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BREAK ME DOWN

Book 8.5 - Loving on the Edge

Gibson's Story

The New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me invites you to discover the thrill of control as one couple wrestles for power in and out of the bedroom…

Samantha Dunbar needs to forget Gibson Andrews. When he trained her to be a domme, she experienced just how hot things could get with the sexy executive. She was ready to hand him everything—including her heart. But Gibson backed away, declaring them incompatible. He’s a dominant, and Sam’s no submissive.

But after an attack shakes Sam to her core, Gibson tracks her down at her family’s rundown farmhouse and makes her an offer. He’ll stay the week and be hers in every way—a helping hand for the renovation and a willing lover in her bed. He swore he’d never give up control to anyone again, but he hasn’t been able to touch another woman since Sam. Maybe a week alone with her will cure him of his relentless craving. 

But one taste only makes them want more, and Sam and Gibson are drawn in deeper than ever. The man who won’t give in has just met the girl who won’t give up…

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READ CHAPTER 1

Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2015 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group

*18 and over only*

Chapter 1

“Are you trying to torture me? I thought your husband was the sadist.” Samantha dropped the tray of clean glasses onto the rack behind the bar and gave her best friend the stink eye.

Tessa frowned. “Kade didn’t tell me Gibson was coming along. You know I would’ve suggested another bar if I’d known, but I wanted to see you before we left for Bermuda.”

Sam sighed and tightened her high ponytail as she snuck a glance at the table where Tessa’s husband, Kade, was chatting with his stepbrother. Gibson didn’t look her way, but she got the distinct impression he knew she was watching him and was purposely not turning her way. Good, she didn’t need to see those gorgeous blue eyes, didn’t need to remember how their color had darkened to a summer storm when she’d put him on his knees. “Does he have to look so goddamned good in a suit? It’s ridiculous. Who gets to look that hot after a whole day of work? By the time I’m out of here, I look like I’ve been rolled around in a pile of sweaty bodies and beer. He looks like he’s ready to pose for an Armani ad.”

Tessa’s pink-glossed lips curled into a knowing smirk. “You know, pining isn’t good for your health.”

Sam scoffed. “Please. I’m not pining. I just went on a date two weeks ago, and last weekend, I scened with Julian at the Ranch. This girl”—she swept her hand over her black T-shirt and jeans—“is moving on.”

Tessa lifted a brow, clearly not buying it. “If the date was two weeks ago, that means it wasn’t worth a second date. And you and Julian are friends. I bet you didn’t even see him naked.”

Okay, so she hadn’t. Julian was a fun submissive to practice with and more than a little hot, but Sam had never taken it very far with him. In fact, none of the submissives she played with at the Ranch ever inspired her to take it to that level. It was sparring with friends—fun, exciting, but not all that sexual. The submissives didn’t touch her, she kept her clothes on, and she didn’t get off in sessions. It worked for her. Well, it had worked for her until the man sitting at the table a few yards away had come into her life. She’d let him touch. Once. Thoroughly. And the minute she’d crossed that boundary with him, things had gotten complicated, and he’d bailed like she had some virulent disease.

Shit, maybe she was pining.

“All right, the date was a bust. But I really am moving on. If Gibson wants to pretend that what happened between us was a fluke, that’s his business. I deserve a guy who’s not ashamed or afraid to be with me. I don’t have time for games.”

Tessa leaned against the bar. “If it makes you feel better, I think he’s pretty miserable over it, too. You should’ve seen his face when he found out we were coming here.”

“Good.” She gave a terse nod. “In fact, since he’s here anyway, I may as well enjoy his suffering. What are y’all ordering?”

“A Blue Moon, a Crown and water, and a dirty martini.”

Sam grabbed a few glasses and started pouring the drinks. “Give me a minute, and I’ll bring them over. How’s my hair?”

“Uh-oh.” Tessa laughed. “It’s a perfectly executed messy ponytail, but what are you up to?”

Sam adjusted her shirt, letting the V-neck show off a little more cleavage than she usually revealed at work. “Torture.”

“Sadist.”

“Yep.”

Tessa shook her head, still smiling, and headed back to the table. Sam finished up with the drinks and carried them over on a tray, making sure to put a touch more sway in her walk. She’d learned how to do it early on to get tips before she’d become the manager of the place. She hadn’t lost the skill, and she wasn’t afraid to use it to torment the man who’d walked away from her. No, not walked—bolted like his ass was on fire. She moved from sway to full sashay. Suffer, Gibson Andrews. Feel the burn.

