Monday, August 26, 2013

EXCERPT: Light Switch

Title: Light Switch
Author: Lauren Gallagher

Chapter One

I knew my relationship was over when I wore the lacy purple lingerie for my neighbor, not my boyfriend.

Pulling a pair of jeans and a plain sweatshirt over the garter, panties, and bra, I knew. Truth and guilt sank deeper into the pit of my stomach with every passing minute. Tonight was the night.

I went into the bathroom to fix my hair and put on a little makeup. Why I bothered, God only knew, but at least it was a way to pass the time before my boyfriend arrived. The antiquated clock radio on the bathroom counter said it was nearly seven thirty. Alec would be here any minute. With any luck and a little courage on my part, he’d finally be gone not long after that.

He’d be gone, leaving me with Matt.

Not that I had any intention of touching Matt. I’d entertained a few fantasies of taking him to bed, but I’d been with Alec since before Matt and I met. Whatever problems we had, I wasn’t about to fool around on Alec. No, I wasn’t going to touch Matt tonight. We wouldn’t even be in the same room.

In the two years that we’d been neighbors, Matt and I had never touched beyond the occasional handshake or hug. We’d become fast friends, but everything about our close friendship was strictly platonic.

When light and time cooperated, however, he watched me from his bedroom window, which was across the narrow alley from my own.

He looked at me. Alec didn’t bother anymore.

It had started innocently enough. A window shade carelessly left open. A change of clothes. A well-timed glance.

 Eye contact and startled gasps from either side of the alley had ended the moment as quickly as it had begun. For days, we were shy and coy, passing on the sidewalk without looking at each other, the accidental voyeur and unintended exhibitionist who’d both been caught in the act.

Beneath the embarrassment, though, there lurked a part of me that found a delicious thrill in that momentary exposure. Perhaps I’d imagined the look on his face in that fleeting second before we’d both turned away in a panic, but I was sure his eyes had widened and his lips had parted with more than just the startle of seeing a random topless woman. Wishful thinking or not, I let myself believe he’d looked because he liked seeing me like that. It had been too long since someone had done so, and right or wrong, I liked it.

Had he been some stranger, I’d have been creeped out and probably invested in blackout curtains.

He wasn’t a stranger, though. He was Matt, and after a few days, I left the shade open again. It took almost a week for him to take me up on my unspoken invitation. One night, while I got ready for bed, surreptitious glances in the mirror revealed the ghost of a silhouette in his window, a dark profile against a darker background, and I knew he was there. He was there, and I wanted him to be. I wanted him to see.

I didn’t look. I didn’t even acknowledge him. But that night, and a handful of nights afterward, he was there.

Tonight, standing in my bathroom as I got ready to drop a long overdue bomb on Alec, I sighed. My shoulders fell, and when they did, the dark purple strap peeked out from beneath my reflection’s shirt. I tucked it away, meeting my own eyes and averting them when my cheeks turned pink.

If Alec noticed what I’d worn beneath my casual clothes, he’d turn up his nose and call it trashy. He wouldn’t see it, though. Even if I lost my nerve and let him stay like I had so many times in the last year, tonight would be like any other. In the best case scenario, we’d wordlessly undress ourselves in the dark so we could have silent, passionless sex before going to sleep a thousand miles apart.

At least, if that happened, there would be just enough light spilling in from outside for Matt to see.

I sighed and looked myself in the eye again. This had to stop. Though Matt and I never touched, nor did we ever speak about this in our friendly, unassuming conversations, the guilt was getting to me. This window-to-window affair of glances wasn’t right.

Holding my own gaze, I took and released a deep breath. Yes, I was going to do this. Tonight. Swallowing hard, I touched up a phantom smudge in my smoky eye shadow and fixed a strand of hair that was perfectly in place.

From down the hall, the crunch of a key and click of a deadbolt broke the silence. The front door opened.
I took another breath, shut off the bathroom light, and went out to meet Alec.

He was just shrugging his jacket off when I rounded the corner. With a quick, expressionless glance, he acknowledged my presence, then hung his jacket in the hall closet. “Sorry I’m late. Got held up at the office.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just gave me a little more time to get ready.”

The next look he shot me was a quick down-up sweep, followed by a lifted eyebrow that said nothing if not “that is what you call ‘ready?’”

I shifted my weight, gritting my teeth. Keep it up, sweetheart. You’re making this easy for me.

He put his hand on my waist and kissed me lightly. “So, what’s the plan for tonight?” Another down-up glance scrutinized my appearance before he added, “I assume you want to stay in?”

I pursed my lips, resisting the urge to fold my arms across my chest. “Yes, actually.”

“Sounds good.” He smiled. “I think we still have a few DVDs to watch, don’t we?”

