Naughty Bits

Naughty Bits

4.5 2
by Joey W. Hill
     
 

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THE COMPLETE NOVEL

To better serve the customers of her lingerie shop, Madison must explore the pleasures of giving up control...
After inheriting her sister’s North Carolina lingerie shop, Naughty Bits, Madison jumps at the chance to dump her boring finance career and try her luck down South. But even before Madison can settle in, she

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Overview

THE COMPLETE NOVEL

To better serve the customers of her lingerie shop, Madison must explore the pleasures of giving up control...
After inheriting her sister’s North Carolina lingerie shop, Naughty Bits, Madison jumps at the chance to dump her boring finance career and try her luck down South. But even before Madison can settle in, she catches the attention of the owner of the neighboring hardware store. Sexually dominant Logan Scott recognizes a submissive when he sees one. And what he sees, he wants.

He presents her with three very tempting gifts—handcuffs, erotic cards, and an open invitation to start her sexual training. She has to accept. After all, how can she hope to sell fantasies to lingerie customers without embracing her own? Now, she’s about to discover just how far her fantasies can take her—and how far Logan will go to make every one of them come true.

"A+" —Smart Bitches Trashy Books

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hill is a master of this subgenre." —RT Book Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425276433
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/06/2015
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
258,816
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

PART I

“I’ve got you. You’re all fucking mine.”

He had his hand wrapped in her hair, holding so tight her scalp ached. He moved his mouth against her throat, against a vital artery pulsing with adrenaline. Pressed up against her back the way he was, he allowed her no personal space. His thigh was thrust between her legs, his cock a bar of steel branding itself on her buttock, even through his jeans. When she sucked in a breath, it was all him. Spiced aftershave, heated male. She wanted to turn, put her face right against his throat, nestle in that scent, in his strength.

He controlled everything, and she felt safe. For the first time in her life. If only he wasn’t a dream. But in her mind was the only place where she could give him control.

“You’re thinking again. You get punished when you think.”

As he stepped back, she wanted to reach for him, but she couldn’t. He had her bound against a cool cinder-block wall. Embedded manacles held her wrists and ankles, and dozens of taut, thin lines crisscrossed her body from shoulders to feet. The bindings were threaded through two vertical columns of hooks, outlining her against the stone. When he released her, until normal, mundane movement restored her skin, she’d bear the impressions of those lines. And other marks as well.

She yelped as the flogger hit her buttocks. The rough, braided strips bit into skin, left marks like a bird’s sharp toes.

“Beg for punishment.”

“Please . . . hurt me.”

“No.”

She moaned as he threaded his hand through the crisscrossed lines to push between the wall and her body. He caressed her navel, then dropped down to probe her clit, work it with a single firm fingertip, an excruciating and pleasurable tease. “It’s not about hurting you. It’s about you letting go. Ssshhh . . .”

He soothed, even as he tormented. She struggled like a moth in a web, made tiny cries as he kept flicking and tweaking. The orgasm was as close as the prayer for mercy when he stepped back.

“I don’t care what you think. Tell me how you feel. The first word that comes to mind.”

The flogger struck and she jumped. “Afraid.”

He did it again, and she gasped. “Wet.”

He gave a dangerous chuckle. “Trying to get me to play with your pussy again, aren’t you? You’ll have to earn that.”

Whap!

“Hot . . .” “Alive . . .” “Need you . . .” “Aches . . .” “Stop . . .” “Don’t Stop . . .”

“Free.” She said that one several times. Each stroke made the feeling more real. The flogger cut into her, but instead of cringing, she was arching, trying to lift her hips, spread her arms wider, a swan taking flight, fighting what held her to the ground. She licked her lips. “Master. Please.”

He kept punishing her until she was a quivering mess, then he closed in on her again, took hold of her hair in that tight hold she loved. He bit her neck and she trembled more. “Say it.”

“I’m yours, Master.” She believed it. There was no doubt. No fear. No thinking. She heard that delicious sound of him unbuckling his belt, unzipping his jeans, then she let out a sigh of relief as his cock probed between her spread legs. He rubbed the head in her overflowing juices, getting himself slick before he started to push up inside her.

He’d fuck her like this, while she was helpless against the wall. She’d come so hard her flesh would be scraped by the cinder block, because she’d writhe against it like a snake shedding a skin. He’d take her home, rub soft lotions into her flesh, make her sleep naked next to him so he could play with her body whenever, however, he wished, all night long. His long, strong fingers would stroke those whip marks, the scrapes, push inside her. Anything he wanted, she’d give him, because she trusted him with everything. At least in this moment.

Dawn would come and dread would return. Along with a hundred other emotions wrapping her up like those crisscrossed lines, only these imprisoned her mind and denied her heart.

Only by being his was she truly free.

“Madison, are you ready to go? Earth to Madison?”

• • •

Alice’s voice, pulling her out of the fantasy. Or memory. The man and the dungeon wall were fantasy; Alice’s voice a memory, because Alice was dead. It was Madison’s subconscious, recalling her to the present.

Madison blinked through the car windshield. She was parked in the alley behind Naughty Bits, looking at cobblestone pavement, a set of Dumpsters and an early morning sky, the clouds made smoky and gold-edged by the sun starting to come up somewhere beyond the row of buildings. Why’d she get out of bed this morning?

Because it was time to get moving, do what needed to be done. After weeks of being closed to the public, Naughty Bits needed to be reopened, but she didn’t have to face that this morning. She was here to clean, evaluate inventory. Surely she could handle that.

Taking her purse and coffee cup with her, she locked the car. As she moved toward the back door, she fished out the key. So focused on getting the door open, she didn’t understand why the lock turned easily but the door resisted, until she looked down.

A UPS package was propped against the door. It was the size of a cinder block, and obviously weighed the same. As she lugged it inside, precariously balancing her coffee, Madison wondered what kind of item with that poundage would belong in a lingerie store, but then Naughty Bits was far more than a lingerie store. The BDSM section had plenty of things that belonged in a medieval dungeon. Maybe it was an engraved ball and chain. A special-order gift for the Master who had everything.

Hefting the box through the stockroom, she took it up front. It’d be easier to have it sitting behind the counter, ready for whomever had to be contacted to pick it up. She left it there as she went to unlock the front door. No, she wasn’t opening today, but she didn’t expect customers this early in the morning and she didn’t like the trapped feeling of a bolted door. Turning back toward the display counter, she saw the envelope.

Everything else vanished.

To MadGirl was written on the outside. It looked like it had been placed in its current location weeks ago, bearing a light layer of dust, same as the display counter glass beneath it.

Leave it to Alice to think of doing something like this. Fishing out a letter opener from the drawer beneath the cash register, Madison slit the envelope. She ran tense fingers over her face, a reassuring hard stroke, then unfolded the pages.

Sell doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. You used to know that.

Madison blinked. Now, of all times, her sister would choose to be snide? Alice had great hook lines, though. She never started a letter with the traditional “Dear Madison.” Her handwritten script had flourishes like Thomas Jefferson’s. She’d done cursive that way since the eighth grade.

I’m not being snide. Sell connects to two other really important four-letter words. Want. Need. But I think the word that best describes it is provide. Did you ever look that one up in the Encarta dictionary? The legal term means to require something in advance as a condition or as part of a contract. The non-legal term is to supply somebody with something, or be a source of something wanted or needed by somebody. Sets off something in your gut, doesn’t it?

Madison swallowed. “Stop it, Alice,” she muttered.

Fuck is another four-letter word, and it gets a bad rap. Cock, cunt, come . . . Do you think God and the Devil were playing a word game that day? “See how many naughty words can start with C, and whoever wins gets to handle everything connected to sex. Go!”

You know the Devil won that one, hands down. God’s still pissed about it. Probably why He started the rumor sex was a sin.

Madison choked on a laugh.