When she stopped at the table, Kade looked up, all blond hair and broad smile. Effortlessly gorgeous like his stepbrother but without the dark and brooding vibe that Gibson seemed to be gold-medaling in at the moment. Or always. “Hey, Sam, long time no see.”

“Right. It’s been ages.” She’d just seen the couple a few days ago, when they’d all gone to a music festival together. “So, stalker boy, I presume the dirty martini is yours.”

He took the drink from her, not blinking at the nickname she’d given him last year when he’d doggedly pursued her best friend like a bent knight on a quest. She set the beer in front of Tessa and then finally turned to Gibson. She kept her smile poised, but it took everything she had to keep her composure when Gib looked up. He’d let his jaw go a little scruffy, and the dark shadow of a beard only made him more edible. But the look in his eyes was what sucked the air right out of her. So this was what a gazelle must feel like when a starved lion caught sight of her. Hunger had flared in that deep blue gaze—open, naked, and without apology.

God. A jolt of desire went straight downward, like a rope being tugged. Hello. Lady parts officially engaged.

She must’ve reacted, showed some chink in her expression. Because as soon as that look was there, he shuttered it, glancing away and offering a flat “Hey, Sam.”

Everything inside her deflated—the pin of reality popping the balloon of hope. Ugh. Stupid, stupid man. She wanted to grab that thick, dark hair and make him hold the gaze, force him to show her the truth. To be real with her. But of course, she couldn’t touch him anymore. And, well, that would look a little weird in the bar. Sexually frustrated manager grabs customer by the hair, makes demands. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat, completely forgetting her plan to look seductive and so over him. “Crown and water.”

She plunked the glass on the table without grace, causing some of it to slosh over the top.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly.

Silence ensued and Tessa cleared her throat. “Um, do y’all still have those potato things with the bacon? I’m starving.”

Sam snapped out of her daze and turned to Tessa. “Potato skins. You bet. I’ll tell Angie to put in an order. She’ll be handling your table. I just wanted to come over and say hi.”

Gibson took a long gulp from his glass and then brushed a hand over his wavy hair, trying to smooth the unsmoothable. A move she’d learned was his sign of discomfort. God, this was so ridiculous.

And she was done with it. So things had gotten a little out of hand during that last training session. He’d been helping her out, bottoming for her so she could learn how to use a whip. They’d been through a few weeks of lessons and everything had gone well. All had been done under the assumption that he was a fellow dominant who would be guiding her from the bottom—a friendly exchange. He wasn’t supposed to get hard when she whipped him. And she wasn’t supposed to get so turned on at the sight of him. And they weren’t supposed to kiss. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to let him push her against a wall and put his hand beneath her skirt to get her off.

But all that had happened, and when she’d tried to wrest control back and take him to bed as her submissive, everything had exploded in her face. He’d snapped out of whatever spell he’d been in from the whipping and had told her that nothing could happen between them because they were both dominants. That he had a masochistic streak, not a submissive one. The training had ended right there. And she might’ve been able to let it go, to buy that he was just a dominant with a taste for pain, but her instincts were telling her it was far more than that. Not that it mattered what she thought. For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to take the submissive role. Period. End of sentence.

She wasn’t worth the risk to him.

Fine.

“Is there anything else I can get y’all for now?” she asked, her voice coming out a little too bright, too twangy. Damn, she was going Dolly Parton on their asses. Usually that only happened when customers pushed her to her politeness breaking point. Of course I’ll get your hamburger recooked a third time, sugar. I should’ve known when you said medium you meant fossilized.

Tessa’s brow went up, seeing right through Sam’s act.

“No, I think we’re good, Sam.” Kade cut an annoyed look his brother’s way.

Sam hustled back to the safety of the bar, cringing at how easily she’d gotten knocked off her plan. Damn that man. But the crowd was picking up, and she didn’t have time to waste trying to figure out the indecipherable Gibson Andrews. She had a job to do. So for the next hour, she managed her bartenders, poured drinks to help them keep up, and made rounds of the floor to greet customers and drop off food. By the time she made her second walk around the place, every table was taken and the noise of all those different conversations reverberated off the walls.

This was her favorite part of her shift. Managing the bar wasn’t always the most glamorous of jobs—okay, try never glamorous—but when the crowd was buzzing and the energy pulsed around her, she couldn’t help but feed off it. She cruised by the back corner, checking on tables, and a sharp whistle caught her attention.

