Returning home to help out with his brother’s dude ranch is cool with Ethan. After all, he’s as comfortable in the saddle as he is roping a calf. But what’s really jangling his spurs is a chance to indulge his kink in the ranch’s monthly Giddyup event. Did someone say suspension bondage? Yee-Haw!
When Victoria realizes her family’s number one goal in sending her to college is to get her hitched to a husband, she drops out one semester shy of graduation. But paying her own way turns out to be the hardest lesson of all. Thankfully she’s found her way to the Hilltop Ranch. A place to get away and refocus. And get herself all tied up . . .
Sure, Ethan’s pretty handy with that length of rope. But it turns out the expensive design school wasn’t a total waste for Victoria. Bringing an “academic” approach to their play—and Ethan’s hobby—is opening up new possibilities. Like maybe the chemistry between them is something more than a game . . .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Giddyup Novel
By Delphine Dryden
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Delphine Dryden
All rights reserved.
"While you're down there, why don't you do me a favor?"
Part of her still wanted to believe it had been a joke. A horrible joke.
Four inches of iced-over snow lined the sidewalk in downtown Providence, and a thicker, grubbier bank of the stuff marked the edges of the street where the plows had come through earlier. Victoria had grabbed her coat and bag but not her galoshes when she fled the coffee shop, and the chill had numbed her toes through her Chucks before she reached the next block. She ignored it and pulled her hood tighter against the still-falling flakes, pressing toward home as quickly as she could manage on the slippery, frozen path down the sidewalk's center.
She probably should have seen it coming. The wary, weary looks the other female barista sometimes gave her. The fact that there was only one other female employee on the roster to begin with. But Larry hadn't seemed like a creeper when he hired her. Friendly, sure, and kind of a toucher, but never overtly leering or even flirtatious. He was married, too; his wife and kids came into the shop all the time.
The job at the coffee shop had been a lifesaver for Victoria. Five weeks earlier, she'd been at a total loss for how she would make her rent another month without wiping out her savings. But a week ago she'd used her first paycheck to open a new bank account and allowed herself a moment of hope that things were turning around. True, the job only paid a few hundred a week, but it was something. And her landlord had been incredibly kind in letting her out of her lease early for a song — probably because the place was spotless, and he meant to jack up the price for the next tenant, but that wasn't Victoria's problem. A friend from RISD had a tiny, furnished guest room she could rent for a price she could afford on her new budget, and she was already packed and ready to move.
Baby steps toward independence, but at least she was finally learning to walk. On her own, declining all further support from the family that had never believed in her.
She had needed that job. But apparently it came with some requirements Larry hadn't mentioned in the interview.
"I ... don't think that joke is really work-appropriate, Larry. Ha-ha. Anyway, my drawer is even. Yay ..."
"Why would you think I was joking?"
Victoria kicked snow off the frozen tops of her sneakers and thought about her innocent woot a few seconds before it all happened, when she'd finally counted out her drawer correctly on the first try. She'd only been on the register a few weeks, and with no retail experience, it was all new to her. Figuring out the balancing procedure was a small victory. But when she'd knelt to slide the drawer into the lockbox in the office, Larry had chuckled and swiveled his chair toward her. Spread his legs. Started talking. She'd still been laughing nervously when he ran his hand down over his crotch, adjusting himself so she could see he was half-hard.
The affable smile never left his face and that had been creepy. "You gotta be realistic, Vicky. You're a crappy barista, but I knew when I hired you those lips would look fantastic around my dick. And if you want to keep the job, that's exactly where you'll put 'em, Miss Woodcock. You do want to keep the job, don't you?" He'd wrapped his other hand around her wrist, pulling her hand toward his crotch, and she'd jerked away so hard she'd almost fallen over before recovering her balance.
"Don't call me Vicky." Why that had been the first thing out of her mouth, she had no idea. Maybe because only her dad had kept calling her that after elementary school.
She stopped walking as a body-shuddering wave of nausea swamped her, a dizzy rush just like she'd felt as she wobbled to her feet in the office and edged toward the employee lockers along the wall by the door. Her fingers had been shaking so badly she'd fumbled the latch the first time, then dropped her bag as she pulled it from its hook.
"You walk out of here, you're gonna lose your chance. Don't be stupid. We both know you need the money. How do you think Pamela made shift lead anyway?"
Swallowing the bile in her throat, she'd pulled the office door open and tried to speak. A squeak had come out, and Larry had laughed, shaking his head as she cleared her throat and started again. Loud enough so that Pamela and Andre and Jameson could all hear her. "I do need the money. But I am not going near your dick to get it. And I quit."
She didn't stop to watch the other employees' reactions — or those of any customers who might have overheard. Didn't care. She'd made a beeline for the door, passing Pamela, who was ripping off her own apron and shouting at Larry, "You swore you were leaving your wife for me, you two-timing piece of shit!"
Victoria had stumbled into the street and kept on going until the shaking and light-headedness finally overtook her halfway home.
