Shan Harrison shuffled in line at the Temple of Aphrodite in downtown Washington D.C., waiting to be greeted and admitted by a novice. Daisy, her best friend, was completing her training as a priestess, and had asked Shan to come visit her. She'd rather have spent the day in her studio working on a new jewelry commission, but Daisy had sounded desperate on the phone.
A girl standing in line behind her whispered to her friend in a snarky tone, "Is she wearing her Halloween costume? Did I miss the email that we were supposed to wear costumes today?"
Her friend told her to shut up, and Shan pretended not to notice. When you were a five-foot-one Asian girl people seemed to expect you to dress in pastels and constantly giggle. The fact that she loved gothic clothes and elaborate makeup just didn't mesh with the preconceived notions, so people stared. She had long ago perfected her sneer of disdain and a list of cutting remarks that embarrassed even the most ignorant people, but she just ignored the crowd while she stood in line. The last thing she wanted to do was piss off Aphrodite and have her sex life cursed any more than it already was.
Maybe she did go a bit overboard with her 1940s Goth pinup girl look today, but she had just broken up with the latest in a string of controlling asshole boyfriends. At first he seemed to like her style, but slowly he began to manipulate her into dressing how he wanted. When she resisted they would have horrible fights, but when she gave in he was so nice to her that it was hard to remember what a douche he could be. In an effort to please him she had pretended to be someone she wasn't. When he demanded she take out the blue streaks in her long black hair and get a French manicure before he would introduce her to his parents, she had finally kicked him to the curb.
To celebrate her independence today she dressed to please herself, picking out a vintage Dior black polka dot dress with its full skirt and shiny black patent leather belt. Thigh-high black patent leather boots disappeared beneath the knee-length hem of the skirt. In an extra little bit of “fuck you” to her ex she had added a cobalt blue patent leather choker that matched the streaks in her waist-length black hair.
The crowd murmured as the line moved forward. Aphrodite's temple was always a popular stop in the Greek Temple District. Everyone wanted to have a good love life, and gods knew she could use the help. Her choice in men seemed to be going from bad to worse. The elderly man in front of her received his blessing to enter the temple, and the novice guarding the entrance turned to her with a smile.
"Good afternoon, Shan," the bronze-haired novice said in a pleasant voice. Her white tunic emphasized her breasts, and a wide leather belt around her waist made the tunic flare around her hips. Shan was amused to see the tips of her pink sneakers peeking out from beneath the robe.
"Hi, Alyssa. I'm here to see Daisy."
"She's waiting for you in the Reflection Room." Alyssa gently took her hand, turning her wrist and admiring the skull and crossbones charm bracelet. "Did you make this?"
Shan grinned. "Yep. On Saturday I'll be selling my jewelry at the Egyptian temple bazaar. If you want, I can bring one with me."
Someone behind them cleared their throat, and Alyssa blushed. "Thanks." Closing her eyes, she took Shan's hand, put it over her chest, and said the ritual words. "Welcome to the Temple of Aphrodite. Enter with an open heart."
Shan shivered as the incantation worked its magic and allowed her to step through the heavy wards that guarded the inner sanctuary of the temple.
Her boot heels clicked on the cream marble floors as she walked the familiar path to the Reflection Room. Daisy's mother was the High Priestess of the temple and Shan had spent a great deal of time here while she was growing up. While she wasn't drawn to Aphrodite's worship, the temple still filled her with a mellow peace. It was impossible to be surrounded by this much divine energy and not absorb some of it into your soul.
The doors leading to the Reflection Room opened with a smooth hiss and she couldn't help but smile at the sight on the other side--Daisy reclined on a mound of oversized pillows at the other end of the room like an ancient Greek sculpture come to life. A long and shallow pool of clear blue water shimmered in the sunlight coming through the glass ceiling. Potted plants grew thick and lush between alabaster statues of couples in erotic poses.
Shan shut the door behind her and hurried across the room. Despite her tough and put-together exterior, her heart was easily wounded and her latest ex had left his mark. She needed the unconditional love of her best friend, and a good bitch-fest about what a loser he was and how better off she was without him. A conversation they seemed to be having with disturbing regularity. She pushed these thoughts out of her mind and forced a smile as she reached the spread of pillows.
"Hello, sweetheart." Daisy rose and pulled her into a hug. Tall and thin, Daisy would have fit on the cover of any fashion magazine if it wasn't for her long blonde dreadlocks and the sparkling diamond of her beauty mark piercing above her upper lip. She wore a white robe that hung off one slender tattooed shoulder, secured with a simple bronze pin. When Daisy achieved full status as a priestess she would get to wear a silver seashell broach in the pin's place. "You look amazing. Love those boots, very fierce."
