Sweltering from the heat and trembling with fear, photojournalist Steph Grady leaned back against the tree’s rough bark. Her thin tank top offered her skin no protection, but a few scrapes were the last thing on her mind.
An impressive hunting lodge sat a short distance away. Inside a Mafia boss man waited for his visitors.
Though she knew she was too close, Steph was made of tough stuff, and she’d come too far to slink away. After months of research and six weeks of white-knuckle surveillance, she was about to achieve the impossible.
Photographs of Marco Moretti.
Six feet four inches.
His dark chocolate eyes beneath a mop of black wavy hair gave him an intense, smoldering presence. Many called him menacing, but she’d heard women claim he made them weak in the knees.
She glanced at her watch.
The secret meeting deep in the woods had been set for one p.m. It was 1:30. A worried frown crossed her brow.
Marco Moretti wouldn’t tolerate tardiness.
Where were they?
A flash of panic seized her.
She’d parked her car a mile away in dense foliage. It couldn’t have been spotted… could it? She cringed at the thought. Her mission was difficult and dangerous, but Steph was stubborn and bold.
She froze. Desperate to risk a peek around the wide tree trunk but afraid to move, she strained to listen.
Closing her eyes and letting out a relieved sigh, she tried to think.
Her eyes flew open.
Panic blazed through her body.
She wanted to explain, or scream, or yell out something, but she couldn’t find her voice.
She was suddenly lifted from the ground as he threw her over his shoulder. His surprising strength made her feel as though she weighed an ounce, and she could feel his muscled arm across the back of her thighs.
The terror that had held her in its grip abruptly shattered.
“Put me down,” she screamed, squirming furiously and trying to wrench herself free.
A stinging swat landed on her backside. “Stop it!” His voice was thick and deep.
“Okay, okay, just put me down and let me explain,” she yelled, praying frantically she could talk her way out of her worst nightmare.
“You’ll be explaining, don’t worry about that,” he retorted, his long strides covering the ground, “and you can scream all you want. There’s no one around.”
“Please—who are you? What do you want with me?”
“Give me a fuckin’ break!”
Several months before, she’d enrolled in a self-defense class, but the initial lessons were boring and she’d quit. Now cursing herself for being so impatient, she tried desperately to remember something—anything—she’d been taught.
But she was panicking, and though she’d stopped struggling, she was running out of air. Forcing herself to think, she quickly realized there was nothing she could do. She was draped over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, completely helpless.
Talk a lot. Make a personal connection with your assailant.
The second flash of sage advice echoed through her head. Wishing her heart would stop its wild hammering, she tried to think of an excuse—something—anything—to save the situation.
They’d reached the lodge.
Moving up the steps and onto the porch, he opened the door, marched across a foyer into an expansive living room, and plopped her down on a wide brown leather couch.
“Steph Grady,” he said calmly, shaking his head. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you about curiosity and the cat? You shouldn’t have come here.”
Abruptly leaning over her, his dark eyes narrowed.
“You’ve been a very bad girl.”
“Why would you s-say that?” she whispered, wondering how she’d managed to speak at all.
“Where do I start? Spying on me, thinking you can outsmart me, insulting my intelligence. How’s that for starters?”
“I was just d-doing my job,” she stammered breathlessly. “All I want is a photograph. If you let me—”
“Stop!” he barked, making her wince. “We certainly have a problem. You’ve been poking your nose where it doesn’t belong for a while now.”
“I, uh, don’t understand.”
“There you go again. Insulting my intelligence,” he scolded, shaking his finger at her. “Do you honestly think I’d let you anywhere near one of my meetings?”
“That’s right, sweetheart. I baited a hook, threw out the line, and now you’ve been caught.”
“But, uh, I don’t understand,” she repeated. “Why am I here?”
“You and I need some private time. That’s another reason I’m angry. My time. It’s precious. I’m a busy man—but you know that.”
“What do you want? Just tell me and I’ll give it to you.”
“Really?” he said, surprising her with a chuckle. “You’ll give me whatever I want.”
“Yes, just please—”
“Wake up, little girl,” he suddenly growled, his pleasant expression instantly dark. “I take what I want.”
“I’m sure you do,” she said hastily. “I didn’t mean…”
“You’re going to answer my questions and—”
“Yes, yes, of course. What do you want to know?”
