What the hell am I doing here?
Luna Weir stared at the mirror above the sink, tapping the porcelain rim as she bit her lower lip, studying herself. The woman in the mirror looked almost sickly, her features lost in the pale complexion framed by almost-silver hair. The only spots of color were the startling blue of her eyes and the red lips that were bruised from being chewed raw. Nervousness was making her twitch this way and that.
She was in no shape to meet new people.
Outside the public washroom she was in was a group of pure strangers sitting down to have a nice Sunday brunch together. If it were any other networking event, Luna would stride out there with all the confidence of an ambitious newbie in the industry.
But this was not a professional meetup—and the topic at hand wasn’t what she would call work-safe.
Eating with strangers… Talking about kinks and fetishes…
Why am I doing this again?Right… She’d said she would give this one last shot.
‘We’re done, Luna. I get you want my opinion, but stop making me make all the decisions. It’s exhausting. You’re just too intense. Look… I wish you luck, but I’m not the guy for you.’
She winced at the memory. He’d also expressed other choice words, like what he thought about her lack of enthusiasm in bed. It was true. She had a low libido. And yet, she couldn’t reconcile the earlier memories of how turned on she’d been by even the faintest idea of something kinky. That’s why I’m here, right?
Luna startled as the toilet flushed behind her. A woman emerged from the stall, a bounce of impossible red curls matched with impossible stilettos. She was stunning, with brilliant hazel eyes lighting up at the sight of…something.
Wait… She can’t be looking at me, can she?
“Hello, sweetie. Luna, right?”
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
Luna mustered a smile, watching as the woman walked up to the sink next to her with a sway of hips and washed her hands. A pang of envy stabbed through her. The woman oozed confidence and swagger in a way she only wished she could emulate.
“I’m Lani, the hostess for the munch this month.” She smiled, glowing with warmth, and Luna could not help but relax just a smidgen.
“Yeah, I’m Luna. Nice to meet you.” Always be nice to the hostess.
“Let me guess… You’ve come up with a case of nerves and that’s why you’re hiding in here?” Lani leaned forward, but before Luna could protest, she added with a lowered whisper, “It’s okay. My first time, I hid in here most of the munch and kept peeking out until the last person had left.” She winked and tilted her head toward Luna, as if sharing a conspiracy.
She couldn’t imagine the self-assured woman in front of her afraid of anything, but somehow, it made her feel better.
“Now, if you’re feeling lost, why don’t you come sit with me? I can point out who’s who.”
Luna stared at the offered arm, beginning to wonder why she had been so scared before. They were just people—people like her. Okay, she was nothing like Lani, the indomitable force, but Luna found her easy manner hard to resist. She looped her arm around the other woman’s and nodded. “All right, I can do this. Lead the way!”
Lani tossed her head back and laughed. “That’s the spirit!”
The waiter was just arriving to take people’s orders just as they made their way to the long table in an alcove at the back of the restaurant. As Luna sat, the waiter came around with a friendly smile.
“And what can I get for you today?”
It was an easy decision for a sugar fiend like her. “French toast, please, with the whipped cream and strawberries.”
Surprise made her turn with as much discretion as possible to study Lani as she ordered the same. The woman flashed her a quick grin and nodded toward the rest of the table, an invitation to look.
Luna ventured to observe the people around the group. Seven, including herself, rounded the table—three on each side with Lani at the head. She was seated to Lani’s left, while to her own right was a lanky man with a mop of light brown hair and rimmed glasses. Across from her was another woman about her age, a slim Asian who was built like a ballerina. A couple sat farther down the table across from her, but she could only catch an occasional glimpse of the last person on her side. From what Luna could tell, the three at the other end of the table were deep in discussion about the best flogging techniques. She bit her lower lip, memories surfacing before she clamped down hard on them. A distant echo of a sensation—the pain—and the sheer lack of pleasure.
“Luna, I’d like you to meet Cassandra and August.”
Thankful for the distraction, Luna gave a little awkward wave.
“Oo-o, fresh meat,” the girl across from her squealed.
“Cassie, stop trying to scare her off. Not everyone’s competition,” August cut right in.
“Was not!” she protested in return.
The man ignored her and turned toward Luna instead with a cordial incline of his head. “So, Luna, what brings you to the munch?”
