She was going to have to book an extended session with her therapist.
Sasha Blake closed her eyes and tried to take deep cleansing breaths like she’d been told to do when the familiar panic started to take over. But the sharp claws of fear and dread grabbed onto her chest and the simple act of inhaling took more strength than necessary.
“Sasha?” Nathaniel asked. “Are you okay?”
She cracked one eye open. The Dominant in charge of running the meeting looked at her with concern. She focused on him and did her best to ignore everything and everyone else.
“Yes, Master West,” she said. “I’m fine.”
Fine. Her pat reply to everything. She was fine. Work was fine. Her back was fine. And being told the Partners in Play senior members had decided she could rejoin the BDSM group after a retraining with Cole Johnson?
She was sitting in a small room off to the side of Daniel Covington’s playroom where group meetings were held. Only the senior members were present, which meant there were only about ten people sitting around the oval table at the moment.
The side of her face tingled as if someone was staring at her and she slipped her hands under her thighs to keep from rubbing the spot. She used more discipline than what should be necessary to keep her gaze directed on Nathaniel and not to let it wander just a touch to the right, where he sat.
Items numbered one through five hundred twelve to discuss with her therapist: Cole Johnson.
Based on conversations she’d had recently—with Nathaniel; his wife, Abby; her own best friend, Julie; and Julie’s Dominant, Daniel—she’d expected to be offered a retraining. She’d even looked forward to it: experiencing the thrill of letting someone else take over, rediscovering the peace that came when she knew her Dom would do anything to protect her—and, she wasn’t even going to pretend otherwise, having earth-shattering orgasms.
It’d not once crossed her mind, not even in her wildest, craziest, never-gonna-happen-might-as-well-fantasize-about-it dreams, that the group would pick him.
She shivered just thinking his name. An alien spaceship must have transported her to an alternate universe because that’s how hard it was to believe Cole was going to retrain her. He was an altogether intriguing man, one who had quickly captured her attention. But though he was usually laid-back and easygoing, talk among the group’s submissives pointed toward a hard and unyielding Dominant in the playroom.
She didn’t have to glance to Nathaniel’s right to know who she’d find watching her. She pictured him all too clearly in her head. Dark tousled hair, devilish blue-green eyes, and a body that seductively hinted at sexual pleasure with every carefully controlled move. And then he’d speak in that oh-so-smooth British accent.
Yes, she’d call her therapist tomorrow.
“Are you okay?”
She jumped at the sound of her friend Dena’s whisper.
“I’m fine,” she said, repeating the same lie she’d told Nathaniel.
Dena narrowed her eyes in disbelief and rubbed her just-starting-to-show pregnant belly. “Hmm.”
But she was stopped from saying anything further by Nathaniel dismissing the meeting. Perfect. If she moved quickly enough, she could probably be on her way without having to talk about anything.
Unfortunately, Dena was onto her ploy and grabbed her arm before she could get away. “Not so fast; I want to talk. It’s been a long night for you. How do you feel about Master Johnson?”
Her body shook a bit. She had to leave before the panic came back. But Dena looked determined and wouldn’t let her leave that easily.
“Conflicted.” Sasha took a deep breath. “He’s not who I imagined would be suggested.” She didn’t add that he was the very last person she imagined would be suggested. She narrowed her eyes. “Wait a minute. You’re a senior group member. Did you know?”
“No, I excused myself when the topic came up for discussion. I knew I couldn’t be objective.”
“Yes, I’m sure he knew.”
Sasha put her hand on her hip. She found it hard to believe Jeff, Dena’s husband, wouldn’t have told Dena even if she’d excused herself from the discussion—which made her wonder if Julie knew. After all, she lived with Daniel.
She turned to find the lady in question making a beeline toward her.
“I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Julie said. “Are you okay? If you don’t want Cole, I’ll—”
“Julie. Dena,” the smooth British accent she heard in her dreams said.
Sasha spun around and found Cole standing off to her side.
He spoke it like a caress. Soft and gentle and tender, but with an underlying strength that couldn’t be denied and with sensual promises woven in every vowel sound. She had an overwhelming desire to hear him say it again.
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Damn it, this is why I should have left right when I stood up.
“Master Johnson,” Julie and Dena said in unison.
“Master West,” Cole said to Nathaniel, who stood a few feet away with his arm around Abby. “If I may, I’d like a word in private with Julie and Sasha.”
Nathaniel didn’t answer right away but eyed Sasha up and down, as if making sure she was okay. He frowned. Hell, did she look that bad?
“Fifteen minutes,” Nathaniel said. “You can use the kitchen. Master Covington?”
“I’ll come get Julie then,” Daniel said from his spot beside Abby.
Cole extended his arm. “After you, ladies.”
They made it into the kitchen without speaking. Cole pulled chairs out for both of them and then settled into his own. He smiled, and Sasha found herself questioning the things she’d heard about him.
This was the Badass Brit?
“Anyone care for a drink?” he asked. “I should have asked you before sitting down.”
“No, thank you, Sir,” Julie said.
“I’m fine, Sir,” Sasha quipped.
At her flippant reply, Cole narrowed his eyes and his smile faded away into a frown of displeasure. And in that moment, Sasha knew everything she’d heard about him was true.
• • •
Cole Johnson kept his gaze focused on Sasha long enough for her to understand he recognized her answer for what it was. He suspected she’d been fighting back a panic attack and was most likely anything but fine. Against his better judgment, he decided not to call her on it. This time.