Release Date December 2013
RT Book Reviews Top Pick!
Athena is a widow and an accomplished businesswoman. She's the type of person who exceeds expectations in business, family--life in general. Since the death of her husband, she's had a desire to explore submissive cravings she's had for some time. The hitch is, Athena is known as a Mistress, because that's the role she played to her husband.
Though she knew her submissive nature was strong enough to serve her husband as a Domme, because that's what he needed, it's when she meets Dale, a retired Navy SEAL, that she attempts to discover what her own submissive desires are. But letting go of that control is harder than she expected.
Fortunately, Dale is an accomplished Master who can help her accept the true nature of her submission, rather than how she's tailored it to meet the expectations of others. But in the course of learning what letting go means, both of them will learn a bit more about the nature of love between Dominant and submissive, and how it defies all categories.
© Copyright 2013 - All Rights Reserved
The first time she stepped into a BDSM club, it felt like home. Surprised wasn’t the right word for her reaction. Surprise was what one felt toward a party thrown in one’s honor, planned on the sly by someone else. When she stepped into that dim environment, inhaled the intangible layers of want and need intertwined with the surface scents of tears and sweat, perfume and leather, her unconscious revealed the secret it had kept for so long. This was where she belonged. It rose up into her chest and throat, an unexpected comfort and validation. Ironic, given that she wasn’t there for herself. Not essentially.
Roy had talked her into giving it a try. He wanted to take the play they did in the privacy of their home into a discreet but more populated world. It had mattered to him, so she’d prepared herself to accept it, no matter how sordid it might end up being.
Everyone knew New Orleans had a seedy side. No one bothered to call it an “underside,” since it was broadly displayed in the French Quarter at all hours of the day, and it had worsened since Katrina, when more of the city’s criminal element shifted into that section. But then she found there was an actual underworld, and the darkness there was heated, welcoming. Not seedy at all. The perspiration gleaming on marked skin, the cries of pleasure and pain, the glitter of eyes in the dim light, the energy that pulsed in Club Release like its own power source . . . it reminded her of what she’d felt in some of the old churches in the city.
That connection had come much later, when Roy got sick. Occasionally there would be things at the company she had to handle in person, so she’d leave him with his nurse for the bare minimum time necessary. One day, on the way back home, she obeyed an impulse driven by simple weariness of spirit and allowed herself a fifteen-minute detour into a small Catholic church. It had a trio of archways beckoning the faithful, and the smell of stone and wood over a hundred years old. She’d sat in the sanctuary, stilling her mind, letting everything go for those precious few moments. She realized the ambiance that compelled hushed voices, a still soul, was like what she felt in the club. There was also euphoria, a contained joy, the best kind to feel.
Things always felt more intense when restrained. She’d seen it in how Roy experienced it, but she felt it inside as well, though she’d never experienced it firsthand.
Though she didn’t share why she’d stopped at the church, not wanting him to worry about her, she’d shared that comparison with Roy. He smiled at her, nodded, his eyes still bright in the gaunt face. They remained bright until the last few days, when he slipped into that pre-death, morphine coma so common to cancer patients. At the end, she’d whispered in his ear, commanded him to let go. She told him that she’d be all right, that his Mistress would always love him. He would like her putting it in those terms, she knew. So his Mistress let him go, even as his wife sat at his bedside, clutching his hand, the loneliness closing around her when his breath stopped and he obeyed her.
“Want another one?”
She returned to the present. Jimmy, who ran the bar at Club Release, had drawn her back out of herself. Since it was a private club run as a nonprofit membership group, they didn’t serve alcohol, but they had a good selection, everything from chili pepper cocoa to lemonade or O’Doul’s. He gave her glass a significant glance. “I can top that to two-thirds, Lady Mistress, so you can slip in a little more of that vodka you don’t think I’m seeing.”
She gave him a faint smile. “My sleight of hand’s out of practice.”
“Naw. You just know that I already know. And you’re sad tonight.” He hesitated, put his hand on the bar next to hers, no contact, but the offer of connection there. “You know, it’s been over two years. Dillon and Seth are easygoing, gentle subs. Either one of them would help you break the dry spell. It’s no different for us than it is for a vanilla person going on that first date. It might even be a little easier, because they saw you work with Roy and know how you operate. You can tell me ‘shut up, bitch’ if I’m way off base, but I can’t help but feel you’re looking for something.”
“Maybe. I’ll think about it.” It wasn’t the first time he’d suggested it, though he hadn’t been as blunt in the past. It also wasn’t the first time she’d given that noncommittal response.