“Don’t interrupt me again.”
Every part of her body trembled under his scathing gaze.
“I warn you, I’ll know if you’re lying, and hearing a lie pisses me off even more than being interrupted. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Mr. Moretti.”
“Mr. Moretti. Good. Manners,” he remarked, his voice softening as he sat beside her. “You just earned a brownie point, but only one. Let’s get down to business. You were in my private club. Who let you in?”
“No one. I mean, I was there, but no one let me in.”
He paused. “You’re sweating up a storm,” he muttered, lifting a crisp white handkerchief from his pocket and sliding it over her face. “Is the heat getting to you?”
“The sun hates me,” she replied, unnerved a second time by another abrupt change in his attitude.
“Such pale skin,” he continued, cupping her chin. “Blue eyes. Yeah, I can see the sun would be a problem. I bet you burn.”
“Yes,” she whispered, still amazed he could be so threatening one minute, and tender the next.
“I see it on your shoulders. Didn’t you put sunscreen on?”
“Uh, I, uh, I forgot.”
“Bad girl,” he said sternly, dropping his hand away. “You were telling me how you were able to get inside my club?”
He’d made her head spin, but his bizarre behavior had also helped to calm her nerves. Wondering if that’s why he’d been so erratic, she took in a long breath.
“So, uh, I found the back door in the alley where the kitchen staff takes out the trash, and just snuck in behind someone.”
“If you followed someone in, why didn’t they see you?”
“As soon as he walked inside, I raced up and put a piece of cardboard against the door frame so the door wouldn’t close all the way. I went in when the coast was clear.”
“Clever, but you’re a very bad girl, Steph.”
“I wish you’d stop saying that.”
“Sorry, that was just a thought. I didn’t mean it to come out.”
“Do you know what I do to bad girls?”
A chill pricked her skin.
“Answer the question!”
“I don’t just own a BDSM club for the money, though it’s pretty fuckin’ good.”
“Oh, my God,” she breathed, staring at him.
“Back to my questions. I don’t believe you’ve taken all the chances you have for a photograph. What else are you after?”
“Well, uh, I’m very curious about you and your life, but honestly, it was the picture more than anything. Except for some really blurry photos, no one’s been able to get a good shot of you in ages.”
“And why do you think that is, Steph?”
She cringed. “Because that’s the way you want it?” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
“Correct. And that’s the way it’s going to stay. Give me your camera.”
Nervously reaching into her pocket, she pulled it out and placed it in his waiting palm.
“Micro but mighty?” he muttered, raising his eyebrow. “I’ll bet this packs a punch.”
“It’s crazy expensive.”
“I’m sure it is. Keys to your car and apartment.”
Raising one wicked eyebrow, he leaned forward and scowled at her. “Keys. To. Your. Car. And. Apartment,” he repeated, taking a dramatic pause between each word.
Gulping, she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a single key on a chain hanging from a tiny toy Porsche. “The keys to my place are in the glove compartment,” she managed, handing it to him, “and my car is—”
“I know exactly where your car is,” he snapped. “I know where you live, I know where you go for coffee, and I know which grocery store you use.”
“Uh, can I ask what are you going to do?”
“A couple of my boys will be checking your place to make sure you don’t have anything you shouldn’t. Pictures for a start, then notes, journals, whatever. Do you, Steph?”
She took a breath.
“You hesitated. That means you do,” he declared. “Stay there.”
As he marched to a large roll-top desk and picked up a cell phone, she did a quick survey of her surroundings. Though the hunting lodge looked rustic from the outside, the lounge boasted expensive furniture, and the mantel surrounding the fireplace appeared to be hand-carved Italian marble.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, abruptly turning and striding across the room. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Wait for an opportunity, then seize it.
The instructor’s words from the self-defense class blasted through her head.
Jumping to her feet, she raced across to the front door and tried the handle. It wasn’t locked. Shocked and elated, she was about to dash outside when she had an inspiration. Frantically looking around, she spied the hall closet. Hastily opening the door, she ducked inside.
Surrounded by winter coats smelling of brandy and cigars, she moved slowly through the tiny space to the far wall and slid to the floor. Marco Moretti, and whoever else was in the house, would leave to hunt her down. When they did she’d call for help, and maybe even have a poke around.
Her phone vibrated.
