First Chapter Connor

First Chapter Connor

About Connor (previously Trusted)

After five years of taking on the world alone, Suzie Kaspar is starting to wonder if there's more to life than school schedules and a to-do list that never seems to end.

Like maybe a hot, commanding veteran who is built like a Viking god and makes Suzie's mouth water just looking at him.

But even though Connor makes her body sing with pleasure as he draws her deeper and deeper into his world of dominance and submission, she resists the urge to lay her troubles at his feet.

And when a family friend's devastating secret is uncovered, Suzie is forced to choose between trusting Connor with the people she loves most in the world...

Or playing it safe, alone, once again.


Suzie remained in the room, her gaze fixed on the closed door long after Laura and James had departed. The atmosphere was charged with a mix of emotions, the remnants of a beautiful collaring ceremony. Her heart raced as she replayed the events in her mind, the exchange of vows, the symbols of trust and commitment.

The unfamiliar world of BDSM loomed before her, both intriguing and intimidating. The intricate dynamics and power play seemed foreign, even a little frightening to her, and had been from the moment her sister introduced her to the lifestyle. But as she reflected on the ceremony, she couldn't help but feel a glimmer of understanding, a flicker of curiosity.

Thoughts swirled in Suzie's mind as she contemplated the hidden depths of the lifestyle. She pondered the delicate balance of dominance and submission, the intricate dance of pleasure and pain.

The slender redhead James had been talking to came up to her. "Are you all right, dear? You look a bit lost."

Suzie tried to remember her name. Kate. Her name is Kate. She was from that munch her sister had attended. "Er, yes, thank you, Kate. I'm a bit overwhelmed by all of this. I mean, the ceremony was beautiful. I can see how much James loves my sister and Laura loves him, too.”

“But?” Kate prompted with a crooked smile.

“But I’m still a bit apprehensive. I can’t deny there’s an allure to the…” Suzie waved her hands helplessly. “…the intense connection between partners. I just can’t help thinking there must be safer ways to show trust than… total surrender!"

Kate’s green eyes glinted. "Let's go someplace quiet and maybe I can explain some things, " she suggested.

Suzie glanced at the nearest speaker. The music had switched to the provocative sounds of Enigma and while not overly loud, it was distracting. Before she could decide whether this was a conversation worth having, Kate linked her arm around Suzie’s and started walking, and Suzie fell into step as naturally as if they were old friends. She couldn’t explain just why she felt so at ease with the stranger, but she didn’t question it either.

Kate took her to a red leather couch in the corner of the club, and Suzie sat, relaxed and smiling before suddenly stiffening as she remembered, But wait, isn’t she a sadist?

Kate chuckled.

“Don't worry, dear. I won't start whipping you out of nowhere.” Then Kate grew serious. “Club Indigo is a safe space for all kinds of kinks, and every scene is negotiated, but it wouldn't be wise for an attractive submissive like you to hang around in the play area.”

Suzie glanced around, trying to hide her nerves.

Kate petted her hand. “Don't worry, they’re Doms, not dragons. They’re not going to leap out and carry you off, but you are definitely attracting some attention. Relax, sitting with me means you're under my protection. No one will bother us now."

Suzie sighed in relief, then belatedly flinched. "What do mean, a submissive like me? What makes you think I’m a submissive?"

Kate paused for a moment and pursed her lips. "It's a lot of little things. The way you act and react. For instance, if a virtual stranger had taken me by the arm and ordered me to sit, we wouldn't be sitting here right now."

Suzie felt herself blush. "Okay, so I'm not dominant, but that doesn’t mean I’m submissive. It just means I’m normal,” she argued and immediately winced. She’d really put her foot in it there, hadn't she?

But Kate only smiled. “That’s what we would call 'vanilla,' and no, I don’t think you are.” She held up a finger as Suzie began to protest. “You didn't see yourself while your sister was being collared. You liked it.”

“Well, of course I did,” Suzie sputtered defensively. “It’s my sister’s… um, commitment ceremony. Of course I want to see her happy!”

“Is that why you touched your neck as if trying to imagine how a collar would feel, because she liked it so much?” Kate asked knowingly, then held up her silencing finger again. “And why you responded to this?”

Suzie stared at the finger as if hypnotized.

“And I’m not the only one who noticed. There were at least four Doms circling you tonight. We can’t all be wrong.”.”

