Soul RestJoey W. Hill
She doesn't believe in love. He doesn't believe in dating.
Celeste has worked her ass off to establish her freelance blog as a source of accurate crime news for the Baton Rouge area. Being a workaholic, focusing solely on her career, was her choice. Several years ago, she had a life-changing experience in a BDSM club that made it clear she is a submissive, but she believes her past makes embracing that path impossible. Then Sergeant Leland Keller walks into her life. He's the kind of Dom she's always feared and hoped she'd meet, and he recognizes her as what he wants as well. But she fights submission as much as she longs for it.
Leland always thought he was looking for a docile, sweet-natured sub, but Celeste captures his attention in a way no other submissive has. He can tell Celeste is aching for love and surrender. Having served in the military and now as a patrol sergeant in one of Baton Rouge's most dangerous districts, he doesn't shy from a challenge.
His job is to protect and serve, and he's not going to let her down.
by Joey W. Hill
Book VII of the Knights of the Board Room series
A Knights of the Board Room Novel
Print ISBN: 978-1-942122-04-3
Published by Storywitch Press
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
Book Design by W. Scott Hill
Cover Design by Kendra Egert
Proof Reading by Nevair Kabakian
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Joey W. Hill. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Table of Contents
To Trinity for the wonderful instruction on Ichinawa.
To author Angela Knight and her husband for the great Hearts and Handcuffs workshop and further important guidance on the behavior of cops and reporters.
To Marie for guidance on skin tones and other insights into writing interracial couples.
To NCMaster for his knowledge of whip play marks.
A very special thanks to the members of the Baton Rouge police department who took the time to point a romance author in the right direction and/or show me around, despite the many demands of their challenging jobs. Also a fond thanks to the delightful security team at the Federal Courthouse. This was the first time I'd ever had to pursue research with folks with whom I didn't have an established relationship of some kind, so all of you helped alleviate a shy person's nervousness and gave me great input for the story.
To all of the above, your help is tremendously appreciated and made Leland and Celeste's book all the better for it. Anything I screwed up is my fault entirely.
To all the fans of the Knights of the Board Room series. Since there were initially five men, we thought it would be over at five books, right? Then Max and Leland showed up on the scene, so we had two more journeys than we expected. Though the series has regrettably come to its natural end, it has been a great ride, and you all have made the journey even more wonderful with your enthusiasm and love for these characters.
Never fear...our Knights and their ladies will live on, making guest appearances in other series, and you know I'll occasionally pen a free novella or short vignette revisiting the characters. [For those who've never been to the JWH Connection forum to download these kind of vignettes, there's a blurb at the end of the book to learn more.]
Last but not least, every acknowledgment in my books should include a heartfelt thanks to the NCSF. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is an organization whose tireless efforts help make it possible for us to write and read books about kink, and pursue it personally in the many wonderful, consensual ways we do.
Hope you all enjoy your time with Leland and Celeste!
Author Note: The street names in Baton Rouge are intentionally fabricated so that the criminal activity in this story doesn't connect to any real businesses or specific locations. However, District 1 is actually one of the more crime-plagued areas of this otherwise great city, which just enhances my respect for the police men and women who serve in that district.
"Going home to watch ESPN and jack off, Sergeant Keller?"
"Not my fault, Jai. Your nachos are aphrodisiacs. Sometimes they make me feel so pretty I just can't resist myself."
Celeste bit back a snort of laughter. She was tucked in the back corner of the convenience store, studying the scant selection of frozen entrees. Even in her stiletto-heeled boots, she wasn't tall enough to see over the aisles of snack options, but she could still hear the exchange. Since her sense of humor had been stomped somewhere south of her ass since early afternoon, it was a pleasant surprise to find she could still retrieve it.
She'd walked away from the crime scene perimeter, away from the reporters fighting like starving dogs to jam their cameras and mics as close as possible to the weeping parents of Loretta Stiles. Fortunately, the uniforms had folded the grieving couple into a car, probably taking them to the home of a friend or relative. No need to go to the coroner's office to identify their teenaged daughter's body, because they'd come home from a Sunday lunch with friends and found her.
The uniforms manning the barricade hadn't had time or patience for her own questions, not that Celeste could blame them. The official statement had been that Loretta Stiles was the victim of a homicide. They hadn't said "brutally murdered," but Celeste was pretty sure that was the case. She'd also bet good money there'd been evidence of rape. From working the crime beat in New Orleans and here in Baton Rouge for the past few years, she'd learn to pick up cues from body language. Loretta's mother looked as if she needed a dose of Valium large enough to keep her catatonic for the next decade. Her father's face was pale and suffused with helpless rage, though his hunched, protective posture toward his wife suggested he was being beaten with an invisible claw hammer. Even if Celeste hadn't seen the parents, the police's behavior would have given her the nature of the crime. The uniforms manning the barrier and the detectives on scene had a more-than-usual flatness to their eyes. Their tight mouths, their general state of pissed-off, was higher than the norm, and the carrion circling the scene hadn't helped.