Shan kissed her cheek, careful not to smear lipstick on her. "Hey, sugar. What's so important that you had me drag myself out of bed before noon?" As an artist, Shan had the luxury of making her own work hours. Not that her life was easy. She pushed herself hard and rarely took a day off.
Shan took a seat on a fuchsia pillow across from Daisy and arranged her skirt. She had always loved this room. Outside, it was the middle of October and cold enough to warrant a jacket. In this magical space, summer reigned eternal.
Taking a deep breath, Daisy looked her in the eyes and squared her shoulders. "I'm staging an intervention before you commit emotional and sexual suicide."
It took a few seconds for her words to get through to Shan's stunned brain. "You're what?"
Smoothing her hands on her robe, Daisy took on the serene look that Shan thought of as her priestess face. As a favorite of her goddess, Daisy had a deeper connection to Aphrodite than the average worshiper, and the goddess often used the stunning blonde to bring love to those that needed it most. "Aphrodite wants me to help you find yourself." Daisy's blue eyes sparkled as she added, "And I want you to stop dating arrogant, narcissistic, controlling, self-centered, overbear--"
Shan put her hand over Daisy's mouth. Great, she was hoping for Aphrodite's help but this was a little much. Her parents’ warning about being careful what you prayed for made her grimace. "I know I've made some bad relationship choices, but--"
Daisy removed her hand and smiled gently. Something more than Daisy looked out from her bright blue eyes as she said, "Shan, stop lying to yourself. Embrace who you are and wonderful things will happen."
Divine energy moved through the air like a perfumed breeze, and Shan hugged her knees to her chest. "I know who I am."
Daisy considered her. "Would you like to know what I see?"
"No." She hadn’t seen this coming and felt trapped. The sound of Daisy's chuckle raised the hair on her arms. It caressed her body and sped up her heartbeat. Power, rich and warm as melted butter, rolled over her.
"I see a woman who craves dominance, but is afraid to surrender herself to a worthy master. I see a woman who fights who she is and mistakes submission for weakness. I see a woman that deserves the love she needs but is afraid to ask for it."
Shan's breath left her body in a rush and a tear trailed down her cheek as her hidden needs were brought into the light by the gentle touch of a goddess. Denying her dark desires was less than useless. Those naughty, forbidden things she had hidden from herself because she believed her cravings were abnormal, perverse even. Good girls didn't want their boyfriends to spank them. Nice girls didn't masturbate to BDSM erotica. Her parents had raised her to be a strong woman, to take pride in who she was, and to never, ever, let a man beat her.
As these thoughts raced through her mind Daisy watched her without judgment, only compassion so immense Shan had trouble meeting her gaze. She lay open, exposed to the core before a hint of the divine.
"There is no shame in your desires. It is who you are."
"I don't want to be like this," Shan said angrily and dashed away her tears. "I wish I could make love like normal people, but I can't orgasm without pain…" her voice dropped to a whisper as she confessed her darkest secret, "without being owned. It’s like I was born to be a victim."
Daisy smiled and patted her hand. That touch soothed Shan and chased back the shame with understanding and endless love. "You’re only a victim if you allow yourself to be. You can be strong and fierce to the outside world, but submissive and cherished in the security of your relationship. Submissive doesn't mean weak."
Shan clenched her hands into fists as she struggled to keep her frustration under control. "I've tried that! I'm so sick of either being with a nice guy and faking orgasms because I'm afraid to let him know what I need, or putting up with an asshole because he gives me what I want." Her anger drained away as Aphrodite's power soothed her. "It never works. Any guy that gives me what I require in the bedroom tries to run my life or turns out to be an abusive douche bag."
"That's because you choose unworthy men." Shan couldn't argue with that so she kept her mouth shut and watched the sun shimmer off the water. "You need to find the right Dominant. One who will love your fierce spirit and cherish it instead of trying to break you."
She crossed her arms and looked away from the water back to Daisy. “Yeah, ’cause guys like that exist outside of books.” She flushed and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry, that was rude of me. I really do want your help ... it’s just ... hard.”
“I understand more than you know, Shan.” Daisy ran her knuckles over Shan’s cheek and gave her a gentle smile that warmed Shan from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. “You don’t have to do this alone. Let me help.”
She would have to be a fool to turn down an offer like that, even if asking for help from anyone made her feel weak. “I’ll do my best.”
