I’m not sure how I’m going to survive a night, much less an entire week with the heart-stoppingly gorgeous but terrifying man with the dark hair and intense blue eyes who has bought me and who’s supposed to be my partner for the games. Although partner
is a bit of misnomer; he seems to think of it more as a dictatorship, with me doing whatever he says.
Sitting half-naked in his lap during the auction was bad enough, especially given the way he kept running his hands over my body like he owned me. Which I suppose he does. That thought doesn’t make me feel any better! Neither does the fact that he’s currently leading me back to his suite on a leash, still bound and wearing nothing but my panties and what amounts to a collar around my waist.
He wordlessly guides me into the elevator and then back out of it when we reach the top floor of the hotel, finally stopping in front of a door where he inserts his key card, opens the door, and tugs me inside. I stand motionless in the middle of the elegant room, watching as he shrugs out of his suit jacket and pulls off his tie. He glances at me, his eyes unreadable.
“Come here,” he rasps.
I slowly walk to him, and he turns me around gently. With patient fingers, he unties the ropes that bind my wrists. My arms and shoulders are tight from being forced into the same position for so long, and his strong fingers massage out the kinks until I feel my sore muscles soften like putty beneath his hands.
He rotates me so I’m facing him again and rubs his thumb across the marks the soft rope has left on the tender skin of my wrists.
“You have exquisite skin,” he marvels. “It marks beautifully.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I simply stand there, waiting to see what he’s going to do next.
He circles me much like Master Collin did, removes the harness from my waist, and then takes my hand, pulling me over to one of the elegant sofas.
“Sit. We should get to know each other.”
I lower myself gingerly until I’m perched on the edge of the sofa. “Can I, um, put some clothes on?”
“No,” he answers matter-of-factly.
Okay, then. I cross my arms protectively over my chest.
“Put your arms down,” he says softly, “or I’ll tie them behind you again.”
I swallow hard as something unfamiliar clenches in my core, and I slowly lower my arms, feeling my face flame. He sits down next to me and lifts my chin with his finger in a gesture that reminds me achingly of Emmett. Sweet, safe Emmett, who’s somewhere in this hotel but might as well be on the other side of the universe for all the good he’s doing me now.
“Your body is beautiful. I won’t allow you to be ashamed or self-conscious of it.”
“You won’t allow it?” I say incredulously. The man is unbelievable! “And how exactly do you plan to control how I think about my body?”
“By requiring you to remain naked—whether you’re here in the suite or out in the hotel—until you feel comfortable with your femininity,” he states bluntly. “If that doesn’t work, I have other ways of helping you overcome your insecurities.”
I give an involuntary little shudder. I have a feeling I don’t want to know what his “other ways” involve.
“I’m not insecure,” I protest. “I’m just not used to sitting around half-naked, carrying on a conversation with a man whose name I don’t even know.”
“It’s Roman,” he says, leaning back comfortably against the couch. “Roman Castile. But you will address me as Sir.”
I stare at him in disbelief. Is he serious? Apparently, he is.
“Aw, fuck me!” I swear softly.
Something almost like humor flares in his eyes, but he doesn’t crack a smile. “That’s fuck me please, Sir
,” he corrects. “And I’d be happy to, but perhaps we’ll wait until we know each other a little better.” He quirks an eyebrow at me sardonically.
I feel my face flush again. This is worse than anything I could have imagined. When I see Emmett again, I’m going to sucker punch him in the stomach for ever suggesting this.
“It’s a hard limit,” I mumble.
“So, Avalon, tell me about yourself.”
I bristle at the sound of my given name. “It’s Ava.”
“Ava.” He repeats it, my name rolling seductively off his tongue. “It’s a beautiful name, but I like Avalon better. It suits you.”
“I don’t answer to Avalon,” I say firmly.
“You’ll answer to whatever I tell you to,” he says softly, but there’s no mistaking the steely authority in his voice.
“Oh, really? I’d like to see you make me.”
To my surprise, he laughs, a rich, hearty sound that comes from deep in his chest and makes him almost seem approachable. Almost, but not quite. He has an uncanny way of keeping me constantly off balance around him.
