by Eve Berlin
eBook ISBN: 978-1-10144-111-4
Print ISBN: 978-0-42523-687-1
Alec, a sexual dominant, is everything Dylan fears: a man who lives for thrills, someone she can’t control. Alec shows her that by letting go and submitting to his every desire she can experience the ultimate pleasure. But can they both take the ultimate risk and surrender their hearts?
Dylan Ivory knew the moment she saw the hulking figure pull into the parking lot in front of the Asian Art Museum on a classic Ducati, the motorcycle in flawless black and chrome, that it was him. Alec Walker, the man she was there to interview. A man famous for his talents and knowledge as a sexual dominant in the Seattle BDSM scene.
It wasn’t the black leather jacket that gave him away. It wasn’t his massive size. It was an attitude of fearlessness and utter confidence as he brought the bike to a stop, revving the engine once before shutting it off. The way he swung his leg over the gleaming tank and pulled his helmet off like a cowboy dismounting a stallion. It was an aura of pure power she could feel even from several yards away, like a soft blow to her body.
Alec Walker without his helmet was even better. Dark hair—nearly black—that curled just a little and brushed the collar of his jacket. A strong profile that could have been carved from marble.
Dylan stood next to her car, door still open, keys forgotten in her hand. Why was her heart racing? But she couldn’t tear her gaze away from the graceful movements of his large hands as he pulled his leather gloves off and buckled his helmet to the motorcycle’s seat.
She was still watching when he lifted his gaze and found hers. Piercing, brilliant blue eyes that knew her. And knew she’d been watching him. For the first time in her adult life, Dylan felt completely flustered.
If only her pulse would calm down, damn it!
This is a professional meeting.
Yes, but that didn’t seem to inhibit her response to this man one bit. She would have to pull herself together before she talked to him. She was here to learn from him. To do research. But Jennifer, the submissive woman she’d connected with via the Internet who she’d met with the week before, had told her she should talk with Alec Walker; she hadn’t warned her how overwhelmingly gorgeous he was.
Alec Walker was a man who should come with a warning.
He smiled, a stunning flash of brilliant white teeth, his mouth a lush slash in an otherwise completely masculine face, surrounded by a trim black goatee that made him look a little evil. She liked it, that evil look. Heat spread out from her belly like liquid fire.
He was moving toward her now. Her knees shook.
Closer and closer, until he was standing on the other side of her white Audi sedan.
“I have a feeling you’re the woman I’m here to meet.”
Deep voice, rich and surprisingly soft. Sexy.
She could only nod her head.
His lips quirked at the continued silence. “Dylan Ivory? Erotica author?”
“Yes . . .”
What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she put a sensible sentence together?
“I’m Alec. Shall we go inside?”
“What? Yes, of course.”
She shut her car door, clicked the lock button. And tried to ignore the heat creeping all over her skin. Suddenly her wool coat felt too heavy, even in the usual Seattle autumn damp. She was far too aware of the man walking beside her as they approached the imposing Art Deco entrance of the museum, flanked by its pair of stone camels. She’d always loved this building, as well as the exhibits. When Alec had suggested they meet at the café inside, she was pleasantly surprised. She had a fondness for art, and for Asian art in particular, and she’d been to this museum a number of times.
They mounted the wide stone stairs and Alec put a gentlemanly hand at the small of her back. A shiver went through her. She glanced at him, found him smiling at her. But they were both quiet as they moved through the entrance, their footsteps echoing on the marble floors, then up the small flight of stairs leading to Taste Café, which was in the center courtyard of the museum.
They moved through the café, and Alec gestured to one of the small tables beneath the vaulted atrium ceiling. Surrounding the courtyard were statues: Buddha, Vishnu, Kali. Dylan swore she could smell the ancient stone beneath the scents of coffee and tea in the still air. Diffused light filtered in through the frosted glass of the atrium windows, accented by amber wall sconces giving off a subtle golden glow. It was a peaceful place, where Dylan had often come to have a quiet cup of tea, but today she was all nerves inside.
Why was she so worked up? He was just a man. Just another interview.
He helped her off with her coat, held her chair for her. Nice, old-world manners. All too rare in this cosmopolitan city.
He took his leather jacket off and laid it across the back of his chair, sat down, his pose relaxed, assured. He wore a charcoal gray sweater that outlined his broad shoulders. The man really was massive, built like a pro football player. His features were pure male, from his square jaw to his chiseled chin and cheekbones. Only his mouth was soft, and such a contrast to the rest of his face. Sexy as hell.
Dylan shifted in her seat, grabbed the menu from the table and perused the tea selection.
“What are you having?” Alec asked.
“I usually like the jasmine and green tea blend.”
