Losing her master ripped Darcy's world apart. Falling in love put it back together. Malcolm is an undercover agent, and she's his unwitting asset. Can a relationship built on lies survive the truth?
Picking herself up after the devastating loss of her master is more difficult than Darcy anticipated. Just when she needs someone the most, a handsome dom steps in and helps her out. Theo is thoughtful, dominant, and demanding -- everything she needs. He pushes her boundaries, tests her limits, and takes her to new heights. With him, she remembers what it is to feel joy and love and a firm hand on her ass.
Agent Malcolm Legato is after a corrupt businessman, and Darcy is his ticket into the upper echelon of Snyder Corp. As "Theo," he makes contact with her and cultivates her as an asset. Since she's also a suspect in her master's disappearance, he can't reveal himself to her, even when he realizes she's another of Snyder's victims. He falls hard for this feisty submissive, and he knows he'll break her heart the moment she finds out he's been lying to her all along.
When it all falls apart, will Darcy be able to find the strength to forgive Malcolm so they can build a life together and the courage to bring justice to the man she loved and lost?
Cover art by Fiona Jayde
"Michele Zurlo has done it again with RE/BOUND. This story had everything from romance and mystery mixed in with the BDSM world. It's not hard to find yourself lost in this book and unable to stop reading. I enjoyed how Ms. Zurlo led the reader through the emotional and sexual endeavor of Darcy's life. Malcolm was the perfect Dom to break Darcy down but in a good way and let her live again and submit again. RE/BOUND is a must read." -CozyReader at The Romance Reviews.
"A bold, smart, and sexy story that is the perfect combination of romance and dominance. The author does a superb job of explaining the psychological elements behind the relationship, needs, behaviors, and connection that is between Malcolm and Darcy. The blistering sex is filled with smoking hot delights, kinky pleasures, and tender seduction." -Shannon at The Romance Studio.
A Two Lips Reviews Recommended Read! "Michele Zurlo knocks out a super-charged BDSM novel in Re/Bound. From its opening pages, Ms. Zurlo's characterizations of both Darcy and Malcolm sucked me in, making me stay up well into the night reading their story. Bravo, Ms.Zurlo, you make me fall in love over and over again with memorable characters who make kink a vital part of their lives. If you love emotionally kinky journeys that will push your boundaries, I urge you to pick up Michele Zurlo's Re/Bound today!" -Victoria at Two Lips Reviews
"The characterizations of Malcolm and Darcy as a new D/s couple were spot on. They were realistic, likable and full of depth and emotion. Their relationship developed at a steady pace, where limits where explored and pushed, but safe words were always respected...RE/BOUND is a suspenseful and very steamy story, and I would highly recommend it to fans of BDSM erotic romances." -Diana at The Forbidden Bookshelf
A Night Owl Reviews Top Pick! "The D/s scenes are some the best I've read. This was a very absorbing and entertaining read with an action-packed ending that will leave you breathless. The connection that Darcy and Malcolm share is stunningly beautiful. Highly recommended." -Emma at Night Owl Reviews
"Re/Bound is a BDSM story with a few twists, including ropes and suspense, that just makes for a great read. The love story of Malcolm and Darcy is sweet and real. The suspense makes for a complex story that intertwines so beautifully with the sex. From the first Dom/sub experience between Darcy and Malcolm as strangers, the sexual chemistry just burns you from the inside. Zurlo gave the readers a special treat with Re/Bound." -LT Blue at Just Erotic Romance Reviews
Darcy riffled through the sheaf of papers on the counter in the elegant ladies’ room. Baskets of silk flowers brightened the spaces between each basin and brought out the floral pattern on the wallpaper. On a normal day, she would have appreciated the care someone had put into making a restroom a more pleasant place to be.
Friday evening meant most of the convention’s attendees were arriving. Tonight’s audience would probably be half empty because the speech took place before dinner. While the majority of people would make it in time for dinner, not as many would rush to see her speak. Sunday morning, the format would be informal, with her camouflaged among the panel of people, any of whom could field the questions. Of course, she would still need to make a short speech introducing herself and justifying her presence on the panel, and she would have to answer any questions asked of her directly. Her colleagues would depend on her to chime in when she saw them struggle for ideas.
