PR exec Natalie Lindgren is all business…until it comes to dealing with her craving for sexual submission. Two years ago, she walked away from the lifestyle—and her Dom, Javier. Now she’s back at his luxury guest ranch, not as his sub, but as a member of her sister’s wedding party.
But Javier’s not her only problem. Her ex, Ryan—who she left because his ideas to kink up their sex life veered too closely to Natalie’s former lifestyle—is the best man.
She’d thought she could resist the two dominant men, but with one touch Natalie is back under Javier’s influence, and one whisper has her aching for Ryan’s fingers tight around her wrist. How is she going to get through the weekend? Especially once the two of them join forces to remind her exactly what she’s been missing…
Each book in the To Have and to Hold series is STANDALONE:
* Hold Me Harder
* Don’t Hold Back
About the Author
Renee Dominick is a lifelong resident of the US Pacific Northwest who got bitten by the travel bug at a young age. Now, whether it’s the energy of a big city, the thrill of Whistler Mountain moguls, the ancient streets of Pompeii, or the peace and quiet of stroll along a forest trail, Renee’s sexy romances are all inspired by her travels, near and far. When she’s home in Seattle, she’s always on the lookout for off-beat movies, reading, or working in the garden, ably assisted by their two terriers. Her husband, who doesn’t much care for yard work, is always ready with a back rub and a glass of chardonnay.
Visit her website at ReneeDominick.com, and find her on Twitter @Renee_Dominick.
Read an Excerpt
The chain of emails stacked up on Natalie's phone. As fast as her finger flicked across the screen, she couldn't out-scroll the incoming shit hitting the proverbial fan. It was not a good day to be out of the office, but her little sister, Chloe, had insisted on this wedding-party bonding weekend, as if they could all just drop their jobs and their lives and come to middle-of-effing-nowhere Idaho for three days. Worse, the best man — Natalie's ex, Ryan — had managed to squeeze into her limo at the last moment. She caught him watching her more than once, his vivid blue gaze palpable and almost unbearably heavy. It had been weeks since she'd kicked him out of the condo they'd been sharing and she hadn't spoken more than a few words to him since.
When the limo's tires changed from humming across asphalt to crunching over gravel, Natalie muttered a profanity-enhanced sigh of relief.
Her twin brother leaned across her to gawk out the window as they passed the ranch's largest corrals. When their family had vacationed here eight years ago, Rob, the one horse-mad family member, had missed it because of his job.
"Told you," Natalie said, without looking outside. Having been here scores of times, she knew exactly how impressive it all was.
"There's telling me, and then there's seeing for myself." Rob sat back after they passed the barn. "I'd rather have spent the summer here than tutoring athletes in a classroom that smelled like week-old gym socks."
Natalie gave him a sidelong glance. "You say that, but you haven't met Javier," she muttered.
"I'm sure he's no worse than any other horse wrangler," he replied.
"Right." The limo stopped and she looked out the window. The first sight of Javier's lodge never failed to wow her. Gigantic timbers, round and raw, framed a two-story entrance over a sprawling log building. Along the front, a wide, inviting porch extended its full length. Natalie had always thought of it as a Wild West castle made of lodgepole pine. Smaller cabins nestled on the forested hillside behind the main lodge, although the word "cabin" was inadequate. Each was a luxurious little nest.
Here was the scene of her sexual awakening, and Javier, the man responsible, was out there somewhere among the horses. Her eyes darted between the corrals where the Paints and Appaloosas lazed in the afternoon heat, then to the largest of the stables. Odds were, that's where he'd be. Inside, with his sleek Andalusians. She hoped she'd have time to settle in and get over her jitters before she had to face him again after more than a year apart.
Natalie blew out a long breath. A weekend in the presence of two ex-lovers. No wonder she was as nervous as a cat.
