Excerpt from Roar

Chapter One

 

Kristoffer Larson gripped the steering wheel to control the shaking in his hands. As he inched around the curve, flashing blue and red lights on half a dozen emergency vehicles came into view and set his jagged nerves on edge. The emergency flares a quarter mile back failed to prepare him for the enormity of the accident.

Don’t let the memories take over.

Fighting for control of his heart, he counted the seconds it took to breathe in deeply and release the air slowly, all the while inching forward in the right-hand lane at a jaw-tightening pace.

First responders blocked access to the passing lane. If only he could teleport himself to Denver and bypass the accident altogether.

Highly illogical.

He didn’t even want to think about the nightmares he’d have when he closed his eyes tonight.

The temptation to move onto the shoulder and take the exit up ahead nearly won, but he wouldn’t obstruct emergency vehicles needing to reach the victims. Yet having to drive by the carnage and possibly witness the retrieval of bodies—living, dead, or lost somewhere in between—made him wish he were back at Forseti Group headquarters in Breckenridge with Gunnar Larson, his cousin and employer with whom he’d been meeting most of the afternoon.

His mind was plagued with what-ifs from years ago, too.

If only he and Tori had headed home earlier.

If only he and Tori had stayed at Gunnar’s thirty minutes more. How many times had he tortured himself with those thoughts about that horrific moment…

Too late to change anything now.

Images of Tori’s bloodied and battered face flashed before his eyes as bile burned the back of his throat. Forcing deep breaths, he blew the air out through his mouth—well, when he remembered to breathe, that is. Despite efforts to keep his gaze averted, as he crept closer, he saw what appeared to be four vehicles involved in the pileup. No, five. Damn it. One was rammed under a tractor-trailer, practically invisible except for the trunk. Had any of its occupants survived?

Of course, there were fates worse than death. He hoped whoever was in that vehicle hadn’t seen it coming. No skid marks. Probably had no clue what had happened to them.

Unfortunately, his beloved Tori had seen what was coming—not only the stopped eighteen-wheeler in front of them, but also the pickup truck that slammed into the Mercedes’s passenger door as Kristoffer attempted to avoid a similar fate to the poor souls in that car over there. Unknowingly, his knee-jerk response had put Tori in the direct path of the pickup that night.

Almost past the wreck. Eyes straight ahead.

He managed not to see anything more of the wreckage, until a police officer held up a gloved hand for him to halt right beside one of the mangled cars. His heart hammered, robbing him of breath.

Don’t look. Don’t look, damn it!

Seconds later, an ambulance pulled up on the right-hand shoulder and crossed in front of him to park beside the tractor-trailer. As if in slow motion, he watched the crew exit the emergency vehicle and remove a stretcher from the back.

Kristoffer’s chest ached, but he couldn’t turn his head away. In strobe-light effect, his mind flashed between this scene and one on that dark night four years ago.

Stay in the moment. Don’t let it consume you again.

He forced himself to remember his training with Gunnar, not only a well-respected Dominant and whip master in the Colorado BDSM alternative lifestyle community, but the man who had spent a lot of time mentoring Kristoffer on regaining control of his mind and body. With supreme effort, Kristoffer took several more deep breaths and shifted his focus to the guardrail. Not a mark on the silvery steel, unlike the one his car had rammed into on I-70 that night.

Don’t go back there.

The sound of crumpling metal assailed his ears.

Tori’s scream for him to stop was cut short, followed by the deadly crunch of metal until all that remained was an eerie silence inside the car.

He shook off the memory with great effort seconds before the low rumble of the Jaws of Life cutting off the roof of a vehicle bombarded him—another sound that sometimes woke him from a deep sleep to this day. As victims were extricated from one of the cars beside him, he turned his head toward the valley beyond the guardrail.

Until a sudden thought occurred to him. What if he made himself view today’s wreckage? He didn’t know these people. Tragic though their suffering might be, perhaps these images would replace his own memories from that heartbreaking night. Would that help him bury the past once and for all?

Kristoffer turned toward the sound, mercifully finding two police officers holding up a white sheet to shield him and others from witnessing the gruesome sight. Had one of the victims screamed the same way Tori had that night? He didn’t remember much about the aftermath, but her horrified shriek revisited him during flashbacks that continued to haunt his days—and most especially his nights.

No one seemed to be paying any attention to the occupants trapped under the tractor-trailer. He wished they’d hidden that vehicle instead. Awareness slammed into him as to why they weren’t concerning themselves with that car, and he swallowed down more bile. With any luck, new nightmares would now blot out those of the accident involving the love of his life.

Focus on something else. Like tonight’s meeting you’re now late for. Gunnar is counting on you.

Work had kept him from losing his mind these past two years especially. Safe, unemotional, logical finances. He went over the directives Gunnar had given him this afternoon. His objective was clear—determine if the purchase of the successful BDSM training academy would be a sound investment for Gunnar’s portfolio. Far from his cousin’s typical venture, this one seemed highly illogical and more sentimental.

