Mastering Her Role
BOOK 1 in the Pleasures In Disguise Duet
“I want you to introduce me to Dominic.”
When Arianne’s husband dumped her for their rich neighbor’s girlfriend, her confidence as a woman went out the door as well. At least her neighbor, Jason, was in the same boat, pouring wine to console her while his aloof self-assurance remained firmly intact. She has been fascinated by him from the first, but his looks and wealth put him out of her league. Now she’s heard rumors he has a kinky side. If she doesn’t shake her inhibitions, she has no chance with him at all.
Jason has lusted after Arianne since the day he met her. Having his live-in lover seduce her husband out of the way was convenient, but a year later, Arianne is still hurting. If she knew the part he played in her betrayal, she would never forgive him. Now she wants him to don that part, his alter-ego Dominic, and introduce her? No. He hates that side of himself now.
Dominic is a sexually dominant instructor in the ways of pleasure. Arianne needs help. If Jason wants to restore her faith in her ability to attract a man, here is his chance, but he runs the risk of losing her completely. Arianne is an eager pupil, however, and soon begins her lessons of sexuality, lust, and being thoroughly and deliciously ravished.
But what will happen when the mask comes off and the truth comes out?
"I want you to introduce me to Dominic."
— Arianne to Jason, about his alter-ego, Dominic, Mastering Her Role
Playing The Master and Mastering Her Role are erotic romances originally published by the short-lived HarlequinE. They were released together in The Dani Collins Erotic Romance Collection, but they can definitely be read as stand-alones.
In writing this duet, I wanted to explore the fantasy and freedom of alter ego and secret identity. In Mastering Her Role, the hero, Jason, dons the guise of Dominic to pursue his neighbor Arianne.
I’m mostly a contemporary romance author writing for Harlequin Presents and Tule’s Montana Born Books. If you like erotic romance, please also check out Taken By The Raider and The Secret In Room 823. I hope you’ll also check out my not-as-kinky, but still very sexy other works.
share this excerpt!
Mastering Her Role
“If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect you of trying to seduce me,” Jason said.
Arianne looked up from her coq au vin. A prickling sting crept into her cheeks and her heart stuttered. Was she that obvious?
Her nerveless fingers pleated the napkin in her lap—the cloth napkin that matched the linen tablecloth tinted golden by the late-summer sun.
“Because I went to a bit of extra effort? The catered meals you order outshine this any day.”
He took a moment to nip the last bit of flesh from a petite drumstick, set it aside and licked his glossy fingertips. The wet sound and flick of his tongue, coupled with the way his gaze stayed fixed on her face, made her breathless and fluttery. Hot.
Who was seducing whom?
Her scorching cheeks continued to burn, but she couldn’t look away.
“If you think so highly of what I serve, why have you been declining to join me lately? This is the first meal we’ve shared in weeks. What’s going on, Arianne? Have you been angry with me about something?”
She shook her head, growing even more self-conscious and uncomfortable. This attraction, crush, obsession—whatever it was—had already become impossible to stifle, even before she’d heard a snippet of gossip about him that had thrown her into a tailspin.
“I’ve had a lot on my mind. I wanted to ask you a fa…vor.” Her voice quavered. “But I wasn’t sure how to approach it.” She cleared her throat.
“Yes?” He took up his wineglass and sipped from the oversize bowl.
It was a good white. She’d asked around to be sure. He didn’t seem to notice, only stared like a predatory cat. His eyes were keen slits and his body still and ready. He looked that way when he taught her fencing, and she knew it meant he’d be giving no quarter.
Honestly, why on earth did such a dynamic, chiseled, sexy man waste his time with his frigid, repressed neighbor? His body belonged on a professional athlete, all lean muscle and economic movements. He was intelligent with a dry wit and had excellent taste in everything. He couldn’t lack for female company, yet they’d been sharing two or three meals a week for nearly a year. She’d been the one to reach out initially, thinking he must be as heartbroken as she was when their partners ran off together, but now…
Now she felt like the most naive fool in the Western world.
“I don’t know how you pass yourself off as a writer of technical manuals,” she muttered with mild disgust, sipping her own wine and looking toward his stately mansion with a view of the ocean. What a Cinderella she was in her modest guest cottage, purchased from the mansion’s previous misfortuned owner by mortgaging herself to the rafters. She was so beyond her league here.
And so besotted.
“I didn’t hear a request for a favor in that statement.”
“No.” She almost wanted to quit now and look a small fool than pursue insanity and become a bigger one, but after weeks of wrestling this problem, she had made a decision and would stick to it.
In a minute. When she found her nerve.
She buried her nose in the bouquet of chilled sauvignon blanc.
“I don’t know how you pass yourself off as a successful real-estate agent,” he mocked gently, swirling the liquid in his glass. “It requires a great deal of risk, yet you balk at taking the small one of asking me a favor? Does it have to do with my work? Do you need an engineer’s perspective on something? A house?”
“I would get that from a construction engineer, wouldn’t I? Not someone with a doctorate in biotechnology. Why does that make you smile? I always have the feeling you’re laughing at me.” From the very first meeting she’d sensed he was—not better than her, but more. More worldly. More experienced.
