Red Ribbon

Bound In Red, Book 1

Lila Dubois

Chapter 1

What the hell was she doing here?

Swirling the alcohol-enhanced punch in its small plastic cup, Elizabeth Brown surveyed the room despairingly. The occupants had broken off into pairings or groups of three. For the most part the women were seated on chairs and couches placed against the walls while the men stood over them. In another setting this might be taken for consideration, the gentlemen having kindly allowed the ladies to sit while they stood, but in this room, in this situation, that was not the case.

Liz eyed the other women with mild distaste. Everything about them was sending off waves of submission—their posture, the gentle murmur of their voices, the soft, easily removed clothing they wore.

Liz was the only woman in pants.

Shoulders curled forward, chins tilted down, words soft and hesitant, they were exactly what the men in the room were looking for. She was not.

Fingering the red ribbon around her neck that marked her as a submissive, Liz took one more look at the potentially partnerless men in the room, those who stood in groupings of two or more men to one woman. Strangely, she had assumed that there would be more women than men. Perhaps that view was shaped by BDSM literature she had read, which always had Dominants with multiple lovely young submissives, making it seem that beautiful, naturally submissive women were as thick on the ground as leaves in fall.

In one corner, two men lounged in arrogant splendor, their eyes fixed on the large breasts of the woman sitting between them. Their body language was relaxed, confident—their postures said that if they wanted the girl, they could have her.

Liz shuddered at the thought of allowing either of them to kiss her cheek let alone stick his dick in her. Both men looked weak in both body and spirit. One had a beer gut and love handles, his clothes poorly fitted and wrinkled. The other was rail-thin and gangly, like a bean sprout, his hooknose and squinty eyes adding to his overall air of unattractiveness.

The conversation between the couple next to her caught her attention. Shifting in her pumps, Liz leaned against the wall, watching them out of the corner of her eye.

The man was older than many in the room—early to mid-sixties. He wore a simple black sweater with a V-neck that allowed curling white chest hairs to escape. He had an older-man paunch, accentuated by his pants—belted tightly below his belly. She couldn’t begrudge him his homely face but he had obviously let himself go. How could the woman sitting so quietly in front of him hope to be mastered by this man who clearly could not take care to master himself? How could she expect to feel captured, captivated by his arms when they contained no muscle, only soft flabby flesh? For a moment Liz pictured herself on her knees before the man, his—old, wrinkly—cock pressed to her lips demanding entrance, her lips parting, his cock forcing its way deeper into her mouth…until her forehead came up against his flabby belly, the insertion of his cock into her mouth stopped by the paunch.

Repressing a gag, Liz pretended to sip her revolting punch as the fantasy she had been trying to build shattered. With a shiver she went back to eavesdropping on the paunchy man’s conversation.

“You will be a good slut for me, won’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. Robert.” Ugh. His name is Bob.

“What if you are a bad girl, slut?”

There was a slight hesitation before, “You will punish me, Mr. Robert.”

Liz heard the tremble of arousal in the girl’s voice now, the words broken by soft huffs of air as her breathing quickened.

“That is right, slut.” The girl flinched slightly as “Mr. Robert” called her “slut,” but he didn’t seem to notice and barreled on, saying, “I will punish you, nice and hard, just like you need it.”

“Thank you, Mr.—”

The idiot cut her off, clearly not hearing her, not caring what she’d been trying to say, the obedience she had been trying to show. His eyes were fixed on the plump brunette’s cleavage, visible above the plunging neckline of a purple wrap dress that showed the top of a lacy bra in addition to all that creamy skin. He rambled as he built his fantasies around his own pleasure.

“You will always be kept naked in my presence, and always on your knees. Whenever I want, you will suck my cock and anyone else’s cock. You will become a little cum-bucket. Don’t worry, my pretty slut, I will teach you to take my cock so deep in your throat that it feels like it is a part of you. I will train you so that you will feel like something is wrong if you don’t have a cock in your mouth.”

The girl’s features tensed, her body drawing away from him as the arrogant prick rambled on about his toy cocksucker fantasies. Liz couldn’t blame her. Never once did the man mention pleasure for the girl, or how he would cherish the gift of her submission.

When the man’s eyes glazed over in lust at his own fantasies and he stopped talking, the timid young woman gamely tried to salvage the conversation and the fantasy she was trying to live.

“What would you do to punish me, Mr. Robert?” There was a hopeful note in her voice. Undoubtedly she was waiting, praying for him to describe how he would pull her firmly over his knee and spank her, deny her orgasm while keeping her highly aroused, or put her in tight bondage.

“Why, my pretty slut, I would deny you my cock in your mouth. The denial of her Master’s cock is the ultimate punishment for a slut.”

Liz watched the girl crumble, the last of her fantasy shattered. Her vision of a Dominant as a sexually powerful and knowledgeable man who would demand her obedience but treasure her, and pleasure her, replaced by the reality of an all-too-human man who only wanted to stick his dick in her mouth. Mr. Robert thought his prick was God’s gift to women.

Well that’s done it, Liz thought, I’ve truly had enough.

Reaching up, Liz yanked at the red ribbon around her neck, jerking it free. Some of the men glanced up at her, frowning, but none approached her. That, more than anything, solidified Liz’s belief that these men were nothing but posers, playing Dominant when in reality they were users and losers. Setting her cup down on the nearest table with a loud snap, Elizabeth strode proudly from the room. Some eyes were on her, watching the sway of her hips and breasts, focusing on the parts of her that they could understand and control. These oh-so-powerful men shied away from her as a whole—the sexual, powerful woman who did not need losers like them to give meaning to her life.

Liz slid into the hallway of the community center. The host organization had rented out the one-story building for the evening. The event, called The Gathering, was an invitation-only affair held four times a year. Liz received her invitation upon her completion of a BDSM 101 class.

She had stumbled onto an advertisement for the class buried deep in one of her favorite erotic stories websites. The class had claimed to be an introduction to living a BDSM lifestyle in the real world, the perfect bridge for people who wanted to make their fantasies a reality.

A few years ago Liz had finally acknowledged that regular sex just wasn’t enough. She’d brought up her desire to be more sexually adventurous with her then-boyfriend, but he hadn’t been into it. He was willing to do what she asked, but the point was she didn’t want to have to ask or direct the play. In the end, the relationship hadn’t lasted, and since then she’d only dated casually, never sure how to bring up the issue. Realizing that it might be easier to separate her sexual and romantic lives, Liz had signed up for the class. She was hoping to get her sexual needs met by someone who was in the BDSM lifestyle, and that would alleviate the pressure on her romantic relationships.

Liz had paid the $500 fee with her Visa after they assured her “Vineyard Educational Services,” as opposed to “BDSM 101,” would show up on her statement. The ten-week class had been divided into Doms and subs, to keep it from turning into a mixer. Each session was a one-hour lecture with Q and A and then discussion time.

