"Sweet" Hawkes is a BDSM dominant who has lost his smile. Although he loves the candy store called Decadent Treats that he co-owns with his brother, Masaun, he's lost the passion he had for making treats for his customers.
After releasing his last submissive, Sweet decides to dive in head first into business and forget about love and disciplining. He wants to open up a second Decadent Treats and a store that would sell quality BDSM toys and apparel. Sweet never expects to find an obstacle outside his door.
Nikla Dearwood has made it her mission to picket outside of the Decadent Treats store to warn customers about eating too much sugar. Although as a Pilates and yoga instructor, it would seem as though her protests have to do with leading a healthy lifestyle, Nikla has other motives. Besides this protest, she wants to open up her own exercise studio in downtown Virginia Beach.
Nikla isn't scared away from her picketing mission when a tall and sexy man from Decadent Treats tries to get her to stop. When she finds that same guy checking out an open storefront in downtown Virginia Beach that she also wants, she's now interested in him.
The two check out each other’s businesses. Sweet subjects himself to a yoga class. When Nikla goes to Sweet's candy store, she finds that the man has a different way of tempting her with candy.
When things get out of hand in the store, the two make a deal with each other: they'll agree to play and have sex until a decision on the suites is made. After that, they agree to go their separate ways.
When Nikla starts to have feelings for Sweet, can she give up the fight for this man? Can Sweet open his heart enough to let the right woman in?
Sweet Hawkes stalked through the aisles of his Decadent Treats candy store, probably looking harder than he should considering the sweet treats he and his brother sold.
Sweet’s brother, Masaun, had always told Sweet he needed to lighten up his heavy-handed attitude.
“We own a candy shop, for God’s sake,” Masaun would say. “Act like you like it.”
Sweet didn’t want to put on any fronts. Although he loved their business, he found very little to smile about lately. He had to stop mixing his personal drama into his professional successes. Just like he had to stop thinking that playing with someone in a dungeon meant that she would pledge her allegiance to him.
Sweet would have to fill that empty pit inside himself with more work. He used to love seeing the initial reaction to anything: the first taste of a luscious treat, the first sexual encounter with a woman, the first gasp from experiencing the stinging tip of his whip. Those primary responses became his drug of choice.
The sugary scent of candy wafted in the air. Aromas of cherry, grape, and chocolate tickled his nose and senses. To Sweet, it smelled like money...and power. No one would be able to understand that feeling but him.
The rows and columns of candy reminded him of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and an amusement park all rolled in one. Light pop music played throughout the store.
God bless Katy Perry and her candy outfits. Thanks to her, teenage girls bought large lollipops and cotton candy to make Halloween outfits to look like the pop princess. If people knew what he could do with his confections, they wouldn’t allow their children to step into the store again.
The looks he got from many of the female patrons as he walked down the aisles didn’t escape his notice. He couldn’t forget that he and Masaun had a business to run. With enough work, he would eventually forget his past and last heartbreak.
“Did you read the article about them?” a young woman whispered to her friend.
Sweet pretended not to hear her, but from her low tone and suspicious glance in his direction, she managed to catch his attention.
“He and his brother are part of that place down at the beach. You know. The Playground or The Schoolyard or something like that.”
Unafraid of his association with the whispered establishment or the things he’d done in there, Sweet stopped, strolled over to the women with a scowl, and said, “The place is called The Dollhouse. It is a dungeon.” He split his attention between the two of them.
The two women stared at him with their mouths gaped open. The one with curly strawberry blonde hair seemed frozen in her spot. While the other, an African-American woman in a matronly flowered dress that seemed to conflict with her youthful face, covered her mouth and split her attention between her mouthy friend and Sweet.
“If either of you want to know what really happens behind that red door, I’d be more than happy to take you there.” Sweet stared at the two women. “What? No takers?” He tsked. “My loss.”
He continued toward the office, which sat behind the kitchen area. Ever since the news broke about Masaun, his district attorney fiancée, and Sweet’s involvement in BDSM, the whispers started around him. Although he didn’t care for the clucking tongues, he wanted to control his public image.
He’d been begging Masaun for years to come clean about their proclivities. Masaun being Masaun, the safe, by-the-book one, wanted to keep that part of their lives quiet.
“No one needs to know about our private lives,” Masaun used to say.
Now it seemed everyone knew. To Sweet’s surprise, the news had increased their business. Sweet assumed people came there now to ogle at the freak brothers. The thought of that boiled his blood.
