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She'd made it.
Maggie smoothed the front of her short leather skirt and followed her friend Vanessa through the front door of the Den.
Music blasted from the back patio and the bass seemed to shake the walls. Half-naked people—men, mostly—were everywhere, and cool air whispered in through open windows.
Gregorio, the Den's caretaker, met them in the foyer.
"Welcome to Ladies' Night," he said. His eyes were dark, and the wink of a silver earring made him resemble a pirate.
"I'm here for the debauchery," Maggie said.
"You've come to the right place," he assured her with a grin.
She'd been looking forward to this outing for over a month. Not only had she spent her lunch hours shopping online for a new outfit and killer shoes, but she'd also purchased a sparkly collar. Every day at five o'clock, she happily slashed through the date on her calendar. The fat, red mark served a dual purpose. It served as a reward for surviving another workday with the insufferable David Tomlinson, and it was a visual reminder that she was closer to a night at the Den, where she would satisfy her deepest cravings.
"Are you planning to scene tonight, Maggie?" Gregorio asked.
"I won't say no," she said.
"Condoms are provided in all the private rooms. House Monitors also have them. I take it you want to participate as a sub, not a Domme?"
"That's correct." She wondered how he managed to keep up with the particulars of each guest. But then, that was why he ran the place.
"Are you looking to play with a man or a woman?"
"Strictly het," she said.
Several different coloured wristbands lay on a nearby table. Gregorio selected a white one and affixed it to her wrist.
"Switches are in yellow," he continued.
"That's the one I want," Vanessa chimed in.
"Seriously?" Maggie asked.
Vanessa shrugged. "You never know what opportunities might present themselves."
"As always, Dominants have red bands," Gregorio said.
"Got it." Maggie was anxious to start the festivities. She'd been here often enough that she could take Gregorio's place at the door. But she also knew he wouldn't hurry through the ritual, despite her impatience.
"House Monitors have black bands around their upper arms. House subs have purple ones. Be sure to let someone know if you need help. The Den's safe word is 'halt', use it at any time. Enjoy yourselves."
"I will, for sure," Vanessa said.
Brandy, a woman Maggie knew as a house sub, took their jackets and purses.
Any night here was fabulous, but four times a year, Master Damien and Gregorio went all out for the house's single ladies, providing entertainment, demonstrations, Doms and Dommes, exotic non-alcoholic beverages and the most mouthwatering desserts imaginable. She'd been saving up her calories for over a week with the intention of indulging in all her favourite things. Not that it mattered, really. If she had her way, she'd burn plenty of energy during a BDSM scene or two.
To her, an orgasm was the best of all stress-relievers. And a dozen would make her forget the crappy hell her life had become.
With luck, it would take less than half an hour to find someone to take her to the downstairs dungeon.
She and Vanessa made their way towards the kitchen and looked out of the patio doors. A fire burned in a pit. People in all sorts of outfits, from street clothes to club wear, milled about. A stage had been set up near the back of the paved area where rocker Evan C all but made love to the microphone.
"I'll have a double shot of that deliciousness," Vanessa said against Maggie's ear.
"Evan C?" The musician oozed sex appeal. Tonight he wore an unbuttoned black shirt, and, as always, his trademark white scarf was wrapped around his neck. A recent video of him had gone viral, thanks to a publicity stunt by one of the Den's members. So now Evan C was giving women all over the world heart palpitations.
"I'd let him put his scarf over my headboard," Vanessa said. "But no, I mean the guy standing to the right of the stage. I think he has on a black band."
Since the party attracted so many newbies, Master Damien brought in extra House Monitors—male and female—to ensure everyone's safety, answer questions and even participate in scenes. "I don't know who you're talking about." Her platform shoes added much-needed inches, but that didn't help her see through the crowd any better.
"The man over there." Vanessa pointed. "Near the speaker. Short dark hair. Jeans. No shirt. Can you see him yet?"
"Wait. I think that's a pair of handcuffs on his belt loop. Damn."
Maggie craned her head.
"Do you need me to lift you up?"
She glared at Vanessa. Vanessa was five inches taller than Maggie and never missed an opportunity to point that out.
"Would you care for a chocolate-covered strawberry?" a server enquired, distracting them.
"Oh, God, yes," Maggie said.
Vanessa and Maggie both turned away from the huge glass windows and towards the hot man standing near them. He was over six feet tall, with long hair she itched to run her fingers through.
She took her time selecting a treat from the silver serving platter. If nothing else, she enjoyed keeping him next to her for an extra few seconds. Not only did he smell of expensive, spicy cologne, but he had on a bow tie and remarkable, shimmery gold pants. His chest was devoid of hair, and his skin glistened as if oiled. Master Damien definitely knew how to please his guests.
She chose a strawberry with the most chocolate coating, while Vanessa, in typical fashion, dived in after the biggest piece of fruit.