A bit of Daisy surfaced past the power in her eyes. It was odd, like watching an ocean of power drain from her pretty blue eyes until only Daisy’s joyful spirit shone through. "Besides, I'm tired of having to sit through endless rounds of drinking wine and watching 80s movies every time you break up."
"You love Pretty in Pink!"
"I loved it the first five times I watched it. Not the twenty times after that."
Sighing, Shan played with her hair. "It's a classic." Daisy raised an eyebrow and waited for Shan to stop avoiding the issue. "So how do I find the right Mas--guy?"
The power that had filled the room departed, and she knew that she was alone with Daisy now and she couldn’t help but let a small sigh of relief escape. While having the attention of a goddess was wonderful, it was also terrifying. One wrong word and Aphrodite could have smited her, though with as bad as her love life was she couldn’t imagine it getting much worse.
"I'm going to be your Top," Daisy said in a peppy voice that broke Shan out of her morose daydreaming like a slap in the face.
"I'm going to help you get comfortable with your submissive side." Daisy practically vibrated with excitement. "I'm not naturally dominant enough to be a true Mistress, but I can be your Top and help you until you find the right Dominant. I'll give you what you need in order to relax and take your time finding the perfect Dom, inside and outside of the bedroom." Daisy grabbed her hands and gave her puppy dog eyes. "Please, Shan. I've been researching it and I apprenticed with a fantastic Mistress."
Shan jerked her hands away and said through clenched teeth, "How long have you been planning this?"
Daisy avoided her eyes and looked at the wall behind her while toying with the clasp on her gown. "My mother--"
"You told your mother about this!" Shan buried her face in her hands. "How the hell am I supposed to ever look at Nina again knowing that she thinks I'm a pervert?"
Daisy snorted. "Shan, I hate to break this to you, but my mom is the High Priestess of a Sex Goddess. Being a submissive doesn't even come close being perverted. Besides, it's not like we discussed your crappy sex life in detail." She ignored Shan's glare and gave her a hopeful smile. "You're--you’re my, ah, final test for making full priestess."
Shan narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms again. “I’m your what?”
Daisy held her hands out in a pleading gesture. “Well, I’m supposed to help you find love. Erin, she’s a special priestess that you’ve met before, said that if I can’t help my best friend find love, then I need to spend more time learning how recognize love in all of its forms. If I fail at this, it’ll be another ten years before I can try again. I don’t want to push you, you’re like my sister and I love you to death, but I really reallythink I can help you.”
The hope and uncertainty in Daisy's voice broke down Shan's last barrier. If it was just about her she could try to get out of this. But it was about Daisy now, and she couldn't crush her friend's dreams because of her own fears. "Fine," Shan snapped and sat up straight. "How do we begin?"
Daisy grabbed her in a hug and gave her a big loud kiss on the cheek. "Excellent! Oh, you won't regret this, Shan. I have it all worked out, and I've set up the perfect place to begin your training and get you used to the BDSM community. It’s called the Steel Chalice and it’s an elite BDSM club."
"What?" Shan said in a faint voice. She’d imagined some kind of blind date or maybe a shopping trip to a fetish store first, not an elite BDSM club--whatever the hell that was.
Daisy snickered. "For you, it's best that I take you to a safe place where you can see the different styles of the D/s relationship. I can Top you, but you need to see some established relationships and experienced Dominants. I thought about watching some BDSM porn with you, the instructional kind, but that just seemed kinda ... weird. I think we’d both end up making fun of the movie and that wouldn’t help you at all."
"I don't know ... that's a little scary.” She hated admitting her fear, her weakness, but this was Daisy. She hadn't judged Shan when she went through her unfortunate Hello Kitty phase and she wouldn't judge her now. “What if one of the people from the club recognizes me at the grocery store and tries some freaky fetish stuff with me right in front of everyone in the produce section? I’d have to kick their ass and then you’d have to bail me out of jail."
Crossing her legs, Daisy leaned closer. "I've thought of that too, well not grocery store molestation, but protecting your identity. I got these awesome masks for us to wear. They're leather and custom-made. A lot of people in the club wear masks and all kinds of awesome outfits. Some even make their own, real pieces of art."
A flicker of real interest surfaced. "What color are the masks?" She had an extensive collection of leather and latex dresses, not to mention a drawer full of corsets that she wore to the clubs. Mentally flipping through her clothing, she tried to decide what to wear.
Daisy tossed a dreadlock over her shoulder. "Shan, you're going to love this place. No one will judge you for your needs and you will adore all the effort people put into creating a scene. It's really almost like a theater performance ... with orgasms."