Many of the “rules” they taught seemed more like common sense. Most handouts had titles like, Why It’s Important to Have a Way to Say No—Safewords, or The Difference between RACK—Risk Aware Consensual Kink—and SSC—Safe, Sane, Consensual. At the end of the course they had a few guest lecturers, including a Dom who lived the BDSM lifestyle fulltime. Though she wasn’t looking to change her whole life, it was the memory of him that kept Liz from giving up all hope. While his stiff formality and four-page list of rules weren’t the traits of her ideal Dom, he was much closer than any of the pricks in the community center tonight. Clearly there were good Doms out there. She just had to find one.

Liz was looking for a man who could handle her desires—who didn’t make her feel like a freak. She didn’t need or want a BDSM boyfriend. When your sexual desires were this dark you didn’t get to have love and sex with the same man.

As far as Liz was concerned, there had been no one there tonight she would have had sex with after six tequila shots, let alone with the cold calculation needed to embark on a BDSM affair. She’d come to The Gathering hoping to find her Mr. Right—er—Dom Right. The itching sexual need that burned inside her, that beast that girls were taught from an early age to deny existed because society fears female sexuality, was awake and howling. Tonight was supposed to mark the beginning of the end of her self-imposed celibacy.

And it was a disaster.

With quickening steps, Liz passed other rooms filled with members of the BDSM community, both seasoned players and new hopefuls.

A less-determined, less-sexually-frustrated person would have given up, but even as she pushed through the double doors leading to the parking lot, Liz was forming a new plan of action. This was only the first one of these events she had attended. There would be another one in a few months. Until then she would go through some of the contacts that they had been given in class—online message boards and groups dedicated to and run by the local BDSM community.

She was so focused on formulating a new plan of action that she almost didn’t see the man who stood slumped against the grill of an SUV, though he was clearly visible in the security light illuminating the parking lot. When she did see him, she stopped. Her first impression was one of size. This guy was BIG. His slumped posture made it all the more apparent that when he straightened, he would tower over her. Dark hair hung down to his neck, a few strands had fallen in front of his face, shielding it from view. He wore jeans and a t-shirt, which was pulled taut across the swell of muscle on his arms and shoulders.

Liz froze—her heart picking up speed as hope bloomed. It was unlikely that someone not in the scene would be standing outside the community center at nine p.m. on a Thursday night. Could he be a Dom? He was the perfect physical embodiment of what Liz wanted in her Dom—physically attractive, with plenty of muscles to sink her fingers and teeth into—someone whom she could trust not only emotionally but physically.

Knowing her luck, he was probably a sub waiting for one of the Dommes inside. With a disgruntled sigh, Liz started walking again, headed toward her car, which she now realized was parked only two spaces down from the SUV. As her heels clicked closer, the dark-haired dream looked up.

The way he moved, his head snapping up, eyes bright and sharp, made Liz think of a predator. Raising her own chin a notch, Liz kept walking, but as she got closer and saw his face, her steps slowed.

Straight, dark eyebrows pulled together over his nose as he frowned at her. Liz stopped, sure she knew him from somewhere. He remembered first, his features relaxing, his lips curled in a devastatingly sexy smile.

“Liz? Liz Brown?”

It was the deep, rumbling voice that triggered her memory, and his name came back to her. “Marcus Palmer?”

With a few long strides he was at her side, his arms coming around her in a rib-crunching hug. On instinct Liz’s arms went up around his shoulders, returning the fierce embrace. It was not the greeting an adult woman would give to an old acquaintance but the hug of a twenty-year-old college student to a good friend. After a final squeeze, Marc held her at arm’s length, his big hands spanning and cupping her waist.

“Lizzy, wow, how are you?”

“Marc, it’s been so long. I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m good, I’m good, thanks.”

Marc’s gaze made a slow, easy sweep over her, from the crown of her head to her toes. With a smile, Liz returned the favor. His dark hair was longer than she remembered, curling against the nape of his neck, the sides pulled back behind his ears. It should have looked boyish but instead he looked like a warrior. The breadth of his shoulders tapered to a nice waist. His pants were tight around his thighs, outlining the powerful muscles there.

Liz could see appreciation reflected in his eyes. She found nothing offensive in his examination, merely an acknowledgement of her beauty, and she returned the favor. They had given each other similar perusals while in college. They had met in class, each from very different parts of their university community—she an involved student leader and crusader, he the star wide receiver of their national championship football team. Back then they had both been in other relationships. Only with their frank appraisal of each other had they acknowledged that if the situation were different they might have been together. But they’d been committed to other people, which meant their friendship had grown strong without an underlying need to posture and pose.

*

Marc let his gaze sweep over the stunning blonde. She’d changed from the sweatshirt-and jeans-clad co-ed he’d known into a polished and professional woman. They’d parted ways after college, both knowing when they said goodbye the last time that theirs was a friendship that would not survive the transition into their adult lives. She had gone on to corporate America and he to the boys’ club of professional football. There’d been some regret for the friendship lost but he had appreciated the time they spent together enough to celebrate it for having existed rather than mourn its passing.

Then Marc remembered where he was, and more importantly he remembered what was going on in the community center. He grinned slowly, until he showed teeth. For a moment Liz looked uncomfortable. She turned her head slightly, as if embarrassed. She shifted her feet, heels clicking against the pavement of the parking lot, but as Marc watched, she straightened her shoulders and met his gaze. Her look said that she would not be afraid or ashamed for having been found here. Indeed, Liz raised one eyebrow and tilted her head, giving him a questioning look, her posture inquiring what he was doing here. Then it was his turn to feel slightly uncomfortable at having been caught.

“Well, this is certainly an interesting situation,” Liz said.

“Yeah, well, I guess you could say that. But I would have said ‘fucking embarrassing’ instead of interesting.”

Liz laughed, her head falling back, exposing the long smooth line of her throat. The slow burn that had started in Marc’s belly when he first saw the stunning woman walking toward him fired a little bit hotter.

“So, I figure there are three things we can do.” She raised her index finger. “One—we can walk away and pretend this never happened. Two—we can exchange business cards, renew our friendship by e-mail and just pretend that we didn’t meet each other here. Three—we can go and get a cup of coffee and catch up.”

“You always were direct.”

“No point in being any other way.”

“It’s good to see you, Liz.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Marc.”

He rolled his shoulders, a habit left over from his playing days. “I say number three. There’s a good place down the street or we can go downtown,” he offered.

“Let’s go to that place on the corner of Ninth and Fig. You remember it?”

“Yeah, I remember. You always drank Diet Coke. When did you grow up and start drinking coffee?”