Getting tired, so have to cut to the chase. Here’s the thing, MadGirl. Great selling isn’t about tricking someone into buying crap. It’s about helping them get something they truly need that adds value to their lives.

“Oh, Alice.” The ache in her throat increased as her voice echoed in the waiting silence of the store. Waiting for a mistress who would never return, who’d known how to turn a lingerie store into an adult Disneyland, complete with the enchantment, promise of princes and happily-ever-afters. She’d told Alice that once, only then she’d had derision dripping off every word. Now she thought it simply as it was. Truth.

I’m leaving you my store. You know that, but what you’re going to find out from my executor when you call him about this letter is that I set aside enough money for you to run the store for the next several years. If you don’t want to keep it after a year, sell the inventory and seek another path. But promise me you’ll give it a year. I’m betting you’ll find it easier to leave your life in Boston than you expect.

How right she was about that would have been unsettling, except the subsequent paragraphs left Madison even more flummoxed.

This next bit is the awkward part. My passion was getting people in touch with their sexual selves, but we’re sisters, so talking about sex beyond jokes and generalities has a certain Eww factor, right? Before you turn red as a tomato, think how bad this would be if I were your brother!

Madison snorted, but then her fingers tightened on the page.

I know you’re a sub, sis. I knew it even before I dragged you to that first BDSM club in Chicago. I made it sound like a silly adventure to get you there, but I thought it might help you come to terms with it, stop repressing it. You were so mesmerized: barely moving, clutching your drink, hypnotized by everything you saw.

It came back in perfect clarity. Madison’s eyes had clung to the female submissives. The one who knelt at her Master’s feet. The one who’d been restrained, her cries of pain and pleasure drawn forth by the slap of the flogger, a male hand, the paddle. The one who passed within three feet of her, wearing a collar and leash her Master had wrapped around his hand, his other palm intimately low on her hip, guiding her.

She’d stared and yearned for a language she understood but couldn’t speak herself.

As a teenager, Madison had devoured the old bodice rippers on her mother’s bookshelves. The more contemporary romances left her detached and, in the dark corners of her mind, Madison knew why. When she masturbated, she’d see the pirate captain tying her to his bunk, the king using his strong hands to push open her thighs, a cop forcing her to her knees with an insistent tap of his baton and feeding his cock between her lips. She’d gush around her fingers, driven to climax by those imaginings.

Sitting in the club booth, surrounded by all the sensory input of Dominance and submission, the mantra of “at last, at last” had pounded inside her heart. She’d wanted to be every woman there embracing submissive pleasures.

What Alice hadn’t known was that Madison had agreed to go that night because she’d been nursing the hope that a garish, stark reality would drive the need away, a need that had become worse over the years with each failed relationship. No matter how hard she worked at each one, the man she tried to love still left. She always fell short.

Choosing the wrong guy is different from being wrong about yourself, MadGirl. Madison focused on the letter again. Stop trying to prove you could do something to make Dad love us more. I loved her, but Mom was weak. She destroyed herself because she thought it was her fault Dad was an asshole who wanted younger women. Don’t be her. Stop trying to be what every guy, Master or not, wants you to be. Embrace who you are for you. Anything else is a pointless soul-suck.

“Goddamn you,” Madison murmured. This was why she’d distanced herself from her sister during the last two years. Alice had been a hammer, relentlessly pounding on the idea that Madison kept making the wrong decisions when it came to relationships. But none of that mattered anymore, did it? A point underscored by the last paragraph.

Dominance and submission isn’t one-size-fits-all. You have to make choices. Giving yourself to a Master is an incredibly special gift. I loved you more than anyone, MadGirl. Given how many cool, amazing people I met in my absurdly short life, that’s saying quite a lot. You always did underestimate what kind of gem you are. Maybe you’ll get a chance to shine here and see what I always saw in you.

Be good, sweet sis. But not too good. Remember me by showing your “naughty bits” once in a while.

Shit. Madison put the letter on the counter and slid down the wall behind it, giving in to the hard sobs.

Madison had been up in Boston, selling stocks and bonds, managing people’s investments. Alice had called once a week and Madison always answered, but she’d stayed passive-aggressive, cordial, distant. As a result, she hadn’t caught the vital clues. Alice’s allergy attacks that came more frequently, the colds and flu bugs. Her sister had been getting weaker and sicker.

Then, a couple months ago, Alice had called on a Thursday, not their usual day. In her matter-of-fact way, she’d said if Madison could come home that weekend, she’d really like to give her a quick last hug. She also wanted Madison to go through her collection of high-end, well-sterilized sex toys to see if she wanted any of them before they had to be boxed up and dumped. Incredibly enough, the Senior Citizens’ Auxiliary at the hospital wouldn’t accept them as donations for their thrift shop. You’d think they’d realize there’s nothing better for cardiovascular health than a good daily orgasm . . .

Her lips twitched at Alice’s acid observation now. During that call, Madison had simply been stunned. She’d said something absurd like, “Okay, let me check my schedule, I have this meeting, but I know I can get out of that . . .”

Alice had always known her so well, no matter how much Madison hated that. She’d merely listened. “No worries, MadGirl. Come if you can.”

Once off the phone that day, Madison’s brain had cleared. She’d called her boss, told Barbara what was happening. Barbara said she had to at least come in Friday and handle her scheduled client meetings, because Barbara had a tee time with board members. Madison refused. Barbara told her she’d be fired, and Madison retorted if she was that replaceable, Barbara could keep the damn job.

Just like that, she’d walked away from a career she’d excelled at for five years. Crazy, right? But it was as if she’d been treading water in a pool, blinded to the fact dry land was as close as the nearest ladder. Until Alice had arranged a wake-up call in the form of a simple deathbed request.

Come give me a quick hug.

If the memory had theme music, it would be something sad, wistful. Instead, the overtly erotic strains of “Boléro” injected Dudley Moore and a running Bo Derek into Madison’s brain, jarring her fully into the present.

She’d forgotten that music played when someone came into the store. Alice had the classics like “Boléro,” “Somewhere in Time” and “Claire de Lune” on the playlist, as well as sultry Latin numbers by Enrique Iglesias and pure fuck-me-now Barry White and Boyz II Men songs. She’d also thrown Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Tonight’s the Night” into the mix because, well, why not?

Once the door triggered the music, the whole song would play unless someone else came in. Each time the door opened or closed, a new song started, letting Alice know she had a customer arriving or departing. If there were no new customers after a song played in its entirety, there would be silence. Madison had asked Alice why she didn’t set it up so the music played constantly, and her sister said there was value in silence as well.

Honest to God, Alice’s choices gave the store a personality all its own. Madison wouldn’t be surprised if she could hear the store breathing.

She yanked her attention back to the more important issue. She wasn’t alone, and she was hiding behind the register counter. She hadn’t expected lingerie shopping to be popular at seven a.m. Jesus, she hadn’t even flipped the OPEN sign over or turned on lights, but having worked sales before, she knew customers were as bad as kindergarteners when it came to paying attention to details like those.

She should pop up from behind the counter like a macabre cartoon. “Yes, how may I help you?” Instead, she wiped her eyes and rose into view in a way that made it look as though she’d been bending below the counter to get something out of the cabinet, rather than pushing herself up the wall as if her weight had tripled since she’d landed there. “I’m sorry, we’re not open yet.”

She said that before she took a look at her first customer. A good thing, since she might have stammered. He wasn’t the type of client she’d expected, and not merely because he was a “he.”

In his early to mid-twenties, this guy looked like he’d escaped the cover shoot for a romance novel. His stonewashed jeans, belted at his lean waist, defined a superior tight ass, well displayed because he was turned away from her, examining the merchandise on the rounder closest to him. The rolled-up sleeves of his denim shirt exposed tanned forearms. He had good shoulders—wide enough for his age. As he grew older and muscle weight thickened, they’d probably get even nicer. She expected beneath those clothes his body would be well sculpted by the gym. Guys who worked out hard moved like wild animals, with easy grace and strength.

