The thick fog swathed the streetlight, preventing the dim yellow glow from reaching the ground. On the dark San Francisco street, Professor Abigail Bern watched the red taillights of the taxi disappear into the mist. With the enthusiasm of a convict facing a firing squad, she turned toward the infamous Dark Haven BDSM club.
In contrast to the flashing display of the nightclub down the street, this place didn’t exactly set out the welcome mat. To the right of the heavy black door, only a small, discreet sign proclaimed DARK HAVEN. She understood the lack of advertising. The BDSM community was in the same position as the gay population in the past. People weren’t “out.”
They certainly wouldn’t like being studied.
She didn’t plan to tell them. Covert participant observation,
it was called, in which the subject never knew a sociologist was present. And it makes me uncomfortable.
But she wouldn’t gather anything that could identify a member. And really, her research on the culture might even help the community—it certainly couldn’t do any harm.
She didn’t have a choice. Publish or perish
was no longer a cute phrase—not with the proposed cutbacks at her university.
It had been a ghastly week. She might lose her job, and she’d definitely lost Nathan. Although she would drive him to the airport tomorrow, he was already gone from her life. Her breathing hitched at the emptiness in her chest.
She hadn’t been meeting his needs, he’d said. His need to tie her up, call her names, order her around. His need to have his precious BDSM in the bedroom. Hopefully, during her fieldwork, she’d grow to understand the appeal of such things. Maybe she’d even be able to indulge him by the time he returned in August. They could try again.
I don’t want to lose him.
Her attempt to take a deep, calming breath failed, and she realized she’d laced her corset far too tightly. Shaking her head, she looked down at herself, and her spirits lifted. I look hot.
After researching BDSM styles, she’d bought a calf-length skirt, a fancy corset, and tall vinyl boots. All in black. The corset pushed up her ample breasts and yanked in her thick waist; the skirt hid her wide hips, creating a Barbie figure—well, if Barbie were a size sixteen and a Domme. The don’t-mess-with-me effect was amazing.
Nathan called her a submissive—or maybe he simply hoped she was—but she wasn’t convinced. Given the choice, she’d dress as a Dominant. Besides, going into a BDSM club looking like a…a victim would be stupid. I might not be gorgeous, but smart? Oh yeah.
She headed for the building, anxiety mingling with determination and…okay, maybe a little excitement as well. Here goes. She pulled the door open and—
A woman barged out, knocking Abby backward.
“Clarissa.” A familiar-looking, gorgeous man followed her. “Are you certain you want to walk out like this?”
“I’m sure.” Clarissa glared as she yanked on a coat over her skimpy bustier and thong. “Very, very sure, Simon.”
Abby took a step back, her stomach unsettled at the woman’s raised voice and open anger. Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Please, please, please.
“I thought being the receptionist meant I’d get some Xavier time, but nooo.” Clarissa jerked her coat closed. ”Instead he offered to find me someone to play with. Yeah, what the fuck good is that?”
As the woman edged back from uncontrollable rage, Abby relaxed enough to take mental notes. Xavier time?
Was that a technique or a machine or what?
And she’d better go in before she got caught watching. She detoured around the man, entered the club, and faced a bulletin board with a huge calendar in the center. Various events were penciled into the squares with yarn running out to surrounding flyers. A tea for Dommes. A Master/slave event. A furry
barbecue—which sounded just wrong. What did a party for littles
involve? The busy calendar reminded her of the equally big one her mother had used to track Abby’s debate-team nights, Grace’s soccer games, and Janae’s beauty-queen contests.
Abby turned at the greeting.
Like an ad for cuteness, a slender young man in bright-red running shorts and a matching red collar stood behind an L-shaped reception desk. He patted a device that resembled a credit card reader. “Ma’am. Swipe your membership card right here, please.”
“I don’t have a card.” Membership? Wasn’t the club a walk-in sort of place?
“That’s okay. Show me your driver’s license, and I’ll find your number in the computer.” He gave the monitor a dubious frown. “I think I can look it up.”
“I mean, I’m not a member.”
