She was watching him. She did that a lot of nights. But she hadn’t yet approached him for a session, and something kept him from asking. Maybe because he liked the watching.
No way to ruin that.
She came down the stairs from the mezzanine, her tall, lithe body all feminine elegance and strength in crimson corset, black poured-on leggings, and red and black boots. His eyes never knew where to rest because they were greedy. He drank in the quiver of her breasts, the sway of her hips. How her long, supple thighs transformed her stride into a primal dance that called to cock and deeper things.
Sometimes he studied her profile, the full lips and precise nose, the lines of cheekbone and jaw. Her throat was a fragile column to him. She wasn’t a petite or fragile-looking woman, but he looked at her throat and saw that appealing vulnerability. She had a curtain of slim, soft-looking dreadlocks—“locs.” That was what he’d heard her and other women in the club call the style. They were black with auburn highlights. Sometimes she strung the ropes with beads that shimmered in the club lights. Tonight she wore silver glitter in them. All of her glittered and shimmered. Her skin was like coal and heated chocolate mixed.
So he guessed he liked watching her, too. He managed to tear his gaze away before she noticed.
He was lying on his back on a bench in an intimate alcove, a good trysting place for club members. He had his feet propped on the wall as he tossed a ball toward the ceiling. He hadn’t been picked up by any of the unattached Mistresses, because most here tonight were hard psychological players or had brought their own subs, but he still preferred hanging out here to anywhere else. Especially tonight. He’d left his phone in the locker, not wanting to feel electricity shock his spine and his balls shrink up when it buzzed with a message. Which it would, sometime tonight. He didn’t know why he was letting it bother him. Fuck it; the outcome changed nothing.
As he threw the ball toward the ceiling again, with an eye to hitting the same spot as he had the first twenty times he’d done it, Regina snagged the ball on the toss. She was standing over him, and he gave her points for stealth and hand-to-eye coordination. “Tyler wants a demo flogging,” she said without preamble. “Says you’re nominated because he’s tired of you putting your damn feet on the walls like you live in a barn.” Her gaze slid over him and rested on his upper arms. “Those are new.”
“Just temps.” He rubbed a thumb over the tribal tats on his biceps. “One of the sub girls wanted an excuse to play with my muscles and a magic marker.” He gave her an easy grin. “You know I’m not into doing anything permanent.”
Her lips twitched, but her brown eyes—liquid, soft but also sharp as sword points—were still doing that measuring thing. “Get your ass up, you idiot boy,” she said without rancor.
Marius put his feet down. “Where do you want to do it?” This wouldn’t be anything serious. A demo wasn’t intended to be a session. Even so, it would be the first time he’d interacted one-on-one with Lady Regina. The first time she’d done more with him than look.
“The St. Andrew’s Cross will do.” She nodded toward it.
“Okay.” He rose and gestured to her to precede him, but she shook her head.
“You first. I ogle your ass, not the other way around.”
“Got it. Whatever makes you happy, Mistress.” He headed for the cross. He was used to women looking at him, but her eyes held things he didn’t entirely understand. He was good at reading people, but not good at reading her. His body didn’t care about any of it. It responded merely to the idea that she was looking at him. Shoulders, back, ass. Taking him all in, deciding what she’d do with him.
When they reached the cross, he stepped on the foot rests and put his hands out to the sides and up so she could strap him to it if she wanted. Or he could just hold on for the ride. A flogging wasn’t going to stretch him too much, but he could play it up, give a good show. He saw some people already drawing closer, ready to watch.
She moved behind him as he grinned and winked at a trio of young female submissives. The one in the center blushed prettily. Then she disappeared, because a blindfold was placed over his eyes.
He bit it off, because it was Regina’s call. But he hadn’t expected it, not for a demo. She tied it securely and locked his wrists and ankles in the cuffs. As always, a shift happened inside him when restraints came into play, a pooling low in his gut, his cock stiffening. There were other reactions, too, ones that were felt more sharply tonight than he was used to feeling them. She leaned in, her breasts pressing against his bare back. All he was wearing was a pair of tight, stretchy black shorts that left nothing to the imagination, even when he wasn’t sporting a hard-on. When he was, like now, it was pretty blatant. He expected the subs were getting an eyeful.
“Should I tell you my safe word?” he ventured, since demos were usually intended to reinforce safety measures at the club, as well as entertain and get more people playing on the public floor.
“I’ll keep you safe,” she said, her voice a queen bee’s command, warm honey on a summer day. She laid her palm on the center of his back.
