“All right, you naughty wench. Tell me what you deserve.”
Alani Dane, professional submissive, rolled her eyes. What she deserved was a night off from play-acting with yet another weak-wristed wannabe Dom. What she wanted was a hot, sexy scene with a man she was into…a few hours of bliss. Hell, she’d even settle for a couple of minutes of happiness. Were her needs so outrageous that she couldn’t get a good ass beating that made her wince when she sat down?
“Sub,” the man prompted when she didn’t respond right away. His voice was laced with a fake British accent. “I asked you a question.”
She’d seen him on television, providing legal analysis for a high-profile murder case. Alani was willing to bet her last dollar he wasn’t from England. In the outside world, he was a smart man, a snappy dresser, but at Limits, the downtown Denver club where she worked, he affected airs. He even wore a cravat, and his jacket had tails. One night he’d checked a top hat and silver-capped cane at the coat room.
She was grateful he’d tied her to the St. Andrew’s cross facing away from him. Even though it was still early on a Friday evening and they were in one of the club’s first-floor public areas, there were a few couples scening. A female sub was being fastened to a spanking bench and a male sub was suspended from a ceiling hook. The man wore a wicked-looking contraption around his cock, complete with metal spikes. He smiled in a way that lit up his entire face. Despite the torturous apparatus, his muscles were relaxed. He was obviously enjoying every moment.
Alani wondered how long it had been since she’d been lost in that kind of happiness. Weeks? Months? Then another thought plowed into her. Had she ever blissed out that hard, despite her constant quest?
The techno music thrummed out an urgent beat, but the volume was relatively low.
Sometimes during scenes, she went deep inside her head, creating a fantasy within a fantasy. She often pretended she’d been naughty and needed to be punished. For the past few weeks, going away mentally had been the only way she’d been able to get into what she was doing.
Tonight, though, even that wasn’t working. Because she’d played with Master Richard several times before, she knew what to expect. The next half hour, maybe less, was going to be boring.
“Tell me what you deserve,” he repeated.
“Oh, Sir, I’ve been bad,” she said, forcing a tremor into her voice.
He touched the small of her back. She let out a small cry and pulled against the restraints. “So bad.” She’d learned to manipulate her Dominants into giving her at least a little of what she wanted.
Knowing Master Richard was an ass man, she wriggled her hips. “Please, Sir, I want to be good for you. Perhaps you’d better teach me to behave.”
“That’s more than you deserve, sub.”
“I know, Sir. But I’m hoping you’ll take pity on me.”
“What will it be this evening, you naughty, naughty girl?”
She knew the answer he sought. And she knew what she craved. She wanted to be punished hard by a powerful man. She wanted to be with a man who would demand her very best. Her fantasy Dom would tug a belt from around his waist and use it harshly on her bare butt. Or maybe he’d catch her with the brutal strike of an open-handed slap.
“Well? Answer me!” He pinched a bit of skin near her waist.
That was unexpected and delicious. If he would keep that up… “Whatever you want, Sir,” she said, her answer so well-rehearsed she could recite it in her sleep.
“The flogger it is,” he said.
In the right hands, she supposed the flogger could be memorable. When swung by this unskilled Dom, it was the equivalent of a lover’s touch.
“I’m going to pull up your skirt.”
“Oh, Sir! No. Please. Anything but that!”
She imagined his words were supposed to be forceful, but they came out as a request.
With his small hands, he drew her skirt up.
He tucked the material into her waistband, then trailed his soft fingertips between her buttocks.
As was her custom, she’d worn panties on top of her garter belt, and he hadn’t requested she change into anything more revealing. And it wasn’t as if he’d delve inside the silk to play with her clit. He wouldn’t do anything to ensure she got into the scene like he did.
As Master Richard caressed her buttocks through her underwear, his fingers trembling and his breathing ragged, she stared ahead at a large mural hanging from the exposed brick wall. She fell into the picture of the Maroon Bells, mountain peaks near Aspen. It was one of the most photographed sites in North America. Maybe this summer, she’d try climbing them. At least that would be challenging, and it would give her something to train for.
She tried to lose herself in the picture, grateful Limits had no clocks in the public areas. Each second with Master Richard was interminable. Staring at a minute hand would only make time drag more.
Something tapped her rear, and it occurred to her it was the flogger. She jerked her hips, hoping he didn’t realize the reaction came several moments after the almost-nonexistent impact.
“Beg for another.”
“Oh, please, Sir! I need you to punish me.”
His second stroke had a little more oomph behind it. She reacted quicker that time and squirmed against her bonds.