Looking up, she caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror. At least the turmoil tearing apart her insides hadn’t ravaged her appearance. To outsiders she would appear cool and confident, put together just like she would have actually been if Scott had been there with her. But those little lines around her eyes and mouth only showed up during periods of intense stress.
The success of her company depended on her ability to get the word out about the services she offered. Conventions meant exposure, but they also meant public speaking.
She hated public speaking.
The majority of her responsibilities included writing grants and organizing charity divisions for larger companies. They ended up with some huge write-offs and tax breaks, and so many worthwhile charities benefited. She loved seeing the impact of her work on places and people who badly need help.
Before Scott had disappeared, public speaking hadn’t fazed her like this. He had a special way of calming her down. When he used that Dom voice, the tension threatening to turn her to stone melted away. Sometimes he would drape her over his knees and turn her bottom pink with the flat of his hand. Other times he would order her to her knees, and she would luxuriate in the caress of her favorite flogger.
After the speech, he would reward her for a job well done.
But now he was gone. Victor, her major client for the past several years, had clucked sympathetically and assured her that sometimes men just left. It wasn’t the right thing to say, but she knew his heart was in the right place. The police had interrogated her like a suspect when nobody could find him. Darcy knew something bad had happened. She knew he was gone for good, but not by choice. He never would have voluntarily left her.
Hot tears pricked the back of her eyelids, but she blinked them back. No matter what anyone else said, she knew her Master had loved her. They had planned to be married, and they had purchased a home together. Two weeks after they moved into their dream house, he had disappeared.
Eight months had elapsed, and she kept moving forward because she didn’t know what else to do. Her parents and her friends had never truly understood the turn her relationship with Scott had taken. They didn’t understand how badly she needed a Dom in her life, and not just any Dom. Scott was special. Scott had loved her, and she loved him.
The masochist in her loved pain, but not the emotional kind. She smoothed her skirt and reminded herself that he was gone. She would have to do this on her own. He would be so proud of her if he could see her now.
Darcy wiped her face and took a deep breath. She could do this.
* * * * *
The short hallway behind the main room of the convention center didn’t lead anywhere but to a door behind the podium. This single, guardable entrance had been built for security purposes. It would be easy to protect a person of importance here while the rest of the security detail swept the main room for suspicious activity.
Malcolm Legato stood across from the entrance to the hall. He leaned against a wall, casually watching the throng of people waiting for the doors to open. The number of people waiting to see Darcy Markovich speak on a Friday night surprised him. He knew she was known for giving entertaining speeches that left the listener feeling like he could change the world, but he honestly didn’t think so many people would rush here from work so late on a Friday afternoon just to see her.
Apparently he had misjudged the situation.
For most people, that wouldn’t matter. However, Malcolm should have known. His research on her should have turned up evidence of her extreme popularity. He had thought the room would be nearly empty. From the looks of things, it was almost full. The official window for checking in to the convention closed in two hours, and most of the people with reservations were already here.
His reasons for being here were twofold. First, he needed to make contact with Victor Snyder or someone in his upper echelon, like Darcy Markovich. The groundwork for an undercover operation, which included a falsified juvenile hacking record in the name of his alias, Theo Stevenson, had been carefully set by his team. Malcolm’s genius with computers made him a natural choice for this assignment. Snyder needed a relatively new and unknown programming guru to create an updated system for his business so he could launder money more efficiently. He also needed tech help with his various pump-and-dump schemes, and Malcolm suspected Snyder had broken more than a few antitrust laws.
Malcolm aimed to position himself as the perfect choice to handle those kinds of enterprises.
The second reason for his presence at this event was less concrete. The disappearance of Scott Yataines had yet to be resolved. No trace of his whereabouts had been found, and no body had been recovered. The case seriously lacked for evidence and a solid motive.
