Today it is my pleasure to welcome USA Today bestselling author M.Q. Barber to HJ!
Thanks for inviting me to talk about Henry, Alice, and Jay. I love writing about these three and their struggle to make their relationship work. To stop me from babbling about them forever, I’m sticking to five facts about the Neighborly Affection series:
1: Strong bonds build slowly.
Insta-love has no place in the Neighborly Affection series. Insta-attraction, absolutely. The lightning sizzle of arousal hums beneath the friendship Alice forms with her neighbors Henry and Jay. But their relationship evolves in stages as their trust in each other grows.
In book one, Playing the Game, Alice agrees to a strictly sexual arrangement with the guys for some fun and experimentation. In book two, Crossing the Lines, all three grapple with emotional chaos their arrangement can’t contain. In book three, Healing the Wounds, they shape the pattern for their life together.
Each book in the series is a step forward for character growth, binding Henry, Alice, and Jay in an ever-tightening net of trust and love.
2: All sex is meaningful sex.
The contract Henry inks with Alice gives him control over the progress of their sexual adventures. The erotic focus of their romance naturally means they have plenty of sex, but every sexual encounter serves a broader purpose.
A long-term dominance and submission relationship demands communication and trust. Ideally, the partners find their true selves in fulfilling each other’s most intimate desires. Sex is only the field Henry, Alice, and Jay play on. Their game is psychological and emotional.
Every steamy scene in the series, from languid lovemaking to kitchen quickies, contributes to the characters’ emotional growth and helps define the course of their relationship.
3: Surrender is powerful.
Alice is an intelligent, independent woman making a deliberate choice to play games of Henry’s devising. At first, she submits out of curiosity. As her trust in Henry grows, she submits for the pleasure and freedom she finds in his hands.
Submission isn’t only for meek and mild souls or those who can’t hack the pressure of being in control. A person without power has none to relinquish to his or her dominant. The stronger the submissive, the stronger the dominant needed to command whole-hearted respect and surrender.
The more time Alice spends with Henry and Jay, the deeper her understanding goes — not only of them but of herself.
4: Dominance holds tenderness.
Henry upends the alpha male image of the territorial, uncontrolled man lashing out at his partners to hide his own weaknesses. He’s an artist with old-fashioned manners and a sensualist’s love for art, music, food and sex.
His dominance of Jay and Alice is psychological at heart. Sure, he employs bondage and flogging and denial when such methods suit the need — but he cares for his submissives in ways beyond the flesh. He pushes them toward growth in their scenes together and shelters them with his understanding and acceptance afterward.
Henry is an example of the mature dominant as mentor: a caring man who controls his own desires first and introduces them to his submissives as their comfort and confidence grow.
5: Laughter belongs in the bedroom.
Henry’s a serious, reserved guy, and Alice is an overly analytical engineer. But happiness in the bedroom comes from laughter as much as sexual satisfaction — and Jay excels in both areas.
Like a puppy still growing into long legs and oversize paws, Jay gambols with abandon under Henry’s watchful eyes. He’s quick to tease, shameless in apologizing, and eager to please his partners however he can.
Jay’s flirty charm and pure heart add lightness and ease to the trio’s unconventional relationship.
GIVEAWAY: E-book: HEALING THE WOUNDS (e-retailer of winner’s choice).
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and post a comment to this Q: If you could only have one, would you rather have a playful partner like Jay or an authoritative one like Henry?
Excerpt from Playing the Game (Neighborly Affection #1), Chapter 10:
Jay answered her knock at seven. Her body brushed his as she entered the apartment, his dress shirt crisp against her arm. He swayed toward her before he remembered himself and closed the door.
Eyeing him, she toed off her sandals to match his own bare feet. He resembled an elegant party favor, in sharp black slacks and a deep bronze shirt with a tie design she recognized, though she’d never seen Jay wear it. Confetti and balloon glass on a deep red background. A Frank Lloyd Wright design.
She smiled, and he grasped her hands and kissed her cheeks. “Ready, Alice?”
“Boy howdy am I,” she teased.
He smirked. “Can’t wait to see him, can you?” His voice lowered to a whisper. “I get that feeling every day on my ride home from work.”
She almost missed the rhythm of the conversation, fumbling not to blurt something stupid about how she didn’t have that option. Henry wasn’t waiting for her at the end of every day. But she wouldn’t want him to anyway. Too much pressure. Right. Right?
She dug deep for a smirk of her own. “That’s because you’re a horny devil.”
“Nope.” He led her down the hall toward Henry’s bedroom. “I am, but that’s not why.”
He ushered her into the doorway ahead of him. They both stopped a step over the threshold, Jay’s right hand resting on her right hip.
Henry stood at his dresser with his back to them. He wore black pants and a dress shirt similar to Jay’s, but in a creamy white. Surely he’d heard them coming down the hall. His shoulders flexed as he straightened.
Alice and Jay inhaled as one breath.
“That’s why,” Jay murmured. “I love that feeling.”
If what Jay felt was anything like what she felt, it was an exquisite mix of comfort and desire, of the certainty that her entire being rested securely in Henry’s hands.
