Authors: Samantha Cole
“What?” He stared at her in shock. “You’ve had cancer before? When?”
“Almost seven years ago. I went through radiation that time though. No chemo. I’ve been in remission for six years. A little over two weeks ago, I found a lump under my arm and called my oncologist right away. The biopsy and other tests revealed lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s. Stage one. I started chemo last week and this was my second round.”
His shock turned to anger, but he tried to keep it from showing. There was no way she was going through this alone. Mentally, he formulated a plan and knew it wasn’t one she was going to be happy with, but, fuck that, he wasn’t giving her a choice. Opening his mouth, he quickly closed it again and stared at her. She must have been exhausted because she had fallen asleep within seconds of closing her eyes. Yup. Shelby had a new Dom in her life and if Parker had anything to say about it, it was going to be permanent.
Shelby woke to the smell of coffee and was grateful her nausea was at a minimum this morning.
Wait a minute…coffee?
It was then she remembered Parker. He must have stayed all night, because it was a little after seven in the morning and somehow she’d ended up in her bed. Stretching, she glanced around and confusion struck her. Neatly lined up next to her closet were her two suitcases and several duffel bags…and from their appearance, they were full.
What the hell was he up to?
Well, first she had to take care of her bladder. Climbing out of bed and shuffling to the bathroom, she took care of the necessities of life. Why had he stayed? She hated to admit it, but it was nice knowing he had, even after she’d been rude to him and then fallen asleep less than five minutes after getting comfortable on the couch.
After flushing, washing her hands and face, she brushed her teeth then headed out to the kitchen. Sitting at her dinette table, Parker’s back was to her and she took a moment to study him. He was typing away on his laptop and talking softly on his cell. From the sound of it, it was construction business related. He must not have heard her get up and was trying to be quiet so as to not to wake her. He was no longer in his leather pants and boots, but instead a pair of sweats, new T-shirt, and sneakers. Either he’d left and come back, or he kept a spare set of clothes in his truck. If she were to guess, it was the latter. A cup of coffee sat next to his laptop. What would it be like to wake up to this domestic scene every morning?
“Hey, didn’t hear you come in. Are you hungry?”
She’d been lost in her daydream and hadn’t noticed him hang up his phone. “Um…a little. I’ll just make some toast. That should stay down.”
He stood and held out the chair next to him. “Sit. I’ll get it. Butter or jelly?”
Stunned, she watched him take over her kitchen like he’d lived there for years, pulling out her bread and popping two pieces in her toaster. A warm, fuzzy feeling came over her as she took the seat. “Um…a little butter and some honey, please.”
A smile spread across his face. “Butter and honey it is. Something to drink? I’m not sure if coffee would sit well in your stomach.”
After he placed the full glass in front of her and then turned to attend to her toast, she bit her bottom lip. “Is there a reason why my suitcases and duffels are out?”
“Yup. You’re coming to stay at my place while you go through your treatments.”
Shelby’s mouth dropped open. He couldn’t be serious. But when he brought her toast over, she could see by his expression he was very serious. “I-I can’t do that. I mean, you have your business and everything.”
He pulled out his chair and rotated it before straddling the seat. “You can do it and you will. As for my business…I’m the boss. Every once in a while, I’ll need to run out and check on things but I can do a lot of things from home with my computer and phone. That’s why I have foremen working for me.” His voice softened. “You need someone to watch over you, Shelby. And that someone is going to be me.” He smirked. “Not negotiable. I’ve even drawn up a contract between us.”
She took the piece of paper he picked up and handed her, scanning it in shock. Holy crap, he was very, very serious.
“I used the basic contract from the club. Essentially it says that I will be in charge of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being while you undergo your chemo. All I expect in return is your obedience, and your promise you will do everything in your power to kick this cancer’s ass. I even added a no sexual contact clause at the bottom, so you don’t have to worry about me hitting on you. Then again, that would make me an ass for propositioning a woman in your current condition.”
Her eyes filled with tears. It’d been so long since she’d had someone to lean on. Her parents had come the last time she was ill, but they were both gone now. She cleared the lump in her throat and shook her head. “I can’t ask you to do this, Parker.”
“I don’t recall wanting you to ask me. You need someone to care for you and I am available to do it. Now, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Non-Hodgkin’s and I have a bunch of questions for your doctor. I got his name from your prescription bottle and made an appointment for us to see him tomorrow. I see from the schedule you posted on the fridge, that your next treatment is on Monday—I’ll be taking you to that. What about your job? Can you take a leave of absence? I don’t want you working during this. Hell, I don’t even know what you do for a living. I mean…”
He was on a roll and she had to stop him. “Parker wait…this-this is all too much. I can’t move in with you. You do realize I’ll be getting chemo for the next six weeks at least. I work in the human resources department at Tri-Labs. My boss is pissed-off enough already that I need six Mondays off in a row. I had to leave early yesterday and took off today because I was sick. I can’t take a leave of absence.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why not? By law, they have to give it to you. If you want, I’ll have a word with your boss and tell him he can either okay the time off or get his ass kicked. And if you’re worried about finances, I can cover everything until you’re better. There’s plenty of room at my house and because I can be a bit of a slob, I have a housekeeper who comes twice a week. I’ll arrange for her to come more often. You won’t have to worry about anything but getting better.”
