Liam spotted her the minute she set foot inside the club. He sat in his glass-walled, glass-floored office just above Club Exhale’s spacious open stage area. Security cameras lined the walls to keep patrons safe and staff honest, and tonight, like most nights, he sat watching.
It was quarter to midnight and things were in full swing when she walked in. She was gorgeous, 5′5″ he’d say from his vantage point. She had long dark hair that fell halfway down her back and, from what he could see, great legs. That usually meant an incredible ass followed and if there was any part of a woman’s body that could drive Liam to his knees, it was a great ass.
He held his breath as he followed her slow progress into the crowded club. She wore a tight-fitting, black leather corset that laced up the back and a skirt that came to mid-thigh, stockings, and high-heeled black boots. Although the outfit was hot and fit within the more conservative norm for Exhale’s patrons, Liam knew it wasn’t her usual style. It just didn’t fit her.
She had a small frame, her arms and legs tight with lean muscle. Her breasts were small too, as usually went with her body type. Unless they’d been altered and hers definitely were not. Real breasts were fast becoming a rare commodity and Liam missed them.
A moment later he angled the camera just so and was treated to a full view of her luscious backside. The smallness of her waist accentuated the roundness of her hips that swayed with each step. Just then she stumbled over something and concern crossed his face. Instinctively, he almost stood to catch her, realizing of course that he was behind the camera in his office and on the second floor. Nowhere near the beauty that had just wandered into his club. His teeth clenched and his jaw worked when he saw another hand catch her. He poised the camera to show her face and when his eyes found hers, he caught his breath, his entire body tensing.
He would know those pale, honey brown eyes anywhere.
What the hell was she doing here, in his club?
And who was the man who caught her when she had stumbled?
Liam got to his feet. The elevator doors opened without delay and he rode to the main floor. Music assaulted his ears as soon as he stepped out and women turned to him, as they usually did when he set foot here. But tonight he was only interested in one woman. And there she was, just at the other end of the room still talking to the man who now had his hand possessively at the small of her back.
He clenched his teeth, and fisted his hands. Years of old anger, raw like it had been just yesterday, gnawed at him.
Just then she turned her face in his direction. Although he was too far to be sure, he thought her eyes widened just a bit and it took all he had to just keep walking.
As if sensing his predatory approach, the man she was with turned to face him as Liam approached the pair.
* * *
“Mr. Roark,” the man said, keeping one hand on her as he extended the other. Naia watched Professor Roark close in on them, all six foot four terrifying inches of him. Actually, she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off him since she’d first seen him just a moment ago. He still had the same intense gaze that had drawn her to him ten years ago. Older now, his body seemed more muscular, bigger and much more intimidating than when he had been her English Lit professor her first year at university. Her heart pounded in her ears. Although the men exchanged the briefest of words, his eyes didn’t once leave hers. The man she was talking to finally dropped his hand from her back and excused himself. She didn’t even turn to say goodbye or thank him for not letting her fall and make an ass of herself. She only stared at Professor Roark.
“If it isn’t Naia Rhoads,” he said. “You’re the last person I expected to walk into my club. What the hell are you doing here?”
Struck by his fierce un-welcome, she was momentarily unable to speak. She cleared her throat, trying to muster up the courage to meet his scorching green eyes.
“It’s White now. Naia White,” she corrected, wondering why on earth she would say that.
“Married the idiot, did you?”
“And divorced him.”
“Now that’s surprising.”
They remained staring at each other for long, awkward minutes until a waitress with a full tray almost knocked into him. He must have seen it just in time because he moved forward just a little into Naia’s space and she had to lean back. He just took up too much room. He had back at school too, but now, it was even more obvious.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Roark,” the waitress began, but he cut her off.
“No harm done, Kate.” He never took his eyes off Naia.
“Professor, I…” Naia began.
“It’s not professor any more, Ms. White. You took care of that, didn’t you?”
Naia exhaled, casting her gaze to the floor.
“Why are you here, Ms. White?” he asked.
“Can you just call me Naia? Please?”
He didn’t respond.
“Look, I…” She looked around at the crowded floor of the popular BDSM club in Denver. She was in the city training for the new position she would take in a few months’ time and clearly, she was way out of her element. “Can we go somewhere more private to talk?”
“I can’t imagine what we’d have to say to one another.”
“This isn’t easy for me, pro… Mr. Roark.” She didn’t know what she should call him. “Please.”
He considered for a tense minute. “We’ll have a drink. I know I could use one,” he said, gesturing for her to go ahead of him. Naia shivered when he put his hand to her low back to guide her through to the restaurant. She turned and saw his faint smile over her shoulder and flushed. He’d noticed.
