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“The spice of life is a sassy wife.”
Kelli O’Connor Jamison’s life is chaotic on the best of days. She is newly married to the strict but loving Black Bear County Sheriff, attending law school, working for her stern but fair in-laws at their law firm, and sister to the testosterone driven O’Connor men. As if that’s not enough, she finds herself being drawn deeper into the world of the Investors: a group of underground criminals who are into everything from dispensing justice to murder.
When Kelli tries to help women escape the Investors’ hold, she becomes targeted by the same people. Aspen, her sister-in-law, is dating Thorne, who is up to something – but what? Kelli is frightened but she cannot step away, no matter what her menfolk tell her, or how hard her husband tries to show her the error of her ways.
Parker Jamison loves his caring, intelligent wife but is under no illusions that keeping her out of trouble is no less than a full-time job on some days. He doesn’t want Kelli in any of the Investors’ business, but no matter what he does to keep her safe, she finds herself in the middle of the chaos that turns dangerous.
Parker decides it is time to take over and hold the reins firmly out of her reach, deciding he will lessen her stress by making all her big decisions. Kelli gratefully agrees, but Parker knows it sounds easier than it is to put into practice. With the help of their family and a few well-placed motivators – used often – Parker does his best to keep Kelli happy, healthy, safe, secure… and alive.
Publisher’s Note: This, the third book in the Kelli O’Connor series, contains elements of power exchange, old-fashioned discipline, and explicit scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
Kelli O’Connor had one more week to finish her brief and get it reviewed by her mentor before submitting it for a final grade. She had been working hard on the abductions that happened last summer and the trial that was ongoing. While she was not a clerk for the prosecutor, County Attorney Martin Giles, he did mentor her as a favor to her sheriff husband, Parker Jamison. He was also friends with his father Monty and his brother Chase, both attorneys. Martin showed her all the tricks and honed her thinking. She worked hard, and Martin made her sweat for it, but she was proud of the work she turned in, and so was the instructor.
“Kelli, you have such insight, especially into this type of case. I would highly recommend you go into criminal law,” her instructor said one day.
“Well, my father-in-law and brother-in-law own the office I will practice in, and they are mostly family law and small town defense attorneys. I’m not sure they’ll be happy to bring in a criminal attorney. Maybe I’ll talk to our local county attorney and see if there is a need.”
“Let’s work on where you should focus this last year at the beginning of the semester, shall we? Talk to the Jamisons and to Martin Giles about it.”
Kelli had agreed and put a bug in Martin’s ear, but he was hip deep in prosecuting the abduction and murder of a young woman that no matter how hard they tried, they could not connect to the underground trafficking ring they knew was responsible. She knew Martin needed a vacation because, several times in the last week, he had forgotten to fill her in on where he was in the case so she could follow the progression of the trial. This morning, Kelli had gathered some paperwork that had arrived while Martin was in court, and she entered the courtroom to deliver it.
They were about to call a recess, and she debated waiting until the break before approaching the plaintiff’s table, but decided if he had asked for them while in court, she shouldn’t wait. Glancing at the defense’s table, she stalled when she saw the defendant. She found herself looking eye to eye with a man she recognized. She had seen him in a lounge she had visited with Nia and Aspen and their boyfriends Garth and Thorne about eight months earlier. It was right before Christmas, and she was having a night out after her finals before going home for break. He had given her the same creepy crawlies as Garth always did.
She hated that Nia still dated Garth because Kelli was sure he had his hands in something unsavory, but it still confused her that he was a co-worker with Thorne. What kind of job was ‘insurance and securities?’ Aspen seemed fine with the vagueness, and even Parker had not been worried since both he and Thorne Hogan had a heart to heart during her wedding reception. She figured it must have been to make sure Aspen was safe. Thorne obviously had reassured her husband because the subject was dropped afterwards. Kelli liked Thorne, he made you feel like he was watching out for you because you were important to Aspen, but something was not right.
Kelli tried not to show her recognition, but the man smirked, and she knew her efforts had been in vain. She jerked her head back to Martin and handed him the papers. He immediately asked for a recess after glancing at them. It was almost lunch, and the judge granted it until two. It had been a long morning.
