In the middle of setting up the bar, Cullen looked up at the sound of the clubroom door opening. Right on time. Two points for her, he thought sourly.
Annoyance burned in his gut at Antonio calling in his favor in this manner. True, the reporter had provided enough information to nail the arsonist Cullen had investigated, and they'd put the bastard behind bars, but he didn't like his job as an arson investigator touching the Shadowlands.
Or someone screwing with the trainee program. Normally he and Z selected trainees from long-standing members of the club, submissives who wanted to immerse themselves deeper into the lifestyle as well as meet unattached Doms. Newbies didn't get chosen.
Z hadn't been pleased. Understatement. He'd been fucking pissed off.
That left Cullen's ass hanging out now. So this friend of Antonio's better be the best trainee he'd ever seen--and fit well into the Shadowlands--or she'd better cry off quickly. I know which I'd prefer. In fact, he might just help her along a bit. With a little work on his part, she might decide the club didn't suit her.
The woman stepped into the clubroom and stopped, probably letting her eyes adjust to the dim, candlelike light cast by the wrought-iron sconces. After a second, she strode forward.
Tall, muscular woman. She reminded him of a pain-slut sub he'd partied with; the memory wasn't a fond one. He leaned an arm on his bartop and watched her approach. Tight latex pants--very nice over those long legs. Light brown hair coiled tightly on top of her head in a don't-touch-me style. Subtle makeup. Only a small crucifix for jewelry. The calf-high stiletto boots shouted "Domme," as did the long-sleeved biker jacket. Arrogant posture, chin up.
What the hell kind of sub had Antonio coerced him into taking? Just on first sight, he felt like kicking her out.
"Hello." Her smooth, low voice with a hint of a Spanish accent went easy on the ears. "I'm Andrea Eriksson."
Testing her, he didn't speak, simply watched her face. Most subs would lower their eyes but not this one. Instead her lips tightened slightly, and her chin raised another notch.
"You may call me Master Cullen or Sir. I'm in charge of the trainees at the Shadowlands." He pointed to a bar stool. "Sit."
A hesitation. A sub who didn't like obeying orders? She slid onto the bar stool and leaned her forearms on the counter. Another aggressive posture.
Domme or sub? Easy enough to find out. Taking his time, he walked out from the bar to stand in front of her--to loom over her. The flash in her eyes said she wanted to rise and put them on a more equal level.
He put a finger under her chin and tilted her face up.
Her muscles tightened, and she tried to pull away.
At his hard command, she froze, and then he saw it--her eyes dilated and a flush washed over her cheeks.
Pleasure ran through him. Nothing appealed to a Dom more than that instinctive surrender of a body under his hands.
"So there's a submissive buried in there after all," he murmured. He gripped her hair and held her in place as he stroked one finger over a high cheekbone, across a velvety lip, and down her vulnerable throat...and felt the telling quiver that ran through her.
Very nice. He ran his fingers down to the zipper of her biker jacket. Now what might she hide under it?
She didn't move. The big, golden brown eyes held trepidation, and her hands clenched despite the papers she held. She was trying. It took guts to face a strange club and a strange Dom all at once.
He felt a twinge of pity, so now half of him wanted to boot her ass out the door, and the other half wanted to cuddle and reassure her. Dammit. But neither side would get what it wanted. With a sigh, he released her hair and stepped back. "Give me your paperwork."
As she handed the papers over, her lightly tanned cheeks flushed at the crumpled mess she'd made.
He flattened everything out and started with the medical form--disease free, healthy, on birth control. No problems there. He turned to the next page. She'd filled out and signed the basic Shadowlands' membership and rules. Then the trainee rules. Last year, a novice had signed the papers unread; when she'd broken a rule, the ensuing punishment had shocked her silly. "Did you read these?"
"In this club, a submissive answers with, 'Yes, Sir or Ma'am.'"
Better. He gave her a nod of approval. Although she displayed none of a normal sub's eagerness to please, the tiny lines beside her eyes eased slightly. His good opinion did matter, even if she refused to show it. And why not?
