.  She knew he would say yes regardless because he was the kind of guy who would want to be there for her, but she’d feel better if she were able to fully warn him.

Sighing, she tossed her phone back down and tried not to feel guilty about calling Brian to be her date when she was planning on another hookup with Jake tonight.


Chapter 7

For the first time, Jake felt like being at Stronghold sucked.

There had been times when he felt a little like the odd man out, or when he’d overheard more than he wanted to know about Patrick and Lexie or had seen something that made him want to go running into the night (some of the Dommes did mean, mean things to men’s junk), but tonight was by far the worst. Most of his friends were here, Lexie was properly attired, and no one had said anything about her and Patrick to gross him out. So far, the dance floor was pretty tame, everyone seemed to be keeping the more interesting activities to the Dungeon or the upstairs rooms.

But being here with Sharon, but not with Sharon really freaking sucked. Way more than he'd expected it to. 

He didn't want to keep his hands off her. 

Tonight, she was wearing straight-up lingerie, a little red silk slip with black lace all around the deep-dipping neckline and the very short hem. And he was ninety-nine percent sure that was it. Which meant his eyes kept dropping to her cleavage and the points of her nipples which were clearly visible through the thin material. 

Even seeing the look of amusement on Patrick's face when he caught Jake looking - again - wasn't enough to keep him from doing it. He wanted to pick her up and carry her off and fuck her silly. 

She knew it too. The little looks and the way she tilted her cleavage towards him were deliberate. And distracting. 

Normally Jake enjoyed hanging out at Stronghold with their friends, but right now he just wanted this part of the night over with. 

"So, I think I'm going to follow Jessica's lead and just let you all choose your own dresses, as long as they're blue and floor length," Kate said. The conversation had been revolving around the two upcoming weddings; Jessica's to Chris and Justin (well, they were having a ceremony even if it wasn't technically a wedding) was just a couple months before Kate and Andrew's. Wow. There were going to be a lot of weddings this year.

"You two are both terrible at this Bridezilla thing," Maria said, laughing and shaking her head. "Maybe I should have one of my sisters come talk to you and show you how it's done." She squeaked a little as Rick pulled her in closer to his side, giving her a look. The two of them hadn't been at Stronghold much in the past few months. Around Christmas they’d revealed that they'd been going through a rough time of it when Maria had had a miscarriage when they hadn't even known she was pregnant. It looked like they were making up for lost time now, more enamored with each other than ever. Jake was happy for them.

Kate shrugged, grinning back at her. "Hey, it's not my fault that we all look good in different styles. I'd rather not have everyone shelling out a bunch of money for a dress they'll only wear one time."

"If you want matching dresses, you should have them," Sharon told her, frowning. "I'll pay for them. They'll be my gift to the bridesmaids."

"No," Kate said, pointing her finger at her maid-of-honor. "You are not paying for everyone's dresses. Stop trying to spend money on my wedding. It's not happening."

Jake shifted uncomfortably. He’d never had a lot of money to throw around, although his lack of expenses while he was overseas meant he had a healthy savings account. Fortunately, his parents hadn’t minded acting as his storage unit, saving him even more.  He had money too, but the way Sharon flaunted hers bothered him… yet at the same time he couldn’t help but admire her for making her generosity and dedication to making her friends’ lives easier. His conflicting emotions were pretty much par for the course when it came to her.

Although she nodded, Jake could practically see the gears turning in Sharon’s head as her eyes flitted around to the other women standing around the table with them. Andrew and Kate had asked their entire group of friends to be part of the wedding party, just like Justin, Jessica, and Chris, and he was sure his sister and Patrick would as well. Seeing that look, he didn’t doubt for one second that Kate’s bridesmaids would all be in matching dresses and that none of them would pay for them.

Kate had obviously noticed the same thing. Her blue eyes narrowed as she leaned towards Sharon almost threateningly.

“Sharon.” Kate drawled Sharon’s name, her voice heavy with a warning that Sharon completely ignored.

“Oh hey! Good, Brian’s here,” Sharon said, as if Kate hadn’t spoken. She started to get up from her bar stool.

Huffing out a resigned sigh, Kate pointed a finger at her. “Okay, but as soon as you ask him to go to the wedding, you and I are going to have a talk about this.”

“Wait, go to what wedding?” Jake asked before he could think about it, more than a little taken aback. Was Sharon inviting her ex to Kate’s wedding? No, that couldn’t be right, that was way too far away. So was Justin, Chris, and Jessica’s.

And why the hell was Sharon inviting her ex to a wedding right in front of Jake?

“My cousin’s,” Sharon said with a sigh, shifting back and forth on her feet as she eyed him. Her expression was fairly blank, but he could see the warning in her eyes. If they didn’t want their friends to know anything was going on between them, he needed to let it go. Hell, he needed to have not said anything in the first place, because he could practically feel the change in all of them even though he was deliberately not looking at any of them. “It’s in a couple of weeks and I need a date.”

“So you’re inviting your ex?” Yeah, he was not doing a good job of keeping his cool, but he was finding it hard to care that everyone was now looking between him and Sharon with various degrees of confusion and speculation. They might not be in a relationship, but he still couldn’t help but feel a little insulted.

Okay, he could admit it, he felt a little possessive too. He didn’t like the idea of her taking her most recent ex to a family wedding. Why he felt that way... Well, he wasn't going to examine that too closely. They were having sex, after all. A lot of it. It made sense that he would feel a bit possessive.

“Why do you care?” Lexie asked, leaning forward to catch his eye. She was sitting on Patrick’s lap and his best friend was smirking from behind her.

“Yeah, why do you care?” Andrew chimed in from the other side of the table, crossing his arms over his chest.

Jake ignored both of them, looking directly at Sharon. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

The look she gave him was pure exasperation, her answer laced with barely repressed annoyance. “Yeah, sure, why not.”

He purposefully didn’t look at anyone else as he moved around the table to follow Sharon; she’d turned on her heel and was stalking towards the staircase – or maybe the hallway to the gardens – where they could have a little privacy. Even before he’d fully stepped away all of their friends were leaning forward over the table, murmuring to each other, and he didn’t doubt he’d just blown his and Sharon’s cover to hell.

There were going to be a lot of questions.

He didn’t have the answers because he didn’t really know what he was doing. He didn’t know why he was so irked.

The only thing he did know was that if anyone was going with Sharon to her cousin’s wedding as her date, it was going to be him.

******

Mother fucking fuckwit! What the hell is Jake thinking?!

She didn't even need to look over her shoulder to know that their friends were all abuzz. Sharon wouldn't be surprised to see one of them running for the front desk to grab their phone and start updating everyone who hadn't made it out tonight. Especially since Angel had demanded that she be kept in the loop.

She wanted to bang her head against the wall. 

Or bang Jake's head against the wall. 

Maybe it was kind of rude to go and ask another man to a wedding right in front of the man she was currently fucking but come on. They'd agreed to keep things both casual and on the downlow! 

Stomping into the back hallway, she whirled around, glaring up at him as she planted her hands on her hips. The hallway wasn't dark, but it wasn't exactly well-lit either, and he loomed over her, crossing his arms over his chest. At least he wasn't half-naked like most of the Doms in the club. Jake always wore regular clothes to Stronghold, as if to drive home the point that he wasn't a Dom. 

Even if he acted kind of like one sometimes. 

"What the hell was that?" she asked, glaring even harder. Since he wasn't a Dom, she didn't have to worry about her tone of voice or cursing at him. She jabbed her finger, pointing past him and back at their friends, even though she couldn't see them because of his broad shoulders. "Do you have any idea what they're all thinking right now?" 

"I don't really care what they're thinking," he said tightly. Even though his eyes were somewhat shadowed with his head tilted down toward her, she could feel his gaze boring into her. Her body stirred with interest. Dammit. It was like he'd trained her pussy like a Pavlovian dog. One dark, intimate look and her whole body tingled. "I want to know what you're thinking. A wedding date with your ex? Why not ask me to go?"

"Seriously?" She rolled her eyes. "We were trying to keep our friends from butting in. How fast do you think they'd be on us if I'd invited you to my cousin's wedding? Hmm?" She tapped a finger against the side of her lips, tilting her head, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Probably about as quickly as they are since you've gone all Captain Caveman in front of them."

Other than a little growl at hearing his new nickname, Jake didn't react to it, which was kind of disappointing. 

"You could have asked me as a friend."

"We haven't exactly ever been super friendly," she pointed out, thoroughly exasperated. Throwing her hands up in the air, she resisted the urge to smack some sense into him. Dom or not, there was no way he'd tolerate that. "What the hell do you want from me?"

"I want you to take me as your date and not your ex."

"Oh, so we're dating now?" 

She asked the question sarcastically, but Jake's reaction was nothing like she expected. His shoulders softened slightly, his mouth opened and closed without answering, and she blinked as she realized...

"Wait, you want to date me?"

Shit, shit, back up! Danger, Will Robinson, danger! There is a disturbance in the Force! 

Talk about a total rewind for her brain. Did Jake like her for more than her body? Shit... That was going to make the little mini-crush she had on him a lot harder to fight...

"We can't just start dating, our friends would never leave us alone," he said finally, although there was a note of uncertainty in his voice, like he wanted her to argue with him. 

But he was right. Plus, who knew if his sudden desire for more than being fuck buddies was real or if he was just suffering from some kind of sex-logged moment of insanity. Maybe she'd literally fucked his brains out over the past couple weeks and this was the result. At least he wasn't so far gone as to be totally unaware of the consequences. 

She sighed. "Okay, so what you're saying is that as long as we're fucking, you don't want us to date anyone else?" 

Although he cringed slightly at her blunt language, his head nod was decisive. "Yes. Exactly. If we find someone else we want to date, we'll stop our arrangement, but until then we're exclusive. So, I'll go with you to your cousin's wedding, and you’ll have a date. When is it?"

"The weekend after next, so you don't need to worry that it will interfere with Lexie and Patrick's engagement party. And we're going to have to travel to the Eastern shore and stay with my parents for the weekend."

"Great. Then you're definitely not taking Brian."

"Great," she said dryly. "Now what are you planning on telling our friends about all of this?" Swirling her finger between them, she lifted her eyebrow in challenge. There was no way she was going to take responsibility for coming up with an explanation. This was all on him. 

Plus, she was busy repressing the sudden giddy warmth that had bubbled up in her chest. Part of her really liked the idea of Jake coming to Melinda's wedding as her date. Dammit.

Getting attached was a bad idea. 

Wasn't it? 

Except that he seemed kind of attached too... Ugh. Whatever. Chances were, once he met her family he was going to run. That or he was going to agree with all of her parents' opinions about her and she was going to have a perfectly miserable time, which would kill any interest she had in him anyway. 

Ah well, it had been too good to last. 

"I'm just going to tell them that I don't think it's a good idea for you to go with an ex and so I offered my services instead," he said matter-of-factly, as if he actually thought that would fly. Without waiting for her response, he turned to make his way back to the bar table. 

Well, this should be entertaining. Already smirking, Sharon followed him back in.

******

Crossing his arms over his chest, Jake glared at his group of friends and at the exasperating woman currently smirking at him from across the table. He'd expected to be in the hot seat, but he hadn't expected to be there alone. Plus, he'd thought his explanation sounded reasonable enough.

Sharon shouldn't have to ask her ex to be her date when she had a single and willing friend, right? 

His question had been met with a level of extreme skepticism that was a little insulting. Especially on his sister's part. Although she just looked like she didn't believe him; Andrew had been scowling non-stop at Jake since he and Sharon had returned to the table. Everyone's reactions had been pretty interesting; Andrew's was the most extreme. 

Rick and Maria appeared more amused than anything else, Kate was giving Sharon dirty looks but not to the same extent that Andrew was glaring at Jake, and Hilary had disappeared, leaving Liam to shoot speculative glances between Jake and Sharon. His gaze was more thoughtful than anything else. Olivia and Luke were both quiet, although Olivia was watching Jake very carefully, her red nails tapping on the bar table. Sitting on the other side of Sharon, Ellie just watched everything that was going on with big eyes, while Michael seemed mostly amused.

Patrick found the whole situation hilarious, the big dick. 

He'd laughed when Jake had explained that he was just doing the friendly thing and he hadn’t stopped chuckling since. 

"You know that you're going to have to spend the whole weekend with each other, right?" Kate asked suspiciously. Looking at her wasn't much fun because Andrew's dark glare was coming from right over her head, but Jake did his best to focus on her and not on her fiancé. 

"And her family," he answered, shrugging one of his shoulders. "Sharon told me. It'll be fine. Unless you think she'd be better off with an ex than a friend?"

Kate's lips pressed together while Patrick coughed into his hand. A cough that suspiciously sounded like a laugh. Exchanging a glance with Rick, Maria raised her eyebrow, a small smile playing on her face as well. 

Yeah, okay, so calling him and Sharon friends was a bit of a stretch, or would have been before the new year, but come on. A little faith would be nice. 

"Ooo good, you're back! What did I miss?" Hilary's chipper voice made him twist slightly so he could see her. The pretty blonde was looking between him and Sharon, rather than at her husband, Liam, who was reaching for her. She had a fun, sunny personality that reminded him a bit of Sharon, but without the crudeness. Hilary pretty much epitomized the term 'lady-like'. If asked, Jake would have said that Hilary was exactly his type, although he'd never been attracted to her. Then again, she'd been taken, and therefore off-limits, when he'd met her anyway.

"Jake's taking Sharon to her cousin's wedding because 'they're friends' and she shouldn't have to go with an ex," Lexie said, drawling the words out with a complete absence of tone that made it clear she thought he was shoveling horseshit. 

"Oh! Okay, I'll be right back," Hilary said, swinging back around and scurrying back to the front door. "Jessica, Angel, and Leigh are going to love this!”

Groaning, Jake covered his face with his hand as he realized why Hilary had disappeared before. No phones were permitted inside the club proper; despite that, she was taking care of updating everyone who wasn't there in real time. Great. 

Why had he blown his and Sharon's cover again? 

Wiping his hand down his face, he happened to see Brian on the dance floor with a pretty redhead and he scowled. Oh yeah, that was why. Because he didn't like the idea of her going away for a weekend with her ex, especially to a family wedding. Or, really, with anyone other than him. 

It had made so much sense a few minutes ago. 

"Why do I hang out with you perverts again?" he asked, muttering the question. 

"Because you like to watch," Liam teased, making everyone laugh.

******

She had barely taken three steps into her apartment before Jake was on her, his mouth claiming hers in a searing kiss, backing her up against the wall. Every cell in her body cheered in anticipation. They hadn't stayed at Stronghold very long after Jake had announced his intention to be her date to Melinda's wedding, and he hadn't bothered leaving at a different time than her either. Eventually they were going to have to face the music, but right now he was all wound up and ready to take it out on her...

Yes, please, and thank you.

"Let me get my coat off!" she protested weakly when he lifted his lips again.

“Here,” he said with a wicked grin. “I’ll help.”

The coat was all she got to take off, although one strap of her negligee did slip down and expose her right breast as Jake pressed her up against the wall and fucked her right there. Sharon moaned, clinging to his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his waist as he thrust into her, hard and fast.

Captain Caveman was in the house and enjoying himself.

She whimpered as his hands slid down to grip her ass, holding her in place so that she didn’t bang her back too hard against the wall.

“Oh fuck… oh fuck…” She panted, one of her hands sliding into his hair as she bounced on his cock.

Jake had total control over both of their movements and she really wished she had a mirror by the door because she would have loved to see them moving together, him holding her up, his pants undone only to his thighs, and her still in her red dress with her heels… Whoops, make that one heel. The other one had just thudded to the ground, falling off of her foot from the force of his thrusts.

She squirmed, whimpering slightly as the fingers of his right hand quested towards the center of her ass, but she didn’t protest. Apparently, Captain Caveman was way dirtier than she’d ever suspected Grumpy Cap could be, and she moaned as his finger pressed against her anus. He didn’t push in, because there was no lubrication, but the stimulation was enough to make her shudder as the nerve endings came to life.

Just the fact that he wanted to touch her there made her even hotter.

“Ooh, you dirty fucker!” She gasped the words out right before her orgasm hit and she cried out, arching against him as he thrust up into her. Writhing, she dug her nails into his shoulder as hot bliss ran through her body, making her clench around him as he continued pounding into her spasming pussy.

All his weight pressed against her a moment later as he let out a low, guttural groan of pleasure, burying his face in her shoulder. The position trapped her clit between their bodies in a deliciously painful way and another wave of pleasure hit her as he came.

The man made it really hard to stay annoyed with him.


Chapter 8

It was a mother-fucking ambush.

Sharon had shown up to Kate’s on Sunday afternoon, as they’d previously planned, thinking it was going to be just another fun Sunday talking wedding stuff, hanging out, and chilling.

Nope.

The bitches had tricked her.

There had been no sign, no word of a change of plans - hell, none of their cars were in front of Andrew and Kate’s house!

Sulkily, Sharon sat on the couch in between Kate and Ellie, pouting over the hard root beer she’d been handed. Maria was on the other side of Kate, Jessica and Olivia had taken the armchairs, and Lexie and Hilary were sitting on the floor next to the coffee table – which also put them in easy reach of the snacks. A laptop had been set up on the coffee table as well, the screen facing Sharon, so that Angel and Leigh could video chat in.

As usual, Melody was attached to Angel's boob. Sharon wasn't super familiar with newborns, but she was starting to understand Angel's disgruntled comments about being a milk machine. The fact that her friends had come up with a way to make sure Angel and Leigh could be part of the confrontation was both ingenious and annoying.

"This is not what I expected," Sharon muttered grumpily. In the back of her brain she'd known she wouldn't be able to avoid the gaggle forever, but she really had thought today would be just her and Kate. She figured her bestie would want to grill her one-on-one, not call for immediate back up. 

"No one expects the Spanish Inquisition," Angel and Leigh chorused, making everyone laugh. Even Sharon couldn't help but crack a smile. 

"And unlike some of us, the rack would work on Sharon," Ellie said teasingly. Sharon stuck her tongue out at the little masochist, who would enjoy being put on the rack. Ellie usually kept her quips fairly quiet, but it was obvious that hanging out with the rest of the loud-mouthed ladies was having an effect on her. It made Sharon feel a little proud at seeing her own influence. 

"Is an interrogation really necessary?" Sharon whined. 

"No, but we had nothing better to do today and whatever is going on between you and Jake has obviously gotten more interesting," Hilary said, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement. She was sitting cross-legged and currently pulling her honey-blonde hair to the back of her head so she could reform the messy bun she was keeping it in. 

Lexie nodded, smirking at Sharon. Her gaze was a little heavier than the others - which wasn't surprising since they were talking about her family. She was obviously going to have a more vested interest than the others. "There's no way my brother is taking you to a wedding out of the goodness of his heart or to keep you from 'having to ask' your ex. A month ago, he wouldn't have cared about any of that... so what changed? And when?" 

Stubbornly, Sharon just took a swig of her drink rather than answering. 

"He did get all weird about her talking to Kincaid last week," Maria pointed out, looking around at everyone else. 

"Plus chased her out to her car to 'apologize' and then didn't come back," Kate murmured. 

Jessica smirked and eyed Sharon thoughtfully. "Must have been some apology."

Despite herself, Sharon felt a little blush rise in her cheeks. 

"Oh! Oh! Bingo! She's blushing!" Kate poked her in the side. On the computer screen, both Angel and Leigh were leaning forward, as though trying to see the pink. 

"Stop it," Sharon said, batting Kate's hand away and leaning into Ellie to get away from the pokey-finger. "You all are making a big deal out of nothing, and it's just weird being the center of everyone's attention. That's all."

"So, nothing has been going on between you and Jake? And that's why you both left Stronghold at the same time last weekend, and last night, and he insisted you take him instead of Brian to your cousin's wedding?" Kate asked in disbelief, clearly not buying a word of it. 

Sharon rolled her eyes, trying to think of something that sounded more believable than the total bullshit Jake had been shoveling last night. 

"I don't know if you all have noticed, but we're kind of the only two single people left in this group of friends," she said dryly. "We've ended up talking to each other a little more because of that. Obviously, he's finally started to realize how freaking awesome I am and so we're getting along better. It was nice of him to offer to come to the wedding so I that didn't have to show up with an ex and face all the awkward questions that come with that." 

"As opposed to all the awkward questions now?" Leigh asked, making Angel snort with laughter and Kate's living room fill with giggles. 

"New Year's Eve." Olivia's voice cut through the laughter.

Shrinking in slightly on herself, Sharon felt her giggle immediately cut off as the intimidating Domme stared at her, her grey eyes laser-focused on Sharon. Eek. Olivia had a bit of a reputation when it came to other people's relationships. She didn't interfere - at least, not unless she was invited - but somehow, she always knew what was going on. And she had given more than one of their friends a verbal smack upside the head when she deemed it necessary. 

While Sharon was submissive, she wouldn't say she was intimidated by too many people. In fact, it was a very short list of names - but Olivia's was at the top. 

"New Year’s Eve?" she asked, her voice wobbling a little and she could feel her blush creeping back up under Olivia's silvery gaze. The entire room had gone silent, all of them looking at Olivia.

The redhead leaned forward. She didn't need to loom to be scary. Her eyes narrowed.

"When we were at the hospital for Melody, Jake was being weird about you and I thought he was just being his usual self; but he wasn't, was he? Something happened at Marquis on New Year’s Eve." 

Unable to escape Olivia's intense scrutiny, Sharon felt her cheeks bloom with full on heat. Shit! She never blushed like this! Damn Domme! 

"Holy shit, Olivia's right!" Kate squealed. "You bitch, I can't believe you've been hiding this from me for weeks!" 

"Oh my God, did you two kiss at midnight?" Lexie asked, right over Kate's squealing. "Is that why neither of you two were around later, did you go home together?" 

The room pretty much exploded with tumult and speculation as Sharon shrank down in her seat. Dammit, she was going to need way more than hard root beer. 

Talk about cover blown. 

Smirking, Olivia sat back in her own chair, her lips twisted with amusement. 

"Payback," Olivia mouthed at her. 

Grudge-holding firecrotch! Sharon thought the other woman had forgotten - or at least let it go - the fact that Sharon might have accidentally-on-purpose nudged her into Luke's arms at Angel and Adam's wedding. After all, the two had ended up getting together recently. 

"So how long have you been banging my brother?" Lexie demanded, pointing an accusing finger at Sharon. At least she didn’t look upset, just excited. Although that might not be much better considering the situation. 

Groaning, Sharon grabbed a couch cushion and held it over her face. Maybe she could suffocate herself into unconsciousness. 

******

The heavy knocking at Jake's door on Sunday afternoon was not entirely unexpected, even though Jake hadn't invited anyone over. He was not at all surprised to find Patrick standing there, a six-pack in hand and a wide grin on his face. 

"Hey there, best friend," Patrick said, practically shouldering Jake out of the way as he pushed into the apartment. "How are you? I feel like we haven't had appropriate male bonding time recently and I'm missing out on things in your life."

"You could have just called," Jake muttered, closing the door behind him. 

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't be able to see your face," Patrick retorted as he stepped into the kitchen and pulled two beers out of the box. Holding the caps against the table, he quickly opened both of them and handed one to Jake before putting the rest in the fridge. Leaning back against the counter, he crossed his arms over his chest, holding the beer close enough to his face to sip from and raised one eyebrow at Jake. "So? Talk."

Sighing, Jake took a sip of his own beer - a nice, smooth ale; Patrick had picked up his favorite - before replying. 

"No judgment allowed," he said finally. Patrick nodded. "No opinions unless I ask for them. No advice."

"Got it."

Jake knew Patrick would hold himself to that, even if it killed him a little inside. He was pretty good about that kind of thing anyway, but Jake just wanted it laid out before he fessed up.

"Sharon and I have been fuck buddies since New Years' Eve." He watched Patrick closely to see his friend's reaction.

Patrick's jaw clenched, a little muscle moving up and down. The scar near his eye - which Jake had given to him years ago when they were playing with swords - twitched. His lips pressed together. 

Finally, he cleared his throat. "I will admit... I did not see that coming."

"But you knew something was going on."

"Oh, I knew something was going on, but I thought you two were just flirting or finally admitting that you're attracted to each other... Maybe that you'd kissed, but... fuck buddies?" Patrick shook his head slowly. "Did not see that coming."

"Why not?" Jake wanted to know. He was just curious how it looked from the outside. Wondered if Patrick thought he and Sharon wouldn’t work together… and if was for the same reasons Jake didn’t really see them working together long-term. 

"Well, for one, she's definitely not your type," Patrick said, and Jake nodded. "Normally you go for women who are more reserved, more soft-spoken... you know, kind of quiet and restrained." 

Now Jake was frowning. Somehow when Patrick said it, it sounded different than how Jake thought about it. Like Patrick didn't like the women Jake normally went for. 

"And that's a bad thing?" he asked, a little defensively. 

"Not necessarily," Patrick said, shrugging. "None of them seem to have stuck long with you though. It's interesting that you're going for something different now, is all."

"I'm not going for her, we're just... you know, having sex." 

A lot of sex. Sure, they'd started hanging out a bit too, in between the sex, and they were texting, and he was going to her cousin's wedding but... That was all just because they were also connected through their friends. They weren't dating. They were just exclusive fuck buddies.

Even in his own head, he knew how stupid he sounded, which was why he didn't bother saying any of it out loud. 

Sure, he liked her more than he used to, now that he spent time with her, but he still didn't think they would work. Not long-term. It was best not to get anyone's expectations up. Including his own. Eventually whatever this insane attraction was between them would have to die down and then they'd probably go back to bothering each other the way they had before. 

"Yeah, that's the other thing," Patrick drawled, interrupting Jake's inner excuse train. "You are not a fuck-buddy type person. In fact, I can't remember you ever having a fuck-buddy before, because you're not very good at casual. As evidenced by the fact that you don't want your fuck buddy going to a wedding with someone else."

Jake scowled, knowing his best friend had a point. 

Dammit, he was getting attached to Sharon. Despite the fact that she wasn't his type. Despite the fact that she annoyed and entertained him in equal measure - and sometimes for the same reason. Despite the fact that they'd agreed to keep things casual. 

Well, that wasn't good.

Although... She hadn't seemed unhappy about him demanding to be her wedding date. A little unhappy that he'd done so in front all of their friends, but it wasn't like he'd had a choice since she'd been about to ask her ex. 

Maybe he could think of the next couple weeks as a trial run. Patrick and Lexie's engagement party was next weekend; Sharon would be there. He could see what his parents made of her without introducing her as his girlfriend, since she wasn't. And then he'd meet her family the week after that, as her date but not her boyfriend. 

Patrick was right, she wasn't his usual... Maybe that was why he found her so addictive. Maybe in a couple of weeks, after doing the more mundane relationship type things and no longer hiding it from their friends, it wouldn't be as much fun for either of them. The newness would wear off and so would the thrill of sneaking around. 

Pounding at the door had both of them looking up, Jake turning half around and frowning. He looked back at Patrick. "Did you invite someone along with you?" 

Patrick shook his head, looking as perplexed as Jake. 

"Open up, Jake, I know you're in there." The voice was muffled by the door, but completely recognizable. 

"Andrew," he and Patrick said at the same time, Jake with resignation, Patrick with amusement.

******

Sadly, she was not allowed to make herself pass out. The cushion was too porous for that anyway, she didn’t have any real trouble breathing through it. Which meant she ended up telling her friends everything that had happened since New Year's Eve – thanks, Olivia. At least Kate had gotten her another hard root beer so she had something yummy to sip on while she spilled her guts.

Well, since Jake's little sister was there she didn't go into detail about everything... But she probably told them all more than he would be comfortable with. Oh well. It was his own damn fault for blowing their cover in front of everyone. 

"Okay, but do you like him?" Angel asked when Sharon finally finished her recital of events. Melody was finally finished feeding and had fallen asleep in Angel's arms, completely oblivious to the conversation happening over her head. That was one good baby.

"I mean... Now that he's not a stick in the mud all the time... I mostly do," Sharon admitted. Which was true. She felt like she could relax around him, something she couldn't always say about the men she dated, but Jake already knew what she was like at her most obnoxious. There was no reason to hold back with him. 

And it was kind of fun to see what he found annoying and what he found funny about her. Sometimes he even surprised her. 

But she didn't know if there could really be anything between them, because he was still exhaustingly obstinate a lot of the time. While he found some of her antics amusing, he disapproved of others. Sharon did try to put her best foot forward when she was dating someone, but she wasn't going to change who she was for them in the long run. Jake didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be okay with her outspoken ways for the long-haul. 

Heck, they hadn't even been out in public together except in group settings, where he'd often seemed embarrassed by her. 

"Don't get your hopes up," she said warningly, pointing her finger at all of her friends in turn. "This is not going to be some kind of cutesy, we're the last two single people so we get together type thing. I'm not going to settle for a guy just because he's the only other single person in my group of friends."

Lexie bristled defensively. "Why would my brother be someone you have to 'settle' for?" 

"Because I'm pretty sure he'd see himself as settling for me," Sharon explained, not at all bothered by Lexie's automatic reaction. It was to be expected. "Any guy that sees himself as settling because he's with me is a guy that I just settled for."

More than one person blinked as they worked their way through her logic. 

"Yeah, okay, I can see that," Lexie conceded after a minute. She gave Sharon a rueful smile. "Just for the record, I think you'd be really good for him. I hardly ever make friends with his girlfriends. They're all nice and whatever, but they're really hard to get to know. Not unfriendly, exactly but... Not friendly either."

"Well I'm friendly," Sharon teased, winking. 

"Are you going to warn him what he's getting into with your family?" Kate wanted to know. 

"What's he getting into with her family?" Jessica asked, leaning forward to reach around Lexie and grab a handful of crackers. She wasn't the only one who was curious, going by the expressions. Sharon sighed. She rarely talked about her family if she could help it. Why focus on things that brought her down when she'd much rather focus on the positive parts of life? 

"They're kind of big jerks," Kate said, breaking the ice on the subject. "Her parents are huge snobs, super self-involved, and they care way more about their image than anything else."

"As you can imagine, I'm definitely not their idea of a perfect daughter," Sharon chimed in with a thin smile, now that Kate had gotten the hard part over with. “I’m basically the epitome of a poor little rich girl. Lots of nannies, lots of my parents trying to mold me into the shape they wanted, and lots of rebellion on my part.”