“Oh.” He dropped into the wheeled chair, making it squeak in protest. “That’s bad. See, you can’t get in if you’re not a member. Not anymore. You have to have a recommendation or take the classes. There’s a bunch of hurdles to jump since Dark Haven turned all private and ex-ca-loosive.
Faint music and the hum of conversation came through the inner door as Abby stared at him in dismay. “Exclusive? But…” I don’t have time for this.
The club opened only on weekends, and her research had to start right now or she wouldn’t get it done, peer-reviewed, and published in time to save her job. “Can I fill out an application?”
“I used the last one.” He scowled at the computer. “I could print one. Maybe. There’s a form somewhere.”
She craned her neck and pointed to an icon on the desktop screen. “Try the APPLIC.”
He clicked and an application appeared. “Score. Do you know how to send it to the printer? Last time I tried, I got awarded the blue screen of death.”
After she guided him through the steps, the printer hummed to life. She grinned. Even after four years of being a professor, she still got a zing from teaching, no matter the subject.
“Here you go.” He proudly handed her the form with several more from a folder. “You might as well fill out the waivers and consents too.”
Off to one side, she started on the paperwork, sighing at the legalese. The usual disclaimers. The place wasn’t responsible for any disaster that might befall her. How reassuring.
She needed a physical and blood work? Jaw tight, she doggedly continued.
When the room had emptied of incoming people again, she handed the pile back to him. “How soon can you process this?”
“Hell, without Destiny here, probably forever,” he said, turning glum. “Longer than that if my liege asks me to do the paperwork. I’m a lover, not a typist. But I can’t afford the membership fees if I don’t volunteer. Look at what it costs.” He shoved a paper across the desk.
She scanned the monthly fees and winced. Joining would put more than a dent in her savings. Then again, getting laid off would hurt worse. “You lost your receptionist? Clarissa?”
“Man, talk about a diva. She hung on for a couple of weeks. One lady lasted almost a month. Destiny held the place together for years, but Xavier hasn’t found a good replacement.” He stared at the scattered papers.
Her fingers itched to clean up the mess. “It’s not busy now. You could file a little at a time and then—”
He stared at her in horror. “Or not.”
“Are you interested in volunteering?” a dark voice asked from behind her.
She jumped and turned to see the man who’d followed Clarissa out. “Volunteer?” Her hopes lifted. Would that let her skip the application delay? “Looks like you need someone.” He really did seem familiar. She tilted her head. “Have we met?”
“A few months ago at the Harrises’ wedding reception.” He picked up the application she’d filled out, flipped through it, and gave her a keen look. “I believe you’re Nathan’s lady?”
“Well. No. We’re only friends now.” Since we broke up yesterday.
She pushed the unhappiness away and held out her hand. “Abby Bern.”
“Simon Demakis.” His gaze focused on her paperwork again. “You’re a professor?”
“Correct.” She gave him a slight smile. “And those dues would force me to eat macaroni and cheese for the first time since I graduated. What does the receptionist do?” Would she get adequate time inside the club for her observations?
“Very simple. You man the desk from nine to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. When Lindsey takes over, you’re free to enjoy the club until closing at three.” He grinned. “There’s no point in joining if you never get to play.”
Play? Do the BDSM stuff with strangers?
She hadn’t managed that even with someone she knew. “Of course.” Her face heated. Obviously, because of Nathan’s membership, Simon assumed she was familiar with BDSM. That was good, wasn’t it?
If so, then why were clammy fingers sliding up her spine like they had before her chemistry final? The one exam she’d completely failed.
* * * *
Xavier Leduc stood in the downstairs dungeon, watching a younger Dom release his sobbing submissive. Rainier’s session had gone badly. The younger Dom had asked for instructions on how to use nipple clamps correctly after the sub was settled.
A demonstration would be more effective than lecturing. Xavier looked around, half expecting his previous receptionist to hurry over with his toy bag and whatever else he might need. But no, Destiny had quit. He missed her efficiency.
Dixon, one of the Dark Haven staff submissives, stood nearby, obviously hoping to be used.