Once back in his office, Martin turned to Kelli. He was not happy. “How do you know him?”
“What? Who, him?” Martin looked at her hard and just waited. “Oh, in court today. I don’t know him. I recognized him when I was out with friends just before Christmas. I was never even told his name.”
Kelli remembered that Garth started to introduce him, but as he was telling Nia about the man, Thorne leaned down and brushed Aspen’s cheek with his lips. “You two, go to the bathroom, now.”
Kelli heard the urgent tone and didn’t hesitate to go with her sister-in-law. Fifteen minutes later, they returned to a calmer Thorne, and the man was gone. She didn’t get the impression that Thorne would discuss it with her, so she let it go. Today, when she saw him, she understood why Thorne was imperative. Did Thorne know what Robert Coleridge was into, and did it have anything to do with Thorne? She couldn’t tell Martin, but she could tell Aspen and then Parker. What was really going on with Thorne and the people he associated with, anyway?
“Did you hear me?”
“Oh, Martin, I’m so sorry. I have so much going on right now; my brain goes on rabbit trails often. Can you repeat it please?”
“I said that if you had socialized with him, it might have put your involvement in jeopardy, but if you say you didn’t, then that’s good enough for me. Now, have a great month off, and I’ll bring you up to speed when you get back.”
Kelli reached up and gave him a quick hug. She liked and respected the experienced hard nose, and she told him so often. Sternness wasn’t off-putting to Kelli. She had dominant men everywhere she turned. “Yep, it’ll be a month.”
He waved her on. Kelli zoomed out of the courthouse because she had promised to be home before dinner. She was knocked off her feet by another moving object. Her mind momentarily blanked as her brain tried to process what just happened and she saw a proffered hand. Looking up, she was horrified to see it was Robert Coleridge reaching down to help her up from the concrete. She recoiled and scooted away from him but not before he murmured in a menacing voice near her ear.
“You watch yourself, Mrs. Jamison. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you or those nice looking women in your family if you know what I mean.” He sneered before standing up. He walked away without a backward glance.
Kelli stood and ran her shaking hands over her pantsuit before taking several slow cleansing breaths to ward off the panic attack she felt in her tightening chest. She shivered, feeling gooseflesh appear on her skin regardless of the heat of the summer day. Looking to see Coleridge was gone; she hurried to her car, locked the door and turned on her engine. As soon as Kelli could breathe easier, she pulled out into the first opening in traffic and headed for Aspen’s apartment and safety. Her hands were sweaty. Her head and heart still pounded by the time she had arrived. Kelli was relieved that Thorne was there waiting for Aspen. It made her feel secure.
Thorne looked up when Kelli opened the door. “Hey, I thought you would have already gone home to that husband of yours. It’s the end of classes this week, right?”
“Yes. I’m on my way.” Her voice was subdued and stilted.
He paused and looked thoughtfully in her direction before asking, “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Kelli knew Thorne was like Parker, always alert to problems, and today was no different, only she was too shaken up over the incident to share.
“Nothing. I’m going to get the rest of my things packed and go home.”
“Kelli.” His voice was authoritative, like Parker’s when he wanted something. “What happened?”
Her lip trembled when faced with another protective man. Tears sprung to her eyes, and she blinked them away, swallowing hard. “I had a run in, quite literally, with the man Martin Giles is prosecuting, Robert Coleridge. You know, one of the men they thought abducted that young woman last fall. They believe that he was part of the larger ring but aren’t sure, and so far, we can’t prove it. The case isn’t getting stronger; it’s turning into one based on more circumstance than verifiable fact.”
Kelli watched as Thorne’s eyes seemed to narrow. “What do you mean, you ran into him?”
“Literally. Coleridge slammed into me as I was coming out of the courthouse. He tried to help me up, but I wouldn’t let that scum touch me; he gives me the creeps. Besides, I’m sure he did it on purpose because as he was leaning down with his offer to help, he threatened me.”
“What? Tell me exactly what he said.” Thorne went dangerously calm.
“He said I should watch myself. He wouldn’t want anything to happen to ‘those nice looking women in my family,’ or me.” Her voice tremored again.
