Knowing something was a bad idea wasn’t going to be enough to stop me from doing it.
The small of my back was sweaty, my skirt was wrinkled from sitting on the bus and my hands were sweating. I brushed out the wrinkles and looked around the bar in the Hotel Normandie. There weren’t many people sitting at the low tables, and the Moroccan lanterns with their pierced metal and colored glass bathed everything in jewel tones. Little seating areas cloaked in tent-like hangings offered privacy. That plus the hotel’s proximity to campus had made me suggest this place for our first meeting.
The lack of bouncers also made it one of the few bars I knew I could get into since I couldn’t afford the $120 fake IDs many of my friends had. I’d be twenty-one in three months, and was young for a senior, but until then I was stuck staying home when everyone else I knew was out at a club or bar. I didn’t really mind. I couldn’t afford to party like that anyway.
I could taste my heartbeat on my tongue and I was slightly unsteady on my black high heels. I was glad that my roommates had already left by the time I got dressed. I didn’t want to explain to them where I was going in a black skirt, sheer black blouse that I’d borrowed from one of their closets, and heels. Not that I would have explained, even if they asked. I didn’t want to be told this was dangerous, didn’t want someone freaking out at me and screaming that this was a bad idea. I knew both those things already—and I didn’t care.
I scanned the room again, looking for anyone who could be Master Clay.
Even thinking the word was enough to have my skin prickling with arousal. A detached part of me had trouble believing that I was here to meet a Dom, a man who I only knew through Tumblr. A man who I hoped and prayed would do things to me and with me that most people would find depraved.
I’d left a note hidden in my desk, explaining where I’d gone. If I disappeared tonight eventually they’d find the note. The fact that I’d needed to leave that note should have been enough to stop me from doing this. To stop me from making what was, on the surface, a terrible decision.
I didn’t see any men sitting alone. I walked through the bar, discreetly checking the tables hidden inside the little tents. All I knew was that Master Clay would be waiting for me. We hadn’t exchanged pictures, which I was glad of. Not that he hadn’t seen pictures of me, at least parts of me. My knees we shaking as I walked.
These were my first steps into a world that I’d been fantasizing about for nearly a year.
Last year I’d picked up a cheesy book my junior year roommate Adriana had. She was a joint bio and anthropology major, with a pre-med emphasis. She was gorgeous and wicked smart, but she’d had terrible taste in books—at least that’s what I’d thought when I’d seen the covers.
I loved to tease her by doing dramatic readings of the blurbs. Adri never minded, and sometimes she’d insist that I’d like them, but I didn’t believe her. One weekend when she was out of town I’d picked up her ereader out of boredom.
It had opened my eyes to a world I’d known existed but hadn’t understood—BDSM and fetish.
Reading about a girl who was seduced and mastered, who was in a defined relationship with a man who was both sexually competent and depraved, had made me hotter than actual sex ever had.
I read everything on Adri’s Kindle, even bought a few books of my own, eating into my limited entertainment budget. When words weren’t enough I’d turned to Tumblr, starting a secret account and collecting images, stories and GIFs that I liked. Six months ago I’d started taking pictures and videos of myself and posting them. I made sure my face was never in them, but still knew it was risky. Within a month I had thousands of followers—men and women asking me about myself, asking if I wanted to be in a real D/s relationship.
When the first person asked, I’d been so scared I’d almost deleted the account. But the university hadn’t come knocking on my door demanding that I leave or threatening to take away my scholarship. After a few weeks of panic I’d started to enjoy myself, flirting with everyone who contacted me but always saying no to their invitations.
Over the summer, when I was at home in Texas, I hadn’t posted anything—my grandparents didn’t have internet and there wasn’t good cell phone service in Northwest Texas. Since coming back to school, I had plenty of time to spend looking at pretty pictures of girls tied up and on their knees, waiting to be used. My class load was light, and even with my internship I had more free time than I was used to. Hours spent immersed in this secret world had broken me down, made it harder to say no when people asked if I was interested in something real.
I made a complete circuit of the bar, returning to the main door. There were no lone people—no sexy man in a suit looking at me with commanding eyes. I twisted the chain strap of my purse in my fingers, fighting back disappointment and tears. Master Clay, a Dom whose posts about what D/s meant had always made my pulse speed up and body heat, had been the only one of the people who contacted me that I’d ever considered responding to. His profile said he was in LA. When I’d decided to try and make my fantasies a reality, Master Clay was the obvious choice.
And it seemed that Master Clay wasn’t here.
Maybe he wasn’t real, or wasn’t who he pretended to be online. He might be a twelve-year-old boy, might be an eighty-year-old man in Missouri. Or maybe he was what he said—a successful, strict Dom in Los Angeles—who didn’t want anything to do with a novice college student.
Stopping by the door, I scanned the room again. It was now ten minutes past the time we were supposed to meet. I doubted he’d be late—he’d made a point of telling me that he expected me to be on time.
Shifting in my uncomfortable strappy heels—borrowed from another roommate, since the only black heels I had were ugly pumps I wore to my internship—I debated what to do. I could wait, since I didn’t know where he lived and he might have gotten stuck in traffic.
Or I could accept that he wasn’t coming, accept that this stupid idea wasn’t going to work out, and go home and lick my wounds.
I heard my name a second before a hand slid around the back of my neck, thumb and fingers pressing lightly.
I gasped, freezing in place even as my heart started beating so loudly that I was sure he could hear it.
His thumb stroked up and down the side of my neck and goose bumps broke out along my chest.