“You may thank me, my girl.”
“Sir! Thank you, thank you! Please, will you punish me some more?” She stuck out her ass.
He continued to flog her, and she remembered she needed French vanilla creamer for her coffee at home.
Kukae. Shit. She was being paid to give this man a fantasy. And if he was pleased, he always left a large tip. Embarrassingly large. Alani blinked a few times to focus her attention.
Several times, early in her career, she’d managed to lose herself in a scene. But now, it took all the skills she’d learned at a college acting class to stay in character. It wasn’t the Doms who were lacking. It was her. They hadn’t changed. She had gotten bored.
“How many was that, sub?”
How many? She’d barely registered any. “It hurts so bad I lost count, Sir. Please,” she wailed. “Take pity on me. I promise to be good.”
“Four more,” he said.
He landed another. She jerked with enough dramatics to win an award.
As he paused, probably drooling over the sight of her rounded derrière, she yawned.
She snapped her mouth shut when she saw Master Nathaniel push away from a wall. He was one of the club’s three owners, and he spent a lot of time out of the country. She didn’t know much about him, but the rumor mill said he was some sort of secret black ops agent who trained resistance forces throughout the world. She knew the work he did was dirty and dangerous, and the small scar bisecting his chin proved it.
Damn. Why hadn’t she noticed him standing there?
His chilly gaze was on her as he walked toward the cross where she hung.
Had he seen her disrespectful yawn?
Reacting from instinct, Alani clenched her muscles.
She’d rarely seen him engage with the club’s subs or patrons. He showed up for occasional meetings. Once, while Master Braxton had been out of town, Master Nathaniel had signed paychecks.
Alani told herself not to be nervous. But she wasn’t believing her own pep talk.
Master Nathaniel was dressed as if he’d walked off the pages of a men’s fashion magazine. His long-sleeved shirt was turned up at the cuffs and the top button was unfastened at his throat. He wore loose-fitting slacks and polished wing tips. She imagined his attire was intended to make him appear civilized. It didn’t work. Raw masculine power pulsed from him. No polite trappings would temper his air of danger.
He smelled of a cold winter night, and his green eyes were just as chilly.
If she were honest, she’d admit he terrified her.
“How’s it going here, Master Richard?”
“Very well. Very well indeed, Master Nathaniel.”
She didn’t dare crack a smile at the fake British voice.
“I’m just going to give this saucy wench a bit of a workout,” he continued. “Only three more strokes to go.”
“Mind if I watch?”
“Delighted to have you,” Master Richard said.
Master Nathaniel leaned in close to her, his expression tight, sending a shiver through her. “Let’s help keep you in the scene, shall we?” His words were quiet, pitched so that they wouldn’t be overheard.
No doubt. He had caught her yawning. Crap.
“Alani, is it?”
He captured her chin between his thumb and forefinger, leaving her powerless to escape.
“Look at me,” he snapped.
There was a whiplash in his voice, if not volume. All her senses sharpened.
“Keep your eyes open. For this moment, I am your entire world. Don’t forget it.”
How could she?
He tightened his grip.
Her heart thundered, this time with real fear.
“Do you understand, Alani?”
“Yes.” She gulped. “Yes, Sir.”
He nodded then looked over her shoulder at Master Richard. “Proceed.”
As if goaded by Master Nathaniel’s presence, the man hit her hard.
She gasped from the unexpected sting.
“Better.” Master Nathaniel grinned, and her belly tightened. When he spoke, he increased the volume so it was obvious he was addressing the pretend Dom. “She is a saucy one, Master Richard. You were correct.” Master Nathaniel compelled her gaze. He refused her any quarter, keeping her gaze focused on him. “Make the last ones count.”
“Unclench your buttocks, wench,” Master Richard said. “I do so enjoy seeing your arse jiggle when I give you a good one.”
She gulped. Somehow, this was more compelling, even a touch humiliating. She wasn’t sure why. Being somewhat of an exhibitionist, she liked people watching her, enjoyed presenting a memorable show. But Master Nathaniel, with his brutally penetrating gaze, was different.
“Alani! I said unclench your bum.” Master Richard poked her with the hilt of the flogger. “Do it now, you cheeky girl!”
“Yes, Sir.” She drew in deep breaths, no longer pretending to be nervous or focused. She was hyperaware of everything going on.
Annoying her, Master Richard took his time. Master Nathaniel’s grip was unyielding. All Alani wanted now was to be released from her bondage so she could go home for the night. Master Nathaniel’s scrutiny unsettled her in ways she’d never experienced.
