“I’m not even sure how you talked me into this.” Jade pulled the hem of her too-short skirt down in a sad attempt to hide her thighs from the Uber driver who continued to eye the two of them through the rear-view mirror.
Carissa stuck up her middle finger at the reflection of lust-filled eyes and waited until the man looked away before turning in her seat to address Jade. “Look. You’ve been talking about this club for the longest time, we’ve always promised each other we’d go, tonight’s perfect. It’s a holiday party. It will be casual, no pressure. I swear it.”
“You say this as though you’ve been there before.” Jade cocked an eyebrow. It wouldn’t be the first time Carissa forgot to mention she’d scoped out a place before dragging her along.
Twirling one long red curl around her finger, Carissa bit her lower lip. “Well, maybe.”
Jade sighed. “That little girl act doesn’t work on me, Carissa. I’m not into age play, and I’m not into topping.” But it didn’t stop her from patting her friend on the head and giggling along with her. “Okay, so you’ve been there. It’s not too stuffy? I mean, I’m not sure I can handle high protocol yet. I don’t know anything about that.” Jade knew enough about the kink world to know she badly wanted in, but as to particulars, she hadn’t a clue.
The idea of a strong man taking her to task, keeping her on the straight and narrow, calling her on her bullshit – her girly bits tingled just at the thought. But it wasn’t just the discipline; it was everything. Giving over control, being able to trust one man with all of herself? Her past history with men would make most women run from the idea, but she knew if she just found the right one, the right guy, she’d be able to find safety in his hands.
“Nothing like that. Well, I guess if you’re into that, then you’ll find the guy that’s into that. I keep telling you, this isn’t a one size fits all thing.” Carissa brushed her hair off her shoulders, showing off her perfect posture and dusting of freckles on her creamy skin. Jade’s olive tone would never allow such a beautiful display, nor would her less than ladylike posture. Too many years of trying to hide her bosom from classmates had created the horrible habit of slouching to hide her parts.
Jade plucked her cell from her purse as it began to blare into the car. “Just Garrick,” she said and swiped to see his message. She’d met Garrick freshman year of high school, eight years later they were still close friends – no matter what Jade wanted otherwise. He’d never understand her desires, and he sure as hell wouldn’t see her as anything other than the girl who had tutored him out of a D in chemistry.
What are you up to tonight?
Out with Carissa.
Just out. Why?
It’s really cold tonight. Didn’t forget your jacket, again, did you?
Jade sighed. Of course, she’d forgotten it, at his house last time she’d stopped by after another double shift at the hospital looking for a cold beer and a warm couch.
I’ll pick up this weekend.
Just out with Carissa, nowhere special?
“He’s getting creepy in his old age.” Carissa pressed her shoulder against Jade to get a look at her screen.
Jade shoved her off. “You know how he is.”
“Yeah. I do – bossy and over protective. Would make a great Dom if he had any clue.” Carissa had the mistaken idea that everyone would fall into either being a submissive or a dominant if they only opened up their eyes and saw the world through her eyes.
Jade tapped a few more messages to Garrick, evading his prying questions and not giving any direct lies. She hated lying, especially to Garrick, but no way would he understand this – and she didn’t want to hear any more safety lectures from him. The last time she’d mentioned signing up for a dating service, he went on for almost an hour, and in the end, demanded he vet the guys for her. She’d decided to take down her profile and save herself the lectures.
“We’re here!” Carissa announced in her singsong voice and clapped her hands. “Go on.” She gave Jade a shove until she opened the door and scooted out. She heard Carissa reprehend their driver for getting all handsy with his eyes before slamming the door.
“In his defense, this dress you gave me is a little hard to ignore.” Jade pulled down the hem of the spandex one piece, while yanking up the neckline. December wasn’t exactly warm in Chicago, and the chilled breeze drew her nipples to stand fully erect, giving everyone in eyeshot a perfect view. She yanked her jean jacket around her tighter, trying to fight off the cold and failing miserably.
“It’s warm inside, let’s go.” Carissa gave her a little shove and pointed at the entrance to Dark Lace, the newest BDSM club to hit Chicago. Memberships didn’t come easily, and any messing around with the rules got a member banned. It was one of the safest places for those new to the scene to play and meet people, which is what drew Jade to begin with. She and Carissa had received their membership acceptance only a week ago, which meant Carissa missing her morning shift on Friday, had more to do with her Thursday night escapade than the migraine she’d called in with.
“Why didn’t you just tell me you were coming here?”