It was a quelling gesture, telling him to remain silent. But there was more to it. He shifted, uneasy. When first getting into a session with someone new, there was often some self-consciousness on both sides, as they adjusted into their respective roles. With the palm on his back, she centered him. The quiet words pierced him, restraining parts other than his arms and legs. She locked the two of them into the right place with merely a touch and four words. That rarely happened unless there was some serious chemistry happening. That happened to other people. Not to him. He made sure of it.
On top of that, her touch pulled other things to the surface. His need to go further, deeper. He wasn’t known as a particularly obedient or easy-to-handle sub, but he was fun, charming. He’d give a Mistress a good time, give her pleasure. He enjoyed that. Even if he left most sessions feeling like he’d denied himself something, he knew it was best for him to stay in that safe zone. Too much dark shit in the wilderness around Disneyland. He might not be able to serve a Mistress to the depths of his soul, but he wouldn’t let her take him somewhere he couldn’t control. Where he could hurt her.
He didn’t want to hurt anyone, and he knew the key to that was staying in the shallow end of his submissive cravings.
Regina had stepped back, and he heard the swish as she chose a flogger and tested it out, probably wrapping it around her lush body a couple times. His hands closed, opened, in the restraints. He’d like to see her doing what she was doing. He’d like to see, period, because in darkness, things could rise that might interfere with that good time he wanted to give her.
The first strike was easy, a sensual feathering with a light sting that slid down his back like a caress. He twitched under it.
“Nice. But I want something more.”
She moved closer to him, her heeled boots making a click-click noise on the floor. Clasping the waistband of his tight shorts, she took them down with a sharp yank. She tucked them under his buttocks, leaving them only half off in front, his stiffening cock snagged in them. The pull on the elastic framed and lifted his ass, making him feel like a kid having his pants pulled down in front of the class.
She stepped back and struck again. This time she focused on his butt, hitting it in a repetitive, circular motion that built intensity fast, making him twitch under the blows. It wasn’t unbearable pain; just a lot of sensation, and it seemed like every blow came with a message that drew a net tighter around him, making the audience disappear, everything disappear. He didn’t let himself get lost this quick with anyone. Hell, he didn’t do the getting lost thing at all.
She stepped closer again, and tucked the flogger between his legs, between flesh and shorts. He pulled in a breath as she wrapped her hand in the fall and yanked the straps taut against his balls, the handle imprinted against his ass along with the knuckles of her grip. Her forearm pressed against his side.
“Feeling safe, sweet boy?” she said, a husky whisper. Her breasts, clad in a thin, silky tee, rubbed against his back. He quivered.
That need kept rising. He suspected she could feel it, too, like he was a fish caught on a hook. Her hand was on the line, sensing the tension as she slowly pulled him in the direction that, unlike the fish, he desperately wanted to go.
“Yeah,” he managed to mumble. Didn’t even remember to say “Yes, Mistress,” and he never forgot that.
She stepped back, pulling the flogger free, and went after him again. Sides, ass, back, shoulders, thighs. He was moving with her, like dancing, his cock hard, belly tight, and all his nerve endings reaching for her. Lips parted, breath whistling in and out.
He had no wings to fly like this, but she’d taken away his panic. He wasn’t thinking about any of the things that had driven him here for refuge tonight, that had been stalking his mind these past few weeks, waiting for the other shoe to drop in his real life. She really was making him feel safe. Then she did something even worse than that.
He inhaled deep when she stepped close this time, and took in honeysuckle, a haunting fragrance that held him fast on a pin-sized point of nowhere-the-fuck-to-go-but-here. Putting her palm on the juncture between throat and shoulder, she simply stood there, connected to him.
So he breathed. In darkness, with her touching him, with one firm, warm, substantial palm. The rush of feeling in his head muffled the sounds of the club, the way noise was muted when standing in the surf of an ocean. But each breath took him even farther out in the waters. Floating.
She was in those waters, diving deep into him without doing anything exceptional. No, that wasn’t true. She picked up on what he needed at the right moment and pulled even more from him, keeping him unbalanced. It took Doms and subs a long time to get that point, even when they were open to one another. They were virtual strangers, and he didn’t open up to anyone. Yet her timing with him was a hammer hitting a nail dead on with every stroke and touch.
He wanted to let go, feel more with her. But…he didn’t want her to stop watching him. If he let himself go enough to get lost in this, treat it as something real, bad things would happen. Then she’d stop watching him.
It was pathetically ironic, what she’d said to him about a safe word. The way she watched him made him feel safe. Not safe like he was some chickenshit who needed protection. Different kind of safe. Safe from the things inside himself. The things he was powerless to change. For months, he’d known a train was coming. His phone might be in his locker, but that wouldn’t stop the message from coming. The train was almost here, but he couldn’t get off the track.
