Thank the Lord for GPS. Calliope followed the pleasant female voice’s instructions to turn left. She tightened her grip on the wheel and tried to slow her racing heart. She’d expected to feel anxiety when she’d landed in Boston. The last time she’d been at the airport, she’d been signing paperwork to ship Henry’s body back to Colorado.
She’d been very cold that day, even though it was July. Today she’d felt nothing, however, as she’d collected her luggage and picked up her rental. But the closer she got to Augstown -- the place where Henry had died -- her nerves took center stage. If she wasn’t careful, she was going to hyperventilate.
How embarrassing would that be?
“Relax, Calliope,” she said. “If you go in like this, Silas Hope will think you’re a nut case and you’ll lose the job, and possibly your agent at the same time.”
That would be disastrous. Although Henry had left her well-off, the money wouldn’t last her for the rest of her life. Jolie was right when she said Calliope needed to work. More than that she needed to join the world again, to know that the sun rose at the beginning of the day and set at the end, no matter what happened. She needed to remember that she wasn’t the only person in the world to lose a husband.
People dealt with pain and loss every day, and they didn’t retreat from the world. She knew some people who began dating months after their spouses died. Those people didn’t break down when someone took a whip to their ass.
She winced as she remembered her reaction to feeling Justin’s whip. The minute she’d been secured between the columns at the club, she’d tensed up, her entire body feeling like a plank of wood. The strike had been so painful she’d screamed, and not in a good way.
Justin had ordered her released from her bonds. She’d tried to beg him to continue, tell him she would try harder to relax, but he’d refused to go on.
“You’re obviously not ready for this.”
His words echoed in her mind.
“I need it,”
“Physically yes, but mentally”
-- he’d tapped her forehead -- “you need to exorcise Henry. I won’t beat you just so you get physical release. If you want to talk about ways you can move on, we can do that. But there will be no whipping tonight.”
He’d been right, she knew, and she’d tried to stop seeing her late husband in everything she did or saw, but it was hard. Going on this job wasn’t helping. Maybe when it was over she would be able to move on. Maybe this would help her to finally lay Henry to rest in her mind.
The GPS instructions led her to the ghost town, and when she pulled into the drive, she stopped. The place had been overgrown woods and ramshackle houses the last time she’d been here.
Now the foliage was cut back, and a large plantation-style house sat next to a large parking lot. Calliope parked next to a large SUV -- the one she remembered Silas Hope driving the last time she’d been here -- and stared at the structure.
It was three stories high, with wraparound porches on all levels, supported by large columns. The wood was painted a cream color, and red shutters bracketed the floor to ceiling windows. Rocking chairs gave it a very homey feel, and Calliope couldn’t help but smile. It definitely seemed as if it belonged to another time.
A large gray cat sat on one of the railings, staring at her. She got out of her car and watched it as it watched her.
“Hello,” she said, and the cat’s ears perked up. Then it jumped to the porch and sauntered into the house through an open window. Seconds later the door opened, and Silas Hope appeared. He looked exactly like she remembered him, large and muscular with long, black hair. He wore jeans, and a black T-shirt that advertised Augstown.
He took the stairs rapidly, and Calliope watched him intently. Seeing him brought back memories she’d rather forget.
“Hello,” he called out as he neared her. “What do you think?” He swept his hand toward the hotel, but kept his gaze focused on her.
“I like it. It’s much larger than I thought it would be.”
“We added a level from our original plan,” he said as he drew up next to her. He offered his hand, and she took it, hoping he didn’t notice her palms were sweating. “We decided to put all the guest rooms on the second and third floors. The bottom floor is the kitchen, dining room, three living areas, a library, and the office.”
“We think so.” He gave her a bright smile before he let go of her hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Thank you.” She swallowed hard. “Thanks for the job.”
“You’re welcome. We put you on the third floor. We’re not taking guests until Halloween, but some of the rooms are done. Yours is a suite.”
He waved his hand toward the car. “Can I get your bags?”
“Sure.” They made their way to the back of the car, and she hit the button to open the trunk as she walked. “I’ll get the camera bags, and you can get the rest.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He grabbed her two suitcases as Calliope shouldered the two camera bags that she’d carried on the plane with her.