His cousin had mentored a number of well-respected Dominants over the years. Mistress Grant, who’d been running Denver’s Masters at Arms Club for the past several years, came to mind as one of his most proficient students. Nearly a decade ago, she’d introduced Gunnar to Damián Orlando, a fellow veteran who had been wounded in Iraq. Gunnar had taken the Marine amputee under his wing as well. Of course, his cousin trusted both Damián and Grant with his life and allowed them inside his home and dungeon.

Kristoffer constantly reminded his cousin that he needed to be extremely careful about inviting new people inside his inner circle. But Gunnar hadn’t had it easy when he returned from the war and had a soft spot for struggling veterans.

Gunnar didn’t reinvest every penny into Forseti Group paramilitary operations. Government contracts aside, he diverted a substantial amount of assets to humanitarian projects. For instance, he had a soft spot for a school for girls in Afghanistan run by a former soldier and romantic interest.

My job is to make sure Gunnar earns enough to continue whatever operations or activities he chooses.

Without a doubt, he owed Gunnar for saving his life and sanity several times over. If Gunnar wanted to open a tent selling arctic moss in the middle of the Sahara Desert, then Kristoffer’s job was to negotiate the best deal possible. What else did he have to do with his time since the accident? Focusing on Gunnar’s financial interests provided him with great personal satisfaction.

An officer whistled, bringing him back to the present. He waved Kristoffer onto the shoulder of the highway, and a sense of relief overcame him as he left the grisly scene behind and made his way toward Denver once more. He fought hard to focus on the road to keep himself from being involved in a similar accident—again.

 

*     *     *

 

Only ten minutes late for the scheduled tour, he pulled into the parking lot and cut the Jag’s engine. Staring at the warehouse-like building, home to the prestigious academy, he mentally prepared himself to go in like the tiger of finance Gunnar expected him to be—confident, authoritative, and ruthless when it came to closing the deal.

Without a doubt, this place would require more hands-on involvement than Gunnar had time for at the moment. His covert operations in Afghanistan were heating up after the massive withdrawal of American troops. Too many lives were at stake.

Normally, Gunnar gravitated toward safe, conservative investments as close to blue chip as possible in this day and age. Financial planning that required no personal involvement. What on earth did he see in this BDSM training academy? To Kristoffer, a BDSM relationship was best cultivated in a deeply personal setting between two like-minded adults. Ideally, a Dominant trained his own submissive or bottom. Of course, Gunnar’s interest in the lifestyle differed significantly from his own.

Kristoffer and Tori were among a small number of people Gunnar had instructed in his home dungeon, but were far less involved in the lifestyle than the others. Not into a Dominant/submissive dynamic, the two did enjoy some lighter aspects of kink. But whips, knives, suspension, and inflicting pain or harsh punishment didn’t fit into their relationship at all. Those were Gunnar’s forte. He admired his sadist cousin’s talent and expertise with the whip and suspension. Witnessing him in action was a thing of beauty, and sometimes Kristoffer had taken Tori to watch demos, but that’s as far as it went with them. Besides, any skills Kristoffer had learned were rendered useless when he lost Tori.

In the past couple of years, however, Kristoffer had ventured back into Gunnar’s dungeon again to practice and learn new Dom skills and to find a way to release some of his frustration. Gunnar usually hooked him up with a Dom willing to let Kristoffer practice on his submissive. No strings, no sex, and no guilt.

Realizing he was stalling, Kristoffer steeled himself and opened the car door. Quickly traversing the parking lot, the heels of his polished, black leather wingtips clicking a staccato beat on the pavement, he continued his assessment of the property. No visible cracks or potholes in the asphalt lot’s surface. The exterior of the building appeared to be sound as well.

The moment Kristoffer walked inside, he recognized Brad Anderson. The headmaster at the academy had a commanding presence with his height and muscular body, but it was Anderson’s gregarious smile that threw Kristoffer off-center for a moment.

Anderson greeted him with a firm handshake as Kristoffer explained about the pile-up near Georgetown. He regretted having held up the group even longer while he indulged his case of rattled nerves.

The headmaster waved away his concerns and addressed the group, promptly reminding them all why they were here. “Let me explain the concept behind The Denver Academy. While we run both submissive and Dominant training programs, tonight I will focus solely on the submissive aspect. Our training consists of an intensive six-week course that tests and refines the men and women chosen to attend our classes. Each night, they begin with a formal lesson, then move on to a practice session critiqued by a panel of Dominants, and finish with a personalized practicum centered on each individual’s interests and talents.”

He went on to explain that an auction was held at the end of each of the first five weeks where fully vetted Dominants were permitted to bid on the submissive trainees and take them on a consensual excursion outside the walls of the academy for one afternoon and evening. Gunnar had mentioned having participated in one of the auctions for the initial training class, but Kristoffer had neither asked for nor expected any details.

