There are no safe words. There is only surrender.
When Alice leapt into sexual games with her neighbors Henry and Jay, she didn’t plan to fall in love. She sure didn’t expect she’d be the switch between Henry’s commanding mastery and Jay’s submissive playfulness. But now she’s moving in with them, and she’d better figure it all out – fast. Trouble is, she’s never been a live-in girlfriend. The day after a traumatic first night at a BDSM club might not be the best time to start. Struggling to find her place within the lifestyle, Alice seeks equality in a relationship built on surrender. Learning to lean on Henry challenges the foundation of her self-worth. He’ll have to lean on her in return for their triad to find stability. But can her stoic dominant lover accept her as a confidante as well as a submissive? And will their love be enough to silence Jay’s emotional ghosts?
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Healing the Wounds
Neighborly Affection Book Three
By M.Q. Barber
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 M.Q. Barber
All rights reserved.
Alice sectioned her pancakes into a neat grid. Focusing on the spongy bounce in the stack kept her hands from trembling. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Especially when Henry served the living-together discussion as the main course.
A flip and sizzle sounded from Henry's spot at the stove. "I believe my studio might be repurposed."
"Your studio's already in the smallest room. Alice and I can share closet space. It's not like we'd sleep there anyway." Syrup dripped as Jay stopped his pancake-loaded fork halfway to his mouth and twisted around in his seat. "We won't, will we? You're not, I mean, your bedroom is—"
"Jay. Don't borrow trouble, please." Henry loaded fresh pancakes on the serving plate and turned off the burner. "I would not move Alice into my room and leave you alone."
"And I wouldn't let him if he tried." She shook her head at Jay as he swung around to face the table.
"But as Alice has a much more organized aesthetic, Jay, it might be best—"
"I can be neat and clean." Jay powered through without a hint of offense at being called a slob. Interrupting Henry right and left. Christ, he wanted this bad.
Not that she didn't, but displacing Jay from his room fell short of ideal. She refused to make moving in a panicked reaction to last night's disaster at the club.
Ouch. Henry's gentleness cut sharper than his command voice. Jay's suggestion would go down in flames.
"I can." Jay vibrated in his seat. "Put it in my contract. 'Keep bedroom to Alice's standards of cleanliness.'" His usually rich tenor bristled and cracked. "Add it. I'll initial the change."
He seemed manic this morning, and for once bereft of sexual innuendo. God knew he had plenty of material. Her sharing his bedroom, and he hadn't thrown a single suggestive remark.
Henry's expectant stare weighed on her. He didn't need her permission to alter Jay's contract, so why—she'd be acting in a dominant role. The woman who couldn't even figure out how Jay felt today.
Shoving aside her apprehension, she nodded. Serious responsibility came part and parcel with moving her relationship forward. She'd need to be consistent and set rules she could praise Jay for obeying. Make a ritual of checking the room so he knew she was paying attention to his efforts. Caring. One thing amid a sea of hundreds Henry handled. He thought that way all the time, for both of them.
Henry carried the serving plate to the table and set it between them. Taking his seat, he glanced at their plates before filling his own.
Jay stared, intent but restrained enough to refrain from asking again. She hadn't believed him capable of such impressive self-control. Although, when he wanted something enough, he always managed to surprise her.
Finally, Henry quirked one corner of his mouth in a smile. "That's a fine idea, Jay. We'll add it to your contract today."
Jay gave an exuberant shout. His fork clattered against his plate. He hopped up from his seat, rounded the table, and dragged her chair back.
Annnd there's the lack of self-control.
"You're done eating, right, Alice? We can go to our room and you can tell me what you want fixed and I'll—"
Henry's silent laughter greeted her pleading glance. She'd have to get him for that later.
"—and we can pack your stuff and I can move the boxes and—"
"I'm not done eating yet," she said, breaking into Jay's chatter.
Henry had warned her, while they lay talking late into the night and Jay slept beside them, that the new living arrangement would cause excitement.
"But I'm excited about moving in, too." And carried the teensiest terror of making a wrong decision. For Jay. For Henry. For herself. "How about if you start by, umm, dividing your clothes into piles for laundry and putting away."
