The flickering lamplight bathed the upper floor in an eerie otherworldly glow. Each pool of light illuminated an alcove where silent watchers gathered at the edges of shifting shadow. Here they observed intimate partners engaged in sexual play.
Crowds formed at the usual, more popular bondage areas, and I headed toward those. Only now I didn’t avoid casual contact with the other members of the club. I welcomed it. Drank it in, as it were.
My admirers swarmed me, with fake smiles and how-ya-doin’s from those who remembered me and those who wanted to know me better. I was shielded behind my white leathers while the Mistress of Pain strutted her stuff and reclaimed her old turf.
I glanced down at the photo. Elizabeth had once had such a pretty smile. The pale, vacant stare of the woman in the police photo, strung to a beam, looked nothing like the vivacious young woman I was looking at.
Elizabeth’s picture brought forth a memory from my distant past. It bubbled to the surface unbidden and unwanted: my arms strung overhead, straining with terrible pain, my feet immobilized.
I remembered strength draining from my limbs as blood seeped from cuts on my wrists. I shivered and shoved the dark thought out of my mind. My finger stroked Elizabeth Westmoreland’s face on the photograph, using it as a talisman to draw strength. Finding justice for Elizabeth was my duty. I blinked once, twice, and focused again on my task.
I held the photo in my fingers, like it meant little to me, and watched the scene in an alcove before me. This Saint Andrew’s Cross had a lively redhead strapped to the wooden beams. Her Dom wielded a doe-skinned flogger in each hand and threw in an overhead figure-eight pattern. He was stripped to the waist. A light sheen of sweat covered his back. Eyes tight with concentration, he huffed at each calculated throw.
The light falls of the flogger struck the redhead’s naked back.
The girl’s cries filled the air with earsplitting shrieks, overplayed and overdone. Doe-skin was the lightest of leathers and caused the most superficial sting. Barely the top layer of the girl’s skin moved. Her skin wasn’t even red. I shook my head. What a drama queen.
Now buffalo or boar…those leathers had weight behind them. I could move a man’s entire body with the heft of those behind my strikes, and the welts they raised were angry and red, thick as my finger, and beautiful to behold. The bruising lasted for days. And the shrieks from the men wormed their way deep into my soul, filling some of the emptiness inside.
A man leaned in, rapt with attention, watching the girl. I tapped his shoulder, and he rewarded me with an initial look of irritation. But at my hard stare and a glance at my outfit, his eyes widened.
“Mistress of Pain…”
Jaw-dropping awe. God, I loved it.
The corners of my lips curved upward. My time with Tyler had indeed served its purpose. I showed him the card with the Edge’s logo. “Do you know this club?”
He shook his head.
“What about her?”
He glanced at Elizabeth’s photo and gave another shake of his head. I moved on to the next person, then the next, until I’d exhausted all the watchers of the redhead and the Master with the doe-skin whip. None had heard of the elusive club or remembered the beautiful girl.
Stepping from that first pool of flickering lamplight to the next, I continued, stopping where people played and others watched. I played it cool, pulled individuals aside to make my inquiries.
Halfway through my interrogations, a new development had my nerves lighting up. Someone was following me.
An itching sensation crawled up my back and settled between my shoulder blades. Part of my training on the police force had taught me how to pick up on a tail. My old partner, Pete Lawry, however, had showed me how to take one down.
The only sense I had of my follower was from the fleeting glimpses I caught out of the corner of my eye. He was a tall man, with thick and powerful shoulders. Finer details remained hidden in the dark.
I tracked him in my periphery while I moved into progressively brighter and more social areas of the club. I crossed through the throngs gyrating on the dance floor to the bar area, with its black lights and erotic wall art glowing in every psychedelic hue.
I sat at a table and ordered two beers. The waiter punched my wristband, indicating I’d had alcohol. I fiddled with Elizabeth’s picture, waiting for him to approach, but I didn’t want to appear nervous. I placed her picture facedown on the table and leaned back.