His sandy brown hair brushed his collar and brow, and when he glanced toward her beneath an attractive scattering of strands, his blue eyes reminded her of the sky. “Hi. I’m Troy. I work next door.”

“Oh.” Not a customer, then, even though he’d been perusing a rack of bras, fingering a lacy D-cup with speculative interest and no self-consciousness. Cross-dresser? Before their falling-out, she’d spent plenty of time in Alice’s world, brushing shoulders with everyone from transgender to cross-dressers. As a result, she didn’t think he fit the type. He wore his clothes without any excessive fashion sense. Simple, basic guy clothes, blues and denims, work shoes. Though a cross-dressing straight guy was possible, his gaze marked her with typical unoffensive hetero interest. Interest in what she looked like out of her clothes, not how she wore them.

“Nice to meet you.” She regretted her wooden tone, but he didn’t seem fazed by it, approaching the counter to extend his hand. She suppressed the urge to take another swipe at her face. Yeah, that would be nice. Wipe her nose, then offer her hand.

In Boston, her client list had included exacting millionaires and powerful corporate businessmen. She could handle an employee from . . . what was next door? A hardware store. In this artsy downtown area of Matthews, a quaint municipality on the outskirts of the much bigger city of Charlotte, all the stores were kitschy, boutique-type ventures. The hardware store, the brief glimpse she’d had of it, was a historic leftover from eighty years ago, maintaining the original brick façade in front. It was still run like one of the old-timey general stores, advertising horse feed and strawberries in season, as well as small engine repair.

Alice had relocated here from a Charlotte strip mall a few years ago. Because of their falling-out, Madison hadn’t had a chance to meet her new neighbors.

“When we heard you knocking around, Mr. Scott told me to come over and see if you need anything.”

Troy still had his hand out, and she was staring at him as if he’d sprung out of the walls. With a jerk, she lifted her hand to clasp his. He closed his fingers over hers, held them. He had a rough palm, a warm grip, and those eyes never left her face. “We’re so sorry about Alice. She was an incredible person, and she loved you so much.”

Wow. He zeroed right in on the personal, leaving her nowhere to hide. Madison blinked, hard, and unconsciously squeezed his hand, to find her own squeezed right back. She’d been dealing with lawyers, city clerks, real estate people, all of whom talked about Alice in distant niceties. This man was as much a stranger as they were, but his obvious personal connection to Alice, physical and emotional, made her hungry to maintain the contact. She didn’t want to make a fool of herself, but Troy saved her from that. He covered her hand with his other one, holding hers sandwiched between them and giving her an excuse to keep it in that position.

“She left me this place,” Madison said. “I’m not sure how to run it. I mean, I know how to run it. I’ve been in sales, but . . .”

Good grief, Madison. She shrugged to get him to let her go and put both hands on the counter, pressing her palms against the cool glass. Beneath it was an array of nipple clamps and clit jewelry, displayed as elegantly as any New York diamond district’s offerings. She was pretty sure some of them had actual diamonds, since one had a four-figure price tag. For nipple jewelry? In contrast, on top of the counter, Alice had a basket of plastic hopping penises, breasts and bright red lips. Madison took a closer look. Okay, those weren’t lips. At least not the mouth kind. A cheerful yellow bow on the basket drew attention to the contents.

Alice. God, I’m going to miss you.

Troy picked up one of the toys, wound it up, let it hop across the counter. “She was crazy,” he said. “Crazy, wonderful, beautiful, sexy.”

She glanced up at him. Had they been lovers? Somehow she didn’t think so. Yet his tone was intimate. It was impossible not to focus on his mouth, those eyes. She liked hearing his Southern accent after all the Boston ones. The drawl, the slower pace of talking. Feeling, living, everything. She could imagine him uttering an endearment in that sexy drawl.

When she realized it was obvious she was staring, she flushed. He straightened to his six-foot height and broke eye contact.

“Sorry. Mr. Scott says I need to be careful about doing that. I tend to be distracting.” He said it without ego, giving her a half smile. “He says there’s nothing wrong with looking the way I do, as long as I give as much pleasure as I take. But since I love giving it, it gets kind of confusing, because that’s a form of taking, you know?”

Fortunately, he didn’t seem to expect an answer to such a complex question. “Anyhow,” he continued, “I better get back. Come by later if you want to check out our store. You’re always welcome. Mr. Scott wanted to give you time to settle in, but remember to call if you need us. We’re here for you.”

With a nod, he moved back to the front door. “Boléro” was on its finale. As he opened the door, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” started, done as a poignant piano instrumental. Alice used to sing it to her when Madison was five and she was ten. She’d called her Little Star.

Christ, how was she going to do this?

• • •

Madison locked the front door and retreated into the stockroom. Throwing herself into practical things, she spent most of the morning going through the inventory and reviewing Alice’s accounts on her laptop. The business had been doing very well, no surprise. Alice blended class with whimsy, sensual with the blatantly sexual, easing her clientele into the offerings of her store and daring them to expand their boundaries.

It was evident in the store’s layout. The display window to the left of the door included art nouveau–style mannequins posed in dramatic, interactive ways, a natural flow from scene to scene. One mannequin lounged in a gorgeous peignoir. A veil was caught beneath her, a rhinestone wedding set on her finger. Another wore a provocative teddy coupled with sleek stilettos and classy pearls, a sheer scarf tied at the waist.

On the other side of the door, Alice showed off a set of her role-playing costumes. A French maid sat on the lap of a male mannequin dressed in a Victorian suit, his hand resting high on her thigh. When Madison flipped the switch on the lighting, a holographic fireplace came to life behind the couple, suggesting they were in his study. She pictured the gentleman flipping the maid over, pulling down her ruffled panties and giving her several smart slaps for not dusting the upper shelves. She felt the tingle in her own buttocks, could too easily see herself in that costume.

Only in her rich fantasy world, it was no costume. It was the real thing—she was a real maid, and her boss had piercing eyes that always watched her, the stern mouth promising all sorts of dark, sinful pleasures in his service . . .

Madison leaned her temple against the display frame, forcing her gaze back to the wedding set. The spotlight made the pearls gleam and tiny sequins in the peignoir glitter. It didn’t evoke any fantasies for her. Not unless that Victorian Master was the prospective groom. For their wedding night, he’d wrap her wrists with the pearls and lace her into a white corset, make her hold on to the bedpost as he drew the laces tight, binding her so that she felt dizzy.

She’d had seven serious relationships since college, and Gerald was the first of those who’d made her think of marriage. He was a psychologist who seemed to understand so many things about her that she’d trusted him with a glimpse of her fantasies. A little spanking, a little being tied with scarves to the bed rail? He was okay with it. After all, in the movies and TV, they kinked things up like that. But when Madison had gotten carried away with it, wanted more pain, wanted him to demand she call him Master, that had changed.

She cringed, remembering the look on his face. Anything more than the mildest of BDSM play had been freak-flag territory for him, so she’d developed the discipline and willpower to stay the hell away from it before she lost him. And lost him anyway.

Through all her relationships, she’d played hopscotch with her sub cravings. Tried to make it work with one guy, completely shut it away in a box with another. She’d never been able to trust any of them enough to make the full leap. No matter what Alice said, that was why the failure rested with her.

She’d gotten so tangled up about it that, after her last relationship ended two years ago, she’d decided to quit all of it. Her heart was too battered, her mind too confused. Maybe she’d take up dating when she was past menopause. Sure she’d have to wait a couple decades, but women at that age seemed like they had stuff figured out. Maybe the hormones drove the stupid shit out of the brain and only left what was important.

Stop thinking about this.