Sweet glanced down at a row of chocolates in the front case. Before he could even weaken himself to reach for one of the pieces to ease his nerves, he continued to the kitchen area. Baking relaxed him. Playing at The Dollhouse used to take away his frustrations.
Before stopping at the kitchen, Sweet continued to the office. As he opened the door, he said, “Hey, we could use a hand out here.”
Sweet caught Masaun sitting behind his desk with Masaun’s fiancée on his lap. Sweet had a feeling that had he come just five minutes later, he would have seen a lot more than just his brother with his hand up Kindle Langston’s top.
“Whoa!” Sweet turned his back on the scene, not to give them privacy. He didn’t want them to see the anger on his face.
Sweet never thought that his business-minded, square older brother would be this risqué. Had Sweet been caught doing the exact same thing, Masaun would have never let him live it down.
“Hell, don’t you knock?” Masaun damn near growled the question.
“At my own business in my office? No.” Sweet turned around and walked inside.
At this point, Kindle had her shirt tucked back into her skirt. Her coffee-colored smooth skin hid her obvious embarrassment. Her panting breath couldn’t disguise the steamy activity that had occurred just moments before.
“How are you doing, Kindle?” Sweet kissed her cheek.
“Fine. I was just–”
Sweet held up his hand. “No explanation necessary. I get it.” He split his attention between her and his brother. “Young love.” He stared at his brother. “Well, maybe young-ish love.”
Masaun picked up a notepad and threw it at Sweet. Expecting the reaction, Sweet managed to catch the bound pad of paper and toss it back to his brother.
“I’m just going to freshen up a little before I go back to the office. I still have so much stuff to pack up before my last day.” Kindle kissed Masaun.
Sweet felt a ripple tickle the back of his neck when he saw the expression. Although he loved that his brother found happiness with a woman who matched him in every way, Sweet knew a relationship like that wouldn’t work for him. Nothing lasted beyond the spark.
Kindle ducked into their private bathroom and closed the door. As soon as the latch clicked, Masaun wasted no time in lighting into Sweet.
“You know with me and Kindle together, some things are going to have to change around here.” Masaun ran his fingers through his dark, wavy hair.
“You’re right. I think you should have more sex in the office.”
The glare from his brother’s green eyes didn’t scare Sweet. Although he had a darker side, Masaun looked too conservative to be considered menacing. The illusion definitely helped him in the BDSM world.
Sweet sat on the couch next to the desk. “By the way, you need to put your dick in your pants before Connie or Hanson come in here.”
“Asshole.” Masaun twirled the swivel chair so that his back faced Sweet.
Sweet watched him squirming in his chair before he returned his attention to him.
“You’re in here because you wanted something, right?”
Sweet blinked. “I need a reason to come into the office? Last time I checked, I’m still part owner of this establishment.”
Masaun released a long sigh. “Didn’t mean it that way. Usually you don’t come back to the office until the end of the day.”
“So that means if I’m in here now, I must have something to say.” Sweet planted his feet on the floor and leaned forward so that his brother could see the full intent in his eyes. “It’s time for Decadent Treats to expand.”
Masaun blinked. “Really? As in another location?”
Sweet shook his head. “Not exactly. I mean delving into something that we really know about.” He wiped his hands over his jeans and took a breath before he continued speaking. “I’d say we open up a Decadent Treats Two and sell fetish toys and clothing.” As soon as Sweet saw his brother shaking his head, he continued to talk before he got shut down. “Our current location is good.”
Masaun nodded. “Yeah. Plenty of parking. Close to the mall. Near restaurants so we get the patrons who want something different for dessert.”
Sweet bit his tongue, knowing what Masaun wanted him to say. His brother wanted Sweet to thank him for finding the spot.
Sweet gritted his teeth before continuing with his pre-planned speech. “I found a better spot in downtown Virginia Beach. Actually two side by side. I was thinking we get them both, close this location, and set up at the new place. Then we’ll use the other location to stock our toys. You know. The whips, chains, handcuffs, corsets.” Sweet felt tingles over his body. He loved sharing his ideas. This one would put their business on the map as the top candy and fetish shops in Virginia Beach.
Masaun shook his head. “No.”
Sweet’s heartbeat slowed but he tried to remain encouraged. “Why not? If it wasn’t for you, people would care less what we do on our spare time. Now we have customers whispering about us in the store. People know. So why not profit from it?”
His brother leaned back in the swivel chair. “That’s not fair. How everything got revealed was an accident. Kindle and I didn’t plan for our–”
Sweet cut him off. “It doesn’t matter how it got out. The fact of the matter is that it is out. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops for years.”