Although she appreciated the save, wow…biting. To the question he’d directed at her, she answered without hesitation. “Curiosity.” It was the answer she’d prepared before she’d left her apartment.
Lani’s eyes sharpened with interest and Luna braced herself for more questions. Instead, Lani grinned and clapped her hands together. “Excellent answer.” She lifted a long-stemmed glass of orange liquid to her lips and Luna wished she had ordered a mimosa too. She could use some liquid courage.
“So, has anyone heard about the private play party Erica and Dominique are throwing in a few weeks?” Lani was quick to open the topic.
She had heard about these play parties before in her chat room.
“I heard it was invitation only?” August asked with a lift of his brow.
Cassandra—or Cassie, as everyone else seemed to call her—grinned like a cat with a large bowl of milk. “Guess who already got an invitation?”
August ignored her again and instead turned to Lani. “Ma’am, would you happen to know who would be attending?”
Ma’am.Things snapped into focus. Lani was a Dominant and August was likely submissive. Or did their relationship go deeper than that? Wait… Did they have a relationship of any sort?
“Well, Jacob and Darryl are both going to be there, I believe, though I think Jacob may be working as a dungeon monitor. Erica mentioned she also invited a shibari master to come to demonstrate.”
Dungeon monitor, shibari… These were all terms Luna knew, in theory. A voice in her head suggested that she should make a hasty exit right about now. It was one thing to keep things online. Words were easy, sexy. The one time it had spilled to real life… Luna opened her mouth to make her excuse to leave.
“French toast for the ladies.” The waiter set the plates down and Luna snapped her mouth shut, lest drool escape. Okay, maybe after the food.
Decadent pieces of brioche, dipped and fried in batter, were layered on top of each other, with bright red syrup drizzled over them. Slices of fresh strawberries spilled from the top, held in place by a generous mound of whipped cream, which was topped by a single large strawberry. A light dusting of powdered sugar provided the finishing touch to the delectable dish.
Heaven on a plate.
Luna licked her lips, beholding the indulgence set before her. Given the choice of food or sex, she would pick food…every time. Tempted to dig right in but aware that manners dictated that she should wait, she reached for her glass instead, to take a sip of water.
“Is it just me or does that look like a boob with a red nipple?”
Oh God.Luna’s eyes watered and she started coughing as liquid went down the wrong way. She turned from the table and bent over, struggling for breath as her face was likely turning red as a tomato, or in this case, the strawberry in the discussion.
“Cassie!” Lani exclaimed, though she was stifling a giggle. She turned to Luna after realizing she was choking on the comment and the hostess patted her back. “Oh dear. Here. Breathe, sweetie. Drink more water.”
“What? It’s true!”
Recovering, Luna sat back up in her chair and eyed her plate. Now she couldn’t unsee it. Her gaze traveled to Cassie, who gave her a quick wink, and she wondered if the woman had made the crass comment on purpose in an attempt to help ease her nerves. Well, that would be what Luna chose to believe.
As the food arrived for everyone else, Luna took her fork and knife in each hand. Inhaling to summon her humor, she grinned, mischief tugging the corner of her lips upward. “Well then, let’s deconstruct this boob!”
It earned her a round of laughter and helped silence her nagging doubts for a moment.
Over the meal, chatter ranged from the mundane to the kinky. Content to just listen, Luna adopted the strategic approach of pacing her eating so that there were no expectations for her to join in on the conversation. Even when Lani moved to the other end of the table as part of her hostess duties to mix, Cassie and August kept her entertained with their antics.
Before long, people were settling their bills and saying their goodbyes. Satisfied that she had done what she had set out to do, Luna did the same and attempted an inconspicuous exit.
She paused and turned, one hand already at the door. Lani approached, a light coat in one hand, a handbag in the other. “Got any plans after this? Wanna grab a coffee?”
Coffee? But didn’t we just…? She blinked and tilted her head, only to realize the woman took it as assent.
“Oh goodie. Come on!” Lani guided Luna outside.
Coffee turned out to be two tall iced teas and a meander through a nearby park. The early summer sun had warmed the day and sounds of kids laughing as they ran, conversations from couples lounging on the grass and yips and barks from puppies playing all blended together into pleasant background noise.
“So, what did you think?”
Oh, so here comes the grilling. But somehow, from Lani, Luna didn’t mind so much. “It was less scary than I imagined,” she admitted.
