No moon. Beneath the cold stars, the pickup bumped over the rutted road, tossing the mercenaries around like fired shells from an M-4.
“Fuck,” deVries growled under his breath. He resumed his kneeling position and braced himself on the wooden side slats. Grasping Harris’s shoulder, he used his free hand to apply pressure to the young man’s belly below his bulletproof vest. Blood poured out, warm over his fingers. The new merc wouldn’t live. They’d put dressings on the leg wounds, but from the amount of bleeding, the bullet in his pelvis had ripped up his insides.
Medical care was too far away.
“I-I’m cold,” Harris whispered. The kid was in his midtwenties.
Too fucking young to die.
“Hey, Iceman. Here.”
DeVries caught the jacket a teammate tossed over and added it to the others on Harris. Poor bastard. Last one to join the team. First one to go.
“You got anyone back home?” deVries asked.
A convulsive tremor shook the kid. His systems were shutting down, one by one, no matter how hard his body fought. “Uh-uh. Wife left me.” Another shiver. He sucked air. “She d-didn’t like being poor. Want her back so signed on here. Pay’s good.”
Yeah, mercenary work paid top dollar.
“Got no one,” the broken whisper continued. “You?”
“Nah.” No one to go home to. No one to talk to about his job or his merc work. No one to mourn if he didn’t return. Missions like this made for a fine adrenaline zing. Didn’t make for a long life.
The kid had screwed up. Tripped and alerted the perimeter guards. A nice clean extraction had turned into a goat fuck. DeVries’s armor had stopped one bullet; the next one had ripped a chunk of meat from above his hip. His jeans were already soaked with blood. Couple inches over and he’d have been lying beside Harris.
“We get the guy out?” Harris whispered.
“Affirmative. You did good”--what was Harris’s first name?--“Luke. The man’ll be reunited with his family by tomorrow.” But it sucked that the asshole they’d rescued wasn’t worth someone’s life.
“Won’t see it.”
Grief and anger twisted in deVries’s gut. Dammit. Wasn’t fair.
In the faint moonlight shining down into the bed of the farm truck, Harris’s eyes were dull but level.
“No, you won’t.” DeVries wouldn’t lie. If a man could face the question, he deserved an honest answer. DeVries closed his hand over Harris’s chill one. Squeezed. “I’m sorry. You have anything you need done?”
“Buy the boys a round for me.”
His throat tightened. “You got it.”
Harris’s eyelids drooped, and his breathing turned shallow.
DeVries settled in beside him. A man shouldn’t die alone. Each time the truck hit a bump, pain stabbed into deVries’s side, reminding him he was alive. One day, he’d be the poor bastard lying there. No pretty woman to cry for him and make him fight to survive. Only a teammate to keep vigil.
And he’d die...for what? To save a dirty politician from his well-deserved desserts? To get a few extra bucks in the bank?
He’d turned down money before. His mouth tightened, remembering his fucked-up childhood and how his mother’s pimp had yelled at her. “...good-looking boy. The little shit could fill his pockets with big bills, and he says no? You got the stupidest kid in Chicago.”
But deVries hadn’t wanted to be a whore. To sell himself for money. He’d craved a real home. Someone to love him. Right. Now here he was, a mercenary and alone. God had a fucking good sense of irony.
* * * *
A week later, deVries walked through the chill autumn air up to the door of Dark Haven--the notorious San Francisco BDSM club. As he entered, he found a line of members waiting in front of the reception desk.
Fine with him. He could use the time to get his head into the right space for the night. With a sigh, he leaned on the wall, feeling the drag of exhaustion like he wore diving weights on his belt.
Damn fucked-up mission. The throb of grief was more painful than the wound in his side. Harris had died before they’d reached the pickup point. Hadn’t even had anyone to notify. Because his wife didn’t want to be poor. Yeah, some bitches could be greedier than any soldier for hire.
With an effort, deVries sidestepped old dark memories. He was in enough of a crappy mood. The healing gash along his hip still hurt like hell, and ripping the stitches open would be stupid, so using his favorite flogger was out. But, damn, he wanted a good, long session. The need to inflict pain was a low hum in his bones.
The pretty receptionist named Lindsey smiled at the next person in the line.
“Hi, HurtMe,” she said in her soft Texas drawl, taking the membership card from the young man. “Are your classes going well?” Despite the leisurely, warm river of her voice, Lindsey had a personality that danced like a sunlit fountain.
Under her attention, the masochist glowed as he told her about his exams.
DeVries shook his head. Lindsey was the reason the line moved so slowly. The girl liked people and had the ability to talk with anyone about anything.
Too lively to sit, she stood behind the reception desk. Her wavy brown hair, streaked with red-and-gold highlights, had grown over the summer to her bra line. Quite a bra it was too. The club owner, Xavier, had decreed an animal theme for the night, and Lindsey wore a fur leopard-printed bra. Be nice to see what covered her ass, since the girl didn’t lack imagination.