When she started coming back here, a few months ago, they’d let her lack of participation pass without comment. They’d known her and Roy in a way no one else did, which meant Club Release offered a unique type of sanctuary. However, not only was she no longer playing, she was hardly watching when she showed up. She just closed her eyes and listened, using the club’s sounds as the backtrack to her own personal memory reel. It was bound to invite more pointed comments after a while. Sometimes it could be a pain in the ass, people knowing certain parts of you too well . . . and other parts not at all.
Yes, she’d felt at home here, with Roy. But it was as if she’d lost weight and the mirror showed a core version of herself that other layers had disguised. It made her think it was time to put down the whip and do something different. Be on the other side of the whip. Craving the lash, the pain . . . the release.
The first time that thought crystallized in her mind’s eye, refusing to be shrouded, it had startled her. She wasn’t used to analyzing and thinking about herself in a solitary way. It was always in relation to something else, someone else. Roy, first and foremost, and then a hundred others lined up after him. Family members, the community, business.
She pushed those thoughts away. She didn’t want Jimmy to pry further, so she would make an effort. Though this was when she normally would pay her tab and go home, she rose, picking up her drink, and wandered into the Fortress of Solitude. In this section of the club, no talking was allowed. A safe gesture replaced a safe word, and submissives were gagged, so their bodies, their eyes, their faces, broadcast what was happening to them. A Master or Mistress ordered them through touch: a hand on their shoulder to guide them to a restraint, a tug of the leash, a pressure to put them on their hands and knees. It was a good place to avoid conversation.
With it being Tuesday night, she’d hoped no one would be in there, that the few members in attendance had gravitated toward the more social rooms, those which also had more popular equipment. Her hopes were short-lived.
At least it was only one couple, a Master and his female sub. She didn’t recognize the Dom, but she hadn’t been to the club in over a month, too busy with other things. He wore a black eyemask and a tight black bandanna knotted at his nape. Together, they hid all of his features except his mouth, the line of his jaw. He wore tight black gloves.
Practitioners of BDSM came from all walks of life, many of them average Janes and Joes whose unremarkable facets became polished gems when their true natures sparkled in these rooms. She’d seen it happen with lean Goths, bikers, comfortable middle-class types, military, and then those like her. Her infallibly ladylike demeanor, the old Southern money roots she couldn’t and wouldn’t try to conceal, had earned her the nickname Jimmy had spoken tonight. Lady Mistress.
Despite the diverse club population, she was fairly certain she’d never seen a Master quite like this one. Unless it was in one of the confusing, erotic dreams that had been teasing the edges of her sleep of late, dreams she didn’t feel comfortable sharing even in this venue. Perhaps especially in this venue.
She’d handled fundraising for the USO charity ball three years running. During that time, she’d become friendly with a variety of military wives. One night she and Roy had the pleasure of hosting a dinner party for some of them. Several of the attending spouses were Navy SEALs. She’d noted a unique stamp to the way they carried themselves, the look in their eyes. On top of that, each had an impressive physique. It was understandable since, in the SEALs, the body was pushed to the max in terms of endurance, speed and strength. One of the wives told Athena that many of the men, even those who’d never been injured, ended up requiring some disability benefits by the end of their career, due to the punishing demands on joints, muscles, skeletal system.
“They never quit. They just go until the body is completely worn out.” The wife had said it half jokingly, though her eyes had followed her husband with that combination of fierce love and quiet acceptance military wives had to possess to make the marriage last.
This Master had that unique stamp to him. If Athena was right and he was a SEAL, he definitely wasn’t at that worn-out point. The black jeans and unmarked black T-shirt defined a body that said he was capable of pretty much any physical demand. She wondered at his age, his hair color. He wore silver-tipped cowboy boots. There was no other ornamentation on him. His concentration was on the woman dependent on his mercy.
If it wasn’t a Tuesday, with such sparse attendance, she expected he would have had far more of an audience, but maybe that was why he preferred a quiet weeknight. Maybe he considered her as much of an intrusion as she’d initially considered him. But though Athena sensed his awareness of her presence, he didn’t seem distracted by it.
Willow, his submissive, was a regular at the club, one who craved heavy punishment from a Master, hence the pseudonym. A willow bent under any punishment, but didn’t break. She was tied spread eagle to an upright metal frame. This room had several frames like that, as well as a pegboard of whips, floggers, paddles, thumpers and uncomplicated restraint options. The Fortress of Solitude tended to attract those who preferred to use the basics and let psychological domination do the rest.