She had twelve hundred dollars in the bank, five hundred of which she still owed her landlord for breaking the lease. She'd already sold most of her stuff that had any value — her furniture, her desktop computer, her television, most of the clothes and shoes her mother had insisted on buying her but that Victoria never wore. What she had left could fit into her car, if she abandoned her fabric samples. She had her cell phone, which she had decided to use through the end of the month, because it had been paid for before she'd realized it was on the list of expenses her parents had been covering. Ditto her car insurance. Her parents still didn't know exactly what was going on, and in the meantime, Victoria had taken the opportunity to figure out all the various ways they'd been pumping money into her life. Extrication took time. And she'd counted on her new income source to ease the way. The barista job had been the first step on her path to independence, or at least to a time at which she could reassess her priorities and figure out a new route to her eventual goal of working as a textile designer.
Her phone buzzed and she reached for it by habit, hitching up her parka and digging icy, gloveless fingers into her back jeans pocket.
Slushy snowflakes fell on the screen, obscuring her mother's picture and the green and red circles below. Reject or Accept? She'd been ignoring her mother for weeks, putting her off with vague emails and texts. But at that moment she wanted to hear her mom's voice. Even if it wasn't to tell her everything was going to be okay, because Victoria was pretty sure she was on a fast downhill slope from okay and hadn't hit bottom yet. She had to flick the snow away and tap the green button twice before putting the phone to her ear.
"Honey, thank God you answered. We've been so worried. What is going on? And don't you try to tell me it's a mix-up at the bursar's office again. Most of your first tuition payment came back to our bank this morning; they reversed the autopay. We've called them and they've shown us the accounts and it was all very clear. You withdrew."
It had to come out eventually. She took a deep breath, her lungs aching with the cold. "Yes."
"But Victoria, you only have one semester left. Whatever's happening, it can't be so bad that you have to drop out of college a few months before you — oh, no." Her mother gasped. "You're not pregnant, are you? Tell me you're —"
Oh, dear God. "Mom."
"I mean, Ruth Bland's daughter Jessie got through it, I know it happens, but I never thought you'd be the type to —"
"Mom. I am not pregnant. Okay?" A couple passing on the sidewalk glanced at her, then quickly looked away. Jesus H. Christ. "I am not pregnant. I am not on drugs. I haven't joined a cult. I'm fine." That last part was a lie, but at least the rest was true.
She hadn't been fine since Christmas vacation, and she wished for the thousandth time she'd stayed in Providence for the holiday this year instead of going home to Dallas.
The phone was silent long enough Victoria wondered if the call had dropped; then her mother finally spoke again, voice trembling. "I just want to make sure you're all right, sweetheart. I'll book the next flight I can get."
If she hadn't gone home, she'd never have been in the hallway checking the mail, never overheard her father on the phone in his study, arranging a golf date and then apparently commiserating with his good ol' boy buddy about the cost of daughters.
"... might break me on the wedding itself, but my liquidity'll free up quite a bit when that girl finally lands a husband like we figured she would when we let her go all the way to Rhode Island for that damn art school. It's right next to Brown. It shouldn't be that hard to find a man there. Swear to God, she's a black hole where my money disappears, and I have no idea what it all goes for. Bless her heart, I don't think she knows we expected her to be banking on her looks all this time." And then he'd made the golf date and hung up. Victoria had tiptoed up the stairs and sat on her bed in shock until dinnertime, barely able to process what she'd just heard.
The shock had lasted all the way back to Providence, when she'd found herself veering away from her first scheduled class of the new term and heading for the registrar's office instead. After withdrawing, she'd cut up the bank card for the account her parents paid into. Then she'd wandered for blocks to find a coffee shop that wasn't entirely full of students. She'd seen the "Now Hiring" sign, and an hour later she had a paying job for the first time in her life. And no plan for what happened next.
It had taken her a few weeks to figure out how little she knew about how to live self-sufficiently on her own. By that time it was too late to change her mind and reenroll for spring term, even if she'd wanted to. She hadn't, though.
"Mom." Victoria jerked her head in an effort to clear it. "You don't need to come out here. I'm really fine. Just taking time to work some things out."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Victoria. It's obvious something's going on and you aren't thinking straight. You need some help. I'm already making arrangements for a flight."
And that, that right there, was the problem. Always had been really. They never assumed she could think for herself. They just ... did it for her. And she was done letting that happen. "Well, you should cancel those plans." She held up her face, letting the snow numb her cheeks and nose. First the sting, then the cold, then an illusion of heat, then nothing. "Mom, what's the weather like in Dallas right now?"
"Is it still cold, or ...?" There had been a cold snap in that part of Texas over the holidays, enough to freeze the ground and make the grass ice-crunchy in the mornings for a few days.
