Sergeant Vanessa Watterson, one of Washington, DC’s finest, had just come from being backup on a routine drug bust when she got the message that Captain Buckner wanted to see her. There was nothing in the e-mail to indicate whether the summons was for good or bad, but the main office was fifteen minutes from her substation and she was supposed to be there in twenty minutes, so she got back in her squad car and drove.
Buckner, or Buck as he was known, was in charge of special investigations. He’d been on the force a long time, working his way up from beat cop, and people relied on him for institutional memory. These days, he was mostly a desk jockey, and he had to be close to retirement. He’d been through two wives, which wasn’t unusual. Women were attracted to cops, but the strain of wondering when and whether one’s loved one would come home tended to break up marriages. Vanessa had worked under him when he was a lieutenant and she was fresh out of the academy, although she’d been insulated from his crustiness by a couple of layers of detectives and sergeants.
Since then, she’d been through a lot, although much of it wasn’t very interesting. In fact, she had been thinking of moving somewhere else and starting over, because she wasn’t making headway in the boys’ club. Men seemed to think that because she was a curvy blonde she didn’t have the brains to be a detective. Even though the department was under pressure to promote more women, change was slow. She’d spent two years making traffic stops. A year going to schools, giving safety lectures. Now she was doing stakeouts and backing up arrests, which she supposed was progress, but she felt she’d hit a glass ceiling.
Buck sat behind a big steel desk. His office had a faint whiff of ammonia, and everything was spotless. He was a big man with a crew cut, his uniform crisp and his collar starched. He gestured to Vanessa to take a chair when she arrived, two minutes late. She couldn’t remember if he was a stickler for time or not.
“You’re late.” He drummed on his desk with his fingers.
I guess he is.
“Got the message late. I was on a bust.” She met his gaze evenly as she sat down. She used to be polite and say sorry every time she was called on the carpet. She’d learned she had to be tougher than that.
“You’ve been a sergeant for a while, Watterson. I’ve seen a few applications to be a detective. Is that what you want?”
“If you’re willing to go undercover, this could be the chance you’re looking for. We’ve got a small break in the Verrati case.” As Captain Buckner leaned back in his chair behind the desk that separated them, Vanessa found it hard to believe this latest offer stemmed from any great confidence in her abilities. No one was more part of the boys’ club than Buck.
The Verrati case had started as a single spectacular jewel heist, but other crimes had followed. The entire department was talking about it. Well, those who weren’t knee-deep fighting gangs, drugs, and the high murder rate. At this point, four expensive jewels had been stolen from private homes. Jacques Verrati’s ruby ring. Susanna Lambert’s diamond necklace. Carla Fiona’s sapphire brooch. Alicia Faust’s Fabergé egg. Each house had excellent security. All of the gems had been stolen during lavish parties. The victims had all been well connected, with plenty of friends in Congress. The pressure was on the department to solve the string of thefts.
There was one obvious suspect. Twelve years ago a series of daring jewel and art thefts had shocked Washington. The victims had all been in politics, and the thefts had been well publicized, with the newspapers calling the thief the “Robber Baron” at first, and then, later, simply “the Baron.” The police were pretty sure they knew who committed the crimes, but in the end, Gerard Coven was only convicted on a minor charge of breaking and entering and served just a few months in jail. Some of the items he stole were recovered, but they could never trace them back to him. Coven had made the force look bad, and that was hard to forgive.
As a lieutenant, Buckner had been one of the detectives on the case.
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Coven runs a club called the Barony. It’s a private club, very hard to get a membership to. He likes fast cars and fast women—and he has a taste for blondes that carry a little extra weight.”
“Carry a little extra weight? Excuse me?”
Buck put up his hands and shrugged. It wasn’t an apology. Vanessa set her jaw. Most of her extra weight was muscle, not fat, although there were always a few pounds she couldn’t lose to get that toned appearance. She’d put up with worse insults, and sometimes on the force people had to know one could take it. Besides, she needed the break.
“Anyway,” Buckner went on, “we have a way to get you in. Susanna Lambert has a sister who is a member of the club, and members can bring visitors. Visitors can become members. Crack this case open, Watterson, and there’s a lot of people in this department who will be eager to boost your career.”
He means there will be a lot of people looking to take the credit. But yeah, they’ll have to give me something in the process.
Either way, an undercover assignment would look good on her résumé if she applied to work in another police department.
“How is getting into the Baron’s club going to help figure out the jewel thefts?” she asked.
“If you can get close to Coven, he may let something slip. We’ve tried tailing him, but he’s alert to that. He’ll let himself be followed for a while, and then he just disappears.”
“How close is close?”
“As close as you can get.”
Sleep with him if you have to.
Of course Buckner couldn’t just come out and say it. “And if I refuse this assignment?” She wasn’t going to—although she didn’t plan to sleep with the Baron either.
Buckner shook his head. “Coven made us look bad, Watterson. Very bad. It’s not something people forget. We’re a team here, and I can’t control what people will think. If you refuse, I’ll offer the job to someone else. Of course I
won’t think any less of you.”
“I’ll do it.”
“That’s a good girl.”
Vanessa bristled at the words and his deprecating tone.
