Tulle and Tulips, Book 3
Monday mornings have a reputation for sucking, and today is no different for Burton Monday mornings were known for being crap-tastic, and today is no different for Burton Anderson. Rewind. Today's worse. One year ago, his “perfect” life of prestige and success, money and travel melted beneath the glare of betrayal.
This morning? On the brink of turning his new construction business into a success, a sex adventure went awry, leaving him handcuffed to a toilet in a housewares store. Naked. And the store's first customer is approaching.
Helping build wedding registries for brides-to-be is about as crazy as buttoned-up Leigh Schyuler gets. Until she gets an eyeful of Hearth and Home’s daily special. Handcuffed and naked, he’s definitely temptation designer when she's off the rack.
But there are risks, and then there are Risks. Burton is unsure he can open his heart to another woman who holds the power to destroy him. And Leigh learns that indulging in a little no-strings fling is tying her dream of endless love into hopeless knots…Anderson. One year ago, his “perfect” life full of prestige, money, success and travel crumbled in the glaring light of betrayal.
This morning? This close to making his new construction business a success, a date gone awry has left him handcuffed to a toilet in a housewares store. Naked. And the first customer of the day is coming down his aisle.
Planning and shopping for other couples’ Big Day is about as wild and crazy as buttoned-up Leigh Schyuler gets. Until she gets an eyeful of Hearth and Home’s daily special. He’s definitely a “designer” temptation while she’s “off the rack”.
But there are risks, and then there are risks. Burton isn’t sure he can once again trust his heart to a woman who holds the power to ruin him. And Leigh discovers too late that indulging in a little no-strings sex is tying her dream of Devoted Love into hopeless knots…
The gentle trill of a feminine laugh clanged like an alarm in Burton Anderson’s head. The nightmare wasn’t foreign after six years, but he’d thought he’d driven it back. Unlike the other times he relived the dream, the laugh didn’t turn to pathetic tears that morphed into evil glee.
This laugh remained gentle. The laugh sounded carefree and happy.
Pulling himself from the morass of sleep, Burton stretched. His neck protested movement and his head did the hangover throb he hadn’t allowed in years. His back popped with loud cracks running the length of his spine which it only did when he slept on too hard a surface or in a bad position.
His eyes snapped wide. He’d definitely slept in an awkward position on a too-hard surface—Hearth and Home’s linoleum-covered concrete floor. More awkward than the position was how he’d gotten in it, and it hadn’t involved enough alcohol to earn the current headache.
He tugged at his wrist. Metal clanked against metal and his memory flooded back with the horror of the discovery to come. The wall of clocks nearby told him Hearth and Home wasn’t due to open for customers for several hours. It was even too early for the employees to come in, but someone had. That same someone would discover him—in all his nudity—in a few short moments.
Attempting to minimize his exposure, he scooted up so he sat beside the toilet. With his wrist handcuffed to the pipe behind the show floor toilet he wasn’t able to move far. The mock bathroom, like the three others around the bath section, was complete with shower, garden tub, sink and fancy hooks for hanging towels.
“I love the setup.” The woman’s voice sounded prim. And close. “You’ve made it easy for people to envision what items complement each other.”
“We want everyone to be able to outfit their home with ease.”
That was a voice Burton knew well. It belonged to the Mark Dixon, manager of Hearth and Home. The man who possessed no sense of humor, and he would not appreciate finding his lead contractor naked. There was no explanation good enough to keep himself employed. Nope. After this, Burton would never again be trusted with another construction contract, because this client was sure to tell everyone of his unprofessionalism.
“I could say I hate you for it. With places like this why do people need me?”
Soft, shy, the woman laughed again. Her shoes smacked the paved floor with a dull thud rather than the thwack he’d grown familiar with over the years of feeding a shopping addiction. Conservative flats. Shy laugh. Professional shopper? This woman didn’t sound like the type to appreciate his nudity any more than Mark.
She and Mark stepped into view. Mark’s head was bowed to his phone. The woman studied the wall of clocks. Both kept their backs to Burton. Each ticking second hand shortened the gap between secrecy and discovery. With the shrinking distance he saw his success as a new business owner vanishing.
“Without you, Leigh, how else will those brides and grooms know how many towels or place settings to register for?” Mark adjusted a mantle clock so it sat perfectly straight on a display shelf. “And there’s no one better than you at picking out those little touches that finish off a look.”
She touched her fingertips to Mark’s arm, pulled back quickly, as if she immediately regretted the gesture. “Who needs caffeine when they can have flattery in the morning?”
Mark ignored the woman’s touch. Her joke seemed to go unnoticed, perhaps because it seemed odd for the woman with a pencil skirt and snug bun to make jokes.