He made a noise low in his throat, then murmured, “Lovely.”
Fingers slid away from my body and the man who’d touched me came around to face me. For the second time I gasped.
A handsome, trim man in a black suit stood in front of me. He was a few inches taller than my five-foot-five, but I was wearing heels, making him easily five foot ten. He was middle-aged, at least forty-five, with brown hair worn a little long. There was a five-o’clock shadow along his jaw and his heavy brows didn’t detract from his piercing blue eyes.
All the things I’d planned to say were forgotten. He was exactly what I’d imagined he’d be—and having him standing in front of me was terrifying.
His lips twitched and he held out his hand. “Leona Thies? You can call me Clay for now.”
I stuck my hand out. The instant my fingers touched him my nerve endings sparked to life. I stared at the lamp over his shoulder. “It’s nice to meet you, Clay.”
“Shall we have a seat?”
I followed him to one of the tables hidden in a tent. He motioned for me to precede him, then held up his hand. As I sat on the U-shaped bench and tucked my purse among the brightly colored pillows, a waitress appeared.
“A Kettle One martini, very cold, slightly wet, and a Glenlivet 25.”
The waitress, a middle-aged woman with hard eyes and her blonde hair in a bun, looked at me. I tensed, sure she was about to ask me for my ID. Clay touched her arm and said, “Thank you.”
The waitress’s gaze snapped to him. She nodded and disappeared.
Clay ducked into the tent and took a seat opposite me. A low round table separated us, but its lack of height meant there was nothing for me to hide behind. I pressed my palms flat on my bare knees. Clay crossed his legs and stretched one arm along the back of the seat. He studied me—I could feel him looking at me.
“You surprise me, Leona.”
I licked my lips. “Surprise?”
“How old are you?”
I bit down on the urge to lie. “I’m twenty.”
“And are you really a college student?”
I nodded. I’d told him I was in school, but not where. Considering the part of town we were in it was the most logical option.
Clay let out a small laugh.
My stomach clenched and I felt sick. He was laughing at me. Grabbing the strap of my purse, I started to slide out of the booth.
The word vibrated the air, making my skin prick the same way his touch had.
I closed my eyes and took a breath, gathering myself. Meeting him had thrown me off, but I wasn’t going to sit here while he laughed at me.
I plastered a smile on my face and turned to him. “It was nice to meet you. I’m sorry, I can’t stay.”
Clay leaned over and grabbed my elbow. He wasn’t hurting me, but I knew that if I wanted to get away I’d have to fight his grip.
“Leona, return to your seat. We’ll talk and then you can leave.”
I met his gaze, saw the surprise on his face when I did so.
“I will not be laughed at.”
He nodded once but didn’t let go. “Of course. Let me explain my amusement. I assure you, I wasn’t laughing at you.”
I stayed on the edge of bench, close to the exit, but relaxed. Clay let go of me and sat back.
There was a pause when the waitress brought our drinks. I looked at the martini. I’d never had one before. Clay picked up his glass of what looked like whiskey and raised it in a toast. I did the same, carefully lifting the triangular glass.
“To pleasure.” Clay tapped his glass to mine and took a sip.
I did the same, glad I’d taken only a small sip when the vodka hit my tongue.
“It is very rare that a woman who claims to be a lovely young college student truly is. I came here expecting something, someone else. The fact that you are truly who you said you were surprised me. My laugh was one of delight, not derision.”
I bit my lip and slid back to where I’d been sitting. Picking up my glass, I took another sip.
He smiled. “I’m guessing a martini isn’t your normal drink.”
“No. This is the first time I’ve had one.”
“The first time you’ve had a drink?”
“No. A martini. I drink. Vodka and Diet Coke, mostly.” Looking at my fancy glass, I closed my mouth. I didn’t want to appear unsophisticated, and I bet Clay didn’t drink vodka diets.
Clay nodded. His gaze roamed over me. “You really are lovely.”
Smoothing my hands on my thighs, I hoped I wasn’t blushing. I wasn’t pretty in a conventional way. I had thick, dark-brown hair and brown eyes—an inheritance from my mother, a Mexican migrant worker who’d come to work on my grandparents’ farm. My skin was pale, more like my blond father’s. My hair was so thick that it was hard to deal with, so I kept it shoulder-length in an A-line bob, longer in the front than the back, with long bangs.
“Thank you,” I whispered. Taking a drink, I started to relax. “You weren’t what I expected either.”
“Oh? And what did you expect?”
“I tried not to expect anything. But I hoped you’d be…exactly what you are.”
“And what do you think I am?”
“Well you’re not a twelve-year-old boy with a dirty imagination.”
Clay laughed. “I may not be twelve, but I assure you, I have a dirty imagination.”
This time I was blushing—I could feel the heat in my cheeks.
“Are you ready to discuss why we’re here?”
I dropped my gaze to the low table, then nodded.
“Answer verbally, please.”
“We’ve already crossed the first hurdle—there’s no deception we need to overcome. What I want to know is why you—a lovely young woman who could be dating a man your age, who could be focusing on finding a relationship that will lead to marriage—is interested in submitting.”
Of all the questions he could have asked, that was the one I didn’t know the answer to. I’d asked myself a million times. Maybe it was because the relationships I’d had up until now hadn’t really been relationships. They’d been strange, confusing mixes of sex and friendship, or just sex. Maybe it was because of my parents’ relationship. What had happened to them terrified me.
There was nothing I could do but be honest. “I don’t know.”
