The Velvet Ribbon – Chapter 1

Copyright © 2015 by Christie Adams

The sound of heels on hardwood provided the metronomic fanfare that alerted Alex to the imminent arrival of Beth Harrison – his executive assistant, right-hand woman and, of late, source of growing frustration. He looked up from the correspondence in his hand, eyes narrowing at her approaching reflection in the tinted window that gave him a panoramic view over London.

Those damn fuck-me shoes! A muscle tensed in his tightly clenched jaw. While her working wardrobe went from black to white, with every shade of grey between, her footwear was downright rebellious – immaculate heels, never less than four inches in height, in a myriad selection of styles and eye-catching colours.

Which ones today? It was a question that crossed Alex’s mind every morning. He’d never considered himself to have any kind of shoe fetish until Beth came to work for him. Every morning it was the same, and the litany of colours was ever-expanding. As for today – would it be the peacock blue? Or the metallic purple, perhaps? He was rather fond of the latter.

No, today it was a new pair…new to the office, at any rate. The vivid red patent leather heels, with an ankle strap adorned with an eye-catching bow, were incredibly flattering to her slender feet and shapely ankles…and those gorgeous legs clad in sheer black nylon with seams straighter than an arrow. Oh, the fantasies he’d had about having those legs wrapped around his hips while he sank his cock into her lush body, felt her contract hard around him, heard her panting cries as he spilled inside her at the moment of her climax…

His eyes continued upward, taking in the flannel-grey pencil skirt, the way the fabric clung to her curves, so fitted that it gave her hips an ultra-feminine sway as she walked. He experienced a sharp, momentary twinge of disappointment; for the lines to be that smooth, there was no way she was wearing stockings. He tried to curb his disappointment that beneath the skirt, there would be no tantalising exposure of creamy skin at the top of her thighs.

She wore the crisp, snow-white cotton blouse with the top buttons undone, hinting at a delicious cleavage. The long sleeves were fastened at her delicate wrists with mock cufflinks. French-manicured nails tipped elegant fingers that clasped a notebook and pen.

And then there was her face: heart-shaped, lightly made-up, alluring green eyes behind unremarkable spectacles, all crowned by luxuriant, upswept brown hair threaded with gold, and not one strand out of place. In the three years that she’d been his assistant, he’d never seen her anything less than cool, calm and utterly professional.

What he’d give to see her come apart under the force of the orgasms he could give her.

He really shouldn’t harbour such thoughts. Ten years his junior, Beth had never, as far as Alex knew, been married. He, on the other hand, had an unpleasant, expensive and thankfully long-distant divorce behind him, which made him too old and too cynical for someone as lovely as his assistant.

“Yes, Mr. Lombard?” Her voice was as composed as ever.

Three bloody years, and she still wouldn’t call him by his given name – it was always Mr. Lombard or Sir. His thoughts lingered on the second option and what it brought with it – the prospect of her calling him that as her Dom, along with the equally enticing prospect of his collar adorning her elegant neck.

None of which was ever going to happen, for so damn many fucking reasons. She was the best executive assistant he’d ever had – in light of his strictly hands-off approach when it came to his staff, there was no way he’d date her. He was also pretty sure she wasn’t a sub, but even if she had been, he knew he couldn’t give her everything she’d need from her true Master.

And if Beth had been a sub, she would have deserved so much more than a training arrangement with a broken Dom or an emotionally meaningless scene at the club. He could never give any sub more than that. Not now, not for a long time in the past…and not for the foreseeable future.

“Mr. Lombard?” There was a frisson of concern in her soft, clear voice now – it shattered his obsessive train of thought and brought him back to cold, hard reality. He shifted his focus to the present and tried to ignore how he was turned on by the thought of stripping her of everything except those heels and having her kneel before him.

“I’m sorry, Beth,” he found himself saying absently. “Have we had any more information about the Robertson-Wolfe contract yet?”

“Nothing yet, sir. I’m keeping a look out for incoming emails.”

Shit, shit, fucking shit, damn! Why the hell did she have to call him that now? “Thanks, Beth,” he growled, trying to ignore the fresh images in his head. “Let me know as soon as anything comes in.”

For a moment, Beth debated whether or not she should enquire about her boss’s wellbeing; she decided to err on the side of caution and beat a hasty retreat.

