Don't miss this heart-pounding sequel to M.Q. Barber's USA Today bestseller, Playing the Game
Neighborly Affection, #2
A safeword won't save her from love.
After six months of cavorting in her neighbors' bed, Alice admits signing the contract to be Henry's sexual submissive is the best decision she's ever made. He delivers on his promise to give her sexual satisfaction. But submitting to his dominance alongside his long-term lover shows her the sharp line between sex and love. Henry loves goofy, eager-to-please Jay. Neither man has promised to love her.
Hiding her feelings grows harder every night she spends with them. As they struggle with wounds old and new, her emotional turmoil threatens to shred their arrangement. Is it time to bow out before they show her the door? Or can a triangle be the shape of true love?
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Crossing the Lines
By M.Q. Barber
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 M.Q. Barber
All rights reserved.
Weaving through cubicle farmers streaming from white-collarville, Alice fished her buzzing phone from her pocket. "Hello?"
"Alice." Henry, telephoning? "I hope I'm not disturbing your workday."
She hustled to beat the crowd. "No, no, I'm done for the day." Maybe a sweet Henry-surprise waited at home. "Headed to the T stop." Not a handwritten note, or he wouldn't be calling. "What's up?"
"Jay was in a scrape this afternoon, and I didn't wish you to worry in the event you came looking for us this evening."
"Just a scrape?" Bullshit. They'd be at home. "Where are you?"
"Perhaps more than a scrape, but not so urgent as to demand immediate attention, apparently." Detached. Rattled, for Henry. The clipped distance in his voice blazed a trail for her fears. "I expect we'll be at the hospital a while yet."
No wonder he'd risked disturbing her at work.
"Which one?" She elbowed through the churning sea of laptop bags and bulky winter coats. Move, damn you. "I'll come wait with you."
"Unnecessary, my dear. Jay is rather short-tempered at the moment, as you might expect. Too much waiting, and no pain medication until they receive the results from the scan. But I will keep you informed."
"They're worried about concussion? What happened? Is that his only injury?" She couldn't get the questions out fast enough.
"A delivery-truck driver opened a door into traffic at the wrong moment and clipped his bike. I believe once properly medicated, he'll be ecstatic with the scar he can expect on his right leg, though the wrist will be a problem, as it's his dominant hand. They're calling the damage a sprain for now. They've taken X-rays to be certain he hasn't broken any carpal bones. He's a bit bruised, of course, though that will worsen tomorrow. His nose is already a ghastly shade."
Jesus. Jay rode through the streets at maniac speeds. Body slamming a door equaled rapid deceleration, redirected momentum, fuck.
She needed to see him. Tonight. She'd never sleep otherwise. If Henry didn't consider her family enough to join them in the emergency room, fine. "You'll both be exhausted by the time you get home. It'll go easier if you have dinner waiting and a hand getting him situated for the night."
God, she'd gotten fucking sick of eating neighbors' casseroles in the weeks after Dad's accident. The same damn nightmare every day. Walk her little sister home from school. Fix dinner. Supervise homework. Wait for Mom to stumble in from the hospital with her broken smile. "Two people wrangling one doped-up injured person is a lot easier than one."
Her phone dug into her hand. Too blunt and pushy. She'd assumed a place in their lives she didn't warrant.
He sighed, and his voice lost its Henry-ness. He sounded tired. "That would be lovely, Alice. I would ... greatly appreciate your assistance, thank you."
"You don't have to thank me. We're friends." He couldn't argue with such a safe statement of fact.
"I'll call the super and instruct him to let you into the apartment, my dear. Make use of whatever you like." His voice regained its brisk control. "I'll inform you when we're on our way."
"Call me if you need anything else. I can get to the hospital if you need me." If he'd let her.
They hung up on good-byes, and she caught the train. The lumbering journey of creaks and groans and passengers nursing winter colds differed little from the hard seats and anxious undercurrents of a hospital waiting room. She resisted the urge to call. He had his hands full with Jay. Pestering wouldn't help.