Kristoffer learned that the sixth auction was reserved for trainers at the school to work on whatever they deemed important, but the students weren’t told in advance about the last one being any different than the other five.

Anderson continued. “In every way, we strive to prepare our students to become skilled submissives who are not only confident in their talents, but also highly sought after by the BDSM community worldwide.”

As he listened to Anderson field a question about the origins of the school, Kristoffer surveyed the other potential investors, sizing up his competition. The one who had asked the question about the first academy in southern California wouldn’t be a pushover. His gaze then fell on a brown-haired woman with librarian glasses who cast sidelong glances at Anderson. Did the two of them have some kind of personal connection that might complicate a bidding war? She seemed oddly familiar, but he was certain they’d never met. He noticed her respectful and attentive demeanor—laying odds she was a submissive.

Anderson’s response to another question forced Kristoffer to stop allowing his thoughts to stray. Focus, man. He must still be rattled by the accident. He never let his personal life intrude on business matters. Hell, he had no personal life anymore.

What had Anderson just said?

The headmaster continued as he motioned them to follow him down a long hallway. “We take the privacy of our students very seriously, but I’ve informed the class of tonight’s agenda, and they’ve graciously agreed to allow an observation of the lesson.”

This should be interesting.

Just before entering the classroom, they were given instructions to remain silent and line up against the wall to the left. Anderson stood like a sentinel in the doorway, apparently keeping an eye on things both inside the room and in the hallway. One of the last to enter, Kristoffer was impressed by how everything had been set up, as if he’d walked into a graduate school class. Gunnar had given Kristoffer purchase-bid guidelines based on his earlier observations of the academy, but wanted more detailed information before deciding whether to invest in owning the school in part or outright.

The students seated in the classroom all seemed intent on the front of the room, and Kristoffer’s gaze roamed to where the instructor conducted what appeared to be an anatomy class with two nude models. The female model reminded him of…

What the…

Doctor Pamela Jeffrey?

It washer. His eyes opened wider. Seriously? A few weeks ago, she’d passionately shared information with the Forseti Group’s team about the state of things in the international humanitarian aid hospital where she’d been working until recently. The hospital had become yet another of Gunnar’s charities in his efforts to help win the hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Doctor Jeffrey had also brought Gunnar a package from Heidi Rutherford, his cousin’s old flame, who now ran a school for Muslim girls Gunnar provided security for in the same province.

Gone were Doctor Jeffrey’s baggy sweater and corduroys that had hidden her body type completely. Hell, gone was every bloody stitch of her clothing. What was she doing standing naked next to an equally nude man in front of a class of submissives in training?

Ogling her was unprofessional and rude, but her flawless skin under the bright lights transfixed him—or had he placed a mental spotlight of his own on her? A natural redhead, judging by the neatly trimmed curls covering the mound at the apex of her thighs.

Turn the fuck away, man!

Heat bore into him as he did so, shifting his feet. He raised his gaze again to her face—thinking that should be safe territory—but found her staring back at him, wide-eyed. Not quite as shocked as he perhaps, but definitely surprised.

The notion of sitting across Gunnar’s boardroom table at Forseti Group ever again without seeing her as she appeared before him tonight would be difficult, if not impossible, but he doubted they’d be seeing much of each other. Gunnar had finished deposing her about her recent experiences in Afghanistan and granted her request for humanitarian aid. She would likely never be seen again. Or so he’d thought.

Christ. This image will be branded on my retinas forever.

To her credit, she composed herself quickly, standing straighter as she turned away to stare toward the class. Still, he watched a flush creep from her chest, up her neck, and into her freckled cheeks. While he couldn’t see the freckles from here, he’d noticed them the other day. Only then he’d thought them cute. Not sexy.

Until now.

Wait a minute. Why did he find them sexy now? Tori had ruined him for any other woman since he’d met her in college twenty years ago.

It was so wrong to be thinking these thoughts about another woman.

Doctor Jeffrey locked her jaw and kept her mouth in a straight line. The no-nonsense instructor handed a long wooden stick to a young male classmate who then pointed to the sexual and erogenous zones on both the man’s muscular body and the physician’s softer body. She’d hidden her assets well—until tonight.

Why the hell wouldn’t she? She was a professional woman—a medical doctor, for Christ’s sake. No doubt she’d had to fight long and hard in her career to keep her colleagues’ and patients’ minds from straying the way Kristoffer’s was now.

What on earth was she doing here? Was she a submissive trainee at the academy or merely moonlighting as a body model tonight? She’d said during the meeting at Gunnar’s that she planned to return to Afghanistan as soon as she could obtain a new assignment. She couldn’t possibly need money this badly, not that aid workers were known to bring in huge salaries.

