“C’mon, Maggie. Tell us your secret,” Julia shouted.

Maggie slouched in her seat as several heads turned her way, giving her the once-over. Why did Julia have to yell? Okay, so the men sitting at the next table wouldn’t hear her over the pounding throb of guitars, saxophone and the male vocalist headlining in the packed bar. She hoped.

Susan and Christina nodded with enthusiasm, grinning, their attention focused on her. Maggie hated the limelight, always had since a childhood filled with her mother’s antics and histrionics. The big event that had sent her scurrying north to hide in Auckland had helped cement Maggie’s resolution to stay away from the glare of publicity. Sighing, she forced her thoughts from the past and wondered if this was a good idea. It wasn’t too late to stop, yet gut instinct forced her on, telling her she was an adult. Free to make choices and deal with the consequences. She wasn’t her mother, despite her father and stepmother’s harsh words.

The fine tremor of nerves slipping down her arm confirmed her disquiet. The slushy ice in her margarita tinkled against the edges of the glass, jogged by the quiver of her hands. She set her drink on the table and sucked in a deep breath, steeling herself to blurt out her secret. Not a feeble confession, like it usually was. Today she had a real secret.

Get it out.

She opened her mouth and closed it again. She couldn’t. Sure, it was a game they played when there were a few drinks involved—margaritas usually. But this time was different. It was her innermost desire she was about to reveal. The others had taken their turns and giggled like schoolgirls instead of employees of the staid Barker & Johnson, one of Auckland’s premier accounting firms. They’d released their inhibitions—a side effect of Friday night drinks and the promise of a long holiday weekend.

Now the floor belonged to her.

She licked her bottom lip, stress bubbling in the pit of her stomach. Time to produce a secret.

“What are you waiting for, Maggie?” Susan asked in a sing-song voice. “We’ve told you ours.”

Secret. Secret. Secret.” Christina banged her palms on the edge of the table. Julia and Susan joined in the beat, their eyes gleaming with challenge in the dim light of the booth.

Maggie picked up her margarita and gulped to moisten her dry mouth. “Okay. Okay.

Placing her glass on a coaster, she glanced around the bar. No doubt about it. People were starting to stare. Time to spill her secret before things turned ugly. After another deep breath, she dropped her gaze to her clasped hands. “I’ve started a website called BigBadAss.com.” She spoke so quickly the words ran together. Once finished, she scanned each of her friends in turn, anxious now for their reactions.

“Big bad ass?” Christina’s watchful eyes held curiosity while her lips curved in an approving smile. She pushed her frameless glasses up her nose with perfectly manicured copper fingernails. “Isn’t that pretty racy for you?”

“What’s the big deal?” Julia scoffed and tossed her head before Maggie could answer. Her blonde hair stirred and settled in sexy curls around her almost bare shoulders. Shoestring straps held her low-cut black top in place. “It’s just a website.”

“Who’s a bad ass?” Susan smirked. “Don’t say Greg has gone and found some balls?”

“Bother, I have a smear.” Christina rifled through her handbag for a tissue to clean her glasses. “Anyway, I want to hear more about this website.”

Questions. Maggie had expected them, but the comments and queries didn’t put her at ease. Her stomach vibrated like one of her younger brother’s toys—over-wound and about to fly apart. She wiped sweaty palms on her sensible navy skirt, swallowed and said, “It’s more of a blog.”

“A blog about what?” Julia asked, rolling her eyes. “Desperados? Bandits? What’s a bad ass?”

Maggie closed her eyes briefly to summon courage. This next part was worse. Her teeth clacked when she closed her mouth. The longer her hesitation, the worse the mental strain would become. Big bad ass, she wasn’t. More like a marshmallow, burnt on the outside with a gooey interior.

“I explore…um…my adventures in spanking,” Maggie said, forcing a smile. “Does anyone want another drink?”

“Spanking,” Susan cried out as the band ended their song and the haunting notes of a sax faded. Everyone in the vicinity heard her shocked shriek. Heads turned, customers surveying them with distinct interest. Two men at a nearby table leered. Their dark suits suggested they worked at the lawyer’s office next door, but their toothy smirks told Maggie their minds crawled in the gutter, armed with floggers and paddles.

“Shush,” she muttered, aware of the two plum-sized patches heating her cheeks. “It’s a secret. I don’t want everyone to know.”

Christina picked up her drink, golden bracelets jingling with musical grace. “Since when were you interested in spanking, Maggie?”

“Yeah,” Julia demanded. “How long has this been going on?”

Susan smirked, her gaze darting from Christina to Julia and back to Maggie. “Does Greg spank you?”

“Um…” Oh, heck. She’d known they’d have lots of questions. Greg was her boyfriend. Solid, dependable and boring. How was she going to tell him? True, she was still a spanking novice, but Maggie was determined not to chicken out. She would explore spanking. It wouldn’t be like the fad diets she tried and failed.

Her spanking interest—or sickness, depending on how a girl looked at it—began with a book and some in-depth soul-searching along with a bottle of wine. She’d hauled her drunken self off to bed and, after reading more of the erotic romance, she’d had the best orgasm ever. Yeah, if she could scale those heights by herself, a real extravaganza lay ahead with a male lover. Right there, she decided to explore her wild side and the naughty spike of pleasure that jolted her right to the core every time she considered a swat on the ass. The fiery heat…

She could see the curiosity filling Susan’s blue eyes, the nosy interest mirrored in Christina and Julia’s faces. “You asked for one secret. I’ve given you one and you have to promise not to tell anyone.” Maggie had no idea where this new bravery had come from. It reminded her of her teenage years, and she liked its return. The inner Maggie cheered, enjoying the nonplussed expressions on her friends’ faces.

“What about Connor? We can tell him, right?” Julia toyed with her straw, cocking her head to the side as she studied Maggie. “He would have been here if his rugby coach hadn’t called an extra training session.”

“No!” Color climbed into Maggie’s cheeks. “Not unless you’re going to tell him your secrets as well.” A glower through narrowed eyes served as a warning, an attempt to enforce her will.

She closed her eyes briefly. Her recent behavior would appall her father and stepmother who still reeled over the scandal of Penisgate. More gossip about their daughter would send them over the edge. What had come over her lately? Maybe a vitamin deficiency or something. In addition to thinking about spanking and researching kink, her fantasies had sprung into full sexy Technicolor. They featured Connor, and it wasn’t his cooking skills that interested her.

Coming to Samhain Publishing on 27 April 2010
Available for pre-order at Amazon in Kindle format