Of all the clubs she could have walked into, she had to pick his, Aric Calderwood thought sourly, paraphrasing his favorite actor’s famous quote. She spelled trouble for him, and he would rather do without the headache. When she sat down at the bar, he waved off the regular bartender and headed over to her.
Sleek strands of chocolate-colored silk spilled over her shoulders. His fingers twitched with the need to touch them, but he pushed away that need as he had every time he’d felt it. A spike of annoyance went through him. Last night, he’d told her not to come to Insolence, yet here she was. Disobedience didn’t sit well with him, and usually, he didn’t tolerate it. He wasn’t going to tolerate it from her either. Not this time.
A pale, heart-shaped face turned up to his as he stopped in front of her, the width of the bar’s gleaming surface between them. Peridot eyes gazed at him defiantly, and his gut clenched. He really didn’t need this tonight. She would have to go.
“I’ll have a Jack and Coke,” she said in a firm voice that did nothing to hide the sensual, husky cadence of her natural tones.
“I don’t think so,” Aric replied, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
Her eyes narrowed, and Aric resisted the urge to check his chest for a poison dart. He hardened his heart against her. She didn’t belong at Insolence, and he’d told her so. Showing up here in spite of his warning threw his annoyance into high gear. No one disobeyed Aric Calderwood. He was probably the most powerful Dom in the community, yet one pushy, bossy woman thought nothing of thumbing her nose at his orders.
“It’s just a drink, Aric. I’m not here to poach on your subs.”
The hard, determined expression on Ainsley Connor’s face reminded Aric of the last time she’d been in town. They’d met for dinner as they usually did. They’d chatted about the same stuff they usually did. Yet, Ainsley had seemed different. Her demeanor came off edgier than usual and held a hint of despair he didn’t want to speculate on. When she’d hit town yesterday, they’d gone to dinner again, but this time Ainsley’s despair had been replaced with belligerence.
“That’s not the impression I got from you last night, Ains.” He leaned over the bar, bringing his face closer to hers. “You said you wanted to come here. You said you were interested. I know you, Ains. You’re a loose cannon, and I won’t have that in my world.”
Her pale green eyes flashed, and for a moment, Aric could have sworn he saw hurt there before defiance took over. “I never realized you didn’t like me,” she said in a flat tone, a muscle twitching in her jaw.
“Don’t put words in my mouth.” Anger speared through him. Talking to Ainsley when she was in this kind of mood would try the patience of a saint, and he was about as far from that status as one could get. “I’ve liked you since the first grade. We go to dinner every time you come to town. We talk on the phone a few times a month. Hell, I talk to you more than I talk to my own father. You’re my best friend, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re like. You’re a whirlwind sweeping everything before it. I like my world ordered not chaotic, especially at Insolence.”
Ainsley put her hands flat on the bar. Aric glanced at the long, elegant fingers, and his gut tightened again. He hated how she had the ability to tie him in knots with just a touch or a look. When she spoke, her voice lowered to a register that sent warning bells through Aric’s mind.
“I just want to—”
Aric sucked in a breath and ruthlessly cut off her explanation. “You just want to pick out a nice sub and have some simple fun just like any other dominant female in here.”
Aware that his harsh words were fueled by anger at his lack of self-control around her, Aric felt the warning bells become an acute alarm. He didn’t care what she wanted. She’d disobeyed him. The urge to punish her set his senses alight, and he fought for control. Only Ainsley had ever been able to shake his much vaunted self-possession. All the more reason to keep her out of his club and out of his world, except for the periphery where she already stood.
“I know you, Ainsley. Nothing is ever simple with you, and I won’t have you turning my place into some kind of flesh auction or wrestling pit as the subs fight to be with you!”
The shimmer in her eyes might have been tears if he thought she had it in her to cry.
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” she shot back.
The warning bells inside him turned from an alarm into full-blown sirens as the emotion in her eyes deepened. No way. In a million years, he would not believe that Ainsley Connor could cry. Slug someone who hurt her, yeah. Drop kick someone who put her down, absolutely. Cry? Never!
“I don’t want a sub, Aric. That’s not why I’m here.”
He stared at her, the inexorable fact of her tears glaring back at him. Shock rippled through him, and he suddenly wanted to kill whoever had made her so vulnerable that tears misted her beautiful eyes.
“Then why are you here, Ainsley? Why did you disobey me?”