“I know. That’s the impetuous side of you that I so enjoy.”
“We’re Doms, for Christ’s sake. We should be masters of our own destinies. Nothing should happen by mistake. We should have said something first.” Sweet sat up taller.
“It didn’t happen that way. We had to improvise.”
Sweet cleared his throat with a low growl. “I improvise all the time. It works during play.”
Masaun shook his head. “Play? You haven’t done that in a while.”
Sweet swallowed hard as he glared at Masaun. After releasing his last submissive, he had no desire to resume all of his Dom duties, a strange response considering how much he loved playing. He loved seeing the shocked expression on a submissive’s face as soon as he inflicted the first hit.
Before Sweet could defend his actions, or lack thereof, Masaun continued. “Let’s finish talking about your plan.”
“What I’m proposing would make sense. Have a Decadent Treats original and a Decadent Treats Two next door. The kids will get candy while mommy and daddy explore the strap-on aisle.”
“There are several problems with your plan.” Masaun rested his hands on his stomach.
Sweet glared at his brother. “What are those?”
Masaun chuckled. “Are you serious? We’re doing fine here because we got in at a good time and our rates have been reasonable. We’re beyond profitable now. It wouldn’t be a great time to get rid of this place and get on the hook for not one but two new spots in a pricey area of the Beach.”
Sweet’s eyebrows furrowed. “It would work if you would just see the bigger picture.”
Masaun’s eyes widened. “If I saw the bigger picture? You’re kidding, right?” He gripped the end of the desk as he faced Sweet. “I’m the one crunching the numbers, making sure to check the prices on our suppliers and balancing the books. I’m seeing the big picture. I know if we continue at this rate, we’ll be an even bigger success than what we are now. You just have to stay the course and not be so quick to change scenery when the mood hits you. I offered to show you our numbers but you never want to see them.”
“I’m busy at the front of the house. Since business is up, I’ve adjusted my schedule to work more during the day.” Sweet pointed to the store area. “When I’m not there, I’m in the kitchen creating more candies and chocolates for us to sell. Throw on top of that our time at The Dollhouse, my day is full.” Sweet raised his eyebrows to his brother who understood what the BDSM dungeon meant for the two of them.
Masaun shook his head. “Don’t even mention that place like it matters to you anymore.”
“What are you talking about? I’m there three or four nights a week.” Sweet felt his temperature rising. He balled his hands into fists, trying to contain his anger.
“Yes, you are there. But when was the last time you threw a whip at someone? I think it was a couple of years ago when you were with–”
“Don’t you mention her name.” Sweet’s heart thudded in his chest just thinking of Melinda and her pale skin that marked up so easily. “As far as I’m concerned, that was a clean break.”
“Bullshit.” Masaun snickered. “Any other man would have gotten right back on the horse. You didn’t. Any other Dom would have played with a willing submissive or slave. You haven’t.”
“At least I’m at The Dollhouse.”
“Did I hear someone mention The Dollhouse?” Kindle, looking more like a commonwealth attorney now rather than a video vixen, sauntered out of the bathroom.
She pulled her dark hair up into a sleek bun. The pink color of her silk blouse popped against her understated gray suit. As soon as her gaze fell on Masaun, she lit up like Las Vegas.
Sweet loved seeing that initial glint of lust. Too bad the feeling never lasted...at least for him it didn’t.
“Are you working late tonight?” Masaun asked Kindle.
“Not if The Dollhouse is on the table.” She framed his face in her hands. “I’ll be sure to be home for that.” She planted a sensual kiss on his lips.
When the kiss seemed to be leading to other wanton acts, Sweet cleared his throat. Kindle pulled back but kept her stare on her man. Masaun definitely trained her well.
“See you tonight.” She picked up her purse and briefcase, then strolled to the door.
“Can’t wait.” Masaun beamed as he watched her leave.
“Lust looks good on you.” Sweet stood.
“It’s more than lust. It’s love. It could look good on you, too, if you just let Kindle hook you up with some of her single friends.”
Sweet shook his head. “I’d like something permanent. I want a lover and a submissive. I can’t seem to get those two together. Just owning a submissive or slave isn’t enough for me.”
“No, you don’t think you can keep any type of permanent relationship. There’s a difference.” Masaun pointed at Sweet. “You can own again. You can love again.”
Easier said than done. Some breakups couldn’t be overlooked.
“So you and Kindle don’t keep a twenty-four/seven relationship?” Sweet stared at Masaun who rutted his eyebrows in confusion.
