The Master (Submissive Series #7)

The Master (Submissive Series #7)

4.6 5
by Tara Sue Me
     
 

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Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
 
She’s ready to try again. . . .
 
Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her

Overview

Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
 
She’s ready to try again. . . .
 
Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her on. Determined to overcome her fears and rejoin the Partners in Play community, she asks Abby and Nathaniel West to set her up with a Dom who can help her feel safe again as a sub. They know the very experienced Cole is exactly the kind of man who can push all of Sasha’s buttons—and she soon wants to go much faster than she had planned. . . .
 
Cole knows that Sasha is not the kind of submissive he needs. He wants someone who will serve him 24-7, not a part-time partner. Still, the further they go into their play, the more Cole begins to wish he could make Sasha his all the time. . . .
 
When forbidden desires turn into scorching action, Sasha and Cole come face-to-face with their demons—and realize their scorching relationship might be too dangerous to last. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 12/14/2015
In Me’s deeply satisfying seventh Submissive erotic novel (after The Exhibitionist), a submissive who survived abuse makes a triumphant journey back to embracing her passions, this time with the help of an ethical dominant. Sasha’s former dominant, Peter, harmed her in ways that traumatized Sasha and her friends in the lifestyle. When Sasha gathers the courage to try again, she’s surprised by her friends’ choice for her retraining. Cole is a no-nonsense Brit with a reputation for being extremely tough on his subs, and it’s clear that Sasha isn’t prepared for that initially, so Cole tries to limit her training to the mental aspects of BDSM. Due to their strong chemistry, that resolution soon goes out the window. But Cole’s hurting too, after saying good-bye to his partner of eight years. Both Cole and Sasha slowly learn to repair broken trust, with a stirring suggestion of happy-ever-after. This extraordinary tale will leave readers gasping. Agent: Steve Axelrod, Axelrod Agency. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“Tara Sue Me has created a perfect gem. . . . The mutual need of Dominant for submissive has never been more seductive.”—Cecilia Tan, Award-Winning Author of Slow Surrender

Praise for the Submissive Series
 
“[Me] is so talented and captivating.”—Southern Fiction Review
 
“Intense and very, VERY H-O-T.”—Harlequin Junkie
 
“I am awed by Tara Sue Me…a love story that will leave you wanting for more.”—Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
 
“This is the kind of erotic writing that makes the genre amazing.”—Debbie’s Book Bag
 
“Wonderfully done, full of emotion and intensity…different from so many others out there.”—The Good, the Bad, and the Unread

“An erotic and deeply loving BDSM romance…fans of erotic romance will delight in its mix of heat and heart.”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780451474551
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/02/2016
Series:
Submissive Series , #7
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
77,195
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

She was going to have to book an extended session with her therapist.

Sasha Blake closed her eyes and tried to take deep cleansing breaths like she’d been told to do when the familiar panic started to take over. But the sharp claws of fear and dread grabbed onto her chest and the simple act of inhaling took more strength than necessary.

“Sasha?” Nathaniel asked. “Are you okay?”

She cracked one eye open. The Dominant in charge of running the meeting looked at her with concern. She focused on him and did her best to ignore everything and everyone else.

“Yes, Master West,” she said. “I’m fine.”

Fine. Her pat reply to everything. She was fine. Work was fine. Her back was fine. And being told the Partners in Play senior members had decided she could rejoin the BDSM group after a retraining with Cole Johnson?

Abso-freaking-fine.

She was sitting in a small room off to the side of Daniel Covington’s playroom where group meetings were held. Only the senior members were present, which meant there were only about ten people sitting around the oval table at the moment.

The side of her face tingled as if someone was staring at her and she slipped her hands under her thighs to keep from rubbing the spot. She used more discipline than what should be necessary to keep her gaze directed on Nathaniel and not to let it wander just a touch to the right, where he sat.

Items numbered one through five hundred twelve to discuss with her therapist: Cole Johnson.

Based on conversations she’d had recently—with Nathaniel; his wife, Abby; her own best friend, Julie; and Julie’s Dominant, Daniel—she’d expected to be offered a retraining. She’d even looked forward to it: experiencing the thrill of letting someone else take over, rediscovering the peace that came when she knew her Dom would do anything to protect her—and, she wasn’t even going to pretend otherwise, having earth-shattering orgasms.

It’d not once crossed her mind, not even in her wildest, craziest, never-gonna-happen-might-as-well-fantasize-about-it dreams, that the group would pick him.

Cole.

She shivered just thinking his name. An alien spaceship must have transported her to an alternate universe because that’s how hard it was to believe Cole was going to retrain her. He was an altogether intriguing man, one who had quickly captured her attention. But though he was usually laid-back and easygoing, talk among the group’s submissives pointed toward a hard and unyielding Dominant in the playroom.

She didn’t have to glance to Nathaniel’s right to know who she’d find watching her. She pictured him all too clearly in her head. Dark tousled hair, devilish blue-green eyes, and a body that seductively hinted at sexual pleasure with every carefully controlled move. And then he’d speak in that oh-so-smooth British accent.

Yes, she’d call her therapist tomorrow.

“Are you okay?”

She jumped at the sound of her friend Dena’s whisper.

“I’m fine,” she said, repeating the same lie she’d told Nathaniel.

Dena narrowed her eyes in disbelief and rubbed her just-starting-to-show pregnant belly. “Hmm.”

But she was stopped from saying anything further by Nathaniel dismissing the meeting. Perfect. If she moved quickly enough, she could probably be on her way without having to talk about anything.

Unfortunately, Dena was onto her ploy and grabbed her arm before she could get away. “Not so fast; I want to talk. It’s been a long night for you. How do you feel about Master Johnson?”

Her body shook a bit. She had to leave before the panic came back. But Dena looked determined and wouldn’t let her leave that easily.

“Conflicted.” Sasha took a deep breath. “He’s not who I imagined would be suggested.” She didn’t add that he was the very last person she imagined would be suggested. She narrowed her eyes. “Wait a minute. You’re a senior group member. Did you know?”

“No, I excused myself when the topic came up for discussion. I knew I couldn’t be objective.”

“And Jeff?”

“Yes, I’m sure he knew.”

Sasha put her hand on her hip. She found it hard to believe Jeff, Dena’s husband, wouldn’t have told Dena even if she’d excused herself from the discussion—which made her wonder if Julie knew. After all, she lived with Daniel.

She turned to find the lady in question making a beeline toward her.

“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Julie said. “Are you okay? If you don’t want Cole, I’ll—”

“Julie. Dena,” the smooth British accent she heard in her dreams said.

Sasha spun around and found Cole standing off to her side.

“Sasha.”

He spoke it like a caress. Soft and gentle and tender, but with an underlying strength that couldn’t be denied and with sensual promises woven in every vowel sound. She had an overwhelming desire to hear him say it again.

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Damn it, this is why I should have left right when I stood up.

“Master Johnson,” Julie and Dena said in unison.

“Master West,” Cole said to Nathaniel, who stood a few feet away with his arm around Abby. “If I may, I’d like a word in private with Julie and Sasha.”

Nathaniel didn’t answer right away but eyed Sasha up and down, as if making sure she was okay. He frowned. Hell, did she look that bad?

“Fifteen minutes,” Nathaniel said. “You can use the kitchen. Master Covington?”

“I’ll come get Julie then,” Daniel said from his spot beside Abby.

Cole extended his arm. “After you, ladies.”

They made it into the kitchen without speaking. Cole pulled chairs out for both of them and then settled into his own. He smiled, and Sasha found herself questioning the things she’d heard about him.

This was the Badass Brit?

“Anyone care for a drink?” he asked. “I should have asked you before sitting down.”

“No, thank you, Sir,” Julie said.

“I’m fine, Sir,” Sasha quipped.

At her flippant reply, Cole narrowed his eyes and his smile faded away into a frown of displeasure. And in that moment, Sasha knew everything she’d heard about him was true.

 

Cole Johnson kept his gaze focused on Sasha long enough for her to understand he recognized her answer for what it was. He suspected she’d been fighting back a panic attack and was most likely anything but fine. Against his better judgment, he decided not to call her on it. This time.

He wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

When Nathaniel approached him about it, he’d agreed almost at once. In his mind he pictured Sasha as he’d first met her: a scared submissive dealing with the aftermath of a scene gone bad. He remembered catching her the night she almost fell and how she’d been warm and responsive in his arms. That is, until she’d realized where she was and used her safe word to get away from him.

In India weeks later, he was surprised at how often he found his mind wandering back to the troubled woman with the expressive green eyes and a will of steel. And he couldn’t deny he’d been secretly pleased when he heard a rumor she was thinking about rejoining the group. He’d been a Dom long enough to understand the strength involved in going through a traumatic scene and returning once more to the community. He respected that strength. He also had a strong desire to control it.

He cleared his throat. “We only have fifteen minutes and I’m positive Daniel is keeping an eye on the time, so let’s chivvy this along.” He leaned back in the chair so he could watch both women. “It appears as if my reputation preceeds me and you’re both, no doubt, wondering what the group was thinking with their recommendation.”

Humor flashed in Julie’s eyes along with something else, but she wasn’t saying anything. She hadn’t been all that shocked when he’d been named; unlike Sasha, who at this moment stared at him like she’d dash out of the room if he said, “Boo.”

He drummed his fingertips on the table. There was a time to push a submissive—this was not one of those times. He needed to draw her to him, to gain her trust, make a connection.

“How’s the kitten?” he asked her.

Last weekend Nathaniel and Abby had a party for Jeff and Dena. While everyone was outside, a snake attacked a stray kitten. Cole and Nathaniel had rescued it, but afterward they couldn’t calm it down. Cole had held the wiggling mass of fur at a loss about what to do until Sasha simply took the frightened kitten from him and had the creature purring within seconds. It’d been that confidence she showed, the way she pushed aside her fear because her desire to help the kitten was more important, that had made him accept the group’s request to retrain her.

As he’d suspected, at the mention of her rescued kitten, Sasha’s face lost all traces of worry and fear and a tender smile took their place. “She’s doing great, Sir. Plays a lot, eats a lot, and sleeps in front of the refrigerator.”

He couldn’t hide his smile at her excitement over the little ball of fur. “I’m glad she found you. Sounds like the two of you have hit it off.”

She nodded. “I like having her around. I mean, I know she’s just a kitten, but it makes the apartment not so lonely.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw Julie discreetly check the time. Daniel would be back soon.

Cole cleared his throat. “I can understand your surprise at the group’s recommendation, Sasha.” She opened her mouth like she was going to say something to the contrary, but he shook his head. “No need to hide your feelings. You were quite gobsmacked when Master West made his announcement.”