She turned her hands over so the palms faced him. She pushed them across the bar toward him. “I want you to punish me for disobeying you, Aric.” The soft words barely registered above the noise of the music and the raucousness of the crowds. “I’m here to be your sub.”
Aric took a step back from the bar. Her words slammed into him almost physically. No. Fucking. Way. She was no submissive. He knew it. She led. She never followed. She created chaos wherever she went. She didn’t have a submissive bone in her six-foot-tall body.
Those eyes glittered up at him, and her lush mouth turned down at the corners. “You’ve known me longer than anyone else so I thought maybe you would understand why I came. I can see I was wrong.”
Her words were choked with emotion, her voice thick from the tears. She curled her fingers into her palms and pulled her hands back toward her.
Acting solely on instinct, Aric snapped his hands out and caught her wrists, clamping down, her fingers biting into his palms as he held her immobile. Emotion began to unfurl within him. “Why?”
Now, the eyes turned angry and defiant, their expression familiar to him.
“Because this is who I have always longed to be. Who you never let me be.” Her whispered words rasped harshly, raw with emotion.
Aric’s heart rate had pretty much gone into cardiac arrest zone. It beat so fast and hard, he expected it to stop at any moment. Ainsley spelled danger. To him. For him. She always had, so he’d made it a point to keep part of himself back from her. In the beginning, it hadn’t been that way, but somewhere during their junior high years, he’d figured out that she had the rare ability to get beneath his skin as no one else could. He’d begun to keep parts of himself from her.
Looking at her now, he thought perhaps she had done the same thing, because he sure as hell didn’t recognize this wet-eyed woman who asked him to dominate and punish her. Her lower lip quivered just a tiny bit, giving away her lack of confidence.
A crack in Aric’s defenses appeared. The wall within him suddenly gave way. Ainsley had been a model of confidence the entire time he’d known her. He’d always admired that in her. As he got older, the admiration had turned to desire. But she was his best friend, and he couldn’t take advantage of that. Now, he could not let another man— another Dom—take advantage of what he knew must be a temporary weakness on her part. To keep her safe, he would risk anything, including his heart.
As desire swept through him, freed at last from a place deep inside where he’d banished it years before, he realized that being with her would challenge his control, his self-confidence, and the plans he’d made for his life. He didn’t know what would happen after being with her, but he knew it would change everything.
His fingers eased on her wrists, his thumbs stroking over the wild pulse that beat there. He liked that her reaction to him seemed intense despite her stillness. She let her hands lay lax in his grasp, not initiating any move herself. Unbidden, the thought rose in his mind. Just like a good sub.
He tugged at her hands, and she lifted her eyes to his, a question in their depths. He fought back a smile. A good sub wouldn’t have done that, raised their eyes without permission, but he understood why she had. They were in public, and nothing was settled between them. She had a right to question his intent.
“Let’s go up to my place.”
Confusion filled her face. “Not the dungeon?” She glanced over her shoulder at the entrance to the club’s play area.
Revulsion rose within him, shocking in its intensity. He’d been a Dom for nearly a decade, but the thought of parading her through the dungeon, of dominating her and fucking her in front of the club’s patrons, turned his stomach. Bile rose in his throat. This was too personal for the club. She meant too much to him. No way could he do anything to her in public. Besides, his body already trembled at the thought of making love to her. He didn’t think he could control himself enough to participate in a scene with her. But since she didn’t know that, he’d give her a taste of his dominance, get his libido under control, and then find out just why the hell she’d come to him asking to be his sub.
“No,” he said firmly. “You’re my best friend. I don’t fuck people I care about in public nor do I participate in public scenes with them. We’re going up to my apartment.”
Aric released her hands and stepped around the end of the bar. Ainsley, in low-heeled shoes, was eye level with his nose. They had always been the tallest in their class from first grade through their senior year in high school. The fact that their names were close in the alphabet meant they often had to sit by each other. At six years old, placed next to each other in first grade, both of them new to the town, they had naturally latched onto each other.
Taking one of her hands in his, Aric led her to his office at the back of the club. Although muffled, the music still thumped the walls. Her head swiveled slowly as she looked around curiously, but Aric had no use for the room at the moment. Every cell in his body screamed for him to take her upstairs to his home.