She turned her attention back to the layout of the store, making inventory notes as she went. Clothing choices were in the front, but as a customer moved toward the back, Alice had tasteful displays of vibrators, a wall of erotica DVDs and novels catering to women and couples. Over that section a silver-framed, black-and-white print showed a couple in bed, the woman secure in the man’s arms as she read to him. He cupped her bare breast, his palm discreetly concealing the nipple, his mouth on her throat. She had glasses perched on her nose.

Such quaint, erotic details were everywhere, making a stroll through the store a sensory experience. Alice had even done her own product presentation. She designed velvet display boxes, mesh bags and other containers, discarding tacky, porno-type packaging.

Steeling herself, Madison moved to the very back corner. The archway there led to the Dungeon Room. It held all the BDSM toys, furniture and more hard-core pieces related to fetish lifestyles. To help her customers explore their wilder side, Alice had strategically placed a refreshment kiosk in this room. As Madison looked at the empty table, a hard lump formed in her throat. She could almost smell the freshly brewed coffee, tea and homemade baked goods Alice had served her customers.

Why was seeing a mundane reminder of someone’s existence almost harder to bear than other, more dramatic events surrounding her loss? Probably because it felt like a mockery, God’s cruel game. Look, she was here, just yesterday, baking a cake, and now, poof, she’s gone. Forever.

Troy. Now she remembered. Alice had mentioned him in the handwritten letters she sent at least every couple of weeks. Madison wished she’d kept them all.

Troy, a treasure and treat who works next door, regularly comes in to pilfer lemon muffins. Mom’s recipes never fail to attract men, lol.

Madison had no doubt plenty of women would let Troy devour their muffins. She tried to log the room’s inventory with her peripheral vision, thinking of them as nameless objects. Not padded cuffs, spreader bars, soft floggers, bamboo canes and blindfolds. Framed photos on the walls showed both Masters and Mistresses in various poses with their submissives. One of them took the window display to its natural conclusion. A severe, darkly handsome Victorian gentleman clamped his hand over his maid’s wrist as she flailed on his lap, his other palm raised to give her bottom a disciplinary slap. The young woman’s lips were parted. Though she was struggling, the aroused expression on her face was unmistakable.

Madison breathed in through her nose, released it through her mouth. Alice had taught her the stress technique years ago, to manage panic attacks during college finals. You are way too type A, MadGirl. Yes, success matters, but what matters more is why excelling is so important to you. You’re not responsible for running the whole world. It won’t fall apart if you have some fun or think about what youwant once in a while.

Maybe you think you understand, Alice, but you don’t get it.

She was a control freak who had one wish—to lose control. The contradiction of that was enough to tear a soul apart and leave the heart forever aching. Alice had wanted Madison to unleash her submissive desires. She’d never realized Madison wanted nothing more than to hand over control to someone and trust that everything wouldn’t be lost or fall apart. But to do that, she had to believe he wantedto be that safety net, as much as she wanted to be wrapped up in it and care for him like no one else ever would. From her painful relationship experience, finding a man who wanted to step into that role—and that she trusted to do so—was more of a fantasy than any of her lurid imaginings.

She didn’t want to be the discarded Barbie strung out on Prozac her mother had become. So yeah, the parent thing was part of it, she didn’t deny it, but it was merely icing to the dysfunction cake. 0–7 stats didn’t lie, right? She’d researched enough about submissives to know her need for it was nature not nurture, something that had always been a part of her. It wasn’t just a manageable spice-up-the-relationship kind of urge. Based on that, she supposed that it shouldn’t surprise her Alice had realized how deep it ran for her sister.

Sighing, she returned to the cash register. If she was going to give running Naughty Bits a try, she needed to get rid of the Dungeon Room, for her own sanity. But that was something Alice would never do, and since this still felt like Alice’s store, Madison was reluctant to make such a big change.

At a loss, she looked down to find her hand resting on the letter. She also noticed she’d missed a postscript on the back of the last page.

P.S. You can trust Logan with anything. Don’t forget that, MadGirl. You can trust him like you trust me, like family. No, even more. Like a soul mate. He took care of me until you came.

Who the hellwas Logan? Alice had never mentioned him.

Madison was all alone now, a quicksand feeling she tried to keep at bay whenever it crossed her mind. Mom, the Prozac zombie, had crashed her car into a tree when Madison was in college. Dad now lived in Ecuador with wife number three, even younger than the last one. Alice had been her family, and yet she was saying Madison could trust this invisible Logan person more than she’d trusted her sister, the only person she’d ever trusted?

Her sister was probably on really heavy meds when she wrote that part. With another sigh, Madison set the paper down. As she shifted, she bumped that heavy package, a reminder that it was still there. Squatting to take a closer look, she let out a mildly irritated oath. It wasn’t hers. It was supposed to go next door, to A Different Time Hardware. Damn it, she’d had Troy right here.

Well, she could use the break. The quiet of the place was getting to her. It was as though Alice was standing there, waiting, watching, yet separated from her by a veil that couldn’t be penetrated. Madison’s head hurt.

She also hadn’t brought a soda, and she bet they had some over there. With the times-gone-by theme, maybe an orange-cream one. And a Mallo Cup. She’d pass out from sugar shock and discover this was all a bad, crazy dream, her sister gone, leaving Madison to run Naughty Bits.

When the store had been in its planning stages, Madison had been the first to call it that. “My sister, selling naughty bits . . .” Next thing she knew, “Naughty Bits” had its Christmas grand opening, with the catchphrase “Where naughty is nice . . .” She’d helped Alice decorate a tree, giggling as they adorned it with everything from filmy, sparkly thong panties to crystal snowflakes and tiny bullet vibrators in gleaming colors of blue and silver. At the top, they’d put a porcelain angel dressed as a dominatrix, complete with wings that looked like two fanned-out floggers, tipped with gold. Alice had teased Madison when she caught her experimenting with it, thwappingher arm with their ineffectual length.

Hey, when we were little, you could have used Barbie dolls as floggers, all that long hair. Ooh, remember the Tiffany doll? The one with ten inches of reversible blonde or black hair? The black hair could be her evil pain side, braided with beads and sharp stuff, and the blond . . .

Madison shook her head, biting back a painful smile, and picked up the package. Given the weight, the clanking she’d mistaken for chain was probably nails or some kind of fastener. Exiting the front door of her store and locking it behind her, she walked down the sidewalk. According to the hours printed on the hardware store window, they opened at seven a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, explaining why Troy had been able to show up in her store so early.

The humid air suggested it was building toward a hot June day, but enough of a breeze stirred the crepe myrtles planted along the sidewalk to keep things pleasant. Around the entrance to the hardware store, hanging baskets spilled out lush falls of petunias, tempting pedestrians to buy.

The door was already propped open with an iron boot brush. A chalkboard sandwich sign had been placed beside it with the day’s specials: TOMATO PLANTS, $3, ALL GARDEN TOOLS 20% OFF, FRESH BAKED APPLE PIE AND COFFEE, $1.50.

Heated apple pie was one of her favorite breakfast foods, and she smelled it as she stepped into the shop, past the fan that was angled at the open door to minimize its negative effect on the air conditioning. The next refreshing thing to hit her senses was Troy.

He was stocking shelves. The fact he was perched on a ladder gave his ass a nice taut lift and conjured a visual of him sprawled facedown across a bed. He’d be sleeping, wearing nothing but a very artfully arranged sheet. A hint of pale buttocks above it, firm thighs exposed below. His fine toes would be curled against the cotton. One sandy lock of hair draped in his eyes, his lips parted, inviting a lover to press her lips to his, tease his tongue, wake him in all ways. A nice, normal fantasy.

“He’s beautiful, isn’t he? I’ve seen women’s hands curl into fists at their sides, as if they’re restraining an overwhelming urge to touch him.”

She jumped, not only because she had company, but because her private thoughts had been intruded upon so accurately. When she turned, she discovered something even more disconcerting.

Her tongue had tangled at the sight of Troy. What she was looking at now stole all words and left only incoherent need, strong enough to close her throat entirely, take her breath.