She hated the sympathy she saw on everyone’s faces. The ‘poor little rich girl’ moniker was not her favorite, but it was apt. Everyone else here had families who loved them the way they were. She’d heard Jessica’s family had had some trouble accepting the fact that she had two men in her life, but they had accepted it. Sharon was pretty sure she would have been disowned. Hilary’s family was pretty well off, but her parents were involved in her life in a way Sharon’s had never been. Sharon didn’t like being an object of pity. She didn’t like facing what she didn’t have.

She really did have a lot, and she was grateful for it.

So her parents kind of sucked. They weren’t the worst parents in the world; they were just normal, absentee, wealthy, image-obsessed parents with expectations for her that she never met. Now she went out of her way to show them there was no point in trying to manipulate her, but they weren’t bad enough that she felt justified in cutting them out of her life entirely. Sometimes she did think about it though.

“Are they going to be mean to Jake?” Maria asked after a minute when it was obvious everyone was struggling to try and figure out what to say. Because what should a person say about it? This was why Sharon hated talking about her parents. It was always awkward for everyone.

“Probably at least a little,” Sharon admitted. A little smile turned up the corners of her lips. “Especially once they find out that he’s working in a blue-collar job.”

“That’s going to matter to them?” Hilary asked, wrinkling her nose a little.

Everything matters to them.”

Especially at a wedding when everyone was going to be showing off their kids. On the other hand, she knew her parents… They would make the best of the situation in public. Maybe she should warn Jake.

Might be more fun not to though.

******

Sitting around the kitchen table with one glowering friend and one friend grinning like a loon was not comfortable.

Apparently, Andrew was acting as Sharon’s big brother – only he was way more protective and not as supportive as Jake had been about one of his friends dating his little sister. Then again… He wasn’t exactly dating Sharon was he?

“So. Fuck buddies.” Andrew glared at him and Jake held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“What makes you think that?” he asked. Might as well play dumb. Andrew hadn’t been listening at the door or something had he?

“The fact that there’s an interrogation happening at my house right now and that’s what Sharon said.” If anything, Andrew’s dark gaze grew harder. He didn’t look amused at all.

Well… shit.

Fine. Time to shift gears. “Why is it any of your business?”

“Because she needs someone to look out for her.”

Jake couldn’t help it – he snorted. He honestly couldn’t think of anyone less in need of someone to look out for them. Sharon was not just eminently capable, but she was deliberately independent. “She can take care of herself.”

“But she shouldn’t have to,” Andrew countered, leaning back against his chair and ignoring the beer he’d been given. “She does it because she’s used to doing it, and because she doesn’t trust anyone else to be there to do it for her.”

That was an interesting take on things, and one that made Jake take a mental step back so he could consider it. He had noticed that Sharon took care of her friends a lot of the time, but she didn’t seem to need the same in return. It hadn’t occurred to him to think about why that was true. Some people were just more self-sufficient than others.

He still had trouble seeing Sharon as someone who needed someone looking out for her though. She seemed the type to fight against that.

But if Andrew’s mind was made up to do so, Jake doubted he’d be able to stop him either.

Jake rubbed his hand over his face. This was exactly why they hadn’t wanted to involve their friends. Dammit. He wished Sharon had just let him know about the wedding before last night so that he hadn’t had to intervene in front of anyone to keep her from asking her ex to go. Talk about being self-sufficient; they had been talking every day and she hadn’t even mentioned it, just decided on a course of action and then gone for it.

“Are you asking my intentions?” he asked dryly.

“No, I’m telling you that if you hurt her, I’m going to kick your ass. In a totally friendly way.” Andrew bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile. “She’s a lot more vulnerable than she seems sometimes and she takes a lot of things to heart. Some of the shit you’ve said to her in the past… well, it didn’t bother her then but that was then, and this is now.”

“I’m not going to be a total dick to her,” Jake protested, feeling more than a little insulted. Especially because now Patrick was nodding in agreement with Andrew.

“You have been pretty judgmental when it comes to her,” Patrick said reasonably. “I know it doesn’t seem like she’s sensitive, but when she cares about someone, she does care about their opinion. That includes you now.”

Under the weight of both of their gazes, Jake couldn’t help squirming a little, which was not a comfortable position to be in.

“I swear, I’m not going to be a dick,” he repeated, for lack of anything better to say.

“You’d better not be,” Andrew said, finally uncrossing his arms and grabbing his beer.

Jake sighed inwardly. Geez. Hopefully meeting Sharon’s family would be easier than this.


Chapter 9

This was so fucking awkward.

They’d been fine texting during the day.

Sharon had sent a pic of her cleavage.

Jake had sent one of his abs.

They’d flirted.

And then she’d shown up at his apartment for hot sex and…

It was awkward.

So, so, painfully awkward. 

Instead of pulling her inside and taking off all her clothes, he'd been kind of stiff and uncertain. Not that he was the only one. She'd even had trouble looking him in the eye. 

Ugh. 

"So, ah, how was your day?" she asked as she watched him put away her coat, smoothing her hands over her short skirt. 

"Pretty good. We finished out the office we've been working on, got all the small details done. We're starting on a new location tomorrow." He finished hanging up the coat and turned to look at her. "You look nice." 

"Thanks." 

Silence fell between them, and not the fun, wrought with sexual tension kind of silence. 

Sharon eyed him. "Okay, even if we've run through our attraction, you still have to be my date to my cousin's wedding."

His laugh cut through a good deal of the heaviness in the air, his shoulders relaxing as he grinned, and that let her relax too. 

"It's not that, it's just..." He shrugged, tilting his head as he gave her an almost shy smile. "This is a little weird right?" 

"A little bit," she admitted. "I mean, nothing has really changed but..."

"In some ways it totally has. Did you know Andrew and Patrick came by to visit me yesterday?" 

Sharon blinked in surprise. While she'd noticed Andrew hadn't been around at his and Kate's house, she figured he'd just been hiding out from the female brigade, not that he'd had an agenda over at Jake's. "No. Why...? Oh dammit!" She groaned. "Do not tell me that Andrew went all big brother on you."

"Oh, he totally did," Jake said, moving and ushering her into the living room. "Threatened to kick my ass if I hurt you."

"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head. "I don't know why he gets like that. It's not like he doesn't have his own little sister who needs looking after."

"Yeah, but he likes looking after you too," Jake teased. "Want something to drink? I've got water, wine, beer..."

"If it's red, a glass of wine sounds great." Couldn't hurt anyway. Whatever this new paradigm between them was, it clearly wasn't going to involve immediately jumping each other. Not that they'd been solely focused on the sex, it was just that the sex had been coming before the conversation. 

Sitting down on the couch, Sharon curled her legs underneath her for warmth and turned so she could rest her head along the back, watching Jake in the kitchen. He was dressed in his regular jeans and long-sleeved shirt. Today's was a dark blue that made his eyes look even lighter and bluer, and his hair was slightly mussed in the way that she liked. It looked like it might be a little wet too, like he'd taken a shower not too long ago. 

Unlike her, he was dressed for comfort and warmth. Not that he'd ever dressed up much anyway. 

Should she stop dressing up? Would he still want her if she came over in sweatpants and a t-shirt? Now that was an interesting theory to test one day... 

"Andrew said I should ask you about your family," Jake said, coming back into the room, a glass of wine in each hand. 

Sharon made a face. The traitor. Although she probably would have told Jake anyway, rather than letting him walk in completely blind.

Probably. 

"They're mean, they're going to be horrified by your job, and they're completely self-involved," she said succinctly, taking the glass from him. "The wedding is probably going to be one tiny nightmare after another on top of the larger nightmare of the wedding itself. I have a few normal family members, but mostly picture the worst family relationship scenarios you can imagine and then extrapolate from there."

Jake chuckled. "So... inbreeding?" 

She snorted, nearly choking on her wine. "Maybe not quite that bad, but... kind of close. My parents' generation all had what amounted to arranged marriages. Most of them are desperately unhappy but refuse to divorce. My parents get along pretty well but it's more a business relationship than anything else as far as I can tell." 

"You're not close?" 

"I try to spend as little time with them as possible." It was better for everyone that way. "I don't really do family. At least, not my family."

"Huh." Jake's forehead wrinkled, and Sharon could feel herself pulling behind the facade she often employed when dealing with anything to do with her family. 

“We don’t get along,” she said lightly.

“Why not?”

“Well, they want me to be a society princess, marry someone who will make a good business connection, and behave all the time. I want none of that. Fortunately, my trust came from my grandma so they haven’t had any control over me for a really long time.”

“But they’re your parents… it sounds like they love you and want the best for you, as they picture it.”

“Sure,” she said with a sigh. This was not a topic she wanted to spend any time on.

It wasn't his fault that he didn't get it. This was why she kept things light. Without Kate here to bolster her, or anyone else who had seen her family firsthand, she knew she sounded a little bitchy to someone who didn't understand. People who had warm, loving families that supported them just didn't get it. To them, family was family, through thick and thin, and even when you hated them you loved them. 

Sharon understood that, intellectually. She'd seen how other families worked, seen how their children struggled with the idea that sometimes people were so toxic that it didn't matter if they were related to you by blood. Heck, Sharon even understood the impulse to keep up the family ties, otherwise, she would have completely cut contact with hers years ago. 

For the sake of her own sanity and emotional well-being, she stayed away as much as possible. She doubted that was something Jake would understand. Most people didn't. Yesterday, she and Kate had barely glossed the surface explaining Sharon's family to their friends. Sharon had deliberately made it sound like they were kooky, absent, but she hadn't gotten into how they made her feel or how much she tried to stay away from them. 

Since Jake had asked and he was actually going to meet them, she figured he deserved a little bit more of a warning, but she could already feel the judgment coming. 

Taking a large swallow of her wine, she leaned forward to display her cleavage a little better, putting her hand on his knee. He blinked, and she could almost see him mentally switching gears.

******

The little smile on Sharon's face as she leaned forward, one hand on his leg, the other holding her mostly empty wine glass, was one of seductive enticement. This was new. She always gave as good as she got, but she usually waited for him to take the lead. 

Then again, she obviously wasn't interested in talking more about her family - a fact that disturbed Jake. Family was important to him, it was one of the most important things to him, whereas she'd just made it clear that it wasn't important at all to her. Which left them... where exactly? Because it seemed like another way they were incompatible for being anything more than fuck-buddies.

Her dark eyes glittered as the wine glass tilted and red liquid dripped out, splashing down on the creamy swell of her breasts. 

"Oops," she said, with a little quirk of her red lips. "Spilled." 

Of course, he didn't really need to figure out their whole future right now. They still weren't even technically dating. Like she'd said, nothing had really changed. He needed to stop borrowing trouble.

Especially when she was offering up much more interesting alternatives. 

Jake leaned forward, bowing his head down and swiping his tongue over the spilled wine, cleaning it from her skin. She giggled and gasped a little as he took extra care in making sure he got every last drop. With a little growl under his breath, his arm snaked out to wrap around her waist and pull her onto his lap, straddling him. 

With one leg on either side of his thighs, the short, tight skirt of her little black dress was pushed up to the point where it could barely be considered decent covering. Deliberately, Jake held up his wine over her breasts, which were now directly in front of his face, and tipped some more of the liquid onto them. 

"Oops," he said wickedly, leaning forward to catch the droplets before they ran down into the fabric of her dress. Sharon squirmed on top of his lap as his free hand cupped her ass, his fingers sliding under the hem of her dress to tease the outer lips of her pussy. As usual, she'd come commando, providing easy access. 

He was starting to wonder if she even owned underwear. 

As he licked the wine across her chest, with Sharon helpfully pulling down the straps of her dress so he could make sure to get it all, his cock was already pressing against the front of his jeans. She wasn't in quite the right position to rub against the bulge, but it didn't matter, he was turned on as all hell by the little game she'd started. 

More wine tipped onto her chest, allowing him to lick it from each curve and suck it from her nipples while she squirmed and moaned breathily with growing arousal. Wetness touched his fingertips as she pushed her hips back, trying to connect with his hand. As soon as his own glass was empty, he set it aside and gripped her ass with both hands, pulling her more firmly against him while he suckled at her breasts. 

The tangy flavor of the wine lingered on his tongue as he traced it over her silky skin, enjoying teasing her. Grabbing the hem of her dress, he started working it upwards. He wanted her completely naked and on top of him. 

"Hands over your head," he ordered, tugging on her dress. 

The sultry smile she gave him as she obeyed just made him even harder. He yanked her dress off, tossing it to the side, leaving her in nothing but her heels. Not that he could appreciate the view of those currently, but maybe later. 

Now her entire body was bared to him, and he ran his hands over her curves, from her breasts down to her hips as Sharon arched prettily towards him, her hands coming down to cup the back of her head and giving him full access to do whatever he pleased with her. 

Leaning forward, Jake sucked one pert nipple into his mouth and bit down gently, rolling the tender bud between his teeth as his hands returned to her ass, holding her in place so that she was rubbing herself on the bulge of his cock as she squirmed. Moaning, Sharon arched even more, rocking against him as he switched breasts. 

He was starting to understand why it might be fun to have a woman all tied up and at his mercy. Even though she was holding her hands behind her head by choice, and he hadn't asked her to do so, it was fucking hot being able to touch her all over while she was basically immobilized. Maybe he'd have to look into getting some cuffs or rope for them to play with... 

******

Being totally naked on Jake's lap while he played with her body was fucking hot. Especially because she could feel the huge bulge of his erection against her pussy and clit, and the friction of his jeans against her sensitive bits was delicious. 

When she moved her hands, reaching for him and intending to put them on his shoulders, he shocked her by giving her ass a sudden, sharp swat as he lifted his head from her breasts. 

Smack!

"Hands back where they were," he ordered, his blue eyes glittering. Slowly, Sharon moved them back into place as heat flushed through her, weaving her fingers together behind her head and offering her breasts up to him again. The spot on her ass where he'd spanked her stung - in a good way. The slow smile that spread across his face as he watched her obey sent a flush of heat through her body. "Good girl. Stay just like that."

Ooh he was getting bossier and holy crap did she like it. That had been Dom-level bossy. And being called a good girl so unexpectedly, by him, was making her hot and bothered all over. Not like she hadn't already been panting for it. 

She mewled, squirming even more as his hands came up to squeeze her breasts, pinching her nipples. He watched every expression that flashed across her face intently, obviously enjoying her reactions. It made her feel like she was putting on a tiny, private show for him and that turned her on even more. 

Then his hands moved back down to her hips, lifting her upwards and away from his lap so he could undo the front of his pants and free his cock. Almost immediately, he was lowering her down onto it, and she moaned, her head falling back as she felt herself stretch. Being on top like this, with her muscles tenser, meant she was tighter than usual. 

She bounced slightly working her way down on his cock, and she didn't miss the way Jake's eyes watched her breasts bounce with her movements. Undulating her body, she flexed her thighs, moving up and down on his lap, taking a little bit more of his cock with each rise and fall of her body. Working her way slowly down his entire length not only felt good, but she was enjoying her little performance for Jake and the way his hands roamed over her as she ground down on top of him. 

"Faster," he demanded, his voice husky as he watched her move.

Sharon hesitated. "My arms..."

"Put them where you need to." 

Her shoulders were a little sore and it was a relief to lower her arms. Placing her hands on his shoulders, Sharon used the leverage to start really riding Jake's cock, moaning as his hands gripped her hips, helping her move. Leaning back against the sofa, he was watching her with pleasure, obviously enjoying the view as much as he was enjoying the sensations, and Sharon felt herself shuddering with her own pleasure in being watched. 

Jake began to move underneath her, thrusting up into her every time she came down, their bodies connecting with a little jolt that went straight through her clit. She started rubbing herself against him, grinding down harder as she impaled herself on his cock. 

Then one of his hands moved around to her ass, wetting his finger in her cream before seeking out the crinkled opening of her ass. His eyes were trained on her face as his finger sank in on her next fall, and Sharon gripped his shoulders tighter, clenching down around his cock and the new intruder simultaneously. The slight burn enhanced her pleasure and the sensation of being doubly filled made her writhe. 

"Oh yes..." She threw her head back, letting the needs of her body take over as she rode Jake and he fucked her ass with his finger. The double heaping of stimulation made her whimper as she moved harder, faster, rubbing her clit against his pubic bone as she got hotter and wetter, her orgasm growing higher. "Oh fuck... Jake... fuck me..."

His finger pushed in deeper, stinging slightly, and she clenched down around him as she took him all the way inside of her. Her clit throbbed, trapped between them, as her ecstasy spiraled, and Jake's hips thrust upwards. He groaned, and his hands tightened their grip on her ass, his finger pushing all the way in as he began to pulse inside of her. 

Sharon felt her muscles spasm, milking him of his cum as her sexual rapture thrummed through her body. Panting, she moaned as she slowly collapsed on him, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. She whimpered quietly as he jerked a few more times beneath her, stimulating her sensitive, swollen tissues even more with the last bursts of his orgasm. 

Then she felt him relax beneath her, his finger sliding from her ass, and he dropped his head against the back of the couch, both of them panting for breath. 

“Fuck, that was hot,” she murmured, bowing her head forward slightly, watching his expression.

He chuckled running one hand up and down her back while the other was still curved around the cheek of her ass. “You’re not going to hear an argument from me.”

Sharon pressed her lips to his, still wanting the connection even as he shrank inside of her. Jake kissed her back, sliding one hand into her hair, and his other hand gently squeezed her buttock, making her skin tingle.  

Ending the kiss, Sharon lifted her head and smiled down at him. "Wanna go take a shower and get nice and clean so we can get dirty again?" 

He grinned up at her. "Sounds like a plan."

She squealed with delight as he stood abruptly, forcing her to wrap her legs around his waist. Even though he was only half-hard, the position meant she was bouncing on his cock as he walked her to the bathroom like that, with her clinging to him like a koala. Sharon couldn't stop giggling, even as she was rubbed against his hard body in the most delicious way.

Not surprisingly, they ended up getting dirty again before they'd even finished their shower.

******

The thing about being exclusive fuck buddies, Jake was discovering, was that it could easily become a lot like dating. Especially if the two people involved were already very connected through their group of nosy friends.

Monday night he showed up for dinner with his sister and Patrick only to find that they'd invited Sharon too. She hadn't given him a heads-up, even though he'd told her the night before that he was getting together with them and could see her afterward if she wanted. Later, he'd tied her hands to her bed and then gone down on her but hadn't let her orgasm until she'd promised to let him know when they were both invited to the same place. 

According to her, Lexie had texted Monday afternoon to invite her and she'd thought it would be fun to surprise him, since she knew he'd be there. Surprising him was fun for her... And tormenting her was fun for him. 

By Thursday he'd realized his clothes were disappearing. Mainly his shirts. 

He was both amused and exasperated to find a small pile of them in Sharon's bedroom. Somehow, he hadn't even noticed she'd been taking them. 

"But they smell good," she protested when he took them back. 

Given that she looked adorable wearing them, considering she had to roll the arms up several times just to expose her hands and the hem of them fell close to her knees, Jake had a harder time than he'd expected taking them back. He'd ended up letting her keep two at a time - but no more than two. Sharon had smirked at him, and he'd vowed to himself that if he did find her with more than two, at any point, he was going to find out exactly what was so fun about punishment spankings. 

He needed his clothes dammit. 

Strangely, he kind of liked that she was stealing them though. It was girlfriend-y. Although, she was a lot more acquisitive than any of his past girlfriends. Most of them had just taken a hoodie or one shirt, and if he'd wanted it back they happily laundered and returned it. Not hoarded and hidden them. 

They'd also found out that they had a lot of similar tastes in movies and tv shows, which had led to several nights of actually Netflix and chilling. He'd found someone who loved terrible movies even more than he did, although Sharon's focus was more on bad shark movies than on bad horror movies in general - but she was willing to watch as long as he was willing to protect her. Since Jake had no problem with her jumping into his lap or using him to hide when she found something scary instead of amusingly bad, it worked out well. 

He still wasn't sure how to deal with the family thing. 

Several times he'd tried to bring it up in conversation, but she always changed the subject or jumped him if he was too persistent. Finally, he figured he'd just see how the wedding went. It wasn't a big deal anyway, they weren't serious; even if he was finding that he really was starting to care for her in much more than a friendly or casual fuck buddy kind of way. 

Besides, before her cousin's wedding, they had to get through Patrick and Lexie's engagement party and Sharon meeting his parents.


Chapter 10

There is no reason to be nervous.

Being nervous was for meeting a boyfriend's parents because things were getting serious. 

It was not for meeting a not-boyfriend's parents just because they happened to also be the parents of one of her best friends whose engagement party she was attending. Seriously. Jake's parents didn't know there was anything going on between them - and they'd specifically warned everyone against bringing it up. 

Not a single reason to be nervous.

Sadly, logic did not appear to be winning the day. 

"Smile," Kate muttered under her breath as they approached the front door. "You look like you're about to pass out or something."

"Who says I'm not?" Sharon muttered back. 

Andrew looked over his shoulder to give them both a quelling look. She wrinkled her nose at him. He was not happy about the 'not talking about Jake and Sharon in front of Jake's parents' edict. Sharon had explained that Jake wasn't ashamed of her, it just wasn't the time, and she wanted it this way. He still hadn't liked it. 

Bossy man. 

He looked good tonight, all dressed up for the engagement party. Normally Sharon saw him dressed either casually or in his leathers for the club. Tonight he was wearing what she had a feeling would be standard for the rest of the men as well - dress slacks and a button-down shirt. The forest green of his shirt set off the caramel brown of his skin and picked up flecks of green that usually weren't noticeable in his dark eyes. Kate had opted for a similar look, although she'd gone with a soft blue sweater instead of a button-down.

She'd said it was too freaking cold for dresses and she was right - but that hadn't stopped Sharon from putting on her favorite red sweater dress to go with her black tights. It was sexy without being scandalous and it made her feel more confident. Red was totally a power color. 

Of course, right now they were all bundled up in their coats, but that would only be true until they got inside. 

The door opened almost as soon as Andrew rang the bell to reveal a very pretty woman with a wide smile on her face. She had plenty of laugh lines around her bright blue eyes – no need to guess where Jake and Lexie had inherited their own baby blues from – but unlike her children’s black locks, her hair was a light brown liberally streaked with blonde highlights. Although it was dyed, Sharon figured they must have gotten their darker hair color from their father, because the lighter colors suited Mrs. Standish too well not to be close to her natural color. Like her daughter she was petite and quite thin, and looked very pixie-ish.

"Andrew!" she said, sounding delighted. "Come in, dear, come in." Her eyes flicked back to Kate's face as she hugged him and shooed him through the door. "And Kate – Lexie said you go by Kate now, correct?"

"Yes Mrs. Standish. It’s so good to see you again," Kate said as she stepped inside, half turning to gesture at Sharon before giving the older woman a hug as well. "And this is my best friend Sharon, whom I don't think you've met." 

"Hello," Sharon said, pasting a smile on her face as her heart thudded inside of her chest. Please like me... or at least don't hate me... She made herself step forward, holding out her hand to shake. 

To her shock, Mrs. Standish took it and pulled Sharon in for a hug too. Sharon automatically returned it, since she was a pretty tactile person herself, even as she blinked in stunned astonishment. Parents hugging her, especially right off the bat, was not someone in her wheelhouse.

"Please, call me Wendy, all of you." Letting go of Sharon the woman stepped back, holding out her hand to take Andrew's coat, but she was still smiling at Sharon. "I know we haven't met before, but Lexie's told me so much about her friends that I feel like I know you already."

The front door shut behind them and Sharon could already hear the sounds of a party in process deeper in the house. It might just be her imagination, but she swore she could pick out Jake's voice even within all the noise. Wendy took their coats, directing them to head into the kitchen where the food and beverages were set up - and she particularly recommended the salted caramel hot chocolate, which could be easily spiked if they were so inclined.

Sounded good to Sharon. 

She was a little weirded out by how friendly the woman was. 

You're here as Lexie's friend, not Jake's girlfriend, that makes a difference.

It wasn't that mothers didn't like her, most of them did, but she always felt the weight of their opinions bearing down on her when she met them. She even felt it now, but that wasn't how the woman was looking at her, so it felt a little jarring. 

"Super easy, not-at-all-complicated, casual fuck buddies, right?" Kate whispered in her ear, linking arms with her as they followed Andrew down the hall. Since she was wearing flats and Sharon was wearing her favorite heeled boots, Kate didn't have to lean down as far as normal to ensure no one could overhear. 

Still.

"Shut it," Sharon whispered back. So what if she felt like a jittery girlfriend meeting her boyfriend's parents for the first time? That wasn't the actual situation and she needed to get her shit together. 

"Just relax," Kate said, more sympathetically. "Just be Lexie's friend tonight and you'll be fine."

Kate was right. Sharon shook off her nerves. The first hurdle had been passed after all. She was here, it was obvious Wendy didn't know there was anything between her and Jake, and so she could just relax and be a friend tonight. 

"All right," she said just before they followed Andrew through the doorway of what looked like the kitchen. "Let's rock and roll."

******

This was... weird. For lack of a better word. 

Even weirder than being at Stronghold had been. All his friends knew what was going on between him and Sharon, but none of his family did (other than his sister, obviously). It meant he was putting up with both sly looks and complete obliviousness. 

His mom, doing her usual hostess thing, was trying to get to know all of Lexie's friends that she hadn't met before. Right now, she had Ellie and Sharon cornered and was talking with them. Well, probably questioning, knowing his mom, and it was more like she was talking with Sharon than Ellie. Ellie tended to be quieter than Sharon anyway and Sharon was currently doing her usual 'center of attention' thing... Which irked him. 

He just didn't understand why she felt the need to be so loud. Or to take over the conversation entirely. Poor Ellie had barely said a word, it had been all Sharon. She was apparently entertaining enough, because both Ellie and his mom were laughing. But why did she constantly feel the need to monopolize conversations? Why did she constantly feel the need to put a spotlight on herself? He just didn't get it. 

The smart thing to do would be to move to a different room so that he didn't have to watch, because then he wouldn't be so annoyed by it. Easier said than done. It was like the woman had some kind of magnetic draw on him. They hadn't done more than say hello to each other, but he'd had her in view all night. 

"Why are you glaring at Sharon? Or is it your mom that you're glaring at?" 

Jake jumped at the question; he hadn't even noticed Michael moving up next to him. He didn't know Michael as well as a lot of the others, since he was a newer addition to the group of friends. While he'd been a member of Stronghold when it had first opened, he'd moved away for a while, and when he'd returned he'd started hanging out with Jake's friends because he was good friends with Angel. 

While Patrick said that Michael was a bit of a 'shit-stirrer,' Jake hadn't really seen any of that. He liked the other man, although he wouldn't call them close, so the question surprised him. The fact that Michael had separated from Ellie for a bit surprised him even more because normally they were joined at the hip. 

"She's just... She's so loud," he said, a bit plaintively, completely aware that he sounded like an ass. He groped for the words to explain his issue. "Doesn't it bother you that she just runs right over Ellie in conversations?" 

Blinking in surprise, Michael's hazel eyes met his, studying him for a moment. Then he turned his head, his long hair swaying slightly with the movement, to study the three women's conversation. He kept his voice low, just between the two of them. "Let me ask you, what do you see when you look over there?" 

"I see Sharon taking over the conversation, as usual," Jake said, some of his exasperation leaking into his voice. "I see her making herself the center of my mom's attention and Ellie barely able to get a word in edgewise. It's like she's trying to impress my mom or something." 

A small smile curved Michael's lips as he tilted his head. "Let me tell you what I see. I see my very shy girlfriend has been cornered by someone she doesn't know well. Normally I would go and run interference and make sure she's comfortable, but I already knew I didn't have to, because Sharon is there. And Sharon will make sure that she takes all the focus until Ellie feels less anxious and more comfortable talking to your mom. It's something Sharon does a lot for Ellie." 

Jake stared across the room as his entire perspective shifted, which was a little disorienting. 

Watching, he realized that it didn't look like Ellie was trying to talk. She wasn't. In fact, she appeared to be perfectly happy letting the other two have the reins of conversation. His mom, on the other hand, was just as chatty as Sharon. He'd assumed that Ellie had just been drowned out by the two more forceful personalities, but... 

Michael obviously knew her better than Jake did. Considering how protective he could be of her, it said a lot that he would deliberately leave Ellie in Sharon's care. 

Huh. 

It did make him feel better about how he now saw the interaction between the three women. The idea of being attracted to someone who was willing to squash everyone around her to get the attention she wanted didn’t sit well with him. Seeing that she was using it as an almost protective measure for her friend was different.

“Hey Jake, Michael,” Justin said from behind them, making both of them turn. “We’re about to start a pool tournament downstairs, do either of you want in?”

“Sure,” Michael said. “I’m in.”

Jake shrugged. Might as well. “Me too.”

******

When Jake disappeared with Justin and Michael, Sharon was finally able to relax a little more. She’d felt his gaze on her all night and it had made it really hard to pretend she was just there as Lexie’s friend. Especially because she swore she felt judgment. She might be just a teensy bit sensitive to that kind of thing, she reminded herself.

He might just be watching her because she was fucking hot and he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her.

More likely it was some combination of both.

“So, you don’t miss California?” Wendy asked. She’d been enjoying hearing about some of Sharon and Kate’s adventures on the West Coast – and so had Ellie. Poor Ellie had been a little overwhelmed by Wendy’s super friendly questioning, so Sharon had stepped in to deflect since she’d happened to be standing there when the conversation had started. Actually, concentrating on making sure Ellie was comfortable had helped Sharon too. It had helped distract her from wondering what kind of impression she was making on Jake’s mom.

“On days like today when it’s freaking freezing...?” Sharon waggled her head back and forth, making a face. Both Ellie and Wendy laughed. “Sometimes I miss the weather, but that’s it. Mostly it’s nice having all four seasons. I’m still holding out for some snow. It’s been so long since I’ve seen snow. I’m dying to make some snow angels. Snowmen. Maybe start a snowball fight. And it’s a proven fact that hot chocolate tastes better after being out in the snow.”

“Sitting by the fire afterward feels better too,” Wendy agreed, smiling nostalgically. “I can’t tell you how many times our kids would go out and play in the snow and then huddle by the fireplace when they came back inside. It was their favorite activity.” She chuckled. “Of course, the fact that I always brought them hot chocolate and warm cookies while they were doing that probably didn’t hurt.”

