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"And now, friends, Lana will offer her submission to her new husband," Damien Lowell said.
Julia scowled. Submission?
Lana and Julia had chatted on the phone earlier in the week to discuss the final wedding plans. Lana had warned that the union would be a bit untraditional. She'd been vague about the details, but she'd made Julia promise to say nothing during the ceremony.
They'd been friends since they were ten, and there was no way Julia would miss the festivities, even if they were a bit odd.
Until now, everything had been what she'd expected.
Lana and Ben were being married at their friend Damien's mountain home. Damien was also performing the ceremony.
About two dozen of the couple's closest friends had gathered in the great room and, at dusk, Lana had descended the stairs of Damien's picturesque home, carrying a single, beautiful, white rose to match her full-length gown.
The only gift requested had been a candle. In a romantic gesture, the pair had said they wanted all their friends to light their way into their future.
As Ben and Lana had joined hands and faced Damien, fat snowflakes had fallen from the cloudy sky. The vows had included the word obey, which was somewhat unusual among their circle of friends. But everything else had been normal. Lana had placed her rose on the mantel behind Damien before she and Ben had exchanged rings.
"Lana?" Damien prompted.
"Yes, Sir," Lana said.
'Sir'? Until tonight, Julia hadn't met Damien. She knew he was a friend of the groom's, and he was drop-dead, movie star handsome. The man had rakishly long, dark hair that curled at his nape, and he wore an indefinable air of command as easily as he filled out his charcoal grey suit. But still, for her friend to call him 'Sir'...?
Lana cast her gaze at the floor and gracefully turned her back to her new husband.
Ben undid the row of tiny buttons that held her gown closed.
What the hell?
Ben drew the material from Lana's shoulders and let the dress fall to the floor.
Lana, wearing stacked heels, a merry widow and stockings, stepped out of the dress, and another man scooped it up and laid it across a chair.
Like Damien, this man was also ridiculously tall. That was where the resemblance ended. This man had an olive complexion that hinted at a Mediterranean background. His head was shaved. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt that revealed a number of tattoos. A thick, knotted silver bracelet adorned his left wrist, and a silver stud pierced his right earlobe. He could have been a pirate in a former life.
Suddenly unconventional took on a whole new meaning. Julia had never been more distressed. Part of her wanted to make an escape, and a bigger part of her wanted to shake some sense into her friend. But she was riveted in place by her promise to remain silent.
With a grace that spoke of practice, Lana knelt.
Jesus. All through college, they'd each vowed to keep their independence. They'd pushed against the glass ceiling, and they'd fought for their positions in corporate America. And now her friend was kneeling in front of her husband, almost naked, for their guests to see?
Julia wondered if she was the only one who was frozen in shock.
Lana spread her legs a bit farther apart, and she leant forward to kiss one of Ben's shoes.
From the front of the room, Damien looked over his shoulder at her, his eyebrows raised.
Firm, relentless hands landed on her shoulders. Her heart rate increased with her panic.
"Be quiet," a man whispered harshly into her ear.
"I said be quiet."
She gritted her teeth. The man's tone was commanding.
He pulled her back a bit, and she inhaled the unmistakable-and sexy-scent of leather.
In that same rich and rough, for-her-ears-only voice, he added, "Or else I'll haul your sweet ass out of here and turn you over my knee."
For the first time in her life, she was rendered speechless.
"Lana's doing this of her own choice," he continued.
She struggled against his grip, but he dug his fingers deeper into her flesh.
"Surely she told you to expect some unconventional things."
"Trust her," he urged. "Like she trusted you."