Excitement, worry and anticipation flooded her body with a heady mixture of adrenaline. She took a deep breath and prayed that she was making the right choice.
* * * *
Devon King crossed his heavily muscled arms over his black leather-clad chest and examined the submissives offering themselves for the evening. Men and women clad in everything from suits with strategically cut out breast and crotch panels, to nothing but skin covered in glittering body paint huddled together like a bunch of nervous rabbits. Mostly women, but a few unattached male submissives darted glances at the section of the club where the single Doms tended to hold court.
Behind the unattached subs, a club Sentinel carefully kept watch over the main floor. Part of the appeal of this private club was the knowledge that safe, sane and consensual was strictly enforced. It didn't hurt that most of the Doms were members of various Temple Guards, trained for battle and with the instinct to protect. From his seat on the black leather couch he counted at least two dozen male and female guards roaming the room like deadly predators.
Toward the back of the small group of men and women a stunning brunette caught his eye, then she sank to her knees with a pleading look. Thin, dressed in a see-through cream sheath, she arched her back and mouthed the word, “please.” Biting back a sigh, he shook his head and purposefully looked away from her, signaling his disinterest in dominating her tonight.
Her name was Maria and he had played with her once, weeks ago, and now she seemed fixated on him. Gods knew why, he wouldn't hurt and debase her like she wanted and her attempts to Top from the Bottom totally turned him off. With a bitter twist of his mouth he remembered the way she had lied about what she wanted and tried to goad him into really beating her. So much of the D/s relationship was built on trust, even during the casual encounters at the club. No matter how beautiful and willing, her dishonesty was a total turnoff.
His best friend, Malik, adjusted the leather mask he was wearing and equally ignored Maria and her silent pleading. Unlike Devon's solid black mask, Malik's had traces of gold that gleamed against his dark brown skin. Big and solid, both men filled the couch they shared. Though the club was crowded, no one sat near them, and a circle of masterless submissives whispered and admired them from across the room.
"I thought Maria got kicked out for causing that fight between Master Greg and Master Dane," Malik muttered as he scanned the crowd.
"Ben let her back in. From what he said, she recently got away from a fucked-up Master who put her in the hospital. Said her head is all messed up and she needs the good influence and safety of the club before she goes out and finds another abusive asshole. You know Ben, show him a wounded sub and he wants to make it all better."
Malik grunted a laugh and shook his head. "That girl is nothing but trouble. I've watched her play the baby Doms, bending them around her little finger and making them jump through hoops."
Shrugging, Devon minutely relaxed as he watched Maria pair off with an older sadist and head for the playroom downstairs. Despite the small amount of pity he felt for her, he was glad she wouldn't be following him around tonight. Something was burning in his blood and he felt an eager sense of anticipation he hadn't experienced in years. Almost like he was waiting for something wonderful to happen. Snorting at his own foolishness, he cracked his knuckles for the third time in less than ten minutes.
Turning to look at him more carefully, Malik asked, "What are you in the mood for tonight?"
Shrugging his broad shoulders, Devon ran a hand over his tight brush cut. He tried to keep his words light, but his tension crept through. "Something soft."
Malik grinned, his teeth a flash of white in the subdued lighting of the Steel Chalice. "The need is riding you hard tonight, isn't it?"
Instead of answering, Devon nodded. His gaze locked on a full-figured submissive with short red hair and skin as pale as cream. Her nice full hips would be a pleasure to grip. She noticed him watching her and dropped her gaze to the ground, toying with the ends of her fringed black dress.
"Being the Chosen of a War God isn't easy," Devon admitted and continued to watch the submissive. He drank in the hesitant way she edged across the floor toward him, the fear and anticipation coming off her in waves.
"Especially when you're already an arrogant prick." Malik turned his attention to the submissive who paused at the end of the stairs that led to where they were sitting. His voice dropped an octave. "The need to dominate, to own and possess, can become overwhelming."
Making up her mind, the submissive went to her knees and began to crawl up the steps toward them. Both men took a deep breath of her scent and sighed in disappointment.
"Human." Devon breathed out. "A little gold mist in her aura. I'm going to guess she's a Priestess of Zeus."
Malik leaned forward, his attention on the doorway. "What I wouldn't give to find an unattached submissive Chosen." He rolled his shoulders beneath his black leather shirt and cracked his neck.
Guess I'm not the only one being ridden hard by the need tonight, Devon thought in amusement as he watched his friend. Malik was also the Chosen of the Nubian War God, Apedemak, and he was the Captain of the Nubian Temple Guard like Devon was Captain of the Egyptian Temple Guard. They had been friends for over twenty years and were like brothers. "I know," Devon murmured in a cold voice and tried to push back the dull pain that Malik's words poked at.