His grunt when he lifted one of the cases made her laugh. “Who knew clothes could weigh so much?”
She gave him a sly grin. “I packed some of the not-so-fragile equipment in there, two tripods, and some cords and things. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He took a step back, and she knew he expected her to take the lead. As she headed up the stairs, the cat came out from the window and jumped onto the railing.
“That’s Sylvester,” Silas said. “He’s the official greeter. He let me know you were here.”
“Yeah, he gets extra treats when he does his job.” Silas went past her, set down a case, and then opened the screen door. “After you.”
Calliope stepped inside, and a smile lit her face. “This is beautiful.”
“Thanks.” He set her cases down beside her. “On your right we have the large living room and off it are two smaller sitting rooms that have game tables and the like. To the left is the dining room and kitchen. We’re pretty much done down here. I’ll give you a tour later.”
“Sounds good.” She glanced over the wooden furniture, the embroidered cushions giving it a very elegant feel. The rugs were of varying shades of blue and made the room seem very soothing.
“We’ve tried to stay true to the 1700s feel on the inside. I lost the battle on the outside.”
She frowned in confusion. “What?”
“I wanted distressed wood outside, giving it a Puritan feel. But I was outvoted by everyone.” He laughed, which showed her that he wasn’t that upset by his loss. “Tell me you didn’t think Southern plantation when you drove up.”
“Well, the shutters maybe, but other than that, no. If there was Spanish moss outside, you’d be sunk, though.”
His laughter made her smile. “I’ll keep that in mind. We have an elevator, which I suggest since we have bags. It’s to the right of the staircase.”
She went in the direction he indicated, and when they were inside the elevator -- an old-fashioned cage type -- he hit the button for the third floor. The elevator started off slow, and Calliope leaned against the wall.
“How are you?” His voice was soft, soothing.
“Fine.” She gave him a smile, which she knew didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m fine. And you?”
“I’m okay.” The look he gave her let her know he wasn’t convinced by her words. “I’ve thought about you often, how you’ve handled Henry’s death. Even though I’d only met him twice, I could tell he was a good man.”
“He was.” She indicated her eye. “By the way, I’m sorry about...hitting you.”
“You’re forgiven.” His declaration sent chills up her spine. “I did get quite a ribbing about it from Chuck and some of my other friends, but I won’t hold it against you.”
She looked up at the dial as it moved past the second floor. “Thank you.”
An uncomfortable silence surrounded them. After a few seconds, she cleared her throat. “How many rooms do you have?”
“Twelve -- four suites, two on each floor, and eight regular rooms.”
The car had stopped, and he pulled open the gate.
“Only twelve? From the size of this place I would think there were more.”
“We wanted big rooms, comfortable ones that people would want to come back and visit,” Silas said as he indicated she should leave the elevator before him. “There’s a six-lane bowling alley in the basement, along with an indoor pool and hot tub. There’s an outdoor pool and hot tub too.”
“Cool.” She didn’t want to guess about the amount of money he’d spent. She was sure he had partners, since he said “we” several times, but he’d never mentioned who they were.
“Down at the end of the hallway, last door on the right is you.” When they were at the door, he set down the bags and inserted an old skeleton key.
“Ruin the ambience,” he said as he pushed the door open. She stepped inside and stopped. He handed her the key, and she took it and put it in the pocket of her slacks.
“Wow.” The room was done in reds and blues and carried the theme from downstairs with wood furniture. A large fireplace took up one wall, but what really caught her attention was the three-sectioned conversation chair in front of a huge bay window. She set down her bags and walked to it, looking out the window at the large expanse of forest, bordered by water.
“Absolutely gorgeous,” she whispered. Silas moved next to her, then pulled up the sash on the window.
“Step out.” She went onto the balcony, and the cool autumn air washed over her. So did the beautiful view out in front of her.
“This is incredible.”
“I think so.” He put his hands on the railing and leaned over it. “My house has the same view.”
That surprised her. “You don’t live here, in the B&B?”
“My managers and partners, Nella and Phillip Wells, live on the second floor. I have an indoor pathway, right outside this door, to my house.”