“What do you mean?” Suzie asked apprehensively.

"A new submissive is like a magnet to a Dom,” Kate explained. “Luckily, James asked me to keep an eye on you.”

“He did?”

“Of course.” A perfectly arched reddish-brown eyebrow crept up. “You're Laura's sister. He wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I guess I can understand that,” Suzie said, although she was unsure how she felt about James deciding she needed protection. “He’s practically my brother-in-law now, isn't he?”

Kate inclined her head. “But it bothers you.”

“I just don’t need looking after. I can understand why that might make other women feel… something, but I am not a submissive. I was very happy with my husband,” Suzie insisted, and had to smile as she imagined gentle, sweet Richard in black leathers, carrying a whip. “He wasn’t dominant at all.”

“Oh, I believe you loved your husband.” Kate cocked her head. Her focus was completely on Suzie, which was both flattering and unsettling. “But, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, nobody’s perfect. Isn't it possible there was something missing in your relationship? More than made up for in other ways, of course, but still…?”

Suzie didn’t like that, but to be fair, she considered the question, her mind retracing the memories of her marriage. “Well, he was a gentle man. Soft-spoken. I liked that about him, but he was also non-confrontational and it sometimes felt like I had to make all the day-to-day decisions for our family,” she replied truthfully.

A beautiful smile softened Kate’s stern face. "Wouldn't it have been wonderful if he would have taken more responsibility?" she suggested, her voice filled with empathy.

"Maybe,” she admitted. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I can sure see why being tied up and not being able to move could be hot.” Her smile faltered and she worried her bottom lip. “But what about punishment and pain? I really don't get that part. Why would a submissive let someone hurt them?” She narrowed her eyes and focused on the woman beside her. “Maybe I should ask you why you like to hurt people?”

Kate returned her gaze and nodded. "Those are all valid questions. If you’re really interested in the lifestyle – and I think we can both agree that you are more than interested — I’ll try to answer them." Kate settled into the leather cushions, crossing one long leg over the other. "First of all, I don’t enjoy hurting people. I enjoy using pain to the betterment of others. I work as a massage therapist and I know how one kind of pain can ease another, release tension and strengthen a body." Kate paused and her gaze turned pensive. "I like the power it gives me, I don’t deny that, especially when I get to dominate a man much bigger and stronger than I. It's a heady experience. In some ways, it's like an art form to me.”

Kate’s words and the way she spoke, the relaxed grace and careless gestures she made as she spoke were nothing short of mesmerizing, and Suzie couldn’t help but be drawn into her explanation.

Kate continued, “The human body is my canvas. I love creating patterns with ropes, markings, or wax. I love the sound each implement makes, the smell of leather and wood and sweat. Most masochists don't just want pain for pain's sake. I can't think of anyone who gets off when they hit their thumb with a hammer. It's the combination of pain, lust, power and beauty that does it for me.” Kate had been looking in the distance while explaining, but now her eyes returned to Suzie. “Do you have any other questions?”

Suzie shook her head. She might have more later, but right now her mind was a jangled mess of emotions and thoughts.

Kate’s eyes sparkled. “I have a proposition for you. Why don't we do a scene together?"

Suzie frowned. "While I admit I might be a tiny sliver submissive, I'm one hundred percent straight."

Kate threw back her head and let out a laugh. "Don't worry, dear — nothing sexual, nothing intense. BDSM doesn't have to be about sex, but if you’re curious as to why someone would willingly submit to pain… well, come find me." With that, she patted Suzie's arm again and left her sitting on the leather couch.

Suzie stared after the woman in confusion. Am I really submissive? Granted, that book Laura had loaned her was pretty hot. And she loved how good James was for Laura. Laura was so much stronger now, so happy. Okay, so the lifestyle had benefits for some people, but acknowledging that didn’t make her submissive. Why couldn't she be the one wielding the whip?

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she dismissed it. She couldn't imagine herself hurting someone deliberately, so why couldn’t she dismiss the idea of getting hurt as easily? Did she want to experience a scene? Suzie couldn't believe she was considering it… but she was.

Before Suzie knew what she was doing, she rose from the couch and walked to where Kate was standing. As she stood in front of the redhead, she didn't know what to say or do. Kate smiled and held out her hand. Suzie felt a weight lift from her shoulders, and she placed her hand in Kate's.

