Liz strode down the hallway of the community center, past other rooms filled with members of the BDSM community, both seasoned players and new hopefuls.

A less-determined, less-sexually-frustrated person would have given up, but even as she pushed through the double doors leading to the parking lot Liz was forming a new plan of action. This was only the first one of these events she had attended. There would be another one in a few months. Until then she would go through some of the contacts that they had been given in class—online message boards and groups.

So intent was she on formulating a new plan of action that she almost didn’t see the man who stood slumped against the grille of a big SUV, though he was clearly visible in the security light illuminating the parking lot. Liz’s first impression of him was one of size. This guy was BIG. His slumped posture made it all the more apparent that when he straightened he would tower over her. Dark hair hung down to his neck, a few strands had fallen in front of his face, shielding it from view. He wore jeans and a t- shirt, which was pulled taut across the swell of muscle on his arms and shoulders.

Liz froze—her heart picking up speed as hope bloomed. It was unlikely that someone not in the scene would be standing outside the community center at nine p.m. on a Thursday night. Could he be a Dom? He was the perfect physical embodiment of what Liz wanted in her Dom—big, strong, with muscles to sink her fingers and teeth into—someone whom she could trust not only emotionally but physically.

Knowing her luck he was probably a sub waiting for one of the Dominatrices inside. With a disgusted sigh, Liz started walking again, headed toward her car, which she now realized was parked only two down from the SUV. As her heels clicked closer, the dark-haired dream looked up.

The way he moved, his head snapping up, eyes bright and sharp, made Liz think of a predator. Raising her own chin a notch, Liz kept walking, but as she got closer and studied his face her steps slowed. A face she knew.

Straight dark eyebrows had pulled together over his nose as he frowned at her. Liz slowed to a stop, sure she knew him from somewhere. He remembered first, his features relaxing, his lips curled in a devastatingly sexy smile.

“Liz? Liz Brown?”

At the deep, rumbling voice, his name came back to her. “Marcus Palmer?”

With a few long strides he was at her side, his arms coming around her in a rib- crunching hug. On instinct Liz’s arms went up around his shoulders, returning the fierce hug. It was not the greeting an adult woman would give to an old acquaintance but the hug of a twenty-year-old college student to a good friend. After a final squeeze, Mark held her at arm’s length, his big hands spanning and cupping her waist.

“Lizzy, wow, how are you?” “Mark, it’s been so long. I’m fine, how are you?” “I’m good, I’m good, thanks.”

Mark held her back from him and his gaze made a slow, easy sweep over her, from the crown of her glossy, straight blonde hair, over her torso hugged by the ribbed sweater and down the lean length of her legs, emphasized by the tailored slacks she wore. With a smile, Liz returned the favor. His dark hair was worn longer than she remembered, curling against the nape of his neck, the sides pulled back behind his ears. It should have looked boyish but instead he looked like a warrior. The breadth of his shoulders tapered to a nice waist. His pants were tight around his thighs, outlining the powerful muscles there.

Liz could see appreciation reflected in his eyes. She found nothing offensive in his examination, merely an acknowledgement of her beauty, and she had returned the favor. They had given each other similar perusals while in college. They had met in class, each from very different parts of their university community—she an involved student leader and crusader, he the star wide receiver of their national championship football team. Back then they had both been in other relationships. Only with their frank appraisal of each other had they acknowledged that if the situation were different they might have been together. But because they had both been committed to other people, their friendship had grown strong without the overlying need to posture and pose. It had been a strange friendship, but a good one.

Mark let his gaze sweep over the stunning woman before him one more time. She had changed from the sweatshirt- and jeans-clad co-ed he had known into a polished and professional woman. They had parted ways after college, both knowing when they said goodbye the last time that theirs was a friendship that would not survive the transition into their adult lives. She had gone on to corporate America and he to the boys’ club of professional football. There had been some regret for the friendship lost but he had appreciated the time spent together enough to celebrate it for having existed rather than mourn its passing.

Then Mark remembered where he was, and more importantly he remembered what was going on in the community center. A slow grin curled the corners of his mouth, widening until he showed teeth. For a moment Liz looked uncomfortable. She turned her head slightly to one side as if embarrassed, her feet shifting, heels clicking against the pavement of the parking lot, but as Mark watched she straightened her shoulders and turned to look at him with the fire of defiance in her eyes. Her look said that she would not be afraid or ashamed for having been found here. Indeed, Liz raised one eyebrow and tilted her head, giving him a questioning look, her posture inquiring what he was doing here. Then it was his turn to feel slightly uncomfortable at having been caught.

“Well this is certainly an interesting situation,” Liz said.

“Yeah, well, I guess you could say that. But I would have said ‘fucking embarrassing’ instead of interesting.”