Was he crazy? Was she dreaming? “Why?”
“Why are you doing all of this?”
Parker took her hand and brought it to his lips. “Because I’m a Dom and because I care about you. Isn’t that enough?”
* * *
God, he hoped it was enough. Those were exactly the reasons why he was doing this, however, the bonus kicker was he would get to know her better and vice versa. One thing was still bothering him and he had to ask her about it. “Tell me something. Why didn’t Mitch or Ian step forward to help you? I know damn well neither one of them would have left you to suffer through this alone. What did you tell them?”
Shelby shrugged and bit her bottom lip. “I kind of downplayed it. I told them I had some personal family issues going on and needed to temporarily suspend my membership for a few weeks. They wanted to help, but I told them I’d be okay. Trust me, they tried very hard to find out what was going on, but, again, I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to help.”
Shaking his head, Parker growled. “You’ve been in the lifestyle for years, Shelby. You know damn well we’re a close-knit community. Nobody says they want to help because they feel obligated to. They say it because they care and know if the situation was reversed, you’d be there for them. They love you, baby. You’re family to everyone at The Covenant. Why don’t you see that?”
Her eyes filled with tears and he stood before drawing her up into his arms. He hadn’t intended to make her cry, but she needed to hear she wasn’t alone in this fight. When she took a shuddering breath, he held her tighter. “Let me tell a few people—you’re going to need help whether you realize it or not. I’m moving you in with me, but in case I need to tend to business, I want to be able to call someone to stay with you.”
She pulled away to glare up at him. “I don’t need a babysitter, Parker. I’m a grown woman.”
“I didn’t say you needed a babysitter. I said you needed your friends and family. They would feel slighted if you didn’t turn to them when you needed them the most.” He let her go and handed her a napkin to wipe her eyes and nose.
“You’re going to say this is not negotiable, aren’t you?”
She blew her nose and he couldn’t help but think even that was adorable when she did it. “Yes, I am. And whether you admit it or not, it’s what you want me to say. Now, eat and then go see if you need anything else that I didn’t pack. I put in your clothes, underwear, toiletries, pajamas, medications, and anything else I could think of. I also grabbed your cell phone charger and your e-reader.”
“Wow. You thought of everything, didn’t you?”
He winked at her as he shut down his laptop and put it back into its carrying bag. “I hope so, but just in case you better take a look. I’ll come back later with a cooler and empty your fridge so nothing spoils. Oh, you’re not allergic or afraid of dogs, are you?”
“No, why? Do you have one?”
Grabbing his now cold coffee, he dumped it into the sink and cleaned the mug. “Yeah. I’ve always loved animals, but wasn’t allowed them growing up. My parents were not animal lovers—hell, they’re not even children lovers. Anyway, I called my neighbor and asked him to let Spanky out last night and this morning.
Shelby choked on her milk. “Spanky? You have a dog named Spanky?”
A chuckle escaped him along with an impish grin. Putting one hand over his heart, he held up his other. “I swear, it’s the name they gave him at the animal rescue. It was too ironic to change.”
The lyrical laugh that came from her mouth filled his heart. It was nice to have her bubbly personality showing once again. Two weeks was way too long not to see her smile and watch her eyes light up in amusement. He vowed then and there to make her laugh as often as possible—for as long as she let him.
“This is your house? It’s beautiful.” Shelby couldn’t help the awe in her voice. The one-level ranch house was gorgeous with stunning landscaping surrounding it. The neighborhood was quiet at the moment, but she could tell many young families lived there because of the jungle-gyms in some of the backyards, along with the bicycles and toys in a few driveways. There was an elementary school and park two blocks away, making it an ideal area for raising children. She pushed the thought from her mind.
“Yup. One of the perks of being a builder. This was a foreclosure and was in desperate need of repair when I bought it. The neighbors were thrilled when I renovated it.” Parker pulled up to the two-car garage and killed the engine. “Stay there, I’ll get your door.”
She sighed and waited. He wasn’t exactly treating her as an invalid because common courtesies, like opening doors and pulling out chairs, were something most Doms did for any submissive. But part of her wished she wasn’t just any submissive to him.
Stop it. That kind of thinking will only cause heartache for you both.