Thorne swore heavily, and hearing those words flame across the room, somehow lessened her tension, allowing her to giggle nervously. “My husband would take exception to that language, mister.”
Thorne stood as though processing the words, and then he smiled slightly. “Only with you and maybe Aspen, but me, he couldn’t care less. But I apologize for burning your ears.”
She shrugged. “I’m used to it.” When he lifted his eyebrows, she continued. “College.” He nodded.
“Let’s get you on your way. I’ll call Parker.”
“No. I can tell him.”
“I want to know if he thinks you need an escort down.”
“I don’t. Look, I’ll call and tell him I’m leaving, and I’ll call Aspen when I get home.”
He stood staring at Kelli as though contemplating her words before answering her. “Okay, but don’t make me regret giving in.”
Yep, Aspen had not escaped the testosterone camp any more than Kelli had. They were all doomed to be over protected and thoroughly loved. She quickly packed and left the apartment just moments after Aspen arrived home.
Aspen handed Kelli a bottle of water. “I’ll be down next weekend, so could you let the folks know? Tell everyone I’m fine and I said hello.”
“Wait, call home first.” Thorne’s look was stern, and Kelli called only to have to leave a message on Parker’s cell.
“Best I could do.” She waved and hugged them both.
As she was hugging Thorne, he whispered, “Be careful and go straight home.” She nodded and was out the door.
Thorne reached for his phone.
Kelli walked into her house and promptly stumbled in the entryway while precariously holding onto the mail, her school paperwork, her bag and dragging her suitcase behind. She tripped on a wrinkle in the entry carpet. Swearing loudly before giving up the fight and dropping everything, she watched her entire armload fall. Hearing them land on the floor with a thud, she almost cried.
“Great!” she yelled to the room at large. “Just what I need, stumble like a drunk in the front door and make a big mess which I’m gonna have to clean up.” After what happened this morning at the courthouse, she was suddenly tired of classes and running everywhere. I don’t know what possessed me to finish law school. It’s probably just a big waste of time anyway.
She kicked the notebook that littered her path as she tried to step over the clutter and landed on her butt, adding to the heap on the floor. A small tantrum ensued as she kicked her way out of the chaos that now touched every available walking space in the entry. She strode toward the kitchen to find the corkscrew, a bottle of wine, and a glass. She heard her phone sing a notice that identified a text message had come through. She knew it was probably Parker, so she wasn’t in a rush to pick it up. He would understand. He always did, and even that bothered her today.
Their married life hadn’t started out the way most couples did. Her marriage began with an election for the sheriff of Black Bear County, a return to law school, and a revealing that sister-in-law Jocelyn was pregnant. Then things got hectic. After one especially chaotic week last fall, Parker made an announcement.
“I need the relaxation, so I’m working on a bench. We will discuss the use of it later.” Parker was adamant, and she was tired. Both let the subject drop. A few short weeks later, the issue reappeared.
“I’m going to put in some hours this weekend designing our own spanking bench.”
“What?” Kelli asked while clenching her butt cheeks.
“Yep, you need it, and I need it. I’m going to build a customized spanking bench complete with soft leather padding, so you will be comfortable.”
“Parker, I love you, but a spanking never has and will never be comfortable. I don’t have time for that kind of playing around. I mean, really, aren’t you stressed enough?”
“Right, I am, so that’s why I’m going to build one. It will be relaxing for me to work on the wood. Then, it will relax us both to use it.”
“Nothing is relaxing about you pounding on my butt.”
“Really? Do you want to put that statement to the test? I’m willing to wager you’re wrong.”
“Okay, well I’m too tired to play then.”
He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Relaxation is exactly why I am going to spend some time on it as soon as I get the design done. It will release stress for both of us.”
“Why couldn’t you take up a hobby that doesn’t include my participation?”
“You’ll love it.”
Parker had settled into being sheriff easily, which entailed more paperwork and more schmoozing than chief deputy but that was it. He enjoyed the job and was tired most days, but true to his word, he had worked on the piece of furniture. It had taken him months to create the lovely, hand-carved play piece. They’d used it during Christmas break last year and at least once a month after that.