“Good.” Lani stopped and settled on a park bench, patting the spot next to her. When Luna sat, she shifted her body to face her. “Are you fairly new to the scene then?”
Luna took a sip of her tea to buy herself time to formulate the reply. That they had just met and Lani was not far from a stranger hovered on the edge of her consciousness, so Luna took a more conservative route. “Why do you ask?” It came out harsher than she’d intended. She added in a rush. “I mean no disrespect. It’s just—”
A hand waved her excuses away. Lani’s smile lit up her eyes in amusement. “No, it’s a fair question. We’re a small community here. Most of us know each other—or at least faces are familiar. When a new person shows up at a munch, not just at the club, I always like to do a little debrief and get to know them.”
“You mean The Playgrounds?” It was the only fetish club close by, complete with a public dungeon and private rooms.
“Yeah. We get quite a few tourists there—people just out for thrills or couples wanting to spice things up. The munches are where we know someone is more serious about the lifestyle—and we don’t often get new faces.”
Oh.She had gone to The Playgrounds a few times by herself but it hadn’t given her much to go on. It had been more like a kind of teasing taste without substance. Not that it was a bad place… The music was great, the dancing was hot and people were friendly, but she had felt like another faceless entity in a sea of people. In other words, she’d had no idea what she was doing there.
After a while, Luna realized that there was only silence and she turned toward Lani. The other woman still had on an indulging smile and was waiting, composed with patience.
“I…have some experience.” The words came, pauses between each one as she tried to sum it up without going into details. “Most of it was online but I’ve scened a few times, in private, as a bottom.”
“Ah-h.” Lani bobbed her head in understanding. “So what aspects are you curious about?”
“The community,” Luna blurted out, maybe a little too fast. She wasn’t outright lying, but she knew inside that what she’d said wasn’t the most foremost reason. Something in her didn’t want to lie to Lani. Is that my inner submissiveness responding to the presence of a Dom?
She bowed her head and fiddled with the hem of her T-shirt. “I’ve tried more ‘normal’ relationships but the dynamic just never sat right with me. I guess I just want to explore what other possibilities are out there.”
When Luna looked up, she saw Lani’s eyes were sparkling and she swallowed hard. Apprehension mingled with an odd sense of excitement.
“Why don’t you come to the private party as my plus one?”
“What” Luna’s eyes widened at the unexpected invitation.
“Come on. It’d be fun. It’ll be mostly experienced people, so you’ll be perfectly safe, and there won’t be any pressure. You can observe, look at what appeals to you.”
Luna’s jaw dropped a little, and she blushed at the idea. “But you hardly know me and—”
For a second time, Lani waved her protests away. “We have time. The party’s a few weeks away. I can drill you on the rules to make sure you’re ready beforehand and won’t get culture-shocked or worry about making a mis-step.” The woman beamed and reached out to take her hand. “This is not me hitting on you, in case you’re wondering. I just remember how scary and lonely it can be when you’re starting out. Many subs get taken advantage of when they first dip their toes into this world, then they never come back. It’s sad. You seem nice and I don’t want to see you hurt, so I’d be happy to be your guide.”
Luna was finding it harder and harder to say no to Lani. Something in her, though, fluttered against the bars of its cage. It was that something that made her nod in agreement.
Memorizing the rules was not a problem—be respectful, don’t interrupt a scene, no touching unless invited, expect the same respect from others and ask if I have any questions. They were easy, basic and simple rules.
The shopping Lani suggested, however, was a whole new level of exhaustion. Her new guide seemed to have an unending source of energy for hitting up all manners of stores. Luna had no idea that there were so many fetish-wear, goth-wear and lingerie stores in town. Then there were the shoes. Oh dear God, the shoes.
By the end, she had begged off, only buying a few outfits, including a corset and two sets of lingerie, on the excuse that she had a limited budget. Lani had been skeptical at first, but Luna had distracted her by pointing out a pair of boots with beautiful tattooed roses across the sides. From there on, she was more of a shopping-assistant-slash-fashion-consultant than anything else. And if she were hard-pressed, she would have to admit that it was fun too.
There was one more thing, an idea of her own. The last thing she wanted was to gawk like a tourist at the more intimate play party, so perhaps some real-life desensitization was in order.
It couldn’t hurt, right?