On the fence about whether you might want to read this or not? How about another sample chapter, this time where boy meets girl… Dungeon Master style?
* * * * *
It was almost ten o’clock and he knew he was running late, but only for Marshall’s Morning Meeting and really, what did that matter? This was a week, and at the Castle all weeks passed pretty much like any other—each filled to the brim with customers, discipline, structure and routine. A big believer in routine, Dominick had fine-tuned his own years ago. These days, he rarely deviated: Every morning, up by six. Gym, shower and breakfast, in that order. Then down to the dungeon for work until about seven or eight that night. In bed again by ten; midnight if he had a guest tucked under his authoritative wing. So long as a man had a routine, what did he need meetings for?
Dressed in the all black uniform of his Dungeon Master persona—leather pants, boots, wide black belt, and wrist cuffs (no shirt; it amused him each time he caught a guest either admiring his broad, muscular physique or being intimidated by it)—Dominick shut off his apartment lights and headed down from the third floor to the main offices on the second. He checked his hair in the hall mirror as he passed it—short, dark brown, no cowlicks sticking out on the back of his head; perfect—and ran a quick hand over his neatly trimmed circle beard, smoothing down the hair that framed his mouth. Avoiding the elevator, he took the stairs, passing two Little Maids on the way. One was Anna Lawson, a relatively new employee; the other, most likely, was a customer. He swatted Anna as he walked by and both girls dissolved into startled giggles.
“Who was that?” the customer whispered.
“Master Dominick,” Anna tittered in reply. “He rules the Dungeon. You’d have to be very naughty to be sent to him.”
Rounding the far corner, Dominick made a mental note to expect the Little Maid later that day. In all likelihood, she would take one look at the sort of dark dealings that made up his little corner of the Dungeon proper and run back upstairs. Perhaps even screaming ‘onions’ all the way. He chuckled, remembering a certain redhead two years ago who’d done that exact same thing when she had been matched to him. Then again, who knew… this might be one Little Maid tempted enough by his devil side to stay and sample some of the forbidden fruit he was so very good at offering.
Castle life, he mused, was as much about forbidden fruit as it was routine. He didn’t chase after tornadoes or punch sharks or pull kittens out of trees, but he had carved a fine life for himself out of the minutia and monotony. Happiness, in his opinion, was knowing what to expect day in and day out, and if the only true deviation to his routine lay with the naughty boys and girls trying so playfully to get a rise of out him, well—his hand went to the whip coiled and clipped to his hip—he knew how to deal with that.
“Good morning,” Kaylee said, glancing up from the receptionist’s desk where she was sorting through a wild array of photos for the new brochure layout. After so many years working here, seeing women running around—as Kaylee was—dressed in Victorian-era ball gowns and playing with modern day conveniences no longer threw him. “You’re running late. The meeting’s almost over.”
“If it’s almost over, then I’m not running quite late enough.” Stopping in front of a row of mail slots, Dominick removed the contents from his. There were only two items: Diane’s file, which he dropped on Kaylee’s desk into the properly marked Out Box; the other, he took with him to the coffee pot. He turned the manila envelope over in his hands, but there were no markings on either side. “What’s this?”
Not quite hiding her smile, Kaylee tucked a lock of brown hair back behind her ear and shrugged. “Marshall said to give it to whoever showed up last.”
Kaylee was the Queen of Falsehood Avoidance. Although lies had brought her to the Castle originally, it was one of the few tendencies Master Marshall had drummed out of her, one stern paddling at a time, long before they were married. So when she said, ‘Marshall said to give it to whoever showed up last,’ he believed exactly what she said, exactly as she said it. The problem was, that wasn’t what he’d asked.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” he noted, setting both coffee and creamer aside to pick up the manila envelope again. Kaylee rolled her lips together, definitely hiding a smile. Shooting her a warning frown, Dominick slid a finger under the sealed flap, pried the glue apart and looked inside. The second he glimpsed the airline ticket, he exploded. “No! Absolutely not! Why am I always the one singled out for this crap?”
“Because you’re always late,” Kaylee cheerfully called after him when, coffee forgotten, he headed for the closed conference room.
“I know where you live,” he threatened—without effect; she laughed at him—and threw open the office door. He barged inside, offering a ‘good morning’ to the entire room by way of a resounding, “Hell no!”