When the pointer touched her pink areola, his entire being zeroed in on the lesson, and his cock stirred to life.

Bloody hell!

Guilt washed over him. He had no more luck in averting his gaze now than he’d had on the highway at the accident scene earlier this evening.

Her nipple peaked, as if reaching out to the pointer. The room grew unbearably hot as sweat dampened the back of his starched collar. Kristoffer reached up unobtrusively to undo the top button of his shirt trying not to call attention to this lapse in professional decorum. At least now he could breathe a little easier.

Realizing he ogled her still, he forced himself to shift his focus to what the student was saying as he pointed out her more than ample attributes. Yes, this was definitely an anatomy class. The student had been instructed to point out the erogenous zones in the female body. No, not just any female’s body—Doctor Jeffrey’s. The pointer moved to the rapidly pounding pulse in her neck.

Seeing such an attractive woman standing naked before him gave him any number of inappropriate, unprofessional musings, but horniness was no reason for him to stray down this dangerous road. What he was experiencing was pure, unadulterated lust borne of long-term neglect of a certain part of his anatomy.

An appendage that would remain neglected.

Would she be asked to advise them on her perspective as a student here before Gunnar made a decision as to whether he would purchase this institution?

He hoped not.

The sooner he regained control of his aberrant thoughts, the better.

Hell, what hadn’t he seen? Well, thankfully her backside was hidden from view.

As if the unknowingly sadistic instructor read his mind, she asked the two models to turn around. Glued to the beautiful display before him, any attempt to turn away failed miserably. He couldn’t if his life depended on it.

The unexpected sight of her ginger tresses cascading down her back jolted him from his stupor. She’d worn it up and carefully styled for the Forseti Group meeting. He had no idea her hair was so long, tapering off just above the curve of her ass.

Why am I fantasizing about her ass? Or hair, for that matter? I hardly know her.

He squinted. Was that a tattoo on the top of her ass cheek? She was too far away for him to see what the small design depicted, but Doctor Jeffrey didn’t strike him as someone who’d be inked.

Stop staring at her ass.

Good luck with that.

His eyes had ceased obeying the commands of his sex-starved mind soon after he’d entered this room.

Anderson quietly motioned the members of the tour group to leave at the end of the male submissive’s anatomy quiz, but once again, Kristoffer found himself glued in place. Just one more glimpse, and then he’d banish all images of a naked Doctor Jeffrey from his mind. Without removing his gaze from the pale skin on her back, he stepped away from the wall to allow the others in the group to precede him out.

When she and her male counterpart were instructed once more to turn toward the class, she immediately faced in his direction, perhaps checking to see if he was still there. She surprised him with what appeared to be a silent plea. Was she begging him to stop staring at her? Or to keep his mouth shut about what he’d seen?

He was fully aware that anything witnessed in a BDSM club or school must remain strictly confidential given the witch-hunt mentality in some communities and professions. He had no intention of outing her. However, she didn’t know him well enough to trust him.

He nodded ever so slightly, and she relaxed a bit.

Anderson cleared his throat, bringing Kristoffer’s attention back to the headmaster standing in the doorway waiting for him to leave the classroom. Relieved to be taken out of the situation at last, Kristoffer turned and made a delayed retreat; Anderson closed the door behind them.

Now, Kristoffer needed to regain focus on his reason for being here. Gunnar had sent him on a mission. As a professional, he would fully investigate whether to recommend this acquisition to Gunnar and, if so, make the deal happen to the greatest financial advantage for his cousin.

 

*     *     *

 

Mortified, Pamela watched from the corner of her eye as Kristoffer Larson exited the classroom. The uptight man had been a team member at the Forseti Group meeting last month, exuding an aura of negativity that had put a damper on her energy levels for hours afterward. All business. No nonsense. She couldn’t help but sense a deep sadness about him she didn’t understand.

Undoubtedly, he was excellent at managing Gunnar’s corporate and personal fortune, because Gunnar didn’t strike her as someone who tolerated ineptitude among the people on his team. Kristoffer’s financial astuteness had made his cousin enough money to finance overt and covert operations in both humanitarian and military realms. For helping with her cause, Pamela was grateful to them both.

Heidi had been right about two things. Gunnar hadn’t blinked an eye when Pamela asked him to bring one of her young patients to the States for further reconstructive treatment. In mere weeks, he’d moved heaven and earth, and plans were progressing rapidly to have the fourteen-year-old girl on the return flight from his next mission. She’d be taken to a world-renowned pediatric reconstructive unit in Cincinnati where the next phase of surgeries would commence. Gunnar had assured the hospital that they and their staff surgeons would be rewarded financially, she was certain. The man seemed to have an endless supply of money—which brought her back to Kristoffer, his chief financial officer.