Kate walked her over to an apparatus that looked like a spider web on the wall in the main room. "Suzie, you've decided to do a scene with me. We have to discuss a few things before we start. Are you comfortable taking off your dress?"

Suzie chewed her bottom lip and nodded.

"Okay," Kate continued. "Are you okay with me touching your breasts and any part of you above the waist?"

Suzie nodded again.

"Legs and buttocks?" Kate inquired.

Suzie hesitated. "Can I keep my panties on?"

"Of course," came the quick reply. "I won't touch anything under them, either. Intimate areas are for intimate partners."

Suzie exhaled slowly. She would have been very uncomfortable if a woman touched her there. "In that case, legs and buttocks are fine with me."

Kate looked pleased. "I would like to give you two safewords. How about 'mercy' if you want to stop and 'time out' if you need me to slow down?"

Suzie blinked. "I thought they would be red and yellow."

Kate nodded. "Those words will always work and will be recognized in every BDSM environment. You could use either those or the ones I gave you, if needed. Last question."

Now, doesn’t that sound ominous?

"Would you prefer being bound or would you be able to keep still by yourself?"

Oh, okay. Bondage. Suzie didn't need to think about that. She actually felt herself getting aroused by the thought. "Bondage, please."

Kate smiled, and even though there was no attraction between them, Suzie felt herself falling into that smile.

Kate ordered her to strip and then bent to pick up something from a big black bag. When she straightened, Suzie had taken off her dress and could see Kate holding black leather cuffs. It reminded her of the bracelets around the arms of the heroes in 'Spartacus.' Automatically, she held out her arm for Kate to fasten the first one.

"How does it feel?" Kate asked, testing the fit.

"Good." Suzie didn't hesitate to answer, because it did feel good, a deepening of the strange calm and peace she’d felt from the moment Kate had held out a hand to her.

Kate didn't answer, just proceeded to put on the other cuff. When that one was on and the fit was to her liking, Kate touched the band of Suzie's bra. "Do you want this left on?" she asked.

Suzie shrugged; it wasn't like she needed the bra. Her breasts were small and firm, even after two children. It wasn't like she was the only one without clothes — maybe half of the crowd had lost their attire by now. "You can take it off."

Kate took her chin between forefinger and thumb. "From now until our scene ends, you'll answer either with 'Yes, Mistress' or 'No, Mistress.' The only exception is if you need to use your safeword. Am I clear?"

Suzie gulped and stammered, "Yes, Mistress."

Kate smiled and let go of her chin, but held her gaze. "Good."

And then she reached around Suzie, still staring into her eyes, and unhooked her bra. It was a curious feeling, so intense and utterly without passion. Suzie held still, experiencing the sensation of not having to do anything as Kate slipped the straps over her shoulders and let the bra drop, baring her breasts to the air. With the lightest pressure of one hand, Kate guided her backward to the web. Suzie moved until her back was against it, then Kate pulled two items from her belt and held them up for Suzie to see. "These are quick release hooks. If needed, I can press this button and you'll be free in seconds."

Suzie started to nod and remembered her orders. "Yes, Mistress." She was rewarded with a smile before Kate's face turned serious again.

"Hold your arms out to the side, a little under your shoulder in height," Kate ordered and used the hooks to attach the cuffs to the web. "Can you move?"

Suzie tried. She had some freedom but not much. "No, Mistress."

Kate stroked her arms, and Suzie let her head fall back. She was supported by the web. She couldn't move, could only submit to the experience. She closed her eyes.

For the next couple of minutes, she experienced different implements, starting with a soft fur glove that had scratchy points in it. It was a strange combination of sensations. Then Kate used a leathery thing, slapping her hips and thighs until she was standing on tiptoes.

After the stinging smacks stopped, Kate's strong, slender hands stroked the abused skin, and it felt wonderful. It was even better when Kate pressed down on a tender spot. Suzie began to feel disappointed she had restricted the scene to no sex. Damn, she wanted to get off. She couldn't remember ever feeling this aroused.

She heard a melodic chuckle and opened confused eyes to stare down at the Domme who was kneeling at her feet. Didn't that seem wrong, somehow?

Kate rose and stepped so close, her body was less than an inch from Suzie's. Suzie could feel Kate's breath and the warmth radiating from her body. She thought the other woman could probably hear her heartbeat, it seemed so loud in her chest.