Startled, she hurriedly pulled it from her back pocket and stared at the glowing screen to find a voicemail from an unknown caller. Curious, she lowered the volume, then tapped the icon and held the phone to her ear.
“You’re a very bad girl, Miss Grady. Come out now. It will be much worse for you if I have to come in there and get you.”
“No, no, no,” she whimpered, jerking the phone from her ear and staring at the screen.
The door opened.
Light flooded the dark closet.
“You’ve got three seconds, Steph.”
Though her heart was sinking, she clenched her fists, determined not to let him see her weak.
Swallowing back her dread, she slowly made her way through the hanging coats.
“I told you not to do anything stupid,” he scolded, his tall, wide frame directly in front of the door, blocking her path.
Before she could respond, he grabbed her arm, yanked it forward, and slapped a handcuff around one of her wrists. As she instinctively jerked backwards and threw her free arm behind her, he paused and shook his head.
“You’ve already tried my patience,” he growled. “Don’t push me any further.”
“Please don’t put cuffs on me,” she pleaded. “You’ve made your point. I won’t try to take off again, I promise.”
“Give me your other wrist. You’ve got three seconds, and believe me, it’s not a good idea to disobey my instructions.”
“Please, Mr. Moretti—”
“Okay, okay,” she said hastily, offering her opposite arm.
“You’re a smart girl,” he muttered, snatching the phone from her hand and cuffing her hands in front of her, “but you’re not as smart as you think. I gave you an opportunity to win a little trust, and you blew it.”
“Anyone would try to get away,” she exclaimed, daring to meet his eyes. “You can’t fault me for that.”
He stared back at her for a moment, then shaking his head, he gripped her upper arm and hustled her into the living room. “When you don’t do as you’re told, you get punished.”
“Be quiet. You’ll be staying here a while and you need to learn the rules. When you don’t do as you’re told, you get your ass spanked.”
You’ll be staying here a while…
Even as Marco Moretti sat down and yanked Steph over his lap, his words echoed through her head.
“Wait, what do you mean?” she wailed as she squirmed violently.
“Stop trying to wrestle me,” he retorted, landing a volley of hot smacks.
“But what do you mean—staying a while?”
“Exactly that,” he exclaimed, grabbing a fistful of her hair and placing his leg over the backs of hers. “You’re not going anywhere until I find out what you know.”
“I’ll tell you. Ow! Ow!”
“You bet your ass, you will,” he muttered, landing his flattened palm with a volley of quick, hard smacks.
Wishing she’d worn denim jeans instead of the thin cotton parachute pants, she squealed loudly as he tugged on her hair and walloped her backside. Unable to escape, and already out of breath from the struggle, she stopped furiously gyrating, but her howls of protest continued with every stinging smack.
“Keep it up,” he scoffed. “My boys will enjoy listening to you getting your tail tanned.”
“You think calling me names will help?” he demanded, whisking his palm across her sit spot.
“Ooh, ow. Why are you doing this?”
“You know why—and you talk too much. Shut the fuck up.”
Hating the thought of other men in the house hearing her cries, she buried her face in her hands and bit her lower lip. Her bottom was on fire, and his hard spanking hand was relentless. She was beginning to think he’d never stop when he suddenly jerked her head around.
“Do we understand each other now?”
“Do as you’re told. Got it?”
“Yes, I get it,” she sniffled, fighting an unexpected onset of tears.
“If I have to punish you again, you’ll be naked and I’ll use my belt. Are we clear?”
“Yes, we’re clear,” she whimpered, the threat of being stripped and whipped sending a ripple of fear through her body.
“Sit here and don’t move,” he ordered, manhandling her off his lap to the couch.
Shaking and scared, she sat back and wrapped her cuffed wrists around her knees, bringing them into her chest as she watched him stride across the room to the bar. With its curved, wood-paneled frontage, padded barstools and mirrored shelves, it could have been in an upmarket cocktail lounge. Splashing cognac into a glass, he reached beneath the counter, then marched back to her carrying his drink in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
“Here,” he said gruffly, handing it to her.
Placing his glass on the coffee table, he moved an easy chair directly in front of her, sat down and pulled her phone from his pocket.
“Max123,” she murmured, not looking at him.
“Who’s Max? Your boyfriend?”
“No, just a friend of my family. I’m not good at remembering passwords. I knew I wouldn’t forget that one, but there’s nothing in there about you.”