Thirteen Masters occupied fifteen chairs around a large rectangular table. Seated at the head, Marshall nursed his coffee mug and a small stack of unassigned customer files. Sam, Parker, Kade, the twins Travis and Trevor, Mistress Miranda, Parker, Emerson the schoolmaster, head butler Grimsley, Brody, the stable master, and last year’s newest recruits, the soldiers Eric and Reeve, circled around him. It wasn’t everybody who should have been in attendance, not by a long shot. But compared with what he held in his hand, Dominick wasn’t concerned about anyone else’s conspicuous absence.
He threw the envelope on the table in front of Marshall. “Find someone else,” he ordered, folding his burly arms across his chest and lobbying his most formidable frown at the Master of the Masters, his employer and friend of more than eleven years.
“Ha!” Miranda crowed, laughing triumph lighting up the soft brown of her eyes. Turning to Kade, she held out her hand.
“Did you even read the assignment?” Kade dug his wallet out of his back pocket, grumbling as he passed a wad of folded bills into the tall housekeeper’s hand.
“Ones,” she said dryly, fingering the wad. “You’re paying me all in ones?”
Once the Castle’s most infamous playboy, Kade’s grin remained as lecherous as it was unrepentant. “You can still smell the g-string they came out of.”
“Oh my God!” Miranda dropped the bills. Jumping up from the table, she ran for the adjacent bathroom to disinfect her hands. “Chelsea was supposed to have softened you!”
“It was her g-string,” Kade called, as most around the table erupted into laughter.
Marshall cracked a smile, but that was all.
Dominick didn’t do even that much. “Hell no,” he repeated.
“We drew lots,” Sam supplied. “You weren’t here, so you got the short straw.”
Frowning down the length of the table, Dominick said, “Jackson’s not here, give it to him.”
“Jackson stayed up all night with a sick baby,” Marshall said. “He’s exempt because family comes first. Everybody knows that.”
“Fine, give it to Alan. He’s not here either.”
“No, he’s not,” Marshall calmly agreed. “What he is, is on vacation.”
“Oh, big fat hairy deal,” Dominick snapped, waving an irritated hand toward the bank of tall windows. His fingertips caught the morning sunlight streaming in. “He’s probably across the field at O’s.”
“Picked up a packed lunch from Cook Connie just before the breakfast rush,” Grimsley confirmed, giving the grey undervest of his butler’s uniform a smart tug down over his trim waist.
“He had his bag with him,” Parker supplied, with a wink and smile. “Again.”
“He’s on vacation,” Marshall repeated over a sip of coffee. “Where he chooses to spend it is his own business. He’s excused. You’re not. If you don’t want extra assignments, show up for a meeting once in a while.”
“I had a client!” Dominick protested, no less irritated but now grasping at straws.
Marshall had no problem calling him on it, either.
“Your client left on the bus over an hour ago,” he said, ice-blue victory eking into the chill of his steely eyes. “You had plenty of time to get here, had you been so inclined. The problem is, you weren’t, and I’m tired of half-assed attendance at meetings I deem important enough to call. All that aside, Rita Moberly is a friend of mine. I owe her a favor, she’s called it in, and so I’ve promised to send my best Master to help get her venture up and running at a professional level as fast as possible.”
Nowhere near mollified, Dominick cast another hard look around the table, taking in the smiles and smirks on all those obviously thrilled not to have been saddled with the chore themselves. Crap. He stifled a disgruntled sigh. “What kind of venture?”
“Seriously.” Kade bounced out of his chair to grab the envelope out from between the two men. “You have got to read this.” He fished out a full-color brochure and slapped it on the table in front of Dominick. “You get to play pirate for a while.”
Dominick took one look at the sixteenth-century Spanish Galleon in the main picture and exploded all over again. “I get seasick!”
“Man up.” Kade slapped a pill box of Dramamine, also taken from the envelope, on the table next. “Nothing you ate will be the worst thing ever tossed into the ocean. Besides, while the rest of us are shoveling snow and de-icing the courtyard, you’ll be lounging in the Caribbean sand! How can you not be excited about this?”
“You go,” Dominick shot back.
His smile becoming a wince, Kade shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Rita requested anyone but him,” Miranda said, coming back from the bathroom, two extra wet wipes in hand with which to clean the money he’d given her. “Apparently, he bedded one investor’s wife and another’s daughter.”
