Single mom and massage therapist Ella Winthrop isn’t looking for a relationship. She has enough problems without risking a business that barely meets her needs. Then her world is turned upside down by three men, each offering something she isn’t prepared for—love so deep it hurts, sex so hot she’s afraid she’ll melt from the pleasure, and a future beyond her wildest dreams.
Steamy businessman Cade Jackson has it all—money, looks, a giving heart, and a dominant nature—but Ella refuses to date a client even if she’s lusted after him for a year. After his brother’s death, Garrett Winthrop moves back to town opening old wounds and even darker fantasies. Dr. Derek McGregor gives her balance and understanding that speaks to her soul. All three men force Ella to question the limits of a traditional relationship.
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Ella Winthrop glanced around the cowboy bar and couldn't believe she allowed her best friend to drag her here of all places. She wasn't a cowgirl. She wasn't anything close to cowgirl bar material.
"One drink," Ella's best friend Maddie said.
"You're not backing out of tonight."
"Fine. One Drink." Ella pulled out a barstool and sat down next to her.
Maddie plopped her purse on top of the glossy, wooden counter. "I've watched you work your ass off for three years to keep your family together and happy while you're damn miserable."
"I'm not miserable." She looked in the mirror behind the bar. No makeup. Yuck. Her clothes ... Ugh. At least she didn't have any sparkles of gray. She should have spent more time fixing her hair — a lot more time.
Overall, she looked ragged. She'd be in trouble if her business depended on her wardrobe. Luckily, her livelihood depended solely on her hands' ability to relax and heal. "You should be embarrassed to be seen with me in public like this."
Maddie smiled. "Nope. I've got you covered." She patted her leopard print designer purse with her perfectly manicured nails. "Come with me. Josie just walked in. We've got a little surprise for you."
Ella covered her face with her hands and sighed. "Please don't make me look like a whore."
Maddie took Ella's hand and marched her from the bar straight to the ladies' room in the back. She pushed open the cheap, barnyard door. The stench of urine and beer filled the brown tiled, three-stall bathroom.
"This place stinks. I am not staying." Ella tugged at Maddie's hand, but Maddie didn't let go.
"Listen, Ella." Maddie's grip tightened on her. "I may have done something here you're not going to like. But I've done it, and you can't back out."
The door squeaked as it swung in. Josie appeared and pinched her nose. "I forgot how the girls' bathroom in bars gets just as stinky as the boys' does." She winced as she gave Ella a once over. "Didn't Maddie tell you we were going out?"
Ella frowned. Cheerleader Josie who hadn't struggled a day in her life could kiss her ass.
"Yes, but some of us have to work, and I didn't think going to a bar meeting friends constituted getting dressed up in my Sunday best," Ella said. "We are in a restroom that smells like piss in a shitty singles cowboy bar, if you haven't noticed."
Josie huffed as if Ella insulted her personal hygiene. "It's a nice cowboy bar. And it's not just for singles anymore. The cleaning company didn't show up last night or today like they were supposed to. But they'll be here before the place gets hopping tonight."
Maddie unzipped her makeup bag. "Stop being so sensitive, Josie. Ella is just worked up because that whiney client came in for her last appointment and bitched the entire time but still made another appointment for massage a week from today." She reached into her vanity case, pulled out the essentials, and applied foundation to Ella's face.
Josie dug into the large shopping bag resting on the floor and pulled out a knee length, jean skirt with a slit up the front, right thigh and a blue, scoop-neck sweater to match Ella's eyes. "Undress. This is what you're wearing tonight."
Ella looked at the clothes. "Those will never fit."
Josie rolled her eyes. "You wear baggy clothes that make you look fat. You're not fat. You haven't been fat for the entire time I've known you. Get a clue, and start dressing like an adult who takes some pride in herself, not some poor, homeless person."
Ella swallowed down her anger. She rarely shopped anywhere other than consignment stores for herself, and Josie and Maddie knew it. She wasn't poor or homeless, but she needed her paycheck to go further into the month. Buying groceries and paying her mortgage while spending any extra money on her kids was more important than purchasing something nice and fashionable for herself. "Yeah, I'll remember that next time I'm designer shopping with you."
Maddie tilted Ella's chin down and applied eye shadow to Ella's eyes. "Josie isn't the most tactful friend I have, but you would look a lot better if you bought clothes in your size."
Josie frowned. "I speak the hard truth, Ella. You know that about me." Josie walked around Ella and tugged down Ella's khaki pants all the way to her ankles. "I shouldn't be able to do that. I didn't even have to unzip your fly. That's wrong. And I care enough about you to tell it to your face." She tapped Ella's right leg. "This has gone on too long."
Ella lifted her right leg then the other as Josie pulled off her pants.
"Good Lord, Ella. Granny panties? Really? My worst nightmare is realized." She tugged Ella's baggy panties down her legs. "You're not wearing those. Those things should be considered a felony in all fifty states. Stores should stop carrying them. I think I may just have to start some kind of campaign against those things."
Before Ella could protest, Josie scooped up the panties and threw them in the garbage.