He emerged from the dance floor and made a beeline for my table. No hesitation in his powerful walk. Now why would a Dom be following me around the club? He didn’t look like a newbie, nothing like the hesitant and new Dom, Tyler, who’d wanted to experience what a submissive endured.
I waved him to my table, indicating the beer waiting for him. “You might as well join me. We can talk about why you’re following me and why I shouldn’t get you banned from the club.”
Stripes had strict protocols on how to approach people you didn’t know. Stalking a Mistress was not on the approved list, especially for me. He needed to know I didn’t appreciate him shadowing me around the club.
His low, throaty laugh was one of those sounds wrapped in sin, sex, and seduction. It was the chuckle men used to tease women and send shivers down their spines, turn them into malleable piles of goo, gullible and willing to please.
It set my teeth on edge, precisely because it did just that to me. Manipulation irritated me. When it came from a man, it hardened my resolve to kick him in the nuts. From this particular man, I was tempted to string him up first, whip those balls to a pulp, then kick him to the curb.
“Somehow,” he said with a lazy Southern drawl, “I don’t think you’ll be getting me kicked out of this club.”
“Want to bet on that?” I had clout at Stripes. I could carry through with my threat. Confidence radiated off me in waves. I’m pretty sure he felt it because he shifted back half a step.
Another low, throaty laugh. “No, darlin’, but I’ll have that drink.”
A cocky grin framed his face in mischief. My first view of him presented a body full of hardened lines. His physical features gave me pause. Dark tousled hair cast deep shadows over his eyes. His black waves were long enough to wrap my fingers in and give a good hard yank.
Standing well over six feet, he would tower over me. I should have been cowed by his physical size, but I wasn’t. All I saw were broad shoulders, which practically begged me to strap him in bondage.
What could I do with all that cocky brawn? I imagined tracing those shoulders with my fingertips. I would slide my fingers down the curve of his biceps. From there they would continue their path until they reached his wrists. I would stop to bind his hands over his head, until he was powerless and under my control. Then I’d run my hands over the ridges of muscle beneath that shirt of his and feel him tremble with desire. I’d slowly strip him of his clothes, revealing the naked glory of his flesh for my examination while he begged me for release.
But he was no submissive for me to dominate.
He stood before me, leather boots spread on a solid base, one hip jutted forward, arms crossed over his powerful chest: defensive, proud, and quite dominant. A black wristband graced his wrist, and a Dungeon Monitor’s vest draped his shoulders.
More than a simple club regular, then. He appeared to be a vetted member like myself. Clearly, this man held power within Stripes. The vest spoke of a position of trust and authority, but a simple article of clothing didn’t intimidate me. Underneath it, he was still only a man.
His eyes stared down at me, full of self-confidence. He didn’t appear surprised I knew he’d been following me or guilty he’d been caught. He raised an eyebrow and gazed directly into my eyes, holding my attention with the power of a superior male.
I wanted to rip that smug expression right off his face. I wanted to fall to my knees and… No, stop that line of thought
I’d only ever experienced such raw power once before. I’d made a mistake then, and I had no intention of making the same mistake again.
Instead, I stiffened my spine and fisted my hands.
The force reaching out from him pulled at me, and my breath hitched. My damn heart sped up. My pulse actually had the nerve to hammer in my ears. Like I’d let a man ever control me again. The need to curtail his power overwhelmed me because it threatened me on a level I hadn’t experienced in a very long time.
Under his gaze, my lungs caught on an exhalation as instinct identified a threat.
The smirk on his face spread as our gazes locked. Here, in this moment, our struggle for dominance began. A ripple went through me, sending a warning note. I needed to be cautious.
His gaze broke away first, passing over me as a man’s eyes did when he saw something of interest.