She grabbed her mail before knocking on the super's door. An older widower, from the ring on his finger. On the handful of occasions they'd met, he'd been unfailingly courteous.
"Hi, Mr. Nagel."
"3B. Miss Colvin. You're here about the key for Mr. Webb's apartment? He called a bit ago."
"You got it. I'm giving Henry a hand with dinner tonight. I just need to get into the apartment."
Mr. Nagel gestured her toward the stairs. "Yes, he mentioned young Mr. Kress had been injured. Nothing serious, I hope."
She made small talk as they climbed the stairs and ventured down the hall, where Mr. Nagel unlocked the door and excused himself without a fuss. Fifteen minutes of poking around in the kitchen turned up the makings for a decent meal. She darted across the hall and changed into yoga pants and a long-sleeved tunic.
Fuck if she'd serve a lackluster casserole. Assuming the men came home. Maybe the hospital would keep Jay overnight for concussion monitoring.
Henry's pastry bag worked like a charm to pipe a cheese and Italian sausage filling into softened manicotti noodles. Measuring an equal amount for each tube took steady hands, a discerning eye and plenty of concentration.
Maybe Jay slumbered through surgery for nerve damage in his wrist.
She punched dough into shape for garlic bread. Her phone kept its silence on the counter. Maybe a superbug had infected Jay's wounds and Henry sat digesting words like bacteria and amputation and mortality rate.
Mom had cried over those words.
The plastic wrap stuck to itself and tore three times before she got the pan into the fridge. The dough rose under a damp towel. A salad waited for last-minute dressing.
She wiped down the counters. Leaving Henry's kitchen as clean as she'd found it would show him her respect. No calls yet. No car coming around the corner as she stood at the window and twisted the kitchen towel around her hand like a boxer's tape. The constriction heightened the thump of her pulse rushing under her skin.
Henry's hands would've felt better.
Settle the fuck down. He'll call.
Anxious wandering deposited her outside Henry's bedroom. Nary a wrinkle disturbed the bed. Clothes hung over the back of a chair, ready for a trip to the dry cleaner.
Three steps inside, she jerked to a halt. Trespasser.
No. She had every right to be in Henry's bedroom. Every other Friday. Not on a Wednesday. Not when he wasn't home.
The mattress welcomed her as an old friend. The pillow crooned a faint lullaby of dark leather and light citrus. Curling on her side, she hugged the pillow to her body and clutched her phone.
A tug pulled up the comforter with its gentle warmth, and she dozed in its embrace. The bread's need for the oven prodded her from her nest. After straightening the sheets and replacing the pillow, she haunted the kitchen.
Her ringing phone jolted her.
8:47 p.m. "Is everything okay?"
"Hello, Alice. I apologize for the delay. They're about to let Jay go. I expect we'll arrive in half an hour or so. It will be ..." A quiet sigh puffed from his end of the phone. "It will be very nice to be home. You were able to get in all right?"
"Yeah, everything's fine here. Don't worry. I'll be waiting."
"Yes. Thank you, Alice. We'll see you soon."
He ended the call, and she sprang into action, heating the oven and extracting dinner from the fridge.
The doorknob rattled. She flicked off the burner under the extra sauce. Thirty-four minutes. Her rush came to a dead stop in front of the gaping door.
Jay's huge doped-up eyes with a grotesquely swollen and discolored nose between killed her. He'd look full-on raccoon in the morning.
"Alice!" Left arm slung across Henry's shoulder, Jay shuffled through the doorway. "I got doored. Wham! Fucking truck. You should've seen it." He walked like an old man but babbled like a kid on a sugar high. "S'been years since I got doored. Like, at least two years."
They must've given him something fantastic for the pain. Please not Oxy.
"That's a long time, Jay." Was it? Who knew. An air cast gleamed white as exposed bone on his forearm. "Sorry the truck got in your way."
His bright smile dropped into a mournful frown. "Weeks, Alice. They want me off the bike until the wrist heals."
