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It hadn’t occurred to Trey that LS Quantum and Beta Tau were two sides of the same coin. Sure, LS Quantum was a spaceship, and Beta Tau was a planet. But he’d read the LS Quantum’s brochures, and in every other respect they were the same large, climate-controlled settings designed to provide trendsetting pleasure venues to paying customers and entertainment for all ages and palates, including his own kinky tastes.
The insight came when a middle-aged woman eased alongside him, brushing her shoulder against his and asking if he was headed to the LS Quantum and if so, where his cabin was located on the ship. Her skimpy halter, skintight slacks, and the bright pink hair she was sporting did nothing to enhance her appeal. This was Beta Tau all over. The glare he aimed at her didn’t force her to step back. Good gods! I’d be at Quantum’s shuttle service gate if Patsy O’Shaughnessy hadn’t insisted on meeting me here. He scanned the customers of the bland space station lounge. No. Still on my own.
An expert at fending off tourists on Beta Tau, he’d offer to take them to the club, tie them up, and use a bullwhip on them. Most scurried away. He handed anyone who accepted his proposition over to staff at the club. Bondage was part of his personal kink, but he preferred to use a flogger. The whip was the specialty of the Whip Hand’s owner, Randolph Meryon, Trey’s boss.
The neon-haired tourist ran a finger down his upper arm. “Maybe we could get together on board? I’ve heard bald men are really good in bed.”
When he dropped his gaze to where she’d touched him, the woman tittered. Eyes narrowed, he leveled his full focus on her. “Sure. If you’re into knife play, I might be able accommodate you. I’d have to ask my girlfriend. She’s the one who does the cutting.” He followed his words with a feral grin.
The tourist turned pale. “No thanks.” She scuttled back to her friends who’d been watching the exchange. Wide-eyed, they left the lounge, several looking back over their shoulders to get another glance at him.
With a grimace, he settled in to wait. This wasn’t a vacation, and he wasn’t a tourist. Nor was he on his way to Quantum, away from his normal haunts on Beta Tau, to indulge in BDSM. No, he had undertaken this two-week-long trek in his capacity as the Whip Hand’s private club manager. Rand had hired a young woman to open and run a new venue on Beta Tau based on the Cosmic Cabaret, one of the famous attractions on LS Quantum. After getting firsthand experience of the cabaret’s shows, Trey was to provide his BDSM expertise to tailor O’Shaughnessy’s plans.
Crazy idea. At least I didn’t have to travel economy class and spend my nights in a sleep tube. Rand had paid for a cabin that, although small, had allowed Trey to escape most human interaction for the two weeks he’d been aboard the space liner, sleeping, reading, meditating, and sleeping some more. Perhaps his reintroduction into the hum and clatter of humanity after his break had him on edge.
No perhaps about it. He was ready to bellow at the entire spaceport to shut up. Life would be so much better if half the population were fitted with ball gags.
Here he was, per Ms. O’Shaughnessy’s request, and she was not to be found. He eyeballed the entrance, considering whether he should head over to the gate to wait for his shuttle, when a shock of color came flying into the lounge. The slender woman, dressed in a bright, grass-green sleeveless blouse and short skirt, skidded to a halt. Splashed across her face was a wide grin as brilliant as the lime green that tipped the ends of her copper hair. She was looking straight at him. This must be Patsy O’Shaughnessy. With a wave she headed for him.
“Hi. Sorry I’m late. Ya wouldn’t believe the crush of folks leavin’ Quantum today. I’m Patsy. Trey Johansson. Right? Mr. Meryon sent your picture, so I recognized ya. Although I don’t expect there’s many men that look quite like ya.”
When she paused for a breath, Trey inserted a few words into her verbal onslaught. “Yes. I am.”
“I’m excited to meet ya. And to work with ya. I have so many plans I can’t wait to share. Our shuttle back to Q—that’s LS Quantum for short—boards in about fifteen minutes. We have time for a quick drink if ya’d like, or we could head to the gate. I could use a drink. Dashin’ around.” She waved her hand in the air. “I’m so thirsty now. I’m gettin’ an orange fizzy. What would ya like?”
Pleasant expression on her face, Patsy waited for a response.
“Oh, uh. Sure, I’ll have what you’re having.”
“Be right back.” She twirled and headed toward the bar.