Liz laughed, her head falling back, exposing the long smooth line of her throat. The slow burn that had started in Mark’s belly when he first saw the stunning woman walking toward him fired a little bit hotter.

“So, I figure there are three things we can do.” She chuckled. “One—we can walk away and pretend this never happened. Two—we can exchange business cards, renew our friendship by e-mail and just pretend that we didn’t meet each other here. Three— we can go and get a cup of coffee and catch up.”

“I say number three. There’s a good place down the street or we can go downtown,” he offered.

“Let’s go to that place on the corner of Ninth and Fig. You remember it?”

“Yeah, I remember. We used to go there to study. You always drank Diet Cokes, when did you grow up and start drinking coffee?”

“As soon as I realized how much more caffeine there was in a cup of coffee than a Diet Coke. However there are times at night when I crave that sweet fake sugar taste.”

Mark chuckled appreciatively. Lifting his hands from where they still gripped her waist, he looked around for her car. “Do you want to follow me or do you want to drive with me?”

“I’ll follow you.”

Liz headed toward her black SLR, hips swaying. Mark watched her walk away, his eyes tracing the outline of her tight ass through her pants.

Now that is one fine-looking, sassy woman. Too damn bad she’s a Domme.


An hour later, Mark and Liz were sitting comfortably in a booth at a 24/7 diner that served all-you-can-eat waffles and coffee between midnight and five a.m., which made it a favorite venue for a late-night carbohydrate fix among the students at the university.

With a nod to nostalgia, Liz had skipped the coffee and ordered a Diet Coke. She was slouched on the bench, one leg tucked under her, the other swinging free, her heel making a rhythmic thump against the booth with every swing. Her pumps lay discarded under the table. Mark had assumed a familiar pose, his back against the window, long legs stretched out along the bench with ankles crossed. He was so tall that every time the waitress came by she had to dodge his feet because they stuck out so far. One thickly muscled arm rested along the back of the booth, the other along the tabletop. His big, rough hands were relaxed. Occasionally he would lift the arm that rested on the back of the booth and use it for emphasis when making a point.

They had been sitting here for over forty minutes, reminiscing. They’d done rounds of “how is so-and-so doing” and “remember when”. There were tears of laughter in Liz’s eyes as Mark retold the story of Liz going toe-to-toe with the evil TA of their class. His colorful retelling, with Liz as a warrior of Arthurian proportions crusading for the repressed members of BUAD 428—Advanced Biz Development was wildly inaccurate and hysterically funny.

When he wound down Liz went to wipe her eyes with her sleeve, an old habit from the time when sweatshirts made up most of her wardrobe. She stopped herself just in time and plucked a napkin from the dispenser.

Liz looked into Mark’s face. Maturity had slimmed it down, refined it, but that wolfish grin was still the same. Though humor sparkled in his eyes and his posture was relaxed, the bulk of his physical presence combined with the grin was vaguely threatening.

As the echo of her laughter faded they fell into a companionable silence. It was amazing how easy it had been to fall back into her old friendship with him. It had always been a friendship that had included simply the two of them. They had no mutual friends, so when they were together there had been no one there to expect them to act like the star football player and the student leader. What started out as an assigned partnership for a class project grew into a refuge—a chance to vent frustrations and worries to a friend without any expectations.

Bending her head, Liz took a long drink from her soda, letting the bubbles fill her mouth. She glanced up from beneath her lashes to see that Mark was studying her with cool appraisal. With a sigh she lifted her head, flicking her tongue across the tip of her straw to catch any stray drops. Leaning back against the creaky vinyl, Liz prepared herself for what would undoubtedly be an embarrassing conversation, though oddly she didn’t feel as embarrassed as she should.

“So, how did you get an invitation to The Gathering?” she asked, wincing. The name seemed melodramatic in the cheery warmth of the diner.

Mark must have seen her wince. “It is a stupid name, isn’t it?” Liz smiled. “It really is.”

Mark returned her sunny smile with his own darker one. “I got the invitation because I’ve been to a couple of parties hosted by the group that runs the class.”

“How did you get involved in that?”

This time Mark’s smile was wicked. “A few years ago I saw a notice in the paper about a conference and demonstration they were holding at the convention center. It was all about D/s stuff. You had to go through a bunch of hoops to get tickets but I had been real curious for a long time so I managed to snag one. Let’s just say that going opened my eyes. I realized that all my life I had been treating the girls I slept with like submissives, except I always felt like an abuser. Every time I ordered a woman to spread her legs I felt like I was raping her. Once I found BDSM, I had a name for what I wanted, a name that came with a certain set of expectations.

“I picked up a bunch of flyers and stuff hoping to find a way to meet submissive women, women who wouldn’t freak out if they ended up tied to the bed. I started sending emails, meeting some people for coffee. Eventually someone recognized me from my pro years and like magic I was invited to the inner circle.”