She made him believe he could close his eyes, get lost in the bliss and never feel the impact obliterate him. And he shouldn’t, couldn’t do that.
“We need to stop,” he said.
“Had enough?” she said in a neutral tone.
A long pause, as if she wasn’t that willing to let this end. But it was a demo. She wasn’t going to push things. She raised her voice. “Say you’ll never put your feet on the walls again.”
“I’ll never put my feet on the walls again.” If he was being his normal self, he would have added a teasing caveat to win himself a few more stripes. She must have realized it, because she waited an extra beat before she made a noncommittal noise and freed his ankles. Before she released his wrists, she rubbed his back gently with firm hands, making sure he was grounded. He didn’t need that, didn’t need that kind of aftercare, so he twitched enough to let her know, to make her stop. He didn’t want her to stop.
When she took off one wrist cuff, he removed the blindfold himself. The first thing he saw were her eyes, dark pools. He’d never let himself look too deeply into them. Maybe because he could fall and be lost.
She braced a hand on his shoulder, rising onto her toes to release the other cuff. When she did, he found himself laying his cheek on her knuckles. Just putting his head down a second. Not really sure why.
He closed his eyes as she rested her hand on his head. It felt like all the things he would never have. Absolution, redemption, tenderness. A Mistress. Fortunately, he regained his senses and drew away. He stepped off the cross, avoiding further touch, and reached for whatever defenses that were still in reach of his grasping fingertips.
“Thank you, Mistress,” he said in a raised voice, giving her a playful grin and turning away. He pulled up his shorts and rubbed his ass, making the cute sub girls giggled.
Regina watched him with those knowing eyes, and without smiling. She wasn’t pissed. Just too aware. He added a respectful nod, conveying more serious thanks. When he did that, she nodded in return. His eyes lingered on her glossed lips, the gentle rise and fall of her breasts. The cocked hip stance, her meditative look. That was all he could have. He walked away.
As he made his escape, he saw Noah sitting against the wall in an unoccupied part of the play room, a good vantage point to watch several of the stations at once. Marius snagged a towel and a bottled water before sliding down to sit next to him. Everything in his back, ass and thighs was tingling. Everywhere she’d struck or touched.
He didn’t say anything right off. Just ran the towel over his damp neck and chest. Noah had his head tipped back against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest, his eyes half closed. The lean man with long dark hair wore nothing but a pair of jeans and his tattoos. He’d been with Mistress Lyda for some time, long enough for their relationship to be considered a serious thing, but he never said anything about that. He had something to say about other things, though.
“That was some intense shit.”
“You must have been watching something different.” Marius took a swig of water. “That was just a demo, man.”
“Yeah, sure. You should think about looking deeper into that.”
Marius followed Noah’s gaze to Regina, who’d met up with Mistress Lisette and was taking a seat with her at a courtside table. “You think she’s looking for a boy-toy?”
Noah snorted. “I think if you pull that boy-toy stuff on her, she’ll tear you to pieces and make you beg to be put back together again. Which she’d probably do, though she’d hold onto your dick for a few weeks to remind you not to fuck with her.”
Because that twisted his cock and his gut in ways he couldn’t interpret, Marius scoffed. “I’ve watched her play. She’s not into that kind of meanness.”
“That’s surface stuff, and you’re playing dumb. Her way of holding control has nothing to do with maximum force.”
No, it didn’t. It had taken him by surprise. Noah described it just right. When she touched him, she touched things far below the surface. Chemistry. Fuck. Had she felt it? He thought she had, but he could hope she hadn’t.
“The boy-toy thing doesn’t work forever, you know,” Noah pointed out. “Not when you really do want a Mistress. The player routine is starting to look a little thin, Marius.”
“I don’t—” Marius broke off, his attention zeroing in on the activity at the suspension station. He glanced at the Dungeon Master on duty, Carlissa, but the DM was handling equipment instruction with a new member on the other side of the floor. “Hold that stupid and entirely off the mark thought. Back in a sec.”
Noah grinned. “You’re not on schedule to DM or do security tonight. You notice everything, man. Sure you’re not a Mistress?”
“I’ll come back and fuck you up the ass so you can decide for yourself,” Marius said, already getting to his feet. He moved to the suspension station. The Dom was fortunately squatting over his open suitcase of ropes and clips. “Sir Guillaume?”
The black man with a runner’s physique and a cauliflower top of short dreads shot him a look. Marius saw the usual flash of irritation that any Dom experienced when interrupted in session, so he got right to the point. He nodded to the slim Hispanic male sub, blindfolded and wrapped in an elaborate harness of jute, his feet off the ground since Guillaume had him suspended from the sturdy oak frame. Guillaume had found his passion with suspension rope play, and hadn’t mentored long with the club experts before striking out on his own. He was smart enough to keep his solo play here at the Zone, though, where he was under the watchful eyes of the staff.