Willing the scene to be over, she arched her back even more. Long, long seconds later, the Dom behind her let the flogger fall.
She yelped. Where the hell had that strength been until now? That had hurt.
His fingers trembling, Master Richard traced the straps of her garters.
Wiggling and moving now seemed obscene with the way Master Nathaniel was looking at her.
“Are you ready for your last one?” Master Richard asked.
He isn’t done yet? “Yes, Sir.”
After moving away and stretching the time from seconds into at least a minute, he gave her the final one. She squeezed her eyes shut against the sting. When she opened them again, Master Nathaniel was still regarding her, his jaw set, nothing revealed in the enigmatic depths of his rich green eyes.
“Thank Master Richard for flogging you,” Master Nathaniel told her.
“Thank you, Sir,” she managed.
As suddenly as he’d grabbed her, Master Nathaniel released her. Without another word, he strode away.
She watched him out of the corner of her eye until she lost sight of him. Then she released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“You were a good girl,” Master Richard said as he unfastened her right ankle.
“I’m sure I’ll have trouble sitting for the next few days, Sir,” she fibbed. She had to admit, for Master Richard, it had been a robust flogging.
“Let that be a lesson to you.”
“It was. I’ll try to be a better girl.” Although with him, she never knew what her supposed infraction was. Other Doms dreamed up elaborate stories and encouraged her to misbehave so they had something to punish.
He took far too long unfastening her left ankle. No doubt he enjoyed being crouched between her legs. This evening, that bothered her, though she couldn’t explain why.
Moments later, her wrists were free.
His grip gentle, he turned her around to face him. He held her for several seconds, making sure she was able to stand. On the three-inch stilettos, after being tied to a cross, that was sometimes more difficult than it seemed.
“Yes, thanks.” She smiled, trying to appear graceful, then knelt and directed her gaze toward the floor. “I enjoyed the scene, Sir.” She hoped he was savvy enough to heed her wordless signal that the scene was over, whether or not he had time remaining.
“You were most excellent, wench. Behave yourself until I see you again.”
“I will try, Sir.” She glanced up to see him hook the flogger onto his belt loop.
Without another word, he headed toward the bar.
As she stood and smoothed her skirt back into place, she glanced around, looking for Master Nathaniel.
When she didn’t see him, she considered her options. Deciding she would rather avoid him than risk seeing him, she snatched up her discarded blouse, shrugged into it, fastened the buttons then started toward the locker room for a quick break.
Before she could reach the foyer, a firm hand landed on her shoulder, stopping her in place. Startled, she turned and looked up at Master Braxton, one of the club’s other owners and her direct boss.
“Alani. My office. Five minutes.”
Master Braxton kept his voice low. No one around them would have heard him, but she did. She’d caught the sharpness in his normally well-modulated tone. The worst was the firm set of his jaw.
Damn that Master Nathaniel. Rat. Fink. Bastard.
It didn’t matter to anyone that she’d tried to get into the scene with Master Richard or that he’d been satisfied with her performance. The owners would only see her failings.
“Did you understand my order?” he asked when she didn’t reply right away.
“Sorry. Yes, Sir. I did. I’ll be in your office in five minutes.”
He nodded then turned and strolled toward the front of the club where his office was located. No doubt he needed time to pull her personnel file and write her up.
“Damn it.” With her hands shaking and her mouth dry, she hurried into the ladies’ dressing room.
Two years ago, Alani had joined the staff at Limits. She’d started as a receptionist. Several months later, after she’d proven herself adept at knowing the members’ names, handling issues and being reliable, she’d applied for a position as a submissive. As part of her employment agreement, she was expected to behave with proper decorum, which included never having sex with the club’s clients. For the entire first year she’d worked as a submissive, she’d never known what to expect. That had meant nerves and fear had collided on a daily basis, leaving her on a near-constant adrenaline high.
It had been a struggle to figure out the exact nuances that would please each client and earn her a big tip. Did they want her to be stoic? To struggle? Maybe to thrash? To remain silent behind a gag? Maybe count out the strokes they laid against her well-rounded ass?
For Alani, getting the job had fulfilled all the needs she’d had at that time. She craved beatings, lusted after a Dom’s belt, dreamed of his crop, imagined him using a paddle. Without shame, she’d sought out any man who would give her an over-the-knee open-hand spanking. At times, she’d even shoved aside her distaste of the cane, if it had meant getting what she wanted.
Even though she’d earned a spot on the management team several months ago, the truth was, she was bored. It wasn’t just from the job. It was her entire life. Each night at Limits was routine, rather than something to anticipate. And her bookkeeping work was rote. Her workouts were the same. Everything had become monotonous.