“Listen, Leigh. I have to go deal with something. Make yourself at home and I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
“Take your time. Thank you.”
Leigh stayed focused on the clocks, as if she was studying each one carefully. Mark turned and walked past Burton without looking up from his phone. Burton breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t been discovered by the boss. If he could get the woman—Leigh—to help there was a chance he could keep his embarrassment a secret.
When he was certain Mark was out of earshot, Burton cleared his throat. “Leigh. Hi.”
She didn’t flinch or even react for several seconds. Thinking she hadn’t heard him, he opened his mouth to call out again. Then she turned.
Her green eyes were unblinking and her cheeks were flushed red. With her brown hair pulled into a bun, subtle makeup, and clothes that hugged her figure without being tight, the woman’s image was a contradiction of sophistication and sex.
She defined the cliché lines about elegance in simplicity and leaving something to the imagination. His was certainly going to be working overtime.
“I wonder… Could you… Could I get your help?” He’d never suffered from a loss of words. Quick thinking and the ability to put a great spin on most any situation had been the secret to his success in the business world. Facing a blushing librarian who only needed a pair of reading glasses to top off the image had his brain short-circuiting.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” She took two steps in the direction Mark had taken. “I’m going to get Mark.”
“No! Please. Don’t.”
“You’re in his store, handcuffed to a display toilet. I think he deserves to know.”
“I… There’s an explanation.”
She stood and faced him. Her hands weren’t on her hips, but the look in her eyes said they could land there any moment. Damn she was beautiful.
“Please.” He should be begging or pleading his case. He could only stare and think how sexy she was.
“Give me one good reason.”
Any sense of humor she’d shown with Mark vanished. Burton could have had a better shot with Mark.
“It could cost me everything. My new company. My new life.” He muttered the last, knowing it sounded melodramatic even to his own ears. It didn’t make it less true.
She glanced around, possibly looking for Mark before bringing her gaze back to Burton. “How did you…?”
“My company did the build-out.” He rotated his head, indicating the building around them. “I was on a date last night when a call came in about a problem. She came with me to check things out.”
Leigh’s forehead creased above one brow. It wasn’t quite a brow lift, maybe she didn’t know how to lift just one. It didn’t matter though if her goal was to make him feel like a toddler being chastised. The effect was the same.
“The problem was with the plumbing in the women’s restroom. Flushing tampons is one thing. Pads are not meant to be flushed.”
Slowly, so slowly he was able to watch an unheard “Eew” form, her nose wrinkled, curled up the left side of her lip.
“That’s what I thought when I found myself wading through the overflow. I was soaked. It was…gross.”
“So you stripped?”
“I cleaned up the restroom and fixed the other issues the pad uncovered. I didn’t want to get in my truck with my clothes like they were. I took off my boots and jeans. My date encouraged me to go the rest of the way.”
“So you stripped.”
He started to ask if she’d have made a different choice. Somehow he knew she would have. This buttoned-up, bun-toting, long-skirt-wearing woman would never give in to passion. Especially not in public. “The idea was exciting. At the time.”
“You saying you regret it?”
“Yes.” He regretted putting his trust into a woman he hadn’t known as well as he’d thought. A woman who’d hidden a deceptiveness he thought he’d learned to spot. “It’s a mistake I will never make again.”
“I see.” She looked around again, this time keeping her gaze down as she searched the floor. “What I don’t see are your clothes or a key to your cuffs.”
Burton shook his head. It was all he could do, because he was out of excuses.
“Your date took them?”
He nodded. Once.
“As a contractor, can I assume you have tools somewhere?”
He dropped his head.
“You’re kidding. She took those too?”
He looked up without lifting his head. He really hoped the bitch had dumped his things in his truck. He wasn’t sure he would get so lucky.
Shaking her head and mumbling about men only thinking with their small head, Leigh turned and walked away. His heart kicked. He started to call out to her. Desperation screamed in his head. She was going to leave him to be discovered by Mark, and he couldn’t argue that he didn’t deserve it.
Leigh disappeared, her shoes smacking quieter and quieter as she walked away. She moved more softly than his date had, but the sound of being abandoned was the same.
Not only would he pay more attention to the subtleties of a woman to avoid hidden evils, he would also never give in to desire in public. The first time he’d done something more public than in the backseat of his car and it had bitten him in the ass. No naked woman offering to give it up was worth this.
Burton blew out a deep breath and slumped against the wall. He considered yanking on the cuffs to try breaking the pipe loose. It wouldn’t work. He’d pulled and yanked until his wrists were bruised. He’d even tried maneuvering so he could kick at the pipe. That hadn’t worked. Barefoot, naked and handcuffed to a damn toilet of all things, he didn’t have the room.