Buck bent forward. “The thief scratched himself on some broken glass at the last heist. The medical examiner who looked at the amount of blood didn’t want to estimate how long the scratch would last, but when pressed said a few days to a week. So somewhere on his body there’s a thin, probably long scratch, scabbed over. Or it might just be a fresh pink scar. So look for that.”
“There are lots of reasons for people to have scars.”
“Sure. The scratch also means we have a blood sample. We can’t get a search warrant for his DNA, but if you can find a way…”
“What am I supposed to do? Poke a needle in him?” Or are you suggesting I should fuck him? Not happening.
“Anything you have to do, Watterson. I suggest there are less obvious ways than a needle.”
She wanted to slap him.
Buckner pushed a card across a table. “Elizabeth Adamson expects you at her place at seven, and she’ll take you to the club. Good luck, Watterson.”
Vanessa picked up the card. It had a faint perfume scent. It didn’t say Elizabeth Adamson on it. Instead it simply said Lizabet in ornate cursive letters. Underneath was a line, and below that were the words For those with refined tastes
, and finally there was an address. She looked at the card more closely and realized that the line separating the name from the slogan was in fact a riding crop. “Senator Lambert’s wife’s sister is a dominatrix?”
Buckner smirked. “People who blurt out things like that don’t advance quite as quickly as those with more discretion, Sergeant. You will come to no harm through Ms. Adamson. She prefers her victims to pay, and handsomely. She claims it assures her of their full consent.”
What the hell have I gotten myself into?
But she knew she had to find out, wherever it led. It could be her big break. It might not be. It was finally a chance to do some real investigation.
Buckner went on. “I’ll be taking this case on personally. I’ll make sure you have backup if you get in trouble and need to call for help. Coven hasn’t been violent so far, but you never know what turn the criminal mind will take.”
“Is that all I need to know?”
“That’s the summary. I’d love to chat, but we don’t have much time. Go home, get dressed up nice, and go see Ms. Adamson. For now, the idea is just to get close to Coven and stay close. Got it?”
* * * *
She did what she told. She changed into a black cocktail dress and two-inch heels, nothing too fancy but suitable for going clubbing, and headed toward the address on the card. It was a small townhouse in Georgetown, just a couple of blocks from the boutique store where she’d bought the dress for a date. She was glad to get some more use out of it.
She knocked on the red door. There was a clunking sound as the dead bolt was thrown, and then a man opened the door. He had a sculpted body and was immaculately dressed in a suit and a bow tie and smelled of cinnamon aftershave. He looked way better than the last guy she’d worn the dress for.
“Yes,” she said.
“Ah.” He gestured her inside. “My Mistress will see you shortly.”
This guy is a submissive?
Vanessa followed him, taking a moment to ogle the way his cute ass moved in the tight slacks he wore. Lizabet’s Georgetown townhouse was immaculately furnished. She caught a brief glimpse of a living room, and then she was ushered into a sitting room. There were two small tables on each end of the rectangular room and a larger, matching one in the middle, all made of dark wood with broadly curved wooden legs. Light refracted from a hundred crystals that made up the elaborate chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A bouquet of fresh roses sat on the middle table. The couches, one on each side, were pale green with floral embroidery. The man gestured her to sit on one of them, and she did so.
“Coffee? Tea? Wine?”
“Just water, please.”
“A little ice.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The man vanished through the door on the far side of the room and returned with her water a few minutes later.
Vanessa sipped her water. It was filtered, tasteless. I’m nervous. Maybe I should have gone for the wine.
The prohibition against drinking on duty had become instinct, and while she could probably get away with it while undercover, she’d refused out of habit.
Ten minutes later a woman entered the room. She was dressed in a severely cut red silk skirt with a black embroidered dragon on it, a white shirt, and a red leather underbust corset. The woman was slender, a fact emphasized by the pencil skirt, and her waist was narrowed further by the corset. Her black bra was visible through the thin fabric of the white shirt. Her face was severe, with high cheekbones, dark burgundy lipstick, and long black eyelashes.
The woman clapped her hands. “Ah, how lovely you are. You must be Vanessa. I’m Mistress Lizabet.” She reached out her hand to Vanessa.
Vanessa shook it. “Thank you, Lizabet.”
Lizabet smiled. “I’m not such an egotist that I expect random strangers, much less police, to call me Mistress. However, you had best get into the habit, as your admission to the Barony is predicated on the notion that you are my submissive. I am responsible for your behavior while you are there. And I have an image to protect. So, I insist—call me Mistress, even though all we are doing is playacting. Understood?”
“Yes.” Funny how Buckner had left those little details out. Ass.
It sounded like the Barony was some kind of BDSM club. She’d wondered what exactly was going on when she saw Lizabet’s card. Buckner knew, she guessed. Did he not tell her because he was afraid she would say no? Or simply because he found it amusing to send her to a BDSM club unawares? Either way, it was underhanded, and it made her wonder how sincere his insistence was that she would have backup as soon as it was necessary. She needed to know everything she possibly could about the situation.
“Yes, Mistress,” said Vanessa, gritting her teeth. “What’s the Barony?”
Sindra van Yssel