The bar was a classic Irish pub. It smelled like hops and good food, and was surprisingly busy given that at nearly three pm it was well past the traditional lunch rush. Given how good it smelled, Edward Donal was not surprised that there were still people in the pub—it was the kind of place you came for the food and company, not because you needed a quick bite to eat on your lunch break.
He wasn’t sure if that made his plan more or less likely to succeed. He’d identified Pat’s Pub as a potential site for his new venture because from the gossip around the office it was a local institution. He was hoping the safe, rather wholesome environment of a familiar location would make people more willing to step outside their comfort zone and attend the BDSM mixer he was planning.
He walked up to the bar, stopping beside a lovely dark-haired woman who was eating her lunch with one hand and flipping through a thick stack of papers with the other. Edward felt her gaze slide over him as he rested one forearm on the bar. He leaned an inch closer to her, not in her personal space, but certainly brushing against the border. Her hands stopped moving, the fork hanging in the air, the papers no longer moving. Interesting.
The bartender slid up—a handsome man with some sadness behind his eyes. “Welcome to Pat’s. What can I get you?”
“It smells wonderful in here,” Edward said, “but I was actually hoping to speak with a manager.”
The bartender leaned on the bar. “That’d be me. I’m Padraig. What can I do for you?”
Donal put on his most nonthreatening smile. “I’m interested in renting out your establishment for an evening.”
“Party?” Padraig grinned. “We can do that, but we don’t usually close the bar, just give you a reserved section.”
What he wanted would need privacy. “For this I would need to insist that the bar be closed to the public. Also, I’ll need to move some of the furnishings.”
Padraig raised his eyebrows. “What kind of party is this?”
“A munch.” Edward didn’t whisper, didn’t hide what he wanted. He didn’t believe in hiding his desires. Honesty was the core of good BDSM, and one of the things that drew him to the lifestyle.
Padraig sucked in air in surprise and then started to cough—he knew what that word meant.
The bartender wasn’t the only one to react. The woman beside him jumped as if she’d been electrocuted and knocked all her papers onto the floor. She knew what a munch—the BDSM community’s term for a mixer—was. Very interesting.
Edward crouched and started picking up her fallen papers, doing his best to keep them in order. She slid off her stool, long skirt pooling on the floor. Her hair was in a loose braid, pulled over her shoulder, and he had a brief, vivid image of a thin rope woven through that braid.
“Thank you,” she said. Her voice was low and soft, practically oozing gentleness.
One of the papers Edward had just picked up from the floor slipped from his grip. That voice…it did something to him. He wanted to grab her, protect her, yet he also wanted to pull her over his knee and see how long it would take for that soft, gentle voice to become screams of pleasure.
“You’re welcome,” he murmured. He stood when the last paper was picked up. He handed them to her.
When she grabbed them her fingers brushed his. That barely-there touch hit him like a full caress. He stared at her, wanting her to look up, so he could read the expression on her face. The woman slid onto the stool, eyes focused on her papers. She never met his gaze.
Like a submissive.
Don’t overreact. She’s just shy, not trying to signal to you that she’s a sub.
Edward stayed there, uncharacteristically unsure what to do or say next, when someone called his name.
Edward turned. There were three people seated in a booth near the bar. He recognized one of them immediately. Anderson.
The last thing he’d expected to see in an Irish Pub in Baltimore was a fellow member of Los Angeles’s most exclusive BDSM club. Anderson was an easy man to recognize with his dark hair and intense eyes. The subs at the L.A. club walked on eggshells around him, not because he was cruel, though he certainly could be, especially with his sub Darling, but because he was intense.
The woman with the braid was resorting her papers. Edward considered her for a moment then walked over to Anderson’s booth.
“Good to see you, Donal.” Anderson nodded to the empty space his male companion.
Edward sat. “Thank you.”
The woman seated beside Anderson was a lovely, wholesome-looking red-head with freckles. Anderson held her with a casual, effortless possession—his hand under her hair, fingertips lightly pressed into the sides of her neck.