Over the past few weeks, she’d toyed with the idea of taking some of her accrued vacation time. She was overdue for a trip to Hawaii to see family. But she’d decided she’d rather do that in January to escape the Colorado winter. A couple of days spent hiking in the mountains would give her a new perspective. More and more, the idea of climbing the Maroon Bells near Aspen appealed to her. Barring that, a long drive to Wyoming to see the Tetons and Yellowstone would restore her. Having something on the calendar to look forward to would add a spark.
Now she wished she had planned it sooner.
She splashed water on her heated face and tucked a few wayward strands of hair behind her ear, pretending she was composed.
A woman, a sub if her collar was anything to go by, came in and stood in front of the long vanity. She gripped the edge of the sink and stared into the mirror.
“Are you all right?” Alani asked. She didn’t have time for hand-holding, but the woman hadn’t even blinked.
When the blonde didn’t respond, Alani touched her shoulder. “Are you all right?” she repeated. “Can I do anything for you? Do you need a ride home?”
“No. I…” The woman met Alani’s gaze in the mirror. “I had no idea how much it would fucking hurt.”
“What happened?” The club had a number of professional monitors who watched every scene and looked out for new guests. If anything had been out of bounds, the sub would have been followed in here.
The woman blinked back tears. “I’ve wanted to play for a long time, and I’ve been begging my boyfriend to spank me. And since it’s my birthday, he agreed to come here.” She took a breath. “He…he beat me. He sat on a chair and pulled me over his lap. He lifted my skirt, made me call him Master… Then… Then he waled on me… Oh my God, he said he liked it.”
Alani crossed to the water dispenser and poured the woman a cup. “Here. Drink this.”
With a brave smile, the woman nodded. She appeared to be around thirty, a couple of years older than Alani. She was tall and thin, and her blonde hair was drenched with highlights. She wore an unzipped leather jacket, a micro-mini skirt and spiky heels. Only in her dreams was Alani that thin and tall.
A female monitor pushed the door open, her eyebrows arched. Alani waved the woman away before asking the blonde, “Where did he beat you?”
“Did he touch you anywhere else?”
“That was bad enough!”
In her mind, Alani heard the inexorable tick of the clock, but she also bore the weight of responsibility. “What’s your name?”
“Okay, then. Let’s have a look.”
“No need to be shy,” Alani said. “I’ve seen plenty of behinds.”
Michelle took a big gulp from the cup before setting it down and hiking up her skirt. She stood still while Alani looked.
There were a couple of red marks, and there wasn’t a single handprint. In an hour, maybe less, there’d be nothing there. “You’re fine. I think you’re a bit shocked, more than anything.”
The woman kept glancing over her shoulder, trying to see her ass.
“Come here,” Alani said. She drew the blonde into the dressing area and positioned two cheval mirrors. “Now look.”
Michelle mouth dropped open. “It feels worse than that.”
“I don’t think you’ll have any bruises.”
After another disbelieving glance, Michelle tugged her skirt down.
“You and your boyfriend need to talk. Some couples like spankings but not bondage. Or some women may enjoy being tied up but not blindfolded. But the truth is, BDSM is not for everyone and that’s okay. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to do it. Picking and choosing or rejecting everything is fine. And for you, maybe spankings are a fun fantasy. We all have them. You do know about safe words, right?”
“Yeah. I say red and he stops.”
Alani nodded. “And Limits has a safe word, skiing. If you say skiing, a monitor will ensure the scene stops.” That information was in the paperwork Michelle had signed. Her ignorance showed she hadn’t read the document. “At any rate, you need to attend a couple of our meet and greets if you want to come back again. And plan on it for sure if you have any intention of pursuing BDSM as a lifestyle choice. They’re held every Saturday in one of our upstairs meeting rooms at two o’clock. They’re interesting and fun, I promise you. Plenty of discussion. Part munch, part education. And it’s catered by Higher Grounds coffee shop.” With every word, Alani was conscious of the passing of time and the fact she was due in Master Braxton’s office. “A spanking can hurt a lot, especially if he hasn’t warmed you up first. It’s all about talk, negotiation, limits.” If she knew the club’s monitors, the blonde’s boyfriend was receiving a similar talk. “Let’s get you fixed up.”
The blonde straightened her clothing, and Alani offered a damp towel. The woman blotted her face, finger-combed her hair, then gave a wan smile. “It wasn’t what I expected.”
“A lot of people find that it’s wonderful and rewarding, but again, patience and communication are necessary.”