Alec signaled the waiter and before she could say anything more ordered for them both.
“I hope you like biscotti,” he said, smiling at her. “They’re almost as good here as they are in Rome. There’s this little café there, in particular, right by the Spanish Steps. You wouldn’t expect anything spectacular in a tourist area. But that place makes the best biscotti in Italy.”
“I haven’t been to Rome in years. But I do remember the biscotti there.”
“I was there last year, on my way home from a backpacking trip in Spain.”
“Do you travel often?”
“As often as I can. I don’t like to stay in one place for too long, although my writing deadlines keep me home a lot these days. It makes me restless. There’s so much to do in the world.”
Dylan leaned in, her fingertips sliding over the spoon resting on the paper napkin on the small table. “Like what?”
God, was she flirting with him?
“Everything.” He grinned. “Anything. I’ve been rock climbing in Brazil, shark diving off the coast of Fiji. Backpacking in Nepal.”
“So, you’re a thrill junkie.”
“Yes, I suppose I am. I don’t mean to be a braggart, though. These are simply the things I love. Challenging the odds.” He shrugged, one corner of his mouth quirking into a small grin. “Going fast. I love my motorcycles. Love to ride fast, see how hard I can take a turn.”
She shivered. “I could never get on a motorcycle. Not in a million years.”
“You might like it.”
“No. I don’t think so.” She sipped her tea. “So . . . your travels are about finding thrills?”
“To some extent. But a lot of these trips have been spiritual journeys for me, as well.”
“And you write horror fiction, Jennifer told me. She mentioned the fact that you’re a writer as well as a… dominant… might be helpful in the research I’m doing for my book.”
He nodded. “Yes, I think so, too. You seem a bit uncomfortable with the term ‘dominant.’”
“Do I? Perhaps I am. I may be an erotica author, but this is still not the sort of conversation I’m used to having.”
The waiter delivered their tea, and Dylan took great care in pouring from the small, beautifully glazed Japanese pot into her cup, avoiding his blue gaze. Jasmine-scented steam immediately rose around her, accented by the earthier touch of green tea. The fragrance was familiar, grounding.
Alec pushed one of the biscotti into her hand. “Here. You must have one.”
It was a command, not a suggestion. She surprised herself by taking it.
“I actually write psychological thrillers,” Alec went on. “Perhaps you’ve read some of my work?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Perhaps you should.”
Dylan was getting annoyed. The line between confidence and cockiness was getting blurred. “Perhaps you should read something of mine.”
“I have. As soon as Jennifer told me about you I picked up your last book.”
“And?” she challenged him.
“And I think you’re very good. Intelligent. Thoughtful. Excellent character development. The romantic aspects don’t overshadow the story, as it does with so many other writers. And you know how to write sex in a very real way. There’s a rawness to it I admire.”
“Oh.” Not what she’d expected him to say. She was momentarily flustered. Again. “Thank you.”
“So, tell me about this latest project, why you needed to talk to me.”
Those blue, blue eyes on her. It struck her suddenly how very like Quinn’s eyes they were, although Quinn’s had been innocent in a way she thought Alec’s maybe never had been, even when he was young. But they were that same shade of turquoise that made her think of the Caribbean.
There was sincerity in his eyes, despite his cockiness. She had to glance away, to where his fingers caressed his teacup. It looked so tiny in his hand. Fragile. As though he could break it with the barest squeeze. And those fingers gliding gently over the smooth surface…
She forced herself to look away from his hands, back at his face.
“I’m writing about a couple exploring BDSM. The power exchange, some bondage, which I’ve written about before. But this time I’d like to delve deeper into it. Possibly explore the pain play. And I want it to have some authenticity. I don’t want to do it otherwise. I knew I’d have to do some very thorough research, talk to people who have experienced these things. I found Jennifer on a local BDSM community website recently, e-mailed her and asked if we could talk. I interviewed her, and she was very nice, very open with me. But as a submissive she didn’t feel she was qualified to give me the whole picture. That’s why she referred me to you.”
He nodded. “It’s difficult to get a good idea of what the BDSM scene is about, what the dynamic and the psychology is about, from talking to one person. Everyone’s experiences are varied and personal. And if she’s purely submissive she wouldn’t have too much insight into the way a dominant’s mind works, our process.”
“Yes, that’s the idea she gave me. And it makes sense.”
“You’ve never written BDSM before?”
“No. I’ve written about some minor fetishes, a little bedroom play bondage, but not anything really serious.”
“You feel BDSM is serious?”
He didn’t answer. “You’ve never experienced these things for yourself?”
“Ah, you’d like to keep this discussion professional. Purely for research purposes.”
“Yes. Of course.”