She pressed her lips together and with that small move, he caught just a glimpse of the feisty submissive he’d heard she was before the Peter incident.

He leaned forward. “The simple truth is, I require a great deal from my sexual partners, and you’re not prepared to meet those demands. That’s the main reason I was selected for you. Since I know your body is off limits, I’ll take my time getting your mind prepared to submit again.”

Her jaw dropped. “What?”

“What’s the body’s most important sex organ?” he asked.

“The mind,” Sasha said.

“Right. And we hear it so frequently, the answer is often given without thought.” He watched her fingers inch forward on the table slightly. She pulled them back and repeated the motion several times until Julie stopped her with a hand. He continued, “So let’s take a moment to think about it. Sex starts in the mind. Submission starts in the mind. As a Dominant, I have to earn my place in your mind before I can earn the right to take you physically. Am I making sense?”

Her voice was calm when she replied, “Fuck the mind before you fuck the body?”

He held her gaze for a long moment until she lowered hers. “Yes, precisely. Which is why I won’t be fucking your body. Just your mind, Sasha.”

She let out her breath in a half swallowed sigh and looked at the table. “I understand, Sir.”

He bit back his laugh. She might understand, but she wasn’t happy about it. “Any questions?”

Sasha shook her head.

“No, Sir,” Julie said. “Thank you for explaining.”

Daniel walked into the kitchen and stood in the shadows behind Julie.

“When I work with a new submissive,” Cole said, “I want to weave myself into her thoughts so that each movement she makes is made with me in mind. I want her to feel my presence when we’re apart as strongly as she does when we’re together. I’ll do it slowly, Sasha.” He allowed his gaze to wander over her body. She was a striking woman. “So methodically, you won’t notice. And no, I won’t fuck your body, but I believe you’ll find our mental play nearly as intimate, if not more so, than physical play.”

As he’d spoken, she’d leaned slightly toward him, lips parting. He resisted moving closer to her. Yes, he thought, this one would test his own control.

He turned to the other woman sitting at the table. “Julie, what was it you noticed first about Daniel?”

“His eyes.”

“Why his eyes?”

“They were so blue and deep and intense.” She shivered. “It was almost as if he knew me, though we’d never met.”

“And when you’re in the middle of a scene, why would he have you meet his gaze?”

“To ground me. Refocus my attention on him. But it’s more than that. It’s like he’s speaking to something deep within me.”

Cole kept his voice low and even, drawing out Julie’s replies without difficulty. “And when he has to correct you and you look into his eyes, what do you see?”

“Guilt. Remorse. He’ll look so sad.” She blinked away a few tears. “I don’t want him sad. I want him happy and—”

“That’s enough, Cole,” Daniel interrupted, walking to the table. He stood behind Julie, his hands rubbing her shoulders. “I said you could talk, not play your mind games.”

“You know I wouldn’t—”

“Your fifteen minutes are up. You two take as long as you need.” He pulled the chair back and lifted Julie into his arms. “Let’s go upstairs, kitten.”

She wrapped her arms around him. “I’m sorry, it just made me remember . . .”

“It’s okay.” Whatever else he said was too low for Cole make out.

Sasha’s shoulders curled when Julie left with Daniel, almost as if she was protecting herself. Cole didn’t like the implication she was afraid to be alone with him. But maybe it had been the implication something had happened recently between Julie and Daniel.

Whatever it was, he wanted to see the fire return to Sasha. It was buried somewhere deep inside her and he needed to entice it back where it belonged.

He was confident that with enough time and patience, he could restore her submissive spirit. Maybe not the same as she was before, but possibly stronger and more knowledgeable. And he was honest enough to admit he’d really like to see her sassy and sharp attitude back. He loved playing with a sub who had spunk.

“Sasha,” he said. She looked up from her lap and her eyes held such a cacophony of emotions—longing, regret, hope, trepidation, and anticipation—he wanted nothing more than to whisper encouragement until she believed him. In a way, he realized, this retraining was almost like an extended aftercare session.

His typical preference for aftercare involved hugging his submissive close with her head on his chest. He hadn’t been dishonest when he told Sasha he expected much from his sexual partners. After such intense play, he’d found he needed that time as much as his sub did. Time to simply wrap his arms around the woman who’d trusted him with her submission. This, however, was the first time he felt the urge to hold someone before they did anything.

He would have to be careful with Sasha. Slowly earn her trust. Keep his hands to himself and limit anything physical. For the moment, though, he needed to know if she was in the right frame of mind to talk more or if he needed to see her home. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

She shrugged and turned her focus back down at her lap. “Fine, Sir.”

Hell to the fucking no. He wasn’t going to put up with that. “Eyes on me until I tell you otherwise.” He leaned forward. Whether she was in the right frame of mind for a discussion or not, there were things she needed to understand about how their time would go. “The most important rule I have, the one that is not negotiable, the one that if you can’t agree to, we will end this now, is that there must always be complete honesty between us. I play too intensely for anything less. Think about my requirement and whether you can meet it. If you think you can, give me a verbal response and properly answer the question I asked.”

Something flashed in her eyes. If he hadn’t been watching her so intently, he might have missed it. But it was there for the briefest of seconds. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it was longing.

You’re going to have to watch yourself around this one.

A needy submissive, longing to serve. A wounded soul, needing protection. She pushed damn near every button he had. After Kate’s rejection after all those years together, something deep inside had broken. And how much more did Sasha need healing after being physically injured in a scene? Perhaps in helping Sasha to heal, he could heal himself.

“I agree with your requirement, Sir,” she said so softly he could barely hear.

And that wouldn’t do. He wondered why sometimes she was forceful and others she was almost mousey. “Say it again with authority. Own the words you speak. Language is too important to waste with a murmur.”

Her eyes flashed, and when she spoke again, there was no doubt she meant it. “I agree with your requirement, Sir.”

“Much better, little one. You make me think there’s a hellcat buried under that mousey exterior after all.”

“I am not mousey, Sir.”

He cocked an eyebrow and hid his grin. “Good, because mousey submissives have no business kneeling before me. I only dominate women strong enough to know their own minds, those who respect their bodies enough to yield control to a Dominant willing to take it. And make no mistake; what I take, I take completely.”

She trembled at his words.

“I’m not feeling fine, Sir,” she said in a rush.

He held her gaze for several seconds, making sure she knew how accurately he’d read her. “I didn’t think you were. As a result, the word ‘fine’ has been banished from your vocabulary. You’re not to say it, write it, or think it. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

He nodded. “Let’s try again. How are you feeling?”

She didn’t glance at her lap like the first time. Instead, she kept her eyes on him. “I’m tired, and that disappoints me because I know we need to discuss things.”

“It would be more of a problem if we tried to discuss or negotiate anything whilst you were spent. There are enough problems in life without knowingly inviting more, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, Sir.”

This time he let his grin show. “So compliant, little one. It makes me curious as to how you will act when you don’t agree with me.” Conflicting emotions crossed her face. “We’ll worry about it then. For now, we need to get you home. If you’re free tomorrow afternoon, we can meet at the coffee shop down from your place for a discussion.”

“Thank you, Sir.” She moved to push back her chair, but he held out a hand to still her.

“One more thing. Since I’ve agreed to retrain you, as of tonight you are under my protection. I hold that responsibility in the highest of regards.” He waited until her eyes glistened with understanding before adding, “Be it ever so temporary, until further notice, you are mine.”

Chapter Two

When the clock beside her bed read four o’clock in the morning, Sasha gave up all pretense of sleeping. She hated insomnia. She’d experienced it frequently following the incident with Peter, but until today it’d been months since she been unable to sleep all night.

Pulling on the robe she kept at the foot of her bed, she padded into the kitchen to make coffee. It didn’t take much thought to figure out why she couldn’t sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Cole Johnson. Her mind wouldn’t stop spinning as she tried to make sense of the fact that he was going to be the one who would retrain her.

Why? That was her first question. Why Cole when there were several other Dominants within the group who could do it? Why did Cole agree to the arrangement when he could have any submissive he wanted? Why decide to retrain a submissive so messed up he couldn’t even have sex with her?

She hadn’t had sex in over nine months, not since Peter. Sometimes she wondered if she’d ever enjoy sex again. Her sexuality was so deeply entwined with her need to submit, it didn’t seem possible to have one without the other. She feared she’d never be at the place where she could completely give herself to a Dominant. Cole certainly had his work cut out for him.

She leaned against the counter while the coffeepot gurgled and sputtered. She wished it were a weekday. If it were, Julie would be arriving at their floral shop downstairs in a few hours and they could talk. But it was Sunday and Julie lived with Daniel now. She was collared, bound to him. Sasha no longer felt comfortable dropping by unannounced like she’d done in the past.

“Doesn’t really matter,” she said to the empty kitchen. “It’s not like you would call her at four in the morning anyway.”

She poured a cup of coffee and walked over to a window overlooking the historic district. What were the odds Cole was up and looking out his window right now? Was he a light sleeper? Did he hog the covers?

With a shake of her head, she forced herself to stop. He was the Dominant selected to retrain her, and they had no relationship beyond that. She would never know which side of the bed he preferred or if he was a grouch before he had coffee.

Suddenly, she felt very alone.

Everyone else in the group was pairing up lately. Julie had Daniel. Dena had Jeff. And Abby and Nathaniel had been married forever.

As if hearing her thoughts, Pip, the stray kitten, meowed softly and butted her head against her ankles. Sasha reached down and picked her up.

“Thank goodness I’m not totally alone. I have you.”

Pip started to purr and Sasha buried her face in the soft white fur. Doing so reminded her of the day Cole and Nathaniel rescued her. Cole didn’t quite know how to handle the newly-freed-from-certain-death kitten, especially when the poor animal struggled to get away. But when Sasha had taken her from him, Cole had looked at her strangely. She wasn’t sure what it was, maybe surprise? But there was something else she couldn’t put her finger on.

She took a long sip of coffee. Was Cole a dog person? No, probably not. He traveled too much. Jesus. She tried not to think about him, but the questions just kept coming. Would he be staying in Delaware long? How long would he need to retrain her?

She knew he and his previous submissive, who’d also been his long-term girlfriend. had broken up months ago. She’d never heard exactly what had happened between the two of them. She’d picked up bits and pieces about Cole and Kate from listening to other group members. She knew they had been together for eight years before they split and that Kate had left him.

Maybe Julie would know more, since Daniel and Cole were such close friends. And Dena had been in the group for a long time. It wouldn’t hurt to ask her a few questions. But it would probably be best to talk to Abby. After all, Abby was the one Sasha had sat down with first to discuss coming back to the group, after she’d given Nathaniel her paperwork.