Kelli had finally gotten into her routine with its expectation of assignments again, but she was still exhausted most days except Friday. Parker had set that day aside for only them, turning down multiple invitations over the last year. She acknowledged that her husband did a good job of taking care of her when she allowed it.
All that heavy stress was behind her now as she only had two more semesters to graduate. It didn’t look like the next semester would be any less crazy than the previous ones, but the type of work was closer to her past life before she’d re-entered school. Her fieldwork with Chase would be more hours this next year, and she loved that part. She’d also received a renewal offer for another six months with the county attorney’s office, two afternoons per week while she was in Missoula on Mondays and Tuesdays. It meant she would be late coming home on Tuesday, but she would feel more like an attorney and less like a student.
After the last few weeks, she had been having serious doubts about whether she was going to continue school. She was exhausted, missed her family, stretched thin and now, to top it off, she was having baby dreams. Would she never catch a break? Her biological clock wasn’t that far advanced. She had been contemplating starting their family. All that changed though when she saw Robert Coleridge in court today and his later actions towards her. She had to find out what the connection was between him, Garth, and possibly Thorne. She couldn’t begin a new life until she knew it would be safe.
Parker’s sister, Aspen, was a behavioral psychologist, and she explained it was natural for Kelli to long for the familiar. Aspen pointed out that family, routine, babies, were all part of the comforting life Kelli was longing to have. She wanted it because she had grown up in a nurturing environment and because she and Parker were so good together. “Besides,” Aspen explained, “Your whole family was having babies.”
Maybe she was right. Even Cheyenne, who was adamantly opposed to starting a family for several years after the marriage, had only lasted a year before joining the baby brigade. They now had a lovely daughter, McKenna. In her mind, it was settled. Make sure there were no dangers, and no creepy crawly people coming around, and they would start a family.
Kelli took a long taste of her wine. If she had her way, she wouldn’t do one thing that she didn’t have to do this month. The phone dinged again, and when no response was forthcoming, her phone burst out in full melodic song. It was a call from Parker. She was excited to speak to him as much as she was irritated at the interruption. Slamming the corkscrew on the counter in frustration, she stormed over to the disaster on the floor, rummaging through her purse to answer the phone. Her frustration was evident in her tone.
“Hello.” She threw the phone on speaker and laid it on the counter while she continued rummaging for something to take the edge off her hunger.
“Hey, where are you?”
“At the bar.”
Silence. “Okay, where are you really?”
“It is where I am, really.” There was another pause. “If you must know, it’s our bar. At home. I’m waiting for my husband to bring home dinner complete with a chocolate dessert, and a bottle of wine.”
“We have a bottle in the cupboard.”
“Yeah, already opened, we need another.”
“Kelli. How much have you had?”
“Not nearly enough.”
“Put it down.” Kelli rolled her eyes and sighed. He was using his naughty wife voice. “I promise to bring you another bottle, but if you have had too much, we will save it until tomorrow.” It had that ‘I’m the sheriff’ mixed with ‘I’m your husband’ tone which would normally set her heart into palpitations, and her tummy to twinge in submission as her panties became damp in arousal. It could be quite effective in the right circumstances, which this was not. She felt her belly tighten in irritation, and the lines deepened on her face.
Kelli’s mental and emotional exhaustion was evident in her flippant response. “Well, guess I’d better make sure to get what I need before you come home. Comfort food, please. Like chicken pot pie and mocha mud ice cream.”
“Well, about that. Did you forget the barbecue tonight?”
“No, no barbecue tonight and besides, I don’t want to socialize yet. Parker, I just got here.”
His voice was tender and low. “I know, baby, and we would beg off if we could, but we can’t. As of my conversation with Jocelyn this morning, it was still on. Did you call and reschedule?”
“No, I just decided that I didn’t want to go tonight.”
“Look, I’m on my way. We can talk when I get there, but your family wants to celebrate your accomplishments, so you have to be gracious and go.” She could hear the understanding in his voice.
“I know, but I’m too tired.” Her voice reflected her words. “I’m just going to relax until then.”
“No more wine until I get there.” She sighed. Her sheriff husband was back. “I’m on my way. Did you call Thorne to tell them you were home safe?”
