Nathaniel West was thirty-four years old. His parents had died in a car accident when he was ten. Linda Clark, his aunt, had raised him after that.
Nathaniel had taken over his father's company at the age of twenty-nine. He'd taken what was already a profitable business and made it even more so.
I'd known about him for ages. Knew of him in that society-page way those in the lower classes know of the upper class. The papers painted him as a hard-ass. A real bastard. But I liked to think I knew a bit more about the real man.
Six years ago, when I was twenty-six, my mother had gotten into a really bad situation over credit card debt, following her divorce with Dad. She owed so much, the bank threatened foreclosure on her house. They would have been well within their rights to do so. But Nathaniel West had saved the day.
He was on the bank’s board of directors and convinced them to allow Mom a way to save her house and get out of debt. She died of heart disease two years later, but for those two years, every time his name was mentioned in the papers or on the news, she would retell the story of how he’d helped her. I knew he wasn’t the hard-ass the world thought he was.
And when I heard about his more . . . delicate tastes, my fantasies started. And kept on. And kept on, until I knew I had to do something about them.
Which was why I found myself pulling into the driveway of his estate in a chauffeur-driven car at 5:45 that Friday evening. No luggage. No bags. Just my purse and cell phone.
A large golden retriever stood at the front door. He was beautiful dog, with intense eyes that watched as I got out and made my way to the house.
“Good boy,” I said, holding my hand out. I wasn’t overly fond of dogs, but if Nathaniel had one, I needed to grow used to him.
The dog whined, walked toward me, and pushed his nose into my hand.
“Good boy,” I said again. “Who’s a good boy?”
He gave a short bark and rolled over so I could pet his belly. Okay, I thought, maybe dogs weren’t so bad.
“Apollo,” a smooth voice said from the front door. “Come.”
Apollo’s head lifted at his owner’s voice. He licked my face and trotted to stand beside Nathaniel.
“I see you’ve made Apollo’s acquaintance.” Nathaniel was dressed casually today— a light gray sweater and darker gray pants. The man could wear a paper bag and look good. It really wasn’t fair.
“Yes,” I said, standing and brushing imaginary dirt off my pants. “He’s a very sweet dog.”
“He’s not,” Nathaniel corrected. “Normally, he doesn’t take kindly to strange people. You’re very fortunate he didn’t bite you.”
I didn’t say anything. Nathaniel turned and walked into the house; he didn’t even look back to make sure I followed. I did, of course.
“We’ll have dinner tonight at the kitchen table,” he said as he led me through the foyer. I tried to take in the decor— a subtle mixture of the antique and contemporary— but it was hard to take my eyes off Nathaniel as he strode along in front of me.
We walked down a long hallway past several closed doors, and all the while he talked. “You can consider the kitchen table your free space. You’ll take the majority of your meals there, and when I join you, you may take it as an invitation to speak freely. Most of the time, you will serve me in the dining room, but I thought we should start the evening on a less formal basis. Is all this clear?”
He turned, and there was ire in his eyes. “No. You have not yet earned the right to call me that. Until you do, you will address me as ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. West.’ ”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “Sorry, sir.”
He resumed walking.
Forms of address were a gray area, and I hadn’t known what to expect. At least he hadn’t seemed too upset.
He pulled a chair out from a finely carved table and waited for me to sit down. Silently, he sat across from me.
Dinner was already on the table, and I waited for him to take a bite before I ate anything. It was delicious. Someone had baked chicken breasts and topped them with a delectable honey-almond sauce. There were also green beans and carrots, but I hardly noticed them, the chicken was so tasty.
It dawned on me, eventually, that there was no one else in the house, and dinner had been waiting. “Did you cook this?” I asked.
He inclined his head slightly. “I am a man of many talents, Abigail.”
I shifted in my seat, and we resumed eating in silence. I was too nervous to say anything. We’d almost finished before he spoke again.
“I am pleased you do not find it necessary to fill the silence with endless chatter,” he said. “There are a few things I need to explain. Keep in mind, you can speak freely at this table.”
He stopped and waited for my response.
“You know from my checklist I’m a fairly conservative dom. I do not believe in public humiliation, will not participate in extreme pain play, and I do not share. Ever.” The corner of his mouth lifted. “Although as a dom, I suppose I could change that at any time.”
“I understand, sir,” I said, remembering his checklist and the time I’d spent completing mine. I really hoped this weekend hadn’t been a mistake. My cell phone felt reassuring in my pocket; Felicia knew to call the police if I hadn’t checked in within the next hour.
“The other thing you should know,” he said, “is that I don’t kiss on the lips.”
“Like Pretty Woman?” I asked. “It’s too personal?”
“You know, the movie?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve never seen it. I don’t kiss on the lips because it’s unnecessary.”
Unnecessary? Well, there went the fantasy about pulling him to me with my hands buried in that glorious hair.
I took a last bite of chicken as I thought more about what he’d said. Across from me, Nathaniel continued talking. “I recognize that you’re a person with your own hopes, dreams, desires, wants, and opinions. You have put those things aside to submit to me this weekend. To put yourself in such a position demands respect, and I do respect you. Everything I do to or for you, I do with you in mind. My rules on sleeping, eating, and exercise are for your benefit. My chastisement is for your betterment.” He ran a finger around the rim of his wineglass. “And any pleasure I give you”— the finger ran down the stem once and back up—“ well, I don’t suppose you have any qualms concerning pleasure.”
I realized I was gaping at him when he smiled and pushed himself away from the table.
“Are you finished with dinner?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t be able to eat any more, my thoughts consumed by his remarks on pleasure.
“I need to take Apollo outside. My room is upstairs, first door on the left. I will be there in fifteen minutes. You will be waiting for me.” His green eyes gazed steadily at me. “Page five, first paragraph.”