The strangest look had flickered across Alexander Lombard’s face when she’d answered his question about Robertson-Wolfe, but her sense of self-preservation prevented her from pursuing it with her panty-droppingly attractive, six-foot-three, man-mountain ex-military boss. Gossip among the staff insisted that he’d served in the Special Forces, and that after he’d left the military he’d spent some time working in “private security” – whatever that really meant.

Beth wasn’t sure about the Special Forces part of it, but he still carried his military experience in his bearing. And although the details remained elusive, she did know he shared a history in security with his best friend, Cameron Fraser, who came into the office on a regular basis and was due to call in that very morning.

She kept the sigh to herself until she returned to the outer sanctum that was her office. Whatever was riding Alex these days, it wasn’t getting any better.

Sex. It had to be sex, she realised a few minutes later, seated once again at her desk. Or, more accurately, a lack of sex. He hadn’t asked her to order flowers, or book tables for two at his favourite restaurants for about six months, all told – if he wasn’t dating, he wasn’t getting laid, and not getting laid was bound to make such a virile alpha male grouchy.

Beth almost snorted. Grouchy? A bear with a sore head, toothache and rampant haemorrhoids would be less grouchy than Alex Lombard had been at times recently. She looked at the clock; it was just after eight-thirty, and she knew he would have been in the office since before seven. He hadn’t had any coffee yet; she eyed the pristine espresso coffee maker in the corner of her office, next to the grinder, wondering if he’d notice if she switched to decaffeinated beans in an attempt to make him less tetchy. She shook her head. What was that saying again? The road to hell is paved with good intentions…

He was on the phone when Beth went in with the small cup of liquid dynamite; she had learned early on that hot coffee took precedence over everything else. He was in the middle of an animated conversation in fluent Italian, his voice deep and bone-meltingly sexy. How could a voice have her hormones leaping to attention so easily? It didn’t seem possible, but the spear of need that ripped through her body appeared to indicate otherwise.

That was why she always maintained an air of formality when she addressed him; if she started calling him by his given name, it would be the beginning of the end. Mr. Lombard kept her from getting all dewy-eyed and moonstruck about Alex.

Beth loved her job. She’d gone along to the interview expecting it to be for a regular executive assistant’s role, but it had turned out to be so much more – leaving aside the calls to florists and restaurants, which she made for him as a favour. Right from the start, Alex had made it clear that he didn’t expect her to waste her talent or her intelligence on simply providing refreshments, dealing with the mail and running errands.

Instead, he’d given her a list of clients of her own – a subset of his own exclusive portfolio – and after an initial period of intensive training and mentoring, he’d allowed her to run with it. He trusted her judgement in all things. She valued that trust, and well…making an extra cup of coffee or the odd phone call wasn’t such a hardship, was it?

The last six months aside, Beth was uncomfortably aware of a steady stream of women who had paraded briefly through her employer’s life – all quite a bit younger than her, judging by the voices on the other end of the phone calls she’d fielded, and none of them had lasted much longer than about three months, if she recalled correctly. She’d heard the gossip about Alex having been married, and that the marriage had supposedly gone spectacularly sour; ever since then, she’d been fighting her natural impulse to “fix” him – her Fairy Godmother instinct.

“Good morning, angel! And how are you this fine day? Is the brute in?”

Wrapped up in her work, Beth hadn’t realised how quickly the morning was going until the cheerful male voice greeted her. She recognised it instantly; it belonged to Cameron Fraser, another walking mountain of testosterone. He swept into the office like a force of nature, straight to her desk, and lifted her hand to his mouth to place a gallant kiss to the back of it – she couldn’t help but smile at the old-world charm.

And where Alex was dark, moody and could be downright scary, Cam was all blond hair, blue eyes and muscular charm by the bucketload, packed into six feet and one inch of immaculately attired masculinity. Attractive, yes, but as far as Beth was concerned, he didn’t quite have the same charisma as her employer.

“I’m fine, thank you, Mr. Fraser,” she smiled up at him, rising from her seat. “Yes, Mr. Lombard’s expecting you – can I get you some coffee?”

“Don’t go to any trouble on my account, Beth – I’ll see myself in.”

Had Beth been a fly on the wall, she would have seen a completely different man lean his hip on the corner of Alex’s desk; Cam, another former Special Forces operative, could be every bit as cold and ruthless as his friend if the need arose. When it came to business, they meant business, and like Alex, Cam too was a Dom.