“We do.” I hesitated. “But first, I’d like to… talk.”

His eyebrows jumped. “About?”


“Us?” He shrugged with one shoulder. “Well, okay. Let’s talk, then.” He didn’t sound alarmed.

“How about in the living room?” I gestured down the hall and started in that direction without giving him a chance to object. “Do you want something to drink?”

“I think I’m okay, thanks.” He took a seat on the couch with his arm across the back of it, his usual invitation for me to sit beside him. The thought of that arm curling around my shoulders made my skin crawl.

Instead, I sat toward the middle, creating just enough distance to keep him from wrapping his arm around me. Turning to him, I pulled my knee up onto the cushion between us. His eyes darted to my knee, then met mine.

He cleared his throat. “So, um, what’s going on?”

Wringing my hands, I avoided his eyes. “Just, I…” Come on, Kristen, come on. You can do this.

He put his hand on my thigh, dangerously close to the telltale edge of the hidden garter. “Is this about moving in together?”

“Well, no. I mean, not exactly. It’s…” I wanted to scream with frustration. This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to have this conversation with him, and it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten tongue-tied.

Squeezing my leg gently, he said, “Look, if its too much for you, it’s okay. We don’t have to do it right now.” His tone teetered between empathizing and patronizing, and I could never tell which way it was intended.

Instead of looking at him, I stared at the subtle ridge my garter made beneath my jeans. “Listen, I don’t think we should move in together. At all.”

“You don’t?” At last, a hint of alarm crept into his voice. “But, why not? I mean, after all this time, wouldn’t it make sense?”

“It would, yes.” I swallowed hard and forced myself to meet his eyes. “If we were planning to get married, or—”

He laughed. “Is that what this is about? Well, if you want to start thinking about getting married instead—”

“No, no, it’s not that.”

He cocked his head. “Then, what?”

I hesitated, wetting my lips. “I don’t think we should move in together because I—” Come on, come on, just do it. Get it out there. “I don’t think we should stay together.” Before he even had a chance to react, the weight of the world slipped off my secretly lace-covered shoulders. Finally.

Alec blinked. “You, what?”

“I don’t think this is working.”

“You,” he paused. “You want to end this?” He gestured at me, then at himself.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Well, I guess I can see now why you never wanted to move in together.”

I couldn’t blame him for the bitterness in his tone. We’d been discussing it for over a year, and I’d been sidestepping the issue because I’d been trying to work up the courage to tell him I wanted out. Without meeting his eyes, I nodded.

Alec abruptly stood. While I was relieved to have some breathing room, I was afraid he was going to storm out. As much as I wanted him to be gone, we needed to settle this here and now, not set ourselves up for a period of cooling down, followed by another conversation.

He didn’t leave, though. Instead, he paced between the coffee table and the television, running his fingertips back and forth across his stubbled jaw. “I don’t get it.” He shook his head. “After four years, you just want to up and quit?”

“It’s not exactly a conclusion I came to overnight.”

“Oh really? So when were you planning to enlighten me?”

I sighed. “That’s what I’m doing now. This isn’t something I went into lightly.”

“So what the hell is the problem?” he asked.

“I just don’t think we’re…” I trailed off, searching for the word. “Compatible.”

“Of course we are. We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we weren’t.”

And we shouldn’t have lasted this long. “Look, Alec, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you, but I’m not happy with things. I’m not happy—”

“With me?”

I sighed again. “Yes. I’m not happy with the way things are with us, and I’m ready to move on.”

“I don’t see how you can be unhappy.”

Of course you don’t. You would have to had to pay attention to pick up on that. “I am.” I struggled to keep my voice gentle and calm. “We want different things out of life. Half the time when we’re talking, we’re fighting.”

“We wouldn’t fight if you didn’t pick fights all the time.”

I took a deep breath. “I don’t pick fights because I enjoy it. If something’s bothering me, I tell you.”

He exhaled hard. “Yeah, and every damned thing bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“No. Not everything. But enough.” I wrung my hands. “I mean, look at our sex life.”

“What? What about it? We have sex more than most couples that have been together this long.”

“Yes, we do,” I said. “But we never try anything new. There’s no variety. It’s just the same thing, over and over and over.”

He set his jaw. “After this long, I think we’ve tried everything, don’t you?”

“No, I absolutely don’t think we have.”

“What else is there?”

“Haven’t you ever wanted to spice things up? Try something unusual? I’ve suggested a few things over the years, but you haven’t wanted to try a damned thing.”

He shrugged. “I’m perfectly happy with things the way they are.”

“To put it bluntly, I’m not.”

Alec shifted his weight. “So you’re bored with me.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’m bored with our sex life.”

“And that’s enough to make you want to call things off?”

