Authors: Maya Banks
amon laced his fingers through Serena’s and brought her hand to his lips. It seemed such a natural action and Cole wondered if Damon even knew how frequently he touched and kissed his wife. It was done absently as if the habit was so strong he did it without realizing.
Serena was dressed tonight. Cole had noticed that since Serena’s belly had begun to swell and the evidence of her pregnancy was so clearly visible that Damon had clamped down, almost as if he wanted no one but himself to see his pregnant wife.
Before, it was a common sight for Cole to come into The House when Damon was present and see Serena spread, waiting for the kiss of the flogger. Often Cole prepared her for Damon, clamping her or tying her in various positions.
But these days, no one but Damon touched her, and he’d become intensely private about putting his lover on display. He damn sure hadn’t so much as touched her with anything but the most gentle of
hands since the start of her pregnancy. He showered her with affection both in public and in private. Cole wondered if having a child would alter Damon’s practices on a permanent basis.
In fact, were it not for Damon having invited Lucas and Ren and wanting Serena to act as his social hostess, Cole doubted Serena would even be at The House. The further Serena got into her pregnancy, the more protective Damon became of her. He himself didn’t spend very much time at The House these days. He left the running to his manager and gave Cole leeway to oversee as he pleased.
Cole shoved his hands into his expensive slacks and looked at the entrance to the social room for the hundredth time since he’d arrived. Damon had assured him that Lucas had accepted his invitation and that he would be present, but Cole’s impatience was a living, breathing demon within him.
“Cool it, man,” Damon murmured beside him. “Go get a drink. Relax. Have you even given a thought to what you’ll say? You don’t want to cause an awkward scene. I don’t think that’s the impression you want to make when you haven’t seen her in so many years. And it wouldn’t do to insult Lucas. A submissive is quite protective of their master. If she feels you’re disrespecting Lucas, it could go badly.”
“I know all of that,” Cole said. “I may have been stupid once. But—”
Damon held up a hand in apology. “I have every faith in your knowledge, Cole. Or I would have never trusted you with what I treasure most in the world.”
Cole turned, taking Damon’s suggestion that he go collect a drink and calm the fuck down. He wasn’t used to the wildness of his emotional state. He was calm. He lived his life in a calm, reflective manner. Nothing rattled him.
She alone had the power to unhinge him.
He picked up a glass of wine and brought it to his mouth. The flavor was excellent. Damon had very good tastes. Expensive tastes.
He sighed and turned around, his gaze taking in the room once more. And then he froze.
Lucas Holt stood in the doorway, Ren at his side.
Cole drank in the sight of her. He couldn’t look away. While she’d always been beautiful, she’d grown into a gorgeous, mature woman who lacked the slight edge of youth to her features.
She was petite—she’d always been a small thing—barely reaching Lucas’s shoulder. Her shiny black hair was flowing over her shoulders and down her back, wild and beautiful like her.
And her eyes. The slight lilt at the corners signified her half-Korean heritage, but they weren’t dark. Instead they were a lush green with flecks of warm brown swirled until they became an unusual shade. They were vibrant, almost glowing, even across the distance.
She was so perfect she made him ache.
His gaze wandered over her as Lucas made his way toward Damon. She wore tight jeans that molded to her slim hips and ass. Low slung so that her belly button ring was bared and winked daringly at him.
Her top was barely much at all. She wore no bra and the silky material of her top clung to the generous swells of her breasts. It tied around her neck and completely bared her back and that tattoo Cole was so intimately familiar with. He’d taken her to have the ink done. To mark the occasion of her eighteenth birthday.
She smiled at Damon as Lucas introduced her. She sparkled. There was no other word for her. She wore a vivacious, confident smile. Not once did she look around to see if others were watching her or were curious about her. She was focused entirely on Lucas.
Jealousy knotted Cole’s gut. He hated that feeling. It was irrational. Jealousy was a stupid, pointless emotion that never brought anything
but more frustration and a sense of helplessness. It wasn’t something he was familiar with. Until now.
He wanted her to look at
that way. She had once. She’d looked at him as though he were the only man in the world.
Why had she sought out a relationship like this? Cole hadn’t imagined that she’d ever want any part of the lifestyle. He had botched things so badly with Ren. He’d been nothing more than a boy playing at being someone’s keeper. He’d abused her trust and it was something that still ate at him to this day.
Damon glanced his way, but Cole was still rooted to the spot, unable to move as he stared at Ren. He suddenly felt unsure and he hated that feeling above all others.
He considered himself a confident man. He’d been successful early in life, driven by ambition that certainly couldn’t be attributed to insecurity. His only missteps had been with Ren, and maybe that was why he was now faced with hesitancy.
Ren and Lucas moved away from Damon. Lucas put his hand to Ren’s bare back and shot her a quick look of affection—and approval. Then he directed her toward the bar. Exactly where Cole was standing, staring at the only woman to ever fully capture his heart.
Ren glanced around the room, a little surprised by how posh and …sedate …it looked. It was like attending any other cocktail party. Who would even know that this place was devoted to sexual practices that didn’t fall into the traditional realm.
Damon and his wife had been exceedingly gracious. Serena was elegant and most definitely submissive, but it was obvious that Damon adored her. And truly there was nothing more attractive to her than a man who clearly adored his woman.
“What would you like to drink, Ren?” Lucas asked.
She blinked and turned back from her perusal of the room. It was
then she saw him, standing just a few feet away, his blue eyes burning into her. She stared back in shock, in awareness. Even after so many years, her heart leapt and her skin tingled in remembrance.