“I’m not laughing,” he said, amusement hedging his words. “I just like it when you take that tone with me. I hear it when we’re fencing sometimes, and I know it means you’ll give me a fight. That’s the woman capable of closing the million-dollar deals, isn’t it? Why don’t I see her more often?”
“Why don’t I see the technical-manual writer more often?”
“Touché.” He tilted his wineglass. “We all show different personalities for different occasions, don’t we?”
He shows his wild side in the bedroom, not the boardroom, Celine had told Arianne once. It had jump-started Arianne’s curiosity, making her wonder what it was like to possess a wild side. Pretty soon her marriage had seemed tame. Too tame.
She hadn’t known how to change it, though. Telling her husband that she’d like to spice things up would have been the blind leading the oblivious. And it hadn’t seemed worth the potential consequences of looking foolish and perhaps denting her husband’s tender ego. Craig had been a pouter. And she hadn’t thought he’d want to try new things. Craig had been gorgeous, but conservative and very set in his ways. He’d fought her on buying this cottage, calling it too risky.
The purchase had come with grave consequences for both of them, but Arianne had wanted this house very, very badly, and now she had it. That risk had been worth it. She knew how to sell and negotiate and cut a deal. Surely she could channel that for a moment here? For something else she wanted very, very badly?
“You keep spacing out on me.” Jason leaned forward, his long fingers tucking her hair behind her ear.
Her pulse rushed to pound in her ears and make her arteries tingle. “Rude of me. I’m sorry.” Her face heated. Below the table she felt the leather of his boot brush the arch of her bare foot.
She withdrew, then could have kicked herself. This was exactly what she was trying to overcome, but his boot felt so male and dominant. It made her heart beat fast. It reminded her she wore only panties, no pantyhose, for the first time. For him, because he didn’t like nylons.
That was something she loved about him, the way he encouraged her to loosen up, telling her women shouldn’t buckle to convention, but wear what they liked. Do what they liked.
When he’d said that, slightly drunk a few months ago, it had been with his hand on her knee. She hadn’t exactly rebuffed the light pass, she just hadn’t known how to react to it. While other girls had been losing their virginity in high school, she’d been helping her father care for her mother. When her twentysomething friends had been perfecting the art of hooking up, she’d been studying for her real-estate license. Now she was divorced, aching in ways she didn’t even know how to describe, but too busy paying her mortgage to get out and date.
How much easier this might be if she had let Jason take her up to the room he’d shared with Celine, but she had been certain it was only the approaching anniversary of their shared humiliation that had prompted his offhand invitation. And she’d known she was no match for him—no competition for Celine. It would have killed her to have him once, only to disappoint him. There was no question she would have. Then she wouldn’t even have their friendly suppers any longer. No, if she truly wanted to win him, she would have to be more woman than she currently was.
She deliberately placed her foot back next to his. She was hyperaware of the slight abrasion against the side of her bare foot and ankle. Heated prickles climbed her calf. Being so forward embarrassed her. She could barely lift her head to see if he noticed.
He betrayed nothing, seemed lost in his thoughts, hardly breathing as he stared into his wineglass.
She caught her breath at how handsome he was with the candlelight throwing shadows across his face now that the sun had set. She was as tongue-tied as she’d been when Celine had introduced herself and her “lover,” Jason, eighteen months ago.
Celine had been as stunning as he was, if not a stark contrast with her fair looks against his black hair and toasted-almond skin. Arianne had wished herself to be as blonde, lithe and given to grace. She didn’t know why she had longed to attract Jason’s notice—not when she had her steady, sturdy husband—but the yearning had been there.
There had been fear, too, of course. She had felt the power of Jason’s potent sexuality and had been both frightened and fascinated, unaccountably shy and wanting to hide behind her husband. Craig had fallen under Celine’s spell in a similar way. The difference was, when the time came, Craig hadn’t been afraid to act on his urges.
“Tell me what you need, Arianne,” Jason said in a husky tone, his gaze lifting. She could have sworn the pressure of his boot against her foot increased, making her blood race in an alarming way.
She needed to stop being so afraid of such feelings. “I want you to introduce me to Dominic.”
Jason pushed himself away from the table, away from watching all that he’d carefully built come crashing down. When he reached the short stone wall surrounding Arianne’s patio, he turned to face west, to the dark border of hedges and the streetlights beyond, rather than looking at his own mansion and the window to his downfall.
Only when he felt the butt of concrete against his knee did he realize it was too late to say, “Who?” It came out anyway, and he heard Arianne’s scornful noise behind him. Funny, but he didn’t appreciate her impudence this time.
“Don’t play dumb,” she said. “Celine told me—”
“What?” he demanded. His hands clenched into fists as he braced himself for the lash of Arianne’s contempt. Surely she would express some. Maybe even worse.
Then it struck him, what she’d said.
“You want me to introduce you? Why? Do you even know who he is?” His gut knotted around the little dinner he’d eaten. He didn’t want to explain. How could he? He barely understood it himself.
“Celine told me he helped her discover herself. Sexually.” Her voice strained to pronounce the last word.
“I bumped into her at a salon a few weeks ago.”
“What else did she say?”
“Would you quit yelling at me?”
“I apologize.” He reined in his flare of temper. “I wasn’t expecting this.” He caught back cynical laughter at the understatement. No, he had begun to imagine something else entirely would come from this dinner. Attempting a calm tone, he forced himself to turn and face her. “Why would you like to meet him?”
