Marriage is news these days. For an institution that’s been in existence since the beginning of recorded history, it’s mind boggling that we now find it necessary to legally define it. I’ve been married (under the current definition in most states that implies a heterosexual relationship, which in this case is true) for almost 34 years, and I can tell you what it isn’t.
It isn’t easy.
Anyone who goes into the state of matrimony should do so with their eyes wide open and prepared for an uphill battle. It’s no picnic. It’s not the answer to every question. It’s not the short cut to happily ever after.
What it is, is hard work. So, with all the struggles going on right now to establish a single definition of what marriage is, I can only say – good luck.
No matter what your definition is, we can all agree on one thing – the key element that makes a marriage work – love. It doesn’t matter who the people are who take that giant step into the unknown, they all do it for one reason – they love the person they’re marrying.
And thank heavens for that, or what would romance writers write about? Nothing, you say, and how right you would be. Marriages arranged for wealth and power, while once common, aren’t so much anymore. Historical romances make good use of the practice, and I can think of at least one contemporary romance by a friend of mine, Jennifer Probst’s, The Marriage Bargain, which brings it into the modern world with great success.
However, without stretching believability too far, most of us prefer to let our characters fall in love… before they marry. I think I did it quite nicely in The Lust Boat and Show Me the Ropes. I made sure both couples were well on their way to happily-ever-after-land at the end of the books.
But you know what happens when people are in love? They get this overwhelming desire to see their partner happy, and they’re willing to do almost anything to make that happen. That’s the premise of Four of Hearts. After a year of marriage, the couples from The Lust Boat and Show Me the Ropes are still very much in love, and when Candace asks her husband, Ryan for a special anniversary present, he’s more than willing to give it to her. Candace’s innocent *snicker* request leads them and their friends, Richard and Fallon, down a path they never thought to travel. Along the way, they find their hearts are capable of more love than they ever thought possible, and they might have to rethink their definition of marriage.
Four of Hearts is a book about love, and the unexpected ways in which we find it. It’s about the human heart and its capacity to love, if only we give it permission. Lastly, it’s about marriage and how no matter what your definition, the heart of the matter is, and always should be, love.
Here’s an excerpt from Four of Hearts.
Ryan stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “Are you sure? It’s not too late to cancel this. They’ll understand.”
Candace took a deep breath and let it out. “No. I want to do this, and I want to do it with you.” She placed a hand over his heart. The steady beat reassured her. “I’m already wet just thinking about it.”
“It’s okay. Fallon said it’s normal to be aroused by the anticipation.”
Ryan leaned his forehead against the door and squeezed her hand in his. “You’re going to be the death of me, woman.”
Candace placed a kiss on his shoulder blade, swiped her tongue over his heated back. “You’re turned on too, don’t try to deny it.”
Ryan straightened and turned to her. “How can I? I’ve been hard for days thinking about this.”
“So let’s do it.” He reached for the doorknob again. Candace wrapped her fingers around his wrist to stop him. “Ryan, no matter what happens; you know it’s you I want.”
“I know. I’ll try to remember when Richard has his hands on you.” He reached for the knob again, and again, Candace stopped him.
“You can stop it anytime you want too. I’ll understand.”
“I know. I promise to do my best to make this good for you.”
“Promise you won’t deck Richard.”
“No way.” He opened the door before she could respond.
Ryan sucked in a startled breath beside her. Richard wore the standard crew wrap, slung low over his hips. He was an attractive man, no denying that. Fallon stood next to him wearing nothing but the slave ensemble Richard had commissioned for her. The gold ropes, interspersed with rich jewels, criss-crossed her body, drawing attention to her many assets. Candace had seen the ensemble on a mannequin once, but Fallon’s pale skin tone was the perfect backdrop for the gleaming gold.
“Fallon, it’s beautiful!” Candace rushed over to Fallon. “You’re beautiful,” she sighed as she took in her friends’ roped body.
“Thanks. I love wearing Richard’s ropes, but they aren’t practical for all the time.”
“I guess not,” Candace chuckled.
“Ladies, if you’re through with your fashion moment?” Richard interrupted.
“Yes, Richard,” Fallon said.