“So have you taken her as your sub yet?” Cam asked the question seriously, knowing full well what the answer would be – one of the first things he’d done on entering the outer office had been to check for the presence of a collar.

“Don’t go there,” Alex growled without even turning around.

Cam gave an exasperated sigh. “Are you going to give me that crap again? About just training them because that’s all you have to offer them? Alex –”

“I can’t and you fucking well know why!”

Cam swore under his breath. The tightly controlled anger was getting old now. For years he’d witnessed his friend settling for perfunctory scenes with subs or just training them, instead of finding the one with whom he could have a true emotional connection. Yes, he knew why Alex was acting this way, could even understand it after a fashion, but Cam knew that Alex needed more, even if the man shied away from it like a virgin confronted with a St. Andrew’s Cross. Going back to the counsellor was the answer, but that would mean Alex actually confronting the fucking question…

“Why the hell not? Hasn’t it occurred to you that she might just be –”

“I don’t date my employees!”

“Then maybe it’s time you started. Beth’s perfect sub material – always so eager to please, moves like a dream, she’s classy and elegant. If you don’t, I will.”

That made Alex swivel his executive chair around to face the other man. “Like hell you will, Fraser.” The statement came out just short of a snarl.

Cam raised a speculative eyebrow to go with the slightly crooked, smug grin; his ex-military buddy only used his surname when Cam had put a particularly large burr under his saddle. “I thought that would get a rise out of you, old man.” From time to time, he liked to remind Alex of his seniority, in terms of both age – all of two years – and former rank. “So when are you going to do something about it?”

Any response the other man might have made to that challenge was put on hold when the subject of their animated conversation came in with two steaming mugs of coffee. As she turned to leave, Cam fired an “I-told-you-so” look at her employer.

Alex waited long enough for the door to close behind her. “Your point?” he demanded, his tone more than a touch acerbic.

“You didn’t even have to ask her. Cheers!” Cam raised his mug before downing a hearty swig of the steaming brew. “And she makes bloody good coffee as well.”

The conversation turned to business, the original reason for Cam’s visit. Before Alex had started Paduan Ventures – named for St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost articles and those who seek them – he and Cam had been partners in a security consultancy. After the incident that still cast a long shadow over him, Alex had walked away from the company, leaving Cam in sole charge; since then, Cam had developed the business into a substantial concern with clients located all over the world.

Given the nature of the business Alex was in now, security was a major concern. Some projects had been going awry lately, so he’d called Cam in to conduct a full investigation.

Once all the arrangements were made, Cam turned the conversation back to the woman in the outer office – or tried to.

Alex scowled; he’d been doing that a lot lately. “Don’t you have work to do, Fraser?”

“Nothing that can’t wait five minutes. It’s Friday – are you going to the club tonight?”

Cam was referring to Aegis, the discreet private club where he and Alex could let the dominant sides of their personalities out to play. While Alex had still been a regular visitor over the last six months, indulgence in terms of taking part in the scene was something that he had avoided, preferring instead to nurse a Scotch or two before disappearing back to his city-centre apartment.

“Maybe.” His tone was as noncommittal as his response.

“I’ll see you there.” Cam’s voice was determined. “And for fuck’s sake, will you play with at least one sub tonight? You’ll be losing your touch.”

“Will you get the hell out of here?”

Cam grinned wickedly as he opened the door. “Okay, I get the message – see you later!”

After saying goodbye to her employer’s friend, Beth checked the time – lunchtime at last. She could switch off from work for a while and jot down the ideas that had been flitting through the back of her mind. She had just enough time before she went to the coffee shop for lunch with some of the girls from the office.

The ideas were for her latest attempt at breaking into the writing business. Realistically she knew the odds were against her, but for Beth writing was almost a form of therapy, a way of exorcising a longing that, on more than one occasion, she’d been told was downright perverted.

She wanted to know what it was like to submit to a Dom.

Books and the internet were as close as she’d got; writing was her way of taking part in that intriguing world. She read novels, of course, and at times her imagination was prone to running away with her, but she wasn’t kidding anyone. If she were that brave, she’d be living the lifestyle instead of just writing about it. Where she was and where she thought she wanted to be were two entirely different places, and in between them was the massive wall she’d built to protect the very part of her that wanted to be on the other side of that wall. It scared her to death, but at the same time she wanted it so much.

