Breaking Free

Chapter 11

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He grinned, remembering the night he’d topped her. His hand had hurt by the time he’d finished spanking her. A fun evening, but as a submissive or a lover, she lacked that essential spark, at least for him.

Now with Beth… There was something compelling about the little redhead. Not the pain she’d endured, although he respected her courage in not letting it stop her. What really pulled at him was her vulnerability. She could have turned bitter and nasty to protect herself. Instead she’d built defenses to hide the softness underneath.

Formidable defenses. How the hell had he let Z talk him into taking her on? Snorting a laugh, he headed back toward the other side of the room.

Anne’s sub was sweating like a pig, so Nolan snagged a bottle of water from the back table and left it at the edge of the Domme’s scene space.

The clock read 11:30. Had Beth arrived? If so, why had she not come to find him?

Across the room, Dan appeared in the door and scoped out the area. Typical cop. The DMs here included a fair number of law enforcement types and ex-soldiers. In his usual black vest and leathers, the man crossed the room to Nolan. “Anything I should know?”

“All quiet.” Nolan nodded toward the gay couple. “Got involved and had the restraints too tight.”

“Uh-huh,” Dan said, and Nolan knew he’d monitor the couple carefully. Like most Doms, Dan was overprotective to the point of absurdity.

Nolan handed over the flashlight. He tossed his gold-trimmed vest into a cubby to pick up later and pulled on a tight, sleeveless black shirt. “You seen Beth?”

“Ah.” Dan turned his head, apparently mesmerized by Heath’s rope work. “Yeah. She’s…ah…doing a scene.”

Found another Dom, had she? Nolan’s hands closed until the knuckles cracked, and then he relaxed, amused at his own blindness. He should have anticipated something like this. He’d undermined her defenses last week, so she’d want to shore them up as hard as she could. “They got a station?”

Dan nodded.

She’d be easy enough to find. And if another Dom managed to get her to respond, more power to him. He rather doubted it would happen, not with that wary little sub.

He nodded to Dan and left the dungeon. As he walked down the long hallway of theme rooms, giggles and shrieks came from the playroom, groans from the medical room, and laughter from the office. Out in the main room, the stations near the door held two gay couples vying with each other for how long their subs could delay getting off. One of the two corner cages held a brunette with tears on her cheeks; someone had been bad.

So where was Beth? Nolan checked the roped-off areas down the right wall. No little rabbit. As he crossed the room past the bar, Cullen waggled a bottle of Corona at him.

“Thanks.” Nice and cold. Nolan took a couple of swallows. “Where is she?”

Cullen nodded to the other side of the room. “Sawhorse. Bad choice of top. He’s letting his frustration get to him.”

“Hell.” Nolan strode across the room. A small crowd watched as the beefy Dom hammered into the slender redhead restrained on the bench. Small grunts escaped Beth as the thrusting continued. Her forehead was pressed to the leather cushion, her hands clenched into fists. Just enduring.

Nolan wanted to grab the clueless Dom and shove him through the nearest wall, but that wouldn’t be right. Beth had a safe word and was obviously nowhere near subspace or too frightened to use it. Her choice.

Bad choice, as Cullen had said. Nolan looked around. On a couch beside the rope barrier, Z watched the scene, his jaw set in a rigid line. Nolan joined him.

“I find this extremely painful,” Z said.

“To watch or to feel?” Nolan asked. An open secret in the club, the Shadowlands owner was not only a psychologist, but could pick up emotions if close enough to a person.

“Both.” Z sighed, rubbed his face. “I’m trying to decide whether to tear up her membership papers right here and now or wait until I’m less angry.”

“She’s a piece of work, all right. I’m a bit pissed off myself.” He watched as the Dom climaxed, his face red with exertion, and his expression ugly with annoyance at the lackluster scene. Yanking himself out of Beth, he tossed the condom in the garbage and headed toward the paddle lying under the rope barrier. From the redness of Beth’s ass, the Dom had already used it once.

Nolan walked over to the rope. The Dom picked up the paddle and, as he straightened, his gaze met Nolan’s. Nolan shook his head and unleashed a little of his anger. “Finish. Now.”