Sasha liked Abby. She was easygoing and fun to be around. More so than her husband. Nathaniel was too quiet and intense for Sasha’s taste.

But, she pondered, how much did she really want to know about Kate? What would a woman be like who dated a man such as Cole for so long? Not just date, but live with. She tried to imagine what it would be like to live with him: sharing a bathroom and fighting over the toothpaste, sitting on a couch watching a movie, and curling up in bed after a long day.

It all seemed too domestic for how she pictured him.

She sat Pip down, poured herself another cup of coffee, and made her way into the living room couch where she’d left her knitting. After the incident with Peter, she’d discovered knitting kept her mind calm. The meeting with Cole looming before her this afternoon, some time with her knitting needles was just what she needed.

Currently, she was working on baby blankets for the local hospital. On her most recent trip to the craft store, she’d found the softest yarn. It’d been on sale and she’d bought every bit they had. Already she had two blankets completed. Putting her coffee aside, she got comfortable and started on the third.

She was almost late meeting him. He sent a text midmorning asking if two o’clock would be good for their coffee shop discussion. She’d replied back that would work and went to take a shower, only to discover she had no hot water. She found the problem and fixed it, then walked into the living room to be greeted by yarn pulled all over the floor. She cursed Pip under her breath, but knew she could only blame herself. She’d been so frazzled by Cole’s phone call, she hadn’t put her knitting away. By the time she cleaned the mess up, she was running short on time.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as the coffee shop’s door closed behind her. Someone had just baked a fresh batch of croissants. The warm yeasty smell greeted her and her stomach rumbled. With everything going on with the water heater and the yarn mess, she hadn’t had time to eat lunch.

Food would have to wait a little bit longer, though. She glanced around the shop and startled slightly when she found Cole watching her intently from a secluded booth in the far corner. He lifted an eyebrow when their eyes met. She gave what she hoped was a convincing smile and made her way toward him.

“Sasha,” he said, standing with a smile and waving her into the booth. “How are you today?”

She slid into the booth across from him. “I’m fi—” she started, but then stopped, remembering his words from the previous night. “If you must know, Sir, I didn’t sleep well last night. My water heater went out and I had to fix it so I could take a shower. Then I walked into the living room and Pip had dragged my yarn all over the floor. I didn’t have a chance to eat lunch because I ran out of time. I’m tired and hungry, and more than a little apprehensive about the discussion we’re about to have.”

He gave her an easy smile. “See? Look at everything I would have missed out on hearing about had I not stripped that horrid word from your vocabulary yesterday.”

Because she pictured him as a stern Dominant, the jovial, easygoing side of his everyday personality caught her off guard. “I’ve never thought of it as a horrid word, but I do see your point, Sir.”

He leaned forward. “Because of the discussion we’re having today, I’m going to ask that you call me ‘Cole.’ We’ll save ‘Sir’ for when we’re more formal.”

She nodded. He wasn’t pleased she’d called him “Sir,” but something about the order he gave her started a fire deep in her belly. Something she hadn’t experienced in a very long time. God, she’d missed this so much.

“Also,” he continued, “I’m normally not overly strict about diet, but you’re much too thin to be skipping meals. I’m going to get you a sandwich and, whilst I’m gone, I’d like for you to think about your goals in being retrained.”

It wouldn’t take much time for her sandwich to be prepared. In fact, he was gone mere minutes before reappearing with the ham and cheese she requested. But even though he’d told her to be thinking about her goals, he didn’t question her about them right away.

She took a bite of the sandwich and hummed in bliss. It was so good. She gulped down two more bites.

“Slowly,” he said, and his voice dropped an octave, taking on a slow and seductive quality. “Take your time. People have a tendency to rush through meals. Enjoy it. Savor every bite. The croissant has just come from the oven and the cheese is a sharp cheddar. I’ve lived in enough remote areas that I’ve learned to appreciate the joy of fresh food. Allow yourself time to simply enjoy your sense of taste.”

Lord help her, he was talking about a sandwich. But more than that, he was giving her orders about eating a sandwich. She would have thought that would turn her off, but instead it further stoked the fire in her belly.

“Now,” he said, looking pleased with himself and amused once again. God, he was smug. “I’m not sure what you’ve heard about me, but judging by your expression last night, I’m guessing the rumor is I break submissives and eat them for breakfast?”

“And pick your teeth with their bones,” she said after swallowing a bite, in as much of a deadpan voice as she could manage.

“Right.” His left eyebrow quirked up. “But never more than two before lunch.”

“Of course not. That would be uncouth.”

He laughed. “Uncouth, hmm? I believe, Sasha, that you and I are going to get along famously.”

For just a second she wanted to pretend he wasn’t just the Dom who was retraining her. That his words meant more than what he intended. But she knew she couldn’t, she needed to remember at all times this was not a permanent relationship or one that involved feelings.

“Speaking of which, I thought we should start things out slowly.” He leaned back and she was struck by how his every movement seemed methodical, intentional. It wasn’t just his voice that drew her in, it was everything about him.

She hadn’t expected someone with his reputation to do anything slow. It made her apprehension ease a bit. “Slow would be good.”

“I think we should start out by meeting twice a week. And we’ll be in touch some way every day.” He watched her as if she was the most important thing in the world. He cataloged her reactions, studied her responses. With anyone else, she would have felt self-conscious, but under his scrutiny, she felt protected.

“Isn’t that a lot?” she asked. “Every day?”

“Not if I plan to get inside that mind of yours.” He said it with a smile, but his tone was serious.

“Okay.” She nodded. “You’re still staying at Daniel’s?”

“For now. I’m actually in the market for a new place.”

“In Wilmington?”

“Yes, I like this area and the people. It’s one of the perks of my job. I can work remotely from anywhere.”

She could only nod, momentarily dazed by the news that he’d be staying in Wilmington for good. Knowing he’d be leaving after her retraining would have helped drive home the fact they weren’t in a relationship.

“You wouldn’t happen to know any estate agents. Realtors, would you?” he asked.

“I know people from all professions. One of the perks of my job.”

He smiled.

“Let me look over some names,” she said. “I’ll give you a few next time we talk.”

“Thank you.”

A waitress came to check on them. Cole assured her they had everything they needed. He looked so normal, so everyday. So very far removed from how she heard he acted in the playroom.

“Will we meet at Daniel’s guesthouse?” she asked when the woman walked away.

“I think so. Would you have a problem with that?”

“No, I’m over that way a lot anyway.” She waited to see if he would say anything about seeing her there. Since he lived at the guesthouse, it was possible he’d noticed her at Daniel’s before. But he just inclined his head slightly.

She remembered the one time she’d run into him at Daniel’s. She’d been helping Julie with some planting and suddenly he was standing over them. Her heart had jumped to her chest until she took note of the beautiful woman at his side. The woman he later did a violet-wand demo on. She bet he was some kind of wonderful with that tool.

“I’d like to leave our time together open-ended,” he said. “Until we get into it, I won’t have an idea of how long we’ll potentially need.”

“That makes sense.”

“We’ll discuss it along the way, agree on the timing together.”

“Of course.”

He reached to his side and picked something up. When he placed it on the table, she saw it was a journal.

“I’m a writer,” he said. “As such, I place a lot of weight on the written word. I want you to spend time putting your thoughts down on paper. Every day. I’ll read over it, but whatever and however you decide to write is up to you, although sometimes I’ll give you specific assignments. I expect those writings to be both insightful and grammatically correct.”

She brushed her fingers over the clothbound book with a frown. Writing was not her favorite thing to do, and she’d always struggled with grammar. “You mean you’ll grade it?”

“Something like that.” His voice somehow held both humor and warning at the same time. “You don’t appear to like the idea of writing. Give it some time before forming an opinion. Many people find writing to be therapeutic. Have you ever written about your BDSM journey?”

Her frown deepened. Her therapist had suggested writing, but she’d never gotten around to actually doing it. Now it looked as if she no longer had a choice. “No,” she answered with a sigh. “Never.”

“Then you may find out you enjoy it.”

Abby journaled, she remembered. Did it so well and for so long, she was actually making it a career now. That would never happen with her.

She shook her head. “I have a feeling it’ll only confirm I don’t like it.” Especially if he was going to grade it. What would he do, break out a red pen? Make her stand in the corner if she made a bad grade? Spank her?

Spank her. Oh . . .

The thought of Cole pushing her over his knee for a spanking made her face feel hot. Her breathing sped up, and a dull ache began to throb between her legs. She shifted in her seat to try and alleviate it.

“Well, now.” He sat across from her, eyes fixed on what she was doing. “That must have been a very interesting thought you had. What was it, Sasha?”

She didn’t want to tell him. Didn’t want to let him know how much the thought of him spanking her turned her on.

She leaned forward over the table. “I could say it’s nothing, but if I do, I’m sure you’ll see right through me and potentially strip the word ‘nothing’ from my vocabulary as well. Will you let me just say it was an embarrassing personal revelation I’d rather not share at the moment?”

His forehead wrinkled while he considered her request, and her hands grew sweaty at the thought that he might ask her to share anyway. But right when she’d accepted that she would have to swallow her pride and admit how much the thought of him spanking her turned her on, his expression relaxed.

“Yes, we can leave it at that. I recognize I haven’t earned your trust yet. You may keep your secrets. For now.”

She shuddered. His for now left her with no ambiguity: there would come a time when he would ask for her secrets. She only hoped that when that day came, she was ready to give them.

 

Cole watched as the meaning of his words became clear to Sasha and he hid a smile at her reaction. He could tell she would be a complex puzzle to solve. There was little evidence of the timid submissive he witnessed last night, probably due to her lack of sleep and the informal protocol he insisted on at the start of their discussion. He liked the fact she seemed slightly more at ease with him and hoped it continued even when she had a full night’s sleep.

“I’ll allow you that concession,” he said. “But there are a few things I will be less than inclined to compromise on.”

“I’m willing to take those things under consideration,” she said in a tone that left him with no doubt that submissive or not, Sasha knew a thing or two about negotiation. That knowledge pleased him. He meant what he said when he told her a woman had to be strong to submit to him.

He wondered, not for the first time, what had been going through her mind that eventful night with Peter. Secrets. He would have hers eventually.

He took the sheet of paper on top of the pile to his right and passed it across the table to her. “My preferences.”

“You wrote them down?” she asked, looking over the list.

“I find there’s less confusion if everything is clearly spelled out.”

“Were you a lawyer in a previous life?”

He laughed. “No, I’ve probably always been a writer.” Before she could read the entire list, he wanted to talk through it. “To begin with, I don’t want you to orgasm without my permission.”