“There’s plenty more to it than that, but that was my first clue that things weren’t going so great. I want to try new things. You don’t. So I’m bored to the point of being miserable.”

 “I can’t believe you’d end a relationship like this because of sex.” Alec shook his head. “Am I supposed to be some kinky porn star to keep you entertained?”

“Not at all.” I fought to keep my temper in check. “But it would be nice if you at least looked at me once in a while in the bedroom.”

“In the dark?”

“You could turn on the light,” I snapped. “And maybe when you’re done with that, try doing the same to me.” It was only when he stopped pacing that I realized I’d said the words out loud. My heart pounded. I hadn’t intended to go there, but there was no taking it back now.

“You’re unbelievable.” He threw his hands up. “If there was something wrong with us in the bedroom, why didn’t you bring it up a long time ago?”

“I’ve tried. Time and again. And quite frankly, I’m tired of it.”

“Oh, you have?” He folded his arms and cocked his head. “When? How?”

“Maybe all the times I’ve told you I’d like to try new things? I haven’t exactly kept a list of dates and times, but I’ve brought it up more than once.” I pulled a pillow onto my lap so I wouldn’t defensively fold my arms. “You either don’t want to talk about it, think I’m concerned about nothing, or turn up your nose at whatever I suggest.”

“Like what?”

“Well, how about when we went to Cabo last year? I suggested fooling around on the beach, on our balcony, on—”

“I’m not going to fuck you in public.” His lips contorted with disgust. “Jesus, Kristen.”

I rolled my eyes. “And what about the handcuffs we bought two years ago, but have never used?”

“We don’t need to use handcuffs,” he said with a dismissive gesture.

“We don’t need to do a lot of things, but I think it would be fun.” I thumbed the edge of the pillow seam as I held Alec’s gaze. “That’s the kind of stuff I want to try.”

“So, what? Just having sex isn’t enough for you? Now you have to try all that freaky, kinky shit?”

“Why is it freaky?” I shrugged. “Some of it could be fun.”

“No, no, absolutely not.” He glared at me. “I think you’ve been listening to too many stories from that friend of yours.”

“Who? Scott?”

“The one who’s into all that weird crap, yeah.”

I scowled. “He’s told me a few things, yes, but—”

“See? You’ve just been listening to him.” Alec inclined his head, giving me that patronizing look I’d grown to despise. “Normal people don’t do that shit, Kristen.”

Fury coiled in my gut. “Then maybe I’m not normal.”

“Or maybe you’ve just been around that freak too long. I’ve never liked you hanging around him any—”
“I beg your pardon?” I threw the pillow aside and stood, mirroring his defensive stance. “Now you want to dictate who I spend my time with?”

He gave a flippant shrug. “I just don’t like you hanging around that asshole.”

“Why? Because he’s into things you’re not?”

“Or maybe I just don’t like my girlfriend discussing sex with another man.”

“Oh, I can understand that,” I said through my teeth. “She might get ‘ideas’ in her pretty little head about how to fix a lackluster sex life, and she might even try to apply those ‘ideas’ to the relationship she’s trying to save.”

“Yeah, and—”

“Or, heaven forbid, she might just suddenly realize there’s more to sex than a little quiet missionary style in the fucking dark.”

He narrowed his eyes. “I don’t think I’m the problem, then.”

“Neither is Scott. I talk to him because he listens to me. Something you stopped doing a long, long time ago.”

“Fine.” He put his hands up. “You know, between that sick fuck and that friend of yours next door, I figured it was only a matter of time anyway.”

My jaw fell open. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“Are you suggesting that—”

“Are you denying it?” he snarled.

“I have never cheated on you.” Guilt twisted in my stomach. It was true, I hadn’t touched another man, but the temptation had been there. One of the first signs this relationship was in trouble had been when I’d caught myself fantasizing not only about the wild things Scott told me, but about Scott himself. Then came the voyeuristic tryst with Matt. Though I’d never touched either of them, the guilt was killing me just the same. I’d cheated in mind, if not in body, which was why this needed to end.

“Never?” Alec broke the lengthy silence that had fallen. “Somehow I doubt that.”

My face burned, no doubt making me look even guiltier than I was. “You don’t trust me?”

“Should I?”

I clenched my jaw. His constant suspicion and distrust were among the countless nails we’d driven into this coffin. Thank God we were finally going to bury the fucking thing.

“Look, I may be frustrated,” I said. “But I do love you, Alec. I wouldn’t cheat on you.”

“But you’ll leave me?”

“Yes.” The word came so easily, so unflinchingly. “Yes. I need to.”