“Same investor,” Marshall informed them.
“Same weekend,” Kade added, his wince softening into a smile again. “In my defense, I thought they were sisters.”
“How is that a defense?” Miranda scoffed.
Kade flung out both hands. “Hey, I have a weakness for redheads.”
“You have a weakness for anything that moves,” she shot back, laughing. “Including the family dog!”
“Hey, she came onto me!”
“She was an Irish Setter!”
“I told you I had a thing for redheads.”
“You have your assignments,” Marshall called over the top of everyone else’s—including Kade’s—laughter. “Let’s get to it.”
Laughter diminishing, Miranda and the other Masters got up, scooting their chairs in and filing from the room to continue Kade’s good-natured ribbing somewhere else. Soon, Marshall and Dominick were the only two left at the table. Neither moved until the door bumped softly shut behind the last man out.
Gesturing to the nearest seat, Marshall waited until the frowning Dungeon Master gave in grudgingly and sat down. Scowling, shaking his head, he dumped the remaining contents of the envelope out onto the table next to the Dramamine and brochure. He picked up the airline ticket, frowned at the time of departure, dropped it distastefully, and picked up the brochure. His frown only deepened.
“This,” he told Marshall, as their eyes met again, “was dirty pool.”
“Who better than you should I send?” Marshall replied. “You’ve been here since before the first Castle stone was uprooted out of Scotland and shipped to us across the Pond. You’ve been involved in the implementation of every rule and edict. You know how to train dominants into being strong, consensual Masters. You know how to keep submissives safe. Rita wants to set up a vacation resort as close to ours as she can possibly make it and, in order to do that, she’s going to need all the help we can give her if she’s to navigate all the legal pitfalls waiting to ensnare an ordinary resort, not to mention one centered around BDSM. So,” Marshall’s tone dropped low and cajoling, “I’ll ask again, who better than you should I send?”
Dominick wasn’t impressed. “Someone who enjoys traveling. You’re fucking with my routine.”
“Just think,” Marshall soothed, leaning back in his chair. “Instead of isolating yourself in the Dungeon, you’ll have a whole island full of people to bend into your routines. Three, in fact, if I’m reading this right.” Taking the brochure from Dominick, Marshall opened it and handed it back. He tapped the top, to the right of the crease. “Three islands.”
He didn’t want to go to one. To learn there were three did not make the venture any more appealing. “This is a BDSM resort?”
“A perpetual battle between the ‘American navy’ and the pirates of the Cove,” Marshall said, pretty much echoing the spiel emblazoned across the front of the brochure. “Customers can pick whether they want to be pirates or civilians, with the threat of becoming ‘captured’ by the other side as a daily option. In addition to all the standard resort amenities, both sides have realistic replica ships of the age and offer mini cruises throughout the islands. You can lie in the sand all day, eating lobster and sipping Ti Punch, and then hit the Dungeons all night long.”
Dominick’s frown grew. “She serves alcohol at her BDSM dungeon resort?”
“One drink maximum each day; same as here. Plus, clients there are restricted from entering the Dungeon or participating in scene negotiations until the drink stamp changes color.”
“Drink stamp?” Dominick turned the next page, reading the fine print now.
“Apparently, she’s got a waterproof stamp that gradually changes color after an hour on the skin. Anyone who drinks gets stamped, and there’s no way to make it disappear any faster than by time’s measured passing.” Marshall was quiet for a moment. “Or removing the skin, but I should think simply not drinking would be easier.”
“One would think,” Dominick muttered dryly. “Matters of consent get muddled enough without throwing fools and alcohol together.”
“Which was pretty much the same objection you gave when we decided to bring a bar into the Castle. We haven’t done that badly. With the proper instructor, she should be okay, too.”
Slapping the brochure onto the table, Dominick glared at him. His fingers drummed once upon the colorful photo of the ship. “Do I have a choice in this?” he asked bluntly.
Marshall barely blinked. “None whatsoever.”
His fingers drumming again, Dominick gathered up the scattered contents as well as the envelope they’d come in. “Fine. Stop blowing smoke up my ass,” he growled, launching to his feet. “I’m fucking going already.”
