Michael Dayton caught a whiff of spiced vanilla, and he turned his head to find the source.
The view of the woman passing by walloped him. He only managed a brief look at her face, not enough to make out her eye colour, but on a primal level he noted the softness of her mouth and the sexy gloss that accented her lips.
She kept moving in the direction of the fire pit. And like the male that he was, he didn't look away. How could he? She was tiny, compact, with blonde hair tumbling over her shoulders, the strands an untamed riotous mass. She walked with determination, her hips swaying seductively as she navigated the uneven flagstone patio. Her grace was even more remarkable given the unyielding leather dress and her crazy-high stilettos. Even though the shoes added extra height, she didn't look tall. In fact, he doubted she'd reach his chin.
A need to protect flared in him. The sensation was as unexpected as it was unwelcome.
On occasion, he played with women at Damien's home, known as the Den. Michael had been sexually attracted to many of them. But he'd only had this kind of visceral reaction one other time in his thirty years. He'd ignored his intuition and the warnings of others and had ended up married within three months.
A few years later, he and his bride had been in court, and he'd spent most of his inheritance to hold onto the Eagle's Bend Ranch. The two thousand acres had been in his family for over eighty years, and if he had lost it, he was certain his father would haunt him from the grave. The lessons Michael had learnt while rebuilding his life and fortune had made him harder, smarter and more wary.
He adjusted his cowboy hat and continued to look at the blonde. She had joined a group of people near the fire. Her figure-hugging dress did as much to arouse him as nudity would have.
Until this moment, he hadn't missed having a woman in his bedroom, tied to his rustic four-poster bed, arms and legs spread wide as she lay there for him, willing and waiting. Last night he'd gone to bed alone after masturbating to ease the day's tension. Tonight, he hoped things would be different. He was glad he hadn't simply tossed away the invitation to the Den's solstice party. Although, he admitted, if he took this woman home, he'd wish for a longer night rather than a longer day.
As if sensing his perusal, she glanced over her shoulder. They made eye contact for less than five seconds, but it was enough, more than enough for him.
He heard someone say, "She's trouble."
Michael blinked and reluctantly turned towards the newcomer, Gregorio, the Den's caretaker.
"Don't go there," Gregorio advised, coming to a stop in front of him.
But Michael was already thinking about her, despite the fact she didn't resemble the women who generally caught his eye. He preferred a more rounded, feminine form-a woman who could withstand the rigours of ranch life.
"Her name's Sydney Wallace," Gregorio said.
Michael was aware of Gregorio's voice, but his focus was elsewhere. Sydney. Unusual name. He let it roll around in his mind, imagined how it might sound when he said it aloud as he told her what to do.
"She used to dance nude in a cabaret in Vegas and has a boa constrictor as a pet. It killed her last Dom and dragged him out to the backyard. She's on the run from the law. We heard she's wanted in ten states and two Canadian provinces." Gregorio snapped his fingers near Michael's face, jarring him from his reverie. "You listening to me, Mike?"
"Huh?" He shook his head and looked at Gregorio.
"I figured you weren't listening, otherwise you'd have decked me for calling you Mike." Gregorio chuckled. "Seriously, if you want to play, there are a number of subs here tonight-they're wearing the house's purple wrist band. That means they're available for a scene, they know the rules and they follow them. Any one of them would be much better for you than Sydney."
Gregorio, as Damien Lowell's right-hand man, knew things. Gregorio understood human nature and, since he tracked all the membership applications, he had insider knowledge of everyone at the Den. He served as a house monitor and sometimes participated in scenes. Because he was so well respected, Doms and subs alike listened to him. Those who didn't often rued their decision.
For the first time, Michael wanted to ignore Gregorio's unsolicited advice. "I didn't see a collar around her neck." He took in the people she was standing with. "And she doesn't seem to be here with anyone."
"She doesn't have a Dom."
"I'll bite. What's wrong with Ms Wallace?"
"Other than the snake and the problems with the law?"