Carissa didn’t need to ask what she meant by her question. “I knew you’d feel better if one of us knew what we were walking into, and you never go out on work nights.” Linking her arm through Jade’s, she walked them to the door. “Now, get ready, because your holiday season is about to light up!”
* * *
Garrick stretched his back and took another look at his phone. She was lying. She’d completely avoided his questions.
Something was going on with her lately. The string of men she’d brought home recently, the Internet profiles – the girl looked in all the wrong places. A woman like Jade didn’t belong on Bigger Fish or any of those dating sites. She didn’t need to fill out five hundred questions to know who would match up with her. She only needed to ask him, and he’d tell her. She needed someone who would take her submissive side, that little bit of her she tried desperately to hide from him and everyone else around her, and draw it out.
He wanted to tell her, to show her, but if he brought up sex, she clammed up and changed the subject. He would consider her a prude, except he’d borrowed her laptop a few times to check his email while hanging at her apartment. The woman didn’t know the first thing about hiding her history, or at least closing the browsers before offering someone the computer.
Of course, he’d never tell her what he saw. Although it took more power than he would have guessed he had to keep from tearing the thing in half when he saw her half filled out profile on Collar-Me. No fucking way that was going to happen. If she was going to become active in the community, start actually searching out what she wanted, she wasn’t going to start meeting up with random guys from the Internet.
“She here yet?” Jamison slid a beer onto the table and took a seat.
Garrick shook his head. “Nope. And according to her, she and Carissa are just hanging out tonight, going nowhere special.” He all but growled with his annoyance. He’d known her since before her first acne break out, had nursed her through her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage and her own broken hearts, but she couldn’t confess to this part of her – the truth of her?
“I don’t know why you don’t just call her on it? What if she doesn’t show?”
Garrick laughed. “Oh, she’ll show. Her membership was accepted, and Carissa was here snooping around on Thursday.”
“Carissa’s the friend?” Jamison took a pull of his beer.
“She didn’t see you?”
“No, I was working the disciplinary room that night. She only poked her head in, saw the girl getting a tanning she won’t soon forget, and jumped right back out.”
“Oh, Susan. Yeah, I heard about that one. Thomas is making her come tonight. I’d feel sorry for her, but then I envision that beautiful Porsche of his wrapped around a tree.” He shook his head. “Shame, really.”
Garrick eyed him for a long moment. “And the fact that Susan almost got herself killed?”
“Well that, too, of course.” Jamison shrugged and took another sip of his beer. “You working tonight?”
“No. All the rooms are covered for the Mistletoe Madness. Really, they should have come up with a better name, it sounds like a sorority party or a swap meet or something.”
“Well, maybe you could get on the board and help make decisions like that.”
Garrick just rolled his eyes. Jamison and he had both put a good chunk of money into the club. One of the soundest investments he’d made in a long time, but being on the board of anything was too formal. It made it feel more like a job than a fun place to play.
A shimmer caught his eye from the main entrance, and Garrick watched as a small group poured through the door. The overhead lights caught the sequins on Carissa’s skirt just right to signal their arrival. When she took another step into the lounge, she gave way for him to settle his eyes on Jade.
“Fuck, is that her?” Jamison whispered.
“Yeah, and if that dress clung any tighter it would be inside her.” Jade didn’t own anything like the painted-on green outfit she wore. Her ample breasts were practically spilling out of the top, and if she didn’t keep holding down the hem, her ass would pop out the bottom.
“Tight? It’s not tight… a bit shiny though.”
“No, that’s Carissa, Jade’s next to her.” He pointed through the crowd at the black-haired pixie standing with her jean jacket crumbled up in her hands. Zero temperatures outside and she wore a jean jacket. He took a deep breath to calm himself.
“Oh. She’s cute.”
Cute? Was he even looking at the same woman? The casual wave to her hair gave her a windblown look no matter the status of the wind outside, and the chill in the air tinted her cheeks and her nose to the point that she was nearly glowing. Her olive skin contrasted the pink beautifully.
“You going to go over or what?”
“No, not yet. I want to see what she does.”
“You really are getting a little stalker-like, you know that, right?” The chair scraped across the flooring as he stood from the table.
“Where are you going?”
“You keep telling me I need to be more welcoming to the new members.” Jamison winked and walked off into the now larger crowd. The main doors were open and the members were arriving for the evening festivities.
Garrick watched Jamison as he pushed his way through the people until he managed to get in front of Carissa.