He fidgeted with her chair. Henry would understand his anxiety without a prompt. Okay. Unravel Jay-threads. He needed to know she didn't blame him for his panic at the club or her public discipline. That she loved him. That she wasn't sending him off alone to punish him.
"I'll join you when I'm done with breakfast. We can work on it together all day, and by tonight—" She lacked the authority to promise her hope.
Henry tipped his head and nudged the tips of his fingers in a goon motion.
"By tonight we can all tumble into Henry's bed together."
"For good," Jay said. "No more nights apart."
"No more nights apart, Jay." Henry's decisive tone formed the firm bedrock of their relationship. "Now, I believe Alice has set you a task regarding your shared room. Perhaps you'd best get started."
"Yes, Henry." Jay pushed her chair in and swaggered into the second bedroom.
"You did very well, Alice."
"I was terrified."
"Nevertheless. You found your courage, and you gave Jay the reassurance he needed. Thank you."
Cutlery clinked in their silence. Without Jay's chatter, the hallway and its open door—the bedroom soon to be half hers—spawned a whirling tornado of questions.
She wasn't a spontaneous person. She planned. Researched. Tested. Yet she hadn't run design models before agreeing to move in. Why the fuck not?
Henry, that's why. He whispered to her as he cradled her at night, and her questions and fears crumbled like improperly cured concrete. Love, that's why. As long as she loved them and they loved her, everything else was fixable. Open to negotiation.
"You know I'll never be as obedient as he is." Loving Henry and Jay didn't blind her to reality. Henry already knew. He had to. But saying the words mattered.
Henry laid his fork and knife across his plate.
Maybe he'd give her an answer key to this new world. The first time she'd been in love.
Henry's persistent stare and slow-spreading smile gleamed with a touch of I-know-something-you-don't-know smugness.
"What? You think living with you all the time will change me?" The first time she'd lived with a lover. Two of them. One who'd dominate her at least part of the time. Fuck, she didn't do things by halves. "Make me more submissive?"
"No, Alice." Chuckling, he clasped her hand in a comforting squeeze. "It might, as change changes us all, but no. What amuses me is merely that even Jay is not so obedient as Jay."
"He's been on his best behavior? For our nights together?" If he'd been trying to impress her, she didn't know the real Jay. She didn't know weekday morning Jay. Cranky, bad-day-at-work Jay. Or what Henry was like when a burst of creativity struck. If he disappeared into his studio for days.
"You believe Jay has never defied me in front of you?" Henry raised an eyebrow.
"No, I guess he has." Hell, Jay'd defied him at their anniversary dinner, moving things forward faster than Henry had intended. The very first night. In January, too, taking advantage of the relaxed rules granted for his injury. And the night she'd safeworded. He'd begged her and Henry both to listen to him. "A lot more than I realized. But he's so easygoing. Jay-like."
"He's happiest when he has a clear task to complete and unconditional affection. He can be quite stubborn when he's unhappy, for which I give thanks." Closing his eyes, he bowed his head. "Convincing him that saying 'no' or disagreeing with me in some way would not result in the loss of my love and approval took a long while."
"While I bulldoze ahead with my own two cents." She turned her hand in his, running her fingers over his palm. His hand delivered pain and pleasure both. She hadn't feared losing Henry's love and approval before. She hadn't known they were hers to lose. But she'd worried about losing her place in his life with Jay.
Now she'd traded the periphery for the center. No, not the center. An equally blended mix, one she wouldn't know how to create and could never replicate. Corinthian bronze. Gold, silver, and copper alloyed into a form beautiful and precious. Yes, now she had something valuable to lose.
"You know your own mind very well, dearest." He closed his hand, capturing her fingers and stilling their motion. "I don't expect that will change. You'll challenge me more often than he will. That, too, is a joy. You each complement the other in my heart, Alice."
"You're not expecting complete obedience from me? Even though we'll be living together?" A recipe for resentment and hurt feelings if Jay had to answer to Henry and she didn't. "Is that fair to him?"
"The question here is what's fair to you. Submission gives Jay a sense of security. It is not a burden to him. Its weight on him does not grow heavier if your share is lighter." Henry shook his head. "We'll find a proper balance, whether that requires continued restriction of the hours in which you answer to me or some other method. So long as I have you both with me and happy, the rest is a matter of fine-tuning details. We'll adjust as needed."