She would have spent the night at home to do some research and make some calls, getting as much of a jump on the prep work as possible before an official statement was made, but a lead for another story had panned out. She'd been building a series on the drug trade in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, and a source had a tip for her. The one catch was she had to meet him in th
e crowded conditions of his favorite grunge club. Grunge being a comment on the location's hygiene, not its theme. So as not to stand out, she'd donned snug jeans, a bolero jacket and the boots that squeezed her feet like a garlic press. Big hoop earrings which made the sides of her neck itch and overdone makeup that clogged her pores completed the look. Though the outfit was a little younger generation for her, she'd been born with a youngish face, so while she was cruising into mid-thirties, she could pull off a twenty-something.
Fortunately, the aggravation had been worth it. Neil had given her a name that put her closer to the nexus of a major supplier in the area. He'd stabbed the air with his cigarette, held with surprising elegance between long, skinny fingers, and pinned her with eyes so deep in their sockets Celeste wondered that they didn't fall down his esophagus and get lost. "You talk to Stucco at the March club. You tell him Neil sent you, so he'll know you aren't trying to get him in trouble. And watch your fine ass, because he don't hang out anywhere near as nice as this."
She might need to update her tetanus shot before she met the man named after a wall paste. She'd given Neil a couple bills, resigned to the fact he'd use them on another fix rather than a healthy, nourishing meal, though she planted the suggestion to make herself feel better. She told him to take care of himself.
He'd grinned, showing rotted teeth. "I always take care of myself, reporter girl."
One day, he'd disappear, no one really remembering how or when. Or he'd OD, probably in a toilet stall of a club like this. Celeste did short write-ups on Jane and John Does delivered to the morgue here and in New Orleans. Most weren't technically unidentified, since people on the street usually knew the deceased, but by whatever name they'd assumed out there, not what had been written on a birth certificate. She remembered one teenage hooker, LucyLou, who'd had a little gold bracelet with a teddy bear charm. Celeste included that detail in her obit, as well as her street name.
At least twice in the past few years, Celeste had discovered a person on the slab she'd used as a source. It made her think of the motto painted on the wall of a halfway house she'd visited. "God cares about everyone. God forgets no one. People forget God."
Footsteps drew her out of her thoughts. Since the only people in the store right now, besides her, were Jai and the man he'd been razzing, the other customer was headed her way. Based on his solid tread, he had to be a big man. She was going to find out, since she was where the nachos were, her hips propped against the self-serve food counter. Behind her, hot dogs glistened on metal rollers behind Plexiglas, sandwiches and salads nestled in a bed of ice, and yes, prepackaged nachos were stacked in a tower. They were placed next to sterno pans of meat, beans and cheese, everything necessary to make nachos as gooey as desired. Next to them were bins of surprisingly fresh-looking diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and jalapenos.
She hadn't heard the telltale radio chatter that went along with a uniformed cop, but when Sergeant Keller came into view, she would have made him for one in an instant, and not just because of how Jai had addressed him.
Anyone projecting an attitude of composed vigilance like Sergeant Keller usually carried a badge. Or had a military background that included active duty in a war zone. Or both. She guessed both for this guy, because cops with an armed service background often emanated an extra dose of that watchfulness and a deeper anchor point of calm.
Baton Rouge had four police districts. This one, District 1, was the roughest, especially this part of it, where businesses kept bars on the windows and walk-in 24 hour operations like Jai's were rare or nonexistent. She was sure Jai had a panic button, handgun or both readily within reach, because his clientele could include the furtive, belligerent, or just plain up-to-no-good types. She wondered if a drug dealer with a gun tucked into his baggy jeans and an attitude as big as his perception of his genitalia was far more predictable to a police officer who'd dealt with slippery insurgents and IEDs.
She should do an article comparing police from military backgrounds to those without. What skill sets each brought to the table, what complemented or clashed with the job. The personal interest piece would be good when the crime section of her blog had a lull. She had enough friendly contacts in the districts now, it was doable. She tucked that into the back of her mind to put on her idea list, because a more immediate priority presented itself.
Whether or not he had meant it as a joke, this man was awfully pretty. But pretty wasn't the right term. You couldn't use the same word used to describe flowers and girls with pink ribbons to describe him. Instead, she thought of a sleek muscle sports car revving its engine, a summer lightning storm filling the air with electricity, or a single drop of water meandering down powerful biceps.