Dried blood spotted his cargo pants. He'd lost the shorts-converting bottom halves somewhere. "S'not fair. Stupid driver should hafta stay out of his truck for weeks. He's the one who parked the wrong way."
The gauze encasing the lower half of his right leg and dotting the left itched at her. She should be something. Moving. Doing. Anything.
"Is that marinara I smell, Alice?" Thank God for Henry.
"I raided your freezer." She slid herself under Jay's arm and helped Henry balance his weight between them. "Figured you'd rather defrosted homemade than stuff from a jar. Couch?"
"The couch first, yes. He'll need to eat something. He's had nothing since lunch, and the medication on an empty stomach has had a rather predictable effect."
"Hey, I'm not pre—preda—predacable."
Charming. He'd be a handful. "No, you're totally unpredictable now, which is why Henry wants you on the couch."
"Couch is good," Jay said. "Or bed. Bed is better. I like it when Henry wants me in bed."
Hoo boy. Two handfuls. Her commiserating glance at Henry went unreturned as they lowered their patient to the couch. Jay's casted hand ran over her breast as she disentangled herself, and his goofy grin suggested the move wasn't clumsiness. "You're sure they got his dosage right?"
Nodding, his face solemn and distracted, Henry stretched Jay's legs along the cushions. The charcoal-gray fabric dipped, the couch more soft than supportive. A stiff accent pillow added a dot of dark mustard beneath Jay's calf.
"He's a lightweight for his size—with alcohol as well—and particularly susceptible to the euphoric effects of narcotics." Henry straightened and offered a shadow of his usual smirk. "And, of course, he has no sense of boundaries. You'll have to excuse him, I'm afraid. I doubt he even recalls that it's Wednesday."
Did he mean to say her presence confused Jay? Maybe her being here was improper on a day other than Friday. He'd had plenty of time to rethink his decision to let her help. The longer she stayed their sometime sex partner, the more she risked their friendship.
"I made manicotti. It's under foil in the oven to keep warm." Distance. She needed distance. "There's garlic bread, too, and extra marinara for dipping on the stove." The kitchen and its sparkling clean counters beckoned. "I can just—"
"Alice." Henry encircled her wrist. "Would you make a plate for Jay? We'll need to feed him first and get him tucked away in bed before we can sit down to our meal, my dear. If you haven't eaten yet, of course. I realize it's quite late."
She slipped her wrist free, squeezing his fingers before letting go. "You bet. One plate of pasta coming up."
She cut everything into bite-size chunks, even the bread, because chewing would hurt, judging from the bruising across Jay's face. One plate, one water, one Alice-ass on the coffee table once she'd dragged it closer to the couch where Henry sat behind their patient and propped him up.
Jay fumbled for the fork as she lifted the plate. "I can do it. M' not a baby."
"Jay." Henry used his firm tone outside the bedroom. "You'll sit quietly and let Alice help you, my boy. No arguments, now."
She jettisoned the spirit-enlivening childish mealtime ideas. No airplane or funny sounds. With older sisters, Jay'd probably had his fill of being babied. She stuffed him with technical details about her latest work project. Grade-A adult snooze-fest material.
His euphoria dulled into drowsy boredom with drooping eyelids. He'd finished three-quarters of his plate and half his water, but he wouldn't stay awake long enough to have the rest.
Henry mouthed a silent, "Thank you."
Exultation. He appreciated her help. Pushiness had been the right call. Shrugging off his thanks, she set the plate down and slid the table aside. Coordinated movement got Jay on his feet.
"Bathroom and then bed, Jay." Henry supported him on the left, and she undertook the right.
"Your bed," Jay said.
"My bed," Henry agreed.
She suppressed a flash of jealousy.
Leaving them at the bathroom door so Henry could assist alone, she turned on the bedroom light and pulled back the sheets. When they returned, Henry steadied Jay and she stripped off his clothes. Even if the blood came out, the ragged slashes made them unwearable.
God, the bruising and the scrapes. Bad, and they'd be worse in the morning. Purpling lines across his chest probably marked where the handlebars had hit him. The bruises along his left side from his ankle to his ribs had scattered patches of raw, red skin. Gauze hid larger scrapes. Road rash.