At the moment, this Master was utterly still. He held a cane in one large hand, the end resting in the half-curled palm of the other, while his gaze coursed over his captive’s body. Willow was stripped to the skin, which would be a viewing pleasure for anyone watching, but his body language said that was irrelevant to him. Even more importantly, it told Willow she was stripped for his pleasure alone.
He stood with feet evenly braced, T-shirt pulling across his shoulders and chest, his ass and thigh muscles taut beneath the mold of the denim. The tilt of his head, as if he was listening to something no one else could hear, made the rule of silence not a guideline, but a mandate that would incur punishment if broken. Athena wet her lips.
His profile could have been etched from granite, his jaw looked that resilient. She wanted to see the rest of his face. She thought he’d be dark haired, because the scattering of hair on his arms was dark, and his five-o’clock shadow was a blue-black that made a woman think of pirates. Since the shadowing in the room made it impossible to determine his eye color, she imagined them as green, then brown or blue. A dark blue, like a cold ocean, hiding pleasures and dangers both.
He moved then, sweeping the cane across Willow’s buttocks, a strike across the widest part. She jerked, biting down on the gag. He did it again, creating an X, and then kept doing it, focusing on her ass and upper thighs.
The girl was a pale-skinned, white-haired blonde with a soft, pretty body. She had the tattoo of a rose on the back of her shoulder, the thorny stem winding its way around her shoulder blade and to the front. When she twisted in pain, reacting to the cane, Athena glimpsed the rest of the tattoo. The stem ended at her left nipple, which was pierced with a barbed barbell.
He stopped. The girl panted behind her gag, her fingers opening and closing in the cuffs that held her to the frame. She wore a blindfold, but Athena saw the tears that had trickled down to the corners of her mouth. Her body was shuddering. Athena’s stomach was quivering in response, a sympathetic tingle in her thighs and buttocks where she had them pressed against the wall. She could sit down on the couch in the corner, but she preferred to be here, part of the ungiving and cool cinder block wall.
The masked man moved intimately close to Willow, planting a boot between her spread feet. He caressed her biceps, sliding a gloved hand over the tender bend of her elbow before he dropped his touch to her hip. Willow’s head turned toward him, the attitude of her body one of yearning, desire for his attention. Wanting to please him.
Was he a consistent sadist, or had he tailored his skill set to Willow’s need for pain? He might be the type of Dom who chose a different sub on each visit, enjoying the challenge of exploring various techniques, anticipating the needs of different playmates. Even so, he’d have a personal preference; most Doms did. Athena wondered what it was, wondered what it would be like to be bound to him uniquely, such that he would reveal his own desires and let her be the willing recipient of serving them.
“Her” meaning a special sub, bound to this faceless Master. She didn’t mean herself, of course, except in the comfort of her fantasies.
Subs had their own preferences as well. Roy had liked the psychology of being dominated and enjoyed some pain to reinforce it, but the restraints, the sense of helplessness, that was what he truly needed.
Willow shuddered in the man’s grip. From the slackness of her mouth, the jerky movements of her body, as well as the flushed look of her swollen clitoris, she was soaring. Teetering on the edge of climax, caught in mindless submission, that was the state a Dom loved to see.
He put his mouth against her ear. Speaking was permitted if the Master or sub had a safety issue to clarify. He spoke so softly, however, that Athena couldn’t hear him. Willow did, her trembling increasing. She shook her head, a whimper escaping her. Though the sound was muffled by the gag, he gave her marked ass a sharp smack, and she stilled, obeying the rules. His touch now became more gentle, though his tone increased enough that Athena caught the rumble. He had a deep voice. She found that pleasing, soothing. Apparently, so did Willow. The girl nodded at last, more tears leaking out from under the blindfold. Anything for you, her body language said. I will give you anything. I will fly for you.
The man moved back, switching out the cane for a six-foot single tail. It took considerable skill to wield one well, but Athena had no doubt he had that skill. When he assumed the proper stance, it was as if the room bent inward toward him like one of the Matrix movies, responding to his focus. Athena was a peripheral, no different from the wall itself. Everything for him would be about Willow’s reactions, monitoring them, making sure this went where Master and sub both desired, until it became organic, a spiral where intuition was guiding every action and reaction.
Willow cried out at the pop on her tender flesh. No help for that, and why the sub wore a gag, in case she couldn’t hold back involuntary noises. Club Release allowed bloodplay, but Willow’s unbroken yet abraded flesh said she preferred the pain but not the injury, and he gave her the former in good measure. As she yanked against the bonds, the pain overcame her control, and she was screaming against the gag with every stinging strike.