"What?" he asked, taking a drink of the light beer from his cup and looking back at her. A waiter approached with a tray full of sparkling water, and she snagged a flute. Her back was to him, and he couldn't drag his gaze away from her shapely derrière. "Is she a Domme?"
"She's a sub," Gregorio said, giving the answer Michael wanted. "But one with no real interest in a relationship with a man."
He blinked. "She's gay?" Please God, no, not now that he was imagining her legs wrapped around his waist as he drove into her wet pussy.
"She likes men just fine. What I mean is, she'll start playing, if a guy interests her. If he bores her, she bails."
"She'll leave in the middle of a scene?"
"It's happened a handful of times." Gregorio folded his arms across his chest. "She's earned the name 'The Brat' around here."
"She sounds like a challenge," Michael said.
Gregorio laughed. The sound was both ominous and sympathetic. "A few other Doms have felt the same way," Gregorio said. "Sydney has a history of battering hearts and egos."
Water in hand, she walked around to the far side of the fire pit and stood there alone. He responded to the unspoken cue. After finishing his beer in a single gulp, he handed the empty glass to Gregorio. "Wish me luck."
Gregorio grinned. "You'll need more than luck, my friend."
Michael moved towards the fire pit.
Perhaps hearing his approach, she looked up and waited for him.
"Evening, ma'am," he said, as he stopped near her.
"I was hoping you would be brave enough to come and talk to me," she said with a smile that could roll his socks down. "I saw you talking with Gregorio. No doubt he tried to frighten you away with tales of how terrible I am."
"And are you?"
"I suppose there could be some truth to it." She shrugged easily. "But there's not. A good story is always better than the truth."
She smelt potently dangerous. The vanilla was mixed with unadulterated pheromones, and it was a cocktail he couldn't get enough of. "Either way, not much scares me."
"A man among men."
"Michael Dayton. Master Michael." Although the June sun hadn't completely vanished behind the distant mountain peaks, torches were being lit, adding to the ambience and catching streaks of red in her hair. He wanted to touch those strands, to curl them around his fist as he held her down and made her scream.
"Sydney Wallace," she said, returning the formality.
"May I call you Sydney?"
She rolled her glass between her palms. With a tease in her voice, she said, "I'm hoping you can be considerably more creative than that."
He tipped back the brim of his hat to get a better look at her. She intrigued him. "So name calling is not on your limits list."
A server, this one a woman in a French maid's outfit that left nothing to the imagination, walked nearby. Though she was curvy with luscious bare breasts, he only had eyes for the woman he was with.
Sydney placed her glass on the tray. He appreciated the fact that she didn't need something to toy with.
When they were alone again, she said, "I understand you're divorced, Mr Dayton. No kids. You have a ranch you'd like to protect from gold-diggers. You scene every once in a while, and you're not looking for a serious commitment."
"Do you know my blood type?"
She gave a quick grin. "No. I only asked about the important stuff."
"You found out a lot quickly."
"I like being prepared. If I'm going to spend an hour with a man, I want to make sure the time is worth it. I don't think it's fair to either of us if there are false expectations."
"You're mistaken, Sydney."
"About which part?"
"We'll be spending more than an hour together. I can't get you properly warmed up in under sixty minutes, and I intend to keep you on the edge, writhing for an orgasm for much, much longer than that."
Her eyes widened, and for the first time he noticed how blue they were, a shade of ice, a shocking contradiction to the heat she radiated.
"That's a brash statement, Michael."
He captured her chin gently. "Find out for yourself, Ms Wallace. Let's have an experiment here at the Den to see if we have chemistry. After that, we can head out to my ranch. It's about forty-five minutes from here. Or if you'd prefer, we can go to your place. Wherever you feel most comfortable." He noticed her legs were alluringly bare. He'd always been a stockings man. Or at least he had been. Until now. "Are you wearing underwear?"
With his index finger, he stroked her cheekbone. "I asked you a question."
She hesitated for a moment, and he wondered if she was going to answer or whether she was going to run. He held her lightly enough that her movements weren't restricted.
