Duec moved as if he owned La Ceinture Noire. He did. Humans and others alike made way for him, averting their gazes from his usual pissed-off glower. Automatic respect came from those who worked for him, owed him, or simply recognized a dangerous predator. Taller than anyone else in the club, Duec emanated natural power from a wide, hard body that would have gotten him the same reaction anywhere.
He was beyond dominant on into awesome territory. While the male never bothered to impress anyone, he didn't need to. He wore an aura of strength that commanded respect. Everyone in the place not only moved out of his path, they joined her in quivering obeisance, though probably not for the same reasons.
As he drew closer, Belinda took in his familiar scowl. He was alone while surrounded by friends. Being the only one of his kind had to be lonely. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him smile, and her chest pinched with sadness.
Without even considering rebellion, she bowed her head in tribute to his dominance. The act of submission wasn't something he'd ever demanded, or even seemed to expect, from her. She was positive he would've indulged her if she'd failed to bend for him. Giving him this small gesture of respect was her choice. She owed Duec her life. A nod to civility wasn't a huge sacrifice. At least that was what she told herself, unwilling to investigate the weird urge to do a lot more than bow in submission every time Duec strolled past.
No harm in a fantasy, right? It's not like I expect it to come true. I don't even want it to actually happen. Still, the whole head trip is way too twisted for any self-respecting Domme.
"Nice boots," Duec growled at Belinda without slowing his stride.
Belinda bowed like everyone else. The thrall he cast over the La Ceinture Noire crowd dissipated with his passing. The members swirled back together, erasing the swath they'd cleared for him.
She glanced down at the black suede platforms which added an impressive six inches to her slim six-foot frame. Provocative scarlet satin ribbons wove through the corset lacing closing the heels' backs. For once, Duec erred. Her boots weren't nice. They were freaking spectacular.
Someday he was going to look at her and notice the tough, capable witch and a strong, sexy Domme rather than the damaged elf-girl he'd rescued so many years ago. Sure he will. Right after hell has its first hard frost.
"Thank you." By the time she'd choked out a response, her words died beneath the swell of music and crowd noise long before they reached his broad back. No wonder he never caught on she'd become an adult. Despite long hours of martial arts practice and her hard-won magic skills, the male reduced her to pitiful mouse squeaks every time he appeared.
Even in human form, he was huge and impressive, and she knew his beast. He'd slain her monsters, kept her safe, and made sure she had everything she needed--an education, a job, a life. Yet she didn't truly know him. She wasn't sure anyone did.
Belinda spotted Colin threading his way through the throng because he was literally a foot above the tallest humans. Below his broad shoulders, a flash of blonde bobbed--Holly, his new mate and Belinda's best friend. The popular Dom, one of the badass demon hunters, towered over his mate.
When the couple came closer, Belinda moved her focus to Holly. She'd bonded with the female water demon during their battle to defeat Zinja last Christmas. Most of the credit for the victory belonged to Holly, because Belinda had been sidelined with a concussion early in the skirmish. The fight could have gone the other way so easily. Holly could've died. Every time Belinda thought about how close they'd come to losing, her stomach clenched.
She willed her stomach to unknot and admired the scarlet silk robe covering but not hiding her best friend's considerable assets. Behind the curvy blonde, her mate, Colin loomed. Like the rest of the demon hunters, the tall, dark, and dominant male intimidated even in his human glamour. The disguise made him almost too pretty, but in a totally guy way. No harm in a little mental drooling over the beautiful male. His appeal for Belinda was a strictly detached admiration of masculine beauty, especially in the penguin suit he was rocking. No doubt Holly had already told him he looked great in black tie.
While she liked the fierce warriors, there'd never been any sexual spark between her and any of the hunters. For openers, all of the sinfully attractive warriors were Doms right down to their steel-toed boots. Of course, so was Duec, and that hadn't stopped her from fantasizing about him. She even dreamed of his magnificent beast.
"I heard what he said." Holly smiled.
Her friend's voice yanked Belinda back to reality. Of course you did and so did Colin. Damn demon hearing picked up every little thing.
Holly leaned closer and whispered, "Duec is abrupt with everyone, but I've never heard him utter a compliment before tonight."
"Thanks, but he always notices when I do something different. The male is thoughtful like that," Belinda whispered back and gave Holly's plump arm a squeeze. "Love your scarlet pedi--uber hot."
Her friend took the hint and changed the subject. "Colin bought me a new outfit for the All Hallow's Eve Leather and Lace ball. If you consider a blindfold a costume."
Her mate smirked.
Belinda found a warm smile for Holly, grateful for the tactful switch to something other than her hopeless girly crush on their fearless leader. The annual Halloween event for the other races, mostly demons, was the social event of the year and a staff favorite. What to wear was a major topic of conversation. "Let me guess--it's lacy."
"Yes." Holly's cheeks colored. "Have you decided what to wear?"
"Thank goodness I'm a Domme. Black leather works for me."
"Lucky." Holly bobbed her head.
"This is your first All Hallow's Eve Leather and Lace ball, right?" Belinda glanced at her friend.
"Uh-huh, I'm a little nervous."
