Only when we shed our inhibitions do we truly fly.
Gabriel knows there are perks to being a bouncer at the wildest bar in town. The Phoenix Rising is known for being the place to go for a beer and a side of down-and-dirty sex, and Gabriel has seen his share of the action. Anything goes as long as both parties are willing, and when Anne walks in smelling like repressed passion, Gabriel is intrigued.
Anne is tired of being a perpetual wallflower. After divorcing the cheating ex, she heads to the one place in town guaranteed to help her find a good time—The Phoenix Rising. She can’t believe the gorgeous bouncer is attracted to her in spite of her plus-sized body. Being with him is like nothing she’s used to, and he makes her feel like so much more than just a dress size. But Gabriel has secrets. The former British Marine won’t talk about why he’s working as a bouncer in an American bar. Worse, he’s perfectly happy to tell her he doesn’t do long-term commitments. But now that Gabriel has taught Anne what it feels like to fly, how will she ever be able to walk away?
Contains BBW, ménage, voyeurism, and exhibitionism elements
Anne checked her e-mail on her phone just to give her hands something to do. Anything to avoid that awkward feeling that everyone inside the upscale restaurant was staring at her and wondering why she was sitting alone at a table set for two. No e-mails. No texts either. Not that she was surprised. This whole Internet dating thing wasn’t working very well. She was starting to think she’d wasted her money joining the online service. “Madam, can I refill your iced tea?” The waiter’s sympathetic expression made her cheeks burn with chagrin. Anne picked up the menu, barely bothering to read it. The thing was in French anyway. “You know, I think I’ll just go ahead and order.” “Certainly.” The slender man was in his sixties with close-cropped gray hair and a moustache. He’d introduced himself as Maurice. Anne was starting to find the guy attractive just because he seemed sympathetic to her misery, and she didn’t even like men with facial hair. In fact, he looked a little like her grandfather. Was that all she could expect? “What would Madam like to have this evening?” “Could you please bring me the house salad?” Anne was tempted to order something like steak but knew she’d hate herself in the morning. “And maybe some bread?” “Of course.” Solitary calorie counting. That was what Anne had to look forward to. No matter what kind of spin you put on it, reality sucked. “Uh, Ms. Roquefort-Paul?” The reedy voice brought her back to the moment. The man standing across the table bore only the slightest resemblance to the photo he’d e-mailed. In fact, had he not shared the slightly hooked nose of her prospective date, she would have never known it was him. “I’m terribly sorry I’m late.” He pulled the chair out and flopped down. “The crime down here is deplorable. I was afraid to leave my car in the public lot, so I parked at the police station six blocks away.” Anne was taken aback. Andre’s was a popular restaurant in the downtown area only a few blocks from her condo. She’d managed to win the unit in her divorce settlement and the damn thing wasn’t exactly located in the slums. In fact, thanks to her ex’s predilection for real estate speculation, she owned the building. She almost never had vacancies because the area was considered to be in such a lively, up-and-coming neighborhood. “So, you’re Anne.” His name was Dave and her brain kept repeating “Dave the Date” until she was sure she would burst into a fit of giggles. “You’re divorced, have no children, and are financially secure though you don’t work. Is that correct?” How was she supposed to respond to that? “Um, yes?” Maurice suddenly appeared with her salad and a basket full of fragrant French baguettes. Her mouth began to water at the warm, yeasty scent of the bread. Anticipating the moment she would bite into the crusty outside and discover the soft interior was one of life’s true joys. It was also proof of her sexual deprivation. One. She would only have one—or maybe two. Two was good. The empathetic waiter looked relieved for her that her date had finally shown. He dipped his head respectfully to Dave the Date. “May I interest you in a glass of wine this evening? Or perhaps another beverage?” Dave tapped his index finger against his considerable nose and squinted at the menu. “This place is a little expensive considering the crummy neighborhood.” Anne was suddenly—violently—aware that she was in no way attracted to this tightfisted snob with his thinning blond hair and washed-out blue eyes. Maurice blinked, doing an admirable job of hiding his shock at Dave’s comment. Anne caught Maurice’s eye and