Wow. That accent sounded Irish. And not Tallavan faux Irish. Light complexion, freckles, copper hair, wearing green…stereotype, sure, but damn, if she wasn’t Irish, he’d eat a whole pan of fried blood pudding. Something he hadn’t tasted in a long time. Fried eggs, tomatoes, white-and-black pudding. A full Irish breakfast like his mother made better than any other cook on Tallav. He missed his folks and his mother’s cooking, but Tallav would never be his home. Even if he’d been a member of the aristocracy, he would have left the Tallavan matriarchy in the dust as he had the moment he was of age.
“Here ya go.” Patsy handed him a large disposable cup and took a long drink from her own. “Ah. That was what I needed. I had cobwebs in my throat.”
Trey tipped his cup back and swallowed three gulps of the sweet orange liquid and remembered why he never drank fizzies. The carbonation bubbled up his nose. He pinched his nostrils, squinched his eyes shut, and waited for the burn to abate.
“Got fizz up your nose, did ya? Ya should drink more slowly if ya can’t handle the sparkly. I never have a problem. My whole system’s plumbed with synthsteel.”
Was this slip of a girl offering him advice as though he were some— “My delicate feckin’ nose thanks ya for the interest in its well-bein’.”
With blue eyes aglow, she leaned toward him. “Think nothin’ of it. An féidir leat labhairt le haon Gealic chun dul leis sin blas na hÉireann?”
Sarcasm was lost on Patsy O’Shaughnessy. “It’s not an Irish accent. I’m from Tallav, which was infected with a fanatic love of all things from the Emerald Isle when the planet was founded. I never had the time to learn Gaelic, but many Tallavans do.”
“Standard it is then. We have somethin’ in common. I’m proper Irish. Erin go Bragh. ‘Tis a pity ya don’t speak Gaelic. I don’t get to speak it this far from home. Oh, goodness. We need to head over to the gate. Our shuttle will be boardin’ soon.”
On the way out of the lounge, Trey dumped his fizzy in the trash receptacle. Patsy was ahead of him by a couple of strides, so he had a full view of the subtle twitch her ass made while she walked. Nice. From her employment records he had gleaned that she was thirty years old, although she looked younger. That fell within his range, five years either side of his own age, for women he would date. But Patsy O’Shaughnessy was off-limits despite her engaging effervescence. This was a business relationship. For the next two-and-a-half weeks, they’d be working together. Besides, whether she’d kissed the Blarney Stone or not, the woman could talk. By the end of a day spent with her, he’d need to escape to his own room. Plus he didn’t do vanilla. Patsy wasn’t bland, but neither did she scream kinky despite her association with Cosmic Cabaret and now Randolph and the Whip Hand.
Still, he could look. He’d never been drawn to big-busted women, but a tight bottom was a delight to behold. And touch. Squeeze. Slap. He heaved a sigh. Too bad. He’d already plastered a don’t-touch sign across her miniskirted bum.
* * *
Trey Johansson was every bit as good-looking and well-built as Patsy expected. But she hadn’t been prepared for the sheer size of the man. He towered over her. And muscles! Her fingers wouldn’t reach around his biceps.
She’d researched Randolph Meryon’s home planet, Tallav, to prepare for her job interview. It was a surprise to learn that Trey, or Master Trey as he was called at the Whip Hand, was also from Tallav. He was a BDSM master. A tingle flittered the length of her spine. He’d been sent to gain firsthand knowledge of the Cosmic Cabaret to help her with reinterpreting it for a BDSM venue.
The name hadn’t been chosen yet. Her preference was to include cabaret. Beyond that she hadn’t come up with anything catchy if Rand asked for her advice. Trey’s other task ought to assist with that. He was to teach her about BDSM. How he would approach that was the big question. Would he want to initiate her into the BDSM lifestyle or only explain the different aspects of kink and fetish? How far should she let him go if he wanted to make his lessons more real?
A quick glance over her shoulder assured her every inch of the giant with piercing deep brown eyes was following her to the shuttle gate. Oh my gosh, he’s checking out my ass. Her cheeks heated. Why oh why did she have to have pale skin that showed even the slightest blush? Why couldn’t she have been born with dark amber skin like the delectable man behind her? Pull it together, girl. It’s a guy thing. Their eyes are naturally drawn to tits and ass.