Their efforts would truly change this girl’s life. The victim of a vicious acid attack on her way to Heidi’s school late last year, Fakhira had never given up on her desire to live and to continue her education, despite being painfully disfigured.

Heidi also had been right about a more frivolous matter concerning Gunnar. He exuded the dominant vibe from every pore. Judging by her own submissive response to the man, he was just the Top to train an alpha sub like Pamela wanting to learn more about the lifestyle. Funny how at one time she’d fancied herself interested in being a slave. How wrong she’d been.

When Heidi had told her she identified as an alpha submissive—a term Pamela hadn’t heard before—she’d opened her eyes to the reason why she’d been such a dismal failure to date as a submissive. The more she compared her personality and needs as a strong-willed submissive with what Heidi described, the more she began to think she might be one, too. Among the most revealing traits were that she was not one to kneel before just any Dom, instead seeking a Dom as her equal in many things, and a submissive possessing a need to be in charge in some areas without being mislabeled as a switch.

She still had a lot of questions about this particular orientation. The only sure way to find out if she was truly an alpha submissive would be to find a strong Dom equal to the task. Heidi had encouraged Pamela to talk with Gunnar about training her and exploring the dynamic. When Pamela met him, she’d hoped he would take her on, but he’d sworn off anything in the near future due to his workload.

She only had a small window of opportunity before she’d be heading back overseas so, instead, he’d encouraged her to apply to The Denver Academy, which was about to begin new classes.

And here she was, in her second week of classes, thanks to the strings he’d pulled for her. Gunnar must be highly respected in Colorado’s kink community, because everything she’d heard about the school told her it was selective and demanding.

Until tonight’s visit by Kristoffer and the group of mostly unknown entities had left her so rattled, she’d enjoyed being here. But the risk of being outed in the community for participating in the much-maligned BDSM lifestyle could destroy everything she’d worked for. When alerted that the headmaster planned to bring a group of carefully vetted strangers into the classroom tonight, she hadn’t expected to recognize anyone among them. She hadn’t been involved in a Denver surgical practice for years and rarely participated in the social or kink scene when home from assignments these past few years.

After her breakup with Marc D’Alessio nearly four years ago, she’d walked away from the lifestyle. Until this forced rest period from her overseas work, she hadn’t had time or inclination to sort out what she wanted in her private life. During her initial interview, Master Anderson assured her this would be the perfect opportunity for her to explore and determine her needs rather than focus so much on what she thought she liked or wanted.

Were the two so far out of sync?

Soon after her arrival here, The Denver Academy trainers and instructors had broadened the list of what she’d be willing to try with the right person. But she wondered if a long-term relationship was in the cards for her.

Her thoughts returned to the tour group. A man in a well-tailored suit was one of her favorite fantasies, and Kristoffer wore his like no other. With his rakishly wavy blond hair falling nearly to his shoulders—loose and disheveled as if windblown or finger-combed—his light-gray, tailored, three-piece business suit made him stand out among the group, and not only because she recognized him.

Her cheeks flushed again as she recalled Kristoffer’s gaze homing in on her body and lingering much longer than it should have, in her opinion. His piercing blue eyes bore into her with an intensity not unlike his cousin’s. Was he a Dom as well? During those first few moments, Kristoffer had shattered every ounce of courage and poise she’d mustered in order to stand naked in front of the class, while the calm, cool Kristoffer Larson maintained a tight rein on his emotions, much as he had the first time they’d met. What had he been thinking?

The heat in Pamela’s cheeks was slow to disperse until Mrs. Fieri tapped her shoulder to regain her attention before sending Pamela back to her seat. Great. Now she was losing her focus on her classwork. She slipped into the short, silky robe she’d worn to class and took her seat.

Why had she acquiesced when the instructor encouraged her to do this? Because after her first disappointing auction last weekend, she’d indicated an interest in becoming more comfortable being naked around strangers.

That first week at the academy had gone far beyond her comfort level. In this, her eighth day of classes, she’d gathered the courage to stand naked in front of the class—and look how that had turned out.

The school had respected her hard limits, including not wanting to engage in intercourse with people she barely knew. Sex was so…personal. Jumping in too quickly had resulted in disastrous ramifications for her in the past. With Marc, she’d invested of herself fully in their three short months together, convinced they were well-matched until it became clear that he was unable to commit to anything more than being her Top in the bedroom. She’d needed more from him—she just had no clue what had been missing.

Such a dark, mixed-up time in her life. Just before she met Marc she’d been dismissed from her practice because some jealous wife thought she had designs on her husband. As if she had time to be involved with a married man while trying to establish her career. Christ, she’d barely dated since her undergrad days. What surgeon had time for extracurricular activities? It was one of the reasons she’d decided to take some time for herself during this forced recuperation period following her unexpected illness during her most recent contracted assignment.