The others in her car spilled out like puppies, joining the crowd from the first limo. Most of the bridesmaids had coordinated their attire like the recent sorority refugees they were, dressing in western-style shirts tied at the waist, cowboy boots, tight jeans, and straw cowgirl hats. Natalie, on the other hand, had spent her morning at work. She arrived in a gray pin-striped skirt, silk shirt, and high-heeled pumps just barely on the businesslike end of the scale.
The third limo pulled up just as Natalie was stepping out, and the other girls raised a cloud of dust as they danced over to welcome the bride and groom to be.
"Yee-HAW!" Chloe shouted, waving her hat overhead as she emerged from her limo, with Dave, her impending husband, right behind. He grabbed her hips and they gyrated together, a grinding Texas two-step.
Natalie rolled her eyes and leaned against the side of the limo while the driver unloaded the suitcases, her finger scrolling the message queue, the phone vibrating nonstop in her hand. Her boss thrived on getting the masses riled, and not one of her idiot coworkers could resist the reply all button. She had the sudden urge to shove the phone into her panties and let it do some actual good. The idea brought a smile to her lips. Sorry, boss, I couldn't respond. The phone was otherwise engaged.
"What's so funny?"
Ryan stood too close for comfort. She frowned at him. "Nothing."
He tugged on her tote bag. "Lime green? Taking a walk on the wild side, Nat?" He tilted his head at an oblique angle, his crooked, disarming smile inviting her to smile back. Before, she would have. Not today.
"Yes, that's what me carrying a lime green bag means," she said, dropping her phone inside it.
His smile faded and he shook his head. "C'mon, Nat. We're going to be in each other's company a lot this weekend. Can't we —?"
"Not if I can help it," she said, cutting him off and pretending to look for something else in her bag.
"It's been a month." He pushed back an errant lock of hair that had fallen across his face, his long, elegant fingers forking through the sable strands. "Don't you think we should eventually talk?"
Natalie pressed her lips together. She didn't want him trying to penetrate her thoughts, probing for weak spots. There'd been nothing actually wrong between them when she'd run; in fact, their relationship had been adventurous and full of laughs until his taste for sexual adventure trod too close to the lifestyle she'd lived with Javier, the one she'd left here at the ranch. He'd crossed a line she hadn't told him existed, and she'd panicked.
The limo driver dropped her overstuffed Louis Vuitton suitcase on the ground, and Ryan reached for its handle at the same time she did, his fingers brushing hers. "Let me help you."
"I got it," she said, her molars clenched. She didn't want to walk beside him, didn't want him to push her to talk, didn't want him to make her regret. The phone buzzed inside her bag. She grabbed the handle of her suitcase and jerked it away. "I have to go deal with the office."
She turned away from the disappointment in Ryan's gaze, and cursed her heart for breaking just a little more.
The suitcase weighed a ridiculous amount for a weekend getaway, and its inadequate wheels threatened to fly off as she bumped and jostled it over the uneven ground. Between it and her need to tiptoe across the gravel path in stiletto heels, Natalie made slow progress. She was grateful when several of the ranch's young, cowboy-attired employees burst through the front doors of the lodge and fanned out among the arriving guests, greeting them and helping with the luggage. A calloused thumb brushed across the underside of her wrist as someone reached for her bag.
"Natalie," Javier said, his quiet greeting catching her off guard. "I've missed you, amorcita."
Damn. His heavy Andalusian accent, warm as the land from which he hailed, twined with the lingering brush of his thumb, and together they welcomed her back. Javier didn't smile when she looked up at him — he'd always been circumspect in the presence of her family — but affection was there in his eyes. He'd changed little since she'd last seen him. His hair remained defiantly dark, as if not even one strand of silver dared appear, his olive-colored eyes, framed by curling black lashes and severe brows, still pierced, and his skin would forever be burnished bronze by hours outdoors.
"I would have said you'd be the next to last person I'd see here again," he teased.
"Yes, well, my mother wasn't invited this weekend." It was an old joke between them. A dude ranch — even a luxury one — had not been her mother's idea of a real vacation. She'd hated it. Vocally.