The paper slipped to the table. “I can’t . . . you don’t want . . . I’m sorry, what?”

“I believe it’s a common requirement.”

“Yes, but last night you said you weren’t . . . that we . . .”

“Right,” he dropped his voice. “I said I wasn’t going to fuck you. However, I never said I wouldn’t reward you appropriately.”

Her cheeks turned the faintest shade of pink, and she replied with a soft, “Oh.”

“Likewise, I never said I wouldn’t punish you when necessary. There’s more information later in the document.” He picked the paper up and handed it to her. “Item two.”

She quickly scanned the section in question.

“You were injured physically in a scene,” he said. “Coming to terms with that, learning to deal with it, takes time and trust in your partner. During our time together, I will never touch you without telling you beforehand, and I’ll tell you where I’ll touch you.”

Her forehead wrinkled as she thought through his words. Quite possibly she understood why he would put something like that in place, but was unsure about how it would work.

He held out his hand. “Place your hand in mine, little one.”

Tentatively, she reached across the table and put her hand on top of his.

“Palm up, please.”

She hesitated briefly. Putting her hand palm up made her feel more vulnerable; that’s why he had her do it. Her fingers trembled as she flipped her hand over.

“Thank you.” He was humbled with the small measure of trust her action showed. “I’m going to trace your palm with a finger from my other hand.”

He kept his gaze locked on hers as he brought his other hand to the top of the table. Ever so slowly, he dragged a finger across the base of her thumb. She sucked in a breath and looked over his shoulder to the wall behind him. He was pleased his touch affected her so.

His finger swept the other way. “I need you to understand I will always do what I say I’ll do, but nothing more.”

She nodded.

“What’s your safe word, Sasha?”

She had no trouble finding her tongue when it came to safe words. “Green for more. Yellow to slow down. Red to stop.”

“Good, nice and easy.” His finger continued stroking her palm. “During your retraining, I will never take away your ability to speak. I know Nathaniel had you fill out a checklist recently, but I’m going to have you complete another one. You should know: even if you don’t mark gags as a hard limit, they aren’t something I’m going to use on you.” He smiled. “Consider it one of my hard limits.”

Her head snapped back so she could look at him. Interesting. So she was surprised at that particular hard limit. He wondered why it came as a surprise to her that he wouldn’t use a gag. Frankly, he wasn’t sure if she’d ever be at the point to where she’d be comfortable playing with gags again.

He hoped his honesty in both how and when he would touch her as well as his insistence on not using gags would be a step closer toward gaining her trust. He wanted her to understand that though he might have a reputation as a bastard in the playroom, he wasn’t heartless.

“Thank you,” she finally whispered to him.

“A Dominant must have hard limits just like a submissive does. I’m not comfortable using a gag on you. What if you panicked, became so scared you forgot your safe signal? Putting a gag on you would serve no purpose and has the potential to harm you further. I won’t do it.”

She nodded, glanced to the table, and took a deep breath. He waited. He could tell she was struggling with whatever was going on inside her head.

But he was pleased she didn’t whisper when she finally spoke, “I know you said you’d have me fill out a checklist, but there’s one thing I feel I should bring up now.”

“Of course.”

He still held her left hand, but she clenched her right one into a fist. “No matter what we do, my shirt stays on. I don’t want to be topless.”

He continued drawing circles on her palm while thinking over what she’d requested. She felt strongly about keeping her shirt on, and it was difficult for her to bring it up. He tried not to envision the scars that would likely be on her back. He needed to tread carefully. “An odd request. One that will limit breast play, an activity I happen to enjoy.”

“I enjoy it, too. My need to keep a shirt on has nothing to do with my breasts.”

“Oh?”

“No.” She squirmed slightly in her seat. “It’s about my back. After Peter, I can’t—it’s not—I don’t go topless. Ever.”

She held his gaze while she spoke, as if wanting him to see how serious she was. He had a feeling this wasn’t a point she was willing to negotiate.

“I see,” he finally said. “Very well, your shirt will remain on at all times. It will be up to you to let me know if you ever change your mind.”

She sighed in relief. “Thank you.”

“I can tell it’s a matter of importance to you.” He looked down to where her hand now had a death grip on the finger that had been stroking her palm. “Otherwise, there would be blood flowing to my left fingers.”

“Oh,” she gasped and released her hold on him. “Sorry.”

He shook his head. “That admission wasn’t easy for you. I’m pleased you trusted me enough to share.” Begrudgingly, he let go of her hand. “Which leads me to the next item. I’ve arranged for you to meet with Abby West once a week. I think you’ll find it beneficial to talk with her.”

She nodded. “I like Abby.”

“She’s a very experienced submissive and she’s been working with Nathaniel on improving the group dynamics.”

“Do I need to call her and set up a date and time?”

“Yes, I’ve given her a head’s up that you’ll be calling. If at all possible, I’d like for you to set something up for this week.”

Sasha nodded. “I can do that.”

“You went with Abby and Nathaniel to the last play party.”

She shifted just a bit at his statement, and he smiled inwardly. He hadn’t imagined it then. Not only had she attended her first play party after Peter with Nathaniel and Abby, she’d watched a demo he’d lead with a casual play partner. He’d demonstrated how to use a violet wand, and midway through looked up to find Sasha watching with such an intensity that it had thrown him off-guard. Right now, he desperately wanted to question her further, but he knew it would go better for both of them if he waited until she trusted him more.

He stood up. “Let’s take a break. I’ll go get something sweet and when we finish, we’ll go over more details.”

Instead of going to the guesthouse when he arrived back at Daniel’s, he parked his motorcycle and made his way to the front door of the main house. He wanted to talk to his friend about Sasha. Though he had a house key, he rarely felt comfortable using it. Especially since Julie had moved in.

But when no one answered the doorbell, he let himself in.

“Daniel?” he called, peeking into the kitchen. Both of their cars had been outside. “Julie?”

The house appeared empty. He waited for a few minutes and had just walked to the back entrance to leave when a door downstairs opened and soft voices floated upward.

Ah, the playroom.

He made his way to the top of the stairs leading down to the playroom and, sure enough, Daniel and Julie were holding hands, walking up to the main level. Julie had a robe on.

“Am I interrupting?” Cole asked, crossing his arms.

Julie yelped and stumbled.

“Jesus. Fuck,” Daniel cursed, throwing his arms around his frightened sub to keep her from falling. “A bit of a warning next time, Cole?”

Cole was already halfway down the stairs. “Pardon, I didn’t mean to scare the wits out of you. Are you all right, Julie?”

“A little shaky.” She peeked out of the shelter of Daniel’s embrace. “No worries.”

Daniel kissed her cheek and they all walked up the stairs. Julie still had the faint glow of a thoroughly satisfied submissive about her, and Cole started to doubt his decision to swing by. He had obviously walked in at the end of a scene and, though it had been a while since he’d observed Daniel play, he didn’t get the feeling his friend had finished aftercare yet.

Cole waited in the kitchen while Daniel walked with Julie into the living room. From his seat at the bar, Cole watched as he sat her on the couch and then turned to him.

“Come in here with us,” Daniel called, sitting down and pulling Julie into his arms.

He should leave. Daniel wasn’t ready to leave Julie alone, and Cole wasn’t going to talk about Sasha in front of her. He walked into the living room and stood by the couch. “I’ll come back later. I have a few things I want to discuss with you, and this isn’t a good time.”

Daniel nodded. “I can stop by later this evening.”

“I’ll be there. Probably going for a run now.” Running always helped clear his mind. He had a feeling he would be doing a lot of running for the foreseeable future.

“Give me about an hour,” Daniel said. “I’ll—” he started, but was interrupted by the doorbell. “Hell, what is this, Grand Central Station?”

“Let me get it.” Cole crossed the floor. “I’ll send whoever it is away, and then I’ll show myself out.”

He opened the door, prepared to tell whoever it was that no one was interested, but the words died on his tongue as two surprised green eyes looked up at him.

“Sasha?”

Did she come by to see him? No, not likely with her eyes as wide as saucers. Apparently she was just as shocked to see him.

“I . . . I came by to see Julie.”

Of course. If she’d been looking for him, she’d have gone to the guesthouse. He hardened his expression, not wanting her to see any emotion.

“Right.” He stepped aside to let her in. “She’s in the living room with Daniel. They just left the playroom.”

She paled, and sweat beaded on her forehead. “Oh. Then maybe . . . maybe I should come back later. I’ll just . . .” She turned back around and ran into his chest.

Instinctively, his hands shot out to steady her. Her arms shook and her lip trembled. He dropped his hands. “Sasha? Are you okay?”

“Yes, Sir,” she whispered.

“Look at me.” He waited until she lifted her head. “What just happened?” When she hesitated, he added, “Sasha, I can help you, but you have to be honest with me. It was my nonnegotiable condition.”

“I’m sorry, Sir.” She swallowed in deep breaths. “I just need a minute. Can I sit down?”

“Come in here,” he said, leading her into the living room. He wasn’t sure what the hell happened in the foyer, but he would get to the bottom of it.

“Hey, Sasha.” Daniel looked up from where he was whispering to Julie. “Give me a bit longer, and she’s all yours.” He glanced over at Cole, then back to Sasha. “Assuming you did come by to see Julie?”

Sasha nodded and sank into the nearest chair.

“You look a bit pale. Are you okay?” Daniel asked. “Cole?”

“We haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet.” Cole didn’t want to discuss anything with Daniel without talking to Sasha first.

Julie studied Sasha with a weary expression on her face. “Sasha, did something happen?”

Her tone was polite and friendly, but Cole could read between the lines. She was asking if something had happened between him and Sasha. Her concern was lovely, the mark of true friendship, but he didn’t care for the insinuation he would harm Sasha.

“I’d planned to discuss this with you privately,” Cole said, addressing Sasha. “Unfortunately, by bringing you into the living room, I’ve managed to worry everyone. So we’ll have to do this now.”

Sasha seemed to curl into herself. He wondered if he should have had the discussion privately, after all. Maybe she didn’t feel more comfortable with her friends.

“You had what appeared to be a mild panic attack when I mentioned Daniel and Julie had been in the playroom. What happened?” Stay with me, little one, let me help.

Her spine straightened in resolve, but he had a feeling it was all for show. “I’m sorry if I worried anyone. Sometimes I have these little episodes. I never know what’s going to bring one on.”

“I remember you mentioning them when we talked about you rejoining the group,” Daniel said.

Julie cocked her head. “But you said they were rare. I didn’t know you were still having them.”

“Probably due to lack of sleep and everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours,” Sasha said.