She walked the woman back to the monitor who waited outside the door.
“Daniel’s talking with her boyfriend about aftercare,” the monitor said.
“Thanks.” Alani squeezed Michelle’s hand. “Be sure you two have a good discussion, okay? Happy birthday. You’ll be all right.”
Which was more than she could say for herself.
Alani looked at her watch. She was close to fifteen minutes late.
For a moment, she considered changing her clothes before the meeting.
Since she never knew what to expect at work, she kept a variety of shoes, clothing and props in her locker. She could be a maid, a school girl, a vixen. And she had plenty of vanilla clothes to change into, as well.
Because she was still on duty, her skirt ended mid-thigh, and she was conscious of the very feminine garter and stockings she wore. If Master Braxton allowed her to sit, bare skin might be revealed. Jeans or dress pants would be better.
Her shelf bra pushed up her breasts and left her nipples exposed beneath her see-through black blouse. And her heels… She’d worn three-inch stilettos because they showed off her calves, not because they were suitable for being called into the boss’s office.
But she was already in plenty of trouble. After pulling back her shoulders, she headed toward the front of the club.
Willow stood behind the reception podium, checking reservations, making sure paperwork was signed, ensuring club rules were understood. And she did it all with a disarming smile. Lovely and competent.
Willow glanced up from her computer keyboard. “Master Braxton said you were to go straight in.”
Alani couldn’t read anything in Willow’s expression. “Can you find out what happened with Michelle and her boyfriend?”
“What do you mean?”
The couple was new, so that meant someone had sponsored their visit. “I just chatted with her in the locker room. She didn’t seem to know much.”
Willow glanced at the sign-in book. “I’ll find out and let you know.”
“Make sure they attend one of the meet and greets.”
Willow nodded. “Yeah.” Willow gave a half-smile. “Good luck with Master Braxton.”
That was telling.
Alani was too well-trained to rush. She moved with confidence and grace past the check-in podium and into an alcove. No one watching her would have any idea that her insides churned.
Three different doors opened to the alcove. Two led into offices, one for Master Braxton, another for Jaron, the club’s head of security. Master AJ had the biggest office, at the end of a hallway. And she’d never seen the inside. If rumors were believed, his space had dozens of computer screens, rivaling a monitoring room at NASA.
Several chairs dominated the area, along with a couple of silk ferns and a handful of magazines, mainly about architecture or things to do in Denver. There was nothing kinky about the space.
She smoothed back her hair, even though she didn’t need to. She’d mostly gotten past playing with her hair when she was nervous, but now, the old habit returned.
After taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door to her right.
She hesitated only for a moment before turning the knob and entering.
“Alani.” He moved aside a document and laid his pen on top of the page. “Come in and close the door behind you.”
He’d phrased it as order, not an invitation.
After following his instructions, she crossed the hardwood floor toward his desk, uncertain how to behave. She’d been here two years and she’d worked with Master Braxton almost every day. He’d told her during her last review that he was pleased with her performance, but that had been before she’d started faking it.
Her boss hadn’t invited her to sit, so she stood there, her hands clenched in front of her, struggling not to squirm beneath his direct appraisal.
He folded his hands behind his neck and leaned back in his leather chair.
Rules of decorum dictated that she shouldn’t speak first. But this wasn’t a scene. And she was nervous. “Yes, Sir?”
“You may be seated.”
Two chairs faced his desk. His framed business degree hung from the wall. A decorator-inspired silver vase holding cattails sat on top of a credenza.
The space could belong to a banker, lawyer or oil executive in a downtown Denver skyscraper. On her first visit, it had shocked her that this professional-looking office was in a BDSM club in a renovated Lower Downtown warehouse.
The room radiated energy, as if it had been branded by masculine power. And she was enough of a natural sub to find it intoxicating and arousing.
Alani sat on the sleek modern chair, the metal cool against her bare skin. She kept her back straight and crossed her legs. With more of that unwanted nervous energy, she tugged on the hem of her skirt in a futile effort not to reveal bare skin. Vexed, she gave up with a sigh and folded her hands in her lap.
“Finished?” The man missed nothing.
“Tell me what’s going on, Alani.”
“I’m not sure I understand the question.” Stalling was always a good tactic.
“I told you to meet me in five minutes.” He flicked a glance at the wall clock. “It’s been closer to fifteen.”
“There was a guest in the dressing room. It was her first visit to the club, and she thought she wanted her boyfriend to spank her. Since it’s her birthday, he gave her what she asked for. She didn’t handle it well. I thought you would want me to stay with her until I could get her calm enough to turn over to a monitor. I apologize for being late, Sir.”