“What do you mean?” Masaun regarded his brother with his standard judging stare.
“I know your playing style. I know what you demand of your slaves and submissives.” Sweet eased back on the couch. “Why didn’t Kindle come back into the room on her hands and knees? Why didn’t she call you by your scene name? Was she wearing underwear?”
“You’re out of fucking line.” Masaun pointed at Sweet.
Had his brother’s finger been a gun, Sweet would be dead.
“I’m just saying if I had someone, I would want her to call me Master Sweet all day, every day. I would want her to show her obedience to me.”
Maybe if Melinda had done that, she wouldn’t have wanted to be released. Then again, maybe if he had recognized the fact that she hadn’t shown any obedience to him, he would have released her sooner.
“Fine. You find your own submissive. You treat her how you’d like. Stay out of my relationship.” Masaun drummed his fingertips on the desk. “Let’s get back to talking about business before this conversation goes too far. I think what you’re proposing is a stupid idea, but I’ll entertain the notion.”
Sweet wiped his brow in an exaggerated motion. “Whew. Glad I got your blessing.”
“Funny. So do you have a business proposal for your idea?” Masaun faced his laptop and started typing. When Sweet didn’t answer right away, Masaun brought his gaze back up to him. “You did write one up that shows the cost benefits of expanding, right?”
“Of course there will be benefits to having another type of business. You talk to the people at the club. You’ve heard them all complain that there’s not any place around here to buy good, quality toys and not gimmicky crap that breaks after one hard play session.” Sweet braced his hands on his knees. He felt grounded that way.
“You think the world is in the lifestyle. They’re not. Some people may want those less-expensive toys for parties. The real thing may intimidate people.” Masaun exhaled. “I just don’t see where spending money to, one, get two new spaces, then two, stock one with quality fetish materials, and three, put employees in there to run it for us is a good move for us right now. Contract time is coming up for lease renewal. Let’s hope they don’t jack up our rates.”
Sweet felt the headache coming on as he marched toward his brother. He slammed his hands on the desk as he stared at him. “We’ve been called the ‘Best at the Beach’ for three of the five years we’ve been in business. We’ve been featured in The Virginian-Pilot and on the local news a few times. Things are looking up for us. Trust me. This will work.”
Masaun rolled his eyes. “A candy store and a specialty fetish store are two separate things.” He shook his head. “If you had proposed a candy store and a full-on bakery, I would be more on board with that.” He rocked back and forth in his swivel chair. “Yes, we’re out now as far as our lifestyle. But you damn near dangle the fact that we’re in the Lifestyle in front of people almost daily.”
Sweet stood tall. “I’m not ashamed of being a BDSM Dom. I didn’t think you were, either.”
Masaun could be considered more of a dungeon master than just a Dominant who played at The Dollhouse. For the past fifteen years, he trained almost all of the new Doms and Dommes in the establishment as well as many of the new submissives. From aftercare to whipping and everything in between, Masaun taught it all. Sweet had learned about the Lifestyle along with him, but preferred playing than teaching.
“I love the Lifestyle, too. So does Kindle.” A sly smile cocked at the corner of his mouth. “But that side of us is private. We don’t have to label ourselves.”
“What do you mean?” Sweet crossed his arms over his chest. He hated feeling defensive with the one person he thought had understood him the most.
Masaun scanned the desk and picked up a bumper sticker that Sweet had been handing out to customers. He read the front of it out loud. “Decadent Treats. Bouquets, delivery, sweets and more.” He dropped his hand back to the desk and glared at Sweet.
Sweet shrugged. “What? We do all of those things.”
“What are the initials?”
A smile almost crossed Sweet’s face knowing that Masaun had caught on faster than he thought he would. “So what? So the initials come out to BDSM. Just a coincidence.”
“Coincidence my ass. You are right about one thing. We have more customers in here because people want to take a gander at the Dom brothers running a candy shop.”
“I have no problem playing with anyone who wants to step into a dungeon with me.” Sweet shrugged.
His brother’s questioning glance didn’t escape Sweet’s notice.
“We should be known for selling great products and having excellent customer service.”
Sweet waved his hand at him. “Sure. That’ll keep the customers in the store. Seeing us will get them coming into the store.”
Masaun shook his head. “You’re all about the immediate reaction, aren’t you?”
“What can I say? It’s my drug.”
Masaun sat back in the black leather high-back swivel chair. “It’s your excuse to not open up again.”
Before Sweet got into the same argument he’d had with his brother for the past two years, since Sweet and Melinda had broken up, he turned back to the door. “I’m open. I’m going to check out what’s going on in the store before I head to the kitchen.”