Where Maggie was deliberate, Vanessa seized every opportunity that came along. The fact they were so different had made the friendship all sorts of interesting over the last eight years. Maggie nibbled at her dessert while Vanessa bit hers in half.
"Another, ladies?" the man offered.
"Could you leave the tray?" Vanessa asked.
"Don't you dare," Maggie countered.
Vanessa picked up two more berries, but Maggie shook her head. The man winked at Maggie before moving off.
"The sexy man I was looking at earlier is gone. You never saw him, did you?"
"Not like it's a loss. There's plenty of them here."
"True enough. But I like handcuffs. So do you, right?"
Maggie nodded. She loved any kind of restraint.
"So, have you seen anyone you're interested in?" Vanessa asked.
After she'd eaten her strawberry, Maggie surveyed the crowd in the kitchen and great room. "I wouldn't mind sceneing with the HM I played with last time, if he's here. He knew his way around my body without a map." The man had flogged her good then sank to his knees and licked her pussy until she couldn't come anymore. "How about you?"
"I'm greedy. I want two men."
"Two?" Maggie hadn't considered trying a mÃ©nage, but now…
"It is Ladies' Night," Vanessa pointed out.
"So it is."
The music trailed off and enthusiastic applause followed. She wiped her hands on a paper cocktail napkin then joined in.
A few seconds later, Evan C introduced his next song—the single that was accelerating up the charts—then nodded to his band who cranked up the sound.
"Got your kink on?" Vanessa asked.
"Almost." Nerves assailed her, a heady combination of adrenaline and expectation.
They made plans to meet up later at their hotel room in Winter Park. Master Damien had thoughtfully provided a shuttle between the Den and several stops in the nearby tourist town. "If you go home with anyone, send me a text," Maggie said.
"Same for you."
"Yeah. As if."
"Hey, you could shock the world and do something totally out of character."
Maggie rolled her eyes. Ever since her breakup with Samuel, she'd been in a sexual drought. Then again, it had been all but barren while they were together. He'd tried, at least at first. But after several months, he'd got angry with her.
During one of their arguments, he'd shouted that she was insatiable. That wasn't true. She would have been fine if he'd ever tied her to the bed and used her vibrator on her. A spanking once a week would have satisfied her needs. Well…at least she thought it would have. If it was hard enough, the after-effects would remind her of the pain, then the anticipation would have carried her through the remaining days.
Then again, perhaps the more she got, the more she'd want.
But she might not ever know.
She'd never had a relationship that had made it past six months. If she found a man who was demanding in the bedroom, he tended to be an arrogant son of a bitch outside it. If he was considerate about sharing chores, he tended to bore her once the lights were turned down. And two men had insisted it wasn't right to hit a woman. More than once she'd tried to explain the difference between a consensual spanking and striking out in anger. Her words had fallen on deaf ears.
Recently, she'd cancelled all her dating site memberships. She'd given up searching for Mr Right and decided to settle for Mr Right Now.
Because of that, she lived for her forays to the Den, where her desires were encouraged.
She'd learnt to embrace her single status. She didn't have to answer to anyone if she worked late. If she didn't feel like getting out of her pyjamas on a Saturday morning she didn't have to. She could eat ice cream for dinner or skip vacuuming for so long that dust bunnies threatened to strangle her.
And she could play with different Doms all the time. The exhilaration of not knowing what to expect added to her delirium.
"Targets acquired," Vanessa said over her shoulder as she headed towards a group of men in the great room.
Maggie snagged a virgin pina colada from the granite island in the kitchen then joined the crowd on the patio.
She stood to one side and watched a few couples dance in front of the stage. Off to the left, a tall, broad male knelt in front of a woman who wore a red wristband. The image was erotic, but it didn't do much for her. When she was here, she preferred giving up control. At work, she engaged in constant battles with her self-appointed boss and had to be on guard all the time. Letting go and surrendering to her submissive tendencies was critical to her mental health.
"Would you like to dance?"
She turned and smiled at the man who'd approached her. He was tall and lanky, wearing a plaid shirt. At least he'd skipped the pocket protector.
Part of her knew she was being unfair. He had an earnest smile, and she was sure he was a nice man. He had on a red band, but somehow, she didn't see him as a Dom. There was something lacking in his tone, a certain confidence. And his expression was more hopeful than assertive.
She smiled back and waited a few seconds. He continued to look at her, but she had no compulsion to cast her gaze at the ground. She felt no spark of attraction for him. If she was going to bare her body—or at least parts of it—to a stranger, she would choose a man who had a razor-edge of danger about him. For some reason, this guy reminded her of her of Samuel. She couldn't imagine a greater turn-off. "Thanks," she said. "Perhaps another time."