He nodded. “You did the right thing.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
He allowed the time to drag, and each moment made her stomach tighten. Stalling was fine if she did it, not so great if someone else were doing it.
“Master Nathaniel has been to see me.”
Surprise. She scowled. Since he’d handled the situation, there’d been no reason to tell on her.
“Even before he stopped in, I’d been planning to have a discussion with you.”
She lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you, Sir.”
“I know Master Richard can be a pompous ass. But you’ve had scenes together before without rolling your eyes and yawning.”
Master Nathaniel had even seen her roll her eyes? How long had he been spying on her?
“We’ve had no complaints about your performance from your Doms. But I’ve noticed your lack of attention. Until a few weeks ago, you were our best professional sub.” He leaned forward and dropped his hands to the desk. He looked at her intently. “I’ll ask you again, and I expect an answer. What’s going on, Alani?”
She forced herself to meet his gaze. Master Braxton’s jaw was set, and his eyebrows were drawn together in apparent frustration. But the lack of anger in his tone told her he was more curious than anything. “I love impact play. And I enjoy the scenes where I’m being punished.” She paused. Being sent to the headmaster’s office on the second floor had been a favorite, along with the naughty maid scenario.
Silence grew. He gave her an extraordinary amount of time before prompting, “Go on.”
“Take as long as you need.”
Master Braxton was correct. At one time she’d been able to pretend she had knocked over a lamp with her duster or that she’d cheated on a math test. But now? “I should say, I used to enjoy those scenes.”
“There’s not a particular instance. It’s been festering.” Alani wanted something more. Something real. “I’m having difficulty with the fantasies.” In her lap, she twisted her fingers together. “But all of my transgressions have been fake.”
She thought for a moment he might be teasing. But his eyes contained a lethal amount of power and he wasn’t smiling.
While Master Braxton wasn’t as tall as his two partners, he was broader, a testimony to his construction background and hours in the gym. His blond hair had been permanently streaked by the sun.
She’d participated in a few demonstrations with him on one of the club’s stages and she’d enjoyed every scene. He wielded a wicked crop, and his open-handed slaps to her butt had taken her breath away. But he made it clear to everyone that he was devoted to Karyn, his sub. Although he taught an occasional class, he wasn’t available for anything more.
Realizing she was fidgeting, Alani unlaced her fingers. “I want it to be more serious than it is.”
“Do you want to work here?”
“What?” She jerked and stared at him, wide-eyed. “Yes. Of course. Wait. Am I being fired?” Her breath threatened to choke her. “For one infraction?”
He held up a hand to stop her. “At this time, no.” When he continued, his voice contained a note of compassion. It was one of the things that made him great. “Maybe you should consider some time away. Limits employs the best, the most dedicated.”
She winced. At one time, that had been her. The criticism stung.
“I want to make a couple of things clear. I want you here. If you opt to stay, you’ll be retrained. An abbreviated version.”
Despite her best intentions, her shoulders slumped. Except for participating in scenes with one of the club’s trainers, she’d hated the entire process. For weeks, someone had followed her around, making sure her behavior was perfect. Even though the club was low-protocol, each of her actions and all of her words had been studied, written down, reported to management. Before her promotion had been made official, Master Braxton had called a two-hour meeting with her to ensure his expectations were clear.
“And until your retraining is complete, you’ll be employed as a regular employee, not a manager.” He leaned forward. “You’re a valuable resource to us, Alani, and not just as a sub. Your financial acuity and the way you interact with other employees is a bonus. If you opt to leave us, your gifts will be missed by all of us. If you complete your fourteen-day retraining with satisfactory marks, you’ll be added to the management team again.”
More than anything, she loved being on the management team. During the day, she worked from home as a bookkeeper. Limits was a big part of her social life. She appreciated that her opinions were sought and listened to. She loved brainstorming and participating in strategic planning.
“The thing is, Alani”—he leaned forward—“this isn’t about the club or our clients. In the right mindset, you would have been able to get into a scene.”
The words scored a direct hit.
“Think about this situation from Master Richard’s point of view. He requested you. No one else would do. He likes you and trusts you. Because of his position in the media, he’s not comfortable having a BDSM relationship made public, so he comes here. We respect his privacy. We give him a safe place to escape the pressures of being on camera. He pays his membership fee and he’s a generous tipper.” He raised his eyebrows, as if in question.
She nodded and shifted. Master Braxton was right. She was making this all about herself.