hoped he understood that she certainly didn’t share Dave’s feelings regarding the neighborhood. “I suppose I’ll have a water, and maybe some soup? Do you have tomato soup on your menu?” Dave’s nose wrinkled in a way that was definitely not cute. “Our tomato bisque is a favorite of many locals well known for their discerning palates.” Maurice’s jab was not subtle but seemed to fly right over Dave’s head. “How much is it?” Dave asked. Doing his best to be discreet, Maurice pointed to a number listed near the top of the gold tassel-bedecked menu. Dave heaved a long-suffering sigh. “All right then. I suppose I’ll try that.” “As you wish, sir.” Maurice exited with one last look toward Anne. She didn’t miss the pity in his gaze. Anne reached into the breadbasket and pulled out a roll. She had the sudden feeling that she was going to need the comfort food to get through the evening. Calories be damned, this was supposed to be a date. She was going to enjoy herself one way or another. Dave pressed his hands together and steepled his fingers beneath his chin. “Have you had many sexual partners?” She chewed a bite of bread, trying to swallow quickly in order to speak. “I’m sorry?” She was hoping she’d misheard him. Surely Dave the Date could not have asked about her sex history, because that would’ve been unforgivably rude on a first date. What was she doing? She kept going out with guys who were picked for her by the online matching service. They were men seeking long-term relationships with women. She understood that. You had to match people by their goals. “I asked about your sexual partners.” Dave tried again. “I don’t date women who have had an extensive history of liaisons. I realize that you were previously married, so I expect you to have had at least one partner in the past.” “What’s the cutoff?” Deciding that table manners were unimportant at this point, she stuffed another piece of bread in her mouth while she waited for him to answer. He cleared his throat. “I don’t like to be a number higher than three.” She wanted to die right there. Was it worse that he’d said it or that she actually fit his ridiculous criteria? Truthfully he would’ve been two. As in she’d only ever been with her ex-husband, Jason Paul. “I don’t think I can do this.” Anne stood up and grabbed her purse. “You’re just not my type, Dave. I’m sorry.” She rummaged in her wallet for a few bills to pay for her untouched salad. “Is it your number?” Dave stood up so quickly he knocked his chair over backward. “Because I might be able to let it slide. If I’m number four, I suppose that would be all right.” “No, really. This is not going to work. I’m sorry for wasting your time.” Anne flung a fifty-dollar bill down on the table and bolted from the restaurant. Once on the street she inhaled deeply. The cool fall air helped to clear her head. Dusk was just shading into dark, the purple sky looking as bruised as her pride felt. It was impossible to tell the tourists from the locals meandering along the cobbled streets. The sounds of dinner conversation came from the outdoor cafés nestled between the two- and three-story brick buildings. Anne loved everything about downtown. The moment the real estate agent had pulled up to the curb in front of the building she’d known nothing about, Anne had wanted the property for her own. Her lawyer, Terry, had groused about her letting Paul off easy just because he’d agreed to give her the building. He considered it an affront to his skills as a divorce attorney that she’d only gotten out with a third of the real estate property. What Terry had failed to understand was that the lofts weren’t just a way to make income. Her home was a top-floor unit overlooking the river. It was tied to a whole ideal. It was part of a vibrant, thriving community complete with daytime shops, local businesses, and nighttime hotspots that promised a lifestyle she’d always longed for. The only issue was that she’d been living in her posh little home for almost a year, and it didn’t seem to matter. Anne still felt as if she didn’t quite fit in. She hadn’t found a niche where she could actually live the life she wanted. Wandering across the street, she passed her building and continued on. It was still early on a Saturday night. Much too early to go home and sit in solitude on her little terrace. She turned a corner and headed away from the busy riverfront. Passing a corner bookshop she frequented regularly in order to satisfy her addiction to romance novels, she continued past a gallery and then a flower shop. She didn’t often go this far away from home. Across the street, people clustered in a loosely formed line as they waited to gain entrance to a derelict-looking building. The sign