“As soon as I realized how much more caffeine there was in a cup of coffee than a Diet Coke.” Liz was smiling softly, the memories sweet and mellow with age. “There are times at night when I crave that sweet fake-sugar taste.”

“Then let’s get you some.”

Liz headed toward her black SLR, hips swaying. Marc watched her walk away, his eyes tracing the outline of her tight ass through her pants.

Now that is one fine-looking, sassy woman. Too damn bad she’s a Domme.

* * * *

An hour later, Marc and Liz were sitting comfortably in a booth at a 24/7 diner that served all-you-can-eat waffles and coffee between midnight and five a.m., which made it a favorite venue for a late-night carbohydrate fix among the students at the university.

With a nod to nostalgia, Liz had skipped the coffee and ordered a Diet Coke. She was slouched on the bench, one leg tucked under her, the other swinging free, her heel making a rhythmic thump against the booth with every swing. Her pumps lay discarded under the table. Marc had assumed a familiar pose, his back against the window, long legs stretched out along the bench with ankles crossed. He was so tall that every time the waitress came by, she had to dodge his feet because they stuck out so far. One thickly muscled arm rested along the back of the booth, the other along the tabletop. His big, rough hands were relaxed. Occasionally he would lift the arm that rested on the back of the booth and use it for emphasis when making a point.

They had been sitting here for over forty minutes, reminiscing. There were tears of laughter in Liz’s eyes as Marc retold the story of Liz going toe-to-toe with the evil TA of their class. His colorful retelling, with Liz as a warrior of Arthurian proportions crusading for the repressed members of BUAD 428—Advanced Biz Development—was wildly inaccurate and hysterically funny.

When he wound down, Liz went to wipe her eyes with her sleeve, a habit from the time when sweatshirts made up most of her wardrobe. She stopped herself just in time and plucked a napkin from the dispenser.

Liz examined Marc’s face. Maturity had slimmed it down, refined it, but that wolfish grin was still the same. Though humor sparkled in his eyes and his posture was relaxed, the bulk of his physical presence combined with the grin was vaguely threatening.

As the echo of her laughter faded, they fell into a companionable silence. It was amazing how easy it had been to fall back into her old friendship with him. It had always been a friendship that had included simply the two of them. They had no mutual friends, so when they were together there had been no one there to expect them to act like the star football player and student leader. What started out as an assigned partnership for a class project grew into a refuge—a chance to vent frustrations and worries.

Bending her head, Liz took a long drink, letting the bubbles fill her mouth. She glanced up from beneath her lashes to see that Marc was studying her with cool appraisal. With a sigh she lifted her head, flicking her tongue across the tip of her straw to catch any stray drops. Leaning back against the creaky vinyl, Liz prepared herself for what would undoubtedly be an embarrassing conversation, though oddly she didn’t feel as embarrassed as she thought she would have.

“So, how did you get an invitation to The Gathering?” she asked, wincing at the end. The name seemed melodramatic in the cheery warmth of the diner.

Marc snorted. “It is a stupid name, isn’t it?”

Liz smiled. “It really is.”

Marc returned her sunny smile with his own darker one. “I got the invitation because I’ve been to a couple of parties hosted by the group that runs the class.”

“How did you get involved in that?”

This time Marc’s smile was wicked. “A few years ago I saw a notice online about a conference and demonstration they were holding at their club. You had to go through a bunch of hoops to get tickets but I had been curious for a long time so I kept asking, pushing. Eventually someone recognized me from my pro years and like magic I was invited to the inner circle.” He shrugged off the ease with which his fame had given him entry to an exclusive clique.

“Weren’t you concerned about tabloids finding out?”

He grimaced, but said, “Not really. Now that I’m not playing ball anymore, I’m not really news, and everything I read said these people like their privacy. It would be worse if I tried a BDSM relationship with a woman who wasn’t into it. If she thought there was money in the story, or just got scared and told someone who told someone else, I’d have a problem—that’s why all my subs sign a nondisclosure agreement with a multimillion-dollar penalty.”

Liz stared at him in amazement. She had never considered how hard it would have been for a guy like him, so physically imposing, to treat a woman like a submissive without scaring her.

“Going opened my eyes. I realized that all my life I had been treating the girls I slept with like submissives, except I always felt like an abuser. Every time I ordered a woman to spread her legs, I felt like I was raping her, even though I was always careful to make sure she was into it. Once I found BDSM, I had a name for what I wanted, a name that came with a certain set of expectations.

“I started looking for submissive women, women who wouldn’t freak out if they ended up tied to the bed.”

“So why were you there tonight? Just looking for a play date?” she asked.

“Naw, I’ve had plenty of those. There were always unattached girls at the parties, or girls who had Masters, but whose Masters were willing to share. That was fine for a while, but I’ve discovered that it’s the guys who have just one sub, who know their girl like the back of their hand, who really have the good life. I went tonight looking for a girl I could keep for myself.”

Liz shifted on the bench, sliding her foot out from beneath her so she could press her legs together. His casual talk of dominating a woman—tying her up, ordering her to spread her legs—had her incredibly aroused.

She could hardly believe that her ideal partner seemed to be sitting across the booth from her. The problem was that now she didn’t know how to broach the subject. She wasn’t prepared to do it while sitting in a diner. She had been prepared to deal with this back at the community center, but not here. If she was to start a sexual relationship with Marc, it would take away some of the danger—she was fairly sure he wasn’t a serial killer.

Then a horrible thought occurred to her—he may be just what she was looking for, but what if she was not what HE was looking for?

Liz figured it would be just her luck to find the Dom of her dreams and then find out he had an Asian fetish.

“So what about you?”

Liz looked up with a start. “Me?”

“Yeah, how did you get invited?”

“Oh, I took the BDSM 101 class. I haven’t had much luck with real-life BDSM and got tired of being dissatisfied. It seemed like the safest way to meet someone who was already into it.”

“You just felt safe taking a class. You always were a school nerd.”

Liz threw a napkin at him that he caught with hands well accustomed to accepting a thrown item.

“Okay, maybe you’re right, I know how to take classes, and it’s something I was good at.”

“Didn’t find what you were looking for?”

Liz moaned in exaggerated anguish. “Not even close. That’s why I left early, but what about you?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“So you didn’t find any subs you liked?” she asked, fishing for information on his preferences.

“I met a bunch of girls who were nice and quiet and submissive. They probably would have done exactly what I told them every fucking moment of the day.” He shook his head in disgust, or maybe it was frustration. The boy she’d known was there in the man, but buried under the years that separated this moment from the last they’d spent in the diner. She no longer knew him well enough to read his expressions with any confidence.

“Isn’t that what you want?”

