Torin Carter snarled and pushed his way through the crowd.
Three weeks ago he'd been assigned a partner he didn't want: Mira Araceli.
Despite the fact he didn't want to be teamed with anyone, especially a female, Torin believed in rules, and he was inflexible in his adherence to them.
If Hawkeye, in his infinite wisdom, had decided Torin and the so-sexy-he-was-going-to combust Mira were stuck together, they were stuck together. And that meant he had to keep his legendary libido in check. He'd been doing okay, that was until Mira had shed her clothes and exposed her pretty little ass and freshly shaved pussy to him two nights ago.
He curled his right hand into a fist when he finally found her.
His partner was strapped over a spanking bench, her long, Victorian-style gown and a stupid number of layers of ruffled lace were tossed over her waist. Not only were her delectable, round butt cheeks completely exposed, but she was being flogged by Blake Miller. Thank God she had on a very modern thong; otherwise he would have had no control of his fraying temper.
Torin had nothing personal against the puny man--well, besides the fact he was wielding a leather flogger that was turning Mira's butt pink.
He'd only seen Mira's naked rear once. Because her body aroused him so much, it had taken him less than thirty seconds to jack off after he'd tossed her out of his bedroom.
Blake caught her full on with the flogger, and her hips swayed from side to side. Little vixen obviously loved getting spanked.
His momentary relief at actually finding her faded and became a torch of anger directed as much at Blake as at her.
Right now Torin Carter was a dangerous man.
"Only five more, pet," Blake said. He drew back his arm again and soundly smacked Mira with the leather straps.
Mira rose up as much as the restraints allowed, and arched her back.
Even from a few feet away, Torin had heard the difference in the intensity of the stroke. Blake was taking Mira to more extreme pain levels. From her reaction, the blow had clearly stung as it was meant to.
Fury overcame reason.
Through the years, he'd played with dozens of women, most of them at this club. He'd enjoyed showing up and having a new woman kneel at his feet each time. But this was different. This was Mira.
Despite Dark Haven's rules, despite the fact his partner was obviously a willing participant, Torin acted.
He grabbed the smaller man's wrist. If Torin exerted a bit more downward pressure, the man would be on his knees. Still more and the bones in Miller's wrist would snap. Part of Torin wished the other man would give him the excuse. "Playtime's over, Blake."
Mira obviously recognized the sound of his voice, and she froze, becoming silent and still. Smartest thing she'd done today. Today? Make that in the past three weeks.
Torin glanced at the gathering crowd. There were plenty of doms and subs captivated by the scene he was creating. Waiters and waitresses continued on their rounds, too highly trained to stop and gawk. A dungeon monitor stopped nearby, his arms folded across his chest.
Everyone but Torin was dressed for the evening's Charles Dickens theme. In his fury, he'd stormed past Destiny at the door. Bad-mannered, ill-tempered bastard that he was, he'd ignored the club's theme night and Destiny's protests that he couldn't come inside. He'd cut the receptionist, in her revealing and attractive purple formal wear, a quick don't-fuck-with-me smile. She'd set her mouth in a frown that showed off her lip piercing perfectly.
Now, deep inside the caverns of Dark Haven, he realized he looked completely out of place. Instead of a fancy frock coat, he was wearing jeans, uncivilized boots, and a brown leather bomber jacket. Not that he cared.
His focus was totally on the immobile woman strapped to the spanking bench. "Move along, boys and girls," he said to the doms and the couple of dommes who were still staring.
Xavier, legendary owner of San Francisco's Dark Haven dungeon, calmly walked over; the crowd parted to let him through.
"Carter interrupted my scene." Blake all but sputtered the words as he struggled to pull away.
After flicking a nonexistent speck of dirt from his elegant black frock coat, Xavier studied Torin. "By 'Carter,' you mean Master Torin?" Xavier asked, maintaining decorum. Despite the tension, no matter what kind of tension, Xavier never raised his voice. Trouble in the club was handled professionally, defused by the power of the man's mystery and magnetism.
Torin struggled to maintain his own composure. He was accustomed to being in charge, alpha even in a pack of alphas. But here, Xavier was law. Torin met the more controlled man's eyes.
Blake--Torin wasn't one to extend the courtesy of addressing the man as Master Blake, no matter what Xavier insisted--had to tip back his head to look at them both.
"The woman Blake's beating--"
"Sub," Blake interrupted. "At Dark Haven, she's a sub."
"The woman," Torin corrected, tightening his grip inexorably, "is my partner. As such, she is under my care and protection." More than anyone, Xavier would understand what that meant.
"Fine job you're doing of taking care of her," Blake said.
Torin exerted a bit more pressure. The other man paled.
"No one, no one, but me touches her," Torin said.
Mira struggled against her bonds and made tiny mewing sounds. Since she wasn't shooting off her mouth, she was obviously gagged. At least that was one smart thing Blake had done. Gagging the unruly Ms. Araceli was a supremely good idea. Torin should have done it weeks ago.
With his left hand, Torin flipped the material of her dress back down, covering her ass. Even though she was wearing a scrap for panties, he could tell she was dripping with arousal. Dear God, he couldn't wait to get her alone.
"Maybe we should ask the sub what she wants," Blake said.
"Excellent idea," Xavier said.
Torin disagreed. Asking her anything was a bad idea. God only knew what she'd say when that gag came out of her mouth.
He hoped, for both their sakes, that she was as intelligent as he believed. If not, trouble was already on slow boil.
Xavier waved over the young blond dungeon monitor.
With a nod to acknowledge the order, the man moved toward Mira.
Torin struggled against the instinctive caveman act. He wanted to be the one to detach her from the bondage. He wanted to toss her over his shoulder, drag her back to the safety and seclusion of the Hawkeye house where they were training together then he would soundly beat her himself.