That did sound pretty amazing and Sharon felt a little ache in her ribs as she pictured it. Wendy seemed like the kind of mom that had always done little things to take care of her kids and make them happy. It sounded like a scene out of a storybook, the kind of thing she’d always imagined when she was a kid but had never experienced.

She’d had to sneak out to play in the snow and then was usually punished for doing so on returning. The only acceptable snow activity for her growing up had been skiing, and only when she and her parents visited a lodge that was specifically dedicated to that. Usually because they were doing some kind of networking or there was an event happening. Sharon was a good skier – her parents hadn’t wasted any expense on buying her lessons the first few times they’d gone – but it hadn’t been as warm and fun as what Wendy was describing.

For the most part she’d hung out with the other people her age who were also at the Lodge and had a good time. It hadn’t all been bad. But she couldn’t stop the sharp stab of envy as she pictured what it had been like for Jake, Lexie, and Patrick. Because she didn’t doubt for a moment that Patrick was included in that little scenario; she’d heard enough stories of how he’d basically spent all his time with Jake growing up to know that.

A few minutes later one of Wendy’s friends came over to ask her something and she excused herself from the conversation. Ellie said she was going to see what was going on downstairs – they could hear voices and laughter coming from the basement door, which was open – but Sharon found herself drifting to the hallway and front room.

On the way in she’d noticed the photos up in both spaces but hadn’t stopped to look at them. Now that she was on her own she found herself drawn to them, especially after hearing some of Wendy’s stories about Jake and Lexie’s childhood.

This house - this family - was like something out of a sitcom, Sharon mused as she looked over the photos. The kind of family she’d watched on television but hadn’t really thought existed. She wasn’t surprised to see that Patrick was in most of the photos as well. From what she understood, his parents were nice but not very involved. They hadn’t even come tonight, although she didn’t know why. Just that they’d been busy.

If this had been her engagement party her parents would have shown up out of social obligation, but they wouldn’t have had fun in this environment. Actually, they wouldn’t have really known what to do with themselves. There was no networking going on, just genuine human conversation.

Would be kind of fun to see them trying to fit in though.

The photos down the hallway were all formal portraits from school or team sports (apparently Jake had played baseball in high school) but the ones in the front room were more interesting. Lots of photos of family gatherings and of Lexie, Jake, and Patrick as kids. There were a lot of candids and photos where it was obvious someone had just called their names to get them to look at the camera before taking it. The contrast to the very few, very formal photos Sharon’s parents had up in their house, which tended to feature fake smiles and stiff poses, was stark. She pushed those thoughts away though, they only made her feel melancholy.

Sharon bent down to see a photo of a teenage Jake and Patrick at Christmas, both of them showing off swords that they’d been given as gifts, and she had to grin. Everyone knew that Jake had accidentally given Patrick the scar on his face, but it was still something to see the actual photographic evidence of the weapon. Both of them were pretty cute, grinning at the camera as they stood in fighting stances.

“What are you doing?” Jake’s deep voice startled her, and she jumped up straight in the air, squeaking slightly, before spinning around to face him. He was leaning against the wide doorway of the room, hands in his pockets, and she had no idea how long he’d been standing there watching her.

“You scared the crap out of me,” she accused, scowling at him. Her hands came down on her hips. “What are you doing sneaking around?”

******

Jake shrugged as Sharon glared up at him. The truth was, as soon as Ellie had come downstairs without her, he’d had the immediate impulse to go looking for her. Actually, he’d been fighting that impulse as soon as she’d been out of his sight, but he’d been winning the fight up until that point.

She wasn’t where he’d expected to find her though. The other rooms still had plenty of people milling in and out, and he’d seen his mom talking to her friend Connie, but this front room was empty. People were welcome in it, but for some reason hardly anyone ever used it, except at Christmas when his parents put up the tree.

Finding her looking at pictures instead of in the center of things…

Well, it was kind of throwing him a little. Especially after the revelation of Michael’s perspective on Sharon’s behavior earlier.

“I was just wondering where you were,” he said, tilting his head at her. “Usually you’re right in the middle of everything. It’s much quieter when you’re not. Seemed kind of weird.”

A month ago, he would have made that statement in a rather derogatory way. Tonight, he was more curious than anything else.

“I just wanted to see the pictures,” she said with a shrug, turning back to look at them, although she didn’t bend at the waist for a closer look, the way she had been before. Which was probably for the best, because, despite the tights, seeing her standing like that had been giving him all sorts of inappropriate ideas. “I’ll be back to get my share of attention when I’m done.”

Annoyance twinged through him at the matter-of-fact way she said it. Then again, he’d accused her of being an attention whore in the past, much more bluntly and less politely than he just had. It wasn’t like she was unaware of his thoughts about that.

“Why do you need more attention?” he asked, trying to sound casual, but even he could hear the edge to his voice.

Straightening up, Sharon turned to face him again, crossing her arms defensively over her chest. “Here’s a question – why does it bother you so much?”

Jake opened his mouth… closed it. He didn’t really know why it bothered him when it came right down to it. Just that he didn’t understand it and it grated on him that she constantly seemed to need so much of it.

“What’s wrong with liking attention?” She dropped her arms, stepping towards him, her voice rising a little as she demanded an answer. “If you see me taking it away from someone who would be getting the attention at the time, yeah I could see how that would be annoying. But I try not to do that, and I think I mostly succeed. Have I been taking attention Lexie and Patrick should be getting tonight? Or anyone else?”

Her dark eyes were hot with pent-up annoyance that went back far before New Year’s Eve as she came closer. A muscle worked in Jake’s jaw because he knew she had a point.

“No, you haven’t.”

About a foot away from him, she stopped, tossing her hands up in their air. “So, what’s wrong then? If it’s just that I like having lots of positive attention flowing towards me… Well that’s just one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard a lot of stupid things. Said some of them too.”

Snorting a laugh, Jake slid his hands out of his pockets and reached out for her. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion, her body stiffening slightly, as he pulled her towards him.

“You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why it bothers me, which means it’s pretty irrational for me to be bothered.”

“Damn right it is,” she muttered, although she relaxed slightly as his hands slid up her back. The sweater material of her dress was soft under his palms, and some of the thoughts he’d been having when he saw her bent over, looking at the photos, were returning.

“I might be a bit jealous,” he admitted, probing his emotions.

Sharon blinked at him in surprise. “Because you want more attention?”

“What? No… I mean, not in the way you’re thinking,” he said, shaking his head. “Being the center of attention usually makes my skin crawl, so I think I have trouble understanding why you like it so much. But also, I think I might be jealous of the attention you’re giving to everyone else. At least, that’s part of it right now.”

He’d never really deeply probed his feelings about the issue, to be honest, but what he was saying felt like it was right. Every time he’d come home in his fatigues, he and his fellow troops had gotten plenty of attention, but it hadn’t really been attention that was about them personally. While he appreciated it on one level, on another it had made him acutely uncomfortable.

People staring, people pointing, people applauding… and none of them had known what it was like. Some of the times he’d been fine, other times he’d wanted to run and hide from all the eyes. And he was lucky; he hadn’t been part of any missions gone bad. Most of his duties had been pretty routine. At one point he’d been assigned to be part of one of the teams instructing the military police in Afghanistan, but the program – which had had a one of the highest fatality rates in the country – had been discontinued a few weeks before his team had been deployed.

And Jake had been relieved. Which had made him feel like a coward. He would have gone, of course, but he hadn’t been looking forward to it. He’d hated telling his parents and glossing over how dangerous that particular assignment would be. Had dreaded counting off the days leading up to it.

So when the program had been discontinued and he’d been given leave instead, coming home and hearing the applause and gratitude from in the airport had made him feel like a fraud.

Then he’d gone to Stronghold and started getting reacquainted with everyone and met Sharon, who obviously thrived on attention. Courted it. Reveled in it.

He hadn’t exactly been friendly to her and she’d given back as good as she’d gotten… and he’d liked that. Being the focus of her attention hadn’t bothered him, and he’d kind of gotten off on constantly verbally sparring with her. Of course, holding her against him and not verbally sparring was nice too…

A little smile curved her lips and she tilted her head at him as she began to walk her fingers up his chest. “Oh? Well you have my attention now…”

The invitation in her voice was unmistakable.

It was his little sister’s and best friend’s engagement party.

His entire family was in the house.

Sneaking off to have sex with his fuck buddy would be incredibly crass.

None of the other women he’d ever dated would have dared hint at it.

They would have been appalled if he’d suggested it.

Ah… fuck it.

“I’ve got more photos upstairs in my old room,” he said.

Sharon’s smiled turned absolutely wicked and his cock responded immediately. Yeah, he definitely liked being the focus of her full attention.

“I would love to see them,” she said, leaning into him so that her breasts pressed against him, her head tilting back as if for a kiss.

His father’s laughter suddenly cut through the air, loud in the next room, and Jake pulled back, although he kept one arm around her waist so he could lead her to the stairs. Hell, he’d always had a fantasy about coming back to his parents’ house and having sex with one of his girlfriends in his high school bed… granted, in that fantasy the house had been empty, not full of other people, but the danger of getting caught was kind of adding to the excitement now running through him.

As they snuck up the stairs, Sharon kept one hand over her mouth to keep her giggles from echoing through the stairway, and Jake couldn’t stop grinning. Damn she was a bad influence. But he didn’t mind at all.


 

Chapter 11

Although some effort had been made to turn the room into a guest bedroom, there was still plenty of evidence to show that it was Jake’s old room. Despite Jake’s hands moving over her back down to her ass and his lips running down her neck, Sharon couldn’t help but be a little distracted looking around. The framed picture of a football player up on the wall was a holdover from when it was his room, and so was the shelf of trophies above the dresser.

The blue comforter on the bed was neutral enough that she wasn’t sure whether or not that had been his, same with the lamps and curtains.

“Sharon…” Jake’s hands squeezed her ass, his breath hot against her ear. “You’re not paying attention to me.”

His tone was light and teasing, and she tried to refocus herself. There would be time to look around the room later. Probably.

Either way, if they were going to have sex in his room during the party, it probably needed to be fast. They could only be missing for so long before someone would notice, especially since he was the best man and brother of the bride and she was a bridesmaid.

“Sorry,” she whispered, pulling his shirt from the waistband of his pants, giggling a little. She’d never done anything like this and she had a feeling she was trying to distract herself from how nervous she was. What if someone comes looking for us? What if Jake’s mom comes looking for us? Why is thinking about that as exciting as it is horrifying? “I’ll try to focus.”

“Why are you whispering?” He whispered back.

So that people couldn’t hear them, duh. But that was silly; of course no one could hear what they were saying. They were on a separate floor and Jake had closed the door behind them.

But she still felt like she should whisper.

“Because it feels weird being loud,” she finally responded, her voice a little louder than before but not much.

A chuckle rumbled through his chest as he moved them over to the bed, pulling up her dress as he went. "Well, you shouldn't be too loud."

She moaned, knowing his thoughts were exactly where hers were. 

We could be caught.

Jake tugged her dress over her head, leaving her in her tights and bra. He bent her back, holding her up as his mouth moved over the lacy cups over her breasts. The fabric shifted against her hard nipples, stimulating the little buds and Sharon threaded her fingers into his dark hair, shuddering with the pleasure sweeping through her as she bit down on her lower lip to keep quiet. 

When he reached her nipple, she couldn't help a small, low moan as the combination of his hot mouth and the itchy lace made her squirm. He sucked hard, and her fingers dug into his scalp. 

"Jake..." His name came out as a breathy plea for more, and he groaned around his mouthful of flesh in response. 

She squeaked as he pulled away from her breast, dragging his teeth over her nipple just hard enough to sting, before straightening up and spinning her around. Bent over the edge of the bed with her hands firmly planted on the mattress, Sharon peeked over her shoulder at him. The expression on his face was almost reverent as he rolled her tights down over her ass. He raised his eyebrows and met her gaze. 

"A thong?" he asked, his voice low and amused. 

"I wasn't going to go commando to meet your parents," she hissed back at him. There were a lot of things she didn't care about, but that had just been a little too much for her. She'd felt better wearing underwear, even if it was super sexy underwear. 

Besides, the thong matched her bra. 

Hooking his fingers into the straps, Jake yanked the thong down with her tights, crouching behind her so that she could no longer see his face. Sharon dropped her head to a more comfortable position, moaning as Jake's tongue slid through her already wet lips. He swirled it around her clit, making her whimper as she squirmed, her hips moving up and down in invitation. 

His hands spread over the underside of her ass, cupping the cheeks and holding them apart to give him full access to all her most sensitive bits. She cried out in surprise as his tongue moved upwards to circle her anus. 

"Oh you dirty fucker." She gasped out the words, her elbows buckling at the unexpected assault of sensation. With her upper body now supported by her forearms, her ass was left high in the air, like an offering. 

Jake chuckled again. "No one's ever done that to you?" 

"I just didn't expect you to do it," she retorted back. There was no way she was going to get into what other guys had or hadn't done with her. Especially since the answer to his question was that multiple guys had, and she assumed he wouldn't really want to hear that. She hadn't been expecting it from him though. 

Captain Caveman was turning out to be way dirtier than she'd ever given him credit for. Sharon was getting to know all sorts of secrets about his pervy side. 

In response, Jake laved his tongue back over her crinkled hole again, teasing the delicate nerve endings there and making Sharon squirm even more. Even though he was focusing his oral assault on her ass, it was her pussy that was responding. 

"Jake... please..." She shuddered as his fingers tightened, pressing into her soft flesh. "We don't have time!" 

******

Sadly, Sharon was probably right. 

Jake would have enjoyed teasing her more - and he would have definitely enjoyed shocking her more - but they couldn't spend hours up in his room. The sounds of the party below were muted but still there, a constant reminder that people could notice they were missing and maybe even come looking for them at any minute. His heart felt like it was beating faster than usual as he gave her one last lick and then stood. 

She'd already untucked his shirt and it only took him a moment to open the front of his pants and free his cock. Both of them groaned in unison as he rubbed the head of his cock up and down her wet slit before thrusting in, hard and fast. Immediately, the slick walls of Sharon's pussy clenched around him, squeezing tightly as he dragged his cock back out of her wet heat. 

Leaning forward, he slid his hands up her sides so he could cup her hanging breasts, squeezing them roughly as he started to move with deep, long thrusts in and out of her body. 

"Oh... fuck..." She gasped the words out, her hips lifting to meet his thrusts, while Jake pinched her nipples between his fingers. He could feel her response as her pussy tightened automatically, spasming around him at the pleasurably painful stimulation. 

"Shh," he whispered in her ear, nuzzling his lips along the back of her neck. "You don't want anyone to hear you." 

The chances of anyone doing so were slim to none, but just the reminder made her whimper with excitement. She wasn't the only one turned on by the idea. Being here in his old room, with an entire party of people downstairs, while he did filthy things to Sharon... He knew he wasn't going to be able to hold on to his self-control for long. She felt too good and he was too turned on. 

Listening to her muted moans and the high whimpers in the back of her throat, wasn't helping either. Jake bit back his own groan of pleasure as he started moving harder, faster, using his grip on her breasts as leverage to thrust deeply into her from behind. The slap of their bodies coming together was louder than any of Sharon's soft gasps. 

He pulled back slightly, so he could slip a hand between her thighs, his fingers seeking out the swollen nub of her clit. Her head dropped down as she cried out softly. Working the sensitive bud, Jake clenched his teeth against another groan. The hot sheath of her pussy spasmed around him and his balls tightened, a tingling heat traveling up the base of his spine. 

Moving harder, faster, he rubbed her clit, determined to make sure she got her pleasure too. The slick friction of her body was making it harder and harder for him to keep his own needs under control. He could feel the ecstasy building, his breath coming in short, sharp pants as he held it back. 

"Oh fuck... oh fuck..." Her chant was soft enough he could barely hear it, but he felt it as she bucked against him, taking him in deep. "Jake!" 

His fingers curved, pressing her clit hard as he jerked against her, shoving in hard as his cock began to throb. The high gasp of her pleasure mingled with his low groan as his orgasm pulsed, his hips rocking slightly with each jet of cum. Sharon quivered around him, shuddering with her own completion as her muscles worked his cock, prolonging the pleasure for both of them and leaving him weak-kneed.

******

They made it back downstairs just as people were gathering in the kitchen, with Sharon coming in through the front hall while Jake had circled around through the other rooms in the house to enter the kitchen on the opposite side. Thankfully, his mom was the kind of incredibly awesome woman who kept the bathrooms well stocked with feminine products, so Sharon had been able to find a panty-liner to quickly shove into her tights. 

It was one thing to get it on with Jake at the party, another to spend the rest of the evening with his cum dripping down her leg. Of course, she hadn't really been thinking about that before they'd gone upstairs.

Either way she would have no regrets, but she was still glad she wasn't going to be running to the bathroom every ten minutes to wipe away the leakage and prevent a wet spot on her dress. 

Catching his eye, she shared a secret smile with him before turning to accept one of the glasses of champagne being passed around. 

"You dirty girl." 

Kate's voice, full of amusement, made Sharon jump as her best friend appeared beside her. Oops. Evidently at least one person had noticed her and Jake's simultaneous disappearing act. At least Kate wasn't the type to be loud about it. 

Opening her eyes as wide as they would go, Sharon batted her eyelashes innocently up at her bestie. "Whatever are you talking about?" 

"Uh huh." Kate smirked at her. Behind her, Andrew gave Sharon a brief smile and then glowered across the room at Jake. Scowling, Sharon stepped back, getting the toe of his shoe with her heel. 

"Ow!" 

"Oops," she said meaningfully, not sounding sorry at all. 

The big brother thing could be cute, but only to a point. She liked to be coddled, not smothered. Andrew transferred his glower to her, but he didn't get a chance to say anything before Jake and Lexie's dad - standing in the middle of the kitchen beside his wife and the happy couple - started clinking a fork against his champagne flute. The high tinkling sound drew everyone's attention and conversation swiftly dropped away into expectant silence. 

"Ah yes," Mr. Standish said a bit gruffly. Sharon had really only gotten a glimpse of him earlier; Jake definitely took after his dad. He was a handsome older man with salt and pepper hair, although he had dark eyes unlike his wife and children. She could picture Jake aging exactly like him and the glimpse into the future was pretty damn good. As soon as she had the thought, she chided herself for even thinking about what Jake would look like in thirty to forty years because why would that matter to her? "Wendy and I would like to thank you all for coming tonight."

Pausing, he looked down at his wife, who beamed up at him. Sharon's lips twitched. Apparently, Jake also got his reluctance to being the center of attention from his dad, although his mom didn't seem to mind at all. Beside them, Patrick had his arm curved around Lexie and was smiling radiantly down at her. She was looking up at him with pure adoration written across her face. It was like something out of a Hallmark movie and Sharon could already feel tears pricking the backs of her eyes. 

Happily-ever-afters always made her emotional. 

Clearing his throat again, Mr. Standish looked up and around. 

"Patrick has been part of our family for a long time, so we can't exactly welcome you to the family, but Wendy and I are thrilled that the connection is going to be official. We couldn't have picked a better man for our daughter, and seeing the love you two have for each other, the happiness you've brought each other, well... It makes us as proud as we are happy." He cleared his throat again and his eyes were turning red. Next to him, Lexie's mom was already openly sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a napkin.

Crap, there went Sharon's first tear. She quickly swiped it away. 

Looking at Patrick, Mr. Standish raised his glass. "Happy to have it official, son." 

With that, Patrick broke away from Lexie, stepping forward to engulf the other man in a hug, several tears rolling down his own face. Lexie was already hugging her mom, both of them openly crying, and when Sharon averted her gaze as a little bubble of happy tears choked her throat, she saw Jake coming forward to join the family moment, his own eyes suspiciously red. As soon as Patrick stepped away from Mr. Standish, Jake was there to envelop his best-friend-and-soon-to-be-brother in a massive bear hug. 

Ah, fuck it. 

She sniffled and wiped at her soggy eyes, leaning against Kate, who immediately wrapped her arm around Sharon's waist. A larger, warmer hand landed on Sharon's shoulder a moment later - Andrew had put his arm around both of them. 

"To Patrick and Lexie!" someone cried out while the love fest was going on. The toast was repeated immediately, champagne flutes rising in the air as everyone took the opportunity to take a drink rather than bursting into tears at the emotional scene. At least, Sharon preferred to think she wasn't the only one. 

******

Almost everyone besides the immediate family had left when Patrick finally sought him out. The catering crew was cleaning up in the kitchen under Jake's mom's direction while his dad was talking to Jake's uncle in the front hall. 

He took the opportunity to head down to the basement and just sit for a few minutes in the quiet. Eventually he'd get up and clean up the plates and glasses that had been left down here, but after a night of socializing and the mass of people who had come, he was enjoying the solitude. Patrick's presence never felt like an intrusion though, so he didn’t mind.

Especially since he came bearing gifts. 

"Hiding out?" Patrick asked, handing Jake a beer as he sat down on the couch next to him. 

"A little bit," Jake admitted. "It was a noisy night." And not the kind of noisy like Stronghold where he could just sit and watch. No, tonight had been all about catching up with family members, talking about Lexie and Patrick, and generally being engaged in the socializing. Well, other than when he'd snuck off with Sharon for a bit. That had been a nice break from all the social interaction. "Where's Lexie?" 

"On the phone with Angel, giving her the update on tonight."

Adam had appeared for a little bit (he'd only stayed for an hour and had been checking his watch the entire time). Angel had stayed home but insisted her husband attend the party. Jake wasn't surprised that his sister was making sure that Angel got the full update on the evening. He was just glad she had such good friends. That was something he'd always worried about, since none of her college friendships had really seemed to stick after she'd graduated. 

For a long moment, he and Patrick sat in companionable silence. They’d been friends for long enough that they didn’t always feel the need to speak when they were hanging out.

“So. You disappeared for a bit tonight.” Patrick turned his head slightly to eye Jake, amusement curving one side of his mouth. “Right around the same time Sharon did.”

Jake grunted. “How many people noticed?”

“All of our friends, no one else.”

“Well at least that’s something,” he muttered. Their friends already knew what was going on between them at least. That explained why Andrew had been glowering at him even harder during the second half of the night. Jake had suspected, but he hadn’t known for sure.

“Are you going to be her date to our wedding too?” Patrick asked teasing.

“That’s kind of far in the future for planning,” Jake said, balking slightly when he realized that his first impulse was to answer with an immediate ‘yes.’ “Going with her to her cousin’s wedding is enough for right now.”

Before Patrick could answer, Jake’s mom’s voice cut him off as she came down the stairs and Jake groaned. She’d overheard more than he meant her to. “Going with who to what wedding?”

Patrick smirked at him, lifting his beer to his lips while he watched Jake flounder.

“Just a friend… I’m going to a friend’s cousin’s wedding with her as her friend.” Jake winced as he realized he’d said ‘friend’ three times in a row.

His mom reached the bottom of the stairs and tilted her head at him, raising one eyebrow. Her lips quirked as her eyes darted back and forth between him and Patrick.

“A friend, huh?” she asked dryly. “Is it a friend I know?” Then, suddenly, her eyes lit up. “Wait, is it that single friend I met tonight? That cute young woman, Sharon?”

Jake groaned inwardly as Patrick decided now was the perfect time to jump into the conversation.

“Yup, that’s her,” Patrick said. “When she needed a date, Jake heroically stepped into the breach and offered his services.”

“Well that’s wonderful,” his mom said, beaming at him. “I liked her a lot. Do you think you might end up making it more than a friend date?”

“You liked her a lot?” Jake repeated, a little surprised. Granted, Sharon had been on her best behavior, but he had heard her curse more than once and make more than one inappropriate joke. And he didn’t even know everything she’d said to his mom.

“Yes, she’s very friendly.” The enthusiastic smile on his mom’s face surprised him even more. “Very funny, too. You should spend more time with her. I think someone like her would be good for you.”

“What do you mean someone like her?” Jake asked. He couldn’t help but feel a little defensive. Exactly how did his mom think Sharon could improve him? “What’s wrong with my usual kind of girlfriend?”

It was obvious his mom saw the difference between Sharon and his usual type as well.

“Nothing’s wrong with them… They just aren’t quite as friendly as her. They tend to be hard to get to know and even quieter than you are. You need someone to help you come out of your shell, the way Patrick does for you. Someone to liven up your life a little bit.”

Jake tried not to feel insulted, but it was a little hard. “My life is perfectly fine.”

“Of course, it is sweetie.” His mom gave him a look. “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. Someone like Sharon would push you. Just think about it, okay? You are taking her to a wedding after all. That can be very romantic.”

“You know she curses a lot, right? And makes inappropriate jokes? And she’s probably the loudest out of our group of friends - which is really saying something. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girlfriend you would approve of me bringing home.” It wasn’t that he wanted to run Sharon down, but now he was feeling pretty defensive from his mom turning his assumptions on their head.

He really hadn’t thought his mom would like Sharon. At the very least, he hadn’t thought his mom would like Sharon for him. Hearing his mom say she thought someone with all the character traits he’d assumed she would disapprove of would be good for him… well it made him question exactly what his mom thought about him.

“So?” The expression on his mom’s face made it clear she thought he was talking crazy talk. “Why would any of that mean that I wouldn’t want you to have a girlfriend like her?”

“You disapprove of inappropriate jokes, you aren’t constantly trying to get everyone’s attention, you don’t like it when people are crude, and you don’t curse,” he pointed out, raising his eyebrow at her. To his shock, she burst out laughing. Next to him, Patrick seemed to be totally fascinated by the entire conversation, but they shared a look. Jake pinned his mom with a look as her mirth died down a little. “I have never heard you curse.”

“Oh, you have, you just don’t remember,” she said, grinning at him. “I realized I had to stop cursing in front of you when your second word was ‘shit.’”

Jake’s jaw dropped.


Chapter 12

“What’s his name?”

“I just told you, it’s Jake,” Sharon said, tapping her fingers against the counter as she watched her mug cake spinning in the microwave.

“I need his last name, Sharon,” her mother said, sounding exasperated. “For the seating chart.”

Ugh. Fine. But only because otherwise she knew she’d be fielding a call from her aunt as well, because her aunt really would demand that for the seating chart.

“Jake Standish.” She couldn't help the sigh in her voice as she gave up the information, knowing her parents would likely know more about him than she did by the time they arrived for the wedding. That was just how they rolled. 

“Thank you." Her mother's voice was prim and dry, with no real gratitude. "We'll see you this weekend." 

"Bye mom." 

Hanging up the phone, Sharon slumped. Well that had been fun. But now her parents knew she was bringing a date and they'd have a room ready for him. She would have preferred to stay in the hotel for the whole weekend, rather than just the night of the wedding, but her parents would have thrown a fit. At least it was only Friday night with them, then she and Jake would stay at the hotel, and on Sunday they could flee back to DC. 

The difference between Jake's family and her family was starker than ever after last night. Watching his family had given her the same feeling she got when she watched Hallmark movies - like she a little kid outside a candy store with her nose pressed against the window. 

She was not going to wallow though. Not her style. 

Watching terrible shark movies to cheer her up while she binged on cheese and crackers was way more up her alley. She was halfway through Toxic Shark when Jake texted her. 

Jake: Hey princess, what are you up to?

Sharon: Lounging in pajamas and watching bad movies. u?

Jake: Sitting at home bored. Want to get together? 

She thought about it for a moment.

Sharon: Only if you're interested in lounging in pajamas and watching bad movies. I'm on Toxic Shark right now and Avalanche Sharks is in the queue.

She was not feeling sexy right now. There was always the chance he could get her around to his way of thinking, but if he just wanted a booty call... well, she didn't have the energy for that kind of effort. She didn't have the energy to get all dolled up beforehand either. 

Jake: :) I'll be over in about twenty.

Sharon raised her eyebrows, texting him a smiley face in return. She really hoped he didn't think she was kidding. 

Yeah, they'd been hanging out in between the sex stuff, but they hadn't ever gotten together to just hang out. For a moment she had the impulse to run to the bathroom and brush her hair, maybe put on a little bit of make-up but... 

No. She'd warned him. 

Besides, she was kind of curious to see how he'd react. Sometimes it felt like they were being a little bit more date-y than casual. And they definitely weren't going to be able to spend all next weekend having sex - which really was too bad. She'd much rather have a weekend of roll-around, off-the-walls, punani-pounding than have to spend time with her family. Anyway, the point was, it wouldn't be a terrible thing to just hang out with Jake without the expectation of sex. 

As long as he wasn't coming over expecting sex. 

Almost exactly twenty minutes later, her doorbell rang. Feeling strangely nervous, Sharon got up to let him in. His grin when she opened the door, his eyes sweeping over her, said that he liked what he saw just as much as when she was wearing her club gear for Stronghold. Seeing the flannel pajama bottoms he had on underneath his coat, Sharon gave him an answering smile. He had a bag in his hand, which he passed over to her. 

"Pajama party, huh?" he asked, stepping inside and shrugging off his coat. Underneath he had on a plain, well-worn, grey t-shirt that clung to his muscles in all the right ways. It was kind of unfair that he looked just as good in pajamas as he did fully dressed. 

"Sometimes I just need a lazy Sunday," she said, opening the bag to peek inside. To her delight, she saw beer, chips, dip, popcorn, and a box of chocolate chip cookies. "You brought snacks!" 

"Can't have a movie day without snacks," he said, his voice tinged with amusement. 

When Sharon lifted her head to beam up at him, he dropped a kiss on her lips... But only a brief one and then he headed into the living room. Huh. Well that felt date-y, she thought with bemusement as she followed him back to the television where Toxic Shark was winding up its reign of terror. 

******

Jake had no idea why he'd just kissed Sharon like that. 

In fact, he wasn't entirely sure why he was here. 

He'd wanted to see her. 

What he didn't understand was why he'd wanted to see her so badly that he'd come over even after she'd made it clear that it wasn't going to be like their usual get togethers. 

Maybe it was because both Michael and his mom had given him a lot of food for thought last night. Maybe it was because he was curious what it would be like to just hang out with her, without doing the sex buddy thing. Or maybe it was because he was starting to have feelings for her that he didn't want to examine too closely just yet. 

Feelings that weren't quashed by seeing her adorably mussed with her hair in a messy bun, and wearing pink pajama pants with purple hearts all over them along with the Bourbon and Beer Festival shirt that she'd stolen from him. It was a little disconcerting to realize he found her just as attractive as when she was wearing a corset and short skirt or lingerie...

"Toxic Shark is almost over but I can restart it if you want," she offered, putting the bag of snacks he'd brought on the coffee table next to the cheese, crackers, and beer that she already had out. 