“You know what? Fine.” He glared at me again. “I’ll go, and you can have all the crazy, freakish sex you want. Mark my words, though. In a few months, after you’ve had a little fun and realize how sick it all is, you’ll regret this.”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Our lackluster sex life was the wedge we’d used to finally cleave our relationship apart, but if it had failed to do so, we had plenty more that would have done the job.

“We’ll see, won’t we?” He shifted his weight. “I don’t suppose you’ll let me take my stuff before you kick me out?”

I nodded down the hall. “Go right ahead.”

With a sharp huff, he stormed past me. I followed him into my bedroom.

Now that he was moving, now that he was doing something besides standing there talking to me, his fury escalated, just as it always did. He jerked open the closet door and went about ripping shirts and a coat off hangers and throwing them onto the bed he’d probably expected to share with me tonight.

“I can’t believe you, Kristen,” he said over his shoulder. “You’re really willing to let all of this go because I won’t be a freak like whatshisname.”

“No. The sex is only part of it.”

He slammed a pair of shoes down and kicked the closet door shut. “Really? So what else is there?”

“Well, this.” I gestured at him. “Every time you get mad, you start throwing shit around, slamming doors, yelling at me—”

“Oh, so now I’m not allowed to get angry?” He spun on his heel and faced me. “Am I just supposed to sit here like a good little boy and let you tell me I’ve just wasted four years of my fucking life?”

I drew back, folding my arms to keep my hands from shaking. “There’s a happy medium between that and flipping out at—”

“I’m not fucking flipping out at you, Kristen,” he snarled, closing the gap between us. “You can’t expect to say this kind of shit and—”

“And what?” I stepped toward him, and to my great satisfaction, he shrank back slightly. “Am I tied to you for the rest of my life? Am I not allowed to move on if I’m not happy anymore?”

“After all this time, the least you could do is put some effort into fixing it instead of running away.”

I flipped my hands out, palms up. “I’m not going to argue anymore, Alec. I want out, I want you out, so just get your stuff and leave.”

He said nothing, but the rage in his eyes almost made me step back myself. At the very edges of my peripheral vision, he clenched and unclenched his fists. For the first time in four years, I wondered if he might just raise a hand to me, and I could neither draw nor release a breath until he muttered a curse and turned back to gathering his belongings.

On his way out, he stopped at the hall closet to yank his jacket off the hanger and put it over his arm. Then he jerked his key off the ring and tossed it on the table by the door.

“Looks like that’s everything.” He opened the front door. “Unless you had anything else you needed to say?”
I shook my head.

He sneered at me. “Not even good-bye?”

“I think we’ve already said that, don’t you?”

Cursing under his breath, he left, slamming the door behind him. I turned the deadbolt and went back into my bedroom, where I dropped onto the bed and released a long breath. The conversation had been unpleasant, but it had needed to happen for a long, long time. We’d both made our mistakes over the last few years. We’d both caused our fair share of problems in this relationship. At least now, it was over. Thank God, it was over.

With another long exhalation, I looked at the clock. It was barely eight o’clock. Still plenty of time to go out and grab a drink, vent to a girlfriend, do something other than stay home in this silent apartment. With my newfound freedom came the long overdue ability to go out and take care of some of this sexual frustration. 
Maybe with someone who knew what he was doing. A one night stand had never been so tempting. I could go out. Or I could turn off the light and go to sleep.

I didn’t go out.

I didn’t turn off the light.

I didn’t go to sleep.

I just took off my shirt and hoped Matt liked purple satin.