Every table at the restaurant was taken, but he weaved through the crowded space to a reserved private booth at the back. He waited for her to situate herself before slipping in to sit next to her, leaving enough space between them that they weren’t touching. Which was probably a good thing, she thought. He had the same effect on her now, ten years later, as he had when she was a first-year student at university sitting in the front row of his classroom.
She flushed at the memory, feeling his gaze on her. He looked suddenly amused, like he knew what she was thinking. It was better than angry though, anything was better than angry with him.
“Good evening, Mr. Roark. What can I get for you tonight?”
Thank goodness for the waitress, Naia thought.
“What would you like, Ms. White?” he asked.
“Vodka tonic, please,” she said, trying to at least smile at the waitress.
“I’ll have the same.”
Naia took the time to observe him while he ordered. He’d definitely been working out, his black suit barely contained his powerful chest and arms. Dark hair was pulled back into a long ponytail accentuating bronze skin with the dark shadow of stubble over the square jaw. She noticed the slightest dusting of gray there. Beneath the heavy eyebrows, the pale shade of his eyes softened his features just a little. They shimmered silver-green and she remembered how they could look so softly at her. But that was once upon a time. There was no kindness in them tonight.
It was at this precise moment that he returned his attention to her. Her skin flushed red. Her stomach housed a thousand butterflies and she swallowed hard, keeping a tight grip on the purse in her lap. This was a mistake. She should never have sought him out, she should never have come to the club. But when she’d found him, seen that this was his club, that he was thriving in Denver’s BDSM scene, she couldn’t resist. No way. For the last ten years, even through her brief marriage, Liam Roark had been solidly in the back of her mind. Not to mention playing a very prominent role in her fantasies.
They didn’t speak until the waitress set their drinks down in front of them and left. He picked his up and sipped while she gulped hers. She had come here to apologize and go. That was all. But being here now, with him so close, she knew that her feelings hadn’t changed in the last ten years. If anything, they’d only grown more intense.
“What is it that you want to talk about, Ms. White?” he asked, smiling a smile that wasn’t one at all.
“Look, I came to say I’m sorry. What I did back then, it was stupid. I was selfish and young and naïve…”
He chuckled, interrupting her. “I would never have called you naïve,” he said while the grin played on his lips.
She glared at him and stubborn pride asserted itself. “You know what? Forget it. This was a mistake.” She scooted toward the other end of the booth where she could make her escape. He was still angry. This was too much. He was still too much for her.
His hand closed around her thigh, just above her knee, holding her in place.
“Ow!” She winced when it dug into the tender flesh of her leg. “Take your hand off of me.” She wouldn’t be going anywhere, much less moving an inch, unless he allowed her to.
“You will sit and you will finish your drink,” he said, his voice a dark whisper. That smile was back but it still didn’t touch his eyes.
With trembling hands, she picked up her glass, their eyes still glued to one another’s as she swallowed the remainder of her drink.
“Good girl. I’ll get you another while you carry on with your apology.”
“I’m through apologi…” His hand tightened like a vise around her thigh once again.
“You’re through when I say you’re through. You’re in my club, Ms. White. My rules this time. And you should know that I don’t have a whole lot of patience for spoiled little girls anymore, so grow up fast.”
The waitress brought two more drinks and left very quickly. Perceptive, thought Naia.
“Your accusation ten years ago cost me not only my job but my reputation as well. I couldn’t teach after that. Did you have any idea what you were doing to my life? Did you even consider it for a second?” His grip tightened even more.
“You’re hurting me, professor,” she whispered, tears filling her eyes, goose bumps covering her body from head to toe. He was pure power, a force to be reckoned with, and her body reacted.
He eased his grip, then let her go altogether. Picking up his vodka tonic, he drank it down.
“I came to tell you I was sorry. It was all my fault, you did nothing wrong. I lied to everyone about you and I don’t know what I can do about it now but I want to make amends, make it up to you somehow. If I can.”
This brought a real smile to his lips, one that drained the color from Naia’s face.
“Do I make you nervous, Ms. White?” he asked.
She shook her head, her eyes huge with anxiety.
“I should go. I’ve said what I came to say and you clearly don’t care,” she said.
His hand once again closed over her thigh.
“You want to make amends? Why? Wait, let me guess, you’ve found Jesus?” he asked, playing with her. This time he didn’t ease up the pressure on her leg even when she made a small, pained noise. “Why, Ms. White?”
Because I can’t get you out of my mind, her brain screamed. But her answer to him was a little different. “I feel… guilty, I suppose.”