"I think I'm good," he said dryly. Clearly she was in the mood to watch the worst of the worst today, the ones that were so bad they were funny. Well, hopefully they were funny, the ones that weren't tended to just be boring. "I'm looking forward to Avalanche Sharks."

The amused look she shot him indicated that she had heard the hint of sarcasm in his voice. He wasn't exactly lying though. Watching terrible shark movies might not be his number one desire on a Sunday afternoon, but watching them with Sharon... That was a different story. Mainly because she enjoyed them so much and he enjoyed her enjoyment. 

Sitting on the couch with her tucked under his arm, Jake settled in for some totally non-sexual time with Sharon. 

The fact that he carried her off to bed three movies and one large pizza later notwithstanding. It had felt more like a date-day than anything else. 

******

Friday and the time to leave for the shore came way too soon. It had been a good week. She and Jake had traded off staying at each other’s places every night. They hadn’t planned it that way, it had just happened.

Meanwhile, the gossip train around them was going strong. Lexie was pretty grumpy that Jake had managed to sneak Sharon up to his room during her engagement party – not because she was upset they’d left the party, but apparently Jake wasn’t the only Standish with a childhood bedroom fantasy. She was just pissed her “prude big brother” had not only beaten her to it, but had done so during a party.

Sharon had a feeling Patrick and Lexie would be disappearing for a bit during the next large gathering at the Standish household.

Unfortunately, the fun was over and now it was time to face her family. It was only a two-and-a-half-hour drive, maybe more depending on traffic, but as far as Sharon was concerned that wasn't nearly long enough. She sighed as she got into the car, already feeling the dread that accompanied every trip home building in her chest. 

"Hey, chin up," Jake said cheerfully as he slid into the driver's seat and started the car. "It's going to be fine." 

"I would love to not be able to say 'I told you so' at the end of this weekend, but I know better than that.” 

Jake shot her a sidelong look, pulling out of the parking lot and heading toward the highway. His lips quirked. "Hasn't anyone ever told you about the power of positive thinking?" 

She scowled at him. She was supposed to be the annoying one, not the other way around. Then again, her family did tend to mess with her equilibrium like nothing else in her life. A moment later, her sense of humor returned, if only a little. 

"Later, I'm going to remind you that you said that," she retorted. 

He snorted and shook his head. 

"They're your family," he said insistently, and Sharon rolled her eyes, knowing that the statement meant something entirely different to her than it did to him. This was why she’d stopped trying to explain to him. He clearly thought she was exaggerating every time she tried to tell him what they were like. "It's a wedding. We'll have fun." 

Shaking her head, Sharon reached over to turn up the music. She didn’t want to get into it again.

They'd had a good week together and it felt more like he was her boyfriend than her fuck buddy. They hadn't explicitly talked about it, but he just didn't get her family issues. To him, family loved each other unconditionally and, no matter how they got along, would come together if they needed to in order to support each other. He had no idea what it was like to live with parents whose love was conditional, he couldn't even imagine it.

Not that she'd tried too hard, if she was honest. Getting herself worked up before she had to face her family wouldn't help anything and she figured he probably wouldn't believe it till he saw it himself.

If then. 

She still remembered one of her exes insisting that her parents' manipulations and criticisms were just their expression of love and that she needed to learn to accept that. 

Yeah, fuck that. If constant criticism and wearing down her self-esteem was an expression of love, it was one she could do without. She shouldn't have to accept people being terrible to her just because they'd given birth to her. 

Did she love her parents and wish they were different? Sure. But they weren't and so she did what she had to do for her own mental health. If Jake didn't come around to understanding that by the end of this weekend... Well, whatever was growing between them as well as their fuck buddy time would be over. 

******

Sharon's parents' house was behind a gate, at the end of a very long driveway surrounded by very manicured lawns and bushes, and it was very, very large. In fact, it was close to being a freaking mansion, glowing a pristine white with green shutters against the immaculate landscaping. The fact that the house's lawn and garden were so meticulous in winter made it even more impressive. Just beyond the house he could see a hint of the Chesapeake Bay, which meant the view of the bay was probably stunning.

"Holy crap," Jake muttered under his breath as he felt his palms start to sweat. 

Somehow, up until this point, he'd convinced himself that meeting Sharon's parents wasn't that big a deal. Surely not a bigger deal than her meeting his last weekend, which had turned out to be not that big of a deal at all. He'd show up as her friend and date, charm her parents, and then show her a good time over the weekend. Her nerves hadn't infected him at all.

Now, though... 

Just like with Sharon's apartment, it was one thing to know she was well-off, another to see it. 'Well off' didn't begin to describe it. He'd gotten used to her apartment because he was over there often enough, and she made it homey. It didn't hurt that she was a little messy too.

This was an entirely different ball game. 

"Wow... You could play a seriously epic game of hide-and-seek in this house," he joked, trying to lighten the mood. Sharon had begun the ride singing and dancing along in her seat when certain songs came on the radio, but as soon as they'd crossed the Bay Bridge she'd become more and more subdued. 

"Sure." She didn't look at him as she made the terse response, just stared up at the house like it was impending doom closing in on her. 

"You never did with your cousins?" he asked curiously. From the little she had divulged about her family, she had a pretty good relationship with the cousin that was getting married this weekend. Hide and seek in a mansion seemed exactly the kind of thing she would do. 

Sharon snorted. "Only if we wanted to be in a hell of a lot of trouble." 

"Why would you be in trouble for playing hide and seek?" 

"Because that's not what we were supposed to be doing. We were supposed to be learning how to be little ladies and gentlemen and how to ‘network’ with each other." 

"As kids?" He could hear the skepticism in his voice, but, to his surprise, Sharon didn't jump all over him for it. 

"Mmm." She leaned forward as he came to a halt in front of the house. The door opened to reveal a man dressed in a suit. He was tall and rail-thin with blond hair and didn't look a thing like Sharon. 

"Who is that?" Jake asked, nudging her with his elbow. 

"Butler. His name is Thomas, he's here on weekends." 

"A butler?" Now he really felt out of his depth. 

"He'll help with the bags and take the car around to the garage," Sharon explained. Which wasn't really an explanation. Seriously though, Jake was feeling intimidated now. She blew out a long breath. "Come on. They know we're here so no sense in delaying the inevitable. Just leave the car running so he can move it." 

Feeling more like he was at a hotel than a house, Jake did as she directed. Well, except that a hotel would have allowed him to take his own bags in. Sharon just told Thomas to bring them in and then took Jake's hand to lead him up the stairs and into the house where her parents were waiting for them. 

The grand foyer - he couldn't think of it any other way because it really was grand - stretched up all three levels of the house and there was an honest-to-God chandelier hanging down in the center of it. A gold one, with what looked like thousands of crystals shimmering from it, like something out of a movie. The floor was marble, the double staircase boasted delicate filigree rails and wide banisters ending in two marble columns. 

In the center of the room was a large plinth topped with a blue and white china vase holding an elaborate bouquet of flowers. Not roses or anything like that, but flowers Jake had never seen before and could definitely not identify. His first thought was that his mom would have loved it.

His second thought was that the two people standing in front of the arrangement might look like Sharon, physically, but beyond that he didn't see the resemblance at all. Both of them were shorter than him but taller than her, although her mother only topped her by a couple of inches - then he realized that was just the heels she was wearing. 

Both of them had black hair without a hint of grey, their ages only showing on their faces, and both of them looked younger than he knew they were. They didn't look as though they'd had plastic surgery though. Not that he was an expert, but if they had had work done, he couldn't tell. They were both standing rather stiffly, several inches apart, with small, polite smiles on their faces. 

The smile on Mrs. Bianchi's face dipped a bit when she looked down at his and Sharon's joined hands, but only for a moment. For his part, Mr. Bianchi seemed to be studying Jake... and Jake couldn't help but feel that the other man found him lacking. 

"Hey Mom and Pops," Sharon said, cheerfully leading Jake forward. If he hadn't just spent an entire car ride with her and seen her anxiety first hand, he wouldn't have guessed she was at all nervous from the way she was acting now. "What's shaking?" 

Mrs. Bianchi's smile disappeared entirely, her lips pursing inward as if she'd just sucked on a lemon while Sharon's father sighed, and his expression turned to one of disappointed resignation. 

"Sharon," Mrs. Bianchi said, her tone clipped. "Must you be so vulgar? I’ve told you to call me ‘Mother’ a million times." 

"Good to see you too, Mom." The cheerfulness in Sharon's voice wasn't even the tiniest bit strained, but Jake had felt her fingers tighten around his slightly. He had to admit, he was a little bit confused as he and Sharon came to a halt in front of her parents.

Granted, there had been plenty of times that he'd thought Sharon was being vulgar. This was not one of them. 

Sighing, Mrs. Bianchi stepped forward and Sharon let go of Jake's hand to clasp forearms with her mom and exchange air kisses. It looked extremely uncomfortable, as if they were holding each other at arm's length rather than hugging. Considering what a tactile person he knew Sharon to be, it made Jake feel even more ill at ease to witness. 

"Sharon," her dad said, stepping forward to give a kiss on the cheek before stepping back and resuming his study of Jake. 

"Mom, Pops, this is my friend Jake," she said, retaking Jake's hand. Mrs. Bianchi eyed the movement with distaste, although she quickly cleared it from her expression as Jake held out his right hand to shake Mr. Bianchi's. 

"Sergeant Jake Standish," Mr. Bianchi said, just a hint of question in his voice as he took Jake's hand with a cool, firm grip. 

"Yes, sir." Jake hesitated for just a moment. "Honorable discharge." 

“Yes, yes,” Mr. Bianchi said, nodding his head as if confirming Jake’s words. Jake blinked as the other man continued to frown up at him. “Now you work, ah… at a remodeling company?”

“He’s a very good builder,” Sharon interjected, her hand tightening around his. Jake realized she had either told her parents a lot more than she’d told him she had, or they really had run a background check on him. He’d thought she was joking about that.

But hey, their daughter was bringing a man they’d never met as her date to a family wedding, and they were obviously wealthy enough to have concerns over anyone she brought home. He supposed he couldn’t fault them for being protective. At least, that’s what he told himself.

******

Seeing the blank-eyed expression on Jake’s face, Sharon really wanted to shout, ‘I told you so!’ at him, but she refrained. Barely.

Reminding her parents that she and Jake needed to freshen up before the rehearsal dinner – which sent them off to their wing in a hurry as they needed to do the same – Sharon inwardly congratulated herself on her timing as she showed Jake to her wing. Her parents hadn’t had time to start harping on her before they had to get ready to leave.

One point for the home team!

“You have your own wing.” He muttered the words under his breath, full of disbelief. Sharon looked up at him as he glanced over his shoulder, that expression deepening. “Why aren’t you in the same wing as your parents?”

She shrugged, as if it didn’t matter to her. And it mostly didn’t, not anymore. She’d liked her nannies better anyway. Yup, that’s me, the poor little rich girl.

“I was a noisy kid. Here we are. This is you. My room is there.” She pointed at the door across the hall. Jake nodded, apparently not surprised by them having separate rooms under her parents’ roof.

She couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to react when she joined him in his room later. Because she was definitely going to need some stress relief after dinner.

Fortunately, Jake didn’t question her any more about the separate wings for her and her parents’. She could tell he was still struggling to deal with the reality of what they were like and she really didn’t want to have to get into it. The guest room he was in, which was richly furnished and decorated in muted navy blue and forest green, was very comfortable and masculine (well, in her mom’s opinion). It was meant for male guests.

“Bathroom is through that door,” she said, pointing to a door in the corner of the room. “I’ll meet you out here in half an hour.”

“Great,” he said, sounding a little dazed as he looked around.

Sharon smirked as she turned and went to her room. It didn’t take her long to get ready. Little black designer cocktail dress, hair smoothly coiled in a French twist, a dash of make-up with red lips and she looked presentable enough that her mom would probably leave her alone. Well, about her appearance at least. Chances were her parents were going to be more focused on Jake anyway.

She thought Jake was going to faint when her parents insisted on them taking one of their cars to the rehearsal dinner, which was at her aunt’s house.

“Why are we taking one of their cars again?” he muttered under his breath as her parents left the garage in her dad’s Ferrari.

“Because their cars are awesome and I thought you’d enjoy the ride. Now get in the Mercedes and enjoy yourself.”

Opening the door, Jake stared down at the ground. “Sharon.”

“What?”

“There’s a light on the bottom of the door making the Mercedes symbol on the ground.”

“Yup. Also, the seats will massage you, don’t ask me how to work the radio, and if you ask my dad about the specs he will be happy to give you the full rundown. Now get in, we’re going to be late.” Since they were taking her parents’ car, Sharon was driving. She kind of wished she wasn’t though, just because she had the feeling she was going to need a lot of alcohol.

Oh well. Tomorrow night she could get shit-faced. It was probably better to not be totally hungover for the actual wedding anyway.

Arriving at her aunt’s house – where the driveway was already filled with cars the valets were taking care of – Sharon was amused to see that Jake was moving as if in a trance, staring at their surroundings. The house was slowly filling with people and she was stopped by several relatives and friends of her parents who recognized her. She introduced him around; he smiled and shook hands in all the right places, but he was definitely thrown.

“Oh, thank goodness, you’re here!” Melinda came barreling out of nowhere, throwing her arms around Sharon in pure relief. Tall, willowy, and dressed in a strapless white dress that did not look warm enough for the outside weather – not that that would matter to Aunt Lorraine - Melinda looked stunning. She also looked fed up. “My mom is driving me crazy. Mark and I should have just eloped.”

“I told you so,” Sharon said immediately, grinning. She held out her hand to indicate Jake. “This is my friend Jake, he’s here as my date.”

“Nice to meet you,” Melinda said, barely sparing him a glance as she looked around, appearing almost hunted. She groaned. “Here comes my mom. Distract her? It’s for the bride.” The pleading look she gave Sharon was more than a little desperate.

“Ugh. Only because you’re getting married tomorrow. Now shoo.” Sharon turned her cousin around, giving her a slap on the butt to send her on her way.

“What’s going on?” Jake asked, looking confused. At least he didn’t appear quite so dazed anymore. Which was good, he was going to need his wits about him if they were going to run interference for Melinda.

“Come on,” she said, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. “I want to introduce you to my aunt.” Sharon forcibly turned him around and called out, “Hey! Aunt Lorraine! I want you to meet someone!”

Both Jake and her aunt winced as she called out, loudly enough to draw disapproving looks from more than one person around them. Sharon pretended not to notice. If Melinda was hiding out from her mom the night before her wedding there must be a good reason… And if Aunt Lorraine was after Melinda, the only way to get her to focus on Sharon was to be loud. Aunt Lorraine wouldn’t want to cause a scene.

Sharon beamed as her aunt frowned censoriously at her, pivoting her direction slightly so that she was now headed directly towards Sharon and Jake. Behind her, Sharon could see her own mother now heading their way too. She was frowning even harder than Aunt Lorraine.

Well, this should be fun.


 

Chapter 13

Jake could feel his cheeks heating with embarrassment at the looks he and Sharon were now garnering as she waved energetically at her aunt. Talk about a rude awakening. He’d admittedly been a little out of it when they’d first come into the house, which was even bigger and decorated more dramatically than Sharon’s parents’. He didn’t know why she was suddenly taking it upon herself to be both loud and obnoxious, but he hated the looks they were getting.

It made his skin crawl.

Definitely not the impression he wanted to make on anyone, much less her family. Yeah, he wasn’t the one doing it, but she was on his arm. 

He tried to temper his automatic response since he did realize what she was doing. The same way she'd shielded Ellie at the engagement party, she was now working to shield her cousin. Just in a louder, more obnoxious and more obvious manner that was drawing attention from everyone around them. 

"Aunt Lorraine, this is my date, Jake Standish," Sharon said. Her voice wasn't exactly louder than before, but she was projecting it so that it carried, despite the crowd of people around them. "Jake, this is my Aunt Lorraine."

"Pleased to meet you," he said, keeping his voice within normal levels as he held out his hand. 

Sharon's aunt took it, although she shot a disapproving look at Sharon first. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Standish."

From her tone of voice, she didn't think it was nice at all. Sharon ignored that completely. 

"Jake's a former soldier and now he's a construction worker," she said, beaming at her aunt, who dropped his hand like it was a hot potato. Jake's spine stiffened. 

Okay, it was one thing to run interference for her cousin after she'd been asked to, but he did not appreciate being dragged into it. Especially since the way she said it... It wasn't exactly disrespectful, but he was proud of his service and his rank and he didn't like the little emphasis Sharon put on both of his job titles. Something about her tone made it sound like she was challenging her aunt with both of them.

"Construction?" The older woman's lip curled as she looked him up and down with new eyes. "Are you a manager?" 

The question was almost a challenge, and he realized that Sharon had just offered him up as a sacrificial victim to her aunt's displeasure, just to distract her. Sharon's mother had just reached them as well and she looked at him rather than speaking, her head tilted to the side as she awaited his answer. His suppressed irritation was quickly turning to justified anger, but he kept a tight lid on that emotion because it wasn't going to serve him to show it. 

"Not yet," he said, practically holding himself at attention under the two women's scrutiny. "I work for LD Construction and Remodeling now, but I've only been there for a few months."

"He's got great muscles," Sharon interjected, beaming and again speaking much more loudly than she needed to. More than one person turned to look. As if to demonstrate, she let go of his arm and tried to wrap her fingers around his bicep while Jake seethed with irate tension. 

He wasn't the only one. Sharon's mom was back to looking like she was sucking lemons while her aunt looked downright appalled. 

"Could you at least try to be ladylike for once in your life?" she hissed at her niece. 

All things considered, Jake couldn't help but empathize more with Sharon's aunt than with Sharon at the moment. 

He didn't know how he had suddenly become Sharon's sacrificial goat, but he didn't like it. Especially because he couldn't imagine her treating her ex this way. Brian was pretty easy-going from what Jake had observed, but he wouldn't have tolerated this. 

Was that the answer? Did Sharon respect him less because he wasn't going to spank her for bad behavior? 

Would she have chosen a different route to distract her aunt if Jake was a Dom?

Asking himself those questions made him feel even more incensed at the whole situation. Yeah, he wasn't a Dom but one of the biggest things Patrick and his friends emphasized about BDSM was communication and consent. 

Sharon hadn't been particularly communicative with him - she hadn't even informed him what she was going to do - and she definitely hadn't gotten his consent before throwing him in her aunt's way. 

"Shouldn't a lady appreciate a man's muscles?" Sharon asked, just as loudly as before, with a high-pitched fake giggle that grated on Jake like nails on a chalkboard. "I appreciate a man who is good with his hands." 

It was all Jake could do not to cringe as she rubbed her hands over his arm. 

"Have you been drinking?" her mother asked, her tone veering toward shrill. 

Rolling her eyes, Sharon linked her arm back through Jake's while he did his best to pretend he was invisible. Or at least, not a part of this. More than one person in the room was now looking at him with a kind of pity, as if wondering what he was doing with someone like Sharon. 

While that did make him want to jump to her defense, just a little, he also couldn't blame them. At the moment, he was kind of wondering what he was doing here too. He'd signed up to be her date, not to have her talk down about his job or try to show him off like he was some kind of trophy beefcake that she'd picked up to taunt her family with. A blue-collar trophy, since they apparently had a problem with that. 

He grit his teeth, looking anywhere but at the little vixen who was pressed up against his side.

******

"No, but that's a great idea," Sharon said cheerfully, deciding that she'd held off Aunt Lorraine long enough for Melinda to escape to wherever it was her cousin had been trying to escape to. She had probably just needed to get out of her mother's sight for a bit. It was obvious that tonight everything was being done to Aunt Lorraine's specifications, whereas Melinda and Mark were completely in charge of the reception tomorrow.

That was why the rehearsal dinner was filled with people who weren't part of the wedding party or immediate family; because Aunt Lorraine hadn't had control of the reception. Mark's family was much more relaxed than Melinda's, and Melinda had refused to accept a dime from her parents for the wedding, because she'd wanted to be able to do things her way. The compromise had been to let Aunt Lorraine have full control of the rehearsal dinner, which was basically like a mini-reception. 

"Come on, Jakie-poo, let's go get something to drink," she said, tugging at his arm and pulling him away. 

The man had stiffened up from the moment she'd called out to her aunt, which had set off Sharon's already bubbling temper. Yeah, she'd seen he was embarrassed just because she'd called out, and the combination of his judgment plus her family's had sent a little devil raging through her. There was a small part in the back of her head that disapproved of her deliberately prodding him at the same time she was engaging her aunt and mother, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. 

The look he seared her with when she called him Jakie-poo would have had her shaking in her high heels if he'd been a Dom. Her ass would have been grass. But Jake was mostly vanilla. 

Hmm. Vanilla with sprinkles sounded a little too soft for how bossy he was... He was like a harder vanilla. Tough vanilla? Concentrated vanilla? 

Pissed-off vanilla at the moment. She could see it in his eyes and the set of his jaw. Heck, she'd ticked him off enough in the past to know what it looked like, although she hadn't done it recently. It wasn't as much fun now as it had been before. 

Maybe a drink would help cool both of them down. 

Steering him to one of the waiters walking around the room with a tray of cocktails, Sharon picked up one for each of them. They were going to be here for a while, so she could have a few drinks in the beginning to kill the edge she was feeling and then have plenty of time to sober up before driving back to her parents. 

"Don't do that again." Jake's voice was low and hard as he whispered in her ear. To an outside observer it probably looked like he was whispering something intimate. 

Sharon sighed as she handed him one of the drinks she'd picked up. She had no idea what her aunt was serving tonight, but she knew it would be strong. "I probably won't need to. Here, have a drink."

"I'm serious, Sharon," he said as he took the drink from her, his blue eyes almost cold. "Don't do that again." 

She glared back up at him. Yeah, she got it; she'd embarrassed him by being herself, just like she did her family. Just what she needed, another parent judging her. 

"Don't tell me how to behave," she snapped back, spinning on her heel as she stalked away from him, drink in hand. 

Even though she didn't look over her shoulder, she knew he was following behind her, like a grim reaper haunting her steps. That was how she felt about her parents a lot of the time too. The biggest difference was that she did have some obligation to Jake to introduce him around and make sure he wasn't left standing alone in a corner. 

Spotting her cousins gathered on the edge of the room, she veered towards them, knowing he would follow. Yeah, some of them were just as snobbish and obnoxious as their parents, but not all of them. Joining them, she introduced Jake around and finally started to relax again, especially when Melinda and Mark joined them. 

It didn't surprise her that Jake managed to hit it off with all of her cousins, charming them effortlessly. Of course, it didn't hurt that he really was hot, muscular, and looked damn good in a suit. Rina, Melinda's older sister, who could give Aunt Lorraine a run for her money when it came to being the biggest snob in the family, practically fawned on him. Jake was polite to her, which only seemed to encourage her - and considering how chilly he and Sharon were being to each other at the moment, she didn't take it very well. 

Which was why she pulled Rina to the side to inform her that he was currently working in construction and remodeling. 

"And you brought him as your date?" Rina asked, her voice dripping disapproval. 

"Well if you had brought the man you were actually fucking, you'd be here with your gardener and not your husband," Sharon pointed out icily. Rina's jaw dropped open, her face going bright red and then paling to almost pure white, quite the feat since she had the same olive complexion that Sharon did. "Yeah, I heard about that. Now fuck off." 

"You're so... so.... crass," Rina hissed at her. "Why can't you just be normal?" 

She stalked off before Sharon could respond, which was probably for the best. Whatever. If cheating on her husband with every handsome male member of her staff was normal, Sharon would much rather be crass. Turning back to the conversation, she saw the severe disapproval on Jake's face again before he turned away.

There was no way to know how much he'd overheard of what she and Rina were saying to each other, but whatever he'd caught, he was being a Judgy Mcjudgerson about it. 

Sharon glared at the back of his head as she finished off her cocktail. Dammit. She should have brought Brian instead of him. Yeah, there would have been no chance for hot sex and stress relief over the weekend, but at least there wouldn't have been this sinking unhappiness burrowing a pit in the center of her stomach either. 

Pressing her lips together as she blinked back several tears, a movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Oh geez, it looked like she and Jake weren't the only couple having trouble. Courtney, the youngest of Lorraine's daughters, was having a very quiet but very obvious fight with her boyfriend. What was his name again? Joseph or something like that? 

They'd apparently been together for a while, but it was pretty obvious that Joseph was kind of a jerk. He kept flirting with the other women - not because he was really going after them, but just to make Courtney jealous. What Sharon didn't get was why, since it only took one look at the two of them to realize that Courtney was head over heels for him for some reason. 

Unfortunately, with Lorraine for a mother and Rina for an eldest sister, she was also kind of a people pleaser and a doormat. The fact that she was standing up for herself at all to Joseph, especially in public, was surprising. 

When Joseph turned and stalked off, Courtney's lower lip trembled, her big brown eyes making her look like a wounded fawn as they filled with tears. Sharon could immediately tell her young cousin was going to go after him, begging for forgiveness. 

Hell no, fuck that. 

"Excuse me, I'll be right back," Sharon said, giving Jake and Mark a sweet smile. They both nodded to her before diving right back into their conversation. Mark had always had an interest in architecture and engineering and was having a grand time talking to Jake about the actual nitty-gritty details and mechanics of actually building. 

Since Melinda was involved in a conversation with two of her friends, Sharon didn't bother trying to catch her eye. She went straight to Courtney, linking her arm through the younger woman's and totally surprising her. 

"Hey honey, let's step away for a minute," Sharon said sympathetically, directing her cousin towards the privacy of the hallway instead of deeper into the room after Joseph. 

******

Watching Sharon out of the corner of his eye, Jake couldn't help but frown as she led her younger cousin away. At least, he assumed it was one of her cousins. He hadn't been introduced to her yet, but she looked like just Melinda and Rina. 

Speaking of Rina, she popped up next to his elbow, interrupting Mark's next question about building materials. 

"Mark, so sorry to interrupt, but mom says we're going to start seating for dinner in a few minutes, so she'd like you and Melinda there to lead us all into the dining room." 

"Of course, thanks Rina," Mark said, smiling affably. He shot Jake an apologetic look. "I'd love to talk more about this later."

"Any time," Jake said easily. He liked Mark and he liked talking about his job with someone who was so interested. Mark seemed more like he was on the design end of things than the practical, but that just made for interesting conversation as they talked about what was possible. Since Jake didn't have a specialty yet and was more of a generalist, he had a basic grounding in everything. 

Once Mark had turned away to collect Melinda, Jake felt a soft touch on his arm and automatically turned. Sharon's cousin Rina looked up at him with thoughtful, dark brown eyes. They didn't really look too much alike. Rina was fairly tall for the family and willowy, except for her impressive chest. The purple dress she was wearing covered everything but was very tight and completely backless. 

The looks she gave him made him pretty uncomfortable, considering he'd been introduced to her as Sharon's date and Rina was wearing a wedding ring. 

"So, Jake, you're my cousin's new ah... gentleman." The way she said 'gentleman' made it sound dirtier than if she'd been cruder.

He shifted uncomfortably. 

"We're friends and I offered to be her date to the wedding," he said after a moment. That was how Sharon had been introducing him all night. 

Rina raised her eyebrows at him, a small smile curving her lips. There was something predatory about that smile and Jake had to stifle the impulse to step back and away from her. "Oh? From what she said I was under the impression your relationship with her was much more... intimate. The man she's currently ah, indulging with, although my delightful cousin was much more crass in her description."

Heat flushed through Jake, embarrassment followed by anger. As much as he liked to think Rina was just trying to cause trouble - he hadn't missed the tension between her and Sharon - he could easily believe she was telling the truth in this case. That sounded like Sharon. And he had heard Rina accusing Sharon of saying something crass before she'd stormed off earlier. 

He was really starting to regret having come to this wedding. 

Family was really important to him, whereas Sharon seemed to go out of her way to antagonize hers. She didn't even try to get along with her parents from what he could tell. Sure, her parents were kind of cold and formal, and snobbish, but they didn't seem like totally terrible people. Whereas Sharon had deliberately tried to provoke their displeasure from the moment she'd arrived home. 

Then, rather than finding a nice way to distract her aunt, she'd done the exact same thing and used Jake to do it. Finally, when he'd made his unhappiness with her tactic clear, she'd just accused him of trying to boss her around and swanned off instead of apologizing. If he hadn't followed her, would she have just left him in a sea of strangers that she'd just embarrassed him in front of? It seemed likely.

Yes, he got that she wasn't her best with her family. 

Yes, a lot of them were kind of assholes. 

But to be perfectly honest, she was being one too, just in a different way than they were.

While he was trying really hard to be understanding, his patience had pretty much run out. 

"She said you're in construction," Rina said, moving closer and licking her lips with deliberate interest. This time Jake did take a step back. "I love a man who's good with his hands." 

Despite how pissed he was getting at Sharon, he would have given anything for her to step in and save him. But she didn't - the dinner bell did. 

Rina pouted as she turned away from him, the room falling silent, and Jake closed his eyes for a moment in stark relief before turning his attention to where Melinda and Mark were standing at the other end of the room with their parents.

******

Sniffling slightly, Courtney let Sharon direct her out into the hallway. Fortunately, no one else was out there and the noise from the party was muffled as soon as the door closed. 

"Alright, sweetie, what's going on with you and Joseph?" Sharon asked gently, putting her arm around her cousin's shoulders. Even though Courtney was only about five years younger than her, Sharon felt a lot older as Courtney's story poured out. 

Basically, Joseph was being hot and cold lately, constantly testing Courtney's devotion to the relationship. 

"I don't know what to do," Courtney said, working her way up to tears again. "No matter how I try to reassure him, it's never enough. Then it seems like he doesn't even want to be with me anymore and I'm so angry with him. I feel like I should put my foot down, but relationships aren't supposed to be about ultimatums, right? What if he's the one? My parents adore him, I know he's an amazing catch, what if I never find another guy as good as him? I can't just set down rules and say, 'you have to do this' even though sometimes I really want to."

"Honey..." Sharon hugged her. Her poor cousin. Joseph was her first real relationship and she was trying so hard while he was giving her the run around. He totally didn't deserve her. Plus, it sounded like Courtney was with him to please her parents more than anything else. "You have the right to set rules for how you'll be treated in a relationship. If he can't treat you in a manner that makes you feel respected and loved, then he's not the right guy and he can get the fuck out. Penis is literally everywhere. Everywhere! And it's dying to get inside you - with whatever rules you set. This loser is playing games and for whatever reason, you're allowing it. You have the vagina. Act like it."