"There." Josie shivered with disgust. "You're lucky I came prepared." She pulled up Ella's baggy, white work tee and gasped. "Had I known I was facing this, I would have called in a team for support."
Maddie finished with a swipe of powder over Ella's face as Josie pulled the shirt back down.
"You're a bitch, Josie. How's that for honest?" Ella said. "Give me my pants back. I'm leaving."
"I don't think so," Josie said. "Lift." Josie squatted down at Ella's feet with the designer panties and jean skirt ready and waiting.
Ella lifted each foot. Josie pulled up the skirt and thong like Ella was a child and unable to do it herself. Ella wiggled uncomfortably trying to adjust the panties without touching them.
"I haven't worn a thong in years," Ella confessed.
"Dang it," Josie said. "I knew you were a two, but the saleslady talked me into buying a four. She said everything runs small. Not too small for you, apparently." She zipped up the side. "Those pants were eights. What were you thinking buying something so big?"
Tears threatened the balance of fluids in her eyes. "I have three teenagers to think about. I'm not a priority right now. Buying the perfect outfit is low, really low on my list of things to do."
Josie seemed to ignore Ella's confession and the emotions behind it. Ella raised her arms as Josie won the battle of wills and lifted the white tee over her head. She plucked the matching blue bra from her bag and unsnapped Ella's bra.
"I can do that." Ella slapped Josie's hand away and removed the bra. She exchanged her bra for the pretty, new one, and Josie hooked the back together.
Maddie carefully helped Ella into the sweater, making sure she didn't mess up any makeup.
"Now that you're properly dressed ..." Josie turned Ella around to face the hazy, full-length mirror desperately in need of cleaning on the back of the door. "This is the Ella Winthrop I used to know." Josie put an arm around her and squeezed. She smiled like the beauty pageant winner she used to be.
The new outfit hugged Ella's body in all the right places. The makeup made the blue in her eyes pop. She looked younger, not young, but a little younger than her thirty-seven years. She hated to admit it, but Josie was right. She looked a lot more like a confident woman, not a shy one trying to hide underneath all the baggy clothes.
Josie pulled out the elastic band holding Ella's ponytail and brushed the dark-brown hair that tumbled down. She pulled Ella's silky locks to the side and put in a star hair clip while the rest fell softly over her shoulders and down the middle of her back.
"Mark and I have been talking with Maddie and Mike about you. Be as angry as you want at us, but between the four of us, we've got your boys for the weekend. I know they're old enough to stay alone, but we're using your twin geniuses as babysitters to keep them from chaperoning you.
"And since Garrett never came back after ... Well, Greg would want you to move on by now. One of the last things he ever said to me and Mark before he got so ... he worried you wouldn't have a life after he was gone. He wanted you to find love again. He wanted you to find a man who would be a father to his kids, someone who would love you and them like he would have if God hadn't needed him in Heaven." Josie blinked away the tears forming in her eyes.
Maddie stepped into view. The mirror framed the three friends in a picture. "Ella, we've kind of gotten together and set you up on a weekend date with someone we think you'll love or at least like. Josie packed a bag for you and gave it to the owner of this bar. He's your mystery date. He's uncomfortable with this too but he's willing to give it a try."
"Oh, no," Ella groaned. "It's a mercy date. Please tell me you didn't tell him I'm a widow with three kids."
Maddie and Josie fidgeted uncomfortably as they glanced at each other with wide eyes.
Ella slouched. "You did. And I'm wearing brown flats in this outfit that clearly calls for boots. And yes, even I think that, so don't think the guy you set me up with won't think it." She shifted onto her heels and wiggled her toes. This is going to be a disaster.
Maddie cringed and shrugged. "He won't care about your shoes, Ella. He's not shallow. We've known him since high school. He's never found the right woman."
"He owns a singles bar," Ella grumbled. "That screams player. No woman in her right mind would want to settle down with a man like that."
"Thing is," Josie said. "He's not a player. He used to be, like ten years ago, but not anymore. He wants to meet someone worth settling down with, someone to warm his nights and love him when he's had a bad day."
"He's ugly," Ella said. "He's got some kind of serious ugly thing happening. A big mole on his nose with a hair growing out? Please tell me you wouldn't do that to me?"
"I wouldn't call him ugly," Josie said. "But he's no Mark."
Right. Mr. Healthy-as-a-Horse Mark. Ella sighed. "Thanks, but I'm not spending the weekend with someone I don't know."
Josie and Maddie looked at each other like they held a secret.
Just as Ella opened her mouth to demand more answers about their harebrained scheme, Josie pushed Ella out the door and into the brick chest of a towering man of pure muscle.
Thick, muscular arms wrapped around her and caught her.
"Sorry," a deep voice she recognized from somewhere sang into the air that floated to her ears.
"It's okay," Ella whispered. "I wasn't paying attention."
She looked up into brown eyes. "Cade?"
"Ella?" Cade answered. "What are you ... Wow, you look beautiful with your hair down." His hands slid from her back to her arms in a heated caress. He stepped back and blatantly scanned her up and down. "What brings you here?"
She tried to answer, but her tongue tied in knots, and her mouth turned dry as the desert.
"Hey, Cade," Josie said. "This is the friend Maddie and I have been telling you about."