* * * * *
Maddy Cameron came home from work two hours earlier than usual, excited to share her news. In less than two weeks, she would reach the halfway point in her four-year school plans, gaining her Associates, and already she had an internship lined up. True, she would be doing a lot of fetch and carry grunt work for the editor of the Morning Sun, a Podunk paper with a circulation of only about twenty-thousand, but still, it was a start and Maddy was thrilled. So thrilled that she jogged up the red brick walkway right past the unfamiliar Buick parked behind her husband’s super-reliable Kia, hopped the front porch steps and had her key in the deadbolt before it registered that something was off. She looked back over her shoulder at the Buick for a long time, then she opened the door. That was when she got her second clue.
A long-stemmed line of alternating blood-red, soft pink, and snow-white roses trailed from the door into the living room, where a romantic meal for two was laid out on the coffee table, right down the middle of her good lace table runner. Brand new, tall white candles crowned the crystal candleholders her grandmother had gifted the day she and Virgil were married. An intimate scattering of china dishes were positioned between them, littered with fresh strawberries, crackers, and slivers of ripe brie cheese, caviar, and dipping chocolate.
“Oh,” Maddy said, her hand resting lightly upon her chest. She was so touched that Virgil would do something like this so… unexpectedly. It wasn’t their anniversary yet, not for another two months. But while something special like this struck her as a beautiful way to celebrate the news she had to share, how could Virgil have known about it already?
Which was when the shock and surprise wore off enough for her to notice the not-so-subtle signs that the food on those dishes had already been picked through. Those new candles were partially burned, trickles of dried wax bisecting both sticks all the way down to the crystal holders. A brown leather purse with fringes sat on the carpet at one end of the couch. A square of folded paper napkin had fallen on the floor beside it, a smear of lipstick darkening one corner. Cock-sucker red. Not her shade.
Her smile faded, and for a moment all Maddy could do was stand there. Her hand pressed harder and harder on her chest, needing that touch to keep her pounding heart from breaking straight through her ribs like an alien out of its human host.
“Oh, yes,” a soft sigh drifted down the hallway from the bedroom she and Virgil shared. “There… right there, baby… oh my God, yes…”
All stability seeped from Maddy’s legs as she turned from the living room to gaze in absolute disbelief down the unlit hallway. The bedroom door was cracked open. It felt as if she had left her heart lying in the entryway as she crept down the hall, past the bathroom and the spare bedroom where one day they had talked about having children, but which for now substituted as a place to store her crafts and his photo equipment, as well as all the other flotsam of their life which had no other set place of belonging in the house.
She was startled by how much her hand shook as she reached to push the door open that much wider. She was shaking all over, in fact. Strange, how she hadn’t noticed that. Not until she saw the figures entwined on the bed.
She looked like a frog; that was the first ungracious thought Maddy had as she stood statue stiff, frozen and staring in the threshold. A skinny blonde frog with her knees drawn up and her legs spread so impossibly wide, biting on the back of one finger while Virgil licked and sucked and nibbled voraciously in between her thighs. He had his fingers inside her. Glistening slickness coated his hand—something Maddy could have gone the whole of her life without seeing and never once felt deprived.
She must have made a sound. She didn’t think she had, but suddenly the blonde frog’s eyes flew open wide. Seeing Maddy standing there, she grabbed Virgil’s head with both hands and they both bolted upright.
“Shit,” Virgil said, but not before she saw the most painful truth flash across his face. Before the guilt mirrored in his eyes, the emotion Maddy saw assail him first was nothing less than irritation. Not regret or sadness. Irritation. “It’s not what it looks like,” he tried to say, but Maddy wasn’t so stunned that she didn’t know in an instant exactly what this was. And just like that, her ten-month marriage was over.
Not right away, of course. No, it took another four months for it to give up hope and gasp out its final breath—four months of couple’s counseling, of tears, of knowing every time he left the house or came home fifteen minutes late from work that it was because he might still be seeing the Frog. Four months of Virgil locking his phone against her and taking it with him everywhere, including into the bathroom. Of battered trust and blame and a biting insecurity so devastating that she couldn’t stop herself from following him into night after night of yelling and screaming matches that inevitably resulted in their neighbors calling the police. And finally, at the very end, that last insurmountable straw when he’d looked at her across the counselor’s desk and said the one thing she’d never expected him to say, the one thing she would never for as long as she lived forget or forgive him for: “Maybe if you’d take better care of how you look, I wouldn’t have to cheat!”
