"It's your bet, Master David."
Silence hung over Dark Haven's makeshift poker room as everyone waited for Shelby's sometimes-dom to answer Master Trevor's challenge.
From her peripheral gaze, she noticed one of the dungeon monitors head for the door, presumably to fetch Master Xavier, the club's owner. The friendly game of poker to benefit a children's charity had just taken an interesting turn.
Shelby continued to kneel on the floor next to David's chair and told herself a good sub would keep her gaze on the floor. A good sub would mind her business while the doms conducted their wager.
A good sub would school her mind and focus on her dom's wishes. And David's wish was for her to behave so he'd look good.
Earlier, after he'd picked her up from her hotel, he'd told her he intended to play Master Trevor in tonight's charity Texas Hold'em tournament at San Francisco's Dark Haven. In fact, if all went according to his plan, the evening would end in a showdown between Trevor and David.
Shelby knew that her friend, David, had a complex relationship with Master Trevor, and six months ago, he'd lost a sub to other man. According to the story, David had been at Dark Haven with Janine, a fun but fickle sub who changed doms like others changed shoes. After seeing that Master Trevor was alone, she'd unfastened David's collar and tossed it over her shoulder before kissing Master Trevor's boots.
Although Master Trevor hadn't accepted Janine as his sub, hadn't even played with her that night, David's ego had still been battered.
And now that everyone else had folded or busted, the last hand of Hold'em had, indeed, come down to the two of them.
At the beginning of the evening, David had made a charitable contribution of a thousand dollars in exchange for poker chips. Earlier, he'd been up substantially. But over the last half hour, his pile had diminished rapidly. His bets had become more and more reckless, and it seemed as if he was barely looking at his cards, let alone the flop, before raising the stakes. If she'd noticed that, so had his opponent.
Tension rippled across the room.
Each man had already been dealt their first two--hole--cards. And only moments before, the dealer had turned over the flop, the first three of five potential community cards.
She had no idea what either man was holding in the pocket, but a surreptitious glance had told her the flop's high card was a king of spades. There were no pairs, no other face cards. A heart and a diamond meant a flush was unlikely, possible but not probable.
"Master David?" Master Trevor prompted a second time.
Shelby noticed David's hand form a fist alongside his right thigh, betraying his agitation. He'd run through his first thousand dollars. He was a lawyer in an area of town with a high crime rate. It was a decent job, she knew. It paid the bills, but David all but ran a nonprofit. He took on significant amounts of pro bono cases. His offices were run-down and beat-up, and he'd never met a sob story that didn't tug his heartstrings or hurt his wallet. His wages definitely didn't finance a luxury lifestyle.
Time dragged, and she shifted. Being a good sub, she was learning, wasn't as easy in real life as it was in her fantasies. She knew stealing a glance at either man--especially Master Trevor--might earn her a spanking from an angry David, but out of boredom mixed with healthy curiosity, she was contemplating the risk.
Even though she lived in Denver and only visited Dark Haven a few times a year, she knew of Master Trevor's stern reputation. Other subs dreamily whispered about him, wanting to experience his lash.
He stood well over six feet tall and commanded respect just by walking into a room. His broad shoulders, dark hair, unyielding jaw, and purposeful stride were the stuff of fantasies. Factor in his sexy, gravelly voice and she'd been a goner from the start.
If she were honest, she'd admit the other subs weren't the only ones to fantasize about him. Ever since she'd first seen him last fall, she'd masturbated to images of him, and she hadn't felt guilty doing so. He was exactly the type of man she wanted to dominate her.
She and David had known each other since college, and their friendship was more of a companionship than a relationship. Truth was, they were too good of friends to be fabulous lovers. Even their BDSM scenes had become a bit boring. She might not have a lot of experience, but she suspected he allowed her to get away with too much; being with him was nothing like her fantasies, nothing like the books she read or the videos she watched.
The last time she'd been with him in San Francisco, she'd tried to hide yawns she'd blamed on jetlag. She'd initially declined his most recent invitation, but when he'd mentioned that Dark Haven and its Western-themed night were on the agenda, she'd rearranged her client load so she could fly in and attend.
Even though she had been kneeling on the floor for at least an hour, seeing Master Trevor with a replica six-shooter strapped to his thigh made everything bearable.
A cowboy hat sat jaggedly atop his head, partially shadowing his steely, electric blue eyes.
He'd wrapped a dark blue bandanna around his throat, and a tailored Western shirt hugged his upper body.
Because she'd been placed on the floor like a good little sub, she knew his brown cowboy boots were authentic, marred and scratched by the years. He also wore a pair of spurs. The silver had dulled, but they had made a forceful sound when he'd walked across the floor earlier.