"You, sweetheart, aren't just a submissive,” Kate purred. “You get off on pain. Don't try to deny it." She turned and stepped away, leaving Suzie to slump, tears welling from the sudden loss of their connection.

Her head bent and she closed her eyes, willing the tears away. The next moment, she felt a wealth of little pinches on her breasts, armpits and the undersides of her arms. Her eyes flew open. Kate was putting small clothespins, connected by a string, in a beautiful symmetrical pattern around her breasts. Her mind whirled, unable to grasp what was happening. She gasped and made eye contact with Kate as the sadist held one of the clothespins between her long and slender fingers and pinched down hard as she applied it. When Suzie yelped, the Domme looked her square in the eye and lifted an eyebrow.

Waiting for a safeword, Suzie realized. Yellow, red, mercy, time out. She hadn’t forgotten, she could easily speak and be freed. But… she didn’t.

One corner of Kate’s mouth tipped up. She lowered her gaze to Suzie’s breasts and continued to apply clothespins.

Suzie was barely aware when Kate picked up the cord at the end of the line of pins and pulled. The clothespins attached to it came off like opening a zipper. The sensation was unlike anything Suzie had experienced before. She couldn’t even be sure it was pain. With no warning, Suzie climaxed.

She must have passed out because the next thing she knew, Suzie was sitting on a cushion, leaning against something, dimly aware of a man’s voice asking, "Does she need something to drink?"

A woman, maybe Kate, responded, "Not yet. Give her some time."

She continued to float, hovering in the twilight between being awake and asleep — that tranquil place she seldom experienced for long.

Pity Suzie wasn't interested in women, Kate thought, looking down at the masochist at her feet. Because Suzie was indeed a masochist. Her reactions had been beyond Kate's expectations. It was not often a woman could get off without direct stimulation. Suzie's reaction to pain was the arousal Kate loved to see in a woman.

As Kate watched Suzie drift in subspace, Chris came up beside her with a bottle of water. He had cleaned the scene area while Kate kept a close eye on Suzie. Aftercare was always important, especially with a first timer and most certainly when someone reacted as Suzie had.

The woman at her feet stirred and Kate adjusted the blanket that gave both warmth and security to a sub after a scene. Chris made eye contact with Kate, and she understood the unasked question. She nodded for him to go ahead.

Chris knelt before Suzie. "Drink," he ordered, holding the bottle to her lips. Obediently, she opened her mouth and swallowed. She’s submissive, all right! Chris followed the water with rich dark chocolate.

Kate watched Suzie, her stance wide and her head held high. Seeing Suzie explore her desires and find pleasure in submission filled Kate with genuine joy, but beneath the surface of contentment, regret and longing lingered within Kate's heart. She yearned for something more, that extra spark, the "oomph" that would ignite a more intense and intimate bond.

While Kate celebrated James and Laura's happiness, she couldn't help but wonder if she, too, deserved her own share of joy. Unfulfilled desires resonated within her. It was a complex mix of emotions, a blend of happiness for others and a profound longing for something special.

Although grateful for the experiences she had shared with Suzie and the growth they had achieved together, a part of her couldn't help but wish for a connection that transcended the boundaries of the scene, a connection that would bring her the depth of intimacy she craved.

As Suzie finished the chocolate, Chris coaxed her to drink a few sips of water. The minutes passed and Suzie became livelier, but still leaned against Kate's legs, seeking comfort and support. The quiet aftercare also settled something in Kate. Laura and James deserved their happily ever after. They were wonderful people, and they had suffered through a lot. Kate would find her happiness eventually and be content with moments of shared connections like this for now.

Suzie snuggled into the soft blanket like a cat while Chris stayed close, his arm resting on his bent knee. For a moment, Kate wished he would kneel before her like a willing submissive. However, she dismissed the thought as ruthlessly as she would put pressure on a knotted muscle until it loosened.

"How are you feeling?" Chris asked Suzie, genuine concern lacing his words.

"Great," Suzie replied. Her breathy tone and lazy smile warmed Kate's heart.

"You did so well, sweetheart.” Kate gently stroked Suzie's hair, warmth filling her chest. “I'm so grateful you were willing to share this first time with me. You're beautiful in your submission."