* * *
Jade tried to ignore Carissa’s conversation with the Neanderthal-sized man that greeted them. He’d come out of nowhere, introducing himself. He had inclined his head toward Jade, when Carissa introduced her, but he only gave her a cursory glance before diving into a conversation with Carissa.
Feeling every bit the third wheel, and getting warm from all the people crushed into the area, she waved to Carissa and headed further in. The nerves she’d been experiencing since getting dressed for the evening hadn’t disappeared, but had morphed into more excitement than nausea.
She found the bar easily enough and ordered a white wine. Red would have been her preference, it helped her jittery nerves more, but it also tended to put her to sleep.
“Hey, there,” a cool voice greeted her. She turned her head to the right to find a man openly leering at her breasts as he greeted her. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Maybe if you looked at my face, you’d have a better idea,” she snapped.
Wide blue eyes fluttered to her face. “I’m not sure you should be talking to me like that. I mean, you have your bracelet on your right wrist.” He pointed to the red and green beaded bracelet she’d received as part of the admission when she arrived. Then he thrust his left wrist out to show her the same bracelet. “See, left wrist.”
She sighed. “I can see that.” Her lips tightened into a smile, and she thanked the bartender when he slid her drink in front of her.
“So?” The man raised both eyebrows at her, waiting for something.
She shook her head. “I give up. What?”
His brows furrowed and his lips pursed together. “It means you have to watch how you talk to me,” he demanded in much the same way her five-year-old patient demanded she stop trying to force him to take his medicine. Jonny’s pout only worked to make him even more adorable, unlike the grown man looking ready to throw an all-out tantrum over her disapproval of his leering.
“If that’s what you think it means, perhaps you should join the newbie group that meets on Saturday afternoons,” a familiar voice interrupted them.
She nearly dropped her glass of wine.
“Garrick, I can handle this. Thanks.” The sour puss barely looked at the large figure looming over his shoulder, but Jade couldn’t take her eyes off him.
Standing just to the left of the asshole, Garrick stood with dark eyes fixed on her. Not the dirt bag, but on her, and looked more than a little irritated. He looked out and out pissed.
Too many questions popping into her head stopped her from speaking at all and instead she just concentrated on trying to stop the heated blush from taking over her entire face.
“I was talking to you, Sam.”
Another angry scowl crossed the man’s face as he turned to look up at Garrick. Most men had to tilt their heads back to meet his gaze, but he didn’t usually stand so close to them to force them to crane their neck the way this asshole had to. An Alpha making his territory known?
Sam huffed and looked back over his shoulder. A lock of his thick, dirty blond hair fell in front of his face, giving him a boyish look. “Whatever. She’ll need too much training anyway.” He gave a forced shrug and stalked off into the crowd.
Jade watched him saunter off, noting the forced swagger of his walk. She shook her head and pushed a smile onto her lips before turning back to Garrick.
Garrick was here, in a BDSM club, standing right in front of her, and he knew Sam. What signified more was that Sam knew Garrick just by the sound of his voice.
“Uh, hey.” She leaned an elbow on the bar and positioned her other hand on her hip.
“Hey?” Both dark brown eyebrows shot up, and he stepped forward until the toes of his boots brushed the tip of her platform heels.
“Uh, hi?” She let go of her hip to grab her wine glass, checking out the surroundings as she took a sip. The heat of his glare could have warmed the room if it wasn’t already simmering from the body heat. The dungeons hadn’t opened yet for play and the lounge, although decorated beautifully with mistletoe and garland, had begun to resemble a pressure cooker.
“Hi?” He laughed.
She sighed, obviously unable to escape the conversation he wanted to have, and put her drink back on the bar. “Okay. Hi, Garrick. What brings you here tonight? Come here often?” A woman dolled up, wearing a silvery dress, and mistletoe tucked into her blonde up-do snaked her way through the crowd and butted right up to Garrick.
“Garrick! I was afraid I wouldn’t find you,” she gushed, running her hand up and down his arm. “It’s so crowded in here, are they ever going to open the dungeons?”
Garrick didn’t break his stare with Jade when he answered. “Just a few more minutes, Kimberly.”
“Good, It’s so hot in here.” She began to fan herself with one hand, still resting the other on his arm. “I didn’t get a chance to talk with you before tonight, but I was hoping we could talk now?”
His dark eyes swung away. “Kimberly, we’ve said everything that needed saying. I’m in the middle of something right now.” Without being overly showy he pulled his arm away and raised his chin in the direction of the crowd. “I’m sure Sam could use a partner tonight.”