“Oh, I assure you I will make you do whatever pleases me,” he says with a gleam in his eyes. “But for now, Ava
, tell me why you don’t like to be called Avalon.”
I’m silent. He may have bought my body and I may be his for the duration of the games, but he didn’t buy my soul, and I certainly don’t owe him any explanations.
He sighs and stands up abruptly, grabbing my arm and roughly pulling me to my feet.
I tremble slightly, afraid he’s going to punish or hurt me, but instead he grasps my chin, holding me still as he looks into my eyes. Time stands still as we stare at each other, and something inexplicable passes between us. He’s close enough that I can see the flecks of gold in his eyes, which I realize are actually more gray than blue. His lips are full, and I stare at them, wondering briefly what they would feel like on mine. I’ve never wanted anyone to kiss me before, but I suddenly want nothing more than to know if his mouth is as soft as it looks.
As if reading my mind, he leans forward and presses his lips to mine. They are everything I’d imagined, velvet with an underlying edge of steel, and after a moment he gently but insistently pushes his tongue against the seam of my lips until I open them, granting him access. My stomach flutters as he slips inside my mouth, exploring the taste of me. I touch his tongue tentatively with mine, and with a groan he plunges deeper. His teeth nip my lower lip as he pulls back slowly, and he feathers tiny kisses along my jawline.
I’m trembling in the aftermath of that…assault. As kisses go, that one was epic.
Still holding my face in his hands, he says quietly, “Now tell me why you don’t like to be called Avalon.”
Angry and humiliated that I’d enjoyed that kiss so much when he’d only done it to coerce me into telling him what he wanted to know, I look him straight in the eye. “Fuck. You.”
I’m over his knees before I can even squeal, and he yanks my panties down and smacks my bare ass with his palm.
“Ow!” I try to squirm away, but he just grabs my wrists in one large hand, pins them against the small of my back, and spanks me three more times, hard, before pulling my panties back up and depositing me back on the couch next to him.
My hair is messed up, my face is flaming with humiliation, and my heart is pounding, but there’s an odd and inexplicable awareness rushing through my veins.
“You spanked me!” I say accusingly.
“You deserved it,” he returns calmly. “A submissive should treat her Dom with respect at all times. I let your insolence slide once already. It won’t happen again. Now, are you going to tell me why I should call you Ava instead of Avalon?”
“No,” I say defiantly. I try to turn my face away, but he won’t let me. He grabs my chin again, forcing me to look at him. His gaze is inscrutable as he rubs his thumb across my bottom lip. “Are you always this stubborn, Ava
?” he asks softly, his voice raspy.
“Are you always this domineering, Sir
?” I counter.
His laugh is a short bark as he drops my chin and turns away, running his fingers through his short dark hair before turning back to face me.
“Why are you here?” he demands. “Do you want to stay in this competition? Do you want to win?”
Anthony’s face looms in my mind, and I feel the familiar churn of hatred and disgust at all that he’s done and all that he’s taken from me, coupled with a newfound sense of retribution and the knowledge that there is finally something I can do to make him suffer, even a little.
“Yes,” I say, my voice soft but resolute. “I want to stay, and I want to win. More than anything.”
“Then you’re going to have to trust me,” he says matter-of-factly. “Beneath the trappings of floggers and handcuffs, D/s is all about trust. We can’t win if you don’t trust me.”
I’m sure what he’s saying is true; Emmett has said the same thing. But how can I explain to Roman that I can’t trust anyone? That the ability to trust was completely and irrevocably ripped away from me two years ago. I decide to go with the more acceptable explanation, which is also true.
“How can I trust you when I don’t even know you?”
He studies me thoughtfully for a long moment, and then he takes a deep breath. “I see,” he says. “In that case, will you go out with me tomorrow?”
“Like, on a date?” Surely the tough and forbidding Dom isn’t asking me on a date.
He nods. “Yes.”
“With clothes?” I clarify suspiciously.
His lips twitch slightly. “With clothes. I’ll even let you choose them.” As an afterthought, he adds, “This time.”
“Okay,” I say with a small smile.