Candace recognized the change in Fallon’s demeanor, understood her friend now submitted to her husband. The session had begun. A shiver of anticipation and apprehension ran from her toes to her scalp. She returned to Ryan’s side. His hand automatically reached out and took hers in a firm grip.
“Candace,” Richard addressed her. “Remove your clothes and lay on the table. Ryan, you stand beside me so you can watch what I do.”
Ryan turned to her and their eyes met. “It’s okay. I can do this.” She wasn’t sure if she was trying to reassure Ryan, or herself. She slipped her hand from his and unfastened her sarong. She tossed the scrap of cloth on a nearby chair and followed it with her panties. She clasped Ryan’s hand in hers and pulled him across the room to the padded table Richard had indicated. Silently, Ryan helped her up, but refused to let go of her hand. His jaw was set, his eyes blazed with arousal, but under it she saw the iron will it took for him to let her do this. No man other than Ryan had seen her nude in over a year, and he wasn’t taking it well. She squeezed his fingers, offering him reassurance and drawing strength from the pressure he returned. He might be struggling, but his grip on her hand sent a silent message of love that she tucked close to her heart. It never ceased to amaze her, the depth of his love, or hers for him.
Fallon moved to her other side and took Candace’s free hand in hers. Fallon smiled, offering her strength and support. Candace drank it in. Now that they’d begun, she worried she’d overestimated her desire to do this. She thought about what they were doing, and what it was costing Ryan. One word and she could end it. Before she could form the word, Ryan spoke, “No. Don’t, Candace. I know you want this. I’m okay with it, really, I am.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I’m sure. Let’s get on with it.”
“We’ll start with her wrists. I’ll show you, and then you can do the other one,” Richard spoke to Ryan, ignoring Candace.
Candace closed her eyes as Richard began to wrap the bright red rope around her wrist. His hands were warm and strong, competent. Her body flushed with heat and her nipples hardened to aching peaks. Oh God! His hands felt good. She chastised herself for even thinking those kind of thoughts. What would Ryan think if he knew? She was grateful her thighs concealed the sudden flood of arousal between her legs. Dear Lord.
Ryan must have sensed her unease. His palm flattened on her stomach, his thumb idly stroked over her belly button. His heat warmed her. He had such talented hands, competent in their own right. She focused everything she had on that point of contact, on the gentle sweep of his thumb.
“We only use cotton rope. It holds the knots securely and is easier on her skin,” Richard instructed as he wound the rope and tied the knots. “Based on the level of interest you both indicated, we’ll do a simple immobilization today, something that will make Candace vulnerable, and allow Ryan full access to her body.”
Richard was patient, helping Ryan do his part until he understood the technique and could do the knots on his own. Fallon did his bidding, handing him lengths of rope, and then returning to speak softly to Candace. It was Fallon’s reassuring voice that calmed Candace when Richard bent her knee to her waist and bound her thigh to her calf, and with a length of rope suspended from an overhead ring, secured her leg. His fingers probed beneath the ropes along the back of her thigh and along her calf. Though his touch was clinical in nature, it sent a shiver of awareness through her body. Then Ryan touched her. He easily repeated the process, leaving her glistening pussy exposed.
“Relax, Candace. Breathe normally. That’s it. You can do this,” Fallon reassured.
Candace wasn’t at all sure she could stand it. With her wrists bound and suspended behind her head and her legs immobilized, she was more vulnerable than she’d ever been.
“You’re safe with us. No one is going to do anything you don’t want them to do.” Fallon’s hands stroked down to Candace’s breasts. She cupped them, raised them high in the cradle of her hands. “Do you want your breasts bound?”
“No,” she whispered. She tried to contain the groan, but it slipped past her lips. God, what was wrong with her. She shouldn’t react to Richard and Fallon’s touch the way she did.
“Then we’ll leave them today. Maybe another time. How do you feel?” Fallon stroked Candace’s hair. Her voice was clinical, matter of fact. Had she read more into Fallon’s touch than was there?
“I…I’m fine. I think.”
“Are the ropes too tight?” Richard asked, as he slid a finger beneath the ropes binding her thigh.
“No.” She wiggled, testing them. “No. Not too tight.”