He walked over to the small elevator in the corner and put a key in the lock. The door slid open, and he ushered Ainsley into the small car. He stepped in, facing her, and the door slid shut behind him.
“No turning back now,” he whispered as he stared into her impassive face.
That single syllable fired Aric’s blood. Had the woman before him been anyone else but Ainsley, he would not have had to continuously caution himself to go slow. Of course, no other woman would have pushed his buttons so quickly either. From the moment he’d thought of another man dominating her, possessiveness filled Aric and his cock had been ready to go.
For twenty years, since they were twelve, Aric had known that to think of Ainsley in a sexual way was courting far more trouble than he could deal with. Yet, he’d been on fire to have her the entire time. He just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it. Now, since she’d asked to be his sub, under his complete control, maybe he could work out those long-held feelings of lust for his oldest and best friend.
The elevator stopped, and he heard the door open. Cupping Ainsley’s chin in his hand, he tilted her face toward him.
“This is it. If you step into my house, you belong to me. You do what I say, when I say it. I do not tolerate disobedience. If I do something you don’t like or ask you to do something you don’t want to do, you need to say your safe word. And you will give me that word before you step out of this elevator,” he said quietly, holding her gaze with his own. He didn’t see a lick of fear or hesitancy there, and he knew she would agree to whatever he said. His balls began to ache.
Aric blinked, startled by her one word response to his warning. “What?”
Her lush lips curled into a smile. “My safe word is patience. Can I go in now?”
Heart thudding heavily, Aric stepped back into his apartment. When she followed, her tall, lithe frame crowding into his personal space, he thought he would pass out from excitement. She cast her eyes down from his, not even looking around at his home. His senses went into overdrive. This was Ainsley. The girl he’d wanted to fuck from the time he’d turned twelve. And she’d given him the right to do whatever he wanted to her. Every cell in his body exploded with joy.
He knew what her field of vision held, his legs and the thick ridge of his erection pressing against his zipper. She didn’t seem curious about his apartment, didn’t try to sneak looks at it as she kept her head slightly bent and her eyes downcast. Her nostrils had flared when she’d stepped close to him. His scent had caught her attention. Beyond that, she acted the perfect sub. Acted being the operative word, of course. He needed to know if she truly wished to be his submissive.
Aric would fuck her. He’d already decided that. If that was all she wanted, he’d give it to her and send her on her way. However, if her desire to sub for him stemmed from something other than a years-long curiosity about sex with him, he would have to take things to another level. Because God knew he’d had years to wonder what it would be like to have her. Her choice of safe word summed it all up for him. No one had ever tested his patience as Ainsley did, nor required so much of it.
Aric touched her cheek, his fingers brushing lightly against her soft skin. She trembled, and awe swept over him. Despite her forceful personality, she appeared to have no difficulty letting him take control. Her trust called to him as deeply as her sensuality did. He just needed to discover the truth behind her actions.
“Have you been formally trained?”
Keeping her eyes cast down, she said, “No, sir.”
He hissed in a breath. He hadn’t realized how arousing it would be to hear her call him sir. “When is your flight home?”
She swallowed hard, as if she didn’t want to answer. “Sunday evening.”
“You can’t learn to be a proper sub in a couple of nights, Ains.”
Fear flickered across her face, and Aric sensed her panic. He chuckled. “Don’t worry. Now that you’re here, I’m not about to let that stop me. You wanted this. It will be my pleasure to fulfill your desires.”
He took her small purse from her and tossed it on the couch. Getting her naked would be like unwrapping a Christmas gift. He wanted to savor every moment of anticipation. Aric pushed her suede jacket over her shoulders, stripping it from her. It followed the purse. He held his breath, his hands skating down her silk-covered back and over her jean-clad ass. A shudder rippled through her. Touching her with the intent to arouse, and succeeding, sent his own arousal soaring. But he controlled himself easily. It was something else entirely to control Ainsley.
He shifted closer to her and brushed back her hair, exposing her throat. He dropped a kiss on her sensitive skin, and she moaned. With a chuckle, he took her earlobe between his teeth and flicked it with his tongue.
Aric sensed how hard-pressed her stillness was. When he touched her ass, her muscles contracted, and he knew she yearned to rub her thighs against each other. He wondered if she could get off like that, letting her wet panties press her swollen clit as her legs squeezed together rhythmically. God, he’d pay good money to see that, he thought, remembering all the years he’d fantasized about her. Now that she stood before him, it was time he stopped thinking of the past and got on with the task at hand: seducing Ainsley.