An announcement stated boarding for their shuttle flight would commence in five minutes. Inside the gate seating area, Patsy turned to face Trey. “We have a few more minutes. Shall we sit, and ya can double-check that your bags have been loaded.”
Trey pulled a hand-comm from his pants pocket, held it to his ear, and made the call to the automated baggage handling system. After assuring the comm was off, he put it away.
“Ya use a hand-comm? Ya don’t see many people that do. I’d probably lose one, so my internal comm is a true blessin’. I don’t know how people lived in the past without an EBC. All my data is there at the tip of my thoughts. I was told everyone received nanite injections to build their internal server when they were infants.”
“I’m not a fan of tech. I like to keep things simple.”
Trey Johansson was even more intriguing than she’d imagined. “So, ya don’t have an EBC. Where do ya store information? How do ya know when someone is tryin’ to contact ya? Goodness. How do ya exist without bein’ able to connect with governmental systems? Bankin’ systems? Will there be a problem boardin’?” Why hadn’t he or Mr. Meryon told her this?
“Stop.” Trey narrowed his eyes and raised his hand. “Stop. Let me answer one question at a time.” In the pause that followed, Trey raised an eyebrow.
Oh, he wants me to acknowledge him. “Yes. Understood.”
A flush of pleasure went through her when he smiled. “Good girl. I have an EBC. Every child on Tallav receives one. I use it when necessary. My work-related data is kept on servers like most of yours is. You access it through your EBC. I use a vidscreen.” He patted his pocket. “My hand-comm signals me when I have a message. It tracks callers, just like your internal comm. I don’t like cluttering my mind. It destroys inner peace.”
He dropped his chin and looked at her as though he were expecting her to say something. But for a change she kept quiet. Her thoughts were bustling with everything she had learned about this man. That good girl was patronizing but so very BDSM master–like, especially coming from a hunk of handsome with a voice like smooth dark chocolate. She’d liked it. File that away for future reference on female reactions to Doms.
Into the lapse in conversation Trey said, “My luggage is loaded.”
“Oh, good. We’re all set then.”
Silence dropped between them again. Patsy was relieved when the gate announcer gave them the go-ahead to board. Behind her, Trey placed his palm on her lower back, guiding her through the other passengers who were standing and collecting their carry-on bags. The instant his hand spanned her back, its warmth and size made the hairs on her arms rise. Please let the feckin’ man offer me hands-on BDSM lessons. She’d kill to see him naked, but it had to be his idea, his suggestion. This job was the break she’d been waiting on, and she wouldn’t botch it by coming on to a fellow employee.
On board, they found their seats and were settling in when a group of ladies, one with neon-pink hair, passed them. Each one stared at Trey and then Patsy as they hugged the far side of the aisle as closely as possible and scooted by. The woman in back nudged her companion to hurry when Patsy smiled at them.
Trey grunted. Patsy turned to look at him. He had a smirk on his face.
“Do ya know them? They looked like they’d seen a ghost and were runnin’ for water.”
He continued to grin, but Patsy didn’t see what was funny. His next statement didn’t clear things up.
“They must not favor green.”
“Afraid of green. That’s not after bein’ a real phobia.”
“It is. Prasinophobia. Fear of the color green.”
“That’s a funny thing to know. You’re not afraid of green, are ya?”
“Would I be sitting here if I were?” He pointedly trailed his gaze over her. “One of the classes at the Opio Institute where I worked covered the use of fear by sadists. You can make someone fear any color if you condition them to it.”
The Opio Institute. That was the sex school where he’d trained dominants and submissives. “Doesn’t sound like fun to me.”
Trey chuckled. “I didn’t figure you for a sadist.”
“Er.” The man had a way of throwing her off stride.
“It wouldn’t be fun for me either. But fear of color can be used by a sexual sadist to get a satisfying response from his play partner.”
“Remind me to stay away from sexual sadists.”
Another chuckle. “It’s going to be difficult avoiding your new boss.”
Patsy blushed and furrowed her brow. “I forgot he’s one of those.”
Trey’s expression became enigmatic. “Don’t worry. You’d have to play with him to experience that side of his personality.”
Sweet mother Mary. I’ll not head that direction. “I’ll be dead and my ashes scattered before that happens.”
Heated intensity bloomed in Trey’s gaze. “Good.”
Oh Lord, I’m in for it now.