Malik glanced back at him with an apologetic twist to his lips. "Sorry, Devon. I didn't mean--"
"It's okay." Devon glanced at him. "My mother knew the price she would pay when she married my mortal father." Even though his mother, a Chosen of Isis, was thirty years older than his father, she looked like a woman in her prime while his father's fragile mortal body was showing the wear and tear of his ninety-two years.
Watching her suffer through his father's slow slide into death made Devon determined to take another Chosen as his mate. Too bad only about two percent of the world's population had what it took to be a Chosen, and of that two percent only a fraction were actually picked by a god or goddess as their personal hand on Earth. That cut down on his odds of finding a Chosen who could soothe his need to dominate and crave his rough brand of pleasure down to a one in a million odds.
"Do you want to share her?" Devon asked in a voice too low for the human to hear. She stopped three paces before them and knelt. Thighs spread, head held high with her gaze lowered to the ground, she knew what she was doing. Devon felt a slight twinge of disappointment. While he enjoyed the pleasures of a well-trained slave, he preferred to do the training himself. There was nothing like helping a woman to discover the overwhelming satisfaction of true submission for the first time.
Standing with a long stretch, Malik grinned down at the sub. "No, you and I are both too close to the edge. Our territorial instincts would get triggered and we'd end up fighting and getting kicked out of the club." Unhooking the flogger from his belt, he twirled it in the air. "I'm going to see what lovelies are offering themselves on the lower level. I’m in the mood for a pain slut tonight."
The noise of the club faded into the background as Devon slowly rose into the hyper-reality of his dominant space. Every nuance, every detail of the lovely sub before him became magnified. His world focused on the woman before him and how far he could push her for their mutual pleasure. "Come," he said and watched her pulse increase beneath the pale skin of her neck.
She crawled toward him and looked up for permission with her lips hovering over his black motorcycle boots. Judging her need and desires, he nodded and felt the flow of energy from her as she kissed his boot. The soft press of her lips should not have registered through the heavy leather, but in his magically heightened state he could feel the warm tingle of her human aura against him. The favor of her god added a little extra zing to her energy, but nothing like the psychic punch of another Chosen. What he wouldn’t give to feel that connection just once.
Closing his eyes, he forced his wandering mind to focus only on the woman before him. She deserved his total attention, and he needed her total submission. When she pulled away, a trail of her tangerine aura trailed from her lips to his boot.
As his attention narrowed, he scanned the club one more time out of habit. Deep in the grips of dominance, the building could blow up and it wouldn't break his concentration on his sub. It was a dangerous state for both him and the object of his desire, so he valued the safety and security of the Steel Chalice.
Magically warded and guarded, the servants of Creation could seek their release here without having to fear an attack by the agents of Destruction. And right now, he needed that release like he required air. With all the shit that had happened in the last few weeks with him having to handle the kidnapping of a friend and avert a terrorist attempt, he hadn’t had the chance to take some time for himself and it showed in how quickly his arousal built.
"What do you need?" he asked, setting up the ground rules for their scene.
"I desire heavy bondage and light whipping." Her tone was matter of fact and he appreciated that she knew what she wanted. He wasn’t in the mood for playing twenty questions to drag the answers he needed out of a sub.
"What is off-limits?"
"No excessive humiliation. No blood, burning or wet play. No whips or marks that can be seen in public."
Leaning toward her, he watched her aura reach out to him, straining to bring him closer. "What’s your name?" he asked in a soft whisper.
"Kelly." Her voice lowered to match his, easily falling into the rhythms of his dominance as her pale blue gaze flickered from his lips, to his chest, and down to his pelvis before flying back up to his face.
"Do you want to play with me, Kelly?" So soft and feminine, he loved full-figured women.
"Yes, Sir." The surrender and anticipation in those two words stiffened his cock.
"Your safe word is ‘ice.’ Once you use it all play will stop and we will be done. If you think something may be on the edge of what you can handle, say ‘cold’ and we may or may not discuss it."
"My safe word is ‘ice.’ Thank you, sir." Her nipples hardened to peaks and her hips shifted as she clenched her thighs together.
Standing, he tried to shrug off a twinge of disappointment. He felt like he was missing something, that someone else should be at his feet. Before he led the pretty little submissive to the main floor he gave the club one last look. When no mystery woman materialized out of the crowd he raised the redhead to her feet and removed the black wrist cuffs from his belt.