“You mean Aspen? And how do you know I was going to do that?”
Another pause. “Don’t you usually call them?”
“Nope. He called you, didn’t he? What did he say?”
“Just call them, and I’ll talk to you about it when I get home. No more wine, young lady.”
He didn’t even wait for her to reply and damn if that didn’t get her tummy to tumble and her pink bits tingling. Kelli had long since accepted that Parker’s bossiness did it for her. She was her own woman, but her take-charge man excited her. Oh, there were plenty of times she wasn’t happy to follow his lead, but she loved that he took the lead. She shook her head. Did that even make sense?
It was a ‘contradiction in terms causing her own internal conflict that she needed to resolve.’ That’s what her brother’s therapist wife Jocelyn and her husband’s psychologist sister Aspen were both quick to point out to her. However, love wasn’t always rational, right? Or readily resolvable. Besides, she had begun to experiment with letting go when life was too much, or she found herself stretched too thin. It was a heady feeling to allow Parker to catch her when she just released. She didn’t know what it meant, but what she did understand was it was delicious, and her husband had been encouraging her to do it for a while. Maybe she would allow him to ‘keep’ her as Parker called it, just like he called her panic attack kisses ‘calming kisses.’
Kelli took the bottle, the glass, and a cupcake that Parker’s mom, Caris, must have left for them, to the couch where she got comfortable. Parker rarely ate sweets this rich. She didn’t understand how Parker could show so much restraint because if she were home a week alone, she would have eaten every one of these yummy cakes. He had only eaten three. She shrugged, leaves more for me.
She glanced towards the entryway and felt guilty as the mess taunted her, but she was going to ignore it. Kelli always missed her husband when they were apart, but this time it was more than usual. She’d had no choice but to stay away the whole week to finish the courses. Six days was more than she’d ever been away from him since they had begun dating. She could hardly wait to see him.
That reminded her that she needed to appease her darling, so she grabbed her phone and called Aspen. Duty done, she hung up and reached for her glass. The phone rang again. It’s a conspiracy to keep me from enjoying my wine. It was Liam.
“Hold on.” She took a healthy swallow of wine without the pretense of savoring. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Jocelyn is in labor, and she says she isn’t going to the hospital. Can you come to help her deliver?”
“What? No, I’ll come, but someone else better do the delivery.”
“Oh, right, Katie and the midwife will be there. We just thought you’d like to be here.”
“How did you know I was home?”
“I called Parker first.”
“Oh, right. Well, I thought you were having a barbecue.”
“We can still do that I guess.” His voice noticeably hesitant, he added, “Or we can put it off one day and add celebrating the new baby to the party.”
“Yeah, let’s put it off two days, and it’s a deal. Okay, I see Parker pulling into the drive, so we shouldn’t be too long.”
Parker walked into the front door and stepped into the pile still cluttering the floor.
“What is this mess?” He gingerly stepped over the disarray in front of him and turned quickly only to slam into Kelli who reached and snagged her purse from the debris.
“Come on. We have to get to the ranch. Jocelyn is in labor.”
He held her steady as he kissed her hard on the lips. “So I heard, but she just started the contractions. No baby, even an impatient O’Connor, is coming that fast, so stop and clean this clutter up. I need to shower and change anyway.”
“It can wait a little longer.” Kelli began to walk back into the kitchen when a big hand grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into a hot, hard body, and a hand landed a searing swat on her unsuspecting rump.
“Kiss me.” He growled when she pecked his lips lightly. “A real kiss.” He followed his demand up with his hungry lips on her tender ones. Tongues dueled and danced, drawing sweet sounds of arousal from both participants. She whimpered when Parker pulled away, leaving them both panting. He dropped a quick lip tickle on her nose and said, “Now, pick up this mess.”
“I will.” Kelli’s message of disregard was quiet in volume but loud in effect.
“Now please,” came his stern reply.
He swatted her butt with more serious intent, then pulled her into his kiss, aggressive in his need that was apparently still unsatiated. His lips connected with Kelli’s mouth again, hard, bruising her tender flesh further, but she didn’t care. Parker’s need matched her own and created a desperate vortex of desire that surrounded them. She had no idea how long they stood there, tongues dancing, lips blending in the erotic movements consuming her thoughts, but the world came crashing back when he pulled away for a second time.