“Good. This is a simple binding, as I said before. It’s impossible for you to get out of it without help, but it only takes a moment to release you if you use your safe word.”
“That’s good to know.” Candace relaxed, letting her head fall back against the small pillow Fallon had provided. She had to get a grip. Richard and Fallon did this all the time. Surely, anything she felt was unintentional, all in her own mind. “Now what?”
“Now, I’m going to take my lovely wife over there,” Richard pointed to another apparatus, “and see to her needs. It’s up to Ryan now. He can do as he pleases with you.”
Her heart beat a wild rhythm against her ribs. What? They were going to leave her like this while they fucked on the other side of the room?
Fallon leaned close to her face. “It’s all right, Candace. What do you need right now?”
She needed…she needed Ryan inside her, but with Fallon and Richard just across the room? She hadn’t considered the session would end like this. She closed her eyes and let the words tumble out. “I need to be touched. Please, can Ryan touch me now?”
Fallon laughed. “Yes, of course he can. Ryan is ready for you. We’ll be right here if you need us.”
“It’s too risky to leave you alone, so we’ll give you some privacy. Richard is moving the screen into place, but we’ll still be able to hear you. Don’t worry. We’ll be too busy ourselves to pay close attention, but we’ll know if we’re needed. Let me adjust the table for you.” Candace tracked Fallon with her eyes as she moved to the end of the table. The table beneath her hips gave way. “There…look at you, all open and ready for Ryan. I’m sure he’ll make you feel good.”
Fallon and Richard turned to go.
“No. Don’t go,” Ryan said.
Richard and Fallon stopped and turned around. Ryan stood beside her, his hands splayed through his hair as if he was trying to keep the top of his head from exploding. His eyes were dark with desire, his skin flushed with heat. He’d shed his wrap. His engorged cock testified to his state of arousal. So what was wrong? Why didn’t he want to be alone with her?
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m fine. What’s the matter?”
He ignored her question. “How does it feel? Is this what you wanted?”
“It feels…I feel vulnerable, just like Richard said I would, and yes, it’s what I wanted. I need you, Ryan, I need you so bad….”
“Fallon, stay with Candace,” Ryan said. “Please?” he added when she didn’t move.
“Sure…” Fallon raised an eyebrow at Richard. On his command, she moved to stand beside Candace.
“What’s this about, Ryan?” Richard demanded.
“I need to see you for a moment. Now.” Ryan headed toward the door and Richard followed. Candace watched, wondering what Ryan was doing. She couldn’t imagine what he needed to talk to Richard about. Not when she was lying here, bound and waiting for him.
“Fallon, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Just relax. I’m sure Richard will get to the bottom of it.”
* * * *
Ryan stopped and turned to Richard. From where he stood he could keep an eye on Candace. He needed to touch her, needed it like he’d never needed it before, but this was about her needs, not his and he was damn sure going to make sure she got what she needed.
“What the hell is going on, Ryan?”
“Are you fucking blind?”
“No. Did I miss something?”
“You sure as hell did. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice it, Richard. This may be a job to you, but it’s not to Candace. For her it’s personal, so let’s cut the crap. She wants you to touch her.”
“Whoa!” Richard held up his hands as if Ryan had pointed a loaded gun at him. “I’m not touching your wife, not like that. I like living too much.”
“You’re a bastard, Richard. Don’t tell me you didn’t pick up her vibes. Every time you touched her she almost came unglued.”
“It happens sometimes, but she’s your wife, Ryan. I can’t touch your wife.”
“Well your wife certainly doesn’t have any qualms about touching her.” Ryan nodded his head in the direction of Candace and Fallon.
Richard looked over his shoulder. His wife had her mouth on Candace’s breast while she massaged the other one. Candace writhed against her restraints, enjoying the attention. When he turned back to Ryan, the look on his face was priceless.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t expect that either?”
“This isn’t a class anymore, Richard. This is personal now. My wife wants you to touch her. I want my wife to have everything she wants, everything she needs. If you can’t handle it, then leave. Fallon can stay.”
“Fallon is not staying without me.”
“Then get your ass over there, and let’s make my wife happy.”