“Hey, while we’re on the subject of changes, are you still looking for a new place to live?” Masaun pointed at him.
Sweet shook his head. “I like living upstairs in the apartment.”
Masaun released an exasperated sigh. “You’re using this place and The Dollhouse to hide.”
“I’m committed to the business and the Lifestyle.” Sweet shook his head. He had to count to ten in his head before he continued speaking. “When I presented you with the idea of us owning this candy shop together, I did it without a business plan, and you jumped on the idea, right?”
“And when I said I would make some of the candies, you trusted me, right?”
“I knew you would do a–”
Sweet cut him off again. “It seems like my instincts have been pretty dead-on as far as our business. Why don’t you trust me now?”
Masaun sighed. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. You get these romantic notions in your head without fully thinking things through. You’ve entrenched yourself in this business as though you’re hiding away from something. You’re great with the creative, but you have nothing to keep you grounded to reality.”
“Except you.” Sweet pointed at him. “Is that what you were going to say?” He raked his fingers back through his hair. “I know it’s going to hurt you to say it, but you can tell me that I’m right sometimes.”
“Even when you’re wrong?”
Sweet shook his head. “Fuck you.” He grabbed the doorknob. “As always, thanks for the support. I see I’ll have to do this my way as usual.”
Before another word could be said, Sweet stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind himself. He tried showing a pleasant appearance before getting to the main store area but even Sweet couldn’t fake the expression.
Sweet went behind the counter as his employee, Hanson, checked out the purchases for a mature African-American woman. Hanson had been an employee for the last three years, coming on when business really started booming. The tall, lanky African-American man proved to be a great asset to their business.
“Everything all right, boss?” Hanson asked without taking his attention away from the customer.
“Fine. Just me and my brother having one of our discussions.” Sweet scanned the area behind the counter and spotted a shipping box filled with large, heart-shaped red boxes of chocolates. He pulled one from the box.
The pre-packaged boxes of chocolates and candies had been Masaun’s idea. Sweet sold some of his creations in the store, but he could only produce so much in a day before customers bought out the stock. If he could clone himself, he would.
“Connie and I were about to stock those but it got busy.” Hanson handed the customer her purchases and her change.
Sweet glared at his employee. First he couldn’t get his brother around to his way of thinking, and now his employees developed minds of their own.
When Hanson caught the look, he stopped moving. “I’ll get them stocked right now.” He started to call for Connie but Sweet stopped him.
“I’ll take care of it.” Sweet swept the box off the counter and moved to the middle aisle.
As he crouched down, Sweet’s thoughts tumbled through his head. He knew this business venture would work, just like he knew Decadent Treats would be a hit.
Masaun may not have believed in him, but that didn’t mean Sweet didn’t believe in himself. He had a goal. He thought his brother would have appreciated his willingness to expand their business. Even if he didn’t, that didn’t mean Sweet had to stop. He hadn’t forgotten he owned a portion of this business and had a voice.
“Uh oh,” Connie, the other Decadent Treats employee, said next to Sweet. The older woman covered her mouth with her hand in shock.
Sweet glanced at the woman as he stood. “What?”
“She’s back.” She nodded her head to the front of the store. “The lone protester.”
Sweet stared out through the front glass of the store and saw a woman handing out fliers to people walking by, and talking to patrons as they entered the store. He had heard about her from Masaun but hadn’t seen her yet. In the glare of the noonday sun reflecting off the glass, he couldn’t see her face. That would be rectified right now.
When the front door opened, Sweet heard a portion of the woman’s speech.
“...leading cause of diabetes and childhood obesity.”
Then the door closed and he couldn’t hear her. Sweet heard his heart pounding in his head. The crackling of his grinding teeth rumbled through his ears.
“This woman acts like we’re cooking puppies and kittens in here.” Connie almost raised her delicate voice. She didn’t get rattled easily. If this person could get his employee riled up, he had to check her out.
Connie crossed her arms over her chest. “Where does she get off protesting a place like this? At least she’s smart enough not to step one foot in here.” She shook her head. “Your brother said if she shows up again for us to call the police.” She turned on her heel and headed to the register counter.
“Don’t bother. I’ll handle this.” He pointed to the box on the floor. “Finish stocking up here.” Sweet marched to the front door.
His brother tried squashing his dreams. This woman wouldn’t do the same. He tried going the easy route by convincing Masaun he could make this idea work. Just like everything else, Sweet would have to do things his way.