"I can't imagine what ... oh, it's about seventy right now. It's supposed to drop down to forty tonight and then we may get another freeze next week. I can't have the gardeners bring the plumerias out yet, but we've already started getting mosquitoes. So it's some of everything, as usual. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. Just curious." Seventy. That was a dream. Even forty sounded impossibly balmy compared to Providence in February. "I had kind of a bad day, Mom." She clenched her eyes, willing the tears not to fall. She sniffled, a useless effort, and fumbled in her coat pocket for a tissue. Her hood had slipped back a moment earlier, but the cold felt good, as if it could freeze the tears into place in their ducts.
"Sweetheart, whatever's going on, we can help you if you just tell us what it is." Her mother sounded kind, no longer irritated but merely concerned. And Victoria still couldn't bring herself to tell her mom what her dad had said. Possibly — and this was the thing that had kept her up more nights than not — because she feared her mom agreed with him. Maybe Victoria even agreed with him. She didn't want confirmation that his position had been valid, that she was basically a waste of space and a drain on his bank account, an incompetent who needed to be babied along until it was time to hand her into somebody else's care.
Mostly, she didn't want one more thin dime from somebody who apparently viewed her with such utter contempt. But she was starting to realize she had done a piss-poor job of making her independence happen. She'd wanted to present her family with a fait accompli, show them her self-funded, self-directed life as she explained why she didn't need them anymore. Instead, everything she'd tried to do on her own was falling apart. Because she hadn't even known how little she'd known.
Now she couldn't even tell her mom about the scene in the coffee shop without explaining about the job, and she couldn't explain about that without getting into how she'd failed so miserably at her effort to prove she didn't need anyone's help. "I have to get out of the snow. I'll text you when I get home, okay? I'm fine. Really."
"Well ... all right. Will it be within the hour?"
"Yeah. Fifteen, twenty minutes tops." By that time she would be home, dry, and better able to think up a plausible reason her mother didn't need to come to Rhode Island. "Gotta go. Love you. Bye." She heard her mother echo the sentiments, ended the call, and stuffed the phone into her coat pocket.
At least this particular day couldn't get any worse.
A wet droplet slid down her neck from the fur on her pushed-back hood. She tugged the hood back into place, and an icy schwip and stinging wet trail marked the descent of a larger clump of snow straight down the back of her sweater.
No. Not snow. It was turning wetter, thicker, more painful against her face and hands: sleet.
She hitched her bag higher on her shoulder and forced herself into motion again, grimacing as she stepped out on nearly numb feet. She'd walked to work to save on gas money — what to do with the BMW, the title to which was in her dad's name, was yet another issue on her list — but now walking in the snow seemed like one more bad decision. Her friend Huey was moving to Manhattan in a month and had offered to sell her his decrepit old Honda for four hundred bucks. It ran. But she wouldn't have even that small amount of money available to buy it unless she could find another job immediately.
When she turned the corner of her block, she could spot her building through the sleet. Historic charm, featuring roomy converted "loft" studios with hardwood floors and original architectural details. Fantastic light. A mere block away from RISD and Brown. It had been the perfect home for two and a half years, but as she neared it now, all she could think of was the outrageous rent. She could probably lease a house twice the size in Dallas for half as much. Or an apartment the same size for a quarter as much. And it would be seventy degrees right now, and she wouldn't have snot freezing on her upper lip or toes that burned with cold in inadequate shoes.
Cheap. And warm. Two requirements that hadn't meant a thing before Christmas. Her needs were becoming easier to understand as they grew more difficult to meet.
She should have another paycheck coming in a week for her previous two weeks of work ... but who knew if Larry would give it to her? And she sure as hell wasn't walking into the shop alone to ask for it. Those few hundred dollars could have kept her lights and internet on, but her standards were changing. Maybe she could do without those things for a week or two if she had to.
Cheap and warm.
Or maybe ... maybe she'd been thinking too small. It hit her like a particularly sharp blast of sleet as she finally opened the door to her building and heaved a sigh of relief in the warm foyer. If she wasn't staying at RISD, had no job, and had gotten out of her lease, what was keeping her in Rhode Island anymore? She had friends, but she'd have left them in a few more months anyway after she graduated and got a job — presumably in New York. She wasn't seeing anyone right now — either in the vanilla dating world or in the tiny, informal local kink scene she was occasionally part of.
Dallas was warm. And cheap. And she had to get the car back to her father somehow anyway. Why not load it up and hit the road?
Her phone buzzed again as she entered her loft. Expecting her mom, she accepted without checking the screen. "Hi. I just walked in the door. Look, I really hope you didn't book a flight or something. I don't think —"
"A flight? What the fuck are you talking about?"
It was Larry. Victoria's skin crawled, and she had to resist the impulse to fling the phone away from her. "I thought you were somebody else. What do you want?"
"Are you seriously walking out without giving notice? Everybody's pissed, Pamela's walked out, too, the schedule is completely screwed, and they're —"
She hung up on him. After a moment's thought, she blocked the number.
Excerpted from Rope 'Em by Delphine Dryden. Copyright © 2017 Delphine Dryden. 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.
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