Series: Doms of the Covenant #3
Published by: Suspenseful Seduction Publishing
Genre: BDSM, Contemporary, Romance, Romance/Contemporary
Lieutenant Commander Stefan Lundquist is more than happy with his life. As a member of the US Coast Guard, he gets to work in the Gulf of Mexico, saving lives. As a Dominant in the BDSM lifestyle, he gets to play with submissives who are under no illusions their relationship will go beyond a D/s one. As a Shibari Master, he gets to create beautiful works of art on those submissives’ bodies with his ropes. Life is good—until it comes crashing down around him.
Cassandra Myers knows each of the D/s contracts she signs with Master Stefan are for exactly one month, with an option to renew, but when she realizes she’s fallen in love with him and that love is one-sided, she requests he remove her collar. Despite her broken heart, she tries to move forward with her life. Working as a cardiac rehabilitation technician is something she loves to do but going back to school to become a registered nurse is now her goal.
When Cassandra discovers her new patient is none other than the Dom she can’t stop thinking about, she's determined to help him recover. As she tries to hide her feelings and protect her heart as best she can, Stefan’s new lease on life has him comprehending how short his time on earth could be. Can he convince Cassandra he now wants more than he ever thought he would or has he lost her forever?
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Stefan Lundquist’s hand froze at the whispered word. The pen he was holding was an inch away from the contract he’d been about to sign, renewing his Dominant/submissive relationship with Cassandra Myers for another month. His brow furrowed, as he was unsure he’d heard her correctly. “What did you say, Cassie?”
There was a long moment of silence as they sat across from each other at his dining room table. Stefan had invited her over to sign the contract, have some dinner, then play for a while, and she’d arrived only a few minutes ago. After the contract was out of the way and they’d eaten, he’d planned on trying a new Shibari design on the beautiful submissive’s naked body before burying himself deep inside her. But if she’d said what he thought she’d just said, then none of that was going to happen. He darkened his tone. “I expect an answer, Cassandra. Look at me and repeat yourself.”
The twenty-nine-year-old blonde swallowed hard before her eyelids lifted and her gaze met his. Stefan’s gut clenched when he saw her hazel eyes were filled with unshed tears. Cassandra’s voice was barely any louder when she spoke again. “I said, ‘red,’ Sir.”
Stefan had no idea what was going on. They’d been in a D/s relationship for ten months now. On the ninth of each month, they’d sat down and discussed any changes either wanted to make on their contract before signing it for another four weeks. He’d thought tonight would be no different, but Cassandra obviously didn’t agree.
Dropping the pen atop the papers in front of him, he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and stared at the sub. She was what Stefan’s father would call “a stunner.” Her long, blonde locks fell just below her shoulder blades, and he had to put them in a ponytail before he tied her up when they played, so they were out of his way. A smattering of freckles dusted her nose and cheeks. Her bow-shaped lips were made to be kissed, and there were moments in the past when he’d completely lost track of time while exploring her mouth with his own. The neckline of her shirt was wide and curved, exposing the porcelain skin of her shoulders and neck. As for the rest of her body, the woman had curves that gave most men whiplash as she sashayed past them. At five feet five, she was eight inches shorter than him, unless she was wearing one of the several pairs of fuck-me heels she owned. Stefan loved when she wore them with nothing else on but his collar and ropes. Unfortunately, it appeared he wouldn’t be seeing her dressed like that in the future.
“Why are you saying your safeword, little pixie? And, please, speak up.”
She cleared her throat and straightened her back. Her voice was stronger this time but still worrisome. “I-I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t want to renew our contract this month.” Her lip trembled, and Stefan tried to figure out why. Was she scared of what he was going to do or say? He’d never given her a reason to be afraid of him. Was she nervous for some other reason? Or was she about to lie to him? “I-I’ve had a lot of fun these past few months, but—but I’d rather not be collared by you or anyone else for a while, Sir.”