Cade's expression morphed from curiosity to irritation.
"Ella is your friend?" His eyes narrowed at Josie and Maddie. "Is this a joke?"
Maddie and Josie angled their heads to the side, gazing at each other, seemingly confused.
"No joke. Ella is my best friend," Maddie said. "How do you know each other?"
Ella closed her eyes and pursed her lips, trying to avoid the truth that hurt entirely too much. Her circumstances sucked.
"Ella has a strict policy of not dating her clients," Cade said. "I'm a client."
Once again, her professional life interfered with her personal life, not that she had much of a personal life. Turning gorgeous Cade down on a date a year ago because she needed the steady money more than she needed a date still bothered her. She really wanted to date him. Heck, she wanted to touch him in non-professional ways every time he walked through her spa door. She had to push all those wickedly sensual thoughts aside to do her job.
"Well, she's changing her policy this weekend," Josie said. "Mystery dates don't count."
"I don't know about that," Ella said. Cade was one of her best clients, and money was tight.
"I do." Josie handed Cade the shopping bag she brought to supplement the bag she packed for Ella. She pushed him, as Maddie pushed Ella, through the rustic cowboy bar and out to the parking lot.
Cade glanced over at Ella. "We can talk about your policy privately in the car."
Ella exhaled relief. "Okay." At least he understands why we can't go on a date.
Maddie reached into Cade's back pocket and took his keys. She unlocked his car, opened the passenger side door, and shoved Ella inside while Josie easily thrust Cade into the driver's seat.
"Go now." Maddie tossed the keys past Ella to Cade. "Have a great weekend, and don't bring her back until Monday night. She has to work Tuesday morning at ten."
"Don't even think about backing out," Josie warned Cade. "You promised me you'd show my friend a great time even if you didn't have any sparks. Don't break a promise to me, or you'll never hear the end of it."
Cade slid the key into the ignition and started the car. Josie closed the door on Cade's side.
"Ella, you better not back out," Maddie said. "If you come home early, I'll do something even more drastic." She slammed the door closed.
Ella gazed out the side window of the car at Maddie and Josie standing under the bright, parking-lot lights smiling and waving at her. Strapped into her seat, she threaded her fingers together in her lap as Cade drove out of Cowboy Corral's parking lot onto the main road for a weekend she was not prepared for with a man she was intensely attracted to.
"Sorry," Ella said. She watched the street lamps light up the dark night as Cade drove down the main road past the businesses getting ready to close for the night.
"You know we have to spend the weekend together, but it doesn't have to be a date," Cade said. "Although, Josie and Mark will have spies at the lake this weekend to make sure we're together and having fun."
"The lake?" she asked.
"It's a couple hours from here," he said. "It's the same lake where Josie and her husband take vacations with their kids during the summer."
"Oh." Ella nodded. She and Greg were never invited to Josie's lake house. She didn't even know Josie owned a lake house. "Do you hang out with them often?"
"No, not really. They're into things I'm not. They used to rent my guest house and bring their kids for a week or two before they bought their own last year." He exited onto the interstate and accelerated to keep up with the flow of traffic.
A dark cloud covered the pretty, shimmering glow radiating from the stars and clung to the lower half of the moon, dimming the natural illumination on the lazy, late-spring night. Over the years, she and Greg had spent evenings like this one outside cuddled up next to the fire pit he built in the backyard before cancer changed their world. The kids gathered their friends from the neighborhood and roasted marshmallows on wire hangers she had straightened out for summertime pit fires. She'd relished the title "Domestic Goddess" back in the day.
"Do you need to call your kids?" he asked. "You should give them my number at the lake house. There usually isn't much cell reception in the woods."
Stop being so perfect. "Yeah, um, thanks. I'll call them." She liked working on him because he told her exactly what he wanted. He talked a lot but quickly relaxed so she could get deep into his supple muscles and make all his tension dissolve under her hands. He never crossed any professional lines and never lingered after the appointment.
She glanced down at the floorboards and then over her shoulder at the back for her purse. Nothing. Damn. Maddie probably took it in the bathroom with no intention of giving it back. Now she was stuck with gorgeous Cade for the weekend, a man she didn't want to resist but had no other choice. Who was she kidding? If he made any move on her, she wouldn't be able to resist him for an hour let alone a weekend.
"Maddie has my purse. I hate to impose, but could I use your cell phone?"
He shifted his weight to the side as he drove and reached into his jeans pocket.
Ella's gaze locked onto the bulge in his jeans. She followed his hand as he tried to adjust the large mass obstructing the removal of his cell phone. With a little more effort and a slow shove of his cock to the right, he retrieved the cell phone from his front pocket.
She licked her lips. Her once-dry mouth was wet and ready to drool on the man she'd fantasized about every night since the day he walked into her massage room. One whole year of wicked fantasies of him as her lover. One painful choice to decline his offer for a dinner date and enforce her business policy turned into three hundred and sixty-five days of wishing she could tell him she'd love to go out with him. Screw the ethical and financial reasons not to.
Excerpted from "Ella's Triple Pleasure"
Copyright © 2017 Anna Lores.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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