She was still seated and kept her head down so she spoke into her lap. “I’m not exactly the most sensual person in the world. I thought he might help me with that.”
Disbelief pressed against the back of his throat.
“Arianne,” he scolded. “Look at yourself. The way you cook…” Rich and delicately spiced. “Your home…” Plush in texture, with splashes of exciting color. “Your hair…” She didn’t know what to do with the thick, waving mass, she’d said once, but leave it to fall around her shoulders. He could think of a thousand things to do with the mink-colored tresses, all of them involving naked skin.
She shook her head. “Craig—”
He made an angry noise and took a step toward her before he reminded himself to remain in control. She had the capacity for passion, but it still startled her. “Your ex-husband was not the type of man to bring out that side of any woman.”
“He lacked sophistication, true, but so do I. At least he had the nerve to explore new horizons.” She buried the words in a quick sip from her wineglass.
“Are you calling the lower end of town the ‘horizon’? Because that’s as far as the two of them got. They’re currently cutting a sexual swath through the natives there. I hope that’s not what you aspire to.”
“Of course not! I just want to be…different.”
“Different how?” She was positively seductive exactly as she was. When color rose in her cheeks like that and carnal promises grew in the curve of her pouted lips, he imagined exploring the finer points of erotic pleasure with her. Teaching…learning. Oh, yes, she had it in her to expand his horizons, but until tonight she’d quelled every hint of interest in doing so.
The way her marriage had crumbled was to blame, and he couldn’t rush the kind of healing she’d needed. He’d understood and tried to be patient while she found her way back to feeling attractive. Now that she was here, he wanted her to explore her sexual boundaries with him. Not Dominic.
Clasping his hands over the back of the chair he’d vacated, he said, “Why would you feel a need to be different?”
“Because no man wants a woman as stifled as I am.”
“Would you quit patronizing me?” She threw her napkin onto her plate and stood to stack dishes. “I’m so inhibited that just pressing my foot against yours made me feel…”
“What?” he prompted, excitement sweeping through him again at the remembered glory of her making advances for the first time.
“Like it’s wrong. Like I’m a slut or something.”
“Arianne.” She had only hinted at this before with brief remarks about a strict upbringing by elderly parents. A confession once that she’d developed early and was teased mercilessly. An embarrassed retelling of the office Romeo calling her a tease.
Until this moment he hadn’t recognized the true height of the walls erected around her sexuality.
“Did you like it? The touch of my boot against your foot?” he asked, feeling tension coil in his center.
“I don’t know! But I wanted to let it happen without—” She clunked down the plates and her gorgeously full breasts heaved. “I’m tired of being a freak.”
“You’re not a freak.” He stepped behind her and placed his hands on her slumped shoulders, digging gentle thumbs into the ridges on either side of her spine. Months of carefully introducing innocuous touches had brought him this far. It was the only tension release she allowed him to offer, and it never seemed to relax either of them no matter who gave or who received. Nevertheless, he took advantage of the liberty so he could reassure her. Touch her. Drink in the luscious feminine scents of cosmetics and unacknowledged arousal.
“You’re still patronizing me,” she said.
“I’m not and you’re insulting me by saying so.” Her hair tickled his knuckles. It was all he could do not to pull her back against him so he could ease the ache in his groin by pressing into the firm, lush curves of her bottom.
“I have hang-ups,” she murmured. “I can’t even relax when you give me a harmless massage.”
Because she sensed it wasn’t harmless, he thought wryly.
“Feeling self-conscious about the way your body reacts to sexual stimulation does not make you a freak. There are other ways to overcome it than what you’re suggesting.”
“Don’t you dare offer a pity—” she knocked his hands away and turned on him “—l-lay.”
“Fuck,” he provided. “It’s called a pity fuck. And you’re bent on pissing me off, aren’t you? Why would you accuse me of offering such a thing?”
“I’m sorry. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, only that you’ve never thought about me like that, so you must be just trying to be nice right now.”
“Which would still amount to a pity fuck and aside from the fact that it’s not in me to be that nice, if you would like the truth, I began thinking of you ‘like that’ the very day we met across this stone wall. You were wearing a yellow summer dress and I thought it would look better without the bra.”
She swallowed and brought her arms up to hug herself, shock seeming to steal a layer of color from her skin. “Well, you can see how ignorant I am. I had no idea.”
He wondered if he should mention that he could see her nipples hardening now beneath her silk blouse and lacy camisole as she plumped her breasts with her crossed arms. No, she was doing her withdrawal thing, turning away to collect dirty dishes again.
“And now that you do? Have an idea, I mean?” he asked, moving in front of her so she couldn’t retreat to the house.
She put down the dishes with a clatter and another little sigh.
“I don’t think these inhibitions of yours are so monumental, Arianne.” He stroked one knuckle on her bare arm, up to the ruffled cap sleeve of her blouse. “Let’s talk them out. I’ll be honest with you, you know that.”
“And then you’d know what a neophyte I am! I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of you like that. Our friendship would suffer. I value this, you know.” She nodded at the table in disarray with abandoned silver and the pepper mill knocked on its side. She set it upright again. “I can’t risk losing it.”