Those words had cut so deeply, sometimes she could still feel them as if they were a physical blade slicing deep into her soul.
“Maybe,” he’d thundered, his once handsome face contorting with revulsion, beating at her with tones of such contempt that he could not have inflicted more damage if he’d physically assaulted her, “Maybe if you didn’t dress like a goddamn pig, or put on some makeup, or put the fucking cake down and picked up a damn carrot once in a while, I’d still feel something for you other than embarrassment and disgust!”
For the second time in her life, completely unable to move, Maddy had sat frozen, hugging her purse to her chest, the most ineffective of shields while Virgil shoved out of his seat to loom over her, stabbing at her with an accusatory finger. “Do I still love you?”
She still remembered the way his voice had boomed, making her whole body flinch.
“How the hell could I love any part of you?”
Making her bones shake.
Across the desk, the counselor raised both hands for peace, and yet it was the potted ficus bush beside her chair that whispered an intervening, “Excuse me…”
“How could anyone possibly love anything that looks like you?” Virgil attacked again, finally freeing her tears. They’d poured out of her like an unending monsoon rain.
“Excuse me…” The ficus brushed her shoulder, then shook her gently with a twiggy hand. “Excuse me. Ma’am?”
Maddy snapped awake mid-sob. She jerked upright in her chair, at once disoriented (she blinked several times at the back of the airline seat ahead before remembering where she was) and then horribly embarrassed because, as happened more often than not even now, four years after her divorce had been finalized, she’d awakened a crying, hiccuping, snot-filled, red-nosed mess.
The stewardess hovered over her, one gentle hand still on her shoulder and a mix of concern and sympathy in her brown eyes. Even knowing it wasn’t the same woman, for a moment, Maddy couldn’t stop herself from seeing the Frog.
Offering a wince of a smile, the stewardess asked, “Are you all right?”
“Oh.” Scrubbing her hands across her eyes—the balls of her palms came away smeared with the mascara she’d forgotten she was wearing; great, now she looked like a raccoon—Maddy nodded. “Yes, thank you. I’m sorry. I’m fine.”
Judging by her look, the stewardess harbored private doubts, but she nodded and moved on anyway, wading down the narrow aisle to attend what few other passengers occupied this puddle-jumper of a plane. It wasn’t many. This was the red-eye, which left Maddy as one of only six people on a flight that could, at maximum efficiency, have held twenty. That was what she got for traveling on the cheap, but although Rita had offered to fly her from Miami to Nassau first-class, Maddy just hadn’t felt right about accepting a completely free, all-expenses paid vacation in the Caribbean and up-charging her flight on someone else’s dime. Especially since it was a less than two-hour flight. She could endure anything—including coach on a crop-duster—for two hours.
She needed a tissue.
Sniffing, Maddy scrubbed at her eyes again. Twisting to see behind her chair, she spotted what might have been a closed bathroom door. Of course, it might also have been a closet. There weren’t any signs. It was also an accordion door, which wouldn’t afford anyone a lot of privacy. But then, people probably weren’t expected to need to use the bathroom on such a short flight.
Maddy sniffed again, craning her head to see forward down the aisle, but the attendant had just ducked behind the farthest curtain to talk to the pilots. Desperation was an awful thing. She was seriously considering the pros and cons of using her sleeve when a fold of white handkerchief suddenly appeared around the back of her chair just over her left shoulder.
“Oh my God, thank you.” She took it, snapping out the cloth before it dawned on her that was she was about to do to this very nice square of white linen would not be washed out before she had to return it. “Uh…”
“Blow,” drawled the deep and honeyed, and somewhat amused voice directly behind her.
Her runny nose didn’t give her a lot of options.
“I am so sorry,” she apologized, and blew. It was neither a dainty, nor a ladylike sound. Her face turned hot, and then she just sat there, the wad of soiled cloth in her hands, dreading having to hand it back. “I don’t suppose you’d give me your mailing address? I’ll wash this and send it straight back, I swear.”
Even more amused, the man behind her said, “Keep it. It’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t have said it, if I wasn’t,” he replied. “Men in my line of work should only ever say what they mean. To do otherwise is a waste of everyone’s time and their breath. I don’t waste my breath.”