Her door opened and she took his outstretched hand, letting him help her out of the truck. He gestured for her to lead the way along the path to the front door. “I’ll come back out for your things once I have you settled.”
When he unlocked and pushed on the front door, they were immediately met by a huge, brown Bullmastiff, wagging his tail furiously and woofing loudly. The dog sniffed her, then his master, and back to her again, before pushing past them to pee on a bush. He was back by her side in a flash before Parker could shut the door. The dog bounced on all four paws and spun in circles around her.
“Spanky, down boy. Let the poor woman get past the foyer, will you.”
Shelby giggled and scratched the dog’s head, which was the size of a basketball. “Such a good boy. That’s okay. You can ask for loving any time.”
Spanky gave Parker a grin that could only be interpreted as ‘See? She likes me, so shut up.’ Parker nudged the massive fur ball with his leg until they had room to pass. “Go get a treat.”
The dog bounded toward the kitchen and, moments later, met them in the living room carrying a covered, hard-plastic jar by its handle. He dropped it next to Parker’s feet, then waited impatiently for his master to open it and hand over a large dog biscuit. With a full mouth, Spanky took his prize to the corner of the room and plopped down to eat it.
“That’s so cute,” Shelby gushed. “I think I love him already. He looks a little like the dog Hooch from that movie.”
Taking her hand, Parker led her into the kitchen. “I know. I love that movie and always wanted a dog like that. He’s not exactly the same breed, but similar. I found this woman, Tori, who’s involved with a group called Bullmastiff Rescuer’s, Inc., and she hooked me up with Spanky. He’s super smart and a great companion. Most days I take him to the office and occasionally to job sites, but he can stay here and keep you company if I need to go anywhere. He loves to cuddle and sometimes forgets he’s not a lapdog.”
“I’d love the company. Thanks.” She took a seat at the dinette set as fatigue started to roll over her again. “I grew up with dogs, but with working full-time, I would feel bad if I left one at home all the time.”
“Well, Spanky will love hanging out with you. And if I have to go out, you don’t have to walk him. Just open the back door and he’ll do his business. I’ll pick up after him when I get home.” He handed her the cup of ginger tea he’d prepared on his Keurig machine using a specially made pod. On the way over her nausea had begun to stir again. “Drink that while I bring in your stuff. The house has four bedrooms, but only one, other than mine, has a bed. The others I use as my office and weight room.”
While he went to get her bags, Shelby sipped the tea and glanced around. The house was as beautiful inside as it was on the outside, but it was obvious a bachelor lived here. There were no drapes on the windows, only blinds, and the décor was utilitarian and sparse. Peeking into what was considered a family room, she noted the large leather sofas, and an entertainment center which housed a sixty-inch TV, stereo, and video game console. The only thing on the side tables were bland, generic lamps. She was sure it worked for him, but it definitely needed a woman’s touch. Maybe she could give him some decorating help while she was here—it was the least she could do to thank him for caring for her while she was sick.
The front door opened again and Parker strode in, carrying all her bags at once. She stood and followed him down the hall toward the bedrooms and was shocked when he walked into what was obviously the master bedroom, placing the bags on the bed. He noticed her stunned expression. “You’re sleeping in here because of the attached bath. I’ll take the guest room.”
“No.” She shook her head vehemently. “I can’t kick you out of your bedroom. I’ll take the guest room…” Her voice trailed off at the stern expression on his face and she sighed. “Not negotiable, right?”
“Right.” He tilted his head. “You’re a little pale. Why don’t you go out to the family room and lie down on the sofa while I bring out a pillow and blanket. Then I’ll straighten up in here, change the sheets, and move some of my stuff into the other bathroom.”
She was quickly learning it was useless to argue with him—after all, he was a Dom and expected to be obeyed. But a benefit from obeying him was she felt pampered and adored.
* * *
After changing the sheets, Parker pulled the comforter up the length of the bed and put the pillow back into place. Spinning around slowly, he inspected the rest of the room. Thank God the housekeeper, Emily, had been there yesterday. She usually changed his bed linens on Mondays, but everything else was neat and clean.
He’d made room in his closet and cleaned out of one of the two dressers for Shelby’s clothes. The feeling he got seeing her intimates in the top drawer had him wishing they were there permanently.
She’s sick, asshole. Now is not the time to be romancing her. Help her get better and then you can start thinking with your southern head.
He checked the time on his bedside alarm clock. It was a little after one. Shelby needed her afternoon medications soon and they had to be taken with food if possible. Parker would have to go food shopping later to get some of the things she liked to eat, but for now he could make her a turkey and cheese sandwich.