"We're going to memorize a table of on-and-off hours like a bus schedule?" A color-coded timetable on the fridge. Right beside the star sticker chart she'd never made for all the sex acts she successfully tried with Henry and Jay. A snicker slipped out.
Henry's lips twitched. "If you'd prefer to expand your submission into something more akin to Jay's, though perhaps with less oversight outside the home, I've no objection. It's certainly something we may try. In that case, your safeword would take on a greater role. If you became uncomfortable with something—at any time, not only during a stated game—your safeword would instantly indicate such to me."
"Even when we aren't playing?"
"Even then. We would, in essence, always be playing. The games simply wouldn't always have the sexual emphasis to which you're accustomed." He released her hand and gestured at the table. "If, for instance, I asked you to gather the dishes now, you might playfully protest. If you persisted, I might suspect you wanted to be commanded to do so or wished for more of my attention. But if you meant your protests in earnest and it seemed I had not recognized it, using your safeword would reset the conversation and our roles within it."
"But I don't have a problem clearing the table." Henry cooked nearly every meal they ate. If she and Jay helped under his guidance, they fulfilled a necessary function. Contributing as equals according to their skill sets was sense, not submission.
"My hope is that I will not ask something of you that you cannot give, dearest. But you may at some point have a conflict of which I'm unaware. Be unable to take care of the breakfast dishes because you must rush to work for an early meeting, perhaps. Or you may have bruised your arm on the subway ride home and prefer not to carry the supper dishes." He raised a finger. "In which case, I'll examine the injury before we play games of any sort. But the point remains. Your safeword will indicate to me the serious and sincere nature of your objection."
A safety valve. If the pressure of submission overloaded her tolerances, he'd adjust the flow rate to compensate and leave her the option to yank the emergency brake. "I'll keep alert for those T riders throwing elbows. I'd hate to miss out on a game with fun rewards because some jerk muscled past me during rush hour."
The hint of a smile accompanied his elegant shrug. "The real world must take precedence over my own control, Alice. Even when I have you firmly in my dastardly clutches every day."
She imagined him twirling a cartoon mustache, ridiculously oversize and sinister, as he tied her to a set of railroad tracks. Well. Maybe not railroad tracks. Maybe his nice big bed. "Got it. Good thing I don't like to eat pistachios. I'd hate for there to be any confusion."
"Shall we try it, then, my sweet girl? When you're in the apartment, you'll answer to me as Jay does, with the exception of the second bedroom, which will have its own rules."
A trial run. Fuck if she'd turn down a new adventure. "I'd like that. You want me to clear the dishes?"
"No, I'll clear today. If you've finished eating, I'd like you to come here and give me a kiss before you go and reassure Jay of the value of his labor."
She was up in an instant. "That I can do."
Henry kissed her, tender but brief. "Go on and make him work for it, then. The more instructions you give him—"
"The more I can praise him for following them to the letter."
"You see? No need for terror. You've thoroughly grasped the concept."
"Time to implement it." She preferred implementation over theory anyway. Moving in with her lovers. Practicing a larger submissive role with one and learning to take a dominant role with the other. What grander experiment could there be?
Alice's studio apartment almost matched the pristine whiteness of the day she'd moved in. Not much left. Not much to start with.
Fresh from hauling the vanity across the hall, Jay zipped through the door and thrust his arms out in front of her. "Load me up."
She hefted one of the waiting drawers. "You want 'em all now?"
"Do I ever." He rocked and sprang like a sweet, demented jack-in-the-box. "Gimme everything you got."
She laid the first drawer across his arms. Every one of Henry's handwritten notes to her snuggled beneath her PJs. "No peeking, stud."
Bras in the second drawer. "A girl's gotta keep some secrets."
Panties in the third, stacked beneath his chin. God, he'd get great mileage out of that.
"I'm trusting your discretion, here." As if he hadn't seen her in—and out of—more than half the dainty delicates safe in his arms. She flashed him her best winning smile and waited for the joke.
Blank-faced and blinking, he stumbled half a step back, caught himself, and zoomed toward the door. He nearly took out Henry coming the other way before he danced sideways and disappeared.
"Hey." She waved at Henry.