Xavier decided against using the young man for two reasons. Male subs often tried to disguise their pain, which would defeat the purpose of the lesson. And a woman’s larger nipples made it easier to demonstrate clamps.
Besides, he enjoyed handling a woman’s breasts.
“Dixon, run upstairs and get my toy bag from the bar.” Which submissive to use? Hadn’t the new staff member, Clarissa, been pushing for attention? “And bring the receptionist.”
“Yes, my liege.” Disappointment plain in his face, Dixon trotted away.
Rainier sat with his submissive on the couch, stroking her hair as she cried. Vivid red and purple bruising marked her right nipple. Nothing excessive, but this young woman wasn’t into pain, and her Dom hadn’t learned the difference between an erotic pinch and damage.
Turning away, Xavier surveyed the rest of his large dungeon. At almost midnight all the equipment was in use, from the Saint Andrew’s crosses near the stairs to the spanking benches in the center. Lusty screams of at least two women came from the harem room. One of the evening dungeon monitors, deVries, in his usual ripped-up leathers, looked in the theme room’s small window. Along with checking the participants’ safety, the blond sadist was undoubtedly enjoying the show.
“Here’s your bag, my liege.” Followed by a young woman, Dixon handed over the leather bag.
“Quickly done. Thank you.” Xavier glanced at the woman behind Dixon. Mid-to-late twenties. Medium height with pleasingly full curves, pale skin, and ear-length platinum hair. Dressed head to toe in black like a Domme, she stared around the room. His presence hadn’t even registered.
Odd how refreshing that felt. But she wasn’t the receptionist he’d requested. “You’re not Clarissa.”
She started, then smiled at him. “That’s quite observant of you.”
Dixon stared at her in alarm. “I… Um, my liege, she’s—”
“Dixon.” Xavier’s warning tone silenced the young man. “Could I presume upon you to inform me who you are?” he asked the blonde politely. “And where Clarissa is?”
“Clarissa quit”—her man’s digital watch was far too big for her delicate wrist—“about two hours ago. I’m filling in tonight.” She held her hand out. “Abby.”
His faucet of amusement cranked open. Straight-faced, he took her hand. “Xavier.”
“Good to meet you.” She gave a brief, no-nonsense shake and disengaged. “Now, can I help you with something? I’m new, but I’ll do my best to figure out how to get you what you need.”
Dixon looked terrified, clearly expecting Xavier to come down all Dom on Abby’s head.
Had he been that bad tempered recently? Xavier smiled. “That’s good to hear, Abby, since I need your breasts for a few minutes.”
“Of course. I—” She took a hasty step back. “What
“Your breasts. I’m going to instruct Master Rainier on how to apply nipple clamps.”
She retreated another foot before her chin rose. “I’m the receptionist, not a teaching assistant.”
Teaching assistant? Interesting term. “The receptionist assists in demonstrations when needed.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, and he almost grinned. She didn’t realize how the posture pressed her pretty breasts upward. With her flawless pale skin, if he sandwiched her breast between his darkly tanned hands, the effect would be that of an Oreo cookie. The white center was his favorite part.
Her hair was wispy as a dandelion gone to fluffy seed. The downy hair on her arms was the same shade and indicated her mesmerizing coloring was natural.
“I’m not a submissive. I’m a Domme,” she informed him in reasonable tones. “I’m the one putting clamps on, not receiving.”
“The receptionists are always submissive.” Before she got herself in trouble, he made a guess and asked, “Simon recruited you?”
“Despite your overly encompassing clothing, I doubt Simon made an error.” Xavier took her pointed chin between his thumb and finger. As her smoky eyes widened and she tried to retreat, he let his voice slip into command mode. “Be still.”
A shiver ran through her, and her pupils dilated. Even her breathing stopped.
“Very pretty,” he murmured. Her surprise at her own reaction made his cock stir and brought his dominant instincts sliding to the fore. When she lifted her hand up to push him away, he captured her wrist. “No, little fluff, don’t move. I want to look at you.”
Her speeding pulse tapped a protest against his fingers. “I’m not submissive,” she whispered.