Something close to rage flashed in her crystal blues before she shoved it away and a brilliant smile appeared. “Sure. Maybe I’ll see if I can find him.” With not so much as a glance Jade’s way, she turned and shoved her way back through the crowd.
“Well known in these parts?” Jade suppressed the venom in her own voice.
Garrick simply grinned. “I thought you weren’t going anywhere special tonight?” He rested against the bar, drawing her closer to him by leaning toward her. He’d shaved; she could smell the musk of his shaving cream. The warmth of the spicy scent tempered her frazzled nerves. Being the cure and the cause at the same time didn’t clear things up for her.
She glanced over the crowd as it began to filter away from them. “I think they opened the doors.” She picked up her glass, intending to get lost in the sea of people, but his hand rested on her arm, completely stilling her.
They’d been friends for eight years; they’d even fallen asleep in bed together during high school, but this wasn’t high school. And it wasn’t just any old touch.
He didn’t just ask for her attention; he denied her the ability to walk away. It was a command, silent, but still there. The heat from his hand radiated up her arm, sending a chill down her spine – every bit of a contradiction.
When her eyes swept up to meet his, her breath hitched. A stern expression met her, his warm brown eyes darker now that he stared down at her. His lips were relaxed and full, and just like every other time she’d noticed his mouth, she wanted to kiss him – to feel his heat pressed against hers, and have her breath knocked out of her.
Damn him. She hated sappy romance, and here she was, living it. The room began to cool down as the partygoers filed into the dungeons and private areas, leaving them with only a handful of other couples in the lounge.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming here tonight?” he asked in a low voice.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d be here?” she countered. There were plenty of times he didn’t tell her what his plans were, although now she had a better idea as to why. “Maybe you thought it was private?”
His left eyebrow arched and his hand moved to relieve her of her wine glass. “You don’t do well with wine on an empty stomach, and I have a good feeling you didn’t eat dinner before you came.” It wasn’t fair. He knew so much, and she stood there knowing nothing.
“I—” She stopped short of lying, that damn eyebrow nearly disappeared into his hairline. The usual attraction she felt toward him shifted into overdrive with his dominant side starting to peek out at her. She needed to get away from him if she had any hope of enjoying the evening without pining away for him. “I didn’t think you’d go for this sort of place, and I didn’t want another lecture about dating.” Somewhat true, his habit of getting all in her love life grated on her. He didn’t want her, but he seemed unwilling to let anyone else have a shot either.
“Go for it? Hell, I own a small percentage of it.” His arrogant grin didn’t persuade her to drop her annoyance.
“You own this place?”
“Not all of it, just a few shares.”
“You never told me you bought into a BDSM club,” she pointed out, annoyed with his own deception. They told each other everything – at least she thought they did.
“I have shares in a lot of clubs.” He took a sip of her wine. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d go for a place like this.”
Using her own words against her was harsh.
She took a deep breath and looked for Carissa. Of course, she was nowhere to be found, probably off with the Neanderthal.
“Well, I guess we have more in common than we thought.” Her cheeks heated at her words. They were at a club where spanking, bondage, and sex were bound to be center stage, and she talked about it as though they enjoyed the same genre of movies.
“I guess.” He laughed. Finishing her wine, he slid the glass across the bar to the bartender. “No more, thanks. And no liquor for Jade here, only water or pop.”
The bartender nodded and made a note on a pad of paper on the bar.
“What the hell?” She shoved at his arm.
“I already said you don’t handle your wine well on an empty stomach. And, if you shove me like that again, I’ll be forced to show you what else we have in common.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?” The alarm bells rang, but she wasn’t about to answer. Not yet.
He stepped closer to her, pushing her short locks behind her ears and capturing her face in his hands. Her knees were weakening just at his close proximity, but when he brought his face close to hers, looking like he was about to kiss her, she had to grip the bar to keep from slipping out of his grasp.
Warmth rolled off of him and washed over her lips. Her eyelids fluttered closed, and she parted her lips, waiting for his lips to press against hers. Her pulse ran rapid, and her breath became harder to control, but it would be worth it. His kiss would settle all of her raging emotions.
“Discipline.” The whispered word yanked her from her trance.
Her eyes flew open, and she found him staring into them, a soft smile tugging at his lips, like he knew what he’d just done – drew her in, made her want him, and yanked it all away.
“What?” She tried to pull back, but his tight grip didn’t give, and she didn’t want him to stop touching her.
“Discipline. Punishment. We have those in common too.”