Aric kept his voice deliberately soft. “Look at me.”
Raising her eyes to his, she gazed at him with an expression he’d never seen on her beautiful face. Lust etched itself on her features, giving them a haunting quality. He’d always thought her gorgeous. As tall as a man, slender but athletic and muscular from years of martial arts, she had the kind of inner grace that came from knowing exactly who she was. The kind of inner grace many of the best subs had.
He stood a full four inches taller than her six feet, and she usually took advantage of that by wearing heels around him. Tonight, her heels were low, and she had to tilt her head back to meet his gaze. Although she kept her face impassive, her eyes skimmed his features. For the first time in his life, he wondered how a woman saw him. He knew his thoughts were irrational because Ainsley had known him since they were both children. If anyone knew what he looked like, she did. Yet, he couldn’t deny that he wanted her to think that his dark hair and light eyes, his bronzed skin, and the dimple in his cheek all added up to handsome.
As if she could read his thoughts, a glint of appreciation appeared in her eyes. His heart leapt, and a smile turned up the corners of his mouth.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to speak these words to you, but, Ains, I want you,” he murmured, his fingers slipping into the open neckline of her silk shirt.
Her breath caught audibly in her throat when he stroked her skin. Swiftly and expertly, he unbuttoned her shirt, letting it fall from her body. He marveled at the satin of her skin. She wore no bra, and her full breasts tantalized him, the hard, dusky tips standing at attention. His groin fired anew.
Then, for the first time in all the years they’d known one another, he bent his head and kissed her. The softness of her lips seduced him. Liquid fire rushed through his veins, and his control snapped. His tongue brushed the seam of her lips. She opened her mouth, shivering as he licked at the wet flesh inside. The taste of her intoxicated him more than the finest champagne, and he floated on a euphoric cloud, all because he was finally kissing Ainsley.
Aric’s hands glided up her naked back, pressing her against his chest, her unconfined breasts molding themselves to his hard contours. The sensation of those hard nipples poking into his pecs through the thin material of his t-shirt couldn’t be denied. He reached up to cup the firm mounds. Ainsley began to shake, and he deepened the kiss, his tongue no longer teasing but demanding. He pushed past her teeth and took control of her tongue, coaxing it into his mouth. He sucked on it lightly while his fingers made short work of her jeans.
The denim slid down her thighs. Aric broke the kiss, needing to see her silken skin, touch it, and taste it. He resisted, only letting himself look. “Remove your boots.”
She knelt before him to remove the boots and stayed on her knees, eyes downcast, arms crossed at her back. Jealousy flicked at him. He wondered where she had learned that since she’d already admitted to not being trained.
Aric felt completely out of control. He had just broken every rule he’d steadfastly enforced in life since he’d opened Insolence. He had no contract with her. He’d brought her to his home instead of the dungeon. She had asked to be his submissive, yet he hadn’t treated her at all as he would a sub. He had just blown by every rule he’d ever put into place to keep his control at its maximum. And he didn’t fucking care.
The woman in front of him had been his wet dream for the better part of his life. He’d kissed her, and a whole new world had opened for him. He’d touched her and marveled at how cardboard his dreams were compared to the reality. Now, his every sense had swung into stunning focus, as if he’d put on 3D glasses.
Aric closed his eyes when she rose to her feet. His senses opened fully as she slid his t-shirt up, tugged his arms through, and cupped the back of his head to pull his shirt off. Her fingers trailed lightly down his chest, and his control threatened to snap at her touch. When she reached his jeans and popped the top button, he opened his eyes. He didn’t want to miss a moment of her expression when she saw his cock.
The zipper came down carefully, and he could swear she held her breath, but he was so busy holding his own he couldn’t tell. Her long fingers brushed against his swollen length through his denims. Aric gritted his teeth. The sensations licking along his nerve endings had him on the verge of orgasm already.
Whisper soft, the startled exclamation accompanied her discovery that he wore no underwear. Too intent on her reactions to smile, Aric thrust his hips toward her.
“Take them off.”
She tipped her head to look up at him, but before her eyes could reach his, she dropped her gaze, dipped her head and slipped her hands into his jeans. Her warm fingertips grazed his buttocks, and Aric bit back a groan. Her hands stroked down the outside of his thighs, taking his jeans with them. She froze for a moment as his cock sprang free. Her nails scored his thigh muscles, and the tip of her tongue flicked out to dampen her lips.