He shifted on the bench, uncrossing and then re-crossing his legs with the opposite leg on top. “I don’t want a girl who lies there. I want someone with more something.” He ran a hand through his hair, and this time she had no trouble telling it was frustration that furrowed his brow. “Sometimes I don’t know if what I want is really a submissive girl, because the girls who were there tonight…” He trailed off and shrugged as if he were unable to find the words he wanted.

Liz’s heart leapt into a fast tempo. She wanted to scream that she was different from the girls who were there. She wanted, no—craved, the domination of a strong man but she wouldn’t, couldn’t, simply drop to her knees. She needed a man strong enough to take her.

Can he really be this perfect?

The Dominant of her dreams was sitting on the other side of the table and he seemed completely unaware of her as anything other than an old friend. She wanted to jump across the table and say, “Look! What about me?

It was fear that stopped her. He knew the girl she had been, and wouldn’t be surprised to find out she was now a ruthless venture capitalist. Nothing about her would indicate that she’d be a good sexual submissive. Maybe if they didn’t have a past, if he had no idea who she was…

“I wonder if you and I might not have the same problem, Liz. I glanced in the male subs room for a minute and they all looked like a bunch of pansies. I bet you would chew them up and spit them out in a heartbeat.”

Liz stared at him in astonishment. “You looked in the male subs room and…?”

“I didn’t see you. Then again I wasn’t really looking very hard at anyone in there.”

“You didn’t see me in the room for female Dominants and male submissives?” she repeated, knowing she sounded stupid.

“No.” He raised one eyebrow, the question apparent in his face if not in his words.

Liz took a deep breath and reached one hand into her pocket, curling her fingers into a fist.

“Marc, there was a reason you didn’t see me there.” Liz laid her closed fist on the tabletop with the back of her hand resting on the cool Formica. Marc looked first at her hand then her face, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. With her gaze locked on his, she slowly uncurled her fingers.

Marc stared at the crumpled red ribbon in her palm. For a minute he simply gazed at it in confusion, and then the implications hit him. A picture of slender necks circled with red ribbons popped up in his mind’s eye.

Startled, he met her gaze. He read defiance and power in her eyes, both a thin mask to cover her fear of rejection and uncertainty, he was sure.

He glanced back down at the ribbon curled on her palm. In one motion he swung his legs off the bench and sat up straight. He took the ribbon from her hand, letting the tips of his fingers caress the soft hollow of her palm.

He lifted the ribbon, draping it over his index finger, drawing out the moment as he studied it. Raising his eyes to hers, he smiled and clenched the ribbon in his fist.

There was a stabbing pain in Liz’s chest. She released the breath she’d been holding for too long and shuddered as she inhaled again. Terror, excitement, and dread filled her. Had she made a mistake, or the best decision of her life? Marc wasn’t a stranger the way she’d planned.

“Liz, do you mean to tell me you were wearing this ribbon?” His voice was lower than normal, almost threatening, yet he was smiling.

Retreating behind her pride, she lifted her chin. “Yes, I was.”

His grin widened. “You’re a submissive?”

Her chin notched up another degree. “Yes, I am.”

“Well, isn’t that interesting?”

“Drop the smug attitude,” she snapped.

“Are you getting fresh with me? That’s a risky thing to do.” He suddenly sounded smarmy and fake Dom-ish. Her perfect man was turning out no better than the wannabe Doms.

Liz gritted her teeth. “Don’t think that just because I’m a submissive you can treat me like a mindless toy.”

Abruptly Marc’s expression became serious. “I don’t think you’re a toy. I was surprised—”

“You think that because I’m a woman who has her own life, who can stand up for herself and make her own decisions, I can’t look for something different in the bedroom? I am so tired of men’s inability to see a woman as a complex person. Why can’t I be submissive in the bedroom and nowhere else? And why is it that a man just assumes that if I am submissive, I will fall to my knees and beg to suck him off while he taunts me with petty threats? As far as I’m concerned, he had better be willing to fight for my submission, to earn it.”

Liz’s hands were fisted on the tabletop as she leaned forward. Anger had knotted the muscles in her shoulders and back. There was a hollow, gray feeling in her stomach. Marc hadn’t laughed at her, but he also wasn’t really the man she was looking for. He’d jumped right to the attitude she despised. The faux threats, the condescension…

Marc, rather than pulling away, was leaning toward her, absorbing her anger and drawing in the emotions in her words.

“Liz, Liz, let me finish my thought. I would never treat you like a toy. I didn’t mean to be arrogant or condescending. That was a dumb-fuck thing to say.” He studied her for a moment. “I can only imagine that you would be an incredible submissive.”

She took a breath, closing her eyes and visualizing the anger leaving her like water filtering through a sieve. When she was calm, she opened her eyes.

“That’s sweet, and thanks, but I know my attitude isn’t…” She sighed and toyed with her straw. “I want sex, Marc. I want lots of sex. I want pleasure and pain and bondage and yes, I want to be controlled, but if that control involves being told to vacuum the house naked while not having sex for days, then I’ll walk.”

Marc’s eyes darkened, the pupils swelling until the iris was only a thin ring. The happy, normal bustle of the diner faded away, until there was nothing and no one but them. The tension and chemistry encircled them like a thick-skinned bubble, and inside the air was dense and dark, like maple syrup.

“You blindsided me.” Marc’s voice was a low rumble. “You know I don’t handle surprises well. I like to run the play that was called. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen. Pretend I didn’t say what I did.”

Liz let out a slow breath and sat back. “I’m sorry I jumped on you like that. After all the bullshit I had to see tonight at the center…”

Marc imagined some of the so called Doms from the gathering putting their hands on her. Reminding himself of his dentist’s warning about grinding his teeth, he unclenched his jaw.

“Those dicks weren’t fit to lick the bottom of your shoes,” he growled. “They couldn’t handle you.”

“Are you implying that you are?” She searched his face. He wouldn’t want a submissive like her. Would he?

He met her gaze squarely. “Yes, I think I am.” He held out his hand.

Returning his stare, she took a chance, both on him and on her fantasies. “I think you are too.”

Chapter 2

The next night Liz met Marc at a rotating restaurant atop one of the city’s most expensive hotels. Considering the planned discussion for the evening, it might have been better to meet at either his condo or her house but this particular restaurant boasted enclosed booths with walls that touched the ceiling.

After trading a valet her car keys for a ticket, Liz strode to one of the black glass elevators. Stepping in, she positioned herself so she could use the reflective dark glass for a last-minute check of her appearance. As the elevator began its quiet ascent to the fortieth floor, Liz gave the hem of her little black dress a quick twitch. Made of a thick silk, the strapless dress hugged her curves in a way that spoke of tailoring, not spandex. Rather than a straight bodice, this dress had a molded top, the fabric rising over each breast with a deep dip between. Clipped to a hanger, it looked like the top of a heart, but once on, it was nothing but sex appeal in black silk. Tonight she had decided to dress it up with a gold and black antique shawl. Black strappy Coup D’états with burnished gold detailing and black chandelier earrings completed the ensemble.