“Surely I deserve better than a Can’t We Just Be Friends brush-off?”
“That wasn’t— You just won’t understand, will you?”
Her skin pimpled under his touch and he soothed away the bumps; she felt the heat rising beneath her skin. His shy little sensuality artist. “Explain it to me. Help me understand, because if you won’t allow someone you know and trust to help you, then I can’t fathom what’s driving you.”
Her head dipped, and he felt little shivers chase over her skin again.
“I—” She waved modestly at the table. “This is a celebration. I’ve been the top agent twelve months running. I received a bonus. A cruise.”
“Well, that’s wonderful, isn’t it?” He opened his hand on the softness of her upper arm. Women’s skin was always soft, but Arianne’s compelled him to pet and stroke unceasingly. If only she would let him, if only— But he was supposed to be listening. Giving her the admiration she rightly deserved. “I’m not surprised but I’m very proud. Well done, beautiful.” He touched his lips to her skin for the first time, a light press at her temple that made her breath stall. Want surged through him.
“For two,” she added after a moment of significant silence. She kept her chin tucked. “I leave in a week.”
He used a gentle touch to tilt her face up to his. “Two?”
“It’s a cruise for two. At first I thought I’d take a girlfriend, perhaps Ella from the office. But there would be politics, and on the boat she’d be intent on cutting one of those sexual swaths you talked about. Essentially I’d be cruising alone. Then I considered trying something like that myself, but aside from the fact I’m hopelessly ill equipped, I’m built for relationships.” She shrugged awkwardly. “It’s just who I am. I’d rather invite a man to share the cruise with me. I even had someone in mind—”
“I beg your pardon?” His hand firmed involuntarily on her jaw.
“There is a man to whom I am attracted,” she said, lashes lowered in uncertainty. “I would like to invite him on this cruise, but I can’t. Not if I’m going to ruin everything by being some kind of sexual introvert.”
“Who is he?” he demanded. He was jealous, he realized. Insane with it.
She pulled away and bent to blow out the candles. “Do I ask you the names of the women you pursue?”
There was only one: Arianne. She’d been in his thoughts for eleven months. Over a year, if he wanted to be honest, but he didn’t want to be that honest. She might guess the rest, and he dreaded that.
“The problem is, if this man shares my bed, he’ll find out what a dud I am—”
“Stop talking about yourself like that.”
“It’s true! I don’t know what I’m doing there. I don’t even know why other people are so keen to test the limits of what can be done there. I don’t want to be this ignorant, Jason! I want to know how to satisfy a man in bed.”
“Fine. Invite me.”
She cocked her head at him as though he was suggesting something completely outrageous. “Right. How would that work? You’d bring me up to speed then release me into the world after the cruise? Then what? We continue our cozy dinners with that between us?”
“It could be the beginning of a relationship,” he said through clenched teeth, kicking himself for being too cautious with her this past year if she couldn’t foresee such a possibility. She could forget this other man to whom she was attracted.
“And when you found out what a dead fish I am, you’d be outta there, and how in the world would I ever sit across a table from you again? No, I’d rather spend a week taking lessons from someone I’ll never have to face again.”
She didn’t know who Dominic was. She couldn’t. Either that or she knew everything and was punishing him. Thoroughly.
Deep down, he didn’t care one way or another. There was an iniquitous part of him exploding with excitement thinking of her with Dominic. She’d test the hell out of him. It was beyond exciting to consider. His entire body coiled with anticipation.
At the same time, the velvet of an ocean-scented breeze swirled around him, but it wasn’t warm enough to quell the icy tendrils of guilt wrapping around him.
“But I do need someone I can trust, and you trust him, right? I mean, you trusted him with Celine, didn’t you?”
“I indulged her desire for him. They had a history,” he said reluctantly.
“So I could trust him, too. Otherwise I’ll have to find someone else—”
“Are you truly going to be that stubborn about this? You’ll put an ad in the classifieds or something unless I arrange this?”
“Well, there is that guy at work who seems to know his way around the bedroom, but I don’t really want—”
“Neither do I,” he cut in, flaring his nostrils to take a deep, calming breath. “But I think you’re being foolish. If this man you are so attracted to calls himself a man, he would find your natural innocence as charming as I do.”
“I don’t want to be innocent! I want to be passionate.”
“You’re highly passionate. You once lectured me for half an hour on recycling.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it. Every time I think about sex, a little voice inside me says, ‘But that’s not me.’ When a guy asks me on a date, I freeze up, terrified because he’ll expect me to be something I’m not. I’m curious, but the internet is just words. It’s not real. I want to feel what it’s like, learn things I didn’t know were possible. Orgasm, okay?”
“I can give you that.” Frustration drove him to slip the leash on his control. He pulled her against him, taking a chance and letting her feel the hardness of his throbbing wood against her stomach. “How do you want it? A long, slow buildup, then a hard push over the edge? What do you want me to use? My dick or my tongue? Fingers? All of the above until you can’t speak?”
“Jason.” She sounded breathless. Her hands pressed against his chest in resistance, but he held her close enough to feel her heart racing.