Interviews with family and friends all pointed a suspicious finger toward Ms. Markovich. Yataines had been violent and abusive on several occasions, leaving Ms. Markovich with bruises and welts. While Malcolm couldn’t blame a woman for snapping under those conditions, his instructions included settling the issue satisfactorily so homicide could reasonably explore other options. If he brought in the killer, that would be icing on the cake. Malcolm had a hunch Snyder was involved with the disappearance, but he couldn’t find a motive there, either. Operating on intuition never went over well with the prosecutor’s office.
Also Markovich worked for Snyder. They had to know what part she played in the operation before they could decide how to use her as an asset.
Once he knew how to play Ms. Markovich, he would know exactly how to penetrate the layers of corruption at Snyder Corp.
Three sets of double doors opened, and the guests filtered through them, clearing the hallway of the discordant sounds of conversation. Malcolm didn’t move. He needed to make contact with Markovich before she entered the room. He would compliment her and ask her out for drinks. A little alcohol made women loose-lipped, and all women liked to complain about their past boyfriends.
His first sight of her made him catch his breath. The photographs and videos he’d seen didn’t do her justice. Light brown hair floated gently around her shoulders. The slight curl at the tips made it appear weightless. The tan skirt and jacket were probably meant to help her look professional, but they failed to disguise the voluptuous curves that defined her hips and ass. Those breasts threatened to burst out of her white button-down blouse. She hadn’t dressed provocatively. She just had one of those bodies that screamed sex, and nothing could disguise that cry.
But more than that, she had a presence that couldn’t be captured with a camera, fragility and strength she somehow managed to exude simultaneously. Malcolm had always found that kind of dichotomy attractive.
He took a moment to call on his extraordinary control. It wouldn’t do to accost her with a raging hard-on tenting his dress pants. His cover didn’t require him to seduce anyone, and sex always made for sticky situations while undercover. Drinks. Just drinks and flirting. No more than that.
She spoke with a convention official, then made her way to the dead-end hallway behind the room. Malcolm wondered if they had decided on a dramatic entrance or if she wanted to avoid walking through the crowd gathered to hear her speak.
He crossed the wide hall. The sound of her voice reached his ears before he rounded the corner.
“You can do this, Darcy. You will do this. You don’t need a good, thorough flogging. You have a perfectly decent speech prepared. You practiced it for a week. You will smile. You will be confident.” The clear speaking voice vanished as she stumbled over that last word. She mumbled a few curses. As he took the three steps that put him in the entrance to the narrow hall, he heard her finish. “Don’t blow this. They’ll never ask you back if you blow this. Oh fuck. I’m going to blow it.”
She glanced up, startled, and pressed the papers in her hand against her chest. They crinkled and bent to conform as best they could over those ample breasts. Her wide eyes took him in, staring long enough to let him know she found him attractive.
She had said “flogging.” This piece of additional evidence filtered through his head and colored his initial theories on her involvement. Her comment opened up a new avenue of investigation. He tried for his best disarming smile. “Nervous? Don’t be. You’ll do just fine.”
Her tongue darted out, moistening her lower lip and teasing him with a promise she couldn’t know she was making. “Thank you. I know. I’m just preparing. If you don’t mind, the entrance is in the main hall.”
He had known her eyes were blue. That information had been in her file. However, he was unprepared for the physical way her pale-eyed gaze slammed into his gut. She met his stare with apparent confidence. Most people would be fooled, but not Malcolm. He had spent too much time training in the nuances of emotion that manifested in people’s faces. Ms. Markovich’s anxiety level was near critical.
In all the transcripts, she had denied ever suffering abuse at Yataines’s hands. Yet her family had all given statements that labeled the man abusive and controlling. Malcolm hadn’t even thought to consider that Markovich was a submissive. It made him see the family’s allegations in a new light.
She hadn’t sounded like she believed herself when she said she didn’t need a flogging. Did that mean she needed a flogging to get through the speech, or did she need the certainty of punishment to bolster her courage?
He played his hunch that Yataines had been her Master. It was a gamble, but the odds were good, and if he was right, it could help him gain her trust that much faster.
He took a step forward. Malcolm always exuded a confident demeanor because he was a confident man. He was a natural Dom. People often followed his lead without question.