Clay nodded. “How did you learn about BDSM?”
I told him about the books my roommate had, how that had led me to looking around online. How browsing Tumblr had turned into posting photos of myself.
When I was done Clay nodded. “You had a gentle introduction. Few people ease into it the way you did. I think, from following you, that I have a fairly good idea of what excites you.”
I licked my lips and pressed my legs together. Thinking about the man sitting across from me scrolling through pictures of me sitting on my bed topless or bending over the bed wearing nothing but panties, excited me.
“Leona, I’d like you to come sit here.” He motioned to the bench near him.
I slid around until I was sitting against the back wall at a right angle to where he was.
“I want you to look around. Notice that you’re in shadow and could only be seen by someone who ducked down to look at us.”
I nodded in agreement.
“I want you to remove your shirt. You may leave you bra on.”
I froze, gaze meeting his.
“Are you scared or aroused?”
“Both,” I whispered.
“I want you to know that I absolutely respect your reputation and would never put you in a situation where someone might see you. I have no interest in public displays.”
“If I hear her coming I will move down and intercept her. Do you accept that my doing so will protect your privacy?”
“Good. Then you will remove your shirt. And this is the last time you will question this order.”
This was the tipping point. He’d given me an order. I could obey or I could leave.
I untucked the shirt from the skirt and pulled it up and off.
I was wearing a simple cotton black bra. For a second my arousal was muted by embarrassment at my lackluster lingerie.
Clay stared at my breasts, not hiding where he was looking. He touched the thick strap. “You should be wearing lace.”
My fingers curled into fists on the bench. I bit my tongue, told myself to be quiet, but a lifetime of being poor had made me defensive.
“My clothes are all functional. Even if you order me to show up wearing lace, I can’t.”
“I…I can’t afford it. I’m on a scholarship, and my internship barely covers my bus pass.”
Fingers traced my collarbone, sliding up my neck to lift my chin. My gaze met his.
“Then I will not order you to do so without first outfitting you with lace and silk. Normally I do not purchase items for new partners, as it can muddy what will already be murky waters, but for you, Leona, I will make an exception.”
He smiled slightly and I relaxed.
His fingers dropped back to my chest, trailing over the edge of my bra. My nipples tightened into points, and I was glad of the thick material that hid my reaction. From the way he was looking at me I had a feeling he knew, even if he couldn’t see.
“Have you ever been tied up for sex?”
“No.” My voice trembled.
“Have you even been spanked for pleasure?”
“I’ve had sex.”
He raised a brow. “There’s sex…and then there’s sex.” His fingers dipped inside my bra to stroke my nipple. I gripped the seat as pleasure shot through me. My head fell back and my eyes closed.
“Stand and unzip your skirt.”
Without thinking I did as he asked. I swayed on my feet as I fumbled with the zip at the back of the skirt. I let it fall around my ankles, revealing my black cotton thong.
He laid his hand flat on my belly, his thumb sliding just under the top of my underwear. Without thinking I spread my legs, wanting his hand between them on my aching pussy. My skirt, still around my ankles, stopped me.
One finger traced my thong from front to back, skimming over my pussy. I shuddered, and for one blissful, terrifying instant I thought I’d come from that alone.
“Get dressed and sit down.”
My gaze snapped to him. I opened my mouth to protest, but the look on his face warned me not to.
I zipped my skirt and put my top back on. Only when I was sitting did I realize that I hadn’t cared where we were, who might have seen. Nothing had mattered but that pleasure he’d let me taste.
Clay handed me my glass. My fingers were shaking so much that I spilled a little. He steadied my hand, guiding the glass to my mouth. I looked at him over the rim.
“Leona, you said you don’t have class on Tuesday and Thursday?”
“Just my internship, from eleven to five.”
“I would like you to join me at my home on Wednesday night.”
“No. To play. Though I should warn you that I do not consider BDSM a game. I consider a well-crafted session to be akin to art.” He took folded papers from inside his jacket. “Fill this out and bring it with you. It’s a checklist. Since you are a novice it will not carry the same weight with me that it would if you were an experienced submissive. But be sure to read and sign the last page.”
I took the papers and pressed them against my lap. “Don’t you fill one out too?”
He finished his drink. “If we were negotiating a scene, then I would. This is not a negotiation, it is an invitation. Do you understand the idea of risk-aware play?”
“Some people advocate for a warning system known as ‘safe, sane and consensual.’ I consider that naïve. There is risk in BDSM play, both physical and emotional. If you’re my submissive you must accept that risk.”
The arousal that hummed through me demanded that I just agree to whatever he said, whatever he wanted. The cautious part of me, the part of me that had left a letter in my desk so that the police would know what happened if I disappeared, wouldn’t let me.
“How can I accept a risk that I don’t really understand?”
Clay laughed. “You’re very smart. I will promise you this—I will go more slowly with you than I would with another woman. It is both an honor and a privilege to be the first to taste a woman’s submission. I do not take that lightly, but I am also a hard man. I will demand things from you that you might find frightening.”
“I’ll have a safeword?”
“More than that, we’ll use the stoplight system. Do you know it?”
“I read about it. Yellow if it’s starting to hurt or if you’re panicking. Red to make it stop.”
“Yes. For me red means I will stop what I’m doing. It doesn’t mean I won’t start again or will end the scene entirely. I don’t believe in topping from the bottom.
“I also don’t believe in creating impossible rules as an excuse for fake punishment. If I want to spank you I will.”