“Mmm, I love you, Kelli girl, but we have things we need to do, and if I stand here any longer, we won’t go and see the newest member of the family make his or her appearance.”
“We have time, you said…”
He swatted her bottom again. “Never mind what I said. I’m taking a quick shower, and you are cleaning this up. I promise to take care of you later.”
“You better.” Her voice sounded petulant as she moved to get away from her husband and his talking hand.
“I know you haven’t forgotten so soon that a naughty wife gets her bottom heated, so I’d change my tune.”
“But I have things to talk to you about.”
“We have the next month to talk.” He winked at her as he stepped away. “Among other things.”
“You’d think you didn’t really miss me. Maybe I should just go back to Missoula and spend my off time there,” she muttered, half teasing, half disgruntled as she noisily stacked the notebooks and papers. The words were childish, but she didn’t care.
He snagged her hand. “What?”
She yanked her hand back.
Shaking his head, he continued. “I see I’ll have to take care of this little issue now so we can enjoy the rest of the evening because my wife is begging to have her sassy attitude addressed. You need attention, and you have no patience even though I promised to take care of things. So here you go, all the attention you could want for a night.”
Parker picked up his Celtic cutie and kissed her nose before laying her over the back of the overstuffed sofa that was her favorite place to cuddle. Before she could catch her breath, she was trying to breathe through a hard flurry of swats. As she opened her mouth to yell her displeasure, she began to feel the metamorphosis that happened when her monumental stress and overtiredness collided with an unrelenting open palm, creating a need she couldn’t quite name, but when added to her already desperate arousal, the result was combustible.
Nevertheless, she knew Parker recognized her discontent. He always did. Hot breath and tender words floated across her ear. “Your bottom is getting kind of warm, my sexy baby. Have you had enough attention so that I can shower? Do you need more?” Her breathing sounded labored, but she didn’t answer. “You do, don’t you? Too much going on to let go, I see. I can help you, Kel.”
He resumed tending to her bouncing bottom and, soon, the dam broke. Fat, hot tears rolled down her face, and her sniffles grew to great sobs. Parker swooped Kelli up, carrying her to the opposite side of the sofa and sat with her in his lap.
“You were missing me and looks like you were minus your control.” He kissed her swollen lips. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you get everything put back in its rightful place. I’ll help you pull it all together and keep it there.”
Kelli cuddled and sniffled. She needed him to help her release her tension, but hearing him speak about her control, she felt that desire once again to give it all to him, for a while anyway. She had worked hard her whole adult life to gain and keep control. She also knew how much Parker worked to help her find a balance. He always met her needs, even when she didn’t always know what those were. He kept her centered. He loved her. She had to talk to him about her thoughts.
“Parker, I have something to talk to you about. It’s nothing serious. I mean, it’s a serious conversation about several things, but we don’t have to have it now. We can talk in the next few days.”
Kelli knew Parker accepted her quirks, even if she hadn’t learned how yet. Like right now. She was ashamed of how she felt. She wanted him to take over, love her, lead her, care for her, chastise her and nurture her. In short, she wanted him to be her keeper in all ways. Not always, like he would be more than happy to do, but for a little bit, or maybe this whole month.
She wasn’t going to abdicate adulthood or anything. Just leave it in the drawer occasionally. Did she dare tell him? Was it just a passing fancy? He had broken through so many of her defenses. Was this just another one of those walls that needed a blast to get through? On the other hand, she could be exhausted and simply needed some sleep.
She almost kept going and told him all she was thinking but decided not to, not yet, in case she felt different tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow, after she’d slept and started to relax, let’s see what the world looked like after that. She was a kick butt woman who wanted to run the show, not turn in her adult card. Regardless what Cheyenne said about turning it all over, Kelli wasn’t feeling more powerful, but so much less.
“I’m good now. Thanks for helping me dump the crap I came home with.” She sat up and wiped her face on her shirt. “I do wish there was a less painful way of getting there.” She gave him a crooked smile that he returned. “Go shower, and I’ll clean the mess. We should get going.”