She'd been asking for it since they'd become partners.
Torin realized it was partially his fault she was here in the first place. But damn it, he'd had no idea how serious she was about getting her desires met.
Having no choice at this point but to follow Dark Haven's protocol, he watched as the dungeon monitor systematically unhooked the clips that held her firmly against the leather spanking bench.
"Master Torin, you can release Master Blake," Xavier said. His tone brooked no disagreement.
Reluctantly Torin loosened his grip. "Drop the flogger," he told Blake.
"If you don't," he said with a quick smile, "you're giving me a reason to break your wrist."
Elegant, calm, in control, Xavier nodded toward another dungeon monitor. The man moved in and extended a hand toward Blake. The dom glared at Torin before turning over the flogger.
"Now release Master Blake," Xavier said to Torin, his tone still not wavering.
Slowly Torin followed instructions.
Blake rubbed his bruised skin. Torin had a moment of regret that the man's wrist was still functional.
The dungeon monitor helped Mira from the bench and held on to her arm for a few seconds, obviously giving her time to catch her bearings and get her circulation back. Torin scowled. He'd meant it when he said he didn't want anyone touching her.
For a second she looked at Torin. Her brown eyes were wide, focused on him. She blinked, and then, seeming to recognize her error in staring at him, she dropped her gaze.
What the hell had he been thinking in not making her submit?
The little sub had begged him to flog her. More than begged she'd also cajoled. And when that had failed, she'd, in her charming way, even demanded, trying to goad him.
He preferred to play with superbly trained subs he might or might not ever see again. He'd never had an exclusive relationship with a sub, had never collared a woman. In his line of work, being moved around the country or planet depending on Hawkeye's needs, it had never seemed prudent. He'd never even been tempted.
He'd never played with a colleague either.
He had rules. Rules were rigid. They kept the world in order.
Still, two nights ago, she'd gone as far as to crawl into his bedroom completely naked, his leather belt held delicately in her mouth. He'd drawn on his adherence to rules--well, rules and the mental reserves developed from a lifetime of studying martial arts--to send her away and lock his door.
The dungeon monitor secured her hands behind her back and then exerted pressure on her shoulders so that she knelt before them.
"Take out the gag," Xavier said.
The dungeon monitor unbuckled the gag and slowly drew it away. She swallowed several times, and Torin couldn't take his gaze off her. Mira was as lovely as she was determined.
Her long black hair was pinned back in Victorian fashion, and a few tendrils had escaped their confines. The strands curved alluringly across her cheeks and at her nape.
Her gown was cut fairly low, in a way he was pretty damn sure would have been scandalous when Queen Victoria had sat on the British throne. The style of Mira's dress emphasized the alluring swell of her breasts. Her exposed skin had a lovely olive tone that spoke of her Spanish heritage.
On her knees, her head bowed, she was exquisite. And he was nearly undone.
"You are...?" Xavier asked, looking at Mira.
"Mira Araceli, Sir."
"My Liege," Torin corrected. "You will address Master Xavier as 'my Liege.'"
She looked up at him, then instantly back down. In front of everyone, he'd corrected her, and he knew she hadn't missed the fact he was establishing even more firmly his dominance over her.
"Yes, Sir," she said without a hint of her customary defiance.
"Now answer Master Xavier's question."
"My name's Mira Araceli, my Liege," she said softly, more softly than he'd ever heard her speak.
The complete contradiction to the Mira Araceli he knew stunned him. Even when she'd crawled into his bedroom, she'd taken the lead, and that's what he expected from her. Hawkeye didn't waste his time hiring women, or men, who weren't leaders, who weren't resourceful. In addition to providing personal security services to the rich and famous, Hawkeye, Inc. employees operated in the world's most hostile environments.
Mira had passed the Hawkeye screening process, and Torin had taken the time to read her personnel file along with every report she'd written. She'd been in the Middle East, and she and her client had been the only survivors of a gun battle. She knew how to remain levelheaded in stressful situations; she knew how to handle herself. So this...
And why the hell hadn't he recognized her true submissive nature?
He'd thought she was likely a masochist. That wouldn't have shocked him. In their line of work, raw, nasty, gritty hook-ups were common, a way to celebrate being alive, a way to remind themselves they were still human.
Most of the personal security agents he knew were adrenaline junkies. Some drove too fast or burned through the gears on a crotch rocket; others signed up for extended tours and crawled through jungles or endured a mouthful of one-hundred-ten-degree sand. A handful he knew enjoyed sadomasochism; it was another way to fuel the fire.
He'd heard that the infamous Ms. Inamorata, Hawkeye's right-hand woman, even dabbled in the world of BDSM. He wasn't sure he believed the rumor, and even if it were true, he had no idea which side she would be on. The woman was tough enough to chew nails. He could picture her as a domme with tall, spiky stiletto heels. He couldn't see her as a sub, but then again he'd never pictured Mira as a sub either.
Xavier spoke, cutting into Torin's thoughts. "I take it, Ms. Araceli, that you were willingly engaged in a scene with Master Blake?"
Torin snapped his back teeth together. Dark Haven might be Xavier's club, but Mira was Torin's partner. "Xavier--"
She interrupted Torin's protest, saying, "Yes, my Liege."
Fuck a goat, the woman had just given Torin another reason to punish her.
She continued either not recognizing or, more likely, ignoring Torin's clenched jaw.
"My Liege, I approached Master Blake when I arrived. He made certain to ask if I was alone."
Xavier raised a hand to silence him. "Master Torin states you're under his protection."
Even on the best of days, Torin didn't keep his temper under tight control. As it was, he figured he had another, oh, forty-five seconds of patience left. A minute, tops.
"Ms. Araceli?" Xavier prompted.
"A yes or no will suffice, Ms. Araceli."