The dark color of his jeans had faded slightly, and he'd obviously worn them a number of times, long enough that the denim had broken in to hug his strong thighs.
Master Trevor sat easily in his chair, his shoulders relaxed. He toyed with several high denomination chips, turning them over between his thumb and forefinger.
Last night, after she'd packed her suitcase for the trip to the West Coast, she'd drizzled lube onto her bullet vibrator and lay down on her bed with her legs spread. She'd imagined him drawing her across a room and tying her to a spanking bench, her ass upturned for his hand or a flogger, whatever he chose. After tonight, though, and seeing the well-worn belt circling his waist, she knew future fantasies would include that supple leather against her backside.
Unable to help herself as the minutes dragged on, she sneaked a glance at the object of her desire. He looked at her--apparently sensing her perusal--and held her gaze captive.
A shiver of fear mixed with desire raced up her spine as they made eye contact.
In that brief second, his steel blue eyes promised one thing: punishment. If she were his sub, her out-of-bounds behavior wouldn't be tolerated. He'd expect, and demand, perfect submission.
Her breaths threatened to strangle her.
She wanted him. She craved his dominance. And her raw need scared her.
He raised a brow commandingly and nodded toward the floor.
Even though he wasn't her dom, she immediately dropped her gaze to stare at the wooden floor.
BDSM wasn't a way of life for her. Rather it was something she occasionally enjoyed, much like having dessert after a celebratory dinner. The weekends a few times a year satisfied her needs. Or they had, until right now, until this powerful reaction to Master Trevor's unspoken command.
She heard the echo of footsteps, and she dared another surreptitious look. This time, though, she didn't look up. She glanced sideways so it wasn't immediately noticeable that she was deliberately disobeying both Master Trevor and David.
Destiny, the club's receptionist who seemed to know everything and everyone, and Master Xavier had entered the room.
The club's enigmatic owner came in without saying anything. He didn't need to. Master Xavier electrified the air. An alpha among alphas, he was dressed in black trousers and a burgundy vest. His long black hair hung down in back in an oh-so-sexy braid. As if comfortable with his legendary status, he folded his arms across his chest, lord and master of all he surveyed. Everyone knew it; everyone respected his authority.
"Having trouble with your sub?" Master Trevor asked David, looking across the table and inclining his head in her direction.
Oh God. Oh God.
Startled, fearful, she looked at him.
This wasn't a man to be trifled with. He was as unyielding as his reputation suggested.
David dug his fingers into her hair and forced her head down. For long seconds he kept his hand painfully on her scalp. Her eyes watered, but she kept her mouth shut.
After his experience with Janine, she knew what her disobedience meant to David, especially in front of Master Trevor. More than ever, she wished she could behave better. In her mind, she was a much better sub than in reality.
Silence seemed to drag.
"What do we have here?" Master Xavier asked finally.
"We're waiting, My Liege," the dealer said. "It's Master David's turn to place his bet."
True to the club's theme night, the man looked every bit the part of an Old West poker dealer. He wore a long-sleeved striped shirt with a garter around his biceps. A knotted bow tie, gold brocade vest, jeans, and a hat completed his outfit.
David glanced across the table.
She knew they each saw the same thing. Master Trevor had the resources to call any bet he could make.
Pulling his money clip from his front pocket, David said, "Another thousand dollars in chips."
Shelby gasped. Another thousand dollars? Was he crazy? He'd be willing to bet that on two potential turns of the cards?
"While the children's charity will appreciate your thoughtfulness," Master Xavier said, "the evening has already been a huge success."
Shelby admired the owner's tact. He was offering a dom an easy and graceful way to back out of his aggressive wager. No wonder the man was so respected in San Francisco's BDSM circles.
"A thousand dollars," David repeated, peeling off bills and tossing them onto the felt-covered table.
Shelby had never known David to be reckless. Suddenly she was questioning everything she knew about him. Surely the experience with Janine had stung, but no way did the woman matter that much to him. So what the hell was he thinking and doing?
As the moments stretched, Shelby concentrated on her breathing and keeping her body still and being a good sub instead of shifting uncomfortably. Her entire body was fatigued, and she wanted this ridiculous display of David's masculine ego to be over.
Kneeling for several hours while the men played and she was ignored had not been what she was anticipating when she boarded the flight early this morning at Denver International Airport.
"My Liege?" the dealer asked.
Technically, this was against the rules. Chips needed to "purchased" up front, from the club's receptionist, Destiny. David was behaving more like he was at a casino than at a charity event.
