Natalie felt a thrill go up her spine. This was a new experiment, and there was no way of knowing how it would turn out. But the notion had long excited her; Nick was a vampire-a naturally dominant creature-and, by making it a game, they could test the limits of his self-control. He would have the illusion of command, while she would actually be in the driver's seat.

She would be the one in control, while giving all appearance of surrendering.

At least, that's what the logical side of her brain kept telling her. The emotional side of her only knew that she loved Nick and she wanted to belong to him in the worst way. And the horny side... well, that part wasn't thinking much at all.

But all the planning, all the rationalizing, the safewords, the talk of hard and soft limits... it all flew into a closet in the back of her mind when she saw it for the first time.

The collar.

He'd had it made just for her. It was a subtle piece, a thin band of white gold studded with blue and pink diamonds. It probably cost a small country's treasury... but it was beautiful, and wearing it would mean she belonged to him now. She could wear it with any nice outfit, and no one would know its significance; no one but the two of them. It was the physical representation of the ultimate secret they shared, of the power he wielded over her heart, of her willingness to submit, of every complexity of their relationship. Everything that she had ever longed for him to say would be there, silent and weighted in every carat of gold and diamond.

A frisson of heat erupted from deep within her belly and formed into a knot of excitement.

This was really happening.

"Natalie." His voice was soft, his face a mixture of consternation, worry for her safety, and awe at her faith in him. "Are you certain?"

She nodded, her heart thudding in her chest. "I want to wear your collar. Please." I will wear it with pride, she added in her head.

She slowly knelt, her head down, eyes on the floor. Her backside rested against her heels.

"Natalie, eyes on me."

She looked up at him.

He smiled. "Good girl." He moved to a position behind her and she saw, as if in slow motion, the collar open in front of her... then felt it come down against her collar bone. "Lift your hair." As she did so, the cool metal of the collar slid up against her neck, and his strong and equally cool fingers brushed against her nape. Tantalizing, enticing.

The room was so quiet, with her breath the only sound to her mortal ears, that the clasp clicking shut sounded like a pair of shackles being locked. A pair of shackles she had cheerfully volunteered to wear.

She was his now, officially. She felt another tremor of excitement, this time lancing up her spine.

"You may let your hair down."

She did so, then folded her hands neatly in her lap. "What would you have me do, my Lord?"

"You will tell me your name."

"Kitten," she answered without hesitation.

"And who do you belong to, Kitten?"

"You, my Lord." She slowly got to her feet, her knees beginning to ache already. Damnit.

"I did not tell you to stand," he warned. "You did not wait for my orders."

"Forgive me, my Lord," she replied.

"Lean against the table." She placed her forearms against the table, glancing up and out to the rest of the loft around her, knowing the position left her backside vulnerable. She waited, her breath hitching when she felt him pull up the soft fabric of her skirt.

Her first punishment. She couldn't wait, trembling at the anticipation of his touch, in an area of her body more intimate than they'd ever dared before.

Would he be able to successfully train her as his submissive, even as he was training himself to remain in control for her sake? She heard a sharp intake of breath from him, as his fingers hooked around the waistband of her panties. She fought back a groan as his hands slid the fabric, so so slowly, down her legs. His cool touch lingered a moment, absorbing her warmth.

Then the panties were gone, down her legs and pooled on the floor against her feet.

There was a long moment of silence. She could hear the clock ticking on the wall, and the refrigerator's cooling system kicked on.

Would he, could he manage?

His voice was strained and gruff, as he ordered, "Count."

After a long moment, where she held her breath in anticipation-Would he do it? Could he do it?-his hand came down sharply on her backside. Instinctively, she jumped, even as she knew he'd never really harm her.

"One!"

Whack!

"Two!" Her voice jumped an octave higher.

He continued to smack her backside, with careful and measured slaps. By the time they got to "Ten!" she was on the verge of crying from some repressed feeling she couldn't name released by the combination of pain and pleasure. At "Fifteen!" she begged (though without using her safewords, as she really didn't want him to stop), and "Twenty!" was delivered with a swear immediately following it.

He gave her one more smack on the ass for her potty mouth.

"What did you learn?" he finally demanded.

"Wait for your order."

"And?"

"Watch my language."

"Try saying that more respectfully."

"From now on, I will wait for your orders before I act, and I will watch my language, my Lord."

"Good. Now stay put and behave yourself." There was a tell-tale whoosh of sudden vampire movement, and then he was back. He began rubbing lotion on her tender backside. She sighed as his cool hands now soothed the flesh he had made sore.

He'd never touched her like this before. She so wished his fingers would stray just a little forward...

She heard another sharp intake of breath from him. Could he smell how aroused she was? Did he see it with his own eyes? Don't stop touching me, she silently begged. I want you to touch me everywhere.

But he slipped her panties back on her derriere, and pulled her skirt back down. She couldn't begin to fathom how much it must have taken to control himself like this; she only knew that, in spanking her, he'd touched a raw nerve-a nerve that had been left trembling and exposed.

"You may stand up straight now."

She stood, her eyes cast downward.

"Look at me." She lifted her gaze to see him smiling again. "You did very well."

So did you. She hoped her thought showed in her eyes, how she was equally proud of him.

"I've put a pillow on the couch for you to sit comfortably. Pick out a movie you like and have a seat."

She smiled. "Yes, my Lord."

And she did.