She fought the instinct to ignore it. Nothing ticked her off more than being summoned like she was a dog that needed to come to heel, but a customer was a customer. She turned around and forced a tolerant smile at the two guys swigging cheap whiskey at a back table. Dolly Parton made an appearance again. Well, if Dolly Parton had B-cups, too much black eyeliner, and an eyebrow piercing. “Can I help y’all with something?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” one said, tipping his ball cap up and revealing narrow green eyes. “I dropped my keys. Mind getting them for me?”

She looked down at the floor and the keys at her feet. She bent over, swiped them from the ground, and tossed them on their table. “Here ya go.”

His friend grinned her way and pushed the keys onto the floor again. Clank. “Maybe bend down a little slower this time, darling. I didn’t get a good view the first go-round.”

She straightened, the customer-is-always-right attitude falling away and fuck-off-redneck-asshole mode replacing it. “This isn’t the champagne room. I’m not here to give you a show. Do you need a drink or what?”

Idiot number one smirked and leered at her chest. “Yeah, how about two buttery nipples? Are they pierced like your eyebrow? I bet they are. You look like that kind of girl.”

She wanted to reach over and bang their two skulls together. It’d probably make a hollow sound. Usually guys got over the buttery-nipple joke by the time they were out of high school, but clearly these two hadn’t moved beyond that maturity-wise. Next they’d be ordering a Sex on the Beach. “Two drinks coming right up.”

She strode off and told one of her male bartenders to bring the drinks over to the guys. She’d be damned if she’d let any of her staff get harassed. Flirting from customers was part of the deal. People got tipsy, and their tongues got loose. But Sam didn’t put up with idiots who took it too far.

Sam slipped back behind the bar and started clearing empty glasses. But only a few minutes passed before idiot number one made a reappearance. He leaned against the bar, snapping his fingers at her. “Hey. I need to talk to you.”

She clenched her jaw and turned. “Is there something wrong with your drink?” I could spit in it if you’d like.

He slid the drink across the bar. “Yeah, you didn’t serve it to me. What? You’re too good to talk to your customers?”

“I’m managing the place. My staff serve the drinks.”

“You’re a stuck-up bitch is what you are.”

“Hey.” A knife-edged voice came from behind him, slicing through the din around the bar. “You watch your goddamned mouth.”

Sam’s attention jumped to the spot behind the guy. Gibson’s face appeared out of the crowd like a vengeful apparition as he shoved his way closer to the bar.

The guy turned toward Gibson, his features twisting into a scowl that made him even uglier. “Who the hell you think you’re talking to?”

Gibson was the picture of cool rage, completely unruffled and terrifying in his calmness. “You. Disrespect the lady again, and we’re going to have a major problem.”

“Fuck you, man,” the guy said, words slurring. “This cunt’s job is to serve me my goddamn drinks, and she’s not doing it.”

With lightning-fast movement, Gibson grabbed the guy by the shirt collar and jammed him against the bar. “Wrong answer, asshole.”

“Shit.” Sam hurried around the counter and yelled for Angie to get their bouncer, Herb. “Gib, stop. Let us handle this guy.”

But it was too late. The drunk idiot was already taking a swing at Gibson, and his equally idiotic friend was heading their way. The punch missed wide when Gibson ducked out of the way. A glass broke. Gib looked smug at the guy’s failed attempt and knocked him hard against the bar again, rattling all the bottles and glasses nearby. Soon it’d be the guy’s teeth. But before it could turn into a full brawl, Herb got in between to break it up. He dragged the drunk away and told him and his friend to get out.

The two men continued cursing and throwing insults her and Gib’s way, but they weren’t dumb enough to try to fight Herb. If they did, she’d have the cops on the phone before they could blink, and they’d be sleeping it off in the drunk tank down at county lockup.

The customers in the bar had stopped to watch the ruckus, but as soon as the two jerks were out the door, all the conversation kicked back in, like hitting Play after pausing a movie. Sam released a breath and turned to Gibson, who was straightening the cuffs of his shirt.

She shook her head. “I could’ve handled that, you know.”

He looked up, frown lines between his brows. “No one gets to talk to you like that. I saw them giving you a hard time earlier and could tell he was headed up here to cause trouble. What did they say to you earlier? You looked pissed.”