Markovich lowered her gaze, fastening it on the floor at his feet. Less than eighteen inches separated him from her, which was how he liked to play the game. This submissive needed to know the Dom in her personal space presented the right kind of threat.
“Darcy.” He noted the way her nostrils flared like prey scenting her predator, but she didn’t raise her gaze to challenge him. He wasn’t under the delusion that she had submitted to him. In the absence of a real acquaintance, instinct and training had taken over, that was all. It didn’t mean she recognized him as someone who had authority over her. “Do you mind if I call you Darcy?”
Now her eyes came up, and she looked directly at him. “Look, mister, I don’t mean to be rude, but I need a few quiet moments to gather my thoughts. I will be available for a panel discussion Sunday. If you have an urgent concern that can’t wait, I’ll be happy to talk to you after the presentation. But right now I need to be alone.”
He itched to turn her over his knee and paddle the hell out of her backside. He wondered whether she wore underwear or if he’d have to strip those away in order to caress the flesh of an ass he ached to touch.
Malcolm cleared his throat and chased those thoughts away. She needed help right then, and he could give that to her. Domination wasn’t always sexual, especially given the venue and the fact that they didn’t know one another. She fidgeted and danced like a newborn kitten, scooting away from him.
He grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing her to hold still. “Theo Stevenson.” He had chosen Theodore after the great President Roosevelt. “But we can simplify things. You will call me Sir.”
She froze. Her pupils dilated, and she glanced around, no doubt noting he blocked the only escape route. “That title is earned.” She gulped two breaths, and he knew she was fully aware of the audacity of her assertion. It might be true, but a submissive generally used a title of respect with a Dom from the beginning.
“No,” he said. “The title of Master is earned, as is the title of slave. I wouldn’t go so far as to even call you a pet. For now, Darcy will suffice.”
She stared at him, and he realized the limit of her experience. Likely Yataines had been her only Dom. Records indicated they had dated for six years. Since he knew her to be twenty-seven, that meant she had met her Dom at the tender age of twenty-one. If she had experienced other Doms, those encounters had probably been very limited.
“Breathe, Darcy. Take one deep breath right now.” She did as he ordered. Some color returned to her lips, and a bit of panic subsided from her eyes. “Keep your eyes on me and take another breath. In and out. Good girl.”
As he expected, she responded to his authoritative tone and blossomed under his praise. Her eyes brightened, and the little lines around her mouth and eyes disappeared. If she had been his, he would have kissed her. As it was, he had a hard time not following through with his inclination to praise her that way.
“You will go in that room, Darcy, and you will speak from the heart. You know what you want to say, and you’re well prepared for this. You will smile at the audience, and you will charm them with the passion you have for giving to others. Afterward I will find you and I will give you a reward. Do you understand?”
She nodded, her movement severely limited by the grip he had on her chin. She made no attempt to break away, but she also didn’t speak.
“Answer me, Darcy. Use words.”
“Yes, Sir. I understand.” Strong and steady, her voice washed over him, and he knew she would be successful.
“Now go in there. The crowd has quieted, and they’re waiting on you.”
He opened the single door and watched her cross the small distance to stand next to the podium. The coordinator flashed a smile at her as he completed the introduction. Malcolm closed the door. Entering that way would draw attention to himself. This first day, he needed the cloak of anonymity so he could observe his target.
Victor Snyder was a dangerous man, and his instincts told him Darcy had a sweet soul. How in the world had she come to work for him? What service could she possibly provide that would further his nefarious interests? He rejected the idea that Darcy was his submissive. If ever he had seen a sub without a Master, Darcy Markovich fit the bill.
He slipped in through the farthest door in the main room and took an empty seat at a table in the back of the room. Now that he had established contact with Darcy, he needed some time to watch her too. He would steer her toward the bistro in the hotel and follow through with his original plan to ply her with drinks.
* * * * *
A half hour later, Darcy wrapped up her speech. It had gone well, so much better than she expected, and she had Theo, the mysterious Dom who showed up out of nowhere to save the day, to thank. While she wouldn’t have tanked if he hadn’t interfered, she wouldn’t have charmed the audience to the extent she had.