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, moved a little closer, until she could smell the scent of his cologne, something clean and dark at the same time. Like the ocean and the woods.
He lowered his voice, making the conversation seem more intimate, suddenly. Maybe more intimate than she was entirely comfortable with. “I’m going to tell you something, Dylan, and this is simply the truth. There is no way you can portray the lifestyle in any accurate manner by dipping your toes in. You have to experience it, really dive in. There are too many components—physical, psychological, emotional—all overlapping. It’s complex, which is what those of us who practice these things love about it. The complexity. The intensity.” He reached for her hand, grazed his fingertips over the back of it. His skin was hot. Hers went hotter. “It’s about sensation. And what goes on in your head. It can be sensual, or it can be sexual. Or both. You cannot begin to describe the dynamics involved without having been there.”
Her throat went dry. The idea wasn’t shocking to her. Not nearly as much as his touch was. She picked up her cup, sipped her tea, cleared her throat. “I suppose you’re right. And this is an interesting subject. But, I don’t know…”
“Don’t pretend it’s nothing more than an interesting subject to you, Dylan.” He slid his fingertips down the inside of her wrist, beneath the sleeve of her cashmere sweater. “I can feel your pulse racing.”
“Come on, Dylan. You don’t need to do this with me. That’s part of what BDSM is all about. That basic honesty about who we are.”
“I was going to say that . . . you’re right.”
Had she really admitted that to him? But maybe he was right about it all—that she had to be honest with him in order to learn anything. Would have to dive in, as he’d said.
It had nothing to do with her ridiculous attraction to him. Did it?
She pulled her hand away, tucked it safely in her lap. “You and Jennifer must know some submissive men. Are there any you trust, that you can refer me to? And would they consider playing with a woman who has no experience as a dominant?”
Alec laughed, sitting back in his chair. “You’re talking about topping, dominating these men?”
“Ah, Dylan. Don’t you realize you’re a bottom?”
“I saw it the moment I met you. I could sense it out there in the parking lot, even before we spoke.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Why were her cheeks heating up? Why was she thrown so off balance? She hated that he had such an effect on her.
“I think you understand enough about this subject to know exactly what I mean.”
She blew out a breath. “Of course I have some idea of what a bottom is. A submissive. But that’s not me. Being a top, a dominant, simply makes sense for me. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m someone with control issues.”
“Which is exactly why you need to bottom. You need to let go. You need the safety in handing the control over to someone else in order to do that.”
She was getting angry now, but trying to keep her temper in check. “You’re very arrogant.”
“Yes, I am. I’m also right. I am always right about this. You do have control issues; I can see it in the way you hold yourself. I can see it in the anger in your eyes. In the tight set of your jaw. And you could probably manage to successfully ‘switch’ now and then, top a man. Or a woman. But it wouldn’t reach inside you as deeply as bottoming would. It wouldn’t give you what you truly need.”
She shook her head, her teeth clenched.
He leaned forward again, reaching across the table and taking her hand in his once more. It was large, enveloping hers in heat and strength.
“Dylan, let me make a proposal to you. Bottom for me.”
She tried to yank her hand from his, but he held on tight.
His gaze was hard on hers, his eyes that impossibly compelling, brilliant blue. “Try it,” he went on. “See how you respond. If it turns out I was right, you’ll have learned something about yourself and you’ll have some very personal and unique research for your book. And if I’m wrong, well, you’ll still have done your research.”
“I can do that research as a top.”
“No, you can’t. It’s extremely difficult for a bottom to teach an inexperienced top. Once the endorphins begin to pump through a bottom’s body, once they’re down in subspace, that head space where everything goes quiet and all they can feel and see is that interaction between top and bottom, the sensations and scents, they aren’t present enough to act as teachers for you. You can’t possibly learn as much that way. But you can learn from me. I’m very good at what I do.” He waved his free hand. “I know, I’m being arrogant again. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is the truth.”
Maybe it was true that this was the best possible way for her to learn. Maybe it had nothing to do with the fact that Alec sitting so close to her, holding onto her hand still, was making her hot all over. Was making her wet, for God’s sake. But this was nothing more than intense chemistry. It didn’t mean anything, didn’t lend any credence to his argument. She was sure she could prove to him just how wrong he was.
She bit her lip.
He was definitely wrong about her.
“How long would we try this for?” she asked.
He shrugged. “For as long as it takes. For as long as you need to discover what you should know. For your book. For yourself.”
“So we would sort of play it by ear? See how things go?”
“Oh, I know how things will go.”
“Really? And how is that?”
She was angry again. And he was still holding onto her hand. His thumb caressed her knuckles, sending a spark of lust deep into her system. But she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of trying to pull away again.