The soft smack of shoe against cement reached him. It grew louder and closer. Leigh was coming back.
He straightened and made sure he was as covered as he could be. She rounded the corner with a bathrobe dangling from her right hand. In her left she held a kabob skewer. He wasn’t sure if he should grin or cringe. She’d come back to help him, but what exactly did she intend to do with that skewer?
“You came back.”
She met his gaze for a flash before ducking her head. “Not all women get off on a man’s humiliation.”
“So you’re not going to say anything to Mark?”
Shaking her head, she dropped the robe over his lap and then knelt on the opposite side of the toilet from him. Her slim fingers brushed his sore wrists as she turned a cuff to work the lock with the skewer. In the seconds it took her to slip the lock free, his skin sizzled from her touch. His dick stood at attention.
Shit. It was like he hadn’t learned anything the night before.
“Yes.” His smooth voice became an emphatic moan as he rotated his wrist and straightened.
“Get the robe on and we’ll take the other cuff off.” Leigh turned from him, but not before he saw her cheeks go crimson. “By the way, I feel like I should know your name.”
“Burton Anderson.” He was smiling as he stood. His back popped and his shoulders protested the movement after having been locked in an awkward position all night. He tied the belt around his waist and stepped toward Leigh. He touched her shoulder, causing her to jump.
She recovered quickly and turned back. Her gaze moved up from the floor to his eyes. Her cheeks flushed a deeper red. “You’re bigger than I expected.”
He smiled. Did she mean his build, or had she sneaked a glance when he’d been slipping on the robe. “Guess size is deceptive when you’re cuffed to a commode.”
“I guess.” She nodded toward his hand with the dangling cuff. “You want me to remove the other one?”
He raised his wrist. Leigh supported the weight of his wrist in her right hand. With the left, she stuck the skewer tip into the keyhole and quickly popped the lock. She pulled away with the cuffs in hand.
He immediately missed the tingle her touch incited. The sensitivity of the skin he’d turned raw fighting the cuffs had numbed when she held his wrist. With her retreat the tenderness returned.
His wrists weren’t the only parts of his body acutely aware of her. His skin vibrated. His dick pulsed.
Maybe it was morning wood or maybe he was just an easy target, but a second of Leigh’s touch took him from attracted to horny. Damn if the image of her standing naked in the bathroom didn’t flash into his head, and with it came the realization that he’d stripped without more than a token argument for his date. For Leigh, if she let her hair down enough to ask, he wouldn’t have hesitated.
Needing to not come off like a creepy sex addict, Burton took a step back. “I’ve rescued damsels with flat tires. I’ve never been the rescued.”
“I have to say I’m curious as to exactly how you got yourself in this situation.”
“An overeager libido.”
“I get that your date talked you into sex in public. It’s the handcuffed bit I’m not able to picture.”
“You’ve been trying to picture it?”
“I don’t like puzzles. They need to be solved.”
“Then I’ll clear it up for you since you were kind enough to save me.”
She did that thing again with her forehead where it almost looked like she was raising one brow. It made him want to smile, but the seriousness in her eyes indicated she wouldn’t share his humor.
“She said she’d always had a fantasy of dominating a man while he was tied up. In this case it was cuffs, but I didn’t have any reason to think it would bite me in the ass.” He regretted his choice, but he couldn’t change it now. He could only make sure he never repeated it. “She liked that bathroom setup. Said she’d never had sex in a bathroom. There are limited places to tie someone up in a bathroom.”
“So naturally you went with the toilet.” Impressively, the more she quizzed him the less she blushed.
“It was a strange request, but I didn’t see a reason to tell her no.”
“Because you were only interested in how quickly she would get you off.”
“Anyone would take a similar risk if they were turned on enough. As for a man—” now he did grin, “—we’re most always willing.”
“To risk your job?”
“To be tied up, play games, yes.” Leigh had helped him. Because of her he would be able to finish the Hearth and Home job. With the completion of the job he’d have a great addition to his portfolio. “Endangering my job is something I would never have agreed to. A jeopardized job puts my entire company in danger.”
Leigh nodded and handed Burton the handcuffs and skewer. “In that case, I suggest you resist a woman’s request to tie you up.”
Burton began to speak, but closed his mouth when Leigh pivoted on the ball of her sensible shoe and walked away. Anything he might say lost appeal as he studied her hourglass figure. Strong calves, a narrow waist that flared into wide hips, the woman showcased curves where others fought to lose them.
She was confident. Kind. Damn if he didn’t love that.