I licked my lips and gulped some martini. The idea of being bent over Clay’s lap was… I shuddered.
“If you do something truly in need of punishment then there will be no pleasure, and you will not forget it.”
I nodded, sure I could follow his rules.
“You’re certain you’re still interested?”
“Say it again, and this time address me properly.”
He nodded. “Lovely. Outside my home you will call me simply Clay, but I wanted to hear the word master from your lips.”
“Are there rules I should learn before I get to your house?”
“No, I will teach you everything you need to know. A good Master doesn’t let his sub suffer or question.”
He rose. “Shall we?”
I tucked the list into my purse and stood. I was both relieved and disappointed. I didn’t want this to end. Didn’t want to wait to get to the good stuff, but another part of me was anxious to get away and analyze everything he’d said and done.
I watched him drop a fifty onto the table and my eyes widened. He held the curtain aside so I could exit. I brushed by him, his body firm and warm.
He offered me his arm. No one had ever done that for me. I wasn’t sure where to hold. Seeming to understand he took my hand, tucking it around his forearm.
“How did you get here?”
Clay frowned. “I don’t want you taking the bus, but it would be a mistake for me to drive you.”
“I’m okay taking the bus.”
Clay took his phone from his pocket and tapped the screen a few times. He led us out of the hotel. A sleek black car was parked in the spot of honor in the driveway. I wasn’t good with cars, but even I could tell it was rare and expensive.
The valet jumped when he saw Clay, who said, “Bring it up, but I’ll wait for my companion’s ride.”
The valet moved the sleek black car until it was parked directly in front of the doors.
“Do you live on campus?” Clay asked as we stood waiting.
“Yes, it’s easier with my scholarship.”
“And your major?”
“Math and art history.”
“An interesting combination. And what do you hope to do with it?”
“Graduate school for applied mathematics. I’m going to take the GRE in January.”
A black Town Car, the bumper tagged with white lettering that marked it as a chauffeur car, pulled up. The driver got out and held up a small sign that said “Leona.”
“Your ride is here.” Clay led me to the car. When I hesitated he said, “All I did was call a Town Car service. I assure you they are in no way affiliated with me. Give the driver your address. I will take care of the tip.”
“Thank you. I’ve never been in a Town Car.” I was feeling very elegant and sophisticated as I clung to Clay’s arm.
“Then I will send a car to pick you up also.”
The driver opened the rear door. Clay tucked a finger under my chin. I held my breath, sure he would kiss me but he didn’t.
“Until next time, Leona.”
“Thank you for the drink, and the ride, Clay.”
He held my elbow as I got into the car. The driver closed the door. I watched Clay tip the man. I continued to watch Clay as the Town Car pulled away.
When he was out of sight I lay my head back and smiled.
I rose from my cramped desk in the basement of LACMA—the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, when my boss knocked on the open door. Myself and two other interns were stuffed together in a small room in LACMA’s basement I was fairly sure was meant to be a closet.
Salli Capara was a thin, blonde woman with black eyebrows. She motioned for me to step out into the hall where there was more space. I stretched slightly as I did—there was boxes stored under my desk, and my legs started to cramp from the weird position I sat in.
“Leona, my darling Leona,” Salli sang. She was intense and interesting—and working for her made me sure that I didn’t want to spend long working in the art world.
A cute surfer-type guy wearing hipster glasses with thick black frames was waiting in the hall. He had curly blond hair, a go bag with a Poké Ball patch on it and a tablet tucked under his arm.
“Leona, this is Brad Marshall. He’s going to develop the app and QR scanning part of the exhibit. Brad, this is Leona Thies. She’s a senior at UCLA and a double major in math and art history. Perfect, perfect for this project! Leona is working on content development of the math teaching piece of the new exhibit. There are two other interns on the project also, but she’s our lead. They’re useless, Leona’s wonderful.”
I took Brad’s hand, hiding my smile at Salli’s words. I had a feeling she probably called me useless when I wasn’t here, but I was working hard for her.
Brad’s hand was big and warm and he smiled in a way that was both sexy and adorable. A warm flush spread over me and I tipped my head down so my hair would hide the blush. It must be leftover feelings from my meeting with Clay last night. I wish I’d masturbated more—maybe that would have stopped me from having a totally crazy reaction to Brad.
“Nice to meet you, Leona.”
“You too, Brad.” I managed to sound almost normal, though Brad’s smile was seriously distracting.
“Leona, can you show him the mock-ups and what we have so far? I want you to move into the conference room so you have some space. This place is not creative. You will be creative. You will marry art to science.”
“Okay, Salli. Give me a second to get my bag.” I duck into the closet office and threw my laptop into my bag along with my headphones and phone. Slinging it over my shoulder, I joined Salli and Brad in the hall. Together we headed for the elevator. Salli got off on the first floor and I motioned for Brad to stay on.
“We’re going up to the fourth floor.”
When the doors opened I got off. This level was the curators’ offices and meeting rooms. One of the smaller conference rooms had been turned over to the upcoming exhibit I was working on.
Brad looked around with interest at the stark white corridor decorated with pieces of beautiful modern art.
“Leona. Am I saying that right?” His attention shifted back to me.
“That’s me. This is the conference room we’re using to develop the exhibit.” I used my badge to open the door, then flipped on the lights.
Brad reached over my head and held the door open. He was tall, probably over six feet, and broad. I set my bag down as Brad looked around. The little room was crammed with high quality prints of a few of the pieces that would be included in the new exhibit. They were taped to the walls and propped up on easels.