The expression on Courtney's face was full of shock and awe, and more than a little desire. "But... what if he leaves me because I'm bossing him around?" 

"Setting down standards so that a man treats you well is not bossing him around, and anyone who doesn't treat you well and make you feel loved is a shitgibbon," Sharon insisted, utilizing one of Angel's favorite insults. It had such a nice ring to it. 

Covering her mouth, Courtney giggled, looking a lot less teary. Then her expression dropped. 

"My parents will be so disappointed in me if we break up," she said mournfully. 

"That's because they wouldn't have to live with him," Sharon pointed out. "Look at your sisters. Rina married Dave, like your parents wanted her to, and is now miserable and cheating on him with every man she can sink her claws into. Melinda, on the other hand, is marrying who?"

"Mark," Courtney answered, her smile returning. 

"And did your parents want her to marry Mark?" 

"Definitely not." 

Melinda had met Mark at college and while he was successful in his own right, he didn't 'bring anything to the table,' as Aunt Lorraine put it. Nothing other than warmth, love, and making Melinda excessively happy. 

"So, who would you choose as relationship goals?" 

"Yeah I get it," Courtney said, elbowing Sharon gently. She sighed. "It's just harder than it sounds."

"Oh, I know, honey," Sharon sympathized. "But it's worth it to be happy in the end."

The muffled ding of the dinner bell had both of their heads turning. Sharon gave Courtney a quick hug. 

"We'll talk more this weekend," she told her cousin. "But seriously, just remember, if he really wants you, he needs to be willing to meet you at least halfway and he should damn well be treating you as well as you’re treating him. Which, from what I’ve seen, means he should be treating you a million times better than he currently is."

“Thank you, Shar,” Courtney said, looking incredibly relieved before they went back into the other room, just in time to see Melinda and Mark doing the official welcome for the evening.

Sharon was feeling pretty good about herself until she looked over at Jake to find him staring at her with a seriously pissed off expression on his face with Rina next to him looking smug.

Fucking donkey dicks.


 

Chapter 14

Dinner was a pretty uncomfortable experience for Jake, although he did his best. He was pissed at Sharon and for some reason she seemed ticked at him too, which only pissed him off even more.

He wasn’t the one who had made a scene, no matter the provocation.

He hadn’t set her up to be looked down on by anyone.

He hadn’t gone around telling anyone they were fuck buddies.

He hadn’t brought her to an event as a guest then attempted to abandon her once before successfully abandoning her.

No, he had been the perfect gentleman. He’d been a good date. He was still trying to be a good date, to the best of his ability considering how ticked off he was.

Somehow, they muddled through, mostly by talking to everyone else at their table. Thankfully there didn't seem to be anyone sitting with them that Sharon felt the need to provoke, otherwise it probably would have been even more uncomfortable. 

Of course, getting back in the car with her was even worse. 

Neither of them had had much to drink. Jake had been afraid that if he did, he wouldn't be able to control some of his responses, and Sharon had needed to be sober to drive. 

There was no buffer against the very tense silence. As cool as the massage chair was in the passenger seat, it wasn't helping him. 

It wasn't a long drive, maybe about ten minutes, but every passing minute felt more like an hour. Halfway there, Sharon broke the strained quiet. 

"Go ahead and say it." 

Jake turned his head to look at her, but she was staring straight ahead at the road, both hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. "Say what?"

She snorted. "Whatever it is you're holding back, whatever the bug is that you've had up your butt all night. Go ahead and say it."

"I haven't had a bug up my butt all night," he snapped back at her. Seriously, if she wanted to know what he was pissed about, couldn't she just ask? Did she have to go straight for the insults? Why not try to make the situation better instead of worse? But that seemed to be her M.O. "Just since you decided to use me to piss off your family."

Sharon scoffed. "I wasn't using you-"

"Yes, you were," he said, not caring that he was interrupting her. "I'm proud of being a soldier, I'm not ashamed that I'm not using my college degree and that I'm working for Luke, but you took both of those things and downplayed them in order to rile up your aunt." 

"I was just trying to help Melinda! You heard her ask me to distract her mom."

"Yeah, but I didn't hear you ask me if I was okay with being the sacrifice for it. You didn't extend me the courtesy of letting me know what you were going to do. You just went straight into making a scene and using me and making it clear that I'm not good enough for your family."

"I don't think you're not, that's what they think! I don't care what your job is!"

"If you really didn't care what my job was, you wouldn't have used it as a weapon and you would have talked it up, not down," he snapped, turning his head away to glare out the window. He crossed his arms over his chest. "You could have done something else to distract your aunt, but you didn't. You deliberately chose to do something that would be embarrassing for me."

"You were already embarrassed by me," she snapped back. "From the second I called out to her, don't deny it."

"So, because I was uncomfortable having everyone stare at us... What? You decided to make it worse for me? Why? What the hell is the point?" 

"The point is I successfully distracted her, like my cousin asked me to. You have no idea what my aunt is like when she's on a mission - the only thing that was going to distract her is making a bit of a scene!" 

"You didn't even try," he retorted. "You've been deliberately getting under your parents’ skin since we arrived, without even attempting to get along with them. You were completely normal at dinner, so it's not like you can't behave with your family if you want to." 

******

Later, Sharon would realize that it wasn't entirely Jake's fault he'd hit on the two phrases guaranteed to piss her off the most, especially since Rina had already faulted her for not being 'normal' earlier that evening. And yeah, she could behave if she wanted to, but she didn't. Behaving actually made her parents worse, not better. They took it as an invitation to try and push their agenda and control her.

"You have no idea what my family is like." The wheels on the Mercedes squealed a little as she made a sharp turn into the driveway. "You don't know what will and won't distract my aunt, you don't know what will and won't make my parents not be dicks to me. You have an awesome family that loves and supports you unconditionally and you have no clue what it's like to not have that."

"Fine! Your family sucks and they totally deserve how you treat them. What about me? You've had a 'bug up your ass' from the moment you met me, and I thought you'd finally gotten it out, but tonight I can see that you haven't."

"Because you're just like them, Judgy McJudgerson Asshole!" she shouted at him, slamming on the brakes in front of the house hard enough that both of them jerked in their seats. She whipped her head around to glare at him. If she could have burned a hole through his head with her gaze, she would have. "The second you met me, you were judging me and finding me lacking, why the hell should I try to impress you?"

"You didn't have to impress me, you just had to not deliberately go out of your way to be as obnoxious as possible. It's not like I knew your parents when I first met you - I didn't know anything about you. And you didn't give me a chance to get to know you, did you? No, you just immediately decided I was like your parents, and went out of your way to antagonize me and make sure I didn't get that chance. Who's really the judgmental one in that scenario? And just for the record, I liked the you I've gotten to know, up until tonight. I don't know what version of you this was, but she's a royal bitch."

Shaken, Sharon just sat there as Jake practically hurled himself out of the car and slammed the door behind him. She watched him walk up the stairs and into the house, a very large lump in her throat. 

Part of her wanted to run after him to yell at him some more. A much smaller part of her wanted to run after him and apologize. But she was afraid that if she moved, if she tried to speak, she would burst into tears. 

Swallowing hard several times, she angrily wiped the tears away from her eyes as Thomas came down the stairs of the house. She clenched her jaw and straightened her spine, taking in several deep breaths through her nose as she pushed down all her emotions. It felt like icing herself over, like an impenetrable shield that she could hunker down inside of.

It was a tactic she'd taught herself growing up, the only way she'd been able to deal with her parents' constant disappointment that she wasn't the daughter they wanted. Eventually she'd managed to stop caring at all - mostly. She hadn't had to do this in years.

Now she felt even more resentful. She really, really, really hated that she cared so much about what Jake thought. That he'd managed to hurt her. 

Nodding regally to Thomas as she passed him, she walked quickly into the house and up the stairs. Jake had apparently already found his way without her. The door to the room he was staying in was firmly shut. Yeah, her plan to head over there tonight... definitely not happening. 

Quietly she let herself into her room. She thought about slamming the door for a minute, just so he'd know she was there, but she didn't. It might be satisfying for a moment, but it would also prove his point about her deliberately doing whatever she could to be provoking. 

And, despite how mad she was, she already knew there was some truth to his words. 

Pulling her phone out of her clutch, she tossed the small purse on the bed as she called Kate even before sitting down on her bed to take off her shoes. The super cute strappy sandals that she'd been so sure Jake would like. Well, he had liked them when he'd first seen them. She blinked back a few more tears that had sprung to her eyes.

"Sharon? What's wrong?" Kate's greeting, the sympathy in her voice, undid Sharon completely.

She burst into tears.

******

Pacing back and forth in the guest room, Jake raked his fingers through his hair. 

Dammit. 

He should turn back around and find Sharon and apologize. No matter how pissed he was, he should haven't called her a royal bitch. Even if she was being one and even if she'd called him an asshole first. 

But he couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't end up yelling at her again if he tried. Because he was still angry. He didn't doubt she was too. 

Groaning, he shook his head as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was close to midnight, but Patrick would still be awake. Stronghold didn't close until two, and he usually stayed the full night. Hopefully he'd be in his office and not on the floor. 

Jake blew out a sigh of relief when Patrick picked up after just two rings.

"Jake?" Patrick sounded confused and a little concerned. "What's up? Everything okay?"

"Not really," Jake said, sighing as he fell back onto the bed. Reaching up he loosened his tie. "Sharon and I had a fight tonight." 

"Already?" Patrick asked, sounding amused. In the background, Jake could hear his sister demanding to know what was going on. "Hold on, I'm going to put you on speaker."

"Do you have to?" He tossed his tie to the side and undid the top button of his shirt to give him more breathing room. The protest was only half-hearted though. He'd known his sister would be there and that she'd insist on being part of the conversation. In fact, he'd kind of been counting on it. He wanted her perspective. 

"Yes. Just so you know, Olivia and Luke are here too," Patrick said, his voice sounding a little farther away now that he was on speaker. "Although they can step out if you need."

"No, it's fine... Who's running Marquis tonight?" Olivia was the manager of the other club, which Patrick, Luke, and Michael were all part-owners of. 

"Michael and Ellie." Olivia's crisp tones were immediately recognizable. "It's my night off this week."

"Ah... gotcha. Well..." Now that he had his friends ready to hear him out, it was like he stalled out on what to say. 

"Spit it out big brother." There was a tinge of amusement to Lexie’s voice, but she sounded just as concerned as Patrick. "What's this about you and Sharon fighting already?" 

Starting at the beginning - not just the rehearsal dinner, but what she'd been like from the moment she'd irreverently greeted her parents with monikers that obviously made them uncomfortable - Jake went through all the events leading up to the blow up in the car. Other than a few mutters and murmurs that he couldn't quite make out, his audience let him get through the whole story. 

"So now she's in her room, and I'm in my room, and we still have her cousin's wedding to go to tomorrow. Plus, we'll be staying in the same room at the hotel tomorrow night." Just unloading everything to his friends made him feel strangely hollow inside; the anger had finally left, but there was nothing to take its place. 

"That sucks, man," Patrick said after a long moment. Jake got the feeling they were all trying to figure out what to say. Because it really did suck. 

"I can't believe you called her a royal bitch." That was Lexie, sounding both awed and chastising at the same time. "I've never heard you call anyone that before."

Closing his eyes, Jake pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing in shame. "I'm not exactly proud of it. I completely lost my temper.”

"Understandably," Lexie said, sounding a little sympathetic. "She did warn you that she doesn't get along with her family though. I know she did." 

"She doesn't seem to want to get along with them," he pointed out. "She didn't even give her parents a chance before she was doing her best to tick them off."

There was a moment of silence, and then Olivia spoke up. 

"Jake, I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to really think about the answer. If someone wasn't nice to you, regardless of how you treated them, after a while, would you bother trying to be nice to them?" 

"Well... but... She didn't even give them a chance." 

"You saw one interaction between people whose relationship has taken years to develop. Are you saying you can judge the entirety of the situation based off that?" Olivia sounded completely reasonable when she asked the question, but it was a very pointed question. 

"No," he admitted. His chest tightened uncomfortably. "Am I being entirely unreasonable?"

"Not entirely," Olivia said, and three other voices immediately murmured their agreement. "But it sounds like you went into this weekend with certain expectations of her behavior and as soon as she didn't meet them, you became disapproving. From what you've said about how her family reacts to her, it sounds like you touched a nerve."

That was true. On the other hand... "She judged me, too."

"She did. Does that make you feel better about how you behaved?" Olivia asked matter-of-factly. 

Dammit. He was starting to understand some of the offhand comments the other guys had made about Olivia and their relationships. She was almost too on point with her observations. Thankfully she couldn’t actually see him; he was pretty sure he’d be squirming with discomfort if she could.

He sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't have insisted on being her date."

"Don't say that," Lexie argued immediately. "You'd have been moping and angry all weekend if she was there with Brian."

"All of this was bound to come up eventually anyway," Patrick chimed in. "Better sooner than later, especially if you can't work through it."

"Do you want to work through it?" Lexie asked. 

Jake rubbed his hand over his face. 

He didn't like one of the sides of Sharon that he'd seen today. Andrew had said she needed looking after because she was too independent to ask for help. Was there something he could have done to make today easier for her? 

Nothing immediately came to mind. Because he didn't know her family or how to deal with them. Olivia was right that he shouldn't have jumped to conclusions about how she dealt with them. 

Yeah, he'd sympathized with her parents, because that was exactly how Sharon had treated him for months, but maybe her parents did deserve it. He didn't know what they had done to make her go immediately on the offensive with them.

While he might empathize with her parents, it was because she’d done the same thing to him, not because it was the same situation. There had been no real reason for her not to give him a chance. For all he knew, her parents had run out of chances.

He’d been worried that family wasn’t important to Sharon, but it was clear after tonight that it was. Maybe not every member equally, but she’d been there for her cousins. Jake sighed.

“Yes, I want to work through it.” As long as she didn’t continue to paint him with the same brush she used for her parents. That wasn’t fair to him. “Luke’s been pretty quiet. What does he think about all this?”

He asked the question more to lighten his mood than anything.

“You got this, man.”

Jake couldn’t help but chuckle. “Thanks, boss.”

Although he considered knocking on Sharon’s door after he got off the phone, he decided against it. A night for both of them to cool down wasn’t going to do either of them any harm and might even do them some good.

******

To Sharon’s surprise, Kate wasn’t quite as sympathetic as she’d thought her bestie would be. After Sharon managed to stifle her initial tears and was done pouring out everything that had happened and the fight she and Jake had on the ride home, her best friend hesitated before responding.

“Do you want the supportive bestie or the tough love right now, sweetie?”

The fact that there was even an option made Sharon feel defensive.

“I want the supportive bestie.” She was going to ask what Kate meant by the tough love eventually, and they both knew it, because she wouldn’t be able to contain her curiosity, but Sharon didn’t want to hear it right now.

“I love you, Jake was a total asshat, and he sucks big balls.” There was total sincerity in Kate’s voice, but Sharon had to ask.

“What’s the tough love version?”

“You were also a royal bitch.” It was said sympathetically, but also matter-of-factly.

“I kind of was, wasn’t I?” Sharon asked morosely.

That was the truth she hadn’t wanted to face in the car. Jake had made several good points about how she’d treated him tonight.

“You know I love you, but you do have a tendency to react poorly if people do anything other than accept you immediately. I get why it pushes your buttons, but you tend to go on the offensive when you feel at all defensive.”

“I did what I had to with Aunt Lorraine but…” Sharon sighed. “I didn’t need to drag Jake into it. I did that because he pissed me off in the moment.”

She made a face and got up from where she’d been laying on the bed, starting to undress so she could be more comfortable while she and Kate talked. Pajama pants and a soft tank top first and then she started on taking the pins out of her hair.

“Granted, he could be a lot more sympathetic to your position,” Kate said. “But you could be a lot more sympathetic to his too. He’s meeting your family for the first time, wants to make a good impression, and you… Well, you were intentionally being obnoxious. It makes sense that he found you so too.”

“Ugh. Why do you have to go and bring logic into this?” Sharon asked irritably.

But she was honestly already feeling a little better. Maybe crying had helped her vent her feelings a little – and holy crap she needed to take care of her makeup situation, she realized as she glanced in the mirror over her vanity – or because she was on the phone with her bestie, but she didn’t feel like she was about to explode with emotions anymore. She tended to be an emotional person and she was fine with herself that way, but sometimes she did need someone to help ground her.

Kate was a grounded person. So was Jake for that matter.

“Someone needs to,” Kate teased.

“So, what do I do now?” Sharon asked, a little plaintively.

For the first time, she really felt like she was at sea. She wanted to apologize… but only if he apologized too. She also wasn’t used to making the first step in things like this. While she was plenty good at being confrontational, she wasn’t great at trying to smooth things over. At least, not when she was one of the parties that needed things smoothed. She could do it for other people just fine.

“Get some sleep,” Kate ordered. “It’s late. You need to rest. Tomorrow you’ll hopefully both be in a better frame of mind to actually talk.”

“What if I apologize and he doesn’t?”

“Then he really is a big jerk and you won’t have to feel bad about kicking his ass to the curb. But that’s not the kind of guy I think he is.”

That wasn’t the kind of guy Sharon thought he was either.

Okay, now she did want to go and knock on his door just to get it over with… But Kate was right. She should wait. For one, she needed to wash off the eyeliner and mascara that had run when she was crying. She also didn’t want to see him with puffy eyes and a red nose just in case he wasn’t the kind of guy she thought he was.

“Thank you for the coddling and the tough love, Barbie-Girl.”

Kate laughed. “Any time, Little Italy, you know that. Love you.”

“Love you too. Night.”

Hanging up the phone, Sharon looked over at her door, ears straining. Maybe Jake would make her life easier and come and apologize first. Then she wouldn’t have any hesitation about saying she was sorry too. But there was nothing but silence in the hallway between them.

This was not how she’d seen the night going.

Ugh.

Tomorrow was going to be so awkward.


Chapter 15

He woke up early, restless and with an overabundance of nervous energy.

Since he had a feeling it was far too early for Sharon to be awake, Jake started off his morning by working out in the bedroom. It wasn’t as good as going for a run, but since the room was freaking huge there was plenty he could do in the empty space.

Push-ups. Sit-ups. Crunches. Lunges. Burpees. Etc., etc., etc.

He did more reps than he normally would since he didn’t have any weights with him. He’d worked up a pretty good sweat when there was a soft knock on his door, startling him. He’d never seen Sharon awake before nine on the weekends.

“Jake?” Her voice was quiet and slightly muffled, but it was her. Which was a relief. For one wild moment he’d thought maybe it was one of her parents, or that she’d sent the butler to kick him out of the house or something.

Pushing himself up off the floor where he'd been in a reclining position, he hurried over to yank the door open. The fact that he was shirtless and sweaty didn't even occur to him until he was chest to face with her and she was staring at his bare skin with a very familiar expression. A little smile tweaked the corners of her mouth as she lifted her gaze to his. She liked what she saw. For a moment it felt like everything was completely normal between them.

"Early morning workout?"

"I didn't think you'd be up yet," he admitted, stepping back so she could come inside. As soon as she did, the awkwardness hit them both again. 

Sharon was still in her pajamas - purple pants covered with little pink hearts and a purple tank top - and he was only wearing his sweatpants. Normally they'd already be jumping on each other. Instead, Sharon stood in front of him, not quite meeting his eyes, shifting her weight back and forth uncomfortably. 

He wasn't much better off. Rubbing his palms against his sweatpants, he cleared his throat. 

"I'm sorry."

Both of them spoke at once, blurting out the words. Their gazes met, and Jake gave her a rueful smile which she returned. 

"Go ahead," she said, gesturing to him. 

"Sure you don't want to do ladies first?" he asked, teasing her. Some of the tension in his back was already dissipating. 

"No, no, I insist." The little smile on her face grew a little larger. 

Taking a deep breath, Jake let it out with a sigh. "I'm sorry about last night. I lost my temper and said some things I shouldn't have - and some things that I might have been justified in saying, I said in a manner I shouldn't have. And I am incredibly sorry about calling you a bitch."

"I called you an asshole first," she said, shrugging and tipping her head slightly to the side as she looked up at him. "I'm sorry too. Being around my family... Well, I'm not the best version of myself, but I shouldn't have pulled you into it without talking to you first. And you're right. When I feel like you're judging me, I tend to go on the offensive. I don't know that I can change my knee jerk reaction, but I will try." 

"I'll try to be more understanding," he said. "I don't know how your family is and I shouldn't make assumptions about how they'd react to what you do."

"I have tried in the past," she said, looking a little miserable. "The whole 'give an inch, they'll take a mile' thing? Yeah, that's my parents. The more I give in, the more they try to bulldoze me. It's better just to go in blazing and then it's clear where we all stand. Plus, I'd rather piss them off than have them piss me off. I'm sorry I did that to you, too." 

Jake hesitated for a moment, but the question had been in the back of his brain since last night, and he had to ask. "Would you have done the same thing if I was a Dom? Like, if you knew you were going to be punished for it, would that have changed things?" 

******

Blinking in surprise, Sharon turned the question over in her mind as she studied his expression. She was trying to keep her focus on his face and not on his bare chest or the little drop of sweat that was currently sliding down it and how freaking hot he looked right now. 

"I don't think so," she admitted. “I don’t deal well when I feel like someone is being judgmental about me and knowing I had a spanking coming, or any other kind of punishment, wouldn’t stop me from changing how I deal with my parents.”

"You would have thrown Brian under the bus too?" 

There was something about Jake's expression and tone of voice that made it seem like he was insecure or something. Which was not how she'd meant to make him feel and she was a little horrified to realize that she'd done so. 

She was also touched by his sincere, thorough apology. It seemed like both of them had really had a chance to think through where they'd gone wrong last night. She and Kate had been right. He was a good guy. 

"Probably not, but only because he wouldn't have cared that I was making a scene," she said, feeling a little bad that it sounded like she was blaming Jake for her actions. "Not that that's an acceptable reason for me to have done that to you, and I realize that."

"So, it's not because he would have spanked you afterwards, or that you respect him more because he's a Dom?" Jake's expression was closed, almost nonchalant, as if he was trying to look like he didn't care about the answer. 

Aw crap. That was so, so, so not how she'd ever meant to make him feel. She stepped forward, reaching up to put her hand on his chest. His skin was warm underneath her hand. 

"Definitely not," she said firmly. "For starters, there's no way he would have spanked me afterward. We don't have that kind of relationship anymore." 

He raised a dark eyebrow at her, something sparking in his blue eyes. "Do we?" 

"I don't know. Do we?" she asked, a little uncertainly. She wasn't really sure she wanted a relationship that involved punishment spankings... Although if it was going to happen, she preferred not to have to do a ton of negotiating first. That was what she struggled the most with in the lifestyle, and why she liked that Jake was take-charge without being a Dom in the traditional sense. 

"I feel kind of weird about it, but if you wanted it... I could try." He didn't look entirely convinced, and Sharon ended up giggling. 

His expression shifted, becoming more rueful. "Well that's not the reaction I was going for."

"Sorry, it's just... You obviously aren't really into it."

"I'm not saying I don't want to spank you sometimes, I do, but... in a fun way mostly," he said, shrugging uncomfortably. "I don't know about the whole lecture and punishment thing." 

"Honestly, that's not really my thing either. I like things more spontaneous. That's why I have so much trouble with the Doms. They're too kinky for me in a lot of ways, and vanilla guys are too vanilla." 

"So, you're what, Goldicocks and I'm just right?" Jake's eyes flashed with mirth and Sharon slapped her hand over her mouth as she practically screamed with laughter.

Holy fuck, that was the last thing she'd expected him to say. He chuckled as she got her giggles under control. "Um... sort of? You're like, vanilla ice cream with a little something extra to go with it. Like sprinkles. Or hot fudge. A root beer float." 

"I can live with that," Jake said, stepping forward and placing his hands on her hips. Sharon's breath caught in her throat as her body flared to life in anticipation. "So... does that mean we can just jump straight to the make-up sex?"

Just as she was about to say yes, a bell chimed in the room, and she groaned, her head falling forward to rest on Jake's bare chest in disappointment. 

"What was that?" he asked, and she didn't need to look up to know he was looking around, trying to figure out where the sound had come from. 

"That's the warning bell for breakfast. We have half an hour to get ready."

"What happens if we don't come down for breakfast in half an hour?" 

"Thomas comes up to get us." Sighing, Sharon stepped back, pushing his chest gently so that his hands fell away from her hips. "I need to get dressed, you need to shower. So... later."

"Definitely later," he said, watching her go. 

Sharon put a little extra shimmy in her step for him to enjoy. 

******

The promised make-up sex was going to be much later. 

They'd had breakfast with her parents, which had been uncomfortable. Sharon was trying to behave to make him feel more comfortable, but her parents did exactly what she'd told him they would and seemed to take that as an invitation to try and force their opinions on her. They basically ignored Jake while talking about how Sharon should really be concentrating on making better connections, how her job wasn't the 'right kind' of job to accomplish that, and practically gushing over some son of her father's business associate that they wanted her to meet. 

By the end of the meal - which had lasted a whole hour as her parents served it in courses - Jake was tempted to start making a scene himself, just to make them stop. 

Sharon kept sneaking peeks at him, smirking as if to say 'I told you so' and just generally enjoying his pain. 

Now he was in the mood to spank her. 

Unfortunately, they hadn't had time. Melinda had called, begging Sharon to come to the hotel early so she could get ready with her and the bridesmaids. Of course, Sharon had said yes. 

"It's for the bride," she solemnly told Jake. 

How could he argue with that? He couldn't.

They checked into the hotel early and he was left to his own devices while Sharon joined Melinda and the bridal party in the bridal suite. Since he didn't know anyone else there, Jake stayed in the room and just watched some television, trying to veg out and relax before the wedding. 

In the middle of the afternoon he got a text from Andrew. 

Did you and Sharon make up?

Rolling his eyes, Jake responded. 

Yes.

A few minutes later his phone buzzed again. 

Good. 

Sharon had told him that she'd talked to Kate and he'd admitted to calling Patrick, so they knew their friends were aware of what was going on. Although he was sure Kate had gone into more detail with Andrew than she had with any of their other friends. Chances were, everyone knew that he and Sharon had had a fight, but not much more than that. 

It did make him realize that he should update Patrick and Lexie as well - he figured they'd pass the message along to Olivia and Luke - and he shot off a quick text letting them know that he and Sharon had both apologized, made up, and he was looking forward to the wedding. That last part wasn't entirely true, but it wasn't entirely false either...

According to Sharon, Melinda and Mark had been able to plan the wedding they wanted, which was why it was being held in a hotel at all. Something her aunt wasn't happy about for some reason. 

Maybe it wasn't fancy enough?

Jake had no idea and he wasn't about to get caught up trying to understand Sharon's family right now. At least, not the older generation. Her generation seemed more reasonable. 

He was getting dressed when Sharon returned to the room, her hair curled and pinned in an elaborate updo and her make-up done. Turning his head as she entered the room, he grinned at her. 

"You look good," he said, kind of enjoying the casual jeans and button-down shirt she was wearing in comparison to how formal she looked from the neck up. 

"You do too," she replied, giving him a saucy wink. 

"I'm half dressed."

"That's how I like you." 

He laughed as she leered at him. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep the teasing going to its natural conclusion. He wasn't sure Sharon would even let him try when she was all done up. They both quickly got dressed rather than playing around.

Jake had borrowed his dad's tux so that he didn't have to rent one and it fit almost perfectly. Somehow Sharon managed to get dressed even faster than he did.

Her dress was the fanciest he'd ever seen anyone wear for a wedding - floor length and made out of a shimmery material that couldn't seem to decide whether it was blue or purple, the low-cut neckline was edged with sparkling black jewels. To go with it, she put on a necklace, earrings, and a bracelet that sparkled with the same jewels. Jake had no idea what they were or if they were real (honestly, he didn’t want to think about that) but she looked incredible.

The dark jewels made her eyes seem to sparkle brighter, her hair shimmered under the lights, and the color of the dress was perfect with her complexion.

If only they didn’t have a wedding to go to…

The look she gave him once he was in his tux said she felt the same way.

******

Jake in jeans and a t-shirt?

Hot.

Jake in a suit?

Hot.

Jake in just pajama pants with sweat dripping down his chest?

Super-hot.

But somehow Jake in a tux beat all of them.

Sharon really didn’t like to consider herself a snob, she liked men wearing all sorts of clothes, but there was something about a man that wore a tux well that just flat out did it for her. Maybe it had something to do with the monumental crush she’d had on the various James Bonds over the years…

Yeesh, she was going to have to keep Jake away from any martini glasses tonight or she was not going to be responsible for her behavior.

She couldn’t help but preen a little bit as woman after woman checked him out while they headed down to the wedding. Especially because they happened to walk past Rina, who was hustling down the hallway with her hands full of several bouquets, and she looked practically green with envy when she saw Jake.

Suck it, twatwaffle! He’s all mine!

“What are you thinking about?” Jake murmured the question as they stepped into the hall where the ceremony was happening. Two of Sharon’s cousins were standing at the door passing out programs and they each took one.

“Nothing,” she said immediately.

Jake gave her a look as he escorted her down the aisle towards the front few rows where her parents were already sitting.

Nothing put that smile on your face?”

She smirked up at him, although she felt a little nervous about what his reaction would be. But hey, he’d asked. “Fine. I was thinking that you make fantastic arm candy.”

To her surprise, he laughed. She’d thought he’d be insulted, to be honest, but she really was telling the truth and not just saying it to try and get under his skin.

"So do you," he said, winking down at her. 

Pleased, Sharon smoothed her free hand down over her thigh. She loved this dress and black opal jewels that decorated it and the matching jewelry. Although her parents could be total pains in the ass, they were great when it came to presents. Even more impressive was that they didn't just leave choosing gifts to their assistants, the way she knew her Aunt Lorraine did. Her mom had picked out this dress specifically for Sharon's birthday a few years ago and her father had provided the jewelry. 

In some ways, she could see Jake's arguments for them. They did care. They just sucked at showing it in a way that didn't involve trying to control her. 