The quiet conversation that had hummed through the poker room abruptly died as people eavesdropped, waiting for Master Xavier's decision.
"The children's charity is the beneficiary," Master Xavier said with a nod.
The dealer exchanged the cash for poker chips and then gave the money to Destiny for safekeeping.
For a minute, David sat there, as if considering his bet. "Five hundred," he said finally, pushing a pile of chips into the middle of the table.
That was an aggressive bet considering his remaining funds.
Master Trevor studied the flop, but he never glanced at his two cards. Then he thumbed back the brim of his hat. He allowed thirty seconds to pass before he said, "Call." He matched the other man's bet.
Master Trevor had more than enough funds to raise the bet. It seemed that, since he hadn't raised, he might be playing a bit of cat-and-mouse. Either that or the flop hadn't helped him.
The dealer burned the next card. As each player watched intently, the man then flipped up the next one, known as the turn. Ten of spades.
David reached for her and put his hand lightly on the top of her head. He all but petted her. His touch telegraphed confidence. Maybe he did know what he was doing. She hoped he had spades in the hole.
Master Trevor waited for David's bet.
"One hundred dollars," he said, adding the chips to the pot.
The bet was at odds with the way he was stroking her. Either his bet was a bluff or his relaxed behavior was.
"Raise," Master Trevor said. "Four hundred."
The other dom apparently had a better hand, or he was trying to force David's hand.
David was almost out of options. If he wanted to raise, he needed more chips. At this point, he had to fold or go all in.
Over the past few seconds, David's hand had tightened on her scalp. He might have a good hand, but he didn't have the funds to back it.
He reached for his money clip again.
Was he crazy?
Before peeling off the few remaining bills, he sat back and said, "Let's make it more interesting."
Master Xavier raised a brow.
Other doms, with their subs trailing behind, wandered over and formed a circle around the table.
"If I win, Lawton International remodels the Northwest Community law offices."
Shelby gasped. She'd been thinking this might be about Janine and a grudge. And it had nothing to do with that.
He'd maneuvered this entire evening to manipulate Master Trevor into donating his time to David's cause?
Master Trevor sat back in his chair. "You're asking me to put up something close to half a million dollars?"
"I'll buy materials."
"Generous," Master Trevor said.
For long moments he sat there quietly, a study in self-mastery.
Finally, Master Trevor nodded. "If I win, I want the sub."
Shelby's heart stopped.
"Wait a fucking--"
"Master David," Master Xavier admonished quietly. "I'll thank you to be more respectful in my club."
Despite the fact David's fingers were digging into her scalp, she looked directly at Master Trevor.
His gaze was pinned on her, hot, hard, as if he'd been waiting for and anticipating her inability to keep looking at the ground.
"Can't get your own subs, Trevor?" David demanded.
Master Trevor didn't respond. Rather, he continued to look at her.
She knew she should look down, show him the respect he demanded, but she didn't; she couldn't.
She felt scorched as his gaze trailed from her face, down her body, lingering for a few seconds on her chest. In keeping with the Western-themed night, she'd selected a white shelf bra and a fringed leather vest. She's spent a week shopping for a beautiful sterling bolo tie. It had cost a lot more money than she wanted to pay, but the way it caught the light when she moved made it worth every penny.
He continued his perusal and paused again at her pelvis. Unlike some of the other subs who were almost completely naked, her mound was covered by a pink thong. Still, she had felt completely exposed to him.
As if they were alone, he slowly took in her white leather chaps.
She knew he wouldn't be able to appreciate the sexy pair of heeled boots that completed her outfit. But his slow smile told her he found plenty he liked.
He'd taken his time looking at her, considering her. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be his sub and have his complete attention on her.
His gaze left her body, and he looked directly at David. "Do we have a bet?"
"This is an outrage," David said. He slumped in his chair.
"Does that mean you're not confident in that next card?" Master Trevor asked.
David sat up straighter and then leaned forward, glaring. "I accept your terms."
Shelby gave up all pretense of minding her business.
"Let's ask the sub if she agrees, as well," Master Trevor said to Master Xavier. "I'm not willing to force the woman to do anything she doesn't want to. But I think she'll be willing."
Was she that transparent?
Master Xavier folded his arms across his chest and nodded toward her. "Excellent suggestion."
All eyes were on her. Her heart thundered. How the hell was she supposed to deal with this?
Instinctively she looked to David for guidance. He'd already agreed she'd be his stakes, but she had the opportunity to call off this ridiculousness.
She and David had been friends since college. They'd hooked up a few times in the last decade, but they hadn't been exclusive for at least eight years. Despite their best efforts, their relationship was closer to companionship than spark and sizzle.