Rather a shame she never stripped naked, though. She had a sweet little body--one designed to be used well and often. Unfortunately she didn’t enjoy the harder forms of kink.
“Have a good night, sweetie.” Turning, she looked at deVries and held her hand out. “Sir, may I take your card?”
He handed it over to put through the card reader.
He noticed how she averted her big brown eyes, and her mouth tightened. Apparently, what he’d told her a while back had hurt her feelings. She needed to get over it.
“Lindsey,” he growled.
Her gaze flashed up to his.
She gave him a puzzled blink, and hell, he wanted her under him, giving him that confused look as he started doing everything he’d imagined to her.
But he wasn’t going to go there, even if she did still owe him a blowjob and anal sex from a paintball party last July. Sadly, he’d been called away on a mission and hadn’t collected. Pissed him off at the time. Just as well--fucking her would have been a piss-poor move. Lindsey was a sweet submissive, and he had no use for niceness in his life.
“You look tired.” She handed his card back. “Are you all right?”
Yeah. Warmhearted as could be.
“No.” With a brusque nod, he turned away. Tonight he’d delve into the darker side, indulge his need to give pain, erase the bitterness of the last mission. This one couldn’t take what he needed to dish out. Few women could.
Only males held up well when deVries got this needy.
As he walked into the club, he glanced back and saw Ethan Worthington lean over the desk and run his finger over Lindsey’s play collar.
Not surprising she smiled a welcome. The Dom was intelligent. Well-liked. And had more money than God.
Looked like the lucky bastard would be the one to enjoy the sweetie. Well, more power to him.
Jaw tight, deVries shoved through into the main clubroom, feeling as if he’d like to kill someone. Again.
“I DON’T ENJOY a lot of pain,” Lindsey said to Sir Ethan, trying to concentrate on the conversation and not watch deVries stalk through the door. God, the way he moved was like a timber wolf on the hunt. Powerful and deadly.
Sexy as hell.
And he didn’t like her. Oh, she had thought different at the Fourth of July games. He’d sure acted growly when he’d been called away. But later, back in San Francisco, when she reminded him of her debt, he said he’d collect her ass if
he wanted. His dismissive attitude showed he had no interest in her whatsoever.
Way to make a girl feel like a scrawny chicken not even good enough for the stew pot. He hadn’t even noticed her sexy costume sewn from less than a yard of furry fabric.
“Lindsey.” With one finger on her chin, Sir Ethan drew her attention back. His clear blue gaze was perceptive...and understanding. “Do you really want to play with a sadist?”
“I... No.” God no. Especially not one like deVries...who didn’t want her.
* * * *
An hour later, Xavier strolled out of the main clubroom into the reception area. Several inches over six feet, with Native American dark coloring, black eyes, and black hair in a braid down his back, the owner of Dark Haven never failed to make Lindsey sit up straight and lower her gaze. Somehow, he gave a whole new meaning to the word dominant.
A step behind him, his wife, Abby, had flushed cheeks, swollen lips, and reddened skin around her wrists. Obviously they’d already had a scene.
Xavier smiled at Lindsey. “Work time is over, pet. Go find someone to play with.”
As he picked up the new member applications, Lindsey stood up and stretched. “Sounds good. Thank you, my liege.”
Sitting down in the chair Lindsey had vacated, Abby tilted her head. “How are you doing? Are you ready for a girl’s night soon?”
“I’d love it.” She’d have to skip lunch for a day or two to afford it, but girlfriends came far, far higher in the priority scheme than food. “Next weekend?”
“Rona said she was busy on Friday. Can you do Saturday?”
Abby patted Xavier’s bottom. “Your receptionists are going to be on strike next Saturday.”
He raised an intimidating eyebrow. “That means Dixon will have to take the desk for a shift.”
“Well, I’m sure he’ll leave us a mess. Nonetheless, we’re still taking the night off.”
“You’re definitely a stubborn little fluff.” Xavier bent to capture his wife’s lips.
Lindsey smothered a sigh of envy. Once upon a time, she’d thought she’d have a loving husband, a family. A home.
As Xavier headed back into his club and Abby turned to greet an entering member, Lindsey glanced at the desk. She’d left it bare except for one stack of papers. If Dixon took reception, disaster would ensue. The cutest submissive in Dark Haven, Dixon considered himself a lover, not a secretary, and never filed anything.
However, huge paper piles were a piddly price to pay for a weekend night off and a chance to drink without having to work the next day. Abby was a professor at a small college, and Rona did hospital administration.
Back before her life had gone to hell in a handbasket, Lindsey had been a social worker. And had loved it.