“Yep, you’re right. Glad it helped, and you’re correct, we do have some things to discuss later, like safety away from me.” He kissed her cheek and then her lips lightly before pushing her to a standing position so he could get up as well. “Be back in a jiffy.”
True to his word, fifteen minutes later, Parker came out dressed in a western shirt with pearlescent snaps down the front. She had no words to describe her hunger for this man and the pride she had that he was hers. All thoughts of checking out of the adult world flew from her mind. All she could think of was being very grown up with the local sheriff.
* * *
Parker watched Kelli as they drove to the Circle C, her Montana family’s ranch. Her father had the Emerald Isle Ranch in Wyoming. Parker and Kelli lived in their own home on his family property about twenty miles away from the Circle C ranch. People always referred to his family property as the Jamison place, but its official name was the Swinging J. It wasn’t always easy or comfortable running a ranch, but they had plenty of help on all three spreads, which was why they could diversify a little if they wanted.
Parker’s family, as well as Kelli's brothers Shane, Quinlan, and Cián and in-law Andrew, took on professions with some ranching on the side. Kelli’s brothers Liam and Ciarán were expanding operations on the Circle C, and Sean O’Connor liked to keep his operation minimal in diversity but strong in cattle and hay. He did very well as did they all. Kelli was very familiar with that type of life, but being female, she’d never done any of the heavy work unless she volunteered. Parker agreed with that philosophy. In fact, when he had found her riding fences with her horse several weekends ago, he tried to stop her, but his father, an infinitely wiser man than Parker, discouraged it.
“It isn’t something that will hurt her, Parker, it is definitely tiring though, and I think that’s what she needs, something to make her tired. She doesn’t look like she’s slept much, and I bet it’s because school and married life with a sheriff are stressful.”
“That’s exactly why she shouldn’t be doing this type of work.”
“It’s exactly why she should be and why you should be there beside her.”
Against his better judgment, he rode with her, and they had a good time, enjoying the ride, the countryside, and working together. She slept like a baby that night, and the rest of the week she was home, but then the final end of semester push came. When he saw her tonight, he almost called a halt to school. She was exhausted, cranky, and drinking wine, which he didn’t agree with for those purposes. Enjoyment of it, occasionally, no problem, but to lean on it to relax was a dangerous habit. He had seen the results of it too many times.
He needed to help her find other ways to relax. If he could take the burden, he would, but his wife was stubborn. That trait had carried her through some tough times, but it also undermined her health and happiness during others. Control was one of those things he couldn’t make her hand over to him. If she would just consider it, he would gladly take it from there. It was their agreement and his responsibility to take care of her, regardless of how she responded. She had already given her consent. She needed a keeper, and he was ready for the job.
There were other signs that she was not doing well. She seemed unhappy. They hadn’t had time to chat yet, but she needed the release, and while he had not planned on heating up her bottom, she told him she needed it in so many non-verbal ways. He looked over at her now, chatting on the phone with her sisters-in-law. They had her on speakerphone, and she seemed so much more relaxed. Regardless of what Thorne had relayed to him about the happenings this morning, she now appeared unaffected by the event. Well, her little spanking might have helped.
He didn’t have the heart to tell her that they had found another victim of the trafficking ring. He and the rest of Montana had hoped they had closed shop a year ago. Unfortunately, they seemed to have only gone underground for a time. Now, it was evident that they were coming back out into the light, bolder than ever.
It bothered him that he couldn’t disclose all of what he knew to everyone, but Kelli’s brother Quinlan was a police officer serving as the internal relations officer to keep collaboration in place between Parker’s office and Elk Ridge’s police force. Since Parker had become sheriff, there were fewer incidences of misunderstanding between the two offices, but it was because Quinn and Parker worked hard to keep it that way.
There was also a complaint lodged against Quinn. It stated that since the sheriff and the liaison ‘were now related,’ the complainant declared preferential treatment in favor of the sheriff’s department, but there hadn’t been. Parker sighed. Soon the families would have to figure what actions, if any, they needed to take for safety. He would wait until Jocelyn had the baby tonight or tomorrow and then the men would discuss the issue they faced, before they brought in their women.