Still, she liked him, and she knew Janine's defection had burned, at least a little. She felt torn. She didn't want to cause his bruised ego any more damage, and her leaving tonight with Master Trevor would definitely batter David. On the other hand, the law center needed serious work. "Sir?" she asked David softly.
David drummed his fingers along his thigh. After a few seconds, he nodded without looking at her.
Master Xavier took control.
He walked over to her. He placed his finger under her chin and gently tipped her head back. "I don't know you."
"No, My Liege," she said quietly. She could hardly hear above the racing of her heart, and her tongue didn't want to form around any words. Now, of all times, she wanted to look at the floor.
"Tell me about yourself."
"I..." She blinked. "I'm afraid I don't understand the question." Belatedly she added, "My Liege."
"Shelby. Shelby Salazar, My Liege."
"And Shelby Salazar, I don't see a collar around your neck."
"No, My Liege. I don't belong to anyone. I mean, I'm not a lifestyle sub. I..." She sought for the best explanation.
"She's more of a dabbler," David supplied.
"But she's been here before," Destiny said, walking over with a digital pad.
Shelby had been introduced to the club's receptionist before. Destiny. Always outrageous, always welcoming, always on top of things. Nothing happened at Dark Haven that Destiny didn't know about.
"Tonight is the sub's fifth visit, My Liege," Destiny said. "Always with Master David."
Shelby nodded, confirming what Destiny said. "I live in Denver, My Liege, and I'm visiting San Francisco for the week."
"Are you staying with Master David?"
"No, My Liege. I have a hotel," she said.
"Do you know Master Trevor?"
"Only by reputation, My Liege."
"I'll amend my bet to say I'll take the sub for the week she's in town," Master Trevor said.
"Generous bastard," David muttered.
Master Xavier shot David a quelling glance. The other man shrugged and played with the few chips on the table. "Do you understand the stakes as Master Trevor has outlined them?"
"Tell me what you understand the stakes to be," Master Xavier said.
"I understand that Master Trevor..." She trailed off and looked over at the dom. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. He was unyielding, uncompromising, and attractive as sin in a pair of jeans. This was the opportunity she'd dreamed of, with a man she had a crush on.
Hormones flooded her body. She wanted him, but suddenly nerves swamped her. Was she really going to agree to this? She looked back at Master Xavier. "Master Trevor wants me to be his sub for the week that I'm in town."
"That means staying at my place," he added.
Being cut off from her regular life, from David?
"Are you willing to agree to the terms, Shelby?" Master Xavier asked.
"If Master David says so, My Liege."
"She does know how to behave," Master Trevor said. "I'd wondered."
Heat chased across her face. She wanted to show this man she could behave like a proper sub.
"I've already said I agree," David said.
"Winner take all," Master Trevor said.
"You're not being coerced, sub?" Master Xavier asked.
Master Xavier released her chin and stood. He nodded toward the dealer, and the man reached for the deck of cards.
The pot of money now a moot point, the dealer burned the next card before turning over the river, the fifth and final community card.
She held her breath, torn.
The jack of spades.
Several people in the room whispered. There were three spades showing. Definitely the potential for a flush. With the jack, a straight was a possibility.
She looked at David. His eyes were wide, and he nodded. Her friend definitely didn't have a poker face. He squeezed her shoulder. She released her breath. As much as she wanted the opportunity to play with Master Trevor, she wanted David to win. His work meant everything to him.
His thinking had been brilliant. He'd spent six months fundraising, and he was at least another year away from being able to afford the much-needed building renovations.
Time for the showdown.
The dealer nodded to David. He turned over his pocket cards. The eight and nine of spades.
She schooled herself not to smile. But that flush was likely unbeatable.
She looked at Master Trevor. Unlike David, his face was set in unreadable lines.
The dealer signaled for Master Trevor to show his pocket cards. He turned over the two cards lying facedown on the felt.
Ace and queen of spades.
David shoved back from the table and stood. Then, seeming to draw on the same reserve he used in the courtroom, he extended his hand toward Master Trevor.
The other man stood.
She was aware of the contrast between them. Master Trevor was a couple of inches taller than David. The other man's shoulders were broader, his arms much more muscular, his thighs more powerful.
Soon, she would be alone with him.
Her heart beat impossibly fast in her chest.
"Congratulations," David said as the two shook hands. His tone held no warmth. "I'll leave you two to get to know each other."
"She's in safe hands," Master Trevor promised.
"She means a lot to me," David said.
Master Trevor nodded. As if she were a true sub, he didn't address his comments to her. She was alternately thrilled and annoyed.