Yes, Troy was beautiful. Everything a virile young man should be. What was standing behind her was what such a young man could aspire to be, even though she expected few achieved it. It wasn’t merely this man’s looks. It was everything she sensed beneath them, the inside creating the outside.

Like Troy, he was six feet tall or better, with a breadth of shoulders like she’d expected to happen to Troy with maturity. He wore jeans and work boots as well. The cotton shirt unbuttoned at his throat gave her a glimpse of curling chest hair. She saw Anglo-Saxon in the solid bones of his face, a large man with large hands, a commanding presence. The warm brown eyes that focused on her face held complex things. It would be impossible for a woman to experience anything bad standing inside that gaze. No heartache would dare intrude while she was under his spell. All she needed was to have him nearby.

Red alert! Red alert! Jesus, hadn’t she made this mistake enough times already? Rein back crazy and return to reality. He was close to forty, with gleaming, thick brown hair brushed back from that masculine face. She couldn’t see how far it fell down his back, but the fact he had it tied back suggested it went past his shoulders. Though she’d always thought grown men who wore their hair long looked ridiculous, as though they were attempting to hold on to vanishing youth, the look seemed right on him. It only enhanced his masculinity, the way it did a desert sheikh, fierce Viking, kilted Scots laird . . . or pirate captain.

Stop. It. She’d told Alice she loved that look in men—just not many men could pull it off.

He did.

For the second time today, she was staring, not responding like an articulate adult. Realizing it, she struggled to recall his remarkable statement about Troy’s beauty. Not the usual thing for a straight male to point out. Please God, let him be gay as a maypole.

“Are you two . . . together?”

The word trailed off as his gaze sharpened on her. Christ, even if Matthews was an annex of the urban Charlotte area, she was still technically in a small town, not Boston. “I’m sorry. That was rude.”

“Not where you’re from, obviously.” His amusement relaxed her, on that point at least. He had a voice that could narrate books. Whether they were romances with quiet whispers in the dark, seafaring adventures that called for commanding roars, or English mysteries needing a sexy, cultured tone with the right pauses for emphasis, his voice would hold attention, making ears strain to catch every intonation.

He crossed his arms and hooked his thumbs under his armpits. “No, we’re not together. And not just because you’re my preference. I’m training him for someone else, in exchange for blatant exploitation. Home Depot has fifty thousand square feet, but I have Troy. The local ladies turned out in record numbers for my spring gardening sale.” He winked. “I even lured some of the males interested in that sort of thing away from the Depot’s home décor offerings.”

“Do you offer to let everyone touch him?” she asked.

“I wasn’t offering that. Just observing how tempting it is to do so.”

“Sounds like entrapment.”

“A suspicious, intelligent woman. Just my type.” His gaze got warmer, warming her inside. Even if flirting with this kind of man was like walking a minefield, it improved her mood. But the ache in her arms reminded her she was holding his package. God help her, she flushed at the unintended mental entendre, and felt as foolish as a teenager.

“Oh, I brought this. UPS left it at my place by mistake.”

His fingers brushed hers as he claimed the package. “Sorry, I should have had you put this down right off. It’s like a pile of bricks.”

Twisting that excellent upper torso, he put the box on the counter. Being solid wood, it looked far more capable of handling the weight than her glass display case. “Clarence—that’s our delivery guy—used to leave our stuff over there all the time, though he was usually considerate enough only to leave the lighter parcels.”

“Did he have a problem delivering them here?”

“Yes. Alice was far prettier than we were, and she had cookies.”

When he smiled, Madison decided it wasn’t only Troy who lured women here. The younger women might gravitate to Troy, but any woman who’d graduated past teen crushes would head for this one like a fly toward a bug zapper. This had to be the hardware store’s owner, Mr. Scott.

“As her illness progressed,” he continued, “Clarence got in the habit of checking in with her first. He’d tell me what kind of day she was having, whether I should check on her. Since she’d get after us if we hovered too much, it was how we kept an eye on her without taking away her sense of independence.”

All while her closest relative stayed in Boston, not doing a damn thing for her. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t known Alice was sick. Madison still had to squelch the overwhelming guilt, as well as the need to listen for condemnation in his voice, look for it in his expression.

“Even after she’d closed the store for good, he’d still occasionally leave a delivery at her door. He knew we’d see it.” He regarded the box on his counter. “I think he kept doing it because letting go of the habit is letting go of the person.”

She rubbed her temple, a nervous tic she usually tried to control, but today was proving a little too much. He and Troy could drive small-talkers to suicide. “You and Troy don’t do chitchat, do you?”

His eyes met hers. “Given our relationship with Alice, we’re already past that, don’t you think?”

So he and Troy had been pretty involved in Alice’s life. Enough to make “Mr. Scott” assume he could be overly familiar with a family member he’d just met. She was starting to get a worrisome premonition. The authoritative vibes that emanated from him, the fact he knew Alice . . .

Alice, if I’m right, I’m going to kill you. I don’t care if you’re already dead.

“Troy tells me you’re a little nervous about running the store.”

“It’s not something I’ve ever sold before, but selling is selling. I worked on a used car lot when I was sixteen, moved on to Sears’ appliances, and eventually into stocks and bonds after I earned my accounting degree. I’ll get a handle on it.”

The same way she was going to get a handle on this conversation. She wasn’t going to be driven by hormones, groundless fantasies or shared grief to encourage this beyond a friendly-but-not-too-friendly, neighborly relationship. She needed to figure out a way to make that clear.

As he moved around the counter with a noncommittal grunt, she tried not to notice how the shirt strained over his broad shoulders. The temptation to reach out and touch the curls of coarse hair at his throat was making her fingertips tingle. What would he do? Would his hand close over hers, stop her, those eyes centering on her face, an unspoken command to keep her hands to herself . . . until she was given permission to touch?

Shit, shit, shit. Seeing the perfect opening to change the subject, she seized it. “I figured someone had sent you a cinder block.”

Those attractive lips curved as he fished a box cutter out of a drawer and slit the box open. “Lead. I have customers who pour their own bullets for hunting, self-defense and historical reenactments, so I keep a supply on hand, along with primers, powder and the like. But there should be something else.” His expression brightened. “Right here on top.”

He freed the item with remarkable gentleness, revealing a set of antique brass metal hinges. “The supply house for bullet lead also does metalwork?” she asked.

“They’re an eclectic enterprise. A mom-and-pop place in Missouri. They even have a blacksmith who shoes horses and makes swords for Renaissance Faires. I’ve been out there.” He glanced up, gave her a distracting wink. “Almost bought an Excalibur replica, but decided on a good wood lathe. The lathe was cheaper.”

When he extended the hinges so she could take a closer look, she studied the engraved design. It showed a vine of thorns, interspersed with tiny leaves and loops. “You don’t usually see thorns without a rose.”

“No, you don’t. The potential of the thorns is often overlooked.” He set them aside and extended a palm. “Give me your hand and I’ll show you.”

She curled her fingers, uncertain. This guy was doing weird things to her. She needed to get back to her store. “We haven’t even been officially introduced.”

“I’m Logan Scott.”

She took a step back from the counter before she could stop herself. This was Logan? Trust Logan. Like you’d trust me. Or a soul mate . . . He took care of me until you came.

He’d cared for her sister, all except those last three days? The hospice nurse hadn’t mentioned another caregiver, but maybe Alice had told her not to do so.

Goddamn it. She bit her lip. If I hadn’t scattered your ashes over the river already, I would mix them in some random cat’s litter box, I swear to God.

“Are you all right?”

Tuning back in, she saw nothing in his face that said he knew the contents of that letter. He’d left his hand out, and it would be rude and stupid to act like a frightened deer because of a mysterious reference about him from her sister. But it was way more than that. He had that submissive side of her on its knees, all senses on alert toward his every action. His every desire or demand. Give me your hand.