He hadn’t changed. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true. The youthful, handsome features of his early twenties had been replaced by the handsome ruggedness of age. He was tall but not as lanky as he’d been when she’d been with him. He’d filled out. Solid. Strong.
Power emanated from him. Controlled power. It was as though he boiled just below the surface but outwardly projected calm and con fidence.
She shivered as his gaze skirted over her. He recognized her too, and she was instantly aware of the hunger in his eyes. She felt hunted, and it was a
It came out as a whisper, barely discernible in the quiet din of mingled voices and random conversation. But he heard her. Acknowledged the address with a step forward.
She nearly moaned. Her name was a caress, sliding off his tongue with all the practice that had made her name an endearment. He’d always said her name like she was the most special thing in his world. With reverence. With …love.
Lucas’s hold suddenly tightened on her. She knew that touch. It was possessive. A clear hands-off to an intruder. It was his way of saying
. It was rare indeed for Lucas to assume such a posture. He didn’t often see another man as a threat. The fact that he did so now told her all too clearly that the electric tension between her and Cole was plainly evident.
“It’s good to see you again,” Cole said quietly. “You look beautiful. But then, you always have.”
Her heart squeezed and for a moment she worried that she’d be
rendered unable to speak. She swallowed and tried to control the fact that her knees shook with nervousness.
“You’re looking good too, Cole. How are you?”
It was an awkward, stilted conversation that only grew more uncomfortable with each passing second. Lucas sensed her disquiet and pulled her further into the protection of his body.
“Ren, introduce me to your friend,” Lucas said in an easy, casual tone that completely belied the tension she felt in his coiled muscles.
Ren broke her gaze and looked up at Lucas. Then back at Cole. “Lucas, this is Cole Madison, an old friend of mine. Cole, this is Lucas Holt.”
Lucas made no move to release her so he could shake Cole’s hand, but then neither did Cole make an effort to do more than nod in Lucas’s direction.
“A former lover,” Lucas said, a slight lift at the corner of his mouth.
Ren nodded. She was always truthful with Lucas. Theirs was an open and honest relationship. She’d met Lucas’s previous lovers in the past. He hadn’t tried to hide them from her. Neither would she hide her previous relationship with Cole.
“We were a hell of a lot more than that,” Cole said bluntly.
Lucas’s eyebrow arched and he stared coolly at Cole. “Were you now?”
is the operative word,” Ren said quietly. “Cole chose a life that didn’t include me. It’s in the past.”
It was strange to be having such a direct conversation. Weren’t encounters with former lovers supposed to be filled with silly small talk and clear avoidance of the depth of the relationship? Weren’t they supposed to pretend that neither mattered to the other?
“I made a mistake.”
Nothing Cole said could have shocked her more than this. Her eyes widened and she went still against Lucas. An action that didn’t go unnoticed by the man she belonged to.
Then I must be very grateful for your mistake,” Lucas said in a deceptively soft voice. “For she is now my greatest treasure.”
Ren’s eyes narrowed and she looked up at Lucas, baffled by his statement. They simply didn’t have that kind of relationship. Did he value her? Absolutely. Ren had no doubt as to that. Friendship. Respect. He offered her protection. She gave him her absolute obedience and submission. But never had they been into flowery descriptors that came far too close at hinting at deeper feelings.
Or maybe it was a male posturing thing that had to do with entirely too much testosterone.
Suddenly the tension was too much for her to bear. She didn’t want Cole to see how undone she was by his presence. By his admission that he’d made a mistake!
She turned her chin upward so she could look at Lucas. “Excuse me. I need to go to the ladies’ room.”
His hold loosened on her and he pressed a quick kiss to her forehead. “Of course. I’ll be waiting here. What would you like to drink?”
“Something strong,” she said, not realizing how much it said about her current state. “You choose.”
She slipped away, not even knowing where the bathroom was, but more important, she just needed to get away to collect herself.
Once in the hallway, she glanced right and left and chose right since she and Lucas had entered from the left and she hadn’t thought they’d passed a bathroom.
She finally found what she was looking for and slipped inside, locking the door behind her. She leaned against the vanity, her hands gripping the edge as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.
She looked …shocked. Unsteady. Her eyes had a bewildered look. Her pulse was too rapid and the pressure in her chest was ever increasing.
as if she thought of Cole on a daily basis. Quite the opposite. She’d made peace with his defection a long time ago.
Really, Ren? Is that why you’re standing here out of sorts? Because you made peace with the man you adored beyond reason who left you after awakening a fire inside you that has never been extinguished?
She ran water over her shaking hands but was careful not to mess up the light makeup she’d applied before arriving. She didn’t want any sign of her disturbance to be evident.
When she finally managed to hold out her hand and see no noticeable tremble, she turned off the water and dried her hands.
A knock at the door startled her.
“Ren, open the door.”
Lucas she might have expected. But it was Cole standing just two feet away and suddenly her hands shook so hard that she had no hope of regaining her composure.
en briefly contemplated refusing but then she realized she was huddling in a bathroom
for God’s sake. She opened the door, flicked her hair over her shoulder and arched one eyebrow as she stared back at Cole.
He filled the doorway. Big. Broad shouldered. So damn good-ooking that she couldn’t help but stare.
Time had been extraordinarily good to him. It wasn’t fair. If there was any justice, he’d be balding, sporting a potbelly and married with two point five bratty children and a wife who nagged him on a daily basis.