Chapter Two

A few days after Alec and I broke up, I joined a group of friends at our usual Friday night watering hole. The music was blasting and the place was packed, but I sat at our booth, alone with my thoughts. I wasn’t down or depressed, I wasn’t regretting my decision to kick Alec to the curb, I was just… thinking.
The split had been long overdue, but it was enough upheaval to knock my world off its axis. I’d spent four years as half of “Alec and Kristen.” Being just “Kristen” would took a littlee more getting used to than I’d anticipated.
Did I stay single for a while? Go back on the prowl? See if that guy over by the jukebox was game for a one night stand? That option became more tempting with every passing minute. I was a free agent now. I was at liberty to find someone who didn’t consider sex a substitute for a sleeping pill.
A flicker of movement from the corner of my eye was my only warning before Scott appeared and dropped into the booth beside me. The low light of the bar didn’t do a thing to temper the intensity of his blue eyes, especially as he shot me a pointed look.
“You, my dear,” he said in a don’t argue with me tone, “are not your usual self tonight.”
He sounded so serious, I couldn’t help smiling. “Is it that obvious?”
“It is.” He rested his arm on the back of the bench and faced me. “So what’s going on? Dr. Moore is listening.”
I snickered. “Something tells me a university wouldn’t keep its accredited status long after giving you a doctorate.”
He rubbed his eye with his middle finger. I laughed. If anyone was going to give me the third degree about my mood tonight, I was glad it was him. Scott was nothing if not easy to talk to. Always had been.
“Hey, space cadet.” He elbowed me playfully. “What’s up?”
Shaking my head, I sighed. “Just preoccupied, I guess.”
“With?” Though he ribbed me as he always did, the lift of his eyebrows and the creases in his forehead spoke of genuine concern.
I took a breath. “Alec and I broke up.”
Scott’s posture stiffened slightly. “Really?”
“About damned time.”
I gave him a playful glare. “Gee, thanks.”
“Come on, he’s a dick.” Scott shrugged. “I’ve been wondering for a long time when you were going to kick his sorry ass to the curb.”
“Guess I can’t get too offended, then, because I’ve been wondering the same thing.” I sipped my drink. “Believe me, it’s been a huge weight off my shoulders.”
“I can imagine.” He drummed his fingers on the table and watched me for a second. “So, since I assume you’re not grieving about the monkey that’s no longer on your back, what’s bothering you? Just settling into being single, or what?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” I eyed him. “And speaking of being single, what on earth are you doing out without adult supervision on a Friday night, anyway? All the girls busy?”
“Amy’s out of town with her husband, Tara’s at a party with another Dom, and Kasey has the flu.” He sighed dramatically. “So, yes, I’m all alone tonight.”
“Damn, Scott,” I said. “Three women on the roster, and you still can’t get laid tonight?”
He made a dismissive gesture. “Please. Just because I’m not with one of them tonight doesn’t mean I won’t get laid.”
I laughed. He always had been a breath of sexually liberated fresh air.
He opened his mouth to say something, but shrill feedback from a microphone made us both cringe. We turned to see the DJ setting up for karaoke.
“Oh, Jesus,” I said. “Not karaoke.”
“Ugh. Do you want to go outside?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“I thought as much.”
We both stood. He made an “after you” gesture, but I insisted he go on ahead, so he shrugged and started across the room. On the way to the stairwell, he didn’t squeeze between people or elbow his way through the crowd in a serpentine path from booth to door. He walked and people moved. He’d offer a polite “pardon me” or turn enough to keep from bumping into someone, but for the most part, they got out of his way. They always did.
I wondered if it was such a good idea to go out on the terrace with him. As horny as I was tonight, being alone with him was probably hazardous to my health. I was newly single and he was almost six slender feet of temptation wrapped in a conservative black shirt and jeans. Narrow hips and broad shoulders. Cheekbones that could cut diamonds. A lightly stubbled and sharply angled jaw that I’d often imagined brushing that spot where the curve of my neck met my shoulder.
Scott had always been high on my “look, but don’t touch” list. In fact, my attraction to him predated my relationship with Alec. He’d always been heavily into kinky stuff, though, and he was polyamorous, neither of which had appealed to me back then. While BDSM piqued my interest now, polyamoury still wasn’t for me. Territorial I was not, but I had enough problems maintaining monogamous relationships. Adding more players sounded like a recipe for disaster.
We climbed the stairs and went outside to the rooftop terrace. This was where the bar had its luaus and barbecues when the weather was warmer. It was barely spring, though, and a chilly wind blew in off the coast, so the terrace was mostly deserted. I zipped my jacket and nestled my chin into the collar.
Scott hoisted himself onto the concrete railing. “So, how are you doing with all of this?”
“Not too bad, actually.” I hugged myself to keep from shivering. “It’s, you know, a bit of a change, but I’m glad it’s over.”
“I don’t blame you. If you don’t mind my asking, what was the final straw?”
