“Uh…permission to speak?”
“You will call me Sir, or Master Emery.”
“Sir,” Sophie corrected. She wanted to kick herself. She had read enough about this lifestyle that she should have remembered to address him formally, but in all honesty the way he was looking at her—like something he wanted to eat—she couldn’t remain entirely rational.
“Permission to speak granted.” Emery’s voice dropped into a softer tone, approval warming his hazel eyes.
“What happens to me, Sir? Only one of you can win.”
Royce shared a glance with Emery.
“She’s a smart one, this little sub. Well, Emery? What do you think?”
Both men focused their intense gazes on her. It took everything in her not to look away.
“Punishment by the one who loses. But what form? Flogging?” Royce suggested.
“No whips,” Emery seemed to conclude, his eyes reading her tiniest reaction.
Emery ran a palm over his jaw, which was shadowed with night stubble. The look gave him a rugged edge, reminding her of the men back home in Kansas.
The tension in the crowd seemed to heighten as the subject of punishment continued. Emery continued to stare at her, his eyes seemingly unlocking the puzzle she presented. “She’s new. Why not a spanking?” he murmured softly.
That caught her attention. Her clit thrummed to life, pulsing in a faint beat along with her heart. The twinge of uncomfortable pain in her knees was temporarily abated by this new distraction. Her eyes immediately settled on Emery’s large, capable hands. She could practically feel the width of his palm striking her bottom…Trouble. She was in so much trouble.
“Definitely spanking.” Emery smiled. “My favorite form of punishment. It will be a disappointment when you come in my arms, and I shall have to allow Royce the pleasure of laying his palm to your flesh.”
“Cocky bastard,” Royce retorted. “She might resist you. I bet she’s far less submissive than she looks, and given her clothes, far too self-conscious to come in front of people. When I win, you’ll owe me your best case of bourbon.”
Her knees were aching, pain flaring like sharp little needles through her skin and deep into her bones. She shifted on them, trying to favor one over the other, and then hastily switched, but it didn’t help. There was no way she was going to make it much longer on her knees.
Emery’s hazel eyes lit up with the challenge. “Like hell! When she comes, and she will, you’ll owe me your best case of scotch.”
As the men continued to posture and argue, Sophie sat back on her heels, her knees aching something fierce. Like metal rods were jabbing up between her knees into her nerves.
Screw this. I’m getting up. Surging to her feet, she breathed a sigh of relief as blood flow pumped through her legs.
The people gathered around her gasped. Both men stopped arguing and turned to face her, gazes dark with anger. It wasn’t the lethal sort of anger she’d come across before, not like the murderers she’d interviewed for her crime stories. That anger was a terrifying anger, pure hatred. It rolled off those criminals in waves. The kind of anger that truly good people never felt, it was the sort of rage that consumed the soul and blackened the heart until only a killing machine was left its place.
With Royce and Emery, however, it was merely the anger of a parent or a mentor at a charge who’d clearly disobeyed a direct order. She knew the outcome. Punishment. She could read it on their faces, and it aroused them both. Hell, it aroused her.
“You weren’t given permission to rise.” Emery spoke slowly, as though trying to decide whether he would give her a chance to apologize or to just skip straight to the punishment.
Even as she opened her mouth she knew it was a bad idea.
“My knees hurt. This isn’t carpet; it’s rock. Hard rock.”
Emery’s jaw dropped. The people around them stepped back.
Royce was silent for a long moment, and then burst into long, hooting laughter. He doubled over, palms on his thighs, as he struggled to catch his breath. “Damn, this is going to be fun.”
“Fun,” Emery muttered and shook his head. “Back on your knees, until we decide what to do with you.”
“Yeah…no thank you, Sir.” Sophie challenged. “I’ll stay on my feet until you’re done.”
He was up and on his feet and before she could react he had turned her to face the crowd and bent her over.
Whack! His palm landed on her butt. The impact stung, but it faded almost instantly to a warm, achy feeling. Her legs turned to jelly and she trembled helplessly against a shocking wave of pleasure that began to build inside her abdomen.
The glare she launched in Emery’s direction had no effect. When he released her and took his seat again, she spun to face him. His narrowed eyes shot her pulse into overdrive.
“You have a safe word, little sub?” Royce asked.
She wracked her brain for one, knowing it had to be something she could remember when she was panicking because it was the word that would get the doms to stop whatever they were doing if the interaction became too unbearable.
“Apricot,” she decided. Being highly allergic to the fruit made it a word she wouldn’t forget easily.
Her unusual choice of safe word had both men raising their brows. In that instant they could have been brothers. They mirrored each other the way only true friends could. A pang of envious longing cut through Sophie’s heart and she sucked in a breath as she thought of Rachel.
“What’s your name, little sub?”
“Sophie Ryder.” When his brows lowered she hastily added, “Sir.”
Emery patted his thigh with one palm. “Let us begin the contest. You will come and sit on my lap and I will command you.”
Sophie’s stomach pitched so deep it felt like it hit her toes. Emery leaned back, his arms rested on the back of the couch. He looked every bit a prince, a leader of a pride of lions, merely waiting for his conquest, his prey. His relaxed position only made her feel more helpless. She knew he could move fast, catch her in his arms and have her bent for punishment again in seconds if she dared to resist him. Her nipples pearled beneath the unforgiving leather of the corset, rubbing until they ached. She clenched her hands to stop them from shaking.
Here we go, you can do this. Sophie approached him and sat across his lap. She wriggled, trying to find a comfortable position, unable to ignore the feel of his muscular thighs beneath her.