Suzie tried to get up, but staggered, and both Chris and Kate reached out to steady her. The blanket slipped from one shoulder and Kate noticed a tender spot on Suzie's breast. She stroked the welt, eliciting a moan from Suzie's lips, then pressed on it and whispered into Suzie's ear, "You're even lovelier in your masochism."

"Come here, sweet thing," Chris said as he picked her up and carried her to the couch with Kate close behind. The three of them sat down on the couch to talk until Kate was positive Suzie would be okay after their scene. Chris offered to take her home.

"But what would we do with my car?" Suzie inquired.

"No problem, sweet thing. I came here with James and figured to go home in a taxi. I can take one from your house instead." Chris winked. "Or I could stay over if you like?"

Kate swatted his arm. "You incorrigible flirt. You couldn't resist, could you?"

Chris grinned. "I promise to behave like a perfect gentleman."

Kate scoffed but turned to Suzie. "What about it, Suzie? Either Chris or I will take you home. Although the scene wasn't long or intense, sub drop can happen and I would like for you to have someone with you. At least for the ride home."

"What's sub drop?"

Chris jumped in before Kate could answer, "Sub drop is something that can happen after an intense scene or any scene, really. It all depends on the submissive. Anyway, scenes can bring out deep emotions, not always right away. Then the sub may experience anxiety or depression and it can take days to come out of it. If you have someone with you to help you through the initial feelings, then it's much less likely to be a problem.

Suzie thought about it for a moment before she answered, "The children are with my father and Beatrice. If it wouldn't be an imposition, I'd like to have your company, Kate." She turned to Chris. "No offense, Chris, but Kate was the one I did the scene with."

Chris took her hand in his and kissed the top of it. "None taken, sweetie." He kissed Kate on the cheek and sauntered away.

"Chris," Kate called after him, and he stopped in his tracks. She unclipped her keys from her belt and held it up. “Take my car.”

Chris swaggered back and took the keys from her, smirking. "You always take care of me. You must really want to serve me, don't you?"

Kate shook her head. It was a running joke between the two of them. She didn't know what to make of their strange attraction. For now, she needed to concentrate on Suzie. She and Chris would address their issues later. With that resolved, she stood up and urged Suzie to do the same. "Let's get you dressed and home, dear."

Chapter One

Suzie decided to host a family barbecue on the last weekend of summer so the kids could have one more summer adventure before school started. Tim and Abby made the invitations, to which the entire family – James and Laura, Dan and Beatrice, and Suzie herself – all solemnly RSVP’d.

Due to one of Kansas City’s regular heat waves, they opted to eat indoors, except for James, who would brave the heat outside to man the grill, and Dan, who took on a supervisory role. Hot dogs, hamburgers, Dan Turner’s potato salad, Laura’s coleslaw, Beatrice’s melon medley (with and without vodka), and a veggie platter rounded out the simple menu, However, Suzie had added a mix of spices to the ground beef to enhance the flavors. She had also set out three different types of cheese — cheddar, provolone, and pepperjack — for those who enjoyed cheese on their burgers, and even some slices of American for the kids, who were too young to know that wasn’t real cheese or even real food.

For dessert, Suzie had helped the kids bake chocolate chip cookies, Beatrice had, of course, brought a strawberry pie and a mango mousse, but all agreed the highlight of the sweet table was Suzie’s layered lemon-berry trifle.

While the men drank beer and discussed charcoal and other manly topics, the ladies settled comfortably in the living room with white wine spritzers from Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery (and a beer for Beatrice), engaging in conversation while they waited for the grill to heat up. Down in the basement, Tim and Abby were immersed in their train activities, working on a special project that they wanted to unveil once it was complete. They had specifically forbidden their grandfather from descending until they gave the signal. Suzie had caught a glimpse of their creation but had been sworn to secrecy. She marveled at their creativity and the constant transformations they made to their train layout. The process of building and rebuilding the tracks seemed to be a significant source of joy for them.

“So, how is married life treating you, Mrs. Beatrice?” Laura raised her eyebrow at their father's new wife as she settled into her chair and took a sip of her wine.

Beatrice let out a soft chuckle, her eyes twinkling with wry amusement. She reached for her own glass of beer and leveled Laura with a mock stern glance over the rim. her gaze locking with Laura's. "Just fine, honey.”

Suzie watched Laura blush with smiling confusion. “Honey?”

“That’s what James calls me,” Laura explained in a flustered way and took a deep swallow of her spritzer.