There were computer renderings of what the exhibit would look like spread out in the center of the table and held down with cubist glass paperweights from the gift store.
“I’m not gonna lie.” Brad set down his bag and pulled out a big laptop. “I don’t really get what I was hired for.”
“What do you do again?”
“App development. Most of my clients have been restaurants or real estate people. One of them is a board member and recommended me for the job.”
Salli had talked about bringing in someone to do the app, but I didn’t realize it would happen so soon. “That’s cool. I know nothing about apps or how we were going to do some of the things they want for this project.”
Brad dropped into a chair. “Okay, brown eyes, take me through it.”
“Brown eyes? We just met. It’s a bit soon for a nickname.”
“It’s never too soon for a nickname.”
I meant to roll my eyes but giggled instead. “You’re weird, Brad.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I hope you really need those glasses and aren’t making some hipster fashion statement.”
“I spend all day staring at a computer. I need them. But I’m not a hipster. At least not on purpose. My ex picked them out. She said they made me look like a member of Mumford and Sons instead of a stoner.”
I slid onto the table and crossed my legs, looking him up and down again. “You need a scarf for full-on English hipster. Mostly you have a surfer look, or maybe it’s a stoner look.”
“Hey now, I resent that. I don’t surf.”
“But you do enjoy Mary Jane?”
He grinned. “Of course not. I’m a responsible small business owner who works hard for his clients.”
“Small business owner? How old are you?”
“Technically I am a one-man small business. And I’m twenty-six. What about you? No, wait. I’m going to guess. You look like you could be twenty-four, twenty-five, but I bet you’re twenty-one.”
“That wasn’t impressive. Salli told you I was in college. I’ll be twenty-one in three months.”
“The countdown has started.”
I thought about the martini from yesterday and couldn’t stop myself from smiling.
“If you’re in college how are you in charge of so much of this big exhibit? I thought it was supposed to be some national thing?”
I blinked and focused on his question. Brad was one of those easy-to-get-along-with people. It was going to be fun working with him.
“The exhibit is called Behind the Image Lies the Truth. The idea is to take paintings and sculptures with heavy geometric elements and then break down the shapes mathematically. By looking at the proportions and ratios of what’s represented it’s supposed to explain why some pieces are more appealing. We’ll compare the breakdown to similar representations in nature.”
“And you’re going to do the math part, the breakdowns?”
“Are you like a math genius?”
“No. But I am studying it. Planning to do a PhD in applied mathematics.”
“Gorgeous and smart? Brown eyes, I better watch out for you.”
“Yes, beware. The man-eating co-ed might get you.”
“I think I saw that movie.”
“Spike TV? Skinamax?”
“Spike. How did you know?”
“I actually starred in it. Overworked intern is my cover identity.”
Brad laughed, his whole face lighting up. I slid off the table and took a seat next to him. Moving my laptop so he could see it, I pulled up some of the content I’d developed. After I’d showed him a few of the geometry-based explanations that went with the example paintings on the wall he sat back.
“This actually sounds really cool. What kind of user interaction are you looking for?”
“Well, we were hoping to develop something people could download on their smartphones so that they could scan each painting and then see an overlay of the analysis and breakdown.”
Brad hunched over his laptop and started typing. For the next hour we talked through the possibilities. When he had what he needed to develop a few options I escorted him out, using my keycard to get us out of the building, which was locked up since it was after hours.
“Are you coming back?” I asked as I pulled on my black jacket. I only had four or five pieces of nice business attire, one of which was this tailored jacket I wore practically every time I came.
“I’d like to. Dr. Capara, Salli, suggested I coordinate that with you, since her schedule is busy.”
“Okay, that sounds good. I’m here Tuesday and Thursday from eleven to five and all day Friday.”
“Cool. Then I’ll see you on Thursday?”
“Yeah. This is my stop.” I pointed at the bus sign.
“You’re taking a bus home?”
“Back to campus, yeah. It’s easy.”
“I could give you a ride.” Brad adjusted the strap of his bag. “I live in Santa Monica, so you’re on my way.”
It was funny the way life worked. If this had happened last week I might have jumped on the chance to get a ride from him. It wasn’t just a ride, I could see that in the way he was looking at me. Brad was cute and fun—easy to talk to. He looked like a good kisser. But I was done with that. I had Master Clay.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m good.”
He paused, then nodded. “It was nice to meet you, Leona. I’ll see you Thursday.”
Brad headed for the parking lot. As the bus pulled up to the curb I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder at him. I took a seat in the back of the bus and put my bag on my lap.
What was I doing? All Brad offered was a ride. He hadn’t asked me out. Was I really so conceited that I just assumed Brad wanted to sleep with me, and therefore I needed to turn him down because I was going to see Master Clay? Embarrassment curled in my belly, making me feel slightly sick. Had Brad been able to tell that I assumed the offer of the ride meant he was interested?
And what if my first instinct was right and Brad was interested? Did being in a D/s relationship with Master Clay mean I couldn’t date? Would I be able to date someone normal after Master Clay?
The bus jerked along Santa Monica Blvd, leaving me too much time to think. I’d been very careful all day not to let myself freak out over what I’d done last night. Master Clay was everything I could have hoped for. I knew he would give me what I wanted. I’d finally have a relationship that meant something. A relationship I could understand.
* * * *
My heart rose in my throat as the car climbed into the hills. Luckily the driver hadn’t asked me where we were going when he picked me up half an hour ago.