"Boy shorts," she said.
"Please remove them for me."
"Maybe you're the one who should be afraid," he said quietly, "rather than me. Gregorio says you often bail out of scenes. I wondered at first if it was because Doms asked too much from you. But I'm thinking they probably don't ask enough. I've known you less than five minutes, but I've figured out you're assertive. You know what you want, but I'm guessing you're not always good at asking for it. Furthermore," he added, leaning closer towards her, "I'm willing to bet you're bored with anyone who isn't as aggressive as you are. Am I wrong about that?"
She shivered. Since the Colorado evening was mild and they were standing near the fire, he knew she couldn't be cold. So something he'd said had hit a nerve.
Surprising him, she unflinchingly met his gaze. "You're right about the fact I get bored easily," she admitted. She put her hand around his wrist. "And you're wrong if you think I'm afraid of anything."
"Fair enough. In that case, take off your panties." He released his grip on her chin and she let go of him. He stayed in place, physically and figuratively refusing to give her space.
He offered his arm and she held onto it while precariously balancing on her heels.
Finally, she straightened and looked at him as she dangled the pretty pink material from her index finger. Too late he realised he'd made a mistake by not asking to see them on her first. The material had probably stretched across her derrière, highlighting her butt cheeks perfectly.
He accepted the proffered underwear and stuffed the lace and nylon confection in his pocket. Who would have suspected that she wore something so pretty beneath black leather? "What are your limits?"
"I haven't found any," she said.
"Then you've been playing with the wrong Doms."
She shrugged. "That's possible. But maybe I'm tougher than you think."
"Perhaps," he agreed, but with some scepticism. His ex-wife had let him believe she wanted things raw, but the moment the ring had been placed on her finger, the figurative collar had come off her throat. "Humiliation?"
"I don't have a lot of experience with that."
"No one has made you stand in a corner with your nose pressed to the wall when you misbehaved?"
She stiffened. Michael figured he'd hit a nerve. Then the moment passed. Her lips parted for a moment, just long enough for him to wonder how she tasted. He loved anticipation, enjoyed getting a woman so turned on she lost her inhibitions, but now, with Sydney, unaccustomed impatience nipped at him.
"I don't misbehave," she said with an impish grin.
He raised his eyebrows. "Never? Or have you not played with a Dom long enough to establish a relationship?"
She gave a soft sigh. "Would you like to psychoanalyse me, Michael? If so, can we sit down somewhere? But honestly, I'm not sure if I'll ever see you again, so I'd prefer we spend an enjoyable evening together."
"I don't rush. I just want to know you a bit better before we play together. I want to give you what you need, not just what you want."
"That's an interesting distinction."
"You might want wine, but need water," he said. "I want you completely satisfied."
"You're right. I kind of move from Dom to Dom," she said. "A man, any man, would complicate my lifestyle. Maybe you think that's selfish, but it's who I am. I was hoping that since you're a divorced man who doesn't want to go through another divorce, you'd be fine with a one-night stand."
"Ouch," he said. When she opened her lovely mouth to speak again, he held up a hand to silence her. To her credit, she shut up. "No, you don't have to watch your words. In fact, I prefer your honesty."
He nodded. "And I'm not against a relationship. I'm not, in theory, against marriage." Passing the land to his heirs would be nice. He had one sister, who had two girls. Despite the fact that he had a couple of horses, none of his relatives had shown any interest in the ranch.
"Are you looking for something permanent now?"
"No," he said.
"Then if you'd like to play, I would, too." Seductively, sexily, she placed her palm over his crotch.
Heat seared through the denim. Except for lovers he'd been with a long time, no woman had been so bold. He wanted to cave to his baser instincts and take her here, now. Instead, he captured her hand and moved it away.
She pulled back, breaking his grip, and he knew she felt rejected. What man in his right mind would have stopped her? "Don't take it personally," he said. "Please. I will want you to do that in the future, and right now I want to be buried balls-deep in your hot cunt as you cry out my name."