“He’s having circulation issues in his right hand, and he’s too deep to notice.”
Guillaume rose. “There shouldn’t be anything pinching him. I tied it—”
“When you worked him up earlier, this section probably tightened as he was squirming.” Marius stepped closer to Tawn, the tied sub, and gestured. “See here.” He guided Guillaume to grip Tawn’s hand. “Feel how cold it is?”
Guillaume paled under his bisque coloring. “Shit.”
“It’s okay. He’s not in danger yet. Skin color’s still decent, though remember you have to keep a closer eye when your bottom’s not Caucasian. Just fix the problem and massage the hand and arm, get the circulation going. Or, since you’ve already gotten him off and sent him flying, might be a good time to end the session.” Marius gave Guillaume a dry smile. “Do aftercare and then let him have the chance to suck his Master off to show his gratitude for giving him such a good time.”
“Yeah.” Guillaume was busy loosening the ropes, murmuring to Tawn, holding onto him. The sub’s head tilted back, lips parted. Even without seeing his eyes, Marius knew they would show a subspace haze. Tawn was a dedicated rope bunny. All a Dom had to do was twitch some twine in his direction and he’d practically zone out then and there. Fortunately, the twitch of his fingers was what had caught Marius’s attention. The unconscious mind had a way of staying on guard even when the rest of the brain was too fuzzy to compute danger. Until it was too late.
That wasn’t the case here, and Marius was no longer needed. Easing back, he left Guillaume to handle his shit. As he crossed the room to Noah, he saw Regina watching him again. Though she was listening to Mistress Lisette, her eyes were on Marius.
He slowed under her regard. What would happen if he went and knelt at her feet? Asked if he could stay awhile, do anything for her? He could just sit, let her decide if there was more she might want from him. Maybe she’d put her hand on his shoulder and throat like she had before, that touch that sent him into a place that was similar but different, quieter but no less intense, than the subspace that Tawn was experiencing now.
What did he want from her? He didn’t know, but a strong part of him wanted to find out. Noah was right, but being right didn’t mean pursuing it was the best option.
Her gaze flickered, her lips parted. Fuck, it was an invitation. After all this time, when their schedules had never meshed, or she hadn’t been approachable, or he’d talked himself out of it, maybe tonight…
Noah was waving at him, getting his attention. When he had it, he pointed toward the bar. Alex was working behind it, and he lifted the phone, telling Marius he had a call. He’d forgotten he’d left this as one of his backup numbers, because so often his cell was in a locker, or his car. He didn’t really like carrying one. But he wished now he’d never given that number out, because his sense of sanctuary crumbled.
As he moved toward the bar, his gaze flickered up to the TV they kept on mute for people in the bar area who’d come to socialize rather than play. It was on the news, and the headlining story told him what that call would be about.
What were the chances they’d be on the right channel, at the right moment for him to see that shit? Right when the damn phone call came through? If there was any kind of sign in this bullshit world, it seemed like that was one.
He felt like he was in one of those video games where, when the player was killed, a gray pall came down on the landscape. Everything that was vibrant became dreary and lifeless. He found himself trying to draw in air, as if it was being sucked out of his world with the color.
Why did it fucking matter? It had been coming for months, right? He struggled to get past the gray, and he couldn’t. It was like being struck blind, only he’d been struck color-blind, everything leached away, so it was an effort just to walk to the bar. He picked up the phone, spoke a word he didn’t remember. Listened. Hung up.
He didn’t remember going down to the locker room and putting on his street clothes. He didn’t remember coming back and seeing the blushing submissive waiting by the door, hoping to catch his eye. He closed his hand on hers, tugging her out the door with him. He wouldn’t remember that later either, or fucking her in her car like a crazed demon, trying to lift that gray pall. It didn’t work.
The only thing he would remember was seeing Regina for one more brief second. When he emerged from the locker room, she was at the bar. As her eyes turned to his, he was going to fall in, get lost and do the wrong thing. He couldn’t do the wrong thing with her. She pushed inside him too far. He wouldn’t let himself hurt her.
The cute sub wasn’t in danger. She didn’t watch him the way Regina did. He needed to get out of here. Get out of his head. Give his dick a workout, and she’d do.
If that didn’t help, he knew one other way. He’d heard somewhere that blood was gray until it hit the open air. Fucking poetic. He was ready to liberate some blood. His own or someone else’s; it really didn’t matter.
Fighting was the only thing that was going to bring back the color. Even if the only color it brought was red.