He didn’t respond.
She lifted her eyes.
He was studying her phone.
“This Max,” he murmured, abruptly looking up. “What does he know about me?”
“You? Nothing. Why would he know about you?”
“Obviously you talk a lot. There are texts here. What have you told him, and I want to know everything?”
“Uh, he knows I’ve been trying to get photographs of you.”
“And he knows I managed to get into the club, but I didn’t see you anywhere so it was a bust.”
“Did you take pictures?”
She paused, then nodded her head.
“Where are they?”
“I have a small office. There’s a desk in there. Everything I have about you is in the top drawer. There’s not much.”
“Does he know you were coming here today?”
She took a breath, then nodded.
“No, just Max.”
“I don’t see any texts telling him you arrived safely,” Marco remarked, looking back down at her phone.
“There was no signal where I parked.”
“I’m leaving for a minute,” he declared, rising to his feet. “Are you going to do anything stupid?”
“What happened to your manners?”
“No, Mr. Moretti.”
“Don’t forget again.”
As he left the room, with shaking fingers she unscrewed the cap of the water bottle and took a long drink. She’d wondered what would happen if he caught her when she was hiking through the forest. She’d never imagined being pulled over his lap and spanked. Her bottom burned with a hot, prickling heat, but closing her eyes, and recalling the visit to his BDSM club, she felt the wetness between her legs.
Being tied up, punished, and ravaged by a dominant man was fodder for bestselling books and hit movies. When she’d entered the club, in spite of her nervous thumping heart, she’d loved everything about it. Though men had eyed her as she’d walked through the dimly lit playroom, no one had approached her, and she’d almost wished one had. Finding a dark corner, she risked taking a few pictures with her tiny camera as she watched the scenes playing out, and the entire time she’d been wishing she was with a hunky dominant who was making her toes curl.
For days afterward she’d relived the sights and sounds, imagining herself as one of the naughty submissives being taken in hand by their master. Now she knew what it felt like to be yanked over a man’s knee. And not just any man. Marco Moretti.
And her knees were weak.
Marco Moretti had been aware of Steph Grady for weeks. She’d entered his favorite coffee shop just moments after he’d walked in and ordered a double shot espresso. He had a love of beautiful things, and she was gorgeous. Long auburn hair falling in layers to her shoulders, striking blue eyes framed with a light touch of mascara, and her black leather jacket was teasingly unzipped just enough to show an impressive cleavage.
Normally he would have taken the time to charm her, but his car had been waiting to whisk him off to an important meeting. Downing the shot and tossing the paper cup, he’d hurried outside and climbed into the back seat, but as he’d glanced out the heavily tinted window, he’d seen her hurry away from the counter empty-handed, and rush up to a motorcycle parked at the curb.
Looking through the back window as his car pulled away, he’d broken into a grin as she’d quickly donned her motorcycle helmet and followed. She’d tailed him all the way to his destination, then parked around the corner. An hour later when he’d left, he’d chuckled as he’d seen her emerge at the end of the block, then stay behind him all the way to his compound.
He’d found the episode intriguing.
Either the dazzling female hoped to meet him, or she was a cop or reporter.
He’d made a quick phone call.
His stalker became the stalked.
In five quick minutes, Marco had her name and address, and he knew she was what she claimed to be. A freelance photographer. She was also single, and lived in an apartment in an average neighborhood.
But that was it.
Her background was surprisingly thin.
A cautious man, Marco had her shadowed wherever she went, and learned a great deal of her time was spent following him. On the night he’d been alerted that she was lurking in the alley behind his BDSM club, he’d been enjoying himself in his private dungeon. Leaving his date tied to the bondage wheel, he’d hurried to his office and turned on the security cameras. Watching her slip through the back door and manage to find her way through the dimly lit hallways to the playroom, he’d smiled broadly. But she’d dared to reach into her pocket and pull out a tiny camera.
That had crossed a line.
Anger pulsing through his veins, he’d been ready to confront her, but the expression on her face caught his attention. She’d been fixated on a young woman in the stocks wearing nothing but a pair of thigh-high black boots. Her naked backside was being flogged by a leather-clad man wearing a mask. Was it possible the nosy young woman wanted to be the submissive getting her ass whipped?
Marco’s cock had stiffened.