“You’ll fight it at first. I’ll have to really work with you. Gain your trust.” His voice was low, a gravelly murmur. She had to lean closer to hear him. “But bit by bit, you’ll turn yourself over to me. Into my hands. I’ll be hard on you. And gentle.”
He lifted her hand and brushed his lips across it, the heat scalding her, shocking her. She couldn’t say a word. Her mind was in a small state of chaos.
Alec laid her hand down on the cool tabletop, his gaze locking with hers. “That’s how it will go, Dylan.”
She hated that she felt dizzy, confused. She didn’t understand it. And she refused to give in to it. Or to Alec Walker.
She picked up her teacup and sipped, swallowed. Drawing in a deep breath, she forced herself to calm, and put the cup down on the table with a steady hand.
“You can think whatever you like, Alec. But you obviously don’t know me yet.”
He picked up his own cup, took a long swallow, taking his time. His piercing gaze never left hers. “Not as well as I will, certainly. If you agree to my proposal, that is.”
“Oh, I’m agreeing.”
“You like a challenge.”
“So do I.”
That steady blue gaze bore into hers, but she wouldn’t look away, wouldn’t back down. He was right about one thing: She’d fight it. Because it wasn’t in her nature to give in. Not even to Alec Walker and his amazing eyes. His warm hands, his soft, lush mouth…
She had to keep things under control, as she always did. And ignore the way he looked. The way he spoke. The way he touched her.
He was going to really touch her soon.
She silently commanded herself to be calm once more, took a long, quiet breath. Control was the key here, and she was nothing if not the queen of control. Her life had dictated that she be exactly that, ever since she was a child. She’d had to be, with her mess of a mother. Someone had had to be, and she was the oldest. She’d had to take care of Quinn.
You did a lousy job of it.
Why was she thinking about all of that now? She pushed her past to the back of her mind, where it belonged. And focused on the man sitting across from her, watching her so carefully.
Yes, she could handle Alec Walker, whether he thought so or not.
“I have a proposition of my own.”
“Oh?” One dark brow raised.
“If it turns out you can’t break me, as you seem to think you can—”
“Oh, I will. Although I prefer to think of it as taming.”
“So you keep saying. But if it doesn’t work, you’ll let me play you. Top you.”
He surprised her by grinning. “Fair enough.”
An image flashed in her mind, of Alec naked, on his knees. But even in that brief fantasy, he didn’t appear to be submitting. No, he was strong, defiant, as confident as ever. She didn’t think he could appear to her any other way. There was nothing soft or easy about this man.
Except for that mouth…
“We have a deal, then?”
He nodded once. “Absolutely. We have a deal.”
He took her hand once more, his large fingers curling over hers. And before she knew what was happening, he was pulling her into him, leaning across the small café table, whispering against her mouth, “The best deals are sealed with a kiss.”
His mouth was so close to hers, that lush, delectable mouth. Her body went weak, and she found herself leaning into him, pulling in his sweet, tea-scented breath. Waiting for his kiss.
He backed away, sank back into his chair.
“But we’ll have to wait until you’re ready for me, Dylan. Until you’re begging for it.”
Jesus. She was nearly ready to beg for it now!
She shook her head. She wanted to press her cool hands to her heated skin. To push the dark red ringlet of hair that had fallen into her face from her cheek. But she refused to let him see how unsettled she was. How full of need. Need that made her ache. For him.
She needed to get out of there, needed to get outside, into the cool, damp air. Needed to breathe.
“I have to go,” she lied. “I have another appointment.”
“Of course. I’ll walk you out.” He stood.
“There’s no need.”
He bowed his head to her, all old-world manners once more. “If you insist.”
She stood, gathered her coat, her purse. “I . . . we didn’t really begin the interview.”
“I think we did.”
“Oh. Well, yes. I suppose we’ll talk more when . . . after . . .”
“Yes, we will. Although I believe if you experience these things, you won’t find a formal interview necessary. I’ll e-mail you about when we’ll meet next.”
It wasn’t a question. But she didn’t know how to phrase any sort of protest.
“Yes, we’ll talk.” She went to pull her coat on, and he was right there, slipping it over her shoulders. She could smell him again, that ocean and deep woods scent. “Thank you for meeting with me today.”
“It was my pleasure.”
He was looking down at her, smiling. She drew in one last surreptitious breath, breathing him in.
God, she really had to get a handle on things. Get back to her usual self. But everything felt different with him. He was a dangerous man. But she’d never backed down from a challenge before, and she wasn’t about to now. Even if this particular challenge already had her doubting herself, had her wondering which one of them would really end up on top.
It had to be her.
Had to be.
Berkley Heat (ebook)
Berkley Heat (print)