Silence filled the room. Cole Johnson, the stillness seemed to whisper. He’s what’s happened in the last twenty four hours.

“Maybe you need more time,” Daniel said. “We may have jumped into the retraining too quickly.”

“It’s okay if you want to wait, right, Daniel? There’s no rush.” Julie looked expectantly at her Dom.

What the fuck was she doing asking Daniel?

Sasha seemed to sink further into the seat and in that moment, Cole knew he would have to change his approach. He cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, Master Covington,” he said. “But I believe everything pertaining to Sasha and her retraining was placed under my oversight.”

“Yes, but—” Daniel started.

Cole held up his hand. “You’ve known me long enough to know I don’t take kindly to anyone second-guessing me. Now, I’m very aware everyone is concerned with Sasha’s well-being, but the group has entrusted me with her care. As such, unless Sasha says differently, I will be the one to decide how and when she is retrained.”

“My apologies,” Daniel said. “You’re correct.”

“Sasha, do you still wish for me to dictate the terms of your retraining?” Cole asked.

Her reply was immediate. She looked . . . pleased with the way he stood up for what he wanted. “Yes, Sir.”

“I would like for everyone in this room to acknowledge the meaning of Sasha’s acquiescence. There will be no more discussion of this.” He met Daniel’s eyes first then Julie’s. At their nod, he turned to Sasha. “There’s been a change to your schedule. I’ll be in the guesthouse sitting room in ten minutes. You’ll be waiting for me there, fully clothed, and on your knees.”

Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit.

The two words repeated themselves in Sasha’s head, drowning out all other thoughts. Realistically, she knew there was nothing to be worried about. Cole had asked her to fill out a new checklist, and she had fully intended to note the rare panic attacks she experienced. And though he had told her to kneel and wait for him, she knew they weren’t going to do a scene.

However, all that knowledge paled in comparison to Cole’s calmly spoken, but don’t-even-think-about-doing-differently command. Especially when it was delivered in that smooth-as-silk accent of his. She didn’t know if her body was closer to panic over kneeling for someone or melting into a puddle of goo over him issuing the command.

She let herself into the guesthouse. Since Daniel’s place was a popular location for both group meetings and play parties, she’d been in the house numerous times before. She didn’t bother to look around to see what changes, if any, Cole had made, but went straight to the sitting room and knelt on the rug.

She’d hoped that somehow her body would calm down once she made it to her knees. But it wasn’t to be. Her arms shook even after she placed her hands, palms facing up, on top of her knees. He had discussed positions earlier in the day at the coffee shop. She’d run through them in her head while driving with the hope that in doing so, she wouldn’t succumb to an episode.

She was close, she felt it threatening to take over. The old terror and the new uncertainty were too much. Too much and she’d been wrong, wrong, wrong to come back.

“Sasha.”

His voice was calm and gentle. She wanted to cling to it and never let go.

“Close your eyes and focus on my voice.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and pictured his voice as a bright light in the darkness.

“Inhale deeply. Then exhale and let all the fear go. No one will hurt you whilst I’m here.”

She took a deep breath, concentrating on the rush of air in and out of her body. The terror’s grip lessened.

“That’s it. Good job. Another one. Just the same.”

She inhaled again. She was safe. Exhaled. Safe.

“Again.”

Safe.

Her heart rate slowed. The terror disappeared.

“Again.”

Calm.

“There we go, little one. If you think you’re able, stay in that position.”

“I can stay here, Sir.”

He gave a soft hum of acknowledgment. “Take as much time as you need, and walk me through what happened when you knocked on the door and I answered.”

When she took another breath, she smelled his aftershave and knew he’d moved closer. He smelled the way she imagined midnight would: sexy and secret and sinful.

One more deep breath and she was ready. “I came to talk to Julie. I knew I should probably go home and take a nap, but I didn’t feel tired. I needed to talk to Julie.”

“What were you going to talk to Julie about?”

Her hesitation lasted only a second. “You.”

“I’m going to touch your shoulders and rub your back.” Two hands gently clasped her shoulders. His thumbs massaged the nape of her neck. The action was both soothing and sensual at the same time. His sure hands soon had her sighing in pleasure.

“Do I scare you?” he asked.

She thought for a minute. “No. I don’t think that’s it. It’s only that I haven’t figured you out yet. It keeps me off balance.”

His thumbs stopped their massage. “Might I suggest you grow accustomed to being off balance when it comes to me?”

She didn’t know how to reply to that so she remained silent.

His thumbs moved once more. “Is it correct, therefore, to assume I wasn’t the trigger today?”

“I don’t think it was you, Sir.”

“You said you came to speak with Julie, I let you in and mentioned she had just left the playroom with Daniel. It happened soon after that.”

The whip cracked in the air and made contact with flesh. She was so cold. Her body shook.

“Sasha.” His smooth voice banished the memory. “Stay here with me, little one. Tell me what happened.”

Whenever he called her “little one” she felt warm and protected. “I remember.”

“What do you remember?”

“Daniel and the playroom. I think that was it.”

He was silent for a moment, yet his hands never stopped moving. Somehow his touch grounded her, kept her steady and safe.

“It was Daniel?”

“No, Sir.” She paused, just for a second, and then continued. “I was thinking about being in a playroom with you, though.”

“I see. So playrooms seem to be a potential trigger.”

“I don’t know, Sir. Maybe. I’m not feeling panicked right now.”

“I don’t know, either, but it’s something we’ll work on.” He continued rubbing her upper back and she allowed herself to sink into his touch, relaxing in a way she rarely permitted herself to.

When he’d told her he wasn’t going to fuck her, she’d hoped to feel nothing when he touched her. It would be easier to keep the lines clear that way. But now that she had experienced how his hands felt on her body, she knew she’d want to feel them again.

Stupid. He’s just being nice because you panicked. Don’t get used to it.

“You’re tensing up again,” he chided. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop.”

After a few deep breaths, she once more felt relaxed and loose—and mildly surprised it was so easy to obey him.

“There we go,” he said softly, and his hands became gentler. “Just so you’re aware, I think you’re an incredibly brave woman and I’m honored to be the one chosen to help you through this.”

Her knees went a little weak. His voice was suddenly so soft, so smooth, and he was so different from how she’d pictured. It wasn’t at all how she’d imagined. And he thought she was brave. The thought made her stomach flip flop. After what seemed forever of feeling so weak, so damaged, so damn afraid, someone saw her as brave. Maybe she could reclaim part of her former self again and he would be the one to guide her.

“When was your last attack?”

“Two months ago, I believe, Sir.”

He extended the massage to cover her entire back, further soothing her with both words and touch. “Do you know what caused that one?”

“Peter called me.”

His hands stopped for a brief minute. “I didn’t know he had contacted you.”

“I don’t like to talk about him,” she said. “He called to apologize. Said it was part of his mentorship.”

He exhaled heavily. “Peter won’t be calling you again.”

Her eyes grew teary. This protective side of him was an enduring surprise. “Thank you, Sir.”

“Thank me when I show you mercy or when I allow you to climax. There’s no need to thank me for protecting or looking after your well-being. That’s just who I am.”

Once again his words warmed her. She thought she had him figured out, but she was starting to see there was so much more to his character.

“Are there any words, places, or actions aside from what we’ve talked about that have triggered an attack?”

“Not within the last few months. After—” she swallowed. She could do this. “After it happened, they occurred frequently. I remember the first group meeting I went to . . .”

“Take your time.” His voice was soft. Patient. Odd, she thought, since there really wasn’t anything soft about him.

“Julie didn’t think I should go. We argued. I thought it would be okay since Dena was giving a talk about legal issues. I had a bad attack in the middle of her discussion. I didn’t tell anyone. I left after it was over and went to Julie’s.”

She could picture the way everyone had looked at her, the sideways glances, eyes darting away once she caught them. Even when people approached her to talk, they’d only ask how the shop was doing and once she replied with “fine” the conversation died.

“If you experience another one,” he said, his voice no longer soft, “you will contact me immediately. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night or I’m out of town or you’re working. Understand?”

Once again he made her feel protected. “Yes, Sir.”

“How are you feeling now?”

“Much better, Sir.” She found the words came naturally. It never crossed her mind to say “fine.” “I’m calm and relaxed. I don’t feel panicky at all.”

“Stand up, little one. Be careful; you’ve been kneeling for quite some time.”

She opened her eyes and moved gingerly to her feet, slightly disappointed he was no longer massaging her back. Even so, he kept a hand on her shoulder to steady her as she stood. The afternoon shadows were growing long in the room, and she wondered exactly how much time had passed. Though she didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before, she felt rested.

Cole turned her to face him and then dropped his hands. “A very productive afternoon, I believe.”

“I believe so, too, Sir.” She followed the path of his hand as he slipped it into his pocket and wondered when he’d touch her again.

His lips curled up a bit at the corners. “Does it bother you when I touch you?”

“I enjoyed you rubbing my back.”

“Answer the question, Sasha.”

He wasn’t going to allow her to get away with anything. Already his expression had changed, all the amusement had fled. “No, Sir, it doesn’t bother me when you touch me. I like it.”

“There now, you see, that wasn’t hard at all.” His smile returned. “From here on out, you will always answer the questions I ask. If you don’t know the answer, you may reply with ‘I don’t know, Sir,’ and we’ll work from there. What you may not do is avoid the question or give me half answers. Are my expectations clear?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Do you have any questions about them?”

“No, Sir.”

He studied her intently for long seconds. “I can help you. But I have to have your trust, and that includes your honesty.”

Little by little, he was weaving his way into her mind, just like he’d said. It brought her a startling sense of security.

“If you still want to talk to Julie, I’ll call the main house and tell them you’re on your way.”

“Thank you, Sir. I would like that.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, Sir. And I’ll have the assignment you gave me completed.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said with a faint smile.

Julie waited for her at the side door of Daniel’s house. Sasha quickened her step. As Julie welcomed her inside, Sasha looked back over her shoulder toward the guesthouse. Cole was just leaving out the front door. He’d changed into shorts and a tee-shirt and he raised his hand in a salute before he took off jogging toward the pond.

Julie led her through the kitchen into the living room, and they sat down on one of the couches.

“I’m not going to ask if you’re okay,” Julie started. “Daniel said we had to trust Cole, so I’m going to try really hard to do that. Besides,” she gave Sasha a grin, “you seem completely at ease and I haven’t seen you look like that in ages.”

“Probably the back rub Cole just gave me.”

“He took you to the guesthouse to give you a massage?”

“No, we also talked.”

Julie wrinkled her eyebrows and curled up so her legs were tucked under her. “Daniel also said Cole was moving to Wilmington.”

