Ready or not, here it comes! (Estimated date of release September 15, 2014)
The winning cover image, which I will purchase and start working with as soon as this beast goes to beta readers! This isn't too far off from the cover, except I might make those bright white corners a bit more transparent, and I will definitely be fixing the font to match the previous books in the series.
Dare in the Dungeon, excerpt.
"You're still holding on, Dare. Still pretending."
Dare was kneeling in ready stance, naked, and Thomas' observation made him cringe. An embarrassed flush flooded through him. Embarrassed because it was true. Embarrassed because although he claimed he wanted to submit for real, he couldn't quite get there. He couldn't get out of his own way enough to let Thomas truly take control. Dare always had at least one clenched ball of inner reserve held tight. Most of the time he had layers of that reserve, a shield, and he could drop one, maybe, but the rest remained, a knot of clarity, a space of the reasonable, the rational – still living inside his head. A place he could hide.
If he really let go, who would hold him together? Thomas? Did Thomas love him enough? Did anyone?
"I think you have to hurt him."
That's was Zach's voice, quiet, almost sad. "I've seen what he's after, loss of all reserve, all inhibition. It comes after trauma. And it comes with pain, more pain, or a different kind of pain, than he's been getting from the flogger or the strap. And it comes with fear."
Goddamn Zach the fucking ICU nurse.
Dare wanted to shrink away from them, run home and curl into his bed, head underneath the covers. Safe.
He felt a shudder work its way from the nape of his neck to the tip of his tailbone.
Roman's dungeon party. The submissives, the ones that were truly controlled by their dominants, writhing in pain, letting loose mindless cries, begging, crawling. Reduced to trembling bits of id.
Pain did that.
And certain humiliating indignities.
Thomas' voice came like a whip crack. "Dare. Yes or no."
A choice. To never get there, or give them permission to hurt him.
The raised platform at Roman's party. Roman holding one whip, Suede holding another. Dare and Jeff on their knees, arms wrapped around each other, cocks pressed together. Lashes from the whip getting meaner and meaner, the leather jock that gave Dare some semblance of privacy torn away, and then rutting against Jeff, desperate crying, losing all awareness of the audience, all his life reduced to the one moment, clinging, hips thrusting mindlessly...
The mean strike from the punishment brush, a thousand pinpoints of pain, and he was sorry, so sorry for his disobedience, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll be good. Love me, please, I am nothing, empty. Fill me up.
Pain did that. Only pain took him out of himself, opened him that wide.
Dare took in a breath, fought the urge to wrap his arms around himself, fought his every instinct for self-protection.
"Yes." He thought he'd say more than that, but he managed that one word, and then was seized with dread, because surely he'd regret this.
And then he waited, breath held.
The air itself seemed to wait.
"Yes, you want me to hurt you?"
"Please," Dare whispered.
"Oh I will, esse, believe me, I will."
The words left Dare trembling with a combination of terror and anticipation. If you're in, be all in. More of Roman's words, his attempts to get Dare to really let go.
"What are you thinking?" Zach asked, and Dare started to answer, but realized, when Zach continued thinking out loud, that the question wasn't directed at him. "Beating him wouldn't be very sexy. Kind of crude, really, although I can see some appeal in leaving bruises here and there."
"I know a million ways to inflict pain," Thomas answered. "Some of them leave marks, but many of them don't."
Dare felt the air shift as Thomas walked a circle around him. "Dare. Do you know what a sound is?"
Dare didn't, but before he could say so, he heard Zach's hiss of indrawn breath, and slight gasp of exhale. Apparently he knew.
The trembling got worse.
Thomas released a soft chuckle. "Zach knows. Do you, Dare?"