It hadn't really been Natalie's ideal trip, either, but she had distracted herself by flitting between the young cowhands, until Javier — ten years older than her and miles further on in worldliness — had ejected her from his barns for the duration of their stay. Outside in the corrals, he'd looked down his crooked patrician nose and waved her off with undisguised superiority ... and drew her to him like a bee to lavender. She'd fallen at his feet, and he'd introduced her to the world of sensual dominance.
"Obviously, I didn't expect to be back, but I wasn't about to disappoint Chloe," Natalie said, her smile barely a twitch.
"And this has you distressed."
Her gaze slid away from his all-too-observant one. "It's a bad day to be out of the office." Natalie shrugged to mask her unease. "And it's not easy for me to be here. You know that."
Javier scanned the bridal party, nineteen of them stretched out along the path from the front steps of the lodge to the limousines. His gaze sharpened when his survey swept past her shoulder. "Ah, so this is your Ryan," he said. "You're right. You chose the corporate version of me."
Though Natalie had been determined to stay away from Javier once she turned her back on life as a submissive, their long history made a clean break all but impossible. They kept in touch via the occasional email or phone call.
"He's nothing like you." Notwithstanding the dark hair, broad shoulders, and self-assured manner. Other than that, they weren't alike at all.
Javier clicked his tongue, but the tilt of his brows gave away his amusement. "You're being very hard on him. Are we to inflict some payback this weekend?"
"It wasn't my intention, no," Natalie said, though in the end her intentions wouldn't matter. Javier knew she had run from Ryan and why. Her first distressed phone call had been to him. If he wanted to inflict payback, he would. Still, she said, "I've been successfully ignoring him."
"He's not going to allow it. You know this, right?"
"Allow what, being ignored? He doesn't have a say in it."
Javier gave her an exasperated look, then collapsed the handle of her suitcase and hoisted it onto his shoulder in one smooth movement. "We shall see." He took off at a sedate walk, as if hauling forty bulky pounds on his shoulder was nothing. Which, she supposed, it wasn't, when he could carry a newborn foal or a recalcitrant calf with the same casual ease.
Natalie watched him stride away, as affected by him as she'd been from day one. His backside, encased in jeans so well-worn they molded his shape like a second skin, made her fingers itch to caress the familiar curve of it. She ran her gaze up to his shoulders and over his taut forearms, on full display below the rolled-up cuffs of his shirt. He'd never lacked for physical beauty, but it was his quiet, steady dominance that had attracted her from the start.
As if he felt her looking, he turned back, a shallow cleft between his brows. "Are you coming?"
She hoisted her tote bag onto her shoulder, and the weight of it dragged her blouse askew, exposing the curve of her breast.
Javier's gaze dipped and then rose back to her face, his eyelids lowering as a flash of disappointment crossed his features. Anyone bothering to look would see nothing, but she knew better. He had always insisted she dress with decorum, disapproved of revealing attire — except, of course, when he had decreed it, and it was usually for his eyes only.
Natalie flushed, and her fingers tingled with the sudden influx of blood. She raised a shaky hand and drew the silk back into place. She wasn't his anymore, but his expression implied repercussions nonetheless.
He nodded his approval and turned to make his way to the lodge.
The breath she released was as unsteady as her hand had been. She had left Javier when she could no longer reconcile the two sides of herself: the alpha professional, to whom others looked for guidance and leadership, and the sexual submissive, to whom it sometimes felt that this man had become more necessary than air. Now, two minutes in his presence and it was as if she'd made no choice at all. This had been her fear in coming back, this feeling of being exactly where she belonged.
Ryan drew abreast of her, his speculative gaze moving between her and her retreating suitcase. "So, this is the cowboy."
Natalie scowled at him. Ryan knew she'd had a prior relationship with a rancher, but she wasn't about to confirm his guess.
"Intense guy." He jerked his head toward the lodge. "So, Natalie? Are you coming?" The astute look he gave her spelled trouble. He didn't wait for her answer, just strolled toward the front door, one hand in his pocket, the other towing his black leather carry-on bag behind him.