Speaking of, both of her parents looked pleased when they saw her and Jake arriving at their row. Her mother stood to give her air kisses before Sharon sat down next to her, and her father leaned over to shake Jake's hand in greeting, even though they'd all seen each other this morning over breakfast. There was no sign that they'd spent that meal pretending Jake didn't exist. Her mom leaned over to greet him too. 

Jake appeared bemused and a little uncertain about their sudden and seemingly positive, display of attention. 

Appearances, appearances.

He'd get used to it. 

Sitting down, Sharon found herself feeling flustered. 

If he stuck around, he'd get used to it. He did seem interested in sticking around. Right? She eyed him, but he was looking down at the program and there was no way she was going to question him while her mom was right next to her. Sighing inwardly, she settled into her chair. 

She was so discombobulated that she immediately obeyed her mother's hissed direction to sit up straight. Which, of course, led to her mom trying to demand she also cross her ankles and rest her hands a certain way. So she could look more 'ladylike' - at least, how ladies should look according to her mom. Rolling her eyes, Sharon slumped back down again and ignored her mother's exasperated sigh as well as Jake's questioning look. 

The ceremony went off without a hitch. Mark and Melinda were practically glowing as they stared lovingly at each other, making Sharon sniffle. Her purse was well stocked with tissues. Weddings where the couple truly loved each other always made her emotional, so she'd come prepared. Sadly, it was something that was only necessary with about half the family weddings she attended. 

Then came the cocktail hour, which Sharon could never decide whether she enjoyed or hated when it came to her family’s weddings. 

At anyone else’s weddings she usually loved them. Little delicious bits of food, some booze, and talking about the lovely ceremony and happy couple with her friends? Yup, she was totally down for that.

But with her family, the cocktail hour usually meant a lot of gossip, backbiting, and business with a few genuine interactions sprinkled in between. 

On the plus side – plenty of high-quality booze to numb the pain of all the fake interactions. 

******

"They don't have beer?" Jake asked, a little dumbfounded. Not that he objected to the well-made old-fashioned Sharon had just handed him, but he had planned to keep his drinking light so he could be on his toes. 

Sharon smirked at him. "I thought you wanted me to try and get along with my parents."

"I mean, I guess, but... Are you saying beer would upset them?" He knew he sounded dubious. 

"You could always try it and find out," she teased. Something in her eyes told him she was being completely sincere though, which was mind-boggling. He also had started to see what she meant about her parents being worse when she was cooperative. Not just at breakfast, either. He hadn't missed her little interaction with her mom before the ceremony. 

It seemed like making one small correction just invited several more. Sharon's attitude was making more sense to him now. It was impossible to compromise with people who didn't want to meet halfway. Instead of just being happy she'd done one thing, they immediately asked for the next thing they wanted from her. Demanded it, really.

Not a fun way to live. 

Last night he'd been exasperated by her unwillingness to give even a little. 

Today, he kind of wanted to bundle her away and protect her from the demands of her family. Even though she obviously didn't need his protection. 

Turning away from the bar, Sharon ground to a halt as a very pale old woman with red hair stopped in front of her. Dressed in a vibrant green dress that showed off quite a bit of cleavage, she looked Sharon up and down with a frown. 

"Hi, Aunt Meg," Sharon said blithely, ignoring the look of disapproval on the woman's face. "This is my date, Jake. Jake, this is my Aunt Meg."

Jake was going under the assumption that Aunt Meg must have married into the family, because she didn't look like any of the other relatives he’d met. 

Turning her expression of disapproval to Jake, Aunt Meg looked him up and down. "You're the construction worker?" 

"Ah..." Jake had absolutely no idea how to respond to the disdainful statement. She didn't sound like she required an answer. 

To his utter shock, it wasn't Sharon who stepped into the breach.

"Construction worker?" The lilting tones of Mrs. Bianchi were full of genteel amusement as she appeared at his elbow, but she was speaking just a little more softly than Aunt Meg had. Her arm tucked into her husband's, they presented an unexpectedly united front with Sharon and Jake. "Why Meg, who on Earth was filling your ear with that drivel?" 

Meg sniffed as Sharon leaned into Jake's side. He looked down at her to see what her reaction was, and to his surprise, she grinned and winked up at him as if she was sharing a secret. Which just confused him even more. 

"Everyone's talking about it," Meg said haughtily, turning her nose up in the air. "We all know Sharon can be a little unusual but... a construction worker? Really?"

"Sergeant Standish is not only a decorated veteran who served for our country, he is now a contractor for a highly successful remodeling company, as well," Mr. Bianchi said, his voice carrying even more than his wife's had. Jake winced a little at being referred to as ‘sergeant.’ He wasn’t high-ranking enough and hadn’t been in long the service enough for anyone who was actually military to refer to him by his rank now that he was out. Sharon’s dad was just using it as a way to make Jake sound more important. "They just did Everett's new office building recently. It's top quality work."

Mr. Bianchi nodded towards a dark-haired man across the room; Jake guessed he must be Everett. The name did sound familiar. Jake was pretty sure that was the guy who had the penthouse above his office that his crew had been working on when he’d first started up with Sharon.

"I think it's so admirable that after everything Jake has done for our country, he's come home and jumped right into learning new skills, which so many of us are lacking in nowadays," Mrs. Bianchi said and Jake had to work overtime to keep his expression neutral. She did? Beside him, Sharon was shaking slightly with silent laughter, but no one was paying attention to her. "It's really quite admirable. And, I'm sure, a relief to him that he'll never need to pay someone for something as simple as changing a light bulb or an air filter."

Both Mr. and Mrs. Bianchi laughed. 

Aunt Meg didn't.

Sharon snorted she was giggling so hard.

Jake still had no idea what was going on. 

Sniffing, Aunt Meg turned away from Mr. and Mrs. Bianchi, focusing on Jake. "Thank you for your service."

"Oh um, you're welcome," Jake said, stumbling over his words, but he needn't have bothered. She had turned and started walking away as soon as she'd finished speaking. 

"Loathsome woman," Mr. Bianchi muttered. "Still can't believe Richard married her." 

"There, there, dear, they'll divorce soon enough and then we can steer him towards someone more suitable," Mrs. Bianchi said, patting his arm. They didn't even glance at Sharon and Jake as they moved away, still talking in low tones.

Completely flummoxed, Jake turned to Sharon. "What. The hell. Was that?"

Mirth danced in her dark eyes. "That was my Aunt Meg. She's my Uncle Richard's fourth wife. Her son, my uncle’s step-son, called an electrician to come change out his lightbulbs last year. Apparently half his house had finally gone dark because he didn’t know how to change any of the bulbs and he hadn’t known what else to do."

That was both sad and hilarious, but not what Jake was most interested in.

"No but... your parents... Why did they come to defend me like that?" 

She smiled at him, but there was a little bit of sadness in her eyes too. "They can pick at me all they want, but it's something else entirely if someone else finds me lacking. Then they're the best defenders a daughter could ask for." 

He shook his head. "I don't understand your family at all."

"Keep drinking," she advised.

"That will help me understand them?"

"No, it just means it won't bother you anymore."

He laughed. 

Yeah, he didn't get her family. He didn't entirely get her. But in moments like this, he couldn't deny... he really liked her.


Chapter 16

Somehow, they managed to get through the cocktail hour and then into the reception, which was a huge relief. The first dance went off without a hitch and then everyone found their seats. 

Melinda had put her and Jake at the same table as Courtney and Joseph along with several of Mark's cousins. Other than Joseph everyone was pretty awesome, and Joseph seemed a lot more subdued than he had yesterday while Courtney seemed more confident. Sharon doubted they'd last long after this wedding, but she was glad to see Courtney looking less unhappy. 

Even more entertaining was the way Mark's cousin Riley was eyeing Courtney throughout dinner. 

Courtney was too polite to eye him back with her boyfriend sitting next to her, but there was definitely an attraction there. 

Yeah. When she happened to catch Courtney's eye, Sharon pointed at Riley and gave her younger cousin a thumbs up. Courtney's eyes widened, and she blushed and looked away, making Sharon snicker. 

Hot breath washed over her ear as Jake leaned in to whisper. "What trouble are you getting into now?" 

"No trouble," she murmured, turning her head to face him. Their lips were mere centimeters apart and she was sure everyone else thought they were exchanging either sexy or intimate words. "Just hoping my cousin doesn't end up miserably unhappy."

Jake's gaze searched hers. "You've got a little bit of a white knight complex, don't you? Is that because no one ever came and rescued you?" 

Immediately she scowled. "I don't need rescuing." 

"Doesn't mean you don't want it. Or deserve it." He winked, leaning forward to drop a kiss on her mouth. Part of her bristled, another part of her melted. 

Sure, Sharon had imagined more than once that some amazing man would come along and, like the Harlequin heroes she loved, force her family to value her for who she was. When she'd gotten older, she'd gotten over that; the idea that her family would only value her if some man did pissed her right off. She’d rather they never learned to value her than to only do so because of a dude.

There was still a little part of her that wished an amazing guy would come along and introduce her to his family, who would all adore her and think she was awesome and welcome her into the fold. That seemed more fantastical than the previous scenario though. Jake's family liked her...

Pulling away from the kiss slightly, Jake smiled at her. "Wanna dance?" 

"Sure," she replied, a little breathlessly. She needed a distraction from the thoughts she was having. Considering that she and Jake didn't exactly have a defined relationship at the moment, she needed to stop thinking about his family like that. They might be more than fuck buddies, but they were still less than boyfriend and girlfriend. 

Huh, kind of like their sex life. More than vanilla, less than kinky... They just kept ending up somewhere in the middle, didn't they?

******

Dancing with Sharon again was a little dangerous, because this was about as close to alone as they’d been for hours. She was pressed up against him, and memories of previous dances were running through his head, stirring up all sorts of desires.

It was a good thing she was pressed up against him; he wasn’t sure how well this tux would hide the situation he had going on in the front of his pants. It wasn’t a problem he’d ever had before. Not in a tux and not at a family wedding.

Plus, their current position meant he had a fantastic view right down the front of her dress. Enough that he could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra. Which, of course, made him wonder about her panties or lack thereof. The urge to drag her to a more private arena where he could find out was tantalizing.

Jake had never snuck off during a wedding before, although he’d always been intrigued when hearing other people talking about it. It seemed like a lot of those stories ended with the couple being caught, but then there wouldn’t be people able to talk about the people who didn’t get caught, would there? The idea was even more tempting because he knew Sharon would go along with it.

“Oh crap,” Sharon said, her hands tightening on Jake’s biceps.

“What?” Immediately he looked around, trying to ascertain what was wrong.

“They’re going to do a freaking bouquet toss… We need to get off the dance floor.”

Turning his head, Jake saw the bride standing off to the side of the dance floor with a small grouping of women around her, all of them obviously waiting for the song to end. She was clutching a bouquet – similar to but smaller than the one she’d carried down in the aisle – in her hand.

He couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. “You don’t want to try and catch the bouquet?”

It figured that most of the women he’d dated loved trying to catch the bouquet, but the attention-hungry Sharon would eschew this particular manner of being the focus.

“Hell no,” Sharon said a little grimly. “I also don’t want to listen to my mom badgering me for the next hour because I didn’t try hard enough or look like I was having fun. If we’re not in here, I can avoid it entirely.”

Steering her towards the side of the floor, Jake couldn’t help but chuckle. “You could always go for it.”

“And spend the rest of the night with everyone trying to hook me up with whoever catches the garter?” she asked dryly. “No thanks.”

“They…” His voice trailed off. He was about to say that they wouldn’t do that, because she’d obviously come with him as her date, but it didn’t sound like she was speaking hypothetically. She sounded pretty sure about the outcome, in fact. Jake changed tactics. “What if I caught the garter?”

She shot him an amused glance as they started making their way past the tables to the doors of the ballroom. “Then we would have to put up with them trying to introduce me to every eligible bachelor in the room for the rest of the night. And by eligible, I mean single and with a job they approve of. Things like age, personality, looks… not worthy of consideration.”

He shook his head, feeling a bit indignant. “You know, a lot of people would consider me a catch.”

“I’d like to catch you,” she said, winking as she reached behind him to squeeze his ass. Jake coughed, jumping slightly as he looked over his shoulder to see if anyone else had noticed.

Not that he could tell. No one seemed to be looking at them.

“Have you ever snuck off during a wedding before?” he asked as they reached the safety of the ballroom doors just as the song was ending. Sharon quickly pushed through before the emcee even began to speak.

She tilted her head, looking up at him with an anticipatory sparkle in her eye. “Yes… but not in the way I think you mean.”

Grinning, Jake looked around. The hallway was deserted and several doors looked like they might be the gateways to good possibilities.

Refocusing on Sharon, he wrapped his arm around her waist. “Wanna fuck?”

******

She was a terrible influence on Jake.

Not that she was complaining. He’d needed some terrible influencing and she kind of liked that he was able to shock her a little with his occasional out-of-character dirty propositions.

Although she’d snuck out of family weddings before, she’d never actually snuck off to have sex… And not in a coat closet where anyone could walk in at any time. She’d been a little nervous when the second door they’d opened had been the closet, a bit unsure if it was a good idea, but Jake had taken charge, swept her inside and had her pressed up against the coats lining the wall before she could voice any of her concerns.

She moaned against his lips, her excitement rising even higher at her own anxiousness. Someone could walk in at any time. Anyone could walk in at any time. Shuddering, she moaned louder and slid the heel of her foot against the back of Jake’s calf, trying to pull him in closer.

His hands moved up from her waist to her breasts, fondling them through the thin fabric of her dress. Sharon hadn’t bothered with a bra. The dress had a built-in bra so that her nipples didn’t show through the material, and the padding rubbed against the sensitive buds as Jake’s large hands began to knead the soft mounds of flesh. The coats provided plenty of cushion behind her as he pressed her against the wall, one knee thrusting between her thighs.

Since he was so much taller than her, his thigh pressed against her pussy, allowing her to practically ride it.

She’d been really close to not wearing panties under the dress, but right now she was glad that she had; otherwise there was no way she’d have been able to wear this dress back into the reception. There was a small voice in the back of her brain worrying over whether or not she was soaking through her panties to her dress anyway as she rubbed herself against Jake’s thigh, but she ignored it.

The kiss deepened as his fingers slid inside the deep cut of her neckline, seeking out her nipples, and Sharon whimpered against his mouth. His tongue probed, dancing with hers, leaving her breathless as sensation surged through her. Rolling her nipples between his fingertips, he tugged gently, sending a new wave of pleasure through her.

As much as she wanted to touch him in return, her hands were busy keeping her upright as she clung to him. Besides, it wasn’t like she could undress him too much… and that made everything even hotter. The need to be careful, to be quiet, to stay hidden, there was something wonderfully taboo and exciting about it.

Her family would be fucking horrified if she was found getting it on in a coat closet.

Sharon didn’t want to be found but knowing what they were chancing made her even more aroused.

She squeaked as Jake lifted his mouth and pulled his leg away, spinning her around so that she was facing away from him.

“Jake,” she protested, her hands flat against the coats, pressing them into the wall and wrinkling some of the costly fabrics. Not that she cared about that.

“Shh, princess,” he answered, his voice teasing. She heard his zipper sliding down and then felt his hands pulling at the skirt of her dress, dragging the fabric up and over her hips. “Unless you want someone to hear us and come in here.”

Sharon moaned in reply.

He didn’t even bother to pull down her panties. She felt him pulling them to the side and placing both of his hands on her ass, one of them holding her panties away from her pussy to give him access. A moment later, the blunt head of his cock pressed against the soaked opening and shoved in, deep and hard.

She barely managed to stifle her cry of pleasure, her arms bracing against the hard thrust. Jake groaned, low and not too loudly, as he filled her, his fingers tightening on her soft flesh.

“Oh fuck…” Sharon clamped down around him, squirming slightly, as her taut panties pressed against her clit, adding an extra level of stimulation.

“This is going to be hard and fast,” he warned her in a low growl.

“Just shut up and fuck me already.”

******

If they weren’t in a closet, Jake would have spanked her for that little comment. Instead, he leaned forward and reached up with his left hand to roughly grab her breast, making her squeal slightly. The nipple pinch he gave her was probably less effective with the padding inside of her dress, but it got his point across.

Then he straightened up again so he could get the right angle and leverage to ride her hard.

The purple panties she was wearing weren’t a thong, but they hadn’t given her ass much coverage. He’d hooked his thumb through the fabric and held them aside, giving him a delicious view of creamy pussy and winking asshole. Leaving her in her panties made the view seem exotic somehow – another indication that they were doing this where they weren’t supposed to.

Pulling her panties even farther to the side, he enjoyed her gasp and shudder as the fabric shifted over the front of her pussy. He curled his fingers around her hips, holding on tightly so he could thrust into her as hard as he liked.

She moaned as he began to move, her head dropping down between her arms and he could hear her panting for breath as he slid his cock in and out of her grasping pussy. The slick heat caressed him, her muscles tightening and relaxing around him, massaging every last inch of him as he thrust into her. The flapping of his pants where he’d opened them, and the ends of his shirt were a minor irritation compared to the rising pleasure.

Then… they heard it.

Voices.

Coming closer.

Jake kept moving, kept thrusting as both his trepidation and excitement grew, almost as if they were feeding off one another. Gasping with every thrust, he could tell Sharon was doing her best to remain quiet, but the small whimpers in the back of her throat were getting a little louder each time.

He couldn’t tell if he knew the owners of the voices or not, and he didn’t care.

Closer… closer…

He didn’t know he was holding his breath until his lungs started to burn.

Small bursts of white stars filled his vision as he took in a gasping breath of air. The voices were so close…

And then they were fading, moving away. Just someone walking by the closet, not coming to it.

“Oh fuck…” Sharon’s cry was small but audible as her pussy began to spasm around him, her ass pressing back against him. Small tremors worked their way through her body as she climaxed around him, and Jake groaned as he slammed into her. Tingles pulsed through his spine as he began to jerk inside of her, throbbing with each wave of orgasm.

******

She’d thought they were done for… and that had done it for her.

It was all she could do to keep from screaming with pleasure as her panties rubbed over her clit, Jake’s cock hitting the right spot inside of her with every thrust. The voices were fading as they moved down the hallway, and she was way too far gone to comprehend anything they were saying to each other.

Not that it mattered.

The fact that Jake kept fucking her through the voices passing, that he hadn’t stopped or even hesitated… Fuck

Shuddering, she could feel him spilling into her, filling her with his cum.

At her cousin’s wedding.

So fucking filthy.

So fucking hot.

They were both left gasping and Sharon’s muscles felt weak from holding herself up. Jake leaned against her, his arm coming around her and helping to support her weight even while he rested on her. It wasn’t the kind of cuddling that could be done in a bed, but it was still really nice.

After a long moment, he sighed. “We should get back.”

Now it was Sharon’s turn to sigh. He was right.

One quick stop at the bathroom for both of them to clean up, and they headed back into the reception. A few people were dancing, but it looked like they’d completely missed both the bouquet and garter toss as the majority of guests had spread out over the room again. Sometimes Sharon thought it might be fun not to elope, but to have an actual wedding, and completely horrify her side of the family with a DJ and people filling the dance floor.

Probably not worth the hassle her parents would put her through, but she could picture their faces at watching people getting down to the Wobble and it was glorious.

As if thinking about them had summoned them, her mother and father zeroed in on her and Jake immediately. Judging by their expressions, they were not pleased.

“Where were you?” her mother demanded in a low voice. Much lower than necessary considering that no one else was near the doors and the music was playing.

“Just taking a walk through the halls,” Sharon said, blinking innocently. “Why? What did we miss?”

“The bouquet toss, which you know very well,” her mother chided her. “Everyone was wondering where you were.”

Rather than addressing the issue directly, Sharon went for diversion. “Who caught it?”

“One of Melinda’s bridesmaids. That’s not the point, you should have been in here.”

“Sorry.” Yeah, she knew she didn’t sound sorry at all. “Are they cutting the cake soon?” Despite her stop by the bathroom, she could feel Jake’s cum starting to leak out and make the crotch of her panties soggy. Maybe she should have gone ahead and stuffed a wad of toilet paper in there, but she’d worried about it falling out. She might not be easily embarrassed, but there were still some things she’d rather avoid.

“Yes,” her father said, giving her a stern look. “Don’t embarrass us again by missing it.”

“No prob, Bob,” she said cheerfully, making her father wince, and she tugged at Jake’s arm to pull him away. He was looking increasingly uncomfortable, like he thought he should say something but didn’t know what would help. Silence on his end probably was for the best, at this point.

“Why is it important to be here for the cake cutting?” Jake asked in a low undertone as they started moving back to their table.

Sharon just shrugged – not because she didn’t know, but at her family’s idiosyncrasies. “They think we should all be present for anything that’s part of the ‘official timeline of events.’”

******
Jake kind of understood. He glanced over his shoulder to see her parents with their heads together, talking to each other in low voices. It was hard to tell whether they were keeping an eye on him and Sharon or not, but they were blocking the door now. There would be no way to get back out without her parents seeing unless they used one of the emergency exits, but it wasn’t like that would go unnoticed either.

“Is there anything that happens after the cake is cut?” He asked, wracking his brain. Although he’d attended several weddings, he hadn’t realized there was an official timeline. He supposed that made sense though. Weddings did all seem to follow the same basic schedule. Still, he couldn’t imagine his parents being upset at him for missing any of it.

If they even noticed that he did.

“The official farewell, but we can sneak out before that,” Sharon said indifferently. “Especially since Mark and Melinda are staying here at the hotel, there’s no big send off or anything. Melinda told me she wants to be able to go up to their room whenever they feel like it instead of having to wait for a specific time.”

“Okay,” Jake said. He had no idea what she meant by an official farewell, but he’d follow Sharon’s lead in this.

Sneaking out early sounded good to him.

Then he could take Sharon back up to their room, strip her down, and go for round two up against the windows there… Or on the bed… Wherever. Somewhere he could take his time a little more than he had in the coat closet. That had been exciting, but also rushed.

Yeah. Sneaking out early definitely appealed. He got the feeling her parents wouldn’t approve, but he didn’t really care about that anymore.


Chapter 17

There was an official brunch the morning after the wedding, thrown by Mark’s parents. The buffet style suited Jake perfectly, although Sharon’s parents both muttered about it, as did most of her aunts and uncles. The majority of the younger generation didn’t seem bothered. He noticed Rina was one of those sniffing haughtily at having to fill up her own plate. Jake made a wide berth around the dessert table to avoid her, keeping his gaze averted.

Sometimes discretion was a better strategy than valor.

Sharon had managed to snag one of the few two-person tables in the dining room and she smiled almost dreamily at him as he sat down. He found himself grinning back in a similar manner. Last night they’d ended up taking their wedding cake to go, both of them giggling like naughty children as they’d snuck out.

Then they’d gone up to their room and gotten creative with the icing. The cake was fucking delicious, but not nearly as fun as licking buttercream off of Sharon’s nipples. And definitely not as fun as when she’d slathered his cock from root to tip with it and gone to town.

It had been a much better night than the one before.

Actually, he was kind of feeling reluctant to go home. Not because he wanted to stay here, but because at home everything between them was so much less settled. Here, he was Sharon’s date. They were together, expected to be together, and he felt pretty confident about his place by her side.

At home…

Sitting down across from her, he realized he wanted to keep this up. The sleepovers. The breakfasts. The sex, of course. But also the conversations, the jokes, and keeping each other company.

He wanted to date her.

No, not just date. Jake needed to be totally honest with himself. He wanted to be in a relationship with her.

Even after this weekend, after meeting her crazy family, after their big fight, he could see himself having a future with her, which was more than a little mind-blowing. But what would she think?

Still smiling, her eyes slightly unfocused, she lifted another forkful of French toast with strawberries to her mouth, looking as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Her dark hair was piled in a messy bun and she was wearing a simple sweater with her jeans. The outfit had received a dark look from her mother when they’d entered the dining room, but so far neither of her parents had come over to talk to her about it. Maybe because Melinda had come in with Mark, wearing something similar.

As he sat there, staring at her, his full plate of food in front of him, Sharon seemed to realize something was up. Cocking her head, she gave him a questioning look.

“We should talk,” he said immediately, although he wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to say.

******
Sharon’s stomach sank.

The worst words in the English language. Well, maybe not the worst but they were up there. They were not words she wanted to hear after a night when she was feeling all glowy and happy.

Not only had Jake been amazing during the wedding and reception, but they’d had a hell of a fun night when they’d made it back to their room. At least, she’d thought they had. They’d played with food. They’d played in the shower. Jake had cuddled her in front of the TV before she’d fallen asleep in his arms. Sharon couldn’t really think of a way the evening could have gone better – well, other than if they hadn’t had to deal with her parents at all.

Now it was Sunday morning and he wanted to talk? She has a bad feeling she knew what that meant. After all, she’d gone into this weekend fairly prepared for him to want to ditch her after meeting her family. Saturday morning, before she’d knocked on his door, she’d thought that was probably even more likely.

This morning though?

She felt blindsided.

Carefully, she put down her fork, drawing in her defenses and really wishing he wasn’t going to do this at brunch. What was wrong with the trip back home? Or a simple text message after they’d parted?

Yeah, she’d still be mad – especially if he’d gone the text message route after behaving like everything was normal – but at least she’d be able to express her feelings. Here, she was trapped unless she wanted to make a scene. She wondered if he was counting on that… If he was, he might be disappointed considering what he had to say.

Piss her off enough and Sharon wouldn’t care at all about making a scene in front of her family and everyone else who was currently having breakfast.

“Okay,” she said, drawing out the words. “What’s up?”

“I want us to be in a relationship.”

Sharon blinked.

Pressed her tongue against the back of her teeth.

Waited for the punch line.

Considered checking her ears to see if her hearing was working – a definite concern because it seemed like all the conversations around them had suddenly turned to white noise.

“I’m sorry, what?” she asked finally as Jake just sat there, staring back at her, that same blank expression on his face. She couldn’t even tell what he was thinking by looking in his eyes.

It didn’t look like he was kidding.

Okay, actually, if anything he looked nervous.

Which… holy fuck…

“I think we should date. Exclusively.” He nodded firmly, his shoulders straightening as if he was just now coming to the decision. “Boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“I…” Her voice trailed off as her mind tried to catch up with what was happening. “You realize there’s a really good chance we’re going to kill each other, right?”

A hint of a smile turned up one side of his mouth and a little bit of sparkle appeared in his eyes. “I’m pretty sure we can find other ways to work out our tension.”

“My family isn’t going to get any less crazy and I don’t ever foresee getting along with them any better than I do now.”

“As long as you get along with my family, or at least attempt to, it doesn’t bother me,” he said calmly.

Sharon almost snorted. Sometimes she thought she could get along with anyone’s family other than her own. Although, she could understand why he’d ask her to at least try. When she’d met him, she’d immediately jumped to not trying because she’d felt like he disapproved of her and so she’d gone out of her way encourage that. But she really did make more of an effort for most people.

“So… you’re asking me to check yes or no?” she joked.

******
“Pretty much,” Jake replied, tapping his finger against his silverware nervously.

He’d caught her off guard, that much was apparent. Shocking her hadn’t been quite as much fun as it usually was because he really cared about her answer. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this nervous asking a woman out.

Then again, he couldn’t really remember the last time he’d been this uncertain of a woman’s answer.

With Sharon, it could go either way. Fuck buddies were one thing, even exclusive fuck buddies, even exclusive fuck buddies that all their friends knew about. Actually doing the relationship thing? That was a whole other ball game. There was still a part of his brain that didn’t think they could make it work, but…

They’d basically been in a relationship for weeks now, just without the title.

They spent most nights together. Not just having sex but hanging out. They got along pretty well for the most part. Sure, there were a lot of differences in their upbringing, but they had a lot in common. Sharon was more social than he was, but since she was social with the people who were also his friends, he was comfortable with that. They were exclusive. They’d gone to a wedding together. Hell, they’d even worked their way through their first fight.

The only thing they hadn’t done was go out on actual dates. They’d kind of skipped straight into the relationship.

He didn’t have any problem with that. He just wanted the relationship to continue when they got home. He didn’t want things to keep going as they had been, only to be blindsided one day by Sharon telling him that she’d found someone she wanted to date.

No. He wanted to lock it down, make things official, and give this a real try.

“What happened to me not being your type?” she asked. There was real concern on her face and she seemed just as serious and anxious as he was.

It suddenly occurred to him that she wasn’t waffling because she wanted to say no. She was waffling because she wanted to say yes – and she was afraid to. The only reason she’d be afraid would be of things turning out badly, which was why she was voicing all of her concerns instead of saying yes. Jake immediately felt a lot better and a lot more confident.

She was going to say yes, he just had to reassure her that he was worth taking the risk on.

“Well, none of the women I thought were my type have worked out,” he said, a smile starting to spread across his face. “Besides, the more time I spend with you, the more I like you and want to be with you. Why not give it a try?”

“Uh, because it could go horribly wrong and we’d still be part of the same group of friends.”

“The same thing could happen while being fuck buddies, especially if we start having feelings for each other. And I already have feelings for you and I think you already have feelings for me too,” he said matter-of-factly. “If we ended things right now, you don’t think that everything would be horrible and completely awkward for a while?”

Sharon’s tongue flicked out, licking her lips nervously as she stared at him. Her dark eyes were conflicted, but she was leaning slightly forward, and the expression on her face was wariness tinged with longing. He leaned forward too, lowering his voice. No one around them was listening, but it still felt like too private a moment to be louder.

“I like you, Sharon, a lot. Despite the fact that you’re not what I’ve always thought of as my type, or maybe because of that. I don’t want to stay stuck in limbo with you. If you want to go on some real dates, then we can do that, but I think we’ve both proved over the past few weeks that we do work in a real relationship. That’s what we’ve been doing, even if we haven’t called it that.”

He took a deep breath, still searching her face for a positive reaction, but feeling better with every word he spoke.

“I want to start calling it what it is.”

******
There weren’t many times in her life that Sharon felt like a coward, but this was one of them. It was made harder by the fact that Jake was being so straightforward, open, and honest. She liked to think that those words could describe her as well, and usually they could but…

If he were just an iota less earnest, she’d be avoiding answering… probably by making a really stupid joke.

He made some good points though. They basically were in a relationship. A relationship that she liked too. One where their lives meshed together really well.

The warm flutter in her chest really enjoyed hearing him say how much he liked her. This was… not what she’d expected. Yeah, she’d had a few thoughts that maybe there was something more developing between them than fuck buddies, that maybe Jake was starting to like her more than that, but there had also been a part of her which hadn’t really let herself it.