David crouched in front of her. "Behave yourself, sub."
"Yes, Sir." There was so much she wanted to say, needed to say. She ached to touch him, to reassure him.
"You've wanted something like this," he said quietly.
"We both know you weren't getting what you wanted. Try to enjoy it. I'll see you at the end of the week. I'll take you back to the airport."
"Call me if you need anything." He stood and gave her shoulder a reassuring pat. "Anything."
He stood. He didn't touch her again. After nodding to the dealer, to Master Xavier, and ignoring Master Trevor, he left the room.
A few seconds later, Master Xavier said, "Game's over, everyone. I invite you to enjoy the other pleasures at Dark Haven."
Destiny signaled to the dungeon monitor stationed near the door. Together, she and the man shepherded subs and Doms toward the exit.
Several people stopped to congratulate her temporary dom before they left the room.
Because Master Trevor had yet to give her any instructions, Shelby remained on her knees, her gaze downcast as the noise in the room diminished.
At this point, she realized it was probably a good thing he hadn't given any commands. Nervousness raced through her body, and she wondered if she'd be able to follow any direction, no matter how simple, he gave her.
"You're free to go," Master Xavier said to Destiny and the dungeon monitor.
Without a word, they left.
Master Xavier came over. "I trust this is only about you wanting to play with Shelby," he said to Master Trevor.
Time seemed to simultaneously drag and zip by. She wanted to be alone with her new dom, but the prospect also frightened her.
"I told Master David the sub is in good hands. You have my word."
"I expected nothing less," Master Xavier said.
"We'd like to use the punishment room."
"Consider it done."
She heard the tone of respect in Master Trevor's tone, but also the signal that, as far as Master Trevor was concerned, the conversation was over.
Master Xavier's steps seemed to echo off the wooden floor as he left the room.
The echoing silence, the realization that they were alone, and that for the next seven days she was his sub, suddenly overwhelmed her.
She remained on her knees, her pulse ringing in her ears.
"I want to know about you," he said. "How much BDSM experience do you have, sub?"
She kept her gaze cast down. "I... Very..." Her voice cracked. She sounded squeaky, lacking her usual confidence. In her job as a high-powered corporate mediator, she spent her days utilizing all her senses to tune into people's subtle nuances. Even when she wasn't feeling confident in her abilities, she squared her shoulders and projected authority.
But being on her knees, mostly naked, in front of this powerful man undid her.
"Go on," he told her.
She cleared her throat and tried again. "Very little, Sir. A handful of experiences."
"I could have guessed," he said. "You were given the choice, and you agreed to be my sub for a week. Does that mean you want more experiences?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"I can't hear you."
She swallowed. "Yes," she said again.
Continuing in his soft, probing way that reassured even as it demanded, he asked, "Do you know what that means?"
She could do nothing but look at his boots and be nearly overwhelmed by his presence. He was so close she breathed in his scent, that of crisp ocean air and raw masculine power. "Truthfully? No."
"You have ideas."
Who knew if they were close to reality, though?
"Tell me what you're expecting. Or what you're hoping."
The sound of Master Trevor's voice intoxicated her. It was deep, well modulated, firm, domineering. "I came to San Francisco because I want even more experiences. I've wondered..." She trailed off. She and David hadn't even had this level of conversation. She just went along with what he wanted.
They'd visited Dark Haven a few times, so she'd seen other subs and Doms interact. She'd seen one sub attached to a collar and leash. The man had crawled behind his master and seemed happy to do it. Another female sub had walked in front of her master, her head lowered; her dom's hand was fisted in her hair. And she did a fair amount of reading. Clearly no two D/s relationships were the same.
But she knew she wanted to experience more spice than she had with David. Their scenes were more like casual interludes with kinky clothes. At the end of the night, he dropped her at her hotel. What would it be like to wake up in the morning and be expected to continue the role of sub?
Master Trevor waited patiently for her answer.
"I have heard that you are harsh but fair."
"Probably accurate," he said. "And...?"
"If I am staying with you for a week, I understand you'll probably have a set of rules you'll expect me to follow."
"I do. And if you break a rule?"
"I imagine..." Oh God. Oh yes. The idea of his supple brown leather belt against her exposed buttocks definitely made her shiver. The fantasy just got better and hotter.
"Tell me what you just imagined."
"I don't tolerate shyness or hiding, sub. Tell me what you just imagined. Now."
"I imagined you..." She exhaled a shaky breath. "I imagined you punishing me."
"Sir," he said.
"I imagined you punishing me, Sir."
"Punishing you how, sub?"
"Good to know," he said. "Shall we begin?"