Sasha picked a loose thread on the couch cushion she held in her lap. “He told me.”

“How do you feel about that?”

Sasha shrugged. “Does it matter? This is only a retraining. I don’t have any hold on him, and we’re not in a relationship.”

“But he was the first Dom you showed interest in after Peter, and he is retraining you.”

“No sex, though.”

“You’re blushing.” Julie smiled. “Something’s up.”

Sasha glanced around the living room. “Where’s Daniel?”

“Are you asking because you want to know or are you changing the subject?”

“A little of both.”

“He went to check on something, but he said he’d be back in a few. He wants to talk to you.”

“Do you know why?”

“Hey, Sasha.”

Sasha looked up as Daniel walked into the room and sat in a chair next to her. He had a concerned expression, but after what Julie had said about trusting Cole, she didn’t think he would question her about how she’d spent her time in the guesthouse.

“I didn’t know Peter had called you,” Daniel said.

“What?” Julie’s eyes widened. “You didn’t tell me.”

“Just a minute, Julie.” He held up his hand and turned to Sasha. “Sasha, I wish you would have told me.”

“I didn’t see the point. It was over and done.” But deep inside she knew she should have told someone. If not Daniel, than one of the other senior group members.

“The call triggered a panic attack.” His words were simple, but they were true and from the corner of her eyes, she saw Julie cross her arms and press her lips together.

“I told my therapist.”

He shook his head. “It’s not the same, and you know it. Peter was told he could remain in the group with certain restrictions. But more than that, anytime someone in the group does something to another member that is harmful, I need to know. How am I to keep you safe if I don’t know?”

Sasha had to admit that Julie was a fortunate woman. She’d initially had her misgivings about her best friend dating and later wearing the collar of such an experienced Dominant, but Daniel had proven her wrong. He really was a strong protector, and he loved Julie with an intensity and passion that took her breath away.

“I thought I could handle it on my own,” she admitted.

“I appreciate that, but we’re here to help and support you, and we can’t do that if you don’t tell us what’s going on. Now,” he gave her a knowing smile, “the next time something like this happens, you’re to let me or someone else know. But I have a feeling there won’t be a next time.”

“How can you be so sure?” Julie asked from her corner of the couch.

Daniel chuckled. “Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be Peter’s mentor right now.”

Cole stepped out of the shower and tied a towel around his waist. Walking to the window, he peeked outside to see if Sasha’s car was parked at Daniel’s. She’d still been there when he returned from his jog. Now, it appeared as if no one was at the main house.

He finished drying off and slipped on a clean pair of jeans and long-sleeve T-shirt. He had a phone call to make, and he’d purposely waited until he’d finished his jog and shower before calling. Over the years he’d found that he rarely reacted out of anger, but for some reason, the thought of Peter calling Sasha made his blood boil.

Master Greene picked up on the third ring. “Hello.”

“William, it’s Cole Johnson.”

“Cole, hello. What’s going on?”

“I met with Sasha today. We started on her retraining.” There was nothing from the other end of the phone, so he continued, “The retraining that is only needed because of the actions of your mentee.”

“I’m acutely aware of the situation.” William sounded a little put off. “I would also remind you that he was not my mentee when the incident happened.”

“Incident. Such a neat and tidy word. Let’s call it what it really was, why don’t we? You were not Peter’s mentor the night he bound and gagged Sasha, then whipped her until she passed out.”

“Master Johnson, is there a reason you called me?”

“Of course. I would like to know if you have any additional plans for your mentee to call or in any other way make contact with Sasha?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by additional plans.”

“Peter called her to apologize. He said it was part of his mentorship.”

Soft curses were the only reply Cole received, and his suspicions concerning Peter were confirmed. “I take from your response that you didn’t ask him to call Sasha.”

“No, I didn’t ask him to call Sasha. I did say that something of the sort might be beneficial to both of them in the future. I made it very clear the timing wasn’t right just yet.”

“When she told me he’d called, I suspected he went behind your back.” Cole felt his anger rise at the thought of Peter’s disregard concerning Sasha’s well-being. “However, I still hold you partially responsible. You should have better control over your mentee.”

“I had no way of knowing he would go against me.”

“Be that as it may, I will be spending the foreseeable future trying to undo the damage the phone call created. Make sure Peter is aware that if he contacts her again, he’ll be on the receiving end of my bullwhip. And I’m nowhere near as nice as Daniel.”

“I’ll ensure it doesn’t come to that. I’ll handle it. There’s a way to work with fragile submissives.”

An image of Sasha kneeling in the sitting room fighting a panic attack flashed before him. He lowered his voice. “Master Greene, have you ever been whipped to the point of unconsciousness by someone you trusted to never hurt you? And then months later, returned to the same environment, willing to give that trust to another?”

“No, but—”

“Then you have no idea what’s it’s like for her. But let me assure you of one thing: Sasha isn’t fragile. She’s stronger than both of us put together.”

William was silent for a long moment before clearing his throat. “If you would allow me, I would like to offer her my apologies at the next meeting on behalf of Peter.”

“I’ll think about it and let you know.”

“Fair enough.”

Once he hung up, Cole put the phone on the table beside his chair and looked at the pile of papers he’d printed out to read in preparation for his next article. Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to be interested in the Indian caste system at the moment.

He felt listless, the dull ache of nothing looming before him. If he were still in India, he would have found a willing submissive to pass the time with. While he was there for his last assignment, he had never been without female companionship if he didn’t want to be.

And before India, there had been Kate. Her absence was probably the cause of his current melancholy, especially since it was a Sunday night. When they’d been together, they had a Sunday night routine. They would sit together in their sunroom and go over schedules for the coming week. If he thought there was something she needed to work on, he’d give her an assignment. It was also a time for her to voice any concerns she had, though she was at liberty to do so during the week as well.

Once they had talked the evening could proceed in a few different ways. Sometimes they’d go to his playroom, sometimes he’d take her over his knee in the sunroom. Other times, he’d just take her. But she had left, and with her went more of himself than he’d realized the day she walked out the door. What nagged him, though, was he wasn’t certain if he missed her or what she symbolized.

He sighed and looked down to the floor, where hours before Sasha knelt.

Sasha.

He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to replace the image of Kate kneeling before him with Sasha at his feet. He imagined calling her name and how she’d look at him with those expressive green eyes.

“What do you want, little one?” he asked, running his fingers through her short dark hair.

“I want to serve you, Sir. However you wish.”

“And if I wish for you to sit in the next room and spend the evening by yourself?”

Her expression revealed nothing. “Then I will sit in the next room and spend the evening alone. But you will keep me company in my thoughts.”

“Unzip my trousers and take them off.”

She quickly had him naked from the waist down. He took his erection in his hand. “And if I tell you to stay on your knees and watch whilst I get myself off?”

“Then I will enjoy the sight of you giving yourself pleasure.”

“And if I tell you I want to thrust my cock into your mouth and drive it down your throat?”

“Then I will happily show you how my deep throating skills have improved.”

He grabbed her hair and pushed her head toward his groin. “Suck me down as deep as possible and hold still while I fill that throat first with my cock and then with my come. If I decide you have done a good job, I’ll reward you. If you can’t take me or if you spill anything, I’ll strap your ass.”

“With pleasure, Sir,” she said and parted her lips to take him inside.

Cole worked his hand up and down his cock, lifting his hips as he imagined using Sasha’s mouth. Her fingers would be digging into his skin, holding him as tightly against her as possible. He’d stroke deep, deeper, and she’d take him. He’d press as hard and as far as possible when he felt his release cresting.

With a grunt he spilled into his hand right as his phone rang.

“Fuck,” he panted, looking for something to clean his hand with. When was the last time he’d jerked off like a teenaged boy?

The ringer on his phone seemed to grow louder.

“Fucking hell.” He hit the speaker button with a finger on his clean hand without checking the caller id. “Damn it, what?”

“Cole?” a familiar voice asked, all breathy and feminine. “I’m sorry, is this a bad time?”

“Kate?” he croaked. He carried the phone to the bathroom and placed it on the countertop while he washed his hands and straightened his clothes. “No, this is fine. What’s going on?”

He hadn’t talked to Kate in months. She might not have been the very last person he thought would call him tonight, but she was pretty damn close to it.

“I spent today unpacking,” she said.

She had finally found a permanent place. Before now, she’d been crashing at a girlfriend’s. Cole had thought he was beyond feeling anything when it came to Kate, but hearing that she’d moved into a new place proved him wrong. Suddenly, he was acutely aware of how lonely the quiet guesthouse was.

“I’m glad you found a new home.” He forced himself to speak through the tightness in his chest. “You’ll have to e-mail your address to me so I have it on file.”

“That’s not why I called.”

“Forgive me, then. You don’t have to send me your address.”

“Would you stop being an ass and listen to me?”

He took a deep breath and hoped his tone sounded more civil to her than it did to him. “Why did you call?”

It was easy to picture her on the other end of the phone. She would be holding it tightly in one hand, anger blazing from her cool blue eyes. He imagined her counting to ten to calm down.

“I unpacked some boxes today,” she repeated.

Yes, you said that already, he bit back from saying and instead replied with, “Oh?”

“One of your boxes got mixed up with mine.”

“In that case, I’ll give you the address where I’m staying for the time being and you can post it to me.”

“I know you’re staying with Daniel, you told me when we closed on our old house. It’s the box containing your mom’s jewelry. I don’t think it’d be a good idea to mail it.”

He cursed under his breath. He thought that particular box had been put in temporary storage. His mother could trace her lineage back to the fifteenth century. Back to some earl who lost his title and estate when he pissed Henry the Eighth off or something. The jewelry had been hidden at the time and passed down through the generations. He never did anything with the pieces. He’d actually thought about giving them to a museum. Regardless, they weren’t anything he was going to give to Kate and she was right, she shouldn’t mail them.

“I don’t have plans to visit New York anytime soon,” he said, thinking about his upcoming sessions with Sasha. “And unfortunately can’t make any plans to visit due to previous commitments.”

“If it’s okay with you then, I’m driving to Mom and Dad’s in about a month. I can stop by and give them to you on the way.”

Her parents lived in Florida. When they were together, she’d visit them every few months. “That would be fine. Thank you, Kate.”

“It’s no big deal.”

An uncomfortable silence followed. The uncomfortable type of silence that could only be shared by those who had once shared everything and now had nothing to say. The air between them was filled with unspoken history and whispered what-ifs.

“Thank you for calling.” They were the only words he discovered he could speak. Four fucking words to the woman he had loved and who had worn his slave collar for years.