“Because that’s what Dominic will do. Do you understand that? He’ll run his tongue between your legs and ask you to suck his fingers and cock. He’ll expect freedoms for every lascivious pleasure he can conjure. He’ll fuck you. Often. As fast or slow or hard as your pussy can stand. Are you prepared for that?” The images blew his mind and tightened his grip on her arms.
“No,” she breathed. “But that’s the point, isn’t it? I should be.”
He could sense the contradiction in her, the opposition of her arms, straining for release, yet the faint scent of physical excitement rising off her skin. He suffered a similar incongruity in himself. He was drowning in such possessiveness that he wanted to overcome her protests and seduce her right here and now.
Arianne wasn’t with him, though. She was biting her lip, her sexual confidence balanced on a knife’s edge as she waited for his decision.
The blade of guilt in his chest gave a few twists. He knew why she carried some insecurity, and if she needed to hear from a stranger that she was sexy as hell, he should arrange it. Hell, Dominic had enough control to bolster her without touching her, then point her in the direction she ought to be looking: right here.
Or was that a bullshit rationalization? He didn’t let himself overthink it. It was only one meeting.
“If you insist,” he growled reluctantly, “I’ll arrange an introduction.”
“I do,” she said firmly. “Thank you.”
On the telephone he had sounded like Jason with a British accent. More or less.
The relationship between the two men was something of a mystery. She’d pressed Celine after the woman said with haughty amusement, I thought he would have introduced you to Dominic by now. But she’d only received a smirk in response.
Arianne wondered how much he’d be like Jason as she stood outside the hotel-room door. Until Jason had yanked her into his arms and spoken so explicitly, she’d only suspected what kind of man lurked beneath his quiet exterior. The idea of giving herself over to someone like that made her breath stutter, urging her to back out of this crazy stunt and retreat down the hall.
It didn’t matter how desperately she wanted Jason. He was a man who enjoyed highly sophisticated sex play. She’d never reach his level. This was—
The door opened.
The man who filled the open frame wore black from silk shirt to snug leather pants tucked into tall, well-worn boots that reminded her of Jason’s. She couldn’t be sure of his identity by looking at his hands or face. He wore leather gloves and a silky kerchief thing, cut with eyeholes. It hid the upper half of his face and hair, like a pirate.
Below the mask was a blond goatee. Jason’s hair was dark as a raven’s wing. This man was about as tall as Jason, but Jason had green eyes, while the ones staring at her were brown.
Stop comparing him to Jason, she scolded herself. He looked like the kind of man who wouldn’t put up with that sort of divided attention.
“Too timid to knock? Come in,” he said in that subtle accent, so crisp with authority. He braced the door with a straight elbow, remaining in the space so she would have to duck beneath his arm and brush his body to get by.
Her purse felt slippery in her grip, and she was pretty sure she was going to faint.
When she hesitated, he said, “Would it help to know I don’t intend to touch you? You wanted to meet me, so we’ll talk.”
She managed to swallow and nod then pressed through the tiny opening, feeling the brush of soft silk against her bare shoulder. She hadn’t known what to wear and settled on this lacy little sundress. It was too virginal, she realized. It screamed of inexperience. Timid. Newbie.
But she was here now, looking around the elegant suite. This was a chic boutique hotel, and he’d booked them into one of the best rooms, a suite on an upper floor. It had a lounge area, a small bar and a door to the left that would be the bathroom. The bed sat on a platform three stairs up, next to the hollow of a three-sided window alcove. Across the foot of the ornate king-size bed draped a fringed, peacock-blue sheet. A footstool, also ornately carved and upholstered in red velvet, stood beside the bed next to a discreet black suitcase.
Wondering what the case might contain made her abdomen tense. She jerked her gaze to the drawn sheers, which over the window that allowed some of the afternoon sun to penetrate, bringing a glow to the polished wood detailing above the empty fireplace. The room was comfortably warm. The air-conditioning, off. No hum. No music, either, just silence as he waited behind her.
She knew she ought to turn to face him, but it was easier to continue studying the room. In one corner stood a screen, black, with an inlay of tile chips. Perhaps it belonged to him, since mosaic nudes in Kama Sutra poses decorated it. Something red hung over the top of it. The rest of the furniture appeared to be hotel issue. Lovely, but not provocative—not like that screen or the suitcase.
“I said I wouldn’t touch you but I have a custom, Arianne. People who play sexual games need signals between them to express readiness to begin and closure at the end. It builds trust. You will kiss me now and again when you leave.”
Was he kidding?
She pivoted slowly, trying to find something reassuring in the cut of his jawline, but he was pure wickedness, lounging so negligently beside the door. She didn’t think she could do it.
“I was under the impression you wanted to reset the boundaries you’ve placed on your sexuality. Have you changed your mind?” His hand was still on the doorknob and he twisted it enough for her to hear the click.
Reasoning that she would have to cross the room to kiss or escape, she did that much on legs that felt numb, not certain until she reached him which option she would choose. Then she was eye level with his lips, their shape a close match to the ones she’d memorized over dinners and drinks.
Brothers, she fleetingly thought, or maybe cousins. At the same time, she was surprised how badly she wanted to kiss him, regardless of who he was. His mouth looked so carnal and masculine. And it was only a kiss. She couldn’t screw that up.