Now she was a receptionist--and her temp job would end this week. Job hunting wasn’t easy, even though the fake ID she’d bought last spring passed muster. But when she’d fled Texas, she realized what the lack of her college transcripts and past employment recommendations would mean.
She was stuck in minimum-wage jobs despite her years of education.
Come to think of it, education sure hadn’t helped her pick a good husband. He’d taken her in completely. She closed her eyes at the memory of Victor’s sneer. “Why would I want a cunt like you when I can fuck sweeter meat?”
God, she’d been blind. She remembered her daddy’s John Wayne quote. “Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”
Wasn’t that the truth? Now she had a warrant out for her arrest and cops who would kill her before she ever made it to jail. Who had already tried. She glanced at the long scar on the back of her wrist.
Abby returned a man’s membership card. “Have a great night.” As he walked into the main room, she turned to Lindsey, and her forehead creased. “Are you okay?”
. “Sure.” Lindsey gave her an only slightly twisted smile. “Saturday it is. Party time!”
After sharing a high five, Lindsey headed into the club.
On the main floor, tables filled the center of the room between the two stages. Members in leather and latex, corsets and chains, naked or fully covered, were socializing, dancing, drinking, and watching demonstrations. The dark wave music of Anders Manga reverberated through the huge room, keeping the dancers at the far end moving.
At one time, she’d loved to dance. Two-step. Line dancing. But that time was over. She stood for a moment, hobbled by despair. She couldn’t go home to Texas. Not when the head of her husband’s smuggling operation had turned out to be his brother, Travis--the police chief. Not when the corruption extended into other law enforcement agencies like the border patrol.
She exhaled slowly.
If she couldn’t go back, she had to move forward. If nothing else, the police officer’s death--as well as her husband’s--had taught her how short life could be and to fully live in what remained to her.
Here in San Francisco, she’d embraced that philosophy. Joined Dark Haven. Turned long-held fantasies into reality. She was no longer a novice in the BDSM lifestyle.
So where was Sir Ethan? Mistress Tara was demonstrating wax play on the right stage. On the left one, a Dom and his submissive were setting up equipment for their upcoming scene. Sir Ethan wasn’t at a table watching or at the bar near the far end. Or on the dance floor.
He’d probably gone downstairs.
She took the stairs down into the more intense environment of the dungeon. Here the music was punctuated by the sounds of impact toys like floggers and paddles, by groans and moans, harsh breathing, an occasional shriek.
To her disappointment, when she spotted Sir Ethan, he wore a dungeon monitor’s badge. He wouldn’t be able to play until he was off duty.
He gave her a wave and mouthed the word later
. Oh well, he was worth waiting for. He was one of the best Doms in the club. Although he read her so easily it was scary, he hadn’t pushed when she’d said she didn’t want anything serious.
Too many of the Doms seemed to want to form a relationship--and what was with that? Didn’t they realize men were supposed to prefer keeping things light?
Shaking her head, she walked past a suspension scene where the Dom had flipped the submissive into head-down position to give him a blowjob. Lindsey bit her lip. Hanging in the air really took a sub’s control away. Adding oral sex into such a mix might be a bit much, and yet there was something wonderful about being able to please a Dom that way.
Farther down, a needle-play scene made Lindsey wince. The Domme had created a needle design on the submissive’s back that looked like fairy wings. Really painful ones.
Next, a gay Master was flogging two of his slaves, one and the other, working them both with an amazing skill, especially since one was obviously a needier masochist. But the Master seemed to be enjoying each.
At the end of the room was...deVries. Hell, she shouldn’t stop, but the sadist did such fantastic scenes that she loved to watch him, although the thought of taking so much pain made her sweat--and not in a good way.
As always, he’d attracted a number of observers, so she quietly positioned herself at the rear.
For some reason, his usual flogger was still in the bag, and he was using a violet wand instead. The male bottom, johnboy, was strapped down on the bondage table. Leather had been wrapped around his exposed testicles.
DeVries applied the wand here and there, obviously testing the bottom’s tolerance for electrical stimulation...and pain. After a few minutes, he used a cane on johnboy’s thighs, stomach, and chest, occasionally adding some light whacks to his penis and balls.
Lindsey realized her legs were clamped together in sympathy.
DeVries returned to the wand. Gradually, the bottom’s muscles grew rigid. He was groaning. Fighting. Sweating. Then as johnboy slid into subspace, his eyes glazed and his lips curved up, despite the way his body shook.
DeVries played him like a musical instrument, dropping the intensity before deliberately bringing him up to even more pain, over and over.
Heat curled low in Lindsey’s belly. Holy shit, she never, ever wanted pain like that, and yet she’d never seen anything so erotic in her life.
The audience grew. Conversations were kept to a whisper to avoid disturbing the scene. With a shock, Lindsey realized the man next to her was the bottom’s Master--and partner. She frowned and glanced at deVries.