In the past, it was her own inner yearnings that had led her down unwise paths with men. But this compulsion seemed to be originating from him, a distinct, dangerous difference. She told herself to get a grip. He was going to think she was a freak if she didn’t start acting normal.

She put her hand out. Her fingers whispered across his palm as his own closed over them. She’d never thought of a man’s touch as unforgettable, but she drew in a breath at the way it felt. Reassuring. Firm and strong. Something that would become a permanent craving if taken away.

“At last,” he murmured. “We meet.”

The simple statement underlined his close history with Alice, close enough that Alice had talked about her. A courtesy she hadn’t offered Madison. Her anger about that couldn’t hold, though, not when she saw their contact unlock the abiding pain of deep loss behind his gaze, a pain she understood.

Before that could freak her out—any more than the whole situation was doing—he loosened his grip and turned her hand over. He pressed his thumb against her palm so her fingers half closed over it. With the other hand, he brought the tip of the box cutter to her skin. He paused, watching her adjust to what he was about to do, giving her the chance to draw back. Her pulse was beating higher in her throat, but she didn’t pull back. That sent a message so significant, she wasn’t surprised to see his eyes darken, his mouth tighten. She relished the reaction.

He pricked her with the point, along the lifeline. He didn’t do it hard enough to draw blood.

“A tiny hurt, like the bite of a thorn,” he said. “Your fingers twitched, like you might pull away, but when you realized it was bearable, you stilled again.” He lifted her hand to his mouth then, brushed his lips over the spot. “Now a reward, a mix of pleasure with pain. It makes you crave a little more of both. Or maybe more than a little.”

Giving her a half smile, which didn’t lessen the intensity of his gaze, the import of what they’d just both communicated without words, he squeezed her hand before letting her go.

This wasn’t flirting, but something way more hazardous. She closed her hand around that touch, put it to her side to hide the tremor in her fingers. “What are the hinges for?” She had to blurt it out, but fortunately it didn’t sound as strident as she feared.

“A commissioned piece I’m making. I have a woodworking shop here on the premises. I’ll show it to you sometime, if you’d like.”

“Okay. Maybe. If it’s no trouble.”

“Maybe” was an escape hatch, but in truth, she needed a reprieve from all the empty spaces where Alice was supposed to be. She was antsy for human contact, no matter how unsettling. Though she obviously couldn’t afford a lot of one-on-one exposure with Logan, she couldn’t deny she wanted to find out more about the man Alice had said she could trust.

“You’re no trouble. Though I expect if you chose to be, you’d be the kind of trouble that a certain type of man would relish.”

Okay, time to start putting him off-balance before she teetered right off this seesaw. She cleared her throat. “Were you and my sister ever . . .”

Given that everything coming out of his mouth was like a shovel thrust into the bottom of her emotional well, flinging muck out over the top, it seemed a little pointless to be tactful, but she found she couldn’t say it outright. Fortunately, he understood what she meant.

“No. Her interests lay elsewhere, as did mine.” His gaze did that sharpening thing again, spearing the fluttery place beneath her rib cage.

“I think we should choose another subject for now.” Though she really had no idea what subject they were talking about, her instincts told her the topic was fraught with peril. “You said you were training Troy. Does he work at another store?”

“No. I’m a training Master at the local dungeon. Being under my tutelage is a requirement of his Mistress.”

Bull’s-eye, direct arrow. She’d been right about the fraught-with-peril thing. It took a Herculean effort not to leap all the way back to the door, the way she had the day she almost stepped on a snake sunning on the top step of their family’s back deck. His gaze remained on hers, steady. He was waiting for her reaction, like a damn scientist studying a hapless rat in a glass box. On top of that, he’d done it right in the middle of the mainstream public.

She stole a flustered glance around the store. A couple of men, apparently contractors, seemed engrossed with selecting parts down one aisle, while a pair of women were having pie and coffee over in the refreshments area. None of them seemed to be staring, but then, maybe it only seemed to her like a herald bellowing an announcement in the public square. In fact, only one person other than herself seemed to have picked up on the discussion.

“Those nails aren’t going to stock themselves, Troy,” Logan said. “You’re not part of this conversation.”

As he spoke, Logan never shifted his attention from her face. Yet despite the apparent mildness of the comment, the undercurrent had the effect of a cattle prod. “No sir,” Troy said immediately. In her peripheral vision, she saw him busy himself with the stock, acting as if he’d donned supersonic noise-canceling headphones.

Logan’s tone of command affected Madison as well, holding her in place like a hooked fish. But hearing he was a training Master brought forth another memory, something that hurt. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not real to him.

“It’s all right,” he said quietly. “I wasn’t trying to shock you.”

She knew that. She was well attuned to people trying to manipulate her emotions, and he wasn’t setting off that alarm. Alice might have told Logan about Madison’s cravings, but it didn’t mean he was privy to her sister’s posthumous plottings. Alice was gone and Madison could set him straight about all that, right here, right now.

She summoned a hard smile. “Sorry. You took me by surprise. This is still new to me. I’m not as knowledgeable about these things as Alice was. I don’t have her instincts.”

“We all have an instinct for Dominance and submission, Madison.” He nodded toward Troy. “But if you’d like to expand your knowledge, you’re welcome to come help me with Troy’s next training session.”

Very matter-of-fact, and helpful. It made sense, right? With a BDSM section in the store Alice had left her to run, the obvious assumption would be she had at least a business-level comfort with it. However, going anywhere with Logan that involved restraints and whips screamed bad idea. The last time she’d been to a club, she’d been with her sister, not a charismatic male sexual Dominant.

“I don’t know.” She glanced back at Troy, considering all the things that “training” might mean. “I’m not into hurting anyone.”

He looked down at her hand, the one he’d pricked. “Pain and pleasure are often interchangeable. Regardless, every step is consensual. He lets go of as much control as he desires. Under the right conditions, the more control is relinquished, the more freedom is found. You’re welcome to simply watch, Madison. Friday at eight.”

“We’ll see. I have a lot to do, and if I’m tired that evening . . .”

Those coffee-colored eyes came back to her face. He wasn’t staring. Staring would have been less unsettling. She felt like a book he was reading, every word a page full of information about her. He let her run down before he spoke again, courteously. “Understood. If you do come that night, use the interior door between our storerooms. It’s always unlocked.”

“You do the training here?” She tried not to let her voice squeak. Right close by, where she could hear the slap of a flogger on flesh, cries of pain and pleasure . . .

“I have a couple rooms in the back, one for the training, one for the woodworking.”

He might have equipment in there. Cuffs, chains . . . like the things in her store inventory, only these would be worn from use, scratches in the wood of the St. Andrew’s Cross, rendered silky smooth by sweat . . .

“I’ll be adding those hinges tonight if you want to come see the woodworking part of things,” he added. “I know it must be hard, hanging around Alice’s house at night.”

That was going to be the danger, wasn’t it? He had more than one road past her shields, and his understanding of the loss she was dealing with could be a four-lane highway. Under ordinary circumstances, she’d be restrained by common sense. Going into a back room after business hours with a guy she didn’t even know wasn’t a good idea. However, thanks to Alice’s note, Madison’s uppermost fear was that he was her own personal Pied Piper of Hamelin, the tune he was offering one she longed to follow.

“Okay. I’ll think about it.” As if she was considering an offer to come over for tea. Jesus. “Thanks. It was . . . nice to meet you. I’d better get back to the store.”

She would have fled if it she could have, but she maintained her dignity with a decorous pace. As a result, she had time for a few thousand thoughts before she reached the doorway. She stopped, bit her lip. “Logan . . . when you said, ‘At last we meet,’ it felt significant. What did my sister say about me?”

“She gave you to me.”

Her face must have conveyed her startled jolt, because his lips twisted in wry response. He lifted a hand, staying her what the fuckreaction.