above the scarred double doors said BAR. Not really a shining recommendation for the establishment inside, although Anne knew from experience that looks could be deceiving. She slowed, observing the crowd waiting to enter. There was an air of flirtation about them. A few seemed to be couples, whispering with their heads close together, their body language trumpeting their hormone surges. The others seemed to be in groups of twos or threes. It was impossible to miss the innuendo in their behavior. The women cast looks of interest over their shoulders, tossing their heads, giving smiles to the men who caught their eye. The guys were no different. They openly admired the svelte curves, voluptuous breasts, and in some cases, super short skirts of whatever female they seemed to covet. Anne longed to feel that young and impulsive. It was hard to decide if the crowd was acting risqué because it was in their nature to do so or because they were so highly anticipating what waited for them inside the bar. After all, everyone knew the Phoenix Rising didn’t operate like other bars. Once inside, the regular rules of society didn’t apply. Willing partners could indulge in anything they wanted, as long as it was consensual. The last time Anne had gone into the Phoenix, she’d been with a group of her friends, the lowest in their pecking order. She’d known then that the tight-assed bunch of country-club wives she’d been hanging with didn’t belong in a place like the Phoenix. They’d been visiting a member of their little group, a woman Anne had thought she’d known until that night. Anne still liked Jessa. Anne respected Jessa for her decision to throw away her good-girl image in favor of happiness. Anne just didn’t feel quite comfortable with the notion of joining Jessa in the land of debauchery. Anne shifted from one foot to the other, knowing it was time to move on and keep walking, and yet she was hesitant. A part of her wished desperately that she could join the line. She wanted to experience the heightened sensation of knowing there was something sensual and erotic waiting just inside that door. Honestly, she just needed to get laid. It had been so long, longer than Anne cared to admit. And really, it wasn’t as if her sex life had ever been all that stellar to begin with. Her ex hadn’t been much of a sex god. More like a sex speed machine. The phrase “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” had been invented for Jason Paul. The heavy front doors of Phoenix Rising swung wide open and stayed that way. A giant of a man propped the door open and settled himself on the sidewalk with arms crossed. The line shuffled forward, patrons eagerly flashing their IDs. Anne froze. She couldn’t have moved if she’d wanted to. Utterly immobile, she drank in the sight of the man standing at the entrance like a statue. Even though Anne had met Jessa’s husband, Connor, only once, she knew this wasn’t him. Connor was a big scary bastard with a shaved head and an expression on his face that any demon would envy. This guy actually looked bored. He was massive. The top of Anne’s head would barely reach his shoulder. She tried to imagine standing beside him. His musculature was so thick he’d make her full-figured physique look slight instead of chunky. He was dripping sex appeal, the kind that made his choice of attire perfectly mouth-watering. She’d never imagined a black T-shirt and black cargo pants tucked into the tops of a pair of combat boots would be such a turn-on. His hair was black too, cropped close on the sides and slightly longer on top. If the strands brushing his forehead were anything to go by, it would be curly if he ever grew it out. Her imagination conjured the image of what it might be like to stand on tiptoe and brush her fingers through the thick strands. To let her hand slide down and follow the line of his strong jaw. Would the bristly five o’clock shadow tickle the tips of her fingers? One of the women in line to enter the bar sidled in close to the doorman. Her actions shattered Anne’s brief fantasy. Younger and more gorgeous than Anne had been in her prime, the woman wore a minidress that showed off her shapely legs and softly rounded bottom. Her full breasts practically spilled out of the deep V of her bodice. Anne saw the doorman’s gaze brush across the cleavage and then slide away without letting his mask of boredom slip. His disinterest left Anne feeling every inch a forty-five-year-old divorcee carrying an extra forty pounds on her hips and ass. If the sexy-as-hell guy couldn’t muster up the interest for a woman practically dripping sexual promise, he would probably turn and run when he saw her. It was time to go home before she made a fool of herself.