As if understanding her unspoken question, Master Rock said, “Johnboy needs more pain than I’m willing to dish out. So occasionally, I hook him up with a sadist.” As his partner groaned, Rock watched with an indulgent expression. “I asked deVries not to let johnboy get off; I intend to reap the benefits.”
. That was different. Lindsey turned back to the scene.
The expression on deVries’s face was akin to the submissive’s. Intent, completely focused, showing both satisfaction and pleasure.
What would it be like to have all that attention focused on her? She actually felt her heart skip a beat at the thought.
Acting as if he had eternity to play, deVries switched to the cane again. The whapping sounds were drowned out by johnboy’s gut-wrenching groans. Faster. Harder.
At last deVries stopped and waved a hand at Master Rock. “All yours. Primed for action.”
And God, johnboy really was. He was so hard his cock pulsed with each heartbeat.
From the mouthwatering bulge barely contained inside deVries’s worn-soft leathers, he was in equal discomfort. Lindsey’s brows drew together. The arrangement was all good for the two gay guys, and yet, what about the sadist? He didn’t get relief?
Come to think of it, she rarely saw him fuck anyone here. And she’d watched him. Ever since she’d joined the club last spring, he’d fascinated her. Damned if she was sure why.
Tilting her head, she studied him as he cleaned his equipment and stowed it away. His hair was military short, his face lean with a strong jaw and well-formed hard lips. A frown line showed between his eyebrows. No laugh lines; he didn’t often smile. He wasn’t quite as tall as Xavier, but God, his broad shoulders and muscular chest under a black T-shirt made saliva pool in her mouth.
And the way he walked was simply deadly...as if it wouldn’t bother him at all to turn someone into a pile of bones and blood. Knowing how much deVries enjoyed dispensing pain, Xavier often asked him to administer punishment to unruly submissives--who’d nicknamed him the Enforcer.
Lindsey bit her lip. Why the hell did she have to be attracted to a sadist?
Now he was done with the heavy scene, what would he do? She felt a smidgen of pity as she watched him pack his toy bag, leaving the submissive tied to the table for Rock to enjoy. No one was there for deVries.
However, though most of the observers had left, several still waited, attention focused so intently on deVries they reminded her of sheep at feeding time. As he slung his bag over his shoulder and picked up his wand case, the submissives--male and female--went to their knees. Offering themselves. In the very front was HurtMe-- one of the masochists he often played with. When the blond touched his forehead to the ground, Lindsey snorted. Obviously deVries would have no problem scratching his itch after a scene.
She started to leave and paused, wondering which he’d choose. Sub gossip hadn’t made mention of a favorite, which might simply mean the Enforcer was exceedingly private in who he was screwing.
At least, since she wasn’t kneeling, he wouldn’t think she was one of the applicants for his favor. She couldn’t take another insult.
When he assessed the offerings indifferently, her mood lightened. It was reassuring to know she wasn’t the only sub he’d ever rejected.
Without picking anyone, he headed for the stairs. As he neared Lindsey, she caught his tantalizing scent, wild and musky with a hint of clean masculine sweat.
He stopped in front of her. His gaze was hotter than a Texas summer sun as it swept over her feline costume--cat ears, furry bra, and leopard-fur boy shorts. Violence lurked in his eyes.
And the growl in his voice was unyielding. “Changed my mind. I could use some sweet wildcat pussy, and you’re up. I’m calling in my debt.”
“Wh-what?” The explosion of air from her lungs made his lips tilt...slightly. She shook off the disbelief. “You said no.”
“I said when I wanted. Choose--do I fuck you here or at your house?”
Oh my effing God
. Only a sneaky weasel-dog like him would pull such a stunt. She’d hankered after him forever, and yet the thought of being with him dried the spit in her mouth.
She jerked her gaze from his intent one and saw Sir Ethan behind him. Watching. As a dungeon monitor, he could tell deVries to go jump in a lake. He lifted one eyebrow.
But...she’d participated in the games last summer. And lost. There hadn’t been any time limit on collecting the prize.
DeVries stood silently, letting her think. His gray-green eyes showed no expression.
Under Dark Haven’s rules, she could safeword if she was really scared...only it would be a cheat. She wasn’t past her limit. He hadn’t done anything yet. But under his hard gaze, she sure felt like a newborn calf trapped by a wolf.
She shook her head at Sir Ethan and said to deVries, “Fine.”
. Let him take her here--where all those submissives would watch? Uh-uh. Home? Unease made her bite her lip. What could he learn about her there? Not much, actually. Thank goodness it wasn’t really her place. “Home.”
He looked a little surprised, then nodded.
Aw heck, she was going to have sex with the Enforcer. Maybe it was only for an hour or so, but...he wants
me. A thrill shot through her and made her quiver.
And lit his eyes with amusement.