“And Mrs. Beatrice is what my Mr. Dan calls me,” Beatrice concluded, reaching over to give Laura a forgiving pat. “So do the ducklings and I don’t mind it from them, but you two ought to know better than to call a lady by her bedroom name in mixed company.”

Suzie grinned when Laura's mouth fell open. Her sister spluttered and managed, "Oh well, thank you... Beatrice." Yeah, that would take some getting used to.

Beatrice set her beer down and leaned forward. "As for married life, it’s an adjustment. It’s not quite how I remembered from my years with Arthur, and I expect I’m not what he remembers from his years with Nan, but we’re finding our way." She paused and patted her voluminous pockets as if in search of her cigarettes, then she came up with a ball of yarn with knitting needles sticking out of it. When she saw the odd looks on Laura and Suzie’s faces, she said, “Yes, I’m knitting a scarf when it’s 90 degrees outside. Been six months and twelve days since my last coffin nail. My mouth doesn’t miss ‘em, but my hands do, now and then. Never learned to knit as a kitten, thought I’d give it a go. Thought it’d be easier than this,” she added, scowling at the few rows of uneven stitches dangling from her needles. “Dan likes to tease me, asking if he’ll have it this winter or the next. I’m starting to wonder myself.

“And the house?” Laura asked.

Suzie glanced at her sister uncertainly. Although they’d been married almost three months, Dan and Beatrice had kept separate living situations until just last month. Suzie wasn’t sure what the delay was about, and truth be told, was grateful Laura had finally asked.

“Cozy,” Beatrice said thoughtfully. “Strange work, fitting yourself in around someone else who’s been settled. Like giving pieces of yourself up to make room, him and me both. I expect you know what I mean.”

Laura nodded. The smile on her lips showed she knew all about the adjustments and excitement of making one home out of two people in love.

“But he’s a good man. We’ll sort it. At least he doesn’t leave his unmentionables wherever he happens to take ‘em off, as my Arthur used to do. I do like a man who cleans up after himself, and he’s handy with repairs, too.”

As they sipped their drinks, Laura and Beatrice shared stories and laughter. Suzie was happy to listen. She hadn’t been sure how to feel about her father dating again, but she really liked Beatrice and enjoyed their bond of friendship and the prospect of new beginnings. But she also remembered how small the home their father had moved into after their mother’s death was. “Isn’t sharing a small space difficult?”

“We both had to give up a little,” Beatrice acknowledged. “He gave up his sofa, kept the recliner. I brought my sofa, gave up the tea table and chairs. New bed, of course, but we bought that when we first started stepping out. We're still discussing the TV situation." She raised an imperious eyebrow at Dad, just entering the room with James, as she spoke, reminding Suzie eerily of Kate, so stern, even when relaxed and friendly.

Dad beamed at Beatrice. "I have no problem with compromise, but I want a TV big enough to see the game during baseball season."

“Big enough to see the game from space,” Beatrice muttered, knitting loudly.

"I didn't realize you were a Royals fan,” James remarked. "We should catch a game together sometime."

"Actually, I'm a local heretic. I root for the Cards," Dad confessed.

"Say it ain't so!" James exclaimed.

Dad chuckled. "Yep. I grew up in St. Louis, so I come by my heresy honestly. But really, I just love the game. I'll watch any baseball that's on, and the girls will tell you that I took them to Royals games at least a couple of times a season until they refused to go anymore."

"He did. He had one of those books where he charted every play," Laura confirmed. "I remember when he took us to St. Louis to see the Cardinals on Mother's Day. He decided it would be a nice present to give Mom — a break from all of us.”

“I remember that,” Suzie chimed in. “Mom said it was one of her favorite Mother’s Day presents. Of course, we made her breakfast in bed before we left and she also got cards and flowers.”

“The next year, she was on her first course of chemo and we took care of her instead,” Laura recalled, tearing up at the memory.

James reached over and took her hand, squeezing gently, “Some memories are better than others. I’ll bet she liked both presents.”

Suzie’s heart fluttered at the tender expression on James’s face. She remembered a time her sister was scared of her own shadow, but now Laura was healthy, happy, and supported.

“Yes,” their father replied as he reached for his handkerchief to blow his nose. He cleared his throat. “And you had to go through it twice, Suzie Q.”