“Nothing in particular,” I said. “Well, it wasn’t anything specific that made me decide to end it that night, but to be quite honest, our sex life was probably the biggest issue that came up.”
Scott snorted. “Now that I believe.”
“Oh do you?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I’m no psychic, but I got the impression there wasn’t too much going on between you two.”
“How do you figure?”
“No chemistry. I’ve seen more sparks fly between dead fish than the two of you.” He paused. “No offense.”
I laughed. “None taken. Not too far from the truth, to be honest.”
Scott clicked his tongue and shook his head. “I’m surprised that douche bag didn’t bore you into a coma.”
“A few more months, and he probably would have.”
“Big shock.” He rolled his eyes. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, some people prefer vanilla sex, but—”
“Vanilla sex?”
He smiled. “You know, the kind that doesn’t involve whips and chains.”
“So, the kind you don’t have?”
“I beg your pardon.” He put a hand to his chest and feigned offense. “I have been known to engage in vanilla sex from time to time, you know.”
“And do you enjoy it?”
He grinned and rested his hand on the railing again. “Darling, if sex and Scott Moore are involved, rest assured, everyone present enjoys it.”
Of that, I have no doubt. “Cocky bastard.”
With a flippant shrug, he said, “Guilty as charged.”
“But let me guess,” I said, rolling my eyes, “you’ve earned the right to be so cocky?”
“Damn right, and I have witnesses who will give sworn statements.”
I shook my head. “Well, you’re right about Alec.” My humor faded. “Hell, I wouldn’t even call him vanilla.”
“No. Vanilla is actually a flavor.”
Scott laughed aloud. “Ouch.”
“It’s true.” I sighed. “It’s a relief, that’s for sure. God only knows what the next guy will be like, but at least that particular routine is broken.”
“So you’re going to try to find someone a bit more adventurous this time around?”
I nodded. “Shouldn’t be too hard. As long as he has a pulse, anyway.”
Scott chuckled. “Remind me never to get on your bad side.”
“Oh, please. You’ve been on my bad side since the day we met.”
“Okay, but I haven’t given you a reason to diss my sexual prowess, have I?”
“No, that’s true, you haven’t.” I hugged myself a little tighter as a cold breeze blew by, though he didn’t seem to notice it.
“What was his deal, anyway?” he asked. “Couldn’t figure out how to get you off?”
“Couldn’t be bothered is more like it,” I muttered. “I don’t know, I guess he just wasn’t interested in trying new things.” I shrugged. “He wasn’t, I was, so I was bored.”
“Bored, you say?”
He laughed softly, but then his brow creased and he fell silent.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I said.
He looked at me, his forehead still lined with heavy thought. “Let me ask you something.”
“Go ahead.”
“You say you wanted to try new things.” He eyed me cautiously. “Have you ever thought about trying something kinky?”
I hesitated, then nodded. “I’ve thought about it, yeah. Especially lately.”
“I’m not surprised.” Something like triumph crinkled the corners of his eyes.
“Oh, really?”
“Just a hunch,” he said. “You’ve never struck me as a strictly missionary-and-lights-off kind of girl.”
“Yeah, well, that’s all I’ve been for the last four years. And that’s if I was lucky.”
“So Alec was more of an idiot than I thought,” he muttered.
“Nothing. Anyway, I pegged you a long time ago for a woman who likes things a little hotter than most in the bedroom.”
“I wouldn’t know, honestly. It’s been forever since I’ve had anything I could call ‘hot in the bedroom.”
“He was really that lame?” His eyebrows lifted. “Alec never wanted to try anything?”
I laughed. “Are you kidding?”
“Not even a little cuff play? Blindfolds? Anything?”
“Absolutely not. He wouldn’t even try new positions, and as for BDSM, he doesn’t think that’s something ‘normal’ people do.”
Scott clicked his tongue. “Heard that a few times in my life.”
“He just assumed it was all freaky and disgusting.” I rolled my eyes.
“So many people do. And half of them probably do some light kink without even realizing it. They think we’re all freaks in gimp masks and nipple clamps, and they look down their goddamned noses at us while they’re tying their own partner’s wrists with a pair of nylons.” He laughed. “Not that it’s a pet peeve of mine or anything.”
“I can see that.”
He shrugged. “Just annoys me when people judge me because I take things to a different extreme.”
“Speaking of which, what kinds of things do you do with your—” I paused. “Partners?”
“Subs,” he corrected. “I fuck all three, but besides that, I do different things with all of them.”
“Such as?”
“Well, Amy likes being flogged, whipped, beaten, you name it. For her, sex isn’t worth having if it doesn’t hurt.” He smiled, the expression full of the same warmth and fondness as his voice when he added, “That woman is a total pain slut.” He shivered.
I laughed. “That’s an interesting way to put it.”
“It’s accurate. She gets off on pain. She thrives on it, and I’m happy to give it to her.”
“And the others?”
“Tara likes to be restrained and teased. I can tie her up and keep an orgasm just out of her reach for ages. I tease her with hot and cold, pain and pleasure, whatever I see fit to dish out.” He shifted a little, adjusting the way his hands sat on the railing on either side of him. “Kasey is training to be a slave, not just a sub. I don’t do the Master/slave thing as a rule, but I’m easing her into being completely submissive before she finds a Master. Once she’s comfortable with that, she’ll pursue someone who will give her the total domination she really wants.”