“Weren’t you concerned about tabloids finding out?”

He shrugged, “Not really, now that I’m not playing ball anymore I’m not really news, and everything I read said these people like their privacy. It would be worse if I tried a BDSM relationship with a woman who wasn’t into it. If she thought there was money in the story, or just got scared and told someone who told someone else, I’d have a problem—that’s why all my subs sign a nondisclosure agreement with a multimillion- dollar penalty.”

Liz stared at him in amazement. She had never considered how hard it would have been for a guy like him, so physically imposing, to treat a woman like a submissive without scaring her.

“So why were you there tonight, just looking for a play date?” she asked.

“Naw, I had plenty of those. There were always unattached girls at the parties who had been brought by other guys, or girls who Masters, but who weren’t in a committed relationship with them and whose Masters were willing to share. That was fine for a while, but I’ve discovered that it’s the guys who have just one sub, who know their girl like the back of their hand, who really know what they’re doing. I went tonight looking for a girl I could keep for myself.”

Liz shifted on the bench, sliding her foot from beneath her so she could press her legs together. His casual talk of dominating a woman, tying her up, ordering her to spread her legs, had her incredibly aroused.

She could hardly believe that her ideal partner seemed to be sitting across the booth from her. The problem was that now she didn’t know how to broach the subject. She wasn’t prepared to do it while sitting in a diner. She had been prepared to deal with this back at the community center, but not here. If she were to start a sexual relationship with Mark it would take away some of the danger—she already knew who he was and was fairly sure he wasn’t a serial killer.

Then a horrible thought occurred to her—he may be just what she was looking for, but what if she was not what HE was looking for?

Liz figured it would be just her luck to find the Dom of her dreams and then find out he had an Asian fetish.

“So what about you?” Liz looked up with a start. “Me?” “Yeah, how did you get invited?”

“Oh, I took the BDSM 101 class. I haven’t had much luck with real-life BDSM and got tired of only having my fantasies. It seemed like the safest way to meet someone who was already into it.”

“You just felt safe taking a class. You always were a school nerd.”

Liz threw a napkin at him that he caught with hands well accustomed to accepting a thrown item.

“Okay, maybe you’re right, I know how to take classes, and it is something I was good at.”

“Didn’t find what you were looking for?”

Liz moaned in exaggerated anguish. “Not even close. That’s why I left early, but what about you?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

“So you didn’t find any subs you liked?” she asked, fishing for information on his preferences.

“I met a bunch of girls who were nice and quiet and submissive. They probably would have done exactly what I told them every fucking moment of the day,” he said in tones of despair.

“Isn’t that what you want?”

He shifted on the bench, uncrossing and then re-crossing his legs with the opposite leg on top. “I don’t want a girl who lies there. I want someone with more strength...” He ran a hand through his hair, looking frustrated. “Sometimes I don’t know if what I want is really a submissive girl, because the girls who were there tonight...” He trailed off and shrugged as if he were unable to find the words he wanted.

Liz’s heart leapt into a fast tempo. She wanted to scream that she was different from the girls who were there. She wanted, no—craved, the domination of a strong man but she wouldn’t, couldn’t, simply drop to her knees. She needed a man strong enough to take her.

Can he really be this perfect?

The Dominant of her dreams was sitting on the other side of the table and he seemed completely unaware of her as anything other than an old friend. She wanted to jump across the table and say,

“Look! What about me?”

It was fear that stopped her. He knew the girl she had been, and probably knew of the ball-busting venture capitalist she had become since college. Nothing about her would indicate that she’d be a good sexual submissive. Maybe if they didn’t have a past, if he had no idea who she was...

“I wonder if you and I might not have the same problem, Liz. I glanced in the male subs room for a minute and they all looked like a bunch of pansies. I bet you would chew them up and spit them out in a heartbeat.”

Liz stared at him in astonishment. Does he think...?

“You looked in the male subs room and...?”

“I didn’t see you. Then again I wasn’t really looking very hard at anyone in there.”

“You didn’t see me in the room for female Dominants and male submissives?” she repeated, knowing she sounded stupid.

“No,” he said, frowning at her.

Liz took a deep breath and reached one hand into her pocket, curling her fingers into a fist.

“Mark, there was a reason you didn’t see me there,” she said slowly.

Liz laid her closed fist on the tabletop with the back of her hand resting on the cool Formica. Mark looked first to her hand then to her face, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. With her gaze locked on his, she slowly uncurled her fingers.

Mark stared at the crumpled red ribbon in her palm. For a minute he simply gazed at her hand in confusion, and then the implications hit him. A picture of slender necks circled with red ribbons popped up in his mind’s eye.