What an odd thing to say. Even odder, was the strange quivering that vibrated her insides when he said it.
Maddy had never been an easy-going, talk to strangers sort of girl, but he’d given her his handkerchief. Not wanting to be rude, she twisted around to look back at him through the crack between the airline seats. “What do you do?”
She didn’t remember her smeared makeup until she saw the look that crossed the face of the man sitting directly behind her. His incredibly handsome face, oh be still her beating heart! The man was a flesh and blood Adonis, seemingly poured into his clothes—black jeans and sneakers and a baby blue t-shirt with a sad Stormtrooper and the words ‘I had friends on that Death Star’ emblazoned across the mouthwatering breadth of his chest. His hair was short, combed back and so dark it seemed almost black. So was his mustache and the thin lines of beard that framed the sides of his mouth and covered his chin. Half a day’s worth of stubble lined his jaw, detracting from the handsome chisel of his features not a bit. She only realized she was staring when the gorgeous lips under that neatly-trimmed mustache twitched. Her gaze snapped back to his eyes just in time for her to see his initial look of surprise melt into one of sudden and intense interest.
Her nose had to be redder than Rudolph’s and, if the palms of her hands were anything by which to judge, the mascara she’d forgotten she was wearing was now so smudged she looked like a KISS member fresh off the concert stage.
Maddy snapped around so fast she almost fell off her chair. She grabbed the armrests, readjusting herself in her seat, already stammering, “I-I… I’m sorry. I must look frightful.”
She fumbled with the wadded handkerchief, forgetting entirely that she’d already used it for other purposes and only just catching herself before she tried to scrub her face clean. Was the bathroom still closed? Now she was afraid to look.
“Nonsense,” the man behind her said. “You wear it well.”
Already trying to wipe under her eyes with her jacket sleeve—so, not only was she red-nosed and makeup smeared, but blotchy now, too—Maddy stopped. “What?” she asked incredulously. “The ever in-vogue snotty weepy-eyed look?”
The low chuckle that rolled over the top of her chair tickled though her, awakening senses she never would have thought could be titillated in such a situation as this. “I wouldn’t have used ‘snotty’, but yes.”
Her answering laugh was more of a snort. “Nobody wears this look well, believe me.”
“You’d be surprised. Believe me, I’ve seen it often enough to know.”
Maddy couldn’t help herself. “Are we talking about your job again?” She twisted back around, trying to peer at him through the seats in such a way so that he could not see her. “You make a living out of making women cry?”
She tried to make a joke out of it, but her faltering laugh ended in a squeak when he stood up, abruptly exiting his row. He came around to her side and dropped into the empty seat beside her.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to do that,” she hedged, but he only flashed her a wink and a smile and made no move to return to his own seat.
“If they make a fuss, I’ll switch back. Besides, this way I can see more of who I’m talking to than just the back of your head. And to answer your question: When I do my job right, yes, women sometimes cry.”
A slow tendril of warmth twined up through her, settling into her cheeks. Was the plane really this hot, or was she blushing? She hoped she wasn’t blushing. “What exactly did you say you do again?”
“I didn’t.” Settling back in the seat beside her, when he crossed his legs his knee bumped hers. Airline chairs being narrow anyway, he filled his so completely that his arm couldn’t help but overlap the armrests. His right elbow brushed against hers and Maddy tingled all the way from her shoulder to her wrist. “I suppose you could say my line of work revolves around motivation and training.”
“Like, for companies and retreats and such?”
He smiled. “And such.” That smile was at once both self-satisfied and crocodilian. “What do you do, if I may ask?”
“Promotional advertising. Freelance, mostly.”
“Ah. So are you on a business trip, or is this flight purely for pleasure?”
Thoughts of Rita and her BDSM island made Maddy squirm. “Um… a little of both, I guess. A friend of mine is trying to start up a vacation resort. She offered to let me sample the amenities in exchange for writing up a glowing article on what she has to offer.”
Was it a trick of her writer’s imagination or did his warm brown eyes, already so intent upon her, sharpen that much more? “Is that so? Is this resort in Nassau?”
“No, that’s just a touch-down point,” she confessed, instantly wondering what she’d said to make his smile broaden and his eyes drop to his lap. His chuckle made her squirm all over again. She struggled to sit still. “The resort is actually on a series of small, privately-owned islands. I’ll be switching planes as soon as I land.” Unable to bear the curiosity and certain she’d missed something important, Maddy asked, “Why did you laugh?”