“Nice talking with you,” she said, but he didn’t think she sounded like she meant it.

After he said good-bye, he went back to the living room where he distracted himself with the research he’d been avoiding. It was either that or spend hours thinking about Kate. As it was, he knew she’d be visiting his dreams that night.

But it wasn’t a blue-eyed woman with long black hair that filled his head while he slept, rather a wounded submissive with nerves of steel who had admitted she liked it when he touched her.

Sasha rang the doorbell at the Wests’ residence on Monday after work. When she’d called Abby the day before, she mentioned that she’d be meeting with Cole on Wednesday, and Abby said she wanted to talk before she met with Cole again.

Abby opened the door with a big smile. “Hey, Sasha. Come on in.”

Sasha genuinely liked Abby. She was friendly and down-to-earth, an all-around nice person. And it was becoming harder and harder to find those.

They walked through the house, the sound of childish giggles and shrieks meeting them in the hallway.

“Nathaniel just got home,” Abby explained. “He’s playing with the kids. We’ll go to the office where it’s quieter.”

She led her to a large his-and-hers-style office and waved to a love seat.

“This is gorgeous,” Sasha said, taking in the large room. Two desks took up most of the space, but the love seat was placed in front of a picture window in a small seating area. It was inviting and warm, just like its owner.

“Thanks. We just had it done. Nathaniel doesn’t work from home often, but when he does, we both need our own space.”

They sat down and Abby faced her. “Tell me how it went with Cole yesterday.”

“He was different than I expected. But in a good way.” She thought back to how he’d calmed her down and rubbed her back.

“He’s a complex guy, but he has your best interests in mind. I know he probably wasn’t who you thought the group would pick.” Abby gave a little chuckle. “I know it surprised me at first, but now I honestly believe he’s the best choice.”

“You knew he wouldn’t have sex with me?” It was a bold question, and Abby seemed to be taken aback for a second—but Sasha wanted to know.

“Yes, in fact, it was that knowledge that finally convinced me to agree for him to do your retraining.”

Sasha raised an eyebrow at her.

“You have to be strong mentally before you can submit physically. Once you get the mental down, the physical will follow,” Abby explained.

“It makes sense in my head.” But damn, she’d like to have sex again. And now, with Cole saying she couldn’t orgasm without his permission, it didn’t appear like that would be happening anytime soon.

“I’ve played with Cole before in a mental scene,” Abby said, surprising her. “And from that I learned two things: one, he knows what he’s doing, and two, he knows what he’s doing.”

Sasha laughed. “What was it like, submitting to him?”

“He’s intense, you know that. So much more so than Nathaniel, and trust me, Nathaniel’s intense. But Cole’s a good man and he’s fair. I don’t think you have a thing to worry about.”

Sasha had once told Julie that she found Nathaniel too intense. Her stomach flipped over hearing Abby say Cole was even more intense than Nathaniel. Why did the thought of Cole not intimidate her as much as Nathaniel did?

“I trust you,” Sasha said. “And I really feel supported by everyone in the group.”

“I’m so glad. You said you’ll be meeting with Cole on Wednesday. Do you have any idea what you’ll be doing?”

“He gave me a writing assignment.” Sasha frowned. She’d started on it last night and hadn’t got very far before she put it down. She hated writing. “I guess we’ll go over that.”

“You don’t seem excited about it.”

“I’m not. But everyone talks about how beneficial it is to write my thoughts down, so I’ll do it and see how it goes.” Those were her words, but Sasha knew exactly how it was going to go. She’d hate every second of it.

Sasha chewed her bottom lip Wednesday while Cole read over the writing assignment he’d given her. She’d spent hours writing down her goals for the retraining on Monday when she got home from Abby’s. She’d thought she’d done a good job, but kneeling in the bedroom of the guesthouse he used as an office, with him sitting at his desk, she started to have doubts. He had a red pen in his hand and he was using it far too frequently. Judging by the frown on his face, she guessed he wasn’t writing Terrific insight or Excellent work.

Her suspicion was confirmed when he finally put the pen down and looked at her while taking his glasses off with one hand. Earlier, when he’d opened the door to welcome her inside, she thought he looked ridiculously hot. At the moment, he looked downright frightening.

“Sasha.”

She tried to speak, but her mouth was too dry. She licked her lips and managed to sputter out, “Yes, Sir?”

“First of all, stop looking at me like that. We are nowhere near being close enough for me to punish you corporally. You will be very clearly notified when I think that time has come.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“That does not, however, mean you will find any punishment comfortable.”

“Of course not, Sir.” Why was he talking about punishment?

“When I gave you the journal, I indicated written assignments had to be two things. What were those two things?”

“Insightful and grammatically correct, Sir.”

“Yes, and while I think these goals are insightful, the horrific grammar keeps me from ascertaining them completely.”

She flinched. “Sorry, Sir. Grammar has never been a strength of mine.”

He tilted his head. “You didn’t tell me this when I gave you my expectations yesterday.”

No, she hadn’t. “No, Sir.”

He held the journal and black pen out to her. “Come get these and flip to a page in the back.”

She hurried to do his bidding and stood by his desk, pen in hand and journal opened to a clean page.

“At the coffee shop we went over your position when I’m sitting in your presence,” he barked. “Either kneel or sit down.”

Fuck. How could she forget so quickly? She sat down cross-legged on the floor and waited.

“Write ‘Infractions I Owe Master Johnson For’ on the top.” Her eyes shot up to meet his. He looked pissed. “You will be given a week’s warning before I collect.”

She wrote the title at the top with a shaky hand.

He nodded when he saw she’d finished. “Now write ‘Number One: Neglecting to inform Master Johnson of difficulties with grammar.’ ” He gave her time to write and then continued, “Number Two: Standing before Master Johnson whilst he is sitting.” When she finished, he held out his hand. “Give me the journal and go back to kneeling in the middle of the floor.”

She swore her heart was going to pound its way out of her chest as she made her way back. He stood up and walked toward her, journal in hand.

“Usually when I find errors like yours in writing assigments, I use a ruler on my submissive’s upturned palms and then have her rewrite the assignment. I find the combination to be an effective learning method.” He lifted an eyebrow. “But you’re not ready for such a punishment.”

She wanted to look at the floor. She hated that she’d already disappointed him so deeply. Hated that there were already two punishments that would be looming between them. And she really hated that she wasn’t at the place where she could take what he thought she deserved for her actions.

“What are you thinking, little one?” he asked in a gentler voice.

His soft tone soothed her. “I don’t like disappointing you, and I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to take an appropriate punishment and having it hang between us as a result.”

“The fact that you’re not ready to be disciplined in a manner I see fit is not entirely your fault. You can’t blame yourself for that. And yes, I’m disappointed, but we’ll correct your behavior and move on. I’m not one to hold grudges, Sasha, and I believe you’ll find I don’t dig up past offenses, either.”

Sasha could feel a small smile bloom at her lips. One of the things she liked about him so far was he seemed consistent. She always knew where she stood with him.

“I will share with you that one of my concerns in agreeing to this arrangement was the fear that you wouldn’t be open and honest with me. Outside of not telling me about your troubles with grammar, you have been delightfully candid.”

“Thank you for being honest and candid with me, Sir.”

“A Dominant should always be honest and candid with his submissive.”

His submissive. Two simple words shouldn’t make her stomach a breeding ground for butterflies. “Everyone says that, Sir, and it sounds good and everything. But I’ve found it’s not always the case.”

“Then you’ve been playing with the wrong Doms.”

She couldn’t help it; she laughed. “I think that much is clear, Sir, or else I wouldn’t be here.”

He gave her one of his rare smiles. “True enough, little one. And another thing we should add to your list of goals: how to identify a good Dom.”

“I would have thought anyone in the group would be a good choice to play with.”

“Yes, that would be the assumption. Unfortunately, no program is perfect, not even with the changes Nathaniel and Abby have worked on. And nothing takes the place of personal knowledge.”

He didn’t push her to talk about the night with Peter. She thought that would be one of the first things he did. But he’d only brought it up casually, leaving her to think either they wouldn’t discuss it or he was waiting until later to do so.

He jotted a note in her journal. “Definitely something we can talk about later. Now, let’s go over some of these errors. I’m going to go through the list first. Pay attention, because then you’ll write them all down on your own.”

She was a businesswoman, so she shouldn’t have any trouble remembering. But she worried anyway.

“ ‘Its’ versus ‘it’s,’ ” he started. “When you have the apostrophe, it is always read as it is.”

That one was just a careless mistake.

“ ‘Affect’ versus ‘effect.’ There are exceptions, but affect is almost always used as a verb and effect is almost always used as a noun.”

Affect was a verb. A verb was an action. A, affect. A, action. She could remember that.

“Could have, would have, should have,” he said. “Never, never, never could of, would of, or should of.”

Now she just felt stupid.

“Finally, when you use the word ‘literally,’ it means exactly what you’re writing. For example, “He literally dug his fingers into her skin,” it means his fingers were digging into her skin, which is probably not what was meant and would be horribly painful. I’ve said it before, but it needs repeating: words have meanings, you must learn to use them correctly.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll do better in the future.” She would. Her next assignment would blow him away.

“I’m sure you will. For now, you will make a list of your errors and their corrections. Then you will write the absolutely filthiest sentences you can think of using the words correctly. Finally, you will rewrite this paper making the needed edits.”

She hid a half smile. That didn’t seem like a difficult punishment at all. She could handle this, no problem.

“I saw that, Sasha,” he said. “And just so you’re aware, this is only part of your punishment.”

She gulped and went to work. The list of errors and corrections was easy, but it was more difficult to come up with the sentences. She finally finished them and went on to rewrite her goals.

Cole was nowhere to be seen when she put her pen down. Not knowing what else to do, she closed the journal and knelt with her head down.

Minutes later, he entered the room. “Did you finish your assignment, little one?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Stand up,” he said. “I want your hands behind your back, chest out, and your feet spread.”

Even though she was completely clothed, she felt almost as if she was naked as she moved into position. In fact, the way he was looking at her made her feel naked. It was too easy to picture offering her body to him.

He stood by the couch, arms crossed. “Recite your sentences using its and it’s.”

He wanted her to say them? Out loud? Her mouth felt like it was filled with cotton. She didn’t have a problem talking dirty, but she’d always done so in the middle of a scene. Where actual sex was involved. Not standing in an office with her clothes on. It felt . . . off somehow.

“Trying to catch flies, Sasha? What’s the problem?”

“Can I ask you to use the ruler on me instead?” That would be quick and not anywhere as embarrassing.

“You may not. I assure you, you are not anywhere near ready to accept pain from me. The sentences. Now.”