Athena closed her eyes, imagining being where Willow stood, feeling that lash. What would it be like to experience that? Could such pure agony purge deeper, more emotional pain, bring it all to the surface, let it bleed out, boil forth like a pus? The idea mesmerized her, held her paralyzed against the wall, caught up in the sounds, the tears, the miasma of Domination and surrender.
When Willow went silent, except for more whimpering, Athena brought herself back, though it like pulling herself out of a womb. The man put the whip aside, came back to Willow.
He gripped her hair, yanked her head back as he slid his hand down her front, covered her clit and labia and began to massage. Two of his fingers pushed inside her wet pussy as his thumb worked her outside. Willow struggled, wailed, and then she came. Athena shifted to the other wall so she could see the girl’s climax spurt over his gloved fingers. Her gaze latched onto his forearm, pressed against Willow’s abdomen, and she thought about the heat of that arm against her own flesh.
He didn’t stop when Willow was done, continuing until she was squirming in discomfort. He gave her another disciplinary smack, forcing her to accept her Master’s will in motionless agony, his manipulation of the oversensitized nerves. By the time he chose to stop, she would have been in a puddle on the floor, had her restraints and the arm he had around her waist not been holding her up. He removed his other glove by pulling the fingers loose with his teeth, then shook it loose so it dropped to the floor. Stroking her hair with the bare hand, he bent to press a kiss to the crown of her head.
The glove had landed three feet away from Athena. She stared at it as he performed aftercare for his sub. It was a vital process that gave emotional reassurance to Willow, told her she’d done well, that she’d pleased her Master. It also physically grounded her, since a sub could be so disoriented right after an intense session like this that she couldn’t even be trusted to walk unaided.
After she’d punished Roy over a spanking bench with a paddle or flogger until he climaxed, Athena would make him stretch out fully on the bench. She’d bring him back down to earth with a slow massage of his broad shoulders and back, his firm buttocks.
She bent to pick up the glove. She told herself she did it so it wouldn’t be in the way, so that the Master wouldn’t step on it, but as she held it, she couldn’t resist slipping it over her hand. The glove had retained the heat of his body. She imagined how it had emanated through the thin outer layer, adding to the burn as he slapped Willow’s ass.
The man straightened and looked over his shoulder at her. The SEALs at her dinner party had registered the slightest movement of the other guests in the same way, particularly at the entry and exit points, or if a guest made an unexpected movement, as she’d just done. Now his gaze fell on her hand, covered in his glove.
Her cheeks flushed, but rather than prompting her to pull it off, his look made her fingers curl over it. Vaguely, she thought she should apologize, because she might be disrupting his session, but speaking wasn’t allowed. Plus, she wasn’t sure if she’d offended him. His body language gave nothing away. The dim light obscured his gaze, but she wondered if she was right, if his eyes were dark blue. Or maybe hazel, that intriguing gray-gold-green color.
At some point, she wasn’t simply meeting his gaze; she was caught in it. Wishes, inarticulate needs, things so contained she wasn’t sure she could move for fear of eruption, seemed to rise up to a perilous level inside her. She wanted to tell him something, tell him everything, but she had no idea what. Or even how to start.
Some shocking part of her wanted to sink to her knees, wait until his other gloved hand touched her face, lifted her chin. He’d command her to take Willow’s place on the frame and send her soaring as well.
Jimmy’s jaw would drop at that, for sure.
She turned away, leaving the room. Aftercare was personal, intimate. It had been her favorite part of the sessions with Roy. Even though this Master and Willow were in a public club environment, Athena didn’t have a desire to intrude on that. It made too many things hurt.
It wasn’t until she’d left the room that she realized she was still wearing the glove. She took it off, left it on a drink table next to the archway leading into the Fortress, where he’d be sure to find it. She had to suppress a strong urge to keep it. She wanted to sleep with it on her pillow, her cheek against it. She wanted to put it back on her hand, rub it between her legs the way he’d massaged Willow, and imagine him whispering in her ear. Come for me.
When she put her cup on the bar, Jimmy gave her a knowing look. “The new guy’s something, isn’t he? He’s been really popular with the lowercase ladies.”
Athena offered a faint smile at his reference to female submissives. When submissives wrote their names on the guest logs, most of them, even those who used their actual first names, wrote them in lowercase. Willow would be willow. Only Masters and Mistresses had capitalized names.
“He won’t play with men?”