In retrospect, perhaps she’d come up with the notion that she wanted to have a Master/slave dynamic with Marc because of the insecurity she’d been experiencing at the time. She’d been so ashamed of being fired from a successful practice that she hadn’t even told Marc about her career going down the tubes. She’d hung on to the mistaken belief that she wanted to be a slave long after he’d left although, by the time he showed up on her doorstep a year later, she’d begun the application process for a position with the humanitarian medical team.

The only thing that had become clear in all that misery was that she needed to find a way to serve others. Performing cosmetic surgery on affluent patients wasn’t why she’d gone to medical school. However, being sent to war-ravaged, impoverished areas in a global effort to ease suffering had been the best decision in her life.

Meeting Heidi had been a turning point as well. Having been shut off from any BDSM activities for nearly four years, her desire to explore again had become acute. Now she wanted to meet someone interested in at least being her Top for play scenes between overseas assignments to help release some of her stress. Nothing short of submission could keep her from becoming too overwhelmed.

The image of her bent over Kristoffer Larson’s desk flashed across her mind, bringing her back to the classroom. Why fantasize about him and not Gunnar? She had no clue if Kristoffer was Dominant. Alpha? Most definitely. But not just any Dom would be able to maintain control of a strong-willed alpha sub like her.

Kristoffer hadn’t expressed any interest other than tonight’s brief appreciation of her nude body. She needed more than a physical attraction this time around. Before starting another relationship, she intended to take her time and make sure she was compatible for the long haul. At thirty-eight, she had no expectations of marriage or children, but did want someone who, at the very least, shared interests with her, had the ability to hold intelligent conversations, and most definitely possessed a deep, mutual respect for her.

Pamela sighed. She didn’t want to shut men out the way her mom did, but she also didn’t want to hook up with the wrong one again, either. She enjoyed the company of men as friends and colleagues, but didn’t see conventional love and marriage as being in the cards given her pitiful track record.

One thing was certain—gone were the days of trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. This six-week course would be her first big step toward living the life she wanted.

Speaking of which, focus, woman!

One of the rules at the academy was to remain consciously in the moment, and here she was with her head in the clouds, as Dad would say. She needed to let go of the past, concentrate, and learn everything she could during her brief time here.

“Your attention, please.” Mrs. Fieri stared pointedly at Pamela. If she didn’t pay better attention, she’d be disciplined.

Pamela tried hard to pay close attention to the remainder of the class, but the image of Kristoffer Larson’s dumbfounded face continued to shatter any concentration she could muster. She grinned. In retrospect, his expression had been rather humorous.

After the class was dismissed, her instructor called her to the front of the room. With dread, she moved between the desks to stand before the lectern. “How are you feeling about your role in the anatomy lesson, Doctor Jeffrey?” Pamela kept her eyes respectfully downcast, thankful she didn’t have to meet the demanding woman’s gaze.

“Look at me.”

Drat.

She raised her head. “I wasn’t nervous…at first.”

“What changed? Was having classmates pointing to and naming the parts of your body problematic, or was it the group coming into the room to observe the class that threw off your focus this time?”

Apparently, her lack of concentration was obvious. “I…I guess I lost my focus when the group arrived. It…was easier being naked in front of my classmates, because we’ve all had to bare ourselves in so many ways to each other at some point.”

Mrs. Fieri tilted her head in a questioning manner, making Pamela even more uncomfortable. Did she suspect Pamela was being less than honest?

The desire to come clean compelled her to explain. “Actually, I recognized someone in the tour group, which was…awkward, to say the least. Probably as uncomfortable for him as it was for me. I can’t run the risk of being outed in the vanilla community.”

Her instructor held her head higher. “The Denver Academy attracts a number of socially important people in the area. I assure you no one steps inside those front doors without being fully reviewed and cleared after signing confidentiality agreements. Nothing they see inside these walls will be discussed in any identifying way outside without the consent of all parties involved. I hope this lack of trust in our ability to protect you won’t continue be a problem for you in the future.”

“No, Mrs. Fieri.” Not anymore.

And yet the image of the uptight and controlled Kristoffer remained steadfast in her mind’s eye. Why him? She knew nothing about him. They hadn’t even engaged in idle chitchat during or after their one meeting. He’d appeared to be serious and formal to the extreme, even when talking with his cousin during the meeting.

Maybe she hadn’t been able to forget about him because he was sexier than sin in the suits he’d worn both times she’d seen him. Well-defined shoulders, but not muscle-bound like his cousin’s. Okay, truth be told, she’d felt an attraction to the man.

But only a physical one. Not enough.

“Why don’t you get dressed?” The instructor’s voice pulled her wandering mind back again. “Tonight’s practicum should be much more relaxing, especially for you.”

When she didn’t elaborate on what to expect, Pamela nodded and returned to her desk to collect her things.

At least she’d accomplished one of her goals—to stand naked in front of strangers. While her body was past its prime, she still had curves in all the right places.