Liz knew what she probably should be wearing. A loose skirt, button-up shirt, no underwear and hooker makeup were what most girls in BDSM stories wore. One of the classes had covered the topic of attire. When she had questioned it, asking why a Dom would want his sub to look sloppy, the instructor for the evening had told her that “sloppy” was her opinion and the only person whose opinion mattered was that of her Dom. As much as Liz was trying to understand submission as the world told her it was, she just couldn’t make herself agree.

She didn’t want to look like a sidewalk hooker; she wanted to look like sin and sex in leather and velvet—a courtesan, not a whore. While the idea of not being allowed to wear underwear was sexy as hell, Liz had boobs, real boobs, the kind that liked to rest closer to her navel than her chin without assistance. This dress would be a tragic fashion mistake without the half corset she had on underneath lifting her breasts. As the light in the elevator panel moved from floor 29 to 30, Liz checked her hair. While normally it was straight, she’d used hot rollers to give it a soft wave. The curl shortened her hair so it just brushed her shoulders. She’d pulled back one side, exposing her neck. With the soft wave, she looked like a sultry femme fatale from Hollywood’s bygone era. Her makeup was done in the darker shades appropriate for an evening look—a smoky eye, careful blush to boost her cheekbones, and deep rose lips with a high gloss finish. She looked like a high society girlfriend, too pretty to be a stockbroker herself, too voluptuous, too sexual, to be a stockbroker’s wife.

Liz was proud that she could hang up her Anne Taylor business suit for a Tadashi Shoji cocktail dress and not only look good in both, but like who she was in both.

When the elevator door slid open with a slow hiss, she was standing dead center of the car, one hip cocked, the shawl draped over her arms and framing her black silk-encased waist. Stepping carefully from the elevator, she savored the moment. She was minutes from taking her first real step toward making her fantasies realities in the flesh. No matter what happened, she could savor the anticipation. She rolled her hips as she walked—boom, tisss, boom, tisss—the heavy thump of a floor drum followed by a single tap of a cymbal.

The hostess didn’t even ask her name, simply rose and with a murmured, “Will you follow me, ma’am?” led her around the teak-paneled entryway. While the entry was stationary, just behind it the rotating floor began. Situated in one of the hotel’s round glass towers, the restaurant took one hour to go all the way around—the only interruption in the view when the floor rotated past the entryway. Liz stepped onto the slow-moving floor and followed the hostess. The booths were on her left, the floor-to-ceiling windows to her right. The restaurant was so large, it was hard to tell how far around the circle she was from the entryway once it passed out of sight. Just ahead of them, a man slid out of one of the booths. Marc.

*

She looked like sex on a stick. Expensive sex on a stick.

Marc barely noticed when the hostess drifted away. As he had in the parking lot, he gave her a once-over, a slow appraisal. He tried to start at her feet and work his way up but he got distracted by her breasts. He heard the hiss of air as she took a deep breath and then had to do a little deep breathing of his own as those fantastic breasts rose and fell. They seemed to call out to him, “come, Marc, pet us, love us, play with us.”

Manfully ignoring the fact that he had just had an imaginary conversation with her tits, he started again with her feet. She had on strappy things, which looked painful but did amazing things to her calves. The skirt of the dress hugged her thighs and hips just so, the material pulled taut by her one-hip-cocked stance. On the way to her face he once again was drawn in by her breasts. After a quick eye caress and mentally promising to have a nice long conversation with those babies at a later date, he made it to her face. Her eyes seemed more exotic tonight, surrounded by dark girly stuff, her lips were very red and kissable, fuckable. That perfect blonde mane just touched one side of her face. She was the girl-next-door after she moved to the city and learned a few things. There was no uncertainty in her eyes—she knew she was ravishing—but there was challenge, as if she dared him to disapprove. She had a long wait coming if that’s what she was waiting for.

“Liz.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, placing an open-mouthed kiss on the back. “You’re utterly gorgeous.”

“Thank you, Marc,” Liz murmured as goose bumps rose along the back of the hand he’d kissed.

*

He looked great in a dark-gray suit with a white shirt and navy tie. Not exactly the most GQ outfit but it was a classic look that would never stop working for the gentlemen, and considering his size, Liz shuddered to think of the cost of having suits tailored. His hair had been brushed so that it fell back from his face without being tucked behind his ears. Liz had to stop herself from reaching over and pulling one lock forward just to re-create the rakish look from last night.

He eased her into the booth, opposite where he had been sitting, with a hand at her back. As he slid in across from her, she took stock of the table, eyeing two black leather portfolios. Seeing her look at them, he slid them down onto the seat with a teasing smile. As the waiter glided up, they settled easily into the routine of two urbanites enjoying a high-quality meal out on the town. After the waiter listed that night’s meal options, they chose the fish, Marc seamlessly selecting an appropriate white wine. Liz mentally lifted an eyebrow. While she had never taken him for a dumb jock, that level of wine knowledge was a bit above the norm.

After the waiter had glided away, she asked about it. “Where did you acquire such extensive wine knowledge?”

Marc settled back into the booth and smiled. “I wish I could say that I was a true connoisseur, but a buddy of mine from my pro days bought a vineyard as an investment and then got really into it. For years I got cases of different wines for holidays until he finally dragged me up to his vineyard for a week. I learned more than any man could ever want to know about wine and grapes. For example, do you know why they plant rosebushes at the edges of the grapes?”

The conversation continued as the four-course meal was served, moving easily from one topic to another. Liz was once more struck by how easy it was to fall back into a friendship with him. They talked about their jobs—Liz’s venture capital company, Marc’s post-pro career as a sportswriter and commentator.

When the entrée was gone, Marc asked the server to hold off on dessert. He reached down next to him and then carefully placed the portfolios on the table. Liz sat up a bit straighter, a shiver running down her spine.

Marc took one and placed it in front of her. She let her hand rest on it but kept her eyes on Marc.

“I’m going to be honest with you, Liz. I’m having fun and you look fucking amazing. Right now I’m worried about the catch—there has to be one, right?”

He smiled and Liz laughed. She felt the same—this was too easy, too perfect.

“It’s eerie that we would find each other again under these circumstances, when we each want what the other,” she smiled, “possesses.”

“Then let’s get to business. Tell me if we aren’t seeing eye to eye on anything I’m saying.” Marc took a small sip of his wine before continuing. “You’re looking for a Dom. I’m looking for a sub. I’ve had some experience and pretty much know what I like, and know that what I want is not the ‘standard’. From what you said last night, I think you might be the same, but we need to be sure. In here,” he tapped his portfolio, “is a BDSM checklist.”