“She said . . .” He paused, his expression serious. “‘I’m giving her to you, Logan, but you might just give yourself to her, too. For the first time in your life.’ What man could resist a challenge like that?”

“Was she on a lot of meds when you had that conversation?” Madison asked weakly.

His laugh, deep and rich, literally aroused her. Her body tightened, the flesh between her legs swelling. When her hand curled into a tense ball at her side, the humor disappeared from his expression, his mouth firming. “Go back to your store, Madison,” he said softly. “We’ll talk later.”

She turned and went.

• • •

Not because he told her to do so, but because she had obviously stepped into the deep-ass end of the pool. Her sister had been capable of some odd things, but this? She fricking gave me to a guy? What the hell did that mean? Under other circumstances, Madison would have considered a restraining order. It still wasn’t out of the question.

Okay, slow down and breathe. Think this through. Madison thought back to another time Alice had dragged her into a club, this time when they were vacationing. Since it was there she’d had the experience which caused the sharp pain under her ribs when Logan said he was a training Master, it was a good reminder that the cons of her going down that road far outweighed the pros.

Alice had said visiting clubs while they were on vacation was a good way for her to deduct a portion of the trip as a business expense. Madison had feigned reluctant indifference, but she’d gone, her stomach flopping with butterflies, her palms damp. Once again, she found a secluded corner table, nursed a drink while Alice flitted here and there, making contacts, asking questions. Leaving Madison alone with her fantasies.

Then she’d seen the Master and his female submissive. More importantly, he’d seen her.

• • •

“Come closer.”

He’d helped the woman onto a table and she was lying on her back, naked. Madison didn’t realize he was speaking to her, not the woman, until he turned, met her gaze. He wasn’t handsome, but he was charismatic. His dark hair, peppered with gray, was trimmed neatly and his blue eyes were direct. He had the type of body that looked decent in the surprising choice of a suit, the kind a man would wear for business.

He didn’t repeat the command. It was implied in his straightforward glance, the way the contact arrowed hard through Madison’s center.

The music in the club was pounding drums, a New Age tribal beat interspersed with silvery flute, loud enough to mix with the environment and get the blood humming, impair judgment. Madison rose, leaving her soda. Did he need her help? Was he going to lay her down on the table right next to the woman? Shouldn’t he be asking her if she wanted to play? She knew there were rules.

“You can’t see as well from over there,” he said, pointing her to a stool pulled up near the woman’s head. He leaned over, placing a blindfold on the supine woman. Her lips pressed together, their fullness more noticeable as her eyes disappeared beneath the fabric. The middle-aged, short-haired brunette didn’t have a model’s figure, but in her few club experiences, Madison had noted a general acceptance of any size or age. Dominance and submission weren’t about those things. While this woman had some fleshy padding, it was decently toned and her breasts were a nice size. The Dom tweaked her nipple after he blindfolded her, making her jump. And smile, though it had an anxious, anticipating quality to it. “Play with yourself while I get ready,” he commanded.

Obediently, the woman moved her hand down her body, finding her clit and labia to tease them with her fingers. Madison shifted, swallowing. The Master glanced up at her. “Feel free to do the same if you like.”

His grin was playful enough not to scare her, to win a wary smile back, but she noticed the intensity of his gaze didn’t lessen. He was confident, in control of this situation. Did he realize how nervous she was? How uncertain? Thank God Alice was somewhere else. There were a few other people coming in and out of this section, but right now she was his main audience.

Pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, the Master left it on the table as he removed the coat, hung it up on a wall hook. Madison watched him roll up his sleeves. Why was it so sexy when men did that? He loosened the tie and removed it, carelessly opened a couple of the top buttons of the shirt. She saw he was wearing a silver cross beneath the fabric.

“You’re going to hold my tie, baby,” he said to the woman on the table, wrapping the silk around her wrists in a figure eight, then doing another wrap around that, securing it so her wrists were loosely bound. Lifting her hands to his mouth, he sucked on the fingers she’d used on herself, then rubbed them dry with the handkerchief. “But if you get it dirty, you know you’ll be in bad trouble. Put your arms over your head. I want your wrists resting on the knees of the woman behind you.”

Madison stared down at the woman’s lacquered nails. She had a good manicure. Her fingers were making little flexing motions, rubbing her knuckles erratically against Madison’s thighs. Her body was quivering as her erotic tension built. Madison felt like they were sharing that same energy. When she dared a glance at the Master again, she found his eyes upon her.

“Put your hands on the joining point of the tie, between her wrists,” he said.

Madison did it. “I’m not . . . I don’t want to do anything wrong.”

His lips curved and he reached out, caressed her jaw as if it was the most natural thing to touch a stranger that way. And calm her with that touch. “You can’t possibly, sweetheart. I won’t let you. Vanessa, I want you to hold her wrists.”

Madison’s grip tightened on the tie. When the woman’s fingers curved around hers, holding Madison’s wrists, an unexpected hard quiver shook her, as if she’d been bound with a set of flesh-and-blood manacles. She told herself not to get carried away. This was simple, straightforward. Safe. Even better, Alice would be pleased that Madison had indulged herself, and laid off a little.

The Master pulled a variety of items out of his bag. Candles, bowls, burners. It might have taken ten minutes for him to set up, but time had no meaning. This was the first time Madison had been this close to, this involved in, something that felt exactly like what she’d hoped it could be. A ripple of panic went through her. She was going to lose her mind, beg him to take her home. Make a total ass out of herself.

She would have bolted, but Vanessa was holding on to her. Though Madison’s fantasy-laden brain had wanted to interpret his command to Vanessa as a way to restrain her, her rational mind knew the real intent was to give Vanessa an anchor. In the woman’s touch she felt the need for that contact. If she drew back, she’d be abandoning her. She couldn’t do that.

“Let’s keep me entertained while the wax is melting.” He withdrew a clit stimulator from the bag and fitted it on Vanessa, strapping it around her thighs to hold it in place. “There you go.”

The hum reached Madison’s ears as Vanessa jerked, gasped. Her fingers tightened on Madison’s wrists, while her own grip on the tie constricted, a wordless bond and communication between them. I’m here. We’re together in this, what he’s doing to us.

As he waited, he propped his hips on the table holding the burners. The typical dim light of the club, intended to promote a mysterious, erotic environment, was enhanced by the flickering light of the candles and burners. The drum-and-flute music was like a male-female counterpoint. From other parts of the club, Madison could occasionally hear a cry, loud enough to be heard over the music. She inhaled the fragrance of the wax burning, the scent of fire itself.

She’d become part of some sensuous, pagan ritual. The Master was a Druid priest, preparing Vanessa for sexual initiation where she’d belong to a circle of Druids, her sexual energy used over and over for their mystic purposes. Vanessa’s body moved in sinuous response to the vibrator. Her hips lifted, pressed down, her legs shifting restlessly, toes curling. Her toenails were painted a silver-pink, like her fingernails. A tattoo of a vine twined around her left ankle, punctuated by tiny pink flowers.

Madison swallowed as Vanessa’s grip got brutal. The stimulator must be bringing her close to peak. Her lips parted on a moan. “Master,” she breathed.

The man appeared absorbed in her erotic response, yet detached from the plea in a way that was indescribably arousing. He was feeding his own pleasure off of her denied need.

“He’s watching you,” Madison said in a thick voice. “He can’t take his eyes off you.” She would sell her soul to be looked at like that, to feel whatever it was Vanessa was feeling, under his control.

She’d said it because she couldn’t seem to stop herself, and the panic returned. She thought she might have committed an embarrassing faux pas. Though the Master didn’t lift his gaze from Vanessa, his lips curved, eyes sparking, telling Madison she hadn’t done anything wrong. Vanessa’s response proved it. Her hands convulsed on Madison and her body gave an all-over shudder. She repeated the word, with need and reverence both.

“Master.”