Calliope tried to imagine the end of the hallway, but she didn’t remember any doorway.
“The door’s masked by the curtain,” he said as if he’d read her mind. “I have the only key.”
She nodded. She remembered the curtain, which was bright red.
“Come on, I’ll show you.” He indicated she should go back inside. “I have something to give you too.”
“Return to you, actually.” He went inside and headed for the door, and she followed him, wondering what he could be talking about. She closed the door behind her and watched him go to the end of the hall and pull back the curtain. He unlocked the door and swept his hand in front of him. “After you.”
The doorway led to a long corridor, bordered by windows on either side. The walk was level for a few minutes, then angled downward.
“This enters onto what I call the first floor, the living quarters. It’s really the second floor. There’s a top and bottom floor, with the garage and shop on the bottom.” He stepped in front of her and unlocked the door.
“Wow again,” Calliope said as she stepped into what was really, loft space. The room was very open, and she could see the living room, dining room, and kitchen. A small hallway to the right led to the bedroom, or bedrooms, and the bathroom. He’d mentioned the garage and shop. “What’s on the top floor?”
Her heart seized, and her nipples hardened as he spoke. “Oh.”
He stepped around her. “I’ll be right back.”
Silas went to the hallway, but Calliope’s gaze went to the circular stairway in the corner of the room. He said the word dungeon very matter-of-factly, as if every house should have one. Of course maybe to him it should.
He came back with a wallet-sized booklet in his hand. She recognized it immediately, and her heart did a double-tap.
“Chuck took this from Henry’s pocket. I was going to give it to you before you left, but I never saw you again. I brought it with me when I came to Denver for the funeral, but I couldn’t find the right time. Then, I was going to mail it, but...” He held it out. “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get it back to you.”
She didn’t have to open it to know what was inside, but she did it anyway. The first photo was of her on her knees, hands bound behind her back, legs splayed by a spreader bar. Henry’s hard cock was in her mouth. In the next one he had a handful of her hair, and the photo was blurred enough to let the viewer know her head was moving.
Calliope flipped the page. The next photo was of her and Justin, his cock spearing her mouth. “Henry loved to watch me suck cock.” She hoped that didn’t make him seem like a pimp. “I mean, he didn’t have me suck everyone. But he did like to watch me submit that way. It made him very” -- her voice choked -- “hard.”
“A voyeur,” Silas said. “As a photographer I would expect nothing less.”
She murmured her agreement as she flipped the page. In the next one she was bent over a sawhorse, a crop rested against her welt-covered ass. She remembered that whipping, and her clit twitched as she looked at the next photo, the crop a blur as it pulled back. She remembered the sound of the instrument striking her bottom, and she groaned.
“Sometimes when we were in a restaurant, he’d pull this from his pocket and give it to me, make me look at the pictures while the waiter was at the table. He’d order like nothing was amiss, and I’d flip through them.”
She turned a page, saw her ass speared by Henry’s cock. “No one fucked me but him.”
She sniffed and wiped away a tear before snapping the book shut. “Thank you.”
“I’m so sorry, I should have...”
Calliope held up her hand to stop him. “Don’t apologize. Really, it’s okay.”
“It was wrong of me.” He inclined his head ever so slightly, and Calliope felt a twinge of desire for him. “I apologize.”
“Apology accepted,” she said. She held it to her chest. “And thank you. I can’t believe I didn’t even realize it was gone. I guess I just didn’t think about it.”
“I think you’ve had a few other things on your mind lately.”
She nodded, not wanting to tell him she had numerous other photo albums that she’d been glued to since Henry died. Not to mention the videos.
“Why don’t you go back to your room and rest for awhile? Nella’s planning a special dinner, and then the four of us can sit and talk about what we want from you in the way of photographs.” He leaned toward her. “Do you bowl?”
“Not in years.”
“We’ll give you tips, if we need to.” The friendly tone of his voice relaxed her. It was a feeling she hadn’t had in quite some time, and it made her smile.
“Do you have those long, inflatable things to keep the balls in line?”
A sexy grin spread across his face. “Yes, I do have a long, inflatable thing, but I don’t have any gutter guards.”