Her eyes opened wide. She seemed more intrigued than shocked. "I want that, too," she admitted.
"We need to clear up a few things."
"Right. I have no STDs, I have no physical limitations. Oh, yes, and I have condoms in my purse-large. And medium, just in case." She grinned. "I've been called an eternal optimist. I don't need that size as much as most men would have you believe."
He shook his head. The charming Ms Wallace was trying to goad him, and he appreciated her efforts. Rather than responding, he changed the subject, "Why do you scene?"
"You've thought about it, surely?"
"I guess I'm always wondering where my limits are, and I like to transcend them. I mountain climb. White water river raft. I did a triathlon, and I'm competing in an upcoming mud race, you know, running up a mountain then doing obstacle courses, under barbed wire, over a wooden wall. My team is doing it for charity."
He was forced to look at her more objectively. His initial urge had been to care for her. Now he wondered if she could kick his ass. Maybe Gregorio had been right to issue warnings. "What's your safe word?"
Of course it was.
"You don't need to know why."
"Okay." He figured he already knew, but he looked forward to her telling him tomorrow morning over coffee. "How about a code for slowing down?"
"I don't believe in that."
"In that case, we'll use the word caution."
She sighed. "If I have to have one, how about we use the word turtle?"
He thumbed his hat. "I think I've just been insulted."
"Not at all. That would be rude. I'm just saying that turtles are slow."
Not only was she attractive, but quick-witted and intelligent. It had been a long time since a woman had appealed to him on multiple levels. "How do you feel about public play?"
She hesitated for a second. "I've never tried it."
"Are you willing to?"
"I prefer a yes or no answer," he told her. "Unless you'd rather talk about it?"
"No. I mean yes."
"Yes, Sir," she dutifully repeated.
He saw her grit her teeth, but she said nothing. He'd hit a nerve demanding she conform to the smallest of courtesies, and he'd remember that. "Do you like impact play?"
Before he could ask further questions, she said, "I find an open-handed spanking to be really pleasurable. I also like belts." She glanced at his waist.
Oh, yeah. He'd happily lay the leather across her rear.
She was quiet for a moment, maybe as discombobulated as he was. And he realised she had an air of vulnerability that she tried to hide. Others probably missed it, but he was glad he hadn't.
"I'm also fine with a shoe or a ruler," she said, her words a hurried rush as if she were attempting to cover the uncomfortable silence. "Anything, really. Feel free to be creative. I'm okay with a flogger, open to trying a bull whip and cane. There isn't a position I'm averse to, over the knee, or a table, or a bed. Standing, kneeling over a spanking bench. Did I miss anything?"
"The Sir at the end of the sentence."
"Of course. Sir." She gave him another of her sunny smiles.
No wonder she ate other Doms for breakfast. She seemed so guileless, he'd bet it would be difficult for some men to hold her accountable. "Clamps?"
She nodded. "The harder the better. As you're probably gathering, I find it easier to get off when there's erotic pain involved."
She fidgeted then said, "If you insisted, I'd try it."
"No one has claimed your ass?" he asked, stunned.
That he would be the first to place something up there made him even harder, and his erection pressed against his jeans. He wanted to readjust his cock, but he reminded himself to focus on her. There were a few other things he needed to know before they got started. "Handcuffs?"
"Any kind of bondage," she said.
"I've haven't lassoed a woman." He paused. "Yet."
Her eyes widened. "Sounds interesting."
Michael was suddenly glad he'd ignored Gregorio's advice. The thought of dragging a helpless Sydney towards him was a thrill. If she were barefoot and naked, it would be all the better. "And actual sexual penetration?"
"Like I said, I have condoms. In assorted sizes. I have nothing communicable, I'm on the pill. Anything else you need to know?"
"That will cover it," he said wryly. "Likewise, I have a clean bill of health, but I also believe in covering all the bases. We'll use condoms."
When he said nothing else, she gave a little flip of her hair and turned away, heading towards the house.
"Where are you going, Sydney?"