Yet here Jake was, saying he felt it too.

Wanted it too.

At the very least, she could be as brave as him about admitting it. She looked him straight in the eye and smiled ruefully.

“Our friends are going to give us hell. You know that, right?”

“Is that a yes?” he asked, sliding his hand across the table toward her. Sharon reached out and took it, his skin warm and comforting against hers.

She took a deep breath. “That’s a yes.”

They smiled at each other and – as much as Sharon hated to be cliché – it really did feel like the entire world stopped for just a moment. Her heart was pounding in her chest as Jake’s thumb swept across the side of her hand, their gazes locked, and it might be the most romantic moment of her life. Heat rose in her cheeks as she blushed, breaking their eye contact so she could pick up her fork, her appetite abruptly returning.

“So,” she said, clearing her throat a little awkwardly. Neither of them had relinquished hands, which meant Jake was eating with his left hand, but that wasn’t her fault. “Ah… how you doing?”

He laughed, as he was meant to, and Sharon felt herself relaxing again.

Surely, at some point, they had to stop having awkward moments, right? If not, at least they were getting used to them – and better at dealing with them.

“What do you want to do when we get back?” he asked cheerfully. “Do you have any plans?”

“No, I deliberately didn’t make any plans. I kind of figured I’d need some downtime after the weekend.” Catching his eye, she quirked her eyebrows at him, her head tilting to the side to indicate her crazy family.

Jake grinned at her. “Want to come over and have downtime with me?”

“Sure, sounds good.” It really did too. The last thing she needed was to go home alone where she’d just sit and overanalyze every moment from the weekend and likely start second guessing herself. Plus, if they went to his place then she didn’t risk ambush by bestie, because she was sure Kate was going to want an update. Sharon would give her one soon, but she’d rather spend the afternoon with Jake and see how that went first.

Now that they had a plan – and food growing cold in front of them – they quickly finished their brunch.

Sharon couldn’t help but keep an ear and eye out for everything going on around them. She noticed that Courtney and Riley were sitting at a table with several other people, but that Joseph was nowhere to be seen. Melinda and Mark had reserved one of the other two-person tables, so they were present but so totally wrapped up in each other that they might as well have not been there. It didn’t stop people from stopping to talk to them for a moment, but no one stayed very long to keep chatting.

Her parents were at a table with several of her family members. More than once she saw them glancing over at her and Jake, her mother frowning when she saw Sharon and Jake holding hands, but that didn’t bother her. Honestly, her parents approving of a guy made her automatically wary.

As soon as they were done eating they stopped to say goodbye to her parents. Her mom gave them a hard look. “Would you like to sit down with us?”

It wasn’t really a question; the order was clear in her voice. Sharon just ignored it, smiling. She felt Jake’s hand gripping hers a little tighter and she could practically feel his worry she would say yes.

Fat chance.

While she was going to do her best not to embarrass him again this weekend, that didn’t mean sitting down for a breakfast lecture with her parents.

“No, sorry mom, we both have plans this afternoon we need to get back for.” Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jake shake his head, a small smile on his face at her claim. Her mother opened her mouth to protest, but Sharon was already leaning down to give her cheek a kiss. “Talk you later.”

Her mom’s mouth snapped shut, obviously realizing Sharon wasn’t going to be cooperative.

“Bye pops,” Sharon said, moving around her mom to give her dad a kiss too, dragging Jake behind her.

“It was nice to meet you,” her dad told Jake, shaking his hand.

Huh. Seemed like her dad might like Jake a little after all. Otherwise he would have just ignored him like her mom currently was.

“You too, sir,” Jake said seriously.

Then they made their escape.

They were still holding hands, all the way out to his car… and then the several hours all the way back to his place… Sharon could get used to this. Yeah, she and Jake had been acting like they were in a relationship for the past few weeks, but they definitely hadn’t been holding hands like this the whole time.

In fact, now that things were ‘official,’ he was being much more tactile, period.

Sharon totally approved. Of course, coming home meant they were going to have to face the next difficult task – their friends.


Chapter 18

Jake and Sharon had just settled down on his couch with a tray full of snacks, a beer for him, and a hard root beer for her, when someone knocked on his door. Frowning, he raised his head and turned to look, even though he obviously wasn’t going to be able to see anything. He just couldn’t imagine who would be showing up right now.

“Who is it?” Sharon asked. She was tucked into his side with his arm around her shoulders.

“No id-” he started to say when the person knocked again and called out. He groaned as he immediately recognized his sister’s voice.

“Jake! Jakie-poo! Let me in, let me in!” Lexie called out, the words only slightly muffled by the door.

Sharon giggled, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Is our line ‘not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin’?”

"Shh," Jake whispered back. "Maybe if we're really quiet she'll go away." They hadn't turned on the television yet, so there was a chance. 

More knocking, this time even louder than before and then she started pushing the doorbell.

"Open up, Jake, I saw your car in the parking lot, so I know you're in there!" Lexie said the words in a kind of sing-song voice. Then she rang the doorbell again.

And again.

And again.

With a low groan, Jake slid his arm away from Sharon and stood up. His sister was stubborn; there was every chance that she would just keep it up until he answered. Since he didn't want the neighbors complaining about the noise, the only solution on his end was clear. 

At least Sharon didn't seem to mind. She had her hand over her mouth, muffling her giggles as she looked up at him, her dark eyes filled with amusement. She would think this was funny. With a growl, Jake stalked away from the couch and over to the door, yanking it open and glaring down at his sister. 

Despite being petite, both in height and size, Lexie was not at all intimidated by his scowl. 

"What took you so long?" she demanded to know even as she wrapped her arms around him for a hug. Sighing in resignation, Jake returned the hug and transferred his glare to her so-called-Dom, who was standing behind her. 

"Aren't you supposed to control her?" he asked crossly. 

Patrick shrugged, grinning at him. "Only when I want to." 

Pulling away from Jake, Lexie pushed into the apartment. 

"Hey Sharon, what are you doing here?" Her voice went from surprised to sly and pleased. He didn't have to look to know she was making a beeline to the couch.

It looked like all their friends were going to find out about this new shift in his and Sharon's relationship sooner than they’d anticipated. Raising his eyebrows, Patrick stepped forward so they could exchange a hug as well - more of a bumping of chests and slapping each other on the back than the hug he'd just had with Lexie. 

"He what?!" Lexie's excited shriek was audible all the way down the hall, even though Sharon's answer hadn't been. "Patrick, Patrick, come here! They're going out! Officially!" 

"What is this, middle school?" Jake muttered under his breath, stepping back so Patrick could come into the apartment. He shut the door firmly behind them so they could stop bothering the neighbors. He doubted Lexie was going to get much quieter. 

The deep rumble of Patrick's laughter didn't help.

******

Almost as soon as Lexie had gotten confirmation from Jake that yes, he and Sharon were officially together, she'd practically dragged Sharon down the hall to Jake's bedroom. Sitting down on the neatly made bed, Sharon couldn't help but be somewhat amused at how much neater Jake's room was than her own. She couldn't remember the last time she'd made her own bed. 

Maybe it was an Army thing? Or maybe Jake was a little bit of a neat freak. It was something she hadn't really thought about before, but it seemed to matter a little more now that they were together. 

Shutting the door and cutting off the sound of the men's deeper voices, Lexie squealed, taking a running leap and jumping onto the bed. Even though she felt a little nervous, Sharon laughed at her friend's antics. 

They might be siblings and have the same black hair and bright blue eyes, but Lexie and Jake were nothing alike in so many ways. She was a bundle of mischief and energy and looked like a little pixie, whereas Jake tended towards being serious, calm, and looked like the brawny soldier that he was. It was no surprise that Sharon and Lexie had hit it off right away. 

"Oh my God, I'm so excited, you have to tell me everything! No, wait, I mean, not everything everything, but everything that's not going to traumatize me!" Lexie's eyes were sparkling, and Sharon felt her nervousness melting away as she realized that Lexie was one hundred percent thrilled about her and Jake making things official. This wasn’t going to be a sisterly interrogation, just a friendly one. 

Happy warmth bubbled up in her chest and her excitement started to rise. Yeah, she hadn't even told Kate yet, but... Kate would understand. Lexie had gotten to her first, and she was Jake's sister. 

"Well, let's see... Friday night he was a total dick - he said he talked to you about that?" Sharon asked, and Lexie nodded, still practically bouncing in her seated position next to Sharon. "I was a bitch too, so it kind of evened out. Saturday morning we talked and made up, but then we had to get over to the hotel and we didn't really get any time together until the wedding was about to start. We may have snuck away during the reception."

Sharon smirked as Lexie made an enthralled noise. She looked torn between asking for the gritty details and wanting to remain in the dark. 

"Coat closet," Sharon added on, making Lexie squeal with delight. 

"Okay, I have to stop you there, just because he's my brother, but holy fuck!" Lexie smacked Sharon's arm. "At your cousin's wedding too! Dirty girl!"

"Hey, he's the one who insisted," Sharon retorted. "I wasn't sure, but he went all Captain Caveman on me and... Well, I went with the flow." 

Giggling, Lexie bounced again in excitement. "Is that his new nickname? Captain Caveman?"

"Yes, and it totally works. Your brother has the whole manhandling alpha male thing going on and it is hot."

"I can agree in theory although not in specifics, since he is my brother." Lexie laughed. "Patrick does the same thing sometimes, but since I'm so small compared to him it's not like I'm hard to manhandle."

"Exactly." Sharon wiggled a little, not quite bouncing like Lexie was, but just her own little happy dance. She'd gone from feeling kind of wary about having to share with her friends, especially Lexie, to being able to really enjoy the excitement of officially being with Jake. "Anyway, so Saturday night went really well and then this morning at brunch he said we needed to talk. I totally thought he was going to say that when we got back here we should go back to just being friends, although we were never really friends exactly, but instead he said he wanted to make things official and be boyfriend and girlfriend."

"Hey, he's not a total idiot," Lexie said laughing. "It might have taken him longer than it should have, but he realized he needed to lock that shit down."

Sharon burst out laughing. "That's almost how he phrased it too!" 

Suddenly Lexie’s eyes widened. “Oh my gosh… I just realized, you have a magic vagina!”

“I do not!” Sharon protested immediately. The magic vagina was something she’d teased Kate about, because Andrew had been a total slut before he and Kate had gotten back together, but once he was back with Kate he was locked down. It was something that happened a lot in the romances Sharon loved to read, and the idea amused her, but she had never thought to apply it to herself. “Jake wasn’t a man-whore.”

“No, but he was kind of a dick to you for a really long time, but after you had sex he realized he wants to be with you! That’s the magic vagina at work.”

Blinking, Sharon opened her mouth to argue and then closed it again. She couldn’t think of a reasonable argument. Looking down at her crotch, she cocked her head to the side. “Well damn. I didn’t know I had a magical vagina.”

******

After getting Patrick a beer, Jake joined him on the couch, pensively glancing down the hallway at his closed bedroom door. 

"Should I be worried?" he asked Patrick. Granted, he was pretty good at reading his sister and she seemed more excited about him and Sharon than anything else, but Patrick would know for sure if Lexie would have any reservations. He'd also know if there was anything Jake should watch out for. 

Sharon didn't need extra help being troublesome, and he shuddered to think of her and Lexie combining forces. 

"Not about Lexie," Patrick said dryly. "She'd be thrilled to have Sharon as a sister-in-law."

Jake choked on his beer and pounded his chest, glaring at his friend while his face turned red and he gasped for air. "We are so not there yet."

"But you wouldn't be making things official with her if you didn't see the possibility of it going somewhere." Patrick smirked at him as Jake finally got his breathing under control, his throat still feeling a little raw. 

He was also irked because he knew Patrick was right. While he might not be willing to think that far ahead yet, he knew he wasn't interested in being in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship; especially not with someone who was part of his group of friends. It was pretty much an all or nothing equation, which they'd tried to get around by calling it being fuck buddies, but by claiming a real relationship they were now basically announcing that they were going for it. 

"A possibility, maybe," he muttered, taking another sip of beer - a smaller sip this time. Patrick smirked at him. 

"No, the person you really have to worry about is Andrew," Patrick said cheerfully, obviously enjoying himself.

"Shouldn't he be happy we're not going to just be 'fuck buddies' anymore if he's playing the big brother role?" Jake pointed out, feeling more than a little disgruntled. He doubted his own flesh and blood sister was as protective of him as Andrew was of Sharon. "Not that it's any of his business anyway." 

"Yes, because our group of friends always does a fantastic job of staying out of each other's business." Patrick drawled, shaking his head. "Andrew's been watching out for Sharon for a while now, he considers her under his protection at the club." 

Jake raised his eyebrows. "Is that how Sharon sees it too?"

"Doubtful, since Sharon probably doesn't think she needs anyone's protection," Patrick admitted. His dark eyes turned serious. "But having Andrew's has been good for her, even if she doesn't realize it. Her actions might not be conscious, but it's clear that she's always more comfortable when he's there."

Well Jake could be her protector now. Not that she was going to need protecting from anyone. Some part of his brain nudged at him, insisting that it meant something different in BDSM. It didn't really matter. Either way, she'd be comfortable at the club because from now on he was going to be there when she was. 

Maybe they'd even use the club a little. 

Watch some of the scenes together. Jake wasn't interested in trying out most of what he saw, but he did like to watch. 

The idea of being watched wasn't a bad one either.

Not to mention it would probably make Andrew's head explode. 

It wasn't until Patrick gave him a weird look that Jake realized he was smirking. Hmm. Maybe Sharon was rubbing off on him. Trying to get under someone else's skin was not normally one of Jake's goals. 

******

If Sharon had had any doubts about Jake really wanting to be in a relationship with her, they were gone after Sunday night. She and Lexie rejoined the guys and all four of them spent the rest of the afternoon and evening together - an impromptu double date. They watched a movie, ordered in pizza, and played a board game called Pandemic that she totally fell in love with. 

The whole time, Jake treated her like his girlfriend. If his arm wasn't around either her shoulders or her waist then he was holding her hand. he cuddled with her the entire movie and gave her little kisses whenever one of them had to get up for anything. He was not shy at all about showing affection in front of an amused Patrick and beaming Lexie. 

Later, just before they left, Lexie gleefully whispered to her that she'd never seen Jake being so physically affectionate with any of his girlfriends. 

As soon as they were gone Sharon asked Jake if he minded her calling Kate. It wasn’t that she wanted to abandon him immediately, but they both knew that if she didn't call Kate now then her bestie would be hearing it through the grapevine. He'd just smiled and waved her back to his bedroom while he took care of the pizza boxes and plates. 

Unlike Lexie, she gave Kate all the dirty details about the coat closet - and some of the hotel room stuff. Kate pretended to be upset about Lexie and Patrick getting the first double date until Sharon promised that of course she and Jake would go out with her and Andrew sometime this week. Jake walked into the bedroom just in time to overhear that part of the conversation and suggested they go on either Friday or Saturday before heading to Stronghold. 

Worked for her. 

They both knew that once they got to Stronghold they were going to be under siege by their friends.

The rest of the week passed by in a bit of a blur. Most of her day-to-day interactions with Jake didn’t change at all, except that on Tuesday he took her out to dinner for their first official date. They almost had another argument over who was going to pay, but she ended up conceding and letting him spring for the whole meal as long as she got to pay next time. Sharon always considered it an important test whether a guy was too eager to have her pay or wouldn’t allow it at all. She had expected a fight from Jake on it, he wasn’t the type to be too eager, but she was glad they’d come to a compromise.

She honestly hadn’t been sure whether or not he’d be the type that would take it as an insult that she wanted to pay, but he didn’t seem bothered by it overall. Just that he wanted to pay for the date that he’d asked her out on.

Setting up that they would switch back and forth made her feel better.

Finally, Friday night and dinner with Kate and Andrew rolled around. Sharon wore a little black dress with no panties, garters and stockings, and no bra. She figured if they were going to Stronghold afterwards, Jake would appreciate the easy access.

At least, she hoped something would happen at Stronghold. They hadn’t talked explicitly about it, she realized.

Dinner was a little awkward, because Andrew kept glaring at Jake. Eventually she started kicking him under the table every time she caught him at it and he turned his glare to her.

“Stop kicking me,” he ordered, making Kate look up in surprise. Although she was seated next to Andrew, she obviously hadn’t realized what Sharon was doing. Jake turned his head to stare at Sharon too. She smirked. What? She had good aim.

“Stop glaring at Jake,” she countered, not at all apologetic.

******
Amusement sprang up as Andrew and Sharon stared unwaveringly at each other across the table. They really were like siblings. Jake remembered having similar staring contests with Lexie when he was growing up. Granted, they’d been children at the time.

Chuckling, he dropped his arm from Sharon’s shoulders to around her waist, pulling her along the seat of the booth so that her leg pressed against his. Immediately, Andrew switched his glare.

“It’s fine,” Jake said, his thumb stroking the side of Sharon’s thigh where Andrew couldn’t see it. Sharon leaned into him and Jake’s grin widened while Andrew glowered. “It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it’s bothering me,” Sharon muttered, side-eyeing Andrew, who suddenly looked a bit abashed.

“I’m not trying to bother you, just…” Andrew sighed, leaning back against his side of the booth, his gaze jumping back and forth between them. “You two went from having a major fight that caused Sharon to call Kate in the middle of the night, to coming back and saying you’re in a relationship. I think I have the right to be a little worried.”

“I think I have the right to be a little worried,” Sharon mimicked him, but in a much higher tone of voice. Somehow, Jake managed to keep his face straight. She dropped back into her normal voice to respond. “No, you don’t, because you don’t get a say in my relationships.”

“No, but I get a say in how he treats you,” Andrew said, giving Jake a threatening look. It was all posturing and they both knew it, but for some reason Andrew seemed compelled to see it through. They were all aware that if Jake hurt Sharon, Andrew wouldn’t be the only one coming for him. Truthfully, he was less scary to Jake than most of the women in the group.

“I’d say I’m treating you pretty well so far, wouldn’t you, princess?” Jake asked, giving her thigh a little squeeze as he leaned down and dropped a kiss on her forehead.

“Oh, definitely,” she purred back at him, sensual heat practically dripping from her voice and nearly making him laugh and ruin their little show. As entertained as Jake was by getting under Andrew’s skin, he wasn’t nearly as good at it as Sharon was. Then again, she had a lot more practice than he did at getting under people’s skin in general – and obviously enjoyed it.

Andrew growled.

“Oh stop,” Kate scolded him. “Just because your sister is dating a loser doesn’t mean that you can take it out on Sharon and Jake.”

“Ah ha!” Sharon said, turning to face Andrew again. “I knew this wasn’t about me! It’s about Iris.”

“It’s still about you,” Andrew argued, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table as he stared Sharon down, his expression earnest. “I care about you. I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to be hurt.”

The sincerity in his voice was undeniable and Jake could practically feel Sharon soften beside him. Andrew’s little speech even touched him.

“I’m going to do my best to make her happy,” he reassured Andrew, who lifted his gaze to meet Jake’s. Something indefinable passed through the air between them, a kind of recognition. Jake got it, he really did, especially after talking to Patrick. Andrew saw himself as being somewhat responsible for Sharon, even if she didn’t see it that way.

Realizing that his warning had been heard and understood, Andrew straightened up and nodded at Jake. Both of the women looked back and forth between them, Kate appearing amused, while Sharon was a bit disbelieving.

She shook her head and groaned. “You two are Neanderthals.”

Jake winked at her. “Isn’t that why I’m Captain Caveman?”

******
Of course they couldn’t have a nice, normal night at Stronghold without ribbing from their friends. They were all standing around at their usual bar table, except Angel and Adam who were at home with baby Melody, and Luke and Olivia who were at Marquis.

“What was that about you and Jake not getting together just because you’re the last two single people in our group of friends, again?” Ellie teased her quietly. Not quietly enough though – both Maria and Hilary overheard her and started cracking up. Dammit. She knew she shouldn’t have helped Ellie become more outspoken.

 “I know, I know,” Sharon said with a resigned sigh. “I’m a walking cliché. But can you blame me? I mean, look at this.” She reached over and yanked up Jake’s shirt to show off his abs.

“What are you doing?” he yelped, pulling it back down. Since he’d been in the middle of talking to Liam and Jared, he had missed the parallel conversation. Sharon giggled as the others cracked up and Jake glared at her like an affronted virgin.

Suddenly his glare changed, turning a little darker and a little more dangerous and the urge to giggle dried up real fast. He lifted one dark brow, his blue eyes glittering as he focused on her and Sharon found herself squeezing her thighs together.

It was like he’d flipped on a Dom switch – even if he would deny it – and her body responded immediately.

“Is there something you need, princess?” he asked silkily, his voice a little deeper than normal. Yeah, he’d gone Captain Caveman on her before, but this was somehow different. There was a little more authority in his voice, a little more sensual power. Was it because they were at Stronghold, surrounded by Doms? She didn’t know, but it was definitely having an effect on her. “Am I not paying you enough attention?”

Eek.

Whenever a dominant asked that question it never turned out well for the subbie.

“No, no,” she said, shaking her head in automatic denial. “I was just showing off your fine assets.”

Jake didn’t look convinced, his eyes moving over her face as if studying every last detail. Sharon did her best to look sincere, but there was a niggle of doubt in the back of her mind. Had some part of her been trying to vie for his attention? She had done something she’d known would get it, unequivocally, even if she hadn’t anticipated this response.

She was not opposed to it though, even as a little trickle of apprehension went through her.

Some of her hesitation must have conveyed itself to him, because Jake’s gaze sharpened.

“Oh, I think you did want my attention, princess. Now you have it.”

Sharon shrieked as Jake moved, hoisting her up off of her bar stool and over his shoulder before she could blink. Immediately, their friends started cat-calling and cheering him on, drawing the attention of everyone else in the bar and lounge areas. Sharon could see some of the Doms and subs halting their negotiations to look over curiously at her and Jake, who didn’t seem at all bothered by having everyone stare at them.

Ha. Who was the attention-whore now?

“Where are you going?” Patrick called after them as Jake stalked off toward the back of the club.

“There’s a room here I’ve always wanted to try out,” Jake tossed back over the shoulder she wasn’t currently occupying.

“You didn’t reserve one.” Despite the crowd, Patrick’s voice was still loud enough to be heard, since everyone was now watching her and Jake.

“Don’t need a reservation for where I’m going.”

There was only one room in the club that didn’t need a reservation. Sharon’s pussy clenched immediately.


Chapter 19

The room Jake was most drawn to every time he’d walked through the club, the room he always had in the back of his head when he thought about doing something at the club, was on the top floor. In the back of his head, Jake had thought of it as 'The Orgy Room.' He didn't know what it was actually called. Orgies weren't its real purpose though, they just happened in there on occasion. Really, the room was specifically set up for people to watch and be watched. 

Jake had always really liked watching. 

Now he was going to find out what it would be like to be watched. 

Well, as long as Sharon was down for it, but she didn't seem to be protesting. He wasn't sure exactly how far she was going to let him go with the Captain Caveman thing, but he guessed they were about to find out. 

Hands groped his butt as he started up the stairs and he chuckled, reaching across to place his hand on her thigh and slide it up under her dress. Turnabout was fair play after all. 

As he'd suspected, she was going sans panties again. 

More than one person in the hallway paused to watch his progress, obviously interested in where he was headed with Sharon, although they didn't say anything. Jake knew he'd been the subject of speculation ever since he'd started coming to Stronghold. Friends with the owner, brother of the owner's girlfriend, and yet not kinky himself. 

Several submissives had propositioned him. So had a few dominants. 

They'd gotten used to seeing him walking around and occasionally watching. If he'd displayed any kink, it was voyeurism, and everyone was just fine with that. Anyone who wanted a private scene could reserve a room and then make sure the curtains to the windows were closed. Feeling their eyes on him, he realized that he was really enjoying being the center of attention right now. This was attention he liked. 

He was pretty sure he heard Sharon let out a soft gasp when he opened the door to the Orgy Room, as well as quite a few murmurs down the hallway from the watchers. Out of the corner of his eye, he was pretty sure he saw more than one of them heading to the movie room, which was right next door. 

There was always a live feed going - although nothing was ever recorded - between the two rooms. Just in case someone felt like watching but not showing off. 

This room - and he needed to stop thinking of it as the Orgy Room, because that was not what he was there for - had a massive bed right in the center. Like, big enough for twenty people with a little bit of space left over. The window into the hallway was three times the size of the windows into the other rooms and there were no curtains. 

Jake grinned at the looks he received as he came into the room. It wasn't particularly full tonight - only two other couples and one man with two women. Interest lit up their eyes as they recognized him. The man with the two women looked particularly interested. Right now, he was propped up against the massive headboard and the ladies were making out with each other, kneeling on either side of his body and kissing above him while one of them stroked his cock, allowing him to watch everything else that was going on in the room. 

One of the two couples was on the edge of the bed, the woman on her back while the man held her legs draped over his arms, thrusting into her from a standing position. His thrusts slowed, causing his partner to turn and see what he was looking at. The other couple were up by the headboard on the opposite side of the bed from the ménage, the woman riding the man in reverse cowgirl position. 

He didn't know any of them by name, but he liked that even better. There was something sexy about anonymity while engaging in an intimate act - as long as the woman he was engaging in it with wasn't totally anonymous to him. 

Speaking of. 

Pulling Sharon back over his shoulder, he enjoyed his brief glimpse of her flushed face, eyes bright with excitement, before spinning her around. Because he kept her back pressed up against him, his cock digging into the sweet curve of her ass, he could feel her suck in a breath of hot excitement as she saw everyone's eyes on her. They'd drawn the attention of everyone in the room. 

He was sure that if he looked over his shoulder there would be more people at the window. Maybe even some of their friends. 

And even more people watching in the movie room next door. 

Although he didn't need the extra titillation to make his cock hard, not with Sharon pressed up against him, he was still enjoying it. The thrill of almost getting caught was different than the thrill of knowing people were watching. 

******

Oh, Captain Caveman was a dirty fucker. 

Sharon found herself staring back at several sets of eyes, although her eyes were immediately drawn to the two women making out. It wasn't really her thing, but no one could deny the hot sensuality between the two of them, and it was a lot more comfortable than meeting someone else's eyes while Jake's hands were moving over her stomach and up to her breasts. 

She'd played publicly in the club before, but she had never played where the point was to be watched. People watched scenes. They came and went. It was hot. 

This was somehow different. Maybe because this wasn't a scene? No set-up, no spankings, no bondage... Just her, and Jake, and all the people watching. 

Heat flushed through her body, from her blushing cheeks all the way down to her clenching pussy. Her nipples were hard little buds pressing against the front of her dress, but they felt even more swollen as Jake's hands came up from below to cup her breasts. Sharon moaned, leaning back against him, her eyelashes fluttering. 

The wet sounds of sex filled her ears as everyone started moving again, pleasuring themselves while watching her and Jake. Or maybe watching each other. Sharon's eyes opened again. 

Nope. Definitely watching her and Jake. 

Excitement tingled along her skin. 

There was a low moan across the room and she looked over to see that the two women had stopped kissing each other and were now bent over the man's cock, which they were both enthusiastically licking. He had one hand resting on each of their heads but was watching the newcomers avidly. Sharon whimpered a little, wriggling as she pressed her legs together. 

They were hot together. 

"What do you like better?" Jake whispered in her ear, his lips moving over the curved shell and sending tingles of sensation down her spine. His hands caressed her breasts, pushing them upwards so that they almost spilled out the front of her dress. "Watching or being watched?" 

She was practically panting as he pinched her nipples, the tiny buds throbbing against his fingertips. He rolled them between his fingers, tugging when she didn't answer, and adding a little bite of pain to the pleasure. 

"I don't know," she whispered back, turning her head so she could catch his lips with hers. 

Jake rocked his hips against her ass as he kissed her. The position wasn't entirely comfortable for her, but he released one breast, his right hand coming up to curve around her throat, so she didn't have much of a choice. Shuddering, Sharon whimpered again as he wrapped her hair around his hand and used it to direct her movements. 

Her head was tipped back, ending the kiss and giving him access to her throat. As he kissed his way down her sensitive skin, Jake's other hand pulled the straps of her dress down, baring her breasts to the room. 

She could feel people's eyes on her. Not just the people in the room, but she imagined all the people in the room next door, watching the live feed screen. Watching Jake tug her dress down over her hips and leaving her completely exposed.  Her dress was a puddle of fabric around her feet, her garters, stockings, and heels offered no real coverage. He rocked against her again, the bulge of his cock right against the seam of her ass. 

A moment later he was pushing her upper body forward, bending her over the bed, and Sharon put her hands out in front of her to keep from totally collapsing on it. The bed was soft, but she could feel the rubber just beneath the high-quality sheet and bed cover. Thanks to Patrick and Lexie, she knew the layers were washed every single night, so she didn't worry about the cleanliness of it. 

She let out a small shriek, drawing the attention of everyone in the room again, when Jake's hand smacked against her ass. It wasn't very hard, but it still startled her... and stung a little. Sharon wiggled her ass, lifting it slightly, to ask for more. 

Jake wasn't the only one who chuckled. 

Slap! Slap! Slap!

The firm smacks were more playful than punishing and Sharon moaned. 

She moaned even louder a moment later when Jake's cock was finally pushing into her from behind. For some reason she found herself locking gazes with the woman riding a cock in reverse cowgirl, both of them staring at each other as they were filled. It was insanely hot to watch her sinking down on her man while Sharon was taken from behind by Jake, like they were sharing the sensation, sharing the moment. 

The thick length of Jake's cock stretched her, and Sharon deliberately clenched around him as he took hold of her hip with one hand. 

Slap!

******

The little ripples of flesh every time Jake swatted Sharon's ass were almost enthralling. She was obviously enjoying the light spanking too, her ass lifting and pussy clenching every time his hand landed. Taking his time with both his thrusts and the spanking, Jake enjoyed every inch of the slow bump and grind. 

Every few seconds his eyes flicked up to see what the others in the room were doing, taking in the show even as he showed off. 

He'd taken off his shirt and one of the women in the ménage was now staring at him and Sharon while her girlfriend sucked on her nipples. The man beneath them was back to getting a hand job, but he wasn't complaining. 

Sex and seduction permeated the air. It would have been so easy for all of this to feel tawdry or even vulgar; instead it was deliciously obscene, decadently perverse. Live action porn and an appreciative audience for your own show. He could tell Sharon was enjoying it too, she was so enthralled by watching the others that she didn't complain at all about wanting him to speed up and move faster. 