And she knew exactly who she’d want for her Dom – that was yet another reason to address him as Mr. Lombard. There wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance that he was ever going to assume that role for real. Even if he had a tendency towards that sort of thing, she was the last woman he’d take for his sub. Without her glasses, she was as blind as a bat, and while she wasn’t out and out overweight, her curves were a little more ample than the media tended to prefer. Over the years, she’d learned well how to dress to impress. And to camouflage.

Feeling badgered by the pop-up reminder about her monthly lunch date on her computer screen, Beth quickly scribbled down the few lines her imagination had just come up with, and in the rush not to be late, she completely forgot to slip the notebook back into her desk drawer.

A few minutes later, Alex emerged from his office, a brief frown marring his brow at his assistant’s unexpected absence. A glance at the wall clock clarified the matter; she was probably downstairs at the coffee shop, buying her usual salad lunch and a skinny latte with sugar-free vanilla syrup. As a devotee of the double espresso, he wondered briefly how she could stomach such a concoction. Irritated by the distracting thought, he focused on the matter that had brought him out of his office in the first place – perhaps the contract he wanted was on her desk.

He scanned the neatly set-out documents she was dealing with. His visual sweep came to a screeching halt at the small, brightly coloured notebook. He’d seen her scribbling in it during her lunch hour on several occasions, but she’d always put it out of sight as he approached, with a grace and economy of movement that the Dom in him appreciated. It was obviously something private, but with barely a qualm he flipped the book open, expecting to see nothing more remarkable than a shopping list.

The precise cursive script was instantly recognisable as Beth’s; feminine, eminently legible, and executed with a fountain pen. Alex liked that – so few people used fountain pens these days. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the lines, and it didn’t take long for what she’d written to send the blood surging to his dick. This was no shopping list. What in the name of heaven…?

Strait-laced Miss Harrison was describing – in elegant detail, no less – a scene that could have come straight from the club where he fully intended to drink away most of the forthcoming evening. And judging by the description of the sub who was being disciplined so deliciously, she was painting herself in that role.

There was more. He flicked through the notebook and found disjointed snippets of prose – descriptions and conversations that looked as if they belonged in a somewhat larger work; a short story, or perhaps even a novel. Either way, she wrote beautifully, and he didn’t just mean her refined handwriting – she wrote about the act of submission as the truly exquisite gift that it was.

Holy crap.

She knew about his world. Not only that, she appeared to understand it too. How had he got her so wrong?

She wasn’t a collared sub; of that much Alex was certain. She wore no jewellery of any kind that might indicate ownership. That led him to conclude that she was probably untrained, possibly even only just beginning to explore that side of her sexuality, perhaps undecided about whether it was for her or not. Whether she needed it or not.

After replacing the book precisely where he’d found it, Alex located the document he wanted and returned to his office. His mind, however, was far from being on work. Instead it was on Beth, her writing, and what lay beneath.

She let precious little of the non-work Beth out of the bag. Professional in the office, not especially given to socialising with her colleagues beyond the odd lunch and attending the office Christmas party, she maintained an almost aloof distance. Occasionally, though, she’d slip up and reveal a very keen wit. There was no doubt she was intelligent.

So how did a smart, gorgeous woman with a cutting sense of humour spend her evenings and weekends? It would seem that she used at least some of the time to indulge in erotic fantasies and write about them.

Having left the door to his office ajar, he was immediately aware when she returned, looking relaxed and happy. She’d been away a while – maybe she’d lunched with a friend. Alex found himself wondering about that mysterious companion. A female companion, he hoped, because no other man was going to lay a finger on her.

The fierce sense of possession in the thought startled him – though Beth was often in his thoughts, this was the first time he’d felt something so visceral and primitive screaming that she was his.

He continued to watch her moving around the outer office, admiring her customary grace and efficiency. He imagined slowly removing her clothing, until only the heels and stockings remained – her legs were made for them, and they’d draw attention to a pussy he would ensure she kept deliciously smooth.

Sideswiped by his thoughts, Alex suddenly felt like he was making his way through an unmarked minefield. What the fucking hell was going on with him? Was this the result of the conversation with Cam melding with the impact of his insight into the secret thoughts of Beth Harrison? Did he dare hope that this might be the first sign of the past loosening its hold on him?