Glancing into the family room on his way to the kitchen, he saw she was still sleeping on the couch. Spanky was on the floor next to her, his head on his paws, watching over her. The big lug had already put himself on protection duty. Parker knew how he felt—nothing would happen to Shelby if they could help it.
He pulled out the necessary items from the fridge and made them both a sandwich. Earlier, he’d lined Shelby’s medications and nutritional supplements on the counter. Checking each bottle, he took one of each pill that she needed and put them on the plate next to her lunch. Glasses of milk completed the meal and he carried hers out to the family room before returning for his own. Squatting next to the sofa, he reached over Spanky to rub Shelby’s cheek with the back of his hand. “Baby, I hate to wake you, but you need to take your meds.”
Her eyes blinked open and within seconds, she focused her gaze on him. “Hi. How long was I asleep?”
“About two hours. That chemo must take a lot out of you. I made you a turkey and cheese sandwich, but didn’t know if you liked mayo or mustard.”
Shelby sat up as Spanky did the same next to her. She scratched his ear and the dog groaned in delight. “I like both, but I don’t think my stomach would like either at the moment, so I’ll take it plain. Thank you.”
Handing her the plate, he pointed at the two glasses on the end table. “I poured you some milk. I figured that was best with the meds.”
While he sat on the recliner catty-cornered to her, she nodded. “Thanks. I’ll take them after I eat.”
He watched as she took a bite of her sandwich then glanced around the room. Inwardly cringing, he wished he’d gotten around to hiring a decorator. While he could build beautiful houses, when it came to furnishing them, he was all thumbs. Shelby’s condo had that homey feel to it, with her personal touches all over the place. Maybe when she was feeling better, she could help him pick out some pictures, drapes, and stuff. “So, let’s go over a few things.”
After swallowing her food, she took a sip of milk. “Okay. Like what?”
“For starters, after we eat, I need you to write out a grocery list of foods you like. I’ll go pack up your fridge and pantry tomorrow, but I can run out later today to get whatever else you like. The research I did said you need to eat healthy and I found a bunch of nutritional smoothies with fruits, veggies, and supplements. I can get one of those blender things for you.”
She grinned at him. “You don’t need to get one, I have one in the bottom cabinet next to the fridge. I love making them. Although I prefer using it to make margaritas instead.”
Chuckling, Parker shook his head. “No alcohol. At least until after your treatments.” He laughed harder when Shelby snapped her fingers and pouted. Damn, she was so adorable. “Item number two, or three if you include the no alcohol thing. You’re going to call your boss and tell him you need to take a sick leave. The last thing you need is exhausting yourself more than necessary.”
“As much as I hate to say it, you’re right. And money isn’t an issue—I have some savings, and mom and dad left my sister and I a little inheritance. It’s not a lot, but more than enough to pay my bills for a while.”
He gritted his teeth and didn’t argue with her. She wasn’t his sub and he knew she would only allow him to go so far with helping her through this. “Okay. Next thing we need to talk about is who you’re willing to tell that you’re sick. I want to be able to call someone if I have to go out for a while. Just in case.”
Sighing, Shelby ran a hand through her spikey hair. “I don’t want everyone to know, but I’ll call a few of the girls—Kristen, Angie, Kayla, and Charlotte. If I tell one, I have to tell the others. And you can let Devon, Ian, and Mitch know, but no one else for now, please.”
“Okay.” He snorted. “It took me a second to remember Charlotte is Mistress China’s real name. I rarely hear anyone use it.”
“Even though she’s a Domme, we’ve become pretty good friends. She was great the night…” Shelby bit her bottom lip.
“The night my asshole brother hit you,” he finished for her, reaching over to take her hand. “You have no idea how much I regret bringing him to the club.”
Squeezing his hand, her expression softened. “It’s not your fault and it’s in the past. But I’m glad he doesn’t live in the area, because I’d be tempted to take Charlotte’s whip to him.”
Parker snorted. “I’ll tie him to a St. Andrew’s cross for you.”
A giggle escaped her and a grin spread across his face. While the topic of conversation wasn’t one he was thrilled with, the fact that she hadn’t pulled her hand away had his heart filling with joy, and he would talk about anything as long as she was touching him. Shelby looked right in his house…she made it seem more like a home.
He couldn’t help himself. Tugging on her hand, he gently pulled her up and over into his lap. Her eyes narrowed warily, but she didn’t object. While his gaze searched her face for a sign that this wasn’t what she wanted, he cupped the back of her head and closed the distance between them. Her breath hitched, causing his cock to twitch. This was something he’d craved for so long…something he dreamed of…and he wasn’t going to rush it. He groaned when her tongue peeked out to wet her pretty, pink lips. His words came out on a husky whisper. “Tell me you want me, baby. Ask me to kiss you.”
His heart pounded in his chest as he waited for her answer.