I knew how my outfit defined my curves. He could look all he wanted. I’d never let him touch. But the heat in his eyes caught me off guard. I was used to men desiring me, but he wanted to consume me.
I kicked out a chair. Making my statement again, I shoved one of the beers across the table. “You’ve been following me. Explain yourself.”
If he was taken aback, he didn’t show it. He grabbed the beer and lowered his large frame into the chair. “Guilty as charged.” Dark bangs crested over his eyes, shadowing them. “I watched your scene tonight. You’re quite impressive.”
He was a simple voyeur. No wonder he’d been following me around all night. Probably trying to work up the nerve to ask for a session with the Mistress of Pain.
I flashed my bracelet. “I’m done for the night, but if you’re really interested… We could arrange for some other evening. Seems I’m running a special on submissive Doms.”
Couldn’t help inserting that little jab. He deserved it, and frankly, fatigue pulled at my bones. After my substellar performance with Tyler, I didn’t think I had it in me to take on another dominant male. This one looked to present a challenge. Couldn’t risk a fuck up with him.
Tyler exuded inexperience. This one had all the trappings of a true Master. Probably why my eyes kept gravitating downward. A natural, reflexive instinct I thought long since buried.
Damn. I jerked my gaze back up and caught the pallor in his face. Made me smile. The power dynamic turned in my favor.
“Uh, that’s not what I meant,” he said on a stammer, shifting in his chair.
“Then why were you following me?”
He reached across the table and brushed the hair off my shoulder.
Men did not touch me, not without invitation, and I rarely invited. His finger lingered a second too long at the hollow of my neck.
I wasn’t certain what bothered me more: that he touched me, that I didn’t slap his hand away, or that my skin beneath his fingers prickled with a flush of heat.
A pleased look crossed his features, unsettling me even more than his touch. And like that, the pendulum of power shifted back to him.
I adjusted my platinum wig and rubbed the spot where his fingers had touched, erasing his caress.
A deep, rhythmic beat played through the sound system of the club. The breathy moans of a couple at a nearby table melded in a sweet counterpoint to the music.
I lifted my beer and sniffed. The bittersweet aroma of hops filled my nose. Under the pretense of swallowing, I let my gaze wander while the organic rhythms of the club filled the space with a primal beat. At least, I pretended to distraction. In reality, I couldn’t get him out of my head.
I focused my gaze out into the darkness of the club in a calculated move to feign indifference. The truth was much different. My heart hammered away in a frenetic tattoo beneath my breastbone, and each time he swept his gaze across my body, he filled me with molten heat.
Never did I react to men this way. I never responded to men at all. Hell, my electric fuck toy was my most intimate lover. Despite the leather, whips, and a lifetime membership to a sex club, there was no action going on south of my waistline. Simply put, men weren’t safe.
“I thought we should meet.” He extended his hand in greeting.
I ignored him, choosing instead to stare at a spot over his left shoulder. I waited for him to pull his hand back before returning my attention to our small table. The thin line of his pressed lips told me I’d succeeded in frustrating him or annoying him. Either way, score one for me.
He pressed his empty palm on the tabletop. “You’ve been away a long time, Kate Summers. I was wondering, what brought you back?”
So he knew my name. He also knew of my absence. One more point for him. What else did he know?
He hadn’t answered my question, so I asked again. “Why have you been following me?”
“I told you. I thought we should meet.”
My gaze flicked to his vest. What position did he hold at Stripes?
He pushed back the hair from his eyes, and I was able to see his pupils surrounded by a heavenly blue.
“Your reputation is solid, and you’re skilled with a whip. People are whispering about you and how you manage your scenes. You’re a legend around here, with an uncanny knack for getting inside the mind of a submissive. People want to learn how you do it, and I’d like you to become a mentor here. Once you get your old groove back, that is.”
He surprised me with that last comment. How had he known?
I huffed a laugh, trying to play off his comment and buy myself time to recover. “Already got a day job.” He hadn’t mentioned a job, but I wondered if being a mentor was a volunteer position or paid.