She tiptoed the final few yards to the front steps of the lodge on unsteady legs. In the lobby, neither her suitcase nor Javier was in sight.
Natalie had chosen to stay in the main lodge rather than share one of the cabins with her sister's friends. When she gave her name at the front desk, the cheery young receptionist handed her a card key and informed her that her bag had already been delivered to her room.
The warm smell of sage welcomed her into the luxury suite, its king-size bed lush with bolsters, pillows, and a down comforter encased in crisp white linens. A brown velveteen chaise sat at an angle next to a picture window, full-length to take advantage of the view of the barns and corrals, and beyond that, the scrubby, pine-covered hills cradling Lake Pend Oreille. Next to the chaise, on a small, round table, sat an enormous bouquet of peonies so deep red they were almost black, sprigs of hibiscus, and stems of fragrant rosemary. Dark and sensual, just like the man who'd gifted them.
She wanted more than anything to sprawl onto the chaise and relax in the sumptuous room. Instead, she set up her laptop and plugged in her overburdened phone to charge. When she found herself staring outside again, she yanked the sheer inner-curtains closed, to at least obscure her view. No time for daydreaming. If she didn't make an appearance on the email chain soon, her boss would pop an artery. Based on her phone-scrolling, this marketing miscue wasn't great, but it wasn't earthshaking — or time-critical — either. It was three a.m. in Shanghai. Since she'd become the company's unofficial crisis manager, she'd had to learn to separate incidents into DEFCON categories, and this one was a low-two, max.
While the computer booted up, she went to her suitcase, kicked off her shoes, and tossed the contents of the bag, looking for more comfortable clothes. Three quiet beeps from the card key mechanism caught her ear. Only one other person would access her room. She turned her head as the door handle lowered.
"Dios mio," Javier said, striding inside, the door closing behind him with a solid click. He took hold of her hips from behind and pulled her against him, his lips and teeth sweeping down her neck, marking her, claiming her as he'd always done. He wrapped her in familiar scents: ponderosa pine and horse and the tang of the tobacco sticks he chewed while he rode, at once piquant and musky. "I wondered if I would ever get to lay my hands on you again."
She relaxed against him and reached back to slip her hands into his rear pockets.
"How easily she settles back into her native state," he murmured, his lips against her temple.
"Old habits," Natalie said with a quiet laugh.
"It feels good to have you here, cariño." His palms drew over the contours of her breasts, down her belly, and out to the sides of her hips.
Even through layers of clothing, her body came alive, her nerves crackling and desperate for a more intimate touch. Skin to skin. The hundreds of days since they'd last been together trailed away like so much dandelion fluff.
"Now tell me the truth," he said, propping his chin on her shoulder. "How have you been?"
She turned in his arms. "I'm fine," she said, touching her finger to one of the grooves bracketing his mouth and tracing it down to his beard. "You look like an austere Spanish gentleman again." The last time she had come to the ranch, he had just returned from a month-long cattle drive with his whiskers a brillo of unruly tufts that reached for his cheekbones. Now it was trimmed close, its outline sharp.
He brought her fingers to his mouth and bit down on the tips. "He isn't done with you, your Ryan."
Natalie didn't want to discuss Ryan, but she knew Javier wouldn't drop it unless he was satisfied with her answers. She kissed his chin. "He had his chance."
"That isn't what I mean, cariño. He wants you. Like this." Javier ran his hands over her bottom. "To be his pequeña. His little one."
Natalie shook her head. "He's not —"
Javier put his thumb across her lips. "He is, and he knows what you are. Inside. What you could be with him. Why do you think he brought a submissive to you, if not to invite you to explore?"
She stilled and looked up. "What do you know of him, Javier?"
"What I see with my own eyes, cariño."
Excerpted from "Hold Me Harder"
Copyright © 2017 Renee Dominick.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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