* * * *
When I wake up the next morning, Roman’s gone, but he’s left me a note and a covered platter that’s filled with scrambled eggs, toast, oatmeal, and an assortment of fruit.
I’ll pick you up at ten o’clock. Dress casually. I like punctuality. Don’t make me wait
, I read.
I’ve never met anyone so bossy before. He’s lucky he’s gorgeous as sin, or he’d probably never get a date. Maybe that’s why he’s on the show. Then I remember the way he kissed me, and the way fire seems to roar through my veins when he so much as touches me. On second thought, I doubt he has trouble getting any woman he wants.
He hadn’t touched me again last night. He’d told me to make myself comfortable and get some sleep, and then he’d left. To my relief, he didn’t have one of the suites with the cages built into the bed, and I’d gotten ready for bed and slipped under the satin sheets alone. But he must have come back at some point because there’s a slight indentation in the bed next to me, and I can still faintly smell the clean, woodsy scent that is distinctly his.
I eat, shower, and get dressed, and I’m ready to go when he lets himself into the suite promptly at ten o’clock.
The sight of him makes my heart stop. Although it’s been less than twelve hours since I’ve seen him, I’d almost forgotten just how gorgeous he is with those intense blue-gray eyes and perfect bone structure, and how he dominates a room simply by being in it. The air fairly crackles with his presence. He’s dressed more casually—no expensive, tailored suit today—but he still manages to look pretty formal in dark slacks, a fitted T-shirt, and a blazer. I look down at the white denim shorts I’m wearing with a silky olive-colored tank top and sandals, and wonder if I should have dressed up more. How does he always manage to make me feel like he’s got the upper hand?
“I thought you said casual,” I say apologetically.
His gaze roves over me, lingering on my lips, before he says, “You look perfect. Are you ready?”
We take the elevator back down to the lobby, and he takes my hand in his as he leads me out the glass doors. I can feel the electricity again at the touch of his hand, warm and strong, as his fingers close firmly around mine.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to leave the property?” I ask in confusion.
“It’s okay,” he says, pulling me toward a limousine that is parked in the circular driveway. “Trust me.”
I balk. “I don’t want to get disqualified.”
He stops and rests one hand on my hip, turning me toward him. His gaze is searing as he lightly traces the curve of my ear with his finger, and this time the wings of a million tiny butterflies flutter in my belly.
“Trust me,” he says again softly. “That’s what this is about, remember?”
He opens the door for me, and I climb into the limousine, settling myself on the rich leather seat as Roman gets in behind me and closes the door. I buckle my seat belt as the limousine slowly pulls away from the Helix.
I look out the window at the bustling activity of the Strip, studiously avoiding looking at Roman. His overwhelming presence fills the small space of the car, and I suddenly feel far more shy and awkward with him here in the limo on a date than I did last night when I was half-naked in his hotel room.
“Have you ever been to Las Vegas?” he asks conversationally.
I turn back to him, and my breath catches. He’s freaking beautiful. “No, I haven’t.”
“Good,” he says with a small smile of satisfaction. He reaches into the inside pocket of his blazer and pulls out a black cloth. “I’m going to blindfold you now,” he adds nonchalantly.
“You’re…what?” I stammer.
Before I can react, he places the silky fabric over my eyes and ties it into place behind my head, throwing me into darkness. He’s so close I can feel the rasp of the fabric of his blazer against my cheek and smell the clean soap and woodsy scent of him. The awareness that seems to charge the air whenever I’m close to him is almost crushing now, and I’m thrown more off balance. It’s disconcerting not being able to see, and for a second I wonder if I’m insane. I don’t even know Roman; for all I know he could be taking me to some remote location to have his way with me.
Inexplicably, my core tightens at the thought of being at his mercy, images of me naked under him as he takes what he wants popping up unwanted in my head. I mentally shake my head. What is the matter with me? The show hasn’t started yet, and I’m already becoming totally oversexed.
“Do you always blindfold your dates?” I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how most first dates go. When he doesn’t answer, I say, “I bet you scare a lot of girlfriends off this way.”
“I don’t have girlfriends, and I don’t date,” he states matter-of-factly. “I have submissives, and I fuck.”