The man beside Edward was handsome and looked vaguely familiar. He had a medium-tone skin color and features that made Edward think he was bi-racial. The fact that he looked familiar probably meant he was in the scene, though he was staring down Anderson with a decidedly un-submissive expression.
“Tess, Isaiah, this is Master Donal,” Anderson said.
Anderson introduced him as Master, which meant the man and woman in the booth with him were in the lifestyle. Not surprising. He couldn’t imagine anyone like Anderson associating with vanillas.
“Master?” The woman asked in surprise.
“Mind your manners,” Anderson said in a hard voice. “You too, Isaiah. Eyes down.”
Neither one of the subs obeyed. Edward was first shocked, then amused. The look of consternation on Anderson’s face was worth the price of admission. Still, it was odd that Anderson was here with these two. “Where’s Darling?”
Anderson’s dark gaze shifted to him. “Darling left the scene.”
“Darling did? That’s hard to imagine. She was the perfect submissive.” Beautiful, elegant in her submission, perfectly behaved, the envy of many Doms. Personally, Edward had never feel attracted to her, rather he admired her submission. He’d never felt that sort of gut-based desire, like what he’d felt for the woman at the bar. He stopped himself from turning to look at her.
“She was,” Anderson agreed.
“Are you two…?” Edward asked, curious despite himself.
“I no longer have a relationship with her.”
“I’m sorry. You were great together.” Darling and Anderson, both with dark hair and serious, intense expressions, were like a matched set of kinky, dangerous leopards. “These are your new subs or are you just training them?”
“They’re mine. Novices to the scene.”
“Novices? Anderson, man, don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you shouldn’t be initiating novices. You’ll scare them away.”
There was no one way to practice BDSM, but there were general groups of like-minded people. Edward subscribed to the school of BDSM providing a structure and safety net for exploration and kink. He wasn’t a lifestyle player like Anderson, and he believed scenes should end with gentle aftercare for the sub.
“You mean you won’t be inviting me to your munch?” Anderson raised one dark brow.
So Anderson had heard that. That raised the interesting question of what the other man was doing in Baltimore. “No, I won’t. My firm relocated me here, and there isn’t much of a scene, at least not like what we have at Las Palmas, so I’m trying to get something started. Pat’s Pub is an institution, so I thought people might be more comfortable coming to a munch if it was here. You’d scare them.” Edward smiled. “You’re not invited.”
“I’m just passing though,” Anderson assured him. Then he shifted slightly, his gaze sliding over his companions. “My new pets aren’t aware of my…reputation. Perhaps you’d care to enlighten them?”
Anderson’s female companion, Tess, looked at Isaiah, the man beside Edward. There was fear in her eyes. Edward reacted to that, reaching across the table, instinct driving him to comfort the woman.
“Do not touch my sub,” Anderson snarled.
Edward froze, and then his body went cold in response to the challenge. He faced Anderson. There was something he’d never seen before in the other man’s eyes—fear, or pain. That was not good. Doms who used their subs to work out their own issues could do a lot of damage.
Edward thought of the woman at the bar. He wanted to ignore whatever fuckery was happening in this booth and go back to her, but he couldn’t, wouldn’t ignore what he considered a dangerous situation. He turned to face the man seated beside him. Isaiah. Huh, the guy kind of looked like Isaiah Jefferson, the famous author. Probably a coincidence. “If you’d like a gentler introduction to the lifestyle, I’d be happy to show you. Both of you.”
Isaiah looked surprised. Edward decided to go for brutal honesty. It was clear that these two were novices, and someone needed to help them understand. “Anderson is not a good first Dom. When a sub is misbehaving, you threaten to give him or her to Anderson for a night. Watching him and Darling could make even the most jaded of us nervous.”
Tess’s lower lip trembled, but strangely, Isaiah seemed calmer after what Edward told him.
“We’re happy with him. You don’t need to warn us.”
Edward stared at Isaiah, who was not giving off any sub vibes, and finally shook his head. “I still don’t think this is a good idea, but I also won’t stand in the way of two consenting adults. I mean, three consenting adults.”