Liz let out a little breath, her fingers tingling with excitement. BDSM checklists outlined and categorized every possible kinky toy and scenario in the BDSM world. She’d seen a sample in class, but never a full one, since real ones could be hundreds of items long.

“This is my checklist, so I’ve removed anything I won’t do, or stuff that’s really fucked up. Mark your answers and then we’ll swap and go over it. If nothing matches up, we’ll have dessert and…” He trailed off.

“And no hard feelings,” Liz finished for him.

“Exactly.”

Liz smiled. This was better than anything she’d dared hope for. She was a logical soul and the idea of a checklist was very appealing. He knew what he was doing.

As the city rotated past, Liz opened her portfolio and began to read.

*

Marc leaned back and took a sip of his wine, enjoying both the view beyond the glass walls and the sight of his lovely companion. He could already imagine her chained to a wall in his bedroom, her hair tangled around her as she fought him at the same time her pussy dripped for his cock.

Since he’d put the list together and had done this before, it wouldn’t take him long to fill it out. As he watched her bite her lip and swallow hard, he decided he wouldn’t hold anything back. Usually he toned down his desires and wants, making sure that he wouldn’t scare his partners when they went over the list. But this woman… Marc took a deep breath as his dark urges rolled through him. He wanted to do everything to her.

*

Activity

Abrasion

Anal plugs

Anal sex…

Liz had to stop and take a breath, look away from the list. Her skin was tingling with arousal and she was wet. She’d read three lines and she was already panting. Half-disgusted with herself, she closed the portfolio. She was so lost in her tangled thoughts and feelings that she’d forgotten that Marc was there until he spoke.

“Too much?” he asked quietly.

Liz looked over at him, a quick smile and platitudes rising to her lips. She knew what it was like to be made to feel a freak for wanting this. She wouldn’t do that to him. Just as she was about to reassure him, tell him it was all right and she was just excited, she stopped herself. She took a breath and released it slowly.

“Do you ever hate yourself for wanting this?” she asked instead. She meant for the words to be strong but they came out like a plea.

He sat back, clearly surprised. “Well, yeah, sometimes. Do you?”

She looked down at her fingers, curled together on top of the checklist. “All the time.”

His large tan hand covered hers. His palm was so large it dwarfed her joined hands. He was warm, she was perpetually cold. “Lizzy, listen to me.”

She looked up. There was no sympathy in his gaze, but there was understanding. “There is nothing wrong with us,” he told her. “We’re mature, consenting adults engaging in responsible sex. Some of this stuff,” he gestured to the portfolios with his free hand, “is even mainstream. You don’t think people try a little light bondage, a little spanking? They do.”

“But that’s not what we want, is it?” Liz wasn’t sure why she was pushing Marc. She wanted him to say something to make this okay, say something to make her feel as if she weren’t damaged in some way.

“No.”

“Why? Why can’t I just accept the life I have? Wanting this is…” She trailed off, shaking her head.

“Selfish. Greedy.” His voice was firm. “You should be satisfied with vanilla sex, but you’re not.”

Liz sighed in relief. “Yes.”

“I feel the same.” Marc leaned back. Her fingers were cold without the heat of his skin. “I had things most men only dream of. I could have had some of the most beautiful women in the world and it wasn’t enough.”

They sat in silence for a moment, the honey-sweet anticipation that had covered them replaced by grim self-loathing.

“I was in love.” Liz spoke before she had the chance to talk herself out of it. “He sold me my house and we hit it off. The night it closed, we went out to dinner. He was as busy as I was, and so when we had time to be together it was explosive, like we were packing days of togetherness into only hours. I fell in love with him and him with me. The sex was good.”

“But not enough.”

Liz hoped she wasn’t blushing. It was embarrassing to talk about her past sex life, though that seemed ludicrous considering why they’d come here tonight. “That’s the thing, I like vanilla sex. I like the intimacy of a man’s body pressed against me, of how it can be lightning-fast or slow.” Liz’s breath was growing shallow as memories filled her, of groping like teenagers in the foyer, quick, sweaty sex up against the door, slow Sunday-morning sex that faded into lazy drowsing.

“What happened?” Marc asked. Liz refused to look at him. She could feel him watching her with a gaze that promised things she was scared to want.

“We were fine for a while, but when we started talking about committing—moving in together, maybe getting married—I knew I had to say something. I loved him, but I knew that if I didn’t say something I’d be unhappy later.”

Liz huffed out a little laugh. “I used to lie awake at night and fantasize about him doing things to me. I wanted him to bend me over his knee, to toy with me, torment me, use toys on me. There I was, fantasizing about a man who was lying right next to me.”

She shook her head at the memory. “I was sure it’d be fine. He was an aggressive, dominant guy. I thought he’d be excited by what I wanted. At first he was. He knew a bit about serious D/s, though not much. I very carefully outlined the kinds of things I liked but I didn’t want to plan each move for him. That…that control is exactly what I didn’t want.”

“What went wrong?”

Now she did look at him. “Everything.”

Marc kept his gaze steady. “Did he hurt you?”

She could only nod as a flood of embarrassing, frustrating, and frightening memories filled her.

“Tell me,” he said. It wasn’t a command, not in the way those ridiculous fake Doms had issued commands, but it was a demand.

“Let’s just say he didn’t get it, and the more I tried to explain, the worse it got. He didn’t understand that I wanted that behavior confined to the bedroom. He used to smack my ass, all the time. If I said anything he didn’t like—if I teased him about the way he’d parked his car—he’d swat my ass and whisper, ‘Naughty girl deserves a spanking, doesn’t she?’” Liz curled her fingers into her palms. “It was all I could do not to knee him in the balls.”

“He really didn’t get it, did he?”

“A lot of what happened was my fault. When I wanted him to be…masterful.” She winced at the word and Marc let out a bark of laughter. Liz smiled ruefully before continuing. “If I wanted that domination, I’d try to goad him into it—taunting him, saying he wasn’t man enough—but then he’d just get pissed.”

“Did he hit you, in anger?” Marc growled.

Liz wished she could say yes and play the victim, but the truth was she was the abuser. She’d taken something that should have worked, that should have been enough for her, and she’d destroyed it.

“No.” Tears prickled her eyes. “He was a good man. He would never do that. He would walk away—leave and call me later.”

Marc stood and came around to her side of the table, sliding into the booth next to her. She stiffened slightly, keeping her back straight.

He laid one arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. “You can cry if you want,” he said with impressive stoicism.

Liz tilted her head up so she could look into his face. He was a handsome man, made more attractive by the concern that marked his features. He understood her, he cared that she’d suffered, and he wanted to comfort her.

A little crack started in the shell she’d carefully erected around her heart.