The paddle dropped, and the man took a careful step back. As he returned to Beth, his rigid posture shouted that he wasn’t intimidated. Nolan didn’t give a shit what the Dom did to salvage his pride. Compliance was all that mattered, and the incompetent bastard was unstrapping Beth from the bench.

He rejoined Z on the couch.

“If you and Jessica keep this up, I won’t have a Dom left in the place,” Z murmured, his lips quirked in amusement.

“Don’t bullshit me. If I hadn’t stopped him, you would have.” Nolan kept his eyes on Beth. She pushed herself to her feet, face very pale. She was trembling but waved away the Dom’s half-hearted attempt to help her. The Dom glared at her and stalked away.

“She could well drive a man to drink, but I’m going to have to keep an eye on him,” Z said. “He doesn’t appear to handle frustration well.” He lifted his hand.

A trainee in loincloth and chain harness hurried over and actually knelt at Z’s feet. “Yes, Master.”

“Austin, please put up a reserved sign on the station and have Peggy clean it.”

“This one will—”

Z interrupted, leaning forward and gripping the sub’s chin. “Austin, this one prefers lower protocol be observed in the club. You don’t kneel unless the Dom indicates otherwise. And the proper response is, ‘Yes, Sir.’”

The sub actually quivered. “Yes, Sir,” he whispered. Once back on his feet, he dashed away.

Nolan snorted and returned to watching Beth as she struggled with lacing up the front of her latex dress. Everything in him wanted to help her. He diverted himself by asking Z, “Got the trainees kneeling now?”

“Heard that, did you?” Z sighed and rubbed his eyes. “His master was into very high protocol. The relationship is terminated, but Austin still has that mindset. And I am quite tired of hearing ‘this one’ every few minutes.”

“I enjoy high protocol occasionally, at least for the silence, kneeling, and lowered eyes, but not the third person bullshit.” Nolan shrugged. “To each his own.”

As Beth finished lacing her dress, he forced himself to lean back, set a boot on the coffee table, and drink his beer. A rescue on his part would only compound the problem they now had. She had to take the first step this time.

Finally finished lacing her dress, Beth pulled it straight with an effort. Her hands, her legs, hell, her whole body shook. Like a new planting in a strong wind, she felt as if she could be uprooted and blown away any moment. Her bottom and the backs of her thighs still burned from the paddling. The Dom had been very angry with her lack of response.

Her fault, she knew; it was always her fault. God, her emotions were wobbling almost as bad as her legs. Staring down at her feet, she bit her lip hard and forced back the tears. She took a long, calming breath. All right then. Time to go home. She looked up—and straight into Master Nolan’s black eyes.

Her body jerked back as if he’d hit her, her breath exploding from her lungs.

He was right there. On the couch. He’d watched the awful scene. Oh, God. She wanted to run from the room, from the club, and never come back.

He didn’t move. And then he tilted his head, lifted his eyebrows slightly in a way that said she hadn’t lost everything with this horrible mistake…if she had the courage to acknowledge she’d been wrong.

She could, for once, actually read his expression. Her hands curved into fists, pulling at the new cuts where she’d gouged her fingernails into her palms. She couldn’t move. If she went to him now, her decision would be voluntary, not coerced by Master Z’s threats. This time Master Nolan would demand she submit with her whole heart, not just her surface actions.

Could she do that?

She managed one step forward, then another. Her body felt unfamiliar, as if her legs belonged to someone else. She made it past the ropes, past the few people remaining. Their whispers brushed her ears. Her eyes never left Sir’s.

And then she stood in front of him and couldn’t think what to do next.

He waited, sipping his beer, his gaze steady.

When her legs trembled, and she almost fell, she recognized the next step. Such a simple one. Such a hard one.

She knelt at his feet. After a minute, she managed to tear her gaze away from his unreadable eyes and look down at the floor. The words came to her lips without her prompting, left her lips in a whisper. “Please, Master…”

“Aw, hell.” The thud of a beer bottle being set on the table, the creak of the couch, and then firm hands grasped her around the waist. He picked her up effortlessly, set her on his lap, and pulled her firmly against his broad chest. When his arms came around her, the strength in them so obvious and so controlled, she shuddered, unable to form a coherent thought.

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