“No. To the eternal disappointment of those of us with bi or queer tendencies.” Jimmy winked. He was bisexual and a switch on top of that, though she knew his preference was submissive. “But I’m not sure I’d call what he does play. He goes at it with a singular intensity, like he’s performing a religious ritual. You hear about that happening, but rarely see it in action. Not to the level he does it. You should come in one night, see him do it from beginning to end. The way he prepares himself, lays out what he’ll use. That’s why we’ve taken to calling him Master Craftsman—MC. He said he thought we were comparing him to a Sears department store. Solid quality but something most folks sadly consider outdated. That part didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, I think he took it as a compliment.”
Jimmy flashed a grin. “Oh, and on the straight versus gay thing, he told me he doesn’t mind watching some Mistress-girl action.”
Athena made a wry face. “That’s every straight man’s fantasy, Jimmy. You know that.”
“Yeah. Isn’t it peculiar, how many religions get worked up over two guys going at it, but they don’t say diddly about two women?”
“Just proves men wrote religious texts.”
“No argument there.” Jimmy chuckled. “I bet MC would have enjoyed the heck out of that thing you orchestrated for Roy’s last birthday.”
She’d put Roy on that same frame that Willow was on now. She’d wrapped his arms, legs and torso with multiple bindings so that he could barely move. Then she lay down on a divan several feet in front of him. Marsha, a submissive who liked being commanded to do oral on men or women, had lent Athena her services that night. She’d put her soft lips between Athena’s legs, curled her pretty hands around her thighs and made her come while Roy watched. When she was done, Athena ordered Marsha on her knees in front of Roy to service him the same way while Athena watched, standing behind her. After she’d given him permission to come, Roy had gushed into the cherry-chocolate flavored condom Marsha was sucking.
Marsha had been thanked and dismissed, and then Athena had shifted behind him, laid her cheek on Roy’s back. Listening to his breath go in and out, absorbing the shudder of his body through her own, she’d been captivated by what she’d done to him. He’d been hers, but she’d been his, too. Had he realized that? She missed having a man look at her with pure ownership in his eyes. Very much.
“I’m calling it a night, Jimmy. Thanks for the drink.”
“Sure thing. Don’t stay away so long next time. And hey . . . I mean, if Dillon and Seth don’t interest you, I’m another option. Just give me a heads-up and I’ll make sure I’m not on shift here.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that. You’re a good friend.” The sudden flash of male interest made her uncomfortable, however. Perhaps sensing it, he waved his hand dismissively. “I’m a guy, Lady Mistress. You know it’s a selfish offer. A lot of us would love to experience what Roy did. You’re an amazing Domme.”
How would he react if he knew she wanted to go to her knees for a Dom she’d just seen for the first time? Jimmy’s innocuous and honest proposal made her want to flee. Not wishing to hurt his feelings, she gave him a distant smile, shaking her head to deflect the compliment, then took her leave.
The club was on the second level of a warehouse in an industrial area, so she took a set of stairs down to the first level. They had a volunteer at a table just inside the entrance door. He served as an informal security guard, keeping an eye on the cars in the parking lot. She nodded to him, pushing open the door.
Her dark blue BMW was close to the entrance, and she unlocked it, slipped in behind the wheel, closed the door. Embracing that personal cocoon, a haven from questions and the outside world, she tried to shrug off her confusing emotions. But Jimmy’s suggestion had stabbed something down deep inside her. Something that rose up with astonishing firmness and proclaimed never again. She’d been a Mistress to Roy alone.
Yet she wasn’t done with this, was she? The sense that she belonged in this world kept drawing her back. She just didn’t know how to change her role in it, or if she really wanted to change, or if she was just confused. Sometimes the simplest thing was best. Perhaps it was time to cut it out of her life. Bury it as she had her husband. Metaphorically, since he was cremated.
When she keyed the ignition, she saw she had less than a quarter tank of gas left. Enough to get home, but tomorrow she’d be heading to the Garden Club meeting, so it would be more convenient to get gas tonight. She should have thought about it earlier, but lately she’d been more forgetful about those kinds of things. Suppressing a sigh, she glanced across the street. There was a twenty-four-hour, credit-card-only station there. Since she was in direct view of the club entrance, despite the late hour, it should be safe enough to stop and put in a few gallons.
She cut across the quiet street. After she processed her credit card and inserted the pump into the BMW to start fueling, an old Cadillac pulled into the aisle across from hers. The two men driving didn’t look particularly reputable, but in New Orleans, that didn’t necessarily signify danger.
She was merely annoyed, not alarmed, when the driver approached her. He was probably going to try and bum a few dollars off of her. As she unhooked the gas pump from her tank, put it back in its slot, the other man got out of the Caddy, circled around to the other side of her car.