“I’m not going to cry.” She smiled. It was true. She’d wept plenty of tears over lost love.

“You looked like you were going to cry.”

“I was, but I’ve probably cried enough about this.” She took a deep breath, and if it shuddered slightly neither of them mentioned it. “I’m sorry, Marc. I seem to have destroyed the mood.”

“I would rather know more about you than maintain a mood,” he said. “If what you really need is a friend you can talk to about this stuff, I’ll be that friend.”

“Oh, Marc, I—”

He cut her off. “However, I need you to know that I will not be happy about it and I will be picturing you naked every time I see you.”

Liz laughed, a deep belly laugh that had more to do with releasing emotional tension than with amusement. She relaxed into his side, tipping her head back against his shoulder to look up at him.

“Naked, huh? How do I look?”

“Fucking amazing. But you’re not just naked.” His voice was deeper and rougher than it had been a minute ago. His gaze, which had remained on her face as she spoke, now traveled south to her breasts.

“What am I wearing?” She was desperate to know. She wanted him to say she was draped in chains, fastened facedown to a bed, wearing a mask, a gag.

His gaze returned to her face. “You’re aroused. I can see it in your eyes, your lips—” He touched his thumb to her lower lip. “—your cheeks.” He moved his hand to cup her face, thumb pressed into her cheekbone. “I want to do things to you that should frighten you.”

“I don’t think they will,” she murmured. Her skin felt like molten lava encased in ice. She was shivering with cold and burning with heat at the same time.

She hated herself for derailing their evening. She should have just filled out the checklist, handed it to him, and begged him to fuck her.

“Let’s go,” she begged. “Marc, I want you.”

With a growl he pressed his lips to hers in a hot, rough kiss.

*

The evening was not going exactly to plan, but plans were made to be broken. At least that’s what Marc told himself as he left the restaurant with Liz on his arm. They stepped into the glass elevators. The city was spread before them, the lights dazzling.

“I’m going to regret this,” Liz said quietly, “but I want you.”

Marc hadn’t figured out what she was talking about before she turned, wrapped one arm around his neck, hitched up her skirt with her free hand and, with a little hop, wrapped her legs around his waist.

He figured it out then.

Never one to pass up a good opportunity, Marc tucked a hand under her butt, the other around her back.

He grinned at her, loving the weight of her in his arms.

“Does this turn you off?” she asked him, face serious.

Marc suppressed a groan. He really wasn’t in the mood to have another long discussion.

He pressed her back against the elevator wall. “What do you think?” he growled as he brought his lips to hers.

Their lips were millimeters apart when the elevator doors opened.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” Marc glared at the open doors.

Liz smiled—she really was gorgeous—then pressed her lips together, suppressing the smile. Marc could still see it sparkling in her eyes.

She unwrapped her legs from around his waist. Marc didn’t release her. She raised a brow in question.

He was seriously considering pressing the button for the highest floor and starting a second elevator ride, but he didn’t want to be interrupted. He ran the hand cupping her ass around her hip and then up her side, cupping her rib cage so that his thumb rested just below her breast. She took a deep breath, shuddering a little.

Marc’s cock jumped and he suppressed a growl. He wanted this woman with a ferocity that was frightening. She was so strong, so self-assured and confident, that the glimpses of vulnerability and submission he saw in her were all the more potent. He knew that when she finally submitted to him, it would be something rare and special, like winning against a strong opponent. Quick, easy victories were nice, but they didn’t mean as much as the ones you had to work for. He wanted to take her, master her, hurt her, and pleasure her.

He backed away as the elevator dinged, stretching out one long arm to keep the doors from closing.

“Tonight ends here,” he said.

“Probably best.” Liz twitched her skirt down.

“After you.” He held the doors so she could precede him.

She didn’t wait, but started toward the valet stand. Marc took one extra-long step to catch up with her and put his hand on her back. She looked at him from beneath her lashes.

“Why did you think I would be turned-off?” he asked in a low voice, keeping the conversation light.

Her reply had to wait as they each handed their tickets to the valet. Marc paid for her car and, after a pause, she put the money she’d pulled out back in her purse. He liked that she hadn’t assumed he’d pay. The minute people knew he had money, they expected him to pick up the tab—especially women.

“Because I was being aggressive. Is this about you being in charge or about you being a gentleman?” She gestured to the valet stand and to his hand, which still rested on her back.

Marc knew this was a gray area. Liz was perfectly capable of walking by herself and paying for her own parking—he didn’t think she needed him for those things.

“If it bothers you, I won’t do stuff like that.”

“It doesn’t bother me—I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a control thing.”

“I always open doors and pick up the tab while on a date. My dad would say it’s good manners.”

“I’m a secure enough feminist to say that I have no problem with that.” She smiled.

They brought her car first. Liz looked at him as the valet climbed out and held the door open. “This didn’t go the way I expected.”

“This isn’t what I’d expected either.” A part of him—his dick—was aggravated that they hadn’t gotten through the checklist and made plans to take this to the next level. “But I don’t regret it.”

“You sure?” There was a hint of something in her face—vulnerability, maybe—that made him simultaneously want to hug her and paddle her ass.

“I’m sure,” he cupped her neck, kissed the corner of her mouth. “This isn’t over. It’s just starting.”

Marc watched her drive away, ignoring the stares of the valets. They brought his car around, but with a curt, “I’ll be back,” he went inside. Once in the elevator he leaned against the cool glass, the city at his back, and tried to will away his hard-on.

Liz was…perfect. She was perfect.

The hostess smiled when he walked into the restaurant. She crouched and pulled the portfolios from under her podium. “I thought you might be back for these.”

“Thanks.” He examined her face for a reaction to what she’d found inside the book. Was her smile a little too bright?

Leave it, he told himself. He no longer needed to search constantly for a woman who might share his tastes.

He’d found Liz and finally had an opportunity to have the sexual relationship he’d been longing for. All he had to do was get her to submit.

* * * *

Liz poured herself a glass of wine then stood there, bottle in hand.

Wow.

Just…wow.

The night hadn’t ended the way she’d anticipated, but she didn’t regret it. There was something delicious about drawing this out.

If she was being completely honest with herself—which Liz always tried to be—she’d admit she was scared.

The grin she’d been wearing ever since she got in her car disappeared at that thought. Liz stoppered and put away the wine, taking her glass to her favorite chair, which faced a large portrait window. She lived in the hills just east of Hollywood, and on clear nights like this she could see LA spread before her—an ocean of lights and movement crowned by the terraced downtown skyline.

The fear she felt wasn’t the easy-to-understand fear she’d experienced when she started out on this BDSM journey. That fear was the fear of a woman about to do something dangerous—easily countered by taking appropriate safety measures like the BDSM 101 class.