“You’re behaving as a customer, not as a committed member of the management team with our clients’ best interests at heart. And you’re not behaving like a submissive. I have a club to run. And you have a job to do.”
That logic she couldn’t argue with. She’d screwed up by not talking to Master Braxton before now. After exhaling to steady her nerves she asked, “What next?”
“We’ll consider this a verbal warning. According to payroll records, you have accrued three weeks of vacation time, and you’re welcome to take some or all of that if you want. You can clear your mind, see if it helps. Or you can opt for unpaid leave.”
“A verbal warning,” she repeated. “Maybe some time away. And going through retraining.” In all of her working years, she’d never received a reprimand. Even though she’d been considering a vacation, she wanted to do it on her terms. Being forced away was a different, awful thing. “Are those my only choices?”
“I’m sending you home for the rest of the evening with no pay, no matter what.”
“But it’s Friday.” She scowled. “I have clients.”
“I’ve already asked Willow to reschedule.”
Her world crashed around her, but Master Braxton seemed to have no concept of that.
“It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to return tomorrow.” He paused. “Turning in your notice is also an option.”
“I’m not terminating your employment agreement, but I will accept your resignation, if you think that’s best.”
She grasped the chair arms. Master Braxton had never been this inflexible before.
There was a knock at the door. He called out, “Come in.”
Even though she was surprised that he hadn’t told Willow he shouldn’t be interrupted, Alani resisted the impulse to turn around to see who’d entered.
“Ah, Master Nathaniel.”
Bastard. Tattletale. She’d rather have a meeting with the devil.
“Since Master Nathaniel is back in Denver, he’ll be in charge of running the club while Karyn and I are away. So it makes sense for him to deal with this situation.”
The evening had gone from bad to disastrous. “You’re going somewhere, Sir?”
“I’m surprising Karyn with a trip to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her collaring. I wasn’t sure it would work out until Master Nathaniel came home.” Master Braxton nodded purposefully, indicating she should greet Master Nathaniel.
Having no other choice, she gritted her teeth and turned to acknowledge him.
The ridiculously handsome and rigid man regarded her before closing the door. His mouth was set in a firm, uncompromising line. But his green eyes sent a shiver of frost down her spine.
With long, sure strides, he crossed the room to stand inches behind Master Braxton. “Bring me up to speed.”
She waited for Master Braxton to respond but then saw both men were looking at her. She swallowed. “You know what happened during my scene with Master Richard.”
Master Nathaniel folded his arms across his chest. “Explain it in your words.”
In one sentence, he’d gone from nemesis to asshole.
“I’ve already gone over it with Master Braxton.”
“And I asked you a direct question.”
Alani let out a long, measured breath to hold onto her temper and dug her fingers deeper into the chair. “I was having a scene with Master Richard. I wasn’t into it, and you caught me yawning.”
“As well as rolling your eyes. Twice.”
“The yawn would have been forgivable if you were tired. It’s the combination of behaviors that has me concerned.”
“So I understand.” She wasn’t willing to concede anything to him. “At the moment, I’m deciding what to do. I’ve been offered several choices. I can resign.”
“I can take some time away, or I can come back tomorrow.”
“But whenever you come back, if you do, you’ll go through a retraining program,” Master Braxton clarified. “Overseen by Master Nathaniel.”
“What?” She leaped to her feet and met Master Nathaniel’s gaze, measure for measure. “That was never part of it.”
Even from the far side of the desk, the man had an aura that radiated his intensity. It was as if no one else were in the room. “Sit down, Alani,” he instructed.
She remained standing.
Master Braxton appeared to struggle against a smile. “You don’t want to add insubordination to your list of offenses.”
Maybe she did.
“Alani. I gave you an order.” Master Nathaniel’s voice contained a command she couldn’t help but respond to.
She took her chair.
“Better.” He folded his arms. “Now I want an explanation. Why did you allow your attention to wander, little sub?”
“As I said, Master Braxton and I have already discussed that.”
“Indulge me. I want to hear it for myself.” He tilted his head, and she remembered the powerful way he’d captured her chin and forced her attention back to the scene.
He was tall, broad, intense. And maybe, just maybe, a bit intimidating.
“Okay. We’ll do this the hard way. Braxton, I’d like a few minutes with our Alani, if you don’t mind,” Master Nathaniel said.
Eyebrows knotted in a puzzled frown, Master Braxton turned to look at his partner.
Master Braxton nodded.
What the hell? Alani cleared her throat. “Uhm…”
“Alani?” Master Braxton asked.