"It was worth a try," he said easily before moving onto the next possibility, a woman who was swaying as she listened to Evan C.
In some ways, Maggie realised, this wasn't much different than a singles' bar. But there were far fewer pretensions. At least sexually.
Maggie took a sip from the cool drink, loving the blend of pineapple, coconut and whipped cream on her tongue. Since it had juice in it, she told herself the beverage was at least somewhat healthy.
She was ready to take a second sip when she saw him.
What the hell was he doing here?
Slowly, she lowered her trembling hand.
The main reason she'd come to the Den was to escape him.
He stood near a speaker, arms folded across his bare chest, a black band on his upper arm, short hair spiked, and he was wearing a pair of jeans.
David Tomlinson was a House Monitor? Crap. It wasn't enough that he was here, but he had to have a role of authority.
Then she noticed the handcuffs.
She gawked at the sight.
Was David Tomlinson the man Vanessa had noticed?
If Maggie didn't know him so well, she might agree that he was sexy. But she knew him too well. He manipulated people to his own ends. Sure, he was one of the smartest people she'd ever met, but she'd seen him use that intelligence for nefarious purposes.
She stood there, uncertain what to do. Confront him? Ignore him and hope he didn't see her? Catch the shuttle back to Winter Park?
Immediately, she dismissed the last idea.
She was here to have a good time, and by God, she would enjoy herself.
Ignoring him wasn't her normal style. No way would she spend the entire night skulking around and looking over her shoulder.
That left a confrontation, and really, the only thing that suited her personality.
As if sensing her gaze, he looked at her.
He scowled—a ferocious expression that was all-too familiar. Obviously he was as surprised and as unhappy to see her as she was to see him. Then a sub walked up to him, and he turned his attention to the blonde.
Maggie exhaled a breath she hadn't realised she'd sucked in.
She took another sip of her drink, trying to regroup. She told herself they were both adults. They were both here for their own reasons. They could deal with this.
Determinedly, she went inside and wandered around the living room. A small group was gathered near the fireplace, and the topic of conversation was the Denver Broncos' upcoming preseason schedule.
Near the window, a Dom rested his shoulders on the wall.
Though he wasn't overly tall, he was broad. He had on a T-shirt, revealing his beefy biceps. He could probably wield a flogger for a good long time.
He glanced pointedly at her wrist then back at her.
Her heart rate increased and she tightened her grip on her virgin pina colada. She cast her gaze at the ground, silently signalling both her submissiveness and willingness.
When she raised her head, she was shocked to see him striding away from her, out of the room.
"If you want someone to scene with, I'll take care of you."
The voice froze her from the inside out. Since she heard it all day, every day, she recognised it instantly. Rich and deep, as controlled as it was reviled.
When her heart started to beat again, she swung to face her adversary. She looked a long way up into his deep, dark blue, unfathomable eyes.
His jaw was set, and his arms were folded across his chest.
"Damn you." She scowled. "Did you make him go away?"
"What the hell is wrong with you? Isn't it enough that you ruin every one of my days?"
"I've always wanted to have you over my lap for the good spanking you deserve."
She blinked, for once shocked into silence by his words. Since they'd met, he'd been standoffish. Business was the only thing they'd ever discussed. And he'd harboured thoughts of having his hand on her ass?
"Maybe we should satisfy our mutual desires."
"Not in this lifetime, David."
"Tonight even," he countered.
She laughed, hoping it didn't sound as brittle as it felt. "Even for you, that's an arrogant statement."
"I spent the last few minutes watching your reflection in the glass, Margaret—"
"Maggie," she corrected through gritted teeth.
"Not only do you have on a white wristband," he continued as if she hadn't spoken, "but you lowered your gaze for that Dom."
Her stomach executed a somersault. "Do you know how to mind your own business? Ever?"
"I pay attention to detail."
"There's an understatement." During the first three weeks that he'd taken control of her family's firm, he'd looked at every piece of paper, analysed spreadsheets, sat down with each employee in private, insisted on meeting all of their vendors and reviewed all current customer files. At this point, it seemed he knew as much about World Wide Now as she did.
"For example, I know you're flustered," he continued.
"So you're a psychic in addition to having superior business acumen?" If sarcasm were arsenic, he'd be dead.
"You're thinking about lifting your skirt for me and lowering yourself over my lap. You're wondering if I'll hit you as hard as you need."
"That's insane," she insisted, but now that he'd mentioned it, she couldn't help picturing that very thing.
"You're hoping I'll let you keep your underwear on. And yes, you are wearing panties."
She blinked, stunned. How the hell could he know that?
"If you were as calm as you'd like me to believe, you wouldn't be stabbing the bottom of your glass with your straw."
She froze, not realising she had been betraying her inner turmoil.
This David confounded her.