He had skin like butterscotch and golden-brown eyes, light enough to suggest mixed race somewhere in his ancestry, maybe a grandparent. He kept his hair in a close crop. The thin layer, which had a dominant color somewhere between black and brown, also had tints of gold that reminded her of a grizzly bear's coat.
She'd done a feature on a caged bear in a roadside zoo whose owner had been charged with animal cruelty. When the bear was transferred to a much more humane facility, she'd visited him to do the follow-up. It had been a pretty day, so she'd indulged herself for a couple hours, sitting on a rock outside his far more natural habitat, watching him move ponderously, sniff the air, study her. She expected if Sergeant Keller let his hair grow out, he'd have burnished curls in the same molasses-touched-by-sun tones as the bear had, particularly around his remarkable face. Celeste had characterized the animal's expression as a mix of nature's majesty and old man puzzlement with the vagaries of the human world.
Sergeant Keller's expression showed no confusion at all about human nature. The close crop made the most of his rock-strong facial features. While his street clothes said he was off duty, he wore a placket shirt embroidered on the left breast with the gold and blue Baton Rouge PD shield. The shirt outlined formidable shoulders and strained over smooth pectorals and curved biceps. When her gaze swept down to his stressed jeans, she hitched there an extra moment, no apologies for it. The strong thighs and denim creases around the groin area drew a woman's eyes like the dessert bar at a steak house buffet.
How many appalling double entendres could she pull out of that little visual?
She'd initially started her crime reporting career with a New Orleans paper and had come back to Baton Rouge as a home base in the past year. While she was getting fairly familiar with the patrol officers, sergeants tended to appear where needed for their assigned squad and weren't always at the crime scenes she visited. Even so, she was surprised she hadn't crossed paths with him yet. But if she had, she certainly would have remembered him.
Another reason she would have known he was on the job, his shirt notwithstanding, was the mental slap she could tell he gave himself for not noting her presence earlier. She didn't think he deserved bad marks for it, though, since her position wasn't an easy angle for the security cameras. On top of that, she'd been pretty motionless for the past few minutes, leaning against the counter. Those black and white monitors Jai had up front had a grainy feed.
Sergeant Keller gave her a nod and the quick once-over that told her he was evaluating who she was, what she was. Since he had a Y chromosome and she was dressed sexy, she could tell he liked what he saw, but he was also all cop. Giving her own self a final look in her mirror before she'd headed out to meet Neil, she'd wondered what the difference was between hooker wear and current club fashion. On top of that, in this part of town, she tended to keep a look on her face that said "get in my way and I will fuck you up--or call my boyfriend to do it so I don't break my nails."
So if she had to guess what was going through this officer's mind, it was probably that she had a light-handed rap sheet, punctuated by things like cat fights or sassing an officer. About twenty years ago, that would have been true. Fortunately, she'd survived her teenaged years.
The polite look on his face said she'd be treated with professional courtesy unless anything nudged him to be a little less relaxed around her. A smart cop rarely relaxed around someone they didn't know. She decided to rectify that situation. Every friend she made in the department was a potential source of information, after all.
Straightening off of the counter to give him room, she gestured to the nachos. "Never get in the way of a man and his trans-fat aphrodisiacs."
His lips twitched. The man had a good mouth. A nice full bottom lip that made a woman want to take a bite, the upper one firm, and the whole tempting shape of it a smooth mauve-brown color with hints of dark rose, suggesting velvet.
She was all too aware of the "no one is ugly at closing time" trigger. This man was far from ugly, but the mantra was a reminder that, once past midnight, human judgment was impaired by the desire not to face those lonely pre-dawn hours without company. The dingy wall clock showed them closing in on 2:30 a.m., well into that dangerous territory.
Humans were social animals, no matter how much they tried to convince themselves otherwise. She'd done one-night stands, because occasionally every single woman needed something warmer to the touch than a vibrator. Limited investment, limited chance for disappointment. But this guy was way outside the safe parameters of that kind of pickup.
Plus, she considered police, firemen, EMTs and other members of the press coworkers in a sense. She didn't shit--or fuck--where she worked. A casual fuck could turn to serious shit in no time. The sad truth was that everyone she'd dated in the past few years, pretty or not, had been a giant loser letdown.
Despite the twinge of regret about her dumb-ass ethics, she returned her attention to the frozen food case. The lasagna looked promising. It came with a side of broccoli, so she could put that with a fruit cup at home and feel like most of the food groups had been represented. She hadn't eaten since her quick late lunch, consumed in her car while waiting for an official statement from the mayor-president on budget adjustments that would impact mental health facilities in the area. The Stiles event and the grunge club had soured her appetite until now.