Those events still had the power to make his blood run cold. They’d also left him unable to function as a Dom within a loving relationship. For years, instead of being open to the possibility of finding the sub who could be his soul mate, he’d played out scenes or taken subs into his protection as trainees and nothing more. He’d derived no real pleasure from the scenes, just the satisfaction of giving the subs what they needed; those training contracts had specifically stipulated that there was to be no sex between Dom and sub. When he needed physical intimacy, it was – or had been until six months ago – strictly on his terms within vanilla relationships, which, by their very nature, were time-limited. Domination was as much a part of him as the blood in his veins – he couldn’t endure even the thought of living completely without it. Consequently, each of those relationships was doomed to end even before it started.

And then Beth had come along, the best assistant he’d ever had and as vanilla as the day was long, a combination of factors that had enabled him to keep his desire for her in check. Until now. He could kid himself no longer. In many ways she was his ideal woman, he’d known that for a while, but he’d countered that with the certainty that any little signs of natural submissiveness were simply wishful thinking on his part. That game was now up.

For too long he’d been a gutless coward, too scared even to try having a real relationship with a sub. A decade after the event, he was still letting those bastards rule his life. Was he going to let this situation carry on and risk finding himself watching Beth develop her submissive side with another Dom? Could he once again be the Dom he used to be? For Beth?

Maybe Cam was right. She was everything he wanted. Was he going to let the fact that she worked for him get in the way of finding out if there could be something real, something meaningful between them? Was he really going to let this chance pass him by, the chance to have a real relationship with the first woman he’d really wanted in years…the woman he never thought he’d have?

The remainder of the afternoon passed well enough – apart from the fact that by four o’clock, it was getting really difficult for Alex to conceal the hard-on he was getting every time Beth came into his office. Or, more to the point, when she left it; he found himself lusting after that gorgeous, curvaceous rear as it swayed out of the room, contemplating which implements he might use to bring a rosy hue to her skin. The genie was well and truly out of the bottle now, even if he hadn’t yet made a final decision about taking things forward.

The end of his day brought a particularly tense teleconference. Once it was over, Alex sat back in his executive chair, closing his eyes to try to relieve the tension that was building in his temples. Ever since the explosion that had left its mark on his back fifteen years earlier, he’d been prone to getting these almost unbearable headaches. Still, it was well after five-thirty; the office would be silent and empty when he left to make his way to the club.

“Mr. Lombard, is there anything you need before I go?”

You. On your knees, between my legs, and hold my cock in your lovely mouth. Don’t suck – if you do, your beautiful backside will get twenty.

He pushed aside the errant thought – right now, it was the last thing he needed. “Thanks, Beth, but I’m fine – you go and enjoy your weekend.”

Uncharacteristically, he missed the fact that she didn’t say goodbye; what he didn’t miss was the cool fingers suddenly massaging his temples. Dear God, don’t let this be a dream.

“Keep your eyes closed,” came her soft voice. “Is there any medication you take for these?”

She’d evidently noticed his damn headaches before. So what else had she noticed about him? He shook his head briefly, unwilling to shatter the moment by speaking, even though the abrupt movement did nothing to help the pain that sent a skewer through his brain. Her touch was gentle but insistent; it was all he could do not to let out a moan of both pleasure and relief.

Silence stretched out; time stopped. In an alternate universe, she was wearing his collar and those wonderful fuck-me heels, and he was going to show her what a gloriously sexual animal she was. As sensual fantasies went, he couldn’t think of anything better.

And then reality thudded firmly back into place.

“I hope your head’s starting to feel better, Mr. Lombard.”

Her voice came from somewhere in the direction of the door; he opened his eyes and saw her standing there, jacket on, bag at her feet, and knew that if he were taking her back to his place tonight, she’d get well and truly fucked, whether his headache had gone or not.

“It is.” How was his voice so steady? “Thank you, Beth – you have a healing touch.”

She glanced briefly towards the floor, clearly embarrassed by the compliment – he’d have to do something about that during the course of her training. Lowering her gaze like that, as part of her submission, was one thing; being embarrassed by compliments – especially from him – was something he would not permit.

And there he went, off on the runaway train again. Had it been inevitable all along? He needed to think – he sure as hell wasn’t going to charge into this without considering it from all angles.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Lombard. I’m sorry, but I have to go now – my bus is due.”

What on earth had come over her?