Odd, he’d never known Anderson to be into trinities. Trinities? That was an odd way to phrase it. He meant menages.
The tension that had gripped the table moments ago faded. It didn’t take a great intuitive to tell that Anderson’s tension had dissipated after Isaiah declared he was happy.
“I haven’t shown them my party trick,” Anderson said in a conversational tone.
Anderson the sub whisperer. He had an almost supernatural ability to read people, particularly female submissives. That was his party trick. Donal figured he was probably a psychiatrist in real life. Or a CIA interrogator. Or maybe a member of a secret, Nazi-sympathizer sect within America’s oldest and most powerful secret society.
Anderson’s gaze slid past Edward to the bar behind him.
Edward forced himself to smile. “Ah, the woman with the braid?” He didn’t like Anderson even looking at her, though that was stupid. The woman with the braid wasn’t his. She’d touched his hand, and they’d exchanged exactly four words.
He had no right to feel possessive.
“What are you talking about?” Tess asked.
“Sir,” Anderson corrected her.
“You address me as Sir or Master. Repeat your question and mind your manners.”
Edward imagined what it would sound like to hear the woman at the bar call him Master in that soft, delicious voice. He had to swallow and fight against the sudden, hard urge to stand and go to her. He’d slide his hand into her hair and kiss her, just to see if she’d do what he wanted, what he hoped—part her lips and let him kiss her with the raw, brutal desire she inexplicably inspired.
Anderson grabbed his sub’s chin, forcing her to turn and look at him. She made a worried little noise and Isaiah reached across the table to grab Anderson.
The fantasy about the woman at the bar had Edward’s Dom close to the surface. He reacted as if they were in a club, grabbing Isaiah’s arm before he could interfere. “He’s within his rights to correct her for failing to address him properly. If you want to be with Anderson, you need to accept this.”
“No. I don’t.” Isaiah jerked his arm from Edward’s grip.
“Excuse me?” Edward might not consider himself a protocol-obsessed Dom, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t turn a sub over his knee.
But Isaiah wasn’t his sub. The man wasn’t even giving off any sub vibes—what was Anderson thinking?
“Look at me,” Anderson said to Tess. “And address me properly.”
Her voice was low and trembled. “Sir. What are you talking about, Sir?”
Edward’s protective instinct reared up. “Are you comfortable with what just happened?” he asked her.
Tess nodded. She was lying.
“I have a gift,” Anderson told his companions. “I can tell what a sub needs, what will help tear down her—or his—defenses so they can truly submit. It’s human nature to hide what we want most, what scares us, and what we desire, if that desire isn’t socially acceptable.”
“And you have some magical ability to figure out what people are hiding?” Isaiah’s voice was hard with either disdain or anger.
“I do.” Anderson spoke as if he were simply relating a fact. “The woman sitting at the bar, the one with her hair in a braid, is a submissive.”
Edward’s hands curled into fists. The woman at the bar was his.
“You can’t tell that just by looking at someone,” Isaiah insisted.
“Normally I would agree,” Edward said, “but in Anderson’s case, I’ve seen it happen one too many times. Plus, she knew what a munch was.” The last was said more to himself than to anyone at the table.
Anderson shook his head. “She’s heard the term, nothing more. She’s a…virgin.”
Edward gave up any pretense of disinterest and turned in his seat to watch the woman. She wore a long, soft dress with a sweater over it. She wouldn’t have looked out of place walking in an orchard, picking apples, as part of some wholesome butter or cotton commercial. “What does she need?” Edward asked Anderson.
“Peace. She’s being crushed by the weight of her life. Take away her control and her responsibility. Keep her on the edge of orgasm until she can no longer remember her name, then fuck her until she’s sobbing in relief.”
Edward exhaled as desire made the muscles of his abdomen tight. Peace. He could give her peace. And pleasure. So much pleasure.
“Exactly what I thought,” Edward murmured, no longer really paying attention to Anderson. “Maybe I don’t need to organize a munch.”
“No, perhaps not.”