This fear was murkier. She wanted, desperately, to have the sex she’d been dreaming about with Marc. But she liked him, really liked him, and part of her wanted to ignore the sex and instead see if a friendship was possible. Taking a sip, she grimaced at herself. One date—a date to plan kinky sex no less—and she was thinking about a relationship.

It was probably a sign that it had been too long since her last relationship ended. She wasn’t getting any younger, though she certainly wasn’t old, but she valued her few friends, and valued romantic relationships even more. Breaking up had been horrible, and the return to being single, and the accompanying social stigma of lacking a plus-one when at this point all her friends and associates were in relationships, had taken its toll on her self-confidence. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the end of the relationship hadn’t been her fault. Her friends didn’t know how to comfort her. Their first instinct was to call the guy a “jerk” and blame him for everything, but that didn’t work this time.

She needed to get her expectations about the relationship with Marc in check, right now. This was about finally having the sex she’d been dreaming about. Just sex.

The next day Liz went into the office to catch up on paperwork. She arrived home to find a package propped against her front door. There was no return address and no postage. She took a step back, thinking it was a mail bomb or something equally hideous. She had her phone in hand to call 9-1-1 when she noticed a red rose, tied with a red ribbon, hiding behind the package.

Slipping her phone into her pocket, Liz instead took out her keys and opened the door. Setting down her purse and taking off her shoes, Liz did all the things she normally did when she first got home before retrieving the package and rose. She put the rose in a bud vase, smiling at the malformed bow.

Considering the lack of postage, she wondered if Marc had delivered it himself. Looking at that bow, she was sure—no florist would have let that bow walk out the front door.

When everything was in place and there were no distractions, she took the package over to her favorite chair.

She ripped off the brown paper.

Liz,

We have unfinished business. I don’t want to wait to have you. Fill this out so we’ll know if we want the same things. When you’re done, text me and leave the folder outside.

-M

Liz let out the breath she’d been holding and carefully removed the note, which she saw with some amusement was written on stationery bearing their alma mater’s logo.

She rested her hand on the cover, taking her time before opening it. She let her mind wander, wondering how he’d found her address. She hadn’t lived in this house long, having sold her first place after the breakup. She thought about what had happened at work last week, made a list of project goals to address next month.

She thought she’d done a good job of distracting herself until she realized she was shifting side to side, rubbing her legs together to alleviate the ache in her sex.

With an impatient sigh, she flipped open the portfolio.

It was a simple checklist, with the activity in the first column and five possible responses—”Yes,” “Willing to Try,” “Neutral/What’s this?,” “Not sexy,” and “No”. There was also a space for comments.

Marc had written “Answer all” in a bold scrawl across the top of the first page.

“Okay, Liz, do the first two pages, then stop.” she said aloud.

Activity

Abrasion

Anal plugs

Anal sex…

Abrasion got “Neutral” while both anal options got “Yes.”

Liz felt dirty—and she liked it. She scanned through the next two pages, answering “Yes” to more things than she expected, only because she trusted Marc to do them. More than that—she wanted Marc to do rough, dark things to her. If she were filling this out for a different man, her answers would be different too.

Animal roles, arm and leg sleeves and boot worship were “No,” while ball gag, blindfolds, biting, breast bondage and bondage—light were “Yes.” She answered “Neutral/What’s this?” to breast fucking, “Willing to Try” to beating—soft, beating—hard, and bondage—hard.

She had to stop there and catch her breath. She was so aroused her pussy was swollen and slippery-wet. She was surprised that she hadn’t answered “Not Sexy” to anything on the list. She’d seen one of these lists in the class and there had definitely been some gross things on there. She looked over her answers again and had to admit that, under the right circumstances, even the things she’d said “No” to might be “Yes” with Marc.

That thought frightened her more than anything else.

Forgetting her earlier plan, she finished the entire checklist.

*

Marc pressed his head into the headrest. His hands were clenched on the steering wheel to keep himself from jerking off while sitting in his car. He could just imagine the headlines—Former NFL star caught masturbating in the Hollywood Hills—Secret sex fetish exposed.

It was bad enough that he was sitting in the car like a creep. After he’d dropped off the portfolio he’d gone home, only to wind up pacing back and forth, unable to focus on anything. The article he’d tried to write about high-school football recruits hadn’t gone anywhere.

Full of restless energy, he’d left his condo. He’d driven aimlessly through the city, all the while knowing he was going to end up back at her door.

He knew she had the portfolio and the flower he’d left her—they weren’t on her doorstep anymore. He hoped the flower hadn’t been too much. Flowers weren’t exactly necessary for what they were doing, but he’d wanted to get her a flower. He’d even added a bow.

He shifted in his seat and closed his eyes.

What was she answering “Yes” to? What were the “Noes”?

He hoped there weren’t too many Noes. He liked everything on the list, though some of them were only mildly interesting.

But with Liz…well, he wanted to do it all. And more.

His phone buzzed.

I’m done.

Marc smiled in satisfaction, started his car, and pulled forward so he was directly in front of her house.

Liz was standing in the open door, silhouetted by soft light that spilled from inside her house.

He turned off his car, hopped out, and came around to the passenger side. He leaned on the fender, crossing his legs at the ankle.

Liz crouched and set the portfolio on the step. Marc waited for her to look down and then moved forward. He was only steps away when Liz straightened. She jumped a little when she saw him.

“Hand it to me.” His voice was more growl then words, though he hadn’t meant it to be.

Liz straightened, her shoulders coming back. “I believe you have something for me?” She held out her hand.

Marc wanted to paddle her ass for her defiant tone—he was unspeakably glad this wasn’t going to be easy.

He pulled his folded list from his back pocket and held it out to her. She took it, making sure their fingers didn’t touch. “Thank you.”

Marc took another step, caressing the back of her hand. Her fingers curled up into her palm, making a nervous fist. “I want you, more than anything.”

“What if I’m not?” she asked.

“Not what?”

“The kind of sub you want.”

“I’ll make sure we both get what we want.” He took her fist, uncurled her fingers, and rubbed her palm with his thumb. “What we need.”

“I’m not wired the same as those other girls.” Anxiety etched lines on her face.

There was pain in her voice, more than he’d expected. She really was worried that she wouldn’t be what he wanted. Marc opened his mouth but closed it again, not sure how to assure her that this would all work out.

After all, he wasn’t entirely sure it would. He was certain he wanted to try.

Marc stooped and picked up the portfolio.

“Trust me.” He cupped her chin. “Trust that I know what I want and—” he held up the portfolio, “—now I know what you want.”

She nodded ever so slightly, then tilted her face into his palm, letting his hand take the weight of her head.

Something he didn’t care to examine too closely welled in Marc’s chest.

Tipping Liz’s face up, he pressed his lips to hers in a chaste kiss and walked away.

~

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