She shrugged. “They kept trying to get me to bend over and pick up things off the floor. Then they ordered buttery nipples while leering at me. Juvenile stuff. Dumb but probably harmless.”

His jaw flexed. “Customers or not, they don’t get to disrespect you like that.”

She smirked and stepped around him to return to her spot behind the bar. “Getting respect around here is hard to come by. I have to go other places to get that.”

“Too bad you can’t bring a single tail to work.”

She laughed. “No kidding. That’d get people’s attention. Talk back to me, and I’ll paint a stripe across your ass.”

His gaze flared at that. “That could make it worse. Some people might misbehave for that privilege.”

She cocked a brow. “People like you?”

He frowned.

She sighed and grabbed a rag to start wiping up the drink they’d spilled during the altercation. “Sorry. Guess we haven’t reached the point where we can joke about everything with each other yet. Want to talk about the weather?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. It’s fine. I just hate that things are weird between us now. I miss hanging out with you. And my brother’s married to your best friend. We’re going to run into each other.”

She focused on cleaning the bar top, using a little too much vigor to wipe up things. Out, damned  spot. “Doesn’t have to be weird. We can be friends.”

“Hard to be friends with someone you want in your bed.”

She looked up, something tightening low inside her when she saw the invitation in his eyes, that rope tugging again. Tug. Tug.

God, it would be so easy to give in and let him have the control. Sex with him in whatever form would probably be like winning the orgasm lottery. But it’d taken her so long to get to this point. She knew what she wanted, had finally figured out what flipped her switches, and she was tired of doing things halfway. “You know the price of admission for my bed, Gib. You’re not willing to pay it.”

Gibson leaned forward, bracing his arms on the bar and getting way too close for her to concentrate on anything but his dark eyelashes and full bottom lip. He kept his voice low enough for only her to hear. “We don’t have to be in any roles at all. We could just do things the old-fashioned way. Hot skin and cool sheets.”

She closed her eyes, a hint of his scent hitting her—rain-soaked earth. He’d always smelled like spring rain to her, something in his laundry detergent probably. But not until she’d had him under her whip did she get the rest of it—earth and man and hot need, who he really was beneath that polished exterior. She could smell it on him now. And that scent brought her right back to those sessions in the training room at the Ranch.

Never before had she felt such an utter need to make a man hers like she had when Gibson got into a scene. Something about him stirred those dark desires she’d only toyed with in fantasies before then. But the sessions had been her own kind of torture because they’d kept it so businesslike. He’d never taken off anything more than his shirt. There’d been no sex. He’d guided her from the bottom as her trainer and never gave over real control. Not until that last session, when she’d somehow broken through that outside layer, had she gotten a glimpse of what things could be like if they ever did those things for real, without restrictions.

And she knew without a doubt that if she agreed to an old-fashioned hookup with Gibson, physically she’d probably be over the moon, but deep down she’d be left unsatisfied afterward because she’d gotten a peek at what she’d be missing. She was done compromising. In her endless search to find Mr. Right, she’d spent too many years of her life dating guys who she’d jumped through hoops to please. No more. Even if Gibson was stupid beautiful and looking at her like he’d light her world on fire.

She poured a Crown and water and slid it his way. “Gib, let’s not pretend that either of us would be satisfied with old-fashioned. You don’t pay that exorbitant fee at the Ranch for nothing.”

The grooves around his mouth deepened and he straightened to full height, taking the drink in his hand. “I can’t be what you want me to be, Sam.”

“Why?” The word slipped out before she could stop it. But she’d seen how he’d reacted after that flogging. It hadn’t just been the pain. She’d been practicing dirty talk that night, dressing him down with her words. That had been the difference that night. He hadn’t just gotten hard; he’d been fighting subspace. Submission did something for him. She hadn’t imagined that.

His gaze slid away, the doors to his expression slamming shut. “Because it’s not who I want to be.”

She pressed her lips together, considering him for a long moment. She knew some submissive guys struggled with their desires. Many thought big, strong alpha men weren’t supposed to be anything other than dominant. But Gibson was so confident in his everyday life, she couldn’t imagine he gave a shit what societal norms or traditional gender roles called for. But for some reason, this was a no go for him.

She needed to accept that. Move on. She reached out and put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Hey, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Friends who are not weird with each other. Or at least only weird in an awesome way. Because, let’s face it, neither of us has any shot at normal.”

His lips tilted up at the corners, but his eyes didn’t hold the same humor. “Yeah, guess we’ll have to get some practice at that.”