In typical fashion, his dark hair was spiked and brushed severely back from his broad forehead. His eyebrows were drawn together in an arrogant, masculine slash.
As she'd noticed earlier, he wore a pair of dark denim jeans, but she hadn't seen the scuffed, black motorcycle boots.
Except for his trademark arrogance, he didn't resemble the man she knew from work.
Normally he wore expensive power suits with crisp button-down shirts. The only concession to an occasional casual look was a loosened knot in his requisite red or blue tie.
She'd spent so much time being irritated by him that she'd never really noticed him as a man.
His shoulders were broad and his waist trim. The black HM band emphasised the size of his arms. Clearly he had a gym membership, and he used it.
David's jeans showed off the size of his thighs in a way dress slacks never could. Heaven help her, she couldn't help but stare at the thick black belt encircling his waist. Add in the cuffs that refracted the overhead light… He made breathing difficult.
"How about it, Maggie?"
She looked up at him. His use of Maggie rather than Margaret had been intentional, as if he knew exactly the effect it would have on her. She would never scene with a man who didn't respect her wishes, and he was proving he would. "What happened to your no fraternising policy?"
Several more people entered the room, and the noise level increased. He took hold of her shoulders and moved her backwards. She didn't protest. How could she with the way oxygen deprivation was suddenly making it impossible to think?
He released his grip, but he'd effectively trapped her in a corner, her back to the wall. The act seemed symbolic of their entire relationship. He was adept at manoeuvring her to suit his wishes. Six months ago, when he'd decided to acquire World Wide Now for far less money than Maggie believed it was worth, she'd put up a fiery verbal protest. Rather than deal with her directly, David had taken her mother aside.
He'd told Gloria that Maggie's retention was critical to the success of the firm. In a brilliant strategic move, he'd then called Maggie back into a private meeting and presented a deal that gave him everything he wanted.
If they met his lofty goals, meaning Maggie worked her ass off and brought in sales, her mother would be rewarded with half a million dollars at the end of two years. He hadn't promised Maggie a penny beyond her regular wages, but he'd somehow figured that taking care of her mother was the biggest incentive of all for Maggie.
Her mother had told Maggie she didn't have to accept his terms. Another deal, perhaps a better one, would come along. Together, they'd figure it out.
But once David had shown her the reality of World Wide Now's fiscal picture due to her mother's mismanagement, Maggie had seen no other option. She loved her mother and wanted her to have freedom from the financial struggles she'd always endured.
If he had simply waltzed in as lord and master, Maggie would have flipped him the bird on the way out of the door. But he was far too smart for that. Still, that didn't mean she liked or appreciated his manipulation.
Once she'd nodded, he'd pulled out an employment contract. The bastard had prepared it ahead of time. She had signed her name with short, angry strokes. In corporate speak, she was shackled in golden handcuffs.
And that wasn't much different from the metal pair dangling from his belt loop. Despite her resolve, she kept glancing at them.
He took the glass from her hand and gave it to a passing waiter.
She felt no fear as he leaned towards her, crowding her space. They breathed the same air, and his scent intoxicated her—power, spiced with raw masculine confidence.
I think we can both agree this is an exception. You wouldn't be doing this to get ahead at work. I wouldn't be forcing you to do it to keep your job. At the office, we'll have the same arrangement we have now," he told her. "Not a chance in hell," he affirmed. "The only one feeling a lash will be you. And feel it you will." Before she could respond to his flat, arrogant statement, he continued, "I assure you I will be very observant about your reactions." He captured her chin and tipped her head back. "I want to know what quickens your pulse. I'll find out what dampens your panties. I want to know all of your erotic sounds and what each means." She wished she had met him here first, that she'd seen him as an exciting Dom, felt the connection and agreed to scene. But she couldn't pretend their relationship wasn't already laden with hostility and distrust.
"For tonight," he reminded her. "Just tonight. Say yes, Maggie mine."
If she was smart, she'd tell him no. She shouldn't want this, him. But every nerve ending zinged. Desire won the battle over common sense. "Yes." She nodded.
Desire seemed to flare in his eyes, widening them. "Good," he said.
He released her and stepped back.
She was grateful for the physical space. This close, she noticed how male he was, sexy, sensual and threatening.
"Any hard limits?" he asked.
This part of a negotiation was familiar, and she relaxed into it. She was good at asking for what she wanted. "No blood, edgeplay, permanent marks."
"How about formal protocols?"
She'd had enough experience to know that Doms differed on what that meant. But in this setting, since they weren't a couple, she doubted he would ask for anything she'd find objectionable. "If it suits you, I'm okay with it."
"We'll observe some, but I don't require strict adherence. I want you to communicate."
"What are your limits around humiliation?"
"As long as I'm not left alone for long periods, I'm fine."
"I won't leave you alone, ever. If you're suffering for me, I want to watch and enjoy every moment of it."