“In that case I’ll leave you to your meal.” Edward started to rise, but his sense of responsibility made him look at Tess as he reached into his pocket. “Please remember what I said. If you would like to be introduced to the lifestyle in a gentler manner, call me.” He laid a business card on the table, rose, and walked back to the bar.
To the woman with the braid.
She tensed as he approached. When he laid his hand on the bar only a few inches from her elbow he heard her inhale. Satisfaction flared through him. Satisfaction and desire. As odd as the interlude with Anderson had been, he was now determined to have this woman. He would give her peace.
Peace and pleasure.
He was about to say something when the bartender, Padraig, hurried over
“Due to health code, I don’t think we’re going to be able to accommodate your party.”
Edward nodded, never taking his gaze from the woman. “No BDSM acts would be performed in the bar.”
He said “BDSM” specifically to see how she’d react. She made a soft little noise of surprise and pleasure. Edward’s eyes closed briefly as he fought the urge to do something highly socially unacceptable.
Padraig pursed his lips. “Then why would you move the furniture?”
Edward was no longer interested in hosting a munch at Pat’s Pub. All he wanted was the woman—and to that end he said, “I thought I’d bring in a St. Andrew’s Cross, as a visual aid only.”
He was hoping she’d make some lovely noise when he mentioned the St. Andrew’s Cross. Her reaction was even better. She dropped her papers again.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Padraig said.
“I understand,” he replied absently. He crouched to once more help the woman pick up her papers. She’d slipped off the stool, and her hands trembled as she picked gathered scattered documents.
From above, Edward heard Padraig mutter, “Well, this conversation was wildly inappropriate.”
The woman with the braid was kneeling, skirts spilling out around her. For the first time she looked up and met his gaze. Her eyes were the dark gray of storm clouds.
“Thank you.” Her lips tumbled and she smiled. “Again.”
Edward, still crouching, held out his half of the papers.
“I’m Edward. Edward Donal.”
The woman took his section of papers, but this time she didn’t touch him. “I’m Win.”
“Win?” he asked.
She flashed a rueful smile. “Winter. My name is Winter.” She winced. “Winter Storm.”
Edward raised a brow. “Your last name is Storm and your parents named you Winter?”
“Yea, they’re weird and—”
“It suits you,” he said quietly. “Your eyes are the color of a winter storm.”
She met his gaze, and something soft and vulnerable bloomed on her face.
“You know what I was talking about, don’t you?” He asked softly. “You know what a munch is, what BDSM stands for, what a St. Andrew’s Cross is used for.”
He expected her to prevaricate, maybe deny it, but she didn’t. She nodded once. “Yes, I do.”
Edward stood and held out a hand to her. She could have ignored it, or handed him the papers to hold while she stood on her own. Instead she put the papers on the bar stool, then placed her hands in his.
When their skin touched that same tingle of excitement and awareness shot through him. This was a rare thing—a pure, chemical attraction.
Edward kept ahold of her hand, moved the papers off the chair onto the bar, and then helped her back into her seat. He was aware of Padraig watching him suspiciously, but he ignored it. Testing her, he put one hand on the back of Winter’s stool, the other on the bar. That brought him firmly into her personal space. She didn’t lean away.
She actually leaned into him, as if seeking the shelter of his body.
Edward dipped his head, until his lips nearly brushed her temple. “Would you like to submit to me, Winter?”
“Yes,” she breathed. “Yes, please.”
“You’ve never done anything like this before, have you?”
Edward smiled, though she couldn’t see it. “Then I’ll teach you.” He reached into his pocket for a business card. He scribbled his cell phone number on the back. “This is my cell phone number. After I walk out that door you may change your mind. You have that right. I won’t ask for your number, because you need to have the power…for now.”
Edward set the card on top of her papers and took a step back.
She turned to look at him, eyes wide.
Edward studied her face. “It was nice to meet you, Winter.”
He forced himself to turn and walk out of the bar. As the cool air hit him he had the strangest feeling that everything had changed, and he knew that he would never forget her. And if she didn’t call he would never stop kicking himself for letting her go.