Or maybe she was just distracted by watching and being watched. 

The emotion that trickled through him wasn't exactly jealousy, because he was enjoying what they were doing, but he also wanted more of her attention. Especially when the couple on the side of the bed started really moving, obviously working their way to climax, the man leaning forward and practically bending the woman in half as he pounded between her thighs. 

Jake could feel the quiver of Sharon's pussy around his cock, and he had to admit he found the sight just as enthralling as she obviously did. It was raw, carnal, a graphic display of passion that thrilled him as their cries went higher. But he still wanted Sharon less distracted by them and more attentive to him. 

His thumb dipped down between their bodies and he swiped the sweet cream of her pussy, lubricating the digit before pressing it against her crinkled rosebud. The reaction was immediate. Even though he couldn't see her face, he felt her focus returning to him as her tight hole gave way under the pressure.

Felt the ring of muscle clench around his thumb, trying to push him out, before it suddenly relaxed and the entire length disappeared inside of her. 

Groaning at the hot sensation, Jake began to move a little harder and faster, only then realizing that he'd been so focused on her, he hadn't even noticed the other couple had finished. They were now exchanging long, slow kisses, the intimacy between them so sweet that it felt almost like a violation to look. 

Reverse Cowgirl apparently felt the same; she'd returned her attention to the ménage beside her. The two women were back to making out, but now one of them was riding the man's cock while the other was riding his face. Their breasts bounced, nipples rubbing against each other. 

Taking hold of Sharon's hair with his free hand, Jake pulled her head up, making sure she was getting a good view of the erotic display on the other side of the bed. Her pussy rippled around him, massaging his cock. With his thumb buried deep in her ass, he could feel every tiny spasm of her muscles as he rode her, his strokes becoming rougher, wilder. 

Even in a room full of moans, whimpers, and gasps, he could still discern which noises were coming from Sharon's lips. 

He barely even noticed when the couple who had finished left the room, except that it meant there was now a completely unobstructed view up to Reverse Cowgirl and her partner. It was hot, but not nearly as hot as knowing she was watching him and Sharon. 

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the row of faces in the window, although he didn't look long enough to see if he recognized any of them. 

Even when there were so many distractions, so much happening all around them, all of it was just side attractions around the main event - Sharon. None of this would be the same, feel the same, without her there with him. Feeling her responses, seeing her reactions, was fueling his own pleasure as much as the physical sensations.

******
Oh fuck

Sharon felt like she was being torn in a million different directions. Her brain wanted to take in all the sights and sounds of the others in the room while her body was wholly engaged with what Jake was doing to it. His cock plowed into her while her ass tightened around his thumb, making her feel like she was completely full and engaged every single one of her sensitive nerve endings.

With her ass tilted up to receive his thrusts, his balls slapped against her clit every time he slammed home and he hit just the right spot inside of her on his way in. She loved the feel of his hand in her hair, tugging just hard enough to make her scalp tingle, making her feel entirely dominated by him.

She might not be bound, but she was completely under his control, all the way down to where she was looking. Back and forth, back and forth, between the cowgirl and the ménage, and Sharon honestly didn’t know which was sexier. The cowgirl was bouncing harder and faster, her breasts bouncing with her, the man’s hands gripping her hips from behind as she ground down on top of him.

It made Sharon fantasize about what she might do with Jake sometime… especially if they came back to this room. She’d love to be sliding up and down his cock while he controlled her movements from behind, watching everything going on around them.

The door behind them opened and she heard a soft murmur as several more people came in. Her excitement kicked up another notch and she moaned as the people moved around her and Jake. It was a foursome – or at least, two couples who were switching things up, because she couldn’t quite tell who was partnered with who as they ended up in a sprawl in the center of the bed.

Jake moved harder, faster, and she cried out as he used her hair for reins, pulling her back against him with each forceful thrust. More moans came from the center of the bed as if in response, and she could hear cowgirl’s cries of pleasure as she orgasmed. Sharon wasn’t far behind her.

“Oh fuck… oh fuck…” Sharon panted out the words to the rhythm of Jake’s movements, shuddering around him as her elbows started to give way. The moans coming from the others, so close to where she was, the eyes that met hers as she looked up, all just made her hotter, wetter. “Fuck! Jake!”

Ecstasy swept through her in hot waves of bliss, her body clamping down around him as all the coiled tension between her legs released and ricocheted through her. Her focus turned inward, to the two of them, despite everyone else, despite their audience, despite the people having sex right in front of them… none of it mattered, it was like she and Jake were the only two people in the world at that moment.

She felt his cock pulsing with each spurt of come as he filled her, his hard grip on her hair slowly relaxing as he spent himself.

“Oh, fuck…” she muttered again, her head dropping down as one last shudder of pleasure went through her.

Jake’s lips moved up her back. Soft, intimate kisses should have felt out of place in a public sex room, but somehow everything else had faded away like mere background noise. She turned her head when he got to her shoulder, so she could kiss him.

He disengaged, sliding out of her and pulling her upright, turning her around so they could kiss more fully. That was when she found out that he’d taken his shirt off, but his pants were only about halfway down his thighs, and she giggled against his lips.

“In a bit of a hurry or something?” she teased when he pulled away, looking down significantly at his undone pants.

“Or something,” he said, dropping another kiss onto her nose.

It wasn’t until they turned around that they realized a good half of the people lined up at the window watching were their friends. Everyone except Lexie was standing there. And as soon as they realized Jake and Sharon had spotted them, they burst into spontaneous applause.

Assholes.

******
Having sex in front of an audience had been different from what Jake had imagined.

He didn’t know if he’d be in a rush to get back to the Orgy Room again, but he wouldn’t mind a visit now and then. Honestly, he was more curious about what the other rooms would be like, since they could still be used with the doors and curtains open to invite watchers. Jake thought he might prefer the doors closed though.

He sure as hell didn’t want anyone to think that they could come and join him and Sharon.

Maybe it was weird to be possessive when he was turned on by other people watching them have sex, but it was one thing to know a man was wishing he was in Jake’s place and another if he tried to take Jake’s place.

When he’d realized all of their friends had been watching, he couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed. He really hadn’t been paying attention when he’d looked at the window. At least, not to the individual faces. He’d shrugged off the embarrassment quickly enough. Sharon hadn’t seemed to mind.

As soon as they’d started applauding, she’d just stood there in all her naked glory, legs spread slightly apart, and given them all double middle fingers even as his cum started running down her thigh. They’d had to get out of there asap because Jake couldn’t contain his laughter and he didn’t want to ruin the vibe for everyone else who was still using the room.

Now some of the group had dispersed to their own scenes and Sharon was cleaning up in the ladies’ locker room. Jake was hanging out at the usual bar table with Andrew, Patrick, and Lexie. Although Andrew had gone over to the bar to get drinks for himself and Kate since they weren’t playing tonight. They’d had no problem being part of Jake and Sharon’s audience though. Jake’s baby sister was the only one who hadn’t come up to watch them, and she was currently a little peeved with Patrick for having “abandoned” her so he could go watch.

“It was Jake’s first time at Stronghold, Pixie,” Patrick said, his deep voice a little lighter than normal as he did his best to project innocence. “I just had to make sure he was doing things correctly. He hasn’t taken the Dom class after all.”

“That’s because I’m not a Dom,” Jake pointed out.

Lexie rolled her eyes at him and Patrick shook his head, giving him an exasperated look.

“Did you or did you not just have sex in a BDSM club?” Patrick asked.

“Yeah, but not… Like, you know.”

“Who was in charge while you were having sex?”

“Me, but -”

“Has Sharon ever been in charge while you have sex? Have you been spanking her during sex? Tying her up?”

Jake opened his mouth. Closed it. Thought back. Sure there were times when she would prod him, times when she might make a move during the sex, but… No, he was always in control, and he liked it that way. So did she. He’d spanked her more than once. They’d played a little bit with bondage. But it wasn’t serious spanking or bondage, not like their friends did it.

“But, we don’t do, you know. The negotiations, the toys…” His voice trailed off, he was going to say ‘the orders’ but he was pretty bossy during sex. If he wanted her to do something, he said so, and Sharon did it.

“BDSM and kink cover a lot of areas,” Patrick said, smiling down at Lexie as he ran his hand over her short hair, dropping it down to the back of her neck. She beamed up at him. “Everything from high protocol to just scening at a club or experimenting in the bedroom. No one in our group of friends does it the same way. You’re on the lighter side compared to the rest of us, but I would still say that you’re Sharon’s Dom. Especially when you’re here.”

Frowning slightly as he turned over the idea in his mind, Jake looked over at the ladies’ room where Sharon was emerging with Kate by her side. He shook his head. “Sorry bro, I think we’re too vanilla to be kinky.”

“You just deliberately had sex in a BDSM club with a massive audience,” his sister said, her voice dripping with derision. Not at what he’d done, but at his denial. “And you’re going to tell me that you’re vanilla.”

Jake frowned harder as Patrick laughed.

Reaching out, Patrick clapped a hand on his shoulder, still chuckling. “I think your kink-meter might be broken, or at least a little skewed. Neither you or Sharon are hardcore kink players, and I don’t think you’ll ever be, but you’re definitely not fully vanilla either.”

So, they were… What? Hardcore vanilla? Jake snorted at the oxymoron. Sharon would like that.

He watched her crossing the room, her face lighting up as she caught his gaze.

Truthfully, did it really matter what they called themselves?

It didn’t to him.

“What are you all talking about that’s got everyone looking so serious?” Sharon asked as she sidled up to Jake.

“Whether or not I’m a Dom,” he told her, curving his arm around her waist and pulling her into his side.

Sharon shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“Not to me,” he said firmly, a smile growing on his face. He leaned down to kiss her, drawing ‘ooh’s from their watching friends.

This wasn’t a position Jake would have ever predicted he’d be in – and Sharon definitely wasn’t the woman he’d ever seen himself with – but he couldn’t deny how completely right it felt. How happy he felt. Yeah, there were probably going to be arguments in the future, plenty of ridiculous antics for him to tolerate, and her crazy family to deal with, but Jake felt like he was right where he was supposed to be.

The kiss broke apart and Sharon smiled up at him, her dark eyes filled with warmth, all of her focus on him despite their audience. “I really like you.”

Considering how long they’d gone not liking each other, that meant a lot to him.

“I really like you too, princess.”

He supposed if she was the princess, that made him the prince. Crazy enough, even though he had a feeling she was going to drive him nuts, he was pretty sure this was his happily-ever-after.


Epilogue  

St. Patrick’s Day – Adam & Angel’s House

The plug in Sharon’s butt was super distracting. It wasn’t that it was huge or anything – although it wasn’t small either – it was just that she couldn’t stop thinking about when Jake was going to drag her off and finally do the deed. The sadistic jerk was playing with her, making her wear it for a purpose and then making her wait.

They’d been at Adam and Angel’s for over an hour and he still showed no sign of getting all Captain Caveman, even though he kept teasing her with small touches and the occasional ass grab.

“Why are you glaring at Jake?” Ellie whispered as she sidled up to Sharon, a red solo cup full of green beer in her hand. She looked adorable with her long dark hair pulled into a pony-tail and tied with a green ribbon, her green sweater dress hugging her petite curves. Both she and Sharon were short and curvy with dark hair, but Ellie had porcelain pale skin and slightly lighter brown eyes.

“You know you’re going to be peeing green for days, right?” Sharon asked, giving the drink a significant look. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, Sharon had gone for the whiskey rather than turn her toilet bowl green.

“Really?” Ellie looked down at her drink, tilting her head to the side as she examined it. “Huh. I guess that makes sense. Doesn’t answer why you’re glaring at Jake though.”

Sharon sighed. “Because he’s torturing me.”

“Are you two planning on disappearing for a bit?” There was no surprise, only amusement, in Ellie’s voice. Sharon and Jake were getting a bit of a reputation for disappearing during large gatherings, and then reappearing half an hour later with their hair mussed and clothing slightly misaligned. It wasn’t that they didn’t have sex at home, by themselves, but it was just fun to do it everywhere else, too. Especially if they might get caught.

“Yes, and he’s making me wait,” Sharon said with a little growl. It was even more frustrating because her underwear really only helped a little with keeping it in place, which meant she was constantly clenching around the thing to make sure it wasn’t going to fall out.

“Aww, is your honey pot overflowing?” Ellie’s voice was full of false sympathy.

“More like my banana basket is empty,” Sharon retorted.

Lately she and Ellie had gotten in the habit of trying to outdo each other with ridiculous names for their vaginas. It had all started when Ellie had admitted she hated the word ‘vagina’ and was wondering what everyone else called it. Of course, Sharon had had the best names, but then Ellie started coming up with fun ones too. Now it was a game.

Whoever laughed first, lost.

“Your hot pocket needs its filling.”

“The penis fly trap wants feeding.”

“Your furry furnace needs wood.”

Sharon cracked up and Ellie fell into a fit of giggles. “Furry furnace? Seriously? That’s just… I don’t even know how to respond to that one.”

“I saw it online,” Ellie admitted between giggles. “Some author named CoraLee June used it, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

“It’s a good one.” Sharon gave her a high-five. “Damn. I’ll have to up my game.”

Drawn in by the laughter, Angel and Hilary drifted over to find out what was going on. For once, Angel did not have her usual boob attachment. Melody was now three and a half months old and everyone was taking turns holding her and cooing over her. Of course, if she started to get fussy or stinky they handed her right back, but right now she was being held by an extremely competent Luke. The best part was the expression on Olivia’s face as she watched her boyfriend handle the tiny baby like a pro, whereas Olivia seemed almost afraid to even touch her.

"So, how's everybody doing?" Angel asked, grinning broadly. She was looking more like her normal self today, including a t-shirt with a Shamrock that said, "Kiss Me, I'm Irish." 

"Good," Sharon said, raising her eyebrows as she gestured at the shirt. "You're Irish, huh?" 

Both of Angel's parents were half-Asian and her slightly tilted almond eyes and nose gave away her descent. She was also half-white, but Sharon hadn't heard her saying anything about Irish heritage before. 

Glancing down at the writing over her boobs, Angel grinned, her amber eyes lighting up. "Well, a small part of me is Irish." She leered at Sharon. "Wanna guess which part?" 

They all cracked up. 

"You've been waiting the whole party for someone to say something to you about it, haven't you?" asked Ellie through her giggles. 

"I thought Adam would, but he just sighed and shook his head," Angel admitted. 

"Wait, he didn't even kiss you?" Hilary looked affronted. 

"Oh, he did that too, just not the part of me I was hoping to get him to kiss."

That confession led to another bout of laughter, and when Sharon got herself under control again, she looked over to see that Jake's eyes were on her. Hot. Interested. Probably wondering what they were all laughing about. 

Just one look reminded her of the toy filling her and her ass clenched around the plug. Jerk. She stuck her tongue out at him, practically daring him to do something about it.

******

The expression of defiance on Sharon's face told Jake she was getting close to her limit and he chuckled. She hadn't been wrong when she'd said they were going to drive each other crazy, but he didn't think she'd anticipated how much he would enjoy tormenting her. Yes, she drove him up the wall sometimes, but then he'd repay her in smaller, subtler ways. 

Right now, she was probably wondering why he hadn't snuck away with her to take advantage of the plug he'd fitted between her sweet cheeks before they'd left for the party, and he wasn't about to tell her. It wasn’t often anyone managed to keep a secret in this group, but somehow this one had lasted. 

The only reason he knew about it was because Adam had pulled him aside when they'd arrived and told him not to sneak off with Sharon until after

It looked like the time was finally upon them, as Adam came into the kitchen from the basement stairs, leading the others that had been down there as well. It made for a crowded kitchen, and Jake slid away from Patrick and Lexie to make his way around the edges of the room to Sharon. There wasn't any signal, but as Adam took up a spot in the center, right next to the island, everyone slowly started to quiet. 

There was just something about his stance that said he wanted everyone's attention - and they immediately gave it to him. Angel wormed her way next to him and he smiled down at her, sliding his arm around her waist before looking up again. 

"Hey everyone, Angel and I just wanted to thank you for coming to our St. Patrick's Day party, especially since we're having it in the middle of the afternoon and kicking you all out by eight." There were chuckles all around, because they knew he wasn't kidding. "It's really wonderful to be able to see everyone, and especially great that you're all so willing to help us out with Melody this afternoon, at least until her diaper needs changing." Adam paused again for more laughter, his blond goatee twitching slightly as he suppressed his smile. "But the real reason I'm asking for your attention is so that I can hand it over."

He turned, and Jake grinned as he saw the confusion on Angel's face. It was an expression echoed across most of the room, and he could see who had been in on the secret. Wrapping his arms around Sharon, he could see that Hilary was practically bouncing with excitement and Jessica obviously knew what was about to happen too, although none of their men were in the know. Jared was grinning broadly, but Leigh was totally clueless. 

Olivia and Luke were exchanging looks, both of them wondering if the other knew what was going on. Everyone else was also trying to figure it out. 

Except for Rick, as he stepped forward and turned to face Maria. His face was tinged a slight pink, his normally calm demeanor looking more than a little shaken. 

There were several gasps of excited happiness and a few small squeals as he dropped down to one knee in front of her. Maria's dark brown eyes were open wider than Jake had ever seen them, both of her hands coming up to clap over her mouth as she stared down at her boyfriend in disbelief and happiness. Sharon leaned back against Jake, gripping his arm and digging her nails in, and he didn't have to glance down to know she was already crying. 

She cried at almost anything romantic but laughed maniacally at people being chomped on during shark movies. Jake thought it was adorable. 

"Maria-" 

That was as far as Rick got before Maria's hands flew open and she flung herself at him.

"YES!" 

The shock and surprise on Rick's face marveled the expression on Maria's when he'd knelt, and he barely managed to keep his balance as he caught his sobbing girlfriend - well, Jake supposed they could officially call her Rick's fiancé now. 

Rick said something to her, although it was somewhat muffled in her hair, and Jake was pretty sure that at least part of it was "I had a speech." 

He managed to wrestle Maria onto his knee so that he could put the ring on her finger, causing a wave of applause and people rushing in to congratulate them. Jake had to let Sharon go so she could run in. Rick and Maria managed to get up so they could stand in the center, Rick with his arms wrapped tight around her waist while she showed off the ring. 

She was still sniffling a little and beaming at Rick in between thanking people for their congratulations. 

As everyone managed to say their congratulations to the happy couple and things slowly broke up, Jake took the opportunity to snag Sharon's hand and pull her away from the party and down the hall. 

"Now?" she asked, sounding exasperated. 

"Yes, now," he said, looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was paying attention to them. They weren't. 

Even though their friends knew what they did, and no one seemed to care, Jake made a game of sneaking away. Sometimes they managed to return without anyone having realized they were missing. Maybe it was silly, but it gave him a little adrenaline rush and Sharon seemed to get off on it too.

He pulled her into the library next to the sun room. As much fun as the sun room would be with all of the windows, he didn't actually want an audience. Not today. 

"Did you know Rick was going to do that?" Sharon demanded to know as Jake closed the door behind them. The sounds from the party were muted, but still audible, reminding them of how many people were close by.

"Adam told me earlier, so that we wouldn't miss it."

"And you didn't tell me?!" She glared at him, putting both hands on her hips. 

"It was more fun as a surprise and you know it." 

Before she could harangue him any further, Jake stepped forward and pulled her against him, taking her mouth in a kiss to shut her up. It was a tactic he used a lot - one that he was pretty sure she deliberately tried to provoke as often as possible. Almost immediately she melted against him, proving that she wasn't really upset with him at all. 

She just liked to get mouthy. 

Running one hand down to her ass, Jake palmed her soft flesh, squeezing the mound as his fingers went seeking the edge of the plug inside of her. They'd had sex in a multitude of places before, but never anal sex outside of their own apartments. It added a little bit of extra spice to the encounter, especially because he knew that the plug had been driving Sharon crazy ever since they'd arrived. 

The desperate way she was kissing him, her hands pushing under his shirt and around his back to hold him close as she rubbed herself against him was confirmation of that. 

But first, Jake had his own declaration to make. 

He straightened, ending the kiss and bringing his hands up to cup her face. 

"Sharon."

"What?" Her dark eyes were hot with need and confusion, wondering why he was stopping. 

"I love you."

She blinked. The silence stretched. 

"What?" Shock and outrage. 

Jake grinned. "I love you."

"Now? You choose to tell me now? When we're about to have butt sex in our friends' house, that's when you think is the most appropriate time to drop the L bomb?!" The outrage was winning over the shock. 

"Yup." He spun her around and smacked her on the ass. "Now go bend over that couch. The man who loves you wants to fuck your ass."

******

Sharon didn't know if she was more indignant or turned on or floaty happy.

When she'd told Jake that they were likely to kill each other, she'd really meant that she thought he was likely to kill her because she was going to drive him crazy all the time. But it turned out he gave as good as he got. 

She'd been wanting to say the 'L' word to him for weeks and had been holding back because she didn't know if he was ready, or it didn't feel like the perfect moment. 

He chose now?!

Even as she moved to obey his order, she sent him a glare over her shoulder. "I hate you."

Blue eyes gleamed back at her, not at all perturbed by her response. "I know, princess. Now bend that sweet ass over."

The dirty talk didn't surprise her anymore. Jake was filthy-mouthed in the bedroom even if he rarely cursed outside of it. She'd been a terrible influence on him in the best way possible. Although, now she was starting to think she'd maybe been a little bit too much of a bad influence. 

"I figured you for the romantic type," she complained as she bent over the arm of the couch, putting her ass high in the air while her upper body rested on the couch cushions. "I thought there would be roses and candles... You know, sappy shit." 

Jake just chuckled. "What's more romantic than declaring my love right after two of our friends just got engaged and we snuck off because we can't keep our hands off of each other? 

Well, when he put it like that it didn't sound so bad. But she wasn’t going to say it back yet anyway.

He could work for it.

She almost snorted. In some ways, him saying it now and her refusing to was more their style than soft lighting, mood music, and gazing into each other’s eyes. She couldn’t gaze for more than a few seconds without feeling ridiculous and ruining the moment by giggling.

Hands caressed her thighs, just underneath the hem of her skirt before flipping it up and over her ass. She peeked back over her shoulder to see him staring down at her upturned cheeks, his hands coming down on either side to frame them. The expression on his face was one of pure lust and anticipation.

Sharon wiggled her butt at him, giggling again he shot a look up at her. Her ass clenched around the toy as her pussy creamed.

“Better make it quick,” she teased him. “We can only stay gone for so long before someone notices.”

Not that their friends would do anything more than give them a hard time about it, but that just made it a challenge for their little excursions to go unnoticed. A challenge that Sharon enjoyed winning as much as Jake did. The fact that everyone was thrilled for Maria and Rick might give them a little bit of extra time, but not much.

That meant there wasn’t really time for foreplay… but the whole damn day had been foreplay. Jake putting the plug in before they came here, having to sit on it for the ride over, all the little touches and caresses throughout the beginning of the party – Sharon was pretty sure she’d soaked through her panties.

Smack!

The little swat didn’t do anything except turn her on even more.

She whimpered anyway, a whimper of need, as her muscles clenched. Her pussy was so empty, her ass was full, the sting was barely a slightly burn on her skin, and she needed more. “Please, Jake.”

“Little brat,” he said fondly, rubbing his hand over the spot he’d just spanked. But he didn’t make her wait. He wanted to win their little game as much as she did.

His fingers tugged at the plug, twisting it slightly, and making her shiver as all the delicate nerve endings around her anus flared to life. There was still plenty of lubrication thanks to the early prep that he’d done and a moment later, his cock was pressing against the tight hole. Sharon moaned as he pushed inward, stretching her wider and more mercilessly than the plug had. The little bite of pain made her rock, rubbing the front of her pussy against the couch’s arm as Jake’s cock sank in deeper.

“Oh yes.” She hissed out the words as her clit throbbed, her hands pressed against the couch, and she pushed back against him. The burn throbbed through her, making her spasm with the delicious combination of pain and pleasure.

******
Jake groaned as Sharon moved, jerking slightly at the unexpected pleasure. He’d been trying to control the depth of his penetration, to keep from moving too quickly, but she was too impatient. As usual. Gripping her more firmly, he used the weight of his upper body to pin her hips down against the couch. It was cushy enough he knew it wouldn’t hurt her at all.

It did give him more control over her movements though.

Now she couldn’t press her delectable ass against him or push back on his cock, she just had to lay there and take the strokes he dealt.

“Jake… please,” she begged, panting as he pulled out slightly. She moaned as he shoved back in, her muscles rippling around his cock, the tight ring of her sphincter clenching down and trying to force him out.

The sensation was fucking incredible.

“Hang on, princess, this is going to be hard and fast.”

Sharon just moaned again, egging him on, and Jake tightened his fingers as he started to move. He could tell she was already worked up from the way she was squirming beneath him. Her ass clenched rhythmically with each of his thrusts, pulling at him, massaging him and sending his growing pleasure higher and higher.

Her soft whimpers were becoming less ambiguous, more pleasured than pained, and he could feel her trying to push back against him. Moving harder, faster, he knew he wasn’t going to be able to last much longer.

There had just been too much build-up beforehand and knowing that they needed to get back to the party added an additional level of excitement and pressure. He gritted his teeth, waiting for the sob to build in her voice, for the tiny tremors in her body that signaled an oncoming orgasm.

That was when he pulled back slightly, pulling her back with him, and slipped his hand between her and the couch. His fingers dipped between her legs, finding the swollen nub of her clit, and he pinched the little bud between his fingers. Sharon’s pussy was so soaked that it was easy to rub the sensitive nub, and Sharon practically screamed as her ass tightened around him mercilessly.

Jake groaned, gasping as it felt like her body literally sucked the cum from his cock, his own orgasm hit him like a freight train as spurt after spurt forced its way through the tight ring gripping the base of his dick. His fingers pressed harder on her clit, holding her tightly against him as he emptied himself, her body quivering and spasming around him as she slumped forward.

Holy shit… That had been hot.

It took quite a few long moments of panting for breath before his pulse started to slow and he was able to straighten up and disengage.

“Fuck…” Sharon moaned. “I’m not sure my legs are gonna work.”

He laughed, although his own legs weren’t exactly in perfect working order at the moment either. “So, you’re saying I should just leave you here, just like this?”

Pushing her upper body up so she could look over her shoulder, she glared at him. “Don’t you dare!”

Like he would ever. But it was still fun to tease her. “Hmm, I don’t know, I did declare my love for you and I haven’t gotten a similar declaration in return. I might be a little heartbroken. Maybe I need to go nurse my bruised heart.”

Snickering, Sharon managed to push herself up and turn around. Of course, he helped her a little, stabilizing her when she swayed slightly. Her hands pressed against his chest, as she tipped her head back, blinking up at him solemnly.

“I love you, too,” she said, her voice so completely sincere as she said the words that Jake felt his heart stutter a little.

Cupping her face in his hands, he kissed her.

Deeply.

Thoroughly.

And wondered how he’d ever gotten so lucky.

******
Yeah, their friends had totally noticed that they’d snuck away, although for once no one seemed interested in saying anything. Not even to tease them.

Everyone was too busy being on a happy high of warmth and love and friendship. Rick and Maria’s joy had infected all of them and there was a lot of that going around.

Jessica, Justin, and Chris were finally going to have their commitment ceremony next month. Kate and Andrew’s wedding plans were coming together. The way Jared was eyeing Leigh and Michael was looking at Ellie, Sharon was sure there were more engagements on the way in the near future. Even Luke was looking at Olivia with speculation in his eyes, and they hadn’t been together that long.

Sharon and Jake might be a little bit behind everyone, but she was feeling the love too.

His declaration had been unexpected, and she had a feeling that’s why he’d done it the way he had. He liked to surprise her, just like she liked to keep him off-balance.

Somehow, they’d all ended up in the kitchen again, although not on purpose. Sharon smiled as she looked around at all her friends. She’d had no idea when she’d moved here that this was where she’d end up, but she was so glad she had.

Adam cleared his throat again, drawing everyone’s attention again. Suddenly they were all on high alert.

“Don’t worry,” he said, chuckling. “No more proposals today.”

“Darn,” Hilary muttered, looking a little let down. Her husband laughed, pulling her in for a consoling kiss.

Ignoring them, Adam kept going. “Again, just wanted to say, thanks for coming today. Angel and I cannot thank you enough for all the help you’ve given us since Melody was born. You are all more than friends, you’re family.”

Oh shit. Sharon was going to cry again. Especially because Adam was starting to look a little choked up as well.

“The family we choose,” Angel said, smiling as she looked around. She raised her glass in the air. “To us!”

“To us!” Everyone chorused after her, glasses lifting in the air.

“To all of us,” Sharon whispered just before she put the glass to her lips.

Her happily-ever-after wasn’t just Jake, it was all of them. Her friends, her tribe. They were each other’s happily-ever-after, for now and always.

And what a happily-ever-after it was.

 

 

******

Author’s Note

I can’t believe this is the end of the series! I have loved writing the Stronghold Doms since the very beginning. The series actually went on for much longer than it was originally supposed – I’d initially intended it to end with Michael and Ellie’s book, but then Olivia made it known that she wanted her own book, and Sharon had come into the picture and was clashing with Jake, and he wanted to be more than just a side character… and that’s just how it happens sometimes.

But wait! What about the Baby Doms – especially Kincaid and Zach? What about the new class of subbies? What about Freddy? What about Nate and Avery?

Well, that’s why I’m so glad Patrick, Michael, and Luke decided to open Marquis. We’re done with the Stronghold Doms, but we’re not done with this world. Look for the first Masters of Marquis book, coming in 2019.

And remember – Stay Sassy,

Angel


About the Author

About me? Right… I’m a writer, I should be able to do that, right?

I’m a happily married young woman and I like tater tots, small fuzzy animals, naming my plants, hiking, reading, writing, sexy time, naked time, shirtless o’clock, anything sparkly or shiny, and weirding people out with my OCD food habits.

I believe in Happy Endings. And fairies. And Santa Claus. Because without a little magic, what’s the point of living?

I write because I must. I live in several different worlds at any given moment. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Want to know more about my other books and stories? !  I also update at least a couple times a month.

You can also come hang out with me on Facebook in my !

Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story… and don’t forget, the best thing you can do in return for any author is to leave them feedback!

Stay sassy.

 

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