The childhood nickname broke the somber mood, and the corners of her mouth tipped up. “You haven’t called me that since I was ten.”

“Not where you could hear me. I don’t know what you had against that song,” Dan complained, a little too heartily. “Creedence Clearwater Revival rocks.”

“You’ve never been a fifth-grade girl with a whole playground full of kids hooting it at you.”

“James, does the fact that you’re here mean the grill is ready?” Laura asked. “I’m ravenous. Vegetables and dip only go so far.”

“Do you see what I do for this woman? She wants me to go outside in ninety-eight-degree weather and slave over a hot grill.”

“Poor baby,” Laura crooned. “I’ll go.”

“Woman, you stay away from that grill. Barbeque is man’s work. And yes, we’re good to go. Who wants what?”

He got the orders of all hamburgers from the adults, and Laura went to find out the children’s preferences. “Abby swears she’ll eat two hotdogs,” she reported. “And Tim wants at least one cheeseburger and a hotdog. I think you should probably do a couple extra of each.”

James went into the kitchen for the meat. He came out with the tray and a fresh beer to sustain him in the heat.

The women got up to set the table, and Beatrice brought Dad another beer. After another ten minutes, Laura went out with a clean plate for the cooked meat and the cheese for those who wanted it on their burgers, while Suzie called the children to come and wash up.

Once the meat was cooked, James came in and they sat down to eat. Dad led grace, and Suzie helped Abby with the potato salad and the coleslaw. Once everyone had what they wanted, they dug into the food. There was silence for the first few minutes as they sated their initial hunger. Then the compliments rolled in. “I don’t know what kind of spices you put into the ground beef, but this is marvelous, sis,” Laura exclaimed.

“It’s a secret family recipe,” Suzie teased. “Your coleslaw is excellent as usual.”

“Thank you, ma’am. The potato salad is great, Dad, and these melons are perfectly ripe and sweet, Beatrice.”

“Storebought,” Beatrice said with a modest sniff. “They’ll be fresh from the garden next year.”

“Could have been fresh from the garden this year if you’d moved in earlier,” Dan remarked.

“Could have had green cheese on your burger if I’d been to the moon, too, what’s your point?” Beatrice retorted.

"Whatever is in it, everything is great," said Tim. "Thank you, all."

"Yes, thank you!" Abby sang out as she started on her second hot dog, smothered in ketchup and relish like her first.

"I think I can safely say you're welcome on behalf of everyone who contributed to the meal," Beatrice said. "And, Suzie, you have two wonderfully polite children here."

"Thanks, Beatrice. I try, and so do they," Suzie said.

"There are plenty more burgers if anyone wants seconds," James said.

"Maybe in a little while," Dad said, "but we have to save room for that delectable looking trifle. Did you use Mom's recipe, Suzie Q?"

"Of course, Dad. Mom made the best trifles I've ever had," Suzie said.

The adults sat and talked while the children continued to eat. "You both must have hollow legs to store all that food," Dad said, "or maybe it's all the calories you burn with your mystery in the basement?"

"Granddad, don't be silly," Abby said. "We learned about the human body in science class last year. Nobody has hollow legs. Right, Tim?"

Tim nodded vigorously, his mouth currently full with his second hotdog. He had a full load of condiments on it, but ate over his plate, careful not to make a mess.

Just then, what sounded like an old-fashioned phone started ringing in the living room.

"What on earth?" Suzie asked.

"I'm sorry, everyone, that's my ringtone,” Beatrice said as she got up. “I'll have to get it. It's probably something urgent at work."

"I really wish you'd retire, honey," Dan said. "You can get Social Security now, and with me in the house, your expenses are down."

"That's a conversation for another day, Mr. Dan," Beatrice said as she went into the living room.

"I'm serious, Beatrice," Dan called after her.

A few minutes later, a frowning Beatrice returned. "I'm sorry, everybody, but I have to go back to the laundromat. Some young fool put bath bombs in a whole row of washers and it’s spitting rainbow suds everywhere.”

“Oh my goodness!” Laura gasped.

“I blame the Tik Tok. Will you take me, please, Dan?"

"Under protest, but yes, I'll take you. Sorry to leave before dessert, honey," he said to Suzie.

"Can you wait just a minute and I'll fix you some trifle to take home?" Suzie interrupted.