This guy had to be in management.
His gaze seemed to soften, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. “We work at night. It doesn’t pay much—”
“Sorry. Not interested.” I needed the money, but my day job often required me to work late into the evening. Besides, something told me I did not want to work for this man. His presence unsettled me in the wrong way.
He thrust out his hand again, forcing me to take it or show my rudeness. “Jake Davenport, co-owner of Stripes. At your service.”
Ah crap. I took his hand to shake. But being an owner didn’t earn him any points. No wonder he’d laughed when I’d threatened to have him thrown out of the club. Still, he needed to be taken down a notch.
“Never heard of you. But you obviously know who I am.”
His cheeky grin returned. His deep-blue eyes never shifted from my face, but they made slight movements as he watched my lips and followed the sweep of my lashes as I blinked. He was probably trying to determine the size of my pupils to see if I was as attracted to him as he was so obviously infatuated by me. Which, of course, I was.
He saw into and through me as if I were a bug under a microscope. God forbid he ever learned my secrets.
I retrieved my hand and placed it in my lap and away from his attentive gaze. “So, Jake. Do you routinely make it a point of stalking Mistresses?”
He set my teeth on edge because he had my body thrumming with uncomfortable sensations, in particular a needy pulsation between my legs. Yet another thing I hadn’t felt in years.
I placed my hands on the table in preparation to push away. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, but I have business to attend to.”
“I take it that business has to do with the questions you’ve been asking?” He pointed to the photograph I had placed facedown on the table. “May I?”
I pushed the picture over to him. “There’s nothing wrong with asking questions.” I held myself rigid, fighting the instinct to give ground and lean away.
Wow, he smelled amazing: musky and woodsy and male. There went my eyes again, shifting down. I brought my gaze up and stared straight into his magnetic eyes. They were liquid pools of desire, the pupils blown with lust.
“No, but you know how edgy folks can get.” He glanced at the picture, and his eyes darkened. The corners of his lips turned down.
Mandy Middletown, a Domme I recognized, held her arms out as she approached our table with a beaming smile. “Kate. I’ve missed you.”
“Mandy.” I rose and gave Mandy a hug.
Jake’s gaze followed my every move. His scrutiny was unbearable, but my body soaked it up. I even found myself twisting to present my body’s curves in their best light to him. What the hell was happening to me?
“It’s been too long. Does this mean you’re back?” Mandy pointed a finger at a submissive male passing by. “You, fetch me a chair!”
“Yes, Mistress!” The man scurried to obey.
Jake offered his chair to Mandy, but she waved him down with a flick of her fingers. “Sit, Jake.”
His eyes narrowed at the thinly veiled command, but he sat.
When the submissive returned with a chair, Mandy had him kneel a few feet away. “So, what brings you back?” Mandy always went for the direct approach, bullying her way to the heart of the matter.
I glanced at Jake and decided he was going to find out soon enough. Out came the card Mrs. Westmoreland had found in Elizabeth’s backpack. “I’m working a case.”
Mandy reached out to grab the card, but Jake intercepted. A sexy smile spread across his face as he read the card.
“Oh, a case. That’s right; you’re a private detective now. One of your cases brought you here?” She clapped her hands, excited. “Oh, you have to spill the details.”
“There aren’t many I can share; client confidentiality and all.” I gave a shake of my head and hoped Mandy wouldn’t press for more. “The card is all I have to go on. I’m trying to get myself an invitation to that club. I’m looking for…a girl. She was last seen at that club. Have you heard of it?”
I wasn’t yet ready to divulge the details of her death.
Jake put the card on the table and pushed it over to Mandy with a finger. “There’s no way you’re getting an invite to that club.”
Mandy picked up the card.
I knew what Mandy would read. I could recite it by heart.
The Edge Founders would like to welcome you to:
New Members Weekend, March 3-5