"Don't be; All Hallow's Eve totally rocks."
"For witches and Dommes, maybe, but I'm going to be the newbie sub in the blindfold and nothing else."
Colin cupped her neck. "You're gorgeous in skin, baby."
"Thank you, Sir." Holly's gaze fell to her shiny red toes. "I need to visit the restroom." Holly let the sentence trail off and lifted her lashes to stare pointedly at Belinda.
Instantly, Belinda had to fight to keep her hands from forming fists, and her shoulders knotted with tension. "Me too."
Colin trailed them and took up a position where he could watch the only exit. Normal protectiveness of his mate? Belinda really hoped so.
As soon as they were in the deserted powder room, safely away from demon ears, Belinda searched Holly's face. "Has Colin hurt you?"
Holly's eyes widened. "No, Colin is wonderful."
"'Cause you can count on me, if you're in trouble."
She patted Belinda's arm affectionately. "Really there's no problem."
Belinda snapped the lid on the imaginary concern. Just another fun projection of her own messed-up issues. She mentally scolded herself. She knew better. Colin was no goblin. The male was wild about his mate. She swallowed the last bitterness of lingering fear. "So what did you want to talk about without Colin hearing?"
"You and Duec, silly."
"There's no me and Duec." Belinda wrapped her arms around her waist, too aware of how fragile she still was after so many years. She should be past this stupid vulnerability. "He feels responsible for me."
"Don't give me that. You want more."
"Maybe. Okay, yeah. A girl can dream, even if it's crazy." Belinda kept her tone light. "Can you imagine Duec actually submitting to anyone?"
"He might surprise you. I've seen the way he looks at you when you aren't watching. You should make your move during the All Hallow's Eve Leather and Lace ball. "
"Uh-huh, any particular reason?"
"Hello, it's held on Samhain, when witches rule."
"You don't actually believe that superstitious nonsense? Witches aren't some special other race. We're just a bunch of chicks with mad magic skills." Belinda grinned to take the sting out of dismissing Holly's faith in the old legends.
Holly's small chin firmed. "You have real power. I've seen you work magic."
"Yeah, some. Trust me, not nearly enough to make Duec submit."
"Perhaps you're afraid you'll be the one submitting."
"Crazy as it sounds, you may be right." Belinda tightened her hold on her torso.
"With the right Dom, submission isn't dangerous or even scary. Domination isn't the only way to be strong. There's power in surrender too. More than you believe."
Holly might have a point. All Hallow's Eve was Belinda's favorite night of the year. She had a serious crush on Duec. She savored the fantasy of being by his side when he opened the festivities for a couple of seconds. Nah. If she asked to be his date, he'd be courtly and kind and say no. She'd die a thousand deaths from his rejection. Even if a miracle happened and he said yes, the first time he demanded submission, her old fears would freeze out any arousal. She'd panic and disgrace him in front of everyone.
"I believe that's true for you." Belinda found a smile for her friend, held the door, and led her back Colin.
Holly had truly bloomed since she and Colin had mated, even though he kept her barefoot and nearly naked. At least he did when they were at LCN as the in crowd had dubbed the club. Despite her lack of clothing, clearly the male made her happy.
Belinda stepped back and studied Colin. "I'm not going to stroke your pampered ego by asking how you are. The happily paired glow on your face is totally obvious."
Colin tucked Holly tight against his side with a satisfied grin. "She was meant for me."
"What a reasonable guy." Belinda rolled her eyes at him. "How are you planning to torture your lovely wife tonight?"
"The usual--a little rope, a knot, or two," Colin drawled.
Belinda gave an exaggerated shudder and turned to Holly. "You're so much braver than I would ever be. I can't even imagine getting naked in front of this crowd."
Or anywhere else, for that matter. No one needs to see the scars under my leather.
"There's no courage required. I just stand there and follow Colin's orders." Holly's thick blonde lashes dropped, and her fair skin pinked becomingly. "Nude is fine, because my obedience pleases Colin, but I'd love to wear a pair of boots like yours."
"No way." Colin shook his head. "Not in public. You'd cause a riot in those shoes. I have to think about crowd control."
Holly smiled at the implied compliment. "Yes, Sir."
"It's almost showtime." Colin's voice deepened.
"I'll try to catch part of your demonstration. Better move along before your fans get restless." Belinda made a shooing motion at the couple.
Holly sketched a wave over her shoulder as Colin propelled her toward the glass-enclosed, center scene room. It was hard not to be envious of their mutual devotion. Belinda shook off the mood-dampening petty jealousy on her way to the bar. Colin and Holly were perfect together. She couldn't imagine either of them with anyone else. She found a vacant seat, tucked her toy bag under it, and then perched her butt on top of the padded stool.
Ramon, another demon hunter and super-popular Dom, worked the bar. He made his way over to where she waited. There were seven demon hunters, not counting Duec. Each one different, but they were all hot and hunky. She fully enjoyed the view while he prowled toward her.
"What can I get for you, beautiful?"
"A little respect and a diet cola, easy on the ice," she said with enough bite to remind him she wasn't one of his human groupies.
"Gotcha covered, Ma'am." He winked at her with no sign of repentance.