Her gaze dropped to the table, and Stefan ground his teeth together, trying to keep his frustration in check. Damn it. Things had been going great with her. She was the most responsive sub he’d had in a long time when it came to Shibari. She loved being wrapped in his rope designs. The less she could move, the more explosive her orgasms when he finally allowed her to come. What had changed? They’d both gone into the relationship with a clear understanding. Each contract lasted exactly one month. They played either in his townhouse or at The Covenant, the elite BDSM club in Tampa they both belonged to. Cassandra waitressed there three evenings a week, four hours per shift, earning her a dramatic reduction on her membership fees in addition to tips. He knew that after living expenses, there wasn’t much left over in her pay from her full-time career as a cardiac rehabilitation technician, so the extra job helped her financially and gave her access to the club.
“Cassie, eyes on me.” An experienced sub, her response to his command was instantaneous. “You’re my submissive until midnight tonight. Until I give you leave, you will follow protocol. Now, why don’t you want to be collared anymore?”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but her gaze stayed on his. “I’ve decided to go back to school, Sir, for nursing, and I won’t have time for anything else between classes and work.”
Okay, this wasn’t as bad as he’d thought it was. As her Dom, he could help her. Stefan had recently been promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard. While military pay wasn’t the greatest, the truth was, he didn’t need it. His family came from old money, and a trust fund, which he rarely touched, had been set up for him by his grandfather shortly after Stefan had been born. None of his friends or fellow club members knew about his family’s wealth, except The Covenant’s three owners, Ian and Devon Sawyer, and their cousin Mitch. Their security guru, Brody Evans, also knew, since he’d done the extensive background check on Stefan during the application process. All members and employees of The Covenant were completely vetted to help maintain privacy and safety, so any skeletons in an applicant’s closet were sure to be found.
Despite his family’s money, Stefan had been drawn to the military from a young age, although he couldn’t recall what had originally set him on the path to enlisting. It was just something he’d always wanted to do. While his family had tried to encourage him to attend law school, like his older sister, Elin, Stefan had signed up for the Coast Guard following his college education, which allowed him to enlist as an officer. Years vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard had given him his love for the ocean, and the USCG had given him a better chance of serving on a ship or in a port while remaining in the US. At the time, that’d been important to him. Stefan had always been close to his maternal grandparents, and his greatest fear had been not being stationed near enough to get to them quickly if something had happened to either of them. His grandmother had passed away nine years ago, but he’d been stationed in New Jersey and able to get to the hospital in time to say goodbye to her. Unfortunately, without any warning, his grandfather had died of a heart attack four years later. While Stefan hadn’t seen him before he passed, he’d been able to attend the funeral without the huge hassle of traveling from somewhere on the other side of the world.
Stefan ran a hand over his salt-and-pepper crewcut. Like his father before him, he’d started going gray five years ago at the age of thirty-three. He didn’t mind, though, because if he let his hair grow out, it was still thick and didn’t recede at all. Quite a few friends from high school had already gone partially or completely bald, and he was glad he wasn’t one of them. Not that he was vain. He just knew what he looked like completely bald after he and most of the men at The Covenant had shaved their heads in support of a pretty sub named Shelby when she’d been going through chemo. Thankfully, she’d beaten her cancer, but it’d been pretty funny to see all those polished heads before everyone’s hair had started growing back.
Sighing, he pushed away all thoughts that didn’t have to do with the current situation. To make certain they were both on the same page, he repeated some of Cassandra’s words back to her. “So, between school and working at both the hospital and The Covenant, you won’t have time to relax and play?”
While studying her face, he got the impression she wanted to bolt. He’d never seen her this nervous before and tried to soften his expression and tone of voice. “What if I took care of your membership fees? Then you’ll be able to give up your job at The Covenant. Once you get your class schedule, we can plan playtime around it.”
Her eyes had gone wide at his offer, but she’d started shaking her head before he’d finished speaking. “No—No, Sir. I-I can’t let you do that. I’m sorry, but I think it’s best that you take your collar back. There are plenty of unattached subs at the club. Several of them have already expressed interest in taking my place.”
Stefan frowned. “You discussed this with the other subs before coming here tonight? Before telling me you want to be uncollared?” Hell, no, he was not happy about that. He should have been the first person to know she was going to say her safeword and return his collar, not the last. “You know better than that, subbie. Your discussing any part of our contract, or the termination of it, with anyone else is not acceptable.”
“I’m s-sorry, Sir.” Her tears welled up again. “I-I just thought it would be easier if I had a replacement ready for you—you need a sub for your Shibari classes.”