“Oh, I think you are,” he said. In fact, her Domme clothing looked so wrong on her that he was tempted to rip it off. “However, I might believe you lack experience. How familiar are
you with BDSM? Have you been spanked?”
“No.” Her slight wiggle seemed to indicate possible interest.
Her cheeks pinkened.
He’d bet the lady owned a vibrator. “Did your boyfriend use a vibrator on you?”
The flush started at the tops of her breasts and flowed upward. He’d never seen such a clear red color. Lovely. She gave a tiny shake of her head and realized she’d answered his intimate question. Her brows drew together.
“New to everything, then. Are you here because you want to know more?” But why would a newbie take a receptionist job? His eyes narrowed, and he took another guess. “You’re too impatient to wait through the screening process?”
She nodded, and her small upper lip pressed against the plump lower. “And the membership fees…”
Had gone high when he’d converted the club to exclusive. “I see.”
Should he let her stay without taking the class or being recommended? As the owner of a security firm, Simon had infallible instincts about people. A priority flag on her application would speed up her medical and background screening. And he did need someone on the desk. He tugged on a silky lock of her hair and caught a hint of a light springtime fragrance. “I’ll make you a deal. You fill out the paperwork, do the physical, and stay as a receptionist for at least four months, performing all
the receptionist duties, and I’ll waive your first year’s dues.” He stepped back a pace to let her think.
Think she did. Her eyes turned unfocused in an expression oddly akin to that of subspace. Yet rather than relaxing, her entire body and brain seemed to jump into high gear. Unbelievably sexy. What would it take to shut off her brain?
Her attention returned to him. “Not that I doubt your word, but my reading indicated the lifestyle can attract unstable personalities. One, can you prove the manager will agree to your deal? Two, how do I know you won’t ask something of me that I will refuse to do?”
Intelligent women were so fun to play with. He hardened as he imagined a chess game. Spanking her for every pawn he captured. Fucking her if he took her queen. If she lost the game, then… Concentrate, Leduc.
“Those are valid concerns.” Unable to resist, he ran a finger down her cheek. Her skin was as smooth as it looked. Smoother. “For question two—right now, I intend to use only breast clamps and bondage tape on your wrists. Do you have a problem with either?”
She swallowed. “I g-guess not.”
He studied her. He was pushing, but he didn’t think it was too much. Although he could overwhelm a compliant sub, this wasn’t one. And the receptionist did need to be able to fill in as a submissive when needed.
Off to the side, Dixon was shifting his weight from leg to leg as if expecting Abby to get flattened. “Dixon, can you explain who I am?”
“Please, my liege, she didn’t know. Don’t—”
Ah, the fluff had made a friend. “I’m not offended. She simply needs confirmation of my position here.”
Dixon turned to the young woman. “This is the owner of Dark Haven. Master Xavier. Call him ‘my liege.’”
Xavier sighed. He had no idea who’d first given him that title, but the submissives took such delight in it, he’d allowed it to continue.
Taking a step forward, Dixon whispered all too clearly, “For fuck’s sake, don’t upset him or say no to him.”
Abby’s lips curved into a provocative O. “Well. Forgive me, please, m-my liege.”
Since she wasn’t his, he tried not to think of the ways a submissive might demonstrate her penitence. “Now we have that straightened out, let’s get on with the lesson.”
Dixon motioned to Rainier’s submissive. “I…uh…brought her an ice pack, sir.”
Finished crying, the young woman had curled into a corner of the couch. “That was thoughtful of you. Ask Rainier if you may assist her while he joins me.”
“Yes, my liege.”
Xavier glanced at Rainier, who was leaning on the couch next to his submissive, and said, “I’m sorry for the delay.”
“No problem. Destiny would be hard to replace.”
“She has been.” Xavier set his toy bag on the oversize coffee table and removed a roll of bondage tape. He preferred leather cuffs, but the tape was less intimidating. After stepping behind Abby, he grasped her right wrist. “Abby, since we’ve not played together before, you tell me if something is getting to be too much.”