Beatrice responded for both of them. "That's very thoughtful of you, dear, but I don’t know how long I’ll be, and I don’t want it getting warm in the car. Save us some here, I was so looking forward to trying it.”

"I hope the basement surprise will keep for another day?" Dan asked Tim and Abby.

"We're not done yet, Granddad, so yeah, it'll keep," Tim replied. "We should finish it tomorrow, so maybe you could come Sunday after church?"

"Please, Granddad," Abby echoed her brother's invitation.

"We'll see. I don't want to put your mother out. Right now, I need to take Beatrice back to work. Love you, dears." Their father kissed both Suzie and Laura on the cheek.

"Well," Suzie said, "I'm sorry to see them go. Are you ready for dessert?"

"Could I have a little bit of trifle and a cookie?" Tim asked.

"Me, too, please." Abby did a little bounce in her seat.

"I'm glad you're both willing to try something new. How about you help clear the dishes?” Suzie smiled at her children, ignoring their groans, and turned to Laura with a mom-look. “I see you getting up to help! You just sit tight. James, you keep a firm hand on her!"

“That’s what I do,” James replied straight-faced as Laura blushed and giggled.

When the dinner dishes had been taken to the kitchen, Suzie brought out a plate of cookies, bowls, and finally, the trifle with its layers visible through the etched crystal bowl.

"Wow, that is magnificent and looks too good to eat!" James exclaimed.

"No," Laura corrected, "good enough to savor."

Suzie dished out the trifle, making sure each dish had a full complement of layers. From the sounds James and Laura made as they ate, they might have been making love to the delicious dessert.

"You've outdone yourself, sis,” Laura moaned appreciatively. “I know it's been a long time, but I think this might be better than Mom's."

"I don't know about your mother's, but this is fantastic." James scraped his plate, savoring every bite.

"I like it, too." Tim held out his empty plate. "Could I have some more, please?"

"Yes, dear, of course.” Suzie accepted his plate and loaded more trifle. “What about you, Abby?"

"Yes, please.” Abby’s smile melted Suzie’s heart. “It's really good, mom."

"I'm so glad I made the non-alcoholic version. I debated, because I didn't think the kids would want to try it," Suzie remarked as she refilled the empty plates. “But I just knew Beatrice would bring something to ‘put a smile on,’ so I decided against it.”

"It's a hit all around.” James accepted his second helping. “It's a shame Dan and Beatrice couldn't stay."

After they had all finished eating, Suzie excused the children to the basement, and James went back outside to cook the extra meat and then clean up the grill.

Suzie and Laura went into the kitchen to clean up and Suzie couldn't contain herself anymore. "You won't believe what happened at Club Indigo after your ceremony."

Laura’s body perked up and she tilted her head to the side. "Did you do a scene with Chris?"

Suzie stood immobile, mouth agape as she collected her thoughts. "Er, no. Why on Earth would you think I would do a scene with Chris?"

"Well, I guessed you guys were into each other." It was Laura's turn to fall flustered. "I don't know. I thought you two hit it off."

“You mean Chris hit it off, but Chris flirts with anyone of the female persuasion. He’s cute, but I already have a boy to look after." As Laura chuckled, Suzie continued in a whisper, "I did do a scene, though. With Kate."

"Kate?" Laura exclaimed, earning herself a silencing whap with a dish towel. “Sorry. I was surprised. I never imagined you with a woman."

"It wasn’t that kind of scene, nothing sexual." Suzie felt her cheeks warm. She wasn't about to admit having climaxed after experiencing pain. “Not really.”

"But wait, Kate?” Laura looked her over curiously. “She's a genuine sadist. Did she hurt you?"

"Yes, of course, she did. And I, well, I liked it." Suzie rubbed a spot on the counter that was already clean. "I liked it a lot." She dared a glance at her sister and suddenly whispered, "What's wrong with me?" Without warning, the teasing atmosphere was gone. Her mouth became dry and a lump formed in her throat. Hot tears pricked her eyes and Suzie determinedly blinked them back.

Laura placed her hands on her hips. "There's nothing wrong with you,” she said indignantly. “What you like or don't like just is. Don't judge yourself."

Thrown off-guard by her sister’s uncharacteristic assertiveness, Suzie blurted, "Are you sure you're submissive?"

Just like that, the mood turned sunny again. Both sisters caught the giggles, laughing so hard, that James came into the kitchen to check on them and they dropped the subject.