A blush spread across her cheeks, warming her face. “Um...”
“Sorry, I’m overstepping my bounds. Let me escort you back to your room. Nella’s scheduled dinner for seven; does that sound good to you?”
“Perfect, thanks.” She turned back toward the door.
“Which reminds me, I’m supposed to ask if you’re vegetarian, or if you have other dietary needs.”
“No, I’m an omnivore,” she replied without breaking step. She should turn around, go back to him and flirt, which was what he was doing. While part of her wanted to, there was another part that thought she was being disloyal to Henry. It was the same feeling she’d had when Justin had secured her arms between the posts at the club, the same sensation that raced through her when the whip came down, and Henry wasn’t there to voice his approval.
She had to find a way around it, or she would wither and die, never to feel the touch of a man again.
“I think I can find my way,” she said, turning when she got to the door. “And I’ll find my way down for dinner. See you around seven.”
“Come down earlier if you like, for a cocktail or two.”
“Will do,” she said, her voice echoing in the hallway as she hurried toward the B&B.
When she was back in her room, she leaned against the door, mentally kicking herself. She’d acted like a frightened turtle, tucking her head back into her shell at the first sign of danger. Silas wasn’t danger, and it was obvious from his comment that he was attracted to her.
She needed to act like an adult, like a woman would when a man flirted with her. But how was that? It had been so long since anyone but Henry had shown her any attention, and since he’d been gone she’d retreated into her shell, for real.
Justin told her she had to exorcise Henry from her mind. She’d been pissed when he’d said it, and she’d tried to pull away, but he’d held her wrists and kept her close.
“I’m not telling you to forget him, Calliope, but he’s gone, and he’s not coming back. It’s time for you to move on, and Henry would tell you the same thing. You being a recluse doesn’t honor his memory, it tarnishes it.”
He was right; she knew. But how the hell was she supposed to do it?
* * * * *
Silas sat down on the couch and ran his fingers through his hair. “Too fast, Hope, too fast.”
He’d been attracted to Calliope Ingalls when he’d seen her bound to the tree, her husband’s belt coming down on her ass. It had made him so hard, he’d thought he would split his jeans.
And then Henry had died, and Chuck had given him the photo book. Silas should have returned it to her before she left town, but there had been no time when he was alone with her. He was pretty sure Jolie knew Henry and Calliope were in a D/s relationship, since she’d booked him for photo shoots at clubs, but giving Calliope the photos in front of her had seemed wrong -- an invasion of her privacy.
But wasn’t it an invasion for him to keep the book, to look over the photos and imagine what it would be like to have her on her knees in front of him? He should be ashamed of himself for taking so long to get it back to her.
She’d been excited to get it back, and then he’d fucked it up by flirting with her. But she’d been so alluring, standing there with that sad smile on her face, her gaze centered on the photos in her hand.
Had she been celibate since her husband had died? From what Jolie had said, Calliope had pretty much kept to herself, and she was being forced to take part in life again by taking this job.
Silas wasn’t sure he wanted her to think of him as the one who pulled her from her comfort zone, at least not if she wasn’t ready to live again. But then again, maybe this was what she needed. He’d watched his sister lose her husband, but two months later she’d been sniffing around for a new one.
Then again his sister wasn’t exactly the sentimental type. She would take a birthday card from you, check for money, and then toss the card in the trash at the end of the party.
Something told him Calliope Ingalls had stacks of birthday cards secured in a shoebox in her closet. She probably had her report cards from grade school too.
Sitting beside those boxes, he was sure, were stacks of photographs her husband had taken of her in various stages of undress and in varying sexual positions. It was quite a memory to have, and something that would keep her thinking about him for years to come.
He wondered exactly how many photos she had of her and Henry together. How could a man compete with that? And what did you do with them if you managed to win her heart? How did you broach the subject? Or did you ignore it all together?
A sigh escaped him; then he slapped his hands on his thighs and stood. He had to find some way to get around her obvious reluctance to see him as anything other than a man who’d hired her to do a job.
It probably wasn’t the best thing to start a relationship with someone who was working for you, but Silas was willing to take the risk.
There were lots of buttons that belonged to Calliope Ingalls that he wanted to push.