At least he smiled back. No unexpected dodging there.
A scant two boxes of dishes and cookware had gone downstairs with one of towels and bed linens and another of assorted odds and ends. Clutter. The sort of thing Henry wouldn't appreciate in his apartment. Their apartment.
Her new home.
She'd spent almost two years in this apartment. Despite the thrill of having her own place, she'd never made the space hers the way Henry's apartment breathed beauty and elegance. Offered warmth and comfort.
Mmm. She'd awakened this morning wrapped in the circle of his arm, opened one eye, and gazed across his chest at the mop of shaggy black hair burrowed against his other side. Comfort for sure.
"Second thoughts, my dear?" Henry stepped beside her and rested a hand on her back. "This is not an insignificant thing you're doing."
Not insignificant, no, but not unwelcome. If moving in turned out to be a mistake, she'd learn from it and plan accordingly next time. Except there wouldn't be a next time, because she'd make this work. "Not second thoughts."
She sagged into his side, and he shifted to cradle her. He understood how big a step she was taking today. A leap. A huge fucking leap. But she'd taken one last night telling him she loved him. And he'd caught her with a declaration of love in return.
"Excitement. Trepidation, a little." She nudged his shoulder. "And a big pinch of 'Wow, Jay works fast.'"
Henry chuckled and bestowed a light kiss on her hair. "He does at that. My eager boy."
"Somebody call for me? Are we giving out hugs?" Jay swarmed them, darting in front and throwing his arms wide. "The more the merrier, right?"
"Absolutely." She planted a loud kiss on his cheek. "We're admiring your work ethic while we stand around and slack."
Jay squeezed them hard and stepped back. "Gives me more chances to flex my muscles." He posed weightlifter-style, which emphasized his lean cyclist's body.
She tickled his ribs.
He yelped. "Flag on the play."
"Do they have flags in weightlifting?" She pulled her hands back.
"I think the rib tickle is a legal move." They swung their heads toward Henry. "Ruling from the ref?"
Henry dragged his fingers up her ribs.
Senses alerted, muscles tensed, she slid a hand across his chest, fully prepared for a counter-tickling campaign.
But he flattened his hand and delivered a firm stroke. "Tickling, my dears, is enjoyable in small doses. Beneficial in some cases."
The feathers. Somewhere in Henry's special dresser lived the feathers he'd teased her with on the night she'd discovered the joys of flogging. An arousing night made more so by the faint tickle of the feathers between each new sensation.
The sound crashed in her head, and it wasn't the paddle or the crop or the flogger. It was Henry's hand landing on her ass last night. Whispers and laughter and that fucking bastard Cal shoving his dick in her face. She sidestepped. A tiny shift. Nothing suspicious. Nothing calling attention to the narrow sliver of space she'd put between herself and Henry.
"But perhaps now is not the best time for play. If you wish to shower before supper, you'll need to finish up soon." Henry inhaled with ostentatious exaggeration. "And I do suggest a shower when you've finished moving furniture and carrying boxes, delightful as your musk may be."
"I always knew I was delightful." Jay sniffed under his arms. "You think we can bottle me and make a fortune?" He crowded forward, arms up, ducking his head and catching her eyes. "What do you think, Alice? Am I delightful?"
Excerpted from Healing the Wounds 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
This is, by far, my favorite series dealing with a non-traditional relationship (MMF). Henry is strong, yet vulnerable. Jay is hot and while he appears initially to be weak, he is anything but and he is the glue that holds them together. Yes, he is my fave. Alice is Alice. Spunky and unsure of herself and her role/place with them, but willing to go all in showing her bravery. After the scary, for that was what it was, first time at Henry's BDSM club in book two, old wounds are opened and new wounds surface. Watching each of the relationships develop deeper bonds is what makes this series stand above all of the others. This is not all about the heat, although there is a ton of that to be sure. It is about their connections to one another and Alice as she learns more about who she is and what she wants. If you like MMF with intelligence, heat, honest connections, and love this series is for you. If you are a fan of the previous books, one click this bad boy now. If you have not read this series yet, I strongly suggest starting with book one. You might as well one click all three because you will want to read them all in a row.