She tried to picture it, the door opening into his face, eating his forward momentum and knocking him back. Him tilting and putting the bike down. Sliding on the filthy street under the door as it gashed his right leg open.
Jesus. If she'd seen him howling in pain for hours, she'd have gone fucking crazy. Thank God Henry knew how to hold it together.
Henry lowered Jay to the bed, and she pulled the covers up to his underarms, leaving his arms on top. She picked up his hand. Unblemished, his palms and knuckles exposed an oasis of pristine beauty. She traced his fingers.
"Quality biking gloves," Henry murmured. "That and a good helmet. And all that concerned him was whether a backup messenger had arrived to courier the package."
Jay's eyelids fluttered. His breathing slowed and evened out.
Relief manifested as a magnetic charge drawing her toward Henry. He leaned in. The charge strengthened, promising the answer to everything waited in his kiss. But he only pressed his face to hers, rested his nose above her ear and retreated far too soon. "If you'll sit with him until you're certain he's asleep, I'll get our plates ready, Alice."
She claimed a place beside Jay's hip as Henry left. A few minutes later, she turned off the light and slipped out, leaving the door cracked in case he woke and needed them.
Henry had laid out their meal on the breakfast bar, a cozy setting ensuring they'd sit elbow to elbow. If his hunger rivaled her own, the quiet they settled into wasn't surprising. She cleared her plate. Henry started his second helping.
"Have you called his family?" Jay boasted a big, blurry web of family—parents, a gaggle of siblings, a herd of young nieces and nephews. The way he talked, he bore the "cool" uncle title.
"Not as yet, no." Henry set his fork down and wiped his mouth on his napkin. "I didn't wish to worry his parents. We'll call them tomorrow, perhaps, if he's coherent enough to reassure them himself. He'll likely want to impress his nephews with his scars when next he visits."
His halfhearted smile raised a matching weariness in her. Maybe he didn't want to think about what Jay's family would say. Or about the scars Jay would have. Blood and crunching metal. Her stomach turned.
She carried her dishes to the sink and rinsed them before loading the dishwasher.
Henry, his plate empty, stared in her direction. Distance clouded his eyes. Leaning on his elbow, he rubbed his index finger across his lips.
She reached across the breakfast bar for his plate.
"Finished?" She softened her voice, in case he didn't want to be disturbed.
"Yes, thank you, Alice." He blinked and stood. "You put together a lovely meal. A favorite?"
"One of the few staples I know how to make." Fucking up pasta took effort. She rinsed his dishes and loaded them beside her own. Beside Jay's, too. Henry must've collected them while she'd sat in the bedroom. "I'm glad it turned out okay. I haven't done a lot of cooking lately."
Years, more like. Not since she'd lived at home and Mom worked late and Dad couldn't and Olivia needed a hot meal. She and Ollie had been culinary explorers, the half-trained teenage chef and her untrained assistant.
Henry swaddled the leftovers in foil and loaded the refrigerator.
She wiped down the countertop.
He rummaged through a small drawer with the assortment of clutter kitchens collected—pens and notepads, novelty bottle openers, scissors, aspirin. Everything with no other home. Organization apparently did have limits. Even Henry had a junk drawer.
Metal clinked. Henry slid his hand across the counter toward her, palm flat. Raising his hand, he left a key behind.
He cleared his throat. "In the event you have need of it again, Alice. The spare key hardly fulfills its function residing in the drawer."
The bronze key gleamed, a miniature mountain range to unlock the tumblers between her life and theirs. No ad nauseam discussion about his intentions necessary. Common sense and neighborliness, that's all. Like the McCaskeys, who'd lived across the street from her parents since forever. They'd had a spare for emergencies.
The key chilled her palm.
"I'll take good care of it, Henry." And of him and Jay, too. Tonight, at least. She slipped the key into one of the front patch pockets of her yoga pants.