Her main client, Victor Snyder, was a lovely man. Kind and generous, he donated huge sums of money to charity through the foundation she had set up in his name. Next week she would turn operations completely over to him, and she needed to line up her next big job. The smaller contracts kept her going, but they didn’t pay out like the larger ones that required long-term commitments.
Snyder Corporation now had over half a million dollars available for grants. A full year of her time had gone into developing grant opportunities and guidelines for the corporation. She had hired and trained a full staff to oversee the department. Victor wanted her to stay with him, to run everything. Darcy didn’t want to give up her business in order to do that. Scott seemed to be the only one who had understood how her work fulfilled her. He alone had urged her to hold fast to her dreams. Actually he had ordered it, and she had loved him all the more for it.
She was under no illusion that her mystery Dom, Theo, would or could give her what she really needed. On occasion Scott had provided a stern reprimand or two to another submissive. Darcy had never been jealous because she knew it wasn’t sexual or emotional. This outward display of his generous spirit had drawn her to him in the first place. Theo seemed to be cut from the same cloth. She had to be careful to not transfer her feelings for Scott to Theo. It wouldn’t be a true emotion, and it wouldn’t be fair to any of them.
Perhaps he would want to buy her a drink or let her buy one for him. She would thank him and call him “Sir.” If anyone had earned that title, Theo had.
As she sat at her assigned seat on the dais with the other presenters who would make up the panel of experts Sunday morning, Darcy looked around the room. It didn’t take long for her to find Theo. The rich depth of his dark brown hair stood out in this crowd from the west side of Michigan with its large Dutch population. Most people were blond or bald. Even her light brown hair blended in with everyone else. Not Theo. Even if he were blond, which wouldn’t look right with his angular, olive-complexioned face, he would stand out. The authority he carried on his shoulders shone like a broadcast beacon, pulling every eye toward him.
Theo wasn’t handsome in the traditional sense. His cheekbones were too sharp, and his long nose had a hawkish bend to it. A scar crossed his left eyebrow, interrupting its thickness and giving him an air of danger. She could study his lips for hours. Already she wondered if they were soft or if they were as hard as they looked. She could easily picture his face as a granite bust.
A pang of guilt hit her chest, and she drew a deep, ragged breath. Scott would want her to move on with her life. He would want her to find another Dom. He would want her to be happy.
The event organizer sat to her right. Colleagues took up the remaining seats. Theo had said he would find her afterward, and she trusted him to follow through. She didn’t really have anything on which to base her assumption other than intuition and hope. Having been around the scene for more than a few years, she'd seen good Doms and bad ones. Theo struck her as the former. She wasn’t necessarily looking for another relationship, but she could use a friend.
For the first time since those horrible weeks after Scott disappeared, Darcy felt a knot of peace unfurling in her chest. She turned her attention to the people around her and focused on staying in the moment.
After dinner Darcy tried to make her way from the room. Various people stopped her along the way. Some exclaimed over her speech. Several business owners pressed cards into her hand. Others told her they looked forward to attending her portion of the conference the next day.
She smiled and made eye contact. She shook hands and memorized names. Using what she hoped were surreptitious glances, she scanned the room for Theo. The vacant seat where he had eaten offered no clues as to his whereabouts. She fought disappointment and concentrated on the man who had held her hand in his for far too long.
“I saw you speak last year,” he said. “We were seated together for breakfast both mornings.”
She stared at him. His nondescript brown hair and eyes offered no clues to jog her memory. If the conference had been a year ago, she had likely attended with Scott. Though their schedules had sometimes conflicted and he couldn’t always travel with her, he tried his best to attend the larger gatherings where her nerves presented the worst. Thinking of Scott brought her up short, derailing her attempt to remember the man.
“Which conference was this?” She smiled encouragingly and tilted her head a bit to soften the man’s coming disappointment. She tried tugging her hand free again, but he didn’t relinquish his grip.
“San Diego. You were there with your Master. I don’t see him around.”