Master Clay lived in the hills part of Beverly Hills. It wasn’t far from campus, but we’d gotten stuck in traffic. I didn’t know what time Master Clay wanted me there, so all I could do was hope that we weren’t late. The car had picked me up at four thirty. I’d had two hours to prepare after my last class.
Not wanting my suitemates to know where I was going, I’d showered and done my makeup and gotten dressed in the bathroom, putting on a sweatshirt over the low-cut silky tank top I’d decided to wear. I wore a stretchy cotton skirt and I’d left my suite in comfy boots, changing into silver flats once I was out. My sweatshirt and boots were tucked into my bike locker. The cotton skirt wasn’t fancy, but I couldn’t keep wearing my internship clothes—I needed them for work and couldn’t afford to do more dry cleaning. I looked cute but not sexy.
I hoped Master Clay didn’t see me and change his mind.
We pulled up outside a big white house. It was three stories, with a round driveway that swooped around to the door. There were at least fifteen large windows in the front of the house. The yard was all white roses and ivy, with a large, geometric marble fountain, probably a piece of art in its own right, in the center.
“Holy shit,” I whispered. I hoped we had the wrong address. It was one thing to meet a man who was sophisticated and successful. It was something else to get involved with someone like this—so far outside my income bracket and comfort zone that it wasn’t even funny.
The driver got out and came around to my door. When he opened it I hesitated. It wasn’t the sex or power games that had me worried—it was the fact that Clay was rich and I was a poor girl from Texas.
“Miss?” The driver leaned down to peer at me. His face was totally blank—his expression so carefully controlled that I knew he was wondering who I was and why he’d brought me here.
Another tipping point. Another chance to turn back.
I got out of the car. I wasn’t going to think about it, wasn’t going let my brain get in my way.
“Thank you,” I murmured.
“Would you like me to wait?”
I paused but then shook my head. “No, thank you.”
Standing outside the large white door inset with beveled glass panels, I listened to the Town Car pull away. My hand shook as I reached for the bell. Chimes sounded from inside the house. It seemed like an eternity before I saw something moving behind the glass.
Master Clay looked as if he’d stepped out of a Marc Jacobs ad. He wore pale gray slacks and a blue button shirt. The collar was open, the cuffs folded back. In the fading sunlight his eyes seemed even more piercing under his heavy brows.
“Leona, welcome to my home. Please come in.”
I folded my arms over my belly and stepped into the foyer. The floor was white marble, the walls a pale cream and high above me was a blown-glass chandelier. There’d been an exhibit on glass art in LACMA when I first started, and I had a funny feeling that I’d seen the hanging artwork before.
“Is that by Dale Chihuly?” I asked.
Clay looked surprised. “It is. You know him?”
“I like art.”
“Ah Leona, you are a rare find. I purchased this piece just recently. Come with me.”
He offered his arm, and this time I knew what to do.
I tried to look around as we walked from room to room, but touching Clay made it hard to think, hard to focus.
“Normally the front door is reserved for guests. Submissives park in the back and use a side door to access a section of my home that I’ve dedicated to the lifestyle.”
I hesitated. “I can go back out.”
“If I wanted that I would tell you. I’m merely giving you information.”
We were in a library. Each of the walls was lined with bookcases, bookcases so tall that there was a ladder on a roller. I felt like Belle in the Beast’s castle. French doors opened to a patio lined with bougainvillea and set with wrought iron furniture.
“Since you are not driving in you will exit through the library and then reenter the house. When you’re in my home I expect you to behave as a guest, and I will treat you as a guest in return. Once you enter the Marquis’ Quarters—my name for the playrooms—you will no longer be a guest but a submissive in the presence of a master.”
I was shaking, so much so that Master Clay turned to look at me. “It’s natural to be afraid, Leona.”
I nodded jerkily.
He opened the patio doors and let me out. We slipped between the bushes as he pointed at a door twenty feet from where we’d exited. While every room or door I’d seen so far was set with glass, this door was solid. There was a bell on the wall beside it.
“Once you pass through that door you are mine. Do you understand?”
I blew out a breath. “Probably not.”
Clay smiled. “I have to appreciate the honesty. Is this something you still want to do? If not then I will call the driver back and you can go home.”
“I want this.” It came out as more of a question than a statement, but at least I’d said it.
“If you truly do, then all you have to do is walk through that door.”
Clay released my arm.
“Where are you going?” I asked, feeling very alone though he was only a foot away.
“I will meet you inside.”
Clay returned to the library, closing the French doors behind him.
I stood there, huddled in the shadow of a house the likes of which I’d never been inside before. I wasn’t just in the deep end of the pool, I was in the ocean. I didn’t know if Clay was a shark or a life raft.
I walked to the door, examining the plain exterior. There was no hint as to what I’d find on the other side. I wondered how many other women had stood here, wondered if they’d regretted walking through the portal.
Hugging my purse against my stomach with one arm, I reached out and turned the doorknob.
It wasn’t a dungeon. The walls weren’t stone draped with chains.
It wasn’t an elegant library like the one I’d walked through. Too many photos of naughty school girls bent over desks had made me think that spanking always took place in a library.
It wasn’t a bedroom, for which I was grateful. I probably would have bolted if I’d seen a bed. I was as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. That was one of my grandma’s favorite expressions, and I’d never really understood it before now.
The room on the other side of the door was a closet. There was a bar with hangers on it, a white wall of drawers and a bench in the center. The drawers were glossy wood and the area around the hanging bar seemed to be lined with cedar. There was a second door, this one solid cherry rather than painted white, across from me. This closet was probably worth as much as a car.