Excerpted from Crossing the Lines by M.Q. Barber. Copyright © 2014 M.Q. Barber. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A wonderful continuation to Playing the Game. You can read it as a stand-alone but I wouldn't recommend it. You would miss a lot of the relationship building from book 1 and that is essential to where the characters are in book 2.
I am a complete fan! So sinfully mesmerising. I need more.
This series has titillated me! I can't usually say this about BDSM two men in a relationship then add a woman but l find this one just HOT The author has done a terrific job building the personalities making sure it is not all just about control and sex for this triad, but about building relationships and trust. I don't usually get off reading about men having sex but maybe it was because it is done with tenderness it just turned me on with Alice wanting to watch....
I loved this series. Its hot its funny and its got lots of love in it. Im glad i found these book. Well done, as henry would say.
Who would not want to be alice. So good.
I am looking for this in my life.
This is the second or third time I've read this series. I find it a fascinating and engaging look at a relationship between three people. The basis of Alice's contract with Henry and Jay appears to be dominance and submission, but Barber shows us more than that. In the trio, each person has needs, and each plays part in meeting the needs of the others. Under Henry's tutelage, Alice and Jay grow in confidence and Alice especially , begins to learn she is someone who can love & be loved. Henry can come across as stuffy (think British professor or psychiatrist, but redeems himself with his wisdom, artistry, and boring good intentions. Jay you have to experience for yourself. Way better than Cot of the RDsm erotica on the market. I really like these character S: wish I could give them all hugs! Looking forward to the story of Jay's meeting with Henry before Alice comes on the scene, . and then to M.Q. Barber's next series!
Recommended highly for anyone interested in a realistic peek under the covers of a complex relationship between 3 people Henry, Jay, and Alice (m/m/f). The writing style supports the characters, and is a joy to read. The emotions, heat and connection between them all is real. As are the challenges and annoyances of real life. No spoilers, but sometimes almost too real, as I cussed out the characters for responding to their fears with phrases like "Would you just TELL him what you feel?" and "Put your pride on the back burner!!" (not that *I've* ever done that IRL, *walks away whistling*) Certainly for mature audiences only, there are graphic sexual depictions. However, the story line of the characters has at least half the space, if not more. The first book in the series is a beautiful set up, worth reading in it's own right, but this book may be read as a stand alone.
The relationship continues. Plot and characters are amazing!
Steamy, sexy, delightful!!! MORE HENRY, ALICE AND JAY PLEASE!!!
This series just keeps getting better. I can not wait for the third book. If you love a well writen story with lots of love and some extra special kind of loving then this book is for you.
I wasn’t aware when I started this book, that there is a book one in this series. I would recommend that you do read it first so you can go into this part of the story with full knowledge of these characters, BUT, this can be read alone just as well. The author gives us enough background to keep you focused and engaged with this part of Alice, Jay and Henry’s story. I love the connection that the three have made. It was clear this started out as a contract to include Alice in the relationship Henry and Jay had once in a while, but it had become more for all three. Henry is a Dom, caring, in control, very in tuned to Jay and Alice’s needs, but he is guarded with his emotions. He freely shows Jay the love that Jay requires but there is something about Alice that keeps him from allowing her the same affection he gives Jay. Jay reminded me of a sweet little excited puppy, but as we read this book we see why he is so dependent on Henry and his affection and confirmation that he is a good boy. In this book we see what led Jay to need Henry’s protection, why Henry is so patient with Jay and now Alice gets to see that the way to Henry’s heart is to take care of Jay. Alice wants to be part of their relationship, but she isn’t sure if there is room for her. Her love and respect for Henry and Jay prevented her from just asking to be included, nor can she just open up and express her deep need to be loved and cared for by both men. After making a judgment call to do things her way, she is stripped of that connection and is forced to admit to herself if that need for them is more important than her need to be guarded and independent. While the scenes were hot and sensual, there was never a time that love and respect the primary emotion driving them all. I loved this book, it was written with such respect, dignity and love that the characters were difficult not to just fall in love with. The writing style was very developed and smooth and led for an enjoyable reading experience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I was so invested in this story and the characters, I found it difficult to put the kindle down for real life. I look forward to more from this author. Reviewed by Tbird for Crystal’s Many Reviewers *Copy provided for honest review*
This book is gut-wrenching. It made me tear up numerous times and smile even more. If not for my blurry eyesight (or how my eyesight becomes after I’ve been reading a few hours), or the fact I needed sleep (and food and other things), I would have read this book in one sitting--I loved it THAT much! I’m so glad there will be another installment. I just wish I didn’t have to wait until JUNE! Aarrgh!!
