Authors: Teresa Noelle Roberts
To my dear friend and writing support, Dayle Dermatis (aka Andrea Dale, Dayle Ivy, and the other half of Sophie Mouette, among other pseudonyms), for helping me “whip” the long-ago first draft of this novel into something much stronger. Thank you, sweetie!
To my editor, Linda Ingmanson, for working with me to smooth out the rough edges.
And to Jeff. Always yours.
Selene Daniels hesitated outside Declan’s Grille, heart pounding, stomach roiling and nipples practically pushing through her soft red cotton bra, and tried to imagine what awaited her within.
The Boston Kinksters United munch was on the other side of that door. And once she stepped through it, who knew what might happen? At the very least, she’d start arming herself with information she’d need in her future career. There was a definite line between consensual kink and abuse, and it was important for someone who worked with domestic abuse survivors to understand where that line was.
More to the point, it was important for Selene to know where that line was, for herself. Knowing what she did about relationships gone horribly, violently wrong, both from her volunteer work and from what she’d seen in her friend Molly’s family, she sometimes thought she was crazy to crave pain mixed with her pleasure, to want so desperately to give up some of the control other women were fighting to regain.
Yet she did want all that. She’d fought wanting it for her entire adult life, but damn it, she was almost thirty and already making big changes in her life—quitting her steady IT job at the University of Rochester and moving to Boston to pursue an education doing something that might make less money but felt like her calling. Why not make another big change and pursue her other, kinkier dreams?
They’d had a speaker in one of her grad-school classes, a woman from Boston Kinksters United who’d talked about the differences between consensual BDSM and abuse, and special considerations when counseling kinky people. After Alison spoke to the class, Selene had e-mailed her, asking to get together for a coffee and ask a few more questions.
Alison wore a discreet slave’s collar, a simple silver necklace that locked in place, and she’d probably done all kinds of edgy, wildly erotic things that Selene wouldn’t dare try, but she was a smart, self-assured forty-something who didn’t seem like she’d take shit from anyone unless it amused her to do so. Talking to Alison had given her the courage to come to this munch.
And this munch might change Selene’s life.
Then she chuckled at herself.
She’d felt this nervous, this excited, this sure that she was on the cusp of something marvelous and romantic and life-altering when she went to her first junior high dance. Twelve years later, that night was still the stuff of jokes with her best friend Molly.
At least this event wouldn’t involve crepe-paper flowers and spiked Kool-Aid punch and all the boys clustered on one side of the room pretending not to stare at the girls, and vice versa. Probably no water-balloon fight, either, although, given the heat wave oppressing Boston, it might not be a bad idea.
And chances were she’d never share this adventure with Molly, even if it turned out to be a comedy gold mine. Molly wouldn’t get her obsession with ropes and floggers and spanking, her need to yield, at least for a few hours, to a man’s sexual whim and will.
Not after what Molly had seen growing up. Selene knew instinctively there was a world of difference between an abusive asshole like Molly’s father and the woman who hadn’t figured out yet how to get away from him and two people whose fantasies aligned to create kinky sparks—but since she couldn’t really articulate the difference to herself yet, she’d be damned if she could to Molly.
That was why she was here, to get a little insight into her fantasies. Not so she could explain them to Molly, of course, but so she could explain them to herself.
Maybe then she could figure out why her past relationships had a lot more fizzle than sizzle and move on to a relationship with plenty of sizzle. Hell, she’d take the sizzle without an actual relationship, at least for a while.
The butterflies inside Selene’s panties offered the opinion that even if this one meeting didn’t change her life, it could lead to some seriously hot dates.
It was just a meeting, she assured herself. That was all. A chance to educate herself and maybe make some new friends. Anything else that came from it was gravy.
At least if you thought of gravy as coming in flavors like “Scary Yet Sexy” or “Risky But Worth Doing”.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and walked in.
Her knees didn’t buckle. So far, so good.
When the hostess asked if she could help her, though, all Selene could do was make a fish face, not sure if she should outright ask for Boston Kinksters United or if there was a discreet code phrase she was forgetting.
The hostess smiled at her obvious attack of nerves. “Oh, you’ll be wanting the function room upstairs,” she said with a trace of a brogue. She lowered her voice. “Don’t worry. They’re nice people.”
Selene thanked her and scooted up the stairs, taking a deep breath before entering the function room.
Gingerly she opened the door and walked into…
A disappointingly ordinary restaurant function room, with a table set against the far wall, sporting crudités, cheese and crackers, a couple of chafing dishes, and pitchers of water and what looked to be iced tea.
Almost as much of a letdown as a dingy gym decorated with paper flowers.
The old-fashioned, dark-paneled room decorated with photographs of the Irish countryside was a more attractive space than the gym of Seneca Lake Consolidated Junior-Senior High, but even though she’d known this was a social gathering, not the sort of dungeon party she’d experienced only via erotic fiction, she’d imagined something a bit more exotic. This could have been an office party for a small company.
About thirty people sat at tables, eating and chatting, or milled around with drinks in their hands. Most were as ordinary as any random collection of people she’d find in any Boston restaurant.
Just to add to the air of business-function normality, there was a check-in table where a pleasant-looking, burly, bald man with a name tag that read “Joe-Bear” gave a cursory glance at her driver’s license and directed her to make a tag for herself. She thought briefly about making up some ridiculous pseudonym but went with Selene instead.