Panic spiked through Darcy, the kind of icy fear that came with gooseflesh prickling down her spine. She and Scott had kept that aspect of their relationship relatively private. He didn’t overtly dominate her in public, and she rarely used his title outside of their home.
Warm hands landed on her shoulders. “Darcy, are you almost finished here?”
Darcy shrank back against Theo’s broad chest, taking refuge in a place she considered safe. She felt his solid strength flowing into her, and she finally mustered enough courage to blatantly pull her hand free. “I’m sorry. I don’t recall your name. A year is such a long time.”
“Darcy.” Theo’s stern warning couldn’t be missed.
She turned as much as she could with his hands gripping her shoulders to find his gaze focused on the man she couldn’t place. His warning hadn't actually been directed at her. “I’ll just be a minute, Theo.”
“One minute. That’s all.” He glanced down at her for a second, but it was long enough for her to catch the slight lift of his brow. It was a small gesture with a loud message. If she wanted to continue the conversation, she could. If she wanted it to end, he would provide a way out. When he returned his attention to the man, she followed suit.
The man's smile cracked a bit, but he didn’t seem at all cowed, merely annoyed. “I also work for Victor Snyder. Security.”
She used this new set of parameters to search her memory. He wore a casual dress shirt and khakis. Nothing about his face or build marked him as distinct. Perhaps if she saw him in his uniform, it would sufficiently jog her memory. She wasn’t usually so bad with names and faces. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I still can’t place you. Perhaps if you told me your name?”
The relaxed tone of Theo’s voice gave no clue to the tension radiating from his body into hers. Darcy shivered, uncomfortable with the situation.
The man flicked his gaze back up to Theo. A brief flash of distaste caused his lip to curl before it settled into a cold smile. “You must be Darcy’s new Master. A word of advice? Her Masters tend to disappear. Watch your back.”
Blood drained from Darcy’s face, leaving behind a cold, sticky feeling. Her limbs trembled. Victor had been there for her after Scott disappeared. He had provided her with a lawyer when she was too dazed and grief-stricken to think to ask for one. “How dare you say something like that? One word to Victor and he’ll fire you for this.”
“Time’s up.” Theo peeled her away. With his hand firmly planted on the small of her back, he guided her out of the room.
Few people loitered in the wide main hall in front of the banquet room. Darcy took in a few deep, calming breaths. Theo watched, an unreadable expression on his face. Finally she managed a tenuous smile.
“I’m sorry about that. You don’t have to stay with me. I understand if you want to call it a night. Thank you for helping me earlier.” She didn’t use his title because she wanted to make it clear that he owed her nothing.
Theo slid his fingers along her cheek until he cupped the side of her head. He brushed his thumb over her eyebrow. Then his caress moved down. The tips of his fingers rested lightly against her jaw, and he used his thumb to rub the same arc along the edge of her bottom lip. The depth of intensity in his bottomless brown eyes stirred a recognition deep inside her.
At last he spoke. “Sir.”
Her lips parted. “I’m sorry, Sir. I just don’t want you to think I expect anything from you. I’m more than grateful for your help, both before the speech and just now.”
He nodded and dropped his hand. “I like you, Darcy. I don’t go around rescuing subs from themselves and jealous wannabe Doms. I’m not a bighearted fool or a generous man. I’m doing this because I hope to get something out of it.”
The spell he had been weaving over her broke. Of course he wanted something out of it. What man didn’t? She bit her lip and took a step back. “I don’t sleep around, Theo. I’m sorry if I said or did something to make you think I was offering sex. I wasn’t.”
He took one step forward, negating the distance she had put between them. “I don’t expect anything more than your company, Darcy. You did great tonight. I was completely entranced by your speech even though I’m a computer geek, not a grant writer. I thought you’d like to get a drink with me.”
She blinked up at him. “Is that my reward?”
Theo lifted a brow. “We met barely two hours ago. Given the newness of our acquaintance, don’t you feel praise to be an appropriate reward?”
Heat crept up her neck. Even if he had been her Master, praise would have been the appropriate reward. Any reward he would have chosen would have been appropriate. Rewards and punishments were a Master’s purview.