Like taking a leap off the high board, she gathered her courage, held her breath and stepped closer. Lifting slightly in her low sandals, she pressed her lips to his with gentle pressure. His mouth was warm and firm with a faint prickle from the goatee. Closing her eyes as an unexpected shiver of pleasure tickled down her spine, she lingered for an extra second to examine it, then scolded herself for acting so slutty.
She dropped onto her heels.
When she opened her eyes, she saw one corner of his mouth curled up in amusement. “Do I bear a strong resemblance to one of your maiden aunts? Kiss me properly, Arianne.”
Horrified, she looked at his hand on the doorknob, but he released it. The heavy hotel lock clicked into place. He raised his gloved hand to her chin, tilted up her face and lowered his head so his mouth covered hers in a slanting possession.
Hot, damp and thorough. She hadn’t expected that, but oh, when he flicked his tongue into her mouth, it sent a lightning bolt all the way to her center.
He drew back slowly, his gloved fingers caressing her throat. “Hello, Arianne. I’m Dominic. It’s lovely to meet you. Do you speak at all?”
“Of course.” She spoke to the middle of his chest. “It’s nice to meet you, too.”
“Is it? We’ll see. If you don’t kiss me on your way out the way I just kissed you, I’ll know for sure.” He walked past her into the room. “I prefer you to wear what I give you. Try on the red dress behind the screen.”
“I—” Undress? That was quite an icebreaker.
“You…?” he prompted.
“I thought you wanted to talk.”
“I thought you wanted to explore your sexuality.”
She could change or she could leave. He offered the choice with silent patience.
Ignoring how crazy this was, she ducked behind the screen.
A small table stood behind it. It had a drawer but she didn’t snoop within it, just set her purse on top. The mirrors on the inside walls of the screen startled her but turned out to be useful once she got the dress on.
The fabric felt like air in her hands, a silk knit that weighed nothing and clung like a second skin, hiding not one single flaw. Her breasts almost fell out the top and she couldn’t seem to tug it more than an inch below the cheeks of her backside. Did he really expect her to parade these thighs of hers before him? And the panty lines? Ugh.
“It’s too small,” she said from behind the screen.
“Let me see.”
Blushing furiously, she stepped out just far enough to catch a glimpse of him with her peripheral vision. He was rearranging furniture.
“It’s fine,” he said, “but did I give you the bra and underwear?”
“Then take them off.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Do you feel desirable right now, Arianne?”
“Then take them off.”
She did and eyed the result. Her breasts didn’t sit as high and they moved around a lot more, but the fabric was so insubstantial her nipples stood out like pencil erasers. Without her panties, her hips had a smooth curve to them, which she had to admit was more attractive, but the skirt was still too short.
“Let me see,” he said again.
It was just as difficult to step beyond the privacy of the screen. She didn’t feel as unappealing, but she felt incredibly exposed.
He had created a large space in the center of the room and placed the stool there. As she revealed herself, he floated the blue sheet over the stool so it became a bump in an island of blue.
“Come. All the way. Here is your space, here is mine.” He pointed at the square. “Stand here a moment so I might admire.”
Cringing every step, she started forward.
“Why are you wearing your sandals?”
She kicked them off and continued until she felt the cool, slippery fabric of the blue sheet beneath her feet.
“You forgot your posture at home?”
Looking at the ceiling, she straightened her spine, tugging at the hem of the skirt when she felt it climb.
“Ah. Better with the hands at the sides.” He paced the edges of the sheet, examining her from all sides. “How do you feel?” he asked in a lowered tone.
“Stupid. Ridiculous. Inadequate. Like I’m trying to be something I’m not.”
“Those are emotions. Tell me what you feel physically. Is there relief from removing your bra?”
“Yes.” She felt much more comfortable actually.
“Are you cold?”
Her nipples. She clenched her eyes shut. “They just do that. I don’t know why.”
“What does what?”
“My—” She waved a hand in front of her chest. “They just poke out that way. They always have, even before I really had anything up there.”
“So you’re not cold?”
“Not when I’m blushing this hard, no.” Honestly, he was certainly as pigheaded and demanding as Jason.
“What about your legs? Why do you keep pulling on the dress like that? You’ll tear it.”
She smoothed it with her hands instead. “It’s too short.”
“So you’re self-conscious, but not cold. What else do you feel? Physically?”
“I don’t know. The sheet is soft under my feet.” She curled her toes into it. “My hair is soft on my shoulders.”
“Gather it up and let it fall down your back.”
She lifted her arms, but as she picked up her hair, she felt the dress climb, felt the neckline shift on her breasts so more of her swelled out the top than stayed inside.
“Hold right there a moment,” he commanded softly, his gaze hot along her front. “Tell me what you feel.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” she whispered, but held the position, dying.
“Separate the feelings, Arianne. How does your hair feel in your hands?”
“Soft. Heavy. Silky. Thick.”
“Good. And your hands on your head?”
“Warm. Familiar. My arms are aching a little.”
“Hold just a moment more. How do your nipples feel when they’re erect like that? Tight?”
“Yes.” Her voice shook with the strain. “They kind of hurt. Like they’re being pinched.”
“Oh, Arianne, that’s lovely,” he said with warm approval, pacing slowly out of her sight, behind her. “Keep going. What else?”