That was true. In a few weeks, Stefan was set to begin teaching another course at the club in the fine art of tying a submissive up in designs made from yards of silky rope. When his maternal grandfather had taught Stefan how to create dozens of different types of knots when he was a boy, never had he thought he’d be using the knowledge to decorate naked women with intricate patterns that would put them in subspace.
But Stefan didn’t want a new sub—he wanted Cassandra. He’d gotten used to her, and they’d fallen into a comfortable relationship—superficial as it was. He’d made it clear, when they’d done their initial negotiations all those months ago, they were a Dom and his sub—nothing more. Stefan didn’t want a girlfriend or slave. He’d gone both those routes before—several times—and none had worked out, which was why he avoided those types of relationships now. Less drama that way.
Damn it, he wasn’t ready to give Cassandra up yet. But he didn’t have a choice. She’d said her safeword, and as a respectable Dom, he had to abide by it. That didn’t mean he couldn’t try to get her to change her mind. “We have a few hours left on the current contract. Do you still want to play tonight?”
When she hesitated and bit her bottom lip, his heart sank. He knew without a doubt what her next words were going to be. “No, Sir, I’d rather not. I’m sorry; I know you didn’t expect this tonight, but I-I really should be going.”
He had half a mind to ask where she was going in such a hurry but managed to keep the question in his throat. He didn’t want her to know how disappointed he was that she’d ended their time together. Instead, he stood and rounded the table to stand behind her.
“Lift your hair,” he commanded. When she obeyed him, his fingers went to her nape, but then he couldn’t help himself. Before he unclasped the simple collar he’d given her months ago, he skimmed her bare neck and shoulder with his knuckles, memorizing how soft she was. A shiver flowed through her, and goose bumps appeared across her skin. Damn, he was going to miss her. Taking a deep breath, he undid the clasp and removed the black leather and silver collar from her neck before stuffing it into the front pocket of his navy-blue Dockers. He wanted nothing more than to bend down and kiss his way across her shoulder to her neck and then nuzzle her ear. But if he did that, he’d be left standing there with a hard-on when she walked out the door.
Taking a step to the side, he held out his hand. When she took it, he helped her to her feet, then kissed the back of her hand. “It was an honor to be your Dom, Cassie. I wish you all the best.” He couldn’t resist adding, “As for my offer—paying your membership while you’re in school—I’d like you to take it, no strings attached. This way you only have to work one job and can better concentrate on your studies.” When it looked like she was going to turn him down again, he squeezed her hand. “Please accept my gift. It would mean a lot to me.”
She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth. Seconds ticked by as she held his brown-eyed gaze before nodding. “If it means that much to you, Sir, thank you.”
He knew the smile on his face didn’t reach his eyes, but he tried to keep the tone of his voice light. “No, thank you, Cassie. It’s my pleasure. Maybe it’ll give us the opportunity to play on occasion.”
It didn’t escape his notice that she winced slightly at his hopeful statement. He wanted to ask her about it but thought it was best not to. He’d find out soon but not tonight. She was too upset, and he got the feeling she’d shut down further if he interrogated her. He’d figured out months ago the best way to get Cassandra to open up was to tie her down. And that clearly wasn’t going to happened right now. “I’ll talk to Master Mitch tomorrow and make the arrangements. He’ll probably need two-weeks’ notice.”
“That’s fine, Sir. Classes start next Wednesday, so they’ll only overlap with my club shift for a few days; I’ve already made arrangements for two of my shifts to be covered by other waitresses.” When he didn’t release her hand, she glanced down where they were joined. “I-I really should go.”
With great reluctance, Stefan let her go then escorted her to the front door, where he fought the urge to kiss her. “Goodbye, little pixie.”
Ten minutes after she walked out of his life, Stefan sat on his living room couch with an almost-empty glass of scotch—one that had been filled for the second time moments before. He stared at the coiled lengths of rope he’d set out on the coffee table earlier in the evening. There was a new design he’d wanted to try out on her tonight. With the aid of two hooks in the ceiling, the pattern would have looked like Cassie had wings when he was done with it—like a heavenly angel. But now all he had were the memories of their past time together—for once in his life, he didn’t think it was enough.