He studied her for a moment. Stiff posture, chin up, hands clamped together. Yet he'd felt her melt beneath his touch. Intriguing puzzle, wasn't she? In spite of his annoyance, he couldn't stop thinking she'd be just the sort of challenge he liked.
When he reached the negotiation checklist, she stiffened, and her cheeks flushed with obvious embarrassment. Amusement trickled through him, lightening his mood. He might enjoy getting her past that bashfulness. Maybe assign her a different Dom for each item where she'd indicated interest: oral sex, spanking, stocks, dildo....
When he met her big eyes, she swallowed. Perceptive little sub to pick up on a Dom's nefarious intentions.
He kept his gaze on hers for a minute. What would those eyes look like glazed with passion, mindless with need? Hell, he wouldn't mind bending her over and securing her in the stocks and... He glanced at the anal section on the form. No prior experience, but she'd checked the box for "Willing to try at least once." Yes, he'd enjoy teaching her the joys of anal play.
If she stayed. The votes weren't in on that one yet.
Male Doms only. So she wasn't bisexual. That would disappoint Olivia. Next he ran a finger down the questions that focused on pain. Apparently the girl wasn't a pain slut like Deborah. "You absolutely don't want to be whipped, pierced, cut, or beaten."
She tensed at just the words and shook her head.
"I didn't hear you."
She cleared her throat. "No, Sir."
"You're not sure about spanking, light floggings, paddles." Those long legs seemed designed for a flogging. Would she whimper or moan? If he had her under his command, he wouldn't allow her the chance to hide her responses. He studied her face. "You'll get to try some during your time with us."
A quiver of her lips. "Yes, Sir." Her voice came out a whisper.
He smothered a smile. Having more and more trouble staying detached, little sub? "You're fine with bondage, it appears. And you haven't ruled out sex, is that right?"
Her cheeks flared, and her back straightened. "Right," she said in a voice so sharp it could have sliced him in half.
Aggressive. Interesting. But unacceptable. He gave her a level look.
Her gaze dropped instantly. "Yes, Sir. That's right."
A sub with an attitude to match her size. Damn, she was cute. He pulled out a set of trainee cuffs from under the bar. Picking one up, he showed it to her. "Give me your wrist."
Her eyes flashed up and widened at the golden leather cuff in his hand. Even white teeth closed on her lower lip showing how her fears warred with her desires. Her fingers trembled as she laid her wrist in his open palm.
The first tentative gift of trust. "Good girl," he said softly.
He smiled at the solid feel of her arm. How long had it been since he'd had a woman who he didn't fear hurting with his size? The firm muscle overlaid a tender pulse hammering away. Very nice.
He buckled the first cuff on. When her whiskey-colored eyes met his, the unexpectedly vulnerable expression brought his protective Dom instincts roaring to the fore. Did all that crusty posturing of hers hide a little marshmallow inside?
The wash of satisfaction at putting her in cuffs surprised him, and he forced himself back to business. "Gold cuffs indicate a trainee," he said. "We'll put colored ribbons on your cuffs so everyone knows your limits. Red would indicate you enjoy serious pain such as a hard whipping. Yellow is for mild."
Still holding her wrist in one hand, he tugged on her hair, pleased with her startled jump. "As you read in the club rules, any submissive, trainee or not, who messes up can be spanked or paddled. The yellow ribbon simply indicates we can be more creative."
She said, "Oh, great," under her breath, and he barely managed to keep from laughing.
"Blue is for bondage. Green for sex. A trainee wearing a green ribbon might be given to any Dom here, for either reward...or punishment." The tiny pulse under his thumb increased, her bottom lip quivered, and her breathing hitched. Definitely intrigued at the idea.
As was he. What would her expression show when he chained her arms over her head with her legs opened and restrained, baring her to his sight and touch. Would her body quiver? Her eyes dilate? Her pussy turn hot and slick?
Her eyes were wide and vulnerable now as he pinned her gaze with his.
"But for now, you will wear no ribbons at all," he said softly and watched her muscles relax. "You'll spend tonight serving the club members drinks and getting accustomed to how the Shadowlands works. Do you understand, Andrea?"
She nodded, then added a hasty, "Yes, Sir."
"Very good. If at any time you wish to leave, you just let me know. Would you like a drink before you start?"