“My stomach is fluttering, like nervous butterflies or something, and I keep feeling this…I don’t know what it is. A contraction of muscles. Like I’m being punched, only it doesn’t hurt. It’s more electrical. That sounds stupid.”
“Not at all. It’s exciting. Keep going.”
“My legs are shaky. I’m nervous.”
“Because you know what else I want to know. Part your legs a little. Tell me how it feels when the cool air climbs beneath the dress.”
Biting her lips together, she shifted her feet apart, felt the creep of cool air. “It’s…a little like when I climb from the shower and just wear my robe while I do my hair. My arms are really tired.”
“Soon. Tell me first, when you come from the shower, are you damp?”
“Do you feel damp beneath your skirt right now?”
She had been trying to ignore it. “And hot,” she admitted, eyes tightly shut. “Heavy. Tingling.”
“And emotionally that makes you feel…?”
“Promiscuous. Dirty. Wrong.”
“Thank you, Arianne. You may let your hair down and have a seat on the stool.”
Trembling all over, she let her hair fall and lowered herself, discovering the dress was even trickier to manage when she sat.
“You might want to pull it up from beneath you, if you’re aroused. You won’t want to stain it, since you’ll be wearing it out of here.”
She stared at him. Was she aroused? She’d felt this fluttering confusion of signals before, but only after lengthy necking and fooling around. After Craig had finished, she’d have this same prickly, nervous tension and yearning for something, but not this jittery anticipation for— God, was that what she wanted? Sex?
He shrugged. “It’s just a suggestion.”
“I have my own clothes,” she said.
“And I’ll give them to you in a bag. Unless you wish to leave now?” he asked.
No, she needed to calm down first. Attempting to be discreet, she tugged the skirt up from beneath her cheeks, which gave her enough slack to pull the front down a bit, but really it was a lost cause all the way around while she sat on such a low stool. Her knees came up too high and the stool was so small there was no angle that didn’t threaten to expose the tops of her thighs and more.
“You said on the phone you wished to lose some of your inhibitions. Tell me about your sexual experience. And leave the skirt alone.”
“I didn’t expect you to be such a dictator,” she said, settling her hands in her lap.
“You feel an imbalance of power?” He moved to stand in front of her and swept his hand in the air above the fringed edge of the sheet. “This reminds me that I cannot touch today. Believe me, I do not enjoy the restriction. When did you lose your virginity?”
“Just before I married.” She looked at her twisting hands. “That’s, um, why we got married. I thought we should, since we’d…gone all the way.”
“Your husband was your first lover?”
“Lovers since?” He paced across the front of the sheet.
The smooth grace in his step faltered. “You’ve had one lover? You astound me, Arianne.” He moved behind her and didn’t say anything for a long time. “What sorts of pleasures did you and your husband enjoy?”
“What do you mean? Like cycling?”
“No.” He sounded amused. “I mean positions. Variations of lovemaking. Did he ever tie you up? Ask you to tie him?”
“No! We just did…normal things. In the normal way.”
“Did your normal include oral sex?”
“Um, no. I mean I tried it a couple of times but I—” She cleared her throat. “I don’t think I did it right.”
“And what about your pleasure?” he asked.
“He— I never really wanted him to do that.”
“And you never tried it yourself.”
“I can’t reach. Or do you mean on another woman? I’m not a lesbian!” Was she? Was that why— No, she wanted Jason. A man. She’d never felt any sort of longing for a woman, not like she felt for him.
“It’s just physical pleasure, Arianne. It doesn’t have to label you.”
“I didn’t mean to imply there’s something wrong with same-sex relationships, just that I’m not oriented that way.”
“So you don’t view homosexuals as immoral.”
“Not at all.”
“And you don’t make judgments on someone who might experiment with same-sex pleasure even though they consider themselves heterosexual?”
Like him? Had he done something like that? Intrigued, she twisted, trying to see behind her. “What other people do is their business,” she said.
“But if you wear a dress without underwear, you judge yourself as lewd?” He strolled to her side, back into her field of vision.
“Well, it sounds stupid when you say it like that.”
“Am I right?”
“Yes. I realize it’s not logical. But I did get past it for a few minutes, when you made me hold my hair up.” She squirmed, feeling awkward as so much of that heat and excitement flooded back into her. The movement accidentally brought the pressure of the stool to bear on the deepest ache where she held her legs together tightest. She stifled a gasp and kept her back arched, feeling the strain in the bottom of her spine as she held the position, but needing the relief in her loins.
“We’re making progress,” he murmured, strolling up the edge of the sheet. “Do you feel a need to self-pleasure right now?”
She turned her hot face away, shook her head but couldn’t relax the curve in her back, needing to ease the throb between her legs.
“What do you fantasize about when you do?” he asked in a low voice, his boots coming to rest in the corner of her vision.
“You don’t fantasize?” He sounded confused.
“I don’t self-pleasure,” she corrected and bowed her head so deeply her hair swayed forward to hide her face. “I’ve tried a couple times over the years but it never seems to do anything for me. I just feel stupid.”
“When you said—”
That had sounded like Jason.
She brought her head up in shock, but he was walking away, gloved hands clenched behind his back. He stood at the fireplace for a long minute.
Touching her hand to her racing heart, she studied him with frantic eyes, certain that Jason was a smidge taller and his shoulders a bit broader. No, this wasn’t Jason. He wouldn’t set her up like this, or keep such vital information from her. He would have told her up front if he and Dominic were one and the same.