In hindsight, she knew she should have jumped in the car at the first sight of them, locked the doors and laid down on the horn. The club volunteer was at the proper angle to view the parking lot, but he wouldn’t be looking toward the gas station unless something drew his attention there, like a blaring horn. It might have been an overreaction if they meant her no harm, but it would be better than what she was facing now.
Hindsight never really did anyone much good, did it? She should have filled up earlier. She needed to give herself a firm scolding for that. Unbidden, she imagined “MC” giving her that scolding, and was warmed by the shiver that ran up her spine.
What was the matter with her? Two men had her hemmed in at her car, and yet she seemed caught in a fog, her natural adrenaline reaction clogged. Her response to their threat was perilously slow. Almost apathetic.
“Give me your credit card and whatever cash you’re carrying. As well as that sparkly ring you’re wearing.” The driver seemed laid-back, almost conversational about it. Not even particularly aggressive, but then, he didn’t need to be. The look in his eyes told her he’d done violence before, and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. “C’mon, bitch. Just give ’em to me and you can go back to your fancy life, order a couple hundred more credit cards.”
Of course. Because like all rich people, I simply pull money out of my ass by magic, not hard work. She was smart enough not to say it, but she met his gaze squarely. “No.”
The punch in the face was unexpected, jarring. As the world reeled, she thought of the masked man smacking Willow’s ass. It had been intended to provoke pleasure as much as pain. This was simple violence, the companion to hate and resentment and all the things that made a person not care what they were doing to another. As a result, a matching response boiled up inside her.
She might have screamed in rage, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was she flew at the young man with nails and teeth. She was a small woman in her forties with no fighting skills, so it would be nothing for him to beat her into the ground, but she didn’t stop pummeling at him, no matter how ineffectually. His second blow caught her on the temple and she staggered. She was vaguely aware of the other one opening her car door to yank out her purse. She lunged at him and the driver shoved her against the gas pump, the handles jamming into her lower back.
“Stop fighting,” he snapped impatiently.
He’d caught her hand, was wrenching at her rings. The engagement ring Roy had given her at a soiree with her family and friends. The twenty-year anniversary band. The plain gold wedding band. His mistake was he was trying to work all three off together, and her knuckles were not the same as they’d been at nineteen or twenty-one, respectively, when Roy had placed two of them there. She screamed in rage, for help, to be noticed, to stop him. She also kicked at him, dropping to the ground so he had to follow her, practically roll with her as she curled around the rings like she was protecting a child.
He grabbed hold of her hair. Again she was struck with the contrast, the Master coiling his hand in Willow’s hair to drag her head back. This man was going to smash her face against the raised concrete dais. She’d be another NOLA crime statistic.
Instead, he was yanked off her and slung back over her car. He hit the hood with a resounding thump, rolled off. The BMW might need body work. A flurry of violent activity ensued, punctuated by male swearing. A cry followed a sound like breadsticks being snapped. Then there was a scramble, the two men running back to their car, one limping and the other holding his arm against himself. The Caddy sped away, the driver shouting obscenities out the window, his eyes wild, spooked.
She was trying to get up, but a large hand closed over her shoulder, keeping her down. “Easy, let’s take this slow. See what’s what.” When he tried to uncurl her hands from her chest, she was too disoriented. She made a noise between angry protest and pleading.
“It’s all right. They’re gone. I’m not going to hurt you or take anything from you, I promise.”
It was his rumbling tone that brought things into focus. The man in the Caddy had tried to take her rings, not this man. This man was trying to help her.
He gently manacled her wrist, using his hold on it and the arm he slid behind her shoulders to help her sit up on the concrete dais. He unfolded her legs so they were stretched out in front of her. She blinked, bemused when he guided her calf so one ankle was crossed over the other. A ladylike pose, rather than sprawled ignominy. It helped.
She focused. “Your eyes aren’t dark blue.”
Maybe it was because she was still fuzzy, but she had an impression of several colors. Green at the bottom of the iris, melding into blue at the top. A center ring of gold around the pupil. She knew it was him, not just because of the black T-shirt and jeans and his build, but because of that unique stamp to him. He barely seemed winded after dispatching the two men.
Her gaze shifted to his hair. It was charcoal colored, with a handsome peppering of gray. She suspected he was a little older than her, maybe late forties. She really had wanted to see his face, and now that she’d been granted her wish, she was having trouble focusing on it. She locked her attention on that granite jaw. That, and his touch, made good anchor points to help her steady. The heat of his palms on her arms was so much better than what she’d felt when she’d slipped her fingers into his glove. She wanted him to keep them there.