She nodded. “Definitely. We’ll go have lunch or something soon, okay?”

“Sure.” He grabbed for his wallet. “What do I owe you for the drink?”

“It’s on the house for trying to protect me from drunk assholes. Thanks for that, by the way. I would’ve handled it, but seeing his teeth knock together when you shoved him against the bar was pretty entertaining.”

His mouth curved into a full smile then. “Anytime, sunshine.”

After one last look, he headed back to his table, and she didn’t talk to him again until he and her friends said good-bye for the night. When he walked out of the bar, all the starch drained out of her. She tried to stay busy, keep her energy up, but as the crowd thinned and the night stretched on, the finality of her and Gibson’s situation weighed on her. When the last customer headed out the door, she sagged back against the counter and closed her eyes, rubbing her brow.

“Everything okay?” Angie asked.

Sam opened her eyes to find her current manager-in-training cleaning a glass and giving her a concerned look. Sam shook her head. “I’m fine. Long night.”

Angie nodded toward the back. “You should get out of here, then. Billy and I can lock up. I’ve got the hang of the closing procedures by now.”

Sam stretched her neck and glanced at the empty bar. Usually she stayed and helped to put things back in order, but she’d worked every night this week preparing for her time off, and the thought of staying any longer suddenly felt like a prison sentence. “You sure?”

“Of course. Your vacation can start now. Go. Get some rest.”

Sam smiled. “Why haven’t I made you assistant manager yet?”

“Because you’re too much of a control freak. But I’ll be more than happy to accept that promotion when you get back.”

Sam pushed off the bar and patted Angie’s shoulder as she passed. “Consider it done. And if anything happens this week, you can call me—”

“I’ll call Marvin,” she said, cutting her off. “You’re on vacation, not on call. Forget about us for a while.”

“You’re a bossy thing.”

“Hello, Kettle, you’re black. Love, Pot.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “Fine. Point taken. I’m out of here. Don’t forget to lock up the safe and check—”

“The side door. I know. Go.” She shooed her with her hand.

Sam didn’t protest this time and went into the back room to grab her purse and keys. The spring night was cool and dry as she exited the side door and headed through the alleyway toward the parking lot. Her worn Vans were silent on the pavement and after the constant roar of the bar, she welcomed the quiet night around her. But despite the peacefulness, she held her little bottle of mace in her right hand.

This area of downtown was pretty safe, but she didn’t take that kind of thing for granted. You were never really safe. She’d learned that the hard way bouncing around foster homes and group homes, running into people who thought her petite size and vulnerable circumstances made her an easy target. Danger pounced when you let your guard down.

It’s why her first semester in college, she’d taken a Krav Maga course and learned how to protect herself. It’s why she always carried mace. And it’s why when she turned the corner around the building and saw a familiar face heading her way, she didn’t hesitate to raise her hand and aim.

Idiot number one from the bar fight was glaring back at her, but he lifted his hands. “Easy, now, darling. I’m not here to cause trouble.”

“Bullshit,” she said, finger on the trigger of her mace, her heart trying to pound out of her chest. She dipped her other hand in her purse, blindly feeling around for her phone. “You need to back off and go home.”

He smiled. “I was just coming back because I left my wallet at the table. I need to get back inside.”

“You can come back tomorrow. I’ll let the staff know to put it aside for you.”

“I can’t wait that long.” He took a step closer.

“I said back off, asshole.” She put more pressure on the trigger and stepped back.

And ran into something solid . . . and warm.

Her body jolted at the impact and her finger slipped off the trigger, but it was too late to react beyond that. A hand came around and clamped over her mouth. Another arm banded around her chest, knocking the mace out of her grip and dragging her back into the alleyway

“Well, hi there,” a voice said against her ear, stale whiskey breath burning her nostrils.

Everything went cold and electric inside her, and she wrenched her body, trying to break the grip and screaming behind the hand. Frantic. She’d been through self-defense. She knew there was a way to break this hold, but none of the moves would come to her. All she could think of was to stomp on his feet. But when she tried, her tennis shoes did little damage and her body wouldn’t cooperate. Everything trembled.

The first guy followed them between the buildings and moved closer, invading her space and dominating her vision. His smile was one of triumph. “You know, we never did get those buttery nipples. But how about I taste them without the butter for now.”

He reached out and grabbed the collar of her T-shirt and yanked it down, ripping it and exposing her bra.