Startled, he met her gaze. He read defiance and power in her eyes, both a thin mask to cover her fear of rejection and uncertainty, he was sure.

He glanced back down at the ribbon curled on her palm. In one motion he swung his legs off the bench and sat up straight. He took the ribbon from her hand, letting the tips of his fingers caress the soft pad of her palm.

He lifted the ribbon, draping it over his index finger, drawing out the moment he studied it. Raising his eyes to hers, he smiled and clenched the ribbon in his fist.

There was a stabbing pain in Liz’s chest. She released the breath she’d been holding for too long and shuddered as she inhaled again. Terror, excitement and dread filled her. Had she made a mistake, or the best decision of her life? Mark wasn’t a stranger the way she’d planned. If he said anything...

“Liz, do you mean to tell me you were wearing this ribbon?” His voice was lower than normal, almost threatening, yet he was smiling.

Retreating behind her pride, she lifted her chin. “Yes, I was.” His grin widened. “You’re a submissive?”

Her chin notched up another degree. “Yes, I am.” “Well, isn’t that interesting?”

“Drop the smug attitude,” she said, annoyed.

“Are you getting fresh with me? That’s a risky thing to do,” he said, sounding smarmy and fake Dom-ish. Her perfect man was turning out no better than the wannabe Doms at the community center.

Liz gritted her teeth. “Do not think that just because I am a submissive you can treat me like a toy.”

Abruptly Mark’s expression became serious. “I don’t think you’re a toy. I was surprised—”

“You think that because I am a woman who has her own life, who can stand up for herself and make her own decisions I can’t look for something different in the bedroom? I am so tired of men’s inability to see a woman as a complex person. Why can’t I be submissive in the bedroom and nowhere else? And why is it that a man just assumes that if I am submissive I will fall to my knees and beg to suck him off while he taunts me with petty threats? As far as I’m concerned he had better be willing to fight for my submission, to earn it.”

Liz’s hands were fisted on the tabletop as she leaned forward. Anger had knotted the muscles in her shoulders and back. There was a hollow, gray feeling in her stomach. Mark hadn’t laughed at her, but he also wasn’t really the man she was looking for. He’d jumped right to the attitude she despised. The faux threats, the condescension...

Mark, rather than pulling away, was leaning toward her, absorbing her anger and drawing in the emotions in her words.

“Liz, Liz, let me finish my thought. I would never treat you like a toy. I didn’t mean to be arrogant or condescending. That was a dumb-fuck thing to say. I’m sorry. You are an amazing woman and I know that about you. I can only imagine that you would be an incredible submissive.”

“That’s sweet of you to say, but I know my attitude isn’t that of a great submissive. I want sex, Mark. I want lots of sex. I want pleasure and pain and bondage and yes, I want to be controlled, but if that control involves being told to vacuum the house naked but not have sex for days then I’m going to walk out.”

Mark’s eyes had gone dark at her words and she could tell that he was aroused. The happy, normal bustle of the diner faded away around them.

“I realized I messed up with what I said before, but you blindsided me,” he said. “You know I don’t handle surprises well. I like to run the play that was called. Pretend that didn’t happen.”

Liz let out a slow breath and sat back. “I’m sorry I jumped on you like that. After all the bullshit I had to see tonight at the center...”

Mark imagined some of the losers he had seen at the community center with their hands on her. Reminding himself of his dentist’s warning about grinding his teeth, he unclenched his jaw.

“Those dicks at the community center aren’t fit to lick the bottom of your shoes,” he growled. “They couldn’t handle you.”

“Are you implying that you are competent and confident enough to handle me?” she asked, eyes searching his face. He was serious and she realized she might have overreacted to his earlier teasing.

He met her gaze squarely. “Yes, I think I am.” He held out his hand.

Returning his stare, she took a chance, both on him and on her fantasies. “I think you are too.”

Buy from Ellora’s Cave

ISBN 978-1-41993-233-5

She wore the mark of a sub, but wouldn’t submit without a fight.

Running into an old friend isn’t a big deal, unless you’re attending a BDSM mixer. When Liz, a woman who has it all—except a sex life—sees college pal Mark in the parking lot, she brushes off her embarrassment and agrees to go out for coffee to catch up.


Mark assumes Liz is a Domme, but when she reveals her red ribbon—a ribbon identifying her as a sub—he has to have her. He makes her complete a sex checklist that lists every toy, kink, position and taboo he might do to her, on her or with her.


Though desperate for this relationship to work, Liz cannot fully accept her desires or bring herself to submit passively. She wants Mark to master her, to dominate her. Mark is delighted by the way she challenges him, and with one touch, he knows she’s his perfect sexual match.


Now they face their greatest challenge yet, that forbidden territory that lies outside the bedroom… Dating.


Lila Dubois

  1. (c)2011

Red Ribbon