Then she stood at the edge of the room. Alison would be here, she knew, but she couldn’t spot her new friend anywhere.
She looked down and realized she was fidgeting, rubbing her hands together.
Time to get a drink and some snacks so she’d have something to do with her hands besides wring them. Maybe she’d have the guts to strike up a conversation with someone once she got there.
As she filled her glass, someone tapped her on the arm and said, “Hi, Selene.”
Once she finished jumping out of her skin, Selene managed to say, “Thank God you’re here.”
Alison smiled. “I invited you. It would be pretty rude to desert you. Sorry I couldn’t meet you beforehand, but the timing just didn’t work out. Want to meet a few people?”
Selene nodded, wondering if her face was red and why the ice cubes in her drink were clinking so much against the side of the glass.
Damn vibrating ice cubes. Must be someone’s idea of a joke.
With drinks in hand, Alison took her around the room and introduced her to more people than she could keep track of: all genders, and as far as Selene could guess from chatting briefly, a cross section of straight, gay and bi, doms, subs and switches. Most of them seemed pleasant, and a couple of the men, while not on a Daniel Craig level of panty-melting hotness, were intelligent and easy enough on the eyes and might be worth getting to know better for purely base motives.
But no one seemed inclined to grab her—or anyone else, for that matter—by the hair and have his deliciously wicked way with her. Not that she expected such things in a restaurant, really…but a girl could dream, and often did, of outrageous, sexy things, and some small part of her had hoped to walk into a den of very fun iniquity, even if Alison had made it clear this wasn’t that kind of party.
The sheer normality was both a relief and a disappointment. Selene wasn’t sure exactly what she was ready to get herself into—but dammit, parts of her wanted to find out.
Parts of her, face it, were aching and dripping to find out, even if her brain wasn’t as ready to spring into oversexed, possibly risky action as those less-than-sensible parts were.
Luckily, it didn’t seem like she’d have to make any decisions on the subject today. Her fantasy life had been in overdrive ever since she’d decided to come to the meet-and-greet—okay, ever since Alison spoke to her summer-semester class and Selene realized that there were seemingly sane people, right here in Boston, living out the fantasies she’d written off as too scary to live out—but so far all the fantasizing had been just as pointless as the previous worrying. She’d gotten a few good orgasms out of the fantasizing, so it hadn’t been
pointless, but this was no depraved orgy.
Maybe the depraved orgy happened later?
Would that be good or bad?
They were talking with another woman, a cute, tomboyish Latina with a pierced nose and a T-shirt that sported two cartoon girls kissing, when Alison screwed up her face and said, “Selene, Betsy, let’s get something at the bar!” The way she said it made it clear it wasn’t the bar she was thinking about but getting away from the man who was bearing down on them.
“Great idea,” the other woman agreed, “and I don’t drink.”
The guy wasn’t bad-looking, sort of a rumpled Michael Douglas circa
Romancing the Stone
. But clearly there was more—or less—to him than met the eye; Alison grabbed Selene’s left arm, Betsy took her right, and they deliberately marched her toward the stairs.
The man accosted them before they got there. “Ladies, who is your lovely friend?”
Betsy with the pierced nose and Alison looked at each other. “My date,” Betsy growled, putting her arm around Selene possessively. “Sorry, Craig.”
His name tag read Master Craig.
Sheesh. Selene didn’t know much about real-life BDSM, only what she’d read (and since a lot of that was fiction, she took it with several pounds of salt), but it seemed pretentious if not downright tacky to expect random people you weren’t involved with to call you Master.
“What a shame. My dear,” he said, addressing Selene, “when you’re ready to stop playing at submission with another woman and submit to a real master, let me know.” It was unfortunately clear that he wasn’t joking.
She pulled away with a theatrical, obvious shudder and filled her voice with ice. “Excuse me, I think you’re in the wrong place. The caveman party’s next door. Go join the other throwbacks.”
He sputtered and seemed to search for an appropriately cutting response. Then, abruptly, he glanced over Alison’s head toward the door, turned on his heel and stalked away.
“That,” Alison said once he was out of earshot, “was Craig. I used him as the model for at least two of the bad-dom types in my Intro to the Scene workshop.”
And then Alison turned around and beamed.
Curious, Selene followed the other woman’s gaze.
A solid, olive-skinned man had just come in. Like Alison, he looked to be in his mid- to late-forties, with some gray salting his dark hair. Not precisely gorgeous, Selene thought, but if you could bottle the aura of alpha-in-a-good-way male that hovered around him, you’d make a fortune selling it to other, less confident guys. He waved at Joe-Bear as he came through the door but didn’t stop for a name tag, heading straight for Alison instead.
Alison stood taller as he approached, and her fair, freckled skin flushed a little.
If she had a neon sign that flashed “Woman in Love” over her head, it would have been more subtle.
Selene grinned. “I take it that’s your master?”
Alison’s smile grew broader. “Yes, that’s Garth. I’ll introduce you in a bit, okay? He had to run some errands this morning, and now I need to catch up with him.”
Catch up with him
wasn’t the phrase Selene would have used for the kiss that followed, or for the way they snuggled together afterward as if they’d been apart for days rather than a few hours.