Henry is a Dom, Jay a submissive, and Alice is the girl-next-door who just can’t get enough of either of them. A contract is in play, but when these three get together, sparks fly and emotions become entangled. I loved how believable the characters were. Henry is heavy-handed but gentle and giving, a lovable combination. Jay is sweetly enthusiastic and bubbly. And Alice guides us through her journey, one of learning to deal with her own insecurities while embracing her sexual side and trying to find the right balance. There is no one who could understand her needs like Henry, while Jay is the perfect accompaniment to it all. I was completely engaged from the beginning to the end, and with a third book still to come, I can’t wait to see where these three go from here. If you enjoy reading erotic romance with a cast of three, then this is the story for you.
There is something about this series that has me hooked. I can not quite place what it is. Sometimes I think it is the depth of the characters and the fact that they feel real. Sometimes I think it is because Jay, Henry, and Alice are in some ways so different from one another, but deep down they each have their own insecurities and vulnerabilities making them also very much alike. Sometime I think it is because it is hotter than hot. Whatever the reason, this series remains my favorite triad series. It takes a lot for a book to stay with me after months of reading other books, but that is exactly what this series does. I *may* be a bit stalkerish on the authors FB page waiting for updates on the next release. In Crossing The Line, Alice realizes she wants more. In fact, she wants it all, but struggles with taking the risk to let Jay and Henry know her true feelings. Her insecurities leave them in a holding pattern. Little does she know that the others are feeling similarly. With the risk of being spoilery, I want to say that free spirit and sometimes silly Jay is my hero. He sees more and understands more about the group dynamic than even Henry, who is supposed to be "in charge". I love that. It really shows how the power balance in a BDSM relationship is not really all about the master. If you have not read book one, this book is going to feel like it is missing something. The author did a beautiful job building both the characters and the relationship in Playing The Game that this book will probably fall flat for you if you have not read it. If you are a fan of this series you are going to want to read this one. Probably twice it is that good. Oh and once you finish this one, she has a free short, "Three-Way Tie" on Goodreads you will want to snag. It does contain spoilers to this book, so do not read it first :) .
I was asked by Lyrical Press if I'd like to review this book as an ARC reader. I hadn't read the first book so this was stand alone story for me reading it. Having no previous knowledge of Alice, Jay, and Henry's relationship I thought M.Q. Barber did a beautiful job with this story. Alice has Friday dinners with the men at their apartment but she seeks more. Barber does a wonderful job showing the emotional conflict she faces within herself. She struggles to accept just Fridays but begins to wonder what it would be like to have everyday with them. Jay was one of my favorite characters, it's not often that a writer can capture the insecurities of a man. You can clearly see that Henry is Jay's savior and I love that Barber explains how they found each other. In parts of this story, my heart reaches out towards Jay as we learn of his Pre- Henry days and how Henry saved him. Henry has a firm hand and clearly is the Head of the relationship. He makes sure that everyone follows the rules. At first, I wasn't his biggest fan but as I watched him through the story I came to love and adore him. He is firm but has a soft spot for Alice and Jay. To me, Henry has this need for control. I think without the lifestyle he would be a lost soul. Crossing The Lines is a beautifully written story about control, the emotional battle raging within, and the need for healing. M.Q. Barber captured the emotional aspect perfectly plus sprinkled in some kinky sex as well. I look forward to going back and reading the first book. My only complaint is that I'd like to delve more into Henry's past, maybe in the next book?