Beth felt her face flame with colour as she waited for the lift. She prodded the call button again, even though she knew damn well it would have no effect. Having fantasies about the man was one thing, but actually touching him like that, when he was vulnerable, was about the worst idea she’d ever had, and she’d had some doozies in her time. What had happened to her determination not to fling herself at a man who would never be interested in catching her? Thank God it was the weekend and she wouldn’t have to face him tomorrow.

Years of wanting the man had finally overwhelmed her good sense. She’d seen him every working day in that time, witnessed the number of women who had passed through his life, and nothing had diminished the feelings that had grown for him, in spite of her best intentions.

The sigh she gave held more than a hint of longing. She couldn’t help but wonder what he would be doing that evening – and with whom he might be doing it. He might not have dated for six months, but the drought could end at any time.

The journey home seemed to take longer than usual. When she finally arrived there, she closed the door of the one-bedroom apartment behind her and made a beeline for the shower. It was only when she was standing under the hot, soothing cascade that she gave way to the mortified tears of embarrassment that had been threatening ever since she left the office.

It had felt so good to finally touch him when she gave in to that stupid impulse to ease away his pain. She’d seen him go through that before, and her tender heart had ached through not being able to do anything to help – today, she could bear it no longer and had rushed in where angels would fear to tread.

When she had no more tears left to cry, she emerged from the shower. Drying herself quickly, she wrapped a towel around her sodden hair and pulled on her soft, fleecy dressing gown. She wasn’t going anywhere tonight – no change there, then – so she poured herself a glass of wine, switched on the TV and channel-surfed, trying to find something half-decent to watch, to take her mind off the lonely weekend that stretched ahead of her…and the humiliating memory of that stupid episode with Alex.

Her mind, though, had other ideas. It kept tantalising her with way his skin felt, the heady masculine scent of him…and fantasies of what it would be like to be the woman who shared his bed.

~~*~~

A couple of hours after he left the office, Alex was propping up the bar at Aegis, slowly sipping his way through his third Scotch of the evening.

The black leathers and boots were straight out of the Dom handbook, but for reasons he didn’t care to dwell on, Alex wore them with a flowing white shirt that he kept unbuttoned. The subs tended to love the swashbuckling pirate look; tonight, however, he had no desire to play out a scene, hence the whisky. And the reason for the lack of interest was that he had a lot to think about.

Cam, on the other hand, was indulging in a session in one of the private rooms. Alex hadn’t seen him since he arrived, but had been told that his friend had taken one of the unattached subs for a little bondage and discipline.

He looked around the club. The usual Friday night crowd was there – the place was thronged with people in various states of dress and undress, milling around the lounge, bar and public rooms. The private rooms were fully booked too. He wondered what effect the recent change of ownership would end up having on the place. Minimal, he hoped. Word was that the new owner was one of their own, a former member of the armed forces or intelligence services like the vast majority of club members, but he – or she – hadn’t seen fit to introduce him or herself yet.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched a Dom he didn’t know leading his sub around on a leash. The sub was collared, naked and barefoot. If he brought Beth here, she’d be dressed, albeit provocatively. She’d be here to be shown off, and he’d love every minute of it, knowing he was the envy of every unattached Dom in the room. As he realised the implications of that thought, Cam’s voice drew him back to the present.

“Well?”

Alex watched the sub his friend had just brought back from the private rooms make her way to join a couple of her giggling friends. If the pink glow of her backside was anything to go by, she was clearly very satisfied by the time spent with Master Cameron.

“Well what?” Alex feigned more interest in his glass of Scotch than was strictly warranted.

“Have you decided what you’re going to do about Beth?”

“How did you know I was thinking about her?”

Cam sighed and rolled his eyes. “How long have we known each other? Exactly. It’s in your face, Alex. And I hope that that,” he shot a pointed glance in the direction of Alex’s drink, “means you’ve already played?”

Alex shook his head. “Cam, something happened today, and I need to work out the best way to take things forward.”

His friend took a step back, eyebrows raised. “Now you’re intriguing me. Is this to do with Beth?”

This time Alex nodded, although a part of his mind was occupied elsewhere, fascinated by how the amber fluid in the glass he held reminded him of the highlights in Beth’s hair.

“Wanna talk?”