“Sounds like a lot of work for you.”
“Keeping up with three women? Especially those three? You’d better believe it.”
“So what do you get out of it? I mean, besides getting laid, of course.”
“With Amy, I get all the same things you’d expect from a relationship, minus the monogamy.” He ran a hand through his dark hair and paused to scratch the back of his neck. “With all three of them, I get power. They give up control, I gain that control. That, and I get off on watching them respond to everything I do or don’t do. Their responses, whether it’s getting frustrated or having an orgasm, drive me wild.”
“Is that just a guy thing?” I asked. “Getting off on watching?”
“I’ve known plenty of women who are voyeurs, but yes, a lot of guys like to watch. Why do you think so many of us like porn?”
“Point taken.”
“I happen to be both an exhibitionist and a voyeur, so this lifestyle suits me perfectly.”
“You don’t say,” I murmured.
Scott cocked his head. “What?”
“Never mind. Tell me more.”
He hesitated, then went on. “A lot of people think kink is about violence and abuse. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s all about power, trust, control, pushing boundaries, things like that.”
Nodding slowly, I looked out at the street below us. “I know. That’s why it intrigues me so much these days.”
“But you’ve never tried it.”
“I wanted to. Alec didn’t. I wanted to try it with him, and figured that would be a safe way to explore it since we had an established relationship.” I paused. “And, I suppose you could call what we had ‘trust’.”
Scott pursed his lips. “Hmm. Maybe it’s just as well you never tried it with him, then.”
“What do you mean?”
Did you trust him?”
“I, well, I guess I did.”
He shook his head. “Unless you can answer ‘yes’ without a moment’s hesitation, he was definitely not someone you wanted to play around with. If you don’t trust each other, you don’t want to go anywhere near the lifestyle.”
“Good point.” I watched my finger trace a crack in the concrete railing a few inches from where Scott was sitting. “Though it makes a bit more sense than trying it with a stranger, you know?”
“So, I don’t know, maybe for now I’ll just stick to finding someone a little more adventurous, then see if I can’t convince him to branch out a bit more.”
“Probably not a bad idea,” he said. “Though someone with more experience might be the better choice. Better than the blind leading the blind.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m not going to jump into whips and chains with someone I’ve just met.”
Scott was quiet for a long moment. His eyebrows knitted together as he stared at the terrace floor. Then, without looking up, he said, “Do you trust me?” His serious tone stopped a smartass retort of “as far as I can throw you” at the tip of my tongue.
I took a breath. “Of course I do.”
He fell silent again, chewing his lip before turning to me. “What if I said I could introduce you to the lifestyle?”
“You mean…”
“Take you under my wing. Give you a safe environment, ease you into it, and help you figure out if kink is something you really want to do.”
“Are you—” I paused. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely.” He moistened his lips and looked me in the eye. “Maybe I’m being a bit forward, but the fact is, I know my way around this lifestyle. I know you, and we trust each other. If anyone can guide you, you’re looking at him.”
I swallowed. I was dreaming. I had to be.
He cocked his head slightly. “Unless you’re not comfortable—”
“No, no, it’s not that.” Far from it, Mr. Moore. “Just, you know, caught me by surprise.”
He laughed softly. “You know me. Full of surprises.” His expression turned serious again. “I mean it, Krissy. Really. Maybe it’s the Dom in me wanting to be in control, but if you’re going to get your feet wet with this, I’d rather be the one helping you. At least then I know someone else isn’t fucking the experience up or taking advantage of you. Not that I think another Dom would fuck you over or hurt you. The vast majority wouldn’t dream of such a thing.” He paused. I thought he shuddered, but couldn’t be sure. Then he added, barely whispering, “There are bad apples out there, though.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Bad experience?”
“I’ve—” He cleared his throat. “I’ve known a few people who’ve had bad experiences, yes. And a bad experience with a Dom can be enough to scare someone out of the lifestyle completely.”
“I can imagine.”
“So, that’s why I’m suggesting this. I don’t want any of that happening to you. You need to have a safe, trustworthy partner, especially since this lifestyle is all about pushing boundaries.” He smiled. “And if I may be so bold, I have a feeling someone has some boundaries that could use pushing.”
“You would be right.”
The smile turned to a grin that weakened my knees. “So, you in?”
“I don’t know.” I folded my arms across my chest. “I might need you to beg, plead, and give me puppy dog eyes first.”
He released a sharp breath and eyed me. “I’m a Dom, sweetheart. If anyone’s going to beg, plead, or give puppy dog eyes, it’s you.”
I laughed. “You only go Dom, then?”
“Yes. If you’re inclined, I can help you find a sub, but I do not switch.”
“Is that common? To choose one or the other?”
“A lot of people are one or the other. Plenty of people switch, though. Being a sub just isn’t my thing.”