For a moment, she was tempted to use the club’s safe word, but she didn’t want to give either of them the satisfaction of knowing that Master Nathaniel had rattled her. “That’s fine. I can deal with Master Nathaniel.” She buried her niggle of doubt beneath a pile of bravado.
The door clicked shut behind Master Braxton, leaving her alone with the terrifying Dom. The atmosphere crackled, chasing up her spine like lightning.
Instinct urged her to run, hard, far and fast. Her traitorous body refused to obey her brain’s command. Part of her looked forward to the upcoming challenge with a ferocity that bordered on desperation. In this moment, even though it was unwanted, excitement pinged through her. She was more alive than she’d been in months.
He pushed the empty chair back toward the desk.
She refused to shrink away from him. Instead, she tilted her chin.
“When I ask a question, Alani, I expect an honest and quick answer.” Tight, leashed energy vibrated in his tone.
In spite of her resistance, every part of her responded to his power.
“Am I clear?”
He nodded. The slight acknowledgment that he was pleased scattered tiny pulses of pleasure through her.
With a few purposeful strides, he rounded the desk and closed the distance between them. He propped a hip on the side of the desk, less than a foot away from her, filling her senses.
“Talk to me. I’m listening.” He spoke with intensity, but in a softer, more compelling tone. The man knew how to use his voice in a way that made her thoughts scatter. “Give me an explanation for your behavior.”
He regarded her. His fierce green eyes were cold, and she wondered what they would look like if they weren’t? If he desired her? If he were her Dom? She squirmed.
“It wasn’t so much that I allowed my mind to wander.”
He waited, and she realized he wouldn’t be satisfied with the answers she’d given Master Braxton.
Master Nathaniel wanted the unvarnished truth. If she gave it to him, she might lose her job.
“You’re bored, aren’t you?”
She opened her mouth then closed it without speaking. He was more perceptive than she’d given him credit for. Then, choosing her words with great care, she responded to his question. “With the management details? No. But with Master Richard and most clients, yes. There’s never anything new.” She searched for the words. “It’s all acting, isn’t it? None of it’s real.”
“Tell me more.”
“I’ve been paddled half a dozen times for knocking over nonexistent lamps and punished for cheating on tests that I never took. I squirm and cry and protest, but I don’t experience…”
“Don’t experience what?”
“Anything.” Even when an occasional lash stroke seared, it didn’t reach that part of her that needed soothing.
“You don’t have a Dom who satisfies you?”
She brought her chin up. “This isn’t an appropriate discussion.”
“We can stop at any time. And you don’t have to answer.” He lifted one shoulder. “Your job isn’t on the line.” His tone was easy. But there was something else laced there. Interest. As if he wanted to understand her, rather than persecute her. “It’s up to you.”
On some level, she wanted this—a relentless man to see her struggles, help her cut through them, refuse to accept a half-hearted answer. “The only place I scene is here.”
“Is that part of the problem? You’re taking care of others but you have no outlet?”
The words smacked her. She needed the escape that came from a prolonged scene, a thrashing that left marks to remember and savor, an hour or more, complete with tears and aftercare. Alani wanted to be the focus of a Dom’s attentions, ministrations, demands. More than that, she wanted to be pushed over the edge then be remade into a stronger version of herself.
Thoughts coalesced in a way they hadn’t until Master Nathaniel’s prying and persistence had coaxed them out. She hadn’t understood why restlessness churned through her as a constant, hungry companion.
She shook her head to clear the troubling emotions rattling through her brain. He was right. But how did she confess that to him? Not only was he her boss, he was a near stranger.
“When was the last time it was real for you?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “Months. Maybe a year.” Becoming a submissive had seemed like a perfect job. Now she was realizing it had taken her further away from the release she craved rather than closer to it.
She met his steely gaze.
“Is that what you want? Something real? Something you can feel? Something to remember?”
“It’s been a while for me, too.”
Her blood turned sluggish before surging.
“You’ll have to ask for it. Beg, even. I’ll want you in front of me, on your knees.”
She sucked in a breath as she scanned his features, looking for giveaways in his expression. He was joking. Teasing. Taunting, maybe. Offering what she wanted, but didn’t dare accept.
“And, Alani? You’d better make it good. No acting, like you do with other men. I won’t settle for anything but your absolute raw need. I’ll know the difference. Don’t even dare try to fool me. I’m demanding everything you have to offer.”
This Dom was different. She noted the strength of his forearms, the honed angles of his body. He was a warrior, accustomed to battle. His strength and mental acuity awed her.
“How brave are you?”
For a moment that hung suspended, she wondered herself.