Tears jumped to her eyes, and she kicked and writhed like a wildcat. This was not going to happen. These disgusting men were not going to touch her. After a few failed attempts, her shin connected with the guy’s crotch and he doubled over, crying out in pain. She felt the small surge of victory, but then he hauled up and slapped her hard in the face, making stars appear and sending her ears ringing.

“You stupid fucking bitch,” he seethed, still hunched over, one hand cradling himself. “You think you’re so high and mighty, but you’re not going to be anything when we take you to the van and fuck that attitude right out of you.”

The man who was holding her tightened his grip, and her throat closed up, air whistling through her and her vision blurring. Other voices filled her head. Voices she hadn’t heard in years interspersing with the present ones. Her eyes closed and all that was there behind her lids was blood spattering, the violent Texas sun blinding her. Hands on her. Trapped. Held down. Not again. She would not go through this again. She forced her eyes open and shook her head with a violent, sudden motion, breaking free of the hand over her mouth and letting out a piercing scream—one that seemed to come from a place so far inside it her, it made her body quake.

Idiot number one’s eyes went wide, and she hoped to God they would run, but he just looked out toward the street. “Come on, get her to the van. Hurry.”

But before they could drag her a few steps, the door to the bar opened and Angie ran out. When she saw what was happening, Angie lifted her arms and pointed a gun their way, hands steady as stone. “Let her go or I swear to God I will blow your fucking balls off.”

Sam knew Angie could damn well do it, too. The girl had grown up in the country, and her daddy still took her hunting.

The guy holding Sam tensed behind her and then let her go like a sack of grain. Her knees hit the ground hard and the two men ran off, shouting at each other to move faster.

Angie raced down the back stairs and toward the parking lot, and Billy came running behind her, cell phone to his ear. He stopped at Sam’s side. “Jesus, are you okay? I called the cops.”

Sam braced a hand on the pavement, panting and trying not to hyperventilate, and held her torn shirt to her chest with her other hand. Her brain seemed to flash through present and past all at once, a scrambled channel of images that made her want to scream again and not stop. But she forced deep breaths into her lungs. It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay. “I’m all right. Check on Angie.”

But Angie stepped back into the alley a second later, face red with exertion. “I couldn’t get a license plate, but I saw what kind of van they were driving.” She hurried to join Sam and crouched down next to her. “God, honey, you’re bleeding. Billy, get some ice and a new T-shirt.”

Billy jogged back into the building, and Sam sat back on her calves, tentatively touching her lip. It felt swollen but not split at least. “I’m fine. They didn’t get a chance to do more than hit me thanks to you.”

And no thanks to Sam’s own instincts. Every goddamned lick of training she’d gotten had gone down the tube in an instant. She’d felt so strong and confident after arming herself with all those self-defense tools. Had felt like she’d beaten those demons. But when she’d needed them most, she’d been useless. She was just as vulnerable as she’d always been. A victim waiting to happen. The thought shook her down to the core.

You’re never safe.

Angie put her arm around Sam. “Come on. Let’s get you inside. You’re trembling.”

Sam let Angie lead her back into the bar, and Billy brought her ice and a new staff T-shirt. They were babying her, but Sam didn’t have it in her to protest at this point. She just wanted to give her statement to the police and get the hell out of here so she could put herself back together.

The cops arrived a short time after that and took all of their statements. Sam doubted they would be able to find the guys by description alone, but she hoped the van may give them a good lead. Either way, she didn’t think the men would come back to the bar. They were dumb but not brain-dead. The staff would recognize them. Everyone had seen at least one of them during the altercation with Gibson. But she’d ask Marvin, the bar owner, to pay for extra security for the next couple of weeks anyway.

By the time she got in her car to go home, she felt numb. Hollow. But as she drove toward her place, that numbness gave way to anger. Anger at the men who’d attacked her. And anger at herself for panicking so completely. She was not that person. She was the girl in her Krav Maga class who had taken down an instructor twice her size. She was the domme at the Ranch who had men willing to kneel at her feet. She was not going to be the girl to go home to her empty apartment and cower behind the locked doors and jump at every sound. That wasn’t who she was anymore. She couldn’t go back to that.

So when she got to her apartment, she grabbed the suitcase she’d packed for her vacation and added another black bag that was meant for only one place.

Tonight she didn’t need to be alone. Tonight she needed to be in charge.

She tossed the bags in her trunk and got on the road. The Ranch was only an hour away. She couldn’t get there fast enough.

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