“I think I can handle starting out as a sub.”
He grinned. “I have a hunch, if I know you as well as I do, you’ll be a switch.”
“How do you figure?”
“Call it a gut feeling.”
I shot him a playful glare. “You seem to have a lot of gut feelings about me when it comes to this stuff.”
The grin broadened. “Maybe I do.”
“Which leads me to believe you’ve thought about this before.”
“Maybe I have.”
“Hmm, so now I have a gut feeling,” I said, trying not to laugh, “that this arrangement wouldn’t be entirely one-sided.”
“Are you suggesting I’m offering because I think I have something to gain?”
“I am.”
He gave a flippant shrug with one shoulder. “Would you be offended if I said I absolutely would be getting something out of it?”
“Not in the least.” Then I dropped my gaze, searching for the words to one of the most awkward questions I’d ever thought to ask him.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
I finally managed to meet his eyes. “So how far do we take this? You said yourself you have sexual relationships with all of your subs.”
“Yes, I do.” His cheeks flushed with just a hint of color. “If you’re not comfortable taking it that far, we don’t have to. There’s still plenty we can do without ever having sex.”
Ignoring the way my stomach fluttered with nerves, I said, “And if I am comfortable taking it that far?”
He sucked in a breath. “Well,” he hesitated, “you wouldn’t have to twist my arm.” He offered a cautious smile.
Be still, my beating heart. “The polyamory thing isn’t my cup of tea, though,” I said. “I’m fine with something physical, but that…”
He made a dismissive gesture. “Don’t worry about that. Polyamory isn’t for everyone. We can keep it just physical.”
“I think I can live with that.”
Scott gave me a cocky grin. “Do we have a deal, then?”
“You’re very direct, you know that?”
“What do you expect?”
“I would expect no less.” I rested my hip against the railing and my elbow on top of it, and faced him. “And yes, we have a deal.”
“Good. Like I said, though, if you want to try being a Domme, I’ll help you find someone. And I can teach you to top, it just won’t be with me.”
“Assuming I don’t have my hands full with you.”
“Which you will,” he said matter-of-factly. “I should warn you up front, I am very, very slow when it comes to training a new sub or teaching someone about the lifestyle. I always err on the side of moving too slowly.”
“I could think of worse things.”
“Well, there’s also the fact that I enjoy teasing my new subs.” He winked. “Prepare to be very, very frustrated at first.”
“Knowing you, that doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
“Just wait, my dear,” he said. “You have yet to see my deepest depths of evil.”
“I can’t wait.”
He grinned. Then something like shyness tempered the devilishness in his expression. “And I promise, this isn’t just some cheap ploy to get you into bed.”
“Well, even if it is, it’s working.”
Scott swallowed hard. I did the same, my own boldness catching me by surprise. We were both silent for a moment.
“So,” I said quietly, “when do we start?”
“Do you have plans tomorrow night?”
“No, I don’t.” We’re really going to do this. “Want to come over?”
“Hell, yeah.” He smiled. “We’ll go over some rules and things like that when I get there. Like I said, we’re going to move very slowly, so don’t expect the full-on, no holds barred kink experience the first night. Some Doms work that way. I do not.”
“Bring it on.” I smiled in spite of the tremor that went through me. I’m going to do this. I’m going to fuck Scott. Oh God, yes, I’m going to fuck Scott Moore.
He pushed himself off the railing and landed with catlike grace. Breathing suddenly got a hell of a lot more complicated. We’d stood this close and closer over the years, but never like this. Never after all but sealing a deal to fulfill some of my hottest fantasies.
“I suppose,” he whispered, putting a hand on my waist, “we should start out slow.”
“You’re the Dom.” My voice shook. “I’ll follow your lead.”
He grinned. “You’re a fast learner, Krissy.” The hand on my waist moved to the small of my back, narrowing the space between us and raising goose bumps on my skin. “What I was thinking, though, is that it wouldn’t be right to fuck you…” He tilted his head, slowly leaning in. “…when I’ve never even kissed you.”
My knees trembled. “Maybe we should take care of that.”
“Maybe we should.” He stopped with his face just inches from mine. When he spoke again, the feather light touch of his breath to my skin nearly melted my spine. “I really want to kiss you right now, Kristen.”
Words failed me. All I managed was a subtle nod, even as my mind screamed, Yes, yes, kiss me.
He ran the tip of his tongue across his lower lip. “Do you want me to kiss you?”
“Yes.” The word barely escaped my throat. “Yes, I do.”
“I thought so. And I will.” All at once, he released me and stepped back, a sly grin curling his lips. “But not now.”
“What?” I grabbed the railing for balance and stared at him, my lips tingling with the anticipation of the kiss that hadn’t come. “Not now?”
He grinned. “Not now.”
“When I decide it’s time.” He winked. “Consider this your first lesson as a sub. I’m the Dom. I make the rules.” Before I could protest, he gestured at the door. “Come on, everyone’s probably wondering where the hell we are.”
“You’re an evil, evil man, Scott.”

“And I’m going to teach you my evil, evil ways.” Again he gestured at the door. “Ladies first.”

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