A short time later, watching a girl dressed in a corset and collar being led by her master, he’d seen Steph’s eyes carrying the same hypnotic look. By the time she left the club, Marco wanted to make her his pet.
His sex doll.
He wanted to possess her.
As the days passed and she continued to tail him, sometimes on the motorbike and sometimes in a classic Porsche convertible, he’d concocted a plan to catch her. But not just because he longed to devour her inch by every enticing inch. He was involved in an important and dangerous deal. He couldn’t have her snooping around.
Luring her to his hunting lodge in the middle of nowhere had been easy.
Unable to risk driving up the narrow dirt road to reach it, she’d have to hike.
And she did.
Now she was trapped.
Sipping his cognac and watching her curled up on the couch, he relished the thought of baring her backside the next time he spanked her. Though he’d longed to yank her pants down when she was over his knee, delivering the threat had been immensely satisfying.
The image would be in her head every minute until it happened.
She’d imagine it.
Ache for it.
“How long will it take you to do something stupid so you can feel the sting of my belt?” he murmured, leaning closer to the monitor. “I think I’ll take you down to the basement and tie you over the spanking bench. You’ll be open and exposed. But I suppose I need to take care of this Max person before he starts to worry.”
Reaching into his pocket and retrieving her phone, he was about to send her friend a text when there was a knock on the door.
“It’s Benny,” a voice called.
A broad-shouldered, stocky man stepped in. He and his brother Joe were Marco’s right-hand men. Utterly devoted, they lived with him. Joe did the cooking and ran errands, while Benny was head of security and an IT specialist.
“Sorry to bother you, boss, but Joe just called. He’s reached the girl’s car and he’s not sure if he should drive it up here. Those big potholes still haven’t been filled in, and the car is low to the ground.”
“Can it be seen from the road?”
“Not at all. She actually found a pretty good spot, though it will probably be covered with bird shit and leaves pretty quick.”
“Tell him to come back and get one of those black tarps to cover it, and make sure he ties it down well. We get those freak storms up here. While he’s doing that, search it from top to bottom.”
“Hang on a second,” Marco said thoughtfully. “Did you just say Joe called you?”
“He has a signal there?”
“Sure,” Benny replied.
“When you’re searching her apartment, you’d better pick up some clothes. She’ll be here a while. Take one of the sports bags.”
“Sure thing,” Benny replied. “Anything else?”
“No, but if I think of something, I’ll call.”
“Okay, boss. See you in a bit,” Benny said, closing the door behind him as he left.
But Marco was no longer paying attention.
Steph’s comment was echoing through his head.
“There was no signal where I parked.”
Still sitting on the couch with her knees to her chest, Steph’s shoulders had begun to ache. Lifting her arms and swiveling around, she stretched out and closed her eyes, praying her risk would pay off. Her old, dear friend Max, a man who was like a second father to her, knew she’d been tailing Marco Moretti. He’d lectured her for doing something so dangerous, but he wasn’t aware of her plans that day. If he received a text saying she’d arrived safely, he’d have no idea what she was talking about and realize something was wrong. Cell phones were easy to track. Being sharp and resourceful with the skills and equipment to do it, Max would locate her and ride to the rescue.
A noise startled her.
Opening her eyes, she saw Marco ambling toward her. Square-shouldered and straight-backed, he carried himself with a seductive confidence. But the man was corrupt and ruthless, and once his mind was made up it couldn’t be changed.
He drew closer.
Her heart skipped.
He was the sexiest man she’d ever laid eyes on.
Like a rougher, tougher Henry Cavill.
But no one knew she was there.
Her movements in the lodge were being monitored.
There was no escape.
She was at his mercy.
As he leaned over her, she instinctively cringed, but to her surprise, he produced a key and removed the handcuffs.
“Would you like some coffee or something to eat?” he asked, straightening up and towering over her.
“Thank you, Mr. Moretti,” she replied meekly, thinking perhaps she could win him over by being compliant. “I would, very much.”
“Come with me.”
Taking her hand and helping her to her feet, he surprised her a second time with an incongruously warm smile.
“We’ll go into the kitchen.”
The man was a walking, talking paradox.
As they left the room, he led her down a surprisingly wide passage. Western-themed paintings graced the walls with artful depictions of gunslingers, saloons, desert landscapes, and covered wagons.