“So you want to ease your conscience.” It was a statement, not a question, and she could see that he was thinking.
“All right,” he began. “Perhaps your guilt’s been left unpunished for too long. Has it festered? Making you uncomfortable? How far are you willing to go to ease it, Ms. White?”
She waited, knowing from the look in his eyes that he had a plan, wondering herself how far she was willing to go.
“What if I suggested we start where you claimed I left off ten years ago,” he said.
She flushed, knowing what he was alluding to. She’d known he would, hadn’t she? Wasn’t this what she wanted in fact? “What do you mean?” she asked, pretending she did not understand.
“Oh, you’re a smart girl. I think you have some idea. But I’ll spell it out for you,” he paused, smiling once again before he continued. “You told the board that I spanked you, isn’t that right?”
Shame brought color back to her cheeks. “In my defense, you did threaten…”
“You knew it wasn’t serious,” he cut her off, no flirtation in his tone.
“I…” she began, but she knew that he was right.
“You knew.” If looks could kill…
“Yes, I knew,” she said.
“A terribly painful, humiliating spanking, isn’t that what you said? How many times did my hand come down on your tender, bare little bottom? I don’t recall. Can you refresh my memory?”
Her voice was no more than a squeak when she said it. “Sixty times, professor.” She knew she was digging her grave, but she didn’t know how deep just yet.
“Yes, sixty. After I forced you to bend over my desk, lift your skirt, and take your panties down, correct?”
Oh, god… “Yes, sir.”
“OK, you want to make amends. To atone for your sins.”
She nodded even though it wasn’t a question.
“Take that long overdue spanking, Ms. White, and you’ll have my forgiveness.”
“You won’t be negotiating your way out of this one, I’m afraid,” he cut her off. “If you are genuine in your desire to make it up to me, this is what I require.”
She swallowed. The thought of Professor Roark spanking her thrilled her even as it terrified her like nothing else.
“No less. Don’t waste my time, Ms. White. For how long are you in town?”
“Today is Sunday. I’ll give you until Friday to decide. Where are you staying?”
“At the Marriott in Cherry Creek.”
“Six hundred and four.”
“Go back to your hotel and think. Think hard. I’ll be there at nine p.m. on Friday. If you decide this isn’t what you want after all, leave word at the front desk and it will be like we never had this conversation. I will forget all about it and you won’t ever try to contact me again. However, if you decide you’d like to follow through, be ready for me. Fair enough?”
She considered, knowing this was the only road, unless she chose to turn her back on Liam Roark for good. Squaring her shoulders, she mustered up all the courage she could gather. At least he didn’t expect her to give her answer on the spot.
He didn’t say anything, but glared at her as she tried hard not to squirm in her seat. He then slowly moved out of the booth and extended his arm for her to go ahead.
She scooted out, trying not to touch her body to his, which was impossible. When her back was directly to his front, he grabbed and held her to him. She felt his arousal through the leather of her skirt as it pressed against her low back. He was doing it on purpose; she knew it. He wanted her to feel how turned on he was by the prospect of spanking her.
Well, she felt it.
But he wasn’t ready to let her go just yet. One hand picked up her hair and set it over her right shoulder, exposing her neck, her ear. His lips came to a millimeter from her throat, breathing her in, his breath hot, making every hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
“Ms. White,” he finally whispered against her ear.
The way he said her name made her shudder. A small sound escaped her when the stubble on his chin brushed against her flesh and his lips found her neck. His tongue touched her rapidly beating pulse and traced a slow, torturous line along her throat, where he hovered for one moment before closing his lips and sucking. She shut her eyes, her body coming alive under his hot, wet mouth. She was at his mercy.
“Do you remember the words you said to me that day?” he whispered, licking her ear now.
How could she forget them? She nodded.
The sound of her heart beating like a drum rang in her ears.
“Say them,” he repeated.
Her entire body shuddered once and he made a sound from behind her.
“I’m yours to punish or pleasure as you see fit, professor.” She repeated the exact words she’d used ten years ago, the memory still fresh, as if it had been just yesterday.
“Knowing that, be very certain about your decision. You cost me my career and I will extract great pleasure from administering your punishment. Ten years is a long time to wait.”
His whisper was a threat and it sent shivers through her body.
“Think hard, Ms. White.”
He let her go. The removal of his body from hers left her cold and breathless. Naia grabbed the edge of the table to keep from stumbling forward. It took all she had not to run out of the club and into a waiting taxi. Once inside the yellow cab, she slammed the door shut and blurted out the name of her hotel.
What the hell was she thinking?