The darker of the two men raised an amused eyebrow – Cam getting all touchy-feely? No wonder the former SAS staff sergeant was looking in the opposite direction, as if pretending that someone else had uttered the two words. “Shut the fuck up, Cam,” Alex said without a hint of animosity. “I’ll deal with it.”

“So are you going to fire her, or man up and take her?” The persistent bastard’s voice was deadly serious, and so was Alex’s when he responded. His decision was made – so much for thinking things through.

“I’m going to do the only thing I can to resolve this.”

~~*~~

It was after two in the morning when Alex returned to his apartment; he’d left Cam at the club, enjoying yet another scene with another eager sub. He went straight to the bedroom, shed his clothes and headed for the shower.

The hot water felt good hammering down on his tired body. It had been a long day. He’d been in the office earlier than usual for the conference call with Japan, spent another day around the woman who gave him a hard-on just by breathing, and found out that there was a chance that she was a sub-in-waiting. And to top it all, he was preparing to leave his comfort zone.

More than enough for one day.

He dropped the towel in the laundry hamper and padded back into the dark bedroom, to look out over the city from his refuge on one of the upper floors of the exclusive block. She was out there, somewhere, in all those twinkling lights – he wondered what she was doing. Sleeping, probably. Alone, he hoped. If she’d been in his bed, sleeping was the last thing she’d be doing.

He put a hand around his uncomfortably hard erection and began to masturbate, the other hand on the wall, braced for support. This had been his only release for the last six months, and it looked like tonight was going to be no different.

Then his hand stilled. Were the mechanics of a physical orgasm going to do it for him this time, given the revelation about Beth’s interests?

Alex found himself thinking back to the time when life was considerably less complicated and he’d discovered that he was a natural Dominant. He and Cam had been in the States, on a training mission with their US counterparts. It was while they were on a forty-eight-hour leave that they’d discovered the club that had changed their lives. Gone were their preconceptions of BDSM being all about kinky sex – it didn’t even have to include sex at all, yet it could also be a whole lifestyle.

Over time, he and Cam had completed the training and become masters of the art. Alex learned that he wasn’t into the lifestyle aspects of D/s – his preference was for sexual Domination when it came to his personal life, although he had also found a great deal of satisfaction in training subs who were looking to lead a submissive lifestyle 24/7.

Alex loved women, the way they smelled, the way they tasted, the way they felt – all the glorious textures of the human female body – and he could say with confidence that every woman with whom he’d enjoyed any kind of D/s relationship, be it a scene at the club or a training contract, he’d left happy and fulfilled…except one, and she had been his ex-wife.

By the time she’d got around to yelling at him about his filthy perversion, the love had long gone and her words hadn’t been able to wound the way she’d intended. He blamed himself; he should have told her about his preferences when it looked like their relationship was getting serious, long before marriage was on the radar. He’d thought that somehow he could navigate a safe passage through those choppy waters, but it wasn’t to be.

With such a disparity between their sexual needs, the only thing Alex could do was let her go. It hadn’t stopped her taking everything she could get her claws on, but the divorce, once declared absolute, was just that – absolute. He had no idea where she’d gone, or with whom, and by then he hadn’t cared about either.

Alex dropped onto the massive bed. Beth. His. Something primitive stirred inside him. He pictured her lying face down on this bed, pillows under her belly and hips so that she was in the perfect position for him to take her. She was restrained, of course, and begging her Dom to fuck her.

Christ, Cam was right – she was perfect sub material. His perfect sub.

And if she did see herself as the green-eyed female protagonist she’d written about – if she had a secret desire to submit to a Dom – would she really want to make that fantasy a reality? Fantasising about D/s relationships was one thing, but the reality of them was a whole different prospect. Hell, even he was still learning – not just about Domination and submission, but also about himself.

Alex rolled over onto his stomach, trapping his erection between his belly and the bed. He grimaced at the discomfort, but Christ, it felt good, reminded him that he was still alive and still capable. His muscular buttocks clenched, fighting the urge to move as if she were under him.

How could he get her to the apartment? Wine her and dine her, bring her back here, and – “Oh, by the way, Beth, I’m a Dom and I want to own you, body and soul.”

Yeah, that’d work. The thought dripped sarcasm. Even if she really had submissive tendencies, an approach like that would probably still scare her half to death. With his thoughts going in unproductive circles that left him mentally exhausted, Alex eventually fell asleep.

It was a pity it wouldn’t last.


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