Really like this series - book was too short! These characters are so easy to get into and it's not just about the sex, it's about their lives together and how they deal with learning to live with each other. Can not wait for the next in the series. Hopefully the editor will not make this author stick to the short books anymore but explore the full potential of these characters.
I loved it so much, I read it in one day! It was hard to put down when I just needed to know what would happen next. These characters fascinated me from the very first book. And the sex scenes? Well, yeah, they're hot, but I like how it's more than just sex. I look forward to reading more in this series. I'm one hooked reader!
Healing The Wounds is the third book in M.Q. Barber’s erotic BDSM ménage romance series. Henry is a Dom, and Jay and Alice are the submissives in this triad relationship. As in the first two books, Alice guides us through her journey as she takes the final step and moves in with the two men she loves. When these three get together, expect the heat to build, the sparks to fly and emotions to become entangled. Alice becomes a live-in-girlfriend, and she makes mistakes but learns to lean on Henry. She discovers surrendering isn’t necessarily about giving up her self-worth, but becoming more confident in those she’s chosen to love. The characters in this story are wonderfully believable. Henry is strong but giving. Jay is sweetly enthusiastic, and Alice has come right out of her shell and now embraces her sexual side. This is an incredibly engaging read from beginning to end, filled with both mastery and playfulness. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Alice and Jay have time out together kayaking, and then again as they come face-to-face with their past in the BDSM club. If you enjoy reading erotic romance with a cast of three, then expect plenty of passion, some heart-breaking moments, and the sheer brilliance of the author to encapsulate it all. Also if you’re reading this review, please grab the first two books in this series and start with them first. You’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t follow Alice’s journey through from the very beginning. Enjoy. Enjoy.
I seldom offer recommendations on the books I read; however the Neighborly Affection trilogy is outstanding. I was immediately captured by the bond between Jay, Alice and Henry, entranced by their differing personalities and my soul was forever bound to their story (this rarely happens). M.Q. Barber has a spectacular gift for bringing her characters to "life" and I could only wish that Henry, Alice and Jay were my true neighbors. I am profoundly thankful that my introduction to Ms. Barber's books was this trilogy. I would like to: see at least one more installment to this series for a better "closure". I would like to: 1) "watch" Jay's struggles to overcome his fears, 2) experience Henry's deeper emotional development with Alice, 3) follow Alice as she overcomes her insecurities and learns during her pregnancy what an astonishing person she has become thanks to "Her Boys" 4) witness Henry's retribution against Cal and 5) develop a successful Dom/Sub (and romantic) relationship between William and Emma. To end on a happier note (yes I am truly a romantic and believe in fairy tale endings) I would love to see Henry provide an elegant collaring ceremony (at the club) for Jay and Alice upon the birth of his child to celebrate their "New Beginning". My final comment is that this series is not your usual menage page turner and I appreciated the manner in which Ms. Barber educated me in some of the basics of the BDSM life style. Thank you Ms. B. I look forward to reading more of your books--I hope they will be just as satisfying.
Loved the story! The characters are wonderful and have developed beautifully! I hope this isn't the last we'll see of them. Maybe just a little revenge for that dreadful character?
Chuck fuction instead of chick fiction is right this is a very old and unreadable twinkie stale
Henry is more a father then a man, Jay turns into a child and Alice turns into a robot. Jay is an owner of a business but is described as a puppy most of the time-impulsive without the abiliy to pee on his own nor think on his own. Alice becomes some sorta robot with zero will of her own and her inability to think for herself is disturbing. Henry controls every asprct of their lives and speaks to them as a father would a child "my boy" and "sweet girl". I enjoyed the first two books very much but thus third one was disturbing. I lost all respect for Henry and Alice and hoped that Jay would leave them to find himself a loving and nonmanipulative relationship. I was very disappointed at the changes in the characters.
This series touches on all kinds of emotions in this clearly not the "norm" in relationships acceptable by society. I found these stories very sexy and realistic and possible. I am hoping there will be more for these characters soon.
Love this series would like to see one more to see how they end up
Loved this. Alice is so lucky. Want more.
The continuation of this series lives up to the previous books. The depth and feeling that the characters show makes them very real feeling and lovable. I can't wait to see where M.Q. Barber takes them during their healing and growth as a triad and as individuals.
Liked it. Hopibg to read on.