Her gaze landed on his shiny shoes. “I’m sorry, Sir. I overstepped my bounds.”
“No, you didn’t. I encourage you to be open and honest with me. It’s the only way we’ll know whether this bit of chemistry between us is going to go anywhere.”
Darcy’s breath caught. She liked this kind of brutal honesty. Though she meant to keep her gaze lowered, she couldn’t help looking into his eyes. He didn’t flinch or hide his appreciation for her. “Is Sir asking me out for a drink?”
He shook his head. “Sir gave you praise. Theo is asking to spend some time with you.”
Many men had asked her out since Scott’s disappearance. Theo was the first who tempted her. That tiny knot of peace deep in her chest grew. She didn’t try to temper the soft smile his declaration elicited. “A drink sounds nice.”
Theo offered his arm. When she gripped his bicep tentatively, he placed his other hand over hers until she accepted his reassurance. She slid her hand deeper and allowed him to pin her wrist between his arm and his body. This drew her closer and kept her there. She allowed his display of possessiveness, and she let herself enjoy the feeling of security he evoked.
Friday night at the hotel bar with a convention in full swing meant a wall of noise blasted them the moment Theo opened the door. He smiled apologetically. “I guess you’ll have to sit close to me so we can hear each other.”
Darcy laughed and released his arm. She stepped into the dimly lit room. He immediately placed his hand on the small of her back. He paused, scanning the room, and she paused with him. She visually measured the height difference between them, estimating six inches. That put him at around six feet tall.
At last he turned his head to smile down at her. “There’s a table back there.” He pointed to his right and shifted her to that side. Grateful his height allowed him to see above the crowd, she let him guide her toward the table he had chosen.
The little rectangular table fit two people. Shoved against a wall next to a fire exit, it seemed forgotten and alone. Theo pulled out a chair and motioned for her to sit. His gallantry caused her to swallow an uncharacteristic giggle. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone except a maître d’ had treated her this way.
A waitress pounced before Theo had settled in his chair. She flashed a quick smile that did little to change her harried air, and she tucked a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “We got five-dollar drafts tonight. What can I get for you?”
Darcy could tell the woman hoped they would both order drafts. Thoroughly not a beer person, she smiled apologetically. “Can I have a glass of cabernet sauvignon?”
“Yep.” She turned to Theo and lifted her brow. “What can I get for you?”
The amused smile tipping the corners of his lips made Darcy want to feel them against hers. She swallowed and looked away, uncertain what to do with this visceral reaction.
“I’ll have the same.”
The waitress left, and Theo reached across the table. He took her hands in his, holding them loosely. The choice of whether to let him have this contact lay with her. She relaxed into his hold and leaned closer.
“You like wine?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes. I’m not a picky drinker.”
She laughed and let her gaze follow the planes and angles of his face. “You could have ordered something else.”
“I’m aware.” That amused grin returned, tempered with a bit of slyness that made his dark eyes shine. “Since I’m hoping for a good-night kiss, I think I’ll stick to drinking the same thing you drink. That way you won’t be turned off by my breath.”
Darcy chose to dodge that one. She looked down at their hands. “Tell me about yourself, Theo. You said you were a computer geek. What do you do, exactly?”
He didn’t look like the image that came to mind when she thought of a computer geek, though he wasn’t far off. She could see where he might have been an awkward, gangly teen, but even if his arms and legs had once been too long for his body, the rest of him had caught up and filled out nicely.
“I can do pretty much anything. I can write programs, design Web sites, interactive databases, you name it.”
Such a vague description told her nothing. “Who do you work for?”
“I freelance.” That sparkle in his eye warned her against assuming his skills were outdated. “I own my own company, and I keep very busy. I’m here because I’m doing some research for a job I’m planning to bid on. Your turn, Darcy.”
This time she shrugged. “You already know what I do.”
“The conference brochure only tells me so much about you.” He rubbed the palms of her hands with his thumbs. The little circles of pressure put her at ease. “Why don’t you tell me how you found your submissive side?”