I closed the door and waited. When Clay didn’t appear I started to relax. Setting my purse down I walked around looking at everything, though there wasn’t much to see. The only thing I discovered was that there were small gold plates engraved with numbers on the drawers.
The interior door opened. I spun to face it, my heartbeat, which had slowed, now sped up once again.
Clay—Master Clay—looked the same, except that he’d rolled up his sleeves. It wasn’t until he took a step into the closet that I noticed the crop he held in his right hand.
I gasped and took a step back. My shoulders hit the drawers.
“Leona, I’d like you to take two deep breaths.”
Calm radiated from him, easing my fear. Or maybe it was his aura of command that I was responding to.
I took one breath, then a second. Clay nodded.
“This is, as you may have guessed, a dressing room. This is the place where you will let go of the outside world and give in to your submission.”
“Out loud, please.”
“I understand…I understand, Master Clay.”
“Good. You’ve been assigned drawer number seven. When you enter this room you will remove your clothing. For now you’re allowed to keep your undergarments, but in the future I will expect you to be fully nude once you enter.”
“Yes, Master Clay.”
“Did you bring the checklist?”
“I did. And my doctor’s note.” I pulled the folded papers from my purse and held them out. Clay waited a moment, forcing me to stand there with my arm outstretched before he took them.
“I’ll leave you to change. When you’re ready, come out. As promised you’ll find more appropriate undergarments in your drawer. A gift welcoming you to the world of BDSM.”
Clay started to exit but stopped and looked back.
“Leona, once you enter the Marquis’ Quarters you will keep you gaze lowered. Do not speak unless spoken to, and be prepared to be physically examined.”
With that he closed the door, leaving me alone teetering between terror and desire.
The black lace teddy and thong were the nicest garments I’d ever worn. The lace was soft, which I hadn’t expected. I was used to lace being itchy, but this wasn’t. That probably meant it was expensive. The thong was lined with thick silk and fastened on the sides with ribbons. I bit my lip as I tied it in place, making sure the loops of the bows were even. It was easy to imagine Master Clay untying it and the thought made me wet. The teddy was tight across my breasts but loose around my belly. The lace was thicker on the bra-like cups, hiding my nipples.
Once I was dressed I tucked all my clothes, along with my purse and shoes, in the drawer he’d assigned me. The last thing I did was to apply another coat of lip gloss.
I wasn’t nearly as nervous now as I had been before, and my hand was steady when I opened the door into the “Marquis’ Quarters”.
The eager self-assurance melted away as I saw what was on the other side.
The room was low ceilinged and dark, with wood floors and paneling on most of the walls. Spotlights in the ceiling shone on several areas, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.
A large X waited in the center of the room—a St. Andrew’s Cross. Mounted on the wall near it was a metal grid. Chains dangled from the grid, glinting in the bright light.
There were two straight-backed wood chairs, one slightly larger than the other, set against the wall. A wood post drenched in light could have been mistaken for a structural support if it weren’t for the straps wrapped around it.
There was a deep cabinet on the wall just inside the door, blocking my view of the right side of the room. I took two small steps and saw a lovely seating area. Plush couches were arranged in a square around a raised platform.
I imagined myself up there on display for whoever was seated on the couches and shivered. Large trunks were placed against the backs of the couches, acting as console tables. Artwork and books rested there, making the room a strange mix of elegantly staged sitting room and sex dungeon.
The cabinet beside the door was one of three along that wall. The center one had glass upper doors. The interior was lit, showing off what I thought were glass sculptures. After a moment I realized they were glass plugs and dildos. My pussy clenched and my nipples pebbled under the lace. I swept my gaze across the room, this time seeing other things hiding in the shadows. What I didn’t see was Master Clay.
There were two other wooden doors beyond the seating area, and after a moment I decided that was where he must have disappeared to. I closed the door to the dressing room and waited. I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d read all about different positions submissives should take while waiting, but I had no idea which position Master Clay wanted me in.
I settled on spreading my feet to shoulder width as if I were doing squats in the gym. I rested my hands behind my back, hooking my index fingers together. After one last look around the room I lowered my eyes, staring at the bottom of the St. Andrew’s Cross.
A door opened. Footsteps approached, tapping over the glossy wood floor.
I started to tremble the closer Master Clay got. I closed my eyes and swallowed. When the footsteps stopped I opened my eyes, keeping my gaze focused on the floor.
Master Clay grabbed my chin, forcing my head up. For a moment my gaze snapped to his before I remembered the order and lowered my lashes, looking down even though he was tipping my chin up.
He turned my head from side to side, examining me. It was disconcerting. When he released my jaw his hand fell to the straps of the teddy. Flicking them off my shoulders, he grabbed the top and jerked it down. The lace abraded my nipples and I gasped as my breasts popped free.
In the next breath he was fondling me. Cupping each breast in turn, he weighed them in his hands, then flicked my nipples with his thumbs. He drew his hand back and slapped my right breast, just enough to cause a little sting. I bit my lip—it was both frightening and arousing. My arm and leg muscles were tight from the tension of holding still. The urge to respond to his touches with ones of my own was strong. As was the urge to run. I barely knew this man yet he was touching me as if he owned me.
Because he did.
That thought sent a fresh wave of arousal thrumming through me and I found myself relaxing.
“Good girl. Let go. You need only do what I order you to do. Anything else is irrelevant.”