“Do you want me, Ainsley?”
Again, her tongue swiped over her lips. “Yes,” she whispered, without raising her eyes. Hastily, she corrected herself. “Yes, sir.”
Aric smiled. His body thrummed with a sexual tension far beyond what he usually felt with a new sub. His actions were not by the book, but this was Ainsley. His emotions and his body never reacted normally to her. He knew in his gut that he could never have a Dom/sub relationship with her. Nor did he want to, a fact that only surprised him a little. For years, he’d gotten off on dominating women. With Ainsley, he wanted to control her, but not dominate her. The realization that he needed so much more from her had begun to shred the fabric of the life and the lifestyle he’d lived for the last few years.
“Finish undressing me. I want to fuck you.”
Aric’s crude words didn’t elicit a reaction from her. She quickly finished her task and sat back on her heels, her eyes lowered. Gooseflesh prickled her skin, and Aric knew she was acutely aware of him, of his nakedness, his strength…and his cock. He reached out to stroke the shining strands of her hair, his fingers trembling slightly. His control felt shattered. No one had ever affected him as she did.
As her silky hair slid through his fingers, he drew a deep, calming breath. He took a step back from her. “Come,” he commanded and turned toward his bedroom.
He knew she followed him, but had the disconcerting urge to glance back and make sure. In the bedroom, he didn’t turn on the lights. Instead, he opened the blinds. The wall of glass let in every bit of ambient light from the street below as well as the brilliant silver moonlight. His four-poster bed stood in the center of the room, dominating the huge space. Ainsley stood just inside the door, her eyes lowered.
For a moment, Aric thought he would completely disgrace himself by coming. Standing half in moonlight, half in shadow, her naked body so close to his idea of perfection, he knew she’d been made for him. The vision of her naked in his bedroom, submitting to his dominance, almost did him in.
“Lie on the bed with your arms stretched above you,” he said hoarsely.
She moved like liquid silver, her muscles and flesh fluid and graceful. She turned back the sheets and comforter and stretched out on the dark paisley-patterned sheets. Her breasts rose, the stiff points of her nipples arcing upward, as she lifted her arms above her head.
On legs that shook from the force of his arousal, Aric walked to his dresser. He swallowed hard. No sub had ever been in his bedroom. Ainsley was the first and only woman ever to lie on the bed he slept in. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d spent the night with a woman. He usually didn’t have the accoutrements of the lifestyle in his home. He’d always played in the club.
For a moment, he stood staring at her, thinking how he’d kept his life completely compartmentalized. He lived the life of a Dom, but always in public. Not around his family and never around Ainsley. Yet she knew what he did to get off. She knew he didn’t do vanilla sex.
He stared at her, taking in the sexy body he longed to touch and taste. His cock and balls began to protest his lack of action. Shaking off the sense that he had just jumped off a cliff without a parachute, Aric grabbed a set of steel handcuffs from the top of the dresser. Lined thickly with plush velvet, the cuffs weren’t meant to pinch or hurt, only to restrain. The cuffs were the only thing he had in the apartment that spoke of his lifestyle. He’d brought them upstairs to customize them by adding a few links to the chain. His fingers closed over the cool metal, and he took the cuffs to the bed.
Ainsley’s head didn’t move. Her eyes were still lowered even though she lay on her back. Aric knelt on the mattress. He started to reach for her arms and hesitated, the weight of the cuffs heavy in his hand. The realization that he was about to cuff his best friend, a woman he loved more than any other person in his life outside his family, made him hesitate. The thought occurred to him that he should be making love to her, cherishing her, not cuffing her to his bed so he could fuck her into submission.
Cool fingers brushed his, stroking the metal of the cuffs.
“I want this.”
Aric froze. Again, she hadn’t acted as a true sub would, but he really didn’t care, dismissing her demeanor in favor of the sensations ripping through him. His body reacted to her words and touch as if someone had struck a match inside him, setting off the fuse to a block of C4.
Closing the cuff around one slender wrist, he threaded the short chain through a bar on the headboard and snapped the other cuff on. He stared at her restrained arms. Shock reverberated within him. Holy shit. He’d cuffed Ainsley Connor.