And Kristoffer Larson wasn’t able to keep his eyes off of you.

Her heart rate increased. She couldn’t escape the image of Kristoffer in that suit—only now the mental picture of him removing it took hold of her.

Pamela smiled. At least her fantasy life had remained active all of these years.

Before leaving the classroom, she turned back to the front of the room. “Have a good evening, Mrs. Fieri. Thank you for the lesson.”

 

*     *     *

 

Kristoffer managed to regain control of his wayward thoughts as the tour continued, viewing the academy’s practice rooms. Each was equipped for a wide variety of lifestyle scening, including one set up like a kitchen. His thoughts strayed again, remembering playful moments with Tori in the kitchen of their former home. She enjoyed keeping house, and that room was one of her favorite places to be no matter what activity she was indulging in—be it domestic or sexual.

But the headmaster soon reined in Kristoffer’s stray thoughts. “We want every graduating student to please their Master’s full range of appetites. I have seen firsthand that some of the submissives we train are in dire need of culinary instruction.”

Ah.He was referring to actual cooking lessons!

Kristoffer smiled before tuning in to the people around him. Anderson glanced pointedly at the brunette with heavy eyeglasses and chuckled before leading the group down the hall. The two definitely had some kind of history. Would that give her an inside advantage if there was a bidding war?

They stepped inside a large auditorium, which Anderson described as his crowning achievement. He clearly loved this place. This room alone would be worth placing a bid on the facility. Kristoffer imagined a submissive spread eagle and restrained on the stage as his cousin wielded his whip with precision and skill, while a group of Dominants looked on and learned. Would there be enough room for whip play here?

As he conjured up a mock scene, the illusory submissive had ginger hair and a small tattoo on her ass.

Bloody hell.

He shook his head to clear it of errant thoughts and remember his purpose for being here. “This is quite a remarkable set-up you have.”

Anderson thanked him. “It’s my belief that to create superior graduates, you must utilize superior equipment and hire only the best trainers.”

The tour group left and moved down another hall to enter a large dungeon area. “Unlike the Submissive Training Center in California, this warehouse is large enough to include a dungeon area specially designed for use of the bullwhip.”

Yes, this space would be even better than the auditorium, but once again, the image of a ginger-haired sprite popped into his mind. Don’t go there. Still, the fantasy of Doctor Pamela Jeffrey suspended or restrained in any number of ways in this dungeon wouldn’t let go. Noticing a tightness in his chest, he reminded himself to breathe.

Tuning in yet again, he learned that all of the high-quality BDSM equipment on the premises would be included in the purchase of the Academy, along with the retention of any staff members wishing to remain. So Anderson apparently intended to separate from the school completely, which would allow the new owner to reopen its doors without missing a beat, thus making ownership even more profitable. He knew the tuition here didn’t come cheaply by what Gunnar had told him this afternoon.

A question nagged at him as he tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear. “Will training continue for the current class of students if the academy changes hands within the next six weeks?”

Anderson spoke to the entire group when he responded. “Rest assured, Mr. Larson, as headmaster of the school, I will not be abandoning my students. Only after this class has graduated will the transfer of ownership take place.”

Nodding curtly, he tried not to think about what this might mean as far as one petite, ginger-haired student was concerned. He hoped future business negotiations would be conducted during daytime hours when students were absent from the premises. Still, Kristoffer wanted to pore over some financials with Anderson or his accountant before leaving here tonight.

Would the opportunity to interview Doctor Jeffrey arise in order to gain insights on the institution from a student’s perspective? No, he’d try to avoid further contact with her at all costs.

Regaining his focus, he knew Gunnar would appreciate that the school also had tracks geared toward training serious Dominants wanting to learn new skills and improve their technique. With wannabe Doms coming out of the woodwork and so much bad information in the media about the lifestyle in recent years, Kristoffer could see that such an academy would be beneficial in helping submissives learn the difference between posers and authentic Dominants, too.

Fortunately, he and Tori had been mentored by Gunnar even at their elemental level of play, and safety had always been his and Gunnar’s first priority. Safe, sane, and consensual was the motto for those in the lifestyle, unless they agreed to take it to the next level with risk-aware kink, but even that was always consensual among those playing at Gunnar’s and many other dungeons and clubs, not to mention in the privacy of their homes.

One of the greatest advantages for Gunnar would be to use the school as a place to train those he mentored, thus limiting the number of people permitted inside his private dungeon in Breck. With terrorists infiltrating so many organizations and government systems, Gunnar left himself open to an attack from within by holding play parties in his own home. While he carefully checked the background of everyone who drove inside the gates of his compound, one could never be too careful in his line of work. He’d amassed a number of enemies over the years.

This academy would give Gunnar an additional avenue to explore the lifestyle outside his small circle of trusted friends without risking his personal safety or the security of his missions. Most likely, he’d hire someone to run the place and stay on the periphery. He had little time for much else.