She took a deep breath. She could do this. “I put the vibrator in its place at the back of my nightstand. No apostrophe. It’s huge, and that makes it my favorite. With apostrophe.”

His jaw tightened. “You’ve been active as a sexual submissive for how long?”

“Six years, Sir.”

“Six years and the filthiest sentence you could come up with using its is, ‘I put the vibrator in its place at the back of my nightstand’?”

She didn’t say anything. Surely he could tell how embarrassed she was only saying that.

“Completely unacceptable,” he said. “Try again.”

Jerk. She tried to think of something, but every damn thing had left her brain, making her feel like she was running after words, trying to catch them and arrange them into something resembling a sentence.

“Vibrator is a good item to start with, but try putting it somewhere else.” He wasn’t going to back down. He would make her do this, she knew.

She closed her eyes. “He slides the vibrator inside me, and its width makes me catch my breath.”

“Better. Take that sentence and dirty it up.”

She opened her eyes and forced herself not to glare at him. Was he going to do this with every word? “He . . . thrusts . . . the vibrator deep into . . . my pussy.” Her face felt hot. “And its width makes me catch my breath.”

“Work on the last part. ‘He thrusts the vibrator deep into my pussy and its width’ . . . What about the width, Sasha?” Even from across the room, she felt the heat from his gaze. He was unrelenting in his quest. “Visualize it if you have to. You’re on your back, arms bound above your head. I’m standing by you, holding a vibrator. Your legs are spread for me and your pussy tingles in anticipation, waiting for it, wanting it and yet, at the same time, a little unsure it can accommodate something so hard and thick. And then it doesn’t matter because I thrust that massive vibrator deep inside you and its width . . .” He paused to cross the floor and bent down to whisper in her ear, “Finish the sentence. Tell me what the width does to you. How you feel when I fuck you with it.”

The words flowed from her mouth without thought. “And it fills me and stretches me and I lift my hips desperate for more.”

“Yes.” His hot breath brushed across her ear and she couldn’t control her shiver. “Yes, you would and I would give you more. I would fucking delight in giving you more.”

She didn’t have to press against him to know how hard he was. His breathing was labored. He was definitely turned on, but whether it was because of her or the wordplay, she couldn’t tell. When he pulled away, his eyes were still dark with need.

“Tell me again what your sentence was using it’s with an apostrophe,” he said calmly.

Her body was shaky, but she composed herself enough to repeat, “It’s huge and that makes it my favorite.”

He grinned. “Oh, Sasha. My shy little sub. It’s going to be a long afternoon.”

“I think you need a break,” Julie told her the next morning as Sasha said good-bye to one of their regular clients.

“Why?” Sasha watched the older lady get inside her car and drive away.

“You just told Mrs. Preston to say hello to her husband.”

“And?” Sasha couldn’t figure out why Julie was standing there with her hands on her hips. “I was being polite. And Mr. Preston—”

“Is dead.” Julie finished and walked to the back room. “We did his funeral last year.”

“Oh, shit.” No wonder the older lady hadn’t turned around or said anything as she walked out the door. Sasha followed Julie to the breakroom.

“Do you need to get some coffee, take a nap, or something?”

Sasha sat at the table with a sigh. “No coffee, no nap, just the or something.”

She’d stayed at Cole’s a lot later than either of them had planned. It took that long to go through her sentences. When they finally finished, she’d been so hot and bothered, she feared she’d come simply from Cole looking at her.

And though he still had a faint hint of desire about him, he made no move toward her. He just stated that due to the amount of time her sentences had taken, they were behind the schedule he’d made and could she come back tomorrow?

“Anything I can help with?” Julie asked.

“Nah, I’ve never had an interest in participating in girl on girl.” Julie’s mouth dropped open and Sasha laughed. “And it wouldn’t matter if I did. Cole won’t let me orgasm without his permission.”

Julie closed her mouth. “I don’t know what to do with any of that information.”

“Come on, I bet Daniel doesn’t let you climax unless he tells you to.”

“Of course not.” Julie’s fingers brushed her collar and at the sound of the door chime, started walking toward the front. “It’s only when you said you needed something, I didn’t know you were talking about a screaming orgasm.”

“It doesn’t have to be screaming. I’ll take a quiet one.” Sasha grinned. “Heck, I’ve been so turned on lately, I’ll take an orgasm any damn way he wants to give me one.”

“I’ll be sure to let Master Johnson know that when I see him at the special meeting the Dominants are having later this week.”

Sasha and Julie spun around. Kelly Bowman, also known as Mistress K, stood with Abby at the door to the small break room. One of the group’s few Dommes, Kelly was a tiny woman with long red hair. Sasha had once heard redheads were either plain or drop dead gorgeous. Kelly was one of the gorgeous ones. Even with the knowing smile she currently wore.

Abby laughed. “That’s mean, Kelly.”

“This is why we have the no-kinky-sex-talk-in-the-shop rule,” Julie said. “Hey, Abby. Welcome to Petal Pushers, Kelly.”

“I always thought that rule sucked.” Sasha nodded at the two women. “What’s happening?”

“I had an idea,” Abby said, dropping her purse on a table and sitting down on a nearby bench. “You’re looking good, Sasha.”

There was something lurking in her friend’s expression, but Sasha couldn’t put her finger on it. “Thank you.”

“You do look good.” Kelly said in agreement. “You have more color than you did at the last group meeting, and you don’t look as gaunt. Working with Master Johnson agrees with you. Orgasm denial notwithstanding.”

“It’s not so much that he’s denied me orgasms. He just hasn’t allowed them.”

“Maybe you should just ask him for one.” Julie made her way toward the break room. “Coffee, anyone?”

“Black for me,” Kelly called out.

“Black for me, too, thanks,” Abby said.

Could she do that? Is that all it took, for her to ask? She wondered if that was part of yesterday’s lesson. To help her grow used to being unashamed to ask for what she needed.

But then she tried to imagine standing in front of Cole and asking for an orgasm. What if he agreed, but he made her give herself one while he watched? She had done so for other Doms, but they had been in a relationship. This thing with Cole, this retraining, it left her confused.

They weren’t in a real relationship. He was helping her, and though he claimed ownership to her orgasms, it wasn’t a forever kind of a thing. He would release her from training and she would be free to carry on the way she had before. She could play with whoever she wanted. Make herself come as often as she wanted.

She looked up to find Julie passing out coffees. “So Abby, you said it was your idea to pull us all together this morning?” Julie asked.

“Yes, I was going to call everyone, but then I was talking to Kelly and she said she was stopping by.” Abby took a sip of coffee. “I think we should have a surprise shower for Dena.”

“I love that idea,” Julie said. “Just the women, or will we invite the men, too?”

“I vote women only,” Kelly said.

“Me, too,” Sasha agreed.

“I’m fine with women only.” Abby wrote something down in her notebook. “That means we can talk about the men.”

“I’m so happy for Jeff and Dena,” Kelly said. “They’ve been through so much. You know, we should set up the shower at a spa. Let Dena get all pampered.”

“I like that.” Abby nodded and wrote more down.

“Their wedding was so romantic,” Julie said with a sigh.

As the other three women started chatting about memories and weddings and babies, Sasha’s mind drifted. Cole was expecting her tonight at seven sharp. They were going to be doing whatever activity he’d originally planned for the day before. She was curious.

There was a lull in the conversation, and she noticed all three women watching her. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m a little scattered today.”

Julie smiled. “Ask him.”

God, help her. She just might.

Meet the Author

Tara Sue Me wrote her first novel at the age of twelve. Twenty years later, after penning several traditional romances, she decided to try her hand at something spicier and started work on The Submissive, and soon followed that with The Dominant, The Training, Seduced by FireThe Enticement, and The Exhibitionist. Originally published online, the series has become a huge hit with readers around the world, and has been read and reread millions of times.
 
Tara kept her identity and her writing life secret, not even telling her husband what she was working on. To this day, only a handful of people know the truth (though she has told her husband). They live together in the southeastern United States with their two children.

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The Master (Submissive Series #7) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Love this entire series
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you. Always an excellent read.
LynnB888 More than 1 year ago
The continuation of The Submissive Series is a sexy read that showcases the aftermath of what can happen after a scene goes horribly wrong. Sasha proved that she could blame the person, not the lifestyle for what happened to her. Sasha Blake had been playing in the BDSM lifestyle for several years when she made the mistake of being far too trusting with an inexperienced Dominate. She was injured .. both physically and mentally. Several months have passed and she really wants to be able to rejoin her friends in the Partners in Play community, but she keeps suffering panic attacks. It's decided that she will be re-trained, and the Dom doing it will be Cole Johnson. Cole has recently gotten out of a long term relationship and is willing to help Sasha learn to trust again, but only if sex isn't involved. He does't believe his style and hers can match, but he knows he can guide her back to being able to trust again. Thing go well, and move along quicker than he projected, but how long can Cole really fight the sexy attraction on display in front of him? Can there actually be a future for him and Sasha? ** Received free in exchange for an honest review **
Sandy-thereadingcafe More than 1 year ago
3.75 stars---THE MASTER is the seventh installment in Tara Sue Me’s contemporary adult SUBMISSIVE erotic, BDSM romance series. This is Master Cole Johnson, and submissive Sasha Blake. THE MASTER can be read as a stand alone without any difficulty but I recommend reading the series in order for backstory and cohesion. Told from several third person perspectives THE MASTER looks at the re-training of submissive Sasha Blake. Several months earlier, our heroine was left bloody and scarred following a BDSM session that went horribly wrong. While the Dominant has been reprimanded, Sasha has been unable to enter back into the world of D/s without frightening flashbacks or panic attacks. Enter Dominant and Master Cole Johnson, the man who has agreed to re-train Sasha for the lifestyle she once loved. Agreeing to help Sasha get back into the BDSM lifestyle, Cole never expected to fall for the woman destroyed by a reckless Dom. THE MASTER is a story of trust; of overcoming the past; and moving on from the dark and dangerous memories of the mind. Cole is not an easy Dom-he is demanding both in and out of the bedroom, and pushes Sasha out of her comfort zone into a world of Master and slave. What ensues is a building relationship that that circles the abyss of romance and love. Most of the previous storyline couples and characters play secondary and supporting roles including Nathaniel and Abby, and Daniel and Julie; The world building continues to look at the BDSM lifestyle: the players, the participants; the rules and regulations; the possibility of finding the one who give you everything you want and need. Tara Sue Me writes an intense story line of acceptance and love. The premise is gentler in style than previous installments; the characters are broken yet slowly healing; the romance is a slow build to a happily ever after.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Cole n Sasha......