He picked up one of the burning candles, and Madison was once again reminded of a Druid ritual, the way his back straightened and his focus increased. Standing over Vanessa, he balanced the candle in his hand so it wouldn’t tip and spill the accumulation of wax burning in the pit below the flame. Not until he was ready.

Vanessa cried out as the drops landed on her upper abdomen, twitching as he made his way slowly down her center, leaving a trail of pale ivory wax that hit her skin, rolled in different directions and quickly solidified. Madison’s gaze clung to every inch of progress he made toward that juncture between her legs. Her own pussy was throbbing, anticipating, and her thighs pressed together beneath Vanessa’s knuckles.

“Please . . . tell me . . . when . . .” Vanessa was gasping.

The Master’s eyes cut toward Madison. Anything she might have said froze in her throat. That look of pure command was as arousing as anything she’d yet witnessed. Ironically, what added to its potency was how it contrasted to the earlier smile, his gentle touch on her cheek. To know that beneath all that, this side of him could surge to the forefront, his true core, taking control of everything around him, made a woman quiver and want to be on her knees to him.

She found her voice, though it was a rasp of sound among the drums. “He says no.”

The Master gave a slight nod, his eyes glittering on her a diamond moment before he turned back to what he was doing. Vanessa sighed, helpless acceptance. Several drops later she let out a piercing, needy cry as the wax splashed on her clit, her smooth mound. He’d saved the bulk of what was melted on the candle for that area. As he drizzled it in a spiraling motion, she writhed, called for him again, arched, and her nails bit into Madison’s hand.

For her part, Madison was motionless, mesmerized, her throat dry. Inside she was quivering as hard as Vanessa, but on the outside she was still as a mouse in a corner. The Master set the candle back on the table, watched Vanessa twist, her hips rolling, tongue darting out to lick her lips. Madison thought he saw everything happening to his sub, head to toe, even if his eyes weren’t on every part of her anatomy. It was as though he was inside her mind, absorbing her every reaction like a form of magical energy in truth.

“Be still,” he said. Even the music couldn’t compete with the steel command in his low voice. Vanessa obeyed with tremendous effort and little whimpers. She clutched Madison’s wrists.

He poured some of the liquid wax from the burner into a bowl, stirred it with a brush. Bending over Vanessa, he ran the brush along the outside of her right breast, then her left one. This type of wax didn’t seem to have that first moment of searing heat the other did, because Vanessa didn’t make the involuntary jerk. Instead, under the brush strokes she seemed to melt like the wax. A murmur caught in her throat as he passed over her nipples.

“Would you like to see what it’s like?”

Madison looked up, met the Master’s gaze. Did he mean? She couldn’t . . .

“Turn your palm up so I can put it on your forearm. Vanessa, let go of her right wrist.”

Vanessa immediately complied. The Master gave Madison a courteous, encouraging nod. The man had as many faces as the moon. His pleasant tone now wasn’t like the demanding, pure-sex demeanor he displayed when interacting directly with Vanessa. It was as if he stepped out of one room and into another to speak to Madison now. Whereas she’d felt like she was in that room with them for a few, blissful minutes. She wanted back there, but that was a limited invitation, wasn’t it? She held out her arm.

Oh . . . wow. It was like a heated, damp tongue, the brush running a few inches up her arm before he pulled it away. “Paraffin,” he told her. “It does wonderful things to the mind.”

Giving her a wink, he returned his attention to Vanessa. He used several different types and colors of wax, alternating between the candle drippings and the paraffin, decorating Vanessa’s thighs, her navel, her breasts. Though he’d left it in place, he’d dialed down the vibrator during all that. Now he turned it off, put it aside and replaced its stimulation with his own fingers.

“A nice, wet pussy. All wet for your Master, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir,” Vanessa gasped. “Please . . .”

“Please, what?”

“I want to come.”

“Whose wants are important, Vanessa?” His eyes and voice had gone back to flint sharpness. Madison was on the edge of that cliff with Vanessa. Please let her come. She couldn’t take her eyes away from his long fingers, manipulating the fragile flesh between Vanessa’s legs, his knuckles worrying the clit, stroking the labia. From a flex of his arm and Vanessa’s guttural cry, she knew a couple of those digits had disappeared inside her. Madison’s pussy contracted in sympathetic response and need.

“Yours, Master,” Vanessa said.

“So what do you want?”

“I want . . .” Vanessa swallowed noisily. “I want you to want me to come, Master.”

His smile went feral. “Lucky for you, that’s exactly what I want. Right now. Come for me.”

It happened that fast. He’d kept her balanced on that pinnacle like a maestro, only a twitch of his wrist needed to send the orchestra into full crescendo. He kept stroking her labia and clit with thumb and forefinger, thrusting inside her with the other fingers, showing off an expert precision and rhythm that said he knew how this woman’s body worked.

Vanessa flushed beneath the wax, the blush spreading from her sternum up her throat as she arced off the table like a rainbow and began to scream out her release. Madison clung to her as the woman rocked, thrust up against his hand. Her eyes were shut tight, mouth opened wide, her nipples tight points, embellished by the layers of wax painted across them. Some of the larger pieces on her skin cracked as she transformed into ocean movement, rolling and cresting, crashing and rising again.

When she finally wound down, he was moving his hand in a slower rhythm, stroking her, giving her light pinches that had her shaking with aftershocks. At length, he bent, pressed a single, chaste kiss right on her pussy. Madison glimpsed the tip of his tongue, taking a brief sample of her climax before he lifted his head, pressing his lips together.

“That’s my baby,” he murmured. “There you go. Slow it down, watch your breathing.” He stroked her hip, his gaze fixed on her for another few moments before he eventually raised his attention to Madison.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Sure,” she managed, and earned that smile. She wondered if he would touch her face again and ask her to strip and take Vanessa’s place on the table. She wondered what she would do if he did.

He stepped closer to her, put his hand over hers, a purely reassuring touch. “Let go of her, Vanessa,” he said, a quiet command. When Vanessa complied, he closed his hands over both of Madison’s and brought them to his lips. He brushed his warm, firm mouth over her knuckles.

“You were like a wide-eyed sprite, there in the corner,” he said, smiling at her. “Irresistible. The day you decide to stop watching and start playing, some Master will be very lucky. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I need to take care of Vanessa.”

She nodded, scrambled off the stool and almost pitched herself on the floor at his feet. Fortunately, he anticipated her disorientation and steadied her, with caressing hands and a knowing glance. Then he stepped back, breaking the spell that had bound her to them. She was now outside the circle again.

She retreated, but not to her booth. Somehow she found her way to the bathroom, locked herself in a stall and leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. Trying to breathe as well. She’d thought it had to be whips and restraints, things she wasn’t sure she could trust any man to do except in her fantasies. But this Master had merely brought her into the fringes of that world, let her have a taste, and suddenly she’d felt braver, ready for more. And flooded with so many cravings and desires, she thought she might be drowning. It scared her. Breathe. Breathe.

Looking down at her hands where he’d kissed her knuckles, she saw Vanessa’s grip had left red bands on her wrists. The bite of her nails had made crescent impressions on her hands and forearms. Would Vanessa look at the impression of the tie on her own wrists, the redness of her skin when the wax was removed? Of course she would.

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"A+" —Smart Bitches Trashy Books on Naughty Bits

Praise for the novels of Joey W. Hill:
"I can't tell you how impressed I am with Hill's books. Okay, hotter than hell, yes, but but Hill manages to do more than that....This is one hell of a writer" —Angela KnightNew York Times bestselling author
"Everything Joey W. Hill writes just rocks my world." —Jaci Burton, New York Times bestselling author
“Blends the erotic and emotional perfectly...providing readers with a gorgeous romance.”—Joyfully Reviewed
"One of the best authors of erotic romance for a reason—her exceptional ability to bring together complex characters along with gripping romances that revolve around the world of BDSM..." —Risque Reviews

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