On the other hand, playing dress-up was the last thing she would expect from a man as comfortable in his own skin as her self-assured neighbor. If he did have a secret like this, how often did he admit it to anyone?
He turned and his cheeks were definitely more hollow than she’d ever seen Jason’s. The unease that hardened his jaw made her heart sink. She ceased to care whether this was Jason or Dominic when it was obvious she’d never appeal to either one of them.
“You’ve realized what a lost cause I am, haven’t you?” The weight of inadequacy slumped her spine.
“Not at all. I just didn’t anticipate the extent of your inexperience. I would have approached things differently had I known. And I had to move away because I was in danger of disrespecting the boundaries I’ve placed between us today.”
She glanced at the sheet where it had twisted beneath the rotation of his retreating boot. “So you think there’s hope for me?” She tried to make it a joke.
“Oh, yes.” He stroked his fingers over his goatee, maintaining his distance. “But there’s something you must understand. I can be your guide down this river of pleasure you’re so intent on exploring, Arianne, but you’re going to have to build your own craft to navigate it.”
“And I don’t know starboard from port, so I’m up the creek without a paddle.”
“Ah, but I can provide some of the raw material.” He crossed to the bed and lifted the suitcase onto it. Opening it, he blocked her view with his body as he removed something. He came back to her with a large bound navy folder, perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick. “I had intended this for another purpose but it can serve both, I think.” He turned pages until he found whatever he’d been looking for and offered it to her.
She had to reach for it and felt the back of the skirt pop up, over the cheeks of her bottom. The book was big enough to require two hands, and when she recognized the sketch, she forgot her own peep show.
The charcoal nude brought the woman’s genitalia onto center stage and left nothing to the imagination. Her limbs spilled off the page but her breasts rose in the background with the curve of her throat as she bent her head back in ecstasy. A man’s head rested on her thigh while two of his fingers disappeared between her glistening curls. The tip of his tongue speared to almost touch the pearl at the top of her slit.
“Did you draw this?” she asked in a scandalized whisper.
“An artist I know. Have you ever looked at yourself, Arianne? Like that? Legs spread wide, lips pulled back?”
“Not like that.” Not when she was aroused. Not with anything or anyone inside her. She shook her head while using the giant sketch to cover her nearly naked thighs, and she felt compelled to rock her pelvis against the stool again.
“You have homework tonight. Get to know yourself. The materials for your raft, if you will,” he said with faint humor. “You see where his tongue points? That is a woman’s clitoris.”
“I know what it is,” she said, mortified.
“Good. Acquaint yourself with your own. Learn what brings the sharpest sensations. Some women like circles, some like it to be rubbed. Perhaps you’ll enjoy firm pressure or the pulse of water from a showerhead. In fact, that might be a good beginning. A soapy bath or shower. Use your hands, not a cloth, and concentrate on how your hands make you feel. Play with your nipples. When they feel pinched, they probably need to be. Explore yourself thoroughly and when your pussy aches so much you can’t stand it, penetrate yourself with your fingers. You may wish to lie on your stomach then and hump your clit against the heel of your hand. An extra finger might give you the tension you need at that point. Do you think you could find time for that assignment before tomorrow?” He leaned forward and tugged the book from her lap, revealing the tops of her naked thighs.
“You have a week before this cruise of yours, do you not? It should be sufficient time to break down these barriers of yours.” He straightened and snapped the book closed while she made a little sobbing noise, part mild hysteria, part acute excitement.
She suspected they were done, since he moved away behind her, but she continued to sit in shock.
After a few seconds, he came back to the edge of the sheet with a gift bag in his hand and her purse dangling beside it. “Your clothes. And these shoes please. Wear the same outfit if you decide to return.” He bent to set the shoes beside the sheet.
“I don’t think I can stand,” she admitted.
“That’s quite a compliment and bodes well for your homework.” He offered a hand.
She clung while she rose, then couldn’t remove her fingers from his tight grip, so she only had one hand to rearrange the skirt of the dress while he blatantly watched. Dizziness assaulted her along with a tumble of wild feelings in her abdomen.
He continued to steady her while she found her balance in the tall shoes, then he bent to buckle the red straps that closed around her ankle.
“Come Fuck Me shoes,” he murmured, straightening. “Stay on the carpet or you might slip. I’ve arranged a limo. Ask the concierge. And remember when you draw stares that the men are admiring and the women are jealous. Or admiring, too, perhaps.”
“I can’t walk out of here like this.”
“You can’t stay. I’m on a tight leash.” He tugged the back of her dress into place, the leather of his glove grazing the cleft of her buttocks. “Kiss me now.”
The heels made her taller and unsteady, so she had to lean into him. Her mouth crashed into his, no finesse at all, but her bones were so languid, her skin sensitive and in need of touch. Curling her arm around his neck to keep herself upright, she kissed him with lips and tongue. Tongue. Her.
He sucked it, making her rise on her toes. His hand flattened hot and possessive over her butt and ground the throbbing part of her against the ridge of his erection.
She cried out at the sensation, so acute and surprising.
He smiled. “Tomorrow we will have fewer boundaries.” He released her.