“Answer my question, Athena. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Just bumps and bruises.” Her vision had only blurred when she was hit, so she didn’t think she had a concussion. Her cheek had hit the cement, not her skull. She’d have quite a story to tell at the Garden Club luncheon. She’d make them laugh by telling them it was due to an unfortunate run-in with her rebellious rose bushes. She didn’t think they’d laugh if she told them it was because of an attempted mugging outside her favorite BDSM club. “It was just a shock to be hit that way.”
“Yeah. That’s usually the first hurdle in combat training. Understanding you’re going to get hit in hand-to-hand, and you can’t flinch from it. You didn’t flinch at all.”
“I’d like to say it was bravery, but I simply didn’t expect it.”
“Most people don’t expect someone to do that to them. Not if it’s never happened before. If you had some training, I think you’d have kicked that bastard’s ass.”
“Thank you. A nice way of saying I fight like a girl. Would you mind helping me up?”
He rested his hand on her knee, drawing her attention to the fact that one was knocking against the other. Until he touched it, and then it stilled, with an uncertain quiver. “Let’s sit here for another minute or two.”
He was sitting next to her, which would ordinarily be pleasant, but the location wasn’t.
“I’d like to at least move to my car,” she said. “This isn’t a very comfortable or aromatic position. The gas smell’s a little overpowering.”
“Aromatic?” His lips quirked, and they were handsome and firm. “No wonder they call you Lady Mistress. All right, then. Point taken. You’re going to lean on me, though. No arguments.”
It wasn’t the only reason they called her that. She was Athena Francesca Summers, born of old Southern money, married to Roy “Rocket” Summers. She’d been at his side for over twenty years as the two of them expanded and increased the success of the company he started, Summers Industries, which was now a multinational corporation that also employed thousands domestically. On top of that, she was practically a professional volunteer fundraiser for various high-profile New Orleans charities.
Though most at Club Release hadn’t known her true identity in the beginning, it wasn’t hard to figure out as time went on, since photographs of her and Roy regularly showed up in the business and social columns. Club Release was known for its exclusive membership and small size, which was one of the reasons Roy had chosen it, despite more upscale fetish club choices in the New Orleans area, like the nearby Club Progeny.
There was no shame in a Southern lady leaning on a handsome male rescuer, but even if there had been, she would have had little choice. Despite the odd calmness of her mind, her legs couldn’t support her weight. However, he did more than let her lean. When she expected him to open her driver’s side door, instead he bent, slid his arms beneath her and lifted her off her feet. He walked around to the passenger side, letting her down there before he opened the door.
Roy hadn’t been a weakling, but she could count on one hand the times he’d carried her. Worried he might throw out his back, she’d insist he put her down, even though she’d hold on to his neck as she fussed. When he did put her down, she’d compliment his show of manly strength, laughing at the mischief in his brown eyes. Lord, she missed that man’s sense of humor.
She leaned against the frame of the door, swamped by the feeling. A near mugging could do that, remind a woman of the practicalities she faced when her husband was dead and no close family lived in the area. No one was directly involved in her day-to-day well-being. Had she even updated her emergency contact numbers in her purse or at the house? If she’d been seriously hurt, would the emergency room have tried to find Roy?
Oh, for heaven’s sake. She wasn’t going to fall into this self-pitying drivel. She’d update it tomorrow, choose one of her many friends to be primary contact. None of those friends knew about this part of her life, though. They’d have no clue why she was pumping gas in the middle of the night in a part of town none of them frequented. It didn’t really matter, did it? If she needed an emergency contact, she expected discretion wouldn’t be high on her list of priorities.
The man stood at her back, close enough for her to feel his heat. His hand was just above hers on the frame as he waited her out. She had a sudden desire to slide her hand up over his, hold on tight, feel that human contact. If he turned his hand to clasp hers, she’d experience firsthand the restrained strength he’d used when he brought that cane down on Willow’s flanks, and then again when he’d slid his hand down her bare body, fingers decisively capturing her clit, pushing her over the edge. One more small step, and he’d be as close to Athena as he’d been to his bound submissive.
“I’d like to thank you properly,” she said, staring at that hand. “May I ask your name? Or do you prefer Master Craftsman?” She knew Jimmy had meant it as a joke, a teasing nickname, but it was all she had.
“Hardly. Do you feel Lady Mistress is a good fit for you?”