“I’m a big fan of the old west,” he declared. “Men were men back then, not like the snotty-nosed, pampered jerks walking around today. I have two nephews, twenty-three and twenty-five. They’re like spoiled teenagers, except when they’re around me,” he added, shooting her a look. “I’ve told my sister to send them to military school. She’s thinking about it. I hope she does.”
Confused by the banter and not sure how to respond, Steph simply nodded. Pausing at the door and pushing it open, he gestured for her to move ahead of him.
“Have a seat,” he said, jerking his head toward a kitchen island, “though the stools might be a bit hard on that red ass of yours.”
Heat crawling across her face, she wanted to snap at him, but managing to control herself, she gingerly sat down.
“How do you like your coffee?”
“With cream and sugar, please,” she replied, glancing around the kitchen as he took mugs from an overhead cabinet.
Boasting stainless steel appliances and glossy white cabinets, the room was slick, cool, and spotless. Turning her gaze back to him as he carried the steaming cups of coffee toward her, though his friendly demeanor was reassuring, she knew he had to have an agenda. Reminding herself to play the suffering victim, she dropped her eyes as he set the mugs down.
“You’ll find sugar in that container,” he declared, pointing to a small covered bowl. “I’ll get you a spoon.”
Opening a drawer and picking up a teaspoon, he handed it to her, then moved to the refrigerator, retrieved a small jug of cream, and placed it in front of her.
“You should eat something. How about a muffin?”
Becoming increasingly wary, she nodded her head, then watched him open a plastic tub on the counter.
“These come from a bakery in Manhattan,” he declared, placing a raisin muffin on a plate. “They’re made on the premises by an old lady who looks frail and weak, but she’s as strong as an ox. Believe me, I know. She’s my grandmother.”
“Thank you,” she murmured softly, lifting the muffin and taking a bite. “Delicious. This is very kind of you.”
“Not really,” he replied, picking up his mug and taking a drink. “Condemned prisoners are always given a last meal.”
Watching the color drain from her flushed face, Marco inwardly smiled.
“Uh, what do you mean, Mr. Moretti?” Her voice held a tremble.
“What do you think I mean?”
She stared back at him. “You, uh, you used the term ‘condemned.’”
“That usually means the prisoner is going to die,” she whispered, staring at him fearfully.
He didn’t believe her meek, frightened act for a moment, and almost broke into laughter.
“Usually, but not always,” he remarked casually, then leaned across the island. With his face only inches from hers, he murmured, “It could also mean the prisoner is condemned to suffer.”
Her forehead crinkled. For a moment he thought she was going to cry a few crocodile tears.
“Why are you torturing me? What did I do?”
“Don’t ask a question already answered,” he scolded. “I don’t take kindly to anyone, man or woman, who tries to take me for a fool. Finish your coffee and eat the muffin.”
“Hey!” he barked, slapping his hand on the granite and making her jump. “I said finish your coffee and eat the muffin. I’m tired of repeating myself. Do! As! I! Say!”
“Sorry, sorry,” she squeaked, hastily lifting the pastry to her lips.
“When I bare your backside, I’ll find it red and rough. Soon it will look like a ripe tomato. If you want me to take it further, keep up the bullshit.”
Stepping back, he watched her trembling fingers hold the muffin to her mouth and take a bite. She needed the sustenance. The long hike through the woods in the heat would have sapped her strength. The muffin wasn’t much, but it would tide her over for a little while.
Picking up his mug, he drank the rich brew and studied her. He had to admire her moxie, and he couldn’t fault her for trying to bolt. He would’ve done the same. But he still had to punish her. And he had another, more personal reason for wanting to take her down to his basement. One that sent the blood pumping through his cock.
“Good,” he declared, watching her finish the muffin and take the last swallow of her coffee. “Now, Steph, you’re going to tell me why I have to punish you again.”
“Don’t even think of fucking with me,” he said sharply.
Her shoulders slumped. “How did you figure it out?” she murmured, staring at her hands.
“I’m the one who asks the questions, and you’re the one who answers them. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Mr. Moretti.”
“Why do I have to punish you again?”
“I told you Max was expecting a text from me, but he wasn’t,” she admitted. “I lied.”
“I’m not hearing an apology.”
She paused. “You want the truth, so, uh, I’m sorry you caught me, but how can I be sorry for trying to get out of here?”