Parker turned to his woman now that she had put away the phone. “Any good news?”
She smiled. He loved her smile. “She is progressing. I won’t fill you in on the gory details, but I’ll make it in time to live through the transition phase, the toughest and shortest part, and then welcome our little O’Connor. Boy or girl?”
“Girl, there is no doubt about it. They have more than enough boys, and poor Bailey needs help in balancing the hormones.”
“Yeah, well I want a girl too, but this family tends to produce males. In fact, the only O’Connor man beside Da who has created any daughters is Quinlan. I think that is hilarious because he is the big bad Dom. Around his womenfolk, though, he’s mush and the biggest pushover. It’s endearing.”
“It’s what makes him a good dom. He loves them completely.”
“Cheyenne can get away with anything.”
“Kelli, we both know that isn’t even close to the reality of it. They have a good relationship, and she knows when to push and when to step back. She’s had over four years with him.”
“I guess,” she agreed as they pulled up to Liam’s house. “Good Lord, look at that house, every light in the place is on.”
Later that evening, little Ráichéal Katori entered the world amidst her large family. She even heard her grandparents’ voice on the phone. Her new siblings were all crowding around to get a glimpse since Mama wouldn’t let anyone but Papa hold little Ráichéal. The kids had to be content with touching but not holding. Bailey was sure Mama had her little sister for her to play with but was too tired to complain much about not getting to hold her playmate.
After the men sat around congratulating Liam, and the women made sure Jocelyn was well cared for, they all went home to give the new mama and papa a chance to rest with their newest little one.
Liam and Jocelyn now officially had nine children, the oldest seven became members by adoption, but Liam never let anyone point that out without good reason. They were both fiercely protective of their brood. Jon was going into his second year of college in a few weeks, and Gideon was a freshman. Jon went to college in Missoula like Kelli and drove home almost every Thursday evening to return on Sunday night. He made extra money by working on the ranch, as did the other children. Gideon would now be joining them.
Zach would be graduating high school this next school year. Once he began college in another year, Liam said it would be cheaper for him to rent an apartment than to pay dorm costs for all three. It would be a little bit before any of the others graduated.
Jocelyn said she’d finished adding to her family and Liam was more than happy to agree. Seven boys and now two girls were considerably more than Parker could even think about. He admired their dedication to the kids. Kelli’s other brothers and one sister had one or two each, and that meant that Siobhan and Sean had fifteen grandchildren.
Parker’s brother Chase and his wife Audrey had two boys, both in elementary school, both doing well. His parents, Monty and Caris, with only three children, would never catch up in grandchildren to Siobhan and Sean, but the combined families were more than enough to keep the gatherings lively. Parker just wanted one to start. Something else he wanted to begin thinking about as soon as his girl was ready.
His younger sister, Aspen, was still working on a forever commitment, and that brought his thoughts back to Kelli’s uneasiness about her friend from the local café, Nia’s boyfriend, Garth and Aspen’s boyfriend, Thorne. He would have to ask about how that situation was going. Although, speaking with Thorne earlier today, things seemed fine. It would still be a good idea to keep an eye on things.
Chase had asked him just this week how Kelli and Aspen were doing. He wanted to be honest, and so he said Kelli was tired and Aspen seemed happy. He was glad that Thorne seemed as watchful and preoccupied with keeping his own woman safe. Protection was something he worried about more than ever now in regards to Kelli. Tonight, however, his wife needed sleep after some good loving from her man. The barbecue would be soon enough to approach the subject of safety with the others.
After a quiet half hour’s drive home, Parker sent Kelli in to shower while he checked on a few things, including making a call to the office and locking up the house. He was anxious to love on his woman after a week away. He would just feel better if he had his arms around her again.
He could smell the steamy perfume of Kelli’s shower when he stepped onto the second-floor landing where the bedrooms were. Making a quick stop in the guest bathroom himself, he stripped, brushed his teeth, and checked the staying power of his deodorant before walking into the bedroom. There in the middle of the bed was his naked wife, sound asleep. He didn’t have the heart to wake her up, and since tomorrow was Saturday, he had nothing pressing first thing except his hard on and her sweet body.