Inside the dungeon, Anderson introduced a respected Domme from the training center in Los Angeles. He learned she would be staying on to help with the transition.

A door opened at the far end of the dungeon, and a heavy-set man carrying a cardboard box entered followed by dozens of cats. Anderson growled in frustration before muttering to himself, “Not again!”

He excused himself from the group, all of whom seemed nonplussed when another staff member pulled a bullwhip from the dungeon wall and began swinging it above the heads of the defenseless creatures until Anderson put a quick end to it.

When a plump tabby rubbed the leg of the brunette with the nerdy glasses, she screamed as she sought refuge with the investor standing next to her. “I hate cats,” she whimpered piteously. “They’re too much like giant rats!”

More staff members descended upon the dungeon. Several tried, without success, to herd the cats by waving riding crops or paddles in the air, but the desperate plea of the besieged woman in the tour group led Kristoffer to reach down and pluck the tabby up and away from her. He stroked its neck while watching with humor as the chaos unfolded.

The frightened feline purred, much like Tori’s pet, Noma. Calming the animal gave him a sense of peace as well. “There, now,” he whispered in its ear, which flicked against his lips as if ticklish. “Everything’s going to be all right.” He wasn’t sure if he was speaking to the tabby or himself. Tonight had been unsettling on so many fronts.

Watching the continued failing efforts of the staff at herding cats, Kristoffer shook his head with the strong suspicion that the pandemonium around them had to have been planned. How else would this many cats manage entry into a dungeon deep within the walls of a secure warehouse?

No doubt Anderson had carefully crafted this incident. The man’s eyes glinted with merriment rather than irritation as he directed his staff to wrangle up the poor creatures. Was it simply for his own amusement, or did this ruse serve a higher purpose?

Whatever the case, Kristoffer needed this comical ending to a most disconcerting evening. He turned to find the headmaster holding two kittens and decided to call him out. “Herding cats? You can’t be serious, Mr. Anderson.”

“What?” He feigned innocence, but Kristoffer raised his eyebrow. Anderson dropped the pretense, aware Kristoffer was on to him. The headmaster shook his head, chuckled, and handed the two kittens over to a staff member. He pointed his finger at Kristoffer, laughing warmly. “I knew I liked you for a reason.”

The headmaster then grew serious. He whistled, a door opened, and the cats headed toward it without protest. Kristoffer assumed someone had opened a can of tuna or some other feline enticement behind the door. Anderson took the cat from Kristoffer’s hands and set it down to follow the others. Before it did so, the tabby rubbed against his pants leg, leaving tufts of orange and white fur in its wake. He bent to rub behind its ears one more time before it, too, followed its nose.

Anderson crossed his muscular arms over his broad chest and stared intently at each potential investor, one after the other. “This was simply my way of illustrating how investing can be a lot like herding cats, unless you know what you’re doing.”

Kristoffer had to give him props for orchestrating this elaborate object lesson.

After reiterating the importance of finding the right person to head up the academy, Anderson continued, “You may think that you came here tonight to decide whether this is the right investment for you, but you’d be only partially correct. I will not hand over this business unless I feel confident that you or your client is worthy to own this training center.”

Kristoffer clapped his hands slowly and with admiration. “Well played, Mr. Anderson.” At least he’d made a good impression, which might give Gunnar’s proposal a leg up over the others. As they moved toward the boardroom to discuss the details further, he heard a number of the members of the group express interest as well. Kristoffer would have to come up with a solid, tempting proposal that would be advantageous to both parties in order to win the day.

While there wasn’t much he could control anymore, Kristoffer intended to make sure he acquired this property for Gunnar, if his cousin’s heart was set on it. There were so few checkmarks in his “win” column in any other aspect of his life nowadays, but when it came to business affairs, Kristoffer excelled.

The brunette seemed quite pleased by the subterfuge and met Anderson’s gaze. Had she been in on it as well? When she glanced his way, Kristoffer couldn’t shake the feeling he knew her until the young woman burst into youthful giggles that echoed down the hallway, making it difficult for him not to smile himself. Such innocence and passion. He hoped she’d never have to face any serious heartache in her life.

With a sudden burst of clarity, he realized what had been bugging him since he’d first seen her. This was none other than Brianna Bennett! While researching the Submissive Training Center in LA in preparation for this tour, he’d watched the documentary she’d made describing her experiences there. Her exuberant praise of the program was one of the reasons he’d agreed with Gunnar to give the place a closer inspection. That also explained her obvious familiarity with Anderson.

Kristoffer shook his head, grinning as he wondered what the two were planning next.

Before entering the meeting room, he glanced down the hallway to the classroom where he’d seen Doctor Jeffrey’s naked body in great detail. The chances of another encounter with her—clothed or otherwise—would be slim.

Thank you, God of Thunder.

 

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