Pursing his lips to stop himself from smiling, he crossed his arms and shook his head. “Trying to get out of here, as you put it, only upset me, and that’s never a good idea, but I do understand.”
“You do? Does that mean—?”
“It means I understand,” he said, lowering his voice. “Nothing more, nothing less. You tried to pull a fast one. I made it very clear what would happen if you screwed up, and I’m a man of my word. Go to that door by the window.”
Nervously slipping off the stool, Steph moved across the kitchen, stopped, and looked back at him. Marco was staring at his phone, but slipping it back into his pocket, he walked across to join her.
“I’m impressed,” he declared. “You didn’t take it upon yourself to open it.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” she whispered. “Believe it or not, I’m a quick learner.”
“Oh, I believe it,” he muttered, reaching past her to slip a key in the lock and turn the handle. “Go down the stairs.”
Her stomach churned, but stepping onto the landing, she started down the steps. Though it appeared to be a regular basement with boxes stacked on work benches, as she reached the bottom she noticed the room extended off to the right. Preparing herself, she continued nervously around the corner. Just as she’d expected, in the center of a small alcove sat a padded bench with a raised hump in the middle, identical to the one she’d seen at his club.
“Take off your shoes, socks, and those parachute pants, and Steph, don’t make me repeat the instruction.”
Butterflies fluttering in her stomach and fresh heat crossing her face, she unlaced her trainers, pulled off her socks, then slid her pants down her legs and placed them on the nearest counter. She expected an order to remove her panties, but to her surprise and relief he pointed to the bench.
“Get in position.”
Images of her night at the BDSM venue flashed through her head.
She’d desperately wanted to be one of the submissives.
Now it was happening.
Be careful what you wish for, she thought as she climbed on and laid over the hump.
The girl at the club had her knees on either side of the bench resting on padded extensions. As he placed a wide strap across the back of her thighs, she realized the decadent piece of furniture offered alternatives.
“Arms forward and hold on to the bar.”
Reaching out, she closed her fingers around the cold steel pole. A moment later he appeared in front of her holding the handcuffs and slapped them around both wrists, but with the bar between them. She could move her arms side to side, but not up or down. She thought that would be the extent of her restraint, but placing his hand on her back, he pushed down her torso.
“I’m going to cinch your waist to keep you from squirming too much,” he murmured, dropping his lips against her ear.
His intimate closeness and warm breath sent an unexpected thrill through her body. He lingered, as though he too was cherishing the moment. Finally straightening up, he laid a wide band over the small of her back, then tightened it in place.
“Such a great ass,” he remarked, fondling her cheeks. “I’ll be a minute. Don’t go anywhere.”
A sassy retort was on the tip of her tongue, but she managed to hold it back. In spite of her fear, she closed her eyes and sank into the scary, but intoxicating moment.
Behind her, sitting in a rolling desk chair, Marco roamed his eyes over the salacious sight. Steph had a hot body, but he suspected she also had a quick temper, and there was no doubt in his mind she’d be sexy as hell in bed, yet there was more to her. She had a sharp brain, and she had courage. Both were a blessing and a curse.
His current circumstances swirled with danger.
He couldn’t have her snooping around.
She’d have to stay until the situation was wrapped up.
But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
A wicked grin curled his lips.
Staying seated and rolling the chair across the smooth concrete floor, he stopped in front of her. For a moment he thought she’d drifted off, but her eyes suddenly popped open.
“I meant what I said before,” he began. “You’ll be here a while, and you’re going to help me make sure no one’s worried about you. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Mr. Moretti.”
“From now on you’ll call me Sir. Try it on for size.”
He nodded his approval, then lowered his head closer to hers. “I bet you run rings around the men in your life.”
“Men don’t know what to do with you, do they, Steph? The truth.”
“I, uh, I haven’t met anyone special yet, if that’s what you mean.”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said with a sigh.
“The problem is simple. You haven’t met anyone who knows who you are. That just changed.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Your fantasies are about to become reality,” he said softly. “Those decadent images that float through your mind when your fingers are against your pussy are about to be realized.”
“How could you possibly know what’s in my head?”
“I watched you when you were in my club. You were salivating. I know who you are, Steph,” he said huskily, pulling back and tracing her lips with his forefinger. “While you’re here you’ll be my toy, and playtime starts now.”