Nodding to whatever thoughts he kept private, he offered instead, “I could use a good vacation. Perhaps if you think it’s worthwhile, I’ll pay that resort a visit. Will your article be published somewhere I might read it?”
A slow flush of heat burned up through the middle of her as Maddy debated briefly, knowing she shouldn’t give out personal information (she’d seen the movie Red Eye) and yet, before she knew she was doing it, she reached under her seat to retrieve her purse. Pulling a business card from her wallet, she handed it to him. Her website address was printed in bold red ink across the bottom beneath an old fashioned writing quill. “The article won’t be printed on my blog, but I always post where they can be read. You know… for future clients to preview my work. Things like that.”
He accepted the card, studying it quietly. That self-satisfied smirk still curved his lips as he slipped it into his back jeans pocket.
“Sir?” Appearing into view over the row ahead of them, the same airline attendant who had awakened Maddy from her nightmare said, “I’m going to have to ask you to return to your seat. We’re preparing to land.”
Leveling a smile at them both, she moved on, leaving Maddy to hide a small pang of disappointment behind a reluctant smile of her own. She didn’t know this man from Adam. He could have been anyone, including a serial killer (she’d seen Red Eye twice, in fact). She shouldn’t care so much when he stood up and retreated to his proper place in the row of seats behind her.
At least he had her business card. Who knew? Maybe she’d hear from him again, an innocuous little email six months from now that would read: Nice article.
Although, really… what were the odds? He was all that and a bag of chips; she, on the other hand, was a chubby, middle-aged divorcée with mascara smeared all over her face. He was just being nice, that was all. He’d given her his handkerchief and then sat with her until she felt better. He wasn’t going to call her. Hell, he hadn’t even given her his name.
Maddy jumped a little when a strong, broad hand poked sideways through the gap between their chairs, thumb up, fingers straight and loosely held together. “M. Dominick,” came that low sultry voice from behind her.
Her stomach did the most amazing and insane series of somersaults. It was ridiculous how happy it made her as she shyly fit her smaller hand into his (both backwards and upside down, an awkward way in which to shake) and the warmth of his fingers closed back over hers.
“Maddy Cameron,” she said over her shoulder. She faced quickly forward, afraid to let anyone—especially him—see her smile. “What does the ‘M’ stand for?”
“Oh…” He chuckled again, letting go of her hand. “Let’s save a little mystery for our next meeting.”
As if there would be one. She grinned like an idiot anyway. They were strangers on a plane. He wasn’t going to call her, they weren’t going to date, hook up, or form any kind of lasting relationship. Whoever heard of strangers getting married or living happily-ever-after after only what, fifteen minutes together on a red-eye flight?
Still feeling the phantom strength of his grip in her fingers, Maddy turned her face to the window and ordered her silly heart to stop beating so hard and fast.
When Marshall is approached for help by another vacation resort, he responds by sending his most notorious sadist, Dungeon Master Dominick. His job: to fly to the Caribbean and help institute the same Safe, Sane and Consensual policies that have made the Castle such a success. Though not at all pleased by the assignment or its disruption to his routine, the last thing Dominick expects are complications… until he bumps into Maddy Cameron. She’s plump, she’s pretty, she’s every bit the complication he doesn’t want or need, and yet he can’t help himself. Every time he gets close, he can’t wait to get closer still, to touch and be touched, to taste her, tease her, torment and possess her. Not just for a few scenes or a few days, but for the rest of his life… if only Maddy’s past scars will let him.
Hired to write a promotional review for a pirate-themed BDSM resort, Maddy looks on the opportunity as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime vacation—a vacation that comes complete with a tall, dark, arrogant and masterfully good-looking Dominant thrown in. It’s been four years since her disaster of a divorce, and though she knows she’s neither young enough nor thin enough to keep the attention of someone like Dominick, the allure of an illicit island fling is more than she can resist. Still, flings – like most relationships – don’t last, and better than anyone, Maddy knows the pain of letting herself get too close.
For Dominick, however, a little pain is all in a day’s pleasure. Maddy might not know him well enough now, but she’s about to find out that the world’s most infamous Dungeon Master never did take ‘no’ for an answer.
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