“It was, once.” She spoke before she thought about the wisdom of saying so, but watching him had brought such thoughts to the surface, hadn’t it? Her legs were trembling again, and her grip slipped on the door frame. “Damn it.”
“Ease in there.” He folded her firmly into the passenger seat. She’d lost her shoes during the scuffle, but he had them. He placed them neatly by her feet in the floorboards. Her toes curled into the rug, the rougher fibers a contrast with the silk of her nylons.
He shut the door, then came around to the driver’s side. He reached beneath the seat to slide it back and accommodate his larger frame before he took the spot. Her purse was still on the console, her keys in the ignition, so he turned the engine over, adjusting the air so a low heat began to fill the car. Though it was a warm enough night in New Orleans, she was shivering. Shock, she supposed, and watched him press the seat warmer for the passenger side. It warmed both the back and backside, and she couldn’t help a small sigh of comfort when it responded quickly. German luxury cars were a gift of the gods.
Her dashboard GPS came up, and he glanced at it, pressing the icon programmed for home. Just like that, he had her address. She wasn’t that concerned about it, because he didn’t feel like a threat. Not that way. Her gaze fastened onto his forearm, that dark sprinkle of hair. Lifting her attention to the silver hair at his temples, she reached out, touched it.
Those intent eyes locked with hers in a way that made her close her hand, lower it with only a brief impression of the soft texture. He held her gaze, unsmiling, until she put the hand back in her lap. She could almost hear the click, the connection made, a mutual understanding of their behavior. His wasn’t a surprise to her, not after having watched him in the club. But his reacting that way now told her he wasn’t simply a bedroom Dom, one demanding those terms in the boundaries of a defined session, a sexual scenario. Few men had the confidence to pull it off believably outside a structured environment.
That intel, rather than suggesting she might act with more caution around him, gave her far more unwise thoughts and desires.
If her reaction had surprised him, given that she was classified as a Domme, he didn’t show it. “I’m taking you home,” he said, “and then I’ll call a cab to get me back to my place. I came with a friend tonight, so I don’t have my truck here. Take a hot shower tonight and a couple aspirin. It’ll make you feel better tomorrow.”
“Voice of experience?” Her tongue seemed to be too thick in her mouth. “That didn’t seem like your first fis-fisticuffs.”
His lips quirked again. “Fisticuffs? Really? Are you a librarian?”
“Do I look like one?”
“Depends.” His gaze covered her, head to toe, and he took his time about it. “I’ve had some interesting fantasies about librarians. The kind where I bend them over a stack of books and discipline them with a nice flexible paperback for shushing me one too many times.”
Was he trying to steady her with the teasing? Giving him a silly smile, she leaned forward and put her finger to her lips, trying to summon a suitably stern librarian expression. “Shh.”
He closed his hand over hers and brought the one finger to his lips, brushing a kiss over the pad. They knew what type of animal they each were, and they’d met through a sexually focused club, so this type of flirtation was meaningless. Two Doms teasing one another with no intent to engage. Except as he continued to hold her wrist, his eyes became more serious, while her fingers loosened, becoming more pliant.
“The name doesn’t fit anymore, does it?” he asked. “That’s what you were saying.”
She swallowed, sat back. As she did, he let her slide free. She looked out the window. She’d been maudlin earlier. Sad, Jimmy had called it, but still dangerously mawkish. Now was not a time to make impetuous decisions. “You don’t need to take me home. Use the car to go back to your own place, and by that time I’ll be steady enough to drive. No sense in inconveniencing you by trying to get a cab out to my place this time of night.”
When he said nothing, she settled deeper into the seat, closed her eyes, and crossed her arms over herself. “All right?”
“You’re no inconvenience. And I’ll see how you’re doing when we get to my place. My name is Dale. Dale Rousseau.”
“Rousseau.” She smiled, eyes still closed. The warmth of the car was making her drowsy. Her trembling had stopped. Things were slowing down again, the fog returning. ‘Nothing is less in our power than the heart, and far from commanding, we are forced to obey it’.”
“Intriguing choice. ‘To live is not merely to breathe; it is to act; it is to make use of our organs, senses, faculties—of all those parts of ourselves which give us the feeling of existence’.”
“A Master who knows his Rousseau. Thank you, Dale.”
She wasn’t sure if she was thanking him for knowing Rousseau, for driving her home or for rescuing her from the two thugs, but it didn’t matter. A lady always offered her thanks for a kindness, and so far he’d been nothing but kind.
It just showed the depths of her capricious mood that she yearned for the part of him she’d seen earlier in the evening—when he’d been far less kind.