He tugged the teddy up, sliding the straps back up my arms. Fisting a hand in my hair, he pulled my head back, forcing my gaze to the ceiling and my back to arch, my shoulders moving down toward the floor. He pulled until I worried I would fall, until I knew that if he released me I would lose my balance.
“Let go. You’re mine.” He barked the words, his will almost a physical thing, like the heat from a fire.
Muscle by muscle I relaxed, trusting him to hold me up.
“Good girl,” he repeated. His free hand dipped between my legs, rubbing the thong against my pussy just as he had when we first met. This time I tensed for a different reason.
He tugged the ties, just as I’d imagined, and the thong fell away. For a moment it clung to my wet pussy, but with a flick of his wrist it was gone, leaving my pussy and ass naked and exposed.
Two fingers fondled my pussy lips. He pinched and stroked them, touching only the outer lips, not venturing into my wet core, not caressing my clit, which was swollen with need.
“You’re very wet. Highly aroused, yet I know you’re scared.”
He raised my head until I was standing straight. I focused on breathing as I stared at the shiny chains dangling from the metal grid on the wall. As long as I focused I could stay in control of my reactions.
Master Clay tugged my wrist until I unlinked my fingers, my hands falling to my sides. He jerked the teddy down around my waist. I shivered standing before him naked except for the scrap of lace bunched around my hips. Master Clay slapped my ass, hard enough to have me taking a half step forward.
I pushed the lace over my hips, letting it pool around my feet.
Strong hands kneaded my ass, the fingers sliding between the cheeks, just brushing my anus.
I let out a little squeak of alarm. His fingers stilled.
“I will use all your orifices, Leona.”
“Yes, Master Clay.” I hoped I didn’t sound as scared as I felt.
“On your checklist you indicated anal sex and anal play as something you were willing to try, but not something you’re excited about.”
“Yes, Master Clay.”
“I…I have never done that before. It sounds painful and…and gross.”
He didn’t respond. I heard rather than saw him walk away. Maybe that was the wrong answer. Twin bolts of fear and relief spiked through me. Relief?
I heard drawers opening and closing. Master Clay returned holding a fistful of straps.
I held out my arms, curling my fingers around my thumbs so the trembling wouldn’t be so obvious. One at a time Master Clay wrapped simple leather cuffs around my wrists. They buckled closed and had D rings embedded in them.
“Raise your arms. Hold them straight out at your side. Higher. Good.”
Next was a belt, about as wide as my palm. It too was leather, and very stiff. I heard it creak as Master Clay manipulated it.
“This is a posture belt. It makes slouching or bending uncomfortable.” He settled it around my waist—my natural waist, higher up on my belly than I would have thought.
“It’s heavy.” The words popped from my mouth before I could stop them. I caught my breath in fear—I’d spoken without permission.
“That’s fine, Leona. I expect that the newness of these experiences will inspire responses from you. This first time I will not punish you for speaking, though I do expect you to be as silent as possible.”
I shuddered in relief. “Thank you, Master Clay.”
“Do you know what this is?” He held up the final thing he’d brought over. It too was black leather, but was narrower than either the cuffs or the belt.
“Is it a collar?”
“Yes. It is.” He stroked my neck with the back of one finger. “Do you know what it means when a submissive is collared?”
“It means the Master who collared her owns her, permanently.”
“Yes…and no. It means that the submissive has given over control of her body and mind to the Dom. If he chooses to share her that is his right.” Master Clay’s hand drifted to my breast. He flicked my nipple then pinched it, hard. “If he chooses to give her away that is his right.” He raised his hand, pulling me up by my nipple.
I rose onto my toes. It hurt—far more than I’d expected—and yet I was aroused. I dug my fingers into my thighs to stop myself from pushing him away.
“Does this hurt?”
“Yes, Master Clay.”
“And do I know that it hurts you? Do you think my causing you pain is an accident?”
“No, Master Clay. I think you know it hurts.” I spoke quickly, trying not to take a deep breath.
“That means that right now I want to hurt you. I want you to feel pain.”
“Yes, Master Clay.” The words wavered and I had the horrible feeling that I was about to cry.
His free hand forced its way between my legs. The movement was rough and demanding. Two fingers dug into my pussy, sliding roughly over my clit before forcing their way up into my body. Quick as a lightning strike, pain morphed to not just pleasure but a dark enjoyment. Yes, he was hurting me. It was forbidden—men should never hurt women—and yet Master Clay abused my breast with impunity. It was as if the laws didn’t apply to him.
When his thumb rubbed my clit while his fingers were buried in me my whole belly clenched. It was a deep, throbbing pleasure—as if everything else I’d ever felt was the waves breaking on the shore and this was the deep darkness a mile under the surface of the ocean.
“Do you feel that?”
“Yes, Master, yes.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Each word was a struggle. I was caught between my desire to egg him on, to have him do something else, something more, and my desire for him to stop toying with me and throw me down and fuck me.
“I think it’s time I have a proper look at you.” Master Clay withdrew his fingers from my pussy. “Over to the St. Andrew’s.”
He let go, and I hissed as a fresh wave of pain shot through my nipple. I watched as it went from white to angry red.
He spanked me, two hard swats.
I had to clench my teeth to keep from saying something. Frustration that he’d made me feel something so intense yet not brought me to orgasm was burning inside me.
Stepping out of the discarded teddy, I made my way over to the St. Andrew’s Cross. With each step I took the frustration melted away under a fresh onslaught of anticipation.
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