When Henry turned, he held three half-filled glasses of wine. “Come here, my dears.”
Though she wanted to scamper to his side, she held herself to a slow walk.
Henry’s tie matched Jay’s, the same Frank Lloyd Wright confetti and balloon design but on a cornflower blue background. Festive. Playful, within a structured pattern. Like me? Us? Her fingers rose on instinct, hovering in front of his tie as he handed a wineglass to Jay and pecked his lips.
Henry drew her attention from the tie with a tip of his head. “It’s all right to touch, Alice. You like the ties, I take it?”
She ran her fingers down the center. Soft. Silky. She nodded.
“Wonderful. They reminded me of you, dearest. It seemed an appropriate choice for such a festive occasion.”
Were they celebrating? Treating Thanksgiving as if it were a New Year’s party seemed strange.
Henry handed her a glass. The wine held a strong golden color, a shade lighter than her hair. It smelled of Christmas, a sweet and spicy mix of nutmeg and citrus and candied apricots. Henry nudged her chin up with his free hand and gently claimed her mouth. His fingers brushed her hair back when he let her go.
“A toast to the birthday girl, hmm?” Henry lifted his glass.
“You remembered.” Her pleasure was obvious in her voice. In four days, she’d turn twenty-eight. His remembering didn’t surprise her, but his mentioning her birthday tonight did. It seemed to belong in the friend sphere.
“And would have done so last year, had you been so kind as to inform us before rather than after the happy occasion.” Henry smiled as he chided her, and she looked away.
He and Jay had taken her to dinner last January upon learning they’d missed her birthday. Henry had seemed to consider it a personal failure that he hadn’t asked sooner. Of course, she’d been dating Brandon in January, and he hadn’t been thrilled about her going out with two male friends. His reaction had precipitated their breakup. Too territorial. God forbid she let him hang around through Valentine’s.
“But it’s no matter now, Alice. We’ll simply make this birthday a more memorable one.” He tilted his glass, and she and Jay raised theirs. “To a life filled with many memorable birthdays for our dear girl.”
The glasses chimed as they touched. The wine was deliciously sweet, a dessert in itself, like pears or peaches coated with honey.
“Good enough to taste again,” Henry said, his voice low and rolling.
His tongue swept across her lips and inside as though he chased the flavor. The kiss hardened her nipples and made her thighs clench.
He urged her to take another sip. “Jay ought to have a taste. It’s traditional to kiss the birthday girl.”
She took another sip of wine, the flavor intensified by the knowledge of what would come after. Jay lapped at her lips before he deepened their kiss. Her body ached with want by the time his taste ended.
Henry handed off the glasses to Jay and took her hands in his. He rubbed his thumbs across her knuckles.
“We’ve a long night of traditions ahead of us. Let’s begin with this one, shall we?” He squeezed her hands. “Tell me your safeword, Alice.”
“Excellent. And when will you use your word?”
“When I’m feeling too unsure to continue.” Henry was scrupulous about ensuring she never reached that point, though.
“Lovely. And will you hesitate if that moment comes?”
“No, Henry.” She shook her head. “I’ll tell you the truth and trust you to understand.”
“My beautiful girl. You learn so well.”
Henry embraced her, his hands stroking her bare back. Jay placed the glasses on the dresser.
“Thank you, my boy.”
Henry stepped back to stand beside Jay, the two of them studying her in silence. Henry was appraising her, perhaps, assessing the drape of her dress or the play of light across it. Jay stared with a hunger she felt herself.
“There’s a rhythm, Alice, to birthday parties.” Henry circled her, closing in until his nearness warmed her back. “A sense of give and take.”
His hands spanned her back, palms splayed, and his fingers slipped under the sides of her dress. She forced herself to stillness, but it was hard, so very hard when she wanted to beg him to take her. He stroked upward. His fingers lifted and spread the straps of her dress, dropping them to her arms, where they shifted and slid as she breathed.
Two feet in front of her, Jay pined for her breasts, undoubtedly waiting for the breath that would send the fabric cascading past her nipples and bare her to his view. For a gayboy, he was quite the breast man. She smothered a giggle.
Henry’s lips grazed the left side of her neck, and a small gasp escaped as she tilted her head to give him more access.
“We’ll start with a bit of unwrapping, hmm?” He rubbed her upper arms as if he sought to warm her, dislodging her dress. Her hips were all that held it up.
Jay half stepped forward before he stopped himself, his gaze fixed on her breasts.
Henry’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Jay’s rather fond of the unwrapping. And it’s only fitting for the birthday girl to be in her birthday suit.”
Closing her eyes, she shivered at the promise in his tone. He took his time lowering his hands, avoiding her breasts and holding his body away from hers. Close enough for heat but not touch. He did seem to love making her wait.
He paused with his hands embracing her hips, fingertips beneath her dress, poised to push. His cheek rubbed hers. His breath tickled her neck.
He looked straight down, and her eyes followed. Bare breasts. His hands on her hips. Flowing green fabric ready to fall. He growled, a vibration against her skin. His fingers tightened around her hips. “You’ll grow accustomed to the feel of my hands here tonight, Alice.”